Outbounds 2015-2016

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Read our exchange students’ journals below. Only students submitting two or more journals are included here.

Allison - Czech Republic

Hometown: Sanford, Florida
School: Seminole High School – Sanford
Sponsor District : District 6980
Sponsor Club: Sanford (Breakfast), Florida
Host District: 2240
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Kroměříž

My Bio

Ahoj! My name is Allison Miller and I will be spending a year in the Czech Republic! I am currently 17 and I have lived in the small city of Sanford, Florida for my entire life. I am a senior attending Seminole High School and I will be graduating in May 2015. I have been involved in the National Art Honor Society at my school for 3 years now and this year I am serving as the chapter secretary. I live with my parents, younger sister, our three cats, and two dogs. I currently work at the Patio Grill in Sanford and I volunteer at the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando’s Sanford branch. I absolutely love volunteering and helping the pets find a home. After I return, I hope to major in Art History or Literature.

I have been extremely lucky to have been accepted to Rotary Youth Exchange. I was lucky to even have been able to apply for this opportunity and I am even luckier to receive the support of my family, friends and teachers on this journey. I am so glad I am going to the Czech Republic since it was one of my top five. It will be a real challenge to teach myself another language but it is entirely worth it because of the adventures I will have.

Journals: Allison – Czech Republic 2015-2016

  • Allison, outbound to Czech Republic

Now that the big climax to any European exchange is over and gone, an odd feeling is left. I have seen and done so much and I’ve been here for what is nearing nine months but it all feels like a dream. Even in the moment. Even when standing atop the Eiffel Tower, or in the Colosseum, or on La Rambla in Barcelona, it feels surreal. It’s something akin to what F. Scott Fitzgerald describes in The Great Gatsby as a feeling of being “within and without.” It feels as if everything I have done is merely a fact like the ones you read in your high school history textbook. But looking back, even though it feels like facts from a textbook, they’re part of my own fairytale. A fairytale with ups and downs and unfortunately an end. That great long awaited trip of my year was possibly the best two weeks of my life. Two weeks crammed into narrow hostels in great cities, sharing food, naps in the sun and countless hours and miles of walking and riding in a bus with the seventy plus people that I am so lucky to know. Even the feelings of temporary discomfort and anxiety that arose are precious memories. And now all of this has me in a state of “now what?” I am nearing the end of this chapter in my life and I am determined to make these last times the greatest and to keep the goodbyes that will be inevitably said as far from permanent as possible.

Tue, May 3, 2016

  • Allison, outbound to Czech Republic

I believe wholeheartedly that I have been extremely lucky. In every way possible, I am extremely lucky.

I am lucky to be in the most beautiful place I have ever been in my 18 years. I am lucky to have a host family that makes me feel like I have lived with them my entire life and I am lucky to support close. I cannot even begin to imagine where I would be and who I would be if this exchange process went differently.

Kroměříž is the most amazing place I have ever been. There is so much history surrounding you even when you walk the 15 minutes it takes to go to the Lidl. As the former seat of the bishops of Olomouc, Kroměříž retains is religious past with one of the main attractions here: the Archbishop’s Chateau and Gardens. I have had the opportunity to see the Czech Republic’s best violinist live in the great Baroque hall of the chateau. We also have the great French style Baroque gardens which are the most stunning gardens I have ever seen.

Czechs are extremely active in the summer and into the fall. So far, I have biked 35 km (22 miles), climbed 60m (196 ft) to the top of a minaret, and have hiked about 10km on the tallest mountain in Moravia. The nature is so beautiful that I wish I could just carry it with me everywhere. It is so absolutely breathtaking that I wish I could describe it in words.

Orientation recently ended and it took place in Strečno, Slovakia. It is amazing how fast all the inbounds have bonded and I firmly think that I have made friends for life. I almost wish that our time as a whole district would last longer but now I am looking forward to seeing the other Czech inbounds again in Prague for Christmas.

I have included some photos from my (almost) month here in the Czech Republic.

P.S. If you are reading this and contemplating exchange, please take the leap and go for it. Don’t let this opportunity pass you by. Every step you will take with Rotary will be worth it.

Sun, September 13, 2015

Amanda - Finland

Hometown: Winter Springs, Florida
School: Home Schooled
Sponsor District : District 6980
Sponsor Club: Winter Springs, Florida
Host District: 1410
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Loimaa

My Bio

Hei! Hej! My name is Amanda and I’m from Winter Springs, Florida. I’m sixteen years old and a junior at both Winter Springs High School and Circle Christian School. As of August, I’ll be leaving for a year abroad in Finland! This is by far the largest and greatest decision I’ve ever made. I live with my mom and dad, older sister, older brother, two exchange students, and two dogs. I am the third and final child from my family to go on an exchange. For the past five years, my family has been hosting Rotary exchange students and it has been a very eye-opening experience and has made the world feel much, much smaller. After watching so many people exchange all over the world and seeing the effects it had on them, I knew I had to go on an exchange as well. At school, I’m currently enrolled in an aeronautical program, in which we are building a RV-12 airplane, I am dual enrolled at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, and I am a member of the Interact club. When I have free time, I spend as much of it as I can with my friends. In only a few short months I’ll be leaving behind my family, friends, native language, and everything I’ve ever known, only to be greeted by a new family, culture, and language. I hope by next year to be calling people who are now strangers to me: my family. I hope to be able to speak a new language. I hope to gain and lose character traits. I hope to be able to share about America. Lastly, I hope to explore and learn as much as I can about Finland and its culture.

  • Amanda, outbound to Finland

Five months. Almost one-half of my exchange has passed by, sooner than I could ever have imagined. While preparing for exchange, the length seemed never-ending, a year. Telling people about my future endeavors, they couldn’t believe I could leave home for a whole year; I couldn’t believe it myself. However after arriving, my first day became my first week, that soon becoming my first month, and in the blink of an eye, it’s been five months. I feel as if I’ve done more than I ever could have imagined, while simultaneously feeling as if I haven’t been doing enough. Exchange is filled with these contradictory feelings. As Perry (on exchange to Estonia) wrote in our group chat…

“I feel anything but at home. I feel I’m not myself anymore. Both for the better and for worse. I feel sick some days and I feel alone some days but it’s so addicting to feel new and different. It’s amazing. I feel like a grown-up. I feel like a child. I feel like I can’t do anything. I feel like nothing is holding me back. I know I could just go somewhere in this country on my own and be back by dinner, yet I don’t know what to do/feel confident enough. I feel like I’m in a dream, but one that I could get hurt in. I feel special, yet so insignificant. I feel like I need a hug but no, lost the desire for one…and plus that’s not the culture. I feel like I have friends, but they aren’t real friends. I feel so patriotic. I feel like I have no home. I feel cold and on my own. Yet, then I see true friends and feel like I’m not alone. I’ll always have you guys (exchangers) and I’m thankful for that. I feel like I could cry every day. I feel like I have no tears. I feel like I’m messing up everything. I know I’m messing up everything, yet I feel like it doesn’t matter. Yet, I know this is the most important year of my life. I just feel different. Simple as that.”

This quote sums up my emotions in totality. It’s the strangest feeling to love the give and take of exchange but it’s quite thrilling, and the good always overtakes the bad.

Besides all of that, I have begun to settle. Life here is becoming my life. I have a semi-regular weekly routine; school, dance, guitar, and Finnish lessons. Throughout the past few months, I’ve done so, so much!!! I’ve gone multiple times to Helsinki with exchange friends, as well as, my host family. I went to Pori for our district camp. I experienced my first Finnish snowfall. I went on a Rotary trip to Lapland, where I skied for my first time(!!!), walked across the Finnish-Swedish border, met, pet, and fed reindeer, met (the very, very real) Santa in Santa’s Village, and went on both husky and reindeer sleigh rides! I went on a trip to the beautiful Tallinn, Estonia with my host family! I met up with all of the exchange students in District 1410 for a district meeting in Salo. I performed in a dance show with my dance studio. I spent my first Christmas away from home with my Finnish family. Then last week, I rang in the New Year with Finnish friend s and my friend, Emma (an exchange student from California), at a little cottage in typical Finnish fashion, with sauna and negative degree weather. Throughout my normal week, I still am experiencing new things; whether it’s picking mushrooms with my mom or going somewhere new with friends.

Rotex always made settling seem like a bad part of exchange, because it’s no longer such a mystery anymore and while that’s true, I’ve found it quite nice to be able to know my way around town and be able to bike places without directions, to know how the train system works and be able to communicate with the ticket checker without needing English. It’s nice to have a favorite cafe in the city where the woman knows you, and to know where cities are when people refer to them. It’s refreshing not to be ((as)) confused in school and to know where my classrooms are. While I wish that new, mysterious feeling would stay prominent, settling makes it feel a bit more like home. Exchange isn’t meant to be a vacation or to feel like a tourist, but to live regularly among another culture so I’m glad it’s feeling more “normal” here.

I’ve been trying to keep track of the things that are now normal to me that hadn’t been before, however now that I’ve been here so long and they’re becoming normal to me I can’t help to overlook them. Things such as tap water rather than filtered water from the fridge, drinks with no ice, sparkling water, low diversity rates, incredible (well to me, not so much to locals) transportation, wool socks, a jacket on top of everything, just about every student taking their academics seriously, and so many more things. Oh and for me, not understanding has become pretty normal to me, although I’m hoping that will change soon.

Tue, January 5, 2016

  • Amanda, outbound to Finland

I’ve been in Finland for nearly two months now! It’s crazy how the time has flown and how much has happened. It’s been quite the adventure so far and I have been busy non-stop in the best way possible. I’m starting to adjust and create a routine for myself here and it’s starting to feel more and more like home with every passing day.

When arriving in Finland, I immediately went to orientation camp. I was a day late due to my flights but it gave me the opportunity to meet five other exchange students who were also arriving late, as well as, a boy from Finland who was on his way home from his exchange year in New York. The six of us who were late were brought to the train station and told where we needed to end up; the rest was for us to figure out. 6 teenagers, 13 bags of luggage, 5 different languages, and 2 train rides created quite an interesting first day in Finland, and a day I’ll always remember. Orientation was fantastic and took place in a beautiful place, Karkku. Over a hundred and twenty exchange students from around the world all meeting, learning Finnish, going to sauna, swimming, and exploring, I couldn’t imagine a better way to have started off my year in Finland.

I’ve been in school now for over a month and it’s been really great. I like the dynamic of it much more than school back in the states. It’s much smaller than schools back home, the high school here has around 300 students total. It’s much easier to get to know the people around you since there are so few students. The schools here allow you to have much more freedom as well; you get to choose your classes and your schedule and there’s a 15 minute break between all of the classes in which you get to socialize. It seems a lot less rushed and stressful than at home and the students hold much more responsibility here. I’m taking six classes right now so I’m there from 8am to 2pm. Currently I’m in: two English classes, biology, math, music theory, and art.

I’ve been trying new things and trying to fill my time with all types of different activities. Two weeks ago, I went on a three day hike through the Tammela forest which was incredibly beautiful and I’m really glad to have gotten the opportunity to go. We walked about 20km and the views were definitely worth it. Two weeks ago I also visited a car factory with my Rotary club and competed in a soccer tournament with my school. This past week, I started all of my after school activities. I started P.E., Finnish language lessons, guitar, and dance lessons. The Finnish lessons are really useful and I hope they help me more with my language skills. It’s really fun taking guitar and dance and trying new things that I’ve always wanted to do but have never had the opportunity to do before. Any free time I have is spent with my host family or my friends.

Last weekend, we had our first Rotary district meet-up. We all met in Turku then took a bus to Ruissalo, an island in the Archipelago Sea, where we had a picnic and we shared food from our country. I spent the day before biking to the store and baking an apple pie from scratch to share. It was really great to be able to see everyone again since orientation and meet the Australians for the first time. This past weekend, Emma (an exchange student from California) and I took the bus up to Tampere for the day to visit another exchange student, McKenna, for the day. The transportation is great here and I love being able to travel around so much.

So far everything has been so much better than I could have ever imagined and I’m really grateful for this opportunity. Leaving home sounded terrifying at first and it was harder than I expected but as soon as I left it didn’t feel so hard anymore. After you leave, you realize it’s finally happened, and the journey has begun. It’s crazy to think of leaving home and living in a new country for a year, but after you arrive in the country, then you just live and try to make the most of every second you’re away.

Tue, September 29, 2015

Ana - Japan

Hometown: Kissimmee, Florida
School: Osceola High School – Kissimmee
Sponsor District : District 6980
Sponsor Club: Kissimmee Bay, Florida
Host District: 2550
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Ashikaga nishi

My Bio

Kon’nichiwa!! My name is Ana Jacome, I am a 17 years old junior at Osceola high school here in Florida, US. I have lived in Kissimmee FL with my family for 8 years now. We are a total of four not counting our Shih Tzu named Honey. The only one that was actually born in the US. We are originally from Brazil. Born and raised till I was 9 in the capital of Paraiba, João Pessoa. A place covered with beautiful beaches and a nice all year around summer weather. Portuguese was my first language, spoken in Brazil. I eventually learned English when I moved here. I also learned Spanish, which I can say I am steps always from speaking fluently and a little of sign language, and I cannot wait to start learning Japanese! What I most enjoy doing on my free time is spending time with my family and friends, going out, traveling, reading, and whatever else comes along. My hobbies are volunteering at GKTW, theater at school, also I am the historian for theater at school, I also love taking pictures and editing them. I am grateful for the opportunity that Rotary has given to me, I have always wanted to be an exchange student, and Rotary made that happen. I sincerely could not describe how happy I was when I received the phone call from Scott saying that I have got accepted. I cannot wait to share my excitement with my host family and the new friends that I am going to make through out the process of being an exchange student and in Japan.

Journals: Ana – Japan 2015-2016

  • Ana, outbound to Japan

こんにちは!! It has been awhile. I am Ana, I am in Ashikaga city in Tochigi prefecture. I have been here for about 3 months and a couple of weeks and so much has happened.

The most exciting thing that I have had the opportunity to do was going to Disneyland Tokyo with my new host family. Even though back home I lived 15 minutes away from Disney World you can not ever get enough of Disney! Disneyland Tokyo has a multitude of similarities to Disney World in Florida, but there were parts of my experience that I really enjoyed. For example my favorite Disney character is Winnie the Pooh ( or Pooh-さん as they call him here in Japan) and they had a whole store dedicated to Pooh-さん. I can not express the joy I felt in words when I entered that store, I think I never wasted so much money in one store in my entire life. I bought everything from a Pooh-さん umbrella and a Pooh-さん chopstick to a Pooh-さん ear cleaner.

Since the holidays are here, I think it would a good time to say that for the most part you should not expect the winter holidays to be so important here. In my experience Christmas was almost non existent, New Year they usually spend it in a shrine or a temple. However even though the holidays are either not celebrated at all or celebrated extremely differently, I was still thankful that I got to experience this. It really gave me a new perspective and helped me to appreciate the way we celebrate the holidays back home.

Thu, December 31, 2015

  • Ana, outbound to Japan

こんにちは!! Time really does fly hum… A whole month already! In the first day of school after my first period where I introduced myself, everyone in my class came to talk to me and it was like that for the first two weeks. They were having a school festival where I helped my school get ready for. Everyone is so kind and helpful to me, specially my classmates. I have joined the english club at my school, and I plan on joining many more clubs. I will be going on the school trip to Okinawa, a prefecture full of beautiful beaches and with a lot of history. I have visited the most beautiful places here in Ashikaga, such as Ashikaga’s Flower Garden where they have the most gorgeous garden, fill with flowers all year around. But between April and May is where the garden can leave you speechless. I have also visited the the oldest school in Japan, Ashikaga’s Gakko here in my city, The school is said to have been established ca . 832 in the Heian period. There are so many beautiful shrines here, I have visited a few of them and I loved each and every single one of them. My first host family is really nice, my host mother is helping me learn Japanese. They have a dog called Leo, which at first she was scared of me, but now we are best friends. So this is how my first month has been, soon I will add more journals and pictures. またね!

Tue, September 29, 2015

Anna - Norway

Hometown: St. Johns, Florida
School: Creekside High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Bartram Trail, Florida
Host District: 2305
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Hadeland Syd

My Bio

Hello! My name is Anna Thompson and I am excited to say that I will be living in Norway in just a few months! I live in St. Johns and I am currently a junior at Creekside High School. I am 16 years old. I live at home with my parents and my older brother Chase (18) who is in college. My oldest brother is Nicholas (22). He lives in and attends UGA.

I was born in South and when I was 12 my parents moved the family to St. Johns, Florida. My freshmen year I joined the Color Guard at my school (we spin flags with the band). I continued Color Guard into my junior year. I am in the NAHS (National Art Honors Society).

In my free time I like to spend time with friends and go to the movies. My parents have always enjoyed taking the family on vacations. Many of the vacations were to another state and a couple was out of the country. That is what sparked my interest in traveling. While on the vacations I always enjoyed seeing the different cultures and ways of the people around us. I hope to try many new things and to make lifelong friends. I would like to thank Rotary for being able to send me on this amazing journey and once in a life time opportunity.

Journals: Anna – Norway 2015-2016

  • Anna, outbound to Norway

Now it’s below freezing everyday. It gets dark around 3:30pm. But, coming from where it does not snow, I have no idea how to dress for the snow. So, I find it often when others have to tell me how to dress.

Since the last time I have written there was Halloween, Thanksgiving (a Norwegian version), and Christmas. It has been an emotional roller-coaster, as exchange always is, but I survived it with a big smile on my face.

About five years ago, Norway had no clue what Halloween was. Some people still do not know what it is. People sell pumpkins but do not carve them. Then, there came Thanksgiving! Wait! What? Thanksgiving in Norway? Many Norwegians have moved to America and back to Norway and brought the holiday with them. My host family wanted to throw me a Thanksgiving. That was very sweet of them wanting to include my traditions. We invited our grandparents and it was a great day! It even snowed that day!

Norwegians start decorating and getting ready for Christmas in the middle of November. That was very early for me! They believe in the Nisse (gnome) that comes into your barn to leave presents for the good kids and coal for the bad kids. If you have been bad, the Nisse could also put a spell on your barn animals to make them sick. The children will leave out Grøt, rice pudding, for the Nisse to eat. Norwegians celebrate on the 24th of December instead of the 25th. We had dinner and opened up presents on the 24th. I was very grateful to receive presents when I was not expecting anything! We also had another dinner on the 25th with more family. It was very hard being away from my family in Florida during Christmas. But, my host family made me feel special and at home.

Wed, December 28, 2016

  • Anna, outbound to Norway

The first week of February, I had a ‘Winter Camp’. It was where all the inbounds come together and spend a week in Nesbyen. I was so happy to be with the other exchange student because it had been such a long time since we had been together. Its nice to be with people in the same situation as you. We were able to go skiing, snowboard, and downhill skiing. I was able to try so many new snow sports. It was such a great experience and being with my friends made it even better.

The day I returned home, I had to pick up a Spanish student from the airport. Why? I have the great opportunity to have a ‘mini exchange’ inside a big exchange. My Spanish class will travel to Barcelona, where my Spanish student came from, for a week. They already had been here for a week. They came here to practice their English skills, because the Norwegians are so good at English. They also came here to learn about the Norwegian culture. I will do the same thing in Spain but I will be practicing my Spanish. It was a special experience it me because when they came I was no longer an ‘American’. I was considered a ‘Norwegian’. I was able to introudce the Norwegian culture and life to them, just like it was my own.

At the end of February, we had another winter break. At the end of the winter break, I moved to a new family. It was hard to leave my first family because I had been with them so long and we had made very good connections. But I was also excited to move families because it would be a new experience. My new family has a daughter in Florida and the older brothers do not live at home. So, it is just my host parents and I. It’s a bit more quiet then my first family (they had four kids). I moved on a Sunday night and I had dinner with my first family and my second family.

In the second weekend of March, we had another meeting with the inbounds. Here we were able to visit Oslo, the capital. The day before we met was my birthday. My host mom threw me a party, she is so sweet! I was so happy to be able to see the other exchange students. I live near Oslo, so I visit it often, but we still did many things I have not done yet. We visited a Viking Ship museum. I found this so interesting because the Vikings did so many curious things. We also visited the Nobel Peace Prize Center. Did you know the Nobel Peace Prize is given out in Oslo, Norway? This was also very interesting. They had a temporary piece that was about what soldiers around the world aim at. We also visited the palace, the Vigeland Parke (the famous park with naked statues), and the Resistance Museum.

At the end of March, we had a week of for Påskeferie (Easter break). My family went to the cabin for the week. We went skiing every day, it was so much fun. My skiing has been improved from nothing to something! We were in the cabin with my host mom’s sister and her family. We were nine in the cabin. I thought it would be crowded and not so much fun being there for a week. But in the end, I had so much fun! On that Sunday, we ate Lamb and I was given an Easter egg with candy. I thnks its intersting how much Easter is celebrated in Norway. Most people in Norway are not religious. But Easter was celebrated with everybody and a big celebration. It has rained and now the snow is almost gone! I will miss the snow, it was so pretty.

My language is certainly better than it was in the beginning. It a great feeling when you speak the language with a native and they understand you completely. It’s a great accomplishment and I am so proud. Now I look at my time left and I realize I only have three months left?! Did I not just arrive in Norway? But time flies when you are having fun.

Thu, March 31, 2016

  • Anna, outbound to Norway

Now it’s below freezing everyday. It gets dark around 3:30pm. Coming from where it does not snow, I have no idea how to dress for the snow. So, I find it often when others have to tell me how to dress.

Since the last time I have written there was Halloween, Thanksgiving (a Norwegian version), and Christmas. It has been an emotional roller-coaster, as exchange always is, but I survived it with a big smile on my face.
About five years ago, Norway had no clue what Halloween was. Some people still do not know what it is. People sell pumpkins but do not carve them. Then, there came Thanksgiving! Wait! What? Thanksgiving in Norway? Many Norwegians have moved to America and back to Norway and brought the holiday with them. My host family wanted to throw me a Thanksgiving. That was very sweet of them wanting to include my traditions. We invited our grandparents and it was a great day! It even snowed that day! I had so much fun with my family!

Norwegians start decorating and getting ready for Christmas in the middle of November. That was very early for me! They believe in the Nisse (gnome) that comes into your barn to leave presents for the good kids and coal for the bad kids. If you have been bad, the Nisse could also put a spell on your barn animals to make them sick. The children will leave out Grøt, rice pudding, for the Nisse to eat. Norwegians celebrate on the 24th of December instead of the 25th. It was a little weird not celebrating on Christmas Day. We had a typical Norwegian Christmas dinner and opened up presents on the 24th. I was very grateful to receive presents when I was not expecting anything! We also had another dinner on the 25th with more family. It was very hard being away from my family in Florida during Christmas. But, my host family made me feel special and at home.


Tue, March 29, 2016

  • Anna, outbound to Norway

I finally had two Rotary camps. Well, the first one was a district conference in Hamar. Here I was able to meet the other exchange students in my district. They were all Australians or went to Australia on exchange. My host sister Liv Nenny was there too. The Australians have been here for ten months. We had to ‘mingle’ with Rotarians and I was proud to have people think I had been here as long as the Australians had with my language skills. We also had to stand on the stage in front of 150 Rotarians and introduce ourselves. Then we sang ‘Let it Go’ from Frozen in Norwegian. That was interesting. Many people were laughing but they were laughing with us. We received a big round of applause afterwards and that was a wonderful. Then, I had another camp the next week where I learned about Norway’s history (yes, about the Vikings). We also had some language lessons but it was hard because the teacher spoke a different dialect than the majority of the class. The camp was so much fun. I was able to meet all of Norway’s 27 inbounds. We went bowling and had pizza.

On Saturday, we went to another conference and they wanted all of the exchange students to perform something. So all of the countries grouped together. The Americans danced to ‘American’ songs like the ‘YMCA’ and the ‘Cupid Shuffle’. The Australians did Australian slang. The Latin Americans did poetry and a Taiwanese girl sang a song she wrote. We all made so many friends in such a little time it was hard to leave them in the end. It was nice to have other exchange students to talk to.

I was expecting bread but not THIS much bread! Bread for breakfast. Bread for lunch. Sometimes we even have bread for dinner. Don’t worry, I’m not complaining! I like it. The most typical way to eat bread is with butter and cheese. An ‘open’ sandwich, with no top slice. However, you can dress it up with egg, ham, jam, peanut butter, or chocolate. In my family, we have Friday night tacos. However, it is not tacos; it’s the tortilla wraps that you roll up into a burrito. Many families have some sort of taco night. It is the exact same in every house, ground beef and a buffet of toppings. Saturday is Dad’s Pizza. Pepperoni is never a topping. Its always ground beef. Sometimes we have had corn and hot dogs as toppings. Saturdays we eat the pizza in front of the TV and watch their favorite TV shows. I am always looking forwards to Fridays and Saturdays! One of my favorite foods so far is “Kjøttkakke og brun” sauce. Its like meatballs with a brown sauce. It is often served with potatoes.

Some days I feel great! I feel like I can understand everybody around me. It feels as if I will be fluent by next week. Then, some days I wake up and it seems as if everybody is mumbling words to me. I can’t understand half of what they are saying. Then, it feels like I will never learn the language. On those days, I come home very sad and exhausted. But then I remember I WANT to learn the language and I do NOT want to give up.

Tue, November 10, 2015

  • Anna, outbound to Norway

My Rotary meetings are every Monday at 7 PM. We usually have the meetings at a church. My counselor has been so kind as to pick me up every week to take me to the meetings. I have been invited to dinner with her family a couple of times. This Rotary club has about 12 members. Sometimes we have the meetings at other sites, like a “field trip”. We have been to a hiding spot from the Nazis in WW2 and a 1700 mansion on a golf course. Here the Rotarians were taught to play golf; golf is not a common sport here in Norway. The meetings are in Norwegian, of course, so most of the time I’m not sure what they are talking about. My councelor tries to translate some but she is usually too involved With the conversation. I can tell when they talk about me because I hear my name and everyone stairs at me. I get really nervous but I have just learned to just smile and nod.

My typical school day goes like this:
-I wake up at 6.45-get dress, ready, etc…
-I eat breakfast and make my matpakke. (A plastic container that my lunch is stored in.)
-My host Dad Drives Liv Nenny (sister) and I to school because he is a teacher at our school.
-School starts at 7:55 and that is usually when I slide into my seat.
-My school day usually ends around 2 and by the time we get home we have dinner waiting on us.
-Then we pass the rest of the night with family time. My host dad will play some guitar and my host sister will play the piano. There is a great deal of time where there is music playing in the house. Eventually, most nights we end up in the family room all watching TV together.

At my house in America, recycling was sorting the trash into 2 bins. One was cardboard, bottle, cans, and paper. The rest of the trash went into the other bin. Here in Norway there are 5 different places to throw your trash away/recycle. There is a bin only for food. There is a bin only for paper. There is a bin only for plastic, but we separate the plastic bottles. Then anything that cannot be put into those four bins goes into “restafall” (the rest). Even though I have been here for almost two months, I still have to stop and think before I throw anything away. They can take the plastic bottles to the grocery store and turn them in to this machine, which will give them money toward their next purchase on bottles products. They get paid to recycle!

Before I left people kept telling me about how cold and isolated Norwegians could be. They kept telling me it would be months before I could make friends with them. I must have gotten lucky because my class is very nice to me. They ask the other exchange student and I to events after school to get to know us better. It is so great to have a nice class. We are not already best friends like Americans would be but I think we are on a good track to being great friends. They make me feel so welcomed and not so much like an outcast.

These past few weeks I have been signed up to take a dance class. It is a hip-hop dance class and I take it with two of my host sisters. It is a great way to spend time with them outside of the house. The class is so much fun! They play, of course, music in English but it is a great way for me to just be myself and blend in. This class is great because there are some girls from my school taking the class also. They like to see if i can understand what the teacher is saying, if not, they help me to understand. Sometimes it is not that hard to understand because it is a dance class and I can just follow along.

I can already tell that the days are slightly shorter than when I arrived. The sun rises later and sets earlier. The air is becoming chiller by the days. All of the fields and trees were green when I arrived but now they are changing color. They are becoming this beautiful mix of orange, yellow, and red. One of my favorite things to do right now is to take a walk into the fields/woods around my house. I have already fallen in love with the Norwegian nature. It is just so beautiful. I have to take plenty of walks now before it gets too cold later to go for walks.

I have been hiking again. This time I went to Mørkganga, which was not far from where I lived. I went with the other exchange student at my school. We went with her host mother and some of her friends. It was a very steep climb towards the top. You could hold onto a rope at the top. At the top of the mountain, there was a river. You could not see so much of the view climbing up because of all the trees but when you go to the top, there was a big, beautiful view, and a lot to look at. There was clear blue skies and a huge lake below us. I could of sit on the top of hours. You could see for miles! A Norwegian tradition is to bring chocolate with you so when you get to the very top you can stop and celebrate by having chocolate. The most common to bring on hikes is Kvikk Lunsj. It is like the American Kit Kat.

Tue, September 29, 2015

  • Anna, outbound to Norway

It has been almost a month since I have arrived in Lunner, Norway! I have no scary airport stories to tell. My flights were smooth besides almost missing my last flight because of a late flight. I made the flight but my luggage did not. When I arrived in Oslo (with no bags) I heard many “Anna”s and “Hallo”s. I was rushed with many hugs by my first host family. My third host mom was there along with her daughter who was flying to Orlando in a couple of hours. My Rotary counselor was also there to greet me. My little host sister made me a sign that said “Velkommen Anna” After I explained that we had to wait for my bags we sat down and had lunch. This gave me a chance to talk to everyone.

The ride home was very quiet except for my host dad pointing out stuff. We stopped by a shop so I could meet my other host sister Liv Nenny who went to Brazil last year. I had arrived around 2am Florida time so I was very tired. I managed to stay awake all day. That day I meet I all the grandparents and they brought over fruit and ice cream. That night (like may to come) we sat down like a family and watched Modern Family with Norwegian subtitles.

Breakfast consist of bread, butter and your choice of cheese. But of you don’t want cheese there is plenty to choose from- jam, ham, salami, and spreadable meat. We sit down as a family to eat breakfast together.
I learned very quickly that Nowegians love nature. I have already been on many walks through the forest. I have been with family, dogs, and horses. Everywhere you go there are trees and flowers. Any house that you go in is covered in plants and flowers.

My school is called Hadeland Videregående Skole. They rent out computers to the students for their studies. My classes include Sicology, Math, Gym, Marketing, English, Spanish, Norwegian, and History. The English teacher likes to compare my accent to hers because English is my first language and not hers. I am in a general studies “line”. A line in school can determine what extra classes you have like music, art, mechanics, and cooking (there are many more). The school schedule is different everyday and you could have a lot of time between classes. Some of my days end earlier than others. If you have time you are allowed to go across the street to a mall. The kids in my class are very nice and the like to help me in all my classes.

I was told I was going to be the only exchange student at my school, and that worried me a little. The first day there I met a girl from Switzerland named Maren. We are they only exchange students and it’s great that we have each other.

My second week in Norway my host family took me on a trip to the mountains. We went to Galdhøpiggen. It is the highest mountain in Norway and northern Europe. I was told we were going to climb a mountain. I was not sure what to expect, which was probably a good thing. We hiked/climbed 10 miles in 7 hours. We had to cross a glacier- Styggebreen. It means ugly glacier because it has cracks in it that people could fall in. We had to tie ourselves to each other on a long rope in case someone fell in, the person would be caught by the rope. It was my first time on that much snow. Everyone took turns helping me walk on the snow. They said it was a good bonding time.

They have also taken me to Hunderfossen which is an amusement park in Lillehammer. It’s theme is trolls and Norwegian fairytales. The Swiss exchange student came with us. It was so much fun to hear about the Norwegian fairytales.

The first month of settling in has been full of English AND Norwegian. But my host parents are “forgetting” how to speak English. This will be helpful with my language skills because in Norway everybody speaks Englsih.
I live in the countryside. It is hills and farms everywhere. There are sheep in the street and cows are walking freely.

I have been so happy to be here. This has already been such a great experience. I am so grateful for this opportunity. Thank you Rotary!

Ha det!

Sat, September 5, 2015

Caneel - Italy

Hometown: Tampa, Florida
School: Other (not on list)
Sponsor District : District 6890
Sponsor Club: Tampa Interbay, Florida
Host District: 2050
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Brescia Sud Est Montichiari

My Bio

Hi! My name is Caneel Dixon. I am from Tampa, FL. I am a strong, independent, adventurous leader who likes a challenge. I have a two siblings and a loving dog named Koa. I love doing community service, in fact I started an Interact Club at my high school to teach others about giving back as well. I am also involved in National Honor Society, Student Council, a mentoring program for middle schoolers at my school, coaching a youth girls soccer team, Girl Scouts, and teaching Sunday school and Vacation Bible School at my church.

I have a passion for sports and keeping fit, whether it is by playing soccer, swimming, or doing yoga. You can always find me outside doing something active! If I have any spare time I like to read books and magazines and hang out with my friends, biking around town or seeing a movie. I knew I wanted to be an exchange student when I hosted two exchange students at my house. I learned so much from them, especially helping them acclimate to a completely new culture and climate. It is from these two girls that I hosted that I found what I wanted to accomplish as a foreign exchange student; to become truly immersed in another culture, to speak fluently to others, and be able to relate and have a bond because of that.

Journals: Caneel – Italy 2015-2016

  • Caneel, outbound to Italy

A lot has changed from my last blog post. One of the biggest changes being when I moved families. I’m not going to try to compare the two because every family is different and I like them each for their own reasons, but here is an update for what my current “normal” is like and also a belated recap of my Italian Christmas season.

I’m not scared of change. I did move to Italy by myself, after all, but the night before I moved host families, I stayed up almost the whole night. In reality, I had nothing to fear. Since I moved in, my new host family has been making me feel right at home. My host mom even offered to kick her own daughter out of her room so that I could have my own. I assured her that this was not going to be necessary, thinking about my own brother and sister having to move in together in this situation.

My host sister is like my twin, an experience I never thought I’d get to have. Now I know some of the experiences that my other real twin host sisters have; like always being together, but having different friends and how people have to decide to invite one or both of us to events. Also how you can help each other through bad days and low grades. We have a lot of differences, but at the end of the day, we are lying next to each other and can whisper “Buona Notte” and know that we have each other.

My host brother and real brother are so similar it’s scary. I have noticed a lot of people look the exact same as someone I know back in the States, but these two are the real deal. With dirty blonde hair, always playing soccer in the house, being difficult with their mothers and having a challenge for every ask or order. A love of their technology, but a bigger love for their sisters (sometimes they are just good at hiding it). I have had so much fun playing soccer with my host brother, from one-to-one, to him putting me through drills to help me get better. He has given me some of his old grammar books and will work with me going through them, never getting frustrated if I don’t understand something on the first go.

My host parents have treated me as one of their own as well. My host dad picks me up from soccer practice and my host mom reads my art textbook to me, helping to put it in simpler terms so that I’m ready when my teacher gives me an “Interrogazione”.

I used to be the last person to rise in my house, but now I’m the first. I get the table ready for breakfast and turn on the gas so that the various pans of milk, caffè, and hot water can all be warmed up while I eat some yogurt. Although I have been living here for five months now, I still find that I need to eat a little more than just a few cookies for breakfast. My sister and I then run out to catch the bus at 7:05. Luckily, the bus stop is almost right in front of our house, so if one of us is running late, we can just listen for the sound of the bus approaching.

Although I’m getting up an hour earlier so that I’m ready for my half hour bus ride, I’ve found that I really don’t mind it (or dread it like I thought I would). I use that time on the first bus to write my daily journal and then walk twenty minutes to get to school (the walking is by choice; my sister takes a second bus and we arrive at about the same time). I love that I get to see the sunrise every morning as I’m coming down the mountain and get a beautiful view of the entire Lago di Garda.

Unlike in the morning, where the bus is silent- everyone’s in their own semi-awake world, everyone is discussing something after school. This has allowed me to make a lot of friends on the two buses that I take.

One day when I was half way down the path to the bus stop, I realized that I had forgotten something in my desk at school. I turned to go back and get what I had forgotten and was then amazed by just how many people stopped to say goodbye to me and knew me by name as I climbed back up the hill. In a school where no one changes classes (except me), it can be hard to meet people, but these people had clearly made an effort to meet me and it was really heartwarming knowing I had all these people here for me.

A great custom and part of the Italian and general European culture is meeting for a caffè or tè. In the U.S. I always felt like if I wanted to meet up with friends, it needed to be centered on a meal, but here if you want to hang out or meet up, a drink is a perfect excuse (and it doesn’t have to be alcoholic!). Another useful aspect is that it can be used for any level of acquaintance, from work colleagues to other family members. Also it can be at any hour of the day, morning, afternoon, or evening.

I think I say this every post, but I truly couldn’t be happier. I also included the majority of this in Italian for my host Rotary club and specifically because my host grandparents (My “nonni” told me that they wanted to read my posts and that google translate wasn’t giving my words justice). Ciao a tutti!

Diario di Rotary: Italiano

Un sacco è cambiato dal mio ultimo post di blog. Uno dei cambia,enti più grandi è stato traslocare e cambiare la mia famiglia. Non voglio comparare loro perché ogni famiglia è diversa e voglio bene a entrambi per ragioni diverse, così questo è un aggiornamento per cosa è normale nella mia vita qui in Italia.

Non ho paura di cambiare in generale, sono venuta qui da solo, giusto? Ma la notte prima di traslocare in una nuova famiglia, non sono riuscita a dormire. Però, non avevo niente di qui avere paura. Da quando mi sono trasferita qui, la mia nuova famiglia ospitante mi hanno fatto sentire a casa mia. Anche se mia mamma ospitante mi ha offerto di stare da sola nella camera di sua figlia, cacciandola nella camera del fratello, le ho assicurato che non sarebbe stato necessario. In quel momento ho pensato che anche i miei fratelli in Tampa non ne sarebbero stati contenti.

La mia sorella ospitante è come la mia gemella, un’esperienza che non ho mai pensato potesse accadermi nella vita. Ora io so come si sentono che le mie altre due sorelle ospitanti che sono gemelle realmente. Ad esempio noi stiamo sempre insieme, però avendo amici diversi, quando le persone fanno delle feste non sempre ci invitano tutte due. È molto bello perché ci possiamo aiutare quando abbiamo avuto una cattiva giornata o abbiamo preso voto basso. Abbiamo un sacco di differenze, ma prima andare a dormire, stiamo sdraiate l’una vicino all’altra e ci bisbigliamo “Buona Notte” e sappiamo che possiamo sempre contare sull’altra.

I miei genitori ospitanti mi hanno trattata come si fossi loro figlia. Mio padre ospitante mi viene prendere dopo l’allenamento di calcio e mia madre mi legge il mio libro di arte, aiutandomi a mettere le idee in parole più semplici, così sono pronta quando la mia insegnante mi interroga.

Mio fratello ospitante e mio fratello reale sono simili, è un po’ spaventoso. Ho notato che qui un sacco di gente assomiglia ad altre persone che conosco negli Stati Uniti, ma questi due sono davvero simili. Loro due hanno i capelli biondo sporco, giocano sempre a calcio in casa, non ubbidiscono mai alla mamma, e trasformano ogni cosa che gli si chiede in una sfida. Hanno un grande amore per la tecnologia, ma uno più grande per loro sorelle (ma non sempre lo mostrano). Mi sono divertita molto giocando a calcio con mio fratello ospitante, sia giocando uno-contro-uno, sia quando mi faceva fare esercizi per aiutarmi a diventare più brava. Mi ha dato alcuni dei suoi vecchi libri di grammatica e mi ha insegnato qualcosa non era mai infastidito se non capivo la prima volta.

Una bella abitudine è una parte della cultura italiano e dell’Europa in generale è incontrarsi in un bar per un caffè o un tè. Negli Stati Uniti se volevo uscire con i miei amici, dovevo per forza uscire a mangiare qualcosa, ma qui, se vuoi passare il tempo, una bibita è una ragione perfetta! Questa cosa si fa anche tra colleghi o membri della famiglia, non per forza solo tra amici; questo è un aspetto molto utile. Anche quando non è un appuntamento importante, tutto le ore del giorno sono disponibili.

Nella mia prima famiglia ospitante, mi alzavo per ultima, ma adesso al contrario per prima. Ora mi alzo un’ora prima, così sono pronta per prendere l’autobus per Salò dopo un viaggio di trenta minuti. In stazione camminano verso la scuola per circa venti minuti. Le prime volte pensavo che era un tragitto troppo lungo, ma adesso, mi va bene: perché questa distanza è perfetto per riuscire a scrivere il mio diario ogni giorno e anche perché mi piace vedere l’alba ogni mattina con una bella vista del lago.

Preparo il tavolo per colazione e accendo il gas così le pentole per il latte, il caffè, e l’acqua calda si possono riscaldare mentre mangio il mio yogurt. Anche se abito qua in Italiada cinque mesi, non mi sono ancora abituata a mangiare solo biscotti per colazione. Mia sorella e io corriamo fuori per prendere l’autobus alle sette e cinque, siamo fortunate perché la fermata è proprio davanti a casa nostra, così se una di noi è un po’ in ritardo, possiamo sentire quando arriva.

Ho imparato un sacco nel mio primo inverno (perché l’inverno della Florida a venticinque gradi non è un vero inverno). La neve non c’è, ma sono contenta lo stesso. Prima, non sapevo tante cose dell’inverno, come per i vestiti- che è importante usare tanti strati e che non hai bisogno di tanti vestiti invernali, solo un paio di jeans e una giaccia o una felpa perché le magliette che tu indossi, nessuno le vede. Questo significa che tu sembri lo stesso in ogni foto- stessi jeans e cappotto. L’unica differenza tra le foto è che lo sfondo è diverso o sei con altre persone.
Penso che dico questo in ogni post, ma non è possibile per me essere più felice di come lo sono adesso. Ho fatto questo diaria in italiano perché i miei nonni ospitanti hanno detto che loro vogliono leggere i miei post e che “Google Traduttore” non è sempre giusto, e lo faccio anche per il mio club ospitante di Rotary. Ciao a tutti!

Thu, March 3, 2016

  • Caneel, outbound to Italy

School: Italian vs. American
(& all the details in between)

One of the questions I have been asked the most during my time here in Italy is, “Which school system do you think is more difficult: Italy’s or that of the United States?”. In reality there is no easy answer because there are so many differences, so I’ll point out some of the main ones that I noticed this first semester (their two semesters are from September to January and then February to June). I have stated a few of these points previously, but this is solely devoted to the school systems of Italy and the U.S.

First is classrooms. You never “change classes” because you stay in the same room for the entire day. The only exception to this is gym class when you go to the gym, but even then the teacher first comes to your classroom to check everyone in and write on the student portal what we will be doing for that day (every class starts by teachers taking attendance and then logging what will be covered that day in class). If you are late (you have about a 5-10 minute grace period after the bell rings to actually be considered late) or absent one day, you bring in your justification book that your parents sign, or if you are older than 18, you can sign it yourself- no reason is needed, just the time of entrance and their (or your) signature [see figure 1]. Seems a lot easier than some of the trouble I had to go through to get a doctors note for my old school, but every place is different! It’s only if you miss more than the allotted number of school days (about a month) that you need a real doctor’s note- amazingly enough a girl in my class has already missed more than 35 days because she is sick so often.

Since you don’t change classrooms, the room is yours, the student’s, to do what you please. This means that your class paints it the color that it wants and can decorate it as much or as little as you choose. My classroom is a soft hospital gown blue and decorated by a map of the world, a cross that Gesù Cristo was once hanging off of, but then fell off due to rough play, a small Italian flag (we are the only class to have an Italian flag up- update: that has since come down) and a small American flag that I brought in and gave to my class (which hung for months, but has disappeared as of late). Ours is one of the more minimalist classrooms. Others have student drawings taped up or language posters (language school) or one is even painted bright green and has a welcome mat and plants in it. After the Paris attacks, half the classes put up a version of a “Pray for Paris” sign and for Christmas, some had Christmas lights around their boards [see figure 2]. It really is up to your class. This also means that your desk is actually yours, well for the year anyway. You can draw on it, store snacks, or if you are like me, store all of your books in it (there are no lockers, so everyone else lugs all of their books to and from school every day).

The students can also organize where they want to put their desks, the only exceptions being fire safety and general ease of use getting around. In most cases the desks have an order already set when the year starts (just because all of the desks have to fit in the room), but ours is different. Our classroom is one of the largest (it had to be big enough to fit the 29 students in our class and the teacher inside) and unlike every other class whose desks are evenly spaced in pairs across the room, we have four rows of desks all smushed together since the location of our board is in the left corner of the room and everyone wants to be able to see somewhat. It’s funny how people’s grades tend to be in direct correlation with where they are positioned in regard to the board..

There are five classes every day and each class is an hour, so the school day lasts from 8-1. There is a break at 11 for a snack where you can get a caffè or tè from a hot coffee vending machine or go to the “bar” and get a piece of pizza (slices do not exist here in Italy) or sandwich. Living with my new family up the mountain from my school, I then ride two buses to get home, so I eat around 2 [see figures 3]. This works out perfectly because my host brother finishes his school at 2. He has one additional hour every day so that he does not have to go to school on Saturday like my host sister and I do.

Italian schools have staffed hall monitors. I think they probably have a different title, but that is what they do; sit in a desk in the hall for the whole day. There are two for each floor strategically placed on opposite ends of the very long hallways that make up our school, near the bathrooms and exits, one for the gym locker room area as well as one for the laboratory who acts like a teacher’s assistant, fetching any of the needed materials.

The Italian school system places more emphasis on independent learning. My host sister phrased in nicely by saying how since they spend less time at school doing work and learning, they are expected to do more studying by themselves at home. With your afternoons free, you can thus choose to spend them how you would like. My siblings in both families are good students and often spend their time studying. There is not as much homework to do in the sense that something is collected and gone over in class (the majority of textbooks have the answers printed right next to the corresponding problems), but teachers may give problems on the material that you are covering. These problems are optional to do because it’s never going to be graded and may or may not be gone over in class depending on the teacher. It’s more a chance for you to see what you need to ask questions about the next time you meet in order to clarify whatever you don’t understand.

I think that a lot of people have seen movies that depict American schools as really easy because people always seem surprised to learn that, yes, I did in fact have a lot of homework every night along with sports practice and other things to do with the addition of our school getting out three hours later. It’s also difficult to describe how there are different levels of classes, so you can take easier or harder classes based on your abilities and interest level in a subject. Sometimes I feel like I’ve been transported back in time to the one room schoolhouse days of America, with everyone learning the same things, no matter what level they are at something. An example of this is a boy in my class whose mother speaks English at home. He has a beautiful British accent and is great at English, but he is in the same class as other people who can barely string a few sentences together. In the U.S., those students would be seen in “AP English” and “English 1” respectively because the classes you take are more based on your skill level.

The way that classes are taught is different as well. There is very little student participation, with the majority of lessons being taught as lectures, so it’s more like what you would experience as a student at a university. There are no student presentations or group projects and if you go to the laboratory to do an experiment, it is the teacher who actually does the experiments/ demonstrations. Students just watch. In the five months that I’ve been here I’ve been to the laboratory a total of five times, so that just goes to show how infrequent they are (to put it in perspective I think I had weekly labs in my Chemistry class). More lectures means less use of the board, which was one of the most challenging parts of school here for me when I arrived because they spoke too quickly for me to understand, much less take notes on. The board was another surprise because it isn’t a white board with dry erase markers, but a blackboard with chalk [see figure 4]! We also have a version of a “Smart Board”, but teachers only use it as a projector. I guess no one taught them how to use it or they don’t care. Although I have read on quite a few blogs from Italian exchange students in the U.S. that they were shocked by how young the teachers are in the States.

The bathrooms took a little getting used to, being squat toilets instead of the western style, but by now it’s completely normal. I will admit to looking up how to use one after being here for three months, just to make sure that was doing it right. The teachers have what Americans would call “normal” toilets, except there is no seat on the toilet bowl.

In my high school, students safety was always a priority. One way of providing that was having an unobstructed view into every classroom. This meant every door had a window in it that was viewable from the outside, or doors were just left open in general. Here, I realized pretty quickly that there were no windows or other ways to see into a class because if you want to enter a class, you need to knock on the door. The class then lets out a chorus of, “Avanti!”, meaning “Come in!” to whoever is outside (I believe it’s only supposed to be the teacher who says this and gives the outsider permission to come in, but in reality it’s everyone together). Sometimes these interruptions are from the hall monitors, bringing something for the teacher to sign about a change in schedule for the class (it almost never has anything to do with the teacher in the class at all, but they need proof that an adult was present to tell the students the change). Other times it is other students asking for latin dictionaries, calculators, or art design tools. You really never know who is going to come through the door, but it always provides a small break in the class which is taken full advantage of.

Once classes are formed in your first year of high school, there isn’t a lot of change from year to year. The only exception of this is splitting a class because it was too big or joining two together because it was too small in the previous year. Every year you elect two leaders of the class who are the connection of students to teachers and tell the class about any school changes or events. They really do a lot and are the class leaders. I actually ran to be one in my class, my speech being “Hi, Vote for me because I’m Caneel” which was about all the Italian I could string together, but I still got two votes (Yes, one of them was my own, but one was not!)!!

There is not a lot of change after your first year because upon entering high school you have to choose which “school” or specialization you want to study for the next five years (I thought being 18 and picking my major when I go to college was stressful, much less 14!). These choices include “Classics”- studying more Greek, Latin, and general classical works, “Applied Science”, “Human Sciences”, “Integrated Science”, “Linguistic”, and my school, “Scientific” [see figure 1 again for the logos]. We take 10 classes that include Math, General Science (includes Chemistry/ Biology/ Geology), Physics, Latin, Italian, English, Philosophy, P.E., History (we just finished covering the American Revolution and the history of America in general [my teacher, “Yes we will quickly cover the history of the US because it is very short”- true, but very funny to hear] which was fascinating to study in another language and from another perspective- the actual war against the British and the civil war were just bullet points! No tactics or battles were discussed, just the names of each side and who won [see figure 6]), Art (about half is art design, drawing complex interwoven 3-D figures with shadings [see figure 7], and the other half if art history which is incredible to learn about some of the famous works that I’ve gotten to see so far in person in Rome and Milan), and Religion (an optional subject that about half my class stays for, the others have an hour of free time where they can go to the school cafeteria and do other work) [see figure 8 for my personalized schedule]. Other schools offer technology and art specializations as well, or you can go to a lower, “easier” level of school (mine is the highest level, called Liceo).

Private schools are generally thought to be for the students who would have had to repeat a year at Liceo or who are generally not as smart. Also, although “Liceo” is a public school, very few people transfer in from other schools or other areas because people generally move a lot less here. Instead, families tend to all stay together in the same town. This causes some tense conversations for some families when students in their fifth year are deciding on the college they want to attend.

School wide protests still happen here. They are organized by the elected student government and seem to be very effective so far. We had one in December and another one is scheduled for the middle of February. The December “sciopero” was in protest against the lack of heat in the school since the school was trying to save money [see figure 9]. The students came to school at 8, like any other normal school day, except everyone waited outside the main school gates. At around 9 everyone marched around the school and sang chants and held up their really creative signs. The local news station even came out to cover it. The next day when we went back to school, it was nice and toasty. Side note: it’s funny to walk down the hallway during our 11 o’clock snack break because you will see clumps of students spaced evenly down the course of the hallway; all leaning against the heaters.

Grades are measured from 1-10 here with a 6 being passing. This is very similar to the U.S. system of 1-100, but a big difference lies in what is being graded. Grades at my old school were majorly comprised of homework, participation/harkness, presentations/projects, and tests (although it varied between classes) and were also weighted according to importance. Here, all grades are weighted equally and it is possible to have as little as two grades to make up your average for the semester. These grades are comprised from written tests or oral tests, or what we call “Interrogazione”. There is only one class that has homework that is graded, meaning it is very important that you spend a lot of time on it since it is worth the same as a test. Another big difference is that there are no exams at the end of a semester or even at the end of the school year. The only exam comes at the end of your fifth and final year of high school, which is what you need to officially “pass” high school.

The 5th year exam. This is the pass or fail of high school. You also take one at the end of your last year in middle school. Each tests covers all the material that you have learned over the course of your time at that respective school. You also take a practice test in your third and fourth year of high school that count as test grades to help prepare you. They are given by a separate committee, not your teachers, and include both written test portions as well as oral. It is similar to the exams that U.S. students take around Christmas and before summer break, with very subject being on a different day for a week, but they are a bit longer, being between four to six hours depending on the material. The material you are tested on also varies every year. This year the math test is apparently centered more on generic math, while next year’s will put a bigger emphasis on physics.

Grades are not sent to colleges or seen by anyone else other than you and your family, so this means that students can really do as much or as little as they want to get by and pass the year. I believe it is this reason why repeating grades seems to be more common here. In my class of thirty, two girls have had to repeat a year. However, if you do well enough, you can be eligible to get money from the community where you live. My host sisters each got about 400 euros from the government of the town where we live for having some of the highest grade point averages in that community. Other communities only give around 200, but it is still a substantial amount. My parents in the U.S. did this system with me in Elementary school one year, except I think I got 50 cents for every A. Close enough..

In addition to the amount of grades that make up your average being different and their lack of being weighted, the ways of testing are also different. I stated earlier how the two types are written or oral tests, and will now explain the different skills they give you for life. Afterall, isn’t that the whole purpose of school- to prepare you for jobs/ life after school?

In my high school in the U.S., harkness is a common method of teaching for history and English classes. It involves talking on a specific topic with students leading the conversation (the goal is for the teacher to not have to talk, only redirect the conversation when needed or give another point of view to talk about). This is good preparation for future job meetings, teaching you not only how to express your ideas and speak up for yourself (one aspect of your grade is how often you speak in addition to what it is that you say), but also when to listen.

In Italy, they have oral tests called interrogations where between one and four students sit/ stand in front of the class by the teacher’s desk and are drilled, to various degrees of difficulty on whatever topic is being covered. Some are conversational, some are literal interrogations, probing you on every little detail in a painting for art or events that happened in Dante for Italian. This equips you to be ready for job interviews or public speaking since you are expected to think on your feet (literally and figuratively in some cases depending on the teacher) in front of the class.

One difference between interrogations and written tests is that interrogations can take up to a month to get through the entire class versus everyone on one day. With only three students going every day, that’s ten different class periods of interrogation. Also, sometimes the teacher forgets that they are still doing interrogations because it’s been going on for so long, so a few classes might pass in between interrogations. Interrogations don’t necessarily take the whole class, it depends on the teacher and the material being covered- in physics, maybe 10-15 minutes, in Italiano, always the full hour.

Thoughts on Cheating
Because classes are formed and then remain largely unchanged for the next five years of high school, the students get really close and a class mentality develops. This “team” mentality also transcribes over to when you are taking tests, written or oral. I remember my host dad asking me, “Well, you guys help each other out, right?” (referring to helping each other cheat in class) and my host sister said, “No, they don’t have the same unity as us” or something to that effect. Other examples include:

After my first day of school I was starting to do some of my Latin homework (before the school had me change classes to take more Italian classes during Latin) and immediately a group chat had been formed and the first question was, “Who did the Latin homework?” and within an hour someone had already sent it to the group. That pretty much set the bar for the rest of the year.

When taking a written test, it’s easiest to bring a “biglietto” or little note card with information in to cheat off of, but another common method is whispering. A teacher might be interrupted by the hall monitor and needs to sign something, whisper whisper; another student asks a question, whisper whisper. Everyone breaks out at once comparing answers and asking each other for help. It’s not subtle either, the teachers know what’s happening too, some try to rein the class back in, others just let them carry on.

For oral tests, students can sometimes choose how they want to orientate themselves in regards to the teacher. Often it’s to the side of the teacher so that the student can look out to his or her peers and see their classmates trying to mouth or “cough” the answers to them. It’s rather entertaining to watch.

You can see that cheating really is a problem here and nothing is being done to try and prevent it. It actually just seems like another part of the school system. There is no honor code or real punishments if you get caught cheating either. Once a guy in my class was caught using a little note card on a history test and his test was taken away, but then he just took it again the next time the class met. Another time a different guy google translated the entire latin test, and the teacher knew because it was written how a machine translator would write it, thus still having a ton of errors, so the teacher corrected it as so and the student got a 2, which seemed to be punishment enough. One day I walked into the room I share with my host sister to find her making a formula cheat sheet for math and copying notes into her translation dictionary to use the next day in her latin test. It was so normal that I almost forgot it wasn’t actually allowed, since everyone else in the class was doing the same exact thing.

Today in my art class, the other students asked the teacher, who is in her late 60s and planning on retiring after this year (also one of the more serious ones in regards to how she runs her class and cheating), “Come on, teacher. Didn’t you cheat too?”. The teacher then replied something along the lines of “Well, yes”-not sure if she meant middle school, high school, or college, but she wasn’t going to try and deny her “cheating” past either.

Now I’m not so naive as to think that the U.S. or even my own high school didn’t have people who cheat, but it’s just hard to explain how normal it is here.

Fri, February 12, 2016

  • Caneel, outbound to Italy

I’ve learned a lot in my first “real” winter. Although there has not been much snow, the winter temperatures have been thrilling enough for me. I’d never known about neck warmers or how important layering is. I also saw that your winter wardrobe doesn’t need to be very big, just a pair of jeans and a sweater, because the shirt(s) you wear underneath never get seen. This means you look the exact same in every picture- the same jeans and winter coat. The only aspect differentiating the days or pictures is your background or who you are with (instead of one bundled up Eskimo, there’s two).

In addition to the weather this winter, Christmas was also very different for me. I really enjoyed how the entire season was focused on spending time with both friends and family, and food (often intertwining so you got both at once). Christmas trees were the same, but lights and other decorations outside the houses were a lot less common. I went to four or five Christmas dinners/ lunches: one with all the coaches in my soccer program, one with four other families where we all exchanged gifts, another with my host sisters friends, another with my host aunt and uncle and their kids, another with both sets of grandparents, another with Rotary… The list goes on. All of them were huge celebrations, eating a ton of great food and exchanging good wishes for Christmas and the new year as well as reflecting on what we had done and what we planned to do this year. An added bonus was Santa Lucia who came on the 13th of December, so it was fun to learn about that tradition for the kids (the Italian version of a Santa who brings candies and board games except it’s a women who rides a donkey and drinks the wine that you leave out for her instead of a man on a sleigh with reindeer who drinks milk.

The Pre-Christmas season however also felt a lot shorter than normal because I had my first day of Christmas break on the 23rd. Although this period was stressful for my sisters because it was filled with tests, it was nowhere near the exams that I was used to in the US. One day of break and then it was Christmas eve.

We started off the festivities on Christmas Eve by going over for dinner at 8 at the host cousins house (Stefano, Giulio, Danielle, and Daniella), joined by the grandparents (Nonni) to have a large fish themed dinner. We brought all of our gifts including the ones between our family to exchange at their house (all my gifts that I had brought from Florida filled half of the big box that we brought over- I had brought enough gifts to be sufficient for an American Christmas, whereas here they really give and get one gift for everyone). All of us “kids” got three gifts- one from parents, one from grandparents, and one from Aunt/ Uncle (it was funny because my host mom had bought pajamas for the cousins to be our family’s gift to them and then they had gotten us girls pajama sets as well haha- which was a perfect gift for me because I didn’t have any cool weather pajamas). . It was refreshing because each gift was really thought out and meaningful, it wasn’t a lot of things that you kinda liked, but just one big one from your family. I had brought a lot of gifts with me to give my family, so I think I overwhelmed everyone a bit, but I loved that I had gotten to know my family well enough to know who would appreciate what. After, we played a game of “Clue” before heading to the midnight Christmas Eve service where my host mom read one of the liturgy readings. It was very casual when compared to what I was used to in the States. I had known that it wasn’t normal for Italians to dress up for church, but I assumed that Christmas would be the exception.. I wore a nice red dress and when we went to the service, I was the only one wearing a dress

The actual Christmas Eve and Christmas day traditions were new for me as well. Christmas Eve consisted of my family getting together with one of my host cousin’s families and grandparents to have a large fish themed dinner and then playing the “Clue” board game before exchanging Christmas gifts. All of us “kids” got three gifts- one from parents, one from grandparents, and one from Aunt/ Uncle. It was refreshing because each gift was really thought out and meaningful, it wasn’t a lot of things that you kinda liked, but just one big one from your family. I had brought a lot of gifts with me to give my family, so I think I overwhelmed everyone a bit, but I loved having getting to know my family enough to know who would appreciate what. After, we headed to the midnight Christmas Eve service where my host mom read one of the liturgy readings. It was also very casual when compared to what I was used to in the states because I had known that it wasn’t normal for Italians to dress up for church, but I assumed that Christmas would be the exception.. I wore a nice red dress and when we went to the service, I was the only one wearing a dress.

Christmas was the opposite. I was used to wearing pajamas for the whole day, so when I came out in jeans and a t-shirt, my host mom nicely suggested that I might want to change back into the “nice red dress from last night”. The whole day consisted of eating, from sunup to sundown. The same people who went to the family dinner the night before all went to my grandparents house for lunch and dinner. We started with a large “aperitivo” course with little sandwiches, a meat tray, bread, vegetables soaked in vinegar, and more. Next came the “Primo piatto” of broth with ravioli’s. The “Segundo piatto” was the meat course: cow tongue, rabbit, and chicken served with lentils. The dessert course was a choice of Pandoro o Panettone. Two airy cake like desserts. The pandoro has powdered sugar on top and the panettone can be eaten with or without cream and has little pieces of fruit inside. These are the desserts for Christmas. Any dinner in the month of December or January will have an option of one or both of these for dessert. Other family members also stopped by the house for various amounts of time during the course of the afternoon. When it came time for dinner, we had all somehow managed to regain our appetites and ate the leftovers from lunch. After, we wrapped up the evening by playing card games (I taught them some and they taught me some) and my new favorite board game, called “Carcassone”. It was my first Christmas away from home and I wouldn’t have rather had it any other way.

Fri, February 12, 2016

  • Caneel, outbound to Italy

When my host parents tell me that we are going somewhere, there is still a lot of confusion on my end of where that place actually is. This is how I came up with the name of this journal/ the book of my life here in Italy: “How I went to find a friend and instead found Gesù Cristo: and other stories of exchange”. I had thought that my parents had said we were going to meet some of their friends and get a gelato, but in actuality we went to church and got communion bread instead.

The morning after I got here I woke up in a panic. I couldn’t speak English for an entire year and barely knew any Italian (my first few days were almost entirely Spanish, hoping the words were the same [they aren’t]). As my time here lengthened however, I realized that I’d started to dread hearing English because it meant that I was failing to do what I had come here for, to learn and speak Italian.

A bio I used for myself on social media when I first arrived was, “I smile a lot and pretend to know what you’re saying”. I found this fitting because so often people would be talking to me, full of passion and animation (OK, Italians saying anything), but I would be completely lost. I really came to appreciate the people who would talk slowly to me, because, as I learned from my English class, speaking slowly in your native tongue can be quite difficult and it requires continuous thought.

Like I learned to speak slowly, I have also learned to listen here; to hear the sounds of people’s voices and use that to my advantage. When I first arrived I dreaded the sound of a voice turning up at the end (having an upward inflection), because that meant someone was asking me a question when A) I had not been listening or B) I had in fact been listening, but was still clueless about what was being talked about. Option B was my life.

The best way that I have found to show that I am listening is to rely on social cues, when to nod my head in agreement or shake it in disbelief. Basically anything other than the deer in the headlights look that my host family must have thought was my natural, resting face when I first came since I used it so much. Finding other ways of expressing myself like using grand hand motions and smiling, have been instrumental in my adaptation because if you can’t portray or say anything else, you can always smile to get your point across or tell how you are feeling.

I’ve truly found happiness in Italy. That’s not saying I don’t have challenging days, but I don’t think I’ve ever laughed this often. I find myself laughing at funny shirts written in broken English, my own language blunders, and the sheer irony of situations. An example of this was when I went out for pizza one night with my host sisters and exchange counselor. We were amused by the group of loud English speakers sitting behind us that were clearly tourists, so we started comparing some of the differences between the Italian culture and theirs. 1) You don’t normally eat the bread given to you when you first sit down, but instead use it for during, or after the meal to literally clean your plate (real Italian places seem to offer you a few types of packaged bread/sticks you can eat too). 2) To-go boxes are not used to take whatever’s left on your plate home with you because they literally do not exist here. Even containers for leftover food at home aren’t that popular because the meals prepared are expected to be finished. This means that when it comes down to, “Who’s going to eat the last chicken leg? Caneel, you’ve only eaten five, you might as well make it even and finish it”, that’s exactly what you do, finish it. 3) Never count on any course being your last because you never truly know how many more are coming- are we having cheese and marmalade for dessert now? Oh wait, we still have two more regular courses to go.. I used to wonder where everyone was putting all of this food, but then came to realize that it is very similar to the Mary Poppins magic bag; there is no bottom to their stomachs. To put it simply in Calculus terms, the limit does not exist; a perfect description of the seemingly infinite amount of courses capable of being consumed. Even when my sisters say, “Basta! (Enough!)” after finishing a plate, that doesn’t mean they are done eating for good, just with that course. At the end of the night as we were leaving the restaurant I was struck with amazement. For once I was no longer the English tourist. No, here I had just spent the entire evening speaking Italian with the natives. How blessed I am.

It’s little things that make me feel like I belong, like going to school every morning and seeing the same people on my way. There is the man walking his little lap dog, the other student who always uses a mysterious shortcut that gets him to school faster (side note: I finally figured it out after trying to inconspicuously stalk him for a week, then giving up on not being seen and flat out running to see the different turns he makes), and the pack of three girls who never seem to be in a rush to get to school, yet always make it on time. These things have become like clockwork and I find myself basing my route and walking speed off of where they are. The three girls are just meeting up to start on their way, today can be a leisurely speed walk, the 7:45 bus passed me before I even left my street, I’m running late. Although like most things in Italy, school doesn’t actually start at 8. Sometimes the students come in a few minutes late and sometimes the teacher will come in a few minutes after the late students. If not, just blame the bus (it’s like blaming the dog). Every Sunday when we go to church, I would say half the congregation (including my family) walks in as the bells are ringing signaling that the service is in full swing already and that you are now late, but you just go with it. It’s all part of the culture.

Italy is a place where Fiat’s fit in, smart cars are well, actually smart, and when you have a bumper sticker of “Bimbo in car”, it’s not talking about a dumb person or airhead, but your very own child. Things like being the only one to buckle my seatbelt in the backseat, or using the squat toilets at school/ other public places have become my new normal. Other things that have become routine are seeing shrines on every corner dedicated to La Madonna and/or Gesù Cristo (so common that I often don’t even notice them anymore). Something else I have learned here is that no one hangs flags outside their homes. The only places that have the Italian flag are government buildings or for tourists, so if you are a local, you tend to avoid those places. There are also gates for every house/complex here. When I showed my host cousins a picture of my house in the US, they were shocked to see that there was no gate around my front yard separating the property from the street. I, on the other hand, was so unaccustomed to having a gate that I never remembered my keys to unlock it, so I always used to hop mine (until my sisters taught me how to jimmy the gate open with my pinky finger). Windows are actually used here too. They are opened to let in the fresh air at school and there are window covers at night so you have something even better than blackout curtains (no crack of light in the middle with these) for the morning when you wake up. One aspect that I haven’t been mastered yet is the hand motions, although I study how/when/in what context they are used religiously so that one day I will be able to use them and look nonchalant and normal about it. Already I’m finding myself talking more with my hands, it’s just easier to get your point across!

Elevators are not common here because there are no skyscrapers or buildings over six stories here (the tallest building in my town is the church, anything higher would be the surrounding mountains). This isn’t a problem for my families apartment building because there are only three floors, but I was amazed by how my Nonni’s apartment, which is six floors, has only stairs as well. They are in their 70’s and live on the top floor, but seem to have no problem walking up and down the flights of stairs multiple times every day, sometimes with loads of groceries. Me, on the other hand, I’m a little winded each day going to their apartment; dragging my backpack up behind me as I crawl up each flight, just trying to make it to lunch so I can refill my empty stomach.

I have found, at least in my area, that doing organized sports (other than volleyball) is not popular for high school aged girls. You either do volleyball (which is very competitive), or you do nothing. Coming from a high school where I played on four different varsity sports teams, volleyball unfortunately not being one of them, I was a little lost on what to do to get exercise. My family then showed me the gym/pool which is strategically located right next to my Nonna’s apartment. Everyday when I leave her house after lunch, still reminiscing over that tasty risotto I just ate, I have to walk right by the gym to get home. This means that I am going in most days of the week. I actually met one of my friends from school this way; we both were at the gym and then realized that we went to the same school. You never know where or how you will find friends, so keeping an open mind and following the Rotary guideline of never saying no to new opportunities, can only help.

I have already gotten to meet and hang out with the other exchange students both in my district, and from across Italy a few times so far and it has really been incredible. Something about us all being in the exact same position of being lost and clueless about what’s going on made us all really close over a very short amount of time. Whether it be swapping host family stories, the difficulty of making good friends in another language, or planning our next adventure, we never seem to run out of things to talk about. I think Rotary does a great job of selecting wonderful, kind, genuine people to go on exchange. Everyone who I have met so far is open to new experiences and truly grateful to be here.

The style here is very uniform in that everyone wears very similar things. The unofficial dress code I made up based off my observations at school, theme parks, and just out on the town is as followed: a variation of an American flag t-shirt, something with an English saying on it (about 3/4 of which actually make sense), or a hard-rock Caffè t-shirt. If you are not wearing one of the above mentioned, you are not wearing anything. You would literally be naked (you definitely won’t see workout clothes or my old normal style of track shorts and a t-shirt). When I went shopping for winter coats it was the same. There are two styles that everyone gets, all you need to do is pick out the color you like. Here, I normally dress for the weather, so I always seem to be warm, while my more stylish sisters are often caught saying, “Fa freddo!”, which means, “It’s cold!”

Exchange is the thrill of going into a shop and only speaking Italian, dispelling any idea the shopkeeper originally might have of me being just another tourist. It’s walking around your town for hours, losing yourself in the history and finding all these little cracks leading to different worlds, or even better, a free women’s bathroom (akin to gold here- literally since you need to pay for public restrooms). I stumbled upon one down a long alleyway and through a building’s courtyard past a free book cart and in a dark corner.. Sketchy, but functional- I’ll take it!

You never really know how fast you go through something till it’s not available for you to get more of. That was definitely the case for me and peanut butter, my one true love. I wasn’t missing my friends or family, ok maybe my dog a little, but peanut butter??? It was killing me. I needed it back in my life. I had limited myself to only bringing one jar on the plane with me because A) my luggage was already 5 pounds over and the airport employee was kindly already looking the other way (I attribute wearing my Rotary blazer in the airport for allowing me to go over on the weight of my bags and getting me a free plane ticket upgrade on my nine hour flight) and B) peanut butter is a fail-proof way to get your bag inspected since it has the same consistency as a bomb, and I really didn’t need any extra troubles on my international flight. That jar lasted a week and a half, and that was me rationing it out.

When my grandmother sent me a jar, hearing my cries of pain from across the Atlantic, it cost her $30 to send. Once it arrived, my family here in Italy had to pay $20 to go pick it up. That is some EXPENSIVE peanut butter. My host mom knew that this wasn’t going to work out, so she nicely bought me the only peanut butter that they sell in the supermarket here. It comes in a tiny jar and is basically sugar with some peanut flavoring, but I was not about to start getting picky. I’ll take it in any form I can get it. After that jar had a good dent in it, my host family then had the idea of making peanut butter together from scratch. We bought a big bag of peanuts and then made a party out of it, unshelling and peeling them to then mix together in the blender. This is how my Italian families homemade peanut butter recipe came to be my new favorite type. It left both of my families happy and saving a large sum of money. Now I can whip it up myself whenever my supply is depleted (I have already made it three more times).

Both of my host sisters are in the process of applying to go on exchange next year with Rotary. When I saw that they had ranked Canada and Australia above the U.S. for their top English speaking country picks, I was curious. Was I not doing a good job of representing my country to them? My American pride was a little hurt, but they then assured me that they liked the States. So what was the reason? Turns out they took my crazy love for peanut butter and associated it with every American’s relationship with the heavenly substance. They didn’t want to be seen as outcasts because they weren’t fans. This goes to show that you never really know what people will choose to identify a country with because of you. Not your kind, loving nature, but instead your peanut butter addiction.

My school decided to switch a few of my classes, which is normal in the U.S., but very different here in Italy since we don’t normally leave our classroom during the day. This meant that now, instead of Latin, I take more Italian classes, and have substituted some of my philosophy and religion classes to take more physics and help teach some English classes (Lord of the Flies, anyone?). I am the only exchange student in my school, so people are always interested to learn about me. Now that I have been here for a while, when the other students ask me questions about myself, they tend to be pretty surprised when I can answer in Italian (no, I am not German, but thank you for the compliment!).

Now that it is getting colder, the mountains surrounding my town have snow covering their tops, making the area even more picturesque. A feat I had deemed impossible, with the swans swimming gracefully in the lake and the roads looking just like Italian streets are photographed. I still can’t believe that I get to call this beautiful place my home and that I have already been here two months! I am truly grateful and could not be happier here. Grazie per tutto, Rotray e tutte le altre persone che aiutano con questo programma.

Update about kissing on the cheeks: it’s actually the right cheek first, but honestly, just go for whatever side is offered to you

Mon, November 9, 2015

  • Caneel, outbound to Italy

Bellissimo. Magnifico. Incredibile. I often find myself often saying these words wherever I go here in Italy simply because it is just so beautiful and different from where I am originally from in Florida. I currently live in Northern Italy in the small town of San Felice, where I will stay for about another month before I move into the nearest city, Salò, with my family to be closer to everything: my school, the supermarket (very important because we go almost daily for fresh ingredients), and my host parents work. There is so much to see here that I am never close to being bored. If you just look out my bedroom window, past the neighbouring vineyard, you would see a field of cows, something I love to watch since I come from living in a city.

I love my host family. Although they started off speaking English to me (which was flawless), I stressed how important it was to me to try and speak Italian. I think I still sound like a cavewoman, but progress is being made. My host sisters are two of the kindest individuals I have ever met. Whenever they hang out with their friends at a theme park or even at one of their friends birthday parties; they are happy to bring me along. They always check up on me and introduce me to their friends. I know that I am probably an annoying shadow, but it really does help. My host parents are also great and I enjoy spending time with them. I make post office runs with my host dad and take long walks along the Lake with my host mom, learning about the history of the area and about their life B.C. (before Caneel).

I was surprised by how much Italian I could actually understand within my first week here (my previous four years of Spanish really helped). I am exciting to start school next week, ready with my new Italian planner and clothes that my host sisters helped me pick out. It is already starting to get cold here, so me being a Floridian, I have already pulled out my big “Florida Winter” jacket. The rest of my family just laugh and tell me to wait for winter, that is when the real cold comes.

Because iPhone’s don’t work here, I use mine for pictures and writing down words that I don’t know while I’m out, to look up later at home. This has been instrumental in building my vocabulary. When I came here I took up journaling, which has also helped with my Italian. I would be writing in English and then wonder, “Hmm, I wonder what that word is in Italian”. I end up with a serious mix of the languages, which just adds to the fun. At night, we often watch a movie together as a family, American and Italian made, with subtitles. I jot down words I see on the screen that I don’t know and then look them up after. This is my favorite way to see conversations (if only real life had subtitles!).

Everything is smaller here: food portions (but not the amount of courses!), cars (the streets are tiny!), and the people (even though it seems we only eat carbs, I have yet to meet someone is extremely overweight!). The food is some of the best I have ever tasted, finishing my plate is not a problem, well by the third course I start leaving a few crumbs… The apartment buildings are also closer together and come in brighter colors, making the streets come to life.

One of the D’s (rules that you cannot break) is no driving. I had been driving for three years before I came to Italy and found that it is such a nice change to not have to drive because a) now I can look out at the scenic countryside, b) I would not know how to navigate the hundreds of traffic circles that are so plentiful they almost replace traffic lights and c) the speed and driving style is similar to any car chase scene in the Fast and Furious franchise (high speeds and extremely sporadic), yet everyone is calm- no one honks.

I love being here in Italy. The times of being completely lost and clueless (my new normal) are overshadowed by the wonderful moments of clarity when you finally understand what a word means or can answer a question the first time someone asks you it, instead of the fourth. I know I am still in the honeymoon stage of exchange, but I can hardly wait to see what the rest of the year has in store for me. I’ll be ready. Grazie Rotary!

Ciao! *kiss on both cheeks (left side first though!!!)*

Thu, September 10, 2015

Cassidy - Denmark

Hometown: St.Johns, Florida
School: Creekside High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Bartram Trail, Florida
Host District: 1461
Host Club: The Rotary Club of H.C. Andsersen

My Bio

Hej! Mit navn er Cassidy or Hi! My name is Cassidy! I am so thankful that I have been given the amazing opportunity to spend a year abroad in Denmark for my 2015-2016 school year. I live in Saint Johns, Florida with my mom, dad and brother and am so thankful for their support during this process. I know this experience will be life-changing and I am beyond excited!

Outside of my classes at school I participate in many clubs and activities and am very involved in my community. I am taking my third year of American Sign Language and volunteer at a local elementary school every week to teach ASL to third grade students which I absolutely love. I am the Vice President of the Future Business Leaders of America club at my school and am also an active member of the Best Buddies Club, Junior Ladies Club, FCA, Psychology Club, Interact Club, and Legion of the Knights. I am a competitive cheerleader for an All-Star travel team and also cheer on my high school Varsity cheer team. I love competing with my All-Star cheer team because I get to travel to competitions throughout the United States and compete nationally. I practice 2-3 times a week and also take tumbling classes.

My goals for the year ahead are to become fluent in Danish, to make lifelong friendships, and to learn and experience as much as I can while in the beautiful country of Denmark. I am so very thankful for this unbelievable opportunity the Rotary has given me!

Journals: Cassidy – Denmark 2015-2016

  • Cassidy, outbound to Denmark

Five months ago I entered the beautiful country of Denmark and I honestly could not be any happier. I can’t imagine being anywhere else on exchange. This year is going by so fast, I’m almost at the halfway point of my exchange and I never want to leave! It feels like I just got here but at the same time it feels like I have been living here my whole life.

Since my last journal I have done so many things. In Denmark they have fall break for a week and I was lucky enough to go to France with my host family to visit their parents. It was such an amazing experience. We visited castles and museums and ate five course meals. French food is absolutely amazing!

Over the past few months I’ve been bridge walking, gone to the Odense Zoo which is the largest zoo in Denmark, gone to a Lukas Graham concert (very famous singer in Denmark), and I have experienced fall with leaves changing color and snow!

Even though I love Denmark, let’s just say that Denmark’s weather is very depressing compared to Florida. It’s cold, rainy, and only light outside for 7 hours a day. I am definitely not used to this growing up in Florida my whole life. The sun rises at 9am and sets at 4pm. So basically I go to school in the dark and come home in the dark.

I have moved to my second host family where I live with my host parents and a sister who is 18 years old. They have been so nice and welcoming to me. I have an unbelievable two story bedroom, yes two stories! They have taken me on a weekend trip to Aarhus and along the West coast of Denmark. They also just told me that they are taking me on a trip to Rome over winter break in February!

This holiday season has been the best I’ve ever had. I’ve been able to share Halloween and Thanksgiving with my family and friends here which they typically do not celebrate and had the greatest Christmas of my life! Christmas is a huge celebration in Denmark and is celebrated the whole month starting on December 1st. Every Sunday kids get a present leading up to the 24th. Danish Christmas isn’t so different than an American Christmas other than celebrating on the afternoon of the 24th and then two days after that where we celebrated with family and friends. Oh, putting real candles on the tree (yes, real candles!) and lighting them and then dancing and singing around the tree before we opened presents was definitely different from back home. I also just celebrated New Years in the third biggest city in Denmark with friends and the fireworks were amazing!

Danish is still very difficult but it is getting easier and easier to pronounce and speak. I am now able to understand almost everything spoken in Danish which is great progress. It is much easier to understand what is being spoken but more difficult to speak in Danish.

My best friends here are Andre, Kira, and Manu and I don’t know what I would do without them. I can’t imagine my life next year and not being able to see them every day but we are already planning trip to meet in a couple of years.

Denmark has become my new home and I am already dreading the day that I have to leave behind the life I have made for myself here but I am looking forward to the next 6 months of my life in this beautiful country and will enjoy every minute of it. Thank you Rotary for this life changing experience you have given me!

Mon, January 4, 2016

  • Cassidy, outbound to Denmark

Hej! I have been living in Denmark for one month and I can already tell that this exchange is going to be everything I hoped it would be and more. I can’t believe how fast the time has gone by. The things I have experienced and felt during these last few weeks cannot even be put into words. I have learned and experienced so much in just this short period of time and can’t wait to see what is in store for me for the next 10 months.

The plane ride to Denmark went very smoothly. I didn’t have any delays or get lost (thank goodness!) because it was my first time traveling alone. I arrived in Billund the morning of August 9th. My host family greeted me with welcome signs with the Danish flag on them. I live with my host mom, dad, and 3 brothers. We left the airport and went home and had our first lunch together on the terrace. We laughed as I tried a new combination of foods- really dark dense bread with moldy cheese on it (which was on purpose!), meat, eggs, tomatoes, and potatoes. It was actually really good! The next day I started school. I have 4 other exchange students that are in the same class as me. They are from Chile, Brazil, California, and Columbia. They are my best friends in Denmark and we have already become so close.

I am lucky to live in the city of Odense which is the third largest city in Denmark. It is a small island and is so beautiful. The driving age in Denmark is 18 so students ride their bikes to school and when going out with friends. I can bike from my house to the center of the city in about 5 minutes. Everyone is so nice here, especially in my class at school. I go to a business school and some of the classes I take are English, Economics, and Marketing.

School in Denmark isn’t at all like school in the United States. A typical school day starts at 8:15 and ends at 1:30 some days and at 3:15 other days. We stay in the same classroom all day and the teacher will switch depending on the subject. This is great because it is easy to get to know the other students in your class and I am already really close with my classmates. There is so much more freedom at school in Denmark, we have breaks during the school day and can go outside and hang out or ride our bikes around the city but at the same time the students really care about learning and getting an education. I am part of the international class at my school so half of my classes are in English and the other half are in Danish. I’m actually really enjoying school so far and have already learned a lot of words, phrases, and sentences in Danish and I hope to be fluent soon. The language itself hasn’t been that hard to learn but it is very hard to pronounce the words.

I’ve had so many great experiences already in my short time here. The first weekend I was here my host family took me to Copenhagen which is the largest city in Denmark. Copenhagen is about an hour and a half from Odense. We went on a boat tour and walked around the city. I had seen pictures of the city, sailboats, and colorful buildings before my exchange but seeing it in person was unbelievable.

During my second week here my class had a “team track” day where we bonded and did activities all day. That night we had a sleepover at school with my classmates which was crazy because that is not something we would do in high school in the U.S. The next day we had the day off and then had a school dance which was so much fun.

Other great experiences I’ve had while in Denmark have been going to a paddle ball tournament and festival with my host family. I went to an amazing outdoor concert with friends and toured the city with friends during the Odense flower festival. The city was decorated with flowers and it was so beautiful. Other days I have gone to dinner with friends or just hang out with my friends and family. I have also started taking a tumbling class once a week.

During my third week, I went to intro camp with over 150 exchange students from around the world who are living in Denmark this year. We participated in Danish classes 6 hours a day which was tiring but good because it really helped me learn more of the Danish language. After our lessons we had so many fun activities to do at night- a concert, rock climbing walls, a dance, and much more. During intro camp it was my 17th birthday and I can honestly say I wouldn’t have wanted to spend it any other way. That day we didn’t have Danish lessons and we went to Aarhus. I got to spend the day in the city with my best friends in Denmark and we went on a tour of one of the biggest museums in Europe which was amazing.

People in Denmark eat very healthy compared to what I’m used too but it is so good and my host mom and dad are amazing cooks. We eat all of our meals together as a family and in Denmark families hardly ever go out for meals because of the cost. For breakfast on a normal day we have cereal, for lunch we have rye bread with meat and cheese, and for dinner some type of meat with potatoes and vegetables. The weather is already getting cold compared to what I’m used to. It’s around 45 degrees Fahrenheit on a normal day.

Life so far in Denmark is amazing! Luckily I still have 10 more months here in Denmark. My adventure is just getting started. Thank you Rotary for this amazing opportunity!

Wed, September 9, 2015

Chloe - Denmark

Hometown: Lake Mary, Florida
School: Lake Mary High School
Sponsor District : District 6980
Sponsor Club: Lake Mary, Florida
Host District: 1450
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Esbjerg-Fanø

My Bio

Hej! My name is Chloe Hill and I will be spending my junior year of high school in DENMARK!! I am so very excited to be spending a year in such a beautiful country and I just can’t wait to make so many wonderful memories while there! I am currently a sophomore at Lake Mary High School and traveling is definitely one of my favorite things to do and I have my parents to thank for that! At the age of nine I moved to the amazing country of South Africa and I lived there for nearly six years. There I discovered my passion for the performing arts as I have been involved in theater, violin and of course: sports! I have participated in tennis tournaments both in South Africa and here in Florida but I must say: going to track practice every day at school is always the highlight of my day! Even though our training is super tough, going home knowing that I have conquered a great challenge is the most incredible reward! I am definitely one of those people who believe that to reach your goals you need to work hard to get there. Meeting new people and learning new languages are also things I adore! I am bilingual (English and Afrikaans) and I take German at school and I can’t wait to learn Danish first-hand! I am extremely blessed to have such amazing friends and family who support me and while being away from them will be difficult, I know that what I will gain while in Denmark will help me to become a wiser and stronger woman- everything my family and friends could ever ask for. Mange tak Rotary!

Journals: Chloe – Denmark 2015-2016

  • Chloe, outbound to Denmark

I can hardly believe that I am now writing this update in May, my 9th month of exchange here in this lil’ country I am pleased to call home. In these past few months I have met more incredible people and made even greater memories with my friends.

Every day the fact that I will be back in Florida in a matter of less than 2 months and not here chilling with them overwhelms me. It is getting to be that time of exchange that we exchange students get asked a million times when we will be going back to our home countries and if we will be able to come back to our host countries in the future. It really is bitter sweet now knowing that I can be with my old friends and family but it may be a long time before I step back into my Danish lifestyle. I know I will even come to miss riding my bike and the weather which is really saying something.

Lately I have had the opportunity to go to my school’s parties which are crazy amazing. Things are starting to slow down here at school though with their exams coming up and no more parties to look forward to:( . I do fortunately have the Eurotour to look forward to where we will be traveling to Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria, Italy, France, Belgium and The Netherlands! I can’t wait to travel more and I am thinking of possibly going to Sweden after Eurotour as well!

I am also proud of myself to say that I have started windsurfing not too long ago! They say here in Denmark that if you can conquer windsurfing in Hjerting (where I windsurf), then you can windsurf almost anywhere in the world because the wind is so intense and the water is beyond freezing! It definitely is a lot harder than it looks but I can’t wait to get back out there!

I have learned so much about myself these past few months, more than I think I ever have, and it feels so great to know that I have made it here in DK. I am practically fluent in Danish, I have a good comprehension of Norwegian and Swedish, and I have tried the most stereotypical Danish teen things.

My biggest goal this past month or two has to try new things because I think it is still possible to be in your comfortable zone even on exchange. It was a really long, dark winter here in Denmark and now that it has become lighter and warmer outside, I want to make the most of a Danish lifestyle that I can.


Sun, May 1, 2016

  • Chloe, outbound to Denmark

It has been one hell of a ride being an exchange student here in Denmark this year. I have learned so much on how to be street-smart and I am proud of myself to say that I earned it. I have also learned how to cope with the transportation system that varies with complexity all over the country and traveling just like a local would with the rules of being a pedestrian or a cyclist (both of which I have successfully mastered I must say).

Most importantly though: I can say “Rød grød med fløde!!” I am also thankful to have the support that I have from Rotary on both sides of the world for reminding me to smile even when times have been tough and having them never giving up on me because they see the potential in me even when I have made a mistake. I honestly believe that if someone was to go on exchange that Rotary is the organization to do it with because I wouldn’t be where I am today without their guidance and support. I think I have gotten over the biggest heap when it comes to exchange and I mean Christmas, my birthday which was in January and just it being my 4/5th month at those times.

To experience those days here in Denmark was both incredibly amazing and difficult because I was so homesick but loved all the little things that a Danish Christmas consists of. I wouldn’t take any of it back for the world. The only things I wish I could change though in all seriousness is my skin color, which went from golden brown to an oddly-pale brown color, and my body weight which consists of bread, eggs and McD. So yeah, I definitely have some things to look forward to by being back in Florida in the summer.

Sun, February 21, 2016

  • Chloe, outbound to Denmark

Quite honestly, I can’t remember how long it’s been since my last journal which if you think about it, is a GOOD thing because it means that I am so focused on the here and now;) .

I can recall that I have been having an amazing and incredibly rollercoaster ride of a time here in Denmark. The honeymoon period is over and now I am settled. I have my daily routine throughout the school week and make plans for the weekends and just practicing as much as Danish as I can!

I have had some really hard times lately with family, school, and of course, the language. I have taken the wrong bus, said the wrong words in Danish, and have exercised my patience which I didn’t know I even had. Lets’s be real. I have messed up so many times but you know what? I am happy. My friends here are beyond anything I could have ever asked for and they make everything better. You won’t know your feeling high if you have never been low (totally stole that line:) )

So far in the past month or maybe two I have: Given a Rotary presentation for my awesome club, gained my age in weight 🙂 [don’t think I am kidding], I have been to the most northern tip of Denmark (Skagen Grenen), partied duh, nearly got killed by a bus because I sucked so bad on my bike at that point (la pro though now;) ) , tried liver (ew), wrote a badbutt essay (determined to speak in nicer terms since Danes know their swear words and mayyy be rubbing off on me- admitting nothing).

My time here is going phenomenally overall and time, I do know, is going way too fast.

Danmark er mit hjem nu.

Thu, October 29, 2015

  • Chloé, outbound to Denmark

Soooo I have been in Denmark for over a month now and I can’t decide if time has gone extremely fast or has been sort of normal because I feel like I have been here my whole life. I have experienced so many different things, met incredible new people and all of a sudden- I’m the big sister! Maybe “big” isn’t the most suitable word because my one younger brother is 14 years old and is 6 FEET TALL! I am 5ft 6in and I am 16! I’m the boss though. I really do love them more than anything and I don’t even want to think about the day I have to say goodbye.

Being in Denmark has been surreal to say the least. I know I have been here a month already but I still catch myself thinking “oh.my.—” I am here! Whether it be while exploring the vast forests in Odense, during physics class at Esbjerg Gymnasium while I pretend I know exactly what’s going on, or on the train after I have just spent time with other exchange students from all over the world. I am just amazed.

I wish I could sum up everything that has happened but I just can’t because sometimes things can’t be put into words. They have to be seen, experienced and if you could just step into my shoes and walk where I walk, and see what I see then you would understand. That’s why I believe becoming an exchange student, especially with Rotary, is the best thing that could ever happen to anyone. There is always something to be learned in life no matter how high you climb.

Until next time,

Sun, September 13, 2015

Chris - Sweden

Hometown: Islamorada, Florida
School: Coral Shores High School
Sponsor District : District 6990
Sponsor Club: Key Largo, Florida
Host District: 2360
Host Club: Lerum Aspen Rotary Club and Lerum Rotary Club

My Bio

I am a senior in high school, I plan on going to college for computer programming and software development. I have been programming for three years and I am currently working on a smart house program along with my brothers using a combination of Raspberry Pi’s and Arduinos (Raspberry Pi acts as a computer relay that can receive, process, and output data to an Arduino, a electrical relay, which can send and receive electrical impulses. Both are open to limitless customization). I am a big technology and science fan; I am intrigued by feats of engineering, physics, chemistry, and computer sciences. A large portion of my life is devoted to figuring out how objects and machines work, why they work, and how I can make them more efficient. I’ve done this with many objects ranging from broken portable gaming systems, to speakers, to lamps, and even a television. After studying these objects I’ve gotten a feel for how they work and I’ve been able to recover some that were failing or broken. Other than the technological world, I am interested in learning about different cultures. I want to learn more about other countries’ lifestyles, the food they eat, the way their political system is structured, the way their cities are designed and what reason they’re designed in that way.

Journals: Chris – Sweden 2015-16

  • Chris: Outbound to Sweden

Hey everyone! These past few weeks have been amazing! I just started school again after the winter break where I came back from a skiing trip in Branäs where I learned how to ski for the first time. I also went to the south of Sweden to Åhus where I visited the whole family of my first host family. When I came back I moved to my second host family and marked the 50% point on my exchange.

Wed, January 13, 2016

  • Chris: Outbound to Sweden

Hejsan alla! (Hey everyone!)

I brief update on my adventures here in Sweden, the days are slowly becoming shorter but are still just as action packed as ever. In the near future I will be skiing with my current host family as well as my next. The Swedish language is becoming easier to understand and learn every day. I have also experienced “sill” which is a very accustomed taste, consisting of herring and a strong mustard sauce.

Mon, December 7, 2015

  • Chris: Outbound to Sweden

Hej alla! (Hey everyone!) A small update on what I have been doing over the past month, I went on so many different trips both with Rotary and some with friends that I have made here in Sweden.

First we went on a weekend long sailing trip from Uddevalla to go and explore Sweden’s archipelago on the west coast.

The next week I had my final crayfish party with other exchange students and Swedes from the Gothenburg district and the Stockholm district.

After that weekend I helped out with a program called Världens Barn (The World’s Children) which is an organization that helps children in under developed nations with education, living, and more.

And yesterday I participated in an event called Journey to the End of the Night which is a race in Gothenburg that takes place at night where the participants (runners) have to go to a series of checkpoints which are located on a map. While trying to figure out where to go and how to get there the runners had to avoid people called chasers who’s jobs were to chase after the runners and capture them making that runner into a chaser (some of the chasers were dressed in Halloween costumes and that can get a bit frightening especially because some legs of the race were not lit up at night). A lot more pictures to come!

Sun, October 11, 2015

  • Chris: Outbound to Sweden

This is the start to many journal postings I will display on the RYE Florida website. I arrived into Sweden on July 30th mentally preparing myself for an experience that would be life changing for me. After nearly an entire day in the air crossing the Atlantic (referred to commonly as “The Pond” here) I had finally arrived in Gothenburg Airport where I met both of my host families and several members of the local Rotary clubs. My first host family is truly amazing and I had the greatest opportunity to meet their son before he left for his exchange to The United States.

This past week I had been in Ädelfors for the language camp that Rotary provides for the exchange students coming to Sweden. Much like everywhere else in Sweden, Ädelfors is breath-taking. The entire week was nothing but clear sunny skies and cool nights. I met numerous students from The United States, Europe, South America, and Asia, and by the end of the we ek we all felt like we’d known each other for years.

Now you may be thinking “Wow! That sounds awesome, what could be better?” and I will tell you what made this week at language camp the best week I have experienced. We went to Kleva Gruva which is a copper and nickel mine dating to the mid 1600’s. The cave alone is roughly 60 meters below the surface and there were pools of water that ran another 50 meters.  Towards the end of the week in the language camp there was a meteor shower; and in Ädelfors you are basically in the middle of nowhere so the night sky was so visible you could see parts of the Milky Way.

Fri, August 14, 2015

Corbin - France

Hometown: Longwood, Florida
School: Lake Brantley High School
Sponsor District : District 6980
Sponsor Club: Seminole County South, Florida
Host District: 1710
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Lyon Vaise

My Bio

Hi, I’m Corbin Muntz. I live in Longwood, Florida, but I’ve lived throughout the District 6970ern United States, and even California. I have nine siblings, four live with me, and the others live scattered across the country. I am a Sophomore at Lake Brantley High School. I believe my faith is one of the most important aspects of who I am. I go to Journey Christian Church, and I volunteer as a Middle School leader there. There is nothing I love more than working and volunteering with kids. I can honestly say that working with younger children, including my younger siblings, has made me into who I am today. Aside from working with these kids, my friends and I go to downtown Orlando to feed the homeless and less fortunate people in that area. On top of all this, I also play sports. Starting in Seventh Grade I joined my school’s track team and have been doing it ever since, and it is something that really relaxes me.

I am looking forward to possibly being able to continue this in France. While not doing all of this, I love to listen music. In addition to this, for the past few months I have been playing guitar and ukulele. I’ve taken two years of French, but know that I am going to need to dive more into the culture and language than ever before. I couldn’t be more excited about doing that though, because the French language and culture is something that fascinates me beyond explaining. I am truly excited to go and am incredibly grateful for the experience that Rotary has offered to me.

Journals: Corbin – France 2015-2016

  • Corbin, outbound to France

Just recently it was brought to my attention that I only have 100 days left in my exchange, or actually, now, it’s only 98. I am definitely starting to get scared. I’ve been here for a little over seven months, but now it is all I know, I have lived an entire life in the course of a year. I have completely forgotten what so many things are like back in the US. It is crazy, I have people here that ask me what a certain thing is like back in the US, and I honestly can’t respond to them. I no longer know. Obviously, now, I can easily say that I have been fully immersed in the culture.

I have become so French in these past few months. But, and I believe even more importantly, my character traits have either been changed or strengthened. The amount of patience I have gained in this year is incredible. I have also become more understanding, more happy, more loving, more open, but also, less hateful, less shy, and less ignorant.

The easiest possible way I can explain this to you is by the movie the Grinch. You know when his heart grows 3 sizes? Well, I feel like mine has grown at least 10.

Any ways, I could not possibly thank Rotary enough for all that they have done for me. My time is coming close but I still have my 98 days; 98 days of happiness, 98 days of learning, 98 days of friendship, and 98 days of a life inside of another.

Sat, April 9, 2016

  • Corbin, outbound to France

Month two is coming to a close and I couldn’t be happier. Every six weeks in France they have a two week vacation, so right now I’m experiencing my first vacation, French style. To start it off my host dad and I drove north to the region Ile de France(the region of Paris). We met my host mom at her sister’s house just outside Paris. The next day we went and saw my host brother in at his apartment in the 18ème arrondissement, and then walked around the city. There are no words for how great the place was. I got to see the Eiffel Tower from a distance (I’m okay with that because we are coming back for Christmas), I got to see the Louvre, and then all the other famous amazing things about Paris, for the first time in my life. IT WAS AMAZING.

The next day we left for my host-grandparents house. They live on a farm (no wifi..) and none of them speak English, so right now writing this journal is the only English exposure I am getting. So in other words, I’m overly content with my situation right now. I got to tour the farm last night and heard this “Ici, on a 420 vaches” (here, we have 420 cows). At first I thought I was translating what she said wrong, but turns out nope, they actually have that many cows, it is crazy. (Btw we had steak last night and I’m pretty sure there used to be 421 cows..)
I leave here tomorrow to go back home, and then the very next day, I leave for a weekend with my friend at her house about an hour outside of Lyon(already checked with my host Rotary district and everything, I promise). Following that I get a week more off of school just hanging out in beautiful Lyon with my school friends/exchange friends.

I can’t believe I’m saying this but I can not wait for school to start back up, all of my friends and teachers are so nice and helpful and fun with me. They don’t speak English with me unless I’m really stuck (or we are in English class and no one can pronounce a word), and I’m now able to have relatively meaningful conversations.

My Rotary Club is also amazing and they are getting me set up to play with a famous French guitarist at the end of April with other exchange students. All in all, I’m enjoying myself and getting settled (and the food still blows my mind). À tout alors!

P.S. My French friends who read this journal are probably going to correct all the French in it, so wish me luck!!

Thu, October 22, 2015

  • Corbin, outbound to France

Before I left for exchange I was told that I was going to experience a lifetime in a year. I never would have guessed I would experience what on what hand feels like a lifetime in a month, but on the other hand feels like two days. As of last Friday I have been in France for one month, and everything is absolutely amazing. I have made so much progress in my language it is insane. However, there are still a lot of times I feel completely lost in the language while at school.

It is so hard to think of what to write for this. Like what have I done in the last month? I don’t know? Everything? I’ve done ropes courses with a view of Lyon (the second biggest city in France), I’ve explored Lyon for hours by myself, I’ve walked past horses everyday, I’ve taken the train to get to school, I’ve visited castles, I’ve gone to Rotary events, I’ve gone to parties, and I HAVE SPENT A MONTH IN A FRENCH SCHOOL. I feel like I have done so much, but yet there is still so much to do.

I think the hardest part of exchange for me so far is not being able to fully express myself. I am a person who likes to talk, and that is something that is kind of taken away from me here. I can easily carry on a conversation here in French, but I can not fully express myself. A lot of people here can understand English(except my host parents, the people who I see the most…) however, most people can not understand me when I use emotional words, or anything outside of a first graders vocabulary.But it is getting better, I start some classes for learning French next week and I am so excited. I just can not wait to be able to have deep meaningful conversations here.

I have two favorite things about exchange. One, all things I have learned, and two, all the friends I have made.
I saved the best for last. The. Food. Is. Awesome. Baguettes are no joke here; every single meal there is an entire baguette on the table. In the US, I was an extremely picky person when it came to foods, but that has changed so much since I got here. In just the last week, I have eaten snail(escargot), scallops(coquilles Saint-Jacques), a hodgepodge of vegetables (ratatouille), sandwiches with goat meat(kebab), and then a bunch of other things that I haven’t quite figured out what they are yet. All in all though, the food is literally the best food I have ever tasted in my entire life.

I would just like to thank Rotary so much for this amazing experience. I have already grown so much in this last month, and I can wait to be able to take everything that I have learned here and bring it back to the US.

Tue, September 29, 2015

Danielle - Italy

Hometown: Clearwater, Florida
School: Clearwater High School
Sponsor District : District 6950
Sponsor Club: Clearwater East, Florida
Host District: TBA
Host Club: TBA

My Bio

Ciao, my name is Danielle Dilday and after living my whole life in Clearwater Florida I am thrilled to being spending this coming year in Italy! I am ecstatic to be living a year abroad and am so grateful to Clearwater East Rotary for sponsoring me. I am currently a junior at Clearwater High and am earning credits at St. Pete College. I am the President of my Venture Crew and a member of the National Honor Society. I really enjoy getting outdoors; hammocking in parks, swimming at the beach, and camping. I live in the city of Clearwater with my mother, sister, and three dogs. In my free time I love practicing my photography skills at the beach and park. One day I hope to work for National Geographic where I can combined my two loves of traveling and photography. Living in a foreign country has always been a dream of mine and I can hardly believe it’s really happening! The idea of spending and entire year in a foreign country really took root in me after I went on a two week exchange to Japan. Ever since then I knew I was meant to travel. I’ve always believed that traveling and learning about other cultures opens your eyes in a way nothing else can. It provides you with a whole new perspective on the world around you and that is completely priceless. I can’t wait to immerse myself in the Italian language, people and, culture. I also cannot begin to thank Rotary enough for this life changing opportunity and what will be my greatest adventure in the beautiful country of Italy!

Emily - Denmark

Hometown: Saint Johns, Florida
School: Creekside High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Bartram Trail, Florida
Host District: 1470
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Skovshoved

My Bio

Hej, jeg hedder Emily Benson, and I am thrilled to be spending my junior year in Denmark! Three years ago, I moved from Chicago, Illinois to St. Johns, Florida. I live with my Mom, Dad, two younger brothers and my guinea pig, Riggly. After living in Chicago’s cold climate for so long, I have gladly welcomed the sunshine and sandy beaches of Florida. I attend Creekside High School where I am on the cheerleading team, and a member of many clubs including the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Future Business Leaders of America, National English Honor Society and Best Buddies. In my spare time, I enjoy helping with the youth programs at my church, spending time with friends, reading, and listening to music. Last summer, I had the privilege of going on a mission trip to Costa Rica. I loved being able to learn about the rich culture and way of life there. This fueled my desire to explore the customs, traditions, and languages of other countries. While studying abroad with Rotary Youth Exchange, I hope to gain long lasting friendships, valuable language skills, and memories that I will never forget. I cannot wait to immerse myself in Danish culture and I look forward to experiencing all that Denmark has to offer. Indtil næste gang, until next time!

Journal: Emily – Denmark 21015-2016

  • Emily, outbound to Denmark

As crazy as it is to think, I am almost halfway through my exchange. Before coming to Denmark, I couldn’t conceptualize what my life here would be like, who my friends and family would be, or the things I’d get to experience. I’ve come to realize that life here is exactly that; life. I have a family I love, amazing friends, a country I feel like I’m a part of, a school I don’t want to have to leave, and a language that sometimes comes to mind before my own.

With a three-month gap between my first blog and this one, a lot has obviously happened. In October I was off from school for a few weeks. During that time, I went on a 10-day trip to Rome, Florence, and Siena, Italy with my first host family. It was an absolutely amazing trip and I am so grateful for the experience! I also went to Galla at my school, which is similar to the American prom. It was a great night with my friends and I am so happy to have gone. In November I celebrated Thanksgiving at a Rotary event and in December I switched to my second host family and went to a Lukas Graham (a really popular Danish singer) concert. I am now living in Skodsborg, Denmark with my host mom (Christina), dad (Claus), brother (Nicolai-11), and sister (Anna-7). I am enjoying living here and they have truly made me feel at home!

In Denmark, Christmas is pretty much a month long celebration. Leading up to Christmas, I attended Christmas dinners, went into the forest to cut down our tree, listened to plenty of festive music, and even made traditional Danish ornaments. A few unique things about Danish Christmas are the annual Christmas show on Danish television, the advent calendar, and that it is celebrated on the 24th. In December there is a Christmas-themed TV-series and every day there is a new episode. My younger siblings love it and looked forward to seeing it every day. Also, while we usually just have chocolate advent calendars in the U.S., in Denmark we receive a gift every day before Christmas. For Christmas Eve, one of my host mom’s sisters and her family came over. We ate duck and flæskesteg for dinner and afterwards danced around the Christmas tree (which held lit candles) while singing Christmas songs. We then sat and opened presents. The days following Christmas Eve are called the first Christmas day, the second Christmas day, and so on. On each of those days we ate a big dinner with family. My family held a New Year’s party as well that was full of great food and fireworks. There were over 30 people here and it was a blast!

Winter in Denmark means that there is 7 hours of sun a day and very, very cold weather, so it is definitely something to get used to coming from Florida. However, by dressing in many layers and keeping busy with friends, winter is flying by.

Language update! I can’t believe how far my Danish has come in the past couple of months. At this point, I can express myself and can understand the majority. I have been using duolingo and watching Danish television series to learn as many new phrases and words as I can! I am excited to see where my Danish is at the end of this year.
Christmas break is now over, too, and I am happy to be back with my friends. School is becoming more interesting now that I can understand and am starting to participate more.

Overall, I am so happy here in Denmark and do not regret my decision to do an exchange one bit. I cannot imagine having to leave in just 5 months.

Sun, January 10, 2016

  • Emily, outbound to Denmark

Hej alle sammen! I have now been in Denmark for nearly 2 months, and so much has happened. It is a lot to cover, but I will do my best!

I arrived in Copenhagen on August 8th and was met by my host mom (Lone), brother (Simon-16), sister (Sarah-12) and my counselor (Jannik). They were all so welcoming and made me feel completely at home. I currently live in a townhome in Gentofte, which is about 10 minutes from school, 15 minutes from the center of Copenhagen, and 10 minutes from the coast. I am absolutely loving how accessible everything is and I usually get around by bike or train.

I did not start school until a week after I got here, so my first week was spent with a group of eight exchange students in my area. Each day a Rotarian took us somewhere, usually in Copenhagen. We saw churches, museums and big tourist attractions in the city. This was a great experience to get to know the area and each other. After my first week, I also said goodbye to my host brother, Simon, as he went off for his exchange in Paraguay.

I attend the first year at Øregård Gymnasium, where the school year is started off with intro week. This is where all first years spend the week playing games and having fun, with our class as our team. The Thursday and Friday were spent on a cabin trip on the southwest coast of Zealand. We bonded and had an amazing time. Intro week finished with a huge party at the school.

At school, I am in a course line called “Global Studies”. I am with the same class for almost all of my classes, which is great because I’ve gotten to know them really well. Age-wise, Danish gymnasium is comparable to American high school. You go for 3 years, usually starting when you are 16 and ending when you are 19. The ages can vary a lot, however, because many students take a year off before starting gymnasium to do an exchange or attend efterskole (“afterschool”).

My third week in Denmark, all of the Inbounds gathered for our intro camp in a small town in Jutland. During the day, we studied Danish, and at night we hung out and did organized activities, with the exception of one day spent in Aarhus. Overall, it was a great week where I got to meet amazing friends!

Once back from intro camp, I began my first regular school week and started to get into a regular routine. I love what my life here has become, from going to cafes with friends to walking around in the city, and I know that this will be a year I never forget. With that said, I want to thank Rotary for everything they’ve done so that I could be here, having the time of my life!

Okay, so below I am just going to list some observations/differences/random facts:
-Danish is hard, but I’m forcing myself to speak less and less English, so it’s getting there. I also have Danish lessons twice a week with other inbounds
-EVERYONE speaks fluent English
-Teenagers don’t wear color (not an exaggeration)
-Teachers are called by their first name and the student-teacher relationship is super casual
-Danes swear A LOT
-All school work is done and submitted electronically on a website called Lectio that also has your schedule, homework, messaging, and grades
-In school, you are with the same class the whole day, but have different teachers and go to different classrooms
-There are no substitute teachers, so class is canceled all the time
-The schools have an “open campus” so you come and go as you please
-Teens are much more independent
-Potatoes are a dinner time staple
-Danes love licorice (even though it’s horrible)
-Sweden is super easy to get to (I went on a weekend trip there and had a blast!)
-Danes are really friendly
-There’s free wifi on all the trains

Vi ses!

Sat, October 3, 2015

Emma - India

Hometown: St.Johns, Florida
School: Allen D. Nease Senior High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Bartram Trail, Florida
Host District: 3060
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Baroda

My Bio

Namaste! My name is Emma Risner and I am currently a senior at Nease High School. I am so fortunate and proud to be a part of the outbound students for 2015-2016 in district 6970. I will be spending ten months in INDIA! I live in St. Johns, near St. Augustine, the oldest city in North America. Here, I live with my parents and my eight year old sister, Ella. My extended family also lives here and are a big part of my everyday life. In my spare time I work at a local diner, and usually spend time with my family or friends after work. Some of my favorite things to do are going to the beach and traveling. Recently, I spent a month traveling in Thailand which has really inspired my love of Asia. I’ve always loved being adventurous and different. Immediately, when given this opportunity I wanted to complete an exchange in India. I am excited to see the contrast in culture as I know Indian life is very different than here in America. In addition, I can’t wait to learn Hindi and meet the families I will be staying with. I am so thankful to be able to participate in this exchange. Thank you Rotary! Can’t wait!

Journals: Emma – India 2015-2016

  • Emma, outbound to India

Greetings, from my new home in India!
I have been here almost a month now and time is already going way too fast. After getting over jet lag and adjusting to my new routine I have almost forgotten what life is like back home in Florida. Hindi and Guajarati words are coming to me before English ones do, if there’s a traffic jam I know there must be cows standing in the middle of an intersection and if someone gives me a price I can bargain them down almost immediately. Although I have adjusted quite well to Indian culture, it is a very drastic change from life back home.

India is truly distinct and is a place you have to see to believe. Some of the first things you notice are the amount of people, the heat and the social customs. The roads are packed with not only cars, scooters, rickshaws, bikers and walkers but cows, donkeys and street dogs, as well. Although it’s crowded, the traffic flows pretty well, unless the cows decide to stand in the middle of the road.

The weather in India is hot, but also very humid too! There is absolutely no point in styling your hair or putting on any makeup because it comes off almost instantly. The climate was also a great excuse for me to purchase a brand new wardrobe of traditional kurtas and leggings.

I’ve noticed a variety of differences in social customs. India is a more conservative and traditional country, than most European and Western nations. Before greeting elders, to show respect you touch their feet. Indians also generally never want to tell you “no.” They will usually tell you what you want to hear to avoid conflict but then do the opposite if that is what they prefer. This can be difficult when you’re asking rickshaw drivers if they know where someplace is, because they normally don’t know where it is, but always say “yes.” Only after we set off do you figure out that they don’t know where they are going!

My typical day in India is waking up at 6:30 am and going to school by 7:30. Since my time zones are 9 ½ hours ahead of those in the Eastern United States, that means that my days begins at a time everyone at home is getting into bed for the night. I have to remember that when I think of what my family and friends are doing as I set off for school! During my first week of school I started as a student and sat in the 11th grade commerce class. The students were very focused on school and their board exams. It was difficult to make real friends especially because the students are two years younger than me and less mature than I am used to.

Since I have already graduated high school, in Florida, attending classes was not a direct benefit to me. At first, I spent most of my time in the library reading and working on college applications for back home. After a few days of this, I met with the Headmistress of the school to talk about a new plan for me. She noticed that I fit in better with some of the teachers and they were very interested in the western style of teaching. We decided that I could be more helpful, and have a better experience if I helped teach some of the younger grades in subjects such as English.

Now, for the rest of my time here, I will be working as a teachers-aide alongside some of the other teachers at my school. I have helped out in Yoga, English and art classes. In addition, I sit in on younger Hindi classes to learn language and have someone tutor me. At the end of these two months I will give a speech on the differences and similarities between school in the United States and school in India. Also, when there are any field trips, no matter what grade, I am invited to come with the teachers. So far, I have been to an organic garden and to a demonstration on terrace farming.

After school, I come home for lunch (I’ll tell you about the delicious food in a later post!) and have adopted the Indian custom of taking a short nap afterwards. This is followed by an hour or so of yoga at a local studio, which I have taken to very well to because of my practice back home. After Yoga, I come home and eat dinner usually around nine o’clock and then sleep and repeat!

Life here is just now getting started. Soon, I plan to be volunteering frequently and starting my own project. The first month has been difficult as well as very enjoyable. Hopefully there are great things to come!

Fri, September 4, 2015

- Italy

Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Fletcher High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Jacksonville Oceanside, Florida
Host District: 2100
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Ottaviano

My Bio

Buongiorno! My name is Pinner, I am currently a senior at Duncan U. Fletcher high school in the small city of Neptune Beach, Florida. Words cannot express my gratitude towards everyone in Rotary for giving me this life changing opportunity. This summer I will graduate with my classmates and then embark on a ten-month journey in the beautiful country of Italy.

I love the beach, music, art, and just hanging out with friends. At home I live close to the beach with my mom and dad. I have an older sister who is twenty-two but lives in Tallahassee, Florida while she studies environmental science at Florida State University. I am Vice President of my senior class and also in Interact club. I have always loved trying new things and experiencing different cultures people live in. Italian is one of the most fascinating languages to me and I hope to be fluent in it by the time I return. I know this next year will be one of the most challenging things I ever done but will also be one of the most rewarding as well. I am very much looking forward to experiencing a new way of living and sharing those new experiences with all of you. Ciao!

Journals: – Italy 2015-2016

  • , outbound to Italy

Every morning I wake up around 7:15, I get ready for school, brush my teeth, and eat breakfast with my host sister. We (try to) leave the house around 7:50 and get to school around 8:10. School is usually 5 hours with one 6-hour day, I say usually because if a teacher is absent or there is an assembly at school we get to leave early!

Italian school is very different from American school. My classmates have been together since their first year of high school and are now in their fifth year so they are all very close. They are very sweet and funny but the boys in my class are very loud and crazy haha. Everyone tries to include me as much as they can and I become very popular during English class!

Half way through the day we have a break where we can buy a piece of pizza, a sandwich, anything like that.

After school my host sister drives us home where we eat a big lunch my host mother makes for us. Then I usually take a nap and go to the gym or just take a nap, haha. Later I sometimes grab an espresso with friends or hangout in the Local Square or “piazza”.

For some reason I assumed learning the language while I’m in Italy would be easy, I am not sure why I thought this because it is very hard! I have gotten better but I definitely am regretting not studying every second I had free time back in Florida!! The days when I get frustrated with myself for not knowing the language better are the days I do miss home a little more, and then I remind myself that I don’t have time to miss home because I am only in Italy for 10 more months, which seems so short.

The people in my life back in Florida will always be there when I return in 10 months, but I may never see some of the friends I have made here in Italy again. (Wow this is a sad and scary thought.) Anyway, I am loving Italy and can never thank Rotary or anyone who helped me get here enough for this amazing experience. It is so much harder than it looks but it is also so worth it and amazing being here.

Mon, October 26, 2015

  • , outbound to Italy

I would like to start out my first Journal entry by first thanking Rotary or anyone who has helped me with this amazing experience!!

I arrived in Naples, Italy on September 3rd, 2015. I was greeted by my host mother, my host sister, and my host cousin who were standing right in front of the crowd waiting for people with a huge sign that read, “Benventura in Italia ” or Welcome to Italy ! We then went straight to the coffee shop in the airport where I drank my first Italian espresso.

I live in a small town in Naples, Italy called San Giuseppe Vesuviano. I will attend school next week in Ottaviano which is the next town over, also only about 10 minutes away from my house! The first day I arrived my host sister and her friend took me to a little coffee shop hang out that is on Mt. Vesuvius! People hangout and drink coffee or Coca-Cola and play cards or just talk. There are so many trees and it’s nice and cool up there so its good to go on hot days! This is one of my favorite spots so far. Everyone I meet is so interested in me and wants to know more and more! My host sister just came back in July from being on exchange in Canada for a year so her English is very good and it really helps when it comes to meeting new people and them asking me a lot of questions.

I love my host family. My mother Anna, My father Luigi, my sister Antonia, and my other host sister who is currently on exchange in Bennedetta,Texas. They are sweet, understanding, and truly want me to have the best exchange! I cannot imagine leaving them and I have only been here for a week. Over the weekend my family took me to their Vacation home in Santa Maria, which is about an hour away from my host town and is on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The water is crystal clear and the town is very old and beautiful. It has houses going all up the side of the mountain and one night we ate dinner on the top! It was so much fun.

Because my sister and I are in our final year of high school (did I mention I will have school on Saturday?) a lot of her friends are having 18th birthday parties which are equivalent to an American 16th birthday party. They are at these amazing venues and all their friends and family are invited. There’s music, Dancing, food, and at the end they play a sweet video their family makes of them growing up. After the video they have a huge cake with big candles that they blow out, then they take about 50 pictures with all their different friend groups and family members.

A normal day for me is waking up around 10am, eating a big lunch at approximately 2pm then resting, then going to hangout with friends or my host family, then eating a light dinner at around 10pm. Although I am still adjusting, everyday I am here I feel more at home. As soon as I was with my family and saw my new home for the first time I knew this was where I was meant to be.

Believe Rotary when they tell you they will find you the perfect place for YOU. I feel as though I am right where I belong and couldn’t imagine being anywhere else! Things already seem like they are going by so fast and I don’t want to miss a second of it.

I will update soon once school starts again. Ciao!!

Wed, September 9, 2015

Ian - Finland

Hometown: St.John’s, Florida
School: Creekside High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: St. Johns, Florida
Host District: 1430
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Lappeenranta

My Bio

Hello, My name is Ian King. I live in Jacksonville, Florida. Next year I will be studying abroad in Finland and I couldn’t be more ecstatic! I am currentIy attending Creekside High School as a Junior. I am involved with two of the school’s clubs at the moment, the Psychology club and the “Junior Gentlemen” Club, which is a club for that offers the junior men at my school a chance at volunteer work. In my free time, I like to draw and I also enjoy playing basketball with my friends when I can. I was born in Alabama and moved to Florida when I was young. I have two siblings, an older sister named Avery who is 22, and a younger brother named Liam who is 12. I have aspired to explore the world, since I was very young. This desire came from the people that I know and people that I have met. That includes my friends, my teachers and most of all my parents, who support me in everything I do. Although I am a little nervous, I cannot wait for my journey to begin and I can’t wait to see myself grow to become an experienced individual. I cannot thank the people of Rotary enough for giving me this opportunity to see the world.

Journals: Ian – Finland 2015-2016

  • Ian, outbound to Finland

So my first blog post in sometime, I’ll start by apologizing for the lack of updates. I am truly sorry. However My new years resolution is to put up these blogs every second weekend so this is the first of those posts! Since I last left you much has happened.

First I’ll speak about the second period of school. My schedule included 5 classes; Finnish, Cooking, Music, European History, and Art. Two weeks into the second period of school we had a week break off of school. During this time my first host family brought me to Estonia. That trip began with a 3 hour drive to the capital of Finland, Helsinki, where my host Aunt and Uncle live. We spent the first night in their house, the next day I went to explore the capital. I found it to be amazingly beautiful city, because of the fact that did not face the problems of the large cities I’ve been to elsewhere, such as crowded streets due to overpopulation or the “city smell” due to overwhelming pollution.

Helsinki was an incredibly clean city with more than enough personal space. We walked around and used the trolly system to get around. We went all over the city the most notable location were the Presidents house, the train station, the Harbor area, and the US Em bassy. On our way to the Harbor we passed by the President’s house, an impressive building that hosts a massive party ever year on Finnish Independence Day, it was no where near as guarded as the White House, which I found interesting and a good example of the level of security that Finns feel. The harbor was also stunning. We walked around the edge and eventually got some food at a small stand. I tried some muikku, which is a small salty fish that was fried and served with a garlic sauce. We also walked around a small market place at the harbor.

Once we were done with that we went to find the US embassy, we found the street that housed most or maybe even all embassies in Helsinki. I found it really cool to look at the various embassies and see different elements of culture that are plainly visible. We then went back to the city center where the train station is. The reason I find the train station to be memorable, is the statues out front, there are four identical sto ne men holding what appears to be globes, for a reason unbeknown to me these statues stand out in my mind. That afternoon we boarded the ship that would bring us to Estonia, while the boat ride over was only a few hours at most we weren’t allowed to enter the city until the next morning.

The time we spent on the boat was fun but it reminded me of staying at a hotel, the buffet we went to served some great food. The next morning we walked out into Estonia’s capital Tallinn. Tallinn is hard to describe, it is a city in which you can clearly see the history alongside the modern life. I really found the medieval architecture next to the modern shopping buildings to be quite an amazing sight. The day we spent there consisted of going to get coffee in the morning and then shopping for souvenirs. We had to board the boat again that afternoon. Once back in Helsinki we took a train to a station near to the host Uncle’s house where spent the night playing board games as well as the Host Uncle trying to teach me how to play the bass guitar. The Next day we went to a Jokerit ice-hockey game. The Jokerit team plays in the KHL, the Russian hockey league and it is the only team in Finland to do so. After the game we drove back home to Lappeenranta.

Once I got back my friends and I started making plans for Halloween. We planned on taking the Malaysian exchange student, Emily Wong, trick or treating for the first time. We put together some Star Wars Costumes and then we were ready. My friend from Canada, Colton Wynnychuk, lives just an hour or so away in Hamina so he visited for the holiday. Although we planned on having a large group we only ended up with a small group of five; Colton, Me, Janina Tirronen, Aleksandra (Janina’s friend), and Janina’s younger cousin Elli, unfortunately Emily couldn’t make it. Trick or treating is not a very common tradition in Finland so not every house had candy, I suppose one of the causes for the lack of popularity is the temperature, as the night was close to freezing. Colton was still visiting the next day so we went to see the local hockey team, Saipa, play early in the evening, we were joined by Emily and Janina. Afterward Janina, Colton and I went to see the new James Bond movie, in the brand new theater just opened in our town. That was a great day, as it was the first time I had seen a Rotary friend in a month or so, also since then I have become much better friends with those who I spent the day with.

In order to keep these blogs at a readable length, and to be able to add as many pictures as possible I will end this post here and pick up at the same spot in the next one. So thank you for reading this, the next one should be up in a day or so and I’ll continue to post frequently until you are all caught up

Sun, January 17, 2016

  • Ian, outbound to Finland

Hei! This is my first journal entry, I have been in Finland for a little over a month now, so brace yourself I have a lot to catch you up on.

So I departed on August 1, once I landed in Europe I met the first of many new exchange student friends. Their names were Sofia Darovskikh and McKenna Middlebrook, both from New York. We flew from Amsterdam to Helsinki and arrived on August 2. From there we were met by the rest of the Inbounds to Finland and we spent the week at our Language camp.

At camp I had a great time. I made friends from around the world, there were Mexicans, Canadians, Brazilians, Germans, Italians, and people from France, Japan, South Korea, Spain Austria and I’m sure I missed some but I can’t recall which. Although I made close to 100 new friends there were three that I became especially good friends with; their names are Malcolm Dunson Todd, Cora Gehring, and Annemarie Velemir.
During the camp we had Finnish classes separated by language/nationality. Once lessons were over we would head to sauna then play basketball, floor ball or soccer. We went into Tempere for a day trip on that Thursday. It was our first real chance to experience the Finnish culture. My new friends and I explored the city, ate doughnuts, watched a “different” public performance in which the dancers would walk like they were in slow motion and then freeze in a seemingly random pose, after a few steps. We also had a tour of the city and even visited the Cathedral in which there was some amazing art. On Saturday I met my Host Family.

Leaving camp was tough. I had just left all my friends and family in Florida, then I spent the week with these exchange student who became my new family, and I was asked to leave them again. Although I left I will never forget that week or those friends.

My first host family has been amazing! They have helped me get comfortable here, as well as teaching how things such as public transportation work. My host Mother has taken me to hockey games, showed me the bike route to school, taken my to a summer cottage and even a crawfish party. My Host Brother Jussi, has shown me around my new school introduced me to his friends and has invited me to hangout with them many times. My other Host Brother Kalle, is in the Army so I do not see him during the week, but on the weekends we get a chance to talk and he is very nice.

My first week in Lappeenranta, was also the first week of school. There I was met by two other rotary exchange students, both from Mexico, Maria Herrera and Maria Mendez, as well as a german named Lisa that is on exchange with another program. For the first semester I took easy classes. I am taking two art classes, english Finnish and a sports class. My schedule changes every day. Some days I start at 8:00, some 9:30 and then on Fridays I start at 11:00! I really like the way the school system works here. I feel much more independent and in control of my education, than I did in the States. Also having free lunches is pretty awesome! I have heard many Finns say that the lunch food isn’t very good but I have liked everything I’ve tried.

So I also practice with the Lappeenranta basketball team, Namika. I have practice in the afternoons Monday-friday and the morning practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I went with my team to a tournament in Espoo, there I became much closer friends with my teammates.

After returning from there my school had some events for the “freshmen.” Although I’m in the second grade I participated in these events. The first was a day full of team building exercises, such as races, games, and a few blindfolded courses we had to complete with partners. During this event I made some new Finnish friends! The second event was a dress up day for the first years (again I wasn’t required to dress up with them but I participated anyway). The theme was babies, so most of the girls dressed up and some other guys did as well. At the end of the day I was awarded the title of Best Costume! Plus because I dressed up many new people talked to me, people who normally are very Finnish and wouldn’t usually start a conversation with a stranger.

I have a few Finnish friends however there are only really two that I have hangout with, Kaisu Keltanen, and Konsta Urhonen. We have walked around the city, watched movies and spent time at the harbor.

So far my Rotary club has had me hold off on coming to the meetings, however on the 21st I am scheduled to go and introduce myself to the members there. I have already met a few during the “Rotary Day” that we had in the city. During this day there was music by the harbor, as well as a few Rotary booths with information about the Rotary. I spent the day there helping the Rotarians in any way I could, I ended up selling raffle tickets for the better part of the afternoon.

I just came back from my district camp. I was reunited with some friends from language camp. The camp was very relaxed. We had a lot of free time, but also went on a 8 km hike and had what they called “Camp Olympics.” The Olympics included events like a dizzy race, a race to complete a phrase in Finnish and a quiz about Finland. In the end my team, Team Karhu(bear in Finnish), won! For winning we got a bag of Finnish candies. We then spent the night around the campfire roasting sausages. After that we went back to our cabin and watched movies until about 5:30 in the morning. Although I had to wake up at 8:50 I don’t regret it in the least, spending that time with friends was worth the tired state that came with it. The rest of that day was spent in the train station, saying goodbye to those friends a second time was painful but I can look forward to the Lapland trip in November.

So now you’re all caught up! From now on I will try to update this blog every two weeks or so, so check back soon! Now I would like to thank you for reading this and being interested in my exchange. I’d also like to again thank Rotary for getting me to where I am now, without them my life would be much less interesting. Moi moi!

Mon, September 14, 2015

Joe - Spain

Hometown: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
School: Allen D. Nease Senior High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Ponte Vedra Beach Sunset, Florida
Host District: 2201
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Vigo

My Bio

¡Hola! My name is Joe Gravelle and I am exited to spend next year in Spain. I am extremely grateful to Rotary for this opportunity. I live in Ponte Vedra Beach with my parents and my older brother. I am a Sophomore (age 16) at Nease High School. My favorite subjects are science and english, although they are not necessarily my strongest. I am quite laid back, and I rarely get stressed or angry. I love to play soccer and hang out with my friends in my free time. I gravitate towards people who have varied interests, and a sense of humor. I also am a lector at my church, and I play piano for fun. I love to speak in front of large groups of people, and even more than speaking in front of groups of people, I enjoy doing spirited debates. I spend most of my time either doing homework in the rigorous IB program, playing varsity soccer at Nease, or doing freestyle with a soccer ball in the driveway. I am extremely psyched to be a part of this exchange because I love doing new things, meeting new people, learning, and doing something different than the usual crowd, I feel like this is the perfect combination of those passions of mine.

Journals: Joe – Spain 2015-2016

  • Joe, outbound to Spain

The past two months of my exchange have passed incredibly quickly, and I savor every day I have left in this amazing country. I can’t imagine leaving behind the life I have been able to create here thanks to Rotary.

A few weeks ago I went to the city of Burgos on a phenomenal trip with Rotary. I was able to learn more about the culture of Spain, about the amazing excavation site called Atapuerca, and most importantly I was able meet some amazing people. I think it is incredible that students from countries all around the world can come together and create amazing and lasting friendships; and learn that although there are many geographical, lingual, and social differences separating us, we still have so much in common.

Although I love spending time with Rotary students, I spend most of my time immersed in the amazing Spanish culture with the friends I have made here. The Spanish culture is amazing. It’s laid-back, and the people are incredibly nice and outgoing, I have really made some amazing friends here in Spain who will be tough to leave behind.

School in Spain in very different than school in the United States, and I think, for the better. School here definitely is more difficult and is victim to less grade inflation, grades are given on a 1-10 scale, a 5 is passing, and it is normal for students to have there grades average around a 6 or a 7. Most classes don’t have any homework, and only one or two big exams every trimester.

The exams and curriculum isn’t as government-run as in the United States, and this gives teachers more freedom to teach more complicated subjects or whatever subjects they feel deserve more attention. The school is not divided into an advanced group and a standard group. Everyone spends time with the same class filled with students of varying school performance levels the whole day, and although I feel this could be less than ideal for some students, it does keep the majority of the students from being left behind. It also creates a social system in which the students have more co mmon ground, as they are all from the same class.

In the Spanish school the ideas of cliques, popular, jock, or nerd are really unheard of. I have people come up and ask me about those types of groups after seeing American movies taking place in high school, and regretfully I have had to inform them that a type of social hierarchy does in fact exist in the schools in which I have been in the US (of course not nearly to the same degree as in movies). I feel like this social hierarchy which results in bullying and cliques of students could be a product of intense competition in American culture. I’m not saying competition doesn’t exist in Spanish culture (take Spanish soccer as evidence), but the Spanish culture does not put the same amount of pressure to “be the best” on children in schools as does the American culture.

I am absolutely loving my time here in Spain, and I can’t imagine leaving this amazing country in June. Thank you Rotary for this amazing opportunity.

Thu, April 7, 2016

  • Joe, outbound to Spain

As I cross the halfway point in my exchange, I can look back and really see how far I’ve come. I’ve adapted to living in this new culture, a culture that a year ago I knew almost nothing about. I’ve learned the language at a fast pace, and am able to express my self in my new language. I have learned an incredible amount about the world, Spain, and the United States, and how people and societies from around the world really can learn to work together and live in peace. And also with its due importance, I have learned much about myself.

During the past month and a half I have been very busy with school in Spain (which is quite rigorous), but one weekend I was able to travel to Madrid to spend two days with a family who live in Madrid that I knew from the United States. It was very cool to visit them again, as when we would spend time together in the United States we would only speak in English, and if they wanted to say something that maybe we wouldn’t want to hear, they could switch to Spanish and we wouldn’t have a clue. When I went to visit them in Madrid we spoke a fun mix of English and Spanish, and me being able to speak Spanish definitely added another layer of depth to our relation.

To speak about my language acquisition in Spain, I would be avoiding the elephant in the room if I didn’t mention the word “fluent”. Fluent, “able to speak a language very well” (Merriam Webster), I believe carries with it a misleading connotation. A huge focus of my exchange (and I feel the exchange of most students) was to become fluent. My quarrel with this word is that its usage seems to imply there exists a moment in which one crosses the line dividing fluency and non-fluency. That one day on my exchange I would go to bed not knowing the language, and wake up fluent. I feel like this goal of a singular moment of achievement has anchored my ideas of what defines excellence or success. That if I reached the level “fluent” in Spanish I would be able to talk to so many people and I would have reached a level of excellence in Spanish. That if I became rich I could travel the world and do so many cool things, and live a life filled with excellence. That if I got good grades in school I would be guaranteed excellence without regard for keeping the work ethic learned by getting good grades.

In school (in Spain) I study the subject philosophy. In this class I have learned the interesting way in which great minds view the world. Aristotle (a very important figure in this subject) says in his famous quote “we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.”. I feel like this quote is incredibly true. Relating to my views of achievement listed earlier, would working hard to achieve excellence in fluency of Spanish really achieve anything if I didn’t practice the language for years afterwards, and lost the fluency? Would becoming rich matter if I abandoned my practices which made me rich and squandered my money and got left with nothing? Would getting good grades in school matter if I abandoned the habits and practices that helped me achieve good grades after graduating? This quote by Aristotle articulates a great lesson I have learned on exchange. That Excellence is not just a goal we can reach (becoming fluent, getting rich, getting great grades in school) nor is it reaching a certain level or status (“fluent”, “millionaire”, “Harvard”). Excellence is the values (determination, love, compassion) that we show every day. By creating and living by these habits of excellence, we can still achieve these goals. But we will not be who we are or excellent as a result of achieving a goal, we will have achieved the goal as a result of who we are and what we do every day to grow excellence.

Bringing this view into the perspective of my year as an exchange student. This year is not just “my one year abroad in Spain”, of which I can tell stories of my achievements for years to come. This is a special year woven into the fabric of my life; a year with incredible challenges to help me shape who I am , and who I want to become. By the same token, I will strive to implement into my daily habits what I learned in Spain. I will act upon what I have learned from my year abroad every single day, to shape who I am. If I bring the lessons I’ve learned, the people I’ve met, the places I’ve been into my everyday life. I will become something much more than a title, an achievement, or a story. I would become closer the embodiment of the values of determination, love, and compassion I would show every single day.

So I feel that what one should ask about a student’s exchange is not if the student is fluent, but if the student is applying themselves fully to immerse themselves in the culture, to learn the language, and to grow and learn as a person.

I would like to thank Rotary for giving me this incredible opportunity to experience the world in a new way.

Wed, February 24, 2016

  • Joe, outbound to Spain

On Monday, November 23, my teacher told us (my class and I), that we were to have an exam in the afternoon right after school on Thanksgiving Day. I was rather disappointed to hear this, as I was definitely opposed to the idea of having to take a lengthy test on Spanish literature on an important American holiday. Despite this, I studied for the exam, and went to school with the exam looming over my head all day. When we went after school (my class and I) to take the exam, we were not presented with an exam – we were presented with a Thanksgiving surprise lunch. I was incredibly surprised, and my dumbfounded reaction surely stirred my classmates into laughter. More than surprised, I was extremely grateful, that my class, my teachers, and even the principal took time to prepare this amazing surprise for me to help me celebrate a national holiday of my home country.

This amazing act of kindness – like many other acts of kindness I have received in my stay in Spain – is something I don’t think I will ever forget.

Since my last journal I’ve been in Spain in a great time of year, “holiday season”. This constituted of my host family and I trekking to the South of Spain and visiting their family in the city of Jaen (we also visited Seville Salamanca and various other smaller towns on our way to Jaen). In Jaen we had a very large Christmas celebration with a lot of (host) family, food, and… more food. We also celebrated New Years (eve and day) in Vigo, and this too consisted of a lot of family and food.

Overall I am having an amazing year and experience, and I would like to thank Rotary for giving me this opportunity.

Sat, January 2, 2016

  • Joe, outbound to Spain

I’ve been in Spain for around 2 months now, and I am truly having the time of my life, and I am extremely grateful to Rotary for this incredible opportunity.

Trying to describe my life so far on exchange in just a journal is like trying to tell a really weird and personal joke that is hilarious to me (and to whoever was there), but impossible to understand for listeners. And some listeners will even think that they understand the joke, but really they can’t. Everyone has these “jokes”, and many strong friends will share profuse amounts of them. I feel like these “jokes”, these stories that can’t be captured in a picture or story or journal, are something really special about life, and more directly, my exchange. In my journal there is no story I can tell, no picture I can show, no feeling I can write that can really capture the true essence of my exchange. But with that said, here is my journal recounting the last surreal month I have spent in the beautiful city of Vigo.

Since last posting a journal I travelled an incredible amount and participated in many activities. I’ve gone to Italy for a week, and travelled all around Galicia (my region of Spain). I’ve gone to fiestas, ran a race, played soccer; I could make a list for every week. But what has really made these moments special so far is the people I have been around. I talked last week about how great my host family is, and how friendly my classmates are in my school at Spain, and now I am hitting a point when I am starting to make real connections with these amazing people.
The connections and friendships I have made in Vigo are unreal. My friends and I try to get together about all the days we can, we walk to and from school together, and Whatsapp daily. I’ve also really realized in my time abroad how strong my connections are with my friends and family in Florida. I love them all, and have felt homesick on occasion. The time I’ve spent away from them has really solidified how strong our bonds can really be, in that I think about them every day.

I feel like an important facet of my exchange so far has been that I have been another student in my school, and not just “the exchange student”. In my school I am (usually) treated normally by my professors. I have to do the homework, study for tests; and I, like my classmates, make plans for the weekend, and of course, wish it would come faster. Yes, I don’t get privileges such as not having to go to school, or getting to travel all of the time with Rotary, but in return I get a very accurate and personal view of school and life as a student in Vigo, Spain.

I keep this journal short because there is really one thing I’ve learned so far on exchange. What matters the most is not where you go, what you see, or what you gain. But instead it is that you do what you love, and much more importantly, you do it with people who you love.


Sat, November 14, 2015

  • Joe, outbound to Spain

I have been in Spain for a month now, and am definitely having an experience like no other. When I was informed I would be spending the next year of my life in Spain back in December I was absolutely elated. I was exited that I would be able to see Europe, learn Spanish, and watch La Liga. Now that I have been here for a month I am more elated than ever to be in Spain, but for different reasons. What has really made my experience special so far is the amazing people I have been surrounded by.

My host family in Spain is very different than my family at home, but an absolutely amazing host family that I am lucky to now be a part of. I have a very compassionate mother and father, a brother my age, another brother slightly younger, and a very young sister (who along with my younger host brother can be quite entertaining and also quite loud). My host family has been instrumental in the success of my exchange so far. They are always eager to talk with me, help my Spanish, help me with my homework, or help me with anything else I could need. They have really treated me as if I were their own son.

The friends I have made so far in Spain are amazing. In school, my classmates are very compassionate, helpful, and funny. Just after three weeks of school I have a group of actual close friends that I can Whatsapp, walk home from school with, and count on to have my back if I need help with anything. On my two soccer teams my teammates and coaches are extremely helpful in making sure I actually have an idea of what is going on, and helping me develop as a player. The friends I have made through Rotary are special as well. I am stunned how people from all around the word can come together and form such strong friendships. I now have close friends from Spain, Germany, Austria, Canada, Japan, and Taiwan. This forever changes my view of the world, and shown me how easily it is to get along with anyone.

Since coming to Spain I have also been able to see awe-inspiring sights and go to amazing places. I have been to a beautiful Island Chain (The Cíes Islands), Seen Celta Vigo beat Barcelona in person, play soccer almost every day, go to fiestas, and much more, and that is just in my first month. I am going to Italy in a week, and plan on traveling much more around Spain after that.

I live in a huge port city called Vigo in Spain and I absolutely love it. In Vigo everything I need is close to my house. My friends live nearby, I have a small soccer field behind my apartment building, the grocery store is across the street, and I can walk through a beautiful city to and from school with friends.

What I have learned in Spain in such a short time is absolutely incredible. I have learned an incredible amount of Spanish. I have learned how much a seemingly small action can affect someone’s life in unimaginable ways. I have learned to never be afraid of talking to someone. I have learned how far just confidence and a smile can take you. I have learned how similar people from all over the world are. And I have learned how generous people can be if you just ask for help. I will carry these lessons, and all the lessons I learn on this exchange, with me for the rest of my life; and they’ve already helped me grow as an individual.

I would like to thank Rotary for providing me this opportunity, and my family and friends for their unfaltering support.


Wed, October 7, 2015

John - Brazil

Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: Allen D. Nease Senior High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Ponte Vedra Beach Sunset, Florida
Host District: 4650
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Blumenau Norte

My Bio

I am John Hutton, an Outbound for Brasil. I have lived in St. Augustine my whole life and am incredibly excited and thankful to live somewhere else, especially somewhere as stunning as Brasil. I hope to work heavily on my Portuguese as well as grow as a person while on exchange. My main hobbies include playing clarinet and piano, going to the beach, sailing, camping, and eating. I have played Clarinet in the Nease Band for four years and played Piano a little longer. As I said, I have grown up in St. Augustine close to the beach and come from a sailing family. I am a strong swimmer and proficient sailor. I’ve been in the Boy Scouts since Kindergarten and have sound knowledge of the outdoors. As far as food is concerned I consider my palate to be open. I will eat just about anything as long as it is not too spicy. I used to play lacrosse and basketball and enjoy throwing Frisbee and playing Ultimate Frisbee. I am working to learn Portuguese and have taken four years of Spanish at Nease High School. I have attended Memorial Presbyterian Church my whole life but am more than open to any religion. I have two marvelous parents, Skip and Nancy Hutton, and a fantastic older brother, Daniel. I am incredibly thankful for this wonderful opportunity.

Journals: John – Brazil 2015-2016

  • John, outbound to Brazil

Howdy from Brasil! I recently went on a trip with Belo Brasil to the state of Amazonia in northern Brasil. It was an amazing trip and is really hard to describe. My favorite part of the trip was the people I had the opportunity to meet. People I may never see again but will nonetheless have a lasting impact on my life. But, I cannot hope to convey how wonderful many of the people I met are. I can however describe the things we did together.

We flew into Manaus, the capitol of Amazonia, and stayed there one night in a lovely hotel. Our second night was in a jungle lodge father away from the city. The first night there we saw a dance troop, ate quite possibly the most delicious pineapple the world has ever seen, and chose our boats. That night we also hiked to a waterfall, first in the pouring rain that gives the rain forest its name, and then in the dark. On this hike we entered a cave full of bats and walked through a waterfall. It was such a unique experience and an incredible way to start the trip. The next morning we walked to another beautiful waterfall and swam there. Then we took a bus to the boats we would use to explore the Rio Amazonas and the Rio Negro. There were three boats for sleeping: Sloth, Alligator, and last but not least Anaconda. There was also a dinning boat where we would eat breakfast lunch and dinner. The food was excellent and I certainly enjoyed the all you can eat buffet three times a day. I also enjoyed the delicious watermelon and pineapple that was constantly available on the individual boats.

The majority of the trip was spent on the boats. We saw a little bit of the Amazon River but spent most of our time on the Rio Negro. The Rio Negro is more acidic than the Amazon and therefore less mosquitoes hatch in its waters. Where the two rivers meet the water does not mix for three reasons. The Rio Negro is warmer, more acidic, and flows slower than the Amazon so the two different colored rivers appear to be separate. We saw this the first day in the boats after leaving Manaus. We visited an Indian tribe during our time on the boats. We saw a traditional dance, some of the medicine that they used, and their school. Later in the trip we visited a normal community in the region. We saw their school as well and played a fun game of soccer with the locals.

We saw many unique and rare animals on the trip but the coolest animals were the Bixo Pregisa( sloth), the Jacaré ( alligator), and the anaconda (anaconda). We took pictures with all three of these animals. I will try to include them in this entry. Everyone loves sloths so it was great to get a picture with one. My favorite animal was the Boto Rosa which is a pink dolphin not to be confused with Bota Rosa which is a pink boot. We swam in the water with these dolphins twice. There were “dolphin trainers” who would feed fish to the dolphins while we swam in the water next to the dolphins. It was insane to be that close to such a powerful, beautiful, and wild animal. Learning about the unique animals, trees, and people in the Amazon was a once in a life time experience.

Thank you to anyone and everyone who helped get me to Brasil and to the Amazon. It was unbelievably fun! I enjoyed it so much! I wish I could go back and I hope I can visit the wonderful people I met in the future.

Sat, June 11, 2016

  • John, outbound to Brazil

Howdy from Brasil. I have been in Brasil for almost five months now and it has been incredible but this journal will focus on a trip outside of Brasil. Recently I traveled to Buenos Aires, Argentina to visit my Aunt and I had a wonderful time. I stayed in Buenos Aires for 5 days at the beginning of my Christmas/summer vacation (summer because the seasons are inverted in the Southern Hemisphere). The neighborhoods within Buenos we visited were Palermo, Puerto Madero, La Boca, San Telmo, Constitucion, and Recoleta. I got the chance to practice my Spanish or more accurately my Portunhol (a mixture of Portuguese and Spanish). Some of the highlights of this trip were staying in the gorgeous Palermo neighborhood, walking through La Recoleta cemetery, experiencing the numerous parks located throughout Buenos Aires, visiting La Malba (probably the coolest museum I’ve ever been to), and seeing the Teatro Colon, El Obelisco, and the Floralis Gene rica (a giant moving aluminum sculpture of a flower located in the Plaza de las Naciones Unidas). However, the best part of the trip was of course seeing my lovely Aunt and Uncle.

One morning while my Aunt and Uncle were still asleep I walked to the Floralis Generica to see the sun rise. What I did and saw is completely describable. But the feeling of walking through the beautiful streets of Buenos Aires, confident in my ability to be alone in a foreign country, and marvelling at the gorgeous sunrise is indescribable. Without a doubt these are memories I will keep with me for the rest of my life. Other than walking we took taxis to navigate Buenos Aires.

Other cool miscellaneous information about my visit to Buenos Aires is within La Recoleta, a giant cemetery in the heart of Buenos Aires, is the grave of Eva Peron. Buenos Aires is famous for tango although there is a debate whether it began in Uruguay. We saw a tango performance on the street in Buenos Aires. While I have never been to Europe, Buenos Aires is supposedly very European. Buenos Aires is sometimes called “the Paris of the South.”
While there were many great meals in Buenos Aires I think the best was at a steak house in Palermo. The meat in Buenos Aires was almost as good as the meat in Brazil but this steakhouse was very very close. The atmosphere reminded me of the Ice Plant Bar and Restaurant where I worked in St. Augustine, while the food was deliciously Argentinian. Aside for its meat, Argentina is famous for its Alfajores. Argentinian Alfajores consist of Dulce de Leche between two round cookies. We found a lovely Confeitaria near the Airbnb where we stayed. That sold wonderful pastries including Alfajores. It was super fun cooking with my Aunt in the Airbnb. An Airbnb is an apartment that functions as a hotel. So we had an apartment with a functioning kitchen for the duration of our stay. Basically, the food in Buenos Aires was excellent.

Overall, Buenos Aires was the prettiest city I have ever seen. I was astounded by the beauty of Buenos Aires from the buildings, to the parks, to the Jacaranda trees, to the people. Buenos Aires is a remarkable city and I am thankful and pleased I had the opportunity to visit.

Wed, January 13, 2016

  • John, outbound to Brazil

De todos os lugares do mundo, eu prefiro estar aqui.

Howdy from Brasil. I am John Hutton and I am currently living in the beautiful city of Blumenau, in the gorgeous state of Santa Catarina, in the wonderful country that is Brasil. I couldn’t be happier to be in such an amazing place and I have to start off my first journal entry with thanking Rotary.

Being an exchange student is such a unique and singular experience that would never be possible without the devoted work of so many incredible volunteers from Rotary. Also, to all the host families across the world who are selflessly giving up their time, and money, and normally a room so that a young person can have the opportunity of a life time, thank you. My first host family has been incredibly welcoming and generous, sharing with me their culture, life style, and, almost as important, their food.

I will talk briefly about the food here in Brasil, although it can truly be summed up in three words, come try it. My favorite food so far is Picanha, a cut of beef of which the poor residents of the United States are incredulously oblivious. Churrasco, the Brasilian version of barbecue, is how picanha and many other meats are prepared in Brasil. Many of the foods here are surprisingly similar to foods in the US. For example, maionese, which translates to mayonnaise, is rather similar to what the U.S. calls potato salad. However, Farofa, a delicious flour mixture, is nowhere to be found in the U.S. While the transition into the Brasilian diet was flawless for my mouth, my stomach has needed some yogurts and bananas to help win it over and is now fully on board with the diet.

An important aspect of exchange is the Rotary club in your host country. I belong to the Rotary Club of North Blumenau and thoroughly enjoy attending meetings and Rotary functions. I was fortunate enough to give my presentation within my first month here and share about myself, my city, and my country. I was thrilled when after I had answered some questions one of the Rotarians stood up and complimented my Portuguese and my speaking skills. The Rotary here loves to have Churrascos much to my delight. In fact, the past two weekends we have had back to back Rotary Churrascos.

My school is called Escola Barão do Rio Branco and I enjoy not only the students but also the professors. I have made good friends with my classmates and am currently working on a project about the history of rap. Every day we have different classes and unlike the U.S. the professors rotate from class to class instead of the students. This is helpful because I stay with the same group of students all day. While I don’t understand everything my teachers say my Portuguese is rapidly and pleasantly improving. I will talk more about language in a later episode of Howdy from Brasil but for now I will sign off until next time as I should be getting ready for dinner. Tchau tchau.

Tue, October 6, 2015

Jonah - Croatia

Hometown: Ponte Vedra, Florida
School: Allen D. Nease Senior High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Ponte Vedra Beach Sunset, Florida
Host District: 1913
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Prelog

My Bio

Dobar dan, my name is Jonah Paxton and I am a freshman at Nease high school. I am enrolled in the IB program and dedicate most of my free time to school and the Boy scouts of America. I am close to achieving the rank of Eagle Scout and have spent three years working to get to this point. Boy Scouts gives me the opportunity to pursue my two favorite activities, volunteering and being in the outdoors. My favorite hobbies are camping, hiking, rock climbing, swimming, and wrestling. I live at home with both of my parents and a younger brother along with two dogs. On the weekends, my family and I like to play Frisbee, go to the beach, and see movies. My dad and I like to play guitar, although we’re both terrible. I want to send a big Hvala, Thanks, to RYE for giving me the chance to study abroad and experience cultures and traditions that are unique to Croatia. I am most nervous about making friends in a foreign country where I don’t speak the language well, and trying to develop lasting friendships. I can’t wait to spend a year in Croatia because I’ll be able to participate in unique activities which will allow me to explore and take in Croatian traditions. Thank You and Goodbye, or, Hvala i Doviđenja.


Journals: Jonah – Croatia 2015-2016

  • Jonah, outbound to Croatia

Before a Rotary youth exchange student is allowed to spend a year abroad, they are required to attend an event known as “Outbound Orientation”. During this orientation, Rotarians and past exchange students describe everything there is to know about exchange to the kids who are about to leave. They talk about adapting to new cultures, what the kids are supposed to pack for the trip, and how they’ll react to exchange as the year goes on. Towards the beginning, I had a tough time believing the idea that some kids that completed an exchange a few years ago, would have any clue about how my exchange would go. But, I have to admit, they knew what they were talking about. Who would’ve guessed?

Since Christmas, time has gone by much faster. I feel as if I have only been here for a couple months, but in reality, I’ve hit my seven-month marker. And unfortunately, that means I’ll have to go back to Florida soon. In three months I’ll have no more fried squid on Fridays, no more coffee breaks during school, and no more krafne… You know, I don’t think anyone would mind if I just decided to live in Croatia for a few more years, just for a few more krafne. If Rotary disagrees, I will just send them a few krafne, then they’ll understand.

On a different note, the other exchange students in Croatia and I took a weekend trip to Dubrovnik last month. The city of Dubrovnik, located at the southernmost part of Croatia, is a city on the Adriatic Sea. It’s actually where Game of Thrones is filmed, and the new Star Wars, plus the new 007 movie. So it’s a pretty popular tourist destination with beautiful scenery and rich history. Anyway, we took a bus from Zagreb on Thursday night and arrived to Dubrovnik on Friday morning with the ride itself being a healthy 9 hours. Once we checked into our hotel, everyone got a much needed coffee. But because Dubrovnik is so touristic, the coffee cost almost triple what it would have been normally. We were so tired though, that nobody cared to spend a few extra kuna for some caffeine. The hotel we stayed at was nicer than anyone expected, and everyone took a power nap before we left to explore the older part of the city. We got to walk around the beautiful Dubrovnik Star i Grad, and even got to peek at some of the set of Star Wars and Game of Thrones.

We slept like rocks that night, and woke up the next morning to an enormous breakfast buffet. After we stuffed ourselves, we got on a bus with a bunch of other Rotarians to go to a city called Ston. Ston is known for its incredible salt production and vineyards. As a gift, we received bags of salt that were made in Ston. The Rotarians told us that no matter how much salt we ate, it wouldn’t have an effect on our bodies. So all the exchange students decided to try and prove them wrong by eating handfuls of salt. The Rotarians were right, It had no effect, other than our funny faces from all the raw salt in our mouths. In my opinion, it was probably the tastiest salt I’ve ever had. Once we recovered, everyone went to a local seafood restaurant and had a great time.

Later that night, we drove back to our hotel. Some of us chose to explore the city a bit more, while others chose to explore the hotel’s sauna and pool. Try and guess which one the guy from warm, beach filled Florida went to… Yeah, I must have spent more time in that sauna than anyone ever has. It was like a mini-Florida. Hot and humid, with everyone in their bathing suits. I felt right at home. The last day in Dubrovnik was fantastic. We spent all morning taking pictures of the city and its stone wall. And after that, we ate sandwiches on the bus ride back to Zagreb, and slept the rest of the way. Overall, great trip.

About a week later, Rotary club Zagreb hosted a fancy dinner party. It was great to see everyone in black tie, and even better to dress in it. Another great Rotary event with more fantastic people. And now, it’s Spring break. I didn’t make any huge plans to do anything. I’ve just been hanging out with friends and classmates (and a little bit of Netflix). And soon, I have my Eurotour with the exchange students in Croatia and Austria. We’ll be going all over Europe to places like Rome, Venice, Milan, Monaco, Avignon, Strasbourg, and Linz for two weeks in May. I’m really excited to go, and I can’t wait to post pictures on Facebook about it.

To wrap things up, I’m very happy in Croatia. I am having a magnificent time while I can, although it is a bummer that I have to leave soon. As always, thank you Rotary for everything you’ve given me, I am extremely grateful. Thank you, Hvala, Goodbye, Doviđenja.

Sat, March 26, 2016

  • Jonah, outbound to Croatia

It’s incredible how fast my exchange is flying by. Almost 5 months in, and it feels as if I’ve only been in Croatia for a few weeks. I’m definitely not prepared for the idea of leaving in June.

Since my previous journal, a few important events took place. Well, there was Thanksgiving, Trip to Salzburg, Christmas, and New Year’s Day, but first, I’ll discuss school. Prva Gimnasia Varaždin has been a blast to attend. I have great friends, interesting subjects, and helpful teachers. Interesting enough, my relationship with my classmates fluctuates depending on the subject we are in. For instance, in English, everybody is my best friend, while in Croatian, no one seems to recognize me. Of course it’s not that literal, but that’s the concept.

For Thanksgiving, I planned a trip with the other exchange students, for us to meet in Zagreb to eat a Thanksgiving feast. We each brought something for the potluck, and luckily I was in charge of drinks and cups. Among the rest of the food was turkey, stuffing, mac and cheese, vegetables, and sweet potato pie (my favorite dish of the night). Once the meal was finished, we all looked like walruses, who had also eaten a large meal which had left them slightly bigger than when they started.

In early December, the Croatian exchange students and I took a weekend trip to Salzburg, Austria. We all piled into a small bus and drove eight hours to reach our destination. We slept in a nice youth hostel with the 80 other exchange students in Austria, and it gave us a chance to swap stories about exchange. Out of the 12 exchange students in Croatia, there are two boys, and one of them is me, and being around other guys was a pleasant change. During our time in Salzburg, I roamed the city. I got to see the house of Mozart, and visit the Hohensalzburg Fortress. It might be because I am from Florida, or that I’m an exchange student, but the point is I hate looking like a tourist. That might have been one of the reasons that I joined Rotary in the first place.

Next on the list is Christmas. Croatia celebrates Christmas a bit differently than the United States. In Croatia, there is a much larger emphasis on family, while in the US, gift giving is a big part of the holiday. On Christmas morning, I received slippers, a shirt, and some toiletries. Even though it wasn’t as much as I receive in Florida, I still thought my Christmas was fantastic. Another big part of Christmas is church, in Europe. I sure felt that when I was sweating inside an overcrowded church on Christmas Eve. New Year’s Eve was standard, I just hung out with my host family, and waited for 2016.

Since winter break began, my host dad and I have gone to a local gym to play badminton and work out. However, there has been some snow in Croatia, and having to shovel it out of the driveway is my way of working out. I like to think that I do a good job at cleaning the driveway, but I usually see my host dad going over my previous streaks of snow.

On a different note, I’m starting to see next year’s exchange students are getting ready for their year abroad. It just makes me remember when I was in the same situation, just so eager to explore the world, and having my own expectations of what Croatia was going to be like. Now that I’m actually here, I can say that my original expectation of what my year abroad was going to be like, is completely different to what it actually is. Exchange is really a once in a lifetime opportunity, and is unique to each individual. What I am trying to say is that I’m very lucky to be here, and that I’m grateful for everything Rotary has given to me. Thanks everyone!

Sat, January 9, 2016

  • Jonah, outbound to Croatia

Has it really been two months since I arrived in Croatia?! Since my arrival in what I consider to be my new home, I’ve had some of the best experiences of my life. Why don’t I get started?

Compared to my first month in this beautiful country, things have gotten better. To start, I have definitely improved my language skills. For instance, I am now able to hold a basic conversation from beginning to end with only minor mistakes. And, on a good day, I can navigate through an intermediate discussion. In my opinion, the most frustrating part of exchange has been the language barrier, especially when I hear my name being thrown around in a foreign conversation. It goes a bit like this… Ja sam iznenađen da ste prevođenje ovo, Jonah, ako što prevedeno to, onda to nema smisla. Confusing, right?

Since my last journal, there have been many changes in my weekly schedule, with the biggest change being school, Prva Gimnazia Varaždin. School starts at 7:30, however, I must wake up around 5:30 in order to catch the 50 minute train ride to my school. At school, I am enrolled in over 15 separate subjects, some of which are history of art, ethics, Latin, and English (my personal favorite). My school also offers the students a free period, giving us time to grab something to eat, get coffee, and hang out. The students follow a weekly schedule that distributes necessary subjects to each class. For example, my class has English, art, and Latin on Monday, and gym, geography, and math on Tuesday. Subjects are different lengths in order to fill our 7 hour school day. School ends at 2:15, giving me just enough time to take a train back home.

Honestly, I love going to school. My class, consisting of the same 23 Croatian teenagers, is the main reason. As opposed to schooling in America, Croatia puts together a class of around 25 kids and keeps them together for the entirety of school, meaning, if you don’t like someone in your class, get over it. The classmates spend 8 years with each other in primary school, and 4 years together in high school. Anyway, my classmates are the reason I have such a great experience in Croatia. My classmates and I are friends as well as colleagues in school, we can have fun together and still get work done.

My class is my main source of Croatian too. Everyone speaks English in my class as well as Croatian, giving me an opportunity to improve my translation. However, like many other exchange students, my classmates filled my vocabulary with Croatian curses, swears, and vulgar expressions within the first few weeks. And, to express my appreciation, I help them with their English. In fact, in English class we read my Rotary journals. Shoutout to Razred 2.D (my class, if you were curious).

Outside of school, I hang out with a few friends, but there isn’t much to do in a village in the middle of nowhere. I also like to be with other exchange students on the weekends. The majority of exchange students in Croatia live in the capital Zagreb. Zagreb is about an hour and a half away from Donji Kraljevec, my village, and we enjoy meeting up and going out to eat in the city. The exchange students and I have been on a few trips with Rotary too.

One weekend, we took a bus to Plitvice Lakes and hiked around for a bit, and the next day, drove to an old castle to take a look around. More recently though, we had a barbecue with Rotary. We ate tons of meats, pastries, and soups, and afterwards, got to listen to authentic Croatian music. All in all, every Rotary event has been a blast!

On a more serious note, I can definitely tell that I am changing in Croatia. Not just my attitude, however, my emotional stability, general outlook, and behavior are all improving with every day I spend in this fantastic place. I feel much more comfortable than when I first got here too. I am able to stay calm around stressful situations, and I am talking with many more people the longer I stay in Croatia. Rotary Youth Exchange is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I hope to take full advantage of this unique experience.

To wrap things up, I want to thank Rotary. Thank you for this wonderful opportunity, and thanks for all your hard work to make it possible. Hopefully my year abroad won’t pass me by too quickly, and give me enough time to fully appreciate this phenomenal country. In my opinion, the most relatable expression to an exchange student was said by Andy Dwyer from Parks and Recreation, “I have no idea what I’m doing, but I know I’m doing it really, really well”. Well, so much for me maturing while in Croatia. Doviđenja!

Thu, October 29, 2015

  • Jonah, outbound to Croatia

Dobar dan. Hey everybody, I’m going to jump right in to my life here in the best and most beautiful country in the world, otherwise known as Croatia. Even though I’ve only been here for a week and a half, I have already created memories worth a lifetime. But, I’m going to stop wasting time and start to discuss my experiences so far in Hrvatska.

Since I haven’t started school yet, every day is kind of last minute and random. For example, on Sunday I went with my Club Counselor to a Rotary Event called “Rotary Health Days” on Trakosćan Lake. Whereas, Friday night, my friends dragged me to a music festival in Varaždin called “Špancirfest” (I will go into more detail on those events later).

However, on a regular day with no special events, it goes as follows:
Wake up around 8, shower, and get dressed for the day. At 8:30, I usually go downstairs to eat breakfast which is either a sandwich or a bowl of corn flakes. I’m going to go off on a tangent by saying that cereal in Croatia and how it’s prepared is completely different than in America. So, my host mother pours the milk BEFORE the cereal. Again, she pours the MILK BEFORE THE CEREAL. That alone is a huge red flag in America, but there’s more. Once my host mom has poured the milk (before the cereal), she puts the bowl of milk in the microwave, and heats it up. Let me remind you, we aren’t eating oatmeal or porridge, we are preparing cereal. By far, the biggest change in my lifestyle since my arrival in Croatia.

Where was I again? Oh, that’s right, my routine.
From 9 to 12, I go with my family to run errands. Errands like going to the grocery store, butcher, deli, bakery, and other food shops (we love food). Afterwards, around 1 or 2, I help my host mom to prepare lunch. In Croatia, lunch is the biggest meal of the day and is normally eaten with the entire family.

Later, at about 3, I go with my mom to visit my host grandmother. We ride our bikes to her house, and run her set of errands due to her difficulty with walking. When we deliver her groceries back to the house, we drink tea and talk in Croatian. By that, I mean that my mom talks with my grandmother in Croatian, and I sit close-by, silently listening (silently not knowing what is going on).

We get home at 5 and rest until dinner. Dinner is at 7, and is normally only eaten by my host mother and I. We eat sandwiches and fruit normally, and talk for another hour. I go to a local café with a few friends at 8 and we hang out, talking until 10. When I get back home at 11, I wind down and fall asleep at 12.

Again, my routine will be different once I begin school on the 11th. In school, I will take 10 classes in a week, but only 7 classes in a day. My school begins at 7:30 and ends approximately at 2. However, the train that I must take to get to and from school takes around 40 minutes to travel on, sigh.

Recently, I went to a music festival called Špancirfest. All it was, was a 10 day long party in Varaždin with street vendors, performers, concerts, and great food. I went with a few of my friends to walk around the streets and see the concert for that night. First there was a Serbian rap group (which I enjoyed), and afterwards there was a band aimed toward teenage girls (which I did not enjoy as much). The concert was packed full of people, and I think that the outcome of people was record-breaking for Špancirfest. Once the concert was over, we walked through the streets of the city. We managed to get a ride back home at 2 in the morning, and let me tell you, I fell asleep as soon as I got in my room (and the car that took us home). I was exhausted.

A few days later, my Club Counselor Lily invited me to go to a Rotary event which entailed eating delicious soup and meeting new people. I was hooked before she could mention that it was also a 5k run. We drove to Trakosćan Lake, which was about an hour and a half away, and did what she promised… meet and eat. Fortunately, I didn’t have to run the 5k, but instead, got the chance to hike around the lake (don’t worry, I enjoy hiking). Once our bellies were full from goulash, we toured a castle set atop a hill overlooking the lake. There was tons of history inside and tons of good pictures outside. We were both tired after all the eating, hiking, and climbing, so we left in her car (again, I slept in the car). I’m known for falling asleep in Florida, especially in cars.

To sum everything up, I have had a phenomenal time. Croatia is awesome, the people are even better, and I feel even better than that. I just want to thank Rotary, and all the Rotarians that make this experience possible. I can already tell that Croatia is going to change me forever, and I have only been here for a week. 1 week down, only 40 more to go! Goodbye, or Doviđenja!

Thu, September 3, 2015

Justin - Peru

Hometown: Jacksonville Beach, Florida
School: Fletcher High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Jacksonville Oceanside, Florida
Host District: 4455
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Arequipa

My Bio

Buenos dias amigos! My name is Justin Michalman and next year I will be traveling to the beautiful country of Peru! I am very excited to begin my adventure in this new country and explore the land, culture, and food! I am a very outdoorsy person, so I am eager to set foot on many ancient ruins and experience Peru’s backyard. I am currently a senior at Fletcher High School in Neptune Beach, Florida, where I will be graduating this year. I am stoked to engage myself in my classes that I will be placed in Peru. Originally, I am from Connecticut, where you walk outside during winter and see a foot of snow, but during summer you see beautiful foliage and weather.

I will miss my family and friends very much while I am on exchange, but being a very outgoing person, I am thrilled to think of all the new faces I will meet and what can be shared between us. I am very interested about learning about the earth and all that it has to offer. From politics to how different countries enjoy their time, I would like to learn as much as I can.

Rotary has given me a once in a lifetime chance to experience something much larger than me to adapt to and move outside my own “box” so that my eyes are aware of a little bit more. I hope I can pass this opportunity along after I come back from Peru. But for now, I am more than excited to begin my adventure to Peru and do nothing but immerse myself in their culture and education. Oceanside Rotary and my future host families have given me an amazing opportunity, so I thank you so much for that! Hasta luego amigos!

Journals: Justin – Peru 2015-2016

  • Justin, outbound to Peru

Bienvenidos todos! How’s the weather in your neck of the woods? I can tell you that it is more than beautiful here! As I sit down and think and think about what I’m going to tell you all in the next few paragraphs, I first have to say that the first (almost) two months of my exchange feel like I have experienced so much more than what I would experience back at home in the US. Who am I kidding, this is my home now! Rotary, in-bounds, Rotexs, and directors, they are all right when they say this is going to change your life, they are right when they say this year is going to be like no other year! The first two months here have not been all sunshine, but let me tell you, the amount of light and bliss that comes out of the times of darkness, is something I cannot begin to explain in words! Positiveness and resilience are what I think about every day! I learn something more and more about myself every day, some things that I would never think I could do. But in that time what I say to myself, is take the leap, take the step and go for it!

Alright alright, I’ll stop with my preacher-hood and explain some of the feelings and experiences I’ve had so far! When I arrived in Miami and was waiting for my flight to Lima, Peru, that is when the moment (or a few moments) of “You’re going to be living in Peru for a year” hit me. It hit me hard! And that’s when the whole experience started! I landed in Lima, carrying my 65 L backpack and my suitcase. The biggest three smiles were waiting for me as I search through the terminal for familiar faces. This must be them! They hugged me, and it felt good to be hugged! They greeted me in the warmest way, offered to carry my bags, asked the ins and outs of my trip and wanted to begin this journey with me! I cannot thank them enough for that! My first family’s house was beautiful, far out from Lima in a district called San Borja. I was welcomed by my first host brother, Luis, my host sister, Fernanda, and my other host sister, Joseline! What amazing people they are! I am so excited to visit them in January!

TALK. That’s what helps. A LOT. I found myself at a loss for words sometimes, well a good amount of the time, and felt like “Man, how am I gonna improve my Spanish?” But then I remembered just keep asking questions, keep wondering, and keep learning! So that’s what I tried and try to do every day. Ask “What is this?” “What street are we on?” “What am I eating?” (Definitely ask that) you guys get the point! Not only does it take your mind off any worries you have, but you learn so much about where you are!

The food. Well put it this way. I’m having trouble seeing my shoes any more, because of the food. It is very very very good, and it is a lot! Here in Peru, I eat a lot of chicken, with a lot of rice, with sides of different potatoes that I can never seem to get the kind right! A new kind every day! Two well known staples for Peru’s agriculture are Potatoes and Chicha! Chicha is a purple corn that is grown only in Peru. It is then boiled in water, and the flavor is extracted, add some sugar and extra fruit and you have yourself a refreshing drink! I’ve learned to say yes to all the food I’m offered…”More?” “Absolutely!”

After my few short weeks in Lima, I hopped on a plane and took a puddle jumper down to Arequipa where people love their city and love constructing building out of pure Sillar rock from the surrounding mountains. You guys remember, when I said how welcoming and loving my first host family was, well now you can multiply that by about 32. The family that I am living with now, make me feel so at home, they are so welcoming and caring! My mother cooks and cooks and cooks and makes sure my host father, brother and I have more than enough! My host brother, Carlos, 18 now and loving his exchange in France! It was a very short time spent with him, but if it wasn’t for him I would not feel as comfortable walking around the city and knowing some of the history! He’s a amazing friend, and I hope to continue that with relationship with him! Thanks man!

A day in the life: Wake up around 6:30 for class at Dunalastair. Water is heated from the sun, so showers are in the evening. Step outside, to a beautiful blue sky with hardly any clouds, feel the sun beat down on your neck, yet still feel the cool morning air touch your fingers. Driving is crazy, but I love it! There’s something about, darting through a 6 ft gap with your car and then slamming on your brakes as you notice the taxi in front of you slamming on his breaks because the bus in front of you wanted to watch the street performers that come out while the red light counts down from 30. I get to school around 8:00!

Here’s another blessing, the 12 exchange kids in my school! They are from all over the world, and In two short weeks they have become my friends. We have planned trips already and made plans for the rest of the year! Our laughs together I think make the band in school seem weak! They are amazing and I so look forward to sharing more and more experie nces with them! Get done with school at 5:20, long day right? It goes by quicker than you know it! I like it! Tomorrow we go to a dog shelter to clean up and give care to them! GIVING BACK is something I hope to do here every chance I get. I could not thank Rotary enough with all that they have done not just for me, but all the current and previous Exchange students! You guys are all a blessing and I hope I can show all of you what a blessing it is!

I hope you guys have enjoyed reading this post and all the other students! I will update you in the next month with the progress in my Spanish and the about the upcoming trip all of us are taking around the Southern parts of Peru. YES, that means Machhu Pichhu!

Until next time,
Salud! Take great care! And shoot past the moon!


Sun, September 20, 2015

Keelin - Taiwan

Hometown: Saint Augustine, Florida
School: St. Joseph Academy
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Coastal St. Johns County, Florida
Host District: TBA
Host Club: TBA

My Bio

Nín hǎo! I am Keelin Frazel, and I will be a Rotary Foreign Exchange Student to Taiwan in 2015!!! I am a 14-year-old sophomore at Saint Joseph Academy (SJA) in Saint Augustine, Florida, and I love to do anything to get me up and outdoors. At SJA, I sign up for any sport that is in season. I adore playing football in the summer, basketball in the winter, and track/field in the spring. My family certainly does not inhibit my lifestyle as most of them love the same things I do. My brother Dirk is 22 and just graduated from Florida Atlantic University. In high school, he played basketball and went on to play football in college. My sister Marea is 20 and attends the University of Florida. She has been an inspiration my entire life as she was a previous Rotary Exchange Student to Italia. The Last, but not least, my sister Julia is 17 and a junior in high school. Julia was born with a spinal disability, but her perseverance through her hardships have strengthened our whole family. Even in my mere 14 years, I have always aimed to achieve more. In school, I strive to obtain the most out of my excellent education. Outside of school, I am a member of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). The BSA has provided me with invaluable skills and traits that I can employ throughout my exchange year. As a Life Scout, I am well on my way to attaining the rank of Eagle Scout. I am always ready to jump at the next opportunity, and Rotary has provided! I am so thankful for the chance to travel abroad, and I cannot wait to begin my year in Taiwan!

Journals: Keelin-Taiwan 2015-2016

  • Keelin – Outbound to Taiwan

Hello everyone! Before I start my FIRST journal I could go endlessly on with excuses as to why I haven’t written one until now but I am afraid I would bore you to death. Instead of that, I will just say better late than never.

Anyway, the day before last marked an important event for me in my time as an exchange student. I, along with three other exchange students performed on stage in front of upwards of 3000 people. This wasn’t any old performance, it was a Chinese traditional 相聲(xiang sheng) performed completely in Chinese between the four of us. It is basically a comic between two to four people with one person cracking jokes and the other responding. After we finished the performance, I think it really appeared to us how much our skill in the Chinese language had improved. We’ve been on this beautiful island, Taiwan, for a little over 7 months already. I can’t speak for the other exchange students, but I can rest assured that my limited time as an exchange student has not been wasted.

In the beginning, I was dropped into a situation where I had the opportunity to speak Chinese every single day. I am VERY fortunate to have been placed in host families that, for the most part, could not speak english. I think this inability to communicate well was vital in my quest for skill in the illusive Mandarin Chinese language. I mean, one of the few sentences my first host family said to me was that they could not speak english very well, so I must learn Chinese quickly. Right there is where it all began for me. I was instantly given the drive to learn as much as I could, as fast I could, and in the CORRECT way. I put emphasis on the correct way because pronunciation is not a factor to be forgotten while speaking Mandarin Chinese, but I will dive deeper into this later. For now I will to touch on an extremely interesting factor in the background of chinese/ taiwanese culture.

“”NO ONE WHO CAN RISE BEFORE DAWN THREE HUNDRED SIXTY DAYS A YEAR FAILS TO MAKE HIS FAMILY RICH.”(-Chinese proverb) I really love how anywhere you look you can see people exercising and flinging their arms in the air. I think it reflects the underlying nature of Taiwanese people: Always working to maintain the blood flow in their bodies, and their countries. Numerous amounts of research has been done to learn why the top asian countries, including Taiwan, has the highest scores in math and other subjects. Many studies find out that it can be traced all the way back to the times of ancient when rice, a seemingly worthless grain, was considered money and was the most important part of anyone’s daily life. It wasn’t just because they ate the rice, rather in the ways that the rice had to be farmed did the rock solid work ethic of Taiwanese and other East Asians develop. Although today China is a very different country compared to other East Asian natio ns such as Taiwan, Japan, Singapore, and Korea; all the ancient cultivation techniques of rice stemmed out from there and spread throughout. In the words of Malcolm Gladwell in his fantastic book, Outliers, he elegantly sums summarizes some of the techniques used in rice farming. “Rice paddies are “built,” not “opened up” the way a wheat field is. You don’t just clear the trees, underbrush, and stones and then plow. Rice fields are carved into mountainsides in an elaborate series of terraces, or painstakingly constructed from marshland and river plains. A rice paddy has to be irrigated, so a complex system of dikes has to be built around the field. Channels must be dug from the nearest water source, and gates built into the dikes so the water flow can be adjusted precisely to cover the right amount of the plant. The paddy itself, meanwhile, has to have a hard clay floor; otherwise the water will simply seep into the ground. But of course, rice seedlings can’t be planted in hard clay, so on top of the clay, there has to be a thick, soft layer of mud. And the claypan, as it’s called, has to be carefully engineered so that it will drain properly and also keep the plants submerged at the optimum level. Rice has to be fertilized repeatedly, which is another art. Traditionally, farmers used “night soil” (human manure) and a combination of burned compost, river mud, bean cake, and hemp — and they had to be careful, because too much fertilizer, or the right amount applied at the wrong time, could be as bad as too little. When the time came to plant, a Chinese farmer would have hundreds of different varieties of rice from which to choose, each one of which offered a slightly different trade-off, say, between yield and how quickly it grew, or how well it did in times of drought, or how it fared in poor soil. A farmer might plant a dozen or more different varieties at one time, adjusting the mix fro m season to season in order to manage the risk of a crop failure. He or she (or, more accurately, the whole family, since rice agriculture was a family affair) would plant the seed in a specially prepared seedbed. After a few weeks, the seedlings would be transplanted into the field, in carefully spaced rows six inches apart, and then painstakingly nurtured. Weeding was done by hand, diligently and unceasingly, because the seedlings could easily be choked by other plant life. Sometimes each rice shoot would be individually groomed with a bamboo comb to clear away insects. All the while, farmers had to check and recheck water levels and make sure the water didn’t get too hot in the summer sun. And when the rice ripened, farmers gathered all of their friends and relatives and, in one coordinated burst, harvested it as quickly as possible so they could get a second crop in before the winter dry season began” (Gladwell 225). When I read this excerpt in Gladwell’ s book, I suddenly understood what I had been seeing everyday on my bus ride to school. Despite the fact that this is thousands of years after the dominant period of rice farming, the painstakingly diligent processes of rice farming still appeared in their daily life. Every morning around 7:00 am, the scooters begin rambling down the narrow streets, the vendors begin to setup shop, the students start scrambling onto buses to get to school on time, and all of it comes together to bring the island to life. Meanwhile, I, a lone foreign exchange student, begin my day as well. My morning obviously isn’t as hectic as many others, but fortunately this lack of chaos gives me the opportunity to observe something beautiful. Every morning anywhere you look you can spot the older generation of Taiwanese beginning their day by doing some Taiqi. You can see numerous amounts of people swinging their arms in circles and making crazy movements for exercise. To the naked and ignorant ey e of a foreigner, such as I, this spectacle appeared absolutely comical. But, after several more seemingly mundane commutes to school, I realized this morning routine alluded to the country of Taiwan as a whole. While the older Taiwanese generation are simply waking up to get some exercise, the deeper meaning uncovers itself and shows us that the drive to keep that perfect rice paddy, has seeped down through the ages to now appear to us as a simple morning routine, but really they’re simultaneously maintaining the blood flow of their own country.

IF possible to take one thing from this escapade into Taiwanese work ethic, looking past the facade that some things may be bad or dull remains an important skill that all exchange students must master to be able to understand and accept exactly what their host country has to offer.

My Chinese learning continues to be an absolute pleasure for me and, hopefully, the people teaching me along the way. In the beginning, I learned how hard this conquest of the language would be for me to get through. The first few days I was the most tired I had ever been. This wasn’t because of the “jet lag”. I’ve been on long plane rides before, and this wasn’t the same type of weariness. I discovered I had used my brain more than I ever had in the past. I was mentally exhausted. My mettle was put to the test. But, luckily my spirits weren’t dampened. I rested up well and began the work of listening, attempting to speak, and processing all of this new information in my head. After a while, maybe two to three months, it all became automatic, and I began to realize that all the work that I had put in during the beginning truly paid off. Chinese is a complex language, but it is not hard. Many people have asked me “Do you feel Chinese i s hard to learn?” and my reply eventually turned out always to be “If you decide that Chinese is hard, then it is hard. If you decide that the language is easy, then it is easy.” I believe this mindset is vital in the learning process of a secondary language because many people can and will find it very challenging. But, in the end, it’s all up to the person learning the language. It’s what you decide and how much work you put in that will determine what you can do on your exchange year, and in your lifetime.

For the benefit of future inbounds to Taiwan, I will give some insight into the learning process of my language. I will outline what I have done to learn Chinese in the past, and what I do today. Out of the entire 60+ exchange students in my district, I tested first on the written exam, and won the speech contest hosted by our district as well. So, I don’t mean to be a braggart, but as a sixteen year old boy in a foreign country learning Mandarin Chinese I think I know what I’m talking about. Although, I am nowhere near “fluent”, I still feel I have done a decent job of learning Chinese. But in the end I still know nothing and I hope to continue learning every single day. Anyway, in the beginning I focused on listening as I wanted to learn the most useful phrases and I wanted speak exactly like the natives did. So, whenever I checked the dictionary, which I did a lot, I would see which word the Taiwanese would use because they use different words for t he same meanings in different Chinese-speaking countries. I began to imitate the way the natives spoke. When school began, I started my Chinese classes: three hours a week. Obviously these classes weren’t nearly enough to reach where I am now in the language, so I hope you can see how important individual dedication and work in the your target language is. No one is going spoon feed you Chinese, or german, or french or portuguese. If when you arrive in your host country expect a teacher to “teach” you a secondary language, then you will not go far, or you will not have enough time to do as much as you want. I have seen it first hand with many of the students here in Taichung, my city. I began class with the other person in my school and after about three months she felt the classes weren’t enough. So she paid lots of money to begin schooling at a local university’s language program. My classmate still cannot hold a basic conversation with me in C hinese, but oh, she can write some characters. This is the “I want to be taught” mentality. I believe it’s wrong and should be avoided during anyone’s time as an exchange student or during other escapades in life.

I’m finally editing this on the last day of my exchange and I’d like to apologize to every Rotarian in Florida who participates and works in RYE because I basically failed them. I signed a contract at the beginning of the year promising that I would write journals and look how it turns out! I’ve ended up with one posted all the year. I could go on and on about Chinese but it looks like it must be left for another day. Anyway, I hope I can be forgiven and I hope I can make it up in some way. Maybe…it just proves I was having TOO much fun in Taiwan……..Thank you Rotary and all the Rotarians who made this year possible. I failed this portion of exchange but I can assure you the other factors of my exchange were extremely successful.

Mon, July 4, 2016

Kel - Paraguay

Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: Buchholz High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Gainesville, Florida
Host District: 4845
Host Club: The Rotary Club of San Lorenzo

My Bio

My name is Kelly Wright and I am from Columbia, Missouri. At the age of fifteen my parents and I moved to Florida to start a new chapter. I enrolled in Buchholz High School in Gainesville and became a member of the soccer team. Transitioning to a new school and a new state was difficult, but I persevered and became a stronger person because of the obstacles I had to overcome. I had to get used to not knowing anyone and become accustomed to a new life, all of which would eventually prepare me for this experience.

I decided to apply to Rotary because I believe in experiencing life outside of my comfort zone and learning more about a country than what a textbook tells me. I was ecstatic to be accepted to the Rotary Youth Exchange, and even more excited when I found out I would be going to Argentina. I have studied Spanish for three years and am eager to put my knowledge to use. In my free time I enjoy going outside, playing sports, and spending time with my friends, family, and cat Daisy. I am passionate about being a citizen of the world, meeting new people, and learning about a beautiful culture.

Journals: Kel – Paraguay 2015-2016

  • Kel, outbound to Paraguay

As you are heading into your new countries that will become your new home and things start to become easier you have to remember about time.

My exchange has gone by so fast and its probably because I have had the best time of my life on my exchange and I can’t have asked for a better country to spend a year in. Paraguay has captured me by the heart and has shaken my whole world.

Yes it is a different culture and language but the people you meet and the things you experience will change you forever and I couldn’t have asked for a better 10 months of my life.

As you are sitting in the interview chair sweating as I did a little too much but you think “If I get this 10 months is a long time” at the welcome home dinner and all the former outbound’s tell you it goes by fast and you think they are crazy because you are worried about what to do and what not to do and the language barrier. Just relax and it will all come in time.

One of the trips I took was the best two weeks of my whole entire life and all of you will experience a moment where you feel so happy and you are so immersed in the culture you forget your an exchange student you forget you’re one of the girls from Gainesville, Florida.

In closing my time has gone by so fast and my last 17 days are going to go by even quicker. I love Paraguay for its uniqueness and its never ending love from the people of Paraguay. Your country will capture your heart as Paraguay has captured mine.

Wed, June 1, 2016

  • Kel, outbound to Paraguay

I’m currently sitting in my room and unable to stop thinking. I have been reflecting my exchange and how quickly it does go by. I arrived in Paraguay on August 8th and I will be departing my new home on June 15th, which is in 49 days. I will be returning to hot weather something I am all too familiar with here in Paraguay, sandy beaches I have missed and returning to my family.

What Rotary doesn’t tell you is how attached you will get to your new home. When you are on exchange the word goodbye becomes too frequent. You say goodbye to friends who leave to go home, host families that have taken you under their wing, saying good bye to classmates, and saying goodbye to your fellow exchanger’s at inbound camps not knowing if you will see them for the next one or see them ever again.

Reflecting on my time here in Paraguay I have been thinking about the places I have seen, the people I’ve met and the experiences I have experienc ed that will stay with me forever. I have met the most amazing people on my exchanged, and I have been to places I have never dreamed of. Rotary has given me such an amazing opportunity to explore the world, and learn about a culture first hand, and for that I am entirely grateful. You will have your bad days, and you will run into some difficulties along your exchange but its how you choose to deal with them that makes the difference.

You will have days when you are lying in bed wondering why you went on exchange, you will question if you want to stay or go home. There will be days where you will want to, cry, and binge watch a season on Netflix, trust me I have done all of these things, and that’s okay. Its not a bad thing to want to be alone for a little while. If there is one thing I have learned on my exchange is that its okay to make mistakes, its okay that you don’t know the language fluently, its okay to ask for help, its the fact that you are trying everyd ay to get better than the day before that counts.

It goes by so quickly and if you don’t spend it wisely I am sure in the future you will regret it. Your experience that you are given is YOURS not anyone else’s, its not your parents exchange, your friends, Rotary’s, its yours so seize it. Make every opportunity to explore your new home for what it truly is and be free. May the wind blow you on a path you never would have seen. Explore places you never thought of exploring, and be a part of a culture that you will learn to fall in love with instantly, and for that is the magic of exchange.

Sat, April 30, 2016

  • Kel, outbound to Paraguay

Hola! Feliz Navidad! I know its two days past Christmas but Happy Holidays. I know around this time of year the exchange students get homesick. I won’t lie I am a little sad but I did switch to a new family the day after Christmas. Some friendly advice. I know it can get hard and your family tells you its not the same without you and you see photos on Facebook, or social media which let me tell you it doesn’t help. Whatever traditions you do in your home country you won’t do in your host country. It will seem like you are out of place. It is just one Christmas but you will never forget it.

Some advice about switching families. Whatever the relationship is good or bad always say thank you, you don’t know if it was hard for them to do what they did to host you in their home. You might cry, be happy, or just sad. But you can visit them whenever you want. Once you arrive to your new host house just get as comfortable as you can. Once you settle in it will be time to leave again for your next house.

You realize you have too much clothes and should probably stop buying things. You still have to get everything back home. I have been in Paraguay for 4 months almost 5 months and I am still in love with everything here.

School starts back up in the middle of February. I am going to a different school and to be honest I am very nervous. I don’t know anyone. My host brother put me in his class group chat before I left and I knew a lot of my classmates before I came. Now I have to start over. If I can live in a foreign country for 10 months I think I can sit in a class for 5 hours right? Trust me its harder than you think. You’re the new toy. Everyone is asking you questions and wants to try out their English. Let me let you in on a secret… its dangerous. I let my classmates try out their English and I would help them and I would forget simple Spanish in 10 minutes. Your brain get so overwhelmed by switch back in forth from English to whatever language you are learning. If you are constantly tired that is normal, your brain is on over drive from translating every day. It would come back but it wasn’t the best thing just starting out.

Sun, December 27, 2015

  • Kel, outbound to Paraguay

Hola, Buen Dia! I have been in Paraguay for almost three months now and I am in total and complete bliss. School is a lot of fun! I love playing handball, and playing traditional games with preschoolers. Lunchtime is when I get Spanish lessons from my classmates.

My classmate Sofi ran for class president and the campaign was a long process. Sofi went all out for it. Her slogan was “Untied for the same reason” and she made posters, she made cupcakes, she even made T-shirts. One day after lunch my classmates and I left school and we went a couple blocks away from the school and we decorated cars and there was a huge bus that we decorated and it was blasting music and girls were painting the slogan on their bodies. We rode into school on the backs of trucks,out the windows of cars, and it was crazy and so much fun! There were games, and it was so weird that the school would allow them to do it but they did. The next day we found out who won and Sofi won!!

This past week a couple houses down from me there has a gas line explosion and a house actually blew up and the whole neighborhood was out of power, and it was very interesting experience.

I have been placed in the most beautiful country. Obviously every exchange student will same the same thing about where they are, but I can’t thank Rotary enough for this experience. We have been given a chance to explore another culture, and language. Most people our age wouldn’t want to leave home, or even be scared to leave home. Learn as much as you can while you are on your exchange and experience all that you can because your time is short and it will go by so fast.

I have visited a couple cities that just takes your breathe away. The mountains, lakes, and rivers are just so beautiful! When you go off course, take the back roads, and you reach the top of the hill and you pull over and look back you just freeze and think how is this even possible. Its the most amazing feeling. You won’t ever get another chance to see another country or culture so seize every moment of it!


Sat, October 17, 2015

  • Kel, outbound to Paraguay

Happy Holi also known as the festival of color was this past Saturday. I went with another exchange student from Canada. The concert started at 2 in Paraguay that means you will melt once you get out of the car. It was about 100 outside and when David (exchange student) and I walked in everyone was either totally in white or covered in colored powder. We got 2 bags of powder and we went straight into the colossal of people. There was amazing familiar music playing and by the end of 10 minutes David and I felt nasty because we were drenched in sweat and powder that dries to your skin. David and I left at 8 and we had such an amazing time. We can now say that we went to a rave in a foreign country.

This past Sunday I went around town with my sister and her grade and we went on a big scavenger hunt for our school and we get points for everything we find. Needless to say it was very hard to find all these objects on the list. It was a lot of fun and the contest lasts two weekends so next weekend we will try to complete the list of things to find.

I am understanding more in class. This past week my ethics teacher who I have been told is the meanest teacher in the whole school was talking about violence and she made the class read about Ghandi and Ghandi happens to be one of my role models so I was really excited about the lesson. Another teacher came into the room to talk to my teacher and my teacher pointed to me laughing and said in Spainsh “she doesn’t understand anything”. All of my classmates just looked at me with horrified faces because they knew I understood what she said and they were waiting for me to get upset or say something back. I remembered from my last orientation the right response to say to someone. So I said to my teacher “I understand you perfectly, your talking about Ghandi and how he used non violence and how he never gave up hope when most people would have”. Her mouth dropped open and she was taken aback by the fact that I knew what was going on and what we were doing in class. All of my classmates started cheering for me. I wasn’t mad or anything but even though I might not speak the language fluently I know what’s going on.

Tue, September 22, 2015

  • Kel, outbound to Paraguay

Spoiler: I actually am in Paraguay. Rotary switched me a couple of months before I left and I couldn’t be happier! When I first arrived in Paraguay I was like a little kid in a candy store, my face was glued to the window and a look of amazement on my face. My host dad was driving and I actually thought I was going to die in the car. He swerved into on-coming traffic to pass one car and to this day he still does and I still think I am going to die on my way to school every morning. So between being totally amazing and covering my eyes of my possible death was my car ride home on my first day in Paraguay.

I had lunch with my family and it was amazing, we had pig, rice, and pasta. We have a maid named Armenda and she is very quiet and very quick. My first day of school was very busy. Everyone was kissing me, hugging me, and pointing at me. A teacher extended her hand as my class sat on the floor waiting for my class room to be opened and she kissed me on both cheeks and told me in Spanish that if I needed anything to come to her. At recess all the young kids came up to me and asked me my name and ran away screaming, or they wanted me to play, or hold them.

My school is three stories and there are kids from pre-school to graduating high school. All of my teachers on my first day either looked at me and carried on with their lesson of the day or said hola. The only teacher that talks to me is my English teacher (how ironic) and he lets me help my classmates or he lets me teach the lesson. I have been to about 8 English classes where the younger students ask me questions about America and I love doing it! They always ask me why I picked Paraguay because no one really knows about it and I have to explain why I didn’t pick it.

There is a man at our school and sells ice cream, candy, chocolate, etc. At first I was confused at why kids would buy candy from him. Didn’t someone say to them in their childhood “stranger danger”. Well my classmate Sofi told me that he has been there since she was young and he is harmless. I still didn’t buy anything from him for a week just in case.

I am so amazed at how beautiful everything is here. The trees, the stores, the people, and how fast everything goes by like the cars weaving in and out of lanes. I am so astonished about how fast people talk and you just stare at them thinking, was that even Spanish? I have said that many times to my classmates.

I have been to other cities and it is so breathtaking. The mountains, the rivers, and even how people change with every city. For example, when you are at a stop light people clean your windows even if you don’t want it, there are people selling newspapers, things they have made, selling chipa (bread) with a huge basket full balanced on their head, or even people standing on a skateboard that is balanced on a chair and juggling at the same time.

Paraguay does have some things that are different. For example, if you are at a gas station there is a police officer with a loaded gun. I have seen people go to the bathroom in the streets, I have seen someone been mugged in the middle of the day, in the middle of the street, and the people walking by did nothing about it they just kept walking. I have been to a park with a river but you can’t see the the water because its filled with trash. There are trash cans in the parks and throughout the town but no one really cares, they just throw it out of the window of their car, or just drop it when they’re one with it.

Some people sweep up the trash around their house and set it on fire. There has not been a day that I haven’t seen trash burning and it does not leave a pleasant smell. Everyone asks me what my favorite part of Paraguay is and I am sure they are waiting for me to say empanadas but I say the people. Everyone is so nice here you aren’t greeted with a “hey nice to meet you”; you are greeted with a hug and two kisses no matter if you are a girl or boy. Everyone wants to help me, even with my Spanish and they don’t expect anything back. The people here are so passionate, yes they goof around like friends do but they are family. My classmates have been together since they have started school and that is something I will always envy.


Wed, September 9, 2015

Lauren - Taiwan

Hometown: Ponte Vedra, Florida
School: Ponte Vedra High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
Host District: 3480
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Hsin Tien

My Bio

Hello! Nǐ hǎo! My name is Lauren Ahmad. I am fourteen years old, and a freshman at Ponte Vedra High School. I was born in Keller, Texas, near the Dallas/Fort Worth area, but I moved to Florida a few years ago. I have three brothers, two of which are adopted, and two loving parents. I also have two dogs and two cats, including my kitten Skype, who I will miss dearly. Since I was a little girl, I loved to travel and learn about new cultures. New languages and countries have always made me curious to find out more about the world!

I look forward to going to Taiwan, and discovering a new way of life. I am so thankful to Rotary for this amazing opportunity, and I knew that from the first presentation of the club, I had to join and be apart of this incredible experience! Currently, I love to read, write, draw, and code websites, but I hope to try some new activities when I go to Taiwan. I used to love playing soccer, but I haven’t had the availability to participate in the most recent years. Honestly, I am so excited to start this new chapter of my life, and what I feel will be my biggest adventure yet! I’m already enjoying learning the language, so I feel it can only get more exciting from here! I look forward to the challenges and bumps ahead, along with the fun and adventure. Thank you!

Journals: Lauren – Taiwan 2015-2016

  • Lauren, outbound to Taiwan

Wait, what’s today? Are you serious? There’s no way it’s January 2016. Let me check all seven of my calendars again…

Yup, it’s 2016… and this is only my second journal. Which means I’m in some trouble. But hey, instead of making excuses about how busy I was (am) in the hustle and bustle of daily Taipei life, I shall dive straight into the crazy stuff I’ve been up to. There’s a lot, so I won’t be as detailed as my last journal. All in all, I’m sure you guys will be satisfied. Just note, these are in loose chronological order – I’m using my camera roll to recall most of these because there’s been so much stuff.

So in October, my Chinese class took our first field trip. We went to a traditional market that sold anything from entire chickens to live fish tied up in waterless barrels. It was what the kids call “culture shock”. After this, we went to the local university, which happened to be the most famous university in Taiwan. We toured the campus and then walked through a history museum about the Aboriginals of Taiwan. It was pretty interesting! There was a pretty scary story about a scalping tradition that gave me shivers…

Later that month, my host club’s sister club in Japan came to visit us. I’ve been taking Japanese, so I was asked to introduce myself by my host father. I actually did alright (I guess, they understood me at least!), and it was a pretty fun night. We even ate some Japanese dishes that were delicious! Mostly fish, but hey, fish is great.

And in November, I went on one of biggest trips yet – I stayed a night in Yilan with my Taiwan classmates on a school trip. This adventure was packed and I have pictures to prove it. We got at school at seven and loaded up several school buses (the whole entire school was divided into three different field trips). We took an hour to drive to the coastal city, where we boarded a boat and sailed to Turtle Island. Inhabited by few and rich with historical culture, we explored the caves, crossed lakes, and hiked in the hot sun.

Despite being a bit motion sick, and my partner having an asthma attack without being able to communicate it with me (so basically while everyone was trying to help I was just freaking out trying to figure out what was happening?) it was pretty fun! Then we went to a beach, where as a class, we pulled in a giant net of fish. It took everyone pulling the rope out and then going back for more until finally, we brought in our pitiful basket of eight fish (plus a crab). It was still really amazing and we had a lot of fun doing it. After this, we went to try to local seafood that the area was famous for.

Once sufficiently stuffed to the max with fish and equipped with ice cream, we headed to a local museum and learned more about the culture there. Finally, we headed out for the event we had all been anticipating. The night market! We only had thirty minutes, so we quickly bought some food before being ushered back to the buses. But it was my first market and it was incredible!

The hotel was wonderful, though my classmates had no intention of sleeping. Dancing, KPop, candy, and fun. Also breaking glasses by accident and having to be forced to bed by our concerned homeroom teacher. The next day we woke up groggy but managed to get ready on time. We ate breakfast but had some time to spare afterwards, so we played a Taiwanese card game with KPop cards. My classmates even taught me some slang (though I can’t say all of it was necessarily stuff I would use often). The rest of the day was more subdued. We went to a wine/cake factory and observed the production, something Yilan was popular for. Then we went to an arts market filled with Taiwanese artisans and DIY activities. We made traditional Taiwanese bracelets (with a modern spin on them) before heading home. It was a great trip and I got much closer to my classmates.

After that, the exchange students immediately were thrown into Rotary activities. A Halloween party, which was pretty ordinary (and Western). But afterwards, on my way home, I got lost for the first time in the city. It was a rainy night and I was dressed like a zombie apocalypse survivor. I called my host sister but my signal was horrible so I ended up asking for directions in Chinese (quite nicely I might add). He answered in English and directed me to the station I needed to go to. I ran in the dark and barely caught the last bus, making it home just before curfew. It was a great night.

Not too long later, Rotary took us on the Yingge Pottery Tour, something I was excited about since I saw previews at the orientation. Yingge is a city famous for it’s history with pottery. After an hour train ride, we were taken to a building where we made our own pottery on spinning wheels and painted cups. After this, we went to the local market and browsed dozens of shops filled with unique pottery. I was amazed by the beautiful artwork (it made me wish my bowl was a little cooler…) Then, we went to a museum where we perused the history of pottery in Taiwan. It was pretty amazing, and much more interesting then you would’ve thought.

Not long after, my Chinese class took another field trip. This time we went to a local temple where we learned about Taoism. We learned how to pray, the Grandfather (the “deity” of the religion, but as the name suggests, more of a comforting family figure to talk to your feelings about), how to use divination blocks and sticks. It was wonderful, as I love visiting the temples. Then we went to another traditional market and ate amazing food.

Finally, I left instantly to get back to school because-
That day, our school’s sister school from Japan sent students to visit! I rushed back just in time to greet them. Each school did a performance, before we all went back to our homerooms followed by a class each. My classmates were very shy, so I hopped around helping everyone get comfortable (since I was familiar with all of it). One girl in particularly followed me around everywhere talking to me in a mix of small Japanese words and English. It was really fun! Then we escorted them all to the Shilin Night Market where we spent the evening showing them our Taiwanese culture. Once it got late, we led them back to their hotel and traded gifts. Finally, I headed home with lots of Japanese candy.

Not too long after, my school held a fair where we made food and listened to music as a big fundraiser. My homeroom teacher noticed how bored I was, so I actually got to help out a lot before getting really sick and going home. Still fun though!

Our Chinese class also had all the exchange students participate in a talent show to show off our Chinese skills. So, I and two of my friends performed on ukuleles while singing a lovely Taiwanese love song. It was super cute and we did well.

Christmas came and went with little celebration as expected. I got pretty homesick, but I kept it on the down low since my family in America was practically in pieces. But hey, guess what I got on Christmas morning? Essence of Chicken! I won it in the Rotary Christmas party raffle (I didn’t mention the Christmas party but it was fun. Mostly just karaoke, santa hats, and choking on octopus. I turned blue and nearly passed out but no one understood so I had to pull it out myself before anyone realized I was actually dying). Turns out it was a chicken soup-like thing that’s supposed to make you grow stronger.

New Years was a blast though! First off, we didn’t have school, which is always great. We had our placement test for our Chinese classes and then we went to Ximen to waste time. I bought some clothes as a Christmas present for myself before we all headed to the Taipei Grand Hotel. Why? Well…

Rotary organized us to do a giant dance thing. We were divided into two groups and each week of November, we practiced our dance. I was apart of the hip hop group, A.K.A. the actual shame of the event (I tried learned the dance but it became harder to participate when I got a concussion – a story I don’t remember that well). Nonetheless, we danced on New Years and I only tripped twice. It was amazing… Then the Lion group dance, and everyone forgot about our performance. The Lion dancers actually dances a traditional Taiwanese story that made sense with New Years. It was really cool to watch! They released us at 8 so we were free to go wherever for New Years.

I tagged along with a group I trusted and we made our way to Linguang. There, we climbed a mountain (about twelve flights of stairs in heeled boots. With a headache. I can’t begin to explain the pain I went through that night). Nonetheless, we got a great view of the Taipei 101 (despite the fact a bunch of tall people blocked my way). It was beautiful and probably the best New Year’s I’ve ever had.

And finally, we reach January. The first weekend I spent with my Japanese friend Nao at her first host family’s house. She was moving to her second host family, so I went to her going away party. We had a feast of Taiwanese food before making Japanese dessert. I helped her load her stuff in the car and went to her second host family where I was invited to dinner. We watched the news and discussed politics before I headed home.

Then midweek I changed host families. My new host family lives in the mountains outside of Taipei, a twenty minute bus ride to the MRT station. And the bus only comes once an hour. This was all fine and dandy until the weather decided to turn into freezing rain everyday. Hasn’t changed, by the way.

Nonetheless, I love my new host family! The mountain home life is totally different from mid-city apartment building life, and both are drastically different from my life in America. I love it!
So, that’s my recap about the adventures of the last month. This is where most of you can feel free to clock out, as now I get into the emotional nitty gritty updates.

My Chinese is going well. I feel like I’m really learning a lot. I can communicate my feelings, ask for directions, make small talk, make new friends, and even sing new songs! The culture feels second-nature to me now, and I feel so normal. It’s strange, as I find myself doing things that I would a. never think of doing in the last year and b. never have the opportunity to. Like for instance, eating flaming hot fish meat off it’s face (directly under the eyeball), with spices so hot that your nose runs. Or maybe competing in dance competition in front of the whole school to a military song remixed with three different KPop songs.

It’s just hard to believe how much I’ve changed in this amount of time. It’s strange thinking that a year ago I was at an Outbound Orientation, terrified to make conversation with people and talking to Rotex thinking “Will I actually be doing this? Is this real?”. If this was a cheesy, cliche message to myself back then, I’d say “Yes, it’s real. Also study your Chinese. I’m serious. No really, go do it right now.” But this isn’t a cheesy message. This is now.

Anyways, this is getting really long and my host parents are home. Like I said, I’m crazy busy (which is good right?). But hopefully, I’ll be able to update more often so I don’t have to explain every journal in a four page recap. Also, if any future outbounds are reading this, HIT ME UP. You guys are probably thinking, similar to how I was, that you’ll never need to worry about updating. “Pfft,” you think, “Like it would be difficult to update ONCE a MONTH.” And to that I say, good luck.

Thu, January 14, 2016

  • Lauren, outbound to Taiwan

Being a Rotary Youth Exchange student is a lot like being a toddler with almost-adult responsibilities. You travel halfway across the world by yourself. You take public transport around the city, make new friends, and see things you’ve never seen before. You even have your own budgeting to manage. Yet, at the same time, you have the speech abilities and cultural knowledge of a six year-old. Everyone calls your name like a lost puppy if you lag behind the group, convinced you’ll get lost. You forget where your house is. Oh, and you also cry for your mommy a lot.

The day I’m writing this marks the one month anniversary of coming to Taiwan. Coincidentally, it’s also the date of the Mid-Autumn/Moon festival. It’s honestly so hard to believe everything that has happened has all been crammed into four weeks. It’s been thirty-one days since I pulled an all-nighter as I anxiously waited to board an airplane that would take me into a new life. The next twenty-four hours would be the longest wait of my life (combination of excitement and inability to sleep a wink on any of my flights).

Thirty days since I exhaustedly marched into the Taiwan Airport greeting room, meeting with two of my host families and some of my host club. We must’ve taken thirty pictures, before my host sister realized I was in desperate need of sleep. So we drove forty minutes to my new home in Taipei, only stopping to grab a bite to eat at McDonalds (still the only time I’ve eaten McDonalds since I got here).

It’s been twenty-nine days since I stared at my new bedroom ceiling thinking to myself “Oh my god, I’m in Taiwan.” I woke up to the most amazing smells of lunch: the day happened to be a celebration to honor our ancestors, so our living room was covered in a feast. The rest of this day would be spent frantically running around the city, exchanging money, taking passport photos, filling out forms for resident cards, and trying new food.

It’s been twenty-eight days since I went to my Inbound Orientation and made it my goal to meet as many exchange students as possible. I collected dozens of pins and made so many new friends. We played lots of team building exercises and even made our own barbecue.

It’s been twenty-six days since I took the MRT for the first time and went to Ximen, which is like a Taiwanese version of Times Square and very popular with the foreigners. As promised to all of my fellow exchange students, I went to the Modern Toilet, a toilet themed restaurant. It was everything I had hoped for and more!
It’s been twenty-five days since I stood in front of my classroom for the first time and confidently introduced myself in Chinese. The rest of the day would be spent smiling and waving at shy students whenever they glanced at me – and eventually talking to some of my future best friends.

It’s been twenty-three days since I had my first “uh-oh” moment and basically ran into the language barrier face first. My host mother had taken me to Chinese class, an hour bus ride away from our home and my school. We normally get out of class at 11, and to eat free lunch at school I have to be there by 12. But since we got out late, I knew I wasn’t going to make it to school for lunch. I tried to tell my host mother this the whole way home so she could let me stop for lunch, but our language barrier prevented her from understanding. So instead, I ended up having to sprint to school, running up six flights of stairs and two steep inclines. I managed to get to class with my lunch with a solid five minutes, with a small bowl of rice, a single chicken tender, and a sports drink. Honestly, this was probably the smallest meal I’ve had while in Taiwan (my host mother would have been beside herself if she had understood).

It’s been twenty-two days since I got out of school early to go to my first host club meeting. I stood in front of the meeting and gave a similar introduction to the one I did at school. Though I confused two of my lines, everyone was forgiving and I managed to get through it. I was sent home with my allowance as well as a box of pineapple cakes from one of the host club members.

It’s been twenty-one days since I went to the Eslite Spectrum: possibly the coolest department store I’ve ever been to. I explored a floor of artisans, selling everything from jewelry to soap to cacti. I even found a coffee shop-like area where you could rent paintbrushes and paints to sit with you coffee and make art. It was possibly the coolest thing ever.

Afterwards, we went down the street to walk through an art exhibition with more artisans – except this one was based around food. I was offered dozens of free samples (that for some strange reason were only free for me – strange). At one point, I was offered the most bitter coffee I had ever tasted. But like a good exchange student, I downed it all, and managed to smile (after wincing and making my host mother laugh).

It’s been sixteen days since I explored the Bitan Bridge, an amazing boardwalk beside a river. I tried out my language skills, naming the types of dogs I saw and learning new words from my host father.

It’s been fifteen days since I explored a 24/7 night market, a European chateau, and the Fisherman’s wharf with some new companions. I met up with my host sister from my second host family, her friend, and the French exchange student (who currently is in that host family). We all walked together, taking selfies everywhere we went, and sharing umbrellas. I even tried sushi for the first time, which I have mixed opinions on.
It’s been thirteen days since I met my extended host family for my host grandma (Ama)’s birthday. We celebrated at a fancy restaurant, where I met my various uncles, aunts, and cousins. Everyone was super welcoming, and despite the new wave of homesickness, I was so happy to be accepted into this family.

It’s been twelve and a half days since I experienced my first earthquake, which nearly gave me a heart attack. I sat in my room, at 2am, trying to decide whether or not it was really happening. It was only confirmed by my friends at school the next day, yet no one but myself and my host mother had actually felt it.

It’s been eleven days since I went on a huge field trip with all of my fellow exchange students. We ate Taiwanese pizza (we call it that because it’s always covered in strange assortments of toppings) in the Taiwan City Council meeting room, explored a museum on Taiwan/Taipei’s history, and gaze across the city on a balcony made especially for the city council. This normally was unavailable to the public, but they pulled a few favors for the Rotary Youth Exchange students.

It’s been ten days since I dined on The Top restaurant. This restaurant is situated in the mountains just outside of Taipei, overlooking the entire city. My Rotary club gathered here to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, dining for hours on delicious food.

It’s been five days since my classmates tricked me into eating duck eggs, one of the less pleasurable experiences I’ve had here. But it was very interesting to try, and I managed to convince everyone that I actually enjoyed it by eating three pieces and smiling. This surprised everyone, who seconds before had been wanting to video tape my reaction. On the same day, my classmates provided me with a fruit, who’s peel is big enough to be worn on your head. After being asked by my classmates, I happily put it on, wearing it for the rest of the day.

It’s been zero days since the Mid-Autumn Festival. I celebrated this by going out with my classmates for a barbecue. Since it was pouring rain (a typhoon was on it’s way), we sat in a pavillion near where my friend Hiro lives. We spent an hour getting our miniature grill started (we had to light the fire and tend to the coals ourself). Then we grilled our own food, dancing to music, and toasting marshmallows. It was a bunch of fun. I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get to see the moon on the Moon Festival (especially because this same moon, when viewed from America/Europe/Africa in a few hours, would be a Super Blood Moon). My host sister later assured me it was the same moon I saw in the United States, which I acted supremely surprised about (“It’s the same moon? I thought we had multiple moons???”).

Overall, this month in Taiwan has possibly been the best month of my life. I’ve tried so much new food (my weight gain definitely shows it) and I’ve visited so many places that I never thought I would see in my life. I already have a bunch of friends: classmates, teachers, host parents, siblings, other exchange students. I’m so thankful to be here – thank you to all of the Rotary members back in the States that made this possible for me! I hope I can update this again soon, so my journal won’t be as long. Until then, I’ll try to get exploring so I have more adventures to add!

Tue, September 29, 2015

Leah - Poland

Hometown: Newberry, Florida
School: Newberry High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Gainesville, Florida
Host District: 2230
Host Club: Rotary club of Kielce

My Bio

Cześć! My name is Leah Hawes, I’m a sophomore at Newberry High school and I’ll be spending a year abroad in the country of Poland and I couldn’t be more thrilled. I’m from a small town named Newberry and live with my mother, father, and my sister who is currently attending college and my family has supported all of my adventures, including this new and most important one.

At the Big Reveal, where I learned my exchange destination, I didn’t have an ounce of nerves, just complete and utter excitement. But once I learned that Poland is my future home, it all began to feel real, possible, and nevertheless, scary. Once it all started to sink in, and the more I researched Poland, the nerves withered away leaving glowing gratitude and excitement for my future year.

Poland’s art, history, and music come to mind and inspire me; I count myself very fortunate to have received the country that I did. I learned of Rotary Youth Exchange at a spring Interact meeting, late in my freshman year. It was an informational meeting and the topic of RYE was brought up, the sponsor asked if anyone had an interest and I was the only one with a hand raised. Almost a year later, I’m here about to embark on an experience of a lifetime.

My mother has always appreciated and embraced traveling; luckily she’s taken me along for the ride. I’ve been all around the globe but I’ve just had a taste of what the world has to offer and I want to learn and experience more through this opportunity. My life is about to change for the better so I’d like to take this opportunity to thank every one at Greater Gainesville Rotary for making this possible.

Journals: Leah – Poland 2015-2016

  • Leah, outbound to Poland

Sometimes you don’t realize how happy you are. You have to remind yourself to take a step back and look at the whole picture. And the whole picture is nothing less than a blessing. I have a family whom I love. A family in another country. One I met only months ago. And, I love my family, every aspect of them and the household we’ve created. I have a host mom who took me in, knowing I didn’t speak Polish and she spoke only some English and she has made me a daughter. I have a host dad, who makes me laugh effortlessly and treats me with such kindness and he seems to do so effortlessly. And I have a host Grandma who loves me like a granddaughter. I don’t even know her name because I’ve called her “grandmother” since day one. I have a sister, who is on exchange right now but even a county away, has made me feel so loved and so cared for. I have a host brother who is hilarious and everything a brother shoul d be. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I hit the jackpot when it comes to host families.

I have friends that give me nicknames and smile at me in the halls and lend me their shoes for school dances. They are kind and generous and even though they miss my host sister they make sure to make me feel not only welcomed, but their friend too.

I have a class at school that feels like such a family, asking to be moved up into their grade was one of the best decision I have made so far. They have come to understand Jess and I and learn our personalities without having to speak fluently in either English or Polish. I have lost the ability to be nervous or uncomfortable or embarrassed around them. I tend to be clumsy and they have learned that about me, so when I drop all my bus change on the floor or trip on the stairs or drop my phone they are always there to help me back on my feet. I don’t feel like a guest in the classroom, I feel like a classmate. It’s selfish, but I hope next year, when Jess and I are gone, the class feels as if it’s missing a person or two. These 20 odd group of Polish teenagers are some of the funniest, kindest, and most overwhelming group of people I have ever met.

People often say they pity me. My teachers, my friends, and any person passing by that wants to share their input. For being in Poland, being put in the city that I am, the cards I was dealt. I don’t pity me. Maybe for a second or two but, absoultly not. I have too much to lose if I wasn’t placed here. My family? My friends? My class? What would be the point of pitying myself when I am so happy where I am? It’s not the ideal location, I won’t lie to you and say it is but that’s not the point of exchange, my friend. The goal is to be happy no matter the circumstances, the difficulties, or the undeniable problems. I know exchangers with, on the outside, a perfect exchange. Perfect location, perfect view, perfect situation but they are scared, overwhelmed, and on a flight home. I know kids who have come home from that perfect looking exchange. It has so so little to do with your exchange and your personal happiness, stop looking at things for face value.

Yes I miss my family, yes I miss my school, yes I miss my town, and YES I miss my dog but that’s not important right now. I will be back in a matter of months, but I will never have this again. Never again will I have a November 25th in Poland. My first and last. Now how the hell and I supposed to mourn my old life when I will never see this one again. Easy days don’t exsit. Fun days do, good days, easy moments, good months. But everyday is hard. I think that’s what I will tell future exchanger when they come begging for advice at Lake Yale, same as I did when I was there.

It gives you thicker skin, more resilient, confidant. I find myself doing things I never would have done before, with zero thought. I think its because you’re so uncomfortable/nervous/excited 100% of the time that you become almost immune to the sensation. If everything scares you, then nothing does. I find myself thinking that I ‘ve lived through everything that’s happe ned so far, I most likely survive this too. School is still a mystery to me, I miss it when I am not there but I’m frustrated when I am because I understand so little. I’ve picked up the habit of going to a local elementary school and sitting in on the second graders lessons. Considering I have the vocabulary of a Polish toddler, this is a good fit for me. I understand more and the children are so fearless. It is so much easier to befriend a six year old rather a sixteen year old. The school sees so much potential with me, I feel the longer I am there the more interactive I will become within the school. They say having a native speaker is an opportunity for them but it works both ways, having someone willing and excited to talk to me makes life a lot more fun for me.

My host family and I celebrated Thanksgiving together and it might have been the best Thanksgiving yet. There were no traditions to uphold and no awkward mentions of Christopher Columbus. It was the opposite of tradition, which is why I think I liked it so much. We ate at random times and the meals spread out over hours. It was relaxed and calm, effortlessly happy. I cannot cook for the life of me; I am a firm believer that if I can’t get it delivered to my door, than I don’t want it. But we did try.

We all went to my Host Aunt’s house (who is the most wonderful women in Poland) and we cooked an adorably small turkey and tried to make Mac and Cheese. It came out a bit more Italian than red-blooded American but maybe that was a blessing in disguise. Nonetheless, it was edible. While the turkey cooked, my host cousins and I made snowmen out of socks, which reminded me of Thanksgiving at home. Mom cooks and after the meal my sister and I decorated for Christmas. It was the exact same feeling in the exact opposite of what I know. It was such a peaceful day full of eating and laughing and such a family atmosphere. My host aunt and Uncle are some of the kindest, warmest people I have ever met. After I got off the plane, we drove directly to them. They are the first people I ever met in this country, besides my family, and I can’t explain how fortunate I am to have people like them. They have three sons and I can’t help but smile every time I see them. I have never had brothers but this is the closest I will ever feel to having baby brothers.

Polish is hard. I almost want to leave it at that. Now I know that when I heard “You’ll pick it up in three months” “Soon, you’ll start dreaming in the language” they were not talking to the ones leaving for Poland. For other counties that is a very true statement, very plausible. But I would never put the word “Poland” and “Plausible” in the same sentence. I will get there, I am sure. But I have a very realistic fear that as soon as I start to grasp it completely, it’ll slip right through my fingers because I’ll be on a plane because my exchange will have came to an end.

I am surprised with how far I’ve come in the language but on the other hand, I’m disappointed that I’m not fluent. I just have to remind myself that Polish is not a one-year kind of language. Do you ever flip the pages of a book really quickly one by one? It makes like a “sh” sound. That is exactly how Polish sounds. What I didn’t see coming was how quickly and completely I have lost my English. Having fluent English conversations is a struggle for me, I get questions wrong in English class. I don’t speak English or Polish, but I can speak a few choice words in Spanish (thanks Jess)

All the challenges and struggles of the last few months were rewarded in Wroclaw. This last four days, I had the absolute pleasure of meeting the other exchange students for our Christmas eve meeting in Wroclaw. And I’m sure that every group says this and all exchange students feel this way but the exchange students in Poland are a family. We are so incredibly close that not being with them feels unbearable. Days before the meeting, we all were counting down the days. On social media, the group chat we have, it was like counting down to Christmas. “Three more days, guys!!” “Almost there” “TODAY EVERYONE” “#wewanttobealltogether” “On the train”.

Being together was something we all needed, a welcomed “pick me up”. The morning of, Jess and I got on a train for the 5-hour ride to Wroclaw. We had problems with our tickets but that gave us an opportunity to practice our Polish, which went surprisingly wel l. Once we arrived I made a beeline to the Starbucks because I don’t have one in my city and I’ve been craving an iced latte since I arrived four months ago. We all meet at the center of the train station and that is where all hell broke loose. There was crying and hugging and falling to the floor with excitement. Tears and laughs and all the promises we made months ago rekindled. I’m looking for the words; it was like seeing both your family and best friends after months of separation. We had all changed and grew but we were still the same.

We had this mental and emotional breakdown in the middle of the train station, which was extremely inconvenient for literally everyone else but amazing for us. Maybe all exchangers feel like this, like family with almost 70 strangers? How am I going to return home without them? Taylor lives in New York, Emma Missouri, Low Brazil, Louise France, Jess Mexico. When are we going to be together again once this year is over? I can’t think of it, I don’t want to. People ask me “How I liked Wroclaw” and I honestly don’t remember anything about the city. I remember drinking coffee and being 20 minutes late. I remember trying to learn Polish Christmas carols and laughing so hard with Taylor that I fell off the couch. I remember eating a whole gingerbread loaf with the girls in my room. I remember doing my make up with all the girls in my hostel which was the definition of girl bonding. I remember dancing until I couldn’t stand but never wanting to stop. But above all, I remember being so at peace and so happy with my exchange family. Wroclaw is beautiful, I’m sure. But my friendship are just a bit more beautiful.

Christmas is around the corner and I don’t fear it at all. This month is prime time for homesickness but I already went through my rough patch. I did my suffering early so this month is nothing but smiles and holiday cheer. My mom hears my happiness in my voice and the thought of going home repels me. I know that the hard parts over which only means that the rest of exchange is going to move much too quickly for my taste. I have skiing in January, then a trip to London, then my mom is visiting, Europe tour, and goodbye meeting, trip to Prague, and then I’m home. That’s it. The end is in sight and I want to turn around. I say home but I have to explain which home, I say family but I have to explain which family, I say life but I have to explain which one.

Thu, December 17, 2015

  • Leah, outbound to Poland

Exchange is about growing up. Making decisions and sacrifices that age you well beyond your years. You can’t afford to be a child anymore, to think and act like you don’t know yourself. Before I left, I tended to act older than my age but now when I tell people I’m sixteen, they do a double take or don’t believe me. I’ve stopped telling people my age because I don’t feel my age. You aren’t a teenager anymore because you make the choice to be happy now, to dive into new experiences and a new life with a smile. You don’t wait around anymore; you make the active choice to make this exchange your own instead of letting life’s surprises dictate that for you.

You matured the second you landed, no, you matured the second you really left your family at the airport. Really got on that plane. Yes, you knew that’s what you’d do when you signed up, but you never really thought you’d go through with it. But you did, and every day since you become more middle aged and less of the nervous teenager that you were. I don’t remember much of my flight; most of it was a blur of panic, hunger, and stomach illness. I remember small things, like watching “Brave” and crying because I already missed my mom, and the man next to me dropping his water on everyone in my row and carrying around my carry-on full of my favorite books because I couldn’t bare live without them (was that choice unrealistic? Yes. Do I regret it? No.)

People say, “It’s only one year” to sooth themselves about the fact that you are leaving. That “it’s not that long of a time”, and they’re right. One year is one year. But it’s not the time I mourn, it’s the fact that I’m already a different person. I like who I’ve become but it’s not the person who said goodbye to my family at the airport, or someone my 1st period geometry class would recognize. So yes, it’s only a year, but it’s also a lifetime.

I can’t begin to break down all that has happened in this last month. But without a doubt the most important thing about exchange, the thing I will remember in 50 years, the most important thing that I never saw coming are the friendships. My native Polish friends, my exchange friends, Jess. These relationships are so complete and absolute. These people mean the world to me and I can’t begin to explain how much of my heart belongs to them. I know that I won’t leave Poland without leaving an impression on these peoples lives.

Now that the two month marker has hit, the initial spark and excited of exchange has worn of. And yes, I was prepared for this moment. But in a way, I’m relived that exchange is showing some of its flaws. That not every thing is shiny and perfect. A life is not perfect, even on exchange. I’m no longing living in anticipation of the slope of exchange.

Real talk, homesickness is a real thing. No matter how strong you think you are, how independent, how confident in your ability to be away from home. It’s going to happen one way or another. God, If I could go back in time, I’d tell one year ago me to stop being so damned arrogate and really listen when they talk about homesickness.

Homesickness is sneaky, it come in small packages. Your mom’s perfume, a dish similar to what your dad makes, a purse you’d know your sister would like, your friends favorite song, When the dog does something bad so you scold him using your real dogs name by accident. All these things alone don’t hurt too much, small pains. But one day you’ll just get hit. Sometimes with forewarning, sometimes it’s a semi truck you didn’t see coming. One day, something will happen and you’ll just snap. All the small wounds are inflicted in one punch, all the tears you refused to cry at the airport, all the times you turned to make an inside joke and you realized the only person who understands it is across the globe. The meals you craved but couldn’t eat, the words you regret not saying before you left, the conversations to thought were best to save for another day. It all just rains on you, leaving you breathless and sobbing and empty. These days don’t happen often, it takes time for these feelings to build up. But it’s important to know that these are going to happen to you on exchange, that’s for YOU to remember. I need to remember that this is going to happen again and it won’t be easier the second time around, but you have to look up, get up in the morning even if you still feel sad, smile like you didn’t just cry on your host mom shoulder, and face the day with optimism and faith that you did this for a reason.

For every high, there has to be a low. And there are a lot of amazing days so by default, you can’t expect to never have a bad. But we were told about these days during orientation, we were prepared. So I know I’m not a bad exchange student, I know that I am not failing or doing anything wrong because this was foreseen. This is just to be expected. So you call over your friends, you call other exchangers, you watch old movies and eat chocolate, and you do what you need to, to feel better. That’s why you never judge another’s exchange, you have no idea what they went through, what they dealt with, what expectations they couldn’t meet. You don’t know.

Exchange is so complex; there are so many parts to it and layers. Exchange is important for a developing person, forget “fun” and “exciting” exchange is so important for your development. You learn about yourself, you learn about your old life. You romanticize your old life, appreciate more. You become an adult in all the ways that matter. Your pride and selfishness is shoved aside so that you can survive and thrive into this new environment.
There’s no secret to Exchange, no foolproof way to make it amazing, each person has to find his or her own way. I understand why it was so hard for the Rotects back home to explain it. It’s more of a “you just have to go” thing. The overwhelming adjustments, and difficulties that have such satisfying solutions. Exchange is neither good nor bad, it’s a lifetime. Some people expect a whirlwind of adventures 24/7, and some days it is like that. But they forget about the small adventures. The trips to the grocery store, the late night TV, the bus ride to school, the boredom of class. These things are just as much if not more important during exchange. They are what develop a life and not a vacation.

Polish is not easy. It’s not a language you can pick up in a week or two. It takes hard studying, listening to the bus driver speak, lessons and lessons and lessons. It takes frustrated tears and a will to learn this language. I don’t blame year ago me for not trying harder. Some things you really need to learn from experience and not one hour lessons twice a week. I know so much more than I did before, I can follow basic conversations and reply well enough sometimes. That doesn’t sound like much but I’m very proud of it. The nice part is that Poles are aware that parseltongue is easier to grasp than Polish so when you do speak or show minimal effort, they are proud of you. They smile because you are trying to adapt to them and not the other way around. The not so nice part is that living in the rural area that I do, fluent English is not easy to come by. Semi fluent is hard to come by. While challenging right now, in the end I’m going to be so proud when I can carry a conversation with the people I wish I could approach right now.

School is better than a month ago, people know Jess and I and those who know us take us under their Polish wing. They laugh when we can all sing “Single Ladies” because there isn’t a teenage soul in this world who doesn’t know that song. Our teachers are kind and forgiving. Try to incorporate us when they can but teach without distraction. Our head teacher, who has the most impressive outfits I’ve ever seen, assigned a presentation for Jess and I to do about us. It was terrifying but they all were so interested by my project, it made my heart warm that they even bothered to pay attention or laugh at my lame jokes. But right after I felt so comfortable and happy I proceeded to fall down the stairs in front of them all.

Like I said, with every up there is a down. We had class pictures recently and it was the cutest thing I ever witnessed. In my school in the U.S., we had individual photos and that’s it, silly of me to expect that’s how it would work in Poland too. No, we all gathered in neat rows and one person held up a sign stating our class name “2D” (I think that’s my class but I’m still not sure) and we all smiled together for the flash. Never had I felt so a part of that class until then.

While I live in a small area, with some limitations. I do love my family, my friends, and Jess. But I’m ready and waiting for the next adventure. So whether you are contemplating exchange, or are about to go on your exchange, or you finished your exchange years ago and are just reading these for kicks. Exchange is crazy, and dramatic, heartfelt, sincere, hopeful, eye opening, but it’s also what makes you a certain type of person. A better person than you were before.

Thu, October 22, 2015

  • Leah, outbound to Poland

Before I start, I would like to say that Poland is one of the most underrated countries in the world and two, Poland is not for every exchange student. Poland is not a destination wedding; Poland is not the averge study abroad location. Poland is not flashy or shiny or new. Poland is a home and it’s my home.

I don’t understand the system of matching kids with their counties, that process is Rotary top secret, but Poland is humble and subtly beautiful and honest and satisfied with themselves as a country. Traits that I value and understand myself. I never really fit in with America’s traits of flash and new and “The Best”, but I feel like I understand Poland. I feel a sense of home here that I never really felt in the USA.

Poland wasn’t my first choice; Poland is not many peoples first choice due to misconceptions and preconceived notions. Poland is like stumbling into a puzzle that you didn’t realize you fit perfectly in. I didn’t know what I wanted. I mean I had an idea but I’m big on “gut feelings” and Gut feelings aren’t exactly reliable. I wanted The Netherlands, I wanted a big city, and I wanted more English speakers. I didn’t get one of those things and I thank God everyday that I didn’t.

It astonishes me how easily this place feels like a home to me. I’ve been here less than a month, 26 days, and I feel so at peace and so happy. When I’m at school I think,” I want to go home..” and I mean my home 20 minutes way, a bus ride away, my Polish home. I don’t mean the United States. I’m not nervous around my host family, there’s no nervous laughter or pained conversations there’s only warm smiles and tight hugs and honest laughs, my host dad can make me burst out laughing even though he only knows four English words.

I make Polish meals with my host mom and she leaves me breakfast before school. My host dad smiles so huge when I speak minimal Polish. My grandma hugged me when I finally understood what she was saying to me. My aunt comments on all my Facebook posts and her sons play Wii bowling with me. I go for walks in the woods with my parents and dog (Fido). Blood has so little to do with family, I realized that here. I realized that the second day I was here.

I learned how little some things matter. Homecoming, volleyball tryouts, Garden Clubs meetings, all these things that are happening in my home town that just don’t interest me anymore, I have so many plans, so much to do. How can I care about who’s running for homecoming court when I have a complete new life here? I’ve traveled in my life but there was always something about being a tourist that I hated. Hated only seeing one layer of a country. Not the truth, the tourist traps and smoke screens that block what the country really is. What I cherish about exchange is that while I get to enjoy the touristy souvenir shops and ice cream parlors but I can also go back to my 800-person village and actually feel like a real Pole. Do things that a native born pole does. Walk to the bus stop, explore the woods behind my house, go to school, and bike to the market. I love walking into a store and they think I’m Polish. How easily I blend in, well until I open my mouth. It’s crazy how little I miss my old life, its crazy how instantly comfortable I am, It’s crazy how much I care about my host family, Its crazy that I’ve only known some of my friends for a few weeks but I can’t imagine life without them. Exchange is the craziest thing I’ve ever done.

I live in a small village in southern Poland, Gadka. Under 1,000 people. Every building looks vaguely haunted (so cool) and thrift shopping is a big hobby here. It’s farmland and cows and bread factories making the air smell vaguely like cooking bread. When I got off the plane I immediately had my host mother, father, and sister greet me with more warmth than I could have dared hoped for. My host mom, who wears blue eyeliner and star earrings, hugged me along with the rest of the family and while they don’t speak much English, they seemed so happy and loving and accepting.

I was sick to my stomach the first four days I was in Poland, couldn’t eat a single thing without feeling like discharging everything in my stomach. This was extremely disappointing, considering I wanted I eat all the perogies in the world but could barely stomach hot tea. My second (or first? Third?) Night there, my host mom hosted a bonfire for all the local teens to meet me. That night I met my host sister’s four best friends who have completely adopted me into their close knit circle of friends and them doing that for me is the kindest thing that they’ve could have done for me.

The way these four girls welcomed me into there lives without a thought, I don’t know If I could ever be as kind as they are to me. Anyway, I met them that night along with so other neighborhood kids which was just as awkward and scary as it sounds but I also was able to meet my counselor and second host family and the other exchange student in my city (village) Jess. Jess and I have turned into very close friends in the month that we’ve known each other. Her host family is going to be my second host family so we spend a lot of time together during school, taking trips together. We’re exchange sisters in the closest sense.

The next day, I left for a two-week language course in Bydgoszcz with Jess and my wonderful host sister, Kamila, left for the USA . The night before she left I spent with my second host family so that my first host family could have the night to themselves. And my second host family drove Jess and I to Bydgoszcz. My second host family (Jess’s first) is a wonderful wonderful family. Gorgeous generous mother and sweet father with two daughters, one on exchange in Mexico right now. Luiza, the younger sister, is the sweetest girl I’ve ever met; every time I see her I can’t help but smile. Jess, Luiza, and I are adorable group of girls, we play Uno and go on road trips and have sleepovers and we have a certain sisterly bond even though we’ve known each other one month, even though we’re all from different countries. I feel connected to these girls.

Now lets talk about language camp. Those two weeks were the most fun and most exciting and comforting thing that’s happened on exchange so far. I was able to meet so many life long friends that I doubt I could ever forget. As I ’m typing this I’m thinking of all my friends I miss from camp and the text messages I need to send to them, the plans we need to make. Exchange friends are the easiest friends you could ever meet. It takes a three sentences conversation and it’s an immediate connection. Speaking with them about your problems is such a comfort because they perfectly understand what you’re going through and having someone who understands something you can’t even explain to yourself is such a weight of your shoulders. When I want to call my mom I call my friends first.

All day you speak to people that only understand 35% of what you’re saying and then you understand about 5% of what’s actually going on and you voice these concerns to another exchanger and they just nod along like “I know, I know and I understand. This is what I did to fix it…” And to think I would have never met these people if one factor was different. If I didn’t get to go to Poland, if I asked for a different country, didn’t apply at all. I wound have never meet Low from Brazil, or Roselle from France, Maggie from Michigan, Sydney from North Caroline, Alex from California, Alfonzo from Mexico, Jenny from Canada. All these people I would never have met without exchange and they enrich my life so much. They leave me with memories that I’ll always treasure. They are my allies and closest friends in Poland and It’s strange to feel such a bond with these people and I own sweaters longer than the time of our relationship.

I miss our nightly walks to the local store “Lidy” were I bought sweaters and chocolate until my roommates had to cut me off because I “had enough” and “spending all my money on black leggings”. The food that we complained about everyday and the bees that attacked whenever you went outside. Our crowded rooms where I spent two weeks with my three other roommates Jess, Haley, and Sara. The nights we spent laughing and talking out the window to the other exchangers and candy we’d eat for breakfast. Once we took our Polish test and passed we moved on to Tourn, Poland and toured around for two days.

I won’t break down every aspect of those two days, because I doubt you care but I will tell you what comes to mind when I think of that amazing weekend. When I think of those two days I think of Gingerbread, frogs, light shows, club dancing in the kitchen, pizza every night, amazing tomato soup, banana cherry ice-cream. FO Fions group, noise complaints, talent shows, boat rides, “Ona to jest”, singing, pins, pins and more pins, teary goodbyes, and promises to keep in touch. Language camp brought us together to make a Rotary family.

Once we returned from camp it was about time to start school. Now, school is school. Being in Poland doesn’t make it glamorous, school isn’t magically fun but I’m grateful that I have it. School brings a nice routine to life. The first day, my friends drove me and everyone looked very nice and I looked very underdressed but hey, I’m the exchange student no one really cares about my mistakes. I say that a lot these days, being an exchange student allows a certain freedom because it’s impossible to NOT make mistakes, so might as well have fun. Being confused 100% of the time has its advantages.

The principal stood in front of the whole student body, made Jess and I stand in front of the whole student body and introduced us to everyone at once. It was so awkward but it was a necessary evil. Jess and I were put into separate classes, which was sad and hard on me for a few days. The class they put me into was much younger than I am and they were very scared of me and didn’t speak much English. I spoke to Jess and we mutually decided that it would be easier on the teachers, the students, and us if we were placed together. So that following week I was placed in the same class as Jess and it has completely change school for me. I’m slowly making friends and the class is feeling much more comfortable around Jess and I.

I found sharing snap chat and instagram usernames are a wonderful icebreaker. (BTW for future exchange students, Polish boys are super cute) I enjoy classes, I do. It was difficult at first because the classes change every single day so I was (am) lost every second of every day and I’m late to most (all) classes because I insist on wandering around the three story building until I find someone looking vaguely familiar and I follow them into a random classroom. It’s easier since I joined Jess because being lost is more fun when you’re lost with someone.

I’m confused in class all of the time, but I mange to occupy my time with journaling or writing notes or conjugating Polish verbs or (when its deemed socially appropriate) reading a book. I find things to do because staring blankly at a wall is just not my cup of tea. But I excel in English class! The most frustrating class is math because I feel so close to understanding but I still don’t. I know that if it was taught in English I’d understand perfectly but that’s not how exchange works. You bear with it until life starts to make sense.

My favorite part is the bus ride to and from school. There is nothing more relaxing than that 20 minute ride though the countryside of Poland vaguely listening to the Polish grandmothers gossiping. There is no “ yellow school bus” there’s a city bus (more like van) that transports all types of people to and from the closest city. All my friends live within a block of each other, two minute walk. I help them with their English homework and we have sleepovers and bike rides. I love the friends I’ve made but I worry about being more trouble than I’m worth. But that is for me to ponder another day.

These past few days I’ve found my favorite spot in all of Poland and it’s a path through the woods behind my family’s house. My host mom says it’s magic and I believe her. I take the dog around sunset and go for my walk, no matter how cold or windy the weather is, the trail is always short sleeve weather. You walk beside the wheat crops and the dog, Fido, always scares the deer away before I can come within reaching distance. I walk until I come across the pond where Fido scares the ducks away before I can come within reaching distance, and there’s a swing and wooden deck next to the family’s little lake house by the pond where I can relax and read a book and behind the house there’s a fire pit and a swing above some flowers. The deeper in you go, the woodsier it becomes. More wildlife and tall plants if you turn left there’s harvest ground for some crops and if you turn right… I’m not sure yet. I’ll find out tomorrow.

It’s gorgeous and breathtaking and almost spiritual. Exchange is neither good nor bad. Exchange is a lifetime where you feel every emotion every single day. You feel both younger and older than you did before you left. You understand how important it is to be humble and tolerant because you need people to be patient with you at all times. You’re a child reborn in a different country, its exhausting, scary, amazing, life changing, extraordinary, saddening, but most importantly, it’s worth it. I promise.

Mon, September 14, 2015

Leanza - Czech Republic

Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: St. Augustine High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: St. Augustine Sunrise, Florida
Host District: 2240
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Trutnov

My Bio

Hello! My name is Leanza and I’m currently a Senior at St. Augustine High School. I am fortunate enough to be spending my exchange in beautiful Czech Republic. I hear it’s pretty cold there so that will definitely be a climate shock, considering I’ve lived in sunny Florida my whole life. I come from a blended family with 4 parents, 3 sisters, 2 brothers, and 2 nephews. My dad and step-mom live in New York. My mom and step-dad live with me in Florida. My siblings range from ages 16 to 24. Through high school I’ve spent 4 years in the AICE program, the Academy of Future Teachers, and played soccer. I am also the Vice President of our Senior class, a member of NHS, and was our school mascot for 2 years. I love to stay involved, so I’m always attending performances and sporting events when I can. When I’m not at school, I’m usually working or hanging out with friends. I love to laugh and spend time with people, although I can be very independent as well. I don’t have one single friend group I hang out with on the regular, I enjoy spending time with as many different people as I can. With that being said, I do have one best friend that has been by my side since I moved to St. Augustine. Her name is Madison, and she will be spending a year in Brazil through the Rotary Youth Exchange program. I still cannot believe we will both be on opposites sides of the world, but I’m ready for the adventure this coming year holds! I cannot be more thankful for this opportunity, it’s all I’ve wanted since Freshman year and it’s mind-blowing that it’s finally happening!

Journals: Leanza – Czech Republic 2015-2016

  • Leanza, outbound to Czech Republica

Ahoj 🙂

I really don’t know where to begin… So much happens in a month. It’s crazy because it feels like I’ve only been here for one month but enough has happened to fill 6 months worth of time.

I guess I can begin with my new host family. I really love it here. My family speaks only Czech with me unless I really don’t understand something, then they will try to tell me in English, so that’s very beneficial. I have two younger brothers and a sister my age. My sister went on exchange last year to Ecuador and when she found out I was on exchange here, she asked her parents if I could move in even though I had never met any of them.

Saying that my parents are generous is an understatement. They changed their extra room/office into a room for me, they are constantly caring for me, they have taken me to Prague, and include me in all the family gatherings. I love my extended family as well, my aunts and uncles and cousins. I am especially fond of my grandmothers here. They are very patient and calm, yet eager to talk with me even though they don’t speak any English and know we will have a few language problems. My host mom is very big on cleaning, so we all do chores everyday.

We are also expected to constantly keep our room cleaned, which I actually have managed to do the majority of the time. (My parents in the U.S. won’t believe this when they are reading it, hahaha.) I have formed a really close relationship with my four year old brother, Lukáš, even though I hardly ever understand anything he says. He calls me Leo most of the time and it’s so cute. I have never been one for nicknames, but I am definitely fond of this one. I don’t ever sleep in on the weekends because if my little brother is awake, the whole house is awake, hahaha. My family is insanely loud, always yelling and laughing, and I love it. The atmosphere here is everything I had hoped for. I feel so fortunate to have a big family and especially this family.

As I said, I went to Prague with my family. We went for one night and even though I didn’t see it during the day, Prague at night is beautiful! I also went to Dresden, Germany last week with my school. Something really cool about going on exchange to Europe, you most likely will get an opportunity to go to another country with your school. It’s totally normal and insanely cheap. I paid a little over 20 USD to go to Dresden for one day. This included the bus fair and museum we went to. It was the most fun trip I have been on. I have made some really good friends, and I really enjoyed the trip and hanging out with them. It was great. This coming weekend I will be in Prague again, this time with Rotary and other exchange students for a district meeting. We will have the opportunity to go to the Christmas markets there. I’m really excited, I love all of the Christmas markets here in Czech Republic.

Christmas here is more of a month long celebration. I love it. Instead of stockings, my family has these bags for every day of December and each morning we open them as a family and there is a piece of candy for each of us. We also have four candles at the dining room table, and you light one for each week of December while you eat. So right now when we eat, we light two of them. There are Christmas markets all through the month of December, they have many handmade things for loved ones, along with delicious traditional Czech food. There is also a special celebration I just experienced last weekend. It is for little kids. Saint Mikuláš (dressed like a Bishop) comes to the house with a Devil and an Angel at his side. It is usually other members of the community dressed up (maybe teenagers or young adults). They question the children on if they have had good behavior during the year. It is common for kids to cry when this happens because they are so scared by the Devil. My brother and little cousin were bawling their eyes out. But in the end they get candy and treats. I thought it was really cool.

My favorite moment since my last entry: November 21st. It was the first snowfall. My family and I had been cleaning and preparing food all day for a family gathering at our house and right after I finished getting ready, I heard my host dad call me. I went to the kitchen and looked out the window and it was the most beautiful snowfall. My dad lives in New York so I have seen snow before, but this was so different for some reason. It felt like Christmas to me. Then as more snow began to fall, my family showed up and the rest of the night I was in the best mood. I’m always really happy with surrounded by my family here, and the snow just made it better. It doesn’t snow every day, but when it does, for some reason I am taken back to that day and I am in such a great mood. I was scared of the cold weather, coming from Florida, but oddly enough it puts me in such a happy and content mood.

Something new I’ve learned about Czech Republic: people here repeat clothes very often. People wear the same shirt two or three days in a row then again a few days later. It’s not just some people, both of my host families have done this, as well as everyone I know in school basically. This is perfect for exchange students because we obviously can’t bring our whole closet with us. So I never feel uncomfortable or out of place repeating outfits after a few days. It’s something about this culture I really enjoy. They buy fewer things that they really enjoy wearing, and can wear them more often.

Advice for future exchange students: making friends is really difficult here. It’s the culture, they are more introverted, but don’t give up. Always smile, always offer to hangout. Yes, it is awkward at first. I had to hangout with a few different people until I found my best friends here. Plus, I was the one who had to message them first, talk to them first, and ask them to hangout first. I love them though, and waiting to become close with them was totally worth it.

Mon, December 7, 2015

  • Leanza, outbound to Czech Republic


At my orientations in Florida and here in Czech Republic I had to learn about culture shock. As I learned about it, I thought that there can’t be one general pattern for everyone when people are so different. For me though, I have learned I am going through the exact same pattern I have learned about. When I first got here I was so fascinated with everything, I was still a tourist. I thought I could live here forever, and there really aren’t that many differences. Then as time went on, I started to pick out all the differences between the U.S. and here. I became homesick, never wanting to actually go home, but I missed certain things about the U.S. Now I’ve grown to appreciate everything different here. For example, the windows in houses here just make more sense. There’s a handle and if you turn it halfway it opens the window, if you turn it all the way it cracks the window at the top. It’s more modern and it just makes more sense. I hated opening my bedroom window in the U.S., it was rather difficult to push up to open and push back down to shut.

Another thing I didn’t think was very different was school. Except, the more time I spend in school, the more I realize it is different. So my school is the Gymnazium in Trutnov. Basically a Gymnazium is a school for students planning to go to University. There are other schools in Czech Republic dedicated to certain work forces, such as a nursing school. This prepares students who are planning to be nurses in the future. A Gymnazium requires students to be well-equipped in all core subjects. Students in my school enter at the equivalent to the 6th grade level I think, then others usually can enter at the 9th grade level. Your class, which is the group of students you are in classes with every year, depends on when you entered the school. I am considered the equivalent to a Junior in the U.S. but students here start school a year later, so the students I am with are 17 turning 18. The grade above, equivalent to Seniors, are students my age.

On my first day I was told I only need to take 3-4 classes every day. I thought that would be pointless because how can I make friends if I am not in school?

I am taking: Czech literature, Czech grammar, Czech composition, PE, 3 English classes, German, History, Geography, Social Sciences, Computer Programming, Art, Math. I also have lessons on Monday and Friday one-on-one with a teacher to improve my Czech. (The crazy thing is the other students also take Physics, Chemistry, and Biology… I decided to not take part in those classes, haha)
In the Czech classes, my teacher brings me separate worksheets to help me practice reading and writing Czech. I am so thankful to use class time actually doing something. Honestly, most classes I have no idea what is going on.

German class is quite an interesting challenge.I was given a workbook in Czech to learn German, and every class my teacher gives me work to learn German… in Czech. Right now when I think of colors I think half in German and half in Czech, haha.

My art class is two classes long on Wednesdays and I’m with a different class for this subject. I am so bad at art, but I took it to do something.

Math is really funny because I just started taking this class recently. My worst subjects in school were math and science so initially I did not want to take any of these here if I didn’t have to. Then, one of the math teachers started talking to me everyday and told me I should go to her math class because numbers are the same. Now Tuesdays and Fridays I have math. It’s funny because she teaches the equivalent to 8th graders. I am in an 8th grade level math class. It’s gets funnier, because I actually feel challenged in this class. These kids look at me and probably are thinking, “What is this 19 year old girl doing in our class and why can’t she add?” Sorry U.S., I’m proving the stereotypes to be true, haha.

Classes change daily, you don’t have the same schedule everyday. The teachers and the students change rooms. Instead of having a room, teachers share a cabinet of offices with other teachers teaching the same subject. They spend their time there usually if they don’t have a class. You generally stay with your class of students in every class. There is 10 minutes between every class, and once a day there is a 20 minute break between classes. Lunch is 30 minutes but at different times everyday, and every class doesn’t have lunch at the same time. My school starts at 8:00 am, and depending on the day it can go until 1:30-3:30.

Something different in school are the boards. These boards are either white boards or chalk boards. The boards are trifold, so there is a front and back to both sides. If it’s a white board, there is a smart board in the middle and white boards on both sides. It’s an efficient use of space. It takes up less room and covers the same amount of material the long white boards in the U.S. would. Also, all the boards in my school can move up and down. So the teacher can write at the very top of the boards then move it up for the class to see. It’s a small difference but it makes so much more sense.

My favorite moment since my last entry was: I moved host families, and my first night in my new host family was amazing. I really feel at home here, and I could write a whole journal entry on my amazing family but I am going to wait until next time.

Something new I’ve learned about the Czech Republic: It is not inappropriate to blow your nose anywhere, anytime. People don’t leave class to blow their nose. People blow their nose on the bus, during conversation, at the dinner table. It’s just not rude or uncomfortable here.

Advice for future exchange students: the exchange 15 is real. You will gain weight, especially if you go to Czech Republic because the food is absolutely amazing. My advice is, you only have a year to enjoy all the food this country has to offer, so do it. Don’t stress about the number increasing on the scale as long as you’re comfortable. Just embrace the exchange 15.

Mon, November 2, 2015

  • Leanza, outbound to Czech Republic

Dobrý den,

Today it has been exactly one month since I left from the United States to the Czech Republic.

I can’t really find proper words to write what I have felt in this one month. I could give you 33 adjectives and it wouldn’t be enough.

Before I left, I thought I was well prepared mentally for this journey. I am so thankful for the orientations RYE Florida provided, because being here I have noticed not everyone from around the world is prepared as well before they leave. That being said, there are still not enough workshops or lectures or stories from Rotex that will prepare you fully. I did not realize the intensity of this exchange until I was here. This is because no one has ever been in your exact same position, no one can prepare you for YOUR exchange. Every single one is different and unique in their own way.

Rotary has always said this is not a vacation, and I knew this fully, but I want anyone considering exchange to not take that statement lightly. Would I ever reconsider knowing how truly challenging it would be now? Absolutely not. Today I am still struggling, but I feel the potential this year holds for me and I couldn’t be more excited. Plus, it’s not like this month has been terrible or anything. It’s been amazing. I just wanted to break through the sugar coat trend many people post, I want you to know the truth. Everyone struggles on exchange. It is normal. It is worth it.

So that was pretty general to every exchange. This is about all the great things unique to my exchange:
– I live in Trutnov, Czech Republic. Technically right now I live with my host family 30 minutes north of that in Velká Úpa. My school, Rotary club, and main square are located in Trutnov. I live in the mountains of Czech Republic and it honestly feels like I’m in a movie. The scenery here is breathtaking. The pictures don’t even do it justice, I am so fortunate to see it in person everyday.

– I am the only exchange student in my school and my entire city. Most people would think that’s a negative point, as I did before I came (I was actually pretty upset about it) but there’s so many good things to being the only exchange student. One, I am forced to not cling to the other exchange students. I am more approachable this way and will be integrated into the culture quicker because of this, I think. Two, I cannot be compared to anyone else. Since there is no one else, there is no better or worse, it’s just me. Three, I really have to push myself if I want someone to talk to. Four, I am learning so much about myself. Being on my own, I am given so much time to think. I am learning my strengths, but also learning to acknowledge my weaknesses. And finally, I have learned that being alone does not mean I have to be lonely.

Before I came here I never went anywhere without being with someone, I didn’t even go get a smoothie by myself. There is no way I would ever go eat a meal somewhere by myself, and now I am learning that it is not something to be ashamed of or scared of. If another exchange student were in my city I think we would always be going out together, and I think this of all the lessons was most important for me to learn. I could have never done this in Florida before now and this was only made possible for me because of the exchange I was given.

– The language is hard (who won’t say that about learning a new language, haha). It’s been a month and that scares me because I still am constantly frustrated with myself for not communicating better. But, I am starting to be able to hold basic conversations with people and that’s exciting. Czech will be a really cool language to be fluent in.

– I joined a “Rugby” team they call it here, but it’s American football. I’m on an all girl’s team. It’s really fun, and it’s so much easier to make friends when you’re not just sitting in the classroom.

– THE FOOD. Being completely honest, with the research I did on the country, I did not think I would like the food much. I love the food. There’s a lot of similarities to food in the US, they have potatoes, chicken, fish, vegetables, fruit but the meals are just prepared better. Everything here tastes so good. Of course they have traditional Czech foods too that are not common in the U.S. It’s normal to have a garden, or if not you generally buy your fruit and vegetables locally. I can write a whole journal entry about the food and the culture that goes with it.

– Getting lost, I heard it happens on exchange… It didn’t happen to me until this past weekend… On my 19th birthday 🙂 I got on the wrong bus and had to search for someone who spoke English that could help me. I don’t have a Czech number or anything so it was silly. I don’t know, it’s exchange and it was just another adventure.

Okay so my favorite moment since I’ve been here was: definitely the day I rode on the back of a motorcycle through the mountains of Czech Republic. It was beautiful weather, sunny and mid 70s. We drove through small villages and all through the winding roads of the mountains. I remember looking around and I couldn’t stop smiling. I think it was an hour maybe (around two hours total if you count the ride back), and I know I was smiling the whole time. It was the first time it really hit me, wow I’m in Europe. I’m in the most beautiful place, on a motorcycle under the sun, breathtaking nature surrounding me. It sounds cheesy but it was so surreal for me.

Something new I learned about the Czech Republic since I’ve been here is: they have “house shoes.” In every house you take off your shoes when you enter and are given a new pair of shoes to borrow for while you are in the person’s home. You even have to bring house shoes to school, the majority of teenagers wear crocs in school, haha it was a surprise for me to see.

Advice for future exchange students: Force yourself to do things you’re not comfortable with. I was so nervous for my first day at Rugby practice and I’m so thankful I did it. It’s nerve racking to be the first to talk to students your age when you don’t know anyone, and even if only one out of ten students become your friend that day, it’s one more than you had. Maybe a goal could be for you to push yourself out of your comfort level everyday, or at least twice a week. Talk to someone new, join something new, ask to sit with people at lunch instead of sitting alone first, there’s so many things you can do to push yourself. Trying new things is what exchange is all about 🙂

Okay I think this journal is long enough, sorry I wrote a novel.

I would like to end with thanking my parents and Rotary for giving me this opportunity. I really can’t imagine being in college right now instead of finding myself here.

Mon, September 21, 2015

Luke - Brazil

Hometown: Saint Augustine, Florida
School: St. Augustine High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: St. Augustine, Florida
Host District: 4420
Host Club: Rotary Club de Santos

My Bio

Oi! My name is Luke Mahan and next year I have the amazing opportunity to live in Brasil for a year! I am incredibly excited for this opportunity. I am 18 years old and am a senior at St. Augustine High School. My Sister, Sara, was a Rotary exchange student 4 years ago and went to Spain. Going to visit her and see her assimilation into a foreign culture really inspired me to take on this challenge myself.

My Father, Mark, is a port engineer and manages ship repairs for big shipping companies. He’s my best friend and I enjoy working on old cars and motorcycles together with him at our shop. My Mother, Leah, is a first grade teacher at St. John’s Academy, a private school I went to for K-8.

A little bit more about me, I’m a super big car and motorsport guy. I love tinkering with all things mechanical. I love taking machines apart and putting them back together (most of the time haha). I love watching Formula 1 and Endurance racing and someday hope to get involved in the sport. I’m very fascinated with engineering of all kinds. I’m looking forward to spending this year abroad and really learning about other cultures as well as myself. Thank you Rotary for this amazing opportunity!

Journals: Luke – Brazil 2015-2016

  • Luke, outbound to Brazil

Greetings again from down south!

It’s been a little while since I wrote my last journal. I can’t help but feel guilty limiting all these amazing experiences here to a short journal entry. Christmas and New years has come and gone with its emotional roller coaster. Time seems to slip away like sand through my hands, falling more rapidly with each passing month.

Summer break has ended and school has started again. The usual grind of classes accelerates time, yet a new class and meeting new people continues to breathe new life and different understandings into my surroundings. It’s different this time. I can finally communicate fluently with people and share my thoughts and emotions easily. I feel that I can begin to connect with people on a deeper level than just the usual “Hey where are you from, and do you like Brasil?” speech.

Speaking a person’s native tongue allows you to step into their own culture. You begin to understand why certain things that appeared so strange to you upon arrival, exist as they do. It lets you enjoy a casual conversation with a stranger on the street. It lets you feel more confident in yourself when you’re able to explain a complex order to a waiter. It lets you enjoy dancing and laughing with friends during carnaval. It lets you discover new music and expand your music tastes. It also lets you empathize with close friends as they share their own personal struggles with you. You think deeply about how you would try to handle a lack of job opportunities, rampant corruption, massive wealth gaps, and an incredible cynicism of the future for your country.

Brasil is not in a good place right now. I don’t need to elaborate, you can see it on the news and the currency exchange rate. It is painfully obvious to any person living here. This certainly creates an uncomfortably situation for an exchange student from the United States. How do you respond when countless bright and young teenagers in school tell me that they are trying to move to the US as soon as possible for work, often times leaving behind their families? Part of me is proud that my country can represent opportunity to people around the world to create a better life for themselves. People always joke that exchange students and international travelers are the most unpatriotic snobs. But, after living in a foreign country for almost 6 months now, I can’t help but feel a powerful pride in my home country. But it’s a different kind of pride. It’s not a blind pride of relishing in past greatness and staunch nationalism. Rather, it’s a pride that my country opens its arms to the “tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” of the world and hopes to become stronger through diversity. We don’t “Make America great again” by closing our doors and trying to emulate the past. Rather we need to connect with what makes us human, and look boldly into the future.

I feel for the Brasilian people. I have fallen in love with their culture and language. I have felt incredibly welcomed and a wonderful sense of warmth from so many people. I would argue that Brasil is one of, if not the best country in the world for a cultural exchange. The people are beautiful inside and out and genuinely love to share their emotions with you. There’s a reason dinner reservations are made for 3-4 hour time blocks. Everyone enjoys socializing!

I just finished a book last week called “Why Nations Fail.” It was a very lengthy, yet compelling read. It just made me feel good to be a human. The main premise was this: Nations can only grow and prosper when political and economic institutions are designed to be inclusive and allow every member of society to have a hope to participate in the future. This is how people’s beautiful and unique gifts are able to create disruptive technologies which ultimately improve the standard of living for every member of society and continue to allow freedom of expression.

I feel a personal connection with the Brasilian people and hope they can weather this storm. I see the beautiful personalities and artistic gifts of so many people and am inspired in humanity. I see dedicated and hardworking entrepreneurs like my host dad and see hope for innovation. I hope very much that the society as a whole can make a stand against massive corruption and continue to grow along with the other BRIC countries in the world.

I again can’t say enough thanks to Rotary and my host family. I feel a wonderful warmth and genuine sense of caring from them all. Even if they don’t see this, I wanted to recognize the many people who make exchange possible.

Wed, February 10, 2016

  • Luke, outbound to Brazil

Embarrassments, laughter, awkwardness, plateaus, and moments of feeling on top of the world. What do all these have in common? Being an exchange student.

Summer has just started here (weird, I know), and school is out! My simple life here just got much more simple.
Some of the things I’ve been up to lately:

-Waking up around 12-1pm usually 🙂

-Struggling desperately to not gain an exorbitant amount of weight. They weren’t kidding about “The exchange 15.”

-I just joined a Hawaiian canoe club. It’s really popular here and an awesome workout! It’s always interesting trying to stay in sync with 15 other people in an outrigger canoe and understand what the heck they’re saying! Finally starting to get rid of my farmer’s tan. It’s an amazing way to enjoy the nature here and meet more locals. Any exchange student in Santos should definitely try it once.

-Eating lots of beans and rice “feijão com arroz”

-Lots of running on the beach

-Watching lots of futebol with Brasilians. I honestly didn’t care much for soccer before coming here. After my first week I realized that Futebol is a religion, Pele is the Lord, and you better not like the club from the neighboring city! My city, Santos, is playing tonight in the final round of “Copa do Brasil” (the national championship). Needless to say, many games have been nervously watched and cheered on, leading up to tonight. It has been very exciting. I would strongly encourage any exchange student coming to Brasil to at least follow a little futebol from your city as it is a great way to strike up a fun conversation with plenty of locals.

-Eating more feijão com arroz

-Making a fool of myself as always trying to make jokes with people. Nothing boosts your self confidence more like hearing crickets when no one understands what you said 🙂 🙂 🙂
-Feeling awesome after carrying a conversation with a friend for a couple hours in Portuguese

-Having circles ran around me trying to play futebol with locals. They’re really good!

-In search of a samba club and want to take classes…

-Making new friends almost anywhere I go. Brasilians are incredibly friendly and love to talk. A quick bite to eat at a restaurant can turn into 4 hours of conversation, usually culminating in a nice “cafezinho” to wake you back up.

-Discovering new places in my city all the time. Santos is HUGE (430k people). And there’s always something going on here.

-Did I mention feijão com arroz?

-Thanksgiving day was an odd experience. It was the first time I had been away from my family for the holiday and I definitely felt a bit empty. Skype is pretty dang cool though. It’s an amazing time to be alive. Being an exchange student 30-40 years ago would be a dramatically different experience.

Learning a new language in a foreign country is an incredible character building process. You feel like you’re running into a concrete wall, and when you least expect it, you realize you can actually hold a conversation. The way the brain works and trying to process everything is incredible. Don’t try to translate everything word for word. Just let your mind flow. It’s very akin to how we learn song lyrics by just hearing them over and over again without realizing it. A little studying verbs and phrases goes a long way though. I always try to think in Portuguese and that helps tons.

It’s starting to dawn on me how fast this year is going to fly by. I’m over 3.5 months in and the weeks keep ticking off. Re-adjusting is going to be incredibly difficult and I am not looking forward to it. I am already a very different person from who I was when I left home and it will be weird to return.

Exchange changes your life and world view in an incredibly rapid and dramatic way. You suddenly feel split between two cultures and aren’t sure what to make of it. You look back on the person you were before coming and see such a narrow minded and ignorant person. You have moments of feeling lost, unsure of where you fit into this crazy world we live in. You’re constantly rediscovering who you are every day and what you’re capable of.

I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything.

Wed, December 2, 2015

  • Luke, outbound to Brazil

Ola todo mundo! Tudo bem? Hello everyone, greetings from the beautiful city of Santos, Brasil! It has been a real whirlwind since I arrived here two months ago. I’ve already had so many amazing experiences that I will carry in my memories forever. I feel like the luckiest exchange student ever.

My flight and the travel went smoothly. I arrived at about 5am in Sao Paulo. Circling the city and seeing the massive sea of lights, it finally hit me that this was it. What I had been working towards for so long was about to begin.

I can’t say enough praises about my host family and city. My family has been absolutely wonderful to me. We get along so well. They just had a baby 8 months ago so it is nice to have a cute baby to take the attention away from “the exchange student” at family gatherings and events. My host mother slaves in the kitchen so many hours a day to put wonderful fresh meals and delicious fruit juices on the table. She is a saint, I love her. While it took me a little while to get adjusted to the cuisine (rice and beans at least once every day), now I feel like I can’t live without it.

Santos is a large port city located 2 hours outside of Sao Paulo on the coast. It has about 430,000 people. It has been an incredible change to live in an apartment in a big city. There is so much to do here in Santos. From cheering on my local futebol clube, going to concerts and baladas, or just enjoying a nice coconut water and pastel on the beach with good friends, there’s hardly ever a dull moment here. I have those “pinch me I must be dreaming” moments all the time. This past weekend I took a bus on my own to a suburb of Sao Paulo and cooked a Churrasco (Brasilian bbq) party with a bunch of exchange student friends. It was an accomplishing feeling to finally be able to communicate and travel on my own speaking Portuguese. It was also very cool to actually cook Churrasco this time after observing many Brasilian dads teach me their secrets.

If you weren’t an introspective person before exchange, you certainly will become one during it. So many times when you’re sitting clueless as to what people are talking about. So much time left to your own thoughts, wishing you could communicate. It’s nice to take a long run down the beach to clear my head. I’m finally starting to understand most all of conversations and can communicate, but it wasn’t easy. I’ve had to work very hard to learn this language. It is very different from English. The education system in the United States really does a poor job of preparing students going into international settings. It is pretty embarrassing to be surrounded by trilingual/quad-lingual European exchange students and all I know is English and broken Portuguese.

I can’t believe that almost 2 and a half months have already gone by. I can’t begin to thank Rotary enough for everything they’ve done to build this program. Both RYE Florida and Rotary Club de Santos have been very professional and devoted to my success and wellbeing. I feel incredibly fortunate to be where I am. I am especially thankful to Rob Overly for giving me this opportunity to live in Santos. I now understand why it is so fiercely defended by Rotex who lived here before me. I can’t wait to see where this year takes me. Thank you so much to everyone who has supported me thus far!

Mon, October 26, 2015

Madi - Brazil

Hometown: Saint Augustine, Florida
School: St. Augustine High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: St. Augustine, Florida
Host District: 4550
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Ilheus

My Bio

Olá! My name is Madison, and I am from St. Augustine. I was born and raised in Florida and have only been as far as Mexico. I come from a blended family which includes my dad, Brian, my step mom, Jessica and siblings of all varieties: Mallory, Mayson, Logan and Laney. I also spend much time with my mom, Kelly, who would just love to come to South America along with me. I go to Saint Augustine High School and am enrolled in the AICE program, as well as the St. Johns County Center for the Arts. I am also part of the dance team and have participated in various sports like softball, soccer, and swimming. In my free time, I hang out with my friends or watch movies with my siblings. I love going to the beach and can’t wait to spend summer on the beaches of Brazil. I’m so thankful that Rotary has given me this opportunity, and even more thankful that I’m going to Brazil. Portuguese is such a beautiful language, and I get the privilege to become fluent. I hope to give a positive portrayal of Americans as well as learn everything I can about the Brazilian culture. Obrigado, Rotary!

Journals: Madi- Brazil 2015-2016

  • Madi, outbound to Brazil

I arrived home from the Amazon today, so let me write this all down before I forget something. I apologize now for my horrid English. So the first day we went to Presidente Figueiredo. We ate typical amazon food so lots of fish and yummy rice. These days were fun minus the cockroaches and spiders we found all in our hotel room, but we are were in the Amazon so of course there will be bugs.

We went on a hike through the forest and saw some waterfalls and explored a cave. I got a great video of Nicole falling on her butt as we were going downhill through the mud. In the night we hung out at the hotel and played games like “what are the odds” which is always fun and a good way to get to know eachother. We went to a few zoos near the city where we saw monkeys and parrots, etc.

One of the days we went to a giant waterfall where we jumped off a dock and swam all day. We stayed at that hotel for a few nights then moved to a 5-star hotel in Manuas. This was quite a change. We swam in the pool and played soccer with the other exchange students. There were about 90 of us on the trip. In the night we went to a show and watched some Brazilians dancing in an Amazon Rainforest themed show. They called us all on stage to dance with them and then we had a mini dance off.

We went to the market there and bought lots of presents for our fams the next day. We also went to a really old, beautiful theater in Manaus. The real fun started when we got on the boat. We had 3 boats and slept in them either 4 or 5 nights. I completely lost track of time on this trip. The boats had two stories and we slept in hammocks on the top. In these days we swam in the river and watched the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets that I have ever seen.

We took smaller boats to the forest and went on a survival hike through the forest with men that have stayed nights there with nothing but a knife and a few supplies from your backpack. We learned how to make fire with a cell-phone battery, how to make shelter from palmettos, how to trap animals and where to find them, what fruits you can eat, and I even ate a worm. Afterwards we had a delicious lunch of fish, farofa, and watermelon, using our hands to eat and a leaf as a plate, naturally.

This was an interesting day, but also the worst day for me because I was getting eaten alive by mosquitos, despite using every different type of repellent I could find and reapplying every 7 minutes. After this we took the boats back to the bigger boats. On the way, we swam in the river in the rain and had a war between biats of throwing seeds and berries etc.

One of the nights we went to an indigenious village and watched them perform typical dances and ceremonies. They even invited us to do a dance with them which was really cool and then we shopped a little at their market with all the things they made. A different day we went to a village of native people where they taught us how to make tapioca and acai from scratch. We also played soccer with some of the natives and then later had a mud fight in the rain. We went swimming in the river to wash it all of and did backflips off the boat.

In the night we would seperate girls and boys boats, so we could have shower dance parties at midnight and talk in our hammocks all night long. My favorite day was when we seperated into 4 small boats and a tour guide took us around. I was so lucky that I picked the best boat. We had the best tour guide and the best coordinator(Laura).

We were riding down the river and our tour guide stopped the boat because he spotted something in the tree. He climbs up it from the boat and brings us a sloth to hold and take pics with and then puts the little guy back in the tree. This was such a cool experience. He literally just plucked a sloth right from the rainforest. After this we stopped next to the forest near the trees and pulled out some bananas.

All of a sudden a dozen little monkeys are climbing all over us. At one point there were 6 monkeys climbing on my body from my lap to one sitting on my head and I think this was the happiest moment of my life. I had tears in my eyes. After the monkeys we went to a different spot and fished for piranhas and only the girls were able to actually catch any fish. And more monkeys came to hang with us.

After fishing, we drove the boat to an open part of the river and watched the sunset and we were the only boat that was there and we got to swim a well. This was probably the most peaceful moment of my life and I just swam there thanking God for making such a beautiful view. Once the sun went down we went through a small canal under a canopy of trees and caught us a baby gator. We got to hold it and it was so small but already it had 7 years of age. After that we went back to the big boat and ate and hung out. All the meals on the boat were delicious too.

The next day we swam with pink river dolphins near the beach. This was awesome and they weren’t shy at all and stayed swimming with us long after we stopped feeding them and all the fish were gone. On the last night we had a luau on the beach and ate and danced and had a final party before we had to get back on the boat and head to the city. We slept on the boat for our last night and it stormed so heavy all through the night, which represented our feelings of saying goodbye I think. Surprisingly I slept great in the hammock every night and I actually miss it right now as I sit in my bed writing this. When we got back to Manaus we went shopping. Thank God for that because I did not have one single peice of clean clothes left, and we found Mexican food.

After shopping we went to the airport and said our goodbyes and everyone went in their different directions. This trip was an amazing experience, but really it is thanks to the coordinatos Ron and Laura. They really treated us as their equals and considered us friends instead of a bunch of kids they have to look after. So a big thanks to them for the experience of a lifetime!

Fri, May 13, 2016

  • Madi, outbound to Brazil

Christmas in Brazil is celebrated on Christmas Eve and the whole family gets together and exchanges gifts and eats lots of food. It felt more like Thanksgiving than Christmas, but maybe because it was about 88 degrees and not a normal cold Christmas Day. I went to the beach on Christmas Day, like it was any other normal day.

New Years here was sooo fun. I spent a week at a friend’s house and went to 3 days of concerts and shows on Batuba Beach with thousands of other people. New Year’s Eve was one of the best days because I was also with the other exchnage students and we snuck are way into the VIP area where we got free food(very important on exchange). On New Year’s in Brazil everyone is in white. White symbolizes the peace everyone wants for the new year. You can also wear yellow, to symbolize you want gold/money, red, for love, etc. However, with everyone in white it made it very hard when asking my friends if they thought “that guy there. In the white shirt” was hot. Overall a great night/morning with friends and fam.

Carnaval in my city was the last weekend in January and it was so fun! It wasn’t super crowded like the one in Salvador, and it was much easier to run away when creepy guys tried to kiss you. Basically we just danced in the street all night and followed the music.
Carnaval in Salvador was crazyyy. The first day we(20-30 exchange students and Rotex) were on the ground following a bloc. Following a bloc just means that you follow a trio and by follow I mean you get pushed around in a mosh-pit with matching shirts. Carnaval is NOT for the claustrophobic. You are pushed up against strangers and everyone is just mixing sweat while jumping up and down to the music. And there are quite a few fights that break out(because the majority of everyone is drunk). Although it doesn’t sound too glamarous, it was extremely fun. The second day we spent half the time on the ground and the other half on a trio. Being on the trio was fun because you can blow kisses to strangers and never see them again. Also, if you accidentally dump water on someone’s girlfriend, the super scary, strong boyfriend can’t chase after you because he doesn’t have the bracelet to enter. However, if someone is very determined to reach you on the trio, they wi ll. Like in the case of my older siser that was visiting me and came to Carnaval with us; she blew a kiss to a guy on the ground and he managed to climb up the emergency ladder of the trio(a difficult feat) and get his well-deserved kiss from my sister.
I got to go to a 3rd day of Carnaval because I got lucky and the super awesome German family I was staying with, took the 4 of us girls that were staying in their house. We were in Camarote this time, so we just ate a lot of free food and watched the trios and blocs pass from a nice, spacious upper area. When we were leaving we saw a sea of white headed towards ur, and this sea of white were the Sons of Gandhi. They dress in all white and blue with hundreds of blue and white bead necklaces around their necks and a bottle of perfume in their hands. If you kiss them they spray you with perfume and give you a bead necklace. An excellent addition to my blazer.

The next week was my birthday and my sister and her friend came to visit. It was nice to show them around my new home and we went to the beaches and the iate clube.
This past week, the exchange students from my city and the next city over, were on the news and then went to a Rotary meeting where I got to speak a little speech that we all wrote about the influence of exchange. It was my first time speaking in front of a Rotary Club for more than 15 seconds. I was so nervous and could never have been able to do that 2 months ago, but I think my Portuguese is improving and I definitely felt that at the meeting.

Me and two friends got to go to a beautiful waterfall with their mom and swim around for the day, which was awesome and made me forget that vacations already ended.
Tomorrow I will change families for the first time! I will surely miss my family now. I love my mom and little brother, but am excited for a new experience with a family that is super welcoming.

Mon, February 29, 2016

  • Madi, outbound to Brazil

I have been here 3 months now and it feels like time is flying by. I’m on summer vacation now until around February. It’s the holiday season, so I know we are supposed to be getting homesick around now, but it’s pretty hard when you live in paradise. Since summer started this is my daily routine; wake up, usually eat lunch because I slept in, go to the beach or the yacht club with friends, get an acai bowl(every day), go home, shower, eat again, and then go out again with friends. Usually someone is having some type of get together because it’s summer, so we go to that and try to be taught how to dance.
The dances consist mostly of just shaking your butt. #Brasil
15th birthdays here are a very big deal and the birthday person has a giant, fancy party and you dance until the sun comes up.

The Rotary Christmas party was very nice and we all made food from our country. I made Shephard’s pie and it seemed to be liked because it was almost gone when I left. The exchange students from my city all went to Itabuna for a Blue November event and we got to go to their interact meeting and then the event the next morning, which was very fun even though it was about 90 degrees. We went to another event at a school where we dressed up in costumes and danced with a bunch of 4-7 year olds. It was fun but my hands were extremely sticky after, I don’t think I could ever be a pre-k teacher.

Every day is so hot. Lock yourself in the bathroom and you have a private sauna. By the time you step out of the shower, you’re sweating again. I would think maybe I’d be losing weight because I walk every where and am always sweating, but nope. The food is so good and I am always eating. Why is there so much bread and why am I always craving a ham/cheese/egg sandwhich? Pastel and coxinha are also too hard to pass up. And for dessert banana frita.

The language is coming along. I can talk to people and get my point across, but my grammar is awful and I speak veryyyyyyyy slowwwwwww. I like texting Brazilians because it helps so much when you can read the word and it’s so much easier to understand and learn.

Something that is differnt in Brazil is time. I don’t mean the time change. If you are invited to a party at 6, plan to be at least 2 hours late because that’s when the party will actually start. And if someone says that we’ll leave here in a moment, be prepared to stay another hour. Another thing that is different is that when you finally arrive to wherever you’re going, you can’t just wave hello to everyone. You need to individually kiss each person on the cheek. It doesn’t matter if you don’t remember their name, just do it.

I really love it here and can’t imagine what life is going to be like back home. When I was saying bye to my family a year seemed like ages, but now 8 months seems like way too soon.

Tue, December 22, 2015

  • Madi, outbound to Brazil

Bom dia!!!!! Brazil is absolutely amazing. And Ilhéus specifically, is the best place in the world.

Saying bye to my family at the airport was extremely sad but also the most empowering feeling, because once you pass through security, you are on your own. Your heart is almost beating through your chest and you feel like a total badass in your Rotary blazer. The panicking did come though. My first time on a plane and I had 5 minutes to navigate the Atlanta International Airport so I didn’t miss my connection. Once in the Brasilia airport it really hit me. I’m in Brazil. I can’t speak Portuguese. And why is everyone staring at me? After being given the wrong gate number and waiting there for about an hour, I realized the mistake and rushed to the correct gate and was on my way to my new home. Brazillians are the most welcoming people I’ve ever met, so naturally there was an army waiting for me at the airport. So many strangers hugging and kissing me and speaking things I couldn’t understand. But as an exchange student you just have to go with it. The first few weeks just consisted of smiling and nodding because what else can you do when you have no idea what’s going on.

Every day at noon I have lunch at my grandmother’s house next door, which I dreaded the first week because the food made me sick and I felt awkward. Now I enjoy going over there because I get to do every exchange student’s favorite thing; eat. And I can understand some of what is being said.

I started school my second day here. The school is like a castle and overlooks the ocean. I am in the second year so everyone is about 15-17, making me the oldest in the class. I only notice I’m with younger people when I talk to a boy classmate and they start yelling for us to kiss like in the 5th grade. Other than that, people are pretty cool. The teachers switch and not the students, so we sit in the same spot from 1:30-7 which is extrememly boring and takes up the whole day because the sun goes down at 5ish. Lucky for me, yesterday was my last day of school because everyone else has tests which I don’t have to take.

I got to go to Salvador for 4 days because I missed orientation with the other exchange students. This was aweome! I stayed with an exchange student from Saint Louis and his extremely generous family. They gave us a personal tour of Salvador (the mom knew ALL the history) and they took us out on the boat and we island hopped and swam in the clearest water.

I went another trip with my school to Chopada Diamantina for 3 days. This trip was a mix of emotions because I made friends which was good but also felt like such an outsider because I couldn’t understand the jokes, the music, the games, etc. But I saw the most beautiful scenery, waterfalls, mountains, crystal clear lakes, caves endless stars and the moon rising over the mountain. We got to snorkel and explore caves, and snorkel in caves. A very cool trip.

My Portuguese is coming along aka I can understand most things but not really respond so well. Speaking in a language you don’t know is scary. Mainly because I emberass myself daily. Telling my host mom “I ate bread” but the word for bread is almost pronounced the same exact way as the word for male genitalia, and of course I always accidentally say the latter. I don’t know how she doesn’t laugh in my face because I started cracking up when she was trying to tell me our zumba teacher was gay, but mixed up the words gay and bit#%.

Some Differences:
1. There are no rules to the road
2. Barely any traffic lights and stop signs are only suggestions
3. You can see the ocean from anywhere you are
4. You see someone you know everywhere you go
5. You have to greet everyone with a hug and kiss on the cheek
6. Everyone is always eating something, making it very easy to gain the Exchange 15
7. People take multiple showers a day
8. I’m “rich” here
9. I have to wash my own underwear and hang them to dry
10. Everyone can dance!
11. Small bikinis are beautiful not promiscuous
12. Brazilian food is NOTHING like Mexican food
13. Beans and rice are an everyday thing

I think that’s everything. Thank you Rotary! & FAM Exchange is amazing and I can’t imagine what I would be doing if I wasn’t here. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU

Fri, October 23, 2015

Max - Chile

Hometown: Saint Johns, Florida
School: Allen D. Nease Senior High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Ponte Vedra Beach Sunset, Florida
Host District: 4340
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Talca

My Bio

My name is Maxwell Alexander Nelson, but please, just call me Max. I am a 17-year-old senior in the IB program at Nease High School. I am from Saint Johns, where I live with my family: mom, dad, and twin sister, between the cities of Jacksonville and St. Augustine.

Next year is an adventure that I can’t wait to unfold. I have wanted to be an exchange student for as long as I can remember. As someone born and raised in Florida, I have the burning desire to strike a path outside our borders. I can’t wait to experience someplace entirely foreign and I can’t believe this is finally happening.

At school, my favorite subjects are history and Spanish, which I have studied for many years. I participate in many clubs, including drama, photography, and Interact. I am the president of both the Young Republicans and the International Students Club. When I am not at school, I love all things aquatic: boating, sailing, swimming, and more. A favorite for the past few years is the sport of rowing and I’ve had the chance to compete at the Florida State Rowing Championship three times.

In the future, I plan to attend a university to study global health and international business. One day, I hope to work for an international organization such as the United Nations or the World Health Organization. South America has always intrigued me and I know that my year in Chile will give me so many opportunities, both today and in the future. Thank you to everyone who is making this possible!

Journals: Max – Chile 2015-2016

  • Max, outbound to Chile

If you eat too much avocado does your skin turn green?

That was a legitimate worry when I first arrived to the Republic of Chile. Now, eating my weight in avocado on a monthly basis is a completely normal part of my Chilean life.

That’s right, life. I no longer feel like I’m the outsider here in Chile. Instead, I feel like Chile is my home. I have friends here, family, I fit in. For the first time, I had a full conversation with a stranger without her realizing that I’m a foreigner, the ultimate compliment for an exchange student.

As it is summer in the Southern Hemisphere, I’m on break from school. Because of that, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to travel. From Argentina, to Patagonia, to the coastal city and UNESCO World Heritage Site of Valparaíso, I have had numerous opportunities to explore this long, skinny country that I call home.

Before coming to Chile, I was worried that over the summer I would be bored. In fact, its been quite the opposite. Every day it seems there is something new to explore. In my town’s quirky-but-quaint downtown, my fellow inbounds and I make it a habit to discover new things. From the coffee shop that most resembles American Starbucks, to the juice bar owned by the friendly Colombian, adventures never cease.

In just a few short months, my language skills have improved drastically. Today, I proudly consider myself a fluent Spanish speaker, even though not a day goes by when I don’t learn something new.

Chilean Spanish has definitely been a challenge, though. From centuries of virtual isolation from the rest of Latin America, Chilean Spanish has morphed into its own dialect, complete with its own grammar, slang, and accent. While my Spanish still isn’t quite Chilean (I’ve actually been told it sounds more Mexican or Cuban), I am always met with a smile whenever I try my best to use Chilean words. ¿Cachai po weon?

In short, I can’t believe that I’m already at the halfway point of my exchange. I’m so happy here, and I’m thankful to Rotary for the five past months, and grateful for the five left.


Sun, January 31, 2016

  • Max, outbound to Chile

Before I sat down to write this, I was brainstorming all the things I could include: how I’m practically fluent in Spanish, how I had the opportunity to travel to Easter Island, how much I love my Chilean family and friends… Really what it all boils down to, though, is what an amazing time I’m having here.

Though it is sometimes frustrating, I’m glad I chose to come to South America. While I wish that my house could have heat or the road be paved, it along with the tin roofs, numerous horses, and stray dogs, is just part of the bright Chilean character.

Every day is a new adventure. Of course, it’s not without bumps in the road. In religion class, I mixed up the words for “drunk” and “Hebrew”, for example, but it’s just part of the territory. Chilean Spanish is not what I learned in school. Consonants are optional, and sometimes they seem to make up the grammar as they go along. They still tell me I have a weird accent, like a Mexican or Cuban, but I guess that’s better than sounding like a gringo!

While I have yet to really be homesick, there are definitely moments that I miss home. I would give everything just to be able to sit at home on my couch with my parents, sister, and cat, watching the Gators with Publix chicken in hand. However, I just remind myself how fortunate I am to be watching La Roja, the Chilean soccer team, eating empanadas alongside my host family, through the window the snow-capped Andes Mountains in the distance. Of course, my effort to incorporate myself into the culture doesn’t stop there.

September 18th was the Chilean national holiday, when I danced La Cueca, the Chilean national dance, in front of the whole school, sombrero, poncho, and all. Later, they had me dance the YMCA, and were completely shocked when I already knew the choreography, not understanding that it is common knowledge for every American.

That same week was a very strong earthquake. While very common in Chile, the most seismically active country in the world, the reactions of my friends and family alerted me that this one was different. All of a sudden, I heard this sound, like a tap-tap-tap. My first thought was that it was the dog coming up the wooden stairs, but then the door began to move in its hinges, and I realized that the sound was coming from the side of the desk hitting the wall.

Everything began to shake: the bed, the lamp, the chair. The dogs barked. The walls creaked.

When I stood up, the floor moved below me like the deck of a boat gently rocking from side to side. I had never experienced anything like it, and I hope I never have to again. In a split second I grabbed my coat (winter, remember?) and phone and carefully went down stairs and out into the driveway, Gari the dog still barking at my heels. Fortunately, I was far enough from the epicenter that everything was fine, but I was still pretty shaken up—pun intended.

Since then, at least 3 earthquakes have passed, so I’m now a seasoned earthquake veteran.

As the school year draws to a close, I can’t wait for summer vacation. I have trips planned to both Patagonia and Argentina, and I hope to spend my long summer days exploring my city with my friends. I am so thankful for everything Rotary has done, and I can’t wait to share more.

Que estén bien,
(That’s how they spelled Maxwell on my wristband at the doctor’s office)

Tue, November 10, 2015

  • Max, outbound to Chile

Fiesta. Siesta. Repeat.
Sounds pretty great, right? I think so. I’ve only been in Chile for a bit more than two weeks, and I’m already having the time of my life, but let’s start at the beginning.

I arrived in Santiago, Chile bright and early after a long night of travelling. Seeing the rising sun reflect of the Andes Mountains from the plane window is definitely a sight I will never forget, and it made the perfect welcome to my Chilean adventure.

When I got off the plane and cleared customs, I was greeted by my host family waving a big sign with my name on it, the Chilean and American flags, and a big fat cartoon alligator. I love them. Of course, I was expecting my host parents and sister to greet me at the airport; that was no surprise. What I didn’t expect was to see all the aunts, uncles, cousins, and even my 86-year-old abuela there as well! Latin families are so big and so close, and they were so fast to adopt me as their own. A group of Rotarians even performed La Cueca, the Chilean national dance for us at the airport to welcome all the new exchange students.

Upon leaving the airport, two things became immediately apparent: the weather and the mountains. Reading through the blogs of my fellow outbounds, I’ve noticed that many of them have mentioned the heat in their host countries. However, I’m having the opposite problem. It’s winter in South America, and I’m the only South American outbound far enough south to truly experience winter. Yes, it’s chilly in Chile. And yes, I’ve been waiting to make that pun for about 8 months now. Also, Santiago has some of the tallest buildings in South America, but you would never realize it because they are dwarfed by the mountains that surround the city. Seeing the beautiful mountains every day is definitely one of my greatest experiences so far. It’s as if they peak from behind the clouds to say “Oye, Max, you aren’t in Florida anymore.”

Chilean food is not what most people would expect. None of it is spicy. The chili pepper has an entirely different linguistic origin, and thus the only spicy food I’ve eaten is that seasoned with the sauce I brought from home. Every day we eat an obscene amount of bread and drink an absurd amount of coffee, even before bed. Chileans eat about 3.5 meals a day, give or take. The only constants are breakfast and lunch—the main meal, eaten at home. (Actually, I eat lunch at my abuela’s house because she lives closer to school). In the evening there is once, which is most like tea time, accompanied with bread, cheese, butter, and frequently avocado. La cena, or dinner, is only eaten sometimes. In my family, we usually merge it with once on the weekdays. When we do have dinner, it is usually the leftovers from lunch.

I was surprised to learn that Chileans don’t eat a lot meat, but when they do, shellfish is a very common choice. I have eaten shellfish of all shapes and sizes, including mussels, clams, shrimp, and abalone. My favorite meat, though, is the completo: a really big hot dog with avocado, onions, tomatoes, ample mayonnaise, ketchup, and mustard.

In my short time south of the equator, my favorite part has definitely been school. At school, I’m a celebrity. The younger students follow me around, and I shake more hands and pose for more pictures than I can count. Once, I was even late to history class because everyone wanted to talk to the gringo with blonde hair and green eyes. Fortunately, my uniform helps me to blend in—until I open my mouth.

That’s all for now. I’m off to take a siesta. Chao, hasta luego!

Fri, September 4, 2015

Natalie - Turkey

Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: St. Augustine High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: St. Augustine, Florida
Host District: 2430
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Adana Seyhan

My Bio

Merhaba! My name is Natalie and I live in St. Augustine with my mom, brother, sister, and two cats, Mr. Fluffy Pants and Thomas. My mom is a nurse in surgery, my brother is a freshman in high school, and my sister is in seventh grade. I’m a senior at Saint Augustine High School and I’m so excited to graduate!! I currently work two jobs; my first job is at restaurant on the beach called Salt Water Cowboys and my second job is at a store for teen girls called Justice. I love to read books in my spare time, I’m a bookworm. I also like to go to the beach during the summer with my friends and love to shop. During the summer, I volunteer at the hospital in outpatient surgery and I love it!!

After my exchange, I plan on attending the University of Central Florida to go to medical school. I’m so beyond grateful for this opportunity to go to Turkey!! I love Greek mythology and ancient Roman history, so Turkey is perfect for me!! I am so excited to travel all around Turkey and Europe and to broaden my views. Thank you to everyone who made this opportunity possible for me! Daha sonra görüşmek üzere!

Journals: Natalie – Turkey 2015-16

  • Natalie, outbound to Turkey

Merhaba arkadaşlar,

So it’s been a little while since I last wrote a journal and month 6 is about to begin in a week. It’s really hitting me that exchange is flying by and I leave in June, and I don’t think I’m prepared one bit for my exchange to end. At the beginning of my exchange I would think, “I have a whole year to accomplish everything I want to and to learn Turkish fully”, only I was completely wrong. Yes, I have accomplished a lot in the five months I’ve been here and have come very far with learning Turkish, making best friends from all over the world, creating a family connection with two Turkish families, and making memories that will last me a lifetime. But, if I could go back to August 8th and tell myself one thing, I would remind myself to salvage every minute that I have in my new home country. I’ve also have had time to reflect on how grateful and thankful I am for every person in my life, here in Turkey and back in America. Being over 7 ,000 miles away from your family really helps a person to realize and acknowledge how important your family is and how much you really truly do love them. So thank you specifically to my mom who has been my main supporter and there for me through all the weird and amazing things that have happened to me since I left home.

So most future exchange students are probably curious about how the holidays were away from home, but all I can say about it, is that it’s a different experience for everyone. I have an amazing host family that wants to celebrate and incorporate my American traditions into their families as well as the Turkish traditions, so my host parents threw a Thanksgiving dinner party with family and friends. I also had an American exchange student who lives on the other side of Turkey in a city called Samsun come stay with me for a couple days. Between the dinner, having my friend, and my amazing family, I really didn’t experience any home sickness because I felt the meaning of Thanksgiving, being thankful for what you have and loving the people around you. As for Christmas, I was very fortunate to go on a Rotary trip with all my exchange friends to probably the most beautiful and unrecognized city called Cappadocia. I’ll explain what Cappadocia is in a minute, but Christmas didn’t really feel like Christmas. Turkey is about 99% Muslim, so Christmas Day is just another ordinary day for the Turks, but being with the other exchange students really helped spread some Christmas cheer, so I didn’t feel very homesick because I was very busy on Christmas Day.

Cappadocia definitely needs to be one of the seven wonders of the ancient world and it makes me so mad that it’s not. Cappadocia is rich with history and natural beauty and truly looks like it came straight from a fairytale. Around 1800-1200 BC, the area of Cappadocia, called Göreme, was occupied by the Hitties and later sat on the borders of the Persian and Greek empires and later Roman and Byzantine empires. Göreme being located on the border offered protection for some locals in the rocks, so the locals began carving and living in these rocks. Early Christians also used the caves to hide from prosecution from the Roman Empire, and in the 7th century, many monks created monasteries in these caves and rocks and painted Byzantine frescos, which are still preserved and there today in its original form. Seeing those original Christian paintings that were taken straight from the bible was so beautiful and humbling. Around 400 BC, the largest underground city was dug and carved and was used throughout history as a place of refugee. The city goes to about 2600 feet deep and is very detailed
Exchange has taught me so much about myself and who I am as a person and that you have to focus on yourself and who you are before you can worry about others. People will come and go and they come and leave your life for a reason, but family will always be there, even your host families. There are a lot of stereotypes about Turkey, the culture, and the religion, but you can’t always believe what you hear. To any exchange students coming to Turkey in the future: you are very very lucky to experience this beautiful country in a way a lot of people don’t get to and I hope you can treasure every waking moment and live your exchange to the fullest.

Till next time, Görüşürüz


Mon, January 4, 2016

  • Natalie, outbound to Turkey

Merhaba, arkadaşlar!

It’s been two and a half months here in my beautiful country. I can’t believe how time is flying already, it honestly still feels like I’m living in a dream and will wake up any minute and be back in Florida. I can’t even grasp the fact that I live in a country 7,000 miles away from “home” and I’ve created a life for myself here. I have friends, I have a home, I have school, and most of all, I have begun to find myself.

So, since my last journal I started Turkish school. I was so nervous and did NOT want to go, and it wasn’t like a typical teenager feeling of not wanting to go to school, I was completely and utterly terrified. I was scared I wasn’t going to fit in with my classmates, not be able to communicate at all, and that I wasn’t going to enjoy it…… but I have never been more wrong. I love love love love school!!!! I have made so many friends and been accepted as one of them, it is such an awesome thing to see; a group of kids accepting a foreign girl into their lives.

Even though there is some issues communicating with my teachers and classmates, because they don’t know much English or none at all, I look forward to school. I wear a uniform, which they are very lenient with. My uniform consists of a yellow/brownish skirt or pants, any type of sneakers, and any school tee-shirt, however, I cannot wear makeup, nail polish, or wear earrings. Turkish school is very different from school in Florida. Firstly, the bus picks me up in front of my apartment building around 7:25 every morning, but the bus isn’t the typical “yellow bus”, it’s a very nice and small bus with air-conditioning. I then arrive at school around 8, and go to my classroom on the third floor of the high school building. There are several buildings in my school, there is a pre-school, elementary school, middle school, high school, cafeteria, gym, pool, dance studio, art studio, and a music area.

The first class of every day is “home-room” which is just 15 minutes, then the day really begins. The schedule differs from day to day, some classes repeated throughout the week. I take biology, chemistry, math, history, religion, philosophy, guidance, Turkish literature, English, German, PE, physics, and art. Classes are 40 minutes with 10 minute breaks between each class, and an hour break for lunch. Typically, with the core classes, there are two lessons back to back, like for example, on Thursday morning, my first two classes are physics, with a 10 minute break in the middle. During the breaks, students are free to do or go where within the school, and use their cell phones, which is something I’m not used to. Lastly, about lunch. Lunch like in American schools, changes day to day, but the school lunch is amazing. The cafeteria has several flat screen T.V.s and they play popular music, either American or Turkish, and at every table there is a pitcher of water and glasses. The lunch tables don’t look like American lunch tables either, they have picnic tables or like little cafe tables.

I tried two Turkish food/drinks that aren’t very normal, one is more abnormal though. First, I drank “banana milk” or “ muse süt”, and it was reallllyyyyy gooood!! Second, my exchange friend from Tawain, Apple, and I tried “şırdan”. It was the worst thing I’ve ever eaten…. It’s famous in Adana, so mostly all people born and raised in Adana love it. Basically, şırdan is goat intestine. It’s cleaned and stuffed with rice, then sewn, and boiled. It looks awful, tastes awful, and smells awful. But, as Bob White, my country coordinator in Florida said, “ I hope you have consumed something that you never thought you would eat in your life.  If not, you are missing something”. So that’s that! Until next time my friends.

Güle Güle!!

Thu, October 8, 2015

  • Natalie, outbound to Turkey

Today I experienced being lost for the first time by myself and it was one of the scariest feelings I’ve ever experienced. I got on the normal bus to get to the other city center near my house and it took a detour which was odd. The bus driver was very angry and stopped the bus in an area I’d never been to and made everyone on the bus get off. I had no idea where I was and nobody spoke English, I felt so sick to my stomach. I found some woman who spoke no English and I explained, in the best Turkish I could, that I had no idea where I was and I was trying to get to T. Ozal and she helped me to get onto a different bus. I am very fortunate to be in a country that the people are known for their hospitality, because even though there is an obvious language barrier, the people want to help in any way they can. Every exchange student has this type of experience, I think it’s honestly one of the best ways to learn your surroundings and it forces you to speak the language even if your scared.

So, I’ve experienced three very important Turkish events in the past couple weeks. First I went to a celebration called Sünnet. Sünnet is an Islamic and Jewish religious tradition in which circumcision is performed on boys typically aged at 7 or 8. After the circumcision, the parents of the boy throw a huge party for the boy, where family members, friends, and strangers will attend and eat a lot of food and dance all night. The boy wears traditional clothing( usually a cape, a sash and a crown) and the people at the sünnet put gold onto the boy’s cape as a present. It’s a very strange celebration, but very interesting, haha.

Next, I went to a Turkish wedding, which are very different from American weddings. In a traditional American wedding the bride walks down the “aisle” with her father, but in Turkey, the bride and groom walk up to their seat which is elevated near the stage. There is a lot, and when I say a lot, I mean A LOT of dancing to traditional music. When it comes time for the bride and groom to get married, they sign in a book in front of a government official and then the groom kisses the bride on the forehead. There aren’t any bridesmaids or grooms men, but the bride and groom choose one person each to be their “witness” for their marriage. In some Turkish weddings, people will throw American money when people are dancing, which is meant for the band and workers at the wedding. Unfortunately, my friend and I were not aware that it was meant for the workers and we took the money that was thrown at us by some old man, haha.

The last event that I was apart of was Bayram. Bayram is an Islamic holiday in which Muslims will sacrifice a sheep/goat and donate part of it to the poor and eat part of it. Families will all get together to visit and there is a lot of eating and “ Iyi Bayramlar”.

About the food, at the beginning I wasn’t the biggest fan of the meals here, but I have come to love everything and I’ve gained a little bit of weight :(. For breakfast, which is “kahvaltı”, the traditional Turks will eat cucumbers, tomatoes, special bread called Simit, millions of different cheese, olives, yogurt, and Turkish tea, called “çay”. For lunch and dinner it really differs, just with any culture. My family and I eat a lot of kofte, which can be compared to a meatball, but it has a different taste, in a red sauce with potatoes, and a mix of fresh vegetables, like zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, onions, scallions, squash, etc. Another really popular dinner/lunch is Kebab, especially in Adana, my city. Adana is the founding city of the kebab, and its eaten with onion,bread, parsley, tomatoes, green and red peppers, and a lot of random vegetables.

Adapting to the Turkish culture and language was difficult, but I am finally starting to feel like I belong here. I can not imagine myself in college right now or in a different country other than Turkey. Maybe I can convince Rotary to let me go on exchange again next year, (double gap year?) :))?!?!? As hard as it has been, I love the life I have begun to build for myself. Like other exchange kids have said in their journals, this is NOT a vacation, although you do get to go on very very many vacations, this year is very hard, and it’s not for everyone. You have to be really dedicated to your exchange, because it’s very easy to think “I want to go home”, but you have to go out and explore or even just Skype with the other exchange kids in your country, because it will take your mind off things. This is truly and honestly a once in a lifetime opportunity and it shouldn’t be taken lightly, so if you are applying currently for Rotary, take it seriously, because you are extremely lucky to have this opportunity.

Güle Güle, Görüşürüz!!

Mon, September 28, 2015

  • Natalie, outbound to Turkey

Merhaba! As many of you know, there is a lot of events happening around Turkey currently, the most well known being IS. The past week or two, there have been some attacks on the training bases for the Turkish military, which is compulsory for Turkish boys after they turn 18. The Turkish people are enraged by this, because these boys are considered the country’s “children”. The past three days there have been very peaceful protests and marches on my street for the fallen soldiers, and it is a beautiful thing to see, all the Turks getting together to support and pray for these innocent kids. The Turkish people are very caring and loving and is safe. The media distorts the truth of this beautiful country and its heartbreaking.

Last weekend, Rotary payed for myself and the other exchange students in Turkey to all fly to Antalya, a big beach city on the Mediterranean Sea. We all attended a big conference called EEMA, where Rotarians from all over the world come to one country and tour it. This fall, Turkey got to host it! We spent only one night there sadly, but we made the best of it. Rotary payed for everyone to stay in this five-star hotel called the Titanic, and it was designed like the actual Titanic. It was all inclusive and had a private beach.

Getting to spend time with the other exchange kids is honestly the best part about exchange. Everyone is awesome, and you get to learn about different cultures other than your host country’s. Even if you aren’t the most outgoing person, everyone is so welcoming and loving that you don’t have to feel shy or uncomfortable. I’ve come to learn that it’s not where you are, it’s who you’re with.

So, some different things to know about Turkey:
– they LOVE to eat, after saying “Yeter” (enough) three times, they give me a third serving
– they have McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, Popeyes, Dominos
– A LOT of stray dogs and cats
-they put yogurt (not american yogurt, theirs is salty) on top of everything. pasta, meat, bread, pizza, anything
-dinner is about 5 different courses
-they have some squat toilets, not all of them are though
-they kiss on both cheeks to greet somebody
– always take off your shoes when you enter someone’s house
– Turkish coffee is not normal espresso coffee
– they drink Turkish tea several times a day
-Turks talk really really loud and fast

Wed, September 9, 2015

  • Natalie, outbound to Turkey

Today marks my third week in Turkey, and in these three weeks, I have experienced so much and seen much of Turkey, but I have also experienced the worst luck I have ever had. From losing $1000 dollars on the plane from the U.S., to experiencing bad jet lag, breaking my toenail off, the airport losing my luggage, my brand new Macbook breaking, and losing important paperwork, I’ve experienced it all. However, I also have gotten to see Istanbul and the amazing history it offers, Izmir, and Cesme.

In Istanbul, my host parents took me on a boat tour of the Bosphorus River, which was used throughout history for trade and a connection to the Black Sea. We also went to the Haggia Sophia and Blue Mosque around one in the morning, so we weren’t able to go inside, but we were able to sit and drink cay, outside of the Blue Mosque, which is hard to do during the day because of how crowded it gets. In Istanbul, I also experienced my first “call to prayer”. I was standing in the kitchen with my host sister when I heard this man singing in Arabic on a loud speaker for everyone to hear, and I remembered reading about the call to prayer. The head man of the mosque calls everyone five times a day, to stop what they are doing and pray to God. He calls at midnight, five am, lunch time, five in the afternoon, and later at night. My host parents also took me to this very famous street, called Taksim, at night. It has many many shops, bars, restaurants, hotels, the Greek embassy, and many street performers. After Istanbul, my host mom, sister, and I stayed in a beautiful hotel in Cesme for a week. We spent our time swimming in the Aegean Sea, eating lots of Turkish food, laying in the sun, and shopping down popular night streets.

After two weeks of much fun exploring Istanbul and Izmir, I finally was brought to my home in Adana, located in southern Turkey. People told me “Oh Adana is very very, very hot”, but coming from St. Augustine, or Florida in general, I figured I would be used to it, no big deal. Well, unfortunately I was wrong. Adana is hot. It’s humid, hot, sticky, and there is this hot wind that you hits you while you’re walking down the street. Other than that, I’m in love with this city. I live on the sixth floor of an apartment currently, and I have an ice-cream shop and makeup store below me and a Subway and frozen yogurt store across from me. Safe to say, I understand why exchange students gain weight. The street I live on is all shops, traditional restaurants, dessert stores, and apartments.

My city, however,  is also very well known for the Seyhan Dam. It is so huge though, it looks like it could be the ocean, and it is beautiful. Learning Turkish has been a difficult, slow process, but I am learning so much by just talking and listening to my host parents, Rotarians, or friends speak. You can only learn so much on your own, and the best way to learn is to fully immerse yourself in the language in the country. My host family is surprised at how quickly I’ve learned Turkish, but when all people speak is a different language you don’t know very well, you are forced to learn it as quickly as you can.

I love the other exchange students in my district as well. Even though I have only known them for a short time, they have become my best friends. We all share the same ideas and we all want the same things. I love that they are from all over the world, because not only am I learning Turkish culture and language, I’m learning culture from Australia, Tawain, Mexico, New Zealand, Germany, Japan, Brazil, Canada, and many more places. I’m so thankful for Rotary and everything they do to make this life changing experience for us. Well, until next time. Güle Güle, Hoşçakal!

Sat, August 29, 2015

Rachael-Janai - Brazil

Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Mandarin High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: West Jacksonville, Florida
Host District: TBA
Host Club: TBA

My Bio

My name is Rachael-Janai Pace and I will be spending all of next year in Brazil! I am so very excited to have this opportunity to travel to Brazil, meet the people, study the culture, and learn the language. I have been living in Jacksonville until this year. This year I’m attending Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan, a top rated arts boarding school. I live in Picasso dorming house where I live with my roommate Sara from South Korea. I love to meet new people! At home I live with my mother and my dog named JoJo Ma, named after YoYo Ma. I am studying classical violin and I also love to sing jazz.Besides practicing violin and voice all the time, I love to swim, ride bikes, surf, kneeboard, and anything else outside. When I lived at home I was on the girls basketball team as well as the swim team. I also love to read books and write songs. I am very outgoing when I get to know people and I can’t wait to meet my new host family and all of the wonderful people in Brazil! I also wanted to thank my future host family for giving me the opportunity to live with you! Obrigado!

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