Outbounds 2016-2017

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

Briana - Austria

Hometown: Deland, Florida
School: Deland
Sponsor District: 6970
Sponsor Club: Deland
Host District: 1910
Host Club: Tulln

My Bio

Hello, My name is Briana Pray. I am 16 years old. My assigned country is Austria. i am very excited to be going to Austria next year. i am excited to go to Austria because i will get to learn the language German, i will get the opportunity of meeting new people, and i will meet new people. i take a German class at my high school and i cant wait to expand my German vocabulary. i also never had any type of German dish before so I’m very excite to learn the different types of seasonings the use and how they prepare their dishes. i love to cook so i cant wait to bring the recipes i learned and share it with my mom. i cant wait to begin school while in Austria because i believe if i work on my German i will be able to make many of friends. I am very happy with the country i got assigned to because I’ve always been interested in the German culture. I’m am very excited for the new adventures i am about to experience. this is a once in a life time opportunity and I’m happy to say I am going to Austria.

Journals: Briana – Austria 2016-17

  • Briana, outbound to Austria

This month here in Austria has been a great one…

So much has happened in this month of December. It was so action packed that I forgot my real birth day. On December 3rd, I had a birthday party. I had a big birthday party at a local bowling alley. I had about 25 kids come. I have made a bunch of new friends from school and I also had friends who are exchange students were there as well. It was a lot of fun. We played a lot of games and it got kind of completive with the bowling games.

A few days after my birthday party, it was my host dad had a birthday party. We had a dinner party with around 20 people. It was really nice because we ate Wiener Schnitzel and “Kartoffel Salat” which is Austrian style potato salad which is so good. It is one of my favorite Austrian food that I have eaten here. For his birthday gift, I had a photo printed of us when we went to Dubai and put it in a nice photo frame.

The day after his birthday we took a weekend trip to Germany, Bavaria with my host parents. It still amazes me that I live 4 hours away from Germany. We went to Germany and I got to ride in very nice Mercedes Benz and eat cute little cakes. We ate at a very nice restaurant, then we headed home and was home by 10 at night. After all of this, I forgot that my birthday was the very next day. On the official day of my birthday, when I came down stairs, my host mom had a gift for me. Which was 80 color make up kit. I was so happy. I don’t wear makeup out in public but I like to play in it like a little 6 year old J.

Than Christmas came which was very interesting. I was very excited to see how Christmas was celebrated here. Christmas here is very big. There has been lots of Christmas markets and lots of Christmas decorations all around Austria. My host brother and I had 3 event calendars leading up to the big day and we had 24 socks and every day we would go in the sock and get a treat. So when the big day of December 24 came, Christ kind came to deliver the gifts. Here in Austria, they don’t have Santa Claus, they have Christ kind. Also, Christmas is 2 and a half days. On the 24th we had a few family members come. It was very nice. We had a total of 16 come over and we ate turkey. I was so happy that we were eating turkey because I haven’t had it in a while. Usually around this time of the year, I would have turkey twice. Once for Thanksgiving and once for Christmas. All the food was really good. For Christmas I received a lot of cool presents. I received a Justin Bieber bed set, a Justin Bieber towel, a Justin Bieber hat, and I got homemade Nutella. I was so grateful for everything. A few days after Christmas, I headed to Burgenland to spend a few days with Shannon. We went to Vienna and went to the zoo! It is in the backyard of a castle where the Empire Franz Josef lived and it was so fun. We saw all of the animals in the zoo! After we explored the zoo, we went to an art museum, then we headed home.

Once I had got home, it was time for the new year. We brought in the new year with Racellete, watching the big New Year’s concert, and shooting fireworks in the sky. Happy New Year.!!

Sat, January 14, 2017

  • Briana, outbound to Austria

These last two months have been epic. I went on a family trip with my host family to Dubai. This was an amazing trip. It was absolutely amazing. Really. I was on the biggest airplane in the world. I went on the longest water slide in the world. I went to a mall that had a sky slope in it. I had lunch on the tallest building in the world. I went on a desert tour and rode a camel while eating lamp chops. That was literally the week of my life. I loved absolutely every moment of it. It is a little crazy to me because before coming here, I never really traveled and in these last 3 months I’ve been to Europe and United Asia. I really am very excited for all the travel adventures I have coming up like the European tour.

Also, I went to my first ever concert and it was someone who I love very very much. I finally got to see Justin Bieber. It was an amazing concert. I was so happy to see him. I know I have to see him.

I know I didn’t really do a lot besides these two big things. Next months will be better. J

Tue, December 6, 2016

  • Briana, outbound to Austria

I remember about a year ago, I was sitting in my room on my phone refreshing my email every hour of the day. I remember waiting to see a little blue dot next to Paula Rodrick’s name or Jeff Hart’s name. I remember wanting this more than anything in the world. I remember staying up at night crying wanting to go on exchange more than anything. I remember the feeling I had when I was told I was accepted and going on this journey. I remember the night before the country revel getting surprised by family from Philadelphia coming to Florida just so they could witness me getting my country. I remember when I was told I was going on Austria. To be honest I didn’t even know where Austria was. All I knew was I was going to a foreign land and I was happy with is. I remember when I was packing my suitcase the night before leaving to get on the plane. I remember before bed, my mom hugging me and telling me how proud she was on me. I remember her tel ling me how much she loved me and how much I deserved to go on this exchange. I remember my mother and my sister crying the whole way from Deland FL to Miami. I remember feeling so happy even though they were so sad until we actually got to Miami and we were sitting in IHOP. I remember the feeling of, I honestly couldn’t tell you what I was feeling. I remember crying so hard that I couldn’t even eat my food. I wasn’t crying because I was sad but because I couldn’t believe God had blessed me so much to be a part of something so great. I remember my mother following me all the way in the airport and I remember telling her “It’s okay mom you can leave.” and she didn’t. She followed me all the way up to the check in desk. I remember it being something wrong with me getting on the plane and I remember hearing the flight attended saying “We are not going to let her on the plane.” I remember the pain that went through my body because I want ed nothing more than to come to this amazing country. I remember the feeling of relief leave my body the second I sat down in my seat. I remember arriving in Austria and being so excited to be here. I remember hearing my name being called by my host family “Briana” and smiling and waving to them as if we had been friends for years.

Being here in Austria has made Briana, Briana. I have learned so much about myself in these last 2 months. It has been such a struggle. It has been so hard. But I don’t regret a single thing. I love being here. I love everything about living here. I love the people. I have fallen in love with the language. I know, I have had German for one year in High School, but that has only helped me a little bit. German is no easy language but I have decided to dedicate my life to learning this language. I have decided not to talk any classes online here. So that means I am going to have to re-take my Junior year of high school and probably graduate a year later than my class but, it’s all worth it. My mother is not really happy about it but the way I see it as, I have my whole life to work but only one year to be on exchange. I have to make this one year count. I have to make this year the best year of my life and not only my life but the people around me lives. I have one year out of my whole life not to work, not to have “school work”, and one year to make memories that I want to tell my grandchildren and hopefully my great-grandchildren. While being on exchange I have learned that me being here is not only effecting my life but it is effecting my nieces’ life as well. I spoke to my mother the other day and she said she had walked in on my niece playing a German game on her tablet. She said my niece is trying to learn German because she sees her Aunt learning it. The feeling of proudness filled my whole body to know that.

Well, enough of the sappy stuff. This month has been a very eventful one. I broke my arm. I know you’re wondering what is God’s earth could I have been doing to do to that. Well, earlier that day I was in town and I had saw these cute little fuzzy socks that were only 1 euro and I just couldn’t walk out the store without buying them. So here I am the little American girl rushing home to try on her brand new fuzzy socks. I rush home, go in my room, put on my new socks, and rush down stairs to show my host mom how cute they were. That didn’t really go that way. Right when I walked down the wooden stairs I slipped. I went for a ride. I slide all the way down the stairs and while I was sliding down the stairs enjoying the ride, one of the stairs hit my upper right arm. And that is the story of the exchange student with the broken arm. I had to wear a sling for 3 weeks. The worst part of the sling was that I had to wear it under my clothes and I had to shower with one arm. I also had to wear it under my clothes. Yes, I repeated that twice because it was very embarrassing having to walk around with one arm under my shirt. It was also very hot.

Also this month I went on a Rotary weekend with the other exchange students spending their exchange here in Austria. We went sightseeing and it was really fun. But it was very beautiful. It was a good weekend because the kids who are spending their exchange in Hungary came and I got to see Jaden. After the amazing weekend with the exchange students, my host family took me to Burgenland. They took me for a cultural experience. I also got to meet a little bit of my host family’s family.

This month hasn’t really been this eventful but it has been fun. My arm is better now and I am doing okay. This month has been very calm. It has allowed me to get used to being here. I am so happy I have an amazing host family to understand me. Even though I keep getting sick from everything. They have been very supportive. I couldn’t ask for a better year.

Mon, October 17, 2016

  • Briana, outbound to Austria

A month ago today I got on a plane with Shannon Bowe and started this journey. I still can’t believe I am here. Some times I just sit and smile. I might look weird to those around me but I can’t wipe the smile on my face if I tried. I love everything here. The food, the language, the structures of the buildings. I just can not believe God has blessed me so much. I am so appreciative and grateful to be here. So lets start with the beginning of my exchange until today. I got into Tulln, Austria on August 11th. I got on the plane on the 10th but with the time difference it made it the 11th. I got to meet my host families friends and Hanna. I ate great food at a beautiful restaurant. I also went and explored Vienna a little bit. Then after 3 days, I got shipped to Altmuster, Austria for a 2 week long German course. The course was really fun but it was kinda hard because I had just arrived into Austria and I was feeling kinda homesick. I was think ing about my family back home and it was kinda hard. But while at the German course I went to a Salt Mine and was able to tour the inside of a mountain. I also went hiking. It was so fun. (not) lol. But the views were absolutely beautiful. Then once home from the German course I met my host family and that is when everything got better for me. My host family are amazing. They have helped me with my German and get comfortable in their house. They have taken me to famous restaurants. I have tried the liver of chicken, duck , geese, and more that I can not even think of. We have been to a classical music concert that was so amazing. And they have taken me to Salzburg, where we went to a famous restaurant and got fresh fish. I have been having the time of my life and I am so happy I am here to make these memories.

Wed, September 21, 2016


Claire - Czech Republic

Hometown: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
School: Ponte Vedra High School
Sponsor District: 6970
Sponsor Club: Ponte Vedra Beach
Host District: 2240
Host Club: Prostejov

My Bio

Ahoj, dobry den! Ja jsem Claire. Hello, good day; my name is Claire Flemister and I will be studying in the incredible Czech Republic for the 2016/2017 school year. I am a junior at Ponte Vedra High School. I was born in Atlanta, , and moved to Florida almost 10 years ago. Going from the warm, bright summers of Florida, to the cold Czech Republic will certainly add to my shock, I just hope I get a little snow out of the cold! I split my time between my parents, but I am usually at my house with my 2 cats. I have 4 siblings ranging from 50 years old to 20! At school I am active in Model United Nations, and I am a Link Crew Leader (I help underclassmen ease into and navigate high school, and frequently volunteer for my school) . This year in school I am taking AP Chemistry, AP Language Composition, I also take 2 languages (ASL and Spanish). In my free time I love being creative, whether I am playing or listening to music, knitting, sewing, or writing creatively, I am doing what I love. I am so very grateful for the support I have received from my peers, I am ever so lucky to have several friends also going on exchange this year. I have been active in Rotary clubs since middle school, which is where I found out about RYE, that night I sat down with my parents and begged them to let me participate in high school, now almost 6 years later, here I am…FINALLY! After exchange I hope to apply my language skills to my goal of studying linguistics in university and beyond. I can not even imagine how this exchange will change my life, but I can not wait!

Journals: Claire – Czech Republic 2016-17

  • Claire, outbound to Czech Republic

Well the new year is already upon us, and I haven’t updated since August…. Sorry! I always judged the previous students, wondering how hard it really was to update everyone, well know I get it!! I have been bad at updating on all my social media, its almost as if I disappeared, but I didn’t!

I have been totally immersed here, which at times is overwhelming, but now it feels like home. I thought the holidays were going to be hard, and at times I longed for my family, and our traditions, but being here, and learning Czech traditions, overshadowed any sadness.

How normal everything feels constantly blows my mind. My ability to seamlessly move through my village, town, and school, surprises even me. When I talk to my sister, or parents back home I am reminded how I am almost living a double life. I have activities, friends, and even a family, they know little about. My daily life is so different than before, but I love every second of it.

I recently switched host families. I moved December 2nd, and it has been a wonderful change. My first family was great, and they took care of me, but I did not feel fully a part of their family… But with my new family, I almost feel too much a part of it, haha. Before I came I could never imagine calling a virtual stranger ‘mom’, or ‘dad’, or ‘sister,’ but here I am! My host sister is easily one of my best friends, she has amazing english, and for the first 3 weeks I was here we spent almost every free second together. Every night I have to move my stuff back into my room because throughout the day we have just been together doing homework, or binge watching netflix. My host parents know almost know english, which was a terrifying prospect for me before moving in, but in reality has gone very smoothly. We learned how to communicate, and my Czech gets better everyday because I am forced to use it.

Because English is such an international language, it can be very easy to get by with only English, but honestly theres always a wall between you and your family or friends when you don’t speak their language. Czech is difficult, but everyone here has been so kind to me, and really supports me when I speak. There are always mistakes, like during my presentation on faraday, I called his mother fat, instead of caring, everyone got a good laugh out of it, including myself. Mistakes are inevitable, and they can be embarrassing, but you have to be able to laugh at yourself.

A common phrase I heard before arriving was “colder the country, colder the people.” But I have only seen the opposite. Czech people can get a bad reputation for seeming cold, and people blame it on their communist past, but they don’t act very differently than other Europeans. In the USA there is this polite standard, of smiling if you make eye contact, even if it is with a stranger, or having empty “Hello, how are you? Good? Good, and you?” with almost everyone you encounter. Here, (for the most part) all of that is cut out. Why waste the time and air if you don’t really care how the other really is. I love that in Czech if someone asks you, they genuinely care, and want to start a conversation. It was surprising at first when people would respond with negative things that had happened, or if they felt good, they had a full explanation as to why. It feels more meaningful here. Though at times I miss the “American” way.

I know many people are reading this after recently finding out their countries, so congrats! Exchange has been such an amazing blessing. The people I have met, from Florida, Rotary, my classmates at school, and other exchange students from all around the globe, I have all been able to meet because of RYE, in Florida and here in D2240. If you ask people around the world, Florida is recognized as one of the best, because it is; and I am so lucky and proud to represent 6970, and Florida RYE.

For those of you who received Czech Republic, or Slovakia, I want to tell you a little more about them, because so often it seems that know one really knows much about them!

The Czech Republic and Slovakia are individual countries, and have been since the fall of the USSR in 1992/93. Czech Republic and Slovakia very much live in the 21st century, they are not like the idea many people have of previously communist countries. Most homes here look like they are straight out of an ikea magazine. Czech and Slovak are mutually understandable, the only difference is spelling and a slight accent.

People here are some of the most genuinely kind people I have ever met.
Most of the younger generation (below 30) are learning, or fluent in English, the older generation however is usually fluent in German, or Russian. But many still know some English, and many are also fluent. While you shouldn’t rely on English, and in many places you cannot, I understand that it is comforting to know it will usually be there.

Czech people will blow their noses loudly, and everywhere, and no one will bat an eye. They also almost always have a pack of tissues on them, or near them. Soon you will too.
Kofola is a Czech version of coke, and almost everyone drinks it constantly. Czech Republic is one of the only countries where Coke Cola is not the number one soda.
Czech people tend to have very dark or black humor, communism is a very popular topic to joke about, but do not add in your jokes unless you know the people well, it could come off as rude.

You will become weirdly patriotic during your exchange, and you will appreciate the USA, and target, and many other things you didn’t think about, but over all you will adapt
cold sick. When they eat you eat with your fork and knife, fork in left hand, knife in right, and when you are done, you put them parallel on your plate. Many times since you are from the USA they will give you more food, and while Czech people do not like wasting food, you do not have to eat it all, it is not rude.

If you have any more questions please reach out to me, or other outbounds, we want to help! And congrats on your exchange, it will be the best year of your life.

Wed, January 4, 2017

  • Claire, outbound to Czech Republic

On August 19th I blew out the candles on my 18th birthday cake, put on my blazer, and drove to the Jacksonville airport to leave for exchange. I wish I could say I had an easy time and that there were no hiccups, but that would be a lie. I had every issue imaginable with my flights, even though I had weighted my bags, they were too heavy, and my ticket was wrong so I was moved to a later flight, which was then diverted, and then I spent over 20 hours in the Dallas Airport waiting to leave the country, but finally I boarded a plane to London, which would connect me to Prague, and then my year would begin!

I think it is safe to say that I got all the bad out on that first day, ever since then (except for when my bags didn’t make it into Prague) I has been pretty smooth sailing.

The best attitude to have for exchange is to have no expectations, and I didn’t. So many people had told me that Czech people are closed off, many times will not be friendly, but usually once you get to know them they will be great. But when I walked out of customs I was greeted by my family with hugs and a banner. They were so loving and kind, it was overwhelming. If my flights hadn’t been delayed we would have spent the night in Prague, but instead we settled for a drive around the city.

The USA has nothing on European architecture. After a few minutes my neck was hurting from constantly looking up trying to memorize the city, and get used to the way europeans drive. It is hard to sum up those first moments, when everything starts to settle down. Everything is so overwhelming that you cant process anything, but you are trying to process everything, all of your language feels like its fallen out of your brain, English and your host language (maybe that was just because I had only slept 4 hours over about 48 hours).

After Lunch and a quick stroll around a mall, we all packed into the car and started the journey across the country, I wish I could talk more about it, but after leaving Prague, the whole car was basically asleep.

After a few hours though, I awoke and soon had my first taste of Kofola. At first it tasted like someone put cough medicine into coca-cola, but now I crave kofola, it grows on you so quickly!

My life is just a whirlwind, so many little things, but this country has quickly begun to feel like a home. Some of my biggest fears were living with my host family, making friends, and other little things I can’t even remember.

My family has accepted me into their family so completely! The first night my host grandmother (who lives next door) made me dinner, she said that since my flights were so bad she would try to fix it with food, dish after dish was laid in front of me, and after living off of random airport food, it was way to much, but much appreciated. My host grandparents speak no english, and were impressed with any czech word I spoke, which helped my confidence. My first night in my room was nice because I finally was sleeping in something that wasn’t a chair! I want to write every detail about my exchange down, every breath I took, and every laugh I have had, but its too much!

School started September 1st and was only an hour long, I was so panicked about making friends and understanding, but I was quickly invited to go out to a cafe with my classmates. Thats were I spent the following 3 hours! My classmates have been indescribably amazing, they include me in so much, and often invite me out! Teachers are a different story…I don’t blame them though, what do you do with a kid who doesn’t really understand, and can’t really communicate?

I urge anyone thinking about applying and reading these journals to contact us, or at least me, this is such an amazing opportunity, and I can not wait for the upcoming months!

Wed, September 28, 2016

Destiny - Taiwan

Hometown: Orange Park, Florida
School: Orange Park High School
Sponsor District: 6970
Sponsor Club: Orange Park Sunrise
Host District: 3490
Host Club: Shulin

My Bio

Hey! I am Destiny Childress, and I am going to TAIWAN!!!! I am so thankful for the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and into a place I would have never imagined I would travel to! Thank you Rotary for this once in a lifetime chance! After the initial shock of Taiwan, I have become extremely excited! I think I was the only person at that the Big Reveal who was unable to figure out where they were going from their flag, but I never thought I would go to Taiwan. After some research I have learned so much, and have already fallen in love with the country. I am 17 years old, and live at home with my mom, dad, and two dogs. My dogs are pugs, named Cupcake and Sprinkles, they are so adorable! I am a Junior at Orange Park High School, I am very active in my school. I enjoy clubs and sports that range from robotics to varsity basketball. My absolute favorite thing to do is fly. I am almost done with being a student pilot, and becoming a private pilot. Being in air is an experience that I will never get tired of, it is amazing and something I plan to do for the rest of my life. Taiwan is a little far for me to pilot my own plane to my new home! I look forward to sharing my journeys with you!!

Journals: Destiny – Taiwan 2016-17

  • Destiny, outbound to Taiwan

Disclaimer: It has been a long time since I posted, my laptop stopped working so I had to go old school and use a pen and paper to keep up with life in Taiwan. Then I used the excuse it was too sad to go back and read what I have written down. I miss my home in Taiwan, family, and friends every day.

My mom came to visit me for ten days in March. This will always be so special to me because I got to share my new home with her. I was so nervous for her to come, I wanted to her to love my families and friends just as much as I do. She arrived at five thirty am!!!! She knew my host father and I were picking her but we surprised her by having all my friends and all three of my host families at the airport to greet her. My friends helped me make posters and my host mom had flowers for her. The look on her face was priceless. It reminded me so much of when I arrived in Taiwan. My mom hugged all my families and friends….which is so not normal here in Taiwan. I remember thinking how strange it was watching her hug everyone. The look of being overwhelmed was in her eyes or maybe it was jet lag and I told her welcome to your mini taste of being an exchange student. In the car, my mom asked what was going on and I told her we all are going to breakfast.

My mom was looking out the car pointing to mountains and kept looking over at me and saying I can’t believe I am here with you. My three host families had a debate over where to take my mom for breakfast. Which is normal for us to end up in a major debate of where we are going or what we are doing. I still didn’t know in the car where we were going until we pulled up to McDonald’s. It sounds silly, we have McDonald’s in the United States, and it was silly! But I believe my host families didn’t want to make the same error they did when I arrived, they took me to a restaurant and ordered me all meat and seafood dish. I am a vegetarian, so I couldn’t eat. The first breakfast was hilarious, I got to translate what my three host families were asking my mom, and then translate my mom’s responses to my families. Later that day my mom told me how much better my Chinese was than the thought it would be. At the time, I thought my language was okay, but I realized that I was translating entire conversations. My mom in McDonald’s had to take a picture of the famous squatty potty. In my mind, I was why this is normal to see. My mom was only visiting me for ten short days and all I could think of is how much I had to show her in such a short time. After breakfast, we said goodbye to my other two host families and headed to my home. My host family from the moment they knew she was coming told me that she must stay with them. My papa and mama were tired from getting up early from picking mom up and wanted to take a nap but my mom was ready to go explore.

My mom was like omg Destiny your school stuff is on the table in the dining room, you have clothes on your floor, and all your stuff is in the bathroom. She was like Destiny it looks like you live here and I was mom I do live here, it’s my home. She also said to me, I don’t want to sound mean but did you wear dirty clothes to pick me up at the airport in. I just laughed because I forgot how in the beginning of my exchange it took me forever to get used to clothes being dried outside and sometimes it takes three days for our clothes to dry with the humidity here. I just smelled normal like Taiwan and my clothes stiffer from being hung up outside on the porch to dry. I showed my mom the washer and where we hang up our clothes and she was amazed that we used Tide just like at home. After the full home tour, we headed out to explore. Our first stop was 7-11 to get a bottle of water then to MRT to head to 蔣中正(Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall). It is one of my favorite places that I love going to with my friends. We watched to changing of the gauds and took lots of pictures. I kept thinking in my head, my mom is such a tourist. Later that night we were meeting all my host families for dinner. This time they picked a French fancy restaurant for us to eat at. My mom was panicked because we were undressed but I was like don’t worry, It is normal for the exchange kids to undress or overdress. I told her, welcome to being an exchange student, sometimes you never know what is happening until it is happening. At dinner my host mom ordered everything for my mom to try, it was so much food but once again this is normal for me. After dinner, my host fathers wanted to speak with my mom about what our plans are while she was here. I had to translate all of it. They wanted to know what hotels we were staying at when traveling down south and basically every detail of our trip. They kept saying how they loved me and wanted to make sure their daughter was safe when traveling. Mom was clueless what was going mostly since we were only speaking in Chinese.

We did so many things over the next couples days. We traveled by High-Speed Rail and slow train to various places South of Taipei. One of the funniest moments while traveling with her was we got lost in Toucheng (a city South of Taipei), we could not find our hotel, we had taken a bus and then walked around for a few hours. We saw many cool temples and statues in that time but we wanted to check in. I hailed a taxi and told him the address of our hotel, but he just started yelling “TAIWAN”, I was like yes I know we are in Taiwan that is why I am speaking to you in Chinese. But the taxi driver kept yelling Taiwan, after several minutes of this, it occurred to me that maybe he didn’t understand Chinese, but only Taiwanese. The older generation in Taiwan, like my grandparents only can speak Taiwanese. We eventually got to our hotel, it was a fun adventure and a memory with my mom I will never forget.

To all future exchange students if you have a family member visit, it okay to travel and show them around but don’t forget to show them your everyday life, like school and take them to host club meeting if you can. When my mother visited one of her favorite memories was attending my school event. My entire class had been working for weeks on an event for all of our parents with performances and a nice dinner, as a thank you for helping them reach the end of their final year. When I told my school, my real mom was coming that got super excited, and my classmates were also excited! So the day of the event I took my mom to school with me, she kept pointing out how many people were pointing, gawking, and talking about me. I didn’t even notice anymore. When my mom asked me why, and I explained that I am clearly a foreigner and wearing a school uniform. Seeing this white girl, with blonde hair in a traditional school uniform just astounds many Taiwanese citizens. When we go t to my school I showed her all around and all my classes and teachers then got ready for the dinner. They sat my mom and all my host families at a front table with my principal and next to the “English” teacher.

I loved the opportunity to show my mom a tiny part of my everyday life there and she loved it too. Later that night she told me how unreal it was to her, watching me at the school interacting, she said it was just like in the Unites States, I knew where I was going, all the teachers etc. Just instead of English, I was speaking Chinese. I laughed at her because she is right, school is very different in Taiwan compared to the United States, but I was just a s comfortable.

Another everyday experience I shared with my mom was a Rotary meeting. I was a little nervous, I love my sponsor club but they are definitely eccentric. My mom loved them, I got to introduce to everyone but the best part for me was watching her be an honorary exchange student. I attended meetings twice a month and presented once a month with notice, but often they would ask me to talk without warning. Two days before the meeting I asked if my mom would be asked to talk in front of my club, the answer was no, but if I wanted to I could do a brief introduction of her. I introduced her of course, but then they asked her to speak. She has nothing prepared and had no idea what to say, but she did talk. She thanked my club for keeping me safe and for loving me so much. She told them she only been here a short while and now understands why I love Taiwan so much. She did so well, I was extremely proud. It is normal for exchange students, having to present and talk in front of people without a warning. This is a great skill to have to speak to a lot of people with little or no prep time.

My host mom wanted to have a party for my mom. She invited all my host families over and I got to invite some of my friends over. I think I had about 4 friends from school and about 5 of my exchange student friends over that night. Papa ordered us Pizza Hut and my host moms cooked all kinds of food. My mom was at the table with all the adults and us kids were in the living with our pizza. Afterward, she was like that was so hard not being able to really communicate with them. I was like trust me I know, that how it was when I first got here too. During the day before the party, my mom wanted to buy something for my host mom for hosting the party in her honor. I took her to the American store and we bought some wine from the USA. Well, I had to buy the wine because she was clueless about Tawniese money. She took a picture of me buying alcohol for the first time in my life. I was like do not post that picture on Facebook, I am not breaking a D!!!

Another normal life thing I took my mom too was speaking at the elementary school. Each month the exchange students from my club get a topic and we prepare a PowerPoint to share with the students at the school during their English class time and then they practice their English by presenting about the same topic to us in English. This month topic was our childhood games. After we did our presentations we went to music class. The class prepared a song and dance for my mom since they knew she was coming. It was so sweet. Lunch time they ordered us pizza and we eat and talk with the teachers. After we were done at the school, I took mom to see Taipei 101. Then later that night we met up with my exchange friends at Xiamen night market and all went out to eat a Thai restaurant.
My families planned stuff for us all to do together, we went to the oldest street called 九份 (Jiufen), hiked many mountains, shopped, went to tons of temples, gave mom tours of all my homes, they took us to their jobs to show us around, we went to Papas Lions club meeting (he is the president of his club) and we ate so much yummy food. On the tour of my first host home, it was funny how my host mom was saying sorry to my mom because she didn’t know the hot water in my bathroom wasn’t working for the longest time when I first got there. She was like daughter didn’t tell us, we would never make her take a cold shower. Sometimes it the small things like this that make your exchange the best! Afterward, my mom was like you were so comfortable in all your homes. This made me happy because I know I did what I came to do and that was to become a member of each of my families.

The time my mom was in Taiwan was a memory I will never forget. The chance to share with her my life there and my home there was priceless and I will forever be grateful to all of Rotary for my exchange. If you visit your kid on exchange it will be a memory shared together for a lifetime, but remember as much as you are there to visit them, take the time to meet their families and friends. It is so special now to me that my mom knows my other families and my friends. You might end up doing things you could do in the USA with them like going to movies but trust me when you go to the movies with a group of exchange students, you will never be the same again. It really is the simple, everyday moments that make your exchange so special. Thanks again to everyone for all the love and support.

Thu, July 6, 2017

  • Destiny, outbound to Taiwan

So I have just past the half way point of my exchange and this completely blows my mind! It feels like I have only been here for a month, not half a year! This has had me thinking about all the things I am going to miss about my home here in Taiwan.

I will miss my classmates so much. My Taiwanese classmates are funny, and crazy. They are amazing people and I have grown very close with some of them. To all future exchange students: it is harder to get close with your country’s classmates then other exchange students. It takes work, but it is 100% worth it. I may be closer with other exchangers because they understand me, but by making close friends with my Taiwanese classmates makes me more connected to Taiwan as a whole.

I am going to miss my host families. They are like my real family, I can talk to them about anything and I know they love me. This for me is more than just my host mothers and fathers it is also my cousins. My cousins from my second host family are super close with me too. I meet them during Chinese New Year, they showed me all around Penghu and we had some the most fun adventures on vacation together. I got to attend one of my cousin’s weddings! It was beautiful, different than a traditional wedding from back home, my favorite part was the pouring of tea. It was stunning and I am so thankful that I got to take part of my cousins wedding.

I am going to miss my other exchange student friends the most. I see some of them every single day, Sunday through Sunday. Not seeing them is going to be weird. The connection and bond developed between us is unfathomable. They are not my friends, but have become my brother and sisters. I know they understand and I know they have my back no matter what. Whenever I missing the United States, I call them to help cheer me up. Whenever my host mother makes me angry (just like a real mother does….) I call them to complain. They are the same people I call freaking out to when I talk in Chinese to someone and the person actual understand. They are more than just friends they are my family. They say home is not a place but a person. If this is the case, then I have a home in Taiwan, U.S., Poland, Mexico, Brazil, Lithuania, Thailand, Spain, Denmark, pretty much everywhere.

The Holiday seasons has passed! This year Christmas fell on a Sunday, and I was thankful for this because, there is no break Christmas here, if it had been a weekday, I would have been at school! To me that is crazy but it is the culture here. My RYE host district is really amazing though, they arranged a huge party for all of us, and we got to exchange gifts! Then school the next day of course. The next holiday is New Year’s, which was really fun! For New Year’s Taiwan has a huge firework show, they shoot off fireworks from Taipei 101! It was beautiful! The cool thing for exchange student is that all of the exchange students in Taiwan are brought to see the fireworks so, it is a huge party with all of us! We all meet up in a park, close to 101 and had a blast until about four in the morning! After that is goes back to normal life until Chinese New Year! This was amazing, my host family took me traveling. I got to go to the shores of Penghu Island. My host father is fro m there, and his entire family travels back there for Chinese’s New Year every year! I was staying with my host grandparents, which was funny most of the time, because they didn’t speak any English or Chinese….just Taiwanese. The national language is Mandarin Chinese but the older generation of Taiwan only knows Taiwanese, so often if you try to speak to an older person they will understand you but you cannot understand them. It made me feel like I was back to my first few months of exchange trying to play charades to get a glass of water. My cousins took me to the beach and even though it super cold, I spirited into the water. I hadn’t been to a beach until this point and was dying to go, the water is crystal clear, and the entire view was breath-taking. It was nice because from my grandparents’ house I could bike to two completely different types of beach with 5 minutes! Then from Penghu we flew to Kaoshuing, a city in the South of Taiwan to celebrat e with my host mom family! This is the number one place I wanted to go in Taiwan because Keenting, has the aquarium. I love marine life, I was extremely excited to see the Whale Sharks, and sadly the whale shark had been moved because it grew too large. I got to see a lot of other really interesting fish native to Taiwan though, which was really cool. We returned back Taipei via HSR (high speed rail), and break was over the next day. I went back to school and back to everyday life here. That is the craziest part of all this for me, everything feels normal now. Like this is where I have lived my whole life. Yes, things still surprise and confuse me but my normal schedule is just that normal. I wake up, I go to school, I study, I hang out with friends and do family things, everything I did in the United States the only difference is I am in another country.

I just moved in with my third host family this past week, changing host families is really difficult. I have grown very close with my second family and didn’t want to leave. Also moving points out an issue, I have so much stuff! There is no possible way for me to bring all back the United States! My third host family has been amazing so far. I have a sister here! It is the first out of my three families I have a sister! My room here is my favorite I think, it makes me feel like a princess, it is huge, and pink. I have a large make-up desk and full length mirrors. It is awesome. Not to mention the view from my third home, it is breath-taking. I live on the 15 floor now, and I have a private balcony connected to my room. It overlooks a part of Taipei and the view at night is breathtaking. It is like a million dollar view!

My friends and I got to do one of the coolest things ever, we saw a famous actor! Hugh Jackman, he is known for playing Wolverine in X-Men. There was a premier here in Taipei for the newest movie Logan, and we all went. We got to see him in person! It was a really cool experience, there were hundreds of people there. We were lucky to be close to the front so we got to see everything!

I can’t express my gratitude to RYE for this opportunity. It is a once in a lifetime chance that has changed me for the better and I do not want it end ever. Taiwan has become a part of me, it will always be my home.

Lots of love from Taiwan, Destiny

Thu, March 2, 2017

  • Destiny, outbound to Taiwan

Hey everyone! I have reached my three month mark of my exchange and I don’t believe it, it feels like I have only been here a week but yet my whole life too! I have made so many lifelong friendships in such a short period of time. Each day is filled with ups and downs but that what makes being an exchange student so rewarding.

I have really settled into a normal everyday routine, Monday through Friday I attend school, and weekends I spend having adventures with my friends. School is really fun for me, it is so different from the United States. My classes consist of cooking, baking, and beverage classes, my cooking skills have improved quite a bit. Being in cooking classes is really perfect because we are learning how to make traditional Taiwanese dishes, such as moon cake. Moon cake is absolutely delicious! We learned how to make this yummy cake for Mid-Autumn Festival, which was a blast! Basically during the festival you eat moon cake and have a huge BBQ with family and friends! Tuesdays and Thursdays are some of my favorite days of the week, because all exchange students from my district leave school early and head to a university for Chinese lessons. It is one of my favorite days because I get to see everyone from my district but also because I enjoy learning Chinese. For all future exchange students coming to Taiwan, Chinese is difficult but not impossible. I have had an extremely hard time with the language myself but continue to improve every day, understanding more and more. I love my Taiwanese classmates and I have made some very good friends at school.

One of the benefits from bonding with my classmates is, that my class invited me to go on the graduation class trip with them. It was such an honor and blast, it was three full days of traveling around Taiwan with them. I am not even sure of all the places we went, but I can list a few. We went to Raohe which is one of the oldest night markets in Taiwan. We also went to two different amusement parks, one being Janfusan Fancy world, as well as Rosehill, an architecture research center. I will always be thankful and grateful for getting to spend this special time with my classmates.

My host district provides extra classes, events and trips, and are just so sweet and kind. Our classes that they pay for us to have include my extra Chinese lessons but also taekwondo on Saturdays. Taekwondo is a really neat sport and I am excited to perform at the coming of age ceremony soon! My host district goes way beyond what is expected of them by providing so many extras to make sure our time on exchange is perfect. One of our trips they provided was to Pinxi for the lantern festival. It was so much fun, and I truly cannot explain the beauty. We began by hiking up a mountain to look at a waterfall, it was breath-taking. Then we headed to an old street to shop and eat, the old streets and night markets are cool because the culture is so rich there. Then we finished by learning to make lanterns and sending them off. As tradition goes, you write wishes on the side of the lanterns then send them floating off into the sky. All of us got to make two, then when it was dark, our dis trict told us we would be sending up 112 lanterns all at once! It was so amazing and then they shot off fireworks. It was just perfect, and on top of that, they gave all of us a gift! A miniature lantern with our individual names sewn into them! This really must be one of best host districts in the world, and I am so blessed to be a part of it!

I cannot thank RYE 6970 enough for this opportunity and everyone that made my exchange possible! I love you all and thanks again!

Tue, December 6, 2016

  • Destiny, outbound to Taiwan

See you later or good byes are never easy and I had to do mine more than once. The first one was after my going away party on Saturday night and I was schedule to leave Sunday morning. My best friend and my cousin spent the night and we stayed up most of the night, all my friends could come to the airport….the perfect send off. I woke and rushed around to get ready and as we were about to load the car and I got the email I was rebooked for the next morning. I called the airline to find out why a whole 24 hour delay and it was a two and half hour wait to speak to customer service. I was NO, let’s drive to airport and talk to someone there. I could see online other flights later on the day flying to Taiwan with open seats. I get to the airport and wait in line to find out flight number two was already canceled. She gave me a different number to call and said they would know why. And the reason I found out was Typhoons (yes, there was more than one in my way). For two days, I tracked those typhoons until I got to finally leave on Tuesday. A school day for my friends so it was just my mom and dad at the airport to send me off. I got to fly over with the other exchange student from our district, Hayden Hulihan. Of course with so many flights canceled and delays we didn’t get to sit next to each other but we really did not care as long as we were on our way. We finally arrived in Taiwan on Wednesday night! I was welcomed with a huge group at the airport, we took a lot of photos together. Then we went to dinner, my host mother ordered me some strange sea food dish platter, it was okay…mostly gross and I almost threw up. The first thing on the dish I tried was the best, a little chewy and I think it was octopus. After we ate we went to my first home here in Taiwan, where a party was waiting for me with another group of people that were waiting for my arrival. My host mom was beyond stress and worried about me making it to Taiwan and I think she was more upset about my delay in arrival then me. At the party I meet three other exchange students staying in the same area as me, two will go to the same school as me. I was so tired but wasn’t allowed to sleep until later that night.

The next day my host mother woke me up so early, and fed me and sent me out the door with my host brother. It was a crazy first day in Taiwan! It started with me almost getting hit by a scooter, we walked to 7-11 but there are no sidewalks so you walk on the street with the speeding cars and the crazy scooters. At 7-11 we meet up with other the other exchange students, we got on a bus, then switched buses, and arrived at the National Palace Museum, it was so pretty! Beautiful mountains in every direction. The museum had so many cool things, but no photographs were allowed. The exhibits ranged from fans, digital art, to furniture and bronze pieces. After looking at everything in the museum we got on a bus, when we got off we got on the MRT. The MRT is so fast, we had to switch trains too, but when we got off the MRT we were at a night market. It was really interesting. We arrived early so it wasn’t that busy but later into the evening it got very busy. There were so many strange things, one of the strangest was a game. The game was for little kids, but they were like hooking real live shrimp and turtles. I felt bad for the shrimp and turtles. I saw a lot of squid in many different forms. I tried new drink, it was banana milk, and it was so delicious! My first full day in Taiwan was crazy and fun! I am beyond thankful to family and to RYE 6970 for this once in life opportunity.

Wed, September 21, 2016


Hayden - Taiwan

Hometown: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
School: Ponte Vedra High
Sponsor District: 6970
Sponsor Club: Ponte Vedra Beach
Host District: 3480
Host Club: New Taibay

My Bio

Nín hǎo! My name is Hayden Hulihan and I will be going to Taiwan as a Rotary Exchange Student in 2016-2017. I am fifteen years old and was born in Jacksonville and have lived herethere all my life. Growing up I went to a catholic grade school and am currently attending Ponte Vedra High as a freshman. At school I like to help create sets for drama productions our school holds every year. At home I also enjoy to sketch, paint, and about everything else that is artistic. Books are one of my favorite pastimes. They help me relax and are always fun to read. I also enjoy doing special effects makeup on myself. It is when I create some gash or wound or even a different face structure on top of my own face to create monsters and creatures. My parents are divorced, at my dad’s I have four siblings two brothers and two sisters and at my moms I have two siblings one brother and one sister. My dad remarried about two years ago. It is fun always having company at my dad’s with all my family but, it is nice to get alone time at my mom’s. I wanted to become an exchange student because other cultures and the lifestyles of other people have always been interesting and exciting to me. Rotaty has given me the opportunity to experience it all first hand. I am so lucky that I have the privilege to go to Taiwan as a Foreign Rotaty Exchange Student!

Journals: Hayden – Taiwan 2016-17

  • Hayden, outbound to Taiwan

I have now been in Taiwan for more than half a year and in retrospect a half of a year is only a small fraction of my life but I am certain that this year has been one if not the most influential few months of my whole life and life to come. Now that I have been here so long nothing is exotic anymore. I live my every day life normally, but just because nothing is exotic that does not mean my love for it has been lost or I am tired of being here. Some days I do take for granted, but every night that I lay down in my bed I remember that I will not be here forever and that I need to cherish every moment I have here. My time in Taiwan is dwindling with every day that goes by and I know that I will have to return to Florida and fall back into my daily life as I have here. However, while I am in Taiwan I will make sure that I live every day to its fullest and will leave an impression in Taiwan and I hope I will leave with the people I love sending me off, just as my family in Florida sent me off to Taiwan.

March was a somewhat uneventful month except for the few Rotary meetings and activities, but everyone both in Rotary and in my school, ZhongHe Senior High school, are preparing for our two biggest trips. My Rotary district will take us on a trip to a small island off the coast of Taiwan. My class in ZhongHe will take a bus to an amusement park on the other end of the country and we will also visit one of the most famous beaches. I have to say truthfully I am more excited for my class trip. This is because with the other exchange students I did not have to work hard to befriend them because we all spoke English and connected over being in a foreign country, but with my Taiwanese friends I had to work much harder to befriend them so because of that we have a closer and stronger bond.

Fri, April 14, 2017

  • Hayden, outbound to Taiwan

Hi, This month of February was probably the most exciting month of my exchange. For the first time I celebrated the Chinese New Year. Imagine our normal New Year but with more colour, excitement, and tradition. My family and I went to a traditional New Year Market. They will sell traditional Taiwanese medicine and red envelopes. Red envelopes or Hong Bao in Chinese are traditionally given out on the Chinese New Year to family members and friends. They are a small red envelope that is filled with money. Red is the colour or good luck and fortune so by giving a red envelope you are also giving them good luck and fortune for the whole year. The week after friends will go out shopping together with all their new spending money.

We also had our Chinese class midterm this month. The test was to gauge how well our Chinese has improved over the course of a few months. Many of us improved greatly either in writing the characters or in the spoken language. This is because some will find it easier to learn the Characters because they look similar to pictures. While others learn the spoken language faster because they think the characters are too complicated or there are too many to learn easily. Writing Chinese characters can also be an art form. In Taiwanese culture as well as most Eastern Asian culture literature is an art form worthy of a spot in a museum. I have been learning calligraphy for a few months now and I am proud to say that I have improved greatly. Calligraphy takes patience and immense amount of practice.

School here has only gotten better and better because my Chinese skills have gotten increasingly better. In school I am not expected to participate in general classes but I help in English class very often. My friendships here are amazing and I will keep them even when I am in the U.S. All in all my exchange has only gotten better.

Thu, March 2, 2017

  • Hayden, outbound to Taiwan

I am now halfway into my first two months in Taiwan and I want to tell everyone about every feeling, every breath, and everything I have seen but if I did I could go on for weeks. Since I have been here I have been incredibly busy all the time, even now I am sitting in a 7/11 eating my lunch as I wait for the bus. Rotary tells us to say yes to everything and you might think that would become troublesome and annoying after a while but it has been the complete oppsite for me. I have said yes to every opportunity that I can, last week I even agreeded to dance in a school compentiton even though I have never danced for more than a minuet in my life. Another time when I said yes that suprised my family in Floroda was when I got my haircut. I have always liked longer hair and would hate to get it cut and my family definitely did not like it but the first week I was in Taiwan I cut off almost 3 inches. There is one thing that I have noticed to hold true for most Asian countries is that the food is extremely different than Western food. There are many things here that Westerners would think is appaling or just odd like; chicken’s feet or head, dried squid tentacles, or stinky tofu to name a few. I have also noticed that my host family will not tell me what something is before I try it because they know it will affect how much I like it. One of my current favorite foods is black tofu but it is actually cubes of spicy duck blood. I know that if my host family had told me what it was before I had it I would not have liked it.

Many people in Florida told me that many people in Taiwan are more quiet and reserved especially around foreigners but since I have been here everyone is always welcoming, happy, and energetic. My classmates the first day had not expected me to know any Chinese so when I would say something they would get very excited and have me repeat it for their friends and the teachers. In my class we have a system where if I don’t know something in chinese they will tell me and I will help explain harder words and help them pronounce the words. This month, October, has been the busiest month so far because I am preparing games and activities for Halloween. Everyone here knows of Halloween but it is a very minor holiday but they know that it is very big in America. They wanted me to show them what a typical Halloween would be like for me in America. It has been extremely hard trying to find decorations, candy, and costumes here because as I said it is a small holiday. All in all I am extremely excited for what the rest of this month and the rest of my exchange will have in store for me. I can see my bus now so I need to end my journal here.

Mon, October 17, 2016

  • Hayden, outbound to Taiwan

My first month in Taiwan has been without a doubt the best, busiest, most awe-inspiring month of my life. As soon as I stepped off the plane and into the place that I would soon call home I was met with love and hospitality. Taiwanese people pride themselves as being one of the most hospitable countries in the world. I was the last student from my club ti arrive in Taiwan but that was no problem. It also meant that I had three days until my first day of school. The first three days flew by so quickly, everyday I would wake up early and go out with my sister and brother. As I went to bed before the first day of school I remember being terrified. I was so afarid that no one would talk to me and I would be outcasted. The day of course went much different. I first arrived at my class and our English teacher said a few words to me then asked of I would introduce myself, so I said the introduction that I had memorized in Chinese and everyone in the class br oke out in to cheers and applause. The English teacher later told me that they didn’t expect me to speak any Chinese. After that day everything was very smooth. I started to develop a somewhat normal routine: leaving for school at 7:00 and getting home at around 6:30-7:00 depending on the day. I have done more in Taiwan in a month than I have in three months in America. Since I have been here I have only woken up past 7:30 on two occasiaons. Every day other than that I am always doing someting with either my family, my host club, or studying. Thinking about what I was going to do in Taiwan I would have never guessed what my life is like now. My school is from 7:30-5:00 but most days I will stay after school and learn dances from my classmates. We will be presenting these dances to the rest of our grade in a couple weeks! Taiwan so far has been an amazing and eye opening experience that I wish I could share with everyone. One day I hope that RYE can provide the same amazing oppo rtunity to another student like me

Mon, October 17, 2016


Hutch - Italy

Hometown: Saint Augustine, Florida
School: Saint Augustine
Sponsor District: 6970
Sponsor Club: St. Augustine
Host District: 2110
Host Club: Palermo Nord

My Bio

Ciao! My name is Hutchinson VanDyke, I prefer to be called Hutch, and I am from Saint Augustine, Florida, USA. I am 17 years old and attend Saint Augustine High School where I am enrolled in the AICE program. Of all my courses in school, Calculus and Environmental Science are my favorites. In my spare time, I am a volunteer coach at my local middle school and AAU Basketball club, which I have done since I quit playing basketball in 11th grade. Also, I enjoy going surfing and trying to go swim out and play with the dolphins. One of my major hobbies is listening and searching for new music. I love sitting down with my friend and vibing to a new jam. I’m open to all genres, but primarily I listen to indie alternative, punk/post-punk rock, and some rap. My love for traveling started at a young age as my family was constantly taking trips all over the continent, which inspired me to go to Peru this spring with a school group and two week exchange to Aviles, Spain as part of my town’s City Sister Organization. Excitement rushes over me as I look ahead to spending the next year of my life in one of the most beautiful countries, the friendships that will be made, and the challenges overcome, ci vediamo!

Journals: Hutch – Italy 2016-17

  • Hutch, outbound to Italy

Well, on the 10th of March will be my 6th month here. Time is really starting to exponentially accelerate lately, giving me anxiety if I can do all that I want to accomplish in time :), but I’ll find a way. These past couple of months I have concentrated on understanding my family better and working with them to build a better relationship between us. Through these trials, I have noticed how much easier it is to communicate with a person when you just tell them how you feel. This of course may seem to be the most obvious choice in hindsight or from the outside observer, but during a moment of discussion of emotion, the idea to tell them how I actually feel never came to me. instead changing subject or clamming up was what I typically chose. And now I change subject, I recently had a chapter in History class on Political Philosophers such as Rousseau and Locke and I’m glad I paid attention in those lectures, as I thoroughly enjoyed learning a bout their works, and I plan to read more about them. Also, we had an interrogation, which is like an oral test in Italian school, in English class, which means for me that I have to do it in Italian, as the rest of the class does it in English, which they have studied for 4 years now. The selected people had to summarize the plot of Robinson Crusoe, and talk about the author a little bit. Out of the 7 people that had to do it, I did the best out of all of them, in terms of grammar, vocabulary, and subject knowledge. That was a good day, to come from where I started to there, a nice benchmark to measure myself. Also my pasta is getting good man

Thu, March 2, 2017

  • Hutch, outbound to Italy

About to finish my fourth month here on the 10th, time here slowly accelerating as the first month felt like several lifetimes and the last month passed by rather quickly. By far the biggest change was of the family. My family in America is very very relaxed and lax of enforcing rules, as my Italian family is just about the polar opposite. This was a challenge for me at first to adapt to having actual expectations around the house, but I overcame and I’m glad there are so tight and strict because it’s a form of parenting which I never accepted and it is helping me be a more disciplined and attentive person. The Italian is coming, my ability is inconsistent but my speaking is reliant on confidence more than anything. I have never felt more ALIVE

Fri, January 6, 2017


Jonathan - Brazil

Hometown: Saint Augustine, Florida
School: Saint Augustine High
Sponsor District: 6970
Sponsor Club: Sunrise Rotary
Host District: 4650
Host Club: Timbo-Perola do Vale

My Bio

Olá! meu nome é Jonathan Kyle and I am an exchange student to Brazil for 2016-2017. I come from the small town of Aurora, Indiana, and in that small town I lived on a large farm. My parent were never afraid of me going off too far or hurting myself (at least they never showed it). I have always been an adventurer as long as I can remember exploring woods since I could walk. My I moved to Saint Augustine when I was the age of 7 and have loved it in my little historical heaven. I am a sophomore at Saint Augustine High with most of my classes being honors. I love paintball and extreme sports in general. I’m willing to try anything that seems fun. I like to cook a little every now and again, but I get frustrated when it doesn’t go the way I expected. World Travel is in my family as my sister was in the Peace Corps and both my parents are ex-Marines. I am stoked to be going to Brazil as it was on my list but even if it wasn’t the few things I have learned so far about it seem so awesome. I am truly thankful for Rotary and my parents for giving me this amazing opportunity to become fluent in a new culture and learn to love a new type of people. Obrigado!

Journals: Jonathan – Brazil 2016-17

  • Jonathan, outbound to Brazil

I can’t believe it’s almost Christmas. Time flies in Brazil! It has become increasingly difficult to speak and type in English so I will apologize in advance for my grammatical errors. Luckily I have spell check still. The culture here in Brazil is very different than that in the US and as I have been here 4 months I have learned a lot about this Brazilian culture. Just like the US, Brazil is a very large country with many sub-cultures and different social norms so when I speak of my opinions and experiences with Brazilians I am not talking about all of Brazil or all of the Brazilians in general.

My Portuguese is coming along quite well. I have had my first dream in Portuguese a couple of weeks ago. I can understand people and their conversations in the streets when I walk by without trying too hard. I also have to write journals for my Rotary district here in Brazil and I completed the second one in complete Portuguese. The Brazilians here never think that I’m an American! When I talk to someone I have never met before and they notice my accent they always ask if I’m from Portugal or Argentina. I consider that a compliment because those countries are a lot more similar than the US is. What’s even better is to see their reaction when I explain how I learned how to speak almost fluently in four months.

It’s amazing what just talking can get you, all the things you can learn. I was on the way back from a Rotary RYLA event in the largest city in my state, Joinville, on the bus a met a German man. We talked for the whole two hours to his city and I got his contact and he said that if I was ever in the city I could come over. This is just one of the examples but for sure it’s better to talk than just stay on facebook. Thank God my phone was dead.
I changed host families at the end of December. I have my parents who each have their own business. I have a 19 year old host brother, his name is “Deyvid”. I also have a 17 year old host sister, Paola. She already went on exchange to Thailand the last year. I’m liking my new host family, but I feel more like a friend here than an actual part of the family. I still talk to my first host family and sometimes eat lunch with them.

School’s out for summer here in South America! I don’t have to go back till February. I still go to the gym but I sometimes get a little depressed because my small city doesn’t have much to do. I like to travel to the other cities where my friends stay. Overall, I’m still alive, enjoying Brazil and all of its differences. Missing my family, friends, and people in The States,

Until next time.

Fri, December 23, 2016

  • Jonathan, outbound to Brazil

Oiii everyone in the U.S. bom dia! It’s really crazy for me thinking nearly two months of my exchange are already over and I’m writing my first journal. Of course first I’d like to thank Rotary and my host club Sunrise Rotary Club of St. Aug. I can’t express how much this has impacted my life already because even I don’t know exactly.

For all of the future outbound exchangers who will be going through these journals excited you just got chosen to go on exchange CONGRATS! I’ll be writing my journal keeping you guys in mind. The first week of exchange was the most stressful, difficult week of my life. I finished packing my bags the day before I left for exchange, which was fine I didn’t forget anything. The next day, at the airport, I said goodbye to my family and took a leap of faith to get on the plane. If you expect to study your language on the plane before you land, don’t, it’s not going to happen. I wasn’t very nervous. I was prepared. I had talked to my host family and I had a Rotex who had been to Miami on exchange waiting for me with them at the airport. I landed in Sao Paulo and had a one hour layover to get to my next gate. Sao Paulo is a fairly huge airport, without a metro like Atlanta, that makes it an even bigger airport. I went through customs with my luggage and they st opped me… I had no idea why, but I’m a calm person so I wasn’t worried or stressed. I opened my bags and let them look.

I was told Brazilian customs officers were mean to Americans because American customs are mean to everyone, luckily I didn’t have this experience. However, my customs officer didn’t speak english. They were looking at the two brand new Iphone SE’s and the Apple TV I was bringing for my sister’s friends (Brazilians) in a fairly close city to where I’m staying in SC. I had no idea what was going on at this point. The woman didn’t speak english, I was trying to explain that I was just an exchange student in the best Portuguese I had, I swore I wasn’t smuggling them in. (Apple products in BR cost 2x as much) My one hour was running out fast, she was going so slow! I showed her my ticket and pointed at the time on her computer and she just shrugged her shoulders. I started getting desperate, tapping, and sweat ing. I started thinking irrationally, looking over at the guards contemplating if I could just grab my bags and run past them. Maybe they’d let me go if I told them Donald Trump was my Uncle? I started making promises to God, “I swear God, I will convert every local I see.” All these things were rushing through my head as I watched her type on her computer. She gave me a paper saying I had to pay the equivalent to $400 in fines. I didn’t have that kind of money! I had my $300 emergency funds and a little money for food after being ripped off at the exchange counter. I had 17 minutes till my flight left, I didn’t even know where the gate was. Finally I just asked if I could leave my bags there. Now all that I thought was I could not miss my flight. One shoe untied, hiking backpack slung over my shoulder, blazer unbuttoned, Florida hat on backwards, I was running as fast as I could through the largest airport in South America. I look at one of the screens and it says my flights name and “FINAL CALL” in large red letters. I immediately start regretting not working out more over the summer. After running a 5k, coming in last place for my plane I made it on, barley. All I could think, sitting in between two Brazilian men, was, “how am I going to explain this?” Moral of the story, if you’re going to smuggle in electronics make sure you have more than a hour layover and take them out of the boxes. I didn’t stress when I was on the ground. I knew there was nothing more I could do but wait and trust. My host family and Rotary were amazing throughout the entire process, trying to get my bags back. My host dad who is a Rotarian, and doesn’t speak english, couldn’t really understand why I was so dumb, but paid the initial fines anyway. Later my sister’s friends paid him back anyway and said even with all the fines it was still cheaper. This was just one of the initial challenges exchange had for me.

Over the next couple of weeks my Portuguese was getting better. I study almost everyday in school when I couldn’t understand what the teachers were saying. The kids in my school were really welcoming. My school is really small with just 300 students. I believe there are two locations but the high school is on top of a cell phone store and other smaller stores next the the largest street in the city. My city is not a large one. I live in Timbó with a population of a little less than 40,000. I go to the gym almost everyday and have volleyball practice every Monday.

I thought going on exchange would be hard, but mostly I thought it would be a vacation. Youth exchange is not a vacation many days are spent bored waiting for the weekend, and school is just school, not very different from the US. One of the most important parts of exchange is keeping a positive attitude and knowing even though you don’t know when or where things will get better things always work out. There’s so much more, but it would take me all day to write it, and I’m in Brazil! I’m not going to stay in my room all day and type. Peace!

Mon, October 17, 2016


Julia - Japan

Hometown: St. Johns, Florida
School: Creekside
Sponsor District: 6970
Sponsor Club: Bartram Trail
Host District: 2690
Host Club:

My Bio

Hello! My name is Julia Voss and I am overjoyed to say that I will be spending the next year of my life in Japan. I currently live in St. John’s with my parents and our two dogs, and I have an older sister, Danae, who is 26 and lives in South Korea. I am a 17 year old senior at Creekside High School and will be graduating in May. I am originally from the state of Michigan, but my family and I have moved around a lot since I was young, and now that we’ve ended up in Florida, I’m sure we’re here to stay! At school, I was a member of our marching band’s Colorguard for two years, which was some of the best times and memories I had in high school. Unfortunately, I had to resign from it to keep up with my studies, but I am still very supportive of them and I can’t wait to see their new performances! In my free time, I enjoy spending time with my friends. We play cards, listen to lots of music, and watch many movies and television shows together. I will miss them a lot when I’m gone, but I know I will love my new friends just as much and will have many good times with them as well. My hope for myself is to meet many new people and to become a great ambassador for America. I would like to thank everyone in Rotary for giving me this opportunity to represent not only myself, but also our great country and Rotary itself.

Journals: Julia – Japan 2016-17

  • Julia, outbound to Japan

I’m back again with the great news that there is indeed no word count limit on these journal posts. So now, without further ado, I will continue my fascinating takes on the latest and greatest trendy fads from Timbuktu-ken, Japan!

As I’m sure you can infer from my previous journals, I am hosted in the least populated prefecture of Japan. Yes, out of the 47 prefectures, Tottori is #47 when listed by population. However, where it is absolutely, without a doubt, #1 on the list of “least exciting prefectures”! So I would say to not expect any heart-stopping tales of adventure from me, but, like I’ve said before, where I lack in exciting trips, I learned a great deal about myself, the Japanese, and human beings in general. I’d also like to point out how residing in or near an “exciting” place has plenty of cons; think of living near Disney world (traffic, tons of people, fireworks every night). In no way am I ungrateful to anyone who has played any parts in my exchange life, and I place no blame on Tottori itself (due to the fact that it’s an inanimate object and can’t help that it’s boring). As a matter of fact, I’m very grateful to Rotary for giving me this opportunity to experience a truly authentic Japanese lifestyle.
But okay, enough about that, and back to my recollections of life in Japan. I think I ended my last journal with Japanese music, so I suppose the next step would be to talk about the wonder that is Japanese television. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, “Oh, don’t they only watch those silly anime cartoon shows?” First of all, no. Second of all, they watch the almost exact opposite. Most Japanese television that isn’t your average news/weather channel (of which there are many to choose from), is different “variety” shows, where a group of 6 to 8 old men talk amongst themselves about the average news/weather channels that you purposefully skipped over. To me, there is nothing quite as boring as TV in Japan. Yes, late at night, early in the morning, and on channels specified for children, there may be some anime or actually entertaining shows on, but never anything on during a convenient time, for example, say, when you get home from school, where you just finished listening to people talk for 7 hours. Actually, I have a specific memory from my first host family, where we were all in the living room during primetime, and they were actively engaged in watching a show about tea leaves. Not about cooking them, or harvesting them even, just about tea leaves, from what I could gather. And unless I am missing out on some sort of symbolism or whatnot, I could not understand why this program existed… But, what some people find interesting can be completely opposite than what others do. If I had to put an extreme label on my preferred entertainment viewing programs, it would have to be “big explosions and bigger explosions”; so it’s not that hard to see why I was less than impressed with Japanese TV.

On the topic of furniture, I feel I should also mention that a fair amount of Japanese people do not sleep on beds. A “futon” in Japan is a rectangular stuffed mat of various sizes and thicknesses, usually stored into a closet during the day and rolled out at nighttime (unless if you’re like me, who is too lazy to fit it back into the closet and opt to leave it and just shut your bedroom door instead). Two out of the seven host families I’ve had slept on futons, and some of them can be really quite nice and enjoyable, but I have had the unfortunate experience with futons that were too soft or not thick enough, which is the basic equivalent of sleeping directly on the floor. Not the best for people with a bad back (or bones in general, really).

Ironically, the Japanese have invented one of the most comfortable and convenient pieces of furniture I’ve ever encountered; the “kotatsu” table. Generally small and rectangular in shape, the kotatsu table top is set upon several blankets, under which is a heater built into the table frame. Not only can you maneuver your way underneath it for a warm nap, but it also makes any sort of table top activity 100% more comfortable. Not allowed to eat on them though, unfortunately.

Another great thing about where I live are the “onsen” baths. These are very large public bathhouses, usually sourced from a natural hot spring in the area. I love going to onsens, and I know that it’s something that I’ll miss when I return to Florida, but I know plenty of foreigners who outright refuse to go to them. This is where ill stress on the “public” part of an onsen, as they are giant knee or thigh deep pools that everyone sits in together. Of course, almost all of them are segregated by gender, but they are usually at least 5 or so other people in the bath with you (and yes, we don’t bathe in our clothes here either). We hardly ever talk to amongst ourselves, and plenty of them are very elderly, so it’s not so uncomfortable after a while. This was really strange for me at first, but I came to genuinely appreciate the peaceful atmosphere.

I got a writer’s block trying to think of some other furniture, so now I think I’ll talk about transportation. City buses are extremely widespread here, and trains connect almost every major and minor cities together. This is all and well, but what really surprised me was how incredibly expensive transportation is in Japan. While riding local trains is relatively cheap, riding a bus will cost you your pinky finger. It cost around $8.00 for me to take an 11 minute bus ride to school every day. Every day.

Speaking of school, yes, I do have school on Saturdays. To be fair, its only a half day, but it still means waking up at 6:30am. We also have three separate pairs of school shoes, our outdoor shoes that we use while walking to school, our sandals, which are plastic slip ons that loosely resemble those Nike sandals that men usually wear with white knee high socks, and our indoor shoes, which are sneakers to be used only in the gymnasium. There are also “toilet” sandals, which are worn in an obvious place. Class sizes are usually around 40 students, who all stay in the same room with rotating teachers. When the bell rings for class to start, we all stand at attention, ask the teacher to, well, teach us, and bow, while at the ending bell, we repeat the same gestures but thank the teacher instead. It was a little hard to get used to at first, but it comes easy enough after a while. What I never got used to is bowing to and greeting every administrator whenever you see them outside of class. Frankly, there’s a lot of teachers and very few places to go in my school, so no matter when or where you are, you are expected to drop whatever you’re doing and formally address said teacher. This was really kind of annoying at first, especially because I almost always forgot and the teachers had to remind me again and again. However, the more elite athletes do things a little differently than the other students. Where we are supposed to say a formal greeting, they are supposed to formally greet teachers by standing at attention and shouting a shortened form of a formal hello. What they say ends up sounding a bit like a large dog’s bark, and makes me jump every time. Now as to why teachers want to be addressed this way is beyond my understanding, but it is the way it is, I guess.

Making friends in my school has been, well, extremely difficult for me. It’s not that Japanese students are unfriendly or mean, they just won’t go out of their way to talk to you, especially if you have only a limited knowledge of their language. The English level in Japan is significantly lower than any other developed eastern Asian country, and it certainly shows when it comes to communicating. We actually have a very ironically named English “communication” class, where we listen to Google Translate-esc recordings and work out of a textbook. Again, “communication” class. Every single student that talked to me within my first two or three months of school only did so to practice their English, or to ask me to help them study or answer a homework question. Not that that’s a complaint of mine, I love having any reason to talk to my peers, it’s just not what I expected at all. Communicating with them in Japanese is incredibly difficult, because of their social hesitance, and my social anxiety of making a mistake. Here’s a few examples, just to name a few; the time when I was talking to a classmate and accidentally called him “disgusting”, much to his obvious dismay, and the time that a boy from a different class was introducing himself to me and I accidentally mixed up his nickname and the word for “garbage”, or the time when I mistook the word for “hate” as the word for “pretty” and ended up telling some acquaintances that I hated flowers.

Finding a decent icebreaker was difficult too, but I found that mixing up their names with other somewhat similar sounding English or Japanese words worked fairly well. Introductions where names went from “Mami” to “Mame” (“beans”), “Inage” to “Unagi” (“eel”), and “Kawano” to “Kawado” (Japanized version of “coward”), made for good memories and stories, especially after the fact.

Just a little “F.Y.I.” for my readers, it takes me several days to write these journal entries, and since I started this one, my farewell party has passed. Saying goodbye to everyone was a lot harder than I thought it’d be. With less than a week left of my exchange, I have come to truly appreciate the relationships I forged here, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant they were. I think the hardest part about returning to America is knowing that there’s a very real chance that I may never see some of these people again in this lifetime. Of course, I have made the decision to return, but as to how or when, I’ve no solid plan. Through all the ups and downs of my exchange, there have been a select few people who have stuck with me and have been by my side, and they will always be with me in my treasured memories.

As much as I hate ending on a sad note, I need to get back to what little is left of my life here. I may write one more journal on the plane ride home, but I won’t make any promises. If I don’t, here’s my thanks to Rotary, my family, and everyone who helped make this life for me here a reality. And thank you, reader, for giving my whiny ramblings your attention and making it worth writing these journals, and I hope you got something out of reading them. Goodbye for now, and thank you again.

Tue, May 30, 2017

  • Julia, outbound to Japan

For the future outbounds to Japan, and for those who are curious enough, today I will write about average life for me here in Japan. As a disclaimer: This is purely my own experience here, and everyone should know and understand that a student’s life on exchange is always unique to only them, so everything I write here certainly will not apply directly to any other student, present or future, only truly to myself. So take my reflections and explanations with that in mind, also knowing that behaviors and trends change almost constantly, so it is very likely that a some of my observations will be outdated by the time any of you readers actually go to Japan (or not, whichever).

So, I will begin with some of the first things that surprised me when I first arrived, stuff that I hadn’t heard of before in my pre-exchange research. Stuff that I hadn’t thought of studying about my host country, because everyone already knows that Japanese people take off their shoes before they enter a house. First, the Japanese drive on the left side of the road. If you’re anything like me, this would be the kind of thing that you would just assume you wouldn’t need to know about, but I almost had a meltdown on the way to my first host family’s house from the airport. Their roads are also only just as big for a compact car to fit, but that doesn’t stop the Japanese from driving at face-melting speeds up and down mountains. Ah yes, the mountains. Allow me to assure you, unless you live in a huge, leveled city, you can and will get violently carsick from being almost literally thrown around in the backseat of someone driving up or down a mountain side, while also questioning whether or not they may be blindfolded and attempting to use echolocation to drive. In Japan, seatbelts are not only a necessity, but also a luxury you will come to truly appreciate.

Something I also did an extremely poor job of researching before arriving was Japanese cuisine. Now, I think it’s safe to assume that most people can think of only ramen and sushi when pondering Japanese foods. First of all, no. No, they’re not. Sure, they eat a dish similar to what you consider to be ramen sometimes, but sushi as it is in America doesn’t not exist in Japan. The Japanese eat many foods that I didn’t even know were edible in the first place. I’ll name some of the more common foods eaten here. For starters, Japanese people eat a bowl of rice with every meal, unless they’re eating noodles. For breakfast, a “nattou” rice bowl is very common. Nattou is a food that is entirely unique to south and eastern Asia, and you’ll soon understand why. The nattou dish is made of fermented soybeans, which are known for their pungent (eyebrow burning) smell and glue like texture. It is almost always mixed with soy sauce and yellow mustard to “kill the smell”, and dumped on a bowl of rice, for “added nutrition”. Now, as to why they eat this… food(?) is a complete mystery to me. Being around it for several months has made me somewhat resistant to the smell, but what really gets to me is that they slurp it up, not unlike how an American child eats spaghetti. Upon arriving in Japan, you will come to find that the Japanese are incredibly loud eaters, and often do things that would be considered appalling in average American table manners. They hold their plates up to their faces, so as to slurp more accurately, and are not afraid to talk with their mouths full of rice. They also can slurp literally anything, to the point where it’s almost somewhat impressive. For a mid-meal snack, they eat “onigiri”, which is normally just a ball of plain white rice, sometimes wrapped in seaweed. Again, not my ideal image of a “snack” food, but this one I easily got used to, because it’s a common sight in Japanese anime and comic books. For lunch, Japanese students make very elaborate “bentou” boxes, of rice, some form of protein, eggs, and pickled vegetables. This is something a few of you might be familiar with, but sometimes the contents of these boxes can seem like culinary artwork. However, of course, I am far too lazy to have a Master Chef session in the morning before school, so I still just settle for a plain peanut butter sandwich. Explaining dinner foods is where things get complicated. This is normally the meal where noodles might be eaten. Popular noodle dishes are “yakisoba”, thin spaghetti-like wheat noodles in oyster sauce served cold, “udon”, thick earthworm-like egg noodles in various savory broths, and the famous “ramen”, which, in Japan, is made of long wavy noodles, usually in a “miso” or soy sauce broth, topped with slices of eggs, pork, and bamboo shoots, and al so may have chopped leeks, bean sprouts, nattou, seaweed, or pink fish cakes. Another popular dinner food, one that might be good eating for some Americans, is “yakiniku”, which is slices of meat, chicken, or pork and vegetables on a hibachi table. This is a dish I actually enjoy, but for most people, all seems well at first, but then you start to wonder, where exactly is this meat from? A question you quickly learn should not be asked out loud, else you want to lose your appetite. Common meats eaten in yakiniku, other than slices of normally eaten areas, are tongue, intestine, liver, gizzard, diaphragm, tripe, tail meat, and heart. Bon appétit. Tofu is also a common dinner staple in Japan. It’s almost always eaten plain, and sometimes cold. It can also be deep fried, but with the fried “skin” removed and put into either hot or cold soup. Sometimes this same “skin” in used to wrap small balls of rice and is eaten like sushi. I’m not a fan of this particular form of tofu, and to me it tastes like what I imagine eating a wet toilet paper roll tastes like, but I do know some other foreigners here that enjoy it. The Japanese also almost never drink plain water, only “ocha” or “matcha”, which are bitter green and brown leaf teas, respectively. These are the “basic” drinks of Japan, meaning if you go to someone’s house or a restaurant, they will only ask if you which kind of tea you want, and not bring a glass of water. I found this incredibly difficult to cope with for a long time, almost as difficult as it was for my hosts to comprehend why, on a hot day with no air conditioning, I could possibly ask for a glass of cold water and not for a cup of hot tea? Totally unheard of.

Now, I’ll start with my surprises at school. I’m sure at least some of you know that Asian students clean the school every day after the last class, but I’m also sure that most of you don’t know exactly how much of the school we clean. Every single room in the school is swept, dusted, and wiped down daily, sometimes by students who don’t even use said classroom. They also clean the bathrooms, wipe the floors with rags (think Spirited Away), and sort the trash. All in their school uniforms, and it usually takes around 15 minutes to do. And allow me to rant a bit about my school uniform. The boy’s uniform is mostly the same throughout Japan; a white polo shirt, a black button up jacket, and long black pants. Girl’s uniforms are different for almost every school, and I just so happened to go to the school with the most matronly style I’d thought possible, coming in right behind Mother Theresa herself. Everything is made almost two sizes too big, with a meter long navy skirt that appears to be made out of theater drapes, and a frumpy white polo that makes even the tiniest of girls look like Violet Beauregard from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Now, I am not even remotely close to being considered a “small” size, so I went to my first day of school feeling roughly the size of the moon.

Also, if I remember correctly, it’s a common stereotype that Japanese people have bad dental hygiene. While yes, sometimes they appear to need the assistance of some braces (but what nationality of people doesn’t have this problem?), they by no means have “bad teeth”. After every meal, almost every Japanese person I know spends at least 5 minutes brushing their teeth. I had a host grandmother who would actually brush hers for around 20 minutes, and use two different tooth brushes at the same time. This is something I found quite comical, of course, but the Japanese are very serious about dental hygiene, and many of my host mothers wouldn’t let me go to bed or to school without brushing my teeth first.

Japanese people also listen to a surprising amount of music from the Beatles. I hear John Lennon’s “Imagine” much more than I had ever heard before in America. Yes, the “Miku” vocaloids (animated pop singers) are somewhat popular, but only with younger girls and sometimes with middle aged men. Similar to how My Little Pony is in America, I guess. However, Japanese pop music (J-POP) is incredibly popular with almost all ages. Most American people couldn’t name a single J-POP band, and allow me to shed some light on why that is, in my opinion. In short, J-POP band names are by far the most ridiculous, downright cringe-worthy uses of English that I have ever seen, not just in Japan either. Popular bands include “GReeeeN”, “SMAP” (just say it out loud), “Bump of Chicken”, “fripSide”, and the “Kinki Kids” (again, out loud), to name just a few. Now imagine trying to talk to a native English spe aker about J-POP, and telling them that your favorite band is called “Bump of Chicken”. Now you know why you don’t see much of J-POP outside of Asia.

There’s so much more that I want to write about, but I’m afraid of there being a word count limit on the journal page. I guess I’ll go try and see. Hopefully I’ll have a new journal up soon.

Thu, May 18, 2017

  • Julia, outbound to Japan

Hello all, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? I don’t remember the last time I wrote a journal, so I’m very sorry for that. Anyways, things have been a challenge here since the earthquake (which I’m kind of certain was my last journal). I will have had 7 host families by my departure date, which is currently scheduled for June 1st. Moving around so much has made for a unique experience for me. Among the places and people I’ve lived with were an elderly couple, a single mother, an elderly single mother, a college aged older brother, an 8 year old brother, a 10 year old sister, an apartment above a restaurant, in a Buddhist temple, in a shared bedroom, and in three different cities. I’ve ridden trains for the first time, and have walked so far that I wore a hole into the bottom of my hiking boots. I’ve sang in karaoke bars, bathed in public hot springs, climbed mountains, partaken in traditional green tea ceremonies, and traveled to Kyoto and Osaka. I’ve done so many things that I never would’ve thought possible before coming here; and yet, with only a month and a half left living here, I still feel like I’ve barely seen or experienced anything in Japan. There’s just so much to experience on exchange. Not just in Japan, but anywhere in the world. I’ve found something interesting behind every corner I’ve looked, and was almost never bored when I went out to do something.

What memories I treasure most here of life in Japan are these small things; walking underneath paper lantern illuminated cherry blossom trees at night, watching a sumo match on TV with my first host father, the stray cat that lives near my school sitting on my lap for the first time, the views from the many hiking trails I walked up, the heat of the natural foot baths in my host city, the heart shaped beauty mark on my sixth host mother’s face. To me, these memories are what make u p my life here in Japan. I never got to go to Tokyo, Yokohama, Kyushu, Niigata, or Hiroshima. I never got the chance to ride the Shinkansen (bullet train) or a crowded subway car, or see Mount Fuji. I never even saw a cosplaying person (“otaku”) or a tanuki. And yet, despite all of these things that I had so hoped to experience during my exchange, I do not feel bitter or wronged. Not because I lost the desire, but because I am content with the way I have lived my life here, with the situations given to me. So even though I never saw or did all of these exciting things, I have come to accept the fact that I was never guaranteed those opportunities to begin with, and that it just wasn’t meant to be. I suppose that would be my advice to the future classes of exchange students; to never keep expectations of how you believe your exchange life should go. Although it is an exciting thought to have, all the places you will possibly go and see, what you should keep in mind is that the life of an exchange student isn’t the life of a tourist. You will most likely live with a normal, average family (who travels to big, gaudy tourist traps about as much as your own family does) and lead a life not too different from the basis of your current student life. Of course, everything is unique for each student, but these are constant factors into the life of a Rotary Youth Exchange student: you will go to high school, have host family home responsibilities and obligations. In short, you should learn to love the small things in your exchange life -the sound of your friend’s laughter, the way your host family’s cooking tastes, the neighbor’s cute dog- and not be bitter about the things that you can’t do. Because your life on exchange goes by so quickly, just ask any Rotex. You don’t have time to sulk, only to go out and experience life as it truly is in a different country. With such a small amount of time left, I find myself regretting not what big cities I couldn’t go to, but the way I acted when I didn’t get my way. As I’m sure many Rotex in the past have said, I really wish that I had truly listened to my Rotex when they gave me advice and not just sat and filled my head with unrealistic fantasies. Nevertheless, I am still grateful for the experiences given to me by Rotary, and will probably live the rest of my life trying to give back to the world that has already given me so much.

Thu, April 20, 2017

  • Julia, outbound to Japan

Hello from Kurayoshi, aka the epicenter of the 21st’s 6.2 magnitude earthquake! Let me begin by saying that, as of now, I’m absolutely fine and safe in bed. The quake happened at around 2:00pm, while I was in school. You never realize how sudden these things happen until-all in a matter of seconds- your books have been thrown from your desk and your classmates are running for cover. To make a long story short: the school’s foundation cracked, so we were evacuated into the baseball field where we stayed for around 2 hours until our parents came to pick us up. My mother and I arrived home to a war zone. Almost all of her fine china and glassware had been thrown from shelves and the hutch, so there was broken glass everywhere in the kitchen, luckily all electronics in the house had been spared, but somehow the quake managed to shatter the porcelain on one of the toilets. Anything on a shelf was thrown off, and, strangest of all, the concrete on the driveway over the gutter cracked. My mother was so, so admirable and strong, in the face of such a personal disaster. I really admire and respect her courage and initiative, given the stress of the situation. It was all a very surreal experience. Even now, 4 days later, aftershocks are still happening every hour or so. Laying here in bed, I can feel the earth healing herself, and I can hear the deep bass coming from underneath. It’s very strange to witness, especially seeing that I have only lived on the US east coast my entire life until this year, and this really opened my eyes to the trauma of an earthquake; that the one thing that was constantly stable throughout your life is now untrustworthy and terrifying, with your mind thinking that nowhere can be safe if the very ground underneath you is the danger. But minds will be minds and tend to get carried away, so my logical side reassures me with the fact that I am safe and that I know what to do and who to talk to if, for whatever reason, I feel unsafe. I will end with saying thank you to everyone in Rotary for giving me the confidence to feel completely safe in this trying situation, and for giving my family and friends peace of mind for concerns of my safety. Well, it’s very late, and it’s been a long, long day, so I will sleep now, and pray for Earth to be healed in the morning. Good night all!

Tue, October 25, 2016

  • Julia, outbound to Japan
Hello from the Kurayoshi-Higashi high school’s library! The first of October marked my first month here in Japan, and so much has happened that there’s just no way I can fit it all into a journal. But I guess I should start with a little bit about my exchange and current situation… Well, I am living in Misasa, Tottori, a very small town with a population of about 6,000 people. It is very rural here and extremely mountainous, which also makes it pretty isolated compared to most other areas in Japan. My high school is in the nearest city, about a 10 minute bus ride from my current house. It’s a fairly normally sized high school; each of the three grades has 5 classes of around 30 students. Grades are by age, with 1st grade being from 15-16, 2nd grade from 16-17, and 3rd grade from 17-18. I was placed in 1st grade, due to the fact that the higher grades focus almost entirely on studying for college entrance exams. I’m the third ever exchange student at my school, the second American, and the first female. I’m also the only exchange student within a 40 minute drive of my area, so this means that I am unlike most other Rotary students in that I am without any “exchange friends” to fall back on and to relate to. But being alone isn’t so bad; I don’t have anyone to compare myself with and I also have an entirely fresh, new slate to work on in terms of my school life. Speaking of which, I am very pleased with my time spent at school. The students at my school are so shy that it’s borderline comical, the boys being significantly more so than the girls. I really enjoy complimenting people and seeing them happy, and let’s be honest, who doesn’t love getting complimented? The boys at my school. To the point where if I even make eye contact or say their name, they flinch, hide their face, thank me, and pivot their bodies to face opposite of me. They are not unfriendly, or even like that on purpose, they just culturally unadjusted to an outgoing girl, forgetting the fact that I’m also the only person in the entire school who is significantly physically different from everyone else. Earlier today, I was talking with my friend who sits in front of me in class, and I asked her how Japanese people get their elegant face freckles (Have you seen them? They’re like literal artwork), and in the conversation I mentioned the boy who sits two seats away from us. He looked at us when I said his name, and I told him that he has a very tasteful beauty mark on his cheek, and this was his reaction in this exact order: he glanced from me to her a few times, put his face into his hands, did a 180 in his seat, took an unintentionally audible deep breath, fixed his hair, and did not turn back in our direction the entire morning. No, really. The girls are much easier to talk to and are generally less shy now, but the first two weeks I was in school was intimidating, to say the least. For a while, absolutely no students talked to me or attempted to approach me because of shyness, but none of them were too shy to group together and stand in my classroom’s doorway to stare at me from across the room. It happened routinely every day, as if it were a part of their agendas. Sometimes I still catch people staring as they walk by, but thankfully it’s mostly dissipated. Now, most of the girls in my school run up to talk to me, their favorite question being, “do you remember my name?” Allow me to elaborate on this: the Japanese language is not tonal, meaning every letter sounds the exact same no matter where it is in a word, very unlike English. It also means that many words sound the same, and it’s no different with names. I have yet to meet anyone with the same name as someone else, but the similarities between them are pronounced and seem to swim together inside my head. By no means do any of my classmates look the same, but matching Yuna and Yano to their faces is difficult, especially when communication is difficult to begin with. However, luckily for me, some of my classmates go by seemingly random English nicknames, so remembering Twiggy, Grandpa, Nosy, Queue, Mantis, Noodles, Muscle Man, Baseball, and Kitty is easy for me. Anyways, some of my teachers have names for their faces, but I find that most of them pay me no mind either way, which is nice because it makes me feel more like a student than an exchange student, if that makes any sense. My English teachers are some of my favorite people I’ve met here so far. The English conversation teacher, Emma, is kind of like my best friend here. She’s from Minnesota and has been teaching English here for two years. Her class is my favorite so far because classes are nonexistent for me; I spend most lectures studying the writing systems or doodling. I’m also not expected to do any classwork, tests, or homework, so that is a huge relief for my brain, because can you imagine doing calculus homework in Japanese? Neither can I. School lasts from 8am to 3:30pm; many students stay later to participate in clubs or study sessions, but I haven’t joined any daily clubs yet so I just get on the bus to go home. Here, home is my sanctuary. I love my host family, which consists of my mother, father, and older brother. My host parents are amazing people, both very funny and caring people, but my host brother goes to college far away, so my contact with him is limited. My current host family is friends with my next host family, who lives down the road, so I also have a host sister who goes to school with me. She will be leaving to go on a non-Rotary exchange in Chile in a few months. Oh, speaking of which, I can’t believe I still haven’t written my thanks to Rotary. Without all of you, I wouldn’t be here in this amazing country writing this. So thank you, for giving me and all of us out on exchange this opportunity. I hope that someday I can repay the world for all that its given me in this experience, and Rotary for believing in me. Again, thank you all so much, and I hope I can live up to your expectations.

Mon, October 17, 2016


Kayla - Czech Republic

Hometown: Fernandina Beach, Florida
School: Fernandina Beach
Sponsor District: 6970
Sponsor Club: Fernandina Beach
Host District: 2240
Host Club:

My Bio

Merhaba! My name is Kayla, I am sixteen years old and I have been given a once in a lifetime opportunity, in the year of 2016-2017 I will be spending my junior year of high school as an exchange student in Turkey! I’m currently living in Florida, on a small island called Fernandina Beach, along with: my mom, dad, three sisters, and my dog. Right now I am in 10th grade attending Fernandina Beach High school, there I take part in volleyball, winter guard, and culinary arts. I am was on my school’s winter guard team last year, winter guard is an indoor color guard sport derived from military ceremonies or veterans organizations ceremonies. However, unlike color guard, winter guard is performed indoors. In my spare time I LOVE to hang out with my friends, read, ride my bike, go shopping, play piano (I’ve taken classes off and on for years), travel (I have been to Mexico many times, and to Nassau, Bahamas), and I really enjoy making YouTube videos! As an exchange student I will accomplish big things, I will learn about different cultures, make new friends, learn a new language, and have a second family, my first family is pretty great, but being able to have a second family would be even greater! I knew I wanted to be an exchange student the moment my friend Karla from Denmark, an exchange student at my school told me she was an exchange student, and told me about the program. I came home and immediately told my dad about the program! I’m so excited, and SO thankful for this opportunity thank you Rotary for making this possible, this will truly be the best year of my life!

Journals: Kayla – Czech Republic 2016-17

  • Kayla, outbound to Czech Republic

Christmas is one of my favorite holidays, if any its is the best. I was really sad I was not going to be celebrating holidays back with my REAL family, On Friday night of last week I went out to buy Christmas presents for my family members here in Czech, I was in the mall trying to find the perfect gifts for hours, and was so stressed and sad because I didn’t think I was going to be able to find the perfect gifts for my family. I am a perfekcionista or I at least strive to be when it comes to Christmas presents, and shopping. After all they have done so much for me, from welcoming me into their home early with open arms, and completely changing my exchange, to better than I could ever be.. I called my mom and dad for help but no answer, and then it hit me this is something I must do on my own. Luckily I was able to find my idea of perfect gifts after hours of walking in and out of the stores countless times. (I will post the list of gifts below)

Christmas Day

I woke up, got dressed everything was the same except for no breakfast, and I wrapped my presents I bought the previous day. Everything was fine and the sadness of no spending Christmas with my blood family didn’t kick in or “hit me” until hours after.

I remember being in the car with my host family on the way to my host sisters house to celebrate Christmas, and the reality of me spending Christmas away from my family hit me for the first time. Maybe because on the inside I was crying and sad because I was away from my family for Christmas for the first time in my life. So many people have asked me way before Christmas “Will you go home to celebrate Christmas” Nope, I will say, I will be here. I was completely fine with it, I didn’t think it would be bad, you know? I’ve missed birthdays, yeah I was sad I couldn’t be there to celebrate with them, but missing one of the most family orientated holidays is a feeling of sadness I cannot put into words.

As the day went on, and we arrived at my host sisters house I started to feel more and more happier and the sadness quickly started to fade away, and I began to enjoy everything as I learned and experienced THEIR Christmas. Usually Czechs fast for the entire Christmas day and eat when it gets dark, no food until maybe 5 or 6 o’clock when it is completely dark. Luckily my family is pretty amazing so they adjusted things a little bit, we were only able to eat food that does not contain any meat, so we ate a lot of sweets.

To pass time until the darkness came and we could eat real food, we went on a hike with my host sister, my family, uncle, and my host sisters husband, we walked for a little over an hour. We came across this “Florida beach” (it was a lake with sand) I will add the photo into this post. 🙂 About an hour or so after we returned home from the walk, it was dark and dinner was prepared, we had: Fried carp, schnitzel, and potato salad. (I usually HATE potato salad, never ever eat it, but I ate it just to try it and it was the most amazing potato salad I have ever had in my life, sorry mom. )

After dinner we went outside with sparklers and we lit them so the Jesus baby could deliver presents… We have Santa Claus in the US, and here they have Jesus, or in Czech “Ježíš”, here they believe he delivers the Christmas presents. I didn’t fully understand the rules so I wrote

To:_____ From: Kayla, on the gifts, I was only supposed to write who it was from …. Oopss.

My Christmas presents were amazing,

I received:

Super warm neck scarf and ear muffs
2 bracelets
black sparkly sequin sweater
body wash and perfume

For my host family:

Host Dad: Wallet, and a film
Host mom: Picture in a frame, necklace, and my favorite movie “Big Eyes”
Host brother: Shaun the sheep movie, (his reaction opening it made me really happy), tec deck
Host Uncle: Tea (I have another gift for him soon)
Host sister: Bath-bomb, socks, and something else I cant remember 🙁
Over all Christmas was sooo great.

Wed, January 4, 2017

  • Kayla, outbound to Czech Republic

Well as of today, 1 week ago I said goodbye to my friends, family, and my dog 😞. And I left Florida to begin the biggest, most exciting adventure in my life.

The start of my adventure began with my first plane ride (on 2 planes for 14 hours, I was scared, I didn’t know what go do at first, I thought I was going to get lost, miss my plane or get on the wrong plane, but here I am in Czech, so I did just fine.) My first time out of the country, my first time out on my own and having my first taste of independence.


Everything here is different, from the way the the way the air feels (it’s softer), down to the way people dress, Crocs for example… everyone has them and if you don’t well, you better go get some, and power outlets. It’s cooler here and not very humid, in comparison to Florida… people ride their bikes pretty much EVERY WHERE!

People stare at me, quite hard and I’m still trying to get used to that (they stare because I’m different, I’m African American and everyone here pretty much is Caucasian with blonde hair and blue eyes, or brown hair with brown eyes.)

The cars here are also different, maybe much older? The car brands are different (with the exception of Volkswagen, Ford, Audi, and Mercedes) even the license plates…. one in the front and another in the back.

Czech is very challenging, much harder than I had originally anticipated, but I still love it here, and try my best to expand my language and communication with my family and their friends. My host family had friends over, they all (except one) spoke only Czech and it was very awkward, sitting there trying to understand what in the world they were saying. Especially when it was about me, not knowing what they were saying I couldn’t do much but smile and look. But that’s my motivation to keep going and keep studying… I want to be able to understand conversations, eavesdrop, and understand everything around me like how I would understand English.

The food here is amazing, I also made my host family and their friends Mac-n-cheese, they seemed to love it, my host mom and brother had two plates.

The way they start their meals here is also very different “to your health” they say in Czech before eating. Also, here everyone eats with a knife in their right hand, and fork in the left. There’s no switching hands, or putting down the knife. To make it known you’re finished with your food you put your fork and knife together parallel on your plate.

I am also not used to having something on my feet all day, I’m not used to house shoes. I know sometimes I’d wear my shoes in my house in America, but here we have outside and inside shoes. As soon as you come inside, your outside shoes go off and you put on your inside shoes.

The sun here seems to rise very early as well… I woke up this morning at about 6 or 7 AM thinking it was about 12PM. But then again… I don’t know if it actually does, or if I am just used to having my blanket covering my window to block out the sun, back home. Haha

But, Overall I love this country, and I can’t wait to see more of it!

Culture shock, and how its effect my exchange and built me as a person:

I remember at Lake Yale orientation in Florida, the very first orientation went over culture shock, and things we WILL experience while on our exchanges. We all experience it, and if you don’t, I guess it’s safe to say you’re lucky! So, congratulations!

My first few days here were the “Honeymoon stage” — everything was great, no homesickness, no culture shock… just the language barrier. I started to think what we were told at language camp about culture shock I wasn’t going to experience. Because it seemed so easy!

Now I am 7 days in on my exchange and I am now starting to get over the “frustration stage” and learning to accept the fact that I can’t understand things just yet. And it was frustrating, it was frustrating because I couldn’t understand much or almost everything. When people are laughing I don’t know what’s funny, they’re talking about me I don’t know what it’s about, I don’t know what’s funny. is it the news? is it me? is there are new movie? All I can do is smile, and keep working to understand. It’s hard to understand, my head hurts from trying to think or translate what’s around me, because it’s SO much. But I keep studying and trying and it’s getting easier, because that’s all I can do. I know my Czech is getting better and better. slowly, but it is.

On Friday I started my first day of school and let me just say it was amazing and SO DIFFERENT, and fun! No dress code, lunch whenever you want, 10 minute breaks between classes, a class period where you can have a snack and talk with friends for 20 minutes! It’s indescribably amazing and different here and I just love it!

I’m so happy to be here, and I love it here, it’s beautiful, it’s hard, and it’s different. I love all of the things that make my exchange my exchange – homesickness, culture shock, adaptation, school, & language because it motivates me to keep trying.

The food is great, my host family is amazing, my friends, and everything.

I am so happy to be here!! I also will be traveling to Austria next week as well for two days, I am super excited about that!

Sat, September 17, 2016


Laura - Greenland

Hometown: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
School: Ponte Vedra
Sponsor District: 6970
Sponsor Club: Ponte Vedra Beach
Host District: 1470
Host Club: Nuuk

My Bio

Hello! My name is Laura Cebulski and I am currently a sophomore at Ponte Vedra High School. I’m so excited that I will be spending my junior year abroad to Greenland! I live at home with my mom, dad, my sister, Sarah (19), and two dogs. I was born in Beijing, China and then adopted when I was a year old, and lived in New York until I was 10. My family and I moved to Ponte Vedra Beach in 2010 and I have been living here ever since. In my spare time I work at a local grocery store, and when I’m not working, I like to hang out with friends, watch movies, go shopping, cook, and spend time with my family. On the weekends, my sister and I volunteer at a local animal shelter. It’s very rewarding to see the dogs and cats find loving homes. I love the outdoors and can’t wait to experience all the beauty that Greenland has to offer.

I have wanted to be a part of the RYE program since the beginning of my freshman year and am thrilled to be a Rotary Youth Exchange outbound exchange student for the 2016/2017 year. I cannot thank Rotary enough for giving me this once in a life time opportunity. It will be so exciting to experience a completely different culture, learn a new language, and gain friendships that will last forever. I’m also looking forward to trying new things when I’m abroad. Again, thank you Rotary for everything that you’ve done to make all of this possible.

Journals: Laura – Greenland 2016-17

  • Laura, outbound to Greenland

Surprisingly not much has happened since my last journal in February. It may be due to the fact that life here is so normal to me. I have a routine. I have a social life. I dread going to school like all of my other classmates. I sit down at night and eat dinner with my host family. It sometimes comes to a shock and I have to remind myself that I’m on exchange. I can’t even imagine not being here next year to go to the second grade with my class. I have made such a strong bond with my friends and family, leaving them is the last thing I want to do. In less than two weeks I’ll be getting on a plane to Denmark for Euro Tour and saying goodbye to my exchange year. I’m so excited to finally meet the exchange students in Denmark and traveling through Europe together but am so sad to say goodbye to my life here. I’m looking back at my year here and thinking of all the good and bad times and saying I did that with no regrets.

I have been keeping busy these past few months. My school had their version of prom in February and it’s safe to say that that was one of my favorite moments yet. After the party we went to walk around the city and after a few of my friends slept over my house. The next morning we went out to breakfast at a cafe. That whole night we were laughing and dancing. I moved into my fourth host family late February. From the moment I got there they were so kind and treated me like a part of their family. March and April were quiet months compared to earlier this year. Not much has happened except for after eight months the snow is finally starting to melt and that the sun now rises at 3am and sets at 12am. I spent most of my time either out with friends, my host family or school. For Easter my host family and Noah, the other exchange student here dyed easter eggs. For my family it was the first time and they were so much better at it than Noah and I even though we’ve done it our whole lives. During our spring break I tried cross country skiing for the first time. For those that haven’t tried yet, it’s not as easy as it looks. There was a lot of falling down and a lot of snow in my boots but slowly I’m getting better and not looking like an amateur. I also got to go snowboarding. I’ve done it before when I was living in New York but that was over six years ago. I was pretty bad but not as bad as cross country skiing.

A few days ago I moved in with one of my friends family for my last few weeks here making my count of host families up to five. My last host family is having family from Denmark come up for my host sister’s confirmation. The day after I moved into Aila’s house I had to say goodbye to Noah who went back to Minnesota to start college. We spent the last few days together and tried to complete what we never got to do. I’m so happy to have met him, he was one of my closest friends here and having to say goodbye was one of the hardest things I’ve done so far. It didn’t really hit me until after we hugged goodbye. I miss him a lot but I know that’s not the last time we’re going to see each other.

It’s a weird feeling planning your last week. You think you have more time, but in reality you only have eleven days. I’m currently trying to fit in all my friends for a last get-together before I leave. Next week is already my last week of school. I will no longer have to take the bus to get to school and back home. I won’t have to sit in class and translate everything said and read to me. It won’t be -3ºC everyday; no longer wearing my heavy jacket. I’m so happy that school is over but then again I never want this year to end. I’ve absolutely loved going to school here. Everyone is so nice and school is pretty easy, what more could I ask for? Some of the best moments of exchange do happen when you’re sitting in your boring math class. I’m going to miss the small things about exchange the most. Sitting with my friends on the bus ride to school. Going to the aula during breaks and eating lunch together. Going to cafes after school . Not sweating every time I step outside. Seeing familiar faces everywhere I go since Nuuk is only so big. Looking out any window here and getting some of the best views in the world. Things like this that I can’t imagine living without anymore. Going back to highschool next years doesn’t even seem real. Going back home will be a huge change but that’s the challenge comes with exchange.

Most likely this will be my last Rotary journal so I want to give a big thanks to Rotary. Thank you to every single person that has helped me get to the point where I am now. I am in Greenland right now because of you and all your hard work. It’s because of you that so many people around the world get the opportunity to go somewhere new and experience what I experienced. Thank you for everything and I hope you enjoyed reading my journals of my life here in Greenland.

Fri, May 12, 2017

  • Laura, outbound to Greenland

It’s almost my six month mark and I’m already halfway through exchange. It feels as if Christmas break was just yesterday. Now it’s already February; time is going by way too fast. It’s hard to believe that almost six months ago I got on a plane and left everything I knew. A lot has happened in half a year, nevertheless two months since I wrote my last journal. I never realized how hard it is to keep updated with these. Before leaving I told myself that I would update on the website every month yet here I am only writing my third journal. So much happens on exchange, sometimes so fast I can’t even keep up. Taking the time to sit down and write about what you’ve been doing is much harder than it sounds.

I’ve moved in with my second host family late November and they’ve been amazing. Having two little siblings around the house has been an experience in itself. Back home I have an older sister so my house is usually quiet; here it’s the total opposite. They may be loud but I’ve come to love them and their energy. Living here has been a blessing with getting to class. I live about a ten minute walk away from school as to where I had to take the bus to school at my first family. Living here also puts me closer to the city center so everything is only a walking distance away. I miss my first host family so much but living in a new house has given me new experiences and more people I can now call my family.

Christmas break has been one of my favorite times since being here. The first day of December is when everyone started decorating their homes with lights and decorations. If you look almost every house has a bright yellow star hanging in their window. In the winter the sun comes up at 10am and sets at 3pm so they really light up the city and it adds a warm feeling. In greenland and Denmark they celebrate Christmas on the 24th, not the 25th like in the US. I woke up on Christmas Eve and had a nice breakfast and got ready to walk to the hospital to watch santa fly in on a helicopter to bring presents to the kids in the hospital. The whole town showed up to come see him. It was nice to do something different on Christmas. The rest of the day consisted of relaxing with family and eating. In the afternoon I went with my first host mom and the other exchange student here to a Greenlandic church service. All of it was in Greenlandic so I didn’t understand a word of what they were sayi ng but just being there and listening to them singing was something amazing. Another tradition here is that they open presents in the evening and before that they sing and walk around the tree. Christmas day was my lazy day consisting of being with my host family and friends. A few days later was the 31st. New Years Eve was celebrated with a party and a whole bunch of fireworks. When 12 o’clock hit fireworks lit up the sky. My friends and I walked around the city and watched the never-ending show. Experiencing a whole different culture’s way of celebrating the holidays was such an eye opener. Yes this year was very different from how my family back home celebrates Christmas, but that makes it all the more special.

Two weeks after Christmas came my birthday. I was excited to turn 17 and go celebrate with my friends. The day started with my host family waking me up by singing a Danish birthday song, a tradition here. We had a nice breakfast and then I got ready for school. School was boring as usual but I got a break 10-12 so it wasn’t that bad. After school my friends took me out to a Thai restaurant in the City. All the friends I have here made my exchange. Without them my life here wouldn’t be the same. These people are some of the best I’ve ever met and it breaks my heart to think about leaving them in a few months.

Being here has absolutely been amazing, it still feels like I’m living in a dream. My birthday marked the halfway point of exchange. I have four more months here in Greenland and I’ve already started crying. I got a little homesick during Christmas break but I got over it pretty quick. It’s weird, I miss my life back home and am looking forward to the summer but at the same time I’m so sad about eventually leaving and want to stay here forever. Before leaving I thought exchange was going to be easy and that I wouldn’t get homesick at all. What I can say now is that no matter how much you might think you won’t miss home, you will. Exchange is filled with hard times, good times, and better memories that you will hold forever. The moments I spent here is something to treasure. Through the good and bad I’ve loved it all. If I had the chance, I would relive this year all over again. I wouldn’t trade the time here for the world. Thank you so much Rotary for giving me this chance to represent America and have the best year of my life.

Sat, February 4, 2017

  • Laura, outbound to Greenland

I’ve done so much these past few months, but what I’ve come to realize is the more that happens here, the harder it is to put into words. Greenland is no longer just my ‘host country’, it’s my home. The place where I feel most content. Where everything is no longer new and days are in routine. Where I have family and friends that would do anything for me. Where I can come home, throw my backpack down, and fall onto my bed after a long day at school. Where I’ve had some of the best memories, but also where I experienced possibly the lowest point in my life. October was when homesickness really hit me. A few days after hitting my two months of being in Greenland I was really missing Florida. Missing my family, all of my friends, school, driving wherever and whenever I want, food that I’m used to, being familiar to where I live, and just Ponte Vedra in general. I was missing my normal life. Memories that I would d o anything in that moment to go back and relive just one more time. What you eventually learn on exchange is to not regret anything. I’m so grateful for everything that has happened here, the good and bad times. Having good memories that I will keep with me forever, and the difficult ones to help me learn and grow into an improved version of myself.

Days are going by quicker and quicker this time of year. Weeks no longer feel like a whole seven days. Crazy that 2017 is right around the corner; meaning that I will have been here for almost half a year. Don’t take things for granted; time is too precious to waste. Before going on exchange ten months seemed like such a long period of time for me. Long enough to build a brand new life for myself in a completely foreign country. Right now that is the complete opposite. I feel like time is slipping right from under my feet. The thought of leaving in June makes me sick to my stomach. I can’t begin to explain how fast a year goes by. Last November I got a call that changed my life. The call from Jeff telling me that I was accepted to be a Rotary Youth Exchange student in 2016/2017. The vivid memory of me crying on my bedroom floor with so many emotions running through my head feels like a whole lifetime away, but at the same time as if it was only months ago. I would’v e never expected what was to happen in the upcoming year. Now in math class in one of the coldest places on earth. A country where some don’t even know that society exists, sitting at a desk writing my RYE Florida journal. Some wish for more money, more love, I wish for more time. That’s the whole idea of going abroad though, you go in knowing that eventually you’ll have to go back and adjust to your old life. That may be the biggest challenge of exchange.

I could sit here and tell you every detail of what I have been up too since September, but that’s what any person that has gone abroad will do. Exchange students will always spill their life of ‘I did this’ and ‘I did that while I was away.’ They don’t always tell you what’s going on in their head, what they may be feeling at that exact moment. When I applied over a year ago, they asked me why I wanted to go on exchange. At the time I said because learning a new language and being immersed in a completely new culture sounded amazing and why would I pass up that opportunity. Being away from what is normal to you and starting somewhere completely new will help me grow as a person and become more mature. I knew I would change as a person, but the four months I’ve been here has completely altered the way I think and act. Meeting people that don’t share the same native tongue, same views and opinions, same experiences, same way of th inking is one of best things that you get to experience. Seeing the world through someone else’s eyes, breaking out of the bubble you live in and getting out to see the world; truly something to cherish. Don’t get me wrong, the culture here in Greenland is something beautiful. I love trying new foods and experiencing how they do things here, from different holiday traditions to the small details like how they eat food with a fork and knife at all times. Greenland’s culture is something I will always appreciate, but the biggest thing I’m going to treasure most is how my way of thinking has changed, how my way of living has changed, how I have grown as an individual. The person I was starting in August is different than who I am now in November.

Exchange has been a whole bunch of ups and downs, though I have learned to love both. I have come appreciate the happy moments here in Greenland; me and my friends laughing until we can’t breathe, or seeing my language slowly start to improve over time. As well as appreciating the times where I’m in my room crying from how much I miss my life in Florida; what I would do to be able to give everyone back home a big hug. From the beginning this hasn’t been easy. The anxiety of finishing my application in time to the stress of final interviews. The long waiting of hearing if I had been accepted, and then again to find out what country I got. Spending the next 7 months learning a completely new language that I have never seen before and waiting for the day I finally get to get on a plane and finally start my exchange that I have worked up to the past year has all been worth it. If exchange was easy, it wouldn’t be as valuable as it is. The crazy and amazing memori zes you’ll have make all the difficult times worth it. All the hard moments you go through is what makes exchange exchange. I wouldn’t change anything about my life here or the things that lead up to it.

To my friends and family, I miss all you you so much and I’ll see you soon. To my fellow exchangers, I hope you’re all enjoying your countries and having the time of your life. To any future outbounds, I wish you the best of luck, this will be the best year of your life. To Rotary, words cannot express how grateful I am for you to give me this once in a lifetime opportunity, thank you for all your hard work.

Mon, December 5, 2017

 Laura, outbound to Greenland

I just hit my one month in Greenland and I can’t believe how fast time is flying by. A part of me feels like I just arrived, yet another part feels like I’ve been here for months. I’ve already fallen in love with this amazing country. It hit me the moment I stepped off the airplane that I’m finally in Greenland. After waiting for eight agonizing months, my exchange has finally started. I have had many culture shock moments since I’ve arrived. The people are so friendly here to strangers, very different from America, the food is amazing even though half the time I don’t know what I’m eating, and the nature here is out of this world. Oh yeah, and the climate difference is very noticeable. Just the other day I had to walk in 50 mph winds while it was raining and only about 35 degrees (2 celsius); not my favorite kind of weather. Looking out my bedroom window I have the view of Store Malene, a mountain that I have not yet climbed, and also a nice view of icebergs cruising across the ocean. This past month has been amazing! I still feel like I’m living in a dream and I don’t want to wake up anytime soon.

Unfortunately I don’t have one of those horrible travel stories to tell. The worst for me was a three hour delayed flight in Minneapolis but I’ll take it after hearing the stories that some people had to go through getting to their host countries. I met up with Noah, another exchange student to Greenland at the Keflavik airport in Iceland where we flew from there to Greenland. The flight to Greenland was one I’ll never forget. The view leaving Iceland was beautiful. During the flight Noah and I talked about our summer and about how excited we are to be in Greenland for the next year. After about an hour of outside just being ocean, we started to see some icebergs here and there. It’s weird to see that it’s a common thing to have icebergs floating past your backyard. Soon enough we started flying over Greenland. The view was absolutely incredible; seeing the mountains covered in snow blew my mind since it was only the beginning of August. The pilots of the plane were nice enough to let passengers go to the cockpit and check out the view. Looking out there makes you realize how big the world actually is. I haven’t been out of the country for over fifteen years, and just 2000 miles away was a country where there’s snow all year. After another hour we landed in Nuuk where the view just kept getting better.

Walking out of plane is where I got my first wake-up call. Staring right in front of me was what I thought was a giant mountain. Coming from Florida, you can only imagine how big just that one difference was. It was about 45 degrees (7 celsius) and cloudy. I was shivering the entire walk into the airport. Noah and I met up with our Youth Exchange officer, Niels and he drove us around Nuuk. Traveling for 25 hours with little sleep and not eating too much food the past day really got to me. As we were driving I was about to fall asleep but kept myself awake to see where I’m going to be living for the next year. I loved every second of the drive, everything was so different from Florida. I knew from there that I was going to have a completely different experience than what I’m used to. I got dropped off at my house where I would be staying for a few days while my first host family was still on vacation. The dinner that night was hard to sit through because all I wanted to do was sleep, but I survived. We had bread, meat and cheese which was very good. I got to bed at 9pm and slept until 10; much needed sleep.

The next day my host mom, host sister and I went around Nuuk. The more I explored, the more I fell in love with the city. The rest of the day I spent relaxing and spending time with my host family. That night Noah texted me about climbing Lille Malene and asked if I wanted to come. Being an exchange student, I had to say yes. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Noah spent most of the summer hiking through Norway so he was used to high elevation. Me, the girl coming from Florida had no idea what a mountain actually was. The first 10 minutes I was chugging along thinking “oh this is not bad, it’s going to be easy!” I was so wrong!! The next hour and a half was pretty much Noah having no problem, and me having to stop every five minutes to catch my breath and let my legs have a break. My whole body was in much pain. When we reached the top of the mountain, all the struggles I endured were worth it. All the fog that was once there burned off, giving us a view o f the whole city and more. I’ll never forget the feeling of that moment. We could see all of Nuuk, Store Malene, Sermitsiaq, and the mountain ranges in the distance. The hike down the mountain was harder than going up. After countless amounts of me falling we made it down. Noah had the brilliant idea of jumping into a nearby lake to cool off. After everything I said yes to that day it wouldn’t hurt saying one more. We made our way to the lake where there were only a few other people across pitching up tents. Noah jumped in first saying that it wasn’t too cold. After a few minutes of thinking I jumped in. Right as I was about to hit the water, I realized how bad it was actually going to be. I swam as fast as I could to the edge; my body was so cold I couldn’t feel anything. We laid out in the sun to try to get warm and then after took the bus to see the school we would be attending. There we met with the principal and one of the counselors. The main building of the school is fairly new and modern, but not as big as PVHS. About 400 kids go to this school; that’s smaller than my entire grade in Florida. Everyone was really nice to us and showed us around the main building. After touring the school we went home to get ready tomorrow.

The next day was my first day of school. I was nervous about the language and not knowing anyone except for Noah. For the first day Noah and I were put into the same class. Since Noah lived in Norway for a few years, he spoke Norwegian and understood a little Danish. For the day he was my translator, and thank god he was there or I would have been so lost. My first day wasn’t bad. Everyone was super nice and asked questions about what living in America was like. The interesting part of that day was my ride back home. I took the bus but didn’t know when to get off. I got off at the wrong stop by mistake; my house was at the top of a hill and I got off at the bottom. All I knew was that to get home I had to go up. Halfway through my walk it started to rain, making the whole situation even better. After about 45 minutes of taking random roads and getting even more lost I finally made it back. I never made that mistake again. Over the first month in school I’ve made a f ew really close friends. Here and pretty much all of Europe you stay with the same group of people all day and all throughout high school. Our class is very close with each other and we all get along which is really nice. School is hard to understand but I get a few words here and there which I am calling progress. I usually just sit in my class and try/fail to understand what they might be talking about.

After a few days of staying with my temporary family, my first host family got back from vacation and I moved in with them. It was hard to say goodbye since I didn’t get to stay with them for a while but I was excited to meet my first host family and to not be living out of my suitcases. My host family is so nice and kind, I already feel like apart of their family. The family is quite busy during the week but we do stuff together on the weekends. I can already tell it’s going to be hard to move families in the winter.

I’ve only been here for one month and I’ve done and experienced so much. I’ve hiked up mountains, been sailing by icebergs, drank straight from lakes and rivers, jumped into freezing lakes, been fishing, tried foods that never in a million years I would think about trying, made lifelong friendships, tried to walk in a 50mph wind storm, went hunting, and much more. I’ve tried musk ox, reindeer, dried seal, fish eggs and other various seafood, mussels, delicious desserts, and pigs liver. Most of the stuff I tried I liked, but some I wouldn’t have again. Nuuk is slowly becoming my home and I’m so happy that I took the opportunity to go on exchange!

I’d like to thank Rotary for all they’ve done for me and all the other outbounds. You’ll hear everyone saying how without them this wouldn’t be possible, but it’s true. If it wasn’t for all the work and time they put into this, 8000 teenagers from all around the globe wouldn’t have the opportunity to live in a completely different country for a whole year. Thank you to Jeff and Paula, my district counselors, thanks to Cyndi my country coordinator, thanks to my Rotary Club back home, my family for allowing me to do this in the first place and for supporting me and loving me, my friends for being there for me, and everyone else who is with me for this journey. I love and appreciate every single one of you and thank you for all your love and support! If my first month has gone this well, I can’t wait to see what the next nine months have in store.

Tue, September 13, 2016


Mia - Sweden

Hometown: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
School: Ponte Vedra
Sponsor District: 6970
Sponsor Club: Ponte Vedra Sunset
Host District: 2340
Host Club: Karlstad City

My Bio

Hej! My name is Mia Cleary and I from Ponte Vedra Beach, FL. I am currently a junior at Ponte Vedra High School. I live at home with my 2 cats, 5 dogs, 3 brothers and 2 parents. My mom is from Puerto Rico, little brother from Taiwan and my other brother is Dominican and Puerto Rican, so you could say my family is quite the house of Nations. I have lived in Ponte Vedra my whole life and I am so excited to call a new place my home and that home would be Sweden!! I’ve been doing my research the best I can and I am so pumped to go! I am a big talker and love to be loud and outstanding. A good word to describe me would be gregarious. I am loud and outgoing and could basically make friends with a brick wall. When I’m not talking I am very involved in my theater department as I directed our Schools production of To Kill A Mockingbird and performed in Hairspray! I have been the treasurer of the drama club for 2 years and really love acting and singing. Fighting for the rights of and being friends with people that have special needs (disabilities) is also something I love to do. I am president of my schools Best Buddies club and the proud owner of a Best Buddies Fanny Pack. Understanding international relations and working to better understand how the world works and functions is also a hobby of mine. I am a part of my schools model United Nations club and have been lucky enough to win two outstanding delegate awards. I would love to bring peace to the world and am so excited that it gets to start with my exchange.

Journals: Mia -Sweden 2016-2017

  • Mia, outbound to Sweden

It has been way too long and I completely apologize for withholding information of a country that deserves to be told over and again.

Since I last wrote it was October, I was kinda sad and on a social media ban, I am soooooo different now wow.

Let’s begin where I left off:


Anderstrop 10/21-10/24
Enjoyed a super nice time with Sweden’s other exchange students having a little late, but great Crayfish party. A weekend spent dancing with my Italian and taking trips into the deep Swedish forest. Thank you Rotary for the great time!

The leaves continued to change and the cold started to find her place in my life.

Sweden doesn’t really celebrate halloween, but I was able to carve pumpkins and make cupcakes for a nice Fika with all the RYE families in Karlstad. I remember it being the most beautiful view of the largest lake of Sweden, with a sunset at about 3pm… I know early….Welcome to Swedish Winter time.


Norrköping 10/31-11/3
So once upon a time a Swede named Agnes came to Florida as an exchange student, specifically to Panama Beach. Another girl, Floridan had found out she would spend the next in said Agnes’ country. The two became very close and had been separated for 5 months, but finally reunited in Agnes home town.

No, but I got to go to my best friends amazing historical town. Surprisingly this town turned out to be one of my favorite’s in Sweden, the rich history and seemingly effortless way to restore all old factory building into schools, museums, apartments, cafes made it so charming. We saw a play, toured the beautiful town and just had an amazing time.

I had my first ever play all in Swedish, like with real lines and a real audience. I am such a highly confident person on stage, but I will admit playing a Gorilla for 50 kids, speaking Swedish was certainly a new experience and I’m so happy I had such an amazing class to work with and a big thank you to my patient teacher and best friends who helped me actually sound Swedish during the play. And my host mom for staying up late to rehearse my lines with me.

Election day:
It was a new, almost unreal experience seeing the election from another country. I began to speak to English classes about 4 weeks before the election, about how the American System works, who is important and even a bit about my own views. Many Swedes are quite liberal, which is very interesting for me to live and learn about a completely different government system. I watched the election at a big sleepover event with a Swedish youth political group, “the Swedish Social Democrats” and was even interviewed for the newspaper and appeared front page the day of the election. Not to go in depth about my views of result, I’ve grown so much seeing my country from another view. When I’m older I want to work as an international politician and this is exactly the experience I need to reach my goals.

To start I spend my free class watching Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving crying to myself, I didn’t miss the event itself, more like just the underappreciated time I spend at grandma’s house in South FL, yelling about politics. I even dressed nice for school. Going home was very fun though, I had the other 3 boys (2 Americans and 1 Italian) come over for dinner and my best friend came into town just to celebrate. We had a big Swedish-American Thanksgiving, with burned cornbread and overflowed gravy, and a beautiful pecan pie, it felt just like my home away from home, not to mention falling asleep right after on the couch watching tv. My host mom asked why the food made her so full, I replied “that’s Thanksgiving.”

I got a gym membership…. it lasted a less than a month before I quit…..exchange in a nutshell


Food, concerts and the most cozy I’ve ever ever felt in my life.

Stockholm 2.0 12/2-12/4
Whoop, whoop, my city again!!!!! Returning to my Swedish version of the Big Apple was again a dream, filled with more photo shoots, luxurious food I couldn’t afford and friends that made me explode with joy. Dressed in all red for the season, I was so so so ready. First real day, we headed out of Sofia’s house, camera in hand, outfits planned and makeup done. I had the “exchange snapchat” for the day, in which I snapped all the things for the day and I was not about to let Sweden look boring. We began Saturday knowing I was going to have a special snapchat account where over 600 people view my story, so I had to make my day be extra fun. We headed to old town and looked at the charming and old cathedral, the palace, some stores, a candy factory, the Gamla Stan Christmas market, which was adorable and packed, and my favorite- the Riksdag or the Swedish Parliament. It was so enhancing and interesting to me as I want to work in politics when I grow up. The big cr eam colored arched building had so much character and class it was magnificent, it was so different than my country’s government buildings, I guess you could say more european, different charm. Seeing this country makes me realize how young mine is. After the tour around Gamla Stan we made our way to a fancy restaurant I found while looking for Instagram worthy spots in Stockholm and oh were my expectations exceeded. The restaurant was an old green house on a garden that was probably the most aesthetically pleasing place I had ever been. The food, carrot soup with a side of french bread and a cookie was ever so delicious and the photo shoot that followed defiantly made the trip there worth it. Full of food and good photos we made our way through the snow to The Swedish Natural History Museum, it was pretty cool to be in a museum where the writing on the walls is in a language different from your own.

Day two we set out to go see the real life palace, like where the king and queen live!!! Fairy tale moment! They too had a Christmas market, but this time we had the palace gardens surrounding us. We made our way past the vendors, into the pricy gift shop and partly into the palace itself. It was not as big as I thought, but oh so magnificent. Marble everywhere, luxurious stairs, large ceilings. We found some dogs who were tied on leashes outside, we wondered who would bring their dogs to the castle and later learned from my host mom they were probably the Royal family’s pups! After a few photo shoots at the palace, we headed to the dreadful train station to say goodbye to our “oldies,” many tears later we newbies watched as some of best friends headed off and even worse we watched the friendships of our oldies shine through as they said goodbye to each other for the last time. It reminds me of how lucky I am to have such close exchange friends and to think one day they will be a world away and not a short train trip away. I took my bus home, sore from walking, with a bit of a heavy heart.

This month has absolutely been my favorite of exchange. I’m not sure if you are aware, but in Sweden the sunsets really early in the winter, like 2pm or 3 some days. And the dark mixed with the cold doesn’t always bring the happiest of feelings. I start feeling this seasonal depression in October cause you know I’m from Florida, but I tried my best to work around it. However December changed that all. Christmas isn’t really the same here as America, actually I would say it’s quite different. I’m not sure if you have had a chance to hear Swedish before, but it has a very distinct rhythm and some say it sounds like a song. Well Swedes are so so so so good, I mean so good at singing, like it comes so naturally, harmonizing and almost all children have been in a choir at one point of their life here. They’re amazing singing capabilities come to light in December with a concert at least once a week.

Saint Lucia Day:

St.Lucia was a Saint in Italy who was thought to help the poor and represent bringing light in darkness. In Sweden a girl plays St. Lucia and wears a crown with candles,( yes, real candles, it’s kinda dangerous) has her hair down (normally a girl with long blonde hair), and wears a white dress with a red band, because she was killed for falling in love with one of the people she helped. She sits and holds a tray of Lucia Buns and behind sings a beautiful choir all dressed in white dresses, holding one candle each. This tradition is seen in small churches with groups of small children (and fake candles, because no no no), in schools of all ages and even professional Lucia concerts in big concert halls.

On Lucia day my host parents came into my room at 6 am, wearing the traditional clothes, holding candles and a tray with Lucia buns, singing the song “Sainta Lucia,” I was so excited for this day and so moved they took they effort to prepare a little ceremony, I couldn’t help but to break into tears. That day I went on to eat 4 Lucia buns, and watch the concert in school twice and the best one in Sweden on TV. Living in Sweden had been getting especially hard for me dealing with my growing sad emotions, the cold and the dark and this holiday really touched me. I hope to celebrate it for the rest of my life. The beautiful sounds of the choir and not one light on, just candles will sit in my head for the rest of my life.

In Sweden we never put up all the decorations at once, every week brings more and more. And the tree goes up only 3 days before, weird, right? But no I promise, it makes you appreciate the month a little more knowing it’s never complete, it builds the anticipation. So in the month of December I probably went to 15 concerts; Lucia, school, host dad’s choir and every one struck a new chord in my heart. I think every concert was a little hint of the culture and it kept showing me how beautiful Swedish culture is. Swedish Christmas candies are the best!! Like we have really been missing out and we make them home-made, lots of sugar and a very happy Mia. In Sweden we have this thing call “Julbord” which is basically a Christmas table, you start with choosing from a buffet of fish and herring (I don’t particularly enjoy fish, but I tried everything cause why not), then you move to cold meats, then hot meats and finally dessert which means more CHRISTMAS CANDY!! ! And it’s served with this drink called “Julmust” and Jul means Christmas so to me in broken Swedish English, it kinda sounds like Christmas must… Jul-must.

In Sweden and many European countries Christmas is celebrated on the 24th and at 3pm we watch a show called “Kalle Anka” which is Donald Duck, but it’s basically a series of Donald Duck and his friends in Christmas. It kinda of funny to truly see how far Disney’s legacy goes around the world (being from Florida and all) After watching that for an hour, I spend dinner with my family and again had a “Julbord,” and finally presents! One family member dresses up as the “jultomten” or Christmas troll which is kinda Santa, but not really. Anyhow that person is in charge of giving out presents, and this year that was me! I got a sweater, a Karlstad towel, a fika tray and a book on Sweden and while I’m used to expensive and over the top presents, these presents had so much meaning, they were all things I loved and valued and it certainly was Christmas I won’t ever forget. That night we attended Midnight Mass which was in my local 100 year old church and just illuminating.

The next morning (the 25th) I wanted to do something special for my family and woke up early to cook an American breakfast, complete with pancakes, bacon and scrambled eggs, I also made the rule of not changing out of their Pjs. I then gave them all their presents from me and I opened my presents from my American family. It was all perfect.

New Year’s was kind of hard to celebrate without my American family as it has always been the biggest holiday for us, but it was also fun to experience it with my Swedish squad watching the fireworks over the river.


Tis the month of changes. While the new year changed so did the family. I was extremely close with my first family and I spend hours crying just because I wouldn’t get to see them everyday. But I will say, as hard a it was to move, my new family brought all kinds of new joy and it turned out more than okay. In this family I have 4 siblings all of whom have been on exchange in America. Two are in college, one on exchange and one is 2 years older than me and attends the same school. They all have been incredible and the one two years older has really become one of my best friends. It’s nice to have a sibling at home again, to make fun of, ask advice from and sometimes even help with homework. My new family is highly musically talented and it’s so fun to hear them sing and play all night.
So this month was the beginning of the winter sports starting with my first time walking on a frozen lake and skating two days in a row for 3-4 hours a day and it was soooooooo cool. (Literally)


WINTER at it’s highest! Cold and snowy, but what a fun month.

More Rotary trips! This time I was back in the South of Sweden with my buds to go….. SKIING. It’s very obvious to know I am from the Sunshine state, whether it’s my giant winter coat or constantly falling on the ice you tell me how I stand out in Swedish society in the winter. Well my time to shine came when I went skiing for the first time, it was going really well, you know on the baby slopes until I accidently went on a huge slope, freaked out and sat on the mountain for 20 min absolutely terrified. I even facetimed my mom while stuck to get my mind off of being sacred. I ended up standing up again, only to fall 1 second later, so I then took off my skis and went down on my butt. Needless to say I was terrified and did not continue to ski that day. But it was a great new experience and fun to experience with other exchange students.

Skiing Con’t:

For some reason I was so determined to get this skiing thing down. I don’t know if it was the 3 year old Swedish kids passing me on the slopes or the raging Swede in me, I just knew I had to keep trying even though it scared me beyond belief. I’m a tad dramatic, but heights on a roller coaster are a bit different than heights on a mountain full of snow. My balance is terrible, but from that first trip, I never gave up and skied every single weekend after that. Either in the small ski slope near my house alone or in the big one up north with my family, and while I never really got the full hang of it, cried more than a few times (I’m not kidding,) and had a body full of bruises, I was so proud of myself. I faced my fears and somehow, someway got down the slope and with every fall brought a new memory. Not to mention, I saw some beautiful views in the process.
One day even school took me cross country skiing and made American pancakes. What a fun “field trip”!!


Stockholm 3.0

Both of my host parents lived in Stockholm, well actually they met there, so the city means a lot to them. While there with my host family I got to see where they lived, what cafes they went to and it was kind of cool to get a glimpse into their old life besides photos. We went to the Abba museum, which is as Swedish as it gets and to the Tutankhamun museum. I spent one day in Uppsala, a big university town and had lunch with my Swedish host grandma and she was sooo nice. Apparently she normally doesn’t always talk to much and can be a bit shy, but she loved speaking English and it really helped us bond. I even got to go inside the Dome kyra in Uppsala which is the largest church in Scandinavia. After that I split up from my host parents and headed back to Stockholm for the 373369 time in my life. I only had one day with Sofia this time and her friend from Italy was visiting. It was so funny to actually be the translator this time. I had my first authentic Mexican in 7 months, visited the Vasa Museum, had a great Fika and sat on a dock and watched as broken ice passed by. The next day I headed over to Eskilstuna to see my friend John and see his city!

Mullsjö and Lidköping :

I was so happy to be invited to speak at PETS about exchange with my best friend Anne from Canada. I got to go to school with Anne for a day and meet her friends and family. We watched “Melodifestivalen” which is like Sweden’s biggest competition, it’s basically a lot of yelling and voting for your favorite. (one of my favs won)

I have been very lucky to gain new friends in Sweden, one being a girl from Syria, whose mind and unapologetic character stood out. We became great friends talking about politics and sharing our life stories. We decided to start an International Relations club at school where every meeting we discuss a new world topic. While we’ve only had one meeting and there was a mere 10 people, I’m really excited to see it continue.

These past few months I’ve had my fair share of tears, missing homc and feeling utterly alive. But finally things are calm, not too high, not too low and when one of those feelings comes to hard I know how to handle it. My friend recently asked “wouldn’t you had loved to have the feelings you have now in the beginning of exchange?” So I thought about it, well of course I would, but I have experienced so much to get here and I would never give that up.

Sat, April 1, 2017

  • Mia, outbound to Sweden

Tjena!! I’m now almost 3 months into my exchange, which is crazy to say. To think a year ago I was applying, second guessing myself, spending countless nights dreaming out what it would be like to live in a foreign country, stressing about getting my TB results and getting prepped for what would turn out to be the biggest interview of my life, is really really crazy. Now I’m here, sitting in my school’s cafe, in Sweden, a country one year ago I knew nothing about other than it was cold and a Rotarian I knew went here on exchange 50 years ago. To all those applying, take a breath, it’s okay, relaxed you is way better than stressed you. Best advice, don’t have big exceptions and know Rotary will do their best to see if you are right for exchange and if you’re not, you will have countless more experiences and opportunities in your life. If you are so fortunate to be selected, also know Rotary wants to throw you out of your comfort zone only to the extent to which you can handle, they are extremely smart in choosing your country, I don’t know how, but they will find you the “perfect” country. I got my 5th choice and was so surprised, but I cannot explain how happy I am with Sweden. I’m so happy you all even took the leap to apply. Know you are brave and if anyone doesn’t support, they are a small bit of negativity in a life that should be full of positivity. If you have any questions regarding exchange feel free to message me on social media. 🙂

It’s been a while so I’m going to share what I have been doing, seeing, tasting and loving.

To start, they didn’t lie, it’s cold, very cold. At the bus stop, in the town square, at the grocery, walking to the cafeteria , all cold. In Sweden they don’t ask if you are cold, they ask if you are freezing. At first I always answered no, because to me freezing is like so cold you can’t go outside, while it is cold here, I wouldn’t in English say I’m freezing. To my Floridans “fryser du?” (are you freezing?) Yes, I’m cold everyday, but after some time of complaining, which didn’t change the weather, I actually like it. The way it hits your face and makes you feel fresh. It wakes me up in the morning AND it makes the trees die kinda, which bring something I never saw in the US…. FALL. A true fall with the leaves and coats and scarfs and gloves. I LOVE IT. My locker is on the third floor of my school and over looks a hedge of bright pink and orange leaves. Sweden is actually fake sometimes. My bus ride is goes throug h the country side and is 30 min everyday, but the beauty from the drive is beyond words. Värmland, my “state” or region in Sweden has many hills, like those tv shows set in the fall and many pine trees. My view consists illuminating trees that change colors in the fall and pine trees mixed together, I’m not really sure that makes sense, but its beautiful trust me. My town’s old cathedral style Church has blood red vines all going down the side of it and it is so gorgeous.

I have had more homesickness and cultural shock than I thought, but my family is constantly helping me adjust to Swedish culture. I stopped using FB (other than messenger for other exchange students), Instagram and blocked all my friends from the US on snapchat and have limited communication to just my parents. This is a what I call an American diet, but my relationship with my friends has become poetic as we now write letters to each other. It’s so important I keep trying to learn Swedish, because as of now that is by far my biggest obstacle. Exchange is more fun and most stressful than I ever thought, sometimes I have to take school day by day and try my best to get used to life. This country however is beyond words and I’m so happy I got selected to go here.

I have a personal blog as well, so I’m going to throw in some bits about school and traveling from there.

With the start of school, things became much harder than I thought they were going to be. The people are different, the way school works is different, my friends are different and the hardest part, the language is different. None of this unexpected, but in reality much harder than I ever thought. Different not being a bad feeling, but a new one for sure.

Here is the big differences in school I’ve noticed almost 2 months in.
So in Sweden you have basically 3 years in high school. If you are born in 2000 you are in 1st year, 1999-2nd and 1998-3rd. (I’m in 1st cause there wasn’t enough space in 2nd year, but I love my classmates so its all good) In America, you choose a class you need to take (Chem, US history etc.) and you get put in the first available one, maybe being with your friends in a few by chance. Here you choose a program and you have almost all your classes with your program. It’s like two 3 tiers, your year, program (mine is arts or Estet) and then you choose your specific program within your program, but not all have specific one (mine is theatre). There are many programs to choose from, arts, sports, basics, languages, nature, economy, time and so many others. Almost all my classes are with the theatre and dance 1st year students. Classes are different everyday, like I have math twice a week for and hour and half each class. No school bell as well. Also another funny diffe rence, they don’t have stalls, just a bunch of single bathrooms, which is kinda cool. ALSO they have a cafe with so much food, so if I’m running late I can good and healthy sandwiches before class starts. And school doesn’t have American school desks, just IKEA tables with nice seats. Teachers don’t have one class room, they have an office and bring their supplies for class everyday. Most teachers teach in more than one classroom.

The first day, I was lucky enough to have my third host sister (she was only in school for two weeks before she departed to Italy for her exchange) in my class and she was my saving grace. It was the first time I had heard only Swedish and at an extremely fast pace. It felt as though I was surrounded by moving lips and sound, but no comprehension. I’m in the equivalent of American freshman year, with slightly older students because high school goes from 15-19 ish here. The day went by pretty fast, I met some classmates, all of which were very nice. Some impressions I got from the first day were: 1. Swedes dress incredibly well, like the legends were true, Sweden has amazing fashion. I kept saying in my head this  “ is a vogue model shot or school?” 2. Many girls wear makeup and are stellar at it. Like their contour could cut someone and their brows were beyond on point. 3. The school lunch is free and amazing. SO MUCH BREAD 4. Swedes love it when foreigner s try to speak Swedish 5. The level of independence in school is crazy, you are treated like an adult. 7. School is like college and schedules are sometimes super hard to understand 8. Theatre kids rock around the country

I’m not gonna sugarcoat it, the rest of the week was very hard. Sweden went from fairy tale to homesickness abyss way to fast.

Not understanding jokes, not understanding fashion or how my schedule works. My Swedish friends and school are absolutely amazing none the less, it was just difficult. On the second day of school, I dropped and cracked my phone so bad it didn’t work. This little bad thing, led my brain to let out every piece of anxiety I had. I got home, pretended like nothing was wrong, went to my room, cried in my room, eat Swedish candy (Diam, specifically) and watched Netflix. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to be home or I missed something specific, it was the thought that in the US I had everything and I was confident and happy and here I thought to myself, I can’t do this, I can’t learn Swedish, I won’t make friends. All so far from the truth, but when homesickness comes it becomes quite hard to disguise the truth from the tears. Of course this Netflix spree helped the pain for only a bit of time before it came back the next day. A day that was fun as we had many activities with all years, but not understanding jokes and having to figure out what is going on 80% of the time can get frustrating at the beginning. Friday was by far the best of my week, but still an uncomfortable and unknown feeling. I got home and repeated the same process, cry, watch Netflix, eat candy. Something I told myself I would NEVER do on exchange. However this time I was able to FT another exchange student and rant, which is actually a good thing because she was able to relate. I felt like I just couldn’t do this, a feeling I thought I had no control over. As this tiring, but interesting week ended, I,  like a whiny child was so mad at myself for reacting this way and was just sad.

However Saturday was a new day.

Assuming I could stay in my room again, telling myself  “I deserved this, because this was a hard week.” But as Saturday ended I now realize that is not true. I don’t deserve to stay in my room, I’m in Sweden. Sweden, that’s so cool. As my host parents came into my room and told me we would be going to see art that day, I got quite happy because I love spending time with them, not knowing I would learn a few big lessons that day. They said we would be going to this cool place in Forshaga (my small, small village town). I thought by now I had seen almost the whole town. Wrong. We drove literally 3 min away to 6 houses as old as 600 years, originally owned by my favorite Swedish author. As I went into these houses with amazement, I came across a picture of a sad women, it reminded me of myself. She looked as though she had no control of her sadness. At that point I realized I was not that women. I did indeed have control of my happiness, I’m in freaking Sweden after all. We then walked back outside and I stared at the 6 houses in pure shock I lived so close to such historical homes and I learned another lesson, no matter how well I think I know something, no matter how much I think school is going to continue to be hard, life can surprise you any step of the way.

A Rotex once told me “the best part of exchange lies in the unexpected”.

After an afternoon of life lessons hitting me in the face, I went to a garden party where I got to spend time with my amazing Swedish family and 20 amazing neighbors. Some Swedish children loved that I was from the alleged “US” and helped me learn some Swedish.

Monday to my shock wasn’t the best as I was late to class, but with my new found attitude, I just kept hoping life would surprise me.

And it did.

I had Swedish class for all the exchange students in my town (we have 15 with different programs, the most are with Rotary, my personal favorite), and within the afternoon we became very close. We went to Fika right after class and got to know each other. They too could relate to homesickness and day dreaming in class and sometimes just not understanding one word of Swedish.

Tuesday was one of my best days yet. I explained to my Swedish theatre class how it feels sometimes to be an exchange student and feeling like you have no voice, even if you’re me and love to talk. They not only understood, but they also offered to speak in English for class. I kindly told the teacher no and said “as hard as it can be, I’m in Sweden and need to learn your language because it’s your country.” My teacher smiled as did my classmates with much joy that I said that. Yes it hurt to say, but it’s the truth. Swedish is hard, but it gets easier everyday and with help from my terrific classmates, I only continue to learn.

After I told my Swedish friends how I felt, they too could relate. We were freshman after all and they were also new and scared of fitting in. I then really started bonding with my class and got invited to FIKA, with SWEDES! Once I got past my internal fear of not fitting in with Swedes, I really started getting close with them. I think the internet scared me out of letting myself connect with them. The internet says that Swedes are reserved and never smile and are anti-social. With my particularly large personality this was my biggest fear coming to Sweden.

The internet could not have not been more wrong. My classmates have some of the biggest hearts ever. They will adjust at all needs to make me comfortable. They love my “large American personality” as they say. They are outgoing and just so genuine.

Fun story: I love sports class or PE here as we play really fun games and everyone has some sports experience so we play hard. I never really tried in PE in the US and here I’m like an animal and smack balls out of people hands, get  flagged, and have a blast. The best is when my PE coach was showing the Swedes how to catch an American Football, sure I was football cheerleader for 6 years and watched it since I was baby, but that did not, in any circumstances mean I was good. He threw the ball to me and I kind of caught it and threw it back, to my surprise it even spiraled a bit and then he said something in Swedish and threw it back. This time I was not as lucky as it hit me super hard right in the throat. I couldn’t stop laughing and neither could my classmates.

So fast forward, I’m now I’m 2 months into school and literally I could not love my classmates, more. I’ve gone to a few Swedish parties, had some Fikas and practice my Swedish with my classmates everyday. We sing in halls and shout and talk about boys and yea I’m just bonding and I love them so much. I have given 3 presentations to English classes about the election and being American in Sweden, which is my dream because I love politics and talking. I will do about 8 presentations total to 8 different classes in the next 2 weeks. They have a cafe in school and I’m always buying Kanelbulle (cinnamon buns) for 10kr and I have no shame whatsoever. (well now I’m on a slight diet cause I’m not fitting in my blazer anymore, even though I walk all the time) I am so thankful to have such an amazing school, teachers and classmates, they are already changing my life.

Your girl has had her fair share of traveling, let’s get into some details of this astonishing country.

Örebro is a town about an hour away, in a different “region” of Sweden. I had to go to migration center with other American exchange students from Karlstad. (min boy’s Pete och Nick) Anyhow our lovely counselor Ethel took us through this old and gorgeous town, complete with a castle in the center of town. Literally I turned a corner in the park and there was just a huge castle. (fairytale moment) That was a blast.

Åre, Åre, Åre. How do I describe this? Let’s put it this way, Rotary had planned a wilderness camp for 28 exchange students, 5 days in one of the most beautiful parts of Sweden. Pete and I traveled from little Karlstad for 16 hours to, Åre, a town known for it amazing Skiing and mountain biking. Like one of the best in the world. No it wasn’t cold enough to ski, haha.

Day 1: We arrived 5 hours late and the minute I arrived I just ran into all my best friend’s arms. Some I hadn’t met in person and others I hadn’t seen in 2 weeks. (tragic I know) Doesn’t matter, I had talked to everyone prior to the camp and I was just beyond excited to see them.

Day 2: We started our trek with my huge backpack carrying all my stuff. We were going on the side of a mountain (not Åre) to camp in tents for a night. It was about 7 kilometers away, encompassing many uphill treks. Immediately I had a problem as my boots were too big and hurting me while I was walking, typical Mia move. I got new boots (which were too small and my big toe has been numb for weeks, but the experience was worth it) I ended up becoming extremely close with some exchange students as we bonded over taking photos on the journey to camp. Listen, the nature was draw droopingly beautiful, I mean I can’t even explain it. I was like Dora going through the forest.  We would go from open grasslands to thick green forests, to eerie trees that were close to dying to forests filled with tons of berries. It was actually a fairytale moment. We arrived at camp(we were the slowest ones), had a swim, ate reindeer meat and had a mystic campfire. At 9pm my new best friends went on a walk and ended up walking more than halfway back, walking for 2 and half hours.

Day 3: It was raining too hard so we couldn’t stay another night, we instead walked back and this time I wasn’t the last one to arrive! We hung out at the cabin the rest of the day and as exchange students do, we talked about life and played games.

Day 4: BEST DAY YET. Our amazing Rotarians were like “today we are going to Åre” and I was okay cool, a really cool mountain. Well life had another little surprise moment. As we were taking a ski lift up Åre, they said you could either climb up the mountain the rest of the way or you can take another ski lift. Feeling a bit adventurous, I was like “Abbey (my Aussie bestie) let’s go this way” Well I was wearing sweatpants and crappy tennis shoes and Abbey was afraid of  heights and we somehow together managed to climb the terrifying mountain. Full of mud and literally holding onto ropes to not fall off the side of the mountain, it was by far the scariest and coolest thing I’ve ever done. I’m from FL, the largest mountain I have is Mt. Dora and you can push your baby up that, so it was a very new experience. Once we got past the mud filled, jungle part of the journey to the top, we climbed an area most people do with walking st icks, but I obviously didn’t have those. My brain was like okay Mia you need to spider crawl, so I literally spider crawled up the rest on the way up. By the time we were to where the other ski lift dropped off my friends, everyone had been there for like 40 min. Of course we then had million stairs to the top and you know climbing isn’t as fun when you’re not holding on for dear life. So Abbey and I made it to the top….finally. Every Swede I saw congratulated me for making it to the top as some saw me climbing. Once at the top I had never been more proud of myself. I always tell myself I can’t do things, especially physical and I just climbed a 200 meter vertical slope. I felt like I was on the top of the world, literally. Not that it was a shock, but the view from the top was breathtaking, ( the stairs were also breath taking) miles of mountains, my gosh, it was amazing. After that we went to go eat lunch at a lodge near the top and guess what, IT ST ARTED SNOWING, I immediately tried to make snow angels even though that wasn’t possible. Abbey and I then assumed we could take the ski lift down, but we couldn’t, now pro hikers, we didn’t mind. So we hiked down and Abbey fell… and sprained her wrist. Life is like that sometimes. We went to Åre’s downtown and looked around, had a presentation and went back. At night all of us exchangers hung out and at night guess what we saw??? THE NORTHERN LIGHTS, though they weren’t super bright, they were there and that was enough for me to freak out. Again.

Day 5: I packed my bags, headed back to Karlstad, sleeping every train ride.

I love Sweden.

Uddevalla, Ljungskile and an Island I forgot the name of:

Sailing!!! I am the Captain now, paint me like one of your french girls, *pretend to be captain Jack Sparrow*
Rotary planned a Swedish West coast sailing trip for 2 days, yayyyy!

Day 1: Like the klutz I am, I missed my first train, but it didn’t bother me as I am so used to traveling now, I was like okay just get a new ticket. So Pete, Lorenzo (other Rotary students from my town) and I stayed with a very nice Rotarian man and his wife in Ljungskile, a small town on the Swedish west coast (near Gothenburg). His house was pristine and modern on a cliff overlooking the town, with the ocean in the middle. We had some great food and went for a swim in the ocean at 11pm, which is pitch black. Okay clarity, Sweden doesn’t have deadly animals in the ocean other than jellyfish. After 20 min on the diving board too afraid to jump in, I finally jumped off the 10 ft high board and hit the oh so familiar salt water. It felt so relaxing to feel the cold salt water again. I jump and move my hands around and guess what I see? GLOWING PLANKTON I freaked out again, like I do. They say it’s the Northern lights, but underwater. We went and sat on the dock, look ing at the most stunning sky full of stars ever. I could legitimately see the Milky way.

Day 2: We hopped in the car and headed to a town 20 min away called Uddevalla. We were among the first to arrive to the charming ship that was about 60 yrs old. The minute I saw my best, best, best friend on exchange from Canada arrive (remember her from the last journal), I, in the most dramatic fashion ran to her and jumped in her arms. It had been like 3 weeks since I had last seen her, so of course I was excited. We proceeded to settle in the boat made for people to learn how to sail. Our beds were built into the wall, upon sitting on my bed I hit my head on a pole because it was a bit cramped, but the experience was worth it. We all received a number and learned some facts about the ship. We started to set sail about 2 hrs into our journey. Oh yea we were going through the archipelago, (that’s a hard one to spell). Long story short, it’s a bunch of super cool granite rocks just casually sitting in the Swedish West coast. The best was seeing little red lighthouses on t he rocks. After a few failed attempts at learning to sail, I was definitely the least experienced and took the longest to learn, but hey I learned… eventually. We found a cozy little island to stay at for the night. The island was filled with ravishing, abandoned homes as many wealthy city swedes had their summer homes there. Walking through the cobblestone roads and bright Swedish colored homes, I was astonished. We stopped at a hotel (didn’t stay there though, remember I’m a sailor and sleep on the ship)  and learned some things about the town we were in, followed by another dip in the Swedish west coast waters.

Day 3: We woke up to some unforgiving hard rain and had to do everything to work around it, we again set sail, but this time the waves were insane. For the first time in my life, I was a seasick mess. Grabbing onto my best friend Anne for dear life as I tried to not throw up. (you can laugh) Once the waves cleared up, I decided to go on the front net of the ship with my friend Alex, who basically saved me from falling the whole time. The view from the front was extraordinary, especially when we saw jellyfish swim by. We then cleaned the ship and packed up, and gave my friends giant hugs as we parted ways.

District Conference!!! We went to a very adorable and little town for our Rotary District 2340 Conference. The Karlstad squad spoke in Swedish for about 3 min each in front of 65 Swedish Rotarians. Luckily I had my RYE FL elevator speech basically down and didn’t do so bad, as Swedish can be quite difficult for me. After a delicious meal provided by Rotary, I was able to meet a famous Swedish author, Jan Mårtenson former Head of the Secretariat to the King of Sweden, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, Director-General at the UN Office at Geneva, Deputy Secretary-General of the UN and head of the UN’s European headquarters in Geneva. I may have freaked out a bit. I got to speak to him for some time about working for the UN and my interest in human rights. After the conference we got to walk around Arboga and take “artsy photos” and really just spent quality time with my Karlstad guys. Thank you so much to the Rotarians for making my time in Swe den extremely fun and supporting me.

For three days I went to Stockholm. Yes Stockholm, you know the small town, only like the “capital” of Scandinavia. Not a big deal or anything. Autumn is in full swing here and it was probably one the best times to go. Fashion in “Stocky” is just wow. I stayed with my gal pal Sofia from Colorado who lives in Spånga, a mere 10 min by train to the center of  Stockholm, even though the train came every 15min, we were always and I mean always full on sprinting to catch it. When arriving in the massive central station, I ran into Sofia’s arms as this was our first time meeting. We decided it would be a good idea to go to Stockholm’s Gamla Stan or Old Town. Complete with medieval streets and cozy, narrow cobblestone streets, I was, yet again in love. The funniest part was taking my suitcase on the cobblestone roads, if you come I highly suggest otherwise, take the time to drop off your luggage. On day 2, the birthday boy and reason I was in St ockholm arrived. Little Johnny boy from California was turning 16. In our little Stocky/ Karlstad squad we had about 10 exchange students. Prancing around Stockholm in our planned “diva” outfits, we felt like the talk of the town. We went to the Museum of Modern Art in town, felt posh looking at art, some pieces actually making me cry. We then full of sprinted to catch our bus and headed to THE STORES. Okay listen, I’m not a shopaholic, I just really like clothes, maybe a lot in this country. We went to all the stores and maybe spent all of our Rotary allowance. Wearing my sunglasses inside and holding a million bags I felt as if I was in an episode of Gossip Girl. After some great shopping, we headed for the classiest place to eat in Old Town, but we couldn’t find anywhere for our now tiny bank accounts, so we went to the second classiest place in Stocky for dinner….fast food… Before dinner we had to stop for something that caught our eye. Walk ing up from the subway, the most elegant sunset overlooking the old city. As a natural reaction, we grabbed our cameras and had a photo shoot. Oh and we ran into other exchange students from the US and France, they saw us holding our flags and freaked out. Immediately following dinner we headed to the subway blue line, in which the entire underground subway tunnel is covered in marvelous blue drawings. So we had another photo shoot. Finally we arrived at Sofia’s house and went to bed at 4:30am and woke up at 6am to another packed day. Looking like divas we strutted to central station and met up in a Starbucks with the squad, getting my first Starbucks in 2 months. We left and went shopping…again, this time in a place called Slussen. We then went to my favorite place in Stockholm called Sodermalm,where Sofia’s high school was. I don’t know how to describe it, it was just so posh and not too cramped, but also super Euro if that makes sense. Maybe upper east side Ne w York, where all the rich people live. We had a nice picnic in the city center, but had to eventually leave my perfect weekend.

If you made it to the end of my exchange novel, you’ll see how much fun I have been having. I’m extremely lucky to be an exchange student with Rotary and owe my amazing times to the organization, be it my amazing club or family or school or trips, they were all in charge and do an terrific job.

Lycka till to all those applying and my other nuggets from FL on exchange.

Sun, October 23, 2016

  • Mia, outbound to Sweden

Hello all. I’ve been in Sweden for what is now 2 weeks and I have fallen in love with this beautiful country. I have fallen in love with the people, the lifestyle, the food, the nature, the clothes, the transportation, you name it. Now that you know how Sweden has already taken my heart I’m going to share with you my biggest challenges, my biggest successes and what I have been doing.


They weren’t lying when they said everyone speaks English. The Swedes have terrific English comprehension. It becomes harder to understand Swedish when many things are in English, from the shampoo and body wash to some of the commercials on TV, English is very big. It is definitely some I plan to work on very hard in the future.


I got a tiny bit homesick on my third day as I looked some goodbye photos from the airport, but the weird thing is that I wasn’t that sad, everything in Sweden has been amazing. But I think the thing with exchange is the many uncontrollable tears. The feeling that your heart feels, but your brain doesn’t. After 15 dramatic min I took a deep breath and reminded myself where I was and that my friends will always have my back.

One the third night of my language camp I started having some unknown anxiety. It was such a rush of every emotion, every memory from home, that my brain couldn’t even settle on one individual thing. I listened to music and tried to make it go away, but songs about memories only made it worse. As terrible and unexpected as this cry session was, I’m glad it happened. It’s an indescribable happiness. I guess I had more respect and happiness for being able to have such good friends at home in Florida that I cry missing them and being so sacred and overjoyed about getting to know everyone new. I definitely regret trying to turn to my friends back home. It only made the tears worse, next time I want to turn to the people that are in this country with me, even if it is hard.

The other biggest challenge is one that is kinda funny. I forgot how dry it was and my lips are a chapped mess, but my fantastic host parents have given me medicine and every tip for my Floridian lips.


I always knew RYE FL prepped us very well for Exchange, but the level to which they prepared us speaks no boundaries. They said be a “Yes” person and try every food. So I have literally tried every food. Sweden has many berries outside just casually growing (sounds like a fairytale) and I have eaten almost every fruit I see. Sometimes the fruit will be just at my lips, when my host parents realize what I have picked and tell me not to eat it. I then ask if it will kill me. They always reply with, no, cause almost nothing in Sweden is dangerous, and I end up eating the fruit. My favorite bad fruit was probably the tiny apple that wasn’t ready and tasted like actual soap. My host parents and I then laughed till our sides hurt.

Another thing RYE told us is not to stay in your bedroom for too long. I have also taken this very seriously. Unless I am dead from exercising and want to sit for a few minutes or am getting ready for going out, I’m not in my room. I have been trying my best to be downstairs helping my host parents or speaking with them. I think that we thought it would be hard to be with our host parents all the time, but you don’t need to be talking to them all the time to connect. I can still connect with them by bringing my computer downstairs and downloading my pictures, but show them the pictures in the process, no talking needed. Also if I am downstairs chilling on my phone and my host mom says what she is doing, I almost immediately ask if she needs any help or if I can come, from picking berries to cooking. The thing is that we had such good training these things feel almost natural.

The last 2 weeks:

Okay the juiciest part…what is Sweden like?

Day 1: I arrived into the tiny Karlstad airport after a very long, but very fun adventure from Jacksonville. (PS make friends with people on the plane, in total I gave out 6 business cards and made friends with people from everywhere, Germany, Philippines, Utah, South Africa. Use your blazer to it’s full celebrity advantage cause now I have friends everywhere and they know about Rotary #win)

So I arrived and was a bit flustered because I couldn’t find my suitcase and I heard what sounded like my last name in Swedish. Walking out very confused, my host mom yelled my name and I turned to see my her with a huge sign that said Welcome to Sweden Mia. My heart immediately filled with joy and I ran to them and gave my host mom a huge hug. After getting my luggage situation figured out, my third host family met us at the airport and we had a nice chat. It really meant a lot to have so many people at my arrival. After that we have a lovely drive that consisted of me taking photos of just about everything, every house, every field, things that 2 weeks later are very normal in Sweden. We arrived at my home and I got a full house tour. My house is amazing. period. end of sentence. We had a very good Swedish meal and then went on a bike ride around my town of Forshaga and almost in second I was in love.

First week:

Well oh course this country stole my heart. Waking up every morning to a new land, going downstairs to smell my host moms new foods, going outside to smell the new air, the “high” everyone talks about is real and very, very fun. The happiness you have every day, its about a million times better than any vacation. The lingering thought of “I can’t believe I’m going to live here for a year.” It’s like walking in a model home in really nice area and thinking wow it would be awesome to live here, but then actually being able to live there. It’s house hunters international. I have climbed mountains and breathed the fresh Swedish air. I have jumped from joy holding my big American flag, I have picked every berry that grows in Sweden and tasted every food offered to me. I have gone to a crayfish party and “sang” songs with Swedish people. I have sat in conversations and literally not understood one word. I have gone to a famous Swe dish feminist/writer/god’s home. To say the least I have done a thing or two my first two weeks here.

Experiences that stood out so far:

The first would be when I climbed (mostly drove) up a hill (it was mountain to me cause I’m from Florida) and got to see my region of Sweden. The beauty of Värmland is too much to explain, it’s grace and simple way of life, filled too with an outdoor lifestyle and kind hearted people make every bad day worth it and the memory of having fika and just simply talking and spending time with my family that day is enough to last me a lifetime of smiles.

Another favorite experience is when I was given the opportunity (shoutout to my amazing host family for making this happen) to volunteer with refugees. With refugees being such a relevant topic in our the world politics and something I studied and followed for so long, acceptance of refugees is one of the reasons I wanted to come to Sweden from the beginning. So the day finally came where I did. The local Red Cross in Forshaga let me, a outgoing, English speaking American, volunteer with Arabic/Swedish speaking refugees, but some how I managed to learn so much. I was first introduced to 6 boys from Palestine, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. My media filled brain made me assume they were going to be sad and quiet, exhausted from life and drained from trying to understand a new land… my brain could not have lied to me more. The first thing the boys did when they heard I was from the US was laugh and whisper “oooo Barack Obama”. I was introduced to these crazy, life, ene rgy filled boys, 10-13 years old and immediately fell in love. Not only were they adorable, but man were they little characters. Speaking my little Swedish and their little English, conversations were near to impossible. We then spoke mostly in hand gestures and eye contact, maybe a few head nods. After my time with the boys, I then went and sat in on a Swedish lesson with adults and two teens. They showed me on a map how they came to Sweden and it was, for the first time so real as to what I read and watched on TV. Crossing on boats, sleeping in streets, families walking for 10 hours over mountains with children. Two girls, not much younger than me, were from Afghanistan. They were so kind and warm spirited. I asked a question that dawned on me. I’m from the US and it is not secret that we went to war with their country. It’s not secret, we are raised in a way to believe people from a certain country may dislike us because we went to war. Keeping that in mind I asked th e question “what do you know about the America?”. No that was not a bad question and yes I am absolutely glad asked. The younger sister responded with (roughly) “I don’t know much, but I think they are very kind and I really hope to visit one day” and just like that my whole view changed. Believe what you choose to believe, but even better go out and seek the answer yourself.

Language camp:

Language camp needs it’s own separate paragraph it was so amazing. My friends from that camp are now my best friends. It becomes hard in world of so many differences to find people that you have stuff in common with. I was given terrific friends back home, but when it came to exchange, no one but other exchange students really knew what was going on inside this little brain of mine. However none of my nuggets in Florida knew these first steps of being in this country. These new, but eerily familiar inbounds I had Skyped months leading up to this trip were so relatable and genuine in real life. After what I thought was awkward moments, we finally broke the first day’s silence, but cuddling and lucky for me I was at the base of said cuddle puddle. Long nights, freezing, freezing, freezing cold lakes, hours of Swedish and many attempts to make myself focus, the week was amazing. I now have new friends from every corner of the world that get to love Sweden just as much as I d o. We got to go exploring in mines, which was freezing, and afterwords climb to the top of the mountain the mine was in and sing “typical exchange songs” and take “typical exchange flag pics”. Being the only any Latina there, I got to show off my great salsa skills and even show some Rotarians how to dance to Shakira. I engaged in and began a full on food fight, that ended with a bloody nose and cinnamon all over my tongue, but the pain was worth it. I got to explore the deep forests of Småland and “run” with my friends. (apologies to those who actually wanted to run, I was enjoying the nature by walking, I promise that’s the reason) Long story short, language camp was like everything in Sweden, amazing and life changing, yes a week, yes best friends, yes I love my other inbounds.

Amazing. Fantastic. Beautiful. Serene. Old. New.

No amount of words could describe this feeling. This country is beyond words. My host family is beyond words. My town is beyond words. Any friend of mine or other exchange knows how excited I was leading up to exchange. Well that excitement is now very very raised. Sweden is everything I expected in a way I never could have expected. Swedes are 20 times nicer than they are given credit for. Swedes are positively as healthy as everyone says. (but the nature here explains it) Swedes, though more reserved are very open and warm if they are friends and would do anything for each other. Sweden is 712835289237829% prettier in person. No photo, even from the best camera in the world could capture the sheer, untouched, fresh beauty of this amazing country. But of course I have a favorite part of this place. One very unexpected. The community or kommun here is one I have never seen. Everyone knows each other, people take care of one another, they like to support the community and the town. It may sound cheesy, like in a disney movie, but I’m being serious, the sense of place and belonging Swedes have is a beautiful thing to see. My Forshaga Kommun, host family and other exchange students already feel like home.

To finish this novel I would like to say thank you. It is a word I have used so much being here, but never used enough being home. It’s easy to forget how much work others do, have done and are currently doing for me. So here are some individual thank yous. To Mrs. Paula and Mr. Hart/ Ponte Vedra Sunset club, thank you for sponsoring me and taking a chance on this wild, PVHS senior to experience this. Without your support from the beginning I would not be here. To Mrs. Cyndi, my rotex, and at RYE Florida, you taught me more than you can imagine and it payed off like you said it would. To know that you care so much is a great feeling, thank you. To my FL outbound class- the journey has just began, thank for being as crazy as me and doing this. To my friends and family that got me here- it was worth every penny, every tear and everything. Words cannot describe how thankful I am to you. It’s been two weeks and it’s been everything I thought (and probably told you every day ) and more. The energy and feeling is one I wish I could share with you. I’ve never been happier. While I may get sad at the thought of not seeing you for a year, to know you supported me this far is amazing. To my mom and dad – I love you and know no matter what crazy, scary adventure I do, I will stay alive and you’re the best parents in the world for letting me do this, I miss you so much, but this is the best present ever. And finally to this new country, people, host family, Rotary club, new friends- tack så mycket for trusting an American girl and teaching her the ways of this beautiful and captivating new culture.

Fri, August 19, 2016


Nicole - Finland

Hometown: Punta Gorda, Florida
School: Charlotte
Sponsor District: 6960
Sponsor Club: Punta Gorda
Host District: 1420
Host Club: Helsinki City West

My Bio

Hei, minun nimeni on Nicole! Hi, my name is Nicole, and this coming year I will be traveling to Finland to study abroad for my junior year of high school. I’m sixteen years old and I was born in Connecticut, but I’ve spent most of my life in Punta Gorda, Florida (a small town by the water in Charlotte County) where I live with my mother, father, an exchange student from the Czech Republic, a dog, and a cat. I decided to apply to be an exchange student after I saw a RYE presentation at my district’s RYLA event. The idea of traveling outside of my home country and experiencing not only incredible sights but also wonderful new cultures and ideas was a prospect that grabbed a hold of me and wouldn’t let go. Getting the news that I had been accepted was the biggest moment of my life and through this year, I hope to learn more about both myself and the world around me. At school, I am in the Advanced Placement program and I participate in many extra-curricular activities, namely marching band, book club, math club, after-school math tutoring, the academic bowl team, Tri-M Music Honor Society, and Charlotte High’s “Tarpon Leadership Academy.” In my free-time I enjoy reading, hanging out with friends, listening to music, and learning about new and interesting things happening around the world (mainly relating to scientific discoveries). I anticipate that this next year is going to challenge me more than anything I’ve ever done, but I’m planning to make every moment of it count and discover another piece of what this planet has to offer.

Journals: Nicole – Finland 2016-17

  • Nicole, outbound to Finland

Happy New Year, everybody! I hope your holidays were filled with joy, love, and maybe even a bit of adventure; I know mine sure were! If you follow kaukokaipuu, then you will know that my last blog post left you at American Thanksgiving. It’s been a bit over a month since then, and four other holidays have come and gone. Let’s talk about that.

Technically the first celebration of this most wonderful time of the year was Chanukah. Starting at sundown on Christmas Eve, this year’s Festival of Lights was particularly special for me because I was able to teach my host family about the holiday’s meanings, origins, and traditions. Finland as a country is over 70% Christian and less than 1% Jewish. Most likely for that reason, my host family and their friends really didn’t know anything about the holiday and were truly appreciative of me for sharing that part of my culture with them. Second up, and just as special, was Christmas. Unlike one would expect when one is on exchange in the home of Santa Claus himself, I did not actually spend Christmas in Finland. In fact, my host parents took me on a trip to the warm, sunny beaches of Costa Blanca, Spain. Needless to say, I was disappointed that I wouldn’t be getting the white Christmas I had always dreamed of, but (a bit unexpectedly) I quite quickly realized it was just the thing I needed to nip any blooming homesickness in the bud. Finland is beautiful, it’s my second home at this point, but you can’t argue that, for someone raised in Florida, the cold, dark winters feel like a truck slowly driving over you. A flash of sunlight on my paling skin and the ability to wear open-toed shoes effectively got me out of my rut in a matter of hours.

At the end of December came (as it usually does) New Year’s. I can say hands down, without a doubt in my mind, that this New Year’s was the best I’ve ever had. 2017 is Finland’s centenary year of independence. I live in the capital. If you can’t put two and two together, I’ll tell you they went all out. I’m talking about Finnish scale Time Square New York. I’m talking about a three-hour long concert (which started with Darude-Sandstorm) celebrating all things Finnish followed by a 5-minute fireworks show representing the seasons and spirit of this amazing nation. Spending the night there with those who I consider to be some of my closest friends, was incredibly special to say the least. Before this year, I had never been out past 10pm on New Year’s. The goal here in Helsinki wasn’t to have some crazy party, but to see the moment when I could officially start to say that I haven’t seen Punta Gorda, Florida since last y ear. That’s a pretty special feeling, and it gives a better perspective to just how unbelievable life on exchange is…

The last big event to catch everybody up on was my seventeenth birthday! Yep, on January 11th, I finally became the ever-revered dancing queen. At this age, I unlock an amazing new ability here in Finland: paying more for everything. Otherwise though, it’s not too special of an age. That’s okay though! What made this birthday special was the people I spent it with and the familiarity and friendship I felt with people I have known for a mere five months.

From here, I thought I would speak on the continuing progress of my exchange. My language skills are improving every day, but my vocabulary remains the size of a child of five. The plus side is that I am now able to communicate everyday information to my host mom, cashiers, and general citizens! Every day here presents a new challenge, but also a chance to grow and find a new solution. These last few weeks brought the challenge of dealing with the departure of the Australian and Brazilian exchange students, who I had come to look up to and love. It was painful to say goodbye, but I know that they are all moving on to even better experiences in their home countries and that we will see each other again someday!

That’s about all I have to say for this update! Please check back soon for a post regarding my recent host family change (what it’s like and my opinions on it as part of different exchange programs).

Sat, January 14, 2017

  • Nicole, outbound to Finland

Hello, everyone! I have officially been in Finland for 3 months (and I’m just now writing my first blog post)! Here’s the thing, being an exchange student is crazy. I mean it. One second it was my first week in this amazing country, and the next—a quarter of my exchange was done. So before I get into describing some of my experiences, let me just say that that it’s not in any way my own willingness that has kept me from writing here. Only passage of time at a rate that would lead one to seriously question their sanity. Since that’s done, on with the good stuff!

Let’s start with the start (that seems reasonable, right?): The first week in Finland is much different than in other RYE countries. For one, neither my host family nor host club greeted me at the airport. Now, you might be thinking ‘what? Did she have to walk home herself?’ and the answer to that question would be: no, I didn’t, in fact, I didn’t even see my house until a week after being in Finland. This is due to the RYE Finland bi-annual inbound camp (held once in the winter for Australians and Brazilians and once in the summer for everybody else). This camp is a great opportunity for all of the new exchange students to meet one another, as well as to get acquainted with Finnish culture, language, and [Rotary] rules. I could spend a whole blog writing about this, but, seeing as there are eleven other weeks to cover, I should move on.

Once camp was over, I was picked up by my host mom and driven home. This, right here, is when the real game begins. You do not know what being an exchange student is truly like until you sit in ebbing silence for two hours in a car with your new mom. Let’s be clear, this is not a bad experience. If, like myself, you have the courage to ignore awkwardness and go straight into discussing what makes your new host family tick, then, in those two hours, you will learn more than you think. In my case, we made a detour to my host grandmother’s house. She was so sweet, caring, and funny, but didn’t speak much English at all. I was forced to use what simple Finnish communication skills I had developed to tell her who I was and why I came to Finland, and to thank her for the coffee and hospitality. From this experience, I learned that success here wasn’t about being perfect, it was about actually trying (something that I haven’t learned about enough in America). Okay, so now we get to the continuing present—as in my general life here in Helsinki. My school days are absolutely incredible. I attend Ressun Lukio (whose name correctly translates to Snoopy’s School) which is known around the Southern Finnish region as being one of the best schools in the country. I cannot comment on how it stacks up against other Finnish schools (though I have a feeling they are all quite good), but from inside the walls, I can say that is has an atmosphere unlike I ever imagined a school could have. All of the students here have a hunger for knowledge that I just don’t see at my school in America, rules are virtually nonexistent, and I’m not kidding when I say that the students run everything besides the teaching.

Being a student in this capital city is very freeing. In my town in Florida, public transportation is basically non-existent and students are expected to be home if they’re not at school. Here there are buses, trams, trains, and metros running 24/7, and parents trust their kids to use them responsibly. There is a common level of respect that most parents seem to have for their kids which creates quite a difference in how Finnish students spend their free time. For example, sports are generally not in schools in Finland. Yes, there are always gym classes and sports to be played, but not in the competitive way that many kids desire. Due to this, any kid who wishes to be involved in competitive sports must find a club outside of school, which often meets on various days in the evening. The high level of transportation in the city makes it an extremely doable task to go from one side of Helsinki to the other, but time limitations might prevent one from going home before all of this. In this situation, lukio students might just hang out in the school or city with friends for an hour before practice. The same idea applies to those in band or orchestral programs, or those with other evening engagements. It’s not about being able to do whatever one wants, it’s about the trust that one is just as level headed and logically thinking as the parent is (and, if not, the experience provides them with the chance to develop).

Finally, let’s touch on some of the coolest things I’ve done since arriving. (1) I spent a weekend at a Finnish mökki (summer cottage) in the western archipelago region. During this trip, I was given the chance to explore a forest whilst picking berries (and eating them!) as well as come to have a greater understanding of the Finnish way of life (i.e. going to sauna). It’s amazing how quickly, after sitting at a dinner table joking and laughing with my extended host-family, I was able to feel at home in this foreign land. It is and will be one of my greatest memories from this year. (2) I participated in two, large-scale Rotary events—these being the EEMA conference and a Baltic Sea rowing race. I grouped these together because I am a large fan of the perennial “rule of three,” but they each deserve a full explanation. If you are not familiar, the EEMA (Europe, Eastern Mediterranean, and Africa) is an annual Rotary Youth Exchange conference, which is held in a different location each year. This year it was, obviously, held in Helsinki, and, given my position as an exchange student, I was invited to be a part of it. The whole event was not just a weekend of lectures, but also a chance to get a world-wide perspective on the RYE program. I listened to everything and thoroughly believe that my voice was heard as well. I am so thankful that this conference and my exchange aligned so perfectly. The rowing race is also an annual event, which is organized to support the preservation of the Baltic Sea herring (and its home in general). The exchange students in my district are always invited to compete as part of our own boat. Sadly, we came in last place this year, but we all had a great time (when we weren’t freezing our fingers off). (3) I visited Stockholm! Yes, this is Stockholm as in the capital of Sweden—as in not Finland, but hear me out. Before August 7th, I had never stepped foot in Europe, and, today, I hav e a completely different view of the world as a whole. My trip to this historic city was not one that I took as an American tourist, but one that I took as a Finnish tourist with my Finnish family. For hundreds of years, Finland was ruled by Sweden, and this trip gave my host family an amazing opportunity to really show me what that means—connecting the things I was learning about Sweden to the history of Finland. This to me was incredibly special.

As I close this first journal entry, I wanted to implore anyone who is considering an exchange with Rotary to continue pursuing it! Exchange is one of the hardest, but best things one will ever have the opportunity to experience. I know this year will impact the rest of my life and I wish for as many kids in Florida to have the same amazing adventure.

Sun, November 20, 2016


Nikki - Belgium

Hometown: Saint Augustine, Florida
School: Pedro Menendez
Sponsor District: 6970
Sponsor Club: Coastal St. Johns County
Host District: 2170
Host Club:

My Bio

Bonjour, Hallo! I’m Nikki, currently 17, and a junior at Pedro Menendez High School, bound for Belgium! At school, I’m a club person: Interact, Future Business Leaders of America, Student Council, and National Art Honors Society, among others; subject wise, I particularly love math, but Spanish is a close second since language learning is pretty radical to me. Outside of school I’m either playing games, crying over dramas, or hanging with friends for “study” groups, or in our case, an excuse to binge on Starbucks coffee until the sun goes down. I also have a special love for art, so all my papers are covered in doodles (my teachers either love it or hate it), and I’m thinking of going into Animation, along with other things. I have a wonderful family, with my dad from Buffalo, NY, and my mom from Udon Thani, Thailand, who run an Asian Market, along with a two pets: Mailbox the dog (yes, he is named after a Blue’s Clues character), and Bambeau the cat. I’m an only child, so I try to surround myself with friends (I really treasure them). We’re a pretty lively family and we’re usually up to something all the time! Belgium is pretty far away from home, but I feel pretty excited participate in a new culture and share mine with others (I sure will miss mom’s cooking, though). I’m really thankful to Rotary for this opportunity and guiding me, and my parents for finally letting me go for it! Wish me luck in Belgium!

Journals: Nikki – Belgium 2016-17

  • Nikki, outbound to Belgium

Guess whose inconsistent self is back ? Meeeee it’s me. But a one month time gap is better than like, a five month one, and lots of fun things have happened in literally just the past five days so let’s go to the nitty gritty fun stuff. Also my b I would have had this up sooner but I was like, if I have 10 days, I’ll just write it up and leave it open and add to it as the time goes by. SO here we are.

First of all, if you come from a place where you primarily drive and there are no hills (@florida), you’re gonna get toned legs, no kidding. Pretty sure half my theoretical gained weight is like, muscle mass (but then again I’m not checking that). Second of all, there are a lot of places to climb – one, the citadel in Namur, which I climbed with my favorite Argentinian gal Valentina. We almost died going up in, then almost got like, locked in because we hung around for too long oops. Second, the nightmare stairs of Liege – next conquest of ours. Soon. I’ll keep ya’ll posted. Maybe. Ya’ll know me.

Second of all, despite my french comprehension being pretty dang solid, obviously I’m still a fool considering how I decided, yeah, I just got this pizza hut coupon for a LARGE CHEESY CRUST pizza for only 7 euros. I thought that was realistic. No. No. The coupon meant “-7 euros” off the purchase. The pizza was actually like 24 originally. Read the fine print or your wallet will cry. Despite that “minor” oversight, Valentina and I still celebrated a good six-months-since-arriving-anniversary (we burned those calories by climbing the citadel, fyi).

Third of all, have your friends cook cool stuff for you. For us, we recently had a big get together organized by our Rotex where everyone cooked something pretty indicative of their host country and had a big feast. Except it actually wasn’t for us, but we shared anyway and let me tell you you haven’t lived until you’ve tried south african stew or truly genuine empanadas. Meanwhile, I made deviled eggs (the secret is pickle juice ! ), like six other people (and yet, surprise, no one made hamburgers as far as I could see ! a crime, frankly). But anyway, you have the world at your fingertips, so give it a taste yeah !!
Did I mention I switched families yet ? Have I done talked about that ? If so, whatever, I’m just going to reiterate that I absolutely adore my host family. True gems. It’s so nice to feel like, not ostracized, and gee they’re just really relatable. I actually cooked some traditional Thai food a while back which was a pretty big hit, and as for me, I’m supplied with boudin. The most delicious lunch meat on this earth. I don’t know what I’ll do when I get back. On another note my host family is planning like a mini vacation by the belgian sea side and I’m stoked for that. They know I love me some beach.

Have I also mentioned how much I love my friends here ? RYE ain’t playing any games when they say that the friends you make there are forever. Already, my Belgian friends are planning trips together for after exams, and even for next summer – they might come visit in Florida, or we might even go to Thailand together. Truly people of my heart and soul. To be truthful, I feel lucky to be really close with my Belgian friends (close enough to have a mock war. Ya’ll remember hornets ? I brought those suckers back), considering I’m one of the few out of the exchangers I know who is actually close with them. I was surprised to find out that some of the other exchangers were having trouble like being “real” friends with the Belgians. Sure, it isn’t easy to make friends in another language, but it sure is possible.
Which segways into how much I also appreciate my exchange friends here too. I’m glad to have two really great buds from Cali, Selena and Katy, along with my bud Valentina from Argentina. We’re always out on some kind of big adventure shebang – already planning some new things now. It’s hard to find a balance between time with exchange friends and local friends, but I think I found it, and boy is it nice.

And I guess a side note – if ya’ll newies are concerned about making friends here – don’t be, really. With other exchange students it’s definitely easy – you already have a lot in common ! With belgians, it can be a little tough, but the tried and true method that’s worked for many an exchanger is – follow a group around. Just shadow them for like a month. It sounds absolutely bizarre and mildly creepy and stalker like, but eventually they’ll adopt you in (sometimes literally. “Nikki if you don’t want to go back to the US we’ll adopt you. You can study law with me”). It works. And I quote, “Nikki you were so cute at first like a little ghost and you couldn’t speak french but now you’re literally a mess.” If that’s not friendship then I don’t know what is.

In any case this is long winded and really convoluted and confusing but when you’re having the time of your life and you have so much to talk about it’s hard to organize it. I have like sixty other little anecdotes but this is already really long. I’m still shook that this chapter in my life is like, halfway done, and I’m a little scared to come back because like. Belgium is my home, not even my second home, just straight up another home besides my home ya know ? If you don’t, you will soon.

And my final side note – for any of ya’ll new kids heading to belgium next year, if you need an extra leg up or wanna know something, don’t hesitate to contact any of us belgian outbounds – I promise I’m not as dumb as my journal makes me sound and I can give decent advice. Usually. You can find me on facebook or like… ask somebody about me. Ask Colson, he’s going to Brazil in the upcoming year (that’s ma boy !!) so he’s around. Anyway I’m on carnival break so possibly expect (or maybe don’t) some updates while I go do things. I’m gonna play mario kart with my sister catch ya’ll on the flip

Thu, March 2, 2017

  • Nikki, outbound to Belgium

Literally a year ago I turned to my friend and said “I don’t get what people are talking about with the whole “I didn’t have time to do my journal thing, I would totally write one like every week.”” Evidently, I’m fake and also a liar because that didn’t happen. No. No I totally get it now.

So what better time to fill in my journal than the start of a new year, 2017 ! :^) This is really me saying, I said I would do it after Halloween, then after Thanksgiving, then after Christmas…. But whatever your favorite neighborhood slacker is back.

Exchange is busy – really busy. In my case, I was late (carrying my habits – oh so smart), so I had even more loose ends to tie up. And after that… all I wanted to do was run around and explore. So I did and promptly forgot all about “journaling,” oh no, my life was explore discover eat.

But anyway – it’s been wild here, in a good way of course. I’ve learned a lot of Belgian things, Belgicisms if you will. Like, if you try and call frites “french fries” you’ll be lectured for an hour about how France is faux and definitely did NOT make french fries. Or the mildly terrifying driving here – my first host family found my screaming hysterical. Or how most Belgians have the ability to blow their nose anytime, anywhere, meanwhile if I want to cough I’ll literally exit the room. Amazing. I envy their courage.

Anyway. Belgium is a small country. Which maybe sounds like some kind of con, but no, it’s totally actually super great. Everything is literally just a train ride away, and gee howdy if I ain’t taken advantage of that. Bruxelles, Liege, Antwerp, Bruges… those are the big ones but I still have more exploring to do.

And eating – Ya’ll know I like to eat. I would be some kind of fiend if I didn’t help myself to the food they have here – and boy it’s g o o d. Waffles, two kinds, Bruxelles and Liege. Both great, but better with chocolate, whipped cream, and bananas. Chocolate. I don’t think I’ve tried enough but I can make a sound judgement : it’s delicious. Stoemp is essentially mashed potatoes with more vegetables which frankly is delicious and I can live with it. Mussels, of course delicious. And frites – literally why I live and why I exist and before you get weirded out about the mayo with the frites, it’s not that bad I promise (but FYI, good luck finding normal yellow mustard here – it’s all dijon ! Another FYI, gaining weight is so faux here considering you walk literally 60% of your life away. It’s balanced).

Oh my gosh no speaking of chocolate let me tell ya’ll about CHOCOLATE HANDS. They’re chocolates shaped like hands that are popular in Antwerp because apparently… there was this legend about some giant named Antigoon (???) who essentially accepted a severed hand as a payment for crossing I think a river. So they sell chocolate hands. Wicked.

Oh let’s talk about the people here too ! I love them. I love my friends at school they are literally the best and I adore them. At first it was one person and then it multiplied into five and now we’re this clique of six that is in direct opposition to the other clique of six in our class (not really but I’m being dramatic). But no I’m so thankful I found good people here they’re terribly kind and have great humor and gosh I just :,) They’re good. I’m in the sixth (last) year here so we also ! have a cool end of the year trip for the “Rhetos,” which for us will be in Greece ! I’m super excited to spend time with them there. My Rotary Club is also frankly super cool and I actually enjoy going to meetings so much I usually go two times a month. They’re all very sociable and patient with my ugly French and I’m very thankful and lucky to have them with me. Even though the meetings are literally five hours long and death is knoc king on my door after them it’s okay because we all have fun. And also shout out to my girl Valentina who is the only other Rotary exchange student in my area and club she’s from Argentina and I adore her and her cool Argentinian knowledge. It’s good.

Uhmm non sorry this is literally so disjointed I think of things as they come but I promise I’ll find the time to add in some little stories because ! I have some good ones. Hopefully I’ll find the time to tell them because I’m either doing something or I’m dead asleep with no in between.

Also bisous to my Rotary team and my family and friends back home I miss ya’ll and think of ya’ll everyday ! I’m doing my best to make the most out of the great opportunity you all gave me here in Belgium !

(Side note no pictures my phone force updated and restored itself so all 5000 of my photos have hit the road ! :,( I’ll add some when I get some good ones !!)

A la prochaine ;^)

Fri, January 6, 2017


Rachel - Spain

Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School
Sponsor District: 6970
Sponsor Club: Gainesville
Host District: 2202
Host Club: Caldes de Montbui Cungles de B

My Bio

Hola! My name is Rachel Exelbirt; I am currently a sophomore at P.K. Yonge in Gainesville, Florida. I cannot wait to spend my junior year of highschool in Spain! I am so excited to become fluent in Spanish and immerse myself in a new culture. I am an outgoing person and am always looking for an adventure. I am also looking forward to making many friends from around the world and creating many memories. I will be leaving behind my family and friends but I will grown and learn so much. When I have free time I enjoy exploring Gainesville’s nature parks, filming and editing GoPro videos, doing yoga, and going to the beach, lake or springs. I also enjoy going to Crossfit classes with my mom and best friend, Maia. At school, I am very involved in extracurricular activities. I am the Vice President of the March of Dimes Club, a main event leader for Dance Marathon, Key Club, Habitat for Humanity Club, SADD Club (Students Against Destructive Decisions) and Political Club. I am passionate about self-improvement, gender equality, politics and making a difference. Going to Spain with Rotary has been my dream since the 7th grade and I am grateful for this amazing opportunity to widen my world view. A big thank you to Rotary, my family and everyone who has supported me. Adiós!

Journals: Rachel – Spain 2016-17

  • Rachel, outbound to Spain

First off, I want to talk about how grateful I am to have had all the opportunities that I have to travel and live the experiences that I am living. I wouldn’t have all this if it wasn’t for my parents and Rotary. My trip to Israel was truly life changing, I learned more than I could have ever imagined. My great aunt has been a tour guide for 25+ years, so, as you can imagine, she knows the territory and history quite well. I visited the Western Wall, The Jordan River (where Jesus was baptised), Tel Aviv, The Holy Sepulchre, the Yad Vashem museum, The Dead Sea, etc. I especially enjoyed it the trip because I visited things that I might not have visited if I went alone or with friends. The thing that left the biggest mark on me was visiting a Druze village. I saw where a Christian, Muslim and Druze families were neighbors, what an example of peace! In this village there was only one Jew still living there.. When we arrived to the village we were going to eat dinner at a restaurant but it was closed, a Druze woman invited us to eat at her restaurant. The woman’s husband gave us a tour of their town and told us all the history of the Druzes people while his wife cooked. The food was incredible, I’ll attach a picture below. My time in Israel is very special to me; I became in touch with my religion on another level and spent time with my grandparents and my great aunt and uncle. I believe that if I went to Israel with the perspective of just an American it would have been very different.. What I mean by this is, I went with a multicultural perspective. Before doing exchange I would have never realized that the types of foods the people in Israel eat for certain meals, the times they eat, what times most people go to buy groceries is all part of their culture.

My dad came to visit me for 2 weeks and went back to Florida yesterday. We did a road trip through the south of Spain. At first I was a bit nervous that it would be weird seeing my dad after 8 months but it was as if not a second had passed. I had an incredible time on the trip. We went to beautiful beaches and explored cities with loads of history. The south of Spain is a lot different than the northeast of Spain, where I live. I have 7 weeks left in Spain and I am anxious about saying goodbye to the people who have been like family to me for the past months. This weekend I have my Rotary district conference in a city named Santander in the north of Spain. I am so excited to be reunited with all of my exchange friends! On the 30th I have another exchange student coming to stay with me for 9 days and then I am going to stay with them in the Canary Islands for a week. I feel like I am living in a dream everyday, words can’t even describe how grateful I am for my exchange year an d all the incredible people I’ve met.

I mentioned in my last post that I was going to visit my family in the Basque country. I had an incredible time, the Basque country is beautiful, and so green! I spent time with my uncle, aunt and second cousin. I visited the town where my grandfather is from and I met one of my grandpa’s sisters. It was unbelievable feeling to see where my grandfather lived for the first 20 years of his life before immigrating to the United States. I really felt connected with my roots. Having Spanish blood is the main reason I hoped Rotary would send me to Spain. I remember at the district 6970 flag revealing night and I got a Spanish flag and I felt overwhelmed with joy. That was over a year and a half ago and I can’t believe this journey is almost over. I look forward to becoming a Rotex and helping the future outbounds. Thank you a million times over to my supporting family and Rotary for making this year possible.

Tue, May 30, 2017

  • Rachel, outbound to Spain

I can’t believe I am in the last stretch of my exchange… I only have 3 months left. Everyday I get closer to saying goodbye to my best friends and family to go back to my best friends and family. I always go through the struggle of wanting to be in two places at once. I don’t think I’ll ever be “home” again. On a happier note, I feel that I am dominating Spanish and my Catalan is improving as we say, “poc a poc”.

Another positive of this part of my exchange is that it will be summer any day now and I will finally get to swim in the beautiful Mediterranean sea! I will also get to go to a famous theme park, Port Aventura.

I just got back from a 6 day long trip to Madrid. I got the train by myself and I stayed with a girl named Bianca and her amazing host family! I spent time with many of the exchange students in Madrid and on my own made friends with people from all over the world; England, Denmark, India, China, Afghanistan, etc. I saw so many beautiful places and met some of the most incredible people.

I learned that traveling is so much more than taking pictures, seeing tourist sights and eating a touristic restaurants. You have to learn about the culture and why the building are made out of the material that they’re made of and eat where the locals eat. My personal favorite part about traveling is learning what I like and don’t like to do and meeting new people. Being in Europe I have the opportunity to meet people from all over.

My grandparents are coming to visit me for 4 days and then we are going to Israel for 10 days! After that trip my host family is taking me to visit my Spanish family in the Basque Country. My dad is coming for 3 weeks in May and we are doing a road trip through the south of Spain. I am so excited for all the adventures that are coming my way!

Fri, April 14, 2017

  • Rachel, outbound to Spain

Halfway… 5/10 months. I can’t believe it’s already been 5 months that I’ve been on exchange. I couldn’t ask for better friends, family or school. I am truly blessed for this opportunity, thank you so much to Rotary, my family (especially my parents) and everyone who supports me.

I am so fortunate to have the opportunity to learn 2 different languages on my exchange. Living in a bilingual society has been the most interesting part of my exchange. A lot of the exchange students in Catalonia find that Catalan being the prominent language is a major handicap to learning Spanish but I have embraced it. I came on my exchange understanding Spanish but I had never spoken it before exchange, I was always too embarrassed of messing up. I have learned that learning a language, you’re going to mess up, it’s normal. I was conversational with Spanish my first month here and I never found Catalan a major problem other than in social settings. Normally, everyone here speaks Catalan with each other, but, to me they know to speak Spanish. After 5 months I finally understand most things in Catalan and it has made my exchange so much better. Like I mentioned in my last post, every week, I have 2 hours of individual Catalan classes, it’s helping me improve a lot . I still have some improving to do on my Spanish so I have started Spanish classes to fix my grammatical mistakes. My goal by the end of my exchange is for my Spanish to be perfect and to be conversational in Catalan.

To any future outbound who is reading this, I guarantee exchange will be one of the best decisions of your life but you always have to remember that you’re representing your state and country. You have the chance everyday to shape the way people from the US are viewed, it’s a big responsibility.

Tue, February 21, 2017

  • Rachel, outbound to Spain

It’s been almost 2 months since I’ve last updated you all! Since my last update I changed host families and schools. Everything is going great! I love my new host family as if they were my own. In my new school, I am getting 2 hours of individual Catalan classes a week. I am also giving presentations in English classes for middle school aged kids. I have 1-2 presentations a day, I really enjoy doing them. I still attend most regular classes but there are some hours that I have Catalan class or a presentation. I have made lots of new friends but there is no one I am particularly close with. I am also working with a group of 6th graders who are in a theatre group. They are preparing a play in English so I help them with pronunciation and some acting because I used to do theatre.

My new host family is truly incredible. I am really close with everyone in my family, especially my mom. The majority of our family; grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc live within 15 minutes of our house and we see them often! Especially during the holiday season. They are all such amazing, positive people. My host mom and I just started doing CrossFit together 3 days a week and we are eating healthier. Lately, I have really enjoyed cooking. I have made salads, pasta, stir fry, chocolate covered strawberries, chocolate mousse and smoothies for my family. I have started playing indoor beach volleyball 2 days a week. Over winter break, my family took me on a 4 day trip to Andorra. Andorra is a landlocked microstate that borders Spain and France. They are famous for skiing and not having high taxes. Shopping was a lot cheaper there! I had the opportunity to try snowboarding for the first time and it was a fantastic time! I am so fortunate to have that experience.

Last weekend we had an optional weekend trip just for our Rotary district in a city called Logroño. We toured various cathedrals and a wine Bodega. It was a group of about 20 inbounds and we had a blast.

Sat, February 4, 2017

  • Rachel, outbound to Spain

Hey guysss! Since I have last journaled a lot has changed. My Rotary district had an orientation with all the inbounds in the district and it was a blast! We visited La Sagrada Familia, Camp Nou and Parc Guell. We also did a walking tour of Barcelona, the tour guide was amazing, I had a really good time. When my mom was in her early 20´s she was traveling Europe and met a group of Erasmus students from Spain, Italy and Germany and they traveled together. Every couple of years, they all (minus my mom) have a reunion in a different city. This year they happened to be meeting up in Barcelona! My mom got me in touch with her friends and we made plans to meet. and my mom told me. I had the opportunity to show them some of my favorite places in the city. It was a really cool experience to meet my moms friend´s from 20+ years ago. Some big news, I am changing host families. I have a particular situation and I am moving 110 km away from where I live right now. I am changing schools and provinces. Right now I live in Barcelona and I will be moving to Tarragona. I will be living a 5 minute drive from the beach and I can´t wait!

Mon, December 5, 2016

  • Rachel, outbound to Spain

Hello all! I want to start out by saying everything is still going really well. I have now been here for almost 6 weeks.. It’s crazy how time flies. Since last time, I went to a Barça handball game, mastered public transportation, went to La Mercè and celebrated La Festa Major de Caldes De Montbui (my town). Barça played Germany in handball and it was such an intense game, we won, 26-25. I am in love with handball now, I wish it was a popular sport in the US. I have been to the city by myself a few times now. Google maps and Spotify premium are my best friends here.. I feel like I am really getting a feel for public transportation, it’s weird for me because in the US we go everywhere by car. I went to a very famous festival called La Mercé. They had free concerts, food vendors, live shows, etc. I saw a concert and a dance performance. In Cataluña, we have “Festa Major’s” for most of the bi gger towns. It’s a 4-5 day long event put on by the town hall. It’s filled with different dance performances, correfocs, castells and many more traditional catalan events. Correfocs are a group of people who dress like devils and light fireworks, sounds quite scary but it is actually very beautiful. Castells are a group of people who make human towers. The last event of FM Caldes was a fire run. People laid down a string that shot off fireworks of sorts, the string was fairly long and ended at the top of the only church in our town. Kids ran next to the string while the fire ¨chased¨them. It is fairly difficult to describe but it was a sight to see.. After that there was an amazing firework show. This weekend I’m going hiking on a mountain with my family and the weekend that follows, Mara who’s on exchange in France (from Florida) is coming to Barcelona and we’re meeting up!

Mon, October 17, 2016

  • Rachel, outbound to Spain

Today marks two weeks that I have been living in the beautiful town of Caldes de Montbui. To give you an idea of where Caldes is, I am a 30 minute bus ride from the city area of Barcelona. In the short two weeks since I’ve arrived, I have visited the city twice, been to the beach, gone to my inbound orientation in Madrid and gone through a week of school. I have this internal feeling that I have been sent to the most perfect place for me, I feel so blessed to be here on exchange.

So far I haven’t experienced a lot of culture shock. Some differences between Florida and Spain are the school system, greeting customs, the eating schedule and how we get from place to place. In Spain, the teachers move from class to class and you stay with the same people the whole day. My school starts at 8:00 h and ends at 14:30 h, the classes are change from day to day and they are an hour each. I am enrolled in the year primer bachillerato and I am taking the science “route”. All the kids in my classes take school very seriously and all of their notes are perfect. It is a nice feeling to be surrounded by people who take their education so seriously, a bit of a change for me if I’m honest. Here there is no dress code, people come to school in crop tops and there are no problems. In my school the students call their teachers by their first names but they have the utmost respect for their teachers. When you greet someone here even if you don’t know th em you give each other two kisses, one on each cheek. This isn’t very “shocking” to me because I have grown up in a hispanic family and I lived in Miami for 7 years of my life where that is a common greeting. Personally, I prefer the greeting here because it shows how open the culture and people are. I eat breakfast whenever I wake up and that consists of an espresso and fruit or cereal. At school we eat a sandwich (un bocadillo) at our 11:00-11:30 h break, when I get home at 14:45 h I eat my “real” lunch and then I eat dinner at around 21:00 h. I am used to eating a late dinner because in the US my family eats around 20:30 h. Walking and public transportation are the most common forms of transportation here, I love it, I have lost about 6 pounds mainly due to walking.

There were four things I really hoped to get on my exchange; an older sister, to live near or in a big city, to be close to the beach and to get an amazing family. I got everything I hoped for. I have the coolest family and older sister, I am 30 minutes from the beach and the city of Barcelona. There was only one thing I hoped that I didn’t get for my exchange and that was to be sent to Catalunya.. In the region of Catalunya, they speak Catalan which is very different than Spanish. Now I see it as a blessing that I have been sent here, I love Catalunya. Before coming to Spain I could understand a lot of Spanish but I had never actually conversed in the language. Everyone in my immediate family in the US is fluent in Spanish but we don’t speak Spanish at home. Typically when I visit my father’s parents in Miami they speak to me in Spanish but I reply in English. When I arrived by the second day I could have full conversations in Spanish and understand 95% of everythi ng that is said in Spanish, I think that it was a bit instinctual. Most people here converse in Catalan but everyone knows Spanish. My friends and family usually speak in Spanish around me so I understand. In school I take 4 classes; English, Spanish, physics and physical education. My physics teacher teaches the class in Spanish just for me and the other 3 are self explanatory. If someone speaks to me in Catalan I just tell them that I don’t understand and that I speak Spanish. There is a distinct difference between Spanish and Catalan. I am really excited to learn Catalan because it’s a challenge.

So far everything is going great. I am keeping really busy. I have an amazing family, friends and I love where I live. I want to thank everyone who helped make this possible for me, including Rotary and my family.. Besos de Catalunya :*

Mon, October 17, 2016


Will - Poland

Hometown: St. Johns, Florida
School: Creekside High School
Sponsor District: 6970
Sponsor Club: St. Johns
Host District: 2230
Host Club: Lode Kultury

My Bio

Cześć! MY name is Will Eberhardt, and I’m going to be spending a whole school year in the amazing country of Poland. I’m 16 years old, and currently a sophomore at Creekside High School in St. Johns. I live with my mom and dad, and, until recently, my older sister. She’s in college now in South Carolina. I play the clarinet, and am in my school’s wind ensemble and the Jacksonville Symphony Youth Orchestra. I love to read, and will read practically anything, though fantasy is my favorite. One not-so-common interest I have is linguistics. It’s amazing the huge diversity of communication that exists: all the different sounds you can make, vastly different ways to structure sentences, huge loads of different uses of prefixes and suffixes, etc. Along with that also comes another interest: learning languages. I’m learning Spanish in school right now, and plan to continue in and out of school until I’m fluent. I also started learning Polish in the summer before I even began applying, just because I liked it and wanted to learn it. Learning a new language, on top of the wealth of new experiences and maturity gained, is definitely one of the reasons I wanted to do this, and now my dream is a reality. Thank you Rotary!

Journals: Will – Poland 2016-17

  • Will, outbound to Poland

It’s been about 5 months since my last journal entry. As it turns out, there’s a lot you can do in 5 months in a foreign country. I could probably spend a good Saturday afternoon and evening typing it all out. Unfortunately, I’m doing this on a Monday night. I don’t really know where to start, so I’ll just say let’s start at “Official Rotary meetings” see where that goes. I think my last journal is not really very good, so I’m going to pretend it doesn’t exist and maybe redescribe some things.

At the very beginning, all the exchange students met in Bydgoszcz, for a 10 day “language camp”. It’s a nice city to mention every once in a while, but not nice to live there, because Americans would always ask you, “Hey, how’s Byqishajbsxz?” (source: the kids who live there). We stayed at this hotel/sports complex. I feel bad for the athletes there, because the food is really bad. The best and worst thing about it was that the food was basically the same every day. That’s good because my favorite foods were available every day, and really, I could eat the same thing every day and be happy, but it’s bad because the food was just bad. There also wasn’t any normal water. It was always contaminated by 8 lemons or 5 oranges or however much dang citrus fruit they decided to throw in the pitcher that day. The weather there was nice, maybe like 70 degrees? I can’t remember exactly. All but like 3 exchange students were there, so it was great to meet everyone and get to know people. We were split into 3 groups, blue, yellow, and green. There was this rotation system between the 3 teachers and other miscellaneous activities, and the groups were also used for quicker attendance taking, which, by the way, was never quick. SOMEONE was always sick and the leadership didn’t know, or taking a nap, or just slow, or didn’t look at the time, or looked at the time but didn’t know it was THAT time, etc, etc, etc. I can never remember what group I was in, but I figure it out by remembering which groups I WASN’T in. I wasn’t green because I didn’t participate in their atrocious butchering of the word “zielona”. We would yell out our group names in Polish to find each other, and green group apparently can’t say the word for green correctly, ALSO, they were using the masculine form when it should be feminine because they were “Grupa zielona” and not just “zielony”. Blue group learned this HORRIBLE clapping thing from one of the teachers and did it all the time and it was annoying and stupid. Therefore, I was yellow group, which is the more fun looking Polish word anyway (Grupa żołta). We got to look around the fine city of Bydgoszcz, and even got to meet with the major of the city, to whom we all said “Hello, my name is _______. I’m ____ years old and I’m from _____.” An hour well spent for him, I’m sure. We also got to visit this very large, very historic castle in Malbork. I think language camp was everyone’s favorite meeting, a feeling which is probably helped by the fact it was 3 times longer than the other two. I know I had lots of fun.

I suppose maybe I’ll go in chronological order. After language camp, school started. I explained school in my last entry. Perhaps it wasn’t a good explanation but it’s too complicated and I don’t want to explain that all again so I’ll just explain the relevant parts.

Polish high school is 3 years. You enter at 16, and start your last year at 18, ending at 19. At the end of your third year, you have to take the “Matura” exam(s). (Side note: I hate this word. No one ever knows if it’s “The Matura” or “Maturas” or “The Maturas” or “Matura exams”, etc.) Essentially, Matura is AP crossed with the SAT. Every student is required to take the math, English, and Polish tests. Each test is a separate entity, but all under the umbrella of “Matura”. There’s also optional tests you can take, like French, Spanish, history, geography, etc. Depending on the university you want to go to and your desired major, you take one or some of those specific tests. Your entire 3 years are spent preparing for this test. In the first year, the pressure isn’t so high. You have lots of classes, like civics, religion, economics, health, etc. In the second year, most of those extra classes are eliminated to begin focusing on more core subjects. In the third year everyone is stressed about the Matura and they study all the time. I’m in the second year. I participate in English and French. The geography teacher speaks English, and he translates science vocab into English, so that class isn’t too bad. In Polish and in history, we generally don’t understand anything, but the teachers are wonderful. They’re very friendly, even though we don’t do anything in their classes. Math is really the only negative. The teacher literally has not spoken one word to us. It took him a month and someone’s complaint before he even called our names for attendance.

In my city, Łódź, there are 3 other exchange students. Ryan, who I could write an entire journal entry about, but instead I’ll say he’s “just a little bit shy and occasionally clueless”, and you can extrapolate. He’s from Taiwan. Bruna and Renato are from Brazil, and we are great friends. Adrian, from Australia, went home a few weeks ago (because Australia has backwards seasons and their Januaries are warm, so their school has “summer break” during Christmas and whatnot.) Łódź has about 700,000 people, making it the third largest in Poland. It’s not exactly the nicest city, but I like it here. The pervasiveness of normally painted buildings, possibly old, fancy looking ones, being right next to brown-gray concrete cubes is quite lovely. There’s a giant church on this central plaza, that’s currently being repainted. It’s been going on since I’ve got here, and they’ve painted about 10% of it. I suspect by the time they’re done, the bits that are done NOW will need a repaint. Despite its rough, poor-looking edges, it IS a city of 700 thousand people, and thus, it does have nice areas, and lots of places to explore. Poland is nice, because it has a number of medium sized cities. It’s got a good 20 cities above 200,000 people. Now, in America, you go to a town of 200,000 and say, “there’s actually nothing here” but in Poland, they feel more special. You could spend a weekend, even in a smaller city, and have enough things to see and do. Poland is a generally cheap country, which makes it even nicer. Łódź is in the center of Poland, so it’s also convenient in terms of time to travel. $9 and 2.5 hours is a train trip to Warsaw and back.

Although I haven’t kept a journal, I’m very proud of myself that I’ve at least kept up this sort of calendar. Every day, I write down on that day the things I did. Some days are empty because I forgot, but if I remember about it, there’s at least something there. I really like looking at it and remembering how I’ve spent my 6 months here. I can’t believe that it’s already been half my exchange, but when I look at the calendar, I see, I really do have half a year of things. Everything that seemed so far off at the beginning is now so close, my parents are coming in a month, and then Eurotour, I’m at my second family right now, and a little after Eurotour is my third. Two months with them, and I come back. It all seems too close.

Now I shall rely on my calendar to write this “chronological” journal. Except wonderful me didn’t write anything AT ALL except “first day of school in between the meeting in Bydgoszcz and the next, so I suppose we’re moving onto Toruń. The second Rotary gathering was held in Toruń, the city of Nicholas Copernicus. Unfortunately, it only lasted one short September weekend. This was our orientation, where they told us a bunch of stuff about rules and trips and so on. We stayed in a hostel, and got to visit some places in the city. It wasn’t too exciting, but it was good to see all my friends again. The food in this hostel was better than the grand old Zawisza sports complex, just saying.

Onto the next segment: Post Orientation-Christmas Here’s a bunch of things I have written on my calendar:
French teacher returns from two week sickness absence, pizza with Bruna’s host sister, windbreaker shop with Bruna, help this one girl fix her English thing, lunch at my families countryside house, hot chocolate with Nishita, bowling, Ryan’s mom makes him come over to my house, big sad cemetery family mourning day, Doctor Strange, Rotary meeting, SNOOOOW, Christening lunch/dinner, school’s 100th anniversary, Warsaw trip with school, Warsaw trip alone, Rotary performance, wakeboarding Pokemon Go excursion, organ concert, rake leaves, museum, Moana, ice skating…
There’s also some things on there that require explaining.
There was this thing, like geocaching or something, that our school organized, I didn’t understand it. These Brazilian men came over to our house as they were stopping by in Poland on their trip from Spain to Kazakhstan on motorcycles. “Giant Nerve Pizza Dory” your guess is as good as mine. “Takell to end spadać” Spadać means fall, which also makes no sense. I might have accidentally lost someone’s blazer for 15 minutes. The new, modern train station opened up.

For Christmas, Rotary organized a meeting in Wrocław. Unfortunately, just for a weekend, the one before Christmas. Of course, we visited the city, and a castle close to the Czech border. Wrocław was the European Capital of Culture 2016, so we got to attend the closing ceremony. Wrocław is a really nice city, and I liked visiting it. This was the second best meeting so far. That also makes it the second worst though.

Winter is not nice here. It got down into the negatives of Fahrenheit at least once, and for a good month, the highs were just around 30, or even lower. Up until recently, I hadn’t seen the grass for a month. Right now, it’s between 30-40 degrees, depending on the day. It’s supposed to reach 50 this week!!! It’s so warm, it’s great. At 40 degrees I can go outside without being cold. It makes me so happy. I can go look at things that are outside! I don’t have to run from building to building! Spring is the best season.

Christmas in Poland does have some marked differences from that in America. For one, the real celebration is on Christmas Eve. There was actually quite literally nothing on Christmas. We opened presents on Christmas Eve and saw family and ate traditional food, but nothing for Christmas. It felt sad, and wrong, to just kind of ignore Christmas. Our Christmas tree was pretty great (meaning not so great). I wasn’t allowed to take a picture of it because my mom was embarrassed. It was small, dying, kind of lopsided, and such.

For New Years, I visited Lublin. I stayed with Emma, from Australia. Like Adrian, she too has returned from Poland. Lublin is a nice city, and I had fun there, but in a little way it was kind of disappointing. Our New Years Eve plans kind of fell through, so we ended up just sitting at home. Emma’s sisters were home, so it wasn’t so horrible, but Emma herself WAS TAKING A SHOWER WHEN THE CLOCK STRUCK MIDNIGHT AND THEN THEY RAN OUT OF THE HOUSE WHEN THEY REALIZED IT WAS MIDNIGHT AND WE WATCHED THE FIREWORKS THROUGH THE TREELINE. Her parents weren’t even home, they went skiing? For like 1 hour? But I liked it, even if it was a little lackluster, and I’m glad to have seen Lublin.

I’m very glad that I choose Poland and am really enjoying my time here. I look forward to the rest of my exchange with excitement.

Thu, March 2, 2017

  • Will, outbound to Poland

I’ve been in Poland for almost a month now, and it is fantastic. My awesome host family consists of a dad, who is retired, but also still does some business things? (I don’t really understand it), a mom, who owns a clothes store, and a 14 year old brother. They also have a daughter, 16, but she’s an exchange student in Brazil this year. Their house is amazing. It’s either 2 or 4 stories, depending on how you want to count it. It’s got two full floors, a really large basement, and a really large attic/loft thing that’s furnished and carpeted and such. I have my own (very large) room, and my own bathroom. I’m so thankful to be able to live in this house. It’s a few hundred feet down a suburban road, which branches off one the major roads of Łódź (my city). The center of the city, and my school is just a 20 minute tram ride down the road (with a little bit of walking).

As my parents were driving me from Warsaw (where my flight landed) to Łódź (about an hour or an hour and a half away), they told me that we weren’t going home, that we were actually going to a birthday party! With 20 family members! I don’t remember anyone’s name, or what their relation was to my parents, and I don’t even remember who’s birthday it was. My words during the party were basically just “hello”, and a few shorts responses to questions people asked me in English. English among the older generations isn’t common, but some people are certainly able to speak it. After 2 hours or so, and a dinner, we drove home.

The next day, I found out I was going to meet even more family! Most of those people spoke French, as do my host parents, not that it mattered. I probably wouldn’t have understood much more if they spoke in Polish. The day after that, I spent the day with the French family, going around the city. They do have a daughter whose English quite good, so I was able to talk to her those two days, and not be completely isolated from the conversations.

About a week after I arrived, I was off to a 10 day long language camp, in Bydgoszcz, about 3 hours away from Łódź. There, I met all the other inbounds in Poland, about 60 in total. It was a great time, and I made a lot of friends, from all over the world. Unfortunately, none of my best friends from language camp live close to me, but the people who are in my city are still cool. Among them is an Australian guy, who showed me around the city when I first arrived. Australians start their exchanges in January, so he’s been here for 8 or so months.

A few days after I returned from language camp, I began going to school. School here is quite different, but can be kind of explained as like Harry Potter. Each day, school can start or end at different times, and the subjects you have will differ. You can also have two of the same class back to back. The classes that I take are English, French, Geography, History, Math, Polish, P.E., and some philosophy/religion class. I understand English class, of course. The geography teacher teaches half in English, so I mostly understand that class as well. Having partially learned a Romance language (Spanish), and being able to communicate with the French teacher in Spanish (as she also teaches Spanish), I also mostly understand French. I feel very close to understanding math, but it’s entirely in Polish, and they write some things differently, so I don’t actually know what’s going on, but it looks very familiar. In Polish class, of course, I have no clue. History is marginally better, because I can sometimes see stuff in the book that I know, and I can normally recognize the dates that the teacher writes on the board. Polish people don’t really have the ability to choose their classes, but they do have options. In my school, you can choose either German, Spanish, or French, and there’s an option for a schedule with some advanced sciences, or Polish and history, or math, and such. In school, you stick with the same people the whole day, every day. It’s quite easy, if you’re approached by your classmates, to make friends. You’re with the same people all the time, so names are easier, and if you like one of them, you can stick with them all the time. Only a few people directly came and said hello to the exchange students (four of us are in one class, and the Australian is in another), but by now I’ve talked to mostly everyone in the class. Whatever stereotype that says Poles are unfriendly or cold doesn’t seem to be true, i n school at least. The school day is 4.5-6.5 hours, depending on the day.

I’m quite an oddity in that Poland was not only on my list, which is already uncommon, but was also my first choice. Despite being among the largest countries and fastest growing economies of Europe, Poland is quite unknown, which is unfortunate. Poland has a very unique and interesting history, with a culture as rich as any other country of Europe. History was a motivator for Poland, but more important was Polish. Apologies to Spanish, but it and its native countries are an arm’s length away in Florida. The only place to learn Polish is Poland itself. It is undoubtedly a hard language, but I think it is manageable. For sure, my acquisition will not be as fast as those in Brazil, or Spain, or Sweden, but I have confidence that I can do it.

I’ve already had many great times in Poland (really almost everything I do is a great time), including wakeboarding and multiple castles, and I look forward to many more in the coming months. I know that I’m going to have some bad days, but I also have many more fantastic days to expect. Thank you Rotary!

Wed, September 21, 2016


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