Outbounds 2017-2018

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

Ana - Germany

Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: PK Yonge
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Gainesville, Florida
Host District: 1930
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Villingen-Schwennigen

My Bio

Hallo! My name is Ana Barrientos, I’m currently a senior at PK Yonge High School in Gainesville, FL, and I’m ecstatic to be spending a year in Germany! Ever since I was a little girl, I was fascinated with other cultures, learning new languages, and traveling around the world. My family is originally from Guatemala which taught me to value the ability to communicate in different languages. One of the accomplishments I most look forward to as a result of this exchange is to be trilingual (knowing English, Spanish, and German). I live in Florida with my dad, my mom, and my sister. We are a really close family so we enjoy doing many different things together like swimming, cooking, fishing, going to the movies, and traveling (we’ve been to Madrid, London, Paris, and Equatorial Guinea (Africa)). Some of the things I enjoy doing on my own however are drawing/painting, indoor rock climbing, yoga, dancing, Colorguard, and playing music on multiple instruments. At school, I’ve participated in Hispanic Honor Society, Marine Science Club, Cooking through Cultures Club, the Varsity Swim Team, Marching Band, Concert Band, and Winterguard. I can’t wait to bring what I’ve learned and experienced to Germany but even more than that, learning and experiencing new things in Germany. I’d like to expressly thank everyone who has helped me get to this point because without your support, I wouldn’t be where I am. With an open mind and heart, I look forward to where this journey will take me!

Journals: Ana-Germany Blog 2017-18

  • Ana, Outbound to Germany

Hallo Leute! Ich freue mich, euch zu schreiben!

I’m extremely excited to tell you guys all about February!!! Lots of very exciting events happened this month and honestly, I can’t believe it’s already over.

First of all, for the first and only time in my exchange, I switched to a new host family. Now, I can’t even begin to explain this feeling of changing families. You hear about changing host families from Rotex, Rebounds, and other exchange students so you think you’re prepared but it sort of hits you from nowhere. I hadn’t had contact with my second host family except for my host sister who was in Paraguay on exchange because my host families weren’t friends and I hadn’t had the chance to meet them before and that made me sort of panic the first night. With my first host family, I had talked to them very much before I had even come to Germany so I knew what to expect. With my second host family, I was going in almost completely blind and that is a completely terrifying feeling. However, it was apparent right away to me that I would be very happy in this new family and that my feelings of worry were totally for nothing. My host sister from my first family, Danny, stayed with me for a little bit longer and helped me break the ice and asked the first night questions which helped me a whole lot. After that, everything felt nice and relaxed because this new family is literally one of the most amazing families I’ve ever met. Right away, they were so attentive and always making sure that I was happy and comfortable. I was also worried at first because this family speaks no English! Now I know what you’re thinking, you shouldn’t be speaking English anyways. To be honest, I stopped speaking English with my first host family around the 3rd month when my language skills improved enough to be able to. However, if I needed to and I couldn’t think of a word or phrase, I could always fall back on my English. With this new host family, the training wheels were taken off and I felt like I was going to completely mess up every time I spoke German to them because I had lost my security. Now I see, this was the best thing that could’ve happened. As hard as it was at first to not have a back up plan, my language skills made a huge leap that first month with this new host family for which I’m actually extremely thankful.

I didn’t have a whole lot of time in the family though before I was off to an event made by the Rotex in our district, the Paris Weekend. The Rotex arranged for the 11 exchange students in my district to spend a weekend in Paris at the beginning of the month! I had been to Paris before but as any exchange student can tell you, everything is more fun when you go anywhere with other exchange students. We did everything from climbing the Eiffel Tower, to going to the Louvre, to going the Champs Elysees at night. I was completely enchanted with this wonderful city and find that when you wander the streets with some of your best friends in the world, everything becomes brighter and you look at the world a little differently. I also can’t lie, eating crepes by Notre Dame was something I had really been looking forward to and it didn’t disappoint. I am so happy that the Rotex planned this for us!

Coming home after this weekend, I was so exhausted and I caught a little cold. It was totally the worst timing however, seeing as what came next was perhaps my favorite German holiday. That’s right everyone, I’m talking about FASTNACHT! Now this holiday has different names all over Germany like Carnaval or Faschings but in Schwarzwald, it’s Fastnacht. The story behind this festival goes way back in history. The point of it is to dress up and celebrate for a week in order to scare away the Winter. I have to say, the parades during this time are amazing! There are all kinds of costumes and these things called Hexens. Hexens are a group of scary looking witches that perform dances throughout the Fastnacht week and also participate in parades. When you go to parades or fastnacht parties, you have to dress up too and it felt a little like Halloween, if Halloween lasted a week. The music at Fastnacht is very much like marching band music and everyone comes out to watch the shows that are given by the Hexens as well as other groups. I enjoyed dressing up and getting to experience something so unique to German culture. It was astounding to watch the way in which everyone was super enthusiastic and into this holiday.

I have to say, February was one of my favorite months during my exchange. I liked my new family and I got to have a lot of fun always doing something. I’m so excited to see what March and April bring because next month I start the… wait for it… DEUTSCHLAND TOUR! Bis nächsten Monat!

P.S. The crazy but cool German word of the month is Studentenkrankenversicherungsmeldeverordnung which means student health insurance registration. What I find totally crazy is that one word in German is four words in English. I learned this word because my schools has the students get their particular insurance though I didn’t need to because I had my Rotary insurance.

Fri, July 6, 2018

  • Ana, Outbound to Germany

Hallo alles und frohes neues jahr! I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted a journal but I’m finally catching up on everything which is surprisingly hard to do when you’re wrapped up in the world that is exchange. I’m glad to finally be able to share my experience with you all though!

First, though I am not doing a journal for November, I would like to include something that happened from that time which was actually pretty cool! I was invited to attend a classical music concert with a Rotarian from my club because she knew of my interest for music. It was quite amazing and I was impressed with the level of musicianship and professionalism. I thoroughly enjoyed the concert and taking part in something that a Rotarian was kind enough to invite me to.

That being said, I can’t wait to talk about the holiday season in Germany because it truly is a white Christmas!!! For a Florida girl, especially one who has never lived in anything other than a tropical climate, winter during my exchange was a huge shock and totally different to what I had previously experienced. When I suddenly was surrounded by snow, it was as though if I was living in a snow globe. I was walking to school in snow storms, shoveling snow from around my house, and embarrassingly, slipping on ice more often than I’d care to admit. However, I’ve never seen a more beautiful view than the Schwarzwald covered in a blanket of white!

During the month of December, I went to one of my friends’ birthday party, went to a concert from a famous German rapper, experienced Nikolaustag, went to a school dance which doubled as a fundraiser for my class, went to a Rotary weekend in Ulm, and went to many German Christmas markets of course! The Christmas markets here are absolutely breathtaking because if ever there was a place to find holiday spirit, this would be it. There are lights everywhere, homemade Christmas ornaments being sold, and hot drinks being served constantly. One of these said drinks I think is quite delicious and it’s called Kinderpunsch. It almost like apple cider but it tastes slightly different, more fruity. There is, of course, an alcoholic version of this drink called Glüwein because usually the non-alcoholic version is only for kids. In Germany, the drinking culture is especially apparent during any kind of celebration and Christmas would be no exception to that. I think my favorite part of this time was simply experiencing the different way in which Christmas is celebrated. Sometimes in celebrating holidays the same way every year, you don’t realize that every person, city, and country celebrates differently but in a cool and exciting way.

New Years was one of the most fun times I’ve ever experienced though because I spent this holiday with exchange students and some Rotex. We ate a typical meal for the holidays which is Raclette. It’s sort of like a buffet where you can cook things right there on the table because there’s a hot plate in the middle and everyone has their own little pan to cook things like vegetables and meat. We went out to a field right before midnight and watched the fireworks and it was so spectacular. One thing I found interesting however is that the tradition of the midnight kiss is not so common in Germany. When you turn on the TV in the US and see, for example, Times Square at midnight, it’s so normal to see couples kissing. However as I looked around at midnight, nobody really made a move to do something like that. Instead, the overage people were toasting the New Year in with some champagne which was really strange to see because in the US, these people wouldn’t be allowed to drink as they aren’t 21 yet. Overall though, I found that it’s celebrated quite similarly to us in the US.

January was a month I was really looking forward to because my birthday is during this month!!!! It was really nice to celebrate it with my host family and my friends but I’ll admit, it was very strange not to see familiar faces. I think it was the first time I’ve felt something on the verge of homesickness but not quite. The good thing is though, my dad was in Frankfurt on business and was able to come visit me for my birthday. He was really shocked at how I was speaking German and totally intrigued at how my new life had become so normal to me! I think for family and friends back home it must be so strange for someone they know and love to be so different when they’re picturing the same person that got onto the plane at the beginning of exchange!

I was also able to do more winter like things during this month because school slowed down enough to have more flexibility. For example, I was invited to go sledding with my friend, Genie. It was so fun and very thrilling which added to the reasons why I love snow! I really had an unforgettable winter in icy, cold Germany and I hope one day in the future, I’ll be able to come back and experience this season once more! Tschüss und bis bald Leute!

P.S. Seeing as I’m doing two months this journal, I’ll include two crazy but cool German words 🙂 The first word would be Naturwissenschaft which means science. I thought this was crazy because it sounds so long when you say it and I couldn’t believe it only meant science. The second word would be reaktionsgeschwindigkeit which means reaction time. I learned this one in biology and I almost died when I saw it on the page. I am seriously happy I have very good friends in that class because I immediately asked them what that meant and luckily for me, they are always happy to help me with my German!

Fri, July 6, 2018

  • Ana, Outbound to Germany

Hallo Leute!

I’m writing this as I hit the two month mark here in Germany and it seems as though time has started to move a little more quickly. October was definitely a fun-filled month with lots of different events happening which I’m excited to share with all of you!

This month was filled with quite a few Rotary meetings which were really fun to go to! It’s a tradition in my club to eat typical German food at every evening meeting, which are the ones that I go to, and so it’s always fun for me to try new foods surrounded by Rotarians. I’ve come to very much appreciate their amicability and willingness to teach me all about Germany. It was also during this month that one of the Rotary meetings was at a Rotarian’s house, another tradition my Rotary club has, and I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so much in my life. We had a typical German meal with a sausage called Weisswurst, different kinds of potato salads, salad with lettuce, and bread. I may have been stuffed by the end, but it was one of the best meals I’ve had in Germany. The family hosting was also really nice and after hearing about my love for classical music, invited me to a classical music concert in November (I’ll write about that in the next journal).

As far as school goes, well, it’s actually quite hard now. In all the trainings and orientations that Rotary provides, you try to prep yourself mentally for what it’s like to not only be surrounded by this foreign language all the time but to have to think in the said language. It’s something completely different when you’re actually living it. That said, I’m becoming more and more comfortable with German. Some of the things I could barely follow before, I am able to follow quite well now. I am especially loving History and English because in English, my teacher is so cool and it’s a break for my brain and History because now that I can understand more, I can actually begin to participate more frequently as well as it being one of my favorite subjects. I am also enjoying school because of my wonderful German friends. I joined a group of girls at school who have known each other for a long time and it feels like they’ve taken me in as one of their own despite the fact that they’ve just met me which is a warm feeling I can’t quite put into words. I think on exchange you make so many friendships that you never thought possible and that is something I will have with me even when I do finish my exchange. One of my friends, Lucy, has this special book for the people she cares about and you get to decorate a page and write a message; almost like her own version of a yearbook. She gave that book to me this month and it almost brought me to tears because it was sort of a symbol of how far we’ve come in so little time. I had a great time filling that out and making it pretty (It’s included with the pictures for this month) but seeing her reaction to my page was the best part of having that book.

So seeing as its October, I know most people must be wondering, what about Oktoberfest? Believe it or not, in Germany it is more common to celebrate Oktoberfest towards the end of September than to do it in October. Still, I was happy that my Brazilian exchange student friend, Bruna, invited me to come with her to an Oktoberfest party pretty late into October. Bruna lives in a small town close to Freiburg named Wettelbrunn and I stayed the weekend at her house because the actual event was in Munstertal which was one town over. I was so excited to go because it was also my first time wearing my traditional German outfit called a Dirndl. Oktoberfest was full of live music, dancing, and delicious traditional German drinks. My drink of choice here was hot chocolate and let me tell you guys, the hot chocolate in Germany is the best hot chocolate I’ve ever tried. It’s so rich and decadent as well as being so authentically chocolate. It was a great time with Bruna and my other exchange friend, Kara from the US. We got to experience such a unique tradition and the happiness on everyone’s faces told me how important it is to the German people. The Sunday after we went to Oktoberfest, we also joined Bruna’s host family at a carnival in Freiburg and it was amazing. We played the typical carnival games you would find in the US but there was also many stands to buy German food/souvenirs and places to buy clothes too. It was the best weekend in October for sure.

Something different here, that I found completely fascinating, was that instead of having Thanksgiving holidays in November, you have Autumn holidays at the end of October. It felt weird to be off so early but this particular week off, we had a Rotary event called Wanderwoch (Hiking Week). All the exchange students from the district come to Triberg for the week and get to explore the Schwarzwald (The Black Forest). We did everything from ice skating to going to a shooting range to walking more than 10K in the rain to going to a water park. I would go on and on about this week but at the risk of making this journal any longer, I think the pictures speak for themselves. I really love the fact that all the exchange students in the district are so close; they feel like a second family. Though you don’t want to get inbound syndrome, it’s still always nice, those occasional times you do get together and share unforgettable experiences which is what this week really was. It also gave me a chance to appreciate the place that I was living in more because the other exchange students live in bigger cities and they pointed stuff out that I had missed just because I do happen to live in the Schwarzwald full time.

All in all, as time passes by, I’m falling more in love with Germany. My friends, my family, and my life here have made me feel so at peace. I didn’t have this country as a choice when I applied to Rotary but I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. I think that I’m in exactly the country I should be in. I can’t wait to see what November brings! Until next time, bis bald!

  1. S. The crazy but cool German word of the month is Einhorchen which means squirrel (there’s an umlaut on the o)! It’s definitely a weird word and all my German friends asked me to say it because they say it’s funny to hear foreigners try to pronounce it. Now that I actually can say it though, I love it.

Tue, November 21, 2017

  • Ana, Outbound to Germany

Click HERE to read more about Ana and all her blogs

Hallo Zusammen!

I can’t believe it’s been almost a month since I’ve been in Germany! It feels like I’ve been here for much longer and I think my family and friends would agree! I’ve been meaning to write a journal for a while now, because I feel like so much has happened, but the first lesson I’ve learned on exchange is that there is always so little time and so much to do! Naturally, I have no idea how to even begin to relay all that’s happened so let me start at the most logical point: the beginning.

My Trip/Arrival: It was very bittersweet to leave pretty much the only place I’ve ever known. I can’t even begin to describe the feeling of walking away from my family and friends and onto a plane that would take me across the ocean to another continent. I think this is one of the hardest moments of being an exchange student. The moment you finally walk away from everyone and everything and realize, it’s just me and I’m going to be somewhere different for a year. Luckily, despite me leaving a little before Hurricane Irma would arrive in Florida, I had a really smooth trip. I had about an hour flight to Atlanta and an 8 hour flight to Stuttgart. I met a really nice stewardess on my flight to Atlanta and she asked about my blazer so we talked a lot that flight and now she wants her daughter to do RYE! I’m always happy to share about my experience with Rotary! When I landed, I didn’t have to wait long in Atlanta (30ish minutes), which was great becaus e I was anxious to get to Germany. Then the flight from Atlanta to Stuttgart felt so short, I couldn’t believe I had arrived in Germany so quickly! The Stuttgart airport was really easy to go through and though my luggage took what felt like forever to come out, I finally made it outside where some members of my host family were waiting. They were waiting with this really beautiful poster that they had made and it felt so nice to finally meet them!

My first couple days in Germany: Stuttgart is about 1 ½ hours from my city, Sankt Georgen im Schwarzwald, which meant that I had time to take in the scenery and talk to my host family. Now, before I left I had talked to my host family a lot which actually made it so much easier to talk and I highly recommend it. They will always be strangers when you first meet them but I felt like talking to them before made me feel so much more comfortable and helped me transition from stranger to family much quicker than I would’ve thought. My host family is made up of my host mom (Conny), my host dad (Henny), my 3 host sisters (Jenny, Danny, and Anny), my 3 host brothers (Jonny, Benny, and Lenny), my host grandmother (Oma), and my host grandfather (Opa). It’s definitely different to be living with so many people, sometimes I feel like I’m living in the German version of Full House. I have to say though, I love it! I’ve always loved being around people and everyone i n my host family has been so welcoming that I can’t help but be happy to be living with so many people. Later that day, my host family took me to a farm owned by their friends and I got to see so many different farm animals! It was fun to see how a farm works and we got some fresh milk which I don’t think I’ve ever had but it was really good! The next morning, after eating breakfast, my host mom got straight to cooking because the following morning was my host brother Lenny’s birthday! One of the things I love most is to cook so I asked her if I could help her and she was happy to oblige. At that point she introduced me to a wonderful, magical machine called Thermomix. It’s like this machine that does everything from cooking rice to making bread dough to making slushies. My mind was blown because we don’t have anything like it in the US. After making stuff for Lenny’s birthday, I played some boards games with Lenny and my host mom. I felt li ke I really bonded with them which was a great feeling. That being said, I didn’t have much time with my host family before I had to be in Lindenberg for Language Camp so though I met everyone, I didn’t have much time to really talk to them.

Language Camp: Sunday morning, I had time to sing my host brother happy birthday (my host family celebrates birthdays in the morning) and then I had to leave for language camp. To be more efficient, I carpooled with Genie, an inbound from Taiwan and also the nearest exchange student to me. It was great meeting another exchange student and I took a ferry in a car for the first time which was really cool! One of the most famous lakes in Germany is the Bodensee (Lake Constance) and this was the lake we took the ferry on. It took about 3 hours to get to Lindenberg but it was worth it because it’s a really nice town. Walking into the building where language camp was being held was crazy because I really didn’t know anyone, but that changed really quickly. At first, we had to sit through a presentation from Rotary about the rules, expectations, etc. and we had to take a placement test to see which class we would be in for the week. We didn’t really have the chance to talk to each other then but after that it was really cool because it was sort of like free time and we all got to talk. All of the inbounds are really great and throughout the course of the week, we all got really close. Though it was all German classes in the morning, in the afternoons we had activities like swimming, arts and crafts, and going out into the city. On Wednesday, it was a little different though because it was excursion day and we got to go see waterfalls which was a lot of hiking but it was worth it. Coincidentally, a couple of students from our group accidentally took the wrong path and ended up in Austria which we all had a good laugh about later. Overall, language camp was a great time! On my way home from language camp though, I was with another exchange student and for some reason our tickets were incorrectly labeled and we accidentally took a train to Switzerland! We both kept cool under pressure though and were able to get home again with just an hour delay. I als o got appointed to be the group speaker with my friend from Taiwan which means that we will be talking to the district chair and speaking for all of the inbounds in 1930 (like middle men). I was so honored to be chosen for that!

My First Week of School: After coming home from language camp, I only had half a day and then suddenly it was time to go to school. I thought it was really surreal to be starting in a new school, especially since I’ve only ever gone to PK Yonge but it was refreshing to start somewhere new. Similarly to my school back home, my school in Germany has children of all ages so at first it was a tad overwhelming due to so many people in the halls, but my school here is so wonderful! My host sister went on exchange in Paraguay last year so she had to be in 10th grade instead of 11th this year, but she did introduce me to all her classmates from when she was in that grade which was nice because they were all super friendly and it made it easier to meet everyone in my class. In pretty much every subject they asked me to introduce myself briefly and let me just say, my district motivating me learn my elevator speech for language camp was the best thing to ever happen because now I know wh at to say whenever someone asks me to introduce myself. A whole day in a foreign language tends to make you so much more tired than you’d think but it’s the best way to learn and that first week was definitely one giant learning experience.

My time here in Germany has been amazing so far! It’s had it’s hard times, especially when it comes to doing and thinking everything in German, but this new culture, family, and school that I find myself in has opened my heart and mind to so many new things. I wish I could write so much more but I don’t want to go on forever. Also to any future outbounds, if you guys have any questions or just want to talk, I would be glad to help or talk to any of you. When I was applying last year, talking to the current rebounds who were outbounds at the time, was really helpful and reassuring. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, find out everything you can, and enjoy the application process because as you’ll quickly learn on exchange, time flies by and you only get to live things once! Until next time, Auf Wiedersehen!

P.S. Every time I post a journal, I’ll put a crazy but cool German word of the month. This month it is: Unwahrscheinlich which means Unlikely.

Wed, October 4, 2017


Colson - Brazil

Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: Pedro Menendez
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: St. Augustine, Florida
Host District: 4310
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Piracicaba: Cidade Alta

My Bio

Ola! Hi! My name is Colson Fairchild and I am proud to be representing District 9670 this year as an exchange student to Brazil. I am from St Augustine, Florida and I go to Pedro Menendez High School. This year I decided to take a leap of faith and apply for the Rotary Youth Exchange Program. I was inspired by my good friend Nikki Johnson who was an outbound to Belgium this year, and by Fred (Minsu) who is an inbound staying with my family right now. My parents have been very supportive during this process; they have made sure to let me know how sad they’ll be to see me go. I am in the middle of my two siblings, one younger brother and one older sister. My brother loves sports and everything that you can do outdoors and my sister spends a lot of her time at church and on mission trips to help the less fortunate. My family is constantly busy with different activities so our house is rarely full. I’m the worst culprit about having no free time. I have a job at Chick Fil A and I have school to go to. On top of that I study a Korean martial art called Tang Soo Do. I have been doing it for about 4 or 5 years now and I am a first degree black belt. I try to make time to spend with my family and friends, luckily school, my martial arts studio, and Chick Fil A are all closed on Sundays, so I get a little reprieve there. I love to hang out with my friends whenever I get the chance, I’m excited to get to make new friends in Brazil where I’ll have more time for them. Wish me luck y’all!

Journals: Colson-Brazil Blog 2017-18

  • Colson, Outbound to Brazil

Alright so the time has finally come, I’m gonna write my third and final journal. (I meant to do like at least 2 others this year but I’ve been busy and I apologize deeply). The time has also come for me to say goodbye, it’s my final month and everything is coming to a close. We all went into this experience with some expectations, some were met, and others weren’t. But we’ve all come out on the other side with a new understanding of ourselves and our little world we call home.

This week I said the first of many very hard goodbyes, my dear friend has gone back home to Denmark and started the process of shrinking our friend group. In the coming weeks other exchange students I care deeply about will board their planes and say a final “see you later” for the time being. In 23 days I’ll be boarding mine and leaving behind a life I built from the ground up. It’s strange to think about this because I know exactly what I’m going home to, but it’s almost as terrifying as boarding the plane to take me here.

I learned a lot this year, to be quite frank I learned more than I thought I would. I learned the obvious things, Portuguese, Brazilian music, and Brazilian culture. But I learned a lot of things I never expected. I learned about the existence of a tiny country called Timor Leste, I learned random phrases in countless languages, I learned how to make friends with people who seemingly have nothing in common with me. I learned how it’s all the little things that we take for granted, we know how things are and don’t even think of how they could be different, because it’s just how it’s always been.

Making friends truly is the best and worst part of doing an exchange. They bring you so much joy and make everything go from good to great. But this is what makes it so sad when you have to say goodbye. I’ve bonded better with people in 10 months than most people I’ve known since I was 5 years old. They say an exchange students heart is always broken because it’s spread around the world, and it’s true. But it’s the best kind of broken because I know that my friends will always have those parts with them and our bond we’ve formed was forged in fire. We’ve been through each other’s highest highs and lowest lows, and that’s what’s so beautiful about this year abroad, our friendships.

But all good things come to an end, that’s what we all know going into an exchange, one day we go home and start up our old lives again. I have to go to college and get a job, that’s reality and I’m not looking forward to rejoining it. But an end doesn’t have to be the end of everything, with friends in the four corners of the earth the idea of traveling has become much simpler and more attainable. I know I have many homes that will be open for me in brazil always, but also in Germany, India, Indonesia, Denmark, Timor and many others. My friends all know that the same deal is available for them in the Sunshine State itself. I’m excited to enter this new chapter of my life where the world really is my oyster.

Thu, June 7, 2018

  • Colson, Outbound to Brazil

Alright so I meant to do this months ago. And I was strongly encouraged to do this about a week ago, so it’s finally here. My second journal about my wonderful life in Brazil.

I’d like to start by saying that I’ve been putting this off because I’ve had a whole lot of events that I wanted to include that were week after week. Actually my graduation/prom is tonight but it’ll just wait until the next journal because I need to just pony up and do it. I also want to say in my last journal I mentioned not going to Rotary, not 5 minutes after posting it my host mom told me I had Rotary that night, and now I’ve been at least twice a month for meetings. I promise I’m not slacking on all of my responsibilities.

Anyways onto the good stuff, what’s actually been going on during my exchange. About 2 weeks after my first journal we had our district orientation for all of the new inbound exchange students. I feel blessed to be from RYE Florida because I knew everything they said before they said it. Extensive training sessions are something to be grateful for! My district has just about 32 exchange students in it, a third of them are Mexican so I got to hear a lot of Spanish that weekend. (Just that weekend because Brazilians speak Portuguese and not Spanish). We stayed in another city with host families that weekend, the family I stayed with were a blessing, they had the cutest son he was only five years old and he loved to talk about Cars. (The films not the vehicles). Overall it was a great chance to meet the other exchange students and make friends that I know will last a life time.

The next big event was the Rotex organized trip to Hopi Hari, an amusement park in the state of São Paulo. Almost all of the exchange students went and we had such a good time. The whole trip cost about as much as the admission to a Disney World park, so I’m glad about that bonus. My group actually spent most of the day tailing the Rotex. They’re actually really cool people and I recommend everyone try and meet their Rotexes and get to know them. About halfway through the day I gave up on rides and became the designated bag sitter, but it was still fun and I got to ride the important rides. The day ended with a huge party in front of the main stage at the park, everyone was involved and some exchange students ended up on stage dancing for everyone to see.

The very next week was Halloween and my school threw a party and I dragged all of my friends to it. I went as a zombie because I’m too cheap to buy a $20 costume and I packed to many T-shirts and could afford to tear one up. My great friend did zombie make up for me and I really looked like a corpse (which was great because by the end of the night I felt like one). My class organized the party and also worked the haunted house. So I went through with other exchange students who were freaking out while I couldn’t stop laughing. That was a great night.

After that my friend invited me to go with him and his family to their beach apartment. Being the good exchange student I am I said yes. We went to a little beach town called Ubatuba and I got sunburnt on the very first day. But it was fine his family was so sweet they went and got aloe even though literally none of them get even close to burning in the sun. My Mexican friend went with us too, I’m pretty sure he ended up burning by the time we went back home. While we were there we spotted a rotary world fair (you can’t escape rotary, they’re everywhere). One night at the world fair all of that districts exchange students went so I got to meet more people from around the world. We actually only got noticed because during the talent show that they were putting on, I obnoxiously shouted USA! USA! for the girl from Texas. The chairmen of that district pulled us aside and took us on stage. He knew not only our countries but also our names, Rotarians know all, keep that in mind kids. The night was fun and we ate tacos that the Mexicans disapproved of. I ate so much food going to a beach in Brazil is essentially going to a buffet.

Then I did a Thanksgiving with my Portuguese teacher’s English class. We ate a lot of popcorn and burgers and said what we were thankful for. I did a lesson for them on what thanksgiving is completely from memory. I would recommend not trying to sum up the entire history of a holiday from memory, take the time to just write some note cards for yourself.

One week later I went with my brother and my Portuguese teacher to Curitiba, a city in the south of Brazil, to learn more about different cultures in the country. We took a historic train tour and got an overview on the region. I had a really great all you can eat Italian dinner there in a restaurant we were all underdressed for.

Last weekend we went to São Paulo with the Rotex and we got a tour of the city. We visited museums and the classic tourist traps. I drank really good boba tea in China Town and enjoyed the classic Mortadella sandwich from Mercadão in São Paulo. It was almost the size of my head and it was so good. We visited a different outdoor market and ended up spending so much time taking photos that no one bought anything.

So if you’re still with me, congratulations, now I’m gonna talk about what I think is more important. What life is like here on a day to day basis. Everyone wants to hear about trips but exchange isn’t all about trips I promise.

I just finished school and I’m on summer vacation, but while I was in school I was getting up at 6 am for class and coming home around 1 for lunch. Now I’m getting up around 11 for breakfast and having lunch at 1 still. Where I’ll be going to school next year is actually up in the air at the moment. My school actually closed this year, the director is going to open a new school so hopefully I’ll be going there but it’s not set in stone. I promise I’ll be going to school I am aware that I’m an exchange STUDENT.

After school I usually spent one of two ways, I either ate lunch and took a nap before an event at night. Or I ate lunch and went to my good friend Pedro’s house (more about him later). I had a couple of things I did at night, primarily because Brazilians just prefer to do things later in the day. Every Monday I went to interact, every few meetings we went around the room introducing ourselves and I always got a laugh from my classic line “Hi I’m Colson from the United States, and I’m a really cool exchange student.” Tuesday and Thursday I have capoeira classes. (Capoeira is a Brazilian martial arts developed by run away slaves that disguised it as dancing practice when it became outlawed). Monday and Wednesday I was taking handball classes, I’m not great but it’s not at a competitive level so it’s a good way to make friends. Fridays I have Portuguese classes so I can keep improving my language. When my mother told me I’d be super busy in Brazil like I was in the US I told her she was crazy. Mothers tend to be right. There’s always something on Friday and Saturday night, someone’s having a party or friends are going to the movies at the mall. I’ve had multiple people complain that I’m impossible to do stuff with because I’m too busy, and I think that’s a mark of a successful exchange, I don’t have the time to be wasting. (I don’t consider an afternoon nap a waste, especially considering my host brother and father take them too, it’s cultural exchange).

About my darling friend Pedro, and the important reason you want to make local friends. I probably have spent more time in his apartment building than in mine, because he’s so active in trying to do as much as possible with exchange students. But one day I was explaining to him that I wasn’t sure what I was doing for my next host families, because the two others I had backed out of the agreement and my counselor thought it’s better I don’t live with families forced into hosting. Pedro didn’t think twice and just said “ok come live with me.” I honestly thought he was just kidding because that’s a big offer, but he went and asked his mom and last night the family met with my counselor. I officially have my second host family now because my friend is really just that great.

This is barely scratching the surface of what it’s like here but I’ve rambled on long enough. All I can say is thank you to Rotary for giving me this chance to build a life for myself in Brazil, the most beautiful country on Earth.

Thu, December 7, 2017

  • Colson, Outbound to Brazil

Howdy hey y’all, I’m here with a great update on everything I’ve been getting up to here in Brazil. So it’s been about a month since I arrived, I wanted to have this posted on a month exactly, but one month fell on a friday and my weekends are literally ten times busier than weekdays so this got put off a little. But the weekend is over and I’m ready to crank out this journal so y’all know I haven’t dropped dead.

I’m gonna start out with a little comment that my friends would greatly appreciate being mentioned. They want everyone to know brazilians do wear clothing and there are not monkeys hanging out everywhere. You would be astounded how many people have asked me “Did you think all brazilians are naked living in the jungle with monkey best friends?” So I really just want to make sure everyone is aware Brazil is just as advanced as the rest of the world. That being said one day there was a monkey at my school and literally everyone was hype and busted out snapchat to brag to their friends (myself included of course).

Now that the formalities are out of the way let me just say, exchange is weird… Like all the little things that I took advantage of at home are just slightly different and make me do a double take. School works differently and not seeing the same teachers everyday or doing the same subjects is weirdly disconcerting to me. Three reais are worth one dollar so I look at price tags and have a mini heart attack before realizing that I’m actually getting a decent deal on most things. The showers are different too and luckily I did manage to figure them out after a few tries.

“If we made fun of you we’d do it in English so you would understand” -A quote from my friend my first week of school. My friends are really similar to my American friends, they’re really sweet but also we bully each other for fun. I’m so thankful that my principal’s daughter is in my class and did exchange before. He essentially had her round up her friends to be an impromptu welcoming committee for me on my first day of school, AKA my second day in Brazil. They’ve quickly become my best friends and also are probably the best Portuguese teachers out there. My “studying” was haphazard at best before I came and now I can carry on a fullish conversation with people. Also brazilian are super outgoing and forward, and they expect the same from me which is not also super in my comfort zone. But being on exchange is all about being outside of your comfort zone so I’m just trying to do as they do and hoping for the best.

Side note for all the future exchange students who may end up reading this: just trying to speak the language impresses people so much, they love seeing someone put in effort and will be way more likely to talk to you if they see you care.

My host family is so nice here and they are so adaptable. I’m not sure if it’s misunderstanding the language or it’s the culture or it’s a continuation of my old bad habits, but usually I have no idea I’m going somewhere until the day of and I end up springing it on my family that I need a ride. They’re always super chill about it and usually send my host brother to shuttle me around the city to get to somebody’s house. Or more importantly, shuttling me home at midnight with minimal notice. Apparently that’s an early night here though so they have no problems whatsoever. Or they haven’t expressed any I’m not sure. I swear I’m working on figuring out my plans in advance and I’m not going to do this to them all year, I promise. My host brothers are super nice and have gone out of their way to include me and take me with them to parties and to soccer (futebol) games. FYI parties are just part of life in Brazil they aren’t anything special like in the US, I’ve been to at least 2 a weekend since I got here. And as great as that sounds in theory, it’s actually exhausting in practice. This weekend I was at a family party and was actually visibly exhausted they just kind of showed me a bed and I ended up waking up right when clean up started, whoops.

My interactions with Rotary here have been… scarce. I’ve been to like 3 different Interact clubs and to Rotaract but I’m not positive if I’ve actually been to a legit club meeting for my host club. I went to this like “world fair” that was put on and there were like 7 or 8 other inbounds and a couple of rebounds and we represented our countries to a Rotary club, but I don’t think it was mine. Our district was supposed to have an inbound orientation in mid August, which has now been set back twice and is going to be at the end of September. This is fine because now I just have that much more time to work on my Portuguese to try and make myself look brighter than I really am to my District Chair. I’m going to figure out this Rotary situation I swear.

I’m blessed by the fact that I live in a city with so many inbounds, especially because they all are desperate for something to do so there is always someone who wants to meet up. Last weekend we played paintball, which I have never done before. I ended up getting shot in the face protector twice, luckily that had the most protection so I’m not walking around covered in welts. We have a running joke between us now, “Pray that I will be rich and be able to visit your country”. Unfortunately I have had to say the first of many goodbyes. In my class there was a girl from Germany doing the STEP program and Sunday was her last day here in Brazil. Goodbyes are never fun and she was always saying she wished she did the long term program because one month just wasn’t enough time. This is a reminder to me about how short exchange really is and how I need to take advantage of this great opportunity, it’s too easy to let this go to waste.

Now that my very brief recap of the many many things that have happened in this month is over I want to say thank you. Thank you to Mrs Paula and Mr David for coming to Pedro and showing me this great opportunity. Thank you to my parents for both allowing and funding a majority of my exchange, none of this would be possible without y’all. Thank you to my friend Nikki Johnson who went before me and showed me and my parents that it could be done. Countless Rotarians and Rotexes put in work every year to make this program as a whole possible so thank you for facilitating the Rotary Youth Exchange Program. Also thank you to whoever designed the RYE Florida training system, I was talking with other inbounds and they didn’t have anything similar and I honestly feel like the constant motivation from Florida really has helped me out tremendously.

Tue, September 5, 2017


Destiny - Poland

Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: Pedro Menendez
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: St. Augustine, Florida
Host District: 2231
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Bydgoszcz

My Bio

Cześć! My name is Destiny and I live in St. Augustine Florida with my grandparents, and my two golden retrievers, Bella and Cody. I am thrilled to be spending this coming year in Poland! I am so grateful for the St. Augustine Rotary Club sponsoring me to be living a year abroad. I’m currently a junior at Pedro Menendez High School as well as earning credits at St. Johns River State College. I am a member of the National Honor Society, I like to volunteer at local pet shelters, and am on the World Winter Guard team. I love to spend time with my family and friends. I also love to read and listen to music, I find it very relaxing. In my free time, I like to go to the beach with my friends, go camping, kayak, play guitar, and shop. I have always loved the outdoors and cannot wait to see all the beautiful nature in Poland. After my exchange, I plan on attending Flagler College and majoring in International Business. I will forever be grateful to the Rotary for this once in a life time experience that will change my life forever. I never would have thought that I would be spending my senior year in Poland. It is truly a dream come true. I know that I will create friendships and relationships that will be never ending. Poland is rich in its culture and I can’t wait to be a part of it. It will be so amazing to learn a new language and experience all that Poland has to offer. I am so excited. Dziękuję Rotary!

Journals: Destiny-Poland Blog 2017-18

  • Destiny, Outbound to Poland

Since I last wrote I actually switched back to live with my first family. I switched families because it was what would benefit my exchange and my happiness the most. I created such a good relationship with my first family and I am so happy to end my exchange with them.

In April I had my Euro tour, I saw 7 countries in 18 days. Verona, Capri, Barcelona, and Paris were some of my favorites. I discovered that I want to live EVERYWHERE! I created memories with my exchange student family that I will cherish forever. I also spent quite a chunk of money so watch out outbounds you will need to save up.

I turned 18 in May and got to celebrate with my host family. They got me a cake and a four-leaf clover necklace so that I would have good luck in all that I do. Then I went to London on a Rotary trip. It was so amazing and we got to stay with host families while we were there, so we got a real feel for what British people are like. I really enjoyed this aspect of the trip because I liked experiencing the culture from a native’s point of view. We got to see Tower Bridge, Big Ben, the Parliament, Westminster Abbey, and of course Buckingham Palace. My favorite part was the tour of the Harry Potter Studio where the movie was actually shot.

In June, we had our last meeting with all of the 70 inbound students. The weekend consisted of writing on flags, a lot of tears, and sharing our favorite memories of each other. My exchange friends have become my family and they always will be, whether we are together or spread out across the world. They made my year so memorable and I am so beyond grateful for them.

For my last Rotary trip, we went to Prague in Czech Republic. We saw Prague Castle, St, Charles Bridge, the John Lennon Wall, the Wallenstein Garden, and went on a boat tour. Again, this was another outstanding trip that I took too many pictures on. It’s so hard to pick my favorite trip because they were all so special to me. I never thought I would ever even get the chance to travel and see so many different countries, I am extremely blessed.

I had my last Rotary meeting with my host club and exchanged banners with my Counselor. I gave a speech to my club thanking them for such a beautiful year. They really enjoyed my speech and they said they would love to see me in the future. My counselor told us that we made him so proud because we were such good kids and had a great love for Poland and that made me very happy.

The last few weeks I have just been living my normal life in Poland, spending time with my friends, exploring new places in my city, kayaking in the river, and of course eating as much Naleśniki as possible. Life in Bydgoszcz has become so natural to me and it’s strange to think in a few short days I will be “leaving home to come home” as they say. I finally got to see the slack line competition that I have been waiting to see since the beginning of exchange. The Brda river runs through my city and competitors from different countries come to walk across the river on a slack line very high up. I was overjoyed when I saw this and felt so complete because I realized I did it all. I saw everything I wanted, I traveled to so many new places, I experienced Poland, its culture and traditions, and made the best friends of my life. I have Rotary and my grandparents to thank for that. I come home this week and cannot wait to share Polish culture and my experiences with everyone.

Dziękuję za rok wymiany, to był najlepszy rok w moim życiu. Do zobaczenia.

Tue, July 3, 2018

  • Destiny, Outbound to Poland

The biggest things that have happened in the past three months: On January 19th my good friend Jed finished his exchange and went back to Australia. The other exchange students and I were extremely upset; a piece of us was in another place now. But through this we all started to spend more time together and we got even closer. My Polish friends took me ice skating which for this Floridian was quite a challenge. My friends were super kind and taught me a few tricks to help me glide. I still fell a few times, but the most important thing is I got back up and tried again. (An important thing I have learned on exchange, don’t give up, try again). January 27th -February 3rd I went with Rotary on a skiing trip to Austria. It was the absolute best week of my life. How many people get to say they learned how to ski in the Alps? We had a ski instructor and at the beginning of the week skiing seemed so difficult; however, at the end of week I felt like a pro (sort of). I plan on going skiing with my family and friends a lot more in the states. The slopes were beautiful, and the hot chocolate was great. Every night the Rotarians would play trivia games with us about our countries. We made so many amazing and funny memories and it was definitely one of the highlights of my exchange.

In February 8th, we had Tłusty Czwartek which is Fat Thursday. It is a holiday where you eat as much Pączki as you can. It is believed that if you don’t eat Pączki you will be miserable for the rest of the year. Pączki are Polish “doughnuts” that have many different fillings (plum, apricot, strawberry, custard, and bacon). My friends and I had a lot of fun eating all the Pączki we could that day. Later that month three of my good friends and I went on a ski trip to Zakopane. It was so much fun and we all had a great time skiing together again. We even got to visit the city if Zakopane, and we got to see some beautiful handmade plaques and traditional Polish clothing.

At the beginning of March, I was asked to make a presentation about the different stereotypes of states around the country. All of the students were interested about what I had to say and they loved hearing about the United States from a natives view. I got to celebrate my host cousins first birthday with her and our family. There is a tradition when a baby turns one that the mother will lay 3 items in front of them. The items are money, a rosary, and a shot glass. The money means the child will be prosperous, ambitious, and driven. The Rosary means the child will be religious and spiritual. The shot glass means the child will be outgoing and very social. My cousin picked the money and we were all very happy for her.

Weather: It is still cold here. I woke up today and looked outside, it was like winter wonderland. Some days are beautifully sunny and quite warm 45-50 degrees; then out of nowhere it will start to rain or snow. But I remember I must be adaptable and try my best to stay prepared (always carry an umbrella). I think my new favorite thing is watching the snow fall. I love that I can look out my window and see the trees frosted, it’s beautiful. It’s quite a different view from Florida’s hot and sunny beaches.

Friends: I could talk about them all day. I feel like I have said this a million times but the exchange students are my family. We laugh together, cry together, travel together, and experience Poland together. The thought of leaving them breaks my heart, but it also makes me think about how lucky I am to have made such strong relationships with these people I have only known for 7 months. The exchange kids in my city are lucky because we have a group of 9 students. We all have shared so much about each other’s countries and I have learned about Japanese Canadian, Mexican, Taiwanese, and Australian culture. I know I will stay friends with these people for the rest of my life. In fact, we are already making plans to visit each other soon after exchange.

This past weekend, Rotary took my whole district to Kraków and Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Kraków is a beautiful city and my new favorite. We got to go on a tour of the Wawel Castle, it was breathtaking. The markets in the city center sell very traditional things like: headpieces, hand painted Easter eggs, and my favorite, Pierogi. They even had carriage tours around the city. In the middle of the markets there were people performing traditional dances in traditional clothes. The exchange kids and I were so happy to see so much culture being displayed. We all have a lot of love for Kraków.

The next day we visited Auschwitz Concentration Camp and Birkenau Death Camp. It was so crazy for us because we had all learned about the Holocaust and seen pictures of the concentration camp in textbooks before; however, actually being there and seeing it in real life was a whole other story. It was something really hard to accept and comprehend. To stand in the place where thousands were mass killed… there was just no words. But I would not trade my experiences for anything and if you ever go to Poland it is definitely something worth seeing.

I would like to thank Rotary so much for my exchange and for being able to experience so much in this year. I really do love Poland and I have loved growing as a person and becoming more independent. I would also like to thank my family for always supporting me and loving me. Dziękuję i do zobaczenia. Jeszcze trzy miesiące …

Thu, March 29, 2018

  • Destiny, Outbound to Poland

I remember Mrs. Paula always telling me and the other outbounds to always say yes; this advice has led me to great opportunities. To every future outbound I encourage you to always say yes because that’s when you truly start living.

In November I got to go on trip with some other exchange students in my city to Czech Prague, Vienna Austria, and the mountains in the south of Poland. I got to see snow for the first time in years. As soon as we all saw the snow we jumped out of the train and started throwing it at each other and it was so much fun. During the trip me and the girls became really close and I will cherish the hilarious memories we made together. Also, if you ever get the chance to go to Prague TAKE IT! It is the most beautiful city I have ever seen.

I have been told from exchange students that Thanksgiving is a very hard time where you will feel the homesickness, they are not wrong. I was really lucky though because my host family made me a big Thanksgiving dinner and they had my grandparents come over. I was extremely touched, and it helped me so much. There is a tradition in my family where we pray and then pass a spoon around the table and we say the things we are thankful for. When my host grandma started praying she was thanking God that I came into their lives and that I was such a good girl and that she was thankful I was a part of their family. I cried very much because I felt so loved and happy and they all made me feel like I was family.

Recently I got to go to Warsaw and see all of the Christmas decorations and my good friend Weronika. We even got to go Ice skating in front of the Palace of Culture and Science, which is probably my favorite building in Poland, it almost felt like dream. To be honest I have a lot of these moments because on exchange I have experienced so many things that I have always wanted to do. I have made really good relationships with exchange students, Polish friends, and my host families, and I absolutely LOVE my city Bydgoszcz. Side note, it is extremely easy to make friends with exchange students, they will become your family while you are on exchange. It is super easy to connect because you all go through the same things and you know how to comfort each other.

Recently I also went on a school trip to the Christmas markets in Dresden Germany. In December, we had our Wrocław Rotary trip. It was a lot of fun seeing everyone from our exchange group. We got to go to Ksiąz castle where Hitler lived and worked. We also went to the Zoo and we went to a hydraulics museum. During our weekend we went to the Christmas of many nations meeting where exchange students would sing Christmas carols in Polish. At the end, we all got in a circle and sang “We Are the World” and it was one of the most beautiful moments I have ever experienced, I will never forget it.

I got to celebrate Christmas which was a very nice holiday. In Poland we celebrate on the 24th. We have a big dinner which mainly consists of many different fish dishes. We also open gifts this night too. There is a tradition here that you break apart a piece of a wafer and wish everyone good health, a happy life, and you bless them. It is such a sweet thing to do and I will definitely be bringing this tradition back to my family in the U.S. I will say Christmas time was probably my hardest time so far in terms of homesickness; the only advice I can give is to realize how lucky you are to be on exchange and live it to your fullest because next year you will be back with your family again. So, try to be positive and soak up as much of this new culture you can.

I also switched families a little after new year. I am so blessed to have had such a wonderful first family and now a wonderful second family. I already love them so much. I have a little sister and I can tell we will be close. On my first night she sat with me while I unpacked, and we listened to music and danced and played monopoly and I think she is the sweetest thing. My parents are extremely helpful and are super funny. I have already picked up new Polish phrases and words from speaking with them.

The weather is definitely something that takes some adjusting to get used to, layering is key and always keep your head covered. Something else that is helpful is to get waterproof boots for the fall and winter seasons because it rains and snows a lot. Public transportation is something very daunting at first, but you will get the hang of it quickly; I take buses and trams all over my city now.

Polish is definitely difficult, but it is also do able. Practice makes perfect. Also, don’t be afraid to use your Polish, people will be happy to see you are trying because they know it is such a hard language to learn. Making mistakes also helps you learn more and faster so don’t be afraid.

Good luck to all of the new outbounds, whoever gets Poland I know you will love it just as much as I do. Thank you Rotary for giving me this once in a life time opportunity to grow as a person and to see the world. Dziekuje, powodzenia, I do zobaczenia.

Szczęśliwego Nowego Roku (Happy New Year).

Wed, January 10, 2018

  • Destiny, Outbound to Poland

I am almost at my 3-month mark here in Poland. I really do believe that this is a life within a year and not just a year within my life. I have seen and done so much already. I have been traveling to different cities almost every weekend. I have made some really good friends that have helped me so much. My friend Natalia took me to the Philharmonic in my city Bydgoszcz, which is the best one in Poland. It was beautiful. I went to a city called Grudziądz and got to see some of the other exchange students. Then we had a Rotary meeting in Toruń with all the other exchange students, we got to go to the Gingerbread Museum and learn how to make homemade Gingerbread. We also got to go on a boat tour. My Rotary Club took me and 4 other students to a camping trip. We went on a hike and got to see all the leaves changing. It was breathtaking and definitely one of my favorite things about Autumn in Poland. Then my parents took me on a trip to Gdańsk, Gdynia, and Sopot, also known as the Tri-city. We had so much fun together. We went to the WWII museum, Destroyer tour, Carousel ride, and I got to see the beach that I have been missing.

Then I went to Wrocław to see some of my really good friends. We got to see the city and the Dwarfs of Wrocław, which is something I have wanted to see since I heard I was coming to Poland. On November 1, we have a holiday called All Saints Day. It is a holiday of remembrance to those who have passed. My family and I went to the village where my mom grew up to celebrate and meet family. We went to Mass then went to the cemetery. There must have been 100 families there. The graves were decorated beautifully, there were big tombs made of marble and they were covered with flowers and candles. The Priest came and sprayed holy water and prayed over everyone. It was a very beautiful holiday to celebrate. The most breath-taking part was seeing the cemeteries at night. The candles lit up the whole sky and you felt this type of peace. It was so touching to see how much everyone cares and loves their families.

My Rotary Club has signed me and some other students up for Thai Boxing. It is really fun. It is very intense though… I have to work off that Pierogi somehow. The weather is definitely a lot colder than what I’m used to. It is rainy and cold most days. The Autumn season is leaving, and Winter is on its way. I am hoping I will get to see some snow soon.

Polish is getting easier every week. I can understand more than I can say. I have a Polish tutor who is helping in the areas of Polish I am not strong in. For me and the other students this is grammar. With Polish you can’t just be submerged, it’s not enough. You really have to work for it. I really like Polish though and everyone says I am getting much better. The best feeling is ordering your meal, buying a train ticket, or just talking to your family at the table. It makes all the hard work worth it.

I would just like to thank Rotary for this amazing experience. I know I am growing as a person, becoming more independent, and falling in love with Poland. For all of you future outbounds picking countries please put Poland on your list. You will see how much love is in this country and you will not be disappointed. Do Zobaczenia, Dziękuję.

Sat, November 11, 2017

  • Destiny, Outbound to Poland

Click HERE to read more about Destiny and all her blogs

Dzień Dobry! It’s hard to believe I have been in Poland for a little over a month now. I cannot explain how much love I have for this beautiful country. The first thing I would like to talk about would be my flight and my airport experience. The day before I left I was just so excited I couldn’t really think of anything else, other than the fact that the big day had finally come. However, the day of my actual flight made me very emotional. There is a surreal feeling you get when you are about to leave everything you have ever known and loved; anyone who is or was an exchange student will know what I am referring to. It is this nerve wracking yet exhilarating feeling you get and all you can think about is this brand-new adventure that lays ahead of you. I really want to thank my family for being so supportive of me and for giving me the strength to go on exchange because it is something I have always wanted to do. I love you guys with all my heart.

When I arrived in Warsaw, Poland I was greeted by my host dad and sister, and my exchange friend Weronika; I was so happy to see them. Some of my first impressions of Poland were: lots of open landscapes, lots of windmills, and lots of trams/ trains/ and buses. Also, we eat a lot of Potatoes here, baked, boiled, and fried.

I got to meet my grandparents before I went to language camp and they were so sweet and welcoming. My grandpa had said that whenever I am missing him or my family back home, I can come over and give him a hug and spend time with them. My grandparents come to my house every Saturday and I help my grandpa in the garden; I love spending time with him. He will point to objects and tell me the word in Polish and it helps me to learn new words. My host dad was very touched that I spend time with my grandparents, I really love my family here.

Language camp was the BEST experience. I met so many people from all over the world. I have friends from Mexico, Thailand, Brazil, South Korea, Canada, Japan, Taiwan, Chile, Venezuela, and all over the United States; and I am still meeting new people. During the course, we got take Polish grammar, vocabulary, music, sports and history. My understanding of Polish increased dramatically. I really liked my teachers, they were so helpful. We also got to visit some very interesting places like Malbork Castle and an Army Museum. My favorite part was when we got to visit the President of Bydgoszcz and introduce ourselves to him in Polish. It was so cool and I was so proud of myself for speaking Polish to him. The last day of language camp we took our exams and I got a 100% on my speaking portion, I was ecstatic.

I started school on September 4th. On the first day of Polish school, students wear a white shirt with black pants or a black skirt; this is uniform for the first day because you will meet your main teacher and classmates. I really love my school, it’s so beautiful and the people are so helpful. I have a mix of classes that I take: Spanish, Physics, Biology, Civics, Religion, Basics of Enterprise, Polish, Chemistry, Math, Education of Safety, Knowledge of Culture, History in Spanish, Geography in Spanish, and Polish history. Here we stay with the same group of people for all our classes, it makes it easier to make friends so I am happy about that.

September 8-10th I was in Warsaw at a Rotary conference called EEMA. The exchange students got to participate in the flag ceremony and it was very exciting. We all got to represent different countries. I really enjoyed seeing people get so happy when an exchange student was carrying their flag and representing their country. We also got to meet the former President, Lech Wałęsa, who freed Poland from Communism. We were in awe, it was so inspirational to hear him speak at the conference. After this we got to take a tour around Warsaw and spend time together, which we all really enjoyed because we missed each other.

I really am loving my life here in Poland, my family here is so supportive, helpful, loving and caring, I am so blessed. I would like to thank my family and friends back home for loving and supporting me. I would also like to thank Rotary for this amazing opportunity, I will forever be grateful.

To anyone thinking about going on exchange, PLEASE do it, you will have the best time of your life. Also, choose Poland, there is such beautiful culture, traditions, and language here. No matter where you will decide to go, exchange will change your life and it has made me so happy.

Porozmawiaj z tobą wkrótce, Dziękuję bardzo

Tue, September 19, 2017


Grace - Croatia

Hometown: Ponte Vedra, Florida
School: Nease
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Ponte Vedra Beach Sunset, Florida
Host District: 1913
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Dubrovnik

My Bio

Bok! (or Hi!) My name is Grace Schneider. I enjoy sunsets and long walks on the beach…just kidding, well, kind of! I have both of those readily available to me on a daily basis in my beautiful home, Ponte Vedra, Florida. I am currently a sophomore at Nease High School. I live at home with my mom, dad, two younger sisters, and very small dog. My first time out of the country will be the 10 months I am spending in Croatia! I love learning new things and exploring and could not think of a better way to do it. I am quite the social butterfly and will pretty much do any and everything so long as I have a friend by my side. When my friends and I aren’t exploring our way around town, I can be found in the pool swimming laps or curled up with a good book. I am so excited and thankful to Rotary Youth, not only for the challenge and opportunity to learn a lifetime of new lessons, but also for the ability to ramble on and on in not one, but TWO languages. I love to laugh and can most often be found with a smile on my face. I can only hope this journey will bring laughter, smiles, and much more along with it! Kisses from Croatia , thank you, and goodbye!

Journals: Grace-Croatia Blog 2017-18

  • Grace, Outbound to Croatia

1 month and 4 days back home.

Although my year abroad has come to an end, I wanted to upload one final blog post now that my life at “home” has returned to normal.

Let me catch you up

Since my last blog post in March a lot has happened. The last few months of my exchange were extraordinary and filled with enough joy to compensate for any early morning or late night I suffered during the year.

Towards the end of March my class took a weekend trip to Rijeka, Croatia. The trip, while short, provided lots of laughs, memories, and bonding. I will always remember the time we spent together in those 3 days as one of my favorite memories.

My family came to visit me immediately after my class trip, we spent a few days in Vienna and then one week in Dubrovnik. It was a bittersweet, action packed reunion. I really enjoyed showing them around my city, and introducing them to everyone in my life, however the reality that I would be heading home sooner than later set it in…hard.

Immediately after my family left, my class took a weekend trip to Rijeka, Croatia. The trip, while short, provided lots of laughs, memories, and bonding. I will always remember the time we spent together in those 3 days as one of my favorite memories.

In early May, I flew to Paris to see my mom for 4 days. Paris, a city I have dreamt of visiting since age 10, did not disappoint. We packed in enough museums, monuments, and baguettes in for 7 days (or more).

At the very end of May, I went on Euro Tour!! For 15 days myself and 70 other exchange students travelled throughout France and Italy. Although I spent enough time on a bus to last me a lifetime, and had very little sleep…I would not trade those 15 days for anything. The highlight of the trip was visiting Monte Carlo for 4-5 hours during the F1 Grand Prix!! I did not live near exchange students during my year, so the time I enjoyed with them on Euro Tour meant very much to me.

In between all of the travelling and reunions, I simply enjoyed myself with my friends. While all of our coffees and card games made it that much harder to say goodbye, I could not be more thankful for them.

It’s Over??

Almost 2 years ago when I began the journey of becoming a Rotary Exchange Student, I never imagined the ways in which it would change my life. I remember sitting through meetings and orientations finding it hard to believe that my year would be as unforgettable as those who came before me…boy was I wrong.

The 10 months that I spent in a city and country I had barely heard of, have been the best 10 months of my life. It is impossible to appreciate the beauty of certain moments, while you are experiencing them, but the memories you’re left with are just as good, if not better. My year was hard. I didn’t wake up every day over the moon excited, or go to bed each night happy, however reflecting on the good times and the things I have gained completely negates every bad emotion I felt throughout the year. I won’t ever forget how difficult the low times were, or how strong they made me, but the pros outweigh the cons from this year 100 to 1.

I could type 50 pages on every laugh, sunset, or cat that made this year as amazing as it was, but I will keep those for myself. This year I travelled, I learned, I grew, and most importantly…I loved. When I look back 1, 5, and 20 years from now the thing that will always remain in my heart, are the friends I made. I miss them every day, and could not be more thankful to have met them. They taught me acceptance, a new language, and perseverance. They were the rainbow at the end of every thunderstorm and the brightest lights on every sunny day. I did not realize I had it in my heart to love 12 people I met only 10 months ago, but they made it easy. I owe them my year, and hope they enjoyed their time with me as much as I enjoyed mine with them.

Now that I am home, everything looks a little different. I feel as though I can conquer any obstacle life throws at me, and I appreciate all the little things about life that I payed no mind to before.

Exchange gave me strength, maturity, love, memories, opportunities, and above all happiness, and I would recommend to every person in the world if I could.

I will forever be thankful for this incredible experience. I will forever think of Dubrovnik as my home. I will forever want to travel and explore. I will forever love people from every corner of the world. Most importantly, I will forever know that happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.

Thanks for coming along for the journey,

Catch ya on the flip side,


Tue, July 17, 2018

  • Grace, Outbound to Croatia

Long time no blog…oops!

6 months and 7 days in…

How’s life?

Things have certainly slowed down on exchange. Winter, currently wrapping up, left the Old City oddly quiet, and lacking many tourists. School remains painfully boring, but I continue to numb the pain via coffee after coffee with friends. I grow closer and closer with my classmates every day and the thought of leaving them looms on the horizon threatening to send me into a bout of tears daily. I joined a swim club afterschool as a way to stay in shape, and kill some time. On Fridays instead of swimming we go to the GYM…a true first for me.

And now the highlights of past 4ish months…

Austria, Christmas, & New Years

10ish days before Christmas the other exchange students and I traveled to Salzburg, Austria for a snowy, wonderful weekend with the Austrian exchange students. My countdown for the trip began ages ago. Expectations of border crossing, exchange student reunions, and true cold weather grew in my head. The weekend proved everything I dreamed of and more. I reunited with 2 Floridians, but came back with at least 10 more wonderful friends (Austria’s’ large Inbound group contrasted wonderfully with our tight knit, lovable 12 in Croatia). Given copious free time, I made many great connections, walked many streets, and bought (one too) many souvenirs. The most wonderful part, however, came in the form of a heavy snowfall just 2 or so hours before we left…although I see snow almost every year, standing in Europe with a view of the mountains, surrounded by people I shared a fantastic weekend with gave the weather an especially magical touch. The trip, forever treasured in my memory, ended far too soon, and I admit, a few tears were shed on the scenic train ride home.

Following a tough first act…Christmas proved somewhat difficult. I come from a family of many loud, crazy cousins…this year, I shared a large Christmas lunch with only adults. Without stockings on the mantle or presents underneath the tree, loneliness can only begin to describe my holiday, and in all honesty I felt quite relieved as it passed. The experience surely did not fulfill imagination, but I came out of it with a lesson in making your own happiness. I baked extra sweet Christmas cookies for the class, leaving them amped up on sugar and nursing aching stomachs, and spent Christmas Eve and the second half of Christmas Day with friends (Christmas here felt a lot more social than Christmas back home…this I enjoyed…sorry mom (; ).

Winter break for my school lasted forever and a day. At home, nearly 25 days off of school existed only in my dreams, however the real deal here felt like torture! Ideas for daily entertainment escaped me, and I saw my friends every few days or so, but mostly spent the time alone. The unproductive, solo winter break did not prove completely useless however. After not seeing most of my friends since the end of school, coming together for New Years Eve made for a fantastic night. The Old City sported large, glowing “2018” signs for nearly a month, and when the big day finally arrived we kicked it off with a midnight fireworks display (hopefully setting a precedent for a bright new year).

New Host Family

The biggest change since my last blog came in the form of a new host family. While most students change families one or two times, I originally had no plans to. Luckily and surprisingly for me, circumstances changed. My first host family had no children aside from myself, now I have two younger sisters…just like home! The three of us all go to different schools, but see each other for meals and spend the evenings working our way through the entirety of Netflix. Not only did I switch families, I also switched locations and routines. I now live in a suburb call Zupa, located about 15 or so minutes from the Old Town. This means longer bus rides, which I don’t mind, and earlier mornings, which I ESPECIALLY mind. I have reached the conclusion that no human should need to wake up before at least 7:30…or at least I shouldn’t.

February Fun

Every month on exchange brings new experiences, but January felt like torture. However, the long dreary month finally ended and gave way to a fantastic February. I spent every weekend either busy with friends, or traveling and could not have enjoyed it more.

The first weekend took place at home, where I celebrated one of my best friend’s birthdays. We talked up the big day for weeks, and when it finally arrived we could not have asked for more. Almost all of my friends came together and we spent the evening laughing, dancing, and eating cheesecake.

The next weekend I traveled to Zagreb, where I spent Saturday hanging out around town with some exchange students, and on Sunday our entire group traveled to Rijeka, another city, for Maskare. Maskare, a big parade / carnival to mark the end of winter (although it is still cold!!), happens throughout the country and reminds me a great deal of Halloween meets Gasparilla (celebrated in Tampa, FL). We choose Rijeka as our destination to celebrate, because it houses the biggest festivities in all of the country! The weather turned out for us, and we spent the sunny but chilly day eating classic carnival food and watching a long but entertaining parade.

The third and best weekend of the month I traveled to Amsterdam for a reunion with my dad. Getting there took many hours and a great deal of energy, but it all payed off as I stepped through baggage claim and saw him for the first time in nearly 5 months. We walked everywhere there was to walk, saw everything there was to see…and ate enough as well. I loved the look and atmosphere of the city so much, and already have hopes to return. I especially enjoyed seeing everyone on bikes, although it made me a big nostalgic for my beach cruiser back home. I tried new things, visited countless museums, and spent time with family…but the best part of all was, of course, the hotel bed (on our Rotary trips we stay in hostels..which always treat us very nicely, but could never compare to the Hilton).

Two other awesome things happened this month. For one week or so the Game of Thrones cast came to Dubrovnik and filmed their final season in Kings Landing!! Despite many hours spent sitting outside designated filming areas…no famous people crossed my path, oh well at least the security guards can’t ever forget me! A happy ending to the month fell from the sky for the last few days, snow! Although none stuck to the ground or caused any snow days, it still proved a rare, wonderful sight!

The Hard Stuff

Homesickness hit me pretty soon after arriving in Croatia. I spoke briefly about it in my past blog, and not much changed. I expected some relief, or at least a break, sooner or later, but have had no such thing. My wealth of free time often leaves my mind wandering and wondering…what is my family up to? Do my friends miss me like I miss them? When oh when will I have Chick Fil A nuggets again? Of course each exchange gifts us with unique ups and downs, surely others have it worse or better. However I never expected to feel the way I do about my exchange. The truth (in my case) about homesickness unfortunately seems that it plans to impact me the whole 10 months, somedays in the worst ways and others only minimally. As negative as it all sounds I don’t let these feelings hold me back. I don’t wallow in my sad feelings and memories, no matter how badly I want to, I force myself out of the house to see friends or watch a sunset. It works for me from time to time, but certainly not always. The important thing to remember remains that I don’t want to look back on my exchange and see I spent all of my time missing home AND in my room, I have to make memories while I still have the chance. I get by with the help of all my wonderful friends here, and my supportive parents and best friends at home. It has made me a much stronger person and I know one day it will all pay off.

Cats also help

Until Next Time

Although based on my track record thus far you probably think I will never blog again, I hope to add at least 2 more posts before this crazy ride ends. Sending many thanks to all those who deserve it and a late Happy Holidays to anyone who reads this.

Catch ya on the flip side


Wed, March 7, 2018

  • Grace, Outbound to Croatia

2 months and 16 days into my exchange…

Where am I?

I live in Dubrovnik, Croatia. Seen in Star Wars every once and a while, and known for its role as Kings Landing in the HBO series Game of Thrones. Now, when I say I live IN Dubrovnik I truly mean it! Not a 30 minute drive away, or in some outer suburbs. I am lucky enough to be a long stroll, or quick bus ride away from the center of the city – the Old Town. Within the city walls there lie many museums, restaurants, and most importantly…cafes! I spend most of my time either in the city or cutting through it on my walk to school.


Yes I go, though I am far from a straight A student. My school day runs from 8am – 2pm one week and 2pm – 8pm the next. I take 15 classes total, but only 7 everyday…that schedule was difficult to remember. I spend my days with my class of 17 students, 5 boys and 12 girls. We have every class together, every day, except when we break up into our language classes (the 3 options being Italian, German, and French). I originally worried that seeing the same people every day would cause me to grow bored or irritated. In reality, I am beyond thankful to have the opportunity to grow so close to my class. Since my first day of school they have treated me with so much kindness it is hard not to want to see them all the time!

What do I do outside of school?

Not much, in all honesty. Of course I spend time with my friends and explore around Dubrovnik, but I have come to the realization that my life here has more similarities to my life at home than I had expected. The main difference being that I now have a much nicer background.


In all of Croatia there are 12 Rotary Youth Exchange Students. Our group lacks diversity, but makes up for it in energy with 11 of us being from North America (we have 10 Americans, 1 Canadian, and 1 French student) we all got along well right off the bat. We have taken two trips so far. Our first in early September stopped in Krapina, Varazdin, and the beautiful Plitvice Lakes. More recently, our second trip took place in some historical cities in the Eastern region of Croatia – Slavonia.

All fun and games?

Yes and no. My life here is extraordinary and amazing – but has taken some getting used to. Packing up and leaving home seemed easy until I landed in a new place with all new people. I miss my mom, my friends, and Chick-Fil-A. I try and remember that this wonderful experience will be over in the blink of an eye and I’ll be home soon enough, but homesickness has become more than something I prepared for at Rotary Orientation. I feel homesick almost every day, but I don’t view my familiarity with homesickness as a bad thing or the end all be all of my exchange. I see homesickness as more of a new challenge to overcome, and an obstacle that will ultimately help me as a person. Worse than homesickness though, I underpacked!! So take my advice and bring all the clothes you think you’ll need if you go on exchange because, you never know where the nearest shopping mall may be.

All in all these 2+ months have been quite the experience, and I look forward to find out what I will be writing about next. Until then – xoxoxo

Mon, November 13, 2017


Nikki - Italy

Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: Ponte Vedra High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: St. Augustine Sunrise, Florida
Host District: 2032
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Sarzana-Lerici

My Bio

Ciao! My name is Nicole Packo, but please call me Nikki. I am from Saint Augustine, Florida born and raised. Currently I’m a student at Ponte Vedra High School in the biotechnology academy. I’m super excited to go to ITALY!!!! Italy seems so amazing and my personality will fit in great. I come from a huge close family, I have 5 older brothers. My brothers have been lucky enough to travel the world now its my time to go and travel. I love animals they are very important to me. I cant wait to see Florence football it seems like so much fun. I’m so ready to try and learn some many new things from their culture. I have been blessed by a great family who has many stories to tell me especially my grandfather. My grandfather Daniel J.Hill is a huge American hero and I want to make a impact on people like he has on me, and be able to pass down the experiences I get from this exchange to the next generation. Then they will be able to do the same and it becomes a tradition. I hope to do some great things with Rotary Youth Exchange. I am so thankful for the opportunity I have gotten with Rotary.

Journals: Nikki-Italy Blog 2017-18

  • Nikki,Outbound to Italy

Ciao tutti,

I’ve been busy lately, I just moved to my 3rd host family a couple days and it was hard because I really liked my 2nd host family. I felt really connected with them. I went to London with my 2nd host family which was so much fun. My 2nd host mom took about a thousand photos of me and my host sister. I was excited for Starbucks because in Italy there is only one I think in the Milan airport. It’s crazy how I have about 2 months left. It stills feels like yesterday when I was talking to a past exchange I met on the airport before landing in Pisa. This weekend I’m having friends come over for brunch because I’m making pancakes… I found out Italians love pancakes. I have to say since I’m on the topic of food, Italian food is really good. My favorite is Gnocchi with Pesto and it’s easy to make but Pesto is amazing. Also this weekend I am hoping for good weather because then my friends can take me to Cinque Terre for the first time. I’m excited about that. School is good. The students in my class treat like one of them, so that’s good. It was really cool because my class went on a field trip to a jail and we went to Rome. In Rome Giorgio Napolitano said hi to my class which I thought was really cool. In May my class is going to Napoli. I’m excited about that because I’ve only been to Tropea in the south and I was told Napoli is so different from the rest of Italy, especially the language. It’s nice now because it’s starting to get warm which means I go can go to the beach. My 3rd host family is just me and the mom because one daughter is in Mexico and the another studies in Milan for university. It’s nice because my host sister now (the one who studies in Milan) her best friend is my other host sister from my 2nd family. It’s nice because at least once a week my 2nd host mom will call me to see how I’m doing. Every Sunday my new host goes to Nonna’s for dinner which I enjoy. Easter was good but the day after Easter is like the Easter for friends where they cook and hang out but I was sick and got my sister sick. Over the weekend the weather was nice so me and my friends went to Lerici which is right by the sea. It’s so pretty right there because of all the boats. It’s like a perfect picture. Plus in each town they have a little castle or fort which is always nice to see and normally they have a nice view with them too. Also the castle always have some history to go along with them and the towns which is interesting. Lerici is really beautiful. I rather like going to there with all the boats is very beautiful.

Mon, April 9, 2018

  • Nikki, Outbound to Italy

Ciao ragazzi

So it is Christmas time and it has been crazy around here I have been really busy. Let me start off with the day we decided to put up the Christmas tree. My host mom bought a brand new fake tree and my host dad opens the box not knowing what to do with it , so I knew exactly how to set the tree up and did that in like 20 minutes or so. After a minute of setting it up the base of the tree isn’t really holding the tree at a balance so my host dad tries to fix and my host dad is not really a “handy man” he doesn’t like tools and stuff. I think we had to take the tree apart 3 or 4 times. He ended shoving wood pieces in the base to get the tree balanced and my host mom kept telling him that she would just get a new tree but he didn’t want to set a new tree up. Once the tree is balanced my host mom says she wants it taller so we have to find something to put the tree on when we do we tried like 3 different tables and every time we would pick the tree up to move it somehow we would end up dropping and starting at square one. We finally get everything all good and my host dad wants to go take a nap because he got so frustrated with the tree. Also if you come to Italy there is a Holiday so you can put the tree up. Then in school I did secret Santa with my class. I think we had to draw names 3 different times until like a week before Christmas everyone was like no more changing our person. So I drew the same person twice and he got me twice too and the girls in my class we did gifts too. In my class its about 28 students with only 6 girls because I am in a Sport Scientific class. Yesterday night we had the family over for dinner and then after we open the gifts on Christmas eve because that’s when Italians celebrate Christmas. The dinner yesterday didn’t finish until 1:30 am. Today I went to church with Nonna (grandma) and that was interesting compared to home at church before you leave you kiss baby Jesus which I thought was interesting. Then we all went out with the family today for lunch at a restaurant right on on the ocean, it was nice. I ate about 4 plates of seafood and was dying because I didn’t think I could eat so much food. My host parents told me we weren’t going to eat dinner because we ate so much at lunch. Around 6 my family starts showing up with more food and I was like we are eating again. Also it wasn’t like a little snack it was like a 4 course meal I was dying trying to eat all of it.

Tue, December 26, 2017

  • Nikki, Outbound to Italy


So since the last time I wrote I have changed schools and I am in love with my new class. The whole class talks to me all time. My second day there they asked to go to lunch and I thought it would be with a few girls … Nope they are planning for all 27 of us to go eat lunch somewhere. My gym class went rock climbing and I’m afraid of heights but still did it and I was freaking out when the teacher said “once you get to the top just drop down” well it was scary at home I would never do that. I went to Geneva over the weekend. We went to the second largest aquarium in Europe. This Sunday the 26th I am suppose to go to Cremona with Rotary to meet district 2031/2. I have two little host siblings and love them to death my little sister reminds of me when I was her age the funny thing is she looks exactly like me at that age. She told her mom “Mom make sure you keep Nikki’s number forever”. My host parents want to send my little sister to live with me in America when she gets older. My little host brother says he wants to be fluent in English because of me. Next year my host family wants to come to Saint Augustine… I am super excited !!! I am suppose to make Thanksgiving dinner for my family and they are so excited because they love my cooking. I love how much this family makes me feel like their own daughter. At my house downstairs lives my host moms sister and below her Nonna (grandmother) lives. The other day I ate lunch with Nonna and after lunch she showed me all the family photos I feel like I would never forget that. In December I am suppose to go with my class to Florence. My town is starting to put up Christmas lights and I feel like a little kid walking around with big eyes. I went ice skating here it was kinda different from home but it was something different I enjoyed it. I am so excited to have Christmas in Italy I really hope it snows where I live even if it is only a very light snow because it already has snowed everywhere near us but not my town. I love Italy more and more everyday I really can not believe how much I fell in love with it. I love when I dress I look Italian I get so excited. Also if you guys are looking for gifts to bring your family my host family loves the peanut butter and yum yum sauce or shrimp sauce they literally put it on everything. Its funny because they put it on more things than I do. I feel like I made them unhealthy because they were healthy and now I feel like changed that. Everyday they ask me to tell my mom to send more yum yum sauce or if they can buy some in Italy.

Mon, November 20, 2017

  • Nikki, Outbound to Italy

Click HERE to read more about Nikki and all her blogs

Hey guys so I am just starting to feel better after getting sick. I went to south Italy for orientation and I GOT ON ITALIAN NEWS!!!! I was so excited about getting on TV here I said I would give a speech on the news but they didn’t want me to. My 2nd day of being home I was in alot of pain in my stomach so they called the doctor and he said I got a stomach virus. While here is the thing kids don’t drink tap water in a foreign that you don’t know if the water is clean. Guys if you come to Italy you will have your orientation in a paradise its normally in southern Italy the water is so blue. I went into the water thinking that its warm… Nope not true its cold and very salty which I thought was odd. After one of our meetings I got to meet all these Italians I was so excited, I think I scared them. Some of the girls were excited to meet me but the guys were like oh nahhh thats the crazy American girl!! I went on my first train in Italy going to orientation they are not what I thought they would be like. I thought the train was like the subway in New York where you stand up the whole time welp you don’t you sit down ( without a.c. so it gets hot). Sunday I will be moving to my first host family they were moving houses. So I have lived with all my families but my first it 3-2-1. My first host families has DOGS and KIDS!!!!! Thats sounds exciting for me and these kids are little which is amazing. I hope my dog can sleep with me but I cant hold my breath on that one.

Thu, September 28, 2017

  • Nikki, Outbound to Italy

Ciao everyone my name is Nikki and Im in Italy.

I would today I have been in Italy for about 8 days or so. My first day here it was good I got in around 11:30 in the morning. The second day here I went to hang out with the Australian in Sarzana. On my 3rd day in Italy I got this feeling of love and I feel in love with Italy which I never would of thought its such a amazing feeling to have. One day I went to Sarzana to see my friends and I got on a bus but I missed my stop and decided to get off this bus to follow a lady who said my town name but the rest she said I didnt understand. I follow her to this other bus and I say about 10 minutes on this bus she gets off and I have no idea where I am. The bus ended up at some bus stop thats 2 hours away from my house and my phone dies. My friend who put me on the bus is freaking out for hours because she cant get a hold of me. It took me about a hour or so to find someone to help because Im so lost. I finally find my bus and walk up my mountain to get home and I cant open the door so I had to wait till my host mom gets home. Right when she gets home I get the door open. Another time I go to take a shower and the bathroom gets alot of steam so I open the window and the alarm of the house goes off and I start freaking out. I thought I woke my host mom up from a nap because the alarm was going off.

Sun, September 17, 2017


Sydney - Norway

Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: St Augustine
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Coastal St Johns County, Florida
Host District: 2260
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Kløfta

My Bio

Hallo, jeg heter Sydney Garrison! Hello, my name is Sydney Garrison. I go to St Augustine High School, where my favorite subject is international history. I’m 15 years old and in the tenth grade. I was born in Minnesota and lived in southern Wisconsin until third grade, so I’ve always felt very connected with Scandinavian culture. I live with my mom (Leslie), dad (Derek), and younger brother (Rowan) in St Augustine Beach, just a short walk away from the beautiful Anastasia State Park. My friends and I like to go to the beach, walk downtown, and organize themed parties. For example, we have an annual Eurovision themed party where we all dress up in cultural costumes and score each performance. My parents both taught English in Taiwan after college and travelled all around southeast Asia, and have instilled in me a love of travel and language. I’m a French 4 student and have already started studying Norwegian! I’m also very interested in history, mythology, and literature. I’m not just academically oriented though, I also love the outdoors and hope I can spend some time skiing and hiking. Tusen takk (Thank you very much) to Rotary and to my family for providing me with this amazing opportunity. I can’t wait to see what new adventures I’ll have!

Journals: Sydney-Norway Blog 2017-18

  • Sydney, Outbound to Norway

I’ve been in Norway for more than two months now, but it’s gone by so fast. I guess they do say that time flies when you’re having fun. The exchange has been amazing so far. Although I’m having a little trouble getting used to the cold (especially during outdoor gym class), I really enjoy seeing this country and its beautiful nature. I’ve gone berry picking twice, and I walk my host family’s dog every day. I love seeing the leaves change. In Florida, we really do miss out on the whole “seasons” thing. I also really like my class. I feel like I’ve moved past just being “the American” and my classmates are getting to know me and become friends because of my personality, not my country. I still eat lunch with the same group, but I spend breaks with lots of different people.

I was able to meet the rest of the Rotary exchange students in Norway during introcamp, which was on the west coast in Sola. We learned some basic language and culture (okay, mostly trolls), and got to know each other. We took the bus one day into Sandnes, and we went to a children’s museum and walked around downtown. Some friends and I got ice cream and walked to the marina, and a few stores. I was also one of the few students brave enough to swim in the ice cold ocean at introcamp- it was fun but freezing.

Last week was fall break (called høstferie) and my third host family took me with them to Stord, a small island on the west coast where my host dad grew up. The drive was eight hours of breathtaking scenery (we went across mountains and along fjords) and sharing a bag of Norwegian candy with my future host sister Sigrid. We stayed in a house that has been in the family for generations. It was really fun, and I was able to get to know my future host family better. Sigrid and I made tacos one night, and another night we ate fish we’d caught ourselves. Going out fishing was great. We had coffee and skoleboller on the boat, and I was able to catch two fish. On the last day before I flew back, we took the ferry into Bergen. We went to the top of a mountain overlooking the city and its harbor, and then came back down to walk around the cute old houses and shops downtown. Unfortunately, Bergen ended up living up to its reputation of the rainiest city in Europe, and we spent most of the late afternoon looking for cover from the downpours.

Last night, I went with the president of my host club, his wife, and another exchange student to see the Barber of Seville in Oslo, Although the show was in Italian and I couldn’t understand much of the plot, it was super enjoyable. Plus, the opera house in Oslo has really nice architecture. Tonight, I’m seeing Annie in Jessheim with my host parent’s granddaughters, so I have more live play experiences to look forward to.

Sun, October 15, 2017

  • Sydney, Outbound to Norway

Click HERE to read more about Sydney and all her blogs

So I’ve been in Norway for about a week now, and I’m still shocked at how beautiful everything is here! Everywhere I look there are green open fields or forests. Wildflowers grow on the sides of the roads and I haven’t even seen a billboard yet, so car rides in Norway are definitely different than the US. Another thing that’s different- my host club sings at the beginning of the meetings, which my sponsor club definitely doesn’t do! Luckily they keep lyric books on every table, so I was able to follow along.

I go to a school in Jessheim, which I have to take 2 different buses to get to. The school building itself is new, and it’s really nice. It’s definitely the biggest school I’ve ever attended. I’m having difficulty understanding some classes, but my classmates have been really nice and accommodating in helping me understand. In English class, we’ll be covering “American people and culture”, which should be interesting to take as an American. The textbook has Bruce Springsteen lyrics for students to read and understand the American working class. I’ve made two good friends in my class so far, Hedda and Mozhgan. I’ve also been in communication with my future host sister Sigrid.

My neighbor Julie has also been a really good friend. She taught me how to eat like a typical Norwegian teenager (ketchup on pizza and Pepsi Max), and I went to an activity park with her, her boyfriend Casper, and their friend Ivar. The activity park was really fun, even if it physically could be a challenge for an out of shape American like me. Afterwards, we shared an apple cider and talked about music. Her friends were very fun, and had a similar sense of humor to my friends in the US.

Also, my host family has a dog! This is really exciting to me, because I’ve always wanted one and my brother is allergic. His name is Elvis, and I’ve really enjoyed walking him in the forest by my house. I also got to see my host parents’ grandson’s band play at Jessheim Storsenter, and they were really good. They did covers of some songs I’m familiar with- Johnny B Goode and Communication Breakdown.

The other day, my host mom took me into Oslo. We had coffee and ice cream on a peninsula on the fjord and went to the Viking Ship Museum, the Fram Museum, the Kon Tiki Museum, and the top of Holmenkollen. Holmenkollen was amazing- you could see everything from the top. But my favorite had to be the Kon Tiki Museum. I’d heard about Kon Tiki, but I didn’t really know much of Thor Heyerdahl’s story. It was so fascinating!

So far, Norway has been a dream come true. I would like to thank Rotary as well as my amazing families (both host and biological) for making this possible. I would also like to leave you for now with a Thor Heyerdahl quote that greets you when you enter the Kon Tiki Museum, and has made me think a lot about my exchange “Borders? I have never seen one. But I have heard they exist in the minds of some people.”

Tue, August 22, 2017


Vivianne - Sweden

Hometown: Orange Park, Florida
School: Ridgeview
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Orange Park Sunshine, Florida
Host District: 2370
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Strängnäs

My Bio

Hej! Jag heter Vivianne—Hi! My name is Vivianne. Currently I am a sixteen year-old junior attending Ridgeview High School and part of the Academy of Technology and Innovation. I am an active member of my school’s FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America) and French Honor Society. I adore art, specifically drawing and music, and love playing video games in my spare time, so much so that I aspire to become a game developer in the future. How lucky am I to be sent to a country that is famous for their video games? One of my biggest passions, however, is studying other languages and cultures. I took French in school for two years, and now I am focusing on Swedish and Japanese. I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to be an exchange student, as I never thought I would be brave enough to do something like this. I am fortunate enough to have supportive parents and grandparents, as well as a little sister who is very energetic. Usually, I am a very quiet person, and am often described as shy. However, now that I know what I am capable of, I am finally beginning to come out of my shell a bit more. I am so thankful for the Rotary and their staff for showing me my potential and for giving me such a great opportunity. I cannot explain the anxiety and happiness I am feeling as I await to embark on my journey.

Journal: Vivianne-Sweden Blog 2017-2018

  • Vivianne, Outbound to Sweden

Hej allihopa!

It’s been a while since my last journal entry, so I’ll get right into everything I’ve done since then.

Host Families

Since my last journal, I’ve changed host families twice. I stayed with my first host family for about six months, from August to the beginning of January, and then changed host families for the second and last time in the beginning of April.

In my second host family is was mainly just host parents and I, but I did have a host sister who wasn’t living at home, but visited a lot. With this family I was living a bit out in the countryside, about 10-15 minutes (by car) from the city. It was far enough out that no buses came there, so I had to get a ride from one of my host parents to get to school each day. The four houses, plus smaller buildings, in our area were all owned by my host father’s family, so his parents and his sister and her family all lived close by.

I was really excited when I moved to this host family because they had quite a few pets: one dog, three cats and two horses. I have to admit, despite all the cat hair that ended up on my clothes, I was always happy to have the animals around.

This host family was incredibly nice. They treated me as part of the family from the moment I moved in with them. It wasn’t just them either; the whole family was incredibly sweet and inviting when I arrived. I have to say, I really didn’t want to leave.

In my current host family, I have both parents and two younger siblings: a 15-year-old host brother and a 13-year-old host sister. Everyone is usually quite busy and is off doing their own stuff most of the time, so I don’t spend so much time with them during the day. I’ve only been with this host family for a few weeks, but it’s already obvious to me that it’s a lively and busy household.


There isn’t so much to say about school right now, really. The school year is close to being finished, with graduation (Studenten) being on June 15, so my class isn’t doing so much work right now. My classmates are all preparing their final project and studying for an important test, so most of our classes right now are focusing on those two things.

Everyone is mainly looking forward to graduation, I think. Graduation here is like a huge party, where students have competitions in the school and later ride around the city in trucks and blasting loud music. For graduation, girls usually wear white dresses (I’m not too excited about the dress part). I will be honest, I’m not exactly sure what boys wear, but from the pictures it looks like they usually wear black or blue suits. I’m in the process of looking for an outfit for graduation now, and my host mom has told me that the closer to graduation it gets, the more white clothes you’ll see in stores.

I also have a really cool graduation cap. One thing I really like about the whole graduation process here is that it’s a bit more customized. In the beginning of the year, I got to design my graduation cap. Everyone’s is always a little different, which I really like.


Saint Lucia’s Day was a completely new holiday for me. It was on December 13 and I mainly celebrated with my Rotary clubs. Saint Lucia’s Day is meant to commemorate Saint Lucia, a Christian martyr who lived between the years 283-304. Each year around this day, girls will be chosen to represent Lucia for their town, region, school, church, etc. Only one girl takes the role of Lucia for whatever organization or area she is representing. Traditionally, Lucia is supposed to have “light in her hair” which in most cases means either electric or real candles are put on the chosen girl’s head.

When I visited the church with my Rotary club on Saint Lucia’s Day, the Lucia for the city came there with her procession made up of boys and girls carrying candles and singing. My school also had a Lucia visit, and she and her procession also had real candles. Someone had told me that one year, the candles on the Lucia’s head had gotten too hot for her, so she had fainted on stage. But luckily that didn’t happen this year. Both Lucia’s I saw only had the problem of getting the candle wax out of their hair after they were finished.

Christmas was quite similar to what I was used to, although in Sweden it is celebrated on December 24 instead of the 25th. I celebrated Christmas with my host family and my host mom’s family in Stockholm, with a lot of food and some dancing around the Christmas tree. Along with the food I was used to eating for Christmas, we also ate quite a bit of fish, mainly herring, but also some salmon. I don’t like fish so much to begin with, but i have tried herring a few times, and it is safe to say I probably will not do it again.

On Christmas Eve at the same time every year, the TV plays a Disney Christmas special cartoon. It’s mainly referred to as Kalle Anka here, which in English would be Donald Duck. As far as I know, it’s roughly the same cartoon each year, called “From All of Us to All of You”, although sometimes they feature scenes from newer movies. It was interesting to hear well known songs from classic Disney movies in Swedish and listen to how all the characters sounded. I think this was one of my favorite things about Christmas.

Easter was a bit similar to Christmas, with most of the food being the same. During Easter I was with my second host family, so I celebrated with them and other members of their family. My host parents and some of the other adults had hidden an Easter egg and another gift for each of the kids ( which they defined as anyone under the age of 22). It was quite fun searching for them, since my second host family had such a large area around their house. When we had found our gifts we had gone back inside to eat and then played a quiz game. The quiz asked some trivia about the Easter holiday and we were all partnered up and sent away to answer all of the questions before coming back to check them. I was partnered with my host dad’s sister and we ended up being tied in correct answers with my host dad and his father. On the Thursday before Easter, children go around dressed up like witches and hand out candy. I first thought that they received candy, but I was told it was the opposite. My host dad’s nieces came by dressed in witch costumes and brought candy to us in the afternoon.


I’ve been to a few museums in the past few months, including the ABBA Museum and the Technology Museum, but the biggest thing I’ve done was go on a Rotary organized trip to Kiruna. Kiruna is the northernmost town in Sweden and most of us exchange students here were able to go on the trip and visit for 4 days. Me and a few other exchange students were a bit unlucky at first, because we were originally supposed to go by plane in the morning and arrive in Kiruna in the afternoon, but our flight was cancelled. We ended up taking a night train (a 15 hour long ride) and arriving a day late, but we didn’t miss too much.

We were able to arrive just in time to see the ice hotel. The ice hotel has many different rooms, including several art rooms, regular “ice rooms”, and a church, as well as an ice bar in another building that is active all year. The art rooms are all different and have different themes and sculptures inside each room. My favorite room was the space themed one, where it had ice sculptures of astronauts and a glowing picture of the world also made from ice. The hotel wasn’t as cold as you think it would be, in fact I found that it actually felt a little warmer than the outside was.

We also visited a Sami cultural center to learn about their culture. The Sami are an indigenous people who are a bit similar to Native Americans in a way. Several of our guides were Sami and showed us how the Sami lived in the past and how they currently live. One thing that they are know for is reindeer herding. We were able to see a few reindeer and even feed them a bit before we headed indoors for lunch, which consisted of reindeer. Don’t worry, the reindeer we fed were not ones that were meant to be eaten. Although some of us did feel a little bad about the situation.

The next day we went to a frozen lake and walked around on it for a bit while playing some games. Eventually a group of dog sleds came to take us to our next activity area on the other side of the lake. The sleds each had a different number of dogs pulling them, but the one I rode on had the most (some number between 12 and 16, I can’t quite remember), and the dogs were really strong and fast. Our next activities included a few small games, and later a ride on a snowmobile (with someone else driving, of course). We even went ice fishing later, which was relaxing, but a little too relaxing because some people ended up falling asleep. No one was able to catch anything, but it was an experience nonetheless.


I’ve been going to one of my Rotary club’s meetings every week, since it is close enough for me to walk to, but my other club is a bit harder to get to since it is further away. I still visit that club, but rather than going once a week like I did when I was living close by the club’s meeting place, I now go about once a month.

Recently I went to a Rotary event for the World Children’s Prize. The WCP program is an initiative to protect children’s rights around the world. The program has an annual award ceremony held in Mariefred, Sweden that honors people who have helped in this initiative. The Queen of Sweden presents the awards to the recipients. While it was not possible for other exchange students and I to go to the actual ceremony, a special sort of reenactment of the ceremony was held for Rotary and we were able to go to that. From what I heard, the reenactment ceremony was almost exactly the same as the actual ceremony, except the award presentations were all shown on video rather than done in person. The ceremony consisted of a lot of different performances from a few different children’s music and dance groups. Even the winner of Idols South Africa (American Idol, but in South Africa) was there and performed for us.


I recently set up my return date, and it’s a bit hard to think that I’ll be returning home in just three months. This year has flown by really quickly and I have to admit I am a bit sad that it is coming to an end. I still have three months though, and many more things to experience in that time like an Eminem concert, so I hope to enjoy it as much as I can. I know for certain that I‘ll miss Sweden when after I return home. It’s now my second home, and I know that I’ll be back sometime in the future. I think my mom was getting a bit annoyed with me a while ago, because I was looking up flight costs and hotels and everything in Strängnäs, and already planning a trip back before I’ve even left.

For the students heading to Sweden later this year, just know that you got a really awesome (the best) country!

Hej så länge!

Tue, April 24, 2018

  • Vivianne, Outbound to Sweden

I’ve been kind of AWOL when it comes to these journals, so everyone has missed out on quite a few of my adventures I think. I’ll probably do two journals, one for August, September, and October, and another journal for November and December, just so you don’t miss out on hearing about what I’ve been doing for these past few months. That said, this journal is talking about things in August, September, and October.


Before school started, I met with the school’s secondary headmaster, my counselor, and my host father to discuss what program I would be in and what grade I would be in. I chose the Teknik (Technology) program and chose to be in the third year (12th grade).

The Teknik program is split into two sides: Theoretical Science and Practical Science. I chose Theoretical Science, which means I have classes in math and physics, while those in the Practical Science classes have more construction and architectural art classes.

My classes are: math, physics, construction, religion, Swedish for immigrants, and digital creating.

While most of my classes were set within the program, I was allowed to choose one class. I chose Digital Creating, which focuses on creating different media and art with digital tools. This is my favorite class and by far the easiest, since art isn’t affected by language barriers so much.

My first day of school was August 22, and it was only an hour long. All of the students were given a greeting by the headmaster, and then we all split up to meet with our classes and discuss our basic plan for the year.

My class has 16 people in it, including me. Of those 16, 12 of them are boys. Apparently it’s normal for the Teknik program to have a lot more boys than girls. My classmates have all known each other for about two years, since they have all stayed in the same program and same class with each other. On the first day of school I introduced myself to all of them in Swedish. I quickly found out that my classmates are really nice and really good at English.

High school in Sweden seems to be more like college rather than high school. Each day follows a different class schedule, however you are always with the same people in every class. Some teachers teach multiple subjects, so you may have one of your teachers more than once during the school day.

One of the best things about Swedish schools is the school food. I have to say, school food here definitely outranks school food in the U.S. The food at school is free, and most students eat the school’s food rather than bring their own or skip eating. However, we are free to leave the school campus at any time, so some students will leave and go grab lunch in the city instead.


I actually have two Rotary clubs: Mariefred and Strängnäs. Mariefred is supposed to be my official Rotary club, however Strängnäs provides my allowance and my counselor from Strängnäs works with all of my official stuff like school and Rotary activities.

My host father is a member of Mariefred’s Rotary club, so I go to meetings whenever he goes, which is almost every week. Mariefred meets on Mondays for a dinner meeting, which is nice since we have more time to talk to everyone, eat, and hold the meeting. With Strängnäs, I have gone to every meeting since I started attending them. Strängnäs meets on Tuesdays for a lunch meeting, so I leave school and my counselor will usually drive me back to school for my last class.

My two Rotary clubs here have quite a few women in them, which I’ve heard is unusual. All of the Rotarians are incredibly kind and they have helped me with learning Swedish a bit. A few of the Rotarians have invited me to different events or outings with them. So far, Rotarians have taken me shopping in Stockholm and to a jazz concert.

I did a presentation on myself and where I’m from for both Rotary clubs. I used a PowerPoint presentation that was all in Swedish, and I tried to speak mostly in Swedish during my presentation. I talked about my family, my school, and my city. I know I threw a few jokes about the Jacksonville Jaguars in my presentation, but I don’t think those jokes hold up anymore since they have actually been winning games recently it seems. The Rotarians seemed to really enjoy it and I received many compliments from them.

Many, if not most, of the Rotary clubs here have something called the vinlotteri (wine lottery). Each Rotarian puts a 20 kronor bill (a little less than $2.50) in a basket and memorizes the last four numbers of the serial code. Someone then pulls a random note from the basket and calls out the last four numbers on that bill, and whoever that bill belonged to wins a bottle of wine. Obviously, I can’t participate, but I sometimes collect the money for it or call out the numbers.


One of the major things that happened at the end of August was my birthday. The two other exchange students in Strängäs stayed over at my house for that weekend, and on that Sunday we baked cakes and invited over the two other host families and my counselors. My host father set up a Swedish flag outside, since that’s something they do on birthdays here. I really enjoyed being with everyone on my birthday, although I think the cakes were probably my favorite part.

One of my host families took the other exchange students and I to Birka for a day. Birka is an old Viking city situated on an island in Lake Mälaren, and it’s known as Sweden’s first city. Since it’s in the middle of a lake, we took a boat there. For most of the boat ride we sat outside so we could get a good look at everything we passed by on our way, but eventually it got way too cold and windy. Our tour guide, who was dressed like a Viking, was on the boat with us and took us on a tour of the city when we arrived. Being an archaeologist, he was very interested in all that Birka has to offer in terms of history, and his enthusiasm was very evident in the way that he explained everything to the tour group. I have to say that he was probably the best tour guide I’ve ever had, because he was genuinely enthusiastic about everything and he knew a lot about the city. We also got to eat in a Viking themed restaurant on the island, which was run by a Swedish musician, E-Type. His music is fairly good, but I think the food in his restaurant is a bit better.

Another big thing that has happened recently was the Rotary District Conference. It was a required event for all exchange students in the district and we had to wear our blazers, which was fine because it gave us an opportunity to exchange any pins that we missed or forgot about before. Before the actual conference we had breakfast, which was really more like breakfast fika. Throughout the whole day I think we had fika three or four times.

If I haven’t mentioned fika before, it’s basically a coffee break that doesn’t necessarily have to have coffee, usually accompanied by pastries, sandwiches, or other small snacks.

After our breakfast fika, we had speaking part of the conference, where Rotarians or people related to Rotary, like Rotex, came up and spoke about different topics. Since most of the talks were in Swedish, it was a little hard to follow at times, but I think I got the main ideas of the talks. The whole event lasted for most of the day, and since us exchange students did not need to be there for certain parts of the conference, we mainly used that time to catch up and make plans with each other.

In October, I got to see The Rolling Stones in concert. Apparently my host father has been to about 8 of these concerts and there happened to be another one this year, so he invited me to come with him and my host mother. I will admit, I don’t know all to much about The Rolling Stones, but I said yes to going anyway.

The concert was held in Stockholm, and the arena is was in was completely packed full of people. I knew The Rolling Stones were popular, but I didn’t know they were this popular.

The concert consisted of really good (and loud) music, cool visual effects on the arena’s big screen, and Mick Jagger trying to speak Swedish.


Sweden is cold. If you didn’t know that before, then I don’t know what to tell you.

As someone from Florida, the word “cold” is used to refer to any temperature below 70°F. In Sweden, 70°F is pretty much nothing. I had to buy a winter jacket and boots, and I started wearing them in November. Ice started forming on the roads and cars, and eventually it started snowing.

I had never seen snow before I came to Sweden, so this was all really fascinating. However, I quickly learned that snow is much more fun to look at than to be in. It’s cold. Like, really cold.

I have yet to build a snowman or make a snow angel or do any of the snow activities, but hopefully I’ll get around to it eventually.

Challenges & Successes:

Since this journal is talking about past months, I’ll talk about any challenges and successes I remember from that time.

During this time, I was relying almost completely on English. I had no clue what my teachers were saying and I had to translate all of my schoolwork and pages in my textbooks. Some of my teachers would help a bit by speaking in English for part of the class, or by asking me if I understood and repeating anything I didn’t understand in English for me, but others only spoke Swedish.

Despite this I think I succeeded in at least trying to speak more Swedish and trying to learn more. I would speak a little Swedish to Rotarians and then in turn they would help me learn new words by pointing at things around the room and saying the object’s name in Swedish. Whenever I translated something in school, I would write down unfamiliar words and their translations in the margin of my notebook, just in case it came up again later.

There wasn’t a lot of homesickness during these months, except around Thanksgiving. I did feel a little homesick around Thanksgiving, but it wasn’t incredibly bad and I moved past it rather quickly.


As you can probably tell, I’m really enjoying my stay here even if it’s freezing. It’s not Sweden’s fault that I keep forgetting my gloves at home. We won’t say who’s fault that is.

Some exchange students have been complaining about RYE, but I see no reason to complain. I think Rotary has done a great job getting us to our host countries and making sure we are taken care of. Whenever people talk about wanting to be an exchange student I always give them a long speech about how Rotary is probably the best exchange program out there.

So thanks Rotary, for giving me this wonderful opportunity and helping me along my way.

Now, I expect to be hearing from next year’s exchange students to Sweden soon. Good luck to the Outbound candidates. Your training is about to begin and while it is a lot of work sometimes, it’s worth it in the end.

Wed, December 13, 2017

  • Vivianne, Outbound to Sweden

Hi everyone. I’ve only been in Sweden for one week, but I’ve already fallen in love with this wonderful country. It’s quite a bit different than what I’m used to, but that’s perfectly fine. The whole reason us exchange students are on exchange is to see a different way of live and that’s exactly what is happening. I have to say though, it’s not as cold here as I thought it would be.


This was my first time on a plane. Ever. So you can understand how nervous I felt about getting on different panes and navigating through the different airports for almost 2 days straight. Not to mention my best friends had me watch Final Destination a few weeks before I left, which didn’t really help calm my nerves. In all honesty, I was more afraid of the planes than the fact that I would be living in a foreign country where I knew no one and couldn’t really understand the language.

I left Jacksonville around noon. I waited with my mom, stepdad, and younger sister outside of the gate until it was time for me to leave. As far as I saw no one cried while I was getting on the plane, although I don’t know what happened afterwards. I know I teared up a little knowing I wouldn’t get to see my family in person for a whole year, but then I quickly went back to being nervous about the plane.

Miami airport was the most difficult to navigate. I had to go to Check-In to get my next two boarding passes, but I couldn’t find the desk. I eventually asked someone working there who told me where to go, but they didn’t seem too pleased that I asked them. Luckily, the woman working the desk was very nice and even drew a map for me on the back of my boarding pass to show me where I would need to go next and what I could do while I waited. After going through security and finding my gate, I only had a little more than an hour to wait for my next flight, so I really couldn’t do much besides wait in the crowded waiting area.

My flight to London was 8 hours long, but I hardly slept. I think I got 30 minutes of sleep at most, and for the rest of the time I was playing games on my phone with the screen light turned down so I didn’t disturb everyone else who could actually fall asleep. However, I wasn’t even that tired when I got to London, I was more hungry and annoyed by the fact that I’d have to wait 6 hours in the airport.

I can’t really say much about the flight to Stockholm, since I was asleep the entire flight. When we arrived in Stockholm, I had to wait in a long line before I even got close to baggage claim. Eventually I got both of my bags, but I had trouble finding the exit. I had to ask my host family by email where it would be. When I did find it, I walked out of the airport to see my host mother and father, both with signs saying “Welcome to Sweden Vivianne!”. During our drive home, they pointed out a lot of buildings and areas, and told me what each of them were. When we finally got home, I immediately fell asleep after eating. I was absolutely exhausted.

First Week (and a half):

My first week was full of travel. My host family showed me around Mariefred and Strängnäs. I got to see my school, which looks so different from my school in the U.S. I found out that I’ll be taking the bus to school everyday. A public bus, not a school bus. I have no clue how public transportation systems work really, since I’ve never really used them, but luckily my host family arranged to have another student show me what buses to take and where to go.

My host family took me to three castles in three days, with two of the castles being royal castles. First was Drottningholm, where the current King and Queen of Sweden live. After that was Gripsholm, which is in Mariefred near where I am living now. You can actually see this castle from the window of my home. Last was Taxinge, which is a small castle that is known for having a huge cake buffet. The other two exchange students and I met for the first time before getting on a train and spending a lot of the day here.

Later in the week, my host family and I went to Utö, which is a small island east of Stockholm. It was raining for most of the day, but we still had fun going around to the museums and walking around the island.

On Sunday, we met with the other two host families and exchange students, along with two outbound students leaving for the U.S. later this month. We got to hang out and tell each other what our countries were like and how school would be. We ended up playing a game like HedBanz, but it had a Swedish name that I can’t quite remember.

The day after that, we met up with the other two exchange students again to check out the Kulturskolan (Culture School) in Strängnäs. The school is sort of like an after school program where students can take classes in music, theater, art, and film. As of right now, I’m thinking about joining one of the art classes, but I still have to talk with my host family about it.

Yesterday, my host parents took us three exchange students to the older part of Stockholm. It was really crowded, but everything looked so great that I didn’t really care. We saw the Royal Palace and the Changing of the Guard. Later we got to tour CIty Hall, which was so beautiful that I didn’t believe it was actually City Hall! This is where the Nobel Banquet is held, in the Blue Hall (which is, sadly, not blue). My favorite part was walking up the steps that the guests of the Nobel Banquet get to walk down. It wasn’t really anything too special, since about 100 other people were doing it at the same time I was, but it felt nice nonetheless.

Challenges & Successes:

Since it’s only been a week, I haven’t really had many challenges or successes.

I guess one challenge would be that everyone here speaks English. Rotary didn’t lie. Whenever my host family introduces me to someone, they automatically switch to English. Restaurants hear me speak with my host family before we come in and immediately pull out an English menu for me. It definitely makes it easier for me (sometimes a bit too easy), but I still want to try and use Swedish. My host parents have put sticky notes on some objects around the house, so I’ve learned a few object names in Swedish. Now I can understand some more of the words my host parents say when they speak to each other in Swedish.

I haven’t really been homesick or anything, and I think I’m adjusting fine. I think that it will be better for me when I get into school and develop a routine. Since I don’t have a routine yet, I don’t really know what to do sometimes.

I also have to get used to having a little less household responsibility than I have in the U.S. There, I have a younger sister I have to take care of during the day while my parents are at work. I drove myself to school, picked my sister up from school, cooked when needed, cleaned when needed, and took care of our 4 pets. Here, I don’t have any siblings (in this host family). I can’t drive and my host parents do most of the cooking (although I do help. I don’t need Rotary thinking I’m not helping). We have people come to clean the house every two weeks and we have a dishwasher. There isn’t really that much for me to do, so I try to find small chores that I can do to fill up my time, but there aren’t really that many.


“Closing” sounds a little too formal for me, but I couldn’t really think of anything else. I’ll try to keep this as short as possible.I don’t really have anything else to say besides thank you. I do want to thank everyone who helped me get here, and I have a few specific people that I want to thank here.

Ms. Paula and Mr. Jeff, thank you for supporting me and the rest of D6970. We greatly appreciate everything you have done and continue to do for us. Just know that we’re all going to do our best and make you both proud.

Mr. Göran and Ms. Catrine, thank you for teaching me a lot about Sweden and helping me improve on my Swedish a bit. You have done so much to help me that I can’t even fully process it. Hopefully when I talk to you later this year, it will be in Swedish.

Rotary Club of Orange Park Sunrise, thank you for sponsoring me. I definitely wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you. I hope to be able to Skype with you later and talk with all of you about my life here in Sweden.

Rotex, I have to say, all of you are awesome and you know it. I don’t think I even need to tell you how great you are. So, thank you for showing us the ways of exchange and helping us through training.

Friends and family, I’ve already thanked you a few times, but I figured I should do it again since you deserve it. Thank you for helping me get here. To me, it is worth all of the hard work spent, and hopefully it is to you too. I look forward to sharing my exchange with you.

Lastly, my host family, host club, and host country, thank you for taking me in and allowing me to experience this beautiful country firsthand. I never thought something like this would be possible for me, but as I can see now, it was definitely possible, I just needed the right people to help me get here.

This wasn’t as short as I intended for it to be, but if you’re reading this you made it through the whole thing. Thank you for reading my journal and I look forward to sharing the rest of my exchange with you!

Mon, August 14, 2017

Will - Hungary

Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: Eastside
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Gainesville, Florida
Host District: 1911
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Szombathely

My Bio

Szia! My name is Will Hoover. I am from Gainesville, Florida. I am so excited to have been chosen for Rotary Youth Exchange, and to be headed for Hungary. It sounds like a fascinating country. I live with my mom, dad, sister, and two dogs. I am in 9th grade at Eastside High School, in the International Baccalaureate program. My favorite class is AP Human Geography. In this class we learn about different cultures and how people and ideas spread. I also play piano, and I ran cross country for Eastside this year. I’ve always wanted to be an exchange student so that I could travel, learn a new language and experience a new culture. I also feel that this adventure will be very beneficial to a future diplomatic or political career, which is the path I’m thinking about right now. During my exchange, I look forward to meeting new people, getting to know Hungary and becoming more independent. I never anticipated going to Hungary, but the more I read about the rich history and culture, not to mention the great people and amazing food, the more excited I get about the year ahead. I’m so grateful that Rotary will help me achieve this goal.

 Journals: Will-Hungary Blog 2017-18

§   Will, Outbound to Hungary

Hi everyone! This past month has been absolutely amazing! The weekend after I published my last blog, I went on a Rotary trip to Vienna with the other exchange students. It was so much fun! Vienna is very underrated in my opinion. It was so beautiful, especially the old buildings and my favorite part, the Schönbrunn Palace, which I found similar to Versailles. We also had free time with the other exchange students, which was fun because we got really good food and just walked around at our own pace. The first night we went to the opera. While it was a little confusing because the whole thing was in German and there wasn’t a very good English translation, we were able to appreciate the quality of the singing and beautiful set design. The last night we spent in the Hungarian border city of Sopron. While I had already been to Sopron, this was really cool because we went with the local Rotary to the historic pan-european picnic site, which was where people fled communism and risked everything to cross into Austria. It was really interesting to see the old “iron curtain” including the remnants of the border fence and the abandoned, overgrown guard towers. It was really surreal considering how easy it is to travel within Europe today. I went back to school for my first full week in what had seemed like forever. I had just been so busy between language camp, Prague, and Vienna! It was nice to see my friends and keep practicing my Hungarian. Now I’m in a beginners chemistry class which is really enjoyable. A few weeks of school passed, then we had the October break, which was a whole week off, sort of like our Thanksgiving holiday in November. On the first Saturday, the exchange students met at a Rotary tree planting in Szentendre, just north of Budapest. We learned some Hungarian cooking skills as well, which was really fun. Afterwards, I went to Budapest with some exchange friends. It was cool to walk around the city, especially seeing the Parliament which is really stunning. I went with my host sister again 4 days later, which was also a lot of fun. But by far, the best part of that break was second half, because my host family took me to Paris! We flew very early Thursday morning, and we had an Airbnb with a view of the Eiffel tower! It was such a fun trip. We met with one of my host sister’s friends from her exchange year in America, and he was really nice. My favorite part was Saturday morning when we woke up super early and went to Trocadero square in front of the Eiffel tower to take pictures. There was nobody there and it was really cool to watch the sunrise and to get some great photos. The food in Paris was also really good, with the croissants and baguettes for breakfast, as well as the macarons and hot chocolate. That trip was one of the best trips I’ve ever been on. While I had to go back to school last week, I have a lot to look forward to. Tomorrow I’m going to Budapest because my host mom has work and offered to take me. Soon, I’ll have spent 3 months in Hungary which means that I can travel throughout the country independently. I’m excited for this because it will be fun to see new cities and visit the other exchange students. These past several weeks have been fantastic, and I’m excited for what’s to come!

Thu, November 16, 2017

§   Will, Outbound to Hungary

Click HERE to read more about Will and all his blogs

Szia everyone! The last few weeks have been absolutely fantastic! On September 16th I went to a language camp for the week at Lake Balaton, which is the largest lake in Central Europe. It’s very pretty, and the water is a beautiful shade of turquoise. It was also very fun to meet the other exchange students for the first time! I made lots of new friends and I’m excited to see them again soon. I also got to practice my Spanish a little bit since many of the exchange students are from Mexico, Argentina, and Chile. Right after language camp my host family took me to Prague, which is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe in my opinion, with it’s stunning architecture and great landscape. The leaves were changing at the time and my host sister and I rented a pedal boat on the river which was a nice break from the bustling city. We also went to the Laval Tennis Cup, and saw some of the most famous players (like Rafael Nadal). On Sunday it was my birthday, and I ate chocolate cake for breakfast, in our beautiful hotel which was originally a palace built in 1620, so it’s older than the United States by over 150 years! That day we went to Karlovy Vary which is a picturesque town on the border with Germany a couple hours from Prague. It has lots of old baths and fountains with very hot water coming out creating billowing clouds of steam. You can actually drink the water straight from the fountains but I wasn’t a huge fan of the hot, metallic taste. We went out to lunch at a traditional Czech place and then we went back to Prague and met some friends from Szombathely for dinner. The restaurant was also very interesting, it was railway themed with all the drinks coming on a train to the table. Overall it was a very fun birthday! The next day we went home but we made it a bit of a road trip, stopping in famous Cesky Krumlov, which is known for its picturesque castle. It was really beautiful to walk along the old streets. One nice thing I found about the Czech Republic (and Europe in general) is that lots of streets are actually pedestrian only or at least have ample sidewalk space, which is very nice when there are lots of tourists! Overall just on that weekend, I was in four countries: Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Austria! I went back to school Tuesday (after missing six days) which I was a little sad about, but it was nice to see all my friends again! On Friday I actually went to a nightclub for the first time. It was for a party that was like the Hungarian equivalent of homecoming. It was so much fun, and I danced and talked to many new people (in Hungarian, of course). Today we went to Austria again to go to a festival, and we walked around and ate some very good chicken for lunch. Next weekend I’m going to Vienna with the other exchange students, and I’m really excited! It will probably be the subject of my next blog post. Ok, it’s very late here and I’m going to sleep now. Jó éjszakát!

Sat, September 30, 2017

§   Will, Outbound to Hungary

I’ve been in Hungary for 10 days now, and I couldn’t be happier! I arrived in Budapest last Wednesday night and since then it’s been a whirlwind of excitement and adventure! I’m living just outside Szombathely (a town about the size of my hometown of Gainesville) which is 10 miles from the border with Austria. It’s so beautiful here, and the weather is way better than back home (I wore a SWEATER in August!!!) On my first full day in Szombathely, I think I woke up around 1:00 pm (due to jet lag) and we went to the nearby town of Koszeg to buy gifts for my host sister’s host family in America (she left 3 days after I arrived.) Unfortunately, the shop we were buying the gifts at was closed, so we didn’t actually end up going, and we just got chestnut ice cream, but I’m not complaining! Koszeg is a beautiful little mountain town right on the Border with Austria, and its centerpiece is a whimsical church that almost looked like the Cinderella castle at Disney! It was basically the quintessential little European alpine town. That night we went to the Savaria Karneval, which is a 3 night Roman festival in Szombathely featuring food, costumes, parades, and more! We ate Langallo, which is this really yummy pizza-like thing that’s fluffy bread with sour cream, ham, and onions. The next day, I woke up a little earlier and we attempted to get the gifts again, this time driving 1 hour to Sopron, which, when you look at the map, is a Hungarian city almost completely surrounded by Austria. It is called the “city of loyalty” because it was able to choose whether to be in Hungary or Austria, and it chose Hungary. It is another beatutiful town, and this time we actually got the gifts, which were hand-painted porcelain bells from a famous china store. Then we got walnut cake! After we came back to Szombathely, we went to the Karneval for lunch and then I met with my other host sister, who had just gotten back from exchange in Ohio and who I would be living with for the year. I had a second lunch (Chinese food, my favorite!) with her and then we went out for lemonade with her friends. I was very happy to meet with more local kids! We also picked out my Toga, which is traditional to wear to the Karneval. We then went to my host mom’s office to see the parade, and it was so cool to see it from above and not in a huge crowd! The parade was so cool! There were acrobatics, music, and costumes, fire, and more! We are more street food for dinner and then we had this amazing grape juice! Basically, the grapes go through the same process that would be used to make wine, except the fermentation to create alcohol is skipped, so the drink is non-alcoholic. It was amazing! The next day my host sister left for America, and I said goodbye in the morning before I went out to lunch with my host sister and host grandpa! We went back to the Karneval for the last night for dinner, and ate pig leg and listened to… American country music performed by Hungarians???? It was very funny and they had such good accents I thought they were Americans! The next week I got some much needed work done with my online algebra class, as well as finally unpacking! Friday was the first day of school, and it was so fun! There wasn’t much learning, but I meant some new people and the teachers were very nice and excited for me! I’m so excited to go back on Monday!!! Today we took the new family puppy to obedience school, which was fun and interesting, and as I’m writing this we are preparing to leave for the village fair, which is for our village outside of Szombathely! I’m so excited for the coming weeks and I’ll keep you all posted! Hungary has been an absolute dream and my host family has been so sweet and fun to live with!

Sat, September 2, 2017


Will - Taiwan

Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Bishop Kenny
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Riverside, Jacksonville, Florida
Host District: 3482
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Taipei Joyful East

My Bio

你好! My name is Will Harbison and I am 17 years old. I am currently in High School at Bishop Kenny High School, and I will be spending my senior year of high school in Taiwan! I have been living in Jacksonville all my life with my parents, and my older brother, Richard. I also have a cat, Francine, and a dog, Lucy. I have had the privilege of traveling a lot in my life, but I have never been to Asia, so this will be a completely new experience for me. Outside of school, I am currently working on the final steps to become an Eagle Scout, with Troop 2. I also enjoy playing sports, some of the sports I have participated in are: Cross country, Track, Lacrosse, Wrestling, and Crew (rowing). I am also taking Spanish at my school, and I previously was learning latin. In my free time, I also enjoy hanging out with friends, swimming, and cooking. I am excited to experience a different culture because it is something that is a once in a lifetime opportunity, I may never get to do something quite like this again, so I hope to make this experience memorable!

 Journals: Will-Taiwan Blog 2017-18

§   Will, Outbound to Taiwan

Has it been 6 months already? I’m losing track of time here. I don’t even know where to begin, probably should begin with saying sorry to RYE Florida for forgetting to update my blog for 5 months.

There has been so much that has happened in my time here that I definitely don’t have the room in this bio to say everything. In my time in Taiwan, I have seen things and met people, the likes of which I would never have imagined before. I am currently more than half way through my stay with my second host family, which has given me many opportunities to learn more about the culture of Taiwan.

Probably one of my biggest challenges when I arrived in Taiwan was the food. I don’t know if I just have a weaker stomach than most but for a while some of the foods here legitimately terrified me. Bird’s spit soup, chicken hearts, chicken head, duck tongue, and a plethora of bizarre looking fruits and vegetables haunted my dreams. Now though, I seem to have gotten used to it, eating duck blood without flinching, that is one area where I know I have improved since coming to Taiwan.

Another area where I have improved is my Chinese. While I still have a long way to go with the language, I am able to converse with my family and classmates, albeit with a little bit of help from Google. My Chinese has been especially improving over the winter break, which just ended. Winter break in Taiwan stretches from the middle of January to the middle of February, and encompasses all the festivities for Chinese New Year. Over the break I spent a lot more time with my host family, and talking with them of course always improves my abilities.

Chinese New Year was a blast. Going with my family to buy ingredients for dinner at a market for New Years Eve dinner, an amusement park in Taizhong, trying to communicate with Taiwanese (very different from Chinese), and many more things. I think one of the things I will remember most vividly though is the ceremony at midnight in XingTian temple, watching the front door of the temple open (a very big deal), crowded in with hundreds of people to this small temple. Back to back, and the air is completely silent, in the middle of Taipei. The next day saw me going with my family to a huge temple in my host dad’s home town, with even more people, and watching a procession between temples, which was crazy.

School has started back up again, so I’m back on the grind, but it’s good to see my classmates again. While I am starting to go back to how things were before the new year, things are still changing every day. I just learned earlier today that I will be participating in a traditional lion dance next month, and I have four practices to learn how to do that, so that should be interesting.

Thu, March 1, 2018

§   Will, Outbound to Taiwan

I have officially been in Taiwan for over 2 months now, and so far it has been everything I hoped for, and more. Every day I do something different, learn something new, eat something strange, and meet someone new. I am living in Taipei, the big city, and am very glad, because there is so much in and around the city to see. Learning the language is very difficult, as I expected, but it is going faster than I ever expected. I am not only learning lots of vocabulary, but am learning tons of characters as well.

Starting from the beginning, I had a very difficult time getting to Taiwan. I won’t go into to much detail, but I ended up having to stay the night at the airport in San Francisco on my first night of traveling, because I wasn’t going to get a flight to Taiwan until the next day. I did finally get to Taiwan though, and met all 3 of my host families in the airport, as well as my host club counselor, and some other people. I spent my first 2 weeks here getting acclimated, learning the MRT, getting used to the food, working off Jet lag, etc.

I started school a couple weeks in, and it has been quite an experience. While my host family speaks pretty good English, my classmates definitely do not speak as much. That made it difficult, but it has helped to improve my Chinese a lot.

Of course the food here is one of the biggest changes. There are lots of exotic Taiwanese foods that you hear about, but it takes some getting used to to have that kind of stuff every day. Jellyfish tentacles, pig intestines, stinky tofu, iron eggs, fried milk, chicken feet, pigs blood cake, just to name a few. Although just the names of some of these dishes would make me cringe before coming here, they don’t even really phase me now.

Then there are the rotary events. I have done so many rotary events here I think I have lost count. Every weekend they might go to sun moon lake, or a music festival, or a beach to pick up trash. I always go to whatever they have, and its always worth the time. Even if things don’t go to well, its better than sitting in my room.

So far I have been having the time of my life, though it has not been without work. In addition to my school, I have Chinese classes with the other exchange students at the Chinese Cultural University, on every Tuesday and Thursday for the first half of the day. I also have cultural classes at a different high school for the second half of the day every Monday and Wednesday.

Chinese has been very difficult, and the writing characters is still a huge challenge for me, but every day I make more progress with speaking and listening. The more time passes, the more words I understand out of each sentence I hear. As I am still only 2 months in, this gives me great hope for how much I may know by the end of the year.

So far I have been here for 2 months, but it feels like so much less time, and yet it feels like I’ve been here forever. My leaving America feels like a distant memory, and yet I am stunned that I am already 1/5 of the way through my exchange. I am loving every moment of it though, and want to thank Rotary for making this all possible.

Tue, October 24, 2017


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