Outbounds 2018-2019

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

Alex - Taiwan

Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: P.K. Yonge Developmental Research
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Gainesville, Florida
Host District: 3482
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Taipei Far East

My Bio

Hello my name is Alexander McInnis. I am a senior at PK Yonge Developmental Research school and will be taking a gap year in Taiwan. The elation that over took me when it was announced that I was going to Taiwan was too much to handle. I am so thankful for this opportunity to travel abroad. I have participated in many activities over the years but the ones that have stuck with me have really helped me become the person that I am today. The first being the Martial Art known as Aikido. Aikido is a Jiu Jitsu and Judo-like martial art which aims to not injure your opponent. I have practiced this for roughly 6 years and have helped teach the kids classes on Saturdays for some time now. I have been playing the violin for roughly 5 years and helped teach the orchestra class at my school for about three years (until its ultimate dissolution last year). When I’m not doing either of those things I will go with some friends to downtown Gainesville and busk, eat at deliciously over-priced restaurants, and play games with friends. I feel like this exchange opportunity will give me some much needed perspective. Through my life I rarely ever traveled and subsequently, have a narrow grasp on the ever changing global community. I feel as thought the world can be a much better place if there are open-minded people who inhabit it; and what better way to expand one’s mind then to travel and live in the shoes of others.


Journals: Alex-Taiwan Blog 2018-19

  • Alex, Outbound to Taiwan

October was a really odd month. Pretty much only because of the Halloween party. It was decided early on in the month that would dress up as Miss America for Halloween. But before that I was really training hard with the track team. The track team trains six hours a day everyday. Three hours in the morning and three hours at night (or rather after school). I was doing my absolute best to attend all these practices in an attempt to get closer with my classmates. My schedule looked about like this. 4:30 wake up, leave at 5 to catch the 5:12 train to arrive at Taipei main station at around 5:45 walk to the green line and arrive at roughly 5:50. From there ride three MRT stations and transfer at Nanjing Fuxing arriving at roughly 6:05-6:10. From there ride seven stations to arrive at school to make the 7:00 training (allot for time to wait in lines at MRT). From there I’d train until roughly 11:00 and start class with my classmates. Training starts with warms ups and in the mornings during off season its strength training. I never knew how out of shape I was until training with people. Lord Almighty. It was usually squats and other sorts of exercises specifically for track. After class on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday we’d go to the gym and continue training at school. However on Tuesday and Thursday we’d leave school and 14:00 to go to Taipei arena and train in the large arena there. This was super cool the first time. I asked my classmate if she thought it was cool that we caught to train in Taipei arena and she looked at me and laughed “it was cool the first time, but it’s extremely exhausting.” I’ll never forget her saying that. At the arena we warm up of course then we run… we don’t actually stop running. It starts with 15-17 laps around the 400m track, then we divide into which events we are doing. I had no idea what I was doing so I just asked what I should do. The coach put me in 100m dash which I thought was pretty nice. “Shortest distance, less to run, not as hard” was my reasoning. Needless to say I was severely mistaken in the line of thinking. I don’t know how many times I ran that 100m but it was coaches goal to get me, and the rest of the team, to vomit everyday. I say that and it sounds really bad but his philosophy is that it means you’re pushing past your mental limits. This was one of my seemingly unmeasurable goals for exchange, to push past all of my limits as much as possible. But now I had a sure fire way to know whether or not i pushed or not. Although this is not to say that my goal each time was to train hard that I vomit but it was just a bit of a test, a right of passage so to speak. Anyhow, after all of this I also asked my Rotary club to see if they could help me find some Tai Chi or wing chun to practice. They found a really wonderful women who teaches in taoyuan on Thursday nights 7:30-9. So I also practice taichi every Thursday in taoyuan. It became a sort of way to strengthen my spirit. The way in which we trained was quite difficult for me. It was very slow and extremely precise. Each practice challenged my patience and frustrated me. I was constantly being corrected and at first I was really embarrassed. Everyone else in the class couldn’t have been a year shy of 67 and I was the only one struggling. A part of me was extremely impressed and another was confused as to why I was unable to reproduce these seemingly simple movements. However after thinking about it for a long time I think it really doesn’t matter how accurate the movements are its the mental benefits you gain from it. The ability to be relaxed and still have control and power over yourself and things around you. A lesson I’m admittedly still struggling to learn but am happy to have figured something out. NOW, the moment you’ve been waiting for. Me, dressed in a dress constructed only of the flag of these United States (well actually we just bought an American flag pattern dress). I went to a Rotary sponsored event in drag. I showed up, and we went to a night market to mess around for a little bit. Then Rotarians and Rotex lead us to this bar they had rented for the evening for us to eat at. The food was really good, all fried and gross you know? They had each person walk down the aisles of the restaurant showing off their costume. The time finally came for me to walk around the restaurant. I didn’t really know what to do so I just danced to the music that was playing. Which was okay. Then the Rotex called for a pseudo awards ceremony. They’d ask people to nominate someone for best costume, sexiest costume, most unexpected, and best overall. Apparently a lot of people really like my little bit so I won best over all and won 500 NT and a cool little phone lens. The Rotarians thought it was really funny so I thought the whole night was a win.

November was definitely the lowest point of my exchange. It was the point when I felt most home sick and began to have troubles deeper within myself. These were issues that were technically omnipresent, just not issues that were often brought up until I left my monotonous environment back in the States. The ever changing atmosphere of exchange really brought out the uggly parts of my personality. Those things that you try to keep hidden from those around you. I found myself becoming more impatient and aggressive with my friends and host family. Seemingly for no reason. I was able to recognize this behavior and recognize that this was absolutely no was to act, but I couldn’t find a way to stop. It wasn’t uncommon for me to try and isolate myself in my room during this time. I can’t imagine what my host family must have thought. Quite frankly, If I had an exchange student living with me acting the way was acting I’d be very angry. But thankfully they were more patient with me. I remember in the second week of November, which seemed to never end, they asked me what was going on. I really wanted to say nothing, nothing is happening. But for some reason I just said “I don’t know” which I guess was a better answer than “nothing” because they nodded and just continued about their business. To be honest I didn’t pay much attention to it at the time but now I think they were just looking for any kind of explanation. Even if I didn’t know they accepted that as an answer. One of the other things I thought which seemed more likely at the time was that they really didn’t like my uncertainty; That they took that answer as another line of disrespect. But I actually asked them later, and this is one of the moments I knew this host family was my absolute other family, they said “it’s okay to not know why you feel some way, this is really new and difficult so we understand. We’re just glad it not something that we’re doing. That’s what we were concerned about.” but a lot of this changed after I was invited to go to a place that I think really changed my perspective on life. I went to Taroko gorge with my second host family. They had invited me to join them on this trip as a sort of first impression. My second host family hadn’t really told me a lot about what we might be doing but I just thought it sounded like a really cool opportunity so I didn’t ask any questions and trusted it would be moderately safe. I stayed with them the night before because I had to wake up extremely early in order to get there at a reasonable time. The next morning we had breakfast and drove down the east coast of Taiwan, it was one of the beautiful but dangerous rides of my life. Flying around corners where on one side its mountain and the other is cliff, speeding down hills in the rain. When we finally arrived at the hotel i was already breath taken. The hotel we stayed at was ON the mountain. We’d passed by temples on the way up and the scenery was so different than anything I had ever seen even in pictures. The first day on the mountain was mostly just relaxing and walking around the premises of the beautiful hotel. It was owned and operated by and aboriginal tribe. The hotel structure was more similar to a camp with cabins as a pose to a sort of ‘traditional hotel’. The cabins lay at the base of a small cliff on an itty bitty plateau that seemed just big enough for these structures. It all seemed so perfect, they even had wifi. As night started to fall I became more and more obsessed with the things around me. This was really the first time I had ever truly experienced mountains. I hadn’t really ever traveled anywhere before this and now there are these monolithic towers of rock erupting out from the ground. Although this unprecedented awe I had been experiencing was coming to an end, I could feel the homesickness creeping back to the front of my conscience mind. Thankfully it was getting dark and i had hoped to sleep it off but, and I cannot make this up, the Rotarian and my second host dad snored so loud that I was absolutely unable to sleep. This, naturally, was very agitating. After a while of trying various methods to block out the quake like rumbles of their obviously marvelous slumber I got my things and decided it would be preferable to sleep outside. It was at this point when I forgot my blanket inside and tried to open the door that I knew I had made the wrong choice. I didn’t have a key. So I’m outside in the dark no blanket and locked out of the room. I was too frustrated at the time to try and wake up the Rotarian and didn’t think it was too cold so I thought it best to just find the nearest bench and rough it for the night. Thankfully the nearest bench was directly in front of the cabin. So I plopped down there and in the background… the snores… I can still hear the snoring. So I just give up I start walking around and thinking. And thinking. And thinking some more. Which was a bad idea because now I was getting sad again. I just felt like my whole world (or at least the idea of my world) was falling apart. So I just kinda started walking. And walking. And walking some more. And sooner or later I wasn’t anywhere near the hotel. I was at one of those temples we’d passed on the drive earlier. I took a moment to appreciate it and sat down to just think and observe what was going on around me in an attempt to cheer myself up I guess. I looked around saw the same thing I saw earlier, but also something different. The mountains were no longer stationary, at least in my mind. I realized that these mountains, this scenery, the river that cuts through the landscape, is constantly changing. It just from my perspective I can’t see it and I have no way of stopping it. The mountains are growing and changing shape over time, the river is slowly getting wider and deeper. The trees grow and die. Everything is at the mercy of the laws of nature and there’s no point in resisting it, because you will lose. It’s such a simple idea to understand on an intellectual level. It’s easy to acknowledge that yes, change is going to happen and you have to find a way to deal with it rather than resist it. But to really internalize it. That’s not something I’ve ever experienced until this point. Another thing I realized is how you should try to improve yourself and intern that will benefit the group you’re apart of. If you’re as respectful and kind as possible to everyone and you try to be the best ‘you’ you can be, then I think your life will be fulfilling and wonderful. It sounds a little crazy when I put it into words but I really felt like it was a truly profound experience. I finally found my way back to the hotel room I think at around 4 am? And slept on the bench. The day after we walked around the park and saw more of the scenery. We went to a cave with water pouring from the ceiling. Then we went back to Taipei. A few days later I had Thanksgiving with some of the other American exchange students because they all wanted to celebrate. I made the best chili I could with the ingredients I had. We danced around a little and I did a legendary death drop. You know the dance move where you fall on your back gracefully? Yeah i didn’t actually know how to do it so I jumped into the air, super-maned on my back, and fell straight down making a loud thump. Overall November was a good month.

December was a really interesting month. I was able to go to Sun Moon Lake with my host family and the exchange student at my school’s mom, had a rotary Christmas party, and went SCUBA diving in xiao liu qiu. Shortly after I returned to school after Taroko national park I was confronted by my friend at school and said that her mother was coming to visit early. I then told my host family. Somehow no one told me that we were all going to sun moon lake together. I wasn’t really bothered by this just no one told me until they showed up at the apartment the day they woke me up at 5:00am and said “hey we’re going to sun moon lake.” So I was of course excited. The drive was around 3-4 hours. Erica’s, the exchange student at my school, mother was really interesting to talk to. I really enjoyed her company along with my host family. It was a really fun time over all. We walked around the lake a little on the first day. Went to the night market and forced Erica’s mom to try some local food which was really fun. And had some amazing Assam tea. We went back to the hotel room, played some smash bros ultimate™ and went to sleep. A simple but wholesome and fulfilling day. The next day was the day that we had planned to travel across the lake. We went to some temples and some old streets. At one of the temple’s they had free books and things that you could take. I was talking to the guy at that temple and he kept giving me things to take and I couldn’t really say no. all the stuff was really cool. Like the 100 vegetarian dishes cookbook, some other Buddhist texts, and a little charm. After the boat ride was over we went biking around the lake and saw some more of the scenery. The weather that day was wonderful. Then after this we all went back to Taipei. A very simple and fun trip I’d say. The month went by very quickly. It was also during this time that had changed host families to my second. It was Christmas in what seemed like a week. Rotary had previously told us that we were going to go back to yilan for the Christmas party. The Christmas party was actually quite fun. We could video call our parents in front of everyone and wish them a merry Christmas, we got to exchange gifts, and of course we got to dance. My gift was a traditional Chinese puppet that I had previously won in culture class. I received a sweater which was really nice and warm. I unfortunately was unable to call my parents for Christmas. It was a little too early in the morning for them so they said I could call them later. I really hadn’t called or spoken to my family before this point too much. A part of me was proud I was able to resist the temptation but another part of me wanted to say hello to everyone and see what was happening back home. Finally we were able to dance. You may or may not remember but I had previously attempted to perform the ‘death drop’ maneuver at thanksgiving. This was my chance to try again. Of course, turn down for what was on and there I was… in the center of the circle. Everyone watching, exchange students, Rotex, and Rotarians. And it happened. I did it, and didn’t hurt myself. The hype was unbelievable and I solidified my position in group as ‘death drop Florida man’. After Christmas there was new years. My second host family had previously asked about my diving experience. I’ve had some experience and told them accordingly. So they planned and booked a trip to a small island off the coast of southern Taiwan called xiao liu qiu. When we arrived at the hostel we were going to be staying at, Saw that from that point we were able to see around the entire island. It was gorgeous. I was missing the ocean so much and finally I was surrounded with it. My first dive was a little rough. I had some trouble equalizing because it had been a long time since I had done any diving, but thankfully it wasn’t a very difficult dive and I was able to get used to it a little easier. We got to see several sea turtles and over fish i didn’t recognize. Pacific fish I thought looked familiar but had no idea how to ask because i didn’t know their Chinese names, let alone the English names. We resurfaced and ate dinner. Had a great time watching the Taipei countdown on TV. the next morning we had another dive which was also really fun. But i had to return early because I wasn’t using my oxygen efficiently. Then for the next several days I just chilled out around the island. Sat on the roof and watched the ocean, listened to the sounds of the island. It was very relaxing. A really cool experience.

January was the upward curve of my mood and development on exchange. This was really when my Chinese started to improve to a point where I could hold a basic conversation with most people. This high of continuous and consistent improvement felt amazing through the entire month. I think it was mostly due to me moving host families. My second host family spoke no English at all. I was forced to use Chinese even when I had an emergency. This continuous exposure was the best possible thing to happen at probably the best time. This host family also lived in keelung. Keelung is actually outside Taipei. It’s about a 35 minute bus ride into Taipei every morning so yeah… my schedule got a little more hectic. At 4:30 run to the bus stop and hopefully and get on the 1061 or 1062 and arrive at songshan station. From there go to nanjing fuxing and rinse and repeat from the previous schedule. So yeah, just lots of time on transport. But through the rest of the month I began to dread going to track more and more. I lost the sense of responsibility I felt towards attending each grueling practice. My classmates were too focused and tired to interact with me during practice and they wanted to quit themselves but their attendance at the school depended on their track performance. The coach was literally running everyone into the ground and things didn’t really seem to have purpose in practice. I’d ask my classmates if they’d ever had to do remotely like this in years past and they said that this was new and didn’t seem to be improving their times or technique. So after a lot of thought and self deliberation I decided it was best to quit the track team and focus my time and effort on another endeavor. What that was at the time I honestly didn’t know. But it really helped me. My energy quickly returned, I felt like an actual person again. I had time to indulge myself during the week and do things I had been wanting to do since the beginning. Like take all my friends out to see keelung! I planned a whole day trip for some friends and me to go to Keelung and show them the city. Many of them hadn’t ever been before and this was my opportunity to also explore the city a bit more. So I took them all around and we had a great time exploring the markets, temples, and seaside scenery. One thing Keelung is famous for is the street food. It’s not quite as good as in southern Taiwan but the Miao Kou night market has some of the best seafood in the north. We enjoyed extraordinarily large bubble teas from a small stand on the corner at the entrance of the night market. It was really cool to take other people around a city for a day. I felt like I was really fitting in to this place and that i really belong here. I was able to identify which stands were good and which were bad. I was starting to pick up and local sense of things. Felt good.

February everything seemed to slow to a halt. The excitement of the life I was living became normal everyday life and that was okay with me. Being here became living here in February and it just became normal life. The once seemingly insurmountable obstacles of the culture were now easily more easily navigable paths. Of course not without my mishaps here and there but certainly much smoother than before. In fact, I started to notice when tourists would break these unspoken cultural rules. The most common one is standing on the left side of the escalator. You don’t do that here. You leave that side open for people to walk up and down. Or talking very loudly in public places. There are just things you do and don’t do that take time to learn. Other exchange students around me were going through the same thing and it was like we were all assimilating almost uniformly. But also within our own groups. A sort of unique exchange student culture was developing quickly. Certain rules and of course memes that you have to follow as apart of this group. I found it all very interesting. Now that most of the hype of just living in another place is long long gone and we’ve had some time to settle in more effectively. We somewhat effectively began the process of further assimilation. But the thing is with Taiwanese and Chinese culture is that there are thousands of years of it to learn in such a short time and we’ve all kind of accepted that we won’t be able to learn even half just because of the sheer amount of quantifiable things there is to learn let alone the qualitative things. It seemed daunting at first but after all the people said mei guan xi and you learned something new, things just started to fall into a better place. Of course I’d still make a lot of mistakes during things I’d only seen once or twice or things that were kind of obscure. But everyday interaction I had down I’d say. I was developing a new confidence within myself because I was actually doing it. I was actually living semi sufficiently in another country. And i would have a chance to test out my new found language ability and cultural adeptness on my schools graduation trip with my and other classes. The trip was five days long. A bus trip around the island and making stops mostly in the south. Since I had quit the track team I had been seeing my classmates a little less than I liked. I really liked hanging out with them but because of their training schedule it was difficult once I wasn’t on the team. Two of them in particular I became really close with two boys named Wu Huang Yu and Ting Fong. I was really glad to see them again and hang out on the trip. We ended up going to the chi mei museum and walked around. I noticed that they weren’t nearly as excited about the museum as I was. But I guess I’m just a nerd and like museums. Then we went to walk around in some flower gardens in tainan. The flowers were in full bloom and it was gorgeous. After that we stayed at a hotel and went to kenting in the morning to go play a dodgeball tournament which my class won. We weren’t allowed to swim at the beach which the florida man in me screamed about. Then after that we went to another hotel and walked around the kenting night market. A few days and interesting activities later we were back in Taipei. It was a nice trip to end the month of February.

March was when I moved back to my first host family. I didn’t have a third so the plan was just to move back to my first. I have an extremely good relationship with this host family. I absolutely cannot imagine exchange without them. They have taken me many places and welcomed me like their own son so quickly. Every month the whole family gets together to eat and talk over dinner. This month we were all going to a steakhouse to eat and my host family had asked me to invite Erica. They all really enjoyed her company. At the dinner we were able to interact with everyone in Chinese without much issue which was good as previously if I had a mishap they’d switch to English. As for the rest of the month it was mostly just maintaining regular life in Taiwan. One thing that was a continuous effort was jade mountain training. Earlier in the year I had signed up to go and climb jade mountain. After quitting the track team I wasn’t getting much exercise and could feel fitness sort of falling away. So I started to try and exercise as much as I could while still maintaining the schedule that was comfortable for me. Thankfully after Chinese class every Tuesday and Thursday I was able to go with a few friends to a gym and work out a little bit. I had the pleasure of meeting two French exchange students named martin and Eugene. They were gym bros so it was an interesting time for sure. But rotary also had designated times for training. We went to yangmingshan to train several times and most of the time it was extremely wet and cold to simulate the peak of jade mountain. Mountains were also a thing that I was finally getting used too. I’d never really seen them before Taiwan and by this point I couldn’t imagine a landscape without them.
My school life had taken an interesting turn since I quit the track team. I was spending a lot of time by myself. Once I got back from Chinese class my classmates were usually already in practice and the classroom was empty. I didn’t mind for a while but it gave me lots of time to think, overthink, calm down, and study. But it started to get really lonely. I was just sitting in this room for hours a day by myself with little to do. I asked the school if there was anywhere else I could be ad they said the library. But I’d still be alone. So I just tried to make the best of the situation. I didn’t really have access to a computer while in the room nor did I have access to internet fast enough to do anything significant. I was left to entertain myself. So I just started doing math. I honestly don’t know why but I’d just write down certain problems and do math. Then when that got boring I’d try to imagine certain scenarios just as thought experiments. Then after that I tried meditating. This was actually very helpful. Trying to center myself was a really helpful thing but all of this only lasted so long. Weeks and weeks of this grew tiresome, except the meditation. I was very difficult for me to think of new equations to solve or new scenarios. I just started to get lonely.

April was more of the same from last month. But I was much more comfortable by myself. I was just able to use the time to reflect and relax. A sort of thinking period through the day that was actually productive. I found myself being able to control my thoughts and emotions a little bit more than when I left. It certainly was a nice feeling. Another thing that happened this month was the last practice jade mountain hike. It was actually really beautiful this time around but still quite wet. We started out the 9 km at yangmingshan. Then we continued through the trail much more uniformly than in previous hikes. It was a lot more organized and controlled. I really appreciated that because on some of the other hikes we’d wait at the resting point for upwards of 20 mins for some of the people line the back, which granted I didn’t really mind but it seemed to use a lot of time. But it was important for those in the rear to take it at their own pace so it made sense. Anyhow, this time was different people were able to say a lot closer together and it made the experience overall much more enjoyable. We could walk and talk about various things. It was almost like a bonding experience that you see in TV shows. Like a workers retreat or something. Another thing that was different about this hike was the fantastic clear weather. It was sunny the entire time and the wide was very nice at the top of the mountain.
April was more of the same from last month. But I was much more comfortable by myself. I was just able to use the time to reflect and relax. A sort of thinking period through the day that was actually productive. I found myself being able to control my thoughts and emotions a little bit more than when I left. It certainly was a nice feeling. Another thing that happened this month was the last practice jade mountain hike. It was actually really beautiful this time around but still quite wet. We started out the 9 km at yangmingshan. Then we continued through the trail much more uniformly than in previous hikes. It was a lot more organized and controlled. I really appreciated that because on some of the other hikes we’d wait at the resting point for upwards of 20 mins for some of the people line the back, which granted I didn’t really mind but it seemed to use a lot of time. But it was important for those in the rear to take it at their own pace so it made sense. Anyhow, this time was different people were able to say a lot closer together and it made the experience overall much more enjoyable. We could walk and talk about various things. It was almost like a bonding experience that you see in TV shows. Like a workers retreat or something. Another thing that was different about this hike was the fantastic clear weather. It was sunny the entire time and the wide was very nice at the top of the mountain.
I made a decision in April that I don’t think a lot of people are going to agree with. I thought it was time for a change okay!? I cut my hair really short. I told people it was because I was going to pursue an ROTC track in college and that my hair to be short for that but the real reason is because it just really needed to be cut. It was so unhealthy they wouldn’t even let me donate it. It was just a rats nest on top of my head and it stopped being cool. So I cut it. Felt super weird at first. I haven’t had my hair cut like this since sixth grade. But I had various reactions, I had one guy look at me straight in the eye very serious and say “you’ll never be the same again” whereas my when I walked into my class they all were shocked and a wave of “好帥!” flooded the room. I was really enjoying the life I seemed to building in Taiwan. I have friends and people I absolutely consider family. So yeah, that was the extent of my April.

May was when a lot of things started to happen again. In the beginning of May I finally went to jade mountain, went to jia yi and tai nan with my host family, and said my last goodbye to my class. Jade mountain was… a challenge (to put it lightly). The first day was very simple and easy. We went to the hotel at the base of the mountain and stayed there the entire day. It was simple and fun. One thing we noticed was how much rain and clouds there were. However we were all reassured that this would clear up by the next morning and continue to be nice throughout the trip. We all chilled around the hotel playing cards games, walking around the really pretty grounds, and talking about our experiences thus far. I was talking to the new Australian on the trip Gus who I shared lots of interests with. We were both interested in a pilot track through the Airforce and just sharing our hopes and concerns about such a career choice. I also talked with a German girl Magda about life and her general philosophy on things. Anyhow I had lots of stimulating conversation about various topics on this day. The next day we left the hotel at around 7:45 and began our 8km hike to the base camp. As promised the weather seemed gorgeous and wonderful. However as we ascended the weather slowly got worse and worse. It wasn’t raining yet but we could tell that there was a strong possibility. About 4.5km in it started to rain very lightly and get cold. The trail was starting to flood and all of our shoes were getting soaked. Only about a kilometer passed then it started pouring down rain. Of course because at this point we were roughly 3,400m high it was getting really cold. The last 3.5km of that hike were freezing and wet. When we finally arrived at the small building that was base camp we were all a bit, confused. We were all happy to have made it to some kind of structure but this place was just as wet and cold as outside. Our excitement was quickly replaced with existential dread and various mummers of “why did I sign up for this.” Many people were starting to feel quite ill, myself included. The altitude at the base camp was roughly 3,570m which is the highest many have ever been outside an aircraft. So here we all here, freezing cold, soaking wet with no way to dry off, and feeling really sick all trying to pile into a set of three large bunk beds in a room no bigger than a janitor’s closet. The facility had a set of nice sleeping bags which was a blessing for us because we were able to get out of our wet clothes to get warm in the sleeping bags. The next morning we had to wake up at 2:00 am to make it to the peak on time to see the sun rise. So we all tried to sleep at 19:00 to get sufficient sleep. So after dinner at 19:00 we all laid our heads down and tried to get some sleep, seemingly simultaneously everyone at 10:30 said yeah I can’t sleep. See we sat the rest of the time just looking at the clock just praying for it to be 2:00 but at the same time praying we’d be able to stay in this moderately controlled environment. So 2:00 finally did come around and we did make it out. Everyone was wearing soaked clothes and shoes. The hike to the peak felt like I was a walking dead man. There was not a single part of my body I could feel. My wet clothes had soaked all the heat out of my body, the wind wasn’t helping, and the continuous dropping temperature wasn’t doing me any favors either. Then we reached a certain point where we had to start bouldering. There were chains you could grab but none of us brought gloves. The rock had little streams forming on them so it was getting dangerous to climb. All of our hands were hurting from climbing and grabbing the cold wet chain. When we finally reached the top we all quickly took our pictures and left. The hike down was the real endurance test. We still had to hike in our wet clothes and it was still pouring rain. But we summoned the last of the energy that we had and left. We made it back. I realized how much of a city boy I’ve become. Anyhow after this may host family took me on some trips to places down south to just take pictures. We first went to jia yi, this was a really cool place to go because we took a boat out to this sand bar to catch these really small crabs. I’m not sure why but it was super fun and it felt like the beginning of my exchange again because everyone only spoke Taiwanese and it was really difficult to understand what people were saying. I’ve tried to learn Taiwanese but it just hasn’t been something I’ve been able to learn alongside Mandarin. Next we took a two day trip to Tainan and took pictures there. We went all around and saw all sorts of things. The last thing I did was say goodbye to my classmates. They threw the most wonderful party for me. I can’t really describe the feeling of seeing them for the last time. It was really painful and I cried in front of everyone but I also felt a great sense of closure. These were the people I spent a lot of time with. They helped me get through the year. They accepted me and welcomed me into their lives, class, and country. Then they started to say their goodbyes to me individually. That was extremely painful and made me really not want to leave. It takes a lot of love to make someone who’s already graduated high school want to go back just to be with a group of people. I love them all and I’ll see them again someday. But damn, in that moment I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to stay more than ever.

Today, 2019/6/21. 
Today is my last full day in Taiwan. I have this deep feeling in my stomach and chest like I’m about to fall through the earth. Yet at the same time it doesn’t feel real. It doesn’t feel like I’m about to go back to a life that I built so long ago. Everything has changed and it just doesn’t quite feel like going home is the right decision. Unfortunately it’s my only option. I have my family back home of course and it’s not like there aren’t things I’m looking forward to ding and people I’m happy to see. But I just can’t shake this feeling like it’s just not my time to leave yet. I know I have too and I just have to face it with a smile and move forward. What else can you do in the face of great change? Just bare and grit the bittersweet pain of saying goodbye to everyone. Bare and grit the pain coming home and having normal things somehow be different. Bare and grit the pain of having to remake your life again. These are all things we signed up for in the beginning. Exchange has helped me to grow as a person and helped others do the same. It has been the finest experience of my life and I wouldn’t have done anything differently. Well maybe a few things. But you know what, I did it. I made it all the way through this year. I’m leaving on my departure date and I’ll be back in the US on the 23rd of June. Actually that is going to literally and figuratively be the longest day of my life. It’ll be the 23rd of June for 48 hours because I’m crossing the international date line and then I’ll have just begun making the grandest transition of my life back into the culture and family life I once had. I think people have got it all wrong. The hard part of exchange isn’t the exchange itself. It’s what you do with it after. Coming how and getting used to being in something that by ever metric you should function and be happy I but there is just some barrier you’re unable to break down prohibiting you from fully integrating back. I cannot express the gratitude I have for my host families. They have truly kept me afloat here. They have been like real family and I absolutely need to come back and see them soon. This isn’t really closing a door and it’s not an absolute goodbye. It’s a see you a lot later sort of deal. My hot brother and I fully intend on being in consistent contact by playing smash brothers and just talking. I think things will suck for a while but just like in the beginning of exchange they’ll eventually turnout okay. Life goes on no matter what and I don’t want to get left behind. Just gotta keep moving forward no matter what. I’ll stick to my two life motto’s. “Go hard or go home” and “ if it’s not hard, it’s not worth doing”

Fri, June 14, 2019

  • Alex, Outbound to Taiwan

The first few weeks of my exchange have gone very well. The first two weeks of August were all about getting acquainted with Taiwan and my responsibilities here. My first night with my host family was really brief. I arrived at their apartment and immediately fell asleep. The plane ride was exhausting. The next day they told me that I was responsible for my own room, my own clothes and so on. I was honestly quite relieved that they were willing to accept me as a family member so quickly and easily. A few days later I had a meeting with the school at 13:30, however I was complaining of some shoulder pains. So my host dad suggested that before we leave to meet the school we see a traditional doctor. To be honest I was really nervous about seeing a traditional doctor because of the things I have heard and read. I wasn’t really on board but I was like, what the heck might as well right? So I said “sure that sounds good.” But it wasn’t at all what I expected. We drove outside of Taipei into the mountains down these tiny roads. With each turn the road got narrower and seemed not as well maintained, until there was no road. Then there was what looked to be a really small parking lot, almost on the edge of a cliff with the mouth of a trail at the back of it heading downward. So I, extremely confused, was wondering what I’m about to see. We get out of the car and walk down this tiny dirt path to this small shack with a few patients and this old man doing what looks like a judo technique on another old man hanging upside down. I am scared. My host dad speaks to him in Taiwanese and explains what the problem is. The doctor gestured me to lay on my side on this old massage table in the center of the small shack. I do so and he proceeds to do… something and he tells me host dad exactly what the issue is. He finagles my arms in sorts of positions and my shoulder feels a lot tighter by the end. It really helped. I think it was a super cool experience. He said to be really careful with it for the next three days and put some herbs on it. I then went to meet with my school which was productive. I met with the other exchange student at my school who was also from the US. We sat through the meeting and learned what was expected of us. We were essentially expected to show up and be respectful. There was very little in the line of school work that they expected us to do. I was placed in the athletic and sports class and thusly I was obligated to join a sport. They had three available; Track and Field, Archery, and Handball. My obvious choice was archery but they said that I didn’t bring a bow, and lacked experience to be on the team, I had no idea what the heck handball was, so I sufficed with track and field. The other exchange student did so as well. Although she was placed in a different class. The next week school began and my first meeting with my classmates was almost like that out of an anime. The teacher walked me in, introduced me, had me introduce myself in Chinese (which was admittedly very rough) and sat my in the corner at the front of the class closest to the windows. Although one of the first things, or rather people, I noticed were two people; One was another foreigner which I was surprised to see, and the other was a boy who wouldn’t stop staring at me. The other foreigner was a girl who had lived here almost her whole life. Her Chinese was perfect and she had agreed to help me with mine, thankfully she was also on the track team. School was slow for the first couple of weeks so I was thankful to finally have my orientation. I would be able to meet all of the other exchange students in my district(s). The designated meeting time was 6:30 am which sucked. But once I arrived I saw a few other exchange students, but they had all mostly circled up into their own little groups by this point. It was so fast, people had already formed little groups. Thankfully I was able to sort of go around and introduce myself to everyone. I had brought my violin to this event which was a great conversation piece, it really helped me find an opening to conversation. Exchange students are always very curious I find. Any how we arrived in Yilan which was a little ways away from Taipei but it was beautiful. Most people were complaining about the heat, but me being the Florida man I am I enjoyed it. We were all assigned into groups in roughly 8 people. The Rotex took us through the itinerary of the things that were to come and they leads us through some icebreaker activities. The icebreaker stuff was honestly a little cringy but it was effective. We sat through several hours of lectures, not unlike our first orientation, and were given chances to earn little prizes by answering questions. It was boring but a worthwhile activity. That about sums up my first month of exchange.

Fri, June 14, 2019

Caroline - Sweden

Hometown: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
School: Douglas Anderson School of the Arts
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Ponte Vedra Beach Sunset, Florida
Host District: 2370
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Södertälje Östra

My Bio

Hej! My name is Caroline Bernet. I am so excited to spend my year abroad in the beautiful country of Sweden! My home consists of my mom, dad, sister, brother and four cats. I was raised in the Washington D.C. suburbs of Maryland before moving to the Jacksonville, Florida area. The weather here in Florida is very pleasant, and we live about 15 minutes away from the beach. In my spare time you can find me hanging out with friends, playing piano, volunteering at the local library, and spoiling our cats. My family has hosted many exchange students over the years and I’m so excited to become the daughter and sister of my own future host families in Sweden. Currently, I am a tenth grader attending a performing arts high school and study both classical and jazz saxophone. Through my experiences, I can see how valuable it is to be able to communicate with people through music, and can’t wait to have the same feeling as I learn Swedish. Not too long ago, my family had a chance to visit Stockholm briefly and I fell in love with the beautiful buildings, cobblestone streets, and the mix of old and modern architectural styles. Through my exchange, I am looking forward to gaining lifelong friendships, independence, and a new perspective of the world. Thank you, Rotary, so much for this amazing, life changing opportunity!

Journals: Caroline-Sweden Blog 2018-19

§  Caroline, Outbound to Sweden

Although it is crazy to believe, 11 months have gone by, and on June 29th I will be leaving Sweden. Since I will be returning home so soon, I have been reflecting a lot about all the amazing people I have met that made my year extraordinary. Before leaving for my exchange year I ate at a Chinese restaurant where I got a fortune cookie. On the fortune stood, “Good friends and laughter will soon surround you.” I put it in the back of my phone thinking of my up-coming exchange year. Boy, was that fortune spot on. Between meeting amazing friends at school, other exchange students, and my incredible host families, I feel so lucky. My stomach churns at the thought that my exchange will be over so soon. I am beyond grateful for these past 11 months. Even if every day wasn’t easy. Even when I hated the dark winter. Even when I was absolutely fed up with learning Swedish. I know I will always carry this year with me.

It feels surreal that I will be leaving so soon. Part of me understands that I soon will be on an airplane headed back home. However the other part of my brain refuses to wrap itself around the fact that I will be back stateside in just a few short days. When I said goodbye to some of my school friends earlier in June, it didn’t click in my mind that I would be leaving. After meeting such amazing Swedish friends at school, it’s hard to think that I won’t return to school with them this fall.

These past final months of my exchange have been busy, so here are some of the things I have been up to.

-My family came to visit me in April, after being apart for 8 ½ months. It felt unreal showing them where I live and go to school. Having them meet all my families and friends here was a special thing too; it felt like having both my homes at the same time. We were able to visit some cities in Sweden, and we also made it to Oslo, Norway. It was incredibly difficult having to say goodbye to them, however I am grateful they could experience my life here in Sweden with me for a couple of days.

-In early May I visited my sister, Abbie, who is studying to get her masters degree at Malmö University. It was nice to get to see a little bit of southern Sweden and to have a chance to catch up with Abbie. Even though we have both lived in Sweden this year, we have had different experiences which was cool to talk about. One thing we share in common though is some of the good snacks and chocolates we have found here in Sweden haha.

-At the end of May, my host family took me to France to visit my host mom’s cousin and her family. France was absolutely beautiful and the trip was incredible; especially considering that fact that I adore my host family so much.

– Last week I went to the archipelago where my host family’s summer house is to celebrate Midsummer. Midsummer night is the lightest night of the year and its origins come from welcoming summer time and the season of fertility. Curious as to what Swedes do during midsummer? They all leave the city and go to their summer cottages. They eat lots and lots of strawberries, because Swedish strawberries are truly delicious this time of year. They dance around a pole and sing about small frogs, among other things. They wear flower crowns and eat meatballs and herring. I am glad I got to experience this unique holiday! It also is truly exquisite to be outside at 11:30 PM and it still be light outside.

Other than that I have been keeping busy meeting friends and enjoying the summer weather. Sweden’s summer weather is pretty crazy. Either it’s in the 60s or the 80s, but overall I can say I’m scared to return to Florida’s weather. I have adapted to cooler weather and now I can even appreciate 55F without freezing.

It’s incredibly simple and complicated as this; I’m excited to return to Florida but I am far from ready to leave Sweden. It’s a tug of war of feelings. My heart is split between Florida and Sweden which is a pretty extraordinary thing, but also quite difficult.

So thank you Rotary. Thank you mom and dad. Thank you my wonderful host families, friends and counselor here in Sweden.

Tack för allt. Jag kommer att sakna dig Sverige. Jag kommer att sakna mitt andra hem. (translated: Thanks for everything. I will miss you Sweden. I will miss my second home.)

Thu, June 27, 2019

§  Caroline, Outbound to Sweden

I have just started my ninth month of exchange, and it is truly crazy how fast time has started to fly by ever since January. I’m running out of weekends to meet up with all the amazing people I have met here in Sweden. As my classmates here discuss what classes they will take next year, I am reminded that my life in Sweden is ending soon. Sometimes I feel like I’m stuck in this void. I am excited to see my friends and family back in Florida, i’m excited for summer weather, and to really see how I have grown as a person as I adjust to my life in the US. However, I am not ready to say goodbye to my host family, exchange friends, and school friends. It’s a weird feeling to create this whole other life in just under a year, and then have to leave it all behind. Towards the beginning of my exchange, sometimes time would feel as if it was dragging. Now it feels like time is moving so much faster than usual–too fast.

Halfway through January I changed to my second host family. Although it was nerve wracking to change families, it has been a good experience living with two different families. I really love my new host family and am so thankful to have been placed with them! Something I have realized while on exchange, is that the little things are truly what makes this year memorable. Yes, Rotary trips are amazing, but making sushi with my host family or dancing with my younger host sister are some of my favorites moments.

I have had some awesome opportunities for trips these past months as well. Earlier in March I went on a trip to Kiruna, Sweden with other exchange students. Kiruna is located in the Arctic circle, and is the northernmost town in Sweden. In Kiruna I was able to go dog sledding, see the Ice Hotel and northern lights, learn about the Sámi culture (indigenous people of Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Russia), and pet/feed reindeer! Although my feet and fingers were freezing most of the time, it truly was an incredible trip. I have also gone skiing with both my host family and just recently on a trip with other exchange students. The ski trip was actually my favorite Rotary trip. Being goofy with exchange students, eating three tubs of ice cream over three days, and watching each other fall down while skiing made for some priceless memories and pictures.

I am not ready to leave Sweden, but I am excited to make the most of my last three months of exchange. As of right now I am waiting for warmer weather, but I can happily say the sun comes out more and flowers have begun to bloom 🙂 My family is coming to Sweden to visit this Friday and I am so excited and proud to have them try my new favorite foods, meet some wonderful people, and just show them my other home.

Mon, April 8, 2019

§  Caroline, Outbound to Sweden

Hej hej! I figured I should write a journal to start off the new year. Happy 2019!

It’s normal life over here. I go to school, take a dance class, meet up with friends, and eat way too many carbs and sweets. Some days I feel a little more homesick for no apparent reason, but I mostly feel quite content over here. I am about to switch to my next host family, which is nerve wracking but also exciting! I really feel at home with my current family, so I am sad to have to leave them, but I am looking forward to experiencing life differently with another family.

School is definitely difficult. Although I have some really great and caring friends, I miss being able to understand the entirety of lectures and being able to complete assignments and tests. However, with the start of 2019, I’m going to try my best to change the way I feel about school. I am also beginning to help a class of 10-year-olds with English. Well more accurately, I will speak Swedish with them and they will speak English with me. It’s the perfect scenario, because speaking Swedish is much more difficult than understanding. I have already met the kids and they are super sweet, so I’m grateful for this new experience.

To my surprise, I wasn’t terribly homesick over the holidays. It was exciting celebrating in a new way, and it definitely helps that I really enjoy spending time with my host family. During the holiday break we returned to one of my host grandparents house in Fjätervålen. I tried cross country skiing for the first time, and although I was quite terrible at it, I would love to be able to try it again when I get back to the States! We also rode snow scooters, and it was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had. The sun was still rising, creating skies painted with pink. Look left–there’s a mountain covered with snow, glistering like crystals. Look right–there’s a typical Swedish red cottage surrounded by trees. I wish I could have captured it on camera, but some moments are best just to experience.

I am almost at my halfway point through my exchange. Although it is the most difficult thing I have done in my life, I would not trade it in for anything. Sometimes it can be tiring to constantly pick yourself up again and again. It was like when I tried skiing (downhill) again. After falling for the hundredth time, I just wanted to lay in the snow and give up. Sometimes you can feel the same about exchange. However you find the strength in you–and I have certainly learned in these past 5 months that I am much stronger as a person than I ever knew– and you pick yourself up again. Through struggles to express myself through Swedish, missing my cats, traveling to and from school in pitch black and freezing temperatures, I have definitely struggled on this journey. My best advice to the new outbounds is to talk to people! Talk to other exchange students, your counselor, Rotex, school friends! I also 100% recommend to journal, and don’t feel pressure to journal everyday. Just have a place where you can write down your thoughts, especially when you are feeling a rush of emotions. It is really inspiring to go back and read and see how much you have grown as a person. I think it’s really important to have an outlet to let all your feelings out, because I have found I can’t express how I am feeling as much as I need to.

“Going through things you never thought you’d go through will only take you places you never thought you’d get to.” Morgan Harper Nichols

I can’t imagine my life without exchange. I am so proud of the person I am becoming and I am looking forward to the second half of my adventure here in Sweden!

Tack Rotary! Tack så så mycket familjen Bjerka! Jag kommer att sakna er! Ni är alltid välkommen till mig i Florida!!

Mom and dad, I look forward to showing you guys my new home in April and giving you guys a big hug!

Hej då och gott nytt år!

Caroline Bernet

Wed, January 2, 2019

§  Caroline, Outbound to Sweden

The point of these journals is to show the feelings of an exchange student, however it’s incredibly difficult to describe my emotions. For example, the weeks seem to go by super fast, but at the same time, I feel like I have been gone from home for a year already. Sometimes I feel so exhilarated and happy. Like when walking through Stockholm as it snows–in October, or when one of my host brothers said he didn’t want me to change host families. Those feelings make for amazing highs, where I truly feel on top of the world. However, just like regular life, there are moments where I feel so empty and like I’m missing something. Sometimes it can be hard to take in that I still have 8 months on exchange. Not because I don’t love Sweden or my host family, but just because exchange is more emotionally and mentally draining then I could ever imagine.

My favorite moments are either spent with my host family or with a really cool exchange student from Belgium that I met named Marie-Liese. My host parents are so caring, and my host brothers are so goofy and fun, so I absolutely love spending time with them. Marie-Liese and I love to meet up for fika breaks at cute little bakeries and then walk around Stockholm. However I think the long walks might start coming to an end because it’s truly starting to get cold, and yes she thinks it’s cold too, not just me the Floridian haha!

Two really fun things happened in October. (Also my host family decorated the house with decorations and we baked Halloween treats, so it truly felt like October!!)

Firstly, all of the first year students in my school went on a trip to England! We stayed in Cambridge and saw all the beautiful architecture, and one of the days we went sightseeing in London. Since my line or track at school is natural sciences (aka i have biology, psychics, and lots of math) we also visited a botanical garden and a science center. It was a great way to get to know my classmates better, and I really felt apart of the school!

Secondly, I returned back up to my host grandparents winter house in Fjätervålen during autumn break. The week was filled with walks through snowy forests, lots of hot cocoa, and tons of board games played with my host brother, Vide, and my host grandparents. It was so cozy and fun! I also ate moose meat and it was really good!

This past month has really made me think of a certain quote by the one and only Winnie the Pooh; “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” I miss my family back home like crazy, and sometimes all I wish is that I could be running into their arms at the Jacksonville airport, however I know that this year is not forever. I mean, I’m already 3 months in! That sounds crazy to me!

To those currently in the application process, I wish you luck at interviews! You’re applying to an amazing program that truly transforms you as a person. I already feel so much stronger as a person, and I’m not even half-way through!

Thanks for reading!

Caroline Bernet

Sun, November 4, 2018

§  Caroline, Outbound to Sweden

Hej från Sverige!!

From stopping to eat blueberries as I climbed up mountains with my host family, to having to stop in the road to let reindeer pass, my time here so far has felt surreal!

I arrived in Sweden August 1st and I have enjoyed my first month here so much! I live in Stockholm, but the second day I was here in Sweden, my host family brought me to their grandparents winter house. It’s about 6 hours from Stockholm and their house is located right next to a mountain for skiing. (Fjätervålen) We walked through forests, bathed (a lot), climbed mountains, picked blueberries then made blueberry pie, went fishing, and saw lots of reindeer! Everything was so beautiful and there was a stillness and quietness in the air that was so beautiful.

I really like my host family!! They are so fun, kind and welcoming and I am so happy I am with them! I have a 12 year old brother (Vide), 13 year old brother (Kasper), 15 year old sister (Lova) and then my host parents (Nicklas & Kristina). Lova just left for France, and although i’m so excited for her to start her exchange, i’m sad our month together is up!

Another fun thing I did was go crayfishing with my host family. Although I didn’t participate in putting the dead fish in the traps, I did get to go out on the little boat and pull up the crayfish we caught from the water! We then had a party, which consisted of quiche, lots of bread and cheese, crayfish, and ice cream cake.

As for school, I started August 20th and I’m in the natural sciences track. This means i have biology and lots of math, in addition to Swedish, religion, Spanish, P.E., and English. My class at school really feels like a community. I’m in the first year so everybody is new to the school and everyone seems to look out for each other. I have people to sit lunch with everyday and hang out with during breaks between classes. And we all bonded over feeling super sore after our first gym class haha.

So how is school in Sweden different?

-Schools have different programs. (At my school they have the economics track and natural sciences track.)

-I have the same people in all of my classes which I love! It makes it easy to really bond and get to know people

-Teachers commonly let students out of class 10/15 minutes earlier if they’re done with lessons.

-I start/end at different times every day. (On Thursday I start at 10:10 and on Friday I get out at 2!!)

-Everybody gets a laptop

-Lunch is free, and they always have knäckebröd (hard bread) with butter set out, as well as vegetarian/vegan options.

What else is different about Sweden?

-Everybody is out walking, biking, bathing and enjoying the nice weather! This goes along with an important right in Sweden, Allemansrätten一or “everyman’s right.” Under this, Swedes are granted the right to roam wherever they please in the countryside, forests, etc., as long as they respect the land.

-Little kids have a lot of freedom/independence and you even see young kids finding their way to school by themselves via public transportation.

-There’s bread/cheese/butter with almost every meal. (And I’m in love…)

-People don’t drink as much water or just beverages in general. Maybe i’m just so used to having to stay hydrated in Florida, but it’s definitely weird using tiny cups, and not having free refills.

-Fika really is a prominent thing in Sweden! Basically fika is where you take a break, drink coffee and eat sweets, and maybe catch up with friends. I’m always happy for a fika break!

And Homesickness?

Of course I have moments where i really miss my family, friends and cats, but I also know this year will not last forever and I need to appreciate and enjoy it as much as I can! It’s hard to have to say goodbye to all that you know, but the thing is you have so many hellos and new experiences waiting for you ahead. Yes there are days I wish I could be eating Chick-fil-a with my friends or making countless target runs with my mom, but i know those moments will be waiting for me when I return home. It’s also important to find a balance of communication back home. I don’t think you have to cut off communication completely, but also don’t go overboard every day.

“We are torn between nostalgia for the familiar and an urge for the foreign and strange. As often as not, we are homesick most for the places we have never known.”

Lastly I wanted to say thanks, tack så mycket, to Rotary for making my exchange possible! Thanks to Mrs. Paula/Jeff for all your passion, dedication and kindness you pour into this program. And of course thanks to all the support and love from my family and friends!

Vänliga hälsningar,

Caroline Bernet

Fri, August 31, 2018


Hannah - Slovakia

Hometown: Saint Augustine, Florida
School: Ponte Vedra High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of St. Augustine Sunrise, Florida
Host District: 2240
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Spišska Nova Ves

My Bio

Ahoj! Hello! My name is Hannah Gundelfinger. I live in Saint Augustine and am a senior at Ponte Vedra High School. I am so lucky to say that next year I will be living abroad in Slovakia! To give a brief summary of my life: I have lived in three states (Texas, Colorado, and Florida), two countries (U.S and Costa Rica), and have learned four languages (English, Spanish, Chinese, and German) — although I am definitely not an expert in most of them. Because of all of this, I know change is a good thing and I cherish the different possibilities it can create. In my free time, I love to hike, go to the beach, read, explore, and teach. I live with my parents, one younger sister, and the best dog ever. While I will miss them next year, I am super exited to meet all my host families, make new friends, and create lots of memories over in Slovakia. On top of that, I am so ready to be back in the mountains, hiking, skiing, and actually having seasons! I am so thankful to Rotary for giving me this opportunity and am happy to be sharing such a life-changing experience with a wonderful community. Life is about to take me on an incredible journey and I’m ready.

Journals: Hannah-Slovakia Blog 2018-19

  • Hannah, Outbound to Slovakia

It blows my mind that I’ve been on exchange for five months already. I remember reading posts before my own exchange about how fast the time passes, but couldn’t believe it until now. Now I am begging for it to slow down. I adore my life here. Every week passes faster than the last, as with more time, I continue to gain more experience, knowledge, and freedom, leading me to try so many new things. During the months between August and December, I mainly stayed within my town, focusing on cultivating local friendships. As I am the only exchange student in my school, I quickly realized I would not just blend in. On the first day of school, I remember walking in, with no idea what to expect. What I ended up being met with were smiling faces and whispers of “hi” as I passed by. Everyone knew who I was before I had even walked to my first class.

The first day of school only lasted about an hour and a half. I met my class and class teacher, who I would spend the majority of the year with, and then had an assembly with the entire school where the director (similar to principal in the US) welcomed everyone and spoke about what to expect of the school year to come. Because her speech was in Slovak, I didn’t really understand what was going on until suddenly I heard my name and was being pushed to the front of the crowd by my class teacher. I had no clue what was going on, but I just went with it, smiling and waving.

Between then and now, I have developed close friendships with many of my classmates as well as with many of my other school mates. During the first week of school, I was placed in only English speaking lessons, where I was introduced to many students. This gave me a great opportunity to meet lots of different students and made it easier to talk with them outside of class. After the first week of school ended, I expressed my desire to learn Slovak and have less lessons in English and more in the native language. I have six lessons every day, but they change each day. Throughout the week, I have Slovak Language, Math, German language, English language, Chemistry, Biology, History, Physics, Sociology, and Geography —all taught in Slovak. I don’t receive grades in school, therefore I don’t have to do homework or take tests. Really I only attend school to socialize and for the language exposure.

Two days a week, I have a conversational English class where I help students with their speaking skills at my school. These classes are also a great opportunity for me to share information that goes beyond just stereotypes about America. It also gives them an opportunity to teach me about their country. So far I have learned two traditional dances, how to make Bryndzové halušky (a traditional meal), and have played games to help my understanding of their language.

On Fridays, instead of attending my school, I go to my host sister’s primary school in our village. I usually stay for four to five lessons. I help with English classes for kids ages six to ten, as well as attend a Slovak Language class. I attend this class solely to help with my progression in learning the local language. Because it’s a class meant for children, the grammar and pronunciation is broken down to a much easier level for me to understand. It really is a hilarious sight. It looks like something from the movies where the big kid was never able to pass the fourth grade and just kept getting held back.

I really enjoy teaching, so after school on Thursdays I take a bus to the town next door to help with English at a school that specializes in teaching real life skills to those with mental and physical disabilities. I arrive during their free time so I tend to do crafts, play music, or just talk with them for about an hour until study hall where I help them with their schoolwork related to English. Their English and my Slovak are very rudimentary therefore there is a strong language barrier that makes proper communication difficult; but another thing I have learned while living here is that understanding is always possible. These students are so understanding and patient, and I always look forward to spending my Thursdays with them.

I have also become involved with a new volunteer program that recently started at various hospitals in Slovakia. The program is called Krajši Den (Better Day) and the purpose is to brighten the days of patients in the hospitals by having volunteers come in to play games and speak with them. We are able to be with either long-term patients or the children — and only those who are approved to be with to prevent any spread of illness. I started with this program back in October and since have gone at least once each week. In the beginning, I alternated between the groups of patients but now I tend to stay more with the children because they speak closer to my level of Slovak. While the language barrier continues to be a struggle, I have found ways around it and really enjoy my time here. I had one of the best conversations of my life with one patients — completely in Slovak — who reminded me just how important it is to continue to live, no matter what struggles we face, rather than just survive. I didn’t understand everything she said, but enough that I left the conversation feeling fulfilled and hopefully she felt the same.

Between these activities, I usually go to coffee with friends everyday after school. One of my goals in the beginning was to try to meet as many people as possible, and in order to achieve this, I began to ask a new friend to coffee each week. This has really led me to make lots of fun, new friendships. We would alternate between Slovak and English, making sure that understanding was met.

At the beginning of my exchange, I had this idea in my mind that I would be fluent by January. Now I have realized just how unrealistic this expectation was; for a while I was very disappointed in my level of language. I have just learned to keep pushing myself to learn and that hopefully by the end of my exchange, I will achieve fluency. Slovak is a really hard language, but once I learn it, it will make it easier to learn other Slavic language such as Czech, Polish, Russian, Croatian, etc.

Now I feel like I’ve just given you an overload of information about my exchange so here are just some things I’ve done since my last post summarized up into some bullet points:

Hiked my first summit

Ran in the second largest marathon in Europe

Met 70 students from over 12 different countries

Traveled throughout Slovakia by train

Eaten excessive amounts of my new favorite foods: Pirohy and Halušky

Gone to christmas markets in Vienna, Bratislava, and Košice

Explored Vienna

Skied in Slovakia with two of my closest exchange friends

Made friendships which will a lifetime

Went to Stuzkova

Visited lots of castles

Performed in Imatrikuly at my school

Made a fool of myself while ice-skating multiple times

Figured out how to navigate the train system myself!

Indoor rock climbed a lot

Experienced the holiday season in Slovakia

I really am loving it here and am so excited for so many more fun adventures to come this year. I am so thankful for Rotary making all this possible.

Thu, January 24, 2019

  • Hannah, Outbound to Slovakia

August 25, 2018:

Ahoj! Volam sa Hannah and welcome to my blog!

I am not going to lie to you. Exchange is hard — but it is ALL worth it. If you are going to read anything in my blog it is that no matter how difficult the application process, preparation, and adjustments, exchange is the best thing you can do for yourself. Now for what you really came here for:

I arrived in Slovakia on August 21st at 15:50. For the two weeks prior to my departure, I did everything in my power to be as prepared as possible. I packed away my room, made piles labeled “bringing”, “maybe”, and “heck no”, and soaked up every last minute I had with my family. One week before my departure date, the reality of what I was about to embark on hit. So I did what any sane person would do: drain three cups of coffee at my favorite coffee shop and make list after list of things to-do, words to learn, papers to print, and hugs to give. After feeling satisfied with my preparations, I was able to relax and enjoy the rest of my time at home. My family, dogs, and I spent so much time together that I think they were sick of me by the time I departed.

My journey to Slovakia went about as smoothly as I had expected. Four flights, 28 hours, and one sleep deprived girl resulted in a lot of running from gate to gate and rushing through international security to make it to my flights. But God is real because as I was about to miss my very last flight, it got delayed! And Mallori, another exchange student from district 6970 going to district 2240, was on that flight. We spent our delay and flight together and talked about our arrival in Slovakia. It was so perfect because I was able to share my worries with someone else who really understood.

Now I have been in Slovakia for a little over a week. My family is so wonderful, although they speak very very limited English. When I first arrived they had a friend come along to work as a translator because their English and my Slovak was so poor. Although it was a little awkward to talk through someone, it made asking all the first night questions a lot easier than if I had to do it on my own. After she left, we began to speak in broken English, Slovak, and through google translate. Our conversations are limited and simple, but I feel like I have learned so much already. We can communicate enough that I am never uncomfortable but are not quite at the point where we can fully get to know each other. But that is okay because have 4 more months together to learn!

I have two younger host siblings and my grandmother, grandfather, aunt, and baby cousin all live right next door. Since school hasn’t started yet, I spend a lot of my time with my younger host siblings. My little sister reads Slovak fairy tales with me and teaches me different words. My little brother is a toddler so we are on the same language level, meaning that we get to learn together! It is so perfect because when he is taught a new word, I get to repeat it over and over again until both he and I understand it.

Since my siblings are so much younger, we tend to spend most of the day at home and go out in the afternoon once my host dad gets home from work. Since being here, they have taken me to the Low Tatras, the largest underground cave in Slovakia, Spisska Nova Ves, Levoca, and on bike rides through their village. Last weekend was also the 750th anniversary of my town, so there were traditional festivals where they preformed traditional songs and dances. Once school starts, I hope to join a local traditional club where I can learn some of them as a way to become more immersed in the culture.

School starts on September 3rd and I am a little nervous. I have heard it is very different from the American school system and I am afraid of getting lost or being rejected. I think that’s been the hardest part of being here so far: I haven’t had the opportunity to meet my peers or get to know anyone from my school so I am going in blind. I also don’t understand the public transportation system, which is how I am getting to school. Luckily my host mom is able to drive me for the first week while I adjust, but after that I will have to learn. I know it will all work out in the end and I may be laughing at this post a week after I start school, but we will just have to see.

Thanks for reading. Dovidenia!

Wed, August 29, 2018

Judah - Germany

Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: Gainesville High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Gainesville, Florida
Host District: 18421
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Wasserburg

My Bio

Hallo! My name is Judah Bachmann. I live in Gainesville, Florida and attend Gainesville High School. I will be going on exchange to Germany next year! I live with my two sisters ages 13 and 7, my dog, Goose, and my mom and dad. I love playing tennis, drawing, photography, art, sewing, and listening to and playing music. I’ve been playing piano since I was 7! I love travel, and I’ve always wanted to go abroad to learn another language. I’m drawn to Germany for the industrial design, and can’t wait to learn more about Germany and the culture. Every summer I go to a camp in Wisconsin where I meet people from all over the world. There I have learned how to sail, barefoot waterski, hike, and canoe, as well as many other sports and activities. I have also learned how important it is to know people from around the world. Some of my best friends from camp are from Mexico and France. I take great value in this opportunity that has been offered to me by Rotary, and anticipate my next year with excitement and eagerness. I’ve made new friends already through this amazing program, and I can’t wait to make even more and see where RYE takes me in my life. Danke schön!

Journals: Judah-Germany Blog 2018-19

  • Judah, Outbound to Germany

Well, I’m more than halfway through. This journal is very overdue, but better late than never amirite?

In my time here since my first journal I have done countless amazing things and experienced several completely new things. I go to Munich typically weekly, I have gone skiing, and my friends from school and from exchange are all fantastic. It will truly be hard to leave this country. It’s sort of a crazy concept, this whole building a life in a foreign country and then leaving it all after a year. But at the same time it’s an amazing gift to ourselves to experience such an amazing thing. I wouldn’t swap my experiences, friends, new language, and skills for anything.

I have journaled every day of my exchange. I have collected papers and photos and wristbands from around Germany and filled the pages of my journal with them. This book alone is one of my proudest accomplishments. At this point I’ve already booked my return flight. That was sort of a surreal moment, looking at the calendar and picking the day I want to leave this life. It was even more surreal when I opened the email from my travel agent and learned the exact minute I leave this wonderful place. I’m certainly not looking forward to it but it is after all nice to know that I have so much back in the US that I get to go back to.

I recently switched host families. It was a little bit strange at first since I was moving in with the girl I sit next to in class (who will be going on exchange next year), but now it’s all good. My first day after moving in with them we went skiing for the whole day in Austria. That was a super fun way to start out my time with them. They live directly in the city, which is a huge change from where I lived before, about 20 minutes away in the countryside by car. I have already been enjoying the location, especially on school days since it only takes about 6 minutes walking to get to school as opposed to 30 with the bus. Plus I can wake up at 6:45 instead of 6. That’s lovely.

I’m not sure what lays ahead of me exactly, but I know it’s going to be great. This second half of my exchange is already totally different than the first. I can speak the language very well, I have a good group of friends, I can work the public transportation system perfectly, and I know a bunch of cool spots not just in my hometown here but also in Munich. It’s always funny when people mistake me for a local. Just last week I went to buy a pen at the store, and after conversing with the salesman for a while he asked me why my debit card was in English when I payed. After explaining that I was an exchange student he laughed in surprise. We then proceeded to talk about one of my crazy teachers in school here. It’s always fun to surprise people with the whole “being an American” thing.

Hopefully I’ll write at least one more journal in my time here. As I tell other people, I journal for me, and that’s why it’s so hard to sit down and write a post for everyone else. But I’ll certainly try. Thanks for reading.

Sun, February 3, 2019

  • Judah, Outbound to Germany

Well, it’s been about two and a half months. What a crazy time it’s been.

This time last year I can remember myself thinking, “I wonder what my life will look like in a year.” I can specifically remember sitting at my lunch table at GHS the day after I sent in my application thinking that. It’s insane to me that it’s already been a year.

I’ve been journaling every day of my exchange. Every night before bed I sit down and write about my day. This is one of my practices that I’m most proud of. It’s a fantastic way to take a second to look back at my day and my exchange and see how much me and my life has changed. I haven’t missed a day of journaling yet. So now actually being forced to sit down and write about EVERYTHING is proving difficult. It’s been one crazy ride. So I’ll try and start at the beginning.

My first month was a whirlwind. My first week I spent getting accustomed to the time change and all the little things that had to change immediately. Like having to push a switch to summon the hot water from the water heater for my showers. And eating a big meal together at lunch instead of dinner. And eating bread all the time. And putting my laundry down a chute as soon as I’m done wearing it. (I still haven’t been able to quite get the hang of that). The next two weeks were my language course in Dachau with the other exchange students. That was a blast, and I made some great friends. Then I had a week before school started, and before I knew it my first month was gone. My second month was mainly just getting used to school and trying to make friends, something that proved difficult. I ended up basically just making friends with girls because none of the boys wanted to talk to me. But that’s improving now too. I had a weekend in the German alps as well as a school field trip to an opera in Austria. We had another field trip to the Dachau concentration camp, something that was both fascinating and horrible but equally important to see.

School is very interesting here. The curriculum is practically impossible for me given that it’s in German and that its entirely new to me. But I think I learn more by merely observing the way of life and the minuscule differences between American and German students. Now I have a much greater perspective on the way we educate ourselves, and I personally find that much more valuable than what is in the lessons. Of course I say that now knowing that I will most likely have to repeat my sophomore year of high school and that none of my grades count, so we’ll see how I feel about it in a year when I’m in a grade surrounded by people two years younger than me.

Back on the topic of learning things that you can’t get from school, my German is coming along very well. From the very beginning I have only spoken German, and coming over with a strong base in the language set me up for instant success. I am so happy that I did that in the first place. It paid off. Now when the exchange students are together I can switch back and forth between English and German without a second thought. To all future outbounds, even though they haven’t been chosen yet, I’d say to begin with a language learning program as soon as you know your country. I started in the car ride back from the big reveal. You won’t regret it.

So back to my breakdown of my time here so far. After my first few weeks of school, before I knew it it was time for my first tour. My awesome host club paid for the trip, which was a week long tour in Berlin with the other exchange students. We saw the Bundestag, a couple of castles, the wall, the city, the Stasi museum, Checkpoint Charlie, and a bunch of other cool things. It was a blast. And now I’m back to my normal school life. Crazy that it’s almost been three months. Time flies. What an an amazing life it is.

Tue, November 6, 2018


Lizzy - Finland

Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: Gainesville High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Downtown Gainesville, Florida
Host District: 1420
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Espoo Meri

My Bio

Tere!! Hello, My name is Elizabeth (Lizzy) Landauer and thanks to Rotary Youth Exchange Florida I will be living in Finland next year! I could not be more excited to embark on this amazing journey with an open mind ready to embrace every opportunity I get. But first, a little bit about myself. I am a sixteen year old in 10th grade at Gainesville High School. I have two lovely parents, Leslie and Peter Landauer and am the youngest of four children; Jacob, Sarah, Laura and me. I have lived in Gainesville, Florida my whole life (go Gators!) but love traveling around the country as I have traveled along all the east coast, up to Maine and have traveled to California. I am a very energetic person as I am always laughing, singing or smiling. I have done sports all my life, such as soccer and am currently on a club swim team. When I’m not swimming or doing loads of homework, I like to hang out with my friends and talk, play music, do a photo shoot or workout. I also have a passion for music as I play guitar, ukulele, piano and sing. I hope to continue my musical adventures throughout my exchange and meet life long friends, families and dogs. I wish to become pretty fluent in the language and experience all the culture and beauty of Estonia. I am also excited to see what kind of person I become through this and where this journey will take me. Can’t wait for adventures ahead!

Journals: Lizzy-Finland Blog 2018-19

  • Lizzy, Outbound to Finland

Moikka ja anteeks. It has been a hot minute since I have uploaded a journal, so I’m so sorry to all of my fans (my mom) who are always excited (my mom) to see what I have been up to (my mom). Okay so it is currently March 7th 2019. And a lot has happened. In short- I HAD A WHITE CHRISTMAS!! It was so cool to experience another cultures Christmas as in Finland everything happens on the 24th, and the ~real~ Santa comes to give you your gifts. I really bonded with my host family during this break, went skiing on Christmas Day. I tried avanto which is where you go to sauna (get slapped with some birch branch), then run to the frozen lake where they cut out a hole of ice to swim in. in one word- COLD. I got to visit many little Christmas markets which was amazing. The Estonia Girl finally went to Estonia and it was beautiful. I got to go to Lapland in November which was- words cannot describe how amazing. Huskie rides, meeting Santa and going to Santa Clause Village, snowboarding, long bus rides with the coolest people, laughing, feeding real reindeer and learning about the Sami people and their culture. Okay! so luckily I was not homesick during Christmas time. Which made it easy to fully immerse myself into Finnish Christmas culture! Okay next biggest thing was Wanhat- an old traditional dance done by the second graders at the high school. I got to take part in that which was so cool. And it is NOTHING like prom in the US. Here your dress-for one- is big and fancy and ballgown like. Second- you have to take the class to learn all the traditional dances. Everybody looked beautiful that day and for the girls its like the biggest day of their life after their wedding day. Then it was skiing holiday where I went to Turku and tried downhill skiing for the first time (I did not fall once!). I moved in with my THIRD host family a month and a week ago. And I move in another month. At the end of this month I go to Sweden, and next month is the World Championships for Ice skating AND GUESS WHO GETS TO GO!!! (its me and my host families if you are bad at guessing). But okay now for the real talk part I include in every journal. My year is nothing like I expected it to be. Now I would not give this opportunity up for ANYTHING. But I think unfortunately I will always be excited to go back home. I have not felt that “I never want to leave!!” feeling… yet, maybe it will come. But I have about 100 days left In Finland, and in June I have Eurotour so that will be AMAZING!. But lately I was affected by fools spring. Where I THOUGHT spring was coming as the snow was melting, the sun was shining and it was getting up to 45 degrees F. But as I type this, lots of snow is falling and it is 25 degrees. Lately I have also noticed that since Jasmine left to go back to Australia it has been hard making new friends. I have friends to go to coffee with and hang out with but they aren’t like best best friends. I mean I have met one of my best friends here who is an exchange student from Michigan who I could not be more thankful for. I know for a fact that we have built a life long friendship. But okay, the snow is back, the cold is back, people still forget to tell me important things like “oh class is cancelled” which is why I have decided to write this because that happened today and I had nothing else to do. But I remembered Rotary’s five finger rule. You cannot have all five. I certainly do not have all five. But I have great host families- amazing exchange friends and honestly? I am content. School and local friends and the language are all very hard. And I have tried so hard to learn Finnish. I understand so much, but my speaking abilities are low. But that’s okay because I tried, and I am still trying. Local friends? I am working on it, I still ask people to hang out a lot and I am becoming closer with lots of people at my school. So, no, I don’t have all 5 fingers, I have two. But hey, at least its not none. When things like the darkness, cold, and loneliness beat you down you have to keep going. Whether you want to or not. You cannot choose what happens in your day goes but you can choose how to look at it. And you have to stay positive through the tough things. Because this isn’t forever. And when I am really upset I always go for a walk. I have a new rule. No matter how cold or how upset or lazy I feel- if the weather is nice (sunny and clear), then I go for a walk. But to you new exchange students! When the weather sucks, its dark, you feel homesick and lonely. Journal, go for a walk, be with your hos family, hang out with a friend or call a friend here. But don’t shut down!! Sometimes you just have to take it day by day. Everything gets better with time, so just let time do its thing and before you know it you’ll have only 3,5 months til you return home again. Its all a learning experience and don’t compare exchanges! Anyways, til next time.

Sat, March 9, 2019

  • Lizzy, Outbound to Finland


Ok so I’m not sure why but I just felt like doing a journal entry because I have a lot of emotions running through me I want to share. So basically an update is that I can’t update you on everything that has happened since my last entry because so.much.has.been.done, and so much is going to happen. I’m going to see Phantom of the Opera and get to see backstage! Then I see Cinderella in December. Lapland is in less than a month! My birthday is soon too. I swear I’m having new experiences everyday and I loooveeeee that so much. I had my district camp not too long ago in Suomenlinna where we exchange students stayed in a hostel together. Exchange friends are all I could ever ask for. Everyone is so kind, funny, and the coolest people you’ll ever meet. I love them with all my heart and I’m always so happy to be around them. It’s crazy to think I now have best friends from all over the world. We did a rowing for herring event where we got to row in the Baltic sea and see Helsinki from a different perspective. My first host family has been amazing. They have really helped me take an easy landing in my new life here and taught me so much (and showed me so much) about Finnish culture. I couldn’t be more grateful. This Saturday I repack my things (which have somehow multiplied) and move to my new host family in Helsinki. I’m a little nervous about the change. After 2 1/2 months of knowing my bus numbers and routes I can take, and all the normal routines I had- everything changes. But I’m so so excited for this new change. My next 3 host families are all like best friends and live super close to each other. They all have little girls and 2 boys and I honestly cannot wait!! Though I’m sad to leave this host family I know that it won’t be my last time with them. It feels like I’m going on Exchange again by packing up all that became familiar to go to even more unfamiliarity. Getting used to the swing of things and how the family works. This past week was Sysloma or autumn break. I traveled up to Vierumäki to ride Icelandic horses, ice skate, rope climb, zip line, swim, hike, laugh, and make memories. Then to Viitasaari to visit my host parents home town. Then to Mikkeli to walk around the town and make a new friend. It was amazing and I will forever rememeber my host parents surprising me with an early birthday present to ride horses and singing “paljon onnea” to me at breakfast. My school is really cool. This Jakso, which is like term I guess?.. I’m taking health, PE, musical theater where we’re writing our own musical in Finnish, Spanish and English. It’s quite nice. And recently the language has started to click for me. I can understand so much now it’s crazy!! I’ve had so many conversations in Finnish and I can understand the conversations I hear sometimes and I slowly know more and more of what’s going on. And it’s so cool!!!! Ok. But time to get real here because I know some people think Exchange is the best time of your life 24/7… and while this has been the most amazing (almost) 3 months I’ve ever experienced (yet), like many wise Exchange students have said before… it’s also been some of the hardest. Some days I miss home like crazy. Some days all I want is a hug from my mom and to hear the sounds of my dad playing guitar and the familiar smell of nighttime popcorn and a history documentary my parents would watch. I miss some of my favorite foods, some activities. I miss my hometown & football games & my dog. I miss doing stadiums with my sister. I miss my friends. I felt really homesick for a while and missed so much about home it would bring me to tears. It’s still been a little bit hard finding local friends because everyone is so busy and I feel like a burden for them to have to speak English with me. But then as I talked to my wise new best friends on exchange they reminded me that this isn’t forever. I’ll be home again one day whether I like it or not. Even if that day seems forever away. It will come sooner than I think. I could spend these next 8 months I have here dwelling on what I’m missing back home. Or spend all my time thinking about what I miss most. But I’ve learned that that does no good. I decided to break contact with back home and though some of my friends didn’t understand why and got mad- I knew that it would help. And it did. I deleted Instagram and have stopped checking Facebook expect to update relatives occasionally. But I don’t scroll through the feed. I know that when I look back on my time here I’m going to regret feeling homesick. But while I’m here these emotions can be hard to shake. But I’ve noticed I’ve become more positive and I look at things differently already. I know i’ll Read this much later and say “ha ha!! you fool. So young and naive- you had no idea”- but for now I’ve realized that there’s always a solution to problems and problems that seemed huge back home don’t even seem like problems here. Ha past Lizzy- you’re so over dramatic- you thought that was hard? Try not being able to understand anything going on & constantly making mistakes and not being able to express your apologies correctly. But when I’m asked “why Finland?” Or “why Exchange?” I have no answer. I’m still trying to find the right one. I don’t know what made me want to do this so badly but I’m so happy I did. I’ve learned more than I could imagine and mature more everyday… ok well most days. The days where everything seems to go wrong that I cry and eat out of the ice cream tub- I’m still thankful for those days because they’ve made me stronger. I’d rather be crying and eating ice cream while Finns walk by me staring than back home so… that’s something. But I am so happy here. Even when I’m frustrated or annoyed or mess up. I’m still happy deep inside. Which is so amazing that no matter what I always have this little hint of happiness in my heart. I’m so thankful for my family and friends. They truly are amazing I can’t express it. They mean the world to me and I appreciate them and all the little things in life (like Publix baby carrots) so much more now. Exchange makes you feel so many emotions man. From wow I really want some Chipotle even tho I’ve only had it a few times back home. To MY DOG. To isn’t this the best thing in the entire world look at this. This is my life… wow. To- ok I miss my mom. I want my dad. They’re my rocks and I would do anything for them. But it’s all an experience. one I couldn’t be more thankful for. Seriously. Through sickness and health, for better or for worse. Ok I’m procrastinating because I’m supposed to be packing. Haha

Moikka <3

Thu, October 25, 2018

  • Lizzy, Outbound to Finland


It’s been a little over a month since I’ve arrived here in my new home, Espoo, Finland and every day blows my mind in a new way. I’ve gone on boat rides through Helsinki with my host dad, eaten lots of Finnish foods, went kayaking in cold waters, drunken countless numbers of coffee, seen the most beautiful sunset of my life with my best friends, gone to an amusement park, and so much more!! I feel so lucky with my host family. They’re understanding, patient, so kind, goofy, and are always there to support me and help me with my Finnish. I’ve made more friends than I ever thought I could have, joined a soccer team, and really have become apart of my host family. I love it here. Exchange has been the best choice I’ve made in my life so far. But don’t be fooled… Exchange isn’t an escape from anything. And it DEFINITELY is not an escape from emotions.This past month has been one of the best and hardest months of my life (so far). I’ve cried multiple times, gone through some things I never would’ve imagined having to deal with, felt homesick and cried some more. It has been hard, I’m not going to try to sugar coat it. Some days I just want to lay in bed and watch Gilmore Girls all day. But I don’t. Because I know that my family wouldn’t have sent me half way across the world if they didn’t think I could do it. With every time I’ve cried I’ve become stronger and I already feel much more mature. I feel confident when handling situations on my own instead of terrified. I’ve learned so much about myself and Finland in the past month. While it certainly is incredibly hard to leave everything familiar behind to go into a foreign country which you’ve only researched through books and the internet- it is incredible. Everyday is a new day to experience something you’ve never experienced before. Everyday is a new day to try something new. Even though I am currently dealing with something I still handle everyday as a gift. Because I know I only have one September 9th here. And I don’t intend on wasting it crying alone in my room. I already know how to cope with feelings of homesickness and I know that exchange is roller coaster of emotions. But I wouldn’t trade this past month for the world. I am having the time of my life here! I am truly in love with Finland. I love my new friends, both exchange and local. I love my host family. And I just love this whole country. I always smile when i remember I’m actually living here! I’ll also let you in on a secret haha. (Sorry mom & dad if you’re reading this). But my mom really didn’t think it was the right choice for me to go on exchange. “Just wait til college, you’ll have more freedom” she kept telling me. I kept trying and I said “will you just go to a meeting PLEASE!” And she did go. Well I guess that meeting went pretty well because look where I am now. Which also says something- if you’re really passionate about wanting to go on exchange don’t let the word “no” stop you. I didn’t and heyyy from Finland!!! Parents will see all the incredible work rotary does and see how many kids went and had the time of their lives. So my secret to you (which another exchange student told me)- is if your parents are saying no- just tell them to go to a meeting before they make up their mind. It worked for me! Ok I’ve rambled on for 655 words now. But thank you for reading! If you’re thinking about doing Exchange- ask any of us outbounds because trust me- we LOVE talking about our exchange.

-Lizzy Landauer

Sun, September 9, 2018


Luke - France

Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: Buchholz High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Gainesville, Florida
Host District: 1780
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Tricastin

My Bio

Bonjour à tous! Hello everyone! My name is Hayato (Luke) Shiomitsu, and I live in Gainesville, Florida with my mom, dad, older sister, and two dogs. My parents are both from Japan, but I have lived in the United States for my whole life. Raised in a bicultural family, I am bilingual, and I am excited to become tricultural and trilingual (English, Japanese, and French!) through Rotary Youth Exchange. I am currently a freshman at Buchholz High School, where I love to study math, science, and French. At school, I am heavily involved with the Buchholz Math Team, French Club, and Orchestra. I am also a member of the Alachua County Youth Orchestra since the 7th grade. In my spare time, I find myself playing with my two dogs, Jack and Choco, and flying radio-controlled airplanes. In the summer of my 7th grade year, I went to a French immersion camp for two weeks, and from then on, I found myself constantly thinking about being a foreign exchange student. Through Rotary, I hope to connect with the French people and culture, learn a new language in the process, and present France to my friends and family in the United States and Japan. Words cannot express my appreciation towards Rotary for a once in a lifetime journey. I am looking forward to my year in France, and I am excited to eat delicious dishes in France!

Journals: Luke-France Blog 2018-19

  • Luke, Outbound to France

Questions, questions, questions…

Hey guys! I am going through a multitude of emotions right now, so instead of lying on my bed doing nothing, I thought that I would be a little productive and update my blog post. Just thinking about returning to the United States is sending shivers up my spine right now.

Today I just came back from my final Rotary weekend with the entirety Rotary D1780, because not everybody will be able to come to the succeeding meeting. In other words, people are leaving to get back to their respective countries, which makes me think about my return trip to the United States. I find myself getting scared of the day I get home, mostly because I don’t know or expect how to feel. At one side, I have my old friends and my family waiting to give me a heart-warming welcome, and on the other side, I have my French friends and family (including the exchange student fam!) that I will have to leave. They have made such an impact in my life that I don’t know if I can usher enough courage in order to board the return flight to the United States. I’ve made countless of French and exchange friends that I am reluctant to start saying my final goodbyes. At the Rotary meeting today, I found myself saying not “goodbyes” to my exchange friends, but instead “see you laters,” promising them that one day, I will see them again. I know I still have a little more than a month in this wonderful country, yet I am here contemplating about the return trip, when I believe I should not think about it. Questions, such as “What am I going to miss in France?” and “What do I miss from the United States?” are constantly circulating my brain. Thus, going to the inbound weekend today just reinforced the thoughts I had already had.

At the moment, I found myself looking over my past blog posts and my camera roll, to read and look over what I had done for the past months. I often wonder if I have changed over my exchange, and if so, in what kind of way. It is hard to say because it is nearly impossible to judge oneself, but one thing is certain; I have learned countless of new and important things during my exchange. From learning how to water ski to learning how to dance the Cotton Eye Joe (Which I should have known before, shame on me), exchange has been a place for new opportunities. These opportunities, such as eating different plates depending on the season, or accidentally asking my host mother to have a marriage, etc. have made me a stronger, and a culturally aware person. I’m sure that even though I am not aware of it, I am starting to think just like a French person at times. All in all, I think I will understand better the scale of how much I have changed once I return to the United States, live with my family and meet my old friends.

Exchange is a rollercoaster ride. Period. Some days are better than other days, some weeks are better than other weeks, and some months are better than other months. But one thing I am certain is that this year is not better than any of the first fifteen years of my life. Rotary Youth Exchange opened my world, and this year is definitely the best of my life so far.

Perhaps to some people like me, the hardest fact of exchange is that we are obliged to return one day… So, with the short time I have left, I will have to try to live each and every day to my fullest, in order to leave no regrets in France. I know that I must leave one day, so I will spend the most time I can with those that I will miss the most when I go back to the United States.

At this point in time, I am starting to think about the last gifts I am going to give to my host families, and the things I am going to bring back to the United States.

In all honesty, even when I have written such a solemn post, exchange is an amazing experience. I have met new people in new places and had new experiences in what was a new country. I have spent wonderful times with my friends and host families, which I will never forget in my lifetime. Not once have I regretted going on exchange, although I have been through hard moments.

With that note, I will live my exchange life to my best extent.

P.S. I feel like I am losing my knowledge of the English language.

P.P.S. I am excited to go to the Bus Trips in June!!!!!

For those who are interested to knowing what I did during March, April, and May:

Following my Bus Trips in February, I:

– Went on a strike for the environment and picked up trash in the community.

– Went skiing chez Patrick, which is in the Alps.

– Ate at a Michelin starred restaurant!

– Changed host families.

– Met a Canadian on exchange with OSEF, who was hosted by the cousin of my host brother.

– Went to do a geo-cache with my friend.

– Made a small hole in my ear drum, which resulted at the doctors office.

– Had a birthday party with my friends!

– Went to Vendée for the second time, and went to the beach, which was extremely cold.

– Turned 16!

– Toured Paris for 3 days, because the family of my host family lives there 🙂

– Watched the monter de l’arbre de Montségur, a tradition in my village to change a big tree in the village “castle” (This tradition is from the Middle Ages!!!)

– Dyed my hair.

– Made a Carrefour costume with my host brother out of cardboard and went to school with it.

– Went to Ardèche weekend for Inbounds.

– Volunteered at a middle school to teach English to students.

Mon, May 20, 2019

  • Luke, Outbound to France

I’m absolutely stuck on what to write my blog on. I have too many things to write about; from changing host families to experiencing a new level of winter. However, I feel that if I list every single interesting “touristic” thing that I have done in the past three months, I feel like this will be utterly boring. So, instead, I have decided to take you guys through a typical day in the life of Luke.

6:10 The dreading alarm rings. I unconsciously know it’s going to happen, I know it is my enemy, and sometimes I have to resist throwing my phone across the room. The “Happy days” are over. In other words, I am not, absolutely not happy to hear my alarm go off. I was still in the “Happy days” when I wrote my first blog post, but now, I am in the “Not Happy days.” As I rest in my bed for about another five minutes, it’s always a battle between me and sleep. If I accidentally sleep, my host mom will come to wake me up again, and to avoid that happening, normally I win the battle, go Luke! After waking up, the first thing I do is go to eat. It gets my day started, and I am still half-asleep while I eat. My host family learned that it’s never a good idea to talk something important in the morning, because I will 99.99% forget it. Future exchange students, I assure you, we aren’t like Superman. We’re still human beings, and we are prone to everyday hardships like any other of you guys. Breakfast usually consists of cereal, loafs of bread, or grillettes. If I’m lucky, there’s a cake or crêpe resting from the day before that I would definitely take. I eat with my host mother and host sister, while my lucky host brother gets to sleep a little while longer, as he goes to middle school. After brushing my teeth and washing my face, it’s game on. The second that cold water hits my face, I am forced to wake myself up, and this officially starts my day. I usually (*correction 50% of the time) pack my backpack the day before, which make things easier. All that rests is putting on clothes for the day, and we are off into the car to go to my bus stop. Notice that I am extremely proud of myself that I haven’t missed a single bus (Although I have been dangerously close) to get to school. I will most definitely celebrate if I can make it through the school year without missing a bus. After my host mother drops me at the bus station at 7:00, the bus arrives about two minutes later, and I am greeted by the bus driver. To anyone reading this, whether it be future exchange students, or their parents, or anyone, it is always important to be polite, especially in France, where people will not be friendly if you don’t start a conversation with a simple ‘Bonjour.’ And the boring wait begins…

For about an hour…

Just to get a school…

Yup, that’s right. A full hour to study French, socialize with bus buddies, listen to French music, an hour with endless possibilities, two hours everyday including the return trip! Instead, I use this time to sleep, or in most cases, to try to sleep because I have trouble sleeping in buses. What a great use of time, Luke. As I enter a time warp of an hour, I am then beaten awake for the third time of the day, this time, by my best friend (Soon to be my host brother in April) who usually sits next to me on the bus, Damien. Once at school, we don’t really stop to talk to anyone, but instead we go directly inside the school building, due to the cold temperatures. Winter is at its finest, and you can tell when every breath you take releases a white vapor. In the morning, the temperatures are in between 0 to 5 degrees Celsius, and the highest temperatures that the day can reach is around 10 degrees. Once inside the building, most of our classmates are in front of the classroom, in which we have about 5 minutes to socialize before courses start. Guys greet other guys with a firm handshake or a handshake that you make up, whereas girls greet other girls with a cheek kiss known as la bise. Guys greet other girls by doing a “chèque” (Two taps on the hand) or by doing the bise if they feel comfortable with the other girl. By the time we greet our classmates, the professor arrives, opens the door, and he/she commences class. School is definitely not the best part of being an exchange student. It is exhausting to try to understand a class in a language that is not native. Classes differ each day, but each subject determines my participation level. For example, I fully participate in math and science classes, however, in French class, I struggle to listen (As we study difficult literature equivalent for reading Shakespeare in America). It really depends on the exchange student and his or her teachers if they have to participate in class or not. Like school in the United States, I prefer certain courses over others. One of the interesting things is that as much as I don’t fully understand French class, the teacher is very funny and makes the class interesting. In France, school starts at 8 and ends at 5, except for Wednesday’s where they end at noon. We usually have 10 minute breaks after every two courses, and an hour break for lunch. Other than the hour break for lunch, we usually have one or two hours a day for free time. During the free time, I usually do one of three things; go out into the city with my friends, go to the library with my friends, or roam around the school and halls with my friends. I can’t stress out the importance of having friends. I don’t think it matters what country you are going to, but friends are necessity in order for you to progress in the language. Not only that, they are a mean of support, they are trustworthy, and can help you overcome your struggles. I was extremely fortunate when I found out that my best friend is going to become my host brother! Anyways, going back to school, I probably talk more than I should, especially in classes I don’t understand, but at least I talk in French, so I don’t see it as a problem. Talking is very important as well for learning the language, and I always strive to find conversations to join on. A great place to talk and socialize in is the cafeteria. First and foremost, I have to admit, that the United States school food is lacking a lot compared to the French school food. I believe this is due to the fact that the importance of food is ingrained in the French culture. They have embraced this culture and have passed it down through generations, which we can all observe through the quality food. As I get back into the bus at 5:00 after parting with my friends, I once again start to sleep (But instead, for the past few days, I have been writing this blog on the bus). Getting off the bus at 6:00 I either go directly home, or I go to tennis (every Tuesday and Wednesday). Also, some Mondays, I go to orchestra from 7:30 to 9:30, and every Thursday, I go back to my first host family’s house because they take me running with my first two host brothers. On the days I do go home at 6:00, I usually stay on the couch in the living room, with my host brother, or simply in my room until around 7 to 7:30, when we eat dinner. My host father cooks amazing traditional French dishes, which is a great combination with delicious French bread. However, I have to admit, sometimes I do miss American and Japanese food, but that can wait because I can always have that when I get back. Normally after eating, brushing my teeth, taking a shower, it is already 8:30 to 9:00, at which time I go into my room to either study or watch some television series (Always in French or at least with French subtitles), and then… I sleep to wake up again to the alarm.

This is an average day of an exchange student. It’s not really similar to what an average exchange student posts on their social media, like Instagram. Obviously there are fun moments, but life is not constantly made up of fun moments. I just came back from a Paris/Barcelona bus trip, which was probably the best week I have had so far on my exchange, as I got to meet up with Miles, a fellow exchange student from Florida in Spain. We were forty exchange students in France discovering more of our country and our fellow neighbor, Spain. When I came back from that Bus Trip, I ended up staying up the whole night not being able to sleep because I felt like the best times were over, and that I was going to return to a normal day. Mind you, in my opinion, the normal day of an exchange student is already unique and better than an average, repetitive day in the United States. I have 6 weeks until the next vacation, and I hope I will have experiences as amazing of those I had on the bus trip. I have four months left of exchange, and I am starting to have the notion that one day, I am going to have to return to life in the United States. But as of now, I will try to forget about that fact and live fun times with my new friends and families.

Tue, March 5, 2019

  • Luke, Outbound to France

Coucou! Next week will mark my second month of being in this extraordinary country, France. It seems unreal that I am in this country even to this moment, and I sometimes have to close my eyes, re-open them, and pinch myself in order to make sure that this life isn’t a dream. At this point, I am more than sure that the hellish amount of paperwork and essays for Rotary back in the United States was completely worth it. Right now, I am in a 8 hour car ride to go to Cholet in the Northwest of France, but before I get there, I am going to rewind my whole exchange to the beginning.

I still remember the day I left my home country as if it were yesterday. After breaking tears at the airport with my family, I flew to Atlanta, where I had a connecting flight to Amsterdam International Airport. Unexpectedly, the flight didn’t seem that long, because I made good friends with a German person, Tassilo, (I’m surprised I remember his name!) and I ended up talking to him for most of the flight. Upon arriving at Amsterdam, I saw a couple other exchange students going to France, and we ended up staying together to wait for our final flight. I flew into Lyon that day, and I knew that there was something going on, because I couldn’t understand what people were saying to each other. It’s frustrating, when you’re trying to understand what people are discussing, and you can’t catch any of the sentences or even the words. Nonetheless, I was welcomed by a warm-hearted host family, the Mignet’s , at the airport. The family consists of the mother (Marietta), the father (Tony), and three brothers (Adrien, Angel, and Alix). Adrien left for his exchange in Brazil, so currently, I live with Angel, who is 13, and Alix, who is 10. They’re an extremely nice family, and I could sense their generosity from the first day. Anyways, the big idea is that on my first day in France, I definitely had an unusual feeling that I wasn’t in the United States anymore. From the obvious things such as language, to the less obvious things, such as the buildings, cars, landscapes, climate, and much more, I remember telling myself and my host family the phrase: “I am in France!” And yes, I am in France, the country of food and love, and the food hasn’t disappointed even once. Especially the cheese and bread. Every dinner, we have a cheese and bread course (After the main meal) and the bread here is crunchy and savory, so it is super good. Also, there are more than a million types of cheeses here, that even if I try one type of cheese everyday, I would not have eaten all types by the end of my exchange. My favorite type of cheese here right now is Beaufort, and the Beaufort and baguette is a match made in heaven. The main courses are just at good as the cheese and bread, but it is always the desserts in France that gets the credit. And I can understand why. From the savory mille-feuille to crêpes and tarte aux pommes, the patisseries here in France are phenomenal. Food plays a big role in my life at this point, that this blog post could be all about food!

But instead, I think it’s about time that you know where I live 😉

I live in the District 6970 of France, in the region of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, in the department of Drôme, and in the village of Montségur-sur-Lauzon. It’s a small village (1,200 people), and it is known for its Lavenders and truffles (the mushroom). Also, there is a small old castle that overlooks the village and has an incredible view. Old buildings, such as churches and castles are so common in France (And World War memorials), that nearly every village has one. I have already visited more than five castles and have seen numerous churches and buildings that have been dated back to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. To add on, the climate is definitely different from Florida, and I prefer it here more than Florida, because there is absolutely no humidity here. Instead it is much colder, and there is much more wind in this region. In addition, it rarely rains here, and most of the time, you can’t spot even one cloud in the sky. But I think I am not prepared for the winter, where it apparently becomes super cold that it snows from time to time. But the exchange students who are going to Scandinavian countries definitely have it worse (Shoutout to Brad and Zach!), so I am not complaining.

In order to save you guys from boredom, I will make a list of the highlights (In chronological order) of my time in France:

– Arrived in France!!!

– Visited neighboring villages (Clansayes, Grignan, Le Garde-Adhémar, etc.) and saw old chapels, castles and buildings during my first week in France.

– Went to the accrobranche and had a blast with my host brothers.

– Met my second and third host families and had a dinner with them.

– Went to Ardèche, and my host family and I canoed down the river for five hours (the view was phenomenal). At the end, we had a picnic with my second and third host families.

– Started school and was relieved to find out that my host brother of my third host family was in the same class that I was.

– Started Tennis and track and field (with my host brothers).

– Went to a Rotary meeting and was warmly welcomed by all the members (Also, the food at the meeting was amazing).

– Welcomed three new animals to the family (1 pig and 2 hamsters).

– Went to a festival with my friends and had the time of my life.

– Went to Annecy to meet the exchange students living in France for the first time, and made a lot of friends that were going through the same thing that I was. Exchange students all have a connection, and we understand each other the best ;).

– Visited Orange to see a famous old theater called le Théâtre Antique d’Orange.

– Went to a mountain cabin with my friend three hours from my home, and spent a night there.

– Hiked with my host family and my third host family in the mountains near the Mont Blanc.

– Saw my exchange friends for the second time.

– Went to the movies as a class.

– Had a cross-country race, and my class was definitely the best 😉 Also, if we win, we get a day of skiing as a class!!!

– Went to the “American Festival” hosted by my village and the stereotype was that every American has a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

– Went to Avignon to cheer on my host brothers for a track and field competition. Also visited the city of Avignon.

– Currently going to the west of France (the city of Cholet) and next week, I will go again back to the mountain cabin of my friend (And host brother of my third host family) to spend a couple days there.


School is getting a whole new section by itself, because my life right now is divided into two main sections: Life at school, and life not at school.

Anyways, I have just finished my seventh week of school, as there is a two-week vacation (Called Toussaint) after the first seven weeks of school. School normally starts at 8 in the morning, and finishes anywhere from 12 o’clock to 5 o’clock depending on the day. On Monday, I finish at 4 o’clock, on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, I finish at 5 o’clock, and on Wednesday, I finish at noon. Everyday (except Wednesday’s), I have an hour break to eat, and on Fridays, I have a three hour break, in which I will explain later what I do in the three hours. But before anything, I need to explain that school, especially the first day, is very awkward and hard.

Walking down the halls the first day of school is extremely awkward. I was lucky that my host brother could help me around. Especially in class, I could sense the stares of the people. It’s hard in that situation, to go up to different people and talk to them. And unlike the United States, most of the people don’t come up to you to talk to you. But everyone in my grade level is new to high school, so that made it a little easier to talk with more people. On the first day, most of the new friends I made were through my host brother, but by the third week of school, I felt much more comfortable talking to other people, and I had talked to everyone in my class and made friends that were not related to my host brother.

As for the courses, the first month, I didn’t understand a single sentence that my professor said. I caught a couple words and wrote down what everybody wrote, but the comprehension skill was not there. Nonetheless, I tried the homework, arriving with little to no success. Right now, the only classes I fully understand is math and English. The other classes, I’m struggling to understand, but I know that I am starting to catch more words and sentences that the professor is saying, so that is a good sign. In addition to my classes at high school, I have 4 hours of extra courses at middle school, in order to improve my French.

In addition, some of my best memories so far are definitely made at school. Every Friday, my friends and I go out to the city, because we have a 3 hour break to eat. I usually go to Kebab with my friends to eat on Fridays. My class has gathered at the park during these 3 hour breaks, and we normally talk with each other and spend our time peacefully. Also, our whole grade level has gone to the movies and had a running competition, which are kind of like “field trips” in the United States. I am obviously biased, but my class, 2nd3, is definitely the best, and we are the most tightly-knitted group, compared to any other class in our school :). Perhaps I will go into further detail on the broad topic of school later. All in all, I absolutely love going to school right now (Not for the courses, but my friends) and there are new things to do everyday with the people in my class that makes it fun.

To future exchange students (Or anybody interested in doing exchange) who had the patience to read my blog post:

Firstly, congratulations for reading through this blog post ;). As a nice gift, I will give my tips for what I did and what I wish I had done when I was in the United States.

  1. You can never over-practice your language. Exchange will be ten times much easier if you have a basic understanding of the language before you leave for exchange.
  2. Get organized, right now. I wish I had learned that exchange requires so much organizing of life, because nobody is here to tell you how to spend each day and what to do.
  3. Learn your country, and after you know where you are going, look at a map. That way, when you are lost, you will know where you are, unlike me.
  4. Get cooking. Cooking with the host family is precious bonding time! So far, I’ve cooked dinner and made desserts for my host family.
  5. Get in shape. I’ve definitely walked 100x more than my time in the United States, and I’ve still gained weight because the food is just too good 🙂
  6. Get your news reel rollin’. People really want to know what is happening in your country, and it’s also cooler just to know some basic current events.
  7. Learn your conversions. The metric system exhausted me the first month I was here. Learn your conversions beforehand!
  8. Just apply (If you haven’t). Exchange will open your world to so many more things, and learning a different culture through exchange has changed my life.

It is impossible to capture everything that has happened in the last two months, but hopefully I gave a good overview on what the first two months of exchange is like. I am enjoying every day of my exchange, despite all the hardships and occasional waves of homesickness, because I don’t want to leave any regrets during my exchange. The first two months have definitely passed by too fast. All in all, I have had a phenomenal time in the first two months in this country, and I am just starting to understand the extent of greatness that the Rotary Youth Exchange program encompasses. It is truly a program that connects two cultures, and I am honored to represent the United States in promoting world peace. Merci Rotary pour cette opportunité génial!

Wed, October 24, 2018


Maggie - Austria

Hometown: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
School: Ponte Vedra High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
Host District: 1910
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Wien-Prinz Eugen

My Bio

Grüß Gott! Ich bin Maggie. I am 17 years old and a Junior at Ponte Vedra High School. I have two older brothers (in college) and I live at home with my twin sister, Katie (Who will be on exchange in Brazil next year!), as well as my Mom, Dad, and my sweet, golden retriever, Runner. Being the daughter of a flight attendant, I’ve had many opportunities to travel, which has nurtured my curiosity for the world around me. While I’ve always enjoyed traveling, I am so ecstatic to LIVE somewhere new, not just visit for a few days; and I am so thrilled to say that next year I will be living in Österreich (Austria)! I can’t wait to immerse myself in the culture and learn a new language! Being a classically trained cellist, as well as working a lot with my school’s theatre department, I can’t wait to see the art and music scene in Austria. As a Floridian, I am psyched to experience an Austrian Winter complete with Christmas Markets and snow! I have so much gratitude towards my parents and Rotary for supporting me and allowing me to go on this adventure. Six months ago RYE wouldn’t have been in my wildest dreams. At least once a day I find myself saying “What the heck! I’m going to Austria!” There are not enough words in the English language to describe how excited I am! Perhaps I’ll find the perfect words in German? Auf Wiedersehen!

Journals: Maggie-Austria Blog 2018-19

  • Maggie, Outbound to Austria

Hi! So I know I’m a bit overdue on this, but as anyone who’s been on exchange knows, the last half flies by! So much has been going on and I haven’t had time to write it all down! So, to make amends to all my readers (and by ALL my readers I mean my Mom), here’s a summary of what I’ve been up to in the last few months…


I finally got to open and attend my first ball! I can honestly say without a shred of doubt that it was the most magical night of my life. I had been preparing since September to get to this night and it was so gratifying! After hours of learning how to waltz, I got to stand tall with the other students opening, and show off my mad skills! The ball lasted until 5:00 am… I only made it until 3:00 am. The night was filled with Waltzing, Fox-Trotting, Tangoing, Salsa-ing, etc., and of course, several hours in the disco downstairs. The entire night felt like something out of a Jane Austen novel! I am so grateful to my host parents, the Techniker-Cercle, and Rotary for making such an elegant, unforgettable, fairytale of a night night possible for me!

Only two days later, I got to go to another ball of a completely different kind! The Jäger Ball (Hunter’s Ball). This is a very traditional ball, but instead of ballgowns and tails, the guest wear their traditional Austrian clothing—Dirndls and Trachtzüge. And instead a traditional opening to classical music, it was a traditional Austrian folk dance, to folk music. This ball was held in the Hofburg Palace, which is the imperial place of the Hapsburg Dynasty, and in the center of the city. It’s so huge, I got lost inside when on my way out. It was such a cool opportunity, and different experience from my first one.


The first week of February, I had a break from school. I used the week to visit my friends in neighboring cities, visit a Therme (Thermal Pools), and catch up on museum exhibits I’ve been meaning to see! At the end of the break, we spent a night at my host grandma’s and then visited a family friend’s country home. We hiked up a mountain in the snow, ate lunch at a typical Austrian ski hut, and then sled down a sledding track on traditional Austrian sleds! We then went back to their house for dinner. It was by far the coolest thing I have ever done on exchange! Overall, it was a super relaxing week to recharge and refocus on my last half of exchange. Oh, and I also went to a play and an opera in February!


In March I had another ball! The Elmayer Ball, also held in the Hofburg Palace, is annually thrown by the Elmayer Dance School, where all the high-society teenagers of Vienna (including me) learn traditional dances (Waltz, Fox-Trot, Tango, etc.). It was so fun, and unlike the other balls, where I only knew a handful of attendees, I knew almost everyone there! It was such fun night (mainly spent in the disco) with my classmates.

Only two days after the ball, my parents came! They stayed for about a week, and it was a great time to show them my life here. Having them see where I go to school, meet my host family, and see the beautiful city I live in was so cool. Rotary doesn’t recommend parent visits, but for me it was exactly what I needed. I had been feeling so homesick, especially since I was on Month 4 of winter. Getting a week’s with of hugs from my mom and dad gave me exactly the energy I needed to keep going. It also helped me see that the end to my year was coming closer. While many exchange students struggle with homesickness after their parents leave, I was only more motivated to enjoy the time I had left.

The day after my parents left, I left for my week long Rotary Ski Week in the alps! It was the most stunning, tiring, and fun week of my exchange! I also really improved skiing! Some of the best memories of exchange came from this week. Any future exchange students reading this who are deciding on what trips to take, if your district provides a ski week, GO! It’ll be worth every penny.


The weather finally warmed up, so I spent most of April in parks, or along the Danube River! It was so nice to have consistently warm and sonny weather again! The flowers began to bloom, the ice cream shops opened again, and my world was turned from brown and gray to bright green and pink and yellow! It was an absolute dream. As a Floridian, I was more than excited to celebrate the end of winter with the arrival of spring.

With April came Easter! I spent Easter at my host grandparents’ house and it was stunning! I also got to take day trip to Graz (second biggest city in Austria) while there. It was so beautiful and different from Vienna. We spent the day walking through old town, climbing up to the palace overlooking the city, eating a very delicious lunch, and visiting an art museum. It was a great day with my host mom and sisters. We celebrated a wonderfully traditional, Austrian Easter. The evening before, we had a huge easter fire. This is a pagan tradition coming from The Festival of Fertility. The fire is meant to bring a good harvest to the farmers and fertility to the women and animals. The next day the kids had an easter egg hunt, where we hunted for real eggs (my family thought it was so weird that American’s hunted for plastic eggs…) which we ate that evening! The rest of the afternoon was filled with walks in the forest, playing board games with my host grandpa, and reading in the garden. My personal paradise! The next day I went to a traditional easter mass with my host mom and sister. Overall it was a beautiful easter , and one I will cherish for years to come.

I also got to do several really nice hikes in April. As it turns out, I really enjoy hiking! There is no better feeling than that breathtaking view on a peak, after sweating out all your body fluids trying to get up the steep path.


May First marked day one of my 18 day Euro Tour! We went to Germany, Belgium, France, Monaco, and Italy! Although the first leg of our trip was dampened (literally) by a stormy downcast, it was the trip of a lifetime. Seriously, climbing up the Eiffel Tower in 40 degree weather while its windy and pouring down rain—and then on the top of the tower snowing—is a memory I will carry with me forever, along with cold I got from it! All jokes aside, it was an amazing trip with amazing views, the funniest and most understanding of travel companions, and so so so much gelato! I mean, What more could a girl want?

The day after I came home, we got to celebrate my little brother’s first communion. The mass was held in Stephansdom, the most important church in Vienna. It was such a beautiful and traditional ceremony, and a big stepping stone for my host brother. I was so proud of him! He has been such a big part of my exchange, and I know I’m gonna miss him always correcting my german, asking me to play shoots and ladders with him, and making me watch all five Ice Age movies with him.

The next weekend I had my school ball! It was the last ball of my exchange (tragically), and it was by far my favorite! Essentially, the school ball is like prom, but way cooler! It goes from 8:00pm-3:00am. At midnight theres a special show from the seniors, and teachrs. The seniors did a skit, then the teachers dud a dance, which was followed by a teacer-student band. The Ball was held in the Palace of Niederösterreich, built in 1513. Upstairs was a beautiful ball room, built in 1571, where one could waltz. Downstairs was a disco, where I spent the majority of the evening. And outside, there was a bar and seating, where one could talk with friends. Let’s just say that my senior prom next year has a lot to live up to.

Right now, I only have one month left! Thinking back, I am so grateful to everyone that has helped make this year possible for me. It’s crazy to think that in 31 days I will be back in Florida. A lot of my exchange friends never want to leave. I feel pretty conflicted about the matter. Part of me doesn’t wanna go either. I live in a beautiful city, that’s in a stunning country, with a wonderful family, and great friends. I’ve worked so hard to create the relationships I have now, to speak the language, and to become an Austrian. Now you’re telling me I have to go home? Just when the weather is getting nice again? Of course there is the other part of me that is so excited to go home again. I miss chipotle, my dog, and bike rides on the beach. And more than that, I miss my twin sister! The hardest thing about this entire year has been being away from her. She’s my best friend and constant companion. All that being said, I only have one month left, and it’s gonna be one heck of a month. Every weekend I have something to look forward to. I know it’s gonna fly by so fast, and that my sister will be waiting in the airport for me, so I need to celebrate every moment I have left.

Tue, June 11, 2019

  • Maggie, Outbound to Austria


Hi Readers! It is already halfway through my exchange and I am NOT here for it! Time is moving too fast and I am not even ready to think about going home. Five months used to seem like eternity, but now that thats all the time I have here, it feels like a minute! I survived the dreaded holiday time—where most exchangers feel overwhelmed with homesickness—and have lived to tell you all about it…


In September, my host mom mentioned to me an article she read about American Thanksgiving and asked me about how my family celebrates it. After a long conversation, it was decided, we were going to celebrate it here in Austria. Fast forward a few months to the Saturday after Thanksgiving. My host mom and I spent the whole day in the kitchen, making Pumpkin Pie, Sweet Potato Casserole, Green Beans, and of course a Turkey! My host brother thought it’d be disgusting to eat marshmallows on sweet potatoes and pumpkin as a dessert. I actually bet with him on if he’d like it or not. Funny enough, he was the only one of my family who actually liked the combo of marshmallows and sweet potatoes. The rest of my family took one bite, and politely scraped the remaining marshmallows aside. My brothers still owes me those five euros… The day was overall a wonderful time to spend with my host fam, and gave me lot to be thankful for….

Fröhes Weihnachten!!!

I survived my first Austrian Christmas and I am here to write all a bout it! It was the most beautiful and loveliest experience of my entire exchange and I’m pretty sad to see it go. To start, I thought I’d write down some traditions that we celebrate in Austria, that aren’t celebrated back in the U.S.


In Austria we have Christmas Markets. This tradition dates back to the first Winter Market in Vienna in 1298.They are little markets of huts where one can buy handmade gifts, sweets, or hot drinks. The two traditional drinks of Christmas Markets are Glüwein (A wine mulled with spices and tea) and Punsch (Warm punch). They are magical, quaint, little villages in different important parts of the town. They begin in Mid November and go up until Christmas.


Okay, so some people have this tradition in America, but it comes from Europe. An Advent Calendar is a Calendar with a little window for each day of December leading up to Christmas. Typically it has chocolate or sweets inside. Our family had one with beautiful pictures inside, and my mom had made little sacks to open with a sweet inside for every child in the family. My class also did an Advent Calendar with a bag of sweets for a different student each day.

Advent Kranz

Every family has a wreath on their table with four candles. Every Sunday before Christmas we light a new one until all four are lighted. Traditionally, Advent Wreaths have three purple candles and one pink, however ours had four green-grey candles. Every Sunday we’d have an Advent Breakfast. We’d sing Christmas songs as we light the new candle. My host dad made song books filled with traditional Austrian Folksongs and it had all their favorite Christmas songs inside. My class also had an Advent Kranz that we “lit” (the candles were fake) every Friday. I think this was probably my favorite Austrian Tradition.


In Austria, a predominantly Roman Catholic Country, gifts aren’t brought by Santa Claus. They are brought by Christkind (Baby Jesus). Along with the presents, the whole tree is brought and decorated by Christkind. How an infant is able to pull this off I have no idea. But that is the magic of Christmas and Jesus’s miraculous powers…

St. Nikolaus and Krampus

On the 6th of December, St. Nikolaus comes and leaves goodies for well behaved children. We all got a chocolate Nikolaus in our window from St. Nikolaus. On the eve of St. Nikolaus’s Day, his companion, Krampus comes to punish misbehaved children. The tradition is that he puts the bad children in a sack and hits them with a stick. Today, in small towns, men dress up in sheep skins, ragged clothes, chains, and devil-like masks and run around the town whipping whoever is in their way. I was visited by Krampus at my waltz school. He and St. Nikolaus made a visit. All of the students had to learn a special “Krampus Dance” and if we did it poorly we were whipped by Krampus! It was honestly the most terrifying dance lesson of my life.


We celebrated the Winter Solstice! We were invited along with 25 others to a traditional Austrian Winter Solstice celebration. We hiked up a snowy mountain at night to a mountain hut where we drank Glüwein, Tea, and Frankfurters. Then we went outside and sang traditional Austrian songs around a Bonfire. The last song we all sang while holding hands. It was about life and friendship. Then we all jumped over the fire to bring luck in the new year. We then climbed down the mountain. It was so beautiful! You could see the snow perfectly as it was a full moon. My host dad later told me that probably only 500 people in Austria celebrate the Winter Solstice every year, and that I was surely the only RYE Student to ever celebrate it. It was so wonderful to celebrate such an old tradition! I will never forget it.

Leading up to Christmas

Now that I’ve identified some differences, here are some of the wonderful moments leading up to Christmas!

Going to the Movies with Friends

I finally got the courage to ask girls from my class to hang out! We saw the new Nutcracker film, and ate so much popcorn and Christmas candy. It’s nothing huge, but it was a big step for me to ask them, and it was such a nice afternoon out with the girls.

Rotary Christmas Party

My host club had its annual Christmas party on December 12th, and it was so wonderful! My host mom, the club president, organized the whole thing. It was quite the elegant affair, and a nice opportunity to talk to people from the club.

Salzbrug Weekend

RYE Austria hosted a Christmas weekend in Salzburg. We got to see the beautiful city, check out the Christmas Markets, and have a Christmas Dinner all together, where each country presented its traditions. Us Americans sang “Rudi the Red Nose Reindeer”, in honor of our wonderful Country Coordinator, Rudi. The weekend was so lovely, and probably one of my favorite trips.

Last Day of School before Christmas

I started off the day, by exchanging Christmas gifts with my friends. One got me an empty recipe book to fill with all of my favorite Austrian dishes. She wrote in the first one for me, one of my favorite Austrian desserts, Kaiserschmarrn. It was such a thoughtful gift. Being in a Catholic School, Christmas is way more festive here, than back at my public school in Florida. To start, we had a Christmas School Mass. Then, during one of the long, class breaks, my friend Regina took my hand and said “Come with me.” We all rushed to the main hall, where a concert by the music club was put on. They played instruments as we sang along to classic Austrian Christmas Carols. It was so sweet! During all of our other class breaks, we played Wham’s “Last Christmas” and Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas” and sang to the songs at the top of our lungs. This was nothing new though, as we literally did this everyday of December. I think I could go the rest of my life without hearing this two songs… or maybe just until next December. To the end the day, we had our class Secret Santa and Christmas Party. It was such an amazing day, and I loved celebrating my school’s Christmas traditions.

Christmas Day

What a magical magical day! I woke up having absolutely no feelings towards it being Christmas, as I didn’t feel that rush of knowing there were Christmas presents and filled stockings waiting under the tree for me… that’s because Christmas in Austria is celebrated on the evening of the 24th. I woke up and ate a normal breakfast and my brother opened the last window of the advent calendar and unwrapped the last little sack (it was filled with a chocolate Christkind for each kid). After breakfast I spent the rest of the day in an apartment downstairs with my other siblings baking Christmas cookies with my neighbor. Meanwhile my host parents were preparing the tree and wrapping the presents for all the children. My sisters helped a bit too. The only two people who weren’t allowed any part in the preparations were nay brother and me. This was because my brother still believes in Christkind and because my family wanted me to have an authentic Austrian Christmas as they remember it as children. After baking cookies I hurriedly finished wrapping presents for my family and threw on my dress just as my extended family arrived. The doors to the living room were closed. My family drank cocktails and ate appetizers when all of a sudden a bell was rung… Christkind had arrived! We opened the doors to the biggest and most beautiful Christmas tree I had ever laid eyes on. It was adorned with beautiful traditional ornaments, candles, and sparklers! The top branch reached the roof and was bent over. My host mom does a different themed tree every year, but said that this year she decided to go with traditional Austrian theme for me! I was so enthralled with this tree! We then sang a few songs and wished each other a Frohe Weihnachten. The presents laid in different piles for each kid and adult. After opening all of our gifts we ate a delicious dinner of home made Pumpkin Ravioli, Steaks, Salad, Potatoes, and of course the homemade Christmas cookies. We then spent the rest of the evening talking and enjoying each other’s company. After all the guests left, my host mom, older sister and I rushed to the city for a midnight mass. The music and church were so beautiful! Lots of students have doubts or worries about Christmas on Exchange because they are away from their family and miss out on their traditions back home. For me, it was one of the most magical Christmases I’ve had in a long time. Celebrating new traditions made Christmas feel new and mysterious, as it did for me as a kid. I will never forget the beautiful Christmas I celebrated with my host family!

The Celebration Continues

The next morning after Christmas we all went to my host aunt’s house for brunch. I got to meet a lot of extended Family on her side while eating some very delicious Prosciutto. The day after that I want to my Grandparent’s house for a late lunch. We ate a delicious meal and sang songs. This was really nice, as it extended the Christmas celebration a little longer.

Trip to Weißensee

A few days after Christmas, we headed to Weißensee, a beautiful lake in the mountains. First we stopped at my host-grandma’s house for the night, where we ate a traditional Austrian Christmas dish, Karpfenfisch (a baked fish). The next day we finished our road trip and arrived. The whole week was supposed to be devoted to winter sports: Cross-Country Skiing, Alpine Skiing, Ice-Skating, sledding, and snow-hikes. The forecast showed there to be tons of snow all over Austria… except in Kärnten, the state that we were in. The whole week there was practically no snow. Fortunately, they had the slopes groomed with snow for skiing, and the lake was completely frozen over, so we were still able to get in lots of ice-skating, and lots of skiing. In Austria, Skiing is a national sport. It’s their NFL. I, being from Florida, had practically no skiing experience. So, they enrolled my 7-year old brother and me in Ski-School, where I was surrounded by other young children. We hit those bunny slopes so hard that after three days of skiing, my little brother and I were pros. Ice-Skating, on a frozen lake was a first for me, and such a cool experience! On our first day, we ice skated two loops around the lake, and then skated up to a hut, where we drank warm punch and ate apple strudel. In the afternoon, we went on a hike. The next day my brother and I went to ski school in the morning, while my sisters skied, and in the afternoon we went hiking again. The rest of the week continued in that fashion, of hiking, skiing, and skating. Learning to ski, in a different language, and having no trouble understanding felt so gratifying! Not many can say they learned Alpine Skiing in the actual alps! I learned the terms for the technique in its original language. How cool is that? It was an amazing week filled with lots of activity and lots of delicious, Austrian food. Spending so much quality time with my family, doing the things they love, I definitely bonded with them. It was also so nice, because of how well my German is coming along. I had no problem knowing up with their jokes and stories and being able to make witty replies. I really feel apart of the family! I am so grateful to be in their household, and to experience Austria through their eyes.

Back to School

Initially I was hit with brick wall that going back to school always brings, but I soon got over it and got right back into the flow of thing. Since being back in these two weeks, I have survived one pop quiz, two final tests, and done three presentations, each in three different languages (Spanish, English, and German)! I’m also spending a lot of my time after school prepping for the Ball I open in just two weeks! Things are kind of crazy right now, but I’m glad. Being so busy is really helping me with homesickness, and forcing me to be more involved in the community. I have to go do my German Homework, so bis später Leute!

Sun, January 20, 2019

  • Maggie, Outbound to Austria

I have been in Austria for 100 days and its unglaublich (unbelievable)! As I am recounting all I’ve done for this blog, I am in shock of how many things I’ve done since being here. Looking at the next 100 days, it seems like such a long time, but my first 100 have gone by in a flash. I wanted to give whoever’s reading this a glimpse at my regular life. Because while it’s easy to just write about all the adventures I’ve been on, its my everyday life that has really defined my exchange thus far. And of course, I’ll write about the cool things I’ve done at the end.

An average Day in the Exchange Life of Maggie Frantz

So in my host family’s household, breakfast is at 6:00 am sharp every weekday. At first, I was a little dismayed by this (I am used to rolling out of bed at 8:30, grabbing a smoothie to go, and leaving for school by 8:50 to get there before 9:20, when school starts.) but, I’ve grown accustomed to this routine and I really enjoy it…ok maybe I don’t really enjoy it, but I’m trying to. Breakfast is the time in our day where we can talk over plans, schedule, etc. We eat fruit, yogurt, granola and bread with jam and butter. At 7:00-ish, I leave for school. Some days after school I stay in the city and meet with friends, or do some shopping, and some days I go straight home for lunch. Once I’m home, I relax for a little bit, and then I straighten up my room or empty the dishwasher. I then work on homework or do some reading. Once my host parents come home, I spend all my time in the kitchen talking with them about the day, and helping my host mom with dinner. We all sit down to eat around 7:00. The rest of the evening is spent talking, reading, relaxing, etc. A new thing that’s been added to my routine is that sometimes I read a children’s book out loud with my host mom. She asked if I wanted to start doing that to help with my pronunciation. It’s been so helpful. Evenings are my favorite time of day. I really enjoy spending time with my family and talking about the day. It’s also a great time to ask them about German. German is such a fascinating language, and sometimes we’ll have hour long discussions on different topics. Last month, we spent several nights discussing the differences between “Ich liebe dich” and “Ich habe dich lieb”. These are two different ways to say “I love you.” Essentially one means “I am really fond of you” and the other means “ I’m in love with you”, but it’s actually a lot more complex than that! Every person I’ve asked about it has said something different. I usually go to bed around 9:30. And then I wake up the next morning and repeat!

An Average Weekend in the Exchange Life of Maggie Frantz

So, my weekends here are a lot busier than they were at home, but I like it that way! On Saturday morning we have Lange Schlafen (Sleeping In) which means breakfast starts at 8:30-9:00 am. Then after that, my host mom goes grocery shopping. I usually go with her, and honestly it’s one of my favorite routines of exchange. I love seeing the different foods there and every week is a lesson from my host mom on the importance of buying organic produce. After we go grocery shopping we usually have some sort of plan for the day. One weekend its going to a Rotary sponsored Children’s Marionette Opera, and the next weekend its hosting family friends for the afternoon. Whatever we’re doing, I usually love it! On Saturday night, we typically watch a movie together. My favorite was “Im Weissen Rössl am Wolfgangsee”. Its a famous Austrian musical-comedy that I am determined to learn all the songs from. On Sunday we usually make an Ausflug. An Ausflug is Day Trip. We’ve gone on hikes, been to National parks, visited beautiful lakes, etc. I’ve really enjoyed all the new things I’ve experienced and new people I’ve met from the activities I’ve done on the weekends. On Sunday evenings, I’m usually doing homework, as I have German tutoring every Monday morning.

School and Extracurriculars

So I go to a school called “Sacré Coeur” Privat Gymnasium. It is a private, catholic school in the inner city. I’m in the high school there, but it’s a grades K-12 school. It’s part of a group of “Sacred Heart” schools all over the world. I go there with my 12 year old sister. To get there I take the tram to my local train station, and then I take the S-Bahn (city train) into the inner city. I take 14 different subjects: Math, Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Religion, History, Geography, Music, Art, P.E., Spanish, English, German, and Latin. School starts everyday at 8:00 am. Most days I get out at 1:40, but on Mondays I have a 4 hour break, and then return to school at 5:00 for two hours of P.E, and on Thursday I have a one hour break, and then get out of school at 3:25 after my chemistry lesson. There are 8 grades of Gymnasium in Austria. I am in the 6E class, which is a bilingual German-English class. Unlike American school, I spend the whole day with the same class in the same classroom. My class is made up of kids who are originally from Brazil, Denmark, Germany, Spain, Russia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, and of course, Austria (however they group in Austria). The age group is 15 and 16 year olds… I am 18. I couldn’t be placed with kids my age, as there was no room in the older classes. At first, it was pretty hard for me to be in such a young class. I felt really out of place and disappointed with my situation. But I’m really grateful to be in the class I’m in now. I have really grown to love them and can honestly say that I have some really good friends! They’re really sweet, hilarious, and make sure I’m not completely lost. Some of them even took me to get a library card and showed me the book section for german learners. My class may be young (and a bit immature at times), but they’re also really fun and friendly. They’ve made me feel so welcome. My teachers have also been really helpful. My english teacher understood how I felt about being in such a young class, and offered to take me with her to her older classes. It’s a win-win for both! She gets a native speaker to help her, and I get to meet more kids my age… and skip some math and latin lessons. As of right now, my main focus after school is dancing. I am opening a Ball in January, which means I have to learn how to waltz! On Wednesdays, I go to Elmayer Dance School. It is the oldest and most traditional waltzing school in Vienna. All the kids from my class in school go. Additionally, my host mom arranged for me to have a few private lessons, so that I can learn the Linkswaltz (left Waltz) which is needed for the Opening Ceremony. Starting next week, I will also have my lessons with the other students opening the ball to learn the choreography.

The Best city in the World

I am in Vienna. It is the capital of Austria and the most beautiful and elegant city I’ve ever laid eyes on! Every corner is filled with history. I love the imperial palaces, the coffee shops, and beautiful, diverse architecture. I live in Floridsdorf, Vienna. It is over the Danube river and is kind of on the edge of Vienna. Floridsdorf is the 5th largest growing area in Austria. It’s very diverse part of Vienna and has people from all classes, backgrounds, etc. Floridsdorf is…very interesting. In the words of my host mom, “Floridsdorf is the place where you can wear pajamas on the street and no one will look at you twice.” (It should be noted that while this doesn’t sound extreme to most Americans, when I told my school friends that kids wear pajamas to school during exam week, they couldn’t believe it.) On my street, there is a store called “Pferdfleisch” which literally means horse meat. Apparently traditional goulash is made with it. Whenever I ask my mom about the “interesting aspects” of Floridsdorf she simply replies, “Because that’s just Floridsdorf, Maggie.” One thing I love about this area, though, is that it really only has locals. My family took me to a Gasthaus down the street from our apartment for dinner one time, and my mom was pointing out the customers, the waitress, and the menu. She was trying to explain to me the genuine nature of this place, and couldn’t find the exact words. She simply smiled and ended with “This truly is Vienna, Maggie. You won’t find any tourists here. This is where we live.”

The Cool Stuff I’ve Done

In September I had a hiking weekend with all the exchange students. It was a chance to check in with everyone now that school had started, as well as to meet our oldies (The exchange students who have beee here since January/February and leave this January.) I met my people. Two girls from Australia and a girl from New Zealand. They are the loveliest, most intelligent, interesting girls I’ve met and I am so heartbroken that they leave me in only two months. On the weekend we had a 6 hour hike and an evening walk complete with torches and Punsch (basically cider). In October we met again for Vienna Weekend. It was no huge thrill for me, as I live here, but seeing all my buds again was so great (and much needed). On Friday we saw an Operetta in the Volksoper (It was a 11/10!!) and on Saturday we toured around the city and went to Schönbrunn Palace. On the last weekend of October, I had another Rotary Trip. We went to Prague, Dresden, and Berlin. It was so cool! In each city we had a guided tour and then free time to explore the city. In Prague, I met up with my fellow OB from Florida and best pal Ryan Jones. It was so comforting to see a face from home. In Dresden my friends and I went to “The Old Masters Gallery” in Zwinger Palace where we saw beautiful and well know paintings such as “Sistine Madonna” by Raphael. In Berlin my friends and I visited the Jewish Museum. Two days after the Rotary City Tour, my family and I drove to Northern Italy and stayed for four days. It was a trip filled with beautiful churches, quality time with my host family, and delicious food of course! I had the best Tortellini in my life. While all these trips have been wonderful, I’ve found my more local experiences the coolest. Last month I went to a traditional dance fest with my host family. We were all decked out in Tracht (Traditional Austrian clothing) and danced traditional dances such as Polkas and Waltzes. I spent the night dancing with my host dad, little brother, and a few locals who asked me to dance. It was so cool! We’re going to another on December 21st and I am beyond thrilled. I’ve also really loved going to the Opera. Last month I saw Strauss’s “Elektra” with my host mom, and this past week I saw a Ballet called “Sylvia” with my host sister. The two productions could not have been more different in the themes, costumes, and music. Both were absolutely wonderful! Another cool opportunity I had, was celebrating my school’s 150th Anniversary. We had a celebratory mass in St. Stephan’s Cathedral or “Stephansdom”. This was really special and a big deal, as Stephansdom is the most famous church in Austria and age the heart of the city. It was such a great day to celebrate my school and spend time with my classmates outside of the classroom.

Advice for the Future OBs

In these upcoming weeks, you will find out your host countries. What an exciting time! The few weeks between finding out I got exchange and then finding out which country I’d be spending my year in felt like an eternity. Well, it came eventually, and then soon enough I was in Austria. Time has flown by! It feels like just yesterday that I was going through the application process. So please, for all the other exchange students regretting not learning more of their language beforehand, the second you find out your country, make a language plan and stick to it! Also hug your parents and dog and siblings as much as you can. You might be joking now that you’re ready for that 10 month break already (okay maybe that was just me), but there are some days on your exchange when you feel like you’d sell your kidney for just one hug from your mom. Also please eat some Chick-Fil-A on behalf of all the current outbounds!!

Thats all for now. Until my next journal, Tschüss!

Fri, November 16, 2018

  • Maggie, Outbound to Austria

Language Camp

So in Austria all the Inbounds go to a Sprachkurs, or language camp for two weeks. It’s a time for the students to really learn german basics and to get to know each other. It was held at a boarding school on this beautiful lake called Traunsee. The first night we arrived, we were interviewed to determine which level class we should be in: beginner, intermediate, or advanced. Initially, I was put into the advanced class (A big thanks to D6970 for all the language prep)! However, after one day of that class I asked to be switched into intermediate. We were going over more advanced grammar in only german in the advanced class, and while I could keep up, I felt like it wasn’t going to be very beneficial for my progress. After a few days of being in the intermediate class, I knew I made a great decision. I was learning SO MUCH and building a really strong foundation for my language skills. Also, I really bonded with my teacher. Her name is Kathi and she went on exchange to Australia with RYE and now she is a middle school teacher. She was so helpful with questions about German and exchange! She used her vacation from teaching, to teach! Her service made a pretty big impact on me. Honestly, I am so grateful for the Rotexes involved with Rotary here in Austria and back home in Florida. I was so glad to have her as my Lehrerin (teacher)! My schedule everyday went as the following:

Frühstück (Breakfast): 7:30

Unterricht (classes): 8:15-11:30

Mittagessen + Pause (Lunch and Break): 12:00

Unterricht (More classes): 1:30-300

Freizeit (Free time): 3:00-6:00

Abendessen (Dinner): 6:00

Unterricht (Study Hall): 8:00-9:00

Licht Aus (Light‘s out): 10:00

During my free time, I went swimming in Traunsee and to cafes with my friends. A lot of students weren’t thrilled about how much time we spent in class, but honestly it was my favorite part of camp! On the weekend, we had some really fun activities that Rotary provided for us. On Saturday we went on a really nice hike with a beautiful view! And on Sunday we went to the infamous Hallstatt. Hallstatt is this stunning Austrian town in Upper Austria. It’s also the first picture that pops up when you google Austria. In the morning we went into a prehistoric salt mine and went on-wait for it-Europe‘s longest underground slide! It was pretty cool guys. For lunch we picnicked on the mountain, and afterwards we hiked down. In the afternoon, we had time to ourselves to explore the beautiful town of Hallstatt. I had been looking forward to seeing this town for so long, and it did not disappoint! I think my favorite part of the day was going to and from Hallstatt. The view on the drive was sehr schön! While the first week felt like my entire exchange year, the second week flew by so fast! During the two weeks I was becoming very impatient with myself. I just wanted to be able to express myself in German. I wanted to speak freely in my host language. However, I didn’t realize how much German I was actually gaining. Things were slowly starting to sink in. By Saturday when my host mom and sister picked me up, we dove right into the German-and I was able to keep up. Of course they kept it pretty simple, but I was able to understand almost everything and reply! When I didn’t understand something, I would ask for them to clarify (In German) and they would find a simpler way to explain it (Also in German!). Later that day we had dinner with some family friends and I was able to keep up a whole conversation about politics, exchange, history, etc. with a really nice, older woman I had never met before. Was my german perfect? No. Not even close. I sounded like an American, attempting to speak another language-but I just went for it! I cared more about what I was saying and less about how I was saying it. While my two weeks of Sprachkurs taught me a lot grammatically, it mainly just gave me the confidence to speak a new language. I am so thankful to Rotary Austria for having this language camp for the Inbounds. It has really jumpstarted my language progress. I also want to thank RYE Florida and D6970 for all the training I was given. Every little thing I was taught or required to do, from the Research Paper to how to address Rotarians, was so helpful! In places where other exchange students were confused or struggling, I knew exactly what to do. Vielen Dank Rotary!

Advice for future OB‘s to Austria:

Focus- While language camp is about bonding with other exchange students and having fun, it is also a great opportunity to advance your language skills! When you’re in class pay attention!

Ask questions- At school in America, it can be easy to just stay in the back and not ask questions. Usually if you don’t understand something, you can fake it till you make it; but here, you’re in a foreign country learning a foreign language! If you don’t understand when to use Akkusativ or Dativ, or how to conjugate Reflexive Verbs, just ask. You’re here for one year, and there’s just not enough time to be embarrassed over a “dumb question”.

It’s okay to ask for help- I’m a very independent person and I always hate asking for help. I guess I just don’t like being a burden. The thing is though, that you can’t figure everything out by yourself, especially on exchange! My dad once told me, “You will never get to know your neighbor if you don’t ask to borrow a cup of sugar.” And this is so true! Asking for help will not only clarify things for you, but also help you get to know more people on your exchange.

Take advantage of your time now- You are going to hear it a billion times: Learn the language. Let this be the time that it sticks! I thought I did really well when it came to learning the language. I studied often, I could talk a little bit with german speakers. I learned how to sound like I knew German (to non-speakers), and it helped with Rotary training, but once I got here I was really lost! And with that being said…

Learn vocab- When you get here, you will learn sentence structure and grammar, but the most important thing that you can learn now is vocabulary. Make flash cards, label things in your house, find sets on online, and make sure that when you learn the vocab, you learn the word, the article, and how to make it plural.

Show some Gratitude- The teachers who are there for you are volunteering two weeks of their vacation to teach you german! Bring some Thank You stationery and some American candy. Learn how to say thank you in german! The first german word I was taught by RYE Florida was “Dankbar”. It means grateful. You can also show your gratitude through your actions. Always be on time, stay positive, and follow directions. Don’t be one of those stereotyped, “disrespectful, complaining Americans”. The people at this camp help determine if you can go on trips or not, or go to places on your own. How you behave in these two weeks will also affect how easy they will make it for you to travel.

Well that’s all for now. Next week I start school in Austria! Bis Später Alligator!

Tue, September 18, 2018

  • Maggie, Outbound to Austria

Background on my exchange

Before I go into all the details of my time here in Austria, let me tell you a little bit about my situation. So I am in the capitol: Vienna, Austria. As of now I live in Floridsorf in District 21. I live with a big family and have 3 siblings: my older sister Iduna (19), my younger sister Freia (12), and my brother Baldur (7). I also have a sister Rhea, (15) who is in New Mexico for her exchange.

I really love my family dynamic. Back in Florida, I also have three siblings, but I am the second youngest. Now I am the second oldest! My family lives in a really beautiful apartment with a nice balcony, courtyard, and a lovely garden. Soon I will be attending a school called Sacré Coeur Privat Gymnasium. My younger sis also goes there.

My First Week in Austria

This week has been so amazing!  I feel like I’ve learned so many new things and have seen so much!


I arrived in the Vienna International Airport at 12:05 pm. My host family was at the airport as well as my little sister’s best friend! My host mom gave me a huge hug and immediately made me feel so welcomed! We put my luggage in their car and drove home. Usually she takes a quick route home, however she wanted me to see the city, so we took a route that allowed me to get a glimpse at Downtown Vienna. My eyes got bigger and bigger with every corner we turned. We then came home and ate a snack. We had a pound cake and a delicious apple vanilla tart-both baked by my older sister! My host mom is a landscape architect so she is very creative. Our apartment is beautifully decorated and has plants everywhere. I love it! After we ate, I unpacked my luggage. While I was unpacking, my sisters asked me if I wanted to go swimming in the Danube River. The Danube is the second largest River in Europe and it flows through a lot of Central and Eastern Europe. Many locals here go swimming in it. There are many parts and channels of the Danube. The water felt so nice and it was such a pretty day.  Afterwards we went home, had dinner, and went over the schedule of the week and questions about exchange. It was a perfect first day!


On Tuesday, my older sister took me into Downtown Vienna and showed me my school, my little brother’s school, her university, and a lot of the famous buildings in Vienna. She also took Baldur and me to her favorite Ice Cream place. I learned that Topfen is the German word for cream cheese. It’s my sister’s favorite Ice Cream flavor. She was explaining the flavor to me and once I understood, I interrupted “Oh, cream cheese!” She responded with “No! It’s definitely NOT cream cheese” When our ice cream came out, I took one bite and immediately recognized it as cream cheese. My host sister was an au pair in London for a year, and speaks fluent English, but in London they used the word Quark for cream cheese. When she heard cream cheese she imagined Feta or Cheddar. It was really interesting to compare the differences between Oxford English and American English.


On Wednesday, I met one of my host grandpas for the first time. He might be one of the coolest people I have ever met! He is a historian and knows all the history about Vienna and Austria! He also has written a book about his own history and ancestry. As my host siblings’ Opa, he believes its his responsibility to teach his grandkids about the history, culture, art, and music of Vienna. He took my host brother, older sister and I to the Schatzkammer, or Imperial Treasury. We looked at beautiful crowns, capes, and jewels of the Hapsburg Dynasty. We even saw a very large Narwal Horn! Back in the day (The Holy Roman Empire), it was considered very rare and believed to have protective powers. We also drove around the city for a little bit, and he explained to me important buildings and history. He played for me famous classical music from Vienna, which I was a big fan of, and we talked over art, architecture, politics, music, etc. He only spoke a little English and I only spoke a little German, so we tried our best with both. It was a conversation full of hand gestures and pointing. But it was really nice, because it gave me the opportunity to practice my German! After our amazing morning, my siblings and I went home, took a quick nap, and went out for the afternoon. My sister took my little brother and I to an outdoor bath (it’s a pool) with the best view of Vienna! It’s called Krapfenwaldbad. Fun Fact: Krapfen translates to Donut Forest, but this pool is actually named after Franz Joseph Krapf.


Thursday was very stressful. It was my first time traveling alone in the city and it did not go as smoothly as planned. I was invited by two girls from Australia who have been in Austria since January to hang out in the city. The night before, my host mom and sister helped me with directions and patiently explained how the public transport system worked. The next morning, I was feeling confident and ready to take on Vienna. As I walked to the tram near my house, I remember thinking “Wow, I’m gonna remember this as the first time I was able to go in the city alone.” False. I confused the S-Bahn for the U-Bahn (the S-bahn is a local train, and the U-bahn is the subway)! As I was leaving the station, the scenery around me looked so unfamiliar (Red Flag #1). With each stop I was getting more and more panicked. Also, did I mention at that point I didn’t have a phone plan? I was having serious trouble with getting a new sim card, so I went into Vienna alone, without a working phone, hoping I would find wifi along the way (Red Flag #2). So, I’m on the U6, realizing that I’m not where I’m supposed to be, and that I was supposed to be there 25 minutes ago. So, I stepped off the subway, and did the only thing I knew how to do: go back home. When I got to my home train station, I got wifi, called my friends, and explained to them what happened and that I was just gonna go home. Then I realized I had no idea what tram I was supposed to take home. I texted my sister, no reply. My other sister, no reply. Then I texted my host mom. She gave me instructions, but in German. I finally figured it out, and went home. When I arrived at my apartment, I pulled out my keys, and tried to unlock the door. (So a little side note about my apartment. I have three different doors I have to unlock and each are unlocked a different way.) I couldn’t unlock the door! I was stuck in the street, and had no Wifi, so I couldn’t tell my host mom that I was stuck outside. At this point I was ready to assume fetal position and let the tears flow but then my neighbor arrived and unlocked the door. I tried to go in with her and she said, “Um can I help you?” Ahhhh. It was so stressful. I was struggling to say in German that I was an exchange student and living with a family in the apartment building, but somehow she understood and let me in. Then, I got locked out at my second door. She tried to help and couldn’t figure it out, so I borrowed her phone and called my host mom. My host mom called another neighbor who showed me how to do it. Once I was inside, I crashed on my bed and slept for two hours. It was a very emotional day. Fortunately, I was a able to laugh about it later with my host mom. In fact, as I am writing this, I can proudly say I have mastered public transport in Vienna.


Friday was a MUCH MUCH better day. My host sister spontaneously took my brother and I to Schönbrunn Palace, where we walked around the gardens and had a wonderful lunch. We were going to tour inside the palace, however the tour was going to be too long, and we had to attend a Rotary Event that evening as a family. So instead, we went with my host brother’s choice of museum: The Vienna Natural History Museum. It wasn’t as interesting to me as some of the other museums, but watching his face when he saw the Dinosaurs and Mammoths was so funny! His favorite animal in the museum is the Ostrich! That evening, I had my first Rotary Function. It was a dinner at one of the Rotarian’s house. She lives in a beautiful cottage outside of the city. It was really nice to meet everyone, however I couldn’t understand much of the conversation. It was really good for me though, because it motivated me to want to learn the language!


On Saturday, we left Vienna for Styria, to stay at my Host Grandma’s house. She has a gorgeous house in the country that she and my Host-Grandpa have been slowly restoring for the past 10 years. It was at her house, that I had my first schnitzel. Schnitzel is a very typical Austrian Dish and is a thin piece of meat that is fried and served with jam. It was SO delicious. Also, it had that grandma’s touch, that made it especially tasty. Honestly, I could eat schnitzel everyday. The rest of the day was spent swimming and taking a nice walk in the woods near their house. In Austria, there are plants, and herbs, and berries everywhere. We would stop in the forest and eat raspberries, and then pick up some mushrooms to cook at home, and then my host dad would show me a good plant that helps with head aches. It was so cool! Also, my host sister told my little brother Fairytales about witches on our walk, because the woods that we were in looked like the were straight out of Hansel and Gretel! It was a fairy tale day away from the city.


Sunday morning, after we ate breakfast, we headed for Altmünster for my Rotary Language Camp. The drive to Altmünster was wunderschön! It was filled with mountains, lakes, and cute little villages. When we arrived, as my host parents dropped me off, I realized how lucky I am to be with the family that I’m in. As I said goodbye, my host dad gave me a bag of apples he had picked that morning at the country house. My host mom said “Maggie, if there is anything wrong, please call me. I am your mother now and I want you to be safe.” I knew she meant this more practically, but still. I was so touched! It was definitely bittersweet saying goodbye to them for two weeks.

Well, that was my first and very eventful week of exchange! I learned so much, and fell in love with my new home! I am so excited for my year abroad! And with that, (to continue a tradition of last year’s OBs to Austria) I’d like to say: Bis Später Alligator!

Advice for Future Outbounds to Austria:

When you arrive, you will think that the biggest luxury in America is air conditioning, or tall drinks with lots of ice and free refills, or your queen bed! You are wrong. The biggest luxury back home is the ability to express yourself freely, without a language barrier. Being able to say exactly what you mean, without even thinking about it, is a privilege and something we take for granted. Sure your host fam might speak English, but being able to read an ad and understand it or know what your little host brother is saying is so gratifying! Also, if you’re like me, a lot of your homesickness will stem from feeling isolated. Not being able to speak the language is a big part of this. What I’m trying to say is…Learn the language! Don’t put it off until summer. Don’t make false promises to yourself about how you will start tomorrow, or next week, or next semester! Now is the perfect time to start. There is so much time in the day that you can use to study your language. You can study on the school bus, during lunch, before bed, whenever! I promise, you will never, ever, ever say, “Wow, I wish I hadn’t studied German so much before I came.”

Wed, September 5, 2018


Mason - Germany

Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: St. Augustine High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Coastal St. Johns County, Florida
Host District: 1930
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Coastal St. Johns

My Bio

Hallo! My name is Mason Hicks; I am 15 and currently a sophomore at St. Augustine High School. In school I am in the Cambridge AICE (Advanced International Certificate of Education) program, Interact Club, Marching Band, Concert Band, and Chamber Chorus. Outside of school I am involved with my church where I am the youth elder, which means that I help make decisions for my church and youth group. I also love hanging out with my friends, playing sports, and playing guitar and saxophone. I have played guitar since first grade and saxophone since sixth. I love to go to the beach and when it’s warm enough I go almost every day since I only live about five blocks away. I live in St. Augustine Beach, Florida with my mom, dad, younger brother, and two dogs. I love to travel but I have never left the country so I am ecstatic to be spending a year in Germany. I’m excited to be able to try so many new things, and to make new friends and new memories. I am also very excited to try new foods and immerse myself in the German culture. I am so thankful for my family for allowing me go on exchange and for RYE Florida for giving me this life changing opportunity. Tschüss!

Journals: Mason-Germany Blog 2018-19

  • Mason, Outbound to Germany


A lot has happened since my last journal. In January, we celebrated Fasnacht in Germany. It’s a huge festival where everyone dresses up like a witch and there are big parades in every city. It was a great way to experience the German culture.

At the end of the Fasnacht break, I went on a trip to Paris with my district. We saw a lot and it was really nice meeting with all the exchange students again.

A few weeks later, I met up with a friend from my district and we started talking about exchange. We talked about how when we applied, we didn’t really know what to expect but we just wanted to learn about a new culture and see how other people live their lives in other parts of the world. Now that we’ve been here for a few months we realized that exchange doesn’t just teach you about a new culture, but you actually change and this new culture and way of life becomes how you live. Exchange is more than a learning experience it gives you a total new outlook on life. Exchange helps you grow as a person and it opens you up to so many new experiences that you never would have expected. If anyone is reading this wondering if they should go on exchange, do it. Exchange is life changing and you will grow so much as a person.

Another rule of exchange that RYEFL always tells us is to always say yes. A few weeks ago my grade had a big meeting for the classes they could take next year. Since I won’t be here next year I didn’t have to go and I could have stayed home and slept in. My family made me go to school and instead of trying to fight it I just went anyway. At first I was a little annoyed because I couldn’t do anything all day and I just had to sit there and do nothing. But after a while I started hanging out with some of my classmates and we decided to ride bikes to McDonalds which is like 3 miles away. We were 4 four kids and we only had two bikes. We rode two to a bike and ate so much. It was definitely my favorite school day I’ve had this year. This was a wake up call that I need to start saying yes more and not worry so much about what we’re doing.

On top of all of that, I’m starting to get really close with Germans here and I’m getting invited to do stuff with them a lot. My German is also getting a lot better. I’m going to take a B1 language test soon and then technically my language will be good enough to get citizenship here…maybe I won’t have to come home after all.

Now I’m on a bus going to Bayern because my Deutschland tour starts tomorrow. It’s a 21 day long trip and we’re going to 26 different cities around Germany. I’m really excited to see more of Germany, but most important it’s almost a month off of school!

I think that’s everything new for now so until next time,


Fri, April 5, 2019

  • Mason, Outbound to Germany

It’s so crazy that it’s almost 5 months in Germany! The holiday season is over so I decided to talk about what different here.

At the beginning of December my district had a Christmas weekend in Ulm. We took a language test, met the future Outbounds from this district, claimed the highest church in the world, and went to an amazing Christmas market!

One of the most amazing thinks about Christmas in Germany is the Christmas markets. The Christmas market is a big market with really good food, Glühwein (or kinder punch 😉 ), good Christmas music, lots of booths selling Christmas souvenirs. In one month I’ve gone to seven Christmas markets in three different countries.

In Germany Christmas is pretty different than in the USA. On Christmas Eve I spent time with my family. That evening we went to church and came back and ate fondue. When we were done eating, we went for a walk around the neighborhood. When we came back in we waited for a bell, and then we saw that Christkind and had put the presents under the tree. We open the presents and then went to bed. And Christmas day there isn’t much celebration. We ate some good food then went hiking.

I New Year’s Eve, I made my family and American breakfast and then finish packing because I was switching families that night. I got to my new family’s house in a couple hours before we went to a party at a friends house. When we got to the party we ate RacletteWhich is A very common meal for Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. We have bought a fireworks and it took hours to shoot them off.

I really enjoy it with my new family. I already knew them because my host brothers of my class. I’ve started doing karate with my family because my host father is a karate teacher. We also go skiing every weekend, and it’s a lot harder than it looks. The first time I went on the mountain, I wasn’t able to break, so I fell the entire way down. Although now I’ve started to get them hang of it and my family might sign me up to compete in a few months if I get good enough.

School has started again and now that I can understand what’s happening, it’s getting a lot easier. Since I’m in the 10th class, I’ve learned most of the stuff before it’s just a matter of translating. I have to take all of our class tests and it’s very hard but it’s always funny seeing my score when we get them back.

Not much as happened since then. Soon I have my second language camp with all the newbies in my district. In March my district will go to Paris for a weekend. In April I have my Deutschland tour. For Deutschland tour we have 21 days to visit 23 different cities in Germany, Im really excited. I’ll write my next journal after I have done some more with my district.


Mon, January 28, 2019

  • Mason, Outbound to Germany

Hallo! I’ve been in Germany for three months now and I still can’t believe it. So far my exchange has been so amazing and I am still in shock that I’m actually in Germany. I’ve been getting lots of questions from people back home so I decided that I’ll try to answer some of them here.

My host family: My host families are so amazing! They’re all so helpful in teaching me German and I’ve done so many new things with them. I’ve already been to France and Switzerland. My next family is going to take me skiing almost every weekend once it starts to snow. I’m so lucky to have them!

School: School in Germany is very different from school in the USA. Here I have one class and we go to all of our lessons together. Everything here is also way less competitive. In Germany we have no GPA or class rank, the students just try hard because they want to learn. In my school a normal day is from 7:50-1:05, which I love. Classes are in one hour periods and most of the time I have two periods of each class. Every Wednesday, I have an hour long break for the Mittagspause at 1:00 and then I have more classes after that until 5:00. On Thursdays I have band but it ends earlier. During the pause we’re allowed to go into the city and buy lunch. In Germany instead of only having one science class or one history class, we take a little of everything. Here I have English, Music, Latin, Math, Chemistry, Biology, German, Art, History, PE, Politics, Physics, Religion, and Ethic. I try my best to participate and I take all the tests, but obviously it’s very difficult. School is very different here but I like it a lot.

Language: German is very difficult, but for only three months I think I’m doing alright. I’ve started a language course which is also helping a lot. In school, I only speak German, and at home I only use English if I really need to understand something important. It’s very hard but it definitely helps. It’s also very tiring; I don’t think I’ve slept more than I have since I’ve gotten here. If you’re reading this before your exchange: study as much as you can before you leave, it’ll make life so much easier.

Friends: I‘m very lucky to have met the people that I have so far on exchange. My classmates are all super nice and they help me so much. I hear so many stories about exchange students having trouble making friends and it makes me so thankful for the friends I’ve made. A few tips I have for making friends on exchange are:

1) Be able to laugh at yourself. When I first got here I wasn’t able to understand much so when people talked in groups I’d just say “genau“ which means “exactly“ and people would laugh.

2) Be as outgoing as you can. In lots of European countries people are a little shy and won’t start conversations with you. Don’t worry! Once you start talking with new people almost everyone is nice and wants to be friends but they were just too shy to introduce themselves first.

3) Make as many plans as possible. If you hear people talking about going to a party or a movie, ask if you can go too. If it feels too weird to invite yourself, try inviting people to do something. Once you start making plans you start getting invited to more things and you start making more friends. It’s also very helpful to go and find people to do things with once you start to feel a little homesick.

4) The best way to make friends is when you meet new people, to say, “Hi, I need friends. Here’s my Instagram and Snapchat, let’s hangout soon.“ Or once you’re close with someone to tell them to introduce you to their friends. It might feel weird at first but it definitely works.

Food: The food in Germany is amazing! I’m already trying to figure out how to start a restaurant with German food back home. For breakfast normally we have bread with butter and jam. In the US that’s not much, but German bread is so amazing and the jam is all homemade. After school I have lunch with my host mother and brother. We have anything from pasta to soup or schnitzel. On days where I have longer school, I eat in the city with my friends. There are lots of options, we have Chinese, Dönner (which is my favorite), we can also get pizza or curry wurst. For dinner most days we have bread with butter, wurst, and cheese. I think I’ve eaten more bread in these three months than I have in the past three years in the US.

Differences in culture: I didn’t really experience much culture shock when I got here, but there are a lot of differences. First off, Germans are a lot healthier than Americans. Here they only use a car if it’s completely necessary. My five mile bike rode to the train station is considered nothing. Another big thing about Germany is that they don’t use ice. Iced coffee doesn’t exist here and it makes me very sad. Here we do have Eiskaffee and it‘s coffee with ice cream in it which makes the no ice thing a little better. A lot of the German stereotypes are true. They eat lots of pretzels and drink beer. Sausages are also eaten almost daily. There are also lots of things that are only here for tourists like Kookoo clocks and Lederhosen.

Rotary: I’m in District 1930 and I love it. There are 15 of us, and we’re all a huge family. We met at our language camp a few days after I got here and we still meet up every few weeks. So far as a club we’ve had two trips. We were in the Black Forest a few weeks ago for the fall break and it was so amazing. We hiked, swam, ice skated, and the most important thing for a Florida boy: we saw snow! Last weekend we went to Ulm for a language test and to meet the future outbounds. We also went to the Christmas market which was beautiful and we climbed the tallest church in the world. It’s really important to be close with the other exchange students because they are going through the exact same things that you are. If I have any problems, I know I have so many other people that understand exactly what’s going on. My club is also great. My YEO got me a saxophone to use in band and he set me up in a language course so I can learn German faster. In a few months, we have a trip to Paris and after that we have our Deutschland tour.

I wrote this journal sitting in my Latin class because I can’t understand anything that’s going on. Before I finish writing this already too long journal, I just want to say that if you’re thinking about going on exchange, please apply. Coming to Germany is probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Also if you have any questions you can always message me or any of the other exchange students because I don’t think we’ll ever get tired of talking about our exchanges. Okay, until next time,


Wed, December 12, 2018

  • Mason, Outbound to Germany

Hallo! I can’t believe I’ve already been here for a month! Everything here is so amazing I don’t even know where to start.

I got here a few days before I went to my language camp, so I got to meet my host family and a few people that live near me. Then I went to language camp and met all of the other exchange students in my district. They’re all so great and we’re all like one big family! Once I got back from language camp, I started school. School in Germany is very different than in the US but I like it a lot. Most days I get out at 1 and then I have the rest of the day to hangout with my classmates. In school I normally only have 3-4 classes a day which last for 2 hours each. We’re also allowed to leave the school during the big break and get food from any of the restaurants nearby. My classmates all help me so much with learning German and all of my teachers are very understanding and very helpful.

My German is getting so much better and I’m already able to have some conversations in German. The culture is so interesting to learn about. Some of the German stereotypes are true, like I think I’ve eaten more bread this month than I have in the past two years back in the US. Another thing that I have to get used to is the fact that there’s actually a winter in Germany. Coming from Florida, I’ve only seen snow once and most years I can wear shorts and a t-shirt in the middle of December. It’s the beginning of October and every morning it’s already around 5°C.

I keep falling more and more in love with Germany every day. Sometimes I’ll be walking with my friends around the city and I’ll see a huge cathedral or see a castle on a hill and like I just think like, “Wait a minute, I’m living in Germany, WHAT?” It’s just so crazy to think that I’m actually on exchange, I always hear stories about people doing this but I never imagined that I would actually be here.

Although I love it here and I’m still in denial that I have to leave this summer, there are some things that are difficult. Things that I took for granted back home like being able to say anything that’s on my mind whenever I want to, are so difficult here. I also find myself missing my friends and family, and being able to go to Friday night football games or seeing all of my friends perform in the school musical; but every time I start to get homesick, I remember that I’m homesick in Germany and everything starts to feel better.

Right now I am writing this journal on the train back from visiting some inbounds from my district in Karlsruhe which is a city a couple hours north of my city. If you told me two years ago that this would be my life, I never would have believed you.

When I was applying for RYE last year, I read almost every journal on the RYE Florida website. So I just want to say, if you’re reading this considering going on exchange next year please do it. This was the best decision I have ever made. It’s only been one month and I have so many new friends and I am learning so many new things.

Auf wiedersehen!!

Fri, October 12, 2018


Murphy - Brazil

Hometown: Ponte Vedra, Florida
School: Ponte Vedra High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Ponte Vedra Sunset, Florida
Host District: 4530
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Araguaína

My Bio

Olá! My name is Murphy Movsovitz, I am a junior at Ponte Vedra High School. I live with my mom, dad, grandma, little sister and little brother. I also have one older sister who is off at college. We have two cats and one dog, that I love to play with. We live in a beautiful community about 15 miles from the beach. It is called Ponte Vedra, Florida. I enjoy driving around soaking in the beauty with my friends, walking along the beach, or sun tanning by the ocean. Being with friends is one of my favorite things to do, I am quite the social butterfly. I have a passion meeting new people and enjoy learning about their culture. I am so incredibly excited to be able to do this for 10 months in Brazil! Although this is my first time ever leaving America, I couldn’t be more thrilled. I love to experience new things, create new friends, and am pumped to learn a new language! I always enjoy a good adventure, and am ready to take on the world. I am so thankful to have been chosen by Rotary Youth Exchange and am honored to represent Florida and America to people from all over the world. I will begin my journey with my head held high and a smile on my face. Hugs and kisses from Brazil!

Journals: Murphy-Brazil Blog 2018-19

  • Murphy, Outbound to Brazil

And just like that here we are at the end of my exchange. 10 months could not have gone by faster yet felt like a lifetime. I am in the ending stages of my exchange and I have never felt nor expected to feel this way. As of today, I have 20 days left in my new home, Araguaína, Tocantins. I can tell you last year at this time I was not excited about coming here and easily not ready to consider this place a home. Now 287 days later, I am sitting and dreading leaving.

The ending of exchange is such a paradox. You feel excited to return home, see your family and friends and house and life after living abroad for 10 months. But at the same time, you are dreading giving up what you have created. It is exactly how they explain it, learning to live with your heart in two separate homes.

While I could not be more excited to hug my Kaki and my Dad, be with my siblings, or kiss my best friends; the thought of leaving my new sister, my new dad, and my new friends makes me feel equally devastated. Moving away from this newly comfortable, free way of life back to reality is daunting. Now the tables have turned, and the fear of the unknown has become my own home. What has changed? How tall is my little brother? How will things be when I get back? While the constant and comfortable has become the life I had once been asking these questions about.

Since the last time I have written a few more extra-noteworthy events have passed by.

I went on the Amazon Rainforest trip. This was 9 days of traveling, we got to visit the capital of the state of Amazonas. Then we embarked on 3 boats and spent 7 days living in the Amazon Rainforest. It was such a special and amazing experience. We slept in hammocks along the boat and passed each day disconnecting to our phones and connecting with each other and nature. I met new friends from all over the world, I got to see breath taking sights, and so much more. This really is a major “to do” for those exchange students heading to Brazil. Some of my favorite activities were canoeing along the river, planting trees in the rainforest, getting to hold a sloth, and even spending the night in the rainforest!

After returning from the trip I experienced the typical “Post Rotary Trip Depression”. I spent lots of time crying and wishing I was home, but nothing new here. Very quickly after I had returned from my Amazon trip, I convinced my parents to let me visit the city where I had wanted to do my exchange, Curitiba. Luckily things worked out and Rotary gave me clearance to go and visit. I had my final Rotary orientation coming up, so I planned my Curitiba trip right after that. The Rotary orientation was a tear jerker being that I had to say my goodbyes to the rest of the exchangers from my district. The kids who openly welcomed me to this country and kept me strong in my times of need, the ones who were facing many of the same problems I had faced, the ones who had soon become some of my best friends for life. Saying goodbye that early was really hard and really was the start of my heart being pulled in two.

Shortly after I was off on my trip to Curitiba. I cannot put into words my love for this city. I have never loved one place so very much, maybe it was because of my wonderful company I had with me, but regardless I know one day I will be going back. Curitiba is a city full of things to do, places to visit, things to explore. It is an ideal place to have an exchange, those going there are quite lucky. I was able to get a taste of the Brazilian city life and some of the luxuries that I was missing back in my good ‘ole cowboy city, Araguaína. At the end of the day I do not regret my extra trip to Curitiba one bit and would easily do it again if I could.

After coming home from Curitiba, I surprisingly felt very little depression. In my head I was expecting to come home and just be smashed by sadness, but it was honestly quite the opposite. I was refreshed with a newfound respect and love for my small little cow town, Araguaína. Yes, Curitiba is beautiful and luxurious and everything I had hoped for from my exchange… but Araguaína is my home. They say that it’s not about the place you go, it’s about what you do with the experience. Although Murphy from 10 months ago would aggressively disagree and probably start crying hearing that, Murphy now would undoubtedly agree.

Yes, if I could go back and choose a country I had wanted, I would. But at the same time, I do not think I would change a single thing about my exchange. The challenges and hard times I faced and was put through only made me into a stronger person than I was in the past. Not to discredit other exchanges being that each is unique to the person and situation, but I feel that receiving a country that 1, you hardly expected to receive and 2, really did not want to receive creates more of a challenge to your exchange. It forces the exchanger to open their mind and become an even more receptive person. I know it was very difficult for me to accept Brazil and then even more difficult accepting knowing I was heading to live in the middle of no where Brazil. But the sensation of knowing I did it, and did it successfully is 100 times more rewarding than that of going to a tourist city in Europe.

For those of you considering exchange, preparing for exchange, or on an exchange reading this:

Keep going, keep pushing, keep your head held high. Regardless of what you are going through now, know that in the end the outcome highly out ways the beginning. In the moment your current problems and issues may seem like the end of the world or may cause you to feel that going home is your only option. It’s not the end of the world and do not even give yourself the option to go home. Finish whatever you start and do it smiling because each challenge we are faced with only makes us stronger. At the end of the day you will regret not taking these opportunities you are given and who wants to live in regret?

For Rotary, my family, and my friends:

Within a few short weeks I will be home and be with you all. All I can say is thank you. One of the biggest lessons I have learned from my exchange is: Be thankful. Be grateful. Be humble. Saying “thank you” never hurts anyone and showing your gratuity is a beautiful thing. I am beyond thankful for Rotary for giving me this opportunity. I am so grateful for my friends and the support they sent me throughout my time here. And my family, I could never say thank you enough to you guys. The overwhelming love and support you guys provide me with helped me push through each day and continue going to create the best exchange I could.

Honestly speaking, did I think I would ever make it to this point in my exchange? No. Did I feel as though the world was constantly against me? Yes. But did I make it out a survivor and a better person? 110% YES!

Sun, June 23, 2019

  • Murphy, Outbound to Brazil

Hello! It has been awhile since my last journal, and man does it feel like it. October feels like it happened eons ago. Let me catch you up to speed.

November- Early December

Through this time, I was going to school, trying to keep busy, form relationships with my classmates, the whole nine yards. I had a very set day to day life. I would wake up and go to school, come home have lunch, nap, workout, eat dinner and repeat. At this point I was not very close with anyone in my city but my host family. As time had gone on, I made some friends from school and others from Rotaract (a volunteer group of people from 18-25 years old). I was still having lots of issues with homesickness being that it was still early in my exchange and it was holiday season. I had some really rough patches but overall stayed strong.

The most important thing I had in this time was working out. I was staying active and healthy and it really helped me clear my head. Which I really needed because I started to have some issues with my host family. I still love and adore them, and I am so incredibly thankful for them. But there were little things that would push my buttons on the daily. None of the issues were major, just little things that happen when you live with someone and are with them 24/7. One really important tip my sweet best friend Grace Schneider told me is: when facing issues on exchange instead of thinking negatively on the problem, look at it from a new perspective. Such as, “Wow, I can’t believe my host mom wakes me up at 7’o’clock every Sunday to clean my room… BUT I can’t believe this is happening in Brazil!” So instead of dreading on the fact that a situation is not ideal, I have found it super beneficial to use this mindset.

I also really enjoyed school, I was able to converse with people and practice my language skills. I have super sweet classmates, so they helped make it a super enjoyable experience. School was also a mini escape from my host house, I was there a lot because my host family never really went out. So, going to school gave me an assured time to go out.

Early December- January

This time period was “ferias” or summer vacation for Brazil. School was over and it was time to celebrate. During this time my host sister and I were going out a lot, hanging out with friends, going to parties, etc. It was super fun and I made some really good friends. I was able to really work on my Portuguese because I was constantly surrounded by only Portuguese speaking people. I got to a really strong point with my language and could taste fluency.

I made some super crazy and fun memories with my host sister and just enjoyed myself the best I could. I never was too bored because there was always someone to hangout with or something to do. Homesickness was still present but was nothing too awful. Like I said, I was super busy so I didn’t ever have too much time alone to think about home. Christmas was a little sad, but I was super excited to celebrate like a Brazilian so it wasn’t awful. I was fairly underwhelmed by how uncelebrated it is here, coming from my family back home who truly decks the halls.


Throughout the whole month of January, I was traveling all over the Northeast of Brazil. Rotary Brazil offers some big trips (you have to pay for) and I chose to take one called, the Northeast Dream Trip. I can confidently say this was one of the best months of my whole life and easily the best of my entire exchange. It was me and 50 other kids from all over the world. I made some amazing friendships, saw some breath-taking sights, and really was able to get to know the Northeast of Brazil.

I cannot describe the gratefulness and joy of what this trip brought to me and my exchange. I was beginning to feel very trapped in my host city, being that it is a fairly small city with very little to do. Taking the trip let me experience some beautiful parts of exchange and beautiful parts of Brazil. The experience was so life changing.

The only issue with going on a trip with 50 other exchange students is that English is used more often than the host language (typically). Due to the universality of English, it is easiest to create bonds and get to know each other in English. For me it was really my first time speaking only English for awhile because my host city has very few English speakers. I definitely saw myself lose some language skills but at the end of the day it was nothing major, and I was able to practice Portuguese with our coordinators and natives in the cities we visited.


In the beginning of February, I got home from my big trip, and the following week I had to change host families. It all happened very quickly and left me in a pretty sad state. After my trip I was exhausted from over 30 days of travelling, I was super sad to have parted from many, many great new friendships, and upset to return to my host city which is very minuscule compared to the giant cities of the Northeast. On top of all that I had to change from my host family who I had become very comfortable living with. My new host family is very kind, I really like them, but any host family change is difficult.

Thankfully school was starting up again, I was very happy to get back and see my friends with my new tan I achieved from “ferias”. Being that my language has become a lot stronger, I am able to participate more in school. It is such an odd feeling than when I first arrived, now that “the gringo” has been living here for 7 months and is no longer hot, fresh, and exciting news. It feels super nice to feel like a regular student who is just living their Brazilian lifestyle, but I can’t lie, being the famous exchange student is also quite fun.


This month has flown by, I feel like it was just last week that I sat down and said, “Time to write this journal, it’s already March.” And now March is over? This month has been full adaptation, 100% living my Araguaínese life. I go to school, come home, eat lunch, workout, and hang out with the host family. It is difficult to go out with friends because school has started back up and everyone is always studying. My class is Brazilian “senior year”, and it is a very important year for them. They take their SAT/ACT, called ENEM, and that decides what course they can take in college. This singular test basically decides what they can do for college.

This month holds the famous Carnaval of Brazil! Where I live unfortunately Carnaval is not celebrated very much, it is more famous in the Northeast. Luckily my new host family took me on a trip to the capital city of my state, Palmas, Tocantins. It is a beautiful city and Carnaval is celebrated there (thankfully). I went to some typical Carnaval “block parties” where everyone runs around in the streets, wearing costumes. I loved this fun little trip, and it definitely helped to get comfortable with the new host family.

I have started going to a gym and doing weight lifting. I walk to and from the gym, and this time is so precious to me. I really try to take in everything and create as strong of a mental picture I can. It is nice to have these 20 minutes just to myself to think because when I am home, my little host siblings are normally all over me and I don’t have too much privacy. Just as working out helped me clear my mind in November, it is doing just the same again now.

Things with my host family have become very smooth and they are really growing on me. My host dad called me “son” for the first time, and it made me feel very happy. Finding little pieces of happiness like that are super important for this time of exchange because things can get incredibly frustrating. The time is ticking away every day, language can be aggravating, homesickness still kicks in, so really working to focus on the positive aspects of exchange is essential.


I am in a really happy state. Yes, I can openly state that the thought of going home crosses my mind at least once a week, but whoever says they don’t think of that is lying. I feel very successful with what I have accomplished so far and am so excited what these next few months have to bring for me and my exchange! I hope you enjoyed and get prepared… next week I leave for my Amazon trip, once week in the Amazon living on a boat!

Hugs and kisses from Brazil!

Thu, March 28, 2019

  • Murphy, Outbound to Brazil

Oi e bem-vindo a meu diário primeiro!

Hi and welcome to my first journal! I have been in Brazil for almost a full month now. It feels crazy to say that, in just these past few weeks I have already experienced some crazy emotions. My first weekend here I stayed in Brazil’s capital, Brasilia, for my Inbound Orientation. Although I was supposed to arrive around late July, I experienced some visa issues and ended up arriving September 6th. During my first weekend I was able to meet all my fellow Inbound students and create some amazing memories.

I arrived after a long 30-hour flight schedule and never had much time to rest. My second day, September 7th, was Brazilian Independence Day in which I woke up at 05:30 to get ready for a parade starting at 07:00. The following day we went to a cachoeira (waterfall) called Itiquari. I had never seen such a massive waterfall in my life, and I was so in awe by its beauty. Our final day of the orientation we got a tour of Brasilia, which is quite an interesting city. It is shaped as an airplane and was only founded about 60 years ago.

After my fantastic weekend of tourism, I flew up to my official host city, Araguaina. There I arrived in the single room airport and was on my way to my first host family’s house. Now I attend school every day from 07:10-12:10 and have been living as a typical Brazilian teenage.

Overall, I have thoroughly enjoyed myself, but I have been very surprised by a few things. Applying for exchange and going through the pre-exchange process, I had never imagined half of the realities I have faced. You can never fully expect what you are getting, regardless of receiving a country on your Top 5 or not. It is basically impossible to fully know what your living conditions, family, and friends will be till you are there living those moments. And to many that might sound absolutely terrifying, but to exchangers, that is the thrill of it all.

Although most of the time exchange seems like this wonderful, vacation-esque life… it’s not. It is so much more than that. Yes, you will experience many situations and trips that will make you so happy and will be drop dead gorgeous, but there will also be days where all you are going to want to do is cry. I thought I would not feel homesick, but boy was I wrong. Everyone feels these emotions in their own way so there really is no way to prepare yourself besides acknowledging the fact that homesickness will come, and that it is difficult.

Along with homesickness, there will be things you miss that you had no clue you would miss. In my city we have no public transportation, no Uber, no bus, no nothing. I have to get my host parents or siblings to take me to almost everything I do. For me, an 18-year-old, (who has been driving for 2 years) this makes me so frustrated and really miss home. Before coming here, I had no idea I was going to miss my beautiful black Honda Civic 2017 so badly.

Despite all of this we are taught to overcome these obstacles. There are two sayings I constantly remind myself when I am feeling down, “Be a problem solver, not a problem causer.” (Love you dad 😉) and “Blossom where you are planted.” (Love you guys too, Abbie and Paula<3). To me these signify what it truly means to be an exchange student. We are faced with tons of problems on a daily basis, and our success depends are how we handle these problems. Whether it be missing a train, getting lost, or not understanding a conversation; the true test of your strength is overcoming and growing.

When all is said and done, I could not be more grateful for where I am in my live right now. I am so thankful to Rotary Youth Exchange for this opportunity. To my amazing mother and father who unconditionally love and support me, to my amazing siblings who always are checking up on me. To my amazing best friends, Kacey and Grace, who never cease to make me smile even though we are thousands of miles away. To my host family who are bending over backward to make sure I am enjoying myself. To the friends here who pretend to understand me when I am trying to speak Portuguese. To so many spectacular things that help create my unique exchange.


Murphy Movsovitz

Mon, October 15, 2018


Rory - Italy

Hometown: Ponte Vedra, Florida
School: Nease High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Ponte Vedra Beach Sunset, Florida
Host District: TBA
Host Club: TBA

My Bio

Ciao! My name is Rory Karasulu and I am going to Italy next year for my junior year. I am currently a sophomore at Nease High School and live with my parents, my little brother Lucas, and my two cats in Ponte Vedra, Florida. I’ve lived in Florida my whole life and haven’t had much of an opportunity to travel so I am beyond excited to learn about new people and cultures. I love to go to the beach with my friends and my family, but most of the time you can find me practicing the flute at home. I spend most of my time doing anything band related from after school rehearsals to weekend fundraisers or competitions. I am in Nease marching and concert band. I play the flute there as well as perform at other events. I am also in the IB program at Nease and even though it’s tough and a lot of work, I do a pretty good job keeping up with my grades and the work load. I also like to go to the beach with my friends and family on the weekends. On my exchange I hope I get to know and understand the Italian language an culture. I am so thankful to Rotary, my family and my future host family and hope that Italy will be a new place I can call home. Arrivederci!

Journals: Rory-Italy Blog 2018-19

  • Rory, Outbound to Italy

Hey everyone buckle in because I’m about to cover five months of journaling in one monster Journal. I’ve been in this gorgeous country of Italy for a little over five months now and it’s been absolutely amazing, even though it comes with its difficulties. I hadn’t really written any journals both because it wasn’t something I felt particularly excited to do but also because I felt like maybe my exchange wasn’t good enough or I wasn’t doing well enough as an exchange student to write something that would be helpful to any of you thinking about or going on exchange. It’s a lot of pressure when everyone talks about exchange as the most magical time of their lives and you want to live up to that. But the truth is that exchange is incomparable and no matter the ups and downs, I have already taken so much away from this experience in so many positive ways. I feel a little guilty about not journaling though so I’m going to try to tell you all about these crazy five months.


Month one was pretty crazy. You’ve heard everybody talk about jet lag and culture shock. The flight was pretty bad and when there was a five-hour delay for my flight to London Heathrow they transferred me to a flight going to Lisbon last minute and I barely made my flight. You just have to push through it if you run into any airport nonsense (I hope you don’t). But nobodies ever not gotten there so it’s nothing to worry about. The jet lag and diet change really don’t make you feel good when you get there. I couldn’t really handle eating all that pasta (even though it was so delicious). But all the new experiences are enough to make up for and yucky travel side effects. I was taking pictures of every little street and my host family thought I was crazy. They were so welcoming from the second I got there and luckily I get to stay with them the entire year. They always treat me like family and do small things that are really kind. The second week I got here my host mom took me to show me how to walk to school and we had a cappuccino and chocolate croissant at the bar across the street. My host sister who’s thirteen always wanted a sister so she took it upon her self to teach me Italian with board games and her favorite TV shows and it’s one of the main reasons I can speak pretty well now.

Month one was also the month when I started school. Everyone came and shook my hand at the door really excited about the new exchange student. It seemed to me that to them meeting a foreigner was so fascinating because in Italy most people are Italian like you would think. The United States is pretty new compared to Europe so people who aren’t 100% American much more common than in Italy. You guys will get sooo many questions about American culture and movies. My favorite question of all time that they ask is, “Do you put the pasta in the water before it boils?”

School was fun and it was really interesting to see the differences between Italian and American school but it’s really hard to make friends. Because they’ve been in school with the same people for three years and I live in a very small town.

I live in Tivoli, which is a little outside of Rome and it is the cutest thing ever. There are three beautiful Villa’s and an actual castle. The history is so interesting too because it’s actually older than Rome and It’s small so I can walk everywhere and it’s not too much colder than Florida.


Coming into my second month I still spoke pretty bad Italian, but you could see it improve every day. The improvement could really be seen when we would go to my host Grandma’s (nonna) house every Sunday for lunch. The food is so amazing and they have a farm where the grandfather makes his own fresh ricotta and mozzarella, grows his own tomatoes, and hunts his own rabbit. They gave us a tour of the whole thing and I was in love with the big white sheepdogs.

During my second month in Italy, I also became friends with the one other Canadian exchange student and we’ve always been there to help each other through our exchange because we’re the only two students in our area. (now three because of the new Australian student)

My host mom also took her, my host sister, and I to Florence and Naples when she had to go there for work. It was so much fun to see everything and eat our way through the cities, literally. Florence had gorgeous churches everywhere it was absolutely beautiful.

In Naples, we met a few colleagues of my host mom who were participating in a food festival and we ate food at every single one of the cute wooden stands.


In November I had to start dealing with a lot of my host families drama. It really made me want to switch families even though I already felt so at home with them. But it got better and Rotary let me know that if it ever became serious then they would help me change families.

December was awesome. I did get homesick around Christmas but I wouldn’t give up experiencing Natale for ten other Florida Christmas’s. We only ate seafood on Christmas Eve and when it was midnight on Christmas Day we all gave the Baby Jesus a kiss and opened presents. We barely slept before we went back to my host Nonna’s house to eat traditional Christmas Italian food.

I was also my birthday! And I’m so fortunate for the host family that I have because they took me to Vienna and we got to see museums and Christmas markets and all the sightseeing.


Because my host mom is addicted to traveling (I’m not complaining it’s so nice) we spent the new year in Tenerife, Spain. It was gorgeous and me and my little host sister hopped on the bus and explored the island by ourselves while my host parents stayed at the hotel.

It was so interesting to communicate because we would speak Italian, and the locals would speak to us in Spanish but we still understood each other and had conversations in the two different languages.

And by now in the present day, I feel so much better with the language and the culture. I don’t consider myself fluent, but I would like to be by the end of exchange even though it’s very hard to define the meaning of fluent.

It’s hard when there’s drama and when it’s hard to make Italian friends but I’m still having an amazing time. I used to think that my exchange wasn’t good enough and I was so stressed and determined to have the life-changing exchange that all the Rotex talk about at Lake Yale. It stopped me from taking away the positive things and when you stop caring about what you don’t have, you realize you’re still in a whole foreign country and there’s so much to do. I can honestly say that I’m having an amazing time with the ups and the downs. Rome and Tivoli finally feel like my cities.

Tue, February 19, 2019

Zach - Norway

Hometown: Ponte Vedra, Florida
School: Ponte Vedra High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
Host District: 2250
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Klepp

My Bio

Hello! I am Zach Greenwald, and I’m heading to Norway! I currently live in Ponte Vedra, Florida and in 11th grade. I’m in love with both music and theatre, so naturally when their combined in to this magical thing called musical theatre, I’m definitely all about it! I have three dogs and a brother and sister, in which the latter is involved with theatre as well. Playing piano is also one of my main hobbies as well, as a big goal of mine is to end up composing soundtracks for movies and even musicals hopefully on that really cool thing in New York called Broadway! Now about my take on Norway, I was in disbelief when I heard that that’s where I’d be heading as the first region that popped into my mind when I decided I apply for exchange was Europe, and more specifically Scandinavia. To me Scandinavia seemed like such an abstract place because I knew so little about it, but I did know people had lived there for a very long time and remained fairly isolated which would explain why they all speak different languages in each of the countries and implied a culture unique to that place specifically. I have incredible and amazing friends in Ponte Vedra that I will no longer be graduating with, but the biggest draw for exchange for me was the challenge of being forced to be outgoing and connect with people before I leave, being outgoing and fearless while I’m on exchange to defeat the language barrier, and use all the skills I’ve acquired to simply make new friends when I get back and for the rest of my life. I’m just so excited!

Journals: Zach-Norway Blog 2018-19

  • Zach, Outbund to Norway

I’ve been in Norway for a little over a month now, which is unbelievably shorter than what it has felt like. Norway’s incredibly easygoing nature has made it easy to find a day to day week to week rhythm after less than five weeks. When I first arrived, I had spent a few days with my exchange counselor to sort out paperwork and wait for my luggage to arrive. That was the first time I was able to try ‘typical’ Norwegian food, which basically means bread with butter or jelly with any type and of meat on top for breakfast, then a 4:00 PM dinner with again some grilled meat and potatoes.

Right now I’m living with my amazing host family in a small farming town called Varhaug. By small, I mean that 3,000 people live here and if you look it up on Google, the number one spot on the things to do list is visit the cemetery, which was actually a beautiful cliff side view. There’s a cow pasture for each direction you look with sheep just about everywhere in between. In the morning I take a 7:16 train ride to the city Sandnes, for school. In Norway there are thirteen years of school before university yet specialization in fields and lines begin in the 11th year in a casual high school like setting. Each day has a new set of classes that reconvene once to twice a week, such as history which I only have on Fridays. The classmates however, are the same for every class as we’re all apart of the 12th year drama department class which consists of about 28 girls and 4 boys (including me). Since we’re the drama class most of or courses consist of various theatre related classes such as theatre history, theatre production, and theatre and movement. There is absolutely no competition among peers for grades, but rather a pass-fail type system to weed out the kids that even show interest in moving on to universities which often isn’t the case as many can get a sufficient degree for jobs right out of high school.

I got an amazing opportunity to travel to the southern tip of Norway in a town called Lyngdal, where I met the other 32 exchange kids to Norway. 17 of those kids are from Canada and the USA with the rest coming from various South American and European countries. Our common situation made bonding unbelievably easy. In between the Norsk language lessons by the exchange officials, we got to explore the area through mountain hikes and visits to salmon farms. Most of the time however, was spent swimming, first in the Fjord until the French exchange student named Thomas got stung by a jellyfish, then in the hotels indoor pool, which has been the only place I’ve actually gotten warmed in the otherwise unflinching 40-50 degree summer weather.

It would take pages to even scratch the surface of the differences between Norway and the USA as most are within the casual subtleties of life. The nature of this experience however is to forget what everything I think I know about how people should generally and buy in to this Norwegian version of life as much as I can even if it means standing on the train everyday (because apparently if someone sits on one seat they claim the whole row and they’ll passive aggressively show you their rage if you infringe on their unnecessary amount of space). It is with this attitude that allows me and my fellow exchange students to slowly everyday begin to see this obscure Northern European country as home.

Sun, March 3, 2019

  • Zach, Outbound to Norway

A few weeks ago I officially passed the five month mark on my exchange which depressingly means I’m more than halfway done with this adventure. In four months time I’ll be back in PV preparing for my senior year of high school. It’s no exaggeration to say this school year has been the fastest of my life almost even to the point where it seems to be escaping me.

The Norwegian language is tricky business because as much as I think I know, all it takes is a person who lives two hours away to remind me I can pretty much only speak and understand the language in Rogaland, the region I live in. I’m pleased nonetheless, as in class I can at the very least understand what the topic we’re learning is about. Talking with my friends isn’t too bad as they know they have to speak slow if they want me in on a conversation. Then there’s Phillip, my history teacher (Yes in Norway they call the teachers by their first name). This guy is German, speaks fluent English and Norwegian, and hasn’t said a word to me in English at all besides one time during an oral test. I know that he’s really just trying to help me with the language but some of my friends can’t even understand his way of speaking Norwegian. Luckily the class is basically a toned down version of World History at PVHS, so I haven’t really failed any test yet.

Despite currently being with a Dutch host family, my Christmas was about as Norwegian as it could get. In Norway the day of Christmas is actually on the 24th, and on that day I went back to my first host family to celebrate during the day. We went inside a barn with a bunch of other families and waited until the “barn Santa” entered from behind the hay to collect his porridge and give gifts to all the little kids. He came with a classic Santa gift sack and one by one called the names of the kids who would collect their prize and give him a hug. Naturally I was called and by far the oldest of the group. During the night I stayed with my current host family and ate traditional Norwegian Christmas food and exchanged gifts which were mostly things I could use to keep warm as the array of clothes I brought were no match for the winter here.

There’s actually a million things I could talk about in this last paragraph, but one thing in particular epitomizes exactly what I feel youth exchange is all about, and it happened yesterday (or the day before I wrote this piece 01/26/19). It was a Saturday and all I really had planned was to meet my fellow exchanger friends from Germany and Canada at the library in the city about a 25 minute train ride from where I live. I arrived an hour earlier so I could stop at a café and play piano in the libraries music room. The German girl arrived first and we waited for about an hour until finally the Canadian says she won’t make it. From that point the day just got crazier as we decided to grab something to eat and saw there was an Ethiopian restaurant not too far and ate there. Neither of us had ever eaten Ethiopian food before but it was basically different kinds of meat, beans, and sauce on an extremely spongy bread. After some more walking we stumbled upon a little studio with a sign that read “GRATIS AFRIKANSE DANSSEKLASSE” which means free African dance class. It started ten minutes from when we arrived and after some convincing I got my friend to go inside. We were just thrown into it and just began to copy the choreography which was mostly different ways of stomping on the ground to the beat of a drum. After a whole hour of this the leader of the group said we’d be moving in to a church to perform for a few people. A few people ended being roughly 150 and before you know it, it was an African dance party in a church with 150+ older Norwegian folks on a Saturday. This is exactly what an open mind and a plan-less day can get you here in Norway and I’m hoping for a few more days like this one.

Sun, March 3, 2019


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