Read our exchange students’ journals below. Only students submitting two or more journals are included here.
Aleida - Croatia
Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Gainesville, Florida
Host District: 1913
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Pula
Bok! My name is Aleida Wells and I will be spending next year in the beautiful country of Croatia. I am fourteen and in my freshman year in the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program at Eastside High School. I have lived in Gainesville, Florida with my parents, younger brother, dog, and cat my entire life. Ever since fourth grade I have wanted to study abroad, so I am beyond excited to live in Croatia for an entire year! I have close relationships with all of my friends and hang out with them a lot of my free time. Otherwise, I like to read a good book or listen to music. I love to do anything artistic, from writing to photography to drawing to theater. I also enjoy learning about other cultures and languages so I am eager to become fluent in Croatian next year and accustomed to the unique traditions of Croatia. I hope to gain a more wide perspective of the world and take home new ideas that I can share with others and incorporate into my life and art. In addition, I look forward to picking up new skills and hobbies along the way so I can expand my comfort zone. Although I will miss my friends and family (especially my sweet dog, Clover, and my cat, Buttercup), I cannot wait to start my study abroad adventure in Croatia. Doviđenja!
Journals: Aleida-Croatia Blog 2019-20
- Aleida, Outbound to Croatia
June 12, 2020
It has been a very long time since my last journal, which I apologize for. I think something that you don’t expect when you go on exchange is to get so caught up in life that you forget that you are there temporarily, and to almost forget that life happened before you left to go abroad. Life here became so normal that it felt strange to write about it like a travel blog, since it didn’t feel like I was on a vacation anymore. It just felt like my day to day existence. That’s not to say that life became mundane or unhappy in any way, actually quite the opposite. The more normal that life became, the happier I grew. Because it meant that I had started to form friendships so that I wasn’t so alone, and had grown comfortable with my city so that it wasn’t as novel and mysterious like when I had first arrived; it just became my home.
So now I am about five weeks away from my departure date, and it’s sad, because as I think any student who has studied abroad can attest to, it’s right when you’re about to leave when it seems like everything is finally completely falling into place. Now that I have made and solidified so many amazing friendships, and now that I can actually imagine staying here and never leaving, is when my time is coming to an end. Which I know will be very difficult.
I’m not going to get into everything that has happened in the last eight months or so, because that would take up pages and pages and pages. But I’ll go over a little bit of what has been going on lately. Of course, with coronavirus, a lot of exchanges have been sadly cut short. I’m lucky enough that it never got bad enough here that I felt that I was safer in the US than in Pula; in fact, coronavirus has been very sparse in my particular region. For over a month already, almost everything has been opened; the countless cafes, the mall, restaurants, markets, public buses, sports practices. It actually feels like normal here. The only differences are the hand sanitizers at the entrance to every store and the signs that ask people to keep some distance (which honestly people don’t really follow). But life feels more or less the same. It also helps that the weather has gotten beautiful here (with the occasional rainy day), so people are often on the many walking paths through the forests or by the coast, enjoying the beginning of summer.
Myself, I have been seeing friends whenever I can (their online school ends next week, so then we’ll be able to go out more often) and going to rowing practice five days a week, which is great because even if I’m having a lonely or unproductive day, rowing always makes sure I get outside and moving and around other people. I’ve loved going on picnics with my friends by the water, or biking through the lush green forest, or just going on hours of meandering walks along the coast. Tomorrow is especially exciting because it’s my 16th birthday (!!) and I’m going to spend it with my host family at a pizza place, and then with several of my friends on the beach.
If you were wondering, my Croatian has been coming along. I am definitely not fluent by any means, but I am able to communicate effectively. My host mom still forgets to talk to me in Croatian (she’s trying to improve her English), but my host dad speaks to me exclusively in Croatian and many of my friends speak just in Croatian with me as well. I do wish I was able to understand more than I do, but I am also proud of the amount that I have learned, especially considering how complicated of a language it is.
Because of coronavirus, the remainder of our trips were cancelled, like they were for most other students in other countries as well. Personally, I was meant to go skiing in Austria, on a spring trip to Dubrovnik (south of Croatia), to London, and Eurotour. While I was initially a little sad about missing out on all of these trips, it all worked out for me really well in the end and actually became something positive. Had I gone on all of the trips, I would have collectively been gone from Pula about 7 weeks or so. But since I had to stay here, I’ve had more opportunities to see my friends here and explore the city. If everything had gone as originally planned, I would have not visited so many amazing places in the very city I live in, and I don’t believe I would have gotten as close to my friends as I have. To me, spending time with people here is far more valuable than going on trips to places that I can always visit again in the future.
I think in general there is something to be learned from that. No matter what happens or goes wrong (because things will go wrong at some point), you have to try to make the best of it and go forwards with a positive outlook. I have learned and grown so much more from the difficult, disappointing, and embarrassing experiences than I ever have from everything going perfectly. At times on your exchange, you will mess up, say something wrong, take the wrong bus, maybe not take an opportunity you should have or not talk to somebody you could have. And as unfortunate as those situations are, and as terrible as they might make you feel, each time you will learn better how to cope, and what to do differently the next time, and you will come out the other side a better and more mature person.
In regards to my host family, I have a bit of a unique situation, since I never changed families the entire year. There is one other exchange student in Pula, and the original plan was for us to switch families sometime in January or February. But we were both so happy with our respective families that we decided not to. While I understand that it can be good to change families to get new experiences, I think staying with the same one has been really positive for me. I’ve been able to get to know and form deeper ties with my host family, and I have become very familiar with the area I live in, beaches and beautiful areas I can walk to, and the bus routes that I can take. Without having to worry about getting to know a new family and area every few months, I have been able to focus more on making friends and growing in other aspects.
At this point in my exchange, I can’t even fathom going back to life in Florida. I don’t remember the last time I was seriously homesick. Occasionally I’ll have a lonely day where I don’t see a friend or get anything done, and I’ll call my mom back in Florida to catch up, hear her voice, and fill some of the empty space. But that is a feeling I was familiar with before exchange, and isn’t unique to being abroad. For me, I don’t think I followed the ‘typical’ homesickness arch that you’re shown. Of course, it will vary for every person, but my homesickness during the year was based off of events that happened rather than the timeline itself. The most homesick I have been this whole year was within the first week that I was here, and during a rough patch sometime in the winter when I didn’t yet have solid friendships and the weather prevented any outdoor activities or many social outings. At those times, I sometimes felt like it would never get better, and that a part of me would always long for my established friends in Florida. But as time has progressed, I’ve realized that those bouts of homesickness were amplified by my internal monologue glorifying life back in Florida. I would compare my loneliness here to how much ‘fun’ I thought people must be having in the US. But then I would have to remind myself what life in Florida actually was like, rather than how I was painting it in my head.
In reality, when you are missing something and aren’t experiencing it anymore, you tend to make it seem much greater and more exciting than how it actually is. And while that thought didn’t necessarily lessen my homesickness, it allowed me to now have a greater appreciation for the time I am here, so that I can look back on it and genuinely have beautiful memories of my life here. I’m not sure if any of that made much sense, but long story short, try your hardest not to put your life in your home country on a pedestal. You have spent 15, 16, 17 years living there, and you are going to have a lifetime there when you return (if you choose to stay). But the year that you have in your host country is fleeting, and while you may come back in the future to visit, or possibly live, you will never be there at that same moment in time, surrounded by the same kind of network of your host family and friends. So, at risk of sounding like a broken record, just enjoy your time there and truly take as many chances for growth and exploration as you can.
Something else that I think is worth noting is that once you form bonds with people in your host country, it makes the world and the future seem a lot less daunting. Knowing that you have the ability to grow roots and thrive in a foreign location where you initially had nobody is very empowering. And it puts your relationships back in your home country into perspective. That’s not to say that you have to lose friends back home; I have so many wonderful friends in Florida that I know that I will have for life. But for me, it made me realize that I don’t have to feel such pressure to create an entire, perfect circle of friends in Florida that I will be with forever. There are so, so many people in the world that you will meet throughout your life, and you don’t have to limit yourself to meeting people from the same city or state that you originate from. It is important to gain new perspectives through global friendships, and through friends that have different interests and come from different walks of life. Being here has taught me that I don’t have to cling so tightly to where I come from, that I can let go of toxic cultures in my hometown, and that wherever I am, I don’t have to settle for being around people who don’t value me as a person, or who make me feel bad about myself.
This year has absolutely been the best of my life, I have learned more about myself and the world than I ever thought I would in one year. And I truly do not want to leave the life I have built here. But as sad as I am that my departure date will eventually come, I know that this is not the end of my journey, but the beginning. I hope that if you decide to go abroad, that your experience will be as enlightening and beautiful as mine has been here. All the misfortunes and low moments are all, one hundred percent, worth it.
Chao! I have been in Croatia for almost a month now (I arrived on August 31st), which is absolutely surreal to think about. It’s so strange how the months of preparation preceding my arrival felt like they would never end, and now that I’m actually here the speed of time has doubled. It feels as though I’ve been here for three times as long as I’ve actually have; so much has happened!
Where am I?
I am in the city Pula, which is a city on the northern coast of Croatia in the region called Istria. It is only three hours away from Venice by ferry boat (across the Adriatic Sea). Since it is so close in proximity to Italy, there are lots of Italian influences. For example, my host family speaks fluent Italian in addtion to Croatian; there are ruins and historical structures throughout the city from when it was under Roman rule, such as the huge, beautiful ampitheater downtown; and a lot of the food in this area is similar to Italian food, so lots of bread, pasta, pizza, fish, olives, olive oil, tomatoes, and cheese. Since I’m a vegetarian, I haven’t had any of the seafood, but I hear it’s really good and always fresh. What I’ve noticed is that life here revolves a lot around food and family. Often people will discuss what they will be preparing for the day’s meals, and people like to eat as a whole family. And people eat so much here! I was not expecting that. Whenever I don’t want to eat anymore, my host parents will always try to get me to eat more because they don’t think I’ve had enough. This is all very different from my home in Florida because my family doesn’t eat together all that often, and what or when we’re going to eat in the future is never something we think or talk about. I also am not used to having to eat multiple full meals a day; usually at home I eat maybe one big meal and snacks throughout the day. But regardless, the food here is delicious and fresh. My host mom loves to go to the market downtown to get all fresh fruits. She also loves the beach! My house here is only a five minute drive from her favorite beach. Especially in the first week I was here, she and I would go to the beach every day for hours. The ocean here is lovely; I actually haven’t gone swimming yet, but the water is so blue, clear, and still. And the sunsets are breathtaking! The ocean isn’t the only beautiful thing about Pula; the city itself is so lovely. The roads are fairly small (which is typical for European towns) but it’s really charming. Also, there is maybe five stoplights in the entire city; everywhere else there are just roundabouts.
People and Language
About the people… most people here are very welcoming and friendly! Everybody greets eachother with a kiss on each cheek or a hug. When I go downtown with my host mom, she stops maybe twenty times in one outing because of all the people she sees that she knows. People love to talk, and talk loudly. It can be frustrating since I can understand literally nothing from the conversations I hear, but I find it interesting to listen to the language. Everything flows together so beautifully, and it makes me want to learn the language so much more so that I can actually have conversations in Croatian! The language has been the main struggle for me since I’ve arrived. Almost everybody speaks good English (people in older generations tend to only know a couple phrases), including my host family and all of my classmates at school, so it is very difficult for me to practice. I’ve pretty much resorted to saying only very basic and occasional things in Croatian and speaking English for nearly everything, which is disappointing. I am definitely going to start studying more phrases so that I can start to incorporate them more into my daily conversations and eventually start speaking Croatian more. Honestly, I didn’t have the best foundation for language when I got here. I had tutoring for a couple months which was amazing because I got a feel for the language, learned quite a bit of vocabulary, and started to understand the (very) complicated grammar. But unfortunately I forgot some vocabulary and didn’t learn enough phrases that I can actually use. On top of that, I am a more introverted person and I find it very intimidating to even say simple things in the language. I am definitely working on becoming more confident in saying things in Croatian, but I also need to devote more time to actually studying and learning new things. It’s a work in progress, for sure. The best advice I can give to future outbounds is to study the language as much as you can. But also don’t beat yourself up too much if you’re having trouble with it. The main lesson I’ve had to learn is to stop dwelling on what you could have done or studied or prepared in the past, and start setting a new precedent for yourself. If you’re having trouble studying your language, just devote small amounts of time each day to learning a few new phrases or vocabulary, and realize that short daily studying over time is worth more than occasional cram studying. I know that I really did a disservice to myself while getting ready to go abroad by being so intimidated by studying the language that I just never did it. Also! It will really, really help if instead of just doing flashcards or memorization for studying, you actually try to incorporate some of the language into your daily conversations. I didn’t do this, but I think it would have been very beneficial for me. So when you’re talking to your parents, siblings, friends, etc., talk in English, but then afterwards say the same thing but in your host language. It will help you get used to actually saying the words out loud and also help you know which phrases you will be using most often and what you should try to learn the best.
School has been an interesting experience for me. I started on September 9th, which is almost a month after I start school in Florida. I take 15 classes, which sounds absurd, but is not as bad as one might think since students here hardly ever get homework. The classes I currently take are: English, French, Croatian, Latin, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Math, Informatics, Geography, History, Ethics, Art History, Music History, and PE. I actually do participate in many of my classes, but in several of them all I do is sit there or copy the notes even though I don’t understand them. Really how much I participate depends on the teacher; for example my Chemistry teacher was upfront with me from the first day I had her class and told me that I would do nothing in her class. My Physics teacher, however, explains everything to me in English and even prints out some worksheets in English so I can follow along. And during a double English class we had, my professor had me give a presentation about my life– it lasted the entire two blocks, so almost an hour and a half, since the teacher kept asking me questions and telling me to elaborate. Something that is also different about school here is that during lunch break and during your free blocks if you have any, you can just walk around the city center and get food outside of school. My school is right in the center of the city, which is very convenient for getting a quick snack or hanging out after school with friends. Speaking of friends, it is so important to put yourself out there and make an effort to make local friends! Being outgoing, especially in new situations, is something I have always struggled with, so I am very grateful that many of the kids in my class are very welcoming. But I have still made a concious effort to be more open to making friends, even though it can be difficult at times. I feel like even being here for the short while I have has made me a more adaptable and outgoing person. It’s not like I have turned into a completely different person, but I’ve learned how to be more comfortable in social situations. I’ve already seen several different people outside of school, and I hope that I will continue to build friendships here and hang out with friends. I know that although it can be awkward in the beginning to connect with people, it will be so rewarding after time has passed to have friends and people here that I can depend on and enjoy being with.
Unfortunately, none of the classes I take here in Croatia or grades I receieve will count for credit back in Florida, so I’m going to have to take several classes online when I get back. If you are going on exchange, you will definitely want to talk to your school counselor at home so that you can sort out your credits and everything. I know that sounds like a given, but it took so long to finalize how my credits will play out. In fact, I first started talking with my school counselor in early December, so right around the time I found out I was coming to Croatia. I am so, so glad that I did because she was able to get me enrolled in a 10th grade Florida Virtual School class that I completed and recieved a credit for. This means I don’t have to worry about making up that particular class now, so it is one less class I will have to take online my junior year.
What I’ve been doing!
So much has happened in the last month, I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to write down. I’ve traveled to many parts of Croatia already (both with my host family and with the other inbounds in Croatia), gone to Venice (!!); taken the wrong bus home and momentarily gotten lost in the ciy; joined a rowing team here; gone to a climate march with lots of people from my school; made many friends; eaten lots of pasta and bread; gone for walks by the beach at sunset; and more. My host family has been so kind to take me to lots of different places. There are many seaside towns all around Pula, so we are a short drive from the sweetest cities, such as Rovinj and Fažana. I have also visited Rijeka (meaning ‘River’ in Croatian), since my host sister goes to medical school there. During inbound orientation, I got to go to Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. Zagreb, having a population of almost one million, is also the largest city in Croatia. I loved all of the beautiful buildings and parks throughout Zagreb; because of its location, it has lots of Austro-Hungarian architechture. This is the same with Varaždin, a beautiful city near Zagreb that I also visited during inbound orientation. The other exchange students and I also went to Plitvička jezera (Plitvice Lakes), the most renowned national park. It is absolutely gorgeous! I am lucky enough to have been able to visit Venice, Italy with my host family earlier this month. Since we traveled there by boat, we got to see the gorgeous buildings and bridges lining the Grand Canal as we were arriving.
As much as I’ve done and seen while being here, I’ve also spent a lot of time relaxing and just enjoying being here. It is still just ordinary life many days, even though I am still always in awe with everything, from the beautiful buildings to the stray cats everywhere. I love to take the bus home because it is always nice to look out the window at the city passing by, just reflecting and thinking quietly. The amazing thing about exchange is that you have the opportunity to come to a completely different place, thousands of miles away from everything and everyone you know, and start a new life. Nobody has any preconceptions about you, and everything is undeniably different. While such a drastic change can be difficult and scary, it also puts you and your life in perspective. It gives you this power to be independent and make your own happiness . It shows you the infinite possibilities in life. So while life may be ‘mundane,’ it really doesn’t feel that way because you have a newfound appreciation for the littlest things.
First off, I just want to say that everybody on exchange truly has a different experience. For me, the first week was definitely the hardest. Walking through the airports and getting on my flights felt like an out of body experience, like I was this different person and everything was changing. And while I was extremely nervous, I was also so, so excited. Then I arrived in Pula and I was absolutely exhausted. But since it was still very early in the day, I spent the whole day going around the city with my host parents seeing things and talking with them. Since I was so busy that first day, when I finally got the chance to go to bed, I had been awake for almost 30 hours and I hadn’t processed being in another country alone. Once it hit me, I was extremely homesick. While I still managed to engage with my host family, in the back of my mind I was always sad. At one point I was even panicky and questioning why I was there at all. And while I know Rotary advises you to not contact home for the first month, I relied heavily on texting and sometimes calling my mom during the first week; it actually made me feel less homesick to be able to talk to her. But I found as time went on, I naturally started to acclimate to living in Croatia, and I just stopped texting my family. It wasn’t a concious choice to just drop all communication with home, I just stopped feeling the need to talk to them. I still occasionally text them to say hello and so forth, but at this point I feel so much more comfortable with living here that it feels like home, and I don’t have to rely on a connection with Florida. So, what I would say is that you need to give it time and try to wait out the homesickness. And stay strong! It feels awful and never ending, but the more you dwell on it the more it will hurt. What really helped me was writing in my journal, thinking through it by myself, and also engaging more in my life in Croatia. The more your host country feels like a home, the less you will miss your first home.
Okay! So there is a lot more I could probably write about, but I think this journal has gone on long enough. If you are thinking about applying, go for it! It will be an experience that you will never forget and one that will give you back more than you could ever imagine. If you are starting the application process, I would say do not get discouraged by all the essays, interviews, etc.! While it seems like it is taking forever and a day, you will be on a flight to your country before you know it. And if you are in your host country right now, maybe struggling with homesickness or making friends or language, remember that you are never alone. There are countless people behind you, cheering you on. Never feel weighed down by the expectations of others, because if you are giving it your all, that is all that really matters. Get the most out of this year, but also remember to slow down and appreciate it while it lasts. 🙂
Thanks for reading my journal! I hope you enjoyed and got something from it. Come back in another month or so for another update! 🙂 Chao!
Sun, September 29, 2019
Aliya - Slovakia
Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Gainesville, Florida
Host District: 2240
Host Club: Rotary Club of Žilina
Ahoj! My name is Aliya Riechers and I am absolutely thrilled to be spending my senior year in Slovakia. I am 17 years old and I currently attend Gainesville High School as a junior. I come from a loving, blended family. I live with my dad, step mom, and three younger siblings. I spend most of my free time reading books and studying photography. I’m passionate about the art of nature and I am very lucky to be studying abroad in one of the most beautiful countries in the world. I was intrigued by RYE not only because of the experience I’d be gaining but also because of the skills I’d be learning. Things like: cultural diversity, independence, responsibility, communication and people skills, not to mention another language. Not only would I be carrying the amazing memories of my exchange, but also the tools that made it successful. My goals for my exchange are: to become fluent in Slovak, make friends, master a new skill, join a club, learn a recipe, and to overcome my shyness. I want to make my family proud by proving to myself that I can accomplish anything. Thank you to RYE for welcoming me into your program and giving me this amazing opportunity to discover not only the world but myself as well.
Journals: Aliya-Slovakia Blog 2019-20
- Aliya,Outbound to Slovakia
Ahojte. It’s been about five and a half months of me living in Slovakia. I swear, the days here have just been going by quicker and quicker. It’s hard to imagine myself back in August when I was on the plane first coming here. I’m definitely a more evolved version of myself now. That doesn’t mean it’s not still difficult but exchange has already taught me how to really support myself independently.
I’m half way through my exchange already and I will say the first half was a lot slower. The first half was great, I had so much fun. I actually wasn’t expecting my honeymoon stage to last so long. When Christmas and my birthday hit is when the dazed feelings wore off. I think the second half of my exchange has been the most difficult for me, for others it’s the opposite. The same experience depends on the person. Even students in the same city and school have different feelings at different times. I try to remember and not compare myself or my experiences with the other exchange students here.
But just because recently it’s been more difficult doesn’t mean I haven’t had fun.
It’s winter time here in Slovakia and it’s the first time I’ve seen snow. I get to skiing, also for the first time, next month. I couldn’t be more excited… or more scared to break my legs.
I think it’s good to put your efforts into all of the 5 fingers (of a successful exchange) that being: host family, school, local friends, youth exchange friends, and Rotary Club. So you can try to have a good support system wherever and whenever you need it. Not all of them will be great all of the time and you have to keep that in mind.
I like to keep myself busy with the gym, cheerleading practice, friends, and my host family. I actually just switched host families at the end of last month and I gotta say it was the best timing. I feel really comfortable with my “new” host family and it feels so refreshing and comforting that I get to end my exchange living here.
I can’t wait for all of the trips I get a chance to go on. I’ve already been to so many cities in my country. I’ve even traveled to Poland with my school and to Austria with Rotary. Did I mention that I get to go to the Czech Republic at the end of this month? I’m going on a trip with my cheerleading team, and I couldn’t be happier. In May/ June I get to go on Eurotour. Every student who went to Europe on exchange says it’s the most fun they’ve had. I’m so excited for it to come but I know it will be here in only a blink of an eye It’s so crazy to me that in a few months I’ll be going back to my home in Florida where most people you meet speak only one language and the weather is always the same. I’m so grateful to have gotten to have my experiences here, even if that means I’ll have to leave it soon.
Thu, February 13, 2020
Aliyah - Netherlands
Hometown: DeLand, Florida
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of DeLand Breakfast, Florida, Florida
Host District: 1650
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Apeldoorn-Noord
Hoi! My name is Aliyah Molina. I am 16 and going to DeLand High School. I live with my mom, dad, little brother, and three dogs. Although, next year I’m going to be living with a different family in the Netherlands for my Junior year of high school! So exciting! I used to live in Italy (my father was military) for three years and then we moved to Florida when I was ten (retirement). So going back to Europe and living there again is amazing! I heard the Netherlands is rich in art and I love to draw. I also love to listen to Kpop and watch Anime and those inspire my art. Reading is a big hobby of mine and I have so many books that I bought but haven’t read yet. I especially love plays. I didn’t get theatre this year but I did get ROTC and DMM1 which I am in course two of both. In ROTC I am an element leader, meaning I am a higher rank than most second years and I have the responsibility of making sure first years learn all they can to prepare them for next year. I hope they have some sort of ROTC program in the Netherlands. Or DMM1 which stands for Digital Multi-Media. The class is all adobe. Photoshop, Illustrator etc. The reason I’m doing this is I’ve been traveling since I was a baby and I’m still not tired of it. I want to learn about other cultures and teach that to people and pass it on. The moment my father told me about RYE I went to the website to apply. I am so thankful for the people that made this opportunity possible! Thank you!
Journals: Aliyah-Netherlands Blog 2019-20
- Aliyah, Outbound to Netherlands
Three weeks in and it’s amazing here!
To start, the country itself is so beautiful and and the houses are so pretty!
Everything is walkable from where I am, the library, the museum, the grocery store, and the mall plaza! My school is about a 10 bike away. But even better I don’t even have to go to school at the same time everyday. Sometimes it’s as early as 8:30 and sometimes it’s as late as 11:30am. I absolutely love it. My classes are a bit hard though. I still can’t understand Dutch that much, but I’ve made a few friends to help translate. Everyone knows English here, but I try my best to ask for Dutch translations as well. I have a book and every night me and my host family fill it with 10 new words. I’ve learned words Duolingo wouldn’t have told me for weeks. Dutch is hard when it comes to pronouncing the G but people understand.
I also go to every Rotary meeting with my host dad. They are very nice (especially the dinner meals) and I really enjoy going to them. Yesterday we went to Hanos a super market that only people who own food related businesses are allowed to go into. We got to try a ton of different cheeses and they served us some other samples as well. I talked to a lot of Rotarians, everyone has a story to tell. A few of them have been to Florida so it was fun to talk to them about that.
Speaking of which I got to meet the Rotex student here that went to Florida as well! She’s really nice, along with the other exchange and Rotext students! We went for a weekend in Goes and played some games, as well as visit DeltaWorks and go sailing (I didn’t sail though, I have a fear of small boats haha). But it rained there and it’s been raining a lot here too. I’m pretty sure I’ve caught a cold, or maybe allergies but my nose has been running the entire time writing this journal. I hope I get over it though I actually don’t want to miss school. And if this weather gets me sick than I’d be sick all winter. I’m so excited for December to come! Everyone’s been telling me about Sinterklass and the food and the celebrations ah! I’ve decided to make Coquito for my host family. It’s a Puerto Rican drink that my parents make very Christmas to give out to friends and family. I’m so happy to be able to share it here!
And then to share their Christmas food with me too. There’s Pepernoten, they’re like cinnamon cookies and they are absolutely delicious!
They share them only around this time so everyone is excited to eat them. I’m going to have SO MANY! And I might go eat some right now. Or some Hagslag with bread (sprinkles on bread). Now I’m just rambling on about food. I should go eat something.
Thu, September 12, 2019
Alyssa - Ecuador
Hometown: Palm Coast, Florida
School: Matanzas High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Palm Coast, Florida
Host District: 4400
Host Club: The Rotary Club of RC. Portoviejo San Gregorio
¡Hola! My name is Alyssa Rodriguez, I am currently 15 years old and I can’t wait to spend my junior year in Ecuador! Right now I live in Flagler County and go to school at Matanzas High school. I am an all honors and AP student and I am a part of a bunch of clubs/groups at school. For example, I am an active member of the Interact club, the women’s choir and I take part in as many volunteer opportunities as possible. When I’m not studying, volunteering, or practicing I like to relax by listening to music while reading, painting or pretty much anything that I have never done or seen before. I love trying new things and pushing myself out of my comfort zone which is one of the big reasons I am excited about my exchange. I live by the motto “if it doesn’t challenge you it doesn’t change you” and going on the exchange will definitely do both challenge and change me. Going on exchange is something out of a dream to me because ever since I was a little girl I’ve always daydreamed about seeing the world and now its happening. With this opportunity, I can get a better understanding of the world outside of America and apply what I learn abroad to situations when I come back. I am ecstatic to completely immerse myself into the Ecuadorian way of life and learn all about the customs, history, language, architecture and anything else that may come my way.
Journals: Alyssa-Ecuador Blog 2019-20
- Alyssa, Outbound to Ecuador
Hola!!! To start I would like to apologize for not posting a blog in a long while. I have gotten caught up with my amazing life here that I kinda forgot about my life at home (and I am not sure if that is a good or bad thing) However I am here now and I will get you guys caught up with my life since September.
To start in October was a little crazy because in Ecuador there were protests against the government. It was crazy because I never experienced anything like it in the United States. The cause is a brief rundown was because the government raised prices for gas to try and stimulate the economy, however, many of the lower class citizens relied on the lower gas prices to keep their small business running. So naturally, this caused an outrage in the public, and there were protests everywhere, but larger ones in the bigger cities like Quito, Guayaquil, and Cuenca. The protests didn’t affect my city too much, but we had a curfew to when we had to be in our homes, there was a shortage of meats and schools weren’t open. However, some of my exchange friends that lived in the bigger cities listed told me stories about the things that were going on there. For example, those cities had curfews as well, but they still wanted to protest so they would open up their windows and bang pots and pans. Soon enough the protests ended and we were able to back to school.
A few weeks later we had a trip with Rotary. The Beach Tour was hosted by my Rotary club so the first night and the next day was spent in my city. The first day there was a parade in my city and the exchange students were honored to walk in the parade. It was so much fun and it was so cool to walk through the city and meet new people and just have fun. After we were on our way to the beach hotel that we would be staying at for the next few days. One night Rotary rented a DJ and we had a talent show from all the countries and for the United States we did a lip sync battle and it was so much fun. Afterward, we had a pool party and we all just enjoyed the rest of the night. However, the next day was really fun because we got to go to the rainForest and went hiking through. We had a guide and we got to see monkeys and so many other cool plants and animals (However I wouldn’t recommend hiking in the jungle with VANS that was a bit difficult haha.) Afterward, we went to a beach and walked up 700 stairs to go to a lighthouse (also wouldn’t recommend doing in VANS) but it was so worth it! The lighthouse was on the edge of a cliff and it was absolutely gorgeous and it was so peaceful (I also got a killer workout in.) After we walked down to the beach and we saw a bunch of turtle nests and the guide talked to us about the turtles and how they try and keep the eggs safe to help raise the number of turtles. After we went to another beach and swam for a bit. All in all, it was a day that I will always remember. The rest of the month was spent with my host family and my friends and it was an amazing month.
Next, it was November and it was also an amazing month. At the beginning of the month, my host family and 2 others rented out a huge house on the beach and spent about 4 days there and it was so much fun. My favorite part was the roof that overlooked the beach and had hammocks. We went down to the beach a lot and at night we would make a fire and roast marshmallows. It was so nice to be in such a beautiful place and making memories with my host family and family friends. A few weeks later was the time around Thanksgiving. We had a Presentation in front of the whole school about thanksgiving and explaining what it’s like and the common traditions. It was hard to have an actual Thanksgiving unfortunately with all the other exchange students in my city (there are 15 of us) so it was hard to line up schedules so a few friends and I went to a nice restaurant to celebrate and it was fun to spend time together and just have a good time and talk about all the things we are thankful for. Towards the end of the month was the start of Christmas themed parties and our first was a Rotary event. We had a nice dinner and named the Queen of Rotary Club San Gregorio and danced and had fun for the rest of the night. Some of the Rotarians tried to teach us how to “Dance like an Ecuadorian” and it was a lot of fun.
Now for the month of December. This is the month that a lot of exchange students are scared for because it is the holidays and around the time many get the most homesick. However for me, that hasn’t been the case (but don’t tell my family back at home that, and if they just so happen to read this I am sorry mom haha.) But this month has been great and eye-opening. This month was also very busy for me as it usually is during the Holidays. My host family and I had many events to attend but it was a lot of fun. The first was the crowning of the queen of the tennis club and my good friend Salma won and I was so happy for her. A bunch of other exchange students also attended it was a lot of fun, and my host sister performed a dance at the ceremony and it was super cool. Dancing is a HUGE part of the culture here. The people are always dancing even if its a traditional dance or just for fun which I love because I love to dance. A few days later we had an event in the park that I especially loved. It was the Portoviejo Beatles Contest and I love The Beatles so I was so excited about it. My host bother performed in it and he did so good and I was so proud of him. He and I bought matching shirts and just had a good time listening to live music. It was so cool because there were so many people performing and it was an amazing night.
As Christmas approached, we had things called Novenas that are celebrated for 9 consecutive days. It is a Christian celebration of the 3 wise men’s journey to see Jesus and they tell the story of his birth. It was super cool to experience something like this because in the United States this isn’t as common as it is in Ecuador. On the last day of Novenas, it was also my host sister’s birthday so we celebrated everything at my host family’s house. The same night we had the official Christmas party of my Rotary club so after the Novena, I went to the club and we had a nice meal and exchanged gifts and all the exchange students got jerseys from the soccer team here and backpacks with Inca patterns and “Ecuador” sewed in. It was so nice of them to do that for us and it was probably one of the coolest gifts I’ve gotten. A few days after we had a Christmas presentation in front of the school and we had to sing and make a dance in front of the school. It was embarrassing but it was fun nonetheless, and that marked the last day of school and the start of Christmas break. The next two days were Christmas eve and Christmas and it was a lot of fun. My family got ready for pictures and we had a nice dinner at home and we sang songs, and just enjoyed each other’s company. In Ecuador exchanging presents isn’t as common as it is in the United States but I surprised my family with presents anyway to show how grateful I am for them, and we opened them at midnight. I am happy to report that they loved their presents a lot and my host mom told me that they enjoyed it so much that they will probably do it again next year which made me so happy. All in all these past few months have been incredible and I still have a ways to go. I am loving every minute here and I am forever grateful to have this amazing opportunity.
As I am getting more into life here I feel more and more at home. It feels like Ecuador is a part of me, and I couldn’t be happier. Yes, the occasional cravings for Chick-fil-a and Olive Garden are hard but nonetheless, I don’t ever want to leave. I remember last December at my country reveal someone had told all the outbounds “You don’t choose the country, the country chooses you.” and that couldn’t be truer. I am so happy that this country, this city, this community has chosen me because I couldn’t imagine my exchange going any other way, and I still have more adventures to go so until then Chao!
Sun, December 29, 2019
- Alyssa, Outbound to Ecuador
So, I’ve lived in Ecuador for a little over a month already (it’s so crazy to think about.) I can’t believe that it’s been a month already, and at the same time I can’t believe it’s only been a month. Ecuador has been amazing to me and I couldn’t be happier! To start I boarded my first plane on August 24th from Orlando to the Miami International Airport then from there to Aeropuerto Internacional José Joaquín De Olmedo in Guayaquil. In the beginning the Orlando to Miami flight it was a bit stressful because I was almost late for my flight, but lucky enough one of the ladies at the kiosk recognized my Rotary blazer and helped me bypass an almost 1-hour wait which was such a relief. After that, I said bye to my family and was on my way which was kinda scary only because the Orlando airport is so big and I have no sense of direction and get lost very easily. But after I found my terminal (with 5 minutes to spare) I relaxed and soon enough I was on my way to Miami.
When I got to the Miami airport I was shocked because the Miami international airport is like 3 times bigger than the Orlando airport, but luckily I had a 4-hour layover so I figured if I got lost at least I would have four hours to find my way to the right terminal haha. When I finally reached my terminal I was lucky enough to meet two other exchange students also going to Ecuador, and it was so cool cause we had seats next to each other on the plane so we were able to talk and get to know each other on the flight. I also found out one of the students was going to the same city and the same school as I so it was cool to know I had a friend before I even got there.
When we finally reached Guayaquil I was so nervous but excited. Honestly, my mind couldn’t comprehend it all and it felt like a dream or like it wasn’t happening. Soon my new found friends and I stepped off the plane and went to baggage claim which wasn’t as bad as I thought because the journals that I read of the other students that went to Ecuador said that baggage claim was absolutely crazy. It was probably because we got there at like 9:30 at night, but I like to think I was on a lucky streak. After I located my bags I headed towards the main lobby where I knew my new family awaited me. I was so nervous because you can’t redo first impressions. When I walked through the door there I saw my host family holding a sign for me and waving excitedly at me. I walked up to them and they welcomed me with open arms and each one of them gave me a big hug and kiss on the cheek. Let’s just say it was an easy first impression because as I would come to know Ecuadorians are very friendly, warm and welcoming so I felt comfortable right away.
Soon we left the airport and they took me to eat at one of the plazas in Ecuador. The food tasted so good and it was all so cheap and I couldn’t believe it, because a meal like the one I got would easily be $10 in the United States and here it was only $3.50. After the meal, we walked around the plaza and then soon went to the hotel where we stayed for the night. The next morning we woke up and started our drive to Portoviejo where I would be living in for the next 10 months. The drive took a bit but it was a good opportunity to see lots of things like the beautiful mountains that they have here in Ecuador and lots of the different communities that are here. When I reached my new home I got settled and unpacked my things, and then went to spend time with my new family. And that’s when I found that I would be starting school on Monday and I would be going to get my uniform the next day, so you could say that I was a bit nervous.
The next day I got my uniforms and then prepared for my first day of school. I woke up early for school because here it starts at 7 A.M then I was on my way. I was so nervous because I wanted to make a good impression on my classmates. I walked into my first class which was theater. When I walked into class I saw that there was another exchange student in the class as well, so I got so excited. I learned that she is from Germany, and now she is one of my closest friends here. As the day went on a lot of my school mates came up to me and introduced themselves, and asked my name and where I was from. It was surprisingly easy to talk to new people and it was very common for other students to invite me into their friend group and start conversations with me. So, all in all, I can say my first day of school was a success.
As the days went on I established a routine where I would wake up around 6:20, go to school, get home around 2, eat lunch, spend time with my family and eat dinner around 8:30 and then get ready for the next day, but eventually on September 5th my family took me on my first trip. We went to Cuenca and it was an experience that I will never forget. We left in the early afternoon and it was a 6 and a half-hour drive but every second was worth it. I got to see a new side of Ecuador that was full of huge rice and plantain farms and there was a lot of livestock and culture. One thing that I noticed though was that they don’t keep their livestock in gates and some were just on the side of the road and if I rolled down the window I probably could have touched one of the cows (I didn’t do it but I did think about it a few times haha.) Eventually, we started to drive towards mountain territory and it was interesting because in Florida it’s flat so driving through mountains was new for me. But the best part was as it got later and the sun began to set the colors of the sky started to dance and it put me in such awe. I thought Florida sunsets were beautiful but nothing compared to watching the sunset in the mountains just below the clouds. We finally reached Cuenca and it was kind of late so we found a place to eat dinner and then we retired to our hotel and got ready for the next day.
The next day we woke up pretty early and got ready. I learned that we would be going on a tour of Incan Ruins. When we got there, it was so cold because we were in the mountains, but as we went on with the tour it was so amazing. I could only understand some of what the tour guide was saying but either way, it was so interesting. After the tour, we returned to the city and went on a bus tour of Cuenca. It was on a double-decker bus, so it was really cool because I had never been on one before, and I understood the lady speaking to us so I was able to learn a bit about the history of Cuenca while seeing some really cool places in the city. We left Cuenca on Sunday afternoon and then I returned to my routine.
A week later on September 23rd my first Rotary event arrived and I was excited to meet all the other exchange students. We spent 5 days and 4 nights in the Royal Decameron Mompiche in Esmeraldas and it was such an amazing experience. I got to meet and get to know a lot of the Rotary members and the other inbounds and the whole experience was full of bonding and learning, and other inbounds and I celebrated our one month since arriving. All in all, being here in Ecuador, learning about the culture, meeting new people and making bonds that I wouldn’t have made without coming here has been unquestionably amazing and I cannot wait to see what else is in store for me in the months to come, so until then Chao!
Sun, September 29, 2019
Amelia - Sweden
Hometown: Micanopy, Florida
School: P.K. Yonge DRS
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of , Florida
Host District: 2360
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Majorna
Hi! My name is Mya, or Amelia, and I’m going to Sweden. I’m so excited to be going on this adventure and learning Swedish. Both of my parents are thrilled for me and very happy that I was given this amazing opportunity by Rotary Youth Exchange. I live with my Mom and Stepdad in my hometown of Micanopy. My brother lives close to us in Gainesville, which is about 15 minutes away from Micanopy. I have four cats, three dogs, six goats, and a lot more animals. I am a Sophomore in high school and I am involved in over six clubs at my school. My favorite ones are Robotics, Thespians, and Odyssey of the Mind. Outside of school I am very interested in music and I play the piano and the cello. I’ve been playing piano for awhile and I just recently started cello lessons. My favorite pianist in Yann Tiersen , a French Composer. In my spare time, I like to read, play video games, and rock climb. My favorite book is The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, and I also really like The Ender’s Game Series by Orson Scott Card. I want to be an exchange student because it would be so cool to live in another country for a year and learn the language and culture. I love traveling and always wish that I could live in the places we go and now with Rotary I can. I am really excited to learn Swedish and meet new people. I can’t wait!
Journals: Amelia-Sweden Blog 2019-20
- Amelia, Outbound to Sweden
Hi everyone, I’m Mya and I’ve just hit 4 months here in Sweden. It’s honestly insane how fast this year is going by.
I’m living in Gothenburg, the second-largest city in Sweden which isn’t saying much as the population is only a little more than half a million people. It’s such a cool city and I love the architecture here. The host family I am staying with lives in Central Gothenburg, right next to a tram stop. The public transportation here is so nice and you can go virtually anywhere, granted Rotary’s permission of course. We live on the 4th floor of an apartment building, very different from my home in Florida, three bedrooms: one for my host parents, another for my host brother, and the last for me. It’s not a small apartment but it can feel cramped at night when everyone gets ready for bed. My high school is named Hvitfeldska and it’s huge; with over 2,000 students and five stories, they have a lot of stairs. It’s only a 10-minute walk away from where I live, the only drawback is that it’s getting colder and colder so it takes more layers to go out.
I usually wake up around 8 because most of my school days start at 9:30 – I know, really late – although some days I go to the gym before school and get up earlier. Most of the time, everyone is on their way out of the house when I have breakfast, usually bread and butter as well as a piece of fruit, so I spend the morning practicing piano. My host family has a real piano which is the absolute best thing in the world, I don’t know how I’ll go back to my keyboard after this year. I usually leave for school about 20 minutes before class to make sure I’m there on time and to chat with my classmates before. School has been the hardest part of my exchange because academics and extracurriculars have always been really important to me but in Sweden, I have to focus on different parts of life more because of both my own inability to understand a lot in class and the fact that they don’t have extracurriculars in the same way as in the US. School here is so different from the US, I won’t explain it all but basically, they have high school programs like Science, Social Studies, Music, etc. and students just take classes related to that over three years. I’m in the second-year-Natural Science class and take Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Math, Social Studies, Swedish, and English. I think their classes are a little harder and more in-depth than our AP classes in the US but they take them over 3 years. I’m usually 87% lost in my classes so it’s always a special moment to understand something. We usually have about three classes a day and lunch is a different time each day of the week. The lunch is free and it was really good the first few weeks of school but now – I’ve probably just gotten used to it – it’s mediocre. They have a few things I really like though. My favorite part of school is playing card games with my classmates and hanging out between classes.
After school, almost every day I go to the climbing gym. When I found out I was coming to Gothenburg, one of the first things I did was to see if they had one. The gym in Gainesville closed a few years ago, so being able to start climbing again while here has been one of the greatest things. I’m super excited because after the Christmas break, we’re going to climb in the Swedish P.E. class and the teacher asked me to help. Climbing has been super great for my mental health here because it’s a meditative sport in some ways and a physical challenge I can focus on. I’m so happy there’s a gym here. After the gym, usually around 5:30 pm, I head home and, nowadays, it’s dark when I leave. I take a bus and walk, sometimes visiting a cafe/bookstore to study or read a little. We eat dinner around 6 or 7 and it’s so good. My host family has a meal kit service so it’s a different thing every day. We talk about the day and plans for the rest of the week. After dinner, we clear the table and have some time to ourselves. I usually practice piano or do SAT prep. At the end of the day, we always watch some T.V. So far, we just finished “Vår tid är Nu”, a Swedish Family Drama. Lastly, we watch the Swedish News which is always interesting and there’s usually some mention of Greta Thunberg.
Sweden is in many ways very similar to the US. The standard of living in Sweden is a little higher than the US and it’s definitely a very developed country. Perhaps the largest difference is in the Swedish government, which I believe also translates into little differences in the way of life and mind set of Swedes relative to Americans. Sweden is a socialist country, meaning they are very focused on the health and well being of workers. As a result, they have a 44% income tax but with tax brackets requiring less or more depending on income. Though the taxes seem very high, they pay for Sweden’s social welfare programs. There’s free healthcare and education – university included – which is really cool. Job security in Sweden is also very different but I don’t feel knowledgeable enough on the subject to explain it just yet.
When I first arrived in Sweden, I was very excited because I knew I would have a lot of free time and I had planned to find some places to volunteer. During one of my first dinners, I brought up the topic to see if my host parents knew of any opportunities near us, to which they promptly informed me that volunteering isn’t really a thing in Sweden. It was definitely one of the more shocking realizations about Sweden but I’ve talked with many Swedes about it and the consensus seems to be that volunteering, or the work that would be done through volunteering, is seen as something the State should do so they leave it to them. My host father says that churches are really the only places that do volunteer work and it’s almost always involving the homeless or very poor. It’s one difference that has let me better understand my adoptive home and the mindset of its people.
Sweden is also a very progressive country when it comes to sustainability. More than half of Sweden’s energy production is renewable and every household I’ve seen, and likely all of them, recycle. That was one thing that struck me immediately when coming here. Before my arrival, I would say I had a fatalistic viewpoint of environmentalism and the future, but after living in a country where sustainability is just a part of life, I am definitely more optimistic about the future.
On-exchange you get a LOT of time to think and really analyze yourself and your motivations, finding the things you want to work on. The years before exchange I was very focused on school and extracurriculars, as most teenagers are. The months before my acceptance into Rotary I performed the worst I had before in my academic life. I was overjoyed to be accepted into Rotary but it was bittersweet as I struggled with choosing this experience or focusing on academics and my “future”. Just for clarification, I am a Junior now, the most important year for academics and the year that colleges consider most during the application process. I had a very hard time leaving for exchange because as much as I wanted to do it, I thought it would cost me. When I arrived in Sweden unable to understand the classes and lacking any familiar outlet to explore my interests and work towards college I felt jarred, depressed, and like a complete failure. In my first couple of months, I couldn’t speak Swedish enough to express all that I wanted so I relied heavily on my English, something I warn future exchange students to Sweden to avoid. Speaking English helped me to connect and make friends in Sweden but immediately added to my feeling of failing really before I had even started my exchange. Learning to accept and enjoy being in a place and environment where I can’t be perfect, has been so difficult and it’s an ongoing process but I’m so thankful that Rotary has given me the opportunity to realize this about myself so that I can work to change it.
Overall, my exchange has been great with many more fun days ahead!
Wed, January 15, 2020
Anne - Italy
Hometown: DeLand, Florida
School: DeLand High
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of DeLand, Florida
Host District: 2050
Host Club: The Rotary Club of ?
Hello! My name is Anne and I will be going to Italy for my 2019-2020 exchange. I live at home with my mom (Kimberly), my cat (Ollie), and our two dogs (Precious, and Max). I am in 11th grade and attend DeLand High School. I am a huge theater geek and will often sing songs from “Hamilton” until my moms ears bleed. I have an older sister (Katey) but she has long since moved out and lives with her husband and their two children. I had planed on becoming an ASL interpreter after College but now that I am trying to learn Italian my hope is to now become a multilingual interpreter so I can help people to communicate better with each other. I am so very exited to be spending a year in Italy so I can really appreciate a new culture. I am ready to try new a new way of life to experience what it would be like if I truly lived in Italy instead of America. My whole family is very exited for me and have supported me all through the process and I am extremely grateful for that. Because of them I have been able to push myself and reach for my dreams and have been able to excel beyond what I have ever imagined. My family are my biggest fans and I will never take that for granted.
Journals: Anne-Italy Blog 2019-20
- Anne, Outbound to Italy
Hello everyone! Wow it’s been five and a half months! I still can’t quite believe it! Many things have happened since I last wrote. For one I went to Paris with my host family! They knew that I wanted to travel this year so they decided to take me. This was between December 20th- December 23rd. So visited many things while we were there for example: The Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower, The Mona Lisa, and The Opera House! Afterwards we flew back into Italy into the airport in Parma where we took a look at the Leaning Tower Of Pisa before driving back home. Then for Christmas my host family said that we are going on yet another trip to Barcelona in March! I am very excited! Then for new years we went back to their mountain house for a week and let me tell you It was so pretty and me and my host family went on a couple of hikes together higher up in the mountains where it was snowing! (I absolutely love snow!) That was all around Christmas time but as far as more recent events we went to Venice for Carnivale and let me say there were so many people! Now Venice isn’t very wide so it was very crowded but it was so worth it. Oh and this week we go back to Milan. So far I have an event every single month of my exchange for the rest of my time here.
This month: Venice (we already went there), and Milan
March: Barcelona, and a Rotary trip
May: Sicily trip with Rotary
June: Home sadly
And as of today I only have four months left and I’m not quite sure how I feel about that 🙁 but anyways I love it here. Being in a little town has really made this experience more enjoyable because it feels just like home and I’m also involved here. I have great friends and am involved in a small theater program and we are going to preform our own interpretation of the classic story Cinderella. The play is also in March which is very soon! The play is also completely in Italian (of course) and I have practice every week for two hours. This is a good way to make friends (this is for and future outbounds) because when you get involved it’s easier to make new friends especially if you have common interests! As of now I am trying to fit as much as possible into my exchange before it ends so I can say that I lived it to it’s fullest and I definitely fell like I have done a good job at that so far. I am also grateful for my host family because they have done their best to help me accomplish that and without them I wouldn’t have had the opportunities to do certain things otherwise so I would like to thank them very much for being my family and treating me as if I were their own.
Well that’s all for now!
Wed, February 19, 2020
- Anne, Outbound to Italy
Hey everyone! I can’t believe that I have already been here for almost a month! It’s so crazy it doesn’t even feel like it has been a month. I absolutely love it here and I absolutely adore my host family! It’s almost like my family back home except Italian. My host mom is super sweet and an amazing cook and treats me like her own daughter as well as my host dad, speaking of my host dad he is super funny and likes making jokes with me and teasing me, and my host sister and I are like real sisters! Me, her, and her friends often go out together for dinner, gelato (I love gelato so much), a festival, or we go to sort of like a mini fair, we also have been to Milan (where I bought a movie in Italian), and then we walked to China Town. The second I arrived my entire host family welcomed me with warm arms and we have done so much together. They took me to their house in the mountains and we went on a hike, then we went to a traditional parade/festival to celebrate the animals coming down from the mountains it was so cool! And they have also taken me to Cremona a couple of times. I really like my school and my teachers and love my friends at school. They had no problem welcoming me on the first day and make me feel like I belong. Everything is so different here. The way people talk to each other, the family structure, the school, the expectations of children, even the way people think, and eating meals here is very different too! At home for lunch I would make a sandwich and have some chips (or have school lunch if I am at school ) but here? Oh no that is not an acceptable meal. They usually have pasta (of course) meat, cheese, bread ,and then after that fruit (and sometimes gelato after that) and they all eat together. Another thing is my Italian has improved a lot since I have been here. I struggle to understand most of time but I can form full coherent sentences (very badly conjugated but still…) And I can communicate if I need something. I also love my exchange friends alot. It is so interesting to see so many international people in one place! It’s like exploring more of the world without being there. I have so much planned while I am here as well! Next week I am going with Rotary and the other exchange students to Rome! In early November I am going with my host sister to a cosplay convention, for New year’s me and my host family are going back to the mountains to celebrate, and so much more! I am so very excited for everything! Well goodbye for now and I will keep you all updated.
Fri, September 27, 2019
Catalina - Japan
Hometown: St. Johns, Florida
School: Allen D. Nease
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of St. Johns, Florida
Host District: 2770
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Urawa East
こんにちは! My name is Catalina Casillas and I have been blessed with the most amazing opportunity to study abroad in Japan! I am extremely grateful for all who have helped me so far on this journey, as I would not have been able to become an exchange student without them. Here in Florida, I study at Nease High School as a sophomore and take part in the International Baccalaureate program. I participate in the French Club and International Students Association at my school, and I strive to do my best in school and in my extracurriculars. I live with my two younger sisters, parents, and two dogs. Dancing is my passion, and I take multiple classes a week. I love to sing and draw as well, and I hope to maintain my dedication to the arts overseas. This coming year, I am prepared to immerse myself in a new culture, trying new foods and reaching new heights. I want to create global connections and gain a new perspective, opening not only my eyes but other people’s eyes to the diversity and unity of the world. I am looking forward to this life-changing experience, so thank you Rotary, friends, and especially my family for this opportunity. I will make everybody proud!
Journals: Catalina-Japan Blog 2019-20
- Catalina, Outbound to Japan
It’s spring here in Japan, and that means new beginnings for Japanese students. The school year has come to a close, and the sakura trees are soon to bloom. Despite all of the end of the year preparations and celebrations, it doesn’t have the closure I’m used to in a school year. For one, I missed a big festival that my dance club and I prepared for since January because of a Rotary trip for the third graders that are going to university this coming school year, and the growing fears of corona virus have shut down the school and made school officials cancel exams until March 16th.
Maybe it’s because I, as an exchange student, don’t have as much academic responsibility as normal students and the fact that school is canceled tentatively until the sixteenth, but I feel as if I’m just going along where the waves take me. I used to be like that in Florida. I was a very go with the flow type person, whatever came my way I would deal with it when it got there, but here its different. Going on exchange was the first thing I really really worked hard for, not to say that I didn’t put effort into other projects, but exchange is different. I knew that this year, every day would bring new challenges and new experiences, not all of them amazing and wonderful but new all the same. It won’t be like a normal life in Florida but a normal life in Japan, a place radically different from the states. I know now that at least here I can’t just let life takes me where it wants to go. I need to get up and do the things that I want to do because I know that here, my time is slipping away. Once I leave it’ll never be the same.
Moving on, I changed host families a month ago and this is the first time I’ve had a very set routine where I wake up consistently on time and not fall asleep before taking a shower at night and just take one in the morning like I used to. My past host families were very lax about their routine, I would sometimes go home and fall asleep before taking a shower, and take in mind cleanliness is very important in Japan, but in this host family I feel obligated to take a shower in the evening, that is just the way they do things here. Every morning my host mom leaves by 8:20 and every night comes home at 6:00. Every morning my host dad leaves at 7:30 and comes home at 9:15. There is something beautiful in doing the same thing every day, something I thought I would never say. They are very schedule oriented, going as far as to print a detailed itinerary of our three day trip to Akita prefecture, something that I think is extremely Japanese.
That leads me to my next point, that something that I’ve noticed in Japan is that everything is presentation oriented. Either to be more convenient to others or to add beauty to their work or to give them some sense of peace in their minds, but that culture is very strong here. When I was invited to raise funds for the Japanese Red Cross Society, the teacher at my school that works with them gave me a printed color map to the place I needed to meet him, despite it being two minutes from my house. Everywhere you can find very well designed brochures for museums, cafes, and shops that my host families insist giving to me to remember the places I’ve been to. Even in cafes the food is beautiful, and drawings by students that aren’t artists are very clean and refined. Gifts must always be wrapped, and your family name etched on a plaque outside your house, and no food should come without a plastic wrapper lest your good cleanliness be disturbed.
Maybe it’s because of the precision of learning characters of the three writing systems and the high standard of cleanliness that promotes this culture, but here in the states pretty much everyone in Japan would be considered a perfectionist. I’m not going to miss the wastefulness of individually plastic wrapped bananas, but I will miss the beautiful food and the high standards people hold themselves to. In America I am very forgetful and last minute with most of the things that I do, and my way of life conflicted with this sort of aspect of society, making me feel even more forgetful and clumsy at times, but I’ve learned how to adapt and, per say, procrastinate less.
I really don’t want to think about the fact that I only have until July to stay here. I don’t think I’ll ever be ready to leave. It’s only downhill from here, but how do I slow down gravity?
Wed, March 4, 2020
- Catalina, Outbound to Japan
I am now halfway through my exchange here in Japan. I know it sounds cheesy, but I can’t believe just how fast time has gone by. I still feel like I’ve barely started my exchange and yet I’ve already made so many friends and experienced so much.
I live in southeast Saitama prefecture, about an hour from many of the popular places inside Tokyo. I can literally take a day trip to Shibuya or Harajuku after school and be back in home in time for curfew. Living in America we are deprived of the wonders of public transportation. The train system, especially around Tokyo is literally the coolest, it’s so liberating to be able to travel everywhere with the tap of your public transport card.
I won’t bore you with every single little detail of my exchange, that’s not what these journals are about. I am here to share my experience and feelings with you so that you might be able to realize the joy and freedom this opportunity has provided me with.
Before going on this exchange I didn’t realize just how global this program really is. Yes, I knew I was going to meet locals, that was a given before I left, but I never even stopped to think about meeting people from across the globe like Switzerland and Brazil. These people have become some of my closest friends, I am not sure what I am going to do with myself without them after I leave. We are really lucky to speak English in America, my exchange student friends speak English really well, so I can easily have conversation with them. I love spending time with these people, and I know I will keep them in my life forever. The Rotex in my district all have gone to countries completely different from their own and are happy to have a little fun with us because they know how we feel, which I appreciate. I’ve noticed that a lot of exchange students, current and past, are much more confident than their prior selves. I didn’t even notice it until one of my exchange friends pointed it out to me but I myself have changed in the past five months. I used to live in Texas, and that is where my heart stayed long after I moved to Florida. I used to think Florida as only temporary, but I started describing the places and friends I have in Florida to one of the exchange students I’m closer to, and I realized I really have a home in Florida. My heart doesn’t belong just to Texas, it belongs in Florida just like it belongs in Japan too. I’ve learned to love places that I wasn’t originally from, and this is what my exchange has taught me.
I feel much more confident now, I have been forced to order food and ask questions to strangers in a language I am far from fluent in and I’ve had to start all over again in a completely new environment with strange people. I’ve noticed my language skills improving and I’ve made so many new friends! I am so excited to see how much I will change over these next six months of my exchange, I know it can only get better.
In my preparation to go exchange I knew that I was going to a place where I barely spoke the language and I didn’t know anyone and that was scary. Once I started taking off in my Japanese and becoming closer with the people that live here with me, I knew that Rotary had prepared me well for that aspect of exchange. For me, I hadn’t cried at all at the airport before I left or not even in the first two months. What I was not expecting was to become so close with my first host family. I only had two months with them but I had gotten into the rhythm of things and I felt really at home in their house. My siblings were amazing and my host mother was supportive in every way. The first time that I cried on this whole exchange was when I had to leave them. I cried twice that day. When I took my house key off of my keychain I realized that this was it. I’ll never get this back again. This part of my exchange was over and I had to move on to the next, but the transition was especially hard for me. Some time after that, I was at a Rotary function and my old host mom was there accompanying her son who is going on exchange next season. She was talking to another mom and called me her daughter. I was shocked. She said it again to me in Japanese and then in English “You are my daughter.” That was the third time I cried. I can’t believe just how profound this experience is and I’m barely halfway through.
When you think of American culture, what do you think of? Hamburgers? Ford 150s? A poorly edited bald eagle over a clip art American flag with explosions in the background? That isn’t true. American culture is truly a mix, a wonderful thing, and I should know. I am a biracial American, and I have experienced two radically different cultures within my own family, not to mention the teen culture as well. Getting to think about my culture has led me to think about this new one that I am living in right now. People think differently when they live in different places, not just across national divides. Living here in Japan, I didn’t realize just how their own unique culture is embedded into their lives. I never realized how culture is embedded into American lives too. We do things the way we do because of where we come from, and how we were raised. The Japanese put out decorations for the New Year’s instead of Christmas, and they visit a shrine to welcome the new year. Waiters and store clerks often apologize for keeping you waiting and thank you for walking in and out of stores even if you think buy anything. It’s one thing to research about a culture, but you don’t really know how it really is unless you live in it, and that is something I am so grateful for. We all say “Oh I want to expand my cultural horizons” before we leave to go on exchange, not really knowing what that phrase meant. But I know now that is something us exchange students can understand, it’s something beyond words.
I couldn’t be more happier here in Japan. The exchange student closest to me said “This exchange is a dream and I don’t want to wake up.” I couldn’t agree more.
Tue, January 7, 2020
Christian - Czechia
Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: Allen D. Nease
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of St. Augustine, Florida
Host District: 2240
Host Club: The Rotary club of Opava
Ahoj! My name is Christian Hughes and I am going to Czechia for the 2019-2020 school year. I am from St. Augustine, Florida and I am a Sophomore at Allen D. Nease High School. I live with my dad and my cat, Barbra. I enjoy spending time with my family, as they support me in everything I do, including exchange. My dad and I usually walk around downtown St. Augustine or watch movies, and my mom and I usually go to art galleries in downtown St. Augustine or go to Vilano Beach near St. Augustine. At school, I am in the Model United Nations and Robotics clubs. I really enjoy engineering class, as it is similar to what I do in my free time. In my free time, I work on various engineering and science projects. These projects include 11th bionic fingers, automatic drone landing pads, and exoskeletons. Of course, I won’t be building exoskeletons on exchange, but that’s okay! I love studying foreign culture and language as well. I have studied Spanish for four years and Russian for one year because of this interest. I believe this experience along with my open-mindedness will help me with learning the Czech Language and culture while I am abroad. I am incredibly excited to go on exchange to Czechia for the 2019-2020 school year, and I am deeply grateful to Rotary and all of the volunteers that help with exchange for making this possible. It truly is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Journals: Christian-Czechia Blog 2019-20
§ Christian, Outbound to Czechia
Hello! My name is Christian and I’m an outbound to the Czech Republic. It’s been a very fun and interesting five and a half months so far! I’d like this journal to mainly focus on the feelings I’ve felt thus far, and my general experience overall. When I arrived here, I was incredibly exhausted, disoriented, and unsure of what my future would hold. I remember walking out of Vaclav-Havel airport and realizing that everything here is different like yesterday. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t easy at first. I remember trying to make a sandwich on my second day here and my host sister complaining about how I made my sandwich like an American. I didn’t have the best host family at first, so that didn’t help my acclimation here. I was judged for all of my mannerisms that weren’t “Czech.” Eventually however, sometime in November, I began to sort of get used to my life here. I learned how to deal with my host sister constantly berating me, and how to deal with my host family. I believe that, despite it not being the most pleasant one, dealing with my first host family was a valuable experience because it allowed me to learn how to deal with people that I might not necessarily like in situations where I have to be diplomatic. The holidays were the toughest for me. The holidays weren’t the toughest because I was homesick however; the holidays were the toughest for me because my entire host family was in town and they were all so judgmental and rude towards me. But do you know what is great about Rotary Youth Exchange? You get three host families (usually.) That meant that I didn’t feel the despair of having to deal with this abysmal family for the rest of my year, as I knew that I had a host family change in a week! I dealt with that host family for a week, and then I moved. I was very disoriented at first. Even though my old host family was bad, it was more comfortable than moving to an entirely new host family. I kind of missed my old room, but I realized that my second host family is very nice and understanding, and this place will be better for me in the long-run. I ended up getting used to my second host family, and it’s amazing here. I actually feel at home for the first time during my exchange. They’re understanding and kind, and they actually want to spend time with me. I’ve noticed a legitimate drop in my stress levels and I’ve had a much better quality of life. Throughout all of this, I have somehow made friends and become a part of my community at school, but now I have a great host family. My life feels “complete” here. I speak the language, I have friends, and I have a good host family. My point in all of this is that sometimes a certain aspect of exchange isn’t the best, but that’s okay! Rotary has had thousands of exchange students over the years, and has really structured this program in such a way to where, as long as you’re persistent and clever, you can always have things resolved.
Until the next journal!
Tue, February 11, 2020
Jose - Peru
Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Rotary Club of Mandarin, Florida
Host District: 4455
Host Club: The Rotary Club of ?
¡Hola! My name is Joseph (Joe or Jose) Hutchinson, and I am currently a senior at Mandarin high school where I participate in activities such as the Spanish club, and the swim team, which I have been part of for 3 years. I am 16 years old, and I am ecstatic with this wonderful opportunity I have been given. I live in Jacksonville, Florida where I have lived my whole life in a family of 6. I have 3 sisters, Rachel (20), Rebecca (18), and Abigail (11). I have been studying Spanish for around 3 years, and I am looking forward to calling Peru my home for almost a year. I always have been interested in different countries and cultures, but I recently fell in love with Peru. I have always loved Hispanic culture, and one day I look forward to traveling all over South America to gain insight in what those countries are like. Whenever I have free time, I enjoy activities such as basketball, video games, spending time with friends and family, as well as most any sport. My goals for my year abroad are forming everlasting bonds and international relationships, evolving as a person, and learning a new language. I have already made great friends through this organization, and I cannot wait to change my life forever!
Journals: Jose-Peru Blog 2019-20
- Jose, Outbound to Peru
Peru is a marvelous country that everybody needs to visit at least once in their life. It has everything ranging from mountains, to the jungle, to deserts, to beaches. I live primarily in the city of Lima but I can honestly say I do not enjoy my experience in Lima because the city is sad and depressing. What makes it worthwhile is the people that live there and help me day by day. In Lima there is not very much culture it’s a dirty metropolitan city, but there are nice districts so it’s nice to visit them once in a while. I did not clash very well with my family Lima, we had somewhat of personality conflicts, but my host dad there was great. Right now I am on summer vacation and I have changed cities to Cusco where Machu Picchu resides. I love Cusco so much and I do not want to leave but I think I might have to after my vacation ends here. Every day is a new adventure here, I go outside and I see indigenous people walking around with the customary clothes and it’s amazing. I cannot portray how much I love the city and do not want to leave. School here is a drag, but school is school. The problem I have with it is that they treat me like a child and that I do not know a single thing and it’s like a jail they control everything you do. But at least I have a couple friends in the school but I don’t really hang out with the youth in this country because all they care about is drinking and smoking. I cannot portray how much I love the city and do not want to leave. School here is a drag, but school is school. The problem I have with it is that they treat me like a child and I do not know a single thing and it’s like a jail they control everything you do. But at least I have a couple friends in the school but I don’t really hang out with the Peruvian youth because all they care about is drinking and smoking and are generally immature. I have a host sister in this city of Cusco and I love her just as dearly as any of my blood sisters. That is the beauty of exchange the relationships you get to form, I have also made friends throughout Asia, Europe, and the rest of South America. I am also proud to say that I am now fluent in Spanish and I think I am picking in the language up splendidly , I understand everything people say and it doesn’t seem like everyone is talking fast anymore. The food in Peru is good and it’s healthy. But what I like most of all is the street vendors where you can just go outside and buy a churro or buy an empanada for one sol which is equivalent to ¢.33. That’s another thing I love about this country everything is so cheap and easy to afford. I hope whoever is reading this enjoys it, ¡ciao!
Tue, February 11, 2020
- Jose, Outbound to Peru
My exchange so far has been great. Peru is a country very rich in culture and the food is amazing. I used to live in a city called Lima, Peru but now I’ve changed to the city of Cusco and I love it here but sadly I have to go back to Lima soon, because I’m only here in Cusco for vacation. I have visited amazing places like Machu Picchu and the sacred Valley and I can tell you that Peru is one of the most beautiful countries that I’ve ever been to. Walking on the street I always see native people dressed up and It always being a smile to my face. There are always festivals and parties going on in this country it is amazing. My current house family is the best and I do not wanna leave them or go back to Lima but sadly I think I might have to. School here is a drag but school is school but the problem here is they treat you like you’re a child and like it’s a jail. In my daily life I usually just hang out with friends and go to school but right now I’m on summer vacation so I don’t have to do anything. When I’m in school they don’t really make me do much work so it’s more honorary than anything. I can proudly say that I’ve graduated twice, as I’ve graduated from my school in Peru as well as my school in the United States. Peruvians are nice and they only mean well but a lot of the youth are only focused on drinking alcohol and smoking tobacco which is sad when you don’t want to take part in things like that but that’s all the youth does. Although, I have made friends with a bunch of other exchange students from various countries and I love them all dearly. My first host family in Lima meant well but I did not clash with their personalities well. It seemed there was always a problem in the house or a negative environment but nobody was ever really mad at me the house just felt icky because of all the negativity. But the host family I’m with now is amazing. They always take me on trips and they always have something fun to do and I have a little house sister and she’s the best. she’s like a real sister. I can truly say I have four sisters now. Peru is so amazing because it contains deserts, jungles, mountains, and the beach, what more could you ask for? Peru will always have a special place in my heart and I will surely come back to visit the people that I love here, and also the wonderful people I have met through exchange in their home countries. If anybody was ever to visit Peru I definitely recommend every city except for Lima, The problem is, is it’s so sad and depressing and it’s always gray, cold, and humid, And coming from Florida it really takes a toll on you. I hope whoever Is reading this enjoys what I had to say ciao!
Tue, February 11, 2020
Kate - France
Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: Allen D. Nease
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of St. Augustine Beach, Florida
Host District: 1640
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Saint Hilaire du Harcouet
Bonjour! My name is Kate, I am currently 14 years old and a freshman at Allen D. Nease High School. I live in St. Augustine Beach with my Mom, Dad, my sister Quinn, my brother Finn, and my adorable dog Stella. In school I am in Drama club and am on the swim team. In my free time I read, swim, bake, and hang out with friends. I have been taking French in school since 7th grade and I can’t wait to apply the skills I have learned when I spend my sophomore year in France. While I am nervous to leave my friends, family, and dog for a foreign country, I am so excited to learn a new language and culture. I am so grateful that Rotary gave me this opportunity to grow as a person and hopefully become fluent in a language I love. When I come back home using the experiences and knowledge I have gained from my exchange, I hope to help make the world a better place and connect people around the world. Once again thank you Rotary for this opportunity and I can’t wait to go on an experience that I will remember for the rest of my life. Au revoir!
Journals: Kate-France Blog 2019-20
- Kate, Outbound to France
My first journal ahhhh! It’s so exciting. It has almost been a whole month in France and I am having an amazing time in France doing so many things!
When I arrived in Paris on August 27th, I was overwhelmed and confused. It made me feel a lot better to see my family holding up homemade welcome signs for me. After I got my luggage and met my host family for the first time, we took a scenic drive through the streets of Paris. In addition to an amazing drive showing me the sights of Paris, we got to walk around the Eiffel Tower. It was so beautiful up close and very surreal that I haven’t even been in France for 2 hours and I already got to see the Eiffel tower up close! After an exciting afternoon we had a long 4 hour drive ahead of us back to my new home. I wanted to stay up the whole ride to see all the sights of driving in France, but I was eating my words when I fell asleep for the whole car ride 15 minutes later. I then woke up in a daze with the car pulling into the driveway of my new home, I then put my suitcases up in my room, had my first dinner with my host family, and then passed out. My first day definitely got me off on the right foot!
The first few days were me adjusting to the language, my new family, and time difference. My first few days consisted of things like going to the town next door for a beautiful market filled with different meats, cheeses, and vegetables. I also got to do something I wanted to do since middle school…. see the Mont Saint Michel! I was so excited to see it because it is only 30 minutes from my host family’s house! For those of you who don’t know what the Mont Saint Michel is it’s an island with houses, a church, and shops. What makes it special is that it is protected by the tides, when the tides are low you can walk around the island in the sand, but when the tide is high people do things like kayak, and water surrounds the island. I went there with my family during my first week because there was a special light show going on inside the church telling the history of the island. It was really cool and certainly was something I am going to remember all of my exchange. Shortly after this amazing trip, school started for me, school has been very difficult for me to understand but I have already made amazing friends and improved my French a lot.
A usual day for me is this during the week. In case you’ve ever wondered what the average day of a French exchange student is.
6:20 (AM) – I wake up, get ready for school, and eat breakfast with my host dad
7:00 – I walk to my bus stop and take the bus to school
7:30 – I arrive at school and talk with other students before I start my classes
8:00 or 9:00 – depending on the day of the week this is when I start my classes
1:00 – 2:00 – I eat lunch with my friends and hang out before my second half of classes
3:00 – 6:00 – again, depending on the day of the week my classes end between 3 and 6
6:15 – I catch my bus back home
6:45 – I arrive home, talk with my host family for a bit and do my homework
7:30 – I eat dinner with my host family and watch the news
9:00 – 10:00 – I finish the rest of my homework and go to bed
I know A LOT in one day, but I have gotten into the habit of it and it isn’t that bad. There are a few exceptions to this schedule including the weekends and on Wednesdays I finish my classes at 12:00 and go home at 1:00. I am glad I have such a busy schedule I don’t have a lot of time to think of home and get home sick, so I haven’t that homesick my whole time here.
Recently I have been doing a lot of new activities with my host family. One of them was going to Zumba with my host mom this Tuesday. I normally thought of Zumba as being not fun and boring, but it was actually super fun and got me to break a sweat. I am actually going to start doing Zumba every Tuesday afternoon now. I was also able to understand the class, which is not much of an accomplishment since it was small words like right, left, and use your arms, but still a victory in my book! I also have been running a lot with my host dad which has been a huge task on its own. He runs many different kinds of events and races so when I have practice with him and his little group, we run around 3+ miles! I ran in Florida for fun, but man do I struggle with running. It is extremely hard but a great workout to keep me in shape.
Two weekends ago was when I went to my orientation weekend in a town two hours away from me called Houlgate. It was an amazing weekend with singing, dancing, and walks around the town. The town was right on the beach, so I was happy I was able to see the beach again since I missed the beach back home. It was amazing to meet people from all around the world and make new lifelong friends. I can’t wait to see them in October.
Exchange has been full of up and downs, the downs of missing home and the people back home, but the ups of adjusting and loving my new home, the food, and all the new friends I’ve been making. My first few days I was a little sad because I was starting to miss things like the beach, Mexican food, my dog, and my family. However, I’ve learned to love the little things here that are different from Florida, like seeing cows, goats, and sheep everyday outside the window of the bus on the way to school, the sky at night with SO many stars, and the views of my small town outside my classroom windows at school. All these things help me appreciate France more and stop me from missing Florida so much.
It’s very surreal to be writing this because I remember when I was applying for exchange and checking the website everyday for new journals, reading them with excitement thinking that I could be doing what the current outbounds were doing a year from now. And here I am now writing journals about my adventures in France! My advice to the students reading this, thinking of applying for exchange, is go for it! It may seem difficult or even impossible to leave home for a year and go to another country, but it is so rewarding, and home will be there when you return, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity waiting for you with a great organization and great people.
Before I finish this journal, I want to thank Rotary, my sponsor club, and most of all my parents for this opportunity. I can’t wait to see what the coming months have in store for me. À bientôt!
Sun, September 22, 2019
Liam - Taiwan
Hometown: St. Johns, Florida
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of St. Johns, Florida
Host District: 3501
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Sanyi
你好! My name is Liam, I am sixteen years old, and I am one of the outbounds lucky enough to be chosen for Taiwan in 2019-2020. I was so happy when I found out I was going to Taiwan–it was in my Top 5! I first heard about Rotary when my brother, Ian, did an exchange year in Finland; but it wasn’t until much later that I first wanted to become a Rotary exchange student–when I realized the immense potential exchange students have for change: not only to change themselves but also those around them. Making a difference is one of my passions—both in my local community and myself. At my school, I try to participate in as many service opportunities as I can handle and that’s a habit I want to keep up in Taiwan. One of my other passions is poetry. Throughout my journey with poetry, I have learned to view the world from a more diverse and poetic perspective. One of the things I’m really excited for on my exchange is the opportunity to learn another language by actually being in another country–for the past few years I’ve had an interest in studying languages, but there’s a major difference between learning from people and learning from a textbook. By learning a new language, I’ll be able to make international friends and become a true ‘citizen of the world.’ I owe this opportunity to Rotary and I’m immensely thankful that I was chosen to participate. The night I was chosen for Taiwan, I was told that for every student that was chosen for the program, there was a student who was not chosen, and that’s been engraved in my brain ever since. It’s the uniqueness of this experience that inspires me to make the best of my exchange.
Journals: Liam-Taiwan Blog 2019-20
- Liam, Outbound to Taiwan
At the time of writing, I’ve been in Taiwan for around 100 days. Let’s start by talking about how I’ve been here for 100 days and yet I’ve only found the time to write two blogs. Basically what it boils down to is that writing is actually crazy hard. Not only do I have to summarize the time I’ve had, which is difficult enough in its own right, but I also have to make it interesting? It’s crazy! But, exchange is literally all about doing things that are really hard for the sake of learning something really useful, so I’ve resolved to write again. I just hope that you can come to enjoy reading about my experiences as much as I enjoy living them.
While we’re on the subject of incredibly difficult things with extremely useful outcomes, lets take about Chinese. Have I mentioned that it’s hard before? Well… it kind of is and it kind of isn’t. The thing that most people know about Chinese is that’s it’s the “most difficult language to learn in the world.” Unfortunately, this is also the biggest misconception about the language. From the perspective of someone who doesn’t know a single thing about Chinese: it’s absolutely terrifying. I remember all the way back in December, when I first learned I was going to Taiwan, one of my first thoughts was “Oh god, how am I ever going to learn Chinese?” We in the U.S.A sometimes seem to think that Chinese is actually an impossible language. When you actually start to learn Chinese, however, you discover that it’s really not.
So how is one supposed to study such a vastly different language. Honestly, I have zero idea. I don’t really know that there’s one particular way you’re “supposed to” learn Chinese. To be honest, I’ve tried everything and continue to try everything. At school I go to the library and read children’s books, on the bus home I listen to Chinese music and, when I get home, I watch Netflix in Chinese. But of course, out of everything I’ve tried, the most effective way to learn has been having conversations in Chinese. Now, I’m gonna be real with you—this has been one of my shortcomings thus far. Until recently, if someone started a conversation with me in Chinese I would try to keep up but I would never dare to start a conversation of my own in Chinese. If somebody chose to speak to me in English, I would play along and respond in English. I haven’t been practicing what I preach. In my experience, speaking Chinese with native speakers has improved my language the most and yet for the longest time I’ve shied from it. Why? You could attribute it to my persistent and undying perfectionism, but honestly I think the deeper issue is that I’m not comfortable with my skills yet. But, and I wrote about this last time, exchange is about making mistakes. In this case, my mistake was not realizing that to speak absolutely perfect Mandarin Chinese I was first going to have to learn how to speak absolutely horrible Mandarin Chinese. It may be surprising that I’m being so candid about what is, admittedly, a huge mistake on my part. I feel it’s important, especially for an exchange student , to document mistakes. For starters, the first question of the 4 Way Test is “Is it the truth?” and it wouldn’t exactly be the truth if I pretended I was a Chinese prodigy from the beginning and I encountered no difficulties on the way. Additionally, if I ever want to beat that perfectionism that has held me back before, I have to admit that I can make mistakes. Documenting mistakes means documenting growth. Even now I look back on my notes from the first week and realize how much I’ve grown already. At the moment, my Chinese is far from marvelous and I’m struggling with perfectionism; by June I hope to read this blog and feel like I’ve grown since.
Continuing on the subject of difficult experiences with an abundance of knowledge at the end, let’s talk about the Country Fair: my district arranged for all the inbounds (foreign students in Taiwan) to set up a booth to display their country for future outbounds (Taiwanese students going to foreign countries). I’ve been told before that exchange students are ambassadors for their home countries and culture, but I never could’ve expected just how literal this can sometimes be. I don’t think there’s too many things you could do to be much more of an ambassador than standing behind a table with an American flag for 8 hours and explaining different aspects of American culture. It sounds absolutely exhausting (it was) and also kind of boring (it wasn’t). How could 8 hours of stress and hard work possibly be enjoyable you ask? Well we got pizza for lunch, first off. But as delicious as the pizza was, the more important thing is that this is part of the job. When you’re an exchange student probably a majority of the time you spend in your host country is hard work, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it. When I signed up to be an exchange student I knew it was gonna be really difficult and, like I talked about last time, that’s part of what drew me to the concept in the first place. So yes, I was standing behind a table for 8 hours and by the end of the day I was too tired to function, but I loved every minute of it. Second, not only was I standing behind a table explaining American culture to others, I also got a chance to stand on the other side of the table and have foreign cultures explained to me. I tried a TON of unique foods: French crepes, Italian spaghetti, Belgian chocolate, Polish bread, Brazilian brigadeiros, Spanish paella, Japanese snacks, and actually a lot of American classics. I got first-hand accounts about far-away places I’ve only ever heard of or read about before. But, most importantly, I got to learn more about my friends. Such international experiences like this one are not uncommon for exchange students; for this reason, I sometimes feel like I’m actually not on exchange with Taiwan, but instead I’m in Taiwan on exchange with the entire world. In addition to learning Mandarin, along the way I’ve picked up some Italian and improved my Spanish. In addition to getting myself accustomed to Taiwanese culture, being around so many Europeans has me learning some of their habits. In my last blog I said that one of my main goals for my exchange was to become a “citizen of the world,” and honestly this is the goal of mine that I’ve made the most progress in so far. Everytime I start to feel bad or wonder about how happy my friends are in Florida, I always come back to Earth when I remember that this simply would have been IMPOSSIBLE from the confines of a Floridian high school. No offense intended or anything, but it’s simply impossible to become a citizen of the world when you don’t leave your comfort zone. I realize this experience is one that so very few people will ever have, so I am extremely grateful that I’ve been lucky enough to be one of them.
Enough about what’s already happened, let’s talk about what’s in store for the future of my exchange. Right now is a slightly difficult time to be an exchange student because I know back in Florida the holidays are in full swing, yet in Taiwan it’s business as usual but colder. School in Taiwan doesn’t have a winter break until mid-January. BUT, on the bright side, Taiwan has a whole set of completely different holidays for me to experience. Honestly it kinda goes with the theme of my exchange so far: it’s so much easier to live around what’s familiar to you, but so much more worthwhile to live around what’s completely different. Suffice it to say, I’m living around a lot of things that are COMPLETELY different. I can’t wait to see what comes in the next season of my exchange. Thank you so much for reading and happy holidays! See you next time. 謝謝你們！下一次見！
Wed, December 4, 2019
- Liam, Outbound to Taiwan
So I’ve been in Taiwan for about 6 weeks. I don’t know if that news will shock you but it absolutely STUNNED me. My first month of 10 went by like THAT. It’s kind of made me realize the power of youth exchange. Sometimes I just think about how wonderful and strange of an experience this is. Not only because I’m a teenager living in a foreign country where literally everything is different and I am far, far away from my comfort zone; but also because of how much I have learned in such a short amount of time: about Taiwan, about (former) strangers, about the world, about making friends, about myself, etc. Point is: I’ve been here 6 weeks and it feels like 12. It’s absolutely bonkers to think that a little more than a month ago I was still a boy in Florida who spoke a little Chinese, but over the course of about 42 days I’ve animorphed into a Floridian boy living in Taiwan who speaks a bit more Chinese. The key word here is living. In the past 6 weeks I’ve begun to actually live, halfway around the world from the place I grew up. What I mean by this is that I go to school, I buy breakfast, I do homework, I hang out with friends, etc. However, I won’t go and pretend that everything is just life as usual: I get strange looks no matter who, what, when, where, and why, I don’t know what anybody is saying half the time, and I CONSTANTLY make mistakes. The way I live is DEFINITELY not ordinary, but I live in Taiwan.
With that being said, let’s talk about my life in Taiwan: is it everything the movies said it would be? Well, funny enough… yeah. One movie in particular, Outsourced–a movie very familiar to the exchange students of RYE Florida–actually pretty much hit the nail on the head with regards to culture shock, which I absolutely did NOT expect. To very quickly summarize, the main character in the movie moves to India and at first has a bad mindset that makes it hard for him to adapt, but as the movie progresses he realizes that he’s the one who change–not the people around him. When I first saw the movie, I kinda just wrote it off and assume it would never happen to me. I mean, I’m not a mean person and to just offhandedly reject another culture is a very mean thing to do. Little did I know, it would actually be exactly what would happen to me For the first day or so of my exchange, I had a pretty ethnocentric take on a lot of the things I experienced. As time progressed, I began to realize this and quickly corrected my mindset. A lot of the things I rejected at first because I feared them I now use daily. Moral of the story: anyone can get culture shock and respond negatively to it, and if you don’t think it’ll happen to you then it almost certainly will in some way or another.
So why am I sharing this? Isn’t this blog supposed to be about all the cute experiences I’ve had over the past 6 weeks? Absolutely for what reason would I possibly want the world wide web to know that when I first arrived I had a really bad attitude? Actually, it’s because I’ve begun to cherish making mistakes. Which, honestly, is a skill you really have to learn when you’re an exchange student, because exchange students make a LOT of mistakes–ESPECIALLY this exchange student in particular. For every day I’ve been here I’ve made at least a dozen mistakes. You might think that this many failures would leave me feeling sad and hopeless, and if you had asked me a few weeks ago, you’d have been absolutely correct. At first, everytime I made a mistake I would come home sad and just incessantly dwell on them. Eventually, however, I realized that the entire reason for my being here was to make mistakes. A year ago, when I first started my application, my goal was to learn a foreign language and a foreign culture, and return as a true citizen of the world. Of course, this is still my goal, and that I now have come to realize that to do this without making mistakes is simply not possible. So instead of dwelling on how embarrassing all those little tiny mistakes were, I choose to focus on what I learned from them.
So you might have noticed that in this blog I talked a lot ABOUT my time in Taiwan but I kinda skimped out when it came to giving specific details. You might have also noticed that this is my September blog and I’m posting it in October… whoops. For the first issue, all I can say is that I already have so many stories and experiences in Taiwan that I couldn’t imagine trying to pack them into one post. To make up for it, I’ll attach some pictures to give you a bit of a better idea of what my life looks like. As for the second issue, the tardiness… well, yeah. Really the main reason why this blog took so long to get up is because I took so long trying to perfect it. Eventually I realized that I’d rather have a couple good blogs than one absolutely perfect one–so here we are. The whole perfectionism thing is something that I’ve actually felt improving a lot since I arrived in Taiwan, so maybe next time I’ll post my blog at a more appropriate time… who knows. Anywho, the first 10 percent or so of my exchange has just wrapped up and I’m so grateful to the past version of myself that decided to apply for the program in the first place; but more than that, I’m grateful to Rotary for even making the program in the first place and providing me with the help of all the many people who put me here.
Thu, October 3, 2019
Marin - Italy
Hometown: Ormond Beach, Florida
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Flagler, Florida
Host District: 2041
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Monza
Ciao, my name is Marin, I am sixteen years old and a junior at Seabreeze High School. Next year, I will be taking my senior year in Italy! Recently, I moved to Florida from North Carolina, where I lived for ten years. Being taken out of my comfort zone helped me realize how much I love meeting new people and trying new things. I am passionate about learning new languages and understanding other cultures as I am currently studying American Sign Language, Spanish and now Italian. I initially became interested in this program with hopes to strengthen my global awareness, learn new languages, and gain an understanding of myself. In the future, I see myself getting involved in social services so that I can provide children with the support and love that they need, and I see myself working to serve others to my best ability with the knowledge I gain through this experience. I love spending my Sunday afternoons volunteering at a local senior center, giving manicures and offering a helping hand wherever I am needed. Speaking to the residents has given me more motivation than ever to travel, learn, and of course, volunteer. During the rest of my free time, I enjoy reading classics and historical fiction, listening to indie and jazz, and going to the beach with my friends. I also adore writing personal essays and short stories. I can only imagine the intricate stories my exchange will invoke! The history behind Italy’s architecture, food, and language fascinates me already. I cannot wait! Grazi, Marin.
Journals: Marin-Italy Blog 2019-20
- Marin, Outbound to Italy
Ciao tutti! Can you believe I have been living in Monza, Italy for five months! I cannot believe it! I will try to address the most important topics. There is so much to write about, but no amount of words can describe my amazing exchange so far.
I am slowly beginning to pick up the language. I often have to remind myself how much I have learned within just these short months. My exchange began with the inability to distinguish between Italian and Chinese. Adesso, parlo un po e capisco piu che mai. È difficile, quando uscito con i miei amici è non riesco a capire niente perché è veramente troppo veloce, tutti parlano insieme. But I enjoy it nevertheless. It’s so much fun just listening to the conversation! In the beginning, I took the most joy from subconsciously understanding, and I would think “were they just speaking English or Italian?” Now I am at a point where someone will ask me for an English translation of what we are talking about, and my mind goes blank. It is an ongoing joke between my friends and I that I don’t speak any language now, just bits and pieces of English and Italian.
Within the last five months here, I’ve learned so much more than I anticipated. I have learned about myself and, more specifically, who I am without those who have almost always been a part of my life. Now that I have been given the freedom to be who I am naturally, without any outside influence or history, I’ve discovered an entirely new part of myself that’s confident, ambitious, and truly optimistic in every situation. I have gotten to know not only about Italian culture, but so many other cultures, including my own. Meeting students from around the world in the same situation as me, makes the world seem a lot smaller. Along with the local Italians, we have developed a bond unlike any other. We come together to celebrate everyone’s culture, trying each other’s favorite foods, sharing music tastes, discussing different holidays celebrations and even putting together celebrations for the locals to experience.
My host families thus far have been incredibly sweet and considerate. I am so very lucky to have not one, not two, but three families that truly care and are empathetic to the ups and downs of my exchange. I am currently living with my second family, ma sono già legati con mia terza famiglia. Believe it or not, my third host family is actually that of my best friend, Carlotta. My first host mom, Daniela, arranged this for me just a few months after my arrival, since I didn’t have a third family lined up yet. My first host family really was the perfect family to ease me into this new country. Daniela is a busy bee with the best fashion sense. She was always giving me pep talks, reminding me to put myself out there and get busy. My heart fills with appreciation every time I recall it, she encouraged me day after day and thanks to her, I am busier and more social than ever. My first host dad, Sergio, is always joking around, starting conversations (everywhere), and taking the lead. I greatly admired watching him interact with others, friends, family, or strangers, so effortlessly. I am so incredibly grateful to learn so much from each of my families.
This is another aspect of exchange I did not expect to learn so much from. How often in a lifetime does someone get to see what it is really like in the life of another family, and furthermore, becoming a part of that family? Living in another person’s home, getting to know their habits, their interactions, their struggles, and their beliefs, it’s so interesting to see and understand universal family traits. I found it even more interesting to see what was so different between our families. Italians are very openly affectionate, physically and verbally. I will admit, at first the random kisses, pinching of the cheeks, and general loss of personal space is definitely something to adjust to. But after a few months following this affectionate lifestyle, it truly has changed the way I view my relationships with those I love. I feel it has brought me so much closer with my best friends here, I often find myself hugging my friends and kissing their cheeks. I view this now as such a necessity for any relationship, how could I live any other way? This is honestly the thing I will miss the absolute most about Italy, just the love. Another major difference is that I currently live in a very wealthy city. Living in this kind of world, understanding what it’s like from such an inside view, it’s life changing. Kids come to school decked out in designer clothes, with designer shoes and bags. Each family has their apartment here in the city, a house in the mountains, and a house on the beach. I think the most shocking thing to me was realizing, truly realizing, these people don’t worry about money. Can you imagine? It gives me hope as well, that one day I will be successful enough to afford not to worry.
Here in Italy, I have school six days a week, meaning Sunday is the only day with no school. This is not nearly so bad. Generally, I have the opportunity to study Italian and read books throughout the day. School ends at 1:15 p.m., except on Saturday where I get out at 12:15! After school, my friends and I walk home and, yes, actually cook lunch together. This is my favorite part of the day. I always take a picture of the things I buy at the grocery store and send it to my family back home, as my American junk food diet suddenly changed to fresh bread, cheese, meat, and vegetables. This after school ritual has helped me learn to cook and appreciate fresh foods. I feel it has brought us all much closer, as we sing along to Italian classics and talk about our day, and finally sit down to eat together.
As for my social life, it’s safe to say that I’ve made more friends within the past five months than I’ve made in my life. I am so thankful for having gone through a similar experience 2 years earlier when I moved from my hometown in North Carolina after my freshman year to begin my sophomore year in Florida. That move taught me the importance of immediately putting myself out there. I started off my exchange with one main goal: to meet as many people as possible, and put myself into scary social situations so often, that it’s not scary anymore. This has changed my life. Before I arrived in Italy, I was too terrified to talk to anyone, and now I am starting up conversations with random people on the bus, in school, and around the city center. Already, I have made several close friendships, stronger than my own friendships back home. My heart breaks at the thought of leaving this life I’ve built here.
Saturday nights in Monza are something I know I will miss terribly. My friends and I dress up in our nicest clothes and go out into the city center, which serves as the local hangout for all of Monza’s teenagers. I absolutely love living in such a small town, everyone knows everyone. I find it interesting how differently teenagers act here. There are a lot of social standards, which may be stressful at times, but mostly, I absolutely love it. In America, nothing is as formal as it is here, especially not for teenagers. The formalities give each of us, I feel, more of a genuine sense of self, confidence, and independence. During dinner, which normally consists of pizza or pasta, my friends and I are often interrupted every few minutes with other teenagers coming to say hello. They say a friendly “Ciao, ciao amo” to their friends and turn to me, the infamous American, and freeze, unsure whether to greet me in Italian or English, and then, finally, let out a breathy “Hi!” before running to meet the rest of their group. A lot of people here are afraid to speak with me in Italian because they think I won’t understand, and when I tell them I will, they speak incredibly fast with slang I haven’t picked up on yet, and then I smile and nod. Under normal circumstances, though, I am able to understand nearly everything!
Lastly, I must explain, Italians are absolutely wild about their food. They take their food very seriously, they will discuss food with you for hours. You may have realized that I have also picked up on this. The number one conversation starter here is food, and yes, they really do eat pasta everyday. One of the first things anyone says to me when they find out I’m American is, “Oh you like hamburgers haha. You do know alfredo is not a real dish right?” So to all of you Americans reading my blog right now, never mention alfredo to Italians, they will get upset because it’s not an Italian dish at all. Also, never ever mention pizza with pineapple. Never. As my dear friend Carlotta once told me, “Gli Italiani hanno delle regole sul cibo.”
Now that my Italian friend’s can relax, knowing I’ve done my part to educate Americans about these food injustices, I suppose it’s time to end my first blog entry. Love you all.
Tue, February 11, 2020
Marley - Slovakia
Hometown: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
School: Ponte Vedra
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
Host District: 2240
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Bratislava International
Ahoj! My name is Marley McCauley. I am beyond excited to spend my year abroad in Slovakia! I am thrilled to learn a new language, immerse myself in new cultures, meet new people, and finally experience seasons. I am 17 years old and live at home with my two younger sisters, my mom, her boyfriend, our cat, two dogs and chickens. I will miss my family next year, but I can’t wait to make new friends and meet my host families. Before my family moved to Ponte Vedra we moved around, living in Colorado, Virginia, and Costa Rica before we settled down in Florida so I could attend preschool here. I am currently a junior at PVHS and am very involved in our school’s music program. Music is a huge part of my life, I play the trumpet, piano, and just recently learned the mellophone. In my free time I love to hang out with my friends, go to the beach, hike, listen to music, bike, read, and my favorite: explore. Just six months ago I would have never thought that I would be given the opportunity to live in a country 5,000 miles away from home, but I’ve learned life is full of unknowns and cannot wait to see what my future holds. Just recently my friend introduced me to a quote by MLK Jr,“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase” and I feel like this truly represents the experiences I have gone through thus far with Rotary, and they will only continue with this exchange. Overall, I cannot thank my grandma enough for sharing her love of traveling and the world with me, my family for always supporting me, and lastly, Rotary for allowing me to experience this life-changing adventure. Dovidenia!
Journals: Marley-Slovakia Blog 2019-20
- Marley, Outbound to Slovakia
Hello again everyone! Here’s a little update on my life, how I’m handling everything surrounding the COVID-19 situation:
The most frustrating thing that’s happened on my exchange so far is all of the unknown going on surrounding the corona virus. I left my host family on Sunday (March 8th) to go snowboarding with Rotary and everything was completely normal, two days before the first case had been diagnosed here in Bratislava. That following Wednesday, Rotary had to cancel our trip to the waterpark because it closed, then the slopes that we had been snowboarding on all week closed on Friday so we had to leave to go home a day early (which was a whole ordeal in itself). Within the matter of a few days everything changed. I was having the most amazing time learning to snowboard with all the exchange students here, I was in a little bubble for 4 days. Paying no attention to what was going on in the outside world, spending 24/7 with friends having a great time. Then that Thursday afternoon my instructor told us there was a 95% chance we wouldn’t be coming back tomorrow and we were all like “what???” …The government had just shut down all ski resorts in the country. That’s when things started to get real.
I was riding the train home, no clue what I was about to walk into. All of us exchange students had no idea what was going to happen when we go home, we knew our schools were closed for the next two weeks, but had no idea how much freedom would be taken away from us. The train was almost empty, and the few people we encountered all had masks. I then got in the car with my host mom and she basically told me I was going to be quarantined in my house with my host brother for at least 14 days. Within the next hours/days the government had announced:
- all three international airports will be closed down
- People with a permanent or temporary domicile in the Slovak Republic who return to Slovakia from abroad will be obliged to remain in quarantine for 14 days
- All schools and educational establishments will be shut
- Temporary border control with all neighboring states will be imposed, except for the Republic of Poland, where the situation will be continuously monitored
- International and domestic train and bus transport will be limited, except for imports and supplies
- Bars, leisure facilities and premises (ski centers, wellness centers, fitness centers, amusement parks and aquaparks) will be closed
- Social and cultural establishments will be shut down
- Shopping centers will have limited operation – on the weekend, only food, medications and drugstore items may be bought
- The opening hours of customer centers will be limited
- Visits of the hospital patients will continue to be prohibited
- The organization of sporting, cultural, social and other mass events is prohibited
- Hotels and restaurants will be open.
I can leave the house for a walk or skate around the lake, but I can’t use public transportation because it’s too risky, which means I’m going from seeing my friends every day at school to not for a while. Everyone is wearing masks, keeping distance from each other, it’s crazy to me how in the matter of a week this could happen. I went away for a Ski week with rotary and now I come back and everything’s going to be online for a while. I plan on lots of skype calls, and school will be over the computer. That will be a very new experience, group “zooming” my classmates and teachers to have classes, which means my classes in Slovak will be difficult with no one able to translate ideas for me. I wonder when the next time I’ll have the opportunity to be in the city center again…. I know that during this time I need to keep myself busy and everything will be okay.
This first week in quarantine really did mentally take a toll on me, I was doing good at first then everything snuck up on me and now it’s Friday morning and I’m crying my eyes out because one of my best friends has to leave to go home. We’re all stuck at home and I don’t know if I’ll get the chance for a proper goodbye 🙁 Every day this week I’ve gotten a notification about kids from my home district going home, kids in my district at the airport here saying bye- it’s all too much. Who would’ve thought a pandemic would hit 2020. Definitely not me.
On a happier note I have learned a lot about myself spending these past few days alone. I have all of the time in the world and I’m trying to use it to my advantage, to better myself. I go on long walks everyday in the fields behind my house with my dog, sometimes put some skates on and do a few laps around the lake. Funny story about that actually. The first time I ever put skates on my feet was a couple days ago and I decided it would be a good idea to go all the way from my house to the lake. Which is a solid 2-3km just to get there and then 6 km around the lake. So, turns out I have no clue how to stop and you have to go down a hill from my house, that was one of the scariest moments in my life, I completely lost control and was just praying there wouldn’t be any cars. I got lucky, and the rest of the way was hilarious, trying not to die on sidewalk cracks and everything. I told my host mom about it and she was like “how did you get down the hill???? Are you crazy?”. So, I learned from my mistake and the next day rode my bike with skates in a backpack to the lake. Still don’t know how to stop though, I just grab onto trees. When I do go outside, I make sure to avoid people and my host mom says I have to wear a mask (which is annoying when you’re doing some kind of physical activity but I know it’s for the best).
Other things I’ve been doing in my quarantine:
Listening to lots of music and podcasts
Lots of watching the news at night with my host mom, following the situation around the world
Spending a lot of time on Slovak, and picking up some Portuguese
Finally trying to learn how to ollie
Lots of zoom calls with my class for school
Skype calls with friends
Cooking with my host brother
Here’s a little update from my now 3rd week in quarantine/self-isolation. I am doing a lot better mentally; I’ve learned to except the situation I’m in and know there isn’t much I can do about it. I have noticed myself losing motivation to do work, but I’m trying and know it’s better to keep busy. The weather has been crazy, some days it’s 17C outside and I can sit out in the sun and others it’s been -2C, back to being stuck inside. I’m in a much better mood the more time I spend outside. I mentioned before that my friend had to suddenly leave Slovakia and go back home to the US, that was hard to get over. But I made an agreement with my host mom and she was nice enough to drive me to say bye to her. I am so glad that I had that chance for a somewhat proper “goodbye for now”. It still hasn’t really hit me that she left, we can still talk on facetime like we were doing before, so it’s like nothing has changed- but she’s actually in a completely different country than me now. When I can leave the house and go to school that’s when it’ll actually hit me.
Slovakia has introduced a few more laws surrounding the virus; it’s now required to wear masks outside, all shops are open 9-12 for the elderly and immunocompromised only, and everything should be closed on Sunday’s. Just like the rest of the world we don’t know when we’ll go back to school, if we do. Who knew I’d miss school this much…?
I just got news I’ll be switching families after Easter; I’m excited for a change in environment, but I also really do not want to leave this family now, I love them so much. At that point I’ll have been in the house for over 4 weeks so it will be good for a change, also really give me a chance to know them under lockdown haha.
Anyways, I’ve been documenting my whole “quarantine experience” in journal entries in Slovak so that will be interesting to look back at in a few years when all of this is well over. I’m hanging in there for this crazy experience, living through a worldwide pandemic in Slovakia. I have been given an interesting opportunity to see first hand how a country other than the US is dealing with the virus. I hope everyone is taking the necessary precautions, please self-isolate as much as possible (I know its annoying but in the long run it’s for the best). Stay healthy and we’ll all get through this together!!! I want to thank everyone in my life for constantly checking up on me, Rotary making sure I’m okay and I want to stay, my host family for taking care of me, I wouldn’t be able to do it without all the amazing people in my life I know this will end and am keeping a positive energy about everything.
Wed, April 1, 2020
- Marley, Outbound to Slovakia
Ahojte! I know it’s been awhile since I’ve written one of these, life has been crazy, it always is. It’s still hard for me to believe I’ve already been here for over 5 months…my exchange is already halfway over 🙁 It feels like I haven’t been home in Florida for such a long time, but at the same time time’s flying as I try and take everything in over here. I’ll try and catch you up on everything that has been going on for the past couple months. Sit down, maybe make some tea if you actually want to read this-I’m sorry it’s so long.
Lots of new experiences for me packed into this month. The first weekend of October I took a train with fellow exchange students across the country to a city called Košice. There we ran in the oldest marathon in Europe called the Košice Peace Marathon, the weather wasn’t ideal in the slightest-cold and rainy. It was my first experience in the “cold” here, at least at that time what I thought was pretty much unbearable (like 8 degrees Celsius). Despite the weather I had a great weekend exploring the city with friends, making lots of memories. This month consisted a lot of me exploring my own city before it got too cold. Many afternoons exploring the nooks and crannies of Bratislava, lots of cafes, I found my favorite little Vietnamese restaurant in a cute outdoor market, many visits to the castle, just lots of walking in general. Before the weather got all rainy my skateboard was my best friend, helped me catch a lot of buses on time, even though the streets here are 100% not made for skating on-caused me to fall quite a few times. My host mom took me to see my first ballet of the Swan Lake, it was beautiful, but who knew ballets were almost 3 hours? Not me. As I’ve learned Halloween is pretty much only celebrated in the US, even though stores here do sell Halloween decorations and my host sister and I carved a pumpkin together, but there’s no trick-or-treating. I got asked countless times if we actually did that in the US, and everyone was always so surprised when I said yes. My school has a couple American teachers and one of them organized a spooky night hike as sort of a way to celebrate Halloween and to be able to show Slovaks some of our American traditions. It was a chilly night and about 8 of us met at around 11PM and hiked up to a place called Koliba in a small mountain range in Bratislava. We sat around a fire all night, singing songs, telling ghost stories, and showing the Slovaks how to make smores. I had a really good time and ended up getting home at around 8AM. We had a fall holiday at the end of the month and I was lucky enough to spend a couple of days in Prague with my host family. My 10-year-old host sister and I got really close, spending 24/7 with each other and I was at the point I could understand at least some of what she was saying.
I’m realizing this is taking too long to write so I’ll just highlight my experiences. It got cold this month; way too cold for this Florida girl. I’ve never had to wear this many layers in my life, having to consciously dress to stay warm every day is a lot for me. My host mom warned me that this was her least favorite month and now I see why, there’s barely ever sun and it’s cold and rainy. Anyways, I turned 18!!! It was tough to be away from family, but my friends here made it special for me. We walked up to the castle after school and watched the sunset, one of my favorite things ever. My rotary club got together at an all-male rehabilitation center to make traditional Slovak Christmas treats called oblátky and trubičky, not easy to make at all. At the end of the month was Thanksgiving, which at first, I was not looking forward to at all, because it is an American holiday so it’s not celebrated here. But it turns out my school had a very special event for all of the Americans (because I go to a bilingual English-Slovak school they have native speakers here teaching students English.) They invited me to a huge thanksgiving feast, it was so cool to be able to share this holiday with a few Americans in Slovakia, and teach some classmates what the holiday means to me. Made me extremely thankful for the community around me and this life changing experience I am currently living.
I was ecstatic to wake up on December 1st to snow flurries falling from the sky. My host family didn’t understand why I was so excited for the tiniest amount of snow, but I felt like I was in a winter wonderland- as we all know snow isn’t a thing in Florida. Sitting in my religion class I didn’t catch a single word I was too busy looking out the window. My friends and I ran outside during our break and danced and played in the snow like we were 3 years old, honestly didn’t even feel the cold I was having such an amazing time. Of course, it didn’t last- by the time my next class was over at 11 all the snow was melted and the sun was out. After school I went ice skating outside at the Christmas markets in the city. I will never, for the rest of my life, forget that day. We had our second orientation meeting for all the inbounds in Slovakia here in Bratislava, and we all took a bus together to Vienna for the day. I was super stressed because we had to take a Slovak language test, but it turned out fine and the rest of the weekend was fun. The Christmas markets in both Bratislava and Vienna are beautiful, very crowded, but I would recommend going. Living in Bratislava I found myself walking through the markets almost every day, by the time Christmas came I knew what every little shop had to offer. I also went to my first ever hockey game with fellow exchange students, go Slovan! And the last day of school before winter break, we did a secret Santa in my class and then a few Christmas related workshops throughout the day.
Christmas here was full of a lot of new experiences for me. It is celebrated on the 24th, I spent the whole day with my family hanging around the house, preparing for dinner. Unfortunately, the days leading up to Christmas I was extremely sick so I missed out on making the million types of cookies with my host sister (but it’s okay I still got to eat them). On Christmas there’s a tradition to put fish scales on the dinner table for good luck, but we didn’t have any so we replaced them with coins instead. We started dinner eating oblátky with honey and a clove of garlic. Then kapustnica (sour cabbage soup) and carp with potato salad for the main meal. My host sister could barely sit still waiting for us to finish dinner because then came with the ring of a bell Ježiško (baby Jesus), delivering presents under the Christmas tree when we went outside to look for him. It was really nice to be able to celebrate the holiday with a different culture’s perspective.
After Christmas I drove 5 hours with my host family across Slovakia to Prešov to visit my host mom’s family for a few days. We visited the high Tatras and it was honestly the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. Hiking in the mountains with everything covered with snow was breathtaking, and it was a beautiful day outside-the sun was shining, making everything prettier (and less cold, the -10 C was enough!) I had a fun time with my host uncle, he learned how to say “yellow snow no” in English for me and probably repeated it 100 times that day.
Though I did have plenty of good days in November and December, those were probably the toughest months I’ve had so far on exchange. Physically I was drained, the weather was gloomy, the sun was barely ever out, and I was constantly exhausted. Mentally my brain was overstimulated constantly trying to translate everything around me, which caused a lot of frustration because I still couldn’t understand a lot. Seasonal depression is a thing y’all.
I went into the new year with my friends sitting on the bank of the Danube river watching a beautiful firework show. Never, in a million years, did I think that’s how I would go into 2020. As soon as January hit everything has started going by so fast. I am completely comfortable living in a not-so-foreign (anymore) country. I love my life here, and before I came, I didn’t know I could grow this much as a person. My whole perspective on the world has changed and I’m beyond grateful for that.
This month I had a lot of changes again. My host family wanted to make the most of my last couple of days with them (and the last couple days of winter break). We visited a fairytale looking castle and a Caravaggio & Bernini art exhibit in Vienna. Both beautiful experiences. Then came time to say čau to my first family and that was rough. I spent almost five months with them, I’ve grown so much since my first day here. They had to teach me everything about the culture here, from little things like different table manners to big things like language and transportation. Everything was new to me and I’m thankful they had the patience to immerse me into their culture and welcome me into their home. It was hard to pack all of my things; I didn’t realize how much stuff I’d accumulated until I tried to fit it into my bags and it just didn’t work. I got super emotional saying bye to my little sister, she latched onto me and would only let me leave when I promised I would come visit soon.
Walking out that door I started a new chapter of my exchange. I moved to a completely different part of Bratislava, called Senec. Before I was living 5 min from Hungary and now, I’m definitely not. To get to the city center I now have to take a short train ride, which is pretty inconvenient only because the trains to my little town don’t go very often. I thought I woke up early before, but now my train leaves for school at 6:30, and it takes about an hour and a half, with all the transportation I take, to get there. But my host family is amazing so that inconvenience doesn’t even matter. They welcomed me into their family immediately, and are some of the sweetest, kindest people I have met since I’ve been here.
I understand now why we switch families. My new family eats different foods, has different mannerisms, etc.- I’m experiencing a different “interpretation” of Slovak culture. I now have cute little dog and 16-year old host brother. When I moved in with this family, I wasn’t the little baby I was when I first flew into Slovakia, I already have my routine, friends, klubs. I know how everything works, I can get around the city alone, so I don’t need to rely on them for every little thing like I did with my first family. With our busy schedules it was a different way of getting to know each other. Little bits at a time- at dinner after school, occasionally not staying out with my friends and going home just to exercise with my host mom, spending a Saturday at home and spending time together-just making these little efforts from both sides in the matter of less than 2 months I feel like a part of the family.
The biggest question I get from people back in Florida is “how’s the language? Are you fluent yet?”. It didn’t take me long to realize how hard Slovak was, it just took me a long time to accept that my Slovak would never be perfect and by the end of these 10 months I still probably won’t know most of the grammar, won’t be able to have long complicated conversations. Part of this may be due to the fact that almost everyone around me speaks English, I go to a bilingual English school, I live in the capital city. BUT I’ve seen an exponential increase in my Slovak when I moved into my new family because they don’t know English. This is the push I’ve needed- to be forced to speak Slovak in order to communicate. I was so embarrassed at first because my pronunciation isn’t the best but now, I realize that’s stupid. They are the most amazing people being patient with me, I learn so much every day with them constantly correcting me. Now I can have a conversation with my host mom on the phone with no problem. And at this point I’ve accepted that any accomplishment, no matter how small, is a win with Slovak. The other day I was able to have a conversation with the barista at a café, and a lady on the street asked me for directions and I was able to respond in my broken sentences and horrible grammar. So, when I get that question “are you fluent yet?” I can confidently say I am trying my hardest and am almost conversational.
So far since I’ve moved in with my new family a lot has happened. I had another rotary orientation weekend for all the inbounds in Slovakia, this time in Poprad. We spent all day hiking in the mountains, on literal ice, so we all took multiple falls. It was really nice to be able to hang out with all of the exchange students again, we all got very close over that weekend. I also sled for the first time ever with a fellow Floridian and that was the most fun I’ve had in long time, lots of crashing. My host family took me snowboarding for the first time, only for a few hours, but it was so fun. They said I did really good for my first time and I’m looking forward to being able try again. It also snowed for the second time in Bratislava (it’s been a warm winter for Slovakia)!!
Then another exchange student from Australia arrived in Bratislava and it’s been exciting getting to know her. She’s in my class at school and I love being able to learn about Australian culture and it’s funny how different their English is than ours. It’s also crazy to see that I was in her situation 5 months ago, I’ve learned so much and hopefully can help her out some. I love how since I’ve been on exchange, I’ve not only learned a lot about Slovak culture but also Brazilian, Canadian, Australian and Colombian cultures. RYE is really an amazing way to connect the world.
And last but not least, February:
The sun finally came out!!!! I was ESTATIC when the weather slowly switched from being constantly foggy and cloudy to the sun occasionally shining (at least 3-4 times a week now). This month Riko, the Australian, has taught me how to make sushi, and if you know me you know how much I love sushi. I’ve visited 4 more castles with my host family, walked to Austria (don’t worry it was only like 4 km), went to another hockey game, and done a lot more exploring of the city. My goal now is to find the perfect café. Bratislava has the infamous UFO tower on the “new bridge” that overlooks the whole city and after 6 months of crossing the bridge every day I finally went up, and that view was amazing.
Then I had my spring holiday, and that was an amazing week. I visited Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, then spent two days in Prague with my close friends. We had such a great time exploring the city all day, it was so weird to hear so many people speaking English, it’s almost all tourists in the center. It was pretty cool that we could go to a café there and speak Slovak to the barista and they would respond in Czech and there wasn’t much of a problem understanding each other. I was not ready for the holiday to end I was having such a good time, but now I’m back in school, back to my normal schedule. The next thing I have to look forward to is a Ski Week organized by rotary in March!
Okay, as we would say here ďakujem vám za pozornosť (thank you for your attention)! I’m sorry if I bored you but I’m glad I can share. Thank you to everyone for continuing to support me through my exchange, especially all the Rotary members who have had my back since the beginning. I’m looking forward to my next couple months in Slovakia and I can’t wait to see what the future has in hold for me 🙂
Thu, March 5, 2020
- Marley, Outbound to Slovakia
Ahojte! Oh, I have no idea where to start, this has truly been a life changing experience and it has only been a little more than a month of me living here. Time really does fly. I started my exchange with a “30-day challenge”- I didn’t talk to anyone I was close to back home, friends and family, for 30 days. I did post some on Facebook and Instagram so everyone (my mom) knew I was alive and doing well. This really helped me to integrate myself into life here and I would highly recommend to future exchange students. I feel like it also really helped me avoid homesickness my first couple of weeks. Anyway, here’s a bit about my exchange so far.
Leaving Florida, I had a long journey ahead of me, one that I wasn’t entirely prepared to handle or, at the very least, expecting. I’ve heard stories of flight problems, delays and such but I just never really thought that would be me- guess who was wrong. I said my final goodbyes, and I remember walking through that security line thinking “wow, I’m really about to do this” it was an insane feeling. So, my flight out of Jacksonville on the 20th of August ended up getting delayed so I missed my connecting flight in Washington DC, which was not fun. I had to talk to a million people to change my flights and everything but I did it. Instead of flying straight from DC to Vienna I had to be rerouted to Munich then Vienna, which added another 8 hours of traveling to my itinerary. I ended up landing in Vienna on August 21st after 4 airports. I was exhausted, my back hurt because my backpack was so heavy, my blazer was annoying me, but the feeling of relief when I was greeted by my host family is something I’ll never forget. Eliŝka, my host sister, sprinted towards me and gave me the biggest hug and everything after that was a blur. I found out on the car ride to my new home that it was Eliŝka’s 10th birthday so when we got home, we celebrated with a chocolate cake (my first “meal” in Slovakia). I was beyond exhausted and slept for like 15 hours that night.
Where I live:
I live in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. The population is roughly 433,000 making it a smaller European capital. Bratislava borders Austria and Hungary, Vienna is only 55 km away from the city! The Danube river goes through the city, and the little Carpathian mountain range isn’t very far. It’s crazy living so close to everything, I get to experience city life, and at the same time all the natural beauties aren’t far from me at all. My first full day here my host cousin showed me around the city, we saw the Bratislava castle and some other touristy places. And it was my first time riding public transportation. Let me tell you it took me a long time to understand the bus schedules and even now I still miss the bus or end up taking the wrong trams. But it has been really nice because I can get pretty much everywhere here by the buses and trams, and I’ve been given a lot of freedom to explore the city. I live in a cute little neighborhood 25 min by car outside the city, there’s a lake here that everyone goes swimming at in the summer and just down the street from my house there’s a bakery in someone’s garage and at night the street smells amazing. Everyone is so into exercise here, in the evening there’s a bike road all the way to the city behind my neighborhood and so many people either bike, scooter, run, or rollerblade. My host dad has invited me out to bike with him a few times and the first time I went we biked 20 km, fast…my legs hurt so bad after but it was such a good feeling. I’ve also started running a bit with a girl I met in the neighborhood. It’s helped me to clear my mind and it gives me something to do when I’m bored.
I go to Bilingválne gymnázium C. S. Lewisa, a bilingual high school for English here in Bratislava. School here is so different than it was back in the US, and I’ve been told that my school isn’t even a typical Slovak high school because it’s bilingual. There are about 450 kids here in grades from freshman to super seniors (everyone has 5 years of high school in bilingual schools). I really really like this school but I was kind of disappointed to hear that most of my classes would be in English because I’m missing out on a lot of language immersion-but my school allowed me to drop some of them so it turned out alright. I stay with the same class of 12 people all day, except for when I have Slovak lessons. My schedule changes every day (about 4-6 classes a day) and most of the classes we take only have lessons twice a week. I am usually done with my lessons by 2, then I eat a big lunch usually with soup, some kind of salad, and the main meal. And everyone eats a snack (usually a sandwich and fruit) at about 10. Biology, geography, and civics are all taught in English and physics, PE, religionðics, math, art, and Spanish are all taught in Slovak. And my classmates take even more classes than that because I dropped out of some! I’m very thankful that my school put me and the 3 other exchange students here into 5 Slovak lessons a week, it’s helping with my language skills a ton.
We have 10-15 minutes between every class and when there are even longer breaks in my schedule, I can leave school to take a walk or go to a little grocery store for a pastry or something before my next class. It’s super nice having all of this freedom at school. Or sometimes I just stay in the school and hang around till my next lesson. I’m writing this journal from my school’s café, and in what we call the gallery (it’s probably closest to what we call an auditorium in the US- but it’s open and in the middle of the school) there are beanbags and couches to hang out on. Also, another new thing about school here is that starting in October we have to change into indoor shoes because the weather gets really rainy and they don’t want us stomping mud all over the floors. Catch me freezing pretty soon, everyone tells me the school gets really cold in the winter because there’s no heating.
What I’ve done:
My third day here my host family took me on an amazing trip to the Low Tatras, a mountain range in Slovakia. It was an incredible start to this exchange and a great way for all of us to get to know each other. We went to a waterpark, saw a horseback riding competition, I caught a fish, we went to the top of a mountain on a ski lift, we hiked 15 km up a mountain and through valleys, and so much more. The nature here is breathtaking, I’m so happy to be living in this beautiful country.
Me and 3 other exchange students living in Bratislava went to a city called Martin for a medical check that’s required to get our residency permits to stay in Slovakia. That was interesting to say the least.
I met 72 other people from at least 10 different countries spending their exchange year in Slovakia or Czech Republic. I’ve definitely made friendships that will last a lifetime. It was an amazing weekend with little sleep. And me and a girl from Brazil tied for best score on our Slovak language test!
I’ve seen at least 6 castles.
I rode my first train.
I went on a 5-hour hike in the rain with my schools hiking club to the Pajŝtun castle ruins.
I joined my schools dance club, even though I’ve never danced a day in my life. And I’m so bad, but it’s fun.
I’ve seen traditional Slovak dance performed multiple times.
I’ve tried so many interesting and delicious new foods. Everything is so good and homemade.
Trying to learn a new language is hands down the hardest thing I have ever done. Sometimes I’m sitting at my desk trying to grasp this language and I think “why did I do this to myself.” Hearing people speak a different language 24/7 is definitely something that has taken getting used to. At times it is extremely frustrating to not understand what is going on around me, but it just makes me work that much harder to learn this language. I feel so accomplished when I can pick up words or phrases, or read a menu or billboard. It is definitely a work in progress, and a very slow one at that. But my desire to learn this language is indescribable, I want nothing more than to be able to communicate with these people in their language. A lot of people I meet are very surprised I even want to learn Slovak, if I’m going to be here for 10 months of course I want to try, even if only 5 million people speak it. I’ve surprised a few kids at school by saying a few simple phrases in Slovak, they just assume I know nothing. And because everyone knows English it makes it very hard to practice my Slovak, they either speak to me in English or too fast for me to understand.
A few things I’ve learned since being here: I really can’t “roll” my r’s at all. And that’s a problem considering that’s how every r is pronounced. And almost every TV show here is in Czech, except for the news in Slovak, because the languages are so similar everyone here speaks both with no problem.
I urge anyone considering going on exchange, do it, it’s totally worth. Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard, like really hard. I’ve only been here a month and I’ve already grown as a person. I’ve learned to see things from a different perspective, I’ve discovered a new culture, met so many new people. But you have to remember exchange is real life. There’s not always something fun and exciting to do all the time. Some days I wake up, go to school, then go home-nothing special. But overall, I’m building a life for myself in a new country and so far, it has been incredible. There are no words to describe how incredibly thankful I am to Rotary for giving me this opportunity, and for providing me with an amazing support system both here and in the US.
I know this journal is long, and I rambled a lot, but hopefully this gave you an insight into my life here in Slovakia! Honestly, I think more people should know about this beautiful country. Thanks for reading 🙂
Fri, October 4, 2019
Mia - Brazil
Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: Pedro Menendez High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Rotary Club of St. Augustine Beach, Florida
Host District: 4571
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Petropolis
Oi! Hello my name is Mia Mondello and I will be headed to Brazil soon! I am so excited this is a dream of mine and cannot believe I will be living it soon. I am sophomore at Pedro Menendez High School in St. Augustine Florida, my hometown. In school I take Spanish which I have found out is a lot different then Portuguese. But I’m so excited to learn a new language! I live with my mom ,dad ,and a dog. When I am not in school I love spending time with my friends and family we love going to the beach, walking downtown, going out on the boat, riding bikes and skate boarding. I am on a sailing team at our local yacht club, it is one of my favorite things to do because I love being out on the water and enjoying the outdoors. I am so excited to be living in Brazil for next school year! I am most excited about meeting my host families and making new friends from around the world. I also cannot wait to try new foods, learn about another culture, and explore new horizons. I am hopeful to travel and see different areas while I am there also. Since I have found out that I am going the Brazil, I have been taking Portuguese lessons, watching travel videos, studying maps of South America, and talking to people from Brazil that live in St. Augustine. The new year is bright and I am looking forward to my Brazilian life experience in 2019/2020. Até então!
Journals: Mia-Brazil Blog 2019-20
- Mia, Outbound to Brazil
Oi! It has been 4 months since I have been in this amazing county! I am living in a small town called Petropolis. It is a little mountain town about an hour away from Rio de Janeiro. When I first got on the plan here I really had no idea what to expect. For some reason I was not that scared or nervous I think because so much was going on in my life and everything was about to change that there was no time to be scared. But of course saying goodbye to my friends and family was like the hardest thing ever. And there was many tears and many feelings. When traveling by myself most of the time I was just paranoid that I was not going to make it on my flights on time. But everything worked out and there was nothing to worry about. I had a night flight so I landed in Rio de Janeiro at about 10 in that mourning. Once I got there my whole host family came running to me and gave me the sweetest welcome so I was no longer nervous. Once we left the airport I was just so amazed by my surrounding. Every thing in my life had changed. Especially the way people drive.(There are the craziest/scariest drivers in Brazil). But now I am proud to say that I am used to it.
My first month here I did tons of things like starting school. Which is so much more different then school in the USA. Here I go to a small private school called Pensi . In Brazil it is normal to go the private school if you can afford it because public school is not so good. But I have learn to love going to this small school. I study in the afternoon which is also so different for me. My school start most days at 1:40 to 7:10. My class is very small we only have 13 kids in it. I am in the 2nd grade which is like the same as 11th grade in the USA. Being in a small school it was easy to get to know everyone and become friends fast. Also Brazilians are the sweetest most welcoming people ever! I live about 40 minute drive from school but it usually takes me a hour to go by bus which is what I mostly do.
I had a host sister for the first 2 weeks here her name was Anna. I love her and we really got along super well but unfortunately she had to leave to go on here exchange too. So then it was just me and my host parents. But there are very sweet and we have had some hard time but we are very close now. In my town there are 4 exchange students. One from Denmark her name is Freja, Mexico his name is Rodrigo, and one from Venezuela his name is Diego. I am really close with the girl Freja. There are also 11 more exchange students in Rio. We go there lot and hang out with them.
So far in Brazil so much has happen but I will share some of my best memories. On my second week they brought me to see the beaches in Rio. It was so amazing I started crying. After this I went on a Rotary trip to Caragutatuba. I met all the exchange student for the first time. After this I went to many birthday parties. I did a project with my school and we feed the homes in town. I went to my first music festive called Rock in Rio with my best friends. Then went on anther Rotary trip to Campos do Jordao, Hung out with may friends in Rio, went to Sugarloft with some exchange students, then had some friend visit my town we did a big hike and swam in a waterfall. After this I went to Rio again for a Rotary costume party. One of my friend brought me to Buzios which is just and amazing beach town. Went to Christ the redeemer,hung out with many friend in my town for a awhile. Then I went to an amazing 15th birthday party which is a really big deal in Brazil. Finally my most resent adventure was to Vassouras with Rotary. We went to a water park and had a Christmas celebration with them. Now I am back in my town but plan to go to Rio on Thursday because I am now on summer break! Till next time! Tchau!!!!
Wed, December 11, 2019
Morganne - Lithuania
Hometown: Ponte Vedra, Florida
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Ponte Vedra Sunset, Florida
Host District: 1462
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Siauliai Harmonica
Labas!! Hello! My name is Morganne Percevault and I live in Ponte Vedra, Florida. I am so so very blessed to say that I will be living in Lithuania next year! You may be asking yourself, “Does she really want to go to Lithuania?” The answer to your question is yes! My grandmother was from Lithuania, and I am excited to experience my heritage. The language is daunting, but just as so many other aspects of exchange, I am ready to overcome challenges! I live with my parents (Bonnie and Joe) and my older sister (Mallory). I am originally from Pennsylvania, where I lived until I was 14. Currently, I am a junior at Nease High School. I am a member of the cross country and track team, and I am involved in a number of clubs, including, Student Council, Best Buddies, and French Club. I work as a hostess at a small restaurant, and the people I work with are some of closest friends. When I’m not studying or working, I enjoy running, reading, and going to the beach with my friends. I will miss my school, family, and friends while I am gone next year, but I am welcoming my new school, new family, new friends, and new life with open arms! I would like to give a BIG thank you to Rotary, and all of the volunteers who make exchange possible! I am ready to grow and change as I go through this crazy journey! Viso Gero!!
Journals: Morganne-Lithuania Blog 2019-20
- Morganne, Outbound to Lithuania
June 21, 2020
It is now time to write the journal that I think no exchange student wants to write.
I leave in nine days. NINE. It is absolute insanity that my time here is almost over. I honestly don’t think it has hit me yet that I am actually going home; it doesn’t feel real. It seems unfair to me that I have to leave, just when it feels like I am really becoming Lithuanian. Of course, I miss my family and friends, and I’m excited to see them. However, every space in my heart wishes that I could pick Lithuania up and put it right next to Florida. I will miss it so so much. I’ve had people say to me, “Morganne, you can always go back and visit.” I think every exchange student can agree with me, that it is not the same. Going back home to America, I am leaving my entire life as an exchange student behind. Living in Lithuania, I live as a Lithuanian, with routines and everything else that comes along with a life. When I come back to visit Lithuania, I will simply be a visitor.
Being an exchange student was the most challenging thing that I have done in my life, but I think returning to “normal” life will be equally as challenging. Clearly, I am sad about leaving, but I am also looking forward to moving on, and using all of my knowledge I gained in Lithuania back home. I already know that I’ve changed from the time I arrived here. I look back at pictures from September, and I think, “that is not the same person.” I am 100% more mature, and 200% more confident in myself. I think change is a wonderful thing, and during our whole lives we continue to morph into different versions of ourselves. But- I cannot help but be a little nervous with my return home. How will I feel as this new version of myself in what is supposed to be my “home,” when I have changed to fit in with Lithuania? So yes, I’m a bit nervous, but if exchange has taught me anything, it’s that life is what you make it. I’m excited to face the challenges that will come my way, and to live for the rest of my life as if I only have 9 days left on exchange!
This past month has been really great. I moved back in with my first host family, and my host sister is my best friend. Our quarantine restrictions have been mostly lifted, so life is “back to normal.” Everyday I have tried to do something meaningful. Not only because I have so few days left, but also to make up for the time I have lost during quarantine. If you are a future exchange student, my advice to you is- do NOT waste any of your days. Yes, there are days where you do not want to do anything or go anywhere, but push yourself, because you never know if another global pandemic will take away two months of your exchange. I also would just like to say how awesome Lithuania is in general. A small, but beautiful country. Not only beautiful landscapes, but a beautiful culture as well. My appreciation and understanding of the culture grows each day, and I simply love this country. Lietuva yra mano antrieji namai!
I’d like to finish the journal off by simply saying thank you. Thank you to everyone in Lithuania who made my exchange great; my families and friends. Thank you to my family in America for supporting me when I needed help. Of course, thank you to each Rotarian who makes exchange possible.
– – – – –
Hey guys! Just popping in to say I’m just chilling in quarantine..
First I was really lucky to have gone to France before the virus really hit here. I visited my host brother Joris (who my family hosted last year). It was a really wonderful trip for a bunch of reasons. Firstly, where he lives is absolutely beautiful; Annecy France, a smaller city by Switzerland. I also got to visit to Lyon and Geneva for a day, both lovely cities. Of course, I love French food; cheese and bread, and then some more cheese 😉 But the most interesting part of this trip was to meet my host brother’s family. After living with him for five months, I loved being able to see the family that made him the person that he is. The day I got back from France was Lithuanian Independence Day, which I spent with the other exchange students. We went on a hike through the capital to celebrate, and I got to watch a parade & my host grandma made these really delicious pancakes that they only eat on special occasions!
Now talking about the virus. My euro tour was cancelled, and a trip to Poland I had planned. There is no school, and we are stuck inside because the weather still is not that great. BUT I am making the best of it. Everyday I try to wake up and do something productive. I exercise, study Lithuanian, and spend time with my host family. I have done some painting, and admittedly have watched a lot of netflix. I’ve called friends and family back home; basically have done everything you could think to do if you have been inside for 3 and a half weeks. For a few of the days that we actually have had good weather, my family and I went to their “fazenda.” It’s my host dad’s grandfather’s house, and let me tell you, it is OLD. Over 100 years! There is no running water, which means using an outhouse. When we were there we did preparations for the spring and summer. We cleaned out the garden and did a lot of raking. My favorite thing was the grilled chicken my host dad made on the fire. I’m hoping the weather gets really nice soon so we can go more often, because it is beautiful. You are surrounded by only fields, and you feel peaceful.
Some people have asked why I’m not coming home. First of all, I have a sister who has a very weak immune system. I feel as though right now it is more dangerous to travel than to stay in Lithuania, and I would be worried to spread the virus to my sister if I were to return home. In addition, I still don’t feel as though my time in Lithuania is finished. I would rather be in quarantine here for two more months, with the possibility of having one last month of a “real” exchange, than to return home now. Even being in quarantine on exchange is an experience. I’m spending time with a wonderful host family, eating the food, and learning the language. There really is nothing more I can ask for, except for all of YOU to stay inside, and to wash your hands 🙂 I’m hoping to come home to a country out of quarantine!! Thank you Rotary for helping us during this strange time.
Wed, April 1, 2020
- Morganne, Outbound to Lithuania
Yay!!! This journal will be happier than the last one!!!!!! These past two months have been very very lovely. Of course with some small bumps in the road, but I really can’t ask for anything better.
My first few weeks at school in January were really difficult for me. I felt very alone at school, and that I had “no friends.” Looking back at that time only a month later, I can see the things that caused me to feel that way, and what I could have done to make it better. First, the weather was really bad. It was cloudy and cold everyday. I wish that at that time, I understood that it was partially the weather contributing to my mood and outlook. Second, I really missed my family. Coming back to Lithuania after being in America for a few weeks made me really miss them, which is kind of backwards to how you think I would feel. Whenever I felt alone, I thought of my family in America, instead of focusing on the people I had to support me here in Lithuania. Which only made me miss them more; the spiraling effects of homesickness. Third, I expected local friends to continue to reach out to me. In the beginning of my exchange, I worked really hard to make friends. After coming back from America, some of these friendships changed. It took me some time to accept that some friends, I had to move on from. This meant that again, just like in the beginning of my exchange, I needed to work to make new friends. This of course is difficult when you aren’t the “new foreign kid” anymore. For a few weeks, instead of doing the work to again make better local friends, I became a bit isolated. I spent time in my room pitying the fact I had “no friends” (even though I did) (this was dramatic Morganne). Fourth, I had a new host family. Even though I was present with my family, and was really trying to get to know them, the first month with a new family I think is something that is difficult for every student. Of course, my family is wonderful and I love them now, but living with a family you don’t know that well simply makes you feel even more alone. Along with there not being many things to do in January in Lithuania, this combination of things made it a pretty rough month.
But February! February was my month! I went to London! It was a short trip- 3 days- but was really really awesome. I saw every tourist sight and maybe a bit more 🙂 Going back to school after London was easier, I was again my normal, outgoing self. I now again enjoy going to school and love seeing friends there each day. This past month I became really close with my host family. They are really invested in making sure I truly understand Lithuanian culture; we visited another Lithuanian city together, celebrated Lithuanian Mardi Gras (Užgavėnės), and they are ALWAYS cooking me Lithuanian food. My favorite thing that I have done with them, and one of my favorite things from my entire exchange, is visiting a Lithuanian village with them. My host Dad’s Aunt and family lives in this village, and it was so so so awesome. This village has one food store, and one “items” store. There are around 35-40 people living in the village, and they are the literal definition of a “close-knit community.” At my family’s home in the village, they get their water from a well, heat there home with a stove, and use an outhouse (no plumbing!!!!!). They have chickens, cows, pigs, rabbits, and one really old sheep. I was lucky enough to see 6 day old piglets, and I watched my family milk the cows. It was truly amazing for me for more than one reason. Firstly, I didn’t realize that in my host country, people were still living like this. It is a complete contrast from the city I’m living in, which does indeed have plumbing. Secondly, talk about exchange being hard work?! Talk about waking up everyday at 5am to milk cows and never taking a vacation, that’s hard work. I also really enjoyed the people I met there; they have a heavy accent, so I didn’t understand much of what they said, but they gave me lots of food, which usually means they like you 😉 In February I also visited Klaipėda (a city by the sea), this was an awesome trip. I got to spend it with a Lithuanian who had gone to Taiwan with Rotary last year, and he showed me all of the secret spots of the city. I also had a really awesome time with my exchange friends at an indoor ski slope, where Rotary arranged snowboarding lessons for us! (Thank you Žydre) We all had a really awesome time, and it makes me look forward to the euro-tour at the end of the year. February was one of the best months of my life, and I’m ready to make March even better.
Speaking of the end of the year- I cannot BELIEVE I only have four months left. It is absolutely crazy that I will be home so soon. I know that this time is going to go especially quick because I have so many things going on, and I am working to make each day meaningful. There are still so many things to do, so many places to see, and so many people to meet! This mindset is something that exchange has taught me, and a way that I will continue to live even after exchange. You have to live life each day as if you only have four months of exchange left! 😉
I can of course talk about how exchange has changed me as a person. My priorities have definitely changed. I do things for myself now, not for others. I really feel like I have a better grasp on how I want to live my life, how I want to make it meaningful. Exchange was something I did to grow myself as a person. I can say that I have certainly grown more than I expected, and with 4 months left, I know I will grow into someone even more different than I thought.
Love you and miss you Mom, Dad, and Mallory!!!!
Until the next journal~~~~~~
Wed, February 26, 2020
- Morgannne, Outbound to Lithuania
It’s definitely past time for a journal. The time since my last journal has been busy, full of more ups and downs than I have experienced in a long time. The last time I was writing, I had just returned from a trip to Spain, and life was great. In Lithuania during the month of November, my exchange was going well. My Lithuanian language was getting much better, I had found places to volunteer, I felt close with my host family, school was going well, and everything else that was a component in my exchange was how I wanted it to be. During this time though, there was always something in the back of my mind; my sister in America was becoming quite sick. On November 8, she arrived in the hospital, (Now I won’t go into lots of detail about my sister’s situation, but rather on how this affected my exchange.) and this was difficult for me. It’s very hard to continue to love being on exchange, to be excited to try new things and meet new people; when you know that someone important to you at home is not okay. Of course, I had people in Lithuania to help me. My host family and friends were very supportive. But really what was quite difficult for me, was not only my own need of support, but the fact that I was not in America to support my family. It was difficult for me to accept that I was on exchange, with the ability to have a really awesome time, when the three most important people to me were going through an extremely hard situation at home without me. I continued on with my exchange as best I could. I made Thanksgiving dinner for my family, which was great. My host family really allowed me to make it feel like Thanksgiving; not only did I make the traditional dishes, but we also went around the table with each person stating what they were thankful for, just like my family in America.
During November I also mushroom picked, went to a concert (a popular Lithuanian band), I visited the capital city to see other exchange students, and went to the capital of Latvia with my host family. Riga was wonderful, the city has a very beautiful “old town” area, with brick roads and detailed buildings. November also allowed me to experience even more cold!! Everyday, I wore three pairs of socks… However, the warmth I continued to feel from my friends and host family was enough for me 🙂 (cliche I know).
Then December came, which was the difficult month. I had to go home. My parents called me and said that the doctors had advised me to return home, as Mallory was not doing well. Of course, I had no desire to leave Lithuania and everyone I had met, but it was something that was not really a choice, I needed to be with my sister and family. With the help of a lot of amazing Rotarians, I was on a flight home the next day. When my friends in Lithuanian found out I was leaving, it was something I would call amazing. People who I had known for only three months were coming to my house to say goodbye! The people who weren’t able to make it to say goodbye wrote me messages with genuine words that made me smile. Leaving Lithuania was difficult, and it came with a lot of tears. But I’m thankful for all the love and support that Lithuania gave me during that time, which I certainly wasn’t expecting. Once I was home though, I was in a strange place. I was able to be there for my family, which made me feel better. It was still odd though, returning home early when you had prepared to be gone for much longer. I was stressed out and confused; unsure if I was happy or sad to be home. My family was telling me I would return to Lithuania, when I was unsure if I could. BUT, this journal does have a better ending, which is somewhat of a miracle. After a difficult week at the hospital, Mallory began to recover, which no one was expecting. She was on a long road to a full recovery, so I was still unsure if I wanted to go back to my exchange. With lengthy conversations with my family, we decided I would return to Lithuania! We decided that my exchange was something I worked really hard for, and my parents did not want this to hold me back. I must say though, it was much more difficult to leave my family the second time than the first. I was, and I still am worried that my sister could take a turn for the worse again, but we will cross that bridge if we reach it.
Returning to Lithuania was interesting. I had arrived December 21st, so school was already on holiday. I spent time with my host family, we went to Latvia to see the Christmas village, which was lovely. Christmas was also lovely, I celebrated with my host family and friends! Interesting though, we celebrated Christmas more on the 24th than 25th. December 24th was the family day where we had a large meal and opened presents. Christmas Day, I met my host grandparents for the first time, and afterwards my host sister and I had a party with friends. For me it was a bit strange to not spend all of Christmas with family, but it was still really great. 🙂 The day after Christmas my host sister and I embarked on our trip to Milan, Italy, which was so much fun! I ate every Italian food you can think of; cannoli, pizza, tiramisu, ravioli, spaghetti, and lots of coffee (the Italian way of course). It was great to go to Italy and spend time with my host sister, as I moved to my new family a few days after returning to Lithuania.
Moving families is interesting. It’s not quite the same as moving into the first family because you are not a baby, so the second host family doesn’t need to help you as much as the first. Although the routine and independence that you have already gained in your country is great, I think this can make it difficult to get to know and adapt to the second family. In my first host family, I needed help with everything, so I spent a lot of time with them. With my second family, more effort is needed to get to know them; I think this is really the time for every exchange student to not be couped up in their room, but with the family who opened their doors for you. So far, I really like this family! I again have one host sister the same age as me, and I think we will get along well. My host parents are also lovely; they know a bit of english so I’m doing my best with only speaking Lithuanian, which i’m a bit behind in after going home for a while.
I know this journal is quite long so I’m going to stop here. I really think this journal is an example that exchange is not perfect, but full of ups and downs. I’ll keep you updated on my new family, and my return to school in the next journal! Thank you for all your help my lovely Rotary!
Wed, January 8, 2020
- Morganne, Outbound to Lithuania
Labas! Currently, I am writing this journal on a trip back from Spain with my host family. This vacation, besides being beyond enjoyable (full of beautiful views and delicious food) (BIG thank you to my awesome host family for bringing me along), it also made me realize some things about my exchange. As I was walking around Spain with my Lithuanian family and friends, I realized I was visiting Spain not as an American, but a Lithuanian. Although it has been just two months in Lithuania, I already feel connected enough to the people and culture that leaving for Spain made me feel as if I was leaving my home. Now, as I am on my flight back to Lithuania, I feel as though I am on my flight back to my home. This is crazy to think about, because again it has only been two months. How will I feel about Lithuania during month 4, 7, or 9?? Clearly, you can tell by my writing that I am still loving Lithuania. Another month and a half has passed since my last journal and I have made stronger connections with my host family, local friends, and exchange friends.
My host family has begun to feel more like my true family, not just a place to live. My host mom yells at me when I don’t wear socks, and I’ve learned my host sister is not a morning person. I feel more comfortable with them, I can ask them for anything if I need help. I will always be appreciative towards them for how they have welcomed me into their home and have made me feel a part of their family. In addition to the trip to Spain with them, we have gone to a play, a 25k hike by the sea, and a shooting range. My favorite times with them however, are when we sit at the dinner table together, and they try to understand the little Lithuanian I know. Those times are filled with smiles and laughter that are irreplaceable!
School has luckily become much easier, I’m not nervous to go to class anymore! I have lots of people to talk with in the hallway and eat lunch with. The goal has also been accomplished to be invited to things outside of school, which is always a lovely feeling!! (Thank you to those awesome friends for making me feel so welcomed at school and in the community). At school, I’ve given several presentations about myself and America. It’s interesting to see what the other students know or don’t know about America. At school I also had the opportunity to teach the English classes for a day! I gave a lesson on English slang, which I think everyone enjoyed. Currently we are on fall break, so I have a week off of school. 🙂
My exchange friends and I have also grown close to each other. (There are only 12 of us in Lithuania because it is so small) When we are all together, we only have laughs and good times. I’m personally very happy that I’m with a small group of students because we are able to grow close and support each other. The other exchange student in my city (Fanely from France) and I have gone to the capital city where most of the exchange students are to visit a few times now. We all usually just walk around the city looking like a really strange group of people. Two Americans, four Brazilians, two Frenchies, two Mexicans, one Taiwanese, and one Italian provide for a very odd looking group of people! We are also all going on a skiing trip together at the end of November, which should be quite fun.
The first two months have been quite busy for me. There have been a lot of things going on in school, stuff happening on the weekends, after school activities, and of course studying Lithuanian. One thing that has begun to happen to me however, is I do not feel like I have truly accomplished anything meaningful in Lithuania yet. Yes, I have done everything I have needed to make my exchange go well and be enjoyable. I have had lots and lots of fun, but I would say I am someone who is used to having a lot of responsibilities. I was involved in sports, had a job, and studied hard in America. Here in Lithuania, I don’t have to study much in school, so it’s almost like I’m going a little crazy only having fun. Therefore, I have a few goals this month. I’m going to work harder on studying Lithuanian, and try to find volunteer opportunities in Lithuania through rotary or another organization. I would like to make my exchange about helping people and doing something meaningful, not just living “for myself” while I am here. I’m also going to try to teach myself guitar, so that should be interesting! I will keep you all updated on how I make my exchange matter. 😉
My language is of course one thing I also really need to work on. The more I learn Lithuanian, the more I realize I need to learn more Lithuanian. I think I’m saying something totally correct and then the person I’m speaking to says, “well, actually it’s this….” This has proved to be very frustrating for me. I was expecting to understand more than what I am understanding at two months with the amount of work I have put into studying Lithuanian. Of course, I cannot give up, so I will be studying even more this month. The goal is that by the end of November, I will be able to understand and use twenty verbs correctly in the past, present, and future. I am also going to work on understanding and being able to change the endings of nouns. (I will explain what I mean by this) In lithuanian, they don’t use words like “in,” “on,” “of,” etc; they change the endings of the noun that those words would refer to. For example, if you say “I am going home,” you say “Aš einu namO.” But, if you say “My home is there,” you say “Mano namAS yra ten.” There are seven different variations of each noun, with some variations that are extremely difficult to understand because we don’t have the concept at all in English. This is why Lithuanian is not only difficult to speak, but also difficult to understand. I may learn one form of the noun, but may not be able to recognize it when someone is speaking because they are using a different form of the noun. This means, to truly be able to use and understand one word, I need to know seven words. However, I am working on it!
Although I really miss my family and friends, I would not say that I am homesick. I think of my parents and sister every day and I wish they were here to experience certain things with me. (I love you guys so much) However, I’m still experiencing lots of new things, and enjoying my new life. One thing I am a bit worried about is seasonal depression. It is only the beginning of November and it is dark at 5:30 at night. I started to take vitamin D though, so hopefully that helps with it. I’m also starting to exercise more, I was so focused on trying a lot of new foods that I put a couple extra pounds on. 😉 But as my host sister always quotes from the movie Eat Pray Love, “So this is what I’m going to do, I’m going to finish this pizza and then we’re going to go watch the soccer game and tomorrow we’re going to go on a little date and buy ourselves some bigger jeans.”
Thanks for reading my journal! I again recommend exchange to anyone, so far it has been full of only good experiences. I’m always thinking about how one year ago, it was me reading these journals, thinking about how crazy it would be if I actually became an exchange student. Now I’m on exchange, and sometimes I’m still thinking that it is crazy I am really here! However, Lithuania is the only place I can imagine being. I am happy (and cold)! Until next time, viso gero!
Tue, October 29, 2019
- Morganne, Outbound to Lithuania
Labas vakaras mano draugais! I am so happy here, and it has only been a week and a few days. Never mind the beautiful scenery or fun activities; the best thing for me so far on exchange is the kindness I have received from the people around me. It is unbelievable how loving people can be when they barely know you- when you can say only a few phrases in their language. There have already been so many moments where I feel a surge of happiness run through my heart due to the smiling faces of other people. Of course, it is also difficult. It is difficult to not be frustrated when you cannot understand what your host parents, friends, and teachers are saying. However, my Lithuanian has gotten better each day. My desire to learn Lithuanian is indescribable. I listen to the people around me speak, and it almost hurts that I cannot understand them (Lithuanian is one of the hardest languages in the world). Of course, the people here only encourage my efforts to learn their language; they are even surprised that I want to learn Lithuanian. This is surprising to me, as of course I want to learn the language of the country I will be living in for a year. I am writing down all the new words I hear on my phone to ensure I remember, and doing my best to only speak in Lithuanian.
Now of course, I will talk to you about my activities. I was fortunate enough to go on a tour of a few places in Lithuania with the rest of my exchange friends. We toured Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania (where 8/12 of the exchange students are staying). Vilnius is the biggest city in Lithuania, with 750,000 people. It has different districts, including the old-town and art district. I enjoyed the tour, and I am excited to visit Vilnius again. I however, live in a city called Siauliai. It is the 4th largest city in Lithuania, with 100,000 people. My city is much quieter; the people from Vilnius claim that it is boring! I am happy to be in a smaller city though, I think it is the perfect size. I am able to go downtown to get that “city” feeling, but when I am there I do not have to push through any crowds like in Vilnius. In my city, I have one other exchange student from France, Fanely. She is awesome- I can already call her my best friend! My host sister is my other best friend here- Vilte is beautiful both inside and out. We have already had many discussions expanding my outlook on the world. My host mom is great, we use google translate to talk to eachother- which I am sure you can imagine has provided for many laughs! I am currently writing this in my living room in my family’s apartment, which is beautiful. One thing that is quite cool is that in addition to the apartment, my family also has a house in the country. It is about thirty minutes from the apartment, and I think is going to be my favorite place. At the “homestead” there are chickens, bees (for homemade honey), and lots of trees. It is peaceful in comparison to the city that I will be spending a lot of time in.
My first day of school occurred today, which sure was something. I was fortunate that my host sister was able to show me around to all of my classes, and introduce me to my teachers. If she had not, you can bet that I would have been lost and very, very confused. My teachers all reacted to me in different ways; a few introduced me, and a few let me introduce myself. The stares I received from the other students once they knew I was from America was honestly a bit scary. I did receive a few smiles though, which were helpful to get me through my day. It was only the first day of course, so it can only get better from here! I am excited to make friends outside of my family and exchange friends. One thing that is interesting about school here is that you can have breaks in your schedule. During this time, you are able to leave the school to grab a coffee or something. Something else that is interesting is that we do not have the same classes every day. Some days I have three periods of Lithuanian with one period of biology, some days I have two periods of math with two periods of art, etc. Update: I am finishing up this journal the following day, so I have some more to say about school. The second day went much better. People talked to me in all of my classes, and three different people asked me to hang out (Goal ACCOMPLISHED)! Other than school, I am also getting involved in some other activities. I am going to take a Zumba class, and join a running team. I may also try traditional Lithuanian dance and guitar. I will update you on these endeavors once they begin to happen, of course.
There is so much more I could fill you in on. I could talk about how good the food is; fresh and homemade. I could say what the weather is like (already slightly cold). But the most important thing to say is I am happy. If you are considering exchange, DO IT. It is definitely a challenge, but exchange offers so many rewards. I would also like to thank my host rotary club, my sponsor rotary club at home, and my mom and dad. Thank you for giving me this amazing opportunity! Until my next journal, viso gero.
Thu, September 5, 2019
Paola - Denmark
Hometown: St. Johns, Florida
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Bartram Trail, Florida
Host District: 1470
Host Club: Copenhagen Rotary Club
Hej! My name is Paola Camacho, I am 17 years old, and I’m so excited to be a part of the Rotary Exchange program! I have a deep love for theatre, the cinematic arts and writing. In my free time, I participate in the theatre department at my school, watch a lot of movies, write my own scripts, and film my own movies. I also love to dance. I mostly do Ballroom dance- such as the salsa, tango, waltz, etc.- , but I love many other styles as well. In my family, I have a mother, father, and three older brothers- all of whom I love very much! They are my rock, and without their love and support, I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish all that I have in my life. My family is from Colombia and I am fluent in Spanish. I love my Colombian culture and everything it entails- the dancing, the music, the food, etc. It is apart of who I am. However, I have lived in America all my life and I am very proud to be a citizen of such an amazing country. I have been blessed with two cultures- Colombian and American. Now, I am ready to add another culture and language into my life! I have so much love and curiosity about the world and its different cultures; I am eternally grateful to have this opportunity that will launch me into a lifetime of global learning and understanding! I will be an outbound student to Denmark and I am so excited for the experience that awaits! To all my future friends and family, thank you so much for helping my in my journey and I can’t wait to create long lasting memories with each and every one of you!
Journals: Paola-Denmark Blog 2019-20
- Paola, Outbound to Denmark
I am just about half way through my exchange and with each day, I see how much I have changed.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it- these past few weeks have been a little rough. This holiday season was a very special one for my family in Florida, so to not be there was very hard. Paired with the grey, rainy and cold Copenhagen weather, it was even harder. Although this month was difficult for my personally, I am so grateful to the friends I’ve made here and the culture itself for helping me through it. Despite the difficult times, this past December was beautiful and memorable. Danish Christmas is an entire being on its own, full of new and exciting traditions and foods. One tradition that really differs from mine back home is that the tree (a real one) was decorated the day before Christmas (here it is on the 24th) with simple and homemade decorations. Christmas night, we danced and sang around the Christmas tree before opening presents. Not only that, my host mother is Norwegian so my christmas was also partially Norwegian! (very different)
I went to a couple Julefrokoster (Christmas Lunches) this month, where friends and family get together and eat traditional foods, play games, and more. I am a big fan of the christmas foods here- Risengrød, Gløgg & æbleskriver, etc. I also basked Danish Christmas cookies with my family- literally some of the same store-bought Danish Chrsitmas Cookies my parents back home buy every year. Needless to say, I am learning how to make these foods and will make them every year from here on out.
I turned 18!! It was great to celebrate on my last day with my first host family. I also had theater rehearsal where they made me stand on a chair while everyone sang to me one of the many Danish birthday songs and yelled “hurah” 18 times. The day before, I got together with my exchange friends for dinner and to watch a movie. Not much has changed since being 18, but I definitely feel different- like I have a lot more responsibility.
Here, the Christmas Elf is a big holiday symbol and decorating with Danish Flag for celebrations is a custom. Loving it all, I bought sooooo many christmas decorations for my mom back home (my mom loves Christmas and so do the Danish- perfect match) I also decided to treat myself as well to little souvenirs and gifts of my own 🙂
It’s important to remember that exchange is for YOU. To discover yourself, to challenge yourself, and to find what makes you happy. So when you’re not feeling happy, the best thing to do is to do something.
As I feel myself slowly transition out of this funk, I am looking forward with a positive mindset and looking for more activities I can do while I’m in such an incredible city.
In fact, I will be going to yoga today 😉
If my legs aren’t dead. I just got out of PE and I have theatre rehearsal after school. Either way, it’s the thought that counts.
Happy new year!
Tue, January 7, 2020
- Paola, Outbound to Denmark
It has been an incredible 3 and half months in Denmark. So much has happened in such a shot amount of time, and yet I feel like time is going by so quickly.
I am starting to really learn Danish- things are clicking and I’m remembering so much more now. I’m able to hold up conversations and I understand most everything people say to me! I found that there is no shame in asking for help or for someone to clarify something- in doing this, I’ve improved so much.
Since the beginning, I have felt a very close connection with my fellow exchange students, especially a small group of girls (3 from Brazil, 1 from Mexico, and 1 from Canada) who I see as my best friends. This group of friends has made me so happy because these girls know who I am, they understand me in a way no one else can. We help each other through the more difficult times of exchange and are always there for each to celebrate the great days as well.
On the topic of friends, I have also grown very close to my class at gymnasium. At first, everyone was very kind and welcoming to me, but there was still a barrier between us- I was new, I didn’t know Danish. Little by little, however, I started feeling like one of them. As I learn Danish and show up to school everyday, I feel my classmates seeing me as just that- a classmate, a friend (rather than the exchange student.)
I’m so happy for this because my class is filled with some of the funniest and most caring people I’ve ever met.
I switch to my second family in 3 weeks and it’s a mix of emotions, to be honest. Of course, I am excited. My next family is super sweet, but I really bonded and grew close to my first host family. Just like as with my exchange friends, they managed to really understand my personality. They made me feel like I was a part of the family and just the same, I see them as family. Moving to the new family, I’m nervous having to start over again- introducing myself, getting used to my new family, learning the new routine and house rules. In a year where the norm is never knowing what’s happening and always being confused until the end of the year when the language learning starts to show itself, it’s very comforting to have a place where you know what to do. That’s how I feel with my first family. But, I’m optimistic because obviously, it wasn’t always this way with my first family. I had to observe and learn, and I’m excited to do that with my next family! Especially since its almost December, and let me tell you, the Danish really do Christmas well. I’ve heard so many stories about traditions and things to do in Copenhagen and I am soo excited! Colombian christmas is also full of tradition and family love, so I’m happy that I will have that this Christmas as well :):)
Missing Florida a little more recently since getting darker and more rainy here in Copenhagen. Wish me some sun in these next few months!
Sat, November 23, 2019
- Paola, Outbound to Denmark
These last two months in Copenhagen have been unbelievable. It’s hard to know where to begin, so I’ll just write as things come to me.
Copenhagen is a fairly small city so it’s very easy to get around by either walking, taking the train/metro, or biking. They have a strong biking culture here, and it’s reallllll transportation- nothing like those leisure bike rides on the beach. People get to where they need to go and they go fast. I’ve started biking everywhere since I’ve been here and it’s super convenient. Overall, moving from one place to another keeps the Danes fairly active which is great, but in all honesty, it is more physical activity than I am used to so here’s hoping I look like a goddess by the end of the year. Also, there is a strong culture of eating healthy home cooked meals and food made from scratch, such as baking their own bread! Danish food is incredible, I’m definitely learning how to cook while I am here.
As I said, Copenhagen is a small city so all of the beautiful tourist sites are relatively very close to each other- you can see everything, such as the Little Mermaid statue, NyHavn, etc., in the span of one-two days! I actually go to school at Gefion Gymnasium which is very close to the city centre and all the touristy areas so I get to see it all with just a 15 min walk from where I am everyday. But don’t let this fool you, there are always things going on in Copenhagen! There is a festival or event happening almost every week. It is never boring here. In fact, I am going to a Latin American festival with my exchange friends this weekend. Since I go to school here and live very close by, I like to walk the old European streets of Copenhagen and “get lost” because I see something new every time and add it to the ongoing map in my mind- more and more, I realise how everything in this city is connected! The city of Copenhagen is very artsy, with the Danish Royal Theatre, the Opera House, and more nearby. Being a theatre nerd who loves artsy things, you can imagine why this is a major plus.
Danish people are so kind!!! I felt at home in this country by the second day I was here. My first host family, whom I am currently staying with, is incredible and I don’t want to switch. I have two younger brothers- one is 5 and one is 13. If you are going on exchange, pray you get a younger sibling because they are the key to learning a new language. You see, everyone is Denmark speaks perfect English. You’ll be able to make friends and bond with people this way initially, but it makes it difficult to learn Danish. However, children typically haven’t learn English and they don’t necessarily speak complicated or advanced Danish so its perfect to practice and learn! My brother taught me the numbers and colours on day one.
I love my classmates and all the Danish friends I’ve made here. They genuinely want to know more about me and care about my experience here.
The education system here is very different. The Danish equivalent to high school is called gymnasium. I won’t get into it too much, but basically, student choose a “path” , such as science or language, at the beginning of their first year and for the rest of the 3 years, all of their classes are geared toward that path. They take all of their classes with the same group of people who choose the same path. I am in the Language-Spanish class and there is about 26 of us. It is great because everyone is so close; we are all friends because we see each other all the time!
School here gives a lot of freedom and independence to the students. There is no dress code, students can leave the school for lunch, and every single day is different. Every week, a new schedule is published and it tells you what days you have what classes at what time. Classes are 1hr 30min and you never have more than 4 classes a day; often, you will have less. Also, classes can get cancelled so you can just go home or have a free period. As I have had it explained to me by my classmates, the student is responsible for his/her education; you are there because you want to be there so it is your responsibility to go and get work done. They use a lot of technology and computers in class- rarely is there anything on paper or hand-written.
Denmark is amazing and more people should know about it!!! I am so happy to be here and already feel how hard it will be to leave.
This was a basic intro to life in Denmark. Next time, I will be sure to include more specific stories, such as falling off my bike on my first day here.
Have a great day, kind reader 🙂
Thu, October 3, 2019
Safi - Chile
Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of , Florida
Host District: 4340
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Cartagena
Hola! Me llamo Safi and I am so excited to spend the 2019-2020 school year in Chile. I am currently a junior at Gainesville High School and live at home with my mom, Brenda, and dad, Dan. I also have an older brother who is in college named Eliot and we have two black labs, Martha and Olivia, who I will miss dearly next year. When I am not in the classroom, I can be found running the local trails with my cross country and track team. Although I am sad to be leaving the place I call home, adventure awaits and homesickness has never been something to hold me back. Whether it was moving to Washington DC when I was 4, Ghana when I was 10, or Cambridge, MA, when I was 14, I have always known to cherish the moment and not dwell on wishing to be somewhere else. Living in Chile next year still seems surreal to me, but it represents a unique opportunity to perfect my Spanish and get to know the country where my grandmother was born. I am more than ready to embark on this journey and make lifelong connections with students from around the world. Once again, I would like to thank Rotary for this opportunity and my friends and family who have been more than supportive of my decision to go on exchange. Adiós.
Journals: Safi-Chile Blog 2019-20
- Safi, Outbound to Chile
17/12/19- Hi!! So I have been in Chile for almost 4 months and time has been moving really quickly. Here is a little life update- I finished school last week and and now have a couple months off for summer (future South American Outbounds… yes that’s right you get 2 summer breaks!!). I am also changing host families in 10 days, which seems crazy to me. I am sad to be leaving where I live now especially because I am just a 3 minute walk from where my running team practices and 10 minutes from a cute plaza where I often meet up with friends, but I am excited for the change. Yesterday I got back from a week long trip to Cartagena de Indias, Colombia with part of my class for our “Gira de Estudio.” Gira de Estudios are a Chilean tradition where you go on a trip with your class at the end of tercero or quarto medio (equivalent of 11th/12th grade) to celebrate your hard work almost being done with colegio. It was super fun and a really great way to bond with my classmates but I am happy to be home and sleeping in my own bed.
While I was traveling I kept on thinking back to what I read in Morganne’s (outbound to Lithuania) post when she traveled to Spain as a Lithuanian… I was in Colombia as a Chilean. Our group would be addressed as “Chile” by local vendors who recognized our thick accents and of course all of our tours and events were in Spanish. At first it was a little strange for me to not be addressed as “gringo” (lol) but it was so amazing traveling with a different perspective. I mean our teachers and tour guides even took us to a disco one night which would never happen in the US (lol).
I also realized that I was geographically closer to my home in Florida than my home in Chile and also somewhat culturally. Colombia uses the same outlets as the US and I felt at home eating the arepas, fried plantains, fish, beans and rice that I eat regularly in Gainesville (Thanks Mi Apa). I was also easily able to find peanut butter in the grocery stores there, which is virtually impossible here in Chile. Overall, a wonderful trip that I definitely won’t forget.
Now that school is out I don’t really have any major summer plans (especially because I don’t know what my next family will be doing during the summer) but hopefully I can travel to Santiago to visit the other exchange students and get to know the area where I live better. However, I am planning on attending a running camp for a week in the South of Chile called “Rapel.” My team said I could go with them and apparently its near a lake but there is no food, bathrooms, or structures to sleep in. You have to bring your food for the week and a tent and whatever else you may need, but I am super excited because it is basically a running sleep away camp in the woods and I would be there with all my friends.
I am feeling happy with how my life is going here and am excited to be making close local friends that I want to spend more time with. Last week for example, my friend Martina invited me to “lo Vasquez” which is a religious pilgrimage to a Church. I went with her and her family and were met by thousands of other people, some who had biked or even walked over 100 kilometers from Santiago or their respective cities to make the journey (we walked the more comfortable 7k from our car). At the end we were met by a HUGE ferria (market) with vendors selling everything from watermelon to Christmas decorations. Then we took the micro (bus) back to where we parked. We then went to have a delicious lunch at a restaurant called “el sauce” filled with salad and huge racks of ribs… it was so so so good.
Anyway congrats to the outbound class of 20/21, if you have any questions, comments, or concerns feel free to reach out to me, you have such an exciting year ahead of you (and start studying your language NOW!!).
Wed, December 18, 2019
- Safi, Outbound to Chile
Hi- so I know this is super overdue but I think I’ve been in Chile for 50 days (woohoo) and I’ve already made lifelong memories. They weren’t kidding when they said exchange was going to be hard but if you are a prospective student and are reading this- DO IT DO IT DO IT! Ok now for the content you actually want to hear about:
School- I go to school in a town called Cartagena which is a 20 min bus ride away from my neighborhood. Every morning I wake up at 7:10 and put on my plaid skirt, white button up, tie and sweater and run to my grandparents house to make oatmeal for breakfast and normally put it in a container to eat on the bus. I really enjoy this bus ride because we go through the middle of my town and by the port and along the coast and if I am lucky I can see a sea lion or two. The bus is just a really nice time to relax and reflect (I think all exchange students can relate to this). Everyday at school I have a different schedule, for example today I had math elective, then a breakfast break and today we got bread with scrambled eggs, PE where we are learning a class dance which we will perform in front of the whole school, we even have custom made costumes to go along with it. Then I had physics, lunch (noodles with tomato sauce with tuna and a pear on the side. Then after lunch we went to biology elective where we were supposed to have a quiz but ended up having a free day and so I talked with my friends about the Lollapalooza Chile 2020 lineup that came out today and bee stings.
Everyday after school I go to running practice at a park near my house, and this is probably the highlight of my day every single day. My teammates are people my age and it’s really fun to workout but also just hangout and talk with them, and it makes it easy to bond because we have shared interests.
Last weekend, I went with my team to a town an hour away to run a 7k race and it was super fun because after we ran were just able to explore the town and eat lunch.
Family- I spend most of my time at my host grandparents house which I next door to mine since this is where I eat all of my meals, shower, and sometimes sleep. I also spend a lot of time playing with my 4 year old host cousin here too, because she also eats and spends afternoons and weekends at the house with her mom, Jessica. Jessica and I also spend time together, and will go to the market or even make sushi together!
Language- my Spanish is coming along pretty well and I’m able to communicate with my friends and host family here. I think it helps that I basically never speak English and when I hang out with the other exchange student in my town we speak in Spanish. My vocabulary has expanded so much and I can already tell that my understanding of what others say has improved so much since I first arrived in here in August. Chilean Spanish is a different breed but I’m getting the hang of it.
Food- the food here is pretty good but I definitely miss different flavors and spices because most things taste the same and no one eats spicy food here, despite the name of the country, but I like it in general. It is true that a lot of bread is eaten here but it is almost always fresh which makes it delicious. The Chilean diet is pretty much carbs, meat, and sugar but I have been able to integrate more vegetables, dairy, and fruit into my diet so I’m feeling fine. My host grandmas are pretty good cooks too and will often leave me a plate leftovers from lunch that I can eat after I run so that’s really nice. Chilean empanadas and sweets are delicious and the empanadas are unique in the sense that they are baked not fried, which I think makes them more delicious.
In general people here are extremely nice and welcoming, so if you are a prospective exchange student and wondering what countries to out on your list I strongly encourage South America! People here, especially in Chile, will go out of their way to make you feel welcome and always greet you with a hug. I am so grateful for the opportunity Rotary has given and I can’t wait to see what the next 8 months have in store! As always feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions about being an exchange student and adios.
Wed, October 16, 2019
- Safi, Outbound to Chile
(29/8/19) I arrived in Santiago, Chile last week along with all of the other 4340 inbounds (there are 80 of us). We were picked up at the airport and brought to El Quisco for a weekend orientation. It was super beautiful because we were on the coast and could watch the sunset and hugs waves crash into the rocks. The Rotex led the weekend and we played a Chilean version of dodgeball (I won!!!!) and did this crazy relay where we had to jump rope and spin and crawl and put our faces in a pile of flour to search for candy. This ultimately led to a flour fight but it was super fun and a great way to bond with all of the other exchange students. Most of us are from either the US, Germany, or France, but there are a few kids from Canada, Finland, Denmark, Austria, New Zealand, Belgium, and Hungary. Everyone was pretty tired from their long flights and time changes (especially the Europeans) but we managed to have a dance party and we learned some traditional dances like the Cueca.
We were picked up by our host families on Sunday afternoon. I am living in San Antonio, Chile and have actually moved in with my host grandparents and will be sleeping here for M,T, W, Th nights and at my host parents F, Sat, Sun (they live next store to one another). I have not started school yet because there have been complications with paperwork and other formalities and my YEO and counselor are looking into a different school for me to attend (Lions school in Cartegena not Colegio Fénix in San Antonio). I think I’m going to go look at Lions today with my counselor.
This past week I have been doing errands in the morning like getting a SIM card and trying to get a Chilean identity card but in the afternoon I eat lunch with my grandparents (yesterday I had the traditional Pastel De papas which is basically a mashed potato cake with a bottom layer of meat then potatoes and then on top is melted cheese) at there house and then play with my 4 year old cousin Leanor after she gets dropped off at the grandparents house after school.
Her parents (Jessica and Cristian) have been super helpful and Jessica has been taking me to her work in the afternoon at the city hall building of San Antonio where she works in marketing, communications, and writes articles. Her coworkers have been super welcoming and they do marketing and design for the city (make posters for city events, run the social media pages and website, conduct interviews etc). They often ask me about the US and I even had to explain conspiracy theories like the moon landing, flat Earthers, and “is water wet?” which was pretty difficult to do in Spanish. I also went to the library yesterday and it was so beautiful because it was redone earlier this year. I think it is one of the only buildings in the entire town with heat (it’s winter here!!) so that was a nice change.
I can already tell that my Spanish is improving and speaking with Leanor (the 4 year old) is very helpful because everyone else has such a thick accent and people here use so much slang like adding “Po” to sentences and words like si and ya or saying cachai??. I also have been reading books to her which helps me a lot too. I Hope everyone stays safe during the hurricane (Dorian?) and I am off to eat breakfast (tea and bread and hopefully an orange).
Wed, October 16, 2019
Tristan - Sweden
Hometown: Fernandina Beach, Florida
School: Fernandina Beach
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Fernandina Beach, Florida
Host District: 2370
Host Club: Katrineholms Rotary Klubb
Hej! Jag heter Tristan Peevy and I will be spending my junior year of high school in Sweden! I am from the small island town of Fernandina Beach, which is the most northern island on Florida’s east coast. I live with my mom, dad, sister and our cat and my dog. I was born in Atlanta but moved to Florida in fifth grade. I play tenor saxophone in the jazz band at my high school. In my free time, I like to bike around my town with friends, and I like to watch and go to football games of all levels from middle school to NFL games. Go Dawgs! I am very interested in other sports. I also enjoy the water, I like to kayak, swim, fish, and boat. I saw the Rotary Youth Exchange flyer at my school, and after I was a guest at a Rotary meeting where I heard a current exchange student speak, I decided to apply for the program. I have had an interest in the different cultures of the world for many years now, especially Scandinavian Europe, so being able to experience what it is like to live in another country and not just be a tourist, will be an amazing learning experience for me. I would like to thank Rotary and especially my Mom and Dad for even letting me have this tremendous opportunity.
Tristan, Outbound to Sweden
Journals: Tristan-Sweden Blog 2019-20
Hi Everyone! This is my first journal since early September and a lot has happened since then! I have had many ups and downs and have experienced many new things. We had our district conference in October and that was a lot of fun to see all the other exchange students. It was also held at an actual castle that was used by the King of Sweden a couple hundred years ago. For me November was a down month, not much was really happening and the Swedish November is awful to put it in a nice way. It rained almost everyday and was only sunny for a few hours on 1 day of the entire month. December was really good! I made a late American Thanksgiving for my host family and club counselor and did a lot of Christmas activities and of course had Christmas Break which was amazing. I visited my host families other family members and went to some Christmas Markets with some other exchange students. In January, school started back and has been going well, school in Sweden is fairly easy if you can understand what is going on (I can sometimes but not often). Making friends with Swedes has been kinda difficult because they are known for being quiet and keeping to themselves and also not speaking their language very well doesn’t help. Its getting better though I am starting to do more stuff with them other than be at school but its still just baby steps. I celebrated New Years with my host family and I had an exchange student friend over and it was a lot of fun. I will be changing host families for the first time in the next few weeks so I am looking forward to that and the change. It has been an odd winter for Sweden, where I live there has not been any snow in the month of January which is really uncommon so hopefully there will be some snow in the next few months even though we are approaching spring very fast. I think I have grown as a person and matured a lot even though there is still a lot of room for growth. I have learned many things so far and hope to learn many more things with my remaining time.Overall, I have loved my time in Sweden it has been a lot of fun and full of different experiences. There are a lot of different things that I still want to do and I hope I will be able to do. I go to Stockholm on a regular basis to see the other exchange students because it is always a lot of fun. I joined the local scouts here in my town and was a bit skeptical at first because I used to be a scout back in Florida and I hated it but its so different here and actually fun, there is no adult leader and mainly we are just hanging out and having a good time! I would like to thank Rotary back in Florida and Rotary in Sweden for making this possible! Until next time, Hejdå!
Sun, January 26, 2020
- Tristan, Outbound to Sweden
Hej, I have been here in Sweden for 6 weeks now and it has been amazing so far. I got off the plane on August 1st in Stockholm and drove about 2 hours south to where I will be living for the next year near a town called Katrineholm. I actually don’t live in Katrineholm though I live in a village of about 600 that is a 15 minute drive from the town. On my first day I slept when we got back and then I had my first fika in Sweden. Fika is a time where you stop your day and eat, talk, and relax for a bit. After about 5 days I left for my language camp in Sundsvall, Sweden. Sundsvall is a really cool place, it sits about 3 hours north of Stockholm near the Baltic Sea. There are a bunch of dragon statues around because of an old folk story about how the dragons protect the city. At language camp I played cards with an Indian, Italian, Korean and a French person, to me that defines what this is all about. Getting to learn about and experience a different culture is something really special. The language camp took place at a hotel that was near a lake so everyone went swimming at least a few times. At the language camp I got to meet all the other exchange students that are in a suburb of Stockholm like myself, I have never met a group of people that is as easy to get along with as this group everyone became friends pretty much on the second day of the camp. I started school about a week after I got back from the language camp, I didn’t know what to expect and my Swedish was (and still is) not very good, I can understand parts of sentences but not the whole sentence. My classmates where a bit confused at first because my town rarely gets exchange students but after a few days they would start asking me questions and I have already made a few friends. At the end of August I went to my first Rotary camp in Åre, Sweden. Åre is where most of the mountains in Sweden are located which is near Norway. It was a long day of travel to get there but it was worth it. That was the first time I had ever hiked up a mountain, it was a bit more than 4000 feet tall! I got to meet some of other exchange students that are in the south of Sweden. I went to the amusement park Grönalund in Stockholm with some exchange friends and it was really fun, it was my first time to a theme park in a while and I really enjoyed it. This past weekend I went Falun to visit my host moms parents. It was really fun to see a different part of Sweden. This past Wednesday I went to Stockholm for the day because I didn’t have school. I got to see some friends and finally eat some Mexican food that I have missed so much. I am very tired most days because I am hearing two different languages everyday. It has been hard to learn Swedish but I know that eventually I will get it. I am really enjoying my time here in Sweden, some parts have been hard but have so far been worth it. I want to thank Rotary and especially my parents for allowing me to go on this journey that will change my life forever.
Sun, September 15, 2019
Willem - Finland
Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: St. Augustine High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of St. Augustine, Florida
Host District: 1420
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Helsinki
Hei! My name is Willem Hall. I am 16 years old and I’m currently a Senior at St. Augustine High School. I live with my parents, my sister, and my two pets(a dog and a cat). At my school, I am in the AICE (Advanced International Certificate of Education) program. A few classes that I like are Psychology, Art, and Calculus. In my free time, I enjoy drawing, skateboarding, playing piano, and hanging out with my friends. In my hometown, there is a lot to do here. My friends and I love to go to the beach, see all of our historic monuments, or visit our favorite restaurants. I am a very creative person and I care a lot about my friends and family. I also love nature and traveling, which is part of the reason why I’m so excited about my exchange. Next year I will be venturing to Finland through Rotary Exchange. I am looking forward to learning a new language, expanding my worldview, and meeting new people. I am so grateful for the amazing people at Rotary who have given me this opportunity to live in a new country. I am also thankful for my family and friends who have been very supportive of me. I can’t wait for this next chapter of my life to unfold.
Journals: Willem-Finland Blog 2019-20
- Willem, Outbound to Finland
This is my first journal entry on my exchange. I’ve currently been in Finland for about 6 months and the journey so far has been incredible, to say the least. I’ve changed so much as a person, even if it’s not noticeable to everyone around me. So here is a summary and stream of my thoughts about my exchange so far.
For me, getting on a flight to another country wasn’t that big of a deal. The real challenge for me was saying bye to my family for a year. Personally, I had no trouble being independent as I was 17 when leaving and had just graduated from high school. I then boarded the plane and got ready for a journey of a lifetime.
Once I arrived I was greeted by a bunch of other exchange students who would later become my best friends and many other Rotary officials. We got on our separate buses and headed to our week-long language camp in a city called Karkku. There, I was introduced to important basics of the Finnish languages and I was given insight on Finnish culture. It was such an amazing experience and I’ll remember it forever. Some of my favorite parts were my first Sauna, visiting Tampere, and hanging out with my best exchange friends.
After Karkku, I had to say bye to my exchange friends and I met my first host family. A few days after the camp I was a bit sad, but I was just learning to adapt to my new situation. I had settled in with my new host parents and they taught me how to use the Finnish transit system. I was shown around my town in Vantaa and I learned how to get to my school, Ressun Lukio.
My first day of school was very interesting. For the time being our school was under renovation so my first experience in Finnish lukio (high school) was at a temporary building. I arrived at school with the other exchange student Lolie, who is from Spain. For the first few weeks, Lolie and I stayed together as we had the same schedule and didn’t have many friends at Ressu. After that period of time, I made a lot of friends and got invited to hang out. To be honest it was very lonely at first because most Finns are very shy and many kids already had established friend groups. Finnish school is also a lot cleaner and more organized than in the United States. The people at school are also very mature and take school seriously.
About half a year has passed since I left for exchange and I have had many ups and downs. I’ve had to say goodbye to some of my best friends in Australia and I’ve learned many life lessons. I feel like I truly live here now as I’m able to travel the city by myself with ease, I have great friends here, and I have made amazing bonds with my host family. Sometimes I’ll be on the bus and I’ll think to myself about how this is my new home and about how far I’ve come. I’ve become much more independent and have increased my ability to rely on myself. I went up to Lapland with my host family and my little host brother actually taught me how to Ski. I also vividly remember the first time I saw snow coming home from school in Helsinki. I had just gone shopping with some friends after school and snowflakes just started floating down. Being raised in Florida, it was a pretty magical thing to see. One piece of advice I’d like to give is that you can make your exchange truly yours by being able to adapt to what you’re given. My exchange has been in the city center so I’ve had to adapt to city life, while some of my exchange friends are way up in the North and have had to adapt to what they were given. It’s all about perspective and being able to adapt.
Learning Finnish has been quite difficult. I take university courses every Tuesday and Thursday, and I take a Finnish class on Mondays at my school. I practice with my school and local friends as well as with my family when possible. Even so, it is still very hard to speak and communicate my thoughts to others. I find myself learning and understanding more every day, but it is hard to stay motivated. I can hold basic conversations and can mostly understand my friends when they speak, but it is hard as spoken Finnish is drastically different from written Finnish. I would say my goal is not to be perfect at Finnish but to be able to have better conversations and understand most topics that people say to me. Learning Finnish fluently in one year abroad is not very realistic and I would have to devote too much of my time to do so. But, I do want to be able to understand day to day things and I believe I am on the right track to doing so.
All in all, these past 6 months in Finland have been amazing. I hope to continue to adapt to the culture and I am so excited about my future travels in Finland. It has gone by so fast, so it is important to make every moment count and savor what you can. Don’t be afraid to do something out of your comfort zone and always say YES to new opportunities. This exchange has changed me so much for the better and I want to thank Rotary for this amazing experience. Kiitoksia!
Wed, February 12, 2020
Wyatt - Hungary
Hometown: St. Johns, Florida
School: Bartram Trail
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of , Florida
Host District: 1911
Host Club: The Rotary Club of ?
Szia! My name is Wyatt Delaney and I am from St. Johns, Florida. I’m 16 years old and have lived in St. Johns my whole life. I’m a junior attending Bartram Trail High School, and will be going on exchange to Hungary next year! I’m living with my mom, dad, and older brother. I also have an older sister who is in college. At school I have been taking an architecture class for three years, so given the opportunity to live in Hungary for a whole year is a dream come true. Outside of school I love to longboard, fish, hike, listen to music, and hang out with my family and friends. I love weightlifting, the outdoors and anything to do with exploring. I have traveled all over the east coast and all throughout Florida, but I have never been to Europe. In Hungary, I hope to be really open with my host family, develop as a human being and take as many opportunities as I can. I’m super excited and grateful to be given this opportunity through Rotary, and I’m looking forward to learning a new language and to be thrown into a whole new culture. I’m looking forward to the life-long memories and how next year will treat me!
Journals: Wyatt-Hungary Blog 2019-20
- Wyatt, Outbound to Hungary
The winter holidays for me are traditionally spent along side with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Instead of what I previously had been doing, this year I spent it around everybody around me and the friends I have made through my exchange. The whole month of December was very special to me and what happened throughout the month. On December 1 I visited my first Christmas market in my home city Szeged. The city was illuminated with colorful lights, a massive Christmas tree, all the small little houses set up selling goods, and a big ferris wheel to shine with changing lights bright lights. It was a fantastic night getting to see everything and I would come back frequently to the market for food, and other goods. Fast forward a few days to December 6 and Santa Clause came and dropped chocolate off for me and my exchange brother in our shoes. Something very different is that on the night of Christmas Baby Jesus comes and drops the kids their presents instead of Santa. After a week of the first celebrations, I had gotten to meet the new short term exchangers who arrived in Hungary at a Rotary dinner. While at the dinner I chatted with everyone and we have all become great friends. During the dinner me and the other long term exchange student had to read a poem off to our Rotary club as well received gifts from Santa once again. A couple days after the dinner I went on a trip with my class to Budapest. Early in the morning I had to go to the Szeged train station and meet with all of my classmates. The train ride was about two hours long and I got to get to know some of my classmates better. One of my favorite part about going to Budapest is the massive train station and how pretty it is. Once we arrived we walked to the large and beautiful parliament building. We had an educational guide and we saw the Holy Crown of Hungary which dates back to the 1070’s! After parliament we went to the famous St. Stephen’s Basilica. We went inside to see the large and gorgeous paintings and other art work as well as the Encasement of the first Hungarian king St. Stephen I. Outside of the Basilica is voted to have the prettiest Christmas market in all of Europe. The market was crowded with many tourists but this did not take from its prettiness. My classmates and I got an hour of free time to walk around the city and the markets, when it was dark out the lights were magnificent and the city was full of life. After the trip Christmas was creeping up quickly. The 24th my host fathers family came and visited, they live just outside the city and we had an amazing dinner. The 25th we all had to wake up early and celebrated a little family Christmas then immediately hit the roads to my host mothers parents house. She stayed in a little village about two hours away. When we got there we met up with most of my host mothers family and I met a lot new people and had a great time. Christmas after that was normal for the most part, we all had a big dinner and passed out around the TV. That has been my December, exchange has been amazing in many different aspects. I truly see the change that has been going on not through just me but to everyone around me and the other exchange students as well. From now on I am going to take the most out of the time I have left in Hungary and make the most out of it.
Wed, January 8, 2020
Zuly - Taiwan
Hometown: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
Host District: TBA
Host Club: TBA
My name is Zuleyka Cardenas, a junior at Ponte Vedra High School. I’m thankful, and so very excited to have an opportunity to spend my senior year in Taiwan learning their culture and language. I was born in Mexico and upon turning one, my parents decided to move to Puerto Rico for familial reasons. I spent ten years in my new home, receiving my elementary and sixth grade education. At the age of eleven my family moved to the United States for better employment opportunities. In all honesty, it was incredibly difficult to adjust to our new nation of habitancy; I wasn’t fluent in English, and my grammar was, at best, horrific. As time flew by, I discovered that being enveloped the language had vastly improved my speaking and written skills. I found myself excelling in my new environment, both academically and socially as I made new friends (some I’d even come to consider family) and maintained strong ties to those I’d left behind. The experience I have gained over my life from nation hopping has taught me the importance of respecting and understanding cultural differences, which is why I am truly ecstatic to have the opportunity to broaden my horizons once more in Taiwan. Our time on this Earth is limited, so we should explore and experience as much as possible before it expires. I dream to live a life filled to the brim with tales to tell, and a well-practiced cultural background to inform others of the astounding differences humans have created with boundaries and time. I want to look back on my life fondly, remembering all the people I have met and taught around our world. I cannot express my extreme gratitude to Rotary for this wonderful opportunity to fulfill my dreams in Taiwan.