Outbounds 2009-2010

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Adam Grimes
2009-10 Outbound to Hungary
Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Bartram Trail HS
Sponsor: Orange Park Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Sátoraljaújhely Rotary Club, District 1911, Hungary

Adam - Hungary

Adam’s Bio

Hello, or for those hailing from Magyarország, Szia! My name is Adam Grimes. I am proud to say that very soon I will begin a journey to a mysterious and foreign country, known as Hungary. Preparing for such a journey is going to be challenging, and leaving will be hard as well. I am confident in my abilities to adapt. Foreign exchange isn’t for everyone, but I am not everyone. I am myself. I plan on using this opportunity to learn more about myself, and in the process becoming a worldlier individual. I also plan to have a little fun along the way.

I currently live in Jacksonville, or St. Johns Florida. I have lived here my entire life, and I have never left the country before. My family consists of my father William, my mother Lynnell, my sister Andrea and our pets (3 cats and a dog). My interests include movies, hanging out with friends, going to the beach, and pretty much every other stereotypical activity that Florida teens partake in.

I want to thank Rotary and everyone in district 6970 for making my exchange possible. I look forward to writing journals about my future experiences!

Adam’s Journals

August 23 Journal

 First off, let me just say that typing on a Hungarian keyboard is gonna take some getting used to, much like the country. Before I begin about Hungary, I should mention some things about traveling to this place. The night before my departure, I had an episode of insomnia. I got around 2 hours of sleep before I had to wake up. The drive to the airport was sad but exciting. I thought I knew what I had in store, but I underestimated the toll 24 hours of traveling can take on one’s body. I felt sluggish by the time I made it to Amsterdam, which is probably why I nearly missed my flight. After getting off the plane from Detroit to Amsterdam, I checked my connecting flight to Budapest on the giant plasmas littering the walls. Unfortunately for my tired eyes, I saw the gate for Bucharest, which is Romania’s capital city, not Hungary’s. So I sat at the wrong gate for 5 hours eating Chex mix and Snickers, but when I went to board the plane, and my ticket was denied, I almost died right there. Not only was I in the wrong part of the airport (which is gargantuan if you haven’t been there) but my plane was leaving in 10 minutes. I ran faster than I had ever run in my short 18 years of life. And by the time I got to my gate, tired and sweaty, turns out my flight was delayed 20 minutes anyway. It was just one of those moments where I couldn’t help but laugh at myself. The flight to Budapest was short and uneventful, but I knew the adventure has yet to begin.

Stepping off the plane I was instantly immersed. No one was speaking English, and I loved it. I found my bags, and walked towards the exit sign. Beyond that swinging door was my host family, ready to pounce on me like a pack of wolves. I greeted them in my best Hungarian, and then proceeded to stumble over something else to say. We proceeded to the car, where Soma, my host brother informed me that we would be spending 1 week at Lake Balaton. We spent the rest of the 5 minute car ride attempting to communicate. Turns out my host dad knows a bit of Spanish, so this lessened the language barrier a bit. My host mom Beata is very nice to me, even though I can barely understand what she is ever saying to me, I just know it’s nice because she is always smiling.

This first day has been incredible! I spent most of it just listening, but they sure do know how to have a good time! First we went to lunch in Budapest, and boy was I starving. I had a veal soup which was delicious, and then a giant plate of flattened fried chicken, topped off with a cappuccino for dessert. Then we drove off to Lake Balaton, which is the largest lake in Hungary. I spent some of the afternoon walking around with Soma talking and translating. This works out perfectly for the both of us, I only speak in Hungarian and he only speaks in English, except to his parents.

This year has promise to be incredible. I’m overwhelmed with the amount of change my life has experienced within the last 30 hours. But I’m overwhelmed with feelings of happiness and curiosity, as well as the desire to learn. Hungarians all seem like very nice people, but I would like to understand what they are saying just to be sure. Sticky-notes are my best friend right now, it was my host mother’s idea to put them on every piece of furniture and object in their lake-apartment, and I am taking full advantage of that fact.


November 8 Journal

 Wow. I’ve almost been here 3 months. To some, it may seem like such a short time, but to me it feels like a lifetime. I considered writing a journal every day since I have been here, because every day I have some new experience to write about. Unfortunately, I have neglected to write a journal until now. (Sorry) Today I changed host families for the first time, and today I also ate McDonalds for the first time in months, so I decided this was a good day to write a journal. haha.

So here goes…

I’ll start someplace simple, my setting. My home. My city. When I first saw the name Sátoraljaúhely I tried to say it and every time I attempted so, it felt as if I was coughing out a hairball. But now the name rolls of my tongue as easily as Szia or Köszönöm (Hello and Thank you). The city itself is rather small, with only about 17,000 inhabitants. There are plenty of places for youth like myself to hang out, such as the skatepark, the movie theatre, various bars/restaurants, the sportpark, or one of the ice cream joints dotting the city. I have found my favorite ice cream place, it’s affordable and they also sell Waffles or Gofri. These Gofrik (the plural of Gofri) can come with an array of special toppings. I like strawberries but Nutella is a close second. There are also many different pizza places around my city, and so far after sampling 2 locations, I have come to the conclusion about Hungarian pizza. It’s delicious. They don’t stick to the normal American toppings, they branch out quite a bit. Sometimes I long for my simple pepperoni and cheese, but after trying pizza with ham, pineapple, corn, chunks of tomato, shrimp, garlic, bacon and cheese…I fear there’s no going back.

Speaking of food, I have become what my mother always wanted me to be, a food taster. I accept anything and everything offered to me. That is obviously just part of exchange, trying new foods. I haven’t found a favorite dish yet, but I am a big fan of all Hungarian cuisine. Of course, Hungary is known for its Goulash, and for good reason. I have never tasted a better soup/stew in my life than homemade Gulyas (pronounced Gew-jash for English speakers). Another favorite food of mine here is call “Strapatchka” which is basically pureed potatoes, eggs, turo (curds), and fried bacon, mixed together with sour cream (tejföl) on top. For breakfast, it’s rather common in Hungary to just eat a sandwich, but I like to eat a special type of sandwich. In America, it’s similar to a grilled cheese, but prepared a different way. The Hungarian name is “melegszendvics” which literally means “hot sandwich.” To make this, you have to have 2 things. A sandwich, with all your preferred toppings, and a hot sandwich maker. Being a teenager and feeding yourself is not always an easy task. This 2 step procedure can be accomplished by even the most hazardous cookers. Step 1. Make Sandwich. Step 2. Put in the sandwich maker, and remove when you think it’s done. That second step can be tricky for those easily distracted. If you got lost reading those steps, stop reading this, go back to high school and/or enroll in Home Economics.

So enough about food, what about the reason I am here? What about fulfilling my title as an exchange student? I’ll let you in on how things are going with being a successful and happy exchange student. Before I got here, I didn’t really know what to expect. I had been told, it’s the best experience you can ever have, that you will remember it for the rest of your life, and that you will change as a person in a good way. So far, I can attest to all but one of those things. I have been having the most incredible and insanely different experience than anything I have ever done, ever. As far as personal traits and issues, I think I have become slightly more well rounded in the last few months. I was always a social person, but now I don’t spend all my time doing social things. I have become obsessed with learning this language! I study every day, for 1-2 hours with my first host families grandmother (nagymama). I also have two Hungarian lessons a week in school, each of which are 2 hours. I recently googled the Hungarian language, and one of the results read that Hungarian is the third hardest language in the world, behind Chinese and Japanese. A website states “Hungarian is one of the hardest as it has masculine, feminine and neuter genders as well as about 7 different verb conjugations. It is also one of a handful of ‘independent’ languages, meaning no one really knows their origins and they are not linked to any base language set like Latin (French, Spanish, Italian, etc.) One of the easiest is supposedly Polynesian.” Anyway, as far as remembering this exchange for the rest of my life, I am sure I will, but I cannot yet attest to that statement, as I have not yet lived past this experience.

So. School? Exchange Student? I love the concept, but at first I didn’t love the atmosphere. My first real experience with my school/classmates was not a great one. About one week after I arrived in Hungary, it was already time for school! The first day of school, I didn’t have to go! But that afternoon, I was told to don my Rotary clothing, and head to the school. Slapped on some fancy pants, a nice white button-down and my nearly empty blazer, and I was off! Before I made it to the school though, I had the opportunity to meet with the other exchange students in my city! I had been told the countries from which these fellow exchangers hailed from, but I didn’t know their names, or faces. I’ll give a little Bio of each now. Mauricio Moreno Reyes from Mexico. He’s a really funny guy who speaks great English. That kid never stops smiling. He has become one of my best friends here. Ludyevina Tominaga from Brazil. She’s very smart, and speaks amazing Hungarian. I always go to her when I need help with a concept. Her English is moderate, but I cant complain, it’s better than my Portuguese. Lastly, Penny Chen (Yi-Ping Chen) from Taiwan. She’s the youngest exchange student in the country! She is very shy, polite, but funny. Her English is decent, sometimes she has to consult her Chinese/English talking dictionary, which has Tetris. Overall, these people have accepted me as I accept them, we are all crazy enough to do exchange and we all love this place called Hungary. …

After meeting each other, we made our way to school where we were required to give a speech…in Hungarian. This would have been great if we spoke well enough to accomplish such a thing. The speeches went better than expected, with only one mishap. Penny froze up halfway through the speech and never finished. Just walked off stage. I’ve never felt more sorry for anyone in my life. I was so afraid to speak after her, but I swallowed the lump in my throat and stepped on stage to read my 3 line speech crumpled in my hands, wet with nervous-hand-sweat. I read my speech, with no faults, and there was clapping. But I didn’t care, I was just glad it was over. Next I headed off to meet my teacher and my classmates. My teacher is a red haired lady name Eva Miszack. My classmates, all have typical Hungarian names such as Akos, Gabor, Istvan, Gyuri, Máté and Dani. At first, my classmates approached me slowly, asking questions like where was I from, do I like Hungary, and how come I’m not fat? I think in the past 3 months I have changed most people’s minds about Americans. I have shown them we are not lazy, we are not fat, and we don’t eat McDonalds 3 square meals a day.

School here in Hungary is very different from Bartram Trail High School. For one, there is a sort of “homeroom” procedure where the students stay in the same room for the majority of the day. Each room has a number and a letter, according to the grade. My class is 12B. The school is small, it only houses about 1000 students. The school was founded in 1786, it’s mad old! A lot of renovation has been done to the school, but many parts are very old and antique. The school is famous in the area for their basketball team, but I have yet to see them play any serious games. My classes consist of Math, Ethics, History, Art, Sport, Physics, German, Technology and Grammar class. My level of understanding of my subjects is slowly but surely rising, but I still can’t do much during class. Most of my teachers ignore me, others try to involve me in class, whether that’s letting me take the tests, or yelling at me for not doing my math homework. Not much has changed in that department…

Overall, I believe my exchange is going fairly well. I get homesick, but not as often as I used to in the first month. I have adapted to the culture around me, but sometimes I still have little moments where I think “Hey, I’m walking down the street surrounded by people who don’t speak my native tongue, and I have to learn theirs if I plan to survive, wow.” Little things that I could have never pictured myself doing, I enjoy taking part in because everything is new and fun. I played squash, a game I had never heard of and now I play every weekend. I scored a goal in soccer, for the first time since I was 5. I speak one of the hardest languages all day every day without many problems. I have visited 3 countries besides Hungary since I’ve been here (Slovakia, Poland, and Ukraine). I am happy, positive, and I love my life here. Minden Rendben (Everything is in order). Unfortunately, my hair has almost grown back to its old length before I cut it and then left the USA. But do not fear! The forces of good have willed me to cut my hair once again, but for now enjoy the pictures of me from the last 3 months.

I plan to experience a lot more in the months to come, and I will be sure to chronicle my events along the way. I assure you, it won’t be 2 months before I write another one of these.

To everyone bac in the USA, I miss and love you all. To my fellow exchange students around the world, I miss you all and enjoy reading your journals. To my family/friends here in Magyarország, köszönet mindenért, szeretlek titeket mind!

January 6 Journal

 These journals get harder and harder to write the longer I wait in between each one. I feel like it has been ages since I wrote my last journal but it has only been like 7-8 weeks. Lots of things have happened since way back then, and I am rather compelled to chronicle everything for you, the reader. So let’s start from now, and go back in time!

It is now 2010, January 6, 2010 to be exact. To reflect upon the year of 2009, I would say it was a pretty amazing year. Over a year ago I decided I wanted to be involved in Rotary Youth Exchange, and now I am writing my third journal in 4 months of living a new life in a new place. So much has changed in the past 4 months it’s rather ridiculous. I realized in my past life I have not appreciated anything as much as I appreciate things now. I owe a great debt to Rotary, my parents, and people who influenced me to become an exchange student. I took everything I had for granted including the people that loved me; I will never do that again.

Exchange has changed me in so many ways I cannot explain through a journal. But the ones I can explain I will illustrate for you now. First off, I have gained weight, which may seem like a miracle to some, and a curse to others. I have never heard any statistic for guys gaining weight but it is rumored that most girls on exchange gain some weight whether they want it or not. But honestly I really expect to gain more, what with the amount of amazing new food I consume on a daily basis! Not to lie, some food I try and stay away from, such as csirke máj (chicken liver). The first time I tried it, I realized what it was and gagged a little. The next time I ate it was an accident, it was mixed in with some other various chicken parts and mushrooms, needless to say when I had that familiar taste in my mouth I had to pretend to blow my nose and spit the liver into a napkin. Other than that stuff, I like all Hungarian foods.

On the subject of change, I would like to pose a question to other exchange students. “ARE YOU LOSING YOUR MIND TRYING TO REMEMBER SIMPLE ENGLISH WORDS!?!?!” Because I am. Sometimes in conversation with English speaking people, I have to stop and try to remember an English word for a minute, which my Hungarian friends think is hilarious. Also, as mentioned by several Rotex and elder Rotarians before my departure, I have started to think in Hungarian. It wasn’t really a big deal at first, simple things like Yes or No (Igen vagy Nem) became automatic and even during Skype conversations with family and friends, such small things would slip out of my mouth as if I had no control over what I was saying. It has gotten really bad recently, where someone will be speaking English to me, and I am reading something in Hungarian, I will respond in a mixture of Hungarian-English, which I have dubbed (I don’t take credit for this) Hunglish. Hunglish is an appropriate form of communication when someone is learning Hungarian, because to speak full Hungarian sentences doesn’t start happening until after the first few months.

In the area of language, my confidence is soaring! I listen more than ever now when people are having conversation, I understand lots of expressions commonly used, and I have created a few of my own which have caught on among friends. I have been told countless times I speak very well in the Hungarian language, both by people I know very well and by people I have just met. I have been proud of my accomplishments before in life, but never has a feeling been so fulfilling as successful communication in a language I knew next to nothing of 4 months ago. I hate comparing myself to others, but from what I can tell I am one of the most fluent out of the exchange students in Hungary. I know I am not the best, because I have spoken to the best. There is a contest coming up in February, in my city, for non-native Hungarian speakers (specifically exchange students) to compete in. I have no thoughts of winning, but putting my Hungarian to the full test is something I do on a daily basis. I don’t expect to live up to the Drake Starling standard, but coming close would be pretty cool though.

I have plans to do more traveling in the near and distant future. I want to visit as many cities in Hungary as possible, while on my limited budget. I am being very frugal with my Forints (Hungarian Currency) and thanks to the dropping value of the USD even more so! Also, Euro-tour is coming up in June, so that is one more awesome trip I get to look forward to! Here is a list of the cities and monuments I will be visiting in the future…

I have no doubt by the end of this adventure I will be exhausted, but I will also have seen some of the coolest places in Europe!

Christmas is a wonderful day for many people around the world. But for an exchange student, Christmas means memories of Christmases past, and spoonfuls of homesickness that make them nauseous. Anyway, that’s how things have been for me the past few weeks. Everyone gets a little homesick sometimes, and Christmas is definitely one of those times. I’m pretty sure it says that in every RYE exchange students handy dandy notebook!

As for Christmas itself, it was better than the days leading up to it. On the 23rd of December, my second host family and I traveled to their second house in Eger, a beautiful city sort of near Budapest. Here we met with many family members whom I shook hands with and held conversation with over dinner (which was fish soup and goose, DELICIOUS). After dinner we all went to the living room and exchanged gifts, something I was not expecting at all. This exchange process on Christmas Eve reminded me of my sister begging and pleading my mother to let her open gifts that same night when we were much younger. My mother always fought my sister on this, but would eventually cave and let my sister and I open my Grandmother Kristi’s presents, which were always very interesting and useful. So for Christmas in Hungary I received quite a few presents, both from my host sister, host parents, and host grandparents, whom I barely know. I was very grateful and thankful for these gifts, as I always am. One of the gifts was a book full of 1000 words and phrases for small Hungarian children to learn with, it includes stickers of every word and object, which have to be placed on their corresponding pages. It will be a wonderful learning tool to expand my Hungarian vocabulary, which is not as extensive as I would like it to be.

A week before Christmas I was in Italy! The exchange students from my city and I were given the opportunity to go on this trip. The adventure lasted one week, and I had some of the best times on my exchange during that week. The whole trip was centered on skiing, which I had never tried before. For those of you who know me, I am not exactly an extreme sports inclined person. I have tried water-skiing, skateboarding, even windsurfing and failed miserably at everything. But despite my past failures, I can honestly say I am now an above average snow-skier. I will describe to you how the trip progressed day by day.

The first day, everyone got to the hotel where we would be staying and began to get settled in. Hotel Erica was awesome! The staff was very nice, and spoke great English. The bottom floor of the building had a “wellness center” which included 3 different saunas and steam rooms, massage parlor, tanning booth, as well as a 20 person Jacuzzi hot tub for tired skiers. I can tell you I took full advantage of this wellness center during my stay, with the exception of the tanning booth. Heck I’m from Florida; we don’t pay for skin cancer!

Anyways, the first day of skiing was very interesting. All the families (there were 7 different families, 4 with exchange students) made their way to the slope about midday. Up on the mountain, to say it was beautiful would be a massive understatement. I was dumbfounded. The sight was spectacular, and it stole my breath away, plus the oxygen was much thinner up there. The weather all through the week was very, very cold. In my family a minimum of 4 long sleeve t-shirts, 2 pairs of socks, and long underwear was required underneath the necessary ski pants and ski jacket. To be dead honest, I don’t think any amount of clothing would have saved me from negative 17 degree Celsius weather, plus the wonderful wind-chill. My face froze, countless times, which could only be countered by taking shelter inside one of the many bars/restaurants dotted around the mountain range. My skiing skills began to improve by the end of the second day. I fell down way less by the third day once I was able to control my speed, and by the fourth day I didn’t fall at all. Every day I was always exhausted and my legs felt like they were going to fall off. All in all, the trip was an incredible experience, and I can honestly say I will try to ski for the rest of my life.

The weekend before I left for my ski trip, I visited another one of the most beautiful places in Europe, Vienna! The trip started with a train ride to Budapest, where I met with all the other exchange students in Hungary as we got on a bus to the city of Győr! The ride to Győr was a few hours, and I spent the time catching up with people I had met at the orientation at Budapest back in September. Everyone has been having a wonderful time, and I only heard a few complaints about homesickness. Once we got to Győr we found out we would be sleeping in a student hostel, and I immediately thought about the horror films. After laughing off general feelings of awareness for my surroundings, as well as decisions of whom I would use as a human shield in the event of an attack, we all made our way to dinner.

The local Győr Rotary Klub hosted dinner, where a surprise was waiting for me. A person who I got to know a little bit during Rotary related events back in Florida. Monika Ignacz was an inbound in Florida last year. I saw her welcoming other exchange students at the door, so I shouted “hey Monika!” Her eyes lit up and she ran at me and gave me a huge hug. It was cool to reunite with someone you haven’t seen in 5 months and then talk to them like you saw them yesterday! She was impressed with my Hungarian, and kept telling me about all the things she misses about Florida. I agreed with her on about every point, and she even made me homesick for some things I had forgotten about.

After dinner we all went to bed early because we had a big day the next day. Not! Exchange students are super-human beings that can stay up all night talking and playing games, and the next day function like normal-ish crazy teenagers.. I love them all. The morning before our venture into Vienna, after breakfast it started to snow. Not only was it the first time I had seen snow fall in Hungary, but also for most of the kids there it was their first time seeing snow period! Brazilians were crying with happiness, and I caught about 100 snowflakes on my tongue. I am the master of that sport. After a while it got cold so we got on the bus to go to Vienna. After a short trip, we arrived at a truly amazing place. Vienna is awesome! There was a giant Christmas festival going on, that was our first stop. The Christmas festival was full of people from all kinds of places, Austrians, Germans, Hungarian and even some Americans I met with. Food stands sold German sausage, drink stands sold hot wine or punch. The city itself is structurally beautiful, but my group did get lost a few times… I also encountered an establishment I was actually for once in the mood for because of the freezing weather. Starbucks! The comfy couches and overpriced drinks were open arms welcoming me back and reminding me why I sometimes like Big-Corporation-Western-Society’s effect on the rest of the world. I only visited one museum, where some German girls asked to take a picture with me. I felt used and weird knowing that picture would be on some girls social networking page sometime in the near future. The Vienna trip was successful; I was happy I had seen another beautiful part of Europe and experienced so much culture in one day.

Before I finish, I want to say good luck to all the future Outbound Students, I can’t wait to hear from those headed to Hungary! I am sure Daphne has given you some assignment to talk to me, or to read April or my journals about Hungary. If she hasn’t assigned that yet, well she should! Questions about being an exchange student are welcomed, as well as anything regarding your upcoming responsibilities. Meet the deadlines, for He-who-must-not-be-angered shows no mercy towards slackers!

Much love from Eastern Hemisphere, and I hope everyone had a Happy New Year! That rhymed, but I am not about to start writing Haikus like some of the other crazy kids on this website… And now, Pictures!

May 31 Journal

 I would like to dedicate this chronicle of my exchange to my loving mother, who waited so long for it.

Months, weeks, days, minutes, seconds, moments. Time can only be measured by experiences. I feel the last few experiences of my exchange are the ones that will define how I feel about it for the rest of my life. That said, I have so much to look forward to in the little time I have left in Europe. There are also many things I am not looking forward to which may be the hardest things I have done in my entire life. It has always been about staying positive for me. I realized there is no point being sad about anything, because it won’t get you anything in the future. I’ve been following the words of one of everyone’s favorite deceased artists, Bob Marley. “Don’t worry, be happy.” For me though, it’s not so much about worrying, than being generally glum. This exchange is the perfect example of life as a whole. It’s short, too short to experience everything. Also, if you don’t enjoy it you will regret it.

Talking about ourselves is a waste of time. I write this journal for the benefit of my friends and family who are generally interested in what I have been doing. I do not write this for personal gain or recognition by the public or anyone else.

Everyone is ever changing, from the moment the fastest sperm finishes his race, to the moment our relatives stick us in the ground. Most worries of today concern fruitless problems that are either impossible or improbable to achieve the results that we desire. That is why I think it is our duty as humans to live out lives, because there are so many fruits to be tasted.

It has been proclaimed that “everything has already been said and done” While this points out the length of time documentation as well as communication has taken place, it fails to communicate the necessity to regard the world around us as our world, and we must do with it what we can. Time is everlasting, as far as we know.

I make it my mission very day to experience life, by cutting out the idle undertakings of our existences. While millions of people watch television, I prefer to count the clouds in the sky or the birds in the trees. Life is loitering all around us; we just have to interact in order to live.

Real life is coming at me like a speeding bullet. This exchange has been a time to reflect, think about my problems, and the problems of the universe. I believe I have a better understanding of the world around me. Decisions have been made, but the path in front of me has yet to be decided. I have the asphalt; it just has yet to be laid down.

Now then, enough with the philosophical stuff… You’re probably wondering what I have been up to lately?

I can account for the last few months in next to perfect detail, but to tell you of all of my adventures would be the equivalent of writing a book. The thought to write a book has of course occurred to me, but I have decided to write once I have graduated University.

In VERY recent news, today is May 31st 2010 and in 29 days I will board a plane to return to Florida. Some wait my arrival others, dread my departure. I myself am stuck, somewhere in the middle of insanity and absolute happiness. This past weekend I had a taste of what it will be like to leave all of those whom I have come to love this year. This Saturday was the district conference in Szentendre (small city near Budapest). I wanted to arrive early to the conference so Friday I packed my bags, grabbed my rotary blazer and jumped on a train to Budapest.

I arrived at about noon, and took the usual public transportation to my final destination. I was traveling to my friend Margot’s house. Margot is an exchange student from California, and I consider her to be more like a sister than a best friend. She of course, likes to sleep in, so when I called up to the house with the intercom, the maid picked up. I asked kindly if Margot was home, the maid told me she would come and open the gate. When she finally arrived at the gate I greeted her with a typical Hungarian greeting. “Kezed Csokolom!”(I kiss your hand) I proclaimed with a smile. She opened the gate silently while looking at the ground. When I thanked her she smiled and walked behind me back into the house to finish her tasks. Once inside, I climbed the 3 floors of stairs to Margot’s room, where I found Margot (of course), Huani (Brazil), Chandler (Wisconsin), Pedro (Brazil), and Carol (Brazil). Everyone was lookin’ tired, having just woken up when I slammed the bedroom door to greet everyone. I dropped my bags and jumped into bed with everyone. There were grumblings about breakfast, and wanting to take a shower, so I decided I would help. I went back downstairs with chandler to make breakfast. Chandler is 6 foot 1 with blonde hair, gauges who wears contacts/glasses. I always get a long with chandler, as he and I think alike on a lot of things. He was on exchange last year too, in Brazil! He speaks English, Portuguese and Hungarian fluently. We decided to make omelets for everyone. We chopped up Paprika (peppers), Sonka (ham), Hagyma (Onions) and added them to a hot pan of olai (vegetable oil). After everything was nice and sautéed, we proceeded to add the tojas (eggs). The omelet came out nicely, with only minor burning. Pretty good for two dudes in the kitchen.

After breakfast we all went outside. Chandler decided it would be a good idea to use the vizipipa(hookah/waterpipe). We all laid out in the sun on towels or reclining chairs. I chose a yoga mat to catch the sunrays on. We talked about plans for the weekend, and that night particularly. Soon chandler brought out the hookah with melon-flavored tobacco. At about 3 o’clock more people arrived. We had all had a little sun and decided it would be a good idea to jump in the pool! The new arrivals were John (New York) and Roxy (Mexico). We all jumped in the pool and started to play pool volleyball. I got spiked in the ear, no biggie. The swelling went down after 15 minutes. We decided after the pool that we would leave for the night at about 6pm. We all took showers, separately of course. Afterwards we started to get ready.

The bathroom was full of girls straightening their hair, dudes gelling/straightening. I brushed my teeth, and stole a miniscule amount of wax from Chandler. On accident, everyone but Carol put on black clothes. We decided we WANTED everyone in black, but Carol went in white. She was the “angel” of the group. Right when everyone was ready, Marina (Brazil) arrived. I love Brazilians so much, but one thing is true about them, they take longer than everyone to get ready. But they are usually the best looking when we leave the house. That night was crazy. We danced our gluteus maximus’s off! The clubs in Budapest on Friday nights are usually quite packed, and this night was no different. I think I saw 1000 different men and women, all moving in unison, to the typical “unsz aahnsz” beat of the club/house/techno/pop/dubstep music that was blasting through the speakers at 8,430 decibels. So after dancing for a few hours, we decided to turn in because we had things to do tomorrow.

The next morning, we all woke up at 8 o’clock to get ready for the Rotary District conference. I cut my khaki pants into shorts because it was too hot that day, but I had to wear nice clothes, so I put on a polo and donned my rotary blazer. We were out the door by 8:30 and at West End (a huge shopping mall in Budapest) by 9:45. There we met with 15 or 20 other exchange students, plus our president of rotary youth exchange Kertesz Bela. He is our boss, and I have mad respect for him. He has to deal with us plus all of our craziness, and he does a darn good job.

Once every exchange was accounted for, we made out way to the bus, which would take us to Szentendre. On the bus most people slept, talked or listened to music. Once we arrived in Szentendre, we took pictures of the beautiful landscape. Then we made our way into the hotel where the district conference was being held. There we waited, played some pool and foosball, but mostly waited. 2 grueling hours later, it was our time. We went inside the conference room, where approximately 200 Rotarians awaited us. Our president was awarded something, my district councilor was awarded something, they talked a little bit, announcements were made, and then we all sang a song. The song is about spring and it goes like this:

Tavaszi szél vizet áraszt, virágom, virágom*. Minden madár társat választ virágom, virágom. Hát én immár kit válasszak? Virágom, virágom. Te engemet, én tégedet, virágom, virágom.

After this presentation, almost all 25 of us went back to Budapest together on the bus. This was going to be the biggest party of the year, and everyone wanted to come. We started our evening at Margot’s house, where everyone got ready by showering, changing clothes, putting on makeup and generally getting ready to par-tay. So once everyone was ready, we got on the bus to go to Heroes Square. All 20 of us.

Wherever we went, people looked at us. It was as if they had never seen a mixed group of foreign teenagers going to party before. Most of us were speaking English, with the occasional Spanish or Portuguese. The busses and the trams were not prepared for us. In our wake we left death, destruction and frightened Hungarians. It was impossible to stay organized, but we managed to get separated just two times! A personal record for all Hungarian exchange groups since 2003.

After Heroes Square, we decided we wanted to go to a bar to hang out, like exchange students do. The first bar we found was nasty, so we decided to go to a different one that everyone was familiar with. This bar is called “Szimpla, Kert Mozi(which means Simple, garden movie theatre). On the way we found a gyros stand, and everyone ate something or other.

Once at the bar, we couldn’t find a spot to fit all of us, so we started asking people if we could steal chairs from their table. We made a giant circle of chairs around one area, then people started to separate into the usual “cliques.” I hate that sometimes this happens with exchange students, because in essence we are all the same. We just like to find differences and separate ourselves so that we may feel “special.”

After awhile, the bar scene was starting to get boring and smelled too much like one big cigarette. We all wanted to dance, so we set off in the direction of a good disco in Budapest. We walked, almost 10 kilometers, and by the time we got halfway, everyone was complaining they wanted to sit down and drink something. So we stopped at what is called Deak Ferenc Ter. There were about 1000 people in the square, and it was a cool place to hang out, for a while. Then it started to get cold. It was only 12:00 at this time, but I was beginning to get tired, and I wanted to start dancing before I passed out. So we left, and continued our search for the disco. We found it. And boyyyyyyyy did we dance! No matter what music was playing, someone’s foot was tapping, or someone was jumping around and screaming like a pig. At 3am a group of sick girls left, because they were tired, and well…. sick. The rest of us danced until 5 am. At about 5:30 we got on a bus home, and at 6 we arrived back at Margot’s house. When we went in the door, we counted 17 of us. 17 spots had to be coordinated. A few people ended up on the ground, others in beds, or on mattresses. I slept on a mattress. Before bed, we all wanted to eat something, so we made breakfast! At 7am, everyone had eaten, but we weren’t going to school (thank goodness) we all went to bed. At about 11 my host parents called, and I packed my things to leave. That day I slept in the car, and when I got home I slept some more. Today I didn’t go to school, I just slept, and as soon as I finish writing this sentence I’m going to sleep again!

So I am sure a few of you are wondering about my skills in the language. Let me just tell you a few experiences. Recently, I have been mistaken for Hungarian, or Slovakian because of how well I speak the language. I spent an entire day in a bus full of Hungarians and none of them knew I was an exchange student until I handed them my Rotary card. It was pretty funny. Also recently any time someone asks me where I am from, they make me show them my drivers license so they know I’m not lying about my origins. Sometimes I don’t even tell people I am American, I just say I’m Hungarian who lived in America for 18 years. Two weekends ago (21st -23rd of May) there was a Hungarian language competition in my city. (Almost) Every exchange student came out to compete. The competition consisted of a writing portion, as well as several speaking portions. I came in 3rd place, out of the 23 exchange students who came. I had not expected to win this competition, but I am glad I did place. I studied a lot this year, but I learned a lot more than just the language. I got to know the people, the culture, and the history of this unlucky but wonderful country. The people here amaze me day by day. I love Magyarország.

On a different note, I did some international travel recently for reasons I dislike talking about. Death in general is a very common subject of today, because death is just as big a part of life as birth. Whenever people die and people report about it on the news, it never affects anyone unless they were personal acquaintances or family of the dead. Death should never be feared by anyone, because it is an absolutely natural and inevitable part of life. Sure, life can be extended through exercise, good diet and evolution of body/mind; but at the same time one can never be sure when it is their time to expire.

My Great Grandmother was not a political figure, a war veteran, or a mountain climber. On the other hand, she was a maternal figure to many; the list of survivors is lengthy. Surviving are: two daughters, Andrea (Gerald) Nelson and Kristi (Arthur Coulton) Cowles; two sons, Michael (Lorraine) Cowles, Jhan (Colleen) Cowles; nine grandchildren, Lynnell (Bill) Grimes, Marney (Joe) Weaver, Wendy Nelson, Richard (Leanne) Nelson, Nils (Anneke) Nelson, Carrie Lynn (Mike) Dougan, Todd (Traci) Cowles, Clinton (Kellin) Cowles, and Taylor Cowles; 15 great-grandchildren, Adam and Andrea Grimes, Tanner Hayes, Kristina Nelson, Hannah, Erik and Mitchell Nelson, Aubrey, Magnus and Cammack Nelson, Sarah, Katie and Emma Dougan, and Aiden and Graham Cowles. I love my Great Grandma and I will miss her very very much.

On April 8th, I found out via Face book of my Great Grandma Betty’s death, and her funeral that Friday. My parents and my sister informed me they would like me to return to the United States for the funeral. I was devastated, and utterly confused. I felt bi-polar for the next few days, considering all of the options and the details. I didn’t know how much it would cost for me to go back to the US, and once I was there, how was I going to feel? Would the feeling of being with my family be overwhelming and make me more homesick than ever? Would I want to stay in the US and end my exchange early? Should I even risk going back there? Will leaving ruin the cultural experience of living in a foreign country for 1 year? I was driving myself insane with thoughts of all the different possibilities.

In the end, I was lucky in that my insurance company was willing to pay for my trip back to the US because of the death of my GG (Great Granny). So Thursday the 14th of April I packed my bags to return to the United States, for a period of 5 days. Friday morning my first host family the Marschalko’s took me to the airport in Budapest. They helped me to the ticket counter, where I received my boarding pass and gate information. The excitement inside of me was building. I couldn’t believe this was actually happening to me. As sad as I felt, I couldn’t help but let my heart soar knowing I was going to see my family members whom I miss greatly. As I boarded the plane I smiled and said to myself “In a few hours I will be in Amsterdam, and from there I will fly to Wisconsin and see people who I love.” The flight was a short 2.5 hours. I de-boarded the plane, went through customs and found my gate, C7. Boarding started an hour earlier than departure, so I had thirty minutes of free time. I hit up one of the food stands with outrageous prices (6 Euro for a sandwich, and 2.5 for a bottle of water the size of a thimble). After dining, I entered through the security, where I was thoroughly questioned about my stay in Amsterdam (40 minutes total) and where I had come from etc etc… Afterwards, I took a seat and popped in my earphones. The flight was scheduled to leave in 1 hour. 10 minutes after I went through security, there was an announcement on the loud speaker, that my flight was cancelled due to a problem with the plane. I sighed. “Awesome” I thought. Things cannot get any worse. What I didn’t know is that Mother Nature was out to get me! Seismic activity during 2006-2009 caused an eruption of the volcano “Eyjafjallajökull.” Before they could schedule another flight out of Amsterdam to those of us who were stranded because of the broken plane, news reports showed that airspace in most of Western Europe was closed due to the plume of volcanic ash spewing thousands of meters into the air. As if my life couldn’t get any crazier. Thus began my 6-day stay in Schiphol Airport and the city of Amsterdam.

I found myself just saying “WOW!” This is an insane situation. Thousands of people, stuck in one giant airport. Everyone was thinking the same thing. “When and how can I get a flight home, and until then, can I get a hotel room?” The news from KLM arrived shortly after that thought dawned on everyone’s minds. The report was that all hotels in Amsterdam were booked, and that no flights would be leaving until tomorrow at the earliest. During this entire situation, in the midst of everyone’s gigantic problems, I myself had a problem. What was I going to do for the next 24 hours?

As I was asking myself this question, I overheard a conversation between two people standing next to me looking at the television. It was a group of two men, who looked like they could have been related. The first man was rather normal. He looked to be mid fortie-something, with his slightly overweight physique and balding head of brown hair. He stared up at the television with this short of frustrated expression and with a tone of almost asinine pomposity “Well, I’m not going to make it home for my wife’s pot-roast.” The guy next to him was taller, and built like a football player. He had dark red hair, which he wore combed back. He was sporting fore arm tattoos and dark sunglasses. His wardrobe consisted of all black, with a black backpack slung over his shoulder. After talking and getting to know these guys, I found out the first guy was named Gordon, and the second guy Mark. Mark and Gordon were originally supposed to be flying on the same plane as me, which had been cancelled. We were all in the same boat, and as we all discussed the problem at hand, we decided to stay together, and the first objective on our list was to contact our loved ones. I hopped on my laptop, using the graciously provided wireless Internet to enter the interwebs. I sent emails to both my parents, and also posted on facebook my situation, so as to maybe attract the attention of my equally internet-friendly sibling, or parents. It worked.

After notifying my parents the next matter of business concerned where I was sleeping. It soon became apparent that hotels might be hard to come by. Gordon decided he wanted to stay in the airport and sleep there. I wasn’t about to settle for the floor unless I had to. We decided to go out into the city to see what we could find the in the hostel market. Mark and I said our quick goodbyes to Gordon and started out of the Schiphol airport. We were greeted with lines of people, all on their cell phones or looking for taxis. We managed to find a BMW-taxi whose driver was of Arabic descent. I asked the nice man to take us to where there are Hostels in Amsterdam. He asked for 30 Euro up front, which Mark paid. After 20 minutes of riding in the leather environment, the man dropped us near what appeared to be a giant church, but ended up being the train station. We thanked the man and paid him the rest of the 50-euro fee he charged. Total rip-off. I suddenly realized it wasn’t going to be easy navigating this city. It was almost nighttime, and the environment was already a little crazy. Everywhere I looked, I saw gift shops, bars, red lights, and Café’s. This was the part where Mark took control of the situation. He asked a man on the street where he could find tourist information. This took us to a giant square with lots of stands and more gift shops. Mark soon discovered that all hostels were full-up and would not have rooms until the following day. This was when we decided to just head back to the airport or “Home Base.”

Mark was the reason I survived this situation and was able to remain calm for nearly the entire time. I felt safe with the giant man accompanying me everywhere I went. He was also a lot of fun to talk to, although I never asked him about things he had done or seen in the Iraq war. He did tell me of a few experiences with crowd like situations.

The first night in the Airport was very similar to the rest of them. We spent some time walking around looking in the different shops that airport Schiphol has to offer (like 100 shops). Our diets consisted of Burger King (typical Americans, I know) or different Middle Eastern food like Falafel or maybe Gyros. Everything was SOOOO expensive in the airport, so we tried to eat in Amsterdam every chance we could.

So of the three times I was Amsterdam during my 5-day stay, I must say my experiences of the nightlife are otherworldly. Mark and I were walking down a narrow street looking for a good place to relax, and maybe have a carbonated beverage. Suddenly I heard a tapping noise, which sounded somewhat like a woodpecker. I whirled around to find the source of this noise. What I saw was young scantily clad lass, who was beckoning me to come to the window. In complete innocence, I walked over and asked her “Yes? Can I help you?” She smiled and asked me same question back. It was at this point Mark grabbed me by the shoulder and informed me of my situation. Yes. There are prostitutes in Amsterdam, and they do try to entice passers-by to come inside their nasty windows. The rest of the night I refrained from talking to girls in red-lighted windows, as well as the blue lighted ones. Another interesting aspect of the evening was the amount of people who asked us if we were interesting in purchasing Cocaine. This part was actually very funny for me, because the manner in which these people talk to you in somewhat hilarious. Most of the time, when walking on the street and a man would walk past us on the street, he would not make eye contact, and ask in a rather nonchalant fashion “YOU BOYS WANNA BUY SUM COKE????” At this point, Mark would usually utter an obscenity under his breath or proclaim to the man “NAW MAN WE’RE GOOD.” I would always laugh, but after the 30th time it became annoying and we avoided these sorts of men like they were the plague. It’s an odd feeling to be pestered into buying drugs from street dealers, not to mention extremely dangerous. But I never felt my life in danger, or that we were going to be mugged. I was very confident that Mark would either A. Kill said mugger/drug dealer, or B. I would outrun the perpetrator.

Every night, seemed like the same. Mark and I constructed our makeshift beds on the floor or on the rows of chairs that served as makeshift beds. After we were ready to sleep, we would ask the KLM attendants when the planes were running again. Every time I talked to one of these ladies in blue, I always felt like they were lying and just saying what I wanted to hear, but I understood their situation and never lost my cool when speaking to them, no matter how frustrated I was.

My fifth day in Amsterdam, I decided enough was enough. I called in the cavalry; or rather the cavalry came to me. I received at email in the morning from Al Kalter saying there was a rotary family that would come to pick me up. There was a phone number, and I called them using my skype account. The family name was “Verdegaal.” They were super nice to me, and treated me like there own child. They had housed exchange students before, and they were happy to help me out. I was ecstatic when they offered to let me shower, and I must have looked like a starving child when they offered me a home-cooked meal.

The next day, I boarded a plane back to Hungary. I learned a lot during my 5 day stay in Amsterdam, and I am for sure going back.

At the end of February, I changed families for the third time. I was then living in a small village outside of the city, called “Alsóberecki.” (Since then I have moved again, but I will write about the Monok family in my next journal) The population is somewhere around 1000 people, most of them middle aged. The culture here is typical for most Hungarian villages. Most people live in their parents’ houses, because apartments and houses are very expensive here. So it is not uncommon for 3-4 generations of a family to live under one roof. A lot of families, including mine have gardens. In spring, they plant everything you can imagine. Working in the garden is hard work, but I love being outside. My new family is great. It’s made up of my host father “Peter”, my host mother “Andrea”, my host sister “Luca” and my youngest host brother “Bill or William.” I find it amusing that nearly this entire family shares names with my family and friends at home. My host Dad is a really interesting and a nice guy. He really likes exercise, which coincides with my interests. Our most recent adventure was a 60km bicycle ride to a nearby city and back. During my first week with the family, Peter took me to participate in his Karate class. Having taken karate for 3 years, and achieving the rank of black belt back in Florida, I figured I knew what was coming. When I arrived the room was filled with mostly adults, and a few teenagers. Every single person in the room looked like they could win any fight. The workout was hard, and by the end I was sweating, and my knuckles bleeding from hitting the bag. That same weekend, there was a Karate competition in my city. The total competitors numbered around 190 men and women from Hungary and Croatia. I helped build the fighting mat early in the morning, and then I watched people of all sizes and genders beat the crap out of each other all day. My favorite was the 70-kilo black belts, full contact, minimal protection (genitals and teeth), and fastest dudes ever.

The weather here is changing rapidly, and annoying enough to make me go crazy. In the beginning of March there was still snow on the ground in parts of Hungary. I kept hoping for warmer weather, and I got it. About a month and a half ago I spent a weekend in Budapest. The objective was to work on a presentation for Rotarians, and future Hungarian exchange students! I took the initiative a few months ago to get everyone thinking about the project, but unfortunately no real worked happened until the two weeks before. I always say, “Procrastination is intentionally adding stress to your life which further encourages you to complete the task.” In some cases, such as this, procrastination proved to be the wrong solution to a growing problem. When it was finally time to stand on stage and show all the effort we put in, it ended up being sort of a rushed, unscripted chaos that we dubbed “Hungarian Jeopardy.” We attempted to recreate the game using some flash-based software we found online, as well as translated questions about the United States. The idea was a great one; the reality is we needed podiums, buzzers, and someone with the personality of Alex Trebek. What we got was 6 people standing on the side of a stage, blabbering the answers in broken Hungarian after making fake buzzer sounds with our mouths. BZZZZZZZZZ! The end result was hilarious, for us anyway, and I am sure we made a good impression of our gathered extended knowledge of the Hungarian language. That was the highlight of that weekend. In between working on the project, playing UNO, or talking about Hungarian life, there wasn’t too much room for anything else. I did however have some disastrous but learning experiences on the public transportation in Budapest.

First off, I had only been to Budapest a few times before, and I had never taken any forms of public transportation in between those times. First, I rode the train from Sátoraljaújhely to Budapest. The total ride was 4 hours, pretty boring, and I finished Chuck Palahniuk’s novel “Diary, a novel.” Funny title for a novel, Diary. Any way, I got sidetracked. After the train ride, I headed to the Metro-station, which I had been told would take me to Moszkva tér, where I could take a bus to one of the American exchange students’ house. The metro was fast, and the ticket had to be bought outside the station or else you could not go into the building. 320 Forints, no problem. Atferwards I got on the 128 bus, but I was supposed to go on the 129. So after trying to explain to the driver I was in the wrong place he took me back, for a price of course. That was frustrating enough.

The same weekend, I got on an electrical train that runs around Budapest. I had never been on one of these trains before, so I guess you could say I was mildly enthused by the idea. I stepped onto the train and out of the mud and snow composite. I took a seat on the train, and began to take in my surroundings. I needed to ride the train for 3 stops, but I never made it all the way there…

The ticket checkers got on the after the first stop. These “cops” made an announcement in the middle of the train ride; they asked to see everyone’s tickets. I panicked a little, and spoke entirely English to the guy (mistake). He asked me where I was from, and if I spoke Hungarian. I was panicked a little and answered “America, and yes, a little” in Hungarian. He smirked and informed me that I had to pay the overly convenient on the spot fine. It was 6000 Forints, which is about 30.00 USD. I just had one problem paying the fine, because I didn’t know I had to buy a ticket in the first place. I explained this problem the best I could in Hungarian, and then continued blabbering on in English. The man I was speaking to, told me to get off at the next stop. He grabbed me by the arm before we exited the train. I obliged. I had only 6000 on me exactly, and therefore no money for traveling home, but the guy was nice enough to get me 2000 back. The second man who I had not spoken too informed me where I could find tickets in the future. I thanked both the men, and proceeded to purchase a ticket from the nearby stand as they watched. I was wary of their stares drilling into my back as I stood in line, and eventually purchased my ticket. I turned around, and the men were walking away, presumably to inspect another train. My train rolled up five minutes later. I got on feeling safe that I could withstand any further pestering from ticket checkers. I realize they were doing their job, and that I should have read the signs, but I couldn’t help but notice one thing. I folded under pressure, and resorted to speaking English. I believe now that if I would have just spoken solely Hungarian, I might not have come off as some ignorant or cheap American tourist. It was definitely a lesson learned, and in the future I will always inquire about tickets before boarding public transportation.

All the mistakes I have made have made me really reflect on what kind of person I will be in the future. Coming to Hungary and starting this “new life” was my epiphany that changed the way I feel and act forever. Right now, at this point in my exchange I have a strong feeling, which makes me want to stay here. But at the same time, I know I have responsibilities in Florida, which have to be fulfilled before I do anything else with my life. I know for a fact I will come back to Hungary to meet with all of the people I am leaving behind. I love Hungary, and the USA almost the same, just for different reasons.


Adriana Ojeda
2009-10 Outbound to Taiwan
Hometown: Palm Harbor, Florida
School: St. Petersburg Collegiate HS
Sponsor: Clearwater East Rotary Club, District 6950, Florida
Host: Kaohsiung North Rotary Club, District 3510, Taiwan

Adriana - Taiwan

Adriana’s Bio

Ni hao! Hello! My name is Adriana and I am a junior currently attending St. Petersburg Collegiate High School. I live with my mother, father, younger brother, grandmother, and two pet bunnies in Palm Harbor. I am interested in Asian cultures and languages (especially Chinese and Japanese), and I’m planning on majoring in Asian Studies in the future.

My most significant hobby is traveling, staying with local families, and seeing their countries through their eyes…definitely not as a tourist. I also enjoy hosting people from other countries and showing them around ours. I became involved with Clearwater-Nagano Sister Cities Organization in the eighth grade when I went with a group of students and chaperones affiliated with this club on a two week trip to Japan. I’ve also traveled to Ireland, Mexico, and Costa Rica (where my father is from). My family and I have hosted two junior high school students and two English teachers from Japan through the same Sister Cities Program.

Some of my other hobbies include language study, drawing, playing soccer, reading, and listening to music. I played soccer last year for my city’s local team. I also like drawing realistic portraits and manga (a Japanese style of cartoons). I enjoy reading too, and my favorite books are Kafka on the Shore by Yukio Mishima, The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell, Confessions of a Mask by Mishima, the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, and Lord of the Flies by William Golding. I love music from all over the world, but my favorite groups are Arashi (Japanese), Fahrenheit (Taiwanese), and Dong Bang Shin Gi (Korean).

I wish to express my deepest gratitude to Rotary for the amazing opportunity that they are presenting me: not only am I advancing towards my college major and future, but I am lucky enough to have been granted a country that dovetails perfectly, Taiwan. I know this experience of living outside of my own safe haven for an entire academic year will provide me invaluable new self-knowledge, life skills, and cultural awareness, as well as my fourth language, Chinese.

Thrilling doesn’t even begin to cover it!

 Journals: Adriana – Taiwan 2009-2010

August 27 Journal

After 25+ hours of flights and layovers, and a delayed flight that had my next flight being held up for me, I finally arrived safely in Kaohsiung … and the greeting I received at the airport could not have made me feel more comfortable. I felt as if I had just gotten home from that long trip, instead of arriving in a completely foreign country. One Rotary officer even spoke a little to me in Spanish! I was so surprised and happy that she did that.

The first thing I noticed after leaving the airport that night was that my trips abroad (especially the trips to Japan) really helped prepare me for this trip. I haven’t yet experienced any culture shock. Also, had I not gone to Japan, I think I would be fairly uncomfortable here, in the rural township of Daliao, as every single person that I walk by stares with astonishment at the only foreigner this town has probably ever seen…me. Many people back home told me that I was lucky; they said that my dark hair and eyes would help me blend in with the people of Taiwan, but they couldn’t have been more wrong. In fact, I really don’t think these traits make much of a difference, because my appearance is still very different from theirs.

However, my family here in Taiwan is very similar to my family back home, in so many ways. I felt like they were really related to me the moment we met. Here are some of the similarities:

  1. My host family, just like my real family, is very caring with each other; Xiao Yi (my 7 year old host brother) always holds my hand when we’re walking somewhere, and Jin Wen (my 16 year old host sister) links arms with me. The parents also hold the children’s hands a lot too.
  2. Jin Wen and Xiao Yi really show their love for each other and get along, just like my real brother and I.
  3. Xiao Yi is exactly like my real brother, but younger and a little more hyper. He’s hilarious! He is constantly talking, which is really helping my listening and comprehension skills.
  4. My host family is multilingual; everyone speaks Taiwanese and Chinese. Ba (which means Dad in Chinese) also speaks Japanese, while Ma also speaks an indigenous Taiwanese language. My family back home can all speak Spanish and English, my parents also speak French, and my dad can speak Portuguese as well.

The weather here is also very similar to the weather back home; it’s in the 90s here, but according to the weather channel, it feels like it’s 105 degrees.

Although my families and the weather may be similar, the food here really is different. However, there hasn’t been one thing I haven’t liked. The first day I arrived, I ate what I think was jellyfish, but I’m still not sure. It was delicious! The second day here, I went to a night market, which has many small street stalls that sell 小吃 (xiao chi) which are small snacks. I ate goat sausage, tiny conchs (which were definitely my favorite food so far!), spicy grilled squid on a stick, tiny octopi, fresh and fried oysters, snails, a soup with seaweed and tiny fish, and for dessert, chunks of the best mango I’ve ever had on top of shaved ice. And yesterday, I went to a BBQ party with my host sister and her friends, and ate chicken hearts (among other things like shrimp and beef)!! I tried one chicken heart, wondering if I’d like it or not, and I liked it so much that I ate 5 more…haha. Ironically, the most distasteful thing I’ve eaten here was a greasy, grisly fried chicken leg my host sister got for me from McDonalds, along with soggy french fries.

I can’t wait to start school! My family took me a few days ago to see the route along which I’d be going to school. I’m going to ride on bike about 15 minutes to get to the MRT (mass rapid transit) station, then get on and ride the MRT until the ninth stop, after getting off, I’ll walk another ~5 minutes to arrive at my school, 高雄高商 (Gao Xiong Gao Shang). My school is huge…I can’t believe how big it is; it’s about 9 stories tall! I visited it again yesterday and met my principal and the other exchange student, who is from Finland. Everyone was so kind.

Also, one of these past days, I think I came close to experiencing what it feels like to be one of the locals here in Daliao. It’s probably as close to feeling like a local as it’ll ever get, since I’m probably always going to be stared at. That day, I went with my host sister, Jin Wen, to play basketball with her friends. We got on our bikes and rode down the narrow, winding road that leads to Daliao’s Junior High School and the basketball courts. On the way there, as usual, cars and scooters barely, yet expertly, missed us as they drove by us. As usual, the warm, muggy air had my hair sticking to the back of my neck. As usual, Jin Wen and I yelled 你好 (hello) to Zen Ma, the best cold tea seller in Daliao, and we passed her on our bicycles. Then, when we arrived at the basketball courts, Jin Wen and I played a little as we waited for all of our friends to show up. Once they arrived, we all played together for a while, and then Jin Wen and I sat down and let the guys play amongst themselves. Then, she and I walked back down to Zen Ma’s little street shop to buy 20 cent, ice-cold, large cups of green tea.

That night, after returning home and showering, my host mother, Jin Wen, and I went out onto the street so I could meet the neighbors. Here, on Lane 100, Daliao Township, the neighbors all congregate around a single, sturdy wooden table. They sit on small wooden chairs, drink tea and eat sesame seeds, and play some Taiwanese board game which I still haven’t come close to figuring out. They also speak by mixing Taiwanese (the local dialect) and standard Chinese, which can be slightly confusing at times. Although they were all meeting me for the first time that night, they all accepted me with open arms. In fact, I have never felt more at home, so far from home. I was sitting with them around the wooden table, drinking tea and sweating, speaking Chinese and listening to them speak Taiwanese, laughing at their jokes and even telling one or two, and swatting flies and petting the dog that hangs around there. These people have shown to me that the Taiwanese people are indeed the most open and kind hearted people I’ve ever met. There is absolutely nothing I’d trade for this experience here in Daliao, with these amazing, admirable people.

And before I finish, I’d like to thank my Chinese tutor and friend, Yen Fen Wu. Had it not been for her, I would be completely lost these days, not being able to understand the language and perhaps culture of this wonderful country, Taiwan.

燕芬, 真的謝謝妳!!

Furthermore, I’d like to thank Rotary for giving me this once in a lifetime opportunity!

Until next time (I’ll have pictures next time, I promise),

安娜 (Anna)

September 28 Journal

Staring out the window of my bus on my way to school one of these past days, I realized that I am completely at home here in Taiwan. I could read many of the signs I passed. It didn’t faze me that the bus came close to hitting a number of people on bikes, walking, and on scooters. The sight of an outside market, with live seafood, slabs of mysterious meats, stray dogs, and elderly women butchering chickens was an everyday sight. The hundreds of school kids crossing the street in matching uniforms was normal. For the most part, the Chinese conversations of the students and children around me flowed through my ears almost as if it were English, and the Taiwanese conversations between the elderly sounded nicely familiar. When I ate lunch at school that day, I happily devoured the pig blood with rice, stir fried ‘mater convolvulus’ (a vegetable that apparently has no common English name … this is what came up when I translated it from Chinese), fried fish cake, and sausage. Actually, all the food here, which was so different to me at first, has become my comfort food.

This past month, I’ve eaten duck’s tongue and throat, pig blood with rice (which was named the world’s strangest food … it’s not strange to me at all now), duck blood blocks, pig and chicken feet, and an entire goat meal, which included stir-fried goat, boiled goat, goat stomach and goat soup (my favorite!). I was also fortunate enough to eat the famous Taiwanese oyster omelet and Taiwanese stinky tofu. I must admit, though, that stinky tofu is the one food I have not yet liked here. I tried it on three different occasions and each time it tasted worse … haha. There are probably other strange foods I’ve eaten that I’ve forgotten to write down because it all seems so normal now.

I’ve done many things this past month, including starting school. I started on September 1st and I am in Class 1-11. The 1 means I’m in first year (equivalent to sophomore year) and the 11 just means I’m in the eleventh first year class. I love my class!!! All my classmates (45 of them) are very caring, friendly, and always positive. There’s never a day when they seem down. My first days of school, however, were crazy! The second day I attended school I had to give a self-introduction in front of the whole school (2,000+ students…) and of course, I missed my bus and had to take the MRT to school, so I was almost late … and of course I tripped while walking up to the stage to give my introduction. But all was well in the end, and no one cared about my tripping, or that I was nervous so my speaking wasn’t that great.

Also, there are many differences between my school here and my high school in the U.S.:

There are only blackboards in the classes.

The teachers, who change classes instead of us, use microphones to lecture with.

Of course, we all have uniforms. There are three different uniforms that we wear on certain days. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, we have to wear the “exercise uniform,” which is a white shirt with blue pants and any sneakers of our choice. On Tuesday, we have to wear a more formal, white collared shirt with dark navy blue dress pants, and “pixie,” which are just formal, black shoes. And on Thursday, we have to wear the same formal, white collared shirt with a skirt (our school’s skirt is pink, white and blue plaid), socks, which have to be at least above our ankles, and our black “pixie.”

As in many countries, we, not janitors, clean the school. Each student must do one of the following: sweep, mop, take out the trash, clean the windows, clean the blackboard, sweep outside, or wipe the desks (which is my job).

Hardly anyone asks questions during class.

Along with the uniform, students aren’t supposed to dye their hair, wear jewelry, or wear makeup…

The students don’t form cliques as much as the students in the U.S., and everyone in the class gets along with each other.

School lasts from 7:30 in the morning to 4:10 on two days a week, and until 5:10 three days a week.

During the school week, I have three days in which I have Chinese lessons. On Monday and Tuesday morning, I have about 30 minutes to an hour of one-on-one Chinese conversation with a teacher at the school, and on Wednesday I have one-on-one tutoring with another teacher. Because of this, I feel that my Chinese is really improving. In fact, about 60~70% of the time, I can understand what is being said, or at least the main idea of people’s conversations. Though, my speaking is not yet as good as my comprehension, of course. But I really feel that the time I spent back in Florida studying Chinese really helped me so much. If I hadn’t studied Chinese back then, I feel like I’d probably only be comprehending about 20~30% of what is being said most of the time.

Apart from school, I attended a Rotary meeting in the beginning of September, and a Rotary get-together/dinner in the middle of the month. At the Rotary meeting, I did a self introduction with a PowerPoint and met many Rotarians. Everyone was so kind and happy to meet me! And last week my Rotary Counselor (Teacher Hong) took my host sister, another Rotarian’s daughter, and me to Kaohsiung’s history museum. We had so much fun! I went there to prepare for a Chinese presentation that I will do in December, introducing the city of Kaohsiung.

The last thing I want to talk about in this journal is the diligence of Taiwanese doctors (especially when they’re also Rotarians), schools, Rotarians, and the Taiwanese people in general. Earlier in the month, I got H1N1, aka the swine flu. I came home from school one day feeling like I was extremely lacking energy, so I went immediately to take a nap. When I woke up, Ma and Ba noticed that my face was pink, so they took my temperature and learned that I had a 104 degree fever. They then took me to one of the only American-trained doctors in the area. Not only was he also a Rotarian, but he also spoke Spanish! I was so surprised (I’ve actually met about three or four people here who can speak Spanish)! Anyway, after a test at the doctor’s, they found that I did indeed have H1N1. Unfortunately, because I got H1N1, I couldn’t go to school for about 4 days and I couldn’t go to the District 3510 inbound orientation. However, I was able to go back home that night, but the next morning I woke up with another 104 degree fever, so I had to be taken back to the doctor’s. Thankfully, all is well now and I feel better than ever here in cozy, home-y Taiwan.

Thank you again to the Rotary Clubs who are supporting me: Rotary Club of Kaohsiung North and the Rotary Club of Clearwater East; thanks to my family and friends for their support and love, and for understanding that I’m not at all homesick :p and thanks to my wonderful Taiwanese host family and my amazing new friends here in Taiwan.

Until next month,


October 29 Journal

It’s time again for my monthly update! This month was filled with a special holiday, a trip to northern Taiwan, a trip to southern Taiwan, new cultural experiences, much time spent with friends and family, and very many ups and no downs 🙂

I’d like to start this journal with a few lists I’ve compiled regarding Taiwan.

First, some things I love about Taiwan:

My host family. I truly believe I am the luckiest exchange student in the world to be placed with this family. I have a 15 year old host sister who I can relate to and talk to about anything, a 7 year old host brother who doesn’t care if I make mistakes when I speak (and who understands me even if I do make mistakes), and two loving host parents who spend so much of their time, energy, and love on me. My whole family is always home and chatting with me, correcting my mistakes (and explaining what those mistakes are and how to fix them), teaching me how to cook and read and write, and teaching me more about myself and my life than I could have ever imagined. They inspire me everyday to work hard and study well to learn Chinese, because it is very important for my life now in Taiwan, my future, and my future career and schooling.

My classmates. Since I stay in the same class all day, everyday, my classmates already feel like another family. They are caring and friendly, and are always willing to help me if I have any questions or problems.

My Rotary club. They have many activities every month, in addition to their meetings, and they are always inviting me and including me in virtually everything they do. And all the members are very, very kind to me.

Going to school. I can honestly say that I’ve ever been so happy to wake up at 6 a.m. on weekdays to go to school as I am now!

The fact that I don’t have to wear makeup or pick out my clothes for school. I realize now how nice it is to not waste time on those things and instead study Chinese, chat with my host family and experience life.

People immediately speak to me in Chinese and don’t speak English unless I really don’t understand what they’re saying, even though no one assumes I’m Taiwanese (many people here have told me I look Middle Eastern).

Taiwanese food. To prove how much I really love eating Taiwanese food, I’m going to tell you all that I’ve already gained almost 10 pounds here. I arrived in Taiwan weighing about 103 pounds and am now 111…and it’s only been two months!

Some things that may have seemed a bit different at first, but that I’m now used to:

升旗 (Sheng Qi). This literally translates as “hoisting the flag” and is when all the students of the school have to sit outside twice a week for a 20~30 minute ceremony. Not only did it used to be extremely hot, but the humidity was almost unbearable. Sitting under the sun with sweat literally dripping down your neck, back, arms and legs was not comfortable. When I asked my friend why we couldn’t sit inside the auditorium during these times, she said that it’s because it would be too comfortable, and she said that Taiwan’s schools are still traditional in that they see their students almost as if they were soldiers. Actually, during these ceremonies, we salute, stand, sit and turn at the same time, and, of course, sing the national anthem while Taiwan’s flag is being raised. It’s a very nice ceremony, and now that the weather is starting to cool down a bit, I am loving it more and more, as well as the students’ pride and love for their country, flag, and school.

Even though we usually have an hour nap at school, the 8+ hours of being at school really got to me when I first started school; I was always super tired and had to sleep at around 8:30. Now, however, I’m going to sleep at around 10:30, like many of my classmates. Haha~

Not drinking anything until after I’m finished eating. And the drink may not be what people from the United States are used to; many times the drink at the end of a meal is hot soup. If I drink something while eating a meal now though, I get full so quickly and lose my appetite, so I prefer to drink last.

Speaking in different languages. One of my friends at school can speak decent Spanish. And when he asks me questions about Spanish in English, I don’t know whether to reply to him in English or Chinese, and sometimes I accidentally reply in Spanish!

The traffic. There are tons and tons of scooters (kind of like motorcycles but smaller and not as dangerous), bicycles, aggressive drivers (that includes bicyclers and pedestrians…haha), and cars that don’t drive in their designated lanes or put their blinkers on. Everyone starts driving at least 2 or 3 seconds before the red light turns green, some people don’t even stop at red lights, sometimes the stop lights at major intersections don’t work at all, and sometimes all the turn signals for every direction are green at the same time.

And the last list, which I guess you can consider advice learned from (culture-shocked?) experience:

Never just bring a bikini to swim in when going to the beach or pool. Bring extra clothes to wear and swim in; and if you really want to wear a bathing suit, make it pretty conservative.

Don’t bother styling your hair unless you have some kind of supernatural hair products that can withstand the 150% humidity. Once, when I straightened my hair in the morning (and used hair product to try to keep it straight), I got to school and people asked me if I curled my hair or if it was naturally that wavy…

When crossing the street, always look very, very, very carefully, even if it seems like there are no vehicles coming. I’ve never been in direct danger of being hit by a vehicle, but I’m always aware of the constant danger of Taiwanese traffic.

When someone says something you don’t understand, don’t pretend you understand; the Taiwanese will always be happy to explain it to you in more simple Chinese.

Now, I’d like to talk about the festival that took place this month. The Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋節) is one of a few big annual celebrations in Taiwan. It’s a time to spend with family, admire the moon, eat barbeque (pork, fish, beef, goat and other meats), mooncake and youzih (kind of like a grapefruit, but not very bitter or sour), and drink hot tea. The Mid-Autumn Festival takes place on the 15th day of the 8th lunar calendar month, which was Saturday, October 3rd this year. That day, my host family and I departed our house in Daliao a little before noon, and began our drive South, towards Pingtung County, where my both of my host parents’ parents live.

We first stopped in the rural town of 萬巒 (Wan Luan), which is my host mother’s hometown. There, we visited her mother and a sister of hers, I listened to them speak Hakka, and then my host family and I ate pig feet, and pig thigh which is that area’s famous food. After lunch, my host dad drove us to his hometown, 四重溪 (Sih Chuang Xi). His hometown is close to Kenting, which is definitely one of Taiwan’s most beautiful places. It’s near the ocean, rural, filled with fresh air, decorated with traditional houses and buildings, and surrounded by towering, lush, green mountains and a rushing river. We stayed in his hometown until Sunday, and there met with my host father’s older brother, and his brother’s wife and two children. During those two days in 四重溪, I learned to play Mahjong (a VERY popular game in Taiwan), saw the true, rural life lived by both Taiwanese and Aborigines, prayed for the deceased at a temple, made friends with my host father’s family, laughed a lot, learned new things, and ate all the typical foods that are eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival.

Also, two weeks ago, my host mother took me with her on her company outing. It was so fun! She and many of her co-workers went on two buses (equipped with karaoke of course) on a trip to northern Taiwan. The bus ride was half the fun; I made a few good friends with some of my mother’s co-workers and learned so much from them (from some phrases in Taiwanese, to certain aspects of Taiwanese culture). On the way north, we stopped at a national park to hike up a mountain and view some waterfalls. After that, we continued our trip up to Tao Yuan, near Taipei. There, we stayed in a hotel, which also had a spa and hot spring! We stayed there one night, and the second day, we all went to see Chiang Kai Shek’s son’s coffin. It was a very interesting experience. There were two soldiers standing outside the room with the coffin who weren’t allowed to blink or even move anything at all for an hour at a time. And when we entered the room, we weren’t allowed to talk.

The park in the surrounding area was also very beautiful. After seeing the coffin, we went to another historic area and market. My friends and I bought Taiwanese 小吃 (“small-eats”), played games (similar to the ones at the Florida State Fair), won a bubble-blowing gun, and rode around on bicycles that we rented that day. We departed after a couple hours and were on our way back to southern Taiwan. On the drive down, we sang Chinese and Taiwanese songs, ate chicken feet and oranges, chatted, and joked. Finally, around 7, we arrived at Kaohsiung city, and then my host mother took some of her coworkers and I out to eat goat, which has become my favorite meat 🙂

Finally, I’d like to say that there are times here in Taiwan when I really feel like I’m Taiwanese. Like when I was sitting in my host father’s parents house, around a small table, playing Mahjong with my host sister and her cousins, listening to the adults speaking Taiwanese, and joking with them in Chinese. Or when I’m at school, chatting with my friends (in Chinese of course) about Taiwanese culture or asking them questions about some things I don’t understand. Or when I’m riding on my bike in the morning to my bus stop and people are no longer staring at me like they did two months ago. Or even when I’m at the 7-11 down the street buying milk and bread for the next day’s breakfast, while texting my Taiwanese friends. I feel like I really fit in with this culture. I can’t recall any moments here when I felt really frustrated because of the difference in cultures, languages or religion. There may be many differences, but I understand fully that they will not change, and that there is no reason they should change. Taiwan honestly feels like my second home; I feel so comfortable here. My host family feels like they’re my real family, I definitely connect more with my Taiwanese friends than the other exchange students, I feel like I’ve known my Taiwanese friends my whole life, when I hear Chinese, it sometimes just sounds like English, and life just feels completely normal. Time is already flying by and I am begging it to slow down so I can relish my life in Taiwan just a little longer.

I truly can’t thank Rotary, and the Rotary Clubs of Clearwater East and Kaohsiung North, enough. “Thank you” will never be enough to show you all how thankful I am for this experience. Nevertheless, 謝謝你們!! Thank you all!! 🙂

Until next month,


November 27 Journal

Another month has passed here in Taiwan, and winter is nearing. The weather is finally cooling down! …for the most part…although it sometimes gets up to 85 in the middle of the day. And life here is still a breeze, so easy to adjust to, and so easy to love. I’m honestly enjoying being here so much. Really, when there’s so much to learn, so many people to be with, so much fun to be had, a language to learn, I don’t want to waste any time sulking around. I only have 8 or 9 months left, after all.

This month I took a special trip to Ping Tung County to visit the Taiwanese Aborigine Cultural Park. When we arrived, the day was cold and rainy, and seemed just like the perfect day to try and ruin our trip. But what my family and I got to see that day made up for the weather…in fact, what I saw that day moved me to tears and made me feel a much stronger pride in my own indigenous heritage (my father is half Indigenous American).

The entrance fee to the park was free that day, because that day (November 14th) was meant to honor the recently named, fourteenth “official” aboriginal tribe of Taiwan, the Sakizaya tribe. While walking around the park that day, we realized that there were almost no people there, even workers. We looked around at the old houses of aborigines from many years ago, with cliffs and mountains as a backdrop. The mist and light rain actually made for a different sort of beauty in that landscape. Then, we took a small bus to the performance center, where we watched the tribes’ traditional dances and singing. We were able to watch an amazing performance by each of the fourteen tribes, all having their individual movements and singing. But what really moved me was the lyric-less performance by the Sakizaya tribe, telling about their history.

Long ago, Chinese people came to Taiwan from mainland China, and like Europeans did to Native Americans, the Chinese overpowered, dominated, controlled, and killed many of Taiwan’s indigenous people. The Sakizaya tribe was especially in danger because they were notably strong-minded and spirited and did not like the intrusion of the Chinese at all. Unfortunately, though, they couldn’t really fight back because their human strength was no match for the Chinese’s weaponry. Therefore, when the Chinese came to attack the Sakizaya in 1878, the remaining tribe people fled to another tribe (the Ami tribe) for safety. Since the Ami didn’t try to fight against the Chinese, the Chinese didn’t attempt to harm them, and therefore the Sakizaya were safe hiding with the Ami. The Sakizaya have been with the Ami since that time, and it was not until 2004 that the Sakizaya began fighting for their own identity again, saying that they were not the Ami people, but rather, their own tribe.

The performance we witnessed that day at the Cultural Park, was the first performance by the Sakizaya tribe, finally being able to express their own culture and tradition. After a speech by the current Sakizaya leader (in their language), speaking about the importance of this day for them because they were finally being recognized as their own tribe, the Sakizaya performers jumped for joy, laughed and cried, expressing their happiness that day. For their performance, they wore their own traditional clothes, hummed their own tunes, and danced their own dances.

All in all, that day really impacted me and educated me more about the history of the original inhabitants of Taiwan. I am so thankful we went to the park that day, and were able to watch that emotional and breathtaking event.

Now, on another note, the Chinese language. Many people back at home told me I was crazy, that Chinese was the hardest language to learn in the world, and that learning a European language would be so much easier. I must disagree…not all European languages are as easy as they may have thought. Basque, Hungarian, Russian, Icelandic; all languages that make my knees shake. Chinese, on the other hand, is not as hard as many people seem to think. The basic grammar is fairly simple. It follows the Subject-Verb-Object pattern that English does. There aren’t really any verb tenses: present, past, future, etc, a verb always stays the same. There are no verb conjugations or cases according to gender or number, and there are only a few articles. The pronunciation is fairly easy for me now, although there is one sound I used to have trouble pronouncing; the Ü, which isn’t present in English. Writing and reading also comes pretty easily for me, and anyone can learn it; it just takes time and patience (Chinese characters are really not as scary as they may seem). And learning vocabulary is just like learning vocabulary in any other language.

The only thing that hinders me on occasion is the difference in tones. The word “Ma,” pronounced with 5 different tones all mean completely different things. Sometimes the tones sound very similar. For example, if you say the word “ma” with a high tone (just slightly high pitched), it means “mother.” “Ma” with a rising tone (starting at normal pitch and then making the pitch higher), means “flax/hemp.” “Ma” with a dipping tone (starting at middle pitch, falling to a low pitch, and then rising again) means “horse.” “Ma” with a falling tone (starting high and then falling to a lower pitch) means “to scold.” Finally, “ma” with a neutral tone (just normal pitch) at the end of a sentence makes that sentence a question.

Now that I’ve probably convinced you that Chinese really is hard, let me tell you that Taiwanese has eight different tones, and Vietnamese has nine different tones, as do some northern Chinese dialects…so standard Chinese really isn’t hard when compared to some other languages. And the tones just come naturally after a while; you don’t really have to think about it while talking.

On the same note, my English is already becoming a little strange. I spoke English for the first time in a while when I talked to my parents on skype the other day…and I felt myself pausing occasionally and struggling to get words out of my mouth. I said “eat medicine” instead of “take medicine,” and when explaining something about Chinese to my mother, I used “然後,” instead of using it’s English counterpart, “and then.” Also, I have one classmate that one day spoke to me in English and I when I spoke with her, I caught myself making a few mistakes like “I also am,” and “I don’t think so, too.”

Moving on, school is still going extremely well, and I’m loving it more and more with each passing day. I feel so comfortable at school and I really am so close with my classmates. They’re all the kind of people who can comfort other classmates when they cry, laugh with them, joke with them, and make them feel good when they’re down. And that also goes for my homeroom teacher, 程老師 (Teacher Cheng). He is really special and I can see that he’s making an impact on these 15 year olds’ lives. His style is different from many teachers here. When a student falls asleep in class, he asks if he/she is feeling ok, what time he/she went to sleep the night before, if they’ve been struggling with homework, and I’ve even heard classmates say they’re so glad that the teacher can lend an ear for any problems they may be having, whether it be family, relationship, life, or friendship problems. He really cares about all of his students, and there are always past students of his stopping by to say hello.

Next month my school is having their annual school festival, honoring the anniversary of the day the school was built/established. For the festival, every class must participate in the sports day, which is similar to the field days we had in elementary school, and every class must also participate in the other activities. For the festival, my class is doing a fashion show and we are making all the clothes out of paper. My friend told me that it’s class 1-11’s tradition to make a paper fashion show.

Lastly, I’d like to say good luck to all the 2010-2011 outbound candidates!! 加油!! I hear there are many from my high school applying 🙂 I’m so glad to see so many people are going for this wonderful opportunity. This really is a once in a lifetime, life-changing experience; there’s really nothing like being able to live an experience like this at such a young age…learn a new language, learn a new lifestyle, learn new things, meet new people, eat new things (haha), see the world through other people’s eyes, gather information to make opinions, learn more about the world, learn more about yourself and about others.

Probably one of the most significant things I have learned here is that people, under the skin, really are quite similar…if not exactly the same. Sure, there are cultural and language differences, but when you look beyond that and look into a person’s heart, thoughts, sentiments, feelings and emotions, you realize that we’re not as different as we seem from the outside.

So, in conclusion this month, I’d like to say “thanks” again to everyone; to my parents for their undying love and support :), to my Taiwanese friends and family, my Taiwanese classmates and teacher, to the Rotary Clubs of Clearwater East and Kaohsiung North, and to the past exchange students who mentioned Rotary to me…thank you so much. Thank you, Rotary. 我非常愛台灣 <3 天天都很開心!!


Wo xia guh yue zai xieh

I’ll write again next month


December 25 Journal

I wake up at 6:30 on Sunday morning; a brisk breeze blowing in through my open window and rooster calls coming in from the small land plot on the end of our street. I walk downstairs and my mother and I eat a small breakfast together, chatting about what foods we plan on buying today at the market; fish and mussels, fresh chicken (always killed just an hour or two before being sold), green vegetables and probably some pineapple.

At around 7, we step out our front door and the soles of our shoes silently greet the old cement road, like every other day. I stretch my arms and take a deep breath, wrinkling my nose a little at the faint smell of the perpetual pollution cloud that lurks around this area of town. As my mother and I get onto our bikes, my little brother stumbles out to us, both shoes untied, rubbing at his tired eyes…he says he wants to go with us and see what we’re going to see, too. He climbs up into the seat in the front of my mother’s bike, now just a little too small for him; his legs hang precariously close to the front wheel.

The time-worn wheels of our bicycles take us down that old bumpy road, across a tiny intersection, and when we pass two small buildings on either side of the road, my viewpoint opens up to crisp, green vegetable fields on all sides, sparkling with early morning dew. I take another deep breath, this time enjoying it much more. There is the slight smell of vegetation…and nothing else; no pollution or chemicals, since the vegetables grown here have no pesticides. Here, there are only a few scattered cement buildings in the background, no cars, a handful of people, fresh air and a stray dog or two. There’s an elderly woman on the side of the road, calling out to the few passers-by, asking us if we’d buy a bundle of corn for twenty cents; a faded, slightly warped straw hat shading her aged face from the rising sun.

I feel elated as I glide on my bicycle down the road, maneuvering around the small potholes here-and-there. The warmth of the sunshine fights for my attention against the sharp whip of wind against my face; the distant barks of dogs rise up countering the buzzing sound of a motor scooter up ahead, turning and driving down another street I hadn’t been down before. As my mother and I continued on our bikes, a flower field appeared in the distance, at first just a small patch of color, and soon growing into 花海 (Hua hai), its name, which means “an ocean of flowers” in Chinese.

Fluorescent orange, vivid pink and bright white flowers wave at us, flowing from side to side in the breeze. There are unmanned food stands and kiosks, which will be emitting the delicious smells of roasted squid, grilled corn, fried fish cakes, and fresh squeezed orange juice in the afternoon, when the street will be filled with people from all over who came to see the beauty of my town, Daliao. —

This month passed by even more quickly than the last. So much is has been happening: my school had its annual school festival, I gave my first Chinese speech, I took a trip to Sun Moon Lake, and I spent a lot of time learning new things, experiencing more and more, and of course, being thankful for this experience 🙂

My school’s annual festival was like nothing we have in schools back home. If anything, it was somewhat like the field days we used to have in elementary school. It lasted two days; the first day started off very interestingly, with a show of each class’ special costumes. Our class won first place in the costume contest out of all the first years! My classmates are very skilled and I’m so thankful they were so helpful and helped me with my outfit, or I think it wouldn’t have been able to participate in the costume parade 🙂 haha~ I was dressed as a Chinese legendary character named Ba Ye, and my friend dressed up as Qi Ye, another legendary character; their story is very intriguing:

— Qi Ye and Ba Ye used to be very good friends, so good that they said they couldn’t live without the other. Every day they met at the same time to drink tea under a bridge. One day, Ba Ye was early waiting for his friend as usual, and suddenly the weather changed; it began to rain very hard, making the water of the river under the bridge rise quickly. Qi Ye was on the way to the bridge when it began to rain, so he ran all the way back home to get an umbrella for he and his friend. Meanwhile, the water of the river kept getting higher and higher, but Ba Ye didn’t dare to move, because he was afraid that Qi Ye wouldn’t be able to find him, and he didn’t dare break their appointment. Seeing as Ba Ye was extremely short, he was drowned. When Qi Ye arrived he saw that Ba Ye was drowned, he was so sad that he decided to hang himself from a tree. When the Devil saw the way the two friends kept their promises, he was moved and asked God if these two could be made into the messengers of death, and God agreed. So Qi Ye and Ba Ye are said to be the messengers of death, those who take bad souls and bring them to Hell. —

After our costume parade, the rest of the day was composed of running contests, like three legged races and relay races. The second day (Saturday), had more races (our class got third place in the girls’ relay race!!), each class sold drinks and foods, and there was a fun performance by all the school’s clubs, including the Aborigine Club, the Dance Club, the Martial Arts Club, and the GuQin Club (the GuQin is a traditional, Chinese stringed instrument).

I also was fortunate enough to have my Host club take me on a trip to Sun Moon Lake (日月潭)! It’s one of Taiwan’s most beautiful places and it was such a great experience going there. There is a group of aborigines that used to inhabit the whole lake area (the Thao tribe), but now the lake basically belongs to the Taiwanese government. However, the aborigines still live there (although there are only 600 left), and there is even a small island in the middle of the lake, said to be sacred to the Thao, and it’s forbidden for anyone but the aborigines to step on the island. The water of the lake is pristine blue-green, and it is surrounded by lush mountains. The air is fresh and the land around it still maintains a rugged beauty to it, despite the hotels here and there spotting the lake’s banks. I was so happy I was able to go there and see the beauty of Sun Moon Lake first-hand. The photos I took really do no justice to the beauty there.

Last week, I gave my first Chinese speech. When I heard it had to be 7 minutes long, I thought “Oh no, I can’t do that…” but in the end, I had to correct my speech 3 or 4 times to make it short enough~ haha. I even surprised myself by getting first place out of the fifteen exchange students in my district, 3510! But the next time we have a speech, I will prepare more, so that I can say the speech without any papers or cards in my hand. It was really fun to write my speech about all the experiences I’ve had, all that I’ve learned, and the people I’ve met. The other exchange students also had great speeches; they had everyone laughing! And it was so fascinating to hear and see the experiences, thoughts, and new knowledge of the other exchange students here in Taiwan. (If you want to see the actual speech, here’s the youtube link:


A lot of people have been asking me what Christmas is like in Taiwan. It’s pretty different from Christmas in the U.S. For example, students still have to attend class, and workers still have to go to work. Also, there are some people that give gifts, and some that have dinner with their families, but it depends; some people feel December 25th has little or no significance whatsoever. Here in Taiwan, Christianity is a minority religion, Buddhism and Taoism being the major religions, so Christmas doesn’t have the same significance to many here that it does to many in the United States. A lot of people here still see it as a fun day to celebrate and spend time with family, or exchange a card and some chocolate, but it usually isn’t more than that. Please don’t take my description as a complaint, though! We exchange students are all around the world in different countries to learn new people’s way of living, new customs and cultures, so I see nothing saddening or melancholy in not being home for Christmas. I’m here with a wonderful family, wonderful friends, and I’m living a life I wouldn’t change for anything. Also, I know my biological family is back at home, happy and safe, so no worries 🙂

Happy holidays everyone & happy winter vacation!


January 31 Journal

I’m sitting in my new host family’s living room (which I’ll talk about soon), writing my sixth journal. The days are flying by and I feel like I’m fighting to keep time on my side…five months have already passed and I only have about six months left here on this beautiful island of Taiwan.

Seeing the new outbounds for this year, I remember this time last year when I was wondering what it would be like to live in Taiwan, only about a month after learning Taiwan was indeed my final destination…how would life change for me? Who would I meet? How would living at such a distance from my home (literally and metaphorically) change my perspectives, outlooks, and interests? How long would it be until I could speak the language? What would school be like? What if I couldn’t connect with the Taiwanese people the way I connected with people in the US, because of all the different barriers between us? There were so many questions I was dying to ask. Look at me now, though: more knowledgeable and independent, living in a new country! I feel like I’ve gotten a few years older here, in only a few months.

I was able to understand and communicate well after three months (although I don’t consider myself fluent yet, after five months). This was the biggest step for me so far here. The acquisition of the basic language really took me to a new level; I was no longer the guest, the foreigner, the person who didn’t understand what was going on, the person excluded from most conversations, the person being talked about in whispers. I no longer felt as reserved with my thoughts and opinions as I did in the beginning. It was easier to speak my mind or to lighten the mood with a joke or two. I was able to go places and do things on my own without feeling helpless as my host sister spoke for me.

Then, came more and more notions of the language. I learned bits of Taiwanese here and there, the slang came easily, I learned to understand what was joking and what was serious, and I heard people using lines from famous movies like Cape No. 7 in their conversations, and even started using some famous quotes as well. People started asking me, “How do you know how to say that?” or, “I never thought I’d hear a foreigner saying that!” Haha~

In February or March last year, I began learning Chinese with a Taiwanese friend/ex-student of my mother’s, Yen Fen Wu, and let me tell you all, I am so-so-so grateful to her for her help with learning Chinese. If I were you, 2010-2011 outbounds, I would definitely start learning the language now, just as everyone else is advising you to do. And for people coming to Taiwan, there are tons of interesting, funny, sad Taiwanese dramas which you can watch for free at www.mysoju.com, which really help with language learning! I really advise one-on-one tutoring, though. It may not be as readily available, but this is the fastest way to learn a language (for me, at least), in combination with self studying. Self studying is great to do in one’s free time. I studied from my own text and phrase books, listened to a bunch of Taiwanese music (trying to understand the lyrics) and of course, watched tons of Taiwanese dramas.

There are other things which I’ve been unconsciously adjusting to here in Taiwan, like the way I wear my clothes, the way I talk, or even the way I walk and carry myself around. And the biggest compliments I receive now are the ones from people saying, “You’re not Taiwanese? Oh, but you grew up here, right?” or when I went to another family reunion, “So you’re the Chen’s first daughter! You’re so grown up now!” or “Wow, I almost mistook you for a foreigner, you look a little like one.” They seem a little over the top, and I know not everyone thinks I’m Taiwanese, but these compliments really make me feel so happy 🙂

But still, the language is one of the most important elements of blending in. Even at the monthly Rotary meetings, and the occasional Rotary events I go to, I’ve been able to speak without preparing too much beforehand. HINT to outbounds: you should prepare at least a little something to say for every Rotary event, meeting, party or whatever it may be. I’ve learned the hard way that I always need to know what to say when I’m suddenly called on to give a “short” two minute speech in Chinese…haha~

Besides that, like I mentioned before, I’ve moved to my second host family. It was hard to move from the wonderful first family I had here, especially since I moved from that little town of Daliao to the middle of Kaohsiung city, very close to my school, and this is the first time in my life that I’ve lived in a city this big. When I look out the window of our apartment on the seventh floor and see city scape as far as the eye can see, I feel a rush of excitement~ It’s so different from every place I’ve ever lived in!

And I love my new host family, too 🙂 My host mother is so kind, caring, and understanding, and her son, Yahng-Yahng, is a little shy, but also has a warm personality, and reminds me of my own little brother. We have agreed on a special schedule: Tuesday and Saturday are English days, where we must all speak English, Thursday is Taiwanese day, and the rest of the week is for speaking Chinese.

This past week I was also chosen, along with one rebound student who went to Germany two years ago, to be interviewed on a Taiwanese radio station! What a surprise!! …and I was so nervous…but in the end, it was fine, and our interview will be aired on Taiwanese radio in the morning of February 9th.

One of the last things that has been going on this month is that every Saturday and Sunday morning, all the other exchange students and I am learning two things: 1) Kung Fu, and 2) Ba Jia Jiang dance.

Ba Jia Jiang is a very interesting part of Taiwanese and Chinese culture. From what I’ve heard from most of my Taiwanese friends, no one really knows what Ba Jia Jiang originally was and where it came from. However, most people know that the Ba Jia Jiang (which roughly translated means Eight Warriors) were evil warders who took part in a very old, traditional Chinese performance, where they wore beautifully elaborate clothing and had their faces painted in bright colors forming frightening patterns. For example, sometimes they use red paint to make the illusion that they are frowning, or use black to make their eyebrows stand out and just make their faces look very threatening. They surrounded a spirit medium, who would be mutilating himself. The Ba Jia Jiang carried fans with Chinese characters that would protect them from evil spirits, and they were not allowed to smile or joke. They would be there to ward off any evil spirits and they had a special walk/dance that was very distinctive, which the exchange students and I are learning now.

Unfortunately though, the performance is now sometimes tied with violence and gangs. Many of the performers nowadays are adolescent boys who self mutilate and inflict violence on other performers, sometimes throwing knives and other sharp objects in the air just so they will land on their own heads, or on the heads of others. They become this way during the performance in a religious fervor, thinking they’re in a state between human and god, between reality and magic.

There are so many interesting things I’m learning here in Taiwan!

So that’s about it for this month, and if anyone has any questions about coming to Taiwan (or even about exchange in general), feel free to e-mail me and I’d be happy to try to answer all of your questions as best as possible J

Until next month!


March 21 Journal

It really feels like I just finished writing my last journal yesterday…and I didn’t even write a journal last month, the reason being that I wanted to wait for my father to come before writing again. My father came on February 28th and stayed here in Taiwan with me until March 10th!! I was so happy to have him here and to show him around to many places around beautiful Taiwan. We were really lucky and were able to see many cultural aspects that are especially Taiwanese.

Last month had Chinese New Year! My new host mother took me to her father’s house in Pingtung City. There we met with all of her sisters and her younger brother, and all of their children. The first night, we ate a traditional Chinese New Year dinner (tons and tons of delicious Taiwanese foods), and I ate “long life vegetable,” which is a long, leafy green vegetable that one is supposed to eat without biting it into pieces, in hopes that his or her life will be long. On the second and third day of the New Year, we spent much time with the family and even went to pray for the deceased family members (my family is Buddhist). I accompanied my host mother, her three sisters, her younger brother, and some of their children to pray at a temple and cemetery. We used incense and at the end of the ceremony burned paper money (no, not real money) so that the deceased could use it. It was a very interesting experience.

Two weeks ago, all the exchange students from District 3510 (Kaohsiung, Pingtung) had a performance at the 12th annual District 3510 Rotary conference. I mentioned in my last blog that all of the exchange students were practicing a dance every Saturday and Sunday from 10-12 at Central Park here in Kaohsiung city, and all of our practice since January was for this very performance. We learned BaJiaJiang, a very traditional Taiwanese dance, as well as a few other dances that were more contemporary (Lady Gaga, etc). The practices every weekend were really fun, and actually helped me get closer to the exchange students. My first family lived in Daliao, which is very far from the actual city of Kaohsiung, where the rest of the students live, so for the first five months of my exchange I had very little contact with the rest of the students. But now that I live in the city, and also due in large part to the weekly dance practices, I got to know the exchange students a lot more. I have also been using a lot of language recently; the exchange students selected me to be the dance leader, and so I’ve had to translate everything our teacher says, into English and into Spanish for the South American exchange students. The students all understand most of what the teacher says, so little by little, I’ve noticed that I don’t need to translate as much as I had to in the beginning.

Another exciting thing is that my father came to visit me!! He arrived on Sunday, February 28th at around 10:30 p.m. The following day I took him to Xizihwan, which is near the port/coast area of Kaohsiung, and then took him by ferry to the small island in the port area. We invited a friend of mine and the three of us ate grilled squid, giant shrimp, fried scallops and drank cold, sweet tea (since the weather was similar to Florida summer weather).

My father and I were even lucky enough to stumble upon a procession of worshipers, which I realized was a performance of the real BaJiaJiang. The men in the front took large swords, metal-spiked clubs and mace-like weapons to their backs and foreheads. Their blood was wiped on “paper hell money” and then burned in piles on the ground, which the men then walked upon. The fourth man in the procession had a black piece of cloth covering his eyes, and when I asked why, I was told it was because he was supposed to have had the spirit of a god inside of him, so he was able to walk the distance to the final temple without looking at the path he was supposed to walk. The performance was very interesting and I was so happy we were able to see such a traditional Taiwanese cultural aspect. These types of performances are becoming rarer and rarer and I have some Taiwanese friends who have never seen something like this.

My father and I also went to visit my school, went to Cheng Ching Lake, Lotus Lake, Kenting, the largest Buddhist temple in Taiwan, and even the largest Taoist temple in all of south Asia. I had been to most of the places before, so it was fun to play the role of the tour guide and show my father the beauties of this place I now call home.

The time when my father was here was flawed, however, by a 6.8 magnitude earthquake that occurred in south Taiwan, near where I live. I have experienced only one other earthquake during my time in Taiwan, and that time it occurred very far away, on the east coast of Taiwan, while this one was much more serious. My father and I were visiting my first host family and we were eating breakfast when I began to hear the windows shaking. All of a sudden, my first host father shouted “Earthquake!” and as we ran downstairs and out of the house, I heard things falling behind us and glass breaking. Even when we were standing outside, and the whole situation felt a bit safer, my legs were quivering because the ground didn’t stop shaking for about another 10 seconds. The feeling was definitely unsettling; my head felt uncontrollably dizzy and I felt like I needed to sit down quickly or my legs would buckle.

The same day of the earthquake, we went to visit the giant Taoist temple, which was situated in the town next to the area where the earthquake’s epicenter was. What we saw was a bit disquieting. The first impression of the temple was a splendor like one I’ve never seen before. The size of the temple and the surrounding temples was very startling, and the vivid green grasses of the surrounding grounds gave the whole place an extremely free, peaceful, tranquil feeling. It was also very quiet and beautiful, as there were no people to be seen. However, when we walked in through the gates, I began to notice little details that proved the gravity of the earthquake. The paths on the grounds were lined by hand-carved, stone statues of Taoist gods and goddesses, but little by little I became aware that a few here and there were chipped, some broken, and some even fallen and completely crumbled on the ground. As we approached the massive main temple, I noted the central gate had huge architectural flaws resulting from the earthquake. As I observed it more closely, it looked like it could topple with any type of stress applied to it. The main temple had pieces of concrete, whole wooden busts, and brick fragments sprinkled all over the area around it.

Near the end of the time my father was here, my current host mother drove us two hours south to Kenting. This was the second time for me to go to Kenting, and it was just as fun and fresh as the first time! The ocean was beautiful and the drive there was also very scenic. My father said that many of the areas in South Taiwan remind him of Costa Rica, where he is originally from. We were able to go to two different national parks and even to the night market, where we happened upon a Peruvian man selling handmade leather jewelry. He, my father, and I all spoke in Spanish~ haha. The national parks were stunning and for the first time in a while, I saw wild monkeys!! They were so cute 🙂

Apart from the earthquake, my father’s visit was one of the highlights of this month and I felt so happy, and even proud to show my father around south Taiwan!

Also, I just learned last week that on April 9th-11th (two days before my birthday, April 13th haha) we exchange students will all be going to Penghu Islands!! These islands (previously called “Pescadores”–meaning fishermen in Spanish) are situated off the west coast of Taiwan, between Taiwan and China, and are absolutely beautiful! I’m really so happy that we have so many opportunities to travel to so many places in Taiwan 🙂

I’m looking forward to the last FOUR months of my stay here…I can’t believe there are only four months left. I’ll make sure to treasure these last four months with all I have and make the most out of it. I was at the exchange student’s weekly gathering yesterday, where we practice for another performance in May (all of Taiwan’s Rotary is going), and when we found out our friend from Ecuador is leaving next month, our Korean friend began crying. As we were trying to comfort her, the air around us seemed to change as a feeling of sorrow swept through every one of us. Time has really flown by, and even though we were warned about this from the beginning, it’s really an unsettling feeling thinking about how we will pretty soon be leaving all of these unforgettable memories behind us, though we will still always have them in our hearts and minds. We exchange students, no matter where we’re from or where we go all make similar great friendships and have so many memories and emotions that we will carry with us for the rest of our lives.

Really, so, so much has happened here. And because of this year, my life, my future has changed…I have changed as a person…for the better, of course 🙂

Thankfully, I will definitely be coming back next year to Taiwan, whether it be to come back for college or just to visit, so I’ll keep my spirits up for now and enjoy my time here at home, in my beautiful Taiwan.


April 21 Journal

It’s time for my eighth journal! This time it feels like forever since I wrote my last journal … speaking of time (for the millionth time? haha), minutes, hours, days, weeks are now blurring together. I always seem to catch myself thinking, “did that happen this weekend or last?” Or maybe it’s that now that I only have three months before I go home, I’m trying not to think too much about time … I’m at a point in my exchange where I can listen to music I heard throughout my year here and cry 🙁 It’s just hitting me now just how much this year means to me, my future, and just my life in general, and how much it has changed me as a person.

I’m sorry but I have to start my journal with a complaint … I’ve noticed recently that there is something about Taiwanese schools that really bothers me. There are some teachers at the school that are called “drillmasters.” They are ex-soldiers/militants who, in addition to teaching, are at school to catch any students wearing the uniform wrong, smoking, holding hands, and/or doing other inappropriate things at school, and then to punish them. However, many of them are nothing but adult bullies in my opinion. Take our class’s drillmaster, for example. One time, at the beginning of class, a few students went to the back of the classroom to get their textbooks and the drillmaster yelled out, “I didn’t say you could go get your textbooks! Stand in the back of the room, all of you, for the rest of class.” One of the boys in the back had his hands behind his back while standing and she interrupted the class just to say to him, “What are you doing with your hands behind you? Get out!! I don’t even want to see your face!” Another time, she was calling on random people in the class to answer questions; the first few questions were about the earthquakes that have been happening recently. She asked the first student where the two most recent earthquakes happened (has nothing to do with the class, national security), and when the students didn’t know, the drillmaster said, “How can you not know? Geez! Do kids nowadays never watch the news or what?!” She often wastes class time embarrassing students and just bullying the students in general. In any case, this drillmaster is too over the top most of the time, and Taiwanese schools can definitely do without the adult bullies in school. We’re not in the army, WE’RE IN HIGH SCHOOL.

So now on to the important stuff…

The beginning of April had a holiday called Qingming Festival (a.k.a. Tomb Sweeping Festival); it’s the first day of the fourth lunar calendar month. The days before the actual festival are called cold food days and are special for making and eating spring rolls. Therefore, that day my host mother took me to the traditional market to go buy ingredients for the spring rolls with her. It was amazing to see the spring roll “skins” being made with very sticky dough; the hand of the woman making the skins was super fast and skilled, spinning the dough on the hot metal pan into a flat, pancake looking thing, and then another woman took them off the skillet only after a few seconds. We also bought sausage, lima beans, cabbage, dried tofu, pork, egg, other vegetables, and ground peanut. Then we got home and waited for two of my friends to come over and then the five of us all made spring rolls together, putting all the ingredients together in the freshly made skins, and then ate them! They were delicious 🙂

During this month, my host mother and I have made sort of a habit of going hiking in the mountains near the outskirts of Kaohsiung, Cai Mountain and Shou Mountain. We usually go very early on a Saturday or Sunday morning and then hike for at least 2 hours. The first time we went, we took my little host brother (11 y/o) and we sort of got lost … well, we went off the well beaten path and walked on a smaller, less walked on path, and then when going back down the mountain, we ran into two soldiers. When we asked them how to get back to the parking, they said we could take the path all the way down, but that at the end, there was only an entrance and not an exit, plus it is only allowed to be used for military personnel, so we may not be able to get out through that way. When I heard that, I almost started laughing … so how were we going to get out? But thankfully, in the end, we ran into an old woman who knew the paths of the mountain very well, and she led us through a short cut that went straight to the parking area. Aside from that little mishap, our hikes are very enjoyable and we can see many types of birds, plants, small animals and even monkeys! I think the monkeys are very cute but the Taiwanese usually don’t like them because they say these monkeys can take food from hikers and even though the monkeys are pretty small, I heard they sometimes start attacking hikers if they don’t give up the food…(scary)

My 18th birthday was also this month! On the morning of my birthday, the 13th, nothing out of the ordinary happened; I walked to school and class started as usual. At lunch, I started to eat the beef cup-noodles my Finnish friend gave me as a present, and two of my classmates told me to go downstairs to the first floor to eat lunch. When we went down, my whole class was standing there with smiles on all of their faces; they sang “Happy Birthday” to me in English, Chinese, and Taiwanese :’) I was touched! Then some of them handed me hand-made birthday cards, which is how the Taiwanese do cards ~haha. I’d really like to thank my class for doing that for me. It really made my week. Also, the weekend after my birthday, I had another small celebration with the exchange students and a friend at Central Park. We took tons of pictures, just had fun in the park, and played around in the MRT station 🙂 They are really all great friends to me that I couldn’t ever forget.

I realized that I have been leaving my thanks out of my past journals, so I’d like to once again say my thanks to the Rotary Clubs of Clearwater East and Kaohsiung North for supporting me, financially, and in spirit 🙂

A list of a few more things I love about Taiwan:

Watermelon milk, dong gua pearl tea and soup dumplings (xiaolongbao) with lots of ginger and spicy soy sauce

How much people love food here and how walking two seconds in any direction can get you cheap, good food

Actually, walking two seconds in any directions can get you to pretty much anything: the doctor’s, night markets, shopping areas, theaters, movie renting stores, etc.

I don’t have to worry about shaving my legs (sorry if that’s too much information)

Pretty much everything is cheap, cheap, cheap

Taiwanese people are just plain out wonderful people

Taiwanese nicknames: Rock, Banana, Little Fatty, China woman, Duck, etc.

Night markets

Transportation is amazing! Subway, busses, taxis…all cheap and super convenient

Hair cutters give free massages

And I recently realized Taiwanese people love love love to eat fried chicken and drink watermelon juice with it haha

Until next month, 安娜

May 25 Journal

I walk down San-duo street, from the subway station to my host family’s home like I have been doing most days since January and think back on my year here in Taiwan. I can’t believe nine months have already passed; it was nine months ago that I was saying goodbye to my parents, brother, and grandmother at the Tampa International Airport and having a short, two minute breakdown on the plane to Chicago. Nine months have passed since I stepped off the plane from Taipei to Kaohsiung and in a rushed, confused couple of hours met my first host family, counselor, Rotary chairperson, and then went to eat what I thought was jellyfish (which I learned was actually just pork in a rice-made, gooey, transparent dumpling). Nine months have passed since I’ve met some of the most amazing people I have EVER met: Taiwanese, and exchange students.

Leaving this place is really going to be hard. Like everyone before and after me have said and will say, leaving our family and friends behind at home is ok because we’ll see them soon again, but leaving our family and friends behind in our new home is completely different; who knows when we’ll be seeing them all again.

However, I’ve been working really hard to get all my transcripts, past syllabi, course materials and other things together, and studying Chinese extra hard lately because my new short term goal is to come back for college next August. I have already visited my preferred college (National Sun-Yat Sen University – 中山大學) a few times and have gotten to know the counselor of the school’s foreign language major/studies, as I hope to come back next year and get a Bachelor’s Degree from this university in Foreign Languages.

The things I’ve been doing lately to better my Chinese: I bought a new empty book that is especially made with little squares to practice writing Chinese characters; I’ve been reading the newspaper almost every day at school; I started watching Taiwanese dramas again haha… but they’re really very good since all Taiwanese TV has Chinese subtitles so it’s good for listening and reading comprehension skills; I’ve also been taking practice tests online in preparation for the a big Chinese test I will be taking: the Chinese T.O.P., aka, Chinese Test of Proficiency.

I was hoping to take this test the minute I learned I must take this test in order to apply to universities and/or scholarships here, but I found out I was too late to take it in Taiwan (it was May 1st), so now I have to take it in NEW YORK next January/February. It’s very troublesome, but I’m really set on coming back to continue my Chinese studies, so I’m going for it!

Aside from busying myself with college stuff, I’ve also been preparing for a big speech coming up this Friday. I will be one of the two inbound students giving a speech at this year’s Taiwan Rotary Youth Exchange Program Annual Event. I’m a bit nervous, of course, but I know opportunities like these are helping me now and will help me for the future. I can’t wait!

On a bike trip this past weekend, all the exchange students from Districts 3510 and 3470 got together to go on a bike ride in Kaohsiung (my city) and I was given what I consider to be the biggest compliment exchange students could give me. They took one look at me and said, “You’re so Taiwanese!” …it was almost 100 degrees and I was wearing a hat and a black sweater over my clothes to cover from the sun. I was planning on wearing long pants and a mouth cover for extra blockage, but I figured I may pass out from heat stroke and so just ended up using a ton of sun block ~haha. I’m just as worried about getting skin damage/premature wrinkling as the next Taiwanese is.

So to conclude, this past month has been quite the busy one, but I’m actually really liking the busyness as it helps me keep my mind off leaving Taiwan…however, I’m often torn between two emotions: yearning to go back home to Palm Harbor, and yet very reluctant to leave my home, Kaohsiung. It’s almost a scary feeling. I’ll be leaving most of this year behind me on a 20 some hour plane ride.

Why is the expanse between Kaohsiung and Palm Harbor so long?

Until next time, 安娜

July 20 Journal

I leave tomorrow. I can’t seem to get the thought through my head. This whole year has pretty much come to an end.

I realized that my past journals have all been about my leaving Taiwan, so now, I think I’ll focus on different things…and as a warning, this journal may seem rushed and a bit messy, but that’s just because it’s my last day in Taiwan, and I’m really busy~

The conference at the end of May went well! My speech went by pretty smoothly (only a few small slips and short blankouts haha), and it was fun to be able to see all the exchange students in the Multidistrict Taiwan–I even saw Steven! The first time I’ve seen him since the plane ride from San Diego to Taipei. I was also told by a guy I met from Michigan that my accent sounds really south Taiwanese (a.k.a. not very standard Chinese, with a bit of Taiwanese mixed in :D). And this past month I also switched to my third host family! I live a bit farther from the downtown area of Kaohsiung, in the northern, a bit upscale region of “Aozihdi.” I have three younger host sisters and a really nice mother and father 🙂

Another cool thing is that since my mother (my biological mother in the US) is an ESL teacher, she has students from all around the world. One student, Ku- En Chang a.k.a. Alvin from Taiwan, came back to Taiwan to see his family, and he came to Kaohsiung with some friends to see me! It was nice to see a friend from the US 😀 We all went out to eat dinner and the following day went to sing at KTV (karaoke).

After living in Taiwan for a year, calling it home for a year and now reflecting on this year, I’ve realized there are a lot of things in Taiwan that you really have to live here for a while to notice; things that I’m sure surprises foreigners here in Taiwan at first, but things that we eventually get used to; things that the tourist will probably not notice; things I noticed the first week I was in Taiwan and the week my father came to Taiwan: The bright red, paper banners with calligraphy hung on the doors for Chinese New Year’s but kept there the whole year; the outside markets with bare-handed, elderly, strong women butchering all kinds of bloody meats; 台客- those guys riding on scooters super fast, weaving in-and-out of cars, hair usually an attempted-blonde, white and blue rubber house slippers on their tanned feet, shirtless or wearing a wife-beater, and no helmets or non-buckled helmets; no, those red splashes on the ground aren’t blood; knowing when a person really means it, or is just saying it out of “courtesy;” the vicious circle of obsessive studying, cram-schooling, and staying up late imposed on Taiwanese children; when you answer “neither” to the question “do you want to eat rice or noodles,” people think you’re on a dangerous diet (“you can’t get full on a meal without rice or noodles!”); eating so much you feel like you’re going to burst, and then having mothers telling you “多吃ㄧ點! 你太瘦了” “eat more! you’re too skinny;” squatting toilets are the best! clean and you don’t have to touch it with any part of your body; you have to order your food the second you sit down or the waiter will just stand there staring at you until you order; those are stray dogs, even though they have collars–look, it’s missing a leg; the difference between the Taiwanese, Chinese, Hakka and many aboriginal languages is very easy to tell; you know the weatherman must be lying when he says it’s only 95 degrees outside; you know not to ever really listen to the weatherman because he’s only talking about Taipei; those are Thai people, those are Filipinos, those are Vietnamese, those are Indonesians, those are Aborigines, those are Hakka, those are northern Taiwanese, those are southern Taiwanese, those are Japanese, and yes, I can tell the difference; no, there really isn’t air conditioning in the homes, schools, some public buildings, some government buildings, etc, and no, they’re not going to turn the air conditioning on; walking on the street with scary Taiwanese traffic is the norm; you will get used to the staring; those really loud noises are just firecrackers at 5 in the morning in the middle of the city. (For more of these true blue Taiwanese facts of daily life, take a look at the “You know you’ve lived in Taiwan too long when…” list on facebook! –http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2220957263&v=info&ref=ts)  

….The list goes on and on and on. Taiwan has so many little quirks here and there, but that’s what makes it so beautiful 🙂

And, although I’ll be missing my Taiwan more than anything, to be fair to home-sweet-home, here’s a list of things I’m mostly missing these days:

  1. My family and friends
  2. Hearing and speaking English and Spanish
  3. DIVERSITY! I miss being in a class of 15 people and 10 are from different ethnic roots, backgrounds, cultures, traditions, etc.
  4. My grandmother’s Costa Rican food, peanut butter, and REAL orange juice
  5. Air conditioning and less humidity
  6. Going to college (I go to a community college back in Florida)
  7. Going to school around 8 and getting out around 1~2
  8. Wearing my own clothes all the time (uniforms are great when I’m too lazy to get ready in the morning, though XD)
  9. Not having to walk/ride bike so much in infernal weather
  10. Sleep 🙂

As a last note, I must say, my year has been less than perfect (as every exchange student’s has been, I’m sure), but there has been a big mishap that has altered the last feelings of my trip all-together. My airplane ticket was bought from the Taipei Airport, not Kaohsiung. So, unlike all my exchange student friends, I will not be getting a farewell from all my classmates, host families, and friends at the airport, and instead may actually have to take the high-speed rail to Taipei. The fact that I’m not going to be leaving from Kaohsiung really hurts me, because I’ve called this place home for practically an entire year, there are so many memories here, I’ve said goodbye to all the exchange students here, and all my friends and families would be able to say goodbye to me here.

I know I’ve written all my journals this past year to make it seem like this year in Taiwan has been perfect, but as everyone knows it can’t possibly be absolutely, 100% perfect, but this year was not about being perfect, it was about experiencing new things, learning new lessons, re-learning old lessons, and seeing life through a different cultural perspective, through other people’s eyes.

This will be the last time I write a journal in Taiwan T_T However, I just want to thank the Rotary Clubs of Clearwater East and Kaohsiung North, my three host families, and last but definitely not least, my friends here in Taiwan, and my family back at home for supporting me throughout this whole 11 month stay in the beautiful, tropical, warm island of Taiwan. This year was definitely one I’ll remember forever; one that has changed me as a person, and has changed my future 🙂 Thank you everyone.


Good luck to the new outbounds and inbounds, and I hope that you all have a prosperous, pleasurable, and memorable year (which I’m sure you all will :D).

With love,


Adriana Ojeda


Alexandre (Alex) Britto
2009-10 Outbound to Finland

Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Creekside HS
Sponsor: Bartram Trail Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Jyväskylä-Laajavuori Rotary Club, District 1390, Finland

Alex - Finland

Alex’s Bio

Hello, my name is Alexandre da Cunha Lima Britto. Everyone just calls me Alex. I am 16 now and will be 17 when I go outbound. I was going to be in the first graduating class at Creekside but I guess second isn’t bad either. I was born in Brazil and moved to Gainesville, Florida, when I was 4. And I just recently moved to Jacksonville. I am very excited to have the opportunity to be going to Finland with Rotary.

I moved to Jacksonville half way through my freshman year. It was hectic but I adapted and made many new friends. I still frequently go back to Gainesville to keep in touch with my friends. I live with my mom and dad and our two dogs Attila and Julie. My sister just graduated pre law at UF and is now looking at going to Washington and Lee University.

I am a very outgoing person, so most things I love to do are things that keep me busy. I have a passion for all kinds of sports. My favorite sport is wakeboarding/snowboarding. I see these sports as being equal to each other because they are very similar except for the temperature fact. I play soccer for Creekside varsity and I would like to play soccer in Finland because I believe that European Football is much better than American soccer.

Last year I had the chance to host Fernando Ishikawa, a Brazilian exchange student, at my house for 4-5 months. Yudi is someone that I will always keep in touch with. He has left an everlasting mark on my life. After having an exchange student stay at my house and sharing part of his experience with me, I would like to have a full experience like him and be able to share my journey with others.

Journals: Alex – Finland 2009-2010

August 9 Journal

So it’s day five in Finland and I got my computer working. Where do I start? Language camp was awesome even though we arrived late. Met some Finn Rotex, got picked up by my new family, and realized how amazing life is going to be for the time I will be with them.

I arrived in Jyväskylä to be met by my Rotary counselor for some coffee (it’s like water to a Finn). Went to sleep late because I still haven’t got used to the time difference……. My city isn’t very big but its about the size of Gainesville!!! Which is awesome cause I lived in Gator nation for 11 years and I loved it so I bet I will love it here too.

I have found and seen 3 full sized ski ranges that are within 15km of my house… man I can’t wait till it snows so I can thank myself for bringing my snowboard. Everyone in my family plays golf in the summer and downhill skis in the winter, so I’m perfectly set for the winter… I start track some time this month… and it’s year round… I also met my host brother’s best friend who is really cool… It’s hard to believe but my host brother graduating class only had 25 students including himself. Oh yeah I’m going to get my schedule tomorrow so I will probably post it along with some comments about the school I will be going to…

The people here are very shy, but once you get to know them they are the most wonderful people I have ever met. I look forward to starting Finnish lessons so I can understand it more!!!!

Hyvää yötä

December 5 Journal

So I’m writing this on a train because I just realized I’ve been here 5 months. Forgive me for now writing too many journals. I have made many friends at my school, I actually help teach my gymnastics class and English when the teacher needs it. We actually just got back from our ski trip to Lapland with Rotary. It was amazing to see the kids I met in the first district camp and the “Oldies” who will be leaving in January. Then I will become an oldie and meet the newbies.

In Finland, there is a tradition with the oldies and newbies. At the end of their stay here, the oldies give away a present to a newbie, but not everyone gets a present; these are things that have been passed down for several years or they are things that are new and being started into this yearly ritual. Sometimes they are personal from one oldie to their newbie, sometimes they are from all the oldies to one newbie, and sometimes they’re just stuff that someone did which reminded them of the person who had the gift before and they pass it on. I received one of the oldest gifts that has been pasted down. My gift is something that has been passed down from year to year to the guy who is single but is always with different ladies 😀 You have to keep in mind that these gifts are given from student to student, I felt very honored to receive this gift, and plan on continuing to live up to its name.

Many things have happened in the last months. I have become friends with almost all the Rotex in my country, some even that are not as active as others. Unfortunately my district is not so active as other districts in Finland, but at the same time other districts are so close, that when they have Rotex-planned events or trips, I have been traveling to attend them and meet other people. There are only 120 inbounds in Finland right now with Rotary, and even after 5 months it’s hard to know everyone.

I have switched families recently. It was interesting switching but at the same time I didn’t want to switch. I had gotten used to my first host family and I was scared on moving into a new home. The transaction has been great – me and my two host sisters get along pretty well, even though our schedules are totally loaded and we see each other only at home for dinner or weekends. I never really noticed how much all the stuff that I was told before I left were drastically wrong and at the same time some things were amazingly correct. At least for me, the whole mood swing thing and how we would get sad after the 3 months and happy again after Christmas hasn’t happened. I have been having an amazing time, I am open to trying anything new, and I am always doing something with my school or friends, I do see myself changing though, my motivations and habits are changing, I am adapting to the culture and experiencing it as much as possible. It is sometimes hard to avoid speaking about home and the experiences I have had at home, but I have been trying as much as possible not to focus my attention on things that will be there when I go back no matter what.

I still can’t believe that I am starting my 5th month in Finland. Time goes by 10x faster when you’re on exchange. I don’t like it sometimes. I have 36 hrs of school a week and I believed that would occupy my time, but it really doesn’t feel like it’s that long. It’s really interesting to see other exchanges, and listen to how they are adapting, help them if they are sad, and visit them when they ask. I used to not go and visit people sometimes because they live in the middle of nowhere, but lately I had someone visit me, and she lives in the middle of nowhere, but after she told me more about how beautiful her city is I have decided to go visit her soon. We have a Christmas break soon, it’s longer than the one at home. My new family has plans for us to go somewhere the 20th-27th, but I have no idea where because it’s a surprise 😀

Well, from now on I will try to keep my journal updated. Probably after my Christmas trip I can make another one. Also, pardon my English if it is deteriorating.

April 15 Journal

So today I am sitting on the train. I just noticed I haven’t made a Rotary blog since November…. Well, since November I have been in one family and I recently switched to my final family. We had a very “White” Christmas, which means there was a lot of snow. My host sister said that a few years ago there was no snow during Christmas. We went to my family’s Winter Cottage for new years and it was really awesome. I met some cousins in my host family and we went snowboarding for 3 days 😀

After the winter break it was back to school. School has become the biggest Drag ever… But honestly there no point not going, I mean if you sit at home on your computer you have officially wasted your exchange year. I attend school every day unless I am traveling, which happens a lot. Thanks to Finnish public transportation and regional train system it is very very easy to go visit other exchange students in Finland and meet their friends and their city.

For future students coming to Finland I recommend thing one: as soon as you get here get a student card so train tickets are 50% off, meaning bring extra passport style pictures with you (also to give to host families if you want to). Second is an mp3 player of some sort! And a very good library of music. You will have a lot of times where you have nothing to do and music really does help pass time 😀 Oh books are good too, I usually don’t read much but here in Finland I have so far read 9 full novels 😀

Finland is not a huge country and not a lot of people know much about this country. Honestly I think that’s why I am so happy I came here on exchange, and I will probably do one year of college here. I have made some amazing friends and my host families will always be a part of my family. One of my best friends here is actually coming to stay with me in Florida for a month during summer! Oh another thing for Future Finlanders (I know that’s not a word :D). People are very shy here; at first everyone is different and kids in this country have very unique personalities. But trust me you will make friends and suddenly you will know like everyone (more know you ) – it’s been hard for me to remember everyone I meet here, but trust me they find you on Facebook and if you stay 5 months without seeing them they will remember you and the exact conversation you had last time 😀

It has been 9 months since I left the good old sunshine state, I have sat through 3 months of dark winter, now I experience myself walking in full sunshine at 8pm and I can’t thank Rotary enough, they really do know and prepare us for 90% of what is going to happen to us on exchange 😀 The 10% they can’t help you with is the part where it is very different for every exchange student, your host families, friends, and how you change over your exchange. You don’t have to worry about none of these things though because it’s all things that work out and make your exchange year priceless! I think my exchange has been the best year of my life and best exchange ever!!!! Honestly everyone will say their country is best :d But Finland is definitely the Crown winner 😀

I have 2 more months and honestly I barely have time to sleep 😀 My actual parents are coming to visit … actually in 20 min I am meeting up with them 😀 Then I will be going to Russia with 97 other Rotary exchange students in Finland 😀 Then in June we start The Rotary Eurotour 😀 I am very excited for these trips and I can’t wait to see all my fellow exchange friends 😀 I will miss Finland very much 🙁

June 2 Journal

So my year is over in Finland. I feel like I’m leaving my life behind again. I have had an amazing year and no regrets, I honestly can’t thank Rotary enough for giving me this opportunity to mature and experience such an amazing culture.

I really wonder why kids don’t fight to come to Finland! My parents came to visit me and they also agree that Finland is one of those countries many people would never think of coming to visit but turns out to be one of the most beautiful countries. The people here are so shy people sometimes portray them as being rude or not friendly. I believe this is totally untrue! Yes Finns are shy but if you take the first move into becoming friends you will see the people are wonderful and kind! A Finnish friend is to me like family nowadays. I have come to learn how much they care and are willing to help you! I guess being here has made me appreciate my friendship back home and notice that you don’t need many friends! Just a few friends that are there for you no matter what! Rain or 3 meters of snow, a true friend will come see you to make sure you’re ok 😀 I really hope more kids start coming to Finland from Florida! I can’t wait to get back and meet the kids coming to Finland next year!

I am now going on Eurotour from June 6th-24th with all the other Rotary ex students in Finland! We will be traveling by bus all around Europe and I honestly couldn’t be more excited! I get to spend the end of my year with people I will forever remember 🙂

Even though I’m leaving right after Eurotour and will not be able to see all my friends in Jyväskylä, I’m 100% sure I will be having many friends that I have made who are going to come visit me in Florida. Kids in Europe love and dream about coming to Florida and yet I talk to people back home and they complain there is nothing to do! I have learned to appreciate the silent fun 😀 something Finns specialize in! You don’t have to be partying all the time to have fun! Sometimes just sitting on your porch and just talking to your best friends is enough!

Never look back! Just keep you memories and experiences in front of you! Live by them and cherish them! One small decision could have made everything different! A simple thing as not filling out your form because of fear can stop you from experiencing the best thing In the world: Change 😀

I am now a Rotary exchange student from Finland, inbound to Florida 😀 Life is an endless exchange; once you start your journey, it will never end!


Andrea Godoy-Triana
2009-10 Outbound to Belgium

Hometown: Weston, Florida
School: Cypress Bay HS
Sponsor: Weston Rotary Club, District 6990, Florida
Host: Herve Rotary Club, District 1630, Belgium

Andrea - Belgium

Andrea’s Bio

Well to start off, I want to thank everyone in the Rotary Youth Exchange program for giving me this wonderful opportunity that will allow me to learn a new language, meet new people, and grow as a person. Also I feel very fortunate to have the chance to represent my country and since I have lived in so many cities, these experiences have helped me to learn about the large diversity of cultures throughout our country. Currently I am a senior at Cypress Bay High School in Weston, Florida and I love it! I love to participate in after school activities such as Honors French Club, National Honor Society, PRIDE, and my new found passion, Lacrosse (even though I am not that good).

Right now I live with my mom, my dad, my sister Natalia, and my dog Simon. I have a great relationship with both my parents but I am especially close to my mom (everyone says we’re like twins!). What I love about our relationship is that we are both very open with each other and we tell it like it is. We are both very much alike in the sense that we always try to make the best out of any situation and try to make people around us feel comfortable. As for my sister (which is my dad but with a wig), we have always had an interesting relationship. As I am one who easily attaches to people as she is the opposite, we have always had a hard time to be affectionate with each other. But regardless of our polar personalities, she is my sister above anything else and I will always love herJ. As for my Dad, who is the authority figure of the house, I have always felt a great sense of admiration and respect for him. Always when I have two pathways in front of me, I ask myself what would Dad do? And based on that, I make my decision. And even though I feel like I do have a close knit family, I know that this experience will give me the chance to have my own autonomy, and since I will be far away from my security blanket, I will have to prove to myself and everyone else that I can do it and am ready to be on my own.

 Andrea’s Journals

October 15 Journal

Bonjour!! I know that my journal is a tad bit late but I have been so busy with school and French classes that I hardly have the time to get on the computer! Well. my departing day was August 14th and saying good-bye to my parents was more emotional than I would have ever thought. It was then and there that it finally hit me that I wasn’t going to be able to see their familiar faces for a whole year!! I grabbed unto my mom and dad and tried to grab every scent, tear, and emotion that I could and take it with me. I arrived to the beautiful city of Brussels on August 15th at 8:00 AM.

There I was one of the last people who received their baggage so embarrassingly enough, my family that I had never even met before had to wait for me for about an hour! As soon as I was out the door I tried to remember what my new parents’ faces looked like from the pictures they had sent before. But not one face in that endless crowd of people matched the pictures. I quickly thought great. They probably got tired of waiting and went to the Rotary Club to ask for a new exchange student that wouldn’t make them wait.

As I was about to surrender all my hopes on ever finding them, I noticed four ecstatic looking faces staring directly at me. Confused, I looked behind me expecting to see another exchange student waving back at them. When I finally realized that it was for me, they were already surrounding me and filling me with excitement and terror at the same time. When I had the time to reflect I began analyzing their faces and realizing that they were starting to look more and more like the faces in the pictures I had received a couple of months back. It was at that moment that I knew that my new life had just begun.

They happily started introducing themselves while each of them gave me a kiss on the cheek. I found out that my new mom’s name was Florence, my dad’s Joel, my sister (who is 17 and is right now in Texas with Rotary) was Celine and my younger brother’s name was Boris. I only met my new sister for a couple of hours in the airport since she had to catch her flight to leave to Texas.

As soon as we got to my new home, which is located in Herve, Belgium, I was astonished at how many cows would be my new neighbors! They were all around us in immense pasture fields that go on for miles. As soon as we arrived, my parents started showing me around the house which is a very comfortable and spacey 2 story-house. I was very pleased and excited when I finally got to see my new room that I would be staying in for 5 months, for it is extremely colorful and full of artisanal and exotic looking objects. I quickly realized that my host sister was definitely an artist, for all of her room was full of her paintings and they are very, well… I would say interesting haha. I also met my new dog ( not to mention my new favorite sleeping buddy!) Juliette who is a beautiful brown and black schnauzer (I think that’s how you write it =S) aged 10.

As I was beginning to settle in to unpack my luggage I heard two knocks at the door and curiously peeped through the staircase to see who it might be. When the door opened I noticed two very tall and European looking girls standing with bright gleaming faces skimming the surface to see the new American girl that would be replacing their best friend (or in other words me!). As soon as they saw me, their expressions automatically changed from skepticism to curiosity to excitement. They eagerly waved back and forth and I, sharing their enthusiasm ran down the stairs to meet them. I soon found out that they were sisters who live right next door to us! The older one is named Flore age 19 and the younger one who is 16 (even though she looks like she is 20!) is named Maoud. They have quickly become two of my best friends in Belgium and almost all of my progress in French is due to them!

My school which is called the IPH is about a walking distance of 10 minutes from my house and I am loving it! Everybody is so nice and so curious and amazed when I tell them that I’m from Miami! The weather here is getting colder by day and I am dreading the day it will start to snow! I get cold very easy … jaja but I guess that’s a part of the learning experience ;)…

I have sent some pictures of my new family and friends and some places that I have visited! I hope you enjoy and I will keep you posted! I hope everyone is having an amazing experience and enjoying every second of it! Au revoir!

December 1 Journal

Bonjour tout le mondee! I have been here over 3 months and I am loving it!(I know since the last time we talked I definitely had a problem with the time issue of sending my report and I know this time isn’t any better but I had to find a Cafè with internet because my family’s computer has some major virus issues:s…) But I don’t want you to think that I didn’t learn my lesson because I definitely did! And next time I’ll get it right and be one of the first ones to send it in!

The ironic thing is that out of all the countries in the world that I could have chosen I think I chose the one where time is the biggest issue! No one here is ever late and the saying ‘I am fashionably late’ is non-existent. I have definitely been learning the hard way of respecting schedules and understanding the way Belgians think. As my counselor, Françis explained to me, if you make a rendez-vous (date/meeting) with a Belgian and you start by arriving late you are insulting what they value the most which is their time. So as far as that I can definitely say that it has been a huge culture shock to know how much they respect that morale but on the other hand I know that if I start having more of a Belgian mentality in that sense I could definitely use it to my advantage and avoid any problems due to my ‘lack of sense of urgency’ as my dad likes to call it.

So other than that small bump on the road (that thankfully I am learning to smooth out!) everything has been amazing! All of my dreams since about a month ago have been all in French (even though for some reason in my dreams I speak it really bad =S) but I definitely take that as a leap forwards because it means that I am now officially thinking in my host language:) My family is absolutely amazing and I have no desire to change in January! If it were up to me I would stay with them the whole year! I have my neighbor Flore which has become my best friend and my host brother Boris (whom I call Bo Bo!) who has become like the little brother that I’ve always wanted! He has an amazing sense of humor and always finds ways to make me laugh. Even though he’s only 15 he totally understands my situation and I can tell him absolutely everything. I don’t even want to think about when I’m going to move!:( I know I’m gonna cry!

In school everything has been going smoothly and in comparison to the beginning I have been doing much better. I understand everything and I’ve even passed a couple of tests! I feel extremely proud of myself that even though my grammar is not, let’s say, ‘accurate,’ I make my point and it is understandable:). I am learning the colorful vocabulary of my region which is called Wallonia and have even learned a couple of words in the ancient French, Wallon. Most of the words are, let’s say, ‘politically incorrect’ so unfortunately I cannot share them with you through mail. And because Belgium is divided into three regions, one being Flanders, my host dad, Joel has actually had the patience to teach me a couple of words in Flamant, for example Ich ben Andrea! (which means I am Andrea, as you probably all guessed), so I guess I’ll come back learning two languages:)… Not! First I think I should get French down and then I’ll think about learning one of the hardest languages possible!

But speaking about the main reason why I came here(the reason being learning how to speak French!) I’m not going to lie and say it’s perfect because it definitely has its ups and its downs. There are days that I feel as if I were born French and speak with an extreme ease, but there are other days (like today!):( which I feel as if I were in another planet! But that is occurring less and less every day and for that I am extremely grateful:).

I haven’t traveled much this month but tomorrow I am going to Germany to la marche de Noel! which is a Christmas parade, with Rotary. I can’t believe that Christmas is almost here and that I have already done a third of my exchange! That is extremely depressing to think about and I hope the year goes much much slower! I just know that I am enjoying each and every second of my year here and a huge part of it is thanks to Rotary! Donc merci beaucoup pour cette opportunité extaordinaire que vous m’avez donné. (Thank you so much for this extraordinary opportunity that you have all given me.) I have attached some pictures of my Rotary friends and school friends while we are celebrating the day of St. Nicholas! Which is the day of the children in Belgium and a couple of other pictures of my house and so forth. So Good Night from Belgium and until next month! Aurevoir tout le monde et bonne nuit!


Annelise Sandberg
2009-10 Outbound to Switzerland

Hometown: Tarpon Springs, Florida
School: Tarpon Springs HS
Sponsor: Tarpon Springs Rotary Club, District 6950, Florida
Host: Solothum Rotary Club, District 1980, Switzerland

Annelise - Switzerland

Annelise’s Bio

Hi, my name is Annelise Sandberg, I’m a sophomore at Tarpon Springs High School. I’ve played soccer since I was practically the same size as the ball, I’m in love with surfing, and the ocean! Every chance I can I’m at the beach with my friends. Switzerland is definitely going to be the most culture shock I’ve ever experienced in my short lifetime. The complete opposite of my home, land-locked, cold, mountains, snow? And I couldn’t be more excited.

I’m the youngest, and only girl out of six children. My mom always told me I had a passion for life, that I go after everything with full force, I sometimes put too much of myself into things. I believe I still keep that philosophy for life. I don’t let life happen to me. I look for every passing chance I can take hold of and make a new memory, share a new experience, live more life.

My life is a huge story, I’m more than excited to unravel another chapter of it! I can’t wait to experience another country, especially one as beautiful as Switzerland!

I can’t thank The Rotary Youth Exchange program enough for this incredible opportunity, or my family for being so supportive! Life is to be experienced, you have to anticipate starting a new adventure, in a new place, at any time. I can’t wait to start mine!

 Annelise’s Journals

September 23 Journal

I’m going to start my first journal entry off by saying this:

I’M FINALLY AN INBOUND!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

AND there is ABSOLUTELY NO way on earth I will be able to explain these past few months, there is NO possible way to bring justice to what my life has become in this country that’s too spectacular for words. I have been here for almost 2 months now. I can understand mostly everything anyone says to me, I can communicate what I need to say. I have been to so many parties, met so many people I can’t remember the names of, made so many close friends I will carry in my heart for the rest of my life, and have a place to stay in almost every country I’d want to visit. Brazil, Italy, Mexico, Canada, Japan, California, Argentina, Romania, Australia, and of course…Switzerland. I have many Swiss friends already. I’ve started school and have absolutely NO idea what they’re saying in Math….Do you know what a “durchmesser” is? Because I have Keine anhung!! (no clue)

So this is my experience of airport life: I woke up at 4.30am to drive to TIA and catch my plane that wouldn’t leave until 7.30am. Still half asleep, my parents made me “find your own way to the check-in and gate because you’re going to be on your own this year, no mommy and daddy to help you.” (Like I wasn’t fully aware, and fully excited for this!?) So I found it, checked my bags, and said goodbye to my family. First it was my brother, then my step dad, then my mom, and then came my dad….my teary-eyed, sniffling father…Yes, my dad is the one that brought me to tears. Very brief tears that lasted until I got on the tram to get to security. Yeah I cried for about 2 minutes as I said goodbye to my family for a year. Then I thanked God that I was saying goodbye to my family for a year. (just kidding, I love them….really.)

Security was easy, smooth, and quick. Got onto the plane and set off for Detroit. Once in Detroit, I got a wonderful 6 hour layover. Thanks Bokoff Kaplan. I walked around for two hours because I had nothing to do. Then I found my gate. –Okay, so I know how ridiculously hideous, and hot these lovely Rotary blazers are….But OH MY GOD, WEAR YOUR BLAZERS WHEN YOU’RE TRAVELING. It’s one of THE best sights when you see someone wearing one. Especially when you’re wandering around the glorious “Olten, Switzerland” for half an hour trying to find the Inbound welcome meeting. They are actually very amazing!!!!- So I wait in Detroit for 6 hours, and make friends with girls from New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Texas. And Emily from New Hampshire has ended up being my best friend here. So Detroit was boring but painless. Then the 7 hour flight to Amsterdam….That was fun. I watched some French movies for a while. I mostly slept. Then the most fun part…Amsterdam International Airport. First of all…we had about half an hour to catch our connecting flight into Zurich. Secondly, this airport is by far the most confusing airport I’ve been too, especially when the signs are in God knows what language. Thirdly, it took us about an hour to get through passport checks, and customs…which Emily managed to leave her whole suitcase at, and didn’t realize it until we got half way to our gate. Fourthly, NO air-conditioning, and running, in huge hot blazers, and 50 thousand pounds of luggage. SO MUCH FUN. The good part was after you’ve been on a plane for 7 hours, running feels good. And also an hour flight feels like 10 minutes.

Upon arrival in Zurich, I was greeted by two of my host moms. They were waving furiously, trying to get my attention, trying to hurry along the obnoxious process called “The Baggage Claim.” Finally found all my bags and went to meet my family. They were both incredibly nice and told me it was time to go to a party….really? I’ve been traveling for two days, am completely jet-lagged, and we’re going to a party?! AWESOME. I fell asleep sitting up at my counselor’s house. It was a lot of fun though, I got to meet my future host siblings, my counselor’s sons, who I’ve gotten pretty close with, and my host families.

My first night in Switzerland I got taken to some wild crazy dance disco street party with my counselor’s son and my two host sisters. We danced until 3am, and finally came home. Now that stupid Black Eyed Peas song “Tonight’s gonna be a good night…” will forever remind me and my host sisters of my first night of the best year of my life.

My first Rotary meeting was a little intimidating. It was 3 days after I arrived, so I spoke little to no German whatsoever. Not that that would’ve saved me anyways since they ALL spoke in Swiss-German, which I’ve found is by far, the most annoying thing here. No matter how much High-German you learn, you will still have no clue what they’re saying, unless you ask them to speak “Hoch-Deutsch bitte?” Which they will for about 2 sentences, forget what they’re doing, and start all over again in Swiss. In the end, the meeting was a success. My President asked me to come to his house for dinner with his family; his son had just arrived back from Chicago on Exchange so he could help me out and what not. His son Alex invited me to another party the next weekend. All in all, I LOVE my Rotary president and his family! Actually, in general I’ve found the Swiss to be incredibly relaxed friendly people. As much as they keep telling us they’re strict and not friendly and work all the time. It seems to be a perfect balance of “work hard, party hard.”

My family here is AMAZING. I’ve gotten so close with all of them, especially my mom since she speaks hardly any English at all, we’ve made so much progress with learning each other’s language. My host dad is always sarcastic and making fun of my mom and sisters, so needless to say, my house is always laughing about something. My sisters have been a really big help to me also. Besides taking me to SO many parties, introducing me to SO many people, and showing me around my HUGE school, taking me bridge jumping into the FREEZING COLD river, they’ve been there for me if I’ve ever had a problem. Same with my counselor too. She’s an amazing woman, she’s helped me out with any little thing I need for school, she invites me to lunch at her house all the time, and we have a really great relationship. They all say they love me and I’m a million times better than their last exchange student…I think he got sent home early actually. So I’d hope they like me better!!!

The first day of school was amazing. We played Hockey in PE, and Rugby. My class is all younger than I am, except one boy who is 18. So they’re all REALLY immature, but sometimes it’s very relaxing to just let the paper airplanes fly.

The stereotypes I get are really entertaining also. Like for example, I come from Florida so I get “OH YOU COME FROM MIAMI!??!” and “Is life in America just like American Pie?!?!” and “Are school lockers really that big?!” and “So you go to California like every weekend right?!” Those questions are always fun!!

As far as being homesick goes…I miss my car, and I miss the beach. And…Nope, that’s all. I actually haven’t even called my parents….this whole 2 months…and I don’t have Skype…so basically I’ve emailed them a few times…

Like I said before, there are not enough words to explain my experiences here so far. No one word can sum up these past 2 months of my life. If I had to pick words to describe Switzerland they would be: perfection, self-growth, unexplainable-beauty, and “my-head-hurts-from-thinking-about-what-I-have-to-say-all-the-time” and I couldn’t love this place anymore if I WANTED to!

November 11 Journal

I am in the 4th month out of 12.

I have been here almost 14 weeks.

I have been here almost 100 days.

I have seen some weird things.

I have tasted some interesting food.

I have met some amazing friends.

I have encountered some creepy train riders.

I have experienced the best 4 months, the best 14 weeks, the best 100 days of my life.

In 3 weeks I’ll be switching families, I’ll be moving to a new home.

AKA: I’m leaving my HOME.

Yes the world “home” has taken on a whole new meaning.

And the phrase “home is where you make it” has really started to apply to my life.

Because “home is where your heart is” just doesn’t work anymore.

My heart belongs to two different countries now. My heart has been split down the middle.

On one half, I live in the sunshine, in the sand, in the HUMIDITY;

I belong to innisbrook and starbucks everyday after school;

I belong to driving my car, and going to work;

I belong to the little Greek town with epiphany, and sponges, and family friends, and church, and fourth of July parties, and Tarpon Springs High School;

I belong to fighting with my brothers, and climbing on the roof when we aren’t allowed to (sorry mom);

I belong to surfing at honeymoon beach without a wetsuit in the winter and being the only girl there;

I belong to checking surf report every single day hoping, praying, wishing a swell would come so I could have a good excuse to skip algebra 2;

I belong to my family, to my town, to my state, to my country.

I belong to Tarpon springs, to Florida, to The United States of America.

On the other half, my heart belongs to the Alps that stare at me through my bedroom window,

I belong to the little train running through Solothurn;

I belong to the rainsnow that stings your fingers when you’re riding your bike down the giant hill you have to take if you want to catch the train;

I belong to sprinting furiously to CATCH that same train;

I belong to the Aare River, and the Jura mountain;

I belong to bridge jumping, fondue eating, and cowbells;

I belong to being used to not understanding a word people are saying around me, but finally being able to understand a lot;

I belong to Kantonschule Solothurn, to playing indoor hockey, and rugby in school;

I belong to weird Swiss keyboards that are impossible to type on!!

I belong to learning 3 languages (German, Swiss-German, French), and hoping I don’t forget my mother tongue! (American….NOT English. Americans do not speak English.);

I belong to two dogs always barking, and two sisters always laughing;

I belong to my family, to my town, to my Kanton, to my country.

I belong to Oberbipp, to Solothurn, To Switzerland.

I’m not on vacation. I will not “come back home,” I will not remain the same.

Change is the only consistent thing in life, and that is what I’m counting on.

This is what has been going on in my home of Switzerland:

I’ve been in school for a while now…I’m in a math and science profile… I HATE math and science.

Example 1:

Math teacher “I’ve noticed you are not very good at math?”

Me: “No. Not even in English.”

Math Teacher: *smiles nicely and gives up hope for me…now he ignores me everyday.*

Me: *thank God.*

Example 2 of how well school’s going:

German Teacher: “Annelise, do you know what a prenommen is?”

Me: “No. Not even in English.”

German Teacher: *Slightly annoyed at the stupid American and continues to try to make me understand all of the insane German words I’ve never even heard of that are coming out of his mouth*

Me: *wonderful…*

Example 3:

This is what kids in my class think is fun every day at lunch:

Let’s play a card game and try to make Annelise understand the point, even though there is no point, there are no rules, and we change the name of the game every freaking day. (So yes, Rotary….when we had our orientation in Florida, and you made us play a card game, and everyone had different rules of how to play, and you told us this is what our exchange year would be like….yes, you were absolutely correct.)

Example 4:

This is my English class: (we’re talking about what we would do if we won the lottery.)

Boy in my class: I would go to America!!

Teacher: WHY would you go to AMERICA?

Me: Why WOULDN’T he go to America?!

Teacher: oh…hah….Annelise….I forgot you….umm…America is a beautiful country, lovely choice. (I skipped his class “on accident” the next day. This was our next conversation:)

Teacher: Why weren’t you here yesterday?

Me: You insulted my country, I couldn’t come back. (we both laugh.)

Example 5:

This is my history class: (We’re talking about the difference between the North and South of the USA Mainly about slavery.)

Teacher: Annelise, where are you from again?

Me:………Florida. (needless to say she didn’t ask my opinion; bad timing to be from the south; whole class laughs.)

Example 6:

This is a conversation I had with a group of kids in my class:

Me: School’s over…why are you still here?

Them: Oh, we have a test in two weeks.

Me: so…why are you here?

Them: we’re studying.

Me: oh. What are you doing Friday night?

Them: Studying together at Fabians house, would you like to come?

Me: ……..I have a Rotary event, I’m sorry.

Them: Maybe next time!?


Being an American High school student….I was confused. And needless to say…I’m switching into an Art profile next week. (My math teacher advised this of course)

So as you can see school’s going wonderfully here!

Besides school I’ve been incredibly busy. A few weeks ago a few exchange students decided we needed to have a Halloween party since Halloween isn’t really celebrated here. It consisted of this: Fondue, bread, “hotdogs”, weird Swiss candy, a tiara, some devil horns, a way too revealing speedo on my guy friend, a movie about gay people, and my friend’s host parents insisting we drink the “orange juice”….it was NOT orange juice.

If our Thanksgiving goes anywhere near the same as Halloween…well…I think I won’t attend anymore make-shift American holidays in Switzerland.

Not that much has been going on. Life’s starting to become completely normal now. Between school, learning German, hanging out with my two best friends….it’s going really well.

I don’t think anyone could ask for a better exchange than mine. I’ve met so many different people from different places. And with every new person I meet, I realize how different everyone is, how different every country is, and how amazing those differences can be when they come together.

The fact is that we’re all so completely different, and at the same time, we couldn’t be more alike. No one in the world can know how we feel except each other. No one could possibly understand what we’re going through, and when something bad, good or indifferent happens here, they’re the ones there to hold your hand, and tell you everything’s alright…even if we don’t speak the same language very well. Even though our skin isn’t the same color. Even though our clothes are a little different, and our music isn’t the same.

Everything gets stripped away when you’re in a different country. Everything that makes you comfortable is taken away, and you’re left to survive with only your mind, and your language skills. Everything about you in this country is foreign. So when you meet another foreign person, that automatic judging mechanism most people have…has completely disintegrated and you’re left to solely understand, and make friends with that person. I now understand what Rotary was talking about when they said the point of this exchange is to make cultural understanding. To create peace between nations, as we live as an ambassador for our own country, we learn the golden rule all over again. To treat people as you’d like to be treated.

So next time there’s someone that doesn’t speak your language, or is lost because they’re unfamiliar with the country, or town, instead of automatically judging… there will be automatic love and understanding. One day you could very well find yourself in the same situation. Someday, you could be that lost confused girl in the classroom, and one person will smile, and give you a helping hand, and that will completely make the difference and change your life. The best way to understand is to live and experience. To keep an open mind, and shut down judging at a glance.


April Bethea
2009-10 Outbound to Hungary

Hometown: Palm Coast, Florida
School: Mainland HS
Sponsor: Flagler/Palm Coast Sunrise Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Pécs Rotary Club, District 1911, Hungary

April - Hungary

April’s Bio

Who am I?

A seventeen year old going on eighteen years old going on twenty-eight? A senior getting closer to senioritis with every step she takes? A girl who was granted admission to the college of her dreams? A girl who has no idea where to begin describing herself?

All of the above? That’s probably about right.

I suppose I’ll just start from the beginning, more specifically my name. I am April Bethea and as I mentioned before I am about to turn eighteen. I attend Mainland High School in Daytona Beach, but live in Palm Coast. I was recently accepted to Macalester College in Saint Paul, MN and have begun the process of deferring for a year so I can go to Hungary! That’s right good old Magyarorszag.

In college I want to major in International Studies. I want to be a student of the world around me. I’m not content knowing only about the United States of America and I feel that Rotary is giving me an amazing opportunity. Full and total immersion, it doesn’t get any better than that. No candy-coated culture or history.

Now let’s get down to the bare-bones, the nitty-gritty: my family and my history. My parents are divorced. I live with my mother here in Florida, while my father lives in Sin City, Las Vegas, NV (not on the strip of course, he technically lives in North Las Vegas). Both of my parents were members of the Air Force and because of them I’m not able to say that I’ve never left the United States. In fact, because of them I can’t even say I was born in the US. I was born in Wiesbaden, Germany and didn’t move to the United States until I was about six. In addition to Wiesbaden, I’ve lived in: Mildenhall, England – Las Vegas, NV – Destin, FL – Leesburg, GA – Cedar Rapids, IA – Ormond Beach, FL and of course, Palm Coast, FL.

I’ve spent most of my life moving around and perhaps for that reason I’ve been jonesing to live somewhere new and exciting. In 2010 that new place will be Saint Paul, but in about eight months it will be Hungary. What’s more new and exciting than that? I’m nervous about leaving the US for a year, but at the same time, I’m beyond excited. That’s a bit of a contradiction, but it’s true.

Maybe it’s time for some adjectives. I wasn’t prepared to spout off such words during my interview, but now I think I am. I’m creative, independent, strong-willed, resilient, funny, nice, sincere, intelligent, and expressive. I could go on … but I won’t. I love to watch movies. Memento and Cinema Paradiso are two of my favorites. I also love to write and read. George Orwell’s essays are amazing. I love to listen to music. I have some favorite bands but mostly I just have a mesh of eclectic songs on my iPod. My favorite song is American Pie by Don McLean.

I would like to thank Rotary for this opportunity. I know that this experience will help me grow as a person and I am prepared and willing to go through the motions and to morph from a (yes, I know this is clichéd) naïve caterpillar into a worldly, sophisticated butterfly. And while I know the journey will be emotional and while I know I’ll miss not only my parents, but my younger brother in New Mexico, my friends, and all my aunts and cousins, I’m prepared to take this giant leap forward.

April’s Journals

August 30 Journal

“Although missionary work had already begun under Prince Géza, it was his son Stephen, later to be canonized, who accomplished the actual conversion of his people to Christianity. In return, the Pope sent a royal crown to Hungary and gave its ruler the title of Apostolic King. The Hungarians still cherish Stephen’s memory: it is true that Árpád conquered the land, but King Stephen was the real founder of the state.” ~ From A Brief History of Hungary by Corvina Kiadó

This is why they celebrate St. Stephen’s Day. This is why when I arrived in Hungary there were flags everywhere. This is why red, white, and green danced before me as we drove through Budapest that day. This is why the right side of the bridge we crossed from Pest into Buda was teeming with fireworks waiting to be shot off, why planes whizzed over the Danube preparing for the next day’s air race. Because hundreds and hundreds of years ago they canonized St. Stephen.

I caught a glimpse of the fireworks display in Budapest on the news and it was amazing. It lasted thirty minutes there, but the ninety-second highlight reel was all I got to see and it was enough for me to know that it was spectacular. Even the fireworks over the lake in my small town of Kozármisleny seemed more captivating then the ones back home. Maybe I’ve never paid that much attention before or maybe it was my mind secretly wanting to give Hungary a leg up, who knows.

If you read my last journal then you know that I was worried I wouldn’t get my visa in time to leave on the 18th, but I did and I’m here, have been for over a week. Which after months of waiting, trying not to get too excited, trying not to look at my countdown ticker every day, seems weird to say.

My journey across the Atlantic was none too exciting. I didn’t have hordes of people see me off at the airport. Just my mom, who spent the whole time trying not cry in front of me. She almost succeeded. I didn’t run into any other exchange students along the way, it was just me. From Orlando, to Detroit, to Amsterdam, to Budapest, I was by myself, a lone wolf, that girl in the funky blue blazer and because of that, because I have no tales of business card or pin exchanging, I won’t bore you with details of my flights. Especially since all I really did was sleep.

I woke up as we were beginning our descent into Budapest and I mean the real descent. Not when you have twenty-five minutes left and you have to turn off your electronics. The buildings already looked like architecture models when I opened my eyes.

What is Budapest’s airport like? Well this, I cannot tell you. We landed on the tarmac and were shuffled off to baggage claim by shuttle bus. I will tell you that the carts are free, that is, if you’re smart enough to continuously push down on the handle bar. I will also tell you that my bags came in like less than two minutes and that there was no line at “customs.”

My host family was waiting for me on the other side of the baggage claim door and it took me a few seconds to find them amongst the madhouse of people with flowers and signs. When we exited the airport I finally saw another exchange student. We didn’t speak to each other, but I could tell from his blazer that he was from Taiwan.

Before I continue on and tell you about my life in Hungary thus far, I must say something amongst the tales of homesickness that have been rolling in. I have not been homesick once since I’ve been here. I know that one day that tide of homesickness will wash over me and I’m constantly looking out for the storm, but that being said, I have not been homesick once. Maybe I’m abnormal, maybe it’s because had it not been Hungary it would have been Minnesota, maybe because I’ve accepted that this isn’t forever, that it’s just a year, maybe I truly am in the “Honeymoon Stage,” I just wanted to let the future exchange students know, that the rollercoaster might just start off smooth.

The day I arrived we did not go to Lake Balaton as originally planned, I guess I had more luggage than they anticipated. Though I will say that ninety percent of the weight in my second suitcase came from host family gifts. Children’s books are not as light as you’d expect. Instead I got my first taste of Budapest, we drove around the city, mostly the Pest side and my host family pointed out various things to me. We were going to go to Margaret Island, but the bridge had been closed off because of the holiday. Or that’s what I think happened.

As we drove to Kozármisleny, I fell asleep and woke up just as we were coming into town. I love my new home, my cozy room, the huge backyard, the porch from which you can see Pécs, it’s truly great. However, I don’t have the top floor to myself and I have zero secret passageways.

My host family is fantastic. My host mom, Éva, speaks very good English, which is quite helpful, especially since I have no real background in Hungarian. I learn new words everyday, but it’s the grammar that’s really giving me a hard time. Hungarian pronunciation is quite easy for the most part. Each letter has a sound, you look at the word, put the sounds together and presto! You’ve said something in Hungarian. Well, in essence that’s how it is, I still have people repeat words like crazy, but you certainly won’t find a word like phone in Hungarian.

The 20th (St. Stephens’s Day) my host family and I went to a party up the street. There were several little kids, including my host brother, and they all enjoyed playing with ice very much. They would hold the ice in their hands and then run up to you and put a cold hand to your leg. I didn’t know – and still don’t know – the word for cold so I would always act shocked when they did this. This emotion transcends borders.

The food at the party was delicious and around 8:40 my host sister, host parents, and I started walking to the lake in Kozármisleny to watch the fireworks that I’ve previously mentioned, the others drove. In a city like Budapest I’m sure the holiday would have been celebrated in a much different, bigger way, but I’m fine with memories I’ll have from this simple celebration.

The next morning we went to Lake Balaton, where we stayed until Sunday. I enjoyed the lake very much, though I only really went into the water once. My host father, sister, brother, and I would take bike rides around the town their lake house was in and the towns surrounding it. I enjoyed these bike rides very much, though on one of them, my host brother either didn’t want me to ride in front of him or by his father, I’m not sure which. All I know is that I would ride faster than him and try to get on the side of him because I didn’t want to bump into his bike, but instead of letting me he would speed up, swerve to the right, or speed up and swerve to the right. Which was a little frustrating.

Since coming home from the lake, I’ve gone into Pécs fairly often. My host sister would take me into the city and we’d generally meet up with her friends. One day we went to Orfű, a small village with a lake that is very close to here. This was enjoyable. It was my sister and her friends and I really didn’t understand anything, but I still enjoyed seeing something new. Though, the water was freezing and when they went in a second time, I didn’t join them.

On Wednesday, a surprise going away party was held in my host sister’s honor. At this party, I met another exchange student. Marco from Italy, he’s not on exchange with Rotary though, but through AFS. At one point Esme, my host sister’s friend, asked him why he wanted to learn Hungarian. His response was that he didn’t. If he wanted to learn a language he would have gone to Spain or the USA.

I’ve gotten this question twice since I arrived. “Why do you want to learn Hungarian? It’s not a very useful language.” But really, who determines a language’s use? Is Hungarian a widely spoken language? No. Does that mean the people in Hungary should give up Hungarian and start speaking English? No. A language is a part of a country’s culture and while I’m in this country I want to learn Hungarian. While Hungarian may not be widely spoken, it is difficult, one of the hardest languages in the world and if I master it or come close to fluency, isn’t that helpful in the long run? If in the future I’m able to open my mind to Hungarian, why can’t I open it up to French or German? Spanish or Russian? And moreover, do you know how fulfilling it would be to have a conversation in Hungarian, to be able to travel the country and know what people were saying to me? So fulfilling I can’t put it into words. I find use in Hungarian, the world might not, but I do and that’s enough for me.

Hungary is a lot of things. It’s old, it’s new, it’s over a thousand years of history in one small package, it’s clean, it’s dirty, it’s some of the prettiest buildings you will ever see covered in pointless graffiti, but it has won me over with its charm and its exceptionally nice people.

My host sister left today for Pennsylvania and I had my fingers crossed that she’d take the extremely hot weather with her and if the storm that just ended is any indication, she did.

I love it here so far and I’m sure there will be rough times ahead, but no one every said this would be easy.

Now, continuing the pattern, here are a few observations about Hungary:

The doors literally have keys in them, the old fashioned kind that are fairly long, in order to lock the door you turn the key.

When you flush the toilet you have to turn the water off yourself. On the newer toilets you push the flush button and then push the button that says stop a few seconds later. On the ones with the pull, you hold the string down until enough water has come down.

In the center of Pécs the pedestrian crossing sign will tell you not only how long you can walk, but also how long until you can walk.

Pécs, the city that is hosting me, will be one of the European Capitals of Culture in 2010, because of this, the pretty square I expected to see and several other sights have been torn apart for renovation.

At the Árkád in Pécs (the mall) there is an escalator that has no stairs. It’s like a moving sidewalk on an incline.

I live in the Southern Transdanubia region of Hungary and there are lots of hills, lots and lots of hills. You know those sharp curves at home that you come across, maybe not really in Florida, but up North and out West? Well, the drivers here don’t really slow down for those and it’s a little terrifying. Oh and people don’t pay too much attention to the line in the road that creates different lanes.

Unlike the nice yellow school buses that pick you up at home and then drive you straight to school, in order to get to my school I’ll have to ride the bus for ten or fifteen minutes and then walk uphill ten minutes. It’s not the steepest hill in the world, but I’m sure I’ll miss – well driving, but besides that – being dropped off right in front of the school.

Until next time,


December 9 Journal

Hungarians love pálinka.

You see it everywhere, from family parties to rotary meetings, one thing that’s never missing – pálinka. Last month, I traveled with my host parents and the Rotary Club of Kozármisleny to Romania and can you guess what was passed up and down the aisles of the bus? Pálinka of course.

And when we left, do you know what the Rotary Club of Dej handed out as a parting gift? If you guessed pálinka, go ahead and give yourself a pat on the back.

I suppose it’s like the French and their wine, except for the fact that in order for pálinka to be pálinka the alcohol content must be between 37.5 and 86 percent.

Now, it has come to my attention that I am a delinquent journal writer. A fact that I was very much aware of before it was written to me in email. I’ve thought about writing this journal for a long time and yes, you can readily find me on the internet, however, writing about myself and my life here is not exactly the easiest thing in the world to do. I write and I erase, write and erase, but I solemnly swear to try and do less of that erasing bit.

As a delinquent journal writer, perhaps starting my journal talking about a type of alcohol isn’t the smartest thing in the world. But I’m supposed to talk about culture right? Well – for those of you who weren’t aware, drinking is a large part of the Hungarian culture.

December is here and while it is of course, the holiday season, my favorite time of the year, for a small group of people (those who probably frequent this site) it’s much, much more that. It’s Rotary Youth Exchange acceptance season, a good and wonderful time. If you happen to be from my district [6970] it’s probably also more than a bit nerve racking, because our interviews are horrible, scary, killer monsters; but don’t get too worked up over that. This advice is from someone who did get worked up over that and you can see how well everything worked out.

So, future outbounds, when the middle of December rolls around and you get that call telling you your shiny new country, if you’re lucky enough to be going to Hungary, I’d recommend you’d start practicing your “köszönöm, nem.” For, you will be offered pálinka and lets just say, Hungarians are proud of their pálinka and when you decline it, they’ll continuously tell you that it’s a special Hungarian drink and made from fruit and so on so forth. Be prepared to say no more than once in a single offering. Be prepared to want hit your head against a wall after hearing being told the same things about pálinka again and again.

When I last wrote I had been here twelve days and now, well, one hundred and twelve. Yeah, that definitely means I’m a delinquent. Time gets away from you, what can I say? So, what have I done these past few months? Let’s see: I’ve started school, been to orientation, harvested grapes, gone to Romania, restarted school, been to Venice, and plenty of other things of course.

My first school is where my YEO works and where the other two exchange students in Pécs still go. I, too, go there multiple times a week for Hungarian lessons, but attending school there I felt a vegetable. A feeling that I’m sure many other exchange students know well.

I now attend Janus Pannonius, a school very conveniently located in the center of Pécs. I suppose, conveniently isn’t exactly the best word currently, considering that the main square is in ruins and getting to school now involves taking really annoying little detours. However, unlike at my old school, while we have a main classroom and head teacher, we change rooms constantly and so, I don’t spend my whole day sitting in the same small, dark classroom. Additionally, at my old school my classmates were beginners in English and while of course, I’m here to learn Hungarian, it’s very nice to actually be utilized in English class. At my old school everything they did in class was from the book, no derivation, and so in the one class I thought I could be at least some help in, I was the same vegetable. At my new school I feel like much more of an asset and my classmates are much bigger assets for me. All I can really say is that I’m much happier with my school situation now then I was in September. Beyond that though, I feel very lucky to have a family who helped me make that switch and who also organized it so I was able to visit two new schools and then decide which was the school for me.

In mid-September we had orientation, which gave me an opportunity to meet all the exchange students and to really see Budapest for the first time. I’ve been two times since then. The last time was by far my favorite. My host dad had a conference during my fall break from school and I was able to just spend the whole day exploring. I walked over the Erzsébet híd [Elizabeth Bridge], up Gellért hill to the Citadella, and to Castle Hill. Budapest is an exceptionally beautiful city – it is by no means perfect, but its faults are part of its charm and there’s no taking its beauty away.

At a fall festival in September, my host mom informed me that we would be going to Romania the first weekend in October with the newly founded Rotary Club of Kozármisleny, to which my host father belongs. I was beyond excited when I found out we were going to Romania. Romania is one of those countries that has always fascinated me and I thoroughly enjoyed the four days I was there. The ride there and back? Not so much, but I’m used to long car rides, more used to them than Hungarians at least. On exchange I’ve come to realize that road trips aren’t a European thing.

I was asked to invite the other two exchange students in my town on the trip. They both accepted the invitation. I suppose I should point out that neither of the two other exchange students in my cities are from America, one is from Brazil and the other Ecuador. Let me just say that I now know what it feels like to sit on a bus for two hours on the border between two countries. You see, while Ricardo from Brazil was able to get over the border no problem, Bernardo from Ecuador had double the problems. First, he was issued a visa that allowed him one and only one entrance to Hungary and second, he needed another visa to get into Romania. In the end he had to wait at the border by himself for another hour, was picked up by the head of Rotary Youth Exchange here, taken to the train station in Szeged, where he got to take a train to Budapest and be picked up by his host family – not exactly a story with a happy ending, but an interesting one I think. I guess the lesson is always check to see what countries you need a visa for and which you don’t?

I had a lot of fun in Romania. We stayed in Dej and visited Cluj-Napoca as well (and Kozármisleny’s sister town for a little while on our way back). While there we were welcomed by the Rotary Club of Dej, who were very hospitable and who knew how to dance.

We toured both Dej and Cluj and visited a salt mine. I can now say, that not only have I been to a salt mine, but I’ve also seen a game of soccer played in one. In case you were wondering, Kozármisleny won.

Every night on our trip there was a Kozármisleny/Dej get-together. Saturday night being the biggest one, the gathering was recorded for local television. Thursday and Saturday these events were enjoyable, quite enjoyable. Friday though? Friday Ricardo and I, as well as two Romanian locals in their twenties whose parents are a part of the Dej Rotary Club, sat at a table and bonded as we waited oh so long for food and listened to the same horrible CD play over and over again. For example, one of the songs main word was “Ah” sang at different octaves and while when all is said and done I had a good time, it was boredom that led to that good time, and I’m sure it’s nothing like the bonding, occasionally singing, members of both clubs had as they shared their pálinka and chatted, or tried to chat, as Hungarian is not Romanian. Though, they probably had a better shot there than other areas as we were in the Transylvanian area of Romania, which was a part of Hungary for hundreds of years.

I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Romania. I had a great time. I was able to see a new country, one that has some serious natural beauty, however, Romania is not as clean as Hungary, it is far from being as clean as Hungary and driving on the road in Romania you’re a witness to poverty, an extreme poverty that I’m not used to seeing.

My host club counselor’s family owns a vineyard in Villány, a town in my county famous for its wine. She invited me to come with them as they harvested grapes and of course, I accepted this opportunity. Her family gathered at their small, but nice vineyard and we had breakfast and lunch in the one-roomed house on the grounds. Tables were pushed together, and covered with an array of different tablecloths, the place felt unbelievably cozy. I helped cut down grapes for a while, but when the three other kids went inside, I joined them and we played a game of Catan, which they assured me was very famous, but which I’d never heard of before.

At the end of October, I took a trip to Venice with a lot of the other exchange students here in Hungary. Venice was a beautiful maze and though I was only there eight hours, I had a great time, I only wish I could have seen more. We did not however, sleep in a hotel on the way to or from Venice, we slept on the bus and while I did actually sleep on the bus, when I got back to my bed, I slept and I slept hard. Two nights on a bus will do that to you I suppose.

Well, this journal is a long time coming and I should probably wrap it up soon because this is becoming a long-winded beast of journal, but before I do, I have a few words for you future outbounds. If you’re in District 6970, I hear you know who you are, so congratulations!

[In case anything I’ve said in the past doesn’t quite exactly add up please note that I expected this journal to be finished on the 29th of November – again, delinquent]

The next few months will go by fast, at times maybe not as fast as you want them to, but they’ll go by fast. In January you’ll have your first orientation and I’m assuming you’ll all know what counties you’re going to and I’m sure many of you, hopefully all of you, will be delighted with where you are going, whether it was a top choice or not. Everyone here asks me why I wanted to come to Hungary and at my first school my classmates wanted to know what my first choice was, because they knew it wasn’t Hungary, but I did want to go to Hungary and I was excited beyond belief when I found out my country.

Other people weren’t quite as excited, but not everyone can go to Japan. I believe with my group of outbounds that was the most popular place that people wanted to go to but weren’t actually going to. And if that’s the case, I’m sure you’ll grow to love Italy or Belgium or whatever country you’re placed in.

The world is a big place my friends, and being able to spend one year immersed in one of the two hundred or so countries there are out there is an unbelievable opportunity. Sometimes I get sad that I’m eighteen and will never have this opportunity again, while others get the opportunity to ‘yo-yo.’ One of the guys in Hungary is a yo-yo, he spent a year on exchange in Brazil, prior to his one here and while to my knowledge RYE Florida doesn’t yo-yo, which as popular as youth exchange is in Florida makes plenty of sense, it still saddens me that I’ll never have the opportunity to do this again with any organization. Cherish your exchange, because it’s a gift. No matter how much work you have to do to go on it or how little, it’s a gift and you should never think about returning it. I did for a few minutes last December and I can assure that would have been a terrible, terrible mistake, one that I could never take back.

As you will be told plenty of times, live where you are. I have moments where I wonder why I didn’t want to go to Belgium, because I had three years of French, I would have had a bit of a leg up there. With Hungarian my legs were flat from the beginning and is my Hungarian anywhere close to perfect? No! I have problems making sentences, but I understand a lot and I learn new things everyday and I try. And if you’re going to a country that speaks Finnish, Icelandic, Lithuanian, Croatian, Hungarian, any language that’s not popular and somewhat easy to find help with in the states, I can assure you’ll have problems. No matter where you go, you’ll have problems, you’ll have beast of a new language to contend with and such beasts aren’t easy to tame, but you’ll make strides. At least, I hope you’ll make strides, because I think language learning is essential.

Anyway, I have moments where I think about French, which I’m somewhat familiar with and for a second my mind starts to drift to some country not so far from here where they say “oui” and “non” instead of “igen” and “nem.” But as I make strides here, I feel good about myself. I feel good learning basics. I feel good with any and all progress and I honestly don’t think I would have felt the same way in a francophone country. With Hungarian I’m starting from scratch and working my way up the totem pole ever so slowly, but I’m moving up, I see from new heights everyday and if you end up with a country you secretly or not so secretly didn’t want or with a language you can’t even begin to wrap your head around, you’ll persevere, you’ll make it through, and it’ll mean so much more to you when you do.

It does to me and so I’ll end this once again thanking Rotary.

Köszönom szepén!


April Rust
2009-10 Outbound to Austria
Hometown: Ormond Beach, Florida
School: Seabreeze HS
Sponsor: Ormond Beach Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Linz-Süd Rotary Club, District 1920, Austria

April - Austria

April’s Bio

Servus! That’s “hi” in German. My name is April Rust and I’m a sophomore at Seabreeze High School in Daytona Beach, Florida. I have lived in Ormond Beach my whole life, enjoying the warmth and beauty of the beach. My family includes my two parents, brother, sister, our two dogs, and one cat.

I have many hobbies and pastimes such as playing sports, cooking, reading, collecting keepsakes, and spending time with my friends and family. I play volleyball, weightlifting, and softball for my school. I love cooking, especially baking, because it is very enjoyable to decorate and explore the different ways of creating baked goods. I have enjoyed reading every since I was a small girl, and a few of my favorite authors are Ann Brashares, Stephanie Meyer, and Louise Rennison. When the winds are strong, I go down to the beach and search for unusual shells, and other beach finds such as beach-glass. Friends and family are very important to me, and I love spending holidays with my relatives from Virginia and South Carolina.

On one night in December, Jody Davis delivered a bittersweet gift. He told me that I was going to be an exchange student in Austria! I was shocked because after being on the alternate list, my hopes and dreams had plummeted. I say this was a bittersweet gift because Austria wasn’t my first choice. I soon realized that it didn’t really matter what country I was destined to go to, but that I had the rare and wonderful opportunity to experience a new language, a new culture, and a new way of life. This was my favorite Christmas gift, because Austria is in the heart of Europe, and is a beautiful country with such welcoming and nice people. As an outbound for the 2009-2010 school year, I am ready for the most exciting and educational experience of my life, and I have faith in Rotary that they have selected the best country for me. Thank you Rotary Youth Exchange for such a life-changing opportunity!

April’s Journals

September 3 Journal

Sitting down this afternoon in the kitchen, I procrastinated writing this journal because there are too many wonderful events and new ideas that I wanted to share. I knew it would take a very long time to accomplish the task of writing my first journal.

It is currently my fourth week here in Austria, but let’s go back a wee bit… The night before I left for Austria I was freaking out; leaving all of my friends and family had actually made itself a reality. The day of my departure, I had breakfast with my best friends, and then we all said our goodbyes, sad ones too. My whole family came with me to the Orlando Airport where I was to depart for Frankfurt, Germany around 8:00 pm. We arrived around five and had plenty of time to spare after check-in so we ate dinner together at Chili’s.

Soon after, it was time to say goodbye. I stood in my spiffy Rotary Blazer decked out with pins in the middle of the airport, with my family by my side. I must have given a few hugs to each family member before I realized that it was time: Time to leave. So I mustered up all of my courage and put on a happy face for the Security Officials. I successfully managed to make it to my gate. It wasn’t until my friend called me that I started to break down. I cried and cried, half laughing at myself because a few people were giving me strange looks. When I finished the phone call, the man across from me made a crying face which certainly cheered me up.

Anyways, so then it was time to board, and I was really excited for the nine hour plane ride. Of course, I barely slept with all of the butterflies in my stomach, but they were good butterflies. I remember thinking that everything was about to change, and I was scared, but then this quote by Heraclitus hit me, “There is nothing permanent except change.” It was a breakthrough. I realized that change doesn’t have to be a bad thing, as many people make it out to be. Rotary has taught me otherwise. Without change, one couldn’t develop to one’s full potential. I believe now that of course, change can be difficult, but that it opens up numerous opportunities for knowledge and experience. I’m not sure which paths I will discover here in Austria, but I’m confident that the new change with affect me in countless, positive ways.

Arriving in Austria was so nerve-wracking. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but my new family blew every good thing I had heard about host families out of the water. I could look up words to describe them, but there is a special connection that really cannot be described, so I’ll leave it at that. My first week here was very busy. I visited my school called Kollegium Aloisianum, which is so beautiful! The old library tower is made out of stone, it’s quite wonderful. I went to the city, Linz, and did a little bit of window shopping with my host sister, Marlies, who is sixteen as well. On Tuesday, we went to a Rotary Meeting with my whole family because my host parents are Rotarians and my sister came because she is going on exchange to Canada this year. The meeting was really interesting, and afterwards all of the Rotarians ate dinner together. I even made a small little introduction of myself! I met a few of my host sister’s friends who will be going to the same school as me. On Saturday, my host mum’s sister and her family came around to our house. We ate goulash and had a really great day. That night I had to pack for Language Camp, Sprachkurs, in Altmuenster, which is near Gmunden.

Future August Outbounds to Austria : Here are a few tips about Language Camp.

1) It’s a language course, bring a notebook and writing utensils.

2) Bedding and bath towels are provided, but bring your own beach towel.

3) Expect to not use the computer.

Language camp was so much fun, and I actually learned quite a lot of German! A few of my favorite adventures: Walking into town, the ferry ride on Lake Traunsee, visiting Hallstadt, and the Rotary Talent Show.

After language camp, I went to my family’s mountain house in the Alps, IN THE ALPS! I was beyond ecstatic because I practically never see mountains, and the Alps are famous! The first day I hiked up this mountain to a cross where you can write your name, or saying a little something. I wrote, “Viele Grosse aus Florida, USA! –April Rust,” which means “Many Greetings from Florida, USA!”.

The food here is not too unfamiliar. For the most part, I recognize the flavors and such. My favorite Austrian meal is WIENER SHNITZEL! For those of you who’ve never tasted it, just imagine a Chick-fil-a sandwich without the bun, except that it tastes about fifty times better!

Now that Sprachkurs is over, I have just been relaxing and practicing German with my host family. School starts on September 14th, so I still have about a week and a half to go. In the next several days, I will visit my host mum’s family near Vienna, and of course tour Vienna as well.

I have really enjoyed and learned so much already, and it hasn’t even been a month yet! Of course I miss everyone back in Florida and the States, but I wouldn’t give this opportunity up. Things are certainly a little unfamiliar here, but I love it. I will leave you with a quote that I enjoy reading… “Es ist nicht besser, es ist nicht schlechter, es ist einfach anders.” Which means, “It’s not better, it’s not worse, it’s just different.” To some people, different conveys something negative, but now thanks to Rotary and this exchange I have started to view it as an opportunity to gain knowledge and understanding. Vielen Dank Rotary!

November 6 Journal

The last time I wrote it was summer here and I was enjoying the long days filled with excitement and rest. Now, school is full on and the days are shrinking, time wise, because of daylight savings and winter’s presence.

My first day of school was so nerve-wracking! Even though I knew some of the kids in the 7th form, I still was so nervous and scared because I was put in the 6th form! My host mum walked with me to my class and introduced me to some of the other kids she knew and also my “Klassevorstandum” which is similar to a homeroom teacher. Everyone was really nice and speaking German and I wasn’t as nervous after a while. Something really awesome about the first few days of school in Austria is that students only go for a few hours the first couple of days. Just long enough to meet your class that you’ve known your whole life and your “klassevorstandum” who’s also been with you since the first form. On the first Wednesday we had mass at a local church, it was wonderful 

My school is wonderful! Its full name is “Kollegium Aloisianum” but for short we all just say “Aloisianum”. It’s brilliantly located on the top of a hill, overlooking the city of Linz. My school is Jesuit which basically means Catholic, but we don’t wear uniforms! The forms run from one to eight. The first formers will turn eleven years by the end of the year, and the eighth formers will turn eighteen. My school does not have the typical time schedule as most in Austria, so I’ll tell you first about the typical school system. Most schools start around seven-thirty or eight in the morning and finish around twelve or one, just in time for the most important meal here: lunch! So then after the students leave school, most go home where a hot lunch is served. For my school, the time you get out depends on what class you’re in. In my class, we start everyday at 7:50, except for on Mondays, when the girls start at 9:50 because the boys have P.E. On Friday when the girls have P.E., the guys leave early. The rest of our schedule is as follows…

Monday- 9:50-4:00

Tuesday- 7:50-4:00 (every other Tuesday until 6)

Wednesday- 7:50-3:00

Thursday- 7:50-3:00

Friday- 7:50-1:20

There is quite a variety of subjects taught here, but unlike the states, the only thing we can choose is to learn more math and physics or more languages. I am in the “more languages” class. It’s really hard for me to understand the teachers right now, so in most of the classes I just focus on learning German or reading. The classes that I do participate in are “Spanish”, “English”, “Music”, “Art”, “P.E.”, and “Intensive German”. Most classes are two or three times a week, but Music, Art, and P.E. are only once a week. My host mum and I are trying to change my schedule so that I can take English in the lower forms to improve my German! The grading system is completely unlike what I’ve know before. The “grades” are from one to five, one being the best, and five being the worst. Homework is assigned regularly but is rarely checked for. We don’t have tests, but small “reviews” where we receive a plus or minus. We have exams that determine most of our grades. Exams for the first semester are in October/November and February. I’m not sure when the exams are for the second semester. Also, each class only makes exams called “Schularbeit” in five subjects. For my class it is German, Spanish, English, Latin, and Maths. For the rest of the subjects, we have little reviews every day where two to three people get called up and quizzed.

Schools for the most part don’t have sports teams like in the States. One can attend a school that focuses on sports but those are special cases. During my first P.E. class, we played Gymnastics! It was so interesting because I had never experienced learning Gymnastics during P.E. before! The next class Gymnastics again, but for the last thirty minutes we could either play badminton or volleyball. I chose volleyball and it was so much fun! Other interesting fun facts are that in Austria, each class has their own classroom, and the teachers come to us. When the teacher comes in we all stand until he or she says “sit down”, well in German of course  I think it’s “setzen”. Each class is fifty minutes long and afterwards we have a five minute break. After the second class we have a fifteen minute break. I think that is most of the differences and exciting facts about my school and schools in Austria!

Since writing my first journal, I’ve visited different places. The Rotary Youth Exchange Program in Austria is really strong and plans fun outings for us. All in all there are about eighty of us I do believe, about 3/5 newbies and 2/5 oldies. “Newbies” and “oldies” are terms we use to classify exchange students. Because Austria accepts students in August and in January, we have two different groups of exchangers. Right now I am in the “newbie” category. A ton of people don’t like being referred to as a newbie, but I love it! Basically how it works is that the oldie exchange students living by you accept responsibility for you by teaching you about the city, the bus system, the trains, anything. It’s rather awesome and I don’t know what I would have done without my wonderful Linz oldies  Sadly, they will leave in January, and we will become oldies! Even though January means the half-way mark of my exchange (mahh ) I am actually looking forward to caring for my newbie.

From the sixteenth to the eighteenth of September all of the exchangers went to Tauplitz where we climbed a 3,000 meter mountain. The leaders said that it would take three hours to climb but then failed to mention that it took three hours only one way! Oiii, that was a long and painful hike but seriously worth it because the top of the mountain was absolutely beautiful! All of the exchange students were so tired that a bunch of us took a quick power nap! Then later that night we had a surprise! The Rotarians gave us torches and then we walked somewhere in the dark. Well actually, the Rotarians gave everyone else torches. I was running late (not a big surprise to those of you who know me) so when I finally got outside, no one was there. I could hear voices and see fire off in the distance but I was dumbfounded. I just decided to walk in the general direction of the noise. So as I was making my way in the pitch black all alone, I see something move and I think it’s some of the exchangers, so I go up and say “hey guys!” but really it turned out to be a herd of Cows! I was sooooo freaked out so then I quickened my pace and finally caught up with the humans hehe!

The next Rotary weekend was in Vienna (Wien) from the 16th-18th of October. It was loads of fun! We went to see “Guys and Dolls”, in German! I was actually rather bored because I didn’t understand most of it, but there was a couple in front of us who kept unnecessarily verbally harassing the exchange students so at least we got some form of entertainment. On Saturday we visited Parliament and it was so incredible to see how much Roman times and Greek Mythology had influenced the structures of the Parliament building, and just Vienna as a whole. Later that night we all ate dinner together and then went our separate ways to go out and enjoy ourselves…

The next day (Sunday), we continued are tour by riding around Vienna and stopping every now and then. My favorite part was this building that was made out of curves. The artist wanted to prove a point that beautiful buildings didn’t have to be made only with straight lines. I loved it! So after a fun yet tiring weekend, we headed back with the train. Oh, I don’t think I’ve talked about the train! Wow, this is something I know I’ll definitely miss so much! I feel like I’m going to Hogwarts every time I step on a train, it’s just so mysterious for me.

I have been taking a dance course with my school friends because at the end of this month we have a “Debutante Ball” which is literally translated as a debutant ball, but really they are not similar. In Austria, people socialize by going to balls, so it’s of high importance to at least know the different dances. It’s a part of the culture for students to learn in the 6th form. The whole class gets registered at a dance school. This is also the year that most teens start “going out”. Not in the romantic sense but as in going to clubs and such. After dance our whole class goes out, it’s wonderful  I’m not that good at dancing but I like to think that I am okay. It also helps to have a partner who can lead 😉

Two weekends ago my friend Sara and I made an excursion. It involved riding the Strassenbahn completely one way. It took us fifty minutes just to go one way, it was awesome! Finally when we reached our destination (solar city) we went to Spar (small grocery store) and bought goodies! Then we walked around a somewhat creepy town. What made it creepy was that barely anyone was outside and it was so quiet. I guess that’s what happens when you live by a really big city!

So this past weekend was Halloween! Halloween hasn’t been celebrated like in the US for too long, maybe only fifteen or twenty years…So I was invited to a Halloween party at my Rotary Counselor’s house. I made American chocolate chip cookies and a thank you and they really seemed to love them! It was really really fun but unfortunately my friend and I had to leave early for dance class. Afterwards, we went to a club/bar type place and then walked to Altstadt which is probably one of the most well known streets for teens in Linz because it’s home to Sega Bar which is a dance club place. I met up with my exchange friend, Sara Maslen, who is from Oregon, and we went to go eat Kebaps! No, I don’t mean Kebobs or anything that involves cut up meat on sticks; I’m talking about Turkish Kebaps. I think that Zach, another inbound in Austria from Florida, talked about this in his journal, but here in Linz we call them Kebaps. So anyways, what are these delicious things?? Well, basically they are some type of huge circular bread that has been cut and stuffed with meat, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and some type of white sauce. You can also get it spicy. So anyways, it’s a Friday night routine to go to the kebap place before going out. Now that it’s a routine, the kebap workers know me and so when I go they make me speak German with my American friend, well, more like “try” hehe.

Yes so yesterday it was my first time with that “sense of being Austrian”. For other exchangers, you either know what I’m talking about, or you will soon. For me, it didn’t last for too long, but regardless, I felt it. It started when I went to the city with my friend to buy my dress for the debutant ball. Afterwards, we went our separate ways, and I got on the Strassenbahn (a tram perhaps in English?). After a few minutes, it still wasn’t moving which was really odd because they run on a tight schedule. More and more people started getting off, so I decided to just walk to my bus stop. On my way I saw a huge crowd with banners and signs with German writing that I didn’t understand. At first I was really scared because I had always pictured protests to be violent. Nevertheless, I got out my camera, took a picture, and then proceeded to ask a guy what was going on. He said that in every town that had a university, the students were protesting because the money funds for university are going down and now students have to pay more. I think it was so amazing that tons of students were out in the streets in the cold weather doing a “demonstration” as they call it. So I started walking too. The signs were in German but they meant “Free education for free people!” Also, many of the students had whistles and clackers. We were chanting “wir sind hier und wir sind laud!” and then there was another part but I only know the translation to it. So basically in English it means “we are here and we are loud because you’re stealing our education”. Yes okay, so I’m not actually a student of a university here, but I can still relate. That’s why I joined in. Coming from the States where education is sooooo expensive, I know what it is like to think about how to financially manage college; it’s scary. I felt like such a part of the people because we were all together “demonstrating” for the same cause.

I remember when I first got here how I was so nervous to take the Strassenbahn or the buses because I didn’t know my way around. My first go at taking the bus went horribly wrong. My host mum said not to worry because if I couldn’t say it in German then people would understand English but whoa, she was way wrong. So I get off the Strassenbahn and make my way over to the bus stop but I don’t know which one to stand at because there are two going in opposite directions. I ask people in my best German where the bus that is going to Leonding is but no one understands me! Great! Then I resort to using English because I’m panicking. Lol But everyone I asked didn’t speak English either! Oii so finally I called my host mum and then I asked a stranger if he would talk with her; he said yes. Afterwards everything was fine  Now I know the bus system like the back of my hand, it’s wonderful! I told my host mom about it too and she said “remember when you were so nervous and I told you that in a little while we’d be laughing about it?” Well of course I didn’t remember that she had said that but now I’m laughing.

Yesterday I tried to speak “only German”, and I called it, “Nur Deutsch Tag” which basically means “only German day”. Unfortunately it didn’t work because I just am not that good yet. I still struggle with the language because the grammar is wild I think. I had always heard that English was so hard to learn but all of my Austrian friends say that German is way harder. The thing that gets me is the ending changes depending on the case. There are three main cases and there are different words that use each case. So there are so many different articles and adjective endings and such. Even though I am not fluent yet I speak about 75 % German with my family. I try in German and then if I don’t know it then they tell me how to say something. Also, my papa and brother will speak really fast and then my mama will translate it again slower in High German. My mama says though that my German really has improved the past few weeks and I think so too which makes me really happy. I haven’t had a dream in German yet unless you count this one scene in a random dream. So basically in my dream, this lady was talking to me in German and I responded in German as well but she was telling me the wrong things. For example in my dream the lady was saying that “Wie geht’s” really isn’t “How are you/How’s it going?” when it really is in German. I’ve decided to not count my “incorrect German” dream as my first dream in German.

I know that the applications were already due, so I wanted to congratulate all of the applicants! You’re one step closer to living your dream. Interviews are coming up, and hehe, they’re intense, but you’ll survive it if this is what you’re meant to do. If you get accepted, jump jump jump! This seriously has been such a great time of my life and I’ve been here barely three months. The application and interview process is the easiest bit so prepare yourself, but don’t fret because it really is all worth it. In the next few months you’ll be so excited about going but also dreading the next assignment from Al Kalter. But like I said before, it’s all worth it. RYE Florida, in my opinion, has one of the best programs. They prepare you and prepare you, and then some. Even though at the time it seems like hard and continuous work it’s all for your next year. When it feels like the work will never stop, believe me, it doesn’t really, but just that it changes. You go from studying about your host country and completing assignments for Rotary to living in your host country trying not to make a complete cultural dummy out of yourself and completing assignments for school. It’s all for the year that is supposed to be the best year of your life. The work never really lets up but you’ll have your support group of friends, family, Rotary, and exchange students from your home country and host country. Keep it going, future class of 2010-2011, it’ll be great!

Yes well now I’m really tired and I’ll go take a nap before getting ready for dance school! I’ll try and write more often from now on 

Tschüsi Bussi,


December 8 Journal

Hallo! I didn’t even realize that today was my fourth month anniversary in Austria until my friend sent me an SMS! It’s been going by so fast, it’s crazy! A bunch of things have happened since the last time I wrote…

At the beginning of November my really good friends who are about my parent’s age visited me from England. It was really fun showing them around my city and impressing them with my German (which is really not all that impressive). My host mama cooked dinner for them on Saturday and we had a really nice delicious meal.

The next uber exciting event was my debutant ball. After two months of dance school we finally had our ball. It was in the nicest ballroom in Linz, overlooking the “Landstrasse”, which is one of the main streets in Linz. I was so nervous but when we actually started to dance all of my nerves left me. I felt so special dancing a traditional dance that my own host mama danced when she was sixteen. Also that weekend I went to my first “Matura Ball” which is similar to a prom except that the music consists of ballroom styles.

I’ve taken two “Schularbeits” which are exams; Spanish and English. I received a 2 out of 5 (B) in Spanish and a 1 (A) in English. The tests are pretty much at the same level as I’m used to except for the grading. To get an A one can only make two mistakes. This seemed really hard but it forced me to study a good week prior to my test, something I’m not accustomed to. I really tried because I wanted my host parents to be proud of me. Even though I only take two out of the five schularbeits, I still get a feeling of achievement when I receive my good marks because I know that my hard work has paid off.

My German has gotten so much better but just when I think that I’m seriously improving I have a major setback. I will go the day feeling really good about my German and then I’ll get home and “bam!” I don’t understand a thing. This is also because there are so many different dialects. I’ve started to pick up on some of the dialect and my host sister makes fun of me and says I must learn “high German”.

This past Saturday my host mama, aunt, and I made Thanksgiving for our two families and my school friends. It was tons of fun because some of the food was unfamiliar to my family and friends. Two of my friends had never mashed potatoes so they got to try and they loved mashing them! My host mama’s birthday was on Sunday and whoa, that was not a good day. I was supposed to get up and eat breakfast with everyone at 9, but I ended up oversleeping. I didn’t set my alarm because I assumed that my host mama would wake me up since sometimes she wakes me up for school or other occasions. Well I was wrong. Exchangers: Don’t Assume! I ended up waking around 10:45 ish to an empty house except for my friend who had spent the night. I didn’t know where my host parents had gone! I called my mama and she said they were at the Advent fair. I was uber upset that day because not only had I missed my host mama’s birthday breakfast, but I also probably embarrassed my host parents in front of my host aunt’s family. I felt so ashamed that I had missed my mama’s birthday breakfast because I thought that she’d wake me up for it 

Also this past month I’ve become aware of a problem…me. speaking. English. Because there are two other native English speakers in my school I’ve become accustomed to hanging out with them during breaks and lunch. Also there are about ten other exchangers in my city. Some exchangers like this but I’ve slowly realized that it’s interfering with my German progression and my friend-making. For those of you who will be venturing out next year to your new countries, keep in mind that a familiar accent or face is comforting, but your first few months shouldn’t be comforting. If you don’t step out of your comfort zone then you can’t grow. I’ve realized that the hard way by starting off so excited about having exchangers in my city. Now I’m doubly trying to make more friends and speaking German with the other exchange students.

I suppose that is it for now. I’m really looking forward to the holidays because I love spending time with my family, especially my cousin Philip who is eleven. When I was his age I tried to make the weirdest laughs so the other night we had a laughing competition. Something rather immature for an almost 17-year old but what the heck, he’s my cousin! In one day I went from not knowing the kid to having a tickle fest with him. I can’t wait for a whole skiing week with his family and mine in February!

Und neues Austauchueler, viel Spass! Nachstes Jahr wird die bestes Jahr von deines Liebes sind!

Liebe Gruesse,

March 18 Journal

Wow there is so much to talk about; it seems crazy that it’s only been two months since the last time I wrote because time has been literally flying! Sadly, I’ve passed the half way mark; just like almost everyone else…This really makes me sad thinking about only 5 months left. I can’t imagine having to leave all of my friends, exchange students, and family….

Since the last time I wrote, the winter holidays have come and gone. Schools in Austria don’t get out until the 23rd of December. I found this really hard because I was used to getting out the week before. Although I ended up liking this because there wasn’t really any pre-Christmas boredom that I usually experience. So, here in Austria, the 24th is Christmas or otherwise known as Weihnachsten. I woke up to a “normal” day. My grandma and uncle were also at my house. So then we had a nice lunch around two with lots of food. Later we all got changed. This felt really awkward because I had never celebrated Christmas or opened presents with nice clothes on! Haa But the whole setting was so beautiful because the living room was lit with candles from the Christmas tree, and then everyone looked really nice with their spiffy clothes. There is a story like “Santa Claus” called Christ Kind which means “Christ Child”. Basically, while the children eat dinner, Christ Kind sneaks into the living room and lights the candles on the trees, and puts all of the presents around the room. Then when he’s finished, right before he flies away, he rings a bell. My host family set the whole thing up for me; it was really really sweet and nice that they let me experience the Christ Kind even though we all know it’s just for the kids. So then we all gave each other double-kisses as we wished each other “Frohe Weihnachsten” or “Schöne Weihnachsten”. Then my host brother, Ossi, started opening his presents. We all waited until he was finished, and then it was my turn. I had so many because two families were giving me presents. Then it was my host parent’s turn. After opening presents, we ate dinner. Well, more like we tried: D The fondue wasn’t working, so then we ended up just cooking the meat regularly.

A few days later we visited my host aunt, who lives near Schladming. We only stayed for a day but it was really fun because some of the family went skiing and then I went sliding down the little hills: D That night, my host brother, host cousin, and I all went to a club where we danced, which was naturally tons of fun! Then on Monday we came home and Monday night I went to a friend’s birthday party, so I was out again. Then things slowed down a wee bit until Wednesday, which was when I started to get excited about New Year’s Eve, or otherwise known here as Silvester. My host brother and I each had a few friends over for a party, and then around eleven we went to a Club called Empire: D It’s one of my favorite clubs.

Waiting for it to arrive,

No one around, only the feeling of serenity,

As if world peace had finally come.

I’ve accomplished the terrifying red beast,

Only to find out that I must do it again,

What with my fear of tragedy,

I slowly manage to totter along.

I repeat it once more,

Although this time is different,

I have the comfort of peace,

I can think, I can feel, I am alive.

Although this poem can relate to many things, I wrote it to display my feelings about skiing. I skied for the first time here in Austria, and it was amazing. Some of the best and happiest moments I have ever experienced were on the slopes. Having said that, I was completely scared. The easiest runs were my favorite, but we had to go on Medium (red) to keep up with the better skiers in the group. I was scared out of my mind, even though I could actually ski properly down the slopes. In my poem, I am trying to describe how there are things in life that can frighten you, but you can always find peace with it and with yourself. My time of peace during my skiing adventures was when we were on the chair lifts. It was only you and the nature, so beautiful and quiet. The trees covered with snow, and the mountains displayed right in front of my eyes…There is nothing like it. Also, when the weeklong vacation was over, I had so much gratitude for my ski teacher, for pushing me to overcome my fears. I’m going skiing thankfully again in March with Rotary, and I cannot wait!

Right now I’m looking out the train window, witnessing the scene of a week’s worth of constant snow. It is absolutely beautiful. I already know the winter will be one of the things I will miss a lot. I am heading now to Salzburg and then off to England to visit really great family friends: D

I should probably stop writing now because I have to get off soon. I hope all of the exchange students are learning about their new host country and language! I wish you all the best! Schöne Ferien!

Danke schön Rotary. Diese Jahre ist die beste meines Lebens! 😀


May 9 Journal

The last time I wrote, it was the middle of March and I was awaiting the arrival of my parents. It seems I’m usually waiting for something when I write my Rotary journals.

My parents visited me from the States at the end of March. At first I didn’t know how my families would get along, but they seemed to really like each other. My parents were in Europe for about a week and a half, but only in Austria with me for five days. I was so nervous waiting for them at the Vienna Airport with my host mom, I didn’t know what I would make of the situation. When I saw them coming through the doors, everything that I had felt at the beginning of my exchange came rushing back. After introductions, our first stop was the Schönbrunn, a summer castle/palace home on the outskirts of Vienna. Later that night my host dad drove us around the city, showing us just a quick view of the things we’d see the next few days. The next day, Thursday, we went to Hallstatt and Gmunden, two picturesque Austrian villages. My best friend, Sara, came with us too. She’s from the States as well, Oregon to be exact. We were going to take my parents to a salt mine inside of a mountain, but unfortunately it was still closed. We looked around the town, and stopped for lunch at a restaurant on a beautiful lake.

That night my host mom made a delicious meal, like usual, and my parents met my host brother, Ossi. After dinner Ossi and my host mom showed my parents the scrapbooks of when Ossi went to Argentina on exchange. Friday was “view my city and school” day, so we went to the school’s Easter Mass. Afterwards my mom and I went to a grocery store and I showed her my usual walk home from the bus stop after school. The rest of the day we went into the city and at night we ate Austria’s famous Schnitzel. On Saturday, my parents, Ossi and I went to Salzburg by train, where we walked around a castle and ate lunch in the city. That night we went out for dinner at a really elegant restaurant with a great view of Linz. After dinner, my host mom drove me into the city so that I go to one of my best friend’s 19th Birthday party.

The next day, Sunday, was our last day together. We got an early start and drove to Vienna. We went on a bus tour of the inner city and after we walked around the main street and went to St. Stephen’s Dome. For a midday snack we went to a café. After walking around a little more, it was time to drive to the airport. Saying goodbye felt weird. Of course my parents (and host mom) were sad, both inside and outside. Beforehand I thought that I would cry, but surprisingly I didn’t. Because of the fact I had already said goodbye to them once, the second time wasn’t as hard. It took me a few days to realize that I missed them heaps. I think about my parents now and I wonder how they ever let me go. I know my parents love me so much and I’m finally starting to realize that it’s not just Rotary and my host family and people here in Austria I need to be thanking. It’s my friends and especially my family, the people who first said, “Okay April, if you really want to do this, then do it”. All of my friends who supported me before and continue to support me now. I ramble on and on about my life here and how great it is, and they listen patiently, knowing how I get attached to places and people, and knowing that when I get home, they will be the ones I turn to in my time of need. Up until this point, I really haven’t felt extremely homesick this year. I believe I’m at the point in my exchange where I see that it’s almost over. I see that I have two months left, but those two months look so far away when I imagine being home again. When I picture having to leave my country and my family plus friends, those two months are just ticking away, and I have no way to stop it.

For Easter break my host family went to the Mountain House where we went skiing. I love love love skiing. I ski really slowly, and I look as if something is wrong with my back, but I love it. I’m usually scared, but the feelings of flying (slow in other people’s standards hehe) down the mountain having a screaming spasm, then finally making it to the bottom are such indescribable feelings. Then, on the ski lift back up, I have a laugh attack because I think of what I would look like as I slowly totter down the hill, screaming. The actual Easter holiday here was really weird for me. I’ve never missed an Easter Church service except for last year, and we were on vacation so it was a little different. Here we just didn’t go. Instead we had lunch with my host Grandma and Uncle. That night, I went to the “Osterball”, which I had been dreaming about since this time last year. My Easter break was fun, but it reminded me of things I missed back in the States.

At the end of April, I went to Assisi, Italy on a school trip. My Rotary club generously paid for it too which was an added bonus. I had never been to Italy, so I was super excited. We stayed at a hotel in Assisi, which is a holy city in the Tuscany province. One of the men who ran the front desk and kitchen had similar features as my dad. Even my friends were like, “yeah, he does look like him”. I thought it was really funny, because one of my friends said that my dad looked Italian. It was weird being in Italy without my parents because my mom is a Reverend and my dad is basically a wine connoisseur, pretty much two big things Italy is famous for; Churches and Wine. Before leaving, I learned a phrase that meant “I’m a girl” but besides that I knew practically nothing. Upon arriving, I realized Italian is one of the most beautiful languages I have ever heard. I picked up many of the words fast because of my Spanish studies. Walking into a café and not knowing how to communicate reminded me of when I first came to Austria. I don’t consider myself excellently fluent in German, but I am definitely proud of how much I’ve learned.

Some of the places we visited were Siena and Perugia. Both were really beautiful, but my favorite part was this special drum line type of thing that I was able to witness. Every year there is a festival at the beginning of May, so a week before this all of the men from the town get together and play huge drums as they walk through the narrow streets of the town. As they progress deeper into the town, the community comes out and watches. Many of the town members have the same symbols or emblems on sweatshirts and pants. This was my favorite part, because I felt like I was really experiencing the culture. I was blown away at the fact that grown men were coming out late at night to play the drums for the town. The culture seemed so alive and passionate, and I was definitely jealous. Italy has left an everlasting impact on me and I hope to learn the language and eventually return to visit.

This whole year I’ve been struggling with my listening comprehension of German. I can understand a lot better when I read or write, compared to listening. This past week at school I wasn’t even paying attention in my Spanish class when I realized that it was sinking in. My Spanish teacher was rambling on about our homework and I understood everything. I know that doesn’t sound like such an exciting thing considering I’ve been here for nine months, but my Spanish teacher speaks one of the most intense dialects I’ve ever heard, so understanding her pretty much made so happy and proud of myself. The next day I had English class, and my teacher was talking to us in German. I was going crazy because I understood what she was saying without trying. For the most part, I still think in English. I’m fooling myself if I think that I’ll be talking to myself in German, just because of the fact that there are three other exchangers at my school who speak English, so every day I always speak it. I do however, say weird things in German or count in German. One time I was in the shower and I was thinking about an essay I had to write in German and I started asking myself questions in German. That was accomplishing. This past Friday, I was talking to my exchange friend at a grocery store, and this lady came up to us. She asked us if we spoke German and we said yep. Then she asked us if we could help her pick out shampoo because she didn’t know any German. That was when I realized that I’m proud of my German knowledge. I might not be fluent but I understand most of the things I hear and read now.

This coming Wednesday, our Europe Tour starts. I’m beyond excited for this legendary event. All of my best friends are going, and even though it’s my last Rotary event here in Austria, it’ll probably be the most fun out of them all. Three weeks with my best friends, taking in Europe. What more can I ask? Hehe. I’ve been trying to catch up on some other languages like French and Italian, but I’ll just have to wing it.

About a month ago, a few of my friends said they were excited to go home, and I couldn’t understand their thinking, but now I do. I’ve missed my friends and family, and I’m finally coming to terms that it won’t make Austria any less meaningful if I admit that I’m excited to return back to my home land. I know that as soon as I get home, I’ll wish I was back here, going out with my friends on Friday nights, and sitting through my boring classes. Nevertheless, I’m excited to feel the comfort of my family, my friends, my home, and my old routines. Two months stand in my way. Two months are left. I have two months until I can see everyone again, but I only have two months to live my exchange to the fullest with the knowledge that I don’t know when I’ll see my Austrian country again.

Austin Carroll
2009-10 Outbound to Italy
Hometown: Vero Beach, Florida
School: St. Edwards School
Sponsor: Vero Beach Rotary Club, District 6930, Florida
Host: Cagliari Nord Rotary Club, District 2080, Italy

Austin- Italy

Austin’s Bio

My name’s Austin, yes and I am a girl. I currently attend St. Edwards School and am in grade 9. I’m a 14 year old girl living in the Alcatraz of the Treasure Coast just waiting to be set free to Italy. I can’t thank Rotary enough for this experience. I don’t remember a time when I hadn’t wanted to be a foreign exchange student and now thanks to Rotary I’ve got my wish. Italy is going to be amazing no matter where I end up.

I am unique in more ways than my name. For as in the words of Romeo and Juliet, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” I love to play around with video editing software and with my video camera capturing the world’s beauty and at times lack thereof. Usually I’m in two plays each time someone asks me, “What play are you doing now?” Also I love writing stories, poems, and songs. I live and breathe anything remotely creative. This includes videography, photography, singing, writing, dancing, acting, reading, scrapbooking, anything.

I’m not afraid to express my opinions openly; I can’t just stand idly by while an injustice is happening, it’s not who I am. I pride myself in knowing who I am. Once when I was younger I took the first page in my journal and wrote “who I am” sentences. I was only half way done when I ran out of room.

Often I tend to express myself through lyrics of songs or quotes from famous writers, this is just a warning for all you people reading this blog. I love music. My iPod goes everywhere with me, it’s filled with songs; Broadway musicals, Prince, the Jonas Brothers, and others. The music I listen to defines who I am; a mix of a little bit of everything waiting to be filled up with new experiences.

I’ve probably forgotten half of the things I need to tell you about but that can wait for later.

“They say people come into our lives for a reason bringing something we must learn and we are led to those who help us most to grow, if we let them. And we help them in return. Who can say if I have been changed for the better? But because I knew you I have been changed for good.” –“For Good” Wicked

“A presto!” Which in Italian means “See You Later!”

 Austin’s Journals

September 14 Journal

7 days I’ve been here. In this country. And let me tell you this; it doesn’t feel like it. Not one bit.

It feels like I’ve been here at least a month. At first I couldn’t understand what anyone was saying. Just call it the American Way; we just want to hear our own language and not anyone else’s. But don’t worry I got over that real quickly. I kinda had too. My Host Parents don’t speak English at all. And If I really needed to ask for something ,and they couldn’t understand when I said it in broken Italian. They would bring up my Host Dad’s Secretary. At least that’s what we did the first day.

Now it’s a week in, and I can understand about three-fourths of what everyone’s saying. Unfortunately I’m still not that confident in my Italian to actually form compete sentences , but I’m working on it. At least one lesson in my Italian workbook everyday and struggling though the Italian version of Twilight. Which I don’t remember as well as I thought I did when I forked over 18 euros for it.

I have actually made a couple friends my first week here. All of them thirteen year old boys. You may be asking yourself why I’m hanging out with all thirteen year old boys and that’s a good question. Michael, a fellow foreign exchange student from Florida who has been in Cagliari three times as long as I have (don’t worry, we do speak in Italian unless he’s explaining an Italian word), and his host brother Luca have taken it upon themselves to show me the city. Which according to a thirteen-year-old is taking the bus to the arcade, inviting all his fellow thirteen-year-old friends, and playing there for hours. But don’t worry I have seen other parts of my city.

The police station I live at is right next to a bunch of winding streets compete with old buildings and tons of shops. Yes, that’s right, I did just say I live at a police station. And no, it’s not because my visa was denied and I’m waiting for an armed escort to take me back to the United States. I do actually live in a flat on the fourth floor of the police station . My Host Dad is the head of the entire police force in Sardinia (which is a huge island), so he has a lot of power and we get to stay in the police station. If you’re thinking the police station is huge, with its own two-story high wall, spikes on the balconies, a huge armored gate where you have to be on camera and buzzed up to get in, and retractable shutters on all the windows … you’d be absolutely right. It’s pretty awesome.

Anyway so in-between learning every single Italian curse word (and some in other languages), basically a given when hanging out with thirteen-year-old boys in any country, I actually got to see the beach. The beach here is really different from Florida. To start with there is a ton of people there, not so much in Vero Beach, and there is a rock side and a sand side. Of course the boys head to the rock side (where no one is) so they can go catch octopuses. They literally had scuba masks and spent over an hour searching for octopuses so they could catch and eat them. Not Michael though, I don’t think he shares in their passion for octopuses.

I also have been to the mall quite a few times. I know what you’re thinking: Is their mall any different from the American malls? A bit…but only a bit. First of all, it’s less formal and clean. Like in American malls you would never find a cart in the middle of the walkway selling kind of explicit t-shirts, and they have giant superstores (think Best Buy only more Walmarty) attached to their malls. There’s also something very strange in the stores that I feel the need to point out: in almost every store there is at least one naked mannequin, even in clothing stores. And no, I don’t get it. Maybe I’m just a stupid native American but until now I was pretty sure the point of a mannequin was to show off the clothes. I guess I was wrong?

I have also experienced the Italian cinema. Which again is pretty much the same as ours only they are only open at night and have assigned seats in the theatre. So yes the Italian movie theaters sell greasy popcorn and cokes just like in the US.

Over this last weekend, I went with my Host Family to see their friends in North Sardinia. I was looking forward to seeing their version of “country” (I live in a big city) and, let’s be honest, get away from all the thirteen-year-old boys. Well during this weekend I learned two things. The first thing was, that the Sardinian version of “country” is a Northern-California-like Italian villa on a mountain overlooking the sea and their own personal vineyard and swimming pool. And the second thing I learned was that somehow I can’t get away from these barely teen Italian boys – my host parents’ friends have a thirteen-year-old son.

In the small town about 4 kilometers away, they were having a small festival for the feast day of Santa Maria. The cool part about the town was it has small streets curving around a mountain with a castle on top! A CASTLE! I’ve always wanted to see a castle in real life and now I have! It seriously was an amazing experience. The festival took place in all these tiny streets with people everywhere; there were some flea market type stands set up, and then there were families with huge tables eating dinner right in the cobblestone streets. After pretty much getting lost in the huge maze of streets we went to a pizzeria called Paradise, where I had my first real foreign exchange mess up. Was anyone else aware that in low-light the plural version of man and woman in Italian look very similar so that the I at the end of man could be mistaken for a E? So as you might have guessed I walked into the men’s bathroom instead of the women’s, which was a whole lot nicer than the women’s was. I’m just saying. I don’t think anyone saw except of course…the thirteen-year-old boy. Who then pointed it out to everyone at the table. Can’t wait till school starts…I need friends my age and gender.

Yes, school has not started yet. Italian school apparently starts the latest of any school in the world. I start school on Thursday and from what I can tell the Italian school system works like this: school goes six days a week from 8:15 to 1:30. Around 1:30 everything in the city closes down (even most restaurants and the police station) and everyone goes home and has lunch. Quite different from the USA where I would either have lunch at school or just grab a bite to eat at Subway. Then in the afternoon (if you don’t have a job to get back to) you either nap, study, or do an after-school activity with the city. I think I’m going to be enrolled in volleyball but I’m not positive. I’m going to be in level two of the Italian high school located across the street from the police station I’m staying at. It’s a social school, which means I’ll be studying psychology and what not. Due to the subject of the school it does not attract many guys, which means it is an almost all girls-school. Even so I am really looking forward to starting school; weird as it maybe I did really enjoy school in the states and I’m really looking for a challenge. School in another language should be just that.

I’ll update again later. Thank you again Rotary.



September 25 Journal

This last week and a half I have got in trouble with the law, started a trend and watched it die, been stared at, watched about six movies in Italian, seen sights that were built by the Romans, and eaten snails. Basically a normal week for a foreign exchange student. But first things first:

“Then the smoke engulfed my throat sending me on fast-paced race though time and space. The porthole in front of me closing every second I couldn’t breathe. The coughs getting louder and more fanatic until I could no longer speak.”

Okay…so that’s a bit dramatic. Okay…so it could be right out of a J. R. R. Tolkien novel. But that’s what has been happening to me the last couple of weeks. Along with a lot of other less important and less ironic events that I will get to in just a moment.

Now you may think the dramatic paragraph is a metaphor for something like say…not knowing the language. Although I will probably do something like that in a blog entry in the near future, no that’s not it. It’s completely really exaggerated truth. For the past one and a half weeks (I’ve been here about 2 and a half) I have been suffering from a very sore throat, that at times won’t allow me to speak in even the modest Italian I know. Also if you have never explained to someone who doesn’t understand you why you can’t speak, let me tell you it’s very difficult and not something I’d like to repeat.

I’ve been doing much research concerning my sore throat and I have come to a slightly concerning conclusion. I seem to have a semi-violent reaction to second-hand smoke … who knew? Now if you have been to Italy you probably wouldn’t know this (unless of course you watched those slightly popular Mafia movies) but everybody in Italy smokes (except my Host Parents). All the time. We literally have vending machines that dispense cigarettes to any civilian willing to pay up to 4 euros. And I’m here to tell all the people that say the percentage of teenage smokers is going down, to come to Sardinia. Because the only percentage I’m seeing is the 2% of teenagers that don’t smoke in my school. If I wasn’t dying from second-hand smoke I would totally take this time to appreciate this extraordinary slice of Italian culture. But since I am dying, let’s move on to more beautiful aspects of the Italian/ Sardinia world.

Even with the sore throat, it has been an eventful week and a half since I last updated. I have not only watched both Snow White and Harry Potter (1) in Italian, I have watched Shrek (Donkey + Italian accent = Funniest Movie Ever)! I should probably start from a couple days after I last updated though, I’ll get back to Shrek.

Michael, Luca, and I went to the mall last Wednesday to celebrate their last day of Summer (mine was Friday since I didn’t start school till Saturday.) So there I was; a confused foreign exchange student that barley speaks the language, trying to tackle the Cagliari bus system. So I had just got on the bus twenty seconds before, I hadn’t even dug my ticket out of my wallet yet when all of a sudden the bus stopped and the Transportation Enforcers got on. Luca gabs my ticket out of my hand and high-tails it to the back of the bus and forces it in the slot. Then he ran back and gave it to me, sweet innocent me. Remember that…sweet innocent me. Of course the transportation guy who was checking everyone’s ticket sees this, and then like an evil vulture swooping in on his prey, he was at my side in an instant. Then he checks my ticket, his watch, and then pulls out a pink pad. I’ve never seen pink look more intimidating. Then he launches into a hugely elaborate rapid Italian speech that I understood only two words of: Passport or Identification. Hesitantly I hand him my Florida Permit, then without missing a beat he launches into another rapid Italian speech. I just look at him like he’s crazy. Michael then decides to pop in explaining that I’m American and I don’t speak Italian. Thanks Michael for that. Glad you have so much faith in me. So to put a long story short the bus ride was the most expensive bus ride I have ever taken … 21 euros. And the worst part? I used a whole bus ticket also. Does anyone else find it very ironic that I got in trouble with the law when my host Dad is the head of the Sardinia police department?

I have also met another Rotary Youth Exchange student in Cagliari. Her name is Katie and she’s from Hawaii. It’s great to talk to someone from a far-away place that I’ve never been, it’s almost like she’s from a different country that happens to speak the same language. Michael, Katie, our Host Moms, and I met up at the park last Thursday for some bonding. The park was kind of a cross between a broken down carnival, a central-park want to be, a bird sanctuary, a national-park, and a playground. Yes … I am still wondering how they managed to accomplish all that also.

Friday night my host parents and I went to what I assume was supposed to be a Dinner Party. But it was at nine o’clock at night (normal dinner time for Italians) and all we had was Italian sandwiches. The party was thrown by a family who I believe works and is friends with my host Dad. Of course all the guests included: their cousins, sisters-in-law, nieces, nephews, grandparents, brothers-in-law of their cousins. Basically their whole extended family which again, did include a fourteen year old boy. Seriously ironic? There was also a girl that was my sister in Florida’s age who I enjoyed talking to. She wanted to ask me about all the Disney Channel stars and what was Disney World like. When the fruit was served, watermelon and grapes, I made an off-sided comment that in America we have seed-less fruit. Then my half of the room went quiet. Apparently I had just blown everyone’s minds. So, Americans, if you’re reading this, don’t take your seedless fruit for granted, in other countries they can’t just pop a grape in their mouths like you can.

Then Saturday was the First Day of School. I think I was the last person in Rotary Youth Exchange Florida to start school. I showed up the first day in a bright pink shirt, green converses, blond hair, and a purple backpack. To say I stood out in the all brunette, belt-wearing, designer-handbag-carrying, dark-colored-clothing school would be a compete understatement. The first day of school was crazy, I seriously had no idea what was happening. In honor of the first day of school, we sat in a random classroom (that apparently wasn’t ours) for about 3 hours with some random teachers that would come in and ask us about our summer and about the American who could only understand what they were saying when they were talking about her, Harry Potter, or French. Then school was let out. I at least got to meet my classmates though. We have one guy in our entire class – all the rest is girls aged 13 to 17. I still have yet to figure out how that works out.

Second day of school was even more confusing since we changed our classroom and apparently half my class changed some of their style. I walked in thinking I would blend in with my black shirt, white belt, and skinny jeans. It took about three seconds for me to count the number of pink shirts in my class … six. Safe to say, I didn’t fit in to my own style. Typical. Everything was back to normal by Tuesday of the last week but I’m still confused. Did I start a trend or was everyone just trying to confuse me? These are the questions foreign exchange students must ask themselves.

On either Monday or Tuesday I’m going to start playing Volleyball (or Volly as the Italians call it) after school, which I’m really excited about. I had a very confusing time trying to buy volleyball shoes the other day. Apparently the sizes are really different. Not only does six become thirty-eight but the American sizes on the tag are always wrong. I’m not usually a six in the US but that’s what the shoe that fit is marked as. Strange.

I have tried some interesting dishes lately including pig’s skin, pig head, and snails. Luckily I took a deep breath and tried them. Since I’ve never been that fond of pork (that isn’t bacon or hot dogs) I didn’t particularly enjoy the pig’s skin or pig head, but the snails actually tasted a bit like shrimp. Maybe I would actually eat more than four of them if they weren’t served in a big pot with blood-red sauce and their shells still attached, so at first glance I wouldn’t think “Omg my Host Parents are murderers and they eat their victim’s eyeballs.” Okay so I’ll admit to watching a bit too much horror movies in my spare time.

Last Sunday I visited some of the most famous historical sites of Cagliari. We started with the Roman Amphitheater and then worked our way up the mountain. In Ancient Cagliari almost everything was built on a mountain (or I guess you could say large hill) in the middle of the city, this includes the Castello (fancy Italian word for Castle) which is located at the top. The Castello is really a big open area surrounded by large ancient walls and about four towers, then inside it is a mess of cobblestone streets and buildings jutting out of the walls. Just like every single other Italian street, even down to the parking problem. As we were making our way up to the Castello, we passed the Jail, which not only was located on prime real estate looking over a very nice park and a small church on a hill. It had an sea-front view and a beautiful view of all of Cagliari’s monuments and beauty. If that wasn’t enough, your loved ones could drive right up to the church on the hill, honk the horn of their car, and talk to you in your cell (which we saw three people doing) . So it’s safe to say if that fine thing doesn’t get settled I hope they put me there.

Well that is basically what happened the last few weeks in Italy. As a send-off I have included a special quote said by someone who I admire very much: “Life is full of beauty. Notice it. Notice the bumble bee, the small child, and the smiling faces. Smell the rain, and the feel of the wind. Live your life to the fullest potential, and fight for your dreams.” -Ashley Smith

Hey that isn’t the Shrek quote! Oh well. Thank you so much Rotary for allowing me to live my life to the fullest potential and fight for my dreams.

October 25 Journal

So I haven’t updated in a while, that’s probably apparent. A lot has happened… more than I can fit in my humorous pages-long blogs.

On the weekends my Host Family usually travel to North Sardinia and stay with their parents or friends, I’ve had a lot of interesting experiences on these trips so I have decided to dedicate this blog to telling you all about them.

This past weekend we made our way to a small town in the middle of the mountains of central Sardinia. And it’s safe to say that I, the petite innocent Florida girl whose sister wears sweaters in movie theaters, was not prepared for the large drop in temperature between the coast and the mountains. I should be truthful…my host mom had warned me, but did I believe her? That would be a no…just like when the boy cried wolf to many times that they didn’t believe him when it was true. My Host Mom had been making me wear sweaters for about two weeks prior to this in Cagliari, when it wasn’t cold. The good news is I still brought a coat anyway so at least I didn’t freeze to death.

We stayed with my Host Mom’s dad, and brother, and nephew, and sister in law, and a whole bunch of people that I don’t think really stayed in the flat with us but were just around a lot. I seriously couldn’t tell you who exactly who lived in the flat, there were that many people all the time. I heard that Italians had big families but I didn’t know the half of it until we went to my Host Cousin’s Confirmation. If you’re not Catholic you might not know what Confirmation is – Confirmation is one of the seven sacraments Catholic’s pass though during their religious upbringing. Usually it takes place when you are 11-15 and it is thought that in this sacrament you receive the Holy Spirit. Also in Italy, it is a very very very big deal.

The day started out at 10 am when mass started. The entire church was packed with people since all the closest family members came to the ceremony (grandparents, parents, sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles.) I have never been to a mass that long before in my life, it lasted two hours. That’s longer than Midnight Mass on Christmas (which isn’t really that long but feels like forever…since it’s at midnight). The bishop (who looked like he could easily be a stand-in for the Pope) insisted on having a nice conversation with every single fifty-something kids, which might explain why it took so long. For the rest of the mass he just sat on the biggest chair in the back with two alter servers that were unlucky enough to be the ones to stand up and hold his hat and gold staff for two hours.

So after his Confirmation I heard we were going to lunch. Lunch on Sunday in Italy usually lasts for hours so I was prepared for a extremely long lunch probably with my host cousin and a couple more family members. But boy….I was wrong.

The family rented out half of this huge restaurant, and then the guests just kept arriving. Family members, friends, cousins, second cousins twice removed; They were all there. I couldn’t believe it. I can’t even imagine feeding that many people much less being related to all of them. There were at least 70 people there, probably more. What was even harder to comprehend was the amount and quality of the gifts he was getting. Designer watches, brand-new digital cameras, high-tech photo frames, more watches. All I got for my Confirmation was two cross necklaces and a couple Christian bookmarks.

Here let’s take a few moments to compare our Confirmations. He had all his close family members at his Confirmation. I had: my dad, my sister, and my dad’s best friend. Not exactly killing the seat count. My mom didn’t even come…she was at the first youth exchange orientation, which conveniently was the same weekend. Ironic how it has all come full-circle isn’t it?

So now lets move on to the North-East Sardinia visit that was about two weeks before this:

Before I go on with this blog post I would like to say I knew IT was going to happen. I didn’t know when and I didn’t know in which bathroom, but I knew it was going to happen. If you haven’t guessed it yet I had another bathroom incident.

So it started off as a completely innocent day on a trip to North Sardinia about 2 weeks ago. I mean we got up, ate Nutella on bread for breakfast, and then met about twenty of my host parents’ close friends who then hiked up a mountain to a dark scary cave that was at one time filled with Dead People. So all in all a pretty unsuspicious day. Never did I once expect the terror the day would have in store for me.

Before lunch and after we successfully concluded our mountain trek to the great cavemen’s and water-cult worshiper’s dwellings, I decided I needed to go to the bathroom. Italian lunches on Sunday usually last anywhere from two to four hours depending on the amount of talking, so you can see why I would want to go the bathroom before a meal (if you leave right before a course you miss out on all the good stuff since Italian food is served around the table not individually).

So innocently I made my way to the Bathroom following all the other ladies. There were three stalls and I walked into the last one. Italians use keys to lock their doors, so like I have done a million times before at numerous other bathrooms, I turned the key to lock the door. I really should have just held it.

After I’ve done my business I reach for the key and try to turn it, and if you haven’t guessed it already, who’s the stupid American that got locked in a bathroom? That’s right, Me. Scared I reached for the door handle, which of course didn’t budge. In America this would be no problem, someone would just alert the owner of the house who would have an extra key (or at least tell you what to do with the key jammed). But you see we’re in Italy, where I had never felt the need to learn phrases like “Turn the Key to your right.” Or “Please try to Ninja kick the door with all your strength.” I mean seriously, Rosetta Stone, what gives?

So anyway I was standing behind the bathroom door trying to at least pull the key out of the socket while about 15 Italian ladies are all shouting different things at me from the other side of the door in Italian. All I could think was ‘Why do things like this always happen to me?’ I mean all the other foreign exchange students write about how homesick they are and what amazing things they’ve done, and then I write about being stuck in a bathroom. I think we all know who is really exploring the culture.

To make a really simple story, that I could drag into an entire blog, shorter: I finally got out. Because if I didn’t I would be writing this blog from a small bathroom in North Sardinia, nah I’m just kidding. I would have been lifted out though the tiny window eventually. Finally someone realized I couldn’t understand anything they were saying, and came around to get the key from the small window. Then after repetitively trying to jam the key into the outside key hole, I finally got out. So I didn’t end up like the dead cavemen in the cave after all. Which speaking of, I should probably get back to

The cave we went into used to be an archaeologist site, and way before that it sheltered cavemen type people and served as a hide-out for the water cult tribe (whose village we also visited just a short 15 min walk away). About the whole dead people thing, they’ve found ancient bones in the cave. It’s not a murder scene, even though that cave was so dark it could have been used in a horror movie. It’s also up a very steep mountain climb, which I am proud to say I completed holding a glass and can of coke in two hands.

Why did I have a glass and a can of coke in my hands? It can best be explained in the words of Tim Parks in the book ‘An Englishman in Verona’: “While Italians usually seem to like foreigners, the foreigners they like most are the ones who know the score, the ones who have caved in and agreed that the Italian way of doing things is best…There is an order to follow in all things; follow it, even when it borders on the superstitious and ritualistic.” Which means when ever you have a can or a bottle of coke you need to pour it into a glass to drink it. Also whenever you have shrimp pasta, you always put the shrimp in the pasta sauce with the shells still on them. When I asked why you did this the only explanation they could give me was, ‘you don’t want anyone else touching your food.’ So they prefer to get their hands dripping in pasta sauce while trying to peel their own shrimp?

Other than those fun weekend trips, life is slowly starting to turn into…well life. Routine. Boredom. I’m even getting used to drinking coke in a glass and peeling my own shrimp.

But I am having a great time in Italy! Ciao till next time.

 December 13 Journal

To start off this way over due blog, I would like to offer a tip of advice to all future foreign exchange students, current foreign exchange students, world travelers, and the like.

You may want to be all adventurous when it’s Halloween night, and just decide to order something random off the menu. You know, even though you don’t understand what it is because you’ve never seen the word before. All you understand is that it’s drenched in lemon, and that it’s slightly cheap. I mean, seriously, it’s Italy, how bad can it be?

If you do, I would also suggest not starting by eating 1/3 of it, thinking it’s okay, and then turning to the girl next to you (who speaks some English) and asking what it is. Because I guarantee that most of the time, you won’t like the answer.

Turns out the yellowish meat drenched in lemon sauce, was actually baby cow meat. I used to have a baby cow, up until my great grand parents sold their farm. Thinking bout eating anything that used to be your pet, much less baby anything, can apparently make you lose your appetite pretty fast, in addition to the optional gagging.

Speaking of appetite, let’s cover “Our Merry Foreign Exchange Thanksgiving.” We started planning this Thanksgiving about a week before it was going to happen. Wait, starch that, we had the idea to do it the week before … we never even started buying things till the day before. We somehow managed to get our grubby hands on a HUGE turkey. Let’s just say one of our host parents knew someone, who knew someone, who knew someone that knew where to get a gigantic turkey, since it only took us about five seconds of goggling to realize, they don’t sell turkeys in Sardinia.

Lets see, how can I describe the madness that went on that day?

The Italians weren’t too fond of the WAY we were cooking. Although they did think the food was good. As soon as Catie and Michael heard my comment about how I liked the movie ‘Julie and Julia’ because I often end up on the floor and with stuff everywhere whenever I cook, they stuck me on all the easy stuff. Like cutting up bread for the stuffing and measurements. And by measurements, I mean converting measurements the American way:

“5 grams of salt?” Catie reads off the online recipe. “How do you convert grams?”

Thank gawd for Google. “Um apparently it’s 23.42352 for salt,” I say before Catie comes over and grabs the salt out of my hands. She pours a handful into her hand, says “This should be about right,” and then precedes to just dump it in the bowl. What? It saves me from using the computer’s calculator. It’s safe to say the Italians just stood in the doorway, their faces in shock. Especially when we used our (clean) hands to spread the oil around the turkey. We foreign exchange students can cook a turkey with no fancy paintbrushes, turkey timers, or other things they market as a must-need for Thanksgiving. AT LOW LOW PRICES.

Actually, it turns out the only thing remotely cheap here is the food. Whenever us foreign exchange kids get together it basically consists of us walking up and down the hills of the shopping streets and then buying a sandwich and a coke. Or you know, we plan to communicate with sprits.

Yep. I just said communicate with sprits.

Apparently the police station where I live is haunted, at least that’s what my Host Dad told me during lunch yesterday. I was just sitting there at the table eating my pasta, and my host dad decides to tell me why the doors randomly slam shut and why things randomly disappear from where I put them. I could have gone my whole stay without hearing that someone was shot up here, thanks Host Dad. Like with the dish of baby cow meat, there are some things I just don’t want to know.

School has been going okay, well it was going smoothly until my Social teacher decides to show THE movie. Now most of us have seen THE movie, we’ve watched it in PE class or Health class. I’ve even seen it at least four times. I used to think it was a good movie. I mean it’s interesting that if you eat the most fatty foods at one of the most fatty restaurants you would get fat. I mean who knew? I also thought it was very creative how they interviewed a thousand people and then cut all the people that never eat at McDonalds and who actually know our national anthem. I never even thought that after foreigners watch it, they think all Americans are, well how do I put this, SuperSized.

Insert huge ‘Not all Americans are fat’ fight here.

It really was insane. The whole class spent the entire English period (the class right after social), arguing with me. Me, the American, who lives in AMERICA, and only knows maybe three obese people. Even calling them obese is really pushing it.

Then they go on to say, like most Italians do with everything, that their McDonalds was different because the sizes were smaller. I’ve been to Italians McDonalds while I’ve been here, once in the last 3 months. There sizes are the same, except I don’t think they offer a SuperSize menu. Now I’m no expert in McDonalds. I can’t even remember the last time I went in there in the States. Thought I’m pretty sure that the BigMacs I see Italians lined up out the door for in every mall have the exact same amount of fat as the ones in America.

Being here has really been my first encounter with racism. I’ve always have had friends of pretty much every race: African American friends, Italian friends, Indian friends, Mexican friends, German friends, Romanian friends, and Chinese friends. I’ve never really known anyone that was my age, or even my parents age, who didn’t like people just because of their race or their skin color. I’ve never known anyone who wouldn’t go into a restaurant because it was Chinese and therefore dirty. Or really do anything like that. It’s been a real eye opener for me. It really really has.

My Italian is getting better and better every day, as I fight the ever looming battle of trying to lose my French. I even managed to have my first dream in Italian, although it wasn’t the best first dream. The other person was speaking to me in perfect Italian and I was speaking Italian like a two year old. Who I did actually get to spend four days with this past weekend. That was fun.

So in a break from the constant 13 year old boys, I got to spend a weekend with my host mother’s sister’s two year old boy. Having never had any brothers, and never experienced living with a two year old (even for just four days), I was completely unprepared.

Of course this was in North Sardinia, where I tend to spend my weekends. This time it was for a wedding. I wish I could compare it to an American wedding, but I’ve never been to one before. The only wedding I can possibly compare it to is the weddings in ‘Wedding Planner’ and ‘Bride Wars’. Let’s see, apart from fact there were no brides having a fight in the aisle and the groom didn’t fall for the wedding planner, it was a typical church wedding. Well, a typical gathering for Italians anyway. The reception lasted about 10-12 hours, it took place in a huge restaurant hall, and it was all very loud due to all the second cousins and great uncles that tended to start screaming and clinking their glasses randomly.

It was pretty entertaining. Also during the reception, I figured out that Emily Cadet’s (the RYE student from Florida that is in North Sardinia) friend is actually a cousin to my host mom. Small world isn’t it? Or, I guess, small island.

Oh and I must report I’m doing better on the whole getting stuck in bathroom thing. I’ve only got stuck in 2 since I last updated!

Well I must go since it is Sunday, and therefore my only day of semi relaxation and lots of food.

February 3 Journal

Since I’ve last updated this; trouble-making, edge-of-your-mind-24-7, blog. Stuff. Has. Happened.

End of Blog.

Just Kidding.

It’s unavoidable really; stuff happening, me trying to be funny with only slightly hopeless jokes, some poor misunderstood new outbound student with a broken alarm clock getting yelled at by Al because they were mere minutes late.

Which for the record, only happened to me once. Thank you.

Since I’ve last updated I’ve done things you can probably not even imagine. Though that may sound like something right out of the screenplay of the newest James Bond movie (aren’t we up to like the 30th?), but in my case it’s actually true. That’s right. No Hollywood magic. No special effects. No blue people on an Imax screen. And no English screenwriter telling me what to say.

In the last month and a half, I’ve changed: I’ve changed families, I’ve changed my hair, and somewhere along that way…I’ve changed myself.

I’ve stood in front of an angry ocean, only to have it lash back and try to pull me in. I’ve listened as kids lit fireworks all night long, and I’ve squealed with enjoyment over the Christmas gifts I receive. I’ve made pancakes, rode on the back of a moped, won 40 euros just by eating some cake, and held ancient roman bricks in my hands. Then I’ve watched a friend go home, and willingly throw everything away.

Being here has been the hardest, most difficult, best, most boring, most incredible thing I’ve ever done (how’s that for a foreign exchange cliché). And even though I may not love every minute, I’m so thankful for all the minutes I spend not even knowing minutes are going by.

Even if the sea tries to capture me again (although you can bet me and the rest of the foreign exchange students are staying far away from rocks next to the ocean right after a storm), and even if at the next big holiday some Italian tries to light me on fire with a firework; nothing will make me give up this experience.

Okay so the truth is, maybe my Italian’s not perfect. And maybe I’m not very popular among my class, but that’s okay. Because for every second I try, it gets a little bit better. The world gets a little bit brighter. The lock on the bathroom door gets a little bit easier to unlock.

Last year in early 2009, as soon as I found out I was going to Italy: I rushed to this website and read a blog from one of the current outbound students. His name was Tim, and he was also aboard in Sardinia. At the time it inspired me, excited me, made me count down the months till I’d be exactly where he was. Then on December 26th 2009, five days till a year later, I was standing in the exact same spot where he spent the New Years in Sassari. Talk about the world coming full circle.

His journal from last year (January 11 Journal):


So I left a gap didn’t I?

“What did you do on Christmas? Why are kids shooting fireworks at you? How did you get paid 40 euros to eat cake (and how can I)?”

And yes…I am getting to all that. I should probably start where I left off, in the middle of December 2009.

So the weeks leading up to Christmas were basically uneventful. They were spent deciding what we should get our host parents, getting together to talk about what we should get our host parents, actually getting our lazy butts away from the computer to buy our host parents presents, and then seeing Beauty and the Beast performing in the middle of street. So, all in all, pretty uneventful.

SO let’s go back to the possible James Bond quote “I’ve done things you can probably not even imagine.” I mean unless you can imagine walking down the biggest shopping street in a pretty big Italian city ,the Saturday before Christmas, and see the musical Beauty and the Beast being performed in the middle of the street in full costume. Yes, that does means people were dressed up as teacups and clocks in the middle of the street singing in Italian. So if you can imagine that, my Yankee’s cap goes off to you.

The craziest thing is: they weren’t the only ones participating in this huge plow to distract us from our Christmas shopping, THERE WERE OTHERS. Including an orchestra, clowns, face-painters, and mimes. In the middle of the busiest shopping street, on the busiest day for shopping.

The week of Christmas, which in Italy stretches all the way from Christmas Eve to Epiphany, is basically spent doing two things: eating and then waiting to eat again. Did you really expect anything else? We’re in ITALY for goodness sakes!

After spending the holidays in North Sardinia (and visiting Sassari to hang out with my host cousin), I headed down to South South Sardinia to spend the New Years with Catie and her family. Although I didn’t know the firework battle I was getting into.

There were at least 15 kids younger than us, which basically translates into about 15 pyromaniacs whose parents gave them huge sacks full of fireworks. I don’t think I or anyone else slept for days, although it was still amazing. A couple more foreign exchange students were staying in the same neighborhood as us: Max from Germany, Sarah from Germany, and Caro from Bolivia. Along the course of six days we managed to get soaked by a wave, visit Nora (an archeological site in Southern Sardinia), and set off fireworks in water.

Then I had to face my worst nightmare, changing host families. I got about a week’s notice before I moved to their house, so I was a little upset. I had never met any of them before, had been told I wasn’t changing families, and was moving more than thirty minutes outside my beloved city.

Now I’m used to it; all the waking up early, taking the bus, having to organize plans before hand. It helps that my new host family is very sweet and understanding. I now live in a big house in the mountains with a beautiful view outside my window. A stark contrast to having barbed railings and living in a police station. My two host families are exact opposites of each other, but that’s what I love about them. It’s the whole point of changing families, seeing things from a completely different perceptive.

So you’ve read this far and are probably wondering how you too can get paid forty euros to eat a cake. I know it’s such a sacrifice to eat cake (why do you think Marie Antoinette wanted people to eat it?), but listen to me closely – here’s what the brave of heart need to do.

Step 1. Come to Sardinia (I’m not sure if it’s played in other Italian states, although it may be).

Step 2: Be here on the Epiphany (January 6th).

Step 3: Get yourself invited to a typical family gathering (preferably not your own, it’s awkward enough taking everyone’s money).

Step 4: Then pay 15 euros to the person collecting your money.

Step 5: Do a lucky clap (or whatever luck ritual suits you).

Step 6: Eat Cake.

Step 7: If you find a bean in your cake (similar to the tradition of the Mardi Gras cake where if you find baby Jesus you get luck), you can win a portion of the money people paid to eat the cake. And with 22 people playing, you can win a good amount of money. I won 35 euros by just eating the cake.

Step 8: Gratefully accept the money, then go on to win more at Italian Bingo!

Step 9: Carefully avoid everyone’s eyes as you slink to the front door.

Step 10: Then tell everyone you know, that you just got paid to eat cake.

And that, my friends, is how you can earn money by eating cake.

April 13 Journal

I’d like to start this blog off with a little scientific observation.

People that are NOT Rotary Youth Exchange students CAN wear blazers with a number of pins on them. While it is rare, it is not an unheard of notion; and thus should not be treated as such.

This observation should be observed next time you get it in your mind to run though Venice’s streets after a poor-overweight British guy who just happens to have a collection of pins on his blazer.

What? Maybe I should start at the beginning, or summarize everything with a cleverly worded run-on-sentence. Yeah, the second one sounds more “me.”

Since my last blog; I’ve seen Italy, spent -what seems like hours- gazing at the artwork of the Sistine Chapel (which only made me want to go back to Epcot in Florida and ride Spaceship Earth; where Michelangelo is working on the ceiling), I’ve stood on the ancient ground of Pompeii, and looked upon the beautiful Verona where Shakespeare set his scene. I’ve had two gladiators attack my dad and sister, and then ask us to pay them for it. I’ve ate Pizza at the Leaning Tower of Pisa, before racing my sister to the top. Oh and don’t even get me started on gondolas of Venice, coin-throwing in Rome, the tour guide/girlfriend of David in Florence, or the lemons as big as my head in Sorrento. Even that doesn’t even cover the half of it.

I know what you’re thinking. How did you do all of that in the 8 weeks it took you to blog again?

The true answer is, I didn’t. That only took less than two weeks. As for the other six; that’s another story entirely.

12 Cities, 2 countries, in 12 days. That was our goal, seeing everything in Italy that my family and I had ever heard about or seen highlighted in the travel section of the newspaper. We started in my city, Cagliari- holler! Then we went on to the Amalfi Coast (including the beautiful cities of Sorrento, Positano, Pompeii, and Napoli), to the Eternal city of Roma and the close by Vatican City. Up to Florence where we got another dose of Michelangelo fever, and passed by a medieval city right out of the story books- called Orvieto. Then we continued our journey with tired feet to fair Verona where we “set the scene” by buying up postcards and gazing up at “Juliet’s balcony.” Then in our final attempt to “see everything” we jumped on a gondola in Venice, which then brings us to where I started this blog; chasing after the over-weight British guy who collects pins.

As for the rest of the six weeks, things have retained a certain degree of normal I thought only possible in America. I have a couple Italian friends, a couple American friends, a couple friends from everywhere else. I go to school, and stare at the teachers with blank faces – not because I don’t understand what they’re saying, just because I don’t get it. All this normalcy is broken only by the event of another traditional Sardinian festival where I get wheat thrown at my face for good luck, almost trampled by out of control horses, roped by a costumed “header”, and/or chased after by a “beast/invader.”

So it may not be that normal after all. A lot of people ask me if I love Italy (Sardinia) or America (Florida) more, and the answer one expects usually differs based on which country they’re from. The thing is though, I don’t know. They’re so different, and each special in their own way. Good for some things and terrible in others. I love both of them though, but comparing them is like comparing pasta to beef brisket. You like them both, but sometimes you’re more in the mood for Italian or vice versa.

Life is strange that way, and I’m trying as hard as I can to take full advantage of that.


June 12 Journal

This constant loop of saying Hello and Goodbye is about to begin again. As the world turns and time grows shorter and shorter until you can’t manage to hold on to it any longer. Then it flies away, like a little kid’s balloon, until it disappears behind the blinding light of the sun.

This year has changed me in so many ways that I probably don’t even understand all of them or even know what they are. I could chalk it up to age, but I haven’t even aged two years since I wrote my bio. So instead I’ll chalk it up to experience.

From the wind in my hair as I rushed though ancient streets on a moped, to the bathroom locks that stopped working just for me. To eating fresh pizza in front of the Tower of Pisa, to the shining sun and a mountain view greeting me every morning. To sharing cokes with Italian friends who have to yet again explain that I had mispronounced another word, to watching an Italian soccer game and screaming along with tons of other fans for a team we never cared about before. From the beautiful waves of Sardinia, to the Colosseums in Rome, to the art museums of Florence, the gondolas and sea breeze of Venice, and back to the port of Cagliari the City of Sun; I firmly believe I’ve done everything I wanted to do… all of which I didn’t expect to ever happen.

As I look back at my old journals each depicting my life at that moment (snide remarks aside), I wanta laugh and cry and jump for joy at the same time. And I can’t help but feeling like a kid in Kindergarten who is getting his favorite toy taken away because someone else wants to play with it and he has to share.

Back in January 09, Al asked us to write a bio. In it I said my name was Austin. That I was a girl who attended St. Edward’s School, was in grade 9. Was 14 years old and living in the Alcatraz of the Treasure Coast. Then at the end I said “A Presto!” which I said meant “See You Later!”

Now…not even 2 years later. Only two of those things are true. My name is Austin and I’m a girl. 16 years old, grade unknown, school unknown, home…unknown. We don’t even say “A Presto!” we say “A Dopo!” But even with the unknowns, I now truly believe I know who I am. Not just a mix of music, or a page in a journal, or a video editor, or someone who forgets half the things they have to tell you; like I wrote on that bio so long ago.

So let’s look back at that Wicked quote I used in that bio. “They say people come into our lives for a reason bringing something we must learn and we are led to those who help us most to grow, if we let them. And we help them in return. Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better? But because I knew you I have been changed for Good.”

And because I’ve done this exchange, and met these amazing people, and shared these amazing laughs and experiences, and really lived. I have been changed for good. And yes, I don’t know if it’s for the better. But because I’ve done this, I’ve changed for good.

I hope you enjoyed my blogs this year as much as I enjoyed writing them and sharing my experiences however insignificant and bathroom related they might be- with you.

So for the last time (and everyone should be crying at this point), Arrivederci.

Austin Carroll

September 2010 – back in the US

So I’m walking down the hall or buying a sandwich or searching for my keys, and suddenly a person I haven’t seen in over a year is standing in front of me. Like a mind reader I already know the question they’re about to ask. I can already see it forming on their lips as their expression stays vacant, like they were about to ask me how my day was or what I had for breakfast. If I hadn’t heard it a million times already, I would have never guessed that they were about to ask me to summarize my whole other life into one easily transferrable word; but as always, that’s exactly what they did.

“How was Italy?”

In that one, four syllable long question; they manage to unknowingly question an entire county, an entire lifestyle, and an entirely different person than the one standing right in front of them. How am I supposed to answer that off-handed but loaded question? How am I supposed to summarize something so life-changing and difficult and beautiful into one elusive magical word?

After all, I know what they want- what they expect. They want a ‘good’, a ‘fantastic’, an ‘amazing’; but you see the fact is, Italy wasn’t good. It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t fantastic or amazing or terrible or scary or any other horribly vague descriptive word I could fill in the blank with. Italy was real. Saying Italy was ‘good’ is just like saying you’re fine when you grandfather dies, it just isn’t true.

‘Good’ doesn’t even begin to cover it, and I’ve yet to find any words that can. I could spend hours trying to explain to you what riding though a medieval town on a moped is like. I could try to make you picture the crystal clear waters of the Mediterranean Sea, or speak to you in Italian and just hope you understand how beautiful it is. I could stand here and dictate to you thousands of stories about my Italian friends and my many adventures of getting locked in European bathrooms, but I know it will never be enough. Unless you were there, unless you saw what I saw and felt what I felt; you’ll never truly understand why my year in Italy doesn’t fit neatly under your prejudged categories of good or bad.

If I caved in and answered ‘yes, Italy was good’; you would never know about the many times I cried myself to sleep or the times when I wanted nothing more than to go home. As much as people always tell me they can imagine how amazing it was, they can’t. Being there for a week on a cross country tour or reading about it in a travel guide isn’t the same as experiencing the culture. It isn’t the same as meeting and living with people whose names and faces you’ll never forget. It isn’t the same as falling in love with everything around you and then having everything you’ve built up ripped from you, as you look on powerless to stop it.

When you ask “how was Italy” a life time of memories comes to mind. I can remember my first word, my first friend, my first Italian coca-cola. I can remember the first time I swam in the sea, my first Sardinian festival, and the first time my classmates called me “una Italiana vera” which in English means a true Italian.

So to answer your question; Italy wasn’t good, but it was the greatest and most life-changing thing I’ve ever had the privileged to experience. And I know that wherever I am or wherever life takes me, I’ll always have a home on the beautiful island of Sardinia- a place that almost seems to be lost in time and will forever be in my heart.

 Austin Carroll

2009-10 Rotary Youth Exchange student from Vero Beach, Florida, USA to Calgiari, Sardinia, Italy


Brandon Riggs
2009-10 Outbound to Sweden
Hometown: Vero Beach, Florida
School: Sebastian River HS
Sponsor: Sebastian Rotary Club, District 6930, Florida
Host: Lund-Kloster Rotary Club, District 2390, Sweden

Brandon - Sweden

Brandon’s Bio

“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go, instead, where there is no path and leave a trail.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Hello, my name is Brandon, or as they say in Sweden, “Hej, mitt namn är Brandon!” I am 18 and am currently attending my senior year at Sebastian River High School. I will be graduating this year and all my friends will be going off to college without me. They all think I have lost my mind, but they just don’t understand why I would take another year of high school. My friends don’t comprehend the fact that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I would rather experience this now rather than never.

I still live with both of my parents and my two siblings. My brother, Aaron, is finishing his AA degree, while my sister, Erika, is a sophomore at Sebastian River High School. I am attending college as well, but for dual-enrollment. I am taking advantage of this opportunity to take a few college classes. It is definitely worth it in the end because I will be well prepared for college.

I am very active in my school. I am in the school band and I play several instruments. I play tuba, trombone, tenor saxophone, and viola (just to name a few…). I’ve been playing the tuba for seven years now and ever since then, I have fallen in love with music. Band takes up most of my time because I do jazz band, marching band, concert band, and a Caribbean steel drum band (which is really neat and is brand new at my school). I am also a very active Boy Scout, and I am currently on the trail to becoming an Eagle Scout. When I’m not participating in one of these activities, I am participating in one of my clubs at the school. Some of the clubs that I am involved in at my school are Interact, Students Against Destructive Decisions, and Future Business Leaders of America.

I love to go outside and play all sorts of sports. My favorite sports to play are lacrosse, soccer, and beach volleyball. I am on the Boy’s Varsity Lacrosse team and I play the position of goalie. This is only my second year, but I have found it to be an absolutely amazing sport! Among these activities, I love to try new things. I have recently tried snowboarding and skiing, and found them rather exciting. Along with experiencing something new, I have acquired a liking for a variety of foods from different cultures such as Italian and Mexican.

I have only been out of the country once in my entire life, and that was during the summer of my junior year. I went to England and France for two weeks. It was wonderful, but it was too short. Now, I get to take a journey back over to Europe and spend a whole year there…in SWEDEN!! I can not think of a more perfect place to go than to Sweden because I have been dreaming of going there ever since I was a little boy. I would not be doing this exchange without the help of our wonderful Rotarians who put all their time and effort into this exchange. I want to thank them for all that they do! I would like to thank my future host families and host Rotary club for so generously taking me into their homes and their community. Without them, I would not be going to Sweden to enjoy the experience of a lifetime!



 Brandon’s Journals

August 6 Journal

Gaffel … kniv … sked … gaffel … kniv … sked … gaffel … kniv … sked … REPETITION, REPETITION, REPETITION!! That’s the key to learning the language for sure. Just by putting one little Swedish word in everyday, it helps me improve my vocabulary and my communication with my family. This is exactly how it has been for me for this past week and I’m loving every bit of it.

But let me back up for you all to the beginning when I got off my flight in Copenhagen. Other than the delayed flight and my baggage taking almost 45 minutes to get to me, it went pretty good. Most people say their first night with the host family is a rough one; you’re jet-lagged and tired, you can’t understand a word anyone is saying, and the food is weird. But for me, none of this was true. When I got off my flight and headed for the exit, I was welcomed by my host father, Sven, and my youngest host brother, Arvid. Sven spoke basically perfect English to me, and the 30 minute drive home wasn’t awkward at all, maybe for Arvid though because he was being kind of shy.

When we arrived home, I met my other host brother, Anton, who was getting ready to leave in a few days to go on exchange in California. He’s a pretty neat guy and I’m glad he was here for the first few days of my new adventure in this new country. When it came to lunch time, I was expecting some weird concoction of a meal (maybe some strömming or something along those lines) but what I got was spaghetti! I was surprised and rather delighted to be having some food that I was accustomed to. After we finished eating lunch, Sven decided to take me on a walk around Lund. Captivating! That’s what Lund was to me. It’s a fairly old city and quite populated compared to my little town back home. It’s a University town as well, so there’s a lot of young people that live here, and from what I’ve been told, a lot of parties. The whole walk was wonderful and it seemed to go by so quickly because the next thing I knew, we were home.

But that wasn’t the end of my day just yet, because my next adventure was to the grocery store!! I was so excited to go see how different it was, but when I got there, I was bummed out … not much different at all. Of course everything was in Swedish, so it made it interesting. Sven even decided to be funny and try to buy some strömming for me, but luckily they didn’t have any, so I got off this time. But the weird thing about the grocery store was that you had to pay for your grocery cart and then when you returned it, you would be paid back … weird for sure, but I bet no one ever steals a cart around here. When we got home, I finally got to meet my oldest host brother, Albin, and we bonded quickly because he knows exactly how it is for me because he was in fact an exchange student a few years ago in Oregon.

The next day I had fun with Albin’s girlfriend, Alexandra, as we made cinnamon rolls. She is a very nice girl and we talked for a while as I helped her make the cinnamon rolls. She did most of the work though because she actually knew how to make them, unlike me. She had actually taken a bakery class before, so she was good at making these types of things. But I helped out by putting the eggs and sugar on top of the rolls. It was very fascinating to actually make cinnamon rolls, because usually when I have them, they come out of a can. We actually got to eat a few of them later, and man were they good!

The rest of the week went by in a breeze; it mostly consisted of more walks with Sven, watching the world championship for swimming on TV in Swedish, going to meet my host mother (Ingegerd) at her choir rehearsal and watching her choir concert, meeting and hanging out with two other exchange students (Josh from Australia and Courtney from South Africa), jumping on the trampoline with Arvid, and playing soccer with Arvid and Anton. Sunday, though, I got to meet most of the family because Ingegerd’s sister and family came as well as Sven’s sister and father. They were all coming over to say their last goodbyes to Anton before he left. I talked to Anton’s uncle for a while about everything from politics to the cat. We had a great time and it was nice to see the perspective through the eyes of someone from a different country.

Afterwards we decided to go to the beach, and man was I excited!! When we arrived I was in awe; it was beautiful! A lot different from our beaches for sure: the water was hundreds and hundreds of feet deep (not to mention the fact that it was freezing), in place of sand around the beach there were a bunch of big rocks, and there were cliffs all around the beach that people were jumping off of. The whole place was wonderful, but what I thought was rather weird was that people changed ON the beach, right in front of everyone! Of course they had a towel on while they changed, but it was just awkward … I obviously didn’t change on the beach, but then again I was the only one that had to have a towel in the car….

The following two days consisted of Sven, Ingegerd, Anton, and me driving up to Stockholm for Anton’s departure to the USA. We had to drive up on Monday because they were having a little orientation for the outbounds that were leaving the following day. I got to sit in on the meeting and it felt like I was in my first day of school already; I was totally lost. The lady, of course, spoke in only Swedish during the whole meeting, so I just acted like I knew what she was saying. The good thing about the meeting was that I got to meet an exchange student from New York. I talked to her for a while and when she left, I got to meet Adam who is one of the exchange students coming to Florida from Sweden. He seemed pretty nice and he was excited about going to Florida. But I can’t blame him, because Florida is nice, even though it does get deadly hot. That’s why I’m glad that I’m here In Sweden because it isn’t deadly hot at all.

But that’s been my week so far. Now I’m just waiting to go to my orientation on Monday and meet some more exchange students!! The language part might not be all that fun, but let’s pray that I get a good teacher, so that way I can come out of this camp as a pro at Swedish!! If I don’t, then oh well, I’ll eventually be a pro at it anyway …

August 16 Journal

Some useful things to know about Sweden if you ever decide to come here:

Volvo- this car is everywhere! I’m serious, every time you turn a corner, BAM! There it is again! And if, for some reason, you don’t see one of these cars, then you’re bound to see a Saab.

Pedestrians- they have the right-of-way everywhere EXCEPT at a stoplight…it’s very weird for sure…

Bicycle- this will be your main source of transportation other than your own two feet. But it’s very relaxing just to cruise down Lund on your bike with the wonderful breeze.

Breakfast- don’t expect eggs and bacon every morning because you’ll be disappointed. No, you should expect one of these choices: A) sour milk with cereal, B) yogurt with cereal, C) milk with cereal, or D) cheese and bread.

Farms- land among land among land of crops all over Lund. They produce many crops like: wheat, corn, wheat, beans, wheat, lettuce, and wheat….oh and did I forget to mention wheat?

Beaches- expect one of the two types of beaches: A) looks like a regular beach, but there’s not a lot of sand and the water is up to your knees (until you go about a half of a mile out), or B) take away the sand and replace it with rocks, and replace the shallow, wavy water with deep (hundreds and hundreds of feet deep) and very cold water. The fun part about these beaches though is that there are cliffs that you can jump off of into the water; it is quite fun!

Insects- There are definitely not as many mosquitoes here as there are in Florida, which is a big plus. But the insects that are really annoying over here are lady bugs….THEY’RE EVERYWHERE!!!!!!!

Thought you would enjoy some information about Sweden! Well, I definitely didn’t start off my second week in Sweden the best way that I would have liked. I did start it off in a good place though: the beach. This beach was a lot more like home to me, so it made me happy to see sand and waves again. But I wasn’t thinking at all and forgot to take off my ring when I got into the water. So, stupid me was playing ball in the water and take a wild guess at what happens….if you guessed that my ring flew off, then you’re good because that’s precisely what happened. Yep my very expensive class ring is lost in the ocean off the coast of Sweden…of course Sven and Arvid helped me look for it for about half an hour, but we had no luck at all. But hey that’s life! It’ll make me think twice next time I decide to wear something expensive like that in the water ever again.

Well besides that horrible tragedy, everything else this week was perfect! I got to go to my host grandfather’s farm during the weekend and I had a lot of fun! I was mostly hanging out with Arvid the whole time we were there. And we did many of different things there: we swam in the lake (about 95% of the time), we played soccer (about 3 % of the time), we played lacrosse (about 1.5 % of the time), and we played some handball (about .5 % of the time). The lake was really fun for sure; there was this one time where we decided to swim out to the center of the lake and it felt very creepy. I felt like I was swimming in the Black Lake at Hogwarts and a giant squid or something along those lines would just drag me down forever. I did not like this feeling whatsoever. But we made it back safe and sound, so that’s all that matters. Oh and teaching Arvid how to play lacrosse was pretty fun as well. He didn’t really know how to catch the ball that greatly and now he’s becoming a pro at it! Arvid is actually considering playing lacrosse when he goes over to America on foreign exchange in probably about 4 years, so I’m trying to teach him the basics now so that way he’s good by the time he comes over. Other than hanging out with Arvid, I got to pick potatoes with my host father! Talk about exhausting! I would have never thought some farm work could be so exhausting! Thank God I’m in Sweden and not Florida though, because then picking potatoes would have been even more exhausting. But it was fun to do some farm work and get a taste of something new.

Now I’ve come back from my wonderful trip to Vimmerby for my orientation and language camp. At first, I hated it: 1) because I didn’t know anyone really, 2) because some of the lessons were very boring, and 3) because there wasn’t much to do during our free time. But I managed to make many awesome new friends from all over the USA, Mexico, Brazil, France, Austria, Germany, and even Canada. All the exchange students were awesome here and I can already tell that we will be very close during this exchange and even years to come. Since I made friends at the orientation, it became a whole lot better for me; not just because I can say I have made friends, but because they are going through the same things as me, so we are already very close. Since there wasn’t much to do around our school we mainly just sat around and talked or played a game. But we did finally get to have some fun the day we went to Astrid Lindgren’s World.

I thought this was going to be a very boring place because it was made for little kids. But of course, teens always have fun doing little kid things! My group especially had fun on all the little kiddy things. And to make things a whole lot better, it rained, and then we had the time of our lives! The only thing that I regret not doing while at Astrid Lindgren’s World was going to one of the plays. Although they are all in Swedish, it would have been nice to see one.

When the end of our week was coming to an end, it was a very sad moment; all of us would be going our separate ways and probably won’t see each other again until Euro Tour. It better not be that way. I don’t care how far away they live, I plan on seeing them all again sometime this year. I’m just glad that I’m at most thirty minutes away from about a dozen of them, because it makes it a lot easier for me to see them.

August 25 Journal

Man, do the weeks fly by fast! I swear it seems like only yesterday that I was sitting down writing my last journal. This week was terrific and I’m sure you want to hear all about it!

My host family is really into this thing called “Geocaching” and I had never heard of it until I came here, but they supposedly do it all over the world. It’s weird; people place boxes all over and put down the coordinates onto the website, and people go and try to find the box with their GPS. But all you do when you find the box is write your name down on the piece of parchment. Occasionally they have boxes that have items in them and if you want one of the items, you can have it only if you trade something for it. I got a pin out of one of them and put it on my blazer! But this is very fun for my family, so they do it a lot…which is why we’ve found about 15 of the boxes this week alone..

Well I have finally joined a fotboll team here and am glad that I did. As soon as I joined the team, many of them introduced themselves and started talking to me; I was making friends already! But my practices so far have been utterly horrible. I actually thought I was good at fotboll until I saw these guys play; they are so quick and talented (not to mention they’ve been playing together for probably six years), so I look completely horrible compared to them. The coaches had us running and doing drills and all sorts of things and I was just too out of shape to keep up with all of my team; they all had been practicing together during the summer, so they were all in shape. Thank God my second practice went better for me because I actually looked like I was a part of the team. Other than the fact that I couldn’t understand a word the coaches were telling us, I still felt like a part of the team!

On Monday (after my first fotboll practice) my counselor had picked me up from the fields and brought me home. Of course the first day that I get to meet my counselor, I smell horrible; so once I got home I took a shower. After my wonderful shower, my counselor, my host parents, and I sat down and had a great lllooonng chat about my exchange. It took about an hour, but it cleared up a lot of things for me. But the next day was definitely the most useful because that’s when we met my headmaster at my school. We talked with him for about an hour and went over the schedule and all the classes. Man was that schedule confusing! I don’t see how any one person could fully memorize the schedule. Back home in Florida I got used to the seven classes and the change of the schedule by the first day, but here it changes WAY too much, so it will take me a while (especially with twelve classes). Here’s the breakdown of my schedule:

On Måndag, I have classes 1, 2, 3, and 4…the first class starting at 8:20 and the last class ending at 4:30.

On Tisdag, I have classes 5, 6, 7, 3, 2, and 8….the first class starting at 8:25 and the last class ending at 3:30.

On Onsdag, I have classes 4,9,8,3, and 1….the first class starting at 8:30 and the last class ending at 4:10.

On Torsdag, I have classes 5, 2, 10, 7, and 11…the first class starting at 8:20 and the last class ending at 5:30.

On Fredag, I have classes 10, 6, 9, and 12….the first class starting at 8:20 and the last class ending at 2:55.

Confusing, right? Well ya wanna make it more confusing? Well, add in the random days that they call “D DAYS”….I don’t know what it stands for, but it is a day to study and rest; basically a free day! This is an awesome day, but the problem is, I don’t know when those days are…it’s not like there’s any pattern to it. The thing that I can get used to though is the lunch time; it’s perfect. It’s probably not the best food in the world, but you get to serve yourself and it’s around the actual lunch time (not like back home where lunch starts at around ten o’clock).

You’re probably wondering what my first day was like, right? Well it depends on what you consider my first day…Is it the day that I actually stepped foot into a classroom? Well if so, then that was Thursday and it was terrific because it was only an hour long! Or is it the first day that I actually stepped into a classroom to learn something? If that’s the case, then that was Friday and it was alright. Now I gotta admit, my first class on Friday was pretty awesome and I understood every single word the lady was saying. And why is this? BECAUSE IT WAS ENGLISH CLASS!!! I was actually worried about this class because they said it was an advanced English class. But when I got into the class I realized that it was basically the same as my high school English class, except for the fact that everyone doesn’t speak perfect English yet. After that I had my Philosophy class and man was I bored out of my mind! After that, I had a great lunch and then headed off to Swedish (we didn’t have science that day, so we went straight to Swedish). Alright, I bet you’re wanting to know all the classes that I’m taking. Well, here they are in order: 1) drama, 2) French 5, 3) math, 4) beginners Swedish, 5) international relations, 6) philosophy, 7) psychology, 8) religion, 9) science, 10) Advanced English, 11) photography, and 12) Swedish.

Thursday and Friday were absolutely amazing days for me; not because school started and I started to make new friends, but because I went to Malmöfestivalen. This is a HUGE concert in Malmö that lasts a week. It has many bands playing throughout the day, so you’re never bored. But my exchange friends and I just went there to see a few bands: The Sounds, Promo, and Familjen. Now, if you know me, you know that I don’t listen to any of this type of music, I only listen to Christian rock. But I broke out of my box and ended up enjoying the concerts very much, especially The Sounds!

Oh I almost forgot to mention: by the end of my second (or first) day of school, I was invited to a party. ME, of all people got invited to go to a party. So, like a good exchange student, I said “YES” to the invitation, and am glad I did so. The party was absolutely amazing and I met so many new people there. Everyone was very cool, and luckily, most of them went to my school!

On Sunday, I went back to the farm again just for the day with my host parents. I was excited to go and was happy with how much fun I had. I was helping Sven’s sister, Mari, with the lunch and I learned how to make Swedish meatballs! That was a blast and the food was absolutely amazing that day…I also learned how to make honey. It was weird because I had never seen the process before; what you had to do was take the frames out of the beehives and scrap off the “cappings” that the bees put over the honey. Then you had to put it in this special case and set it inside the centrifuge (it spins out the honey). This part was my job and it was fun to watch the honey flying off of the frames and into the centrifuge.

Like I said before, time sure does fly by quickly; so I need to try and savor my year even more and as much as possible. Because if I don’t, my experience won’t be as great as all the other exchange students that have gone before me. I’m hoping mine will only be better, but I’ll be satisfied as long as my exchange is a successful one!

September 8 Journal

Today I’m sitting down and writing this journal for two reasons: because I need a break from my German (yes, you heard right: German) and I need to get you all up to date with everything that I’ve been doing lately.

Well, school is finally getting more exciting, but then again it helps having fun classes like photography and drama. Photography seems like it will be a fun class because we will get to take pictures while at school and will learn how to take good ones, and the most fun part will be learning how to develop our own film in the darkroom!! Drama, on the other hand, is definitely my favorite class above all. The only thing we do in the class is play games; it’s awesome!! I’m glad I’m going to be having those classes all year long!!

Well, on August 29th, I went to the island of Ven with all the exchange students in Skåne (the bottom region of Sweden) and we went bike riding for a few hours. Everyone had a blast and we bonded a lot more with each other. I had a difficult time while on the bike: 1) because my bike was messed up, so it was tugging the whole time and 2) because my partner wasn’t committing himself to peddling like I was. I was on a double seated bike because it seemed like it would be really fun to do, but it just ended up giving me a workout. Ian and I made the best out of our situation and had fun regardless of how horrible it was for us, which was good because we ended up bonding more than we did at our orientation.

Later that day, I met up with Christoffer, one of my exchange friends from Höör (a city in Skåne), at the train station and we went to the festival that was taking place here in Lund. At first we weren’t really enjoying it because there weren’t any good bands on, but then a band called Simsoak came onto the stage and they were awesome! They were an R&B band and sang only in Swedish (of course), but one of the coolest things about them was that they breakdanced! I thought their music was good at first, but then one of the main singers just broke out with all his moves and that’s when Chris and I started having fun. After Simsoak got off the stage, our only amusement for the night was watching all the drunk people dance to old music and Chris giving a rose to the prettiest girl he saw that night (it only took him a couple of hours to finally do it though).

As you heard at the beginning of this journal, I’m taking German. You are probably thinking “Why would you take German of all languages while you’re learning Swedish?” Well I have three answers for that question: 1) French was getting too hard, so my options were either German or Italian, 2) I love learning new languages, and 3) Swedish is a Germanic language, so German will be more beneficial to my Swedish learning. Plus, I’ll be able to communicate with my German friends that are here in Sweden…well at least a little bit!! I do hate that I gave up French though because I really love the language and everyone was so nice in my French class, so it made it really hard for me to leave…but it doesn’t work out when everyone else in your class is two years ahead of you. Well I had my first German class that day and man was I confused. I realized how much harder German was than Swedish, but I did not back out this time. I knew that this class would really help me with my Swedish because of all the translating from German to Swedish to English or from Swedish to German to English. It’s all too confusing, but it will definitely help me out a lot in the end.

That evening I went to my first band practice with the local band in Lund (The Lund Symphonic Band). I was very confused but made friends with a few of the students (mostly with the fellow tuba players). It had been a while since I’d played the tuba, so I was a bit rusty at first, but easily got used to the new tuba and ended up having a great time. I was very happy to be playing in a band again.

On Friday evening Josh (my exchange friend from Australia) came over for dinner. My host parents wanted to get to know him more, so they asked me to invite him over since I see him at school. Me, being the exchange student that I am, asked my parents how to say it in Swedish, and so when I saw Josh at school, that’s exactly how I asked him. Of course he wanted to mess with me and ask me what I said, like he didn’t know already. Axel, from my fotboll team, also came over with his mom because they are friends of the family. Anyway, we had a MARVELOUS dinner that night (do you hear the hint of sarcasm in there?). Well the reason why it was so “marvelous” was because we had surströmming. If you don’t know what that is, it’s fermented fish (see picture) and it’s absolutely gross! I had to torture myself through the whole thing; I don’t see how this is a Swedish delicacy, only Swedish meatballs should be, because those are at least good and appetizing!! Well it was actually funny because Albin, Arvid, and Axel had never tried it as well, so obviously all the teens were disgusted by it. Arvid was the lucky one though, because he only had to have one bite of it. But luckily we had fish soup afterwards (that way we could wash away the taste in our mouths).

The following two days consisted of band camp. Yes, you did hear me correctly, I said band camp. I thought I wouldn’t be saying that for a while, but that’s what it was. Luckily it wasn’t like band camp back home, because all we did was play music 24/7. So it was very tiring. But fortunately, I made many new friends at this camp (mostly guys, which is a big change since I’m used to making friends with girls more than guys for some reason) and we had a blast hanging out in the little free time that we did have.

Well, that’s the end of my journal for this week…so until next time:


September 23 Journal

I never realized how peaceful bike rides could actually be until I came here. It’s such a relaxing feeling and it makes me wonder why I didn’t do it back home more often…Was it because it was too hot or not windy enough? Well here I don’t have to worry about either of those problems because it’s always nice, cool, and windy (i.e. the perfect weather for a bike ride). Even after a long and sweaty fotboll practice, the bike ride home is so peaceful. Until, of course, you hear horns honking and sirens blaring or you see dead birds crushed into the cracks of the brick roads (not a pretty sight at all). But these bike rides make you think a lot about your life and everything that has happened to you in the past week. This is why I write my journals so much; I hear my thoughts every single day, and by writing it down and telling everyone about it, I make room for more memories to come in.

Lately I have started to feel like an outsider compared to all these Swedes because every corner I turn I see people are wearing jeans or slacks with a sweater or coat, while I’m sitting there wearing my shorts and short sleeved t-shirt and still not even freezing. I admit that it is chilly (5º C = 41º F), but it feels great to me!

You know how they always say “after you’ve been immersed into a language for so long, your dreams will start to be in that language”? Well, so far I haven’t had a Swedish dream yet, and I’ve been here for over a month now. But I have a bad feeling that the first dream I will have in a foreign language will be in German way before it’s in Swedish. That is not a good thing at all; I came to Sweden to become fluent in Swedish, not in German (even though it would be nice to be fluent in both by the time I leave). So why can’t my Swedish teacher be as good as my German teacher? Is that hard to ask? It’s not like she’s teaching in Swedish like my German teacher is, cause then in would be very difficult. So, hopefully a miracle happens and she finally realizes how to teach us Swedish, because then life would be easier!

On the 10th, I went to an awesome Rotaract meeting! This meeting was more for the exchange students, so they therefore made it more fun. The Rotaract club in Malmö actually invited us to come to this meeting so that they could meet all of us, but only a few of us came (as well as a bunch of ambassadorial scholars). At first, they talked about the club and what we would do and then we sat there and talked for about half an hour to bond with the Rotaract people. After that we were separated into groups and we had a random scavenger hunt (I say random because the things we were looking for were random- for instance: a small, brown dog). Everyone had way too much fun with this, but we’re allowed to, right? Well after the scavenger hunt everyone went to Chili’s (not part of the chain back home) and there we ate and found out the winner of the scavenger hunt. My team won of course, but only by one point, so we were very happy.

Who ever thought that by coming to Sweden I would be experiencing other cultures, besides the Swedish one, for the first time? I know I didn’t. Last weekend, I tried Thai food for the first time: real, homemade Thai food, and man was it delicious! I had never tasted anything like it before and now I am so glad that I said yes to the invitation to come over. It was at my good friend Emily’s house who is a fellow exchange student from California living in Höör, about a twenty minute train ride from Lund. Well I basically spent that whole weekend in Höör hanging out with my exchange friends that lived there (Christoffer, Caienna, and Emily). They gave me a tour of their small town and I even tried a Swedish version of a Mexican pizza. The pizza was great, but just eating the pizza made me miss all the Mexican food back home; I’m still dying to have something spicy!

I also got to experience another version of something that the Swedes stole from the US: it’s called Idol. Yes, it is in fact the Swedish version of American Idol and the people that are singing are actually pretty good. But the thing that surprised me the most about this version is the age limit: THERE IS NONE! Back home the age limit was between 16 and 28, but here in Sweden, fifty and sixty year olds are auditioning. Some are actually pretty decent (and some are horrible), but at least they get the chance to audition.

This past weekend was definitely the best time that I have had while in Sweden. The Höör Rotary Club arranged a canoeing/camping trip for all the exchange students in Skåne (that would be thirteen of us total, but one person decided not to come). So on Saturday morning, we took off on the river in Höör and canoed for a big portion of the day. The canoeing on this day was not much fun for some reason; maybe it was because I was canoeing with a Rotarian…I don’t know. But when we got to the campsite, that’s when the fun happened. We played fotboll, ate a wonderful dinner, went for a walk to go see the sunset, and then came back to sit around the fire and tell stories, jokes, and riddles (while we had some s’mores). It was all part of our bonding experience, but all good things must come to an end at some point, and so we had to go to bed. No one said that they had a good sleep, probably because the sleeping arrangements were horrible: 1 military tent + 1 hard, wooden floor + 15 people squished side by side = not fun at all. But luckily the next day made up for it. Fortunately, I got to change partners this time and I got Marguerite! We bonded a lot while canoeing and we talked about many random things: everything from Disney to the trees. And for the last hour and a half of our canoeing trip, we played a 2,000 question game. It may sound quite boring to you, but we had a blast and learned a lot about each other that even our best friends don’t know about us. But like I said before: this was definitely the best time I’ve had so far!

Well, enough talk, I’ll let you get back to your life in whichever country you may be in, so:

Good bye!




Au revoir!




October 1 Journal

The honeymoon part is over and now it’s time to face the tough part. You’re probably thinking “WHAT?! When did you get married?”, but that’s not the kind of honeymoon I’m talking about. I’m talking about the exchange honeymoon (the one with my country): the beginning of your exchange where everything seems so wonderful, magical, and unreal; the part of your exchange where you seem to be in a dream that just never seems to end. But now, everything seems the same to me and all the small things aren’t as exciting as they once were.

For instance, the language: at the beginning I was so in love with it and was eager to learn the beautiful language, and of course I thought it would be a breeze. But here I am, two months later, and I’m frustrated because I still don’t understand the language that well. That’s the one thing that bothers me in life: not being able to accomplish something. Now I regret not learning more Swedish back home or using my sources to learn it quicker, because then it would be a whole lot easier for me and I definitely wouldn’t be writing this right now. In a way, though, I am kind of happy that I didn’t because then I wouldn’t gain as much of an experience by the time my exchange is over. So, if my Swedish teacher will not help me, then I guess it’s all up to me…

As you already know, I’ve been going to the Rotaract meetings in Malmö lately and each time it’s something new and fun. The meeting on the 23rd wasn’t all that great because all we did was plan, but it was nice to see everything that the Rotaract club was doing and going to be doing throughout the year. The meeting yesterday, though, made me realize how much fun I will be having with this club. It was my first time to bowl in Sweden; I was expecting it to be really different like the French ones, but it wasn’t different at all. That’s all right though, because if it was different, I would have probably been really bad at it. Luckily, there was a lot more exchange students that came this time, so we had an amazing time!

Last weekend, my family and I went to Stockholm because Albin was running in the 15k there. The race was the main reason we were there, but fortunately we were able to go sightseeing afterwards, which was nice. I really enjoyed a lot of the buildings and landscapes, but I didn’t really care for the city too much. “WHY?!” you may ask. Well because I’m not a “big city” kind of guy, hence why I wanted to go to the country part of Sweden. The only big city that I have ever actually liked was London, but other than that, the small cities are more breathtaking for me. One thing that I especially disliked about Stockholm was the train station; it was so much more confusing that the Skånetrafiken down in my region of Sweden. This train station was just TOO big and it took me about ten or fifteen minutes just to find my way out of the station. Well after all that confusion, I met up with Marian, one of my exchange friends that I met back in Vimmerby, and she showed me around the town more (because she lives in Stockholm). After more sightseeing, we decided to stop and go grab a bite to eat. Unfortunately, the only restaurants that were opened this late were the fast food ones, so we decided to go to Pizza Hut (only because it was an actual sit down restaurant). The restaurant was very nice and it did not look like a Pizza Hut at all, but I was happy to have something familiar again. And you want to know the saddest thing about this? It was the first fast food restaurant that I actually ate at since coming to Sweden…pretty sad, especially since there are fast food restaurants everywhere like back home.

This past Monday is when everything in Lund started to change; the weather that I was used to is now becoming worse. Monday was the first time that it had actually down poured since I have been in Lund and now it’s happening more frequently. Now the Swedes are telling me, “now you’re experiencing the REAL Swedish weather, this is how it was supposed to be ever day since July”, but I guess I’ve just been really lucky. I don’t want to start pointing fingers, but if it wasn’t for Sven jinxing the weather the day before, it probably wouldn’t have rained at all. But oh well, I can deal with the rain because I just think about how lucky I am to just have rain every now and then while everyone back home is having to deal with hurricanes and tropical storms. It has also started to get colder; now; when you see me wearing a jacket and pants, you know it’s cold because I NEVER wear jackets or pants, I just wear my t-shirts and shorts! That’s why every morning when I ride my bike to school it feels as though arctic water is being poured all over my body continuously. But, stupid me, I always forget my jacket, so I have to freeze all the way to school (oh what fun!).

Well, that’s been my life for the past week and a half. Now I’m just waiting for tomorrow and this weekend to come because I’m going to have a fantastic time!



October 26 Journal

I’m sorry it has taken so long to write my journal, but I’ve just been having so much fun this month! So, disregard what I said about my honeymoon being over in my last journal, because the day after I wrote that, I felt like I was on my honeymoon again.

You see, what happened was this: I went to a church camp with my friend Johanna. This camp changed my life and my views on Sweden. I went to the first service in the sanctuary and since Johanna was by my side, she was my personal translator the whole time. I felt like one of those Chinese businessmen that comes over to America and has his translator do all of the work. But for one, I’m not Chinese and for two, I didn’t allow her to translate everything for me because I wanted to try as well. Unfortunately, I still didn’t understand anything when I tried by myself, but it sure would be nice. So later, Johanna and I had some of the preachers pray for us and during this time, I prayed that my views on Sweden would change, I would start having more fun, and I would understand the language more. It was remarkable; later that night as we were listening to the band and singing with them, I was started to get fascinated with the language once more! And as I was listening, I actually started to understand big parts of the songs. Now my Swedish is improving thankfully and I can understand way more than I did a few weeks ago (and can speak more too). So, if you can’t tell, I had a fantastic time at the camp and met many awesome new people. I can’t wait until our next camp so that I can see all these people again.

Luckily, I did get to see a few of them again, because I found out that some were part of the youth group that I was going to join. So, when I went to the first meeting at the church, I knew a few of them, so I didn’t feel too isolated. But since everyone was so friendly, I met most of them anyways and talked to many of them for hours. My youth group is absolutely amazing, and although I have only been to it twice so far, I have a feeling that these guys will be my closest Swedish friends. Every time I go to the youth group, everyone talks to me for long periods of time and they even try to speak Swedish to me (unlike many of my other friends). And on top of all of that, I have a blast every time I go: the first time we played a game to get to know one another and the last time we played laser tag! That was probably the most fun I have had in ages and I actually did well in the last game (see attached photo). The amazing thing was my name in the game (“The Terminator”) and the place that I got. I received fourth place out of thirty-eight people and this made me very happy. We don’t only play games with the youth group though; afterwards, we go into the sanctuary and sing songs (in Swedish of course) in a circle by candlelight and then we have a small sermon and pray. Then after that we usually go into our room and have a fika until around 10:30 or 11:00 PM. So I usually get home very late since I have a 15 minute train ride and a 10-15 minute bike ride just to get home.

I have also had my first spinning class since I last wrote. If you don’t know what spinning is, it’s those wheel-less bikes in the gym that you ride on. My counselor is the instructor for the class, so I get to go to it for free! It is surprisingly pretty hard and tiring, but it feels great afterwards.

I also had to finally give my presentation to my Rotary club this past Tuesday. This was the one thing that I had been dreading ever since I came into Sweden, but after I was done with the presentation, everyone was saying I did a great job and that it was the best PowerPoint presentation they had ever seen; that made me feel good. I wonder why they thought it was so good though, was it because of all the special effects and the fact that there were no words on the slides (besides the title of the slide), but just pictures? Well I don’t know what it was, but I’m just happy it’s finally over and that I don’t have to do another one until at least January!

Other than that, I got to try out for the Spykset band at my school and I made it! I’m playing my tuba (like usual), but I’m also getting the chance to learn the trumpet for the band (and I’m very excited)! Spykset is a big play that the students at Spyken (my school) put together and perform at the end of the year. I feel it is a great privilege to be part of this great event at my school; it’ll help me leave a bigger mark on the school.

Well, until next time…HEJDÅ!

December 3 Journal

I can tell that I am becoming more of a Swede because:

-my left hand is my stronger eating hand

-eating hard bread does not faze me anymore…I actually enjoy it!

-fizzy water is no longer disgusting

-travelling by bike through the town is normal

-taking the train seems to be the only “normal” way to travel outside of the city

-the Swedish language no longer sounds like Japanese

-I have started to wear long pants

This past month seems to have flown by fast. It seems like only yesterday that I just started school here in Sweden, but now here I am four months later. I feel as if I belong here and Florida is just from my dreams.

I’ve been losing my English and have had many of those moments to where I can’t find the word I’m looking for (this happens numerous times a day) and although I feel sad, I’m also very happy because the result is great: I’m leaning more Swedish. I’ve been able to talk to people and write to them in Swedish and every time I get it right, I feel very proud of myself. Only four months and I’m improving immensely…I can’t wait to see what it’s like after another four months!

It’s October 23rd. My friend Morgane comes down from Sundsvall to visit me for the week of our höst lov (fall break). I get to experience something new: RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Awards). I had always heard about this program, but never got the chance to partake in it. My Rotaract club was in charge of this RYLA, so Morgane and I decided to go and help out. It was amazing to see all these teens interested in learning about leadership and becoming a better leader. I actually learned a few things from these two days, but only because the guy in charge of speaking, Ken, was from the UK and only spoke English. Hahaha. He was a funny and I can’t wait to do RYLA with him again.

I have always been telling people how much I love my youth group and how amazing they are. So, I took Morgane along to a youth group meeting on the 23rd and she fell in love with it as well. Now she sees why it’s one of the only things I look forward to go to every week.

During out höst lov week, these are the main things we did: met my Rotary club, went to Malmö, did some pumpkin carving, went to Copenhagen, and went to a Halloween party. The pumpkin carving and the Halloween party were with the Rotaract club. The pumpkin carving was a blast because I don’t think I’ve ever carved a pumpkin before, if I have, then I’ve totally forgotten about it. But I had a blast helping people carve their pumpkins and watching others transform theirs into very scary and funny ones. As for the trip to Copenhagen, now that was amazing. A fellow RYE Florida exchange student, Megan, came down from Örebro just to experience this trip. It was just Megan, Morgane, and I…three exchange students…in a country they had never been to…all by themselves. Sounds scary, huh? Well it wasn’t. Copenhagen was actually a very pleasant city and the three of us had a tremendous time being tourists. We saw almost everything there was to see in Copenhagen; from the Little Mermaid to the ghetto. Since it was a very long walk from the tourist square (where we were at for a while) to the Little Mermaid, we got to see the King’s building, the queen’s building, the royal army, the opera house, an old haunted-looking church, and an old navy base. I can definitely say that I like Copenhagen better than Stockholm (sorry).

When I was told I was coming over to Sweden I was told that I would not find a lacrosse team over here. Well whoever told me that was WRONG!! I am happy to say that I have indeed joined a lacrosse team (or club because we are made up of three teams) over here. Everyone on the team is older than me (around their mid-twenties) but I can still have fun with them. And since I will be the only goalie for the guys come January, I will get to play on all three teams (the Limping Ducks, Mockingbirds, and Nutcrackers). One other awesome thing about our club is that we get to play in both the Swedish and Danish leagues…that’s the beauty of living in Skåne!

My church put on another church camp weekend, but this time in Malmö at our church. I went, of course, and had an amazing time; it was great to see some of old faces from the last camp and a bunch of new ones to befriend. I also got to see my first standup comedy act at the camp, I was happy because I actually understood a few of the jokes, and that made me very happy! I went to Copenhagen again, but this time with my exchange friends and a few Rotarians. It wasn’t as great as the first time because we couldn’t do a lot of sightseeing while we were there, but we were in the tourist square a lot. We did get to learn about the history of Denmark though, and that was pretty nice. At the national museum, I made a sad discovery: the Vikings are not as we all picture them. They did not have horned helmets because it would have been horrible for battle. Something that did make me happy though is that I learned that the Vikings weren’t rapists and thieves like everyone has thought, but they were just your normal, everyday farmers.

For the past month, I have been living with my second host family; so I won’t be living with the Hellberg’s again until March… Well, the move wasn’t all too great, and neither was the packing and unpacking. It took a few trips to the car just to get all my stuff, and we luckily managed to fit it all into my new room. I didn’t realize how many clothes I brought until I moved into this house and didn’t have room for it all. It’d probably help if I didn’t have so many shorts, but I know I’ll be wearing them again very shortly and I don’t care how many weird looks I get throughout the day. 😀

Thanksgiving Day: I bet you are all wondering what I did for Thanksgiving, right? Well it all started on Thanksgiving day. I cooked a huge meal for eleven people and it took about nine hours. Yes, nine hours of cooking; it was very tiring. Luckily I had Josh, my Australian friend, there to help anytime I needed it. The meal surprisingly came out better than I expected, so I was very happy. I was glad that my family liked it, especially since it was my first time making any of it, and especially from scratch.

This past weekend was basically a Rotary weekend for me, but not with exchange students…with Rotarians. Two Rotarians invited me to do things with them, and like a good exchange student, I said “yes”. But what did I say ‘yes’ to? Well on Saturday, Peter invited me to come to Spex (a comical musical with an all male class) I learned how the camera crew worked; I can now be a cameraman’s assistant! But I also got to watch the play as well, and although it was in Swedish, I understood the storyline, which made me happy. On Sunday, Henrik invited me to go watch an Ice Hockey game. Donna, the ambassadorial scholar in my host club, came with us and we had an awesome time. It was my first Ice Hockey game, and although Malmö lost, I still had an amazing time and now I want to play!

December 21 Journal

“Natten går tunga fjät, runt gård och stuva.

Kring jord som sol’n förgät, skuggorna ruva.

Då i vårt mörka hus, stiger med tända ljus,

Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.

Natten var stor och stum. Nu, hör, det svingar

i alla tysta rum, sus som av vingar.

Se, på vår tröskel står, vitklädd med ljus i hår,

Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.

Mörkret skall flykta snart, ur jordens dalar.

Så hon ett underbart ord till oss talar.

Dagen skall åter ny, stiga ur rosig sky,

Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.”

Confused? Well you should be because you obviously don’t know Swedish, but I’ve got you covered with the translation:

“Night walks with a heavy step, round yard and hearth.

As the sun departs from earth, shadows are brooding.

There in our dark house, walking with lit candles,

Saint Lucia, Saint Lucia!

Night walks grand yet silent. Now hear its gentle wings

In every room so hushed, whispering like wings.

Look, at our threshold stands, white-clad with light in her hair,

Saint Lucia, Saint Lucia!

Darkness shall take flight soon, from earth’s valleys.

So she speaks a wonderful word to us.

A new day will rise again, from the rosy sky,

Saint Lucia, Saint Lucia!”

This song is one of my favorite songs that they sing for a famous holiday here, Sankta Lucia or Saint Lucia. It is probably a bigger holiday than Christmas, but they do celebrate Christmas…it may not be like us Americans with all the extravagant lights and stuff, but it’s still something. If you want to know more about Saint Lucia though, just google it, because I’m sure it would be easier than having me explain it.

This month, I have seen several Lucias, each one different in some way. The first one I saw was with Rotary at a Lucia fest. We had a nice dinner, the girls came out , sang, the Lucia fainted, she got back up after a few moments of chaos, they sang their last song, and left. The second one I saw was quite nice as well. One of my Rotarians invited me to his church to go see it. The funny thing was a few of the girls that were in this one were in the last one as well, but this time, the Lucia was a different girl. But it turned out almost the same because this Lucia fainted as well, but they just continued singing and had the Lucia sit on a chair without all the candles. The third one I saw was on TV and this one was the best. Mostly because the Lucia never fainted.

Enough of the Lucia, let me tell you what else has been going on. Let’s start on the 2nd of December, where I left off. I had my first concert with the Lund Symphonic Band (a.k.a. my concert band). It felt nice to finally have a concert again, but I had a sad feeling knowing that I was missing Prism back home at my old school. But my concert went great and both the Hellbergs and the Olssons (my newest host family) came and saw it!

On Friday I finally got to meet my third host family. I didn’t move in with them yet (that’s not until January 16th), but I sure can’t wait to. They seems like such an awesome family and they are very close with the Hellbergs. I was invited over to their house through the Hellbergs to come and enjoy an evening with all of them. It was a Glögg party, so I had some glögg obviously, but I also had some green cabbage soup. Glögg is a Christmas drink that they drink over here in Sweden (kind of like we have eggnog back home), I don’t know what’s in it, but it’s quite good. It’s a fruity drink and is especially good when you put almonds and raisins in it, but you’re not supposed to have too much of it. As for the green cabbage soup, it might sound disgusting, but it is delicious. It tastes like my mom’s broccoli casserole, so I was obviously in love with it.

On Saturday, I was quite busy; I was playing in an 8 hour long tournament with my lacrosse team. It wasn’t the way I was expecting the tournament to be at all: people from all over the southern part of Sweden and from the whole of Denmark coming to play. It was just our four teams (3 guys teams and one girls team) and a Danish girls team. It was nice and I had a ball playing for a different team every game. I even got to play for the girls teams because they lacked a goalie…and it was really weird.

Later that day, I went to Malmö to a friend’s apartment to hang out. It was a bunch of the guys from youth group and we basically had a gamer’s night…playing Warfare 2 and such. It was the first time I ever had a gamer’s night, and I liked it.

The following day (or should I say the same day since we stayed up until nine in the morning) I went to Helsingborg for the first time. I met up with a friend from church camp and he showed me around the city and we went back to his house and just hung out. The city was very nice; one of my favorite parts was by the harbor. All it looked like was steps leading down to the water, but Victor told me to stand in the middle and talk up to him. My mind was blown! It was like I was talking into a microphone, but to him, it just sounded like I was talking, nothing out of the ordinary. I sat there contemplating how this could be possible, but could not find a solution…it was a mystery ready to be solved…I’m still amazed and clueless as to how it did that….

On the 11th, I finally met up with a bunch of the Rotaractors again. It had been a while since I had seen a bunch of them, so it was nice to see them all. We had a Julfika (Christmas tea is direct translation, but it was basically a Christmas party or “get together”). I tried many new cakes and deserts, met new people, and had some glögg again. I just felt a little weird at first since I was the youngest one there because none of the other exchange students came. But I soon got over that because I met many awesome people, and I’ve already been invited to go places with them!

The following day I saw the second Lucia with my Rotarian and when I got home I went out to a Lussevaka party with my host brother Carl. Lussevaka is basically the night before Lucia day where you stay up all night and then watch the Lucia on TV (my third one) at 7-8 in the morning.

That same morning we had our first frost, and it’s been snowing ever since! So, for the past week, I’ve been able to enjoy the lovely snow. The only down side of the snow is having to ride your bike in it; it’s very icy and dangerous. But I sure don’t mind walking in it! I’m just in love with it; I literally almost cried when I saw the snow first fall down. The main reason why I almost did is because I had never seen snow before and I was not expecting it to fall until January. That’s when it usually comes from what all the Swedes tell me. Skåne usually has rain and wind only and rarely any snow. So, you’re probably wondering if I had a snowball fight, made a snow angel, or even a snowman, right? Well I’ll tell you that later, let me just continue with the week first because that comes later in the week.

On the 15th, I went to my Rotary meeting like usual, but this time it was a Christmas Smörgåsbord (a Christmas Dinner). There were many hot and cold dishes on the table, many of which I would have never touched back in the US. They had herring, raw salmon, smoked eel. I think you get the picture…But since I was here to try new things, I took one of each. Luckily there were Swedish meatballs and potatoes in the back to save me just in case. The herring wasn’t bad, but why would you put tomato sauce on it? The salmon wasn’t bad either, but I didn’t like the texture of it. It didn’t really have a taste, so it was easier to finish it off. As for the eel? Sounds gross, right? Well it basically just tasted like smoked sausage to me, it was just annoying because you couldn’t eat the skin. The meal altogether was actually pretty good, so I was satisfied.

The 18th-my last day of school. Not the way I was expecting it at all. I was expecting to have to go to the classes and we’d just get out like usual and have no more school like back home. But no, we didn’t have any classes at all! All we did was talk and sing in the auditorium and have a fika with our class. It was nice sitting there just chatting with my classmates for once.

Of course I also went to youth group that night. It was the last one for this year, so we had a Christmas party. I loved the Christmas present game that we played. It wasn’t like the ones I was used to playing, everyone was basically killing each other over stuff for the whole eight minutes (it seemed like more than that though because of all the intensity). I won a yahtzee game and some Kex chocolate (so good).

The next day I went to my family’s summer house with my parents and my nephew (that sounds so weird to say). It was a long car ride, but we finally managed to get there. Our main purposes for being there were: to get Christmas trees and shoot a moose (luckily they never got one, or I would have been really sad). We cut down about 12 Christmas trees and loaded them into the trailer. Afterwards, Anthony (my nephew) and I went and had a snowball fight while my parents went looking for the moose. I was so excited to have my first snowball fight! We both took opposite sides of the field and built our wall/barrier…and that’s when the war started. Anthony decided to abandon his wall and come attack me while I was building mine, so the walls were therefore pointless. But we had fun nonetheless. Oh and I did make my first snow angel, but I have yet to make my first snowman….

December 30 Journal

This past week has been short, but wonderful. What made it so wonderful? Well, for one, it was Christmas and for two, I got to meet up with some old friends.

I’ll start on Christmas Eve. This is the day that the Swedes celebrate Christmas (Jul) on, so lucky me, I got to open all of my presents a day early! The day started off with me waking up and opening the gifts I received from back home. Later on, I sat down with a few members of my family and watched Kalle Anke, a big Swedish tradition since the forties. It’s basically a bunch of clips from many Disney movies (new and old), but it’s very pleasant to watch and it makes everyone happy.

Afterwards we went over to my Aunt’s house to celebrate Christmas. First, we had a little glögg fika, but then we went to the real food. It was a typical Swedish Julbord (Christmas dinner), basically just like what I had with my Rotary club, minus the smoked eel. It was great sitting down with the whole family and just getting to know one another. After we finished the meal, my Uncle gave money to my cousin to go “buy a newspaper” (when what he is really doing is dressing up as Santa. This is very common in Sweden, but it can also be the father that dresses up. Either way, there’s always a Santa.). When “Santa” arrived, he passed out the presents and everybody tore at them like vultures on roadkill. It was great, I got many useful things for Sweden, but since I wasn’t expecting anything at all, I was very grateful. Then we finished the night off with some good ole porridge dessert.

The following day was a little depressing, but only because it involved a deer being shot. If you didn’t guess, we went hunting. My host parents are BIG on hunting and love doing it all the time. So, they invited me to come, and I went just to see how it was (I just didn’t want to shoot). I watched them the whole time and enjoyed every bit of it except for the shooting and gutting of the deer, it was quite sad to watch. I could not watch and luckily I won’t have to deal with eating it. Why? Because I’ll be switching families soon.

If you remember, I said that I made a few good friends at the Julfika that I went to on the 11th with Rotaract. Well, one of those people has been keeping in touch with me and invited me to their church on the 27th. So, since I didn’t have anything else to do over the holidays, I went. When I got there, my mind was blown. It was huge! A lot bigger than the church I always go to here in Malmö. But it was very nice; the people were very friendly and welcoming, so I felt at home. As for the service, it was really nice and I’m glad to say that I understood every single word of it! But that’s because they had somebody translating it in English the whole time because it is a bilingual church.

Immediately after the service, I hopped on a train for a three hour ride to Göteborg. When I arrived, I met up with two of my fellow RYE Florida friends, Caitlin and Megan, and a new Swedish friend, Tomas. Since it was almost eleven o’clock at night, we just took the bus back to Tomas’ house. catching up with each other for the whole forty minute bus ride. We decided we would just enjoy the city the following day bright and early, and we did, minus the “bright and early” part because we didn’t leave until around ten. I really enjoyed Göteborg, it was a nice city, and also better than Stockholm. We did some shopping and sightseeing and just had a great time hanging out together for a change. But like all good things, it had to come to an end and I had to head back home.

So after a three hour train ride and a ten minute bike ride, I was home. Unfortunately not for long though because soon after I ate, I had to switch host families again. I was now going back to the Hellberg’s house again! But not for long because I had to leave early the next morning to catch my flight, but I’ll tell you all about that next time. And since that will be after New Years, I just wanted to say:

Gott nytt år!

January 4 Journal

India! India! India! India! India! India! India! India!

You’ll never guess where I’ve been this past week. Just take a wild guess. If you guessed India, then boy are you wrong. Whatever gave you that idea? I sure would like to go to India, but I have actually been in Belgium for the past week with one of my closest exchange friends, Sarah. I needed a break from Sweden for a little bit, so I decided to go visit her for the holidays.

So on Tuesday morning, I flew out of Copenhagen to arrive in Brussels at two o’clock. I got my luggage and took a five minute train ride. I finally met up with Sarah, Chloé (one of her host sisters), and Kelsey (her best friend, who is also an exchange student). I had been anticipating this trip for over a month, and it was great to finally see Sarah after five and a half months. So we moved right onto sightseeing in Brussels for a few hours. We saw the major spots, ate at a burger- in, and finally we left because of the dark. We had a three hour train ride to Sarah’s town, but it was great bonding time for the four of us. After we got off the train, we weren’t anywhere near Sarah’s house; we still had a thirty minute car ride. Lucky for us, Pierre, her host father, picked us up from the train station.

The following day, Wednesday, was basically bonding time with Sarah’s host family. I fell in love with her family; everyone was so nice and welcoming. I bonded with Chloé and her host parents very well, and I bonded even better with her little host sisters (Juliette and Clémence). They were planning a big New Years Eve party, so there were a lot of other people staying with them. There were all types of Europeans; there were some French guys, Belgians, Swiss, and a German. I kind of bonded with a teenage guy from France, but it was hard to since I couldn’t speak much French to him. I was very sad about that because I had taken French for two years back home, and after seven months of not using it once, I had lost most of it. So I was really jealous of Sarah since she could understand everything and could speak quite well. Luckily coming to Belgium has improved my French, so I am no longer answering people in Swedish like I was at the beginning. I hope I can switch back to speaking Swedish when I get back to Sweden, or else I will be even worse than I was when I left.

Well anyway, back to Wednesday. Later that night, her family took me out to go bowling. I wasn’t exactly prepared for the French kind of bowling, but I had heard about it from Sarah, I just hadn’t played it yet. Sarah was right, it was definitely different; the balls were like bigger versions of a croquet ball (because it was small and had no holes) and the bowling lane was very funky. The first half of the lane was quite small, about a foot wide. The other half got bigger and bigger and was shaped like a very small hill so that if you rolled the ball straight down the middle, it would go to the side instead. It was very weird, but I really enjoyed it. I was happy to find out later that I had won the game, but I still don’t know how. When we arrived at the house, the girls and I sat in the living room and watched Coraline in French and 3D; I had never seen it before, so I enjoyed it.

New Year’s Eve. This was a great day for me. Let’s start at lunch time; for lunch we had escargot, which is now one of my favorite foods. I was afraid to eat it at first. It looked gross after I took it out of the shell, but it was amazing. So, I grabbed a bunch of them while all the other kids looked at me basically saying with their facial expressions: Are you crazy? Those are gross! But I loved them. After lunch, we went into Virton, the city that Sarah lives right outside of. We did some sightseeing and shopping. There wasn’t much to see since it was a very small town, but it was cozy and I got to see Sarah’s beautiful school. We went back home about an hour later to have the New Year’s party. To start the party, we ate; we had cheese fondue and meat. The cheese fondue was a Swiss recipe and went great with the bread, and as for the meat, it was a Belgian tradition. We made it by putting a deep fryer on the table and we put the meat on sticks and cooked them ourselves. They were quite good and I’m surprised that I didn’t over-cook or under-cook any of them. Oh, there’s one thing I forgot to mention- the Belgians love their fries. They have them for almost every meal , well at least this family. So I have a feeling that I have gained back some of the weight that I lost in Sweden just from being here in Belgium for a week. Oh well, I’ll lose it once I get back into my regular routine in Sweden. When we finished eating, we cleared away all the tables and made a dance floor. At first I didn’t want to dance, but it was fine once all the adults were drunk because we could laugh at them. At that point they put on better music that we could actually dance to.

The party lasted until four the next morning, so everyone slept in late that day and it ended up being a lazy day. One of my favorite things from that day was playing Belgian Monopoly. It was fun, but quite confusing, even with all the French I know. But I managed to do good because I conquered the board and everyone decided to forfeit on me. Other than that, I got to try new food again, but this time it was mussels. They were alright, but I’d rather have escargot.

The following day was an absolutely amazing and unforgettable day. Sarah brought me along with her to a Rotary activity with her district. I was amazed at how many people were in her district; there were 82 all together, which was a lot compared to the 13 people back in my district in Sweden. Her Rotary district had planned a trip to Bruges. So we had to take a 4 hour train to meet up with everyone else from her district. I immediately began bonding with the other students, and, being as social as possible, started handing out my handy-dandy business card. We had a nice long tour of Bruges, followed by free time to roam the city and a quick snack before we left. During the tour I had gotten to see Shannon, an exchange student from Florida who I had met before. She is also in Sarah’s district in Belgium, so for the whole tour Shannon had acted as my translator. That whole day was an amazing experience. It really stinks that I probably won’t see any of the other students again, but at least we can stay in contact via the information on my handy-dandy business cards.

As for now I about to board my flight back to Copenhagen. But I’m not going home just yet, because I have one last trip to go on…

February 2 Journal

I bet you’ve been dying to hear what trip I went onto after Belgium, huh? Well, I went to Falkenberg. If you are wondering, it is in Sweden, it’s about an hour and half train ride north of Lund. Why did I go there exactly? Well, I was getting there. I went to go visit an exchange friend of mine who I hadn’t seen since the orientation. I don’t know why I hadn’t seen her before now since she is so close to me, but better late than never!

So, I arrived in Falkenberg late in the day on the 4th, and Elisabeth and her host father met me at the train station to take me to their house, which took us twenty minutes by car. The only thing we really did that day was chat for hours just catching up with each other since it had been about six months.

I woke up the next morning to see snow falling from the sky in bunches. It made me happy; what a way to start out the day! Since we had stayed up very late the night prior, we had slept in, so it was now about lunch time. So, Elisabeth and I headed into town with many troubles. First, our bus was late, and then it got stuck in the snow for about twenty minutes. The whole time we were dying of hunger and hoping the bus would get unstuck sooner or later. But it never did. Instead, a backup bus came and took us into town. When we finally got into town, we started looking for the one place Elisabeth had been telling me all about: The Burger Inn. It was supposedly the best burger place there was. So, this is where we had our lunch…us two Americans eating hamburgers for lunch, how typical! But she was right, they were probably the best, if not one of the best, hamburgers I’ve ever eaten. It was so good and my stomach was completely satisfied!

After we finished eating, Elisabeth wanted to take me somewhere else: Gekas. It was supposedly one of the biggest shopping malls in Sweden and people came from all over just to shop there because the prices were like Wal-Mart. Imagine it as being the only Wal-Mart in America, that’s how crowded it usually was, but today, we got quite lucky thankfully. It was nice and I bought a new pair of jeans and a scarf (finally). These pants made me happy to wear though since they were six sizes smaller than my original pair of jeans; that just shows you how much weight I’ve lost. So when we got home, I put those babies on just to feel the satisfaction of wearing smaller jeans, and not baggy ones. But, I also put them on to impress the girls more since Elisabeth had planned a movie night with a bunch of her friends and, of course, they were all girls! But that was fine with me! So we watched a chick flick of course (Definitely Maybe) and an action film (The Intruders). They were both really good and I had a great time. But what was even more fun was the big snowball fight we had outside in between the two movies. It was just me and four of the girls fighting with snow…it was wild, but loads of fun…this is why I love snow so much!

The following day we went sledding!!!! This was my first time sledding and I loved it so much! Although you would think it would stink to fall over, it’s actually pretty fun when you fall over…just as fun as staying on it! I tried both types of sleds: the snowmobile one and the board. I liked the board better, it was harder to steer and more fun on jumps. So I stole this one halfway through our sledding fun. After Elisabeth and her host brother, Jonatan, got tired of sledding, we went inside to have a cup of hot cocoa and play a game of risk. It was just a great night! But unfortunately it had to end with me leaving to go back home to Lund. After almost missing the train and a hour and a half train ride later, I arrived home to unpack a little and go to bed because winter break was over and I had school the next day…

On that Saturday, I took a train up to Helsingborg to go visit my Swedish friend Victor. He was having a going away party because he was heading off to Australia to attend a college there, so it was a sad evening, but everyone had tons and tons of fun. I am very glad that I decided to stay the night because all the way until three in the morning we stayed up partying and playing some pretty cool games that I had never played before. These Swedes sure do know how to have fun!

The next big event to occur was my birthday! It was January 14th, and it sure was a heck of a lot better than my birthday last year. My whole class sang to me in my Psychology class, and that just made me happy for the rest of the day. Later that evening, after dinner, my host mom baked me a nice Swedish cake with tangerines and Daim (a very sweet Swedish candy) on top and a strawberry center…it was AMAZING!!!! And as a present they gave me a Swedish fotboll jersey…it was just another wonderful day in the life of me!

The next day was my party. Since I’m not good at organizing house parties, I just held it at the laserdome in Malmo. By the title of the place, you can obviously tell what we were going to do there: play laser tag!! It was great to play it with a bunch of my closest friends, but it just seems that I can never get higher than 4th place in laser tag, no matter how many times I play. But I had a blast and that’s all that matters. But the party was kind of a dual party; my birthday party and Josh’s going away party. Josh, my oldie from Australia, was leaving to go back home the next day, so this was the last time for people to say goodbye to him. So the party was a sad and happy party. Afterwards, we went out to eat at some Chinese place and then we parted ways and a few of my friends followed me to my youth group.

The following day was the time for me to switch to my third host family. So I did a lot of last minute packing and headed out with my ten different bags. Luckily I was moving just around the corner to a friend of the Hellbergs so the move was not hard at all. I was quite happy to move in with them because they seemed like a very cool family, so I had a feeling I would have a great time with them.

Church was the next day. I was glad I was part of this church because they had services at a good time for me. It wasn’t my regular church; it was the one I went to on the 27th of December with my friend Jennifer. So I met up with Jennifer and Elin at the church and went to a great service. It was quite an awesome service because the winner of Idol (the Swedish version) was there and he sang…it was quite awesome! Afterwards, the three of us and two Norwegian guys went to TGIF and had dinner. Since I have been dying for some buffalo wings since I came to Sweden, I had to get some for the appetizer. They weren’t the spiciest I’ve ever had, but it was better than nothing. As long as it ended my craving for the buffalo wings for some time.

That Friday I went to youth group and we did something quite different, we played Sing Star. I had never heard of it, but I had fun with it. At first I was hesitate to sing in front of people, but after a few tries I was begging to sing next. It certainly brought me out of my shell.

On Sunday I got to finally go back to lacrosse practice and it was quite a workout since it had been about a month since I played. Too bad I have to wait another week and a half to play again, but by that time, we’ll be heading off to a tournament in Goteborg. But anyway, after lacrosse practice I went with my family to a dinner with CISV (some type of exchange program). Johnannes, my host brother, had gone to Brazil that winter through them, so this dinner was with all the people that went on that trip, kind of like a reunion. It was great because I got to meet many new people and also see some familiar faces.

Tuesday was a special day at my Rotary meeting. Why is that? Well, because I finally got to trade flags with them. I could tell everyone was happy to get a flag from me, and I was very happy to get one from them as well. It just seemed like after the trading, the whole meeting was in a better mood.

Well, now I have packed my bags again to go off on another adventure around the world. Where may this stop be? Well, I will tell you in advance this time: France.

February 23 Journal

It had not hit me yet that I had left Sweden when we arrived in Geneva, Switzerland. The “we” that I’m referring to is Megan (yes, the other Floridian), Sofi and Kyle (two other exchange students), and myself. We walked around the city for hours, but it just felt like we were still in Stockholm and the plane just went into a complete circle for two hours. But I knew that that wasn’t true or possible, especially since the trains were way more confusing in Geneva. But Geneva was a beautiful city and I had a great time in it for the few hours we were there. After a two hour train ride and a thirty minute car ride, we were finally in Megève, our home for the next week. That’s when it finally hit me that we were in France! French speaking, escargot-eating France! When we got to the room that we were going to be staying in for the next week, we were in awe…it was so much better than we expected; it was basically like having our own house (kitchen and all), and we loved it.

The following day we got up bright and early in order to get our skis, ski lift passes, and to get in line for the ski lift before it opened. Yes, we were going to ski…best part is, we were skiing in the Alps!

So, the first day. Not much to say really. My first day of skiing was made up of taking LOADS of pictures, skiing, falling down, skiing, crashing, skiing some more, and more crashing. If you couldn’t guess already, I wasn’t that great at skiing. I had only skied once before back home, so this was my second time. I tried to stay positive while I skied, but since I’m not a very confident person, it was hard to every time I crashed.

The second day of skiing was probably the same, if not worse. My crashes were less, but the impact they made were far greater. After I made my last (and probably worse) crash, I quit. This was unusual for me because I usually never quit on anything, I just keep trying until I succeed. But I decided just to call it a day an hour early and see what would happen the following day.

I don’t know what happened to me during the night, but when I went out to ski for the third day, I did very well. It was as if God was watching over me the whole day; like he was torturing me the first two days to test me. It definitely worked though because the only times I fell were on the red slopes, but those were just minor falls. I actually had a blast and was able to keep up with everyone else the whole time. The end of the skiing day was probably the most fun though. I ended up taking the wrong slope down to get home so therefore I took the last lift up to the top in order to get back on track. That’s when the snow started to fall heavily. I looked around and saw nobody. Not a soul was around. It felt great to be the only person on the mountain. Unfortunately, as I started down the slope, the snow got even harder and I could barely see a foot in front of me. But, that made it all the more fun and interesting. I felt like a professional skier gliding through the Alps during a blizzard. I just wasn’t a professional…yet. I just needed a few more years of practice, but that doesn’t help when you live in Florida…

We only got to ski for three days since that’s all we could afford. So, the rest of the days were made up of us relaxing, touring the town, and meeting some great new French people (so therefore getting to brush up on my French again). The town was gorgeous with all their wooden ski resort hotels; there were tons of them…everywhere you turned you saw at least ten of them. We visited a museum about Megève, did some shopping (we got some pins and patches for our blazers), and fikad. The museum had some great history about Megève and gave me the idea of taking panoramic pictures. Unfortunately I didn’t get to take any panoramic of the Alps, but maybe some other time.

Our last day in France wasn’t a very long one because we had to leave at seven in the morning; first took a bus, then a train to finally arrive back in Geneva where we flew back to Sweden. But when I got there, my adventure wasn’t over yet. I had to catch a train in a few hours in order to go up north. So instead of just sitting there by myself for that long, I called up my exchange friends in Stockholm. My friends Marian and Carlos (from Mexico) and João (from Brazil) met up with me and we fikad and just talked for a few hours. It was nice to catch up with them, and see how they’ve changed, since I hadn’t seen them since orientation. My friends stayed longer than I expected them to though because my train was delayed an hour and a half…that’s one bad thing about the snow, the trains get delayed a lot. But it eventually came and I arrived in Hudiksvall finally at two in the morning. So I felt really bad because my friend Julia had to come and get me. Julia is a fellow exchange student. She is from Canada and I had not seen her since orientation (like most of the exchange students), but we bonded a lot back at the orientation so we have kept in touch.

That day we woke up quite late and realized that we were going to miss our train if we didn’t hurry up. So we high-tailed it outta there and ran all the way to the train station just in time to catch our train. Destination: Sundsvall. Mission: meet up with Morgane and see Sundsvall. It was great to see Morgane again, the last time I saw her was a few months ago, but after a few hours she had to leave to go home. So Julia and I, having an hour to spare until our train left, went shopping and had a nice big snowball fight. What a great time…

The following day we toured around Hudiksvall and met up with Julia’s old host sister, Anna, and fikad for about two and a half hours. When we finally said our goodbyes and went home, Julia and I decided to bake some cookies! We called them Canadian-American cookies. Don’t ask me why, because it was probably just because we were Canadian and American. I know it wasn’t because of the ingredients because we didn’t put Hershey’s chocolate and maple syrup in the cookies, otherwise it would definitely be Canadian-American cookies. We just had chocolate chips and walnuts in them though, and boy were they delicious!

The next day was kind of a lazy day. We mostly sat around and talked at her house or went out and walked around town, But, we did get to do one exciting thing: cross country skiing. I had never tried it before, so I was pretty excited. So, for about an hour we skied. At first I did really well; I did not fall at all. But then at the end of the track, I did, but I still had fun while falling.

Later that evening, I took the night train to go home. It was my first time on a night train and I did not like it so much. I did not have a bed, so I had to sit in a seat for the ten hour train ride. I got very restless and bored easily. Eventually I fell asleep only to be awoken by the sound of the train whistle as we were getting ready to come into Lund, my home. It felt great to be home; once I got to my house, I immediately went to my room and fell asleep.

The next few days were basically made up of cooling down, resting, and trying to get back into my “Swedish mode”. During those “cooling down” days, I got to skype with one of my favorite outbounds from Florida, Shaina! It had been six months since I had last seen her, so when her face had popped up on that screen, I was very happy! We had a lot of catching up tp do, so naturally our conversation lasted forever. I was on a skyping frenzy because the next day I got to skype with another Florida outbound, but this time a new one, Leelah. It was great to see and talk to one of the new outbounds face to face and remember how I felt only a year ago when I was in their shoes.

Valentine’s day wasn’t that special mainly because I didn’t have a significant other. Swedes aren’t like us on this holiday at all though; back home people passed out little cards and candy to their friends, while not a soul does a thing here. Even though Valentine’s Day was on a Sunday, I hadn’t seen anybody do it on the Friday before or the Monday after…it was sad. But on Valentine’s Day I went to church like usual and we had another guest appearance! This person was from Swedish Idol as well, but this time it wasn’t a winner, but it was a finalist by the name of Reza. She was a fantastic singer and had only been in Sweden for six months (which frustrated me because I have been here the same length, but she was practically fluent). She had an amazing voice and even sang Whitney Houston’s song “I Will Always Love You” and nailed it!

Being rushed to the ER was not my idea of starting off my first day “on the job” or my week. If you’re wondering what happened, don’t worry, I’ll tell you. So, my host mom, Paivi, works at a hospital and she knew that I wanted to become a Physical Therapist. Since I didn’t have any classes in the mornings on Tuesday and Wednesday, she asked the Physical Therapist in her ward if I could come and see what her job was like, and she said yes! So on Tuesday morning I followed Paivi to work to start my first day “on the job”. Annika the sjukgymnast (Physical Therapist) seemed to love her job, so I had fun until about halfway through. She was giving acupuncture to a patient and all of a sudden I got really dizzy and the next thing I know, I was on the floor being woken up by Annika and I had a bunch of midwives around me (I was on the pregnancy floor). I had fainted for the first time in my life. So they brought me to the ER just to make sure I didn’t do any damage to my body. Luckily I didn’t, but my shoulder hurt a lot. When I was released and got back to the ward, two of the midwives that had taken care of me gave me a baby’s hat as a souvenir of my experience. So I made it more of a souvenir by having them sign it. Now, it’s on my blazer as a wonderful memory and story. I became known as the “boy-who-fainted” throughout the whole pregnancy floor, mostly because I was the only guy in this hospital that wasn’t a doctor; It was a women’s hospital.

Although I was in a little pain, I went back to the hospital the next day to get more “on the job” training. I had a lot more fun since I didn’t faint this time, but probably because Anja, another sjukgymnast, was there with Annika.

On Thursday, I met up with my newbie, Chloe. She had only been in Lund for two weeks, but this was the first time I was getting to meet her. She was from Wisconsin which was odd because she was on an Aussie exchange year (an odd year for an American since Aussies come from January to January, so therefore she had to leave halfway through her school year back home). She had been held back from coming here because she had never received her visa, but now she’s here and that’s all that matters. So I met her at her house and we talked for hours and hours. We were like twins though, which was freaky because we liked a lot of the same things and thought the same way. But that just meant our friendship would be that much stronger.

The following day I had no school so I got to sleep in, but not much because my school band decided to hold a five hour rehearsal since there was no school. It was nice, but my chops were dead after an hour and a half because I’m still not that used to playing the trumpet for that long. Luckily they let us out an hour and a half early though, or else I would’ve died literally. So when I got home, I just rested until it was time to go to youth group. And like usual. Youth group was a blast. I don’t want to think about leaving them in only five months…

It’s Saturday. The day of my big lacrosse tournament in Göteborg. Well, not Huge, but still big for our team just to be playing somebody else. My team did really good too, we won all our games, but unfortunately I let a few goals pass by me each game. That’s the one thing I hate about being goalie: goals getting past me. I just need to practice more and make sure none ever get past me again, that’s all.

My goals for this upcoming vacation week:

Run everyday

Improve my Swedish

Improve my German

Improve my Italian

So that’s all I have planned for this week and hopefully I stick to that plan. Well, until next time. Ciao!

April 1 Journal

My vacation week did not go as planned…I DID go running and end up cycling a marathon, but I never did work on my languages…oops…

Well other than running and biking, I did get to hang out with some of my friends. On Monday, I hung out with a Swedish friend from my church, Frida. She came over to my house and we watched some movies and walked around Lund for a little bit before she had to go home. On Wednesday, we hung out again, but this time I went to her in Dalby (which is why I ended up doing a marathon on my bike). We went on a walk in Skrylle (a nature reserve park for running) and after a few minutes, we stopped and made snowmen! I was so excited because I had never made one before. We decided to make a family: a dad, mom, and child. Frida ended up making the dad and child and I made the mom (I’m a perfectionist, so it took me a while). We decorated them with funky, random items such as buttons and glow-in-the-dark stars. We name our family: Jack for the father, Rose for the mother, and Valentine for the child; it was such a beautiful family. We joked around and said it was the Titanic family, but they had a story behind their names. For Rose, it was because we both liked the name Rose, so we name her that…for the dad, we named him after Jack Frost, enough said. That’s when we realized what we had done, but we didn’t change it. As for Valentine, we both loved that name as well, so that’s why we chose it…it doesn’t have any connection with the Titanic though.

Vacation week ends and it’s time to go back to school…only class I was really having fun in was drama because we were reading and studying Alice in Wonderland in Swedish. Luckily I’m better at reading than listening or talking, so it was somewhat easy to get through the script. I just hope we’re going to perform it, the teacher still hasn’t told us.

It’s March 4th, a.k.a. Doomsday. Why’s that? Only one reason: my family is here. They arrive in Copenhagen stressed out because of their 24 hour delay in Georgia, and they were determined to make the best of their trip while they were here. This was their first time in Europe and out of America in general. So it was a pretty big deal for them to be here. My mother, brother, and sister were the ones that came to visit me, and I was happy to see them all. The day that they arrived, they basically rested, so we did all the sightseeing of Lund the following day. Other than the sightseeing, we had a great dinner with the Hellbergs, Lindvalls, and Arne (my first host family, my current host family (third host family), and my counselor). My family already knew the Hellbergs because that’s where they were staying, so this meal was basically to meet everybody else. After we ate dinner, we busted out an awesome, typical American game…Apples to Apples!! We were afraid that the game was going to be a bust with the Swedes, but like us Americans, they had a blast. Sven ended up winning, but everyone at the table agreed that he somehow cheated….if that’s possible…

On Sunday, my family and I took a nice 9-hour long car ride to Sälen, Sweden. Why were we there? One reason only: to go skiing of course (well snowboarding for my brother and sister). We rented a cabin for five days, so we got to relax a lot. The first day was the day we arrived, so we just stayed in the cabin to get settled in. The second day we drove to Norway (it was only an hour drive away). We checked out a lot of great scenery and a ski resort town so we could get some souvenirs. The third day was our first day to go skiing/snow-boarding. It was very windy, but still quite fun. Now do you remember how bad I was at skiing in France? Well I have definitely improved since then because I was basically just doing the red slopes and I was gliding down them with ease. But back in France, I only went down one red slope, and it was only half of one because I was afraid of falling the whole entire time. The second day of skiing was amazing and definitely one of my favorite days ever in my life. We went to a different mountain to try some new slopes. We did some red slopes, then my brother introduced my sister and I to tree skiing (skiing though trees). I was hesitant at first, but after doing it once, I was addicted. My brother and sister eventually ditched me so they could go try out the jumps, rails, and fun boxes. I, on the other hand, continued tree skiing and going through denser trees each time. Just before we were about to leave, I convinced my siblings to come tree ski with me through some very dense trees on a very steep mountain. It was hard and quite scary, but I loved the challenge. Halfway down the mountain I found myself on a black diamond slope, and without thinking twice about it, I went down it with ease. Knowing that I accomplished half a black diamond with such ease made my day even more wonderful. The following day we left the cabin and headed back on the road, but not to Lund…we were off to Stockholm!

The ride was alright, but afterwards I no longer wanted to see another Swedish meatball again. This was because I heated up a bunch of leftover meatballs at the cabin before we left, and I ate half of the box for my lunch. We arrived in Stockholm just in time to catch our cruise ship. CRUISE SHIP?! Yup, we were now going to Finland! The cruise went very well, and the views from the ship’s dock were absolutely amazing. It was pretty cool to see the ship driving next to all of those icebergs in the water…it reminded me of the Titanic again.

We arrived in Helsinki at ten the next morning and that’s when we met Elli, a previous exchange student that went to my school last year (not through Rotary though). So Elli showed us around Helsinki, we did some shopping, and ate some good Finnish food for lunch. When the clock hit four, we had to say our goodbyes and make our way back to the cruise ship…unless we didn’t want to ever go back home. That night I had a great dinner on the ship: Beef entrecôte and ratatouille. I felt so special because my mom just got a pizza and my siblings got a burger each…how lame, right? Well if you were wondering, yes, my meal was absolutely amazing. Actually, the main reason that I got that dish was because of the ratatouille. I had always wondered what it tasted like after seeing the movie so many times in French class last year and it definitely lived up to my expectations.

We arrived back in Stockholm around ten that next morning and did some sightseeing of Stockholm before heading off to Lund. The following day my family got to meet Arne’s family. We were invited over to have dinner there and of all things, guess what we had. Swedish meatballs…I wanted to puke. Luckily these were homemade ones though, so it was a lot easier to eat them since they didn’t taste at all like the other ones. We had a great time talking, playing ping pong, and looking at pictures that we stayed very late.

On Monday morning, my mom followed me to school just to see it. She went to my drama class with me and observed as we did our small projects for Alice in Wonderland. She decided to go home after that because she didn’t want to follow me to German for some reason…maybe she was tired of hearing one foreign language that a second one would drive her crazy.

Tuesday, my mom went to band with me for about an hour and then we left to go to the Olsson’s house for dinner. We had a nice dinner (and yes, there were Swedish meatballs again…but they were made from moose instead of pork and beef). For dessert, my mom had bought a princess cake (a typical Swedish cake). It is very fancy looking and amazingly good…and sadly, that was the first time I had had one. It was definitely worth the wait.

The following day I said goodbye to my family as they got on the plane to go back home. Now it was time to go back to my regular life…

Well, you can definitely tell it’s spring now because 1) the snow is gone (sadly), 2) spring flowers are starting to bloom everywhere, 3) it’s raining again, and 4) the weather ranges from 30-50 degrees Fahrenheit, so I am no longer wearing jeans and a coat…just my shorts and hoodie.

I’ve been keeping up with the running and I just keep slimming down. So far the farthest I have ran at one time is a quarter of a marathon in a little less than an hour, which I think is pretty good. I’m just happy that I’ve done that much because that means I’m halfway to my goal! Plus, just the fact that I ran six and a half miles makes me happy, I could’ve never done that back home eight months ago.

Now it’s Easter break and basically all that’s been happening this week for me is band for six hours a day, and running for an hour. Tuesday was the only day that was different. I had no band, so I went to visit Frida in Dalby (just a half an hour bike ride from my house). We watched Sleeping Beauty and Aladdin in Swedish and then had ratatouille for dinner (still loved it). Then we went upstairs and we played some American games (no, not Apples to Apples again, you can’t play that with only two people). We played skip-bo and five straight (a family game that some relative of mine made).

That’s basically been my life for the past month. I’ll try to update you more often.


April 16 Journal

Eight and a half months and thirty five pounds later, I’ve finally reached the sad few months left of my exchange. Now’s the time to make the best of these last few months, right? Well that’s what I plan on doing. There’s only one way to do this in my mind: travel! We all know that I love to travel though, so this won’t be a problem for me at all.

Well these past few weeks have been great and relaxing for me. It all starts with my trip to the summer house with my host family. Their summer house is in Onslunda, a fifty minute drive east of Lund. It’s on the other coast of Sweden, so therefore it’s a bit colder since they don’t have the Gulf Stream to help warm them up. But I thought it felt nice anyway. We mostly relaxed while we were there; the toughest thing we had to do was burn yard debris (oh, the torture!). We finished the day off with a nice trip to the sauna! About time that I got to go into a sauna (sad, I know), but it was definitely worth the wait because it felt good. I sat in there for over an hour and I’ve never sweat so much in my life. I believe the temperature in there was 70º C, so that would be 158º F…and then add the humidity to that, and you realize that you’re basically sitting in an oven…OI! The typical Scandinavian thing to do is to jump into an ice cold lake after the sauna and then jump back into the sauna. Did I do it? Are you crazy?! Do I look that nuts to you? Well, then you’re right, because I did do it! There was just one problem: we didn’t have a lake. The substitute: an ice cold shower outside. I stepped into it once, full on, and I thought I was going to have a heart attack! But then I turned around and did it once more anyways!

This weekend had many firsts, because I had my first dream in Swedish as well! It only took eight and a half months…Anyway, the dream was in both Swedish and English, but after I woke up, I never felt different. I was hoping they were right and after the dream I would fully understand Swedish, but I didn’t. Maybe it’s just me and it works on others, I’m not sure.

Easter Sunday. No basket full of candy, no Easter egg hunt, no Easter egg dying, no Easter bunny. My heart sank a little. They definitely didn’t do anything like us, unless it was just my family. I know, that’s not what the holiday is about, but I’m just so used to having those traditions every year; you bond with your family during these times. It just seems like a normal day except for the Easter egg treat after dinner.

Later that week I hung out with Emily for once in several months. But we had a nice, long four hour fika, so we got to catch up with each other. She also interviewed me for a project that she was working on for school. All third years (seniors) have to do a project at the end of the year. Emily didn’t have to do one, but she decided to write a book/long essay in Swedish about being an exchange student and she wanted the view from someone else as well. I felt special because she said she picked me because of how much I have done and seen while on exchange.

It’s April 9th, early in the morning, and I’m catching the train to Falkenberg to go visit Elisabeth again. After I arrived, we sat down with her host family and had a nice fika. She was with a different host family this time, but I liked them nonetheless. After the fika, we decided to throw on our bathing suits and jog down to the beach. It was very nice out so we decided to test out the water…yes, it was very cold, so we only went ankle deep. Afterwards we continued to walk on the beach until we found this little sand bar. So what did we do? We wrote all over it! We just grabbed some sticks and started writing all over it and trying to take up the whole island with our graffiti. The first thing I ended up was the legendary “RYE Florida” and then I did many things after that. A man came up to us as we were out there and asked us if we had lost a bet. He just didn’t think any sane person would be out there on that cold and windy day in their bathing suits, especially since there was supposedly ice covering the whole beach about a week prior. We didn’t care though because we were enjoying ourselves. But before we left the beach, there was one thing I HAD to do: go swimming. Yes I did go swimming, but honestly the water was quite refreshing. I would gladly swim on that beach again than to go in that heart attack shower, that’s for sure. Afterwards we walked to Burger Inn and had a big and juicy burger. It was funny to see everybody’s faces as they drove by, because here we were acting like it was a summer day with our bathing suits and towels over our shoulder while everybody else was bundled up in their coats, pants, scarves, and gloves.

Later that night, we went over to Sara’s house (a friend of Elisabeth and mine) for a movie night. Nobody knew that I had come to Falkenberg besides Elisabeth because we wanted to surprise everyone. So they didn’t know that I was coming to the movie night, they just knew Elisabeth was bringing a friend. I can assure you that they were very surprised and happy indeed…mission accomplished. The movie night reminded me of the last time I was in Falkenberg. This one was just a smaller group and we didn’t have a big snowball fight during the night (only because there wasn’t any snow anymore). But we still had a jolly good time regardless.

The following day Elisabeth and I made some American pancakes for her host family with some good ole Bisquick. We ended up making three different kinds: chocolate chip, blueberry, and regular. Boy were they delicious! It sure had been a while since I had had any American pancakes; I was getting so used to the Swedish pancakes. Afterwards we went to Gekås in an attempt to but me some new clothes since all of my other clothes were way too big for me now. But we didn’t have much luck because we only ended up with a few dress shirts. Oh well, I think I can suffer for three more months. Immediately after we got home from Gekås, we ate a magnificent dinner (bruschetta and kebab with potatoes) and then we headed off to Falkenhallen for a big concert. It was a big band competition to see who would represent Hålland (the region of Sweden). Tessan, one of my friends, was in the competitions, so this was the only reason we really came to the concert. Unfortunately Tessan’s band didn’t win, but they were very good and I was happy that I finally got the chance to see them perform. And since this was the first time I saw Tessan since I had been in Falkenberg, she was very happy to see me.

Sunday was my last day in Falkenberg, so I had to make the best of it. To start out the day, we made some Jell-O! I had bought a box of lime Jell-O at the American store in Malmö, so what better time to make it than now? We obviously couldn’t eat it right away, so we put it in the refrigerator for later. We went for a jog afterwards and after a while of jogging, we found some nice flat rocks and we laid down and did some sun tanning. We accidently fell asleep, so we ended up being there for two hours…thank God the sun isn’t as strong in Sweden as it is in Florida, otherwise I would be like Austin’s sister Jacqs at the district conference back home (she was red on her front half and white on the back half because she accidently fell asleep for an hour). We got our stuff together and jogged back home to take a shower and go to the store. We were going to make some bruschetta for the first time. We were in love with the bruschetta that Ingrid (Elisabeth’s host mom) had made, so we were determined to have some more. The bruschetta ended up taking about thirty minutes in total to make, but it was definitely worth the wait. They may not have been as good as Ingrid’s but they were close!

With only a few hours left in Falkenberg, Elisabeth and I went to go play some basketball with Sara and Mimmi. At first, I was really bad because I had not played for ages, but when we played “horse”, it ended up just being Sara and I at the end. So my last few hours were quite fun and I had a great time playing basketball with the girls. Before I left, there was just one more order of business to attend to: to eat the Jell-O. I definitely didn’t want to forget about the Jell-O. So Elisabeth and I shared half of it and left the rest of it for her host parents to enjoy. I then said my thank yous and goodbyes and left Falkenberg.

Monday morning I woke up bright and early to go for my morning jog. I was determined to go further than I had ever gone before, and I ended up doing double what I had ever done. I ended up doing half a marathon! I was so happy with myself; I felt so accomplished. I didn’t do the whole thing non-stop though, but I only stopped twice: at the halfway point and at the ¾ point. I did want to stop many more times after the halfway point and the ¾ point, but I just kept pushing myself to go further. So, just the fact that I ran a quarter of a marathon without stopping was satisfying to me. That just means I’m that much closer to my goal: to run a half marathon non-stop. If you didn’t know, I’m training to run the broloppet in June, and that is a half marathon race.

Other than that, all I’ve been doing is going to Rotary, band, Scouts, Spyxet band, and school. Right now we are getting ready for our concert in a few weeks for band…and as for the Spyxet, well that’s in a week! I can’t wait for that, so wish us luck! Too bad I won’t be there for any more rehearsals before the performance because I’ll be on another trip. But I can’t reveal where I’m going just yet! All I can tell you is that I’m on a train to Stockholm right now.

So, until next time,


July 6 Journal

Time is flying by too fast… it’s been three months since I sent my last journal in…where HAS the time gone? Well I can tell you where it has gone…it has been made into amazing, unforgettable memories….


I went up to Stockholm and visited Claire, from New York. She was one of those special exchange students because she lived in the rich part of town… on one of the king’s islands (You have to know the King personally in order to live on one)… it was obviously beautiful and luxurious and you didn’t have to worry about many neighbors for sure. After seeing this side of Stockholm for a few days, I found a new love for the big city.

After Stockholm, I took a 15 hour train ride up to Kiruna!! Rotary organized this trip, so the train was FILLED with many exchange students…now many of which are my closest friends after that train ride. We spent many days in Kiruna, so we got to do quite a lot. We of course had to go to the Ice Hotel (what Kiruna is famous for… and yes, we did get to go inside too!) We also got to go snowmobiling (oops… I broke a ‘D’…*wink*wink*), to a few ski resorts, and to Norvik, Norway. It was so much fun and I was especially happy to see snow on the ground once again.

I immediately went home for Spyxet after a few days in Kiruna. Spyxet is a huge performance that my school puts on very year…the title is mixed with the school name (Spyken) and the word ‘spex’ (meaning: a comedy musical aimed or a younger audience. Usually done by college students in Sweden, but Lund is the only city that does it in High School as well). I was part of the band and I was playing my tuba and, for the first time in my life, the trumpet.


There were only four main events (that I can recall) that happened in the month of May. That would be the Lundaloppet, Lundakarnevalen, Blodomloippet, and canoeing in Rööne Å. The lundaloppet was a 10k race around Lund…this was my first race ever, so I was naturally very nervous. I finished the race in 53 minutes, which is not too bad for the first time. The blodomloppet was also a 10k race, but this one was for charity and I ran it with my Rotaract club. There were thousands of people participating, but only half were seriously running, but that’s because we had older people just doing it for the charity…there were even dogs, which cracked me up.

Lundakarnevalen… Oh what fun!! This was a three day event filled with fun, fun, and more fun! The Lundakarnevalen is a carnival that the Lund University students put on every four years… so I was very lucky to be here on that fourth year! They had many things at the Carnival… booths from massage to Sumo Wrestling, games, a circus, a parade, and concerts with many well-known artists. It was absolutely amazing and I hope to come back in four years for the next one.

The canoeing trip was on Rööne Å, aka Rööne (small) river. It was with my youth group in Malmö, so it was basically with a bunch of my closest Swedish friends. We basically just went canoeing and camping for three days, but it was the fact that was with them, that’s what made it great.

July 15 Journal

I am now, officially Swedified….I can now pass as a Swede with the blonde hair, blue eyes, skinny jeans, and white All-star shoes. If only I could talk perfect Swedish, then I think many would mistake me as a true Swede…


Studenten Week…aka Graduation week, BUT the Swedish graduations are so much more fun (sorry to say). We basically went into the auditorium for an hour; my principal/headmaster talked to us, we had bands play for us, and we said our goodbyes to all the teachers. Then we ran out into the courtyard with our class and were greeted by a HUGE crowd of friends and family. The families usually held up signs with their child’s name and baby picture on it, which is really neat, and then they would put gifts around your neck (like flowers, stuffed animals, horns, etc.). Then we ran out to the streets and got on our huge trucks with our friends and went around town a few times. We played music, danced, yelled, and blew our whistles while on the trucks, just to show how happy and excited we were to “take studenten”…the flaks (trucks that we used) are definitely the best and most fun part of the Swedish graduation, if they just added that to the American one, it would be awesome! I went through this for a week and a half. First it was my exchange friend Emily, then the following week it was Albin on Monday (first host family brother), Carl on Tuesday (second host family brother), Julia on Wednesday (third host family sister), and myself on Thursday. So it was basically a party all week in Lund! Sarah May and her mom actually came to my studenten…that made my day! I was so excited to see them and I went and meet them in Malmö the following day before they left for Germany.

That weekend was the dreaded Broloppet…the race I had been worrying about for the past three months. It was my third race, but my first half marathon race (that’s 21 kilometers/13.1 miles) and I ended up finishing in two hours and eleven minutes, not too bad…so now I can say that I’ve run from one country to another because the Broloppet was a race over the bridge from Copenhagen, Denmark to Malmö, Sweden. DEFINITELY an experience of a lifetime and I wouldn’t trade it for anything (especially since I plan on doing this more often when I get back home).

During June I got to visit three cities that I had never got the chance to go to before: Norrköping, Örebro, and Eskilstuna. I went to Norrköping for a few days and got to meet up with a lot of my exchange friends that I had not seen since orientation and also saw a bunch of my newer exchange friends from my Kiruna trip, and of course I met some new people too…I also got to swim for the first time since Summer started (unless you count my quick dip-ins at the beach in Falkenberg in March), and it was quite refreshing. I went to Örebro to visit Megan, since I hadn’t had the chance to, and stayed for a few days. While I was in Örebro, Megan and I went to Eskilstuna to meet up with Sofi and Kyle (from my skiing trip in France). I also got to meet some cool new people while we were watching the Mexico vs Uruguay fotboll game and the France vs South Africa fotboll game (Sofi was the Mexican, Zoe was the South African, and Nathan was the French guy…so we were basically rooting for every team EXCEPT Uruguay…). We mostly hung out with Sofi though and unfortunately had to say our last goodbyes to her since she was leaving to go back to Mexico. It was a sad moment.

Also, if you didn’t know, the Royal wedding (Bröloppet (not to be confused with the Broloppet….trust me, I mixed it up all the time)) for Sweden’s Crown Princess, Victoria, was on the 19th of June. Did I watch it? Of course I did because it was on basically every channel and lasted all day…I just didn’t go all the way to Stockholm for it (now if I had received a personal invitation from the princess, then maybe I would’ve gone). But I didn’t watch it all, because I do have a life you know…

MIDSOMMAR!!! Basically the biggest holiday in Sweden. It is a huge party all over Sweden celebrating summer and hot weather. I spent midsommar with the Olssons (second host family) at their summer home, and I found out that I have a good singing voice…or maybe just a good karaoke voice….because we sang A LOT of karaoke during midsommar, it was actually quite fun (I would usually never do it because I don’t like singing in front of people…but I’m not as shy anymore after being in Sweden). On the way back home from the summer house, we stopped by the Swedish Stonehenge…I had never been before so I was pretty excited to see it and it was pretty amazing…not as extravagant as the one in Great Britain, but it was still pretty cool.


Only one big event has happened since July began…my band trip to Italy. This was a ten day trip and I just got back from it yesterday, so it’s all still fresh in my mind. We took a bus from Lund, Sweden and drove all the way to Lido Di Jesolo, Italy. Yes, it was a very long bus ride, but I was with very cool people the whole time, and we stopped halfway both times in Germany (Jena and Bad Kissingen). We also got to go to Berlin, but this was only because the air-conditioning was broken and we had to get it fixed…but regardless, I got to see a bunch of Berlin! So I hit two birds with one stone on this trip since I had never been to either Germany or Italy. We went to a Swedish convention in Lido for that whole week (odd that we went all the way to Italy for a Swedish convention when we could’ve just stayed home…but I’m actually glad we didn’t stay because I would’ve never got the chance to go to Italy.). A typical day for us in Italy was pretty relaxed: we played a little in the morning, then we were free to go relax and chill on the beach for eight hours (we would play some volleyball, go swimming in the beach or pool, play some cards, and many people would Siesta (sleep for three hours) during this time)…after that we ate dinner, marched, and had a little concert at night. That was about it, it was very relaxed and I loved it that way. I definitely now have my tan because of our relaxed schedule…so I’m prepared for going home now (I used to look like death because of the lack of sunlight, now I look alive…haha). One of the days in Italy was also spent in the lovely city of Venice. We were on our own until dinner time, so we got a lot more sightseeing done this way. I even got to go on a gondola ride! It was pretty sweet, and our driver looked authentic, he just didn’t sing for us…

In the past two days, I have also gone to Liseberg and Varberg. Liseberg is an amusement park in Göteborg, it is quite big and very well known. I went to Liseberg with Elisabeth and all my Falkenberg friends. We had a great time, and lucky for us, the lines were quite short (but that’s because it was raining). I also went to Varberg for the first time (just 50 minutes south of Göteborg) with my host family. We toured around the city then went out on the boat for a few hours (I got to go tubing for the first time in a year…boy was it fun!).

But now I am in Falkenberg visiting Elisabeth…her going away party is today (she leaves on the same day as me) so it’s time for me to say my goodbyes to her and all my Falkenberg friends. I leave for my other home in just 5 days…yes it is a very sad thought and I still have so many things to do before I go. I don’t want to leave my home again for good, I had to do it just a year ago…now here I am again having to start saying my ‘goodbyes’ and ‘see you laters’. This is the one thing I was Not looking forward to for my exchange…I just wish I could stay….but at least I somewhat know what I’ll be going home to, but in a way, it’s still like going to a foreign place because home will not be the same as it once was….but I’m used to adjusting; I’m a foreign exchange student!


Bridget Wesson
2009-10 Outbound to France
Hometown: Tallahassee, Florida
School: Leon HS
Sponsor: Tallahassee Sunrise Rotary Club, District 6940, Florida
Host: Rouen Foret Verte Rotary Club, District 1640, France

Bridget - France

Bridget’s Bio

Bonjour! Hello! My name is Bridget, and I live in Tallahassee, Florida (north Florida). I am 16 years old, and will be 17 shortly before I leave for France. I live with my mom, two brothers, two cats, and new kitten. I currently attend Leon High School as a junior, although I hope to graduate this spring with the senior class.

My school is only a twenty minute walk from my home, so I walk to and from school nearly everyday. I couldn’t be happier with the school teachers and students, and I know they are excited for my upcoming exchange trip to France .

I’ve lived in Tallahassee my entire life, but I have been very fortunate to travel all over America and the entire Mexican border. I am very interested in the French culture, and started studying the language in 6th grade. I have had the same French teacher, Madame Clarke, for six years now and this has allowed me to excel in my understanding of the country. The day I found out Rotary was sponsoring me to go to France for 10 months was one of the happiest days of my life. J

In the little free time I do have, I enjoy spending time with my friends, playing the harp and traveling with my family. I rarely find something I don’t enjoy, so I like most everyone I meet, worldwide cuisine, and all types of music. I am very glad that my open-mindedness had allowed me to enjoy my studies of the world.

I’ve never been more excited for anything in my life! Living, breathing, sleeping, and learning in France will truly be one the best experiences of my life. I cannot thank Rotary enough for sponsoring me! I hope to make more lifelong friends than I can imagine, and learn more than I ever thought possible.

Until next time,


 Bridget’s Journals

August 6 Pre-departure Journal

I have 20 days until my exchange. For the past 8 months, I KNEW I was leaving. I knew that when August 25th came around, I’d be leaving the life I just now finally understand. I have known this fact for quite some time now. So from 200 days, down to 20 days, my outlook is still the same: complete and utter denial.

I’ve prepared every day since Mr. DiPietro told me that my exchange to France was almost 100% going to happen. Everything seemed to be falling into place. I packed back in March, and my language skills are acceptable. The last part of my preparation, which I am now realizing is the hardest of all of it, is the mental preparation. I can stay in this wonderful pool of denial until I step off the plane, or probably even later, but I know that this will only hinder me from starting my exchange with a wonderful beginning. I know that if I wait until August 25th to realize I won’t see my mother, house, bed, or best friend for an entire year, it will keep me from absorbing this wonderful experience to the fullest.

I read the Exchange Student Survival Guide, spent nights reading up on exchange information and tips from culture websites, and read anything and everything Rotary Youth Exchange Florida was willing to give me…twice. But what I found to be the best help, of course, was the people who actually went through a year abroad in a foreign country. Rotexes- previous Rotary exchange students- are gold mines of information. I cannot thank Anna Breedlove and Mark Schmertmann enough for everything they told me. Although they spent their years in Belgium and Germany, the experience is generally always the same.

Six months ago, I thought all I needed to do was pack and perfect my French, and voila, I’d have a wonderful exchange year. But, after speaking with Anna, and reading the journals of current outbounds, I slowly discovered how unprepared I was. I thought the suitcases and currency transfer would be the hurdle to getting to France. Now, I know that these things were nothing compared to what’s going on in my head. I feel, for the most part, like a zombie. I’m stuck between two worlds- Half of me wants to stay in bed all day and think of what I am about to do, and my other half wants to soak up every last second I have in my hometown and see everyone one more time.

If there was a way, I would just appear in France. I wouldn’t face saying goodbye to everyone. Unfortunately, this is far from a possibility. So, every day, I make myself think about it. It’s like a daily exercise: envisioning getting on the plane in my little Tallahassee, and waiving to my mother. One day, this daydream won’t make me cry. But for now, I know I’m still not ready. I have 20 days to think of this and realize that a year is not a lifetime. That a year doesn’t mean I’m gone forever; that Rouen, France isn’t keeping me from the home I know and love, but giving me another.

At the beginning of the year, I thought that everyone should be required to have a year abroad before they graduate high school. I thought that if there was an economical way of accomplishing it, that an exchange year should be a replacement for the fourth year in high school. Everyone would be bilingual and have a better understanding of the world around them. Now, I see why this dream will never come to pass. I have never been tested this much. I knew that at times during this experience, most people would have quit. It was never an option for me, but it was a relaxing thought. Now, the most peaceful daydream I have is imagining myself setting my bags down in my new bedroom in Le Petit-Couronne, finally done with the preparation, and actually being there.

I would recommend that along with the guide books, Rotary blazer, and informative orientations, that each exchange student be assigned a psychologist. The emotions are unbelievable. Truly. Unless you’re living this, don’t pretend you get it. But I don’t think a psychologist would even help- I couldn’t fathom putting my feelings into words. Being a Rotary exchange student is better than most drugs I can imagine. I am more awake than ever, but I’m on cloud nine. No, not even that, I’m way above cloud nine. I’m looking down at cloud nine wondering why those people aren’t as happy as I am.

They say it takes a village to raise a child, well it also takes a village to make someone an exchange student. I’ve never been tested this much, and I don’t think I have ever tested my mother so much. Nor my friends, family, teachers, administrators…generally just everyone in my life. I have never asked so many questions, or asked for so many favors. Due to this, I know I will have a successful exchange year. I wouldn’t be letting myself down, or just wasting a year of my time, I would be throwing away everyone’s hard work. Now, I am indebted to nearly half of Tallahassee for some reason or another. Thank you Rotary for everything. From the bottom of my heart I cannot thank Mr. DiPietro, Al Kalter, and the rest of RYE Florida enough.

Merci, et a la prochaine fois, a bientot.



September 9 Journal

It has been two weeks. Just two weeks. This seems impossible. It can’t have been just two weeks. Not because time moves slowly here, it actually seems to just slip away, but because so much has happened. I arrived in Paris, France at 7 am their time, sans sleep, and met my host parents. We drove for one hour from Charles de Gaulle airport, to my little suburb Le Petit Couronne just outside of Rouen. This place is truly what its photos show. I’ve never seen such a beautiful country. Looking out the car window, I was waiting for the beauty to end, and the REAL France, the one they don’t show in the pictures, to arise. It still hasn’t. Everything about this country continues to amaze me.

What I’ve learned:

How to flush the toilet.

Crazy’s crazy no matter what country.

Arabs are the lucky race chosen for discrimination.

High school never changes.

Children’s books are sometimes too complicated for me.

France is going through a baby-boom. And it’s literally raining babies here.

The cars here are pocket sized.

Missing your bus happens only when it’s raining…and windy.

A letter from home makes me unconditionally happy.

I live in Miami.

Being an exchange student excuses anything.

Speaking English is the most liberating feeling in the world.

The French don’t believe in salt unless in mounds.

A beautiful day at the beach means 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

The French people shut themselves off from people they don’t know.

Small talk with someone next to you-unless you’ve been formally introduced- doesn’t exist.

Smiling at a stranger on the street doesn’t exist.

My Pride is a thing of the past.

A bar-be-cue here isn’t our bar-be-cues back home, y’all. That’s for sure.

School lunches here are considered fine dining in America.

I’m the American. I look it, I smell like it, I act like it, I smile like it, I hold my cutlery like it, I speak like it, I dress like it, and everyone knows it.

American football is a complicated curiosity to the French.

American tourists in Rouen make me giggle.

Street bums are hard to tell apart from the general public.

A tour of the local Prostitutes comes with trying your first French pastry.

Catholics here aren’t the same Catholics back home, in a less crazy kind of way.

My hair straightened will never be the same. Thank you, European wattage.

I am a toy here, something to be shown off, something for them to poke and prod, something for them to study – just as they are to me.

The French love an American accent.

Becoming friends with a café owner is a powerful thing. Free coffee truly does taste better.

Becoming enemies with a café owner is a scary thing. I can no longer enter one of the cafés in Rouen…whoops.

The men considered beaus here are a joke.

A dream in French isn’t much different.

A job considered minimal in the United States will get an entire family by here.

Students, bums, models, and doctors all use the city bus.

Everyone in France can quote Arnold Schwarzenegger perfectly, but can’t pronounce my name.

Parisians are a different species of human.

France is its own world – and most Frenchmen haven’t wandered outside its boundaries, nor have a desire to.

Ignorance thrives here.

The French don’t talk about politics. They don’t talk about money. They talk about sex.

What I Need to Learn:


Being the exchange student here makes me popular, different, a loser, the coolest kid in school, a freak, an outsider, powerful, useful, pathetic, interesting, fascinating, unique, uncomfortable, unusual, bizarre, a victim, a trophy, a burden, appreciated, forgotten, exhilarating, problematic, taxing, but never boring.

A journal of what I’ve learned would be quite long. A journal of what I’ve done here would be even longer. But a journal of how I’ve changed would be never ending. Just as my aptitude with the French language evolves every day, so do my opinions. What I consider a problem now isn’t the same. Being late, that’s fine. Missing my bus, that’s just dandy. Being called out in class for sitting incorrectly, I couldn’t be happier. It’s not apathy that allows such acceptance, it’s a transformation in pride. “My pride,” that’s gone. It disappeared the second I stepped off the plane in Paris and realized I was equivalent to an enfant in one of the biggest cities in the world. Now, I have a new pride. It is not the same as it was 14 days ago, one hour ago, and it won’t be the same pride 6 months from now. It’s growing and changing with me. I now find pride in who a person is; without the ability to communicate, WHO someone is conveys more than ever before.

Everything here is a test. A test of my ability to understand the language, to read a foreign map, of my host family’s patience, and of my appliances with the local electricity. I have never used a dictionary so much. I have never been so tired. And I have never been so happy.

Thank you, Mother, Rotary, and the wonderful United Airlines for giving me this opportunity and getting my bags here intact.

Gros bisou,

À bientôt,


October 22 Journal

It wasn’t as simple as just choosing between the red and blue pill. But that’s basically what I did. I started this adventure one year ago, and I’m not gonna lie…I think I am just now realizing what I got myself into.

What had happened was…

It was early September 2008 and I was sitting in my Economics class diligently working as usual. Next thing I know I wake up in France wearing more clothes than I have ever thought possible, a head full of mixed English and French, a wallet with 4 different currencies all together totaling no more than 5 dollars, wondering how on Earth a visit to Leesburg, Florida and a stack of paperwork could have added up to this.

Well, two months into the year, I’m one inch taller and a case fit for Freud himself. The buzzing in my head from the continual French seems to be subsiding, and a quick glance at the Gros Horloge of Rouen is to check the time after school, not to stare in awe, camera in hand. Everything seems to be falling into a routine, just as they said it would. I no longer go to the wrong class and wait two hours to be told I’m in the room next door, and the smell of the Nutella factory just seems like something that should be there. The humming of the metro train sooths me now, for it means either the beginning of a daily adventure in a cheerleader-free school, or it proves I survived another day in the biggest city I’ve ever lived in.

My life, in one quick glance:

I wake up to a pitch black, generally wet, in my opinion, freezing village to the sound of an alarm on a phone I still don’t understand how to use. I brush my teeth- always remembering to be conservative with the tooth paste, because that just seems easier than finally having to translate the whole phrase “I need a new tube of toothpaste” to my host parents- with water that has two settings: searing and glacial. I make my way across the hallway, making sure to avoid the last step because it creeks. And when it creeks, a certain little 4 year old French boy wakes up. And there’s nothing quite like starting your day with a crying infant screaming in a foreign language.

I stand at the door, bracing myself for weather I thought only existed in Russia. I yell “Salut!” to my host family, who are most likely still giggling about the 7 layers I feel necessary for such temperatures, and start the quick ½ mile walk to the bus stop. The quick walk turns into a run, me cursing the whole way under my breath- that I can oh so clearly see, and me zooming past natives in shorts and tee shirts. I hop on the bus and it takes me to my metro station. Thirty minutes later, and 3 flights of stairs I come out into one of the most photographed cities in the world.

My school back home truly does seem like a scene from High School Musical compared to here. There’s no pom-poms, painted faces, school chants, decorated hallways, lockers, flags, mirrors, posters, bleachers, football field or cliques. School here has the same upbeat feeling, but in a study-hall kind of setting. Every girl is dressed to impress. Every boy is coiffed to the tee. The hallways are filled with LongChamp bags (for both men and women), high heels, dark wash jeans, and beautifully straightened hair. As of right now, the “flannel and cowboy boots” look is in. That’s one aspect of France I love- they currently hold to the highest fashion what my city finds fit for the local trailer-park.

Class begins with a lovely jingle, not the moaning bell I’m used to. I sit there with my English-French dictionary ready to translate any word I may be lucky to understand, and the native students begin writing meticulous cursive with their re-loadable fountain pens on ruler straight lines.

Although these kids may be in a spirit-less school, dressed in 500 dollar outfits, it’s not too different. In the end, high school is high school- with or without Zac Efron dancing up and down the bleachers. There’s the favored teachers, the toady teacher, the weird kid, the fat bitch, the girl everyone has a crush on, the hot guy every girl pretends to ignore, and the designated “smoking area” (but here it encompasses the entire outside of the school, and smoking breaks are between every class, side by side the professor).

Just as I seem to be adapting to the school and students, they seem to be getting used to me as well. The first few weeks, I was poked and prodded more than my Rotary blazer. Every day was like a conference, answering questions and explaining that yes, there is in fact lots of sun in Florida.

My courses at school include: French, a little bit more French, and then some more French but for the 5 foreigners, History and Geography, Social Sciences, English, and then a sports class- as of right now, we’re playing Rugby, and then it’s ice skating. After school, I visit the city, losing myself in the local library and free museums. I have yet to literally lose myself, but I can’t wait! That should be exciting in so many ways.

Once again, I take the wonderful public transportation home, and drink coffee at exactly 4:30 with my host parents. I play games with Valentin, my 4 year old brother, who I recently realized understands and speaks French at nearly the exact same level as me. We eat dinner- which is trust me, oh so French- and the daily routine starts over again. Finally having a routine is a blessing. Knowing what’s coming up, what’s most likely going to happen, and being able to mentally imagine a schedule for yourself makes this alternate world a little bit more like home.

So in two months, I think I’ve accomplished quite a bit. Not in the traditional since, but in the fact I’ve come from being a zombie-like baby too a communicating toddler. Maybe by Christmas, I’ll be on the mental playing field of a middle schooler.

This experience is more than I could have ever asked for. Thank you Mother, Rotary and the children’s section of the Rouen public library for giving me this opportunity and books I can understand.



January 6 Journal

You’re given a situation here, and you’re told to run with it.

I know an exchange student in the middle of France who goes to a private Catholic school in a small town from 8 am to 6 pm Monday through Saturday. I on the other hand have on average 2 and a half hours of French school a day. I’d say that’s a win.

I know a girl in Lille who spent 6 days in the Alps skiing with her host family for the Christmas holidays. I spent my vacation on the German border opening presents. I’d say we both won.

Rotarians back home always talked about the “Rotary” smile, and they taught us when it was appropriate to plaster that sucker on. I can’t get that smile off, it just seems to be getting bigger ever day. That, I’d say is a win.

I have a host family that treats me like a daughter, I have a host family that I know in the future I will want to visit, and I have a host family that is 100% honest with me. That is the biggest win of my exchange so far. Having someone always at the house when I return from Rouen keeps me busy. They always have something for me to do. They talk to me like a 17 year old girl, not a foreigner who can’t get the past tense correct.

The Ferets have given me more than a “warm” welcome. They have given me a real family on the other side of the world. This is one of the best and biggest surprises of my exchange.

On the other hand, I live with a host family where my Rotary club president is also my host mother, I have a host family that tells me their problems, even when I have no desire or heart to know. I do not want to know that you are in debt, I do not want to know your marital issues and I do not want to see you fighting. But honestly, there’s not a lot I can do.

They always say your first host family is the one you’re the closest with. And I now see why. They are the one that welcomed you to the new culture and like a baby duckling that imprints on the first thing it sees, I have a feeling we exchange students do the same thing when it comes to seeing our host parents for the first time after stepping off the plane. Not only did I open up too quickly and willingly to my host parents, but they seemed to cling to me as well. The day before I arrived, their 17 year old blonde daughter left for exchange in Argentina.

When my 4 year old host brother kicks and shouts because he misses his big sister and turns to me yelling that it’s my fault – they always sit him down and tell him I’m not replacing her, I’m just here when she happens to be gone.

All of this combined has torn down any wall between me and the family. Any barrier of politeness and secrecy is long gone. This is definitely not a win.

This situation has taught me to keep my distance. I now know how important it is too keep the walls up. Rotary gave a seminar on everything, from how to give a speech in a foreign language, to ways of preventing weight gain during the exchange year. If I successfully become a Rotex, this is a lesson I am strongly going to emphasize. Not having a host “family” and having solely “hosts”, where it seems you use their bed and bathroom and interaction seems vacant, is just as bad as being too close.

I can’t help but write this journal with a smile. One of the main reasons I did this year was to see where I messed up, and where I succeeded. I really should have known better. But it’s like a good day at the beach: you always forget the sunscreen. You should have known better, it’s quite painful looking at your burned arms, but you can’t help but smile looking back on your lovely day spent in the sun.

I change host families in two weeks.

Thank you Mother, for 17 years of morals that keep me upright in more than one culture, Rotary for this oh so lovely adventure, and plug in heaters that show -10 degrees Celsius who’s boss.

Happy Holidays,


February 17 Journal

I vow to never again judge a foreigner. Be it their accent, their stories of the “home-land” or their bizarre ways of acting, eating or sleeping, I will never again judge. I’ve been the foreigner for 6 months now, and that’s only half way. I didn’t realize until now just how much that meant.

Let’s go back a little ways…when my French wasn’t so good…


At this point, I can look back and surely say that I was a noobie. But in the moment, it was awesome. It’s like being 4 years old with your pimped out motorcycle, and then when you look through the photo albums when you’re older and you realize you’re pooping yourself on a broken tri-cycle with a two different colored socks on. I still do, but back then only 4 little months ago, I loved it when people would ask me about Florida. “It’s always sunny there right??” I always smiled and gave the same answer. “In fact, no, sometimes there’s huge storms that last days and it rains profusely.” (All in French of course..) I just absolutely loved teaching people about Florida, it really made my day. Yeah America’s great, but educating the world on my home-state? What could be better?? It was seeing the unbelievably surprised look on people’s faces that made this specific question and answer session oh-so-satisfying.

I learned in the middle of October that I’d been saying the word “trumpets” instead of “thunderstorm.” Maybe in France it rains, but in Florida, the sunshine capital, it pours musical instruments.


I can safely say, I’m cold. I left Charles de Gaulle airport at 7 am a late August morning, and it was a little bit nippy. That was 6 months ago. And it seems to get colder every succeeding day. Needless to say, I look like a marshmallow. I wear more clothes than I actually thought possible. You know you’re from Florida, when in the “mild Normandy climate” (according to Wikipedia online…) you wear more layers than you have fingers. It adds up quickly- tank tops, sweaters, cardigans, hoody, jacket, heavy winter jacket…wadded up newspaper- learned that trick from the local hobos. During these months, thanks to my four year old host brother, and winter wardrobe needs, my French vocabulary developed rapidly in the areas of clothes and toddler toys. I don’t think there went a day where I didn’t say “jacket.” Be it “I need to put my jacket on”, “oh it’s cold, where’s my jacket?”, or “It’s cold, good thing I have my jacket!” Cleary this was a very important vocabulary word for me in my new life in France. I was beaming- I was speaking French, I had my awesome jacket, and people would always tell me how utterly adorable I was.

I learned in January that I pronounced “jacket” the same as “sheep.”

Your faithful foreigner,



Chauncy Clements
2009-10 Outbound to France
Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: Buchholz HS
Sponsor: Greater Gainesville Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Nantes Rotary Club, District 1510, France

Chauncy - France

Chauncy’s Bio

Bonjour tous les monde! Hello or as I should say “Bonjour,” my name is Chauncy Clements, and next year I get to go to La France! Vive La France!!! I am 17 and I live with my mother and father in sunny Gainesville, Florida home to the Florida Gators. I attend Buchholz High School, the best school not only in my city but in Alachua County.

In my spare time I like to hangout with my friends; we often go to the mall, or downtown, or to the movies, we always have a blast! We also love to go to Orlando, the theme park capital of the world!! I’ve been to Disney World and Universal so many times that I can’t even count. In my household we have two dogs: Diamond, a Bull Massive, and Denzi, a toy Chihuahua.

My family and I and family friends have started a new tradition that we go on cruise every year, because we love to travel and experience culture. So far I’ve been to Mexico, Honduras, Belize, Dominican Republic, The Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and the USVI. It was a great way to see how other people live in different parts of the world. And in some of the places we went I saw many people in poverty, and it really helped me appreciate living in the United States. Just seeing that not everyone is as fortunate as us makes you think a lot, and want to do better for the world.

~Now we Go back in time~

Ever since I was in the third grade I wanted to learn French. I used to read Madeline books, and also watch the TV show. I still don’t know why I want to learn the French Language, it’s just something that’s imbedded inside of me. So when I was in the fourth grade I asked my parents if I could take up French classes, and the response was NO!

Not discouraged, I went to the local library and checked out everything that they had on the French language (books, audiotapes, and videos). So as soon as I got home from the library I started watching the videos over and over, since most of the videos were for babies I was singing with the videos. And after a month I learn…no I taught myself how to count to twenty, and learned my ABC’s en Français!

So finally after all this hard work my parents could see that this wasn’t one of my “let me do this, then next week I quit” things – they saw a boy that enjoyed and had a passion for learning. So that was when I was enrolled in the Alliance Française De Gainesville. While I was at the Alliance Française I was able to pick up on the French Accent, and learned so much! I also loved eating the many treats that we were able to make, for example “Pain au chocolat” is to die for!!! Yum!

When I entered High School I started taking French classes again. While I was in French 1. I joined the French club, and I participated in an event called Le Congrès De La Culture Française en Floride or better known as simply Congrès. At Congrès I had to recite a poem, La Cigale Et La Fourmi. And the other French 1 students and I had prepared for a scènette (play) which was a modern Cinderella (it was very funny). And I took home a superior ribbon in both! Yah! That was the first time that I was active in a school related function and I had a wonderful time.

In my sophomore year, that’s when I was introduced to the Rotary Club. I was in French 2, we went to our auditorium and there was this man ( I forgot who it was) talking about foreign students, living abroad and it caught my attention. I had planned to go to the meeting but I wasn’t able to go. So I forgot about it, even though there were many foreign students in my school that year. Some were from Europe, but mostly from Asia and Latin America. I also went to Congrès that year were I did another poem, Le Dormeur Du Val, and I got another superior ribbon. And I took the Nation French Exam which I did pretty well in.

In my junior year my school didn’t go to Congrès, I was a little sad. But I was the French secretary for my French club and I was very busy. And I was honored within the French honor society later that year.

~Now this year~

This year was a new year, my last year of high school! I was going to attend the Rotary club meeting regarding the Rotary exchange program. So I went with my mother. We got tons of info and after that I started on my application. After I sent it in I felt a huge load of pressure. After I received the letter for the interviews, that’s when I was kind of freaking out. So I arrived bright and early to be interviewed and looking so confident also. I’m not even going to lie – I was freaking out. After the interviews I was physically and mentally tired and worried that I wouldn’t make it. In early December I got a letter saying:

Dear Chauncy, Congratulations on being accepted into District 6970’s Rotary foreign exchange program for 2009-10 school year.

I was ACCEPTED!!!! I was beyond happy – there was no word that I could think of to describe how I felt. Then about two weeks later I got the best present that anyone could get – I got my first picked country!! France! I was sooo…. Happy to read it! I was jumping up and down! I felt like I could fly, that was just amazing reading that letter. That was one moment that I would never forget.


Right now I am just getting ready for the January orientation which is the 9-11th. I can’t wait. I’m prepared and ready to start this year off right! And my birthday is next month and I will be turning 18, Feb.14th and I can’t wait! I just can’t wait to start this new experience that will unfold during these next months and just to see how much I will be changing.

Merci Beaucoup Rotary! Vous sont vraiment chouette! Bisous!

 Chauncy’s Journals

August 20 Pre-departure Journal

“The only place where dreams are impossible is in your own mind.” By Emalie

Wow, where has all the time gone??? It seems like yesterday that I was filling out the Rotary Youth Exchange 2009-2010 application. Picking my five countries that I wanted to go to (France, Belgium, Spain, Germany, Japan). Going to orientations while making friends, and also making buildings out of marshmallows and spaghetti which was a disaster. Listing to lectures and the helpful advice of the Rotex crew that I look up to for help.

And now I am less than 6 days from the biggest adventure of my life which is…GOING TO FRANCE!!!!!! It still hasn’t hit me yet that I’ll be gone for a year without my family, neighbors or friends. It will truly be test of adaption to survive in another country. I really haven’t even thought about it until lately this month, I’ve just been so wrapped up in actually living “La vie Française” .

Another thing that I have just realized is that on my exchange is that not only will I become fluent in French but I will see snow for the first time (and no I will not eat the yellow snow)! Consider I have NO winter clothes that would save my life under 45 degree weather. And also be on an airplane which I am nervous but excited nonetheless.

And speaking of clothes, never in my life would I imagine packing 100lbs of my life for a year. For me it was sad packing away all of my clothes out of my room. But it’s never goodbye just a very long (11 months to be exact) see you soon.

I will be on the Atlantic Cost in a city called Nantes (the former capital of Brittany/ Bretange), and my first host family will be the Cavés and they seem like a really nice family can I can’t wait to meet them. I have done so….much research on my city and its absolutely beautiful I can’t wait until I’m there!

And I’m also looking forward to eating bucket loads of Nuttela with freshly baked Baguettes. I’m still wondering what will be my first French meal.

Rotary has given me so much that I am thankful for. And with my exchange starting within a few days I will be sure to make them proud. I will serve as the best American ambassador that I can be. It may sound corny but I’m just so excited, nothing can bring me down.

Thank you for reading my 1st journal!! And there will be many more to come!

Merci Beaucop Rotary!! et A bientot!!!

October 1 Journal

Welcome back to the adventures of an American in France! Starring…..ME! Chauncy!

Wow I’ve been in France for a month and a week or two, but it feels like a day. It’s so true that the time goes by so fast. I love it here, the people are very nice and my host family is wonderful “la vie est belle”. Well I’m guessing you want to know what I have been up to so here is the spill.

August 25 2009

So on the day of my departure, I woke up at 5:00 am, well I never really slept which was a big mistake. After I woke up I was making sure that my bags had everything I needed in them. I thought that I was handling everything well. I was very happy but also anxious, it really felt as if my dream was actually coming true. And as I was leaving the house with my bags I said goodbye to my mom, and that was really hard for me, but I didn’t cry. After getting in the car with my brother and my dad, I just was checking for my passport which I didn’t have. So I ran back into the house almost flipping over my desk and got my passport.

At the Airport I checked my bags to see how much they weighed, and it turned out that my bags that weren’t supposed to exceed over 100lbs were 28lbs under. But I was happy considering some people actually went over 100lbs. Needless to say they were girls lol. So after meeting up with other exchangers in the airport we went through security. Since it was my first time going on airplane I found it strange having to take off my shoes. But after that was over, me and the other exchangers had to wait for like 2 hours. We were just happy and talking about how cool our exchangers are going to be and how we couldn’t wait to get in our new home countries.

In the crappy airplane which was taking us from Jacksonville to Washington I was lucky to be able to sit next to the other exchangers. One thing that I have to say is that the term “Ears popping” is just a small part that happens when you’re in a plane. Well for me at least, it felt as if someone was shooting my head through one ear and the other ear was being stabbed with a knife while I had a huge headache. So that was the longest hour and a half in my life.

At the Washington airport I was able to exchange my Rotary pins with people from different states and one from Canada. I ate my last American lunch at Wendy’s and had my last Starbucks which I miss so much since people here just drink coffee plain here. So waiting for the plane some exchanger and I walked around the airport until it was time to board the plane. On the plane I listened to my iPod, watched TV, and followed the map showing where we were. It was interesting – we flew out of Washington, went up the coast of Canada, past Greenland, south of England, and then arrive at l’Aéroport Charles de Gaulle. That was one memory that I will never forget – flying into Paris. And if you’re wondering my flight was 7 hours.

August 26 2009

So me and the other exchangers which was half of the plane got off, went to Customs which was sooooooooo cool because all of the signs were in French (it may seem dorky but it’s so cool seeing a sign in a different language besides Spanish). I waited about 20 minutes for my bags and then after that I said I met my Rotary President, and we waited about 6 HOURS for other exchange students in our district. And without even having to say I was very tired, and plus we had a 5 hour bus ride to our city, I didn’t get to my host family’s home until 10 pm that night.

My first couple hours with my host family were wonderful. I gave them a map of Florida and showed them where I lived. My first meal was Frosted Flakes and hot chocolate yum! But me being so tired I had to sleep, so I when to bed. The first day in Nantes was great I was able to walk around and see the city. My host family showed me some of the main places that I should see. And that same weekend they took me to their beach house in La Baule which is the biggest beach in Europe.

September 4 2009

My first day of school, I truly believe that school has been the biggest culture shock in my life here in France so far. Where do I even began …the French aren’t welcoming when they meet you. In French schools there are three different types of studies you can pick from. S (Hardcore Sciences and Math), L (Foreign languages and Humanities), and ES (Economy and Languages). I’m in ES. Lunch is an hour and half, on Mondays I don’t leave school til 6pm, but Wednesday–Friday I leave at 12:30. There isn’t any teacher student relationship, no posters or anything on the classroom walls. You have the same group of students with you in mostly all your classes. And I saved the best for last the students. We have 15-20 min breaks every two classes, and mostly all the students go out and smoke right IN FRONT of the school with the TEACHERS. That really shocked me lol.

As of today 2009

France is amazing!!! I love it here, and starting to make friends which is awesome. My Rotary club is the oldest in the city, and so nice to me. My Host family is taking me to the Southwest of France in 3 weeks, and Paris around the Christmas holidays. The French speak very fast. I feel that I’m understanding French better, just not being able to respond as fast.

Odd things I’ve been asked:

Is it true 5 yr olds can buy guns?

Do all American eat at McDonald’s?

Do Americans really eat turkey for Thanksgiving?

Does everyone have a car?

French food serving – Au contraire! The French eat A LOT! I’ve been eating more here than in Florida.

The cups here are like shot glasses.

Bread is served with every meal and is brought everyday!

Crepes are best served hot!

The French truly love food.

There are at least 4 boulangeries on every block.

Merci beaucoup Rotary!

February 3 Journal

Guess who is back??

Since having been titled as the laziest RYE journal writer, I feel that’s it’s time to let the people of Florida know how the last 4 months of my life has been.

~There you go~

Where do I even begin? Right now it doesn’t feel as if I’m an exchange student anymore. I feel as if this has always been my life, it’s like when someone moves from other city when they are young. You have to deal with changing schools, new house, new friends, all of which I have done, my life feels pretty normal.

I’m feel comfortable speaking French now, it’s improved so…much its almost mind shocking. I remember one time coming home from school – I was on the bus and I could understand most of the conversations being spoken around me on the bus. That may not sound like a big thing (it’s expected when you’re on an exchange to learn a language) but when you’re in a foreign country not fully understand what people are saying around you it’s scary. When you start going to your countries in 5 to 6 MONTHS you will understand what I’m trying to say.

My English level is getting worst. Just to let you know it kind of hard to write this journal right now. It may seem silly, but you tell me if it’s funny when your new English teacher asks you to conjugate a verb when you rarely speak English anymore. But then again from the French point of view Americans speak American not really English.

School is going by much better now than it was at the beginning. I’m starting to become more active in the classes. I actually have French friends now that I thought would never happen. It takes a lot of effort to become their friend. But it’s a wonderful thing have friends of the native land. They take you to places you would never know about, and also save you money showing you the American dollar friendly budget stores.

Here is a recap/highlights of Oct, Nov, Dec, and Jan;


Rotary multi-district meeting at Le Mont st Michel (The second most visited monument in France)

There I saw Bridget and Simone!! We had a great time.

5 Irish and 3 Danish Students came to my school for a week.

The Danish speak Perfect English, and they have an American accent.

Paris and Les châteaux de la loire

About 2 years ago I hosted a teen from Paris, and during the Toussaint Holidays I was able to go visit him for 11 days. Paris is the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen in my life. Les châteaux de la loire was also very interesting.

Master Public Transportation

I became able to go use the buses and Trams and not get lost.


Becomes friends with two amazing Australians

Alex and Tess made school, feel like home.

November 17

The last time I wore shorts


Rotary Meeting in Nantes

Seeing my Rotary friends.

December 18

y first time seeing snow.


Didn’t feel like Christmas.

Christmas Break

St. Nazaire (Where they built Queen Mary 2) and La Baule (Biggest beach in France)


Becomes extra bad, speaks English with French grammar.


The American dollar gets a bit better.


Changed Host Families

Instead of having to wake up at 6:30 to go to school I can wake up at 7:30

Weather in France

Finally learns how to stay warm, and always have an umbrella handy.

Saying goodbye to the Aussies

That I’m visiting in December, love you Tess and Alex!

New Australians/ New Zealanders

Officially I’m an Oldie

Nantes, France

Feels like home.

Coming soon!! Février

Feb. 14th

My 19th Birthday

Feb 13-Mar 5 Winter Holidays

Going skiing in the Alps.

P.S. I would like to say to Rotary MERCI DES MILLE FOIS for this wonderful experience that you have allowed me to take part of. And I would like to congrat the new outbounds for next year, they truly don’t know how lucky they are until they get here.

à la prochaine fois Chauncy


Caroline Fields
2009-10 Outbound to India
Hometown: Vero Beach, Florida
School: Home schooled
Sponsor: Treasure Coast Rotary Club, District 6930, Florida
Host: Surat Roundtown Rotary Club, District 3060, India

Caroline - India

Caroline’s Bio

Hi! I’m Caroline Fields and I am 16 years old from Vero Beach. I love cultures, languages, anything that is foreign. I love seeing the world through ethnic eyes.

I thought it was a phase that every kid goes through when they are little. Wanting to be a missionary since elementary school ended up not being a phase, but reality. I have been on a lot of mission trips: Brazil, Mexico, Hungary, Austria, Slovenia, and more, and these events have shaped me into the person I am now. Some trips have lasted a month, some a week, some a couple of days, but this trip will be the longest mission trip yet: a whole year in India.

 Caroline’s Journals

September 5 Journal

Over 50 days ago I left America not having any idea what I was getting myself into. Now I sit on my bed writing to you all that already my life is changing. It is so incredible seeing the way people live here, and its heart breaking at the same time. There is so much poverty, and there is wealth all at the same time. There is disease, pollution, and population. I have been sick so many times while being here because of accidental drinking of water or due to eating food from the street vendors. I have been cheated of my money. I was yelled at when I entered the mosque with my shoes on. I accidently ate the food off the plate that was supposed to be given to the gods. Through all of these experience though, I have loved every moment. This confusing, yet passionate country has hit my heart hard. I have realized a lot about myself being here. Each day I pick up a little more about the language. Sometimes the language barrier gets annoying because a lot of people here speak up to five languages.

I have had a lot of fun adventures being here. One of my favorite parts is going after school to play with these little girls who live at my convent school. They all come from very poor families so the nuns took them in and they live at the school. Their beautiful smiling faces make me smile.

There are many festivals as well. The most recent festival we celebrated was Gunpati Papa. We were all dancing in the street and the boys were banging the drums. We all were doing Punjabi dancing. It was so fun, but that was also the day I got a really bad bacterial infection because I drank bad water. I cannot wait for my body to be immune to this extremely dirty country because I’m so sick of being sick all the time. Starting September 17th it will be Navratri which is a 9 day dance festival! During this festival I get to wear the traditional Indian dress, and every night we do the dance called Garba in the streets of our society. I’m so excited! The festivals are extremely beautiful here.

All I can say right now is that I am so thankful to be here right now. I have this huge playground of opportunities awaiting me, and I will not take them for granted. I still have so much to learn and experience. This is just the beginning of a crazy, life-altering journey I have ahead of myself. So until next time.. Aavajo!

December 17 Journal

Today I saw reality. The nightmares that we dream, and the visions we hear about are authentic and occur in our present. I’m learning things, seeing things, and experiencing life in a way I once did not think existed. My heart is currently like clay. It is being shaped and molded every time I see the world in these new goggles I am wearing. The things I have seen have permanently put a dent in my heart.

Today I went to Suman’s house. Suman is a servant who has worked in my host family’s home for over eighteen years. Everyday she would tell me in Gujarati to come to her house. So today I got in the car with my host mom and Suman to drop Suman at her home. It takes her one-hour to travel to and from work everyday. Suman works twelve hours a day and has provided all the money for her family. Her husband is an alcoholic who uses her money to buy beer. As we left the city to take her home I felt a change in the atmosphere. We began to enter a huge part of India that I really had not gotten to experience, the slums of India. I got out of the car and entered into Suman’s tiny little house. It was probably equivalent to the size of an average American’s kitchen and living room. Seven people live in this house and there is absolutely no privacy. When you look out the backdoor you are looking directly into your neighbor’s house. The distance between houses is about 12 inches. There was no furniture, except for one bed in the corner. They gave me a chair to sit in and Suman and her family sat on the floor. She poured me a glass of Seven Up that she had brought from my host family’s home so that she could be a good hostess to me. This small but fragile experience has severely punctured my heart in a way I thought wasn’t possible. Suman, who has never even gone to school, and can not read or write, has taught me more than what any school or teacher could teach me.

Now that I know Surat in a way that I didn’t know it 5 months ago, it has weirdly become like home, except at the same time I want my real home more than anything. Thank God I have lots of things going on to fill the void. At present I’m taking an Indian dance class, I’m starting a cooking class, and three times a week I volunteer at a school to help teach little kids how to speak English. As I move quickly, caught up with all these events, I have no time to think, but as soon as I sit down and think, I realize how I’m changing and how I’m seeing the world differently and I cant recall how I used to see it.

By the way, just for all you who are wondering… I can officially handle all the Indian spicy foods, I shock my host family when I tell them I understand what they’re talking about when they speak Hindi and Gujarati, I could walk for miles in this city and not get lost, basically I’m adjusted, and I’m so used to this culture and the way people talk, eat, and live. Now, I have about five more months left India… bring it on. 😛

March 20 Journal

The sound of Hindi music buzzes in my ear as I paint the mysterious world I got dropped in 8 months ago. I sit in this one chair, with my ten paintbrushes and my 13 colors, and I sit, and I paint, for four hours a day. I get taught by a cute little old man who speaks only Hindi, and for some reason these four hours are the best hours of my day. After months of trying new things, I went from teaching kids at an orphanage, to teaching mentally disabled kids, to taking Indian dance, to oil painting. Finally, I found something that I really loved to do.

My day to day is pretty chill. I wake up at 11, I drink my milk, I go upstairs, take a shower, and come down eat my lunch and then head out to my art class at one. I come back at 5:30 and then I go out with my best friend here Alanna. We love to explore and do crazy things in our city just for as Indians say “time pass.” Today we went to the grocery store and bought a bunch of spices so we could cook our own Indian food, and also we played ‘chicken’ with the rickshaws as we cross the street. One of our FAVORITE things to do is rickshaw running… now for those of you who do not know, a rickshaw is like a TINY yellow matchstick on wheels and its my LIFE SAVER because it’s the only thing that gets me from point A to B. Since we are white the rickshaws love to try to rip us off but we do not fall for it. When they tell us a price we always give them half of what they say, and when they do not except the money that is not the amount they say we leave the money on the rickshaw man’s chair and RUN and the rickshaws chase us! It is so much fun. People stare at us no matter if they have seen us a billion times, they look at us as if we are aliens, and so now we just give them something to look at. We either pretend to speak German really loudly or we dance on the streets and take pictures. People love it. As of now I feel completely comfortable to roam around anywhere in my city and nothing intimidates me.

I’m basically done learning about the Indian culture, but I will never be done learning about myself. This year was more of a journey to discover who I was, than a journey to discover the culture… because the culture is not going to be discovered, its going to be THROWN AT YOU, and it’s your choice to accept it or not. This year turned out so differently than I thought it would, it has changed me from the inside out. I discovered the good, bad and the ugly about India, and also myself. I only have two months left in India and it really is a bittersweet symphony. I feel as though I put my life on hold for a year to come here, but in reality nothing is holding back for me. The world keeps spinning madly on and when I get home I have so much work to do to graduate, but I am so ready to be home. India is such an extreme place to live in and to be frank it gets so overwhelming at times… and sometimes I’m just like BUSSSSSS. (Which means ENOUGH in Hindi) this word will become any exchange students best friend when in India.

These last two months will FLY. My mom and dad come in less than three weeks, and we are traveling with the NINJAS aka my best friends Amy and Alanna who have become my sisters this year and so the whole month of April will be full of adventure with my parents and Amy’s family. Then the month of May will hit and I will have two weeks left until I’m heading back to that Mumbai airport with my bags only filled with the best of India such as indian clothes, spices, etc.

and now… I’m beginning to ask myself… where did this year go?


Casey Hazard
2009-10 Outbound to Germany
Hometown: Ormond Beach, Florida
School: Seabreeze HS
Sponsor: Ormond Beach West Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Bergheim/Erft Rotary Club, District 1810, Germany

Casey - Germany

Casey’s Bio

Hello, my name is Casey Hazard. I am a sophomore at Seabreeze High School in Daytona Beach, FL, which is a school that everyone in my immediate family has graduated from.

I live at home with my sister, dad and mom. My dad, sister and I enjoy going to local art shows together and viewing the unique pieces that eventually end up on our living room mantle. My mom is more musical than, I would say, anyone else in our family. You can usually find her singing down the hall or playing a little tune on the piano.

Writing has always been a major part of my life, ever since 2nd grade. It is a good outlet for me to let my feelings out. Writing also gives me a chance to be creative and write whatever I want about anything. Inside my closet there is a shelf of notebooks from elementary school. These notebooks are filled with stories, poems; you name it, it’s in there. Last year I bought myself a journal, and this has been very important to me. I try to write in it every night. Sometimes I will peer back into some of the old entries from a year ago, or even last week. I truly get lost inside that leather bound journal from how much things have changed and how quickly.

My family is very musical, both of my parents sing, my sister plays the piano and so does my dad. In the past six months I have gradually been learning how to play the guitar. Every week I learn a couple of new songs and sometimes I teach myself new songs too, to surprise my teacher.

Recently I was informed that I am being sent to Germany for next year. If any place to visit, Germany is the right choice for me. Not only do I have family over in that country, I have a German heritage. I will be able to explore the place where most of my family originated from and learn about their culture. Although the language is a little challenging, nothing new comes easy. I have been working on my German quite a bit and I already know how to say a few things correctly.

Well there you have it. I am a music loving, German, writer who is interested in art. This experience will truly open up many doors for me and I can not wait to see what Germany has in store. I am already so excited to be studying abroad next year.

Casey’s Journals

August 11 Journal

It is officially my second day abroad, and I already feel at home with my new family. The weather is exactly what I love, cool but not too cold. Jet lag is setting in and right now it is 9 in the morning back home, but here it is almost lunchtime, 1 PM.

The traveling part was very smooth, no problems at all. During one of my layovers I managed to meet a young man who was sitting in the same terminal as I. We began talking and I found out that he was also an exchange student in Germany years before. While discussing numerous topics about going abroad, he managed to throw in some valuable advice, such as “Your stay at Christmas time will be one of the roughest points throughout your journey. Keep your head up and remember that it is normal to feel sad. Also, remember that these times too shall pass and you will be back on your feet in no time.”

There isn’t much else I can write except for that I am so excited for the next upcoming months. I am very grateful to Rotary for giving me this experience. Even though it is just beginning, I can tell it will be something I will never forget.

Auf Wiedersehen

November 28 Journal

Part of me feels guilty for not writing for such a long time. I can’t believe it’s been almost four months here in Germany. The places I have visited have been absolutely beautiful. Everything I experience here is engraved in my memory, and I love thinking back to the things I did the week before. Already we had our first Rotary orientation. I have never met so many nice people at once; it was so refreshing to talk to other exchange students. The German is coming along quite well, in my opinion (I dreamed in German for the first time a few weeks ago).

School here is so different from Seabreeze. Our classes are different every day, and the schedules are very flexible. I like the way they have their classes here, I just wonder how it’ll be when I go back to the same schedule every day 7:30-2:45. Everything is different, and it’s nice to come across something that I’m familiar with. The teachers grade differently (50% speaking aloud in class, 50% test scores) and it’s a little weird to me that we don’t have to turn in papers. They really have the honor system in their schools. I’ve experienced quite a bit: Carnival, traveling to various parts of Germany, etc. The weather is kind of a drag though. I saw the sun yesterday for the first time in God knows how long. It’s interesting coming from a place where the sun shines every day to a grey sky and cold air.

My family here is such a good match for me. There’s something in each family member that is so comforting and I feel right at home with people I’ve only known for three months. Sometimes I still can’t believe that I am half way across the world. Often times I catch myself thinking that I’m on vacation someplace out west in the U.S., but then I remember that that’s not the case at all, and I’m glad that it isn’t.

It’s sort of surreal to me how easily everything is going so far. No rough patches have really hit yet, excluding my 2 hour detour home. I feel like I’m starting to change, in a good way. I am able to think about certain things differently than I did before. I’ve made mistakes and learned how to fix them. My skills under pressure have increased greatly. If I’ve felt overwhelmed or uncomfortable in a situation where I shouldn’t I have learned to adapt. Everything so far seems to fit like a glove, being optimistic most likely helps also.

I’m at ease with my decision to go abroad. I think that the things I will experience here will shape me into a completely different version of myself. I hope that everyone else is having as good of an experience as I am!

February 9 Journal

Looking back on my old pictures from the past 6 months here in Germany, I’m starting to already miss my year here. The time goes by so fast. Constantly writing out daily doings helps to recall somewhat, but it’s just not the same. The real friends that have come into my life since being here remind me. I don’t even want to think about leaving. I know that it’s going to be the hardest thing I’ve had to do in my life probably. Leaving the knot untied to whether I’ll see all of my friends again, it’s a terrible feeling. But I do as much as I can with what I have, and the time that is left.

I feel like I’m really developing as a person. I feel so different here, and I know that the people I have met and will meet are going to affect me for the rest of my life; in a good way. My memories keep me positive for the days ahead when I feel the slightest bit homesick, which might I add has only been once or twice. I can’t really say if I’m shocked by this. I feel like I fit so well here in Germany.

Coming from “the sunshine state”, and living in never ending bleakness has taken some getting used to. It’s difficult not seeing the sunshine for days on end, but that makes the days endowed with sunlight that much sweeter.

As for the German: I’m progressing every day. I wouldn’t say fluent yet, but I’m on the path towards it. I understand everything, and butcher the language when I speak. Being surrounded by natives is definitely a plus, not only to keep the language fresh in my mind, but to have constant help when I need it.

I didn’t realize how popular it was to go on an exchange year in Europe. I can say that majority of my German friends have lived a year abroad, which makes conversations more understandable when talking about my difficulties. There are 7 other exchange students at my school, all of which have become my closest friends. We assist each other with things that others couldn’t help with, and understand where the other is coming from even if we’ve only known each other for 4 months.

I have so many things rushing through my head that I can’t seem to grab onto one of them and write it out for you to read. I’ll just sum up my past 6 months here in one word: wunderbar!!


Chelsea Neal
2009-10 Outbound to Japan
Hometown: Naples, Florida
School: Naples HS
Sponsor: Naples Rotary Club, District 6960, Florida
Host: Sendai South Rotary Club, District 2520, Japan

Chelsea - Japan

Chelsea’s Bio

Konnichiwa! I’m Chelsea A. Neal, but my friends call me Hat. I am totally excited about going to Japan; it has been my dream to go there since the Pokemon era, about… ten to eleven years ago. I am a junior at Naples High School, home of the Golden Eagles.

I live with my mom, sister, and 6 cats. All my cats have been rescued from somewhere and they are more like us than anyone would think. My sister is a senior at Naples High and is aspiring to go to England. My mom works for D. Garret Construction Co. and for Maxwell’s Restaurant. Even between these jobs she has time to have fun with us.

I love music a ton, mainly listening to it, but I play a variety of instruments. I play the piano, harmonica, and a little bit of trumpet. I mainly love to try and play songs just by listening to them but if that doesn’t work I print out sheet music. I usually like to play anime theme music, like from Inuyasha, Naruto, Kingdom Hearts, Bleach, and a lot more.

What I love to do the most is to play Yugioh cards. Most of my closest friends play too, and together, we have a ball. We go to tournaments in Cape Coral, most of the time to play, trade, and mess around. In the future we all hope to open our own gaming store, but the details I won’t reveal. My friends are the greatest; they are always fun to be around even if we’re just lying around in the grass.

My life is really laid back; through the week it’s just school, friends on the weekend, then more school. School usually has me bogged down with work and with nary a break for rest. That’s why my weekends I devote to hanging out with my friends.

That about sums up my life; house, hobbies, and friends. I thank everyone that helped to get me to where I am. My parents for being so supportive, my friends for always having my back, and my city for being the most rocking place I know of. And to the Rotary for helping me to realize my dream.

 Chelsea’s Journals

August 24 Journal

Starting off, Japan is a wonderful country full of adventure around every corner big and small. I never experienced so much in a year back in America as I have in one month here.

The people I’ve met have all been so generous to me. From my host family consisting of Rotary Youth Exchange Officer, and also my host father, Shuji Kato, his wife Midori Kato and three daughters Natsuki, Tamaki, and Mizuki.

So many other people have truly helped me a lot and from different areas. To Rotary members Mr. Matsuda and Mr. Brian is my Principal and Co-homeroom teacher respectively. Plus my new international friends, Rotary exchanges Rhys from Kansas, Victor from France, and Karin from Mexico. All the Rotexes are very helpful as well, especially my good friend Chihiro who had just returned from her exchange in Florida and also Ryota who just came back from Minnesota. We are all good friends. At school the day I posted this, I met my class – there are only nine students including myself so this should be a fun and close group.

With every good adventure come some amazing places. First day as a group the Inbounds and Rotexes followed some Rotary members around through an open market. Every kind of fish you could imagine could be found there, including octopus, and squid, crabs of all different variety, plus slippery eels.

While Japan is great, in the city there is nothing like visiting a Shinto shrine or a Buddhist temple. Lucky for me I have visited two different Shrines and Temples for many different reasons each time. The first shrine however was probably the most memorable. We inbounds were taken inside the shrine, and that is a very rare thing to be able to do, and were all blessed by the Shinto priests and their gods. My temple experiences were quite enjoyable as well. My first summer festival I went to a Buddhist temple and was honored by a group of dancers with an excellent present of pride.

The city of Sendai itself is a large adventure. I have gotten lost almost every time I enter the city, but finding two distinct locations make travel much easier.

One of these places is Ichiban Chou, the biggest mall I’ve ever seen. This mall is an outdoor mall but it stretches out across many of the major streets of Sendai, it would take about a half hour just to cross all of it. Especially during Tanabata festival. This festival is to celebrate the union of two stars who are parted by the Milky Way. As celebration all of Sendai is decorated with large paper decorations hanging from large bamboo poles in the middle of the walkways of Ichiban Chou while millions of people are walking through admiring the colorful and unique designs.

Another important place my school, Tokiwagi Gakuen. When typing this journal I had just come back from my first day of school. Such a wonderful campus with clean floors and warm smiles. I’m lucky enough to be right on time to see their school festival this weekend, which should be exciting.

Another great adventure within the adventure is the exploration of food. Food is so vast and colorful in Japan, not like the colorful ads of fast food restaurants. So interesting is their food, from octopus rolled up into deep battered dough, green rice with a hint of sugary flavor, and most importantly the many varieties of ramen. Not the ramen from a cup but genuine ramen straight from the cook.

That is it for my review of this past month’s adventure in Japan. I hope that everyone around the world reading this have a wonderful loads of happiness, luck, health, and adventure every day.

Until next time we meet

October 24 Journal

Hello everyone, welcome to this month’s update! How is everyone? I hope you’re all having some great adventures. I’ve had quite a few.

First thing was the three weeks of barbeques in a row. There was a barbeque for three Sundays straight. Quite fun, the first and second barbeques were at Kato-san’s house. At the first barbeque, I met my little sister Mizuki’s Assistant Language Teacher Topaz, who is from Jamaica, and her colleague, who is also an Assistant Language Teacher at Mizuki’s school, Renata from Barbados. The second barbeque I met some of Kato-san’s friends. One of them says hi to my dad! He is a fellow Rat of the Chinese zodiac.

Third barbeque was way north of the city of Sendai. We were surrounded by chestnut trees, which is an autumn favorite here. We all picked chestnuts and the women and children, plus the Rotary club Chairman, went to pick apples. People at the picnic were of course Kato-san and Tamaki, Mito-sensei an English teacher from school who helps me out a lot. My principal Mr. Matsura, I also met his wife, and most surprisingly I met someone from Italy, I forget exactly where in Italy but she is from the northern part of Italy.

I ate quite a lot at each barbeque and all were different styles and dishes. Most memorable food would be a special traditional autumn soup, scallops, oysters, octopus, and most regrettably pig intestines. Everything on this list was beyond awesome except the pig intestines. I’m not even going to describe why because just the name itself should sound too weird to be good.

Next interesting thing that happened, I have moved. Yes I have moved from the Kato’s house. I do miss the Kato’s but my new family is beyond nice. The new family are called Gushi and they consist of Tomokatsu (Papa), Minako (Mama), older sister Honoka (Hono), younger sister Wakana who goes to the same school as me, and 2 year old baby Kuryu (Ku-chan). They are tons of mega fun, although I moved in with them about 2 weeks ago it still feels new to me since I went on my school trip like right after moving.

And now here is the most exciting part of the update: Chelsea Neal’s Japanese School Trip to Kansai!!!!

Kansai is an area of Japan west of Tokyo. The cities I went to are Hiroshima, Kobe, Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara for 6 days and 5 nights. There were a total of 130 girls on the trip. We were all split into four major groups depending on our teacher and again split into smaller groups. My group consisted of five girls, Shiori and Yuka, who are the leaders of our bigger group, Hikaru, and Arisa. There was also Miho who would hang out with us whenever we had free time.

First was getting to Osaka airport. We all flew to the Osaka Itami airport from Sendai and when we took off and landed all the 130 girls on the trip started freaking out and screaming. I guess they’ve never been on a plane before haha.

When we got to the airport we took a bus to the train station where we were to ride a Shidensha! Or Bullet Train! When it came into the station I was able to take a picture of it so I’m happy. In the shidensha it is super comfortable, even though I had my backpack with me (instead of doing the smart thing and putting it in the truck with all the other girl’s wheelie bags) I had plenty of leg room.

So the the Shidensha went all the way to Hiroshima, from there we drove and took a boat to the Miyajima Shrine. Some of you may know it as the shrine with a giant gate out in the ocean. Although it was low tide that day so I saw it on land. We traveled around the island that the shrine was on and the whole entire island had tons of deer on it. The deer were just walking around sometimes following people. The tour guide said that if we want we were allowed to feed the deer paper.

The shrine itself is extremely massive; it took about a half hour to 45 minutes just to tour the whole thing. Although I didn’t get to get up close to the gate. Another part of the shrine is a large Pagoda; I took many pictures of it.

On the island there are numerous shops and funnily a lot of foreign tourists. Apparently the island’s special product are wooden rice paddles, they even have a giant rice paddle. So I bought a rice paddle… I may never use it since in America I don’t own a rice cooker.

After the island we took a yacht, yes, 130 girls all on a yacht, to our hotel the Grand Prince Hotel Hiroshima. Such a strange hotel, in the lobby there is a flat marble like surface that during the day water flows over it with a church like walkway (for weddings I suppose) and what I believe to be Jesus riding a Dolphin behind a podium.

The rooms were huge and had the most comfortable beds in all of foreverdom. And at dinner… I felt like I was at Hogwarts in the great hall. Don’t laugh – I mean it! We were all seated at four tables separated by our groups (I hope I was in Gryffindor) and food kept magically appearing on the tables when we were eating. Well, magically is an exaggeration, more like the butlers kept bringing out different dishes. There were these awesome potatoes that tasted like Alfredo pasta, I wish there would have been some shrimp with it.

Next day we went to the Hiroshima memorial peace park, so much sad stories and pictures I dare not put them up. Although the experience was a great one.

After that we went to eat a special Kansai specialty called Okinomiyaki. It is basically noodles plus pretty much anything with over easy eggs as the covering with a very special sauce, it was very delicious.

Then we went to Kobe where there is an area that is designed like the olden days of Japan. In it we went to an art gallery that had a bunch of paintings by famous artists such as Monet, and Renoir. After the gallery we all walked around the street, fed the koi fish and my group went to a tea house and ate green tea ice cream.

Next we went to the famous Kobe Bay where we went on a dinner cruise around Kobe Bay. So much good food it was awesome. After everyone ate we went on top of the deck and everyone was making references to Titanic.

Next day, we went to see a play. The theater is called Takarazuka and this theater is very famous for its very melodramatic performances, lavish costumes, and most importantly, all the actors are women. Yes no male actors and all the women doing male roles did extraordinary jobs at their roles, so well sometimes I got confused and thought they were guys. This play was the most special one, for one of their top leading actresses was retiring (by now is retried) so she took the starring role. There were actually two separate performances separated by a lunch break. The first performance was a drama about a pianist name Alister who almost died playing piano and so gave it up, ended up joining a new friend named Christopher as an Antique dealer, with squabbles with gang members along the way. The second was a stage show called Heat on Beat where many different music types were explored in a very flashy manner. At the end all of the girl actresses and the two lead boy actresses came out in very feathery attire. The lead who was retiring was in the most feathery; with a large white peacock like tail and many feathery accessories (Peta would have a fit).

After that we went to a section of Kobe where long ago western foreigners built magnificent houses. The area is called the Old Foreigners Market. And close to the major section where there are many old buildings to visit, my group went to a nearby Teddy Bear Museum. Yes, a Teddy Bear Museum. The museum owner is a very intelligent woman who is an English teacher. Here is how good she is, all the English teachers in Osaka city once a year all go to her to learn English, and she helps with contracts in between countries. Remarkable.

Then we went all the way to the Universal Studios Japan Port Hotel. Right next to the park. We went to eat at the Chinese food buffet. Again, lots of food.

Then the next day we went to Universal Studios Japan! To tell you the truth it wasn’t as much fun for me, well I don’t ride roller coasters so I waited while my group (which was on that day moment Hikaru, Arisa, and Miho). Although I rode on both the Jaws ride and the Spiderman ride. The Jaws ride was hilarious; the boat driver was an amazingly funny actor. But the Spiderman ride kind of freaked me out. It was a 3D ride where you drive around a bit, no rollercoaster like drops but there was a ton of spinning and getting freaked out by the villains. After that we went shopping, I only got one thing though (saving money) but I can’t tell you what it is, it’s a present for a friend who reads this update.

After the park we traveled straight to our hotel in Kyoto.


Kyoto was fun; we went to this gold temple (although the gold part was being repaired) where there was this love stone, it is said that whoever walks safely with their eyes closed from one stone to the other something super special awesome will happen with their love life. If you fail it will be a long time till you experience love. I did the test just so I could test how well I could do it and I passed. I don’t think anything will happen though.

After the temple my group on that day (Shiori, Yuka, and two friends from a different group) wanted to hang out just them, so I got to hang out with the sensei’s rest of the day. We went to a restaurant where most of the dishes are tofu of some sort, although there was this mountain potato gruel type stuff that tasted wonderful on rice. Then we went to a special park. This park is actually a studio lot used by one of the biggest TV show companies, Toei Studios, where they shoot dramas. What kind of dramas? Awesome samurai and ninja old school fighting dramas! The park was amazing, all the buildings were in the old style of ancient Kyoto and I met a samurai and a ninja! I also took part in a shuriken (ninja throwing stars) throwing game and won a Harisen, a stage prop that looks like a fan frequently used for hitting people (my friends better run hehe). I also bought my own shuriken which I’ll be making into a necklace… I really hope when I get home that I won’t be questioned as a terrorist or something.

Well that’s really all of Kyoto. So on to the last day in Nara.

It was actually pretty boring, great places but boring. Nara Park like at the Miyajima shrine had a ton of deer, including lots of baby deer. We saw the giant Buddha statue in the largest Buddhist temple. After that we went to another temple which (sadly) completely bored me because I couldn’t take any pictures of the statues and almost none of the buildings.

Overall though my trip was a massive amount of fun and a great experience, now I’m at home finally resting. Wondering what my next great adventure will be.

I must make a big shout out. HI ELAINE WELCOME HOME!

Today my sister Elaine has come back from her three months in Marines Boot Camp and I’m happy to hear she’s in one piece, I hope to talk with her on skype, make sure if you have at least my mother’s email give her a hello. I’d give you Elaine’s email myself, but truthfully she never has given it to me.

Until next month Sayonara! And have a Happy Halloween!

November 24th Journal

When I got back from my trip, all of my classmates of international 2nd year went to America on their exchange and wouldn’t be back for two weeks. So instead of just me by myself in the 2nd year class, the teachers placed me in my little sister’s class, the 1st year international class!

I forgot to mention this about my school, but there are actually two separate buildings, an old building and a new building. The old building has almost all of the 1st years and 2nd years, and the new building has all the third years, 1st and 2nd year music class, and 2nd year classes 6, 7, 8, and international. So when I transferred to my sister’s class I had to go to the other building. Not much of a difference though, all chalkboards in all the classes.

The homeroom teachers for the first years are Alex the Canadian, and another English teacher Mrs. Miyuki. Mrs. Miyuki is a superbly nice person and fun too. The students were all fun to hang out with too. But, my past theory about international students getting to have no math is now proven wrong.

New class, new schedule, not much difference, except only one type of Japanese class, Japanese history switched to World History (very fun since I understand world history), and every day I had a math class. Unlike other classes where you stay in the same class and the teachers come to your class, we went to a different class. The teachers still had to come to us though. Either way I still was very confused in math class. Thought I’d understand it since, hey it’s the language of math, but no I never understood math language either.

The first exciting event to happen though was of course HALLOWEEN! On the Wednesday before Halloween we had just come back from math for our long homeroom to see the class covered with Halloween decorations. Alex’s favorite holiday is Halloween so he asked his family back at home to send him decorations, and for long homeroom we all helped to decorate the room.

But then Friday, day before Halloween, we had to move the decorations to the 2nd year international classroom because not only was it Halloween, it was also the open house for the school to try and get middle schoolers to come to our school next year.

On Halloween I had to go to the school to help everyone out, we played some Halloween games with the middle school students that came and gave reports on the awesomeness that is Tokiwagi exchange program. Not much else happened that day so now onto the month of November!

Throughout this month I’ve been introduced to many members of the Gushi family, and they are all tons of fun. There is Grandma (Obaasan), Ki-chan (Mama’s sister), Ryusei (Ki-chan’s 7 year old son), Yasai Obasan (Mama’s aunt who grows vegetables=yasai), and Chi-chan (Mama’s cousin).

That next Tuesday the 3rd was a Japanese culture day! And so Monday night Papa, Mama, Waka, Hono, Ku-chan, Ryusei, and I went to a hot spring. If you don’t know what a hot spring is I’ll explain. A hot spring, or in Japanese, onsen, is an open air bathhouse that is commonly near a volcano or other area of warm activity that naturally heats up the water for a refreshing experience. It was a separated bath, so girls to one side, boys to the other, except Ku-chan, he doesn’t like to be away from Mama.

Next day on culture day Obaasan, Ki-chan, and Ryusei all came over and we had a big dinner, it was very fun.

On that next Friday I returned to my regular 2nd year international class. It was great to have them back but I will miss the fun of the younger class. But in one class or the other it didn’t make much of a difference, because everyone in the school was preparing for the midterm exam, which when I’m typing this the first day of exams have been completed. I’m actually not taking exams because 1. I wasn’t here for the first semester of classes so I would not know of that material, and 2. I will be taking a test to test my current level of Japanese, mainly with Kanji.

The next exciting thing that happened was about two weeks later. Alex and Miyuki-sensei asked me to go with them to a middle school a little ways off to the north to talk to some middle school students and get them to come to our school. The middle schoolers were really fun, we played some games with them and taught them a little English. We only taught two classes but kids would stop Alex and I to try and practice their English. Their English was really good too. In one game they had to write words on the board that began with the last words last letter and they used words I wouldn’t see being taught and remembered using, like mode. And many of them spelled orange right which is hard because here orange is pronounced o-ren-ji.

Also, Christmas is just around the corner, and even though not even 1% of the Japanese people are Christian, Christmas is still very much celebrated. But, as Brian-sensei from Ireland told me, unlike in America the sales don’t happen till after New Years. There is this tradition here in Sendai that during these sales a lot of the shops sell bags of goods that, for example, cost $50 but what is inside the bag is a bundle of goods worth about $150. I might try to find a video game shop or any other shop and try to get one. It is all a part of embracing the culture right?

There was also this holiday back on the 7th called Shichi-go-san which means 7-5-3. It is the day where boys and girls, girls of 7 and 3 and boys of 5, go to Japanese shrines to get blessed. Mama, Ku-chan, and I went to see the festivities at the biggest shrine in the area and Mama told me about the gods that lived there. Afterwards I started studying more about these gods and other gods in the area.

The shrine is called Shiogama Shrine in Shiogama city. The god who rules there is named Shiogama, of course, which means Salt Kiln in Japanese. Shiogama is a very large god who rules over the ocean nearby to Shiogama city. He is also the god of successful childbirth, matchmaking, and of luck in financial business. He also happens to have a small shrine in Sendai that I pass by on my way to school so I always stop to say good morning.

Next two gods are Shiogama’s subordinates, Shiwahiko (Will Wave), and Okama (Kiln). Shiwahiko is also a god of the ocean, but just the ocean, he lives at the same big shrine as Shiogama. Okama is the god of salt; he is very small and lives nearby Shiogama but not in the main shrine.

There’s also this god that I refer to as Sanko, because I do not know his name. He lives at the Shiogama’s small shrine in Sendai. I just noticed him today so tomorrow I’ll read about him and see what he does and tell you about him.

Last god is my current awesome favorite. His name is Gongoro Kagemasa. He is the closest god to my house living at Kamakura Shrine right next to the station I go to. It is a very small shrine, looking very much like a tool shed. At the shrine there are these three stray cats, a mother and two kittens, they are so cute! But I’m not sure if I should report them to someone or what, but I think they are happy where they are. Anyway, Gongoro really isn’t a god but a samurai who is forever famous for his brave accomplishments in battle. So brave, that when he died the people of the city he lived in, which is much farther south than where I am, built a shrine for him. The shrine here is again, just a small shrine, but with the same importance as his larger shrine.

That’s about all the exciting things that happened. Well until next time …

To the Americans, Happy Thanksgiving!

To all the other countries, Happy Holidays.

And to everyone, I miss you and wish you all the luck, health, and happiness in the world.

Love always,

Chelsea Neal

a.k.a. Keeping Many People Happy

December 24th Journal

The first thing to happen in October was the Rotary Club Annual Picnic. We drove a long ways up north to what I believe to be on top of some large hill or small mountain.

We were in a small clearing surrounded by chestnut trees (yes from the Christmas song). The women and children including me were able to pick apples and afterwards everyone enjoyed a big feast of barbeque meat and veggies. After eating, we all went and picked some chestnuts, very difficult, for your hands keep getting prickled with thorns.

A few days after the picnic I had to move to my 2nd host family called the Gushi family. Although it didn’t feel like that’s when I moved since two days after that I went on my school trip to Kansai.

My school trip was a 6 day 5 night trip to the cities of Hiroshima, Kobe, Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara. The first day we went to Miyajima Island which is right off the coast of Hiroshima. The island is not only famous for the gate on the water but also for its great number of deer, and rice paddles.

Second day we went to the Hiroshima Memorial Peace Park, there were many sad places in the park. The thing that impacted me the most though was in the memorial museum was on one of the first walls was a message saying,

“A dragonfly flitted in front of me

And stopped on a fence.

I stood up, took my cap in my hands,

And was about to catch the dragon fly


It shows that before the bomb this was a regular day just like any other.

After that and some okonomyaki, we all went to the small city of Kurashiki to visit an art museum and explore the old fashioned street. Then a long drive to Kobe to sail on the bay in a dinner buffet cruise.

Next day we went to see a special showing of a Takarazuka play, which is a theater troop made entirely of women. We ate lunch there, then departed for the old foreigners’ market, where one could find many buildings from when European settlers built themselves homes. Some buildings were turned into museums, including a teddy bear museum. After that we went to Universal Studios Japan to settle into our hotel and eat at a Chinese buffet.

The next day was the all day adventure through Universal Studios Japan. I explored pretty much everywhere and rode on the Jaws and Spiderman rides. Both were a very fun experience to ride on.

The free day in Kyoto the next day was my favorite; my group went to the golden temple although the golden part was being reconstructed. Then I went to a studio lot park where Toei studios films Japanese war dramas among other things.

Last day we went to Nara to visit Nara Park, which had many deer, and two Buddhist temples. One had the large Nara Buddha inside it, and the other wouldn’t allow pictures.

When I got back from my trip my classmates of 2nd year international were in America on a short school trip. So until they returned I stayed in the 1st International class with my new host sister Wakana. In that class I had to undergo math, world history, and home economics.

But we all got to celebrate Halloween since Alex-sensei is the homeroom teacher. So Alex brought in some decorations and during the middle school open house played some fun Halloween games with the middle school student that was interested in joining Tokiwagi.

My 2nd host family was very kind to me for the two months I lived there. With my host mother, sisters, little brother Ku-chan, cousin Ryu, and many other relatives I explored much of the culture of Japan. I believe 3 times I was able to go to a hot spring with my family.

And my host mother took Ku-chan and I to a large shrine in Shiogama city, one of the three great sites in Japan, and also took Aunt Ki-chan and Ryu along to another shrine.

The seasons in Japan are really beautiful, from the autumn leaves to the cheerful feelings of Christmas. I love how you can celebrate Christmas without actually being Christian.

Near the start of December and the end of my stay with my 2nd host family I went on a trip with fellow Rotary inbounds, Rhys, Karen, and Victor, to pretty much share our culture with some college students. In the middle of the first day Sato-san took us to a large famous temple that had a golden hall used to protect ancestors.

We had an amazing time; the hotel had an onsen, an ice skating rink, a small playground, and most awesomely, a golf course. Most of the above we all did with the college students, but Rhys, Karen, and I all found the golf game and found it to be quite fun, then later on we got Victor to play too.

After that fun filled three days I returned home and almost immediately was switched to my 3rd host family. So far in this new house I’ve had experienced great fun although I’ve only been with this family for almost 2 weeks.

I went to a soccer game with my younger host sister, who happens to be going to Oklahoma for a short term Rotary youth exchange. My family also took me out to the Hikari no Pageant, Pageant of Light. An annual celebration here in Sendai. All the trees were lit, one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen.

And just yesterday I learned how to make mochi, mashed rice, it is supremely easy and really fun. It’s healthy for you too.

Lastly I am happy to say that it started snowing here in Japan. I haven’t seen snow for over five years so I’m really happy to be able to experience the warm feeling you get when you see snow.

And the immense amount of fun. Before our school went to winter break we all in my class messed around outside on the balcony and in the classroom throwing snowballs at each other.

And that is the end of my update. One wise word and a bit of exciting news you all may have not realized yet.

I’m at the half way point of my journey here; I’ve spent exactly five months here in Japan and according to what the Florida Youth Exchange heads have told me I have five more to go.

My advice is, have an adventure everyday no matter how small. You’ll be glad you did.

I’m going to end this now.

Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year of the Tiger

Loving everyone always and forever,

Chelsea Neal

a.k.a Hat

Keeping Many People Happy

P.S. instead of uploading the pictures like usual, I made a slide show of pictures from my trip, starting from where I left off in the October update. Here is the link to the video: http://video.yahoo.com/watch/6657017/17291620 

March 24 Journal

Hello everyone! And welcome to the March Monthly Update. I’m sorry that there was no update last month, I had quite a lot on my plate and afterwards had to rest for quite a bit, thank goodness we had some holiday time here in Japan.

So I’ll start off with all the excitement of February. First in school there was a chorus contest where we had to sing 2 songs, a pre-chosen song and a song of our class’s choice. This contest was actually supposed to be in December but so many students caught the influenza that the contest had to be postponed. So after months of practice and lunch time nap deprivation the chorus contest was a great success. There were many great vocals including one of a well known Japanese song called Yell by Ikimonogakari or if you can read this on your computer いきものがかり. My class didn’t place but we got an honorable mention because our class was the only that both songs were played on the piano by the same person (since we only have 11 people in the class).

And right after that a sports contest was announced, this involved all the 2nd years competing in dodge ball, volleyball, and basketball. We didn’t train for this as much for we were on a crunch for time with studying for exams so when the game competition day came we did kind of bad. But we had tons of fun anyway. It was interesting watching the teachers vs. students in volleyball and basketball. My principal Matsura-sensei even played basketball, before game he was showing off by getting constant 3 pointers.

All of the school contests now are over and done with and all the students were busy studying for exams… except me. I had a Rotary club Japanese speech contest. Prior to these other contests and a little afterwards I studied and memorized my speech to my best ability, mid way having to completely change my speech. Day of I was really nervous as I get extremely uncomfortable with going on stages. Yes, I know that I’m known for my acting skills by some of you but behind the scenes I tremble in my boots. The worst part was though I was the first person to make my speech. So I said my speech, I bet poorly and when on a crunch for time superbly improvised, a ways into the contest after my friend Karen’s speech I had to leave early. There was a tsunami coming and my host grandma, who happened to come and watch, had to go evacuate her house. So you know, everyone and everything is ok, there was no damage done to relatives houses. Afterwards I asked Karen about what went on with the contest and someone from South Korea had won the contest.

During all this the 3rd years at school had all taken their exams and after the speech contest was their graduation ceremony. There was a going away performance some time before that and all the teachers put on a couple of hilarious performances, I wish I could have taken pictures but I don’t think I was allowed to. They even did a Michael Jackson “Guess that ghost teacher” kind of performance. There were two teachers starring as Michael Jackson and everyone was like ‘who’s that second Michael Jackson’ but… it was so obviously Matsura-sensei. I’m surprised that everyone else was surprised. So at the actual ceremony many tears were shed as the 2nd and 1st years had to say goodbye to their mentors. I even cried, because there was this one moment when all the third years all together thank they’re mothers and fathers and home room teachers and it was just so sweet how they all seriously were going to miss their school and I know that will never EVER happen in an American school… ever.

And so the tiresome month of February came to an end. Next was the very interesting month of March.

The 2nd and 1st years took their exams as I kind of chilled and worked on Florida Virtual School stuff. After all that we got school off although it wasn’t technically spring break yet. It was mostly just relaxing getting work done but two very important events happened within this time.

First on the 14th was the anniversary of the death of my host mother’s father, so some relatives got together to mourn and properly place him in the Buddhist temple’s graveyard. Day before though I went with my host sisters, little brother, aunt Ki-chan and her son Ryu, Grandma, and two uncles, Yoshi and Hide, went to a bowling alley. It was great amounts of fun, especially seeing the two brothers battle it out. Uncle Yoshi is from Okinawa and had just gotten here, a very fun person (all the beer in your fridge will be gone by the time he leaves) he’s the type of uncle that likes to spoil people so Ryu somehow coaxed him into buying him a DSi since he liked playing with mine so much. After bowling we went to Mama’s job to eat (for free I think) until Mama got off work. Papa joined us there too, he had just come all the way from Gunma-ken (way down south of Miyagi-ken) to come and visit.

Anyways with the funeral we all wore black (no not kimonos sorry) and went into the temple to pray and offer incenses. After that we all went to Grandma’s house, which happened to be a bar, and we all ate snacks, watched TV, and talked about various things. Later that night we went to a special restaurant where you cook the food you order in front of you. For the first time I was able to try Sendai’s most well known food… cow tongue! It was actually really delicious to my surprise though quite hard to chew. There were all sorts of other tasty cow parts too which I don’t know from where they were from. But I’ll probably not eat any of these again, especially once I get back to the states where we lack such exotic tastes.

And thus ended the interesting funeral day. But the next week was another similar and interesting adventure.

I went with my host mother and host grandmother, plus little brother Ku-chan of course, we went to the temple where the ceremony from last time was to put up fresh flowers and offer incenses again. But the most interesting was that we went to visit a, to me, new relative. From my perspective I was thinking, huh this is an interesting house I wonder why we’re here. Living there was a woman in a wheel chair named Kozue who is my host mother’s cousin, she takes care of the true owner of the house. Her name is Tomeno, she is my host grandmother’s grandmother at the age of 97 or 98. I was just simply amazed by not only the fact that I was meeting probably the oldest member of the family but that, though she was bed stricken, was still very much alive and well. Shows how much a family can care for each other. Right after we left that house some more relatives had just gotten there as well.

And lastly today was the last official day of school, we went to school just to have our closing ceremony and say goodbye to each other for students will switch classes and I may actually have to be in the 2nd year international course one more time instead of advancing to the 3rd year. This day was interesting, first I was actually able to understand my principal’s speech, which I think was the first time I could understand a whole speech spoken in normal speed. I also was able to sing almost my entire school anthem with everyone. In homeroom, our last homeroom, we had fun just hanging out taking pictures, we said our goodbyes to our homeroom teachers and that was that.

So now I just await my next adventure, which would be Spring Camp. I will be going with fellow foreign exchange students Rhys, Karen, and Victor to Yamagata-ken to help new future outbounds to get ready for their exchange trip. My host sister Wakana will be getting ready to go to Brazil, very exciting.

In other news I will be moving again for the 5th time to my 4th host family although I only have 2 months left in Japan. I start my return home on the 27th of May, approved by all Rotarians that needed to approve it.

It’s really coming down to the wire now; the next update will probably be the last one. So till then, I wish ever one all the best luck and happiness in the world.

From World Traveler,

Chelsea Neal

Keeping Many People Happy

April 24 Journal

Hello everyone around the world. Welcome to the April Edition of the monthly update! This month started the ever so famous spring of Japan. Only just a few days ago the Sakura cherry blossom trees began to bloom all over Sendai. Though this spring is by far the coldest I’ve ever experienced at 44 degrees everyday and occasional rain showers.

There was lots of goings on with the Rotary Club this month. First up was the Spring Camp that I had mentioned last update. This was a meeting and training camp very much similar to the camps that I had went to before leaving for Japan. It was in Yamagata prefecture which is directly west of my prefecture Miyagi. Not just my District but another Rotary District was there.

There were many Rotarians but also some new exchange student friends plus some local assistant language teachers. The other inbounds were all very fun to hang out with, there is Travis from Canada an interesting guy, and considering this meeting was right after the Winter Olympics we had plenty to talk about, Michelle another American this time from Oregon, she loves to listen to music and sing karaoke, and Manon from France a well cultured girl for sure very polite and loves the hot springs. The new students going abroad included my host sister Wakana who is going to Brazil, a boy from my district named Shinji who is going to Minnesota, another girl named Wakana going to Ohio, and 3 more girls one going to Mexico, one to France, and another to Oregon. And lastly the ALT’s all were very fun and I wish I could have talked with them more. There were two English guys, 2 girls from New Zealand and 1 girl from California. And there were many new Rotexs that went all over, most all were girls but a significant few were guys. Including Stitch! Yes his name is Stitch he went to America.

So at the camp we pretty much just helped the future outbounds with their English/French/Spanish/ Portuguese and had fun with doing it through different “What do you do?” scenarios like a cafeteria and an airport. It was all around fun, though I was extremely tired the whole weekend for some reason I still managed to stay active. Although we did all stay up till way late one night, Victor and I were the only ones I think that got any sleep and that was at like 3 in the morning.

Now onto the next event, the District 2520 Gala Event Special! First thing after lunch me and my host sister Wakana plus a couple more Tokiwagi students went to help hold up some signboards showing all the Rotary members from all of the clubs in the entire district in two whole prefectures where a meeting was being held. Then afterwards we exchange students and some Rotex went onto a huge stage (on the 6th floor of a hotel) and Kato-san, my first host father and chairman of the Rotary Youth Exchange over here, and Rhys, exchange student from Kansas, made a small speech about the program. Then all of us Rotex and exchange students plus Wakana and Shinji went to Pirikura (Japanese arcade’s special photo booth) and a café to hang out. Then some time later we returned to a different hotel. This hotel was filled with tons of elaborate paintings and statues from all over the world; I could barely keep myself from jumping around from all the culture around me. But the “piece de resistance” on the 5th floor we enter a large room. Do you know of when you watch a movie and you see all the rich people gathered in a large hall and they’re all eating from a tremendously large buffet and drinking expensive wine and beer? That’s where I was – most amazing spread of people and food in my life. In all honesty I think I almost passed out there were just so many people. But I got through it, had some educational conversations with a few of the Rotarians including one Rotarian from Iwate who loves to go to movies, we had tons to talk about and a Chinese man who I know from my own club. Probably never again will I be able to be in such an awesome gala event like that but the memory is with me forever (but no pictures, my camera died).

The last Rotary event of the month, I went to an Ohanami or Sakura viewing party, this event was all districts as well but only a few representatives from each district. Among the people from my district were Kato-san, Shiromatsu-san president of my club and a famous photographer. This event was held at Shiromatsu-san’s Shiromatsu snacks factory, I can’t believe I didn’t realize the free snacks I won at Christmas bingo came from the president. even though there technically was no Sakura, the party was really an excuse just to drink and have fun (don’t worry I didn’t drink, scout’s honor). The party was great I was given a small tour of the two Shrines that were there, one’s name is Shrio-Kitsune and the other was (something)-Matsu. Also Shiromatsu-san’s older brother Ichiro Shiromatsu decided to plan a big birthday party for me May 2nd, I tried to deny politely but they insisted, especially Kato-san. Though this will be awesome, because my sister will be coming to visit then from Okinawa.

This month I also went to the local zoo. There were many sorts of animals including Red Pandas, Polar Bears and my favorite a Tanuki, or falsely known as a Korean dog. I went with my host mom, host brother, mom’s sister, and nephew Ryu. It was my little brother’s first visit to the zoo and he had quite a lot of fun at the goat area where some zoo keepers gave kids leaves so they could feed the goats.

This month also started my days as a 3rd year in high school. So now I’m a senior in both America and Japan. My classmates are the same except one of them Ayaka was switched to a different room. But luckily she still comes to eat with us and is in all our P.E. classes. Also we have new homeroom teachers, Kuroda-sensei also our English reading teacher and Kishi-sensei our Global Understanding teacher. Though I only have a month left here I will make the most of it.

If you don’t already know I’m scheduled to return to America on May 27th, I still have a few more great adventures ahead of me during this trip.

This month has taught me a great deal. That no matter who we are or where we come from, differences never matter when we all come together to party and socialize. And even if you may never see someone again every person you meet is important and for whatever reason you should welcome the reason with open arms and a perceptive mind.

One last thing, I have a new name now and it is very fitting with this new spring season. Here in Japan my name Chelsea is pronounced Cherushi. Most people call me Cheru-chan but some call me Cheri-chan (-chan is a suffix used with young girls and small children). Cheri sounds like Cherry and Cherry Blossom is Sakura. Plus Sea is Umi. So my newest name is Sakura-Umi, Sea of Cherry Blossoms. I like this name – it gives me many bounds of happiness.

I leave you now with this. The Sakura though beautiful pink and bright will only stay for a fleeting moment, and so does the beautiful season of spring that breaks the coldness of winter. But never let the end of this season and the falling petals make you lose your smile, keep the warm spring of happiness within your heart and soul, and like the proud Sakura tree bloom and brighten for all the world to see. And perhaps through the warm sun of your spring smile you may let another heart’s spring bloom bright.

Hope everyone has a wonderful spring and all the luck this season has to bring.


Chelsea Neal


Keeping Many People Happy


Connor Hendricks
2009-10 Outbound to Thailand
Hometown: Vero Beach, Florida
School: Vero Beach HS
Sponsor: Treasure Coast Rotary Club, District 6930, Florida
Host: Laem Chabung Rotary Club, District 3340, Thailand

Connor - Thailand

Connor’s Bio

Hello! Sawatdee khrab! That’s Thai for hello.

My name is Connor, and I am so lucky to be going to Thailand as a Rotary Youth Exchange student in 2009.

I have lived all my life in Vero Beach, which is a small town on the east coast of Florida. I am 15 years old and in 9th grade at Vero Beach High School where I am in pre-AP courses and Chorus and Spanish Club. I live with my parents, my sister who is 16 and in 10th grade, two cats, Butterscotch and Patsy, and my shiba inu dog, Sumo.

I like traveling, volunteering and pet-sitting, and I love computer gaming! I play online games with other players from all over, and I like music. I like learning about and using technology, and I really like Japanese anime movies, especially “Princess Mononoke”.

I am grateful for the opportunity to live and study in Thailand and to represent Rotary. I can’t wait to see how the culture is different from America and how it is the same. I’m expecting big obvious differences, but I also suspect that the feelings people have are the same everywhere.

At first all I could think of was how exotic Thailand must be, but then I realized everyone in the world must feel things like liking and disliking, happiness and sadness, hope and despair, pride and humbleness. If I can be sensitive to the feelings we all share, then it will make for a lot more similarities and connection than I first imagined.

I hope to learn about the people, the language, and the customs to expand my understanding. I am eager for the challenge of adapting and think it will make me more prepared for challenges in my future. I’d like to thank Rotary and my family for believing in me and giving me this wonderful chance. Let the adventure begin!

Connor’s Journals

August 23 Journal

When I arrived in Bangkok at the start of August, I got out to the front of the airport and was met by my first and second host families and my Rotary counselor. It was a long trip, and I was glad to see them! My family lives in Bang Lamung, around an hour outside Bangkok.

My family took me to get a bike helmet because they have a bike for me to ride. I went to 7-11, and they have Slurpees! Yay!

I started school immediately. I have a uniform of black shorts and blue shirt with black sneakers and long socks. There are some other uniforms for special occasions, but this is the only one I have. I don’t understand what the different uniforms are for, but I don’t really mind having just the one. I kind of stand out as it is, so the uniform isn’t really going to make a difference! I had to introduce myself to the whole school which is over 1,200 people. I hadn’t prepared for that, so in the car on the way to school I put together a half Thai half English speech. It turned out OK, and the director of the school gave me flowers. The people at school have all been welcoming. Sometimes when there’s not class we hang around or play games on the computers. They have the game Counterstrike on all the school computers. Some girls taught me how to makes stars out of straws. It’s pretty relaxed. We have different schedules every day. For example, a typical day could be science, English, Thai, Social, lunch, math, and computers. Of course English is the easy one for me! I have made a lot of friends so far. The school itself is really nice, just all open instead of air conditioned. The cafeteria is like a big outdoor auditorium with a metal roof. They give me my school lunch which is usually noodles or rice and chicken. Sometimes monks come in for special occasions and lead prayers, and we give them food and supplies. That’s a big part of Thai life.

Outside of school we play basketball or go to the mall. I have been to dinner with my counselor and his wife and son. I have met three host families so far and lots of friends and cousins and people connected with them.

I’ve been to several Rotary meetings. I don’t think I pronounced my speech very well, but they were really nice about it and liked my Powerpoint which I’m also going to present at school. I had to speak to the school assembly about my mother on Thai Mother’s Day too, but they had someone translate for me.

The food is interesting. People here put ketchup on their pizza for one thing, and they eat lots of Kentucky Fried Chicken which you can get delivered to your house. I’ve had some really good Thai food, and I even tried sea slug and octopus tentacles, though I wasn’t fond of either one. I discovered I like coconut jelly, and there’s meat on a stick in the market that is really good. Pepsi here tastes the same, but it’s green.

I’m already used to heat, which is a good thing, because it’s hotter and more humid than Florida.

Sometimes I’m not sure what I’m nodding yes to, and I woke up one morning to find I had agreed to go on a 15k bike trip with my family. My parents woke me up early and we went to a park near Pattaya. The 15k bike trip was for the Queen’s birthday. There were about 500 people there. It was fun. The roads were closed for the bikers and they handed us water along the way.

Another day I was picked up early from school to go into Bangkok for the graduation of the mayor of Laem Chabang’s daughter from the University of Thailand. We drove there with the mayor, her daughter, her husband, my host mom and her sister and a friend. When we arrived, we rode the tram for about 10 minutes and got off at the river. We took a 25 minute boat ride to the closest drop off spot to the university and walked about a mile through markets, restaurants and shops. I saw a little shop selling baby water snakes that you put in your soup. We finally arrived at the university where there were thousands of people. We took pictures of the mayor’s daughter and got her flowers. We went back a different way by car, a long drive through the city but worth it because I got to see Bangkok all lit up at night.

I have helped my host father cook in his noodle stand, and I’ve been to the beach a couple of times. I’ve been to the movies. We saw GI Joe in English with Thai subtitles. A lot of Thai movies are horror movies and not too great. Most big American movies come in English. Before the movie starts, a clip of the King comes on the screen and everyone stands in respect for the king while the national anthem plays.

I visited a middle school here where a teacher is a friend of my family, and I met all the students and the teachers. I stayed in the main office for a while and spoke to the director and some of the teachers on break. Then I went to the library to play with the younger kids and read them a few stories in English and taught them colors and numbers. That was kind of fun.

I have noticed that there are literally hundreds of stray dogs here. At school I see random dogs hopping through the yard or in the street. The sad part is that most of them have only three legs and look starved. There is a pair of elephants that live next to my house. I think they are wild. It’s not uncommon to see elephants. It’s pretty cool.

I went to the Rotary orientation for my district and there were about 20 of us. It was exciting! On the way, we stopped at a silk factory. The orientation was only for district 3340 so Jay (from Jacksonville) was not there, but Elizabeth from Florida was. The Rotarians here are really relaxed and humorous and wear shorts and flip flops to some of their meetings. Two of them were from Pattaya Jomtien Rotary club. The other was from a different club. One was an American. One was from Europe. Another was from Thailand but was Indian. They seemed fluent in English, Spanish, German, and Thai. It was impressive. They were all really nice and made lots of jokes. I turned in my documents and the 42,000 baht (see sib song pan baht) for my Rotary trip in the spring. We went over the rules. The trip is in March. I am happy because my Thai will be much better by then. The closest inbound to me is about an hour south. She’s from Germany and speaks very good English. She lives near Pattaya on a chicken farm with 14,000 chickens, and is 50 kilometers from her school!

My host dad will be gone for 3 weeks studying to become a monk. My brother Tong is leaving tonight for Wisconsin as a Rotary Youth Exchange student. Soon I am planning to get a bus ticket and go visit Jay (inbound from FL) in Bangkok. Anyway, I’ve settled in really happily. Even my family’s dogs don’t look like they want to kill me when I walk past them anymore. Now they just growl, so I guess they’re getting used to me too! Thanks again to Rotary and everyone who helped me make this trip. I love it.

September 28 Journal

Hello everyone.

My host brother Tong left for America at the end of August. He was going to Wisconsin as a Rotary Youth Exchange student. At 2:00 AM a big bus / van came to pick us up. We went around the town and picked up all of his friends and some of his family. Then we drove to Bangkok. We got there at about 5:00 AM where we met my whole Rotary Club plus a few other people. We took pictures and said our goodbyes and he went through security and got on the plane.

My Thai has been coming along slowly but surely. It was slow for about the first month but now it is picking up the pace very quickly. I love Thailand and I do not ever want to leave. I want to stay here forever. It has already been about 2 months. That is 1/6th of my year here. Time flies by. It feels like I’ve only been here for a few weeks but I’ve really been here for about 8 weeks!!

I went to a Rotary meeting at the Tower Hotel in Pattaya with my counselor Surin and his son Graph. It turned out it was not a meeting but was a party honoring the new Rotarians to the club and the birthdays of a few of the Rotarians. I got to see one of the other exchange students that I had met at the Rotary inbound orientation. She is 16 and from Germany. She is living on a chicken farm about 50 kilometers south of Pattaya. She said it is a 1 hour drive to and from school each day. The party was really fun; there was a big buffet and a raffle. I bought 3 raffle tickets for 100 Baht ($3). I won a bottle of whiskey so I traded it to one of the Rotarians for his teacup set, and when I got home I gave the teacup set to my host mom as a gift.

The next day I moved to my host mom’s house because my host dad was leaving to become a monk and was going to be gone for 3 weeks. I like her house because the internet is free, there is a much more comfy bed, and there is an air conditioner. The mattress at my host dad’s house is about 2 inches thick and the mattress at my host mom’s house is a normal mattress.

On the weekend I went to the local pub for a concert with a few Rotarians and my second host dad. It was really fun and we stayed till 3 am! The next day we woke up early and the whole family and I went to The Sri Racha Tiger Zoo. It was pretty big. We saw 4 shows there. The Elephant show, the Crocodile show, The Tiger show, and the Pig races. While we were there I got some pictures with the animals. I have a picture of me sitting with two orangutans and an anaconda. I also got my picture sitting on a crocodile’s back and one of me bottle feeding a tiger cub. After the shows we all went on an elephant ride back into the woods behind the zoo.

I’ve been to the EGV Cinema at Robinson’s mall a couple of times. Once I went with 3 girls from Bansean Demonstration School. It is a higher level than my school. We went to see Final Destination 4. It was decent. Another time I went with 7 girls and 2 boys from Bansean Demonstration School again. We went to see “Haa Prang” (5 Prang) (Phobia 2). It was a horror movie made up of 5 stories. It was actually really good for a Thai movie and I would not mind seeing it again some time. The last story was very funny and a little bit scary.

I also went to the Kao Keow Zoo in Sri Racha with 2 Rotarians, their daughters, their 2 nephews, and one of the uncles. It was a lot of fun. I rode in the back of the truck with the 2 nephews. It was an open zoo where you drive from exhibit to exhibit. You also buy food at the beginning and you can feed all the animals. After we walked through the hippo exhibit some weird furry animal climbed off a post and was hanging on my neck. It crawled on me then hung off my arm by its tail. One of the zoo keepers told me what it was (I do not remember the name though). He said it was closely related to a panda. After that we went to the elephant sanctuary and had a picnic. Then we watched an elephant show and fed them. After that we went on an elephant ride back into the forest behind the zoo. This ride was a bit longer and we went up hills and over trees and rocks. It was really cool. We got to see the hospital that the elephants go to when they get sick. On our way out of the zoo we drove though a section that had loose monkeys. The monkeys were chasing our car and jumping into the back and stealing the left-over food. It was really neat. I tried to get some pictures but they were too quick.

I do not get out much on weekdays because school ends late. Then I walk home which is another 30-40 minutes. One Sunday I went on a school trip to a temple that was just south of Bangkok. We stayed there for an hour then went to a sand sculpture museum. There were about 30 sculptures. They were very good and big and must have taken a long time to make. Then we went to the 100 year market and everyone went shopping for a few hours. It was cool. Another Saturday was a review day for the upcoming midterm exams. Matteyom 2 was going on a trip to Bangkok to a science museum. They let me go so I did not have to sit around at school all day and do nothing, and we went to a planetarium.

Last Thursday my host mother asked me if I wanted to go to the Rotary meeting. I said yes because I had not gone to the last two. It turned out to be another Rotary party except it was hosted by my club. There were 11 farangs (foreigners) there including me. My Rotary Club is going to teach me some Thai songs so I can do Karaoke at the next Rotary party. Not too excited about that. On Sunday I woke up early and went to Sala. It is the place where the monks live. We had our normal prayers then we went home. I do feel at home here!

November 1 Journal

October went by kind of slowly at first. In the beginning of the month we had midterms. Luckily I only had to take two exams, Thai and English. They were both easy and I passed them. I visited my friend’s school the next week. It’s called Satit and is located on the Burapha University campus. When we were in Bangsean, we took the songtao (a pickup-truck taxi where you ride in the back) to an aquarium near her school. I think it was the smallest aquarium I have ever been to. It had a few fish tanks with eels and fish. Then there was a larger tank with a few sharks.

On mid-term break, I spent a lot of time at the mall and went to the movies one time. I went to see The Proposal with some girls. It was funny. I had already seen it in America, but I decided to see it again so I could go with them. The movie theaters here are much different. They do not have plain popcorn, only flavored popcorn. They have cheese flavored which tastes like onions, and oddly enough they have corn flavored popcorn. Personally I do not see the point. It’s also different because you have to choose your seats. There is a little touch screen that shows available seats and you pick them. Seats in the middle of the row are more expensive then seats on the outsides, and seats that are farther back are also more expensive, because of the view I suppose.

I also went to a hotel in Pattaya with my host mom and dad, their friend and their daughter who is 15, and we went in the hotel pool and then moved to the beach. The water was nice and warm but very murky and has a fair amount of trash. You can find anything at the beaches here. I have seen everything from underwear and wallets to hats and shoes and glasses.

Then my host mom told me that she was going to north Thailand for two days to stay at a temple and I could either go with her or stay at her friend’s house. I decided to stay at her friend’s house. I am glad I did; they were really nice. They live in a really quaint little neighborhood about a km east of the town. It was nothing like anything I have seen in Thailand. It was like a gingerbread village and reminded me of the advertisements for new neighborhoods in Florida. Everything was perfectly manicured, and all of the kids were nice and all had swimming lessons on the same day and tennis lessons on the same day. We went to a seafood restaurant, and they got me to try fish even though I hate it. It was actually really good! We also got some tom which is a sort of soup, but it’s spicy.

After my host mom returned, three other exchange students from my district came to Pattaya for the weekend. There was a girl from America, a girl from Germany, and a boy from Mexico. We all went to dinner and to Walking Street in Pattaya. Walking Street is a giant road with no vehicles. It is very long and is all bars: a-go-go bars, strip clubs and hookah bars. There are glass boxes on the tops of some of the buildings with girls dancing on poles, and there are girls from the a-go-go bars standing on the sides of the road advertising. We didn’t go into the bars, but it was pretty interesting just strolling around!

I was actually happy when school started again. I never thought I would say that, but I was glad to be among my school friends again. At my most recent Rotary meeting they talked about me switching host families so I assume I will move to my second host family in the next few weeks. I just recently went to my second host family’s son’s birthday party. He turned 10. Kids’ birthday parties here are the same as in America except most kids in the US don’t get to light Roman candles to celebrate! It was fun.

Today I went out with my friend Ni and her aunt Ple to a shopping center called Carrefour Pattaya. I was really excited that they had a Subway, so I went there for lunch. The menu here is not the same! I had a sandwich of white bread with lettuce, crab, corn and sweet lemon sauce. Try anything once! After Carrefour we went to the marina in Pattaya and took the boat to Koh Laan Island to deliver some things to my aunt’s friend who owns a small hotel right on the beach. That was cool.

Well, have a nice November everybody! More soon…


Conor Doherty
2009-10 Outbound to Sweden
Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: Buchholz HS
Sponsor: Downtown Gainesville Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Lerum Rotary Club, District 2360, Sweden

Conor - Sweden

Conor’s Bio


My name is Conor Doherty and as you may have heard, I am going to Sweden! A couple of years ago, my family hosted two exchange students. One was from Finland so I had had heard about Scandinavia and I figured that would be a cool place to go. My sister and brother were also exchange students, Makena went to Brazil and Liam went to Switzerland. If it wasn’t for them, I would not be in this situation right now. I have heard millions of stories about their exchange years and how they had such a good time and that their years abroad had changed their lives, so I decided to uphold the new “family tradition” and go abroad myself. The topic of exchange always came up when my siblings were abroad so I had a lot of time to think about it, but finally decided that it would be best for me to go. The application process was difficult and the interviews were even harder (a lot harder!), but it was all worth it. The orientations are coming up soon as well, so I am excited about officially being a Rotary Youth Exchange Student.

I am currently a sophomore at Buchholz High School and although I am only 15 years old, I feel like I am ready to venture pretty far from the nest and become more independent, more responsible, and more intelligent. I am hoping that my year abroad shapes me into a better person the way my family has for the last 15 years. I think that having three siblings has made me the person I am and I think that being abroad will also change me, hopefully for the good. I am really looking forward to learning another language and to my year away from home, but I am most excited to see myself develop and change as the experiences and the culture are integrated into my life.

Thanks Rotary, for making this possible for me!

Conor’s Journals

August 29 Journal

I am not much for introductions, so I will just jump right in. On August 6th (my brother’s birthday), we set off to Jacksonville Airport from Gainesville. The whole way to the airport, I was just trying to keep my mind off of the point of the trip. Maybe I was scared, maybe just nervous, most likely both. When we arrived at the airport, I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I would be, so that was a good start. It was at the security checkpoint, at which I had to see my family for the last time for a year, that I started to feel the adrenaline. I hugged my family goodbye, said happy birthday to my brother, and walked away without looking back.

The airports were not too bad. I had never flown before, so this was my first airplane/airport experience. I found my gate fine and I didn’t have any problems. The last thing I did in America was in the Detroit airport, I bought a small fry from McDonalds (a sentimental moment). I almost had a bad experience in the Amsterdam airport. I could not find my flight on the sign so I went to the gate for a flight headed to Göteborg, but after a while I heard a voice on the intercom saying: “Herr Dorothy…fgdasifblewifbe” (something in Dutch – it was hilarious how they pronounced my name). “Mr. Doherty, please begin boarding at gate C4 immediately.” I was a long way from the right gate and I was the last to board my plane, but I made it.

I cleaned up a little and changed to a nicer shirt on the plane, and upon arrival, I saw my three host families and my counselor Lena. We all spoke briefly and introduced ourselves, I exchanged the cash I had for SEK and we headed home.

Later, we all met together again at a BBQ in my honor. We all ate some delicious food, a good first impression of Swedish cuisine, played fotboll, went swimming, and all chatted in English. A quick note: Everyone here has good English. They don’t admit it, but they do. David, my host brother, was about to leave for the US and he was trying to practice his English with me. (He is gone now to Seattle.)

In the first few days I did quite a bit, even with jet lag. I went swimming, paintballing, biking, etc. I tried to get over the jet lag as fast as possible and it worked pretty well, seeing as it only lasted a couple days, although some effects lasted a week or so. For example, I would wake up at noon everyday, still feeling tired (coffee helps). Since then, I have gone on an army ship with my host brother Simon, who is in the Swedish navy, I have stayed in Fristad for the week long language course, I have given a presentation at 7:00 in the morning, på Svenska, to a bunch of Rotarians in the Borås Rotary Club, I’ve wakeboarded; gone sailing; had fotboll practice; observed a floorball practice (which was insane by the way); picked wild raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries; unexpectedly seen the band Europe live; seen other live music like EMD which I don’t really like, but it was fun anyways; gone to Liseberg, an amusement park in Göteborg; biked to school everyday; visited multiple museums, and I don’t even know what else. I try to say yes to almost every offer that involves activity. I have pretty much only spent money on food and candy. Everything here is much more expensive than in the USA, so I try to conserve my money.

I started school last week and I have realized that the school here is so much more relaxed. There is an open campus and no tardies or anything like that (I still really try not to be late). The first days of school (8 days), we haven’t done much of anything because we are slowly easing into having school and we are getting to know all of our classmates. There is a two day trip planned for all of the students in the first year ekonomi class so that we can get to know each other better. My classes consist of: Swedish, English, Math, Social Studies, Geography, History, Sport, and Music. My schedule varies a lot and a lot of the time, the schedule is not followed for some reason.

I think I have summed up the first few weeks pretty well so I will leave you at that. Until next time, greetings från Sverige!

November 4 Journal

Well, it is time for journal number two. To summarize the time I have spent since the last journal in a few words would be impossible. I will at least try to do it some justice.

My Swedish is getting better and better. My overall understanding of speech is okay, much better at reading, not too great at speaking, but I try. I have Swedish lessons once a week and they are helping a little, but I think at home and in school are where most of the learning takes place.

The weather is not too bad yet. It only gets colder and colder. Every night it gets to be around freezing or a little lower so frost in the morning is common. During the day it does not get much warmer and the wind does not help. No snow yet, surprisingly, but I think it will come in a short time. There is more rain than I would like so it is gray quite a bit. I could go on about the weather because it seems to be a prominent subject in conversations, as Swedes care a lot about good weather because it is rare.

I have visited the Rotary club a few times and attend the meetings every other week. They seem to enjoy me and Joe’s (an exchange student from California also living in Lerum) company. Although, the meetings are Tuesday dinner meetings and I have soccer training on Tuesdays a little later in the day.

I am still playing soccer with the local team. It is a good way to make friends and stay fit. I can also work on my Swedish with them as well. The soccer trainings are fun, but now the weather is getting very cold and we practice at 8:00 at night, so all of the practices are very cold. Good thing there is a turf field to play on or the grass would all be dead…

School is going relatively well. The school is in only Swedish except for the English class, so it is tough to manage. But, I try hard, study, and do well on tests and homeworks. Not only are the tests hard because I can’t read the questions, but even if I do know the question, then all of the lectures are in Swedish and all of the papers that the teacher gives out and all of the books, so studying is very difficult. I like school, though. Many friends and it gives me something to do all day instead of just sitting around and doing nothing all day.

I have been hanging out with friends a lot recently. I can now travel freely because I bought a travel card for my free time, (called a fritidskort, literally free time card). Now travel is easy, even long trips where I have to take trains and busses and the like. That makes me wish we had a system so good in the US… But bowling and going to movies, even shooting golf balls on a golfing range.

Last week, my host family planned a surprise party for my host mom and all went well. Everything went according to plan: She had no idea and we set up this big party for her. I was in a suit and it was very fun. My whole family helped with the decorations and the service at the party and it was all really great.

Overall, the best thing for me is that I can see myself maturing. I can see in my thoughts and in my interpretations of events and ethics that I am definitely maturing. I don’t know if I want to mature so fast quite yet. Sometimes I just want to be a kid while I am a kid, but on the other hand I think it is great that my social skills and confidence are higher and I am developing into an adult. Either way, the experiences I am having here are shaping me slowly and I am sure you will be able to see this when I get home. Imagine: It has only been a few months so what will I be like in 9 more months?

So, I am having a good time in Sverige! Best regards to Rotary and the other exchange students. I hope you are having as much fun as I am.

March 6 Journal

It is hard to describe these last few months… I moved to my next family and am having a great time living at their house. I am set up to go to my next host family in just a couple of weeks. My Swedish is getting better every day. Sweden, for me, used to be a place where I was staying for a year. I feel like now it is much more like my home. I feel as though I have lived here for years. I can only imagine the day I get back to my own home and realize that it feels less like home than my Swedish home. It is such a strange feeling to be gone for so long; so long that the new place is now your home.

The day after writing my last journal entry, it snowed for the first time of the year. After that, it continued snowing and snowing and snowing. There is still snow on the ground and it is -5 C mid day now. The snow has been on the ground for months and hasn’t gone away at all. It has gotten down to -20 C in my town, Lerum. I just hope that spring is right around the corner so I can finally do something outdoors! It feels so restricting with snow on the ground everywhere. The upside to the snow is that I went skiing with my host family one day and that was fun. My next family is also taking me on a ski trip over the Easter break for four or five days. I am definitely looking forward to that!

I have experienced many things since my last entry, so I will tell you about some of them. Christmas (Swedish style)! I didn’t think that Christmas would be much different and for the most part I was right. There is not much of a difference between our way and the Swedish way of celebrating. The biggest difference is that they celebrate and open the presents on Christmas Eve instead of the way we do it, on Christmas day. Also, there are different foods and different little things like writing a rhyme on your gift to someone else. I thought this was fun because the person receiving the gift would try to guess what it was by the rhyming clue. However, through all of the good things that happened, this was my first Christmas away from my family. As bad as it sounds, I wasn’t as disturbed by it as I thought I would be. (Sorry mom!).

New Years Eve was also very fun. We had fireworks and were shooting them off all over the place. We also saw a fireworks show that people in the community organize and that was really cool. We then celebrated the countdown and stayed up late having fun.

I have also been sledding (which is really fun and surprisingly dangerous), skiing, Pain-balling, (like paintball without paint in the balls so that they are just rubber), going to school, freezing my butt off outside, and taking in Sweden! I also gave a presentation at my Rotary club and have given multiple presentations at my school about United States history, about Gainesville, and about being an exchange student. I have been having a lot of fun and I hope to continue that when spring comes!

Until next time,

Conor Doherty


Courtenay Johnson
2009-10 Outbound to Finland
Hometown: Flagler Beach, Florida
School: Seabreeze HS
Sponsor: Flagler Beach Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Jyväskylä-Päijänne Rotary Club, District 1390, Finland

Courtenay - Finland

Courtenay’s Bio

Hi everybody! My name is Courtenay Johnson!

I was born in Jacksonville, Florida. I am fifteen years old and I am the fifth of sixth children in my family. My second oldest brother, Adrian, is one my best friends. We do everything together from going to Orlando to simply going out to dinner. The youngest in my family is Jamison. He is eighteen months younger than I am. My grandparents unfortunately died before I was born, but I have two uncles on my mother’s side that I have never met.

My father is a dentist in Flagler Beach and my mother is a house wife. I love them both very much. My parents are very supportive of my decisions, but they always put in their own insight on the situation. What kind of parents would they be if they didn’t?

My school life is most excellent. I make good grades and I have a lot of friends that I cherish and love. I have always been very determined to be the best and to get the results I want and need. In fact, in May, 2007 I weighed over 300 pounds. With hard work and a boat-load of support from my friends and family I lost 110 pounds in a little over a year. My parents say I’m hardly recognizable.

I have recently been chosen to study abroad for one year in Finland and I’m soooo excited! I chose to be an exchange student because I want to experience a new culture, learn a new language and learn the ways of the people I do not know.

I cant wait to meet everyone in Finland and build new friendships!!!


David Ocampo
2009-10 Outbound to Denmark
Hometown: Fort Lauderdale, Florida
School: Pompano Beach HS
Sponsor: Coral Springs – Parkland Rotary Club, District 6990, Florida
Host: Faxe Rotary Club, District 1480, Denmark

David - Denmark

David’s Bio

Ever since I was born, I possessed an insatiable curiosity, like most babies and young children, in just about everything. Whenever I felt that I did not understand some concept, or anything for that matter, I would search through any means to comprehend it. Sixteen years have passed and that interest is still as strong as ever, although aimed in different areas. As I grew older, me and my parents became increasingly worried that I had absolutely no decisions on a career. After taking a French course in my Freshman year at Pompano Beach High School, I realized that every language is a door to discovering a new world to explore. With my previous knowledge of the Spanish language, which is part of the Latin language family like French, I became able to sustain conversations in French after a semester of the class. Experiencing English, Spanish, and a taste of the French worlds, my curiosity for languages and cultures grew exponentially. Deciding to attempt a career in international business, I signed up for the Rotary Exchange Program to find a new language, culture, and world.

I believe that people should have a good understanding of something before constructing an opinion of it. This idea I try to follow has led me to enjoying many activities and certain times however my hobbies, more specifically the avocation I take part in most often, are the arts. I am currently in the Florida Youth Orchestra and have played in every concert they had available, including Williamsburg, Virginia’s (the United States’ oldest city) 400th Anniversary. I am also playing, and singing (another hobby of mine) in my church every Sunday. I have been dancing for most of my life in the Hispanic parties my parents hold, and although I have only been ballroom dancing for one and a half years, I have won in all 6 Newcomer events and am currently competing in 9 Bronze level dances. In my spare time between dance, singing, and violin practices, homework, and family affairs, I make games to play with my brothers (9 and 11 years old) and write.

I am amazed that I am being given this opportunity to explores Denmark’s world, learn the Danish Language, live the Danish culture. I can’t wait!

 David’s Journals

August 21 Journal

OK so I missed 2 weeks because of visa problems, but this was sooo worth the anxiety! I feel “caught-up” already! I feel so connected to people here now. Where before I had to ask questions for the simplest of things, like using a toilet (the button is on top and there are 2 different flushes!), now I can do as if I lived here my entire life. Walking downtown is still a little wobbly because although there are fewer cars then what I’m used to, these cars will NOT stop for you (I learned that the hard way 😛 ).

When I arrived I didn’t know what to look for. I looked so awkward. While everyone seemed to look like they knew where they were going to, walking in straight lines. The lightheadedness and the confused circular walking made me look more like a seasick passenger on a rocking boat! I knew what they looked like, more or less, but I was just so confused for some reason. Their sign helped so much! A “David” sign and a Danish flag led me down to them just fine.

I didn’t know whether to speak English or try at mumbling Danish. They spoke English after I gave them a blank stare when they tried Danish. The drive home was a bit awkward so we just drowned it in laugh after laugh. They showed me everything that came to mind or that I asked. Some of the questions confused them and then I had to go and explain how going to things would normally run in Florida. It felt cool! I’m starting to see differences more strongly now that the travel excitement is wearing off but I’m also starting to see my state and country differently (or should I say more closely). Now that many things are different, you’re almost forced to see every in detail, for better or worse.

My friends here speak English to me, but I’m starting to speak Danish with my host family a lot more. I need to try and speak with my friends but it seems so much easier to understand adults speaking. Some people can’t speak English so well, so speaking can get tricky. With just about everyone, whether they speak English or not, some words that would be completely normal in South Florida make people give me puzzled stares here. I feel my way of speaking changing along with my vocabulary.

School’s great! Students smoke right outside the school which was a bit shocking to me at first, but everyone is very nice. If you can’t (or don’t want to) stand smoke they’ll be fine with it and not hold it against you. School is so much more relaxed here. Sometimes I get hurried because I’m late to a class and people just walk like nothing’s happened; half the time the classroom is not even open! People are allowed to drink in class and most teachers don’t seem to mind that you don’t listen. People take out their cell phones and laptops and do whatever but most still listen.

Sometimes I wish we could adopt some of Denmark’s policies or behaviors and some Danes say they wish some things could be more like Florida or the US in general. I now think it hasn’t happened and might not work simply because of differences in culture. People are not used to those things and most will not be willing to change. Even though our cultures are so different, I see the people much alike. I already knew this before I came here but I guess I never really believed it. I’ve never seen something so different yet so alike before.

I’m going to like it here… 🙂

September 9 Journal

I have been so busy! All my time so far has been divided between school, Rotary, and the host family. But I think I get why, without it you sit with nothing to do. Now that vacation feeling is over and all that Rotary get together stuff is done, you really feel like everyone is knowing things you don’t know, seeing things you don’t see, and laughing at things that, at least when translated, don’t seem funny at all.

Even here, where many people speak English and mostly well, people will speak to you for a second or two (probably because they feel sorry for you and/or awkward with you just standing there) and go back to speaking with everyone else. One of my friends here said that, for him, it’s just too hard to speak with me as much as he would anyone else, but with another, who has lived in the US for 11 years, seems to veer off to other people, although she speaks to me a lot more than others. They seem like they want to be nice and they joke around in English all they can but it seems difficult or forced or something, but definitely NOT natural.

It’s very helpful but still I can’t but want some break, which luckily I more or less have because my host parents speak English very well. Even then, there seem to be new undiscovered differences in living that would have not been noticed if you just visited. Vacation life is becoming actual living, but so is the life of a Rotary exchange student. 🙂

November 10 Journal


My time with my last host family has been great. When I had to change families, it felt like I was leaving my real family behind all over again. This time, at least, I can still visit and am not thousands of miles away.

My new host family though is great. The live in a suburban area so I feel less lost here. They eat cereal and and have that whole suburb family feel to them. I really have no more hugely obvious culture shocks anymore but everyday comes with its little “Note-To-Self”.

My Danish is going great! i can communicate almost 24/7 with only the occasional stumble or mispronounced word. I can even ask questions now in Danish about Danish (although many people still prefer to answer these questions in English). It’s sometimes hard to speak Danish since everyone here speaks perfect English.

I’m going to be very sad when I have to go but I’m coming back every chance I get! Things are just so hyggeligt (That’s Danish for…well actually it doesn’t translate to English exactly but it’s kinda like cozy and that “hanging out with your friends” kind of feeling).

Vi ses næste gange!

(See you next time!)

-David Ocampo

January 5 Journal

Wow, I finally have gotten to see snow! It was great… “was” is the key word. Now snow’s just cold… But I still love it here.

I’ve been switching quite a bit this month. From my first host family to my supposed second and then back again because I was apparently horribly allergic to cats :(… I seemed to have developed that here. Oh well, if that’s all I had to pay to get here (other than the $4000 :P) it was well worth it! I feel so attached to everyone here and I understand just about everything now! (Jokes are actually funny now! :D). I can hardly remember what Florida was actually like. I can still answer the occasional questions about it but it seems more now like I’m talking about some foreign kid I don’t know from some strange country everyone knows (and wants to go to, by the way).

Christmas was really fun. We sang and danced around the Christmas tree (yes, I felt weird), ate an amazing dinner, and opened presents right after! No waiting until the 25th for us 😀 (Well, actually Hispanics usually don’t do that either). New Years was just as fun. I got to show everyone my violin skills 😛 and played an old Danish champagne song called champagnegaloppen.

I tried to ready myself for the inevitable nostalgia I was going to feel, which I actually didn’t feel on Christmas. It was just before and after that were the problems. Before because one thing I kinda forgot to ready for was a little thing called “Novena”, which is like a long party nine days before Christmas, my family does. When they told me it started and I heard about all the fun, I just stared into the computer screen lost in thought. New Years had 2 seconds of nostalgia in it as well as my host family tried our family tradition of holding a dollar bill and chugging 12 grapes at 12:00 a.m. I swear I had a good time though!

I really want to show everyone at home how much I’ve changed and grown and learned, but I’m seeing more and more that things aren’t going to be the same. I’m seeing less similarities between me and my old friends (not to mention most Americans) and I still have many things that separates me from the Danes… I’m not sure but I think I condemned myself to living between two countries when I signed up for this. Oops… 😛


Dominic Hoak
2009-10 Outbound to Ecuador
Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: St. Augustine HS
Sponsor: St. Augustine Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Quito Sur Rotary Club, District 4400, Ecuador

Dominic - Ecuador

Dominic’s Bio

Salutations! My name is Dominic Hoak and I am a member of the graduating class of 2009!!! After graduation I have decided to take a route a little different than all of my friends; instead of going straight to a University, I am going to be spending a year in Ecuador as an exchange student. I AM SO EXCITED!!!!

Now where should I start to tell you more about me… hmmmm?

I’ll start with my familia (that’s Spanish for family; see I’m “basically” fluent). I live with my father. Our house is about a five minute bike ride from the heart of St. Augustine. St. Augustine is a beautiful little town, which seems to always have more tourists than residents. Furthermore, the beach is only three miles away anywhere you are. I’ve grown up here my whole life. My mom lives in Palm Coast about thirty minutes away. I don’t spend a lot of time there, but my mom always comes and visits me and we spend time together. My sister (Natalie) is two years older than me and a student at Florida State University in Tallahassee, which is about two hours away (it depends on how fast you drive). Despite our differences I love her. I only spend holidays with her really, but we stay in contact online (the spacebook as my mom likes to call it [for those that don’t know, “spacebook” is an abbreviation for the social networking websites of myspace and facebook]). I love my family so much. They are so wacky.

So, some more about me. In my spare time I stay pretty busy. I’m involved in the Interact Club, Mu Alpha Theta, and Beta. I’m also in St. Johns County Center for the Arts (SJCCA) in drama. I’ve done plays since I was a kid and have been a part of SJCCA since I was a freshman. I’m also on the tennis team and swim team. I’m also in 4-H, which I LOVE! When I was 8 years old I went to my first 4-H event and it got me hooked. I’m also a working man. I’ve worked in the restaurant business for the past three years for the same family. It is a wonderful experience. One thing that I think I am most proud of, is being a St. Johns County Beach Lifeguard. It was an intense training process but the skills I have learned could not be attained anywhere else.

Now when I am not running around doing any of the above mentioned, I am with my friends. My friends are how you would say in today’s lingo “off the chain”. I love them so much. There is no other way to say it.

Well, that is the brief summary of the adventures of Dominic Davis Hoak. But before I go, I would like to say THANK YOU SO MUCH! I can not wait until August. I am so excited to start my life in Ecuador. As I’m typing this it is hard to hold in a scream of joy because I really can’t wait. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Until we meet again,


Dominic’s Journals

August 14 Pre-departure Journal

I really need to stop telling people that I am going to Ecuador next year, because I’m not; I’m going in 7 days! 7 days! Wow.

Rewind 10 months, and I am sitting in a room with both my parents watching a power point put on by the-one-and-only Daphne Cameron telling me everything I need to know to become an exchange student. Soon after that I started my Rotary Youth Exchange Application. And after all the nervousness, all the signatures needed, and all of the calls to Louise Anderson asking any minute detailed question you could possibly think of about my paperwork, I turned it in. This is when the waiting started. Soon after that I heard of my interview time and place. I went to my interview and continued doing what I became accustomed to, waiting. Waiting… Waiting. Then one day it happened. The last bell of school rang, I looked at my phone and saw a text from my dad saying “a Rotary envelope is at the house addressed to you”. I have to admit, I yelled something to my friend, who just looked at me bewildered, jumped in my car and went a little over the speed limit to my house to rip open an envelope and to have my eyes fall onto one word, “CONGRATULATIONS” and I haven’t looked back since.

One week after my letter, I learned I was going to Ecuador. A week after that I began checking the RYE Florida Website every hour to see if any more outbounds bios had been put on. A month after that it was time. Ryan Cullum, Louise Anderson, and I packed in her car for two hours to go on the way to Eustis, Florida for my first Rotary Orientation to meet all of the people I had read about (and wondered whether to add on Facebook or not.) The weekend was amazing. It might have been the first time I realized I was about to go somewhere completely foreign to me and do something not all could do. But the weekend came to a close and after the goodbyes, and realizations we wouldn’t see some people for five months we did what we begrudgingly did everyday. Wait. But time is what really helped D 6970 become so close.

The kids from my district are just awesome. There is no other way to say it. I have made some amazing friends through Rotary. I am very glad to have spent the past 8 months with these people. It has actually been really tough saying goodbye. Right now, it is an overwhelming experience I am going through. Conor, Maddie, and Zach have all left me. But I can take comfort in the fact Sarah, Simone, and Marea are all after me. Not to mention Nikki, “oh, I remember when I was at 22 days.” But Rotary has introduced me to all of these wonderful people that I know will have a wonderful year.

Not only are the people in RYE Florida great. But the preparation program for all of us students is amazing. Since I first got accepted I began learning more and more about the beautiful, amazing country Ecuador is (and if you too would like to know, I have written a wonderful 12 page paper which I will be glad to share with you). I’ve been through Cultural Boot Camp where I not only was able to learn so much about culture throughout the world, but also learned why to always respond to deadlines the first time they are given (case in point, one 5 minute speech about Rotary’s Polio Plus Campaign.) These might be a couple jokes but in all seriousness, Rotary has prepared us as much as they possibly can. Al Kalter, Daphne, and Jody are all amazing people, along with every other Rotarian involved in Rotary Youth Exchange. The work all Rotarians do for us is amazing.

But thanks to Rotary, my family, and friends, I have almost done it. My pre-departure checklist is almost complete.

Visa : Check

Passport : Check

Blazer : Check

Camera to document life : Check Possibly the most valuable of my tools…

A Rotary Smile : Check

And 2 suitcases filled with my life : well, I still have 7 days …

August 25 Journal

OK, just so everyone knows, I wrote a long journal filled with details explaining every little thing about my trip so far, and then my 1 year old cousin came up the stairs while I was talking with my aunt and deleted the whole thing. I was very sad but it was alright in the end. So here I go for a second time and hope I don’t leave anything out.

On Friday the 21st I woke up and headed to the airport with my parents, my sister and my two best friends. Once we arrived I began to check in. Afterwards my family and I went to sit in some chairs because I had some time to kill. I was filled with so many emotions it is impossible to describe my last minutes with my family. But soon I started to make my way through security with all of them watching me take off my shoes and get my bag searched. But then I was off. I went to my gate and about 15 minutes later Josh joined me and we waited to board our first flight to Miami. We made it there safe and sound, except for the fact we were sitting in the aisle with the propeller and I was not looking out the window most of the time in fear of it flying into the aircraft.

But once we landed and made our way around the Miami airport we ran into the first of about 15 exchange students we would meet. We all sat and talked for the whole layover. It was awesome getting to meet some friends right before we made our trip. We sat at Josh’s gate for the majority of the time and then once their flight was told they would be delayed, all of us students traveling for Quito made our way to our gate. We sat at the gate for 10 minutes, and then it was time. We started to make our way onto the plane. We then negotiated with a couple Germans and a flight attendant and managed to have some of us sit next to each other. The flight was uneventful (so was the food) but after four hours in the air we made it. Quito is gorgeous at night. Flying into the city was one of the most beautiful things I have seen. Soon after, my new friends and I made our way off the plane together and stood in the customs line. It went very fast, including the wait, maybe 10 minutes. Right after we got our bags as a group and as soon as we had everything we made it around the corner to the machine we placed our bags in. A couple of us had to go to a far one and as we walked over there were two doors that opened and a giant mob of people holding signs looking in the doors. I have to admit, and that point I looked at the two other exchange students with me, and we all freaked out a little. But it was alright, as soon as I made it out the doors I couldn’t find my family at first but then I saw their sign with my name spelled wrong and I knew I was at home. I gave my host mom a big hug and then my adventure started.

The first two nights I stayed with my counselor and his family (Esteban and Lily). They are so nice and they spoke good English which helped me learn my way around. During my time with them they showed me all around their city of Cumbaya and even took me to Quito to do some sight-seeing. They are two of the nicest people in the world and I am really glad to have them as my counselors. Well, it was soon time to move in with Teresea. I have to admit I was scared at first. She speaks no English, and my Spanish is far from fluent, but once I made it in the house and put my bags in my room, I felt at home. Teresa and I went on the roof of the house and I did a little looking. Our house is surrounded by mountains. It is amazing. After a few minutes of butchered communications, I showed her some pictures of my house, family, and friends (even some halfway across the world). As she was showing me some pictures of her family, I encountered exchange student hell. My host nephew (who calls me Tio now), came running in the room showing me cards and telling me the words in Spanish wanting me to repeat, a strange man entered the room for a minute and left, Teresa walked out and told me to follow, as we stood in the hallway I was looking at 3 women I had never seen before, a man climbing up the stairs, and 2 nuns staring at me blankly. I had no clue what to say or do except use the one phrase I told myself never to forget: Nice to meet you. As we made our way downstairs there were at least 8 others all talking to each other. Yet again I used my phrase of the day and it went very well. As I walked in the kitchen there were 3 women all bustling about preparing dinner for the small army in the house. About 20 minutes later we all sat down (in three different rooms), and began to eat. It was wonderful eating surrounded by family and that is one thing I like about many of the meals here. After dinner we all moved to the living room and talked for about 30 minutes … well, I listened.

The next day Teresa and I went to Quito (about 15 minutes away by car) and got my pictures for school. I ran into one of my comrades from the airport there and as our host moms talked the next thing we knew they were exchanging numbers and we both just stood there and smiled because we had no clue what was going on. Soon, we left the city and went to one of my aunts’ houses for lunch. We had another awesome meal and afterwards I spent time with two of my cousins and they taught me some Spanish out of a workbook and we went for a walk. The air here is so fresh (despite the overwhelming smell of exhaust). Afterwards we went back to my aunt’s house and we enjoyed conversations which I was able to participate in. My family now realizes that I can speak Spanish decently, just when whoever I am talking to is talking slowly. Even though we can understand each other in Spanish sometimes, we had an epic laugh over a miscommunication about alligators and how my aunt thought I could speak Italian. And most recently, I have gone to school to get my uniform. I actually really like it, because as I stand one foot above most people with my blonde hair, it is one thing to not make me stick out.

Information I have learned since arriving in Ecuador:

1 – Ecuador is the best, has always been the best, and will always be the best at everything.

2 – Crossing the street is fun.

3 – Driving in Ecuador is more intense than NASCAR. No one stays in their lanes and honking your horn at anything and everything is almost encouraged.

4 – Animals are not royalty, they are treated like animals.

5 – Dogs live in the street.

6 – Women do most of the housework. I ask to help and I am told to sit down.

Well, my nephew is trying to talk to me right now so I have to go figure out what he is saying.

¡Hasta Luego!

September 12 Journal

Well, I have been living this wonderful new life for 3 weeks now. It is everything I had imagined, and not foreseen. It is exactly what I wanted and dreaded at the same time. It is my own personal oasis at times, only to be followed by that one nightmare where I am giving a speech in my underwear. But one thing is certain, I love this city, this world, this new life that I am living in.

There are too many stories, too many memories, too many experiences to put into words. I feel like I have been here for so much longer than 3 weeks, and at the same time I feel like I just walked out of my front door in St. Augustine into this strange land. My city is beautiful. 10 minutes away from my house is this little thing called the Equator (you might have heard of it), I have traveled there with my cousins and of course taken a picture of being in the northern and southern hemisphere at the same time. I have also traveled to see some of the lakes and mountains in Ecuador. By the way, there is snow on top of some of the mountains here! WHAT! Snow, I know, right. But, I have gotten used to seeing it now (almost).

I have also gone to the language camp put on by the Rotary clubs of Ecuador. During the 5 days at this camp my Spanish improved even more, I made 26 amazing friends that are living in the Quito area, and I learned that no matter how much my friends and I practiced saying ingredients in Spanish, Pizza Hut will put whatever they want on your pizza. Also, I have gone and visited for the first time the Rotary Club Quito Sur (my host club). It is quite different from my Rotary Club back home (shout out to the Rotary Club of St. Augustine). For starters, at the meeting there were only 7 Rotarians. The Rotarians also smoked inside. I can’t even remember the last time I was indoors and people smoked, that was very very strange for me. But one thing that I could relate about both clubs was that the food was sooooo good. I don’t know what I ate, but I would be fine with eating it again. But that goes for all of the food that I have had in Ecuador so far. I hope everyone has a host aunt that can cook like my Tía Oneyda. All of the food I have eaten so far has been amazing (except for one incident with an empanada from a street vendor that my stomach didn’t necessarily agree with, and let me tell you, boy did it not agree). I really have to say that the food here is wonderful. The bread store at the end of my street makes some of the best bread in Quito, I swear.

However, despite all of the good news I now must tell you that my honeymoon is over. How do I know, you ask? Well it happens every year around this time in the United States as well… the beginning of a new school year. I walked into school the first day completely lost in my track suit uniform. My host mom was with me though so it was all okay. We sat on a bench for a little while and then one of the two people I knew showed up. The first was Juan Fernando who is in the same grade as me but in a different course. And then my friend Hilary from Rotary Language Camp showed up. The three of us made our way down to the little basketball/fútbol court and we all got into our course lines and listened to the Inspector (Principal) talk for a little while. Then we sang the National Anthem of Ecuador (Hilary and I mouthed the words) and then it was time to begin school. Luckily one of my professors is one of my host mom’s best friends, so that works out very nicely for me (especially since she was my first professor). And due to Juan Fernando I have plenty of friends in the school.

I am in the Sixth Course Social Science, and my classes are rather interesting (when I understand what the professor is actually saying). My classes consist of History, English, Philosophy, Geography, Literature, the equivalent of P.E. (but we call it CuFi), Economics, Computers class, French, Math, one class about social something, one class about Ecuador, and then one class about the world and nature. The way I classified school to one of my friends is the uniform of Gossip Girl (people give it whatever accessories they want, or don’t follow it at all), the attitude of The O.C. (parents pay a lot of money on school, and some of the kids don’t even bother to try), and the schedule of the Harry Potter books (the Professors teach every grade multiple times throughout the week including some double blocks, it takes some serious planning to make that schedule just right).

Everyone at my school is really nice. School was one of the first times I was able to see how Ecuadorian teenagers act not around their parents. People do not hesitate at all with their public displays of affection. I won’t go into extreme detail, but that is one difference that’ll some getting used to. Also, I feel that the girls are harassed a lot more here than in the United States, not a Chris Brown-Rihanna way; just accompanying the PDAs people are more physical here than in Florida. But as for actual school being concerned, I do like it. The campus is outside. So when I have to walk to my classes it is nice to get some fresh air. I have had two tests so far, one on the National Anthem of Ecuador, and one on the provinces and capitals of Ecuador. I did well on both of them, and scored higher than most of the other students on the provinces and capitals test. The only bad thing that has happened so far was that one kid tried to send me in the girls bathroom, luckily my friends stopped me in time and I haven’t had much more interaction with the other kid.

Peace and love to everyone back home, and all my friends around the world,

Dominic (or Dominique as they say here)

October 23 Journal

I am so sorry I have been a slacker on this. I think my contest with Jamie Lynn Patterson on who will have the most journals is done, especially since Max and Brandon are killing us both. But I have been here for two months now! How exciting. School has finally become a regular routine, I can get from Point A to Point B on a bus (well, there are only like 3 places I know how to get to, and I know how to get home from one of them, so I’m still working on that), and of course my Spanish is improving everyday.

Well my daily routine starts at 5:45 every morning. I shower, eat breakfast, and am waiting outside for the bus at 6:45. I get in the bus, climb to the third row and say hello to the four girls sitting behind me who greet me with a chorus of “Hola Domi.” I go to school, come home, eat lunch, start my homework (well, not always), partake in siesta (nap time), and then eat dinner only to sleep some more.

Also this past month I have experience Visa catastrophe 2009. Now I am now talking about my debit card, I am referring to the paper that allows me to stay in Ecuador for more than 90 days. During my flight I was sitting next to the window and I assume while I was filling out my immigration forms on the plane I set the folder containing all my Rotary paperwork, Visa paperwork, and anything else I received in order for exchange in between my seat and the window. Well luckily, my dad in the US tracked down all of these documents and I was able to turn them in the last day possible without having to pay $200. Basically, if you become an exchange student, don’t lost your Visa, and if you manage to do something like that tell your host family, counselor and everyone so you can find it before the day it is due.

Oh, and at school a couple weeks ago, I was asked to bring in 50 cents for the Principal’s birthday. I thought it was a little weird and all but I come to find out that it is a tradition. Well, one Wednesday we are sitting in French class when all of a sudden the school bell rings twice. People suddenly burst into action. Some people run out of the room with bags, others start fixing their hair, and one student (me) is sitting in his seat wondering what is going on. After I finally put it all together I went with what remained of my class to the gym/stadium. Since I am in sexto course (equivalent to a senior) I got to go down on the stadium floor to be with the principal. Well, a mariachi band randomly appeared and started playing a few songs. Everyone in my course starting dancing so I joined in. After the band left and everyone else had to go to their classes, the sexto course went to a private room that was all decorated and set up for the occasion. There was also a champagne toast between the principal and the students. I thought celebrating the principal’s birthday was weird, but I have gotten used to that now, even though the day after we celebrated a teacher’s birthday.

But more recently this past week I went to the coast of Ecuador in the city of Manabí with all of the exchange students in the country. The 50 something exchange students from the Quito area gathered around 0700 to begin our adventure. We soon left for the beach and after our 9 hour bus ride managed to get to our hotel around 1700. After we checked in the hotel (being the last group of exchange students to arrive) we jumped in the pool, greeted everyone, and started making friendships that now seem so much older than 5 days. It was basically a weekend of getting to know everyone, sightseeing a couple of the coast towns, participating in a parade (I held the American flag for most of the parade route), and of course frolicking on the beach. This was my second time at the beach here and I took full advantage of it; being able to run with the sand beneath my feet, diving into the waves, and playing in a little tournament of beach futbol made me feel at home. Also Ecuador Rotary put together a little banquet for us at the end of the trip where each country had a boy and girl representative. I was the guy from the USA, and next thing I knew I was participating in a dance contest (if you know me this is my type of thing). Well, I made it to the final round only to be beat by my friend Uli from Germany. We soon ate dinner (at 2330, blaaaahhhh), and afterwards had two full hours of dancing. I was rather satisfied when I learned that the DJ had Cotton Eye Joe because no matter how much I might have complained about that song in the states I was thrilled and proud to be able to dance to it (despite the fact I was a fountain of sweat at the end of it). The next day was the bus ride home where my conversations ranged with many people about their views of Americans, world politics, and what we plan to do with our lives.

But now it is back to everyday life. No more running around at the beach, instead when I walk up the stairs I am out of breath. I have been home about three days and haven’t been to school because I am sick and sound like a 90 year old smoker. I haven’t been able to talk since last Friday so none of the other exchange students know what my real voice sounds like which is kinda strange. Not to mention my skin is peeling like crazy because naturally I didn’t put sun screen on for 3 hours in direct sunlight on the equator, I’m stupid. But now I am going to go make myself another glass of tea and get better.

February 12 Journal

Por fin! So I am still down here in Ecuador even if I have been away from the Journal scene a little bit. But what can I say? I have been a little busy. I have changed host families. I have changed schools. I have been to bull fights. I have even been in the arena with a bull (scariest moment of my life). I have celebrated a tiny Thanksgiving in different customs. I have gone through the holiday season, and handled it pretty well all things considered. I have even turned a year older. There are so many stories that are mine, and mine alone. And no matter how hard I try, I will not be able to do them justice (also, I don’t want you to be reading for 4 hours, neither do you, I think). But this country, the cities I have been too, the people I have met, are overwhelming.

So where to try to begin… I spent the holidays with my first host family. We went to my Aunt’s house and had a huge dinner there and later we stayed up until midnight to open presents. The next day (25th of December) was just a day to relax, which was also the day that I tried mountain biking. If you were wondering, it was also the last day I tried mountain biking. The 26th we made our way to the beach, which we stayed there till the 3rd of January. Now I must say that that emotion curve knows what it is talking about. January 1st 0030 (AM), by far the worst part of my exchange. We spent the next couple days at the beach and returned home.

In between January 5th and 16th I did not go to school because I was about to change host families and since I was moving an hour and some odd minutes away, I was able to change schools as well. So far it has been great. I have already made a lot more friends and have even been a little busier after school. Oh yeah, my new school has 8 people in the entire graduating class. Umm, what else can I put in here???

Spanish is still coming along. I think my language skills are the same as a lot of other peoples, not where we want it. But there is nothing we can do about that, except study more, which brings me to the point that EVERY Rotary Youth Exchange Future Outbound has heard, will hear, and will repeat one day… Study your target language now. Not a week before you leave. Not with flashcards on the airplane (guilty of that). And most importantly, not HOPING that one day you will wake up 5 months into your exchange year and understand everything. Because you won’t. Oh, congratulations ’10-’11 Outbounds, to you all as well. I forgot that part earlier on.

I hope you are following around, because I am just skipping all over the place.

Carnaval is starting this weekend. Well, it is safe to say that everyone is already in the mood of spraying people with silly string, and throwing water balloons at each other. The water balloons is only a Quito thing, I think. In the south they throw eggs, water, flour, dirt, and anything else that flies onto people and gets them messy. But like I said, everyone is already ready. Just in fact yesterday as I was walking down the street with a couple friends, a school bus drove by and we were attacked by green silly string and water. It was funny for the most part, except the bus stopped and I had lost my full water bottle, which if I had would have been all over them in retaliation. But alas, you can’t win every battle. Oh, to celebrate the festivities of Carnaval my host family and I are going to the beach with one of my exchange friends Nikita.

Alright, well that is all I can think of without making this too long. Except a huge thank you to Rotary. We all say it. And we all mean it. Thank you thank you thank you. There is no other way to say it. Thank you, especially to the program back in Florida; Ms. Daphne, Al, Jody, and everyone else behind the scenes. Also to you, Louise, of course!

Next journal will be better with more details and pictures. And sooner.

Paz y amor!


Elizabeth Earnhart
2009-10 Outbound to Thailand
Hometown: St. Johns, Florida
School: Bartram Trail HS
Sponsor: Bartram Trail Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Mitraparb Khon Kaen Rotary Club, District 3340, Thailand

Elizabeth - Thailand

Elizabeth’s Bio

Sawat dii kha. Hello. My name is Elizabeth Earnhart and I am a senior at Bartram Trail High School. I am 18 years old and I am about to embark on the most fantastic opportunity of my life. I am ecstatic and oh so grateful at having been selected to be a Rotary exchange student this year. My destination? Thailand. The fact of the matter is that it’s all very surreal to me.

I am the oldest child in my family, my younger brother is 15, and I have always had what my mom calls, “wanderlust.” Throughout the years I would jump at any opportunity to travel across the US, but I especially liked traveling abroad. I think that my parents had to realize early-on that I was an explorer and would not be sticking around long after high school. But don’t get me wrong. I love my friends, my home, and my family.

I want to be part of the Rotary youth exchange because I want to break down cultural barriers, not only for myself, but for others as well. I want to give Thais a taste of real America, not the Hollywood version, and I want to tell Americans what Thailand is really like without any preconceptions getting in the way of the truth. This experience is going to be a challenging one. But the reward is going to be so much greater.

I am the kind of person who takes joy from being a friend to others. I love to encourage people, and to help them when they are in need. I tend to over-plan, yes, but I do not regret any minute of my usually hectic schedule. I love music, but I also love the outdoors, as well as camping, hiking, biking and SCUBA diving. Nature is endless, and you can always find something new. Sewing is another one of my favorite past-times. I make some of my own clothing, and it’s a very rewarding feeling wearing something that you’ve made. My faith is also something that is very important to me. I love to sing, read, and act every now and then. I even wrote my own monologue for the talent portion in the Miss Bartram Pageant last year.

And so, there you have it. I thank Rotary for this opportunity, and my family for their support. I cannot wait to embark on this adventure, to go to Thailand and learn a whole new way of life compared to how I now live. I am looking forward to meeting my future host families and friends. I cannot express the excitement that is growing inside of me. Thank you. Khap khun kha.

Elizabeth’s Journals

August 7 Journal

I arrived in my city, Khon Kaen about a week ago and Thailand is SOOOOO beautiful! I can’t stop smiling and everyone is so friendly and they all go out of their way to help even though most of them don’t speak English. The only two people I have met who speak English well enough to communicate effectively with are MaaMeow (another exchange student from South Africa) and PuuRee (a Thai boy who just got back from exchange to Canada). MaaMeow has been here already for 6 months so she is helping to teach me Thai. My oldest host brother is already at university in India, so I am using his room while he is gone. My 16 year old brother, Top, speaks some English but he is leaving for exchange to Canada on the 9th of August. My 14 year old brother, Tee, is just like Matthew in the sense that he plays W.O.W. all day, haha.

When I got to Bangkok, my mom, MayPen, Top, PuuRee, MaaMeow, and two other ladies from my Rotary Club, MayJeet (PuuRee’s mom) and MayOor had big posters with my picture on them and greeted me like I was their long lost daughter. It was so nice and the banners said “Welcome Home”. I learned that my Rotary Club is an all woman club and that is so cool and absolutely unheard of in the U.S. So we stayed the night in Bangkok and then went to JJ Market the next morning and then drove 7 hours to get to Khon Kaen.

Everything is extremely cheap, especially food. I have not purchased anything yet thought because as a part of their “family” I am paid for at meals. There are elephant pictures on literally EVERYTHING here, buildings, purses, walls, etc. And I got to pet and feed a baby elephant today! It was so cute and they are just led around Khon Kaen and you pay to feed it bamboo. It was such a cool experience, maybe next time I can ride a grown-up one!

Oh, and I thought that I was going to be really uncomfortable getting used to Thai toilets, but they are really cool actually. In my house there is a western style toilet and shower, so that is cool. But in public bathrooms the “toilet” is a squat-potty, so it is porcelain and you do your business, throw the paper in a waste basket next to the toilet (if there is paper) and then to “flush” you take a bucket that is in a barrel of water in the stall and you pour one or two bucket-fulls in until gravity does its job. It’s really neat actually.

But the whole experience overall has been more than awesome. I have tried SOOOO many different types of food already, it’s so diverse and a complete 180 from anything you would see in the States. My city is so full of life at night though. It’s almost ridiculous how late things stay open, like malls and night markets and salons open at this hour! Some of them do not even open their doors for business until it gets dark.

I am not going to school until a week from tomorrow because I have to get the uniform and also go back to Bangkok one or two more times this week to pick-up more inbounds and also to take some Thais who are leaving on exchange.

It is so awesome here, so real and unique and just overall amazing; full of life and color and new sights, smells and tastes. The weather is very similar to Florida, less humid during some parts of the day and more humid during others. It is the rainy season here now just like in Florida also. I feel like I am writing SOOO much, and yet there is so much that has already happened. Oh, I also was given a new name as soon as I was greeted at the airport. My Thai nick-name is Aarie (pronounced like the long “a” in apple, a rolling “r” and the “e” sound from the word bee). It is difficult to learn all of the politeness of the culture but I am working on it.

Sawat dii Kha.


September 7 Journal

So, I have been here for over a month and wow, what all am I supposed to say? I will start with school. I am at a demonstration school (high school) that is on the campus of Khon Kaen University and I am in the 11th grade. There are six classes (groups of students) in each grade level and there are a little under 40 people in my class but it doesn’t feel that large because not all of us are ever in the same room at the same time. I have 28 different subjects every week and school is from 8AM – 4PM Monday through Friday. I use my time during school to practice my Thai and I am also starting to learn how to read and write the language.

There are 44 consonant symbols in the Thai language and another 32 vowels, so memorizing those and how to write them is going slow, but it is also a lot of fun to have my class-mates walk up to me and help me pronounce them and ask me if I remember them etc. Finding a close group of friends is going slow as well, but it’s not a problem because I understand that right now there is still quite a large language barrier and also everyone is more than happy to be friendly to you and show you where to go and take you to class etc.

My Thai is still improving and I am still having daily Thai lessons with my mom at home. I am so thankful for this too because I can understand a lot more than I can speak and even the amount that I can speak seems to impress a lot of people. I really love my host mom and my host family, they are more than I could have asked for, really.

Two weeks ago in school there was a sports week and a parade. My class dressed me up in the traditional Thai dance costume and put me at the front of the parade! At first I was a little scared because I didn’t know where to go but then the marching band walked in front so everything was okay. Also for sports week they had football (soccer) games and basketball games and volleyball and swimming. I swam for my team and ended up receiving a gold medal in the medley and a silver medal in the freestyle race. It was so much fun.

I think also that half of the fun of things here so far is figuring them out. Confusion sometimes turns into frustration but most of the time it is like a puzzle, and if you can’t work it out at first, ask, try again, or just smile and laugh with the people you are with because you are enjoying just being in their company and appreciative of the fact that they are trying to help you to learn their language and their culture.

In the past month, my host brother Top has left to go to Canada on his exchange. And exchanges from Brazil (Anun), Canada (Dao), and Germany (Chai Lai) have come to Khon Kaen. It is quite a sight to see all of us walking down the street together or even when we see each other every now and then at school because people are always staring at us. There is so much more to say that I really can’t think of it all.

Our families took all of the exchange students to an ancient temple near the city of Korat a few weeks ago and it was so awesome and so large. I really love life here, it is so different from the states, the food as well and the culture, I just can’t soak it all in fast enough. Some food is pretty out-there though, I think the two things that have topped the list so far are coagulated chicken blood (served as cubes in soups) and chicken feet. But I am still going to try everything that is put in front of me because otherwise, I will be missing a part of something that I am supposed to be experiencing.

There is a night market in my city that is completely amazing as well. During the day the street is a normal one, used my traffic and located down town. But as soon as the sun starts to go down, vendors from everywhere emerge from who knows where and set up shop. The whole street is blocked off and endless food stalls and clothes shops and music stores etc are set up. One of my favorite things here is the fruit and also the coffee, it is really like nothing I have ever tasted in the states. Also at the night market it isn’t uncommon to see fried bugs for sale. My mom told me that she will take me to try them soon! Grasshoppers I heard were pretty good. =D I am really very excited.

Every time I experience something new and taste something new and see something new, I cannot wait to get more. I can only hope that new things will continue to be revealed, but I know that they will. I wish that I could recount more to write but there is too much to sort through. So until next time, chok dee, sawat dee kha.

Oh – I’ve posted some pictures at www.flickr.com/photos/41998919@N08.

October 11 Journal

There has been so much interesting stuff that has happened over the course of the break from school so far and there is still three weeks left! I have found some really good Thai bands that I like and that has put things in a new perspective, at least with the pop culture. Because most of the videos that you see on TV are the sappy love songs and they make you feel so sad when you watch them or even listen to them, but I found some good rock bands like “Big Ass” “Bodyslam” and “Clash” and a good rap artist “Titanium” as well as the ever-popular “Tatto Colour” “Potato” and “Clash” among others. “Tatto Colour” is from my city originally and went to a high school not even five minutes away from my house, they reminded me of “Yellow Card” in Jacksonville because they all went to Stanton High School, downtown too. Also, music is a really good way to learn the language as well and since karaoke is really popular here as well, that will help me learn the pronunciation.

One of the first things that we did after school got out was to go and see a Beijing Acrobatics show and that was really fun. Our leash has gotten a little bit longer because we have been here and their trust in us is growing, so that is exciting. Usually we can just ask to go out during the day and get on a song-tow (a taxi-truck thing) and go pretty much where-ever in our city as long as we are back by dinner time.

Another thing that we got to do which was really awesome was a photo tour of famous places right outside of Khon Kaen. We went to see the Snake Village where people fought with King Cobras and put their heads in their mouths… ugghh (I actually felt bad for the snakes because you could tell they weren’t interested in being a part of the show). But all of the other places were really pretty, like we went to a dam and also to the top of a mountain and to see a very large statue of Buddha on a different mountain. It was so fun and I really enjoyed stretching my legs and hiking and the nature and the views too.

And as far as Rotary functions go, we are always front and center. We attended a “Car Free Day” in Khon Kaen where hundreds of people rode their bikes through the streets just to promote not using as many cars because of the pollution and the smog that it creates. We started at 7am and ended around 10am but it was fun while it lasted! I had been missing going to the gym and getting exercise on a regular basis and then about two weeks ago I found a gym right near my house. My mom and I joined together and it only costs 2,000 baht a year for membership! That’s about $60 which is sooo awesome! But now I go to the gym when I have free time so hopefully I can start to get back into shape. =D

My brother who goes to college in India came home for a couple of weeks and that was so awesome to get to know him and hang out with him for the short time that he was here. We clicked from the start and I really feel that he is the big brother that I have never had. He was always looking out for me and it was so awesome because it made me feel even MORE a part of the family (which I didn’t know was possible because I am already soo close with my family and I wish I didn’t have to change).

The exchange students from my club are in the middle of doing a fundraiser right now to raise money to donate to a temple. The money will go to buy lunch for a school of boy monks at the temple for a week. This school is where the poorer families send their sons to get an education because it is free. We have been going to different locations around the city and singing songs and giving out bracelets that we made while asking for donations, I don’t know how much we have yet but the box it getting pretty heavy. =D And when we were doing this at the lake a few of the days they had this huge festival going on. There was a fair and a huge stage where there were performances and everything. It was to celebrate the end of a Buddhist fast that started in the summer. We got to send off a paper lantern into the sky at night with the full moon and it was so exciting.

While all of this was going on as well, I found out that I got accepted to the University of Central Florida for the fall semester next year and it was a complete relief and weight off my shoulders. I am stoked about that and when I told my mom she was so excited for me, she even got me a present in congratulations and gave me a big hug (hugs are pretty rare here by the way, so that was really cool). I really feel like I am her daughter, its such a neat feeling to experience that and know that you have two moms.

As for what I have eaten that is different this month… I would have to say that it was Shark Ear Soup… I really think that it was shark gills or shark fins or something, but they said that it was shark ear. It was a Chinese dish, and believe you me, if you think you know what Chinese food is, you have no idea! “Real” Chinese food is filled with things that A) you have no clue what they are and B) you don’t really want to know what they are. I think out of 10 different dishes that we tried that night, one of them would be considered edible by the average American, haha.

I also found another market right near my house and this one is a real Thai market. You walk through one section that is just fruit and the next thing you know you are standing next to the severed head of a pig (“Lord of the Flies” style) or you end up next to bins of live eels/frogs/fish/bugs/you-name-it ready to be bought and cooked up for dinner. It is really an interesting experience; every time I go, I see something new. Finding new markets is always exciting too because exploring the markets is really one of the most fun things to do when you want to go on an adventure! It’s one thing that I wish we had in the States because you go to one place and you can get anything you want and it’s not preserved or pre-packaged and it doesn’t come from a factory either.

One of my favorite foods that I have found here is called Sardra-pow. It looks like a cloud and it is a tasteless white fluffy steamed bun-type thing that has stuff inside of it. It can be filled with minced pork or a sweet custard or taro (which is also like a sweet bean-paste, sounds gross but it isn’t haha) or my favorite which is pork and bamboo with a sweet-spicy sauce. It is a great snack but it is really hard to find street vendors of them but I don’t know why, because everyone likes Sardra-pow.

I think that my favorite thing to do at home is to cook. My mom and my house-keeper have both been teaching me how to cook Thai food and usually I help them make lunch and sometimes dinner as well. It is really exciting when I get to make a dish by myself or with little supervision and it is so much fun to cook with them and joke around in the kitchen! I will have to start writing down recipes soon because there are so many different things that we cook. And my mom’s cooking is really better than most of the restaurants that we go to, so, maybe some of her skill will rub off on me. =D

Sorry this journal was so long, I just feel like there is so much to say to tell everyone. And even after I say it I feel like it isn’t enough description because while things are so much different here, they are so real and I just wish that everyone can experience at least a little bit of it through what they read. Thank you Rotary again, I cannot say thank you enough for this opportunity! PS: My conversations in Thai are still improving pretty well and I am almost to the point where I can read all of the symbols!

November 22 Journal

I knew that there was a reason for me putting off writing the journal for this month. At first I just thought it was so many things going on, my birthday, and just plain laziness, but now I realize that there was a completely different reason for it. It gave me the time to have a realization that there is more than can be seen, it’s under the surface and the exchange students in my city have just discovered it. I would love for this journal to serve the purpose of sharing all the amazing experiences that I have had in the past month. However, this journal needs to serve a much larger purpose.

In the past month, I have had my eyes opened. I look around me now and see a completely different Thailand than the one I entered almost four months ago. I don’t think that I expected this, and if I did I never expected it to come this early in my exchange. It is almost as if I turned 19 and everything changed overnight. Don’t get me wrong, I really love it here. But, as my friend put it to me; I entered Thailand as an enfant, with big eyes full of wonder. Like I had seen a silver spoon for the first time and was riveted when I saw what a spoon was, shiny and bright and exciting. But as I spent time here I grew up, usually it takes longer, but I grew up in four months and when I grew up I could see that the spoon was not as I originally thought. It was instead, tarnished and bent out of shape. I lost my innocence as that enfant, but as it turns out this is a very good thing especially because it happened so fast. I would rather be shocked by the truth now than be fooled and have the truth hurt more later. Ok, to get to the point, I apologize for the vague metaphors.

Lately my Rotary club has gone crazy with the amount of projects that we are doing. We have been to at least ten different functions outside of regular meetings this month so far. And while this sounds well and good, it leaves me with a feeling of frustration and disgust. The reason for this is because these functions are all for show. I didn’t realize until now how different my Rotary club at home is from my Rotary club here. At home when my club decided to do something, they would do it in the name of Rotary but for the good of the community around them. To help others. Here, when my Rotary club decides to do something, they do it in the name of Rotary, but they do it for themselves. To give the impression that they are helping others. The best way to explain this would be to compare two experiences that have left an impression on me here. The first would be when the other exchange students and I went to a village outside of our city to help improve their school during the school break. We went with a group called “Rotaract”. These are college age students who are aspiring Rotarians. We stayed in the village for four days and at night we slept in the school rooms. We cooked our own food and painted, played with the children, cleaned the campus, put up new posters, built bookshelves and an assortment of other things. We rode to the village on an open-air transport, woke up at six AM, went to sleep past one or two in the morning and had open-air showers. In essence it was a REAL experience. It was fun and at the end we knew we had left an impression. We had bonded with the kids, taught them “Duck, Duck, Goose“, learned their games and just had fun with them. It is something that I want to go back to, the children were more than adorable and so curious and fun-loving. I can’t even really put it into words, but that is something that I was proud to do with the name of Rotary attached to it.

However, just the other day our Rotary club told us that we were going to donate books to libraries at rural schools. At first it sounded like it might be a similar experience to the one we had before. We woke up early and went to the first location. When we got there we gave the school a few sports balls for the children, which isn’t a bad thing. But that is really the only beneficial thing we did there. We sat in a meeting for a couple for hours while the kids were nowhere to be seen, except peeking in through a window every now and then. At the meeting, our moms all stood up and introduced themselves and their businesses. Then they had us introduce ourselves. By this time we knew already that the reason we (the exchange students) had come was so that our moms could show us, the foreign kids, off. After introductions and a lot of talk about how Rotary wants to help in this way or that comes the pictures. This is part of what aggravates me because we then walked through their library and proceeded to leave. The exchange students were able to buy a little bit of time and we taught the kids how to play “Duck, Duck, Goose” but as soon as Rotary had taken enough pictures of this as well, they told us that we had to leave. It left me feeling empty and confused; why would we go to a school to “give the children books” for their benefit, and then not? We came, talked, took pictures and left, giving them only a few sports balls. That does not leave an impression (or improve a library). And yet when we were back in the car, we overheard Rotary talking about how we should make the pictures into postcards so that everyone would be able to see how much good we did for the school. We went to two other schools that day and did the exact same thing.

The point is that Rotary here will go somewhere and make promises of helping there and take a ton of pictures. But when they return home, they rarely do anything about the promises they made and yet they print the pictures in order to show others the good that they are doing for the community. There is another reason why this is so unsettling to me though. It goes against culture here. I would say that generally in the U.S. the average stranger would not stop what they are doing to help someone or go out of their way to be concerned about a complete stranger. But here, everyone is not only always smiling, but they help people they don’t know on the street to carry a package or they seem that something might be wrong and they ask if they can help etc, etc, etc. There are countless things that I see every-day that you would rarely see in the states, that go along these lines. The irony comes in where the Rotary clubs at home go to help others and here they just go through the motions to get their names out there for social recognition.

Please do not get me wrong though, this is not me complaining about my situation or asking for something different. I am fully enjoying my experiences here and I really love Thailand, all of the people and culture that surrounds me. This is just an observation, an epiphany that I have had that I felt should be shared for the sake of dispelling ignorance. On a brighter note however, I have been having such a great time at school since it has opened again. Before, to be completely honest, I hated school. It was boring and I couldn’t communicate with anyone and I felt like a burden. When school closed I could not say that I had made any friends. Acquaintances maybe, but no friends. Now however, my Thai has improved greatly and I can talk to my class. People ask me to come to class with them or to eat lunch with them now because they want to, not because they feel like they have to. I have had discussions about American vs. Thai culture and one of the girls wants me to have a sleepover with her soon. Another girl and I hung out the past weekend outside of school (first time that has happened!), we sang karaoke and it was so much fun! This sounds so insignificant, but to me the significance is more than I can put into words. I will never take friendships for granted EVER again, now that I know just how hard it is to obtain those friendships.

Another exciting thing is that the conversations with my mom have gotten more intense. Also, my dad and my house keeper join in the conversations. They are so cute really, my dad is so much fun to joke around with! We talk about American history, copyrights, famous people and books, culture, religion, family, college, everything. And I am getting more brave to talk to random people, the workers in my shop, people at school and my little brother (who doesn’t really talk much in general). The weather is getting cooler and while I am missing people at home things are still improving almost daily.

I would like to thank Rotary at home again, thank you for sending me to Thailand, thank you for this experience. Especially the chance to learn so many lessons and to grow so much; to find out who I really am amongst an environment that I am also discovering at the same time. For the chance to know what it is to really live as your own.

December 17 Journal

Wow, has it really been a month since my last journal? This has been the fastest passing month yet. It seems as if everything is catching up with everything else. In less than a month, one of my closest friends, MaaMeow, will be leaving to go back home to South Africa. Her exchange started in January of last year, so she will be leaving this coming January. And while I will miss her fiercely, I am happy for her that she gets to go back and be with her family. The other exchange students and I will also be changing host families soon, but we are not exactly sure when. It is such a strange feeling for it to be December and not see any signs of Christmas, like lights, trees, music, holiday food, or TV commercials. I mean, I don’t miss the same songs playing endlessly everywhere you go, or the food that makes you need a New Year’s Resolution to lose weight. But I do miss having the cold nights and chilly days, decorating the tree with family, shopping with friends and baking until you just can’t bake anymore. =D It is a fun kind of missing though, if that makes any sense. They are nostalgic and fond memories that make me smile and realize that I will appreciate it so much more next year.

But aside from that, everything is going really well here in Thailand. In the past few weeks there has been so much going on. There was a silk festival (the biggest annual festival in all of North East Thailand) about a block from my house! It lasted for 10 days and covered probably 4 city blocks that surrounded a big park, the streets to that area were closed and shops were set up, food vendors and two big stages for concerts to be held. I was able to go to two of the concerts on two different nights and they were so much fun. I saw SEK LOSO and CLASH, of which CLASH was more fun but there were so so many people there, it was hard to walk.

After the festival, all the exchange students plus my older brother and one of our mutual friends went to Chaing Mai and Chaing Rai together for 3 days. It is the second time that I have been to Chaing Mai, but this time we were there for longer and it was so much fun to get to see more! We went to see the Panda bears at the Chaing Mai zoo. They are on loan from China until the new baby is five years old, and they are SOOOO popular in Thailand. There is even a TV channel just for them and it is 24 hour footage of the baby and them eating bamboo and sleeping etc, lol. =D We were also able to go to the infamous Chaing Mai walking street. But we didn’t have near as much time as we needed or wanted to do all of the shopping there that we wanted to do. We also was a beautiful temple in Chaing Rai that is completely white, wow it was so amazing! The tour was supposed to go to the Golden Triangle as well but we were running late and we didn’t have time. It’s okay though because we got to visit a lot of other cool places, like the highest spot in Thailand (only 60 degrees F in December though)! But because we were 12 hours north of Khon Kaen the weather was a lot cooler and it felt soooo good! =D

My older brother is actually back from India for good. He didn’t enjoy school there so he is living at home and going to attend university here in the spring I think. It is cool to have him at home. Oh, and we have a new puppy at my house! =D It is 5 days old and I got to hold him the other day. Gosh he is SOOOOOOO cute and small. He can fit in the palm of my hand and his eyes aren‘t open yet and he can‘t hear yet either! But he makes such cute little noises and squirms around lol.

I feel like such a permanent part of my family now too. I am comfortable doing anything at my house and around my family, just like I have been living here as a real sibling or daughter for my whole life. Also, the language is going really well still. I am starting to read little words and I can write little things like my name etc. And I can understand so much. But at the same time I know that I need to learn so much more and I need to go so much further with trying to get better at the language and vocab and everything. I feel like I know a lot and it surprises me sometimes but I also know that I am behind, that I could have been so much better at this point than I am. It gives me the motivation to try harder, some days I don‘t want to try but it is necessary. It is frustrating though when people are SO surprised that you understand them and especially when they try to convince you that you don’t know what they are talking about or that you aren’t trying to say what you ARE trying to say. But I guess that I should just try to channel that into more motivation. I don’t want to feel comfortable with the level I am at, I want to be pushed beyond elementary.

I have though started to learn how to play the Kluei, which is a Thai instrument. It is similar to the recorder in the states. But I am learning one Thai song on it right now and I hope to learn another one soon. It is very fun and it is helping me to get to know more people at my school which is always a good thing. Today I watched a Korean soap opera with a friend from my class and got to talk to two people that I have never met before for over an hour. It was really awesome. =D And next week, the Princess of Thailand is coming to our school for the opening of the new building that we have. In a week our school have gone from dirt, concrete and white paint to grass, flowers everywhere, banners, ribbons, new paint on everything and decorations EVERYWHERE. It really is almost unrecognizable, lol. But I am excited to see what is actually happening next week when the Princess comes. =D It is such a big deal here and each of the members of the royal family has a special color assigned to them. The King is yellow, the the Queen is dark blue and this Princess is purple. But because she is purple, there is purple everywhere you look. I will take pictures and post them up on the flickr site.

I hope that everyone in the States and other Christmas-celebrating countries has a wonderful Christmas! And to everyone, a Happy New Year! =D Here, Christmas will just be the exchange students doing a small gift exchange and I am happy that it won’t be a big deal actually. I am sending my love and smiles to everyone in Florida! And as always, thank you Rotary for this awesome opportunity that is enabling me to become the best me that I can be, for giving me a chance to see everything through new eyes. =D

January 27 Journal

I keep experiencing deeper levels of comfortableness here. And I think naively every time that it can’t get more comfortable, that I have reached the zenith, but I have not.

As January comes to a swift close I don’t know where my month went. I changed to my second host family lest week and to be perfectly honest, I was worried. But as soon as I got here I realized that I love this family too, I mean I still have a special connection to my first host family because, well, they were my first and I stayed there for almost 6 months. However, I am doing very well at this house, I love my room and my mom is so sweet, this family is very different from my first, where they live, how they operate, their schedules etc., but I like it.

Things seem like they are getting smooth, my understanding of Thai is getting smoother (listening to fast conversations or instructions – I still have a hard time when people mumble or talk very softly but hey, I have the same problem in English sometimes) I can read lips sometimes even. I feel like while life is getting a little bit more lazy, that it is making things smoother, haha, that doesn’t make much sense. It might be the rain that is making things temporarily this way though. We have recently had a week of unexpected rain, the weather has been so crazy here lately. It is supposed to be the cold season from November to the end of February, however, we have not seen a drop in temperatures until about two weeks ago where it only dropped to about 60 or 65 degrees F. And then it started raining for almost a week straight when we aren’t supposed to see rain again until June, when the rainy season starts. I was excited to see the rain at first because I honestly missed it, but now I am aching for a little sunshine (but as soon as the sun comes back I know I will be cursing it haha.)

Christmas and New Year’s here was great. On Christmas I received a package from my sponsor club in the States (THANK YOU BARTRAM TRAIL ROTARY CLUB!) and it was awesome to receive little pieces of home. =D I also received a package from my friends and family that had a few needed items as well as a few Christmas tree branches. This was one of the best things I received, it smelled (and still smells a month later) so, so awesome! I passed out little pieces of it at school, to teachers, students, my family and let them smell what a real Christmas tree smells like, because they do not have evergreens in Thailand. So that was awesome, and then my exchange student friends and I took turns just smelling the branches all day haha. This is also the first time that I have been to school on Christmas day, and that was pretty interesting. For Christmas dinner we went and found a real Italian restraint and ate real pizza, which was almost a Christmas miracle itself. =D And after that we went dancing, the first time I have gone dancing on Christmas as well, but it was so much fun.

For New Years Eve we all went to the new big mall, Central Plaza, and watched the count-down from there. Our New Year started 12 hours before the New Year in Florida though. =D After the count-down we all went to a hip-hop party that a friend was having and we danced and watched rap battles and dance-offs until the sun came up. We then went home and crashed, later I went with my family to visit older relatives for New Year’s Day and receive their blessing for a healthy and prosperous new year.

One thing that I do miss is public affection, even just hugs to family members. If it was socially acceptable to, I would just lay my head on my mom’s shoulder at a restaurant or give my little brother a hug because he is just so cute sometimes. I feel a part of the family enough to do these things, like I would in the states. But showing affection here is something that is reserved for behind closed doors. I mean it’s ok, that is culture, but sometimes I just have these thoughts and then I have to remind myself. =D

Also, I reached a new level of family-membership the other day. My first host mom told me that her web-cam was broken so that she could use it but the person on the other end couldn’t see her clearly. And I immediately thought, “Mental note, pick up a web-cam next time you are on that side of town.” Then I stopped myself and thought, “Holy cow, this is something I would do for my family in Florida and here I am in Thailand being a real daughter, cool!” I didn’t want to buy the web-cam because I thought it would make them like me more, or because I thought I needed to pay them back for hosting me, I just saw a need and wanted to meet it because I am their daughter (don’t worry mom, I am still your daughter too, just the English speaking version). =D I love having moments like this though and as my 6 months left quickly turned into 5 months left I have realized that it is unfortunate that it takes almost the whole exchange to have frequent moments like these with host families and new friends. However, I have already made a plan to come back soon so the relationships formed will only have the chance to strengthen while I am in the States rather than weaken and fall away.

What else was it that I wanted to say? It might sound a little cliché but I have felt so much older and wiser lately. (I am of course still a little kid who loves to play and be silly sometimes…) but at the same time I feel like I am over-due to enter the world of adults (or at least the world of college). This year has already made me so much more prepared to live on my own, to manage my own money, to know how to schedule time and yet still have fun while doing all of these things. I came to the realization a couple of months back that if I can do all of these things in a language that is not my mother language, or a language that I have not entirely mastered yet, I can certainly do these things in English. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying I am perfect at these things, but I am a lot more competent in them than I was before I came to Thailand. =D

On this note I would like to thank Rotary for this experience. And know that I do not just say this routinely, but as a real gesture of thanks because without you, none of this year, these relationships, or this maturity would have been possible. So thank you. Thank you mom and dad in Florida for financing this year and for your permission to go so far away for such a long period of time, I know that was not easy for you, but thank you! =D I have put new pictures up on my flickr site of our most recent adventures. Yours truly, อารีย์

March 8 Journal

During the month of February, every time that I looked at a calendar I got depressed. “God, when is it going to be over?” I kept thinking, I mean it is only 28 days. But I can’t exactly put my finger on why I kept thinking this. I’m not miserable, and I don’t want to leave by any means, I just found myself being very frustrated and always feeling not quite myself, whether that be pains or aches or just that weird feeling of hovering through existence. But now that it is early March already I want February back. I think that this is honestly the biggest Catch-22 I will ever experience. School ended last week for us and now we have a three month summer vacation (school will re-start the last week in May). And while this may sound awesome, it leaves such a big hole haha. I mean 8am-4pm everyday is free now… WOW! But the good thing about this is that I can come and chill with my first host family whenever I want and just talk with them about everything under the big-bright-hot-as-you-know-what sun. =D I really love them and while sometimes I do feel frustrated or just drained because of the heat, I really love Thailand, more than I can put into English at this point haha.

This month was pretty busy. It started out with a weekend of Regional Debates at KKU (the university in my city). It was fun, the debates were in English so we had a very unfair advantage but the people we were debating against and with were excited to be competing with us. And it made me really happy actually that we were far from winning at the end when the results came out. We were given topics that were about the area of Thailand that I am staying in, Issan. And this allowed the exchange students to learn a lot more about Thailand, Issan, politics and environmental issues here etc. But after two full days of debating, my head honestly hurt because of remembering English grammar and big words. =D It did however make me realize that I need to keep trying very hard to improve my Thai, because if I tried to do that in Thai, I would not have been able to get past the first issue. I mean, my Thai is okay… but it has just been okay for a while, it has been some time since it has grown much. I can explain my feelings and some other things more accurately in Thai than I can in English but I think that is just because Thai has more accurate descriptions for those things in general. Reading is also improving a little but it is so-so as well.

This year the Chinese New Year was in the same weekend as Valentine’s Day. That doesn’t usually happen but it was an interesting weekend because of it. For Chinese New Year, my family is half Chinese so we went to both of the Chinese Buddhist temples in the city. The first one we went to was SO crowded. What you did was you take a cooked chicken, duck and a piece of pork and put it on a table with a glass of whiskey, oranges and different Chinese sweets. You leave these here while you light incense and walk around the temple to all of the different shrines, kneeling or sitting on your haunches at each one and raise your incense between both hands to wai while making a wish, saying a prayer or hoping for good things. Some people even have chants, other times there are monks there in the temple already chanting. A VERY cool experience. After you place one stick of incense at each shrine until you have gone around the temple. Then you go back to the items you left and wai with each of those, three times each (three is a very significant number) and leave taking the items with you, throwing a paper type thing into a fire that is continuously going. We then went to the second temple and did the same thing, afterwards getting a picture taken with the dancing Chinese dragon. We then went home and I found out the next day that the food is then usually eaten, like a feast the next day by the family. And for the next few days you could hear fireworks going off every now and then, like you do when the 4th of July is getting near. Also that weekend, on Valentine’s Day, we went to a family reunion. It was my second host mom’s extended family all at my aunt’s house. There were 40 people there and all of them were wearing matching pink T-shirts that said “<3 r-ma” basically meaning “we love grandma”. The elderly, like in many (especially Asian) cultures are still very, very respected here. There was 4 generations there and it was kind of neat to see how everyone interacted together and to try to figure out who was whose kid and whose brother or sister etc. =)

We were invited to go to a Thai wedding this month as well. And as it turns out it was not the real wedding, it was only the engagement ceremony, but it took 3 or 4 hours. We had to dress in the traditional Thai style for this kind of engagement and wow, you need to see pictures of this. I felt like a fairy-godmother-pirate with a silk skirt, it was close to impossible to move in the thing haha. But hey it was fun to play dress up for a while and take a ton of pictures. We even got money for being there because it is Chinese tradition to give money to family (like the kids) at New Year and also to guests at weddings, and it was both! The groom-to-be was from Shanghai, China and the bride-to-be was Thai but they met in England while they were both studying there… whoa. He couldn’t speak any Thai and they will be living in Shanghai but it was cute.

In the past two weeks, another exchange student came to visit our group in Khon Kaen; she is from Spain and is staying in Bangkok and her name is Catuxa. By the second or third day that I hung out with her I really felt that I had found another long-lost twin. It is really eerie but we totally clicked and we are SO the same! So I have yet another place to visit: Brazil, Germany, Canada, South Africa, Thailand (again of course) and now Spain! She left to go back to Bangkok the other day but I will definitely make some time to go visit her and she is coming back to Khon Kaen once again too. We both got our hair braided, a few corn-rows on one side and left the rest down and it’s awesome. We also both have a LOVE for cooking and learning new things to cook, we both love to be ridiculous and joke about everything. And she just has one of those personalities that you can’t be upset around. As soon as you get around her you can’t help but just feel so happy and excited for life. She is truly an amazing person and friend and I am so glad that I met her.

This past weekend we had a District Conference for district 3340. I have to admit I wasn’t really looking forward to it because I didn’t know what to expect really. (I just thought of endless meetings that I only half understood…) But it ended up being one of the best weekends I have had in a very long time. I got to see Twang, my Thai friend who was an exchange student at Bartram last year, and hang out with her, which was really really great. I also got to meet and actually get to know the other exchange students in my district and I am so excited to be going on the trip with the ones that I met later this month. One of the most exciting things that happened this weekend though is that one of the outbounds for next year from my club here, is going to FLORIDA!!! I cannot wait to see which district she is in and it will be sooo exciting to visit her while she is there and speak Thai with her and everything! =D

The conference really taught me to not judge people before really getting to know them and also to be tolerant of the people that you figure out you don’t like after getting to know them. Thailand has made me very verbal in the way that I feel and just speaking my mind, because a lot of the time people around don’t understand the English that you use. But being around other English speakers made me realize again that I can’t just say whatever I want whenever I want because it can very easily create sticky situations. (I am glad that I came to this realization before going back to the States.) The inbounds and outbounds from my club in Khon Kaen did a traditional Thai-Isaan style dance. We have been practicing everyday for two weeks and it was a lot of fun despite the moments that we didn’t really want to go to practice. I will hopefully be able to put up the video online soon. We dressed in the traditional Thai style and had about 3 pounds of make-up put on our faces, along with a lot of glitter. And the best part is that you dance with no shoes on, so there is no fear of falling or tripping or anything in complicated shoes.

At school, before it ended we were doing a lot of extra cooking classes with our teacher because she knew that our friends would be studying for exams and everything. It is so exciting for me though because I have learned and written down how to cook a lot of different Thai dishes like green curry, a traditional Thai soup, Thai desserts and a lot of other things that don’t really have English names. =D This weekend I ate a fried cricket and a red ant egg-filled omelet. The cricket tasted not bad, but not good enough to eat another one, somewhat similar to an old moldy potato chip I would say. And the omelet was good until you found out what was in it and then it was good as long as you tried not to think about what you were eating haha. The actual red ant eggs were white and oval in shape, about as big as half a pinky-finger nail.

The other day was a special Buddhist holiday here called We-sha Ka-buu Cha (rien tien). It was really cool actually because what we did was go to the biggest temple in our city and take incense, a lotus flower that hadn’t yet opened, a special candle and light the candle and the incense, walking around the temple three times. And while you walk, you think good thoughts, wishes for well-being for yourself, others etc. And the whole time you are walking you are surrounded by so-many other people, the monks in the temple are chanting and the environment it creates is really quite surreal. What you want to do is close your eyes, wai and let your mind wander without you controlling where it goes, letting it explore things that it hasn’t yet known exist. I don’t know, I probably sound crazy or “too-western minded” but it is as awesome as it is hard to explain. You leave the temple feeling peaceful though. I do enjoy going to temple here and I only wish that I could know about it at a deeper level that I don’t think is reachable with my current vocabulary.

The heat makes you feel alive in ways that I can’t describe. I mean yeah sure, sometimes you feel like you are going to faint because it is so hot, but it’s got something almost magical to it. As North Americans we would read a book about someone who lived in the Tropics and constantly and predictably think every time that the people in the book were “less” than we were because they didn’t use air-conditioning, because they just sat in the heat that was so overwhelming all they could do was sweat, talk, sleep and sweat some more. But this kind of heat and this kind of environment really makes you think, gives you the time to think and I think that it inspires you. It drains your physical energy but it at least makes you contemplate?

April 16 Journal

Well, I officially have just about two months left here. It is such a weird thought, don’t get me wrong I do love it here but at the same time I am so ready to be home too. I just got back to my city the other day from traveling in the south of Thailand with my family from the States. It was awesome in too many ways to count! I went and picked up my parents and my little brother in Bangkok, it was so surreal to see them again, especially here in Thailand. My brother is no longer “little”, he is still three years younger than I am but he is taller than my dad and has a bit of a beard going, haha. And mom and dad, well they were still mom and dad. =D We spent a day in BKK and then we all took a bus to a town in the south called Krabi. And the whole time I had to keep reminding myself that they couldn’t really understand what was going on around them like I could. It felt weird to have them depend on me, but at the same time I was so glad that I could be that person instead of them getting a tour guide or something. It is kind of a difficult concept to explain I guess. And my brother and I grew so much closer over the 10 days that they were here, we just sat and talked and talked and talked about so many things; me really feeling like the big sister finally taking up her role and being able to relate with school and life and friends. Cool really.

So we went to the south and stayed about 300 yards from the beach. I know that isn’t exactly a change of scenery for my family because we are from Florida but I haven’t seen the beach in over eight months, plus the beach in Thailand is so, unexplainably beautiful! We went SCUBA diving near Phe-Phe Island and we saw turtles, anemones with their clown-fish inhabitants, lion fish, and so many other things that I never even knew existed! It was really a great experience, and our dive guide was Thai so that made it cool that he could speak Thai to me about diving and English to my family, or I could translate if he didn’t feel like repeating information. We hung around the beach and went shopping in all the cute little shops, I took my family to eat Thai food until they were asking me if we could “please eat Italian or something else tonight?” haha. =D I had brought my computer too so that I could show them all of my pictures from this year so far and that was fun, just showing them everything and answering all of their questions. It was also pretty unique to warn them of the differences in social culture here; tell them about monks, all of the formalities but at the same time explain to them how relaxed and “sabai” everything is here and how genuinely nice and helpful Thai people are.

Earlier this month, my school had its prom. I didn’t know that Thai high schools had a prom, but it is much, much different from the prom that high-school students in the States know. First of all, the prom here is only for graduating seniors and their guests (dates), and second it is more of a sit and socialize and take pictures event. There is music but there is no dancing, well they did have a couple of groups do cover-dances of some Korean hip-hop songs but that was an organized competition. They do have a theme though, like in the States, but here people actually try really hard to match the theme. This year it was the color pink, and one of my friends borrowed a pair of hot-pink skinny jeans from his mom, found a hot-pink button up shirt and pulled it all together with a pair of hot-pink sneakers. It was the best outfit there and all I could do was congratulate him on his creativeness (and on his ability to wear his mom’s pants haha). =D And while I was so glad to have the opportunity to go to prom in Thailand, at one point I was sitting at a table just watching all of my classmates and friends up and around chatting and having the time of their lives. It made me really think, not that I don’t belong, but that I was glad that at that moment I was just sitting back and watching. Because this was THEIR moment. They have just graduated high-school, they are getting ready to move off in all different directions and they deserve this, they need this, unadulterated just to congratulate each other on a job well done and bask in their moment. I know how that feels, I graduated last May and I was reminded of that joy of accomplishment and freedom. I can honestly say that those moments were some of the happiest moments I have had in Thailand, just watching their excitement and their happiness bounce around the room in various shades of the color pink.

The weather right now is in the height of the hot season, above 100 Fahrenheit everyday, around 42 Celsius the other day even, whoa! I am just grateful for cold showers, rooms that do have A/C, water-water-water, and baby powder. =D

One thing that we did this month also was go fishing, but this was not your average get a pole and some worms and go to the river, fishing. We went mud-fishing, with our hands! It was one of my top ten experiences in Thailand so far. And I have never, ever been that dirty in my entire life. All of the inbounds this year and the outbounds for next year went (about eight or nine kids) and at first all of us were a little hesitant because we had not been told that this was the method we were going to use to catch fish. We pull up to this huge mud hole, almost as big as a football field that was about as deep as your upper-torso at the deepest point, mostly the mud just came up to your hips or waist. But we all get out of the car, take off our shoes and walk hesitantly down to the mud, and no one really wants to get in except for me haha. =D So I decide to go for it and I start to walk in, by my third step I was stuck in thick muck up to my waist, the only way to get out and get to the middle of the mud pond was to crawl on my hands and my knees, like they do in those army movies. Just thinking back on it I am chuckling, everyone was watching and I was laughing so hard that I was just getting more stuck. We ended up catching a few fish too small to cook, but some guys who were also out there (who do this for a living) helped us out and we cooked up some pretty large ones and it made a tasty lunch! We went swimming in the river afterward to get at least some of the mud off of us, but I know I took more than one long-long shower when I got home that day. =D

The other day, there was a funeral. The grandmother of one of the members of our Rotary club had passed away and our club, including the exchange students, went to be there for her. I did not know the woman who had passed away so I felt a little out of place there, but Thai funerals are very different from North American funerals. To start with, there is more than one ceremony or event to attend. Since Thailand is a Buddhist country most bodies are cremated, but before they can be cremated, the family and friends of the deceased have to pray over the body and insure that they will have a favorable re-incarnation. So the exchange students and I just sat and observed, there was the usual chants and incense and I wish that I was able to understand it but not even the Thai people do. When they chant, they chant in an older language called Pali, which to be honest a lot of scholars do not even understand. This is the first day, everyone gathers afterward to eat together and visit with each other. And the second part is a few days later. The second part is much like the first except that the people who came to the funeral go and give offerings and pay respect to the family while the monks are doing the chants. There are large wreaths of flowers everywhere, donated by different people and businesses and again, after the ceremonial part everyone gathers together to eat. Thai funerals are a very unemotional event. Death in Thailand is not mourned publicly like it is in other places, death is more of a matter-of-fact thing in which everyone understands that when you get to a certain stage in life, you die. When Thais mourn their loved ones, they do so in private so as not to affect others in a negative way.

Recently in Bangkok, I am sure that some of you have heard about the “Red Shirt” Party and their political protests. I would like to explain what is going on for those of you who don’t know and also those of you who already have heard about it because there is no room for hyped-up information. Everything right now is going fine, there is no reason to worry about anything because as of now the situation is still very peaceful. What has been going on is that the red party has been protesting and peacefully demonstrating in Bangkok since early March against the current political “yellow” party. The red party is a party originated from my area of NorthEast Thailand (also known as Issan) and they are backed my a man named Thaksin who was banned from the country by a military coup (led by the yellow party) in 2006. So Thaksin runs the red party from outside of the country and is currently the Minister of Finance for the Cambodian government. The red party is calling for a re-election, they “stand for” democracy and want their fair shot at a chance for political power. However, the demonstrations that the red party have been placing have been getting slightly more serious as of late, for example; the red party got a lot of their people to donate blood (some of the donators were even bribed to make their contributions) and the party then obtained fire trucks and sprayed the blood all over the Parliament building and the Prime Minister‘s house. Even this was considered peaceful (although quite disgusting) up until the other day when the red party forcefully broke through the gates and into the Parliament building. After this happened the Thai Government officially declared a State of Emergency in the Bangkok and surrounding areas. Things have semi-settled down within the past week but for a while there was fighting. A few days after the State of Emergency was declared there was fighting between the troops and the red party in which 21 people died and over 840 were injured. Currently there has not been any other “big-news” though.

From April 13th-15th was the national holiday of Songkran Festival. This is the most anticipated and celebrated holiday in Thailand all year long. It is the celebration of the Thai New Year and the reason for its un-paralleled popularity is because for three days straight people stop working, close shop, head to their home cities and go into the street to throw water all over each other! It is honestly the most fun holiday that I have EVER experienced, better than Christmas, your birthday, the 4th of July, New Year’s Eve, Thanksgiving, Halloween, Easter and St. Patrick’s Day combined. No Joke. Three days before Songkran even began you would be walking down the street or riding open-air public transportation and you would all of a sudden be soaking wet with water, only to realize that people had started throwing buckets of water into the streets early. =D But once Songkran began, wow, I don’t even know how to describe it really. All I can say is that it was literally a party in the streets for three days and three nights with no breaks. People set up huge metal drums of water in front of their houses or in the back of pick-up trucks to hold water in so that one could easily dip a bucket in and throw endless amounts of water on perfect strangers. It sounds kind of crazy to the western world I think but it is sooo much fun and after your first encounter with a splash of water, it is impossible to wipe that toothy grin off of your face.

So what we did was get in the back of our family’s pick-up truck with all of my little brother’s friends and ride around town, through the streets with all of the other pick-up trucks throwing buckets of water at the other trucks or at the people out in front of their houses, especially on people who were still dry or had already dried off. =D At one point we bought huge blocks of ice to put into our drums of water so that when we splashed people, or squirted them with water guns it would feel similar to taking a shower in an igloo.

Another key part of Songkran is baby-powder. It is a tradition that started with baking flour back when there was no such thing as baby-powder, and what you do is you smear it on your face and the faces of everyone around you. And it’s not uncommon for you to be walking down the street and someone you have never seen before in your life walks up to you and smears a handful of baby-powder on both sides of your face while wishing you a Happy New Year. It is shocking at first, especially when you have been in a country where public displays of affection (ie: hand holding, kissing, hugging, etc) even between friends and family is semi-frowned upon, but after the first day of Songkran one gets used to it. We got home at night and were completely exhausted but still so excited and energized, covered from head to toe in white baby-powder and soaked to the bone with water. You shower, eat, go to sleep, wake up the next day and do it again!

This description does not even do the holiday justice, I had it described to me so many times by former exchange students and Thais but I never expected it to be what it was. I know that I want to come back for next year and I have already planned that if I cannot, I will be celebrating Songkran in Florida some way or another. 😉

I would like to thank Rotary International, Rotary Youth Exchange Florida, and Rotary Thailand for the absolutely amazing year and opportunities that I have had and am having during my exchange to this wonderful country. Thank you for making this exchange possible and for continuing to give other students the same opportunities. I am about to go on a trip sponsored by my host district here in Thailand for two weeks and I cannot wait to see what is in store for me and the other exchanges that will be attending. After that I will be moving back to my first host family (YAYYY!!!) and shortly there-after school will be starting up again. Time really does fly, it only seems like a couple of weeks ago that I was marveling that I had already made it 10 weeks in my new country and I couldn’t fathom having nine more months to go… but here I am, nine months down and around 10 weeks to go and I cannot grasp where all that time went! To my family and friends at home, just two more months. =D To everyone else here in Thailand, I am trying not to think about the tiny amount of time I have left here, but I plan to make the most of it. So watch out Thailand, here I come, you can call me อารีย์ because that is my name.

May 18 Journal

Every host family needs to take their exchange student on a short trip in the beginning, middle and end of their exchange without any other exchange students. I am grateful that I am getting this opportunity but at the same time, I wish one like it had come sooner and made me realize sooner (help me to compare those parts of my exchange and the stages of my relationships) that I am not an exchange student but I am their daughter, their sister, and that it is real. I feel like I have been in this family, not from birth, but from adoption as such a small child that I cannot remember a time before this. I really love my family and this is almost more home to me than Florida. I do not want to leave this nest, I am not ready to fly on my own again but I realize the necessity of it so I must just walk to the edge, close my eyes and go for it.

That being said, yes, I am back at my first host family. Times now since I have been back have been my most happy moments of this whole exchange year. While everything is getting so busy with realizing all that I have yet to accomplish in the remaining month, I can come home and sit with my mom and just be at peace. I can smile and we can go to the temple and I can momentarily forget that I have to leave here so soon. I am still so torn when I remember the time left, I miss Florida, my friends, family, but I do not want to leave Thailand. I want to smush the best of both worlds together. Like a little kid who takes two Oreos, pulls them apart and then sticks the two halves that still have the cream attached together, creating a super-stuffed Oreo! Unfortunately though, Florida and Thailand are not Oreos and thus, that is not possible… =(

I would love to tell you all about my adventures on the Rotary trip that I took last month after Songkran, but right now I feel like it would be too much to put into this journal. I have to save some of my stories to tell when I get home, right? =) In a nutshell though, it was fantastic! It was great to meet all of the other exchange students again and really get to know them this time, to spend two weeks with them and get close to some and stay acquaintances with others. I really love that group and we had an awesome time making memories as we went through Koh Chang, Chantaburi, Koh Samet, Pattaya, Amphur Wha, Ahyuttaya, and Bangkok. And we did everything from snorkeling to temples to a lady-boy show haha. =) I have A LOT of pictures up on the flickr site that you can look through and the beach was sooo gorgeous, I cannot wait to go back.

I was actually invited to go with my host family next week and I am more than excited about that. I just got back from a trip to Bangkok with just my mom, dad and little brother. It was great, we only spent three days there and we picked up the new car but we also went to see Wat Pak Gaeo (The Grand Palace) and The Temple of the Golden Mount. We went shopping until we were all hot, exhausted and ready to go home, lol. And I love my exchange student friends here in Khon Kaen but it was awesome beyond explanation to be with my family without them around. This is the first time I have done something like that besides the everyday routine at home. And it give time for reflection, to learn more Thai (because there are not people speaking English to you all the time). So I am very excited to go with my mom and my grandma to the south again and just spend time with them. =) I had such a ridiculous smile on my face this whole weekend because of the time that I was able to spend with my family just as their daughter and there were so many moments that my eyes were open to that just confirmed to me that that is what I am. Also, when we drove into Khon Kaen last night I just kept thinking, “I’m home! We’re home! Ahh, home, home home!” =) As a family we were home.

Something that I have learned in the past month though is that it is good to be a careful and worried person sometimes. You give a soft impression and don’t step on too many peoples toes at the same time. And when you are just being serene and cautious (not a push-over) it actually gets you far because it lets people open themselves towards you and that in turn enables them to start forming the bonds of love and real relationship, bonds that lasts. Thailand has taught me, just go with the flow, things will work themselves out… but at the same time do not let yourself be taken advantage of.

I do apologize for the choppiness and the non-relatedness of this journal but this is how my brain has been working lately. I hope that it makes at least some sense and isn’t too “all over the place”. I did have a thought the other day though that it is quite unfortunate and angering that I am just getting to the point of reading more efficiently and now I have to leave. I know that it will slowly dissipate, just like my speech abilities, but perhaps there is a way I can practice that as well until I come back (which will hopefully be soon!) I want to thank everyone again who was, is, and will be involved in RYE. You are helping to change lives and also to sincerely change the world through it. You may not see these changes but your students and the people that they meet will know, there is something different about that girl/boy. Perhaps like some conversations I have had, people have changed their perceptions of America drastically, realizing it is not how Hollywood and reality TV make it out to be. That people who live there are made out of the same flesh and bone as they are, the only difference being that the idiots of our society are usually the ones who are the unofficial international representatives, watch out the world is watching.

I have a Thai heart. There is a pride that runs through the blood in my bones, a pride different from the average teenage pride, a pride much different than “American” pride. This is the pride of being not only Thai but essentially of being Issan too. Of finally becoming one of my people! As I write this I feel sad because as much as I feel this in my heart, people here and in the States as well see me and think the exact opposite. Yes, I am a “foreigner” who can eat spicy food, but it is more than that. They will never be able to see that I see things and feel with the same limbs that they do. That I yearn for the chance to help in the rice fields at least once because I know now what a special, honored task that really is. And again, writing this, knowing that you who speak English will read it, I know that I am already judged. Even the Western part of my brain is screaming at me, “What are you typing, are you crazy?” Because (no offense) most western-born people cannot understand this and these yearnings of my heart. Like why I want to live in a little apartment in Bangkok, continue my travels around the world, spend at least a year in India, and be fiercely independent while at the same time being hopelessly dependent, with my blue eyes wide open to the world and its people. I may sound absurd but I do not apologize, I was going to but then I realized that not only did this need to be spoken but it needed to be read as well.


Emily Cadet
2009-10 Outbound to Italy
Hometown: Margate, Florida
School: Pompano Beach HS
Sponsor: Coral Springs Rotary Club, District 6990, Florida
Host: Sassari Nord Rotary Club, District 2080, Italy

Emily - Italy

Emily’s Bio

Ciao!!!! My name is Emily Cadet. I was born in Florida, but soon after my birth, I moved to Haiti. I resided there for the first eleven years of my life. They were the best years of my life actually. I was young; worry free, not a lot of homework to have to worry about; the days when everyone wishes they could go back to once in a while. In the summer of 2005, I moved back to Florida and entered the 7th grade at Westpine Middle. Upon completing my middle school years, I enrolled at Pompano Beach High school, where I am currently a sophomore. I am extremely thankful that I got accepted into the exchange program.

 In Haiti I lived with my mom, my little brother, Terry, and my dad (who passed away in 2008). I also had many pets. I owned fishes, dogs, cats and I even had a few chickens! I had 15 pets total, but of course I did not have all of theme at once; if I did, I would feel as if I were living in a farm. Now I live with my little brother, my mom, my aunt and my cousins. I hang out with my family a lot; usually we have sleepovers or go to the movies.

 I play tennis a lot. My Dad use to play tennis when he was young, and he was very good at it. I followed in his steps and took lessons in Haiti. Unfortunately I am not that great at it, but I try. I also love to draw and paint. It’s mostly for fun and I enjoy it. I love music; mostly listening to it. I don’t have a favorite genre, I listen to all types as long as I can sing and dance to it. =) I can also play 2 or 3 songs on the piano even though I don’t play the piano very well at all. I love taking pictures! That is also something I do for fun and I think I might take photography classes to get better at it.

 Well now you know a little something about me. Oh and just so you know, I am going to Italy!!! I am very excited to be going there; I have wanted to go there since I was a child. Soccer is one of the major sports in Haiti. The World Cup is a very big deal there and my family and I always watched it (every 4 years) and we still do. My dad was a big supporter of the Italian team. That was probably why I wanted to go there. Another reason is that my parents traveled so many places in the world, including Italy and they told me how wonderful it is but I never could go because I was always too young. I guess it’s now my turn to go and visit the world beyond the US and Haiti! Again I am thankful for this opportunity and I thank everyone who made this possible for me.

 Emily’s Journals

September 3 Journal

August 26th was the day I left the United States to begin my “adventure.” It was so emotional to say goodbye to my family, but I was happy to leave and start a new life (even if for just one year). The 27th around 11:30 pm I arrived in Sardegna (the island I live in now). I was welcomed by my new family: my host mom and my host dad who were accompanied by my “tutor.” I also have a 20 year old host brother who could not come to the airport because he was in another Island called La Maddalena.

My new family welcomed me with open arms and I felt at home right away, though there are some awkward moments that may have occurred a few times :P… other than that all is well. My host dad and I always go walking around town and visit many places, he also tells me the history of it all. Everything is so beautiful and different! 🙂

The next day my new family and I went to La Maddalena, which is a beautiful island. There I finally met my host brother, who is really nice and helpful, and I also met nonno and nonna (grandfather/mother), aunts, uncles, and some cousins of the family. It was amazing because everyone was so nice and understanding. Even though I did not understand most of the things they were saying, and they didn’t understand some of what I was saying (because I was speaking crazy Italian mixed with French and English), we all still managed to find a way to communicate.

My family owns a boat in which we all sailed in every day that we spent in La Maddalena (3 days), then we swam in the sea everyday as well. The beaches and the water in L.M. are so beautiful that words can’t even describe it. The water is vey blue and clear, and guess what! NO SHARKS! 😀 (very different from Florida)

Now I am back in Sassari (the city I live in) and I love my room and my house and everything. I have only been here for 7 days and I don’t want to go back home after my year is over. I start school the 15th or the 17th (know one here know for sure :P) and I am so excited, I have never recalled being this excited to go to school. One of the reasons is because I am going to an art school where I will be able to draw, paint, work with ceramics, design clothes and much much more! I really am looking forward to my art improving. I also can’t wait to meet new people! Well, ciao ciao!! I am done for today because there is so much to do here, you can never really be bored 🙂

P.S.: I think my Italian improved 1% =D


October 3 Journal

I have been here for a month and a week now and I must say things are getting better and better everyday. I love my family and everyday we learn something new about each other. They compliment me sometimes on how much my Italian has improved. I am glad that I am getting better and hopefully soon I will be fluent. I have made many friends whom I love so much and who are always helping me with my Italian. I go out almost every night with them, and I say almost because I play tennis now with a group of girls and a coach. I love it so much because I haven’t really played tennis since I left Haiti and moved to Florida. It’s nice to have the opportunity to play again and I am thankful for it.

School…. school is great so far! Right now the main project for the year for my “Tessuto” class (designing clothes and stuff) is to make the front of a pillow with amazing and different designs etc… It isn’t as easy as it sounds =P There is a lot of thinking and searching and sewing and creating involved. I also made a head out of clay in one of my classes and I think it looks pretty cool now that I am almost done with it… I have also been working on many different other things and they’re all fun.

I went to an Italian wedding which was so much fun! They did the typical rice throwing thing but they also threw plates on the ground in front of the groom and bride (I thought they only broke plates in Greece, I guess that’s my mistake =P.) There was also lots of food, it was a buffet =D. There was also music and dancing and since there was a pool at the reception location, at the end some people jumped in! Some also got pushed in ahaha.

Now a little something about food, a very important topic =P. The food is great, and I am a very picky eater and surprised myself and my entire family back home with all the new things I have been trying and actually liking. First of all I love the pasta, no doubt about it, and my host mom is a great cook! I have tried so many different seafood like clams, oysters, octopus! Also others that I don’t remember the names… Here there are giant sandwiches that are bigger that your face! literally! The pizza here is delicious, so different than American pizza. It is also a bit too different for me to choose which one I like more: American or Italian? Oh and definitely don’t order a pepperoni pizza here, because pepperoni in Italian = big peppers, not the same thing as the American pepperoni =P… unless you like only peppers on you pizza 🙂

Now I am having a great time! I am not saying that everything has been going PERFECT because I have made a few mistakes but they are minor and unimportant. I still have not been homesick yet and everything is going well.

Well I have so much more to say, but if I wrote it all, this would become a book! Ciao Ciao and see you next month 😀

November 13 Journal

I have been here for over 2 months now, and I am still loving it. There is more freedom here, and I just enjoy every minute of this. November 10th was my birthday so I had my “sweet 16” in Italy =) It wasn’t a big event but I had a few of my close friends come over and we all had a good time.

My Italian I must say is coming along well, my host family, my friends, and my teachers always compliment me on how quick I am learning the language. My host family tells me I don’t have an English accent or a French accent, that I say the words more correctly; of course I have an accent, but it’s not as strong. I felt proud of myself. I still have to keep pushing though because I would like to be fluent by next month hopefully. I actually think in Italian now a lot, I think it’s pretty cool!

School is going well, there have been many protests the past few days because it’s too cold and the school has not turned on the heaters, so we keep getting out early, which I like =)

I also did a “Giro Pizza” with some friends which is where you pay 10 euros each and get unlimited pizza, but you can’t go to the next round until you finish with the 1st round! When you can’t eat anymore you say stop and they give you the last pizza, pizza with Nutella, which is so good! We did 2 rounds then stopped, it was fun =P

Well, there has not been anything very new to talk about – every day is pretty much the same, yet every day is different, if you know what I mean. This is a great place, it’s a great environment, the people are amazing, it’s like my new home, I’m comfortable here and I LOVE IT!

December 26 Journal

December! Decorations are put up, lights all over the streets, giant Christmas trees, and strange small Santas on ladders climbing up your window? My city is pretty small and it is not as much decorated as in Florida but you can still feel the Christmas spirit. It is also colder here. While I am wearing a bunch of sweaters, my host sister in north Florida, Lilia Montella, is wearing shorts and going to the beach :D! The weather is no problem though, it’s cool!

Usually right before Christmas break they have a thing called the “Matricole” which is a group of university kids who have a “king” and whatever the king says to do they have to do. They go around the city dressed up strangely and “liberate” the students. So for the 3 last days of the school week (Thursday, Friday and Saturday) we get out of school very early. It is sort of like a festival and has remained more of a Sassari tradition so it is not done all over Sardinia and it is not done all over Italy. I guess it depends of the university. So after you get released you go walk around he city, go to cafés, meet up with friends from other schools etc… too bad we don’t have that in the US.

Christmas Eve! I am spending my Christmas and New Year in La Maddalena. On the 24th we had a big dinner with many members of the family, and let me tell you, Italians eat a lot! The dinner was great and the family members are funny and it was fun! At almost midnight we opened some of the presents and on Christmas day, we opened the rest. I received so many amazing gifts and I gave gifts to everyone which they all liked. (I hope :P) On the 25th we had a Christmas lunch, it was great, and again a lot of food! Later that night we all got together in the living room and watched a movie!

Christmas is such an amazing time where everyone gets together, it’s beautiful! I know that Lilia and I didn’t get a chance to spend it with our family but we both had a great Christmas! New Year is coming and an Italian festival called “Epifania” where a witch called “La Befana” gives kids candy in a big sock! But all this will be described in next months journal 😉

CIAO!!! Buon Natale a tutti! Merry Christmas to all and a happy New Year!

January 27 Journal

Hey! I have been here for 5 months now! Ok I’ll go back in time a little bit…

New Years! 2010, new beginning! I went to the concert of Laura Pausini who is a very famous Italian singer and is also know in Latin America and other European countries! The concert was great, the community paid for it; therefore for the public it was free! There were so many people! Beautiful fireworks, and champagne flying everywhere, it was great! Of course since New Years is a holiday we obviously ate a lot. We ate so much food until the 6th of January which is the feast of Epiphany. After that day we stop having big feast lunches and dinners because it’s the last celebration after a row of holidays: Christmas, New Years and Epiphany!

So during the “Epifania” there is a witch! She is la Befana. She gives candy to children in a big sock the eve of Epiphany (January 5th.) She is a little bit like Santa, in a way… she is an ugly witch, I mean if I was a kid I would be scared if I knew she would be coming to my house! But Italians told me to just think of her as a nice ugly old lady =D! My host parents said we were too old to celebrate it, so I went to a store, bought my sock and filled it with candy of my choice! It was good =D

Now we can come back to the present! This weekend I am going to Nuoro. Another city in Sardinia where I will meet other exchange students and see Michael Pett, whom I have not seen since our last orientation!

A little on Sardinia: It is nothing like Rome or Milan. But that’s the thing I like about it, the fact that it’s an island and not like the huge cities. Sardinians are known for their kindness. There are so many things that are great about the big city life, but an island where we have a little bit less then places like Naples etc, are amazing too! I just see all the good things here because there are so many! I appreciate every little thing and every little act that people do and I ended up loving this place and the people. I’m just happy I got a chance to be in Sardinia for a year. I am really glad of the location I got and I can’t thank Rotary enough. Literally, and I am not just saying this, I would not have wanted any other place.

February 15 Journal

The weekend in Nuoro was great! I found out that we are 16 exchange students in Sardinia. 10 were able to come! Most of us are American. There was also 1 Canadian, 1 German and 1 South African! We visited a museum, a giant cave (Grotta Ispinigoli) and an old village (Villagio Serra Orrios)! It was amazing! But the best part was meeting all the other students and talking about our exchange. We are trying to plan more weekends like that and hopefully next time everyone will be there =D

So February is Carnival season. There are festivals, we walk around dressed up with all kinds of costumes and have fun! It’s really nice to celebrate Carnival again because in Haiti I celebrated it every year but in the US they don’t really have that. It was great! We dressed up at school and had a small party with food and music =D When we go out there are little kids dressed up everywhere and confetti’s all over the floor and all! And the best part is that it’s not over yet, we still have Carnival Tuesday: “Martedi Grasso” or in French “Mardi Gras!”

Oh and a few days ago it snowed!! It was great and everyone told me I was lucky because it hadn’t snowed in Sassari in 6 years! Apparently it’s a rare event! Too bad it didn’t last that long. It started in afternoon and kept going over night and the next morning everything was white! It snowed again and 2 hours later the sun came out and everything slowly melted! But everyone took advantage of it, we made small snowmen, and had Snowball fights! 🙂

So far everything is great, it is very sad to know that my exchange is halfway over. I have been enjoying every minute here and I will remember it forever! I can’t thank Rotary enough! You have no idea how thankful and happy I am! GRAZIE MILLE!! 😀

April 11 Journal


Here in Italy, we don’t have the bunny who hides the eggs and we have to find them. Instead, there are these huge eggs made of chocolate that you have to break, and inside there is a surprise! For our Easter dinner we ate so much! We were all together: grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, pretty much almost everyone. There was 2 different kinds of pasta, ravioli and pasta with goat meat. For dessert there was all these pastries and since it was also the birthdays of my host aunt and host uncle there were 4 cakes… I was so full that day!

The day after Easter, we all went to a restaurant, were everything that is served has been raised and harvested in Sardinia, it was all so delicious, and again, we ate a lot. There was pork, goat, potatoes, livers (which was not bad), there was this thing that I didn’t really like because it was a bunch of layers of cheese and I am not the biggest fan of cheese. There was dessert and of course wine and coffee…

Being together with the whole family was fun, I will never forget this year.

May 25 Journal

I can’t believe I only have 2 months left =( I gave my Rotary PowerPoint presentation about a week ago and it just made me think about the end. But it’s not something I want to think too much about right now, I just want to enjoy my last moments =)

Two days ago I went to an annual event here in Sassari called “la Cavalcata.” The event consists of a parade of all folk groups from the entire island of Sardinia, each with the characteristic costume of the city. There were also the Mamuthones which are typical carnival masks in the city of Mamoiada in Sardinia. They are distinguished by their clothes and their way of moving. They are always silent. Then the parade is followed by a display of horses and riders who race while doing acrobatics. It was so interesting to see the different outfits that they wore back then, the wedding outfits, the widow’s outfits, and the old jewelry. They also walked around with pastries and fruits; they were dancing, and playing instruments. Every year the Cavalcata starts with a guest country that brings their original clothes and shows their culture. This year was Greece! It was all so amazing!

I am still having a great time and loving my year! I’m glad the heat is coming back because it means everyone can start going to the beach, and the beaches here in Sardinia are some of the most beautiful!

I love it here! =D


June 16 Journal

I have one month left! It’s so strange to think that this will all be over soon. I have been going out everyday with friends trying to spend as much time as I can with them before leaving! I’m really sad that I must go…

On the bright side it’s summer! It is finally getting hot! No more coats and big jackets. We are all going to the beach and everything is so beautiful! A few weeks ago we had a Rotary get-together in Santa Lucia, in the middle of Sardinia and it was nice to see every exchange student again.

I will miss everyone here. I have made amazing friends and my host family has been great! Leaving will be hard and it will be the only time my “emotional roller-coaster” will go down, because it has always been going up for me. But that’s ok because as soon as I see my family and friends back home again it should go back up! 🙂

I don’t know how many times I can say this but THANK YOU Rotary!! Viva La Sardegna!!! =D


Gabrielle “Gabby” Ceballos
2009-10 Outbound to Denmark
Hometown: Palm Coast, Florida
School: Matanzas HS
Sponsor: Flagler Beach Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Nexø Rotary Club, District 1470, Denmark

Gabby - Denmark

Gabrielle’s Bio

Hey there! My name is Gabrielle Ceballos, but you can call me Gabby for short. I am a 15 year old sophomore from Matanzas High School. Recently, I just found out I was accepted to the Rotary Exchange program and couldn’t be even more excited! A year ago, I thought to myself I would be sitting in the same high school just with different teachers the very next year. Never in a million years would I have thought I would actually be leaving to go to Denmark for a year! This is by far the biggest experience I can gain in my lifetime and I am ready to just absorb everything like a ginormous sponge :D.

I moved to Palm Coast, Florida about 10 years ago via Santiago, Chile and my birthplace of Connecticut and it definitely has been an experience. Meeting new people and residing in a new place can be rather interesting when you first start out, but things can only get better and they certainly have. Just as my new experiences with moving to Palm Coast, I can’t even begin to expect what new adventures and exciting experiences await in Denmark! Thank you so much Rotary for this life changing opportunity!

Two wonderful and amazing parents have raised me along with my older brother, Ryan. We are the Ceballos family and always will be. We are all spunky and fun and I wouldn’t change us for the world! If you ask a couple of my friends, they can probably agree with the fact that I am the one girl that will just randomly break out into song or random dance moves. Even a funny face or two you can sometimes get at the most random moments. Lacrosse is the sport I love and is one of the of the things that brings me a lot of joy. Some of my other hobbies I can add is my avid bookreading, rookie quilter, drawing, music listener (even my sad attempts to belt a song), movie lover and quoter, and some other things that can bring a great big smile to my face.

Laughter and smiles is one thing that I need in my life. The love of adventure and new experiences makes life even that more amazing. The next year in Denmark is the next chapter in my life that awaits me. I am so excited to start this super epic adventure! Yay!

Gabrielle’s Journals

September 12 Journal

When I close my eyes at night to sleep, I start to think that when I wake up everything is going to be a dream and I will still be in Florida, still in Palm Coast, and not experiencing the year of a lifetime. But then I open my eyes…..and I am in Denmark. One of the most amazing places I have ever been in my life. From the first day I got here on August 2nd, I had a feeling that the minute I walked off the plane everything was going to change and never be the same for me. So far this has proven true with my first MONTH of my exchange already over (which makes me sad thinking how I have to leave this beautiful place sooner and sooner everyday!!!) and what an A-MA-ZA-ZING time it has proven to be!!!!!!!

My first day in Denmark proved to be very adventurous since I met with a counselor from Rønne (John Anderson, who was super nice!) who then took me to meet the other exchange student going to Bornholm (Bridgitte from Nevada) then off to Bornholm we went. We ended up having to take a drive over the bridge to Sweden, then onto a ferry, and then eventually I met my counselor (Henrik) and off to my new home for the next 6 months. I love my host family and can’t imagine being with another family (Gert, Vivi, and my 17 year old brother, Tobias)! After finally being able to sleep after more than 24 hours without it, I continued to explore Nexø for the rest of the week until I had to leave again for København for language school and then Jylland for intro-camp.

Meeting EVERY SINGLE exchange student in Denmark proved to be amazing and I am so excited to see them again in October. When I finally returned to Bornholm, I got to start school which has proven to be one of the best times even though it is school. It’s rather nice having everything being so chill and relaxed and of course being with such great people as classmates. It certainly was a situation to adapt to at first, just like day-to-day routines. But being an exchange student, I have learned to adapt and do it all. I now have a daily routine that has become surprisingly easy to adapt to but I love it! But anyhoo, you start to realize some things just like Morgan said while you are here in wonderful Denmark:

Almost everybody smokes

There is no air conditioning, not even in most stores; you just open the windows and doors

You see bikes EVERYWHERE (but it is amazing – biking everywhere is fun!)

Some of the houses are older than the United States

Bread is eaten every day with almost every meal

The bread is absolutely amazing

The road signs are very different (not many stop signs since people do it themselves)

Fish is loved very much by the Danes (including herring, one of the most interesting fish I’ve ever tasted)

Overall, Denmark is simply amazing

This whole experience is already underway but yet it still feels so surreal and just like a dream that it’s hard to think I am actually here experiencing everything. You literally have to rid yourself of all fear/anxiety and take a giant leap and hope that you can land on your feet. Even with that sounding difficult, it is the one thing that is completely and utterly worth it. There is never a dull moment and always something new to experience. You get to experience life and actually start to see what you are made of. Even for just being here over a month, I can already tell that this year is literally going to be the most amazing year.

And I can’t wait to see what the next couple of months have in store.

November 29 Journal

So it has been a mighty long time since my last journal and A LOT has been happening in the past couple months! I have now been here in Denmark for about 4 months and so far everyday has been a new adventure. Without Rotary, I would never have gotten to gain these new experiences and have the opportunity for it all and I thank them very much for it. As we say in Denmark, Mange Tak (Thank you very much)!!!

Since the last time I wrote, a lot of things have been happening here. Even for being on the small but incredible island of Bornholm, many things always seem to be happening and taking place every day. School so far has been an interesting but good experience. Almost everyday I get up to get on the bus and start school at about 8:30. It’s nice though to not have school start until around 10:15 on days when I have a free first period which always feels good when I get to sleep just a little bit longer in the morning. But so far, my class is amazing and they are some pretty cool kids and have made things a lot of fun! They always help me and teach me things in Danish to try and say (which is progressing). They love when I try so I’m attempting to speak more and more even though I sometimes think I’m saying things completely wrong! But I can understand more and more everyday which is a huge plus.

The rest of September honestly seems like a blur since the month went by so quickly. It was filled of just school and hanging out around the island and exploring the area as much as possible. One thing that can be noted for September to even continuing now is how COOOOOOOLLLLD it is getting!!!!! It has truly been a while since I’ve been in cold weather and it just continues to get colder but even while shivering, it’s ironic to think how it is still warm in Florida probably and then here it’s freezing. But it’s also a breath of fresh air feeling the cool weather day to day.

October was actually a very busy month with fall break and also the AMAZING Holbæk Halloween Get-Together that Rotary threw for us. It was so much fun getting to see all the other exchange students again and getting to have so much fun. Definitely some of the costumes just made me smile whenever I saw them. That weekend for sure has given me some memories that won’t be forgotten. It’s always sad saying goodbye to all the others but it also makes seeing them again that much better J My class also had a visiting class from Spain come stay with us for a week which was a lot of fun! It was interesting to see how they were also getting to experience what I was experiencing and they were some pretty cool kids. Can’t wait to see them again in April when we go and see them!

November = Cold, fun, and Thanksgiving in Denmark! For the first time in years I actually got to see snow!!!! It was amazing seeing the little snow flurries and getting to stand outside and see the snow falling. It’s been the only day that it has snowed but it was for sure a memorable experience. My mind was blown when I also looked at the thermometer and saw it was only 1 degree Celsius that entire day (about 32 degrees Fahrenheit)!!! We expect to see these types of temperatures throughout December which shall be interesting. Believe me when I say that it was a sad day when I had to retire the flip flops….so sad. I actually had to start wearing shoes which actually proved to be interesting. But I’ve expanded to boots which keep my feet comfy and warm on the coldest of days J (being from Florida, I do miss my flip flops and can’t wait for warm weather to wear them again!!!)

I even got to celebrate Thanksgiving with one of the other exchange students’ family. Kyle’s (North Carolina) host family had never experienced Thanksgiving and wanted to taste ALL the food. I was lucky enough to be invited and I got to help Kyle cook a Thanksgiving dinner for us and his family and their friends. It was such a great time and even gave me a little piece of home when helping making the dinner since that’s what I do with my mom every year. But it was a fun time and helping his family experience an American Holiday J We also had another get together, but only for my district (Copenhagen, Bornholm, etc) and Rotary threw us a Thanksgiving along with having many Rotarians and families to join all of us. The exchange students also had to provide entertainment for the night for everybody and of course there was singing and dancing of all sorts for the night.

But so far that’s been my exciting couple of months and unforgettable experiences. I’ve been given the opportunity of a lifetime and am so grateful for even being given the chance. My life here in Denmark is so different in so many ways. I’m given the chance to actually make decisions, do things myself, and also just to live life to the fullest. I’m changing even if I can’t quite see how but I know in some ways I am and also just having my mind just being expanded even more everyday with being here. I have been here almost 4 months and they simply have been the most amazing months of my life thus far. The rest of my year here in Denmark is just going to keep being amazing and I wish it would never end. Time sure is flying and I only wish it would slow down!!!!

Can’t wait for the upcoming months and more memories to come but I guess for now until next journal … Hej Hej!!!! (Bye!)

February 15 Journal

Wow. So finally past the half way mark…..and just wow. I can’t even believe that the time has passed so quickly and my time is growing shorter and shorter here in Denmark. And thinking about that just breaks my heart. I have learned to completely immerse myself into a new place, with new faces and places, and adapt and actually feel at home. Everything has just been so amazing that it doesn’t seem real. But then you wake up and realize that it is and that just puts the biggest smile on my face realizing that I’m experiencing this. Even getting the chance to experience this. Sooooo mange mange mange tak Rotary 🙂

But anyhoo, so far we have leaped into 2010 (whoa), I’ve moved host families, and have been experiencing non stop snow. Honestly, at first you love the snow…..but then slowly begin to loathe it especially after falling so many times :P. It’s been sooooo cold, definitely not Florida weather I’m used to. Even with the cold I must admit that the snowball fights have been well worth it as well as just messing around with the snow!! It’s just even fun to say snoooooow…or as the Danes say SNE!!! Even some of the days there have been snowstorms that have shut down the entire island of Bornholm!!! So I have watched many movies and drank much cocoa during those days. Spring time hopefully will be here soon and the sun will come back again! (after what seems a million year hiatus)

I also moved host families and my new one is amazing! its actually funny how they have the same humor as my own family so it will be fun watching how they are with my family when they come to visit. But other than that, it has been chill.

School is school and seems to be getting better with the language barrier everyday as I understand more and more everyday which is great so I’m not sitting there confused every second. Still love my class and have for sure made some good friends to come back and visit in the next couple of years. It is interesting how the Danish Gymnasium system works and I think I actually like it. Other than taking the bus at 7:30 (yikes) it’s all pretty great and an experience. But other than that, I have an upcoming trip to Spain in April with my class which will be amazing!!!! So I’m uber excited for that and getting the chance to celebrate my birthday with my class while there.

As time progresses, we live and we learn through experiences. And this exchange year has certainly been that so far. Advice to the new upcoming outbounds, be ready for your life to ultimately change and for yourself to grow in ways that you never would dream of. To grow in ways that will help you day to day and to experience every little thing while on exchange and to take it in stride. I can say so far, I will never forget this year and everything I’ve experienced since it has been some of the best times I have ever had.

All I can do is continuing to do is document my exchange and just say til next time Florida 🙂


May 16 Journal

So 9 months later and only 59 days left to go!!! Time has really flown by and I haven’t even noticed it. I’ve experienced so much and seen so much in the past couple of months that I know I would have never even experienced if not for being here in Denmark. It’s hard to swallow actually having to leave Bornholm and everything that is now becoming normal to my daily life. I know I’m not the same and that in reality, I’ve grown and changed in so many ways. Everyday is an adventure and a fun one at that and I love life day to day more than I have in years.

Who can say honestly that their family’s travel plans were changed because of a VOLCANO in Iceland erupting? Not too many people…..other than Rotary exchange students 🙂 But other than a volcano prolonging my family’s visit to Denmark, they eventually arrived and I got to see them for the first time in 9 months!!! It was weird at first seeing them since the only time I would see them was via webcam on skype (thank you internet) but actually getting to hug them made me soooooo happy.

But I got to show my family around the small but amazing island of Bornholm for about 2 weeks and they seemed to really like it. I even got my mom to try Herring which is a specialty of Bornholm and I was mighty impressed she actually ate it since not many people like it. But they got to experience A LOT of Danish food thanks to my wonderful host families and also 2 weeks of the nicest weather that we’ve had since last summer!! It’s funny because as soon as they left the weather just turned right back to cold and gross bringing back the use of the winter jacket. I even got to show them around Copenhagen and around other parts of Denmark and it was great getting to just talk to them face to face, especially my brother. When I had to drop them off at the airport it was really sad but I surprisingly didn’t cry. I think because I know I’ll be seeing them so soon it didn’t really impact that I was saying goodbye again. But at least next time will be hello 🙂

OH!!! another a-ma-za-zing adventure was going to Spain with my class!!!!! Probably hands down one of the best trips I have ever taken. It even was during my birthday so that was pretty sweet. Kind of weird being in a totally different country for my birthday but my class made it really special so I was soooo happy that I have such great friends to make it a great birthday. I can definitely say I will go back to Spain sometime. It was such a beautiful country and experiencing it all with my class made it even that much more great .

But other than those recent adventures, we have Euro-Tour coming up in about a week annnnnnnnnd its going to be epic. Can’t wait for it.

The only down side to having all these things happen, if there is any, is that it shows me just how much little time I have left in Denmark which is a very sad thing to think about. Even with the time winding down so quickly, all I can do is enjoy it day to day and live it all to the fullest which is of course a very possible thing 🙂 So much to experience in such little time, oh jeg elsker dig Danmark. Rotary of course is to thank for every single experience I have had since being in Denmark. Without them none of it would of never been possible nor would I of even been able to dream to it being possible.

Tusind Tusind Tusind Tusind Tak Rotary 🙂


Helen Parker
2009-10 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Episcopal HS
Sponsor: San Jose RC, District 6970, FL
Host: Curitiba Oeste Rotary Club, District 4730, Brazil

Helen - Brazil

Helen’s Bio

Hello. My name is Helen Parker. I am 14, turning 15 on August 11, 2009. I spent my freshman year at Episcopal High School of Jacksonville. I am very excited about the trip that I am going to take this year to Brazil. It is going to be an amazing experience and I know I’m going to enjoy it. I am mostly an only child, I have two older brothers, but they’re half-brothers so they have never lived with us. Their names are Jacob and Jeremy. My parents, Fred and Suzanne, are also excited for me to leave. They will miss me as I will miss them but we’ll all get over it.

I am a very active person. I really love to play sports. I play softball for school. I am a shortstop and look forward to softball season all school year. I’ll be skipping this year’s softball obviously because I’ll be in a foreign country. I also play volleyball. But the volleyball I play is more for fun than competition. Many of my friends are on the volleyball team at school and I play with them. My family also likes it because it’s a game for all ages. I love to wakeboard and skateboard. I’ve been skateboarding for a long time and just started wakeboarding a couple years ago. Even though I live near the beach, I have never surfed. I would like to learn though and many of my friends have offered to teach me. I love being with my friends and it will be very hard for me to leave them but, I’ll deal with it. We have sleepovers, go waterskiing, go mudding, and a ton of stuff. I really enjoy trying new stuff.

I’m very outgoing and enjoy talking to people. I’m working on learning Portuguese and I think I’m doing pretty good. It will be hard but I’m ready for the challenge. Thank you for this amazing opportunity.

Helen’s Journals

August 31 Journal

August in Brazil. Very different from an American August. First off, here in Brazil we have opposite seasons from the US. Like, summer in Brazil is winter in the US. So I got on a plane July 31st sweating from the Florida heat, and arrived in Brazil wearing multiple jackets. Most of Brazil is not cold. Brazil is actually known for its heat. But I was placed in an area of Brazil that has cold winters. The mornings here are on average 9 degrees Celsius. I don’t know what that is in Fahrenheit but it feels chilly.

When I first got here I did not have school because there was a swine flu outbreak. I luckily had been emailing my second half-host sister before I left so I spent this time with her and her friends. I call her my half sister because August 21 she left for Germany. Her year exchange with Rotary. I got to meet many of her friends though, so it’s not like she left me all alone.

I started school August 15th. Another awesome thing about Brazil is that their school year is reversed from the American one. So in November I get off school for summer vacation. YES. 2 summers. That’s right. School is nice for me. I really like it. I don’t understand what the teachers say because they go too fast but the other students I can continue with a conversation… most of the time.

I feel like I’m learning Portuguese really fast. Like I can already communicate with my host family and the parents don’t speak any English. In school I’ve made some friends and been to some barbecues. The barbecues are very fun. Every single meal has 50X more meat then the meals in the US. It’s crazy. We eat 2 different meats, usually beans and rice, and some vegetable. The food here is SO good. They fry anything they feel like and I eat whatever I feel like. This is a problem. Actually September 7th I start swim practice. I’m going to start swimming competitively (not well) for the club my family is part of. I look forward to being healthy.

I’m doing my homework in school and have taken a test already and got one of the highest scores in the class. Ya that’s right. Highest scores. J I’ll write next month and tell you how everything is going!

December 18 Journal

Hello RYE FL. I know it’s been a really long time since I’ve written but I’ve just been really lazy. Sorry. So Brazil has been amazing for the last 3 months. I switched families in November and I prefer my second family. They’re great. They always take me places and try to show me more of Brazil that I haven’t already seen.

I speak mainly Portuguese these days. My host mom and brother don’t speak English that well so even If I wanted to speak English I couldn’t. I only speak Portuguese to my friends and other exchange students, except for the Americans. I just need someone to understand my slang. I miss it. My Portuguese has gotten really good. I’m almost fluent, and I am really close to thinking in Portuguese. I only speak English with my host dad. I’ve asked him a thousand times to not speak English with me but here in Brazil, only the rich people speak English, so when someone speaks English they really want to show it off.

I got out of school December 8th. School doesn’t start back up until February. It’s summer break. In Brazil the seasons and the school year are opposite from the states because it’s the bottom half of the world. So on the 20th of December I’m going to this really nice beach called Florianopolis. I’m going with my family. It’s going to be so much fun. I’m going to surf like every day and finally get a tan. I’ll get back January 3rd. then 10 days later I will go on the Belo Brazil northeast dream trip for 30 days. This trip is going to be so much fun. All the exchange students from my district are going on it. We’ve only lost one exchange student so far this year. He was a German and he didn’t break and rules but he just didn’t like Brazil. We were all really sad to see him go, but if it made him happy, I suppose it was the right thing.

I’ve basically become accustomed to Brazil by now. It’s not all new for me anymore. But I seriously think that back in the states we should have more Brazilian restaurants. In Jacksonville, we have one but it’s a churrascaria, steakhouse, and it’s super expensive. We need like a chain restaurant or something. That sells traditional Brazilian food. Like coxinhas, a teardrop shaped fried thing. It’s usually about 3.5 inches tall and it generally contains either beef, chicken and cheese, or ham and cheese. It’s amazing. They should also sell pastels. Pastels are like, you take bread mix, flatten it out. Make a pocket out of it and put some kind of filling in it. Basically whatever. You fill it up about halfway, close it, fry it, then eat it. It’s so unhealthy but hey, that’s what makes it good! Brazilian sweets too. They have this thing called brigadeiro. It’s condensed milk mixed with something similar to Nesquik. Then they heat it up and let it cool. It get’s hardish then you roll it into little balls and cover it in cake confetti type things. I can’t explain it. It’s all soo godly.

Brazilian pizza is SO different. It’s like 50 times healthier then American pizza. And they don’t have ‘cheese pizza’ and ‘pepperoni’. They’ll put like chicken on pizza bread without sauce. I went to Pizza Hut here. It’s NOTHING like Pizza Hut back home. People actually dress up to go the Pizza Hut restaurant.

Clothes are really expensive here. But food is very cheap. Nike Shocks have to be the coolest shoe you can wear here. People LOVE them. You’ll find them for sale for what is equivalent to 250 American dollars. Sorry to basically give you a description of Brazil’s market but I find it SO different. I’ll write next month. Promise. Sorry about the delay.

Tchau from Brazil.



Grant Simon
2009-10 Outbound to Japan
Hometown: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
School: Episcopal HS
Sponsor: Ponte Vedra Beach Sunset Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Niimi Rotary Club, District 2690, Japan

Grant - Japan

Grant’s Bio

“Open all the doors and let you out into the world.”

Hello! My name is Grant Simon and I am, at 14, a high school freshman. I have always loved to talk and be heard, never afraid to make my ideas known. Outgoing and outspoken, I consider myself to be independent. This has been the hardest quality for my family to accept. I think the fact that I would voluntarily leave them for a year shocks them, but they are finally letting me spread my wings and live life on my own. Standing at the edge of their nest, I look below and see a world of possibilities, a world waiting to be experienced by the fledgling at its threshold.

“Time for you to go out to the places you will be from.”

I truly love my family and friends- but I have learned that it’s not where you are from, but where you are going that matters. I am going to Japan. I know that I am going to miss them all more than I can ever imagine, but life is too short to spend it all at home.

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” –“Closing Time”

Thank you, Rotary, for giving me this opportunity. And even more thanks to all of you who supported me along the way.

 Grant’s Journals

October 18 Journal

I can’t think of a more appropriate way to begin this journal, other than with that one word: Wow.

I’ve been in Japan for almost two months now, and at this point in my exchange, I would recommend it to anyone. So far, I haven’t even hit a down on the Rotary Coaster. And frankly, I find it hard to be unhappy when I find myself living, or even just surviving, in a country and culture that is opposite my own in nearly every way.

Because so much has happened since I arrived, I’m going to try to brief you on my life, without doing it too much injustice:

The language. To be honest, I really didn’t study too much before I left. I learned how to count to ten, how to say my name and age, “hello”, “goodbye”, and “thank you.” That’s about it. And now I find myself having conversations, if only simple ones, every single day. I can communicate how I’m feeling, what I want, what I like, and what I don’t. I can ask questions, but more importantly, understand the answers I’m given. I’ve learned two alphabets (each consisting of 46 characters) so not only can I write, I can read! Although I usually don’t understand what I’m reading, the satisfaction I get from being able to associate the characters with their sounds, and then forming the words aloud, is enough for me. It doesn’t bother me much that I didn’t learn more in the States, because learning a language solely through immersion is like going from 0 to 60 in only a few seconds. The gratification you’ll get, I think, is worth the frustration.

The food. I’m fairly certain that most of you reading this won’t ever try most of the following items, and for that you’re probably lucky. But I’m sorry to say that the flavors aren’t exactly describable, so I’ll just list them.

Whole fish, including bones, organs, and head.

Tempura fried pig ears.

Raw horse.

Raw whale (sorry, Greenpeace).

Kangaroo jerky.

Cow tongue.

Apple and pea soup.

Miso flavored soft serve.

Horumon, from both cow and squid. Horumon is the Japanese term for the animal’s stomach, intestines, liver, and heart.

The worst, by far, was cow stomach. I gagged. But I did enjoy the tongue, horse, and whale. Obviously, they eat much more (much better) food than what I just named, but I thought I’d tell you what stood out. For those heading to Japan, don’t panic. It’s not like they shove these things down your throat. Just be willing to try anything once, find out what you don’t like, and from then on, respectfully refuse.

The town. With about 25,000 residents, Niimi is even smaller than what I considered to be my small hometown, Ponte Vedra. So small, in fact, that when I was on a walk one day, a woman who was waving and shouting “Guranto!” (the Japanese pronunciation of my name) approached me, and gave me a newspaper she was carrying- it featured myself. Because of Niimi’s size, moments like this happen fairly often. Also, because the town is somewhat remote, it has only fifteen native speakers of English. The town itself is situated in a valley, and there are green mountains in every direction you look. I’ve noticed that the Japanese maximize their limited flat land very well: where there isn’t a home or a store, there’s a rice field or a road. Driving here scares me, though, since these space-saving roads are often only the size of one lane, but have two directions of traffic, and can be located on the side of a mountain that has no guardrails.

The travel. Because I live in rural Japan, there isn’t a whole lot to do. But the upside to that is I get to travel, a lot. To date, I’ve been to thirteen towns and cities outside of my own. These include Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima, Nagoya, and towns on the Inland Sea. At Tottori Sand Dunes, which are like a little desert on the ocean, I got to ride a camel! I’ve visited multiple temples and castles, and Universal Studios Japan. Just this weekend I went to the oldest free public school in the world! I may not get to sample several countries on EuroTour, but I am getting a really in-depth look at this country, and I’ve loved it. I have to mention that Japan has the bluest, prettiest skies I’ve ever seen. Oh, and one last thing: in early December, my grade and I are going to Guam!! I’ll be sure to keep you updated on that one.

The family. I feel as if I’m a part of my host family, although I don’t actually live with them. You see, they used to live next door to my host father’s grandmother, but she’s since died, and now I stay in her old house. Yes, I have a whole house to myself! I go next door for meals, or to just hang out. I have four host siblings, but the three oldest are all away at college. My seventeen-year-old host brother “lives” at home, but he’s only here on the weekends because his boarding school is an hour and a half away. My family has an apartment in that city, so my mom, who doesn’t work, stays there a couple nights every week. My dad is my school’s principal, and because of this, both of our houses are right next door to school. For me, this is very, very convenient.

The school. I got lucky with this one- I go to private school. First of all, Japanese private school students don’t all go on to university. Many go on to auto mechanic school, or pursue sports careers, so the atmosphere is very laid back. It’s far from the study-oriented school that I pictured, and I love it. Next, my classes. Japanese students have a different schedule each day, so at any given time I could be in Math or Kimono Sewing, Health or Japanese Pottery. I’m taking two kinds of Math, English, Japanese, Chemistry, and Health, as well as special culture courses, like Kimono Sewing, Japanese Cooking, Japanese Pottery, and Calligraphy. I also have a free period each day, during which I usually study Japanese, and a few periods each week to do a report, focused on an aspect of Japanese culture. Class sizes range from about 8 to 20 for regular classes, and as small as two in Pottery. Twice a week, after school, I also participate in the Interact Club. The last important thing to mention is that my school is an international boarding school- a very international boarding school. In my homeroom alone, there are two Koreans, four Chinese, three Taiwanese, a Japanese, and a Cambodian. Including myself, there are six different nations represented in just one class! My school has around 240 students in three grades, and about 90 of them are Chinese. It’s a mystery to me why so many students come to this school, when the public one down the street is better academically, but I love it nonetheless.

I just want to end by saying a big “arigatou gozaimasu” to everyone at Rotary, for because of you, I am lucky enough to call what I just described my daily life.

October 21 Journal

The other week I was lucky enough to meet a girl named Jarlene. She’s a former Rotary student from Pennsylvania who, just four years ago, was living the life I presently am: learning Japanese, attending Kyousei High School, even staying with my same host family. Now (only) 21, she fluently speaks both Japanese and Chinese and is completing an internship at the American Embassy in China, with hopes of becoming a Foreign Service Officer in the future.

Her life serves as an example of exactly what this exchange is meant to foster – a life that is multilingual and multicultural, open-minded and curious, one with a taste for adventure and an acquired desire to change. To see how such a life has unfolded, for me, has been both fascinating and encouraging. It’s people like Jarlene who take away all of your doubts. I no longer question, “Is this worth it? Did I make the right choice?” because she has proven to me that it is. It most certainly is.

Today, she sent me an email. MLIA. (But in all seriousness,) the advice she gave me really is applicable to every exchange student, and even to those who are interested. I thought I would share it (minus the parts specific to my town).

“Hi Grant!

How’ve you been doing since I last saw you? I meant to write you earlier once I arrived back in China, and I seem to have gotten caught up with stuff. Sorry! 😛

I just wanted to encourage you to use this year to discover more about yourself as a person and you’re probably already doing this without realizing it! I think it just comes naturally when exchange students are open-minded to trying and learning new things in a different culture, because it’ll help you grow as a person. And you’re already doing that with all the culture classes you’re taking at Kyousei! I know that my year in Niimi is still one of the most memorable and valuable life experiences I’ve had so far. I’m just so glad that you have the chance to experience all that Japan has to offer for yourself this year! 🙂

For me, I tried to constantly try new activities out of my comfort zone (things I would’ve never been brave enough to try back in high school and in the US). I can also be a bit of a perfectionist sometimes (and I don’t know if you struggle with this too), but I tried to remind myself to just relax, be myself, have fun and that it’s ok if I make some silly mistakes sometimes. (I think embarrassing or frustrating moments often teach me the most!)

During your exchange year, there will definitely be very happy as well as difficult times. I don’t know if you’ve experienced some hard times yet, but just know that when they occur, you have host parents, Kyousei teachers, and Rotarians who care about you and are looking out for you.

I wish you the very best in your exchange year, Jarlene”

(Thank you)

December 23 Journal

What makes this exchange so much fun is that it’s never a one-way street.

I constantly try to embrace these people and their culture, to share in their customs and practices, to speak their language, to hear their opinions and their beliefs. And for the most part I do. But I haven’t forgotten my own culture, my own language, and my own views on the world that often differ so greatly from those of the Japanese. And that, I believe, is a gift, because I’ve also been able to introduce my culture to them.

Yesterday (my four month anniversary!!) I made a gingerbread house with my little brother, Kazu. It’s something that I usually do with my family during the holidays so I thought it would be nice to share the tradition. Very few Japanese celebrate Christmas, and even fewer actually know what a gingerbread house is, but he was more than eager to learn about “an American Christmas” and all that it entails. We took turns icing and decorating and when all was said and done, it didn’t look too bad!

Oh, and it snows here! That makes me smile. I had seen snow before, but never as it was falling. Maybe it’s just because I’m from Florida but I think snow is just awesome. Not to mention cool! HAHAHA. So being the Floridian that I am, of course I had to make a snowman! Most of the snow from that day had already melted though, so it was more of a snow toddler, but after twenty minutes out in the cold my hands were numb and I was satisfied.

And because I didn’t write you a Thanksgiving journal… I am thankful for heated toilet seats. Definitely.

January 3 Journal

If you’re a future Outbound, please click here:


What I mean by that is, GET EXCITED!

I know you have your first orientation coming up- that’s the beginning! That will be the start to a very fun, very long, and very busy year full of “hellos”, “goodbyes”, and anticipation. If the draws of living in a foreign country and culture and learning a foreign language aren’t enough for you, I’ll let you know that I met many of my now closest friends through Rotary, specifically at last year’s Orientation. I’m sure you’ll do all of these things, is that not worth getting excited about?

What you’re about to commit to will truly be a wonderful pre-departure Rotary year. To get you started, I want to give you all a quick guide, an intro of sorts, to your first Orientation.

Some Orientation Dos and Don’ts:

Do befriend Daph(ne). When in doubt, make small talk about Canada.

Do listen to Al. Despite his size, he is in charge.

Do bring a camera. You’ll want pictures for memories. And Facebook, duh.

Do bring a pillow, A JACKET, a blanket (maybe two), and a towel. Trust me.

  • Do stop by Old Crow Bar-B-Que outside of the camp. Take the pig butt.

Don’t choose ten phrases that give people a bad impression because they might remember…

Don’t be antisocial. You’ll get a reputation.

Don’t take jumping pictures in a crowded room.

Don’t get on the seesaw with someone you don’t trust. You will get hurt.

As much as you’ll want to, don’t spend a lot of time in the bedrooms.

At times during your Orientation, you may ask yourself “what is there to do here?” Well I’ll tell you!

Stop by the One Way Café and the attached Christian bookstore.

Daydream about your international adventures-to-be.

Take Myspace pictures. What an easy way to bond!

Go to the playground! Don’t act like you’re too old for it.

Play Twister because everybody loves that.

A Few Things to Remember:

  • Rotex are cool. So talk to them.

Turn in assignments on time or you’ll get more.

Your friends who aren’t involved in Rotary probably won’t want to hear about your Rotary activities, which is why you should befriend other Outbounds, especially the ones who live near you.

The definition of the 4 D’s varies from person to person.

After Orientation ends, organize hang out events on Facebook, lots of people come!

Don’t let tha haters stop you from doin your thang!


Jennefer Neolan
2009-10 Outbound to Thailand
Hometown: Pompano Beach, Florida
School: Pompano Beach HS
Sponsor: Pompano Beach Rotary Club, District 6990, Florida
Host: Ban Phaeo Rotary Club, District 3330, Thailand

Jennefer - Thailand

Jennefer’s Bio

Sawatdee kha! My name is Jennefer Neolan and luckily I’ve been selected to represent Rotary in Thailand! I’m VERY excited and especially grateful to have this opportunity so before I continue I must say thank you Rotary!

I am currently a fifteen year old straight A sophomore at Pompano Beach High School and will be a junior on my year-abroad. I’ve lived in the same house in Pompano Beach my whole life and ever since I can remember I’ve been interested in the world and its citizens around me; I’ve wondered how their lives differ from my own and how it would feel to be in their shoes. I knew from early on that the only way to discover the answer to my dilemma was to experience those people’s lives directly; this is when I decided to become an exchange student. As soon as high school came around, I immediately inquired about becoming an exchange student and Rotary appeared before my very eyes!

This adventure shall be the biggest of my life so far. The only place I’ve been to outside of the U.S. is Canada and it was only for four days with my family. I can’t thank the members of Rotary enough for not only accepting me into the program but also for giving me one of my top choices! Thailand, here I come!

Jennefer’s Journals

August 29 Journal

Ah! Where to begin?? I guess at the airport! 😛 I left the 18th of August surrounded by my family. I waved goodbye for the last time, not truly realizing I wouldn’t see them for a WHOLE year! I still can’t! From Miami to Washington, from Washington to Narita, Japan (SOOOOOOOOOOOO long!), and finally from Japan to Bangkok, the capital of Thailand.

When I arrived at the “Meeting Point” at 11 pm on the 19th, I saw the welcoming committee! Bob and Sami, my new parents, members from the Rotary Club of Ban Phaeo, and a soon to be Outbound from Thailand headed to Germany. I felt so loved!!

We went out for dinner (really late dinner!) at a supposedly Thai version of “Denny’s”. Rice with duck, fried fish (the best for me!), and even chicken feet! I’m still too American to try it! We then continued to my new home. It’s so beautiful and peaceful! There’s a khlong (canal) in the back and it runs through the whole farmland. It’s a nice change from Pompano Beach!

Some time after my arrival we went to the market. So many smells (both good and bad) and goods can be found there. It was something I could never imagine. On the 24th I went to school. It was crazy!! I had to make a speech in Thai in front of the whole student body wearing a rather spiffy uniformJ. I was nervous but the students all applauded and giggled when I repeated it in English. When I walk in the halls I always hear “Jennefer! Jennefer! Hello!” I still don’t understand their “fascination”. My friend doesn’t either! She said she’s been going to that school for four years and no one ever calls her name. I come for four days and everyone’s calling mine! I don’t speak even 1% of the Thai language yet but I have made many friends already. I hope that soon I can understand what everyone around me is saying but even now I’m not too sure I can speak this tonal language. It sounds impossible to truly master. I guess we’ll have to see!

I guess that’s it for now! Time for lunch! Watdee! Bye Bye!

September 29 Journal

The heat has subsided, the sounds are like a flowing river, and I finally can say “I am Thai”.

YEAH RIGHT! It’s still hot, I still can’t speak Thai besides the basic “sawatdee” and “mai kao jai”, and I still don’t act like a Thai! Of course, it’s only been a little over a monthJ. Still, it feels like I haven’t made enough progress on this journey, both in reaching a peak in my maturity and in embedding myself into this wonderful and unique culture. Patience is truly a virtue…

ANYWAYS! Besides the whole language thing I’ve been making a LOT of good memories here. Along with the multiple trips to various markets in the area and visits with friends and family, I’ve been a witness to indescribable beauty. There is a park here which seems to have an ancient yet vibrant soul to it. It was made for the pleasure of the Buddhist monks here in Thailand. As if the mere size of the park and arrangement of the trees and flowers weren’t enough to wow you, there are several monuments reflecting the age and concept of Buddhism. My personal favorite is the Standing Buddha Image. As soon as it revealed itself from behind the trees, I was stunned. Besides its sheer size as it stands at over 50 feet tall, the knowledge of life and its marvels illuminates from the seemingly flowing robes of Buddha. Eyes cast down, palm outstretched, and foot extended, Buddha is truly at peace.

Another favorite of mine was the Hall of the Marble Pali Canon. The Buddhist “Bible” is engraved in marble tablets and spread out around the statue of the first abbot to ever reside in the park. Painted on the ceiling above the tablets is the story of Buddhism and its existence in Thailand. At the very end of the marble building, behind the last “page” of the path to Nirvana, is a scene even beyond those of National Geographic. It is the peace reached at the end of death, it is heaven.

After that breathtaking journey, I made my appearance at none other than the infamous Bangkok! It certainly holds a different kind of beauty, one exuding an aura more adept to that of a mindful child rather than an inspiring elder. It is new, playful, and crowded with thoughts of adventure and mischief. Yet it knows its place and acts accordingly, not mistaking its privileges for the freedom to forget traditions. The shopping there is fun! It’s more like sightseeing for me, seeing supposed fashion statements and seaweed flavored ice cream.^^ Ah! Thailand! I also went to the Prommit Film Studio in Ratchaburi with my fourth host family. Of course it was touristy but it was fun to be with my soon-to-be family. Later we went to a Rotary dinner on a sea side restaurant where I had something I never thought I would try in over a million years, fried frog legs! I hate to say it, but it tasted just like chicken! Aroi mak mak!

This afternoon, I learned a bit about meditation and even tried it with my host mother’s sister who is a fully ordained monk. She said that meditation is used to control the monkey, our mind, which usually jumps from one thought to the next, and allows it to concentrate on one point. She even said a well trained mind can read and control other minds! I’m gonna have to see that one for myself!

Now I am out of school until the 26th of October since here the semester has ended. Maybe I can learn enough Thai to understand at least 30% of my friends’ conversations by the time I come back. I doubt it though! This week I’m going to Chiangrai and Chiangmai with my school for five days, visiting Wats and monuments in the north of Thailand. I’ll write all about it when I come back! As for now, my bed awaits me! TTFN! Tata for now!

November 4 Journal

Thailand is the best country in the world. Whether in the jungle or the seas or even the mountains, there is always something extraordinary waiting to change your life.

I began this month with an amazing trip to two cities in the Northern part of Thailand, Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai. The breeze alone could have made my trip remarkable but the temples were stunning. My favorite had to be the one that we unfortunately spent the least amount of time in (15 minutes to be precise). It was constructed twenty years ago by an art teacher and the result was so remarkable the king of Thailand came to its official opening. It was constructed with cement to provide a pure backdrop for its shards of glass. In the daytime, the buildings sparkle in the sun and at night they glow with the stars. So beautiful!

After the quick visits to several temples and a whole lot of shopping, I returned home only to leave again several days later to drive in the other direction, to the South. This trip was the infamous Rotary trip to the Vegetarian Festival in Phuket. All the YE, a total of 18 students, in district 3330, which includes the central and southern parts of Thailand, went. The students who reside in the central part, including myself, traveled by bus. Great fun! Once we arrived some twelve hours later we met up with our hosts that would house us for our stay. That night we met up with the other YE students and were told about the origins of the festival, its rules, and a quick overview of Chinese history since the festival is Chinese. We then saw a performance dedicated to the purpose of the festival at the shrine. The young lion and old dragon puppets were so cute!

We traveled around Phuket and visited several islands such as P.P. Island and James Bond Island. We went snorkeling, where I had a mini panic attack since I can’t swim, kayaking in caves, walking along the beaches, where I then learned how to doggy paddle^^, and best of all shopping! The best part for me was definitely the Phuket FantaSea Theme Park and Show. The show incorporated pyrotechnics and several animals such as elephants and doves to tell the Thai version of the creation of the earth and human civilization. A must see! The theme park was also enjoyable. The characters were colorful and the merchandise was especially cute. Not to mention the fact that there were elephants and a baby tiger!

All in all what made the trip was not only the excursions but the interactions between the RYE students. It was entertaining to see the similarities and differences with our adaptation to and views of the Thai culture. It was an experience I’ll never forget.

After returning from Phuket I had a pre-wedding and wedding party to attend. Lots of food and lots of singing! The best!

The 2nd of November was a holiday for the Thai people called Loi Kratong. Loi is “to float” and Kratong is a leaf cup. At night, usually after midnight, people float their usually handmade Kratongs on the rivers or sea to give thanks to the river for being calm and helping to water crops and provide water to drink and such. The Kratongs are usually made of banana leafs which the fish can later eat and topped with candles to light its way on its journey. They look beautiful when they are all in the water. There are also several parties and festivals to explore. I went on a boat with my family up and down the rivers. We also stop at a party near our home. So much fun! So much food!^^ I now officially love Loi Kratong!

Now, I’m back in school as the month long school break has ended and still having fun. Not learning much math and science, at all, but having fun! My language skills still aren’t the best but they are definitely improving. Now if the internet could just giddy up I think everything would be perfect! Till next time, สวัสดีค่ะ!

January 19 Journal

This journal marks the beginning of my favorite season, winter, here in Thailand! Although considerably warmer than your average snowy Santa scene, the weather here is akin to that of Florida’s, save the fact that it is a bit shorter in length and sporadic in the frequency of temperature drops. Nevertheless, it is a major improvement from the average day of inevitable heatstroke.

The month of November began with the infamous Thai holiday Loi Kratong. In the Thai language, “loi” translates as “to float” while a kratong is a circular object usually created with banana leafs and decorated with candles and flowers in various designs. During this festival, people place these usually handmade kratongs in the numerous klongs, or rivers, that flow throughout this country in order to appease what they believe to be the goddess of the seas that both created and maintain this wonderful nation. Accompanying this ceremony are usually festivities such as dancing, singing, rides, and the most frequent actions of the Thai people, eating! These all take place in the night close to midnight. I luckily was able to witness all of these events (and more) riding on the wings of the river goddess or, in simplified terms, my uncle’s boat. We, meaning my host father, mother, uncle, and two aunts, traveled the length of the major artery of our small town, stopping at the gala held in the marketplace every year. After stuffing ourselves with grilled skewered pork and vanilla ice cream and watching the featured beauty contest (which my friend won!), we continued on our heavenly passage, passing through the darkness and trials of life, catching glimpses of a pure existence illuminated by candle light, before returning to our starting point in the sinful yet awe-inspiring world of humanity. We then sent our own slivers of appreciation to the deity of the river before concluding our night.

The following week, I had the experience of a lifetime. I was able to speak with a head monk of Buddhism. His very manner, although expected, was still amazing to witness in practice. The calm that overwhelmed his being and reason for existence and knowledge on the broad subjects of humanity and religious matters was apparent from first glance. And when he spoke, all stopped to listen in hopes of catching a glimpse into the world of wisdom. It was an unforgettable event.

On the 29th of November I changed households, moving to a family with four immediate members and one extended member living in the house. I had one younger sister, aged 15 years, and one younger brother, aged 11 years, along with a mother and father. Unfortunately, I was unable to continue my intended three month length of stay for various reasons and have since moved on to my third host family, whom I absolutely adore! I have two older siblings, one of both genders both aged nineteen years, and three younger siblings, two boys aged twelve and ten years and one girl aged fifteen years. The general attitude of this large family is one of high spirits and vivacious energy.

Thus after traveling to Chiangmai once more, Bangkok multiple times, and parties dozens of times, one of which allowed me to wear a beautiful gold and crème traditional Thai dress, the year of 2009 has left me without an ounce of energy. So I bid farewell to that year filled with mystery and curiosity, amazement and wonder, love and satisfaction, and I welcome the New Year with open arms, ready and waiting.


Hollie Harrison
2009-10 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: Buchholz HS
Sponsor: Gainesville Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Belo Horizonte – Novas Gerações Rotary Club, District 4760, Brazil

Hollie - Brazil

Hollie’s Bio

“The first step to getting the things you want out of life is this: Decide what you want.” Ben Stein

And I want this. I want to be an exchange student more than anything I’ve ever wanted, and luckily, I am graced with the chance to study abroad in beautiful Brazil!

Ola! I am Hollie Harrison. I am a senior at Buchholz High and have been in their Academy of Entrepreneurship throughout high school.

I live with my parents and am the youngest of three. My two siblings have moved out, gone to college and now have jobs. My dad and I are very much alike in that we are both stubborn yet very hard working. I am often called “Little David” because of our similarities. I have a dog and a kitten, both of which I love very much.

I have been in constant motion ever since I was little. From 5 to 10 years, I took many different dance classes and even tried out gymnastics and soccer for a year. At 10 years old, I realized my passion for swimming through swim lessons and have been a competitive swimmer ever since. We have 8 practices a week with a total of 20 hours or more.

I also compete in tennis and act in drama. For three years, I have been on the Buchholz tennis team. Also, I have taken theatre classes and acted in school plays, such as “Taming of the Shrew”, for my last two years.

Besides being a busy body, I love hanging out with my friends. We always manage to find creative ways to be together and enjoy ourselves. I love to be happy- so you’ll often find me laughing or smiling. I also enjoy writing little songs and/or poems, singing, playing with my pets, sports, etc.

“Life is a foreign language; all men mispronounce it.” Christopher Morley

And I’m excited to see how aspects of life are different in Brazil!

Hollie’s Journals

November 4 Journal

There’s always gonna be another mountain

I’m always gonna wanna make it move

Always gonna be a uphill battle

Sometimes I’m gonna have to lose

Ain’t about how fast I get there

Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side

It’s the climb

The struggles I’m facing

The chances I’m taking

Sometimes might knock me down

But no, I’m not breaking

I may not know it

But these are the moments that I’m gonna remember most, yeah

Just gotta keep going

As lame as it sounds, Miley Cyrus has it all right in her song “The Climb”. I have had a rough start here, but from what I hear from Rotarians here, “The rougher, the better it is for me because the more I will grow”. I have to agree. Future exchangers, be ready for some of the hardest times of your life, but also some of the most fun and memorable moments of your life. In the beginning, there may be more downs than ups. But it will all work out in the end as long as you give it your all. This I promise you.

But wow!!! Three months in already….

The first day I arrived, I was in complete shock. We got off the plane and went through Brazilian customs, which was a breeze besides filling out paperwork in Portuguese. I was picked up and driven home. This is when I realized: “Hollie, you aren’t in the United States anymore.” The drivers here are like madmen! If only someone could have taken a photo of my horrified face and me grasping the car for my life as we drove past cars almost hitting them. The lanes here are so tiny. The cars here are tiny too, but sometimes, the lanes are too small for the cars! Most of the time, there is a motorcyclist driving between two cars! During all of this, all I saw were small houses with gates around them. This isn’t what I had imagined Brazil to be.

My second week here I went to Rio de Janeiro. It was a lot of fun and I got to experience all of the usual tourist things! I went to Corcovado and all of the beaches. It was so beautiful, and I had so much fun with my family.

I am happy to say that I have made some of the best friends that I could possibly make. God was definitely watching over me when he showed me to these people. They have been so nice to me and have helped me with their language and have taken me out as often as they can to show me their culture! One of my best friends here is Sarah. Her grandpa started Betim Rotary, the Rotary in my city. But this Rotary doesn’t sponsor me. I am sponsored by the Rotary of Belo Horizonte, and since they are far away, Betim Rotary has been so helpful and welcoming to me. Sarah invited me to her Sweet 15, which was amazing. She held her party in a rented place called “Versailles” and it was decorated with special lights, flowers and modeling pictures that she did specifically for the party. To get into her party, you had to have this mini invitation and then next to the door were people taking gifts. There was a candy bar! I had too much fun there! I will probably return to the United States fat! There were tables with food and more candies! She had hired a personal photographer and videographer for the party. Each person at the party had to leave Sarah a “memoir” on film. I learned that it is customary for the birthday girl to give out havaianas (sandals) to each of her girl guests. I got my havaianas which are of a special design created by Sarah. Sarah did the valsa with 15 boys, which is very common at sweet 15’s. Sarah also took me and another exchange student (Logan from Belgium) the other day to her Grandpa’s farm (the one who started Betim Rotary). We rode horses, swam and had a churrasco. It was so much fun and I learned that many people here in Brazil have relatives that have farms and do what we did often.

I didn’t like my school, Colegio Tiradentes, so Rotary moved me to a new school, PUC (a university here). I am studying “direito” (law). I have learned that college here is very different from back home. Students only take courses directly related to their major. That is all that is required of them. Also, people here aren’t nearly as serious about school as we are back home. Students get up and leave the classroom all the time and teachers don’t do anything! A majority of students cheat on the tests and make it obvious, and normally the teacher doesn’t do anything about it. Despite this, I love my school. The people in it are so nice and helpful, and the teachers are hilarious.

I wish all of you future exchangers the best of luck in interviews. Those of you that get accepted, know that you are blessed. This is truly one of the best experiences anyone can ever have. It really is life changing. I hope it rocks your world like it has mine. I hope you have many struggles so you can grow and learn like I have. Good luck and love from Brazil!

Beijos e abracos,

Hollie G. Harrison

January 10 Journal

It is Christmas Eve in Frutal, Minas Gerais, and it is as hot and humid as Florida’s summer. There is no Christmas music or decorations whatsoever- meaning yes, there really is NO Christmas tree. And the thought that keeps crawling through my mind: “Is Christmas really tomorrow?”

But yes, it is. Brasil may not have the Christmas decorations or music, but Christmas spirit still is here. People who don’t know each other scream “Feliz Natal!”. The homeless roam the streets begging for money, and they receive in the giving, Christmas spirit. Families are gathering, and churches are ready with a Christmas sermon. It may appear differently, but it still is Christmas. And the people here do this every year! Every year it is this hot for Christmas! This truly is a Brasilian Christmas, or at least, Frutal Christmas. I do not live in Frutal. I live in Betim, but my family and I travelled here to see my grandma and the rest of our family- something that hasn’t change for me, travelling to see family for the holidays.

For New Years, I experienced even more new traditions. For New Year’s here, people wear the color with the symbolism that they want to happen next year. Most wear white for peace, but because of the economic difficulties back home that is hurting my family incredibly, I wore both white (for peace) and green (for money).

As Rotary will tell you, homesickness DOES kick in around this time. You will want to be home with your family decorating your tree and doing your usual traditions. But, you have to keep in mind, that you do that EVERY year! You have done these traditions every year and will continue to do them when you get home. You have to think like this or your homesickness will really get to you. Not to mention, you will be here! Learning and creating new traditions! You can bring some of these traditions to your family in the USA when you return! How cool will that be!?

When I last wrote, I was in the middle of changing host families. My second host family is incredible! I adore them! We are a family of only girls because my mom and dad divorced. They talk nonstop, which has made my Portuguese DRASTICALLY improve. I have only been with them for a month and half, and many people have seen a strong improvement in my Portuguese. I understand almost everything now, and if I don’t understand, I am always able to understand when they explain it in Portuguese. I still have trouble communicating back because of trouble with verbs, but my family is patiently helping me with that.

Now, I am about to leave for 25 days to Nordeste (the Northeast of Brazil). I will travel all of their amazing beaches, many state’s capitals and their national capital- Brasilia. I am very anxious for this trip, especially since I will be turning 19 during this trip. At first, I was sad to be spending my birthday on a bus full of exchangers instead of my family here in Brazil and my friends here. But then I remembered how hard Christmas and New Year’s was for me without my family and friends back home in the US and I realized that the best people to see on my birthday were my exchange friends. Because they can help me the most on this day with homesickness. Plus, my family is throwing me a party the day after I arrive home from Nordeste. Never forget your youth exchange friends. They understand you the most, with everything. Though, do not cling to them. Be very weary of this. Many of the exchangers in my state cling to each other instead of making Brazilian friends. DO NOT BE ONE OF THEM. You came here to experience the culture, and the best way to do that is to be with the people from that culture! Not to mention, learning the language too! Because the other exchange students tend to grasp on to English for life…..

I know that the new exchange students have been chosen, know their countries and have their first orientation very soon! I want to say to you all: *do not let time pass you by*. Take advantage of every opportunity! Study as hard as possible! Because the less you know, the more jokes and other things you miss out on! You want to be able to live life as normally here as soon as possible! And you certainly don’t want to look back and say, “Man, I can’t believe I spent that time goofing off when I could have been doing something meaningful.”

Also, I read Grant Simon’s journal, and as humorous as it was, take heed in everything he said. It is all TRUE.

Especially listen to not being alone. Many exchange students have done that here and it has not had good results.

I wish you all the best of luck!!!

With love from Brazil,

Hollie G

July 12 Journal

My last few months in Brazil were still full of much adventure and curiosity. I travelled on the Nordeste trip, which took me all around the North-East of Brazil. I went to Tiradentes, a historical city not just for my state but also for my country. Tiradentes was named after a Brazilian military leader in the “Inconfidência Mineira” revolution. They wanted full independence from Portugal and to create a Brazilian Republic. However, when the plan was discovered, he was arrested, tried, and hanged. He has been considered a national hero of Brazil and patron of the Military Police in the state of Minas Gerais (my state). The city I visited was named in his honor.

I sadly had to leave Brazil a month early for college and family matters. Leaving all the relationships that I had built there was incredibly hard, but I know that I will see them again someday. Coming home, I was filled with many of the same emotions I felt upon leaving for Brazil: sadness of leaving loved ones, excitement to see my family and friends in the USA again and to have American food, and confusion and disbelief that I was leaving.

Upon my arrival home, all family and friends were shocked about how much I have changed. Even my appearance was changed. Although they were shocked, they have loved the changes.

I too have loved the changes. I feel more independent and more aware of my surroundings and others. I like being able to relate the USA and Brazil. It has certainly given me more perspective on matters.

I still can’t believe my exchange is over. However, the cycle continues for the new outbounds to go and experience as much as they can and grow like I did. I wish you all courage. Make sure to listen more than you speak. That will make you understand, learn, and grow even more. Most of us are used to interrupting and talking whenever we please. You must remember NOT to interrupt and to listen more than you speak. Calculate your responses wisely. You will be judged on every encounter and NEVER forget that Rotary smile!

Good luck and enjoy!

Rotary, thank you again for giving me this opportunity. It has been and meant the world to me! I cannot describe how thankful I am. I hope to one day repay you for your generosity. Until then, I’ll be spreading that Rotary smile and telling anyone who listens about you.

Beijos e abracos! (xo)



Jesse Coates
2009-10 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Bartram Trail HS
Sponsor: Southpoint Jacksonville Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Olimpia Rotary Club, District 4480,

Jesse - Brazil

Jesse’s Bio

Ayyo! My name is Jesse and I am a senior at Bartram Trail High School. I turn 18 January 15th 2009 and will be celebrating my 19th birthday in Brazil. I couldn’t be more excited! While most seniors are busy planning for college and making their dorm arrangements, I am busy learning Portuguese and figuring out how to pack up my life for a year in only 100 lbs. worth of space.

I first learned about Rotary when I was in my freshman year and my Spanish class went to the auditorium to hear from two kids who spent the previous year overseas. At the time I thought it sounded cool, but I never thought that I could handle something that…foreign. But I decided that I would always keep the option in the back of my mind. I didn’t take a foreign language this year, so I almost forgot about Foreign Exchange completely. Then I met a boy in my English class who went to Japan for a year through a different program. Instead of working on our project, for the next 90 minutes I bombarded him with questions about his exchange. I decided to look into Rotary. The following weekend I met Pat Murray, who went to Hungary last year, and I had almost the same conversation with him that I had had with the other boy. I decided it was fate. I signed up for the meeting, filled out my application, survived the interviews, and was accepted into the Exchange Program.

I was raised with the idea that after I graduated high school, I would backpack across Europe for a month like my mother did when she was my age. She instilled the love of travel at a very young age. As a family, we’ve always gone camping and have chosen our pop-up camper over hotel rooms for years. I am very close to my Momma, Daddy, and my two younger sisters Lindsey and Casey. I will miss them so much when I leave, but all of us know that it will be an experience of a lifetime that I will never forget.

When I first brought up the idea to my parents about being an exchange student I wasn’t met with hesitant or surprised looks at all. My Dad informed me that he wasn’t surprised that I’d want to put off college for a year and spend a year expanding my horizons in another country. They encouraged me to apply and have been by my side through the entire process. They have always supported me in everything that I have ever done, and I can’t thank them enough for that.

I’m fun-loving, compassionate, and sarcastic. I love to giggle. I like trying new things and going on adventures. My friends and I are always going to the movies, the beach, the mall, and Starbucks. I have a passion for music, but I don’t know how to play any instruments. I’m interested in art and I am a section editor on my school’s yearbook staff. I love working with the elements of design and photography. I’m a huge Yankee fan with a soft spot for their shortstop Derek Jeter. I’m not exactly sure what I want to go to college for yet and I’m hoping that maybe I can be steered in the right direction this year.

Most of my friends think I am crazy for doing this. They don’t understand how I could leave everything familiar behind to go to a place completely unknown and alien to me. Yet, even though they do not understand, they support me. I love them all so much and will miss them terribly. I know I’ll have someone to come home to.

I would now like to take the time to express my gratitude to Rotary for taking this seemingly unreachable opportunity and placing it into my eager grasp. I know this will be a year of growing and learning and finding out who I really am.

I welcome this opportunity with open arms and bright eyes.

Jesse’s Journals

November 22 Journal

“I love my country, but I think we need to start seeing other people.” – seen on a bumper sticker

I’ve never been one to be good at expressing how I feel with words. I have always worn my emotions on my sleeve. But I will never earn a prize for a speech or be able to write something heartfelt enough to make someone cry. I’m just simply not good with “palavras.” So like Sarah said, I have had a horrendous time doing this journal. I have started at least 100 times and have never been satisfied. There is so much to say and I am just not quite sure how to say it.

BUT! I have decided to stop being a brat and try to explain what I am feeling and going through during this truly awe-inspiring experience. I don’t know what it is, but I can’t seem to make my self sit down and write this journal. I can write an email, I can write a Facebook message, but I can’t write this. It should be a piece of cake, right? Wrong. For me, it couldn’t be any more wrong. I have lived so much this past 3 months I can’t find words that express enough emotion for me to be satisfied. I know that words aren’t enough to let everyone else feel or see or touch anything that I am submersed in. So in some ways I’m like, “damnit, why even try to write.” But then I remember it is required.

I am being nagged in all directions. From my parents back home, to friends, to even the Brasileiros. Everyone wants to know what I have to say. I have ignored them up until this point and I have been lazy in my “show and tell.”

But enough of this nonsense because now I am here, internet and music off, brain focused, notebook open and letting my hands freely flow across my keyboard. Brasil is slowly but surely becoming the love of my life. Right now, I am in the puppy love, state of infatuation stage. Everything is new. Everything is exciting. Everyone wants to know me. Every day is a complete adventure. As more and more time passes I am slowly starting to see how truly hard it will be when I have leave this paradise. I can see that this love I am feeling will grow and become more mature as I live and become more a part of this culture.

I am not homesick. I was for about the first week because I understood NOTHING people said to me. But now I am comfortable. I can breathe. I have perfected my Rotary Smile. There are times that yes, I do miss my friends from home. I do miss my bed, my car, my sisters, my momma’s hugs, my daddy’s jokes, but I know all of these things are still in Florida and I know they will be there when my plane arrives back into the humid Floridian air in July of 2010.

Brasil is everything I expected it to be and more. The people are absolutely beautiful, in both a physical and personal sense. Within two minutes of arriving in a new place with people I am unfamiliar with, I am already feeling at home. Everyone is so warm and friendly. They want me to be happy and they want me to love Brasil as much as they do. Brasil is so relaxed. So wonderful. So different. So beautiful. Since day one, everything has been an adventure. My first night here, at 4 in the am, I managed to call the police. I was just trying to call home to tell everyone I was safe. I thought I dialed the wrong number, so I hung up to try again. I was right. 3 seconds later the phone rings and I instinctively answer. On the other end was a very distressed native Portuguese speaker. I threw the phone at my host brother and I remember the look on his face when he told me “Take care with this number, Jesse.” hahahaha. Mannn. Good one.

My first host family has been wonderful. For the first week I had two host brothers, David who is now 18 and Guiliherme who is now 10. I say “for the first week” because David is now loving life in Germany. He was my life saver my first week in S. America. Seriously. He was the only English speaker in this household and he answered every question I bombarded him with. He told me the rules. He took me to Thermas. He introduced me to all of his friends. I was a leech. But I know he enjoyed my company. 😀 And my host mom is an angel. She helped me with everything. Always. And she gives good hugs. She is also now addicted to chocolate chip cookies. haha.

School here…is school. I have never been a fan of school. I graduated early in January, so it was a good 7 months until I had to return this August. And omg, ugh. Everyone is always going to have a different exchange year. Different experiences. Different school. So what’s expected of you in school all depends on a million different things. I do nothing in school. Not because I am a lazy bum, but because there is nothing for me to do. No work sheets, no papers, no homework, no tests, no nothing. Just my very uncomfortable metal desk and my sweater as a pillow. BUT! Friends do always help this situation. So besides the fact that I am bored out of my mind, I do have people to talk to and keep things interesting. The only good thing about school is it is over by noon. This is a beautiful thing.

It’s very hot here. But I don’t mind. I live 5 minutes away from one of the most famous water parks in Brasil. That and I have a fear of the cold. Living in Florida all your life can do that to you. heh. Right now Brasil is heading into summertime because we are under the equator. Needless to say, I am pumped because that means no school. Yay!!

I am so thankful for this year. I am so happy. Every day. There are some times where I get super bummed because I want to hug my mom or have major girl talk with my best friends back home. These times are hard, but they don’t last long. I have a wonderful group of friends here. They’re so much fun. They’re so much help. I feel like they’ve been there for me for forever. It’s amazing how fast things and people become important to you when you’re put in this sort of situation.

Exchange students are definitely, THE best people in the world. No doubt. No matter how different two people are, if they have the exchange in common I think that’s all that matters. They get what’s going on in your head without actually having to listen to you tell them what’s up. Butttt, I am proud to say that my best friends are Brasileiros over exchange students.

Olimpia is such a small city. I don’t need to use a bus to get anywhere. Everyone knows everyone. There are no huge buildings and a lot of it is very country. However, it is now my second home. I couldn’t be happier walking to the super market to get an apple on my way to school. It’s such a cute place to live.

I have this rule of “not saying no.” And before any Rotarian freaks out, lemme explain. This rule was a larger deal when I didn’t understand anything that was said to me, but it still very much applies now. When someone offers to take me somewhere, I go. When someone offers to do something for me, I say yes. When someone says I should try something, I try it. No matter how tired I am. No matter how much I don’t feel like it. It doesn’t matter if I am “in the mood” for an adventure or not. I go. I said I was welcoming this year with open arms and bright eyes. So therefore I will not miss a thing. (**Disclaimer** :this does not include doing drugs, binge drinking alcohol, crazy sex parties, or driving a motorized vehicle). A good family friend once said “I collect experiences, good or bad.” I think this is a perfect thing to live by. Since I have been here, I have done and experienced so many things. I rode a horse … and enjoyed it … more than once (I hate horses). I was in a fashion show. Like a legit one. (I have super stage fright.) I ate chicken hearts (okay, ew). And so many other things that I would not have normally done. I have also been to a wedding. I went to one of the largest Rodeos in all of Brasil. I have been to shows in other cities. And I watched a baby horse be born. 🙂

Ah! The food. Oh jeeze. The food. It’s good. But omg, beans and rice. Every. Single. Day. No joke. I will die if I ever eat another bean in my life. But besides the ridiculously repetitiveness of this and how NO ONE gets sick of it, the food is delicious. Really. And brigadeiro is God’s gift to Earth.

Oh yeah! Annnnnnnnd, I have an English class! That is exciting. In exchange for Portuguese classes, I give English classes at a language school in my city. It’s so cool. I never would have expected to be in front of people…teaching. ew. But it’s a lot of fun. My class and I always have a lot of fun.

I am so happy here in Brasil. Rotary is a match maker. I am thriving and loving life. Embracing all things new and it’s beautiful. Everything is beautiful.

Thank you Rotary. Thank you Mommy and Daddy. Thank you Ms. Irwin. Thank you everyone who has helped me get to where I am right now. I can promise you that now that I have finally spit out this first journal, it won’t be another 4 months until you hear from me again. Scouts honor.

Beijos from Brasil<33

May 28 Journal

“Pra quem tem pensamento forte, o impossível é só questão de opinião”

When everyone told me this year would be hard, I listened to their words…but I don’t think they quite sunk in. It was more of an “in one ear and stay in the brain for 5 minutes, then out the other ear” kind of thing. I never actually realized that when people said “hard” they meant “really freaking difficult.” I have never felt so many things in my entire life. Over these past 10 months I have felt emotions that I didn’t even know existed before. But that’s only to say the least.

This year has really taught me about myself. What I can handle and how to handle what I think that I can’t handle. The word “can’t” has left my vocabulary. There have been times where I thought that I couldn’t take things anymore. I think the hardest month I had was from the end of December to around my birthday (the month of January). I just wasn’t happy. I felt that nothing was right, I felt my Portuguese still wasn’t up to par. I felt lonely. I wanted my home back in Florida. I wanted my blanket of comfort. My house. My car. My friends. My everything. It felt like something new went wrong every day. I would talk to my family back home on Skype and it would squish my heart into a thousand pieces to say good bye to them. To put it blankly, it just sucked. SO much. I would go into my host mom’s room and sit on her bed and just cry. She wanted to help me. So bad. I could tell. She would hug me and not let go and tell me it would get better and that I had to be strong. Just like my real mom would. I love her. An indescribable amount. She has a special place on my heart and I will never forget everything that she has done and continues to do for me. *-*

But anyways, it was about the end of January when I really started to think and re-evaluate things. Well, not just “things,” but rather, myself. I realized that my happiness is MY responsibility and not anyone else’s. It is no one’s job to entertain me. To make sure I am adapting and learning and studying and trying hard. My unhappiness is no one else’s problem but my own. And I was making it everyone else’s problem. I was mad at Rotary and my counselor because I didn’t want to face the fact that I, Jesse Coates, was wrong. I was blaming them for the things that I was unwillingly admitting were my fault. I have always been stubborn, and still continue to be, but this year has taught me that it’s okay to be wrong. It’s okay because I am a human being. It’s okay to make mistakes. If you never make mistakes, you never learn. So, I admitted that I was in the wrong; that I was losing precious time of the most important year of my life, moping around and crying over things that I had complete control over. I looked into what it really was that was making me unhappy. I took some REAL personal time and started picking up the pieces of my messy life that I had spread everywhere. I admitted that I was wrong and realized that only I could fix my problems.

Since my own personal epiphany I have been absolutely thriving. I have strengthened my relationships with ALL of my host families. I had made life-long friendships, with Brasilians and the exchange students around me. I have traveled all over Brasil. I have done things I have never dreamed of doing. I have found my place in Olimpia. And I am happy. Truly happy.

Things have been so normal now. Things don’t surprise me anymore. I am living life as a Brasilian. And I have never been more proud of myself. I eat rice and beans every day with fresh squeezed juice. When someone tells me to be ready at 3 p.m. I am prompt to START getting ready at 4 p.m. I hug and kiss everyone on the cheek like we’ve known each other for years. I can samba. I can walk up to any random stranger and say to them anything that I would like in Portuguese. This place has really become my home and I just can’t imagine leaving in less than two months.

I have grown up so much this year. I have learned so much. I have changed so much. I am not the same blonde American who stepped off the plane in São Paulo almost 10 months ago. I am a better, happier, stronger person. And I couldn’t be more proud.

This year has been a complete roller coaster. Just like everyone said that it would be. They told me I would have hard times. That I would be upset. That things would go wrong. But they also told me that I would remember it forever. That I would have some of the happiest moments I have ever had in my life. That I would discover new things about myself. That I would fall full heartedly in love and never want to leave. I am in love with Brasil and everything it has taught me and shown me. I am so thankful for everyone who has made this year possible. My parents, my grandparents, all of my family and friends really. And Rotary. Rotary, I was totally mad at you earlier for putting me through this. But now I can’t thank you enough. Al Kalter, Daphne Cameron, Jody Davis, all of you, you know what you’re doing and I really just can’t express with words how thankful I am to have you guys in my life. Thank you so much.

Beijos e abraços,



Joseph “Jay” McWilliams IV
2009-10 Outbound to Thailand
Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: St. Augustine HS
Sponsor: Coastal St. Johns County Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Lopburi Rotary Club, District 3350, Thailand

Jay - Thailand

Jay’s Bio

Hello everyone, my name is Jay McWilliams, and I attend St. Augustine High School, and I will be crossing the ocean to the opposite side of the world: Thailand. I’ve lived in St. Augustine for the 15 years of my life, and having never left the US, I welcome this opportunity with ecstasy and anticipation. I live with my parents, and I have one older brother who attends the University of Pennsylvania.

Throughout my life, things have always come in two categories: The tangible and the seemingly intangible. This opportunity being the latter for 14 years of my life, I still find it difficult to comprehend the vast chance which has presented itself. During my year abroad, I will do my best to not feel completely comfortable, as if at home. Following this principle would, I believe, help me to see how different this new world is, instead of searching for all that is similar.

Again, I would like to thank Rotary for all their support, and for giving me the opportunity to see beyond the horizon. This will, without doubt, be a pivotal year in my life, and I anticipate every moment of it.

Jay’s Journals

September 13 Journal

Sawatdee krap! I arrived in Lopburi, Thailand on August 1st. The day before had been a very long one, spent mostly a few miles in the air; thankfully, everything on the flight went smoothly. The jetlag that I experienced wasn’t too severe; the only real symptom I had of it was not being hungry. I hardly ate anything for two days after I got here, and I feel that concerned my host family a bit. But after the third day, I was recovered, and my appetite restored.

My family is one of the wealthier families in Lopburi. They own, and live on, a working saw mill. There are workers that come and go every day, and the front of the house is a store front. There is a guarded gate to enter the house, and guard dogs that they let out every night. There are multiple buildings on the property for the workers to live in, as well as a building that the family’s maid does laundry in. There’s a garden in the back which houses the dogs, as well as the biggest cat fish I have ever seen. I have two sisters who go to college in Bangkok, and one host brother that left two weeks after I got here to go to the U.S. as a RYE student. I was given a Thai name when I got here; it is Jindtanakan, which means Imagine. Most of my friends at school call me Jay, but some call my Lang (short for Falang, which means foreigner), while others call me Yong, which means curly.

Lopburi is one of the oldest cities in Thailand. In the downtown area, you’ll find ruins of temples, and palaces on almost every street corner. There is also a very high monkey population in Lopburi. Wherever you turn, there’s a monkey sitting on the side on the sidewalk, or trying to take whatever things you’re carrying. Elephants are also not a strange sight around town. Sometimes, you’ll see one playing the harmonica for money, while other times, it will just be walking along the road.

Transportation is Lopburi is easy as well. There are things called Sorng Taew, which literally means: two rows. They are pickup trucks with two rows of seats under a roof in the bed. Each one has a different color that goes on a different route, and you pay ฿8 (8 baht), or about 25 cents, to go wherever you need to go.

I started school a week after I got here. My school is massive, and has about 3,600 students. The only real similarity between Thai high school and American high school is that they have classes, and they learn things. My first day of school, I was told to introduce myself in front of everyone. I did it in both English and Thai, and they went crazy when I was finished. Every day at school, everywhere I go, I hear someone calling my name and waving, or someone wants me to kick their soccer ball, or to come sit with them and their friends. One of the stranger things I’ve seen at school was when I was sitting at a table outside talking with my Thai friends. A man who apparently worked at the school came over to a group of boys playing soccer with a stick, made them line up, and began hitting all of them with the stick.

I’ve seen some beautiful places, and temples. The town that I live in used to be the capital of Thailand, and there are a few giant sets of ruins scattered around the town, as well as tiny foundations, and old temples to be found nestled among the buildings in the street. One of the ruins is King Narai’s palace, a past king of Thailand. The ruins are sprawling and vast as they are beautiful. One weekend, I went to Ayuthaya, which is an ancient Thai city with some very unique things, such as the only smiling Buddha, as well as one the biggest Buddhas I have ever seen. It was about three stories tall, golden, and surrounding by thousands of tiny Buddhas on the walls. It was possibly one of the most interesting things I’ve ever seen.

My Thai knowledge and speaking skills are still very basic, but I have already learned a lot. I am capable of having very basic conversations, and I know the entire Thai alphabet, and can read almost anything…it just takes me a little while. The way I learn Thai at school is very laid back. Whenever I don’t have a class, I just go to the teacher’s lounge in the language department, and whichever teacher isn’t doing anything at the time, teaches me Thai.

Everything is ridiculously cheap here. I can buy a shirt that would cost 40 dollars in the U.S. for 4 dollars. One night, I was out with my friends, and we went to a night time noodle stand. Between the three of us, the bill was ฿50, which is a little more than $1. It’s almost shocking how cheap everything is.

All is well, and I look forward with incredible excitement to the months before me. Thailand has exceeded my expectations 100%. I have a great group of friends, a friendly, loving and understanding family, and an open door to the world. I don’t think I could ask for more. Until next time…



December 2 Journal

สวัสดี America! I know that it’s been a while since my last journal was written, and I’ve been fervently reminded of this. There’s a lot to recount, so I best start around where I left off.

My last journal was in September, not long before my 16th birthday. On my birthday, my host family took me, one of my best YE friends, and other extended family of my family to a restaurant to eat dinner. When we arrived, the restaurant was covered in police, and Thai army personnel. Our initial thought was that something had occurred which would not allow us to eat there. But upon further investigation, we discovered that the princess was coming to eat at the same restaurant! This was very exciting, and every once in a while we were able to sight her just walking to and from the car.

At the end of September, the school semester ended. It would start at the beginning of November again, but this left us exchange students with little to do. Most of my Thai friends went to Bangkok to study for the university, so I couldn’t go places with them. Many days over that break were spent at home, reading books or studying Thai. One day, my host mom took me and one of the other inbounds in Lopburi (Leo, from Brazil) to go to one of the many army bases in Lopburi. My host mother was part of a juvenile justice committee, and they were sponsoring some sort of corrections program for kids at the base. That day, friends and members of the committee were given the chance to zipline on their training equipment. When my turn came around, I ended up doing it wrong and just bouncing up and down in the middle of the line. This was a great source of amusement to a large crowd of spectators and Thai juvenile delinquents, but it was a good time.

Two weeks after that, all the exchange students had an event in Angthong province. It was more or less a handicraft camp for us at one of the local arts schools in Angthong, but proved to be one of my most legitimate Thai experiences thus far. What made it this way was the family that I stayed with. All of the exchange students stayed with different families (I’m still not sure where they found the families, or how they’re connected to Rotary), and every day from Monday to Thursday, our families would take us the school so we could spend the day making crafts, and enjoying the company of the other exchange students. We arrived on a Sunday, and were given our families.

Now, my family in Lopburi is fairly wealthy, and lives in an established, well known part of town, and has a fairly new and very nice house. Relative to my idea of a nice house at the time, the house that I was staying in was the opposite. It was a very, very old, traditional Thai house that stood on stilts. The upstairs was one giant room (save the bathroom) with a TV, two beds and a couple of mats on the floor. The floor was ancient, creaking wood with inch wide gaps between each board. The roof was made of tin, and there was about 6 inches of space between the roof and the wall, so there was no shortage of mosquitoes. Luckily, everyone had mosquito nets, so nobody suffered too much. The downstairs area was the “kitchen” so to speak. It had a large table that the family sat on to eat, a refrigerator, a couple fans to ward away mosquitoes and a TV. Noted, all of these things were outside, the house acting as more of a pavilion with a roof, but no walls.

There were two older women who very much enjoyed feeding me, as well as asking about America. The house was situated in small village that was situated among seemingly endless rice fields. The family consisted of two parents, the two women who enjoyed feeding me (their significance to the family, I may never know), and four girls who I’m not sure how they were related to the family either. Every day, when I would get home from the school activities, they would take me on bike rides to look at temples, or they would go help the host mom work in the market. When the host father found out that I was interested in Buddhism (apparent by the Buddha hanging around my neck), he enjoyed telling me about it, showing me his large collection of Buddhas, and giving me more Buddha necklaces. “To protect from ghosts” they would say. As I got to know this family better, I began to realize that they don’t live in poor conditions, and that all of this is normal life for them. And it became normal life for me, and within two days, it was like I’d been there forever. It’s amazing how these things that would have seemed to disgusting and incredibly foreign to me are now so normal.

At the end of October, we had the Loy Kratong festival, which is a Buddhist celebration of starting new, and bringing good luck. Loy, in Thai means to float, and a kratong is a small vessel made of banana leaves and flowers that are floated down the rivers. This is to symbolize starting new, and getting rid of old grudges and such, as well as bringing good luck. All of the exchange students went to a place called Supanburi for Loy Kratong, and Rotary threw a big party for everyone. We were given kratongs, and floated them all down the river. When everyone let their kratong go, we shot off fireworks, and enjoyed the band and food that Rotary provided for us.

Loy Kratong in Lopburi was luckily two days long, so we could enjoy it in two different provinces. The city closed down the round-a-bout in the middle of town, and provided many shows, and markets for everyone to enjoy. My favorite was the Muay Thai fights, which was some of the best live fighting I’d ever seen. Unfortunately, it is proving incredibly difficult to find a Muay Thai place to practice in Lopburi.

The day after Loy Kratong, school started back up again. The month of November was very uneventful, with school, and pretty much nothing else. But, my Thai has started to improve again (my lack of interacting with my Thai friends in October slowed down its progress slightly). In a conversation with my friend, I described my Thai as “advanced basic”. My ability to read Thai has improved dramatically, and so has my vocabulary. Most of the time, I know the context of the conversation, but half of the time, I’m unable to come up with a response, despite the fact that I understand what is being asked. I still find it incredibly hard to understand students when they talk to each other, because of the speed, and amount of slang they use. TV is also very difficult to understand, but I can participate in a dinner time conversation with my family. I’ve already had a dream and a half in Thai, and sometimes, for no apparent reason, my thoughts will switch over to Thai. Besides that, I’m still learning more and more each day, and it could all only get better.

I’ve already switched to my second family, and I like them very much. They own a Michelin tire store right in the middle of town, so it’s very easy for me to get around. They enjoy traveling, also, so I’ll be able to see lots of Thailand with them.

Until next time….

– จินตนาการ

February 10 Journal

The month of December was relatively mild. I’d switched families, and there was a festival at my school for about two weeks, so there wasn’t very much school either. I went to Bangkok to stay with a boy from Mexico so we could go see concerts, and hang out with Bangkok. Life in Bangkok is much different from small town Thailand life, and I prefer the smaller, quiet atmosphere. And for some reason, I find it very difficult to speak Thai in Bangkok, because most people speak English, and when I attempt to speak Thai with them they give me a “What is wrong with you?” look, and continue to speak in English. Though Bangkok is vast, I am very happy that I don’t live there, because of these reasons, and because it’s incredibly expensive to do anything there.

Christmas and Christmas eve were a lonely couple of days. I had nothing to do, and I wanted to do something to commemorate, so I went to church with my Catholic first host family on Christmas eve, who is also hosting my best friend here, Leo from Brazil. Though I don’t usually go to church, it was something on Christmas (despite the fact that it was boring). The next day, I went to a party with my family that was unfortunately a karaoke party (the worst, and most incredibly boring sort, I have decided). Then, I went home and skyped with my family in America for the first time, which was a nice Christmas present. That weekend, I went to Bangkok for four days to see a concert with my friend, and go to a theme park with a couple other YEs. Then, two Mexican boys came to my city, and stayed here for a few days. All of these events were enjoyable, and I was happy to have so much company when school was not in session, and I missed home.

On December 31st, I left with my family for Chiang Rai in the North of Thailand to celebrate New Years. It was a long ten hour drive up, but it was full of scenery, and I was fortunate enough to have the backseat of the rented van to myself. We didn’t arrive until late afternoon, but the first place we went was the very famous White Temple. It is a very prime example of Buddhist contemporary art, with depictions of hell, large guardian spirits, and a few other morbid images on the outside of temple that houses the main Buddha image. On the inside, there were classical depictions of Buddhist culture, as well as more modern (and at time random) images, including a picture of Spiderman painted on the inside of the temple wall. It turns out that the artist of this place is a very eccentric man who is a pioneer of Buddhist contemporary art. This temple has been over 30 years in the making, and is still far from finished. It is quite a sight, and the amount of time put into it is very apparent.

That night, we just went back to the hotel, and everybody went to sleep. There was no festivities, or real celebration among my family for the New Year. This greatly saddened me, and I yearned to speak to someone at home. So, after the year turned, I stepped outside into the very cold, very clear night to make a call. The stars were very bright, and the sky was also dotted with Chinese lanterns, set off by people for good luck, or something of the sort. I called one of my best friends in Florida (who was also still in 2009), and I got my friendship fix. I fled the cold mountain air and crawled into bed for the first time in 2010.

On the first day of 2010, it was very cold in the mountains of Thailand. For the first time in a very long time, I had to wear more than one layer of clothing to stay warm. I was informed that the first stop on today’s journey would be the golden triangle, which is the river that divides Burma, Thailand and Laos. I fell asleep in the van on the way, but when I woke up, I was greeted by a magnificent sight. From Thailand’s last shore, there was a giant golden Buddha sitting on a Chinese style boat. Beside the Buddha, there was a dockyard, and a little market where foreign visitors could come and buy little souvenirs. On Laos’s not-so-distant shore, there was a huge red building with a golden dome. I was later informed that this building is the Laotian immigration building. On Burma’s shore, there was a huge casino (I found this to be a humorous contrast between countries).

And so, my family and I boarded a little boat which would take us to Laos. We got off the boat onto a very old wooden dock, and made our way up to the mainland via an ancient bamboo bridge that seemed to be unfit for so many people coming to and fro upon it all day. But, we reached Laos without incident, and now there I was, in Laos. The market was more like a collection of little huts in this small area with its wares on old wooden tables. The ground was red dirt (Northern Thailand and the surrounding area reminded me of Georgia in some respects), and there were chickens and dogs roaming about the stalls and trees. There wasn’t a whole lot of things here, mainly cheap knock-off clothes, and strange old Laotian traditional items, like knives, and oddly shaped pipes for smoking. Also, snakes in bottles that you could buy “to eat” as my host brother informed me.

From where I stood on the bank of the river, I could see four different countries. With Laos behind me, China to the North, and Thailand and Burma to my right, I realized how much there can be in such a little area to see, and maybe just how big the world is.

We left Laos the same way we arrived, across the rickety bamboo bridge, and down the Mekong river. When we arrived back in Thailand, we spent a couple of hours eating ice cream, and sitting in the area of the large Buddha. At last, it was time to go, so we made our journey through the mountains with Laos and China at our backs, we were now heading to Burma. We drove right up to the border and got out of our van. Thai people only need a “temporary border pass”, but I had to get my visa changed so that I could get into Burma. We walked trough the border station, and beneath a sign saying “The Union of Myanmar” in English, and in Burmese. All the people entering were being funneled into another small gate area, the Thai people entering the through the middle, and foreigners entering through a small a smaller passage separated by a small fence. My host sister came with me though, to ensure all went well.

As we walked towards the exit to this entry area, we came across a Burmese soldier. Without saying anything to me, or my host sister, he grabbed my arm a pushed me through a door way into a small room with four other Burmese soldiers stood carrying automatic rifles. They weren’t saying anything, just looking at me as if they expected me to do something. All I could muster up was a tentative, and stammered “Yes?”. One man sitting at a desk started speaking Burmese, this only increased my confusion. I could hear my host sister speaking in English to the guard outside, and then he opened the door, and handed me 500 baht. Apparently, that’s what these people wanted, because when I gave it to the man at the desk, they opened the door and told me to leave.

After this, we entered Burma with no further problems. All the merchants could speak Thai, so there was no communication problem. My family informed me that the gate was to close at around 5:30, so I had to meet them at the gate at 5:00, but now, I was free to wander the streets of Burma as I wished. I walked around, and bought a few movies, but I wasn’t very fascinated by this market. Everyone spoke Thai, and most signs were in Thai, so it really was no different from Thailand. I had the urge to see Burma, not Thailand within Burma. So, as I was looking for a way to see other parts of the town that weren’t within the market, I saw one of the exchange students in my district (Julia, from Germany) with her family in the market. I found this to be an interesting coincidence, so we hung out in Burma together. Unfortunately, she didn’t share my same urge to explore the real Burma, so what I saw of this town was limited, but what I did see was all very different from Thailand. The biggest appeal to coming to this market was how cheap movies are. I bought four, brand new DVDs for 100 baht (about $3). But I think I annoyed the sellers when I only bought 4 DVDs, because all the other Thai people in the store were buying about 30 DVDs at a time (most likely to resell in Thailand).

Finally, it was time to leave Burma and head back to Thailand. Naturally, it was much easier to get out than it was to get in. When we crossed the border again, my family stopped in the large square and decided to do a little bit more shopping. So they told me I could look around for about an hour. At this, I began to find my way through one of the markets. Everything in this one alley I found myself in was so Asian, I felt like I was in a movie. I walked through the alley, and to the foot of a mountain with a large stone staircase going up to the top, with two dragons on either side of the stairs, their open mouths gaping towards the market alley. So, I began up the mountain. The stairs were wide, sometimes requiring two steps just to get over one of the steps. When I arrived at the top, I found a temple, and a few other structures. I took a quick look at the buildings, then found my way to the side of the mountain.

All there was to see from here was Burma, and the town that we had just left. It was a cloudy day, and the sun was just starting to go down over the mountains. The clouds that hugged the mountains cast bright colors over the two countries, and they provided me with quite a sight. I looked down at the country, seeing many small houses built into the side of the mountain, as well as a Spirit Village made up of small white houses and shrines said to harbor the resident spirits. Behind me on the mountain was a giant statue of a scorpion facing Burma, the significance of which I am not sure, but it added to the mystery of the atmosphere. Burma was a mystery to me, and Thailand is as well, and all I wanted to do now was to know the two places like I know myself. I knew then that I was happy, and where I will be happy, with unknown things on either side of me.

The next day, we headed home to Lopburi. I rested for a day, then returned to school. The weekend after, we were informed that we had a Rotary conference in Bangkok, and that we would be required to give a speech in Thai. This greatly stressed out many of the other exchange students, because it was rumored that those who did poorly would be sent home. I knew that this was untrue, but it motivated many to write a very lengthy speech into Thai. When we had the competition, there were a few who had quite obviously put a lot of effort into the speech, and a few who at a glance, hadn’t. I didn’t prepare a speech, but instead I went to the podium and briefly told of a few of my experiences in Thai, all of which was pulled from the top of my head. There were ten winners, all of which won a Rotary 3350 backpack, and three grand prize winners. I find myself in the backpack winners, but I was not a grand prize winner. This did not bother me so much, because the two winners had not written the speech themselves, but instead used their teachers, and online translators to write their speech, but these two things were not exempt from the conditions of delivery. But, I was untroubled, in fact I was very content with what I had achieved with very little preparation, as well as a few other YE students.

One day, my friend from school took me to a mountain, and told me that there was a temple at the top. I couldn’t see it, so I decided to take his word for it. At the foot of the mountain was a very large temple, and he said that there were stairs that would take us to the top. There were stairs indeed, stairs up a very steep slope. It took us about two hours to get to the top, and at times we were climbing the stairs vertically. But when we got to the top, the view was awesome. But the best part was yet to come. On the stairs, there was a handrail going all the way to the top. On the way up, we had bought two plastic sacks that once contained rice or something like that. From the top, we slide on the bags all the way down the mountain. At times it was impossible to slide down (namely, the vertical times), but it was still a very good time.

Over the next couple months, we’re going to go on the trips, and I will get to see a lot more of Thailand. School is out now until May, so things will begin to slow down and become more relaxed. I’m the happiest I could be here, and all is going very well.

Until next time



June 14 Journal

สวัสดี Florida!

The months following my last journal have been eventful for me, as well as the country that I’m in. As you’re bound to have heard something about, last month, Thailand experienced some of the worst civil violence in the country’s recent history. It had been on and off for a few years, but this year was intended to be one of great importance. While all of this was going on, I received a large amount of concerned messages from concerned people back home who wanted to make sure that I was okay, and far from the violence. I was, at the time, relatively close to it, but never experienced any of it. The closest I ever got to it was driving through Bangkok with my friend’s host family on one of the most eventful days, and seeing the plumes of smoke from the bombs and burning buildings that had been set off. Other than this, any violence was very far removed.

The two parties are known as the Red Shirts, and Yellow Shirts. The Red shirts are the poor and uneducated “peasants” of Thailand that make up the working class, and most of them hail from the North-East Isaan area of Thailand (most Thais in my area speak the Isaan language, but are ashamed of it because speaking it puts them in the same rung as the Isaan people). What the Red Shirts want is to be given equal voting rights, and equal class under a more democratic system. The Yellow Shirts, however, disagree. Yellow shirts are the upper class, rich, educated, metropolitan Thais. Most of them actually come from Chinese heritage, and employ the Red Shirts. The Yellow Shirts believe that the Red Shirts should not be given these liberties because they are less educated, therefore, unable to make the proper decision. A large part of the debate is also the two leaders of the parties, Thaksin for the Red Shirts and Abhisit for the Yellow Shirts, but I chose to leave that out of this explanation, because some people try to make the argument all about the two men, when I believe that the real issue is what I just shed light upon.

It is truly a tragic situation which is tearing the country apart, forcing the Thai soldiers (many of the same rung as the Red Shirts) to kill their own people in a confusing and complicated issue. For the first, and most violent parts of the struggle, all of it was centered in Bangkok. As the conflict drug on, small Red Shirt parties started to pop up in the surrounding provinces of Bangkok. In Lopburi, they would begin to gather at around 9 PM every night in one of the central junctions in town. They would sit there all night, drinking whiskey and watching orators on a projector screen. One night, another exchange student and I walked down to their camp with the intention of trying to buy one of their flags as a souvenir. When I asked a man if I could buy it, he told us that we could have them, and handed us two bamboo sticks with flags waving on them. As we made our way back, a man on a motorcycle followed us, and made us return to the junction. The man who gave them to us had forgotten to warn us about Yellow Shirts (I didn’t know that there were any around), so he had us take down the flags and told us to stuff them in our pants. This was my only real face to face interaction with any Red Shirts, and they were all very kind. Mostly all of the host families here (Rotary, in general really) are Yellow Shirts, and it’s interesting to get their point of view of the conflict.

Besides the Red Shirt crisis, the months follow my last journal have been rather quiet. The two Rotary Trips took place in March and April, and I switched families in between. My family now is very relaxed, and are very good to me. The Rotary trips were good also. They took place in the North and South of Thailand. The South trip was filled with tropical beaches, snorkeling and boat rides, while the North trip’s biggest highlight was Songkran. Songkran is the celebration of the Thai New Year, and is basically a massive water fight. I, and all of the other exchange students woke up early, strapped on our water guns, and took to the Chiang Mai streets. We were splashed, squirted and doused by people riding in truck beds, kids with small buckets and crazy tourist guys. This went on just about all day until we finally were exhausted and collapsed back at the hotel. The rest of the trip consisted of looking at temples, riding elephants, and learning about Northern Thailand’s culture, and in the evening we were given the freedom to roam around the area of the hotel as we pleased.

One of my main goals this year was to learn to read and speak Thai. Now, I can proudly say that I am one of the most proficient Thai speakers/readers in my district. Many people refuse to believe that I am not half Thai, and that I spoke very little Thai before coming, and I am frequently complemented on my accent (or lack thereof), and have a Thai phone conversation is incredibly easy, as I do it daily with my friends. This being said, I know that there is still very much to learn. Thai is a vast language, with multiple forms of speaking, and a ridiculous amount of synonyms (the hardest part of the Thai language, I have decided). In my years at home I intend to keep studying Thai, even just a little bit, to learn more and keep up what I already know, so when I return, it will be even better.

Now, 11 months after leaving the US for the first time, I can say that I am a changed person. I’m bilingual, and more confident. I feel I’ve become more relaxed with things that don’t matter as much, and become more serious about things that do. One of the main reasons I think that our parents send us on exchange, as well as one of the main goals of Rotary besides the learning of cultures and having a more worldly understanding, is to learn to be responsible, and perhaps more grown up in a sense. We learn this to use it now, in our adolescence, as well as transferring easier into adult-hood.

But what I’ve observed is that as I, and the other exchange students that have learned this lesson well also learned another thing: what it means to be young, and how fleeting youth is. Through experiencing what it’s like to be an adult and make your own decisions, I feel we learned even more valuable lessons about how young we are, and how to rejoice in the fact that we are still young, with long futures ahead of us. Long futures that will soon become the present, but this is not near as intimidating because we have known what youth is, and that we’ll do our best not to waste it on ourselves. This comes hand in hand with the ever present looming mountain of adult-hood that we have also learned a tremendous amount about. And though, now knowing youth, it will be more dearly missed, the realization of how great a thing you have is also realizing that it will one day be gone, and therefore, adult-hood isn’t as much as an end, but just another beginning, as is life. Of all the conclusions that one could come to in a year far, far away from home, I believe this is the most important that I have stumbled upon, and it will forever be with me.

Now, as my final weeks in Thailand close in upon me, I can say with no doubt in my mind that I have fallen in love with this country, and its people. And, like so many other exchange students have pledged to do, I will do everything thing in my power to make it back here as soon as I can. Because Thailand is my home now, and I will miss it will all of my heart.




Joshua “Josh” Redlitz
2009-10 Outbound to Ecuador
Hometown: Orange Park, Florida
School: Orange Park HS
Sponsor: Orange Park Sunrise Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Portoviejo San Gregorio Rotary Club, District 4400, Ecuador

Josh - Ecuador

Josh’s Bio

Hello! Bonjour! Buongiorno! ¿Buenos Días? What was to become of my English, French, and Italian tongues? I had no idea once I got the call. He said, “I just want you to have fun… in Ecuador!” I was shocked. I knew no Spanish and I needed to learn in 6 months!!! Quite a task on my plate, but with perseverance and a little help from family, friends, and Rotary, I think it is possible.

Hi, my name is Josh Redlitz. I am a newly accepted Rotary Youth Exchange Student who is being sent to Ecuador. I am a Junior at Orange Park High School. I am 16 years old, turning 17 in May. I have 3 brothers, and a dog. My oldest brother, Chris, is the one who inspired me to become a Rotary Exchange Student, for he went to Brazil with Rotary 2 years ago and had the time of his life.

Throughout my life, I have always been a very active individual. I have been involved in a lot of sports. I played little league T-ball for 2 years, football for 1 year, and soccer for 8 years. I am on the road towards the culinary business and have been interested in cooking since the 2nd grade. I also play piano and have played for 8 years. I am in all honors classes at school and a few college “AP” classes such as Chemistry, Statistics, and English Composition. I am a very friendly person. I am very open to trying new things and am very easy to get along with. I try to be funny a lot of the time, even though I may not be.

I am very eager to start this exchange process and hope for the best to all of my fellow exchange students. I leave you with one last statement: Hasta luego, Hasta pronto, nos vemos. Tengo que irme. I think that is how they say it. In Spanish, that means: see you later, see you soon, just see ya. I have to go.

 Josh’s Journals

August 10 Pre-Departure Journal

Wow, I can’t believe my adventure is almost over … wait, it’s just beginning. It seems like forever ago that I first applied for this exchange, and now look where I am. Just about one year ago, I came home from the last District 6970 Welcome Home Dinner with the thought in my mind, “How in the world am I going to convince my dad to let me do this!?!” Well, I guess you could say I kind of didn’t ask. It was almost a presumption. I asked him about the program and asked if I could go on an exchange, just like my older brother, Chris did. He gave the simple, cliché answer of “Well, I’ll really have to think about it.” So I asked my mom about it. She was all in favor for it and told me how to get my dad to be all gung-ho with the idea. I had to proceed with EVERYTHING by myself. So, I printed out all the forms, got every signature needed, and one night, laid it all out in front of him, and said, “All you need to do is sign in this few places and my application is complete; I already did everything else.” He looked surprised and proud and happily signed.

Then the brutal interviews that everyone was so nervous about and then the acceptance letter, then the destination country call. Jody Davis called my cell phone at about 7:30 p.m. one evening while at Dillard’s looking for Christmas gifts for my mom. He said, “Ecuador!”, and I have to admit, “YAY” was definitely not the first thing that jumped in my mind. It was more like, “HUH!?!” That was completely unexpected!!! I was originally hoping for Italy, already knowing the language, but ECUADOR? That was the last choice on my preferences! Well, I went along with the whole idea. Met my host family, went to the first orientation, and began my research project on Ecuador. I am not quite sure if it was the pictures of my host sisters and their friends, or the thought of eating roasted guinea pig that got me extremely excited for this, but it happened, I couldn’t be anymore pleased with my destination.

Then the real adventure comes: obtaining my visa. I found out, about 2 weeks before the visa forms were due that I had to make a personal visit to the Ecuadorian Consulate General in Miami to be able to obtain my visa. And in this 2 week period, I had to fly up to Massachusetts for a funeral… ugh! I was not a happy camper when I realized how much I had to do!!! I barely even had enough time to go to the bathroom!!! I was very often running around like a chicken with its head cut off!!! But, I got through it. I went to the final Orientation, said goodbye to everyone not in my district, and a month later, went to the Welcome Home Dinner again. In one year, all this happened and so much more will happen in the year to come. I have 10½ days until I leave for the awesome adventure and so much to do. I have to clean my room, pack, hang with friends, get host family gifts, and so much more little things… it almost seems overwhelming, but, again, with a little perseverance I will come through.

Well, time to get back to work! I have a lot to do. Talk to you again once I get to Ecuador!!!!!!

August 27 Journal

Ok, I’m going to start out with this: Working up the courage just to write this journal has been pretty intense. Now, when I say, working up the courage, I mean, everything that made me not want to write it I had to ignore, such as sadness, boredom, etc. The beginning is rather good, however, brace yourself, because I am going to share things that I never would’ve EVER had the guts to publicly share without feeling embarrassed.

I woke up at 6:30 am on August the 21st and from there, my journey began… I ate my last American breakfast (a couple of dollar store waffles loaded up with chocolate chips), took a shower, got changed, put on my Rotary blazer and at 7 o’clock, I was off to the airport.

At the airport, I checked in at about 8, which actually scared me because they couldn’t find my reservation for a couple minutes. When that crisis was over, I went over to the lobby and began playing cards with my family to kill some time. As we were sitting there, Dominic walked in to the area and we greeted him. My mom, God Bless Her, saw this as another opportunity to take more pictures. With mine and Dominic’s arms around each others shoulders, I didn’t think so many people liked this pose. I think there were about 10 to 15 flashes at that one moment. Finally, the mini photo-op was done and Dominic was headed through security to the concourse. I then said my goodbyes to my family. Hugs to everyone: Mom, Chris, Aaron, Conrad, Brittany, Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, have I made my point? HAHAHAHA. Well, I went through security and as soon as I was done with security, I knew my family was still there looking for me, so I peeked my head around the corner through the exit and saw them waving. They were waving so hard, I thought their arms were going to fall off!!! I finally caught up with Dominic at the gate and about an hour later, we boarded our plane.

The plane was a bit intimidating. It was really small… REALLY, REALLY small!!! It had some large, rather rickety-looking propellers that moved it. Dominic and I had the pleasure of having the seats at the window, directly adjacent to these propellers. Dominic was rather apprehensive about the propellers. I think he only looked out the window about 3 times… and that was only to take pictures of the Miami Airport as we were making our final descent.

In the Miami Airport, we saw the first other exchange student. We first walked past her, looking for food, and it not being in our head right away that she was an exchange student. But then, through inductive reasoning of her being a teenager, sitting at the gate of the flight to Guayaquil, Ecuador, and putting on a jacket that seemed to be a Rotary exchange jacket, we quickly turned around and gave a big Rotary smile and greeted her. Eventually, after a long time of just walking around, we finally met up with everyone. All 15 of us Ecuador-bounds that Sheila told us would be here that day arrived. We took a couple pictures together and wrote each others’ names down on some pieces of paper for Facebook friends, only to soon hear that our flight to Guayaquil was to be delayed by 2 hours! I freaked out. The outbounds to Quito said their goodbyes and good lucks and were off to their gates, leaving us and our problem to ourselves.

Well, luckily, I had a phone card that I could call my mom with and attempt to call my host family with. No luck with the host family. It freaked me out. So, I had the bright idea of calling my mom one more time and ask her to get my brother, Chris, who is nearly fluent in Spanish, to contact my host family and let them know I would be late, and hopefully hurry, because it takes 3 hours for them to get to the airport from their house and it is only a 4 hour flight!!! So I had to leave it there, after 2 hours of attempting to reach my host family, my flight was soon boarding. I thanked my mom and brother one more time and me and my mom could not get enough “I love you’s” out of our systems. I eventually hung up and went back to my gate. We boarded and it was now time for our 4 hour flight. The meal on the flight was better than expected, but it was still pretty uneventful, but that is only because I fell asleep just after eating.

Now comes the harder parts of the journal for me to write:

We landed, everything was fine and dandy. Customs were quick, everything was fine and dandy. I walked out into the lobby with about 200 Ecuadorians standing there, waiting for their friends and family to walk out, only to see my host sister, Andreina, jumping up and down waving at me, everything was fine and dandy. We went to a phone booth to call my mom and let her know that I got there safe and sound… but I couldn’t reach her. My phone card wouldn’t work. I didn’t understand it. But my sister was finally able to use her cell phone, somehow and call my family. Now, 3 hour car ride home, all was silent. Well, that I can understand. It was 11:30 at night when we started out for home. We settled in the car, got in a nice comfortable position for sleeping, and we all dozed off for a nice 3 hours. When we got home, my family showed me around the house and showed me to my room and I got changed to my pajamas, flopped on my bed, and just fell asleep.

The morning is when the worst thing happened… I felt like I was going to puke. I felt so sick, it wasn’t even funny. I tried to occupy myself by completely unpacking everything, but that didn’t really help. This is where I started to get really homesick. The nausea certainly didn’t get any better with the awfully strange breakfast we had. I hope that wasn’t their version of cereal: cut up fish and onions in strangely-seasoned water, all cold. I felt even worse there. Well, we eventually headed out to the mall for the weekly grocery shopping. Me and my sister got some ice cream and I think that is when I started to feel a little better. We got home and I had nothing to do. I felt so bad. It is apparently custom to go into your room and close your door, not to come out for anything except for food, or if you are going somewhere. I tried this and I started to cry. I was soooo homesick, and it hadn’t even been 24 hours since I had arrived yet. I eventually had dinner and sat in my parents room and watched Fútbol, or as we Americans call it, Soccer. Once the game was done, I went to bed.

When Mama (that is what I call my host mom) got me up the next morning, we had breakfast in a restaurant which was definitely better than the day before, then we went to the beach. I saw the most amazing sight one could ever see. It was the beach, lined with houses beyond all imagination, and I saw it from up on a cliff. It was so wonderful. We eventually got down, and went sea side and me and my sister went on a large banana-looking raft that was pulled by a motor boat. THAT was fun!!!!! When we got home, I felt so homesick again.

I went into my room again. Came back out for dinner, then went and played some PS2 with brother, Jonathan. We played some Fifa Soccer and he kicked my butt, 3 times! I then went to bed.

The next few days were the worst. I was not in school yet, at least not for another week. My brothers and sister were all at college, and my parents were at work, leaving me home alone with the maid and a TV remote. This is what I have been stuck doing for the past few days, and it has been driving me mad!!!! I felt so sad everyday. And every night, I cuddled up with my prayer bear that one of friends at church gave me and cried myself to sleep, praying that I could either ask my parents if I could come home, or if things would get better. Well, Monday night, I was so tired of it. I sat Mama down and completely broke down in tears. She gave me the phone to call my parents. I called them and read them a little emotion journal that my mom told me to write and give to them when I returned. I did the unthinkable… I asked them if I could come home. My parents, being the wise, experienced, and loving people they are, said no way. They are extremely compassionate to my feelings and understand them 100%; however, I signed up, was accepted, and supported for a 1 year exchange not just because I was another applicant, but because people felt that I could do this. At this point, I didn’t think that I could do this. After a good talk with my parents back home, we set aside a time this week to get on MSN and use the webcam.

That is now what I am looking forward to: A chat on webcam with my entire family back home, including my little 8 pound Chihuahua. That and a package that my mom just recently sent of little things that should cheer me up and that should put a smile on my face. I have 2 more days of pure boredom… me, the maid, and a TV remote. I just hope that I don’t get so sad again as to ask my parents to come home. I may regret it for the rest of my life. Luckily, I have school next week and I am taking some rather easy classes: Math and Chemistry.

Well, okay, easy for me. At least it should be, I did get a 4 on both my AP Statistics and AP Chemistry exams this past year… 😀 As several other exchange students have said, as well as all of the counselors and program directors of RYE back home have said, DO NOT trust your emotions, at least not for the first few weeks or maybe even couple months. Take me, for example. I trusted them every day and every night and I cried every day and every night. It didn’t do me any good. Everyone has their ups and downs the first week or 2 or 5, but you can ALWAYS come through it… well, that is what everyone else says. I still have yet to figure that one out.

September 14 Journal

Chao!!!! Como estas!!! I am doing much better than the last time I posted. I have definitely seen the light that everyone has their ups and down, but they just need to get over it. I am now over it and doing well. Since the last journal, I have been really busy. I started school, went to Manta, went parasailing, and had my inbound orientation.

School has been magnificent. Everyone there is so friendly. Sometimes, they can even get to be a little too friendly. But, it’s nothing I can’t handle. I am in a Physics and Mathematics majoring class. The Math is really, really easy and the Physics is easy as well. We also have other classes, like English, literature, Gym, Drawing, Computer Graphics, and Chemistry. I love my chemistry class, because I am the smartest one in there. I know every thing the teacher is saying and more. Sometimes, I think I even know more than him. It was a little awkward for my first day of Gym. I didn’t realize that I had gym class that day so I hadn’t worn my gym uniform. I couldn’t participate, however, the teacher said it wasn’t that big of a deal. He said he would let it slide. But I still felt guilty because I was sitting in some cool, relaxing shade while the rest of the class was constantly running their butts off in the blazing sun. I felt really bad that I wasn’t working as well. All well, there was nothing I could do about it.

Parasailing is one of the most thrilling things you could ever do in your entire life. I absolutely loved it. I started to get strapped in and once we were ready, another guy had to come and help drag us off the cliff because we had the parachute behind us, weighing us down. We were running on the ground, full speed, but then, all of a sudden, there was just no ground. I was still running same speed and everything, just in the air. It was absolutely magnificent. I was able to see EVERYTHING. Ecuador is so beautiful, but even more gorgeous from the air.

Then there was the Orientation, and oh boy, could I go on about this. First, it was in a small city called Nobol. It is a quaint, peaceful little town. In Nobol, there was a camp, or moreover, a Christian Hotel. This is where we spent the week learning of Ecuadorian culture and the Spanish language. Every morning, at 6:30, I would wake up and go get ready for breakfast at 7. We would eat breakfast then go into these 2 “carriages of death”, as I call them. They really were scary, especially if you lied down on top. We would travel about a mile and a half to the other area of the camp and go have our presentation and activity for the day. This lasted about 4 hours, or sometimes, quicker. We would then eat lunch, and go back into the carriages of death, and head back to the main lodging for Spanish class. The Spanish class was really, really, really helpful. I learned a lot and the teacher was really good. From our 4 hour class, we would go to eat dinner and then the rest of the evening was free. We could either go onto the outdoor stage and dance, go swimming, or, if you were so inclined, go to bed.

The last day of camp, we played a cross culture simulation game. I already knew how to play it because I played it at my second outbound orientation in Florida. Because of this, I wasn’t allowed to play, however, they were really able to use my help in teaching it. It was a lot easier for me to teach this just because I had the first hand experience with this game. It was just as fun this time as last time. However, this time, we found some huge iron jail walls in the back of the room and we set those up for punishment to the visitors that were bad.

The bus trip back home was very eventful. We got pulled over by the cops 3 times and actually got into a bus crash. Some guy in a van tried changing lanes, but we were where the guy was changing to, so he ran us off the road. It was soooooo scary. Luckily there was a large pile of rocks and debris in front of us that stopped us and a large metal sign to our side that kept us from completely tipping over. We were really lucky. Me and my friends were thinking: “I wonder what would have happened if that sign wasn’t there.” Well, physically, we would be guaranteed injury. Maybe not serious, but everyone would have injuries. The entire bus would have been tipped over. Luckily, we didn’t have injuries and the bus didn’t tip over all the way.

I better get going. I have some sleep to catch up on. Hasta Pronto!!!

September 30 Journal

So, another 2 weeks have gone by, but yet again, it only feels like 2 days. Every day, I look at the date on my calendar and nearly have a heart attack. When I first got here, I was so sad. I would nearly have a heart attack because I thought I had the longest time left here; now I am starting to feel that I have little to no time left. I realize it has only been a month and a half, but when I say that I only have 9 months left, I just freaks me out. I keep thinking: I have 3 months left in school, then 4 months of break, then only 2 more months of school!!! HOLY COW!!! It is just ridiculous. I think about how fast the school year back home goes, and how much faster the break goes, then I get scared that this year will go by like a flash of lightning.

Time goes so fast here. Everything goes fast here, I mean, just take a look at that speedometer in the taxi that I was in!!! I feel that my time here is extremely precious. I went out with my friends the other day to a water park and had the time of my life. But then I look at what time I have left here in this paradise and I feel that I probably won’t be able to do that too many more times.

I feel that I need to do more in general. I feel that I have a duty to do, I feel that I need to help more, with my Rotary club. I feel that I have to do more of what I just did this weekend. It was a typical Rotary, do-good-er activity: the Rotaract club, interact club, and Rotary club all went out to a local town and helped the sick free of charge, with real medicine and real doctors.

I went out with my friends on Friday evening, not knowing what was being planned for us exchange students for this weekend. However, thankfully, another exchange student knew the basics. She said that we had to meet on Sunday in the morning at our Rotary club meeting place. So, I did. I met up with some local Interact students, Rotaract Members and Rotary Members. All of us students hopped on a bus and we were off to who knows where. We got to our destination: a private school in a nearby town. We walked in and there were probably about 200 sick people all there waiting for us. And that is where the work began. There were doctors, dentists, and pharmacists. We stacked medicine, organized patients, and handed out prizes, and we had a blast doing it. We exchange students were pretty much the stars of this activity. We were looked up to so much, and I’m not just saying that because all Ecuadorians are short, either. The announcer called us up several times, just to be the ones to hand out the giveaway prizes. Everyone loved us. And thanks to our temporary fame, something that the Rotarians back home taught us came back to me. We are there for just this reason: to make a difference. We are now a part of Rotary International: a world-wide community service organization, set out to make the world a better place to live in. We have to honor that and this function that we participated in is a perfect example.

Chao for now!!!

November 12 Journal

It’s been a while since I did this. I actually had to come to this website just to read what happened last when I wrote my last journal. I looked at what I last did and thought, “That can’t be true. Al must have just forgotten to put up my last journal because I have done sooo much since then. It feels like it all happened just yesterday though.” Time has been flowing by so fast. It is kind of frustrating really. We are nearly half way done with the month then it will the month of Christmas or Navidad. Which will mean that I am just about half way done with my exchange. It is really scary. I have a lot to catch you up on and let’s see how much I can get out of my head.

My life is amazing. I have an amazing house, amazing family, amazing friends, amazing school, but a TERRIBLE extent of vocabulary left in English. I have nearly forgotten how to speak English. And it definitely hasn’t helped my English that I am now trying to learn both French and Spanish at the same time. I hang out with my exchange friends a lot. They have actually inspired me to learn several languages and to want to travel the world. I look at them and they can ALL speak English and at least 2 other languages… well, at least those from countries that aren’t the USA. I am actually hanging out with these friends every day. My social life is at an all time high right now. I go out with my friends nearly every night, go out with my parents every weekend, and have several friends at school who are practically in love with me. Every day I go to school I have to give all of my guy friends handshakes and all of my girl friends a kiss on the cheek. I actually have girls at school who tell, “ahora, besame en la boca.” And for those of you who don’t speak Spanish, that means “Now, kiss me on the mouth.” I really can’t though because if I do, they will think that I am then their boyfriend, but several girls have asked me for a kiss on the lips. lol.

A few weeks ago, the exchange students of Ecuador had their Paseo Manabí and we took a tour of 3 major cities of the state that I live in: Portoviejo (my city), Manta, and Crucita. I remember getting to the hotel only to see a few friends from Portoviejo waiting there to greet me and a few Rotarians in the building waiting to search my bags as they were doing with all the students. I got past security with no problem, then I got to my room and the activities began. We waited for a while longer to find other students and then, all of a sudden, we saw 2 very large busses pull up and just start unloading about 62 students. I thought to myself… that must be Quito….. DOMINIC!!!!! I grabbed all of the other buddies I knew from our flight into Portoviejo and we greeted our long lost pal, Dominic. Later, I got into my bathing suit and at 8 o’clock at night, about 40 students were all in the pool and we were throwing random people in… taking their phones away from them of course. We climbed a cliff to see an amazing view and had a dance at the end of the Paseo. It was an amazing trip.

I had no school last week because it was the end of the trimester. My sister didn’t have classes on Monday and Tuesday, either. My mom and dad took off those 2 days from work as well and we went to 2 different beaches on either day. Monday, we went to a beach called San Lorenzo, about 2 hours south of Portoviejo, where I live. The weather there was very bad for swimming. It looked like it was about to rain, and it was very, very cold. So, instead of swimming, we took a boat ride to this neat little island about a mile off the coast. It was amazing. Then, on Tuesday, we went to a beach called Bahia just 2 hours north of Portoviejo. I knew the exchange student from Germany who lived there and I had his number, so I called him and we got to hang out for a while. It was quite exciting. This beach was absolutely beautiful, especially because it was the afternoon when we saw it, where the sun caught the water just right. After we were done there, we went to a family member’s house in Canoa, which was another 30 minutes north. I found out it was my dad’s ex-wife and her kids. That was pretty fun. They were sooo nice.

I climbed a mountain last weekend. THAT was cool. Me and 3 other exchangers and one exchanger’s family, climbing a mountain that seemed like the Amazon rainforest. This was fun. On parts going up, it felt like we would take 3 steps forward and slide 2 steps back. Then going down the mountain, me and another person got waaay ahead of the group. It felt we were taking 3 steps forward and jumping 8 steps forward. This was the most fun part. It was definitely harder than the way up… and a lot more dangerous. Let’s just say that you would not be able to climb up where we went down. There were several cliffs where we just had to jump.

Then, the next day, I went out with a few of my friends to the mall and then afterwards, we went to this little back road to a kiosk to buy some of the most amazing hot dogs in the world!!!! We decided to wait for taxis there because it was quite a distance from the mall to be walking at that time of night. Well, my friends all got their taxis first and I was left alone to get the last taxi. Not even a minute after my last friend had left, a robber came up. It really scared the heck out of me. First he threatened me with gun that he didn’t have, then with a knife that he didn’t have. Then he just grabbed my watch and broke it off. I pushed him back a little bit and then completely decked him in the face and laid him on his butt. Then I just ran as fast as I could back to the mall. I am quite glad that Chris taught me how to throw a mean right hook, just after he was in this exact situation. I guess that the Redlitz name is just forever cursed in RYE.

Well, I am pretty sure that is the gist of it, or at least what was the most important. Hasta proxima vez!

December 20 Journal

This exchange has brought me together with so many friends, and it’s not even halfway over yet. Not only has it brought me together with new friends, but people who I haven’t talked with in years. I found myself, the other day, on Facebook, looking for a couple friends who I haven’t seen or heard from in over 6 years!!! It is ridiculous.

That’s right, I was looking for my old elementary buddies. That’s not the only strange thing I caught myself doing. I was downloading Christmas music… Barry Manilow, Kenny G, and a bunch of other people I would never EVER listen to on a normal day. It is only because that is the Christmas music that my dad always listened to back home during Christmas time. And now, I am in Ecuador without my family during the most family oriented season of the year.

I remember everything that goes on during holidays in the US that I start to miss… Halloween, there was always a program on TV that hosted a “13 days of Halloween” and it would play Halloween movies for 13 days up to Halloween day. On Thanksgiving, you always have the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade along with my mom’s homemade pies and turkey and stuffing. Then the day after Thanksgiving is the beginning of Christmas. Black Friday was what we called it. It was the day that all of the stores’ Christmas specials started. At 4 in the morning, on Black Friday, people would rush into the stores, finding sales that are 50% off, Buy one get 3 Free, and other ridiculous discounts. That was also the day that I would be home still from break and set up everything Christmassy. I put up the Christmas lights on that day. We put up the Christmas tree and decorated it on that day. Put out the stockings for decoration, and started collecting Christmas cards and taping them on the giant glass slider window. Then after school everyday, when my dad got home, he would put a Christmas CD in the boom box and listen to Christmas music constantly. Then, right about where we are now in the season, school would be letting out, we would be taking our exams, and the bottom of the tree would be halfway filled already from presents from relatives. Everyone would be doing their last minute Christmas shopping and then, Christmas eve, we would go to the 8 o’clock Christmas eve service and when we get back, me and my brothers would have some hot chocolate and my parents would lock themselves in their bedroom and just wrap EVERYTHING at once. They always waited until the last minute to wrap anything.

I have been remembering things a lot. I have been extremely nostalgic this past month. Even if I hear a certain song, I start to feel really sad. For example, I was listening to U2 “Where the Streets have no Names” and I remembered the first time I listened to that song. It was sitting in front of the computer, looking at my uncle’s old music collection when I got a call from the hospital saying that I got the job that I had applied for. I then listened to it walking to take my blood tests for the job. If I here Eric Clapton “Layla”, I remember 2 things: first, I remember realizing how amazing that song is while standing under the overhang at school when it was pouring outside, waiting for my mom to come pick me up. Second, I remember working after school every Friday in the kitchen at school to help serve the football players food before their big game. I had it as my ring tone on my phone, and my phone went off and my culinary teacher heard it and her first words were, “IS THAT LAYLA!?!?!?!? THAT IS MY FAVORITE SONG EVER!!!!!!!!!!!!” I was so psyched because that was my favorite song as well.

I guess you can say this journal is a tribute to everything that I have missed the past month or two, or maybe even more. Everything that you had that you had taken advantage of really comes back to you when you are in a foreign country. From every piece of candy collected on Halloween, to every float going by in the Macy’s parade, to every Christmas light being lit, to every Christmas package being wrapped. The little things soon become the big things and the big things become unbearable to think about. You soon have nothing small enough to just brush off and forget. And you better darn well hope you don’t already have anything unbearable, because those will soon become killers.

I cant wait till I get home to have everything back again, but I don’t want to go home right now. I will be leaving so much behind. My family back in Florida, I know that I will see them again, but who says I will be able to see my friends and family here, again?

Every day that passes, I ask myself and other people ask me, what are you going to do with your loved ones here when you leave? Is there anyone you want to take home with you? Or are you going to try to live here? Or what are you going to do? I would really rather not think about that right now. Between that and the memories, I have realized that looking away from what I have right now just hurts.

Just live in the present and embrace it. Try not to look back or be paranoid about the future. I just now leave you with a quote that entails this all… “The past is history, the future is a mystery, today is a gift—that is why it is called the present.”

January 12 Journal

“Information’s pretty thin stuff unless mixed with experience.” -Clarence Day

Have you ever had that feeling where you experience something and then try and explain it to someone but constantly feel that they will not understand the extent of your emotions? The truth is, they really never will understand. I remember back to when I was writing my Rotary 12-page report on Ecuador and I kept thinking, “GEEZ!!! This is going to be AMAZING!!!!” Now, I am constantly thinking, “Boy, I really did not know what I was in for.” It is true, this country is absolutely AMAZING, but I didn’t understand that then. The report was a good help, a basic set of information so you know what to be prepared for. However, you realize, once you start to experience the country, that it really was just BASIC info.

Christmas – I knew that I was going to miss my family. I knew that I was going to feel strange without my family at my side. I knew that there was going to be a new culture here for this holiday. However, what I did not know what HOW much I was going to miss my family, HOW strange I would feel, and HOW different the culture here was. I had, for about 2 weeks, all of the gifts that I was to distribute to my host family, from me and my family back home that they sent me. I was ready for this. At 9 P.M. on Christmas Eve, my host mom calls me down to come open presents. I was thinking, “Wait, what? You don’t open your gifts on the actual Christmas Day?” So, obediently, I walked downstairs with enough presents in my arms that I couldn’t see where I was going and tripped a few times. I set the gifts down in front of the tree (thankfully the tree is still a tradition here) and my host parents just sat there in awe. I had no clue why, but soon I realized that the only thing besides that were a gift bag and a little hand-made card under the tree. I began to distribute the gifts to the designated receiver and told them to open them up. They opened everything with the most gracious faces I have ever seen. I opened up my gift and card and, strangely, I felt extremely appreciated. In the US, people usually get more than one gift, but in my host family, I got just one, and I couldn’t have been happier at that moment. We went to Church that evening and my brothers, after, went out to a disco and got drunk. That was the culture for Christmas Eve? Then, to top it all off, we went to the beach on Christmas Day. This was the strangest Christmas I have ever experienced, but yet, no one who hasn’t experienced it, won’t understand it, until they do so.

New Years – Let me first say that New Years Eve was the best, most exciting day of my exchange so far. There was not a hint of sorrow in my heart for missing another holiday with my Floridian family. In the morning, my sister and I went out to a local head store (yes, they sell heads… but for mannequins) and after, we took some old jeans, and a long sleeved shirt and about 5 years worth of newspaper and proceeded to stuff the clothes. We carefully placed the freshly purchased head on top, and we had our mannequin, or what they call here, our Año Nuevo. It is called this because it represents all of the bad things that happened in the past year. Then, at midnight exact, we burn it and put all of the bad happenings behind us.

Well, at about 6 PM, my parents took me out just for a drive around the town. My dad put me in the front for some strange, I didn’t understand why for a second there. He grabbed his 5 pound bag of change and we were off. They told me that we were just going to drive around and look at everyone’s mannequins, but they didn’t tell me that it was a tradition here, on New Years Eve, for there to be a transvestite every 50 yards seducing the cars that go by on the front passenger side window asking for about 25 cents and eventually making $50 by the end of the night. I must say, it was quite disturbing. I quickly understood the reason for me sitting in the front seat… my parents wanted me to get the full experience of Ecuador.

When we got home, it was about 11:30 PM, so we began to set up our mannequin in a nonflammable area. My brothers were bored, so they went inside, my sister was scared to light the mannequin, and my parents wanted me, again, to have the full experience. So they handed me a roman candle, matches, and gasoline and said, “Have fun!” I was wondering how I could use all 3 in one swing. You have no idea how big the smile on my face was. I drenched the dummy in gasoline, and began to light the roman candle with the matches, aimed the candle at the standing dummy, and 3… 2… 1… KABOOOOOOOOOOMM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The fireball went hurdling at the mannequin and you could see the head fly off the body like a projectile from a slingshot!!!! It was the most beautiful thing I ever saw!! XD

A Very Rare Occurrence – Now this is something that just touched me to the heart and still has not let go. My Floridian parents told me to pick one of the trips that they would pay for, which I thought was very reasonable, so I quickly picked the Galapagos trip in April and left the February Amazon trip aside. About a week ago, my host mom walked into my room and asked me, “How much does the Amazon trip cost?” I told her the price then explained to her the reason why I wasn’t going to go. She responded, “Well, I was just wondering if you were planning on going or not because if so, we would be more than happy to pay for it.” That hit me soooo hard. I got on webcam with Floridian family faster than you can say……… any word in your vocabulary. I asked them if it was ok, and my mom even noted to me that the entire time I was on webcam, I was smiling. I didn’t realize it, and wasn’t trying to smile, but I just was. All of my exchange friends here are so jealous. I keep thinking I would be too. I felt so loved and appreciated by my family here. It was an incredible feeling to have someone you’ve only known for 5 months to offer up something so ridiculously generous.

Until Next Time!


February 20 Journal

Well, it’s been a while since I wrote one of these, and I am kind of mad that I haven’t gotten to it. I have so much to talk about. 3 Major things that I must talk about… family change, my Amazon trip, and Carnival.

Well, I changed my family on January 14. My Dad was there to pick me up but my mom was in Panama. I got a really good connection with my Dad from the start. But when my mom came into the picture, things got a little on edge at first. She is just the type of person you need to get used to. She always speaks in a stern voice and her form of joking is telling you that you are in trouble for nothing with a really firm voice and a serious face, making you piss in your pants and then 30 seconds later, laughing. That has taken me some time to get used to, and I am still in the process of completely getting accustomed. The house is gorgeous. I have never seen anything like it. I have to say, right now, I love the change.

The Amazon trip was amazing. I cant even describe it. Even if I tried, you wouldn’t be getting the whole gist of it. It was sooo beautiful. For example, when we were getting back from our nature walk, we went in a giant, double-decker truck thingy and everyone in the group was on top. There was this one area where there was a break in the trees on the side of the road and we stopped and just stared and took pictures. You could see the entire Amazon and it was one the most beautiful things I have ever seen. We went to a shaman and got our spirits cleaned. That was quite an experience. He even let us try to smoke some of his shaman tobacco. That was some really strong stuff. I couldn’t breathe even after one roll. I don’t see how the shaman can do it. He smoked about 8 or 9 of those to cleanse all of us. Was he dizzy? Was he suffocating? Was he going to die of cancer? I have no idea. I just know that he is a beast.

After that, we went to go “hunt for our dinner”. We got to learn how to use a blow gun and a throwing spear. That was really fun. The blow gun was so accurate and strong. The spear was really hard to use. It was so heavy. I also got to have the first hot shower ever for 5 ½ months. It felt soooooooo good. We also went tubing in the river. Although, their version of tubing is drifting down stream, and their version of a tube, is your life vest. Lol. They did, however, have a really cool rope swing in the river. That was really fun. There was a parrot named Yolanda at the camp site. Me and a couple other students taught it to cuss at the other students, then the other students taught it to cuss at us in other languages… it was really funny. That bird caught on quick. We also got to eat grubs. That was quite an experience. They asked for 2 volunteers to try it alive and 2 brave, idiotic souls raised their hands. They told them to crush the head really quick or it will bite your tongue…. Eeewwww. Then we all had to eat them cooked. They were actually really good cooked. They tasted exactly like bacon. ;D jajajajaja

Carnival was amazing… aside from the fact that I got a massive sunburn and that my phone, money, shirt, and shoes were stolen. I was swimming in the water and I had put my stuff inside a bunch of rocks, and when I got back, everything was gone. So I had to walk back home, an hour long walk, in the blazing sun, with no shirt and shoes because I had no phone to call my family and no money to get a taxi. Ugh. Carnival was a blast though. People spraying silly string everywhere, little kids coming up to you and throwing powder charcoal at you… that was a little strange, and dumping water and beer all over you. About 2 times, my parents thought I was drinking because I smelled like beer… but once I took off my pants and let them smell them, they realized it was just some drunk people being jerks.

Well, that is all I got for now. Until next time!

Nos vemos y hablamos!

May 3 Journal

VAYA! Ha pasado mucho tiempo, cierto? Ha pasado casi 3 meses y no he escrito un diario. Entonces, tengo mucho a decir, mucho a contar… del fin de mis vacaciones, de uno de los mejores paseos por siempre: los Galapagos, y regresando a colegio!

WOW! A lot of time has passed, right? Almost 3 months has passed and I haven’t written a journal. So I have a lot to tell, a lot to clue you in on… the end of my vacation, one of the best trips ever: the Galapagos, and getting back into school!

Obviously, my Spanish has greatly improved since these 3 months have passed, and I regret to say that my English has severely diminished. I find myself stumbling for words at times when I am talking with my friends in English so I end up having to say it in Spanish and they understand me. I am glad, however, that I can already read old poetry in Spanish… ya know, the ancient stuff with weird words. I can understand it and am very glad, because I have some good poetry.

That’s beside the point. Well, the end of my summer was great. I had several students from other cities come and visit us students in Portoviejo. I was getting kind of excited for school to get back in session because I was just doing the same thing every day. But, once I got back in school, I was kind of disappointed. I thought that it would be fun like last year, but for the first few days, I learned that I got new teachers that were absolute jerks and weren’t even cool out of school.

About a week after I got into school, I got to skip a few days… 😀 That was really exciting, mainly because I went to the Galapagos during that time. That was an absolutely, ridiculously, amazingly, insanely fun trip. I got sunburned everyday, sometimes twice a day! I know that doesn’t sound like fun, but hey, I got some amazing color. 😀 Snorkeling was really beautiful. We went to the bay on one of the islands and we were snorkeling in there… I have never seen so many colorful fish in one place in my entire life! We even got to see some sharks. That was pretty exhilarating. I nearly peed in my pants when I first saw them, but, that was just because it startled me so much. The next day, we went to Tortuga bay.

The walk there was pretty brutal. It was about a 1.5 mile walk there in the blazing sun in one of the places in the world where the sun beats down on you strongest. Honestly, I am not really sure why they call it Tortuga bay, I didn’t even see any turtles there. Don’t get me wrong, I saw the giant turtles the first day there, but I thought I was going to be able to see some sea turtles there. Whatever.

The next day was one of the best. We went to one of the giant lagoons on the island. The salt water from the ocean mixed in with the fresh water from the springs and make the water extremely extremely clear. It was really cold water, but it was refreshing. That place was absolutely gorgeous. We were swimming in a bunch of caves and tunnels which was really fun and we were able to climb the walls of the lagoon up above the water about 20 meters and jump off. What a thrill that was. I didn’t go just because I didn’t feel like breaking my neck, but my friends did and after, I wished that I went. Whatever. That was absolutely beautiful day. I spent so much money on just sun block in the Galapagos. Of course I did buy myself some souvenirs: a wicked sick backpack, a really comfy hammock, and some awesome sleep pants. The Galapagos tri