Outbounds 2011-2012

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Aaron Ruster-Mack
2011-12 Outbound to Spain
Hometown: Fort Myers, Florida
School: Fort Myers High School
Sponsor: Fort Myers South Rotary Club, District 6960, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Barcelona Condal, District 2202, Spain

Aaron - Spain

Aaron’s Bio

HOLA! Hi my name is Aaron Ruster-Mack, I am 15 years of age and I live in Fort Myers Florida. But I haven’t lived in Fort Myers my whole life, I have moved around many times. I was actually born in a small town called Rota and it is located in Spain which ironic because that is exactly where I’ll be spending a year of my life! But until then I am attending Fort Myers high school as a sophomore, my school is very big there is nearly 2000 people in it! My school is one of the best around and I like it very much, there are many things to do at my school such as clubs or sports. I play soccer and run in track for my school.

When I am not at school I am usually with my family. I have one sister and one brother my sister is 17 and she drives me too and from school. My brother is 20 and he lives in Chicago, He is currently going to school for the U.S. Navy. I am also a host brother to an exchange student from Denmark named Sebastian and last year to a French foreign exchange student named Camille. I also have to wonderful but very old dogs named Olivia and Sally.

I am a very active and outgoing person, I like to go on adventures and explore new things. I am also very competitive and I like to have fun. I also love to play soccer, but I play almost every other sport I also like to watch sports and I keep up with my favorite teams. I also like to listen to music, my favorite singers are kid Cudi, Asher Roth, and Sam Adams.

I can’t wait to go to Spain! It’s going to be an amazing experience and it will define me as a person for many years to come. Am going to miss my family and friends like crazy, but I will have a new family and I will make new friends so it will all be worth it in the end. None of this would be possible without rotary presenting me with this amazing opportunity. Thank you so much!

 Aaron’s Journals

December 01, 2011

As I am writing this journal I am rapidly approaching three months from the day of my arrival to the second largest city in Spain, Barcelona of course! Two months can really fly by when you’re having fun, but in those short seven weeks I have gained a great amount of knowledge and experience. I feel as if I have become a new more independent person, living in a big city can really give you a lot of freedom. I don’t have to rely on people or cars for everything because of the metro, tram, or busses and the great thing is everything is close together so I can walk to almost anywhere. When I received the news that I will be living in none only than Barcelona I was ecstatic! If I could have chosen one place in Spain, probably the world, it would have been this great city. I feel extremely lucky to be placed in such a fantastic place. Now, before I left, I thought Western Europe is really not that much different than the US. I was wrong it is much different than I had expected albeit not as much as Japan or India but it was definitively a shock. I have now learned this different culture and I am used to it, I feel like I fit in, I can now call Barcelona home.


I feel as if have made leaps and bounds on my Spanish although I am not fluent I can understand almost everything and I can hold some conversations which, compared to when I got here is really saying something. I did a lot of research on Spain, Barcelona in particular, before I arrived and I learned that they spoke another language here, But I didn’t really think it was a big deal I thought I’ll be in Spain so I’ll be speaking in Spanish, right? Wrong. Catalan, the native language of Catalonia is EVERYWHERE I had no idea! While at my house I speak Spanish with my family because they are “pro-Spain” but at school every single class is in Catalan, and on top of that all my friends speak Catalan to each other. This is a big problem because I only know about five words in Catalan. I have also learned it is nearly impossible to learn two languages at once so I decided to make the all-important decision to learn Spanish first and Catalan second because I spend most of my time with my family and they don’t like to speak Catalan. As for my friends I speak to them in Spanish and they answer me in Spanish so this is fine. I really do hope by the time that I leave I will proudly say I’m tri-lingual!


Catalonia is a huge deal! Many people living here don’t even consider themselves Spanish or that they even live in Spain. They have different customs, traditions, and foods that that is different than anywhere else in the world. It is a very pressing issue because a great amount of people want to be independent from Spain. The Catalan Culture is very rich and historical they have different ways of doing things and different ways of entertaining that single them out from the rest of the world. I would have to say the number one thing for Catalans is soccer, as the best club in the world is situated in Catalonia (Football Club Barcelona or just FCB). But soccer is far more than just a sport, its way for Catalonia to show and represent itself to the world, it’s a way of life here and it is shown by the FCB’s motto “Més que un club” which means “more than a club”. Another way of entertaining here and something that I have come to love is when I see Castells teams practice, Castells is an ancient sport in Catalonia where people build towers using themselves and they can sometimes get eight people high! But overall, I would have to say the main difference is the food. I did not think it was gong to be this different, just about everything I eat here is new. Even when they make things I would normally have in Florida it tastes no where near the same, but I think the Mediterranean flavors are finally starting to grow on me. One thing I did like as soon as I got here was the bread, for some reason it tastes so much better and we have it every meal. Bread isn’t a food here it’s a necessity for every meal like a fork or a plate.

School and Friends

School is not that much different than in Florida it’s about the same hours and there are six different classes a day. But what is strange is that there are no separate boys and girls restrooms it’s all unisex and we don’t change classes but rather the teacher does, so I stay with the same people all day. There are also no water fountains not just in school but anywhere you have to use the faucet and turn your head to the side. My School is situated on a hillside and my class is on the sixth floor of the school so I can see the whole city out the window the view is quite amazing. The teachers are very accommodating and have been great with helping me with everything. As for my friends in my class they are all really nice and welcoming they have been great with showing me around and bringing me places I feel as if I will make friends for life here. They are also very eager to learn about the United States and practice their English which is very advanced since they start learning it at age four. I have also realized how much of an impact that USA really has, almost everyone here loves it and so much of what they say, do, watch, and listen to is greatly influenced by America. I feel lucky to have grown up in such a great country, nearly everyone in my class wants to go there. Another thing I found out was that they have very little pride for their own country I don’t know if it’s just the Catalan in them speaking but it is very surprising as one kid in my class asked “why would you come to Spain and leave America? Spain is the rubbish of the world.”


Being thrown in a new place can really keep you busy. Since my inauguration here I have done many things such as joining a soccer team and joining a Spanish class outside of school. Not to mention seeing a plethora of sights, you could really spend a year here and not see everything, but I will try my best. My friends have also brought me to numerous “fiestas” and I have seen a whole other side of the city at night. There is never a dull moment here, at any time can walk out more door and in fifteen minutes I can be lost in the small roman alleys of the old city, it’s like entering a new world.

I can’t express how grateful I am for this opportunity it just keeps getting better here. I am learning a lot although I do miss my family and friends back home dearly I feel as if it is definitely worth it. This journal doesn’t even come close to expressing how much I have learned and experienced, words can’t begin describe how it feels to wake up every morning here. It feels like Florida is a distant memory and this is just a dream I can already see how hard it will be to leave. I came here with no expectations just to see where this takes me and I can already say this is the greatest thing I have ever done, through the ups and downs I know I will look back on this year as one of the best decisions I have ever made, everyone should be an exchange student.


Abbie Bernet
2011-12 Outbound to Spain
Hometown: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
School: Ponte Vedra High School
Sponsor: Ponte Vedra Beach Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Pamplona Rotary Club, District 2202,

Abbie - Spain

Abbie’s Bio

İHola! My name is Abbie Bernet, I am 16 years old and I live in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida with my family. My family consists of my dad, mom, younger brother and sister, and my three cats. I am a junior at Ponte Vedra High School, but that is soon to change because I will be spending my senior year in… Spain!

At first I was hesitant to apply to Rotary. Then I read a Mark Twain quote in a classroom which made me realize that I wanted to jump at the chance to become an exchange student. Twain said: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain gave me a nudge to apply, and I am so glad I did.

Although many people don’t understand why I would want to leave my family, I am so excited to have an additional family in Spain! I am ready to embrace this new year and see what not only Spain has to offer me, but what I have to offer Spain.

I am passionate about individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. One of my best friends who I have known since I was seven has autism. He inspired me to want to become a Special Education Teacher, and an advocate for these remarkable individuals. I have been active in Best Buddies in high school which has allowed me to reach out not only to kids with special needs, but also to my peers, by teaching them about Best Buddies and these individuals.

I am so thankful to Rotary and can’t wait to start my life-changing adventure. THANK YOU!

 Abbie’s Journals

September 15th- 2 weeks in Spain

After 18 very long hours of traveling, I arrived in Pamplona, Spain on September 1st, and was greeted by my wonderful host family. It was hard saying goodbye to my family and friends but I was excited to start my journey.

Many exchange students say how quickly the time passes by, for me it’s the complete opposite. It’s not that I’m not having fun, or not enjoying my stay; I love Spain. I love the people, the food, the life style, the shops, the views, I love everything, it’s just that my brain seems to calculate ‘days’ much differently. If I go out, that counts as one day, eating lunch counts as another day, and watching the news counts as another day as well, it’s weird.

My host family is always saying how I don’t eat enough and that my parents in Florida will be mad because I will be too skinny, but the truth is I eat more here than I would in Florida but that doesn’t seem to matter. I brought American food with me to give to my host family and my host grandmother is fascinated by it, especially the goldfish and slim jims which she says are so rich. I told my mom to mail me goldfish and slim jims and my host grandmother is so excited, I didn’t realize that crummy American food could make someone so happy, but then again my face lights up anytime I see a baguette which isn’t exciting for anyone else in Spain.

When I speak Spanish I sound like a 4 year old who also knows a bizarre form of sign language. Usually I just speak in the present tense and use my hands by pointing to my left to represent the past and to the right to represent the future. Whenever I don’t know a word I try to act it out which usually doesn’t work, and then whoever I am talking to just tells me to say it in English. Then if they don’t know the word in English they apologize because they don’t know much English which is even more embarrassing because I know they speak more English than I do Spanish. I should be the one apologizing because I’m in their country and I don’t know their language!

The first day of school was full of surprises. I expected that my teachers would sound like Charlie Brown’s, and they did. All I heard was “Wah wahh waaa wahh waa”. But I didn’t think that they would not realize that I was an exchange student, I didn’t think that they would assume my Spanish was nearly perfect, or that they would assume that I could listen and take notes, and I wasn’t expect my teachers to be confused if my name was Abbie, Abigail, or Elizabeth (my middle name). I also didn’t expect to freak out over not knowing how to flush the toilet, to see kids lined up by the school’s door smoking, or to call my teachers by their first names. The only weird questions I gotten at school have been “Do you really have cooking classes in the U.S.?” and “Do Americans really eat hamburgers every day for breakfast?” and “Have you been to L.A.? Why not?”

Here is a list of things I have noticed in Spain:

-You cannot be considered a Spanish teenage girl if you do not own a pair of ballet flats, the only problem is that they are the most uncomfortable shoes and multiple band aids must be worn on your heels at all times.

-Bread is served with every meal and the bread is wonderful. It could be considered dessert, it’s that good.

-Going to the grocery store almost every day is not uncommon because you buy food for what you will eat that day.

-The milk doesn’t have to be refrigerated until it’s opened. I still don’t understand how this works.

-To say okay in Spanish you say “vale” but not just once, usually people say it 3-4 times so that you can clearly understand that they understand.

-The paper is longer here, literally a piece of paper has like an extra inch.

-You can walk to anywhere you need to go, which is awesome.

-Cars appear out of nowhere and drive in the middle of plazas, and on roads that don’t look like roads at all, but walkers have the right of way.

-We don’t eat dinner until about 9-9:30 and lunch is usually at 2:30-3.

Muchas gracias to Rotary and to all of the people who helped me prepare for this amazing opportunity, especially to my family in Florida who I love and miss very much!

Monday, November 07, 2011

 ¡Hola! I can’t believe I’ve been in España for 2 months already; time is really starting to fly by!

I’ll start out by staying that I started a beginner’s Flamenco dance class for an hour and a half each week! My class is pretty small; there are 2 other teenage girls and about 5-6 middle-aged women. The class is very relaxed and it’s a lot of fun, I’m really glad I joined because it was a way for me to continue dancing and I look forward to going each week. I’m also very proud that I have been able to master most of the dance steps, whereas most of the other women are still getting their left and right mixed up, even though they speak the language that the class is being taught in!

I have realized that staying active during your exchange helps you in so many ways, it gives you something to do, you can meet new people, and it’s a great distractor, especially if you’re homesick. In addition to flamenco classes I will start reading books in English to little kids at a local bilingual school once a week. For Halloween, another exchange student from Canada and I also helped out with a Halloween party for an elementary school, we dressed up like witches and used Halloween words and activities to play charades and guessing games, the kids really enjoyed it, except for the preschoolers who were crying and terrified of us because we were wearing green face paint!

I attend a Catholic High School called Sagrado Corazón (Sacred Heart) which I can walk to in about 5 minutes. It is a private school for preschoolers to grade 12, but there are 2 buildings to divide us, my building is the 7th graders up to the 12th graders. My classes are pretty difficult and they range from gym, computer class, religion, science, and English to Spanish literature, philosophy, Latin, Greek, and World History. Some of my teachers tell me that they don’t care what I do in class, as long as I’m happy, they’re happy. Other teachers like my Latin teacher expect me to understand, answer questions in class, and take the exams. In class I usually try to translate whatever we are working on and when we have exams in class I try to translate my Spanish Harry Potter book, which has really been helping me learn both useful and really bizarre words!

Of all the differences I have noticed in school, the teachers are the most different from my teachers in the U.S. Teachers here don’t check if you did your homework, they hardly ever collect any work, they don’t ever give quizzes, and teachers expect you to understand everything by yourself, there’s no extra help before school or anything like that. Of all my teachers, my gym teacher is the most different. While using a microphone she screams what our next crazy activity will be, such as playing tag while holding hands with a partner, doing lunges up a hill next to a busy road, or taking turns running around a circle hoping over our classmates’ backs hoping we don’t accidentally step on them. I tried explaining to my classmates that these types of activities would never happen in the U.S. but it’s so normal here they couldn’t see why it was so different from what I’m used to. Many students here study a lot, and if they have tests the next week they don’t go out on the weekends at all. But on the other hand a lot of the students are happy when they get a 5 (out of 10) which is technically failing so I don’t see why they would be pleased with that.

In October, one of the host families in my town brought me and the 4 other exchange students in my town to visit Zaragoza, Spain where the Fiesta of Pilar is celebrated. The fiesta is in honor of the patron saint of the city, the Virgen del Pilar (Virgin Mary of the Pilar). People from all over the world come to represent their country and bring flowers for a massive flower monument which by the end of the day had more than 5 million flowers! So many people wore traditional outfits, there were so many beautiful churches to visit, and there was also lots of music and dancing! A few weeks later, the same family also brought us to visit San Sebastián, a gorgeous beach in Northern Spain and Saint Jean de Luz in Southern France.

I’ve realized that no one can be fully prepared for their exchange, it’s just not possible. There is no way to explain what it’s like to have so many emotions at one time. Sometime it’s bad feelings when you think “Why am I here? I don’t want to be here anymore.” (Which happens to everyone- no one loves being an exchange student 24/7). But at the same time you can have so many positive emotions, bursts of energy where you think “I am in another country! I just spoke in another language! I am so proud of myself! ” You also can’t be prepared for the feelings towards you host family and new friends. My one month mark in Spain my host mom told me “We love you so much Abbie, we love you so much!” and I just sat there crying while the entire restaurant had stopped eating and talking to stare at me. Or hearing my host dad say to me “you are my champion daughter” because I biked 25 kilometers with him. I’m already dreading the fact that I will have to leave this family in early December to move to my next family, and I had no idea that I would feel this attached to a family, they are no longer a ‘host’ family, they are my family, no matter what.

The other day in one of my classes we got information about a trip our grade would be taking to Paris. I was so excited that I was going to have this opportunity to see Paris and spend time with my classmates. My teacher came over to talk to me and I said “We’re going to Paris! When?” but she said “Yes, Abbie! We’re going to Paris! But… you’re not. The trip isn’t until next year and you’ll be back in Florida.” This answer sunk my heart because it was the first I really realized that my time here in Spain is limited. One day I will not live here anymore, and I won’t be an exchange student any more. And one day I will be sitting in Florida while my classmates are on their field trip to Paris, and I won’t be with them, and there is nothing I can do about it. That means that I can’t take anything for granted, whether it’s being able to walk around a beautiful city, eat delicious bread, or especially spending time with my new friends and family here.

The other day in class my English teacher asked me how I decided to become an exchange student, and I really was blown away thinking about how it had actually happened. It was after hearing a Rotary presentation at my school. I had never heard of Rotary, or even becoming an exchange student, but in those 45 minutes my life was changed. I can’t help but think what if I was sick and missed that day of school? I would have missed the meeting, I never would have applied and I would never have come to Spain or met the amazing people I have. I would never have had the chance to learn Spanish as well, my family would never have hosted Belen from Ecuador, and overall my life would be very different and very boring. Future outbounds, you will never ever get this opportunity again in life, so I urge you to apply, be unique and go through high school a little differently, it will be the hardest year of your life, but it will be a year of discovering yourself, another culture, and a chance to build lifelong friendships and stories to tell for the rest of your life.

So thank you to Paula Roderick for coming to my school that day, it was the first of many days that you have impacted my life, and I’m so glad that I have you for all your help and support! Thank you to Rotary Florida, and Rotary Spain, I don’t know how I can ever thank you for all you have done for me and for simply giving me this opportunity!

January 15

January 15, 4 ½ months in Spain

¡Hola! I can’t believe it’s already January and that in about 2 weeks I will be half way through my exchange! Although I hate to think about my time being limited here, it helps to have a deadline because once July rolls around I will be out of time to become fluent, make meaningful friendships, and live like a Spaniard. There are some days I panic that I will never become fluent, or that I will my classmates won’t care when I leave, or that I’ll never understand this culture, but there are other days where I can see how far I have come since my first days in Spain. I can now communicate what I want to say, I am starting to really understand Spanish grammar, and I can understand almost everything when people speak to me. My classmates are patient with me, they want to hear what I have to say, I know that if I ever had a problem I could ask for help and they would drop everything and help me. As far as culture in Spain, I am truly living as any Sp anish teenager does, and just knowing that I easily lead an American or Spanish lifestyle makes me so happy.


Everyone is always asking me if Spain is different from Florida and how so. So here are a couple of examples:

  1. The grocery store:

– At the grocery store you can walk to the soda aisle and grab 1 can of coke for 50 cents. You just take as many as you want out of the pack. It may not seem like a big deal, but you can’t do that in the U.S.

– To unlock a cart you have to put in 1 euro, but you get the money back once you lock it to another cart. Apparently this stops people from stealing the carts because if they don’t return the cart they won’t get their money back.

– Things like Barbie dolls and gum are in security boxes in some grocery stores.

  1. School

– As I will always be amazed by our activities in gym class, I’ll fill you in on what we’ve been doing. Our last units involved juggling (with balls we made out of rice and balloons), merengue dancing, twirling ribbons, and now we are starting batons (but with 3 sticks instead of 1).

– Also the liberty that is given to students at school is very different from what I’m used to. The other day, my entire grade (which is about 90 people) went to the movie theatre, to watch a movie our school had picked out. In the public school system in the U.S. going to the movies would mean buses and permission slips but here, our teachers said, “We’ll meet you at the theatre across town in 30 minutes.” So we all walked while eating our lunch, it’s neat that they trust us to actually walk instead of skipping or the fact that we could even get there by walking.

  1. Food

– Spaniards eat 5 times a day: 1) Desayuno, breakfast which is usually something sweet and light (never eggs, pancakes, or bacon). 2) Almuerzo, which is a snack before lunch. I have my almuerzo every day at school, and people usually have a small sandwich. 3) Comida, lunch which is the biggest meal of the day. I usually have lunch between 2:30-3:30. 4) Merendar, a snack after lunch around 6 which almost always includes bread and chocolate (this is my favorite). 5) Cena, dinner which is a lighter meal and starts between 9-10 (and sometimes even later in different parts in Spain).

These little differences seemed so strange at first, but now I don’t think twice about it, it will be weird going back to Florida and having to relearn common rules and norms of society.

New Host Family

On my 100th day of my exchange I switched host families! It was hard to leave my first host family, the city I know inside and out, and to change everything I had finally adjusted to. When I had to say goodbye to my host mom, it was really hard we said that we wouldn’t say goodbye, only see you later because that´s the truth, I´m not leaving yet, I still have 7 more months to make memories with my first host family even if I´m not living with them. My new host family is my host parents and an older host sister who will be leaving to live in Germany soon. I won’t lie, it was really hard to move, and even after a month it’s still hard sometimes. But they are really nice, and always want to make sure that I understand, am happy, and that I’ve had enough to eat. I’m glad that I got to change families, this way I get to see how another family lives in Spain, because just like in the U.S., all families are different.


I am so grateful to have spent Thanksgiving, or Accíon de Gracias in Spanish, with 10 other exchange students with all the usual food, even a turkey, which actually took a while to find because they aren’t very common in Spain. It didn´t really feel like Thanksgiving though, because it was so different from the usual traditions I have with my family each year.

Merry Christmas! ¡Feliz Navidad! For the entire month of December, my city, Pamplona had lots of Christmas lights and decorations displayed all around the city. My host family and I had a big dinner, opened presents and went to mass at midnight for Christmas Eve. Christmas was a normal day with all the leftovers from the night before. Although Spaniards put up Christmas trees and talk about Santa, (Papa Noel) the most important day is not December 25th, but January 6th, the day that the 3 wise men came. Also, although my family had a Christmas tree, the most important decoration is the belen, which is Spanish for the nativity. Even the mall near my house a big belen on display, and I went to a museum that showed nativities from all over the world.

¡Feliz Año! Happy New Year! For New Year’s I went to my host family’s pueblo, which is Spanish for village/ small town. Many Spaniards go to a pueblo throughout the year and for special holidays where their grandparents live and other relatives. The pueblo I went to was really pretty with lots of small, old houses and a huge church that has the biggest population of storks in all of Spain. We celebrated New Years with lots and lots of food and at 12 o’clock we watched the ball drop in Madrid, just like in New York. At 12 o’clock we quickly ate a grape when the clock rang each hour on the clock, 12 in all.

The 3 Kings Day or día de Reyes Magos as I mentioned earlier, is very important in Spain. The night before there was a huge parade in Pamplona where the 3 kings made a special appearance; afterwards all the kids went home to go to bed so that the 3 kings could deliver their gifts. On the actual day I had lunch with my first host family and later I returned home to have rosco which is a typical dessert in Spain for this day. Rosco is a dessert made of bread and kind of like a big doughnut with candy fruit on top. Hidden inside each rosco are 2 figures; a little figure of one of the 3 kings and a bean, if you get the bean in your piece of rosco then you have to pay for next year’s rosco.

Even though I was awed by Spain when I first came, I think I am even more amazed by simple things than I was before. In my city I am surrounded by mountains which I just love to sit and stare at. The neat thing about northern Spain is the diversity of land. You can be diving next to lush green forests and green mountains and 2 minutes later you are in the middle of a desert. I also really appreciate the older buildings, castles, and churches that don’t exist in the U.S.

Last weekend with my Rotary club, we got to organize donated clothes to families in need. Especially now, many Spaniards are unemployed and the economic crisis has been affecting many families. I haven’t seen the effects of the economic crisis because for the most part, the South of Spain has been more affected than the North, where I live.

Congrats to the new outbounds, cherish the time before your exchange because in some ways it’s just as important as the exchange itself. This is your time to dream of what your new life will be like (which will end up being completely different), to get a head start on learning your language (don’t slack off- you will regret it), and to anxiously wait for your first email from you host family, your departure date, and to look at your new town on Google earth for the first of many times.

¡Hasta luego!


Alayna Mobley
2011-12 Outbound to Hungary
Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Creekside High School
Sponsor: Bartram Trail Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: TBA, District 1911,

Alayna - Hungary

Alayna’s Bio

Szia! My name is Alayna Mobley and I just happen to be going on an amazingly fantastic trip to study abroad in… wait for it… just a second more……… HUNGARY! 😀 I am 15 years old living in sunny Jacksonville, and attending Creekside High School. By the time I leave for Hungary (I love saying that) I will be 16. I’ve lived in Florida my whole life and love being outside. Anything that’s adventurous and exciting is my kind of thing. I’ve been traveling ever since I was in my momma’s belly (literally) haha. Anyways some of the things I like to do in my spare time are read, hangout with friends, boating activities, anything outdoors, and my main hobby is horseback riding.

I first heard about the Rotary Youth Exchange Program  back in October when Jack Murray came to my school to give a presentation on it. The second the presentation was over I headed straight outside to call my Mom and ask if I could do this. I knew this was for me. I had that feeling in the pit of my gut that I had to do this. It was an awesome feeling and I was accepted as you can see. I get the amazing chance to be able to learn another culture, how they act there, their customs, celebrations, religion, a new language, the second hardest language to learn at that! My mind is blown it’s so amazing! 🙂

But I would have never gotten to this point if it weren’t for Rotary, my family, and friends. Thank you Rotary and all of the Coordinators, chairs and officers (well everybody helping out!) involved in District 6970 for helping me get to where I am and where I’m going. I can’t thank you enough, although you’ll probably hear it every time I see you guys! I would also like to thank my family and friends for being so supportive of my decision to do this. I’m so thankful of this incredible chance of a lifetime. Oh, and if you’re thinking of applying to be an exchange student… DO IT! This is, as I said up there, a chance of a lifetime! Take it in your hands and hold on to it. As I like to say Carpe Diem (Seize the Day). Viszontlátásra! (Goodbye!)

Alayna’s Journals

Thursday, October 27, 2011

So it’s been one month and nine days since I stepped off the Air France plane onto Hungarian soil. Since I first saw my host family, smiles, balloons and all, waiting for me at the airport. And what I can say about Hungary is that it’s amazing, incredible, fascinating, and every good imaginable word you can think of! But saying all of those would be an understatement. The feeling of living here and being here is indescribable. I feel like I fit right in with the culture, people, and language! But don’t get me wrong, I definitely experienced culture shock. During my first week here I went for a walk. To explore.(: I was walking down the sidewalk, coming up to an elderly woman. Now remember, in America it’s poite to say “hello” or “Good Afternoon” when passing strangers. Therefore, me being the American that I am, I politely smiled and said “Jnapot kivanok” (I wish you a good afternoon”) to the woman and she glared and looked at me like I was insane! I was thinking in my head “What the heck?!? I was just trying to be nice!” But then as I passed more and more people I realized… wait a second.. they don’t do that here! I was so embarrassed at the time, but now I just look back and laugh. That was my first culture shock slap in the face.

Magyar is a language in itself; it’s unique, different, hard, interesting. But I’m getting it.(: And I’m surprisingly learning it fast! All of my friends and my family help me out with the language; my host sisters will point out random objects and say what it is in Hungarian and they make me repeat it until I pronounce it right. But it’s hard sometimes to understand the words I do know because they talk so fast! And I have to say”Lass! Lass!” This means “Slower! Slower!” I am beginning to be able to actually put sentences together instead of talking like a three-year old. But it’s hard because each Hungarian word changes form in each sentence, depending on who you’re talking about, what you’re talking about, and when and why you’re talking about it. But the language is not a huge struggle, and my pronunciation of words is pretty good. I am so happy that I’m understanding, speaking, and learning the language so fast.

Seven days… It takes seven days to break a habit. Seven days in a week. It took seven days for me to fully adjust. It might sound weird but on that seventh day of being here I could talk about my family without getting tears in my eyes. On that seventh day I finally ate everything that was on my plate… and more(: On that seventh day I didn’t get homesick’ I didn’t have the urge to call my Mom and Dad. I had finally gotten into a routine with my host family and on that seventh day I fully accepted everything that was new and embraced it. And ever since that seventh day I can honestly say that I am happy; happy to be in Hungary


Alison Sigman
2011-12 Outbound to Denmark
Hometown: Oviedo, Florida
School: Oviedo High School
Sponsor: Oviedo Rotary Club, District 6980, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Nakskov-Ravnsborg, District 1480, Denmark

Alison - Denmark

Alison’s Bio

Hej- the first word I have learned in Danish so far. It means, “hello”. My name is Alison, I’m 16, and a junior at Oviedo High School. I was born in Yangzhou, China, but at six months of age I was adopted and moved to Tennessee. Around eight years ago I moved again to where I live currently. It’s a quaint little town called Oviedo. Right now I reside with my mom, dad, older sister, three dogs, and four cats. In case you couldn’t guess, I love animals; dogs, cats, squirrels, the occasional skunk. I have very few exceptions.

One could say that I have a small obsession with the arts; music, drawing, painting, poetry, photography, etc. If it’s classified as part of the arts, I’m into it. Oh, and I have an odd addiction to quotes and lyrics; just a fun fact.

I am sometimes quiet when I’m trying to take in something new or when I’m attempting to think things through, though it can sometimes can be misinterpreted as shy. Once I’m comfortable with someone or in my environment, then I am able to open up and talk quite a bit.

On the off chance you didn’t catch the hint of where I’m headed on this exchange, it’s Denmark. Now, it hasn’t set in at all, but within the next few months I’m sure it will become completely real to me. From this experience I hope to find out a little bit more about the world outside the United States and maybe a little bit more about myself. Anyway, before this gets too long, I’d like to thank Rotary for this incredible opportunity.

“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” I’m ready to lose sight of the shore.

Alison’s Journals

August 7

First official journal entry from Denmark! I guess I’ll start by stating the obvious: I’m in Denmark! I’ve made it and I’m totally intact. I finally have escaped the overwhelming amount of mosquitoes and sweltering heat that is Florida. Basically, this is about as close to paradise as I think I’ll ever get. Right now it is not too hot, and not too cold. This plus a nice breeze and beautiful scenery is enough to let me die happy. I have a nice little bedroom in my first house and I really like it; no lie.

When I was first met by my host mother, Rikke, and sister, Julianne (my host dad, Lars, is a farmer and so he was working, and my host sister, Sofie, went to Spain for vacation) I couldn’t believe how nice they were! No really, I was mind boggled.

My host sister even got me a Danish flag and put my name on it! Today I helped my host mom make marmalade (it looks delicious, and I’m not just saying that because I’m biased), took a bunch of photos, went for a tour of Nakskov, and took a walk with my host mom, sister, dad, and dog to the cemetery. Ok, so that sounds a bit creepy, but you have no idea how nice the cemetery is.

 There are trees and plants everywhere and it’s really nicely kept. I’m sure if my fear of cemeteries at night was a bit less acute, I would even sleep there, no dare needed. I went to the Horse Head yesterday, and yes, I’m allergic to horses, and no, there were no horses. The Horse Head looks like it came straight from a post card. They even have a mini beach there! It was wonderful. They also have a swimming pool around the area. Moving on.

My host family will sometimes ask me about some words that they don’t quite know in English, and many times when they do that I ask what it is in Danish. I’ve begun my stack of notecards with Danish to English translations on them like Scott (6980-woot woot) suggested. Anyway, I feel a bit scatterbrained tonight (as I am still recovering from a bit of jet lag) so I think this is it for now. See you again in two months!

October 16, 2011

which means that I am now on my third month. I tried thinking back to my first day in school a couple days ago, and it was so weird to do! All of the people in my class I at least know their personalities a bit now, but when school first started I had no idea what their first names even were, none the less what kind of people they were. I remember sitting there and thinking things like, “I wonder who in this class I’ll become closest to,” and “I wonder where I’ll fit into in this new school.” Everything was… for a lack of a better word, everything was so ‘foreign’. It’s funny how I have made some pretty amazing friends, and how normal everything here seems now.

Moving on.

So I think the two most popular, difficult, and at times annoying questions I get asked are, “So how is Denmark? What are you doing there?” How do you even begin to answer those questions? I don’t feel like you can even give the default answers of “good” and “not much”. Denmark isn’t just good. It’s been so much more. It’s been amazing, awe inspiring, jaw dropping, and at the same time there have been times when I’ve had a terrible day, or I just craved home so unimaginably bad. As for the second question, I’ve done an incredible amount in two months. I have probably done more in the two months that I’ve been here than I could have even imagined doing in a year combined back at home. Therefore, I feel as if saying, “not much” is not only an understatement, but it’s almost as if it’s an insult to say so.

Back at home I always thought I was independent. Not to say that it was all in my head, but I was nowhere near as close to independent as I’m getting here. It’s exciting how free I feel here. I really can feel myself slowly developing into a more independent person, and it both pleases and terrifies me. It seems that I’ve changed so much already here, and I still have seven months left to go. It’s strange to even think about what kind of person I’ll be when I get back. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

I would like to take a second and apologize if I seem a bit incoherent. There are so many feelings and thoughts that I’d like to get across, that it’s getting a bit hard to express any of them.

I guess I should mention that I’m with a different family than I was with when I wrote my first entry from Denmark. What to say about these people… I really do love all of them; my little brother, my little sister, the dog, my host mom, and my host dad. Before I knew it, they became family and have showed me what it’s like for a family to act as a family unit. It’ll be incredibly difficult to leave here in six weeks. Thankfully, they’re only a bus ride away from where I’ll be staying next, but still. I’ve been trying to avoid thinking about it too much, because it’s just sad. I love my talks with my host mom when we’re in the car or at the dining table. I love the hugs my host dad gives. I love the hugs and kisses my little host brother gives me, and how he always tries to teach me words. I love talking to my little host sister, and joking around with her.

As for my counselor family, I also feel like they’re family. I always enjoy when I get to go over there, and hang out for a while. I think me and my younger counselor host sister (can I say that?) get along so well. We have a four year difference, and I never even notice it when we hang out. As for my older counselor host sister, she is so nice. She’s patient and takes time to explain things to me, and help me out when I ask.

I’ve met so many incredible people here, and it’s weird to think that without this opportunity I wouldn’t even know they existed. I am so grateful to have this opportunity, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I’m learning so much about myself, and the world.

I know I’m missing some things, but I’d rather not write anymore paragraphs, so I think I might just list them in hopes that it makes this journal entry a bit shorter:

– The parties here are so much fun.

– The fashion here is impeccable.

– The cold is rapidly approaching, and I don’t think I’m ready. Florida doesn’t prepare you for these things.

– Smiling really does get you through anything. (I think I might be reiterating myself, but it’s so incredibly true).

– It’s really expensive, but I like the challenge of balancing things.

– Google Translate has become my best friend.

– I’m getting a better hang of the language and can now understand what people say sometimes.

– My Rotary Exchange friends are so amazing, and it’s so mind boggling that I now know people from countries like Columbia, India, Japan, Taiwan, Brazil and Mexico.

– I’ve made a recipe book.

– I’ve gotten a lot better at being able to read Danish.

– My host brother and sister can now normally understand what I’m trying to say, because my pronunciation has gotten better.

– I’ve gotten A LOT fitter, and have learned that driving all the time back home has done me no favors.

Well I’m sure there’s more, but I can’t think of anything more. I’d just like to lastly thank again Rotary for this experience.

December 28, 2011

Well, I have done it. I’ve made it to and past Christmas here. Christmas here is not the same, but then again Christmas anywhere is not the same as it is for your next door neighbor. Some of the main differences to the Christmas I usually have and the Christmas here are:

– My entire family danced around the Christmas tree holding hands while selecting and singing Christmas carols out of a piece of paper folded up like a brochure.

– We celebrated it on the 24th rather than the 25th. MEANING: no waiting for ‘Santa Claus’.

– People actually dressed up for the Christmas dinner.

Other than all that, it really didn’t seem too different. I know that a lot of people here, not just exchange students, were disappointed with the lack of a white Christmas here. In all honesty though, I consider that one of my most blessed Christmas gifts. I’m really not ready for snow, and I’ve reasoned that the later it comes means the less time until it leaves.

It seems during the last two or so winters here in Denmark it has snowed for three months straight. Now, I’m all for seeing snow, but I’m already freezing, and I’d like to be realistic. I love Denmark, but I’ve been a Florida girl for the past nine years of my life. Of those six years I have seen snow for maybe three days of the year then I have gone back home to sweating during winter, and being completely content. On top of that, some of my friends in class are already betting how long I’ll last when it does begin to snow. Needless to say, I understand that like it or not, soon I will be running into snow, but I think the later the better. Santa? Are you listening?

Anyway, moving on from there. My class is wonderful, and soon, we will be taking in nine other students who have switched from other classes. Thankfully I’ve at least seen all of the new ones, and I’m comfortable with the people already in class. So I’m not really worried. Actually, I might even venture to say I’m a bit excited.

It might be a bit late to announce, but I am now living with my new host family. They are some of the sweetest people I have ever met; and some of the most thoughtful. I am so thankful for having them as my second host family. In fact, I am so thankful for even being here. Rotary has definitely given me the best Christmas present I could have ever asked for.

April 4, 2012

Hej alle sammen!

Can you believe that I’ve been here eight months? Also, I’m now with my last family, and despite the end of my Danish language school (*let’s take a moment of silence…) my Danish is still improving!

Well it was a sad day when I had to leave my last family because they had really become just that, my family. The only thing keeping me from not totally freaking out was the fact that this new family is only living about five minutes over; still, it was sad because it was the end of something. Now I’m with my new family, and I think I’m settling in nicely. I currently have one older brother and one slightly younger sister; both are only about a year difference. The entire family is really sweet, so I’m happy.

I believe during the last journal I said how we were getting nine more people added to our class, which makes the class total thirty. Well, they have been added and it really seems for the best. The class seems to have a better atmosphere, for the most part. That’s not to say it wasn’t great before… but it’s improved with the additional people. I really do adore my class, so it makes it a bit hard to think about school being over in about a month, and more so this exchange being over in about three months. I try not to think about it because it’s sad to think that all the friends you have will be moving on together through school for the next two years without you, and in the same way, you have to move on with your life away from all of them. So, in about three months, nothing will ever be the same. It’s all a bit strange, and sad. At the same time though, I feel a bit accomplished that I do feel this way about everyone. I take it also as a great ac complishment that I’ve become close enough to the people, this country, and it’s culture, to know already how much I’ll miss it.

OK, moving away from such sad topics, let’s talk about the weather. It is April, I’m freezing, and there’s a chance of snow, or at least frost, tonight. Next to all of that, I’ve noticed that I find it warm when it’s just 54 degrees outside. What. Is. Wrong. With. Me. I remember back at home I used to think it was freezing if the thermostat was down to 70 degrees. Thankfully though, we’re on påskeferie (pronunced: po-skuh-fair-yuh; meaning: Easter Holiday), and so I think by the time the break is over, the temperature will be rising again. Hopefully, this time it will stay up.

I was so proud of myself, I feel the need to share. Before I left my last host family, the night before I cooked an entire three course meal. Everything was homemade, and it took me about three hours to prepare the order and what I was going to make, then about five hours to actually make the food.



Chicken Noodle Soup



Basil and Lemon Chicken

Mac N’ Cheese

Mashed Potatoes

Green Beans with Garlic and Onion


Apple Pie


On Monday (April 2), I gave my Rotary Presentation in Danish. It felt so good to hear from my counselor’s (who have been with me every step of the way since I’ve been here) say that they were proud and impressed with my presentation.

I guess in closing I’d really, from the bottom of my heart, like to thank Rotary again for giving me this opportunity and in turn, these experiences.


Alison Siwica
2011-12 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: Orlando, Florida
School: Edgewater High School
Sponsor: Orlando Breakfast Rotary Club, District 6980, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Belo Horizonte – Pampulha, District 4760,

Alison - Brazil

Alison’s Bio

Ola! My name is Alison Siwica. I am seventeen years old and I live in Orlando, Florida. I have been fortunate enough to be chosen for the Rotary Exchange Program. I can’t believe my luck in being selected to spend a year in Brazil. I can’t imagine a more exotic and exciting way to spend a year of my life. There are so many things that intrigue me about Brazil, from the obvious things like the Amazon, the rain forests, and the rich history, to the extraordinary political/social/cultural aspects of this fascinating nation: hey, it’s got to be a great place if it has a female president doesn’t it?

I am a senior at Edgewater High School in Downtown, Orlando. My favorite class is History, which is probably why I so look forward to going to Brazil: I can’t imagine the equator, dipping my feet into the waters of the Amazon (it will no longer be something that exists only in books), and meeting the people of another continent. I have a younger sister, named Lizzie, who is understandably very jealous of this incredible opportunity. I think my parents are a little jealous as well. Although I have had several opportunities to travel, including a short class trip to Southern and Western Europe, this will be the first time I have been away from my family for such a long period of time; I look forward to the adventure.

I think the exchange program is something I’ve always wanted to do, but just never knew it. I expect to learn more about myself and to grow as a person. I also want a global perspective for the future. However, I have to admit that I am a little bit scared of that first time I will have to make my way on my own, with a Portuguese dictionary as my only friend.

This brings me to my biggest fear. It isn’t being lonely, and it isn’t being homesick; rather, it is being able to communicate and sharing my thoughts and ideas in an entirely foreign environment. But overcoming this fear and becoming a part of the community and the society, and sharing thoughts and ideas with people from another culture, like Brazil, is the point of the exchange program.

Alison’s Journals

October 17, 2011

On the day of my departure, I never felt so many mixed emotions in my life. When I looked back at my mom, dad, sister, and best friend, I couldn’t feel my legs. And when I walked forward, I knew I was on my own. I took a deep breath and didn’t look back. I knew that I could do this and I knew it would be the journey of a lifetime.

I cannot believe two months have already gone by. It feels like just yesterday I was getting off the plane. When I saw my family for the first time, I loved them immediately. Their home is absolutely amazing. And they have the cutest dog named Julie.

I’m not going to lie, on my first day of school I was terrified. It’s always scary to start at a new school (especially if you are in a different country and you don’t speak the language). When I walked into my first class, I was surrounded. Everyone was coming up to me and asking me so many questions. I couldn’t believe how nice everyone was. And I was already being invited to parties! Oddly enough, I actually enjoy going to school now! And it makes it even better that it ends at 12:30.

Everyday I take the bus home from school. I was scared I would mess up and end up on the opposite side of the city, but it turned out to be easy. The hardest part has been the language. But I know it will get easier soon. I also can’t stop eating. The food is absolutely amazing and there is always so much! It’s a dream come true.

This amazing place has already changed me so much. It has made me grow up and become more independent. This has been the most exciting and eye opening experience I have ever had. I truly am having the time of my life.

January 2012

Wow! I can’t believe it is already January! It feels like I just arrived in Brazil yesterday. I have been having the time of my life these last five months. Christmas was definitely memorable. Almost the entire family (about 25 people) gathered at my house and celebrated for a week.

 There was an endless amount of food, beverages, and things to do. It was amazing experience. And on Christmas day, we did a Secret Santa and a lot of people said a little speech. I decided to make a speech too to thank everyone for making me feel like part of the family. I got a little emotional because it made me realize just how lucky I was. I will never forget it.

New Years was also amazing. The whole family stayed at a beach called Cabo Frio (very close to Rio) for a week. It was so beautiful and everyday was perfect weather! The water was so blue and clear. We went to the beach every day and stayed all day. On one of the days, we decided to take a day trip to Rio. I got to see the awesome beaches, the Statue of Jesus Christ, the soccer stadium, and many other cool things. It was definitely a day I won’t forget. On New Years Eve we had a party with the family! It was so much fun. And when the clock struck twelve, we watched an absolutely amazing fireworks show on the beach. It lasted for about thirty minutes and it was definitely the best one I have ever seen.

It took awhile to come back from Cabo Frio. It is about six hours away and we made a lot of stops on the way. It’s funny because it seems like I have some family connection in every city we pass. I feel like I have about 15 aunts and 30 cousins! And I am finally back in Belo Horizonte!


Alyssa Melby
2011-12 Outbound to Iceland
Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Paxon School of Advanced Studies
Sponsor: Deerwood Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Belo Horizonte – Pampulha, District 4760, Brazil

Alyssa - Iceland

Alyssa’s Bio

Hi, My name is Alyssa Melby, I am a junior at Paxon High School, and during the 2011/ 2012 year, I will be traveling all the way to the very northern, very cold island of Iceland. The teenage years, as everyone says in those cliche movies (but also true), are the times when you search for yourself. I am about to turn eighteen, become independent, a legal adult, my childhood will become deceased in 6 months (right before I leave). I really believe that this experience will be the last and most impacting chapter in my life that will tie all the loose ends of who I really am before I go out in the world on my own.

So why did I choose Iceland? I picked Iceland because of the people. Prior to even knowing about the Rotary club I saw a movie. It was called How To Train Your Dragon. During the end credits as I sat in absolute contentment after seeing one of my most favorite movies, they played that feel good song that always plays at the end a movie. I fell in love with it and had to look it up. I found out it was called Sticks and Stones by Jonsi. AND GUESS WHAT!? He’s Icelandic!! I listened to more of his songs and found myself entranced in the beautiful, ethereal sounds that is Jonsi! I also bought many CD’s of the previous band he was in called Sigur Ros (which means Victory Rose, named after Jonsi’s sister). I started researching more about Iceland and what got me the most interested in Iceland is it’s people. The people are very tolerant and open minded people. Iceland just seems like a very happy and peaceful place to live.

So now heres the part where I give you information on my personal interests, common-Alyssa-doings, and pretty much the person I am. I would characterize myself as a deep thinker. I like to examine situations in my life and really try to understand why they happened and how they could help me develop as a person. I never really had opportunities to express those deep thoughts until I walked into my speech class. I never knew I had a talent for writing speeches until I met my speech teacher Mr. Mairs. I admire that man like no other. He has inspired me to go out there and express myself. Whenever I went to speech tournaments I felt all those little ideas in my head explode. Not only am I interested in speech, but I also act. I’ve been in a number of plays but I think my favorite theater thing to do is improvisation. It is a lot of fun because it’s unscripted and everything comes off the top of your head on the spot.

To wrap things up before I write a book, This is me Alyssa; unique, philosophical, weird (but who wants to be normal), loving, and free- spirited. Thank you Rotary for changing my life!

Alyssa’s Journals

September 23

Before I tell about my experience so far within these first three weeks, I want to say that every exchange student’s experience is different and unique because each exchange student makes it their own. There is no set formula that we’re all supposed to follow because each one of us is unique and our experience goes according to our personality and how we handle things in our host country. I can say that my experience has been very special and I wouldn’t have wanted it to go any other way.

First off, I want to say that I really lucked out with the host family I have and the school I go to. They are both a perfect fit for me and I don’t think I could be any happier with any other host family or school. I feel really comfortable and welcome in both environments because both my host family and the people at my school are warm and welcoming people and willing to go out of their way to help me and make me feel comfortable. Not only that, but I just feel that I can easily bond with them because it is so easy to be myself around them and talk about anything and just be honest.

It was almost instantaneous for my host family to actually feel like a family instead of strangers hosting someone they’ve never met before. It did not take much for me to fall in love with this family. I love it whenever my host father explains things to me about Icelandic culture or tells me facts about the landscape and history of Iceland when we go places. I love to watch how he does things like sailing or cutting up fish that he caught himself. I love it when my host mother talks about Icelandic traditions and the characteristics of Icelandic people. I also feel like I can go to her for anything or talk about anything. I love going out for coffee or going to the movies or the mall with my host sister. I have a lot of fun hanging out with her and talking about music or other things.

There are two words I would use to describe Iceland and that would be relaxed and comfortable. Iceland is a lot less formal than the United States and community is a lot stronger and plays a very important role in society and that is because the country is so much smaller than the United States. The schools are way, way, way less strict compared to the school I went to in America. No silly hall passes, no bells, no I.D.’s, no permission slips, no tardies, everyone is on a first name basis, the teachers actually treat the students with the maturity and intelligence they deserve, and overall it’s just a comfortable and free environment to be in.

One culture shock that I totally did not see coming was how stylish the Icelandic teenagers can be. EVERYONE LOOKS LIKE THEY CAME OUT OF A FASHION MAGAZINE!!! The women are stunningly beautiful and dress with sophistication. The men have these hair styles that you would never see in America. I remember when I was writing my research paper and I had to write about what teenagers wore on a regular basis. The internet said “just plain jeans and a t-shirt with sneakers will do.” That is complete and utter bull. I’d say that is sufficient support for the argument that you should never trust the internet. It also shows that experience is very vital in life and does way more justice for understanding a culture than just researching about it.

I would love to tell you more but I’m afraid you would look at this journal and go “This is way too long for me to sit here and read.” So I think this is enough for now and I will leave the rest for the next journal. The last thing I want to say is really important, especially for the other exchange students; open mindedness and proactivity play a key role in making a good exchange. Until next time, sjáumst!

November 30, 2011

When you are on a speech/debate team you learn one very important lesson. There are two aspects involved in speech. One is writing and the other is presentation. You can be an excellent speech writer but it means nothing if you cannot present in a manner that gets your message across. You can be an excellent presenter, confident, a crowd pleaser, loud and powerful voice, always knowing your way around the speech, but if your writing is shallow and senseless, you come off as arrogant. I was always a good writer but when it came to presenting it in front of judging eyes, I lacked the skills and confidence to get my message across. I always had to put a little more focus on my presentation skills.

Here, on my exchange, I feel like that tenfold. Communication is the basis and most vital part of an exchange and, of course, it has to be the most difficult thing to master. Learning the language of your country is the only way you will truly and wholly become a part of society and culture. It is exceptionally harder for me to do this because:

  1. Everyone speaks excellent English, sometimes better than Americans.
  2. Icelandic is one of the most difficult languages to learn.
  3. Roughly 75% of Iceland’s entertainment is American.
  4. Once Icelanders find out you speak English and little Icelandic, it’s going to take them a death threat to get them to speak Icelandic with you instead of English. I’ve asked and asked and got down on my knees and pleaded for them to speak Icelandic with me, but they are so, so stubborn.

By speaking English with me they feel like they are keeping me out of the dark but what they’re really doing is pushing me further into the dark. Whenever I do ask them to speak Icelandic, they do but when they ask me if I understood and I didn’t they’ll say it in English. It’s like you’re offering them vegetables or candy. You tell them the vegetables have many benefits and are better for you than candy but the candy is just so tempting, you’ve got to take it. I don’t really blame them. If I were in their situation I’d get pretty impatient and frustrated too.

But, the important thing is that I keep on trying. I keep pushing. Eventually I’ll get there. “Þetta kemur,” that’s what everyone keeps telling me. It’s an expression meaning, “It will come.” This is the time of year where homesickness starts to hit pretty badly. It’s where we get a little depressed and anxiety overcomes. There are only a few hours of light in the day and the darkness psychologically messes with you. It’s cold and you’re always tired. But the holiday spirit and snow and the love and support of the other exchange students and family keep you pushing through. Þetta kemur.

January 17, 2012

Today on the seventeenth of January all of my classes have been cancelled, so I decided today would be a good day to update my journal. Indeed, today was an excellent day to write, for today, I realized something…

In my days as an exchange student, I like to reflect back on the reasons why I chose to become one. Sometimes I like to think that I decided it on a whim, triggering my mind to dream of adventure at the mention of such an experience. But buried deep beneath such extavagance were desires. Desires which sought its fulfillment in this crazy year.

When I first learned of the student exchange program, I heard stories that it changed the people who went into the program. They became fluent in another language, they adapted habits unknown in their home country, they learned to cook traditional foods of their host country, they changed their style of clothing, they made life long friends with peolple they couldn‘t even communicate with in the beginning of their exchange, they recieved love from an unrelated family, they became more confident, smarter, more knowledgable, more wise and mature. I desired all of that. So I went on this journey to try and make myself become all of that. I wanted to change who I was.

Now I realise that this is the wrong way to go about an exchange.

For a while, I was so focused on achieving the goal of being the perfect exchange student. I was going to become fluent in the language and speak it intelligently and with as less of an accent as possible. I was going to be very outgoing and talk to all of my class mates, so that I would become good friends with them by the end of the exchange. I was going to make my host family proud of my accomplishments in adapting to the culture. I was going to make excellent grades in all of my classes and impress everyone.

It turns out that trying too hard and being disappointed in yourself every time you make a mistake, will make you very depressed. And depressed I got. I wasn‘t any where near perfection.

I told my host my mom that I felt I wasn‘t adapting to the culture well enough. I also told her that I was a perfectionist and that I am always hard myself every time I don‘t do something exactly right. I also told her that none of the other exchange students were feeling as depressed as I was and that I thought maybe there was something wrong with me.

She said there was nothing wrong with me. Everyone handles things differently. The life of a perfectionist is a hard life to live. How it would be nice to live like the people who don‘t have a care in the world. She also said that she was once like me… then she became a mother of four children. =)

All my life I have always fixated on the outcome and I never focused on the journey itself. From now on, I am done trying to become someone different, I am just going to let it be and accept whatever happens. I am not going to think about the person I will be by the end of this exchange, I am just going to enjoy every moment of it, even if it means accepting my failures.


Amber Herrle
2011-12 Outbound to Thailand
Hometown: Tallahassee, Florida
School: Leon High School
Sponsor: Tallahassee Southside Rotary Club, District 6940, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Nonthaburi, District 3350, Thailand

Amber - Thailand

Amber’s Bio

Three weeks ago, I found out that I’ll be spending my sophomore year in Thailand. I can’t really describe to you what it actually feels like to say those words; it’s kind of like an inverted Sour Patch Kids gummy. At first, it’s sweet, oh, so so sweet; you imagine all the food, the new culture that you’re going to be immersed into, and all the new people you’ll meet. Then it turns a little sour, but not very sour, just sour enough to remind you of everything you’ll be leaving behind for that year abroad: your friends, family and the comfort of the English language. Next, it turns to the anxious feeling you get when you first get the package of gummies, that, “oh my goodness, I can’t wait to experience this” feeling… and that’s how I would sum up my feelings about this experience in four sentences.

ÊÇÑÊ´Õ¤! I’m Amber. I’m a loud, outgoing, curly haired red-head, with a lot of enthusiasm for weird things. My parents are divorced and I split my time up evenly between both households. I can only describe my family by telling you that they are absolutely amazing. I’m fifteen years old and I go to Leon High School in Tallahassee. My favorite color is yellow, because it’s bright and happy; just like the sun.  I like climbing trees and looking at the stars, but not at the same time, because I’m a little klutzy and I know that I’ll fall out of a tree if I climb it at night. I like going on adventures and doing weird things. Dance is a huge part of my life, it always has been and it will probably always be.

Why Thailand? I swear, I’ve answered this question at least once a day since I found out my country. You would think that I would have come up with a really good, solid reason of why I want to go to Thailand, a reason that I had memorized so well, I could say it in my sleep; but in fact, it’s the exact opposite of that. I say a different reason every time someone asks me this question because I just have too many reasons of why I want to go to Thailand.

I can’t express to you how much this opportunity really means to me. An opportunity like this is a huge undertaking, but I love challenges and I can’t wait to begin my year abroad. I want to thank all of the Rotarians that made it possible for all of the youth exchangers to go and thanks to my family and friends in always supporting me in what I do.

 Amber’s Journals

August 3

It’s a rainy day in the sunshine state and I’m only 5 days away from my departure. It’s a little wild isn’t it? I’ve been waiting so long for this day to come, and now it’s so close I can almost taste the Pad Thai. Ha. Ha.

With everyday, I struggle a little more with the reality that I’ll be saying goodbye to my family and friends for an entire year. But with every new day I gain confidence in myself and my fellow exchange students because I know that this is truly our year to find ourselves and grow as young adults and I know that we’re ready to rock it.

With every goodbye I’ve said, I get this weird, almost bitter sweet, feeling within me. Part of the feeling is pure ecstasy… I truly cannot explain to anyone just how excited I am for this upcoming year, to put it plainly: I.cannot.wait. Seriously. I can’t. But there is also another part of the goodbye that is not so sweet, the sadness the engulfs your body because you realize that you won’t see this person for another year… because you’ll be on the other side of the world with a “new life” while they are back at your old high school, gossiping about who got caught sneaking off campus during lunch.  

It’s really hard to explain my feelings about all of this to the people who ask me “how are you feeling?” Because I’m feeling every possibly feeling a person could ever feel at this moment in time. People ask if I’m excited, yes… of course I’m excited! I’m more than excited, I’m thrilled. Who wouldn’t be?! But I’m also a little nervous, a little scared, and a little like, “what the hell am I doing?”

I can’t say I’m ready, because I don’t know what exactly I’m supposed to be ready for. But I can say that I’m fully prepared to take in everything that this next year throws at me, whether that be fried cockroaches or cute exchange students from Latin America. I feel that Rotary has prepared me as much as they possibly could, but now it is up to me to take what I’ve learned and actually apply it to the real world. See you on the other side of the world!

September 3

I’ve lived in the same town since I was born. In fact, I’ve lived in the same house my entire life. So to say the least, leaving was weird. My flight left at 8:49 A.M and I finished dying my hair at 6:30 A.M. Typical. I had butterflies in my stomach, but not your normal butterflies more like, “I feel like I forgot something” butterflies. And in fact, I did. So after realizing I left my blazer at home, my dad turned around and we went back to my house so I could get my Rotary Blazer. Typical. When I got to the airport, everything was a little hectic. Pictures, family, friends and of course, 6940 (6940! Holla!) After saying my final goodbyes to everyone I went through security. It was kind of a nice way to end things, I felt like I was in some movie and this was “the final goodbye” so I felt pretty rad. About ¾’s of the way through security I realized I still had Crystal Curvey’s C.D in my backpack. So I had to go back out of security and give her the C.D back after having said my “final goodbyes” to everyone. Typical. It’s a good thing the Tallahassee Airport is the size of a school cafeteria. With forgotten blazer in hand, I started the first day of the rest of my life.

36 hours later, I made my arrival in Bangkok, Thailand. I’ve been in Bangkok for one month now. How am I feeling? I’m feeling weird. You would think that after one month of living somewhere certain things would become normal to you. But in fact, everything changes here. Nothing is ever the same and I think that’s part of what makes Thailand so perfect; the bus schedule changes every day, the price of food in the cafeteria changes by the minute, the spicy-ness of a certain food from a certain vender changes, everything here changes. But in another way, nothing changes at all. The people here still hold to such old traditions and take pride in their culture.  So for this reason, nothing has become normal because it’s all just so different every time I look at it.

When I first got here, I didn’t understand anything… language was not the first issue at hand. After being here for a month, I can happily say that I am learning some of the ins and outs of Thai culture. With that being said, I still have not figured out why there is a high pressure hose in most bathrooms here. I’m not sure if I want to find out.

Here’s a warning to other exchange students: not everyone has a honeymoon period. While it might seem like everyone is having the time of their lives their first month, we are all still having our own difficulties. You will make a lot of mistakes that you will probably want to apologize for… but unfortunately, you won’t be able to apologize because you don’t know how to apologize since you don’t speak the language well enough to explain yourself. But in the words of the Thais, “mai pen lai.” This literally translates to “no worries.”  It’s okay!

Let’s talk about school.

First and foremost, school rules. My first day went something like this: get to school. Take a deep breath. Take another deep breath after you realize that there’s only one other person for the next 5 miles that looks anything like you, and she’s from Minnesota. Get out of car, walk ten steps and hear the word “farang” yelled out, take another five steps and here it yelled out again with “soo-ii mai?” added onto the end, and then, another 20 steps towards Amelia, the other exchange student at my school.  I then quickly came to the realization that the words, “farang soo-ii” would forever be embedded in my name. These words aren’t bad though, actually, they’re very nice, farang is basically ‘white person’ and soo-ii means beautiful. But never the less, I hear them about 10 times a day.

My mom took about 15 photos of me and Amelia with our “new friends” (who we had literally said two words to us before taking said pictures with us.) It reminded me of home except my mom in Thailand doesn’t accidently turn off the camera when she tries to take a picture. Anyways, our first day went really well and I think that both Amelia and I have fully adjusted to “school life.”

Sometimes my teachers don’t show up, actually, most of the time my teachers don’t come to class. All the kids in my class have large pillows that they keep at school so that they can sleep comfortably in class. Everyone can use their phone in class. And just like in America, the teachers don’t want students to cheat, except here in Thailand the teachers beg their students not to cheat. When I (try to) speak Thai I get giggles and claps from Thai students. Thai school is hilarious.

The cafeteria at my school is awesome, it’s no wonder no one goes off campus. There’s about 20 food stalls with everything from a fried chicken stand, to a fruit stand, to a noodle stand. Most meals are about 40 cents and are of course given to you with real dishware (seriously, the glass dishware thing still blows my mind.)

I take a boat home from school on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. And by boat, I mean, one bus, two boats, a five minute walk and then a car home. I’ve grown to love it. Without going into too much detail, I got very lost my first day using the boat. Normally, it takes two hours, 35 baht, 3 modes of transportation, and 0 strangers. This time, it took four hours, 200 baht, 5 modes of transportation, 6 strangers and one confused exchange student in Bangkok.

Last weekend, I went to Ayutthaya with two other exchange students. Ayutthaya was Thailand’s second capital and is magnificent. The old city of Ayutthaya is made of ruins left over from Ayutthaya’s rain and lots of old temples. While we were at the floating market in Ayutthaya, we tried a fish spa… if you haven’t heard of this, you should look it up right now. Basically, you put your feet into a fish tank and little fish bite off the dead skin on your legs and feet. Sounds interesting, fun and relaxing right? Wrong. I have never been in so much pain due to laughing in my entire life, but it the experience was totally worth it. The temples at Ayutthaya were so beautiful. I’ve seen so many temples since I’ve been here but I think Ayutthaya’s temples take the cake.

I got picked up by an elephant’s trunk. No big deal.  

Here’s a list of things I don’t understand:

    Why everyone at my school has the same pair of shoes, but me and Amelia seem to be the only ones who get our shoes stolen.

    Why there are high pressure hoses in the most bathrooms here.

    Why the bus schedule is never the same.

    Why my bus is never the same bus.

    Why my boat seems to leave at a different time every day.

    Public transportation in Thailand.

    Why black pens are never used.

    Thai signatures.

    The difference between insulting someone’s mother and saying the number 5 (these tones are a killer.)

With all of this being said, I love it here. Talk to you next time! Wat-dee-ka!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Last weekend I found myself exercising on the beach with 40 other Asian teenagers at 6:30 in the morning. Today, I sat on a public bus, sweating until I was stuck to the seat, in fear that my bus was the wrong bus and that I had actually taken a bus into a different city. Last Tuesday, I met a man who has spent the last 12 years of his life searching for “the best waves in the world,” he was completely content with the fact that he didn’t have enough money to buy a cup of coffee, because the waves were worth his thirst. Yesterday, I went to a wat with about 150 Thai people, each carrying around 108 boiled eggs for good luck.

These are all things that I would never imagine myself doing during my sophomore year of high school, but apparently, I’m doing them. I won’t lie to you; my first month was far from perfect. Adjusting to a culture so different from your own is scary but in the same way, it’s invigorating. You’d be surprised what you find out about yourself when you’re stripped of everything you’ve ever known.

I chose Thailand because I thought that Bali, Indonesia was in Thailand, and I knew that I liked Thai food… a lot. Because of this, it is safe for you to assume that I had no former knowledge of the Thai language before I got involved in Rotary. After finding out that I would be spending my exchange year in a country that speaks a language with 5 tones and therefore, 5 meanings for each word, I started my research. Thirteen guide books later, a rotex appeared at my door, in his hands was my new bible. I mean, my new Thai to English dictionary. Chris Foley (outbound Thailand 09-10), you will never know how much this bible has influenced my life. My Thai to English dictionary has been duct-taped, it has been soaked by the precipitation of my water bottle, and later blow dried clean, it has been painted on, and is missing more than a few pages but, this is one of the best souvenirs I will have from my exchange.

My first month and a half was spent panicking; I had decided that I would never learn Thai and that the tones were all too difficult for my pre-mature brain to comprehend. Learning a new language is exhausting, and at times, I want to give up but then I remember that this is all a part of exchange, and I will appreciate all of the stressful hours of studying in the end. I have memorized The Lizzie McGuire Movie, 13 Going On 30, and High School Musical in an effort to learn Thai. Watching movies in Thai with English subtitles has helped tremendously. This isn’t to say that my language isn’t progressing, it is. Yesterday, I realized that I can express myself in Thai, and that on occasion, I can understand what people say. This in itself was the most gratifying feeling I’ve had since I’ve been here.

Today I stopped to help some lost farangs, they asked me where the bus stop was for bus 1 was. I looked back at them like they had just asked me to solve a calculus problem using a monkey as my calculator. Then I realized that they were just innocent farangs who had no idea how the Thai bus system worked. I pointed to the closest corner: where my bus had just stopped, and showed them how to hail down their bus. They then looked back at me like I had just asked THEM to solve a calculus problem using a monkey as THEIR calculator. I explained as best I could, my interpretation of the bus system and how I thought that they might have better luck taking a boat, but, they were reluctant and wanted to try the bus. I suggested that if they did end up lost in Bangkok due to the bus, that they look at it as a blessing and that they just laugh, because I know from experience that in moments like these, the best thing to do is laugh. I hope that all ended well for these farangs.

Since I’ve been here, I’ve learned to be patient and just accept things for what they are. Thai people are incredible, they don’t mind waiting an hour or two for an appointment and they see no problem in sitting in traffic. They just accept it, they know they’ll get there at some time, and if they miss something, then maybe they weren’t supposed to see it anyways. They don’t mind when people cut them off in traffic and they see no problem in stopping at a 7/11 half-way through their road-trip home even if this means waiting an extra 30 minutes trying to get out of the 7/11 parking lot.

I don’t know how to say this more plainly: Thailand is crazy. Nothing makes sense, but everything makes sense. I really love all the silly things that happen here. I love all of the Thai people that speak English to me, and I love how street vendors have English phrases memorized so perfectly.

Yesterday, a street vendor got me to buy a tie, I didn’t like this tie very much, but the woman was too amusing with her English phrases to not buy a tie from. The conversation went something like this:

Street vendor: oh! You’re beautiful! Buy a tie! Do you have a boyfriend? I bet you do. He would like a tie! He would love a tie! I think he would like this tie! Or do you think he would like this tie? This one is more beautiful!

Amber: uh.. uh… no, mai mee fan (I don’t have a boyfriend) uh, uh, I…I was just looking

Street vendor: so you would like a tie? These ties are the best! Much better than the ties at Siam Square! You should buy this tie! You’re beautiful! Buy a tie! These ties are the cheapest and the best! Here, I show you! (un-ravels all ties on table…) Aren’t they beautiful?

Amber: (touches tie)

Street vendor: Okay! You buy this one, chai-mai? Okay! Great! Great! 200 baht! Okay! You’re beautiful! You want two ties? I give you two ties for 350 baht!

Amber: uh. Uh. Uh.

Street vendor: okay! One tie for you! Your boyfriend will love this tie! I’m sure!

So now I have a tie.

A list of things I love:

I love noodle shops on the side of roads, I love pretending that I don’t speak English and forcing store-keepers to speak with me in Thai. I love the exchange students in Thailand, and I love all of my Thai friends. I love using public transportation, even if that means hailing my bus. I love getting lost on my way to meet up with friends. I love the two elderly Thai men that play make-shift chess outside of my SkyTrain station. Every day at 2:30, the men enjoy a game of chest played on a small piece of ply-wood with a chess board drawn by a Sharpie marker; they use rocks and random chest pieces to conduct their game. They share a drink while sitting on a counter of a store barefoot and with their shirts un-buttoned; their wives stand around them, laughing at their childish-antics when the game gets too competitive.

I think that Thailand took a lot of adjusting to. The culture here is, different. The language is different. The people look different from me. The seniority system is different. Their style is different. Everything is different. But, with all of this being said, this has been the best opportunity that has ever come my way and I could not be happier.

Adjusting to a culture so different from your own is scary but in the same way, it’s invigorating.

November 22, 2011

Meet your new flood evacuee! I write this to you from my corn farm with my 15 pet dogs sitting around me. I began my exchange in a city that’s population of 9.3 million people. I am now thirty minutes from a town with a population of 1,000… Isn’t it funny how much things can change in just a few months? It’s been a crazy month. I’ll try to keep all of this short: I left Bangkok October 18th with plans to return in one week, that Friday I was told that I would be going to a Culture Camp at a Zoo with my district for two weeks because the flooding in Bangkok was worsening and most of our houses were beginning to flood. After the camp, the Rotary here decided to take us on our Northern Bus trip early to further escape the flooding situation. Our North Trip lasted until November 11th, on that day 20 of the 32 of us were told that we would be moved to emergency homes throughout Thailand. Myself, and the other American hosted by my Rotary club were moved to a corn farm about 1 hour outside of Lop Buri (a town about 2-3 hours north of Bangkok) and we were told that we would stay here for about a week. The next news came from our district chair advising us to be aware that we could be at these new houses for one week to two months. For me, it appears that I will be here for about two months or longer.

My first host family’s house is flooded 60 cm (about two feet), my second is flooded 80 cm and my third is flooded 180 cm (that’s about as tall as Larry D. I think…) So it seems that I won’t be going home anytime soon. To get to any of my houses, you have to take a NAVY boat and then a separate boat to actually get into my house. With that being said, I have not been home since October 18th because Rotary has tried to keep us out of the flooding. There are some people who have returned to Bangkok because they live in the central district which is predicted to not flood (for if it does the Thai economy might just… follow the path of the US economy?!

They never told me about this at our Rotary Conferences!

One of the most amazing things about my “memorable” and “special” exchange year is that I’ve been able to see the culture in a new light. A new way of seeing how a different culture handles a national crisis such as this. And trust me, it’s very different. The Thai people are still smiling and moving on, and slowly but surely, rebuilding their houses and lives as much as they can. I’ve also learned a valuable lesson, every bit of money you donate to disaster relief goes somewhere. Being here, I see just how much every bit of help counts. Shelterbox has donated 250 boxes to Thailand as of early November and they will continue coming. It is the coolest thing to see an organization that works hand in hand with RYE out in the field and seeing people benefiting from it. Last year my district fund raised money for a Shelterbox (6940 REPPIN!) ours will be sent out on December 5th, so it might end up coming to Thailand! Future outbounds, take this as a hint to get involved with Shelterbox this year, you never know… it might be your country that needs it!

While the flooding has not made for the easiest exchange ever… it has made it memorable. I had been told numerous times that by 3 months, you should feel adjusted to your new city, home and school. My third month wasn’t spent the “normal way” but it was special and I think that these next two months or so will be just as special and memorable.

They told us it would be stressful at times, challenging and rewarding. Never did I think my stress would come from something like this though. While this isn’t the most ideal situation for an exchange student to be in the middle of, I’m in it and I’m swimming. I never could have imagined that something of this sort would happen to me (seriously, 20 students out of the thousands and thousands Rotary sends every year have been heavily effected by a natural disaster this year… and one of those 20 happens to be yours truly, crazy!) I am still so thankful for this year and everything that Rotary Youth Exchange has provided me with. With all of these things going on around me, I still find time to sit back and think about just how special this year is to me.

In conclusion, I am alive and I am still in Thailand, that’s good enough for me. I know the flood has left the news a little but if you want to see what the people of central Thailand are facing right now you can look at this: http://www.theatlantic.com/infocus/2011/11/thailands-disastrous-slow-moving-flood/100188/ 



Andrea Sullivan
2011-12 Outbound to Switzerland
Hometown: Plantation, Florida
School: St. Thomas Aquinas High School
Sponsor: Hallandale Beach – Aventura Rotary Club, District 6990, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Wettingen, District 1980, Switzerland

Andrea - Switzerland

Andrea’s Bio

Hi! My names Andrea Sullivan. In less than a year, I’ll be all the way in Switzerland! Researching the culture, looking at pictures, and hearing stories from family and friends about their visits has made this opportunity seem almost unreal, and I can never be grateful enough to Rotary for giving it to me.

I am currently 15 years old and a sophomore at St. Thomas Aquinas High School. Sports, other events, and school spirit is a big deal there, so of course I’m always involved in some way. I live in a city in South Florida called Plantation which isn’t far from my favorite place in the world, the beach; a huge difference from where I’ll soon be living. As accustomed to tropical weather as I am, just thinking about the difference in climate is a challenge, but I can hardly wait! I speak English and Spanish, so speaking German is going to be something completely new to me.

I love to play soccer, and on the side like to continue in gymnastics or dance lessons. Recently, photography has become one of my hobbies. I love the beach, but I find any part of nature beautiful, and its what I like photograph the most. I love to travel as well, and hope to learn at least 2 more languages. I’m very outgoing, easy to get along with, and was taught to speak what is on my mind. I spend a lot of time with family (which happens to be very big) and close friends. They mean the world to me, and I will miss everyone so much!

So far, I can only imagine what an amazing time I am going to have and what an amazing experience its going to be for me to not only learn about but be a part of a culture I am completely unfamiliar with for a whole year. I’d like to thank my Mom, Dad, and older brother, who is leaving as well, but for college, for helping me with and supporting me through this process. However, I’d especially like to thank my Grandma for the influence she has had on me in always being interested in other cultures and gaining knowledge about the world that most of us only know so little about.  

I have always gone to either my mom or grandma when I face difficult decisions, and like the other times they have encouraged me to do something, I know this coming year is bound to be not only a success but the experience of a lifetime.

Andrea’s Journals

January 12 2012

Dear Family and Friends,

Future Exchange Students,

Current Exchange Students,

None of the Above,

Unlike most of the other exchange students, I haven’t kept up with a blog filling you in on the past 4 months. I’ll start with today and work my way backwards until August, when I arrived in Switzerland.

My day starts 6 hours before most of yours, so it’s already noon on Christmas Day. Of course, I’m spending the holidays with my host family: My host parents, 2 older host-sisters, their boyfriends, and 2 older host-brothers, (my third host-sister is in California for an exchange right now as well.) I couldn’t ask for a better family to be with, and I couldn’t feel more loved by them.

Last night, we had a traditional Swiss dinner called fondue chinois, which is with meat instead of cheese. I tried doe for the first time and definitely don’t recommend it. What also made it slightly less appetizing was that when I asked which type of meat it was, and didn’t understand the German word, they explained by saying it was Bambi. I ate Bambi.:’( I couldn’t get myself to try the horse. Now it’s not as unusual sounding as before, but yes, horses are food, not only friends. But aside from eating Spirit and Bambi, it was delicious.

It snowed in the village I live in on Monday, and I was happily initiated by my classmates with a lot of snow to the face. Waking up to see everything covered in white outside is amazing and stomping on the snow walking to school is so much more fun than finding the crunchy leaves to step on. I find myself singing and dancing on the way home about as much as or more than the preschoolers here, which the people waiting at the bus stops along the way always seem to find entertaining. (especially the elderly women that watch me almost slip on the icy spots in mid-song.)

Speaking of walking to school, I no longer have Daniel Michael to force me into the car in order to be on time, which means I have to try not being late all by myself. My habit of being fashionably late here doesn’t fit in very well. (one time I even got to a dinner party with my prior family 2 minutes early. EARLY.) So anyways, I usually end up running a lot more than walking, and to my surprise even, and probably to everybody who lives here(because they would most likely disagree), I am so much more punctual, and I even have a personal agenda. For planning ahead…like real days and weeks ahead. Not just a few hours or minutes. It’s very exciting to use.

School isn’t like at home, I’m with the same 20 classmates for all subjects and we sometimes have several hours for lunch, or the day doesn’t end until 6:15. I’m not complaining though, I love school here. I don’t have to take tests, or learn. Except in English; my English teacher insists that I take her class just as seriously as the other students because I must learn English. I even get to read aloud when its my turn. I also get asked to explain words sometimes, but they’re usually words like “purr“, and then, naturally, I’m asked to demonstrate. My class is awesome though, and the school is beautiful.

I don’t wear uniforms, so I have to choose an outfit every day, which isn’t as hard as I thought it would be, I actually really like it, but pink sweatpants are frowned upon by the other girls. They don’t like my pink sweatpants. Flamboyant colors aren’t so popular here, and I’ve kind of managed to own an article of clothing in about every bright shade. Which is ok, because they go along well with my rainbow rain boots, and bright orange cap that looks like a cat, which are equally frowned upon by angry female by passers.

My German at the moment is 100x better than it was 4 months ago, but I think it should be called Andrea Language, because its more of a combination of High-German, twisted English and Spanish words that I think fit nicely into my sentence, a lot of noises and hand-motions, and some Swiss-German words thrown in occasionally.

I’m not allowed to date…or drink….

Ok, next paragraph.

Mountains are great, they really are, and I like them, I really do, but one time I had so much mountain wandering in one week that I refused to walk up another one. The primary reason I didn’t want to look at another mountain this particular time was because my week wasn’t exactly spent wandering up mountains, it was spent biking up them, and quite honestly, I will NEVER do that again. Not because it was a horrible experience or anything, but I was in a group of about 10 Swiss boys, and my Swiss host-sister and I were the only girls (I made sure to add the “Swiss” because I swear people here are born on bicycles.) Dear state champ football players, I will never feel sorry watching you work out after having done this.

I can’t forget to add that I was hit by a car during this beloved week of mountain wandering.

In these months, I’ve also managed to slip down the stairs so many times, that my family gave me socks with grips on the bottom.

This isn’t everything of course, but I, being as punctual and good at time management as I am, only have half an hour to pack before we leave to a Chalet in the alps for the week, where I will be learning how to snowboard! J

Merry Christmas Everyone! I miss you all and wish I could be sharing more of the amazing time I’m having here with you. Enjoy your holidays and time with loves ones, and know that I wish you all the very best for the new year, and hope you not only seize any opportunity for love, success, and happiness that may come across you, but find these things in what you have and make the most of it.

With all my love from Switzerland,


p.s. yes, I eat chocolate like there’s no tomorrow; no, dad, I don’t know how to yodel; I have no idea how many times I’ve been asked how often I eat McDonalds; and when I mention I’m from South Florida, its seems like screaming “Spring Break!!” is an involuntary reaction from some of the guys.


Anna Gibson
2011-12 Outbound to Thailand
Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: St. Augustine High School
Sponsor: St. Augustine Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Chumphae, District 3340, Thailand

Anna - Thailand

Anna’s Bio

Hello or should I say สวัสดี. My name is Anna Gibson. I am a senior at Saint Augustine High School and I am a Rotary Youth Exchange Student. I am so excited to be spending my next year in Thailand. I can’t wait to travel half way around the world and experience such a beautiful culture.

I chose Thailand because of how different it seems from the United States. You can ride an elephant and explore the beautiful Buddhist temples. I think this upcoming year will be one of the best years of my life and one of my greatest experiences. I am still in shock that I will be traveling abroad and helping service foreign communities.

I live with my mom Susan and my blind dog, Brutus. I am an only child and both my parents have been very supportive throughout this process. We have lived in California, Arizona and Colorado. I moved to St. Augustine, Florida eight years ago. I love to play the piano and have been taking lessons since I was little. I am also in St. Johns County Center of the Arts for chorus and guitar. I have participated in school activities such as dance team, student government, and Interact Club.

Thailand will be challenging learning a new language, not to mention a new alphabet, but I couldn’t be happier. Thank you Rotary for this wonderful opportunity and I look forward to spending the next year of my life in Thailand!

 Anna’s Journals

September 15

After going through the long application process, the stressful interviews, language camps, Rotary club meetings, conferences, and of course the fun times at orientations…. I realize that Rotary Youth Exchange isn’t just a great opportunity but it has become my life. My fellow exchange students have become my family, the former exchange students have become my mentors, and the Rotarians that have dedicated their time and effort have become my role models. Thank you Rotary International for giving students like myself great opportunities to not just study abroad, but to open our minds to new and foreign cultures. In the past six weeks I feel like I have matured, grown stronger emotionally, and made the best decision of my life and I still have eight and a half months left. Rotary has prepared us as much as they could but you are never fully prepared to jump into another culture far different from your own.  Learning a new language, getting used to the food, religious customs, and in my case learning the different ways to bow and the “Waii” position are not easy tasks. But like I said this was the best decision of my life.

       Thailand is amazing place but very different from anything I could have imagined. Some things I just have to think…okay that’s normal here… For example, the other day my host family and I were driving down the highway and a truck sped past us probably going eighty miles an hour with three monkeys clinging to the bed of truck for their lives. I was the only one that gasped and when I pointed to them my host dad just looked at me like I was crazy.

         I live in a small country town surrounded by mountains. My host family owns a restaurant and our house is the four stories above it. Everywhere I go people stare at me, or want to take my picture, including monks. Thai people are easy going and very nice. They love Karaoke and it seems to be the solution to everything. Even at my last Rotary meeting the president asked “Are you sick? Sing Karaoke!” But the biggest question is “Do you like Som Thum? Papaya pok pok?” Everyone I have met in Thailand has asked me this question. Som Thum is a spicy papaya salad with sugar, fish sauce, chilies, and the papaya is sour. It’s like an explosion in your mouth. So my answer to this question is yes and no.

Thai food is amazing but I have eaten things I never would have thought I would eat. In the region of Thailand I am staying in, the people really do learn to live off of the land. The region of Isan is the most rural part of Thailand and defiantly the most authentic. I have tried pork liver, pig’s foot, Chicken blood, and yes bugs. None of which have been the slightest bit tasty.

      School is fun here. I have one Thai language class every day. I also take Thai dancing, culture and Buddhism. The other remaining periods I basically do what I want. I can go to class or go talk to the English teacher from Colorado. I can play sport, and play my ukulele. It doesn’t matter as long as I go to my Thai class. Mostly everyone at school knows my name mainly because I am the only exchange student, oh and I have blonde hair.

       I really like Buddhism. I have visited the temple many times, and I take Buddhism in school so I am learning how to pay homage to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Singha. Starting Monday I am going to the temple once a week and practicing with a Buddhist nun (shaved head and all). She can speak English and has worked with many other exchange students.


Anna Levin
2011-12 Outbound to Estonia
Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Douglas Anderson School of the Arts
Sponsor: San Marco Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Tallin, District 1420,

Anna - Estonia

Anna’s Bio

Tere! Minu nimi on Anna Levin! For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Estonian language, that means “Hello! My name is Anna Levin!” I am currently enrolled in Douglas Anderson School of the Arts in Jacksonville, Florida as a freshman.  This whole thing hasn’t really sunken in for me yet. I don’t know if it’s because I’m used to traveling and have done so quite a bit, or because I’m just looking at this as another adventure rather than a life-altering exchange program. Either way, I am nothing but excited to get out and explore this vast and exciting world we have in front of us.

Now I don’t want to go on and give you my entire life’s story, so I think I’ll just skip the boring stuff and get on to telling you a little bit about how I work. I have been in the gifted program since I was in second grade. Therefore, I have never been one of the “cool kids” because I was considered weird. Being weird is something that I have learned to look upon in a good way. Being strange, odd, or just different is so much more interesting and exciting than being just like everyone else around you. I don’t find worth in petty drama or other such things to distract me from what’s actually important to my future.  I am an independent thinker and am stubborn to the core. I am also an atheist, but that comes purely from my obsession with logic and reason, not from some angsty adolescent need to rebel against my parents. I’m an only child which means that for most of my life I have been alone and had to find ways of entertaining myself. I suppose that it’s that mentality that has gotten me in the habit of living in my head. This is an attribute that doesn’t work in my favor when it comes to acting, which is what I go to D.A. .  However, should I be placed with a family where I have siblings, that alone would be a huge adjustment to my life.

I prefer to leave nothing left unsaid, which sometimes can get me in trouble. That being known, I am now very concerned as to how long and boring the bio will actually be. I apologize now for the extensive and probably useless information. YAY!

I don’t believe in regret. I like to take my mistakes as learning experiences that I would not have gotten otherwise. I like to think that that’s what this program is really about. Putting yourself out there, taking risks, failing, but then getting back up and not being afraid to try again until you get it. I want to take risks. I want to make myself look like an idiot. I want to mess up and be forced to discover new things from my errors. This may seem like common sense, but as I am in fact a perfectionist when it comes to most things, this is all a lot easier said than done.

Along with everything else, I want to thank those people who told me that I was crazy for wanting to do this. I want to thank those people who told me that I couldn’t or I shouldn’t. To any of you who think that I won’t succeed, I look forward to proving you wrong. This is what I want, so this is what I’ll do. But not only that, I’ll do it well.  ESTONIA HERE I COME!!

“Anybody remotely interesting is mad, in some way or another.” – Doctor Who

Anna’s Journals

So as this is my first journal, I’m not quite so sure how to begin. However, I figured I would follow in the footsteps of others and start with my journey over.

    In all of the time I had leading up to my departure, I was doing everything I could not to think about saying goodbye. I still try not to think about how everything at home is going on as usual without me. But anyway, my flights over to Finland, where I had a weeklong language camp before finally getting to Estonia, were fairly easy despite a missed connection in Munich that didn’t do too much harm. I don’t have any ridiculous stories to tell, which I guess is to my benefit.

    When I landed in Finland I was picked up by the Finnish and Estonian Rotex and taken on a bus with a bunch of the other exchange student to our camp in Karkku. Now Karkku was definitely a lot of fun. Even through days with 8 hours worth of language lessons, there was a real sense of everyone being in the same boat preparing for the same life-changing experience. It’s quite a lot to think about, really. But I’m very happy with the people I met and the friends I made there. Language camp was a week of exchange student bonding, more or less, and I really enjoyed my time in Finland. My favorite part of it all, however, was the combination of the Sauna and the lake. I definitely have a newfound love for lakes after that week in Finland.

    But now we get to the interesting part, finally arriving in Estonia after months and months of preparation from Rotary. From language camp, Raivo, one of the nicest Rotarians I’ve ever met, took all of the exchange students to Estonia to Helsinki. From there we took the ferry over to Tallinn where our host families picked us up. Never have I been so nervous to meet some one, as I was that day.  Despite the slightly awkward drive home, as was to be expected, my first night went rather well. I was greeted with cheesecake and coffee, two of my favorite things. I seem to have gotten along with my host brother, Gaspar, better than anyone else in the house, as we stayed up late talking about a bunch of random things for a couple nights. Although, I felt kind of like I was being babysat more than anything when I would go out to the city with him or meet his friends. However, my host sister, Kaarin, went away to a sort of gymnastics camp the morning of my second day and wasn’t home until about 10 days later. But regardless of that, I get along well with her too. I think the hardest thing about my host family is the fact that since my host father is away most of the time in Moscow, working, and I have new siblings of the ages of 18, 14, and 8, on top of the fact that my host mother is running around all of the time picking up the little one and working, this house is very stressful. Being an only child, the loud, busy, anxious behavior is a lot to take in, especially all at once. I’m still not quite used to it, but hopefully it’ll come in time.

    A week after my arrival was the 20th anniversary of Estonia’s independence, which was celebrated with a huge concert at the song festival grounds in Tallinn. The line-up was a collection of all of the best Estonian artist and the atmosphere was the happiest I’ve seen Estonians yet.

    For the two empty weeks I had leading up to school, I didn’t do that much to be honest. I just kind of hung out with my family and tried to get to know them a little better. The hard part about those two weeks was the fact that I didn’t know anyone besides my family so even if I wanted to go do something, I didn’t really have the option to.

    On the bright-ish side, my first day of school was September 1, and my first real day was today. Now I say bright-ish because on one hand, I’m very grateful to finally have met kids my age, but on the other hand, I feel more like a parasite than a classmate. Well that is a bit overdramatic, but also still pretty true. Since I don’t really know any of my classmates that well, not to mention that fact that they don’t speak English unless talking directly to me, socializing is hard. I mean really hard. Even if I go up to someone and try to start a conversation, as soon as someone says something in Estonian, the entire thing switches and I might as well not exist. Okay, I know this sounds really negative but this is just right now, I’m sure I’ll look back on this is a few weeks or even moths and think I’m insane for feeling the way I do at the moment, but when I applied for this exchange I promised to be honest, and that’s all I’m trying to do.

I never really understood why they kept pressing into us the idea that this exchange would be the hardest year of our lives, but now I get it. Being here I get it. It’s not just a language barrier, or a cultural difference. It’s the culmination of everything you have going against you, and everything that could bring you down, and having the courage and strength to not succumb, but to drive through the barriers with full force and not stop until you achieve what you set out to do: immerse yourself so deeply in another culture that it feels like your own. This is what I plan on doing. Right now it seems tough, and like a far-fetched dream. But if I keep working at it and refuse to accept defeat, I know that I can turn this year into the best one of my life.  

January 9

I’ve found that no matter where you are in the world, life has this amazing ability to change drastically overnight. I can attest to this in the fact that upon my arrival to Estonia, my life was changed. I didn’t know quite how at the time, but I knew it was going to be very very different. Honestly, I don’t think I’ll fully understand how much has changed in my life until I have to go home and try to live “normally” again….but I’ve grown to hate that word, normal. Normal is defined as conforming to a standard; typical, usual, or expected. If I was “normal”, I would never have gone on exchange and had this experience at all. I can’t even imagine why on earth anyone would want to be normal. To me, normal sounds completely and utterly boring.

So a lot has happened since my last post. For a while, life got to be pretty routine and uninteresting. However, things definitely picked up for the better over my winter break from school. I spent a lovely Christmas with my first host family, which was something different for me just because I don’t celebrate Christmas at home. It was a very full house with my host mother’s sister and her family in town from Italy. But I like the chaos, it never gets boring. For New Years, I went down to Tartu, in the south of Estonia, to visit my exchange student friend, Nora from Mexico. I spent three days down there with her, then after she came back to Tallinn with me for two more days. I love the fact that it’s so easy to get around this country 🙂 On the 5th I went to Helsinki with my host brother so I could visit my friends there. I got to see Victoria! 😀 But I also got to hang out with a ton of other exchange students, which is something that never really happens to much extent in Estonia given that there are only six of us here with Rotary.

I got back from Helsinki on the 7th and immediately change families. I’m actually really glad to be in my new family because my host parents don’t really speak much English so I get a chance to finally practice my Estonian at home! I’m also excited because my new house is beautiful and huge and I get my own room. As much as I liked the company of always having my host sister around in my last house because we shared a room, it’s nice to have a space of my own again.

I cannot believe I’ve been in Estonia for almost 5 months. I’m afraid to think about going home, especially since they say that time really starts to fly after the new year. These have been 5 of the most incredible, terrifying, stressful, life changing months of my life and I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world.

Thank you so much to Rotary for this opportunity of a lifetime and best of luck to the new Outbounds! You have NO idea what a whirlwind you’re in for, but remember to take everything as a learning experience and you’ll have an amazing time.


Anna Shipley
2011-12 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: Vero Beach, Florida
School: Vero Beach High School
Sponsor: Orchid Island Rotary Club, District 6930, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Itapetinga, District 4550, Brazi

Anna - Brazil

Anna’s Bio

“Growth means change and change means risk, stepping from the known to the unknown.” Anonymous

Ola or hello, my name is Anna Shipley. I have been a Floridian for most of my life, but for my junior year of high school I will be living in Brazil, or Brasil. The adventures I am going to have will be beyond the imagination for most high school students, but that is just the kind of thing I like to do.

I live in Vero Beach, FL and I am a sophomore at Vero Beach High School. I am a teenage girl who is ready to break out of this small town and see more of the world. I am very outgoing and will start a conversation with anyone who is willing to talk. The ocean is my secondary home and I enjoy nothing more than just being in the water. My favorite sport is soccer or futebol. I enjoy long walks on the beach, sunsets, shopping, laughing ‘til I cry, dancing to any music, being with people, playing with animals, going to foreign places, and being adventurous. I think that standing out and having your own unique personality is the only way to really have an impact on other people. I am always volunteering and trying to do my part in our world.

I have two sisters including one who is a 2010-2011 Rotary Youth Exchange outbound to Turkey. She wrote something about her experiences and it is what made me want to go on the exchange myself:

“Culture cannot be defined by any one person. Culture is what

happens when the hopes and goals and love of a people are joined

together in a way of life.” Nancy Shipley

Nancy is my best friend and we share everything. This past year without her has helped prepare me for being without the people I love while I am away. My mom and my dad are very supportive and loving parents. Lillie, my little sister, believes that this exchange will be a fantastic opportunity for me and I, well, I can’t wait! I don’t know what lies ahead of me in my new country and home, but whatever happens, I know that I will change and more importantly, I will have experiences that most people can only dream of!

Anna’s Journals


 “I’m a new soul

    I came to this strange world

    Hoping I could learn a bit ’bout how to give and take

    But since I came here, felt the joy and the fear

    Finding myself making every possible mistake”- ‘New Soul’ Yael Naim

   “I’m a new soul

    I came to this strange world

    Hoping I could learn a bit ’bout how to give and take

    But since I came here, felt the joy and the fear

    Finding myself making every possible mistake”- ‘New Soul’ Yael Naim

Is it possible to only be living in a place for three weeks but feel like you have lived there your whole life??

   For three weeks now  I have been living in Itapetinga Bahia Brazil. It is a tiny little city, but it is filled with my family friends and all around amazing people. These past three weeks have gone by so quickly, yet I feel as if I have lived here for an eternity. The funny part is that I can remember the exact moment I realized this whole experience was not just another dream, I had in the weeks coming up to me leaving. It was not as I waved goodbye to my family, and saw them for the last time acting like crazy people waving and jumping goodbye to me, nor was it as I sat down on the plane realizing that everything was in Portugues and that no one knew any English. It was not even when I landed in Sao Paulo, or in Salvador getting closer every minute to my new life. No it was when I stepped off this tiny plane, and walked in to a small room filled with twenty to thirty people and half of them were clapping. They were clapping for me. As I stood there getting embraced by strangers, it truly hit me. This was my new Rotary Club, and this was my new life. My new family was there and so were some of my new friends. At the time I did not know them, but I could tell they cared about me. All of them. They made sure I did not have to do one single thing, and they helped me. It felt like a stone had been lifted off my shoulders. I guess in the back of my head I was worried about meeting everyone, but I felt a flood of relief when they embraced me into there Brasilain World.

    In these past three weeks here, I have seen things that I know I will remember for a lifetime. From my first day of school, where everyone mistook me for a movie star and ran out of their classrooms to stare at the new girl from the EUA.  I was surrounded by people during breaks in between classes, with everyone trying out there English on me. I heard “hi how are you” so many times in a matter of seconds, I forgot I was a Portugues speaking country. I got to go to Salvador, and there I meet some of the most amazing people. I made friends for a lifetime and in a matter of hours we went from strangers on a bus together, to realizing that we were the only people who really understood what was happening in our lives right now. We are the inbound Bahia exchange class of 2011-2012! I saw the beauty that this one state could hold on my 10 hour ride to Salvador and all over the city itself. I was in awe that such a city even existed with poverty and wealth so close and mixing together with no problems. There was no definitive line between the two, they blurred together in a way of beauty. I also went to a Brasilian funeral. Someone from the staff at my school died, and on the night of her funeral I thought that for a little while it felt as if the whole town had stopped to mourn her death. It was one of the most moving things I have ever witnessed. At one point, they did something called wailing, and the family’s cries to mourn her death brought tears to my eyes. I did not know this women, yet I felt that if all these people took the time to mourn her loss, I should too. That weekend a Rotarian took me to a farm, and I could not believe the differences. It was a real farm. Their power was from a solar panel, they did not have hot water, and they had huge fenced areas with cattle. I was in awe by the beauty that surrounded me, and the woman told me, this wasn’t even that pretty. It is gorgeous in the summer time. I could not believe that in one state you could travel around, and see ever type of scenery known to man.

    I will understand soon and that one day, the wifi will get fixed, but for now it does not matter. Life here may be different but I love every minute and everything about it. It is my new home and my new life.

    Eu sou Anna Shipley. Eu moro em Itapetinga, Bahia, Brasil, com Adson e Juci Brito. Eu assisto Cooedita e meu Rotary Club é o Rotary Club de Itapetinga. Eu amo minha nova vida aqui!

September 28

I am standing in my house. I know it is my house but it looks different. I can see my older sister sitting messing with a cup, I think she is painting it. I can hear my mom call my name and I walk into our kitchen. I am having some conversation with her, when I realize I cannot find my little sister. Then another thought occurs to me. Why am I here? I start running, and I am crying, no bailing, begging to go back. “What am I doing here?!?!” I scream at the top of my lungs, “This is not my house!”

I woke up. I was sweating, and my eyes were puffy from crying. My heart was racing at the speed of light. I was so scared. I looked around the room. It was dark but out the window I could see the lights of my city. As I starred out over Itapetinga, my heartbeat slowed down, I stopped sniffling and started to smile some. I was home. As my eyes wandered over the beauty of the sea of lights, I realized I had my first nightmare. It was not about missing my family, or any other thing to do with Florida. I was scared because I had gone home early. Then I started laughing out loud. It dawned on my that I had been so scared to go home to Florida, and what had relaxed me was looking out onto Brasil. I thought to myself Brasil is my new home. I am here, and I do not plan on going anywhere. I fell back asleep with a smile on my face that night.

I am so lucky. I know that. Not just because I am her in Itapetinga thanks to Rotary, or that I have so many great friends and family, but because I am so unbelievably happy. And that feels so strange. I see things from my fellow exchange students, weird things or little struggles they have gone through, but nothing like that has happened to me. From the moment I stepped off that plane into my new life, it has been a non-stop ride of fun, amazement and lots of laughs. My friends are crazy, and some are very weird people, but I love them all so much. My family and Rotary club has accepted me with so much love and care, and for that I could not be more greatful. I am overwhelmed by the beauty that Brasil has to offer, and I still feel like I have barely even uncovered the surface yet. I swear I am like a little kid at Christmas ripping off the wrapping paper, only to find the most amazing gift and another wrapped present inside. I just keep finding new things that I love, even as the time keeps passing by.

Being here is so fun and it is all because of the people in my city. Brasilians are some of the craziest, funniest, and weirdest people I have EVER met, but I love them SO much! They have the weirdest sayings like oush, and they write haha like kkkk. They do not know what personal space means but it is not awkward, it actually makes you feel more appreciated. Waving and talking to a stranger on the street as they pass is normal, and so is being close friends with your teachers. If your teacher is not in school, oh well you get to all hang around until the next period. Going to your teacher’s house is a totally normal thing, and so is napping in the middle of the day. Everyone knows each other, so no one is really strangers. Being too friendly is not a bad thing here unless you are creepy guys passing in a car.

Soccer is life, and you must have a favorite team (BAHIA!) Walking everywhere is normal because most people don’t drive. Showering four times a day is considered normal, and if you do not, you have some serious hygiene issues. People weigh themselves constantly, why I am not sure. The normal driving style here is going 140 kmph and then slamming on the breaks as you near the bumps every five feet. People here love to eat bread, or any other form of carbohydrate. And people also love drinking. The beer here is much lighter so you can drink a lot more with out getting wasted and that is exactly what people do. Soap operas are a must, and so are watching the soccer games. Singing and dancing are the past times here, and being bad does NOT exclude you, trust me. People here love to party. When people get together to party, it is big. A normal festa here is half of the town, and a giant band and LOTS of alcoholic beverages, plus some juices for us kids.

I could go on forever with all of the things Brasilains do, and how it is all so different yet so normal for me now. It is hard for me to remember sometimes how to write in English or that if I was not here I would be living in Florida. Florida feels like a distant memory and all I can think about now is Brasil, its people and my new town. I do not know how I will feel 2 months from now or even a week from now. But what I do know is that right now I am having the time of my life, and I feel like as I discover more about Brasil, I am discovering more about myself. I feel like I am at an amusement park, having the most fun ever, and I never want the day to end. I do not, nor can I even think about going home. All I want right now is to go get in line for the next ride with my friends and remind myself that the day is still very young.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

I can’t believe time is passing so quickly. One minute I am stepping off a plane and the next thing I know three months have gone. Christmas is right around the corner. And everyday I am waking up, in the most amazing country. I don’t know when I realized, how much Brasil meant to me, but I was trying to describe how happy I was to be here, and I said “ If you could see my heart, I feel like it would be divide in two one half covered in the American flag and the other in the Brasilian flag.” I can’t sit here and tell you which country I like more, because they are too different to compare. It is like trying to compare an apple to a dog. It just does not make sense. All I know is that I have my life in the United States and I have my life here. I guess I should take this time, to explain what I am doing everyday since I have not really gotten to that yet. I am in summer break now, which of course means staying up late, and sleeping in, which I love! But I do miss school… I know I just said I miss school. All of my friends go there, and I really enjoyed getting to see them all the time.

My school is Cooedita and it starts every morning around 7 am. It would have 8 classes, sometimes teachers taking more than one of those classes to teach. I never really understood the schedule. I was in Second Year, and we stayed in our classroom. The teachers would all have to change the classes, which I thought that was an interesting concept. My classes included History, Biology, Math, Geometry, Algebra, Brasil’s History, Geography, Spanish, English, Portuguese, Grammar, and more. School would end at 12:20, and we would go home. My parents would get an hour or more off to come home and eat lunch.

Lunch is the most important meal of the day here. After lunch, I either go out with friends, go over to my besties house, or hang with my brother Lucas. It is difficult to do too much after school because my only means of transportation had to go back to work. Also Itapetinga is landlocked, so my get away at home would be the bea

My first host family has been amazing. So much more then I could have ever wished for. I have a mother, Juci, my dad, Adson, and my little brother Lucas who is nine. They were so welcoming right from the start. I cannot believe I have been so lucky. They treat me so well, like I am there own daughter. In the house I have my own bedroom and bathroom, which is really nice. We also have a house cleaner Zana, who is so cool! No one in the house speaks much English, so I have been speaking Portugues on a daily bases. Zana and I always have the funniest conversations. She would always ask me the silliest questions, and we would get into long conversations about nothing. Also because most of my family lives here too, I really get a completely different family scene then from the one at home. My mother here has 8 brothers and sisters, and her parents are still alive. We go over to her parents’ house all the time for dinner, and to meet everyone else. My dad’s mother is still alive and she will also come over for lunch sometimes or we will go over to her house. It is just so different for my to see family like this on such a regular bases, but I love it!

There are so many other things about Brasil like how at mealtime you always see beans, rice, and flour. Or how here I never know what the climate will be like because half the days it is cold and raining, and the other half are crazy hot. Or how no matter where you go in Brasil you will see banana trees and palm trees everywhere. Or how none of the houses here are decorated for Christmas, because it is not as big of a deal to them, as it is to us Americans, Or how radio commercials here come from the speakers attached on the roof of slow moving cars, for the world to hear.

There are so many more things too, how inventions such as the washing machine, dishwasher, and dryer are rare commodities, that no matter how many different fruits and vegetables I try, they always seem to be better here, or how at parties here, people dance. Not just like a little room off to the side with music playing, but everyone has to dance and if you don’t you are weird. I could probably go on forever describing Brasil and my new life here. But that seriously would take forever. But what I do know is how happy I am, and how completely thankful I am to Rotary for this opportunity. I cannot believe there was a time in my life when I thought exchange was not the way to go for me. I am so happy to be here with my amazing new family and friends, and I am forever indebted to Rotary, and the amazing Rotary clubs I have here and in Florida for that.

February 16, 2012

I am sitting in my window looking out at the rolling hills and mountains that surround my house that seem to never end. The mango and palm trees that are at every turn. I can hear the car mechanics that work near my house, and the radio playing Eu Seu Te Pego in the background while our housemaid works. I don’t know at what point it happened, but this became life.

I come home after school and eat lunch with my family of women including my mom, carol and Jec. At night we all stay up laughing, and making the stupidest jokes. I am always going to other cities for a day or two with my mom for work. Washing my clothes in a sink, and eating rice and beans everyday at lunch. Walking to the park, to go buy things, and all around just being a true Bahiano and Brasiliera.

I have experienced so much in these past five months, and I just can’t believe how quickly the time is flying by. Nor can I believe that at one point in my life, I was jus t a newbie who could not even read a menu in Portuguese. I feel so different from the little 16 years old who walked into a whole new world. Now I am just a part of that world. I have seen beautiful cities, breath-taking beaches, gone shopping in a three story mall, had my taste of chicken heart, seen the vast farm land that is Bahia.

I wonder when it happened. When I really became a part of Brasil. This time here, with my two families getting to experience all these different things from farms, to beaches, small towns to huge cities, it has made its mark on me. But I don’t look different, nor do I feel wiser but feel at home like this is where I belong. I can have conversations with my friends and family. I can go shopping, and order food. I may not yet be dreaming in my language, and my Portugues may be a little rough, but that doesn’t matter.

What matters is I am at home. I am happy, and having fun. Brasil has become a part of me, and every city I visit is leaving its own impact. I am being changed and there is nothing I can do to stop it. My mind is being filled with memories of things like the story of the African goddess of water guarding the river in Canavieras or when my uncle got the nickname Macaco in Iguai. And all the nights I stay up late with Carol, Jec and my mom here in Itapetinga. Laughing about everything from their fear of tiny frogs, to why we always eat noodles at night.

I have come to love my family, my house, my school, my friends, and everything in this crazy little town. Most people think I am unlucky for being stuck in such a tiny city, and at one point I was pretty upset about it too. But now, I understand all the amazing things a small town has to offer, like an abundance of friends, my huge family, and some of the nicest people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. We may not have a movie theatre, or a mall, but we have each other. And it is the one thing that has made the biggest impact on me, and w hat I take with me when my time is over.

Someone once told me in time you will forget what you were doing, but you never forget the friends you made while you were doing it. And Itapetinga is just all friends and family. I know that this city is perfect for me, and is giving me experiences unlike any other. It is where I belong.


Ashley Eunice
2011-12 Outbound to Austria
Hometown: Orlando, Florida
School: Winter Park High School
Sponsor: Winter Park Rotary Club, District 6980, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Oberpullendorf, District 1910,

Ashley - Austria

Ashley’s Bio

Hallo! My name is Ashley Eunice and I’m going to Austria!

I am17 and I am currently attending my senior year at Winter Park High School. I was born and raised in Orlando, Florida with my family. I have spent my entire life running, swimming and just having an all around good time under the Florida sun. I am a very active person. I’ve spent all four years of high school running track and cross country. I’m one of those crazy people who deliberately wake up early in the morning or stays after school to run for miles under the blazing summer sun. I really love it that much.

I’ve been an artist all my life. The times I’m sitting still are the times when I am drawing. I’m always doodling on the edges of class work (much to the annoyance or amusement of my teachers) and I am always thinking of new ideas to express in my art.

I also enjoy writing. I love to create new stories and characters. In fact, over the past four years, I have written, edited and revised an enormous story that I one day hope to share with the world. However, I want to combine my art and my writing to portray the story as a sort of graphic novel. This has been a dream of mine ever since I first started to read Manga and watch Anime, way back in middle school.

My ideal of an entertaining story tends to deviate a little from the average teenage demographic. As an active reader I look for creepy, bizarre books to read. I have a wide range of musical interests and will pretty much listen to anything from Lady Gaga to Phantom of The Opera.

I love meeting new people and visiting new places so I’m totally excited to be going to Austria. I’ve never actually left America before so I’m very grateful to Rotary for this super-special-awesome opportunity.


Autumn Crosby
2011-12 Outbound to Sweden
Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: Pedro Menendez High School
Sponsor: Coastal St. Johns County Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Harlösa, District 2390, Sweden

Autumn - Sweden

Autumn’s Bio

Hello hello! My name is Autumn Crosby and I am in love with saying that I am going to be a Rotary Outbound exchange student to SWEDEN! When I was making my decision for my top 5 countries Sweden was a country I went out on a limb and picked.  I was completely clueless about it, and I was shocked to hear I was actually going there.  I’m so so excited to be spending a year there.

  I am a sophomore at Pedro Menendez currently, but when I am on my exchange I will be a junior.  I love listening to music any time I can, I love it, but by no mean am I musically talented!  I play tennis and I also do yoga.  I have 2 older sisters that are part of the reason I applied for Rotary.  They supported me completely with the exchange.  They’ve been there with me every step of the way through the anticipation! My parents are also very supportive even though they will miss their baby!

  I first heard about Rotary when they came to my school and talked about it. By  the second time they came and talked I was hooked and I knew it was my time!  My freshman year I met my now good friend, Patrick from Switzerland, who said his exchange year was the best year of his life.  Then I met more exchange students and I was so envious of how much they were learning and gaining from their experience that I decided to do the same thing.

  I do worry about leaving my friends, but then I remember how many I will gain! The positives out weigh the negatives by far.  I get a lot of criticism about leaving and sometimes I do think twice, but that’s the reason I am doing this exchange.  My goal is to become so independent and self aware that I won’t even be fazed by people who are too close-minded to do what I am going to do.  I am so ready for this experience and to be completely submersed in the Swedish culture.

Rotary, an enormous thank you and appreciation to you.  You all are making my dreams come true.  Thank you a trillion times over.  I can’t wait to represent Rotary and the U.S.A

 Autumn’s Journals

Let me tell you, time flies. I can hardly believe that this time last year I was stressing about the 19 page application for this exchange. The day before I left St. Augustine I did all my favorite things with my friends and family, it’s the perfect thing to do before you leave. I never thought looking at my house for the last time before leaving for a year would be so hard. I felt like my heart was being ripped out of my chest, it happened all at once, I broke down. From the day I left until the next day when I arrived I had never had so many emotions happen at once. I was calm before I left my house, then cried, then was fine in the car, then died a little when I said goodbye to my 2 best friends and my parents, then I was sooo nervous and excited to get off the plane and meet my host family for the first time.

Already after two weeks I was extremely homesick. I hadn’t been able to stay at my first host families house at all since I had gotten off the plane. I dropped off my luggage at the house then packed a bag for language camp in a different city. When the language camp was over my host family was still in Spain so I stayed in another house until they came back. I stayed at three different families in 2 weeks. It was rough, I wanted nothing more than to go home to Florida until I finally got to spend time with the family I am at now. I don’t think I could’ve picked a better host family. I get along with them so well and one of my host sisters Filippa is also 16 and we’re best friends.

The best thing happened the other weekend. I went to different cities in southern Sweden with my Host club President and his wife for a couple days, then when I came back my host family said they missed having me and they couldn’t wait for me to come back, the house was too quiet and not the same. Then Filippa said honestly it was horrible I missed you, and I’m so happy you’re here and we get along so well. I couldn’t ask for anything more. I love the Lirvall family.

School… I chose to be in first year which are students born in 1995. I should be in second year but I chose first because everyone is new and I figured it would be easier to make friends because no one had their cliques yet. No one talks the first day, it the most uncomfortable thing. But NOW, our class never stops talking and neither do I. The actual lessons are still boring because I am not fluent in Swedish and when the teacher talks about Swedish politics it’s incredibly hard to follow. Luckily this year doesn’t count for me so I’m not stressed about my bad grades.

Transportation… Buses will always be your main transportation in Sweden, or a bike. All families have cars but don’t always use them. The buses go so often that it’s not necessary to drive. I miss driving my car though!

Swedish… Honestly when I first came here it sounded like Chinese, it could have easily been Chinese and I wouldn’t have known the difference. But now I’m familiar with the way it sounds. It’s so much easier for me to read Swedish than for me to speak it. Yes, everyone in Sweden speaks English. It’s bittersweet. When I try to speak Swedish like when I order a coffee or something they hear my accent and automatically reply in English, it’s very frustrating. Or even on the bus when you tell the driver “ett barn till Södra Sandby” he laughs and makes fun of my accent! I mean honestly cut me some slack here I’m doing my best with this crazy difficult language! It’s not very hard to learn, but pronouncing the words is NOT EASY. My host family is doing a good job with speaking Swedish to me, but of course it’s not all the time because if I don’t understand then they explain it in English. But it’s really cool when you start to understand your target language, you feel accomplished.

Food… I am officially a successful exchange student, I have gained about 9 lbs in 2 and a half months! The food here is really good I like it, clearly. There’s always cheese and bread and dairy products so that explains the weight gain. They eat a lot of potatoes, fish, and sausage. Their salads aren’t usually made with lettuce more like just the toppings. Fika is a wonderful thing here in Sweden, it’s like a coffee break that Swedes make time for, it’s a good time to relax and talk. Swede’s eat the most godis (candy) and deserts, love it.

My best advice for someone thinking about being an exchange student is to make sure you really want this. It is NOT a vacation; it is an adventure. You realize that the world really isn’t so big. No, it’s not easy.

Sometimes it’s not very exciting, it becomes normal life and you’re just living it. You absolutely can’t be too shy to talk to people or be yourself or proud of where you are from. You will most likely be living like a college student; broke, stressed with studying your language, and sometimes a little homesick. But the people you meet when on an exchange make it all worthwhile. I love the country of Sweden, I would come back for the people that are here, but not for the weather…

So I’m now an expert at smiling and laughing at the right times when I’m sitting in a group of people and they’re speaking Swedish and I don’t understand. Now awkward situations kind of make up my life. Before I came to Sweden I was kind of always nervous about things and afraid to just go out on a limb and DO SOMETHING, but now I just do whatever and not have expectations because if I let myself relax then I know I will have fun. That’s what I love about this exchange it makes me fearless to live, that’s what this life is about, LIVING IN THE MOMENT.

Rotary, you are a God sent. Thanks a million for sending me on this exchange!


Autumn (Höst)


Britney Jenkins
2011-12 Outbound to India
Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Mandarin High School
Sponsor: Mandarin Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Nagpur North, District 3030,

Britney - India

Britney’s Bio

My name is Britney Jenkins, and I am from Jacksonville, Florida. I go to Mandarin High School, and am one of the first outbounds in several years from MHS. I enjoy lots of activities, but I especially love dance. I previously danced for seven years till this past year, when I finally hit the crossroads that come with every sport. My back had been hurting for quite some time already, and the doctor told me that I should quit. But I had danced for years, before with the same problem.

The final straw in quitting came to the point, or pointe rather, where I chose between pursuing pointe ballet and get wrapped into the world of training and hours of practice, or I could just walk away and live my life. So I decided to live my life and I spent the summer in Ireland and Spain with a wonderful group of nuns, from the Home of the Mother (no I do not plan to be a nun, but how many times in your life will wonderful people invite you to live in their house for months pop up? Not often I say!) Quitting dance, doesn’t bother me though because for 2011-2012, I’m going to be in India. A beautiful place, with beautiful people, and a very unique character. And, I’ll learn so much more than how to correctly do some long pique-tendu combination.

In my spare time since quitting dance, I’ve done several things though… I’ve learned that my painting needs great improvement. I’ve discovered that becoming tri-lingual can indeed, hurt your brain. (I take Spanish AND French, With French class literally being right after Spanish. Being quadra-lingual might make my head explode, but it’s so worth it.) I’ve taken the time to pick up the habit of learning how to actually make good cookies, from scratch. And I’ve spent time with my host-sister Blanka, who’s basically become a real sister to me in no time.

These things, though small really have taken up my time. And, it’s great. I’ll miss them when I leave, but that’s what English to French, and English to Hindi dictionaries are for! Not to mention Skype, for talking to my Hungarian sister, and I can bring cookies to India with my chocolate-chip prowess. The painting though, can be left behind in America, seeing as how it never was that wonderful to start with. Plus with all the beautiful artistry in my future country, I don’t think I’ll want to paint, I’ll just be the American girl gawking at everything trying to snap a photo.

As for what I want to do later in life though, at this moment my initial hope for my future is to become a teacher. And, I know that traveling to different countries, seeing different cultures, and schools of thought will only be beneficial to me in my future. This opportunity is something that is really a once in a lifetime deal. I’m so thankful to have been chosen, and I’m very thankful for the people that helped me to get here. So thank you everyone, for helping get to go to India.

From several sources I’ve heard that for travelers, that India is the destination to hit, because it has so much going on and is such an experience in whatever little place you may visit. So I just keep thinking that if a traveler is supposed to have the time and travels of their life in a few weeks visiting India, how am I going to be, after spending a whole year there? Thank you for such the wonderful opportunity once again!

Aapka bahut bahut shukriya!!! (Thank you very much!)

Britney’s Journals

India. India’s just a crazy place, where things make no sense, but make total complete sense.

I’ve asked all of the inbounds here if they think the same thing, and they just pause, maybe go “Uhh, well…” then nod because they can’t think of any better way to explain it. Or if they can, the end point is always the same, things make sense, but don’t.  It’s literally the only way to explain, dear old India. Sometimes, I absolutely hate India, and I completely can’t figure out how it came to why I now have to slap small children when they swarm me (which luckily I haven’t had to do yet, but I have been swarmed and it’s terrifying).  Then I love India, and how only certain things can happen here. And the feeling is usually how much I love India.

It’s like when you’re a small child and you read all these stories that happened in Medieval times and you thing, “Wow, how could that have happened?” But here you can totally imagine a storybook scenario, I can’t understand yet if that’s because it’s so magical, or because it’s so hidden from recent Western progression.  Maybe it’s a bit of both…

Luckily though, everyone’s told me that Nagpur is one of the cleanest cities in India; Pune seems to be the only rival to that claim. And honestly, I haven’t seen the drastic poverty that’s shocking, and I haven’t seen extreme garbage, so I guess it is. In Nagpur, the slums (which here seem to just be houses made by hand, though I’m sure my family’s kept me away from any extreme poverty) just seem like very small rickety plywood and tin houses. They’re one room.

I wonder how many people when they read that went, *GASP!* ‘One room!?’ And, honestly back in America I would have probably gasped at the thought too. Though, here my apartment is three, real rooms. Sure, my parents also have a flat down stairs, but it’s just used for sleeping. So the one we use all day  has bathrooms within the two bedrooms, with the kitchen and dining area conjoined, and it’s not an uncomfortable feeling; it’s actually very very comfortable. Indians keep their homes very clean, and even the poorer ones have hired help.

Family here is also everything, and my personal one just keeps growing!! Back in America I was an only child, with a host-sister who I called my own sister. But here we have a festival where we tie Rahki’s onto our brother’s wrists, now I have 5 brothers, and 3 sisters (in India, 4 counting dear Blanka), I’m especially close to two of my brothers, and all of my sisters. Three of them are exchange students, and we bug each other and kid with each other just the same. It really is amazing. Having brothers is nice, I never had one before, and it’s highly entertaining, and honestly sometimes annoying, it’s awesome.

People always ask me if I like India, maybe because I wasn’t too thrilled to come here honestly. I was scared what I would find, so I was very neutral about the whole thing. But now that I’m here, I love India. Maybe, it’s a pre-mature thing to say since I’ve only been here nearly three weeks (I arrived August 2) but the first impression is the strongest, right? And right now, I really love every moment I can spend exploring India’s pure greatness.

If I could put my thoughts together any neater than this journal I would, but the truth is that my thoughts here are never neat. They’re swarming with a bazillion ideas. About “How can that work?” Trying to remember if that’s the way you say that in English. And whether or not I’m going to accidentally run into traffic. After all I’m not a cow, a car could actually hit me.

So now for things that I used to love about journals, the lists!

Not weird, but creatively different things I’ve noticed:

  • Little old ladies, and men, and young women, and young men all dye their hair with henna so no one can see their grays, but then their hair turns traffic cone orange, and it’s totally socially acceptable.
  • There is no toilet paper, unless you go buy it yourself you better go get used to water.
  • Squats do exist, and YES they ARE awkward.
  • Bring hand-sanitizer, some people don’t understand the concept of soap in bathrooms. (as in, there is none to use)
  • People will take pictures of you if they think you look interesting
  • People may think you’re famous and ask for your autograph (it’s happened to all of the other exchange students, I’m the newest one so it hasn’t happened yet, what with all of the festivals lately, school’s been sparse)
  • Cleavage is a NO, showing your stomach is a YES. Old ladies will gladly show you the rolls they’ve collected from good eating and child-birth out of the sides of their saris. Even if you didn’t want to see it… You’ll see it.
  • Traffic laws? Ahaha that’s a funny joke. Sure they exist, are the followed? Only three are legally allowed in an auto-rickshaw, we ride with five and we sometimes go in the wrong lane into oncoming traffic.
  • Starbucks? No. Café Coffee Day? OH YES.
  • Bazaars? Kinda, Jaripatka? Best shopping location I know of, and one of the exchange students lives there!
  • American clothing? Kinda. But am I getting at least four Indian “suits” made for me at the moment? Yes. Is it expensive? Actually, not at all. It’s less than going to Forever 21 and getting a couple of shirts. It’s weird though getting accustomed to people doing stuff for you.
  • Do you really take rickshaws? Yes, and they’re auto-rickshaws with three wheels and everyone has a different interior, and you have to bargain with them (which can get really embarrassing when they offer lower then you offered them.)
  • Are there cows? Yes, I named one Mr. MooMoo when it decided to come up and chill next to me. People swerve around them when they drive.  

So India’s one of those special places, where you can never imagine a place like it, yet it exists right under your noses. I love it so much here, and I can’t wait to spend my year exploring India more. Thank you so much, everyone that gave me this opportunity. Thanks for trusting me enough to send me to such a difficult at moments, but completely magical place. I love it so so much.


Carlos Ojeda
2011-12 Outbound to Italy
Hometown: Palm Harbor, Florida
School: Palm Harbor University High School
Sponsor: Clearwater East Rotary Club, District 6950, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Trieste Nord, District 2060, Italy

Carlos - Italy

Carlos’ Bio

Buongiorno amici! My name is Carlos Ojeda, and I was born in Tampa on October 30th, 1994. Since then I have lived in an extended family arrangement with my sister, my parents, my grandparents, and sometimes an uncle. I currently live in Palm Harbor, Florida, and attend Palm Harbor University High School. I like to play soccer, spend time with my friends, watch movies, and engage in other activities such as swimming, running, and playing ping pong.

I take my studies very seriously, and maintain a 4.5 weighted GPA. My areas of interest regarding academics include science, mathematics, and history. My long term goal is to major in aerospace engineering at the University of Florida and to contribute to the field after a long, successful career. While academics are very important to me, I don’t consider myself one-dimensional.

Last year, I, among six freshmen, made my high school’s varsity soccer team. At the end of our soccer season, we got to the State Final game, and ended as runners up. This year I have once again made the team as a sophomore and have been able to participate in many more games than last year.

There are few things that I truly dislike; however, some stand out. For example, I find racist mindsets or close-mindedness intolerable. Other things that I dislike include war and violent or thoughtless behaviors. I believe all people should be open-minded, accepting and considerate of other people and other ways of life.

I am very grateful to Rotary Youth Exchange Florida for giving me the opportunity to participate in another one of my passions: To travel to get to know new cultures and languages. The past two summers, I lived in Costa Rica and enrolled in Spanish language lessons, and soccer academies. One of my favorite experiences in Costa Rica was exploring and discovering cities and towns while traveling by bus or walking. I have also been fortunate enough to visit and explore Japan, Ireland, and Mexico with my family, and Canada with my friends.

The thought of living in Italy has increased my desire to explore that new world and immerse myself in the rich culture there. I intend to fully engage in daily life and the customs of the families with whom I will live, and cities I will visit.

To the Rotary Youth Exchange Organization: Grazie mille! I will strive to be a worthy and responsible ambassador who will be indebted to you and who will find a way to pay you back for this generous and life-changing experience. Finally, I also extend my gratitude to my parents, my grandmother, and particularly my sister, Adriana (outbound student to Taiwan 2009-2010) for inspiring me to take this important step in my life. Buona giornata, Carlos.

Carlos’ Journals

It has only been three weeks since my flight landed in Trieste and I met my family for the first time, but after all of the experiences I’ve already had, and all of the people I’ve met, and how at-home I feel living with my family here, it may as well have been much longer. Before any of this had happened though, I first had to say goodbye to my family in Florida. I felt anxious in the car ride to the airport, not just because I have never flown by myself before, but because within hours I would be in a new world, living with new people.

En route to the airport, I received a phone call. It was my sister, Adriana, calling from Taiwan to say goodbye. It was unexpected, but very nice to say goodbye to her before I departed. When we arrived in the airport we checked in my luggage, had breakfast, and waited for my time to go. When it was finally time, saying goodbye was difficult. I suddenly felt very alone. The first flight was quick and easy, but I had seven hours of layover time in Washington. In this time I had lunch, said goodbye to my friends via texts and calls, and talked a bit with my parents and grandmother back home. I was excited during the flight to Munich, because soon thereafter I would find my new home. I had no layover in Munich, and I was soon on the airplane to Trieste.

When I stepped off the plane in Italy for the first time, I was very anxious but at the same time overjoyed. After I went through customs I walked through a small room then all of a sudden I saw my new family. I was happily greeted with hugs, smiles, and slow, carefully spoken Italian so I would understand better. We then departed for home. The car ride was wonderful. I took pictures of the scenery and practiced some of my rusty Italian with my new family. We arrived home and I began to get settled in. It was a lot to take in: new family, new language, new life, it was almost mind-blowing! My first meal in Italy was a delicious home cooked lasagna (How cliché!).

The first few days went very smoothly; I met some of my host sister’s friends, and got to know some of the city. My family here is absolutely wonderful. They are loving, happy, and cook great food! When it comes to meal time, I help set the table and I sometimes cook the pasta while my mother makes the sauce for it. Afterwards I help clear the table and clean up a bit. We occasionally play the Wii together, which is a lot of fun! I truly enjoy my family life here, as of now I haven’t felt any strong homesickness.

When it was finally my first day of school, I was a bit nervous. Some people back home told me that the students might try to bash me with difficult questions about politics or other such topics, so I tried to mentally prepare myself. Before entering the classroom for the first time, I met another exchange student who would also be in Trieste for a year and was in my class: Jenny, from Finland. Contrary to my prior belief, both of us were immediately accepted into the class without interrogation. The students in my high school are truly great. They are fun to talk to and be around. They are also very helpful when it comes to school, and the ones who speak the best English also help Jenny and I when we have trouble understanding something well. During class I try my best to understand everything, but it is still sometimes difficult. However, I believe that within a few weeks the language barrier will be almost nonexistent. On Fridays we all go out into the city as a class and have dinner, chat, take pictures, and just enjoy the nighttime city life.

After school I typically go to my host-sister’s grandparents’ house to have lunch, as my mother works in the afternoon. Afterwards we have a coffee at a café, then I return home. I greatly appreciate their generosity in inviting me to eat every day, it is truly amazing.

I recently attended my first Rotary meeting here in Trieste, which was held at one of the most expensive hotels in the city, overlooking the water. I met my counselor and many other Rotarians who all greeted me with smiles and conversation. I exchanged my sponsor club’s banner, and I was asked to say a few words in Italian. I told them how wonderful everything here in Trieste is, and how thankful I was for this opportunity of a lifetime. I have already sorted out all of my residence documents with help from a Rotarian from my Club who works in the Police Station, and the Secretary at the Rotary Club who is very kind and helpful. Hopefully soon I can find a soccer team to play on to stay in shape, improve my soccer skills, build new friendships, and improve my language skills as well.

As of now I am fairly well acquainted with the city’s bus system, and can easily get around town. More importantly though, I feel as if my Italian has improved ten-fold from when I first arrived. I can follow most conversations and can usually respond correctly. These first three weeks have been an amazing start to what I know will be the best year of my life so far.

December 01, 2011

11:03 AM

When I really think about it all, it tends to amaze me. Three months have already passed since I began my adventure. Having greatly enjoyed my stay here as of now, is seems like only a short time has passed, but remembering what I’ve done in these few months and all the experiences I’ve had, it might as well have been much longer.

One of the great spectacles I’ve seen here in Italy was the Barcolana, an annual event held in early October. Over 1200 sailboats from all around the world filled the water near Trieste to compete in a race around the bay. I was awed, not having ever seen anything like this. I visited my host father that day, because his house has an incredible view overlooking the entire bay; I took a lot of photos that day! It was very serene to see hundreds of sailboats racing across the ocean but to hear almost nothing, it seemed almost surreal.

As I get to know my family better and better, I realize how fortunate I have been to be living with such kind, generous and loving people. We all joke, talk and laugh together like any other family. My host grandparents still invite me to a delicious lunch at their home after school, followed by a coffee. I am extremely thankful for their generosity. Of course no family will ever replace my real family, but my Italian host family is the best substitute I could’ve asked for.

On October 30th my family prepared a special birthday dinner for me, and gave me gifts. After dinner, we called back home with Skype and had a nice chat with my real family. It was a very happy time, and the first birthday I have ever celebrated away from my friends and family from Florida.

As with my family relations, my school friendships are also improving and growing very strong. We still go out for dinner in the city on Friday evenings, and we also occasionally go spend time in the city on Saturday as well. I feel like I have been truly accepted by all of my classmates, and I greatly enjoy their company. School is also going well – I understand almost everything and am starting to fully comprehend the work we do, within a month I think I will be fine. My language skills are very good – I would go so far as to say I am now functionally fluent in Italian.

One of the great places I’ve seen here is Italy is Venice. It is truly unique, unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I have now been there twice, and would gladly go again. There are no cars in Venice, simply people walking and boats in the canals. It’s a magnificent marvel of history, art and culture.

I have also now met the other RYE students in my district. They are very fun and adventurous, and it’s great to spend time with them. We recently partook in a Rotary trip to Cremona, where we got to know other RYE students from other districts. It was very exciting and enjoyable to get to know almost 50 others partaking in similar adventures, but it seemed strange to be speaking English again to everyone – I almost felt like a tourist. It was great fun anyway, as there was the annual Torrone festival. Torrone is a dessert typical to Spain, and I made sure to buy some before I returned to Trieste.

Shortly before Thanksgiving, I decided to prepare a dish for my host family. I ended up making North Carolina bar-b-q sauce for pork, following a recipe sent to me by my mother in Florida. It turned out well, and my host family enjoyed having an American dish for an American holiday. Not too many people here even know what Thanksgiving is, so it was nice to include a little bit of history into making the meal.

I have now found a soccer team to play with, and I practice with them on Tuesdays and Thursdays. After I complete a bit of paperwork, I can also play in the matches with them. They are very nice guys, and I really enjoy the practices. Being here in Italy, I have felt truly accepted into this new life. The people here have become true friends, and I am really having an amazing time here. November has come and gone very quickly, and Christmas is right around the corner. More than one fourth of my adventure is already over, but I know it’s only just begun.

January 30, 2012

When you’re having fun and just living your life at home, time seems to go by quickly. That is actually how I feel now; at home. I almost feel as if I’ve always been there in Trieste, it all seems very familiar and very normal. Nearly five months have passed since I have been here and yet it feels like only a short time ago that I arrived in Trieste. Every day my experiences and friendships grow, and in my opinion I’m having the best exchange I could’ve wished for.

Us exchange students have been told that we will likely have ups and downs in our exchange, that at some points we may feel very out of place or uncomfortable. We have been told that particularly during the holiday season we may feel sad or miss our family. Instead my exchange has and still continues to flow very smoothly, without any downs. In fact in my opinion the holiday season was one of the highlights of my exchange so far.

For the holidays I partook in several festive events. On Christmas Eve, my host grandmother and her husband came to our home for dinner along with my host sister and her fiancée. After a delicious dinner, we handed out and opened the gifts. I really enjoyed partaking in this event, and being away from my home in Florida made it also interesting and fun. After opening gifts and chatting a bit, we played a traditional Italian Christmas game called tombola. The game is similar to bingo, and we used coins to wager; it was great fun! My host sister also gave us a call from Quebec to say hey and happy holidays. The evening was very special. The next say I was invited to a Christmas lunch al my host father’s home, to which several of their family members and friends also attended. First I called my family with Skype to wish them all a merry Christmas, and they also got to know my host father. After this we began the feast. The food was very good, but in the end I a te almost too much, and felt very bloated afterwards. Nevertheless it was satisfying and fun. The lunch lasted in total from 2:00 P.M. to 6:00 P.M.; four hours of eating! That same evening we witnessed a marvelous sunset, one of the most dazzling ones I have ever seen. After the feast we once again played tombola, and had a great time with it. Once most of the guests had left I remained a bit longer to play the Nintendo Wii with my young host brother. It was a grand evening, and it was nice to spend it with my host family.

The next morning I woke up still feeling a bit bloated from the evening before (I hadn’t even had dinner that night) and got into my warm winter clothes. My host mother and I were going into Slovenia with several of her friends to soo the snow! As we drove up the mountain roads we began seeing small patches of snow. The small patches eventually became bigger until everything was snow. When we arrived in the scenic area, we first took a long nature walk. It was cold, windy and snowing, but it was nice to see snow again. Being from Florida I don’t get to enjoy it very often, so I had planty of fun. After walking I tried on some skis and attempted to ski for the forst time in my life. I ended up falling many times and eventually got tired from the heavy movements required. After tiring myself out, we enjoyed a delicious lunch of bean soup and gnocchi. After a full day in the cold and snow it was nice to return to the wornth of home.

For a few days after this I was mainly at home or with friends in the town relaxing and having fun, waiting New Years. When the 31st finally came, I went to a friend’s house where we met in a group for dinner and then walked into the center of town to see th efireworks and music and crowds of people. It was a very joyous event with hundreds of people, and the feeling of a new year dawning in another country awed me. New Years was a bit different without the ball dropping on TV or mt friends from Florida, but nonetheless I had a wonderful time. At several times during the holiday season I contacted my Floridian parents who spent the holidays in North Carolina to meet up with the rest of the family. It was nice to see all of the family that I normally see during Christmas time, even being thousands of miles away. I also sent and received several Christmas cards from my family and friends; it felt good to be part of my Floridian family’s holiday events as well.

Soon after New Years, my friends from the Rotary district on exchange visited me in Trieste for a weekend. I showed the around the town and took them to a higher part of the city to see the sunset. In the end we were lucky, because the sunset was truly magnificent, an absolute splendor. We took many pictures and enjoyed each other’s company. Once we returned from being out in the town a bit more, we watched “The Green Mile” in Italian before going to bed. The following morning we prepared pancakes for breakfas; an American classic! My host mom also tried tham and she liked them! tIt was nice to show some others my host town, and we thouroughly enjoyed our time together.

A few weeks later, I also partook in a multicultural dinner with my friends from another exchange program, AFS. I prepared Costa Rican black beans and rice, and they ended up being very good! I became close friends with these other exchange students, and we all enjoeyd spending time together. I took them to my favorite café, and I also went to Venice with them. Recently, two of them had to go back home,; they were only on two-month exchanges. It was sad dropping them off at the train station, but I know they truly enjoyed their time here.

My school friendships still remain strong and warm, and it is another true highlight of my exchange. We chat and have fun at school, and we still go out on Friday evenings to have dinner in the city, and we all have great times together; I feel truly accepted into a place that I found not even half a year ago. I have made other friendships ads well, including my soccer team, which I still continue to practice with, the AFS students and their families, and some friends of my host sister. It may be truly one of the best feelings for an exchange student to feel so accepted, and I sincerely love it.

My adventure is nearly halfway over, so I have to cherish every moment of every day and live my life to the fullest. Times are changing and my journey will still continue for over half a year. But the memories kept, and the friends made over this time are something that won’t ever end. I don’t like to think about it, but I still sometimes do: What will it be like going back home? I won’t truly realize the cultural differences until I am reintegrated into my previous life. One of the hardest parts of ending may well be starting again; leaving all that I have gotten to know and love here in Italy. For now I just keep in mind that there is still time to enjoy this wonderful part of my life.

April 1 , 2012

It’s interesting how long periods of time can pass in what seems like an instant right in front of your eyes. It feels like a very short time ago that I was writing my previous journal entry, and yet these past two months have gone by unbelievably fast. It is probably like this because of the amazing and fun experiences I’ve had recently; I’ve been across Italy and into another country, and have taken part in a very unique and amazing festive event. But February was also the month in which I had to brave the bitter winter of Trieste, which was a particular challenge for someone coming from the Sunshine State!

In early February, the Rotary officers for our district had organized a trip to Rome for us exchange students, and we were obviously thrilled! There were only two minor problems: it was only a two day trip, and Rome was covered in several inches of snow. In fact the weekend that we were there just happened to be the coldest weekend Rome had experienced in about 25 years. Either way we were excited out of our minds to visit the Eternal City. We went by train, and the trip took about 6 hours. It wasn’t an unpleasant ride however; we had great views of the Italian countryside as we went, and the excitement was constantly building. We arrived late Friday night, and took the subway to our Hotel, on the way we threw a good number of snowballs! We slept that night wondering what the morning in Rome would bring. When we awoke we went to a brief Rotary meeting, and then we were set loose to wander and explore as we desired. We walked around a bit to see the Coliseum and Piazzas, then met up with other exchange students to visit other places. We also saw the Fountain of Trevi, in which we tossed coins as a guarantee of return to Rome. That night we hung out in the Hotel, excited for another new day. We found out the next day that we were going to the Vatican to see the Pope speak; it was a truly impressive experience. Unfortunately we had to leave very shortly after lunch that same day. We all had a great time; however the cold and the briefness of it were a bit disappointing. Either way it was an unforgettable trip, and I sincerely hope to return someday!

It was in this period that I experienced a winter unlike any other I had ever thought I would see. In the mornings when we were leaving the house to go to school, the temperature was routinely less than 20 degrees Fahrenheit. It was a cold that stung my eyes and lungs and hands. It wasn’t however, only the cold that we suffered; Trieste is known for a very significant wind pattern known as the Bora. This occurs when cold wind from the northern countries in Europe reaches Trieste, where it then funnels through a small valley-like structure a few miles from the actual city. This funneling effect creates very high speed winds, which increase the wind chill factor, making it seem colder than it really is. In fact the wind is so strong, that it blows away most of the cloud formations above Trieste, so when there is Bora it doesn’t snow. We got snow one time, but it was so cold that it was like a dry powder, almost like sugar. I was really missing the Floridian weather during this period! On one occasion, I was in the town with my school friends and I needed to return home by bus. In the end I waited about 25 minutes in 20 degree weather with almost 115 mile per hour winds; very unpleasant. My feet were stinging by the time I got home! However luckily at this point spring is coming on strong, and in the daytime the temperature is about 70 degrees.

In early February I went with my host sister and her boyfriend to find a costume for the upcoming Carnevale: a large celebration held every year where people of all ages dress up in costumes and sing and dance and just have a good time. The other RYE students in the district came to Trieste to partake in the events as well. When I started looking for a costume I personally hoped to find something along the lines of the Dragonball Z outfit, but unfortunately I couldn’t find it. Therefore I settled for a nice samurai costume, with hat and sword included. When Carnevale came in mid February, I was very excited; never had I seen anything like it back in Florida. On Saturday we went to Muggia, a small port town nearby where hundreds of people gather to celebrate. Before arriving however, we needed to take the famous Number 20 bus, which during Carnevale is so packed you will most likely be standing, and being pushed. When we arrived in Muggia, it was already packed with peop le dancing and laughing, and it was great fun for all of us exchange students. At one point, one of the entire piazzas was filled with people in costumes, and we were all incorporated in a group dance with a Portuguese song, where we jumped side to side as a large mass; it was truly fantastic! We were out until about 11:00 P.M., at which point we returned home to get at least a little bit of sleep because the next morning we were off to celebrate Carnevale in Venice! We got up early in the morning to quickly catch the train headed towards Venice. It quickly became packed with riders; so much so that many were standing up because there weren’t enough available seats. When we arrived in Venice we were awed by the many beautiful traditional Venetian costumes. In fact there were many shops in which these costumes and masks were bring sold, and we stopped at many of these stored while exploring the streets of Venice. Many people in the streets apparently liked my costume, and asked to take photos with me! When we arrived in the main square of Venice, San Marco, it had begun to rain. Unfortunately, we had very little time to stay in the square because we needed to catch the train going back to Trieste. In fact, we had to run to barely make it onto the train, and of course we didn’t find seats. In the end it was a beautiful experience to see the Venetian costumes, and the thousands of people from all over the world pacing the streets. However it was a different experience than Muggia: less dancing and music, more walking around and exploring. The following day we stayed in Trieste to see a parade complete with floats and music and later we went to get a delicious hot chocolate. Tuesday we returned one last time to Muggia, and once again we had a really fun t ime with more singing and group dancing. I really wish there were some similar celebration back in Florida where we are, but as far as I know there’s nothing like the Italian Carnevale!

After all of the festivities were over, there was some time to relax in Trieste. After all of this commotion some time to rest is good. Of course while Carnevale was taking place, us students had some time off from school, so returning was really a drag, we just wanted to have Carnevale forever at that point! But in the end school is very enjoyable as well. My classmates are as friendly and fun as ever, and I still truly enjoy their company. Having them in class makes the lessons so much better in a comical and chaotic way, where we joke and laugh every day all the time! Recently several of us from the class got together at a friend’s house to see a movie. The T.V. wasn’t working very well, and every few minutes the picture would be almost frozen and the audio wouldn’t work. Either way we all had a great time in each other’s company. They are all truly amazing friends.

My host family is still very close to me, they treat me like true family, so I do the very same. I have been very fortunate to not only have met them, but to have been able to stay with them for all of this year. The fact that I don’t change families for the whole year was an absolute gift. We share great moments together all the time, such as meals, playing the Nintendo Wii, playing board games, watching movies, and so much more. A few weeks ago we celebrated the birthday party of my host sister’s fiancée, so we got together with a few of their friends here at the house with cake and pizza, all the while joking and laughing. I truly enjoy their company and feel not only accepted, but loved, and I love them back! This in my opinion could be the most important thing for an exchange student with their family.

After Rome and Carnevale, I wasn’t sure what would come next. That is until I learned that a few of the RYE students in our district were planning a trip to Paris! I was immediately interested, and started making preparations right away. In order to go, we needed an adult to accompany us, so my host mother came along as well! Now there were six of us: Four exchange students including me (one who spoke French), my host mother and another Italian friend of ours. One week before departure, we got together at my home to organize some sort of plan for our trip, and reading the books and looking at the maps we really got a sense of how immense Paris was, and how much there would be to see and do. When the day came, we quickly made one last check of our luggage, and headed off to the airport. When we boarded, the excitement kept building; soon we would be in the most beautiful city in the world! During the flight, we passed directly over the snow-covered Alps, which were a marvel to see. When we arrived, we weren’t quite in Paris; we needed to take an hour long bus ride, then a taxi to our apartment. It was beautiful, and perfectly made to accommodate the six of us. We got a good sleep that night, but we knew there wouldn’t be a whole lot of rest because we needed to get up early to see Paris! In the morning we had a brief breakfast and then headed off into a new place. We got metro cards, which proved invaluable in the end, and started to explore. The first thing we went to visit was the Eiffel tower (how cliché!). We took many photos, and spent a good while around it; it was truly amazing to see it in person! After this we made our way to the Arc de Triomphe, another great monument of Paris. There we climbed the stairs to the top and got an amazing view of the entire city. The perfect architecture of the buildings and enormous roads leading off into the distance were stunning. After a bit more exploring in museums and bistros , we decided to call it a day. We then headed back to the apartment. We thought we were tired then, but in the course of one week of constant walking, climbing stairs and waking up early, in the end we were literally destroyed. During the week however, we saw some of the most beautiful museums, palaces, and monuments I could’ve imagined. The Louvre, The Mona Lisa, Pompidou, Versailles, and countless other sights made the trip unbelievable. However, maybe the best part of the trip was the fact that we were in a great group. We got along well, joked, laughed and basically just worked great together. In my opinion, Paris is the most beautiful city in the world, nothing I’ve seen comes close to matching it. It was truly unforgettable; the trip of a lifetime, and I would really like to return to Paris sometime soon.

These past two months have been very special and filled with amazing new experiences. I feel more at home here all the time, and the people I meet and the memories I’ve made will be unforgettable. I’ve come to love the people here and Trieste itself so much, I feel like I could call it home. As much as I don’t like to think about it, I sometimes remember that only about three and a half months remain in my exchange. I now need to enjoy my time here as much as I can, cherishing the remaining time. Now that summer is coming very shortly, there will be many more things to do, such as swimming, going with my family to the camping ground and spending time in Barcola, a part of Trieste with large areas dedicated to sunbathing and swimming. Also going out of the house without pounds of extra layers of clothing! In any case I know that the time I’ve spent here has been life-changing, and the same will go for rest of my time.

   June 18, 2012

Two months have once again passed in what seems like mere days, yet my experiences continue to grow and my time spent here becomes more rich with friendships and fun. In these two months I traveled quite a lot; more that I have in any other time in my exchange, and in this way I was able to see many new places that were all like new, different worlds. Soon I will also be finished with school, and will have about a month and a half of summer ahead of me to spend with all of my friends and family members here with me. However with all these experiences and passing time, the final deadline draws nearer – my departure date. I am currently dreading it, knowing how difficult leaving will be. Still however I know that this next month and a half may well be the best so far of my exchange, and that I still have much to enjoy before I go.

Up until the later months of my exchange I had only known and seen the northern and some central parts of Italy. I have always heard that the South of Italy is like another world compared to the North, so it had always been a dream of mine to to someday get to visit these places. When I head we were going to Lecce, a city in the southern region of Puglia I was ecstatic! We would attend the wedding of my host sister’s fiancé. When we first arrived I didn’t know exactly what to expect. I noticed that the people around me looked and talked slightly differently, and that the mountains that I was used to seeing in Trieste were absent. We rode home in the car, and I was surprised at how different the landscape was – nearly all of the land was made of olive tree orchards, and there were more wide open spaces compared to what I see in the North. When we arrived home we were greeted by warm food and an even warmer welcome; the people in the South of Italy are known to be great hosts, and the family was very glad to host us for the week. I quickly learned how exquisite and rich the cuisine of the South is: an appetizer, a first dish, a second dish, salad, fruit and dessert composed most lunches and dinners, and for breakfast I would often ear two or three pastries. In the days before the wedding, we took time to sight see around Lecce and the surrounding areas. We saw beautiful beaches, cliff faces dropping into the water, a cave system, and walked through downtown Lecce. We also saw old cities surrounded by walls with vendors lining the streets selling goods at very reasonable prices. One day we went to a zoo safari, where you drove with your own car among animals such as bears, giraffes, lions, tigers and monkeys. We had a great time driving around with the animals, and then we saw a dolphin show; It was a very touching performance. It was amazing to see this new place that seemed like a different world. When the day of the wedding ca me we excitedly donned our elegant clothing in preparation for the event. We drove two hours to the location, where we entered a stone church for the wedding. The couple was married, and at the same time their newborn son was baptized; it was a beautiful ceremony. After the wedding we made our way to a restaurant for the reception. Over the course of eight hours we had lunch! All the while we danced and celebrated; it was an amazing event. Overall we had a wonderful time in Puglia, and I would absolutely love to return someday.

After having passed such a spectacular time in Lecce, I wanted to return to the South to see more of these amazing places, but I doubted that it would be possible given the little available time left in my exchange. However I unexpectedly got my wish when one day I was told that there was a Rotary tour being organized to Napoli for a weekend. I was thrilled, and agreed to go right away. I made the trip with two other exchange students in my district by train. We arrived in Napoli in the late afternoon, and were greeted by members of the Rotary Youth Exchange program. We were then told in which host families we would stay. As we drove to the house I once again noticed the different landscape, and was marveled by the wide open sea. As we neared the city, we could see Vesuvius, the massive volcano that looms over Napoli. Unfortunately there wasn’t enough time in the weekend to visit it however. We then met our respective host families and got settled in at home. I was pla ced in a family of four: a father and mother, and twin siblings of eighteen years, one a boy and the other a girl. Both of the twins had already partaken in exchanges in the United States, so they spoke English very well. In the evening I went out into Pompei with my host siblings and a friend of theirs. We sat in a bar and talked about Napoli and the United States and just anything we wanted to. I noticed that the people from the South were very happy overall in the way they talked and interacted with one another and with me. For this reason I very quickly befriended my host siblings. The next day we spent the morning in the ruins of ancient Pompei. There I also met the other host siblings of the RYE students. Like my host siblings there were very friendly and easily engaged in conversation. After seeing the ruins we had a gelato and then went home to relax a bit, we were all exhausted! Nevertheless in the evening we drove to the center of Napoli to spend the afternoon. We saw churches, palaces, stores and crazy drivers; It was a beautiful confusion! In the evening we did what I had been wanting to do in Napoli for years; we settled into a nice pizzeria by the water for the best pizza in the world. It was absolutely delicious – everything I expected it to be and more, I can’t easily explain how great it was, it is just something one must experience on their own! The next day we packed into cars to drive along the coastline . We saw mountains, cliffs, terraces and a beautiful ocean stretching to the horizon. Before lunch we stopped at a beach for a quick swim. The water was very cold, but the sun shone strongly and we were warmed up quickly. For lunch we all sat at a large table and were served many delicious dishes and desserts . That day we returned home exhausted, but we still went out at night to spend time in the town. On the final day we made our way to the high school which the host siblings attended to talk about the RYE program. O ne by one we shared our experiences over the year to an auditorium full of students. It was very special to see other students learning about this opportunity. In the end it was very difficult to say goodbye to the friends I had made in Napoli, but I’m content in knowing that I may go back to see them again before I leave Italy.

After returning from Napoli, the next significant event I had to look for was the arrival of my father and grandmother from Florida. On the morning of their arrival my host family and I got into the car of my host father and headed off. Once at the airport we waited apprehensively for my family, and after several minutes they came through the customs gate. The next few minutes were filled with greetings, laughs and introductions. We took the scenic route home, talking all the way – my two families getting to know each other. After a quick car ride to see the town we returned home, tired and hungry. We had a nice Italian lunch then relaxed a bit at home. Later that evening we went into the town to sight see a bit and to eat pizza. After a busy first day my family still wanted to see more of Trieste. So the next day my two families and I went to an osmiza, a traditional winery and delicatessen, for lunch. The location was situated overlooking the entire town, and the view wit h the sun shining strongly in the late afternoon was beautiful. After a great meal, we all went to have gelatos by the water side. It was the first time my father and grandmother had tried real Italian gelatos, and they loved them! That evening we returned home once again exhausted, but it was worth it having passed an amazing day on the town. We then packed our bags because the next morning my father, grandmother and I would depart for a week in Austria. The two days in which we were first with my Floridian family were very interesting, because both families got along very well, and it was very nice to see this and to see them interact and communicate even with the language barrier (however my dad speaks some Italian, and they both speak Spanish which is quite similar to Italian). Early the following morning we all packed ourselves and our luggage into my host mom’s car, and after a short ride to the train station we were ready to say goodbye to Trieste and my host fam ily for a week. It was strange leaving in this way; that is, going somewhere new without any other Italians or RYE students with us. But it would be nice nonetheless to be with my Floridian family for a while after so many months to talk and share my experiences so far in Italy in person rather than with a computer. Our first train took us to Verona, however we didn’t have enough time to really go out to see the town. The next train took us from Verona to Innsbruck, a town in Austria. From there we had only one more connecting train that finished in Bregenz, which is where we would stay for the majority of our trip. When we arrived at the station, my father’s friend, Heidi, with whom he had studied French with in Nice, France over twenty years before picked us up to take us to her apartment. She was also accompanies by her nine year old daughter Joey. She lives in Munich, but has another apartment there in Bregenz which she rarely occupies, and this is where we sta yed. The first day we walked around the town a bit and tried a traditional food similar to macaroni and cheese. However after so many hours in train it was nice to return home to relax a bit. The next few days we mostly explored Bregenz and relaxed in the calm atmosphere. Bregenz is located on a lake that also borders Germany and Switzerland, however it in itself is a small town, so wandering around or just staying at home was very relaxing; there wasn’t a lot of traffic or noise, but there were many people who walked around, and many young people. After a few days in Bregenz we went with Heidi to visit Munich, where her actual home was. We expected to stay only one night, but in the end we stayed three nights, which let us see more sights and get to know more places. One day we spent in the center of town, another I spent in a beautiful science and technology museum, and another we spent at the Ex-Concentration Camp at Dachau. This experience was very moving and sorrow ful, however it was also very informative and in my opinion important. We were able to better understand a very tragic and significant moment in history. On the last day of our trip we took another train to Zurich in Austria. It was a beautiful town, with many, many young people out and about. We stayed in a nice hotel and got to know another one of my dad’s old time friends. We took a long walk around the town to see old churches and shops, and then rode a tram to his home. We then ordered pizzas and sat on the balcony to chat, which by the way had an amazing view of the entire town of Zurich, and the Alps in the background. We spent the entire evening there, talking for hours and enjoying each other’s company. Late in the night we returned to our room, tired after a long week of adventure to prepare our luggage for the return trip. We had a great week of travel overall, getting to know new places and people, trying new foods, using our other languages; it was won derful! But like usual after going on a trip here I was glad to be back in Trieste in the end.

Looking back I have seen and gotten to know more places and people than I ever would have imagined I could in one year. The friendships I have made have been permanently placed into my memory, and they will never be forgotten. Soon the other RYE students will begin to leave one be one, and the hardest part of my exchange will begin. I can’t even begin to think of what to do when I need to leave, it will feel like leaving home again. Nevertheless soon my best friend from the USA will visit and I can spend time with him in the last month. Even knowing how difficult leaving will be I can rest in knowing that this year had been truly life-changing for me, and that I may return to Italy next year, this way I can see all of my friends and host family again. It may feel like returning home once again after being away in a strange, different place; I’ll just have to wait and see.

July 19, 2012

Ten and a half months have passed since I stepped foot for the first time in Trieste, however it is extremely difficult for me to grasp the fact that my time here is almost over. I look back at the pictures of me from the beginning of my stay and see another person, I think of how I was at the start and realize how much I have changed, not so much physically, but mentally. The last two months have been perhaps the most important months of my exchange, and that being said also two of the most significant months of my entire life. They have been filled with some soaring high points, such as seeing my family and my best friend from the United States, enjoying the company of my host family in the final period of my stay, and spending time with my friends here in Italy before I depart. However there have also been some difficult moments: counting down the days, thinking of changing my current lifestyle to a new one, and most of all saying goodbye a lmost each day to people here who I may not see again for years. Nonetheless these past two months have been the perfect end to an unbelievably amazing year.

After returning to Trieste from Austria, I prepared myself for the final week of school. In Italy there is a tradition in which the students partake in the final days of school: The senior class students wait outside before and after school and during breaks with water bottles, water balloons, and water guns. Their goal is to soak anyone and everyone, regardless of age or gender. It is great fun, and we almost always got sprayed with water as soon as we stepped foot outside. Other than this the final week was more or less normal. Each day made us all more anxious for the summer vacation to just start, and for this reason it seemed particularly long. But nonetheless it was enjoyable; we shared food in class, did very little school work, and organized plans for the summer break. During this week my Floridian father came into the class to teach English for a day, and my grandmother also attended. He shared a short story he wrote some years ago, and the students truly enjoyed h is company. He also brought t-shirts and photos as gifts for the classmates. The students were extremely grateful, and some even told me after class that they had never seen such kind offerings. It was interesting to see the interactions between my father and my classmates, because they had already been in contact for months with Facebook, but seeing someone in person is totally different from seeing them through a computer. It was truly a great experience. On the last day of school we brought our own water to spray among ourselves, and I took many pictures!We also took a short walk to a gelateria with our religion teacher. Returning we were once again doused with water, which was actually great given the extreme heat outside that day! We finished the day with gym class, in which we played soccer as usual. The last day of school marked an important transition from getting up and going to bed early to staying out late and enjoying quality time with family and friends much mor e often. However I can say that attending school was among the best and most important parts of the entire year. The school is where I met my first friends in Italy, and where I learned much of the Italian language as well. For this reason, the end of school also marked the beginning of a period where I wouldn’t see every one of my classmates every day, and where the year was coming close to an end. However I was happy all the same!

After School ended I was content knowing I would have a great Summer in Trieste before returning to Florida. During this time, my father and grandmother were still here visiting. We spent many afternoons all together exploring the town and spending time with our hosting families (mine and that of my father’s bed and breakfast.) Also during this period we had one huge event to look forward to: The Bruce Springsteen concert to be performed right here in Trieste. We arrived at the stadium several hours before the start, but there were already thousands of people trying to get the best spots. We (my host mother, my father and I) were positioned standing up in the courtyard. We waited for two hours patiently for the concert to start, all the while thousands of people pouring constantly into the stadium; in the end the concert had an attendance of about forty thousand people. When the musicians finally began performing the entire crowd roared to life. The concert was amazing, and lasted from 9:15 P.M. Until 12:30 A.M. It was amazing to see the Boss himself in Italy, and us singing along to his songs surrounded by thousands of other fans doing the same. When the concert was over we headed back into town through a sea of people to reach our car to go home. We were exhausted and our voices were almost nonexistent, but it was more than worth it!

In the days after the concert we went back to enjoying the calm Trieste lifestyle for a while. However soon thereafter I went to Venice for the sixth time in my exchange with another exchange friend, Stéphanie, from Quebec. She stayed with us in Trieste for a while, getting to know my Floridian family and enjoying the last few weeks of her exchange year. We also hosted a cook out at my father’s bed and breakfast in which my grandmother made some of her traditional Costa Rican cuisine for my exchange friends, a few Italian friends and I. It was nice to finally revisit these flavors that I hadn’t tasted for almost my entire stay. Everyone else loved the food as well, and we spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out in the shade and playing cards.

After Stéphanie returned to her host city, Rimini, we spent some more relaxing time in Trieste. But soon there after my father, my grandmother and I went on a weekend trip to Florence and Rome. We saw some of the famous plazas and roads of Florence, mainly just exploring on our own. However on the last day of our Florence stay we met up with a classmate of mine from Trieste who regularly goes on trips there. We spent the evening with him and another friend of his in the city. We spoke all together for hours, enjoying each other’s company. Once it got late however we had to return to the hotel to be able to wake up early for our day trip to Rome. By the way Rome is not a day trip kind of city; to see all of Rome you need to spend many years there. We woke up early to get on the train, all excited about getting to visit the eternal city! We arrived and instantly noted the difference to other parts of Italy we had seen. The people spoke differently, the architectur e was different, and there were monuments of all kinds everywhere. We took a guided tour of the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel, which lasted about three hours. After this we sat down to have lunch, already exhausted. After lunch we headed towards the Trevi fountain, which my grandmother really wanted to see. We tossed in the coin as tradition holds, and got a gelato because it was incredibly hot that day. After spending some time around the fountain, we made one last stop at the Colosseum, the icon of Rome. We were miserably tired at this point, but it was marvelous nonetheless to be there to see these things in person. We returned home that evening in train, almost falling asleep standing up because of exhaustion.

It was also during this time that my best friend from Florida, Emerson, came to visit Trieste with his parents. After ten months of being away from my Floridian life it was great to see him again for the first time. We spent most of our days exploring town and hanging out at the beach. He also really got to like Trieste, and would have liked to stay longer given the chance. My father’s friend from Florida had also come to visit, and one day we all took a trip to see Venice. It was their first time and my seventh time. We arrived in train, and instantly began exploring. We walked down the crowded streets taking pictures and marveling at the sights; typical tourist behavior. After walking for about an hour, we made our way to a canal to fulfill on of my grandmother’s dreams: to ride in a gondola in Venice. She was really excited, and made sure we took plenty of photos! After the gondola ride we headed to the main plaza: Piazza San Marco. We spent a good while there l ooking around and buying souvenirs. We then slowly made our way towards the station, but still took our time to see everything we could. We had a great day in Venice, and our friends truly loved the architecture, history, and emotion that Venice carries with it. We took one of the earlier trains home in order to then attend a Rotary dinner held by my host club in Trieste. My father and grandmother also attended, and the club members were very welcoming and glad to get to know them as well. After the ceremony and dinner we were announced and thanked for the company. I give my sincerest thanks to the Rotary club of Trieste Nord for all of their help and support for me during this year. Also to the Rotary district 2060 in which I was in for organizing trips and hosting events to make our exchanges even more enjoyable.

Within the following days we, Emerson and I, had one more main event coming up: A concert by Blink-182 performed in Milano. We took a train there with another exchange friend, Eva, from Australia. We first arrived at the hotel, and took a few hours to explore Milano. Immediately afterwards we rushed back to the hotel to grab our things and then headed off to the stadium. Once again we were very early, but once again there were already so many people. We bought concert t-shirts and food while waiting for it to begin. When it finally began all of Milan seemed to roar. The concert was much shorter than that of Bruce Springsteen, but it was still an amazing concert. We sang along almost the whole time, so when the concert was over we left with very hoarse voices. We went to bed late, and had to be out of bed again within about four and a half hours. We awoke groggy and sleepy eyed, trying to rush to get ready to get our train. Emerson and his family left before us because they h ad to catch their return flight into the U.S.A. Eva and I then packed our remaining belongings and made our way to the train station. We spent most of the six hour train ride sleeping and marveling at how great the concert was. We arrived in Trieste, tired beyond our imagination, at which point we made our way home as quickly as possible to rest.

In the later part of these two months I went with my classmates to the beach to spend the entire night. They dedicated the night to a friend of ours who will move next year, and to me; it’s truly amazing to know that I have friends like this. When we arrived we immediately jumped into the water, even though it was quite cold! We figured we wouldn’t mind the cold later. After a bit of swimming, we played card games and chatted for a while. After this though, the speakers were brought out and we played music for hours, dancing and singing the whole time. By now it was already quite late, so some friends had to go home. This was another hard part because some of them I wouldn’t see again until my next trip to Trieste. Saying bye is tough, but I can rest in knowing that it’s more of a “see you later,” than a goodbye. At this point there were six of us left, and we stopped dancing and singing because we were now tired, but the music still played. W e had taken many pictures that night! By now it was about three in the morning, and some of the friends wanted to sleep. So we set up towels on the stone terraces and laid out. I wasn’t very sleepy though, and neither were two other friends of mine, so while the other three slept we stayed awake to talk and hang out. It was almost magical to be with great friends under the stars by the water side with the city of Trieste glowing with lights in the distance, and to slowly see the sky lighten up as the new day came. When it was finally bright out we woke the others to get some breakfast because we were extremely hungry. After a short backseat motorcycle ride with my friend we got some breakfast pastries for everyone. We stopped at the home of one of the friends to eat and to rest for a bit. We all sat around to watch TV, and I instantly fell asleep! I was awoken an hour later when we started leaving. Four of us headed out together, while the other two stayed there. When I finally arrived home I fell onto the bed and was immediately asleep. It was 8:30 A.M. when I fell asleep, and I expected to sleep for a few hours, but instead I woke up at 5:00 P.M. We all had a great evening, and I was so glad to spend time with my best Italian friends. It was unforgettable, all of us there having fun and swimming and singing as the sun set, and then being there to see another day start. I’m so glad that I had such wonderful friends this year, without them it would have been a totally different and much more bland experience. They were always there for me, and made my stay more fun than I could’ve ever imagined. I can’t wait to return to Trieste at some point to see them, they were such an important part of my life this year. They were some of the first people I met this year, and they were also some of the last people I spent time with. Saying goodbye to them was very difficult, it was like saying goodbye to brothers and sisters. I really h ope they come sometime to visit us in the U.S.A. I loved spending time with them, and I will keep tham all in my memory forever.

A few days before my return into the States, my younger host sister who had spent a year in Canada returned to Trieste. We went to the airport to pick here up with my host grandparents as well. This gave me a glimpse of what I might experience upon my return. Emotions, laughter, photos, gifts, and happy people. That evening we had a cook out at our home, in which my host step brother and I cooked! There were seven of us, and we spent the night talking about her year and mine, and eating and just having a good time. On the evening of the second to last night, my older host sister, her fiancee and I partook in a cook out dinner at my host father’s house. There were other relatives and friends there as well, and we ate until we were full to bursting. There were vegetables, meats, cheeses, corn, desserts, wine, ice cream; a typical Italian special occasion dinner! After the dinner I went into their pool with my host brother and his friend for a midnight swim. It was cold bu t we still had a great time. It was strange knowing that within less than 24 hours I wouldn’t see them anymore, and that in less than 48 hours I wouldn’t even be in their company anymore. It feels very strange to have this feeling of leaving home again – I don’t know which home to call home anymore!

In all these days I have been saying goodbye to so many friends, it’s very difficult! Knowing it might be years before I see these people again is difficult to comprehend and accept. They mean such a great deal to me and they are all so important to me. However next year in June I may return to Trieste for some time with my mother, so she can get to know all the people and places I got to know, and so that I can revisit the life I lived in another place.

Out of all the people who have helped and supported and befriended me this year, the ones who I would thank the most are those of my host family. I have only felt this comfortable and at home with people at my home in Florida and among my absolute best friends. They made me laugh, spent time with me, got me gifts occasionally, and basically embraced me into their lives as if I were their own. My host father Sandro, his wife Cinzia, and their son Niccolò, proved to be a family in which I could always feel welcomed, even though I didn’t live with them. They took me on trips, invited me to special dinners and lunches, let me spend the night at their house whenever I wanted, showed me what it was like to have a little brother, and just loved me and accepted me as if I had always been there with them. Sandro’s parents, Franco and Grazia showed me some of the strongest and most unbelievable hospitality I have ever seen. I was invited every day to lunch and a coffe e after school, even though it was tight on their time schedule. A thousand “thank yous” wouldn’t be enough, but I think they know just how thankful I am, family members tend to know these kinds of things. To my maternal grandparents, Giuliano and Diana, I owe a great deal of knowledge, fun, and family time. Whenever the other grandparents weren’t in town or were just unavailable, Giuliano and Diana would have me over for lunch. They engaged easily in historic and political conversation, and for that I gained much knowledge of Italy, Trieste itself, and many fine wines! In the end we reach my actual home family: my mother, Fabiana, my older host sister, Francesca, and my step brother, Domenico. They taught me more than I can express, things I wouldn’t even know how to express with words, basically life experience. Fabiana proved to be such a great mother: kind, funny, understanding, loving, and a great chef! In her company I felt totally serene, as if I had been living with her already for all of my life. I had never felt more at home away from my Floridian home before, I truly felt deeply held in the family and life here. Francesca and Domenico showed me what a couple is like in a young, loving relationship, and how to always keep your head up and move forward even through tough times. They also showed me how a relationship develops during the span of a pregnancy; their son Oliver will be born in mid December! My love and thanks to all of my host family members can’t be expressed here, or written anywhere. The important part though is that the love is there, and it definitely is!

I have lived now ten and a half months in a new place, and now is the time to let it go and return to my previous life. These journals have kept many people informed of the main details of this year, but to recount it all would take hundreds of journals, and in written words I still wouldn’t be able to accurately describe all of the experiences, feelings, friends, emotions and life that I have known here. Trieste is world apart from anything I know back in Florida, and I already feel nostalgic of living here. I’m glad that I will eventually return to retouch the life lived here, but for now I need to move ahead, and reenter my life back in Florida. However going forward doesn’t mean I can’t look back. Time passes, but the memories made over time don’t. The people I’ve met, the friends I’ve made, and this new world I have will stay forever in my memory. These past two months have been a very appropriate and fulfilling final chapter to my st ory in Italy. As I spend my last evening here I reflect and remember the first few days of my exchange. For some reason, those days seem so vivid, even more so now than many months ago. It seems like a time so long ago that I first entered Trieste, but the year did pass quickly. In a short span, everything changed: my life, the lives of people I met here, and those of the people back in Florida, now I have to realize and accept this new major change from Italian life to Floridian life. Prepare yourselves Floridians, tomorrow I’ll be there!


Carter Grant
2011-12 Outbound to Peru
Hometown: St. Johns, Florida
School: Nease High School
Sponsor: St. Johns Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Nuestra Señora de Gracia, District 4450, Peru

Carter - Peru

Carter’s Bio

Hola, me llamo Carter Suzanne Grant! I mentioned my middle name because I am often confused for a boy, due to mi nombre.

Primero, meet me. I was born in the big city of Atlanta, Georgia. My family and I moved around a bit (Ohio and Colorado), and then settled down in St. Johns Florida eight years ago. I am a Presbyterian, and active in my church, Geneva. In addition to attending church religiously, I am in youth group there and help teach classes for children.

I am very academically inclined and a tenth-grader in the International Baccalaureate program (IB) at Nease High School. Me encanta biología, and would love to work in the field of plant genetics for a living.

In my spare time, I play tennis and spend time with my family. I have one sibling, mi hermano pequeño, Jarrett, and two amazing padres, Adrienne and Kevin. I am very thankful that my family members (immediate and extended) are so supportive of my international endeavors.

Also, I love to travel and meet new people, so this program is perfect for me. I got a little taste of international travel when I visited Europe this past summer.

You might be wondering why I am writing this short autobiography with Spanish words mixed in- I am because I will be going to the exotic land of Peru next year!

Before I became interested in this program, I didn’t know very much about Peru. However, the more I research, the more excited I get! Now that I am learning about the country, I am psyched to actually see it all!If I can, I would love to see: Machu Picchu(one of the new seven wonders), Lake Titicaca, and the Nazca Lines.

I would like to thank Rotary for this incredible opportunity. I cannot wait to begin on my adventure.

Carter’s Journals

October 19, 2011

I’ve been living here in Lima for about ten weeks now, and I am having the hardest time starting this journal entry…. I’m trying to think back to when I got here, about my first impressions. Which is a hard thing to do, because they seem normal to me now. But, I’ll try!

So, when I got off of the plane on my first day (2:00 AM on July 29th) I was met by a crowd of Peruvians- my family, my counselor, my host club president and his family, my district president, and many others too. Even though it was so late, they were very excited and greeted me with many kisses on the cheeks. Like many other South American countries, a kiss on the cheek is how you greet people. It was sort of challenging for me at first, because I have never been one for PDA. But now I am used to it, and I like that part of the culture. Peruvians definitely seem to be more warm than Americans.

When I arrived, we were on vacation, so I didn’t start going to school until about my third week. My two host siblings also go to my school, Colegio Santa Rosa. It is a Catholic school, and my uniform involves a plaid skirt and tie. It sounds weird, but I really like having a uniform! I’ve never been a big fan of shopping, trying on, or deciding on what clothes to wear. So, I don’t have to worry about that 5 out of the 7 days of the week!

Someone once said that writing just shows us how messy and unorganized our minds are. This is definitely the case with me, and as I am writing this there a thousand thoughts and memories running through my head. I would like to tell all of my readers (really just my parents and grandparents, probably!) everything. But, I’m leaving to go on my trip to Machu Picchu in an hour and I don’t have very much time. Speaking of trips, I have at least five planned with Rotary during my exchange year, so if you like awesome trips- Peru is definitely for you!

January 11

When I last submitted a journal, I was getting ready to go on my Cuzco/Puno trip with Rotary. So I’ll start off with that.

Peru (apart from the giant metropolis that is Lima) is a beautiful country with a varied landscape and I’m happy that I’ve been able to see so much of it. I’ve traveled by bus all over Southern Peru and up the North coast. To recount all the things I saw and did would take a long time (and we are supposed to write more about our normal lives and not so much about trips- sorry!), so I will let my pictures do most of the talking.

Here is a lowdown on what I’ve been doing. How it’s organized is sort of random.

We are in our summer vacation now until March, when I will be studying gastronomy in a university in Lima called Universidad San Ignacio de Loyola (USIL). Peru has some of the world’s best chefs and Peruvians take pride in and always talk about their food. Lima has some of the world’s cheapest and freshest seafood, and I can say that ‘ceviche mixto’ is probably my favorite Peruvian dish. I can’t wait to learn how to make it in university!

Dancing is a huge part of the culture here, and pretty much every town in Peru has it’s own traditional way of dancing. I have learned the Salsa, Samba, Scia, and Marinera. Whenever us exchange students are on a trip, we always dance with the locals. I saw one dance in Colca (Southern Peru) that was partly reenacting a folktale. It involved a “poisoned” orange, a scary cloth mask, and a rope with a rock tied to the end of it. Kind of frightening, and very Peruvian.

My family here is amazing, I have three siblings, although one is on her exchange in Citrus, Florida right now (Joseline). My brother, Luis Miguel (14) and my sister Fernanda (12) both go to my school too. They always help me with my Spanish and are patient with me. I can always be my self with them. I really couldn’t ask for a better family, and I know that I’m lucky to have them.

Living in a big city (Lima has almost 9 million people!) is a great experience for me, I’ve pretty much lived in the suburbs or in the country my whole life before this. Before I got here, I used to think that all huge cities were like New York City, with huge skyscrapers and a very fast- paced way of life. I was wrong. I call it “La Hora Peruana,” or Peruvian Time. It means that arriving to anything less than 45 minutes late is early. One time, my brother and I arrived at a Quinceñera (a party for a girl who is turning fifteen, it is very important in Latin American culture) over an hour after the time stated on the invitation, we were the first ones there and they were still people setting up for the party!

Rotary here is very involved with my life here, and I go to their meetings with my family every Wednesday, and I already feel close to all of the Rotarians. Peru is a third world country, so there is a lot of poverty and so forth. With Rotary, I have been to the poorer parts of the country and volunteered. The last time that we helped was the week before Christmas, and we handed out presents and food to families in the outskirts of Lima. This thought brings me to another point… la Navidad!

Peru is around 80% Catholic, and celebrating Christmas is a huge deal down here. Christmas Eve is much more important than the actual 25th. We stayed up until midnight on the 24th, and then we ate turkey, rice, and Paneton. After eating, we opened presents (I got a watch!) and then stayed up until 6 AM or so. The entire next day we just rested and went to church. My parents might be hurt from what is coming next (sorry!), but I wasn’t very homesick over the holidays. I truly had a great time, just hanging out with my host family.

Well, in short, I’m having a fabulous time here, and I am so happy that I decided to make the decision to spend a year in Peru! I feel like a part of my host family, and I rarely have trouble with the language anymore. Now, I know my way around Lima and I can use public transportation with ease. I really feel like I fully understand Peruvian culture. The only sad part is that I am more than halfway done with my exchange now. I only have about 5 months left to enjoy Peru, and I plan to make the best of them!

Casey McDermott
2011-12 Outbound to Netherlands
Hometown: Palm City, Florida
School: Martin County High School
Sponsor: Stuart Rotary Club, District 6930, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Langedijk-Geestmerambacht, District 1580, Netherlands

Casey - Netherlands

Casey’s Bio

Hello, my name is Casey McDermott and I am 16 years old. I am from Illinois and moved to Palm City, Florida this past summer. Now, I am attending Martin County High School and am enjoying the time I have here with my newfound friends. Although, next year, my journey will continue as I spend my senior year as a Rotary Youth Exchange Student in The Netherlands!

It all started when my Spanish teacher told the class one day about the program, it was right as we were walking in and it was loud in the class but I heard loud and clear. After class I immediately asked for a website with more information. You can imagine her surprise because I had just arrived as a new student from Chicago, but she believed in me from that moment on. I knew that I wanted to study abroad because of stories my dad tells me from his many business trips and my positive experience from moving it was definitely what I wanted. My family was more than excited and has been 100% supportive of me.

As for me, I enjoy time with my family and my friends, and volunteering with the kids each week at church. I also like traveling, ballet, and adventures. I also love to read and watch movies. In my family, I have three siblings. Including, my oldest brother Ryan who is currently attending North Park University in Chicago, Illinois. Also, there is my little sister Lindsay who is attending Martin County High School as a freshman. Youngest, is my little brother Joe who is three.

This next year is going to be one I will never forget. I cannot wait to start my year of adventure. Thank you Rotary for this amazing experience. I would not be able to have this opportunity without all of you.

Celia Suman
2011-12 Outbound to France
Hometown: Miami Shores, Florida
School: New World School of the Arts
Sponsor: Miami Shores Rotary Club, District 6990, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Lille Nord, District 1520, France

Celia - France

Celia’s Bio

Bonjour! My name is Celia Suman, I am 17 years old, and I will be an outbound exchange student to France! Living abroad has always been a dream of mine, and I was hoping to get France from the beginning of the whole RYE application process. I couldn’t be more excited and grateful for this opportunity, it truly is a dream come true.

I live in a town called Miami Shores (which is located in North Miami) with my mom, dad, my younger sister and brother, and my dog Max. I attend New World School of the Arts; a very challenging conservatory-like arts school where I study the art of dance. I take dance classes at school every day for almost 3 hours, and I like to take dance classes after school sometimes which are more fun than the ones required at school; like hip hop or jazz funk. Other than dance, I enjoy participating in all the arts; I love taking art classes, playing guitar, singing, and acting.

I found out about the RYE from my counselor who went through the program at my age and has a son who did too. I was visiting her office one day to talk about colleges and I was telling her that I really want to experience something different and amazing after my senior year, something that would completely take me out of my element. She described the RYE program to me, and I knew that was exactly what I was craving. I never thought that my dream of living in France would become reality!

I can’t thank the RYE enough for this incredible opportunity; I know that this will be an extraordinary experience that I will remember forever.

Celia’s Journals

Livin’ the dream in France baby!

My life has completely changed in the short time I’ve been here, and my life has a whole new rhythm! It’s awesome! I have a great host family and I got to live in a great area called Lille (all the other exchange students to northern France are jealous, Lille is practically famous!) Something especially legendary about Lille is La Braderie, a gigantic yard sale during one weekend for the entire city and…. I can’t even begin to explain the insanity that takes over the streets of Lille. More people come from outside of Lille to experience it, (internationally too) than the actual number of people in the population of Lille! People camp out in tents the week before the Braderie even begins, just to reserve spots to set up their sales, and although police try to ban certain areas to become Braderie-ized, people ignore this and take it over anyway. To walk down one block can take up to an hour, and all you can buy to eat in all the cafes is fried mussels; there is an annual contest during La Braderie that questions which café that can sell the most mussels-and this is decided by which café has the biggest mountain of mussel shells out on the sidewalk (smelly!)In the end, I spent all my euros and ate so many fried mussels I felt sick!

My lycee is wonderful, the teachers are very patient and the students are so nice! I walk to school and walk home for lunch every day, and my days start at 8:00 AM and end at 5:00 PM (but sometimes that slightly changes). Learning French definitely isn’t easy, but every day I am understanding more and more and I think my lycee is definitely helped me progress the most. I have made lots of friends-everyone thinks America is so cool! All you can hear on the radio is American music, and yes, there is a McDonald’s in La Grande Place, which is a great area in the center of town full of shops.

This city is so beautiful and so old! I keep thinking back to my favorite Disney movie “Beauty and the Beast” because this place resembles that movie so much (kudos to Disney for its accuracy). Everyone here walks everywhere, and the roads and sidewalks are all cobblestone. There’s a beautiful park called La Citadelle where I’ve been many times, to jog or just stare at the beauty of the park (you can see bunnies hopping around, horses grazing, and there is a pond that circles around the pathway). It is a historical monument, and used to be used for the military as a fortress.

This weekend was fantastic, Rotary organized for all of the exchange students to meet up and do very fun activities together.  We went to a beach where mussels are grown, we ate delicious food at this campground-type place, all of the students played games and traded pins and business cards, we had to get up country by country and sing the national anthem in front of EVERYONE, we spent the night sleeping on the floor, and the next morning we got to go zip lining! There were giant trees that had all these lines you could zip across, and depending on the course sometimes you had to make your way across some terrifying and unstable obstacles to get to the next tree! I am terrified of heights but I forced myself to do it, knees wobbling and all, and at the end I realized I had been doing the HARDER level courses the whole time! A girl from India gave me a Henna tattoo on my hand and I got awesome bracelets from Brazil and Colombia.

All in all, since August 24 I have already had wonderful memories and made lots and lots of new friends. All the Rotarians could not be sweeter, and I am excited to see what else France has in store for me during this year abroad! Gros bis xoxo

November 17, 2011

It’s been 3 months!

I am having such a great time here, such a great life, and the amount of new things I learn about French, about France, and about myself every day is unbelievable! I walk around and sometimes just stop to think about how rich and beautiful the French culture is. The French way of life is the life for me!

I am living in my second host family, and what a change. I am not far at all from my first family; in fact all of my families this year will be in the same neighborhood, so sometimes I run into my first host dad on the street. My French is improving more and more, and I actually prefer speaking it to English! Writing this right now comes with a bit of struggle, because I rarely speak English anymore (unless I’m tutoring).

I am enjoying school and I have really dived into my art classes at school, I have a lot of them during the week and they have become almost like a meditation time for me. My teacher lets us listen to our iPods while we work, so I can really relax and my work is really improving! Every week I teach an English class, a yoga class, and a dance class at the school for the younger kids (le college), and it is really such a joy. They are around 5 years old, and even though communicating to them isn’t always easy, they remain patient with me. I also teach English once a week for an hour to a girl who lives in my neighborhood (but our lesson always takes place while we are walking around shops in Lille), and I teach English to my host brother for an hour every week also (which includes me helping him understand his book “Diary of a Wimpy Kid”).

My Rotary District is super fantastic; I’ve visited the most beautiful places and seen the most beautiful things thanks to them! I have also made friends from all over the world, exchange students, and we all tell each other, “If you ever find yourself in my country, you can totally stay at my house!” I’ve made some great French friends too, and just hanging out with them is such good practice for my French.

I take dance classes at a studio twice a week, and I absolutely adore them. I go to the studio called Crasto, which everyone says is “the best” in Lille, and I take the Master Class. I ride my bike there on Tuesdays, my host mom drives me there on Thursdays, and the director of the studio drives me home both days.

I ride my bike to school every day, which is becoming more and more uncomfortable because it’s freezing outside! I am from Miami, so I am not used to the cold at all. On top of that it is super grey and foggy outside most of the time; I’ve really learned not to take the sun for granted. I have learned how much my mood depends on the weather: the very, very, very few times the sun is out, I am jumping off the walls with so much energy and I am full of bliss!

I go jogging with my host mom very often, we jog in the park which is very near and her friends usually come along too, and we always take the dog. I jog by myself a lot too (but still with the dog), which is very different because I go with my iPod and just admire the beauty around me without any distractions, it’s simply gorgeous. The leaves right now are all orange and red and falling to the ground—a major event for someone who is from a place that doesn’t have seasons!

The whole town is preparing for Christmas, and I couldn’t be more excited. The streets are all decorated, and a giant Ferris wheel is being built in the center of town. This weekend my Rotary District is hosting a huge feast (they invited 200 people!) and all of the students are preparing meals from their home countries. I’m teaming up with my American friend to make Chili, cornbread, and S’more’s! Hope they like it. Life really is wonderful right now, and it is full of moments that I know I’ll probably never get the chance to experience again in my life. Rotary, thank you so much for this opportunity, I couldn’t be happier!

April 4, 2012

I have about 3 months left of exchange! Wow, what a journey this has been. One thing I will say right off the bat is that I never expected this exchange to be as much of a challenge as it is, especially emotionally. I know I have a new maturity now that I never could have obtained if I hadn’t done this exchange. Being immersed in an environment that requires you to be so independent makes you come to learn about yourself on such a deeper level-because the only person you brought back home that you can always feel comfortable with and always rely on is yourself.

At the moment, I teach two girls English every week, I teach yoga once a week to the little ones in elementary school, and I babysit from time to time. Being in France has actually inspired me religiously, and I have decided to get confirmed in the Catholic church while I’m here. This means going to special church services every Thursday night, discussing and praying with the counselor in my school, and meeting up with the group full of people once a week who are also interested in doing their confirmation.

I am coming to the end of my second month living with my 3rd host family, and I could not be more in love with them. With me, we are a total of 7 people! I have a brother and sister whose ages are very close to mine, and a younger brother and sister who are in elementary school. Altogether we are a very noisy, crazy, bunch but they are so wonderful and loving and I feel so comfortable with them. The house is a huge loft with 4 floors and an elevator! It’s beautiful and spacious and I am right in the center of downtown Lille.

The most bizarre coincidental thing about this family is that they will be moving to live in Miami! My hometown! It was a decision they made before agreeing to welcome an exchange student into their home, and what a surprise when we all came to find out! They’ve even met my American family on a trip to Miami they made recently; I provided them my contact information and they stopped by my house. This family loves to try to incorporate American traditions in their lives, and all over the house you see banners for the Miami Marlins baseball team, for the Florida gators, and lots of other Florida décor (including preserved dead crocodiles from the Everglades and starfish from Key West.) The neighborhood they want to live in in Miami is not far from the one I live in, so I really hope to stay close with them after this exchange and get to show them around after they’ve made the big move.

My French has improved a lot, and sometimes it takes effort to speak and write in English. I can understand movies, songs… it’s amazing because I had always dreamed of being able to say that. I love French and learning it got so much easier a long time ago after I realized a few simple things- there are some things that just don’t translate (it used to bother me because I would always want the equivalent meaning in English, and you just have to let it go), directly translating anything almost never works, and you have to not care about how silly you sound, you just have to speak and speak as much as you can. My Rotary district interviews us from time to time, to check on us and how we are progressing in our French, and I received a 9 out of 10!

I have had some amazing adventures; traveling and going to parties, and making new friends- it’s been wonderful. Last week I went on a big trip with Rotary, and I had seriously the best time ever. It was a gigantic rendezvous with all the Rotary exchange students in France- I saw my friends from Florida who I haven’t seen since I came to France! We danced, sang, stayed up too late, laughed, and finally cried when it was all over. I got to visit Switzerland, Luxembourg, Annesy, Alsace, and I saw the Alpes, it was all so gorgeous. We were such a huge number of students that we ended up making it into the newspaper, all 400+ of us!

I do not like writing these journals AT ALL because I know there’s so much I’m leaving out and that I could never express how incredible and life-changing this experience is. But I am so happy to be doing what I’m doing and I can’t believe how quickly the end is approaching. On the 20th of April until the 1st of May I will be on a huge bus trip tour of Europe and I CAN NOT WAIT! I’ll visit Prague, Vienna, Milan, Venice, Monaco, just to name a few!!!!!! Also, I am changing my host families really soon and it is so sad, this family is so incredible, but I’m sure with my next family comes new experiences and French culture to discover, so until then, PEACE!

Chantal Mihailovic
2011-12 Outbound to Belgium
Hometown: Sarasota, Florida
School: Booker High School
Sponsor: Lakewood Ranch Rotary Club, District 6960, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Carleroi 7, District 1620, Belgium

Chantal - Belgium

Chantal’s Bio

My name is Chantal Mihailovic and I am a foreign exchange student traveling to Belgium. I am 16 years old, and already fulfilling my dream. As soon as I thought about becoming a foreign exchange student I have been on a roller coaster ride. I couldn’t do any of this without the support of my friends, family, teachers, and everyone in Rotary. And for that, I say thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I attend Booker High School, and am a theatre student of the Visual Performing Arts Program. I love being surrounded by the arts; to create and inspire and be inspired. We learn in acting to find the truth in life. As a teenager, still trying to find where I fit in this world, I want to do just that. To soak up as much as I can, and share it with others.

At the age of 11, my father received a job as a pilot for Emirates Airlines and we all moved to Dubai. I went to a school with over 72 nationalities, and that opened my eyes to the world and started the hunger inside of me to learn. I aspire to be a world citizen, and this is the beginning. I don’t know what to expect, but I know I will create memories that will be with me forever.

“Be yourself, everyone else is already taken” – Oscar Wilde

Chantal’s Journals

December 30, 2011

10:16 AM

I have been in Belgium for about four months. Sometimes I have to take a step back and just breath because time seems to fly by. Making the decision to become an exchange student has probably turned out to be the best decision I’ve made so far in my life. Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t always been puppy dogs and moonshine, but I do not regret one moment. The hardest thing is probably taking a step back and write it all down. I seemed to write a hundred versions of my journal but none of them seemed worthy to post. Until I realized that it doesn’t not need to be clean and polished, because honestly, this is a learning experience. I know it’s important to document our exchange, but the biggest lesson I have learned is that sometimes it’s okay to put down the camera and live in the moment. On that note, I will categorize.

The Language of French: Let me start off by listing a few observations:

1.No matter how much of the language you now before arriving, it will still be incredibly overwhelming.

2.Learning a new language you basically forget everything you have learned to learn your mother tongue.

3.Your language abilities depend highly on your level of tiredness.

4.Talk in the present, and use your hands for past and future.

5.If you are normally a humorous in your mother tongue, FORGET THAT, humor is the hardest thing to pick up on in a different language.

6.One you master humor, give yourself a pat on the back.

When I first arrived, I could understand quite a lot, and answer simple questions . And from there on, I kept making progress everyday. The most challenging was school because teenagers speaking really fast and use a lot of slang. Thank goodness I stumbled across people with patience and understanding . I can’t call myself fluent yet, ( my host mother still has to correct me) but I feel confident in how much progress I have made and how I can be involved in conversations and even joke around. I am naturally a talkative person and love to tell stories, but of course its to as easy. Thankfully I have a super patient host mom that will listen to my broken stories even if it takes me 20 minutes to tell it.


I live with just my host parents because their youngest daughter is in Mexico on her exchange (Bonne chance, Margaux!) and their other two children are much older and don’t live at home. My older host sister is 27, and stops by every once in a while, she is super helpful and fun to talk with. My host dad travels a lot for work, so it’s mainly just my host mom and I with our two dogs, Aramis, and Bandit. Its pretty quiet but we have a nice routine. I couldn’t have asked for a better first host mom. She has been amazing these past few months. What is awesome though, is that my three host families are pretty intertwined. My third host family lives right across the street ( I actually walk to school everyday with my third host brother.) My second host dad is the president of my Rotary club and good friends with my first family. So its nice to be surrounded by all of them, it makes me feel like I am part of something special. If you think about the situation it’s rather bizarre. To have a random teenager sleeping in your house, eating meals with you, and joining in on family activities. I don’t think I can explain the relationship, or how it grows. But I was talking with my host parents and they explained that their daughter was scared I was going to take her place. I looked at them and said “ I could never take her place, but instead we make a precious place in our hearts” .


My first day of school consisted of the whole fifth year (11th grade) in the cafeteria as the director of the school introduced the new exchange student. Yes. It happened. I was not dreaming as they all turned around and stared. I’m positive I turned bright red. After that, word was out. I was the American that everyone wanted to question. I was prepared for the questions, but I think I broke some hearts when I said high school isn’t always like in the movies. After a while things settled down and I found a group of what I can now call good friends. My schedule looks like this per week:

14 hours of French ( with my grade, 7th, 8th, and 9th grade. Yes, it is a lot of French)

4 hours of German ( learning a new language in a language you don’t know is rather challenging. Would I recommend it? Absolutely.)

2 hours of Religion

4 hours of History

2 hours of Gym

2 hours of Geography

I still don’t understand everything in class but I try my best to stay attentive, take notes, and figure out what in the world my teachers are talking about. Or course I get the friendly picking on, as my teachers me to read texts aloud, or make special presentations.

When a teacher is not present, you go to the cafeteria and have study hall.


Studying is taken very seriously

There are no arts, after school activities, or sports teams. They are usually separate from school.

Some days I don’t start till 10:00 AM. But other days I don’t end till 4:30 PM.


My Rotary club is really awesome. The people are all nice and welcoming. Our meetings are the second Monday of each month. My Rotary club president ( my second host dad ) loves to put me on the spot and have me get up and talk a little about my life in Belgium. I have already done quite a few things with them. For example visit three museums in two days with lots of long meals ( it was a long weekend).

Our district also organizes activities for the students. There are over 200 students in Belgium. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but Belgium is a small country! The activities are great for meeting new people and making new friends. So not only do I have my Belgian friends but also my exchange students friends who are from all over the world.


I have refused to step on a scale to find out if the “exchanger 15” is true. As long as my jeans fit, I’m a happy camper. The food here is amazing. The chocolate? Heavenly. The waffles? Mouth watering. The fries? Delicious and addicting. To clear something up, something I learned right away, that French fries are in fact not French! They are Belgian!! I don’t think I have tried something I don’t like. And I can now say proudly that I eat fish! I didn’t tell my host mom that I didn’t like fish, but instead ate whatever was served. Much to my surprise I like fish! Of course I confessed to my host mom that I didn’t eat fish before I came here, she just laughed and said “ I thought so!”

I decided to make food a separate category because I realized how essential foor is to a culture. If not, the center. Not only is it necessary to eat, but the way we prepare the food, how you eat it, when and where you eat, the conversations you have while you eat. It is when people come together. And thank goodness, I love to eat.


Theatre – I am involved in a theatre group that meets once a week! Although there are differences, it is still a place where I can be myself and have fun. I didn’t understand everything in the beginning, which made improve scenes interesting. But the more I comprehend, the more I can really get into whatever we are working on. We recently had our first performance, words can’t come close to describing the feeling of doing something you love in a different language. The biggest adrenaline rush I have ever gotten.

Travel –

I have traveled a lot through Belgium. but I have also had the chance to go to Pornic, France with another exchange student and her host family. It was so beautiful, and a holiday away from home. I also went to London with 70 other exchange students organized by Rotex. The trip was 4 days, but we got to see a lot of London. My favorite part was going to see the musical Blood Brothers. Sitting in front row, I don’t think I could have asked for more.

Weather –

Belgian weather is a very interesting topic. Just make sure you always have an umbrella on hand, because it could rain anywhere, anytime! Some like to say it’s a little bipolar, I say that’s Belgium. We just had our first snow recently, and I could not bottle my excitement!

Thanksgiving –

I decided to cook a Thanksgiving dinner for my host family, and luckily my host mom was all excited and helped me plan everything. It ended up being my family and a Belgian friend from school, in total ten people! It was rather stressful, converting measurements, finding the right ingredients, and making sure everything got pulled together. It turned out great, and it was fun to bring a bit of my culture to my family. They were very supportive and loving, I couldn’t have asked for a better Thanksgiving!

Christmas –

Joyeux Noël! Christmas was definitely a strange time. Luckily, we had a Christmas tree, and it was fun decorating! The celebration started Christmas Eve, as we had a family friend and her son over for dinner and the fun lasted till two in the morning. Christmas day was busy, hectic, wonderfulness. All the family came over, and their tradition is giving gifts with appetizers. For our lunch we had a very scrumptious raclette! Raclette is where you melt cheese and meats and put it over potatoes. Around 18h, my second host family picked me up, and I got to meet their whole family and eat another huge meal. Of course the day didn’t end till midnight, and when I collapsed that night in bed, I thought to myself how lucky I was to have an amazing Christmas surrounded by people who care about me.

Bonne Année à tous !

Bisous Bisous,


Chelsea Holmes
2011-12 Outbound to Turkey
Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: St. Augustine High School
Sponsor: St. Augustine Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Istanbul, District 2420, Turkey

Chelsea - Turkey

Chelsea’s Bio

My name is Chelsea Holmes and I live in Saint Augustine, Florida. I live with my parents, Katherine and Thomas Holmes. I have a twenty year old sister/best friend, Candace, who is in Nebraska attending the University of Nebraska Omaha.  I am currently enrolled as a Senior at Saint Augustine High School.  I participate in the chorus, drama, visual arts, and student government at SAHS.

I am ecstatic to say that I have been chosen to be a 2011-2012 RYE student.  I moved from Nebraska to Florida my junior year of high school and I can strongly say I never thought I would feel happy that I ended up moving; this program changed that.

The country I am being sent to is Turkey. Of course, my mind is constantly wandering about what next year will be like, but my goal is to have absolutely no expectations.  I will prepare as much as I can here and then go to Turkey ready to absorb as much knowledge and culture as I can.  My two favorite things are people and art, and I intend to learn as much as I can about these two things in a completely different environment. Thank you so much Rotary for this incredible opportunity.

Chelsea’s Journals


Before I go much further, I will warn everyone that my english is getting worse, and it is 12 AM currently, because that is when I have time to write this, so please excuse my bad grammar etc. 🙂

The one piece of advice I will give to everyone is your exchange will not be like anyone else, you will probably think yours will at least be like the other people’s in your country.. but it could be more similar to someone in a different country considering how much your house location, school, host family, rotary club, and you effect it. I believe it is 50 percent what you are given to work with, and 50 percent how you choose to work with what you are given. Make your exchange what you want it to be. If you want to learn the language, study the language enough so you can only speak that language, don’t let people speak with you in English. If you aren’t happy with what you are doing everyday, find new things to do, you live in an awesome foreign country. If you don’t want to get fat, only eat what your host family gives you to eat, and don’t eat other things voluntarily (this helps save money as well). And altogether when you feel super bummed, depressed, or bored (I can honestly say I have yet to be super bored), look around and remember you are in a freaking foreign country and no matter what you are doing its so awesome!

Since I don’t know have exactly one thing to talk about, because I have been here for a while, I will just tell a few things that come to my mind about being here. Enjoy.

My host family was out of town when I first arrived so I had to sleep at a Rotex’s house my first night. My first night I went out with him and his friends, and then the next morning I was dropped off on a different continent (Istanbul is the coolest city ever), at my host aunt’s work, and shortly after, was on a six hour bus ride to the capital of Turkey, Ankara, with her. She knew no English and I sadly knew very little Turkish, gotta love dictionaries. The thoughts that kept going through my head included, “This is so ******* cool and beautiful, and I am so lucky” and, “Literally no one on this bus can communicate with me and no one knows exactly where I am right now, hopefully my aunt is safe *giggles to self*”. That night we arrived and I met tons only Turkish speaking people, was forced to eat lots of food (everyone else hadn’t ate all day because of ramadan), and had no idea which of the people were actually the family I would live with later hahaha. Later in the night I figured out which family was mine, and we were off from the major city, Ankara, to a village in Kirsehir, I spent the rest of the holiday there with extended family. It was overwhelming and I never knew what was happening, but it was so beautiful and eye opening. I kissed old people’s hands for candy, watched a chicken be slaughtered, and walked around mountains while hearing the call to prayer. I will never forget my first Bayram (Turkish Holiday).

I have been to Anıtkabir twice now, and it is extremely breathtaking. if you don’t know what it is, LEARN :). Atatürk is a fantastic guy, and made this country what it is today.

One day I was wondering around my school campus, (because it is a large campus on top of a bunch of mountains, including a preschool, middle school, high school, and university), when I stumbled across a ceramics building. I ended up going in with my close exchange friend, Fernanda, and now I go at least once a week. I have developed a great friendship with the old Turkish man that runs the building. I can come and go as I please. Some days I go alone and I study Turkish and drink tea with him, which is really good for me because we only speak in Turkish. Some days I go and make pottery while meeting University students taking ceramics class. I am so grateful for this discovery and love my pottery teacher so much. I can honestly say he is a huge reminder of why this program is so cool, I don’t know how else I could have had this relationship, and it is so important to me.

We had Turkish classes in a really famous area of Istanbul, where most night-life and tourists are known for going, Taksim. All the exchange students in Istanbul had to go every Saturday and Sunday for six weekends. I can honestly say the entire process made my Turkish worse, but I just think of it as something I paid for to learn my way around the city. My house is kind of far out on the Asian side, and to go to Taksim every weekend, I have multiple options of transportation. I usually include the ferry ride, because it is so beautiful and relaxing. Also, because my house is kind of far and my host parents do not let me come home late, I have ended up staying at at least half of the other exchanger’s houses. This has ended up being a really good thing for me, because I have seen different kinds of Turkish life, exchanges, and can get myself around lots of different areas in Istanbul. I can proudly say I could be dropped off at a random part in the city and I would be able to get myself home, I might be scared and laugh at myself a lot, but I could do it. I frequently use minibuses, otobuses, metrobuses, trens, dolmuses and ferries to get around (okay, an occasionally taxi, if I’m feeling lazy).

By the way, being foreign and using public transportation makes for the funniest stories.

Example number 1: My purse kept hitting this lady in the face one time, while she was sitting down and I was standing up. I tried to move, but it just kept smacking her in the face. Finally, she asked me in Turkish if I could please sit my purse down, but because of my Turkish level, I at first thought she was asking me if I would like to sit down, so I answered no with a huge smile. Then I replayed it in my head, laughed, and set my purse down.

Example number 2: My real mom in America sent me a package, you think it would just come to my house, but noooo that would be easy. It was held in customs a good hour away from my house. My host dad took me in morning traffic to pick it up, but I was left alone at a random place to get home… with my package. My host dad thought I knew how to use the metro bus from there, and I just told him I did, because he was clearly already frustrated that he had spent so much time driving me for a package probably filled with peanut butter and tampons, on his work day. I then got lost in the city of Istanbul for a good three hours.. with my huge box in hands. Public transportation is crowded, and conducted in Turkish. Throughout this day I had to set my box on multiple people’s laps and dropped it a few times when getting off wrong buses I tried to take. Altogether I made it to a familiar place, just to find that I didn’t have my home key wooooo. I then sat at a starbucks with my package, an americano, and Christmas music in the background; feeling pretty accomplished. At a certain point you don’t notice people staring at you anymore.

Example number 3:One night I was taking a taxi ride home from a close friend of mine’s house, because it was late and I didn’t know an easy public transportation route from her house yet. I had never explained to a taxi driver how to get to my house before, and I only knew how from one landmark. I got in the taxi, gave him the area and address, and he acted like he knew, and started driving. We talked a good amount, because he quickly found out I was foreign and was interested haha. I explained that I was a foreign exchange student, what I was doing here, and he told me about how he usually works on the European side and which shopping malls and places I should go to party hahaha. As we got closer to my residence, he started asking me questions, in which I would respond “I’m thinkinggggg (in turkish obviously)”, nervously. This ended up being an extremely humorous time. As I struggled to direct him with my terrible Turkish, he started chanting “SPEAK TURKISH CHELSEA”, in the rhythm of England’s Chelsea soccer team’s chant. Later he stopped at a gas station and bought himself cigarettes and some chocolate for me, explaining that he couldn’t handle me without a cigarette. Finally, with 35 liras to pay, I arrived home. The ride was completely worth 35 liras, I had a half hour conversation with an enjoyable guy in Turkish. And there was no English to rely on, because he didn’t know any. 🙂 Everyone going on exchange will find out that having English as a first language sucks, because even the other exchange students from different countries are learning English well, but we are just getting worse at our own language from having to use simple English all the time haha. With this being said, it is definitely still possible to learn the language, in the last month mine has definitely improved, because I remembered learning a new language is a huge part of why I am here and have been trying really hard.

Altogether, I have had difficult times here, but almost every difficult thing came with hilarity and was not impossible to handle. I have learned a lot about the way languages form culture and personalities, and have realized so much about my own country and language from experiencing another. I am so grateful for this opportunity, and am so glad I am in Istanbul. Talk to you all in another three months. 🙂

April 24, 2012

I apologize for my lack of journals, you can either blame me or a large starbucks coffee that was dumped on my computer making it so I do not have a computer. I am finally got myself to an internet cafe so complete things like the RYE journal. Although I do repeatedly replay the starbucks coffee falling on my computer over in slow motion in my head while cringing, it has brought some things. I am getting more sleep at night time instead of staying up on my computer , and I am watching more turkish television downstairs with my Turkish family.

Anyways, considering I am paying for my time spent on this computer, I will shortly summarize my wonderful last few months spent in Turkey.

December was definitely a landmark in my exchange and just for my life in general. Although the first month is really wonderful because you are seeing everything for the first time and kind of starstruck, December was much better for me. I was completely exhausted constantly, but I had finally figured out how to completely become independent and was holding conversations in Turkish. My close exchange friend and I decided to take a turkish class in a different part of the city after school, so we would take a bus from school everyday and then go home in the evening. This made us really start using our turkish more because the class level we got into was all taught in turkish and most of it was just for talking practice. It was mostly enjoyable though because we really got to know our way around and this certain part of the city, and it is definitely where I come now the most and where I will miss the most. I loved this class so much because it was made up of probably around ten of us all from different countries and different age groups, discussing topics in turkish. I learned so much about different cultures in a language that was so new to me, but I was able to understand and communicate my point, which is such a rewarding feeling. It is so much more rewarding than just traveling to a different country and sight seeing, in my opinion.

I have definitely learned here how much human connection is the reason I like coming to other countries. Of course it is nice seeing beautiful places, but being able to learn a different language and really understand someone’s personality through their language is so cool and beautiful, and it is definitely the reason I will continue to travel.

January and Febuary were more related with exchange fun and Rotary life. In January I moved houses multiple times, which was interesting but exhausting and pretty confusing haha, but if I wasn’t already someone that just goes with the flow, I really am now. I was at one house for only a week ,when Rotary found out I was sleeping on a couch while living with a single woman and her son was coming home for a university break and the three of us were going to share a one room apartment. Although that one was a little confusing (why am I the exchange student getting the super weird house situations? etc haha), I did get some good turkish practice from late night chats with the single woman. Honestly, most of my difficulties here have made for the most interesting learning opportunities. The family I am in now is so great and I have a really realy good connection with our bakici, which means looker and is the person that makes the food and watches my little brother when the parents aren’t home etc. She is one of my favorite people, I enjoy my time with her so much and will really miss her when I go home. In the end of January I went on a tour to southern parts of Turkey with Rotary which was very enjoyable. The weather was really cold, but the places were still all so beautiful and the time spent with the people was constantly fun. Turkey is such a beautiful country; honestly, if you are someone who likes traveling for sightseeing and history, its a really good choice for you. Pammukkale was the coolest place I have ever been by far. In Febuary I honestly can’t remember exact details other than I was just going out in the city a lot with friends. We made one street performer friend from Canada that was traveling the world this year, and he was here for Febuary, so a few of my friends and me enjoyed exploring with him and learning about his travels. I definitely learned how possible it is to travel if you want to from him. He is on ly 18 and just goes by street performing and meeting people on the way. If you want to travel, you can.

March and April have been filled with really working on my Turkish and just exploring the city. It might sound funny to say exploring the city since I have been here for so long already, but the first few months I didn’t have complete freedom how I do now, and honestly even if I lived in Istanbul for nine years, there would be places I hadn’t gone. I have been taking lots of photos lately now that the weather is finally nice, and really am just loving life as cheesy as it sounds . I am just thankful to be here. In about two weeks my family comes here which will be super weird feeling, but really awesome at the same time. There are so many places I go or things I do that I think “I wish my sister was here” or “I wish she could see this”, and now she will be able to see some! After my family leaves we have another Rotary trip which I am not sure if I am going on yet or not, then we have a district conference for a week in another city, an d then in June I am planning to travel a little bit around Turkey and maybe in Europe with some friends, and thhhhhhhhhhen I go home :o. Crazy. Although, I will miss it a lot here, I have a lot to distract me in America, and I am ready to come back to Turkey without a program and host families, to live on my own. I’m excited to go to University next year and become more prepared to travel and learn more languages etc .Thank you so much for this opportunity Rotary.

Christi Leonard
2011-12 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: St. Johns, Florida
School: Bartram Trail High School
Sponsor: Bartram Trail Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Pato Branco Amizade, District 4640,

Christi - Brazil

Christi’s Bio

Oi! My name is Christi and I have been fortunate enough to receive an amazing opportunity to live in Brazil! Last year at this same exact time, I never imagined spending a year in another country. It’s quite amusing to see the reaction on peoples’ faces when they find out I will be in Brazil for a year instead of going straight to college.

I am a senior at Bartram Trail High School in a small town called St. Johns. My parents, Donna and Bob and my two sisters, Amy and Nicole make my life very interesting (in a good way). I enjoy participating in a competitive piano studio in which I compete at district and state level competitions. Eleven years of piano has brought much joy into my life and I absolutely love using this special gift God has given me. Last year I was crowned “Miss Bartram Trail” at my high school pageant, something I never thought would happen. I then continued on to compete for “Miss Senior High”. I was awarded “Most Talented” in both pageants and gained tremendous experience in interviews as well as public speaking.

As an active student in school, I take AP and honor classes and I am involved in many clubs. This year I created the World Foreign Language Club at my school and enjoy being the President. Also, I am the Historian for National Honor Society, Secretary for the National Beta Club, and a member of the Teenage Republican Club, Science National Honor Society, Math Honor Society, National Art Honor Society, and Senior Women Club.

The remainder of my time is spent drawing, attending mass at San Juan Del Rio Catholic Church, teaching piano, cashiering at Publix supermarkets, running, traveling, and of course learning Portuguese and Spanish. When I attend college, I would love to major in International Relations, specifically Latin American Studies, and pursue minors in Portuguese and Spanish. I am certain that my experience as an exchange student with Rotary will assist me tremendously in any aspect of my future and I look forward to representing Florida.

Obrigada Rotary!

Christi’s Journals

October 20, 2011

07:10 AM

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” -Helen Keller

As I sit at my desk and type this journal, accomplished is the word I would use to describe my exchange up to this point. Navigating through almost every difficulty I could have imagined, I now find myself content with the unique experience I have created for myself here in Brazil. I never believed that this exchange would change me in just my first two months, but I was definitely proven wrong. With every adversity I face, I become a much stronger person accompanied by a whole new attitude about life. Most importantly, I now understand the concept of “speaking up” for myself. That within itself is the greatest lesson I have learned here so far.

The first image that comes to mind when people think of Brazil is exotic fruit, rainforest, and beautiful beaches. When traveling the 7-hour car drive from Curitiba, my state’s capital, to the small interior town of Pato Branco (White Duck), I could not help but think, “This is not the Brazil I had in mind”. But then I realized, I came to Brazil to experience a new culture, master Portuguese, and create new relationships with the local Brazilians; and that is exactly what I am doing.

As the saying goes, “you can never learn too much of your language before you arrive”. To my surprise, I think I learned just the right amount. Upon my arrival, I immediately had ease communicating my feelings and my first week I received multiple compliments on my language skills. It has been only two months and I already declare myself fluent. Whether it was studying my 501 Portuguese Verb book months before my arrival or having a basic knowledge of Spanish, the Portuguese language comes very natural and easy to me. It’s a great feeling when I think in Portuguese and make mistakes in English.

Having already completed high school in the United States, I found myself feeling very “mature” in the private high school I was studying at. In need of a more challenging environment, I was able to negotiate a move up to the local college in my town. There I study architecture at night and really enjoy learning about complicated subject matter. Students in my town have full time jobs and spend all night studying at college. It is quite impressive compared to college life in the United States. Here, one selects a field to study and then must pass an exam before entering college. Depending on the major, many years of studying for this exam are necessary to pass.

Aside from studying, I have participated in various volunteer projects. My weekly volunteer activity is a job as a teacher’s assistant at a local public school. They are always so eager to talk to me and I am equally as excited to share about my culture. Some common questions that I am asked regularly include: Do you like the band Red Hot Chili Peppers?, How do you like Brazilian food?, Have you been to Disney?, and other various questions regarding the United States. I am usually so overwhelmed by all their questions that sometimes I feel I am not teaching enough English, but I am beginning to see that my ambassadorial involvement with these Brazilian students may be the greater lesson I am teaching. Other volunteer projects that I have been involved with is assisting my host Rotary Club prepare a Japanese-style dinner for 500 plus Interact students, painting faces at a center for handicapped children, and the most rewarding project was helping underprivileged women gain their dignity back by doing their make-up, nails, and hair. My most recent volunteer activity was involvement in a lunch for women who have or had breast cancer followed by a parade. Whenever I feel that things are getting tough or lonely for me in Brazil, I reach out and help others and it forces me to redefine my life’s purpose once again.

An ordinary afternoon for me involves Portuguese lessons with the other exchange students, Spanish classes at another local college, studying, visiting my host mom at her work, or spending time with friends. Because air conditioning is extremely rare here, I have managed to find one place that has it…the bookstore. I have refused to buy any clothing or electronics in Brazil due to the price. A pack of gum with 3 pieces is the equivalent to $3.50 U.S. dollars. On the contrary, food is cheaper because the South is based on agriculture. If these facts were reversed I would be able to afford more clothing and lose weight (ha).

Many of my weekends have been spent attending religious events or passing time on the farm with my host family. Being Catholic, I find religion to be the most intriguing aspect of Southern Brazil. I have never been so touched by God’s power until this exchange; it is absolutely incredible how far my faith has taken me. If I do not attend mass Sunday night with my family, we participate in a mass Sunday morning. Morning mass on the farm is preceded by a parade with “Nossa Senhora Aparecida” (a religious Catholic figure) and followed by a huge religious party afterwards.

So far I have taken one trip to the Iguassu falls with all the exchange students in my district. The first day there, we went “shopping” in Paraguay. There is no way to describe how crazy the market was. As I was making my way through all the commotion, so many street vendors were pulling me and shouting! The second day we visited the largest waterfall in the world; Iguassu falls. To our disappointment, it poured the whole entire time. From what I could see, it was truly magical…good thing I have more time to return. In a couple weeks, I will travel to Pantanal and Bonito, two amazing places located in the state of Matto Grosso. Pantanal is actually one of the world’s largest wildlife refuges. There I will ride horses through the river, go piranha fishing, see animals that people only see in zoos (toucans and capybaras), go rafting and snorkeling in crystal clear waters and much more…I can’t wait!

One of my favorite moments so far was celebrating my 19th birthday in Brazil. That morning when I helped teach at the school, the kids sang Parabéns (Happy birthday) to me at least six times. After, my Rotary club threw a surprise birthday lunch for me at a Japanese restaurant…it was so thoughtful and they even got me a hair straightener! (mine from the U.S. doesn’t work here). When I returned from lunch, a huge bouquet of flowers were laid across my bed. I was so sure they were from my host family but then discovered the flowers were from my family in Florida. In that moment I couldn’t help but cry because I felt so grateful to have such an incredible family. Later that night, the exchange students in my town and a couple close friends came over for a small party. We ordered six huge pizzas and managed to not let any of it go to waste. My host mom ordered me a white chocolate and strawberry cake, gave me a very special gift and hosted a fantastic party for me! Words could not express how incredibly thankful I was. My second host family took me to the Paula Fernandes concert for my birthday…she sings traditional music of Southern Brazil called Sertenejo and is well known throughout the country.

Of course every journal must include a list of differences, so here it goes:

-If I walk around the house with bare feet, I am bound to receive stares…not because my family thinks it is gross, but because I might catch a cold.

-You must throw toilet paper in the trash bin next to the toilet and there is a button to flush the toilet.

-Ketchup or mayonnaise with pizza is a must…yes I tried it and no I did not like it.

-Every house is surrounded by a metal railing or fence to keep the robbers out…I am convinced they are used to contain the crazy, barking dogs.

-Cleaning products or wipes do not exist…. merely use pure alcohol on a cloth to clean surfaces.

-There is no carpet to cover the floor, just wood or tile.

-Almost every house has a chocolate stash…Brazilians are really addicted to it.

-Workers pump your gas for you at the gas station.

-Police never enforce any rules so seatbelts are optional…with the crazy driving I still use mine.

-Converse and Beetles are very popular…unfortunately my Sperry’s look like alien shoes to them.

-A heater is attached to the shower-head with electrical wires hanging about.

-Even if a house has a dishwasher, it is not used…. simply pass some soap and water with an old sponge and pronto.

-Never expect a Brazilian to be on time…punctuality is not in their vocabulary.

-A fork and knife are mandatory to eat any kind of food, especially pizza and burgers.

-Blonde highlights, even with the darkest hair, are very common and nail polish is a must.

-The whole world stops for lunch but dinner is small meal late at night.

-There are so many hills in my town…actually it feels like hiking a mountain to get anywhere.

-In the stores, attendants will follow you around the whole time even if you are just looking.

Rotex informed me that exchange would have its difficulties, but I am adjusting to my new life. I no longer question washing all dishes by hand or think twice about kissing someone on the cheek. Here, life is more simple and laid back but at the same time everyone is always working hard to maintain a decent life. I am extremely excited for my upcoming adventures and always look forward to another day in Brazil. Looking back, my past two months have really gone by fast but I have made the most of my time here. I still remember the day when Jack Murray gave the Rotary presentation at my school that would forever change my life. Everyday I wake up and thank God for making this opportunity available to me and to Rotary for making it happen. There is no way I would be in Brazil without the support of my parents; they are the brave ones for letting me go. As for now, até a próxima vez! (Until next time!)



It’s been quite a while since my last journal and I am having difficulty remembering everything that has happened in these last two months. Could it be the fact that I just can’t find the time to write anymore or that my mind is already on Brazilian summer vacation? Honestly I think as my Portuguese improves, I find myself struggling to create even the most basic thoughts in English. At five months into my exchange I continue to be complimented on my Portuguese. According to the book Outliers, “Success is not merely based on intelligence or the decisions and efforts we make; it is a result of having the strength and presence of mind to seize given opportunities”. The Rotary International Exchange program is an opportunity given to all high school students, but few grasp and take this life-changing chance. Had I not chosen to be an exchange student, I definitely would not be as successful with my language skills. At times I question whether applying for this program was the right decision, but then I realize that taking advantage of every opportunity that lies in front of me is what separates me from my peers. I am an out of the box thinker- a leader, a kind and compassionate ambassador striving to make a cultural difference in Brazil. For those considering applying or who have already been accepted to be a Rotary exchange student, absorb the fact that it is an opportunity that will change your life.

In Brazil, the four main trips available are: Pantanal & Bonito- a unique experience to discover hidden wildlife; Northeast Tour- a trip along Brazil’s northeast coast with the world renown beaches and rich African culture; Amazons- an adventure through one of the world’s largest rainforest reserves; and Southeast Tour- an enriching visit to the largest waterfalls per volume in the world. In Pantanal & Bonito, I became one with the wilderness as I camped next to alligators and jumped off a waterfall! This coming January through February I will spend thirty days touring the Northeast coast of Brazil including Brasília, Brazil’s capital, and Rio de Janeiro. Trust me when I tell you this Florida girl could not be more excited to be reunited with a beach again!

What have I been doing up to this point? My days have been spent teaching English in exchange for Portuguese lessons, going to college, and spending time with friends. I just finished my spring term where I studied architecture, advertising and marketing. I explained to my school that I would like to learn as much about the different programs offered so it will aid me in future career decisions. When I return from my Northeast trip, I plan on studying law in the mornings and teaching English to my students in the afternoon. I am excited to learn about Brazilian law and more excited to have available time in the afternoons to participate in activities such as guitar lessons.

In all honesty, I departed the U.S. with images of Brazil from books, personal accounts, etc. and came to discover that the Brazil I live in is completely opposite of everything I had read and heard about. The closest airport to my city is seven hours away and the nearest town is one hour. In fact, the majority of the residents in my town have never even traveled farther than their city limits. Their pale skin and Italian and German influenced culture diversify them from their bronzed counterparts with African and Indian traditions. Most don’t know how to dance samba and most definitely don’t play soccer everyday. The accent is completely different than any found in São Paulo or the Northeast. Whichever area it may be, it is impossible to pinpoint the culture just by one person or city; one must examine all the differences.

My mom always tells me, life is truly a gift. In the week right before Christmas, I saw my baby host cousin being born and one of my best Brazilian friends pass away in a car accident. God took one special person’s life and brought a new one into existence. We cannot change the past or predict the future, but we can treat each day as a rare and precious gift that we may never receive again. That is how I feel about Brazil. It is still amazing to me that I am here, living in a place that was so foreign but now my home. I am so grateful that I can wake up everyday and have the ability to decide what I want to make of my day. I believe that I am making the most of my life by trying new things and making every day I spend in Brazil count.

December was what I’d like to call my month of change. I started summer vacation, switched families, and most importantly, really began to adapt. As much as I would like to believe that the adaption process was effortless and comfortable, it most undeniably was not. Not until my fourth month into exchange did I really feel a sense of reassurance with my current environment. All of a sudden, eating dinner at nine or not saying “God bless you” when someone sneezed didn’t feel so strange. In fact, it is complicated to point out cultural differences now because everything feels normal. Contrary to “The Middle Wave of Culture Shock” by Dr. Dennis White, the months of November and December were not filled with melancholy and homesickness. These months were the turning point of my exchange and my confidence really reached a peak. I have read multiple books in Portuguese with ease, tried chicken hearts (not a fan), went to various prom/gradua tion parties, fought with the mail service about $200 taxes on Christmas boxes, went to a country concert, and much more!

As for my new family, they are the reason I will have a hard time leaving Brazil. I cannot stress how much a host family can make all the difference in one’s exchange. Immediately upon entering their house, I was greeted with love and support. I have two wonderful host parents, four little sisters, a pet dog and parrot. We have shared some great memories together, such as my sisters’ dance recital, graduations, beach trip, Christmas, and New Years. In just the short three weeks I have lived here, I could not feel more at home. Especially during Christmas, a period of homesickness for many exchange students, my absolute favorite memories were made. Holding hands and praying around the Christmas Eve dinner was so special as my host dad thanked God for bringing me into their lives. The next morning I attended Mass and, to my surprise, Santa brought presents for me! I received many thoughtful gifts. I was so happy and overwhelmed by their generosity I didn&rsquo ;t even think about how far away I was from my real family. Later that night I did have the opportunity to Skype with my family in Florida. Last week I traveled to a beach in the city Pontal do Sul. My host dad went fishing while I enjoyed relaxing at the beach house with my three younger sisters. Despite the rain, I had a great time bonding with them. It was the first time I had been to a beach since I left Florida! The same day we returned from the beach it was time to go to the lake house for New Years. The house was still under construction, so there were no doors, sinks or windows. Imagine fifteen people in one small house without any privacy! I spent my weekend riding jet skis, awing over the beautiful landscape at the lake, and just sharing some great stories about 2011.

Life goes by quickly. At times, especially when one encounters difficult situations, a day may seem like eternity. In the scheme of things, I remind myself life is a gift and must be treated with open arms. If 2011was this great I can’t wait to embrace the new experiences 2012 has to offer. I depart tomorrow for my thirty-day journey to Brazil’s Northeast. When I return, my Floridian mom will come to learn about my new life and spend Carnival season with me. Brazil…bring it on! Até mais : )

March 12, 2012

“I think I need this shirt and I would love to have this sundress”, were some of my thoughts as I eyed my already over packed suitcase. If I thought packing for a whole year was complicated, arranging my belongings for a five week trip to Brazil’s northeast coast proved to be just as challenging. After coming to terms with my final baggage selections, I rushed out the door to what would be the greatest vacation of my life. Of course I knew I would be back the following month, but the goodbyes to my host family left me in tears. Could it be that in such a short time I became so attached to my new family? If saying a temporary goodbye now was tough, I am thinking how difficult my final departure will be when I return home to the United States.

Never place fifty-five exchange students, from all over the world, on one bus for an extended time together without expecting the most chaotic and amusing time of your life. It is truly amazing how in just a short period of time, I made the most incredible, extraordinary friends… friends who will leave lasting impressions on my heart and mind for the rest of my life. Our adventure began in Brasília, Brazil’s capital, with a surprise tour of the President’s home. President Dilma must have loved our excited, energetic screams so much she allowed us to enter the inside of her private home, a rare opportunity for even Brazilians themselves. In Lençois, I enjoyed hiking, swimming in the natural springs, and exploring an underground cave. The city of Salvador brought warmer weather, a private beach and a historical tour of its beautiful churches. Recife’s beaches were not quite like those of Salvador’s, but it was there that our dancing spirits came alive with a mini carnival party. Next stop – Fortaleza and a great day of horseback riding, followed by the sand dune town of Jericuacuara, which could only be reached by dune buggy cars. By far this was one of my favorite cities on the tour. I took advantage of the opportunity to surf and kayak on the water all day. The next day was spent on a dune buggy tour in which each buggy held four exchange students. Without a doubt it was the most exciting activity of the trip and I can still remember the blasting music from the buggies as we raced through the sand. The short day we stayed in the city of Natal was spent relaxing on the beach and visiting a fort, which entailed the most breathtaking view at sunset! After Natal, we toured Porto Seguro, Brazil’s first capital when the country was founded. The rich Indian culture along with an interesting history made it an unforgettable city. Last but not least, our final destination was the stunning city of Rio de Janeiro! From the samba lessons to a tour through favelas (Brazil’s slums), Rio offered the most magnificent sights. Christ the Redeemer was absolutely my most favorite scene of the whole trip. It was such an emotional experience as I approached the giant statue of Christ. Seeing one of the most amazing sites in the world proved to be a dream come true.

A week after my Northeast trip, I headed seven hours east to the capital of my state, Curitiba, to pick my Florida Mom up from the airport. I had become so accustomed to not seeing any Florida family that it felt like a dream as we hugged hello. We rode Curitiba’s historical tour bus, ate lunch at the second largest restaurant in the world, and ended the day at the beautiful botanical gardens. We then proceeded to Florianopolis, the beach capital of the state of Santa Catarina to visit family and see Saint Paulina’s church and shrine. After experiencing two larger Brazilian cities, I was then able to show my mom around my host city, Pato Branco. She became familiar with the roads I walk each day and the small stores I pass on my way into town. Most importantly, she met all the people who have impacted my exchange from my Rotary host club to my Brazilian friends and families. Just to show my American mom the culture I have been experiencing was a special moment for me. The next weekend my mom and I had the opportunity to visit and hike Iguazu Falls. The falls were completely awe-inspiring and pictures cannot do them justice. We also got to visit a native Brazilian bird park followed by a fascinating South American cultural dinner show with my host family. To explain every detail of my mom’s visit would be impossible, but let’s just say we made some of the most unforgettable memories of our lives. What an amazing gift!

As for an update on my volunteering….the principal at the public school I helped out with last year has now promoted me to teach classes all on my own. Every Monday and Wednesday afternoon along with Wednesday and Friday mornings, any student has the opportunity to come to my classroom to receive help with English. Some students have no prior knowledge of English, while others come to improve. Whatever the case may be, they can ask questions, bring homework, or simply obtain conversational skills by speaking with me. This part of my exchange is and has been the most rewarding because I can see the results of my teaching efforts. The friendships I am making and the opinions I am changing about the United States most definitely reinforces why I am here. I have made memories with some of these students since the beginning of my exchange and they will always remind me why I love teaching and helping others. There’s not a better feeling than being wanted and appreciated for your skills, in my case, knowing English. Every student encounter always brings interesting discussions and laughs to my teaching day. I cannot begin to explain how humorous or difficult their questions can be, but here are a few:

*Do you know Michael Jackson personally?

*Why do Americans think favelas (Brazilian slums) are cool tourist sights?

*Why doesn’t anyone like Obama?

*Because the workdays in United States are always so busy, everyone has to eat at McDonalds, right?

*So, do you go out every night to the clubs?

*Are you married? (It is common to marry very young in Brazil)

*The U.S. economy seems to be declining. Are you going to come back and live in Brazil permanently?

*Why have Americans always considered Brazilians to be inferior? (Toughest question!)

*Are there really lockers in American high schools? (They think it is the most awesome thing)

*Can I take a picture with you?

*What is an exchange student? (Well…..)

*Why are Americans obsessed with facebook?

*Does racism still exist there?

*What are some negatives about Brazil? (I never like answering this question)

*Can I go on exchange just to get my driver’s license and come back? (That would go over well)

Depois, I mean, “after”…okay, for my English readers you should be warned in advance that my brain is now constantly thinking in only Portuguese. As I am writing this journal, my Portuguese/English dictionary is assisting me with simple translations. The first five months of my exchange I would simply consider what I wanted to say in English and then translate to Portuguese. Now I am experiencing a bizarre sensation that I cannot begin to describe. My brain is now divided linguistically and one half thinks in English and the other in Portuguese, even my speaking becomes disorientated at times. My mom noticed my new “ accent” when I was speaking/translating English to her. Strange as it seems, I am incapable of hearing this accent and it leads me to believe that I am losing my English skills. Good news- obviously the transition stage of my exchange is over and I am fluent in Portuguese. Even the Brazilians here say I have no American accen t, when I speak, which I would consider a huge compliment to any exchange student. Well this is the part of my exchange where I throw my hands up on the roller coaster and enjoy the ride. If the chart in my outbound handbook is correct, I am in my assimilation stage and preparing for my final months here. With my remaining time left, I will continue to teach my English classes, continue working on my Portuguese, possibly begin yet another language (French) and continue to participate in various service projects in my community. Looking back at the uncertainty and difficulties I faced seven months ago, I am very proud of staying strong, confident and faithful to my Rotary exchange. I was born to be an exchange student and I’ve never felt so much pride and courage in representing my country. My mom felt that pride as she watched me give a presentation to my Rotary host club all in Portuguese and heard people say that I was the best exchange student they have ever ha d in Pato Branco. Once again, thank you to both my American & Brazilian Rotary host clubs, my supportive and loving family and friends back home and to God for giving me the strength and audacity to see this journey through to the end.

Crystal Curvey
2011-12 Outbound to Germany
Hometown: Tallahassee, Florida
School: Leon High School
Sponsor: Quincy Rotary Club, District 6940, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Leer/Ostfriesland, District 1850, Germany

Crystal - Germany

Crystal’s Bio

Guten Tag! My name is Crystal Curvey. I live in Tallahassee, Florida with my Dad, Mom, brother, and sister. My family is very close and we love spending time with each other. I have attended Leon High School for my freshman, sophmore, and junior years but, I can’t say it enough, I’M SPENDING MY SENIOR YEAR IN GERMANY!

I enjoy being outdoors, being around my family and friends, and just having a good time. Thank goodness I will make new friends and have my host family so I can continue enjoying the things I love in Germany. I would have never guessed that in the middle of my junior year I would be taking extra classes to get my credits done, trying to raise money for my exchange, and trying to learn a new language. It is all very exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time.

I strive to live my life to the fullest by accepting every opportunity I can. That is where being an exchange student came in. As soon as I saw the RYE presentation, I knew that I had to do it and honestly, I don’t even know why! I have never been the girl to do something this brave. All I know is I am ready for the challenge and nothing has every felt so right! This experience is a chance of a lifetime and it will open so many doors for me. There aren’t enough words to express how appreciative I am for this experience. Seien Sie vorsichtig!

Crystal’s Journals

September 7

I have been in Germany for a month now! I feel like I have been here a week. Time flies by so fast! I have had great experiences so far and I have many more coming. Let’s start from the beginning: It is very hard saying good-bye to everyone knowing you won’t see them for a year. You want to be excited because you’re leaving for an amazing experience but everyone is crying around you and you can’t help but feel sad. I have never been through an airport or a plane alone so I was very interested to see how things would work out. Yeah, let’s just say they didn’t work out!! I made the mistake of taking too many things on the plane. I would walk down the aisle to my seat and my bags would hit everyone already sitting down. I was stopped in security at all airports and was told to take EVERYTHING out of my bags. The security people go through every little thing, messing up your neatly organized bag and then they are nice enough to give you the privilege of putting EVERYTHING back in your bags..alone. It turns out I had a bag for making pins for my blazer and that’s what set the alarm off. Oops! I just wanted to get there already!!

My host city is Leer. It is Northwest region of Germany and on the border of the Netherlands. It is a small town with about 35,000 people. My house is awesome! It is an old farm house surrounded by fields, cows, and horses. It is away from everything so it’s very quiet and relaxing. My host parents are very nice and funny and my host sister is great! We have a lot in common: we both like shopping, Justin Beiber, The Jonas Brothers, Miley Cyrus, etc. 😉 We ride our bikes everywhere so I am constantly sore but I think it will be good because I eat so much here.My family jokes around about when I go back to Florida, I will be the best bike rider they have ever seen! The food has been very good. My host mom is an amazing cook! She cooks foods of all ethnicities and we actually eat it like they would. For example, anytime we have chinese food, we HAVE to eat with chop sticks. They sure get a kick out of watching me try and eat with chop sticks. Also, German ice cream and chocolate is to die for! We have a lot of bread and cheese which is better here too. My favorite thing here is tea time. Anyone who will ever ask me what my favorite part about Germany was, I will answer “tea time.” We do this everyday and it is just awesome!

School has been difficult for me. We stay with the same people all day and the teachers switch classes. So my class has been together for years and they are very close with each other. I actually have two bilingual classes which I love because the rest of the day, I am trying to listen to every word and see if I can figure out what the teachers are saying. I have the two bilingual classes and then 12 other subjects. My German is slowly getting better but I wish I could understand everything. I have had multiple “OMG, why didn’t I learn the language more?!?” moments.

I’m just getting over being sick so I have been acting weird lately. It’s very different having to go through these problems when you aren’t with your parents back home. I haven’t been homesick yet but every now and then something small will remind me of home and it’s hard. I always remind myself that I am in Germany doing something that most teenagers won’t get the chance to do. I am crazy in love with Germany and I can’t wait to see what the future holds here!

December 27, 2011

Okay, so I’ve been in Germany for over four months and all I can say is, I don’t know where the time has gone. My journal is way past due but these past months have been filled with fun and crazy adventures. In my last journal, I was just getting started with school, my host family, and just Germany itself. Since then, my German has gotten 100 times better, I have switched host families, made friends in school, and had the time of my life.

Before I came to Germany, I took a German course that was only six lessons long. I thought I knew a good amount of vocabulary and grammar. When I got here, I was quickly proved wrong and realized I knew almost nothing. I learn something new everyday and I’m proud to say I can now understand a lot of what people say and have conversations with them. Yes, it has gotten better but I still have SO much more to learn. I wouldn’t say that German vocabulary is very difficult but the grammar is killer! It is so confusing and I am always trying to figure it out in my head when I want to say something. Sometimes, it comes out way wrong. With any language, you have to practice practice practice and the more you try to speak, the better it will get. Yes, you don’t want to be wrong or make mistakes but you can’t improve or be corrected without making mistakes. I have also noticed my English is getting worse, which also makes me happy. It means I am speaking less English and more German!

I have switched from a city of about 35,000 people to a village of 500 people. I attend the same school but instead of riding my bike to school, I take a 50 minute bus ride. It is very annoying sometimes but this whole thing is about experiencing different situations. My new host family is the best family I could ever ask for. There is my host mom and dad and then I have two host sisters which are 19 and 22. They have definitely helped me and made this experience awesome. We do many things as a family which I love because they are very funny and like to have fun together. I think that an exchange students host family plays a huge role in the whole year. You are with them the most and they know you better than anyone else in your host country. They do what they can to make your exchange a successful and happy one and all you can do is make sure they know how much you appreciate them!

School has also gotten so much better! At first, I found it hard to talk to people and make friends. It’s difficult when they already have their cliques and when there is a huge language barrier. And sometimes, there still are some things I don’t understand but I have tried really hard to listen and figure out what the students are talking about. They talk very fast and it can be very difficult. Once I started joining in on conversations and letting them know that I can understand most of what they say, they make it a point to talk to me and include me. It’s really great to talk and make jokes with them. I have definitely learned that you have to come out of your comfort zone and just go and talk to people. No one is really sure how to open up to someone new at first but you just have to make the first move sometimes. Since I am speaking with the students in German now, they find it easier to talk to me and we can do more things together. The best feeling is when you get invited to do things with people from your school! You feel like you have finally made it and are a part of your class. The smallest act of kindness really does make a difference especially to an exchange student who might be having a tough day.

I have seen some amazing things since I’ve been here. In October, Rotary took the kids in our district on a tour through Germany. I am absolutely completely in love with Berlin!!! It’s gorgeous. I am also really excited for the EuroTour in April! Christmas time here is gorgeous. The weather wasn’t what we wanted though. I still haven’t had a white christmas!! Christmas is celebrated for three days and let me just say, I think a gained AT LEAST 5 kilos in those 3 days. They don’t decorate their houses or trees like Americans do so it didn’t feel that much like christmas. It was great being able to meet the whole family and spend time with them and eat amazing food My exchange has been filled with everything imaginable. It’s has been great and I’m sad that it’s almost halfway over. This is the greatest experience and I have learned so much about my home country, host country, and myself. Advice for future outbounds: Don’t waste any time because it’s going to go by in the blink of an eye. Thank you for all the people who made this year possible!!! It is amazing and I know I will never want to leave.

April 18, 2012

Right now, I am sitting at the table with my host sister, in my third family, over 8 months into my exchange. 8 months. Before my exchange, I couldn’t even imagine what 8 months would feel like and now i’m here, leaving in 2 months. After time going so fast, the saddest thing to realize is that these last months will be the fastest. As if I even need to say it, I wish I could stay longer!!

The past 4 months have been great. I’m now at the point where I understand 99% of everything but I think my German should be better. I understand when people talk to me and in the school and I can respond and say what i need to but i’m not fluent. The only time I speak in English is on Facebook or when skyping. I love the German language and I really hope to continue learning after I leave.

School is going really well. I am on Easter break right now so I haven’t been in 2 months and then my grade does apprenticeships for the next 2 weeks and then I got on my Europe tour. I will not be in school for over a month. And when I return, I will have 20 days until I leave for Florida. Knowing this is truely heartbreaking because I know these next few weeks will fly by. School has gotten better as my German has gotten better. Being able to understand what is going on in my classes has really helped connect with the other students and I have made the best friends. Of course, an exchange student wants to be friends with everyone but I think everyone ends up with who they belong. I have met great people and can’t wait to come back and visit.

I’m in my last family now and they are really nice but totally different from my other family. I guess that is why we switch, to get different experiences, because that is exactly what is happening! All of my families have been totally different but I have been very lucky to receive actual families where I have siblings, both host parents, and who have been willing to show me how they live and introduce me to people who they interact with. Some families are harder than others but a good exchange year is really based off how good your families are and your relationship with them.

Last week my host brother had his Confirmation in the church. My third family is very church oriented so my host sister and I are in the choir and we sang at the Confirmation. It was really cool to be involved with something that means so much to my family and I have never sang in a choir before. In Germany, Confirmation is celebrated bigger and they work very hard for it. The whole family came to the church to see him. It was really funny because it’s a very small church in my small village so just our family took up half the church. After church, the all come over for lunch, tea, cake, and dinner. We started preparing for this a week before it happened so everything was perfect. Tomorrow is Easter and they also celebrate Easter bigger. The Saturday before Easter, everyone does an “Easter fire”. They collect trees and bushes and also have the Christmas tree and they set all of it on fire. I’m haven’t really figured out why they do this but it i s tradition. You can drive down the roads and see all the fires in peoples front yards. I’m not sure if this is a tradition just in my region or if all Germany does it. On Easter Sunday, they go to church and then celebrate with the whole family. Which means more food. Sadly, I will not be able to participate with Easter this year because my real parents are visiting and we will be traveling.

Speaking of eating more food, Germans eat like crazy. There is so much food! You will never be hungry here. Typical German breakfast is bread, cheese, and meat. They have the cooked, warm meal for lunch and dinner is bread again. In between, there is tea or coffee (depending on what region you are in) and cake. Plus, all the famous German chocolates and sweets. I never stepped on a scale since i’ve been here because I don’t even want to know how much weight i’ve gained. Let’s just say i’ve bought ALOT of clothes to fit the “new me.”

My real parents are here visiting and we’ve been traveling a lot already. My dad used to live in Germany when he was young and then again when he was 18. He was really excited to be able to come back and see where he used to live. We went to a small town in Belgium, Frankfurt, Rodenbach, and we are going to Garmisch, Munich, Prague, and Berlin. My dad used to live in Frankfurt because my Grandfather was stationed there when he was in the Army. Back then when there were a lot of American troops stationed there, they had communities where the families would live and where the kids would go to school. We saw my dads old high school and stayed with one of his friends from high school. My parents have been here learning about the German culture and seeing what I have been living with for the past 8 months but it was really interesting to see where my dad grew up and how he lived back then. Apparently many things have changed!

I’m looking forward to these next 2 months and hopefully making them my best. I couldn’t have asked for anything better. Thank you again to anyone who made this possible. Rotary is the best and I wouldn’t trade this year for anything.

Devante Gonzalez
2011-12 Outbound to Taiwan
Hometown: Orange City, Florida
School: University High School
Sponsor: Four Townes/Orange City Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Sanyi, District 3500,

Devante - Taiwan

Devante’s Bio

Hi! My name is Devante Gonzalez; I’m 16 years old, and a junior at University High School. I’m so excited, because next year I’m going to be spending my senior year in Taiwan! This is a once in a lifetime chance to immerse myself in a different culture and surround myself in a totally different environment than what I’m used to. I think this will be so much more of a rewarding and fulfilling experience rather than a traditional boring senior year. Right now since I am a junior, I’m taking the classes I need online so even though I will be studying abroad I will still be able to graduate next year.

I live in Orange City, Florida with my mom, two sisters, Janay and Tiana, nephew Jasiah, and puppy Cali. We have lived here in Central Florida for almost eight years now; we are originally from New York. My family and I are very close and they are nervous about the fact that I will be out on my own in a foreign land without them. But they know how much it means to me to be able to do this, and therefore I am thankful that they are being so supportive.

I play soccer on our High School Varsity Team and I have either practice or a game everyday after school, so when I come home I’m exhausted. I’m not that great at it, but it is fun and I just love the game. I love music and like to dance, and I always have a song in my head. I also like to swim. I am a very good cook, I think. I make dinner at home sometimes, and I love to bake different kinds of desserts just because. I am a very outgoing and friendly individual that is easy to talk to and funny. I love to make people laugh. I always strive to be an optimistic and positive person. I appreciate Rotary for giving me this once in a lifetime opportunity that will change my life forever.

Devante’s Journals

August 20

WOW! Yesterday was the first day of the rest of my life. It is not as interesting to read from a computer rather than actually experiencing everything in person! I guess now would be a good time, everyone is asleep and it is early. Also I want to write this before I forget everything. Hope you enjoy!

So… It is Friday morning. Just like any morning, but vastly different! This particular Friday morning I was leaving my home and going off to live in TAIWAN for a year which you already know! So I woke up at 6:30 with the family, walked my dog and got ready with a little last minute packing. And of course we are running late (nothing new). SO from my home to Jacksonville airport is about 3 hours away. So we were all in the car arguing at first but then reminiscing about really good memories and funny events in my life. It was nice. Then we finally get to the airport. Check in. Then head towards the security. My friend Kelly who is also going to be an exchange student to Taiwan was there waiting for me with her family. My family and I took our last pictures together and said goodbyes. Surprisingly my mom didn’t cry, though she had been crying for the past week. I guess she wanted me to leave with the image of her smiling. She is really the best mom and I already miss her!

So I go through security with Kelly by my side and I am texting and calling people to tell them goodbye. Then it’s 12 o’clock noon, we board our plane and begin our crazy journey! The flight from Jacksonville to Detroit was fast. I slept through most of it. Then when we arrived at Detroit airport were we met up with a whole group of people going to Taiwan including Elycia and Marco who took an earlier flight from Orlando airport. The other people in the group however are from rotary like me but from different states of the USA. This was the best flight I have EVER been on. All the kids going to Taiwan including myself were all together in the airplane so we got to know each other a little more. It was a huge plane and it was such a smooth flight. But the only problem was the horrible service! WHY ME!! The people that bring you your drinks and food were so rude to me! It was ridiculous! But other than that I was having a great time! So after like 17 hours on that plane we land in TOKYO, JAPAN! That was the quietest airport I have ever been to! I felt so cool because I used some of my Japanese skills to good use! Then we find another group of kids from more states of the USA. We all stuck together. About an hour passes and we go on a different plane. Taiwan here we come! This plane ride was different. Not so much exciting as it was anxiousness and nerve racking. The flight only lasted a few hours but it felt like forever!! AHHHH we finally land!! Woohooo!

When we get out of the plane we walked strait to immigration to get our passports checked. Then we go and get our bags from of course baggage claiming. I said bye to all my friends who are about to start their new life here in Taiwan including Kelly and Elycia, as I wait for my bags. I finally get the two big luggage bags that belong to me and head to where the exit is. When I went to leave the baggage claim there is a whole mob of Taiwanese people waiting there for their exchange student with signs. My family was in the back screaming for me and I recognized my host father! As the group of people waiting for me came close my hands were shaking so all I can do is hold on to my luggage’s tight so they wouldn’t notice! It was insane! I was so nervous and they were all so nice and welcoming! My host father and two guys around my age who will be a part of my second or third host family introduced themselves to me as Vinny and Filan. They both helped with the language barrier. The other people who greeted me I did not know. But they were nice.

My host father Richard asked me “are you hungry” and I said “YES!” We went to McDonalds! Taiwanese McDonalds is so much better then American McDonalds. After we ate, we brought home Filan. My host father Richard and I went to Vinny’s house to get washed up. Then we finally got to my host family home where I met my host brother Lucas! He is very kind but not very good English. They showed me my room which was awesome! Then I met my host mom. She is so nice and doesn’t know any English. She was very worried I wouldn’t like her house or the room she and the family prepared for me. But I LOVE IT! They really wanted to make sure I liked everything. There hospitality is the best. They always check to see if I am tired or hungry. Very nice people.

I am very happy to be here and I am so excited to become close with this new loving family.

February 3, 2012


Well after I wrote the first entry that night I didn’t sleep much. (I had slept too much on the plane.) So when the morning sun came up, I was up with it. I waited for everyone to get up so I could know what to do. I finally made enough sounds unpacking to wake everyone up! No, I didn’t unpack last night. I unpacked in the morning because I was just being the lazy American!

After I was settled in my room my host brother knocked on my door and asked me if I wanted to get breakfast and of course I said yes. We took his moped to this breakfast shop close by! Oh yea, it was HOT outside 好熱! Summer in Taiwan is just as hot as Florida, if not more!!! My host brother tried his hardest to use his horrible English skills to tell me he will order me some “America breakfast.” The food here in every resturant is fast. I recieved my breakfast in less then 2 minutes. It was an egg and cheese wrap thing. It was good except for all the extra cheese. Apperently every american likes extra cheese on all of their breakfast foods. But not me. So I ate most of it and we went home, took an hour break and then Vinny came to the house and we went to lunch…. I wasn’t hungry and they were suprised. We went to a common noodle shop in my small town of SanYi. It was good but I was NOT hungry!!

The next few weeks were mostly the same thing because it was summer and all the boys were off from college so they were usually with me. The boys: Lucas, Nikky, Yi wei lai, Vinny, William, and Kevin. Those are all of my host brothers from the three host families I will be living with. I have a little host sister but I seldom see her. They are all cousins. Nikky and Yi Wei Lai are brother. Kevin, William and Vinny are brothers. Nikky, Yi Wei Lai, and Vinny were all exchange students to America before so their English is very good! I became closer to Vinny the most, I think. The whole summer was just us spending the days together and helping out in the family restaurant. It was like everything they did was with me and it felt great to be apart of the family. They were literally like real brothers to me. I never had brothers before.

We went to Taichung together many times to go to night markets which are very famous in Taiwan. The name explains it all. Its just locals who sell anythings and it just becomes a big market on the street, at night. You can buy really good food for cheap and you can walk around and it’s just something to do. In small towns a night market would only be once a week. But in big cities like Taichung and Taipei they have night markets all day, everyday! It’s interesting and very different!

Also in Taichung there are so many nice movie theaters! One movie we saw is very famous! It is a true love story in Taiwan about a boy in senior high school who was in love with this one girl, who many boys liked. It was a very good movie (my favorite) its called: You are the apple of my eye!

We took a charter bus (very common) and went on a family trip to the southern parts of the island with the boys and other family members from my host family including the grandfather. The grandfather was very sick and weak. He needed much help from everyone. But I know he had a nice time. It was a great trip! We stayed in a 4 star ☆☆☆☆ hotel in Kaohsiung and just had fun. It was very cool to see the beaches in Tainan that look nothing like Daytona or New Sumyrna. No waves!! A little boring! I burned my lip really bad from the grilled oyster! OW!!

Yi Wei Lai and I went to a Taiwan singer’s concert in Miaoli where I met a my friend Edern who is an Exchange student from France. He is also in my district! He is cool! The concert was amazing! It was a singer named A-Lin! She is a very famous Taiwan singer. She is extrodinary live!!! Taiwanese people love to give encores. She had about 4 encores!

The first District 3500 meeting with all the exchange students was unbelievably fun and there was so much talking!! The thing I was most happy about was seeing a girl named Hunter! I met her on the plane from Detroit to Japan! She was so cool! But the only thing I could remember about her was that she was from Colorado! So I thought when I was leaving the airport that this was the last time I would see her! But HERE she was!! She is so funny! One of my favorite exchange student friends! There is also Evelyn from California who is my really good friend, she is crazy! The meeting was great! Our district is a normal size but with a small group of exchange students! We ONLY have about 20!!!

That was the best summer of my life. I was starting this exchange off so well! I had families I loved and considered them as real family! I met the exchange students I will see the most in my year here in Taiwan! And I was getting use to the life here! It had to be the highest part of my exchange. But of course all good things had to end and ALL of my host brothers had to leave to go to their college for the new school year. It was sad. To be honest, I cried when Vinny was leaving because it was like I would never see him again. He was my brother. I wonder if my sisters in America felt this way when I left to come to Taiwan. Lucas and William go to school in Taichung 30 minutes away. Yi Wei Lai went to the military. Kevin, Nikki, and Vinny went go to school in Taipei 2 hours away… I havn’t seen Vinny since.

So one more week passed and then it was time for me to go to school!!

May 16, 2012

School. It was that time of the year. I guess it wasn’t clear enough that I was ready to hurry up and leave the house because I was getting very antsy and a little impatient with my host father because he was just taking his sweet time! That bugged me! So we finally set of to the school in Miaoli, 30 minutes away. This morning was not what I expected at all. When I first arrived with my host father we sat down in the office/lobby and waited for I don’t know what but then we went home… what was that???? Never found out but all I knew was that the next day was the real deal!

So of course I couldn’t sleep. My host father told me where and what time I needed to be at my bus stop so I got up, got ready and went off. My bus stop is on the next corner of the street next to a 7-11. So I go get some coffee and waited for my bus. Just then this crazy man drives to the bus stop like a maniak almost hits some students and parks in the middle of the road and gets out the car. It’s my host father! What is wrong with this guy? He looks like he just rolled out of bed and he looks crazy! What was the deal? So he walks fast over to me and says “where are you going?!?!” and I said “i am at the bus stop waiting to go to school.” and He says “NO! I drive you to your bus stop!” In my mind I am just thinking how crazy this man is to rush over here and tell me he wants to bring me to the bus stop not even 100 meters away. I have been there for a few weeks already and i was prety familiar with my small town. If i didn’t know how to get around in my town then I would be an idiot because my town is litteraly one main street… So back to my crazy host father- he end up just standing with me at the bus stop like I am 5 years old and talks to all the students there telling them who I am, giving them my phone number, and basically just telling them I am incapable of surviving alone so I need to be watched at all times. The most embarrasses I have ever felt in my entire life!!!

Finally the bus comes and after my host father talks to the bus driver for a good 10 minutes we are off to school! The buses in Taiwan are all like charter busses. They have cushions and is very comfortable and big! The Taiwan students of course where so nervous to talk to me they would just turn around and stare! Their stares where not comforting. When i arrived at school 30 minutes later i go to my classroom on the 4th floor and there is my class. Classroom 114. In Taiwan you never leave your class like to change periods. It is like elementary school when you have “your” classroom. But we dont have just one teacher. When the classes change the teachers do. So students stay in the same classroom all day everyday. When i first met my classmates in 114 they were extremely shy and timid. Also they were very quiet. When I would walk in the halls during break time in between classes everyone would just stare like I was a ghost! A very tan, tall, big eyed ghost! I would always smile and say hi to everyone (I still do). they usually would either say nothing or just burry they face in their hands and laugh shyly with their friends! They are so shy! Some people were very brave and would ask me my name. So I told everyone my name is “Gonzo.” It is a nickname that my host brothers and my host family like to call me because apparently my normal name is “too hard to say.” So I am Gonzo.

Days passed like months and the students loosened up more and more! Everyone would say hi to me! They would ask me a million questions now! Like:

-how old are you?

-how many siblings do you have?

-do you know Obama?

-what is your blood type?

-do you have many girlfriends?

-why are your eyes so big?

My school is huge! It is two long building. One with 5 floors and e other with 7 floors! It is very tall! We have to wear these horrible uniforms that are very comfortable. They are mustard yellow shirts with bright royal blue pants! My classroom 114 is a freshman art class. They are qa special class for students with special art abilities! I however, am not strong in art at all anymore. So they are very shy and quiet even without me there. Some of them are very crazy and outgoing and I made very good friends in that class. Also when we have break time i visit older classrooms and make friends who are closer to my age and very cool and fun. Like classroom 205. I went to a night market with a few friends from 205 on the last day of september. It was great. That was the first and last time i had stinky tofu! GROSS! I love all of my friends in school they are great! The thing i love most about Taiwan is the people! They are so warm and kind after you get passed the shyness! The nicest people on earth, I think!


So when October rolled around, I am still very fresh meat in Taiwan so everything is still new and unexplored! It was still a very weird thing for me to be here in this school. In Taiwan, school is so important and it takes up your whole day so everything is inside school, like clubs and events.

You can imagine I received so many different friend request on Facebook. So many people wanted to know me. There was one girl I talked to a little more then the others. I met her the first day of school and I thought I remembered who she was and what class she is in. But I remember asking her asking her a question and she said… “no, that’s not me. Are you sure you remember who I am?” so I told her “ok if I run into you in school say something so I will know it is you” she said “ok” and I said “How about taco?”

It was a few days that passed and when I was going to sign up early for a school club I had to bring my sign up sheet to classroom 205. I go inside and give the teacher my paper and this girl in the front row keeps saying “taco”. It took a few seconds but then everything clicked and I said “… OHHHH TACO!!!” so loud! Everyone started laughing. So from then on we called each other “Taco”

This month there is such a cool event in the school. It is when you choose what club you want to be in. There is a big courtyard and every club sets up a type of booth for people to go and sign up! There is every kind of club you can think of in this school. Swimming club, basketball club, badminton club, dance club, anime club, Japanese club, music club, magic club, mountain climbing club, movie club, game club, poker club, and many many more. So apparently they ring the bell and people have to run from their classes (remember 5 floors of students) and try to hurry and get a spot in the club they want. I don’t know for sure how it went… I couldn’t make it that day because I had to help my art class set up for an art show in a location close by. But I missed that whole thing. I was a little annoyed by that. But is ok I already joined the club I wanted before this day. Many people wanted me in their club. But I joined the mountain climbing club! It is not ha rdcore mountain climbing but we get out of school for an hour every other Wednesday and go travel somewhere and walk and chat and eat. What is better then that? I was so tempted to join dance club because I really like to dance but I am so busy and in dance club you have to practice every day after school but I cant because I will start my Chinese class in the University soon.

Speaking of… my Chinese class started this month! Oh it is so cool. In my class I have a teacher who is so very nice. She is the sweetest lady. Then I have two other classmates. All three of us are Rotary YEP students. My friend Edern is from France and Julian from Germany are both my classmates. All of us are beginners with Chinese so it started off well. Edern is in my rotary club so I see him often but he lives in a different town. And he excels with Chinese so much better then me. But that’s ok. Everyone learns at different paces. Chinese language is not as hard as it seems. When you are around it a lot you get accustomed to how things are said and you can pick out different words and understand what people are saying. Of course at this point I am not good at all with Chinese but still I am trying and working on it. You have to put effort in learning Chinese or else you will fall behind.

I didn’t really have an after school life yet because I didn’t know where to go or how to get there. So school was the highlight of my day! I never wanted to be home. On weekends I just wished it was the weekday so I can see my friends. I started to be with the classroom 205 more instead of my home room 114. 205 had Taco and her whole group of friends who are so funny and crazy! I loved spending time with them! Whenever I was with them I was so happy. Classroom 114 students are so very nice too, but they were very busy in art classes and I don’t have any art skills anymore so I didn’t enjoy being in the classes with them. Classroom 205 was just a normal class. Though the students in 205 are anything but normal. They have so many talented people. There is Kiki who is one of the best singers in school. There is 3 students who are really good dancers in dance club and then we have some of the star basketball players like LuLu and Jo-Ting-Wei (wei-wei)! We i-wei is the biggest guy in school (tallest and most muscle) he is just a monster. But he is so cool and hilarious! The only thing about this class is it had the lowest test scores. But that’s ok they made up for it in skill. We also won the tug of war competition in our school. And I say “we” because I was basically a part of that class now. They are awesome. Taco was the first to bring me to a night market near my school one Friday. It was nice. A little smaller then the ones in bigger cities but it was just nice to spend time with my friends.


My favorite month! Not yet winter but over with summer. That’s right, FALL! Also my birthday is November 8th so I am pretty excited! This month has a lot of surprises!

Well to start off my month it was my birthday and some of my classmates in 114 asked to come over my house. So I asked my host father and he agreed. It was nice we picked them up from the train station and went to my home. We ate noodles and watched a scary Korean horror film! Then they surprised me with a cake! Where did they pull that out of? I didn’t even see it with them at the train station! It was so sweet of them! Then we had a cake frosting fight! In Taiwan they love to do that. It was so fun and I got frosting everywhere.

In my few months here I have experienced so many birthdays in school that it was inevitable that something would be thrown at my face, like frosting. For some students in my school they get eggs thrown at them for their birthday or they throw shaving cream everywhere! When I went to school on my birthday SO MANY PEOPLE got me a gift. I got maybe 100 cards and the rest are food or candy or something! Some student I have never even met before made me such a nice card that was hand woven. It was crazy! My friend in classroom 214 knows I love Korean music so he purchased a Girls’ generation album for me with posters and other items. On this same day my favorite class 205 had a surprise cake for me in their class. It was so nice and in Taiwan when you make a wish you have 3 wishes. 2 you say out loud and 1 is secret. I was crying, it was so nice of them! Oh that was such a special day. Birthdays are huge things here. HUGE!!! So it was a little upsetting when my host family f orgot my birthday. Yea… Some people could say maybe it was a culture difference but it wasn’t. Birthdays are very important here. So that made me sad.

On November 21 I went to a SHINee concert! It was amazing. SHINee is a Korean pop group who is really popular out here. The concert was amazing even though it rained. Taiwan audiences are not very great. They don’t get excited easy so the crowd is mostly quiet. But it was still nice.

Winter is almost upon us. The weather here is dropping like crazy so be prepared new outbounds! It gets really cold here!!! REALLY COLD IN TAIWAN!

Dylan Curran
2011-12 Outbound to France
Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: St. Augustine High School
Sponsor: St. Augustine Sunrise Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Bressuire, District 1510, France

Dylan - France

Dylan’s Bio

Bonjour! My name is Dylan Curran and I am 17 years old. I was born in Heidelberg, Germany and currently I live in the United States’ oldest city, St. Augustine and soon I’ll be going to the fantastic country of France! I’ve lived in St. Augustine for 9 years and live with my Dad, Rich, my mom, Dawn, and a collection of animals: 2 cats, 1 dog, 1 bird, and even more. Along with my parents I have 2 brothers who live in Gainesville, and they visit every once in a while.

As of now I’m a senior at St. Augustine High School and am enrolled in a few of its academies. I love music and am an active member of my schools Chorus and Musical theater programs. Besides the arts, I’m a member of AICE, an academic honors program sponsored by Cambridge University in England. When I’m not at school, I’m usually hanging out with my group of friends at a book store or their houses.

Truly, I cannot thank Rotary enough for this amazing opportunity to go and live in France. I first found out about Rotary when I was a sophomore and in the middle of the presentation I knew I wanted to go on this exchange and have a truly life changing experience. My love for travel started as I grew up living in places like Senegal, Niger, and Germany.  I am truly fortunate to have had the opportunities to travel with my military family and experience these places.

I am a person who loves to be challenged with things and I know that this exchange will have its share of them, one obstacle that scares me quite a bit is the language. Though I’ve been learning French in school, the language is a little daunting, but I’m really excited by the challenge. I’ve also had a love of culture instilled in me by my parents and I can’t wait to experience the full shift into a French life style and all the new things I’ll learn about the world around me and even about myself.

Right now as I sit here writing, the idea I’ll be leaving is quite surreal and I try to imagine what is going to happen to my life in the next 7 or 8 months and for the most part, I don’t know. But with my hopes high and my mind open I’m sure that this Exchange will be truly most life changing thing in my entire life.

  So I’d finally like to thank Rotary International, my sponsor club Rotary Club of St. Augustine Sunrise, and all the volunteers of Rotary for this allowing me to embark on this great new adventure to France!

Dylan’s Journals

October 19, 2011

As of now, it as been exactly 8 weeks since I arrived in France. Since then it has been an amazing experience and I can notice my French coming more naturally.

But now I’ll go back to the beginning. On the morning I left the whole idea seemed surreal even when I ended up in Washington D.C. my brain kept saying “Nope, you are not going to France.” But something that helped me realize that it was actually happening was the other 40+ students from the eastern united states (and a few Canadians) who were all heading to the same place. France. But for me it still wasn’t real. The moment it actually became a thing was when I woke up on the plane and looked at my little map and saw that we were over Paris. Suddenly I was there. The rest of my first day was mostly waiting in the airport for the other people who were going to my district so we could take a bus to District 1510.

After waiting for 5-6 hours we embarked on the charter bus. As we reached the region we stopped several times letting a few people off at each stop. I got off at the 3rd stop with a Brazilian exchange student (Andreza) who was going to be going to the same school as me. After that we were driven by our counselor to his house where we stayed with him and his wife for our 1st week. It was a little surprising for me that my 1st lunch in France ended up being rabbit which ended up being delicious (though a little tough). As the week went by it would involve me sleeping in till about 11:00 (It got earlier each day so luckily the jet lag wasn’t too bad) I’d have lunch with Andreza and my counselor’s wife and then we would go to the town or visit a touristy thing. One of the touristy things was le Chateau de Brissac the tallest castle in all of France, it was amazing seeing the castle and learning about a place that has been there long before the United States were even formed.

The 1st Sunday after my arrival a big group of Rotarians had a huge picnic on a farm in the middle of nowhere. It was perfect. I was able to meet my host family (except the oldest brother who goes to University in Rennes) but I couldn’t go home with them for 4 more days because they were preparing my room (which is my oldest host brother’s room actually). Anyways, back to the picnic and by the way the French came up with the word for a reason. One of the more odd things I ate was a Sanglier Patte which after quite a bit of charades and explanation that I didn’t fully understand I found out that it is wild boar, and it was delicious. After the end of the week I left my counselor’s house and it was sad because in only a week they had become like parents to Andreza and I. But I wasn’t sad once I got to my family’s house (Which is more of a castle) and got become further acquainted with my siblings and my parents.

Speaking of my family, I have grown so close to them in quite a short time. I’ll tell you from youngest to oldest, Philibert 8, Caroline 12, Pierre 15, Leonard 17 (He was in Michigan last year with Rotary), Jean-Roch 19 (Still haven’t met him, but he was an exchange student with Rotary to the USA), Maman and Papa(It took me a bit but I’ve been started calling them Maman and Papa). Life in a house with 4 other siblings can be quite hectic sometimes with occasional arguments but most of the the time they are very happy and absolutely great. I’ve bonded with my family in one aspect that most of them like singing it was cool, after my 1st dinner with them Caroline started playing Hallelujah on the piano and we ended up all standing around the piano and singing. A fun thing we do at the dinner table is that when the water pitcher is empty you have to put your hand on your forehead and the last person to do it has to refill the pitcher. My host brother is fluent in English and my parents speak really good English too but they’ve been really great and spoke exclusively French with me unless I direly need an explanation for something really important or if I don’t know 1 word I can ask “Qu’est-ce ca?” or “What is that?”.

Food. France is renowned for it and for good reason. I’ve gained 5 kilos (10 Pounds) from the food already and I fear I may gain more but I don’t care when I’m eating the kind of food I’m eating. The cheeses I’ve tried have been mostly really good (A few a bit too strong for me when it comes to taste), and I’ve even discovered my favorite cheeses that are so good with a baguette and some butter. Onto butter. My departement “Deux Sevres” is known for it’s copious amounts butter that are eaten, though I try not to use too much I can’t help it when it’s cooked into the food. All together most everything is great and I’ve even discovered that things I disliked in America, like tomatoes, are amazingly different here. I know it’s cliche but I’ve been sticking to the principal of trying anything twice, and it hasn’t failed me yet.

School. Lycee. That thing that here can be both incredibly tedious and amazing at the same time. Each day of class is different but every day I start at 8:00 and then end at 6:00PM except for Wednesdays when I end at noon and Fridays when I start at 10:00. To get to and from school I either take the bus or get driven by my parents if we take the bus in the morning I have to wake up about 30 minutes earlier than if we were driven because the bus stop is about 1km away from our house. Something I was surprised by was the quality of school lunches at my school everyday we have an appetizer, entree, desert and usually some fruit and cheese. Another thing that I was taken aback by is the amount of liberty you have at school, there is no dress code besides no hats in class, you can use your cell phone at school, just not at class everything 2 hours we have a 15 minute break were most people go outside to smoke. Also, if we have a free hour we are allowed to leave school and walk into town, I really like this that they trust the incredibly patient, nice, funny and accepting. The classes are fairly hard but I’m able to comprehend almost everything if I concentrate, but if I zone out I can end up lost. My teachers also are very sympathetic and understanding and though the only class I’ve received a grade in is English I’m hoping soon I’ll be able to be graded in the other classes. English can be interesting because in my class there are 3 guys from England so there are many times that the pronounciation of a word is disputed and the dictionary agrees with them (What has America been teaching me?!). Speaking of the English kids in my class, by some bizarre event the universe decided that my school in the middle of the countryside would have lots of English speakers from various parts of the world, it makes it difficult for me because I’m tempted to speak English with them but I know I shouldn’t so I’m often frustrated if they start speaking English when I ask them to stop (But usually at that point I go talk to someone e

So far I traveled quite a bit, I went to the beach with my family (Such a strange experience for a Floridian!) and we weren’t actually able to swim because the water was about 7C (That was a warm day). After the day at the beach we traveled a little bit north to the “Cote Sauvage” a long strip beach that is essentially tons and tons of rocks, I had a ton of fun with my siblings climbing on the windswept rocks. I’ve also visited a little place called the Village of the Trogolodytes, an abandoned village of French people who used to live in caves, that was nice because it was just me and parents getting to bond and I love the way they’re excited to share French history and French culture with me, my Dad pointed out to me that the wine cavern was a lot bigger than the grain storage cavern. Also, I’ve been able to visit a few large cities like Angers and Cholet and do a little shopping but everything here in France for the most part is more expensive, but it’s also so nice so it’s hard to resist sometimes.

In terms of Rotary, I go to my club each week on Thursdays at 8:00P.M. and it’s different students and expect us to come back and pretty much everyone does. By some serendipity I ended up in an amazing class (Woo Premier L1) with a group of people at my school that are from my breakfast club in America where we would get our food, sit down and then listen to a presentation, here everything is business for the 1st hour or so (So usually Andreza and I just sit and work on school work) and then we eat more fantastic French cuisine made by a member of the club who is a professional caterer. Also with Rotary I’ve had 2 weekends, one was a district conference to tell us the rules and get to know each other, that was really nice getting to meet the people from the southern hemisphere who have been here for 8 months and completely understand your current situation. The next weekend I went to Mont St.Michel and it was a meeting with 3 other districts I even got to see other Floridians, Olivia and Celia, for the first time since I’ve been here. Mont St. Michel was absolutely astounding and getting to walk across the bay was so much fun, I even got to submerge my self in quicksand then escape with the method they taught us.

So yea, that’s about it for 8 weeks of life here in France, and that’s exactly what it is. A new life.” Life in France has become natural for me. But that doesn’t mean that I’m still not constantly amazed and intrigued at something. I expect to wake up at 6:30 and have a bowl of hot chocolate for breakfast and then walk to the bus stop with my siblings. I know that I can’t speak fluently quite yet and I still haven’t had that dream, but I know that it will come because I learn more each day and can feel the slight shifts ever so often. It feels so normal to walk up to someone kiss them on both cheeks and say “Salut!” and “Ca va?” and then repeat that for each person in the group. It’s an astounding feeling and profound recently when people have asked me “How’s France?” I like to 1st say “French” but then I say “It is.” because it’s just feeling of being here and now, and that here just happens to be France. The whole reason I’m here is thanks to Family and Rotary and I can’t imagine not having done this.

A few extra things.

1. The method to escape from quicksand is something similar to the stanky leg.

2. If you think you’d had enough, you’re probably wrong so you should have some more.

3. Fresh bread from anywhere else will never be as good as bread from France.

4. Don’t be surprised when everyone smokes.

5. If you walk up to a large group of girls be prepared to kiss each and every one of them on each cheek and if they’re sitting on the floor, you still do it.

6. Though hugs are not very common here (Because they’re usually saved for comforting someone) I’ve converted a few of my friends to hugs and kisses on the cheek for a greeting. I even had someone walk up to me and say “I heard a rumor that you give really good hugs.”

7. Cows can be very intimidating if it’s a group of 30 of them and it’s just you and your host sister. (They like to stare).

March 29, 2012

7 months, and right now I feel as though I’m at a euphoric stage of my exchange. As of now, it seems like time is speeding up and the hours and days are just ticking away until June 20th, but for the most part I’m too busy to be thinking of that. So for now lets rewind to where I last left off with my other journal.

During the October and November it was only slightly weird for me to not be celebrating neither Halloween or Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving was much more of a surprise because it actually took someone else asking me about Thanksgiving to realize that “Hey, it’s THAT Thursday.” But truly, I didn’t feel the least bit sad or down that I wouldn’t get to celebrate Thanksgiving, in my head I simply accepted that the French don’t celebrate Thanksgiving so for this year neither do I.

As the days slipped into December, I had a conference in the biggest city in my district; Nantes. I had been to Nantes before for shopping and other things but with the Rotary I got to see the touristy stuff like this museum called “The Island of Machines” which is a place with giant robotic constructions of animals based on novels by Jules Verne (The author of 20,000 leagues under the sea, Journey to the Center of the Earth) like an elephant, a giant squid, and even a giant spider that freaked out quite a few arachnophobes.

With December comes the Holidays and in France the holidays are a much more subtle time, there are no extravagant light displays in someone’s lawn albeit there may be a few but never to the degree like I’ve seen in America, there are modest decorations around the house but luckily there is still the ever so sacred Christmas Tree. Now for Christmas, I was incredibly lucky because my host family and I departed two days before Christmas for the Alps, for a week of skiing. Now it was just my host family, it was the whole side of my host Dad’s family in one large house nestled in the village of Samoëns, so all together we were about 30 people spanning 3 generations. In France, Christmas eve is quite important for them so on Christmas eve we had a huge dinner where we at the traditional Christmas meal of turkey, foie gras, scallops and much more. After the dinner we went to a “Midnight Mass” though it was really at 9:00 because everyone thinks that’s more reasonable. The Christmas day was a little different from a normal Christmas, we woke up and went to open our presents (that are next to a pair of our shoes) but after that we went skiing from about 10am-5pm.I’d never done with my host dad and host brother and at one point I had a fairly bad fall and hurt my knee a bit, the problem was that it was only the middle of the slope and for returning back to our village, it would take quite a while. So, I went down quite slowly with my host dad helping me down the slope. When we got back up the mountain we went down a slope to get to a ski-lift to Skiing, naturally me being a Florida boy and having only gone skiing once on a trip to Colorado with my chorus, my skill level wasn’t exactly the highest, so often I was skied by myself on the lower level blues and greens.

As the week went on I progressed more and more though I still tended to stick to the blues, on Wednesday I had quite the experience… I was skiing on a slope take us to the trolley back to the village, the problem was when we got to the ski-lift it was closed so we ended up having to walk up a slope in ski shoes carrying our skis to get to another slope. This other slope just happened to be a red. My 1st red. It was hard and it took me a long time, but I eventually made it back, only with the help of my incredibly patient and helpful host dad. This ordeal got me thinking Skiing is really like an Exchange, when you start out, it’s hard and you’re gonna fall down, a lot, but the thing is that you have to keep on getting back up till you can go down a slope without falling, the only true way you’ll get better is by trying and not giving up.

My host family and I left the alps homeward bound on New Year’s Eve. I really had no time to recover from the trip because about an hour after getting home I went to a New Year’s party with a bunch of my friends from school. The next morning of New Year’s day was even more hectic… because I changed families, so my day was pretty much getting picked up from my friend’s house going back to pack and then leaving for my new host family. My new host family consists of my host mom and dad, my host sister Julie (who is going to the US next year), and my host brother Nicolas (who went to Australia last year). The change from families was quite drastic for me and to me it seems like my first family was a traditional French family (5 Children, Lives in the countryside, No T.V., Bread Cheese and Wine at every meal) while my new family is more of a modernized French family (2 children, T.V., lives in the town). Now that I’m living in the town it’s much easier to hang out with friends and I’ve been able to really do a lot more stuff. Something I didn’t have with my 1st host family was T.V., but I’m kind of glad that I didn’t because even with the T.V. I don’t watch it very much because it’s mostly American shows like The Simpsons, Malcolm in the Middle, and CSI but dubbed in French. With my host brother Nicolas we go to a soccer match almost every week to support his favorite team the FCN (Football Club de Nantes), and I’ve found a new interest in soccer that was never really there.

Near the end of January I went to a little conference where I got to talk all the soon to be outbounds from my district about why the US is a great place to go on exchange, I got a few questions about the education systems and food but I feel as though I did a good job of ridding a few people of American stereotypes. the most part as I settled into the rhythm of my new family and returning to school January and February came and went very quickly.

At the end of February we had a 2 week break that I kick started by celebrating the birthday of the Brazilian exchange student who is in my class, and then promptly after catching the flu. Luckily I managed to get well by Thursday because that was when my host family and I set off for Paris. In Paris we stayed with my host aunt, while in Paris I got to see Montmartre, and the Centre Pompidou, a modern art museum that was simply amazing.

So tomorrow marks an odd point for me in my exchange, my birthday; the birthday that I will have in France my 19th birthday (An age usually not that remarkable besides being that much closer to 20) is now and forever my 19eme Anniversaire. Also a plus for this birthday is that fact that I get to celebrate it with the 450 exchange students who are also in France at Annecy. So for me, the months are flying past and as the time goes on and on, it keeps on accelerating and each day seems like it’s fleeting past at a pace I can’t keep up; I’ll definitely try my best to keep loving and cherishing each day here.

Oh, to all the people involved with Rotary Youth Exchange Florida that helped me and propelled me across this Ocean onto this journey of a lifetime you all have my eternal thanks and gratitude.

Ellen Wood
2011-12 Outbound to Norway
Hometown: Deerfield Beach, Florida
School: Pompano Beach High School
Sponsor: Fort Lauderdale Rotary Club, District 6990, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Arendal, District 2290, Norway

Ellen - Norway

Ellen’s Bio

Hei hei! Jeg heter Ellen.

That’s Norwegian for “Hi! My name is Ellen.” I’m fifteen at the moment, but I’ll be sixteen by the time I leave for the beautiful country Norway. I am an only child and live with both my parents in Deerfield Beach, but attend Pompano Beach High School as a sophomore. My spare time involves a lot of reading, little art projects, photography, some basketball, spending time with my friends, going to concerts, camping, and walking down to the beach. Of all of these, my main hobby is photography. I’m the kind of person who takes their camera everywhere they go, and can take over 1500 pictures on a 4 day trip.

Although I have never been out of the country, I love traveling and seeing new places. My family travels a lot, and I’m always the one with the travel books reading up on our destination. I have always dreamed of going to Europe, so I consider myself very fortunate to be getting the opportunity to be exchanging to Norway. I was really interested in Scandinavian countries, and I am very excited to have the chance to live in one for a year. I am drawn to their cold weather and different type of lifestyle. The more I study the very cool Norwegian language and read about Norway’s culture, the more I begin to realize this country was the perfect one for me. I know that an exchange year is not a vacation, it is a cultural experience, that will involve both good and bad days. I’m not sure what the next year will bring, but in the end I know that it will allow me to grow as a person, and will be an overall good experience.

I would like to give a huge thanks Rotary who has given me this amazing opportunity, and is also helping me prepare for it. And also to all my wonderful friends and family who are supporting me in my decision to be a Rotary Youth Exchange Student. Farvel!

Ellen’s Journals

September 7

Today I have been in Norway for exactly one month, but it honestly does not feel that way. Time is a confusing concept here. Sometimes it still feels like just got here, but I know I’ve come too far to have just stepped off the plane.

Some days Norway feels like the polar opposite of Florida. There are so many hills, and trees, and nature, and here they have SEASONS. A lot of the buildings are old, and the people are nicer, and the food is healthier. In Florida I lived in a typical American neighborhood, about 1 block off the highway, and less than a mile from the beach. It was always warm and there were always things going on around me. My first family here in Norway lives on the countryside 15 minutes from the city of Arendal, which I call “a little Norwegian San Francisco”, where I go to school and basically do everything. We live on the water, surrounded by forests, and next to a river. We don’t have neighbors unless you count those little red and yellow houses across the water, and cars rarely drive by. Everyone asks me why I chose to come to Norway, why would I choose to move from a city to the countryside? And isn’t so different? I tell them one of the reasons I chose to come here is because it is so different. Sometimes change can be good for you.

It’s more different from the US than I thought it was going to be. I guess when I first arrived I never really wrote down what all the differences are, because I thought they were so small that they would sound silly. But when you add it all up, there are many more differences between Florida and Norway other than geography and climate; the differences in climate and geography I was expecting. It’s a different culture. I knew that before I left too, but I guess I never really understood what it meant.

Here they eat with their forks in their left hands, and their knife in the right. They speak a language that sounds like singing to someone like me who doesn’t understand because every word has a specific rhythm. They change clothes a lot because the weather changes so much, but they wear the same clothes several times in a row. Everyone dresses very well all the time, if someone went to school dressed in sweatpants and a T-Shirt like most people do in America, they would probably be shunned. Malls, shops, restaurants, ect. have a quieter atmosphere than they do in America. There is little to no poverty. Everything is either very old and classical looking or very nice, modern, and efficient. And I guess you could say Norwegians are strange, but in a good way. Norwegian’s are just generally happier and more relaxed than Americans. But in the end it’s not better, it’s not worse, it’s just different. The food is different, the people are different, the toilets are different, the grocery stores are different, the Diet Coke iss different, and the money system is much different.

In the past month I have been to the zoo, eaten lots of potatoes, and some brown cheese, sat on islands in the ocean and watched my host siblings sail, I have sailed myself, and been sailing on a 120 year old rescue boat, I have been on some beautiful islands, and visited a few little towns along the southeast coast, I have spent a weekend to a Rotary Conference with my district’s inbounds and rebounds at a hotel with the coolest “pool” I have ever seen, I have been to an IKEA in Scandinavia (it’s much more intense here), and I have started school.

I have loved it, but I’m not going to pretend like every moment is the best of my life and that this has been a piece of cake. Going to school when you don’t speak the language is hard. Never knowing what is going on around you is hard. Essentially starting over in a new place when you were so comfortable back at home is hard. Purposefully making yourself uncomfortable for the sake of making friends or learning a language is hard. Simply stepping off the plane into a new life you’ve only heard about in short emails is hard. Exchange is hard but in the end it will all be worth it. And all the challenges and rough spots will only make me stronger when it comes down to it. And when I look back at this month I’m proud of myself. When I got here I knew about 5 words in Norwegian, but now I understand good amount of what is going on around me, and can put together sentences somewhat easily. I even think some things in Norwegian now! I have friends at school and I am completely comfortable in, what was just a month ago, a stranger’s house. I am used to driving through the countryside and forests to get anywhere, and walking from one edge of the city to the other to go between campuses at school.

And one piece of advice for fellow and future exchange students before I finish this up, always say yes to whatever a host family member, friend, or Rotarian asks you to do (unless it goes against the rules or something of course). Even if it sounds boring, or strange, or potentially difficult, just do it. You might be surprised that the most boring sounds things are actually fun. So whether it’s you host mom asking you if you want to spend the day at a zoo/amusement park or help with moving firewood into the basement for winter, just go for it.

So to sum this much-longer-than-I-planned journal up, Norway is awesome and crazy and pleasant all at the same time. I really do love it. Also thanks to the Rotary here in Norway, and the Rotary back in Florida, along with all my friends and family for supporting me and making this year possible.

Ha det!


April 24, 2012

It’s funny how many things can change in just a few months. I have been in Norway for almost nine months now. My life here in Norway has changed and developed so much since I last wrote a journal. In the past eight months I have switched families twice, I have learned to communicated in a new language, and I have made friends here in my town that I will have for the rest of my life.

This year has never had a quiet moment, something has always been going on or coming up. In September, I had a Rotary Conference and met all the exchange students in my district. I also took my first trip to Oslo with my host family and got the touristy out of the way. And at the end of the month, I went to a language camp in the middle of the fjords with all the other new exchange students in Norway. The camp was in a place called Kinsarvik, which consisted of the hotel we stayed at, a gas station, convenience store, church, and graveyard. It was an incredibl y beautiful area, we spent the days learning Norwegian in the hotel’s basement and the afternoons hiking, swimming in the ice cold fjord, and doing other little activities Rotary planned for us, like go-karting and a trip to a silverware factory. At the end of the week we Rotary took us “rockclimbing” up the side of the fjord as a “surprise”, meaning they did not tell us what we were doing until we all were strapped into harnesses.In October, I spent our fall holiday at another exchange student who lived right outside in a city called Drammen. We visited Drammen and Oslo while I was there, and it was really cool to see the cities at that time because the leaves were changing. October was also the time I made most of my friends, and really started to settle into my town. I started doing a lot more with my Norwegian friends, and began to understand Norwegian much easier as a result.

I switched host families on Halloween and moved to island right outside town called Hisøy. In November, I continued seeing mostly Norwegians, except for one trip to visit some exchange students in Tønsberg and a visit in Oslo. And of course I made my first Norwegian-American Thanksgiving for my host family. I also tried lutefisk at a Christmas party with my first two host families. I did not like it. In December, I got my taste of Norwegian Christmas. I went to several Christmas parties with my host family, and my school’s Juleball. By the end of Norwegian Christmas, the best way I could describe it was long. It starts as early as October with Christmas themed foods, my favorite was Julebrus or “Christmas soda”, then the town starts to be slowly covered in white lights, a few massive Christmas trees pop up in various parts of Arendal, and ever day of December you get a small present in your Julekalendar, and watch the Christmas special on TV. This year it was remakes of the Norwegian children’s show Blåf jell. Then Christmas starts on December 23rd with “little Christmas Eve”, the majority of the celebrating is on Christmas Eve (that’s when you open your presents… weird), then you continue celebrating with various parts of your family on the first Christmas day, and the second Christmas day. We took a break on the 27th, and after that it was dinner parties with family friends everyday until New Years. Also in December, I saw snow for the first time, and experienced the short winter days. The sun came up around 9:30 and went down around 3:30.

In January, I had my first try at skiing, and my host family assured me I was doing very good for my first time, even though I fell a lot. At the end of the month I went on a trip to Bodø with my host family. Bodø is a town about the size of Arendal, that is located just North of the Arctic circle. We took a trip through the mountains and fjords the first day we were there, and it was some of the most amazing sights I have ever seen, thanks to the ice that carved it’s way through the land thousands of years ago. The last night we were there, there was some kind of solar storm and I saw the Northern Lights! The lights were so strong they stayed up for most of the plane ride back down to Oslo. I saw all my exchange student friends for the first time in months again in February for our Ski Camp. I actually got culture shock from seeing them because I had not seen another American for months, and essentially forgot a lot about what my own culture was like.

At Wintercamp, we spent eight days learning to ski cross country, downhill, and snowboard. I wasn’t very good at most of it, but in the end I improved a bunch, so it was good. This week is when our little exchange group of 30 very different people from several different countries became a little exchange family. With the long nights because of the early sundown, we all had a lot of time hanging out in the cabins playing games, joking around, and getting to know each other. We we sad to say goodbye, even though it was only three weeks until our next event. Four days after Wintercamp I headed off to Belgium to visit Emma, another exchange student from Florida. It took me fourteen hours, two buses, three trains, a plane, and a car to get there, but in the end I made it, and entirely on my own. It was weird to see someone I had known before I left, but it was fun to see her and the other exchange students there. While we were there we went to Brugges, Brussels, Tournai, and Leige in Belgium, and Maastrict in the Netherlands, and we met up with a lot of other exchange students because they all live so close to each other. It was interesting to see another European culture, because there were a lot of similarities between Belgian and Norwegian culture, but also a lot of differences.

When I got back to Norway, the masses of snow that had filled Arendal before I left for wintercamp were gone, and spring had come early. One day it got up to 65, so people were walking around in shorts in February! in Norway! My last weekend with my second host family, we went skiing again. They said I had gotten faster, and I only fell once in the whole 16 kilometers we went! In the middle of March I went to Oslo with Rotary to visit the museums and watch the Ski Jump Competitions at Holmenkollen. It was really fun to explore Oslo with all my friends, it’s not that big of a city, so we’d split up and end up meeting up with each other again by accident. When we tried to get back to the hostel we were staying at, a group of us ended up getting lost in the hills for about an hour. The second day we were in Oslo, at the Ski Jump Competitions all of us painted our faces with the Norwegian flag, and took our own flags and cheered all day. We even made it on TV! Since then, I’ve switched host families and gone skiing AGAIN for Easter break. I’ve spent all of April seeing my Norwegian friends, because I’ve started to realize how little time I have left.

I leave in two months, but before then I have a two week Eurotour with Rotary in the beginning of May, my mom’s visit in the last two weeks of May, and then the last few weeks of school before I spend my last four days at this huge music festival my town puts on every year. It’s hard to believe how much I’ve done and how far I’ve come from the first month when I understood nothing, knew no one, and was basically confused all the time.

The beauty about leaving a big city and spending a year in a small town, is how familiar it becomes after a year. Whenever I walk around Arendal, I always see people I know, I always know where I’m going. This place has become my second home, and leaving it will break my heart. But when the time comes to get on the plane, I know I’ll be ready to go. I only have a year, and the point was to make it last. Now, I’m sure, I’ve done that.

Emily Bloukos
2011-12 Outbound to Austria
Hometown: Vero Beach, Florida
School: Vero Beach High School
Sponsor: Vero Beach Sunrise Rotary Club, District 6930, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Krems-Wachau, District 1910, Austria

Emily - Austria

Emily’s Bio

This time next year I won’t be here,”  is something I’ve said almost everyday since I found out I was going to be a 2011-2012 outbound. I’ve never felt more excited or nervous than how I feel now. I remember when Mrs. Carroll came to my sixth period class with Mrs. Deluke and talked to us about the Rotary International Youth Exchange. My mom picked me up from school that day and when I got in the car she asked, “Hey Em, how was school?” “It was okay, but I need four thousand dollars, I’m going to do foreign exchange next year.” I knew from that day that this was what I wanted to do. I’ve had my doubts and I’ve gotten cold feet, but this was something I couldn’t back out of. When I got the phone call about my acceptance to Austria, I got off the phone, went into my room, and thought long about the hard parts, like leaving my family, not knowing anyone, not being fluent in German, and who I’ll be living with. I wasn’t thinking about how much fun I’ll have, what I’ll learn about Austria, and the friends I’ll make. I realized that when opportunities come your way and you get stuck between choices, you have to remember, you don’t have a key to both doors, you only have a key to one, and when you walk through that door you can’t have any doubts. That’s what I’m doing now. I know it’s going to be hard leaving my mom, my older sister Hayley, and my little sister Kasey, my dogs, and my friends. I’m also leaving behind my senior year at my high school in Vero Beach, Florida, but I know this trip will be worth it. I know my family and friends will be by my side as I board the plane, be there while I’m away, and be waiting for me when I get back. I know this chapter of my life is one I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life. I know I’ll come back seeing things differently, but I once read, “In order to change the world, you must first let the world change you,” and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

Emily’s Journals

July 11

I woke up a little earlier than normal today, to decide what I was going to wear and how I was doing my hair for senior pictures. Each passing minute I got more stressed out, more frustrated, and had my phone in hand to call and just reschedule. I took a break and sat down, thinking about all the mornings where I woke up for picture day with my outfit laying at the end of my bed, and my order form in my backpack. I wondered if I got just as mad, having to work with my hair and doubting the outfit I was so excited to put on, and if I started complaining to my mom as if it was somehow her fault.  I thought about each year and the poses I was convinced were going to look just as awkward as they felt and dreaded when they were developed and in an envelope with my name on them at school weeks later. But I remember opening the envelope and seeing the girl staring back at me, it was the same girl I saw in the mirror that morning.  I remember running off the bus and showing them to my mom with a big smile on my face, and forgetting about all the worries I had that morning. I stood back up, fought with my hair for a little while longer and finished getting ready for my senior year school pictures. Year after year, picture day felt the same until now. My eyes almost started watering as I zipped up my gown, turned my tassel to the left side and held the styrofoam molding that read “2012” for my final school picture.

I walked out of the studio not caring about my foggy glasses, the rain, or the mosquitos nipping at my legs. I looked around me, at the school I’ve attended for three years. I thought about how different life turned out and all the times I thought of being a senior when I was a little girl. I used to ask my parents over and over why we had to move, but I’ve realized that if I never moved from New Jersey, this wouldn’t be happening. I’d be dreaming the same dreams, instead of living those dreams and making new ones. I wouldn’t have learned what I’ve learned, met the people I have, and gone through everything that’s made me who I am right now. A swarm of teachers came into my mind, which have guided me towards the right direction, and have been all ears for me. The familiarity of previous teachers, hallways, lunches, staff, friends, lockers, classes, everything, are all behind me. I took one final look around campus and realized I’m not that little girl, thinking about high school, and dreaming. I’ve grown up, and put myself in a school I won’t even understand the first day. I am no longer dreaming dreams, I am living them. I never thought I’d be sitting where I am today, embarking on this adventure, alone, in just a short 29 days, but I am. Rotary teaches you a lot about goals, dreams, strength, friends, family, but most importantly, yourself. This journey is the most exciting, happiest, stressful, nerve-wracking, hardest, and unreal experience I could have ever imagined. But I’ve heard it said “There are people who make the impossible, possible.” To me, that quote was made, for Rotary International Youth Exchange.

September 6

Tears slid down my face as I took off for my last flight from Newark, New Jersey to Munich, Germany. All I could think about was why I was left my three sisters and Mom at the airport turning my back to them while they promised to never turn their back to me. Everything on the other side of the window become a blur faster each second. I was leaving behind absolutely everything that had the most valuable meaning to me, and although there was nothing I could do to stop it, it was my decision for it to happen and I had no idea as to why I signed up for something like this.

As I flew overseas, I was filled with many emotions and I had many thoughts racing through my head. I didn’t feel like myself sitting on that plane. I didn’t feel like myself getting up the morning before, or getting ready, saying goodbye to friends, driving to the airport, saying goodbye to my family, or getting on the plane. I didn’t feel like myself one bit and it didn’t feel real. But it was real, it’s all real. When I walked out of the baggage claim in Vienna, it was a thousand pounds off my shoulders, and two thousand more put on. I saw my host family with their two dogs and a sign that said ”Welcome Emily” and for that moment, I couldn’t help but smile. I said my hellos, took some pictures and called my mom to let her know I was here. The second I heard her voice I wanted this whole thing to be a dream. I wanted nothing more than to cry my eyes out and turn around and go home. Tears formed in my eyes as I told my mom I loved her and said goodbye. When I got off the phone, the first thing my host dad said was, ”It’s very hard, we know” and from right then, I knew my host family was going to be very supportive and a very important part of my exchange. The days after the first got a little better, but I couldn’t speak of my family without being in tears and that was the hardest part. No matter where I was or what I was doing, the second my family came to mine, tears were automatically strolling down my cheeks. Even now, almost a month later and speaking to my mom puts tears in my eyes. Something I’ve come to realize being here is how supportive my mom is, and everything she did to get me here. I try to make the best of everything because of how proud she is of me. I never realized how deep my mom had to dig to agree to let me do this, and that this isn’t only an adjustment for me, but her also.

I’ve found myself thinking a lot about my orientations. Everything I was told did not prepare me at all, and to be honest I don’t think there is a way to be prepared for an experience like this. So all the feelings I had, hit harder than expected. Four days after arriving, I packed up again to go to my two week language camp in a town named Altmünster with all the other Austria inbounds. The town is about two hours from where I live and I experienced a lot of different feelings here. I was everything except nervous, all the other exchange students said that Rotary weekends were always the best, so I was ready for the two weeks to start. I instantly became close with two of my four roommates, Finnella from New York and Tiana from Arizona. At the end of the first day, it was hard to believe we were strangers when we woke up that morning. Altmünster was amazing, but while I was there my senior year and youth group started back home and I started realizing what Rotarians meant by ”people and life continue on”. I knew it was going to happen, but it didn’t feel good when it did. It’s easier feeling different emotions around the other exchange students because they’re the only people who know exactly what each other is going through. It was hard to leave at the end of the two weeks, we were easily a family by the third night.

While at language camp, we went on a ”little walk” on Saturday and on an excursion to Hallstatt on Sunday. I say ”little walk” because the teachers thought a hike up a mountain was a ”little walk”, no joke. Coming from Florida, I was not prepared, I felt like I was on an episode of The Biggest Loser. I started as one of the first people walking and got to the top dead last. The view from the top was beautiful. The next day we went to a salt mine in Hallstatt, we took slides down to it, it was a lot of fun. After hiking back down, we walked around the town for a little bit. I couldn’t be more fortunate to be in such a beautiful country.

Austria is so different from the States. Grocery stores, people, restaurants, clothing, carnivals, school, literally everything. Houses in villages are so different and colorful. You wouldn’t see a bright yellow house in the States without thinking it was tacky, or a peach house with purple windowsills, but here you could pick any two colors for a house and Austria finds a way of making it beautiful.

I still don’t know where I got the courage and strength to do this, I feel like someone is living this for me, but maybe, just maybe, I’ve had it in me all along.

 Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Tears were falling down my face as I saw my mom running towards me. Big smile, new hair, eyes of tears, and arms wide open. This moment is one I’ve played in my head every day. The gap between us was closed within seconds and just as I went to grab ahold of my beautiful mother, nothing was there. I couldn’t see her anymore, and nothing was surrounding me. I was confused and sad, all I wanted was to be with my mom like I was a few seconds before, so where was she? A knock on my door woke me up, my face was wet, my shirt was wet, and my pillow also. I was confused as I turned on the light looking around my room, burgundy and yellow walls, two suitcases, and clothes everywhere, but yet I was still crying. I don’t know if it was because I wanted my dream to be real or because I didn’t want it to be. But if there’s anything I should know by now, an exchange student, well this one at least, is never sure of her feelings.

Day 57 here in Austria and I’m beginning to somewhat feel settled. School feels normal, the people I see there has become normal, not understanding much of what’s going on around me feels normal, saying sentences in half German half English, waiting for buses, having a wallet full of train tickets, my walk to school from the train station, missing my family, making new friends, and being an exchange student and United States ambassador, is starting to feel normal. Weird feeling? More than one can imagine.

I’ve learned so much here, not only the language and about the country, but myself. I’m not the girl I was that stepped on the most life changing plane ride on August 9th. I can’t explain who I’ve become, or when it happened because it’s not something easy to explain. It’s the same thing when people say “Hey, hows Austria!?” You want to know? Here it is. It’s different, no matter what it is, absolutely everything is different. It’s beautiful, beauty that seems unreal to live in. It’s eye opening. It’s life changing, but yet something that’s been calling my name for longer than I could hear. Above all, it’s easily the most amazing, hardest, emotional, scariest, and best experience I could’ve ever wished for. Well one things for sure, wishes do indeed come true.

For very long, I remember hearing people say how good and bad will always outweigh each other, becoming equal. I see that now. I’ve cried just as many tears as cheek aches I’ve had from laughs and smiles. I used to wonder where I got the strength to do this, and if I’ve honestly had it in me all along. And now, I know I have. I’ve been hurt, gone through things I wouldn’t wish upon anyone, and began to loose faith in amounts I shouldn’t have, but I’ve also been blessed with an amazing mother and two sisters, a family at a church who’ve put my faith at a level I didn’t know I could reach, supportive friends and an amazing once in a lifetime experience, which I almost gave up in fear of anything bad that’s come from drastic changes in my life. But this experience isn’t given to just anyone, so I held on just to know why it was given to me.

When you limit yourself to one place, you find yourself thinking about where you’re supposed to go in life, what you’re supposed to do, the doors that are opened for you, and whose out there that you’re supposed to know. But if you never take a step away from what you know, how will you ever figure out the answer. Since being here, I’ve gained more than just an understanding of what the world holds, and how big and scary this place really is. I’ve gained independence, intelligence, I know where I want to go in life and what I want to do, I know the opportunities that have my name on them, and I’ve met people I can’t imagine life without anymore. I’ve realized that this exchange isn’t only about learning about Austria, but learning about and sharing an experience with the rest of the world. I thought I was leaving life in America to start a life in Austria, but a part of me will also be in Sweden, Finland, Brasil, Colombia, Argentina, Spain, Mexico, Belgium, Japan, Bosnia, Canada, Taiwan, Ecuador, and to other parts of the United States because this experience I get to live wouldn’t be the same without my family here, from all those countries.

People are always in a rush, or trying to live their life like their favorite TV show, buying the latest fashion and cell phone, when they have perfectly good ones at home. The “stuff” becomes much more important than what life is about. I remember hearing people complain about my town in the states, Vero Beach, never was anything good said even though it’s beautiful. I would be so confused when people asked me why I would want to leave and if I was crazy. I’ve realized that people are willing to talk but not willing to act. Leaving has made me appreciate everything so much more. So no, I’m not crazy, I wanted to see the world, so I got up and left for it. I may not be able to hug my family for a year, I may have to learn a new language and instead of packing a years worth of stuff when I come home, I have to learn to pack memories, love, and friendships and a life I didn’t know existed. I used to be one of those people in a rush, I wanted the latest fashion and always complained about what phone I had, I used to complain about living in Vero Beach, I used to be one of every negative person listed in this, but I’m not anymore.

So for those of you who wanted to know how Austria is, I hope this answered it. It’s not an easy year off or a vacation in Europe. It’s life outside the four walls of what I’m used to. It’s amazing what a new room can do to a person.

 October 19, 2011

I was sinking. Down past the few memories I made, past the few people I knew, the hard work, and the places and experiences I hadn’t yet reached. Each day I was sinking deeper into the cold dark sea. My mind was set on giving up, I was done, finished. My mom came to mind, all the hard work, wishes and prayers, my support system of family and friends, how much I was giving up and the friends I’ve made and the places I’ve seen because of this opportunity. I looked up and kicked my feet, reaching for the top. Above all my fears and negative feelings, that’s where I was going. I knew I could do it, I wasn’t going to give up so fast, so I didn’t. I reached the top, took a long deep breath and started swimming. I swam away from the fears and the “I can’ts” and towards the support of my family and friends and the reminders of how hard I worked to be here in the very spot I was so willing to give up.

I was so sick of hearing people tell me, “You’re going to have to make hard decisions all your life, start now, get it out of the way.” Let me tell you, there is no getting it out of the way. They come harder and more often after the first one. Saying yes to youth exchange included the thousands of other decisions I was going to have to make this year without even knowing it. Deciding this wasn’t like saying yes to a talent show or having to talk about something personal to a group of people. It wasn’t just saying yes to senior year in Europe, it was so much more than what everyone said, and much more than I allowed myself to believe.

Everyone puts up walls when they reach a certain limit of someone or something. These past two months have tried each of those limits and continues to everyday. Your greatest fears are ones you live through everyday. You only have yourself to count on while you’re out, stuck, in the middle of the ocean. Everything here has made me realize how capable and strong of a person I really am. There’s nothing I would’ve done differently so far, all that has happened was meant to and had made my exchange all that it is at the moment.

For a very long time, I thought I was on my own. I had the best friends who continually let me down, the struggles no one understood, and only my family to count on. But the friends who have become my family here, made me realize that I’ve never been alone, I was just swimming out to the people who are also out there, thinking they are swimming and sinking alone. I know I’m not on my own anymore and I have friends to pull me up when I begin to sink. Whenever I would lose someone close to me my mom would tell me, “There’s plenty of fish in the sea Emilina, go find them,” and being here with the people who’re going through the same thing I am, has made me realize that there really are other fish out there, 91 of them to keep me swimming. Never have I ever been so fortunate to be apart of such an amazing family, bound together because of this exchange. A friendship stronger and greater than the rest because of the ocean we’re swimming across together.

I know I’ll look back and be proud of myself, more than I already am. I know I’ll think about all the times I began to sink and give up and I might be a little disappointed, but I also know I’ll look back to the person I was before I started this entire experience and feel even more grateful than I am, for the people I met in Florida and Austria, the places I’ve seen and the knowledge I’ve gained of the world, but above all else, I’ll forever be changed by this exchange, with no doubt in my mind.

In the beginning of my exchange, I wanted nothing more than to go home and I was upset with everyone who encouraged me to do this, but now, I’d fight if someone tried taking me away from this place or these people. I respect all the people who have encouraged me and pushed me towards the airplane when I wanted to walk away. Some days I can swim without stopping and other days I sink down further than last time, but when I get back to the top, I swim my hardest because I know I can make it to the end, I’ve learned to swim. When a storm crosses your path, just remember you’re two options, you can sink or you can swim. What will you do?

-November 2, 2011

“You can go through the whole year to come home as the same person or go to your country and find out who you really are.” I can remember hearing these words at my last orientation like it was just yesterday when I was there. I had no idea what they meant at the time, but two months and twenty three days into my exchange and I know exactly what they mean. Change is what all your friends are afraid, something your family hopes to happen, and something you feel inside you every day. I’m nowhere near the same person I was the first day I got here. It isn’t something I can tell you about and hope you understand, it isn’t something you’ll see in the clothes I wear or the way I talk, it’s something you have to see within me, and hopefully feel it within you too. On my last day with my first host family I took a walk with my first host dad. We went to the first place I went to when I got to Austria. As soon as I got there, every day I’ ve spent here started playing in my head. The smiles, the tears I’ve shed, the laughs I shared, the memories I made, the friends who have become my family, the strangers who have become my classmates, the place I’ve visited, the things I’ve learned, and everything I know because of this exchange, played through my mind one by one, falling like leaves. I looked around me and remember what everything looked like when I first stood in that spot. Everything was green, flowers were at their most colorful and families were walking in the streets enjoying the weather. The place had a nice view over the village that had become so familiar to me, it was hard to believe that my stay here had already come to an end, almost three months later and nothing had been the way it once was. I was no longer in shorts and flip flops looking at everything green under the sun. I was wearing boots, jeans, a scarf, and a jacket looking at the village that consisted of reds, purples , oranges, and yellows. Leaves were falling and smoke was coming out of chimneys as families were inside enjoying the fire and the presence of each other and laughing together. I had felt like such an outsider when I first stood in that spot. I had no family, no friends, and a house that wasn’t mine, but as I stood there the second time, I realized that the week before that walk, I was playing card games and watching movies next to the fire with my family in my house, I become another piece to life as a puzzle in Langenlois.

I had so many reasons as to why I wanted to do an exchange, but each time I was asked why or how it is, it becomes harder to answer. But I know now that I’m here to experience life, I’m living just like everyone else, just in a different way. A way that will leave me forever changed

I don’t think I’ll ever forget how unfamiliar everything seemed to be at one point in the beginning, even as everything becomes a little more familiar. I can understand some of the conversations around me, becoming a part of a new family, and starting all over again with a little experience of this place. As I let the worries slip away, I’ve realized how familiar things can be even in a new place. Family is still the most important, kids go to school and parents still work. Teenagers still have crushes, girls still travel in groups to the bathroom and boys, well, are still boys. The big things like the language and school and family may be different and yes it’s hard, but the little things, even an ocean, 13 countries, and 5,074 miles away are still the same. It’s just a new way of seeing the life I’ve always lived. Not only do we see the biggest changes within ourselves, but in the world around us, it makes me wonder, that maybe we’re all just leaves, changing colors with the seasons.

-January 6, 2012

There is no way to explain my experiences anymore. I have tried. I had a German test at my last Rotary weekend and the last assignment was to write a page about our first few months in Austria. Right then I realized I would not even be able to explain it in English, so how was I supposed to explain it in German.

Almost five months of my exchange have passed, five. I will never forget my first day of this journey. I do not think any exchange student will. Every time it crosses my mind, I wonder what exactly got me up and ready the morning I left. I remember walking into the airport and asking myself what the hell I was doing. I remember seeing my sisters, mom, and best friend turn to each other as I said my last goodbyes. I remember never turning back around once I left them. I remember feeling alone and suddenly the belongings in my suitcase carried the most value because that was all I had. Here I am, almost five months from that day and I wish I had a clue of where time has gone. I have seen the most breath-taking places, learned about so many countries, met amazing people, and have grown as an individual. Exchange students are sent out as “youth ambassadors” of our country, and I left with no knowledge of the importance of what exactly that meant. But as one person after the other started questions with “Do all Americans..?” I realized that I am the only impression of my country that some of these people have seen and may be the only one they will ever see, and one wrong decision or word around the wrong person could ruin everything. Doing an exchange has not only taught me about other countries but also about my own. I have never been so proud to wear a United States flag, or hold one or see one and say “That’s my country!”. I have never been more offended when a person judges the United States or something that has happened there without ever going there, and I have never been more excited to talk about history and share information with others. I was sent out as a youth ambassador, yes, but this journey is what taught me what that is.

It is hard when a person asks what I have learned and gained so far or asks me to share some experiences. It almost feels like a waste of time to try and explain because being here has made me who I am and my experiences carry so much love, happiness, weakness, tears, laughter, smiles, pain, strength, fear, friendship, and importance and it will never mean as much to the people who ask as it does to me. But I also know that me sharing that gives people a clue of a country that means so much to me, that very few people know about. I used to say I did not know if this will ever become normal, but I see myself doing things the same way any Austrian would because this life has become the normal for the last five months. The traditions, food, churches, outfits, wine, and language have indeed become normal to me. Having to go back home and convert back is going to be even harder than it was coming here and converting to the way of life here. During my first month here, the thought of going home sounded better each day, but now that friendships are becoming stronger, goodbyes are becoming harder, the language is a tad easier, and time is going by much faster, the thought of going home scares me. But I would rather deal with that than not have had this opportunity because I was guaranteed everything I’m experiencing but no one said it was easy. I’m very fortunate for the people I’ve met and everything I’ve done and seen here. Sure, there are some things I would change if I could but because this is a once in a lifetime opportunity I believe everything has happened the way it’s supposed to because my mistakes and what I wish I could change have all taught me something and I still have plenty of time to change everything else.

Going on this exchange is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. It has allowed me to expand my imagination and goals for life, learn something new, be somewhere so different, and conquer everything on my own. It has also allowed me to let go of worries and things that changed my life over the past few years which was a main goal. I have gone through everything I was told I would go through and I was also told things that were not necessarily the truth. But I am going to share a secret with you that someone shared with me. We are told that this exchange is about culture, traditions, languages, and seeing the world, but what we are not told, which is the most important, is that this exchange is really about ourselves.

Emily Hatcher
2011-12 Outbound to Slovakia
Hometown: Fleming Island, Florida
School: Ridgeview High School
Sponsor: Orange Park Sunrise Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Žilina, District 2240,

Emily - Slovakia

Emily’s Bio

Hi ! My name is Emily and I’m 17 years old. I am a junior in high school and I have a part-time job. I live in an apartment with my mom and our two cats. Sometimes I stay with my dad, his wife and his two step daughters. In school, I participate in a lot of activities including my school’s Interact Club. Some of my hobbies include watching baseball, shopping, and visiting new places. I also like hanging out with friends and watching scary movies. I  L O V E to dance, and have been dancing since I was very young.

Fortunately I have received the opportunity to go to SLOVAKIA next year and I couldn’t be more excited! This is a once in a lifetime experience that only a few students get to have, and I am lucky enough to one of them!

At this point, there are no words that can express the gratitude that I have for Rotary. I cannot thank everyone enough because without all of the people involved, this wonderful program would not exist!

Emily’s Journals

Ahoj! So this is my first official journal on my exchange to Slovakia. Pretty exciting! I have been here in Žilina for about two and a half weeks and they could not have gone any better. I arrived to the Žilina airport on August 25th at about 10:30 at night. I was greeted by my host mom, Eva, and a girl who was an exchange student to the US last year. They were both very nice. The girl would translate for me and my host mom because my host mom can’t speak English. I look at that as a good thing though, because I am now forced to learn Slovak! We took our wonderful translator home and then we went home. It is just my host mom and me living in a nice little flat and I love it 🙂 She is so nice and pretty! There are two other exchange students in my city and we all go to the same school.

Since I have arrived I have done the following things:

–    Visited Strečno Castle

–    Went hiking in Terchová

–    Been to 2 swimming pools

–    Been shopping in 2 malls

–    Started school

–    Went to Orientation Meeting in Strečno

My host mom took me to a castle that is relatively close to our city and it was beautiful! We went on a tour of it and although I didn’t understand anything that the tour guide was saying, it was still really nice 🙂

We also went hiking in some mountains that had rivers going through them which were really nice.

My host mom is a very good swimmer so we have gone to some swimming pools and I almost got a tan! Woot!

School started last week and it has been good so far. Although the kids in my class are a few years younger than me, they are all SO nice! They help me whenever I ask for it and try to translate stuff for me if I am confused. They also helped me study for my test at the Orientation weekend…Which was a blast! This is the weekend where all of the exchange students from District 2240 (Czech Republic and Slovakia) get to meet up. It was held in Strečno, so it wasn’t very far from where I live. Everyone arrived on Friday and we had some activities for getting to know everyone. We also had a few seminars on the rules of 2240.

Saturday we had a few more things to listen to and then we were off to Strečno Castle. It was the second time that I was there, but it was just as fun and amazing as the first. Sunday we listened to a few more things and then it was time to go home. Some people had a very long way to travel. It was a great weekend and I met so many awesome people 🙂 I also got to see the only other Floridian in District 2240- Jennings Brower !

Things so far have exceeded my expectations, and I am so happy that Rotary has given me this opportunity!

April 18, 2012

So it has been a really long time since I’ve written a journal. I’ve been really busy ! And so much amazing stuff has happened.

To give an update on where I am now;

I’m currently in my 3rd host family and they are so nice! I have a host brother now who is 11 and he’s alright 🙂 In a week we are leaving to go on our Eurotour. I can’t believe it’s already that time. When I first read about it, it seemed so far away and now it’s in 3 days! We are going to Spain, Italy, and Monaco. It will be really great to see all of the exchange students again, too. We just had our Rotary Skiweek a few weeks ago also, and that was great. I learned how to snowboard (kind of)! It’s crazy how this year is almost over. I have about 2 1/2 months left here in Žilina and I don’t want it to end 🙁 I have learned so much so far this year and I can’t wait to see what these next few months have for me.

So on the language:

Slovak language is… hard to describe. In some ways its easy, you just have to learn and study. But it other ways… its incredible challenging. I think it’s come along quite nicely for me. I can have conversations and I understand when people are talking (even if they aren’t talking to me). It’s kind of funny, how even though you learn, and you get better, people still think you don’t understand anything. It’s funny because you can surprise them and talk back. But it also gets frustrating at times. When no matter how many times you tell people that you speak their language, they still think you don’t get it. But it’s okay. I’m sure it happens to a lot of people.

I have some close friends that are amazing! Exchange students and Slovaks. I’m not sure where I’d be with out them. They’ve helped with everything possible.

I still have a lot of cool experiences coming up so I will post more journals soon !

And Of course, none of this would be possible if it wasn’t for Rotary. They make this opportunity possible for everyone and I am grateful for it.

Emily Adams
2011-12 Outbound to Thailand
Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: St. Augustine High School
Sponsor: St. Augustine Sunrise Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Thamuang, District 3330, Thailand

Emily - Thailand

Emily’s Bio


My name is Emily Adams and I’ll be spending the 2011-2012 school year in Thailand! I’ve lived in St. Augustine, FL my entire life with my mom and my dog, Buttercup. The three of us have a close connection. My mom and I talk, cook, and watch movies while one or both of us are tending to Buttercup, who always wants to play.

For the majority of the time, I keep very busy. This year, I am a senior at St. Augustine High. In addition to school, I also work, and dance. I love learning, working, and dancing. I work at Whetstone’s Chocolate with some of the most amazing girls! No, I have not gotten sick of chocolate. I’ve been dancing for about a year and a half. I take two classes at school and also ballet and contemporary at the Dance Company. One thing I’m looking forward to seeing in Thailand is the traditional dancing.

When I’m not doing any of those things, I spend time with my friends. I love them dearly and am happy that they are happy for me. Other interests of mine include reading, drawing, painting, cooking, music, yoga, camping, and taking pictures. I have a canon rebel xs, which I’m very excited to use on my exchange.

During my year abroad, I hope to expand my mind. I want to have a better idea from another point of view. I want to be able to note the similarities of Thailand and Saint Augustine, Fl, along with the differences. I’m excited to meet and have friends on the other side of the world, and from all parts of the world. I am excited to become fluent in Thai. I am excited to see elephants roam the street. I am just, so excited.

It still doesn’t seem real, and I still can not imagine getting on a plane for a year to be spent in Thailand. But thank you Rotary. Thank you for pointing me in the right direction. Thank you mom and friends for giving me the extra push, I love you.

Emily’s Journals

August 27

It has been a little over two weeks since I’ve arrived here in Thailand but this country already means so much to me. I have fallen in love with a great group of people, delicious new foods and new places. It is so strange to say I have been here two weeks because I have learned a tremendous amount since stepping off the airplane. Upon arriving, I was nervous and unable to comprehend where the next hour, day, or week would take me. Now, as I sit here writing this I am able to predict those things. I am now able to communicate (somewhat) in a new tongue that once sounded so completely alien to me. I can now point out the direction from my house to school, the market and Bangkok. I now can say and comprehend an introduction of myself in Thai in front of a large group of people. I can do so many things and recognize so many foods and places that it is almost impossible that I’ve been in Thailand for just two weeks. But I have and as hard as it is to pick out what’s worth writing about and what’s not, here are a few moments worth remembering.

Exactly one week and one day upon arriving I was expected to give an introduction of myself fully in Thai to all members of my host Rotary club. With many thanks/kob kun ka’s to my “poo” (dad) for helping prepare it, I was literally practicing this introduction every hour until the night of. I was completely nervous. Any time I envisioned this speech, I saw it going exactly how my Spanish speech a few months prior went…drained from my memory the moment I was handed the microphone. So on this particular night I was very nervous and wishing to be anywhere but at this party before it even started. Upon entering, I was seated at a table full of Rotary members, the director of my new school and my school counselor. Of course, everyone began speaking Thai to me and of course, I had no idea what was going on most of the time. I literally began throwing any Thai I could think of into this conversation so I wasn’t completely hated. I felt completely awful and I felt as though they were all disappointed. Although then, they finally switched to English. They told me I was lovely and my Thai was very good for being in Thailand only a week. FINALLY, I could breath. A great amount of stress was thus drained and I began to actually enjoy myself. Around the dinner table, they all took turns showing and teaching me random things about the food and their culture. It was great, and very typical of a Thai feast- everyone was eating, laughing, and generally having a good time. But in the back of my mind I was still stressing. I knew my speech was coming and I knew it would leave me mind the mount I stepped on the stage. So the time finally came and my host sister and I were escorted on stage. As the microphone was handed to me I knew it was about to go completely awful. So I began and then it happened, I got stuck on the first sentence, on “kob kun” which means thank you. It was such a simple phrase and one of my favorites to use. The words would just not come out. But then, right as my “poo” began to yell it from the side of the

The following day was my first day of school. I came into the director’s office of my new school, Thamuang Ratbumrung, with my “maa” and “poo” around noon on last Wednesday. After causing me a little stress by speaking in only Thai, my new principal switched to English. He told me that his students had been waiting for me and then opened a window that led into the student courtyard. He pulled me beside him and yelled to the closest group of girls to come meet “Mali”. They all seemed genuinely excited which left me a little overwhelmed. After showing me his private bathroom (not weird, just different!), the director yelled back at the same group of girls to show me to the concert. So I was then led in a large auditorium that held close to 2,000 kids sitting on the floor. Apparently, everyone in Thailand wants to be a star and they all think singing and dancing is best thing in the world. “TMR” is a nationally known competition that travels to different schools in Thailand and hosts the students singing and dancing. As it began the director came onto the stage and notified everyone of my arrival. I was then given the opportunity to introduce myself (…yay..). As much as I felt like an idiot, the crowd welcomed me back with smiling faces. The concert lasted for three hours of performing but the winner was eventually was named King (predictable, there was only one guy group and all the girls screamed through most of their performance). And yet! This was still not the end to a much unexpected afternoon. Once over everyone got up to take pictures with the different groups. Somehow, I was pulled into the middle of this and there I was taking pictures with anyone and everyone for about 20 minutes. Finally arriving back in the car of my “maa” and “poo” all I wanted was a nap.

Thailand has been so unforeseen but wonderful to me. It is the beginning of a year that I know will all be over too soon. I’ve experienced some of the best days so far, and some of the worst. Some days I have gotten so frustrated because I can’t speak as fully as I want too. But then a few hours or maybe a day will pass and something will happen that turns everything better. This is usually when I have a little laugh because I remember being told that things would suck sometimes but it goes away and I’m left happier then I was sad/angry. I am very excited to what awaits me next, whatever it is. Every moment is precious this year. Rotary, I cannot thank you enough for what has already been given to me.

November 16, 2011

I’ve been in Thailand for about three months now. How time flies! I’ve have gotten so used to the same smiling faces and what now has become a weekly routine that it seems strange that one day I will not see these faces or have this routine. The month of September began where the end of August ended, school during the week, Bangkok during the weekend. Mondays through Fridays I’d wake up each morning at 6:15 for a shower and breakfast. My host father has an extreme affection for sweets so weekday morning breakfasts consists of a “kanom”(sweet bread) and “gaffe”(coffee). I arrive at school each morning at 730 to meet my friends and wait the national anthem to start. This tells us it’s time to go line up on the field with all the other 2,000 students. The national anthem is played again along with a prayer and a school song. This lasts a half an hour despite Thailand’s blazing sun that never fails to reach 85 degrees. Once released, it’s time for class which isn’t really class in comparison to school in Florida, although I’m not complaining. School is fun and the day always seems to go by fast. At 4 o’clock my dad or mom picks me up and we head to the market to pick up 2nd lunch/1st dinner. By the time I’m home and have eaten, it’s around 5 and I’m off to relax before I head outside to meet whoever is cooking. My day pretty much ends when I have eaten again with my family outside. Although no Thai meal is finished after the food is eaten, half the time is sitting around talking with one another. The exception to this routine is Friday night through Sunday night. Every Friday after dinner, my family loads up the car and heads to Bangkok to spend time with one another and so that my younger host brother and sister can take weekend classes. The weekends consist of sleeping past 7, shopping at one the Bangkok’s many malls, riding the sky train and spending time with my brother and sister.

The month of October was drastically different from September and what is beginning of to be of November. For the entire month of October, Thailand’s children take a break from school. Wooo! For 30 days, I got in the routine of not having a routine. I spent it worthwhile by traveling, cooking, shopping, playing, and of course-sleeping in.

But on a typical day in October I began by NOT waking up at 6 for school, but rather sleeping until eight-thirty or nine. I would then, mosey into the kitchen to find something left on the table for me to eat by my parents that are by that time at work. Usually “Yai Pon” (housekeeper/nanny) would take a break from whatever she was doing and try to communicate with me, we’d end up giggling and then go our different ways. The rest of the morning I would spend practicing Thai/ getting ready for whatever may come up during the day.

Around noon time, I’d go outside to have lunch with my grandparents, cousins, aunts, and the workers of my family. These hours spent outside were probably some of the best of October. After lunch I’d hang around as everyone else does, gathered around the table and talking away. A lot of cooking was done during this time (even though we had just eaten). I now can successfully make “pad kao pao”, “pad thai”, “pak boong”, and “som tom”. Som tom is by far my favorite and is now edible to all ^^. I also spent a lot of time with a worker who is now my closest friend at home, “P Than”. With her, I explored all parts of my backyard that I never knew existed. I spent many days with her and a three year old, picking flowers and riding bikes or watching soccer games between the workers. Late into the day when she’d have to start cooking I’d find myself back inside and showering for the 2nd of 3 I take every day. Afterwards all I typically wanted was quiet time trying to communicate all day in a new language can be very exhausting. Around dinner time, which is 630, I’d find myself back outside with the same group of people, fumbling over words and talking about food (this topic has became my best). This was my October, somewhat slow, but very refreshing and rewarding in its own way.

Emma Nestler
2011-12 Outbound to Belgium
Hometown: Oakland Park, Florida
School: Pompano Beach High School
Sponsor: Fort Lauderdale Rotary Club, District 6990, Florida
Host: TBA, District 1630,

Emma - Belgium

Emma’s Bio

Bonjour! Je m’appelle Emma Nestler. I’m currently 15 years old but when I leave for Belgium I’ll be 16. I’m a sophomore at Pompano Beach High School. I live with my parents and my dog in Ft. Lauderdale. I also have a brother who lives in New York and a sister who just had a baby girl. Spending time with family is very important to me. I’m always dreaming about what the future will bring and now I’m about to embark on the biggest adventure of my life. (Well, so far.)

I love singing and I’m in the chorus at my school. I also love musical theater and having themed movie marathons with my friends. I love making people smile and I try my best to brighten someone’s day. Since I don’t have school on Fridays, I volunteer at the library. I love going to new places and meeting new people. I’ve always wanted to travel and it’s finally happening. Words cannot describe the excitement I am feeling!

I would like to thank Rotary for everything they have done and will continue to do to make my dream come true. I would also like to thank my family for supporting my decision to become an exchange student.

Emma’s Journals

I have been in Belgium for 3 weeks and 2 days. That blows my mind because it went by too fast. But I’m definitely making the most out of everything. I have been too Waterloo where Napoleon was defeated with my host parents, I have taken walks in extremely pretty areas, I have made Belgian friends and gone to my first Belgian party, I’ve gone to Brugge and the chocolate museum, I’ve been to the beach at Ostende(where I got sunburnt, don’t laugh at me), I’ve hung out with my host brothers and have spent time with the best exchange students ever.  I have eaten amazing food and I know how to successfully take a bus without getting lost. I have also had some funny language mishaps. For example, telling my friend my dog has only three paws.

Being an exchange student is the best decision I’ve ever made. 3 weeks in and I know my life has already changed a bit and I know that I won’t be the same person I was when I landed. I’m not going to lie and say this is easy because it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done; you feel like you’re a little baby again not being able to talk or express how you feel. It’s probably the most frustrating thing ever. But when you’re host mom and brother tell you that your French has gotten so much better since you arrived makes all of it worth it.

One thing I wasn’t really ready for was the family culture shock. I knew Belgian culture in itself was different but I never thought about the culture of your host family. It’s so different and it takes so much getting used to but even though you want to do something the way you’ve been doing for your whole life but you can’t because you need to adapt. But I’m starting to develop some of the little things like the way they eat with their knife and fork.

I’m so excited for my exchange year and everything I’ll be able to do and see. I’m not going to let time pass me by and I’m going to take every opportunity that comes my way.

Merci Rotary! and a big Merci to my family.


November 18, 2011

98 days. 2352 hours. A little more than 3 months. That’s how long I’ve been in Belgium and I can’t believe how fast it’s gone by. I love Belgium and everything about it. (well, I’m not a big fan of the cold haha) I’m not going to lie and say that it’s been all rainbows and butterflies because this has been the hardest 3 months of my life. There have been times when the thought of wanting to go home has crossed my mind but it’s only made me a stronger person because I won’t give up. Today my friends at school told me that they don’t want me to go back and that they will me miss me so much. That made me realize how crazy I was for thinking that I couldn’t do this because I can. I believe in myself. I’m learning from my mistakes and how to be smarter and pay more attention to everything.

“Between you and every goal that you wish to achieve, there is a series of obstacles, and the bigger the goal, the bigger the obstacles. Your decision to be, have and do something out of the ordinary entails facing difficulties and challenges that are out of the ordinary as well. Sometimes your greatest asset is simply your ability to stay with it longer than anyone else.”

~ Brian Tracy

At the beginning of November, I had the opportunity to stay a week in Paris. It was everything I’d dreamed of and more. Everything is so amazing there. There was one day when the weather was beautiful, so I took my book and went to the Eiffel Tower and laid down in the park. It was maybe the coolest thing I’d ever experienced. I also had the opportunity to go to Disney in Paris which made me feel like a little kid again and everything was already decorated for Christmas. It was magical.

As for the French, it’s so much better from then when I arrived but it’s far from perfect. But I’m happy with my progress and I learn something new everyday. I’m starting to notice little by little that I’m starting to think in French. I have attempted to cook for my family which didn’t go that well…haha. I have also had a woman show me her tattoo on her lower back of an eagle with the American flag. I always get asked the stereotypical questions about American which always makes me laugh. I have also inspired my friend at school to go on exchange and she wants to come to Florida!

Next weekend, I’m going to the ocean in France. Exams at my school start the 9th of December and continue up to winter break. I only have to take 2 exams so I’m going to have a lot of time off so I hope to be able to explore more of Belgium and maybe other countries and try not to die from the cold.

à la prochaine!


Gabe Perez
2011-12 Outbound to Spain
Hometown: Punta Gorda, Florida
School: Charlotte High School
Sponsor: Sanibel-Captiva Rotary Club, District 6960, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Majadahonda, District 2201, Spain

Gabe - Spain

Gabe’s Bio

Hello everybody! My name is Gabriel Perez and I am 16 years old. I was born in Wisconsin. When in reality, I’ve moved around quite often; mostly staying in the Mid-West region. But some good did come of this; it has made me flexible, resilient, and a social butterfly which will help me when I am in Belgium. I now live in Punta Gorda, which is located in South West, Florida.

I am a junior at Charlotte High School and enjoy Drama class. I love Drama! I love plays, monologues, and musicals. I try to participate in every performance one way or another. Whether it is being an actor or being on the tech crew (those are the guys that make the actors look good). Last year, I was Potiphar in the musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. This year, I had the opportunity to play the lead in a combined performance with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra. I also play the violin and regularly enjoy reading and doing outdoor activities. Whenever I have time, I like to have a good workout too. Traveling and different cultures has always interested me and I look forward to experiencing another part of the world.

I would like to give a special thanks to all of the Rotarians that made it possible for me to go on this life changing adventure.

Gabe’s Journals

October 2011

It truly has been a whirlwind since have gotten off the plane in Madrid.  My life here has changed so much but, change is good. I remember when I got off the plane and I got my baggage that I saw my host mom and bother standing at my gate with my name upside down on a sheet of paper that said Gabi. After that three weeks have gone by in a flash.

Within the first week of coming to Spain my family already was getting ready to go to a wedding in Alicante.  This was my first road trip and first wedding in Spain! It took us five hours to reach Alicante and along the way we saw five castles. I have had never seen a castle in my life until then.  Alicante is a very beautiful city on the water. It actually looks a lot like Florida because it is hot and has beaches and tons of Palm trees.

Two weeks later I went to Avila. It is a town surrounded by castle walls. When you approach the town you are greeted by walls that are 40 to 50 feet tall. It is a very awesome sight to behold and then actually going inside the castle, wow, that is a whole other story. It is one of the most incredible sights to see. I almost got lost looking at the monuments… Lucky for me Paco(my brother) was watching out for me.

My first and second days of school where probably the hardest days I have had to face so far. Let me get one thing clear so I may give the reader some perspective on why it was so hard for me the first few days of school. I SPEAK NO SPANISH. Well, then I didn’t know anything, now I speak more of it. But, when teachers are talking and sometimes yelling at you and you don’t know what in God’s name they are saying it can be quite frustrating.  But, at the end of the day being able to go home is the best thing I usually look forward to after a tough day of school. Why? Because I love my host family. They give me love a support when I feel alone and lost. So, that is why it is very important of the exchange student to form a strong relationship with his or her host family. They are your new family for better or for worse. One of the most rewarding thing for me is when I am able to sit down with my mother at lunch and talk to her in Spanish. She speaks no English. Being able to communicate successfully is probably the most rewarding thing an exchange student wants and strives for. I know that’s how I feel. Now that I am able to speak more I have made more friends and I have grown closer to my family. It is probably the most gratifying feeling to have know “Hey, I just spoke Spanish and thy actually understood me”.

Oh, I know this is off topic but, to those students who are in Florida and are studying AP Chemistry and Dual Credit Biology and think that those are hard classes. They are nothing. Try taking those classes in a foreign language you don’t understand!  But, after three weeks and day by day classes are getting easier and easier.

Well, that is all for now. Hasta Luego!

June 1, 2012

I have been living here for a little over eight months now. It is quite hard to even think that time has flown by so fast. It only feels like I have been here for four months. I can honestly say that the first three months here in Spain were the hardest months that I have ever faced in my life. I was as if I was mute and deaf at the same time. I never knew when someone was talking to me or about me. And the being mute part well, that just killed me. I love to talk and not being able to express my feelings or thoughts really stinked. That was in the past now and five months later my Spanish is much better. A few interesting things I did learn however is the importance of listing, thinking before you speak, and think about what you are going to say. Some very important life lessons.

My favorite part of Spain is the food. I am truly in love with the food. I eat by one rule: Try everything once. This has worked for me so far. There is only one food that I don’t like; mejillones or mussels. But, other than that I like everything. I have eaten Rabo de toro/ Bull’s tail, Pallea/Rice with seafood , vegetables, or any type of meat, Oro/ gold, yes I ate gold, it really doesn’t taste like anything however, Conejo/ Rabbit, Todas las partes del cerdo/ All the parts of the pig including eyes, ears, tongue, brain, and liver. But, I do have a favorite dish. It is called Pincho Moruno or in English Kebabs. This is a Moorish dish. Oh, I forgot to say I really like Moorish food too.

There are so many thing that I love about Spain. I can’t possibly list them all. I love the architecture here because it is a combination of Mediterranean and sometimes Moorish architecture which leads to some truly impressive buildings. But, more specifically I really like the Religious architecture. For me that is the most interesting aspect that the Spanish architecture has to offer. One can tell the evolution of this country and its religion by its architecture. Cool. Overall there is one fountain that I truly love it is called The Fallen Angel. It is in the Retiro Park in Madrid. Another favorite monument is a basilica which is carved into the side of a mountain. It is 20 minutes outside my hometown. There is also a cross erected on top which stands more than 450 feet high. The cross can be seen from the town. But, there is controversy surrounding this basilica because prisoners of war had constructed this and this is the tomb of General Franco. My opinion is that not all parts of history can be full of pride and happiness; there has to be dark times as well. Even though this is not brightest part of Spanish history, it is still Spanish history and should be remembered.

Here in Spain the aspect or family and being together is very important. I really like that but, sometimes it can get a little overwhelming. Sometimes. I think it is because it is a different type of family atmosphere that is here than I am accustomed. But, often times I need to remind myself the culture is different. I think also they can be so close is because their country is small. That can live by all of their family while in the US our families are all across the country. But, I truly do the family that I am living with. I have grown quite close to them.

Overall, I am having a beautiful time here. Some days are rough while most days are easy. Each day my Spanish is getting better and better. Bueno, Adios y un abrazo fuerte!

Hannah Hocker
2011-12 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Bishop Snyder High School
Sponsor: Jacksonville Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Botucatu Cuesta, District 4310, Brazil

Hannah - Brazil

Hannah’s Bio

Oi todo mundo! My name is Hannah Hocker and I am spending the next year of my life as an outbound exchange to Brazil. I live in Jacksonville, Florida and I am Junior at Bishop Snyder High School. I am the baby of the family at 16 years old, with five older siblings and 3 nieces. My brothers and sisters are all currently attending college or have already graduated, so I live as an only child at home with my mom.

 I spend most of my time painting and modeling and I play softball.  I visit Nicaragua each summer to further deepen my love for traveling. I am almost fluent in Spanish, so Portuguese is a wonderful, new obstacle life has recently thrown at me and I couldn’t be more thrilled. Every now and then, you need a change of scenery to get out of your normal routine and Brazil will be a great way to open my eyes to new experiences.

My mom and I have a close relationship and she was fearful of my going abroad but now that it has sunk in, she realizes that God wouldn’t give me anything I can’t handle. I would like to thank my best friend Nikki Frechette and Bishop Snyder’s Interact advisor and Geometry teacher Mrs. Carroll for motivating me to participate in a year abroad and for providing me with the tools necessary to fulfill this opportunity. Without these two influences, I would still be simply daydreaming of schooling overseas. I was very excited to find out that I am hosting Mads Hoxbro, a student from Denmark, for the next few months. This will help me to learn more about the exchange program and see how it works from another student’s perspective. Many people, students and adults, that I’ve informed about my journey encouraged me to rethink my decision considering I will be gone for my senior year, but I know that it will be much more memorable to be submerged into a fresh culture in the long-run. I’ve learned to trust in myself and not other’s opinions.

Thank you so much Rotary for making this once in a lifetime chance attainable. I don’t know what to expect, but whatever it is, I know it’s going to be spectacular.

Hannah’s Journals

Today is October 4th, 2011, exactly two months since I arrived, so I figured it was time to check in. A lot has changed, probably me more than anything else. I have grown up. I have learned to open up immensely but also to hold back depending on the person and your relationship with them. I have learned that back home is not being held on pause and you cannot be a source of advice or assistance when you are miles away. You need to live in the moment here because you will never have it again. I have learned who to trust and what to trust them with. I have learned that crying does nothing for you. I have learned that no matter how much you want to squeeze your pride close to you, you need to go through embarrassments, humiliation, and language struggles if you truly need something or need to ask a question. I’ve learned if you laugh through language barriers and stay optimistic, people will give you as much patience as they can and as much time as you need.

I am not going to lie, I have had some days when I wake up, look out my window over my entire city and ask “Why in the world am I in Brasil? How am I even here?” Other days I will just be in the car on a long drive and catch a glimpse of a valley or large mountain and just go into shock thinking “Right now, geographically, I am IN Brasil, and I will be for another 9 months.” It’s a bittersweet feeling, but I love it.

Ending and Beginning

I can’t even really recall leaving. It was a blur. Two weeks before, I had to endure the hardship of saying goodbye to my exchange student Mads when he returned to Denmark. If I thought that was one of the hardest moments ever, I had no idea what was coming in two weeks. It seems now like I could mesh the two goodbyes together they were so close.

I probably did the worst preparing as an outbound. I feel safe to say this now that I am surviving and loving every single day of my life in my host country. I did not study up much on the language, I forgot my blazer before my farewell Rotary meeting and had to return home to retrieve it from my closet, and I packed for Brasil the day before I left. Yes. This is true. I feel like I didn’t sleep the night before, and in what seemed like 2 hours, I was awake, dressed, in the airport, bags checked, and accompanied by my mom, brother, and very close friends, making my way towards the last sight I wanted to see, security. In a very quick amount of time, we ate Burger King. Well I think only I did because I was starving, anxious, and wanted a good final meal in the US. Saying goodbye went by so fast but I clearly remember the embrace with my mom and best friend Nikki Frechette. The three of us were very close and hugged for 3 minutes.

After security I realized I was uncontrollably shaking and started crying hysterically. It came out of nowhere. I traveled from 11am to 6am the next day. The second plane (a 10 hour plane ride) was a red eye but I didn’t sleep one minute of my travels. Part of this may have been because there were approximately 130 screaming, chanting, and singing Brasilian kids my age returning from a Disney tour in Orlando. After entering the airport and greeting my family (my 2 host sisters and my father) we went shopping all day. This was my first impression of Brasil and I did not like it. Eighty reais for a tank top? Not happening. I then decided right then and there I will suffer through my year with the clothing I packed.


School started for me the week after I arrived. I was greeted my first day with hugs and kisses from everyone, and I mean everyone. I became very very quickly acquainted on my first day with my current great group of friends. They thought it was funny to introduce me to all of my teachers as Hannah Montana. School was my first really large culture shock. It is daily from 7am-12:50am. We have three 45 minute classes, a 20 minute snack break, four more 45 minute classes, and then dismissal. Cell phones, cameras, and iPods are all allowed during class. No one really listens to the teacher. There is no mandatory homework, no grading system, and exchange students are asked to sit in the hall during tests. The desks are never in the same formation for more than 1 hour. The uniform consists of sweat pants or spandex capris with the school tee shirt and any sneakers. All of the city’s schools are right next door to each other as well.


My first host family lives in an apartment. There are 5 floors and 2 apartments on each floor. We live on the 5th and there is no elevator. The house is far from school and I walk home most days. I love this because when I am eating the extremely fattening Brasil foods, I justify this by telling myself “But you walk home every day, you will work it off.” (Trust me, this is not true.) My host sister, Maria Beatriz is my best friend. She is 16 and is scarily my twin. Everyone in the town knows her as Tiz for short. (This in Portuguese is pronounced “cheese”.) She takes me to all of her parties and I have become very close with all of her friends. I thank her and give her much credit for this because I know it is not easy to have a tag-a-long who always needs an explanation to go with her since she looks nothing like the natives. Margarete is my host mom and her husband is Renato, Tiz’s stepdad. Renato is the Rotarian of the family. Pietro is my three year old host brother. Despite him dumping a gallon of rice in Tiz’s and my bedroom and then using my uniform pants to sweep it all around, or constantly running in my room and pushing the power button on my laptop during a skype session, he is the best. I love him. My father owns a construction company and is at work or on work calls often and travels a lot.


Besides the weekend parties, during the week, there are always churrascos (barbeques). At the churrascos, you will find so much meat being cooked and if you literally blink, it is gone. I have probably had 2 bites total since I have been here. There are also often a lot of Quince Anos which is a fifteenth birthday. These parties are very expensive and extravagant. Once in a while, there are class parties as well. I have my good circle at school which I mentioned before who took me in immediately and we are very close now. Their names are: Thais, Thaina, Pitu, Bruno, and Igor. My 2 best friends, who are also inbounds (Victoria from Pennsylvania and Rebecca from South Africa) are always with me after school or on the weekends.


The clothing here is very humorous. English is on almost everything and it is rarely spelled correctly or it has very stupid phrases. I have seen “Michael Jackson is not dead.”, “Kama Sutra”, and “Fashin and Glamur.” The minute you walk into a store, the employees are breathing down your neck, literally. If you pick up one item, they will start opening their inventory and shoving 6 others that have a similar style in your face. If you go into a dressing room, they will feed you articles of clothing that you didn’t even look at. Another difference that I had to answer many questions about is this concept of wearing a ring on your right ring finger. This in Brasil automatically says you are in a relationship and not available. My class ring makes my “boyfriend” that I have look real rich.

Nail polish is a necessity here, make-up is not. My mom quickly told me my nails were ugly and changed that fast. Appearance is very big here with teenagers. You’re rich if you own: Nike Shox, Gap, Hollister, Kipling, or Coca Cola clothing. This made me laugh because the majority of the above with the exception of Hollister are not flattering or “in style” with kids my age. They love their school supplies too. Pencil bags, notebooks, the whole nine yards. They are designed with things I had in 2nd grade but they love it here, girls and boys.

Road Rules are ridiculously different and shocking. They have lines on the pavement and seatbelts in the cars but neglect to use either. Red lights and stop signs are barely a tap of the brakes and turn signals are never used. Speed bumps are every thirty yards, but the same as red lights, you don’t slow down for them. All streets are one way and all cars are stick shift. The horn is your best friend and you will use it approximately 80 times per day.

I think adjusting to the language was extremely and surprisingly easy. I spoke none before arriving and I learned quickly with my sister’s iPhone translator, gestures, and charades. Now I can have conversations and do daily things like check out of a pharmacy or ask where some place is. I have yet to dream in Portuguese, but all in good time. It may have helped to study beforehand but it never stuck when I tried and I don’t regret it because submersion is still the best and fastest way to learn.


Everywhere you look, you will find cheeses, breads, and Brigadeiro (the amazing chocolate dessert here. It is unexplainable.) My family has fruit in the house but I rarely see it in cafés. There are never vegetables but always French fries or potato chip sticks. My favorite meal is the Stroganoff with chicken. I could eat it everyday. Milk and eggs do not need to be kept in a refrigerator. This has not settled with me yet and I think I will hold out on eating each for the year.


Jeans are dressy at the meetings and activities here. No one wears a suit or dress. My club has many service projects and activities or lunches. Everyone you see is a Rotarian and every adolescent I know in my town has been, will be, or wants to be a Rotary Youth Exchange student.

Activities/Daily Routine

Daily after school, I go eat with my family and then either head home or go back out with Rebecca and Victoria (the other inbounds). We usually go to Cravo e Canela Café and/or the shopping avenue.

I am a member at the local gym, which is very different from the Navy base gym I use to attend in Jacksonville. It is like a vacation getaway here. It has a bar, a barbeque restaurant, a snack bar, indoor and outdoor pools, indoor and outdoor soccer, tennis courts, a kids equivalent to Chuck e. Cheese, indoor and outdoor volleyball courts, and spas. It is very highly secured as well, I have to give my finger print to enter any area. Soon, I am going to begin swimming training and tennis lessons.


I’ve always stuck with the belief that God does not give you what you cannot handle and thought this to be true so far on my exchange until Homecoming week hit back home one week ago. Only after seeing pictures did it hit me that my senior class is living and breathing “Senior” every day, walking my school’s hallways, in and out of classes, going to lunches and extra-curricular activities without me with them and all I can do is watch through photographs. This is by far the hardest part of my exchange. Scents and music are the little helpers, or best friends if you will, of my nostalgias. Often, I get a familiar scent and crave food from back home. I think I miss certain places and atmospheres more than people sometimes. One always has memories with songs as well and this makes it very difficult. I hear a certain song and it triggers a place and a person or people. Hopefully these pass in time.

Funny Incidents:

As I exited customs upon entering Brazil, I recognized my sisters from facebook and hugged my father only to find he was not my father but a mere stranger who was also suddenly flabbergasted that a crazy American girl was embracing him like family. After which I noticed my father on a business call a few feet away.

The week of my second month in Brasil, I realized there were identical twins in my class that all along I had thought were one boy.

One day while walking home from school, a man pulled over and yelled “Nossa, voce e Americana!” upon which I started walking very fast away and panicking inside. As I approached my apartment building I recognized the same man standing outside the door by his car with a to go bag. It then hit me that my father had sent an employee out to pick up lunch for my sister and I and was simply trying to deliver. The worst part was just then I remembered my father telling me to wait outside school for a driver to give me Tiz and my lunch. Poor man.

This is all for now. I couldn’t have asked for a better host country and cannot wait to see what God has in store for me throughout the rest of my year. I am so thankful that this was handed to me one year ago and saying a simple thank you to Rotary is nowhere near enough, but it is all I can give for now. Thank you so very deeply to all of the people who are making this experience possible.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Today is December 4th, 2011, therefore marking my first 4 months in Brazil. I reread that sentence over and over and am so engulfed in astonishment and awe at how crazy it feels. Sometimes it feels like a year, sometimes 2 weeks, but the feeling of accomplishment for surpassing 4 months and the urge and yearning to continuously learn more is over-powering. If you lay my whole year out on a timeline, you could say I am just about half-way done. This horrifies me so much to think about. Four months down, Christmas tapping me on the shoulder, and then 5 months before I temporarily pause my foreign friendships and Brazilian life to return home. I will not use the word “end” because I plan on returning, more than once. It will never be over.

When I attended my final Rotary meeting in Jacksonville, I gave my farewell speech encompassing the idea of exchange being compared to a roller coaster. I explained (in a much shorter description since my president asked me to keep it short to fit the time slot) that you buckle into your seat, mentally and physically preparing to leave your foundation on the ground. As you slow your breathing, try to relax your body, and fix your flaws like hair in your face or nervous shaking in your palms, you imagine what you are about to experience. Once you’re strapped in, there’s no turning back, you just need to trust your foundation holding you there to introduce you to these new found twists and turns, maybe even several drops. There will be drops you don’t like, straight distances of just track where you’re asking “What’s next? This is dragging on”, twists you never expected in a million years, and corkscrews you wish you could reverse and do all over again. Once you have finished your run through, you are still so exasperated about what you just experienced that there are no words. After the cooling down time passes, you set your opinion into stone and wish you could go strap in again. Finally, once you’re ready to move on to other rides, you have the memories you will hold dear forever and tell to future riders.

Well in 4 short, very fast moving months, I have been so thankful to be on such a phenomenal coaster. I’ve been praised, scolded, interrogated, moved to my second house, and taught. Learning, learning, learning. I feel like in 4 months, I have aged 6 years. One month ago, I moved into my second family’s home. I am in love. My house is so relaxing and chilled out. I can take naps on the living room couch, peacefully play piano, sleep or read a book in the outdoor hammock, ride my bike around the city, or even grab the city bus into town with a bus stop literally right in my front yard. I have 2 dogs, a Greyhound and a Dalmatian, both which have created great bonds with me. I have 2 siblings, 9 year old Leonardo (Leo) and 7 year old Natalia (Nati). My parents are Marcos and Renata; both young, fun, and very musically oriented. We even have an outdoor “hang-out room” with a drumset, a row of different types of guitars, tambourines, and many other cool intsruments. My father works in the children’s intensive care unit as a surgeon and my mother is a professor at the college UNESP in the forest, nature, and flora and fauna field.

School has let out for summer break so I am very lucky to get to sleep in and casually go to the gym by bus at whatever hour I feel. In 6 days, my mother will arrive for the halfway mark of my journey. We will spend time in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and my city of Botucatu. She is only coming for 9 days which is actually great because it is right before Christmas.

I feel that I have definitely hit the stage where I am asking “Where did the progression go? Where is my improvement?” but it was bound to hit and all I have to do is keep working and keep conversing with natives, focusing on what words I didn’t know yesterday that I do today. I’ve come to the realization that I have also begun to fit in which in most cases in life, this is wonderful, but on exchange it means the exotic, new, interesting foreign girl is not so interesting anymore. She is steadily speaking our language and we are out of questions. This causes a very difficult wall to break down when it comes to asking to go out together, suggesting to spend the night at each other’s houses, and entering into very fast, slang-filled conversations that do not include you. I will say that it has become very easy to manage though. I can communicate well enough to buy minutes for my phone, purchase clothing, get groceries or lunch, or ask when the last bus past on my own. I have even had one or two interesting conversations at the bus stop, Forrest Gump style.

I still love my country here and believe it is ever-changing every day. I will never want to go home, but I have sunk in. I have become a resident of this wonderful city. I have changed even though I do not see it yet. And I have learned and become a better person. Thank you, Rotary. I can’t go a day without thinking where I’d be in the United States right now just dreaming of this adventure without your help.

Happy Holidays everyone.

February 7, 2012

It is February 4th so it’s time for my 6 month mark. Unbelievable. Half a year away from home. Concluding my US life and embarking feels like yesterday, so how in the world has 6 months past here in Botocatu, Sao Paulo, Brazil? I can’t wrap my head around it. At this point, it is all about transitioning. Things are changing. Don’t get me started on the seasons changing because I cannot even walk a block without dripping sweat. But that is the slightest of changes occurring. I have definitely come in and out, depending on the day, of homesickness, but halfway through you have mixed feelings the worst. Most kids will say I never want to leave or I am never going home, but I am much more logical than that. I look forward to going home. I look forward to telling my story. Soon after I return home, I will be shifting my life completely and changing everything I have ever known as I move to Europe. Not on exchange, but as the next step in my lifelong journey towards my destination. In a way, I am very excited to get home. Then there is the feeling of vomiting repeatedly and crying buckets when I think about leaving everything I have learned to love, learned to hate, and learned to accept. I will have to pack up and leave everyone I met.

Since we have past into 2012, the foreign friends I have made has changed. Iny my city, I had 2 best friends, Victoria from Pennsylvania and Rebecca from South Africa. South Africa exchanges January to January, so Rebecca left us. It was very difficult but soon after, Hudson joined us from Australia. I don’t know what we had done without him all along, but I am so glad we have him in the group now.

Things are currently going very well. I just switched to my THIRD host family. So strange to imagine how much time has passed since my first. This family is so incredible and so perfect, I know there has to be someone out there looking out for me. I live in a two story house on the center of town, I have 2 dogs, I have a swimming pool and huge barbeque kitchen all outback, I have a sauna, I have a balcony off the front of the house, and I have a very young, sweet couple for parents who have the most darling little 2 year old daughter named Maria Eduarda, but we call her Duda.

School has resumed and I am in the equivalent to a US senior class with my best friend Victoria from Pennsylvania so school is more than I could ask for. In the spring I will be going on the month long South Tour to the south of Brazil, Iguassu Falls, and other South American countries. I return to Jacksonville, Florida on June 3rd. I have 4 remaining months and I plan to make them the best months of this year. Thank you so much, Rotary.

April 23, 2012

Well I may be 19 days late here on April 23th, but I hit 8 months on April 4th. The last time I wrote, I skipped Christmas and New Years so I will fill in now. A lot has happened. Since February 4th, I have had my birthday, changes have occurred at school, I have gone on a trip, and I just moved to my final family.

I have definitely done my fair share of traveling around Brazil. The week before Christmas, my mom came to visit for 10 days. I met her in Sao Paulo where we toured for 2 days before flying off to Rio de Janeiro for 4 relaxing days in the sun on Copacabana beach. After visiting Pao de Acucar and Christ the Redeemer, we flew back to my city and stayed for 4 days to spend time with my friends and family here in Botucatu and to show my mom what and where I have spent my time for the 5 months before. Sooner than I hoped, her trip ended and my family was taking me right back to Rio for New Years. We spent 15 days there and it was wonderful.

My birthday came on March 9th and I had a wonderful celebration from my friends at school then a nice dinner with Victoria and Hudson that evening. The week after, Victoria and I were moved down a grade because of overflow on student capacity in our grade, so we were placed into second year. Again. We have managed just fine though.

March 23rd, I took a bus to Aracatuba to begin the South Trip. Here, I met with 10 others and we headed to Foz do Iguassu. There we met more and our first part of the trip group was around 20 people. We went to the waterfalls on the Argentina and Brazil sides (even in a boat under the falls) and we went shopping on the streets of Paraguay as well. Then we moved on to the southern cities of Brazil consisting of Curitiba, Florianopolis, Gramado, Canela, and Porto Alegre. We did very many tours and sight saw everywhere. In Curitiba, we had museums and gardens. In Florianopolis, we went to the beaches and shopping. In Canela, we went to parks and German bakeries. In Gramado, we went to chocolate factories and vineyards. Porto Alegre is where we met the last group of newcomers for the South Trip. Here we became 35. With this amazing group of unforgettable people, we went to Montevideo Uruguay, Punta Del Este, Uruguay, and Bueno Aires, Argentina. This was my favorite part of the tr ip. I made phenomenal new friends and saw astonishing places I wish I never had to leave. On April 15th, the trip ended in Aracatuba and I spent the weekend there with my new friends.

Now I am back here settling in again and 3 days ago I just moved to my last host family. They are wonderful. I have a 14 year old sister Isabella and wonderful parents Carla and Renaldo. Renaldo is the president of my club. I have 2 dogs and a brother Arthur as well but he is currently exchanging in Pennsylvania. I will live with this family for approximately a month until I go home. It pains me and even makes me feel sick to think of leaving this incredible place. I have made so many friends, memories, mistakes, repairs, and much much more. I want to stay forever but I know that isn’t logical. I am comforted by the fact I know I can always come back. No one is disappearing off of the Earth, I am just going home. Everyone will just continue living and if I ever feel that I miss them terribly, I can see them with a little money and time spent traveling. The people I have met and places I have seen will always be forever in my heart.

Jane Viviano
2011-12 Outbound to Turkey
Hometown: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
School: Nease High School
Sponsor: Ponte Vedra Beach Sunset Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Istanbul-Bogaziçi, District 2420, Turkey

Jane - Turkey

Jane’s Bio

Merhaba! My name is Jane, I’m 16 years old and I’m going to Turkey! I’m currently a sophomore at Nease High School. I will be in Turkey for my junior year. At Nease, I am in the International Baccalaureate program. When someone asks me what IB is, I say that it is a challenging program for students who enjoy working hard. This is definitely true for me, I enjoy working hard. I view being a foreign exchange student as a challenge that I will enjoy very much and that I will remember for the rest of my life.

My favorite subject in school is history. I am very excited to learn more about the history of Turkey. I may be an anthropologist someday! I am also interested in architecture. Daphne Cameron suggested Turkey as one of my countries because of the architecture. So, my special thanks to you, Ms. Daphne.

I am involved in a lot of activities in and out of school. I love soccer and have been playing since I was 8 years old. I play for the JV team at Nease and for the soccer clubs in the fall and spring. I started playing the violin when I was 6 years old. I play for the Jacksonville Symphony Youth Orchestra. I like to try new things. I started hip-hop dance this year after I failed miserably at ballet when I was 6. I also started JV lacrosse this year. Sometime I would like to try playing hockey. I spend my free time creating artwork and writing.

I have heard that…

1. Turkish is a hard language to learn

2. the people in Turkey are very warm and friendly

3. Turkey is a beautiful country

4. Turkey has amazing architecture

I wonder…

5. how many Turks in my area speak English

6. how school in Turkey is different school here

7. what kind of traditions my host family has

8. what perceptions Turks have of Americans

I hope that this exchange will help me become a better person, help me decide what I want to do with my future, and bring experiences that I will remember forever.

Every day, I try to imagine myself in Turkey. But I know that there is no possible way for me to expect what’s coming. I won’t know until I step off that plane in a country within two continents. It is an indescribable feeling just thinking about it. Rotary: thank you so much for giving me this opportunity and thanks to my family and friends for supporting me on this incredible journey that I am about to take.

Jane’s Journals

September 11th, 2011: 

Two weeks into my exchange

The week leading up to my departure was interesting. I hung around my house and basically did nothing except arrange my departure date. Sunday was the set date for me to leave, but either Hurricane Irene didn’t want me to go, or she wanted me to leave sooner. I left a day earlier, on Saturday, Chelsea Holmes with me all the way. It was nice that we were able to arrange to travel together.

I thought I wasn’t nervous when I got to the airport in Jacksonville, but apparently I was because I got sick in the garage parking lot. All I could do was laugh at myself. Saying goodbye to my parents was weird. It didn’t seem like I was leaving them, so since I couldn’t think of anything to talk about, I decided I better just fess up. I told my mom I never walked the dog that week like I was suppose to and I told my brother I stole his back-up iPod and that it was packed away in my checked luggage. I ended up going through security twice because my Rotary club came to say farewell after I was at the gate with Chelsea. I got some exercise running around the airport, but I was so happy that my Rotary Club came to say goodbye. Thanks guys!

Our flights went well. I don’t have any scary stories to tell. We flew from Jacksonville to Atlanta to Amsterdam and everything was easy and quick. The airport in Amsterdam was crazy, and things just got crazier from there. Chelsea and I went though security again and then realized we couldn’t go back out to go to the bathroom. The 3-hour flight from Amsterdam to Istanbul was agonizing. I was incredibly nervous. Seeing Turkey for the first time was definitely one of the most thrilling and exciting moments of my life.

I made a big deal of setting my first foot in Turkey when I took a leap off the jetway. My first landing on another continent, in another time zone, in another country (Canada doesn’t count 🙂 ). Chelsea thought I was crazy.

My host brother picked me up from the airport and our private driver took us home. My first observation: people drive like crazy, but somehow I always find it thrilling, especially when my host dad drives the Mercedes.

We had about a 20 minute drive home from the airport and I couldn’t keep my eyes away from the car window, as I expected. Everything about Istanbul amazed me, and it continues to all the time. My host brother showed me the house. My bedroom is on the fifth floor and from the balcony on the top floor, you can see our neighborhood and the city.

I wasn’t even in Istanbul for 24 hours before I was back on a plane, at 7am the next morning, for Bodrum, a wonderful little summer vacation town. There, I met my host parents and they are truly the most wonderful people. The first thing my host dad told me in his broken English was that I was not a guest; I was part of their family. Just like that. And not once this whole time have they treated me like anything else.

My host mother speaks a few words of English. It pains me to not be able to tell her how thankful I am for the patience she has, day after day, for my extremely slow learning and understanding. I want to tell my host dad how much I love being a part of his family. I want to talk about Rotary with him and tell him how much I love watching basketball too.

I tell my host brother how much he is like my brother in Florida. They are alike in so many ways. He takes me places and always tries to explain things. He answers my many questions and he covers for me when we get in trouble.

I want so badly for my host family to know that I wish I was born into their family, I wish I had grown up as the third child, the daughter, one they love as much as their sons. I know I can have someone who speaks English and Turkish fluently tell them all this for me, but I know that it has to come from me alone, at a time when I can I speak the language with ease.

I spent the next 8 days in Bodrum, swimming in the Mediterranean Sea (I don’t think it’s possible to drown, it’s incredibly easy to float), sitting by the pool (the water level is level with ground, interestingly to me), eating out every night except one (something I’m definitely not use to), and walking around the town (the streets are crowded even at midnight).

I told my parents I would skype them that weekend, but I ended up staying in Bodrum for three more days with my host parents while my host brother went back to Istanbul to study for an English exam. I was curious as to how I would get along without him (he was my lifeline), but it’s amazing how much you can communicate with people even if you don’t speak the same language. It was a concept Rotary taught us that I never quite understood, and now, I do. I also never realized how much you can communicate just by smiling.

Everyone that I come in contact with, whether they be family friends, waiters at restaurants, or people on the street, don’t know that I’m American. Even if I just smile all the time at them, they don’t realize it until they hear me speak English or someone tells them that I’m not Turkish. I happily take this to my advantage, as sooner or later, I will have no problem telling them myself that I am indeed Turkish.

We left Bodrum on the morning of the 6th and I was anxious to see how my life would be like in Istanbul. In the mornings, I come downstairs, eat breakfast with my family, and then I usually just hang around until the afternoon. I don’t mind it. Sometimes I just sit for hours, but somehow I’m not bored. Then, usually we do something, my brother takes me somewhere, we visit the city, we visit friends, etc. I never know what goes on until someone tells me. I’m always out of my comfort zone, everywhere I go. But like so many people told me before I left, that’s what you have to do to be an exchange student.

I hear the calls to prayer all the time. I’m interested as to when my first experience with the religion will take place. School starts in a week.

Everything I’ve eaten is yummy (except I wasn’t a big fan of Ayran, salty milk-ish yogurt). I feel bad when I can’t finish my meal. Everyone eats more than me here. I always have to tell them “doydum!” (I’m full!). My host family feels the need to buy my food that I usually eat (like pork…), but they need to know that I will eat whatever they have to offer and that I love to try new things. So far I’ve eaten octopus, spaguetti with yogurt, eggplant, lots of balık (fish), and many other Turkish specialties. Magnum ice cream bars are really common here (a luxury for me in the states). I absolutely LOVE turkish tea. I have this funny relationship with watermelon, and it’s been a joke in my family for a while. All because I ordered it at a restaurant one night and that the first word I learned in Turkish was…karpuz 🙂 way back in December.

I thought it would be really hard having everyone speak a language all the time that I don’t understand, but it’s not. I just sit patiently, listen and try to catch a few words. And sometimes, I just want to burst out laughing so badly at things that aren’t even funny. What’s hard is that when people laugh, I usually don’t understand, and it makes me want to cry.

Every time I think something horrible is going to happen like I’ll fall off the back of my host brother’s ATV, or my host mom will get mad at me for jumping in the pool with my clothes on (or riding on that ATV…), or making a horrible mistake in front of a bunch of people, it never happens. And usually, the things I fear the most turn out to be the most fun.

Some things to take note of:

•    Smoking is not discouraged here as much as it is in the USA

•    Pop music = sucky American pop music

•    There are random dogs and cats everywhere

•    When one sees a cat you “Tsss!” at it, while in America most people go “Aww, a kitty.” This makes me laugh every time.

•    In my family it is OK to put your elbows on the table and start eating even if everyone does not have their meal (I’m still getting use to this)

•    The most common car models I see are VW, Fiat, and some model with rhombus shaped symbol

•    People are amazed that I can drive and I have a car in Florida

•    Turkish television is really dramatic

•    Random people try to sell stuff along the highway

•    People wear everything and anything

•    Everyone is very friendly and people appreciate the effort when a foreigner tries to speak Turkish

•    Turkey is a beautiful country, no doubt about that

•    Most impressions that Turks have of Americans are true

•    Turkish flags are EVERYWHERE. Every time I see one I smile, if not on the outside, definitely on the inside.

All the time, I feel myself becoming less and less American and more and more Turkish. I feel as though I was born here and I’m finally being brought home. Istanbul amazes me all the time and I would much rather live here than anywhere else in the United States. Is that a bad thing?

For all you people who think negatively of Turkey, you should be ashamed. This country is seriously misjudged (and Turks know that Americans are judgemental) and at the time when I told people that I was going to Turkey and some of them said “Oh…Turkey, hmm…” I didn’t think much of it. But now, it makes me so angry that some people would think so negatively of a country that they don’t even know the capital city of. I question being an American, because here I am, falling in love with a country that’s not mine and defending it. And I’ve only been here two weeks.

I constantly have to remind myself that this is my exchange. It is my year and I shouldn’t be comparing it to ROTEXs, Rebounds, or current Outbounds exchanges. It’s like the expression about the elephant (Ms Paulaaaa!)…one bite at a time. I might be taking nibbles for the first month. Every exchange is different and personal, so if it takes me longer to do certain things than it does for other people, SO BE IT.

To all you Rotarians (Districts 6970 and 2420): Thank you/Teşekkür ederim for giving me this amazing opportunity. It’s a dream that only a few (when you think about all the teenagers in the world) get to experience. It will change my life and I will always remember this amazing adventure.


Tuesday, January 03, 2012

December 13th, 2011 – Just over 3 months in Turkey

Exactly one year ago today I learned that I would spend a year in Turkey. Here I am, living this life, learning this culture, trying to learn this language that I once thought seemed easy to learn. What a mistake that was. I’ve made more mistakes, experienced more awkwardness, and cried more times in these past three months than I’ve ever made, experienced, and cried in my entire life. But somehow I’m still here, learning little things, exploring the city and culture little by little, taking small steps everyday, one bite at a time…

I can easily say that two weeks ago I hit rock bottom. And just like all of the other times I fell down, I picked myself up, but this time I walked a little taller. A favorite quote of mine has now become the message I live by every day.

“Grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

One important thing I’ve learned on this exchange is that there are things in life that you have no control over. There are some people you will never be able to change. There are some bad things that you cannot stop from happening. And once it’s in the past, there is no point dwelling over it, because you definitely cannot change that either.

I now start a new chapter in my life as an exchange student in Turkey. Soon I’ll say goodbye to the life I’ve been living and hello to a new family, a new life, and hopefully, a new start.

While the past three months have been the hardest months of my life, here are the positive moments and adventures. Don’t get me wrong, my life isn’t just a walk in the park.

Some of the most exciting, interesting, and memorable moments of my life in the past three months:

• The first time I was able to travel alone in the city. IT WAS A BIG STEP FOR ME.

• When my host dad hit 200km on the highway. Twice. Just because we had to turn back to get my phone that I left at the house. It was awesome

• Spending a day exploring the city with my Turkish friends and learning about Turkish history

• Visiting Sultan Ahmed Cami (Blue Mosque), Hagia Sofia, Topkapı Palace, and the Basilica Cistern with the Inbounds

• Taking the ferry for the first time across the Bosphorus from Asia to Europe. It never gets old

• Spending a weekend with the inbounds in Gebze and then performing a talent show at a Rotary meeting. I played my violin.

• The first day of school. It was one of my biggest worries about going abroad. It turned out to be the best first day of school I’ve ever had thanks to my kind and helpful friends and teachers who’ve made me feel welcome here in Turkey. I’m so lucky to have all of them. To all you guys: çok teşekkür ederim

• My first Fenerbahçe futbol game. I’ll never forget it. Teşekkürler Halit.

• My 17th birthday and Atatürk Commemoration Day. At 9:05am we paid our respects to the most loved and honored founder any country has ever had. For my birthday I received a outfit from my host mother, gifts from my friends, a cake (called pasta here) from my family, and a singing of the Happy Birthday song

• Visiting Atatürk’s resting place (Anıkabir) in Ankara. It was a long, cold, and rainy weekend with 500 other çocuklar (oh those little kids…), but I had a great time nonetheless.

• Kurban Bayram. It’s a religious holiday when you sacrifice an animal and give the meat to the poor. I went with my host dad and brother to watch the sacrificition of a sheep We ate it for the next week and I believe I took a bite of the heart and one of the kidneys. Uhhg. There was no school for three days and we spend the time with family relatives.

• All the fun class events: going to the kitap fuarı (a HUGE annual book fair), Group 4 project with a boat ride on the Golden Horn and experiments in the İstanbul University Biology Dept., and all the weekend CAS activities

• Thanksgiving party with Rotary. We had four turkeys (and no, its not called a turkey here. Its a hindi) and great night of feasting, family, and fun.

Some things to take note of:

• I can’t get over how many malls there are in this city…and they’re always building another one somewhere.

• In Turkey, you greet people with a kiss on both cheeks (men too), even if you’re just meeting them for the first time. Lets just say it was a little awkward at the airport when I greeted with a usual hug. Sorry about that one Mehmet…

• In Turkey, all drinking water comes from a bottle. A water bottle is about 30 cents. Cheap.

• Nutella is REALLY POPULAR. Çok seviyorum…

• You’ll always have an adventure in a bazaar It’s a good place to go it you’re looking for some excitement. You meet all kinds of people there…ALL KINDS…

• Along touristy spots, you can find street vendors selling waffles, freshly-squeezed juices, Turkish bread, mussles, and all kinds of nuts. How can people in Florida drink that stuff in the carton that they call orange juice???

• Milk does not taste the same here. It’s whole milk, but even if it says its not, it still tastes like it. I want my non-whole milk :/

• Soccer = life. Literally, LIFE. There are people here that will kill each other over a futbol match. No joke.

• At school, we stand up when the teacher enters the room and we knock and ask to come in if class has already started. The teacher-student relationships at school are much more friendly and casual than in the US public schools

• It’s cold in Istanbul from October to April, and while I will be huddled around the fireplace or heater this winter, there will be people swimming in the ocean in Bodrum. Not fair.

• I like the Metro. First, it’s fast. And second, you’ll always find some interesting people(s) in there. The funny tourists…a bunch of chanting Galatasaray fans shaking the metro car…a six-person fist fight. That was pretty disturbing.

• My classmates love British accents. Scratch that. EMIR loves British accents. I don’t understand this. Stop asking me to speak in one!

I often ask myself what I’ll get out of this exchange. Will I really learn Turkish? Will I make long-lasting friendships? Will I have a Turkish family to always come back to? What exactly will I learn from this year? The future’s pretty foggy for me right now, but once in a while I can catch a glimpse of what’s beyond those clouds. I notice a small change in the way I think, of how I perceive things, of how I’ve grown as a person and I remind myself that there will be a positive outcome in the end.

Thank you Rotary for giving me this chance of a lifetime. Also thank you to my family and friends for supporting me, but especially to my parents for giving up their daughter for a year so she can explore the world.

February 24, 2012

There once was a girl who lived in a bubble. She wanted to see more of the world, unlike most of the people around her. With some help and encouragement, she became foreign a exchange student.

Driving back to the town of Bodrum this past January, this is how I felt, as the beautiful mountains passed by the bus windows.

It hits you at random moments. Oh My God. I’m in Turkey.

I’m living a dream. How in the world did I get here?

I must be the luckiest girl in the world.

I moved to my second host family just before Christmas. The changes: a four story house to the fifth floor of an apartment building, a gated community one hour north of the main city to apartment community one hour east of the main city, living near the Bospherous to living on the coast of the Sea of Marmara.

My second life appeals more to me than the first. From my window I can see the five Princes Islands in the Sea of Marmara. Life is much more upbeat and lively (especially with a 6-year-old host brother) than it was before. I now have two host brothers, ages 15 and 6. In the mornings, my host mother (who is also my biology teacher at school), my host brothers, and I have a one hour service bus ride to my school where it took me five minutes to get to from my last place. Can’t say I’m loving that change. In the evenings I help my host mother with dinner. Then we drink çay, watch TV, or I spend time with my host brothers. I have really bonded with my second family, something that, in the end, didn’t happen with my first family. My host mother calls me her daughter and me and my host brothers treat each other as if we’re siblings. They have become my second family, there’s really no need for the word “host”.

On New Year’s Eve I visited my host relatives and learned some of the Turkish cultural dances. At midnight I was in the perfect place- crossing the Bospherous Bridge from Europe to Asia. We stopped the car on the bridge and watched fireworks go off in the Bospherous. Now I can say for my 17th new year I was in two continents at once.

A funny thing I’ve noticed about the Turkish language: everyone is blunt in a straight-to-the-point kind of way which would be considered rude it you were speaking English. Examples: A lot of commands like, “I don’t want that”, “Give that to me”, “Come here”, the click of the tongue and raising of the eyebrows and head meaning no, calling our teachers “Hocam” which is technically the name for the priest in a mosque. But then again Turkish has many respectful everyday sayings lie Afiyet Olsun (enjoy your meal), Elinize sağlık (Good health to your hands), and Kolay Gelsin (may your work come easy). It’s a cultural difference that takes a little getting use to.

At school, we decorated our classroom with Christmas lights, garland, and snowflake patterns. There’s no Christmas in Turkey because it’s an Muslim country, but you’ll still find Christmas-y decorations. For our Christmas celebration with Rotary, we were taken out to a touristy restaurant in the famous Taksim area of İstanbul. There we saw belly dancing along with other performances including a man who could sing a song from any of the nations in the restaurant (over 20 different nationalities). I was impressed.

In my first journal I made a comment about feeling proud to be an American. I’ve done a lot of thinking about this, being an exchange student in a place where national pride is always displayed, inside and out. In the beginning, I felt as though I was failing as an ambassador to my county: I wasn’t defending it or even supporting it. My classmates and I questioned whether there really was a true American. Someone in my class made a comment during a discussion about how American ruled the world. An American might be proud of that, but to me it was like a slap in the face. But being an exchange student has taught me to respect others’ countries, even if I don’t agree with the way their culture works, or how they have acted in history, or how their government operates. I will always have respect for Turkey, its people, founder, and religion, but there is now no doubt that I will always be proud to be an American. Nothing and no one will ever change that.

On January 14th my host dad picked me up from a teacher’s house that I stayed the night at. It was 3 degrees C and raining outside as we drove home. He informed me that a few minutes later the temperature would drop two degrees and it would be snowing. I couldn’t see how it was possible, but we went under a bridge and when we came out the world was white. It was like a dream. Snowy Istanbul is better than any snowy place I’ve seen in the US. It’s a winter wonderland.

Learning a language is hard in so many ways. When you’re in a country where English is the second language by most people, it’s really hard to distance yourself from it. At times I’m jealous of the exchange students in countries where English is rarely spoken. Speaking in Turkish has been a struggle for me since the beginning, but every day I’m speaking more and improving. That’s all that matters.

During the semester break in the second half on January, the Istanbul inbounds went on a tour of Western Anatolia. In nine days we went to Pamukkale, Antalya, Kaş, Fethiye, Bodrum, Kuşadası, İzmir, and Çanakale. I saw the ancient city of Ephesus, the Trojan horse in Troy, hot springs in Pamukkale, the Church of St. Nicholas, and the Dead Sea, just to name a few. I went to a hamam, prayed in the House of the Virgin Mary, and watched some crazy inbounds go swimming in the Mediterranean Sea in 2 degrees C.

Last weekend, I visited my host father’s parents in their apartment in İstanbul. I love how simply and easy it is to live in the Turkish lifestyle. I would rather live in a two-bedroom apartment, eat meals around a small floor table, and have family visit all the time that the way I live in Florida. Families are so close in Turkey, I’m so glad that I’ve had the chance to experience it. After, my family and I went to Eyüp to visit the Eyüp Sultan Mosque and tomb of the Phrophet Muhammad’s close friend. I prayed in the mosque during the Maghrib (senset prayer of the five daily prayers) for the first time. It was quite and experience. Four women helped me with the prayer and as soon as they found out I was recently coverted and an American, they were ecstatic. They gave me blessings, a purple tespih (prayer beads), lots of kisses, and took a picture with me before letting me and my host mother leave. I’ll never forget that experience.

I’m looking forward to the next month here. We will host two German teachers next week and then my friend, an exchange student from Alaska, will stay with us the next week. My dad and brother are coming at the end of March and we will be staying at a hotel next to the Blue Mosque (my favorite place in Istanbul). I’m enjoying and cherishing every moment here now, I have just under 150 days left. Thank you Rotary for making me one of the luckiest teenagers in the world, this is one of the happiest time of my life.

Until next time, görüşürüz!    

June 7, 2012

At the end of March my dad and brother came to visit me for one week. We stayed at a quaint hotel behind the Blue Mosque and for six days I took them around the city to see all the things Istanbul has to offer. They met my host family and we had a typical Turkish dinner together. It was interesting, living the life of a tourist in Istanbul for a week, but I enjoyed watching the expressions on bazaar owners’ face’s when they discovered I was an American who could speak Turkish. I can’t say that I’m fluent, but I’m just glad I’ve made my family proud of what I’ve learned so far.

In the six days that they were there, I got to see many new places I had never been to. We took a tour in the Bosphorous that goes under the two bridges that connect Europe and Asia. We went to the top of a tower where you can view the whole city. We went to another tower by boat that sits in the Bospherous. One of the coolest places we got to see Dolmabahçe Palace, the living quarters of the last seven Sultans, the death place of the founder of Turkey, and the current area for important diplomatic meetings. The fact that Erdoğan, the Prime Minister of Turkey and Hilary Clinton had been there just 2 days earlier discussing Syria made the excursion even cooler 🙂 The interior of the palace was one of the most extravagently decorated places I have ever seen. Crystal chandeliers (the biggest one weighed 5 tons!), real elephant tusks and bear hid rugs from Czar Nicholas II, it was amazing.

In early April, all the exchange students began scheduled days volunteering at a Rotary academy school for disabled children. We baked, helped in music and art classes, and assisted with redecoration inside during the two weeks there. I also got to meet other exchange students from South Korea, Italy, and the US. It has been one of the few opportunities I’ve had to volunteer here in Istanbul and I enjoyed it a lot.

In mid-April, I had the opportunity to go with my host family to a Turkish village. It was great to be able to breath some fresh air and see rolling hills for once. The village had farms, gravel roads, cows, dogs, one mosque, and beautiful wild flowers and tulips. And of course people, no more than 200. Everything on the property that my host grandparents lived on was self-built except the hot water tank on the roof and the furniture in the house. They had fruit and nut trees in their fields, a bee farm, and strawberry and pumpkin patches. All over the village were pipes running fresh water. In the nearby forest I went into a fresh stream up to my ankles in freezing cold water. They thought I was nuts, but it something you have to do knowing you might not get the chance to do it again. We roasted meat over the fire, a Turkish thing, and carved skewers out of nut tree branches. We went to a lake later, where we decided to run a race along the flat gravel riverbank. There I fin ally got the concept into my brain that boys will ALWAYS be faster than girls. I know I won’t be trying to beat a boy in a race anytime soon because all it earned me was a skinned knee.

The next morning, we all woke up at 4am to drive to the city of Edirne and hour away. Why were we driving to another city at 4 o’clock in the morning? In the Muslim’s 5 daily prayers, the first is around 5am. In Turkey, if you don’t have the opportunity to pray the morning prayer in the Blue Mosque, one of the next best is Selimiye Mosque in Edirne. It’s one of the best places to see if you visit the town of Edirne on Turkey’s European side border with Greece and Bulgaria. The population is around 140,000, tiny in comparison to Istanbul’s 14 million, but a great place to see none the less. Edirne has many horses, some even just roam around the side of the roads. Edirne is also famous for the sport of oil-wrestling, something I have yet to experience here in Turkey. My host family and I ate börek for breakfast before walking around the town and then driving to my host dad’s sister’s apartment. April 23rd was a Monday and als o a holiday in Turkey: National Sovreignty and Children’s Day. My little host brother had fun with his new water gun and we watched a Children’s Day march including over 50 primary schools at the local stadium. Afterwords, we relaxed in a Turkish tea garden and I finally found adult-sized swings (there are only baby swings at parks) and the greenest grass I’ve seen in a long time.

At the end of April, my other exchange student friend from Alaska who lives in a Edirne came to stay with us in Istanbul for the weekend. We met up with Anna from Estonia and her mother and showed them some places like the Blue Mosque and the Archeology Museum.

In mid-May I travelled to Amsterdam to meet my mom who was flying in from the States. We spent five days in Amsterdam, biking and exploring around. I fufilled my first real aspiration in life, to visit Anne Frank’s House. Although I couldn’t speak any Dutch, I was able to speak Turkish with the owner of a Turkish market down the road from out place. He informed me that there are about 70,000 Turks in the Netherlands and after some research I learned that about 5% of Amsterdam’s population is Turkish.

After Amsterdam we came to Istanbul for three days visiting the Blue Mosque, Spice and Grand Bazaars, my host family, and Hagia Sofia. From there we took a 12 hours bus ride to the town of Göreme in Cappadocia in southern Turkey. Cappadocia is hard to decribe but basically it consists of ancient cities built on a plateau. Deposits that erupted from ancient volcanoes approximately 9 to 3 million years ago have eroded into hundreds of spectacular pillars that litter the landscape. The area is desert-like and full of history that dates back to the Bronze Age. It’s the most amazing place I’ve ever been to.

At the end of May all of our Istanbul Inbounds travelled by bus to Antalya for our district conference. Rotary arranged for us to stay three nights at a five-star beach club. We introduced ourselves one-by-one in a short speech in Turkish on the second day. We all have different levels of Turkish, but everyone did a great job. We were only needed for a few hours that weekend and after we had two full days at the resort. It was so relaxing, the food was great, and the pool slides were fun, but it was little sad knowing this would be the last time we were all together.

Fortunately, almost all of us inbounds were able to have dinner together at a Rotarian’s house last weekend and watch an end of the year video that one of our Canadians put together. We said our goodbyes and took the memories home with a copy of the video. I got a taxi home and had a nice conversation with the driver that night. It was great to hear him keep telling me that my Turkish was “çok güzel” very nice.

I’ve come to the conclusion that when being a foreign exchange student, it’s a major problem, to associate yourself all the time with people that speak your language. Although it’s more comfortable and seems easier to learn through a person that knows both languages, you’ll never learn the language. I’ve cursed myself this year for putting myself in this situation for too long. I feel as though I’ve got myself stuck in a hole, and I just keep digging downwards instead of pulling myself out.

But instead of looking at it with bottle half-empty, I’ll look at it half-full. Turkey has claimed a part of my heart that will never go away. This culture, these wonderful people, and this beautiful land will always be inside, even when I’m not physically here, waiting for the next time I’ll be able to add something more to that part of my heart.

I’ll be able to add Turkish in there somehow, someday…

Jennings Brower
2011-12 Outbound to Czech Republic
Hometown: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
School: Ponte Vedra High School
Sponsor: Ponte Vedra Beach Rotary Club
Host: Rotary Club of Brno, District 2240, Czech Republic

Jennings - Czech Republic

Jennings’s Bio

Wow… what can I say other than all the hard work is paying off! I’ve been accepted and I will be going to the Czech Republic!! My name is Jennings brower, I’m eighteen years old and I live in beautiful Ponte Vedra, Florida. I have a mom Nd dad, a sixteen year old brother and a 14 year old sister. I have the best family ever and I love them all very much. We also have a 12 year old German Shepherd names Scout and a small yellow dog who is 14 named Samba. Steel is our (more or less) 5 year old cat who is grey, big, and goofy. I play lacrosse currently for my high school, Ponte Vedra High-school.

Anyways I am so excited to kick off this journey right and show Czech what southern hospitality is all about! My dad has been a huge help with getting my application done on time (well, mostly) and getting me through this. It is a beautiful country with plenty of forest and many historical buildings in places such as the capital, Prague. There are also many different castles that have survived until today that I hope to see during my experience over there. Czech is a quite difficult language to learn that I started off knowing none of but even before I leave I will make it my responsibility to learn as much of it as I can so I can impress my first host family with how much I know!

Czech is going to be incredible and I am thoroughly excited to take off and meet new people on this quest. This will be a huge life changing experience and I look forward to it and highly appreciate this opportunity Rotary is giving me!

Jennings’s Journals

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Dobry Den!

Since about a month before our June orientation, I have experienced the “Up” part of emotions towards leaving for my year abroad in Czech Republic. I don’t think we covered it, but I have realized since signing up for Rotary exchange, we go through I guess a mini series of roller-coasters. Each consisting of its own bumps, jumps, rolls, and chutes. When I first signed up and found out I made it through interviews and had been picked, I was excited of the possibility of a new and “foreign” journey that could literally and metaphorically take me places in life that many others may never have the chance to see or experience. That was the initial “climb” of the roller coaster, the first drop, however, came not so long after. One day I received a call that I was looking so forward to hearing. The call to announce host country placement. My call came from Paula Roderick and a few of the inbounds.

(since I have read some of the other journals from current Outbounds and inbounds alike, I know honesty and emotions are a big part of telling our personal stories so here’s my first possibly shocking roller coaster drop.)

When I had filled out my application I had put




4.Czech Republic


When Ms. Paula and the girls announced the first time where I was going I couldn’t understand what they said because of the inbounds different accents all intermixing all at once. So I politely asked again (a little worried that the first thing I heard didn’t sound a lot like “Sweden”) and when the words Czech Republic came through my phones earpiece, (honesty 101) my heart sank and I tried to give my best “thank you I’m so excited” through my disappointment so that the girls wouldn’t think they upset me with the news. My dad was an exchange student to Sweden in his gap year before college and I had really been hoping to follow in his footsteps and share a life experience with him since I had already (and still do) plan on  attending Florida State University (Go Noles!!)  at some point in my life to follow one of my mom’s life experiences. Even though I was bummed that I didn’t get my first choice, I realize now that even though I didn’t want to hear it at the time, this experience is my own and not my parents.

This leads me to my most recent and quite large up. Since about a month before our June orientation, I have experienced the “Up” part of emotions towards leaving for my year abroad in Czech Republic. Through talking to THE BEST (sorry other Rotex but I got to represent) Rotex ever, Liz Kane, and to others about how awesome the Czech Republic is, by looking at pictures, how cool her experience was, and yes (OMG!!!) even through that AWFUL research assignment that helped me learn so much about the country, I really have become excited about this trip and the destination I was chosen.  The climax, I guess you could call it, occurred three days ago when I Skyped my first family host sisters for the first time ever. I mean… wow.. Just wow. When Rotex say to get connected with your host families now because that will only inspire you more to study more and strive for success before you even depart, they know what they are talking about. My 18 year old host sister, Leona, is sadly going to have already left for her exchange trip to Japan before I arrive in the Czech Republic so I will not be able to meet her face to face, but my nine year old sister, Nikol, will still be there and will be my little sister while I am with my first host family. She is absolutely adorable and doesn’t speak any English. Leona was able to translate back and forth between Nikol and I talking and one of the coolest things I’ve ever heard is her response to my question, “are you ready to have a Big Brother around?” and she said something along the lines of “ I am very excited to have a big brother that will walk me to the bus stop, ride with me to school, walk me over to school, and at the end of the day take the same route back home because our schools are right across the street from each other. My heart instantly flew somewhere around a bagillion stories in the air. I was so excited and happy all at the same time. Someone over there was EXCITED to have ME come live with THEM in their country for a few months. Words can not explain it.

Long story short (too late for that) ((oh well J )) just talking to my sisters on Skype has motivated me enough to ask Liz for an assignment while I am off in Maine for three weeks so that I can have a larger vocabulary in order to better communicate with my little host sister Nikol when I arrive at the airport and see all of my first host family for the first time. Liz has made 18 sets of note cards for me to memorize over the three weeks away.

This is as far as I am right now and I can not explain how motivated I am to work towards this trip of a lifetime.

August 29

Dobry den!

Well its my first night in the Czech Republic and it has been nothing but awesome so far! That is other than the tear jerking goodbyes to my family at about 10:30 AM yesterday morning Florida time L. don’t worry mom and dad I’m doing just fine and moje host otec Ales and host matka Michaela are wonderful and especially little Nicole, my 9 year old host sister who doesn’t speak any English. Today at lunch after being picked up from the airport Nicole and I played tic-tac-toe on the back of a coloring sheet she received.  Even though we kept tying we both had wordless fun and we also shared some dance moves we both knew J and yes, right in front of the rest of the restaurant ha-ha. I love my new room and bathroom, ha-ha sorry Darby but its a lot easier to keep stuff organized when its one person in a room. Even as it is I would never take it over sharing rooms with you buddy. Messy or not. I thought I was going to be able to be strong and not cry on my morning of leaving but there was no way. It started after I had gotten dressed in my rotary travel garb ( I literally have never used that word before) and was waking up Darby and Kendall my sister and brother in the USA. Thinking this could be the last time I see them hit me hard. Then came the airport goodbyes after a not too shabby airport breakfast of French toast and eggs with my family. I survived my mom’s embrace without tears and then started sprouting them like a leak as I hugged my dad. Kendall was next and this opened the leak to a steady flow. But when my best friend, my partner in crime, my brother Darby came up I couldn’t help but completely each strong beam that had been holding my emotions from falling. So many memories flooded my mind of good times with him and I could not hold it back.

Enough about the sadness, but to be honest I believe that may be the hardest part of this whole trip.

The flying went smoothly except for a minor speed bump when I missed my connecting flight from Amsterdam to Prague because of a late arrival but it turned out completely fine. I’m here safe and that’s all that matters.

On the way home from the airport I caught glimpses of beauty from both Prague and Brno’s historic awesomeness. I look forward to exploring more.

But my family lives on the edge of Brno, in a quaint (another never used word) place called Old Lisen. Pictures will be up on face book soon.

Anyways I’m signing out and tomorrow I’m spending the day in Prague with my new friend Kuba Mach. Its going to be great and I promise to upload tons of pictures.

Dobrou noc a mluvim s yall later.

September 1

Well, well, well…

So everything continues to be awesome with a side of perfect on a hot golden platter. Nothing less : )

I have (fortunately) yet to be home sick which for me is a good thing. My parents know I used to have a problem with that just at two week summer camps ha-ha(not fun…).

The 2nd day I was here I met a new friend Kuba Mach who is my exchange sister’s(currently in Japan for her exchange) boyfriend and he is very cool. We became friends quickly and effortlessly. He , my host Dad, and I went to Prague (our ((Czech Republic)) Capitol City) because Aleš had some meetings. Kuba toured me around Prague by Bus, Metro, and trolley-buses, for about 8 and ½ hours. It was really awesome the architecture is absolutely breathtaking and I cant get enough of the cobblestone sidewalks and Prague Castle and just all of it. To think that I only live two hours from this beautiful city is exhilarating.

Yesterday Kuba toured me around our city Brno for about 6 hours and we saw all the important buildings and also free-toured the dungeons of the biggest castle in Brno. It was very cool but made me happy I didn’t have to live in one of those cells for more than a day. Ha-ha.

Today was the first day of school. This will sound very weird. I enjoyed it. I know. My Floridian parents are shaking their heads saying he’s lying. Ha-ha. Totally true though, I love my classmates(we stay with the same group of people all day so everyone becomes good friends throughout the year), my teacher, the way the school works, oh, and school today was only 2 hours ; ) which made it better too : ). There’s a guy in my class who’s name is Martin and he lived in Colorado for a year(I don’t know how long ago) a mluvite anglitcky moc dobře!(he speaks English very well.) He showed me the school and its very simple. Ponte Vedra High school is a 2 level, U-shaped school with many, many, many class rooms on each level. My school here is L-shaped with 3 classrooms on each level and a big field tucked next to the school for gym.

Mom and Dad, everything’s great, I’m safe and beyond happy : ) nothing to worry about.

Kendall, my little sister is just like you, she has a body made of noodles and her gymnastics tricks are crazy. From knots to balls, she can form to almost everything. She’s like a Czech Skylar.

Darby…. Stay lax, Bro. Protect our sister. Don’t mess with her too much while I’m gone.

Anyway tomorrow’s another day. Peace out Floridian and American friends, family, Rotarians, and Rotex.

September 8

Dobry den!!

Jsem moc dobře a ja mamarad moje rodina, moje kamarady, moje doma a everything else : )

Today was very interesting. I had Spanish class for the first time since I have been here. And I thought learning Czech in English was tough…. But no worries, I am now officially (I think) trilingual! I speak perfect, czec-lish, spang-lish, and span-ech!!!! : ) It surprised me though how I perfectly understood 95% of what the teacher said in Spanish but as soon as it was my turn to say my name, where I was from, and what I like to do in my spare time, I couldn’t think of any Spanish words but only Czech words. Even though I had studied 3 years of Spanish, the past three months of Czech have completely taken over. It was like I was speaking to a friend in my Czech school in Czec-lish but to the teacher in Span-ech. Filling unknown Spanish words with Czech : ). Good times.

Ha-ha anyways I still love life here and here’s another interesting story from today, I tried out for volleyball. It was actually more like a showing a coach how I play so he can help find me the right volleyball club in the city. I was only practicing with the team for maybe 45 minutes. And lets just say that afterwards I felt like I played the worse I ever have. My spirits were finally lifted when my dad Aleš told me that I had just practiced with THE BEST TEAM IN BRNO of my age. They had been professionals. Some of them even paid to play. And I had wondered why I played badly. He told me I actually played well but the fact that every one on that team had played all their lives and were planning to play volleyball the rest of their lives. That explained why all their players had been at least 6’3 and could jump like my one of my best friends Nate Cole (very good basketball player). So I felt better about myself. : )

I have decided to still look for a volleyball team with the coach that watched me today, but also keep enhancing my talent on the slack line. (tight rope). I can always get really good in an uncommon sport : ).

So just about 20 minutes my dad was telling me about a little kids movie that he took his daughter and my little sister Nikol to that he thought was actually a pretty good movie. He said it was a musical and one of the actresses is also one of the judges on “Czech Republic and Slovakia has Talent” (just as awesome a show ((talent wise)) as America’s Got Talent ((( for those of you possibly doubting))) 😛 ) and she is a incredibly talented singer. He was telling me about how she has a great vocal range and showed me one of her music videos and after I showed him Josh Turner (country singer) who I think has one of the best ranges of all the singers I know and I showed him the song “Would You Go With Me” and he loved it.

After that I decided to show him my favorite country song of all time. My Floridian Dad and I’s song. Yes, my real dad and I have a song that we dedicate to our father son relationship : ). The song is “I’ve Been Watching You” by Rodney Atkins. Halfway through the song I felt a pang of sadness as I thought of saying goodbye to my dad in the airport. In the music video it has clips of the dad and his four year old son doing activities. (to my Father Darby Brower) when I said goodbye to you at the airport I had flashbacks of watching baby videos of you and I doing things together and you always had so much joy and love in your eyes. At my birthday parties, when you would help me in those indoor playground places, when you and I would spend time together listening to “Morning Wood” with Casey on the fishing trip, and when you would help me in my biggest time of need when my back was in bad shape.  Dad you have always been so strong and you barely ever cry. Listening and watching our song with my host dad made me miss you more than anything.

I am so thankful for you and for supporting me to do this exchange because so far it is the best year of my life and I know it can only get better : ). You are the reason I am enjoying this part of my life so much and I can’t thank you enough.

So I officially dedicate this extremely deep journal to my father Barrington Darby Brower because he has always been my Rock to lean on : )

Czech Republic is wonderful, I have made many friends, I have tried so many new foods (fried cheese is awesome ((its like a giant mozzarella stick))) and my host family is nothing but great.

Tomorrow I leave for my first Inbound Orientation and I cannot wait to meet the other kids lucky enough to come to these wonderful countries of Czech Republic and Slovakia : )

Until next time,

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Dobry den! Cau! Ahoj! Jak se mate?

Good day! Hey! Hi! How are you?

These are only a fragment of the words and phrases that I have come to use and know in the past (ehhh almost) three months I have lived in the Czech Republic. Since my first few journals so much has happened and I will do my best to compact it so I don’t write a book, which with all my experiences right now, I promise would be a lengthy read, but surely a good one.

My first orientation in Strecno Slovakia was wonderful. I have always really liked being one of the first people to arrive at any Rotary weekend, in Florida or here in District 2240 Slovak and Czech Republic. I enjoy being able to play meet and greet with everyone that trickles in so that hopefully I will know and have talked to everyone and I can break the ice with teaching people how to slack line, throwing the American football, or by playing Ninja, the best non-prop-large group game ever invented. It was really interesting to see how people’s progress (or not) with the Czech language were going. On Saturday of the Rotary weekend we all toured Strecno Castle which was the first castle in Europe I had been to so it was a really cool experience to hang out in something other than the Spanish fort in St. Augustine . That night we had a very fun dance party and let me tell you, Spanish people are the absolute best. My best friend from the Czech inbounds is a guy named Alejandro Acosta and he is awesome. He and the other Latinos basically ran the whole night playing DJ with YouTube and teaching everyone to dance to each song. Being a goofy guy I of course donned the medium (towel sized) Czech flag as a cape during the dance night as to distract everyone from my ehh…dancing :D. Sunday (I think) we had a language test after breakfast which I did averagely on. Because of that I have boosted my Czech studies which you will read about in a little bit.

Fast forward to two weeks later where the strangest thing I’ve ever seen occurred. There I was, sitting on my bus, listening to my Czech Rap half asleep, normal morning right? Well, I decide to look out my window. I don’t know why but I just did. One stop from the main bus station, Stara Osada, the stop is Gajdosova and there is a big nice church and a subway station. Well this particular chilly morning a man with a strange ponytail and goatee decided to dance around some poor old ladies, on benches, and on the church steps…without any clothes on… yes ladies and gentlemen, I saw my first streaker… on my exchange. Was it a highlight? No, but definitely one of those moments you won’t (unfortunately) forget. So I looked around the bus and did what everyone else was doing. I turned forward and looked out the windshield with a blank face like nothing happened. Normal morning right?

My other trips have included another to Slovakia with Katrina Platkova (Slovak Rotex) and her husband to Spis Slovakia, where we stayed with her mom and dad (who is a Rotarian) and we went to Spis Castle, the second largest castle in central Europe. It was absolutely breath taking. We also went to Slovak Paradise; a mountain where we hiked and has at the top a giant slab of rock that juts out over empty space for hundreds of feet and you can lie down and look over the edge. It was beautiful and had great views. Lastly we hiked in High Tatras, and THERE WAS SNOW!!!! No big deal or anything to us Floridians right? . It’s the biggest mountain range in Slovakia and I can’t explain how wonderful it was but I have an album on Facebook with only pictures from that hike. Gorgeous. My latest trip was to Warsaw, Poland with my family and the Czech Republic Bartenders Association because my dad is the president. It was the 60th annual International Bartenders Association world championship for flair tending (flipping and juggling the bottles while making the special cocktail) and classic bartending (just making the special cocktail. Warsaw was very pretty but too modern for me because I like more historical buildings and so on but still very nice. My second Inbound Orientation was held in a city called Trebic, where I and the other 14 exchange students visted an old Jewish town, a beautiful old Jewish synagogue, and had a badminton tournament which my second host brother and i won! We also had a Speaking language test the first night after dinner as well as a three page written language test after dinner. I was very excited to get the results back(98 out of 100 on the written test) and find out that i currently have the best knowledge and use of the Czech language in all the exchange students living here .

In my spare time I have begun to go to a Gymnastics hall with my friends Petr Zilev and Michael Bejcek, to follow my childhood dream of becoming …. Spiderman. We learn and practice flips, spins, jumps, and vaults, which is what I’ve always wanted to learn to do but not had a place in Florida to try it. Other sports include Floorball, a game much like hockey on a basketball court, where you use a waffle ball instead of a puck, and sneakers instead of skates. Unfortunately I use a golf swing which is not allowed but I am learning fast. Slack line of course is still a favorite of mine (and now my gymnastics friends) but indoor spinning has become another favorite. Not only because one of my friends is the trainer, but it’s an awesome workout for one hour. It has proven to me that it is not only for girls (it kicked my butt the first time!). I have been to a hockey match(Kometa Brno((team name))) and I have found the fans are exactly like ours at a high school or college American football game, loud, obnoxious, and somehow singing or chanting in tune, all at once, so that the bleachers shake. I have also attended my first official Floorball game (Brno Bulldogs) and women’s basketball game (the team name escapes me but our mascot is a Frog.

In school I am in class 3.X which has three subjects (history, geography, PE) in English to see if learning in English helps learn the language faster. Because of its effectiveness my friends only spoke to me in English which (after I asked nicely) has stopped and we only speak Czech, but also I now have three only Czech language subjects with class 3.A, an all Czech class, when 3.X has English subjects. So everything is fixed so that I receive optimal Czech language!

OH MY GOSH THE FOOD!!!! I guess where I could begin with this mystical edible substance is when I was traveling with Katrina Platkova (Slovak Rotex((Lives in Brno))) and another Rotex to my first Rotary weekend in Slovakia. We stopped along the way at what is now my favorite restaurant in the 2240 Czech and Slovak Rotary District, “Koliba Drietomica” where I had one of my favorite Slovak dishes, “Halusky” which is potato dumplings with cabbage(like warm sauerkraut), sheep cheese (like fried macaroni and cheese), and pieces of sausage(delicious bite sized pieces of heaven). My favorite desert is Knedliky s ovoce which are hot baseball sized desert dumplings with a whole plum or nectarine cooked inside. Normally it’s served with shredded cheese, melted butter, and powdered sugar. It’s truly one of those meals where you have to think the whole time, “Pretend its Thanksgiving so it’s ok to eat all of this delicious food and don’t feel bad about it later…pretend its thanksgiving…” The list goes on and on of the foods I love but now for the foods that are waiting to be tried but are sometimes feared by foreigners in new countries. The first “interesting” concoction I tested my insides with was in one of my Rotary club meetings. I couldn’t read what the only thing on the menu was for dinner but the dinners at Rotary had yet to be anything but silver platter worthy so I figured it was going to be great. (WARNING- what I’m about to explain is not for the weak of heart or stomach) What was on the plate was normal white boiled rice with what looked like clear jell-o with pieces of meat floating around inside of it. As I took the first forkful to my mouth my second host brother and Rotex leaned over and asked, “So u like pig tongue huh? Good!”…..As I forced my way through the tongue jell-o, the only thing in my mind was a picture of me kissing a pig…. Nuff’ said. It didn’t taste good either unfortunately… The next food that is not a normal thing to splash down into my stomach acid was goose hearts. Yup. Goose hearts and w

So enough about the heavenly food here. Here’s a cool short story. A few weeks ago I had a Skype call with my Moms dad, Sherman Bryan Jennings, or for me and my siblings, “Peeps”. He had something very important to show me. He contributed a certain amount of money to Rotary in my name and explained some of my past “good deeds” to his Rotary Club of Orange Park and how I was going exchange and I have received the Paul Harris Fellow award. I told him how greatly honored I was to receive it and thanked him for doing it for me. That really touched my heart because he is 90 years old now, still a lively young man in my eyes as I always tell him . But he didn’t have to do that and he went out of his way to do something wonderful for another and isn’t that what Rotary is all about?

Anyways, about my current standing with learning Czech. My Czech lessons in school are not very effective for me. I only have one lesson a week after school on Tuesday and it’s only for 30-45 minutes. I have talked to the teacher myself but because of his schedule he could not make more time for us. So now I have two awesome Rotex friends who are helping me out. My good friend Katrina Platkova teaches English in a school and she is my major Czech Grammar teacher now. She gives me lessons for free whenever I have time that works with her schedule and she has made me a HUGE grammar workbook and everything. We normally meet Mondays before my rotary meeting for about an hour, Wednesday after school for about two and a half hours, the same on Friday and on the weekend Saturday or Sunday. She is a great help and I think it’s really speeding up my Czech learning. On my own I do homework from the grammar workbook and I learn words. When I left Florida I knew 218 words from flashcards made from Liz Kane, a Rotex who lived in Czech Republic two years ago. I am really proud of myself because I have taken her general flash card idea and blown the number up from 218 to around 950 words in almost three months. My personal goal is to be the first exchange student in Czech Republic to be functionally fluent a little earlier than halfway through the year. I can already have conversations with adults and teenagers most of the time understanding enough know what they want to say and being able to respond with not so perfect grammar but I know that will come with time and more practice.

So to those of you who took the time to read this, Dekuji moc, Thank you so much and I hoped you enjoyed it. I have also decided to take a different approach to blogs and I’ve started making video blogs on my YouTube channel (Theredsurfer268) about my marvelous stay in the Czech Republic.

Again thank you to Rotary for this incredible opportunity that not too many people can say they have and I promise to use it to the best of my ability. As you can see from this lengthy journal I am making memories for a lifetime here . Thank you for your attention!

Until next time,

Jennings Brower

Jeremy Neal
2011-12 Outbound to Germany
Hometown: South Miami, Florida
School: New World School of the Arts
Sponsor: South Miami Rotary Club, District 6990, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Aalen-Heidenheim, District 1830,

Jeremy - Germany

Jeremy’s Bio


My name is Jeremy Neal, I am 17 years old and am currently a senior at New World School of the Arts High School in downtown Miami, Florida. I have been studying percussion there for the past 3 years and have acquired an immense amount of knowledge through both my school and my friends. I love to skateboard, listen to dubstep, and throw myself into the unknown. For as long as I can remember I have wanted to visit far off lands and experience all there possibly is in order to connect with everything this Earth has to offer. Now I wait with mounting anticipation for one of the most important years of my life: the chance to live abroad in Germany for ONE WHOLE YEAR!!!! Just going around my house poking around in my German-English dictionary has filled me with both anxiety AND ecstatic joy! My goal is to learn an entire page of German each day up until my actual departure.

I must say that for a while the application process for Rotary wasn’t easy. However, after completing my application, making it through my interview alive, and talking in front of my entire sponsor club I’ve realized that it was 100% worth it! I feel as if the Rotary Youth Exchange has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Therefore, I would like to thank the Rotary Club a thousand times over for providing me with the opportunity of a lifetime.

I can feel myself turning a new page in my life as I prepare for an unknown culture vastly different from anything I could possibly imagine. I will be terrified, overjoyed, lonely, and isolated for who knows how long. What I do know, though, is that with every step I take in a new direction I accept into my life confidence, security, and an appreciation for all that is different.

Jeremy’s Journals

First Impressions

Ok so today is October 22, 2011 and I have officially been in Germany for about 6 weeks now. When I found out I was going to Germany I thought I would have a pretty good idea about how life would pan out in my first couple months. As it turns out I was actually right in some of my assumptions but in the area’s I hadn’t anticipated, boy oh boy was I WRONG! Of course at first “it was all a dream come true”, “an absolute vacation”, and “the most amazing experience I was to ever have” (yea I might be poking a little fun at what I’ve seen in the other journals). But I WAS having a blast! I was going out to play “Fussball” with all my host brother’s friends around the neighborhood every day, which consisted of about 5-6 guys and two girls. There were still two weeks of summer left before school started and it was even hot back then (not like it is now, haha… ha… rofl…… lol…… It’s cold!). We went to the outside pool and laid out in the sun playing more and more fussball (soccer, I just can’t seem to get enough of it). But as the weeks slowly rolled by I realized I was starting to catch sight of a problem that was only going to get bigger and more depressing the longer I tried to ignore it, “the language”!!


Sure the first day of school was amazing! With every single girl turning her head to get a good look at “the new kid” who apparently for some reason looks like Edward Cullen (I swear I’m not kidding, I have been addressed as Edward Cullen and asked for my autograph at school. All the guys were even encouraging me to do it) but I decided I was a bit too modest and politely refused they’re advances. How could I not enjoy myself though? I was basking in all the attention being directed at me and it was quite enjoyable, like soaking up the warm rays of the sun. But of course, most unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and I became less and less interesting once my fellow classmates realized they couldn’t easily carry out a conversation with me in GERMAN. So I decided to grab hold of my resolve and plunge into the extremely delicate, confusing, and complicated language of Deutsch, and thus far I’d say I’m doing pretty darn well. After only 6 weeks I feel very confident in my ability to carry out a basic conversation in German with any German individual, provided that individual speaks slowly and coherently in order for me to understand. The experience I must say has been thoroughly enlightening.

Mental Picture

In order to put it in perspective imagine you were a monkey and wanted to go live for a year with a family of Gorilla’s (of course they’re friendly Gorilla’s that are loving and supportive ). At first it’s all fun and exciting but every now and then you get the idea that those Gorilla’s are saying bad thing’s behind your back and after a while your little monkey self wants to understand what’s really going on. So he works his butt off speaking to those Gorillas’ all day every day until a steady bond of love, trust, and respect is established. Yea that’s pretty much my first 6 weeks in a nutshell, haha.


As of today I have gone to Nuremburg to witness the Red Bull BMX World Championship, Ridden a train through the beautiful countryside to the phenomenal city of Stuttgart, visited a famous torture museum in Ansbach, and sailed the Croatian coast for 8 days in a southern tour of its beautiful Islands. I have grasped a basic understanding of German with absolutely no prior knowledge of the language other than 3-4 two hour crash courses with a neighborhood friend (Ken if you’re reading this you’re the best), and am now within a month of fluency. I can already see how this year is going to change me, how it’s going to help me establish and independence and sense of efficiency far beyond my average years. This program is above all other things………. Selfless. Thanks to all. I bid you a de.

January 24, 2012

Ok so today is January 24th and I have been in Germany for almost 6 months now. Half the exchange is over (the HARD half) and I’m pretty much just settling in for the ride right now. People were absolutely right when they said this was going to be a roller coaster. The first 6 months were absolutely, without a doubt, me riding up and up, the pressure building and building before finally releasing into the downward plunge, an easy ride back to home base. So naturally right now in Heidenheim everythings been great. I mean of course I miss my family and everything but my host family at the moment is a dream come true and I get to stay with them till around the middle of April.

School’s mostly boring at the moment because I have to sit through a ton of classes without really understanding them. I’ve been through my share of tough times over here as well. When I was prepared for this exchange I had no idea what I was walking into. I mean sure a lot of the time I was having a blast, but for a period of about 2 months I was battling with a host family and dealing with minor depression in the midst of my every day of life. One major factor I had no idea was going to have such a huge affect on me was the absence of the sun. At first I thought it was nothing and that I could deal with it, but after about a month of weather that was mostly cloudy, cold, and rainy I started to get real with how I really felt. People who are in a constant state of sunshine (aka people who live in Miami) can be subject to depression from lack of sunlight. Its a real thing, and I learned it first hand. But after a while I found outlets for myself to start putting all my energy, and in a sense retreat inward for a while.

I read a lot and just kept trying to make more and more friends, integrating myself more deeply into the social network of my small town. No small easy task, and the key….. learning German. It took me a while but I just kept at it until I actually started getting feedback from my friends and teachers. That I was getting a lot better and that my German was quite good for only beginning to learn and speak it since September. On a more somber note, however, there’s always gonna be some problems that stay consistent throughout an exchange, regardless of all the good things going on. In that regard let me just say that some people lead themselves onto self destructive paths that tend to center on their respective ego’s and there’s nothing I can do about that. I can’t change the way a person thinks… and trust me I’ve tried. Other than that its been absolutely beautiful outside the past week with all the snow coming down in my area. Couple that with the sun and its an absolute winter wonderland over here, which definitely comes as somewhat of a shock to someone who has practically never know snow his whole life.

So yea just to wrap things up I’ve been trying hard to focus on the better aspects of life right now and keeping things real with who and what I am. Being truthful with my friends and more importantly myself has been quite an inward, self-discovering journey that at first I was afraid and quite unsure of, but am now wholly committed to. I’m keeping a journal that I started around Christmas time. Its quite a testament to my life and experiences over here in Germany. I hope that someday if I happen to have a kid of my own that goes on exchange, I can pass it on to him just as my father passed his on to me. Its a powerful thing a journal. Much more powerful than I had previously thought. I hope other exchanges might consider starting one because trust me it guided me through the dark days and led me into the light of a new exchange, a new experience, a new me.

Jilian Sands
2011-12 Outbound to Hungary
Hometown: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
School: Ponte Vedra High School
Sponsor: Ponte Vedra Beach Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Szeged Szent-Györgyi Albert, District 1911,

Jilian - Hungary

Jilian’s Bio

Every year Rotary has come to my school and given a presentation on their youth exchange program and every year I have told myself to apply. This year I finally stopped contemplating and filled out the program application. And I am very happy I did because I will be going to Hungary for my senior year!

While school takes up the majority of my time, in terms of hobbies, I enjoy anything having to do with tennis, whether it be playing or watching, baking, though only deserts, because when I try to cook, the food usually burns, reading, watching movies, listening to music, and spending time with my family and friends. I also enjoy visiting my sister and brother- in- law in New York City a few times each year (this year’s visits included a week-long pastry making class and attending the US Open).

I love traveling and have been to several countries outside the US with my mom (including the UK and Italy). I enjoy learning about other countries, their histories and their cultures. I am so grateful that I have been given this incredible opportunity to learn not only about a new culture but even more about myself. I know this experience will shape many decisions I make in my life going forward. So thank you so much Rotary for what is sure to be an incredibly difficult, but rewarding once in a lifetime experience.

Jilian’s Journals

September 24, 2011

I arrived in Hungary a day short of a month ago. Acknowledging this also meant it was time for me to write a journal, my first journal to be exact and I’ve been staring at my computer screen for about an hour now trying to figure out how to start it, so this will just have to do…

My flights from Jacksonville to Atlanta to Amsterdam to Budapest were really easy, while only one delayed flight and even then it was only for about half an hour and we were already on the plane. I didn’t learn how easy they were until I arrived in Hungary and Nicole, another exchange student in Szeged from California, told me about her flights which unexpectedly included an eighteen hour layover in JFK, which I guess is a future caution to never fly internationally (or domestically) through JFK.

My first weekend here, I went to Dabas with my YEO, his wife, brother- in-law, and Raymond, one of the other exchange students in Szeged from Taiwan, for a small fish soup festival. There I also met some other inbounds from who are currently live in Kecskemét. It was my first time trying fish soup, but I was told it was solely for preparation of the fish soup festival that happens in Szeged every year. This brings me to the following weekend, when the exchange students from Pécs, Dabas, Kecskemét, and Szeged gathered with the Rotary club in Szeged for the festival. Although you would think that there would be little difference in fish soups, that not true, and the one we had in Szeged was just a little bit better, maybe it was the fact that there were no fish eggs in it, I’m not sure.

School here is a bit confusing, but as I’m in mostly English, Spanish, and PE classes, it’s not too bad, though at times I am honestly surprised when I walk into the halls and hear Hungarian. My school, which I’m told is the best in the city, is located just outside of the city center, so whenever we get out early Nicole and I walk around a bit and explore some.

My favorite night so far in Hungary came about a week and a half ago, when my Rotary club took Nicole, Sami (exchange student from Argentina), and I to Serbia for one of their parties. It may seem random that we’d go to Serbia for a party, but as it was less than an hour bus ride (including crossing the border) it wasn’t that unusual. While in Serbia, I watched some traditional Hungarian dances, and learned a bit myself, had dinner and a tiny bite of what was described to me as “Bambi” and a dessert filled with poppy seeds.

I have gotten used to a sort of weekend schedule, at least one for Sundays: the whole family (including my host aunt, her family, and the exchange student they are hosting) go to my host grandparents house for lunch, which actually really convenient seeing at we all live within a three house radius of one another. Sunday afternoons are when the fun really begins, either my host family or host aunt have a Ping Pong Party at their house. Neighbors and friends come over for a few hours to play multiple tournaments of doubles ping pong.

Last weekend, I spent the night at Nicole’s house where we made chocolate chip cookies for her host family. Needless to say they were a success and were almost gone by the next morning. I don’t know if chocolate chips are sold in Hungary, but Nicole’s host mom declared that if they are sold somewhere, she will find them.

My host family here is really great. I get along really well with my host sisters (Lili and Réka) and I end up getting most of my Hungarian help from them. My host parents remind me a lot of my parents back home, which has made it a lot easier to adjust here. Most times during the week, I end up watching either Game of Thrones with my host parents, or Desperate Housewives with my younger host sister Réka. Both of which are dubbed in Hungarian, so it makes following the shows a bit difficult, but when we walk movies there are usually English subtitles for me to be able to follow.

It may sounds weird, but at times I forget that I’m in the middle of Europe, in a country that speaks one of the most difficult languages in the world, but then you notice things like:

• Stoplights don’t just go from red to green, then go from red to red and yellow, then to green.

• At school you stand up when the teacher comes into the room.

• There is no lunch break at school, only a twenty minute break at eleven, but people are constantly eating throughout the day.

• You take the city bus to school; something I think is much better, if you miss one another comes ten minutes later.

• Ping Pong and foosball are everywhere

Although this past month has not been easy, it has been amazing. So thank you to my family and Florida Rotary!

Joe Lacinak
2011-12 Outbound to Kyrgyzstan
Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: Buchholz High School
Sponsor: Gainesville Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Bishkek, District 2430, Kyrgyzstan

Joe - Kyrgyzstan

Joe’s Bio


Hello, my name is Joe Lacinak and I live in Gainesville, FL. I attend Buchholz High School as a freshman, and could not be happier with my acceptance into the RYE program. Next year, I will be living in Kyrgyzstan. I feel extremely special to be going to Kyrgyzstan for the reasons of being the only RYE Florida student going there, and for being the first. Kyrgyzstan, which is in Central Asia, is exposed to several different cultures such as the Chinese, the Russian and the Uzbeks. Kyrgyzstan is a blend of many different cultures which makes it perfect for a RYE student.

As soon as I found out I was going on exchange in Kyrgyzstan, I started studying Russian immediately. Knowing that Russian is a fairly difficult language, I jumped right on it, starting with their alphabet. I am very lucky to have the inbound from Kyrgyzstan, Aidana, living in my city to help me with the Russian language and Kyrgyz culture.

Outside of school, I enjoy studying foreign languages, so it is no problem for me to keep up with my Russian studies. Other than languages I enjoy attending football games, practicing art, playing tennis and volunteering.

I am very eager to travel and have been very lucky enough to visit Costa Rica, Mexico and the Bahamas. Being a RYE student is something I have wanted to do for a long time and I’m very excited make my journey half way across the world to what I will call home in about seven months.

I could never thank Rotary enough for this unique, life changing opportunity. My gratitude to the Rotary program is endless for giving me a chance of a lifetime. It is because of them that I will be able to gain familiarly with a new culture and make it my own. I would also like to thank my family, for pushing me to my fullest potential and allowing me to be a part of this rare opportunity.

I am very excited for this upcoming year, and I have no doubt in my mind that it will be the absolute best year of my life!

Do svidaniya moi druz’ya!

Joe’s Journals

September 9th

almost 3 weeks in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

I arrived in Manas International Airport (Which is also a US Military base) at somewhere around 4:00 in the morning. I had a total of five flights and was exhausted. A man waved me through customs and immigrations and I continued to find my two bags with the help of 3 old Kyrgyz ladies that I befriended on my flight from Turkey. I walked out of the terminal to see a large group of people holding up a bunch of signs. I spotted one with my name on it and was greeted by my host father, Ruslan, and my host aunt Gulmeera. The drive back from the airport was nothing short of terrifying. My host father drove well over a hundred miles an hour. Seat belts? I don’t think so! After we dropped off aunt Gulmeera at her apartment building, for the remainder of the drive, my host dad started talking really fast in Russian and Kyrgyz, and I had no idea what he was saying. I decided to repeat the last word he would say, nod, and say yes. It seemed to work. We arrived home, I was showed to my room, then I slept until about 1:00 in the afternoon. My first day, my host dad, my 11 year old brother Beklar and I went to the mountains. From where we were standing, we could see all of Bishkek. He pointed his finger to the north and told me that that was Kazakhstan. Later, we went into the city with aunt Gulmeera and went out to lunch. I tried sheep for the first time, and surprisingly, it was actually really good. I’ve also tried ram, lamb, horse, fermented horse milk, and the most memorable, dried, salted, horse milk that was rolled into balls… After lunch, they showed me the city, then it was time to go to sleep.

     I started school a week ago, and its been great. All of my classmates are kind, and helpful, so it was easy to make friends. None of my teachers speak English, and only a few of my classmates do, so my Russian is improving quickly, especially since my host family doesn’t either. In school, I doodle, attempt to take notes, answer ridiculous questions the students ask me ( Such as, “Have you met Denzel Washington?” “Joe, do you love me?” “Sarah Palin is the queen of Alaska, right?” And many more) sleep, study Russian and make friends. School is only from 8:00 to 11:30, so the rest of the day is usually spent walking around the city, going to parks, visiting one of the countless bazaars, and much more. To get home from school, I take the Marshrutka. The Marshrutka is a brightly colored minibus that if you pay 2 cents, will take you to a destination in the city. Lets just say you get what you pay for. There are about 8 seats in a Marshrutka but today I counted 32 people in one. Usually, I have one hand on my wallet, and one hand on the pole holding for dear life. It’s basically a god send to have a seat on a Marshrutka. When you need to get off, you yell, “остановить!!” (Stop!!) And the driver will slam on the brakes and give you about 2 seconds to get off.

      Kyrgyzstan is not a perfect country, it has many problems, and it’s not hard to see them/be exposed to them in daily life here. The poverty, ethnic tensions, corruption, the lack of sanitation, it was very shocking for me my first week here. But now that I’m becoming more used to it, I’m starting to see past it all and I’m now enjoying myself. Its not uncommon to have little girls trying to dig in your pockets and steal your money, or see the poverty. Its not strange anymore to see men passed out drunk on the sidewalk, or literally walk in trash sometimes because of almost nonexistent sanitation system. I’m not trying to talk people out of going to Kyrgyzstan, its a wonderful country, with welcoming people, and strong vibrant culture, but I’m not going to lie either and only tell the sunny side of things. Future exchange students should try to understand that when they get off that plane, their lives are going abruptly change. Nothing can prepare you for his experience, but try to come with no expectations, because it will never be what you thought it would be. I would like to thank my family in Florida for all the support whom I miss dearly, and for the Rotarians that made this all possible. THANK YOU!

Here’s just some of the differences and things I’ve noticed in Kyrgyzstan

-Kyrgyz squirrels are orange

-Stray dogs are everywhere, and sometimes they run in packs around town

-If you go out in the country or suburbs, cows, horses, sheep and even camels can be seen in the streets

-Women here either dye their hair either  maroon or blonde

-There are large holes, and random metal object sticking out of the ground always waiting to trip me

-Gypsies hate getting there photo taken, and sometimes may try to give you a cat

-After almost 3 weeks, my 5 year old host sister Ademi, many classmates, and most of the teachers think my name is John

-Kyrgyzstan is a Muslim country, but sometimes you’ll see a women in a full burqa next to a women in high heals and a mini skirt

-A few days ago I saw a man carrying a baby cow on a moped

Asalaam Alakoum, eshterim zhakshi bi? For all you non Kyrgyz speakers out there, Hello everyone, how’s life?

People always want to know what it is like to live in Kyrgyzstan, so I am going to do my best in this journal to explain. As of right now, Central Asia is the least explored region of the world. It has earned nicknames such as “Land of The Stans”, Because Central Asia consists of Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan. Another nickname, is ‘Absurdistan’. All the Central Asian countries (excluding Afghanistan) were once part of the Soviet Union. Now, 21 years later, there is a movement in these countries to reclaim their identity as Kyrgyz or Tajiki, their religion Islam, their culture, and of course their language. Kyrgyzstan has two official languages- Kyrgyz and Russian. My Russian is far better than my Kyrgyz, but I am learning both.

I have a few favorite pass times here in Bishkek. Americans may like to watch Football, but the National sport of Kyrgyzstan, Ulaktartish is far more entertaining. Ulaktartish is an old game played by nomadic Kyrgyz. It is a mix of Rugby and Polo, on horseback, but instead of a ball, the Kyrgyz people decided to use a decapitated goat carcass. Nothing sets off the weekend like an Ulaktartish party. The city of Bishkek is filled with many bazaars (Outdoor markets). Bishkek also contains the largest bazaar in Central Asia- Dordoi Bazaar. However, my personal favorite is Osh Bazaar. I’m not sure how to explain Osh Bazaar. This market in particular is known for being dangerous, hectic, loud and dirty. Whoever told me that was right! Osh Bazaar is a place where you can by fruits and vegetables, dishwashers, any part of a sheep, knock off purses and bags, your neighbors cow, basically anything possible. If you visit, make sure you are a good bargainer, keep your hand on your wallet, and never look the gypsies in the eyes.

Kyrgyzstan is still highly undeveloped. 3/5 million of Kyrgyzstan citizens either live in small villages in extreme isolation, or are still practicing nomads. If taking a trip outside Bishkek, you are bound to see a LOT of yurts. What is a yurt? Well, a yurt is a circular felt tent made of animal skins, and nomadic Kyrgyz still live in them with their cattle, and migrate seasonally. However, not all the nomadic traditions are acceptable nowadays, although still practiced. One ‘tradition’ is bride kidnappings. Some nomadic Kyrgyz families believe it is socially acceptable if a young woman is not married, that a man has the right to forcefully take her and force her to do so. Most of the time, families of the groom and of the bride know about the wedding. Once the girl has the wedding veil on, the wedding evident in Kyrgyz culture. Approx 1/3 of Kyrgyz marriages are bride kidnappings or forcefully arranged. But, this is only practiced in small villages or in nomadic families. There are many human rights groups working in Kyrgyzstan against this practice.

Kyrgyzstan is 95 % mountains, and it is filled with high mountain lakes (Second highest in the world) forests, barin landscapes and rolling hills of the Tien Shan. Kyrgyzstan is a very ethnically diverse country, There are 40 ethnic groups, and out of my class of 25, there are 3 Uzbeks, 2 Russians, 2 Uighyurs , 1 Korean and an Afghan, all of which are from Kyrgyzstan.

Northern Kyrgyzstan, where Bishkek lies, is currently safe and peaceful. Southern Kyrgyzstan is both culturally vibrant and extremely unstable due to rising ethnic tensions with Uzbekistan. The southern cities of Jalal-Abad and Osh, endured the worst violence in Kyrgyzstan ever 2 years ago because of ethnic fighting. Also in 2010, Kyrgyzstan’s former President Kurmanbak Bakiyev fled the country after violent protests erupted in Bishkek. As I said in my first journal, I am not going to only tell the sunny side of things.

I am SO so happy that I was chosen to spend my year in Kyrgyzstan. Despite the problems the country may have, I LOVE Kyrgyzstan, and it is my home. Time is going by quickly now, and I am able to speak comfortably in Russian, but I still have far to come on my Kyrgyz. Again, THANK YOU ROTARY! Anyone who is thinking about applying for Exchange, please do it!


January 1st, 2012

Over 4 months in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan!

Happy New year!

NOVEMBER: In November, Kyrgyzstan had its presidential elections. This was very interesting to observe since the past presidential elections haven’t exactly gone smoothly. But luckily for me, there was no major rioting and only minor protests. In the end, Almazbek Atambaev won, and is now the current president of Kyrgyzstan. I also got to go to his inauguration. Soon after that, I went to the namaz prayer with my first host father. I had never seen so many people in one place before. Thousands of Muslim men all congregated together and prayed. it was definitely one of the more interesting things I’ve witnessed.

A week later, the Rotaract president and friend of mine, Daniyar, called me and asked me if I wanted to go with him and his parents to western Kyrgyzstan for the weekend. I said why not? The next day I was off to the village of Dzongtala in the Issyk Kul region of Kyrgyzstan. It was a five hour drive from Bishkek, and we drove on the border of Kazakhstan for a 2 hours then drove in the windy roads in the Tien Shan. Finally, we reached a mountain peak where we could see the village. Near the border of China,. nestled in the Tien Shan, Dzongtala is a small village filled with more sheep, cows, donkeys and horses I have ever seen in my life. It is home to a few hundred people, and I was told I am the only foreigner these people have ever seen, and for most the only one they will ever see.

The purpose of the visit was to finalize the marriage of one Daniyar’s cousins. After a couple has been married and had there first child, the marriage is only finalized when the child has taken its first steps. While on the property, I saw that his family had a large number of animals. I befriended a nice sheep that I named Jonathan. Later that night, Jonathan was tied up and brought out for everyone to see. I thought everyone was going to pet it, but then I saw the knife being pulled out, and only then did I realize Jonathan was dinner. While everyone else was chowing down on Jonathan, I was told ‘Oh eat him Joe! Jonathan is delicious!’ I was also told that this family goes through 3 ‘Jonathans’ a month. The next day, I went Donkey riding and horse back riding in the Tien Shan. I have never felt more Kyrgyz.

The mountains surrounding the village are so high and beautiful, all of which are snow covered. I also was able to see how poor most of Kyrgyzstan really is. Most of the homes are made of mud, and are falling apart. The water system is horrible, and most people have to walk to a river about a mile from the village to obtain drinkable water. Rotaract in Bishkek is hoping to do a water project there, which I’m hoping to help with.

DECEMBER: Christmas wasn’t exactly ‘Christmas’. On Christmas Eve. Two other exchange students, Josette from Alaska, and Greg from Nebraska and I went to an American restaurant Called Metro Pub. The only American restaurant in Bishkek that has food that actually tastes like American food, crazy right? We exchanged our presents and had fun. The place was flooding with Americans. Believe it or not, Bishkek has a large number of American expats because of the American military base. I can’t tell you how many American contractors I met that night.

On Christmas day, I woke up, and opened up my presents from America. I then went to one of the 2 churches in Bishkek with my English teacher from school who is from Russia. After that, I went home and watched Madea’s family Reunion on TV in Russian, took a nap, then Skyped my family back home. It wasn’t exactly ‘Christmas’, but it wasn’t so bad. A few days ago, Josette and I were walking in a department store and ran into a pair of American flight attendants who were stuck in Bishkek for the week. They work for OMNI air, transporting American soldiers in Countries like Kyrgyzstan, Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Anyways, we served as their tour guides and translators for the day. We showed them the biggest bazaar in Central Asia, took them on their first marshrutka ride, laughed at their reaction to fermented horse milk, and so much more. We had a great time. They will be back in Bishkek in about a month and hope to do something similar again.

NEW YEARS: On New Years Eve, I went bazaar shopping with my host brother and later that evening I went and visited my first host family. They were all happy to see me, and my little sister Ademi, who’s 5 insisted on me being a ‘horse’ and running around the house while she was on my back. I went back to my new host family and celebrated with them. My host grandma came over, and a few of my host cousins. it was a lot of fun, and I even got a home made ‘Shyrdak’, a wool blanket that my host mom hand made.

Next week, the other exchange students and I may go on a day trip to the neighboring city of Tokmok for fun. In April my American parents are coming to visit and in may, I hopefully will go to Turkey for my district conference. I’m half way through my exchange, and I can hardly believe it. Time is going by all too fast, and I’m told it will only go faster after Christmas. Congratulations and good luck to all the newly selected outbounds! Until next time


February 2, 2012

Feb 2nd- over 5 months in Kyrgyzstan

I can’t believe I’m over my half way point already, time really flies, but I’m really enjoying my self here.

In January, me, Josette (Alaska) and my friend Jason who is a Peace Corp volunteer in Bishkek were able to get a tour of the American Military base outside Bishkek. It was strange being around so many Americans again, I noticed how much I’ve changed culturally and felt almost out of place at times. The soldiers were very interested in us, since civilians are seldom allowed on base. Everyone was so nice to us, and they let us steal some of the American food and bring it back to Bishkek with us. I am now in possession of a ridiculous amount of Poptarts. I thought it was funny that some of the soldiers who lived on base didn’t even know how to say Kyrgyzstan. The military personnel often do charity work in the more impoverished areas of Kyrgyzstan. They told us about projects such as distributing coats, rebuilding homes, and helping with clean water supply which is a big problem in rural parts of the country.

The next weekend, I went snow skiing. I went with a few people from a Rotaract group, up in the mountains maybe an hour from Bishkek. I was told that they would have bunny slopes and easier hills to try first, since I have never skied before. Well, it turned out that they didn’t, the only slopes offered were extremely advanced, steep, and impossible for a beginner. I decided to give it a shot. I fell the grand total of 42 times. At first I thought I could do it, then the skis just started going super fast, and that’s when I realized this just wasn’t going to work out. After falling a bunch, I tried a new method by trying to lay down on my belly, and try to boogie board down the mountain. This resulted in a series of bruises all over me. Next, I tried to slide down on my back, but was almost ran over by some people who could actually stand up on there skis, so in the end, I walked, slid, and fell down the mountain until the bottom which took about 2 hours. I have decided I never want to ski again. But no one can say I didn’t try.

A few days ago, me and my friends Islam and Nursalton decided to go to Tokmok for the day. Tokmok is a smaller city an hour and a half away from Bishkek. We took a taxi on the way there, and we were slowed down on the way because a herd of sheep got into the road. I heard my taxi driver mumble, “I just got instantly hungry”. When we arrived, we got lunch at some tiny cafe along the road. one thing I noticed about Tokmok was that there were so many animals everywhere. In Bishkek, sometimes there is a herd or some cattle, but here, there were cows in the backs of trucks, in the road, herds everywhere. I asked them why, and they explained that there is a large animal market in Tokmok. We all decided to go see it for the experience. Well, I am very glad we ate before, because the animal market was downright disgusting. People were selling every farm animal imaginable, dead and alive. I saw people pushing cows into there car, on top of there car, on the trailer, everything. One old lady was selling live goats from the trunk of her car. If you all can imagine what this all looks like, imagine what it smells like…After that experience, we wanted fresh air. Just past the market, there were mountains and a field, and we went for a walk there. After about 30 minutes, a military jeep came zooming towards us. The soldiers were neither Kyrgyz nor American, so we were all confused. The soldiers began speaking to to my friends, and I realized we had wandered into Kazakhstan! We were told we had to leave, but not before I got an action pose photo of me in Kazakhstan.

Thank you all for reading!

John Rust
2011-12 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: Tallahassee, Florida
School: Maclay School
Sponsor: Tallahassee Capital Rotary Club, District 6940, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of São Paulo Cambuci, District 4430, Brazil

John - Brazil

John’s Bio

Ola! my name is John Rust and next year I will be living in Brazil! This has been an ongoing dream that started just five years ago. My older brother, Benjamin, went to Argentina on a similar trip, except his lasted just three months. I planned to go to aSouth American country after he came back and raved about how awesome it was to live as a foreign exchange student. Being accepted into this program has been a dream come true, and I know that if my trip is anywhere near as good as his was, it will be the most amazing nine months of my life. The summer from my sophomore to junior year, I went on a thirty day trip to Europe with a Florida State University Humanities program. After traveling through six countries, I was officially hooked on traveling. I realized the previous sixteen years of my life had been wasted. I realized it is practically wasting the world if someone doesn’t travel. Living in the same house all my life and not going out of the country was like being a wild tiger stuck in a cage. Being a foreign exchange student is more than just traveling. It is learning a new language and even a new lifestyle, while making new friends and sometimes even a new family.

As for now, I already have a fairly large family. I have two older brothers, an older sister, and of course, parents. My three dogs and one cat make things fairly hectic. Luckily, just one of my brothers and I live at home, but we both plan on leaving this next year.

I can already tell this next year will be the best one of my life so far. The rotary club has blessed me with this tremendous opportunity to represent my club and country as i travel to Brazil next year. Obrigado ao Rotary!}

John’s Journals

Last week marked my first two months in Brasil, and I couldn´t be happier! All that I have done in this short time feels like a fun filled blur that I wish would slow down. I will try to fill you all in from the beginning.

My exchange started after waiting in my house for about two months for the day to finally arrive. Before that point, I had failed to have a going away party and had basically just picked up my things and let without saying goodbye to all my friends. At that point I had waited about nine months for this adventure of a lifetime, and waiting a little longer wasn´t really an option. The day had come so I woke up and drove about three hours to the Jacksonville airport. When it was time to say goodbye to my mom and brother, (The only ones in my family who could find time to come with me) not a tear was shed and hardly any emotion from anyone was shown. It felt like I was going on a trip for spring break, and then just not coming back for a long long long time. After the exhausting trip to Sao Paulo, I was finally in my new home for the next year. Getting home was the scariest part, because i wasn´t sure if I would make it home alive. Drivers here have to be the worst I have seen in my life, because every moment feels like the last lap o the Daytona 500. Arriving at my house was the only time I have had one of those panicking moments. I opened the door and could basically see my whole house in one look, mainly because my apartment is about the size of my kitchen back at home. That night was the first time using the metro, which involved about 200 people trying to get into one train cart at the same time. I almost got pushed on the track but I thought it was so much fun! My first week went by eating, sleeping, and tring to learn the basics of Portuguese.

My first day of school was one of my favorite memories thus far. The way everyone talks about you and wants to meet you is truly a great experience, even if it doesn´t last that long. My first class was me surrounded by the entire class with everyone asking questions. I wouldnt have been able to survive this without my translator and good friend now, Ricardo. School here is very different here because the students stay in the same classroom and the teachers move around. I like this way of a classroom because my class is a room of best friends, and they have already taken me into their group.

All the guys are aspiring bodybuilders and grade each others biceps daily, like they are at a dog show being judged. When I´m not at school I´m usually lying soccer with kids half my size who kick my butt, or hanging out with my friends or 23 year old host brother, who makes a great substitute for my 23 year old brother at home.

Another hobby of mine here in Brasil is eating like its the last meal of my life, which is probably why my host mom makes fun of me and calls me “gorginho” which is basically little fat boy, but she is the one who feeds me in the first place so I think she enjoys it. My language has been progressing at an expoential rate, and I have gotten the compliment several times that i speak the bes out of any exchange sudent they have met after only two months. This is encouraging me to learn every day to try to reach the maximum point of fluency.

Overall Brasil has been a dream come true and I couldn´t ask for anything better! I have amazing trips coming up and I am super excited to see what the future holds for my wonderful exchange.

Kate Sprehn
2011-12 Outbound to Croatia
Hometown: Fort Myers, Florida
School: Bishop Verot High School
Sponsor: Fort Myers Rotary Club, District 6960, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Zagreb, District 1910, Croatia

Kate - Croatia

Kate’s Bio

Reading through many of the blogs on “RYE Florida”, I can’t help but be intimidated, but also inspired to make my path in CROATIA next year. My name is Kathryn Sprehn, but I go by Kate because “Kathryn” implies a sense of antiquity whereas “Kate” is short, bold, unique, and opinionated, much like myself. As “Kate” I live with my wonderful and fantastic parents, Sue and George, as well as my 3 sisters (yes, that’s right, no brothers  ): Kelly (24), Sara (22), and Nancy (18). I will be 15 until September 21, 2011. This is exciting because one of the birthdays I celebrate with my new friends and family will be mine!

I attend a small Catholic school by the name of Bishop Verot High School. I have made wonderful and inspiring friends through lunches, school functions, projects, and dances. Next year I will surely and deeply miss all of them, but I’m sure our friendship will stick no matter what because our love for each other has grown unconditionally over the past 2 years. Although I am not a sporty person, I participate in Cross Country (running); it keeps me focused and is a great stress reliever. Besides running, I take interest in dance, drama, and music. I am addicted to all and aspire to keep all these desires in my heart throughout life. In the music department I am starting to pick up piano again while my sisters and dad play the guitar. I love acting and I participate in many a family skit as well as summer programs. In middle school, I danced competitively, but now I dance just for fun with my goofy sisters and friends.

I am very thankful for this opportunity to make my own shadows under the Mediterranean sun. I am incredibly excited to be going to Croatia; too, because my grandfather was a second generation American from CROATIA…family roots, here I come! THANK YOU Rotary Youth Exchange!

Kate’s Journals

September 5

Today was my first day of school. Like I always do, on our way into school and while my teacher was introducing me I was thinking the worst. The kids won’t like me, we’ll have a whole day of school and I’ll probably puke at the end, you know the stuff everyone thinks on the first day of school. But the fact of the matter is, is that I made 5 potential friends today without doing anything. The people here are really nice and learned that even in a completely foreign situation, most teenagers act the same. We talk loud and dread school, but we do have undersides, which are funny, inviting, hungry, sleepy, and emotional. Now I have to tell the truth, it is 12:30 in Croatia and I have been asleep for the last 8 hours. Why? Because I suffered a continuous headache over the weekend and today and I did not want to be here this afternoon. My host family is incredible, the people are incredible, but I got lost today and started thinking how nice it would be to run away and just start backpacking Europe. I’d have a year, stay back in school, but I wouldn’t have to deal with not knowing the language and not having to deal with the frustration of not knowing the language and not having this growing jealousy because they can speak in English and carry on a conversation like no tomorrow. In Croatian, I translate sentences in my head, but my courage fails so I end up saying Da or Ne, or Ne znam. I’m working on it, but it still is slow going. Another thought wave begins with, is this real or a dream? It has registered in me that I am in Croatia without my friends, family, teachers, etc. I have realized the different cultural aspects and accepted them. I am getting used to the dreaded inclines that plague the country and I am forming a new life here. But, I don’t feel any different. I am not awed by the dream of it, and I am not depressed by the reality of it. I feel like the same old timid person that over analyzes the most innocent Bok!We shall see how it is at the end of the year, but I wouldn’t like to bore you with all m

 Now on to the good stuff. In the last week I have gone to the Maximir zoo and gawked at my favorite animals, the wolf, Griffons (yes they are real ☺), and snowy owls (which I thought was a pathetic afterlife for Hedwig). My first Rotary weekend has just past and that was amazing!!! If I ever here the work idemo again in context to walking fast to the ferry at 6:20 AM, I will lie down and sleep out of rebellion. But it was good I made 4 amazing friends and am nice to everyone. Three of the four live in Verazdin and Ryssa and I live in Zagreb. Zagreb is a huge city compared to the good ol’ Fort, but I can walk it, get lost without crying, and wonder how backwards my hometown really is….That is my cynical brain, but I won’t be typing that…ever. Anyways we beached it up not for the last time and the water looked like a swimming pool with nothing to be afraid of (if Delia is reading this). The sand has transformed into rocks that bruise me feet, but other than that, the beach is the place to be. Before Bol, the island/beach weekend, I went out with my host sister’s best friends Marina and Petra. They showed me the old part of the downtown area and really want to explore more when I find time. Sorry for skipping around, but I don’t think when I write, I just write.

My host family is marvelous, they keep feeding me and feeding me, so I have to keep up a strong exercising regiment so I don’t come back fat! But besides eating, Sandra is incredible and cooks, cleans, works and picks me up when I am lost. Dario is awesome and I now get to proofread a new book that’s coming out soon about the war and concentration camps in Croatia. I know I declared I would never read a book like this again, but I hope to be writing this stuff to expose corruption in our world later one so I better get over the disgust, and emotional part of just reading about it. He also has A LOT of other projects including managing his son’s, D

ino’s, singing career. Dino is a really good singer, but still trying to make the big break. He is really nice and makes sure that I am doing all right, which is saying something to the general male population of 16-20. Dino is 19, if you were wondering. Bruno, my little brother, is the person I speak most Croatian with because he doesn’t speak a lot of English and I don’t feel embarrassed around him. He is just as hyper as any 7 year old ☺. So this was the introduction course to my year abroad. I hope you keep reading and don’t mind a teacher that is scatter brained. I promise the next one will be more organized. So long, farewell, Bok, Chao, Vidimo!!!

Okie Dokes, ovo je drug mjesec. This is the second month! I can’t believe it’s already October. My tests start next week in Croatian school! I’m don’t know what to do, but whenever I am unsure of something in Zagreb, it always works out. I have a major support system here starting with my Host Family, which is amazing. We fit together like puzzle pieces and my friends here are great as well. I spend most of my time with my classmates at school and they’ve helped me a lot along the way. Last month, they helped me out with starting conversations and this month I don’t know what is going to happen, but it is going to be amazing!

The dream has finally hit me that I am in Croatia, with friends, and learning a new language! I feel that the possibilities for adventure will never stop and my weekends are filling up. My two best friends here are Rotary exchangers, but they live in Verazdin, about an hour away from here, so I don’t see them too often. This is good, because now I have managed to hang out with every person in my class 3E whether it is in a big group or a walk down the hall during our 5-minute breaks between classes.

I have also hiked a mountain twice, ran a race, and I’m running another race on Sunday, and I have joined European Youth Parliament. These accomplishments have made me so much happier. Before, I was lost and felt misfit for the country Rotary picked for me, but now I see their reasoning and totally agree that I should be in Croatia. The people are almost exactly like me and we are all not afraid to voice our opinions.

The Rotary club here is excellent as well. They have taken us to Bol, Plitvice, their pre-historic museum, and a castle! They emotions are running high here, and I believe I’m changing for the better. I now keep my room tidy out of choice, not chore, I make sure I tell people what’s going on with me, and I’m becoming more independent. I now do not wait for people to tell me what to do or where to go, but ask them, which has been my biggest obstacle yet. In September, I don’t know if I was just too shocked or what, but I became an observer of life, which is very hypocritical of my philosophies. I believe in doing stuff and having a schedule that doesn’t fit in the day because it means you’re alive and social. In September, I was this lost lamb or sheep trying to find my way, but I think the turning point was my birthday. My friends from here threw a surprise party for my Sweet 16 and it made me realize that they accepted me and that I actually could “disrupt” their lives for a year. This month I feel that I am becoming part of their life, not disrupting it and it feels really good. They accepted me before I accepted them, so I wondered if they were nice out of pity or reality. It was really tough for me to get over that my friends nor my family were here with me, but now I miss them, but I feel better knowing that I’ve made a new family and new friends that will support me to their best abilities.

A culture shock point is that they have a higher sense of duty to another person. Whenever I ask what something is or where something is they will either come back the next day with a whole list of details or explain something until I understand it, which takes a while at 8 o’clock in the morning. Now, I know my family and friends over there will be wondering why I am not awake at 8 when I’m used to school starting at 730, but I wake up at the same time as if I was in the states, because I take a bus and a tram to school….by myself.

The transportation here is incredible. There are a lot of cars, but these trams are overflowing in the mornings and afternoons because people actually use them to go places. They have an awesome set up for public transportation, but the government is lacking money to fund all the routes. It is still going strong though. There are also a lot of bikes, not as many as in Verazdin (named the biking city of Croatia), but Zagreb has convenient bike racks for those biking to work, or anywhere, and they have very wide sidewalks so bikes—and motorcycles—ride along while others walk. It’s a bit scary at first, but you get used to it after a while.

In school, I take 17 classes, but most classes are from last year so I know what they are talking about, a little. Last week I just started making out words coming from the teachers mouths, because in September I thought they were all mumbling and it frustrated me a lot. Anyways, I can decipher words, but I’m not up to translating yet. I’m ok with it though because 1) It’s a super hard language with a bunch of nuances and 2) I know the language will come with time. At the moment my desk mate, Petra, lends me her notebook so I can write the Croatian down, and now I have to translate them for next week. Hopefully by the end of the year, I will have 9 months worth of bi-lingual notes! I know it’s dorky of me, but I think it’s pretty cool.

My 2 most interesting classes are Sociology and Psychology. They are part of my top 3 classes, but my favorite this year is Spanish. I know it sounds weird that I didn’t pick one of the easier classes, like Logic, but I feel in my own world there. I’ve loved the Spanish language since I started learning it in high school and my sisters have learned it and are mostly fluent, so it’s kind of like a bond holding us together through my exchange. It’s a little unnerving though, because everyone in the class is from 3c not 3e, so I’m intimidated to talk to people, but I hope in time I can go up to one of them and have a decent conversation.

I hope I haven’t bored anyone, but I don’t get to say all this in my skype conversations, which don’t happen very often.

6 months down, 4 months to go. This year has been still unbelievable and there are still 4 months to go! What else can possibly happen? Everything. This weekend after a winter much like Florida, well like Florida as in no snow, we now get 2 or 3 inches of snow per day. At first I thought I wouldn’t want to go out since it would be so cold, but I can’t stop wishing to be out in the elements and have my hands numb because of my insufficient gloves. This past weekend, I threw my first snowball (which is kind of pathetic and funny at the same time) and I walked on water! Now I live by a canal, so after church my little sister, her friend, and I walked home and climbed down into the ditch to slide on the ice. It was a little scary when the first layer of ice broke under my feet, but the second layer caught us and it was fun trying to not fall in. It was thrilling and I’ve always wanted to walk on water, so I took the opportunity.

Another opportunity has arisen with the 2012 EuroTour hosted by the Austrians. I know I want to go, but I am still thinking of resourceful ways to pay my parents back for helping me pay for the trip. We start in Austria and spend 17 days in May circling Europe, hitting Prague, Bruxelles, Paris, Andorra, Barcelona, and other cities I can’t think of at the moment. We travel by bus and we travel with 100 or so other Austrian students. Then, after May I have a month of school left and then I leave to return to America, June 20th. Writing all this down makes me want to slow down time because it seems all too dream like.

My parents come in April for Easter ☺. I cannot wait to show them MY life in MY country. I haven’t had the easiest time here, but it is supposed to be the hardest year of one’s life. I want to show them how I can navigate the city, speak Croatian in a café and just everything. I want to show them where I hang out with friends, my two wonderful host families, the area of Zagreb, and the mountain I live under, Slijeme. It means “The Summit” and is part of the mountain range “Medvjed” which means “bear”. If you take the roots of “Medvjed” it translates to “Honey eater”. That is your language lesson for the time being.

The Masquerade is coming up. I think it’s next week, but I have no idea. It’s a typical feeling as an exchange student, not knowing what’s going on, but you jump in and learn as you go. I like it best that way so I don’t dread or regret anything, I just live. It’s really nice living in the present because anything could happen. I think this is the one skill that has developed from nothing during my experience. While in America, I was always planning something whether it happened or not, planning what I would do if I didn’t have homework, planning what I would do with my friends, and planning time with my parents. Here I just am. I plan an outline of something, but they usually don’t work out. I wake up anticipating the day, but since I don’t know what adventures will find me and where they will take me, I don’t dread or regret anything. It’s a beautiful thing and I’m happy that I have found how to just be. Gran ted, I do have restless days where I’m asking a bazillion questions and can’t focus on anything, but they have become less frequent and it’s a good feeling.

For new exchange students:

What advice can I give you before you leave in 4 or 5 months? Practice your language, practice your communication skills, and practice your patience. When you find something taking an extremely long time from a Tram not working or slamming into a car, or the kitchen being so completely different, you burn or ruin food a couple times, or if you have a rift with your host family, slow down. Take a deep breath and remember where you are. Going on an exchange is stepping into the twilight zone and if you don’t get comfortable with the weird, thrilling, and sometimes horrifying aspects of it, the martians playing with human dolls, or the robots that seem to interrupt your dreams at night will ruin your whole experience. I don’t want this to be a life or death tone, but it’s turning into one, and it kind of is in reality. You have to feel comfortable enough to seek out your own friends, seek out relationships with your family and possibly teachers and treck on you r own path. This year is not easy, but it can be made manageable with the right attitude and the comfort in knowning that practically everyone on exchange will feel super awkward, unfit, or uncomfortable at some given point. You aren’t alone on exchange and you have virtually the whole world wanting you to succeed…literally the whole world wanting you to succeed. Does anyone know exactly how many people exchange on a yearly basis? If there is around 70 going OUT of Florida and 100 only in Austria, think how many other people are out there risking their sanity for this once in a life time experience.

 April 20, 2012

Today will be a flash picture through my life at the moment. Next week I am going to Dubrovnik and Medigourca (Bosnia and Hercegovina). In 2 weeks I take the SAT for scholarships for college and in 3 short weeks I go on EuroTour. I return from EuroTour on June 1 (EuroTour is a 17 day frenzy around Germany, Belgium, France, Spain, and Italy). Then I have about 2 weeks to write my final tests and then 5 days or 2 days after school ends, I return home. There is a debate in the realm of exchange students here on when school ends (June 15 or 18th). So that’s what I’m up to, scary eh? And in there my friend and I are planning to go see another exchange student in Sibenik (on the coast) the last weekend before school ends. How dandy when time doesn’t alot you enough time to do everything you want to do…Back before I went on this exchange I told my father that someone should invent a 36 hour day. I still hold by that because think of how much we could get done in 36 hours, we would have 24 hours of working time and then we would have 12 hours to sleep. It would be perfect, but let’s jump back to the present 🙂

So, I just had spring break here and I was proud of myself because I spent half with my Croatian friends and half with my fellow exchange students. After my real spring break, my parents came to see Croatia. They both really liked it and we went to a few places around town and Plitvice Lakes. Plitvice is this awesome National Park here with magnificent waterfalls and breath taking lakes. In town, I gave them a tour of my neighborhood, around my school, and around the old city with really gorgeous churches and quaint museums. When my parents were here they could see the change in me, but I still don’t know what’s changed about me. I guess I’ll figure that out when I return to the states :0. What I did notice though is that I STARTED a conversation at The Lakes (Vernacular term). My mother, father, and I were on a tour with 2 strangers. I knew they traveled the world and I wanted to know more about them so my curiosity motivated me to just start asking questions. It was momentous because before the exchange I could care less about being social. I guess you could say I was scared of rejection…at least psychologically I think that’s what you would say. On this exchange though, I was the one who had to be super social to make friends, so in the beginning I would just walk over to a group and stand there…that’s way more social than staring at the ground right? In the middle, I actually said Bok (hi) and Kak si? (how are you) and then I would let the conversation run along in English for a little bit and then talk a little Croatian and then listen to the others talk around me as I didn’t want to restart the flow of conversation. Now, I go up to my friends say bok, kak si, and a whole lot more in Croatian because I’m confident about my story and my language skills. You could compare it to my blogs because this one’s is going to be long……I can guarentee it. 🙂

While my parents were here, we saw my Rotary council, my recent host family, my current host family, my Rotary club, and my future sponsored sister! When I was planning all of these meetings I learned a cultural nuiance. So, I don’t know the reason behind this, and maybe someone older than me could enlighten me, but the first plan was to see my prior host family first and then my current host family later on. To me this fit in more with each family’s life style as my prior mother liked to cook a REALLY BIG meal for her guests and my current family didn’t mind seeing people late at night during the week. I told my current host mom that we would see the Jelusic family first (prior) because I thought my current host family would be away for Easter and the Jelusic family didn’t have a lot of extra time. She said it was fine then, but the next morning she told me, very upset, that I had to see her family first. I didn’t know the reason and I still don’ t, but when we went to see my Rotary counselor and I told her what we were doing for the week, she seemed a bit shocked that I wouldn’t see my current host family first either. So, I went back to my current house and my host parents took it upon themselves to invite my parents Sunday night, the night before we would see the Jelusic family. They were determined to be seen first and I still feel it was kind of petty. I’m asking around to figure out why this occurs, but whoever reads these blogs of mine and has an idea of why it is more polite to see my current host family first, please let me know. I don’t know why it’s not ok to be chronological. That’s my psychological question and this is just food for thought, I’m not letting this cultural mistake ruin any relationships I have here…it was just something I learned.

Other happy memories….well, my school is going really well, I joined a gym, and my friendships keep growing every day. It will be really hard to leave this place and I’m not excited for the morning of June 20. But these are my last 2 months and while most people consider themselves done, I am still working hard at most things. I hope this isn’t too long for anyone 😉 🙂 🙂

Katie Williams
2011-12 Outbound to Ecuador
Hometown: Tallahassee, Florida
School: Leon High School
Sponsor: Tallahassee Sunrise Rotary Club, District 6940, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Riobamba, District 4400, Ecuador

Katie - Ecuador

Katie’s Bio

Hola! Me llamo Katie Williams. I better get used to introducing myself that way, because I will be spending next year in Ecuador! Before a year ago, I couldn’t even imagine that such an amazing opportunity like spending a year abroad would come across my path. But when it did, I knew that it was an opportunity that I could not pass up. When I was 12, I took a trip down to Matamoros, Mexico with my church youth group. Ever since then, I have dreamed of going back and actually staying long enough to experience their culture. That is why I am so excited about Rotary! I will not just visit a foreign country, but I will live there, breathe there, and learn there about a way of living other than American. I will become an Ecuadorian! And I think that’s pretty darn cool. 🙂

That paragraph about why I’m so excited turned out to be a little lengthier than expected…so why don’t I start telling you about myself before this turns into a novel.

I am currently a junior at Leon High School (the oldest accredited, and most awesome, high school in Florida…holler!) in Tallahassee, Florida. I live with my parents, my sister Sarah, my two dogs, and my cat. God has blessed me with the best friends and family in the world; their support and love is indescribable.

I love singing. I pretty much ALWAYS have a song in my head, and most of the time, coming out of my mouth. I play about… this much *make small space between forefinger and thumb* guitar, but I’m getting better. I like the guitar because you can take it anywhere, and I don’t plan on being a very stationary person. 🙂 I’m open to trying new things and I love peanut butter. I also love people and smiling. Smiling’s my favorite.

Anyway, that is me in a nutshell. I know that when I get back from my exchange, I won’t be the same. This experience will challenge me and shape me. Thank you, Rotary, for this life changing opportunity!

Katie’s Journals

August 20

I arrived in Riobamba yesterday, after spending my first night in Quito. My host sister, Belen, is a student at the University of San Francisco there, so we stayed in her apartment. The drive from Quito was about 3 hours, and I slept for most of it. Upon arriving in Riobamba, we saw Chimborazo and it was huge! So pretty. I can’t wait to get up there! Riobamba is quaint–much smaller than Quito, but I’m kind of glad it is because then I can get to it very well.

My family is just as I imagined they would be, which is not a bad thing in the least bit! They are wonderful and very helpful. They make sure that I understood what they have told me, which sometimes takes a few tries. I can understand my host mother the best, but that may be because I have spent the most time with her. I am understanding about…80 percent of what is being said to me, but I am having trouble coming up with the words to answer. It’ll come with time though. When I get discouraged, I just remind myself that I’ve only been here two days.

My family is Catholic and my first mass is tomorrow evening! That will be interesting and a learning experience.

I can’t wait to meet all the Rotary kids! My first Rotary meeting is Monday evening. I feel lucky that my host father is a Rotarian because my family really understands the process, and I feel like I can come to them with a question and they’ll know how to answer it.

Ok, the food. It is delicious. I am eating a lot of fruit, especially for breakfast. All the lunches I’ve had have been soup, some kind of meat, rice, and a pastry of some kind. I will definitely not go hungry here! I had an empenada and muchines for dinner last night. The empenada made my life! It was so good. Muchines is lightly fried bread stuffed with yuca and melted cheese. If that’s not delicious, I don’t know what is!

Another thing I’m loving is my afternoon descansa…I hope that’s a daily thing, because I love my naps. It is just so peaceful.

Speaking of sleep, I’m going to bed now.

Hasta pronto!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

02:06 PM

It is now October, which means I’ve almost been here in Ecuador for two months. It does not seem like it has been that long when I think about all that I’ve done here and all that I still want to do. But it also seems like an eternity when I think about the last time I saw my friends and family back home. Contradictions and conflicting emotions… foreign exchange will do that to ya. You miss home and sometimes wish you were there, but you also cannot imagine leaving this new life behind. However, no matter how much I miss home, I would not give up one single second in Ecuador until I absolutely have to when July rolls around. There are six exchange students in my city of Riobamba: An-Katrien from Belgium (the Dutch part), Gerrit from Germany, Geraldine from France, Diane from Belgium (the French part), Rafael from Brazil and myself. We all get along really well, and I can tell that we are going to be like family by the end of this year. I love them so much!

Since I wrote last, much has happened. It seems like life here actually began! The daily routine and my life here actually started to feel normal. I think that this is due mainly to school starting. I go to Colegio Jefferson, a private, non-Catholic (which is rare) high school. There are three Rotary exchange students in my school: Gerrit from Germany, Rafael from Brazil and myself. I am very grateful to have them there when the lessons get a little boring or my head starts to hurt from trying to understand the teacher. In times like these, Gerrit and I whip out a game of battleship on graph paper or a few games of tic tac toe, which Gerrit almost always wins. He assures me it is because he’s German, and Germans are the best. Then we get into light-hearted debate over which of our countries is better. It never fails to make me laugh! The kids at our school are very nice and welcoming. They are used to having exchange students, so we are not such foreign phenomena on campus, which is nice, I think. All the exchange students are in “sociales”, so we have classes like philosophy, sociology, psychology, and a few history classes. Each day, we have eight classes with two breaks. The schedule of classes changes each day, so that keeps it interesting. We stay in the same classroom most of the day, only switching rooms for computer class and English class.

Daily life here includes school, helping at the university, and spending time with the other exchange students. The school part, I have already covered. After school, I come home and eat lunch. It is usually around 2:15 when I get home. Lunch is the most important meal of the day, so I usually (and by usually, I mean always) eat some kind of soup to start the meal; then rice, meat and vegetables; and then desert (usually something fruity). We also always have freshly squeezed fruit juice to drink with lunch. After lunch, I rest. I always intend to take a nap, and sometimes I do, but most of the time I just get on Facebook or listen to music. At 5:00, Mondays through Thursdays, I help teach English at the Universidad San Francisco. The class that I help with is very advanced; they have already passed the eight levels of English offered at the university, so now they are in the “methodology” class, which teaches them how to teach English. I’m glad that I was put in this class because some of the things that they learn will be helpful to me as well if I ever hold a position teaching English. Classes at San Francisco end at seven, so I usually go home afterwards. Sometimes the exchange students go out to eat or something though. On Fridays, there are no classes at the university, so I usually hang out with the exchange students. We try to meet for lunch every Friday, so that’s always a highlight at the end of my week. On the weekends, if I’m not on a Rotary trip, I usually go out with friends or watch a movie in someone’s house. On Sundays, I always go to church in the morning with my Rotary counselor and her family. Then for the rest of the day, my family rests and goes out to lunch (You don’t cook on Sundays, they told me.) until it is time to go to mass at 7:00, which we do pretty much every week.

In the past month or two, I’ve been on three Rotary trips. The first was Spanish camp in Mompiche. Mompiche is in Esmeraldas, Ecuador on the coast. We were at a 5-star resort, and it was BEAUTIFUL! The beach was gorgeous, there were 3 or 4 pools, and there was as much food as you could possibly want! But that wasn’t even the best part. The best part had nothing to do with the hotel. The most amazing part of this trip was definitely all the exchange students that were there. It was the first time that I had been with other exchange students outside of my city, and it was so fun! Everyone got along so well, and it was just so amazing to meet people from other countries. We got to share our culture, our language and our friendship with each other. The Germans gave everyone an appreciation of the song “Disco Pogo.” The Americans taught everyone how to play ninja. And, of course, the Ecuadorians at the hotel instructed everyone in the art of dancing! I’ve never been much of a dancer, but I am definitely learning to let loose and just have fun! The key, I think, is to not feel embarrassed and just go for it! It’s definitely more fun when you are enjoying yourself and not worrying that you might look stupid (because most of us foreigners look rather stupid and uncoordinated when we dance!). Anyway, Spanish camp was simply amazing.

The second trip that I took was to a RYLA convention in Cuenca. Gerrit and I were the only exchange students from Riobamba to go, but when we arrived, there were about 15 other exchange students from Machala and Guayaquil too. The convention itself was a little boring, but meeting more exchange students made the whole trip worth it! It’s amazing how quickly exchange students become friends with each other. After just two days together, I considered the Machala/Guayaquil kids dear friends! That’s the beautiful thing about exchange students: we have all become a family very quickly.

Finally, I just got back from Manabí, the first trip that all the exchange students in Ecuador went on together, so I got to meet the kids living on the coast and the kids in the sierra who were not at my Spanish camp. It was so fun! We danced every night, went to the beach, laughed, cried, paraded the streets of Portoviejo and just had an all-around good time. On this trip, we did a lot more with our own countries. That was really cool. More than once we walked through the streets with our flags and sang our national anthems, and it was just such an awesome feeling. Not only did we cheer for our own countries, but we also cheered for each other. I personally got great joy out of chanting “Deutschland!” or “Brasil!” along with the Germans and Brazilians. We especially rooted for those exchange students who were the only ones from their country, like Yuki from Japan, or Ancsi from Hungary. On the last night, we had a formal dinner in which we marched in with our countries sat with our flags. I’ve never been as patriotic as I am now. Foreign exchange not only makes you proud of your host country, but it also gives you a renewed sense of pride for your home country. Some other fun stuff we did on this trip was a talent show, banana boating in the ocean, and a night parade in Portoviejo. For the parade, we were riding on top of these double decker buses that had a band on top, and we just rode around wearing our blazers and waving our flags. It was awesome.

Well, I think I’m out of things to say now. Ecuador life is pretty sweet; I’m lovin’ it!


February 26, 2012

Well, we are almost in March, and I have six months of my exchange behind me and four in front of me. Time has flown unbelievably fast. Since October, life has become increasingly more normal and routine. I go to school. I go out with my friends. I go on trips with my host family. I just live life.

In November, I had the opportunity to go to the Amazon rain forest with two of the exchange students from my city, An-Katrien and Diane, and some visiting Rotarians from Luxemburg. We were a small group, but we had a lot of fun. We went to Yasuní, and it was beautiful! We stayed in a lodge where there was no electricity, except for the cooks, in order to give us a more authentic experience in the jungle. And we WERE in the jungle! Deep in the jungle. Our plane from Quito landed in Coca, which is a city on the edge of the rain forest. From there we took a two hour bus ride and then another 4 hour river boat ride. We were pretty far from modern civilization, to say the least. It was so awesome hearing the multitude of birds singing all day and smelling the fresh jungle air. If you ever have the chance to go to the Amazon rain forest, definitely take it.

In December, the holiday activities started. The city that I live in, Riobamba, has the most parades that I ever thought was possible! Riobambeños are quite the party people, as my first host mother said. I had the opportunity to be in some of these parades with my school. We three exchange students in Colegio Jefferson got to carry the school banner in front of the dancers. Soon, the holiday events started taking place. My Christmas was good. Small, simple, but good. We just had the traditional turkey dinner that is served on Christmas and opened presents on Christmas Eve. Homesickness, as we were warned, hit like never before on Christmas, but my host family helped me remember that I’m only here in Ecuador for one Christmas and I must enjoy it while I can. Here, I’ve been told, New Years is actually a bigger deal and more of a family holiday than Christmas is. (That blew my mind, it being a Catholic culture and all.) But my New Years was one like I’ ve never had in my life. There are a few traditions here in Ecuador for New Years that is specific to Ecuador. In Ecuador, it is custom to make “años viejos” which are dolls or figures made of paper machee or wood that represent the year that has just past. People make años viejos in the form of cartoons a lot. You can also make them in the form of yourself or a political figure. At midnight, everyone goes out in front of their houses to burn the figures. When you burn it, it says that 1. the old year is gone, and 2. that you hope that the person your figure represented changes for the better in the coming year. (Hence the political figures. Ecuadorians hate their president, so there were a lot of Rafael Corea dolls this year.) Another tradition is on New Year’s Eve, the guys will dress up as “locas vuidas” and dance in the streets, not letting cars pass until they’ve finished dancing and asked for money. They dress up like crazy widows because they are “mourning the year that has died,” my host mother said. I really didn’t see very many of them that were obviously mourning widows. Most of them these days, just dress up in short skirts, tight shirts, high heels, and a wig. It’s pretty hilarious. Another weird tradition for the more superstitious folk is the giving of yellow or red under garments. It is said that if you give yellow underwear to someone, it wishes them abundance in the New Year. Red, on the other hand, promotes a healthy love life. Needless to say, it was one crazy New Year. After the New Year, I was in another parade for El Día Niño Rey de Reyes, which is celebrated on January 6th. It is a day dedicated only to the Baby Jesus. In this parade, Gerrit, Rafael and I got to dress up in typical Ecuadorian clothes. We got a lot of cheers from the people, being foreigners dressed up in indigenous clothing. They got a real kick out of it. And so did we!

In January I also changed host families. I am now living with a family whose daughter is in Brazil. They are so very nice and I feel very blessed to be living with them. In my house, I am not the only exchange student. Due to some extenuating circumstances, I am also living with my friend from France, Geraldine. It has been great living with her, and we get along really well. At first I was a little hesitant to live with another exchange student. Honestly, I just didn’t want to share my host family. But it has been a really great experience so far, and now I have another sister. My new host family is much bigger than my first. In my first family, it was just my host dad, host mom, and me in the house. In my new host family, we are 7 in the house and 8 if you include the maid who is here almost every day.

February has flown by, but that doesn’t mean that it was uneventful – quite the opposite. This month, we celebrated carnival. Carnival in Ecuador is like nothing I’ve ever done in my life! They warned us about the insanity that would ensue in the city around the carnival season, but I wasn’t fully prepared for just how crazy it would be! Carnival lasts four days. In these four days, the whole world goes to the main streets of Riobamba and throws water, flour, eggs, paint, dirt, foam and other things on each other. Random strangers came up to me and smeared paint on my face or sprayed me mercilessly with “carioca”, which is just foam. Three times, I was picked up by some boys and thrown into the lake or into a tub of water. It is absolutely hilarious and so much fun. But you have to be careful if you go out without the intention of playing carnival, because you might just find yourself wet and cold!

Carnival was last week, so that brings us up to present day. Right now, I am getting ready for my mom, my sister and my best friend to visit from the States! They will be here for a week, and right after that I will be going to the Galapagos with the other exchange students! I am so excited to see the other exchange students again. We are in a group of about 40 or 50, and I just know that will have an awesome time because whenever there are exchange tudents together, you can be sure that you’ll have a good time.

Well, I think that’s all for now. Chau!

Kayla Evens
2011-12 Outbound to Ecuador
Hometown: Vero Beach, Florida
School: Vero Beach High School
Sponsor: Vero Beach Oceanside Rotary Club, District 6930, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Quito Sur, District 4400,

Kayla - Ecuador

Kayla’s Bio

“Hola! My name is Kayla Evens and I’m going to be spending my junior year of high school as a Rotary Exchange student in Ecuador!

First off, a little bit about me… I live in Vero Beach with my mom, dad, little sister, two dogs, three cats, and the occasional rodent. I attend Vero Beach High School, and run for the cross country and track teams. I’m also an avid soccer player, which apparently there is plenty of in Ecuador. (yay!) I was born in Santa Barbara, California, and lived in Covington, Louisiana for four years before coming to Florida. I love writing and learning languages (I take three!), and I’m really open to trying new things. I’m hoping this exchange with provide plenty of opportunities to do just that.

Ever since I first learned that you could, I’ve wanted to study a year abroad. I wanted to be able to experience a new culture and language in all it’s entirety, and now I have that opportunity. Despite being anxious about leaving my home, I’m ready for whatever comes my way. Ecuador wasn’t my first choice, but I thank my lucky stars that I’m going there. Every little new thing I learn, I become even more entranced by the country… and I’m not even there yet! 🙂

Well, hopefully the next time you’ll hear from me, I’ll be writing my journal from South America. Wish me luck!

Kayla’s Journals

I’m not sure where to begin, but as I know I used these journals as guidance and advice before I lege on my exchange, I’ll try to do that now.

First off, when Rotary tells you it’s going to be hard, going to test your resilience, your strength, and sanity, you would be wise to listen. I’ve been here for two and a half weeks now and I can never remember being more uncomfortable or confused in my life. The city, the language, the people, and the customs continually seem to be one giant, overwhelming wave of information. And I’m not going to lie; sometimes I wish for nothing more than to pack my bags and take the first plane out of here. But this is what this exchange is all about. It’s a test. It’s a test where if you pass, the rewards are unforgettable. Every time I feel the urge to run screaming back home, I tell myself to wait; because tomorrow will be better. Tomorrow is always better.

I know that sounds like one big depressing mess, so I’d also like to tell you that it’s not all bad. Ecuador continually manages to simultaneously bewilder and amaze me. I’m not incredibly fond of the city, (EVERYTHING makes a noise) but looking in every direction and being surrounded by green mountains is breathtaking. This is a place where you can see and accomplish things you could never anywhere else. The other day, I balanced a raw egg on a nail, stood in the northern and southern hemispheres at the same time, and rode a horse down a mountain into a valley of indigenous farmers. Things I would never have been able to do if I had stayed in my small Florida town.

As I’d like to leave a little advice for future exchange students, lists are wonderful things for explaining Ecuadorian eccentricities.

1.    Driving: I feel like this is always the most talked about thing amongst exchange students in Ecuador. Ecuadorian driving is insane. Drive in the middle of two lanes? Why not? Drive up on the sidewalk? Sure. Take that speed bump at 70km per hour? No problem. Red lights? The driving rules are more like guidelines anyways.

2.    Street Performers: If you see a man balancing an orange on his head while juggling bowling pins in front of your car at a traffic light, don’t worry. People do all kinds of crazy tricks for a few coins. The old lady banging on your window with the bag of mandarins is after the same thing.

3.    Food: If you come to Ecuador, rice, potatoes, and chicken had better be your favorite things in the world. Because no matter what, you will have any number of these three things every day. By the third day, I probably had more rice, potatoes, and chicken than I had ever had before in my life.

4.    Local=Cheap: One of the wonderful things about Ecuador is that you have the ability to buy a loaf of bread for 60 cents, or a haircut for 6 dollars. Almost anything involving local labor at some point in the manufacturing guarantees it will be a lot cheaper than a similar thing in the States. However, imported goods are ridiculous. I’m talking $17.00 for a tube of mascara, or $150.00 for a pair of Levi’s.

5.    And finally, School: School in Ecuador is a lot different than American schools. First are the uniforms. Blazers, ties, blouses, tights, and skirts are the norm for girls. Slacks, dress shoes, ties, and sweaters for the guys. Students stay in one classroom during the school day. The professors switch from class to class, and students stand when they enter the room. Students also seem to have much more comfortable relationships with their professors than in the U.S. Sometimes it seems more like family friends than a normal student/teacher relationship. Also, you don’t eat lunch at school, but have one or two breaks throughout the day.

Well, that’s all I’ve got so far. But out of all of that, my best advice is still just hang in there. If the emotions chart Rotary gave us has any truth, and it’s proved right so far, there is always a high after a low. For me, the inbound orientation and language camp is in a week or so. I’m hoping that will be the turning point. Other exchange students seem to be a tonic for the crazy world surrounding you.

Hopefully, in a couple months when I write again, I can tell you a little bit more about the many wonders of the country. Happy traveling!

January 9, 2012

“He attacked everything in life with a mix of extraordinary genius and naïve incompetence, and it was often difficult to tell which was which.” –Douglas Adams

This quote, though not having much to do with my actual journal, can teach you a lot about living as an exchange student. Sometimes while living in a foreign country you are going to do stupid things. The beauty of this is that you won’t know you’re doing anything wrong until everyone around you is laughing. So is this considered ‘extraordinary genius’ or ‘naïve incompetence’? Many would say ‘naïve incompetence’, but I disagree. As a foreigner, unaccustomed to the environment around you, any way you deal with new situations, any way you try to adapt, any way you agree to learn, is a sign of ‘extraordinary genius’.

I haven’t written a journal in a while so sorry to all the people following me and to the new class of outbounds. Recently, life here in Ecuador has become just that; life. I’ve officially made the transition from a bumbling tourist to an almost native. And it’s not nearly as exciting as it sounds.

Here’s a rough example of what a school day in my Ecuadorian life is like;

6:00 a.m. – Wake up, take a shower

6:30 a.m. – Get dressed, eat breakfast

6:55 a.m. – Leave house

7:00 a.m. – Bus arrives

8:00 a.m. – School starts

Types of Classes (Social Sciences Track):

• Elective

• Economy

• History

• Spanish Language/ Literature

• French

• English

• Sociology

• Sports

• Math

• Philosophy

2:10 p.m. – School ends, take bus home

3:10 p.m. – Arrive home, eat lunch prepared by our empleada

3:40 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. – Run errands, do homework, meet up with friends

10:00 p.m. – Go to bed

*On Wednesdays school ends at 4:00 p.m.

So that’s my life in a nutshell. Pretty exciting right? It’s not all dull though. Just recently I went to Otavalo, the largest artisanal market in all of Ecuador. It was incredible! There was more stalls than I could count selling the likes of scarves, rugs, paintings, jewelry, bags, belts, jackets, shrunken heads, hookah pipes, souvenirs, sculptures, furniture, and practically anything you could think of. Plus you can get some really fantastic dessert at “The Pie Shop” while you’re there. Next weekend, I’m going on the Rotary trip to the Amazon rainforest (El Oriente). The itinerary so far has us doing a lot of canoeing, hiking, and visiting the natives. And I’m beyond excited to sample the delicious traditional Amazonian dish of roasted grubs.

With everything going on, I can’t believe it’s already January. It seems like only yesterday that I left for Quito, yet in the same way it seems like I’ve been here for years. As an exchange student, I’ve already passed the hardest times in my exchange, especially the holidays. My advice for when those come around is just keep yourself busy. I didn’t have time to be homesick during Thanksgiving since I was spending the entire day cooking an Ecuadorian Thanksgiving for two host families and another exchange student. Here, time has a way of being able to constantly change. Some things seem to last forever while others pass before you have time to blink. I think it depends on the difficulty of the situation. If it’s easy, it’ll pass quickly, if it’s difficult it will linger for what seems an eternity. But with any amount of time, you learn. Returning home now sounds so simple. College is going to be a breeze after spending a year in the chaos of Ecuador without the comfort and support of home.

Well, that’s all I have to say for now. Until next time!

Kelly Urban
2011-12 Outbound to Taiwan
Hometown: Elkton, Florida
School: Pedro Menendez High School
Sponsor: St. Augustine Sunrise Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Nantou, District 3460, Taiwan

Kelly - Taiwan

Kelly’s Bio

Ni Hao!  My name is Kelly Urban and I am very excited to say that next year I will be outbounding my senior year in Taiwan!!  I have always wanted to travel to exotic places and meet different people all over the world, but I had no idea that I would ever have the amazing opportunity of traveling to such a beautiful and incredible country as Taiwan!  I am beyond excited for this new adventure and I know I will appreciate and gain a lot from it.

I am currently 16 and attending Pedro Menendez High School in St. Augustine, Florida.  I grew up in New Hampshire and New York and moved to Florida only a few years ago, but I love it!  It is so beautiful here and I love having fun with my friends and family.  I have an older brother, who is home bound do to an illness, but he is my inspiration and I love him immensely.  I am very passionate about music, theatre, animals, and living life to the fullest!  I am the most open minded person I have ever met, and when I heard about Rotary Youth Exchange I was extremely ecstatic and eager to learn more!  I came home and immediately revealed to my parents exactly what I knew I wanted to do; I wanted to be an exchange student.  I wanted to take my future senior year and turn it into an amazing adventure including everything I’ve always dreamed of accomplishing at a young age.  For this, I cannot thank RYE enough for giving me this amazing once in a lifetime opportunity!  Thank you so much for helping me start what will be the best experience of my life!

Each day I carry positive energy around with me everywhere I go.  Despite what may go on around me, I believe that a strong head and an open mind can do wonders for yourself and the people around you.  I believe that the true meaning of life is to give life meaning, and that is exactly what I plan on doing.  

Zàijiàn for now!

“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away” – Hilary Cooper

Kelly’s Journals

May 14, 2012

Welcome to my journey in Taiwan!! =]

Last year, when I was sitting in my high school auditorium being introduced to RYE Florida for the very first time, I had never imagined that throughout the following year, it would slowly become a huge part of my life, my future, and a huge part of who I am today.

A week before my departure, I stood looking at my suitcase thinking about everything I had been through to get to that very moment. All the mental, physical and emotional preparation I had endured to be able to take a breath of relief and say, ‘I’m ready’. And I am, So this is my adventure, my journey, this is my turn.

The Journey~

When I arrived at the airport, I checked my bag and waited with my family in front of security for my friend Devante to arrive so we could enter together. A couple Rotarians had come up to my mother and I and introduced themselves from a local Rotary club in my District. We talked about where I was going and we stood with them waiting to greet their inbound coming in from France! After saying goodbye they wished me good luck, and it came time for Devante and I to say goodbye to our families. We took pictures and gave one big last hug to everyone. As my mother began to cry, I knew that this was it, I was leaving and I wouldn’t see my family for the next year. It was hard, but I was prepared. We walked through security and onto our first flight to Michigan. The 2 1/2 hour flight wasn’t too bad but when we landed I was so excited. A few months prior, I had contacted an old friend from New York, who had told me she would also be exchanging this very year to Taiwan !! It was a crazy coincidence and at the gate, Devante and I met up with a whole bunch of kids going to Taiwan, along with our friends Marco and Elycia from Orlando. I saw my friend Emily for the first time in years and it was amazing. It was the first of many reunions that I know Rotary will be responsible for 🙂 We reconnected with some Starbucks and a 17hr plane ride to Tokyo! ~Not many people can say that 😉 ~

The flight wasn’t too bad…at least.. the first 5-6 hours. It was alot of fun, but as more and more hours passed it became worse. I knew I wanted to be able to sleep once I got home, so I tried to only sleep very little on the plane to avoid jet-lag. But it wasn’t fun, I grew exhausted and uncomfortable. In my personal journal I wrote this at about 3:35am, ” I’m tired, I’m hungry, and all I want to do is climb into a warm bed and black-out for about a week. I’ve been up since 6am, I’ve gotten about..3hours of sleep total and I probably wont get any more. I’ve never seen daylight last so long..I’m soar, really soar, and once I get a solid meal I’ma kiss the ground! “

When we arrived in Japan I was able to get through security with the others very easily. Japan has the quietest airport in the world! It was beautiful, and even though we were only there a little while, being as foreign and exhausted as I was, it was the most amazing thing in the world. After we all had to switch our seating do to a mix up, we finally boarded and headed to Taiwan!!! <3 At this point, all I wanted was a hug..and to sleep. When we were landing over Taiwan I had no words.. The feeling of ‘ Taiwan’ hadn’t really sunken in yet. At least.. I was too tired to realize. It was about 3-4 hours by time we landed, kissed the ground, went through immigration and found our luggage. I said goodbye to everyone, took a deep breath, and walked through the gate into the very beginning of my new life.

I walked out to find over 100 family members and Rotarians with banners and flags yelling and screaming for our arrival. It was one of the most amazing feelings ever..:) The first thing I heard was a young girl’s voice say, “Are you Kelly :D?! ” – It was my host sister Ting-Ting holding a giant banner with my face on it. They all gave me big warm welcome hugs with smiles all around and took the first of many, many pictures. The moment was foggy, but one important thing I do remember is the first thing my Baba (Host dad) said to me. He gave me a big hug and said, “We have been waiting a very long time for you.. 🙂 “

I waited for my host parents to bring around the car with Ting-ting. I watched all the cars and lights of the city and I couldn’t believe it. I, had made it. We headed to the store and I got a drink. My first thing in Taiwan, Tropicana orange juice. ( It was in Chinese, that counts for something). The car ride home was long and tiring, I kept dozing off, but I will never forget my conversation with Baba. He would ask me various things in Chinese or English. I struggled to understand and answer since I was so tired. He would talk and talk and eventually turn to Ting-ting and say “Ok ok I need a translator now” (Ting-ting spent 5 years of College in Utah). When he was finished he turned to me and said, “Right now, I believe my English, better than your Chinese. But, hopefully, by end of year, your Chinese, better then my English! Ok, yes? :)” Then he held out his pinky to make a ‘pinky-promise’. Then, there, I had made a very special pr omise to my Baba that I will never forget.. and I will forever intend to keep that promise.

After our 2-3hour drive home to Nantou in central Taiwan, I was welcomed home with open arms by my host brother Yzu-Yen, my other host sister Tien-tien, and my close cousins. They were all so nice and inviting. We talked a little bit but everyone knew I needed sleep badly. My Mama (host mom) reminded me that I had my Inbound Orientation/ Language Camp the next day, so I had to unpack my things but repack enough for the week ahead of me. Everyone was so nice and took care of me so well. My first conflict in Taiwan, figuring out if I’m suppose to sleep on the flat bamboo mat on top of my bed or if was just decoration. By time I went to sleep at 4:00am, deciding to just plop on my bed and pass out seemed like the best solution.. I had never been so happy to sleep in my entire life.

Month 1~

My first day went by extremely fast. I woke up at around 12pm with a perfect night’s sleep. Luckily I worked it out well enough so I didn’t have any jet-lag. I hopped out of bed and a few seconds later my Mama came in holding her IPad saying ‘ Zǎo :)’ -Morning- and sat on my bed ready to go over the first night questions. Not only did I just wake up, but I still felt kind of awkward, I was quiet and completely out-of-it. I knew I wanted to feel settled right away, but I know that’s something that would have to come with time. It felt great going over the first night questions because I had been looking forward to that moment for so long. My exchange had finally begun.

Ah breakfast, my first solid meal in days. I sat down at the familiar story-told round table seated for 8 and stared at the various dishes. I was handed a pair of chop sticks and a small bowl of rice, ‘take whatever you want’ my Mama said. I took what was closest to me, some calamari in some type of brown sauce. -It was amazing- Truly delicious and I ate that with my rice for my very first meal. I got ready and we left for my orientation camp. At camp I signed in and met all the other inbounds from around the world, though the shock of realizing that everyone was speaking MY language caught me off guard. I never realized how powerful English is around the world. Not that everyone was fluent, some people spoke very well but everyone mostly grouped together with people from the same country. The Language camp was held at Overseas Chinese University, it was pretty big and we got to walk around and get to know everyone. I was happy to finally meet a very good Braz ilian friend of mine Thiago, who I had been talking to for a while prior to coming to Taiwan. We both thought it would be a good idea making some friends before we came to our district, and finally being able to see a sort-of familiar face made things much more comfortable. As we ate pizza for dinner, our district chair introduced the plans and schedule for the week, making everyone incredibly excited.

After a miserable night of sleeping on a hard mat in the freezing cold ‘only know how to turn off if you can read Chinese’ air conditioning, we met for a meeting in the grand hall. The first day we took many pictures and were given many presentations on exchange rules and fitting into our new surroundings etc. We had to each introduce ourselves in Chinese/English and represent our countries. Throughout the rest of the week was just extremely fun, a normal day would include a quick breakfast, very helpful basic Chinese classes, break, class, yummy lunch, cultural activity/craft, break, dinner buffet, and ‘Party Time’. These days I will never forget, in one week we had all become so close, trying new things, hearing so many languages, learning about each other’s different cultures and creating exciting memories of water fights, late night stories, dancing, games, and just having a blast. The Rotex took everyone to our very first night market, I got to finally try the amazing bubble milk tea, and at the end of the week there was a huge dinner and a talent show for all of us to show some talent. My American friend Kris and I practiced all day and sang our hearts out. Everyone put on an amazing show and everyone was so sad to leave.. little did we know how much time we would actually get to see each other in the future, but I guess we just weren’t ready to let go of our only first week as an inbound family. But what I had learned after such an amazing week, which I as well, was not ready to let go of, my host father told me one heartfelt thing to remember as we drove away, “Every party, must come to an end.” But I knew, it was just the beginning.

The following week was crazy busy being introduced to new ‘firsts’ left and right. My host brother took me to eat cho dofu or ‘stinky tofu’ a famous dish in Taiwan. Not many foreigners enjoy it but I loved it 🙂 I was given a tour of my city and had my first Rotary meeting, which was really exciting. I first went to dinner with my host dad in my city and met with a group of Rotarians. They had a pre-meeting before the meeting and when dinner came we went into another room and I was I introduced to all the other members, handing out cards and shaking 100 hands smiling, trying to make a warm first impression. Learning all the Rotarian’s names like Boss, Shoes, Fire, Televy, Post, Blue, Life, etc. In Taiwan they choose their English names based from their profession or maybe a hobby or just something random like House or Car. And when you address a person you must use a title like Shushu, Ayi, Jiejie, meimei, Gege or Didi (Uncle, Auntie, older si ster, younger sister, older brother, younger brother) etc. ~even if they aren’t really a relative. At the meeting I gave my first speech, it was the very first time I had been nervous since my Rotary interviews, and it was the first moment that I truly felt like an exchange student. There I was being handed the mic. from my host dad about to give my very first speech in Chinese, and all I could think about was “How the heck do I pronounce all this!?” I gave it my best shot- thinking about it now, it must have been really funny for all of those Rotarians hearing me fail so abruptly in Chinese for 5minutes straight, for the odds of me only correctly saying 15 words tops couldn’t have been a far chance.

But that’s experience 😛

The next day my host sister took me to Kaohsiung, in southern Taiwan. It was so much fun being in the 2nd largest city in the country! I went to a famous night market and we ate soo much. The well known fact to foreigners about Taiwan, THEY. EAT. A LOT. Pretty much all the time, I assume high metabolisms work well in their favor, but they definitely do eat a lot healthier. Since I hadn’t eaten much on the plane or very much during camp, I started to become very full, very quickly. One small bowl of rice and I felt like I just finished a Thanksgiving feast. This didn’t work so well in my favor, many people thought I didn’t like the food because I didn’t eat very much. Also in Taiwan, it’s very rude to not accept things that people offer you, as well as food. So it was difficult to explain that I loved the food, I just wasn’t hungry. So what did I do? I learned how to say ‘I’m full’…very quickly.

So back to my story, we had a 2-day city tour and we went to the beach which had blackish-grey sand and gorgeous water. It was the first time I had ever missed the beach..one of the things I surely took for granted. We traveled on motorbikes (scooters) all around Kaohsiung and it was a blast. It was the first time I’ve ever been on one and at first, I was pretty scared. I remember sitting on the back thinking ‘ oh I don’t like this..I don’t like this, I do not like this at ALL’ ~I loved it. When we got off I had such a rush of excitement and all I wanted was to ride more! It was crazy and such a great experience riding around the city at night with great speed feeling the wind in your hair looking at all the other bikes next to you (more bikes then cars) looking around seeing nothing but tall buildings, bright lights and TONS of Chinese signs everywhere. The feeling was amazing 🙂 ~Scooters are extremely popular in Taiwan because Taiwan is so s mall, the streets are very narrow and busy and scooters are extremely convenient to get around, and about every family has at least one. You’ll see anyone from 15-80yrs zoom-zoomin around on these crazy things, I love them, and just so you know mother, I want one :)~

So, *drum roll*

My first day of school.

Was I nervous? No, just EXTREMELY excited. I had gone to the school the week before to get my uniform, my schedule and meet with my homeroom teacher, along with my other 1-on-1 teachers. In Taiwan the students stay in the same room and the teachers change rooms. The teachers have cubicles downstairs and the students stay in the same room unless they have gym or computer class. They stay with the same group of people for all 3 years of Senior high school. ~Since Taiwan is so small, everything is built up, so all the buildings and homes are very tall and most homes have 3-5 floors. So my school has about 6 floors and each year you go higher and higher up the school with each grade you progress in~ So as I met my teacher she asked if I would mind meeting my class as well because they had been dying to meet me. As we walked through the hallways all the students smiled and screamed and giggled waving furiously through the windows. When I reached my class everyone jumped up and sta rted to scream, they were all very excited!! She introduced me and I introduced myself in Chinese and talked about my basic information. I go to a Commercial high school so all the students study for their profession. My class studies ‘Applied Foreign Language’ -or English- so they all speak some English. They practiced introducing themselves and if they didn’t have an English name (most did to my surprise) my teacher would say, ‘ pick one’. ~Cause it’s that easy~

During my first day I didn’t know what to expect. I rode my bike down the hill to school and met my homeroom teacher for a tour around campus. After making friends with some 3rd graders in the library, I met my classmates and we went to our first computer class. It was really odd getting use to all the attention. I expected a little, but it definitely isn’t something anyone can prepare you for. Everyone was staring at me left and right asking to take pictures, laughing and giggling and running away all shy. They point and say hello and everyone would get extremely shocked if I would say ‘Nǐ hǎo’ – Hello- or ‘Xièxiè’ -Thank you. During lunch, a few people from every class goes down to the bottom floor and brings up lunch trays filled with various dishes and sets them on the outside ledge of the classroom. Everyone brings their own bowls and chopsticks and takes whatever they like for lunch. They eat in the classroom and watch the news and a few more people help wash the bowls and set them to dry, as others bring the empty trays back downstairs. One of the first things I noticed during school is that everyone is so helpful and everyone contributes. There’s a lot of teamwork, and no one complains. Everyone is so nice and it helped me feel comfortable more quickly. I made many friends and was given many opportunities to be involved by being invited to many different activities, clubs, and events. Every day is different, I learn about Chinese music, language, and art. I have gym, computer class and English with my classmates. And I also learn Calligraphy and Shoa-lin kungfu outside of school. I have about one or two classes a day, but when I don’t, I try to spend as much time as possible with my classmates and study Chinese.

On September 10th we celebrated my first festival in Taiwan, the Moon Festival. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was extremely excited. All week my friends were eating a round cake-like treat called a Moon Cake, and teachers were giving me bags of fruit and such to take home to eat on the special day. All of my host relatives came to our house for a huge dinner, KTV( karaoke), mahjong, drinking, and telling stories all night. There were fireworks, which were beautiful but scared our dog Mickey who ran away.. but we found her a few days later 🙂 At night my Rotary club had a big event/dinner with the same activities, I went alone because my family had to host the party, but I had a fantastic time and it was great getting a lot closer to the Rotarians. 🙂

My first trip with Rotary was to Yilan, in North-Eastern Taiwan.

I invited my friend Caro from Mexico to join us on our journey, which was a fantastic idea. We traveled 3 1/2 hours towards the high mountains of Yilan. We stopped at 3 major tourist sites that were to die for amazingly beautiful, and took a boat to the famous Turtle Island. We were given a tour of the once aboriginally inhabited villages, and walked the trails around the eye-capturing scenery. Back in the city of Yilan, we were treated in a 5-star hotel with a spa which Caro and I took advantage of all night. The weekend was simply amazing, and it was the first time nature had truly touched my heart.

Klaudia Forgacova
2011-12 Outbound to Belgium
Hometown: Yulee, Florida
School: Yulee High School
Sponsor: Fernandina Beach Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Amay-Villers-le-Temple, District 1630, Belgium

Klaudia - Belgium

Klaudia’s Bio

Bonjour! Je m’appelle Klaudia. I’m currently a senior at Yulee High School, home of the Hornets! I live in a small town about 15 minutes away from both Georgia and the beach. I live with my mom, dad, 20 year old sister, her boyfriend, my adorable 5 year old sister, and my big beautiful cat Muffie. This year’s giving me a full dose of excitement with early admissions at Florida State College at Jacksonville, high school graduation, turning 18, and, of course, living in Belgium!

I’ve moved a lot throughout my life and each place has shaped me into who I am. I was born in eastern Slovakia and moved to California when I was 2 years old. After moving around southern California a good bit, I came here to Florida just in time to start my high school career. I’ve loved absorbing all there is to every area I’ve seen and lived in and hope to continue learning all there is to this world while teaching some of my own culture for as long as I am able to.

One of my favorite things to do is simply spending time with my friends. No matter what we do, I always end up having a great time and laughing the day away. I also love caring for animals and children. I hope to one day have a career that allows me to make a positive difference in children’s lives.

I’m extremely bubbly and friendly. I find joy in what others deem as merely small details in daily life. Thanks to that, you can usually find me with a smile planted on my face! Most importantly, I’d like to express my gratitude to Rotary for choosing me to partake in this life changing experience and giving me something else to smile about!

Klaudia’s Journals

October 29, 2011

I’m fighting back tears as I squeeze my mom tight. Everything collapses around me. I let the tears slide down my face as I let go to take my little sister into my arms. All of a sudden, everything starts hitting me and my mind starts racing with thoughts about how I wouldn’t be there to tuck her in at night anymore, how I’d miss her first tooth falling out, and I just hope she’d still be constantly smiling like someone who has never heard the word “worry” when I return to my family in a year. As much as it breaks my heart to do so, I release my embrace, take my passport in my hand, and walk towards my plane and year as Rotary Youth Exchange Student in Belgium, away from my home and all its comforts.

4,500 miles of travel later, I wiped the tears off my face to make room for a smile and wide open eyes. Three months later, I find planting that smile on my face one of the best decisions I have ever made. Difficulty lingers in the corners of my daily life more than I ever imagined. I had just moved to a francophone country and I couldn’t speak French. Let the charades begin. I was in my new home, yet I was merely a blank canvas to everyone there. Without the optimism I carried behind my smile, I would have quickly succumbed to the adversities before me and been on the first flight back to Florida.

As soon as I arrived in Belgium, it became apparent to me and everyone else just how many gaps I had in my knowledge. I was in shock at how clueless I was. I held my fork and knife in the improper hands, ate pizza wrong, avoided the bathroom my first night because I had no clue where the light switch was, and silenced a room in utter shock by accidentally omitting one word from my sentence. The biggest shock, however, was just how closed off I unknowingly was to what’s out here in this big world. As terrifying as it was to be thrown into a world where the sky’s green and the grass is blue, having never discovered how much the world has left to instill in me would have been much worse.

It’s crazy how much life can change in what seems like the blink of an eye. After my short time here, I’ve immersed myself in Belgium and already consider it home. Maybe it’s because of all the waffles, fries, and all the other things Belgium is known for, but I quickly found that the life here is just that, life! The Belgians truly live and enjoy themselves and I couldn’t be happier to share their culture with them.

I couldn’t find the words to condense my time here in a simple journal, but I can assure you it’s not because I haven’t had anything to write about. I’ve built genuine relationships with my amazing families and friends here. I’ve met my new horses, cats, dogs, and chickens. Yep, chickens. I’ve passed by my cute neighbors, AKA cows, every day. I’ve said my teary eyed good bye to my absolutely fantastic and muy caliente host sister who left for an exchange in Argentina. I’ve visited my country capital a couple times, which I can’t even say I’ve done in the USA. I’ve attended many Rotary events: orientation (very different than in Florida!), mined the day away, kayaked in utter beauty, visited a fort and waved countless flags on top of it, saw my tiny town from up in a helicopter, and was even lucky enough to visit England with my Rotary club where I said something along the lines of “How adorable ol’ chap!” every two minutes. I’ve had the opportunity to visit Amsterdam and let my inner nerd out in the Van Gogh museum and simply took in all the beauty around me. I’ve settled in at school and dressed up as Britney Spears for just any other day there. Even though I still don’t understand why in the world they lock the bathrooms when Europeans still have bladders, I actually love my school. When it comes down to it, it’s more about the overall experience here and how everything together has added up to what I’ve been able to apprehend from my exchange.

There are so many concepts I’ve heard of all my life, but never truly grasped until now by experiencing them firsthand. I now sincerely understand tolerance by embracing a culture differing so vastly from my own, independence by no longer having my family and friends around to hold my hand when times get tough, hard work by abiding by an attitude of “I must speak French” rather than “I’d like to speak French,” sincere joy by seizing each day knowing your time is limited, maturation by learning from the many mistakes I make, appreciation by being welcomed as true family, and, first and far most, myself through all of this.

I am forever indebted to Rotary and couldn’t have been more blessed!

Tantôt (for real, no more being late)! Bisous! (:

December 28, 2011

The other day as I was waiting for my bus with a friend, she asked me when I was going home. Without thinking twice, I responded with “Considering the bus will be here any minute now, pretty darn soon I’m hoping.” Then came that awkward moment of confusion until we realized that we each had something different in mind for my home. Over these past four months in this fascinating country, my adorable three road village has naturally become ingrained in my head as “chez moi” and I couldn’t be happier about that.

No matter how many excursions I have, whenever I reflect over my time here, I can’t help but automatically just think of the personal changes rather than what has occurred on the surface. The internal growth is constant. As an exchange student, you’re always finding yourself in situations where you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone until there’s really no longer a point in trying to maintain one. Starting to tear down those walls I’ve unknowingly built around myself throughout my whole life is one of the most difficult but most rewarding things I’ve done.

I’ve had so much luck here and I am so grateful for all the opportunities that have been granted to me. My second host family took me with them on a trip to the sea in the north of France and, oh goodness, it was beautiful! We also saw a seal in the water! For all you Floridians and even Americans, I’m sure you’re thinking I’m a wacko for including that little tidbit, but apparently it’s really rare here and well deserving of a freak out. Hearing kids excitedly yell the word for seal in French definitely made the whole trip!

The holidays have come and gone and they were absolutely wonderful! Homesickness overcame for the first time on Thanksgiving, but I had loved ones both here and back in Florida to quickly help me move past it. That weekend, my host mom was the amazing person she is and hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for us and two other families. It was a wonderful thing seeing the Belgian and American cultures mix together, e.g. chowing down on some classic mac and cheese but it being a fancy dinner party lasting until 1 AM.

The Christmas that just passed is one that will forever be engraved in my memory. I could explain how it went but, in actuality, Christmas is about family and it’s really a matter of how each individual celebrates it. Yes, there was the main Belgian gist of it of celebrating it on Christmas Eve but I’m pretty sure not every Belgian has a 5 hour dinner because sometimes you’re just too busy dancing and singing to Elvis and Spice Girls to eat.

Many laughable mistakes later, my French has vastly progressed. Thank goodness! I don’t find myself to be fluent yet but I no longer view that point as some dot in the far off future. Now that I’m speaking and understanding the language, I’m truly seeing myself as part of my family, school, and group of friends and that brings so much light to everything. Also, it’s quite interesting being able to watch Sex and the City with your host grandma and sister and read Gossip Girl in French.

Félicitations to all the lucky new outbounds who are about to have their lives changed! Brace yourself guys! Hug your family and friends that you’ll learn to appreciate so much more when you no longer have that chance. Smile at the beautiful Florida sunshine that beats down even in the end of December. Most importantly, absolutely ENJOY yourselves abroad because time is going to speed right before your eyes!

Lindsay Steffes
2011-12 Outbound to Spain
Hometown: Lutz, Florida
School: Steinbrenner High School
Sponsor: New Tampa Evening Rotary Club, District 6890, Florida
Host: TBA, District TBA,

Lindsay - Spain

Lindsay’s Bio

My name is Lindsay, and I am a Rotary Youth Exchange Student who will be spending my sophomore year in Spain. I am so excited to get an opportunity to experience an entirely different culture on an entirely different continent.

I was born in Dallas, Texas, and lived there until I was eleven. The move to Florida was a lot of fun because Tampa is very different from Dallas. I now go to Steinbrenner High School, a brand new school named after the former owner of the Yankees. I am on the soccer team there. Our team is currently ranked sixth in the state! I also take honors and AP classes.

I have two siblings. My sister, Mallory, is a junior at Steinbrenner. She loves theatre and plays the piano. Nolan, my brother, is an eighth grader at the local middle school. He plays all kinds of sports and plays the guitar in his spare time. Our family is very close. My mom loves to exercise and teaches us how to live healthy lives. My dad is really funny and works hard to allow us to live a comfortable life. We go to church every Sunday and afterwards, Nolan and I go to Youth Group. It’s nice to have a strong faith; it gives me hope and something to believe in.

My favorite activities include soccer, running, hanging out with my friends, traveling, and shopping. I’ve played soccer competitively for eleven years. I love listening to music. I especially like country music like Kenny Chesney and Brad Paisley. A few months ago I went to a Switchfoot concert. It was great!

I think I always knew I would be an exchange student. When my mom was in high school, she spent a year in Germany. She always talks about the amazing experiences she had there. This belief was finalized when we housed an exchange student (from Spain!) for part of the summer. I saw how happy she was and knew that I wanted to have the same experiences she and my mom had.

Lindsay’s Journals

September 18

On Tuesday, I’ll have been here for twenty days! Sometimes it feels like I’ve been here for a lot longer than that, and some days it feels like I’ve only been here for a couple days! But no matter how I’m feeling at a certain time, the fact that I love it here and am already dreading saying goodbye to this amazing place stays the same. There is so much to say and to tell you, but not enough time in the entire world to give you all the details. So I’ll just give you the highlights (:

I’ll start with the flight here. I went most of the way, (besides to NY) with my friend Nicole, who is living in a town close to mine in Spain. I don’t know what I would have done without her that day, because, as my family knows very well, I am terrible with directions. Add lack of sleep, hunger, anticipation, soreness, headaches, grumpiness, and unbrushed hair to the mix and you have two very lost teenage girls. But we managed! By the time I arrived in Alicante, met my host family, and drove down to Denia, I had been awake and traveling for over thirty hours. But that didn’t matter! I was so pumped when we arrived I wasn’t tired at all! I stayed up for four more hours meeting all the family and walking through Denia. That night, I slept nineteen hours.

My host family is more than I could have ever expected. They’re so nice, and they help me so much- not just with learning Spanish, but they helped me with finding some really good friends, organize my classes in school, help me try to learn my way around town, and much, much more. I have a sister here, and two parents. Alicia, the eleven year old daughter, seems really shy, but she’s warming up to me little by little. Then there’s Vicente, my host dad, and Maria Angeles, my host mom (who I call Angie for short). I love them and could not ask for anyone better! I can see the ocean from the apartment, its awesome. I have my own room, and I’m treated like I’m really part of the family. I feel so lucky.

I have done a countless number of cool things so far. I’ll start from the beginning. The third day that I was here, we went to a wedding! Really different, but awesome. Before it started, everyone in the family got two hotel rooms, because the women didn’t want to wear their dresses in the car. It was probably the nicest hotel I’ve ever been in! Two five star hotel rooms for just thirty minutes to change into dresses you ask? Yeah I don’t know. But it was glamourous (: We threw rice at the couple! For food at the wedding, or “la boda”, it was…different. I had no idea what I was eating the entire time. The food just kept coming and coming! It lasted hours. The wedding began at nine in the morning, and we got home at one… a.m.

A few days later, on September 7th, I met my first real friend! I’ve spent most of my time here since then with her and other new friends, other than being with my family. That night, we went a see the “torros”! So many people before then, told me that if I’m going to live in Spain, I HAVE to see the bulls. When my friend asked me if I wanted to go see the bulls, I didn’t understand at all. When people asked me, “Quieres ir a los torros?” Every time, I understood “todos” instead of “torros”. So I kept saying “Yes. YESS!! Quiero ver a todos!!” Because I really did want to see everything, I just didn’t know why people kept asking me. But, once we got there I realized my mistake. There, I think I experienced my first time of utter shock. The poor bulls. The people would hit at it, and taze it, just to get it angry so it would run at them. My first thoughts were: Oh my gosh I’m living with barbarians. But then I caught myself, remembering that this is a different culture, and that this is just how it is.

A lot of the days, I just spend my free time walking around the main street, window-shopping and people watching. Where I live is just a few steps away from it! It’s called Calle de Campos, and it has restaurants, clothing stores, a Mercadona, McDonalds (of course), and so much more. The street is marble! it gets blocked off after six so people can relax about cars and “motos” and whatnot. I started school two days ago. The first day, Angie drove me there, thank God, because there is not way I could walk there without getting extremely lost. School was good. It was not a whole lot different from school at home! Besides it being ninety degrees inside the classrooms. I had to walk back! It should be about a twenty or thirty minute walk, but I managed to make it into three hours. Phrase of the day? Estoy perdido. Ayudame? I probably said that over twenty times! Eventually, when I still couldn’t get home, I started simply asking where the ocean was. I can only imagine how stupid people thought I was, but I don’t care!!!!! I knew, that if I got to the ocean, I could find Calle de Campos and then find my way home. I had never felt and probably will never feel again the success and pride that I felt when I caught the first glimpse of that apartment building. I went from not being able to get to the grocery store in Tampa after living there for four years, to finding my own way home from school in a brand new city with people that don’t speak my language. I smile just thinking about it (:

There are still so many things I have to learn, not only the Spanish language, but about the culture here, and why things are the way they are. Right now, there is a very veryyy long list of things I do not understand.

1. Why soccer is played on cement

2. Why, that when you’re sick, you go to the dentist

3. Why the dentist writes prescriptions on sticky notes

4. Why there are rooms with no windows, but with curtains and blinds

5. Why maids come every day to clean the house… How can a house get dirty in a day?

6. Why there are air conditioners in the schools but they are never used

7. Why people would want pictures with a dead turtle

8. Why we go grocery shopping daily

9. Why I have to wear slippers at all times in the house

10. Why there are no pancakes

…and much more.

Hasta luego !!!

January 17, 2012

Life is good. I have been having the absolute time of my life here on Spain. I’ve been here for about four and a half months now, and I’m not really looking forward to the day I have to say goodbye to this beautiful country. I have made friends here that I know I will never forget. I have seen things that will be engraved in my memory forever, and I’ve experienced things that I know will never leave my mind. I’m already a changed person, and this year isn’t even half way over. I notice myself making decisions that I would never be able to make before when I lived in Florida. I thought I knew who I was back in Florida, who I wanted to be. But my total view on myself, others, and the world has changed. I cannot even put in words how thankful I am to Rotary that they gave me this opportunity.

Where to start?! So much has happened! The holiday season passed. I was expecting it to be super difficult, but honestly I wasn’t homesick. Yes, of course I missed my family. But it wasn’t to the point where it affected my mood. Maybe it was because it didn’t seem like the holidays for me. At home, during the holidays, I’m with my family. So since I wasn’t with my family, I guess it seemed to my brain that it wasn’t the holidays. I don’t know if that makes any sense!

I had a few other things to worry about during the holidays anyway other than missing home. I was having some problems with my host family. Here in Spain, especially in this tiny little town, people gossip. And with me being pretty much the only blonde in this town, people would notice me when I go out, or when I went out to run an errand, or just anything simple like that. Eventually, something like, “I saw the American girl walking to the supermarket,” would turn into something like, “ I saw the American girl walking to the supermarket holding hands with a boy.” The rumors got pretty bad, way worse than that. By the time it would get to my host parents, it would be some ridiculous thing that I couldn’t believe anyone with a brain could believe. But, unfortunately, my host parents believed every word they heard, which obviously would cause some problems. They began talking about me in front of big crowds of people, including me, saying all these “horrible things” I had done. It eventually got to be too much for me to handle, and I sat down and had a very long heart to heart with my host mother. And that fixed everything! I don’t know if you all could understand this, but the amount of courage that it took to do that was immeasurable. That is probably my proudest moment of being here! I think that that moment was the defining moment of my time here in Spain. I don’t know why I hadn’ t done it earlier. I went through four months of being miserable without knowing that one conversation could fix it all. Very happy moment for me (:

After that, everything has been going very smoothly. I catch myself thinking in Spanish sometimes, and sometimes when I’m speaking English I’ll find myself start speaking Spanish without realizing it. I’ve dreamt in Spanish! I guess you could say that my language skills here are getting really good! Of course, I have sooo much room to improve. I am definitely not fluent yet. I’m working on it though. I’m starting to make some really good friends. I can honestly say I love it here. I’m scared time is going by too quickly. I switch families on Saturday. It’s scary, but relieving. I’m exciting to be able to start over with this family. I’ve learned from my mistakes that I’ve made, and I think my time with my new family will be very rewarding and memorable. The only worry I have now, which may seem a little funny, is that I have no idea how I’m going to get everything back into my suitcase to move. Number one, when I came here, I had all of my things in vacuumed packed bags. Number two, I’ve bought a lot of stuff here… I figure I’m going to have to make two or three trips!

Ok, quick advice to future exchangers: SAVE YOUR MONEY. I have no idea why before I came here I didn’t even think about saving. I guess I figured the seventy Euros a month would be sufficient. But, its not. Most of that money every month for me goes to things like toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, soap- things like that. Trust me! Especially if you’re going to a place where the climate is different than where you’re living now. Like me, I have a million summer clothes, but zero clothes for winter. Winters get pretty cold here in Spain! I’ve had to buy quite a bit of winter clothes since being here. You may be thinking, well, I can just wear my hoodies and jeans and sweatpants. Unless you feel like getting stared at, I would recommend planning ahead for things like that. They dress up here like they’re going to a party every single day. Just to go to the grocery store, they put on high heels and makeup and an outfit that would take me an entire day to plan out. But, keep in mind that all of this is coming from a girl who before, lived and relied on ponytails, t-shirts and running shorts. If you’re a “fashionista” already, you’re lucky, and I’m jealous.

School is great. I don’t have that many friends in my class, (we stay in the same class all day), but everyone is nice and helps me out when I need it. The teachers are okay. Let’s just say that going to school here has made me really appreciative of the Florida schooling. I am so thankful that my grades don’t count here, because I’m pretty sure I’m failing all my classes. Besides English. They don’t really teach the kids here, they just give them a textbook and say, “Read.”

I’m lucky, because my mom is a flight attendant. She flies to Spain a lot, and because of that, I get a lot of care packages. It saves me a lot of money. I’m thankful! I’ve baked my family a lot of things. They love it! I’ve made chocolate chip cookies (they don’t have those here), I’ve made pancakes (those either), brownies, and a lot more different kinds of goodies! All of those things came from packages my mom sent me! Things like that don’t exist here. I don’t think they understand that all I have to do is add water and eggs, because they would praise me for what seemed like forever and say that I’m the best cook, ask if all Americans can bake like me, and then ask me for the recipe. In reality, I can’t cook to save my life. But there’s no way I would tell them that, compliments always feel good (; !

Well, until next time (: Bye!

L. J. Karlson
2011-12 Outbound to Thailand
Hometown: Fleming Island, Florida
School: Fleming Island High School
Sponsor: Fleming Island Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Plutaluang, District 3340, Thailand

L. J. - Thailand

LJ’s Bio

My name is  LJ Karlson and I am Rotary Youth Exchange student who will be spending the next year in Thailand. I am a sophomore at Fleming Island High School but will be a junior by the time I leave for Thailand. Ever since my best friend’s older brother went on an exchange to the Czech Republic and told me how much fun it was I have wanted to go. I have lived in  and visited  other countries but nothing like Thailand.

I have two siblings, an older sister who is a senior at Fleming Island  High and a little brother who is in eighth grade. I love to play soccer, sail, listen to music, and to travel. I have a job were I am a referee for soccer and also have my own little lawn mowing business.

My biggest fear going to Thailand is the language. Thai is a language much different than English. It is a completely different and much bigger alphabet and they have so many words that look the same but are just pronounced differently. Its really hard to learn by my self especial because I don’t know if I am saying it right, but once I am in Thailand I think it will be allot easier to learn.

I had not really even thought much about going to Thailand until I heard that’s were I was going. At first I was pretty nervous about it, but once I started researching it I got really excited.  The best thing I like about it is that its a completely different culture than America. There are many sights you could see every day that you could never see any where else.

I am very excited and also very thankful for the Rotary to grant me this once in a life time opportunity.

LJ’s Journals

September 23, 2011

My first month in Thailand has been amazing. I have done more this month than I usually do in 2 or 3 back home.

I have had the privilege to meet all my host family’s many times and they are all really nice. My first family lives on a huge farm with about 100 cows, 10 dogs and many other random animals. I live by my self up at the top of the farm in a very nice little house with everything I need in it and my host family lives down in there main house.

My second host mom has a trip planned for me and the other Rye from Mexico every weekend so we get the chance to visit allot of the country. I’ve gone to Bangkok about 3 times and am going one more time this month to visit the US Embassy to here a speech on P.O.W and M.I.A and their work that they do in Vietnam and about the Vietnam war.

I have also visited Pattaya many times and has many foreigners in it. I have about one week left of school and then I am on break for about a month. During this month I will be doing allot of traveling with my family. My Family Has planned a trip for me to go to Singapore. We will go in December from the 19 to the 26 or 27 so I will get to spend Christmas there.

My school is extremely small and old and is not very academic but I have made allot of good Friends. Every day after school we usually go to the gym for about 2 to 3 hours to play soccer and Badminton. I have a really good cousin who loves to teach me Thai and helps me every day. I can now introduce my self and say many other useful phrases.

My Rotary club here is very involved in the community and sponsor many activities. The third day I came here they made me run a 10k that I was not at all prepared for. I have visited 2 other Rotary clubs and both of them were very friendly and welcoming. My first month has been amazing and I’m thinking that it will only get better with time.

January 16, 2012

My first five months here in Thailand have been beyond amazing. I can already notice my self growing in so many ways. After having to give a speech in Thai in front of my whole school the first week was here, I am no longer shy to speak out loud or in front of crowds. Last week we had to go to Pattaya to march in a parade and then do a performance on stage for the people in order to raise money to donate to the flood victims. During this, my job was the MC who was in charge of introducing the people and there routines, if this had been the old me back in America I would have been freaking out and had no confidence to do it but since I have gained the confidence I was able to do it with ease. School here is getting a lot better even tho its still crazy long.

I have got my self very involved with my school and now have just about a full schedule every day. Every Tuesday I have sport day were I get to play futsal and badmittion with my friends. Every Wednesday, my two favorite teachers take me out of school for a class called Thai culture. This class is a blast because the teachers, even no they don’t speak English, have great personalities and a great sense of humor, and the best part about it is that they take me to really cool places, two weeks ago we went to the national Sea Turtle conservation center were we were able to see hundreds of turtles and learn about the type they were and what these people are doing to preserve them. Last week we visited the temple were the Head monk, equivalent to the pope, Lived and worshiped for most of his life. It was a beautiful temple and it also had a room with a giant cage that contained a piece of the Buddhas body which I thought was really interesting. This week we went to a Chinese museum were we got to see hundreds and hundreds of artifacts dating back to the A.D. Times.

I am also very involved with my Rotary. I go to the meetings every single week and join in every fundraiser or activities that they have. Tomorrow I will be join them in going to Bangkok for the whole day to help provide support to the flood victims by giving out food and water or helping them stack sand bags. I have also put on 7 kilos which I am desperately trying to lose. I have got a new work out system that I created so hopefully that should do the trick. The other exchange students are very friendly and its all ways nice to see Annie and Rachel who are my fellow Americans.

Eight weeks ago we had our first trip which was to a mountain called Phu Kradung which is located in the north of Thailand about 16 hours away from where I live. We Started off the trip having a big party with the natives to celebrate Loy Kratong which a huge festival were people light these balloon like things on fire and release them into the air. All in all the festival was a blast and it gave us an opportunity to relax before our big week we had in front of us. The following day we had to wake up at 5:30 am to begin our 12 km mountain climb and when I say climb I mean climb. We were Constantly having to pull our self over rocks and other objects and helping each other out any way we could. For my group it took us 3 painful hours to reach the summit or the top but man was it rewarding. The rest of the week was spent wandering around the 27 kilo plateau that laid on top and visiting its many beautiful water falls. I also had my first in-counter of leeches which I must add are the most disgusting creatures ever.

I Have adjusted my self pretty well tho Thailand and its culture. Some things it only take you one time to learn like for example BRING TOILET PAPER EVERY WHERE YOU GO! I can not emphasize this enough for the Future outbounds to Thailand. Most places let alone even have a really toilet let alone paper. Its more of just a hole in the ground with a bucket and a hose next to it that your supposed to use instead of the paper. I can truly say that never in my life will I be ungratefully for any real toilet that has paper.

One big thing that I haven’t quite got used to is Thai time. In Florida the Rotarian’s emphasize being on time like crazy which I think is great because it gets us very prepared. In Florida when they say it starts and 7:30 that means you must be there at last 5 to 10 minutes early or else your considered late but here in Thailand its the complete opposite. If they say 7:30 You might be lucky if its starts at 7:45 or even 8. In Thailand there is really no sense of emergence to do really an thing.

My Thai has increased greatly within the past two months. I can now have a pretty good conversation and I can defiantly make it by on my own if I had to. As I’m typing this I am on a plane on my way back from Singapore. I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to spend a week there with my host moms sister and my Thai sister. Singapore is a great country and a great place to spend a week, but I must say that I am re-leaved to be on may way home. Due to the fact that my host sister doesn’t speak English I was her translator for the week and to my surprise I was able to translate just about every thing she wanted me to. I have never felt so accomplished I’m my life as I did then. To know that I can now comfortably speak Thai and also translate it for people was the most rewarding feeling ever.

My Christmas is one that I’ll never forget, mainly because it the first year in my life I was away from my family during the holiday and that I did even celebrate it. I have noticed now that when ever I do allot of traveling I feel my self start to think about going home and crawling into my own bed, and by own bed I mean my Thai bed.

I feel so at home and part of most host family its crazy. I am able to do comfortably joke around and walk around my house like I’ve been there my entire life. I will be switching to my second host family soon. My current host mom told me that she wishes I could stay with them the whole year because she doesn’t know what she is going to do when I leave because the house will be so quite. My host dad also said something along those lines, he told me I had made a permanent family and that I am truly his son and that I will all ways have a room in his house. To know that the impact I have made on them is almost the same impact they have made on me. There is nothing nicer in this world to know that your have met people that now love you and that are just as upset that your switching host family’s as you are. Due to the fact I feel like I am with my real family here in Thailand I haven’t been home sick a single day and I’m starting to think that ill be extremely lucky and wont get home sick at all. Even tho I’m sad that I’m leaving my family I’m excited to move in to my new moms house. She is a very emotional person and has already fallen in love with me and the other exchange students. Each of my family’s also introduce me as their son which makes me very happy. My second host mom loves to travel and she invites me every time, thanks to a mixture of both my family I have seen so much of Thailand .

I realized that I only have about another 170 something days. Time is flying to fast for me. I am dreading having to leave Thailand. My life is at an all time high at the current moment and I’m not expecting it to go down any time soon.

Lucas Costa
2011-12 Outbound to Denmark
Hometown: Deerfield Beach, Florida
School: Pompano Beach High School
Sponsor: Pompano Beach – Light House Rotary Club, District 6990, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Svinninge, District 1480, Denmark

Lucas - Denmark

Lucas’ Bio

Hej! Mit navn er Lucas. (My name is Lucas) I’m lucky enough to be spending the next year of my life in Denmark! This should be a great experience although not very unfamiliar since I’m originally from Brazil. I’ve already been out of the country a few times, and have always been interested in learning other languanges. English was my second languange, and I still remember all the challenges I went through many years ago to develop my learning skills. Denmark will be a whole different story, for its the complete opposite of anywhere I’ve ever lived! Customs are also different, and the languange is very considerably hard. Conclusion? This will be the one trip I will never forget.

I’m currently a sophmore at Pompano Beach High School, where two of my good friends introduced me to this program. While I’m still here, I spend most of my time in school. My schedule through the week is pretty packed, and I don’t really get that many breaks. I’m always connected to school events. Right after the school bell rings at 3:05 pm, I’m always headed to either football, track, volleyball, jazz band or concert band practice.

Of course as a teenager I try to use some of my free time to hang out with family and friends. Our family usually goes out for dinner on special occasions, as we did on new years as we went to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. My friends and I usually like to go play sports together, and during summer we spend a lot of time at our sunny beach here in south Florida.

I think of myself as a very outgoing person, and easy to relate to people. Everyday I feel like I’m getting ready for a bigger journey, and I know I will give my best to do great things. My parents have been very supportive although sad that I’ll be leaving. If it wasn’t for my parents, I wouldn’t have had many of the opportunities I have today. This weird feeling in my stomach will not leave me alone! Everyday that goes by in one more cross in my calendar. I’m very grateful to Rotary for giving me this amazing chance.

Lucas’ Journals

August 21

So much has happened in the past two weeks that I feel like I’ve been here for much longer. Then again, even though it might be early to think so, I also get that weird feeling that my time here has a due date. But for as far as it’s been, all my friends, Rotexs and Rotarians that talked to me about this exchange, have been right. It has been so much fun, every second of it. I arrived in Copenhagen on August 7th, 2011 around 7:35 am (local time). I still couldn’t believe I was here until some estranger came up to me asking things in Danish which I could not understand a word of. My very friendly counselor, John, took me from the airport to his house in Svinninge, which also happens to be very close to my 3 host families. And so it began. DANISH BREAKFAST! I already know I’ll be coming back home in a year with an extra 50 pounds haha. My first host fami…, or should I simply say “first family” was so welcoming. They were the firsts to bring me closer and give me a hug, and made me truly feel like home. I told them yesterday, I wouldn’t have ever thought that I could get a family where I could fit in so perfectly as them. They smiled. And then we started joking around as I’ve noticed many Danes do here. It’s just how life is here.

It would be very hard to give a very detailed report only every month or so, so I decided to make my own personal “picture diary”. I’ve been taking lots of pictures, even of the little things that happen every day, and saving them. It is much easier to record memories, and good time that I had no matter where. I was just looking at these pictures before I started writing this, and I remembered one big thing about this exchange. To learn from my host country. One the first days I was here, I was so tired from the “overload of information” that I crashed on my bed for hours. I believe the language might be the hardest task I’ll have this year, but it is pretty obvious that without it, I won’t get far. But it is also very funny, and strange, how a person can go from not understanding anything, to catching some words, and even joking around in another language after a few days. You suddenly get a feeling of victory, where you have succeeded, reached your goal. I cannot wait until I’m fluent in Danish. It’s just a must. Also, the Danes are very green and environment-worried people. Lots of little things called my attention: Toilets that save water, classrooms that use the sun a source of light rather than electricity, “deposits” on soda cans and bottles which you can retrieve after you’ve returned the bottle/can to a recycling place, and even the lights on the streets which are turned off around the evening to save energy. And these are just things I’ve seen in the past 2 weeks!

But other than that, everything is just a new adventure. Making friends in a school where you’re totally new and different, trying out new sports, eating things you’ve never tried before, going out to places where you’ve only seen in movies, or even just the smallest family time you have at dinner with 5 complete strangers who very quickly become your new best friends. It’s a whole new life. I can’t thank my families and Rotary enough for this chance. I look forward for the next weeks to come.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

It is November 17, 2011. Summer has left me a long time ago, and I’m currently trying to adapt myself to the fall, which is insanely cold to me. Everyone here laughs when I tell them I’m cold- “If you’re freezing now, just wait until winter.” This is that time of the year where you look back into your luggage and say “Darn, I should have brought that ugly sweater my mom knitted me!” Luckily even without it, I still haven’t been sick here, which is a big thing compared to most Danes. The weather is always so unpredictable here that when we have a sunny day, they treat it as a national holiday! You would think that talking about the weather is something we do when we’re bored, but here that is its own subject! Danes can discuss about the weather for hours. And plan things to do outside, which usually are only consisted of sitting by the porch and enjoying the sun. You also tend to see people running outside, but that’s just an everyday thing. They are ridiculously concerned with their health here, and trying to explain to them that in America we do not eat McDonald’s everyday and that our population is 99% obese, is practically an impossible task. I hear stereotypes about Americans every day, and actually just about every other race as well. But that has a lot to do with the schooling system here. It is dealt with as a political system. In class, we only pick up the books to have an overview of things. Then 5 minutes later, our classes become live debates. It is crazy. Everyone has a different perspective of something and the teacher acts as the judge, who is not biased not any side. So everything is taken under consideration, and you feel like a war is going to start. Don’t get me wrong, Danes are amazing loving people. But overall I find them very mature, especially at young ages. For example, even though you may only vote when you’re 18 here, politicians come to our “high schools” and “middle schools” to present their party’s offers to our country. After their presentation, there is a big questionnaire part part that is open to all students, and just about everything is asked.

My everyday:

This is all great. I go to school along with all the other young Danes. Have fun while people ask me to say things which I pronounce funny. Go out with friends every once in a while. Suddenly becoming part of the group is not such a hard task. Rotary has been so kind with me. I go to meetings almost every Wednesday, and there again is just like another day in school. They start using their “Danish humor” to prank on me. This sarcasm just won’t go away! I’ve already seen a few parts of Denmark, like the so-famous Tivoli. Also Århus, the second biggest city in here. And went to a Harry Potter festival in Fyn, the middle island. I’ve just recently joined our school’s crew for the “Homecoming” show (which here is called “Galla Feste”) so I’ve been spending a lot more time at school with some new colleges while practicing the Saxophone. I play soccer with some other guys at my city’s club. On the weekends, I’ve been lately spending it with the family or friends while usually trying to make some food and watching movies. Well I’m horrible cook so it’s more like sitting there and watching them cook haha. Sometimes we make bigger plans as well. For example, going to watch a soccer match in Copenhagen! That was also my first match, so you can just imagine how amazed I was sitting all the way at the top! There’s some other beautiful sight-seeing in Copenhagen. It’s a huge city which physically looks different every couple of hundred meters. YES, meters. I’ve already adjusted myself to the metric system here, along with every other type of measurement which we don’t often use in the US. School is so much fun, because I get to be with some many different people, and they usually have the most random questions to me about US. And they also help me so much with Danish. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have been able to give a small speech yesterday at my Rotary meeting, just in Danish, which apparently lasted almost 20 minutes! I was so proud of myself!

My perspective:

I find it very hard to explain the things that have been happening with me for the past months. Because as the time is passing (very quickly btw) you actually start feeling things you can quite explain. And I think it all goes back to point A: the language. I feel very comfortable with the language now. I’m not even close to being fluent, no. But after 3 months here, I’m finally able to have small FULL conversations with people. And I believe that the weirdest and coolest thing about it, is not the fact that I can speak some Danish now, but the process it was to get this far. And that’s because you’re not just learning about the language, you’re learning about yourself. So many things you start taking under consideration which you didn’t before, you start looking at things with different eyes. This is when you say “Yeah Ok dad, so maybe you were right about that too…” And it’s a scary thought that a person can change so much just because of his surroundings.

Mackenzie Teek
2011-12 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: Tallahassee, Florida
School: Leon High School
Sponsor: Wakulla County Rotary Club, District 6940, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of João Pessoa Norte, District 4500, Brazil

Mackenzie - Brazil

Mackenzie’s Bio


My name is Mackenzie Teek and I am not your average Freshman. Later this 2011 year I will be spending 10 to 12 months in Brazil. Now most people might have never thought about ever leaving their comfortable American lives to go spend a year in a different country, and even more terrifying where you don’t speak the language, and for all I know I might be kidnapped and forced to harvest mangoes for the rest of my life. But to tell you the truth I crave this type of adventure more than anything.

To begin with, I am fourteen year old girl, I am 5 foot 11 and I have an afro which adds to the height. I live in quiet suburban Tallahassee where the most interesting thing that happens on a day to day basis is the mailman coming. I enjoy chilling with friends, long boarding, playing golf, being a dweeb , going on adventures, making up songs that make no sense, trying new foods and sleeping. I like reggae music and I hate wearing pants, if I could I would wear shorts and tank tops year round. I have a younger sister named Veronica; she was adopted from Foshan, China. When I was 4, we went over to China to adopt her because for some reason they don’t ship children internationally. I was adopted from Boca Raton, Florida. My mom’s name is Patti and my dad’s name is Dave and like any parent they want this for me but they don’t want me to leave.

I first found out about RYE through Larry DiPietro who is officially the coolest guy ever. He came to my high school and did a few slide show presentations. I was pumped to start. What I thought was a few applications was much more and I realized this would be the biggest event to happen in my life so far. But as soon as I knew it, I was being glared at by a panel of 10 judges or should I say firing squad, to determine if I was fit for this program.

Finally , after 6 clementines, a tall glass of root beer, long walks with my best friend, and even trying to Google the answer, I have yet to find one reason, simply because I have too many. But as I travel farther into my journey the real reasons come in and out and a basic answer is why not? I have one life I want to find out who I am before I am too old.

Mackenzie’s Journals

So today marks my first four weeks in Brasil, and I can already say I feel like I have been here a lot longer. To be able to wake up to the sound of parrots, futebol, and the ocean itself feels surreal, but surely enough I am enjoying my time here. But a lot more has happened in 14 days than one can sum up in a few sentences, so here we go!


It was the day that I had anticipated and prepared for, for the past 8 months, and finally it was here.  I put on my snazzy navy blue Rotary blazer and transformed into ‘Mackenzie Teek: Exchange Student’, not to mention my pure white pants also went well with the overall look.  Before I knew it I was at the fabulous Tallahassee Airport; bags checked and saying goodbye to my best friends Hunter and Amber and some cool kids from D6940 (Amber gets the pepper next guys). As I made my way to security I had to also say goodbye to my little sister and dad as my mom was the only allowed coming through security with me.  And after a short wait my mom and I had to say our goodbyes, which was probably the hardest moment in my life so far. But that was the moment I like to say was ‘child to adult’. I felt like I had grown up more in those seconds boarding the plane than I had in my 15 years. It was like a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders, I was finally going.


So I made it. Alive, happy and tired…let the exchange begin! My host city Joao Pessoa in the state of Paraiba is the most eastern point of all the Americas it is said to be where the sun rises first. My apartment is located in the Cabo Branco district, and the beach is across the street. As for my host family, to them I am a giant; I am the tallest person in the house. I have a host mother, two brothers, grandmother and sister who will be departing to Canada on her exchange soon.

My first few days were spent getting to know the house and the city, I went surfing  with my host brother, hung out with some other ‘intercambistas’,  went to a Brasilian lunch party at my host brother’s godmother’s house (here family is family) , enjoyed my new favorite food couscous cakes and drank agua de coco on the beach.


After a first weekend of adventure, Monday came around the corner and it was time to purchase a uniform for school the next day. Now I will say under the exchange code that Brasilian school is not good it is not bad…it is different. Though in very simplistic classrooms with white walls school itself is an adventure. The kids sing, shout and dance as do the teachers. Even though the curriculum seems to be very difficult and intense, people here seem to have a lot of fun during school. Compared to classes in the U.S., the students do not switch to other classes but the teachers do, so a group of 30-40 students have the same schedule which is done by block so no two days are alike. Every day during my first week I was surrounded by people asking questions about the U.S. and myself. Like “do you know Lady Gaga”? Or when they told me that this one boy was pregnant.  Though it will take some time to get used to, I am enjoying school very much.


So far I have gone to Campina Grande twice, the only mountains where I have seen palm trees present. Tried every food given and only disliked one. Gone to the mall multiple times. Went to the police station to register and not allowed to enter because I wasn’t wearing pants, went again a few days later with pants on and still not allowed in because the officers “were tired”. Gone to multiple family party/dinner things. Chilled with other exchange students. Taken the hardest test of my life IN PORTUGUESE.  Went down a mountain on a bike made for a 7 year old. Fell off of a bike made for a 7 year old going down a mountain. Seen many speedos. Horse drawn wagons in the middle of the road with cars. Saw Smurfs and it was still an awful movie even in Brasilian Portuguese.

I start theatre, xilogravura (art printing) and exercise classes (to work off my Brasilian food baby) this week.


The first few days I was here I found that I was learning vocabulary words quickly. NOW I WISH I HAD SPENT MORE TIME LEARNING MY LANGUAGE. I can hold a small conversation, answer some questions and ask a few questions. Learning a new language coming from English as a first and only makes it harder.  I wouldn’t say I am “In the dark” as we were told we would be at first, but I think it is more like being behind a two-way mirror. Sometimes only you can see out and nobody can see in or EVERYBODY can see you but you can’t see them.  But thankfully my host family is very helpful with learning the language; they aren’t afraid to correct or quiz me but at the same time encourage and are patient when I learn something new.  On the other hand I think the worst part about not being fluent is the inability to express feelings and understand jokes.

I think the best part of this experience so far is just to be able to say “I am in Brasil”, that itself is the greatest privilege I have ever been given.  Tchau!

Thoughts on Exchange

Today is September 15th. Time is passing so quickly and I am learning so much about everything . I don’t even remember August. It was a blur which in a sense makes me feel like I wasted a month fooling around not getting adjusted. But then again I did do a lot, so it is almost as if I stopped seeing through the eyes of “the tourist” and now finally “the exchange student”. I think back to days where I was frustrated and lonely or just ready to be fluent, but now I look and see that this whole thing is like a flight of stairs and each experience is the next step to the top. But like any staircase if you try to skip steps you take the risk of falling. With that I finally realized that I shouldn’t try to “skip steps” , take my exchange slower, calm down and let it ride even if it means making mistakes, which I shouldn’t be afraid of. For future exchange students, I think in the first few months observance of the language, the people and your actions are very important things to do, you learn about a lot of things you never knew existed.

1st Host Family

I honestly feel lucky to have ended up in the family I am in. They are helpful, supportive, intelligent, very funny and make really good food. I so far have enjoyed my time with them.

These Past Few Weeks

-I can officially say I have activities, I am taking xilogravura on Mondays and Wednesdays but unfortunately the Theatre class was on those days at the same time as well so I went with what I was unfamiliar with. I hope to enroll in a French class because I am slowly losing my two years of previous learning. I also would like to try kite surfing (at my mother’s approval) and Capoeira but who knows, I tend to bounce from activity to activity so the next best thing may appeal to me more.

-I am enjoying school very much so, though understanding what is being taught varies day to day, I LOVE SCHOOL. The kids in my class are very crazy and nice. I have been asked multiple times to read out loud and after each time the class has erupted in applause ,even though I mispronounce some words and read very slow. Everybody in school knows me even if I don’t know them, when I walk into school I get plenty ‘Bom Dia Mackenzie’s. I also have acquired a rainbow of nicknames such as Mackie, Maquina (machine in Portuguese), Quinze (15 in Portuguese), Americana, Mackle and Grorgran (my middle name pronounced in some Brazilian accents) and pretty much any word that sounds even remotely like Mackenzie.

-When out walking, people don’t automatically assume I am from the United States and I don’t exactly meet the characteristics of a gringa ( white skin, blonde hair, blue eyes), so a lot of days people ask me if I am from Africa. This happens in school sometimes as well.

-I went to my first Rotary meeting, in which I gave an impromptu speech that I wrote down on the back of a piece of scrap paper.

-Hung out with friends/went to a party where I sang karaoke…

-I got lost on my way to buy bread at the bakery, a very scary and sweaty experience.

-I dreamt in Portuguese three times, all very strange dreams; each took place in Tallahassee with people from the U.S. , I was naked in each one, and I was bald as well. But hey at least it means my Portuguese is going somewhere.

-I also attended the Inbound Orientation at the gorgeous Maragogi beach or the Brazilian Lake Yale. Except, the food was great, we stayed in awesome bungalows and all of the male Rotarians wore speedos to swim in(yikes). It was nice to spend a weekend with other exchange students who can relate to you. I ate chicken hearts which are DELISH, saw a capoeira show and danced the Forró (badly), I stepped on my dance partner’s feet almost every other step  But it was truly one of the best nights of my life.

-Explained the concept and use of dryer sheets to my host mom and host grandma after my host sister in Canada spoke to them about her crazy host family “Putting napkins in the drying machine”.

-Got yelled at by multiple street vendors.

Differences/Things I noticed

-So many daily actions are done differently. I have really seen the other ways of living, when I never even thought there were other ways to do it.

-Food: Rice, beans and meat : basic Brazilian lunch . The food here is so fresh, every meal I have had here has been delicious (other than the tapioca), I can’t tell if I am gaining weight or losing weight because I am eating so much healthier than I did in Florida, but I am eating more.

-There are a lot more stray cats, dogs and sanguis (monkey/lemur things) , but unfortunately no matter how much I would like a pet sagui , they all have rabies

-People shower more here (2,3 maybe 4 times a day)

-Sometimes, people will just randomly light fireworks on the beach (like the kind they use at Disney), illegal or legal people do it.

-Coffee is served after dinner

-People change clothes a lot more often here but also wear an outfit more than once before washing it

-All people have AT LEAST two cell phones, or two SIM cards

-The bathing suits are smaller than my underwear, my bathing suit bottoms are about the same as the male speedo here

-Don’t drink the tap water, it will end badly.

-You can get a pair of Ray Bans, Harry Potter 7 part 2, a ‘new’ watch, lettuce, if you can name it you can probably buy it from one of the many men selling it on the beach in front of my apartment.

-People almost never touch food with their hands, they use silver wear for most meals and street food is eaten with a napkin.

-Brazilian time is different, if you plan to meet someone at 2:00 then leave the house at 2:15. If you plan on going on a trip and leave right before lunch, you won’t ,you will probably leave at 3:00 . And if class starts 7:00 it really starts at 7:30.

-Traffic Laws are more like Traffic Suggestions, if you’re in a hurry don’t be afraid to create a third lane in the two lane road.

-The cross walks don’t have lights, so you go when a car stops for you, which is not guaranteed so sometimes you wait 10 minutes to cross or risk your life.

-The people: most Brazilians have a really cool attitude towards family, friends and life in general.

September 28th

So far this week has been one of the harder ones, I am not homesick and haven’t felt it yet at all, but my favorite activity xilogravura, has ended for the entire year. It kind of gave me a sample of how hard leaving Brazil is going to be even though this was just one thing ending, and if there is a first there will be more. It also made me think that exchange is really just change, you first change countries; then change your family and friends; change your language; change families here (which I am not looking forward to now as I am quite content with mine). And of course the little things like activities, maybe the way you get home, or the type of toothpaste you use. Whatever it is, it is change, and frankly is the only thing that is forever, and especially on exchange where nothing is forever.

Today marks the end of month 2 in Brazil.

This past weekend was great. I went with my host family to the praia da Pipa or Pipa Beach. Pipa, is the most beautiful beach I have ever been to in my entire life, and being a Floridian I have been to many.

October 2nd

So this weekend I went to Recife and Olinda with my host family, we toured the city, saw the gorgeous churches (most over 300 years old), and spent most of my allowance haha . Though I love João Pessoa, weekend trips allow me to taste what the rest of Brazil is like. For example in Recife I saw some of the most expensive apartments in the world (one had a helicopter pad on the top), but mere miles away from the most impoverished favelas. Seeing houses made out of scrap cardboard/sticks/plastic and basically whatever can be found, made me truly see how we really don’t have the same type of poverty/wealth difference in the United States. It is kind of funny, in the U.S. we have so many things that are supposed to make us happy yet we are not very content, when some kids here have to sleep on the concrete or worse. Now this doesn’t mean that all kids in Brazil live in favelas (of course not), I go to a school with literally the richest kids in my city. But it does mean that we really should put all bad situations in our lives into perspective.

Well that is it for now, and if you are a future exchange student considering applying for Brazil, do it. Exchange is everything you think it is, and then again it’s not.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth – Baz Luhrmann

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

November 15, 2011

I have been living in Brazil for 109 days. Wow.

Life here has become, well, life. It would be incorrect to call my life here normal, because it’s not, but it is getting more comfortable. Friday is the first day of summer vacation; no school until January 31st! My Portuguese is slowly getting better, but I still have a good 2 to 3 months before I think I will be fluent.

A Day in the Life

In these blogs we were told to tell our readers more about day to day life than the specific things we have done. So I guess I will take you through a day of being a Rotary Youth Exchange Student in João Pessoa, Paraíba, Brazil.

On days that I have school, I wake up at 6 to attend school at 7. But regardless of what country you’re in, waking up at 6 a.m. to go to school is still awful. From 7ish to 12ish I am in school. I say ish because here time is never set exactly. I have lunch at home with my host family, which takes about an hour or so. After lunch I generally help clear the table and wash dishes. Depending on the day I may or may not have something to do after school. Some days I go back to school to design class, if not that just taking city walks or having a coconut on the beach. If not that I am probably hanging out with some my other exchange student friends Shankar from Minnesota, Hannah from Germany and Ondrej from the Czech Republic. I really enjoy hanging out with Hannah, Shankar and Ondrej, whether it is getting lost on the bus system or going to random street festivals, we always have fun. Here there are a lot more holidays, so every other week (sometimes more, sometimes less) I have no school one of the days. On the weekends I usually go to the beach for the daytime portion, and at night I go out to eat with school friends, to the cinema, or on special occasions to a concert.


I can take the bus/taxi/ or walk to almost any destination without getting (too) lost. I know which roads aren’t safe to walk on at night, and which parts of town has favelas. I know to not trust/ignore the men on the beach who sell cashews out of pillow cases, especially when they tell you that you’ve got nice teeth. I know where to get the best acai and which sidewalks smell funky. I know now never flash your cell phone out at the beach, or you and your friend may have to track down a thief and buy it back for 250 reais. Finally I know that Rotary in foreign countries aren’t always going to take the same care of you as they would in the U.S. So if it has been 3 months without an allowance and no 2nd host family planned, you need to stop being polite and speak up. Independence feels weird. But it feels nice.

Frustrating Things

-Back in October there was this holiday Dia das Crianças, or Children’s Day where traditionally you are supposed to give a gift to a child. So of course my Rotary Club had a cool service activity for us exchange students. Our job was to buy/collect as many toys as we could and then on Children’s Day we would go to a poor community and give the kids gifts. So we went to the community of Bayeux, a city composed of mostly favelas, but we went to this old gymnasium with about 40 people living inside because their favela had been destroyed by a mudslide. It was intense, it was poverty, it was a different experience. The one thing I really didn’t like (and have felt this since I arrived here), was the wall between rich and poor. My Rotary Club arrived wearing gold watches, designer jeans and sunglasses. While the people we were giving gifts to, were wearing torn, dirty clothes and had next to nothing. The majority of the time the other exchange students and I were told to take pictures and pose with the poor kids. I felt like we were being placed above them. Though it did make the kids happy, I did not feel comfortable with the air that we gave off.

November 29, 2011

Yesterday marked the 4th month. How do I feel? Weird. Every time the 28th rolls around I get this feeling that I am running out of time. So I reevaluate myself, double take on this new life. It makes me sad to think I have to leave this life in a few mere months. But at the same time, I love the feeling of having done/doing things. I like being able to say things that other 15 year olds can’t. Though not to sound boastful…well yeah I am boasting, I am living a tropical paradise for a year how can I not boast?


I feel like I have a bunch of puzzle pieces for Portuguese and right now I am in the process of aligning them. Though I am still missing a few pieces my Portuguese is moving along slowly.

December 2, 2011

I love being an exchange student. I love waking up by the beach. I love how Brazilian streets smell funky. I love how I spend all of my money on açai, my cell phone and my bus pass. I love how I can buy a day trip of snorkeling in the Red Sand Reef for the same price as 2 bottles of Colgate toothpaste. I love how my hair is turning blonde. I love listening to Brazilians argue. I love being able to say I am a Rotary Youth Exchange student.

Last weekend I had the pleasure of accompanying my host mom and her best friend Suelana at a church procession. Now I thought it was just going to be a walk with a few people from their church but it turned out to be 300,000 people walking 14 km up and down mountains. It started at 10 pm and went to 4am. It was pretty awesome.

As for the holidays, I don’t really feel homesick at all yet. Sometimes I feel that I am missing out on certain holiday aspects of the U.S. (making Christmas cookies, putting up the tree etc). My host family is taking me to Brasilia for Christmas and in January I am going to Fortaleza for 10 days. So hopefully being around a lot of people, and touring will keep me distracted.

January 7, 2012

Last time I wrote it was a bit before my Rotary trip to Recife, Christmas time, and my trip to Brasília.

The holidays in general were really awesome and special for me. To start off with my Rotary trip to Recife. Unorganized, crazy, fun. Though Rotary here originally planned to bus us down to Recife on Friday the at 5 am, we didn’t leave until Saturday at 9 am. It was another fun but too short trip with the other exchange students. We went to a several tourist sites during the day Saturday and at night we went to the Christmas party. Well it was quite a funny party as we all were asked to bring a gift to give in the gift exchange. I wasn’t really sure what to get since it was anonnymous. So I just brought one of the jars of peanut butter my mom sent me, hoping it would land in a peanut butter lover’s hands. Well it did, it was actually stolen in the gift giving game 11 times and eventually bought by a homesick American for 40 reais (30 bucks) .

On December 18th my host family and I flew to Brasília to my host mother’s cousin Sylvia’s house; where we would be staying for the next 10 days. Now first of all I am living in João Pessoa which has the climate of a tropical paradise. Living in João Pessoa is like living in a sweaty armpit. So I of course brought majorly shorts and tank tops only to find that Brasília is freezing. But fortunately my host cousins lent me multiple jackets and sweaters. When I arrived in Brasília I was greeted by my host uncle Guillherme, host aunt Sylvia and host cousins Marina (19), Luisa (15) and Pedro (8). It was like going on a double vacation. Every day we woke up at noon (in which I am usually used to waking up at 7 am or 8 am because it gets too hot to sleep after that in João Pessoa). We toured the city of Brasília which in my opinion wasn´t that naturally beautiful , but more architecturally beautiful. And since it w as the season to be jolly almost every other night there was a Christmas party at some relatives’ houses. The biggest party was held on Christmas Eve and started at 9 pm and ended at 4 am. Nobody really gave or received gifts, the biggest gift was being able to be there with such a large happy family. I really enjoyed it. But on Christmas day we just chilled and had a lunch. For Christmas dinner I ate chocolate pizza for the first time haha.

The best thing I gained from this trip was so much more than I imagined. Over the course of these 10 days I became very close with my host cousins Marina and Lú. When I had to go back to João Pessoa we all started crying in the airport because we knew we’d miss each other so much. It showed me how on exchange you can love and care for initially complete strangers. It was pretty sweet. I hope to visit them again sometime before I go back to the States.

Life Right Now

I am still on summer vacation right now, and really loving it. I spend my days on the beach with my family or at churrascos (barbeque) with friends. Though my skin is getting REALLY dark, my hair has become blonde at the tips. During the week and especially on the weekends my host city has tons of summer luau type things on the beach. So I have been pretty busy for the past couple of months. During the day or when I have an hour or so I try to study Portuguese. I have made myself some verb cards with the tenses, basic conjugations and rules for adverbs. As a resolution I am trying to better my Portuguese. Though I would love to be fluent, I feel like fluency is something that just comes and you either have it or you are working towards it. Right now I am working towards it.

In the Near Future

This Friday I will go to Fortaleza to visit my host dad’s family, since my host parents are divorced I will be traveling with my brother Fabio and host dad.

Carnaval will be coming soon, but I hope to travel back to Olinda for a day or two. I hear Olinda has one of the most famous Carnavals in Brazil and it is only 1 hour away from my city!

In March my American family is coming to my city! I am extremely excited to be able to show them this awesome place that I live in that I can now call home. They will stay in my city for 4 days and then we will all go to Rio de Janeiro for another 4. We will also bring my best exchange student friend Hannah along with us as well so she gets a chance to see Rio.

News and Stuff

My host mother Verônica has received an invitation to work in Brasília in the Senate! I am very proud of her, and glad she has decided to take this opportunity . So this means my host brother will stay here to finish university, my host grandma will stay with my host brother and when my host sister Flavia arrives from Canada she will go live in Brasília.

So yeah, life is good.

January 27th 2012

Trip to Fortaleza/ Traveling About

-So Fortaleza was a little bit different than my trip to Brasília. First off I stayed with my host brother’s grandparents, Dona Maria and Antonio. I absolutely adored them, they were filled with such life and welcomed me like any another grandchild into their home. Dona Maria is 87 and Antonio is 93, Dona Maria raised 11 children and Antonio is a retired general of the Brazilian Military and fought in WWII. Though hardened with age and parenthood they both were some of the nicest people I have ever met. So with a huge house, 11 kids and over 30 grandchildren the house I stayed in always had people in it. It was like being in a Tyler Perry movie for a week with all the chaos and drama a large family would have. I went to multiple beaches, tourist attractions, a formatura (Brazilian college graduation party) and just relaxed. It was just a nice trip, nothing spectacular but I am glad to have gone.

-Later today I will go to Natal! I will spend the weekend there with Fabio, my host granny and Rafa.


At this point in my exchange, I can understand relatively all things spoken, and I can say whatever I want. Am I fluent? In some ways yes, in some ways no. Though I understand everything and can say almost anything, I still have trouble reading, writing, and speaking as fast as I would in English. So those are things I plan to work on. Portuguese still requires effort to speak, meaning that I obviously can’t speak it as easily as I can in English.

Changing Host Families

Wednesday my wonderful host mother left for Brasília. I cried like a total baby, not only for the fact that I won’t see her for a very long time, but also because this is just another of many reminders that the best year of my life is winding down. These past 6 months with them have been incredible. It did take a while to adjust to a whole new family and lifestyle, but doing so was a great experience. I have truly felt like a member of their family and am forever grateful for all they have done for me. Obrigada a vocês, eu lembrarei sempre de vocês e espero que vocês me-lembrarão!

February 7th 2012

So I switched host families a week ago and so far things are going smoothly. Though it does feel like my exchange has started over again I am enjoying the changes and new adaptations. I have a host mom, host dad, 2 older sisters and 1 older brother. As you can see it is a lot of people, so I share a room with my 2 host sisters. I now live closer to school which is great, so I walk just about everywhere. I recently joined a gym as well so I can start working off this exchange weight. Because I have changed grades (1st year to 2nd year) I have changed classes, and the hours are different. So on Tuesdays and Wednesdays I get out of school at 5:45 and the other days I get out at 1:00. Fortunately on the long days, I have a 2 hour lunch break from 12:30 to 2:30. Generally I walk home for lunch, shower again and return for 4 classes. I am actually enjoying school more this term, I think it’s because I can speak better Portuguese.

Advice for the Noob Outbounds

-Trying. When I got here, I was naïve. Obviously. I thought I would be fluent by December (max.), that the kids at school would just automatically be my best friends, that I would have so many activities and would have (in my opinion) the best exchange ever. So I tried and tried and tried to have “the best year of my life”. It wasn’t until November that I really started to enjoy my exchange. It wasn’t that I stopped trying, but I stopped trying to reproduce my dreams of “the best year of my life”. I just let it come naturally. For a while after I started to enjoy my exchange/love Brazil I thought that August, September and October were just wasted. Well they were wasted trying too hard, and I feel that the person who wrote that bio and blog 1 is not the same person writing this blog now. I have grown more in these 6 months than I have in 15 years. I can’t tell you exactly how I have changed but I can just tell you I have changed . And I am okay with it. So my advice being: take your time, be happy when you are happy ,be sad when you are sad. The worst thing to do is try to ignore the bad feelings and mask them over with fake happiness. Make an effort to learn the language but don’t set a fluency date for yourself. Make an effort to understand, appreciate and love the people you are surrounded by.

I have 124 days left in my exchange.

May 17, 2012

I had left off last around


I thoroughly enjoyed carnival, my city hosted the Bloco of Mosquitos being the second largest in all of the Brazil (therefore the world). A bloco is just a block party with a theme that changes nightly the week before the actual carnival break, so its just a pre-carnival carnival as most people in cities like mine travel to places like Rio de Janeiro, Recife/Olinda or Salvador for the more famous carnivals. One of the nights my friend Shankar from Minnesota dressed as a girl in them e with the current Bloco- the Block of Virgins in which all men dress as women. During the actual break I traveled with my host family to Arcoverde (Green Arc) a small city in the interior of Pernambuco , the state next to mine which holds Recife. Green Arc is actually a really pretty city, but it has nothing to do. Literally, but I was glad to have to chance to learn about life in the farmlands where simple necessities aren’t always as easy to get like in the city. Like water, people who l ive in cities like Green Arc must collect rain water the entire rain season as it can be months, and in some serious cases, years without heavy rain fall.


In March, I was kept very busy with my social life (which somehow boomed this semester) and the preparing for the arrival of my parents and my little sister. My family came and stayed in my city for 4 days and then we all went to Rio for another 4 bringing my friend Hannah with us. I was very pleased to show my family my life here and introduce them to this rich and beautiful culture that I can now say I am a part of. I actually found myself very stressed, it was like the people who generally took care of me in the US, I was taking care of! I was stressed with translating and making sure they followed the cultural rules but overall they did a pretty good job. I really loved seeing my family again.


April came and went too fast. My friends Julie from Denmark and Grace from Colorado came to visit Hannah and I for a weekend. They both live in Recife and are doing exchange with Rotary as well, it was great to see them and as Brazilians say “matar a saudade”. I also participated in my school Olympics and played volleyball, handball and basketball. Having never played basketball nor handball they were like two foreign languages to me, but I kind of figured my way out and we ended up winning a few games and getting silver medals. Soon after the game week ended I headed to the Amazon.

The Amazon

I spent 10 days with 75 other exchange students from other districts and some from mine, divided on 3 boats on the largest river in the world. It is so difficult for me to describe in words how this trip changed my life. I did and learned so much in so little time. We were all asked to take off our watches and not ask for the time, we had no internet and I didn’t use my phone for 10 days. It was alleviating, each day felt like 100 hours, we had 3 meals a day and that is what measured the time. We slept in hammocks, swam in the river, swam with pink dolphins, trekked the rainforest, explored waterfalls, met actual Indians, planted trees and plenty of other things.

The Amazon has so much to offer in terms of beauty and resources, we should if anything be maintaining it and not destroying it. One of the many men living in the rainforest that I met called Paipai said “The city needs the Amazon, but the Amazon does not need the city”. And when he said that I realized how true it was, we need gas for our cars, fiber for clothes, food for our bellies and we can’t naturally get these resources in our big cities. So we look to places full of resources and with few people. But if we want to keep living, we need to protect places like the Amazon. Overall the Amazon rainforest made me feel vulnerable, and I loved that. It made me notice that humans are not the only ones on Earth, we share the space. I plan to travel back to the Amazon and do what I can to save it, I have never felt more content in my life than standing under a waterfall in the middle of the largest jungle in the world.

And Now-I have 3 weeks left here in Brazil so I will be wrapping up this year with a couple day trips, a lot of beach days and a few adventures. My next district conference is on my last weekend here and my last week here will be the first week of the month long Sao Joao forro festival. If I am lucky I may get a taste of it.

I am here. I have almost made it. As I stand a mile or so between my once new life turned old and my new life, I think. When I was 14, I decided to go on an exchange principally to learn another language and travel. I knew I would grow, I knew I would change, I just didn’t know how or when. Through this past year or more so this life I have created in a year, I have learned more than a teacher could have taught me, than reading a book could have informed me, more than listening to an all knowing Rotex could have warned me.

I can tell you I am more patient, open minded, I appreciate the little and big things and I understand people better. The thing I am most scared of is returning and not being my best me. I feel that here I have become such a bigger person, and I am most comfortable with myself here, I love my Brazilian me. I have made so many friendships this year that I know I will never lose. No matter how many pictures I have or haven’t taken I will always have the memories and the place to come back to. This has truly been the most incredible year in my short life, and I look forward to even better ones.

Thank you Rotary. Thank you Larry DiPietro for coming to my school that one day in September. Thank you Mom and Dad, Obrigada Verônica e a sua família. Obrigada Rosângela e Laudivan e a família de vocês. Obrigada Brasil. Thank you to all of my exchange friends, I will see you all in the near future. You all have changed me and I couldn’t be more pleased with the outcome.

Mackenzie Rockwood
2011-12 Outbound to Finland
Hometown: Vero Beach, Florida
School: Vero Beach High School
Sponsor: Treasure Coast Vero Beach Rotary Club, District 6930, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Jyväskylä-Laajavuori, District 1390, Finland

Mackenzie - Finland

Mackenzie’s Bio

Päivää, nimeni on Mackenzie (Hello my name is Mackenzie). So right now I’m sixteen, I will be seventeen in October and the majority of the time over seas. I’ve lived in Vero Beach since I was six years old but still love my birthplace, Chicago. I go to VBHS (Vero Beach High School) were I’m a sophomore. Six years ago it was just my mom, my dad and me, but now its grandma, my parents, Lily and Millie (cats), Brandy (dog), and me. So that’s one big happy family, under one roof.

Ever summer since I was in sixth grade I have been volunteering at The Vero Beach Museum of Art, at the summer camp. All those years have add up to over 700 hours of community services (I now what your thinking “that crazy”). The museum is my home away from home. I love all the people that work there and would nerve take back those hours for the world. So when school comes around I usually study and do homework, but this year I’ve joined two clubs. One is French club which I had a lot of fun walking in the homecoming parade. Second is Photo Club, I love photography and take photo and hangout with a cool group of people is a big plus.

I would have never guest that I, Mackenzie Catherine Rockwood, would be a Rotary Youth Exchange Student going to (here it comes) FINLAND! This whole thing has me really thinking about my future, which is kind of nice for once. Ideas of Finland fill my dreams, soon (eight months, not soon enough) those dreams will become reality. I thank my whole family and The Rotary club for letting me do this amazing life change expertise.

Mackenzie’s Journals

September 29

Seeing Finland for the first time out of the small airplane window made me fell like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, I was not in Florida anymore! First stop on the yellow brick road was Language Camp. Here I met all 120 exchange students from 14 different countries who were just like me and were going to spend a whole year in FINLAND. The week went by fast, filled with activities and lessons. From the moment I got off the plane until today (and probably for the rest of my life) I am amazed at all the new things I am seeing and hearing and what a beautiful land this truly is.

The first time I saw my host mom I knew she looked like fun. She gave me a BIG HUG and said that she was glad to have a girl in the house again. Instead of staying for lunch at the camp we left and stopped at the oh so famous Finnish ABC restaurant. After that we had a good two hour drive in which I got to know Paivi (host mom) better. You know the phase “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” well, in this case my host brother, Olli, fell too far from the tree. He doesn’t talk a lot, stays in his room on the computer and for some reason doesn’t like little children. Other than that he is a cool guy. I also live with Paivi’s mother who speaks no English, which I hope will help me improve my Finnish. I can’t forget Sisi our dog. She reminds me of my dog a lot, all she wants to do is sleep and eat. Also if you’re not playing with her or petting her she will bark and scratch you. This is my first host family and it’s been such a good experience that I can’t wait to see what the second family will be like.

School is interesting. For starters, my school is the first Finnish school in the world! There are about 600 students at my school. This number seems small compared to the 2,000 students at my school in Vero Beach. Kids here are very nice and sometimes know more about American pop culture then I do. So when they ask me if I know a certain TV show or what happened to Brad Pitt last month and I shrug my shoulders, they just laugh. Also many kids are here on an exchange basis. whenever we have time we try comparing our experiences. I can’t wait for international day here. They’re going to have a fair with stands representing different countries where people are from or have visited through the exchange program.

The leaves are changing now and the days are getting shorter but my time here so far has been wonderful. I can’t see myself in a more perfect place than here in Finland. If I had one word to describe Finland it would be …FRESH! Everything is new and “fresh” around me. Fresh air. Fresh water. It’s just fresh all over. Everything that I expected before coming here has not only come true, but is better than I expected. So I know that the adventure had started on the right foot.

Madison Rittenhouse
2011-12 Outbound to France
Hometown: Davie, Florida
School: Western High School
Sponsor: Davie/Cooper City Rotary Club, District 6990, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Mulhouse Vosges & Ensisheim, District 1680, France

Madison - France

Madison’s Bio

Bonjour! My name is Madison Rittenhouse and I am a Rotary Youth Exchange Outbound Student of 2011/2012. I will be spending next year in France! I’ve traveled abroad to many places with my family, but I’m truly infatuated with France, and I’m so thankful for the opportunity to immerse myself in the country’s culture. I am currently a junior at Western High School, and am planning to graduate early this year. On my exchange, I am really looking forward to gaining some independence and maturity, and learning how other cultures function in everyday life.

I have only one sibling, my older sister Chloe, who is also my best friend. She attends the University of Richmond. Her major is International Business, and we are very alike in our fascination with global affairs. My main interests include my family, art, history, outdoor activities, travel, dance, and my job. I work for Pure Energy Entertainment as a dance coordinator for social events.

My biggest fear about the upcoming year is being able to communicate on such minimal grounds. I am neither shy nor quiet, so having to limit my conversations will be difficult. However, I’m constantly working to improve my French so that my first few weeks will be that much easier.

My attraction to France sparked from the few unforgettable places I’ve traveled to in the country (la Tour Eiffel, l’Arc de Triomphe), not to mention the art, the language, the people, and the food! I’ve also heard from many personal references that the education system runs very differently, and I’m ready to embrace dissimilar academic challenges. I have no idea what lies ahead, but I’m certainly ready for some new experiences!

The Rotary Program has given me such an amazing opportunity, and I’m so thankful for it. It changes students’ lives everywhere, and should receive such prodigious recognition for doing so. Thank you so much Rotary and everyone involved. Au revoir pour maintenant!

Madison’s Journals

Monday, October 17, 2011

I don’t even know where to start. I arrived here on August 24th, and it is currently October 9th. I have absolutely no idea where that time has gone.

The first three weeks literally slipped away, a blur of happiness and hilarious conversations. When I arrived, I could speak a lot more than I could understand. Now, a month later, I understand SO much more than I can speak. It’s mind blowing how complete immersion can do that to you. Honestly, it’s all about the vocabulary.

I absolutely love my school. The first day was stereotypical, like a scene from a movie. I don’t think my friends at home understand just how much teenagers over here glamorize Florida, and no matter how many times I persist that I don’t live in Miami, it never seems to get through to them. Of course their commentary is followed up by “Why do you want to live here? It sucks.” However, this is just human nature. No matter who you are or where you’re from, familiarity breeds contempt. I feel bad for ever taking advantage of living in Florida. It really is such an amazing place, but for now I will continue my love affair with France. <3

My friends here are amazing, and everyone is beyond nice. It is so refreshing to be surrounded by new people all the time. I love the fact that we can leave for lunch, and there are no hall passes or bathroom permission slips. I guess the same unspoken respect goes to the teacher’s though, because we have to wait to be seated and we stand up whenever an adult walks in the room. I really could never imagine that happening at Western High School in Davie, Florida. It’s a new concept, and so is the grading scale, the test formats, the style of note taking, even the paper. Tiny details but it’s all so interesting to me.

Also, as far as cultural Rotary events go, I’m actually learning a lot more than I ever thought I would. When we had our first district assembly, we all ended up having a huge dance party and learning some Latin dance moves thanks to the students from Ecuador and Argentina, obviously followed by some American fist pumping. We made our new shy friends from Thailand and Japan learn to shake their hips like Shakira, and I taught my new friend from Chile how to Wu-Tang. It was actually hilarious and adorable, and could have been a Rotary Youth Exchange commercial. Aside from that, my friend from Argentina has taught me all about the differences of Latin and Spanish culture, along with A LOT of Spanish. I can’t remember ever only speaking English now. It seems too easy.

To conclude, now that I am a month and a half into my exchange (and can’t even BELIEVE I am saying that), I can officially say that I have been to Colmar, Strasbourg, Belfort, the Vosges Mountain Range, tried so many native foods from Alsace, have made the acquaintances of the women who work at the patisseries (plural) by my school, have taught my French friends American dance moves, embarrassed myself a little, missed a bus or two, have screamed aloud on the train (the tracks are so close together and they go too fast), done my laundry only two times (so busy and thanking myself that I over-packed), spent I don’t want to know how much money on new clothes, learned literally hundreds of words, had a deep discussion with my art teacher about my favorite American painter (in French, obviously), had muscles and chocolate mousse at the school cafeteria (they don’t serve pizza every day like Western does), passed a French literature test, and on and on and on. I can also say that I’m just not homesick at all. You can’t be. Everything moves too fast. Also, it becomes really hard to keep up with your old friends at home, especially when you’re always on different time zones. But you make friends in your host country! And life takes its shape again.

I’m living day by day, always surprised and always learning something new. It’s something I should’ve been doing for a long time. I can’t thank the Rotary enough for teaching me that.

Monday, December 19, 2011

 It’s almost Christmas and I’m not keeping track of time anymore. I had 9 more months left to go, and then 8, and now 7. I just can’t think about leaving yet.

One thing that completely separates my life here from my life in Florida is the transportation system. I have left every single weekend by train for the past couple of months, visiting friends and family that just so happen to live nearby. I have been so busy with Rotary events and visits that I’ve gotten sick from lack of rest, not to mention the cold weather I’m just not accustomed to.

I’ve seen so many places and things, from palaces to museums to Christmas markets to night life to castles. I’m even getting lazy with taking pictures now; my tourist life is slowly fading. To be honest, there has never been a moment where I’ve had nothing to do, between Christmas gifts and birthday parties and family and friends. I wouldn’t change this new pace of life for anything.

Around the third month of exchange, things did get a little hard. It almost felt pathetic to fall into the emotional pattern that was so very “text book”, that the Rotary forewarned. Unfortunately, it’s true and life will become overwhelming at times. You’ll end up depending a lot on yourself to pull through, and each person will form their method of controlling their emotions. The realization that no one will run to hug you when you cry transpires, and all of a sudden you’ll develop new strength that will allow you to handle just about anything that’s thrown at you.

Then, on your good days, you’ll laugh because you realize just how luck you are and how amazing your life is. I do this all the time now, and because I already finished high school in Florida, I am enjoying being 17 and not getting grades at school (still participating though, of course).

I can’t even begin to deal with how excited I am about the rest of my exchange, between skiing in the Alps to a week in London with my school, two Rotary bus trips all around Europe, parties and exchange students, and summer excursions with friends and family who will come to visit. It feels unreal that I will have to return and go straight to university. Life is just playing out right now, always surprising and always unreal. Feels weird to have a definitive plan, but for right now I’m just enjoying every moment.

Sometimes I think about my exchange and I know I would’ve had fun if I had stayed with my friends and family, inevitably seeing their photos and hearing their stories and what not. But now I just have absolutely no idea what I would do if I didn’t know what I do now, and if I hadn’t realized how much I had taken for granted. I’m so much more thankful for everything now, and even miss my little town, friends and old high school (I thought I’d never say that). Honestly, nothing can change someone’s life like a little perspective.

February 25, 2012

Exchange can only get better and better.

I celebrated my six months in France yesterday. It’s sad to think that half of my exchange is already over.

In terms of adventure, I went to Alps for New Years with my host family which was just absolutely amazing. I went trekking through knee-high snow in an untouched forest. It was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life. Inevitably I was ridiculed for being from Florida as I jumped and plunged into the snow. I tried skiing for the first time, only to find out how ungraceful I am.

A couple weekends ago my mom came to visit me. We stayed in Basel, Switzerland which is a 20 minute train ride for me. We then visited some of our friends who live in Freiburg, Germany and went to a spring carnival. It was amazing doing three countries in a weekend, a unique facet of the European experience.

Yesterday was my first day of spring vacation. Tomorrow I’m leaving to Strasbourg, then to Paris for our first bus trip (Paris/Barcelona). In March, I have a “stage” with the Rotary, a sort of internship where I will attend a technical “lycee” for a week and we learn how to work hands-on in a patisserie and a butcherie. Then my class is taking off to London with the school for a week, benevolently sponsored by my host Rotary club, followed by a huge reunion with all of the exchange students in France. This is currently my schedule for next month, and it’s exactly what exchange is about. Living, seeing, experiencing.

I think the best thing we can take out of exchange is learning not to generalize, understanding that stereotypes do not define a culture, and developing tolerance.

I have come across so many different people. There were plenty of people who were genuinely interested, or ignorant, or critical, or mature, or formal, or casual, or intelligent, or funny, or motivated or completely rude. There is no way stereotypes do any justice to a country or its respective ways of life.

You will inevitably meet exchange students from all over the world who you instantly connect with, and all of sudden the world is a lot smaller than you thought it was. Somewhere along the way we lose our tendency to generalize. The perspective allows us to grow so tolerant and so interested in the rest of the world. Trivial problems that used to worry us dissolve into distant memories that we always laugh about. For this, I cannot thank the Rotary enough, but there’s so much left to learn.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain

Maranda Lyon
2011-12 Outbound to Belgium
Hometown: Jacksonville Beach, Florida
School: Duncan Fletcher High School
Sponsor: Southpoint Jacksonville Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Esneux-Aywaille, District 1630, Belgium

Maranda - Belgium

Maranda’s Bio

Salut! My name is Maranda Lyon and I am proud to say I will be an exchange student with Rotary Youth Exchange, to Belgium! I am 16 years old and a sophomore at Fletcher High School, when I go on exchange I will be a junior. I live in Jacksonville Beach, FL with my father, mother, sister, grandmother, dog, and cat. My favorite things to do are just hangout with my friends, ride bikes, camp, go to the beach, and listen to music. I know I am going to miss everyone here so much, but in the end it will be worth all the hard work, every second, every breath, and every tear! But I sure am going to miss American football!

The more I read about Belgium the more I fall in love. I mean who doesn’t love chocolate, waffles, and French fries? Also the more I read about Belgium the more I think there isn’t a better place in the world for me to be. There always seems to be something going on in Belgium and I love to stay busy.

Let’s just begin with I am very outgoing, adventurous, giggly, and love to meet new people! I am looking forward to traveling the world and getting to know myself even more and maturing! I come from a VERY big family that has always been here for each other, and they are supporting me every step of the way.

I can guarantee if you are with me there will never be a dull moment. I’m a spur of the moment kind of person; I don’t like to just sit around doing nothing. Why waste your life away when you can be discovering new things? I remember the day so clear when the people from Rotary came in my Spanish class and told us about the exchange, as soon as I got out of that class I called my Mom and told her I was leaving for a year!

Last but certainly not least, I want to give a big Thank You to Rotary for giving me this change of a lifetime! There are honestly no words to describe how happy and excited I am to discover all the new things to come! Thank you so much!

Maranda’s Journals

September 14

Ahhhh! I have been in Belgium for a month now. That is SO crazy. How do I even describe this experience? So much has happened so far; I have met so many people, and have eaten so much! 😀 I love Belgium and all the people who live here.

Thinking about leaving Jacksonville wasn’t hard, it didn’t make me sad, and I honestly thought I would be the last person on Earth to cry. At the airport with my family and friends, I was just as happy as could be, dancing around in my rotary blazer with my sister and trying to crack jokes for my two best friends Alexis and Kayla who were crying their eyes out. Then the moment I actually had to be a grown up and venture off on my own through the Jacksonville airport, I started crying so hard. It was the weirdest thing. I honestly can’t even explain it. I know every single tear that I cried at that moment would totally be worth every single second of this life changing experience!

I remember my first glimpse of Belgium, cloudy. I got here at the airport and I remember being so confused. There were three tunnels to go through and I had no clue which one to go in! I chose the one with the most people that had American passports, haha. When I got to the front of the line, the passport-checking guy asked me why I had so many pins. I told him I was an exchange student here from Florida, and he gave me a pin! From there I picked up my luggage and headed on my way. I turned around the corner and saw so many people waiting, and you want to know what my clumsy self did? I dropped my suitcases everywhere, so embarrassing. I still yet to this day know if my host parents saw me drop them. At first I didn’t see them anywhere and I got so confused, then I saw them jumping and waving, I then proceeded to have the biggest smile on my face ever! They were so cute welcoming me with their little Belgian kisses on the cheek and offering to help me with everything!

My first week here everyone kept on asking me “Are you okay? You look lost. Ça va Maranda ça va? ” I was just taking everything in and trying to get my brain use to everyone speaking French and the time change. It was so embarrassing my first day here I went to my nephew’s Birthday party with a few of my family members here, and while I was watching the soccer game on TV I just passed out. The whole first week I slept so much! Also, during my first week I had a wonderful host sister named Naomi. I’m super glad I got to meet her because she explained a lot of things to me, introduced me to some people, and showed me around a bit! I love when someone ask me where I am from then I say Florida, they then get super excited and say “Me-am-me beach?!” Then I have to say no, but I live at the beach.

My second week was a lot better, because I got use to the time difference and I had a sleepover with my second host family! My host sister, Pauline, her friend Manu, and I all went to a dance party in my town. I met a lot f new people; it was a lot of fun! I love hanging out with my host sister Pauline, and it is easy since we live so close to each other! Usually at night time I go to the park in my town and hangout with a lot of people I have met here! Everyone here is really nice, even though a lot of them don’t speak English.

My third week here I started school, and before I walked into the school I was SO nervous. I was so scared of school and I thought of every bad possibility available. Luckily, my guidance counselor introduced me to three girls who are super nice and are now my new Belgian friends (they even invited me to hangout with them after school the first day!) They helped me all through out the week get around school. I also met a few other girls in my other class that are also super nice and have asked to hangout! I also now take the bus! On the way there it isn’t so bad because I have people to ride with, but the ride home I’m always scared I get on the wrong bus or I missed it, or I’ll miss my stop. Hasn’t happened yet though! (: Oh, and gym here, let me tell you, I don’t think I will be gaining any weight. So much running!

I hate to say it, BUT I seriously don’t miss home, at all. There is always so much going on here that there’s no way I’m ready to go home any time soon. I love my house here, I love my families here, I love my new friends here, I love the food here, I love the air here, I love the smell of my town, I love my school (even though I understand nothing), basically I love everything. Except the conversion rate of Dollars to Euros, that kind of blows.

Thank you SO much to the Rotary for this opportunity and all the support of my friends and family.

xxx Bisous

Favorite questions so far:

“ Is there a swamp in your back yard with alligators?”

“ So, do you travel to New York and California since they are so close to you?”

“ Is your favorite singer Flo Rida?”

February 2012

Hi there! So my journal is long over due, Oops, but without any further a due…..

My time here in Belgium seriously has gone by so fast! I’ve already been here for 6 months, and I only have 4 months left! So much has happened. Since my last journal it’s hard to compact it all, but I will try! 😀

So, the day before Christmas I switched families. It was sad because I loved my first host family they were super cool and some of the nicest people I have ever met! My second host family is really cool too though. I already knew them before I moved in so all is well. I’m really close to my host sister, and spend most of my time with her, my host brother is pretty cool too, sometimes I hangout with him & his friends. Sometimes it’s hard getting use to having a brother and I just want to punch him, which I usually do, but I’ve always wanted a brother so it’s also really nice.

In December it snowed here, and at first I was like aweeee yeah this is so cool, I freaking love snow. I had a huge snowball fight all over my village with a few of my friends and some of the neighbors. Then came 7 in the morning walking to the bus stop. Needless to say I sure was missing my Florida sun and roads without slippery ice! I had boots on with about 5 pairs of sock, and I wore 2 pair of leggings under my jeans, and a forever amount of shirts with jackets and a scarf. I was still cold. Now, I get excited if it’s 40 degrees. That’s a good day for me.

I think one of my favorite things to do here is go to “soirées” because I always get to meet new people and just dance all night long. It’s also kind of strange because the only music they play at soirées is dubstep and bass & drums. I love music like that but after I leave the party, I always think I will go deaf afterwards. Super good feeling.

I haven’t really gotten “home sick” yet, but yes I do miss things from America…like food and money. Something all exchange students know the feeling of. I mean of course I miss my family but not the way I miss chick-fil-a, the ocean, or country music on the radio. No offense. <3

Oh by the way, I dropped by France, London, Holland, and Germany for a little visit. No big deal. My favorite of them all was London. The atmosphere there was just incredible, not to mention all the boys with beautiful accents that made me want to cry! In the center of London, I had a dance off with a random stranger….and I totally won. Honestly, one of the scariest/happiest moments of my life!! Everything in London just seemed like a dream. As for Paris; it was breath taking. I remember entering Paris, and seeing the Eiffel Tower off in the distance, and all I could think was my life right now is so unreal. Every little thing I saw in Paris was so lovely. All the museums had so much history and all the landmarks as well. Oh, the view from the top of the Eiffel Tower, unforgettable. I felt like I was on top of the World. I went to Holland with my first host mom and my friend Klaudia (in Belgium from Florida.) I’ve never seen so many people riding bikes around; they even had their own lane and lights. It was really strange just to see sheep walking around on the roads like it was no big deal. Germany was really cool, because I went there during Christmas time and there were little markets everywhere. In April I will be visiting ITALY for 2 weeks!!! I’ve only dreamed of going to Italy my whole life. I’m sure I am going to cry.

Yeah, so basically Belgium is really cool and everyone should come here on exchange and bring lots of warm clothes. That’s all.

A big thanks to Rotary for all they have done to get me here and support me! Also a big thanks to my family for supporting me every step of the way without any doubts!

Marco Lo Russo
2011-12 Outbound to Taiwan
Hometown: Orlando, Florida
School: Edgewater High School
Sponsor: Winter Springs Rotary Club, District 6980, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Yuli, District 3490,

Marco - Taiwan

Marco’s Bio

Hi my name is Marco Lo Russo and in 7 or 8 months I will be living on the other side of the world in Taiwan! I am really excited and can’t stop thinking about the day I get off the plane and meet my host families. Taiwan was actually my third choice and I didn’t really expect to get it. I did a lot of research on it though and it looks really nice and I know I will be very happy there.

I am 17 years old and I’ve lived in downtown Orlando, Florida for most of my life. I live with my mom, but my dad lives only a few minutes away, and I have a little sister. I am a senior at Edgewater High School and by now all my friends there know I am going to Taiwan. For a long time I’ve been interested in pretty much everything about Asia like culture, food, people…everything. To be able to stay in Taiwan for a year and learn about this, in some ways, alien world and learn the most widely spoken language in the world is simply awesome. Mandarin Chinese will definitely be tough to learn but you have to admit, it will be really cool when I come back to the U.S. speaking fluent Chinese.

My interests include playing guitar and biking. I also like spending time with friends and family but I especially love my dog, Haji, and I don’t know what I’ll do without him when I leave. I think this adventure is a really good opportunity to grow as a person so even though I’ll miss my friends and family I can’t wait.

Marco’s Journals

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

So it has been 2 months since I’ve left Orlando to start my new life in Taiwan. There is so much to say about my experiences, the people I’ve met, and the feelings I’ve had. But I am at a loss for words. To describe my life recently with just words won’t do it any justice. It’s something you have to see and experience for yourself to truly understand. Taiwan is Taiwan; probably the best way to say it. I can’t still can’t believe that I’m here, writing about my experiences in a foreign country. A little more than a year ago I would have only dreamed of something like this. It’s crazy to think I’m in Asia, and that I’m staying until July! I will try my best to find the right words to summarize my time here so far. I really want whoever reads this to try to be able to know Taiwan through me. That being said, I still have so much left to discover myself.

So I’ll start from the beginning. I arrived in Taiwan at about 9:30 pm on August 20. The whole trip from Orlando to Taoyuan, Taipei took around 23 hours. The longest trip of my life and I wasn’t even in my town of Yuli yet. I was pretty nervous when I got off the plane in Taoyuan because I knew I would see my host families soon. When I finally turned a corner and they were there with signs and banners, it felt great. To have 3 families you’ve never met in person embrace you as one of their own is surreal. When I left the airport with my family and took my first step outside, I was introduced to the Taiwanese weather. I was hit with the thickest air I’ve ever felt. If you can imagine, Taiwan is even more humid than Florida. The first thing I ate in Taiwan was a fènglí s, or pineapple cake, and some mini M&Ms. They were given to me in the car by my host sister Momo. I think I will keep that memory with me for the rest of my life. We all made our way to a little hole-in-the-wall place where they served duck soup. As I’ve learned from my time being here, the hole-in-the-wall places are where you can find the best food. When I ate that duck soup in Taoyuan, I couldn’t recognize everything I was eating (and it’s still like that today), but it was it was delicious nonetheless. Taiwanese food is amazingly good and definitely much different than the food I usually eat in Orlando. I got to know my 3 host families that night. It was one of the most memorable nights of my life. I’ve been having a lot of those since I’ve come to Taiwan.

In the days from then up until now, I have done so many things. I’ve traveled to many cities like Taichung, Miaoli, Taipei, Yilan, and Hualien. I’ve been up mountains and down to the ocean. I’ve seen famous Taiwanese sights like Sanxiantai & Loshan, The National Palace Museum & Taipei 101, the peaceful landscape of the East Rift Valley & the energetic environment of a famous Taichung night market; and it’s all beautiful. Taiwan is a really amazing place and the sights you see will be embedded in your memory. I’ve eaten a crazy amount of Taiwanese food, met so many people, celebrated my 18th birthday, made Taiwanese friends that I love, experienced my first Mid-Autumn Festival, and got my first Taiwanese haircut. By the way if you ever find yourself in Taiwan DON’T get a haircut here. They will mistake “trim” for “do whatever you want” and cut all your hair off.

Even though it was my 3rd choice, I think Taiwan is the perfect place for me to live for almost a year. The people are very friendly and generous, the food is real Chinese food (so delicious), the terrain is much different than anywhere in Florida, and Taiwan has that distinctive Chinese environment that I’ve admired since I was little. I really do love Taiwan and I know I will definitely come back after my exchange.

Until next time

January 31

How to start this one?

I’ve been in Taiwan for 5 months now. During that time I’ve realized how hard it is being an exchange student. When the Rotary told us about how hard it would be, the emotions we would have to deal with, and the amount of hard work it would take just to get through the day; I ignorantly thought they were just exaggerating. It’s been pretty tough sometimes, but the other times when it’s not so tough and when you’re having the time of your life makes it all worth it.

My Chinese is doing really well. Now I can definitely get around on my own without any help from other Chinese speakers. I’m having real conversations with my friends and family and now I don’t feel outside the circle as much. Chinese is something I actually like learning so I try very hard to learn as quickly as I can. Wanting to speak more with my friends and family and become more involved is great motivation for learning a language. Every time I learn how to say something and express myself without using body language, it feels like I’m leveling up or something. There is still a whole lot more to learn and it’s daunting to think about it. You just have to take it day by day and study when you can. I’m usually pretty busy nowadays and very tired so I admit to choosing to take it easy a lot of the time rather than study when I get the chance. It seems no matter how much I study I won’t be able to understand what they are saying on TV. And when two or more people have conversations with each other, they often speak too fast for me to catch on. When someone speaks directly to me though, I can understand much more. Since I live with them, my parents know what words I can understand so it’s easiest talking with them. It also doesn’t help though that most people also know Taiwanese and a lot of the time prefer to use it instead of Mandarin. Now that I’ve relatively picked up Mandarin my parents started speaking more and more Taiwanese which kind of sucks. I think they like speaking it more than Mandarin because it’s the native language. Like when someone is speaking in Chinese and I’m trying to concentrate on what they are saying; and then when in mid-sentence they switch to Taiwanese can be kind of… not annoying but bothersome I guess. They’ll often switch between languages and it gets pretty confusing but as a result I’ve picked up some Taiwanese too. I’m a lso finding myself forgetting English little by little but I think that happens to more people than just me. I’m also learning how to write in Traditional Chinese although much slower than I am with speaking the language. I already know I want to come back here after my exchange year so I want to learn as fast as I can. Japan also incorporates traditional Chinese characters in their writing system as well. I’ve always wanted to learn Japanese one day too so I think learning as much I can now, will help me a lot in the future. The one thing I regret is that I should have studied more prior to coming to Taiwan. The earlier you study, the earlier you don’t feel like… well… a foreigner. I do wish I had studied more but there is no better way to learn than being in environment where the language surrounds you all the time.

Learning the language along with everything else I’ve experienced, I feel more independent and mature. There are trains all around Taiwan so you especially feel that way when you are taking a train by yourself to visit friends in another city. I probably felt the most mature during New Years. The 2 other exchange students in my town and I took the train 5 hours to Taipei and spent New Year’s eve being tourists and visiting all these different places. We went to the busy shopping district of Xinmending, visited beautiful temples, explored Danshui, and ate at Taiwan’s most famous night market called Shilin. If you don’t know what a night market is you are missing out. It is a godsend really. Night markets are everywhere in Taiwan but the bigger and most famous ones are in the cities. Night markets are usually small roads and alleyways lined with stalls side by side to each other selling everything from BBQ squid on a stick and Pearl Milk Tea (famous in Taiwan), to cheap clothes and games to play. Most people just go for the food though because there is so much to choose from and still so cheap. And especially on New Year’s Eve Shilin, Taiwan busiest market, was especially packed with people. We were shoulder to shoulder the whole time and could barely move. After that we took the metro to the famous Taipei 101 building and watched amazing fireworks. It was the most memorable New Years of my life and the experiences like this are the ones that make me so glad I’m an exchange student. Chinese New Year’s is actually in a day so I think tomorrow I will make other memorable experiences like before.

I also recently switched to my second host family. It was Christmas day when I moved. Leaving my first host family was really hard. We’ve been through so much together and I’ve learned a lot from them. I still see them often but I miss living in their house. My host family now is still very nice and I hope to have good experiences with them like I did with my first family. It wasn’t the best Christmas I’ve had though. The Taiwanese Christmas doesn’t compare to the Christmas back in the U.S. since only a small population are Christian. It’s easier to compare it with Easter than Christmas. Those who do celebrate will just go to church and have a meal with their families. So I kind of missed Christmas this year and thought of my family back home a lot. Instead I spent my day pretty much packing and unpacking.

Over these past months I’ve discovered more of what Taiwan has to offer by travelling around. The scenery, cities, people, and food are different in pretty much every county like little worlds. Traveling definitely opens your eyes even more so that’s why I take every opportunity I get to go around. I could compare Taiwan to Disney World. Like a few theme parks in one world, each part of Taiwan is different. The north east is covered in lush green mountains with long winding rivers and old towns scattered throughout. Hualien County on its west side is like no other area in Taiwan. It’s more of a simple area consisting of high palm trees, clear blue skies, beautiful mountains on either side of the valley, and rice… A LOT of rice. But it’s like the most beautiful part of Taiwan and its where I live. On the east side of Hualien county on the other side of the mountains is the beach. You can’t swim because is too rocky but it’s beautiful to look at. There are many aboriginals here who live in fishing villages along the beach. So Hualien County is especially different because the people are also different from regular Chinese or Taiwanese. Kenting to the south is full of sandy beaches and is sunny all the time. The beaches aren’t rocky here so a lot of the people in Taiwan go there to surf. It has that atmosphere not found in the rest of Taiwan. Kaoshiung to the south east was, 10 years ago, an industrial city but now its changed to more of a fun city with thriving cultural scenes with art, music, etc. The air is still gray and polluted from the factories and what have you. Also, here, Taiwanese is spoken more than English. The west side is where most of the population lives and where a lot Taiwanese exports are produced. This is also where the beautiful older Chinese architecture is found. I haven’t really been to the west that much because of the mountains in between. To the north is Taipei w hich has everything. It’s the big, lively, modern metropolis but still has its old parts. I like traveling there the most because there is so much to do. So you can see how I can compare Taiwan to Disney because every part is different.

I’m really having the best time here and I can’t believe I’m almost halfway done with my exchange. Its going so fast. I hope to tell you more about Taiwan and my experiences here after I discover them myself.

Until then

Mary Cate Duff
2011-12 Outbound to Switzerland
Hometown: Orange Park, Florida
School: Bishop Snyder High School
Sponsor: Orange Park Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Bulle, District 1990, Switzerland

Mary Cate - Switzerland

Mary Cate’s Bio

Hallo! Bonjour! Ciao! Allegra! Grüezi!

My name is Mary Cate Duff. I am currently 15 years old and a sophomore at Bishop Snyder High School. However next year, I will be attending school in Switzerland! I first heard about the Rotary Youth Exchange when the Rotarians came to speak at my school. The more wonderful things I heard about the program, the more excited I have become! I am so very thankful for this wonderful opportunity offered to me and for all the amazing people of Rotary who have helped me!

I currently live in Orange Park, Florida. My oldest brother Timothy is a freshman at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. My younger brother Ben is 6 years old. Both my parents are in the military, so I am used to moving around, a lot. I run track and cross country, although I love all sports. In my house, we are big soccer fans, so there was a lot of excitement over last year’s World Cup, and both my brother and my dad have pointed out my future proximity to world-famous soccer clubs.

I wouldn’t consider myself particularly frank; however I do believe compassion and thoughtfulness are the best attributes a person can possess. My family sponsors an impoverished child in Guatemala. Although we often write to each other, I feel I cannot understand his daily life, due to my limited knowledge of the world outside suburban America. I sincerely hope this exchange will enlighten me in ways not possible in the confines of a classroom. With the experiences I wish to gain through the Rotary Youth Exchange, I hope to become a better person, more understanding of international issues, and thus able to make a positive impact in the world.

When my parents told me stories of their travels abroad, I was always fascinated, and now I cannot wait to my own journey! I have always loved learning about places all around the world and have been fascinated by different cultures and peoples. I enjoy challenging myself to improve in every way possible, and I would consider myself rather studious. Although I know this exchange program will be demanding, I intend to dedicate myself fully to the tasks presented to me. I am so very extremely grateful for this opportunity offered to me. My parents have been so supportive, as well as my friends, and for that I am extremely grateful. I honestly have no idea what to expect, however the Rotary Club and all the people involved have offered me such an amazing opportunity, and I feel there is no way I could express my gratitude.

Mary Cate’s Journals

September 16

So now I have been in Switzerland for about a month now…. Even I can hardly believe that!  There’s still so much I haven’t learned yet and don’t understand that I think I could spend the rest of my life here and still learn something every day.  But on the other hand, I’ve already learned so much! It’s the most amazing blend of emotions being here!  I couldn’t think of a more perfect first month!

To start, I arrived here in the middle of August.  It was definitely a little shock for me.  Looking back, I’m not sure what I was expecting.  For me, the size of the town was quite….I don’t want to say underwhelming because of the negative connotation but quite different than what I had expected, only about 2,000 people.  There are a lot of little shops, a little church, a tower (the reason the town is called La Tour-de-Trême – the Tower of the Trême, which is a little river which runs through the town) and no supermarkets.  On Sundays everything is closed, and nothing is ever open all night.  My host parents have showed me the town, and together, we have visited several other nearby towns.  My favorite was Gruyères.  It’s actually the most visited village in Switzerland –it is the most picturesque little town I have ever seen in my life.  It’s nestled in the Pre-Alps and offers visitors a panoramic view of the mountains.  The town is full of little shops, and it even has a castle!  It was quite funny though.  My host parents had told me in the morning that we would be going to the fromagerie that afternoon.  Since we get our milk from a farm about 5 minutes up the road by foot and our bread in town from another little shop, I figured we would just be walking to a cheese shop in town.  They told me we were taking bikes, but I still thought it would be less than a 5 minute trip. The 5 minute trip I had envisioned turned into a 25 minute ride with lots of hills – my favorite.  We made it to the fromagerie, saw a lot of cheese, and then continued on to Gruyères.  Quite an experience 🙂

Another thing that is quite different here is the cuisine.  All the people I’ve talked to seem to have a garden, however it’s not like the gardens in America with pretty flowers and maybe an herb or two, but only for show.  Here people use their gardens for actual food.  Instead of buying lettuce at the grocery store, my host mom and I will go out to the garden and cut the lettuce from the plant itself.  Then we wash it and have it with dinner!  One thing I have learned is that it’s best to just always be honest with your host family when it comes to food.  There is a plum tree in the backyard, and my host family left the plums on the tree so now it’s a prune tree.  Now I tend to be a little picky when it comes to food, but I had vowed to be more willing to try because after all, I’m only here for one year.  And so, one night, my host mom offered me some prunes.  I ate them, and she asked me what I thought.  I, not wanting to be difficult, told her I liked them.  Now these prunes were nothing special, and I didn’t particularly like them.  However, I have since learned that there are perhaps hundreds of ways to prepare prunes.  I’ve had prunes over oatmeal, prune cake, prune jelly, prune juice – really and truly a lot of prunes.  I even had prune parfait with “nature” flavored yogurt – which just means that it has no sugar – never again.  Luckily, the prunes are all finished now, but still I think I could go my whole life and never want another prune.  Ever.

One thing that has been difficult for me is the language.  I really believe no amount of practice could have prepared me for the speed at which people talk.  My first few days here were … certainly not the best of my exchange so far because I was literally lost in the conversations I was hearing.    It was quite difficult.  I had a solid grammatical foundation, but with conversational skills…rien!  However, slowly but surely,  with a lot of patience from my host family, I have improved.  I was actually able to relate a story to my host mom in one try and without either of us getting frustrated by the language barrier!

Other things I have learned about Switzerland.

1.    When walking down the road, you will greet almost everyone with a Bonjour or Bonsoir depending on the time of day.  However, if you say this with a smile, people think you are a tourist.

2.    Many Swiss consider it a responsibility NOT to drive a car.  For immediate needs, everything is within walking distance.

3.    There is a way to ride a bike like a tourist.

4.    Being environmentally conscious is a way of life.  My host mom hand washes all the dishes to save energy.  We have four different trashcans depending on the type of waste material.

5.    Geneva is incredible!! I’ve been 3 or 4 times now at it’s just an amazing city! I’ve also been to Berne, Zurich, Fribourg, and lots of other little villages around my town.

6.    Public transportation in Switzerland = amazing!  It’s always timely, clean, modern, accessible, just wonderful!

School starts soon, and I’m sure that will be … certainly eye opening.  I can’t wait! 🙂 I am so thankful for Rotary for sponsoring me and preparing me so well for this experience! I go to bed every night excited for a new day here in Switzerland!

January 17, 2012

The last 4 months of my life here in Switzerland have been…. Everywhere to absolutely amazing to extremely difficult! Every day I find myself facing new challenges and reaching new milestones.

I started school in September. To start, school here is run very differently. I am in the college – which is highest level of education offered, so everyone takes their studies seriously. My first day of school started out much like any other. My host mom woke me up, we ate the standard Swiss breakfast of bread and jam, and I took the bus to school with my host sister. It turns out that my class is actually one of the classes considered bilingual, so half of the courses are in German and the other half are in French, little did I know. So when the teacher started speaking to me very quickly in German, I was more than a little lost. Luckily I was in class with one of my friends from the local track club that I have joined, and he was able to explain to the teacher that I hadn’t understood anything she had said. Things are all worked out now, I don’t have classes in German anymore (not going to lie taking Wirtschaft did sound interesting.)

But, as I said before, all the students here are very serious about school. I have tried explaining to my classmates that it would be much easier if they didn’t stress as much, but some of them still are convinced that they need to have learned the material by heart at least 2 weeks before each and every examen. Other than that, I love my school. I am taking 13 classes I think, and there are days when it is a little overwhelming. I got very lucky with my class however, and everyone is always wiling to help me understand.

To describe an average day, I get up at about 6:45 every morning to a wonderful breakfast of brown bread and homemade jam. After getting all ready for school, my host sister and I take the city bus across the wonderful little town of Bulle and arrive at school promptly before the first bell, which rings at 8:10. Each day of the week I start with a different class, and I am still walking around with my schedule to remember which room I am in (or just following the people from my class.) My host mom packs me a delicious (usually-when it’s not prunes) Tupperware lunch every day. I usually finish school at 4 o’clock except for Mondays and Fridays. As for my classes, I enjoy most of them. It is funny however, my history teacher usually starts each class with some political remark and gets completely sidetracked from the lesson. Here, there are no lesson plans, so it is up to the teacher to decide what to teach. He assigned an exposition in the beginning of Octo ber, however, because of his lengthy commentaries, to this day, only 7 people of the 24 in the class have presented their projects. In my French class, my teacher enjoys asking me my opinion on the analysis of French literature. Actually, we each had to learn a classic poem by heart. To my luck, the poem I had to learn was riddled with “r’s,” which any native English speaker with knowledge of French knows are very difficult to pronounce. So imagine my gladness when I recited to my class “frous-frous frêles.” Everyone told me it was the best recitation of poetry ever, but I ended up not being able to finish the poem because I was laughing so hard.

The exchange students in Switzerland are very lucky in that the Swiss Rotary buys for each exchange student an Abandonnement General – which allows us to use ALL public transportation in Switzerland for FREE! So, I have been able to do a fair bit of travelling within my country. I cannot even begin to describe how absolutely gorgeous it is here. I have ended up just bringing my camera everywhere because it seems that whenever I don’t have it, Switzerland surprises me with yet another breathtaking view.

I am quite happy to say that I have had multiple dreams in French, and, better yet, I actually understood what I was hearing. I am at the point with le Français where I can understood almost everything I hear (in context,) and I can usually express myself. I am now able to tell my host mom stories at the dinner table about school with minimal grammatical corrections. At school, during our many free hours, my friends have started notebook for me with some of the more practical phrases in French.

My experiences with Swiss culture – My host family has been wonderful about showing me the local cultural events, things you can only experience in Switzerland. For example, we went to 2 Dèsalpes – a Swiss tradition where the cows descend from the mountains, walk through the towns dressed up with flowers and giant cow bells, and are led to the pastures down near the villages, which is accompanied by a little fair. I don’t think anyone could ever understand how many cows I saw. Literally. Two consecutive weekends of cows. Now, there are more and more “Marchés de Noël” – Christmas Markets –which are just adorable. My friends did end up taking me to one, and it was so nice jsut to walk around looking at the little stands and drink hot chocolate in the snow.

Naturally, I have been slowly eating my way through Swiss chocolate, but it is very hard to gain weight when you are eating the healthiest of your life at home. It is amazing to me the lengths at which Swiss people go to make sure that their diets are organic. I am a believer in healthy eating, but I find here that many people lack balance in their diets in their attempts to remain the most ecologically-friendly possible. The idea of being environmentally-friendly transitions into my school life as well, and we often have class with the lights off to save energy. It is amazing to me how conscientious everybody here is.

For the Christmas holidays, my host family took me to Italy with them to the little town called Livemmo where my host mom grew up. It was so different there even from my life in Switzerland, and it was sweet because my host mother wanted to share with me her childhood. She told me all about her favorite places to go, and we went walking around in the Italian Alps. But the little town that I was in, Livemmo, has a population of maybe about 150 people. Almost everyone is cousins or related in some way, and the first night there I got showed around to everyone, where I said “ciao” a whole lot and didn’t understand much else. After that trip, my host family took me for cross country skiing for the first time – epic fail – but it was a lot of fun. My host sister spent a lot of time laughing at me, and I spent a lot of time in the snow… but it was still a great experience. Now I have changed to my second host family, and they have signed me up for real ski lessons for Saturday!

Where I am right now, I can think back to who I was before. I know I’m the same person, but I have just had my eyes opened to so many new ideas and opinions. I cannot believe that I was lucky enough to have received an opportunity like the one I have right now. Thank you Rotary once again for all you have done for me through this amazing exchange!

McKenzie Bolin
2011-12 Outbound to Denmark
Hometown: Ponte Vedra, Florida
School: Nease High School
Sponsor: St. Johns Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Nørre Snede Rotary Club in District1450 Denmark

McKenzie - Denmark

McKenzie’s Bio

Hej, Jeg Hedder McKenzie Bolin! (For those of you who don’t speak Danish, I said, “Hi, my name is McKenzie Bolin!”) In case you don’t know why I’m speaking Danish, it’s because next year I will be living in Denmark! I am 15 years old, although I will be 16 for my entire exchange year. I am currently a Sophomore at Nease High School where I’m in the International Baccalaureate program.

International Baccalaureate, or “I.B.” as most people call it, is an amazing program that I am very thankful to be a part of. It has taught me to always try my best and instilled in me how important work ethic is. The most important thing it has given me, though, is my love of learning new things and embracing other people’s opinions. This will be very helpful to me next year, when I will be constantly reminding myself that nothing is strange or weird, it’s just “different”.

I have lived in Florida my whole life, and I haven’t even lived outside of the Jacksonville area. I live at home, in Ponte Vedra, with my mom, my younger brother who is in 8th grade, and my maternal grandparents. My parents are divorced, but luckily for me, my dad lives close by, so I get to visit him on the weekends. I also have 4 dogs and 1 cat, which I count as a part of my family.

Some of my interests include volunteering, church, traveling, animals, lacrosse, and acting. I am in 3 clubs at my school: Best Buddies Club, Conservation Club, and Cultural Diversity Club. I also volunteer at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens and at my church as a pre-school teacher on Sundays. This year, I started playing on my schools girls lacrosse team. I love it, because not only to I get to spend my time having fun with some friends doing something good for ourselves, but I also get to show off my school spirit. I have been acting for a few years now, and since I started, I have had small roles on T.V., a movie, and in multiple plays. I hope to someday become a zoo veterinarian as my career.

For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to do foreign exchange. No, I am not saying that as an expression, because my mom tells me that in first or second grade I asked if I could live in another country. From the moment I heard about Rotary Youth Exchange, I knew it was made for me! I am a very independent person and have always wanted to take an adventure on my own, so RYE was the perfect program. I am very excited to try many new things, foods, and cultural activities in Denmark.

I could not be more excited about going to Denmark! It still seems unbelievable that a year from now I will be living in Denmark, speaking Danish, and living like a Dane. I am sure it will be one of the best years of my life, and a great opportunity to experience another culture first-hand.

So many thoughts have been rushing through my head since I got the phone call about going having Denmark as my future host country…. I keep asking myself things like what my family and friends will be like, what my new home will look like, what I will do each day, and many more random thoughts and questions! It is so amazing to know that in a few short months, I will have all these questions answered!

I will never be able to thank Rotary enough for this amazing opportunity that will certainly be one of the best years of my life.

McKenzie’s Journals

July 19

As I sit here and write this, I know that my time in Florida is limited. I have a small 18 days left in “my world”. Florida is the world I have spent the past 15 years building. I have built a home, filled with family, friends, and comfort. That comfort I have built is the comfort of always feeling that I belong. I always know what is going on and I don’t feel out of place. One would like to think that the thought of leaving my entire world that I’ve spent so long building is insane and I would have a lot of anxiety about leaving it…. Well the truth is: I have never been more excited about anything in my entire life!

I have spent the past year of my life preparing for this and I know that I am ready! Just a few months ago I got an email that I had dreamed of getting for my entire life: telling me I was going to be an exchange student. Then, just 2 weeks after that, I got a phone call that I never could have imagined in my wildest dreams: Jody Davis called to tell me I would be going to Denmark. Honestly, I never expected that. I knew I would be going on exchange, but I never expected Denmark. At the time, I had no knowledge about Denmark. I was in shock. It was a very excited shock, but shock nonetheless. Since then, I have spent every second learning about my future home and dreaming about my new life in my new world.

Since I was accepted into RYE FL, and chosen to go to Denmark, I have changed so much! I have already learned so much about myself and the world. Rotary always told us that after our exchange we would be more confident and responsible and independent, well honestly… I already feel like that (but I’m sure it’s nothing compared to how it will be after next year)! In the past year, I have learned to handle my own problems and I’ve learned so much about myself. I never imagined that I would be able to do everything I have done. Never could I have known that I was capable of handling visa issues and jumping through all the hoops I’ve had to jump through (and believe me, I had to jump through A LOT of hoops to make my exchange possible).

But, I don’t want to write these journals only to boast about all of my upcoming adventures. I want to allow everyone to know what it feels like to be an exchange student. There are ups and downs, and I’ve already had some. I had many downs whenever I would experience difficulties attempting to learn Danish (which I am now convinced is the hardest language to pronounce, but I do know it’s possible…. Somehow it has to be possible) or whenever I had an issue getting my visa (so stressful!). But, the one thing I want to make very clear, is that the ups have always been worth the downs. How do I know that? Well, any exchange student will tell you everything you do in your preparation year is worth the feeling you have when you read your first email from your host families and club counselor.  Now, I know my exchange is real, this isn’t just a dream I will wake up from (or so I continuously hope). I have skyped my host sisters and emailed my host moms. Nothing in the world can top that feeling of knowing that you belong in your new home and they are excited to see you!

I know next year will be hard. I know I will miss Florida and the comforts of the life I have built. But I also know that I must leave this life and go off on my own before I will ever be able to fully appreciate this life I’ve built and myself. So thank you Rotary, for making me the happiest teenager in the world. You have given me opportunities I could have only dreamed of so far.

September 6

I have been in Denmark for one month now and the only word I can possibly say is “Wow”! This past month has been amazing! I never imagined my new life would be this great! So, let me fill you in on everything that has happened so far!

My last week in Florida: I left on August 5th from the Jacksonville International Airport. The last week before I left was full of my “last times” of hanging out with my friends and seeing family members for a whole year. As I said my goodbyes, I honestly couldn’t bring myself to feel sad (not because I’m heartless, but partially due to my excitement and partially because I continuously felt as if I would see them again in a week). I officially got nervous when I went to the airport to greet Belen from Ecuador at the airport the day before I left. Then, the next day, it was my turn to leave. After hearing from all of my fellow outbounds who had already left and greeting an inbound, I finally had my chance. I didn’t cry as I had expected… I knew that I would be back in a year! The only time I really cried was when I looked down at Florida after my first plane took off (I still don’t know if they were tears of joy or of sadness).

Arriving in Denmark: I arrived in Denmark almost a full 24 hours later. I was completely exhausted (I had probably only gotten a good 2 or 3 hours of sleep the night before I left and was so excited and nervous that I didn’t sleep at all on the way here). I was greeted by my club president, his wife, and their 2 granddaughters. That day I spent some time at their house, then went to my new home, unpacked, had dinner, and then went to a surprise party for my host sister in my 4th family (she had just returned from her exchange to Australia and her 17th birthday was that next week). I finally got to go to bed that night after 40 hours without sleep!

School: My school started one week after I arrived. The first day was crazy! I am in the first of 3 grades and on the first day, all of the upperclassmen decided to tease the 1st years. We were greeted at school by people waiting to paint our faces and spray our hair green- surprisingly, though, all of my class found it funny and we had a great day! The Friday of my first week was my birthday, which was amazing… but I’ll get to that later! School is surprisingly fun and easy here. I had thought that school would be much harder, but in the classes I understand (like math), I find them easier than in Florida, and all of the students get much less homework!

My Birthday: On my 2 week mark, I also celebrated my birthday! It was the Friday of the first week of school. My class sang to me (in Danish and English, because they use both songs here). My host families, host club, a few friends, and one Rotarian in my club all gave me gifts- which really surprised me since I had been here for such a short time! That night, my host mom invited some of my friends over for coffee and cake! And not just any cake… kage mand! It is cake shaped like a person, covered in candy- best cake on Earth (and when you cut it, you slit the throat and the birthday person screams!)

Intro camp: For my 4th week here, I went to intro camp. I was able to spend a week with 120 other exchange students. We had Danish classes and also did many other things, such as: private concert with the Danish band “Striving Vines”, spending a day in Aarhus (shopping and at the museum ARoS), watching a Danish film, along with plenty of other fun things! After spending a week with all of the other students, I can’t wait until our next get-together!

Fun things: I have already had some amazing experiences! I got to fly in a glider plane! I have been to the west coast of Jylland where I saw giant sand sculptures. A Rotarian in my club took me to a medieval festival, which was amazing!

This past month has been hard at times, but absolutely amazing! I am so happy with my decision to become an exchange student with Rotary! I have already had so many experiences that wouldn’t be possible back in Florida. I have grown as a person and have learned something new every day. My Danish is slowly but steadily improving, which makes me very proud!

Tak til Rotary og min familie og venner i Florida (Thanks to Rotary and my family and friends back in Florida!)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Just over 2 weeks ago, I celebrated my 3 month mark of being in Denmark, which I suppose means I should write a journal again!

My life has been crazy since I got here. So much has happened since I wrote last. Not only have I done so many different things, but I’ve experienced so many different emotions, met so many amazing people, learned more than I ever imagined (not just Danish, but about myself and the world as well), and changed as a person.

I have had an amazing time here, but that goes without saying I have also had some hard times. I knew that this year would be hard and would test me, but I will admit I was surprised at how hard it was and in what ways. I honestly didn’t expect to get homesick (which luckily I wasn’t ever too homesick and I never wished to go home, but I have had some days where I’ve missed my mom and dad), and I think I also didn’t realize how exhausting this exchange process can be! I think only exchange students understand what I mean when I say that I never knew it was possible to experience so many different emotions at once (sadness, joy, excitement, pride, disappointment, frustration, and pure happiness, along with other emotions I couldn’t even describe).

One really fun thing I experienced was visiting Copenhagen! My first host family took me to Copenhagen and Roskilde for 3 days and it was a great trip. During my fall holiday, they decided to take me to visit the country capitol (which is something I can’t say I’ve even done in the USA, my home country). The trip was really nice and it was great to see things I have only seen pictures before now. While there we toured castles, saw the harbor, saw churches older than the USA (well actually almost everything we saw was older than the USA which I found fascinating), and of course, visited the little mermaid statue. We also saw the changing of the guard at the Queens castle, where I had an interesting moment with a guard. After the changing of the guard, I decided to take a picture with one of the guards like many other people. I waited my turn, handed my camera to my host dad, and then stood the respectable distance from the guard… my host dad motioned for me to get closer to the guard. Once I tried to inch closer, the guard gave me a very angry look and then shooed me away. Normally I find it easy to make friends, but I guess for some reason he didn’t like me!

My favorite part about visiting Copenhagen was when I realized that I feel partly Danish. While there I felt the same way that I would expect to feel if I visited DC. I felt like a tourist since I don’t live in Copenhagen, but I didn’t feel like a foreigner. It is very hard to explain, but it was a feeling I really liked having!

Another fun thing I’ve done here was go to a national get together for the inbounds! I loved being able to catch up with some of my really good friends. I got to see the 2 other students from Florida, my oldies (the students who come in January- mostly from Australia and New Zealand), and all of the other exchange students! We spent the entire weekend catching up and bonding. We also had a crazy costume party which was a blast! I guess anytime you put a ton of excited exchange students together, blast Danish, American, Spanish, and Brazilian music, you’re bound to have a good time! That night no one slept, because we partied all night long.

I have already switched host families for the first time! I will have 4 families this year, so I will spend about 3 months with each family. I had met with my new family before I moved and I already loved them. My host parents are so sweet and so is my host brother (19) and they’re adorable dog! Even before I moved in, I knew they would be a great family for me, but for some reason, I was so nervous when the time came to move. I guess at that time, I had already put so much hope into them and was afraid that maybe after I moved in something would change and I wouldn’t feel the same way. I was also afraid of having to re-adjust to a new family, especially since I was just beginning to become comfortable here. Luckily, once my new host parents came to pick me up, all of my nerves calmed and within hours of living with them I already felt like a member of the family! I love my new host family and am so happy and thankful they are hosting me!

My Danish is improving step by step. It is hard, but I get better every day. I can understand most of what people say (given that they are willing to not say it at the speed of light!), but responding is still hard. I guess the best way to describe how I feel when I speak Danish is by comparing it to when a puppy barks. Anyone who has ever had a new puppy knows the reaction they have the first time they bark. At first, the puppy doesn’t know barking is possible, and then it hears other dogs bark and is curious. Then one day, the puppy will bark. Not knowing what just happened and given it’s their first time it feels strange, but over time, barking becomes less and less strange to them… I know this may seem confusing, but that is the best way I can explain how I feel speaking Danish. It is weird at first, but it is becoming more and more natural. My Danish has actually improved so much that I have already started dreaming and thinking in Danish. I had one very short dream in Danish a few weeks ago, as well as frequent moments of realization that my thoughts are occasionally in Danish.

Although my Danish is improving, it definitely isn’t perfect yet, as I have been reminded through some moments of misunderstanding! One day, my first host mom and I went to an outdoor market our town has every year. At the market they sell everything from animals to toys and books. That evening, my host dad asked my host mom what we saw that day. My host mom listed many different things, one of which being “kattekillinger” (which means kittens). I recognized “katte” as cats, but didn’t recognize “killinger” and thought that my host mom just said that we saw cats being killed! I guess my face showed my shock because my host parents asked what was wrong. I then explained that I had no idea people were killing cats, so they had to explain that it was kittens, not cats being killed.

Just 2 weeks ago while watching TV with my new host family I had another misunderstanding that lead to a funny store and a little embarrassment. While watching TV, the words “Sneen falder i 4 dage” (The snow falls in 4 days). I immediately got excited as my host family just watched and laughed! It turns out that the phrase was talking about the Juleøl (Christmas beer), not real snow… And by the way I have yet to see any snow here, but I’m hoping it will come soon! I guess one thing I have learned this year is to laugh at myself. I have realized that I am bound to mess up the language and with the culture and the best way to get through it is with a big smile and a laugh.

Although I may have some moments of confusion or misunderstanding, I am very proud of how much my Danish has improved. Before I came here, my understanding of Danish was horrible and I am now able to express myself and understand quite a lot. My accent and pronunciation is still horrible, but it is getting better. I even gave a full (20 minutes long) presentation to my Rotary club in Danish just 2 weeks ago. I was very nervous before (which is something that normally doesn’t happen but I guess the pressure of speaking that much Danish scared me), but it wound up going great! I loved being able to show off my new language skills and thank my host club for all they’ve done!

While I was presenting in Danish, I realized that just a year ago I was being told by Mrs. Roderick and Mrs. Cameron that I could be presenting in another language! At the time I honestly thought they were crazy to think I’d be able to speak another language in such a short amount of time, but (as always), they were right! I still can’t believe that just a year ago I was contemplating the possibilities of becoming an exchange student. Going to the Rotary presentation was the most life changing thing imaginable and I am so fortunate to have this opportunity!

Some other things I’ve done:

•Toured a cookie factory! In my future town, there is the Royal Dansk butter cookies factory, where a Rotarian in my club just happens to work! Knowing how much I love their cookies, she offered to take me on a tour. It was really interesting and a great experience.

•Gone to a district get together in Ry, a nearby town. We canoed 5km and hiked about 6-7 km (mostly uphill). Although they made us sweat all of our Rotary weight off (which by the way- Rotary weight is real, much to my dismay), we all had a great time getting to know each other. We also got a good laugh when we learned how to dance a Danish folk dance.

•Seen the “bogman” of Denmark in a museum in Silkeborg.

•Visited tons of museums!

•Gone with my club president, his wife, and my friend/ my clubs future outbound to my club president’s Somerhus (summerhouse) for a weekend.

•Gone to a Wafande concert with my French class where we won a rapping competition.

•Visited Kolding with my new host parents. Just last weekend we went into the town which is only an hour away from where we live. First we went to the GIANT mall there (as we drove up my host mom and I both got excited as we saw it!). After a few hours of shopping, we went to “Kolding huset” (The Kolding house- it is a Castle originally built in the 1200’s that has been burnt down and rebuilt since). It was nice because it was my first real outing with my new family and it was good to just spend a day with them (plus touring a castle is always fun!).

•Gone to a handball game! I can now call myself a handball fan!

The past 3 months have been crazy and I have been on an emotional roller coaster, but it has been the most rewarding experience of my life! I never imagined my life would be like this, but I love it! I love feeling like a Dane and speaking Danish. Rotary has given me an amazing experience and although my time here is limited, I will not waste it. I have already done and learned so much, and I know that will continue.

Thank you Rotary for giving me this opportunity and for all of your ongoing support! Thanks to my family and friends in Florida and here in Denmark, because without you I never would survive this year or had this chance. Much love from Denmark!

Walking down the streets, I no longer have the feeling of being forever amazed by everything I see. Instead of everything being special and new, now it’s normal. I no longer question things, and just do them without thinking about it. Danish comes to me much more naturally now and I struggle for words much less often. At first I thought that having everything seem much more normal to me would mean that I don’t appreciate them as much, but now that it has happened, I realized that isn’t true. Although I look at things differently, I still appreciate them as much. I no longer appreciate driving past cow farms everyday on the way to school because it’s new, I appreciate it because it’s become my life and my life in Denmark has become normal to me, which is what I always hoped for!

Since my last journal, things have been both crazy busy but also uneventful. I guess the reason for this isn’t because I haven’t done anything lately (because I have definitely done plenty) but more because of the fact that things that seem normal to me now (like going to my language class two times a week) aren’t as big of a deal to me as they used to be. I have been able to go out and see plenty of fun things lately, but I have also been able to see how my life would be if I was raised in Denmark. I have now experienced the Danish holiday season and been able to have an amazing time.

One fun thing I did recently was visit Copenhagen with my Rotary club president and his wife. It was great for me to get to spend some time with them and we had such a great weekend. One of the best things from that weekend was visiting Tivoli. Tivoli is an amusement park right in the middle of the city. It is completely magical and I will never forget the view I had when on the roller coasters looking over the walls of Tivoli into the city, being able to view both the new and old parts of the city.

I also recently had the opportunity of sharing an American classic with my host family. I made them a mini Thanksgiving dinner. Because it was just the 4 of us it was a small meal and unfortunately given that I made the meal in December in Denmark (which, by the way doesn’t have canned pumpkin or sweet potatoes). My host family loved the meal and I was happy being able to share Thanksgiving with them here (although my host parents practically had a heart attack just seeing how much butter I put into the meal).

My favorite thing I got to experience so far was a Danish Christmas! I have always been a sucker for Christmas and so celebrating Christmas here was amazing. First off, Christmas was celebrated all December long. I watched the countdown shows on TV, had one of the chocolate calendars that I used to have as a kid, listened to Christmas songs in Danish, and what has now become a tradition I will bring to America- we burned a “kalendarlys” which is a countdown candle that burns down each day! Although the Danes celebrate Christmas all December long, it really became Christmas about 2-3 days before Christmas when we decorated the tree (a real tree!) and the house got fully decorated with Christmas decorations!

Here, everyone celebrates Christmas on the 24th which seemed a tad off, but then I got over it because it meant I could open gifts a day early! My host family had a full house for Christmas (my host brother who lives at home, my host parents, their 2 daughters and their husbands, my host aunt, uncle, and grandma, and of course, me!). We had a special lunch, then went to church together, then came home and watched a Disney Christmas special that every Dane watches every year, and then the real celebration began! We all got dressed up, had a large delicious dinner, and then practiced the weird Danish tradition that I completely fell in love with- we danced and sang around the Christmas tree which had candles on it! After we finished that, we started opening presents which lasted a few hours! It was my best Christmas ever and I will forever be thankful to my host family and Rotary for allowing me to have had such a great experience.

Another major holiday in Denmark is New Years and I would say it’s celebrated even better than in America. On New Year’s eve, I stayed at home with my host family where we had many guests who came and celebrated with us! We watched Denmark’s Queen make a speech on TV about the past and future year. After that we had a huge meal and then celebrated the new year by watching the clock ring on TV in Copenhagen and then celebrated with great fireworks!

Just a few weeks ago I got to spend some time with my next host parents. They took me to Århus to visit “Den Gamle By”, which is a town where they have houses from older times. It was a great day, because not only did I get to learn about older times in Denmark, but I also got to spend some time with my future host parents.

One thing I’ve learned here is that my family back home isn’t my only family and that family is what you make of it. My family and friends have become very important to me this year. Not only do I have my biological family in Florida, I have my host families, my close friends, and my fellow exchange students (both from Florida and staying in Denmark). One of the hardest things I have gotten quite good at through this exchange is saying goodbye to family. First I said goodbye to my RYE FL family, then my friends and family in Florida, then my first host family, and now, my oldies (exchangers who come from January to January). Just this weekend I had to say goodbye to the oldie I was closest to. It was bittersweet. Saying goodbye to her was hard, knowing I probably won’t ever see her again, but I will never forget the memories we have together and her leaving also means that there will soon be new exchange students coming to take her place! It was also a lit tle strange because her going away party marked my 5 month mark, which also meant that I have 6 months left. It was a nice little reminder that my time here is limited, and so it should always be treated special because I only get one shot at my exchange.

My time here in Denmark has been great so far! I think a large part of that is because I have such a great host family and Rotary club here. I was very afraid I would get homesick around the holidays, but because of my great host family and how they have made me feel so at home with them, I wasn’t homesick at all! I will be moving in early February which is something I have mixed feelings about. I know my next host family is amazing, but I am so happy with this host family! I tell them all the time that I couldn’t have asked for a better host family!

Before I sign off I just want to say congratulations to the future outbounds (and to you lucky ones going to Denmark- tillykke!) Whether you realize it or not, you have just begun the best adventure of your lives! Enjoy your pre-exchange year and don’t wish it away because you will make it to your host country, but first you must experience the pre-year! I wish you all the best on your exchanges next year!

Thank you again to everyone back in Florida! Without all of the Rotarians and Rotex’s help last year, I am sure I wouldn’t be here right now!

April 7, 2012

“Exchange isn’t a year of your life; it’s your life in a year”.

8 months of my exchange have come and gone and with them I’ve changed and experienced things. I’ve had good and bad experiences, but they have all been important. Through everything I’ve experienced, I’ve changed, I’ve grown, and I’ve become the person that I am right now. I have accomplished things I’ve never thought possible, I’ve seen and done things I’ve always dreamed of, and I’ve learned- about myself and the world.

Whenever I would tell people I was going to Denmark for a year, one of the most common things said was “but a year is such a long time”. I have come to realize these people were never exchange students. With each passing day, I come to realize just how short a year is. It has gotten to the point that whenever someone brings up my “return home”, I have to tell them to not talk about it- my close friends in Denmark and I honestly can’t stand the thought of it, and talking about it makes it worse. I hate hearing people talk about things coming up that will be happening after I am back in Florida. I remember always hearing Rotary tell us that coming “home” will be the hardest part of our exchange, and I’m now starting to realize how true that is.

One of the many reminders about how quickly time passes was moving from my 2nd to 3rd host family. Moving day was one of the hardest days on my exchange. In the 3 months I lived with my 2nd family, I found complete happiness. I celebrated Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years with them. They helped me through things when I needed help (even when I didn’t want to admit it, but my host mom was way too good at realizing when I was having a hard day). I felt so at home in their house and with them, I never had to work at our relationship, they just automatically became like family. With them I was able to not worry about being a tourist and just live my life in Denmark. They were patient with my Danish (God bless their poor souls for all the hours they spent helping me learn this language).

Moving families was hard. I cried. A lot. I had to accept the fact that a part of my exchange was over. But, after the tears were shed and the bags were unpacked in their new home, I realized that my 3rd host parents are really great! I have come to feel at home in this house as well and I’ve had some great times with them as well. After I realized that my 3rd host family will never be the same as my 2nd, but can be just as good (just in a different way), I was able to have lots of fun with my new host parents. I have come to the conclusion that my 2nd and 3rd host parents can’t be better or worse than each other, they’re both great host families, but in 2 different ways.

Since moving, I have been able to travel around Denmark a bit and see some things (actually, A LOT of things). I’ve been to different cities (Århus, Ribe, Odense, and Silkeborg), seen more museums than I imagined Denmark had, and learned a lot about Danish history. Aside from seeing different things, I’ve also been able to spend some time with my new host parents (alright I guess since I’ve lived with them for 2 months now, I should stop calling them my “new” host parents). I’ve gotten to meet their family and have reached the same level of comfort around them that I had with my 2nd family and even with my family back in Florida.

I have been really busy spending time with my friends here. I find I am constantly going out to the city, shopping, sleepovers, small parties, or just to watch a movie with a friend or two. One of the most important decisions I made this year was to be certain that I always say yes to every opportunity and for now, I can proudly say I’ve done just that! Although at times I may have felt unsure or out of my comfort zone, I find I’m always happy I tried it.

Recently, I was able to celebrate a very Danish tradition, festelavn. It is basically the Danish version of Halloween and is in February. My school even had a big party and everyone dressed up! It was lots of fun and a cute tradition.

One of the most exciting things I was able to do lately was visit Paris! I went for a week to stay with my great aunt and uncle and was able to get in all the famous sightseeing. I was able to see so many things that, until now, I’ve only dreamed of seeing. It was an amazing trip and it was great seeing family that I haven’t seen in years. It was also a nice break, I got to think some things through and leave some of the rush of Denmark. As much fun as I had in Paris, though, I was happier than I thought I would be to come back home. It was great hearing Danish again and seeing my friends and family here! I realized by leaving, that Denmark has truly become my home and is the place I love.

Aside from the above mentioned things…. My life is fairly normal still. I go to school, spend lots of time out with all of my friends here (I really couldn’t have asked for better friends than the ones I’ve made here in Denmark), spend time with my host families, and live the life I’ve come to love.

Words can’t explain how thankful I am to Rotary. With the help of Rotary and my exchange, my entire life has changed. I’ve grown so much as a person in the past months and have been able to make my own decisions about my beliefs. My views have been tested through this exchange, and because of that I’ve realized how I truly feel about things. I’ve been forced to grow and mature past my age which is something I couldn’t comprehend happening from an exchange. This exchange has changed my outlook on life and has helped me grow into who I am. Without Rotary I wouldn’t be able to say any of these things and I also wouldn’t have met any of the people I have, I wouldn’t have seen the things I have, and wouldn’t have done the things I have. Tusind tak Rotary!

June 22, 2012

I suppose it’s safe to say time goes fast because I had no idea it has actually been so long since my last journal! As always, there has been so much that has gone on since my last update. I have moved host families, gone on plenty of trips with host families, spent 18 days in a bus on the most amazing trip of my life, and even started the countdown to coming “home”.

I can’t possibly list all of the small trips I’ve gone on since my last update, but I’ll just tell you the best. I think my favorite was going to Copenhagen for the Queens birthday. In Denmark, the Queen’s birthday is a national holiday and many people celebrate it by going to her castle in Copenhagen and waving to her at noon, and since my host mom loves the queen and I definitely needed to experience this, we did just that.

In the middle of May I left for the ultimate trip- Eurotour. I left for an 18 day bus trip spanning over 5,000km into 8 countries. I was able to bond with 49 other exchange students and experience many places that I otherwise may not have seen. Together, we sailed along the canals of Venice, walked the streets of Paris, stood on both sides of the old Berlin wall, and sat and watched the Monaco Grand Prix race trials.

Eurotour was definitely a highlight of my exchange and I will always have great memories of it, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was excited about coming back home to Denmark. After spending 18 days without Danish I was overly-excited to hear the language again and couldn’t wait to start the last 6 weeks of my exchange. Once I got back in Denmark I moved back in with my 2nd host family instead of my 3rd (my 3rd host mom needed knee surgery making it better for everyone if I moved back to my 2nd family). My 2nd host parents were slightly afraid that since I now have summer, I may end up being bored, but I’m far from that.

The past 3 weeks of “post-eurotour” have been insanely busy. I started out with catching up with my friends since I missed them like crazy. Then I took a day trip to Northern Jutland in a town called Skagen (a beautiful place where you can see two sea’s meet and stand as far north in Denmark as possible) with my 2nd host family. I have also been on a day trip to the west coast with a Rotarian in my club, where I was able to try surfing for the first time (of course I would be the weird Floridian that learns to surf in Denmark of all places). I also spent an entire weekend with one of my best friends where we went to an amusement park and threw an American bbq/party for our friends.

Just this week I had an evening with my club president and his wife as well as all of my host families together. It was great seeing them all together and seeing my host moms come together to chat about stories they all had of me. I am currently preparing for my last Rotary meeting in Denmark where I will give a presentation (in Danish of course) for my club about my year. It’s crazy to see how different it is for me now, compared to back in November when I gave my first long full Danish presentation; I no longer feel nervous or have to struggle to write a 30 minute speech in a foreign language.

The next 3 weeks will probably be even more hectic than the last. I will eventually need to say the hardest goodbyes of my life (to my host families, classmates, and closest friends) as well as accomplish the other things I have on my calendar (like an American grill party for my 3rd f