Outbounds 2012-2013

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Alaina Roberts 
2012-13 Outbound to Indonesia
Hometown: Ponte Vedra Beach, FL
School: Ponte Vedra High School
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District 3400, Indonesia
The Rotary Club of Bandung

Alaina - Indonesia

October 15, 2012

First of all I would like to thank Rotary for sending me on this great adventure. I would never been able to have this opportunity without the Rotary foreign exchange program and all of the volunteers hard work.

When I in district interviews for 6970, I was asked to perform in one of the rooms. At the time I felt that it was a completely worthless exercise and I refused to do anything more than sing head, shoulders, knees and toes. Since I have been in Indonesia I have been asked to sing, dance, tell stories, play music and just about everything else. I am not a shy person but in America I prefer to stand at the back of parties. I can now proudly say that I have performed Karaoke in front of an entire restaurant, joined a music club at my school and sung to my classmates on countless occasions. Music is part of life here and I am glad that I have been able to change so that I can ‘fit in’ Indonesian culture.

One thing that I have learned here is that nothing is truly universal. You might think that a legal sheet of paper would be the same size around the world- you would be wrong. You might think that McDonald’s is the same all over the world- here McDonald’s sells rice and chicken with the bone in it. You might think of all things the sun is universal- you would be wrong. Here the sun comes up at 5:30 every morning and goes down at 6:00 (I live very close to the equator so this time almost never changes). I am lucky that I got up early in America because everyone wakes up very early here; my school starts at 6:30. I have school 6 days a week, I wear a uniform and I go to a vocational school for Multi-Media. Out of all the differences between America and Indonesia school has to have the most different things.

Every morning at school we start off the day with a 30 minute ceremony that requires us to stand in attention while a teacher talks. On some Mondays this ceremony is even longer and I on one occasion I had to be walked to the back of the courtyard because I almost passed-out. Every day of the week I have a different schedule and different classes. My classes range from an hour and a half long to five hours long. Sometimes the teacher doesn’t show up or if they do show up they do not teach a lesson. Teachers are also allowed to smoke on campus.

Smoking is very popular here. I can barely walk down the street without being enveloped in a cloud of smoke. Even now, as I am writing this, my host father and his work friends are filling up the house with smoke. People here often ask me if I smoke to which I reply almost too enthusiastically that I do not smoke. There are almost no restrictions on smoking. People can smoke in restaurants, in other people’s houses and everywhere else in between. I think that this is the hardest thing to get used to. I can pretend to like to sing and I can go to school for long boring hours but the suffocating smell of smoke never fails to make me feel sick.

My body has taken the transition to Indonesia very hard. As soon as I got here I coughed for two straight weeks. Now I go though phases of being too tired to move, and being nauseous. It is not easy but despite the challenges I still love it here.

My love with Indonesia was not a “love at first sight” thing but, it has grown with each day I stay here. I find new things everyday that make me love this country even more.

When I first arrived in Indonesia it was Ramadan. If you didn’t know Indonesia is the country with the largest Muslim population (about 88% of the total population). During Ramadan, Muslims do not eat from sun up to sun down for thirty days. On my third day in Indonesia I was told that the local Interact club was going to pass out food to the needed. I signed up- excited to do some kind of service for my new country. What I didn’t know when I signed up is that we were going to wake up at 1am to pass out food because people could not eat during the day. I still went despite the time and I am so glad I did. It has become one of my favorite memories in Indonesia so far. We spent several hours driving around the city, finding people to help. Sometimes we would see someone on the other side of the street so we would run across, screaming at them to stop and take the food we were trying to give them. This experience is why I decided to do exchange through Rotary. I want t o be able to help people and many Indonesians are in dire need of help.

One day in English class, my teacher asked everyone in the class to say one think they know about America. I thought it was very funny so I wrote down the whole list here it is:
• America has four seasons
• Liberty Statue (this is how they phrased it)
• Hollywood
• Miami Beach
• Michael Bolton
• Kobe Bryan
• New York
• Washington (it is unclear if they were talking about D.C or the state)
• LA Galaxy (I looked it up, it is a soccer team- I didn’t even know about this)
• California
• Barrack Obama
• Los Angeles
• Hawaii
• White House
• Las Vegas
• Donovan (football player)
• Texas
• San Francisco
• US Navy
• Yankees
• Michael Jordan
• Disney Land
• Justin Beiber
• Golden Gate (bridge)
So, as Americans we should ask ourselves if we are proud of this list. Are we proud that all a 10th grade class of Indonesian students knows about America is this list. I am not. I try to teach my Indonesian friends everyday about the real America and how we are more than Hollywood and New York. One boy told me that he wanted to move to America because he likes Justin Beiber and if he moves to America, he will be able to meet him. I had to tell him that I have lived in America my whole life and I have not met anyone famous. I have been told by several people here that I am the first foreigner that they have ever talked to, I only hope I am a good example.

Thank you again Rotary for this once in a lifetime opportunity.

December 9, 2012

I have now lived in Bandung, Indonesia for almost 4 months. I cannot say that I have loved every minute of it but I am learning tons. I really have no idea how to write about the last 2 months of my life in one little blog. I have grown so much.

My Indonesian is getting much better and I can have full conversations in Indonesian and explain things in Indonesian, I have made more friends and I continue to learn about the culture.

I attended one of my friend’s father’s funeral. It was very sad but it was an interesting view into the culture that I do not see every day. In Indonesia the family must prepare the body for burial. The body was also buried wrapped in a white sheet, not in a coffin. My entire class went to support our friend during the funeral.

I have accepted that I will not learn anything at school. My teacher do not show up very often and when they do, they do not teach a lesson. At least I get to talk to my friends. I am concerned for my friends’ education. I am not really worried about learning anything, I am an exchange student after all but, my friends are not being taught and this is their education. I actually miss the American Education system, and I wish that my friends could have real classes and learn as much as I have been able.

Most of the food is standard now. I eat rice and fried soybeans almost every day. Sometimes it is very hard to swallow and I wish I could have American food but, most days I am fine.
I experienced a little bit of depression in November. I was not very busy and I had to do college applications so, I was not happy. Since then I have learned to be more active and try to do something even if it is not very fun.

I decided to make a list of some of the biggest cultural differences, of course there are much more but, these are some of them. Enjoy!

Cultural Differences:
1. Wet is clean
2. Old people grasp your elbow not hold your hand
3. “Belum makan nasi, belum makan” – If you haven’t eaten rice, you haven’t eaten
4. 2 showers a day
5. Food is not made per meal it is made for the day and then left on the table under a cover. Whenever you are hungry you can just go eat. Rice stays fresh all day in the rice cooker.
6. Time is not well defined and structured like it is in America.
7. Condiments go with EVERYTHING. (and not just a little)
8. Having a maid and/or a driver is perfectly normal
9. Smoking is very popular and it is legal/normal to smoke everywhere
10. If you are sick it is because you have not eaten (or you are cold)
11. People love wearing jackets (90 degree weather year round)
12. Littering is totally acceptable
13. Most people are Muslim (this causes MANY differences)
14. People believe in ghosts
15. People are very upfront about looks. It is not unusual for someone you don’t know to come up to you and say “I am the prettiest person in the class, do you think I am pretty?”
16. Most places including peoples’ houses and some classrooms require you to take off your shoes.
17. Burping and making other noises with your mouth is acceptable.
18. Almost everything is paid for in cash, credit cards are a pain and they are not accepted at most stores (only very nice malls let you use credit cards)
19. Shaking hands is very different: Before you shake someone’s hand their gender, age, respectability, religion and a hundred other contributing factors must run through your head. If someone does shake your hand (American style) the handshake is very weak and floppy, not strong and aggressive like we do in America. Many people will extend both hands and you slide yours in-between theirs (kind of like playing slide) and then you bring your hands to your chest. If someone is Muslim, you might be accepted to do a traditional Muslim greeting. The younger person takes the other’s hand and raises it to their head and bows at the same time. Finally, some people chose to do the kisses (2 kisses one on each cheek) but, you will never kiss a man. I know it is complicated, just imagine doing it every day.
20. Squat potties exist and just for everyone’s information I am pretty good at using them now.
21. People like touching other people for seemingly no reason.
22. School is fun and people like being at school. Teachers also don’t show up.
23. People like to ask very personal/weird questions. The word for this is “Kepo” it is used to describe a nosey person who asks too many questions.
24. Tea is served all the time.
25. They have local languages and most people know their traditional language as well as Indonesian.

I want to thank Rotary for sending me somewhere that I never thought I would go so that I could learn. I also want to remind everyone that I do a blog that I update much more often at myindonesianyear.blogspot.com If you are interested in my daily activities and enlightenment that is the place to look.

Here are some recent stories:

On the way home a group of about 7 elementary school kids stopped me. I don’t stop for anything while I am walking home and I really have no idea how they got my attention but, they did. They were all super cute and when I turned around they looked very nervous. I asked them what they wanted and they asked (very politely) if they could take a picture with them. I said that they could and we sat down to take a picture. Most of the children we very nervous and did not want to be in the photo I called them over and told them to sit next to me. After the picture, they thanked me and said goodbye. I love little kids and these were very nice and cute.

Everyone who knows me knows that I have terrible Hand-eye coordination. I am a swimmer but that does not mean that I am athletic in anything other than swimming. My brother, Jesse, finds opportunities to tease me about my complete lack of skill and so do many other people. So, I was at school and some of the guys in my class had a football, an American football, and they were passing it around. I was surprised that they had a real football, because American football is not very popular here, most people like Soccer. The boys were really bad. It was funny watching them. A lot of the time their passes would go short and they would just bounced the ball off the ground (not exactly allowed in the official rules of American football). I watched them play for a while and latter when I was tired of pretending to do school work I borrowed the ball and played catch with one of my friends. I was awesome. I am a celebrity at school and it isn’t like anyone actually has class they n eed to go to so about 50 people just sat watching me throw the football. None of my passes were bad and I was able to catch almost everything. I guess everyone has to have one shining moment and this was mine. I was a pro using the official Peyton Manning style ( 1. Elbow your brother 2. wipe the windshield 3. flick the booger). So proud of myself, when my friends told me that I was good I was like “Well of course I am awesome it is AMERICAN FOOTBALL”. I just wanted to record this moment because it will never happen again.

Let is my friend from Brazil and this happened at her school. She also told me about a game that she had played in one of her classes. The teacher drew two lines on the floor and said “If your answer to the question is Yes, stand on this line, if it is no, stand on this line.” Simple rules, simple game. It started with the usual, easy question “Do you like this class” etc and then it moved into more fun questions. “Have you had a boyfriend/Girlfriend ?” Almost everyone said yes. “Have you dated one person for a year or more?”, again the majority of the class said yes. “Have you kissed on the lips?”, this time Leti was the only one who said yes. So funny! No one in the USA would date someone for a year and not kiss. Also if someone has sex before marriage they will be “exiled from the community” (Direct quote from one of Bridget’s classmates). It is nice to be in a country with such innocence and I think that the y would be really shocked if they went to High School in America.

Sometimes all I want to do is fit in but, there are defiantly perks that come with being the most popular girl in school. I have never been part of the in-crowd and being a foreign exchange student is the best way to do it!

February 13, 2013


Indonesian food is good and I like it more every day. Every meal basically consists of rice and something that has been fried. Indonesians do not think that eating food while it is warm is very important and I still hate eating cold rice. I regularly eat from Warungs, which are small food stands on the side of the road. I recently started craving specific Indonesian food. I think that this means that my body has finally accepted the food. I still avoid spicy food because I never know how spicy something is and I normally only have a little water. But, I eat almost everything else. Eating fish that still have their heads and tails no longer phases me. I have eaten a ridiculous amount of ‘bizarre ‘ food and I discovered that cow tongue is actually good. The food situation gets better every day.


“I am always healthy in America and I am always sick in Indonesian” This is one of the phrases in Indonesian that I say all of the time. Since my last blog, I had to stay at the hospital for 2 nights because I had dehydration, diarrhea and a very high fever. A month later I ended up bedridden for 2 days because I was sick again. Every week, I fight diarrhea, constipation and other super fun things. I am being able to handle it better as time goes on but, I am going to be honest, it is not fun. Everyone tells you that your head will hurt from the new things but no one tells you that your body will literally shut down and it will not work properly even though you have lived in your new country for 6 months. Luckily, now I only have an ear infection and I am feeling much better. I would say that bad health is the hardest thing I have had to deal with. Not culture shock or the language just the depressing nature of being sick all of the time.


I love Indonesians. They are so nice and friendly and they always want to talk with me. The only problem is trying to get them to talk to me in Indonesian. I have lots of people to talk to at school even though it is really hard to hang out afterwards. Even when my Indonesian is imperfect people help me and try to figure out what I am trying to say. I cannot imagine that any other country has people this nice and I am so happy to be in Indonesia because of the people. They have weird fears (dark, dogs, etc) and they have very different health beliefs (rain hitting your head will make you dizzy and stomach aches are caused by wind coming into your stomach.) They are very honest and I get called a huge slew of names that would be considered rude in America but, I think it is funny. Sometimes I think I am in a little elfin world where everyone is short, happy and they love to sing. I love the people here!

What people think of me

Aunt Melly (councilor) thinks I am crazy. My friends treat me like a celebrity. People on the street scream at me and jeer like I am an alien. Lots of people are scared of me. I think I am doing well at representing Rotary and America. When people start talking to me they are always surprised that I can speak the language and that I am not scary. People already have ideas about Americans and America but when I show them pictures of my family and friends and my life back home they are always impressed. I also make funny faces at people randomly, which makes them laugh a lot and helps break the ice. I think I am making progress.


I am learning more every day. I can talk for hours in Indonesian with only a couple of words in English. I have not have a dream in Indonesian but, I can speak Indonesian before I am fully awake if my family wakes me up and wants to talk. I prefer talking in Indonesian. Of course there are topics that I am not very good at talking about but, I am getting better. I really think I will be fluent by the end of the year. My friends want me to also learn Sudanese, the local language. I have picked up a couple of words but, mostly I stick with Indonesian. Sudanese is a completely different language, the words have nothing in common and the grammar structure is very different so, it is very hard to learn. Fun fact: In Indonesian the adjectives come after the noun so you would say “I saw a car red.” which is easy until you want to say something more complicated like “My friend’s home” which is “home friend me”. I mix this up often but I am getting much better. I can speak faster and clearer now, I can’t wait until I am fluent.


This exchange has given me 5 months of anecdotal evidence that if you have expectations you will be wrong or disappointed.

The following is the translated version of a conversation I had with my friends :
Me: Hello!
Friend : Hey Alaina, How are you?
Me: I’m good.
Friends: You look (obviously cannot think of the word in English and they don’t want to say it in Indonesian – Waved their arms in a ‘skinny’ way)
Me: Skinny?
Friends: No not skinny… less fat
Me: I am sexy and I know it
Friends: No not sexy
Me: Well, thank you…
Friends: By the end of the year you will be skinny and look like Taylor Swift and you will be able to go home and get a boyfriend and live happily ever after.
Me: OK, sure
Friends: *Smiling at their super sincere compliment*
Me: *a little confused
I love my friends, the best part is that they don’t understand that they would be considered rude in America. Maybe we need more honest people in America. I feel super great when I receive super rude comments from random strangers (or friends).
• You have a terrible singing voice
• You could never be a model, you are too big
• You must be heartbroken because you don’t have a boyfriend
• Being called “Mr.” all the time (translation error I hope)
• Calling me really boring
• etc.
I was on a Rotary trip and we were on the road in a bus for 7 hours At some point on the trip we stopped at a gas station and some people bought Pop Mie (Instant noodles in a cup). When the finished they didn’t want to drink all of broth and there was no way to prevent it from spilling so they asked me to dump the broth out of the window. I was standing in front of a door and I opened the little window above it to pour out the soup. I poured out one girl’s and then I went for the second girl’s. I don’t know why I did it, possibly because I hadn’t slept well and I had been standing for about 5 hours but, I did it. I poured out the broth and then put my head out of the window to wave to the car behind us. The lock on the door was broken and the door opened with my head still inside the window. Luckily my feet didn’t move and I was able to swing the door shut. I sat down after that.

The following was my account of a Rotary trip to Pangandaran and the famous Green Canyon

We ate breakfast at the hotel and then got on the bus. We were told that we going to drive 20 minutes up the river and go “body rafting” in Green Canyon. I have never heard of body rafting before and I assumed that it meant we were floating down the river. This exchange has given me 5 months of anecdotal evidence that if you have expectations you will be wrong or disappointed. We were on the bus for more than an hour and we got to a building with supplies to go body rafting. We put on lifejackets, boots, shin guards and helmets. I thought this was a tad bit excessive for floating down a river but I went with it. We took smiling pictures in all our gear and then we got ‘instruction’. They told us that we were going to ride in the backs of trucks for about an hour before we would get to the location and then we prayed. Praying is not unusual in Indonesia and we thought it was like praying at school – tradition. What we didn’t know was that they were be ing serious. We got in the trucks in all of our gear. It was not comfortable and it was really hot but it only took about 40 minutes. We had to walk down a steep area to get to the river. The boots were not very good and it hurt to walk because the bottoms were as thin as socks. I also don’t enjoy hiking, I like walking on flat surfaces. We got to the water and I was already tired. I was looking forward to calmly floating down the river. I was one of the first people to start down the river. One of the guides was in front of me and he kept telling me to go to the left, under the trees and stuff. I have always been taught to stay in the middle, snakes and dangerous animals live on the sides and the trees are dangerous if you get stuck in them. I followed the guide but I was not happy about it. We had been in the water for a grand total of 1 minute when I was about to go under a branch and one of the guides behind me told me there was a snake on the tree. I panicked it wa s not graceful and I am not proud of it but I didn’t understand why I was under the trees in the first place. Shortly after the snake incident the guides told us to stop and I went to stand by the edge. I went to stand up but there was water in my boots. When I stepped on the rock the water in my boot moved and bubbled and it felt like I had just tried to stand up on an Alligator. In Florida, you never, never ever swim in rivers or lakes or marshes because there are huge alligators that will eat you. I screamed. One of the guides had to stop me farther down the river. We got out of the river and had to walk on the very steep bank (we crossed the river so now we were on the opposite side from where we started). I could barely walk I was shaking so bad. My legs and arms and everything was shaking. I was so mad and I was still recovering from the snake and the fake alligator. I shall only give you some of the highlights of our 4 hour death march.
• We stopped and crossed the river countless times
• The green water that Green Canyon is famous for was brown because it had rained the day before
• At some points the rapids were so bad the guides had ropes that we had to hang on to (remember that my arms and hands were already tired from the day before)
• I let go of a rope and had to *pardon my language* haul ass to get to the guide.
• We climbed around a class 5 rapid (might have been impassible)
• If we fell into the water at some points we would have died and there would be nothing anyone could do but watch.
• We jumped off a 3 meter rock into the raging river below
• I got out of jumping off another 2 meter rock by going through the rapids.
• We were forced to dive into the water from the side several time
• We were constantly being beaten with rocks
• The ‘extra protection’ just weighted us down, made it harder to swim and harder to climb
• We had to climb up and down a cliff face (straight up a wall) with no ropes, only Indonesian guides.
• We had to climb backwards down the cliff face and had to trust the guide to place our feet (I hugged my guide when I got down safely)
• Climb slippery rocks while we were soaking wet with no grip on our shoes.
• Several people came close to being lost
• The guides learned several choice swear words in at least 5 different languages
• We took smiling pictures and pretended nothing was wrong
• The view was beautiful
• I was in fear of my life the entire time- Not in a “If I fail this test my mom is going to kill me” in a ” There is no chance of survival if I fall”
• I would never ever in a thousand years do that again
• No one died and no one was seriously injured. We all had cuts and bruises but we were alive.
I consider this a miracle.
At no point did I sign or see a waiver. I am defiantly not in America anymore.
(Just thought Rotary Florida would love to know that I am being taken care of)
I went kayaking with my family in near a small town.
I could not paddle straight. It was nearly impossible. I was already tired of trying to control the stupid boat. And I was literally spinning in circles. This wouldn’t be super embarrassing if it was just in front of my family but all the locals were also watching me. When I go to small towns many people have never seen a white person before and they all look and stare and yell at me even more that what happens at school and in the city. We were in a small fishing village and I know that even the youngest could steer a little boat and they were probably laughing at the ‘white girl who can’t do anything’.


My school is under construction and all my classes have been moved. No one can tell me where they have gone or what time class is so, I spend a lot of time in the library. My school is much better than some other exchange students in Indonesia and I am happy but, I am also very confused. Most days I spent a couple hours in school sitting in the library talking to random people or typing for my blog. I don’t love my school but, there is not really anything worth complaining about.


Most of the time I use my driver to get from place to place or I get a ride with my councilor. The public transportation system is very disorganized and hard to use. I keep asking my families to teach me how to use it but they always say “later” which is Indonesian for no. I do take public transportation with friends or if I am not going very far and I can guess which car to get in.


Most people here are Muslim. My second family was the most religious and I learned a lot from them. I say Islamic catchphrases at school and we pray before beginning the day (not a typical Muslim prayer just a moment of silence). Islam has added to culture shock but now everything is normal. I tell time with the prayer calls and I like watching Islamic traditions. My 1st and 3rd host families are less religious. I am able to go to Christian church some weekends if my family is not busy, which is very nice of them.

Family life

I am now living in my 3rd host family. My Mom and Dad both work two jobs. They are doctors at a hospital and the run a clinic / daycare for mentally handicap children. Almost every weekend we do something together. So far I have been hiking and kayaking. My family is not like all other Indonesian families because they spend time together when they can and I enjoy the time we spend together. We even eat dinner together. Everyone of my families have been so different and I am glad that I didn’t just live at one house.


It is the rainy season! It has been raining almost every day since November but, it doesn’t both me. My 2nd host families house did flood while I was there and we had to de-flood the house but other than that the rain has not been too bad. It is cooler in Bandung because we are in the mountains and everyone always says “It is SO cold in Bandung”. News Flash it is 75-80 degrees and it isn’t exactly freezing. People were jackets all the time and if you took a picture you would think that it was 40 degrees outside by the way they dress. People don’t like to have dark skin so they wear jackets to hide from the sun or because they think jackets are cool. I am loving the fact that it isn’t cold. One of my friend asked if Bandung or Florida was colder, for the first time in my life I had to say that the winter in Florida was colder than somewhere else. I love the weather here.

April 2013


I love Indonesian food. I am going to have to collect recipes and learn how to cook some of my favorites. My favorite thing is the fruit. I really cannot express how good the fruit is here and it is infuriating that we do not have some of the same fruit in America. I try to explain what Mangis is or what Durian is or Rambutan is or any other of my favorite new fruits and no one in America can understand. It is also depressing that the fruit seasons are ending and changing and I might never taste Mangis again. I guess I will just have to make up for that by trying even more fruit.

I traveled to a nearby city to visit one of my exchange friends her host family owns 2 hotels and a school that teaches cooking and hotel management so we decided to cook American food for them.

The menu we were making consisted of the fallowing items: Mashed potatoes, white gravy, biscuits, deviled eggs and Apple Pie (we also asked Kiki to make fried chicken since Indonesians now how to do that really well and none of us were comfortable cooking the meat.). We started with the pie crust. I have never made a homemade pie crust before and this was the part that I was the most nervous about. Bridget’s YouTube videos came in handy by telling us that we had to use really cold butter or the recipe wouldn’t work. We mixed the ingredients and then put it in the fridge to thicken. Then we skinned the Granny Smith apples, cut them, mixed them with tons of sugar and then put them in the fridge too. Then we moved to the biscuits. It was a simple drop biscuit recipe and I knew that we would be able to make them without a problem. The problem turned out to be in the oven with was a huge oven (probably for pizzas) and it had an upper and lower flame temperature setting, which was in Celsius. We guessed and then put the biscuits in the oven. Bridget checked them every few seconds and we were able to get them the perfect light-golden-brown color. The pie crust had been in the fridge for an hour so we pulled it out. I spread flour on the table and the rolling pin and then I rolled the crust out. When it was the right size Bridget helped me get it into the pan and we patched up the holes. I convinced Bridget to bake the crust for a few minutes before we put the filling in so that it could set and she agreed (somewhat reluctantly). After five minutes in the oven we pulled it out and we shocked to see that it had shrunk in the oven and left the edges of the pie pan uncovered. We patched up the holes and then poured in the filling. We then rolled out the other half of the dough for the crust and made a top for the pie. I was given the honor of cutting the little slices in the top of the pie. We improvised a tin-foil edge cover then put it in the oven and hoped for the best. After 25 minutes we took the tin-foil off and put the pie back in. While the pie was in the oven we realized that we needed to do the other food items at the school too if we wanted everything to be done at the same time. Kiki and Leti ran home picked up the other ingredients we needed and then we got back to work. Bridget and I made the white gravy. I have made gravy with my dad before and I know that it really isn’t too hard. The recipe warned that we shouldn’t use whole milk, unfortunately Indonesia only sells whole milk so we used what we had and hoped for the best. My arm hurt after stirring the gravy until it was ready. When it was done we put it to the side. We then skinned the potatoes and cut them into cubes and then put them in the boiling water. The eggs got boiled in a separate pan. As we watched some of the eggs leaked into the water, we poured a little vinegar into the pot (which apparently helps keep the eggs from leaki ng). I never know when eggs are done and there was a lot of guessing involved. We took them out of the water and let them sit in a 5 minute ice bath. The eggs we perfect and we quickly pealed them and cut them in half. There was a little scare half way through when Bridget picked up an eggs that had a small black think poking out of the top of the egg, it looked like a beak and the egg was heavier than the others. Bridget and Leti wanted nothing to do with the egg so I cut it open. It was completely normal, there was no baby chicken inside. I put the yoke in a bowl and mixed them with mayo, mustard, salt and pepper and then spooned the mix back into the eggs. The potatoes we done so we mashed them and added milk, butter, salt and pepper. The Pie was done. We ran over to the oven an opened it. It was perfect. A 50’s housewife would be proud to but that on her windowsill. Then we carefully took everything to the car and got all the food safely home. By the time we got hom e the gravy looked terrible. It had congealed and looked like boogers. Bridget and I put it on the stove heated it up again and added more milk, we saved it and it turned out perfect. When the chicken had been fried and placed on the table we all dug in. It took a lot to explain what the gravy was for but after people got the hang of it they loved it. Even Bridget, Mrs. Vegetarian, who had never tried gravy before, liked it. Everything was a success but nothing stood out like the perfect Apple Pie. I served it to everyone and no one waited to dig in. Things taste better when they are homemade. Immediately everyone was asking when we would be making another pie, even though the one we had just made wasn’t gone yet. Nothing feels as good as accomplishing something.

I have almost stopped getting crazy cravings, except I really want Mexican food. Other than that I am really enjoying Indonesian food.


I thought I was going to make it the entire year without throwing up. I was wrong. Unfortunately, my record was broken at the beginning of March while I was on vacation in Jakarta. Other than that my health has finally started improving. I don’t get terribly sick when I travel and my body is adapting more. The other day I ate at a mall with my host family my chicken was still red and I never got sick after eating it. The misery does end! (Although leave it to me to get sick after I have declared that I am no longer sick). In terms of mental health I was becoming very depressed because I had nothing to do but, since I have started traveling much more I feel much better. I am hoping to get through the rest of my exchange with fewer and fewer health incidents.


The best part of exchange and the most frustrating part. I love Indonesians. I know when I go home I will have panic attacks being around so many tall white people. Whenever I see another white person I kind of freak out. This sounds silly but it is a learned reaction when you are surrounded by small Asians all the time. I know that I always feel better at the end of the day if I have talked to people. Even if it is just some random person at a restaurant or at my school I love talking to people. I also know that I have learned a ton about dealing with different types of people. In America I was always able to select the people that I was with and I was already adjusted to my family. Now, I know that I have the patience to work with people that are very different from me. Exchange students are the best we talk about the coolest things and I am learning a tiny bit of Portuguese from my Brazilian friends. I will miss the people and the attitude of life here when I go home.

What people think of me

Some days I have no idea what people think of me. I hope it is good. I hope people think I am a good representative of the United States but I really don’t know. My host families seem to like me and they always want to talk to me, which is a good sign. My councilor thinks I am crazy and she often talks down to me. My friends at school think I am lazy and don’t know why I am never at school. They also refuse to tell me what time class starts and when I should come to school (it changes every day). My teachers are afraid of me, I am a big scary white girl, even though I speak Indonesian and I don’t interrupt the lessons. Most Indonesians are very blunt and tell me that I am fat and other not so nice things. No matter, I haven’t had any serious confrontations with anyone and that in itself is a huge deal. Some people think because I am American I know every artist that has every come out of America and all of their work. I do not have that all-encompassing knowledge and that disappoints people but, there is nothing I can do about that. I hope that I am doing a good job.


I can comfortably say that I am conversationally fluent. I defiantly do not know everything, not even close but I can get my point across effectively. People understand me when I talk to them and I understand people when they talk to me. Unless I am talking about something beyond my abilities such as discussing American gun laws with my host parents, I am able to communicate completely in Indonesian. It has been a long road and I am glad that I have made so much progress. I haven’t had a dream in Indonesian yet but I am still holding out hope. I hate speaking English now. When I am with Indonesian people I get offended if they speak English to me even though I am trying to communicate in Indonesian. I love this language and I want to continue to get better.


I have not had a good experience with kayaks but I was willing to try again. One of my Dad’s friends came to our house with his wife and their 14 month old son. We all had to wait for a while until my sister came home from a friend’s house and we left around 10. It took 2 hours to get there. When we were almost there we stopped at a dam. It was pretty cool and I even saw a big lizard. My family claims that it is “exactly like an Alligator” but, this thing was only about 3 feet long, which is a very tiny Alligator. We got to the lake at about noon and unloaded the kayaks. It was really hot outside and I was wondering why we weren’t getting in the water. My dad said that we were waiting for the sun. This only caused more questions, why would we wait for the sun? My dad said that we were waiting for it to be cooler. Whatever. We finally did get in the water. The wife of my dad’s friend was complaining about the heat while wearing a jacket because s he didn’t want her skin to be black and she was very nervous about going out on the lake. This caused the baby (who was also wearing way too much clothes) to cry and cry. The other family ended up sitting out and not being able to get on the water because the baby wouldn’t calm down. I could not paddle straight. It was nearly impossible. We ate lunch on some rocks on the other side of the lake. The tuna sandwiches were really good. On the way back, I was already tired of trying to control the stupid boat. And I was literally spinning in circles. This wouldn’t be super embarrassing if it was just in front of my family but all the locals were also watching me. When I go to small towns many people have never seen a white person before and they all look and stare and yell at me even more that what happens at school and in the city. We were in a small fishing village and I know that even the youngest could steer a little boat and they were probably laughing at the ‘white girl who can’t do anything’. When we finally got back, I never wanted to try kayaking again. The ride home was long and wet because I could not change my clothes.

I was traveling in Jogjakarta and I wanted to go to Prambanan with two of my exchange friends, Sid and Daisy. We went for sunrise. My alarm went off at 2:50am. Sid and I were up and dressed in 5 minutes and brought our stuff down stairs Daisy got out of her bed after we were completely ready and took her time getting ready. Sid and I sat downstairs waiting for the driver. He did not come until 4 (he should have been there at 3). We loaded the car and we were off. At this point we were all to awake to fall asleep again. Because it was so early there was almost no one on the road and we made great time getting to the temple just after 5am. We walked onto the property and looked for a way in. The gates were all locked and we settled on finding a great spot to watch the sunrise behind the mountains. It was gorgeous. We watched for an hour until the pack opened then we bought our tickets and went in. At Prambanan and many other Indonesian places tourist (BOLE) are forced to pay mo re money for tickets. We each have a Kitas , which is a pass saying that we are allowed to live in Indonesia for a year and it gives us the right to Indonesian prices. When we were admitted into the park we headed straight for the temples. It had started raining and we saw a man renting umbrellas. There was a bole couple getting an umbrella when we went up to him. He told us that each umbrella was 20,000 Rupiah (2 dollars) we responded in Indonesian saying that we would pay 10,000 Rupiah (1 dollar). The man said that all the umbrellas were the same price and he would not except our offer. We went to walk away, deciding that we would just spend the morning in the rain. Then the bole couple walked out of ear shot and the man called us back saying that he would take our offer. There is something very funny about knowing that someone else paid twice as much as they should have. We each bought an umbrella and continued on the path. Words cannot really do the sight justice (or at least not my words, I am sure some poet somewhere could). It was magnificent. The sun was still coming up behind the mountains and there was almost no one at the temple yet. Most of the people there were other white people and we were spared from the annoying Indonesian people always asking for pictures. I took a ton of pictures and posted them all on Facebook (my name is Alaina Roberts friend me if you want to look at the photos). Amazing. Everything was perfect in a very, “I am really in Indonesia” sort of way. Sometimes exchange doesn’t feel real, much like an out of body experience. It is like you are watching someone else do things and that you are just dreaming but then there are moments of absolute clarity, those are the best moments on exchange. Amazing, everything I hoped it would be and much more. Even Daisy seemed content with the scene. We stayed and walked around the temple until we believed that we had seen everything that we could. We then walk ed out of the park just as 5 buses of school children arrived. We hurried out, glad that we weren’t stopped by the annoying children.


I haven’t been to school in 3 weeks and I am about to leave on a 2 week trip to Bali, Lombok and Komodo Islands so I will not be returning for some time. As far as I am concerned school is a complete waste of time. My friends can’t hang out with me after school and we don’t learn anything in school. I just sit in the library for hours talking to random people and then I go home. No one will tell me when class is and when I should come (changes every day). I am not on any of the attendance records and I don’t think the school notices when I chose not to show up. I think the worst thing about SMK (Vocation school) is that the kids in it have no way to escape to a better life. Students have to pay for SMA (regular high school) and most poor people just don’t have the money to send their kids to SMA so their kids go to SMK and learn nothing and are corralled into manual labor jobs and then the cycle continues. Coming from a country with the American Dream is a real thing this is very hard to watch. I feel terrible for my fellow students. At the same time education does not seem to be a big deal to them and they do not take advantage of the lessons they are given. One day a teacher actually came to class and he taught us how to use Photoshop to make a picture of a person look like an Avatar. I thought the lesson was great and followed the whole thing (which was in Indonesian by the way). When I turned around to check on my friends they were playing around on their computers and watching cartoon while complaining that they couldn’t follow the lesson. I want to help these children but I don’t know if they want help or if they care at all about their future. Some of the girls in my class have told me their life plan it is: Get married, have children, stay at home, the end. To me this is a very sad story and I believe they should be aiming for more.


Getting around is very frustrating. The driver does not live at the house and is often very busy. Most days I am left in the house with no way of getting out. I can walk to the local convenience store but that doesn’t do me much good. I ask people to teach me how to use the Angkot system but no one will. I would teach myself but there is no map, no routes, just jump in a van and know where it is going. I don’t know my way around the huge city well enough to do this by myself. I am glad that I can’t drive because driving is crazy and I would still sit in the house out of fear. I wish I could transport to places easier but I guess I enjoy going places more because I can’t always do what I want, when I want to do it.


I tell time by the Prayer Calls, I love hearing them every day. Everything has basically stayed the same since the last time I wrote except I had an interesting conversation with some people I met at school
Girl: What languages do you know?
Me: English and Indonesian
Girl: Do you know Sudanese (local language)?
Me: No, Sudanese is very hard.
Girl: do you speak Islam?
Me: I know some phrases. (We say Islamic greetings everyday at school and I have picked some catch phrases up)
Girl: Oh, You say [Islamic catch phrases] in America too!
Me: No, I learned them in Indonesia
Girl: But you Salam right? (Salam is when a younger/lesser person greats an older/higher ranking person but holding the “better” person’s hand to their head)
Me: Of course we do not do that in America.
Girl: But, how do you greet older people?
Me: We just shake hands, everyone is equal.
Girl: *Confused silence*
Me: And there are not many Mosques in America so you can’t hear the prayer calls everywhere
Girl: What!?!
Me: Most people in America are Christian.

The girl had to leave but I hope she thought a little about religion and how it influences her culture without her even noticing it.

Family life

I travel with my host family (3rd) often. I went on a 3 day Kayaking trip with my host dad and I have been on many other adventures with them. They are super nice and I feel like I am really part of the family. At restaurants we share each other’s food and drinks. I feel very comfortable with my family with means that it is time to change families again. I have 4 families and I will be moving as soon as I get home from Bali in mid April.


The rainy season is almost over and I don’t want it to end. I know that may people want it to be done but I like rain and I don’t want it to get any hotter. I still live without AC, I have been without since December and I will finish my exchange without it. I think it is pretty impressive to say that I lived in a tropical country with no AC for 7 months. No one in their right minds in America goes without AC, maybe we should rethink some things.

Thanks Rotary!

Alex Refosco
2012-13 Outbound to Thailand
Hometown: Ponte Vedra Beach, FL
School: Ponte Vedra High School
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District 3350, Thailand ,The Rotary Club of Chaophraya Nakhon Sawan

Alex - Thailand

October 14, 2012

Sawatdee ka, I have now been in Thailand for two months. Looking back I have done so much, even if it doesn’t seem like it because everything just seems normal now. It is really strange to be writing this Journal. Before I became an exchange student I used to read all of the exchange student’s journals. Once I was accepted an a RYE student I read them even more because I was amazed at all the thing people where doing. Well now I am writing my first Journal and while there have been plenty of times I have just had normal days to day life, I have gotten to do some pretty cool stuff, too.

When I first got to the Bangkok airport it was dark so my grand idea of seeing the city, didn’t happen. What did happen was my I said bye to the other exchange students from Florida who were on the flight with me, and me and my host family headed out to get some food at McDonalds. After that I fell asleep in the car and missed the 3 hour drive to my small city of Nakhon Sawan.

The next day I woke up reasonable early at 9 am, considering I had not really slept most of my travel time, it started a pattern that I still haven’t been able to break, I can’t sleep-in in Thailand. Oh well it worked out because me and my host family got in the car and drove out of Nakhon Sawan to the country. There we visited a school, to check on a clean water filter Rotary had donated, so all the students could have clean water to drink. The next two days where very similar we went to a total of 3 schools, with a group of Rotarians,and checked on water filters, handed out backpacks and donated books. The backpacks we handed out were stuffed with soap, a towel, a dictionary, etc. packed full for many of the students who were affected by the massive floods in Thailand last year. My area of central Thailand was hit especially hard, in fact my host families house was flooded by several feet of water. My host mom in particular helps a lot with promoting literacy in Thailand by providing books to rural schools. It was really cool to visit all of these school, a few even performed traditional Thai dances for us!

Then on Wednesday, five days since I arrived in Thailand, I started school. I was told to prepare a speech in English to give for a little presentation at my school, and was there bright and early at 7:30 ready to give it. Only right before I got up on the stage a teacher came up to me and said don’t say your speech just introduce your self in Thai. *So this is to any future exchange students* actually write and memorize a small introduction in your host language, you never know when you will have to give a speech in front of your school of 4,000 without any warning. This also happened to me at all three of the rural schools we visited.
After wards I was shown to my class and got a very loud cheer from everyone. All the students were so happy I was in their class and everyone wanted to know all about me or as much as their English skills would allow. The rest of the day I just sat in class and answered my classmates questions. (In Thai schools, you stay in the same class and the teachers switch classrooms). Now to be totally honest I hated school that first week, I got hit with horrible homesickness, the school day lasted forever, everyone was very nice but I could only speak to one person who was good in English. I really really could not stand it. Since then I really started to enjoy school, but it took time, this was one thing I was not expecting about being an exchange student. After about two weeks I got my own schedule and it got much better. Even though I could recognize some math and science topics, it became pretty clear I couldn’t follow along with the rest of the class, so I now take some other classes and can go to the library for any period I don’t want to join (say Biology or Pre-Calculus). I still go to my normal class on occasion, I eat lunch with them, line up with them during announcements and I always help out the teacher in English class. In English class mostly I just sit there and explain English or American words, ideas, and answer their questions. These can be very random and are really pretty hard to explain, these include: “what is the difference between nice and beautiful?”, “what is surfing and why is it popular in Australia” (based on a section in the textbook), “are you sure there are 50 states in America and not 56” (I have no idea about this question, I guess they included territories?), and the strangest was “what is the dispute over Marijuana in California?” (this question was posed by the teacher based on a practice test in the textbook so I had to explain to the class what Marijuana was and why people in California are arguing about it). The list goes on and on, so be ready for some really random questions!
I also take a few art classes, a Chinese class, help with the elementary aged English classes, and I even got the special privilege of getting a private flower arranging class given by the head of the department, and received the honorary name Bua meaning lotus. By honorary name Bua I of course mean no one can pronounce the name Alex so they decided to call me Bua instead, and by private flower class I mean I have the head lunch lady teach me how to make flower arrangements in the back of the cafeteria. Actually, my teacher is very good at it and we make a lot really cool stuff.

After about a week things started to get into a routine and I started to like school more and more. Though I still do not like the Thai school system and here is why: first it is very inefficient, school lasts most of the day 7:45 until 4 and many students take extra classes after wards, then they spend a good portion of time doing homework and studying for the one big university exam that determine whether or not they get into a good college; second, a lot of kids don’t pay attention in class, they talk, eat, draw pictures, one day I counted 8 kids sleeping. I could go on and on but it easiest to say they system could be improved.
I do meet and hang out with the other exchange students in my town sometimes. I am the only exchange student at my school (so I get stared at a lot there, and people shout good afternoon a lot too, no mater what time of day it is because its all they can say in English), but I hang out with them on the weekends or after school, when my Thai friends are studying. I used to think spending so much time with other exchange students defeated the purpose of coming all the way to Thailand, but I realized even when we hang out we still are speaking Thai to buy a snack, or hang out at places where Thais hang out.

So I was planning on this being short but since it is already so long, I will save you some time and just make a few bullet points about things I have noticed and thought were strange or different in Thailand. I am also doing this because there is no possible way for me to explain everything I have done and felt since arriving, just know that if you become an exchange student you will have to do a lot of smiling and you will have no idea what is going on 99% of the time.

There are motorcycles everywhere! and most road rules are taken suggestions, even wearing a seat belt, so streets in Thailand can be kind of scary.

Thai teenagers love cartoons and Facebook, if you come to Thailand be ready to get all sorts of friends requests and see a lot of animated drawings or song quotes. On that note, you will never escape American Pop songs, they love it here, along with K Pop.

For girls, hair must be kept short(chin length) or worn in braids at Thai school. Fingernails must be kept short too, otherwise the teacher will cut them.

They love Disney! I have yet to see any of my classes physics note with out at least five pictures of Mickey Mouse on them.

On Thursdays (for me it varies by school) we have scout day where we wear special uniforms that look like old fashion Girl Scout uniforms and do different activities. Most of the guys then go to military training, once they are old enough.

McDonalds and KFC deliver here.

They have the most intense fly-swaters. They look like small tennis rackets and when you push button they get a surge of electricity so flies do not stand a chance. Still it doesn’t even put a dent in the fly population

If you thick school buses in America are crowed you have never ridden on a Song-taow. They are covered pick-up trucks with two parallel benches in the back.

Tuk tuks are fun! They are like a motorcycle with a bench in the back that is covered and used like Taxis. Thailand still has taxis (which come in all sorts of colors) but Tuk tuks are less expensive and more fun, if its not raining.

They are defiantly more conservative with clothing here.

Everything is super cheap, except electronics. I can buy a can of coke-cola for 6 Baht or about 20 cents and a basic lunch at school (a dish of noodles and a drink) costs about 28 Baht or roughly 1 US dollar.

Even so you will defiantly get ripped-off if you ever visit Thailand, its perfectly legal to charge more to tourists, or farangs (white people)

Coffee makes you white and skinny here (or so they claim they have no real regulation on it). It is advertised all the time on TV and is sold health stores. Last week we had an inbound “camp” because there is no school in October and all the exchange students were drinking coffee in the morning. My host mom who organized it, kept telling me how strange it was the boys where drinking coffee, it is for girls only she said.

Yes, Thailand is sexist, and will treat you differently if you are foreign, its just a part of their culture.

Thai people will never flat out tell you if you are doing something wrong or something that is considered impolite, you just have to pick up little subtle hints or notice when your host family acts differently. It gets very confusing but Thais will often give you slack if because you are foreign and they rules are very… complicated.

Buddhism is the main religion here so Wats (temples) are everywhere, they are all gorgeous and very ornate. When you visit one, though, you can not show much skin or they will give you a cloth to cover yourself with.

They wai here all the time. It is comparable to shaking hands but done much more often, to basically anyone you meet. It is for respect so younger people wai to older people, students to teachers, etc.

To wai you place both hands about chest level and the bend your head to tough your hands. How far you go down depends on how senior the person is, with friends it is maybe chin level, teachers about nose level, and monks forehead level so you are almost making a right angle.

At some point you will have to use a squat toilet, they are very common here and sometimes they even have signs on regular western style toilets telling people not to stand on the seat because they are not used to them. But most houses do have regular toilets

You might have a hard time finding toilet pepper in public bathrooms here often Thais will use a water hose, just make sure you always have an extra stash of toilet paper and hand-sanitizer every time you go out.

Even so toilet paper is still very common but here people use it as tissues. They literally take out the middle cardboard center of toilet paper and put the roll in a tissue box.


January 2013

Sawadeeka! Hello! I have now been in Thailand for 5 months! Let me start by saying how hard it is to actually sit down and write these journals. Not because I have nothing to write about, but because so much has happened there is no way I could write down everything I have done, seen, felt, and experienced. My Thai is improving everyday, but it does not feel like it. I can understand a good portion of what is being said around me, even when I am not directly addressed, but I have a terrible time speaking back. This makes people think I do not understand and switch to English, which gets very frustrating. Thai it self is not difficult grammatically, and a lot of words make logical sense. For instance the word for ice is nam kang, nam meaning water and kang meaning hard, so ice is hard water. Still learning a language is never easy, and with tones and pronunciation, Thai is challenging.

I guess I will start with Sports Day, which is actually a week long sports competition but because there are no plurals in Thai is it just called sport’s day. It is one of the biggest events of the year and each school in Thailand s it sometime between early november and late December. I was lucky because the first day of school in Thailand was the sign up day for sports day (they start preparing months in advance!). At that point I had no idea what was going on and accidentally signed up for the basketball team. All the signs where in Thai and everyone was running around like crazy so I just walked over to a random group and wrote my name. I am just glad I did not accidentally sign up for dak gaw (similar to hackysack but with a wicker ball and one of Thailand’s favorite games so everyone is very good) or Chairball (like soccer but you throw the ball and try to score my throwing the ball into a basket that is held by a person standing on a chair) because I alrea dy knew the rules of basketball. So by November everyone was very excited. There were tons of sports some similar to ones we play in America (running, volleyball) and plenty of others (badminton, a kind of volleyball played only with your feet, ping pong ((it is a sport here)), etc.). The most interesting one to me was cheerleading, where there were complicated hand movements, costumes, a story, and singing. So how teams competed was against other colors. Each classroom was assigned one of four colors (Go Green!) and for each sport there was a tournament. The winner in each sport both girls and boys got a trophy, the team who won the most trophies won Sport’s Day. But not everyone in all schools is allowed to participate, at my school anyone who wanted to could join a team, but at other schools only boys were allowed to practice and compete. What I found the most different between America and Thailand was the way spectators cheered. On the first day I asked my friend wh ile we were watching the running competition my other friend was running in “what do you say in Thai to cheer?” she responded, “you scream.” I thought at first she was just kidding, but no, to cheer you literally make a blood curdling scream as loud as you possibly can. I had such a fun time, a won the second place trophy in girls basketball! 

The rest of November was mostly school. School in Thailand lasts a really long time, but it is fun once I stared making a lot of friends, mostly because students don’t really pay attention in class, even though they spend all of their free time after school studying. My thanksgiving was great though! I got a package from my mom and was able to make my favorite pumpkin pie for my host family. (They were shocked I mixed pumpkin and cinnamon together.) the best part though was my host family surprised me with a big Thanksgiving dinner, getting a roast chicken and a pizza! (traditionally Thanksgiving food is pretty hard to find in Thailand.) It was great!

Right at the beginning of December I had an amazing opportunity. I go to a catholic school, which is pretty rare in Thailand as most people (even most of the ones at my school) are Buddhist. During the first week in December my school in Thailand was hosting a conference of all the sister schools across Asia and the Pacific, and I was chosen to be a representative for Thailand at the conference. It was held in Bangkok and lasted almost a week. I had so much fun meeting so many kids and I got to help them all understand some cultural aspects of Thailand. On the last night I even did a traditional Rumthai (Thai dance)! 

Christmas time was pretty strange. I had a great time, and got several wonderful packages from my parents and grandparents in America, which was amazing!!! I was happy I was in a catholic school this time of the year because I got Christmas day off, I think I was the only exchange student in my district who did not have school. Also on Christmas Eve we had a Christmas pageant. I played an angle and did a little ballet dance. Basically it was the same as every other Christmas story but they rushed the begging up to when Jesus was born and then had a whole long scene about a king and Indian belly dancers. I asked why there were Indian belly dancers in Bethlehem, and no one ever gave me a clear answer. I think my host family (and host sister, Ball, especially) liked celebrating Christmas. They are Buddhist and never had celebrated before so we make tons of Christmas cookies and put up decorations. In the evening I met up with a few of the other exchange students in my town an d we all had a Christmas dinner at a Korean grill restaurant. It was a great christmas.

I was really expecting to be homesick around this time, but it just didn’t happen. As far as homesickness goes, I had just awful homesickness the first maybe month or so I was here and after that it just went away and I started to really love Thailand. At first I could barely eat the food and kept making tons of cultural mistakes, but after a while I got used to everything and truly do love it. 

Then just on January 10th I celebrated Children’s day. Basically a whole day where kids get spoiled. Actual Children’s Day was January 12th and I woke up to an air show above my house and an impromptu marching band next-door that lasted most of the morning and afternoon, but on the 10th we celebrated at my school. I wasn’t really expected anything to be different that day just a normal Thursday, but in the morning my host mom said to wear my regular uniform(not a scout uniform like regular Thursdays), and as we were walking out the door she handed me a bag of uncooked rice and a spoon. By this time in my exchange I was really used to really seemingly random things happen, and just to go with what everyone else was doing so I did not think much of it until I got to school. So, instead of the large courtyard filled with lines of students talking and waiting for morning announcements I found a huge maze made out of rope and desks. about 7:45 everyone lined up b y their class all along the maze like path. Then 22 Buddhist monks in a line walked past us and each person put a spoonful or two of rice in their offering bowl, this ended up being a lot of rice from each of the 4,000+ students and the bowls kept being emptied into large sacks. We ended up with so many sacks full of rice it took several truck loads to haul it all off. Then we all went to the covered area of the courtyard and sat there while 86 (the age of the King) monks chanted. After a few minutes on of the monks walked around and sprayed water on the crowd (a type of blessing) and bopped a few kids on the head (who knew monks had a sense of humor?). It was really strange. I liked listening to the monks and participating in Buddhist traditions but my school in Thailand is Catholic, so the whole ceremony took place less than 10 feet from a church.
So I will say I had awful homesickness the first few weeks I was here, I especially didn’t like school. Now I have gotten used to school and I even like it. One things though that still drives me crazy, is the uniforms. I never wore a uniform before so that in itself took a little getting used to, but what really annoys me is I have four separate uniforms! I have a regular Thai school uniform which is standard across the country, I have a sports uniform to wear on days I have P.E., a scout uniform for a girl scout/military activity I have on Thursdays, plus a special green shirt for special days. I keep comparing it to the new Karate Kid movie, where the main charter keeps wearing the wrong uniform on the wrong days. I can not tell you how many times I have worn my scout uniform when I should have worn my regular uniform, or my regular uniform when i should have worn my sports uniform. It does not help that they keep switching the days. Either way everyone stairs at m e, so I guess it is not to different from any other day having kids stare at me (being the only non-asian in my school). Also, who ever decided we should wear a long thick pair of sweatpants for P.E. in Thailand heat, really did not think things through.
That is basically what I have been up to the last couple of months in Thailand! One thing that I find hilarious is all the funny questions I get asked. For anyone who becomes an exchange student, you will defiantly experience these crazy questions, too. Here are a few of my favorite questions I have been asked while in Thailand.

My friend at school “do you have Facebook in America?”
Me “yes, Facebook is from America.”
My friend “really? well what about Oreo’s, have you ever tasted them? Do you have them in America?”
Me “Oreos are also from America.”
My friend: “really? I thought they are from Thailand…”

A teacher at a school “where are you from?”
Me “I am from America, Florida.”
Teacher “I know where that is, that’s the state that boarders Cuba and Canada, right!”

Another friend from School: “where have you traveled before”
Me “I have been to the Bahamas.”
My friend “Where is that?”
Me “It’s in the Caribbean.”
My friend “Oh WOW! Isn’t that dangerous? Because of all the Pirates! Like the movie Pirates if the Caribbean.”
Me “No thats just a movie, there have been no pirates like that for a few hundred years.”
My friend “Really!?! I though they were real…”

In class one day, “have you been to all the states in America?”
Me “No, but I have been to a lot”
Classmate “Have you been to Venezuela?”
Me “Venezuela is not a state. Its in South America, near Colombia and Brazil”
Classmate “Oh I thought Brazil was in Europe”

Well the list goes on and on. This is not everyone in Thailand but people have actually said these things. Most of the time the questions are about if I have something in America, people think most things are from Thailand. Thats not saying anyone is stupid they usually just don’t think the question through or honestly never learned.

So that is my mid-year journal. I am sorry I am submitting it so late. I thought I sent it in months ago, but it must have had some issue and did not work. I am having a wonderful experience in Thailand and I can not thank Rotary enough for such an amazing experience!

Aly Burton 
2012-13 Outbound to India
Hometown: St. Augustine, FL
School: St. Augustine High School
Sponsor: District 6970,

Host: District TBA, India

Aly - India

September 2 , 2012

Exactly a month ago, I arrived in Nagpur, India. I left the comfort of my home in St. Augustine, Florida, USA, 3 days prior, and had spent these last 3 days either on a plane or trying to entertain myself in the airport terminals during excruciatingly long layovers. It was hectic and overwhelming traveling internationally for the first time, and even more terrifying, the fact I was completely alone. I was either in a state of rushed panic trying to run across airports to get on my plane on time, or complete boredom during the 8 and 9 hour flights, changing positions, trying to get comfortable, and finally giving up and reading a book. My plane landed in Amsterdam at the same time my plane departing to Mumbai was boarding, I barely remember anything about the Amsterdam airport. Just the whooshing of European stores and international faces passing by as I ran to my gate, just moments before it closed. During my 6 hour layover in Mumbai, after be ing informed the airline had lost my luggage and I had to wait in line for an hour to fill out a form so they could return them to me at their earliest convenience, I was coerced into leaving the airport trying to find a payphone to call home and was not allowed back in because of the guards who spoke little English and knew nothing about my foreign confusion despite the look of desperation on my face and the blazer which proudly represented the flags of the USA and India. I was forced to find the domestic terminal on my own, so I put on a serious face and allowed my instincts to kick in. I found a woman I saw on my flight to Mumbai from Amsterdam and timidly asked her in broken Hindi if she spoke English. She of course did and after I explained the situation, she led me to a prepaid taxi kiosk and argued with the man in lightning-speed Marathi until she told me to hand him 150 rupees in exchange for a small ticket. It finally hit me. I was in for a terrifying ride in a prep aid taxi, by myself, through the dark streets of Mumbai. At one o’clock in the morning, I found myself remembering all the brilliant bribing methods I learned before leaving the states. I tempted the driver with a 500 rupee note if he got me there quickly and safely. By the grace of God I made it within minutes and was able to talk my way into the airport without a ticket because of my Rotary credentials. After walking into the domestic airport, I noticed no one was working the check in kiosks. I had to wait in the main room for four hours before I was allowed to check in with my electronic ticket and step into the terminal. I saw out of the corner of my eye the look of something quite familiar. Standing across from me next to a pillar inside the airport was tuft of blonde hair and a pale, pink hand holding a briefcase. My American-ness instantly kicked in and I walked up to the man with a huge smile of relief on my face. At this point, I had no idea where to go and I was still in shock from the images of the men sleeping in the street, the homes with caved in roofs, and the children begging for single rupees during my taxi ride through the night in Mumbai. The man was from the US on a mission trip to the south of India. I pestered him with questions and told him my story and how I just needed to contact my parents back home but my cell phone was dead and I couldn’t charge it without the adapter that was conveniently located in one of the suitcases the airline had lost in Amsterdam. He gladly handed me his cell phone and told me not to worry about the international charges and that I should really let my family know I was safe and sound. I was so grateful to him for allowing me to contact home, and for the fact he helped me through foreign security, and stayed with me in the terminal during that night in Mumbai until his plane took off, just 40 minutes before mine.

Now that this intense first impression of my new home had passed and settled, I realized I was in for one crazy year. It was now time for my flight to Nagpur, the city within India that I would be living in for the next 10 months. The flight from Mumbai to Nagpur was short but it was the part of my travel experience that I remember the best. I was the only person sitting in my row, so I moved to the window and watched the landscape of the country underneath me was we ascended and descended. Flying above Mumbai in the light of early morning, I could see the hundreds of small homes built practically right on top of each other, and the huge towers and buildings on the skyline that appeared to be businesses and hotels for the thousands of people that fly into and out of Mumbai every day. Then we rose above the clouds; it was the most beautiful, peaceful flight, jumping from cloud to cloud, enjoying the sweet, spiced chai and Indian breakfast provided by the airline. When coming down from what seemed to be the closest to Heaven on Earth I will ever see, I saw the landscape of Nagpur peeking through the white mist of cloud. Nagpur really is very green and very beautiful. There were acres of forests and plant life and waterways and little villages that were surrounded by their own little farms and temples. It was incredible to see a new way of life from this view, looking at a wide-screen view of these little towns and making out the figures of children playing outside their homes early in the morning. Then I saw the city. It was huge. Bigger than I imagined, and before I knew it the seatbelt sign turned on and we were landing at the Nagpur Airport. The airport was very small, but more than enough for the travel that goes in and out of the city. Of course I didn’t have my luggage, so as soon as I stepped off the airplane, I grabbed my carryon and took off for the main entrance. I instantly saw my family through the glass doors of the airport, an d I beamed with nervous excitement. When I walked outside, they were all smiling and holding signs… one, an oversized picture of me that said “Welcome to India Alyssa!” and another that spelled out “welcome” on 7 small, heart-shaped balloons. I was overwhelmed with the wonderful welcome and I was led to the car that would take me to my new home.

At first I was wondering “Why is the driver on the wrong side of the car?” “Why is the car on the wrong side of the road?” “Why is the speedometer in Kilometers and not MPH??” “WHY ARE THERE SO MANY COWS STANDING IN THE MIDDLE OF THE STREET?”

My host sisters giggled at me and the surprised expressions on my face when I saw something that fascinated me that, of course, they were completely used to. I pulled out my camera and snapped shots of everything: the cows, the temples, the traffic, the fact no one here pays attention to the lanes on the road…

After about a 10 minute drive we reached my new home. When I walked inside the gate I noticed there were flower petals on the floor and garlands of fragrant flowers hanging from the door, welcoming me to their home. They placed one garland around my neck and performed a traditional Indian ceremony, called Aarti, which is commonly done to invite new people into someone’s house. A small fire was lit on a metal plate that was waved in front of me in a circular motion. My host mother took a small pinch of bright red, vermillion powder from the plate and placed a small dot, known as a tikka, on my forehead. It was a beautiful ceremony, which I have seen performed many times in the month that I have been here. My first and second days were difficult. I remember the shock of the spicy food, the shock of the language barrier, the realization that I had not learned as much Hindi before my departure as I should have, the shock of cultural differences, and having to sleep that fi rst night in a new bed, in a new room, in a new house, in a new country, without the support of any of my friends or family back home. I had to create a new life for myself, and I did just that.

In the month that I have been here, I have seen more, learned more, tasted more, smelled more, heard more, and felt more than I ever have in my life. The only way I can explain life in India, courtesy to my fellow American exchange student friend, Rebecca, who coined the term, is complete sensory overload. It is tiring and exciting and overwhelming. There is too much to see, too much to hear, too much to feel, too much to taste… You are literally smacked in the face with the sight of bright colors, animals walking around (including monkeys, which are commonly spotted even in suburban areas), fast paced cars and bikes zooming past you in 10 different directions, sounds of instruments (the low beat of drums in the distance, the sounds of sitar and Hindustani singing classes), exotic birds chirping, and street vendors and people yelling “wow” at the sight of a foreigner, the tastes of foods that are either incredibly sweet or unbearably spicy, and constant feeling of anxious excitement that goes hand in hand with all the craziness that is India.

You would think this excitement would die down after getting used to it, but it is quite the contrary. Every day, more new and exciting things happen. I have not experienced one complete day of boredom here in India. I have joined 5 hobby classes, which are classes that children take outside of school, and every day (except Sundays) I am getting some sort of exercise, both mind and body. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays I take a Yoga class from 3 to 4, followed by a Sitar class from 5 to 6, and a Kathak class (traditional Indian dance class) from 6 to 7. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays I take a Hindi class with the same Yoga teacher from 3 to 4, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays only I have a Painting class from 5:30 to 7. I am a busy, busy girl. I attend school from 9 in the morning to 1:30 in the afternoon, and because I don’t understand the lessons in Hindi, I sit in the back and practice my Hindi in pre-school Hindi books made for children. During my first 2 weeks here, I taught myself how to read and write in Hindi and I am learning more and more every day. I understand most of what people say to me, and if I don’t understand, I can say “I didn’t understand you, speak slowly please, I do not speak Hindi” in Hindi. One problem with language learning is that most people in India speak English. They always try to speak English to me, but they are always very surprised and appreciative when I try my best to switch over to Hindi or at least add some words in if I know them. Most importantly though, I can read the script; this means I can ride my bicycle anywhere and be able to read the street signs. I know if I am in Bajaj Nagar (the area I currently live in) or a neighboring area because each square (intersection) has signs pointing in any direction telling you how to get to other squares and areas. The layout is actually quite simple, maybe in another month, I will know where everything is without having to ever ask directions.

When you don’t know how to get somewhere however, India has these helpful little tools called auto rickshaws. For less than 1 or 2 USD, you can get pretty much anywhere in the city. When my friends and I decide we need new kurtis or we’d like to go out for some coffee, we can easily flag down a rickshaw and haggle the price down to a reasonable amount and off we go. Easy as pie. With the Rotary rule of no driving, this is the most helpful and inexpensive way of exploring the city safely with other exchange students.

Of course I have become quite close with my exchange friends because we spend every day together, but I have also made many Indian friends during this month here. Some of my best friends here I have met at school as part of the Rotaract club and some friends being mutual friends of my host sister, who has very quickly become my best friend and the person I look up to here in India. She is beyond helpful with all language issues and cultural confusion and I love having her as a sister. Same goes with my host parents, I absolutely love how my host mom allows me to watch her cook meals and teaches me all the ingredients by name in Hindi and Marathi, and my host father always makes an effort to make me smile every day with his free-spirited jokes and beaming smiles every morning when I come downstairs for breakfast and chai.

I have yet to see any big religious celebrations, but soon, there is the 10 day long festival celebrating the Hindu deity, Ganesh, called Ganesh Chaturthi. I am so excited for this celebration that consists of 10 days of Pooja (or prayer) and a submersion of the Ganesh statues into the water on the last day. Diwali, the largest celebration in India, the celebration of lights, is also coming up in November, and I am incredibly excited to be a part of that.

There are too many celebrations to count, every day is treated a celebration here. People here view life in a new and positive outlook that I am not used to. Each and every moment is special and every person has their own light and their own niche in society. I appreciate being alive. I appreciate having my legs to walk on, and my eyes to see with, and my mind to see more with. I appreciate the people I have met, and even the people I haven’t met yet that will influence my life, and I’m sure there will be many. In the Yoga class I am taking, our teacher has been one of the people here that has opened my eyes to new and bigger things. By eyes, I don’t mean my superficial eyes, but the eyes within. He has taught us that to truly see, you have to close your superficial eyes. He has taught us lessons about bliss, about happiness and the misery that follows the strife for satisfaction, the benefits of Yoga and spirituality, and countless stories and lessons about the Gods, Goddesses, and Great Masters of India. One experience that I consider the most life altering since I have been in India was a few days ago when we were invited to watch our Yoga teacher give praise to his Music Master. We walked from our classroom to his Master’s home, where we watched as he thanked his Master for his knowledge in the most spiritual way known in India. I watched in complete awe as he lit the musky incense, chanted the prayers under his breath, and placed handfuls of flowers and powders of bright pink and red vermillion color onto his Master’s feet. He then offered him apples, Indian sweets, shoes, and some other gifts. The master accepted this praise and in return, with the power offered to him, placed a tikka onto my Yoga instructor’s forehead. To complete the ceremony, I watched my instructor take a garland of fragrant flowers and place it around the pictures of his Grand Master and Great Grand Master. Through all of this prais e, his Master remained humble, and even sang a song for us exchange students, which was a kind of beautiful music I feel blessed to have heard. After returning to the classroom that afternoon, we practiced meditation, and in the newfound peacefulness I achieved by watching such a complex and spiritual ceremony, I slipped into my deep subconscious. When my teacher told us to open our eyes and wake up, I continued to lay there paralyzed, unaware of my surroundings, in a world of my own. I didn’t come out of this state until my friend, loudly, chanted Aum into my ear. I was not asleep, and I awoke instantly, with an intense burst of energy. If I understood his explanation correctly, my teacher explained that I was able to be woken up because my sense of hearing was the last remaining connection to my physical body. When my friend yelled Aum into my ear, it instantly brought me back. The reason I felt such a burst of energy was because during meditation, you are receiving energy in vast amounts from the cosmic energy of the universe. When you sleep for 6 hours, you only retain 5% energy from the universe because the rest of the time you are sleeping, you are in dream state, and not completely detached from your physical body. With only 30 minutes of meditation, you gain 60% energy from the universe. I am still stunned about this concept, but I believe in it wholeheartedly. It was incredible. Absolutely mind blowing the intense burst of energy and my slow detachment from my physical body, I still can’t believe a novice like me achieved something like that, no matter how simple or short it may have been. I feel awakened. My teacher taught us you can only truly be awakened when you close your eyes. I now believe I understand what he meant by that.

Ok, ok… this journal has gone on long enough. It is a full 5 pages in Times New Roman 12 pt. font. So let’s cut to the chase.

Rotary Youth Exchange doesn’t just give you the opportunity to travel and experience different cultures and learn a new language. It gives you independence and the life skills necessary to know how to be self-sufficient. It gives you the opportunity, and the ability to find yourself. To explore yourself, and learn who you truly are. It has only been a month for me, and I am already feeling these waves of energy and positivity. I am so enlightened, I really don’t know how things could get better than this… but I know for a fact, it will.


December 4, 2012

I have now been in India for exactly 4 months and one day. I must say, this journey has been quite a roller coaster. Although I am still learning new things every day and enjoying life to the fullest, there have been many difficulties along the way that I never expected to encounter. Despite the big setbacks and the surprising mini-disasters, I have survived through it and remain optimistic every day.

India is one of those places where at the end of your exchange, you become someone very wise. If anything, I’m grateful for this experience because I will never take things for granted again. I wish some of the things I have seen here I could un-see. Some things have really scarred me and haunted me. But at the same time I am glad I’ve experienced it. I’m happy about the mental lashings because it only makes me more aware. It only makes me stronger. The small things that you encounter here every day make you think: “God, this is unreal. I have heard about this but I never knew it actually existed.” You just don’t KNOW until you physically see it in front of your face. You don’t know what selflessness is until you see a poor woman giving the only money she has to her child for food. You don’t know poverty until you’ve had an Indian child lay the head of her dead baby brother on your lap and ask for a single rupee, which couldn& #039;t even buy you a slice of bread. You don’t know devotion until you see a yogee deny all possessions and live life as an impoverished man for the love of his God. And you don’t know family until you’ve seen 10 family members living in a one bedroom house, with smiles that shine brighter than any rich man living in a palace. India is proof that there is a large amount of good and bad in the world. Nothing is solid. I’m more understanding of that now. Exchange in India is not what I expected, and be honest, not what I wanted out of exchange. I wanted to learn another language. I wanted to make lots of friends and go to a school where I would learn new and useful things every day. But Indian exchange it is not about the language, or the schools, or the people, or the temples, or the colors, or the exchange rate… It’s about YOU. I’m different. I just hope I haven’t changed in a negative way. I’m just growing. I’m so cynical no w but also so open minded. I’m so judgmental and yet so accepting at the same time. I’ve learned so much, and yet I still can’t have a conversation in Hindi after 4 months of living here. I don’t know what or who I will be at the end of this exchange. As for now, I have found the pleasures of the little things that keep me going. Some days I hate it here and want to go home more than anything. Some days I look at my friends and think of all the wonderful times we’ve had and will have together, and decide that I have to stay.

India is just one of those places where there is no black or white. Everything is gray. Everything contradicts itself and nothing really makes sense in my American mind. Most days I just tell myself “It isn’t my country; they do things differently here, so just go with it.” But sometimes I have to tell myself that there’s a reason why things are different in America, and I begin to appreciate my country more than I ever have. This isn’t to say that life is bad here in India. There are plenty of useful things I have learned here and lessons that have made such positive impressions in my life. Like I said, it is all gray. India is a balance between misperception and clarity, rural and urban, wealth and poverty, corruption and honesty, and right and wrong. If there’s one thing I have learned from being here, it is how to be a better person. I have become someone I am proud of by correcting the wrong in me that I see as wrong in others and by o btaining the good aspects I have seen in the kind people I have met here. This exchange has really been an eye opener. I am not naïve about the world anymore. I know you can’t trust everyone and you can’t live life expecting everyone to be courteous and respectful. I also know that there is so much more to life than the normal day-to-day things we learn as teenagers in America. This is a vast and diverse world we’re living in, and unless you see it, you’ll never understand it fully.

Aly Ringeisen 
2012-13 Outbound to France
Hometown: Vero Beach, FL
School: Vero Beach High School
Sponsor: District 6930,

Host: District TBA, France

Aly - France

Aly’s Bio

Bonjour! My name is Alyssa Ringeisen, and I am the typical Florida girl.

I love the sand, the sun, and everything that revolves around heat… but I am going to have to change this addiction, because I am embarking on a journey to France next year and I am almost positive that I will not be as close to the water as I am in Florida (since I am only a few steps away).

I am from a little town, Vero Beach, and I have lived there all my life. My family lives in Vero Beach, except my brother, who goes to University of Florida. I have an adorable little Maltipoo, Sammy, who always brightens my day and makes me smile (and I am 99% sure that he is the most adorable dog in the world).

I am 17 years old and I am a senior at Vero Beach High School. I love my European History class and I love learning about anything French related (especially the French Revolution which makes me giddy just thinking about it). I will turn 18 shortly after I graduate, and then I am off to France for a gap year.

The thing I am most worried about when it comes to the exchange is the language. I have taken about 3 months of French and I have been working really hard to learn it. I hope that by the end of my senior year I can speak basic conversations that will make the first few weeks easier. Thanks again Rotary for this adventure that will hopefully change my life. Bisous(kisses), Alyssa.

2012-13 Aly France Journals

October 19, 2012

The World is my Oyster

Hey all you out there in the world!!

The past 2 months have been hectic. I have… Started school, been doing French workbooks in my spare time, catching a train to Lille, visiting castles, going to the beach, and tons of other interesting, French-like things. It has been an amazing 2 months here in France.

I will start with school, since it occupies the majority of my time. For me, school is waaayyy different. School in the US is what I am comfortable with. I have 7 classes that last about an hour and is everyday from Monday to Friday. School in France is what I was100% not comfortable with. School in France is not normal from the typical American perspective. School in France has a weird, mixed up schedule that changes without notice and an added day to the school week (Saturdays) so needless to say, my first full week was a week of extreme confusion and a very different Aly. Between this and the amount of energy it takes for someone’s brain to take in a language and try to make sense out of it, it makes a very tired exchange student. I literally fall asleep everyday coming home, weather it be in the 20 min car ride, or the 1 hour bus ride.

In France, there are two tracks of learning that you can take, L (which is language), S (which is scientifique), and my track ES (which is socio-économique). In my track I focus on Economics, so I have a lot of economic classes. Then I have the classes that everyone has to take to prepare for the BAC (a big test at the end of French high school that determines if they go to university or not). I have 5 hours of French, 2 hours of English, 4 hours of Spanish (if you think that Spanish class is hard, try Spanish class where you can not tell if the professor is speaking French or Spanish), 3 hours of science, and 2 hours of math. Its a lot of school. I leave my house at 7:15 and get to school an hour later. Then I go to school until 5:40, wait for my 6:25 bus, and ride the bus home for another hour. Then I usually miss my stop on account of my sleeping on the bus, and have to walk for 15 mins to get home. It has become a little routine of mine now, because the walk is ri ght next to a pretty river that runs through the town. Now that I have a schedule that doesn’t change as much as it used to, I am starting to enjoy school. I have some classes that I look forward to, but as all teenagers, I have classes that I can not stand.

My worst class by far is Economics, because it is in a three hour block, and for those three hours i sit there confused. When the teacher does write on the board, I take out my handy French-English dictionary, and search for the word. Much to my dismay, though, the word is not usually in there. I guess the pocket dictionary company decided that obscure French economic terms are not essential for their target audience of American students backpacking through Europe. The teacher is not bad though, I think she is nice and she does try to help me by translating some words to English. The only problem with this is that she will translate one word every 30 mins or so, and that word will be something obscure. On Tuesday, she said Water, Elephant, and skipping, so in the 3 hour block, the only thing I got from the lesson is that Elephants drink water when they are skipping.

History and English are my favorites. In History, my teacher is really nice. He doesn’t speak much English, but it is the only class (aside from English) that has my full attention. In the class i understand 5% of whats happening, but I am paying attention. He moves around the classroom and is always talking loud and grabbing my attention. Also, at random points in the lesson, he will point at me and exclaim, “The Mademoiselle from America!!”. I have no clue why, but I smile and laugh and then he and the class will laugh too. Its a good class.

English is also amazing. The Professor is really good, and the class is not all boring like foreign languages in the US. They stuff they are working on is hard. It turns out that I actually learned an English word too. When we start a new lesson, the teach has me say a word, and then my class will repeat me, trying to copy my pronunciation. This worked well until I came across the word, Tertiary. I saw it, burst into laughter and told my teacher that I had never seen the word in my life, and he had to explain to me what it meant a few times before I picked up on it and understood. It was crazy. Its such a weird word to learn. Who would use it in normal conversation? Then, we started a new lesson, called the World is your Oyster (thus the name for my post today) and he wanted to me to explain what it means. Now, I know it sounds easy, because I have heard this saying for many, many years, but I blanked. I went on some tangent about pearls, and I doubt anyone understood me. Eve ntually, The professor cut me off, and my moment of confusion ended.

I have other classes, like Spanish too. Spanish is really really hard. When I went into it I was excited. I had taken a few years of Spanish before, so I was confident in my abilities. That was until the teacher and students started talking. The kids in my class are quite a bit better than me on the language, and that added to me not being able to decipher when the teacher is speaking Spanish, and when he is speaking French makes it a class that is perfect for my nap time. I just close my eyes, tune out the languages that are both foreign to me and get an hour nap before Math class. Math class is also a class I was excited for. Every exchange student I spoke to said that Math was good, because it was the same in all languages. That is correct, except in my position, where the teacher starts of every lesson with word problems. Math is just as bad as French class now.

Outside of school, I do have a life even if it doesn’t feel like it. I have been touring Castles, going into Lille, and going to the beach. Its been a good few weeks. First off, I went to Château d’Olhain that is about 20 mins from my house. Its one of the most famous castles in Northern France, because it was built in the 1200’s and it survived almost untouched during both WW1 and WW2. It was amazing and beautiful.

After the castle we stopped to see a megalith that is common in Northern France/ Europe. A Megalith is a large stone that has been used to construct a structure or monument, either alone or together with other stones that utilizes an interlocking system without the use of mortar or cement. No one knows exactly why they were formed, but they are very cool.

The other amazing thing I did was went to the beach. I went to the beach in La Touquet for the Rotary weekend with the almost 50 other exchange students in my district (1520 represent!!! ). I had an amazing time going in the freezing cold water and doing an mock Olympic games as well as riding 4-6 person bikes through the city on a scavenger hunt. It was amazing-ly amazing, especially after dinner, when everyone in the district got to put a pin on the town they were from on this massive map and then sing their national anthem with the other from their country.


Alyssa (as my classmates call me)

Ps. Check out my blog for more frequent updates and pictures. It’s alytheexplorer.blogspot.com.

December 29, 2012

Never in my life have I been so sure of what I want, yet so confused on how to get it. After spending 4 amazing months in France, my mind is jumbled.

So far this year has helped me understand about what I want to spend my life doing, it has helped me understand truly who I am. Two weeks ago I would have told you that I was a American who loves all things French. One month ago I would have told you that I am a girl who just happens to be spending a year in France and learning French. Today, I can officially say that I am just a normal teenager who is confused (and slightly frightened) with the future.

When I first signed up for this program I wanted to become a cultured woman who traveled the world and experienced life. I wanted to get out of my small town where I have known everyone in my class since preschool and become a new me. Now that I am out, I have come to realize how amazing my little town really is and how much I want it back.

Being 5,000 miles away from my home is making me realize how special it is. I miss walking into a grocery store and having to wait 5 minutes when my dad blabbers on with his old buddies that we seem to always run in to. I miss the little pizza place that had a waitress who knew what I wanted to eat before I even said anything. I miss my mom waking me up on Saturday mornings, trying to drag me to her workout class with her (which I almost always turned down). I miss a having a friend who I was known practically since birth and who calls me out whenever I am exaggerating or lying (and I miss returning the favor). I miss eating cookie dough from the bowl while watching mindless television (sometimes substituted with ice cream if we are feeling daring). I miss driving in my brothers car, listening to whatever rap song he is loving this week with all the windows down on a hot summer day. Most of all, I miss how easy life was.

Though I miss much from my old home, I am becoming attached to new people and places along with new routines. I love how I now have a new pizza place that the waiter knows I am American, so he gets out the special international card swipe when I walk in. I love how I can sit in Grand Place and I am guaranteed to see at least one familiar face if I wait long enough (whether it be from a school friend or Rotary friend). I love how my first host family was so organized. Dinner was always at 8pm and lunch was always at 1pm. It gave me such a sense of security. I love that I meet up with my two best friends almost every Wednesday to bake cookies, pies, and brownies to remind us of home. Most of all, I love how interesting and new life is.

With everything I have known my whole life being changed, it’s nice to have consistent things. I have realized how much people crave consistency and how important it is to our well being. But when nothing changes, you don’t appreciate how good life is. If I never left Vero Beach, I would never had realized how much I loved small town living and how lucky I am to have warm winters. I also would never have experienced a life that is filled with so many emotions, whether they be joy of future or longing for the past.

Annaray Oliva 
2012-13 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: Sanford, FL
School: Lake Mary High School
Sponsor: District 6980, FL
Host: District 4710, Brazil
The Rotary Club of Apucarana Sul

Annaray - Brazil

Annaray’s Journals

October 2, 2012

If you’re brave enough to say goodbye, life will reward you with a new hello. I recently came across this quote by Paulo Coelho online and when I Googled the name, I couldn’t help but smile when I learned that he’s the all time best-selling Portuguese language author, born in Rio de Janeiro.

Today marked 5 weeks here in Brazil. My time here is simultaneously flying by and feeling like forever. It moves quickly because time flies when you’re having fun, and I am definitely doing that! But it also feels slow because I’ve done so much, learned so much, and met so many people that it doesn’t seem possible to have done it all in just 5 weeks.

Let me just get this out of the way: I love it here. I love not knowing what I’m doing tomorrow, I love my host family, I love being surprised, I love learning something about Brazilian culture everyday, I love not being able to fit the thoughts, feelings, and events of a day on less than two pages of my journal every night, I love the feeling I get when I say something right in Portuguese, I love my new friends, I love being close enough to walk to any type of store, I love teaching people something unique about the United States, I love the way everyone is so friendly and welcoming. I love Brazil.

I started school just 3 days after I got here but then I got sick and stayed home until the next Monday. School is very different. I can’t say it’s my favorite thing but I don’t hate it. High school is 3 years in Brazil and I study in the second year. I can’t understand the teachers yet so I mostly just read, write, draw, and study my Portuguese books at school. I pay attention in English and Spanish class though. I can actually learn something from those. Something different about school is that I stay in one class with the same students all day and the teachers change rooms. I like that I finish before 12:20!
A few weeks ago, I got to go to a language school and teach kids about the United States! I showed them books, shared American candy, and taught them some English slang. It was really fun and the students loved everything I taught them.

Brazilians are so fun! That’s the thing I noticed quickly and liked immediately. They always make time to have fun with friends. At least once a week, we’ve gone to a churrasco (barbecue) or had one at our house. Friends are part of the family. Speaking of family, mine is wonderful. My host mom and dad, Tamara and Marcos, are both really young, nice, welcoming, and understanding. They don’t speak English so communication is difficult sometimes but we’re patient with each other and it works out. My host sister, Emily, is so cool and nice. We get along really well. I’m glad to have a girl my age since I only have brothers! She speaks English very well so she teaches me a lot of Portuguese and I teach her a lot of English! They’re such a beautiful family!
The kids in my class at school are really friendly too. On the first day, so many people asked me so many strange questions! Everyone asked if I have a boyfriend and still don’t know why, but a lot of people asked me if I like cowboys and rodeos. And everyone asks me if I like Brazilian boys haha. Brazilians also like to (try to) teach me how to dance.

I thought food would be problematic for me because I’m a vegetarian and here in Brazil, they eat a lot of beef. But it hasn’t really been an issue. My family eats rice, beans, and lots of vegetables in their meals so I have plenty to eat! The meals are different. To me, it seems like everything is one meal ahead. They eat foods that I would call lunch food, like grilled cheese sandwiches for breakfast, dinner food like rice, beans, vegetables, plenty of meat, and salad for lunch, and breakfast food like eggs and smoothies for dinner! I love how everyone comes home for an hour or so in the middle of the day for lunch. I think the only strange things I’ve eaten were quail eggs and a little pastry called ‘cueca virada’ which means ‘inside-out underwear’!

The first Rotary orientation was the weekend after I got here. It was a lot of fun meeting and getting to know the other inbounds and learning about the amazing trips we can take later in the year! I think there are 30 exchange students in my district and they’re all pretty cool. I’ve been to two Rotary meetings so far which are, of course, in Portuguese so I didn’t understand much but I got to meet the Rotarians and they’re very welcoming. At the second meeting, I had to stand up and introduce myself in Portuguese!
If you’re interested in going on exchange, please just apply! I know at this time last year when I first heard about it, I was immediately interested but I still thought, “What about college? What about my family? What if it’s dangerous? What if they don’t like me?” but I took the chance anyway and now I live in BRAZIL. I know I’d regret it if I had let those worries hold me back, so don’t let yours! Where could you be in 365 days?!

Here’s just a few interesting cultural differences:
There are speed bumps on highways.
Church is way more casual. We wear jeans and once there was a dog under the pew!
School is also more casual. The uniform at my school is basically a tracksuit and teachers wear jeans.
Hall’s cough drops are candy!
They eat french fries with a fork.
There are no screens on windows and air conditioning is rare.
There are stray dogs everywhere and no one pays any attention to them.
Milk comes in a box and juice comes in a bag at school.
They hug and kiss on the cheek to greet.
They always wear shoes in the house.
Less diversity. Almost everyone in this part of Brazil is Caucasian.
VW Bugs are everywhere but almost all of them are 60s models.
They always eat with a fork and knife and push the food onto the fork with the knife.

Before I left, I was asked many times by Rotarians what I want out of this year and I don’t think I really had the answer yet. Besides the obvious things like making friends, having fun, and learning a new language, I’ve decided what I want out of this year. I want as many moments of just pure happiness as possible. Those perfect ‘I love my life!’ moments. And so far, Brazil is giving me those moments and I know there are many more to come.

Three months in Brazil! Time has not slowed down for me yet, as much as I beg it to. The last two months have been just as good as the amazing first one since I wrote my last journal entry. I’ve had opportunities to travel and have gotten so much closer to the other exchange students here.

On Oct. 19, I traveled to Iguazú Falls with four other exchange students. We stayed for three days and did so much! Plus I made an amazing new friend from Australia who I miss already! On Friday we visited the Three Boarders landmark where the Paraná River and Iguazú River meet and divide Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay. On Saturday, we spent the whole day at the Falls which were just breathtaking and something I wish everyone could see. We even got to ride a speedboat into one of the waterfalls, then go whitewater rafting and swim in the Iguazú River! On Saturday night we had a delicious meal at a nice restaurant while enjoying an amazing live show about Latin American culture. I saw dances and heard music representing Mexico, Bolivia, Argentina, Paraguay, and many different parts of Brazil. On Sunday we went to Parque das Aves, or Bird Park. There were so many beautiful birds and other animals. The craziest thing happened to me! A toucan bit my face! After the bird park, we went to the Itaipu bi-national hydroelectric dam. It was so big and impressive!

A few weeks ago, I went to Paraguay with my host family! Brazilians go there to shop because it’s much cheaper and a nice surprise for me was American food! There were so many foods and candies there that I was missing that aren’t in Brazil!

Speaking Portuguese is still difficult but I understand so much more. People have finally started to realize that they can actually speak Portuguese with me and that I understand more than just ‘Hi, how are you?’ When I don’t know how to say what I want, it’s tempting to just say nothing, but I try to remind myself to just try; making mistakes is how I’ll learn. About a month ago, I started reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in Portuguese! Even though I only read it during class, I’m still only on chapter five! It’s a very strange feeling when I read a word, understand it, but can’t think of the equivalent in English! While my Portuguese has improved, I think my English is suffering. One day I actually Googled the word ‘been’ because it looked and sounded wrong! There have also been times that I’ve totally blanked on the simplest words, like ‘inconvenient’ and ‘specialty.’ I’v e also realized that I’m getting very used to simplifying my grammar. But I also get annoyed with myself when I speak English out of habit. I keep catching myself blurting out ‘sorry’, ‘thanks’, or ‘yeah’ because those are the types of things we say without thinking.
It’s funny, I always thought things like ‘ow!’ were universal. It doesn’t seem like the type of thing we’re taught. But here they say ‘ai!’ when they’re hurt, ‘nossa!’ instead of ‘wow!’, ‘ups’ instead of ‘oops’, and ‘oi?’ instead of ‘huh?’

I’m still enjoying the food here. Last week I asked my friend how they don’t get bored of rice and beans everyday and he said, ‘Well, in the US you eat bread with almost every meal. Do you get bored of it?’ Haha I never thought of that! I’ve also started to prefer coffee with just milk because from what I’ve tasted, coffee is either without any sugar or with so much that it’s sicky sweet.

One of my favorite things is making and sharing American food with my Brazilian family and friends! I was worried that I would be homesick on Thanksgiving this year, so I decided to keep myself busy and host Thanksgiving dinner here! I stayed home from school and cooked all day. I made fruit salad, deviled eggs, apple pie, and sweet potatoes! Sweet potatoes here are white, not orange, and marshmallows are rainbow colored, not white, so I had very colorful, strange looking potatoes! I also invited the other exchange students in my city. Before we ate, we all said what we were thankful for in Portuguese. I’m thankful for my families (natural and host), their love and support, for Rotary and the opportunity they gave me, the friends I have to lean on in hard times, and for my health, safety, and happiness!

I changed host families last week, a bit earlier than expected. I love my new host family! Now I have a 12 year old host brother and another brother on exchange in Florida. They were so helpful and excited about Thanksgiving and have been so welcoming towards me and having my friends over. And while I didn’t mind sharing a room with my last host sister, it’s nice that I have my own bedroom and bathroom here. Moving host families is difficult. It’s almost like starting at the beginning of my exchange again because it brings all the same emotions. The excitement of starting somewhere new, worrying if they’ll like me, the stress of packing, having to say goodbye to home again; it’s bittersweet. No one in this family speaks much English so it’s more difficult, but I’m already learning and speaking much more Portuguese.

I know when I was reading last year’s students’ journal entries, the most interesting part was always the cultural differences! So here’s some more:

  • Leftovers are usually stored in the oven or the microwave, not the fridge.
  • They iron everything! Even towels and socks!
  • There’s less class participation. There’s never class discussions and the students don’t even ask questions very often.
  • Every house is fenced and has a gate. They think it’s dangerous that we don’t have gates and my friend was shocked when I said we don’t even lock our front door at night.
  • Maids are very common.
  • When you’re walking on the sidewalk, people don’t move out of the way for each other. It’s normal to bump into other people all the time.
  • Alcohol can be sold anywhere. I still do a double take when I see beer in the food court and movie theater at the mall!
  • A ‘mop’ is usually a rag wrapped around a water squeegie thing. And really, what more do you need? A $25 Swiffer now seems ridiculous to me.
  • It’s not rude for a caller to ask who’s speaking before identifying themselves.
  • Teachers touch and hug students. This still kinda freaks me out.

I want to give a huge congratulations to the outbound class of 2013-2014! I can’t believe that was me one year ago! Right now, you’re all going crazy wondering what country you’ll be placed in. I know the feeling! Rotary loves to keep us waiting! You all should be proud of yourselves. Parab’ns! You’re in for an amazing next two years!

I’ve learned so much here. Obviously about Brazil, but also about the United States and about myself. I’ve learned that Americans take a lot for granted, like education and the diversity of our country, and we spoil ourselves on things we don’t need. I’ve learned that a smile can sometimes get you a lot further that words. I’ve learned what I can pull myself through, what helps me stay sane, and that time won’t stop for anyone. I’ve learned that maybe my little brother isn’t so bad after all; I miss that kid! I’ve learned that distance doesn’t have to mean so much. I’ve learned what three months can do. I’ve learned to challenge myself. I’ve learned how much I still have to learn and I can’t wait to keep doing just that. At mais! Beijos!


April 20, 2013

So much has happened since the last time I wrote. Tuesday marks eight months in Brazil. These journals get harder and harder because it seems impossible to put everything into a few paragraphs.
If the world had ended last year on December 21, I would have spent my last night on Earth on an 11 hour drive to the beach with my host family, the whole time in a torrential downpour that would have made Noah nervous. I spent the next 20 days in a condo right on the beach in Barra Velha, Santa Catarina with my host parents, brother, grandparents, aunt, and cousin. The last time I wrote, I had just changed families, and while I liked them right away, it was on the beach that we really stated to bond.

While we were there, we celebrated Christmas and New Year’s! The main difference of how Christmas is celebrated here is that they stay up until midnight on Christmas Eve and give gifts at midnight. I missed having a Christmas tree, but even if we did, it would have been artificial because Christmas trees don’t grow here. I loved sharing a special family tradition with them, lighting a bayberry candle that I had brought from the US on the night of Christmas Eve, just like my whole family does every year bringing us together no matter where we are. On New Year’s Eve, we wore white clothes to bring peace for the new year. There were fireworks and after midnight, we went down to the beach and jumped over seven waves and made a wish! My New Year’s Day wasn’t the best since I ended up in the emergency room with a virus. Fortunately, that’s been no indication of how the rest of 2013 will go.

At the end of January, I went to Sao Paulo, the largest city in Brazil and the seventh largest in the world. I only stayed for two days but I’m glad I got to see a bit of the city. School started back the first week of February, then the next week was CARNAVAL! I went with a group of twelve exchange students to Florianópolis, Santa Catarina and loved every second of it. What’s not to love about spending a week with cool people, going to a different beach every morning and street parties every night? Oh yeah, maybe the being-fried-like-bacon on the first day of the trip. That wasn’t so lovable. Note to self: Sunscreen!

I changed families last month. It was so hard to leave my last family and I miss them so much. They were more than just hosts; I now have a Brazilian mom, dad, and little brother. I have two brothers in my new family, ages fifteen and nineteen. The older one, Mateus, went to Florida on exchange last year and the younger, Tiago, will start his exchange to the US in August. My host father is a dentist and my host mother works in a courthouse. I spent Easter on a ‘rancho’, a house in a rural condominium that many families have to go to on the weekends. Instead of chocolate bunnies, here they give big chocolate eggs! In all the stores, the eggs are hung on overhead racks, turning the aisles into dark tunnels of shiny, colorful foil-wrapped eggs.

My Portuguese has taken leaps and bounds in the last five months, and I can’t believe I thought I was doing well back in November. Looking back, I really hadn’t learned anything until I changed families, proving that families without English speakers are blessings in disguise. I finished the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series in Portuguese and have started a new series! Reading no longer feels like Portuguese practice; now it’s just like regular leisure reading. In January, I started dreaming in Portuguese. It’s only happened about three times and it’s cool but not as thrilling as I thought it would be. But maybe that’s just me.

I changed schools last week and so far it’s been a big improvement. I was having a hard time at my last school so I’m glad to be in the new one where I have more friends.

Cultural Differences:
Everyone writes in cursive and they learn it before print.
They put their hands at their sides instead of on their heart for the national anthem.
There’s no mindset like Americans have with the ‘American Dream’. They’re not encouraged to pursue dreams or passions, and half of everyone wants to be a doctor or engineer just because those are the best jobs.
It’s not at all uncommon for adults to have braces.
Hyphens are used in place of quotation marks for dialogue in books.
An attendant pumps the gas for you.
No one puts a Brazilian flag in front of their house.
Nutrition labels are more exact.
Ripped jeans are not a thing. If you’re a future outboud to Brazil, leave them at home.
The coins don’t have names; they’re just called by their amounts.
There’s no tipping for anything.

Next week I’ll have my trip to the Amazon! I’m crazy excited! And hopefully, I’ll also have a trip to Rio de Janeiro next month! But unfortunately, that one’s not set in stone yet. I’m really starting to feel like I’m in the home stretch of my exchange because other exchange students in my city are going home soon! Speaking of going home, my return date is set for July 20! Just like everything else with exchange, this comes with mixed feelings. I’ll see my family! I’ll see my friends! American food! My horses and my cats are waiting for me! I’ll get my driver’s license! But on the other hand… When will I see these amazing people again? My closest friends will be spread all over the world in just a few short months. I’ll go back to normal life. Will it feel like this year never happened? I know one thing; even if I’m thousands of miles away, there will be pieces of my heart with my friends in Mexico, Finland, Germ any, Belgium, Australia, and of course there will always be a part of me in Brazil.


Annie Thomas
2012-13 Outbound to Italy
Hometown: Sanford, FL
School: Seminole High School – Sanford
Sponsor: District 6980, FL
Host: District 2100, Italy  
The Rotary Club of Pompeii Oplonti Vesuvius E

Annie - Italy

Annie’s Journals

September 21, 2012

This is my first official journal so be prepared for a LONG analysis in the daily life of Annie Thomas. I have been here in Scafati, Italy for about 2 ½ weeks now and I can honestly say I LOVE my life. The whole process of coming here and doing all the steps to get to this point were totally worth it.

The minute I stepped out of the Naples Airport, I have been given so much love. I cannot even describe the feeling of being this loved by people who have not known me that long. When I was completely out of it the 2nd day I was here because of jetlag, 10 girls from my class sprung into my room and hugged and kissed me like they’ve known me since they were 2 years old. My host family has officially become my second family because they treat me like their own daughter and it’s unbelievable how close I am with them. I can talk about anything with my host family and they understand me and are so comforting to me, living here is like a dream.

My friends here are always with me and are always a phone call away so I never feel alone which I am SO thankful for because that was my biggest fear. Thanks to my host family for inviting all the girls over to my house, the first day of school was not as scary as I had pictured it. Everyone was so kind to me and were always there if I was confused about something. Even though I had NO idea what the teachers were saying, humor got the best of me and I did not freak out like I had thought I would. The classes I have taken so far are Latin, Greek, Math, Philosophy, and Italian. I go to a Classic School, so all the classes are harder than normal. Even though it is difficult to understand in class, my classmates make my day a lot easier by helping me and always comforting me.

The culture here is so different from America because everyone is so passionate! You greet your friends with a kiss on each check and it’s amazing because you feel loved as soon as you see your friends. Everyone is very animated when they talk and are so funny and delightful to be around. I am amused 24/7 because everyone is happy and are always joking about something. My personality honestly came to life, here in Italy, because I am a very outgoing person and the people here just made me become myself. I am always full of energy and am always happy here I can honestly not imagine my life anywhere else but here in Scafati.

Let’s not forget the FOOD! OH MY GOD, the food is amazing. Everything I eat is fresh. My host grandmother has a big garden where she lives, which is two blocks away, and everything we eat is from her garden. The grapes, peaches, tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes, basil, figs, plums, EVERYTHING is from her garden. The mozzarella is fresh, the provolone is fresh, the meat is fresh… Everything is mouthwatering! I decided to start running and doing Zumba classes because of all the food I have been eating! We eat fresh bread, pasta, and veggies everyday and I cannot get over how amazing the food is. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner always end with the amazing coffee. In the States, I never even touched coffee but here I have grown to LOVE it. I cannot live without it now.

Here, where I live, it is very close to Pompei as well as Napoli. There are three significant BEAUTIFUL coastal regions where I live as well. There is the Almalfi Coast, Sorrento Coast, and the Cilento Coast and amazingly I have already visited ALL THREE OF THEM. I cannot even describe how beautiful it is here. The people, culture, food, and atmosphere are indescribable and have made me the happiest (and fattest) person ever! I have also been to the Pompei Ruins, which were amazing! It was breathtaking to see so much history and beauty in one place. After realizing I was in a place that has been preserved for so long, I felt like the luckiest girl in the world to experience all this at such a young age.

My favorite place so far has been the Almalfi Coast. For the first time in my life, on September 15th 2012, I cried of happiness. Not like the happiness of meeting a boy band you were in love with, or getting the exact toy you wanted for Christmas at age 7, but that indescribable sensation of contentment. The feeling in your chest, goosebumps on your skin, and that BIG CHEESY grin on your face while you are giggling up a storm because the view you see coming from your eyes and into your brain is the exact definition of pure pure PURE exhilaration. I don’t think I have ever laughed and grinned as much as I have EVER on that day. I felt like I was untouchable, like I was invincible. God I’m tearing up as we speak because of how amazing that feeling was! If you are a potential exchange student reading this, I don’t care what anyone else says… you have to do it. I am telling you this feeling of being completely and utterly high on life is better than anyt hing you can think of. All the money in the world could not compare to this feeling; and you can only experience this when you go on your exchange. This changed my life and I feel bad for the people who were too scared to do this because it is something that not everyone has done and it impacts your life so much, I would never go back and change anything. This feeling is something I will cherish forever and I am JUST getting started with my year! I am so excited for the experiences to come, my life is amazing and I love Rotary!

October 5th, 2012

Today marks my one-month in Italy everyone! I cannot believe it has already been a month…. time flies so fast when you are having the time of your life. I cannot get over how amazing the people are around me. My family, friends, and Rotary have been so kind to me and have made me feel like the luckiest girl alive. Even though there is the language barrier between most of my friends, they still somehow ALWAYS find a way to make me feel at home. I have never been loved this much in my life. I am starting to realize what real friends are and what it takes to be a good person. From being around so much positive energy here in Scafati, it has shown me who I am as well as who I want to be around. 

People cannot even begin to imagine what it feels like to be sitting in a classroom and having no idea what everyone around you is saying. It’s like you’re dreaming and you’re going to wake up any second. Lucky for me, there is no need to wake up because I am living my dream! Yes, I do not know what anyone is saying half the time but that’s the point of this exchange! Being lost and confused is the start of something wonderful because in the end you find yourself. Being around so many things that are different from your old lifestyle is exhilarating. I have never felt so alive. I have always been a curious person, but this exchange has taken that obsession to a new level. I never know what’s happening next and for the first time in my life, I have accepted it. Not knowing where I’ll end up if I take the sketchy train with my friends, or whom I’m going to meet in the lovely cool bustling streets of Salerno; has made me the most ecstat ic person alive. If you knew me before the exchange, I think you would agree with me that I was not always the loud and obnoxious person… well.. okay, maybe not ALL the time. Ever since I have been here in Italy, my personality has blossomed and has made me such a positive person! I am amazed at how I handle situations with such calm and ease. I do not even recognize myself half the time. What I have realized the most is that whatever I do in life, wherever I go, whatever I do, whoever I am with, I will be happy. I will make the best of everything because at the end of the day, you have no control of what cards you are dealt with BUT you do have control on how you react to them. I have never been so content with myself in my entire life. It’s not that I have found the meaning of life- it’s that I found the meaning of MINE. 

It has only been one month here and I have figured out so much about myself! I can’t describe how I got to this point in realizing who I am- all I can say is that I owe my life to Rotary as well as my parents because this would not have been possible without them. Before my exchange, I was scared of the future but now… I’m ready to face it head on! I will write more as soon as I can, describing the daily life of Annie Thomas, so stay tuned.

January 7, 2013

WOW. Have my past few months here flown by. It seemed like only yesterday that I arrived here in Italy. On December 3rd, I changed to my 2nd family. It was hard to leave the first because I have bonded so well with them but it was an experience in itself. It taught me to not regret anything and every day do my best because my time here is limited. I have learned to not dwell on the little things and to move on in life because life doesn’t stop for anybody. I have learned to not be so home sick because I have realized that I am only in Italy for a year while I have the rest of my life to be in America! My 2nd host family is amazing and I could not be any more thankful for my luckiness with having two amazing host families. I have such great friends here in Italy and I cannot believe I am here! STILL. Sometimes I have to pinch myself because I feel like I’m dreaming.

Christmas here was AMAZING. Decorating the house with my host family was the best, and so comforting because I knew it was going to be hard not being with my family. Thankfully, this family was so friendly and warm that I hardly had time to miss my family back home. We decorated cookies, sang songs, and even made a trip to Nortnern Italy to ski for a week! How amazing that experience was. We were there for New Years and it has been the best New Years of my entire life. Being around people who have opened their home for me without knowing me beforehand, and who have treated me with the upmost kindness and treated me as their own daughter, made me realize that the only thing you need in life is kindness and the rest will turn itself out. When you are in a country you do not know, and you are so-so with the language, all you need is a smile on your face and a warm, kind persona. I have learned to be a positive person always, because when you are happy, people want to be around y ou more.

I will write about my skiing adventure as soon as I can, I would like to thank Rotary at this time for making this experience possible for me. It is an experience so few people get to do and I am SO glad I am one of them. It is an experience that will forever change my life in the most beautiful way possible. 

February 12, 2013

During the Christmas Holiday I went to Dobbiaco, a town in Northern Italy 20 minutes from Austria. It was absolutely beautiful. Being from Florida, it is plain to guess that I’ve never been skiing before in my life, as well as living around snow. And, as you could imagine, Dobbiaco was more than how I pictured a winter wonderland would be. It was absolutely breathtaking with the mountains and trees all around me; all expectations vanished. My host family had a home in Dobbiaco and it was situated under the most spectacular mountains. Every time I had the chance to look up, I was speechless. We got there on a Sunday and left on the following Sunday. From Monday-Friday I skied my little butt off. Since my family has had this house for around 12 years (and they go to Dobbiaco every winter), my siblings were PRO-skiers. I was the only one with an instructor. I had a two-hour lesson every day and it was so much fun! I don’t think I have ever laughed that much in my ent ire life to be honest. I am really thankful that I have a naturally easy-going, confident, funny personality because it just added to all the fun I had. The first two days were very difficult because I just couldn’t get over how my shins hurt! I still can’t wrap my head around how these instructors have gotten used to that feeling! Man it was painful. But I am naturally a fast learner so I got the hang of it by the second day. Where my lessons were- I was on the kiddy slope. There’s a more mature word for it but honestly, I was on the kiddy slope. There are two other types of mountain slopes where people ski- they are called “Red” and “Black”. The “Red” slopes were considered for people who have skied for at least two years and can manage the kiddy slope with their eyes closed. Of course, my host brother tells me I’m ready for the “Red” slope and tells me I’m going to do fine… we take a ski lift to the top of this monstrous mountain and I’m sweating bullets. I’m not going to go into detail of how much I failed the slope, but let’s just say it was probably the funniest day of my entire life. New Years with this family was utterly perfection. Being around people who care about each other and love one another is such a warm feeling to get when you are in a foreign country. It truly was hard to miss my family with all this family love around me.

BEFORE I went to Dobbiaco, in December I also went to Rome with this family. I went for 4 days and it was completely surreal. It made me a different person. Now I understand why people say that you should travel when you are young. So many people in life lay off their dreams just so they can get ahead in the “read world” when in the end they never get the chance to do what they love. What is the point to do something you hate, and hope that in the future you will be happy? Being young has its advantages. You as a young person get to do what you want and soak up as much as you can because you are still figuring out who you are. So many people have given me negative feedback about how I am losing a part of my “future and myself” by not going to college straight after high school; that I somehow actually LOSE something by doing this experience in Italy. To all the people who have told me that, or who have secretly thought it and never said it, all I have to say is look at me now and see what apparently I have LOST in this experience. I have never felt so alive in my entire life. I have figured out who I am as a person, made so many wonderful friendships that will last a lifetime, and have had so many experiences that sometimes I have to just lie down and soak it all in… I actually have to LIE down because so many wonderful things are going on at once! How beautiful! I’ve also realized that I’m an adventurer. My entire life has been about doing something with meaning and now I have come to terms with it. I might not be like everyone else who wants to fit in and be too scared to do something worth everything you have ever dreamed of, but I don’t care anymore. I have officially broken the seams to this wonderful life. Being able to say that I’ve stared up at the ceiling of the “Last Judgment” in the Vatican, fell in love with the coliseum at sun dusk, hugged the biggest Redwood tree I& rsquo;ve ever witnessed in California, rode a bike across the Golden Gate Bridge, skydived at age 18, skied for the first time in Italy, ice skated in Central Park, threw a coin over my shoulder at the Trevi Fountain in Rome, and many many more wonderful things, makes me the person I am to this day and I don’t ever want to change that. To be able to say I have done all these astonishing things and I’m only 18 is something bigger than any one of you can begin to imagine. This life isn’t about how much money you will make in 20 years, it’s about how many times life took your breath away. To be chained to the normal life is a prison I am not ready to face and I don’t think I ever will. This year has done something to me, and I thank my parents every single day for making me the person I am today, and to let me do this experience. It’s safe to say that I truly know who I am and I won’t let anyone get in the way of that.

If you are a future exchange student reading this- get ready for something bigger than you ever imagined, because it’s going to be the best year of your life.

April 8, 2013

Oh my god!!! It is already April 8th and I have changed families and have been with them for almost a month now! WOW has time flown by! I can’t believe I have less than three months left in the most beautiful place I have ever lived in. I have to mentally stop thinking about June 30th because my heart literally starts to break when I think about leaving… The best year of my entire life is about to end and I might just have to actually return to reality… nooooo!

In the last few months, I have done some pretty amazing things. I went to Florence with my second host family and it was absolutely utterly oh-my-god amazing. Florence is by far my favorite city in Italy. It is a city I could see myself living in one day. A city where I would be the happiest girl alive if I could tell people I actually LIVE there. The streets are calm and clean, the history is absolutely beautiful, and the fashion and style of Florence is absolutely breath taking. We went for 4 days and we stayed in an apartment in the center of the city. When I was walking the streets at night, I felt like I was on a cloud. Complete and utter bliss. Yes, all the other cities I went to during my exchange year have been top-of-the-world amazing, but I could never see myself actually living in those places. My reality finally met my dreams and I know for a FACT I will be living in Florence one day, it’s the city of my happiness.

I changed families a few weeks ago and it was one of the saddest parts of this exchange. My second family was absolutely wonderful to me and acted like a host family should act. I feel like they should get a medal or something because they were absolutely the best host family I could have ever asked for. They did not treat me like an alien and acted as if I was one of their daughters. I experienced so many great things with them and I will never ever forget how utterly wonderful they all were to me. Being able to say that I went to so many wonderful places with them still gives me goose bumps because I honestly feel like the luckiest girl in the world! I am fortunate though, because I have a good friendship with their son and they live close to my third host family so I will be able to visit them all I’d like to!

My third host family is wonderful! I am honestly so lucky to have such great host families during my exchange because this family is way too kind to me. They are understanding and sweet, and are so considerate. They have two daughters and it would be impossible for them to be any less sweet to me than they are right now. When I moved in, our home has three stories and they decorated the third story JUST for me! They painted little plaques saying “Annie’s Room” and decorated my room American style… just for me! Absolutely wonderful! One of the daughter’s is around my age and we get along very well. Whenever I want to go out, she is always there to go with me. We all have the same friends and it just worked out perfectly. We recently visited Naples, because it is so close to us and I just had to see all the beautiful churches and eat all this amazing food. Naples is different from Florence because it is not as rich and clean as Northern Italy, BUT it has some of the kindest people I have ever met. The stereotype of Southern Italians is 100 PERCENT TRUE PEOPLE! The people are way more open and friendly, and know how to have a good time! In Naples, I had the BEST coffee and pizza of my ENTIRE life. I honestly don’t know what I will do when I go back home to American coffee… EW!

In the next coming months, I will be going to so many wonderful places! I will be going to Sicily and Amsterdam in May and will be going on a wonderful 15-day Rotary Euro Tour in June! During my Euro Tour I will be visiting Milan, Verona, Paris, Vienna, Prague, Strasbourg, and other cites in between! I am very sad that I will not be spending time with my Italian friends during my last month here in Italy, but I just had to take this opportunity to visit some of the most beautiful cities in this world with all these amazing exchange students. I can’t wait to visit all these astonishing cities and experience so many breathtaking things along the way.

Honestly saying that this year will be the best year of my existence is truthfully a COMPLETE UNDERSTATEMENT. I can see so much change in myself and my entire outlook on EVERYTHING has changed wholly. I have to ask myself, ‘what was I actually doing before this? How could I have actually been LIVING before this year? How is that even possible?’ I feel like everything before this year had no significance. I have learned to not be afraid of who I really am, I have learned to not care about what people think of me, and I have honestly learned how to be happy all the time.
You see, I have learned quite a few things about life in the last 6 months.
I have learned that strength is everything, no matter what happens in this life, strength always surprises you behind your shoulder to help you, even when you thought it left long ago.
You MUST be happy at all costs because only YOU are in control of your feelings and emotions.
You may not be able to change the situation at hand, but you can control the way you react to it.
At the end of the day, when you are lying in bed, you need to be happy because what is there to life if you are not happy? What’s the point in it all if you are not completely content with your life?
There is absolutely no point in chasing a job that gives you a great living standard, but secretly you’re dying inside because you are not truly content. The moment you leave behind the orthodox of living life, and you at last find your true raw bliss; is when you stop dying and start living. I plan to not regret anything in life, because in the end, it was either something well worth doing, or a life lesson in the making.

Future exchange students, like I said before, get ready for the most inspirational, life-changing, amazing year of your entire life! You only get this chance once, make it count!

Ashley Clinton
2012-13 Outbound to Sweden
Hometown: North Bay Village, FL
School: Miami Arts Charter School
Sponsor: District 6990, FL
Host: District 2370, Sweden
The Rotary Club of Älvsjö

Ashley - Sweden

Hej! jag hetter Ashley och jag har varit här i 2 månader. (Hey I’m Ashley and I’ve been here for 2 months). School started about a month ago and I have this nice little routine, gotten used to yogurt on cereal, the weird cheese slicer, and eco-friendly family….I’d say things are going well. Swedes in general are pretty shy and won’t come up to talk to you. You have to go and make the conversation. Pretty much everyone I’ve met has asked me: “Do you like Obama or Romney?”, “Do you have a driver’s license?”, “Do you ”, “Is it really like Miami Vice?”, and “Can you have someone send us red cups?”. It’s actually really funny hearing all their theories about the US and Miami. Swedish school is really stress-free compared to American schools. No bells, no hall passes, you just get up and go; it’s great! You also have a different schedule every day. It’s not block schedule or anything, there is no real structure period system or standard break length. It’s actually like college. 

I could really get used to being able to get wherever I want by bus and/or train. 

I am so happy that I get to live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Stockholm. Living here is like living a Miley Cyrus movie! (I’m serious). I live in Älvsjö the little suburbs but I’m 3 train stops from the city, it’s AMAZING. I am so in love with the city that is Stockholm. On my 3 hour breaks I go into the city maybe do some shopping and eating. By the way did you know there are 4 H&M’s on one block? It’s insane! Anyway, my 18th birthday is tomorrow and I’m so excited. My host family has this whole week planned for me. I really am so thankful to have been placed with such a loving family. I have a host sister who’s 17 and a little brother who is 15, and I get along with them so well! It’s like I’ve lived with them for more than 2 months.
It’s fall now and it’s getting colder, I don’t know how this Miami girl is going to handle the winter. We shall see!

Hej då!

February 4, 2013

There’s no combination of words that can describe the past 6 months in Sweden, but I’ll try.

I am so mind blown by the amount of knowledge you can instill in your brain in six months. Now, I’m not perfectly fluent in Swedish but I can understand about 89.9% of the conversations going on, and I feel like I can literally do anything. Being here for just six months has changed my whole perspective on life. I thought that I knew everything I wanted to do regarding college and things to do when I come home from exchange, but now I just feel like the complete opposite of everything I was for. You never really know yourself and what you want in life if you don’t go out into the world and truly see if your opinions and plans can be altered or influenced, because mine sure are!

Being here for 6 months has changed my whole life, and it’s halfway done. I have had the best host family that anyone could ever ask for. I truly believe I am part of the family and I know I will have this relationship with them for a lifetime. My friends here in Sweden have now opened up to not only me fellow Stockholm exchange students but my Swedish friends at school. They are about the best group of people I have ever met and they’re so helpful with school and the language that I can count on them for anything.

Furthermore, I have come to consider Stockholm as my home city and I never want to leave. I thought I understood it, but I didn’t I only understood the idea of it, how this one single year could change my whole life and it’s something that I will hold with me forever and I can’t thank Rotary enough for making this possible. I love everything about my host country and my city. You walk down the streets and you just feel like it’ not real, like it’ a movie. Being here IS surreal. I’ve come to love the city of Stockholm so much that I defend it against all the other cities with a rivalry against it. Stockholm is considered the Capital of Scandinavia and I couldn’t agree more. When I think about going home I start to cry knowing I will not have all the things Sweden has to offer back home.
I think my turning point here was when our “oldies” from Australia left and we got a new batch of Aussie’s and I’ve got especially close to one and I felt like I’ve lived in Stockholm all my life when I gave him a tour of the city, knowing it like the back of my hand.

So advice to the to-be exchange students, enjoy every minute of it, never take it for granted and never say no, say yes to everything. Try ANYTHING!

May 26, 2013

Living here for 10 months I have come to appreciate things that I took for granted back home like the hot sun, and the cool beach of Miami. I now know why Swedes light so many candles at dinner time, to keep it cozy and have some light in the dark time of the winter. Sweden has taught me to really appreciate home and the things I have there, but also be so curious to want to try new things and see the world from another perspective. I now only have a mere 59 days left in Stockholm and I want to cry because I have never been so in love with another country as I am with Sweden. Exchange is an opportunity of a lifetime that cannot be described in words or pictures, as much as you sit there and read through other people’s journals. Because there’s a certain feeling you get in the moments you have here and only other exchange students can understand it. You can’t stop time, you can only think on the many memories; having bonfires wit h all the exchange students in Stockholm, getting lost in a Stockholm suburb on your way to a party because the streets all look the same, gaining weight from meatballs and numerous fika and waiting outside at 2am for 2 hours in the freezing arctic wearing nothing but pajama shorts uggs and a down jacket with another american exchange student because you thought you saw the Northern Lights, when in fact it was just the sun rising, but nothing had ever seemed more beautiful than that.

Saint Augustine said “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” This quote is what I have lived by my entire life, and having the opportunity to leave my home country and travel to Europe has let me read more than one chapter of my book and surely bring me more to come in the future. Travel makes you modest, and you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world. This year abroad has really opened my eyes and saved me from making choices that I didn’t want to make, this year has taught me so much about myself. I’m not sure what I’ll do, but I want to go places and see people. I want my mind to grow. I want to live where things happen on a big scale. So I thank Rotary for giving me this chance to go abroad and I thank the Rotary club of Älvsjö for hosting me this year and for putting me with two amazing families and giving me the opportunity to take your country in fully, experience all the culture and live like a tr ue Swede.

Jag älska Sverige ! Tack för en fantastiskt år. De här inte hej då. Du och jag vi ses igen, Puss puss :* <3 

Ashley Paz Martinez
2012-13 Outbound to Turkey
Hometown: Clermont, FL
School: East Ridge High School
Sponsor: District 6980, FL
Host: District 2420, Turkey
The Rotary Club of Ataşehir

Ashley - Turkey

I was finally at the Orlando Airport, ready for my new greatest adventure to come. Even though at the very beginning I was stressed and frustrated with all the assignments RYE has given me, I regret nothing, in fact I am grateful to them for that! If it wasn’t for those assignments I would have been even more clueless than I am now. 

Saying my last goodbyes was hard but for some reason I didn’t cry. I was mentally too excited about my trip to the other side of the world! Yet I worried that something might go wrong on my way over there. In the end the trip was perfectly fine especially since I was paying attention for the gates at the airport, because one of them changed. So PAY ATTENTION guys! 

I really enjoyed my trip to İstanbul in particular my first step, from Orlando to Newark. I met a nice lady from one of the Spanish countries in South America. We talked for awhile about where we were going and what were we going to do at our destinations. We got along so well that now we are friends in Facebook! From Newark to Frankfurt everything was chill and I always received help with my carry-on due to its extra weight. While I was waiting for the flight to İstanbul, I met a professor who was also going to stay in İstanbul for a year to teach anesthesiology at a University. Then I met with this man who was from Iran living in the USA. He was a psychologist, loved history and was very good in German. We talked about Turkish history and what his kids were studying. He loved that I was into the digital arts and inspired me even more to go for the field. We talked about why he was coming to Turkey, and he explained that he was coming to meet with his family for 10 days, they lived in Iran so they had to meet up in Turkey. The most shocking thing was that he hasn’t seen them in 30-35 years! Luckily he was able to talk to them through Skype and thanked God for technology. 
Finally when I got on the plane to İstanbul listening to people talking in German we flew off. While on my way it was lunch or dinner time on the plane the girl next to me asked what did the meal have and the stewardess said that it was vegetarian. Of course once I heard that I concindered eating something. The girl next to me tried the meal and told me it might not all be vegetarian. I thanked her and asked if she wanted to trade some of the food and somehow it lead to a conversation. She was from Sweden and was living in France because of her work which had to do with travelling. I told her I like the digital arts and then she told me she always liked interior design but wasn’t sure she could ever pursue the passion she had for it. She also told me that her younger sister did an exchange as well through Rotary to the US, I think, some years ago. One of her friends was from Turkey and was getting married in İstanbul during her stay so she was also going to take advantage for a mini vacation. We kept on talking through the whole flight and even once we got to İstanbul she helped me with my luggage and I hers. We said our goodbyes but I regret not remembering her name, I hope she is doing well. 

Getting out of the airport, I worried that I wouldn’t see my host family immediately… I DID! The relief was so great! I know that one of my host sisters, Seben, was desperate to be in Mexico already but I was glad that I could spend time with her for a week before she left. One of the very first things I noticed is that my host family not only speaks Turkish and English but Italian as well! I loved hearing them switch between Turkish and Italian because it reminded me immediately of my family and me speaking English and Spanish, which we call Spanglish. Once I got in the car with them on our way to my new home we spoke a bit of me being vegetarian and what I can and can’t/won’t eat. Many people don’t realize it but there is a lot of things that are vegetarian and vegan. Many of the the dishes in Turkey are actually vegetarian and I eat great here! My first dinner with the family was actually a mix of Italian and Turkish food which was great! T he next day, still suffering from jet-lag, I had a very pretty typical Turkish breakfast. It had cut up tomatoes, cucumbers, different kind of cheeses, the tea they call 軋y, bread, simit a kind of round hard bread with a hole in the middle (which tastes great by the way!), and some strawberry jam. Some few days later the family and me went to a party on a boat with my host Rotary club, Ataşehir. My host father Cengiz is a Rotarian so he is always telling me what I need to know about the activities which is really helpful. Anyways, the boat party was awesome! Before I went on it though, I had Seben help write and say a short introduction of myself before getting out of the car. Still trying to memorize/ learn the words, I finally met some of the people and they were glad to hear me speak a little Turkish. Later, we got on the boat and were cruising in the Bosphorus while taking pictures outside on the top of the boat which was very windy and cold. Finally we went bel ow deck and sat to eat. I had my first dolma there! Dolma are usually grape leaf wraps with rice in them. It was good! Some Turkish music started playing and everybody started dancing, except for me and Seben. I told her if she goes I go but that didn’t work so eventually my host dad made us both come and some other people that were dancing as well. In the end I did dance and so did Seben, I was laughing and wondering “What am I doing?!” because the music was so loud, everyone was just nodding and saying “you’re doing great!”. I swear everybody knows how to dance here, its pretty awesome. Then I found out that the main reason for the party was because it was the club’s President wedding anniversary and some little girl birthday that was family of one of the Rotarians. 

A few days later I met my other host sister, Selena, who is studying in Bursa (3 hours away of Istanbul by bus) a few days before Seben would leave. They both gave me a tour around Istanbul and taught me about how the transportation works around here. In that one day I learned so much and tried many new things; it was so exciting! I had baklava at Ortakoy in Mado which is known for their great desserts. My host sisters wanted me to try the different kinds of baklava there so I had the perfect plate with each of them, one with pistachios, another with hazelnut and the other was with another kind of nut that I can稚 remember the name of! I do know they sell it on the streets everywhere. Next to the baklava there was a slice of Turkish vanilla ice-cream, which has a very strange gooey texture but I loved it just because of its strangeness. We went to Taksim and had another typical Turkish ice-cream but before I could get it the guy serving was playing with the cone and ic e-cream with me because it was stuck on the spatula. I felt like a total idiot for falling for that but hey it was my first time having that experience and it was pretty funny! One thing that I noticed a lot and still do is that people here in Turkey like to stare a lot not just because you speak English but sometimes a bus passes you by and they stare… not a glance! No, STARES which still bother me but my host sisters tell me to just ignore it. Eventually we went to a nice very cool restaurant which I forgot the name of, sadly. At first I was rather curious about why the way to the restaurant was kind of creepy… going to a narrow street then going in a small hallway and going down some steep stairs… and then POOF we were outside at a nice outdoor restaurant with trees everywhere and vines going up the walls. The food was great and so was the fresh raspberry sorbet I had. 

Next day the whole family and I went to my host father’s mom at her vacation house. She lives in a very cute white house that was filled with greenery. She was very welcoming as well (another thing I noticed is that Turks are really friendly besides the stares haha, anyways it nice because it reminds me a bit of Puerto Rico!) and barely knows English or Italian. Luckily, family translated and helped out. Again we had a beautiful Turkish breakfast. She told me that she is the one that makes the homemade strawberry jams as well as cherry and apricot. I loved them ALL! She even had homemade borek which is a cheese pastry that can be with meat and cheese, spinach and cheese, or just cheese. She had made some with spinach specifically for me which I totally appreciated and loved! 

I still wasn’t ready at all for my new school so I was maybe a week late, luckily I was able to meet my school counselor, she explained and made everything easier for the family and me. On a Monday we went to my school again to talk with the counselor and get the uniforms, which wasn’t inside of the school but next to it and not some random far away place like I知 used to. I was able to meet to several girls which all knew pretty good English and showed me around the school. Those same girls that I met are now some of the friends that I have in my school. At first I was worried that I would cause too much attention by bringing my own food to school but even most of my friends bring their own food. So now I eat and talk with them every lunch time.

Yes, school is very different, my school is called Eyoğlu, it has elementary to high school. The bus service in my opinion is much better than in my schools in USA and PR. The bus picks you up right in front of your house not at a stop sign, it is probably half the size of the big yellow buses we have in the USA and the chairs are as comfortable as the tour buses! Plus they have curtains so when you’re on your way home and the sun wants to hit you on the face you’re ready for it. When you get to school on a Monday and a Friday you have to go the basketball court or the auditorium, stand up straight and sing their National Anthem. I still don’t know the lyrics so I just humm it sometimes. Each class is 40-45 minutes and there is a 10-15 minute break in-between each class (which is GREAT) making my first few days of school feel really fast. Then each of my classes are IB (International Baccalaureate) courses, that tend to be harder. I feel it a bit more i nteresting though, I take TOK (Theory of knowledge) and English thats not just focused in literature and grammar but about how advertisements work and how you can make them. Of course my favorite is IB Art which I’m not really obligated to do anything but I do anyways. Most of my classes are Turkish of course so I stay in the class (I don’t plan on staying in the library all day) even though I don’t understand 90% of what the teachers are saying I’m still listening. I will be honest though I did sleep in many of the classes in the first few weeks! Now I mainly draw or write some new words and talk with my classmates. Again thank you Rotary for this oppurtunity!

Bethany Eubanks
2012-13 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: Winter Park, FL
School: Winter Park High School
Sponsor: District 6980, FL
Host: District 4420, Brazil
The Rotary Club of Vila Belmiro

Bethany - Brazil

How do I begin to describe the past four weeks of my life? How does anyone describe a month of their life, let alone one full of amazing new experiences? My first month in Brazil has been surreal. It has been a vacation but it has also been life. I live here. I make my bed, go to school, eat, wash my hair, and do all normal things but all in a different way. I make my bed, but only on the days that the house maid is not there; I go to school, yet I stay in one classroom and the teachers come to me; I eat food but normally I have rice and beans every day; I wash my hair, though the knob for hot water works the opposite direction from the United States. Everything is different, but never in a bad way. I am learning that it is possible to live a normal life without a dishwasher or drier. I am learning that it’s okay to wear clothes several times before washing them (since there is no drier to clean them quickly) and I am learning that brea d from an actual bread shop is a lot better than what you can get at Publix.

A month in another country is a learning experience. It is not a quick 1 week or 10 day holiday where you only do the touristy things but it is a life experience. I have vacationed in many countries but never in my short trips did I learn the language, embrace another culture or become a part of an entirely different world from the one I have always known. I came to Brazil well prepared for this experience. Rotary Florida is known as being one of the best in the world and it has shown since I arrived. Rotary Florida made me learn about Brazil, they made me study the culture and customs. Rotary made me learn some of the language and they pushed me to not be an ignorant American but instead to be informed. A year ago I thought Brazil spoke Spanish. A year ago all I knew was that Brazil was located in South America and that I had heard it was dangerous. I was uninformed. By the time I arrived in Brazil I had basic knowledge of Portuguese, I had written a 15 page paper about the country (and actually enjoyed writing it) and I was prepared to be an ambassador for the United States.

In Brazil I have learned that being an American is a rarity. It is exciting for people and everyone desires to become friends. Brazilians are warm, welcoming, and are some of the kindest people you will ever meet. Brazilians have their own culture, their own music and their own lifestyle. They are not entirely westernized and they love the fact that I am different from them. I am sincerely glad that this is the country I am living in. I will be honest, Brazil was my 5th choice and I was planning on not even going on exchange if I got it but it has been the perfect country for me. I live in a city on the beach, I have a wonderful family here that loves me like a daughter and I have a multitude of new friends. I could have never imagined a year ago that I would be living in Brazil today but here I am. For any students interesting in applying, DO NOT mark Brazil off right away. The country is NOT as dangerous as you may think, the language is NOT dead and the country IS worth your time. 

December 9, 2012

I have been in Brazil 3 ½ months now and I have given myself every reason in the world to not write this journal. I have many reasons why I haven’t wanted to. It has partially been out of laziness, partially out of having so much to reflect on and mostly out of a fear of how quickly the time has past. Before my exchange I always told myself “I will write a journal with perfect timing, I will not be the kind of person people are frustrated with for not having posted.” I had wished the other outbounds has posted more but now I understand. It is not about the task of writing a journal, it’s about what the journals represent. Each journal entry marks a significant amount of time has past in my exchange and that it is going way more quickly than I could ever want. It makes every second seem more precious.

I guess the best thing to do is just describe what a typical life in Santos, Sao Paulo, Brazil is like for me.

Breakfast for Brazilians is coffee, buttered and toasted bread, cheese, and sort of what Americans think of as food you would bring for a school lunch. Although this is typical and the majority of people eat breakfast, I do not normally because I wake up very early for school.
Lunch is the largest meal of the day. A typical lunch consists of rice, beans, some type of meat and then a side which ranges from French fries to broccoli. This lunch is pretty consistent between most families and if people can, they come home for lunch. I eat lunch with my host mom after school every day.
Dinner varies and I never know if it will be a real meal or not. Sometimes it is just sandwiches, sometimes it is leftovers, and other times it’s a normal dinner like pasta.

..Is all about the NOVELAS. Novelas could be best described as soap operas but they are more than that. Novelas show every day and several types exist. There are ones for different ages, there are ones that are set in other time periods, and all have a huge audience. All Brazilians have ones that they keep up with and the starting or ending of a novela is a huge event. The adult novelas tend to follow a trend of having people from every social class and normally ends with someone dying and someone getting married.
When novelas are not running which is normally during the daytime, the majority of the shows are from the United States. The shows are dubbed in Portuguese but by pushing the subtitles button most can be switched into English.

Everyone is just warm and loving. A “mean” person in Brazil would be an average person in the United States. Even the mean people (which there are not many) are warm and loving. People do not do things alone and are happy to hang out with each other all the time whether it is in someone’s house, at the beach or just walking around. If they are not together, they chat on the phone. The idea of alone time is just not a part of the culture.

What people think of me:
I have received a variety of reactions to me being an American but not one of them has been negative. Brazilians LOVE Americans and they think it is amazing that I am from Orlando and Florida. Brazilians consider me as a “blonde” with blue eyes so I have had random people come up to me and tell me I look like Barbie. I also have random people everywhere I go tell me I have beautiful eyes or that they think I am beautiful. Brazilians love people who have light hair and eyes.

For me, the language has been easier to pick up than I expected. I have had people ask me how many years I have been living in Brazil and been surprised that I have only been here 3 months. I have the benefit of having studied Spanish for 4 years and I also studied the language basics before arriving in Brazil. I absolutely make mistakes and I have ended up being embarrassing.

Embarrassing Stories:
One of my language embarrassing stories is from explaining I have a stomach ache to two of my friends. I was telling them that I have pain OF my stomach which as I discovered as the laughed at me, means I have bad gas and that people do not talk about. I in fact, had pain IN my stomach which meant I had a stomach ache.
Another language mess-up: I as having coffee at my host grandmother’s house with her, my host aunt and most host mom. I had just eaten so I didn’t want to eat cake and cookies although they kept insisting. I finally said “Estou cheia” which literally translates to “I am full”. I had heard people use it the week before so I decided to use it as another way to say I wasn’t hungry. My mom kindly told me that it was impolite to say that I was “full” and that is was for the uneducated and poorly mannered. I must say that I am “satisfied”.
One evening after having gone out to dinner with some other exchange students I was walking to a bus stop alone and as I was crossing a street I slipped and fell. There was no reason that I fell besides the fact that I am clumsy. Although no one saw, I proceeded to stand up quickly and continue walking with a cut up knee and blood on my leg. As I got to the bus stop the bus I needed to take left before I could get on, leaving me to wait another 30 minutes for the next one with my knee bleeding. By the time I got home I was looking pretty rough. My host parents saw my knee and were immediately concerned about what had happened and asking if I was ok. I explained with embarrassment that I had fallen walking and they could hardly contain their laughter. When my host mom pulled herself together she told me it was because I my American tommy Hilfiger flip flops are “merda” which translates to “s***”. And that I need Brazilian flip flops. I gained two things from that fall: a pretty big scar and the gift of Brazilian flip flops from my host dad.

Brazilian private school works like this: You stay in one classroom, you have a bunch of subjects and the teachers come to you, homework does not exist in most schools and there is a ton of physics and chemistry. The public schools are terrible and poorly organized.

Driving begins at age 18 hear, and it is a good thing! Brazilians drive crazy. By law they must wear seatbelts but people don’t often feel the rule applies to the backseat. The backseat is often taken as more of a bench in which the passenger capacity is variable.
In my city the public transportation options are fairly good and the city is also very walkable/ bike friendly. There are roads for bikes, sidewalks everywhere, an efficient bus system and taxis when needed.

The majority of Brazilians are Catholic. My city has a couple catholic churches that are old and beautiful. Brazil is also extremely accepting of other religions. Brazilians are known for being some of the most accepting people when it comes to religious differences. There is a parade in Rio every year with all religions represented to show the unity between the differences.
I have attended a few catholic churches as well as a Baptist church while in Brazil. I spent the week in a tiny city in the countryside of my state in Brazil and while I was there I went to one of the two Catholic churches in the city with the family I was staying with. After the service had ended the preacher called up two women who had their birthdays that week and then me as well. He introduced me to a congregation of over 850 people and then had everyone sing happy birthday (which is more a song of congrats in Portuguese) to me and the two women. Needless to say, I was bombarded by warm welcomes and friendly faces afterwards. Definitely an experience I will not forget!
This week I was at the beach and kept heard drum beating and singing. My host mom told me that it was Capoeira which is a Brazilian martial art. I went to go watch and was surprised to find out that it was not a group of guys sparring but instead a bunch of people in all white holding a spiritualist event where they were dancing around, putting their face in the sand, singing, playing instruments, praying, having water put on their faces and crawling around in the sand. The spiritualists are a religious group unique to Brazil that believes in God, saints and African spirits as well. It is a blend of the native and colonization many years ago.

Family life:
Family is extremely important in Brazil. Not just the immediate family but the entire extended family and their family and in laws and cousins and second, third and fourth cousins. In my city children are often a sign of being wealthy as the majority of people live in apartments and the space for having many children is limited.

The weather in my part of Brazil is very hot and humid. It is very similar to weather in Florida except that air conditioning is seen as a luxury item. The majority of stores and homes do not have air conditioning and people flood to any location that does have AC. Every restaurant that has air conditioning gets more business than others and if a family has AC in one room, the entire family often hangs out in that one room. My host parent’s bedroom has AC and so when it is turned on both of my host parents, my baby host brother, our dog and I all crowd into the room to stay cool. The cost of energy is just so expensive here that people are very cautious about using air conditioning.

-There are so many more things I could explain about the Brazilian culture and lifestyle and I just scratched the surface of what my life is like here in Santos, Sao Paulo, Brazil.


Once again, I have been late in writing a journal and once again, it was not entirely because I didn’t want to. I do believe that the journals every 2 months are important and I plan on doing them until the end of my exchange (even if they are sometimes a little late).

I have been in Brazil for 7 months and I can confidently say that this has been the best year of my life. I almost fear the rest of my life because I cannot imagine any year ever being as amazing as this year has been. It feels like just the other day I was anxiously waiting in Florida to hear from a host family and it feels like I just got to Brazil yesterday.

I believe that every exchange student must make some important choices when they begin their exchange. The exchange student must decide how much effort they are going to put into learning the language because, like it or not, they will learn how to communicate but it will be up to the student to actually learn correct grammar, how to write and read, and reach a point in which they are fully participate in their host county’s society. The exchange student must also decide what they want to do with their year in another country. It may be traveling, studying in school, exceptional language proficiency, volunteerism or building relationships but the student much choose something to make the exchange worthwhile. For me, I decided that building relationships with Brazilians as well as language proficiency were things that were important to me. Yes, I have been able to travel and I have volunteered but my primary focus has been on my relationships with Brazilians. I have work ed hard to be an active part in my host families and to build friendships with Brazilians. I did not take the easy path and always hang out with other exchange students like I wanted to at times but decided to always make my friendships with the locals more important and now I have a group of friends that I have grown close with and would not trade for the world. I not only achieved my goal of my exchange but I also gained something that can never be taken away from me: friendship.

Some students have very difficult exchanges, others love them but it is never going to be 100% perfect. There will be those days where you take a bus that ends up going up a restricted mountain with shantytowns before going where you want to go by accident, or those days where you get stuck walking in the pouring rain but even those moments can be looked at on a bright side. That time I was stuck climbing a mountain in a public bus with people jammed so tight I couldn’t move, I was with one of my best friends and we got to spend the entire time laughing about the adventure. That day I was stuck with rain hitting me sideways I was coming home from my best friend’s house where her mom had just baked me a chocolate cake, given me natural Brazilian cough medications and let me borrow an umbrella to fight the weather conditions a bit. There are those little bad moments that are learning experiences but that makes exchange such a fulfilling experience. It shows you what you like and don’t like, what you want and don’t want. Exchange changes you, but also helps you realize who you are.

Callie Norton
2012-13 Outbound to Austria
Hometown: Ponte Vedra, FL
School: Ponte Vedra High School
Sponsor: District 6970,

Host: District TBA, Austria

Callie - Austria

August 31, 2012

Guten Tag! So I’ve been in Austria for a little more than three weeks now and I’m loving it! It’s so crazy to think that it’s already been so long sense I left Florida. Time flies when you’re having fun I guess. I’ve met so many amazing people and experienced so much! I already feel like I’ve learned more than I ever could if I hadn’t left the U.S. It’s crazy how much confidence and independence I’ve gained.

Almost everything here is so different: the cars, the food, the language, etc… But I think that’s the fun part. Some things I’ve had to learn the hard way but, for the most part, everyone’s been pretty understanding. I was so nervous getting off the plane in Munich, but once I met my host family for the first time I realized there was nothing to be afraid of. I feel like my German is getting much better too! All I really knew before I landed was “Where is the bathroom” and “I’m hungry” which seemed to get me through the first day or so. But now I can carry on conversations and I don’t have to answer “yes” to everything I hear just because I don’t understand it.

It’s not always fun and games though… It can be really frustrating and challenging when everything is new to you. Whenever I get upset about something I have to remind myself that I’ve only been here for three weeks. I don’t expect myself to have perfect German or understand every aspect of the culture. I still don’t understand why we have to change shoes when we walk into school. Even the toilet confused me at first (which, thank gosh, only took me a few minutes to figure out). But I know, in time, with a little hard work, I’ll get everything worked out.

So here’s to Rotary! Without you, I would have never had this amazing opportunity to learn so much and taste the best chocolate I’ve ever had in my entire life! Thank you!

December 28, 2012

Servus! In my last journal, I wrote I can’t believe it had already been three weeks since I had arrived in Austria. Now I’m coming up on month 5! It’s been over a year since I made the best decision of my life and filled out the application to become a Rotary Youth Exchange student. In December of 2011, I got a phone call congratulating me that I had been chosen to give Austria a little taste of Florida. I didn’t realize how much Austria could change me when I got on that plane in August. It gets harder every day to think that out of all the places I could be and all the people I could know, I was lucky enough to land here. I’ve learned and grown so much over the last five months and I’m excited to see what the next six will bring.

If you want a look into the typical life of an exchange student, we basically eat chocolate, sleep, and chat on the computer all day. If you want a look into my exchange life, reread the previous sentence. So one thing I’ve realized is if you look at exchange as a whole, it’s not too different than the life of any teenager. What makes it so special is the detail. My typical everyday routine consists of an annoying alarm at 6:00 giving myself just enough time to sprint down to the bus stop at 6:45. I go to school and talk with my friends. I come home and sleep before volleyball practice. I eat dinner and then check my Facebook before I go to bed. But here’s what makes this so different than a typical day back in Florida. When I wake up in the morning, I see hills and snow out my window. When I walk into the kitchen I don’t say “morning!” but instead “Morgen” I ask the bus driver for a ticket “nach Ried, bitte” and ha ve to stand when there is no more space to sit. I get to school and change my shoes and when the Professor walks into the classroom we all stand until he says we can sit. When I go and get a cup of coffee with my friend between classes, we talk about making a daytrip to Vienna. Most of this may not sound too exciting, but it’s a lot different living it than hearing about it. All of the things the people here have grown up doing is completely new to me. And figuring the easy stuff is the hard part. Every day is a new surprise. Depending on how you take that surprise can make or break your exchange.

I was excited to see how the people celebrated Christmas here. Almost everyone in Austria is Roman Catholic so I wasn’t expecting it to be too different than my Christmas back home. I’m not catholic but I think, for the most part, it would be the same. I couldn’t be more wrong. First of all, we got the tree about three days before Christmas and didn’t decorate it until Christmas day. I woke up at 12:00 on the 24th thinking it was Christmas Eve. Surprise! Christmas comes a day early in Austria. We decorated the tree with bright pink ornaments because my hostmom wanted to have an American Christmas tree this year. But we also put real candles and sparklers on it too! I’m surprised I didn’t set the entire house on fire. That would have made a good story… We had a big dinner and then had to wait for the “Christkind.” In Austria, there is no Santa Clause. The Christkind is said to be Jesus in the form of a child. On Christmas, He leaves gifts under the tree and rings a bell to let you know He was there. But before we could open the presents we sat in a circle to sing Christmas songs in German and tell a Christmas story. When we finished, we joined the rest of the town in the church where we had a Christmas service. We all then enjoyed some warm Glühwein or Punsch outside. The next two days are also considered part of Christmas and are dedicated to spending time with family. Even though we did so much for the holidays, it didn’t feel like Christmas at all. Maybe that’s a good thing and I’m glad I got to see how another part of the world celebrates the birth of Christ. 

The break has been a little long for me though. I think I am the only exchange student who can say I love going to school. Three days out of school and I was already missing my friends. I’m not sure how I’m going to live through the next week or so. At this point, it’s hard to think that in just 6 short months I’ll be on a flight back to the sunshine state. I’ve heard from so many exchange students in the past but never really understood that the feelings exchange students experience can be so confusing sometimes. When I think about leaving, I think about all the amazing friends I’ve made here that I have to leave behind. But then I think of all my amazing friends I get to see again back home. It’s crazy how much sorrow and excitement I can feel all at once. No matter how hard it has been or will be, I’m so glad I made this decision. I’ve learned and changed so much. Some things that seemed impossible a year ago are nothin g to me now. That doesn’t mean that everything is easy, but nothing is impossible.

So with that I want to thank Rotary 100 times! It’s hard to understand how thankful I am to be able to do something like this and Rotary got me here. Vielen Dank! 

April 12, 2013

Liebe Leute,
So this is the last stretch of my exchange. In a little over three months I will get to see my friends and family again, sunbathe on the beach, eat at my favorite frozen yogurt restaurant, shop at target!! But I always get super confused thinking about it. On one hand I am so excited to see my beloved Florida again, but that also means I have to give up the second home I made here in Austria. I know as soon as I get on the airplane in Munich, I will never be able to come back to the way things were during my exchange year. And that kills me. But thinking more and more about it, only makes me realize how much I’ve learned this year and once I go back, I can take everything I’ve learned with me. Not only to better myself, but everything around me too. I can’t exactly explain what I have learned, but I can tell you what I’ve been up to for the past few months…

A group of people I don’t think I can survive without I like to call my fellow exchange students. It’s really crazy how many are in my town. 7 of us for a town my size is unbelievable. But when all of us from all over the country get together… imagine you have 100 best friends, up for anything, and they are all confined in one area. I feel bad for our supervision. But then you strap skis to their feet and give them a mountain. Ski week!!! one of the most action packed weeks of my exchange. For the 70 or 80 crazy exchange students there, only 5 had to be sent to the hospital. I would say that’s pretty good. The week started out a little uneasy. They separated us into 6 groups. 2 were for the snowboarders and the other 4 for skiers: absolute beginner, intermediate beginner, intermediate, and advanced. I signed up for intermediate knowing I wasn’t a total beginner but c’mon…the “mountain” in North Carolina I’m used to skiing is n othing compared to the Alps. I stared to get a little down on myself when I was always the last one down the mountain thinking I wasn’t good enough to be in the intermediate group. Second day in and I find out they actually placed me in the advanced group! I immediately asked to switch out but thankfully I had a great instructor who reassured me I was doing fine and already improving so much since the first day. The others in my group were understanding and told me they had no problem waiting a few seconds at the bottom of the slope for me to catch up. To make it even better, some if the students in the group bellow us moved up. Then I felt about at speed. And I’m so proud of myself for sticking it out in the advanced group. Granted I was the slowest but that’s not really important… And I learned so much too. We had ski class the mornings of the first four days and free time afterwards. Free time was great because I could meet up with my besties and caref ully go completely crazy. In this time I ran into two other exchange students, almost skied of a cliff, wiped out multiple times on the last jump of the “fun slope,” attempted suicide on the moguls, and even took a run in only a tank top. Altogether, I think it’s safe to say it was a successful week.

Right after ski week, my family came to visit and see a little bit of Austria. It was great to finally see them again and it felt like nothing had changed. They were still the crazy family I had left on the other side of the airport security 8 months before. It actually felt like I had never left. Six days was definitely not enough time to see everything we wanted to, but it was just enough time to catch up and get a break from the exchange life. I got to show them Ried, Linz, Vienna, Salzburg, and Munich before we had to say goodbye again. This time wasn’t so hard for me though. I know my mom will disagree but three months feels like nothing.

I think it will be very hard to leave. I’ve made some of my best friends here and living on the other side of the world from them will not be easy. But being so far will only make it so much better to see them again. So even though I know I have a rough few months coming, I’m so glad I’ve been giving the time that I have to make those friendships. Learning a new culture, language, land, climate, and completely different way of life was and is so much more than I could have ever expected. I know it sounds cheesy but there is no other way I can describe it and still there is no way to put these feelings into words.

So with that, I’m off to enjoy the rest of my exchange. Something I wouldn’t be able to do without Rotary. I couldn’t be more thankful. Bis zum nächsten Mal!

Caroline Craver
2012-13 Outbound to Thailand
Hometown: Maitland, FL
School: Winter Park High School
Sponsor: District 6980, FL
Host: District 3340, Thailand
The Rotary Club of Mitraparp Khon Kaen

Caroline - Thailand

September 8, 2012

Change is inevitable. Its been the shadow following us since the day we were born and it will continue to follow us until well into our grey ages. The change you seek and the change that comes can be two very different paths and the one we choose will be the defining moment of our lives. I was not looking for Rotary to change my biggest dreams and aspirations; to shift my paradigm and step outside my normal boundaries. However, I have never been more thankful that they did so. The summer leading up to my departure was one of the hardest summers I have ever had to endure. To leave everything familiar to me and enter a world so beyond my comfort level and beyond what I could imagine was the hardest part of that summer. I know my city like the back of my hand. Every face I left home I know by heart. I have spent years with these people; my family I’ve spent my entire life. So how could I leave them in the wake to see beyond my known microco sm? Some of my loved ones have called me brave and others crazy. I saw myself as curious. I yearned to know what life was like outside of America. I grew up learning about other places, for it was mandatory, but you never quite learn about anything until you experience it with your own eyes; touch it with you own hands. When I walked into my sixth period Advanced Placement English Literature class I had no idea that my next year had been completely altered. There stood a man with curly hair and a warm smile and a presentation on the screen entitled Rotary Youth Exchange. With the last two words I was immediately captivated. He launched into his presentation like he had done in the previous years and I knew I wanted to take part after a mere five minutes. I shot off numerous questions and my classmates could sense that I was captured, but they never believed I would go through with it. 

After I was accepted into the program, my life was all anticipation about what would come next. What country, what district, what city, what family, what school, what EVERYTHING. The next piece of news couldn’t come quick enough and the year dragged on at a sloth’s pace. Then the day to leave came and I was stunned into silence. I couldn’t believe that after all the anticipation, all the information, all the boring, long, repetitive preparation my day had finally come to leave. It was so surreal and I have been using that phrase ever since I left. I had my friends and family gathered on the eighth of august at what would be the last day in my house. It was a complete success filled with “I love you’s” and tears shedding. This was unimaginable and I was numb the entire car ride to the Jacksonville airport. I had no idea what to think or really how to think. The morning to leave came even more quickly if you can believe that. All eight of us were standing in front of security and eyes were welling and noses running. I had never felt so much pain at leaving the people who have loved me most my entire life. But I jumped on the plane with Alex and we were headed out to Atlanta, then Tokyo, then Bangkok, and for me, finally Muang Khon Kaen, Thailand. 

Cue to one month later and I will tell you, immediately, that this has been the most amazing and incredible month I have ever lived. The things I see and experience are, everyday, different from anything I had imagined I would be experiencing. I had expectations because realistically you can’t not make expectations (and yes I know that, that was bad grammar). Expectations are the human imagination at work and whether you’re aware you’re making them or not they will be shattered upon arrival. My expectations have been blasted through the roof and I couldn’t be happier. Everything is different. There is not one thing that they do here that is the same in America. The way they eat, the way they shop, the way they dress, the way they interact, everything. I have learned so much about myself and about the culture that I know I am only growing more and more every day. Thailand has so much to offer and I’m willing and open to absorb everything it can gi ve me. I want to know the language, I want to be able to eat the food, I want to try bugs (already have), I want to ride an elephant, I want to go to school, I want to see new things and experience a world so much bigger than what I pictured. I have missed home but home is still there. I will come back to it one day and life will be as it was, but for now I want to take in my surroundings. I want to get lost a few more times, I want to make language mistakes and laugh at myself for hours on end. I want to make life long friends and come back to visit them. I want so much out of one year that I know I will not get everything, but I will work hard to attempt everything. I will “try everything once” and I will learn so much here that I’m curious to what the world will look like when I have to come back, but not curious enough to leave quite yet. This year means so much to me and I’m so thankful for everyone at home following me and encouraging and suppor ting me. Every word of encouragement gives me the determination to make this year all that I can so that I can bring back many amazing stories and experiences to share will all of you. I’m so thankful for all of Rotary back home in Florida, and here in Thailand. It was a long haul getting to where I am and the Rotary program has been nothing but friendly and obliging. I am thankful for Scott Krogmann for walking into my class room and then putting up with me for another ten months! I am happy and safe and appropriately enough I found this and will abide by this for my year: 

“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment” -Buddha 

October 28, 2012

Such a mysterious and inspiring wonder the night is. The darkness that encompasses the night is alluring to me. When it is dark I am free. Free from stares Free to sing out loud. Free to dance. Free to think, about everything. My mind wanders on my morning runs when I get up around 4:30 to exercise because any time past 8 am is over 85 degrees. It’s a time when I recollect all that I’ve done here and when I truly realize I am in Thailand. To say that I have been here for almost three months is surreal. In this past month I have learned so much more than I ever expected and I am growing much more than I thought possible.

I have been on vacation since the end of September and a bunch has happened. The majority of the vacation was spent either at home, working out, or with the exchange students. During the periods in those places I would watch movies, work on my Thai, and with the exchange students we would go to central or fairy plaza, Ta-lat Ton Tann, walk around Khon Kaen, or purely talk about a whole assortment of topics. It was fun for the most part but at times the boredom would take over… Thankfully that passes very quick.

Over the break my Rotary Club planned on Gabriel, Jose, Tsuki, and I going with some of the students of the Rotaract Club of Khon Kaen University to a camp. We agreed to go to this camp rather than paying the 2800 baht ( around $100) it took to go to RYLA. We had no idea what to expect, meaning no idea what to pack, what we were doing, who we were going with, where we were going, and not even how long we would be there for… Needless to say we were in the dark as is the usual for us exchangers in Thailand. We were taken each by our parents to the university and dropped off with a bunch of kids whom we’d never met before. We then loaded our bags onto the two buses that would escort us to the site of service. I say site of service because we had no idea that we would be going to a small village and helping out a local school. So we jump on the bus and sit together. Awkward glances and silence proceeded for a good twenty minutes until someone suggested a game. So we a tempted to play games with the people we had just met. It was a name game. If you think the name game is hard to do picture this: 38 brand new people with names like mubmip, boom, get, ninn, ann, nach, guitar, eiw, min, muk, mook, and so on. The world’s most challenging version of the Name game to say the least! We arrived at the camp maybe an hour later. Still didn’t realize it was a school until we pulled up to the ONE building and put our sleeping stuff in classrooms which we found out we would be inhabiting for a period of SEVEN days. That first day was probably the worst. We were absolutely miserable. It was like the first day in Thailand all over again and repeating the process of akwardness, misunderstanding, miscommunication, silence, and loneliness. We were ready to give in but Mae Joom would not here of us leaving and I can’t help but thank her for that because the camp got better and better every day. Yes it was brutally hot, we sweat every day, we were dirty, and so on, but it was one of the best experiences ever. We were welcomed by the small village with a little ceremony where we introduced ourselves. We worked on a garden for the school planting basil, tomatoes, and other vegetables. We played with the local children, teaching them some English and just allowing them to play games and interacting with them. It was definitely a highlight to put a big smile on their faces or just making them laugh. We worked on a roofed patio for the school too. The farangs helped clear the land by moving the clay. The boys, boom, Nut, Bank, Arnut, Bank, and others were the ones who really worked on the construction, melding, concrete making, and so forth. They are literally the hardest workers I have ever met. They would work from 6am to 4am the next day. They would sleep in somedays but then work until very late the next morning. it was inspiring. There were groups of us and we were assigned each day to the tasks that I just mentioned. Other tasks included cleaning our spaces we used, the bathrooms, and cooking the meals for everyone. That night we found out quickly that showers were to be done by dumping water on us with plastic bowls. We also learned that we would all be in a outdoor, literal bath room. A giant tone tub was placed in the middle and everyone wore these curtain like dresses and washed themselves together, all with cold water. It was definitely an experience and the first time washing myself like that. Safe to say that I truly appreciate running water, hot water, soap, and RAZORS. My legs were crazy wild for seven days because I forgot my razor. The appearance didn’t bother me for it’s culturally accepted that women don’t shave their legs in Thailand, but the feeling of having harry legs really bothered me. I was joking that by the end I was sure I could braid the hairs, that of course was false, don’t worry!

So in the garden Noona and I planted basil one day. We worked with the boys on the house and that was hard work but very fun because the boys could not help but make fun of us. The kids were scared of us at first, I assume its because it was probably their first time seeing “farangs”. They warmed up to us quickly when we joined in with their games. They eventually gathered the courage to talk to us and take pictures with us. They had to be some of the cutest kids I have ever seen. Cooking had to be one of my favorite parts. I love cooking in general because I love food so cooking brand new things was even more interesting. They don’t use butter whatsoever here. It’s incredible and I’m pretty sure it’s one of the reasons everyone is the size of a twig. Oh and the chili’s that’s another reason they’re skinny. They eat these red and green peppers in almost everything and they’re probably the world’s spiciest peppers. We ate rice for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Somehow it didn’t get old… but I think the side dishes helped because they were different every time and delicious beyond anything I had, had before. The days continued like this and the camp went by extremely fast after that first day.

One day jose, gabriel, muk, and I visited a rice farm. I was dreading it and at first declined the offer, I know bad exchange student, but they forced me to go. I am thankful once again for that. It was SO MUCH FUN. We were out in the fields sweating and chopping the rice plants that are used to create sticky rice. We worked for about an hour maybe two and then journeyed to wear they deshell the rice to get it down to the white part. Interacting with the Thai people in the fields was cool. They are so happy despite the heat and despite that they don’t make much. Its very interesting to see how happy these people are. It’s absolutely contagious to be happy with them and join in on just loving life. That is a great thing about Thailand. They are always happy and it spreads a warmth to whoever they’re with. Very amazing to feel and experience. This is random but everyday Jose and I would wait for our favorite frozen bubble tea guy. I swear this stuff was the best we have ever had. We couldn’t wait for this guy to get here. Frozen sweet vanilla flavored ice with chunks of oreo crushed into it and the tapioca balls at the end made for a perfect treat around 3 pm when we were so hot our clothes were glued to our bodies. Jose ordered ice cream every day and had more than one every day. Very funny, but I have no idea why. I love that goofy kid, he always knows how to make all of us laugh. The last day of camp came and it was a bittersweet feeling and a foreshadowing to what it will be like when I return home. I don’t even want to think about that right now. But the day began with a fun festival/parade where everyone painted their faces in neon colors of green, pink, orange, yellow, and blue. Some of the boys dressed up as girls, and the farangs were made to present to the village. We walked through with music blaring and the four of us waving and smiling to everyone that was there to see us. It was so much fun and incredibly goofy. That evening we had a great party with all of the students and the village. We gathered around a bonfire and watched as some of the KKU boys ran around painted all black in their boxers with leaf skirts and headbands acting like Indians and lighting the bonfire. The girls like Noona and I danced traditional Thai dance and acted out skits that had the crowds laughing. We were merry and celebrating what was almost finished. I have never had so much fun just goofing off and feeling free with no care in the world. Very uplifting day and made me love Thailand that much more. Friends and memories were made and another connection Thailand was formed. Such an awesome experience and so inspiring that we are doing it again in January and I absolutely can’t wait to see everyone again and work on something new. We said our goodbyes and we promised that we’d see each other soon and I know it will happen. Everyone was so sweet. Thailand really is the land of smiles.

After the camp it was pretty normal for about, oh a day and half. Then I was told I was going to Korat to help out with some interviews for future exchange students leaving Thailand. What that really meant is I was staying with a Canadian exchange student named Anne and I wasn’t going to help out at all but actually just hangout with her, Noelle, and Lizzy for four days. I was a little shy at first because I hadn’t gotten the chance to meet these girls yet. They were very welcoming and we bonded very quickly. I love them and had such a great time staying with them. We mostly just hung out and do what us exchangers do in Khon Kaen. We went to their mall which is like three times the size of Khon Kaen’s which is MONSTROUS. It was cool seeing new stuff and experiencing new people. We watched movies like the Curious Case of Benjamin Button (great movie) and Easy A (which I thought was really funny the first time I saw it, but this time was absolutely hilarious . Emma Stone is beyond great). We biked to different places looking for food they wanted me to eat. Turns out none of the places they wanted to take me were open and we were convinced that some other power did not want us to eat anything they considered delicious. We settled for the food at the food park in the mall. The day came to leave and I was sad but I was relieved to finally be able to get home and just relax like I had planned to. School was to start the following Wednesday and I was anxious to see all my first but not anxious to get up at 5 am.

School started and I couldn’t help but smile all day. I loved being around those kids. I had missed them so much. I missed panpan speaking so fast she knows I can’t understand. I missed Mary and her weird songs she just starts singing. I missed oak and his awkward staring contests with me. I missed Nunnie and his awesome craziness. I missed the beautiful Pam, and sweet Yoye and just everyone. Those first days I started practicing the alphabet and really trying to learn it. I can now say that I know the consonants, all 44, and am able to translate stuff. It takes time but the fact that I am beginning to read and write is absolutely incredible. I can’t actually believe it either. I have talked about how the alphabet and reading is probably the hardest thing ever and I’m finally getting the hang of it. I admit the vowels are ridiculously tricky but I know that if I keep going at the rate I am I will be able to read and write soon! That in itself will be the biggest accomplishment I will achieve and the key to being able to truly understand everything said.

My life in Thailand is nothing I can compare to with my other life in America. I have two lives and I have realized this after talking to the exchangers today. I have two different families, two different sets of friends, two sets of schools, two sets of homes, two different lives. It’s weird to think that I’m living two lives. I have Caroline back in America and I am Mudmee here in Thailand. Its the coolest thing actually. I can’t believe I’ve been here for so long. I am loving it so much and learning something new each and every day about the country and about myself. This experience is going to change me, I can already see subtle changes and I am so excited to find out what the final product will be. I can’t help but continue thanking my parents and Rotary Youth Exchange Florida for this once in a lifetime opportunity. I am extremely grateful to be here and be living one of my dreams. This is my time and I am going to make the most of it with every second I have here. I miss America but I love Thailand. This is my home.

November 28, 2012

One month ago I was saying to myself I cannot believe that October has already come and passed and here I am again writing about how I am astonished that November has come and gone faster than October. I missed thanksgiving back home and yes it was sad but luckily my Rotary Club strategically placed a trip to Phu Kradung National Park the week it took place in America. We celebrated in high style with a bunch of Thai food and carving a chicken, our makeshift turkey. It was a little saddening but we were too busy catching up with friends and making new ones to really remember what the day was. In the beginning of December not much happened. It was normal school with trips in between that my host family would take me to. Close to the twelfth they took me and the other exchangers to one of the most beautiful temples we’d ever seen. In my opinion, I think it surpasses Wat Phra Kaew which is considered the greatest temple and most sacred temple in Thailand. This temple was h idden away in the small town of Petchabun near Khao Kho. Its walls, stairs, and ceilings were all laid out with beautiful mosaics. Colors thrown together so beautifully it took your breath away; and that’s without mentioning the mountains that laid in the background view of the temple. To say this place was beautiful is an understatement. I have never seen anything like it. After the temple we went to our “resort” which was merely camp grounds sitting a top of a cliff overlooking a valley. Once again the view was breathtaking and each of us realized how lucky we were to be standing in a place so far from our homes. We all woke up the next morning around 4am to see what we thought was a dream. The valley that laid below us was covered in a dense fog and the sunrise that came up over the mountain was magnificent. Jets of orange, pink, purple, and yellow filled the sky and a vibrant orange sun lit up the morning. The entire party was stunned into silence and that amazing high you get when realizing where you are swept over the exchangers, well Emma and I. The weeks passed by fast seeing as it was unnecessary for me to go to school due to preparation for the annual sport week event. I passed the time writing, learning the language, and watching movies. Sports day came and it was time for a traditional Thai dress, makeup, hair, and an early start to what would be a tiring day. It was a lot of fun to walk with everyone and see the town, I’m glad I was asked to participate. It was an incredible experience and such an honor to be presented in such a way. Going back to school was not going to happen the following Monday for it was the day that Rotary took us to see one of Thailand’s most amazing national Parks, Phu Kradung. I have climbed mountains before and with ease, but this mountain I can fairly stay kicked my butt up and down. The climb was one of the hardest parts of the trip. Steep for most of the way up and with wet rocks and mud, its safe to say that we were not as “in shape” as we all thought we were. Three and a half hours later and completely out of a breath, two Canadians, a Brazilian, a Venezuelan, and an American made it up to the top of the mountain. There we found out we had to walk another 3 km to the actual place where we would be staying for the next three nights. That’s about another mile. We were not thrilled but nonetheless made the trek. We arrived tired and out of breath, immediately ordered food like the good exchange students we are, and chatted away with the others who’d made it there before us. It was a fun filled week consisting of walking over 50 km with beautiful waterfalls, red maple leaves, stories to bring back about the toilets, LEECHES, rather large bugs, salt, deers that “wai”-ed, and a promise to make the next trip just as fun as the first. As I sit here writing this I have this weird feeling. I’m reflecting ever ything that happened and it all sounds so amazing, and believe me it was, but everyone only talks about the highs of exchange not the lows. There are times when you are completely alone and how you deal with that loneliness is defining. There are times when all you do is stay home and all you see is your computer screen or the four walls you call a room. It’s hard but as long as you keep good spirits and your mind off of other things you’re able to make it through. Always remind yourself where you are and what an amazing opportunity you have been given because as soon as you do it will get better. I can say that I am so blessed to be living in Thailand. It’s an incredible place filled with amazing people. I know home will be there when I get back and life will continue as it always does, so for the mean time I am loving where I am and who I am with. I change host families soon so new adventures and struggles are only a mere three days away and I am excited to see what they have in store for me, what lengths my patience will take, what new food my senses will taste, and what new tales I will have to bring back with me.
Excerpt *

January 5, 2013

After a fatal crash, dismal hopes, and no internet my computer is finally back up and running. I assume that means it’s time to update the RYE journal as well as my personal blog so here goes. November passed quickly and December came all too quickly as well. Around November 29th I found out I would actually be moving December 1st. So I quickly packed all my stuff, somehow, into the same bags I had arrived with. I couldn’t believe that this day had come so quickly and I was taken aback. I couldn’t believe I was leaving my host dad, he always knows how to make me laugh, my host mom who was loving and caring like an actual mom, and my host brother who I assume and imagine is exactly like any other younger brother. I had gone through so much with them. My first four months spent with them and learning so much. I couldn’t imagine leaving them and yet here I was bags ready and out the door with my new host mom and host broth er. It was like being in Thailand all over again. I had to be patient, accepting, and flexible with each new occurrence. Thailand was once again testing my character, this time though I took it well. I have changed in that respect. I know I have grown. December with them was spent at school and with friends. It was going better than the stories I had previously heard about the family and for that I was extremely grateful. I spent a total of two weeks with my new family when it was time for me to go on District 3340’s second trip to the northern region of Thailand. I had been looking forward to this trip since before I left. I knew it meant a lot of amazing animals and temples. I was not disappointed. At last December 17th finally came and the Khon Kaen kids were packaged and shipped on a van to Korat where everyone was to meet up as a starting point. We were all so excited to see the great friends we had made last trip. When we arrived we did our greeting and hugs and immediately began to catch up with one another. It was a lot of fun seeing everyone and relaying stories. We sat down for dinner where Siri explained what was to happen in the following hours and days. Once all of our stuff was loaded and our tummies full we were herded onto the bus. It was a double decker bus and very nice. We left the hotel at 8 pm. It was enjoyable at first, until we all wanted to sleep, then it seemed like none of us were going to get a good night’s rest. It was uncomfortable to fall asleep and at various random times it smelled like no other. We finally reached our first destination, a hotel, at 6 am. There we went to our respective rooms, showered, changed, and packed everything up and headed downstairs for breakfast. Our first stop would be an elephant reservation in Lampang. There we saw an elephant show where we fed elephants, watched them paint pictures, throw balls, and we even were able to ride them through the jungle. Lizzy and I sat toget her and it was such an incredible time. Next we had lunch there and left for our lodging. We were staying in cabins in the mountains. These cabins were very nice and the chilly weather put us all in extremely pleased moods. We spent the night talking, eating chocolate, singing, and thinking of what was to come. The next morning we packed all of our stuff and headed off to our next destination, the highest point in Thailand. We took pictures and explored it was really chilly so coffee was bought. Next we went to the royal gardens and did some more exploring. Anne and I went off on our own discovering different parts of the gardens. We had lunch at a waterfall at one point. Anne and I once again ventured off course and went to the top of the waterfall where we met Takeru being his crazy self. The climb to the top was actually hard and reminded me of Phu Kradeung but that’s probably because I’m so out of shape… We then set off for Chiang Mai and there we saw a Subway… We went insane. We hadn’t seen Subway in four months and couldn’t wait to eat there. We were in Chiang Mai for three nights and we ate at subway twice. We were extremely content. We went to the night bazaar every night and made our way through the vendors haggling in Thai and trying to get the cheapest price. Amazingly we weren’t bad and because we could speak Thai the vendors began giving us the prices they reserved for Thai people. We had a lot of fun walking around and just hanging out together. We saw the Chiang Mai zoo which was exciting because we go to see so many exotic animals like elephants, pandas, koala bears, leopards, panthers, white tigers, lions, etc. We had a traditional Thai dinner and a show one night and it was really awesome seeing the dancers do what they practice for hours everyday. Our next destination was Chiang Rai where we saw the White Temple. It’s a famous temple for its intricate design and being complete ly white. The inside was interesting. The paintings included weird characters like those from the Matrix or Star Wars and other random appearances. We met the architect too who was thrilled to meet foreigners who weren’t over the age of 50. That day we also saw the golden triangle where Laos, Thailand, and Burma meet. We took photos and rode on a boat tour on the river where they all met up. Later on in the trip we met the people of the long neck tribe, saw the royal gardens of the King’s mother who had a house in the mountains whose architecture was a fusion of Thai and Swedish design, and we saw the Thai version of the Grand Canyon. We were then off to the Sukhothai province. There we saw ruins and Thailand’s most beautiful Buddha image. The last day of our trip was Christmas day and it was spent in an incredible hotel. Nicest one we’d been in so far. We had a party for us and each of us had a secret Santa so presents were received. It was a great t ime and although family couldn’t be there we were happy to have each other. Tears were of course shred, and it seemed like everyone had plenty. The trip was such an amazing experience. We’d seen a part of Thailand that is incredibly famous and it was humbling to see every aspect of the northern culture. The bonds we made were strengthened on this trip and everyone seemed so grateful where we were and for the people we were there with. Once again we made the trip back to Korat and then to our separate cities. Now we have our final trip to look forward to and yet it’s only another reminder of the dwindling time we have here in Thailand. This next trip will be extremely difficult both for our friends and family that we will miss when we have to say goodbye.

I’m assuming people are curious as to what I actually do in Thailand what life is like here so I figured I’d take sometime to really go over some basic aspects of my life here.

Food: Yes I eat Thai food everyday and no I have not gotten bored of it. It has many variations. For breakfast I do not eat Thai food. I don’t like the idea of my breakfast including rice with meat so I have my very American breakfast of organic oatmeal, a yogurt, and some coffee. Lunch comes with many variations as well. Depending on the day, weekday or weekend, I have many options. Weekdays are spent at school where I go to lunch at the “cafeteria”. I say that with quotations because it’s an open patio with many vendors selling every kind of Thai food you could possibly want. I go to a specific vendor and get the staple, rice, with either pad pak (stir fried veggies), a green bean dish that looks like pasta but is actually green beans mixed with eggs, onions, seafood, tomato, etc, a lettuce and kale dish with a little meat and their spicy chili’s, and a soup made of tofu, lettuce, some pork, in a chicken broth. I eat that with pineapple everyda y. The pineapple here is to die for. On weekends I eat out with my family for lunch and it’s usually GUI thio from the mall here. Dinner is a variation every night and it depends on what my host family wants to eat. When it comes to how to eat food, the Thai people are superior to Americans. They eat with a spoon in their right and a fork in the left. They shovel food onto the spoon. Rice is much easier to eat with a spoon than a fork and I have no idea why Americans try to eat it with a fork. Knives are scarcely used except when steak is prepared, which is rare.

TV: Television is mostly soap operas that everyone loves to follow. I however cannot stand them because the acting is atrocious. I understand very little but you don’t have to understand to realize that the facial expressions are over exaggerated and the “mad yelling” is terribly over done. Another favorite is soccer. They love it here and the team everyone really roots for is Manchester United, this I will probably never understand.

People: People here are warm, friendly, and inviting. Sometimes to the extreme. I am constantly stared at, that is not an overstatement. I am gawked at everyday everywhere I go. Everyone here is tan, dark black/brown hair, and dark brown eyes. I am an oddity to them. My light skin, light eyes, and light hair are something they normally don’t see, especially at my age. They are used to seeing older “farangs” (a word they used to describe foreigners). It was uncomfortable at first to be stared at so much but I eventually got used to it and I’m very used to it. It will be weird going home and not having eyes bulging out at me.

Language: In my area there are two languages spoken, Thai and Esan. Thai is the standard language here and everyone will understand it. Esan is the language of my area, the northeast. It is a mixture of Thai and Laos and both languages are equally confusing and difficult thanks to the variations of tone. You can say one word and it could mean five different words entirely. You may accidentally call your mom and horse or a dog. She will find it funny but if you weren’t a foreigner it would be considered offensive…

School: School is much different here than in Florida. The buildings are five stories high. The teachers are given more respect outside of the classrooms than they are inside the classrooms. Everyone stays with the same class the same year and go to different classrooms. The grades are at matayom. There are uniforms here and they are absolutely god awful, on purpose. They are intended to draw attention away from the person and keep everyone focused on school. Individuality is severely suppressed in school. Hair must be pulled back into a pony tail and any stray hairs are supposed to be pinned back. Only the first hole of earrings is to be used. No make-up is allowed whatsoever. No jewelry except maybe a bracelet and your hair is not allowed to be dyed whatsoever.

Transportation: Thailand is not a walking friendly country even though everyone normally does. There are very few sidewalks and when there are they are covered with shop merchandise. Cars are of course everywhere as are scooters but Thai people drive very crazily and aggressive. I travel by Song tao. These are the public “buses”. I use quotations because they are not busses but pickup trucks with open trailers. To catch one you must wave them down, there are no bus stops. I take one to school every day and to random places around the city. They are cheap and effective.

Religion: The religion here is of course Buddhism. 95% of the country practices. There is a major shrine in each city and most people “wai” to it. It’s not uncommon to see a monk walking around and it’s also not uncommon to see a Thai person giving food or goods in exchange for a short prayer.

Weather: A permanent summer exists in Thailand. The “winter” season does get down to between 18-24 degree Celsius but that only happens during the mornings or late evenings. The days are hot and humid with temperatures ranging from 28-35 degrees Celsius. I’m sorry I don’t know Fahrenheit anymore

My life here is Thailand is normal. This once foreign place is now familiar. I know the streets, I know faces, I know places, and once again I’ll have to leave the familiarity. I’ve taken an incredible journey and I’m loving every step of it. 

February 7, 2013

It’s February 7, 2013 and I figured it’s as good a time as any to begin writing my January blog. Besides New years January was incredibly uneventful. There is no exaggeration in that statement. My life took on a daily routine of waking up, going to school, getting home, spending time on the computer watching movies, studying with Rosetta Stone, or reading the books my mom had generously shipped to me for Christmas. It was a dull monotony and one of the hardest things I’ll ever admit is that I wanted to give up. I would never actually give up and go home, but the thought was always in the back of my mind tempting in the dullest or darkest moments during that month. The scene played in my head of a changed Caroline walking through the Jacksonville arrivals line and seeing seven faces smiling up at me with warmth and 10 months of anticipation. This scene only played when I literally had watched every movie in my inventory at least twice and the music was getting old. Still is would appear and I must warn the future outbounds to busy yourself much more than you think possible to avoid this. Luckily as the days slothed by they also went whizzing by. It is possibly the hardest thing to explain to the future outbounds. How you can be counting down the days one moment and in the next moment a week has already flown by. How you want time to speed up at moments and come to a complete stop during others. Time seems incomprehensible while on exchange. It looks like a friend and then it appears as the cruel kindergarten bully taking your precious lunch away.

Anyways New Years’ was spectacular and one I will never forget. I celebrated the New Year not only 12 hours ahead of everyone back home, but with people from all over the world. Khon Kaen exchangers met up with our rotary club in the central plaza where the festivities were gathered and traffic stopped. We were enjoying the company of other district 3340 YE’s that had come to stay with us and bring in the New Year. At one point we saw a bunch of other students, who looked quite like us, standing in a group talking and enjoying the shows. Curious we went up and started talking. Miraculously we had stumbled into the district 3330 inbounds heading home from their Northeastern trip. We met kids from Canada, Mexico, Brazil, South Africa, U.S.A, France, Finland, and so forth. We were exhilarated and new energy emerged. We began to do what we do best which was talk our heads off and wait for the new year to come in. Fireworks marked the beginning of 2013 and grins lit the faces of everyone in sight. The same thought passed through each of our minds: this was the one we would and could never forget.

As I said before, the routine kicked in only a couple days after New Years’ when school started up again and the days dragged on. This is the time of year where the hardest holidays are over and the true test of your exchange begins. You are for the most part alone, you have Thai friends yes, but the language is still difficult and they study an abnormal amount here, to the point where there parents make them stay home every night almost. How you deal with this part of your exchange is where you grow and learn. You can really do a lot with the amount of time that you have between trips and between big events. Find a local place to volunteer whether it is a hospital, orphanage, or even at your school. Go exercise because believe me at this point you have gained some pounds and are regretting the frequent snack stops you took on all the trips preceding this date. The more you do during this time the easier it is to keep your mind off of home. ALSO do not feel ashamed if you think of home, trust me everyone does it. Maybe more so in cultures much more different than Florida and America, but nonetheless there are moments in everyone’s exchange where nothing sounds better than home. Just remember and continue to remind yourself that this is your one chance to really see what its like beyond your own comfort zone. You get to see something no one else can imagine and you experience ideas and people, which make others regret not going “the road less traveled”. Had I not taken this year abroad I would be up at FSU studying to be a physical therapist, I would be taking exams right now, having homework, working on papers, dealing with trivial things. Instead I am living 9,328 miles (30 hours by plane) from home experiencing a new language, culture, climate, etc. I am living an entirely new life and the rewards I know will be plentiful. This has to be the most clichéd poem and quote used by every exchange student ever, but to me its rings the loudest. Every exchange student you ever come in contact will tell you that this quote sums up everything.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, And it has made all the difference”
-Robert Frost

February 28th, 2013 & March 6th, 2013

I remember saying how slowly January went by and yet here I am at the end of February staring aghast at how fast this month has left me. It’s already the beginnings of march and in three short months I return to my home in the States (no one outside of America calls it America). February was the ending of school and the beginning of a lot of free time. The first two months were slow but not really there was just enough time to relax and catch up on some tv shows and whatnot. The third week of February I decided it was time for some traveling without a group of 40 something people. Anne, Lizzy, and I decided to go to Bangkok for a week and stay in a house that her host siblings occupy. They had an extra room on the fourth floor and that meant we could come without having to pay for a hotel or hostel. The first few days we went shopping and blew some money on some desperately needed new clothes. Of course after we spent it, the money became tighter and the amount of activities we could do became less. Nonetheless those three days were filled with lots of walking and finally seeing a movie I have wanted to see before leaving the states: Les Miserables. Such an incredible movies and I am proud to say one of my favorite actresses, Anne Hathaway, won best supporting actress at the Oscars so it was a great weekend. That Monday we were supposed to go see the temples but everyone was feeling under the weather so we spent a lazy day just getting food when we were hungry and reading our separate books. On Tuesday the real adventure began. We decided we were going to see three very famous temples of Bangkok and our mode of transportation would be walking. We were optimistic and the journey began at a reasonable time. We had breakfast at around 10 and left around 11:30. We go to the first temple around 12 and that temple is known as the marble temple or Wat Benchamabophit. To get to the first temple we took the BTS which is the Bangkok sky airway to the nearest stop and walked 2.8 kilometers to the temples and on the way we ran into a monitor lizard. Not your typical lizard you see back in Florida, look it up and you will see its quite big and known in Thailand as the unlucky lizard so not a great start to our long day. The beautiful temple was made of marble walls and floors it was a great new view of Bangkok that we hadn’t seen before. After being at the temple for about two seconds we realized that there was a television crew and 15 abnormally tall girls walking. After a first failed attempt to ask what was going on, we were shooed and told that it was “something”, we found out that we had miraculously stumbled upon the filming of Australia’s next top model. The fifteen contestants were shooting their earliest episodes right there at the temple we were at in Bangkok. Having seen the American version numerous times I concluded early on that it must be the television series. We were absolutely thrilled and wanted to see more but we had an incredibly busy day ahead of us.. After leaving the temple we walked another 3.9 kilometers to Wat Pho, home of the world’s largest reclining Buddha. I had seen the huge religious piece before but seeing it again was definitely surreal. You never remember how monstrous it really is until you walk in and see that the head is massive. We saw more of the surrounding areas of the temple and eavesdropped on numerous “farang” conversations to see what language they could possibly be speaking. After walking around the temple we decided to head out to our final temple, Wat Arun. It was a beautiful temple with a chance to climb up an incredibly steep staircase and telling each other “DON’T LOOK DOWN”. We had to take a boat across the river and it was a mere 800 meters from the second temple so that thrilled us. We got some incredibly spicy som tum and khao niao (papaya salad and sticky rice) and ate before setting off on the boat. We ended up walking all the way back to the BTS station which was a little under 5km. A long walk but I wanted to avoid the MRT which is like the “thai” subway and if it’s anything like New York it can only be dangerous and murky so I felt we made a good group decision. Once home we were extremely exhausted and not extraordinarily hungry. I made a stop at the seven eleven for all of us who wanted something and we spent the night watching movies we hadn’t seen in a while such as Hercules and The Phantom of the Opera. It was a great ending to a wonderful day full of achievement. I haven’t walked so much since our first trip to Phu Kradeung. It was a great way to end the trip to Bangkok and we were probably the three happiest exchange students possible.

As February came to a close with our little trip the thought of leaving was in the forefront of everyones mind. I had the days down in my calendar and I told them and they were stunned at how little time I had left. I proceeded in telling them the amount of days Lizzy has left (she leaves may 1st) and at that point she had a mere 65 days left. She was actually rendered speechless. She thought for sure she had much more time than that. We were under the illusion that we would be together for a much longer time and the sudden realization left us feeling a tid bit depressed. We told ourselves that we knew this would be coming and can’t let it ruin the rest of our exchange. We parted ways happily knowing that in our minds we only had to wait three weeks until the famed “south” trip where we would be headed to some of the world’s most beautiful and renowned beaches. We said goodbyes and I headed back to Khon Kaen. I was going home to a messy room and loads to pack before heading out to my third host family

It took me a while to pack, mainly because I was incredibly lazy and found any excuse in the book not to pack up what would be six bags, but also because there was just so much stuff that I didn’t know how to really organize it all and so it took me three days. I had 7 bags in total, two small plastic bags with gifts that I have yet to give out, one filled with dirty clothes, the other filled with clothes I am throwing away because they have been torn or are just falling apart. So technically I only have two bags and one that is just an extra bag given to me by Rotary. It was a haul getting everything to the next house and luckily I had help from the exchange student Gabriel who helped me load everything into my room. I thought it would be like leaving my first family. But it was less so. I wasn’t as sad and I wasn’t as scared because I knew what to expect seeing as it was second move. Awkwardness was definitely a part of it but that comes with the territory of being an exchange student and you grow accustomed to it making it as less awkward as possible. I have now spent my first night and most of my first day in the house and I am sincerely happy. Its been a great first start with a workout that has been long overdue and a swim and tanning session. I got to eat my favorite yogurt and finish a book I was reading as well as continue studying thai, the incredibly hard language. The only sad fact is that this little piece of happiness will be gone in a mere two months. I am off to the south which takes up a good ten days so I really only have 2 months in this house… I plan on making the most of it and plan on really connecting myself here.

It’s been a while since this has been mentioned but I am incredibly thankful to Rotary for opening my eyes to something beyond America (which everywhere else calls the states of USA because everyone in the “Americas” is American…). I’m grateful for giving me this opportunity and preparing me as best as possible for what has been the most amazing year filled with amazing people and experiences I am positive I could never try to forget. I am also thankful for the Rotary here in Thailand who have been so accommodating and really like a giant family (or multiple moms since they’re all women). This is a once in a lifetime chance and I’m glad I decided to forsake everything to see what was waiting for me, so THANK YOU to all who have been involved. 

April 5, 2013

March came and passed in a whir of excitement. Not only did I change families March 5 but the end of the month was the long awaited southern trip so to say it passed without a hint of slow days is completely accurate.

I had been waiting to switch families for a while and when the day finally came I couldn’t contain my excitement. Not that I didn’t love my second family because I do. My host brother in that family is the absolute best and I didn’t really want to leave him, but the day came and I packed all my stuff up and headed for the next house. My third host family consists of my host mom, my host sister, and myself. I also have two host brothers but one is on exchange in Mexico and the other is at his university in Shanghai, China. I have met them both and they’re really great guys. My house is now is similar to my previous one. Two stories, balconies, beautiful front garden, gym, pool, and the only difference and the one I prefer is this family has a dog. Her name is Sandy. She is I believe a golden retriever with butterscotch eyes and may be the craziest, nutter I have ever met. She always greets me at the gate jumping and nuzzling me. I have missed affection from dogs that aren’t trying to attack me or scare the crap out of me so having her around is only another thing that makes this home feel like my actual home. The routine with this family is simple. I wake up and my host mom has gone to work so for the most part I am alone until around 12 when my host sister wakes up and we eat lunch together. She then goes to watch tv and I go to either run, swim, tan, shop, walk around, play with sandy, or anything else to occupy my time. My school is in the summer months now both school wise and temperature wise so no school for the time being. I am completely grateful for that because the temperature is in the mid 30s for the morning and peaks into the mid 40s in the afternoons. BLISTERING HOT. There is not a chance on this earth that you do not sweat when you step outside. I’ve grown accustomed to it, even though it makes Florida summers look like winter. When the clock hits around 7 my host mom comes home from work where she cooks simple but delicious and nutricious meals (gotta lose those terrible pounds ya gain) for dinner. We eat together as a family and we help clean dishes and the front yard and then we sit down to watch TV. This is where we watch the English shows with Thai subtitles because although I’ve been here for around 8 months this language is quite difficult to understand so they let me watch and they either watch along with me or are on their cellphones (Thai people are addicted to social media, much more so than Americans).

The next few weeks passed and the 17th came which meant Rotary District 3340’s Conference. We were all packed in our vans with our dresses, heels, shirts, and ties and headed out with the outbounds of next year. We didn’t participate in the first date of the conference much it was more for the outbounds. The current inbounds however represented each rotary club in our district by walking down the huge aisle to the stage with a banner and its name. Afterwards we were rushed to our next activity at a school. We were greeted by a majority of the students there and we were welcomed like nothing I’ve seen before. Everyone was gratious and thrilled to be able to spend the evening with us and it was a mutual feeling. They taught us how to make “som tum” which is a spicy papaya salad that I have grown obsessed with and will miss terribly when I get home. They taught us how to make fermented rice noodles. I know they sound absolutely disgusting but its re ally just plain noodles only made out of rice and to get the rice to cooperate you have to ferment it…. Either way its delicious if you put some thai spices and vinegar on them. The next activity they had us doing was learning more Thai dance. Most of us have already practiced this art form at one time or another so they were stunned to see that we would keep up and that we could do things with grace (well for the most part) and poise. It still puzzles me how they get their fingers to bend back so far away from their palm… We then were able to eat and talk with the students as well as watch some performances from them with one girl who sang Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” better than Celine Dion. No joke. It was incredible and everyone was silenced. I hadn’t heard her first song since I was in the bathroom but coming out I thought it was ironic that they were playing a Celine Dion cd over the loud speaker. I turn a corner and see thi s little Thai girl singing it and my mouth just falls open. Although I have already learned this from living here, its just another prime example that you can’t judge a book by its cover, whatsoever. We packed up and left and headed back to our respective cities with the knowledge that the long awaited and legendary South Trip was only a mere four days away.

The southern trip has always seemed like a figment of the imagination. Since the day I arrived I knew I would be taking a trip down that way but I just assumed it would never come. To have the trip date actually arrive was mystifying and none of really believed the day had arrived. Nonetheless, we packed our belongings and set out for our bus journey to paradise. Here is where I am going to sum things up because it was a ten day journey through the south and so much happened that telling you day by day may bring you to sleep… We went to the emerald pool and a hot spring in Morakot. Left to Krabi where we traveled to a boat got on and went to Krabi Sea, Phra Nang Bay, and Phra Nang Cave. We did a bit of snorkeling during this time and it was probably the coolest place I’ve ever snorkeled (besides coco cay)! We had lunch at this island called poh dah island where we saw these huge rock formations jutting out of the sea like it was no big deal. We then visited Kai Island (translated to “chicken” island because it really did look like a chickens head), Thup island where you could walk across on a sandbar to another island, Moh Island, and then one of Thailands “unseen” islands. We headed for Pangna bay the next day where we saw James’ Bond Island (appropriately named after the 1974 James Bond film “The Man with the Golden Gun”), KhoaTaPoo, and Thum Lod. Seeing where James Bond stood and the awesome formation that is so famous was pretty thrilling and surreal. We then had lunch at PanYee island which is a muslim fishing market. Delicious food and really cool souvenirs. We took our fairy boat next to our island hotel which had to be surrounded by the most beautiful water and beach I have seen in a very long time. Everyone gazed at the water deeming it “Gatorade” water. Clearest and stunning cerulean blue we’d all ever seen. We docked and took a dingy to the island where we staye d for two days and two nights. The next day we set out for a bunch of other islands (5th, 6th, and 8th islands) where we were free to snorkel and explore. Here is where I went snorkeling and saw a sea turtle (Gnarly man!), a huge starfish, an eel who was pretty menacing, sea urchins everywhere, I found nemo and his home the anemone which was really awesome. I swam down deep to get a better look at it. After the day we headed back to our island hotel and everyone was getting off to get on the dingy but my two best exchange friends and I decided to snorkel to the island. It was a lot of fun seeing all the coral and fish. Halfway through we’d realized that something inconsequential was stinging us and although it didn’t hurt from time to time we would feel it and wonder what was attacking us. I remembered later seeing little orange specks that would light up that were pretty cool only to find a poster on the island saying there were poisonous jellyfish and the most abundant were the little orange specks that were only .1cm big. The invisible attacker was found out and Lizzy ended up with a rash on her chest which was the most harm those little buddies could do. Our next leg in the journey was to Phuket where we had dinner and a show at the World’s Biggest Buffet called Phuket Fantasea! The most tourist spot I have ever seen and the food was delicious. We hadn’t experienced fries that good since we left the U.S. The next day was filled with traveling and shopping for souvenirs and a visit to the PhromThep Cape where we could witness “The Most Beautiful Sunset in Thailand” according to every tourist information center in Thailand. We were not let down. The sky was a multitude of colors that created a beautiful end to a fantastic trip down south. We got some incredible pictures and memories that will live with us for eternity. Our trip had ended and we were on our way back to Korat. We made a few pit stops at a flo ating market and a paintball place which was a lot of fun and ended the journey knowing that some of us would be leaving in only a months time. It was sad to have to say goodbye to some people that you won’t see again either forever or for a really long time. I have a feeling the next goodbye though will be the hardest and none of us are looking forward to it

Over the next few weeks it the routine continued the same as before I had left and honestly though they say monotony can be dangerous I love my routine because it’s normal. I see friends from time to time and I stay in from time to time. This is what my life would be like had I stayed in the U.S. In these last couple of months I’ve come to love my country so much more than I thought possible. I’ve come to enjoy the heat because I know that its what makes this country a little more unique than others. I’ve come to enjoy the 20-30 min bus ride into town where I get gawked at without discretion. I love the food even when it singes my taste buds. I love the piece of marble I sleep on (figuratively speaking). I love this crazy country and I’m sad to have to leave it. I now have a mere 8 weeks left here and I can see how I’ve changed and how I’ve grown as a person. Its crazy to look back at what I was like before I got here and what I am l ike now. It’s a thrill to see that my patience has actually expanded, I don’t have to control every aspect of my life, I don’t see myself as a person from America but rather The States and as a person from Thailand. The judgment I sometimes showed is gone now and I am seeing things through a different view and I’m liking it. I miss home, of course, but I know it is not a “figment of my imagination”. That day is going to come whether I’m ready or not, but to have this experience under my belt is something that I am forever grateful for. I love everyone that I have met here and from other countries. This year, all the ups and down, will live with me for the rest of my life and will continue to teach me things as a face other obstacles in the future. Thank you to everyone who has supported me and giving me the best words of encouragement and also those who have lived through this crazy year with me and my crazy self finding my way. With out you I don’t know what would’ve happened or if my exchange year would be as fulfilling and incredible as it has been so far. 

Chandler Nelson
2012-13 Outbound to France
Hometown: Ponte Vedra, FL
School: Ponte Vedra High School
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District 1780, Thailand
The Rotary Club of Voiron

Chandler - France

December 26, 2013

I will send a more descriptive journal soon, but this one is because I have a deadline and I am not at home with my computer.

I cannot begin to describe to you everything I have experienced in the past two months. It’s just not possible. To try and tell you what it feels like to live in another country is ridiculous. It is something that you have to experience on your own, and even then it is unique to every person. That is why I encourage every kid to go on an exchange. Everyday, I try new things. I learn new things. I see new things. And I experience new things.

Since the day I arrived in France I have been confused, happy, surprised, and tired. I guess because your brain is constantly listening and working when everything is in another language, you are tired much more often. This is hard for me, because not only is it hard to understand when people talk in another language super fast, it is even harder when you are dead tired. On top of that I workout, do judo and basketball here. I fell asleep in class once and I guess I snored pretty loud and the teacher was upset… I won’t do that again.

The food here is amazing! You’re like Of course it is, It’s France! No, you don’t understand. I live on a farm in the mountains and almost everything we eat is natural. I feel like I eat twice as much as I did in the United States, and I just sit back and laugh at all the exchange students who are gaining weight. I think of have gained 4-5 lbs but I’m pretty sure it’s muscle.

I feel like I still suck at French :/ My host mom and some of my friends tell me I am doing well in French but when you don’t understand 80% of the things people say. It’s hard to believe them. I mean yeah I have improved, but I wish I would learn faster.

I would like to thank Rotary, Mrs. Paula, My family, my friends here, my friends in the US, my host family, and God for helping me accomplish everything. I will not let you all down. Don’t worry about me, and enjoy yourselves.

December 26, 2016

Joyeux Noël!
My Christmas here was very unique. It really didn’t feel like Christmas to me. Erin, a girl from South Africa who did an exchange with my host family 3 years ago, is here for our Christmas Break (which is her Summer Break). She is really helping me right now, because everyone is out of town, I’m kinda bored, and she is fun to talk to. On Christmas Eve we all went to the Catholic Church in the village for the Christmas Mass. It was rather boring and insanely hot because basically the whole village was packed into this one tiny church. Then Christmas morning we all got up at 7 am because Emma and Jean Paul (My host sister and my host dad) had to go to work as ski monitors from 8am to 5pm. (We, is Nathan, Sylvie, Emma, Erin, Jean-Paul, and then my three grandparents.) We all opened our gifts, I got a jacket, and everything I need to snowboard for the whole year here for my host parents, and then right after Emma and Jean Paul left. Afterwards we kinda just chilled and then prepared some of the food for lunch. Around 11 my host Aunt and her family arrived and we had a huge lunch that lasted 3 hours. I tried Fois Gras (duck liver), oysters for the first time, escargot (snails), and various cakes, bonbons, cookies, and other desserts. After I did a puzzle and that was my Christmas… I also Skyped with my family which was cool. I hope they are happy with the gifts I sent them. I am happy here but a lot of times it is really difficult. My host siblings can be so freaking annoying sometimes, and then the stress of life and trying to do homework during the break really drains my morale. If Erin wasn’t here my Christmas would have been a lot worse. I try to snowboard as often as possible. I love snowboarding now, it is so fun and gets me away from the world. For me it can be a rush, or it can be relaxing. I am happy here and love experiencing new things. I miss everyone in the U.S. Hope you had a Merry Christmas <3

April 11, 2013

Wow, it’s been forever since I last wrote a journal here. I write in my personal journal every week but never here. If anyone actually reads this, I’m sorry I haven’t written more often.

The past couple months have honestly been some o the hardest and depressing months I’ve ever had in my life. I always seem to feel alone here in Bois Barbu. We rarely go out and there isn’t much to do in Villard. Having said that I have also had some of the BEST moments I have ever had in my life! I have visited Lyon, Grenoble, Voiron and Valence a couple times since I last wrote. In Lyon I ate at a Chinese restaurant with my host mom and host bother. Then my host mom and I went and did a tour of a Roman amphitheater which was incredibly huge! At Valence I went with my host mom’s family to a beautiful park which was right next to a big shopping plaza. I had so much fun because there were animals (horses, ducks, geese) that we got to see. I went to Voiron this past weekend for a get together with my Rotary club (my 2nd since I’ve been here 😛 ). It was ok, my friend Justine, her two sisters, and I were the only kids there, but we had a good time all the sam e. We danced the salsa and the waltz and then the Rotarians sang karaoke! The next day I went with some friends to Grenoble to a sort of fair they have once a year. We had so much fun riding the attractions and eating candy apples! After that we drank some Monster energy drinks and played laser tag! Oh my Goodness, It was sooo much fun!

I am going to go out on a limb and say I’m fluent in French now. I love it! I can talk with every one easily and I’m no longer scared to talk to my professors now haha! I seem to be having more trouble speaking English then French. My Spanish is actually doing better now too 🙂

It’s hard to realize that there are really only about 2 months left, but I’m sure they will be the best!

Claire Hepler 
2012-13 Outbound to Spain
Hometown: Jacksonville, FL
School: Bishop John J. Snyder High School
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District 2201, Thailand
The Rotary Club of Vigo

Claire - Spain

November 4, 2013 

 My first two months in Spain have been the most amazing, rewarding, and difficult of my life. Vigo is the most beautiful city I have ever seen. I am completely in love with mountains and fall weather. 

When I arrived, my host family gave me hugs and kisses in the airport and spoke way too fast. (This is a recurring theme of life in Spain.) I couldn’t imagine having better host parents. They are always very friendly and open, they want to help me with the language and school, and they always make sure I have everything I need. My host dad is an amazing cook and loves Formula One racing. My host mom and I love to watch game shows together. We live in a fourth floor apartment (yes, there is an elevator) a short walk away from my school. My host sister and I each have our own rooms.

The people here are always so friendly and welcoming. Meeting strangers isn’t weird at all because they are always very nice and genuinely interested in your life. When you meet new people, they are obligated to kiss you once on both cheeks (this works more in my favor when I’m introduced to boys, and less when I go to Rotary meetings). You kiss your parents when you get home, and you greet your friends with two kisses. If you don’t greet your friends with two kisses or a hug, people will think that you are fighting or not speaking to each other. Spanish people are also very short. I am very tall here. Seeing tall people is a little rare. Women are always wearing heels to compensate. Men seem to go bald a lot later in life here. There are very few balding, middle-aged men.

Spanish people speak faster than you can ever imagine. Everyone has to slow down considerably when they speak to me. I watch a lot of TV and movies in Spanish, and with subtitles I can understand everything. In Spain they speak Castillian Spanish, which is different from what they speak in Latin America. They are very proud of their accents here and never want to be compared to Latin Americans. Latin American Spanish is a bit easier to understand because they don’t have the “th” sound for z and c. I go to a language school three nights a week, and my teacher is very nice and very helpful. I feel like I have learned a lot, but I still have a long way to go.

I’m in the part of Spain called Galicia and there is another language here called Gallego. Most of the signs on the street are in Gallego and a few of my classes in school are taught in Gallego. It’s more like Portuguese than Spanish, but still very similar. Gallego isn’t like Catalan because no one uses it in their daily life. There is also a separatist movement in Galicia, but it’s not nearly as bad as in Catalonia.

School is incredibly challenging and very boring. Classes start at 8:45 and end at 2:20, so I have much less school here than in Florida. The teachers speak incredibly fast about subjects of which I have little to no vocabulary. I take notes and do homework when I know we have it (it’s not always clear and my classmates don’t always tell me). The teachers are generally very nice to me or don’t acknowledge that I don’t understand what’s going on. My physics/chemistry teacher comes over to my desk every day and explains everything in broken English even though I’ve told him at least four times that I took chemistry last year. My Spanish Language and Literature teacher has me bring books to school to read during her class and write down the words I don’t know. I have Gallego class in school, but I go to the library instead. We have a 15 and 30 minute break during the school day. Lots of kids at school smoke during the break. If you have a little bit of money you can go to the grocery store in the mall or a bakery or candy shop. My friends at school find it absolutely hilarious to swear in Spanish. I’ve learned lots of swears very quickly, but I don’t know what most of them mean. There seem to be significantly more curse words in Spanish than in English.

Food is a big deal. One does not simply have sandwiches for lunch. Every meal is with your family and every meal has way too much food. You must eat everything that is on your plate. Always. If you don’t want more, they ask you if you liked it. Here is a typical conversation at a meal: Spanish Person: Patti, do you want more? Me: No, thank you, I’m full. Spanish Person: Here have a little more *puts more food on my plate* 

Sandwiches are snacks and cappuccinos are after dinner drinks. My city, Vigo, is on the Atlantic and has a big port, so we eat a ton of seafood. The seafood is a bit more complex though, because you don’t just get the filet, you get the entire fish, bones and all. It’s taken me quite a bit of practice to master navigating around all the bones in fish. I still watch how everyone else does it first if we are having some new seafood I haven’t tried yet. After meals, my host dad usually makes a cappuccino and I am encouraged to eat yogurt and fruit. My favorite foods so far are jamon iberico (super fancy ham), mazapan (a sweet Spanish dessert that tastes like cookie dough), and hot chocolate that is so thick you have to use a spoon.

Courtney Ager
2012-13 Outbound to Italy
Hometown: Orlando, FL
School: Winter Park High School
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District 2050, Italy
Valle Sabbia Centenario Rotary Club

Courtney - Italy

September 29 2012

Stepping off that airplane onto Italian soil was the first day of the greatest experience in my life. I can still remember the smell of my second host family, the warm and welcoming embraces I received. The breakfast they bought me, and all of the questions they had: “How was your flight? Stanca? Tutto bene?”. I remember the cool air as I stepped out of the airport, and how vastly different it was from the hot, dense, humid air of Florida. I remember arriving to the Faustini’s house and having lunch; how delicious and extremely filling it was. I honestly miss that first day here. Everything was so new and exciting and different. Everything was disorienting and strange and NEW! I still marvel at the beauty of everything here. How gorgeous the lake is, no matter how strange the weather. Just being at the lake is one of my favorite things here, because it’s so calm, and beautiful.

My next favorite thing here are my friends. I was so lucky that there is an exchange student in the Central Florida area this year from Salo’. His name is Andrea Faustini, and before I left we were able to hang out. He talked to his friends, and told them about me. When I arrived here, they welcomed me, and talked with me and invited me places. I now hang out with a good variety of people and I just love that people here are so welcoming and friendly. Most of the time we go to bars and drink coffees and tea. A few times we have been to someone’s house to play pool and drink more soda’s and tea’s. We walk around the lake, and eat gelato and go window shopping, just like any other normal group of teenagers. They all ask me for help with English, and they help me with my Italian. My friends like tennis, and football, and hanging out, and playing video games, and talking and motorbikes. Italian teenagers are just like American teenagers; they just dress nicer , and speak Italian (;

I attend school at the Liceo Enrico Fermi, and I take the Linguistics course. My class is 5 D. 5 is the highest level of classes in Italian schools. Unfortunately, because I’m in the Linguistico, my classmates take classes such as English, Italian, Latin, French, and German. Fortunately for me, instead of taking Latin, French, and German I get to switch to another english class somewhere else in the school. I like this because it allows me to socially interact and meet many people. My other classes are very difficult. It’s hard to understand Philosophy and Physics and Biology when they are being taught in Italian. So I get to doodle most of the time, which is allowing to me explore my artistic side!

I have gotten to travel a little since I’ve been here. The second day after I arrived, my host parents flew me out to Sardinia and I spent a week there. It was absolutely gorgeous and I thoroughly enjoyed it. After a week in Sardinia, we went to the Trentino area and spent the weekend. I think that Trentino is my favorite area so far. Everything was so crisp and clean and the buildings and architecture was so different. 

December 8, 2012

Writing a blog post is probably one of the hardest things that I have to do on exchange. So much happens in such a short period of time that it seems IMPOSSIBLE to sum up a month or two in a few paragraphs. But I’m definitely going to try! 

My host family understands (and shares) my love for traveling. I have been so blessed to be placed in a family who has traveled and taken me around to different cities in Italy, and shown me the historical and artsy places. 

So far, I’ve been to:
Cinque Terre

And next week, I believe I am going to Venice with another exchange student and his family. Traveling, BY FAR, is my favorite thing to do. I feel that I need to see as much as I can of this historical place before my year is over.

I have seen my FIRST snow since being here, and was it amazing. One weekend my host family, another exchange student, and I went to Folgaria. When we got there, snow was on the ground. I was so excited I could hardly contain myself! My friend is from Wisconsin, so she did’t understand my excitement. But it was fantastic! I got to have my first snowball fight, first snowman, first snow angel. It was amazing! And it even snowed last night! Seeing snow fall for the first time too was exciting. A friend and I went walking around the Lake and it started snowing. He laughed at me for my excitement, but it was amazing and beautiful!

I have been so lucky to find a good group of friends here. They are the sweetest and nicest and coolest people I have met. Everyone has been so welcoming, and understanding when my Italian skills aren’t very good. But, every day I’m improving.

Ciao for now, A dopo <3

March 6, 2013

How I envy all of you Future Outbounds. I wish I could relive those days. Counting down the days until you leave, anxiously awaiting news of your host family, city, school, etc. Daydreaming about “what your life this time next year” will be like. I can honestly say that I miss that period. Because it means I would get to have a longer time until the end of this year. Longer time until I have to make that plane ride home. Sure, I have 4 more months until I have to leave… but that is no time at all to an exchange student.

Italy has had such a cold and long winter. It’s still supposed to snow next week, and I am missing my lovely Florida weather right now. Apparently this “isn’t even that cold” but to a Floridian, it’s freezing. Spending holidays away from your family, spending important days so far away from home can be extremely heartbreaking. But as soon as you overcome those heartbreaking days, it makes you a stronger person.

It’s true, what they say about your exchange becoming easier after the holidays. But I’d say that my depression hit shortly after I got to Italy… I had no friends, my host family was never home, and I was extremely lonely. I was a person who was used to having people around, and doing things. Not someone who sat in their room all day. And depression hit hard at first. But now, I go out all the time, and I have plenty of friends. Depression and sadness still hits me even now, though. I really hate that there are two other exchange students in my school, because everyone loves them. They speak fluently, and are attractive guys from exotic places, and so all the students like them. It’s hard to see people react differently between me and the others, but I have my friends and so all is okay.

Traveling is by far my favorite thing to do here. I’ve been to Olbia, Sardinia (2nd day!)
Monterosso, Cinque Terre
Gardone Riviera

and at the end of the month, I will be going to Florence. I love that I have seen so much of this gorgeous country, and that I still get to keep on traveling because I would love to see as much as I can before I leave. 

Crystle Siegel 
2012-13 Outbound to Thailand
Hometown: Clermont, FL
School: East Ridge High School
Sponsor: District 6980, FL
Host: District 3330, Thailand
The Rotary Club of Phrapadaeng

Crystle - Thailand

‘Congratulations.’ I turn from accepting a tissue from an airport employee to see a man in a gray jacket looking at me. He answers my unspoken question when he says ‘I’m a Rotarian. Congratulations.’ It takes me a moment to get out my ‘Thank you’ though it sounds a bit rough from the whole new wave of tears that have found their way into my eyes and throat. Being in the emotional state that I was, the simplest act of kindness was making me cry more. But I don’t think anyone really blamed me. I know I didn’t.

I’m going to remember that moment forever. I’d already said goodbye to my family, had forced myself to step away from their arms but I could still see them and people were already helping me and being kind. And since that moment it’s been that way. I’ve had help all along the way, through the scary or tough patches and the happy and fun moments have just been boosted from other people’s kindness. One of my friends said they would like to go on exchange but they think it would be lonely. For anyone who thinks that, I want to set it straight right now. It won’t be lonely. This experience has not been lonely and from my friend’s stories, they aren’t unbearably lonely either. So far, I’ve found that it really doesn’t matter if you can’t understand a word people are saying. They will try to communicate with you because they WANT to be friends with you.

So I’ve been here about a month and a half. And how has it been? Incredible. Fun. Crazy. Foreign. Fast. Too fast. What I write will probably not do these last few weeks justice. I haven’t had a free weekend since I was in the States, I wake up early to go places I don’t know or don’t remember the name of, and I understood when my little brother called me a chicken or my friends ask if I’ve had breakfast or what time I’m going home.

Let me go back.

I arrived in Bangkok with two other exchange students, a bit up and scabbed lip (compliments of the 14 hour plane ride out of the US to Tokyo), and a suitcase that I had attempted to stuff everything I wanted to bring into. Which, by the way, I pretty much failed at. My hoodie would’ve pushed the weight over, my mom took my sais out and I only brought 1 book. Wonderful, right? After customs, we found the groups who were picking us up and said our goodbyes. My welcoming committee consisted of my host dad, sister, YEO and his son. We ate dinner, where I learned to detail a shrimp using a fork and a spoon then left and I got my first look at Bangkok. As late as it was, I couldn’t see much and my first thought was ‘It looks sorta like L.A.’ And it did. With less skyscrapers. In the parking garage, I had my first reminder that I wasn’t in LA. The driver sits on the right hand side in the car and they drive on the left side of the road. I s till forget about that and will expect someone to go to the left side of the car to get in the driver’s seat.

That weekend, I got my school uniform and celebrated Mother’s Day, which is celebrated on the Queen’s birthday. Mother’s Day was interesting. I was given a commemorative 80 Baht note for the Queen’s 80th birthday and witnessed a Thai auction where they auctioned off a couple dozen eggs and asked for a 300 Baht item to be paid for in only 10 Baht coins or another item paid for in 10 Baht notes which are being faded out and I are kind of hard to find. The best I can do is compare them to 50 cent or $1 coins or the $2 bill. That week, I had a meeting about school where I met two other exchange students, both from Japan. One of whom is fluent in English and speaks with a British accent and the other has been here for 4 months. The next day was my first day of school. The other new exchange student (Saeko) and I both had to introduce ourselves on stage in front of the 3000 (it seems like way more than that!) students in the school in Thai. We were t hen welcomed to the school with a sort of welcoming/goodbye ceremony and led to class. The classes here are so loud. The first class we went to, the teacher was speaking into a microphone but no one was paying attention, they were all talking and you basically had to yell to be heard. There are a couple classes like that and the kids won’t do anything, they’ll sleep or the girls will braid each other’s hair or maybe work on homework from other classes. There are some strict teachers. You can tell if a teacher is strict by the way the class quiets down when they enter the classroom. Sometimes the teachers don’t even show up for class so we just have free time for that period. Once, my class had to wait for the English teacher to show up because he was sleeping.

Whenever anyone asks me what I think about school here, I always answer ‘Sa nook mask!’ or ‘It’s so much fun!’ The students will stay here for a while after school and I don’t blame them, you’re pretty much hanging out with your friends, unlike the other schools I’ve been to where the teachers will basically kick you off campus if you aren’t staying for a club or sport activity. We’re also allowed to leave the school to go buy something either along the street the school is on or go elsewhere. So far, I’ve left school with my friends to have lunch at Big C which is a sort of supermarket with extra stores and also to go see a temple and a bit of the Grand Palace.

Enough about school.

My host family is pretty great. I have 2 older sisters, 1 older brother, 1 younger brother and 1 younger sister. I also have my mom and dad and grandmother. And we all live in the same house. So I’m a part of a pretty big family right now. Our house is 3 stories and my room is on the top with access to a balcony. It’s so nice except for the building that blocks the sunrise in the mornings. My host mom is really sweet, she mostly teaches me food names and will ask questions about my day in Thai. My dad is nice also but I don’t see him a whole lot during the day since he teaches a class at the university and also works at the family business. My older sisters definitely help me learn Thai. Poon (younger older sister) has taken me a ton of places since I’ve been here and allows me to try a lot of different foods that I would like to try at the markets or store. Su (older elder sister) has not only helped me with my Thai but she’s also taugh t me Thai games and let me help her cook Thai dishes for dinner. She is also the one most interested in trying the American dishes that I can cook. She also likes to take me with her when she goes out. My older brother is the one that has me try everything: pig liver, kidney, heart, fried pig fat, jellyfish, crispy baby clams and squid (not calamari style). I’m sure sometime in the future I’ll also be trying crocodile, duck feet, and other strange things because of him. My little siblings are both really cute and they have helped me learn Thai as well. My brother is super energetic but he pretty much wastes his energy by watching TV. If he’s not watching TV then he’s playing a game on someone’s phone. And if he’s not doing either of those and he’s not sleeping he will talk your ear off. He talks so much and I usually don’t understand a word so it makes me wonder what all he can talk about forever. He’s silly and I love having him as a sibling. I don’t think my little sister is quite old enough to understand that when she asks me to play with her or do something else I don’t totally understand because I don’t speak the same language as her. Either way, she’s taught me things here and there and is adorable!

Thailand in general is so amazing. It’s so different from anything I’ve ever experienced. In addition to driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, I haven’t seen any posted speed limits except on those signs that warn of a curve coming up in the road. You can literally buy food anywhere. Except in school. It seems that the school will not sell food unless it’s lunch period. And yes, Thai people are ALWAYS eating. I’m pretty sure my metabolism has sped up since I’ve been here because I’m given food to eat so often. The food here is delicious. A lot of it is spicy but my spice tolerance has gone up since I arrived. Most of it is hand/homemade, except the snacks and maybe the American restaurants that they have here. The fruit is so good, my family must think I’m a health nut because of how much fruit I eat. But Thai fruits, or at least the fruits that are available out here are so much better than the ones we have in America. In America we have oranges, apples, cherries, grapes, watermelon, cantaloupe, bananas and strawberries. Here, there’s pretty much all that plus two types of mango, rambutan (what I call hairy fruit), pamelo, dragon fruit, star fruit, guava, durian, Thai apples, Chinese oranges (which are green) and other ones that I haven’t tried or don’t know the name of. The markets here are amazing. You can find anything you could ever want or think of plus a little at JJ market. I was told it covers 22 acres. You could easily get lost and go broke (for exchange students) in one day there. Honestly, it’s probably better than all the American malls I’ve ever been to combined. The regular malls here are pretty crazy too. I went to a five story store that was only technology. You could find every bit of technology there: phones, computers, music players, tablets, and pretty much everything else. Near that, I also went through a six fl oor clothing store that apparently doesn’t have only one building. I don’t think a one story mall even exists in Bangkok. Everything here is super cheap too! Because of the conversion rate (1 USD= 30 THB) when I first got here I was pretty messed up on what’s expensive or not. I would get upset that a bottle of water was 7 baht even though that’s less than 1 dollar. I haven’t really experienced any homesickness except for maybe books and video games because that’s what I would do when I was bored in America. Here, when I’m bored I watch TV or a movie or go on the computer. I’m trying to get out of that habit and do other more productive things like searching colleges to go to or reading A Series of Unfortunate Events in Thai.

Well I’m going to stop this entry here because its about three pages in Word and I could easily write another three or more describing what else I’ve done and where I’ve gone, but I’ll leave that for next time. Hopefully this year doesn’t go by as fast as my first month did! 

April 2013

Hi everyone! This is incredibly late but here it is, RYE journal #3.

I’ve been here 8 months so far and have 2 and a half left. Time is going by way too fast, I don’t want to leave!

To tell about the past eight months, I think I’m just going to borrow Bethany’s layout here. In my next journal, I will probably go over the things that I have gotten to do with Rotary, my hosts, and my school.

Food: Thailand is one of those countries that eats rice with everything. And I do mean everything. Usually if I’m not eating rice with a meal it’s because I’m either eating breakfast (more on that in a bit) or I’m eating a soup. It’s also very hard to find cold Thai food. Usually if I want to eat something cold I go for Japanese food because they sell a lot of Japanese food here as well and most Thai food is hot with exceptions for most drinks and desserts A lot of Thai food is fried or sauteed so it has a lot of oil in it. A really common dish to eat is an omelette but never for breakfast. Its also flat instead of folded over. For breakfast, Thai people normally eat food that you could also have for lunch, grilled chicken and a couple other dishes with rice. However, I usually have a sandwich or cereal because when I go to school, it’s usually only me and one or two other people up so my host mom will leave breakfast up to me. The fruit here is so good! They have a lot of different fruits we don’t have in the States like dragon fruit starfruit, rambutan (which I call ‘hairy fruit’), rose apples, and several more fruits that I don’t know the name of. They also eat both green and orange mangoes, have at least 4 different types of bananas and use green papaya in dishes. They use coconut in most, if not all Thai style desserts so a lot of them are really sweet. I have had a cooking class a couple times and have learned to cook several Thai dishes including steamed egg, papaya salad, Thai style omelette, and a dish with shrimp and Chinese woonsen noodles. You can also buy food pretty much everywhere and it’s true that Thai people eat all the time. My current host mom usually makes me or attempts to make me eat more when I’m not hungry or am already full or she will just put food on my plate at dinner without me asking. Like right now, there is a plate of chopped up rose apples sitt ing on the coffee table in front of me that she put there. And she put it there less than a half hour after I finished breakfast.

TV: They have shows from the States out here and they’re in English. Stuff from Fox and Cartoon Network. But forget those. Thai TV. Everyone here watches soap operas (I don’t!) some of my friends saying they keep up with over 100 different ones. Thai soap operas are sorta cheesy and over dramatic but still kind of entertaining. The commercials use a lot of false lures to advertise their products – I saw an advertisement for a yogurt that would make you less of a loser, get the girl of your dreams, help you grow taller, and a couple other things. Most of those have me trying not to chuckle out loud while riding the sky train. They also put little blurs over things like wine, guns, cigarettes. Which I thought was funny the first time I saw it because it’s just this little circle over it and you can pretty clearly see what’s underneath it. They also play the national anthem every morning at 8 am which I think is great.

People: Thai people are nice. It’s a stereotype but it’s true. Thai people are hospitable and friendly. However, they like to gossip a lot. And if you don’t speak Thai or they don’t think you do, they will talk about you in front of you. My family has told people that I have just met about me and say that I don’t speak Thai well and I’m sitting there like ‘Hey! I can understand you! D: ‘. They will be surprised if you are a foreigner and speak Thai and will say ‘Oh, great! That’s great!’ They’re always sort of shocked when I tell them that I’ve been studying Thai for not much longer than a year and that before I came to Thailand I was teaching myself Thai.

What People Think of Me: I don’t really know what people here think of me. But I do think I have some sort of idea. When walking around in my school uniform, strangers will wonder what the heck this foreigner is doing wearing a Thai school uniform. Some can’t help but stare and others continue like they see this odd sort of thing everyday. People in school still stare as well. Though either it’s less intense or I’ve just grown accustomed to it, I’m not sure. Some still shout out random ‘Hi’s’ and occasionally a boy will shout out ‘I love you!’ both of which always put a smile on my face because Thai people are just so wonderful. My classmates probably think Saeko (other exchange student) and I are crazy. But the girls are our friends and when it comes to the guys, it’s no longer a game of avoid the foreigners or get ‘OHHH’ed’ by the rest of the boys for sitting at the same table as us or us asking them a question. As for my family, they are happy when I show improvement on my Thai. My little brother thinks I’m good at video games and my little sister accepted me into the family a while ago. I’m not entirely sure what my current host family thinks of me but I know my sister, Lin, thinks I’m brave because of all the things I’ve done, i.e. jumping off a boat hiking all over dangerous places and stuff like that. She was surprised when I said I have two and a half months left and said I should stay with her longer which I completely agree with!

Embarrassing Stories: Well.. if anything, I’ve had a few language screw ups (the words for banana and penis are verry similar) and both of my families have caught me doing the weirdest things. But most of my embarrassing stories have happened while hanging out with exchange students like the time I got on a bus and then jumped off when it started moving because the person I was with hadn’t gotten on and I thought they were coming with me.

School: Currently, it is summer break. I haven’t been to school since the third week of February and won’t go back until the middle of May. When I do go to school, however, I take classes in Thai art, Thai language, music, Thai dance (if I can), computers, occasionally a Thai cooking class, P.E., and a couple other random classes. I don’t really go to classes like math and science because I don’t exactly understand what the teacher is saying. Usually, I will go to the library with Saeko where most of the time I either work on scholarship applications or practice my Thai.

Transportation: I really like the public transportation system here because it’s so easy to get around and it’s cheap. They have the MRT (underground train), the BRT (another underground train), the BTS (sky train), buses, taxis, motorcycle taxis, tuk-tuks (a three wheeler), bok-boks (which are sort of like small pick up trucks fitted with seating on the back) and song taos which are like large trucks with a back that has seats but is tall enough for you to stand in. I say it’s cheap because just turning on the meter in the taxi is 35 baht or about $1. The buses I normally take are 8 baht which is less than 5 cents and if you want to save on money, there free buses. The bus numbers also help me figure out where in Bangkok I am when I go someplace new with my family.

Religion: Thailand is a Buddhist country. There are temples everywhere and the second religion is Muslim. I still haven’t been able to find a church out here despite my not only searching online but asking several locals. The religion is incorporated in the schools, with the students praying each morning and having a religion class. Some kids who are not Buddhist (like me and my friend Ploy) stand politely and wait while the rest of the kids pray. There are a lot of monks here. I was surprised when I first came here and saw all the monks. They wear a bright orange robe and most of the time are bald. Most wear some type of sandals but there are a few who don’t wear shoes at all. Some of them don’t act like you think monks should. I’ve seen monks taking motorcycle taxis, sitting on the skytrain, buying phones or walking around giant malls dedicated to electronics. The last two always make me questions what monks can and can’t do because I always thought they aren’t supposed to use electronics while being monks. That’s another thing, you don’t have to be a monk for life. Most boys go into monk hood for at least a month to bring good luck to their families. There are also lady monks which are called nuns. They don’t have to shave their heads unlike the boys do when they first enter monk hood. Nuns aren’t as common as monks but you can tell them apart because they wear a white robe and most of them have their hair short or shaved.

Weather: It is really freaking hot right now. Enough said. Haha but seriously, it gets above 90 degrees F normally right now and it’s only the beginning of the hottest month of the year. Winter lasted maybe two weeks in which the lowest it got was maybe 73 degrees then it shot right back up to mid and high 80s and it’s just been steadily getting hotter since then. It hasn’t rained much and I love the rain when it does come. Once rainy season starts though, it will rain just about every day.

Family Life: I switched hosts at the beginning of February and I can’t believe I’ve been with this family two months already. I really like it here. I felt at home the second day I was here despite having cried when I left my first hosts. I really like my siblings, even though they’re a little less than twice my age. A lot of the time when I have no plans I go with my sister to work because she drives all over Bangkok and meets people and goes to meetings so when I go with her I see new places and meet a lot of new people, which also allows me to practice my Thai when they want to talk to me. She also will talk to me a bit when she comes home even though it’s kind of late and will have me tell her about the things I’ve done and likes to try the things I cook. My brother works in graphic design which is really cool because it’s one of the things I’m interested in. He hasn’t showed me anything but we have talked about one of his projects coming up and I think if I ask him in his free time, he’d be happy to show me a bit about Adobe Flash and Illustrator. We also both like video games which is really nice, recently we’ve been playing a zombie game on his xbox together when there’s nothing to do. My host dad reminds me a lot of my real dad and sometimes I forget that they’re not quite the same person. My host mom is nice but I feel like she’s trying to fatten me up. My brother tells me that she wants to talk to me more but can’t because she either doesn’t speak English well (to which I think, well I speak Thai not too shabbily) or doesn’t really know what to say. I really love this family and don’t want to leave them. I don’t know if you will understand what I mean when I say this but I will get the ‘home’ feeling that I get in the States when I’m heading home and looking forward to being back or just am really super comfortable in the house. Ev en the dogs like me which is great because two of them are especially wonderful. Haha this is silly I know but having 4/5 dogs willing to come up to me wagging their tail makes me pretty happy.

This is the end of this journal. I will try not to wait so long for the next one. Thank you for taking the time to read this and I really hope you liked it 🙂


David Reese  
2012-13 Outbound to Sweden
Hometown: Key West, FL
School: Lake Mary High School
Sponsor: District 6980, FL
Host: District 2370, Sweden
The Rotary Club of Nyköping Öster

David - Sweden

August 29, 2012

You are just sitting there.

Why are you just sitting there?

You could be out doing something. You could be out traveling the world. You could be out submitting your Rotary Youth Exchange Application.

You could be chosen to go to Sweden. You could be on a plane with a nice Chinese Guy who let you play with his old Game Boy during the longest flight of your life.

You could be meeting some of the nicest people you will ever meet. You could be crying your eyes out.

You could be standing next to a lighthouse on the rocky shore of the Baltic Sea. You could be picking wild Strawberries and running away from Sheep in the process. You could be allergic to cats.

You could be watching your Host Mom’s cat die right in front of your eyes, but you could also be going out for an Ice Cream after that visit to the Vet’s office. You could Fika three to four times a day.

You could be learning a new language with the help of Family Guy. You could be paying $10 for a Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream. You could be getting stuck in the rain on the way to a Music Festival. You could be dancing in the rain. You could be laughing at the fact that most Swedes say Irun instead of Iron. You could fall in love with long, licorice type candies in various flavors.

You could be eating fish that is a year old and smells like a dirty diaper. You could also be gagging. You could be riding on a train and not know how to open the door to get out. You could be getting lost in Stockholm Central. You could be visiting an Ostrich Farm. You could be rowing back to shore because your motor went out in Nyköping Harbor.

You could be eating pancakes and pea soup every Thursday evening. You could be missing your bus stop on the way to Language Camp. You could be gaining weight from meatballs, and meatballs alone.

You could be missing your old life, your family beyond your wildest belief. You could be feeling awkward in social situations. You could be experiencing the most challenging, most rewarding time of your life. You could be missing out. You could be…

My God…I’ve been sitting here far too long.

To the future,
David Allin


December 7, 2012

I am not going to write a novel of an entry, nor am I going to tell you about all the great things that have happened to me since I have come to Sweden. I am here to tell you the truth.

Exchange is so much more than what Outbounds write in their journals.

Exchange is so much more than pictures of statues or historical sites.

Exchange is so much more than that one Rotary trip that everyone goes on.

Exchange is so much more than simply living in another country.

Exchange is so much more than learning a language.

Exchange is so much more than what anyone can possibly prepare you for.

Exchange is so much more than this.

You must find out what Exchange is on your own… but just know, it is nothing what you expect… embrace it.

To the future,
David Allin

April 11 2013

3:00 AM

Somewhere over the Arctic Circle, Sweden

I almost just got kicked off of a train.
I almost saw the Northern Lights.
I almost thought it was noon, but the sun was high at three in the morning.
I almost fell to my knees when I saw my Mom for the first time in eight months.
I almost lost my breath at the sight of fjords resting in the ocean and rising into the clouds.
I almost laughed to death with my friends in a late night conversation, inside of a room no bigger than a common closet.
I almost used up all my tears when I saw my Mom sitting at a table of the kindest, most wonderful people I will ever know.
I almost feel like I am home, falling asleep in the sun on Easter Sunday with a family so kind, I cannot describe it beyond this.
I almost couldn’t believe it when I heard Rotary of Iceland wanted to host me for one week.
I almost can’t love my friends more than I do now.
I almost fainted when I was told I would be going to Croatia to go diving in the Adriatic Sea.
I almost cannot tell any one of you, any of you reading this, how a year can be ‘I almost did this’ and ‘I almost did that’.

‘I almost got the language.’
‘I almost made friends.’
‘I almost travelled.’
‘I almost asked.’
‘I almost received.’

Don’t let it happen.

The only other thing I can say is this: I am almost done with my exchange year.

Emily Loftis 
2012-13 Outbound to Austria
Hometown: St. Johns, FL
School: St. Joseph Academy
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District 1920, Thailand
The Rotary Club of Bregenz

Emily - Austria

October 30, 2013

Guten Tag! Hello everyone! Well what can I say? 3 months ago I said goodbye to my friends, my family, my school, my everyday life, my language, and my home country. I said goodbye to everything that I knew and everything that was comfortable in search of something new, something to open my mind to the world. Let me just say so far it’s the best decision I’ve ever made! I’ve been living in Austria for almost 3 months now and its nothing like I expected. Its so much more! Since the time I have arrived in this beautiful country, I have done many things. From playing soccer and beach volleyball with my cousins, trying new foods, shopping, practicing the language, meeting new people, making new friends, to visiting new places like Germany, Lichtenstein, Switzerland, Vienna, Altmünster and many more! 

I’m staying in a small town called Wolfurt, which is in the western-most province of Austria, Vorarlberg. Wolfurt is a beautiful town with about 8,800 people and it is located near the city of Bregenz, which is the capital of Vorarlberg. I am located near the Lake of Constance, which touches Austria, Switzerland, and Germany. I live with my 1st host family, The Geigers! I have three sisters, Eva (12), Monika (17), and Martina (15) who is currently spending her exchange year in Missouri, USA. I live in an almost identical situation to my life in Florida! Next door I live my host-cousins and also my Aunt, Uncle, and grandparents. One big Family! It seems like everyone in Wolfurt is related somehow. I’m so thankful to be blessed with a great family to spend my time with this year. We have two rabbits and also two cats. Our house is located on a hill called Oberfeldgasse and our house is a two-minute walk away from the town church. Also just a short walk from my house is the best ice cream shop called Kolibri! Speaking of the food in Austria, it’s amazing to say the least! Ive had plenty of Wiener Schnitzel and Austrian cheese and chocolate. Also I go to school in Bregenz, which is a ten minute bus ride or a 15 minute bike ride away. I can practically ride my bike anywhere I need to go, which I love. Its an excuse to go out and get active and to see the beautiful landscape that Austria has to offer. 

Ok well enough of the routine and basic info in my journal. I figured I should give you a little intro into my life as an Austrian. 

When I was preparing to go abroad as an RYE student, I learned about different things like culture shock and cultural differences. At first I thought “well Austria won’t be THAT different, I mean its just a European country. Yes maybe they speak a different language and will talk with an accent but that’s it.’ Well now living in the Austrian lifestyle, its amazing how different the my life in Florida and my life in Austria actually are. They are different in big and small ways: Both of which can be difficult and easy to adapt to. 

Some basic differences include: 

  • Drinks are almost always served warm. Ice is never served in drinks, even in restaurants.
  • Most people drink sparkling or ‘Bubbly’ water, unless of course you get it from the tap
  • The ‘Y’ and the ‘Z’ on computer keyboards are switched so of course I spell everything wrong ☺
  • Stop signs are not common. In most towns there aren’t enough people to need stop signs. Cars yield to each other and also most roads are rounded or curved and not straight.
  • Almost every car is Stick Shift, not automatic
  • Lunch is the big meal of the day where families cook and eat together
  • Breakfast and Dinner usually consist of different types of fresh bread from the bakery with jams, sliced meats, and cheeses
  • Almost every town is built around a church. 
  • Shoes are usually not worn in the house unless they are slippers or ‘house shoes’. Everybody’s shoes are on a rack or in a closet near the main door of the house. 
  • We greet with handshakes in almost all cases unless its very close friends. Yes I could really go for a hug right about now!
  • ‘mahlzeit’ or ‘Guten Appetit’ are the usually sayings to begin eating
  • Also for “cheers” or toasting with alcohol, everyone clinks glasses and usually says “Prost!”
  • Sometimes dogs are allowed in restaurants and cafes 
  • When a teacher walks into the classroom, all students stand to welcome them in
  • (This one is just a random point) But everyone is interested in my views on the Presidential election in the US. OBAMA? Or ROMENY?
  • That list just scratches the surface! But honestly that ok because with each new difference, I learn something about the Austrian culture and lifestyle! 

Another point that I love so much about living here, is that so much time is spent outside, well at least not when its raining. Whether its swimming in the lake, soccer, badminton, beach volleyball, biking, hiking, skiing, or sledding, its all done! Before I came to Austria, I would have sighed at the thought of going hiking or maybe for a bike ride but now its these things that I look forward to, especially when you have great sights like these to see! 

I have already had many opportunities to do fun things like go to a roller coaster park in Germany, learn to sled, visit a castle in Feldkirch, spend a weekend in Vienna, go to a rock concert, experience snow for the first time, go to an opera and so much more that I don’t even now where to begin. There are so many amazing opportunities that exchange has already brought me in 3 months that I can’t wait for the rest of the year! 

While I have been given so much, I have also learned to give of myself. Its not all about me or what I want or what I’m comfortable with. Its my job to adapt to the new culture, country, and family. Its not their job to adapt to me! (Words from Mrs. Paula Roderick right there!) And these words couldn’t be more true! They have helped me so much so far in my exchange. 

I still can’t believe the ways that only 3 months in a new country, culture, and lifestyle has changed me. From my feelings, to confidence, to independence, to views and my outlook on life its all changed, for the better I believe! Personally, Im a very impatient person. Yes, I bet you are wondering how well impatient goes with a year full of new things: New things that take time to get used too. Well honestly, at first it was quite difficult. I wanted to learn the language quickly and expected it to happen overnight. I expected myself to make friends in a new school instantaneously. I expected myself to jump into a new culture and just click with it on the spot. I was constantly frustrated that things weren’t going the way I had planned. Now Im laughing at myself for believing that these things would happen or for even having expectations at all. Things like these don’t happen over night and they take time, which I have discovered makes them all the better. Now I notice how working hard in the language is rewarding slowly but nevertheless rewarding. Also I don’t know how I expected to make friends right away when I didn’t speak the language they did. Well now with more means of communication, these friendships are growing and making everyday better. I remember ordering my first ice cream in German! I was so proud and happy. In Florida, I wouldn’t have thought twice about ordering something to eat but now it is such a big accomplishment. Or finally having a conversation with my only german speaking, Oma (grandma)! That was a great feeling! These little moments are what make exchange so awesome. Now these are the small moments that I look forward to everyday! Of course with learning a new language comes many mistakes; EMBARRASSING mistakes, but then again these are the moments that I now laugh at. I’m still making mistakes in the language everyday too but when I finally get it right, its going to feel that much better! 

A year ago, I was just another teenager who was close-minded to the rest of world. I didn’t care about other countries, in fact, I probably laughed at other cultures and ways of life. Now I ask, How can you possibly judge someone else’s lifestyle or culture when you have no clue what it’s about, when you aren’t living in it, when you aren’t experiencing it first hand? Well now I realize that you can’t. You need to go out and immerse yourself in a new culture. Soon enough the boundaries that I used to have in my mind, keeping me from other countries and cultures, have come crumbling down. I now realize that just because people don’t do things the same way I do, or have the same beliefs that I do, that they are not wrong. We are all just simply different. We all have ways of life, beliefs, and much more that we may not always see eye to eye on, but bottom line is that we are all human beings, people created for the world, people create d to bring the world together in peace. For myself, I love learning about and experiencing new cultures now. 

Well I could write for hours but I’m going to go pack for my trip to Prague, Dresden, and Berlin in the morning! (once again three places I never would have thought I would have gotten the chance to see a year ago!)

Ok so now I’ve tried to give you an overall summary of my exchange so far from what I’ve done to what I’ve learned! Well first of all I’d like to say that those of you reading this right now who are eligible for the RYE program… should be applying and getting ready for those interviews! I promise it’s a decision you won’t regret. But the truth is exchange is REAL: You will have the good times, bad times, fun times, hard times, challenging times, and most of all the rewarding times. This doesn’t even begin to cover the never-ending list of ways to describe exchange, SO I GUESS YOU’LL HAVE TO EXPERIENCE IT FOR YOURSELF.

February 16, 2013

Wow! It’s been a long time since I’ve sat down to write about what’s been going on! I’m not even sure where to begin to describe what’s happened in the last 4 months. Well last time I wrote, I was getting ready to head out on a trip with all of the other Austrian Inbounds. It was amazing! We traveled to the cities of Prague in the Czech Republic, and Dresden and Berlin in Germany. All three of these cities were absolutely stunning and beautiful! I can’t even begin to describe the amount of fun we had all together as an Inbound group of probably 100.

There is one special tradition that I of course brought to Austria: THANKSGIVING! I cooked an entire American Thanksgiving dinner with my host mom for the whole family! We cooked turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, green beans, pumpkin pie, and so much more! It was such a great night, getting to bring something special to me and my family at home to my family here in Austria!

Then December came around and that meant Christmas Season! Christmas in Austria is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced. It was definitely a different Christmas than I had ever experienced but it was interesting to celebrate it in a different culture with different traditions and events that I was used to. All of the Inbounds took a trip to Salzburg about 2 weeks before Christmas. It was so much fun. We got visit a castle and had a breathtaking view of all of Salzburg, covered in a blanket of snow, from the top. The Rotary weekends are always so much fun and a blessing because we all come together as a huge family and get to see and experience so many new things! Throughout the whole month of December, there are Christmas Markets everywhere, in almost every town and village. You can go and enjoy food, sweets, small shops and much more. One of the most typical Christmas Market drinks in Austria is Gluhwein. This is warm wine cooked with many spices and served in a traditional Christmas mug. Another traditional food is Maroni! These are roasted chestnuts that you crack open and eat. Normally you go with your family and stand around, order gluhwein, enjoy the lights and much more. On the 6th of December is the day of St. Nicholas. It’s tradition that Nicholas comes to the home of the children dressed like a bishop with his staff and tall hat bringing, small goods like chocolate, nuts, and fruit to those who have been good. Along with Nicholas comes Krampus, a beastlike creature who is supposed to punish those who have been bad. We also put up our Christmas tree the day before Christmas. It was real too! At home we have a plastic one, so this was new for me. Also in Austria, there is no Santa Claus! Instead on Christmas Eve, the ‘Christchild’ comes into the house and puts the presents under the tree when the children are out of the room. The bigger celebration is also done on Christmas Eve as appo sed to Christmas day with family at home in Florida. We enjoyed a nice family dinner together, than sang Christmas songs and prayers and then opened the gifts. Later in the evening, the whole family went to Mass. Christmas Day was very relaxed. We had a large meal with the family and just hung out. Even though the Christmas traditions were different, I couldn’t have asked for it any other way! I also love family events here because it’s quite similar to my life in Florida. Here all of the family is basically neighbors! So when we are all together it includes, immediate family, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles…pretty much everyone!

I decided to spend New Year’s with my host family. We enjoyed dinner and just hanging out until it got dark and then it was time for the fireworks! We live on a hill known as Oberfeldgasse, which was the absolute best location ever! Not only could we shoot off our fireworks but also we are higher up than most people and so for miles all you could see was hundreds of fireworks being shot up and lighting up the night sky! I could see them all the way into the mountains of Switzerland. It was absolutely one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen in my life!

In the first week of January, our entire family and some friends took a day trip to Innsbruck for the International Ski Jumping tournament! That day was so much fun because there was so much Country pride and spirit. We all had our Austrian Flags and hats and were waving them around and yelling and cheering and what not! Every time an Austrian skier jumped, the crowd was crazy! And of course an Austrian skier won the tournament!

Yesterday I actually just returned from my family’s ski trip in the Montafon. We stayed in Gargellen, a ski village in the mountains. We spent the week there because it was our school’s semester break! It was such an amazing time! I learned so much especially about skiing because coming from Florida, I had never done it before! I’m much better than I was on my first day. I’m still the slowest and always come in last but I enjoying skiing so much! I actually accomplished my first black slope too, which is the most difficult! The red slopes, which are intermediate, aren’t even a problem anymore! My host family taught me and everyday it was better! It was such a fun vacation because when we weren’t skiing, we just hung out, played games, sometimes went out at night and just had a good time! This time last year I would have never even pictured my self -going down a black slope in the mountains of Austria, nevertheless even learning how to ski a t all!
Wow there is just so much to talk about! These are only the big events that have happened! It so hard to talk about all the small fun things like going out with friends on the weekends and basically just enjoying life here!

I can’t even begin to describe the amount of ways that I’ve changed as a person since being here. I’ve learned to be independent, open minded and so much more. All of the things that seemed so foreign to me 6 months ago are like second nature! I remember going to school the first day and it was like a maze. I was so confused and had no idea what to think. Now everything is so familiar! The roads, villages, towns, faces, traditions are all a huge part of my life now. Instead of them being things I once resisted, I now accept them all and couldn’t be happier!

I just recently, in the last week, reached my 6 month mark of my exchange! I can’t even wrap my mind around the fact that my exchange year is more than half way over. While that though makes me sad, I’ve decided to embrace everything that comes my way from now until July, because that’s all the time I have left, which doesn’t seem like enough in this new country I can call home! In one week I will be switching to my second host family. I couldn’t be more thankful for everything that my first host family has done for me and they will always be considered family in my heart! Also in one month my Mom will be visiting Austria! I can’t wait for her to share this wonderful experience with me, even if it is only for 2 weeks out of a whole year! These next couple months will be crazy! Full of excitement and many other emotions, but I can’t wait to just live out every moment that this wonderful opportunity has brought and will bring ☺

Emily Westlake 
2012-13 Outbound to Italy
Hometown: Gainesville, FL
School: P.K. Yonge High School
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District 2060, Italy
The Rotary Club of Opitergino Mottense

Emily - Italy

I have been living in Oderzo, Italy for one month now and this is truly a dream come true! When I landed in Italy I was immediately greeted with hugs and kisses by my first and second host families and my Rotary counselor. After all the hello’s, we left the airport and drove to my house in Oderzo. Once I got a tour of the house and put everything in my room we all sat down to eat lasagna that my host mom had prepared earlier. After lunch, I was so happy to finally get some sleep after an exhausting flight. When I woke up, my host sister and I went to meet some of her friends at a gelateria (ice cream shop) near my house. Although I had no idea what anyone was saying, it was really nice to go out with people and see my new town.

My first week in Italy was the last week of summer vacation before school started so there was a lot of fun things going on. My host sister and her friends organized a picnic so they could all meet me and hear about life in Florida and the United States. When my host sister told me we were going to a picnic, I thought it would be a short little lunch at the park in the afternoon. It turned out to be an all day thing and we stayed at this park for 7 hours. Although I was really tired and I was getting eaten alive by mosquitoes, it was really nice to meet people and start making friends. The day before school started we drove to a different town to get school supplies from a shopping center. I was getting really excited to start school and see how it compares to school in the States.

I was aware I had to take the bus to school and I thought I knew what to expect because I had seen other people take the bus around town and it didn’t look too complicated, but I was SO wrong. The bus I take to school is the biggest bus in the city of Oderzo and its like the size of two regular busses put together with a stretchy thing in the middle so it can turn easier. The bus has around 100 seats inside and 4 doors to enter. About 150 students cram on the bus and sit/stand on top of each other so more kids can pile in. I have never felt so oxygen deprived and claustrophobic in my entire life. When I finally got to school the English teacher took me to my class and I met all of my classmates. Everyone welcomed me right away and my desk was put in the center of the classroom. School in Italy is very different than my school in Florida. We start at 8am and ends at 1pm. Students stay in the same classroom all day and the teachers move to different rooms. Some classes are only 1 hour a week while others are 7 hours a week. My classmates are so helpful and always make sure I can understand what is going on. After school I take the bus back to Oderzo and go home for lunch with my host siblings and host mom.

The food here is so delicious. I have always been a big fan of Italian food so I was really excited to finally taste authentic Italian dishes. I am seriously in love with everything I have eaten here. Pasta is served at least once a day and there is bread with every meal. In Florida, I never ate tomatoes because I didn’t like them very much. Now, I eat tomatoes ALL the time and they are one of my favorites here. Gelato is another one of my favorites! There is a gelateria on almost every corner and they are all so cheap! Gelato is typically eaten as a snack around 5:30pm. The mealtimes are also different here. Breakfast is still eaten in the mornings before school but we eat lunch at 1:45-2pm which is a lot later than when I ate in Florida. There is a snack around 5:30 (usually gelato or pizza) and then dinner is around 8 or 9pm.

I can’t believe it’s already been a month since I left home! I am so excited to see what else Italy has in store for me. I am in such a beautiful place and I am so thankful to all of Rotary for making this possible.

It has been entirely too long since I’ve last written a journal and I honestly cannot believe that seven months have flown by this quickly. I have no idea how to put these last 6 months into words but this is the best I can do.

The places I’ve been: 

Way way back in October I had my first meeting with the 7 other exchange students in my district. We went to the Barcelona sail boat race in Trieste. It was so nice to finally meet other exchange students and see how everyone else was adjusting to their new lives. We instantly became best friends and now every time we see each other we always have a blast. It’s really nice to have people who understand exchange problems and they always have the best advice. I have been to Trieste multiple times to visit the other exchange students and for Rotary meetings. Shortly after Barcelona I had the amazing opportunity to go to Rome for 5 days with my host sister and one of her friends. It was really awesome to experience Rome with the locals and not feel like a tourist. Of course we saw all the famous and touristy things in Rome but I also got to see more of the local things which were really nice too. Sometime in November my host family took me to Venice. I had heard so much about this beautiful place and I had been dying to go ever since I arrived here. When my family told my we were going I was jumping with joy. It was everything I had dreamed of and more. I was lucky enough to go back to Venice for Carnival with about 23 other exchange students from other districts. Carnival in Venice is such a traditional and unique thing to experience and it was really special to be there with all the exchange students. Every year right after Christmas my host family goes to the mountains for a week of skiing. This year I got to go along with them and try skiing for the very first time! Being from Florida I’ve never had the chance to see such beautiful mountains completely covered in snow and then to top it off I got to ski in these mountains! It was one of the best weeks of my exchange so far and it is definitely something I will remember for the rest of my life. After the week in the mountains I switched to my second host family. They took me to Sicily f or 2 weeks to visit my host father’s family and the area where he grew up. It was a great way for me to get to know my second host family before settling into the routine of a new family and a new house. At the end of February I returned to Rome with another exchange student and a few Rotarians to see the Pope’s last Angelus Blessing in St. Peter’s square. It was really amazing and I am so thankful to the Rotarians who took us. Shortly after, My mother from Florida came to visit me for Easter and I returned to Rome for the third time. While in Rome we went to mass on Easter Sunday in St. Peter’s square to see the new Pope. There were about 250 thousand people there. Spending Easter in Rome was awesome but spending it with my mother was even more special. It was great to see her after 7 months and show her around this beautiful country that I have been living in!

Exchange is not all about traveling and sight seeing, so now I will move on to the more important things!

School: As I mentioned in my previous post, school here in Italy is VERY different than my school in Florida. For example, school hours are different, classrooms don’t change, school on Saturday, no cafeteria, etc. After only 3 weeks these were the few things I was able to notice about my new school. Now that I’ve been here for some time and I can understand more of the language, I have found a million new differences between my school at home and my Italian school. For example, students are expected to sit 5 hours a day and take notes while the teacher lectures. There are no worksheets to do in groups, no collaboration between students, no projects to present to the class. It’s all pretty much individual work and you study your notes for tests. So the only grades you get are test grades. This is really different for me but it seems like an effective way of teaching/learning because all my classmates do well in school. Interrogations or oral tests are a huge t hing here. At first I thought it could be compared to presenting a PowerPoint project or something similar that I have done a thousand times in Florida but the difference is that there are no computers or any other kind of technology; it’s just the student and the teacher and the teacher can ask any questions they want and you have to answer correctly. When you participate in sports at school, you compete against other classes in your same school, not other schools. School sports aren’t at all popular and they are nothing like American high school sports teams! School was extremely hard for me in the first few months because I didn’t understand anything that was going on and I was so bored because the teachers never gave me work to do. When the second semester started I had a better grip on the language and I finally started following the lessons and doing the same things my classmates were. It is so much better now and I actually enjoy getting up in the mornings for school. 

Family: My first host family consisted of my host mother, host father, host sister (14) and host brother (12). The first few months with them were difficult because I wasn’t used to having younger siblings and it was hard communicating/relating to them. Once my language started improving my relationship with the family improved so so so much. We were able to talk about problems I was having and they were able to help me. We got to know each other better and learn about each others culture. They taught me everything I know and I will never ever forget everything they have done for me. Of course nobody could ever replace my family in Florida but I feel so at home with my first host family I often forget that we only just met 7 months ago. It feels like I’ve been with them for a lifetime. My host sister and I have become so close we stopped calling each other by our names and now we just call each other “sorella” which is the Italian word for sister. She has been such a great friend and sister to me and I know our relationship and bond will never end. She means the world to me. Leaving them after Christmas and moving to the second host family was definitely the hardest thing I have ever done. My second (current) host family consists of my host mother and host father. They have a daughter on exchange in Missouri. When I switched families I also moved to a different town so now I am closer to my school which means I get to sleep in later and I don’t have to take the bus! My host parents are so sweet and they always make sure I have everything I need and that I’m happy. They know how their daughter feels as an exchange student so they understand all my exchange problems and if I’m having a bad day they understand that’s its just normal and they always help me with anything I need. I am so thankful to both of my families for accepting me and taking me in. My exchange would be completely different had I not been placed with these families.

Language: Because I live in a small town there is hardly anyone who speaks English. It has forced me to speak only Italian and I’ve learned pretty quickly. Yes, I could have studied way more before I left and I probably should have but I think I’ve done pretty well with learning the language considering I started with close to nothing. After about 3 months I could understand more or less than 50% of things said directly to me and I could respond to about 30% of it. Now after 7 months I am able to understand pretty much everything. I don’t have to translate everything to understand it, I just get it. I don’t think in English anymore and Italian just makes sense. It’s weird to think that just seven months ago I didn’t understand anything and now watching movies, reading books, and regular conversations are not difficult for me. Speaking is definitely harder but I’m learning new things and becoming more confident each day. I am really proud of myself and how much progress I’ve made in the last 7 months. This truly is the best way to learn a new language.

This exchange has been such an amazing, incredible and eye-opening experience filled with memories that will last a lifetime. Thank you so much to Rotary for this opportunity. There will never be enough words for me to express how thankful I am to everyone who has made this possible. I can’t believe there are only 3 months left of my exchange but I hope to make them the best 3 months ever!

Gentry Allen 
2012-13 Outbound to Taiwan
Hometown: Gainesville, FL
School: P.K. Yonge High School
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District 3470, Taiwan
The Rotary Club of Southeast Tainan

Gentry - Taiwan

September 8, 2012

Traveling to Taiwan!
A lot of people asked me if I was nervous going to Taiwan and to be honest I didn’t really know that to feel. I was this weird mix of sort of nervous but way too excited. My flight schedule was Jacksonville to Chicago (2hr) to Hong Kong (15hr) to Kaohsiung (1hr), then a short drive to Taiwan (30min). Once I got to Chicago I called the other exchange student who was to be traveling with me, David, to see where I am supposed to meet him and Nico, because we were all flying together to Hong Kong and Kaohsiung. This is when he told me that because of the Typhoon that’s about to hit Taiwan, our flight to Kaohsiung is canceled and that we will have to take the flight that leaves the next morning. AKA we would have a 10 hour layover in the Hong Kong airport. The 15 hour flight to Hong Kong wasn’t has dreadful as I thought it was going to be. The plane had this cool high tech computer screens for each seat, where I was able to watch my own movies, and of course I slept.

Once in the Hong Kong airport, I checked myself into the traveler’s lounge where I slept on a really comfortable chair, charged my electronics, ate who knows what (something with rice) and showered. Then I boarded the flight to Kaohsiung at 8am!

After arriving (9am), breezing through customs and tracking down my suitcases I walked out of these doors and there to greet me was all these Rotarians and my host family! It was the best feeling to know that they were as excited to know that I was in Taiwan as I was. My family drove me to their house in Tainan, where I learned the word for cake, and they tried to tell me that we were going to go eat some? Get the apartment, which is in a big apartment building, took a shower and went off with my family to eat this cake. Well it just so happened that where the cake was, was also where my rotary club was. This is the point where I experienced culture shock. All I could do was sit there, smile and say thank you as countless Rotarians came to me introduced themselves and try their dishes. Oh, by the way, Taiwan as far as I’m concerned has THE most delicious food.

While I’m there, some of the children of other Rotarians (college students) ask me if I would like to ‘go’ with them. Not sure were ‘go’ was, but hey! I’m an exchange student so I said yes. Next thing I know we are on our way to another county to go to this restaurant that only serves shaved ice with mangos. AMAZING! Then they took me to the Tsengwen Reservoir which is in-between breath taking mountains. After we go to my first temple, which was the Ancestral temple of Chiang Family in Lu-Tao-Yang. That evening they took me to a restaurant where we could see the mountains and later when it was dark the city lights of Tainan in the distance. Finally they notice that I’m about to passed out with exhaustion so they take me home.
Once at home I give my host family their gifts and we run through the first night questions. Which I was very excited to do, because over the years I’ve watched our exchange students, Belen, Teresa, Aidana and Nina, go through these questions. But was very interesting because the only way to do so was to nod yes/no and go show me the part of the house we were talking about.

I’m SO SO SO incredibly thankful to Florida Rotary and Tainan Southeast rotary. I think everyone should be an exchange student, it is the most meaningful and life changing experience.
I love Taiwan and I’m never coming back! (just kidding mom)

My first day of school in Taiwan was unlike any day I have ever encountered. I arrived at the school at 7:30am and was tucked away in the student affairs office where I nervously practiced my speech, which I only learned the day before I was to present. At this point I had been a total of 4 days in Taiwan, and my Chinese was so bad I could barely even pronounce my own Chinese name. Finally, my school counselor led me to the auditorium packed with the Students of National Tainan Chia-Chi Girls Senior High School (CCGSH). As soon as I arrived students that I walked by shrieked with excitement and shyly giggled to each other. I walked up on to the stage and sat with all the teachers of CCGSH. I was front row and on display for the entire school to see the first ever exchange student to attend CCGSH.

The opening ceremony began, and many teachers and school officials came to the podium to welcome everyone to another school year. Of course I had no idea what anyone was saying, but I nodded my head in what seemed like the appropriate times and applauded when everyone else did. Lastly the principle took the stage and introduced me and played a short video I had made of pictures to introduce myself and Florida. Then the moment came, and I was ushered to the front of 1,000 students. I tried my ultimate best to speak clearly my ‘Rotary speech’ and when I finished the entire auditorium went into an uproar in cheers for me. I felt truly welcomed to my new school, but mostly I was just glad to survive the whole ordeal. The press also attended the ceremony press and my picture was taken to appear in 2 local Tainan newspapers the following week.

I have been in Taiwan for almost about two months now, and slowly Taiwan life is becoming my normal everyday life. It’s normal now to hear fireworks going off at all hours of the night AND day. It’s normal now that at school the students think I’m some sort of celebrity. It’s normal that I eat Taiwanese food like noodles, dumplings, pearl tea and questionable animal parts (It’s better not to ask). I completely love my Taiwan life. I can feel myself changing into a completely different person. I’m even more responsible, independent and challenge facing then when I arrived to Taiwan. The other day I walked into my room and saw my bed was made. I thought to myself, “Who came into my room and made the bed?” Then I realized it was I who had made the bed. It is small changes like this that I realize I’m growing as a person.

Taiwan’s people are passionate in all that they do. They are a gift giving, nonstop singing, always eating culture, and will be your friend for life. A Rotarian once asked me if I thought that in my other life time that I was a Taiwanese person. I’m starting to believe that this is true.

December 5, 2012

Everyday at school, after climbing four flights of stairs, I arrive at my classroom, class 211. Eighteen girls, nineteen including me, will be preparing for a rigorous day of school and dance training.

My classmates are training to become professional dancers. Most days our class will take dance classes up to 4-5 hours a day in ballet, modern, pilates, and the traditional Chinese dance style. The teachers are always pushing us to jump higher, stretch further, turn longer.

Dance has become so much more to me. It is the part of my day that makes sense. Especially ballet, a style I have been studying since I was 3 years old. At first I could not make out what the teachers were instructing to us, my only aid was my eyes, to watch and copy my classmates. But now it is become so much clearer. Stretch. Foot. Turn around. Hand. Jump. Feel.

Not everyday is always sunshine, rainbows, and tutus. I am most defiantly the worst dancer in my class. My classmates are extremely talented. They have amazing flexibility, endurance, and technique. My first full week of classes seemed more like bootcamp than a dance class. It sounds silly but the ugly duckling is the perfect metaphor in this case. The traditional Chinese dance I find to be very difficult, mostly because I have never seen this type of dance style before. I have to watch every carefully how to do each movement, but my classmates are eager for me to learn with them, often helping me into the correct pose or demonstrating the movement.  But the amazing thing is that my classmates take me as I am. They tell me they don’t care that I’m not the prettiest ballerina, and together we can learn to be better dancers.

My classmates are the most hard working individuals that I know. Everyday they come to school with a smile on their face, tackle exams and tough school material, and continue to throw themselves into the dance profession. During recital season, my classmates would be at school from 7:30am-9:00pm every day for school, dance training and rehearsal. Also returning to school on the weekends for more practice.
Every moment during the day is used for constant practice.  Everyday I come to school inspired by my classmates to work hard in everything I do.

My classmates and I share a unique bond. Without them I would feel out of place in Taiwan. They give me a purpose to wake up everyday, to attend school, to work hard. My exchange in Taiwan has been a change in mind and body. We may not speak the same language (yet), but we all speak dance. 

January 6, 2012

When I sat down to write this journal, in honor of the newly selected inbounds, I stared blankly at the keyboard. Where do I start? How can I even began to sum up how much their lives will change in the next 2 years? But that’s the thing, there is no way to explain what its like to be an exchange student. You can only you live it yourself. There is no way to describe the high of learning a new culture. The confusion of what direction you think your life is heading, but really you have no idea. The constant struggle of the need for your heart to be in two places at once.

I dedicate this journal to you, future outbounds to Taiwan. How can I explain to you what a special place Taiwan is? I can attempt to ease some confusion, but in reality you have no concept of what Taiwan life will be like. I certainly had no idea. But I think that is best. If you come to Taiwan with an open mind you will be able to see it’s beauty.

10 Things You NEED to know about Taiwan to Survive your first month.

1. Learn how to use the squat toilet before you get off the plane. You may think you know what your doing, but really you don’t. Educate yourself, because they are everywhere!

2. Girls, well guys too, but especially girls -ALWAYS carry a pack of tissues with you. Almost all public restrooms will not have toilet paper. Enough said.

3. Dinners are eaten family style with the main dishes in the center. You will have a small bowl of rice which you will place your selections on top of. You must finish everything in your bowl. No exceptions.

4. Always eat until your satisfied, because it will be mostly likely your host parents will continue to place food into your bowl, or have something else delicious for you to try.

5. RICE RICE RICE, everyday.

6. You will have a air conditioner in your room. Turn it off when your not in the room! (In my case I only use it when I’m sleeping.)

7. You must remove your shoes before entering someone’s house. My suggestion is to bring “easiely removable” shoes.

8. I know we all come from Florida and we Floridians love our flipflops, but be sure to bring other shoes. The streets are dirty and your feet will get dirty from walking everywhere and using public transportation.

9. Chinese is hard. Start learning now! At minimum memorize your Rotary Speech. You have a 100% chance that you will have to introduce yourself to the entire school and many people will be impressed that a foreigner can introduce themselves in Chinese. I have been in MANY situations where I had to stand in front of a crowd and introduce myself. Don’t be the exchange student who’s host parents have to do it.

10. Respect the elders. Respect your host parents. Respect your teachers. Respect your Rotary. It may seem obvious, but Taiwanese culture is built on 5,000 years of tradition. Don’t forget that.

I tried my ultimate best to come to Taiwan completely open minded and adaptable to any situation I may find myself if. And truthfully it has helped me become more adjusted with my new culture. There will be many things you will not understand about Taiwanese culture. But, don’t be scared. Rotary chose you for Taiwan because they believe you are smart, independent and adaptable.
Good Luck!

March 21, 2013

There are three words to describe Chinese New Year in Taiwan. Eat, Pray, Honor.

In my case, I ate for 5 days straight. In each home I visited I found one commonality , as soon as we walked in the door, food was offered to us. Then, after socializing with all the family members, we would eat a huge family meal. I have never eaten so much in my ENTIRE life. The only way to describe how much you will eat during Chinese New Year is to imagine eating a Thanksgiving sized  meal for lunch AND dinner…. for multiple days. And of course only in Taiwan, after you have completely stuffed yourself, you will go to the night market after dinner for even more snacks or pearl tea. The amount that Taiwanese people can eat remains a real mystery to me.

A lot of your time during Chinese New Year will be spend traveling to temples. Most of which are very old and are temples your family has been praying at for generations. I can remember one great aunt having us stop at every temple we passed, to pray for the New Year. We also visited a few grave sites of deceased relatives to pay respect and pray over them.

Chinese New Year is spent traveling to as many elder relatives as physically possible. I traveled to Penghu, a tiny island off the west coast  of Taiwan, to visit my host father’s mom and dad. I also went to Kaohsiung, the second largest city in Taiwan for my host mom’s parents. Then, Rotarians picked me up and took me to their family gatherings in my own city of Tainan. When you visit these relatives they will have a special gift for you. It’s called the red envelope and inside a red envelope will be money. When an elder offers you a read envelope you must thank them and wish them good luck.
My Chinese New Year was made special by the elders I visited. I would always find myself wedged on a bench between a grandmother and great aunt. Or sitting on the floor with my host cousins watching grandpa play mahjong with the uncles. My hand was held, my plate was full, and I was called the American granddaughter.

One great aunt in particular will forever stand out in my mind. Standing no taller than maybe 5 feet, this women lived in her family’s generational home located behind a temple -a house well older than 100 years. She did not speak any Chinese, so instead I had to use Taiwan’s second language, Taiwanese. As we were walking her to the car, because the streets were too narrow to drive a car down, she told me “You are very far away from your mother, today you will be my granddaughter”. Just like that, I was apart of her family. She didn’t leave my side the entire day, even holding my hand when we were walking.

This is another moment when I realized how different my life has become, that the person I came here as is very different from the person I am now.  My exchange was made in the oldest city of Taiwan, where you can get lost in small alleys,  where the locals don’t speak Chinese but instead Taiwanese or Hakka, where there is a temple every 5 feet, where you sit on the floor in your host relatives 100 year old houses. Exchange is more than just living in a big foreign metropolitan. The life I built in Tainan I wouldn’t change it for anything.

Chinese New Year is a magical time in Taiwan. It is the time of the year you can see how loving and caring the Taiwanese people are. It’s a time to eat. A time to wish good luck. A time to cherish your family. It’s a time that I am so incredibly thankful to experience. Thank you Rotary.
Happy New Year! 新年快樂!

June 18, 2013

There will be times on your exchange when you will look down at your feet and wonder. How did I get here? This is a question I pondered while staring into the stage lights of Japan’s cultural dance festival, Yosakoi. Yes, Japan. This year I had the rare opportunity to travel to Japan twice with my classmates, funded by the Taiwanese government to promote tourism to Taiwan.
We first traveled to Japan October of 2012, where my classmates performed at a smaller show and then we traveled for three days exploring Osaka, Japan. But, the second time we would travel to Japan in June 2013, I was invited to perform alongside my classmates.
Because we were a sponsored team, my classmates and I practiced almost every day for an entire month. My teachers pushed us to our very limit to perform our best for the people of Japan. I have never pushed myself so hard physically and mentally. Each practice was a practice really of body and mind because practice was solely taught in Chinese (and a little Taiwanese too). But, never have I been so excited to tackle a challenge.
When we arrive in Sapporo, Japan, we all become instant local celebrities. People everywhere wanted to take pictures with us. Even a news team came from Tokyo to film a story about the dancers from Taiwan. People of course were always a little confused why there was a ‘foreigner’ in the dance group. But my classmates would always exclaim “She is Taiwanese too”.
My time in Japan was defiantly the peak of my exchange. It tested everything that I have learned while in Taiwan; Foreign travel, my Chinese Language, traditional Chinese dance and being an ambassador.
The opportunity to perform in Japan to represent not one, but two countries is something I will never forget. I’m so incredibly honored that Chia-Chi Girls Senior High School and the Taiwanese government believed in me enough to allow me represent their country.
The journey to Japan defiantly wasn’t an easy one, but never in my life have I ever felt so alive and purposeful.
Thank you Chia-Chi Girls Senior High School. Thank you Tainan South East Rotary. Thank you Taiwan.

Grant Zwolinski 
2012-13 Outbound to Taiwan
Hometown: St. Augustine, FL
School: Allen D. Nease Senior High School
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District 3480, Taiwan
The Rotary Club of Shaungho

Grant - Taiwan

October 21, 2012

This is so surreal to looking on the RYE Florida page and seeing my name on the side where the current outbounds are. I’ve been here almost two months now and I figured I was already late enough to catch you up to speed on what’s been going on in Taipei. Let me just start off by saying that flying here is not fun… At all it took almost 16 hours of air time to fly halfway around the world. I was greeted at the airport by around 15 people including all of my host moms and dads my club counselor and his wife my host brother and then a couple of people who I am still not sure who they were. After that I enjoyed my first dinner in Taiwan….. I dove into the culture pool head on for this, my dinner consisted of but not limited to: Stinky tofu-like the name says it smells horrid-some boiled cow heart, then some what I thought was fish but it was sheep stomach. Let’s just say that was an experience all of its own, it’s safe to say I wont be trying that again for a while. So the whole first week I am here my little brother keeps saying on Saturday we go fishing, so I assume that we are going to go to a river or the ocean, but no again I was mistaken. Fishing here consist of a pool in which you stick a baited bobber in to catch, are you ready…. Shrimp, yes we were fishing for shrimp in which after instead of bringing home we cooked them right then and there. Speaking of which the Taiwanese enjoy fresh fish at a restaurant, like you pick out the fish, lobster or shrimp out of an aquarium tank and they take it to they kitchen cook it then serve it to you, right then and there. 

Speaking of food, well I can really indulge in too much because everything has ingredients I can’t have which is upsetting because I was looking forward to go on an eating spree but sadly this cannot happen. But on the bright side I joined culinary club at school and I am learning how to make and prepare all kinds of interesting fare. On the list of things I can eat is called hot pot in which you sit at a table with a pot in front of you and throw everything you want into the pot and cook it…. It’s safe to say that it is delicious and I plan on eating it many more times. What I do not plan on trying for the third time is stinky tofu, all form of it, it is just not appealing to me a much as it is to others. Also on the lists of no need to try a third time: pig heart, intestines, pigs blood cake, chicken feet and all types of animal stomachs. 

I have made a lot of new friends here during my past couple of months and some of the guys I am just as close as people back home. Unfortunately I don’t get to hang out with my classmates very often as they are always busy studying for their next test which are a daily occurrence. Weekends are no better because they have Saturday school and Sunday school…. So much school here. On the list of my favorite expeditions I have gone on is one day I decided that I wanted to go up in the mountains with a group of 6 other guys and go hike up a small river. It was nice because even though Taiwan is a island I have spent little to no time at all in the water. Another one of my “genius” ideas was to get in a breakdance battle with some students… Now I’m not saying we lost, I’m just saying that we may or may not have technically “won” mainly because we just kind of ran away from the five guys all spinning on their heads. Also another one of my great ideas was to get an Asian haircut which consist of shaving the sides of my head and a whole lot of gel to hold it up there. It’s safe to say I’m currently letting it grow back out to normal length. My friend Braden is exactly like me, he dives and pole vaults, the only difference is he is from Pennsylvania which is far from similar to Florida. If you know me back home then you know that if there were two of me then we’d do some crazy things. Well that happens an example of which is we needed to see if we could come home from the pool on the MRT shirtless because there is no signs that say we can’t. So the next thing i know i am sitting on a packed MRT with no shirt and everyone was staring at me. Turns out you aren’t technically not allowed to do it, it is just frowned upon. Another thing we did was when we went back to the river we ended up wearing speedos and water shoes on, yet again we got some strange and perplexed looks from the locals(except for one old man who was wearing the same thing). 

My Chinese is progressing surprisingly quick. I can hear and read very well but I do not speak so well compared to the Taiwanese on any level. But my listening has gotten to the point where my host family will speak entirely in Chinese and I can comprehend it for the most part. When I can speak Chinese I do, and I try to seek new opportunities to try to perfect it in real world situations. So I get “lost” a lot and ask for directions even though I already know where to walk I just want to work on getting my speaking perfect. Reading actually is the most surprising thing to me because it is not that hard to remember for the most part the only major problem is writing it down seeing as my english handwriting is far from perfect.While my Chinese has grown my English is starting to fade besides my ACT vocab, but the more colloquial terms seem to fade the most because no terms are used in the same part of the country or world. A great example of this is when I was at the beach with some friends I couldn’t think of the surfing term for when you get held under by a wave, I later had to text someone back home to relearn it is called being pinned. 

My host family is now my family and I call my host mom just mom so when I get off the phone and say “alright mom i’ll be safe, love you” the other exchange students think I am talking to my mom back home but I have to explain its my host mom but it shocked me when I found out no one else calls their host mom just mom. My family life is good when I eat dinner I talk about my day and my plans for the next couple of days and ask everyone how everything is going with them. I get along with my host brother and he an I go out sometimes ( when he isn’t studying to get into a good high school). I also go to places with them such as the mountains, the beach and other Rotarians houses or events. 

It wasn’t the easiest thing I’ve ever done leaving my family and friends behind to go to a place halfway around the world. I was never really homesick but some things back home got me really upset like the passing of one of my friends, but I knew I was going to pull through it I had to pull though because I know it is for the best. Home is here now, streets that were once so foreign to me are now so familiar, the same goes for sights. I am no longer weirded out when my fish still has a head on it, I actually think its wrong without one. I don’t think twice when I order things in Chinese because I am confident in what I am saying. I feel that my new Rotary family here isn’t just confined to Taiwan any long but has merged with back home to make one single family. I look back at myself a year ago and can’t believe that I am now the one in Taiwan, no more research about the island, no more anticipating where I am going to live in my new home, no more questioning myself if I made the right choice to come here. I realize that this year I going to be perhaps the most life changing year in life, and I am so appreciative of it. Thank you Rotary Youth Exchange Florida for allowing me to come to where I now call home.扶輪社台灣. Thank you mom and dad promise that I will not let any of you down. 


Grant Zwolinski(賴和平)

January 24, 2012

As you all already know the holiday season is dwindling down and things will return to normal once again. The thing is in Taiwan western holidays have a very strange place in this society. The holidays are openly displayed from Halloween all the way up to Christmas which may seem normal but the thing is nobody celebrates these holidays. There were no little children running around apartments dressed as their favorite super hero. No turkeys or mash potatoes, for the most part there are no ovens in this country so these dishes are not easily made. There was trees and lights everywhere for Christmas but no Santa in the mall. The biggest surprise is how fast stores transform themselves from one holiday theme to another. There is a general merchandise store by my school and I was walking down there to get some Halloween stuff on sale which would be usual in America. To my surprise the shop has already been transformed into a thanksgiving shop, the next day. Meaning there was no sale the store just simply took down the items and stored them for next years ex-pats.

I realize that it is not cold in Florida for Christmas but it is still much colder than here. It has been in the mid 70’s this winter except on some rainy days where it will dip down to low 60’s. Yet everyone here is bundling up with 3 jacket when they step out the door. My host Mom is convinced that I will be cold as I walk out of the house with only my hoodie on in 70 degree weather, no matter what I say I normally leave the house wearing the scarf she puts around my neck. The only thing is it rains…. A lot we had three straight weeks of rain, its not nice rain it is whipped at you from all directions due to the wind tunnel effect the buildings have in this city. The sun is not really out here because of overcast and when it is it is not out long because sunset is around 5:15, I miss the Florida sunshine I will say that.

I am now officially on winter break now and I will have to admit it feels weird not having a long time off of school since August. Seeing as I haven’t had much time off I really haven’t traveled much around the island but I am really hoping that I get to during this next month. ,Although I have not traveled to much I have learned a lot about Taiwanese culture through countless classes but more importantly through the art of calligraphy. This alone has been a huge experience to see the almost ceremonial set up for this ancient art. I expect to do a whole lot more because of Chinese New Years coming up and we rewrite the seals of the household. I did get off for the western new years, which was really unique because exchange students from all over the country came to Taipei to see the fireworks around Taipei 101. There was around 200 exchange student in the same general area which was nice for us but the Taiwanese people near us were very confused because large groups of foreign teenagers were together. We also had a little mini Florida reunion I got to see Dakota and Gentry. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see Nicole because she was away with her host family but she had a good time and that is all that really matters.

Since I last wrote I have also moved host families which was one of the more emotional periods of my exchange thus far. It reminded me much of when I left Florida to some extent. My mother after taking care of me in the beginning where I was much like a child had realized that I had to move on to what was next in life for me. I really enjoy my new host family, they are very kind people and they speak almost exclusively in Chinese to me so my Chinese skills have improved. I do not have any host siblings in this new family which is a new experience because I am the youngest of three in my family back home so not having siblings is kind of strange to me. I enjoy it though because my family likes to spend time with me and help me.

On the opposite side of that I had to make my first rounds of goodbyes by acknowledging that my two Australian friends would no longer be with us. It was hard on us to see them leave but then I thought about how hard on them it actually is. They have to say goodbye twice since their exchange is January to January. Once to the friends that would be leaving them and once when they are leaving their friends. But that is the exchange cycle so we all knew it was going to happen eventually. It is still weird going to rotary events and looking around to find them but of course they are not there. 

I am really excited for Chinese New Years, it takes place in the beginning of February this year. Everyone is telling me about how much fun it is and how much it means to this country. I can’t wait for all of the festivities that the Chinese New Years celebration brings in. It is going to be very nice to spend a lot of time with my host family too, and I feel that I will grow closer to them. As of right now my host parents are keeping me out of the loop for what is going to happen and what we will do on New Years because they want to surprise me. 

Well that’s it for now I will be sure to update once my vacation is over with plenty of pictures and stories to tell.

Sincerely Grant Zwolinski.

April 11, 2013

You know it’s crazy, I never thought that I would be able to stand in front of a 
Chinese restaurant that I have never been to and read the menu as if it was 
English. I didn’t even think it was gonna happen the first couple of months in 
Taiwan, but now I can as if I have known all along what it meant. Chinese 
doesn’t seem foreign at all anymore I know that at first I thought it all 
sounded the same and looked similar but now I can hear the differences in each 
word while it may not be as apparent as English but it is there. It finally 
just clicks for me and it is really amazing to know that my hard work has 
started to pay off. My speaking could be better but it’s close for sure it is 
not a very forgiving language when it comes to that. 

My winter break was, relaxing to say the least not very eventful because we 
didn’t leave taipei much. But I got to spend a lot of time with my second host 
family and learn about all of the traditions and customs of Chinese New Years. 
Such as writing the new seals for the doors on our house, leaning about my host 
ancestors and many other things. I got to travel to the south of Taiwan in the 
mountains for a few days and visit my host grandparents. I stayed in a 200 year 
old house in the mountains and learned how to pick star fruit and betel nut from trees. Well 
not actually pick you just kind of shake the tree until the nuts fall off, I got 
hit in the face a couple of times for looking up to see if there were any left. 
We went to temples for nine days and they showed me the way to pray while 
holding incense. It is really funny because the first day my host parents say we 
wake up go to the temple to say what I heard as bye bye so I thought I was going 
to a funeral the next morning. As it turns out they did not say bye bye but the 
Chinese word for pray which sound very very familiar and it seemed fitting at 
the time.

Also I ate…. A lot, we had a mini feast for every meal for nine days. I 
gained about 4 pounds in the course of the new years festival. Everyplace we 
would go to that had shrimp my host mom would tell everyone not to worry Grant 
will finish all of them, she did this as a joke but as it turns out I probably 
had about two and a half dozen shrimp every dinner….. Thanks Mom.Overall it 
was a unique opportunity to learn about the largest, most extravagant festival 
of the lunar calendar. It’s safe to say I said 新年快樂 over 1000 times (it means 
happy New Years) while the break may have been relaxing I barely slept the 
entire New Years because people would stay up and light huge fireworks in the 
middle of the street you would hear a drunk man scream 新年快樂(xin nian kuai le) 
then see a huge firework followed by a even bigger boom. Now I know what you are 
thinking “Grant we have big fireworks in Florida”, yes but these are bigger much 
bigger after all they did invent them.

I moved to my final host family and it is very different but nice. I have a host 
brother who is about the same age as me and we get along very well, which is 
good because we share a room. I also have my first host pet it’s a cat… That 
weighs about 20 pounds who always is talking and sleeping on my pillow when I 
want to go to sleep. I try to move him but he is just soo large it is hard to 
grab him to pull him off so I just kind of poke his belly until he moves.I also have two older sisters that are not home very often an a grandma who likes 
to tell me I’m too skinny and I need to eat more(in that respect she is very 
similar to my real grandma). My host brother is a really nice guy it’s just a 
shame we do not get to do much together because he is always busy studying for 
his next test or at cram school because his school doesn’t offer a course. I do 
take up every opportunity I can though to hang out with him. 

Recently I went on a trip to Kenting ( pronounced kending) for a spring break 
sort of thing. The beaches were beautiful the water was so clear and the coral 
was beautiful and this is all 20 feet off of the beach. We ended up staying in 
tents which was a really good bonding experience for us and we met some other 
foreigners that were down there as well. One of them from Spain actually came to 
Saint Augustine through a sister city program and knows some people I do. We 
both found this crazy because the world ain’t as big as some people make it out 
to be. I keep forgetting the sun is stronger down here so I keep on getting a 
little bit toasty after the beach or a day on the river. The most relaxing part 
of the trip was just to get away from the big city and rain to settle for some 
wide open spaces and blue skies. I will be returning there shortly for a class 
trip and hopefully this time I can go surfing ! It’s been way to long since I 
last was on a surfboard so it will be funny to see if I can pick it back up 

Overall Things over here seem to be winding down a lot as I approach my final 60 
days in Taiwan. I’m making new friendships that I know won’t last long but they 
will be worth it. Trying to do more because I know that there are something’s I 
haven’t done yet an places I haven’t seen. Trying to absorb the last bit of 
Chinese I can before I leave here because I know it will not be the same once I 
am home. Everything is just falling in to place and before I know it I’m gonna 
be landing in JAX airport. So for now I am going to live in the current, And 
live in the wise words of Ferris Bueller.

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you 
could miss it.

Thank you Rotary once again,

Grant Zwolinski

Hadley Peterson 
2012-13 Outbound to Argentina
Hometown: Jacksonville, FL
School: Stanton College Prep
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District 4845, Argentina
The Rotary Club of Resistencia Oeste

Hadley - Argentina

October 30, 2012

These past two months have been literally the best two months of my life. Not the easiest two months, but the best two months. They have included the best, hardest, happiest, and most miraculous moments of my life. I think that is what exchange is about…the moments. All the big and small moments that makes up your year and your memories.

It’s all the moments put together. The moment: where you get off your plane at the smallest “international” airport you have ever seen to be welcomed by your Rotarians and the people that will become your family and your friends, where you walk into your classroom on the first day of school only to be stared at and then asked a million questions in rapid fire feeling like you will never understand anything, when you have to give your first Rotary presentation and you are so nervous you swear you will drop dead right on the floor, when your birthday is during a 10 hour car drive but you don’t care because you are with your amazing host family seeing some of the most amazing landscapes of Argentina, when your classmates surprise you with a cake for your birthday at school, when you stand at the top of Iguassu Falls with 40 exchange students holding the USA flag over your head, when you give directions around your city in Spanish, when you can successfull y take the city bus without getting lost, when you have a dream and you swear it was in Spanish but unfortunately cannot remember precisely if it was or not, where you learn to dance Tango, where you see where Brasil, Paraguay, and Argentina all meet, when your 7 year old host sister draws you in her family drawing… I have experienced all of this and more in my first two months in Argentina. All of these emotions and more. It has been the most exhilarating two months of my life, and I know I only have more to come.

I have all of this to thank because of Rotary. I would like to send out a HUGE thank you to RYE Florida. When I came here I can honestly say I was the most prepared student in my district, and perhaps in all of Argentina. I knew more about the exchange program, Argentina, and Spanish than anyone else. (Well, minus the 3 Mexicans in my district…and the Brasilian…and the Italian…they knew a lot of Spanish…) But, RYE Florida prepares you well. The language prep you do before you go is well worth it, because when you get to your country you are going to feel like you have been hit by a language hurricane. It is so much harder than you have ever imagined. Luckily, I can talk about almost any subject without having to switch to English and sometimes my accent even sounds good. Even though, I have started Spanish classes here because the verbs still trip me up even though that’s what I studied most before I came here. And, I go to English schools to teach English in exchange for conversations in Spanish. (This is a great way to help the community and improve you language skills.)

I would like to apologize for how late this entry is. I have been so busy learning, living, and taking my first two months in.

Hola! I just passed my three month mark in Argentina. That is weird to think about. Time is going so fast and so slow all at the same time. It is turning into summer here which is also a weird thought. Usually it is about 90-100 F during the day, and it isn’t even “hot” yet. Most days we have airconditioning in the main parts of the house but a lot of the time the power goes out because I live kind of far away from the center of town. But it is okay, because during summer you spend most the time near the pool drinking terrere, which is mate but with juice and cold. However, I haven’t been home for the last 20 days. Which means unfortunately I wasn’t here for the last day of school which in Argentina involves lots of water balloons, shaving cream, silly string, eggs, and flour. But that’s okay! Because I just got back from the best 20 day travel of my life!

It was 20 days with 72 exchange students. We stayed the night in 5 cities, visited 15 others, went to at least 12 National Parks, and tallied a lot of kilometres and hours in the bus.

But it was well worth it. I had so many life changing experiences. We saw penguins as they walked right next to us, whales, seals, and dolphins as they swam right next to us, and we even got to pet llamas. We saw so many beautiful landscapes including deserts, volcanoes, mountains, snow, and GLACIERS. Speaking of, I WALKED ON A GLACIER. Not just any glacier, but the only glacier that is both landlocked and growing. We also saw it break apart which sounded like thunder. I swam in the Pacific Ocean, lakes, and the Atlantic Ocean- all which were freezing. I saw native Indian cave paintings, visited a hippie colony, went to a school to talk about the USA, went in the Canal Beagle, was part of a rally, and even met the President of Argentina (which if you didn’t know she is a pretty controversial person here.)

But it wasn’t all the cool things I did or saw that made this trip so amazing. It was the people I met and the feelings the trip gave me. I only fell in love with Argentina more during the trip. I only fell in love with being an exchange student more. I realized how amazing some of the things I am doing are. The trip made me so thankful for this year. It made me realize that no matter how difficult a moment may be I have people that support me and moments to look back on that are crazy amazing! I can’t explain how amazing the travel was, or how great it is to know you have bestfriends all over the world. But that is part of being an exchange student the pure happiness that you have just from living.

I would like to leave this journal with three separate little notes.
1) Congrats to all the newbies that have been chosen! Relax right now! Time flies by and before you know it you will be getting ready to leave! Feel free to talk to me if you have any questions, I know you do!
2) For those in their countries. We already got through Thanksgiving! We can do the holiday season! Just remember “Don’t count the days, make the days count.”
3) Thank you so much Rotary. This is truly more than I could have imagined.


In 8 days I will have been here for 4 months. These have been the fastest, slowest, most exciting, agonizing, and emotional months of my life. I love it here and would not change one second. Even so, it is true that with exchange you get stuck in ruts. Whether it be you go on an exchange student trip and come back and everything seems just bland, when you feel like you cannot connect to your classmates because they are so much younger, if it is because you are about to have vacations for 3 months and the time seems lonely, or maybe it is because it is close to the holiday season and it is 100 degrees Fahrenheit and there are no signs of Christmas. Or maybe it is a mix of it all. Anyways, even if you feel a little down or a little confused- you are still going to be so thankful and amazed everyday for being in your country with your new family and friends. However, with the mix of emotions I had been having I just felt like I was lacking something in my life. I had been trying for about a month to set up a continual afternoon service job, but trust me the Rotary in other countries won’t always be like RYE Floirda and sometimes it just works differently- even though they still help so much.

Well, today I went to a “guarderia.” I went with Rotaract and Interact. I am so blessed to have such active Rotary youth clubs in my city. We went to the outskirts of my city, which is the capital of the poorest province in Argentina. A “guarderia” is a place where kids without parents or whose parents work during the day go. It was life-chaning, meaningful, and honestly one of the best days I have had in Argentina. We just played with the kids; soccer, arts, and dancing. It was amazing to see how happy these kids were with nothing. Some of the kids were there because their parents left them because of deformities, some kids didn’t have clothes that were clean or that fit, and there were babies without parents. It was a “guarderia” payed by the government. But it didn’t have fans or air, and in my province in the summer it gets to 115 degrees. They don’t have access to water either. It was a blessing to get to go there and help. W e helped put up a Christmas tree and decorate the whole place, and gave out presents for Christmas. I even brought candy canes and some pencils that my mom mailed to me from the USA (I thought they would go to better use here than with my friends.) The whole experience made me so thankful for what I have, my year here, and so much more. Walking home from the event I felt so alive, so full, and so satisfied. I know I am changing everyday here and learning more about myself, but this made me so aware that I just need to be helping people somehow in someway.

Sorry for the random trail of thought- this experience just meant so much to me. I just needed to write about it here for y’all!

March 7, 2013

I am unfortunate to say it has been a long time since my last journal post. I always wanted to be the exchange student that was updated on their RYE-FL blog posts, but I let myself down. Luckily, I have been keeping my blog on an independent website which I have linked previously here about every week.

Time flies on exchange. They always tell you that in the orientations, and the Rotex tell you that once January hits it flies by even faster. It is true. I have passed my 6 month mark and sadly I have only 3 months more here as I am writing this blog post.
They also always tell you that you will not want to return to Florida. And it isn’t that I do not want to see my family (I do), but I have fallen head over heels in love with my life here. Honestly, I can see myself returning here and living here happily. Sure, I do not live in the safest, most modern, or cleanest place. But I live in a place filled with happy people, simple life, full of passion, and I love it.

I think I will just describe pretty much what I have been up to lately and everything typical here.

I have been on summer vacation since I returned from my South Trip which was the end of November, and we don’t go back to school until March 18th. So basically I have had four months of school vacation. Most people in Argentina use this time to travel after the holidays happen, unfortunately I was unable to travel with either of my two host families during this time. Luckily, I got to visit the neighboring province of Corrientes. I got to go to the capital city of the province, went to see Carnaval, and went to the beach city of Paso de la Patria.

First off, I want to mention the holidays. It is so different here. I think mainly because we are used to such a commercial build up in the United States and our holidays are in the winter. Here I had Christmas in about 115 degree weather, and was in the pool. So the first big tradition for Catholic families here (which the majority are) is to put up your tree on the 8th of December. However, at least in the North of Argentina real trees are not used because they cannot be found. So plastic trees are common, and are usually really short. They are immaculately decorated with red, white, and gold. Homemade ornaments aren’t really common. The kids then write a letter to Papa Noel and put it in the tree, and eventually he will come and take it. On Christmas (24th), the family goes to mass and comes home to eat. Typical foods are cold foods and finger foods. At midnight the celebration begins, and you will notice it as everyone starts doing fireworks and toasts with champagne. There is even a countdown on the television, similar to our New Years countdown. You go into the street and greet all your neighbors. As this was happening, I cried from pure happiness. I was so overwhelmed by how beautiful the celebration of Christmas was. It just felt so pure and happy to me. Then you go back inside, and Papa Noel has delivered all the gifts. It isn’t like in the States, with loads of gifts. The family members don’t even gift to each other. Every person receives one gift. Then the teens, including me, go out with their friends and party until the sunrises. Which means the 25th is basically just a normal day, which is pretty different. New Years follows the same pattern. Toasts at midnight, fireworks, and partying. Except, my New Years was rained out- so no fireworks or partying. But it still was great!

Okay moving on, Carnaval was one of the most amazing experiences I have had here. Corrientes is the Carnaval Capital of Argentina. One parade of Carnaval lasts from 10 at night to 6 in the morning. You scream, dance, sing, take pictures, and use silly string. It was lots of fun and definitely a great insight into the culture.

In Paso de la Patria, I got to go to the river. You can see Paraguay on the otherside of the river so it is very cool. My current host-family has a house there. So I have plans to go down again and I am very excited.

I have spent the rest of the time of vacations in my city with my friends, and to be honest I am ready to get back to school. I will be joining the “Quinto” class which is like senior year. We have designed our special shirt that we will wear and we are getting ready to present it in May. (I will tell y’all more about that when it happens.)

I also changed host-families for the first time in February. It was really hard for me. I had become really attached to my first family. On my last night they showed me a video of all our moments together, including the videos of when I arrived at the airport and me drinking mate for the first time. When my mom dropped my off at my temporary host house (I stayed with an Italian exchange student for a week while I waited for my 2nd host family to return from vacations) the last thing she said to me was “I love you daughter. If you need anything, ever, we will always be here for you.” We both walked away crying. I can honestly say I am truly blessed with both my host-families. My second host family is just as great.

Ok, other things about my life:

Food: Breakfast is milk. You can drink it with coffee or chocolate, hot or cold. But there is always milk. Then maybe toast, or cereal, or cheese. Lunch is the biggest meal. The work and school day stop for lunch. It always has meat. It can have pasta, potatoes, milanesa, steak, basically anything goes. Salad is always present. But it isn’t how our salads are- it is ground up carrots, sliced up tomatos or potatoes, ever present mayonnaise, basically anything goes again. And for dinner leftovers are common or they call for food. And everything delivers here, I guess when there is no drive-tru you just call it to your house?

TV: Soccer, all the time. But you have to choose River or Boca. Novelas, and they all seem the same: you can’t tell who is dating who, who is pregnant with whose baby, and generally bad actors. Also when they end it is a huge deal, and reruns are always on. Also, it is okay for sex to be on TV.

Weather: I come from Florida, I should be accustomed to heat. But I am not. It is the same exact climate here. And I sweat myself to death everyday. I think it is because A/C is basically non-existent in the majority of places.

Transportation: The driving age is “18.” Tons of people drive before that though, which I think contributes to the hectic roads. Motos (motorcycles) are more common than cars because it is easier to find parking spots and they behave traffic rules even less. Bikes and pedestrians are common. Taxis and remis (taxis you call) are common too. Horse drawn carts are also a mode of transportation, but only for the lower class of people. Buses are very efficient here, but very expensive. In fact, they are the most expensive in my city than in the whole county.

What people think of me: I have had so many questions addressed to me because I am from the USA. Surprisingly, the majority of intelligent or interesting questions or responses are from taxi drivers. I have been asked if I knew Forrest Gump (I had to explain it was a fictional character), why so many people are shot in the USA (warning for future outbounds- please prepare intelligent gun awareness responses), and every sort of question I could have received about Obama. Here I am considered blonde, which is amazing for me. It is amazing for everyone here that I am from Florida, and have been to Disney and Orlando, and just horrifies them I have never been to Miami or NYC.

There you go some things about my life here in a nice long post to make up for not writing in so long. As I have been writing I have been thinking why I love it here so much. I have come up with some reasons. I love how the people sing, dance, and laugh so freely. I love the monkeys in the park. I love walking down the street to bakeries and fruit stands. I love the simple life. I love the people and the passion. I love how the families are so close and important to each other. I honestly, cannot, think of one thing I do not like. I am so thankful to be here.

March 15, 2013

This journal will be about what I have learned on exchange so far. I still have 2.5 months left, so it isn’t complete.

1) All the practical things; like use a bus, wash clothes and dishes by hand, how to register for school, how to use a taxi, how to cook…etc. Oh, and how to ration money, and convince the mail to give you your packet without paying the crazy income tax.
2)Always say yes.
3) Don’t sit at home when you can be outside running and exploring.
4) And don’t eat when you are having a hard day
5) Try to love your host-family and they will love you back.
6) The only people who understand you 100% are the other exchange students.
7) Always speak your host-language, or atleast tell your head is throbbing and you just need a little break.
8) Learn your host-language, don’t give up, and accept corrections.
9) It will be hard, of course it will. There will be days that just plain suck. Just don’t let it bug you, move on, and don’t think about home.
10) It doesn’t matter what people think of you. Do what you want to do.
11) Try everything once.
12) Take time to laugh everyday, every hour.
13) Be patient, life will take its course.
14) Responsibility and respect, are very important.
15) With effort you can reach any goal.
16) I will always have a second home (with two actual families) to return to
17) I learnt about dreams and adventures.
18) How to say goodbye.
19) How to make decisions and seize the moments.
20) And to love the USA even more as an American citizen.

And I love everything that I have learnt. It is all a blessing. I am so thankful. For the hard moments and the moments that lifted me up and made me remember why I decided to this. A year on exchange is a whole life. It is friends, families, and school. It is changing everything you knew. It is learning and growing. That is what exchange truly is and what I have learned the most.

April 28, 2013

Exchange is so weird with time. Your first months pass so slowly. You are learning and doing new things everyday. You count each week, each month as it passes… “I have been here 1 month, 2 months, 3 months and 2 weeks.” Then it hits Christmas and you think, “Where did all my time go?” or “I need to make a list of everything I have to do, because I only have a little bit of time left.” And then New Year’s passes and it is April, in literally a blink of an eye. And its seems that you did nothing special, you were just living life, but how did more than 3 months pass so quickly? You arrive at your 6 month anniversary in your country, and instead of counting how many months you have been here, you count how many you have left. And then comes the day that you have less than 2 months left, you are counting the weeks until you go back home. But you aren’t counting them in anticipation, you are cou nting them in dread. You realize you have to maximize your time, you tell yourself to stop sleeping so much… Then you notice how much you have done. How well you have done your year. You don’t have any regrets. People start telling you how little time you have left and start talking about things that will happen once you are gone… And you resent them a little.

I have 6 more weeks left. 6 weeks to live life to the maximum, to be with my friends and family here, to learn things, to do things… And I am starting to realize; that yes, my heart will break going home. I don’t want to leave. But my heart won’t break it will just make two little hearts and one will stay here. It will stay in my home in Argentina, and when I want I can return. I have done what I can here. I am not saying I am ready to hop on the plane by any means. But, I am thinking about returning without resentment now. I know that I have people who love me waiting on the other end. I have a life to continue. Adventures to have.

So time may go fast, and everyone will tell you not to pay attention to it. But it is inevitable. So just remember, do all you can to make this year the best you can. And, when you return take all you have learned with you.

Exchange isn’t only weird with time. But with all those feelings you get. You will be the most emotional person ever on exchange. You feel everything stronger and more passionately. But luckily there are the people in your life that are there for you forever. That is your family. I have had the best luck with my host families here. I was used to having my family be the 5 of us in the USA. We weren’t the kind to get together with our family every holiday and we don’t even call everyone on their birthday. But now my family is so much bigger, and so much more connected. I know that their is nothing like my mom’s hugs, or being silly with my sisters, or talking about everything with my dad. But I have met other people who are part of my other family with other amazing characteristics. I have a sister who jumps into my arms every time I see her, and another who helps me with any question I have. I have 3 brothers. That I can send music to, play futbol with, a nd I have never had a brother. I have 2 more sets of parents who love me. Who cry with me, talk with me, and help me. I have aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents… I see them every week or skype them or talk to them on Facebook. I have a group of sisters. Of exchange students. Who understand every up and down. And with whom I can talk about anything. And I have that person who I am inseperable with, my other half. Anna from Italy is truly my sister, and one of the most perfect relationships I have had in my life. I am blessed to have so many people in my life who care about me and love me. In every corner of the world (the world is round?). I know they will always be there for me. Even if I don’t see them or talk to them for awhile, they will be there. My family (the one in Florida) helped me become the person I am in 18 years. And my families here helped me adapt that person even more. I am forever thankful to the both.

I am thankful for so many things and people now. My exchange year was the perfect fit for me and I can’t thank Rotary enough for this year.

I went on exchange trying as hard as I could to arrive with no expectations. But, I still came with the expectation that this year would change me, yes or yes. I have had people ask me how am I changing and I never had a response. But I realize now it isn’t the drastic changes, it is the adaptations to what is already there. I am more passionate, I think more, and step-by-step I have become Argentinean (complete with love for mate, asados, and siestas.) I have developed a much stronger relationship with God during my exchange as well. All of this is due to how I live life here. I notice the daily blessings so much more here. I see the sunset and sunrise everyday. I notice the people who have nothing, and how blessed I am. I see the passion in the way people dance, talk, and act here. In their smiles and thoughts and actions. I notice the sky and the stars. I notice what I have in my life; both here and there more now. Something has changed in me. I don’t know if it was noticing what I have or what I don’t (from going to orphanages and hospitals and even walking down the street.) Or just adapting so 100% to another culture. But I know for sure this year was in plan for me, my life was supposed to have this year in Argentina. This year was made for me so I could learn how to learn, to help, and to notice. I know my year isn’t done yet. But I know that the expectation I had about changing and having to DO something is gone. I have learnt, grown, noticed, helped, smiled, and made relationships to last a lifetime.

What I have done in a month and a half:
-Went to Salta and Jujuy with my host-family. We saw all the cool things to see. I ate llama. I climbed mountains. I danced folklore.
-Participated in 2 government protests. [The president here has gone down 11% in the polls in just 2 months. It is now almost impossible to leave the country, get dollars, and the economics here are 67% likely to get worse this year]
-Went to a hospital and orphanage to give donations out to children. My province is the third poorest in Argentina. 38% of people are below the poverty line, and 52% of children aged 2-5 are malnourished.
-I went to the Museum of Memory. It was the largest clandestine center during the Dirty War. I learnt that lots of my family and friends here were affected personally.
-Started school for the year
-We had our “senior year” party. Where we paint shirts with our class number and get together with the other “seniors” for an asado in the afternoon and a party at night.

But most importantly I am living life here. I live my Argentinean life everyday. It doesn’t really matter if something “special” happens.

Haley Eyring 
2012-13 Outbound to Korea
Hometown: Tampa, FL
School: Howard W. Blake High School
Sponsor: District 6890, FL
Host: District 3680, Korea
Club TBA

Haley - South Korea

August 22, 2012

I made it to South Korea!
I can’t explain how amazing this is. When I left Florida, I was scared and excited. I promised myself I wouldn’t cry but when my mom hugged me, it was a tear fest.
About 20 hours later, I arrived in South Korea. I didn’t worry about who would pick me up or what should I do. I just wanted to find my luggage and get out of the crowd. Once I found heather, we managed to get all of our belongings out to the front of the airport and meet our P.E. teacher who took us to Seocheon.

After being here a week, I have learned so much. My host family does their best to teach me Korean even though they don’t know English at all. We try to communicate in many ways but if we don’t understand, we use Google Translate.

I still have a lot to learn and I will do my best to succeed.
Thank you so much for making this possible!!! I couldn’t have got here without you Rotary!

April 8, 2013

It’s been about seven months since my last journal and all I can say is man have things changed drastically. To start off, I have switched families twice and am living with my last one now. My second host family was very welcoming and always included me. They wanted me to explain the culture differences between Korea and USA often. I had a little sister named Yuri who just started middle school and parents who have daytime jobs. My sister always looked up to me and mimicked what I had done. Since I am the youngest in my American family, I never realized there was such thing as the ‘older sister’ role. It benefited me in ways I would have never known. I have responsibility here more than I’ve ever had in America. My current host family is much different than the others. I live at a church with my parents and yet again, another younger sister, Boyoung. My father is the pastor and my mother is a housewife. Boyoung is a 9th grade student who will be coming to Florida on exchange 2013-2014. She absolutely loves K-pop music and playing the piano. My whole family enjoys watching television. Usually we watch a Korean comedy show called Running Man or KPOP STAR which is similar to American Idol. Although I don’t enjoy living in the most rural part of town, this family makes it all the better.

During the first semester of school, we only studied Korean and did not participate with the normal classes like Math, Science, and History. Two volunteer teachers came in to help us and teach conversational Korean. They also took us to visit nearby historical sites since we weren’t able to go to by ourselves. Every first, third, and fifth Saturday of the month, we had to attend a sport class of our choice. Three of the exchange students choose bowling, Heather, the other exchange student from Florida, decided to give swimming a try since we could already swim. It wasn’t what I had expected at all. This is probably when culture shock first hit me. After I bought my swim suit, cap, and goggles, it was time to hit the pool. When I first walked through the door to the women’s locker area, I was flabbergasted. Naked old women EVERYWHERE!!! First I thought “Get me out of here now!” Then I remembered a quote, ‘Do as the natives do.’ Luckily I wore my swimsuit to the pool so all I had to do was adjust my vision to the ground and head to the pool. After was a different story. We had to undress and shower with every other female in the locker room. I’ve never felt so many eyes piercing my body before. Awkward. In the shower area, an old woman went up to heather and motioned for her to scrub her back! “You scrub mine, I’ll scrub yours” is a rather easy way to explain the situation. After going to the class a few times, thee weather outside began to get colder as the days went on. Our counselor allowed us to switch the class to bowling. Thank god!!! However, if you go to a 찜질방, the same routine for the swimming pool occurs. On the bright side, after attending so many of those classes, I’ve gotten used to showering with old women and their eyes now feel like Jello. Once they look at me, they realize I am the same species and then their gaze slips away. Now that it is the s econd semester, I chose to do golf instead. What a wonderful decision that was. The only thing I have to adapt to with golf is immense pain in my back and old men staring at me haha.

The winter break started from January and ended mid-February. We went to school for a week and then had spring break. Spring break turned out to be freezing temperatures and a little snow. On March 4th, we began the next school year. Three days out of the week we attend Donggang middle school, the other two days are spent at the Animation High school where kids from all over the country can go to. At first I didn’t have many friends due to the fact that I was in a middle school with nobody my age but the other exchange students. Now I have made many friends at the high school that help me my Korean. One interesting fact about Korean teenagers is that if you want to make friends with them, you have to initiate the meeting. Most of the students would stare for a few minutes and then run away like lightning. Once you become friends with one, the others will join.

Korean language is by far the hardest language I have ever been interested in. Not only is the grammar different but the 한글(Hanguel; Korean alphabet) was created by using phonetics. Making the sound of each character was the most difficult thing to do. Many characters sound alike but have a slight change. In the beginning of my exchange, I hardly knew how to read Korean. As of now, I can understand most of what is said to me and reply with hesitation. For Korean, I’d say that’s a pretty good deal since I am surrounded by other English speaking exchange students.

Along with the language are other culture differences. Before winter break, all exchange students had to attend culture classes after school such as 사물놀이 (Salmulnori), cooking, calligraphy, and a sewing class. 사물놀이 is the most common and played all across Korea. It consists of a barrel drum, an hour-glass shaped drum, a gong, and a larger gong. I played the hour-glass shaped drum called 장구. Playing it was fun but hard. 사물놀이 has a lot of syncopation and requires you to multitask (I’m not too good at multitasking so you can imagine how off beat I was). I also got to choose a 한복(Hanbok) to have made for me at the sew. 한복 is the name of the traditional dress worn to festivals and celebrations. As pretty as the dress is, it does not compliment any body features so wearing it made me feel like a pumpkin. Many people wear the 한복 on the Lunar New Year when they tell the elders Happy New Year.

The fashion in Korea ranges but as of today, the teenaged girls tend to wear oversized shirts and leggings mainly because the baggy shirt makes them look skinnier. The boys wear sweat pants and a shirt. For the young adults, the women wear very trendy clothes along with high heels to make them look taller. Men typically wear either suits or top of the line clothing. I’ve tried to wear clothes that match with the ‘Korean style’, but some things are better looking in the closet than on me.

Food is another interesting topic. Obviously there are huge differences but some things I wish I wouldn’t have tried, I’m glad I did though. There are side dishes that come with every meal called 반찬 (Banchan). It usually consists of some sort of Kimchi, Pickled Radish, and Beansprouts. Kimchi is eaten with every meal and can be made from any underground vegetable such as radish and cabbage. Fresh Kimchi is much easier to eat than fermented Kimchi. There are many main dishes that people enjoy like 비빔밥 (Bibimbap), 떡볶이 (Dukbokki), and 불고기 (Bulgogi). Currently, 비빔밥 is Korea’s signature dish. It literally means mixed rice. There is vegetable, herbs, rice, and a spicy sauce mixed together. 불고기 is a more traditional meal and is not as common with native Koreans but enjoyed by many foreigners. It is made by grilling thin slices of beef marinated in soy sauce and other ingredients. However, there are meals that are not well-known by foreigners but eaten by many Koreans. A good example of this would be a type of Korean sushi. Sadly I don’t remember the name but it was a very memorable moment for me when I ate it. I was with Heather and her family at a fish market. In the back of the market on the second floor, there was a small dining area that served raw fish and other seafood. They ordered a huge plate of 2 different fish. Then her father showed us how to eat it. You first take a leaf or lettuce and place it in your hand. With the other hand, you pick up the slice of raw fish and dip it in ether a spicy chunky red sauce or a black bitter sauce. Once the fish is folded in the leaf, you put the entire ball into your mouth and eat it. Heather and I were in sync when we prepared it. Lucky for her, I was the first to chew it. Once I bit through the leaf and fish, I immediately began to gag and proceeded to vomit in a cup. That was embarrassing. Everyone was laughing so the owners took no offense to my action showing I didn’t like the food they prepared. Ever since, I have been very attentive to the foods I eat.

While in Korea, I haven’t been able to tour the country as much as I want to but I still have a little time. The Rotary club here has sent us on two trips so far, one being sponsored. The first trip was to Seoul. We stayed in the Olympic Park Hotel for two nights and three days. Within that amount of time, we visited the N서울타워 (N Seoul Tower/Namsan Tower), 이태원 (Itaewon), 동대문시장 (Dongdaemun Market), 한강 (Han River), 인사동 (Insadong), and 교보문고 (Kyobo Bookstore). Since you may not know what these places are, I will explain. The Namsan Tower is the north tower in Seoul with a spectacular view of the city! Itaewon is known for the foreigners that reside there. It is also a major red-light district so we only stayed during the daytime. The Dongdaemun Market is a very large area full of somewhat cheap shopping areas. The Han River is the 4th largest river in Korea with a length of 319 miles (514 km). Many tourist attractions are along this river such as the Gimpo Bridge and the Banpo Bridge. I haven’t visited the Banpo Bridge yet but it’s on my list. The Banpo Bridge Rainbow Fountain is the world’s longest bridge fountain. Insadong is the most traditional street in Seoul. Many Foreigners travel here to buy trinkets and other antiques. Lastly the Kyobo Bookstore is the largest bookstore in Korea. When we went to Itaewon, we were allowed to venture off on our own for about an hour. In that time, I found the Korean War Memorial. I was extremely upset that the group was not scheduled to go there. My time was limited so I couldn’t go inside but I plan to go back there for a day.  

The Rotary sponsored trip was to제주도 (Jeju Island). It was about a 30min flight. Our plane was held up for 20 minutes but I will explain why soon. Once we arrived in Jeju, my heart was racing. You wouldn’t believe how similar Jeju is to Florida. There were Palm Trees everywhere, not to mention Jeju oranges!!! The entire island was absolutely gorgeous. Jeju is a volcanic island. The volcano that erupted on Jeju 5,000 years ago is named성산 일출봉(Seongsan Ilchulbong) and is 180 meters high. We hiked all the way to the top. Talk about pain but worth it. We also visited용두암 (Yongduam; Dragon Head Rock). It was named after the natural lava formation on the coast. Around it were other lava rocks that I climbed to get a picture with. On the way down, a gigantic wave came and soaked me from my knees to my feet. My friend took a picture as the wave came… priceless. In the middle of the trip, we visited 한림공원 (Hallim Park) that had stone statues throughou t it. Later I found out the name of it is돌 하르방 (Dol hareubang; Stone Grandfather). They are made of porous basalt and are believed to ward off demons. This is a huge symbol of Jeju Island. Hallim Park was separated into three sections, Stone Garden, Caves, and Folk Village. The Hareubong statues were mainly located in the stone garden, the lava tubes had many features but the one that stood out to me most was the Pillar of Wisdom. It is said that if you walk around it, you become wise. My trip to Jeju was magnificent!

I have many other things I want to tell you about but this is getting pretty long so I want to tell you about one more subject that I have had many people ask me about.

It’s on the news worldwide, and now blowing up my inbox from people with questions such as “What is going on, are you safe?” As most of you know, North Korea has been very active this year and now has become a major threat. In previous years, N. Korea threatened that they will cover S.Korea in a sea of fire, bombs, and things of that sort. It really is a tradition as I see it. Every year this occurs. However, currently the threats are worsening. Missiles are prepared in launchers on the east coast that are said to be capable of reaching S.Korea, Japan, and Guam where U.S. Military bases are located. The U.S. showed military power by doing drills consisting of B-2 Stealth Bombers, F-25 Fighters, and Naval Missile defenses. This is why my plane to Jeju was delayed. A military base is very close to where I am living and drills are taking place in case something happens. Missile tests in America were halted due to possible tension with N.Korea. I have researched everything going on right now and even talked to few Koreans about it and what they think. As an American, we all think a little too much and sometimes overreact. With South Korea, from what I can tell, it’s the opposite. Many people say “Oh it’s just a threat’ and continue to live an ordinary life as if nothing is wrong. When I first heard about the nuclear test in February, I didn’t think much of it. The Korean culture has definitely had some effect on me and I’m not sure if that is a good thing in this situation. It didn’t hit me until a few days ago when I did all the research and concluded that this is reality. Regardless if it is just a threat, threats can escalate into the real deal. As for now, I feel safe here and am very curious to what is going to happen. I have many ideas about why these threats are getting out of hand but we will never know until decisions are made. Any misstep can be detrimental to relations between countries. Now it’s just a matter of time.

For seven months, a lot has happened during my exchange. It really has been life changing and I couldn’t be more thankful that I was chosen to be one of the first Rotary Youth Exchange Students to South Korea. My eyes have been opened to a whole new perspective. With every exchange student comes another step to world peace. Let’s make it happen!!!

Heather Snow 
2012-13 Outbound to Korea
Hometown: Milton, FL
School: Milton Central School
Sponsor: District 6940, FL
Host: District 3680, Korea
Club TBA

Heather - Korea

April 5, 2013

First of all, I would like to say I am sincerely sorry for no keeping up with these journal entries. It’s not everyday, until you’re on exchange, that you get to live in South Korea. Many things have happened and the resting time in between was little to none. Also, my iPad seems to have a problem with the RYE journal updating system. Luckily, that problem has been resolved and I will now grant you a journal. A massive, perhaps overly insightful, journal.~

My arrival in South Korea was fraught with peril:
Trying to steer large bags on a cart around gawking Korean people.
Hearing what sounded like a whole new language all around me (oh wait….).
Lastly, but not least, trying to find a Korean man whom I had no name for or information. You have to remember, at this point, everyone looked basically the same to my frazzled mind.
Once finding this man and his wife, whom I later found out was my P.E. teacher, I felt at peace for a few seconds…then we maneuvered our load to his car and made our trek to a small town called “서천” (Seocheon). My first thoughts of 서천 were “Oh my! It’s so much larger than my town in Florida” and “I’ll never be able to get anywhere”. 서천 has proved to be quite easy to make way in, actually. Although it boasts a population of nearly 25,000 in that region, it is quaint and simple in structure.
Back to the story!
When we arrived in Seocheon Haley and I, the other exchange student, parted ways and went to our host houses. How did I greet my host family? I gave them each a cultural American hug (which they were enthusiastic about). Adjusting to the time difference was quite easy. The heat and sounds…not so much. Since I arrived in mid-August, South Korea was in the peak of its summer season. In other words, it was scorching. However, when being assaulted with jet lag and the familiar sounds of nighttime insects, I found that I slept quite well.

After three days, my sister 송은 (song-eun) and I went to the school for an orientation. Once there, I reunited with Haley and met Taylor and Maddie, two other exchange students from America. In my mind, I was singing “it’s a small world after all…”. I was introduced to all of my schoolmates in 동강중학교 (Donggang middle school) that day as well, and I acquired a small taste of what my school life would be like. After school, we took a bus (it’s one of the main transportation methods in South Korea) to our homes, and I found that all of the exchange students were located in very close proximity of each other. Although this made me happy at the time, later on it would prove to hinder me in some ways. Later on, a student from Mexico was also placed near us.

In September, after being allowed one month to partially adapt to my new life, the exchange students and I were given permission to attend a country-wide conference at a prestigious college called “경기대” (Kyonggi university). In order to get there we had to take a three hour train (my first train ride ever – needless to say, I was ecstatic) to “경기도” Kyonggi-do. When we arrived, we met a former student of 동강중학교 and took a taxi to the university where we were assigned name cards and talent fields. The choice talent fields were “human rights and politics”, “arts and culture”, and another field that dealt with Eco-friendliness and such. I was placed in the Human Rights and Politics group. We traveled to some pretty awesome sites in the few days we were there, and also formed debate and discussion teams for the final exhibition at the end of the conference. I worked with other exchange students from around the world and also native Koreans who spoke English well. The conference really took everyone out of their comfort zones and put them on the spot. All in all, it was very enjoyable, especially when my group won the final exhibition with the best debate.

Soon after returning to 서천, in the days that followed, I had an accident. While climbing the wall to unlock another exchange students door (she forgot her keys), I slipped and severely gashed my hand on a piece of tin. My right index finger hand major damage done, along with surrounding areas on my palm. I was rushed to the hospital and given temporary stitches, strong meds, and plenty of doses of morphine while being advised to attend my surgery date on October 5th. Yes, I had microsurgery in Korea. However, it was a great experience. My surgeon was amazing and the women I bunked with at the hospital all had a great sense of humor. Do I recommend it? Unless you need to be admitted to the hospital, no.

Before my tragic finger incident, I attended a swimming class every two weeks for one day. If you have an aversion to naked people and offered back scrubs, I highly recommend going to a public swimming pool. Once in the class building, you are required to go to a gender-specific room and, quite literally, strip with other women. First you must take a shower and cleanse yourself in a large public shower with other naked women. Then you must put on your swimsuit in the shower…with other naked women. After that, you go to the swimming pool and swim until your heart is content. Now you simply have to strip again, wash, (while being stared at and having women offer to wash you) and change back into your clothes. Easy, right? Definitely for the naked-squeamish students out there.

After switching from the swimming class to the bowling class once it began to get bitterly cold, I found the korean idea of sports much more enjoyable. For bowling, I got to sit out. You can’t bowl with a cast, right? After my finger healed, I did get to enjoy the bowling class a little. At that point it still hurt to move it too much, so I couldn’t afford to put strain on it.  
I am currently attending a golf class now and, let me tell you, it’s much harder than it looks! Hello lower back pain.

Since I’ve been in Korea, I’ve been able to travel here and there. One of the first trips I went on was the designated Seoul trip for all of district 3680 exchange students. The trip was three days, two nights, and it was my first time traveling to the capital. Heres a heads up: don’t be overwhelmed! You’ll miss so many things and not even realize what you’re doing until you’re out of the city. While in Seoul, I went to an old palace, one of the largest museums in Korea, and of the best shopping areas in Korea. (There were many other places as well, but I’m trying to summarize). Our hotel was located in the Olympic park and was called, for obvious reasons, the Olympic Park Hotel.

I’ve also had the opportunity to take day trips to other cities like Daejeon and Suwon. Although these trips were lovely, I recommend finding a host so you can spend more than one day in these areas. There is too much to see and one day doesn’t cover all of it.

Around this time, the exchange students had to switch host families. I was graciously placed in a small town that was still considered a section of 서천 called 화양 “Hwayang”. From that day for three months I was deemed the “preacher’s daughter” due to my fathers position as the preacher of 화양’s church. Did I mention that I lived on top of the church? Yes, the view was spectacular…because, as you didn’t know, the abode was placed atop a large hill overlooking 화양. I bonded with that family a lot and I loved it there despite its partial isolation. I guess you could say, in a way, it felt like home.

While with my second host family, I was granted permission to attend a B.A.P. (boy Kpop group) concert along with Taylor, another exchange student. We traveled to Seoul with her family and went to my first concert. It’s safe to say that I am thoroughly smitten with this Kpop group. After the concert, we stayed in a jimjilbang (a Korean bath house that is similar to the public pool in the naked department) and rose early the next morning to do some last minute shopping then head home.

While I’ve been in Korea, I’ve made many life-long connections. One of my best friends, whom is also in her forties, is one of those many connections. I am bringing her up specifically because she is one of the people I can honestly say I will never part with. This woman’s name is 기은, (ki-eun) a traveling religious missionary who sought my help in learning English. We became fast friends and have shared much with each other. Her soul is young and she portrays that in her personality, although she’s had her motherly moments with me. I enjoy her company and she thoroughly enjoys mine. She loves traveling with me, and our last escapade was to a small town called 순천 (soon-chan). This town boasted a beautiful national park and magnificent landmarks. I was charmed by it and I instantly understood why she chose it as a traveling spot.

Now we enter the final stretch of this journal, but I still have much to tell you before the conclusion.

I am now with my third and last host family of my exchange, and I have loved them ever since the first day of switching. My mother was woman who drove me to the hospital and rubbed my bare bottom in front of a Korean crowd in order to spread morphine through my blood system more efficiently. She promptly reminded me of that my first day of living here by doing a small rerun (with clothes) and has done so every morning when I first rise. I also have a brother and sister who are in high school. Although we don’t see each other much, we laugh at each other’s antics whenever we can. Also, I now attend an art and design high school two days out of the week, and it’s a dream come true. My main courses are drawing and digital art, along with Japanese and partial volunteering in the English classes. I’ve made many friends already, and I thoroughly enjoy going to this school. Since it is a private academy, Korean students from all over Korea attend and stay in dorms on campus. They are open and always willing to make conversation, even if it’s choppy. Along with this new school, I also go to normal classes on 동강 now. Before the new courses, the exchange students were required to sit in the library for half of the year. Now I am able to learn in a class setting and experience the life ( kind of ) of a middle school student.

Recently, I went on a Rotary-sponsored trip to an island off the coast of Korea but still in its technical border, Jeju. It is a highly tropical island and the only you can travel to it is either by boat or plane. By plane, it is a mere thirty minutes, and well worth it. While in Jeju, I explored caves, museums, and even had the chance to see the awe-inspiring view of Jeju from atop one of its dead volcanoes. Since our condo was next to the sea, I slept in a small closet/balcony so I could fall asleep to the sound of the waves (not only did it remind me of home, but the heater was always on high – I was melting). This one one of the most memorable trips up-to-date of my time here in Korea, and I look back on it often with fondness. It was absolutely amazing and I have made it one of my goals in life to experience Jeju with more time than I was allotted – there is simply too much to take in in order to be satisfied with a few days.

Here is my short, but sweet, conclusion. I promise to update more in my spare time, as I only have until June 1st to tell you about my life before I leave this place I am proud to call home.

There are currently no actual hostile strikes from North Korea, but the safety of South Korea is in jeopardy. I will keep you informed, and please visit the link for more up-to-date information. 잘자!~

Jake Mothersill 
2012-13 Outbound to Spain
Hometown: Longwood, FL
School: Lake Brantley High School
Sponsor: District 6980, FL
Host: District 2202, Spain
The Rotary Club of Pamplona

Jake - Spain

Well, it’s finally that time. The time to put down all my thoughts, experiences, and other stuff about my exchange so far in Spain. It’s been about 2 months now, so you can imagine that I have a lot to put down but I’ll try to keep it simple.

So let’s start from the beginning. It all started that wonderful afternoon when I got off my flight in Madrid and went to get my bags. As I sat at the baggage claim for around an hour and a half and saw the same bags going on the conveyer belt, I realized, where the heck are my bags with all my things? Well, I tried to ask someone where I could figure this out in the best Spanish I could make, and the nice man pointed the way…..straight to the exit of the airport. So there I was, with no bags, no idea where I was. It took about another 30 minutes to walk back to the entrance where I finally met a lady who understood English at one of the counters who happily said, “Oh don’t worry, your bags are already in Pamplona.” It was a blessing and kick in the chest at the same time. I think she saw how worried I was and so she gave me a free lunch voucher at any restaurant in the airport which helped dull the agony. So I went through security (again), had my free lunch, and went off to Pamplona where I currently am now.

Let’s fast forward to present day where I will now tell you all the wonderful and different things about Spain and Pamplona. I am currently living with my first host family in an apartment/house mix in a small neighborhood called Gorraiz which is about 15 minutes from Pamplona. Let me just say that the city of Pamplona is absolutely amazing. Everything about it, from the architecture, the food (Ohhhh the food), and the people is completely new and astounding.

Speaking of food, here’s a funny story. So I’m having dinner with my family one night and my mom puts this plate of meat in front of me. I took a bite and it was pretty good and so I asked, what is it? She said something in Spanish and so I pulled out my helpful translator app and typed in the word and it translated to bunny. BUNNY!?!?! How could I let myself fall to this horrible, yet very tasty act? But other than that instance the food here is nothing short of incredible.

For school, the journey there is fairly similar to the one I usually do in America. I get up, walk to the bus stop (not a school bus, a public bus) and take a ride to my stop where I walk to school. However the school day is a lot different from school in America. First of all, it’s 1 hour shorter (Hooray). The big thing though is that class schedules are much different. Every day you will have your classes in a different order, with some days having new classes and some days losing some classes. It was difficult at first but after a couple of weeks you get the hang of it. Let me tell you, that first day of school, I’m pretty sure was introduced, met, or came into contact with every single person in my school. What’s funnier is that a lot of kids tried to ask me questions or speak in English and it would come out like, “Hi…how you do? You want sit here by me?” I used a lot of hand signals the first couple of weeks but nowadays my Spanish is a lot better and feel like I can actually make long conversations with my friends and family.

I can honestly say that I have learned more Spanish in 2 months in Spain than I have with 2 years of Spanish class. Since I first arrived at school, I have successful completed my mission of achieving a group of friends including Kevin, Mikel, Jose, Tudor, and many more that I know but can’t spell out their names.

My experiences here so far have been fantastic and I love everything about Pamplona so far. I can’t wait to see what these next couple of months bring me but I definitely know that they are going to be great. Everything that Rotary has done for me to prepare me for this has been the best and I can’t thank them enough for allowing me this opportunity. Though it will be difficult at some times, I know that the overall experience is going to be worthwhile. I hope you all enjoyed reading about my experiences so far and I hope to share more of them with you in the future. Pamplona and Rotary Youth Exchange are both amazing journeys.

May 4, 2013

Wow, it’s been a while since I last posted a journal, and with everything that has happened since my last post, I figured it would be easier to sum it all up in a list. So, here we go
Since my last journal in November, I’ve actually switched families twice. I moved to my 2nd family in the beginning of December. My 2nd family was in a small neighborhood outside of Pamplona called Multilva, and for the time I was there, I had a blast. I loved Multilva because a lot of my friends lived there so it was a lot easier to hang out with them. My family was really nice, but they were also a really big family. With 4 daughters and 3 brothers, it was hectic at times. I travelled to a lot of cities in Spain with them, but my favorite would have to be Malaga. Malaga is in the south of Spain, and we went there during Christmas break. We travelled to Malaga on my first high speed train, which was pretty cool. After about 4 months with my 2nd family, I moved to my 3rd family (where I am now) at the end of March. My 3rd family lives in a small town about 20 minutes outside of Pamplona called Puente la Reina. At first, I was really hesitant to move this far from the ci ty, because I felt that I wouldn’t be able to see my friends or go to Pamplona as often. However, my family literally knew exactly how I was feeling and on the first day told me to not worry and that they would drive me whenever I wanted. In reality, this family is actually my favorite family of the 3. The town of Puente la Reina is beautiful and my family has really treated me like part of their family. We also went on vacation for spring break just outside the city of Barcelona. However, I still got a chance to visit the city and it was one of the most, if not the most, beautiful cities I have ever seen. I got to take a huge tour that took me across the city from the harbors, to the inner city, to the Olympic stadium, and to other places. I even got a chance to go to my first ever football in Barcelona and it was awesome. Since then, I have enjoyed my time with my family, and I’m looking forward to these last few months with them.
Honestly, school has gone better than I ever thought it would. Since my post in November, I’ve been able to pull up a lot of my grades and even participate a lot more in classes. I’m only failing 3 of my 11 classes in total, which is a plus in my book. Also, I’m even able to transfer my grades back to the United States which means I won’t have to repeat my junior year, which I’m really happy about. Besides that, school has stayed mostly the same.
Since my last journal, I’ve been to make a lot more friends and make better relationships with the friends I already have. I’m getting invited to more things with my friends and we all talk a lot more with each other in school. It’s sad that I only get to have a few more months with them, because they have been some of the best friends I’ve had.
Okay, I’m just set this straight. The weather in Pamplona is just awful. Not that it is affecting my exchange in any way; it’s just that the weather here is normally really bad. In all honesty, the weather has not changed since winter. It is the beginning of May and it is the same weather as it was in January. It is always in close to 40 degrees all day, and it constantly rains. Mix that with the freezing temperature, and you got yourself some nasty weather.
My language has definitely improved since my last post. I can understand people a lot better, and my main goal right now is to just learn more words every day. I’m able to talk with friends with ease now and I can even participate in answering questions in class. My language improvement has also helped with my grades improving and has helped me enjoy my exchange a lot more.

Well the food has pretty much stayed the same as it did in November, but my taste for food has adjusted to the Spanish culture a lot more. A lot of the foods I didn’t like in November are some of my favorites now. I also got in the habit of drinking a lot of coffee than I ever did (every day). I’ve also have started to eat a lot more salad (every day with lunch and dinner)

Regarding homesickness, I feel as though I never hit that point to where it affected my exchange in any way. While I obviously missed my family, it never reached a point to where I got homesick. I am starting to get sad over the fact that I only have a few more months in Spain. I really don’t want to leave behind everything and everyone that I’ve come to know over the course of my exchange, but I also miss many of the aspects of my life back in Florida. I’m looking forward to making these last few months count, and making my exchange that much better

Jasmine Norris  
2012-13 Outbound to Japan
Hometown: Winter Park, FL
School: Winter Park High School
Sponsor: District 6980, FL
Host: District TBA, Japan
Club TBA

Jasmine - Japan

So I can’t believe that I’ve been in Japan for one month but it has been so packed that it flew by. I experienced culture shock the first day I was here and it was kind of scary when I realized how far I was from home but I got over that once I started having fun. The first week I just did the tourist things like shopping in Harajuku and Shibuya, visiting shrines, karaoke, and saw a summer night festival. All of those things were fun and exciting but the second week I started to settle into my life and do normal things like wash dishes, ride bikes and trains, and go to school, we started school the third week.

First impression:

When I first got here I came with barley any expectations. I wanted to keep an open mind and try new things even if I didn’t like it.. hahaha the food. When I got off the plane I went straight to the bathroom but of course it was high tech and I didn’t know how to flush the toilet. 45 minutes after getting off the plane and struggling through baggage claim, I made to 5 rotarians wondering if I was the right Jasmine because they meet two before me. The ride home took 3 hours because of traffic in Tokyo but it was worth it because I got to see the skyline of Tokyo and finally got some sleep. When I got to my host family’s house they quickly told me the rules and told me I had to make a speech for the Rotary meeting I’ll be attending in 12 hours. Let just say I knew I would have to work hard from there on out.

The Food.

The food was the only thing that I was worried about coming to Japan. I didn’t like fish, most vegetables, RAW FISH, coffee, tomatos, and many other things I had the first week but to be honest, I think I’m use to it and kind of like eating those things. I’ll admit not everything is my favorite and I eat it because I don’t want to be rude but I really like soba, a type of noddles, octopus, some sushi, and I always drink tea. I still prefer Korean and Chinese food over Japanese but most of the food is still great.


So I started school 4 days ago and it’s Sunday right now and I’m actually at school writing this because we’re having a school festival that last all day. There’s nothing in America like this. It’s like homecoming week on steroids shoved into two days where the public is invited. Yes I do have school on Saturdays but every other saturday and it’s only for half of the day. School has been fun at times and lonely at others. I’ve made a lot of friends from my class (which has 42 students) but not close enough where they want me to hang out with me and do stuff out of school. I know those relationships take time but I’ve been here for a month and I still haven’t seen any exchange students ( a blessing and a curse within itself). There are those moments when your on top of the world because everyone knows you and says hi and I love your eyes and eyelashes but than I have those moments when I think why isn’t anyone talking to me why can’t they explain to me what’s going on. Some things that are different from American school are the boys and teachers. The boys are so shy. So many boys say my name and take pictures when they think I’m not looking but they never approach me. If the come near me and barely touch me, they say sorry and if I move out of the way they say thank you; weird right? No, just Japanese style. The teachers are really nice to me and the principal is so happy that I came to this school. Teachers change classrooms not the students, so this is technically our classroom which we must clean. I’ve only been here for less than a week so I’ll see how many interesting stories I’ll have next month.


Japanese makes me want to cry. Everyone here wants to speak engrish ,yes that’s how they say it, to me but it only makes it harder for me to learn Japanese and it makes me feel like a burden. My friend e-mailed me and say that she will study English harder so she can talk to me more but I’m the one in her country, I’m the one that needs to learn the language. I think the hardest part about not knowing the language is having so much to say but you can’t get your point across and you have to sum it up in one word that you can barely pronounce. So, why not learn the language? Trust me I am but not fast enough. I study at least 3 hours a day but I usually remember 5 words. It’s hard and I can’t give up but the end result will hopefully be worth it in the end.


I have met my fourth host family who seems awesome and loving. I know my second family who has a daughter in Florida, D6950 and I’m in love with my current host family. I’m living with the Tonuma in Kawaguchi, Saitama basically because they speak english. I’ll admit that sometimes I do take advantage when it comes to speaking english but I’m extremely grateful because they translate for me and it’s a lot easier to learn Japanese from them. I live about 10 minutes outside of Tokyo so I’ve gone there often but the problem is everything I need to attend is far away meaning school and Rotary. To get to school I ride my bike 20 minutes to a parking place. Than I walk to the train station and take a 20 minute train from Nishi Kawaguchi to Yono. After that I walk 25 minutes to school making my commute around 1 hour and 5 minutes. My Rotary club is one station away from school so you might see my dilemma with transportation. Other than that, I’ve h ad an amazing time with my host family. They’ve taken me to Harajuku, Shinokubo, Karaoke, a summer night festival, and Nagano! I’m made many memories already and they now consider me family. I already know it will be hard to leave them.


Rotary in Japan is so different from RYE Florida. In a good way or bad way is yet to be determined. I’ve been here for a month and still haven’t seen any exchange students. I understand why Scott might be happy thinking, “less english.. good,” but it does get lonely sometimes. I have friends at school but they just don’t understand some of the hardships that I go through. Being away from your comfortable bed, not seeing your friends or family, not being able to drive yourself places, just being a foreigner. What I’m trying to say is that our Rotary clubs are more involved with the exchange students than our district is. Actually, it seems like my district is run by Rotex but I could be wrong seeing how I haven’t been to any events. With that said my Rotary club is awesome. They have had a dinner for me and are paying for my expensive class trip to Okinawa! Everyone in my district also has their own personal counselor with definitely has its benefits.

I can’t believe I’ve been in Japan for a month already. That’s so much to do, places to see, and people to talk to. Of course this wouldn’t have been possible without Scott, Mrs. Lutz, my mom, Sarah, family and friends. Arigatou gozaimasu. Now it’s time to go enjoy Japan more. じゃね!

Jenna Schilling 
2012-13 Outbound to Denmark
Hometown: Howey in the Hills, FL
School: Tavares High School
Sponsor: District 6980, FL
Host: District 1480, Denmark
The Rotary Club of Holbæk Østre

Jenna - Denmark

September 4, 2012

Today marks my first month in the beautiful country of Denmark. I can honestly say that it has been the best month of my life, I’ve done so many different and remarkable things that I know I would have never tried in the US. It’s crazy to think that just a year ago I was working on my application to apply, and now I’m here, living it. 

When I first arrived a was a little homesick, and there are still times when I miss some things, but I also find myself adapting, everyday I’m adapting, I may not realize it at the time, but when comparing America to Denmark, I really see how I am becoming a Dane. 

I have started school, I’ve been in it for about 3 weeks now, and I can honestly say I love it. It’s very different then in the states, there’s more freedom, but also a lot more responsibility. I’m in class 1x, which is the sports line, there is roughly around 27 students and for the next three years the will all have class together, excluding electives. My classmates are so nice and very helpful, because of them, I know so much more Danish now.

My first host family consists of 4 family members, and then if course myself! I have my host mom Birgitte, a younger host sister, Katrine, an older host brother Rasmus, and another host sister Amalie who left for Brazil about a month ago, they are so nice and I really feel accepted into their family. 

I’ve spent the past week with 150 other exchange students from around the world, in a small town called close to Århus in Jutland, it was the first meeting of the year, and I can honestly say it was a week I will never forget. Not only did we socialize, and really get to know each other, but we also had 6 hour Danish lessons for a week, which I must admit, could be quite arousing at times, but I made it through. It wasn’t all work throughout the week, they have numerous activities planed for us. Some including, walks, a Hyggeaften which is just hanging out and relaxing while drinking tea/coffee. We rocked climbed and traded pins, had a wonderful concert by the band Quick Quick Obey, made bracelets out of bicycle tubes, and ended the week with a dance. 

Now I’m back in school, and learning the Danish lifestyle, which I find myself loving more and more each and everyday. I can not thank everyone in Rotary enough, back home in Florida and even here in Danmark they have done so many things to help me. I know that this will be the best year of my life, and I have them to thank for it! So Tak Rotary International.

January 11, 2013

I never know how to start these things, I re-type them over and over again. I guess I just find it odd to be writing about myself.

Daily Life: Normal ya know, Sleep, eat, go to school, sleep some more. I’ve left the tourist days long behind, and with starting a new year I have much more motivation to do things and put myself out there. My school days start at about 7:00 and usually finish about 15:00.

Walk much?: If your on exchange you know exactly what I’m talking about. Before I arrived in Denmark I was not this way at all. I feel like if there is something, that is in no way possible to fall over, I fall. Of course these moment’s happen in front of everyone. I actually had someone introduce themselves to me followed by “Didn’t you fall down the stairs yesterday?” But see the thing is, you just have to embrace your incoordination. It’s gonna happen, if you want it to or not. 

Homesickness: It’s happened. Not so much during the holiday’s, but on my little brothers birthday I was crying my eyes out. A lot of people try to deal with this by curling up in there beds or talking with other exchange students. I tried a different approach, I talked with my class. They were so supportive and really helped me through that time. 

Exchange Students: They are the best. I know that with the other exchange students that I have made life long friends all over the world. It’s nice to talk with other exchangers and talk with them about simple things that the Danes may not understand. 

Host Family: If you haven’t heard. I’ve moved to my second host family. They are great, I love them so much and I’m going to be so sad to leave. In the family there is Pia, my host mom, Rene, my host father, Casper, my host brother who lives in Copenhagen, Anja, who also lives in Copenhagen, and Julie, who goes to school with me. 

My Danish Friends: Now that I’ve been here for some time and finally understand what people are saying, I’m really seeing the different personalities of my friends and classmates. I have some close friends, who I am thankful for everyday. They help me with just the littlest questions and things that I would have never found myself asking in Florida. 

Church & the Danes- In the Danish culture Christmas is very different from the one in the USA. It starts on the 24th, usually around 3PM by going to church, which I find ironic considering that most of the Danes (especially the teens) have no care in religion at all. They only go because their parents force them. 

Fede- Fede was my oldie, I said goodbye to him at the airport about a week ago. He’s from Argentina, and he truly became like a big brother to me. He was there when I had questions and for the first time I rode the train. I am so thankful for everything he’s done. Tusind tak Fede! 

New Years resolution- For me it’s to completely submerge myself in the Danish language, so far so good. I really want to learn everything that I possibly can. I want to go back to Florida speaking as fluently as I can. Ohh and lose 10 pounds.

April 2013

As I’m coming down to the last three months of my exchange I’m realizing things that I haven’t noticed before, I’ve changed so much since I’ve been here and I hope that this person that I have evolved into will continue to be the same person when I have to return back to the US. I can’t even begin to list the things that I’ve learned on exchange, there is so many of them, most of them you go day by day without even realizing it. I feel like I’m ready to face the world after this year. There so much I want to see and do, things that never really interested me until this year. I can’t wait to see what the world has in store for me.

Preparing to go home is possibly the strangest thing I’ve ever experienced. These past months have been absolutely amazing. It’s like I can finally fit it and be myself. I have friends that really know me and support me. Leaving them is going to be so tough, I can’t picture my life without them.

I’ve moved into my new host family and I can honestly say I love it there the family consists of 4 members, Henrik my host father, Lone my host mother, Nicolai my host brother, and Katrina my host sister who is in Little Rock on exchange for the year also. I feel so at comfortable with them and its really nice.

In a short while I will be going on Euro Tour, I’m so excited for this, I get to spend 18 days on a bus with around 50 other exchange students, were starting the tour in Hamburg, Germany, then down through Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Lido di Jesolo, Venice, Verona, San Remo, Monaco, Avigon, up to Paris, Bruxelles, and Finally Amsterdam. I’m looking forward to this tour so much!

Jenneva Clauss  
2012-13 Outbound to Sweden
Hometown: Gainesville, FL
School: Buchholz High School
Sponsor: District 6980, FL
Host: District 2370, Sweden
The Rotary Club of Nacka

Jenneva - Sweden

October 18, 2012

Hej, jag heter Jenneva! Jag bor i Nacka, Sweden. Nacka is about a 15-minute bus ride from the center of Stockholm! (Venice of the North) When I first got off the plane I found out my bags had been lost. This was probably because between my flights, which I was running through the airport to catch, there was about no time for my luggage to make it onto the same plane as I was going to catch. It actually turned out to be even more convenient that my bags had been lost. This is because in Sweden if you loose your bags the airline delivers your bags straight to your house! Even though my house is about an hour away from the airport, my bags were delivered the next day! I have never heard of this kind of airline service in America… I never even had to carry my two heavy suitcases through the airport.

My first week was filled with adventures throughout Stockholm city. I did a lot of shopping throughout my first week, and I quickly realized that the prices in Sweden are MUCH higher… for everything! In Stockholm, there is a theme park right on the water and it is amazing! It is named Gröna Lund and I went there on only my third day here. About two weeks after arriving in Sweden, I attended a language camp for all the students in the surrounding area in Sweden. I learned a lot there, and was also able to meet and become friends with many other exchange students from many different countries around the world.

The biggest thing in Sweden would probably be FIKA! Fika can’t really be translated into another language, but the best description of fika is when you eat Swedish pastries and drink coffee with friends and Swede’s do ALL the time! Swedish schools are also very different. It’s similar to a college schedule. You have different classes every day, get out at different times, and start at different times. Although throughout your classes you stay with the same class and have the same people in all of your classes throughout high school or gymnasium (Swedish high school).

Even though I have only been here a little over two months, exchange has taught me so much about different cultures and about myself. It is definitely not always easy, but it would not be teaching me so much if it were always such a breeze.

Until next time,
Hej då!

January 15, 2013

After being here for close to half a year Stockholm, Sweden has become my home. The streets of Gamla Stan and T-Centralen I have memorized and come to love just as much, maybe even more, than the streets I know in Florida. The subway has become a place where I feel safe and that is familiar to me. The long hours it takes to use public transportation seem to be shorter now and the faces more inviting. I never thought my feelings towards Sweden would differ so much from my first two months here to now, my half waypoint. It feels incredibly strange to say.

One of the hardest experiences on my exchange so far happened last Saturday when we had to say goodbye to our Aussie ‘oldies’ because their exchange year had ended. It really opened all of our eyes to realize that we are now the ‘oldies.’ We know this city, this culture, and language a lot more than we ever expected to. We realized we are now really part of this city and this culture and that our knowledge of the Swedish language grows every day.

I feel as though Stockholm is overlooked when thinking about the magnificent, historical cities of Europe. Stockholm is often times called the Venice of the North though. I can completely agree. Everything about Stockholm makes me feel at home now, as though I have been here my whole life. I feel the history by just walking on the streets that I know millions of others in history have walked on the same cobblestones. Stockholm in few words can be described as beautiful and incredible. Pretty much what I’m trying to say is that I feel like I finally belong in Sweden and that Stockholm is my new home.

I have the feeling of understanding myself more and understanding everything a little more, which almost every exchange student talks about. To all you future exchange students, THE FEELING IS REAL. At times exchange can be hard and you can miss home, but you really have the best support group in your host country. This support group is made up of your fellow exchange students, your host family, and friends. They really do make this experience the best it can be. My eyes have already been opened to the world that is so close for all of us to get a taste of. I am starting to learn how incredibly small the world really is and that my hunger for exploring it won’t stop here in Stockholm. The people you can meet, the culture you can be a part of/ experience, and the things that will make you speechless in every way possible are really priceless.

Josh Meinert 
2012-13 Outbound to Spain
Hometown: Tallahassee, FL
School: Leon High School
Sponsor: District 6940, FL
Host: District TBA, Spain
Club TBA

Josh - Spain

December 12, 2012

The past 91 days here have been absolutely amazing! I’m already dreading the day I have to leave. I’m learning so much about Spanish culture, the Spanish language, and about myself. I’ve met some great people, have eaten some delicious new foods, and traveled to some pretty cool places. So much has happened in so little time but it seems like I’ve been here forever. I can’t explain it and I don’t know if I ever will be able to. I think about the people that I’ve met and that just over two months ago I didn’t even know who they were.

Miranda de Ebro is a nice city of about 45,000 people and is split in two parts by a river. Most of my friends live towards the middle of the city and on a normal weekend we go there for the day and sit on benches and eat sunflower seeds. During the week I practice soccer with my friend’s team. Even though I’m terrible the guys make me feel like a part of the team. School ends at 2:30 and then I go home to eat lunch and at 3:00 I take a siesta until around 5. 

I think about the language and how far I am from being fluent and then I look back and see all the progress I’ve made. It’s hard to not be understood but it is ever more frustrating not being able to make people understand. Learning a new language is so fun but it’s hard when I’m not learning and I just have to speak using what I already know. I was talking with another exchange student the other day in Spanish and it seemed like my level was incredible for only being here 3 months. However, when I open my mouth and try to speak with someone I get all choked up and the words come out more like vomit. Every day I learn something new and speak a little bit more and every day I grow a little on the inside.

The second month of my exchange was the hardest for me. I had gotten over the initial excitement of being in a new place with new people and new everything a little bit before the typical exchange student and I started to get a bit homesick. I would have the most elaborate dreams about returning home to my friends and telling them about all of the awesome adventures I’ve had. But then.. things started to become normal. These people are no longer just a part of my “trip to Spain.” These people are now my family. For every piece of my life that I had to say goodbye to when I boared the plane I’ve found a Spanish equivalant. 

Exchange has made me feel so many different emotions and at times there are just too many of them. But no matter how shitty my day is going, talking to another exchange student always cheers me up. I guess that’s just the family that Rotary Youth Exchange builds! 

Hasta luego


Juli Duque 
2012-13 Outbound to Czech Republic
Hometown: Miramar, FL
School: Everglades High School
Sponsor: District 6990, FL
Host: District 2240, Czech Republic
Club TBA

Juli - Czech Republic

October 28, 2012

I have had such an amazing time in the last two months that I don’t really know how to describe and summarize it into one Blog.

I have laugh, cried, done things I would have never done, met people I will forever remember, and gone places I only ever imagined.

When I first found out I was coming to the Czech Republic I cried, I was so upset and I felt like Rotary sent me here because they hated me. I originally wanted to go to Italy, France, or Germany. You know… the popular places. Little did I know I would love Rotarians for the rest of my life for sending me here.
The Czech Republic is the most beautiful place I have ever seen. I feel like I am a princess living in a fairytale land. There are so many castles. I often find myself thinking this is not real. The culture is so different, and even though many people say Czechs are very closed people, I must disagree. I find them to be friendly and caring.

I live in a town called Písek. It is so small; I think it has a population of about 20,000 people. The architecture is stunning. The buildings are so old and gorgeous. Písek also has the second oldest bridge in Europe, and I walk through it every day. I go to a school that is in the center of town, and it is connected to the castle. The school itself is very old and has about 300 kids. But I love it so much. My classmates are awesome! I have the best host family in the world. They are so sweet and caring. I feel like I am actually part of the family since day one. I feel very lucky.

I have visited so many places inside Czech Republic, and each place is beautiful in its own way. I think my favorite place has been Prague. It is SO LOVELY. When I told people I was coming to Czech Republic, the first thing they said was” WOW Prague is beautiful” I always thought they were exaggerating a bit. But I can tell you, it is the most beautiful place I have ever seen. It doesn’t even look real. I have also been to Germany, Slovakia, and Poland. And I will go to Austria next month for the Christmas markets.

It. Is. So. COLD! Like all the time. It’s October. IT SNOWED TODAY! It was the first time I have ever seen snow. And it was magical. Tuesday night I saw that it would snow in my weather forecast and I told EVERYONE, my friends and family told me it wouldn’t snow because it was only October. But I knew it would. So I woke up early and it wasn’t snowing. During lunch I looked out the window and saw it. I freaked out! I just ran outside and all my family started laughing. It was GREAT!

I have been here for 52 days but I can already see the changes in me. It might sound a bit crazy but it’s the truth. I am growing up, and it’s not as scary as I thought. It’s beautiful actually. I find myself volunteering to do dishes, Or to vacuum, I started volunteering at the local hospital even though I don’t speak Czech yet. I also have so much independence here. I can go out alone whenever I want. If I want to meet my friends for coffee or tea I can just go. I don’t have to wait for a ride; I can just walk 5 minutes! I also know that the decisions I make will affect me and only me. I don’t have my mommy anymore to tell me yes or no. I have learned to be confident with myself and to trust myself.

I have done things I would never do back home! I learned how to ride a bike! And a week after I learned I went on a cycling trip with my school… I fell and I will now have a scar on my left leg for the rest of my life, but it’s okay… I got it in the Czech Republic. I don’t enjoy sports. And it seems like Czechs LOVE sports. I have gone hiking, rafting, canoeing, biking, horseback riding… you name it, and I have done it. But at the end of the day no matter how tired and frustrated I am I have loved each experience.

I never thought I would be so happy in a place I had no idea existed one year ago. Much less that I would fall in love with it. I have yet to feel homesick, and to be honest I don’t think it will happen. The only thing that makes me sad is knowing that I have been here two months already, and that I only have 8 months left. Right now, I would not rather be ANYWHERE else in the world. I am in the perfect place for me. And I will continue to live in this fairytale where I am the princess. 

March 25, 2013

I have been dreading to write this blog for weeks. Not because I don’t have anything to say, but because I have so much to share I am I afraid I will write a book, not a blog. The past few months have been nothing less than wonderful. They have taught me so much. About life, about faith, about myself. I’ve learned things that in your eyes might seem normal, but in my eyes are shocking and unique. Before this exchange I thought I knew exactly what would happen. I would travel, learn a new language and make new friends. What I didn’t expect was that just one year would change the person I was before leaving. What I didn’t expect was to be happy with the new me. I am no longer afraid to make mistakes, feel embarrassed or feel alone. I know who I am, and I am happy with the new me. I have learned to do what makes me happy and not what pleases everyone else.

My exchange is still as wonderful as it was 4 months ago. Learning Czech is not really going as I planned, it is so difficult. It’s a beautiful language and every day I wish I would speak more. I understand a lot and I can hold a small conversation, but I do not speak it fluently. I am so happy in my town. I am no longer scared of walking alone, or being stared at by strangers because I look foreign, or even getting lost. I even learned how to ride the bus, well I get lost every once in a while, like a couple of days ago I took the wrong bus because I was too lazy to walk 20 minutes, and then the bus too me all the way to the other side of town, which by the way is extremely isolated! There was nothing but a couple houses and a bench, I sat there for an hour under the freezing snow until the next bus came… but I survived!.

Winter is almost over. One side of me is very glad because I need some sun in my life, but the other side is really sad. I don’t know when I will experience a real winter again. When I will see the tree branches covered in snow, or when the sky will be so gray that I can’t tell if its snow or rain that will come down. or when my feet will be so cold that they actually burn. I don’t know when I will ski again, or when I will be able to wear a nice scarf, along with matching gloves and a pretty cap that I have to hold when I walk outside because it’s too windy. Or even a pair of nice warm boots. Once I arrive in Florida it will be nothing but Summer all year long.

Soon I will start traveling all over Europe. Austria, Italy, Spain, France, Monaco, Slovakia, England… All by the end of May! All my life I have read, watched movies, and heard so many things about these places. I am a dreamer, because I am living my dream. Traveling is a like being in school 24/7. It forces you to meet strangers and to lose sight of all the familiar people and makes you step out of your comfort zone. Everything you see is new, all you want to do is learn more and more. Your brain becomes a sponge. You’re learning even when you are not aware you are learning. Europe is so beautiful. Each country is like different world. New adventures, Rich with history and completely different lifestyles. I am eager to continue this expedition that started the day I realized there was a world outside of Florida. I was made to travel and explore.

I have always been afraid to grow up. My childhood and my teenage years have been simply wonderful, and I was often afraid that things would never feel as beautiful and magical as they do when you are young. At least that is what I always heard. From TV, books, parents, and teachers. “Enjoy life now, before you have to face the real world”. So as I am writing this blog, I turn back and think all I have I have done in my 19 years of life.

I have traveled the world, I have not allowed my fears to get in between me and my dreams, I have learned to love not only who I was, but I have learned to accept who I am now, I have friends from all over the world, I no longer have one family… I have 3. I have wonderful and embarrassing stories to tell my grandchildren someday.

I have made magic in the past few years. I have swam with sharks and dolphins, I have thrown a boomerang with an actual Australian, I have visited many castles, I went skiing in Germany, I tried snowboarding in Slovakia, I have walked the Christmas markets in Vienna, I pet a koala, I fell off my bike in Czech republic and have a scar on my right leg, I fed a kangaroo, I learned how to surf, I sang in front of a crowd in a different language than the one I speak, I was on TV, I visited lady liberty in New York, I went scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef, I learned to accept those that are different from me and my lifestyle, I have been on many road trips. And those are just a few things…funny thing is, that for each of these things i was scared out of my mind. I couldn’t believe u was doing that. One Part of me wanted to give up because i thought i wasn’t strong enough. The other side of me didn’t give up. And that is the side i finally realized is in me. I am not one to give up. I will try new things that are way out of my confort zone because at the end of the day each of this things helped me become who i am. Each adventure brings a wave of joy that i can’t discribe because i feel so proud of myself. I did all of these things for me, and not to please anyone else.

I’m sure that many people back in Florida are waiting to see the old Juli. And I am no longer that person, I have grown up. I have faced the real world. And to be honest I think the people that once told to get ready for the real world have never experienced the real world. Because the real world is a beautiful thing. You just have to see the beauty in everything. To travel the world, to meet strangers and to see the world from a new point of view, to understand what you once secretly judged, to love, to know that no matter what happens God is there… He’s everywhere.

I am no longer afraid of what life will bring, if I have accomplished such astonishing things in the past 19 years of my life I am eager to see what the future holds for me. I’m sure they’ll be many struggles, but I’m ready to overcome them and make the best memories along the way.

Kaitlynn Fisher 
2012-13 Outbound to Slovakia
Hometown: Clearwater, FL
School: St. Petersburg Collegiate High School
Sponsor: District 6950, FL
Host: District 2240, Slovakia
The Rotary Club of Košice Country

Kaitlynn - Slovakia

January 13, 2013

Sometime in Late September, Section from my Journal… 

I was the person who never showed who she really was completely. One day, I sat and thought, ‘why was that? Did I want people to like me, or was I afraid that they would judge me. Or was it the one thing I thought I had control over.’ I find it hard to come to terms with the fact that I was a minor control freak, and I needed to feel like I was in control of my life. I never realized that until I thought back to my little breakdown. 

(And by little breakdown I mean- I guess everything really hit me. I moved to a new country, knew none of the language, left behind my family and friends, and now I have to live in a different, and at times uncomfortable environment. It all sounds good a paper and you feel like you can handle anything. The truth is you can, but it’s okay to breakdown and it is ok to be scared. You have a choice, to allow that fear to consume you, or find courage and allow this fear to build you.)


I was upset not because I missed home, not because I missed my family, and friends, or that I was frustrated with the language. It was because I couldn’t control who I was and where I was going. I wasn’t in complete control of my life. But the truth is; that should have been a joyous moment. Because I had displaced myself, I was able to break all control that I had held over myself. Everything that just held me back was gone.

But old habits die hard, and the unknown is frightening. Realizing something about yourself like this is never easy, and making those changes can be even harder. After saying that, I have found it easy to let go of the control I once had, and that I am slowly moving forward. As if I was ready to grow out of this old habit before I left for Slovakia. 

Who I am slowly becoming is the person that does what she wants not because she wants people to see her in a certain light, or because she feels it will gain some one’s approval. 
I love my family and friends, writing, video games, movies of all genres, music, and my art. I like what I like. And I have slowly come to realize that that is the greatest power in the world, and the only control that you need in life; is the need to control the control, if that makes any sense. Being able to just like and do whatever, without thinking ‘how will someone perceive me? What is the ultimate consequence of this single action?’ Not worrying about what would happen if someone found out, whatever, about me.

(Granted, you need to have some very basic control in your life. You need to still pay your bills, and you need to make decisions in life, control your career path, but I guess that is a different type of control then what I am talking about.)

Where do I go from here, you might ask?

I am taking the path of; what makes me, me? What makes me happy? My art, music, my family, and friends, trying new things and keeping my blinders off and my horizons clear; these things make me happy. I know these are the basic elements of what I need to be happy in my life. There are other more materialist things that make me happy, but they are things that I have come to know that I can live without. (Even though I don’t really want to live without them. 🙂 ) Now I feel the rest of my exchange can help me to discovering how these things fit it my life. I don’t want to be the one to control their placement. I just want to observer where my life put them, because they will always be there.

With one month gone, I know more is to come. This place will teach me the life lessons that I need to learn. This place will accept me on any day, both the good and bad. Living each day as an adventure, and making every breath, and every moment count. 

Whether I am bounding with friends, writing my adventures and stories, or just listening to music while reflecting on the day… Each second of this exchange has meaning. Each holds a piece of the puzzle that is my life, and with each passing day, I discover more and more about where life wants to take me. Not where I think I should go. I am looking forward to seeing where I will be lead next..


Sometime in Late November, A message to a Friend on Facebook…

My exchange life is wonderful, new, and challenging. I find it hard to sometimes take it all in. Some days are more over whelming then others, but it is a challenge that I have gladly accepted. I have found that because I have displaced myself from my usually, and sometimes dreadfully habitual life in the US, that there were things in my life that were, in a way, holding me back. Things that I so disparately believed I could never live without, so-long-and-behold, I am living without them. And things that I never even realized about myself, until I was forced to live a new life. This sense of control that I had in the states was doing nothing but limiting me. For whatever reason, I felt the need to be 20 different people; a different ‘face’ for each group of friends. It isn’t like I was completely lying about who I was to some of these people I surrounded myself with, but I did what I felt like I had to do, to feel a part of the group. Therefore I wasn’t b eing completely honest either.

Realizing this also made me realize how much work and effort I put into caring about what other people think and being a part of a group; that I knew it was something that I couldn’t keep up. There are the few people that I was truly myself with, because these were the people that it toke no effort at all to be with. I didn’t have to worry about what I said, or how I acted; because I feel secure with these people. 

So with a new and fresh outlook on myself I figure to let my control go completely and rejoice in that joy-est of moments. I have come to realize that I need to let life guide me to where I am supposed to go, instead of fighting who I am and where I believe I should to be. And so far I have been rewarded gratefully. I have come to find that what I want out of life is to be happy. And through this exchange, I have found what makes me happy in any country. 

As for the language, well that’s a different story. I know that I have only been here for about 2 months, and that the language is incredible difficult, but I feel like I should be farther along with it. I guess I must be patience and just keep studying.

P.S. The food is Wonderful!!! I’ll be gaining some weight over here!!


December (almost January), Email to a friend…

The holiday’s were wonderful and just a touch rough at the same time. But a thanks to whoever’s up there for gifting me such a wonderful family and beautiful friends to help me get through the minor road bump of not being home for Christmas. Yes I was not with my family, but I got to see a new culture and a new Christmas. For that I feel so blessed and I hope that there are more Christmases to come where I will be able to see new traditions and people. 

All of the exchange students from Slovakia met and went to Bratislava, and all the Czech kids went to Praha. I had such an amazing time bonding with my fellow exchange students. And I am looking forward to seeing them in February, although I am not wishing the time away. I want to spend each glorious moment in slow motion. I want as many experiences and lessons to pass through me as possible before my journey home. But I fear with so much ahead, once February comes, these moments will slip through my fingers as quickly and rapidly as water would. 

Just giving you a quick glance at what’s to come: The weekend in Košice, 2 ski trips, the Eurotrip, my mother coming for a visit, an Outbound Orientation, a trip to Auschwitz, a farewell trip, and end of the school year trip, and then a family trip to Italy when my host sister returns. That also doesn’t include all of the trips me and my host mother plan to take together. That’s a lot to fit into 5 months. I think I will only spend my half of that time in school, haha.

My host family is wonderful. Just last night, we all had wine, turned the radio on, and then proceeded to dance like lunatics. My host father falling all over the place and my host mother and I danced. I taught her how to Salsa last night. My language has improved greatly thanks to them. 
What have I been up to lately? Well, what haven’t I been up to! My life is going this way and that, and I am just along for the ride. 

I do find it funny though. I think back to that meeting in January, and the room was abuzz with talk of ‘Change’ and the cycle of the ‘Exchange Student’. And although I have felt a few moments of home sickness, I have not gone through the tradition cycle. And to be honest, I don’t feel much different than I did when I left; just more honest, un-controlling and more confident than before, but no real overwhelming change. I have just come to say an exchange is what you make of it, and this exchange has showed me things that without it, I would have never noticed; about myself and about the world that surrounds me. I was young in the states, a slightly naive. I also would take things out of perspective, but by separating myself from my usual habitat, it has allowed me to see what is important, what really matters and has given me a kind of wisdom. I guess it’s kind of hard to explain, but it’s the only changes that I really noticed. 

Maybe I am too soon into my exchange to expect anything. Maybe I’m not the person to notice how I myself have changed. All I know, is I am surrounded by great family, great friends, culture, food, and great support. I wouldn’t be here without Rotary and their support. I want to thank them for everything they have done for me and to my 3 Rotary clubs for sponsoring me, paying for trips, and paying for my installments. I wouldn’t be here without all the generosity you showed me. All I can say, is thank you.

Katherine Ziska 
2012-13 Outbound to Switzerland
Hometown: Odessa, FL
School: Sickles High School
Sponsor: District 6890, FL
Host: District 1980, Switzerland
The Rotary Club of Rheinfelden

Katherine - Switzerland

Switzerland, well there are some things Americans should know. First, peanut butter and jelly is not a common or even thought of food combination. Second, the parents here don’t ask where you are going if you approach the door. ( Explanation, whenever I say I’m going on a run or something they look at me like “okay, why are you telling me?”.) Third, when you sit down to eat it is really a rule that you don’t eat until everyone has food, and then you wait for someone to say it’s okay to eat, and they always eat with a knife and a fork and they are very dexterous with them. Fourth, everyone here speaks at least a little English. Fifth, it does get hot here. Sixth, riding a bike uphill is WAYYY harder then it seems. Seventh, people here will help you if you ask, no problem. Eighth, EVERYONE here smokes.. all the time. It is rare to find someone here who doesn’t smoke. Ninth, if you see a little kid at the train station or bus stop all alone, it’s okay, that’s normal. Tenth, get some good sunglasses, because every one wears them here.

I have learned all that in the first two months of my exchange. Another thing I learned, this is for future exchange students, learn some German BEFORE you get here. I dual enrolled in college level classes, which gave me German 1 and 2 during the 12 weeks of summer. I’m not saying you need to do that. But get down some key questions and answers. (1. where do you come from? 2. where do you live in “host country”? 3. how old are you? 4. How long are you staying here? 5. How long have you been here? 6. Do you have siblings? 7. Are you hungry/ thirsty? 8. Where is the train station? 9. Does this train go to “where you need to go”? 10. What’s your name? These questions I asked and answered so many times it’s not even funny so get them down before you get here.) Most of the students here come with 0 German and struggle for the first half of their exchange, it would be so much better if you could cut that time down because when you can communicate you can make friends, go on trips, and feel confident going places by yourself.

My experience so far:
In two months I have gone to Bern, Basel, Rheinfelden, Adelboden, Luzern, Brunnen, Muttenz, France, and Germany. It has been really cool because I have been able to see so much without going all that far, that’s the good thing about Europe. I went to Bern with my Language course to see the bears and government building. It was great because we met up with a bunch of other exchange students and walked around the city. Then a few of us separated and looked at some of the shops. I found a watch that I really want to buy but it was 200Fr. so I have to think about if I want to buy it or not, but I think I will. I went to Basel with my host mom shopping, and saw the Rhein river and the shops and a flea market where people were selling all sorts of fun old things. I live right by Rheinfelden and have been there many times, but the best time was when I went swimming with my host dad and brother with some of the family friends. I jumped off the bridge and then floated downstream. It was really fun. I went to Adelboden to visit their grandmother who was super nice, and to see the mountains. On the drive there I was looking out my window at all the mountains going past and said how beautiful I thought they were. My host sister then said that those weren’t mountains, those were hills! To the Swiss everything is a hill but the Alps which qualify as mountains! I went with my counselor to Luzern for the day where I went tubing on the lake and then ate pizza at a restaurant. On the drive there we saw all sorts of cool things, like water wheels, and he told me all about the mountains and the story of William Tell. I had also seen a play about William Tell with my host family. It was cool to see where the events really happened. I went to Brunnen and climbed the Rigi on a Rotary trip with all the west Swiss exchange students. That was really amazing because we got to see the sunrise and the expanse of the lake in Luzern. Muttenz is where my school is, s o I go there every day. I went to France with my host family and their friends who have a house there. We were there for two days and it was super, but too short. We visited an old hospital. And Germany I when to when I did Slow Up. That is a day were a bunch of people ride their bikes on a path. It was also really nice, fun, and amazing! I love this exchange and am so thankful for this opportunity.

December 28, 2012

So now that I have been here for 5 months I have learned a little more about what is different that americans should know. They are all about the HOLIDAYS!

The first holiday was my birthday, that wan’t too too bad because I had only been here for 2 months and was still liking switzerland as much as a tourist, (most of the time).
scale of 1-10 homesickness is about a 2.
The second was Halloween. Now the Swiss only started celebrating Halloween officially 10 years ago, so it isn’t a big holiday. We had maybe 10 or 15 kids come to our door, all below the age of 10. Some parents don’t think it is a valid holiday and don’t allow their kids to dress up and go trick or treating. There are minimal decorations and the candy isn’t so free flowing. They adults defiantly don’t dress up either. Not really home sick for that one either, just sad I didn’t get a chance to carve a pumpkin and dress up and go tricker treating.
On the scale it is about a 5 or a 4.
The Third holiday was Thanksgiving. I cried some and went home from school early because I was so homesick. Thanksgiving is a REALLY tough on to get through. My host family was great though. They helped me cook and I had another exchange student from America come over with her host family and she helped cook to and we had a real Thanksgiving. The food was fantastic as it should have been and the atmosphere was achieved. It was great, just before and a little after was when I was homesick. The day before and thanksgiving day was the worst. We celebrated it on Friday so they could get home from work early and help cook. It was a dinner meal but still great.
But on a scale of 1-10 for home sick that was about an 8.5 or 8.
The last holiday was Christmas.
Christmas is celebrated on the 24th of Dec for one. That means you open you presents that night and then you say the next day is christmas, but that just means you go visit family and stuff. Also Christmas doesn’t feel like Christmas in the US. There isn’t a ton of lights (which by the way cost 50Fr. per string so no WONDER there aren’t a lot of them) no child like behavior and jumping around, no real atmosphere of christmas. This is good because it means I wasn’t home sick, but bad because it felt like I missed out on christmas. The scale is about a 4 to 6.

My general state of homesickness is about a 3 right now. I feel like I am living here and that is okay but I would much rather be living with MY family here.

There is one other thing that is a gigantic difference from here and in the US. THERE ARE NO CHILDREN!!!
I am being perfectly serious here. Yes there are people who are under the age of 12 but these people are not children, they are mini adults. I have, in my 5 MONTHS here, only heard ONE child scream or fuss. I have baby sat two kids twice. They are 4 and 6, they are so sweet, but they don’t act like children as we think of them. They play make pretend and play with blocks and cars and stuff, but there is no yelling of excitement, no cries of sadness, no running in the house, no fighting, very little pouting, and no arguing. It is like some how the swiss have managed to create a way of parenting that takes away kids childhood without their knowing! Or it is genetic, which is also quit possible. I also went to the Gymball, that is like the school prom, but they only have one dance once a year. there was an actual bar, and drinking. (because at this point it is legal) and a dance floor and a sitting area. At the beginning there was hardly anyone dancing, and the type of danc ing was the stand and bounce a little. The DJ was only playing electronic music, nothing that we could really dance to or sing to, which made it kinda lame, and despite the alcohol no one was dancing. It took till 12am for people to get onto the dance floor and start really dancing. Some of them did attempted to grind, unsuccessfully. There was a lot more of guy on guy then I expected, which was interesting. Oh, that makes me think of something else. You know what they say about Europe and there is a lot more nakedness; well they are right. There are adds in the newspaper with bar chested women in slutty out fits. Free porn is everywhere on the internet, (sometimes I am looking at something like a webpage about an art museum I want to go to, and BAM up comes a porn add. I close all of them and don’t look at anything, don’t worry Rotary and parents). But that is something kids coming to Europe need to know I feel. Also about movies, there are no ratings like P_PG_PG -13_R_NR-17 and so on. There is some type of thing on the box that tell something about what ages are appropriate, but I don’t get it. Because of this they don’t consider lion king, Narnia and Finding Nemo “Kid movies”. My host father was watching lion king just the other day. I mean really watching it, like a sit down movie type of thing. It just ties into what I said before about there being no kids.

March 20, 2013

So, hello again!
I have now been in Switzerland 7 months. In the last 3 months I have been to Fasnacht in Basel, learned how to ski the Alps in a Ski Schule, switched host families, and have FINALLY got to know myself again.

Basel Fasnacht was AMAZINGLY FUN! It started on Monday, February 18th at 4 am, and ended at 4 am on Thursday. I went with my friend from school, on the Morning strike. My host sister took me on Tuesday night, and a friend of the family’s did on Wednesday. During this time Basel was full of confetti, loud marching bands in different colorful costumes, and lots and lots of rotten fruit and trash on the ground. It was super fun and the thing I can best compare it to is a mix between the Macy’s New York Thanksgiving day parade, Halloween, and Gasparilla parade in Tampa. There is lots of great food, and you should defiantly go with Swiss friends, they can show you around and help you experience Fasnacht to the fullest.

The week before, I was with my new host family in Scoul for a week. My host dad had problems with his knee and couldn’t ski and and my host mom didn’t want to leave him all the time alone at home, so they enrolled me in a ski day camp. I was with 8-11 year old children and had a hard time. I missed my first host family, was sleep deprived, learning a new sport, and my confidence was crushed plus I was in a different climate, and having to deal with a foreign language, people, devices, culture, and all the usual strains of being an exchange student

Switching families is hard. My first host family was: experienced, warm, short, welcoming, sweet, not too athletic, musical, and quiet. That was nice, but when I first arrived there I didn’t think so. I missed the chaos of my natural family. But after the first 3 months it had grown on me and I learned to love my host family. They were open minded, creative, welcoming, helpful, and just plain NICE people.

I came from that environment, where I was the tallest, most athletic, and of the same general “meinung”, to an environment where I was the shortest, fattest, most radical and youngest person. That flipped my universe upside down and trashed my confidence. My new host family is: efficient, tall, big, SUPER health and fitness oriented, sometimes REALLY loud, other times deathly quiet, perfectionists, and blunt. I didn’t know the rules of this new family or what they thought of me. And I missed my first host family because I missed who I had been with my first host family.

From this experience I advise future exchange students to try and not compare your host families. Take your new host families as who they are and try not to expect what was normal in your first host family. I know you will think to yourself, “well they can’t be all that different; I mean they are both from the same country…” That is what I thought at any rate. Now after 1 month I have gotten used to it, and have learned their rules, unspoken and spoken, and their schedule.

(MORE ADVICE: So I know you will think, “hey I don’t really have to work hard at school because it won’t count anyway, and so I can stay up late and watch movies when I should be getting sleep”. Well you do need sleep. For a long while I was depressed and angry and feeling very alone in the world, then one night I had a REAL nights rest. I’m talking 10 hours, maybe 11. That morning and entire day I felt AWESOME, that is when it hit me that I needed sleep. Also the quicker you figure out that you are here for a FULL year and will get a chance to taste everything, and don’t try and eat everything the first 3 months, the better. Eat a balanced diet and keep reminding yourself that you will get a chance to try everything. That is why exchange students gain weight, myself included. Our excuse is, “oh, I’m on exchange I need to eat as much as I can and try everything because I won’t have a chance to eat it ever again!”. Well after the first 5 months you start to realize you could have waited and didn’t need to try EVERYTHING in the first 3 months. It is the basics that are important to survive this exchange. Get enough sleep, eat right, and try your best. If you do that then you’ll be better than average).

Now the last bit: I finally found myself again. It took me 7 months to do it, but I finally feel “normal” again. I think it has a lot to do with re-establishing good eating habits, getting enough sleep and working out more. A healthy body makes a healthy mind. I know that sounds very “parenty”, but it is very true. I also am painting again, and doing the stuff I would normally be doing if I were really living here with MY family and not on exchange. In short, I finally got out of exchange mode and back into normal life mode. Now my life here seems normal. It makes me kinda worried about going back and having to deal with changes back home again. For the time being though, I am happy that I feel normal again. Exchange mode is fun when you are with other exchange students and having a good time and all but when you are feeling homesick, or struggling with weight gain, or making friends, or having family problems, it is better to be in normal mode to deal with those things. I have found my balance.

June 19, 2013

My exchange will be over in two weeks.

It is a weird feeling. I know I am going home, but now the word ‘home’ doesn’t describe what I am going back to. During this year I have accomplished what I set out to accomplish at the beginning. What I didn’t realize is how much accomplishing these things would change me.

One of the most important things that I have gained from this exchange is a global perspective. I’ve learned to see the world, not just as an American, but as a human being.
Analogy: You are looking at some object, say a pencil. But you only see it from one stand point, lets say you see it looking straight down so that all you really see is a circle with a dot in the middle.
Now other people are standing around this pencil and you can ask them what they see, but you can’t see it yourself, and so all you have to go on is what they tell you, and your own imagination.
Exchange allows you to switch positions with one of these people and see the pencil from a new stand point/perspective. Say now you get to see it at a right angle from where you were. Now you see the pencil as a long rectangle with a point at the end.
WELL! Now you realize what you were seeing before, AND you understand what the other person was talking about, AND you see the pencil as a 3D object instead of 2D.
The world is the pencil, and each person is a different culture. The world is made up of these different cultures, ONE WHOLE, not different entities. Going on exchange shows you that your perspective/culture, is just one view of the world. The circle with the dot is not a different thing than the long rectangle with a point on one end, it is simply a different view of the same thing.

I also wanted to see who I was without my family. Because I was homeschooled my whole life, my family was a very large part of who I was. It was important for me to understand myself as a separate person from my family. To see who I was without their influence, or judgments or rules.
I learned that I was not as good, or honest, or as hard working a person as I was with my family. I learned how much I needed my family. Being on exchange gave me the chance to work on myself, for myself, as myself, without the influence of who I had been before. I learned more about what type of person I wanted to be, and I learned more about how far away I was from that goal.
I am happy to say that I have made some progress during this year, and that I am happy I had the opportunity to become an independent person. I still feel like a part of my family, but now I understand that we are all individuals that make up one family. (The opposite from the world. We are not all one pencil, we are all different colors in a picture. Capable of painting a beautiful picture by ourselves, but making a more colorful one together).

My final goal for this year was to become bilingual. I have my test tomorrow for the certificate, but that is just proof for the colleges and jobs. I know I am bilingual, and I am thrilled to have been able to accomplish that goal. It is very interesting learning another language, because you also learn HOW people say things, and that is a part of the culture and perspective as well. In German for example, they don’t have as many words as we do in English, instead they just have a LOT more conjunctions, prefixes and suffixes.
Take jealousy for example. First you have the word obsession, or addiction. ‘süchtig’ Then you have the prefix ‘ein’ that means one, or a. Then you have ‘für’ that means for. Jealousy in german is ‘eifersüchtig’. So you are literally saying, ‘one for addiction’, which means ‘something worth obsession’, or ‘a feeling that comes from the obsession or addiction to something’. Comparing that with the english word jealousy which means, ‘to want something that someone or something has’. It is amazing. I love language because you can learn so much about how a people/perspective/culture understands/knows/perceives the world around them.

So after accomplishing my three top goals for the year, and living through the ups and downs of exchange I have become a different person, with a different understanding of the world around me, and people ask “Are you excited to be going home?”
I answer “Yes and no, Yes to see my family again, no to leave your beautiful country.”
I don’t explain that I am not going “home”, that Florida is no longer my home. I don’t feel like I am just an American, I also don’t feel like I am Swiss. But I am home. I will always be at home, because now my home isn’t a country, a culture, or a building. My home is the self that I have built. A self that can adapt to new climates, cultures, learn new languages, and can exist independently of familiarity and family. I am deeply grateful to my families, and Rotary, for giving me this opportunity.

Kaylin Burgess 
2012-13 Outbound to Switzerland
Hometown: St. Augustine, FL
School: Bartram Trail High School
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District 1980, Switzerland
The Rotary Club of Zug-Kolin

Kaylin - Switzerland

How do I explain the best two and a half months of my life in one journal entry? It almost seems impossible to me that it has really been two and half amazing months in Switzerland. It feels like it was just yesterday when I arrived in the airport to meet the family that I would be living with until December.

When I said goodbye to my family in Jacksonville I didn’t feel as sad as I had expected. I knew I was about to begin an adventure unlike any other. However, that doesn’t mean I wasn’t nervous. The flight was long and really tiring. But I was really lucky to have Matt from Connecticut to fly with me. When we got off the plane we were both beyond freaking out. I was so nervous to meet my host family and see my new country for the first time. When I walked out into the main part of the airport I was feeling so overwhelmed. I was trying to push my 3 suitcases on a cart that was taller than me; therefore it was really hard to see anything. I couldn’t really hear anything either because everyone was shouting. My head was spinning and I felt like I was in a movie or something, then all the sudden I heard someone call my name and I saw my host parents for the first time. They were holding a sign that said my name and they looked really friendly. When I walked over to them they each gave me 3 kisses on the cheek. In Switzerland the kisses are really confusing. Close friends give one kiss on the cheek, family gives three, and then other people sometime one, two, or three. Therefore in the beginning I always found myself dreading the hellos and goodbyes because I was always unsure of how many for each person. But after a couple months I got completely used to it and it seems weird to not do it now. With my host parents in the airport were my YEO, Bernard, and my friend Nina, who was an Inbound to Florida last year. Bernard was extremely nice and it was so good to see Nina again. Having Nina there made me feel so much more comfortable and it was also cool to see her in her native country. In the airport was the first time I tried Rivella and I’m not going to lie it was a bit strange at first. Rivella is a fizzy drink but Swiss people drink it like Americans drink Gatorade. Now that I have had it a few times I love Rivella and I find myself drinking it really often. My first impression of Switzerland was that it is the most beautiful place I have ever seen. Literally you can go anywhere and everything looks like a post card. 
My first encounter with difference in Switzerland was the doors. In Switzerland the doors are very different. They are a little bit difficult to close and they have an extra piece that covers the crack between the door and the wall. Then, when I try to lock them I have to do it with a key and it doesn’t always work… Then to unlock them it doesn’t work as well so I can find myself helplessly locked in the bathroom.

Other differences:
• Everyone here drinks water with bubbles and most people think that natural water is gross. However, I think water with bubbles is the so disgusting and personally it hurts my throat.
• Everyone here smokes… really everyone. It is impossible to walk down the street here and not smell smoke.
• There are cows everywhere in Switzerland and I have a strange fascination with them so every time I see one I always want to go up and pet it and for Swiss people the cows are like no big deal. Also the cows wear bells so you always hear cow bells everywhere you go.
• Bread and chocolate are their own food groups in Switzerland and naturally they’re delicious. 
• Hiking is huge in Switzerland and biking as well. I have been warned that biking is really intense here so I haven’t gone yet. But I have gone hiking a few times and I don’t think hiking and I are the best of friends… All the time I see really old people on the bus in hiking gear and I always wonder how they do it… Swiss people are like superhuman.
• Nobody can really say my name properly here so it has turned into Kyleen
• Everything is really small and close together here which is much unlike the U.S.
• Public transportation is huge here and one of my absolute favorite things. Switzerland is known for their excellent transportation system. I can reach any village in the whole country via public transport so cars are almost unnecessary. The trains and buses are extremely clean and comfortable so there is no reason to not use public transport. Rotary Switzerland purchases a GA for all exchange students which allows us to use all public transportation in the whole country for free. That has been one of the nicest things for me here because it makes it extremely easy to make day trips to see all of Switzerland. 
• Public transport in Switzerland is also known for being extremely punctual. Therefore, absolutely everyone in Switzerland must wear a watch. People are always in a bit of a rush here to catch the next train/bus/etc. 
• I think that for me the biggest difference between Switzerland and the U.S. is the people. In the U.S, I see so many individuals. There are so many different races and people with different styles of clothing. But in Switzerland most people look relatively similar and dress more or less the same.

I have been extremely lucky with my host family in Switzerland. They are so wonderful, I really love them. I have a host sister who is currently doing an exchange year in Peru and I have a host brother who is doing his Swiss military year and is home on the weekends. In Switzerland every male is required to undergo military training but since the Swiss military in not active all of the men in training are allowed to come home on the weekends. My host brother is in a special part of the military that plays music because he is a really good saxophone player. So he trains for military while also doing all the military music concerts. When I first found out that my host brother would only be home on the weekends I was a bit nervous because I have never been an only child before and I thought it might be a bit awkward. But I couldn’t have been any more incorrect. I like my host brother, but I’m glad that I have had the weeks with just my host parents. It has gi ven me a better opportunity to form a great relationship with them. My host family is quite special because on the right side of our house is my host dad’s father’s house and on the left side are my host dad’s uncle, aunt, and kids. So I really feel like its a little family community here. Also every Saturday the whole family gets together and has coffee. I really like this tradition because I have gotten to know the other family members as well.

School here is good. It is really different. In school I was able to pick what my main subject would be so I chose economics and law. I have 13 subjects which include Chemistry, Biology, Geography, History, Math, English, French, German, Sport, Art, Media, Economics, and Law. In school here I stay with the same people for every class which is kind of nice because I have gotten to know all the people in my class really well but it also not so nice because I haven’t gotten to meet very many other people. My class was really welcoming and nice. My host sister from my 3rd family is in my class so I have gotten to know her quite well so now when I live with her it will be nice because we already know each other. School is a little difficult especially in the beginning when I didn’t understand anything, but I had to give a presentation for a project in German for Biology. That was embarrassing to say the least. In the very beginning of school I had a German clas s that I attended for 4 weeks every morning for about 3 hours and then I went to normal school. I found that really helpful because I could learn German and still make friends with my class mates.

Learning German in Switzerland is really difficult because they don’t speak the normal High German, they speak Swiss German. Swiss German is basically High German if you take out all grammatical rules and say words however you feel like with some throat noises thrown in there as well. Now that I have been here for two and a half months I can understand almost everything when people are speaking in High German and I can understand some things in Swiss German. However, speaking is really difficult and that is something that I am really going to have to work at. It takes so much courage to say anything and that is something that I definitely wasn’t expecting.

I live in Zug, Switzerland and it is a bit different than other cities in Switzerland. Zug is really international so when I walk around the city I always hear other foreign people as well. I like it because it is different but it can also be a little bit annoying because absolutely everyone speaks English here. Zug is also really small and there is only one high school so all the exchange students are in the same school. There are 11 of us in the same school and that has been really nice because I have gotten to know people from all over the world really well and we are like a little family. I have also made many Swiss friends in my school and on the weekends everyone hangs out by the lake in Zug, which is really beautiful. I was surprised at how quickly I made Swiss friends because before I came I was told that Swiss people are more reserved and harder to make friends with but I didn’t really feel that way. I felt immediately welcomed so for that I am really lucky.

My Rotary club is here was also really welcoming and nice. My Rotary club is a bit different than a typical Swiss Rotary club because the club is entirely couples. I think it is really cool to have a Rotary club of couples because it gives the couples something to do together for the benefit of society. I have been to my Rotary club meeting twice and the last time I went I was invited to the Swiss National Circus and I am really looking forward to that.

I have had the opportunity to do many awesome things while I have been here such as:
• I went on a boat ride on the lake of the Luzern with my host parents and then we rode the steepest cogwheel railway in the world up the mountain Pilatus. From there I walked up the rest of the mountain and I could see what seemed like the whole country from the top. It was really beautiful. 
• I went on a cave tour with the other exchange students and a Rotarian. It was really cool to see the inside of the cave which was under a mountain. The cave is always ten degrees Celsius and being a Florida girl, I was freezing. 
• I got to go to the French speaking part of Switzerland to see my host brother perform in a military concert. It was really nice to see the French speaking part because it is an entirely different culture than the German speaking part even though it is in the same country. People in the French speaking part are a little bit more go with the flow than in the German speaking part. My host brother’s concert was really cool because he performed with bands from Russia, Scotland, England, France, and the Netherlands. At the beginning of the concert they started to announce things in French and I was thinking to myself oh no… But then when they started to translate into German I felt myself really relieved. It was a weird feeling to be relieved that the announcements were in German because before German seemed so confusing. That weekend my host family and I stayed in a hostel which I thought was really cool because I had never stayed in one before. 
• I have already had one Rotary weekend where I hiked up a mountain with 60 other exchange students and then stayed in a house on the top. That was one of the best weekends of my exchange because I got to know all of the other exchange students and the view from the top of the mountain was breathtaking. 
• During the fall break I got the chance to go to Italy, which has always been a dream of mine. The food in Italy was so good and the culture is quite different as well. While I was in Italy I saw the leaning tower of Pisa, soaked up the sun at the beach, went to Florence, went to Portofino, and went to Genoa.
• I also had the opportunity to go to Germany. I toured the beautiful city of Frankfurt and had the chance to see my German friend that my family hosted last summer. Germany felt the most similar to America that I have been to yet. It was really nice to hear High German everywhere because I could understand almost everything that was going on. While in Germany, I went to a blind museum. It was such a cool experience. In the museum they gave me a stick and then told me to go into a room with nine other people that is completely dark. Then they simulate it to make me feel like I am in a train station and other normal daily activities. The blind museum was absolutely terrifying because well obviously I couldn’t see anything but I also couldn’t communicate very efficiently either because the whole tour was in German.

Being away from Switzerland made me realize how nice it is. Switzerland is the closest to perfect I think a country can get. There is very little crime here and the country is so clean. It is now the end of my fall break and I will return back to school tomorrow. In November I will take a trip to the Matterhorn in Zermatt, Switzerland and in December I will move to my second family.

Thank you Rotary for giving me this opportunity of a lifetime!

So much happens in one year, especially in one year away from the place I have been for my entire life. This is experience brought wonderful people, experiences, and a new country into my life. I have eaten Italian pizza, seen the Berlin wall, and hiked in the Swiss Alps. I have been to more places than I ever thought I would be able to visit at age 17. I have gotten to know a new culture that I respect and love. I spent Christmas away from my family. I have gotten comfortable speaking to people in a language other than my own. I have made friends who live all over the world and also a close group in Switzerland. I have learned that in many ways people are the same and also very very different. I have been shown how accepting people can be to strangers by the ways home were open to me with welcoming arms. This experience has taught me to appreciate my own family so much more and to really enjoy every moment of time. Not every moment of any year is sunshine and butterflies and of course there were some low points, but I know that the low points were almost more important than the high ones. I have gotten to know the world a little better and I can now walk around with a sense of confidence that I can always find my way. I am no longer nervous about new experiences and instead accept new challenges with ease. The time goes ever too quickly, but I know I will return someday soon to my now second home. I am really excited to see what is in store for me going ahead and I will take allI have learned from this year with me into the future. Thank you to all the people who made this experience possible for me and supported me when things were hard.

Keegan Costello 
2012-13 Outbound to Japan
Hometown: Bonita Springs, FL
School: Estero High School
Sponsor: District 6960, FL
Host: District 2690, Japan
The Rotary Club of Kurashiki

Keegan - Japan

October 21, 2012

When I got off the plane I could tell right away that there would be a major difficulty with the language. From checking in with customs, searching my bags, checking in for my next flight, and transferring my bags over to Okayama everything was difficult. But it was all worth it when I got on that plane from Tokyo to Okayama. The view was incredible; I had never seen that many mountains before. when I had landed I saw my host family and rotary club waiting for me, I got so excited that I ran past baggage claim and wasn’t allowed back in. we had to wait and extra 30 minutes to have the staff hand me my bags in person. After that we all exchanged business cards and left for my house. The first thing I got when I arrived was a galaxy s-3 fresh off the market android phone. The only phone I’ve had for 2 months was a 9 dollar pay as you go for the trip. I never needed (nor could afford) one of these phones so right from the start I knew things here would be very different from home. When we arrived at their house I was shocked by how close it was to the water and mountains. But the house alone was amazing, the size was compact but the inside was so clean and efficient. I and my host mom had said goodbye to the rotary members at the door and I was left to my room. It was on the first floor and all to me. It was the traditional style room with heated bamboo floors, sliding doors and a personal office. When I saw the bed I leaped into it with darting speeds. I hadn’t slept for at least 49 hours (between the nervousness the night before the trip and the whole time during it) so it was no wonder why I got to bed at 3 and walk up at 8 the next morning. 17 hours did me well and I got up and explored my room, unpacked allele and finally got enough gut to get out there for breakfast. When I got to the host dad and mom and even my host sister miyuchan where waiting for me. I had breakfast and we all talked. I found out my host mom was an English tutor on the side so she speaks perfect English. This was both a blessing and a curse for me because I could have a translator but also I couldn’t learn on my own as well. But I loved them all from the start. My host father is a doctor who owns his own clinic and my host sister works with him as his secretary. My host mom would stay home, clean and teach kids all day. So we had a lot of time to bond. The next day we went to my first rotary meeting, luckily I had my speech ready but I was no way ready for the conversations that I would be having with the Rotarians. I was totally unprepared for the meeting but they were very sympathetic towards me, a few younger Rotarians spoke very good English and helped me translate with the older ones. All together there where about 50 people, when I finally got up to speak I wasn’t so nervous because they were so nice so I just tried my best and they all clapped for my job well done. the n ext day I had to go to my host fathers rotary club to do the something, unfortunately my host father was the youngest one there and the old men where all asleep for most of the whole meeting all 30 of them. Yet they clapped for me and I was better prepared this time and my host father was very proud of me. But the day after that would be the hardest yet. I had only been there 2 days and tomorrow I would start school! We had gone to my school very briefly my first day to meet my teachers and principal who were very eager to have me there. The biggest excitement came from Mr. Baxter, and English teacher from England who had been living here for 12 years, he informed me all about the rules and showed me around. But my first day of school I forgotten all of that, I walk up and go to school but, in the wrong uniform! So Mr.Baxter had to run home and get me something appropriate before my BIG SPEECH! After making 2 of these speeches you’d think I’d be ready to speak to my school, but it was really hard when you have 1500 eyes staring at you read terrible Japanese. All the kids where excited to have me there and the principal introduced me and it seemed like I did a great job and this speech was entirely different from my first 2 so I was happy. Yet I wasn’t expecting a new speech for my homeroom class that was my worst impromptu speech yet! But again they all thought I was cool so it didn’t matter. And right after that they introduced themselves in English. Being a private school and all, it looked like they knew a lot more English than I expected. when I took my seat I had made 3 instant best friends, Komichan ( a golfing English genius), Sekiguchi (a basketball star and a major class clown) and Matsuo( a soft tennis{extreme badminton} star) they would follow me around everywhere for the first 2 weeks. but that whole day after that was utterly a loss… I couldn’t understand anything class and even some of the universal subjects like math where sooo hard, most of the math classes here are at the calculus level by freshmen year. On top of all that I found out that in Japanese schools the teachers move… not the students. So all day I would sit in the same seat not understanding anything going on around me. but in spite of that I made friends, I used situational humor I laughed at their jokes even though I didn’t know what they were saying, and slowly I began to fit in and understand. Since then I’ve been going mountain climbing almost every week, speaking at rotary meetings every 2 weeks and switching between kendo and soccer every other day. I also go to an extra Japanese class every Tuesday and Thursday. A lot has changed in the first 2 months and a lot of changes are occurring inside me. Since then some amazing events have occurred. Shokochan (my host mom) has taken me to a lot of temples to help me get more in touch with my faith; I have practically climbed every mountain i n tama. on my second week here we visited Okayama Castle, which is one of the oldest castles in Japan dating back 1000 years, with its amazing garden in front( one of the three biggest gardens in Japan. a week after that I went again with Haiyashi sensei, I didn’t have the heart to tell him I had already seen it because he’s usually so strict I never see him smile, and just for this one day he did. both times I got to have shaved ice, see the crane zoo, and feed/pet the huge carp they had living in the ponds. my third week I finally got my schedule rearranged to fit my needs.
Monday: 1st/3rd period is art class, 2nd/4th period is drama, and 5th/6th period is judo/kendo.
Tuesday: 1st P.E., 2nd library, 3rd English, 4th Japanese history, 5th biology, 6th/7th study with Mr.Baxter
Wednesday: 1st English, 2nd library, 3rd/4th assist in drama classes, 5th/6th assist in English classes
Thursday: No school, go to Japanese class in Okayama
Friday: 1st library, 2nd world history, 3rd/5th/6th assist English classes, 4th calligraphy
Saturday: study in private Japanese classes

For my first month here we had a huge party at my host parent’s house. They invited a lot of foreigners from around the world; I met a few Americans and Australians here to study in Japan. There was also an American family who moved here 13 years ago…. unfortunately they fit the perfect bad American stereotype, there 4 kids are all homeschooled (which us unheard of in Japan), because of this they don’t know Japanese and there social skills are very poor and they love to eat McDonalds. I was a bit embarrassed to talk to them and I felt really sorry for the kids not having a great opportunity to learn another language especially there 13 year old son. We had Hanze over as well, Hanze is from Germany, and he is 78 years old. Hanze moved to Japan 50 years ago but before that he traveled all across the world on his bicycle for 8 years. His stories are amazing he went all across Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and even Asia. When he hit the ocean he went to Japan hop ing to catch a ship to America. But he fell in love instead and has been living here ever since. My host sister invited a good friend of hers who is a master at the dijeri, he would play for us and wed try to see if we could play, and it was a lot of fun. We ate food from around the world; I even gave gifts to everyone. I also invited me best friends Tanakakun and Inuekun to sleep over and we had a blast, the next morning we went mountain climbing at 5:30 in the morning and watched cartoons until there train came.
Two days after the party we had Bunkasai (school festival). Bunkasai is a celebration of another school year; all the students get together and come up with an idea for each club/class to do. Our class made a haunted house, but others had shooting ranges with prizes, karaoke competitions, food booths, movies, and so on. It lasted for 5 hours and at the end of it all I was exhausted ad covered in sweat from running from class to class. At the end of it all a bunch of school bands (mostly rock bands) got together and played for an hour or two. Somewhere great…. others horrible but it were all fun. My favorite thing was they built a 20 foot tower made of used water bottles, it took them all day to build but it was worth it. The wind took it away eventually but I got a few pictures of it before it did. We spent about an hour after cleaning up afterwards; I was as confused as to what to do due to the language so I found some simple grunt work to do. We had to move these very hea vy, long platforms for the teachers (they must have been 180lbs) and for most people who were moving them it took about 5 people to move them from the 3rd floor to the first, but me and Tanakakun listed them by ourselves with twice the speed. We where both covered in chalk dust but it was worth it to get it done. He was about to die halfway though so I had to drag them most of the way, I felt so happy to be better than my other students at something! Afterwards I took Tanaka out for shaved ice and I walked to his house where we hung out and listened to music and played videogames till 11pm.
I just have to note real quick that before this adventure I never drank soda of any kind for a solid 4 years, I hated the stuff for health and personal reasons but ever since I came here I’ve been addicted to only one “SANGRIAS: MELON CREAM SODA” IS THE BEST DRINK EVER!!!! I get it whenever imp having a hard day, it’s actually quite tasty considering it has about half as much sugar than whets in a coke, plus its twice the size. I can only find it in the vending machine next to my house so unfortunately I only have a limited supply.

So about a week after the school celebration we finally got ready for out school sports day. Every class was divided to be either in the blue, red, or yellow team. Every class had to make their own team banner with their colors to show support for the event. And on the day all the teams would go to the huge Okayama dome to participate I the events. Our class was the red team, everyone had worn there team colors and all day we had a blast cheering on our team for the different events. I was in the tug of war and the relay and I was so excited. When it was our turn for tug of war I explained we should pull in sequence on my count and I think because of that we won, but I tried so hard to pull with all my strength that my back gave in. I was in the nurses for the rest of the time. Until relay came up and even though I knew it would hurt like hell I mustard up the strength to do it. I was in serious pain when it came to my turn. I was in first at the beginning but by the time I p assed it over I was in second. I was in so much pain afterwards all I could say was I’m sorry for not doing better but they just kept saying good job so I was happy. Afterwards we cleaned up and left. The next day I had plans too, with my 2 friends Mami and Maichan to karaoke. We sung for 5 hours….. I could barely speak but it was sooo fun. All in all one of my best weekends.

Next Tuesday I was taking my usual train home when I noticed a blond haired girl sitting on the train. I had seen her a few times before but it was only now that I noticed she was wearing a school uniform. I was interested, so I sat down next to her and we talked. I found out her name was Clara she was an exchange student from a different program, and that she was from Germany she had been here for 6 months. She also told me she had 5 exchange students at her school. I was very surprised, considering rotary only has 2 other students in the whole prefecture of Okayama. So she introduced me to some of them and many of her other school friends on train. And we decided we should all meet up on Saturday to go see a movie. I invited my best friend Tanakakun (on account that he really likes foreign girls) and I thought it would be fun. There was max from Australia (who loves anime and so his Japanese was perfect). Alas, a girl whose been living in Italy for the past 2 years but was born in America. Meg, who has lived in America half her life, so she is fluent in both English and Japanese. Dike, who is from Japan but wants to teach Japanese to English speakers one day. Helena, from Finland, and sera, a friend of Daiki’s. we saw “the hunger games” (which I saw 5 months ago in America, and I didn’t like it) which I loved it was a great movie, and I sat next to ala who was scared easily so I had to tell her when the scary parts would come and she would cry heavily on the emotional parts. It was hilarious but very cute. Afterwards half of them had to go home but the rest of us stayed out till 11:00pm shopping and goofing around. I and Tanakakun, being best friends/rivals would fight all the time making everyone laugh. He’d slap me in the back of the head or id say something funny to him in Japanese and we would end up fighting for (what seems like) forever. I had bought a lot of really cool pins for my rotary blazer but I had placed the bag down to run away from Tanaka…. and it was never seen again hahahahaha. But all in all one of the funniest days I’ve had with friends here so far. I had only known them a few hours and I felt like I’ve known them all my life.

For now that all I have to say but, every day here is an adventure if only I could tell you all about every day I’m here but I don’t have the time I’m too busy living it. The only thing I can say for those who haven’t done what I’m doing is, do it as soon as possible even if you’re just going to Mexico, even if your just traveling to a different state or city, even if your just trying something new even if your just traveling to a new state of mind. Take that first step into the unusual and out of routine and I promise you won’t ever take a step back. Thank you everyone for all your support and encouragement I promise I won’t let you down.

April 16, 2013

Dear Everyone.

I’ve survived! the holidays are over, the tree is put away, and the year of the snake has finally come. its always hard to put my feelings for the last two months on my journal but here goes nothing. over the holidays I ran into a few things that made me feel like going home. old friends passing always, missing my family, my dog, my old food and customs. most times I was fine trying to enjoy the good times with family and friends here but it was just a few strong moments where your memories come back to you that you start to feel sad about your situation and your lonely disposition. for everyone planning to do what I’ve did I can tell you there are a lot of people here and around the world who deal with this loneliness by taking on negative habits. like eating chocolate every day and finding out after the holidays you just gained 40lbs. or the kid who just keeps to himself and winds up getting into a fight in school and sent home because he cant deal with his emotions. some people choose to break one or all of the four d’s to get over the holidays. and I obviously don’t need to remind everyone what happens to them unfortunately. the best solution is to get lost in your family and friends here. I knew this year would be hard but I also knew that the only ones who could help me recover would be them. So I just spent every waking second with them and it all turned out ok in the end.

To tell you bout all the adventures I’ve experienced would take forever to explain. But I will mention that my next host family coming in February is a family of monks. None of them are related by blood but I consider them a family. I spent New Years with them at they’re temple. We read the sutras, meditated at 5 am every day, and lived the monk lifestyle. I think most would call me crazy to be interested in living that life but well I’m not most people haha.

Being here for five months now is really different that from when I started, things are beginning to be normal now. The days are a bit quieter and I don’t surprise as easily as before. But that just part of the plan I guess, you know that roller coaster feeling of all the ups and downs of exchange, I still really don’t believe that’s true. I guess exchange effects everyone differently. But I would agree that after Christmas things begin to feel normal, Even though crazy stuff is happening to me that doesn’t happen to most people.

The biggest lesson on my exchange isn’t the language, or the culture, its not about the awesome food or friends either. It’s the ability to adapt to change, to make a new normal, to find security even in the most hectic and new environment. Waking up at five every morning to clean a temple and meditate with a group of bald Japanese monks doesn’t seem like the most relaxing expedience for a lot of exchange students, but I feel the thrill of it, of it being new to me. And now that I’m here for five months I’m holding on to anything exciting I can. And once I master it, feel normal, I have to move on. That’s the hardest lesson to learn, the real reason we are here. The lesson we cant learn from the security of our homes with our parents and friends. The real lesson of all life that no matter how much you don’t want it too, everything will change. Your friends, family, job, school, relationships, money it all comes and goes in life, in an ups and downs fashion. And you cant be scared of that, because if you are its going to hit you when you least expect it and tear your hopes apart. Go with the flow, don’t fight the waves, ride them, and hope they take you where you want to go.

The second thing I’ve learned while on exchange is that a lot of exchange students are the same. I mean we all have different talents, hopes and dreams. But we all generally care about the world and we have big plans for the future. I love all the exchange students I’ve had the pleasure of meeting during my exchange. And there are many of them I am looking foreword to meeting from all around the world. I’m taking advantage of this adventure now. To stay close with my fellow exchange students after exchange, contacts that will one day change the world. We are the movement makers, the next presidents, astronauts, doctors, even just future mothers and fathers who will share what they’ve learned this year with the world. To make it better, to pay it foreword, to be the ambassador of the world and purge the world of racism and ignorance… big job for a bunch of teenagers, but I think we can pull it off.
Keegan Costello

So it’s about March now and I’ve been living with the monks for 3 months. It’s a Buddhist temple with over 50 rooms! It’s huge, traditional and looks straight out of any of the Japanese movies. We have only 5 people ( including me) in the rooms, the head monk (my host father), his son who was a former punk band bassist (so we get along well), the second in charge monk who works with me all the time in the mornings, and a woman monk whose been like a mother to me. Everyone has shaved heads but me, we wear monk clothes and I live 100% a monk life. Every morning I wake up at 5:00 in the morning to a huge gong. We have about 10 minutes to get our monk clothes on and meet in the meditation room. There we pray, gongs bells drums and the deep voice of traditional Tibetan prayers orchestrate the room. A room covered in offerings incense and pictures of Buddha’s long past. To watch this every morning gave me great humility for we would thank every day for letting us be alive on this earth. I being a Buddhist myself since 13 (a very lonely one in America may I add) was for the first time being around people who practiced the same faith as me. After the prayers and meditation we went into our rooms for 30 minutes of reflection, followed by a cleaning of the entire temple. This place had 50 rooms’50!!! And each of us had a task. Mine was floors which were scrubbed down by warm water from the bath the night before. That took about 30 to 40 minutes. By that time breakfast was ready and we would eat after a prayer of course. Our meal was completely vegetarian, well besides the occasional fish. All meals were traditional Japanese, rice, pickles, soy sauce, sea weed. I loved it but at times things tasted bland and I’ve never craved a burger or donuts as bad as when I was there. After breakfast id rush to get ready and go to school. The only problem I had was how it was 24 degrees in the dead of winter here, and all I had was an electric blanket and a small gas heater in the temple. The walls there are made of paper, sand, and glass we didn’t wear shoes and being a Florida boy I dreaded stepping out of that blanket in the mornings to change clothes and step on that freezing hard wood floors.
I love it here at the temple people are so nice and they would bend over backwards for me, but I requested this week to get a new host family for my last month and a half. I’ve been living here for 3.5 months and I love it, but it’s not a host family. I’m treated as a monk; they haven’t ever had a host son stay with them let alone a foreigner stay with them. The monk life is very aloof anyways; they would usually spend most of there days alone doing individual work in silence, even when we eat food together its in silence. So it’s very lonely here at times and I spend most of my off days studying, that’s done wonders for my Japanese skills but I haven’t many people to practice it with. That’s why I made this decision to change and I stand behind it, the monks understand and it was only my Rotary here that had a difficult time with it. This isn’t a host family and id like to spend my last few weeks feeling like I’m a part of one. As an exchange student we all have to follow the rules but we must also stand up for ourselves when necessary. This is OUR exchange, yes we are ambassadors and we represent our countries and many important people who care about us but we also have a choice. The more you affirm yourself and stand up for your rights when you feel wronged on exchange the more comfortable future exchangers will feel when settling in.

I had a friend visit me two weeks ago by the way. Her name is Helena Christensen from Denmark. We have been talking every night on Skype since we got here over 7 months ago. I actually met her through the exchange website 3 months before exchange. She’s staying in the Tokyo area (the same as jasmine Norris) and we have been helping each other adjust. We tell our stories to each other, give advice, complain, and celebrate. We gave gifts to each other over Christmas and she promised to come visit me in Okayama since my Rotary wont let me. She stayed here a week at the temple (which is far from here Tokyo life to say the least). I took a week off school just to show her around everywhere. It was intense not only to have another foreigner stay with me but a person I’ve known for almost a year who knows my secrets and dreams. She says it’s my turn to come visit her in Denmark after exchange; I can’t wait to take her up on that.

The school year is almost over and we will soon change class grades, I wonder what will happen then to me, what my next host family is like and what adventures await in the next issue of Keegan’s journal.

p.s. while I’m here my mom (who rose me by herself) badly injured herself at work and was out of commission for a while (still is) and out of her wishes I decided to stay while she fights for me. I just love the friends I’ve made over the years who are now pooling together to take care of her in my absence.

Its may and the bitter cold has finally bloomed into spring, cherry blossoms are in bloom for the next two weeks and their pedal cover the ground like confetti. I changed host families to an old couple who lives in Tamano (the same town as my first host family) their family is very international and very understanding of foreigners. I already feel like I’m their son. My host dad is a fisherman who eats his catch which usually consists of squid, sea urchin, and various fish. My host mom stays at home most of the day but she plays a game called dragon quest for hours on end, and I thought teenagers were the only ones who dream of being a level 76 wizard. The trek to school is a bit longer but I don’t mind because I take the same train as my best friend Daiki in the mornings. Daiki has been such an inspiration to me, because his drive to learn English is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a Japanese person. Every night he studies and then practices what he learns with me in the morning hahaha come to think of it his other subjects in school are kind of lagging but their isn’t much I can do about that.

I have amazing news!!!!!!!! The new school year started and I got promoted. My English teacher thought my Japanese skills were good enough to move up from being a Japanese student to an assistant English teacher. So from now on until I get home ill be helping plan and present the daily lessons to middle school students and freshman year high school students. I won’t see my friends nearly as much but ill make a lot more friends by being introducing different year groups to my native language. The extra benefit is that I don’t have to wear a uniform no more, not that I hated it or anything, but having one pair of clothes to wear all week can get allitle hard to keep clean. I still got to wear a tie and dress pants but everyone knows who I am and talks to me more with my new outfit. Although if you think life is easier since I switched to teacher your dead wrong. I will never again insult a teacher or think they are lazy; a teacher’s job is ten times harder than a students. We have to make the lesson plan, we have to make it interesting enough for kids to pay attention but simple enough to understand, stand in front of 60 eyes that stare at you for an hour and a half a class (talk about stage fright), and you have to do it 7 times a day without getting bored about the same lesson you gave 7 TIMES ALREADY!!!!
But it feels very rewarding at the end of the day to give back to these kids and know that 210 kids just got a bit smarter today.

So I leave in less than a month and I can feel the pressure. I don’t know how much I’ve changed, guess ill have to see. I’m so happy that I’ve learned another language though, a feat I never thought I could achieve. I wouldn’t have come this far if I took a Japanese class in America. It’s only once you’ve lost everything that you fully understand you can do anything. I don’t know what my future holds now, weather its traveling across the world by bike, starting college, volunteering, it doesn’t matter all I know now is that my future will be bright and I wont let any thing nor anybody get in my way.

My friends are already starting to cry about me leaving and I’ve invited all of them to my home during the winter breaks. Some of them will think of me occasionally some few to not at all but regardless I hope I’ve left a positive image of my country at least burned into the back of their brains. But as for my best friends we will stay in touch every week and I vow to see them again! The next time I write I will be home and this will all be but memories, memories that will last a lifetime, which no one can take from me. I just want to thank everyone for this amazing opportunity. I am a man now, willing to face the world with open eyes. Thank you rotary, thank you host families, I hope one day I can give back to you in some way what you gave to me. Priceless moments, loyal friends, impossible challenges and immeasurable gains. One day I will be a host dad and spread the love you showed me.

Kendall Hale 
2012-13 Outbound to Poland
Hometown: St. Johns, FL
School: Creekside High School
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District 2230, Thailand
The Rotary Club of Warszawa-Jozefow

Kendall - Poland

September 11, 2012

It has been one month since I arrived in the beautiful city of Warsaw, Poland. Putting into words everything that Poland has brought to my life, in just one month, is almost impossible! This month has been the most stressful, crazy, tiring, exciting, and definitely the most amazing month of my life! Okay, it is best to start from the beginning.

Before I came to Poland I was really nervous about the plane ride here. I had never been out of the country before and I was so nervous that my bags would get lost or that I would get lost! Because of this fear, I was going to make it a priority to fly to Poland with one of my closest friends Leslie Gibson (she is also an outbound from FL in Poland). We met up in the Orlando airport and we both said goodbye to our families (and of course cried a little). We were so lucky because the flight attendant let us both take an extra bag without paying any extra money and she made sure we were seated next to each other on both of our flights! Our flight to Frankfurt was easy (and on time) and after only an hour layover, we flew quickly and safely to the Warsaw airport. We were both greeted by our families and before I knew it I was in a taxi on my way to my new home. My fears of the flight were gone and now I could focus on Poland!

We arrived in Warsaw about 3:00 pm and from that moment until 12:00 am I was on the go! I was so excited to finally be in Poland that I forgot I was even tired. My host mom and host sister spent the next day and a half showing me the city they love. The most amazing thing about Warsaw is the way they show their history. The people know the struggles they have been through in past times and they make sure to show just how far they have come. Walking down an average street, you can expect to pass shrines and memorials of WWII. Everything means something and I was in ‘information overload’ my first few days here with facts on everything we passed. Every building, bench, and statue had a different story that meant so much to my family; it was amazing!

My third day in Poland, I was on my way to Krakow for a two week language camp with all (or almost all) of the inbounds in Poland. These two weeks were very interesting haha. They were awesome but stressful all at once (sounds like the exchange life haha). The inbounds in Poland are so amazing and we all had a lot of fun on our trips around Krakow. We visited churches, malls, and salt mines during our camp. The stressful part came during the polish lessons! Polish is a VERY difficult language especially if you are like me and have never learned another language (except American Sign Language which, although I love, doesn’t help very much with learning Polish). We had 4 hours of lessons a day and once again, I was in overload!

I’m not going to lie; I was very excited to go back to Warsaw. I am officially in LOVE with this city! There hasn’t been one moment that I wished I was in another city. My host family is AMAZING and the people in Warsaw are awesome! I was told by a lot of people that the people in Poland, Warsaw especially, were going to be much colder than those in the South. I was happily surprised to find out this was not the case! Everyone is so friendly and I can’t help but smile everywhere I go! I live with just my host mom because my sister, Milena, went to the US on exchange. I miss her terribly but I know she is having an awesome time just like I am! My host mom and I get along almost too perfectly! She is so caring and always takes care of me (and makes sure to feed me a LOT). I love her so much and I don’t want to leave her!
This past Monday I started school here in Poland and it is quite different to that in the US. Despite the difference, I am already having a great time at school! I have English class a few days a week and it makes me laugh when I get questions wrong (which actually happens more than it probably should seeing that English is my first language haha). I don’t understand much of anything in school ,but I try and listen to everything and pick out the words that I do understand. I have Polish lessons every day in school and I hope to get a tutor soon because I am VERY determined to learn Polish! It is difficult because all of the teenagers, at my school especially, speak English very well.

Poland hasn’t just been a walk in the park like I have made it seem; a few things have been difficult to get use to haha. To begin with, I still haven’t fully figured out my shower here. You hang it up yourself on the wall and it always manages to fall off and get water all over EVERYTHING! Also, people in Poland drink ‘gazowana’ water (carbonated water). Anytime you order water in a restaurant, you get gazowana. I think the hardest thing to get use to, however, is the fact that they drink mainly tea so I am drinking a lot less water than I am used to back home! The idea of drinking just water seems foreign to them here! Also, I have never used public transportation before in my life so getting use to using a subway, train, tram, and bus (all in one day) can get very confusing! Finally, the public bathrooms here cost money! In most malls you can go for free but around the city it costs you money! The first time I went in one of these I got ye lled at, in Polish of course, for not paying the money at the door haha. All of these differences only make me love Poland more! EVERYONE READING THIS GO TO POLAND IT IS AMAZING!

I am already having the best time of my life and if you are reading this and are interested in being an exchange student DO IT! It won’t be easy, but it will 100% be worth it!

January 21, 2013

I have officially been in Poland for 100 days now! Even as I am writing it down, it doesn’t feel real! Looking back at my last journal entry makes me realize just how far I have come living in Poland. I’ve finally began to adjust to the Polish lifestyle and I am beginning to feel at home! My host mom and I are now at the point where we know enough about each other to live together like a real family. My room and my bed finally bring me comfort after a long day, and I have gotten used to the showers here (or almost) haha.

Since this is only a journal entry, and not a book, I will focus on just a few of the amazing things I have experienced while in Poland. To begin with, I had the opportunity to go with my class from school on an overnight trip to Krakow. I was the only exchange student who went and I am so glad I did! My classmates are so amazing. They tried to translate as much of the tours as they could and they always included me in everything they did. This was the first time I actually felt like I was making Polish friends which, to me, was definitely one of the highlights of my first 100 days in Poland. I honestly believe I have the BEST class in the world! They always invite me to go to girls nights at their homes and to hang out with all of their friends after school. I never feel excluded from the group and I feel like I can be myself in class without having to impress everyone. I think this is really important and I love them all so much.

In addition to my school life, my personal life here has been pretty interesting! In October half of the exchange students in Poland (around 20 people) went on a trip around Central Europe! This trip was so perfect and I couldn’t have had more fun anywhere else. We went to Budapest, Vienna, Prague, Dresden, and Berlin. We had about a day in each city and I honestly could have spent one month in each city and still have new things to see. Everything was SO unbelievably beautiful and I wanted to stay forever. My all-time favorite city was Prague because of how beautiful the city looks from a hill. All of the buildings are magnificent; by far the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.

The next thing that has been, well, AMAZING, is all of the AMERICAN holidays here in Poland. Yes, I did say American holidays. In Poland they don’t really celebrate Halloween instead they celebrate the day after to honor those that have passed away in their families. Going trick-or-treating is not a common pastime here in Poland by any means. However, my amazing friends made Halloween possible in Poland. A few exchange students met up at my friend’s house from school all decked out in our Halloween costumes and ready to go cukiernik-albo-przyku. We went from apartment to apartment knocking on the doors and hoping for candy. Some families had us come in and take photos with them and others just gave us any kind of ‘treats’ they could find. One lady even gave us money and told us to go buy some candy that we like! Our bags were so heavy by the end of the night we didn’t even know how we would finish eating everything (but of co urse we did). Another holiday they don’t celebrate here in Poland is Thanksgiving (big shocker huh?). I knew that this time of year would be hard for me, especially this holiday, because my family back in the US always has a really big Thanksgiving with our entire family. My friends here knew this and they were determined to make my Thanksgiving the best yet and, somehow, they did just that. It really was the worst and best Thanksgiving of my life! It was the worst if you look at it from a normal Thanksgiving mindset. I didn’t spend time with my family, I didn’t eat turkey with tons of dessert, and I didn’t spend the day with fellow Americans. But if you look at it from my new viewpoint; today was the best Thanksgiving ever. I spent time with my NEW exchange family (they really are family to me now). I ate KFC (not exactly turkey but it did its job) with people who love me and I realized how thankful I am for this exchange and everything it h as given me. AND I spent the day with people from all over the world who were willing to celebrate a day that is important to me. I never have felt that thankful in my life and it really was the best day ever! The funny part is that out of the 15 people celebrating Thanksgiving at that KFC, only 2 of us were from the US.

Finally, the Polish holidays here have also been amazing. As I mentioned earlier, November 1st is a big holiday here in Poland. It is tradition to spend the entire day at the cemetery with your family lighting candles on the graves of the deceased. It is said that no grave is to be left unlit so the entire cemetery is covered in different colored candles! The cemeteries in Poland aren’t like those in the US they are much more magnificent. They are very old and every grave has a candle on it, especially on this holiday. I spent the entire day with my host mom looking at how beautiful the cemeteries were. Spending the day with my mom and being able to participate in something that was so important to her really was really great. November 11th is the Polish Independence Day and this is also a huge holiday in Poland. My Rotary Counselor organized an Independence Day Run that all of the exchange students went to. We ran (or should I say walked) the 3.2 km path and finished in last place. We might not have been the fastest people but we had a lot of fun participating!

I could go on and on of all of the amazing things I have done and seen in Poland but honestly, there is no real way to put into words just how incredible these past 100 days have been. One year ago I would have never been able to guess that I would have family, friends, and a life here in the beautiful country of Poland, but now I do. This exchange has helped me grow as a person already and I know in the months to come I will grow and learn even more! I know I’ve said it before but COME TO POLAND it is amazing! I can’t wait for my next 100 days here when I will be skiing in Italian Alps, vacationing in Budapest, Hungary and travel around Europe for a month sightseeing in The Netherlands, Belgium, France, Spain, Monaco, and Italy.

April 2013

The first day of spring just passed and believe me, you would never imagine spring if you were living here! It has been five months of snow in this beautiful country of Poland. Everyone here keeps saying how they haven’t seen a winter like this in 80 years, but to me it’s the only winter I have known. Before coming to Poland, I way I wanted to live or attend college where it snowed because I HATED the heat in Florida. I conjured the thought of winter as images of snow as a white wonderland as described in a book; perfect. However, I didn’t take into account some of the things you might lose such as sunlight. I haven’t seen the sun in over 5 months. Actually, I take that back. There was one week of sunshine before the second round of winter hit. I actually find myself wishing for a little Florida heat and sunshine. Despite the weather, I have never been happier.

Starting tomorrow I will begin the last two months of my exchange and I have plans for every single day, most of which include my favorite thing — traveling. I leave tomorrow for my trip around Europe. We will be traveling to 7 different countries for 17 days with 30 exchange students living in Poland. When we return home, I will spend a few days in Krakow, Gdansk, and the mountains of Poland vacationing with my second and third host families. In June, I will have yet another weekend with ALL of the Polish exchange students at the beach. I will conclude the Polish exchange with attending a two-day concert festival before heading back home to Florida. All of this sounds so exciting, but, it is also a little sad. I want to enjoy every second before I have to leave but as I make my plans I can’t help noticing the calendar days and how quickly I’m running out of time! I wish I could spend so much more time here in Poland with all of my friends. The thought of leaving this amazing country and the wonderful people makes me so sad. Of course I miss my home, family, friends but I also know how much I will miss my new home, my new families, and my new friends. The difference is this — when I left Florida in August I knew that I would be returning in just one year, but, when I leave Poland in June I won’t know how long it will be before I return.

Instead of focusing on the things I have yet to do, I’ll tell you what I have already experienced in Poland since the New Year. Shortly after Christmas I switched to my second host family. This family was more amazing than I can describe. I had a mom, dad, and little 7-yr-old sister living at my house and sometimes my two older brothers would visit. They had been my best friend’s first host family so I knew them really well before even moving in with them. Since my first host family consisted of only a host mom, it felt like I was part of the family again and I loved it! I actually enjoyed staying in with them and even going grocery shopping was fun with them. During my stay with them another Brazilian exchange student moved in and became my sister. Every day after eating dinner, we would sit with our mom and talk for hours. I was truly happy. When Easter came, it was time to switch to our third host families. Leaving was difficult since I had grown so at tached to this family. I cried. I could not imagine being so close with another family. I have been with my third family for a week and a half and I am happy to say they are as amazing as the family before! I didn’t think it was possible to be as happy as I was, but I honestly am. I live with my mom, dad, 14-yr-old sister, and 10-yr-old brother. I also have an older brother who studies abroad and visits on holidays. I have been so blessed to have some amazing families that opened up their lives and homes to me. I will treasure them always.

Since I have lived in Florida almost my entire life, I had never seen snow before. This being said, it was obvious that I had never been skiing before either. To me this concept seemed impossible and terrifying but I would soon learn otherwise. I took a trip to Italy with another Rotary club along with 10 other exchange students. I also went with Przemek Gorbat who was on exchange to Florida (my city actually) last year from Poland. Having the opportunity to see him in Poland was so amazing for me. We stayed in Livigno, Italy for one week and it was perfect. I was also lucky enough to see my close friend from Florida, Kaylin Burgess, who is on exchange in Switzerland. The trip as a whole was just amazing as I learned some key concepts of skiing and also just got to spend time with people I love in an amazing city. Shortly after arriving to Poland, I had another opportunity to go skiing in Zakopane with my second host family. Along with my best friend Monique, we all went for one week to ski. I was given a ski instructor and by the second day I was going down the big slopes. I had so much fun being with family and friends in the snow and I couldn’t imagine it any other way. Both of these trips were so amazing and I will remember them forever.

In Florida, before I had my own car, my parents would chauffeur me around. I remember always thinking how nice it would be when I got to Poland. I knew that public transportation would soon become my life but I never fully grasped what this meant. When I first arrived in Poland I was a little intimidated, but I quickly became proficient and comfortable using public transportation for everything from attending school (there are no school buses here), shopping, sightseeing and traveling. I loved that I could get so far with very little effort. I was reading 2 or 3 books a week while traveling on public transportation. Once the snow starting falling, it wasn’t so appealing. My second host family lived 1 hour and 30 minutes from my school. Unfortunately the bus only came every 30 minutes so if you didn’t plan your trip EXACTLY, you could miss the bus and have to wait 30 minutes in the cold wet snow. With my third family, I use the metro and a bus to make the h our trip to school. Luckily, I have had my fellow exchange students living with me or near me so I rarely have to make these trips alone. I have learned that a 2 hour trip is nothing; it could just be you going to school. The 2 hour driving trips to Orlando from my house don’t seem so long now.

Overall, my exchange has been just what I had hoped it would be. My time in Poland has been perfect. I lived by the advise Rotary gave us “Don’t make expectations,” “Keep an open mind,” and “Your exchange is what you make it.” I didn’t have preconceived ideas or expectations to meet and live up to. Of course it has had its ups and downs. It wouldn’t be real if it wasn’t and I appreciate the ups even more. My exchange has been AMAZING, MIRACULOUS, INCREDIBLE, ASTOUNDING, and MARVELOUS. I am grateful every single day to Rotary for allowing me to have this astonishing opportunity that will help me in the future. I’ve learned so much about Polish people, their lifestyle and culture. I’ve learned about adaptation, accommodation and compromise. Most of all I have learned about myself. I am even eating vegetables now and enjoying it. I cannot wait to see what my last two months have in store for me. I just pray the time goes by VERY SLOWLY!

Laney Sorensen 
2012-13 Outbound to Germany
Hometown: Longwood, FL
School: Lake Brantley High School
Sponsor: District 6980, FL
Host: District 1880, Germany
The Rotary Club of Helmstedt

Laney - Germany

December 7, 2012

WHATTTTTTTT??? It has already been a month? It feels like just yesterday I was staying up all night doing some last minute packing and making sure my suitcases were the correct weight and going out to breakfast with my mom and sisters crying my eyes out, but with a smile on my face. I can’t believe it has already been a month since I first arrived in Deutschland. I hadn’t been on a plane for about 8 years and it was my first time flying alone so needless I was freaking out. My first mistake was wearing heels to the airport. Luckily I packed flats in my carryon because I had to run from gate to gate to get to my next flight. During each layover, the flight I was on was landing as the next flight was boarding. It was quite a stressful mission but it was a success! I made it to Berlin-Tegel airport the following morning and was welcomed by my YEO, counselor, a few Rotarians, and my host family. The first thing we did was go to a local bakery to buy some bread for my first German meal. When I first arrived to the town of Havelberg, I realized its size. Definitely smaller than Orlando with about 2,000 inhabitants. After getting over the initial shock of the small size of the town, we drove to my village of Vehlgast.

Vehlgast is one of the smallest villages around here with about 30-50 people living here and is about 17km from the town of Havelberg. Needless to say, it was very different from Orlando. But seeing the forests, trees, open lands, horses, cows, and the river Havel is a good change from the loud cars and sirens back in Orlando.

When I first walked into my host family’s home I was blown away by the decor and everything about it. I have two rooms that are all mine. The first room you walk into is pretty much a living room with a TV, wardrobe, desk, and pullout couch. That leads into my bedroom which has a bed and a wardrobe. The upstairs is basically just for my host sister and me, but we often have breakfast in the upstairs kitchen. Downstairs is for my host parents where they watch TV and sometimes eat meals in the dining room together. Outside, they have a garden with a natural pool which kind of reminds me of a smaller version of the Wekiva Springs. They also have their own sauna which will be kind of neat in the winter time. One of the people in our village owns a few horses and I have pretty much fallen in love with him. My 2nd weekend in Germany there was a huge annual celebration which was a boat parade. My host family had a friend who built a pontoon boat where they put a table and chairs and decorations. It was awesome and there was a laser show and fireworks (kind of made me feel like the 4th of July in the middle of August). Needless to say it was an awesome night.

The next weekend there was another huge celebration which was a horse market. There were all sorts of fun activities and there were three parts: horse market, kind of like a fairground, and another part which was like a flea market. Those are the two biggest weekends for the town for the year, and they were both a lot of fun.

When I first started school I was extremely nervous. I’m used to about 3,400 students at Lake Brantley High School, but at Diesterweg Gymnasium, there are about 200 students. I was first put into the 9th class where I felt very old. The students were a little closed off at first but after a few days I started to make friends and I am now switched into the 12th class. School here is very different, students actually have respect for their teachers, and let me be honest and say it makes it very difficult not to fall asleep when you don’t know what anyone is saying during the lesson. There are a lot of nice teachers and students here. Everyone seems to know everyone and that is a wonderful feeling. The weather here is beautiful without that Florida humidity, and it is quite colder here. This winter, I will see snow for the first time in my life; I just hope I brought enough warm clothes. There are so many more amazing things that have happened to me, it is just hard to put everything into one journal!

Time is flying, I am already 1/10 of the way through my exchange year and I can’t believe it!

Needless to say, this has been a great start to a wonderful year. There have been many bumps along the road, but the rainbow will soon come after the storm (it happens to be raining outside as I am writing this). I am extremely thankful and blessed to be here and I want to thank my friends and family for supporting me and especially thanks to Rotary for giving me such an amazing life changing opportunity.

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…”
― Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

Leo Canizares 
2012-13 Outbound to Japan
Hometown: Boca Raton, FL
School: Olympic Heights High School
Sponsor: District 6930, FL
Host: District 2610, Japan
The Rotary Club of Toyama

Leo - Japan

January 16, 2013

I have been in Japan and so far my exchange seems to be going fine. Getting off the plane I felt there was a different atmosphere here and at the time everything felt so foreign and different. I was excited for what was to come. I met my first host family after baggage claim and we greeted each other with some broken Japanese on my part, some English on their part and a series of awkward silences and smiles since neither of us could really communicate too well but we could still convey how excited we were. A while later I arrived at my host home which was a comparatively large house surrounded by narrow streets and other homes and buildings pressed against each other. Surprisingly my host home stood off on its own and didn’t seem to be crammed against any other buildings. I had been exhausted from the long trip and decided to relax in my room for a while after I had become familiar with the house. Later that day my host family and I went over house rules and things like curfews and such over dinner. There was a week from the time I had arrived to Japan and the time school started for me and during that week I walked around streets and explored. It was really strange to see so many things so close together with the buildings built side by side and the narrow streets that would eventually lead to main roads. I guess this was partially due to being unfamiliar with cityscape and also the manner in which structures are built in Japan: as small and efficient as possible to have room for other things. Compact architecture aside there were other differences like what side of the road cars drove on and all the signs I wasn’t able to read.

Near the end of that week my host dad and I biked to my high school so I would know where to go but I was a bit overwhelmed constantly looking in any direction and seeing something different. Needless to say I almost got lost on my way back on the first day of school. School life was alright and my classmates were all excited to see a new face. Everyone wears a uniform and even though I was expecting this it was still a strange sight for the first few days. I joined the kendo club and at first it didn’t seem to be anything too extreme. A week or two after I had started school and the excitement of having an exchange student at the school had died down I had developed a routine. Go to school, go to kendo practice after, bike home and so on. Kendo practice had felt like it had become more excessive after about a month but I still went.

During some weekends my host family would take me sight seeing to a waterfall in the mountains 1 hour away or so. It was great and I loved getting to see more of the area especially outside of the city. I am still always amazed at the mountains every time I go by or through them. Seeing something so breathtaking and massive and knowing that there was none of that in Florida made we wonder what other things were hidden in the corners of the world that so many have yet to see.

At the time my Japanese was very basic and even still I struggle with it. This schism in communication did not negatively impact me as much as I thought it would have but it was and is very inconvenient. There were times when trying to comment about something that happened that day with my host family was more difficult than it should have been but this never seemed to bother either of us too much. At the end we would put our efforts to make each other understood.

In the second half of the fall, the rainy season had started and every day was getting just a bit colder and the sky was always dark and or pouring rain. At first this was somehow very disheartening for no reason other than it just appeared to be a gloomy day. I quickly got over this dip of emotion and after the dark skies and rainy bikes home didn’t seem to bother me as much. So far aside from feeling a bit down due to stormy weather is the worst if felt on the exchange and I feel that its going pretty well.

Of course I will be constantly trying to improve my poor Japanese as my knowledge of the language seems to never be enough for any conversation that deviates from basics. If any part of this exchange isn’t going smoothly its my Japanese which I will be working on.

July 17, 2013

It’s been quite some time since my last journal entry. My last entry left off about right before winter started. While I had known that it would snow in Toyama, I had expected it to be colder and snowier than it was. Some people might say I was lucky but I felt a little disappointed since I almost never see snow. During the winter I stayed with my second host family that owned a slightly larger house in the suburbs of the city. They were a great family and had been members of Rotary for a long while. In their time they had hosted many exchange students varying in personalities and behaviors. I think their experience with so many students made my stay there a bit smoother. My second host family was a bit of an older couple but still very nice and very patient with me. When it started to snow the first night I was excited to see it and I was a little awestruck bye the first white sheet that had fallen. During my stay there I helped around shoveling snow off assorted places around the house and the like. I never really understood why people complained about snow so much since it sure beats having to mow your lawn on a hot summer day in Florida. The winter here really helped boost my cold tolerance and greatly decreased my heat tolerance. Man, people find winters in the north dull and grey but It was quite the opposite for me. I never minded the snow too much nor the grey skies. School uniform changed a bit during the winter as well, making male students wear a thick uncomfortable jacket/coat with a stiff collar that felt like it was always suffocating you. Before and during the winter, my Kendo club had begun a special practice for the winter time that involved waking up at 5 am and practicing in the dojo on a snowy morning. The dojo had minimal insulation and the floor was always icy cold. We had to practice barefooted regardless of the temperature and standing still for too long would give our feet freezer b urns. That was interesting to say the least and after a few impossible mornings getting up to such a brisk day was easier than I had expected. I never really liked it, but by the time spring rolled around, it had grown on me. I stayed with my second host family for about 2 months before changing to my third and my personal favorite.

My third host family was a nice couple who had a son away on exchange to Canada and an older daughter who was going to college in another city, and who would visit from time to time. They seemed to be the family that tried to involve me with everything all the time. They took me to many parks and different places around the city. They were very kind and always happy to spend time with me. By the time I switched to this family, the end of winter was nearing and even though I liked the snow, I was already getting a bit sick of the grey skies which after a while, turned out to be a bit depressing. Luckily this family was just what I needed to snap me out of that moody state and continue with my exchange as usual. As spring rolled by, spring break came around and the Rotary club there had organized a trip to some of the main and interesting cities in Japan. Together with the other exchange students in the area we went to Hiroshima, Osaka, and Nara. While staying in Hiroshima we took a ferry to Miyajima Island. The island was once considered sacred ground and it was a forbidden area for common citizens. At the island is a beautiful temple whose structure is based around the water that comes in and out with the tide. Incidentally it has a sort of “sister structure” relation with Mt. St. Michele in France because it too, has the rising and shrinking tide play a part in its aesthetics. I never would have guessed that I would someday visit both sites, since I visited Mt. St. Michele during my short exchange to France the previous year. During the second day at Hiroshima we visited the memorial peace park and museum. It was a very enlightening experience and it showed how terrible the effect of the atomic bomb was on the city and its residents. From Hiroshima we went to Nara where we went to see the Todaiji temple. The largest wooden building in the world which housed the largest Buddha statue in Japan. The immense size of the building and statue were absolutely breathtaking, especially considering the time in which these were built and the technology and man power they had back then. After Nara we traveled to Osaka to visit Universal Studios Japan. Having been to the park before in the US, I was rather surprised to see how much of the park was replicated to the minute detail. The only difference was perhaps some of the attraction placements within the park. The lines to said attractions were not as similar to those I had seen before, meaning they were a lot longer. Many rides had lines lasting up to 3 or 4 hours, which made it impossible for us to visit all of the attractions. At the end of the trip and after all the students including myself had returned to their respective host homes, I found that my Japanese had improved slightly, probably because of all the necessary speaking. As spring was becoming more apparent, all the Sakura trees around the city began to blossom giving the whole town a sort of new light. I would often go with my host mom and my host sister to visit parks or walk around the shopping areas. Also during the spring, my school year had ended, making me say goodbye to many of my classmates. The new year brought many new faces but a few of my old classmates still shared the same room. My third host family was very nice and also conveniently close to my school making it just a few minutes walk away. I think they were by far my favorite for the fact that I felt very involved with everything as well as them being remarkably kind and patient.

Within a month of spring break I changed host families to my fourth and last one. They were apparently somewhat of a celebrity because they were the owner of a sake producing company, which factory right across the street. The company specialized in making premium sake and this family was apparently quite wealthier. My stay there was different because the room I slept in was not part of the main house. Across the street, next to the factory, was a storage area/cellar like building for all the aging sake and spirits made. I stayed in a portion of the building upstairs which was well furnished. My “living room” was right above the sake storage area! I had my own bathroom and shower there as well. I spent most of my time in the main house with the rest of the family regardless of the nice area provided for me. This host home was the furthest I had from school, making the commute about an hour long and two train rides away. I had 3 host siblings in this home. One 17 y ear old brother, a 13 year old sister and an 11 year old younger brother. Aside from my younger host brother the other two seemed to always be busy, coming home late because of after school activities etc., so we never got the chance to really talk. Near the end of spring, my Kendo club and I went to a tournament in a neighboring city. Needless to say, I was no where near their skill level but my Kendo sensei put me in the tournament anyways. When my match was up I got very nervous and lost pretty soon, yet I’m glad I had the experience. I feel like it put the sport in a slightly different light and made me think to take it a little more seriously. From time to time some kids from my kendo team and I would go out for lunch during the weekends or loiter at a grocery store or shopping center and have fun. They were probably the closest group of friends I had in Japan. The end of my exchange was nearing and pretty soon I had only a month left in the country. In that last month my parents had decided to visit me and we traveled around Japan together. I showed my parents the sites in Toyama and a neighboring city, Kanazawa. While in Toyama we visited the nearby Tateyama mountain range, in which there was the longest waterfall in Japan, as well as roads with snow up to 15 meters high beside them. Even during the summer, the mountain peaks stayed white. When I left Toyama it felt a little strange knowing I would probably never return. The city was never particularly exciting and was commonly referred to as a “grey” city, but despite that I had grown accustomed to it and had made a few close friends here that I was definitely going to miss. On our trip, my family and I went to many different cities, some which I had previously visited on the Rotary trip during spring break. I re-visited Hiroshima with them, then we went to Kumamoto and then Himeji to see the city castles. After that we went to Kobe, Osaka, and Kyoto. From there we traveled to Gotemba a small town at the base of Mt. Fuji. While we were hoping to see the beautiful volcano, the day seemed to be against us. It was raining on and off for the whole day and the clouds were constantly blocking out the sight of Mt. Fuji. Disappointed as we were, we saw parts of the mountain from time to time. Our trip ended with us spending four days in Tokyo. There, we saw the Tokyo Tower and the Sky tree. The first being a tower with similar structure to the Eiffel tower. The second being the tallest tower in Tokyo.

I think that my exchange over all, was very interesting despite being a bit dull at some points. I feel like I learned a lot not just about the culture and people, but about myself as well. I definitely feel more independent now than I did before the past ten months. The language was difficult, but when it really came down to it, I found I could always communicate what I needed to. Meeting all those people and living with the different host families was great and I think I’ve become more comfortable speaking to others in general now. This exchange was a rally great experience and overall I learned many new and interesting things. Thanks to Rotary who made it possible, this is definitely an experience I will remember for the rest of my life.

Leslie Gibson 
2012-13 Outbound to Poland
Hometown: Tampa, FL
School: Robinson High School
Sponsor: District 6890, FL
Host: District 2230, Poland
The Rotary Club of Lodz 4 Kultury

Leslie - Poland

August 27th, 2012
I officially arrived in Poland 17 days ago! It’s hard to believe that two and half weeks of my exchange have already happened! I was at language camp in Piekary (a village near Krakow) for two weeks with all the exchange students in Poland. The first full day in Łódź I had a traditional Polish BBQ with my family (parents, two sisters, and grandparents) and my sisters’ boyfriends. It was so fun and I was forced to try meat! I have eaten meat every meal with my family so far. That was probably the biggest challenge coming to Poland. After ten years of not eating meat, I now eat kielbasa, sausage, ham, pork, beef, and chicken… I love my host family. My 19 year-old sister Angelika does not go to my school but she speaks English and did an exchange in Venezuela. My parents are so kind and they have been so welcoming and accepting. I spent all of today with moja babcia (my grandmother) going to the manufaktura (a huge shopping center with restaurants and a cine ma) and the center of the city. Later, she taught me how to make decorations for Christmas and Easter. It was a fun day and I was forced to speak only Polish because my parents and my grandmother do not speak English. Polish is SO difficult because of the grammar but I love the way it sounds and I am learning quickly. I can already have basic conversations and I can understand a lot more than I can speak. I’ve discovered that the grammar rules have so many exceptions that the rule basically seems pointless haha. The hardest difference between English and Polish is that ‘no’ actually means ‘yes’. It’s so confusing and I feel like I do things wrong until I realize that!

There are almost 40 exchange students in Poland from the United States (18), Brasil (9), Mexico, Taiwan (2), Argentina (1), and Canada (1). Everyone is so great and I love seeing how the cultures interact. Language camp did not feel like living in Poland because we spoke English and went to Krakow as a huge tourist group. It was so much fun but I’m glad to begin my language immersion! For Language Camp (Kurs Języka Polskiego), we had 4 hours of classes, study time, afternoon activities or trips, and evening activities. Our trips included one to a monastery, Wieliczka Salt Mines, Krakow (Wawel and Kazimierz), the mall, and a festival in Piekary. The salt mines were incredible! The passages were carved from salt so we all licked the walls. There is an underground cathedral which is beautiful. There are chandeliers, statues, and murals all carved from salt. The tour took three hours because we descended over 100 km beneath the surface! In Krakow, Wawel is a huge castle and we got to see the Cathedral. The history is so interesting and I learned so much about Krakow from our tour guide. Kazimierz is the Jewish Ghetto and where Schindler’s List was filmed. We didn’t get to spend much time there but we saw an old synagogue. During our free time some of us went to a pierogi festival. I had 10 pierogi… so delicious.

I love Poland and the people so much. Everyone has been kind and welcoming thus far and I cannot wait to start school. Do widzenia!

September 26th, 2012
I’m still loving Poland! Life here is exactly what it’s supposed to be-life. I go to school, sleep, spend time with my family, and everything that I would do at home. It just so happens I’m speaking Polish and not in the United States. I speak more and more Polish every day and I’m very proud of my level of proficiency two months in. Polish is such a hard language and so easy to give up on but I keep pushing myself. I’m so grateful that I only speak Polish with my family except for when my sister and I are having girly conversations.

Since life in Poland is life, there are days that have ups and downs. One of these downs was last Monday during public transportation. I was waiting 45 minutes at my bus stop for my next bus and was so mad because I had to stand the entire time. When I got on the bus I forgot to scan my ticket and ten minutes into my ride, the bus police get on… yes, they exist. She started speaking Polish really fast and I only understood a little and tried to explain that I wasn’t familiar with the bus system and so on. She grabbed my arm that was holding the wallet and told me to pay. So I lost the equivalent of 20 USD on a stupid mistake of mine but I guess it takes mistakes to learn.

Another down was on Wednesday when I went to the bank after school. I had mapped two locations and one was close to one of the stops on my bus route, only a five minute walk. I had always wanted to explore Piotrkowska and thought I would get the opportunity to. Of course I forgot my a jacket on the rainiest day so far. The bank had no way of helping me and the only ATM for the bank was a 20 minute walk down the main street. After 20 minutes of freezing and wet toes, I went to the ATM and saw that the charge is over 10% to withdraw!! Ridiculous.

So Friday, September 21st was the Warsaw meeting with all the exchange students in Poland. Luccas, Luiza, and I took an early train to Warsaw so that we would have time to catch up with our friends. We went to the hostel and then took a walk around Warsaw at night to the Tomb of the Unknown Solider. We went to the Planetarium of Copernicus and watched a IMAX film in the theater. It was entirely in Polish and about topics like DNA so it was a little difficult to grasp since I have trouble with that in English!

The next day we took a bus tour to see the street with embassies and past Chopin’s park. It was raining BUT I had my Hunter rain boots and I was probably the most comfortable walking around. We went to the Warsaw Uprising Museum which is probably the best museum I’ve been to, probably because the history is so interesting to me. If anyone ever takes a trip to Warsaw, the museum is something that deserves at least half a day. Seeing tangible evidence of all that Poland had suffered during WWII made me feel overwhelming pride in this country. Poland has been trampled on so many times and has still maintained it’s identity and pride. I’m reading a book about the conditions of the partitions in the 19th century among Austria, Germany, and Russia. The Polish language was suppressed and anyone who spoke it was punished severely but they still refused to abandon their nationality.

We also went to Stare Miasto (old town) and walked around (in the rain, of course). It is absolutely beautiful in Stare Miasto with old buildings and cobblestone streets. We went to the Fountain Park with a light show that only occurs in the summer. It was a great ending to the weekend to see Warsaw.

I love Warsaw! I was able to stay two days with my best friend Kendall from Florida and I saw Warsaw from a non-tourist view. We saw a memorial outside of Warsaw to a plane that crashed in 1944 (Kielpin) and it almost moved me to tears when I saw that people still put flowers at the monument. Poland has not forgotten the help that the United States gave during WWII and the memorial made me feel so proud to be an American. Kendall and I were so grateful to see it.

Kendall and I went to Stare Miasto again and bought a baquette on the street. It was great to walk around and catch up. We’ve officially adopted the Polish mentality on money because we now think things are expensive that we would normally pay for in the United States. We saw pasta that was 24 zloty and said the restaurant was too expensive (about 8 USD)… Kendall and I got lost a couple of times, but it was so fun to figure out the buses and see more of Warsaw.

During the day, we cooked pasta and ate so many cookies. (Guilty pleasures). We also went to Polish lessons so I was able to see her school. The kids in Warsaw are not learning as much Polish as me because EVERYONE in Warsaw speaks English. When Kendall and I got lost, a Turkish man overheard us and helped us get to the bus. I was so amazed at the diversity of people in Warsaw. I’ve been able to count on two hands how many people of other races I’ve seen in my city! It was so vibrant and urban! Kendall didn’t understand why I got so excited when I heard someone speaking American or British English because I haven’t seen any in my city.

Every day, I’m amazed that I’m in this wonderful country. I can’t imagine being anywhere else and I’m so grateful to Rotary for this experience!

It’s almost 3 months in Poland and Polish is still an ongoing struggle. I’ve tried every form of studying known to the world-watching TV in Polish or with subtitles, changing my Facebook and phone to Polish, reading books, listening to radio, and taking notes from a book. As much of an advantage speaking English as a first language is, it is a huge disadvantage trying to learn a foreign language. Everything has an English option and all the TV programs and songs on the radio are in English. And it’s very true that everyone loves to practice English with a native speaker… This is such an interesting concept since we were always embarrassed to practice our Spanish in the four years of IB. Here, people are so enthusiastic about English. Rotary Florida had warned us that this time period was going to be a struggle, part of the “roller coaster” of emotions we would experience. I have not found myself extremely homesick or lonely, but the language is incredibly frustrating at times. Every time I learn a new rule or word, I discover a thousand exceptions. Polish is still a beautiful language, and it is considered very commendable to master it.

So enough about my frustration with the language. Rotary Florida had warned us that this time period was going to be a struggle, part of the “roller coaster” of emotions we would experience. I have not found myself extremely homesick or lonely, and I owe that to my incredible family. They have made me feel like a family member in every way. My sister Lika is my best friend and I can go to her with anything. My parents remind me a lot of my own, and they treat me like another daughter. I know that these relationships will stay with me forever and switching families will be one of the hardest parts of my exchange. I’m so blessed to have such an amazing family as my first that has made settling into a new lifestyle as easy as possible.

On November 1st, we had All Saints’ Day (Wszystkich Swietych). Poland celebrates this holiday with a free day from all work and school as everyone visits the cemeteries to honor those who died. People purchase flowers and candles and place them on the graves of loved ones. This is one of the most beautiful traditions I have ever seen and I am so fortunate to have been a part of this holiday. At night, the cemeteries are lit with a thousand candles. After we visited the cemeteries, we had lunch at my father’s parents’ apartment. They are so kind and my grandmother is an incredible cook. The first thing my adorable grandfather says to me is that my cheeks are bigger… So needless to say, I now know for a fact that I’ve gained weight.

On that note, I’ll talk about the food in Poland. It is incredible, especially for carb-lovers like me. Almost every day, we eat soups and potatoes, so I am VERY happy. I’ve even gotten accustomed to eating meat. I actually made my first independent meat purchase the other day with a cheeseburger! I still can’t handle fish or eggs but I think it’s because they just don’t taste good. The meat here is always cooked well. I’m VERY embarrassed at my lack of cooking abilities. Everyone in Poland can show me up since all I know how to do is make pasta, burritos, and salad. I’m nervous for Thanksgiving and the possible expectations to cook a meal… All I ever helped with were the mashed potatoes and green beans… Because of all these carbs, I’m gaining what we Rotary students love to call the “exchange belly”. It’s unavoidable so I’ve learned to accept it, keep eating, and work out when I can.

November 1st also marked the college application due date for Early Action. It’s so hard to be in the “college mindset” from thousands of miles away so I finished the essays with about 36 hours left. I’ll find out most of the decisions in 2013 so all I can do now is work on my Polish and keep warm for winter. Poland had its first snow a week ago and it was magical! Now it’s too warm for snow so it’s just ugly since all the golden leaves vanished. I can’t wait for more snow!! With Poland’s temperatures I now have justification to laugh at all of my dear Florida friends who pull out their Fuggs and North Faces for 60 degree weather. Now when I see that, I think “hmm maybe I don’t have to wear my leggings underneath my jeans today!”.

As a premature “Thanksgiving” from Poland, I want to give thanks to all the people helping to make my year possible. First, to my parents who have supported every decision I’ve made and continue to support me across the ocean and another continent. The rest of my American family and my Polish family for the love they always show. To Rotary Florida for all the orientations that prepared us so well to adapt to different cultures. To Rotary Lodz for sponsoring me! To my friends back home and in Poland because I’m so fortunate to have you in my life.

Just to apologize in advance and for all my past blog entries: my English has severely depreciated since graduating from the IB program. Hopefully it all comes back when I have to start college! 

October 22nd, 2012

I just got home from a weeklong Rotary trip to some of the capitals of Central Europe. It was one of the best trips I’ve been on and I am so grateful to have seen so much of Europe, especially during a time with minimal tourism and great weather. Paweł, from Rotary Warsaw, coordinates our trips and he does an incredible job. I’m so lucky that he plans so many trips because students from other countries sometimes only get Euro Trip and I have at least three more trips this year.

I left for Kendall’s house in Warsaw on Friday the 12th because we were leaving Warsaw at 7am and I had no desire to take a train at 5 in the morning. The bus ride was extremely uncomfortable and long because of our tiny bus that has less leg room than economy class. We had a 10 hour drive through Krakow, Slovakia, and then to Budapest. Slovakia was gorgeous! There were rolling hills and small mountains and the countryside was so green and beautiful. I was able to understand some of the signs because of my Polish. One of the most mind-blowing things is that in just a few hours, you can go to a country speaking a completely different language. In the United States, all you get is a different accent.

We arrived to Budapest around 8pm and got to see the city by night. I was amazed at how beautiful and grand Budapest was. We parked on the river side and saw some of the huge buildings lit up at night. I was always trying to listen for Hungarian because I’ve heard it is one of the only languages harder than Polish for English speakers to learn. We had pizza for dinner (classic, and of course, inferior to American pizza) and went to bed. The next morning we drove to Gellert Hill and saw a beautiful panoramic view of Budapest. After, we went to the Heroes’ Square which reminds me of the memorials in Washington DC. We walked to to Museum of Hungarian Agriculture (not for the agriculture, of course). The museum is inside of a castle that is exactly what Hogwarts should look like. We also saw St. Stephen’s Basilica, a huge church that can be seen from all parts of the city because of its height. I love seeing the cathedrals, citadels, basilicas, etc. but after a whi le, all of the stained glass windows and intricate paintings blend together! We had free time, but being cheap exchange students, we couldn’t do much except walk around. Unless we had wanted to buy Subway since it was the only restaurant in our price range. The most frustrating thing about traveling around Europe is that you spend all your money on water!! After our free time we saw Fisherman’s Bastion, an impressively huge castle that can be seen from the river. It’s so hard to describe all the places so I’ll link my facebook album so you can see pictures.

After a long day in Budapest, we went to bed late and were off to Vienna in the morning! Our first stop was Schönbrunn Palace (click because it has a really interesting history). We hiked up a hill and got a view of Vienna in perfect weather. The gardens of the palace and the palace itself look like a less extravagant version of Versailles. We were able to do a walking tour through the apartments and had audio devices to hear the history of the palace. We stayed in a hostel-hotel in walking distance (far, but walking distance) to the center of the city. We walked to the center around 6pm so we saw the city by sunset. The center was probably the ritziest place I’ve seen to shop in a very long time. The stores were overpriced and designer like Gucci and Svarowski. Pawel knows exactly how to plan trips for teenagers by giving enough free time and sightseeing. In Vienna, Prague, and Berlin, he let us stay out until 9pm. The catch was that we had to find our way back to the hotel on our own. VERY challenging, especially if you don’t really know where you are haha. In Vienna, we started walking back from the center because it started to rain. We got in the vicinity of the hotel but ended up walking down random streets because the map didn’t show many street names and people didn’t give helpful directions. We tried to hail a cab, but apparently things are different than in NYC and they don’t stop when you flag them down… After an hour of wandering around Vienna, we finally found our hotel, only 4 minutes past our 9pm curfew!

Another early morning and then to Prague! I had visited the Czech Republic with my family for my aunt’s wedding when I was nine but I was still impressed by the city. It is one of the most beautiful places I’ve been to. For some reason, there were still so many tourists! I have no idea how people find the time to visit Prague on a Tuesday in the middle of October? We toured around the castle area, including the Golden Lane. We crossed the Vltava River to Old Town and had traditional Czech cuisine. We then had free time in Old Town where we got souvenirs and explored. I can definitely say that Prague has the most attractive guys in one place than any other city!! We didn’t have a problem getting to our hotel from Old Town because it was one tram line.

The next morning we started for Berlin. We stopped in Dresden and spent about two hours touring the Old City. The part of the city that wasn’t bombed has beautiful buildings and I wish we could have spent more time there. Since it is on the way to Berlin, it was more of a pitstop for us than a destination, unfortunately. Of course when we got to Germany, we all joked about how the trams were so new and sleek, compared some in Poland, especially Łódź that sound like they might fall apart at any moment!

The first thing we saw in Berlin was the Berlin Wall. Most of it has graffiti or wall art but it still had such a powerful message. After, we saw Checkpoint Charlie. I had another moment of American pride as I saw the flag and icon of the American soldier at the monument. That night we had Mexican food! Nothing can compare to my favorite restaurant in Tampa but having salsa and guacamole made me so happy. Of course they didn’t even speak Spanish in the restaurant but it was food, nonetheless! The next day we literally walked miles from Charlottenburg (where our hotel was) to the center. We were all exhausted and hungry by the time we got to the Reichstag. That building was one of the most impressive I have ever seen in my life. It is a huge structure with German flags waving everywhere that was created to intimidate and impress. It definitely succeeded! We then went to Bradenburg Gate that used to separate West and East Berlin. I loved seeing the US Embassy right next to the gate and took a classic picture with my own American flag. We went to the German History Museum and watched a film but almost everyone fell asleep because of how much we had walked that day. Listening to the film and reading the English subtitles, I realize how similar German and English are and again, how hard Polish is! We had free time after the film and I was so tempted to stay by myself and go through the museum because of how interested I am in history but the other exchange students left and I figured I would have more chances to visit Berlin. We went back to the Bradenburg Gate and met up with one of my Mexican friend’s cousin who is on exchange in Germany. We went to a traditional German restaurant and then to the Mexican restaurant (again). We were so lucky to have her cousin because of how complicated the metro system is in Berlin!

The next day we had to start our long drive back to Warsaw and I slept the entire time. I think I was awake for the last twenty minutes of the drive. Kendall and I went back to her apartment and had a relaxing evening to catch up on sleep. The next day we went to the Kopernik Planeterium to watch a film organized by Rotary. The film was about black holes and I’m honestly a little scared after hearing about them! We went to Zlote Tarasy, the shopping mall near centrum, to the Multikino to watch a movie. We saw Paranormal Activity 4 in English with Polish subtitles. It was really embarrassing/funny when only Kendall, Samantha, and I would laugh at some of the jokes that were not translated into Polish. We then went to centrum to meet up with the Brazilians and Barbara from Argentina because it was her last week in Poland (since she came in January). Kendall and I went home at 11 and then the next day I rode the train home!

After a week of Warsaw and huge cities, Łódź was a nice place to return to. The autumn here is incredible here (hence the name Golden Autumn) and I always want to whip out my camera and take pictures of all the leaves (probably because Florida doesn’t have seasons). It’s supposed to get cold this week and to be honest, I’m a little scared. I downloaded an app called Sunrise Sunset and I calculated that on December 12, the darkest day of the year, the sun will set a 3:31 pm! I’m terrified! I am excited for the fire heating up the house and wearing my snow clothes, though!

My Polish is still improving but I am at a slow point because all my energy is going into college essays… for the second time. Today I somehow understood so much more than normal and I was so proud of myself! Now, I don’t really need my sister to explain too much in English because I understand my family’s conversations.

Warning to future exchange students: you will gain weight. Accept it and keep eating!!! I’ve gained a lot of weight but I don’t think I look much bigger (thank God!).

January 4, 2013

1. Don’t go in with expectations (bad or good). If you go in with an open mind, you’ll be able to adapt so much faster to situations.
2. Don’t compare your exchange with other exchange students. We are ALL having completely different exchanges and so will you. For example, there is the Warsaw experience and Poland experience! Even though we’re in the same country, we are doing completely different things!
3. You can’t have everything from an exchange so don’t be disappointed if something isn’t perfect!
4. Join a gym. Seriously.
5. Go on EVERY trip! Most of them through Rotary are pretty affordable but even if they are expensive, when else will you be able to have this experience?
6. Push yourself to learn the language. Even if you never think you will use *insert language here*, you will gain so much from speaking your host language. The relationships you make with your family and friends will be more personal and you won’t feel scared to order food in a restaurant!
7. Be the ambassador to your country. I know Rotary always says this but once you go abroad, you’ll see how your pride in your country grows and you will WANT to break the stereotypes and represent!
8. Make smart decisions. This is self explanatory but it can never be stressed too much.
9. Nothing is “weird” or “strange”, it’s just different.
10. When things are getting tough, always reach out to past or current exchange students. EVERYONE on exchange experiences similar things like language frustration or missing home and talking to someone will comfort you.
11. Try new foods but don’t be afraid to tell your family if you don’t like something. In the beginning, eat everything on your plate, but when you’re more comfortable, just say you prefer such-and-such instead of…

March 18, 2013

For anyone who wants to read more, go to my leslieinpoland.blogspot.com because I post there pretty frequently (:

Wow! I decided the love of my life is the city of Berlin. I spent the first two weeks of March with the family of my German brother in Florida. Joanna (his mom) is Polish so I kept up with and even improved my Polish. First of all, the family is simply incredible. They were so welcoming and treated me like a daughter so I felt at home within the first few days. Joanna is a lot like my mom and we got along great! Mike is also so fun and talkative and the daughter Julia is 9 years old and active!

First: the food. I was so happy to have some tastes from home when we went out to Mexican, Thai, Italian, and more restaurants. I had root beer and onion rings along with spicy Indian food. Berlin has a plethora of spectacular dining and I’m not as food-sick as I was before in Poland eating sandwiches and potatoes all the time! To those who think that food isn’t such a big deal, you haven’t experienced the lack of variety for the past 7 months! Haha, but really. I like Polish food but like anything, it can get a little boring.

I arrived on a Friday and saw a little of Berlin by night, including the sunset near the Bradenburg Gate and Potsdamer Platz. Saturday was sunny and we got to see a panorama in Gendarmenmarkt Square . Most of the sightseeing is in the city center so we were able to walk around Kurf Rstendamm (a shopping street), Checkpoint Charlie, and a piece of the Berlin Wall where the Gestapo also had their headquarters.

Sunday was spent in Potsdam, known for the Potsdam Conference. We saw Cecilendorf, the manor where Churchill, Truman, and Stalin met. It was surreal to be in the same conference room where three of the most influential people in WWII were. There was even the same furniture and round table from the pictures I had seen. Also in Potsdam is Sanssouci Palace, a mini-Versailles that is probably beautiful in spring and summer because of the vast expanse of gardens and terraces.

Mike and Joanna work during the week so I spent the weekdays seeing various parts of Berlin, mostly museums. I really enjoyed the freedom of staying in museums for however long I needed and seeing what I wanted. There is something liberating about traveling alone! Berlin has an impressive public transport system so I was able to go wherever I wanted with relative ease. When I wasn’t in museums, I was walking around the center (granted, only on the two days of 40 degree weather and sunshine). Something distinct is the Holocaust Memorial near Bradenburg Gate. I encourage you to read the link
because the design and significance is interesting. One Saturday night I went to the Philharmony with a Rotarian and we listening to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Wow. Such talent!

I gave a presentation at the Rotary Club sponsoring Philipp in Florida. Ironically, it is a Polish-German club so I was able to speak in Polish to them!!

My museum count for the trip: 10 (11 if you count the Berlin Wall Gallery)
Pretty impressive, right? I know a lot of you are thinking ‘ugh, how boring!’ but I really enjoyed myself. Unfortunately, I have a sort of museum-OCD, meaning that I can’t leave a museum without looking at EVERY SINGLE thing. That is kind of frustrating sometimes but it also means I fully absorbed everything?

1. Berlin has a museum island with five museums. They all have very Romanesque architecture and it is a beautiful place to be! I went to the Egyptian Museum, Pergamon, and Neues Museum. There was a special exhibition showing the famous bust of Nefertiti. The Pergamon was very impressive because there was a restored temple, Roman arch, and the gate of Babylon inside.
Overall, anyone going to Berlin should plan on a day or two on the Museum Island!

2. German History Museum. I had been here on my capital trip with other exchange students but a bunch of hungry teenagers are not the best museum companions so I didn’t get to see much. The museum is huge and a little overwhelming with the hundreds of years of history but I loved it!

3. German Technical Museum: also great (as all of the museums I saw are). My favorite part were the scaled models of ships dating from Vikings to modern yachts. They also had a remodeled railway shed that showed the evolution of the railway system in Germany.

4. Jewish Museum: So interesting! I loved learning about a religion I didn’t know much about. The architecture is incredible but something you have to see in person to grasp. Being there is really sobering because of the evidence of the Holocaust and various persecutions and crusades against Judaism.

5. Gemaldegalerie. My favorite art museums are those with old paintings rather than modern art and the museum has an incredible collection. I spent hours looking at rooms and analyzing the significance of such and such. Very IB of me… Nonetheless, I felt like a very sophisticated 18 year old examining old paintings!

6. Allied Museum. The museum is located in an old American military outpost and exhibits the history of the Allied forces in the Cold War period in West Berlin. This history is still so personal because it was less than 30 years ago so I enjoyed seeing how life was in West Berlin. Since I have been a little American-sick, the specific focus on American troops brought a little bit of home to me. There was an exhibition featuring sport for the Allies and there was footage from a football game in Berlin!

7. The Story of Berlin was really interactive and had themes in each area covering a part of Berlin’s 800 year history. The best part was the tour to the atomic beneath the museum. Most of the bunker is now a parking garage but we were able to see some of the underground area for 3,600 people. I am so grateful it was never used because the conditions would have been deplorable! There was no free space, only lines of bunk beds inches away from each other and no way of bathing and limited water supply. It was very eery going down into the dark, creepy bunker but a great way to imagine the reactions to the atomic threats in the Cold War.

8. Last, but certainly not least is one of my favorite parts of the trip. The East Side Gallery is a mile-long stretch of the wall with graffiti art. Parts of the wall include inspirational quotes and the famous kiss of Breshnev and Eric Honecker. Unfortunately, as some of you have probably read, the Gallery is in danger of demolition to make way for condos. Even with many protesting, I’m so grateful to see this part of history before it is dismantled!

That sums up my trip to Berlin. One of my favorite trips-ever. I’m in love with Berlin and I’ve already started learning German and researching ways to study here!


Now I’m back in Łódź waiting for my parents to arrive in 2 weeks! I can’t believe it will be almost 8 months since I last saw them. I am so excited to spend two and a half weeks touring Poland!!!!

OKAY. So this will be my grumbling about the weather and hating on all the Florida residents!! It is almost April and still 0 degrees celsius (32 degrees) and SNOW. I am not a fan of this unusually long and dark summer. Fortunately, we’ve had a few days of sun. It’s amazing how much the sunshine can give you energy and lift you out of a slump. But hey, I guess it takes surviving winter to appreciate the summer?

On my Polish progress: I feel really great about my speaking ability. I am now comfortably having conversations with anyone. I think I’m at the “conversationally fluent” level. I still have many grammatical errors and I have to ask what some words mean but I understand 95% of the conversations going on around me. Watching the news or reading the newspaper is a different story because of the completely different vocabulary. I’m at the point where I prefer to speak Polish than English with someone from Poland. I almost feel self conscious speaking English with non-native speakers now! And by the way, I’m forgetting how to speak English. I told someone “I have 18 years”. No bueno. Everyone I meet is really impressed with my Polish which only encourages me to learn more and speak! 


May 5 2013

Everything is so beautiful now!!!! The grass is green, flowers are blooming and the sun in shining!!!! I even appreciate the dandelion weeds that people hate because they make Polish spring even more alive.

I woke up this morning to a full sun and clear skies and stepped out of the house to the revelation that I didn’t need a jacket! My happiness and energy level was at about 100% despite the five hours of sleep I got last night! My day consisted of working out at the gym and then laying in the garden for four hours. I fell asleep and woke up with the slightest indication of a suntan!!!!

This weekend I had Luiza’s 18th birthday celebration (osiemnastka). Friday was a “surprise party” that she, of course, knew about. She acted surprised to give her credit! We had the party at her first host family’s house and then went to the second house to spend the night. There were 5 other Brazilians in town for the weekend. The next day we went to a Rotary picnic that raises money for a retreat for children and adults with Down’s syndrome. They had organized a few performances for us. One of them was fencing that serves as a form of therapy. Later, we went to the zoo! I actually had so much fun because we got to feed animals grass from the fields nearby. Compared to zoos in the US, there was little to no supervision! (Not entirely a good thing). We held baby goats, fed camels, and petted miniature ponies and donkeys! That evening we went to our favorite place-Casablanca. At 12, I took Luiza to the bathroom and when we came out we sang Happy Birthd ay in three different languages to her! (Portuguese, Polish, and English).

Last Monday, we did our Rotary presentation for a group of 13-14 year olds from Oscar’s school. Oscar is Luccas/Luiza’s host brother and reminds me of my cousin Alex so much. I love him to death! Thursday and Friday were national holidays so my sisters and I had a BBQ with some of their friends. The weather was not ideal but we still had fun grilling pierogi and kiełbasa. Luiza, Luccas, Oliwia (host sister of Luccas and Luiza), and Carolina from Brazil all slept in my room. We had several debates over who got the blankets!

On May 3rd, time woke me up and slapped me in the face with the fact that there are only two months remaining on my exchange. Wow. Tempus fugit. I feel somewhat cheated by Poland’s abnormally long winter since we only had warm, nice weather August, half of September, and now in May. Now that it’s warm, there is SO much to do and I’m freaking out that I can’t do it all in the next two months. I made a list of things to see in Łódź.

My mental state has improved as the sun has emerged from its hibernation. I’m considerably happier and more energetic with the nice weather, which goes to prove I’m a summer girl. Of course everyone here is more cheerful but I literally feel like dancing to celebrate the weather. If any exchange student from Florida reads this: WINTER IS HARD AND COLD AND DARK AND IT SUCKS UNLESS YOU SKI. I’m also not going to school anymore and feel so much more productive. I’m learning German and Portuguese basics and listening to lectures about Political Science as well as exercising.

Something exciting I discovered is that there is a boy from Łódź who will be in Florida next year!!!!! I pray he’s in my city so I can stalk him and harass him to speak Polish with me because I know I will desperately miss speaking.

Speaking of…speaking. At the Rotary picnic there was a group sent from Rotary of Hawaii on a Poland trip. Oh gosh, speaking American English was the weirdest experience ever. No one who hasn’t been so heavily immersed in a language will understand the effects of deprivation of your language. Speaking with my friends on exchange from the US and my family is different and fine but when I meet people, WOAH. I literally forget how to speak. I have something wired in my brain after this year that signals me that anyone I meet speaks English as a foreign language. I’ve met probably less than 10 people from the US this year and every time I tried to speak Polish. I also spoke really slowly and simply… Even talking to them this weekend seemed like English was MY second language. I found myself feeling more comfortable speaking Polish than English. I guess I can view that as an accomplishment but it is also an extremely uncomfortable and disorienting feeling. I was on th e phone with my university the other day and spoke a whole sentence in Polish… It will definitely take some getting used to when I return to the US and can talk to anyone without having to keep my hears pricked for different word usage, syntax, and speaking speed.

Something very hard to grasp for me is that, for each language you speak, you have a different personality. Not polar opposites but there are some characteristics I express in English but not Polish and vice versa. I’m a huge mystery now! Kim jestem?!

As hard and infuriating as Polish is, I have fallen head over heels for this language. I can now dream, sleep talk, and unconsciously speak in Polish. I even think it’s so fun that Luiza, Luccas, and I speak Polish-Portuguese-Spanish-English together. People are awed by our conversations because they can never predict what language it will be!

I am so happy with my language and think that it has been and will be the biggest accomplishment of my exchange. It shows me that I do have a talent for languages, that speaking another language can never again be embarrassing, and that Rotary at orientation was completely right. If you speak to a man in a language he knows, it goes to his head but if you speak to him in his language, it goes to his heart. I have had the unique opportunity to befriend people not just through a language they learn but have no emotion for. I have made my life in Poland with Polish and it has become a part of who I am. There are so many times I am wrong and forget words but I feel so comfortable with this beautiful language.

To the exchange students going to Poland: Poland will be full of surprises and it will by no means be easy. It will be hard and things will suck but learning Polish is worth the headaches and hours of studying nonsensical grammatical rules.

So enough of the rambling. In summary: I love Polish spring. I love Polish. I will miss speaking Polish. I only have two months left. AH.

My plans for the next two months include going to the embassy in Warsaw, Beyonce (ironically, Diva is playing on my shuffle now), Warsaw, England, Berlin (hopefully!)

Lisa Worley 
2012-13 Outbound to Japan
Hometown: Brandon, FL
School: Bloomingdale High School
Sponsor: District 6890, FL
Host: District 2690, Japan
The Rotary Club of Yonago Minami

Lisa - Japan
September 5, 2012

It has been almost a month since I first arrived in Japan, and yet I wake up every morning knowing exactly what my routine is as though I’d lived here for much longer. However, I wasn’t always as comfortable as I am now- I didn’t always know how to get to Takashimaya from Hopetown, or how to get home from the Train Station on the random day when my bus driver says he won’t go to my normal stop. I didn’t always have friends, or know how to ride a bike as well, or know the difference between “Itsumo” and “Zenbun”.

I won’t lie to you and tell you that I’ve enjoyed every waking moment, that it was easy to make friends and that all of the studying I did before made it easy to understand Japanese now. I talk to the Rotex when I doubt these things because that’s what they’ve all gone through and they understand, so I want to thank all of them from the bottom of my heart. I also want to thank Rotary for giving me this opportunity, my family for supporting me, and my friends for wishing me the best.

The only real place to start, I suppose, would be on the plane ride to Japan.
All alone, dressed in my Rotary blazer and khaki pants, I sat in my seat in the plane. Moments before, I’d had problems getting my carry on to fit in the overhead compartment because, even though it was well within the limits for Delta, it was just barely small enough for the plane to Japan. Being short didn’t help my situation, so luckily the (rather tall) lady behind me got up from her seat and put it in the overhead bin for me. Thank goodness for Japanese hospitality!

The plane was about to leave when a young Japanese girl sat next to me, probably no more than ten years old. I think at that moment I was more afraid of her than she was of me. She knew absolutely no English, so when I had to ask her questions about what was written on the immigration form (such as time in Japan and whatnot) our conversation became a mixture of poor Japanese and Charades. We didn’t talk after that for about six hours.

Arriving in Japan after the longest, most bladder-wrenching flight, I made my way through Haneda airport, greeted by Olympic banners written in Japanese and cute advertisements everywhere I looked. Luckily, I was also able to find the restroom (the sign is pretty universal, thank goodness!). Figuring out the toilet was, well, interesting to say the least. It was high tech and had more buttons than a television remote. All of the buttons were written in Japanese so, having no idea what they did, I left them alone. After a few minutes of inspecting all of the devices, I finally figured out that to flush you had to wave your hand in front of this thing on the wall, kind of like the motion sensor thing at the movie theater bathrooms in Brandon, Florida. 
Next came immigration. What was supposed to be swift took a good hour or more (I lost track of time after the first hour). Apparently, none of the residency card printing machines were working when the immigration workers took me to them, so they took me into the back room where I waited while they messed around with the main computer. They’re English was about as good as my Japanese, but we were able to communicate that I was an exchange student from America. Showing them my book of Emergency contacts full of everyone’s name, number, and address that I could possibly need, they were able to take down my host family information and my counselor’s number and let me through immigration with a simple “We will mail this card to you in a month”. Thank you, Rotary, for stressing the importance of carrying an Emergency contact list.

Picking up my baggage, I made my way to the terminal after a short Monorail ride and sat for the next few hours doing nothing but people watching and typing (rapidly) an email home on the 100¥/10 minutes computer. The plane ride to Yonago was fine other than my sitting in the wrong seat at first, and then having my carry on bag be too big for the central overhead compartment due to the fact that I was able to watch a Pokemon movie. I had no idea what they were saying, but at least it was entertaining. 
Arriving in Yonago was rather interesting. Everywhere were little figurines and statues from a famous local Mangaka’s manga. They were little eyeball creatures with bodies, or strange looking people with crazy hair, and were apparently absolutely normal. Walking out toward where my host mother and sister were, I was given a big hug and rushed over to the Rotarians to take a picture. Unfortunately, I was so frazzled that I forgot to hand them MY camera to take a picture on, but I have the feeling I would have looked like a ghost in that picture.

Over the next month I visited Mount Daisen (an active volcano with the best tasting water and best tasting soft ice cream I’ve ever had) been all over the city, celebrated Bon Odori by going all the way to Matsue to clean gravestones, and seen myself on the news as they showed clips of the dancing part of the Bon Odori festival. I also started school (which I absolutely love) and gave a speech at my Rotary club.
My speech was quite possibly the worst Rotary speech in the history of exchange. What had started out as a fairly good length outstanding speech I’d had memorized ended up with me being told I had to shorten it to about a minute long right before I walked up to the podium to speak. Oh boy. I don’t quite remember what it was I said, but I do remember apologizing profusely to the club President and my Counselor for the poor quality of my first speech. What a first impression. In my own defense, though, trying to come up with a speech on the spot in a foreign language you’d only been speaking for less than a month is a pretty difficult thing to do.

That speech was the same evening I’d started school, which, lucky for me, had gone 100x better. My speech for the teachers and for my class was flawless, and everyone was very kind. I met many people and the teachers were all very helpful. I also have a schedule with many art classes, so needless to say, I was excited about the week to come.

In the next week, I made many friends and helped my class prepare for the school Bunka-sai (Culture Festival). We ended up doing a Purikua class thing, which is basically giant pictures of whatever that people stand in front of and take photos of themselves. Our Purikua was anime themed, so I helped paint the giant ‘One Piece’ set. When all was said and done, everyone was very happy with what we’d accomplished and we were able to have a great weekend.

The Bunka-sai was the most fun I’ve had at school so far- there were food stands, bands, plays, haunted houses, and indoor pool, tea ceremonies, martial arts demonstrations, and much more. I even had my drawing of my art teacher displayed in the stairwell for everyone to see.

After the culture festival, we had a day of cleaning followed by a long home-room. It was fun to clean with everyone because everyone helped out in some way. I climbed on top of the bookshelves and took the black curtains off of the walls, and other people prepared the cardboard displays for recycle, took the paper chains off of the ceiling, scrubbed the floors, or changed the curtains on the windows. It wasn’t too difficult because of how many people there were working, so for most of the day we were able to simply sit in the class and decide where to go for dinner tomorrow and who would do what events at the upcoming Taikusai (sports festival). We decided on ShabuShabu (beef dipped in boiling water) and I volunteered for the tug of war, relay race, and Dekapan (two people wearing one pair of huge pants and race other couples in huge pants) competitions.

The next night, everyone went to Jasco (a huge shopping center) and played in the Arcade and ate dinner. It was loads of fun, and surprised me at how close this class is compared to homeroom classes back in America. I don’t even know the names of half of the people in my old homeroom in Florida, but here was my Japanese homeroom class, all spending some of their free time together to simply have fun and congratulate each other on our successes at the Culture Festival.

October 19, 2012

My last journal couldn’t even come close to describing what my everyday life is, but I think part of that may have to do with the fact that every day is different. I rarely have the words to describe to someone what it’s like when they ask me how I feel about being here in Yonago, Japan, or when they ask what my favorite food is or where I want to go this year. Being here is amazing- some days are the best days I’ve ever had in my life, other days can leave me feeling like I still have such a long way to go to make the kinds of friends or speak as fluently as past exchange students recall. People have a hard time understanding the fact that my favorite food can change everyday simply because it’s all so different and new. While I may not know the name of a dish, I can love it all the same, and while one dish may be more delicious than another at a certain time, I simply answer the question of my favorite food with “I love everything!” because this is the most honest I can be. Being asked where I want to go is probably one of the hardest questions. I’m already here in Japan, so anything else is a bonus. Of course there’s always the usual, touristy answers- “I want to go to Kyoto, Osaka, Tokyo, and Sapporo” or “I want to see Shibuya station” and “I want to get a picture in front of Mt. Fuji”- which would be fine. I would love to visit any of those places! However, I would enjoy going pretty much anywhere here. The kids my age are the ones who find this hardest to understand because of the fact that this city I’m living in is in the countryside and thus, not very exciting. Yeah, I wouldn’t mind being closer to places I can just go hang out with friends at or being able to have a wider variety of stores to browse through and things like that, but this place is still so eccentric and has so many secrets that I can’t wait to discover t hat even the most boring days can end with excitement. Just today I discovered a small park near one of my bus stations that I can go to if I want to swing or climb the climbing tree. There are so many vending machines here in Japan that I’ve thought of spending an entire day just walking around and trying the most random things I find in them- hot carmel milkshakes, ice cream, hot cocoa, milk tea, Japanese sodas- there’s so much that I honestly think I could spend my entire allowance at vending machines! Luckily, I have enough self-control to make sure that doesn’t happen.

The majority of my time is spent at school, and I’d be lying if I said I don’t love school. The students there are so nice to me and my schedule has so many art classes that I enjoy most everything. The ladies in the 食堂(”shokudo”- cafeteria) are also very sweet and make the most delicious food I’ve ever eaten (except for my Grandmother’s cooking- I know my mom will read this and show her, so just remember that your cooking is still the best, Grammy!). It’s still so weird that I’ve gotten used to the fact that instead of mystery meat, fries, and pasta being served in the cafeteria I’m able to order curry, udon, soba, ramen, and a bunch of other stuff that I can’t yet read.

It still hits me that I’m in Japan or that I had a conversation in Japanese without thinking too hard about it or having to pull out my dictionary every time. I still feel as though I’m speaking too much English because of how much I already understand, even though I know that’s not true. I’ve given up simply translating in my head because that wasn’t working before and instead have realized that I don’t need to understand every word to understand the meaning. Listening like this, I’ve learned so much more and amaze myself when I can start to use the things I learn correctly. The grammar is still, by far, the most difficult part of the [spoken] language, but I know things are slowly working themselves into place every day.

When people teach me a word in Japanese I’m always so surprised at the various words they can also translate to English (on the occasions they do decide to translate for me instead of explaining in Japanese). For instance, one of the boys in my Kyuudo club taught me the word for grasshopper- “batta”- and I couldn’t help but wonder when and why he learned that “batta” meant “grasshopper” in English. Thinking back on my ten years of Spanish in school, I don’t recall ever learning what “grasshopper” is.

The weather is also something very new to me. It’s starting to really feel like Autumn here in Yonago. Even wearing long sleeves inside in the attic (my bedroom, 4th floor, and the hottest part of the house) I can still find myself feeling cold. I wear high socks every day and still wish I had an extra pair of socks to put over my feet because of how little protection the school slippers we have to wear at school give. I dread to think of what it might feel like at kyuudo practice (after school until 6 o’clock- outside) when Winter finally comes around.

I would write more about everything I’ve done and all of that stuff, but I intended for this journal to be more on the introspective side. Next week is the Sports festival at school as well as my next district orientation, so I will save all of the “what I’ve done” jazz for my next journal next month. I will also submit my photos with the next journal 😀

As always, none of this would have been possible without the enormous combined efforts of Rotary, my Family, and my Friends. Thank you! 😀

February 23, 2013

Before I went on exchange, I made a promise to a Rotarian that I would be the student who wouldn’t fall behind on their journals. Obviously, I haven’t kept that promise, and I won’t try and make an excuse for that. Rather, I will say that I have learned a few things from it. I’ve learned that my schedule on exchange is much less my own than it ever was before- just as there are so many things I want to experience in this country, there are twice as many things others want to share with me, teach me, and allow me to see.

I am at school almost all day long (until 6 at night) and even go to school on the weekends due to club activities. I study every day in order to improve my Japanese as much as I can before the end of this year. My current host family and I spend almost every minute that we are not busy working (or studying/ shooting stuff at club practice in my case) together watching TV, trying out old restaurants in the a rea, or going to see amazing things that my part of Japan has to offer. We’ve climbed into an almost-invisible room on the underside of an old bridge high in the mountains so as to view the duck-like birds (called O-Shidori) that my prefecture, Tottori, is famous for.

We’ve gone to public bathhouses (called Onsen) where I experienced for the first time exactly why the Japanese are so in love with hot springs, even if it means standing outside, butt-naked in the coldest part of winter while snow is falling as you wait to climb into the pool. I’ve discovered that I’m actually very good at skiing simply because my family decided that my sister and I should go since neither of us were working/studying. I’ve done so many things in these past few months I never would have dreamed of, so many things I wish I could write down. It’s not that I won’t write these things down, however- I would love for everyone reading this to be able to experience eve ry moment of pain, joy, sadness, and happiness I remember as I look back on these past months because of how wonderful the outcome has turned out to be. The truth is, I simply can’t write these memories down.

Nothing could capture the magic that I’ve found in simply living, in being able to walk home through farm fields under the widest, most beautiful starlit night sky as I return home from school every evening, or in being able to know that there are people you’ve made friends with who have watched you grow and learn, and who have no choice but to know you by actions rather than words. Writing down the countless days I’ve spent here on exchange may, for some, seem like a thing that needs no questioning, something that to not do would be a serious mistake. For me, however, writing down my memories would be to belittle them so as to force them to fit into the restraints of language, taking with it their fragility and ephemerality that I have so come to appreciate. I have confidence that I will remember these things long after this year, so while having no permanent record may seem intimidating at times, I am no longer afraid.

My year is almost over, and as I look back on how I’ve spent it, it seems both unextraordinary and amazing at the same time. I keep hearing that these months, when added together, are simply life in a year. All of the emotions, the struggles, and even boredom are all parts that make this so. So it is that when I see pictures or watch videos of other exchange students doing amazing things, I realize that, while I’ve not hung out with friends as much as I’d have liked, nor done as many exciting things as I could have hoped for, I, too, have had a wonderful experience. As normally as I have spent this year, this, too, is life.

I have changed families three times in the past year and come to know four completely different lifestyles. I have improved in the language in great degrees, to the point where I feel as at home in Japanese as I do in English at times. I have struggled with the different definitions of friendship in America and Japan, finding out that being good friends doesn’t mean always being together or knowing everything.

I have discovered that “goodbye”‘s that I have no right to share tears in can be even more painful than the “farewell”‘s that I have had to say myself. It was surprising to see just how much realizing that there are memories and bonds I can never share in can hurt, and this taught me that there are times when anyone can be an outsider.

I’ve been stared at every time I step outside of my door. I’ve had people assume I can’t understand, watched their expressions change when they realize I can, and watched them struggle to find the words to communicate this.

I’ve had the most precious words a person could wish to hear spoken to me. I’ve realized that there are some things said best without words. I’ve learned that communication does not guarantee closeness, and that’s okay, because I’ve come to realize coming out of this year with one person I can say I know now, I’ve accomplished more than many do in a lifetime.

I’ve learned some of the most amazing things this year, and that is what has made my exchange a success. I hope that, by the time I leave here, I can have impacted someone as much as this year has impacted me.

Maddie Tibbetts 
2012-13 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: Ponte Vedra Beach, FL
School: Ponte Vedra Beach High School
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District 4760, Brazil
Club TBA

Maddie - Brazil
November 2012

These past 2 months have been the best of my life. Brazil is so indescribably wonderful, but according to my agreement with Rotary I have to attempt to describe my time here.

Everybody tells you time flies on exchange, but for me those were the same people that said that high school would fly by. So of course I didn’t believe them. I’ve been here for over two months, that’s 1/5 of my exchange gone. That’s 25% of the best year of my life, over. Days, weeks, MONTHS pass and I’m left astounded and wondering where all that time went. So please, all you future exchange students, promise me you will realize that your time on exchange is very short and don’t allow yourself to waste a moment of it.

Although time has flown by, I feel proud of how I’ve spent it. I live in a very small town named Varzea Da Palma. When I say small, I mean truly tiny. When I first heard the news that I would be living in a town a little smaller than Sawgrass and Marsh Landing combined (residential neighborhoods in my home town) I was disappointed. Upon my arrival I realized my initial disappointment was absolutely ridiculous. Although I live in a small town, I still live in Brasil. It’s still radically different from anything I’ve ever experienced and every day is better than the last.

An average day for me consists of school from 7:15 until 12:15, a traditional Brazilian lunch from 12:30 until all the food is gone, A city wide nap from whenever lunch ends until 14:00, then I volunteer at the local orphanage from 15:00 until 19:00. After all of that I’m free to hang out with my lovely host family, go to festas (parties) or boates (nightclubs) with my host sister, or just grab some delicious acai with my friends.

I adore my host family. I have yet to switch host families yet and I don’t think I want to. But here’s hoping my next host family is as lovely as my first. I currently live with my host father, Pio, my host mother, Nadia, and my host sister, Ariella. I’m so grateful to Rotary for giving me such a perfect first host family.

Having a host sibling around your age is amazing. Ariella and I do absolutely everything together. From day one Ariella has been helping me, with my Portuguese, with school, with making new friends, with everything. I also had the good fortune to be placed in my sister’s class. I’m currently in the third year at CNEC. I’m the Brazilian equivalent of a senior.

I just got back from my first inbound orientation; in our statewide district we have 47 exchange students. We had to part ways two days ago, and we already miss each other greatly. Our orientation was the best one I’ve ever been to. How many Rotary orientations end with spelunking in hundred year old mines? We toured the beautiful cities of Ouro Preto and Belo Horizonte. These two cities alone hold so much history; I loved every minute of our time there. Although none of the exchange students are Brazilian, we’ve definitely all become accustomed to spending nights singing and dancing together. I can’t wait to see them all again on the northeast trip!

I was able to stay an extra day in Belo Horizonte (beautiful horizon) with the lovely Katharina. Katharina is a 16 year old from Germany; she lives in Montes Claros which much to my dismay is nearly 3 hours outside of my small city. My city is small and sort of secluded; therefore I’m an hour away from the closest exchange student. Although being the only exchange student in my city can be lonely, I feel that it allows me to delve even deeper into Brazilian culture.

I love Brasil, my town, my family, and all my new friends. I’ve never been happier; the culture here is so vastly different. My language skills have improved immensely and I couldn’t be more proud of how far they’ve come. Learning a language is not easy but it’s rewarding. I’m so thankful for this amazing opportunity rotary gave me and all the hard work Rotarians did to get me to this point.

Madison Smith 
2012-13 Outbound to Belgium
Hometown: St. Augustine, FL
School: Pedro Menendez High School
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District 1630, Belgium
The Rotary Club of Malmedy Hautes-Fagnes

Madison - Belgium

November 1, 2012

So here it is, I’ve been in belgium for 49 days. I’ve learned that I’m a horrible packer, I have no clothes for this freezing weather! (Today was 1 degrees celsius…) How to properly hold my spoon and my fork, that a lot of words are the same in french as in english, Europeans love America and American icons, but hate the “American Way.” That I miss my dog, my family, Sunshine, The beach, waves, the smell of the salty air and the warmth! but I’ve also learned that I love belgium! the different culture, the language, the new friends I’ve made, the chocolate, the close distance between different countries, the friendliness, and how welcoming belgians are. Also the way my host dad and real dad are so similar. How my host sister and i had an automatic “sisterly bond.” <3 Wearing cute scarfs, The cow farm next door and feeding the babies. 
But lets rewind to my first few days. I left the safety of my family and friend, my sweet little town, and my beloved country to arrive in a place unknown. It was my first plane flight from Jacksonville FL to Philadelphia PA, alone I might add.. At first I cried a little bit, but my long plane flight from Philly to brussels Belgium made me feel 10X worse.. an 8 hour flight felt like 20 and I cried for the majority of the time, not only because I was leaving everything I’ve know for 18 1/2 years, but because I didn’t know what to expect once I got there! The food tasted horrible and I couldn’t sleep. Finally, I arrived on August 21, it was overcast. When I first saw my host mom I went to hug her, she went to bisous (kiss) me on the cheek. Once I finally realized what she was doing it was too late we were already walking to the car. Not much was said on the car ride home, due to them not being able to understand me, and me not being able to understand them. Once we got home we ate lunch out in the back yard at the picnic table. I went and tried to unpack and to discover my new house. My neighbors came over a few hours later to greet me, although they were never nice. I didn’t go to sleep until about 12 that night I had been up for more then 24 hours. The next day my neighbor Dorita, who is my host moms best friend came over and we went into our cute town named Malmedy. One of the only things I knew how to say was hot fudge sunday and ham (dame blanche and jambon) so they took me out for hot fudge sundays, assuming I loved them since I knew the word. Yes, they were amazing! Over the next few days I tired to become acclimated to the time and weather and my new surroundings. Finally, I got to meet the other exchange student, who ended up living next door to me. His name is Yael, from Mexico. We have become very close, since were the only ones who understand what it’s like. Over then next few weeks my new family took me to s ee Liege, Luxembourg, and took me to shop for about a straight week! which of course I didn’t mind at all. The exchange students met in Brussels one weekend and got to see parliament and the beautiful town, and all the exchangers from so many different countries. After a little bit of time Yael and I took a trip to Liege at about 6:45 we decided it was time to catch the train home, we got lost on the way to the station and for some reason thought our train would still be there once we finally arrived. so we got on and after a hour of riding (when our destination was only 45) we realized we didn’t recognize anything we saw pass by out of the train window.. We finally found the train guide and asked where we were headed, and he replied Berlin Germany… once the shock of heading to a different country very far from our town set in, we realized we should get off at the next station. We did and there was not a single person there. So, we called Yael’s mom, a nd she came to the rescue, although she laughed at us the whole way home. We should have arrived home at 8:00 and instead arrived home at 10:45, with my first day of school the next day. On my first day of school it was easy to make friends, a lot easier then I thought it would be, people just kept coming up to me, even though I wasn’t understanding a word they said. But they were all very nice and welcoming. At 1:00 we had a “meeting” in the courtyard, it was to announce that Yael and I were at the school and everyone needed to welcome us very kindly. I didn’t know what the principle was saying but once I heard “the Mexican and American Yael and Madison!” then everyone one looked at us. The next few weeks went by quickly. I became acclimated to my school and family’s routine. I love eating chocolate and Hot tea at 5:00 when I get home from school. I don’t like waking up at 6am to get ready for school though, and having my school day s 3 hours longer than normal is a little bit rough. I find it strange how small Belgium is, and how close it is to its surrounding countries yet people do not travel often. To drive 45 minutes away to the next big town is a big deal! I think its quite funny, considering we drive 2 hours to Orlando and drive to Jacksonville all the time and its no big deal. About 2 weeks ago my Art History class took yael and I to Paris, it was an amazing site to see! We saw the Eiffel Tower when it was lit up, the louvre museum, The Lock Bridge, Noter Dame and The Arch of Triumph. The best part of all was that I saw a man with a Florida Gators sweatshirt on! If you know me you’ll understand why this was such a big deal. Go Gators! The first time I saw snow was this week, I went outside at about 10pm and thought it was rain until I realized how white and big the pieces were. If it hadn’t of been so cold I would have stayed out there for ever to watch how pretty it was. Sunday mornin g I woke up to find it all over the ground. Although I love seeing the snow, a Florida girl is not cut out for this weather! I will travel to London to see a friend on Nov. 2nd which I am very excited about! I went skiing in a fake snow place and it was one of the hardest things i’ve ever tried! But I’m going with my host sister and her friend for a week the day after christmas to the Alps in Austria… Skiing that will be a funny sight for everyone to see! My host family is taking me to poland to see Auschwitz, since I find it very interesting, and I will also go to Italy with my Rotary here for 11 days along with a bunch of other students in Rotary. Needless to say I now love to travel! I can’t wait to see what my upcoming months have to offer! J’aime la Belgique

Mallory Morse 
2012-13 Outbound to Belgium
Hometown: St. Augustine, FL
School: St. Augustine High School
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District 1620, Belgium
The Rotary Club of Charleroi

Mallory - Belgium

November 2012

In front of me stood the extensive airport security and behind me lingered my family, waiting for the imminent goodbye. I glimpsed back, giving them a reassuring smile as I fought back tears, knowing I wouldn’t be seeing them again for twelve long months. With luggage in hand and a prayer in my head, I stepped into what is known to be the greatest year of an exchange student’s life.

Living independently from my family, seeing the world’s most beautiful cities, and tasting foods I never dreamed existed is only the beginning of all that is Rotary Youth Exchange. Apart from gaining once-in-a-lifetime memories, I am acquiring a lifetime’s worth of lessons and knowledge.

Living in a foreign country has opened my eyes to the diversity of the world’s beliefs and lifestyles. I have witnessed the differences first-hand and have grown to appreciate them. Some nuances of Belgian culture, any American is bound to question: whether it be men drinking Belgium’s signature beer for breakfast or redundantly kissing all 26 of your school mates’ cheeks every morning. True submersion occurs only when you stop questioning the culture. The moment I sat down with the old men drinking Jupiler and felt insufficiently greeted without my morning “bisous” was when I truly appreciated and adapted to this new way of life. I recognize that differences aren’t negative, but a chance to understand and share new ideas.

When I first arrived in Belgium, I had never spoken any French. Teaching myself how to listen, understand, and speak a new language was my first and foremost responsibility. After two months of translating sentences word-by-word and willing my brain to remember vocabulary from hundreds of flash cards, countless headaches have come, but so has progress. One of the best moments you will experience as an exchange student is when you catch yourself using foreign expressions in your head as you do things. In French, a very popular phrase is “comme ça” which means “like that” and when I’m doing work, I say it I’m my head without thinking about it.

I am defined by where I come from, where I have been, and where I plan to go. Luckily, Belgium is so small, I have already been across the entire country. I have also been to France and England, and plan to travel to Italy and German soon as well. With each new country I see, I get to experience a different culture and meet people who expand my view of the world. I’m quickly discovery how vastly different people are on the other end of the spectrum. As each day passes, I’m realizing who I want to be, and on which end of the spectrum I belong.

January 2013

Well, I have been in Belgium for a little more than 4 months now. Nearly half of my exchange is over and it’s extremely difficult to grasp that concept. It feels like I’ve just arrived, but also like I’m living a life I’ve always known. I suppose the best way to give an accurate glimpse of what an exchange in Belgium is like is to share a bit about different aspects of daily life.

Here in Belgium people dress pretty well for school. For me, that’s normal because in Florida I went to an art school and my friends and I would always get pretty dolled up for school. However my Canadian best friends always whine about how at home they could show up to school in slippers and “bunny hugs” (what Canadians call hoodies…). Apart from the sweater or dress and heeled boots I usually wear for school I also have to add a heavy jacket and a scarf. It’s cold here. Not only is it cold, but it’s wet, which makes going outside rarely sound desirable.

When I’m finished getting prepped for school, I eat breakfast with my host family, and to your surprise, no we don’t eat waffles every morning. My host mom drives me to school, or I take the bus. There are a lot of schools within very short distances of each other in Belgium because every school has grades k-12. Belgians kids are very welcoming to exchange students: my fellow exchange student and I are friends with everyone in our grade, but of course have our close knit circle, too. Everyone else at the school knows who we are, even if we don’t know them: thats part of being an exchange student. If you are “the American” at school, at a party, or anywhere you go, somehow EVERYONE knows you and usually want to talk to you or even take pictures with you, like you’re Taylor Swift or something!

The school schedules are very different here: I have a different number of classes everyday and the teachers are in different rooms everyday, which was very confusing my first week! I take French classes with 6th graders and have English, religion, geography, calculus, and gym with rhéto (seniors). Gym is very different from home also, for example, this last month we went to a rock climbing center for class.

One perk of the Belgian school week is that on Wednesdays all the schools across the country finish at lunch time. Us exchange students (about 300 kids) take advantage of our short day and always get together after school. We take the trains and spend our Wednesday afternoons getting frites and seeing a new city.
On weekends, my friends and I go to festivals, parties or just take a train to a new city to explore. With our “go pass” we can travel to and from any city in the country for just 10€. I have seen all of the major cities in Belgium, just traveling with my friends: Brussels, Liège, Anvers, Brugge.. The list goes on.

When I’m at home, I hang out with my host family. They all watch American shows here, especially Desperate Housewives and crime shows. My host mom cooks a delicious meal then we all watch a show together in the living room and have fruit for dessert. Then I go to sleep and start it all over the next day.

A lot of days in exchange are just normal, boring days; you can’t expect everyday to be crazy incredible. You will have ups and downs and some days when you won’t even understand why you chose to leave everything you know and love to come on exchange. BUT, then you have one of those crazy incredible days that no one you’ve ever known can say they have experienced and you’re reminded why you came. You’re 100% guaranteed to have at least one of those amazing days, and once you do, you realize that day is worth 364 boring days.

March 2013

I only have three months left. How is that possible? Time has gone by so fast and I have experienced so much since I left my home on August 18th of last year.

I’ve made best friends: some of which are just a couple hours from my home town, some who call Belgium their home, and some who live even further than where I am now. I have explored and know well an entire country which was once completely foreign to me. I can speak and understand a language of which before sounded as far from my own language as a bark of a dog. I have eaten foods I never even heard of and have tasted drinks I will be searching frantically for when I get home.
I have sipped wine in the south of France, with a host mom that has adopted me as her own daughter. I crossed the channel to London; ate fish and chips, saw Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the British museum and every other major landmark in London. I explored the dreamy city with my best friends from the U.S. and Canada as well as spent an evening out with some real live Brits. I’ve had my first white winter and my eyelashes have now caught countless snowflakes. I spent Christmas with a family other than my own and watched my baby sister open her gifts through a Skype screen. I counted down to the New Year six hours earlier than I would have at home, standing under fireworks in the capitol of Europe. I have traveled to Budapest and Warsaw, reuniting with my fellow RYE Florida exchange students and spending a week seeing places I never imagined I would. I’ve soaked in the hot baths of Hungary and watched the sunset over Pest from the top of a castle. I’ve eaten re al Polish pirogues and lived a day in the life of a fellow Floridian exchanging in a country even colder than mine. I’ve dressed up in costumes for countless festivals and celebrations that have become as dear to me as the Belgians who made them worth while. I have been shocked by many traditions and even disgusted by some others. I have come to think like a Belgian: an hour train ride is too long, it’s never too early for a Jupiler, and a bit of sun is a rare gift from God.

I shouldn’t say I ONLY have three months left, I should say I STILL have three months left. I’ve done more than I ever imagined was possible in just seven months, now I have three to finish what I’ve started and make my exchange the most amazing year of my life. A great exchange isn’t just handed to you on a silver platter, you have to take the opportunities that are presented to you and YOU have to make them into memories you’ll want to treasure forever.

La vie est Belge.

Natey Cook 
2012-13 Outbound to Peru
Hometown: Tallahassee, FL
School: Lincoln High School
Sponsor: District 6940, FL
Host: District 4450, Peru
The Rotary Club of San Borja Sur

Natey - Pweu

October 10, 2012
Traveling to Peru: I left to Peru on the evening of July 27th, planning to arrive in Lima the next morning around 4:30. The whole week leading up to this adventure flew by, and the emotions that came with it were indescribable. I was so nervous for this new life and new school and new country, but so incredibly excited that I almost didn’t feel anything but the need to say my goodbyes to my dear friends and family during this last week and in the airport. All of my flights went according to schedule and I arrived in Gorge Chavez International Airport only half an hour late. I was greeted by my brother who was spying from the second floor gesturing and pointing, and just after I found my family with open arms. The following day I slept until around 10 or 11 in the morning and was sweetly welcomed to the table for a perfect Peruvian breakfast. That evening my family and I went over the first night questions and was able to feel more at home knowing the little things of my house and of my family.

I attend a school called Nuestra Señora de La Merced. If you decide to do an exchange to South America, it is most likely that you will receive a catholic school like mine. The hours of “La Merced” are very similar to the high schools of Florida. But that’s about the only similarity. Each student in “colegio” technically has about 20 classes on a block schedule that maintains a schedule for every week. School is incredibly boring just like in Florida but it is a lot harder to understand the material.

The FOOD of Peru may very well be the best in the world, or at least in all the Americas. This isn’t a super important theme in my journal, but I thought it at least needed a paragraph. But seriously, Peruvian food is so good. Every day I have the opportunity to eat fresh bread from our panadería, and to eat the fresh food that my mom cooks that almost always has rice, delicious chicken or other meat, with the world famous Peruvian potato.

I have been in the great Peru for a little over two months. In the week leading up to my exchange I doubted my decision to become an exchange student only a few times. But now understanding a lot more of the language and culture, and having made many friends in my school and from other exchange students, I can only imagine myself making this great decision to come to Peru. If you are considering becoming an exchange student, and are reading this journal, first, you should start making the decision and the application, and then you should pick Peru to be the country where you do your exchange. I am so pleased that I have made that decision and am forever thankful to Rotary.

January 16, 2013

Having been in Perú for about five and a half months, i feel like i can say that I love this country. Although you have to get used to what you do everyday on exchange in order to have a stable life that is exchange, to me, everyday is still an adventure. I have learned so much in the time that i´ve been here about the language, the food, the history, and of course the general culture of Peru but I still have so much to learn.

Since the last journal so much has happened. Christmas and New Year´s passed and then of course the first big switch to my second host family. My Peruvian christmas will be something that i never forget. This is because it was so exciting and so not at all what my Florida Christmas´ are like. For some reason Peruvians celebrate Christmas evening how I would think to celebrate New Year´s. I mean once the clock hits the 25th of December, at 12 midnight it becomes Christmas and for my family and all of Lima, it was time to celebrate. All the Christmas Eve i was out shopping with my host mom or chilling and helping out with my little host siblings. At one time that day i had to carry a huge turkey down the street three blocks to the Bakery so that they could oven our turkey. Finally when the time became midnight, we went outside with our small fireworks and started to send them off, with half our attention on ours and the other on the others that you could make o ut from other neighborhoods. When the fireworks died down we went inside to eat our turkey as a family. Right after dinner we ran in to the living room to open the presents. There were only few presents under the Christmas tree, this was only because my little brothers are “older” (12,12 and 17) and because of that each of them got a present or two. So then the overall present exchange time was about 8-10 minutes. After that we all went to bed. All that had just happened was so exciting! But Christmas had already ended, and the whole rest of the day was almost already back to normal, which for me was crazy because for me it was Christmas! Most of the time in my exchange i haven’t missed my parents and family too horribly, but Christmas day was a low for me for sure. There was nothing to do but lay around the house and think of my family back n Florida.

But New Year´s was better. It wasn’t especially Peruvian because i went to the party with the other exchange students but it was really fun. We just went to the beach at midnight and hung out. Then at midnight you could see the fireworks from what seemed like all of Lima, this is from the view of the beach.
Right now i´m living with my second host family. The time before moving really feels like you´re doing a whole other exchange. I was nervous and anxious just like i was before leaving to come here. It´s weird but its true. You have to leave what you have been growing close to for 5 months to join another family. But now that i´m here, been here for 11 days, i already feel more comfortable and the change is incredibly less shocking. Right now in the southern hemisphere it´s Summer! Because of the that I’m in classes like painting and I´m also learning the super Peruvian dance: The Marinera. Summer in Peru is so much fun, with the beach so close and with tons of things to do in Lima, Exchange is just treating me so good.
With about 4 and a half months in front of me, my language is still developing. I still have to have to pick out the new words that i don´t know or understand, but because of that I’m learning everyday, and my pronunciation is so much better. With all of this said, i still have so much to work on, but each time you know you say something right, it´s so satisfying and rewarding. Thank you a thousand more times to Rotary for this amazing exchange and this opportunity for me to know another part and culture of the world.

April 17, 2013

Well, the time that I have left on my exchange is drastically escaping me. I only have until the end of June to be here in Peru. The only thing I can do now is take advantage and enjoy every second of my remaining exchange.

Now that its April, I have had the opportunity to know the majority of my host Country, and learn very well the city in which I live. That part for me is one of the best parts of exchange. The knowledge and know’s/where’s about to get around the city comfortably and with ease. At least for Lima (although I’ve seen this in other countries as well), we have this free private system of buses that goes throughout every part of the city. One of the best feelings that you can feel as a American exchange student in Peru is the ability/success of getting to anywhere in the city. This feeling is the exact same with the knows-abouts of the language in my experience. Even though I still study the language in attempt to improve, THOSE conversations when you nail every word and phrase fooling the Peruvian into thinking you are a Peruvian as well is the same ecstasy. That is the best part of my exchange here in Peru, being Peruvian.

Not very many things have changed since my last journal entry. I have stayed with my second host family in order to go and study in a university. I’m not sure but I think that Peru is the only country where you can study the second half of the year in a college. College life in Lima is the best. With about 4 classes in a week, that gives tons of time to go surfing and hang out with friends a lot more than you study.

Staying with my second host family had another positive side. With my host dad having a ridiculous job something like The general head of the Peruvian Civil Defense, and with the host mom with her own negocios, they are pretty well off. With thier extra time and money they love to travel and take the kids + me which is great because they take places that Rotary’s trips don’t, with the causuality of a small family vacation. With them I have seen the whole beautiful northern Pacific coast of Peru, along with cruising on a boat among the Amazon River.

My Rotary exchange is treating me great. I love taking each day at a time appreciating the fact the fact I’m here. Thank you a million times Rotary and Rotarians that have made this possible both back in the Promise Land of Florida and here in Peru. Thank you and ¡¡¡VIVA EL DISTRITO 6940!!!

Nick Doolin 
2012-13 Outbound to Finland
Hometown: St. Augustine, FL
School: Allen D. Nease Senior High School
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District 1420, Finland
The Rotary Club of Borgå

Nick - Finland

November 2, 2012

Hej! Hur mår du? Hey! How are you?

So, I’m pretty sure I’m the last one to do a journal… yeah… Believe it or not. It is actually hard for me to describe my exchange. So, I’m going to write and hope it comes out okay.  

You would think that it would be very hard for a LOUD, ”touchy-feely”, questionably over excitable person like me to come to a quite, stay AWAY from me, calm country like Finland well… we’ll get to that.

First let’s talk about ”Where I Live” (Var jag bor)
I live in a small town (big for Finland) of 50,000 called Borgå. Borgå is a Swedish speaking town in southern Finland. Living in in a ”FinnoSwede” or ”Finland Svensk” is almost like living in a totally different country than Finland. FinnoSwedes are said to be almost annoyingly happy but since I’m ”like that” I think it’s awesome. Borgå’s main industry is the Neste Oil refinery but since we are only 45 minuets from Helsinki most people that live here commute to Helsinki for work. Although Borgå is a Swedish speaking town about half of of the people here speak Finnish. It’s really kind of funny how separate we are even we are so close.  
Even though though there is no language barrier (all people in Finland must speak both Finnish and Swedish. Although the Swedish speakers are better at Finnish that the Finnish speakers are at swedish.) Swedish Finns and Finnish Finns won’t interact, talk, or even do business together unless they have to. We go to deferent schools, have different churches, different places to hang out. I have no idea why this is and just kind of have to accept it as part of the culture.

FINLAND IS COLD and I love it.
People here find it strange how someone that grew up in a hot place like Florida could love the cold as much as I do. I don’t really understand myself. The hardest part about the cold is learning how to wear your clothes and not look really really stupid.

And now you get to find out how I am.
As of now I’m in this sort of weird middle ground where I don’t consider myself a true Finn but I know I’m no longer the flag waving American me that sings the nation anthem before he goes to bed. I have lots of friends here and I live an every day life like every one else. Except it’s like a million times more exciting because I’m not from here. Being here and living this way is just as shocking and different as going to say Thailand. But in the same way completely different. If you are not an exchange student and what I just said made no sense to you. That okay you are just no an exchange student (yet?) and if it did you’re lying.

Becoming an exchange student.
Warning if you decide to try to become an exchange student it is going to be very hard and it will take over your life.
If you really want to change the world this is the way to do it.
The proudest moment of my life was about a week ago when some one came up to me and said ”Next year or ten years from now you aren’t going to be that Canadian or French kid that came here. You’re going to be Nick the American that wasn’t what we thought Americans were like.”

Alright my hand is cramping up and I still have to spell check.
See Ya!!
Go D6970!!!!!!!!

April 19, 2013

Let me tell you about this guy Nick Doolin. Nick will do almost anything at least three times. Once for fun, twice for money, and three times because he’s already this far and three is cooler than two. Yes, it is true that Nick is quite adventurous but here are some things that he would never ever do.

He would never avoid standing within arms reach of strangers.
He would never sit and listen to other people talk and not say something.
He would never have a place to go and think.
He would never enjoy being alone.
He would never give up on style for practicality.
He would never sit quite on the bus even though everyone on the bus is his friend.
He would never take a bus. (Like really he has a car)
He would never wear work boots and a scarf to school.
He would never clean his room everyday.
He would never skip a meal to go running in the first rain.
He would never regularly spend an hour sweating to death with nothing to do but sit. (sauna)
He would never any of these things.

And yet here I am. Doing all of them and not understanding how I ever did them different. I’m on the tail end of my exchange and dread the day it comes to an end. I would really like to tell you more but I have no idea how to. My life here sometimes does real. Like it’s so perfect how could it be real. Right now I’m just savoring every minuet until I’m back to realality. I just want to say that the best days of my exchange have been when nothing special happens. I get up, go to school, talk to my friends, have coffe, and go home. These are the day that I think I come from here and I’m just living my life, as a Finn.

Nicole Viera 
2012-13 Outbound to Taiwan
Hometown: Jacksonville, FL
School: Creekside High School
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District 3490, Taiwan
The Rotary Club of Tuchengå

Nicole - Taiwan

你好! 我叫 Nicole Marie Viera, 和我的中文名字是李淼!

Hello! My name is Nicole Marie Viera, and my Chinese name is Li Miao! I have already been in Taiwan for over two months now, and it is truly unbelievable how fast time has gone! My exchange has been going extremely well so far and I am quickly learning the language. Chinese is actually a lot easier than people think. It is still hard, but not as difficult as people make it out to be. I can already recognize characters and hold short conversation, but I think my writing is my biggest strength right now.

I am still with my 1st Host Family and change December 1st. I am extremely close to my 1st family and honestly don’t want to change. But that is one of the jobs as an exchange student, so I have to. My 1st family has made me feel at home from the start. Even with the dramatic change of being an only child in a family of three (plus a dog), to becoming a family of seven with three siblings (the other three being my Mama, Baba and Gemma from the Philippines). I really love having siblings, especially Kevin Brandon and Lily, because they make everything a lot more fun and interesting both in and outside the home! It really is a different experience sharing an home with other teenagers/kids. Especially now in a three-story apartment (penthouse? I can’t remember the word). Kevin is 16, Brandon is 14 and Lily is 6!

School is also very fun! I go to a high school and attend class Monday through Friday. There are two buildings in my school: “the Main Building” and “the Back Building.” Both buildings’ classes start at 8:20AM. The main building gets out at 5:30PM, while the back gets out at 8:30PM. There are three exchange students at my school (including me) and I am the only one taking classes in the back building. Thankfully, though, exchange students arrive to school at 8:20AM and and all leave at 4:30PM everyday. In the mornings I attend actual classes with all of the Taiwanese students and after nap time (yes, nap time) I attend Chinese class for three hours; Monday through Thursday. My Chinese Teacher (中文老師Emma) is the coolest. She is 22 years old, and makes learning Chinese so much fun.

And yes, if you are wondering, you do become “famous” at school. Especially the couple of weeks. Boys and girls always stare and smile, while some are actually brave enough to say “Hello~!” If you wave back and greet them back, boys congratulate themselves amongst their friends and girls giggle in pure happiness. Even after a month, people will still stare at you but will start to warm up and try to talk to you. You can actually speed up the process of them talking to you if you show some knowledge of knowing Chinese. I just want to say this now, Taiwanese people aren’t as shy as some people think. They are not shy people that are afraid of approaching foreigners, they are just worried about their English is not good enough. Most, if not all, do not know you come to Taiwan to learn their language so they assume you will only want to speak English. Because of this assumption and their concern over their “poor English” they will avoid holding conversation with you at first. But if you share your interest of Chinese, or even Taiwanese, they will all get super excited and start bombarding you with new vocabulary and friendships!

I have quickly developed friendships this way! Also, thanks to Kevin, I have even more Taiwanese friends, outside of my own school. I have honestly yet to run into an unfriendly person here! You can just as easily approach people in the public and they will willing offer their help to you. Everyone I have met in Taiwan, so far, has been so kind to me. They have all been patient with me, even when I first got to Taiwan and understood barely anything.

I have also been given the opportunity to travel during my stay here. I’ve visited the east coast, flown sky lanterns, visited night markets and temples, and even conquered my fear of heights by riding one of the glass-bottomed Maokong Gondolas (thank you Sara, Laura, Pei and Emma). I am truly grateful to be on this exchange.

When I first saw Taipei 101, I was honestly surprised at how small it was. I perfectly understand that it is the 2nd tallest building the world, but having travelled 13411.7km (8333.6 miles), from Florida, USA to Taipei, Taiwan, seeing a building stand only 509 meters (1,669.9feet) made me realize how small we actually are compared to this vast world we live in. It is truly unbelievable to me. It still surprises me that I have travelled to the other side of the planet. I feel so at home that sometimes I forget I am an exchange student on a job.

Orion Morton 
2012-13 Outbound to Belgium
Hometown: St. Augustine, FL
School: St. Augustine High School
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District 1620, Belgium
The Rotary Club of Colfontaine-Borinageå

Orion - Belgium

October 22, 2012

Salut, tout le monde !

It seems like such a long time ago that I said goodbye to my family, friends, and town, but simultaneously the time here has flown by. An exchange student’s perspective of time is definitely strange. Regardless, every second, no matter how fast or slow, is one that I love here. My host family is really welcoming and I felt “at home” immediately. It helps that I have a host brother in Brazil on exchange, so I think my family treats me as they want him to be treated: as a true son and member of the family. I have met more people than I could possibly remember here so far, both Belgians and other exchange students. There are around 230 RYE inbounds in this tiny country, which has been très cool. In addition, at my school, along with a 2 RYE students from Mexico and Brazil, there is an Ecuadorian and 5 other Mexicans with other programs. I’m trying to refresh my 4 years of dormant Spanish to keep up with them! My school, St. Stanislas, is a Jesuit sch ool (but is still public) and is over 450 years old, before St. Augustine was even founded. That definitely puts into perspective the difference between European and American “old.” I am a rheto (the equivalent of a senior) here, and my class has been quite welcoming to us exchange students. School works quite a bit differently here, though. I have a different schedule each day, we have an hour for lunch and another 20 minute break, and if the teacher isn’t there, we simply don’t have class. I guess substitutes don’t exist here (actually, today, 2/3 teachers that I would normally have weren’t there, so they just let us go home before school even started!) To give an idea of what school is like, my schedule goes like this: Monday, wake up around 6:45, leave the house at 7:30 for school which starts at 8:10. I have 3 hours of French, then a break, then 2 more hours of Religion (which is just a codename for philosophy, I find.) Then, I’ll go to a park or somewhere to eat lunch, then I have an hour each of Geography and History. Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday mornings I have a French language course for foreigners at a local university, from 9:00-12:30, so I get to sleep an extra hour those mornings. Then I return to St. Stan for an hour or two or French or History and Geography. Wednesdays are well-loved because we get out of school at 11:50! I especially like them as well because I have, in addition to even more French, Spanish class. It’s a first-year class, so since I’ve already studied Spanish it’s pretty fun. In general, I find that school is at a higher level here. St. Stanislas is the (self proclaimed) best school in my town, though.

Speaking of my town, Mons: it is an amazing city. The moment I first ventured into the downtown I became enamored with it. With nearly 100,000 people, it’s a “big” city for me, but not so big as to be overwhelming. It’s easily walkable (and walk, I do. A lot) and quite charming. Despite Belgium’s reputation as being flat, Mons was built on top of a “hill” and has many sloped streets. In addition, the countryside around is riddled with these abrupt-looking hills that I later found out are actually artificial: This area was the first area in Continental Europe to colonize because of it’s natural resources, and these hills were made by the earth they dug up to mine for coal and metals. People here are incredulous when I say that Mons is a big city and that the surrounding area isn’t flat. It’s all a matter of perspective! 

Mons is also a university town, so there is always something interesting going on with the young people. Additionally, it’s the town where the Prime Minister of Belgium, Elio Di Rupo, got his political start; he’s actually still the mayor and lives here when he’s not in Brussels. Consequently, I met him (for the first time) 6 days after my arrival here. He just was passing through a student area on a Friday night and everyone was so casual about seeing him, though my friends were sure to introduce me. A few weeks later, he came to the little festival the village I actually live in just outside Mons and he remembered me! I have since seen him walking down the street a few more times. I’m determined to be best friends with him by the time I leave. 

Belgium is a seriously awesome country for exchange students. Seriously, come here. There are over 230 RYE students here, an area 1/5 the size of the entire state Florida, though the vast majority of us are in the French-speaking Wallonia, which halves the size again. That’s not to mention all of the hundreds of other exchangers with other programs, too. But of course, Rotary is the best! Rotary at the district and multi-district level is quite active and we often have activities together. So far, we have had a day in Brussels, an orientation day for just my district, a day in the capital of Wallonia, a kayaking trip through some really breathtaking scenery in Dinant, and we have an “exotic dinner” coming up where students from teams based on their nationalities to prepare a typical dish from their country or region. Also, based off my observations it must be a requirement for the male Rotarians to have fantastic facial hair. My counselor/YEO has probably the most magnificent mustache I have personally seen. But perhaps the cooler thing is that Rotary here gives us freedom to travel around the country since it’s so easy with the awesome train system. I’ve been many places so far, including Brussels several more times and, of course, Bruges (watch the movie In Bruges if you’ve never seen it!) It’s pretty neat to be on the train, and, as soon as we cross the border from French-speaking Wallonia to Dutch-speaking Flanders, the language on the train and signs switches. It’s nearly like going to another country (many people would actually like this to be the case, but it’s a bit of a sensitive issue.) But to fully get the Belgian experience I’ve been trying to learn a bit of Dutch, as well. I feel rather fortunate to be an English speaker here actually, because if you combined a language very similar to Old Dutch and a language very similar to Old French and let them brew for close to a thousand yea rs, you’d get a language very similar to Modern English. English is Germanic in structure, which makes Dutch easier, but much of it’s vocabulary comes from French. This is useful because if I don’t know a word in French I say the English word with my best guess as to how it would be said in French accent, and more times than not, it’s the French word as well. Overall, I’m pretty happy with how my French has been coming along for not having studied it in school. I think I understand roughly 3/4 of conversations now, and I’m hoping to call myself conversationally fluent by December. 

Of course, no journal about la Belgique would be complete without talking about the food. Yes, I eat some sort of waffle nearly every day, whether it’s a simple plain one for a snack at school or one loaded with chocolate or raspberries or any number of things either inside or on top of it. Yes, Belgium indeed invented, and perfected, the French fry. The preferred condiment is mayonnaise, though, rather than ketchup. Yes, I eat chocolate literally every day. It simply wouldn’t be a complete day without it. 

The cold and rain are fast approaching, send us over some Floridian sunshine if you can manage it!

À la prochaine fois !

April 12, 2013

Enfin ! 

Wow. The months that have passed since my last journal have been the most intense, challenging, and fulfilling of my life. I have millions of excuses for the time taken to write this new one (including a broken hard drive on my computer), but I apologize nonetheless. 

In all of our training to become a RYE student, we hear repeatedly that our year abroad will simultaneously be the most difficult and the most fun year of our lives. I, at least, just took that information in at face value, but I could have never imagined how true it would become, nor in the ways it did. I won’t lie, the Belgian winter was really tough; between the shortened days and the constant rain/fog/clouds/snow, there were stretches of not seeing the sun that lasted up to a month. Being from Florida, I definitely took the sun for granted. Things quite literally become depressing. Coupled with the holiday season taking place at the same time, I caught the winter-time blues. It didn’t help that this was the least sunny and coldest winter since before World War II! At times when all of my Belgian friends were busy studying for their important exams, I felt like I simply wasn’t doing much. Lost in my own mind, I questioned why I had chosen to go on exchange t o this odd little country. 

However, in January, as my “oldies” tearfully left and my “newies” arrived, my attitude changed. Having these new RYE students (primarily from the Southern Hemisphere) experience everything for the first time again allowed me to gain a fresh perspective, make new friends, and feel rejuvenated. And now, a few months later, I can easily say that I am the happiest that I have been. I love my city, my school, my host families, and I love this peculiar divided country and the freedom I have here. As I sit here writing this, I’m waiting at the gate to fly to Switzerland, dead tired. I returned from a 10 day trip with Rotary to Spain just yesterday. The feeling I got when I woke up on the bus, in Belgium, was surprising. I felt the same comfort I would get as if returning to my home in Florida when I was younger. It was nice to see the omnipresent waffles, French fries, and beer again. I, along with most of the others on the trip, had become homesick for Bel gium. And at that moment, I felt successful in my exchange. This was what I had come here for: not just to see beautiful sights and get fat eating so many waffles, but to really feel as though I had made a new home. And I truly feel that I have. 

Of course, it also helped that I have seen some amazing things in the past few months. In December, I spent a weekend in London with my host family, in February, I visited some RYE FL friends in Budapest and Warsaw, and, as I said before, I just spent an incredible 10 days all throughout Spain with about 70 other RYE students. I have also continued to travel just throughout Belgium regularly, since it’s so easy with the train system. It’s pretty awesome to casually be able to go to Brussels, the capital of Europe, on a Wednesday afternoon and be home in time for dinner. Although recently, me and some of the other exchangers in my city have really been exploring just around Mons. It really is a wonderful, quintessentially European city. Small enough to walk across in 20 minutes, big enough to be home to 3 universities and the prime minister, it has a lovely grand place and a belfry beautiful enough to be a UNESCO World Heritage Sight. Mons and the surrounding area, k nown as the Borinage, have a strong identity themselves. This was one of the first areas in continental Europe to industrialize because it used to have very fruitful coal mines, thus, it was once one of the most prosperous regions around. However, in the past half-century or so, the area has fallen on hard times and high unemployment. If anything, this has only forced the “Borains” to band together in the community to make it, creating an even stronger culture. They have their own dialect and language, their own festivals, and own specialties. It has been fun getting to know the Borain culture as well as the the typical Belgian one, and I can’t wait until the end of May, when the Ducasse de Mons, an absolutely massive festival, will happen here. This city will also be the European Capital of Culture in 2015, so major works are taking place all over, including a new train station being built. 

School has continued on normally, but frankly it isn’t very exciting. I still go to my French course for foreigners, which has helped my progress immensely. I suppose I consider myself conversationally fluent, though I think I’m a bit hard on myself sometimes. I still struggle with certain words, but I did have a bit of an “a-ha!” moment back in December. As I was riding the bus, I was just thinking about my exchange and realized “Hey, I speak French. It’s far from perfect, but I can still, at its most basic meaning, *speak* it.” Around the same time, I had my first time being mistaken for a Belgian! I still have problems sometimes speaking very formally (and the subjunctive is the bane of my existence) but overall I’m pretty content with my progress. 

As my French continues to progress, so does my self confidence. Sometimes I’ll just get those moments where I realize how awesome it really is to be an exchange student, but also how many difficulties I have overcome. This makes me feel like I have the power to do anything. Never before have I been more proud of myself. I now feel fluent in a new language, a new culture, and a new family. I can’t wait to get back to Florida a more confident person, but for the moment, TIME, PLEASE SLOW DOWN! 



Perry Tobin 
2012-13 Outbound to Germnay
Hometown: Pembroke Pines, FL
School: West Broward High School
Sponsor: District 6990, FL
Host: District 900, Germany
The Rotary Club of Mendenå

Perry - Germany

September 2, 2012

Glucklich Tag

I genuinely don’t know how to begin writing this.

First off, my grammar is starting to get worse and worse. My English grammar, that is. And my German is getting better and better every day. I’m starting to not think about things.

First off though, my first day was a dream. Beautiful. I saw this house, with a Brasilian flag up, and soon to be an American flag too. It is in a perfect little village in a perfect little mountainside overlooking a perfect little valley in a perfect little country.Time is flying by though.

I was welcomed in the home with cheesecake, champagne, and wonderful company of friends and family. They used their best china, very old china, in fact, so much it couldn’t be in the dishwasher.

Later on, more friends came over and we watched shooting stars blaze across the sky. It was incredible. I couldn’t hardly count how many we saw. It was more that I had ever seen in my entire life.

The next day (Sunday) We woke up early to go to church. It was the first time I had ever been to a Catholic Church. It was a beautiful service, although I had no idea what they were saying the entire time. The church was just amazing in itself. Stained glass, tall walls, pews, communion, it was all perfect.

Later on, we went to a little lake “Sorpesee” and we rented pedalboats and just drifted around for a while. We also had a quaint picnic with these cookies that were oh so very good. Don’t worry, I’ll bring some home. I have made many new friends; I also have many plans with these friends. It’s great.

How do you know what your limits are until you push them? How do you know what is a dream if you never accomplished one? How do you know what is an adventure if you never took part in one? How do you know what is fear if you never had to overcome one to be where you are? How do you know what is anguish if you never said goodbye to your family and friends with your eyes full of tears? How do you know what is being desperate, if you never arrived in a place alone and could not understand a word of what everyone else was saying? How do you know what is diversity if you never lived under the same roof with people from all over the world? How do you know what is tolerance, if you never had to get used to something different even if you didn’t like it. How do you know what is confusion if nobody could ever explain something to you? How do you know what is an opportunity, if you never took one? How do you know what is pride, if you never experienced it for yourself at realizin g how much you have accomplished?. How do you know what is to seize the day, if you never saw the time running so fast? How do you know what is a friend, if the circumstances never showed you the true ones. How do you know what is a family, if you never had one that supported you unconditionally? How do you know what is autonomy, if you never had the chance to decide something by yourself? How do you know what it means to grow up, if you never stopped being a child to start a new course? How do you know what is to be helpless, if you never wanted to hug someone and had a computer screen to prevent you from doing it? How do you know what is distance, if you never, looking at a map, said ‘I am so far away’? How do you know what is a language, if you never had to learn one to make friends? How do you know what is patriotism, if you never shouted  ‘I love my country’ holding a flag in your hands? How do you know what is the true reality, if you never had the chance to see a lot of them to make one. How do you know what you How do you know what are borders, if you never crossed yours, to see what there was on the other side? How do you know what is imagination, if you never thought about the moment when you would go back home? How do you know the world, if you have never seen it through the eyes of a true citizen? How do you know all these things if you’ve never taken a chance to experience them?

January 6, 2013

We are overwhelmed with advice on where to travel to. We hear little of why we should go but how we could be more fulfilled by doing so; makes perfect sense, right? No. But it does, in our own heads. “Oh yes, that place sounds very interesting, oh yes I want to go there.” meanwhile, I’ve only told you that the weather was nice and I saw some famous places that I can’t remember the name of. But of course, the same reaction is present. “I’d like to see that, I’d like to do that…” Dazed with incredible sights that we have never seen, only in our heads, but these images beg us to visit them. Taunted with the longing for memories to be created. Wanting to be part of something bigger than the place you reside at the moment. Few people come to the two roads diverged, but when you do; when I have, take the path less traveled by. It will make all the difference. Your travels are forever in your heart. Forever t o tell stories.
Forever to be part of you.

Have you ever been to a place with mountains so high that they graze the clouds? What about a place where the peaks puncture the sky in places you can’t even imagine? Oh, and a place with streams that can follow you and your adventure through the thick wooded mountainside? Or a village so traditional that the old fashioned way of life embraces you and shows you what the true meaning of life really is. A place where on Sundays everything is closed; It’s a true day of rest. A place cold enough to have you wish you had more than 2 pairs of socks on. And somewhere with heartwarming smiles, and beautiful people, decorated in lavish Liederhosen and Dirndl head to toe, just waiting for you to arrive. With houses so simply extravagant it would put “Better Homes and Gardens” to shame. Language so rich; spoken with so much character; embodied by the people who speak it. This is where the real living language is. This same place is so captivating that even the scroog iest Scrooge would fall in love. Eyes filled with wonder watching, capturing each and every single breathtaking image as an individual photo for the memory book that resides in your heart. This is the place where fairy tales are based off of and practiced entirely.

This place is Bavaria, Germany.

I honestly cannot describe how much has happened in the past few months. It’s been the best 5 months of my life. I am so thankful each and every day for my Rotary Club, and for the Rotary Youth Exchange Program. I don’t want this year to end. I’ve already had to say goodbye to people who were so very close to my heart. But I know that I have a home all over the world. This has been the best experience of my life. Congratulations to the new Outbounds. You’re in for the time of your life. 

April 12, 2013

My life is so crazy at the moment. I hardly have time to do everything that I want to do! But, that’s the way it should be, right? That’s the way I like it.

I tackled the biggest club in Eastern Europe. Climbed to the top of a mountain in Budapest. Discovered Vienna once again. Fell in love with Venice, my heart will forever be there. Had my mouth water with the food of Rome. Shopped like I have never shopped before in Florence. Took a picture of me holding up the leaning tower of Pisa. Swam in the ice cold Mediterranean sea in Nice. Pretended to gamble in Monaco. Watched the huge city of Paris bustle from the top of the Eiffel Tower. Had my first Belgian Waffle, and hopefully not my last. All these experiences add up to one thing that I will never in my lifetime forget. My Eurotour.

I danced.

I don’t have words to describe the sights that I have been able to bless my eyes with seeing.

“Listen to the mustn’ts child. Listen to the dont’s. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me…Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.”
-Shel Silverstein

Exchange students: The most amazing people in the whole wide world. Those people from everywhere who know exactly how you feel and those people who become your absolute best friends even though you only see most of them 3 or 4 times during your year. The people, who take almost an hour to say their final goodbyes to each other. Those people with the jackets full of pins. All over the world. They are the people you want to spend all of your time with. They understand you and are always there for you.

We saw. We embraced. We lived.

But I’ve come to realize that memories, though beautiful things, can also be extremely saddening.
I look at all the things I’ve done, and seen, and I can say wow, look at all that I’ve accomplished, look what I’ve done, how amazing. I have accomplished so many of my dreams. So many things that once seemed so distant to me. Now, it’s all a reality.
But at the same time, I say wow, its all over. its already happened.

What now?

I’ve learned you really really have to live in the moment, because one second its there, and the next its all gone. Don’t ever think twice about doing something. Do it, and enjoy it. Fully.

A whisper in the wind.

When you visit a place, its like a taste of a life you can never really have.
an unobtainable expectation. then you leave to the next place.
and you realize how beautiful some places really are. not only for their physical beauty, but also for what the place has become through people and culture. you can tell a story through graffiti, see a movie on people’s faces, explore a concrete jungle by asking questions in a language you have no idea how to speak.

You have to cherish the moments that you have. Savor the moment. Like a scrumptious plate of divine cheesecake, topped with a mouth watering drizzle of cherries.

Quench your thirst.

I am on top of the world. 

Rachel Miller
2012-13 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: Jacksonville, FL
School: Bartram Trail High School
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District 4430, Brazil
The Rotary Club of Cambuciå

Rachel - Brazil

Rachel’s Bio

Hey there! My name is Rachel Miller and I have been selected to be an exchange student in Brazil! Anytime that I met or spoke to an inbound student spending their year in Jacksonville, I never imagined that I would ever be given the chance to experience it myself. Now that I have been given such a unique, and not to mention life-changing, opportunity it has given me the realization that with dedication and hard work, I can achieve the goals that I set for myself.

I have been born and raised in the suburbs of Jacksonville known as Switzerland, and I am currently in my senior year at Bartram Trail High School. I am eighteen years old, and have a large and loving family consisting of my mother, Lisa, and father, Mark. I have a brother seven years older than me named Jordan, and a sister that is fourteen years older than me named Sarah. You may have noticed the strange age difference, but I guess it just goes to show that God has a sense of humor! But needless to say, we are all very close and supportive of each other. My passion in life is art. I consider this a blessing, because I find a way to use it in practically everything I do and I use it as a tool to grow, express, and define myself as a person.

As for my life as a student, I take several Honors and AP classes and I am heavily involved in the National Art Honors Society. Through the club and my portfolio class, I have built up a large collection of projects in which I occasionally enter into competitions. After I graduate and return from Brazil, my plan is to attend Florida State University, the University of North Florida, or the Savannah College of Art and Design. However, I have not decided on what exactly I will major in. The remainder of my free time goes towards spending time with family, friends, cashiering at Michael’s Arts and Crafts store, and learning as much as I can about Brazil and picking up Portuguese as a new language. I can’t wait to begin this wondrous and exciting new chapter in my life, and it’s all thanks to Rotary!

Rachel’s Journals

November 2012

I’ve been here in one of the largest cities in the world for just over three months and experienced more things in the past 99 days of my life than most people experience in a lifetime. It’s been a rollercoaster of emotion between excitement, fear, blissful happiness and home sickness. My first month here was the fastest and it seemed to go by in the blink of an eye. Leaving home was the most difficult. I had many family members at the airport to see me, from my great Aunt to my one-month old nephew to say goodbye. From there I began my 15 hour journey to Atlanta, then to Sao Paulo Brazil. On the plane ride from Atlanta to Brazil, I had my first encounter with a Sao Paulo Brazilian as he continuously tried to sleep on me for 10 hours and the man from Washington sitting next to me seemed to get a kick out of it. When I arrived in the airport, I was completely lost and ended up just following the crowd to the baggage claim where I ended up having to figure out how to carry three luggage bags that were each the same weight and almost the same height as me. When I walked out of the terminal I was greeted by my host mother, host brother and now one of my best friends here who is another exchanger from Mexico. They greeted me with a Brazilian flag, balloons, hugs and excitement while everyone in the airport began clapping as I hugged my new family. A complete stranger even gave me a hat with the Brazilian flag on the front! The first of many pranks that my host family pulled on me was telling me that it was tradition for when a foreigner arrives in Brazil, for them to sit and pop a balloon in the middle of the airport so that everyone could see! I agreed and I’ll just say that it was the first of many embarrassing and funny memories made. Immediately after I was picked up from the airport, I was brought to a large Rotary gathering where I had to introduce myself to everyone with a weird mixture of English and Portuguese and from the re I was taken to my new home. I started school two weeks later at a private school on the same road as my apartment and everything kicked off from there. Being a blonde-hair, green-eyed American attending a small private school everyone seems to know who you are and a lot about you. Some of the cutest memories I have is when people would come up and try to introduce themselves to me in English and then them being completely flabbergasted when I replied because they couldn’t understand a thing. I never truly realized how fast Americans speak until I had to speak with non-native speakers. The school that I attend is actually a German school, so it makes things even more interesting! Even in one of my school assignments, I was in Spanish class where I was partnered with a Chinese girl who didn’t speak Portuguese or English to complete an assignment given in Portuguese about a film that was in Spanish with Portuguese subtitles all in a German school in Brazil. In ca se you were wondering, we got one of the higher grades of the class for that assignment! As for culture shock, there hasn’t been a lot so far. Everyone is different, and the customs that they share aren’t so different from those in America. I’ll admit, the ketchup with pizza is a little strange for me, and bread with butter for breakfast everyday takes some getting used to. But I think being tricked into eating chicken heart has been the most memorable so far. The best motto I can give to future exchange students going to any country is ‘Don’t Ask, Just Eat.’ I can tell you, if it looks strange you don’t want to know what it is until after you have eaten it. But as of recently, I teach an English class every day after school to children at a day care center and go to several other Rotary projects. My language is improving more and more each day and each day has something new to teach me. If it’s one thing I have learned from ex change so far, it’s that patience is a virtue and an open mind is imperative. Everything happens for a reason and if you open your mind and heart to a culture and its people, you’ll be surprised as to what you will find. 

April 2013

So- it’s been a long time coming but I’m finally able to publish another blog. To the exchange students that are planning to spend a year in Brasil waiting to hear how things are going- sorry about that wait. I can remember sitting and checking journals of exchange students in Brasil the year before me and I would get so impatient and frustrated that they weren’t posting what was going on, but trust me you’ll understand once you get here. I don’t have the words in the English (or Portuguese) language to describe the past 8 months of my life. I’ve experienced things here in Brasil that I never even thought were possible. If you would have asked me a year ago from today how I felt about leaving to live in Brasil for a year, I would have told you that I wasn’t nearly as excited as I would be had I been leaving to live in one of my top 5 countries. If I could go back in time, I would probably slap myself b ecause I had no idea what was in store for me here. The places I would go, the people that I would meet, the language that I would be thinking in..the culture that I would be immersed in. You’d think that since I’ve been living in the largest city in Latin America, there wouldn’t be a huge culture difference when compared to the United States. I thought the same thing, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. That’s also another thing that I never saw myself doing moving to a big city. I’ve always been a country mouse. I went to New York City when I was around 9-10 years old, and don’t get me wrong; I loved it so much, but I was always more comfortable in the suburbs of Jacksonville Florida. Everything moves so fast in the city life, and it threw me for a loop when I first arrived and I’m doing so many things I never thought I would have the opportunity to do. Even though I practically die from the amount of people in the su bway every morning on my way to school- the subway is one of my favourite things about living here. You don’t have to rely on cars, gas money, driving in traffic if you’re wanting to go somewhere on your own all you have to do is grab the bus schedule, catch a cab, or learn your way around the subway. I never thought I would love the city life so much. 

As I said before- it’s been a while since I’ve written a blog and there has been a good reason for that. I moved to a small town in December for three months, called ‘Bertioga’ and when I say small town- I mean REALLY small. There’s literally one avenue and the most exciting store there is an ice cream store. I was hesitant about moving there at first, but I ended up really liking it there. The town is on the beach, and although there’s not many people there it was nice to have some time to myself where there was just quiet sometimes. There’s always someone somewhere in the city, and lots of noise. In Bertioga, I had time to just relax. I hardly had access to technology though. It was just me and my host mom there in a small townhome, so there was no need for wifi or a computer there. I sometimes had 3G on my iPhone, but my phone eventually stopped working out there as well. (Hence: No blog posted) I lived there for technically two mo nths, because in January I went on the ‘Northeast Dream Trip’ for 23 days (which I’ll write about in the next paragraph), but I also got to know another beach area called ‘Riviera’. Riviera was REALLY nice. Here is where I spent a lot of my Carnaval, and it was really cool. They didn’t have the crazy face paint, feathers, costumes and parades but they celebrated through throwing water balloons at each other from the different apartment buildings, (and also by driving by in cars to peg you with a balloon or on the street) and also by having churrasscos (Brasilian barbeque) then at night hanging out at the beach. Quite different than the Carnaval I experienced in Rio de Janiero and Recife. All in all, Bertioga was a really great experience for me.  
As I mentioned in the last paragraph, I went on what is called the ‘Northeast Dream Trip-23 days’. This trip truly changed my life. I went from the incredible city of Brasilia with all of the crazy architecture and seeing the President of Brasil’s house, to the Cristo statue in Rio de Janiero. I saw so many things and met so many people that I’m at a loss for words when I try to explain. A good amount of time is spent traveling on the bus, in fact I can remember spending 22 hours straight one day just traveling. The first day I traveled to Brasilia, then onto Lenois, Salvador, Natal, Olinda, Recife, Macio, Porto Seguro, and Rio de Janiero. There were many small towns in between and the big thing that all of the exchange students bought on this trips was the bracelets. People that live in the towns nearby the beaches will make and sell jewelry and it’s some of the most beautiful craftsmanship I’ve ever seen in my life. By the time th e trip was finished, my wrist was filled almost to my elbow in bracelets and ribbons that I had bought and was given to me. I was able to tour Brasilia and see all of the amazing architecture, and I the coolest part to me was being able to go to the President’s house (or at least in front of it). My favourite stop definitely Lenois. Here is where we did most of the hiking, and exploring (mind you I made the mistake of only taking flip-flops). The first day we hiked up through the mountains until we reached a waterfall where everyone slid down the rocks and swam in probably the blackest, coldest water I’ve ever swam in. We ended up traveling to two different waterfalls, and I can remember having to hike through woods and caves to reach the first one. At the first waterfall, when the water mixed with this clay it turned into a temporary dye not just for your skin, but for your hair as well. I ended the day with bright red hair, skin and clothes. The next da y, we went to a second set of caves where we had to hike through a forest which almost seemed like the amazon. I’ve never seen trees so tall or been in a place where I felt so small. Everything was bright green, yellow or a dark brown and it was the most incredible place I’ve yet to see in my life. I remember standing in the cave and the guide had us turn out any lights and just stand completely still and silent so all you could hear was the occasional bat moving in its sleep in the rocks above. It was so silent and still that you could hear your own heartbeat. On our way out of the cave, it started to rain so everyone literally had to hike up the waterfall (in flip flops again) with the same clay as the previous waterfall soaking our clothing. Everyone had to ride home soaking wet and bright red. Overall we saw everything from exotic beaches and people, to some of the most famous tourist spots in Brasil. We had experienced more things in 23 days then a lot of people do in their entire life. I did everything from hiking up that waterfall, to walking up to the Cristo Statue and getting lost in the mountains of Pao de Acucar. It was the trip of a lifetime. When I returned back to Bertioga from my Dream Trip, I stayed there for another 3 weeks or so then I moved host families back into the big city. I’m now living in Belem, SP with my family of two sisters, a host mom and a host dad. I’ve started going back to school and I’m continuing to learn something new every day.  

I don’t know how to explain my life in Brasil to where I can try and have someone understand what an exchange student goes through. Even when you try to imagine, you can’t come close unless you experience it for yourself. Where there are the good things there will be the bad things too and it’s a lesson learned with experience. Exchange isn’t always picture perfect, and the phases that we as exchange students go through are very real. You have the good experiences and the bad. The happy days and the sad days. You become confused a lot, and even lost sometimes. But that’s life anywhere because life is complicated and it would be boring if it weren’t. No one wants to live a life where you know how everything will work out and everything that is supposed to happen. If you have everything figured out then you’re doing something wrong because then you can’t grow and isn’t that the entire point of living? Of becoming an exchange student? I think what a year as an exchange student teaches you, is that it’s important to never stop that hunger for wanting to know the world and the people in it and to continue to grow into the biggest and best person you can be. To continue to feed that hunger for wanting more out of life. The most that I have learned from the past 8 months is about me. I’ve learned things about myself and things that I’m capable of that I never even imagined possible. I’ve seen my friends in all of their different countries and how much they have grown and it just comforts me in the fact that I know exchange is worth all of the effort. All of the effort that Rotary, the parents, the host families but especially the exchange student put into it. Exchange has been the best decision of my life as of yet, so I guess I’ll have to see where it goes from here. 

Raimel Garcia Hernandez 
2012-13 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: Aventura, FL
School: Dr. Michael Krop High School
Sponsor: District 6990, FL
Host: District 4540, Brazil
The Rotary Club TBA

Raimel - Brazil

When I say “I’m loving it here” is just little for what I’m really feeling like. Since I stepped out of Guarulhos Airport and received my host family’s warm welcome I realized that I started my journey of learning and discovering a world of wonders.

I can just say that Brazilians are the most beautiful people in all senses, even when they are mad. They are caring, supper dramatic, funny, ridiculously outgoing, warm, helpful, crazy, and more important, loving people. Their hostage is the warmest I’ve ever experienced. They’ll do everything for you to feel confortable, like home. 

Brazilian music is really good. Samba is the dance I like the most (even though I suck at it) but I’m still trying to learn how to dance it. Listening to Brazilian music makes you feel high with happiness and love, and not wanting to stop dancing. The food is amazing too. I feel like I’m coming back to the States rolling like a ball, because I just eat too much. I’ve been going to the gym to loose some of the calories I gained through the day, because they have like great variety of meals, and I just want to try everything, and everything is so delicious. I’m in a food heaven. *__*

Besides all the fun and happiness, school is really different here. I’ve learned a lot of the language pretty fast, but the classes are not that interesting for me. You cannot choose the classes you like or even go by your own peace. Everyone in your grade does the same classes and goes through the year at the same rate. Also classes are really easy (only language is a barrier), but still you can understand pretty well. The student-teacher relationship it’s different as it is in the States. Teachers and students have nicknames, and they mess with each other in class and laugh, unlike the States where you call them Mr./Mrs. and there is no much relationship but the student-teacher relationship. Still is pretty interesting the way they teach, like it makes you feel more familiar. 

>From Oct.18 – Oct. 20/2012 I had the greatest opportunity in my life. I went to Bolivia and then to the Amazon Rainforest. It was the most amazing feeling being in there with all the nature, animals and the peace of the forest. But in all that beauty there was something shocking too. As you go by to enter the rainforest or coming out, you can experience all the deforestation and pollution caused by the construction of the hydroelectric and the man’s work. It is changing the landscape completely and bringing problems to the natives of the region. Its devastating the feeling. The experience can be resumed as “a life changing experience: spiritually and consciously.”

These two months I’ve spent here were remarkable, and by knowing the culture and my new friends and the language, I feel like the rest of the year is going to be as amazing as this two last month have been, full of knowledge and experiences that will make me look at this world with different vision. I’m really happy for having this 5th choice, the best choice I’ve ever made. I’m happy for everything that has happened to me. I’m happy for having the great friends that will last as long as I live. And more important, I’m happy for being here, at home, in Brazil.

Rainey Basinger 
2012-13 Outbound to Netherlands
Hometown: Chipley, FL
School: Vernon High School
Sponsor: District 6940, FL
Host: District 1550, Netherlands
The Rotary Club of Eeckaerdeå

Rainey - Netherlands

First Impressions 8/6/2012

So when I arrived at Schipol (Amsterdam airport), I was a bit nervous to be honest. I really had no Idea what to expect even though I had to write a 12 page paper about the Netherlands before I left. After roaming Schipol aimlessly, I finally found Customs where I got my Passport stamped and ushered down a long hall way to the baggage pick up. After finding my suitcase I was on the move again to find my host father, Geert and brother Vince who were supposed to pick me up. Before you could say Hallo!, I was being blinded by camera flashes shot by my host father and brother. After we met and exchanged handshakes we were then heading to the car and when we got in, that when it hit me. These total strangers where making weird foreign sounds that sounded like a mix of coughing and choking. I did the classic thing; I was shaking my head yes and happily saying “ja” (ya) even though they could have been saying I was going to be sleeping with the chickens tonight. As best as I could, I kindly told them I don’t understand much Dutch and you will have to act like you are speaking to a 4 year old. So much for all those hours studying Dutch, but it did come in handy to understand some Dutch words. Thankfully they spoke a little English! Form the airport we headed back to the hotel they had stayed at the night before and we had breakfast. Well to say the least, my first Dutch breakfast was a bit different. Instead of Eggs, Toast, and Bacon (thought they were all there) there was a lot more fresh breads and cheeses. It’s a good thing I like them both because bread and cheese is a huge staple of Holland. (along with potatoes)

I was greeted at the door by my Dutch mom Silvia, and host sister Romy. I was served Tea and talked for 20 minutes or so. I finally got the nerve to ask if I could take a quick shower. I’m sure they were thinking “it’s about time kid” because a 11 hour plane ride will do that to you! Lunch was much the same as breakfast, but for dinner we went out to a nice Greek restaurant. When we got home I forced myself up the stairs and into bed with all my cloths on. That night I slept like I’ve never slept before. I went to bed at 8:30 and woke up at 12 in the afternoon. Was I tired???????? NAAA!!!!!!

By the third day I arrived, the jet lag was nearly gone. Also, I had the opportunity to go out and play veotbal, or soccer with Vince and his friends. After riding my bike for what seemed like 20 miles (everyone in Holland gets around by bike. There are 3 times as many bikes as cars.) we arrived at the voetbal field. I hoped off the bike and guess what I see?????? A real castle!!!! Yeah I was a bit surprised to say the least. Playing soccer was a bit of a challenge because I didn’t speak Nederlands (Dutch) yet. Thankfully sports is a universal language. It just goes to show that you should take every little opportunity that comes your way even if you might be a little scared or nervous.

In this first week I have done so much already. I went to the big city, Eindhoven and went shopping with my host sister Romy. Also we have celebrated my host brothers birthday, and tomorrow there is a Welcome Party for me and a Birthday Party for Vince because he is doing an exchange to Argentina. Well, this has been a journal entry by Rainey Basinger. Tot Ziens.


Dang does your exchange fly by! It’s already been about two months but I’ve done so many activities with my Rotary Club and also the other inbound students. About a week after all us new inbound students or “newbies” (according to the students that arrived in January) arrived we all meet and came together in Boxtel which is actually a town in the same province I live. (Noord Brabant) The occasion? To have an introduction course to Het Nederlandse Cultuur en Taal. Conveniently named D.O.C or Dutch Orientations Course. The first day out of the week (Saturday) was filled with all us August Inbound students meeting and getting affiliated with each other. In our group, there were 21 students from 6 different countries. After having a nice lunch and getting aimless paper work filled out, we got assigned a week buddy and a week host family. My buddy was a boy from Taiwan who was called Johnson. When people would ask him his name he’d say it but then no one c ould pronounce it so he just told us to call him by the nickname Johnson. Works for me I guess… Our week host family was very kind and they ended up taking me and Johnson out the next day to go swimming and get Ice cream and just have a relaxing Sunday. Monday began bright an early. All us students were dropped off at the local school at which we would be attending for the week and started our Dutch language lessons. There where several teachers but the main one was Tanja. She was a really awesome teacher from Friesland, a province of northern Netherlands. Mind you, she was an excellent Dutch teacher for students who couldn’t say a word of Dutch yet, but man did she love coffee. And when I say she loves coffee, it’s an understatement I really mean addicted! When we weren’t learning Dutch we were having a “Coffee Break” which was nice because it gave us students more time to associates and integrate with each other and learn about different cultur es. When the school day finished around 3 everyday the local rotary club would have something fun planned for us. Monday night we went to the town fair or Kermis which was a blast I might say! Every night, it was bit different. We did things like take a boat trip though the Canals of Den Bosch, or visit a Meusam or learn to play Field Hockey and have delicious dinner with Rotary Club Boxtel. Friday night, all us inbound students were happy to find that an official Welcome Party was thrown for us but unfortunaly Saturday morning was painstakingly hard. We had to pack up all our things and head one last time to the school in Boxtel were all our normal host families were waiting to pick us up. Before we all departed, the Rotary Club of Boxtel gave a presentation and then each one of us students got to stand up and say a couple things about ourselves in Dutch that we had learned the past week. After that was over and everyone said goodbye and gave hugs, we were all heading back to our normal homes all over the Netherlands. WHAT A WEEKEND I MIGHT SAY

I think every exchange student would agree that your first day of school is awkward to say the least. Besides being approached every ten minutes and asked “Aren’t you that American kid” (and in my case, “do you have a gun in your house???”), I had to find my way to all my classes and introduce myself to all the teacher who asked me if I spoke any Dutch yet. My answer would always be “een klein beetje” or a small bit. I would love to tell everyone that I completely understand all my lessons in Dutch, but unfortunately that would be a ridicules lie. What I can say, is that every day it gets better and I learn more and more words. Thankfully, I was assigned a buddy for which would help and guide me for those first few weeks. And obviously, he does a lot of translating when I don’t understand.

By the end of the first month of school, my daily routines and schooling was starting to feel normal. My host family and I were completely natural with each other and we knew what we expected of each other. I now have many good friends that I try to spend time with whenever I can. A lot of the time we do spend is when we have to bike to school together every morning for 8 kilometers. And yes, it feels as if I have to bike uphill both ways in the freezing cold snow, and the worst part is It’s not even winter yet! By two and a half months in my family now communicates fully in Dutch when they talk to me. Thankfully I understand a good chunk of what they say, and when I don’t I just ask; but speaking back to them is a different thing. I never thought I would get this far with my language. Honestly it’s the weirdest thing ever, because I can remember when I first arrived and I could not understand anything! But now I understand so much more! It’s like one day, you’re just sitting in class as normal and you’re listening to what people are saying and you happen to laugh along about the joke you just overheard, then all the sudden, you’re like, OH MY GOSH!!!!!! I just understood something in a language completely foreign to me! THIS IS AWESOME! It just shows you that if you study and put forth you’re best effort to learn, then you’ll be making progress before you know it!

Every two weeks I go with my host-father to the Rotary meetings where we have a nice dinner and discussion about the issues at hand. On the weekends I’m often every busy with either the other inbound students or with one of the Rotarians taking me somewhere. A couple weeks back, the Rotex organized a weekend for all us students. We went to Goes where we got a tour of the Delta Works and other fun little activities. Obviously we also had good bonding time with all the other students. After that weekend, I was invited by one of the other Rotarians to go to a professional soccer game. It was in the city of Eindhoven, which is close to where I live. There we saw PSV (Eindhoven) play against NAC (Breda). Our team, PSV won 4-0 and now are in 2nd place in all of the Netherlands. On my upcoming week I have fall break for a week so that is kinda nice, and also so happens that Kermis (small fair) is coming to my town! So I plan to go to that this week end with another inbound stu dent. And as they say “there is so much to do with so little time” so I always try to remind myself that I shouldn’t worry about home or a life that is a millions miles away because by the time your exchange is over, you’ll wish it will last another year!


Well, I’m coming up on my 6 month or half year anniversary of living in the Netherlands and I got to say, it’s pretty sad. I find myself all the time contemplating how all this time in the Netherlands as an exchange student has flown by so quick. It seemed like the first two months or so where dragging along, but now as I look back, I wish all the time here and now would seem to drag on! I know I still have the best months of my exchange in front of me, but it’s quite bittersweet that it all goes so fast!
A lot has changed sense my last journal entry. For one thing, I’m not living in the same small village as I arrived in. I moved to the big city of Eindhoven (4th largest in the Netherlands I think) to be with my second host family. And again, it was bittersweet to leave my old host family because I liked them very much as well. But here’s the crazy part! When I moved to Eindhoven, I was still going to a school in another town which was a 50 minute bike there and back every day. So here’s the thing, I was biking home for my first time alone and I got lost in Eindhoven for 3.5 hours. And needless to say (though I’ll say it) my new host parent where so scared because they didn’t know what happened to me. But finally, I made it home by using some store’s telephone. And thus brings me to the point of attending a new school in my new city.
I have to say, I like my new school very much! Besides the fact that it’s a lot closer and I know the way to it, it’s a Two-Language-School, so they offer about 80% of my classes in Dutch and the other 20% in English. I made friends the first day and felt immediately more at home with my new school because all the students could speak very good English, though I am constantly practicing and bettering my Dutch.

Speaking of my Dutch, (no pun intended) it’s going really good! I feel pretty comfortable trying start a conversation with anyone. I basically got the grammar and pronunciation aspects of it down, now the only hard parts are expanding my vocabulary. I’m always asking people what a word means in English and how to say it. Before I started my exchange I was extremely cocky and thought I had an easy language to learn. HOW WRONG I WAS! And I think that rule goes for any American trying to learn a totally new language. So, if any future outbounds are reading this now, do yourself and your host country a huge favor and start practicing now. Scratch that, start practicing a month ago! You don’t know how much it will help you on your exchange. If you want a tip to learn a new language (this goes for everyone) then get a couple pads of sticky notes and post-its and label EVERYTHING inside AND outside your house with the name of it in your host language. You will be t hanking me if you do this and don’t forget to EMERSE YOURSELF in your host culture and language!
Like I said before, I have the best months of my exchange to look forward too. For one thing, the Europe Tour! It’s almost killing me that I still have to wait a couple months until we head off for it! We’re going to hit up Berlin-Germany, Prague-Czech Republic, Vienna-Austria, Venice and Rome-Italy, Barcelona-Spain, Disneyland-Paris, then back to the Netherlands! That’s what I call two weeks of madness and fun! Also, with my school, I get to go on a field trip to Brighton-England. And as they say, so much to do, so little time!


Well I just got back from my school field trip to Brighton and Canterbury England, and I got to say it was a blast! To be honest I didn’t think it was going to be that fun because we had to do a project for Global Issues, but I was pleasantly surprised. Everything was actually really fun and everyone had a great time. It was pretty nice to go to a country where everyone spoke English again haha, but it was also pretty hilarious to be able to speak Dutch and no one can understand you! Win-win Situation if you ask me!
It’s coming around that time again! A dreaded yet anticipated time! The time of which I will be going to my third and last host-family. I think it will be really sad because I really like where I am now. I have three other siblings here and the host parents are really awesome. But on the other hand, I really look forward to getting to know my new host parents better because they also seem really cool. But hey, that’s the point of an exchange. You have to adapt and get used to something just to leave it all and start the whole process over again, just hoping you do a better job this next time. But you learn to enjoy every minute of it!


These last couple of months have been just amazing! I’ve been so busy with school, friends, and of course the other inbound students that I have had almost no time to write. The last two weeks have been especially memorable. I finally went on my Europe Tour and there is absolutely no word in any language to describe the experience I had and friendships I’ve made, but I’ll do my best. 9 countries in 16 days. We left from the Netherlands and went in this order though Europe: Berlin-Germany, Prague-Czech Republic, Vienna-Austria, Venice, Lidi Di Jesolo, Florence and Rome-Italy, Lucerne-Switzerland and last but not least Paris-France. Unfortunately we didn’t go to Spain. It’s weird because you grow up your whole life learning about these huge, beautiful cites and you think you know what to expect when you arrive but when the time actually comes around, if feels so different. Almost the same feeling as when you first arrive in your new host country a nd everything feels so new and different. And that’s why it was kind of nice to feel and remember the newness of everything again. 

But after I got back to the Netherlands, I was exhausted to say the least because I had stayed up late almost every night and also had to get up very early every day. But none the less I still have a End-of-the-Year School party to attend so I also went to that! But when I finally got home I slept like I did the first day I arrived in the Netherlands. Haha Now, school is finished so now I just have a month in the summer to enjoy my time in the Netherlands as an exchange student. I have a lot planned for the summer. Mainly catching up with all the other inbounds students and also my school friends. Maybe I’ll even get to see some other parts of Europe that I haven’t yet seen!

Oh yeah I almost forgot. I have moved to my third and final host family! I once again live in a small village outside Eindhoven so if I want to visit the city I must first take a bus. Other than that, I love it here also! Just like before I didn’t know what to expect, but I made the best of what I had and that’s what an exchange is all about. 

Other the past ten months so much has changed in my life. Some things I can explain but others mostly not. It’s just a really weird feeling. It’s like I once living in a complete different universe with certain ideals and cultures but now I live on the other side of the universe with different ideals and cultures. Back then I thought that my countries ideals were the only correct ones, but of course that not true. They are neither correct nor incorrect just different from the ideals I live by now. And I fine with that because that was an exchange is about.

I don’t know if this will be my last journal entry or not. Probably not but still it’s better I put it all in perspective. The Netherlands is my home just as the U.S. or any other country could have been. Life is just too short to not take changes and opportunities so make the best of what you got.

Ross Guju 
2012-13 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: Palm Harbor, FL
School: East Lake High School
Sponsor: District 6950, FL
Host: District 4530, Brazil
The Rotary Club De Brasilia-Centenarioå

Ross - Brazil

Hello, this is my first journal about my exchange. It is hard finding the time to write these journals because I am always doing something with my friends or my family. I have been in Brasilia, Brazil for a little more than a month now. I am really glad I have been given this opportunity to be here, I am learning and exploring so many different things. It is so much different from the United States, it is like a different world. I am enjoying every minutes of the exchange. I do not feel like a visitor in Brazil anymore, I feel like I belong in this country. 

When I arrived here, I was greeted by my wonderful rotary club, who takes great care of me. When I got to my host families house, I didn’t really know them well and it was very strange. Now, they feel like my actual family and are great people.

School gave me a good idea of what the Brazilian people are like. Most of the people are all nice and polite. They all want to get to know me and be friends with me. There are so many differences in our culture, most of them being good things. I am making tons of friends at school and many out of school. Everyone in the entire school knows who I am, and want to talk to me. I think the classes here are really easy, but the language barrier makes the classes much more difficult. But I am learning Portuguese really fast. I can easily communicate with people and my fellow class mates. 

I live in a small impartment in the city, Brasilia, and I am still getting used to the cramped life style. Most houses don’t have air conditioners and winter season is ending, so it is getting really hot. At night, I have the choice of keeping the window closed and sweating during the night or opening the window, but get eating a live by mosquitos. It seems that I am the only one who gets bit by the mosquitos at night. This seems to be the only difficulty so far in my exchange. 

I just love being around my family and my friends. I always hang out with my host brother and go places with him and my sister. I will be changing families soon, and I will miss my first host family a lot. But I know my other two families really well, so I know I am in good hands.

I just got back from Pirenopolis today, it is a small city sort of in the mountains and has many waterfalls. It was amazing seeing these waterfalls and being able to swim in the freezing cold mountain water. But the city was very beautiful and I had a lot of fun. 

I am having a great time in Brazil. Learning a language, culture, and many other things has been a challenge but also is fun. I am making many good friends and love the country. Everyone wants to talk about me and learn about the United States. I have taken many pictures and I would love to share them with everyone back at home. I plan on going to two of the rotary trips; the Amazon and the 2nd half of the Northeast trip. I can’t wait until I go on these trips with the other exchange students. After meeting other rotary exchange students from the USA and all over the world, none of them were as prepared as I was. RYE Florida did an amazing job prepping us for our exchange experience. Even though it was a lot of work, it made my exchange much easier. This has been a great experience and I love it here. Thank you Rotary! 

January 3, 2013

This is my second journal for rotary. I have been in Brazil, Brasilia for about 5 months and everything has been going well. I have met many friends, the language is getting easier to learn, and just over all, it has been great. 

I have finished school and I am about 1 month into summer vacation. Ironically, I live on the other side of the world so it is summer here, while it is winter in the USA. I have just came back home from traveling. My family and I went to Uberaba (I think that’s the right spelling) and we spent Christmas, my birthday, and the New Years there. Uberaba is a very old city that has a beautiful history. My host dad family has lived there for many generations and happens to be the city where my dad grew up in. He showed me many amazing churches that were built by the Portuguese and showed me around. Also, I got the chance to get to know my host families’ family. I had some of the best times with them and I will remember them forever. I am currently with my second host family and they are very nice people.

Also during my summer vacation break, I got to do many things with the other rotary students. Through my district, some other exchange students and I, went to visit a near by water fall. I already visited many waterfalls in Brazil but none of them where comparable to this one. It was quite an experience when we had to climb down the water fall and got to see the entire thing. 

The people and culture of Brazil, to me, is the best thing about this country. The people are so kind and are open about everything. I have many friends here but I have a few close friends. These are the friends that I will have forever. 

So far with the language, I think I’m almost fluent. I have been studying this language since the first day I was given this country. As of right now, I’m working on learning the slangs and informal way of speaking. All of my hard work that I have spent studying has finally paid off. For an exchange student, without knowing a language that has any relevance to Portuguese, I doing very well in terms of learning the language. This example should give a good idea where my Portuguese is at. When my Brazilian host brother talks to my Brazilian friends in Portuguese on facebook and my friends think it is me typing, that’s how I know my Portuguese is good.

One thing that is true about Brazilians is there love for soccer. I hear people arguing over which team is better. At my family reunion here, my family members would argue that the Corinthians of Rio de Janeiro aren’t good or call me gay for liking Fluminese. 

About four days before my birthday, my little host cousin asked me if I was ready to be hit with eggs. I didn’t understand what she was talking about but she explained that when someone has a birthday everyone grabs eggs and throws them at the person who is celebrating their birthday. I thought she was joking but three days later my uncle said the same exact thing about the eggs being thrown at me and also mentioned about eggs being smashed in my pants. So, as my birthday came, my host mom told me to change my cloths to something that I don’t mind getting dirty. After my family gave me my birthday wishes, they led me next to the soccer field (not in the soccer field because they don’t want the soccer field to be filled with eggs when they are playing) and my Host brother-in-law grabbed an egg and smashed it in my pants. That first egg was followed by 6 more and a bag of flour. That was something very funny and strange I experienced here. 
I will be traveling to the Northeast of Brazil soon, and I will have some great stories coming. I can’t wait until the next I will write a journal. Writing helps me remember what has happened so far in my exchange. I’m at the half mark in my exchange, and thinking of me returning to the USA makes me sick. I wish I could stay here forever, but I will need to return to finish up school. 

Ryan Butzloff 
2012-13 Outbound to Germany
Hometown: St. Augustine, FL
School: Pedro Menendez High School
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District 1940, Germany
The Rotary Club of Horizonte-rostockå

Ryan - Germany

November 2012

I have been in Germany for almost three months now and I am already learning so much. I arrived in Germany on July twenty-seventh (a Friday). It was around 1:00 pm when my host family picked me up in Hamburg. I was tired and hungry and a bit jet-lagged. We walked to the car (a really nice Audi) and they drove me to Rostock with the roof down.

When we were in Rostock I received my first German meal it was schnitzel with pommes. Which is breaded pork with french-fries. It was really good. After that, I put my things in my room and went back downstairs. Something that I should explain is my host family owns a hotel and restaurant the flat/apartment being on top of the restaurant. When I went downstairs I was immediately put to work; I had to help with grill with my host father. I was grilling nachensteaks and bratwursts and I was grilling fish and Rind (beef). I was doing this while my host father was taking the orders of the guests and serving them their meals.

After the BBQ we stopped working and I got to go upstairs and relaxed, well, not exactly I stayed up talking with my host family and until midnight until I finally went to bed. Luckily I was able to sleep in and relax in the morning. The rest of Saturday we went to the city Warnemunde, this is the bigger part of Rostock. We went to the beach and relaxed then went and ate.

On Sunday we ventured into the city center by bike to go to the museum of Rostock, it is a very small museum but non-the-less full of information in a language that I couldn’t read. My host family did the best they could to translate the information, but something’s I didn’t understand. Since it was Sunday all the small shops and stores were closed. In fact almost every shop/store in Germany is closed according to the German law. The week that followed was fun because I did not have school and I was able to meet another exchange student from Australia that has been in Germany for seven months. 

When school started to be honest I wasn’t nervous until I walked into my class. Everyone kind of just looked at me and went on with what they were doing. Some people did come up to me and ask me questions in German, they saw the look of my face when they asked me and then tried to communicate with me in English. When class started the teacher was asking me questions in German and of course I did not understand but he persisted into a yell until one of my soon to be friends tells him that I do not speak any German what so ever so he stopped talking to me and moved on into the lesson. 

School now is great I have many friends and I am even friends with the teacher that shouted at me the first couple days of school. My friends are helpful with me learning German and they are also very patent which is a big difference in the US where people might not be as patient with you. 

All in all I am having a great time and it has been really fun so far. My host family is great and the food is DELICIOUS. I love German food. My host family has taken me to many places, like, the biggest zoo in northern Germany 2 really big aquariums/museums and the have taken me to see two soccer matches, a hockey game and a handball game. I real big difference between the sports in the US and the sports in Europe is the fan base. The fans in Europe sing loudly (non-stop) and are fully dressed with merchandise from team. While in US the fans are loud but they don’t sing a lot. It was a really cool experience going to see these games. As well fans bring instruments and they get together and do songs for the team.

Sarah Wiegreffe 
2012-13 Outbound to France
Hometown: St. Augustine, FL
School: Bartram Trail High School
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District 1680, France
The Rotary Club of Strasbourg Centre

Sarah - France

This has got to be about the third time I have tried to write this blog entry. One of the hardest things I have come across on exchange is trying to express my experiences adequately in words. With the exchange students here I can never shut up about my exchange, but with family and friends back home I find myself at a loss for words. I get asked all the time by French people if I enjoyed something I did or somewhere I went or something I ate, or if I like it here, and my answers may come out simple in French but in reality everything is so much more- people are more than nice, the food is more than delicious, and the things I do and places I see are more than great.

Last week was four months in France, and I wish time would slow down. I feel entirely at home in my city, at my school, with my French family and friends, and with the other exchange students. I’ve realized things I missed out on in the U.S. that I would have never experienced had I not gone on exchange, from public transportation to French pastries to being a middle child to escalade.

Public transportation. I’ve developed such a love/hate relationship with it. I’ve had my fair share of running through the cold rain, waiting forever to find out I missed the bus by 2 minutes, or squishing onto jam-packed buses. Even though there are days when I miss being able to drive, I love the ability to be able to go places without having to rely on someone to give me a ride as might be the case if I did not drive in the U.S. The public transportation here is affordable and accessible, as well as environmentally friendly, and many people use it, considering gas is expensive, there is little room for parking, and driver’s licenses cost upwards of 1,000 euros! At a young age kids here are able to have freedom like I never knew before driving, because they have public transportation. I am lucky to live in a part of the city with great bus access, and there is also a tram in the inner city and the gare, or train station, where for 10 to 20 euros you can h op on a train and take a day or weekend trip to other cities in the region, perfect for visiting the other exchange students when we have our Rotary weekends.

French pastries. Or to make your mouth water even more, let’s just talk about French food in general. There is very little, if anything, I have eaten here that I haven’t liked. Bread and cheese really are staples here. Even the school cafeteria serves different varieties of fancy cheeses every day. From anywhere between 40 and 80 cents you can have a caramel cappuccino from a coffee vending machine, and for 70 cents you can buy the most heavenly chocolate filled pastry called a pain au chocolat at school during break. Needless to say I know where the majority of my money has gone!

Being a middle child. I am so lucky to have such a sweet and generous host family, even though sometimes they probably think I’m crazy for my American ways. In the U.S. I have one younger brother, now I have an older French brother and a younger French sister. They help me immensely with my French, and I have picked up a lot of slang and conversational things from speaking with them, things that you can’t learn from a textbook or in classes.

Escalade, better known to you as rock climbing. The school sports are very different here. Because school can go from 8 am to 6 pm several days a week, there isn’t much time for extracurricular sports or competitive sports teams. However, there are intramural-type sports open to all students during the hour and a half lunch break, so I do rock climbing with some friends for 4 or 5 hours a week. The sports in P.E. class are also a bit violent. We did 6 weeks of French boxing, which involved punching and kicking each other repeatedly in the forehead and stomach.

One thing I still cannot wrap my head around after four months is the generosity and kindness I have come across through my exchange, both here and in the U.S. Never did I expect to meet so many people who have given their time and encouragement to make my exchange possible, many of them people who were complete strangers before I got involved with Rotary, some before I arrived here four months ago. I feel so blessed, and I can’t express my gratitude enough for everyone, especially Rotary Florida, District 6970, District 1680, my host family, classmates and teachers, Rotary clubs, and family and friends back home.

“It is our choices who show who we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

-J. K. Rowling

A la prochaine!

 April 12, 2013

This Saturday at the Rotary conference in my district, I’ll be giving a speech about what this year has brought me. It’s funny, I can talk in French but I have so much trouble writing in English. It’s honestly the hardest thing to describe my life here to Americans, because to me everything about it has become completely normal.

So this Saturday. First of all, I’ll have to assure everyone that I really do come from Florida, seeing as to how pale I’ve gotten. The impression here of Florida is that it is like a continuous vacation, quite interesting.

I’ve been on exchange for seven and a half months now, and it honestly feels like seven and a half weeks. The exciting thing about exchange is that there are always new things coming up, from big events like school vacations, holidays, changing families, bus-trips, or weekends with the other exchange students, to the small events of the week, like lunch in the city with school friends or volunteering at the food bank. I’m always learning the most random interesting things, whether from the other exchange students, from my French family and friends, or even from what I pick up on in class.

What have the past almost eight months taught me? I could spend a day talking about the obvious cultural differences, like the clothing, the food, the weather, the school system. But what I find the most interesting is how I myself have changed, which is what I’ll be taking about Saturday. If I hadn’t made the decision to take on this adventure, I wouldn’t understand myself at all like I do now. I see more clearly now my strengths and my weaknesses, but I also see how I have changed. I am so much more patient and flexible, more self-confident and assertive. I keep on doubting my English, which is awesome. I know it would have taken me years to develop the same qualities back in the U.S. These things we learn as exchange students aren’t like anything you can learn from a textbook, with a teacher, in a desk. These are real life experiences, and a ton of them packed into ten short months.

I now see that life is almost never black and white. Everything depends on perception, convictions, beliefs. One thing Rotary Florida often advised us Outbounds was to never think of the things that would occur as bad or good, correct or incorrect, just different. This is something I had memorized, like I memorized the words of La Marseillaise, the French national anthem, before leaving the U.S., without really understanding the meaning or the importance of the words. It took experiencing another culture to get it.

Now I see that in reality, we live in the grey. Each person values things differently, whether silence or speech, presentation or depth. It’s clear that Americans will always understand me better than the French or people of other cultures. But that’s the point of exchange- to put yourself in unfamiliar situations, where you could say you lose yourself to find yourself again.

The expression “The adventure begins at the end of your comfort zone” doesn’t really translate into French, but I’ll be trying to communicate it anyway. When I reflect on all that I have been able to do that I would have either not had the opportunity to do or would have never made the choice to do, I am ecstatic I chose this year for myself.

Sarah Sephenson 
2012-13 Outbound to Germany
Hometown: Winter Park, FL
School: Winter Park High School
Sponsor: District 6980, FL
Host: District TBA, Germany
The Rotary Club TBA

Sarah - Germany

August 29, 2012

I know these streets by heart; they are like lines on the palm of my hand. I know every twist in the road, every tree and blade of grass. This year, I am leaving it behind; which has always been the plan. For years, living here has felt like purgatory. I’ve been revving up, longing for my fantastic lift off to somewhere. However, I never anticipated that my magnificent somewhere would be Germany.

So much of Rotary Youth Exchange is putting together a puzzle. You’re accepted. You have a country, a district, a town, a host family and finally a departure date. With every piece of information you develop an expectation of what is to come. However, every Rotex will tell you “Don’t have any expectations.”

The first time I spoke to my host sister she sent me a picture of the home I will soon live in. I joked with my friends that it looked like the American Dream; big, beautiful and complete with a golden retriever bounding in the front. Nearly two months later, she sent me a link to her house on Google Maps. In place of the neighborhood I had imagined there were fields of farmland as far as I could scroll for 7 kilometers. For a moment, my mind was scattered as it readjusted to the reality of a place that existed beyond the expectations of my imagination. People will tell you not to have any expectations but whether you realize it or not you already have them.

Growing up in Winter Park has given me expectations of what the rest of the world is like. When your host sister tells you about her “neighbors,” that doesn’t necessarily mean they live ten feet over. However, half the fun is realizing those expectations exist and the comfort of the familiar as it is knocked out from under you and then as total chaos descends, you readjust to a life you never expected. Isn’t that the beauty of exchange?

When I met with Scott to go over my application he asked, “What makes you the most nervous about going on exchange?” My mind was blank. Home sickness? Please, I’ve been stuck here 18 years! Being apart from family? 18 years! Culture shock? ADVENTURE! The only answer that felt honest was, “getting accepted.” I could conquer anything as long as I was accepted.

Now that my great adventure draws nearer exchange has become more real to me. What if my host family hates me? What if I offend someone and don’t even know it? What if I break a rule I didn’t know existed? What if I burn the house down, kill the family dog, get kicked out of school and banned from an entire continent?! Has that happened?!

The truth is, at some point I will probably offend someone. I will do something completely humiliating, miss a train, not understand and feel like an Ignorant American. It is easy to accept this fate in the comfort of a place I have known my whole life, where I understand what people say and the culture is just the way things are. However in the wise words of Hagrid, “What’s coming will come and I’ll meet it when it does.”

I have prepared myself. I have written an 18 page research paper, conjugated, translated, and recited. I have learned that Germans eat shnitzel, drink beer and can be standoffish when you first meet them. However, not all Floridians ride roller coasters all day then return to their beach houses and guzzle orange juice. So I shouldn’t expect that my German friends will talk about BMW’s all day eating pretzels in their lederhosen and dirndls. Alas, these facts and words of mouth are much of what I have to go on. But who knows? Maybe I’ll meet a German who doesn’t like beer, who is messy or has something against mustard.

These last weeks at home I have tried to soak up as much of the Florida experience as possible. My friends and I went on a day trip through Florida where we visited the ever cheesy Presidents Hall of Fame where I actually touched Lincoln’s beard!! Took about a hundred wrong turns, visited Samford and raced Michael Phelps style across Alexander Springs. (totally kicked Emily’s butt ) I went to my last Knotty Knitters and Book Club at the Winter Park Public Library, last Taco Tuesday and hung out at my last Open Mike Night at Austin’s Coffee Shop. I hugged my best friend goodbye at the airport as she set off for her grand adventure in Japan knowing that we would both be very different people when we are together again.

What will I see when I come home? Will everything I believe in now seem ignorant? What will I learn? Who will I be? What will the people who matter to me now mean to me then? As more of my friends leave and more of my room is packed away I am finally beginning to understand what it means to leave everything behind. Winter Park is my roots; I am sewn up in the soil just like the trees. It will always be where I am from and I love it for that. Now that I am leaving, I finally appreciate the importance of where I am from and how it has shaped me.

Terry Cadet
2012-13 Outbound to Croatia
Hometown: Margate, FL
School: Pompano Beach High School
Sponsor: District 6990, FL
Host: District 1913, Croatia,
The Rotary Club of Velika Gorica

Terry - Croatia

Terry’s Bio

Bok, my name is Terry Cadet. I was born in Coral Springs Florida, and soon after I was born I moved to Haiti. I lived in Haiti till the age of nine when my mom, my sister, and I decided to move to Florida while my father stayed in Haiti. When I moved to Florida, I had to start the 4th grade. Although I barely spoke any English and was scared out of my mind when I went to school, I still managed to make friends and get good grades. Now I’m a sophomore attending Pompano Beach High School and I am having the best time of my life, and hopefully next year will be better. I can’t wait to go to Croatia and spend a year there, it’s almost as if I’m dreaming and I never want to wake up. Today, I currently live with my mom, my aunt, and my cousins. My dad passed away in 2008. I have a huge family and when ever they aren’t studying of working, we always go out together and have fun. Most of my cousins are much older I am, so it is very hard to hang out with them as much as I use to, but they are always watching over me and giving me good advice. Just to refresh your memory, I go to Pompano Beach high School. Pompano is a very fun and exciting school with terrific people and no school on Fridays. The only downside to going to Pompano is the rigorous work, Pompano is a very tough school but at the same time, FUN. I am a very outgoing person so during my free time, I play my guitar, study for my next test, hang out with friends, and last but not least, I eat. I am a very big eater and if I didn’t have a fast metabolism, I would be overweight and unhealthy. Becoming an exchange student is a once in a lifetime opportunity that I just could not let pass, so i signed up for it. I really look forward to learning Croatian, meeting new people, and learning new cultures. Also I a love traveling so being able to live in a different country for a year will be very exciting. This year I plan to accomplish many things, such as learning a new language, opening up my mind to new things, and meeting new people. I want to become much more independent and mature during the period of time while I’ll be away.

Terry’s Journals

September 11, 2012

Bok, ja se zovem Terry Cadet, ja sam petneast I ja zivim u Velika Gorica, Harvatska. Hi my name is Terry Cadet and I live in Velika Gorica, Croatia. When I first came into RYE, and they told me that I would constantly have to right a journal, I thought it would be pointless because I had never used a journal in my life, so why should I start now. But since I arrived, it seems like all I can do is tell people about how great Croatia is, and what better way then on a journal then the whole world can see. If you are reading this, you either know me or you plan on coming to Croatia for your year abroad, and if your coming to Croatia, then you are the luckiest person alive. Croatia has everything a person can ask for, it has beautiful beaches, a vast amount of open land and mountains that you can hike on during the summer and ski during the winter, and food that will melt your taste buds, I’m pretty sure since I got here I’ve spent most of my money on Burek which is this amazing type of sandwich with meat in it. It is not really a sandwich but I cannot describe it. I have been here for two weeks now and I made lots of friends, my host family is amazing, and the language is still a mystery to me. When I was reading journals from other exchange students who came to Croatia, I had so many questions that I could not find on their journals, and frankly I was to lazy to read everything they wrote, and if your not like me well here it is. In Croatia the daily life of a teen on a school week is pretty interesting, one week we have morning school which is from 7:30 AM to 1:30 PM, and the next week we have school from 2:00 PM to 8:00 PM. Before or after school depending on the week, students usually meet up before or after school for coffee, the drink a lot of coffee here. The weekends are pretty amazing because we get to go to clubs, dance, and have fun with friends. The first weekend I was here, I actually went in a limo and drove around Zagreb which is the capital of Croatia, and after that went to a club. Things here are very expensive so bring everything you can from your home. There are many activities like scuba diving, skiing, snowboarding, and fishing. That is it for today because it is really late and I have to go to bed so laku noc.

November 2012

So I’ve been in Croatia for exactly 3 months now, and I cannot describe how amazing this year is. 3 weeks ago the day after my birthday, I decided that it would be a good idea to twist my ankle playing handball. It was dislocated, and after going to the doctor they put a cast on it and I was forced to stay home for 3 weeks. There was a bright side to staying home for 3 weeks, I saved lots of money that I would have spent of coffee, I got to watch Croatian TV shows that helped improve my language learning, and I had people taking care of me as if I was a little boy :). Besides my injury, Croatia is the best.

I consider myself lucky because it seems as if I have no problems what so ever. My host family treats me as there own, I have no trouble making friends at school, going to school is no trouble, I am able to go out and have fun with my friends, and transportation couldn’t be easier.

I haven’t been anywhere with Rotary lately, but my Rotary club took me golfing, and gave me tickets to a handball game. My Rotary club is full of old men who behave as if they are 20 years old. They make jokes, they have fun, and they make me feel welcome. Rotary has also prepare a trip for the exchange students to go to Salzburg in December to meet the Austrian exchange students. Thats all for now but I will update you very soon. BOK BOK 😀

January 9, 2013

Almost half of my exchange year is gone and I have never felt homesick, sad, or alone. I have an amazing family, and amazing friends. This winter, my family took me to Bosnia & Herzegovina to visit where they were raised and to go skiing. Skiing was very fun, but also very scary because I injured my foot a few months ago and I was scared to damage it some more. As I’m writing this I’m realizing how much English I’m forgetting. It seems as if I have to read over what I wrote five times before it makes sense to me, and hopefully this makes sense to you. The language is very difficult and I truly believe that it was created to give foreigners a hard time. But the exchange students and I are working hard to learn it, and we are succeeding. The weather here is killing me since I’m from Florida, it takes me half an hour to get out of bed in the morning. What I love most about this exchange is making life long friends w ho you can always be with and if you decide to come back to your host country, you will have people to come back to. That’s all for not. Bok Bok

April 13, 2013

It has been a few months since I wrote my last journal, and so much has changed. Rotary took us on a trip to a city called Dubrovnik, which is known as “the pearl of the Adriatic.” It is very beautiful, and we spent a few days there. Despite the cold weather, some exchange students believed it to be a good idea to jump in the water. On my way home from Dubrovnik, I had the weirdest feeling. I realized that I actually missed my host family, and that I couldn’t wait to go back home to them. That feeling surprised me very much. I have been getting more work from school lately, and I can’t say i’m happy about it. I miss the feeling of watching all my friends work while I do nothing and relax. I am going on the Eurotour soon and I am so excited. Two weeks travelling Europe with your friends is something most people only dream about. Now, I cannot go a day without coffee. I drink it at least 5 times a day, and it tastes bett er every time 🙂 I have Croatian language lessons twice a week which is helpful since the language is terribly hard, but sadly there are ending soon. I guess I’ll have to find other ways to study the language.

Tyler Freeman
2012-13 Outbound to France
Hometown: Clermont, FL
School: East Ridge High School
Sponsor: District 6980, FL
Host: District 1650, France, The Rotary Club of Chateau-Gontier

Tyler - France

Tyler’s Bio

Bonjour! My name is Tyler Freeman and I am heading to France for the 2012-2013 school year! I was born in Ocoee, but I have since moved to Clermont a large suburb of the city of Orlando. Our town is nestled on the intersection of two major roads, thus Clermont is the crossroads of multiple destinations and is on the road to someplace else. I want to find that someplace and Rotary’s given me that opportunity. I am currently a high school senior at East Ridge High School, a very large and diverse school, so I’ve gotten myself a large and odd bunch of people I call friends. I’ve also been told that there is a large chunk of the school (that I don’t know) who apparently know who I am… It’s pretty neat! My friends and family are where I draw strength from, so going overseas will be quite taxing on me, until I grab some new friends and family that is! I myself am an outgoing individual and always ready to jump on something new and say, “Ooh! What’s this!?” My parents poke fun at me for it sometimes, but it’s all in good terms. I live with my mom, dad, my sister, and my dog and we are very close knit and eat together every night. We talk about the day’s troubles and triumphs over the table and share a laugh or two. When I had first heard about the program from Mr. Krogmann, I was very excited to ask my parents, but I was also incredibly hesitant. It took me almost two weeks to ask them if they would attend a meeting to learn about the program, but I am so glad I did. They said that it sounded like a great program and that they were very excited to see their son take and interest in participating in something as significant as the Rotary Organization. However, they also voiced that they would be sorry to see me go anywhere for an extended period of time. I feel the same way about them. It’s going to be a long road to France, but it’s going to be worth it. I just need to do what I always do when presented with a large obstacle, grab some friends, think about it for a solution, and then get to work solving it! One of the first things Scott gave me when he told me I was an outbound student was a packet on France, so I decided to use two highlighters to show me what I didn’t know and what I thought was interesting. It was a pink and a yellow highlighter and almost all of it was orange! I’m excited to see what’s to come over the next year. In short, I’m a very odd somebody going to a very interesting someplace through the help of a great group of anybodies and a lifetime worth of somethings ahead of me, but only if I do a lot of hard work to accomplish certain things and do well with other stuff.

Tyler’s Journals

I’ve written and rewritten this blog entry so many times in the last two weeks or so, but each time I rewrite it, it becomes harder and harder to put everything I want to say down on this blank computer scene. Like the hydra of Greek myth, I’ve got to stop cutting this thing to ribbons so I’ve told myself this is the LAST DRAFT. Game over man.

Tyler’s Random Pre-blog Thought: Back in Florida, in History class, we studied what holidays were celebrated in Europe and Russia in the winter and why it was mostly in winter that celebrations had been popular over the summer and spring months. It means that we get to go on more trips to the bigger cities and have more parties, but it has been very dismal and grey the last few weeks (with the start of fall) and I demand England stop giving us their clouds!

This exchange has been incredible and I can’t get over how it is actually happening. I’m living in a town that, to me, is straight out of a story book (then you notice the green flashing signs for the pharmacy). This town is older than most of the cities back home in the States and the house I’m living in my right now is older than probably everything in Clermont (not counting lakes and such). It is so unbelievably astounding, but the most interesting thing is how accustomed I’ve become to my life here. I go through my day’s routine without ever giving it a second thought that I’m in a foreign country, speaking a foreign language, and taking second language English courses (well, not that last one, I requested to be switched into more classes focusing on French language). I like to sometimes just stop doing whatever normal thing I’m doing (like crossing the river), stand still, and breathe. It somehow just… Enhances everything.

My first family (who I’ll be with until early January if everything goes as planned) lives just off the city center in a medium sized village (about the size of a small town like Groveland if you’re from Lake county) and we walk to most places, which is probably why I’m losing weight unlike some of the other people who take buses and cars to places like the grocery store, school, etc. This house is over 200 years old and I live in the attic space. My host family is absolutely amazing. My host parents are always asking me if I’d like to go with them to someplace like the grocery store or to buy 500 pairs of sports socks. I almost always say yes because the more time you’re out of the house, the better your language skills get. My oldest host brother is currently rebounded from Finland and we talk a lot about how my exchange is going because he’s already been through all this. The middle brother is always asking if I’d like to play whatever game he’s currently playing on his PC (currently, it’s Age of Empires III, you’d be surprised how much playing games completely in French helps your vocabulary). The youngest does what the middle brother does, but much more frequently and is probably the best out of the three at miming words to help me understand them. He’s also a little bit of a butt when I don’t want to play games with him.

School is much more different than high school back in the states. If you’ve taken any college classes, it’s more like that and at the college level it’s like high school back in the states (if that makes any sense). Your schedule is different each day and you can take a larger variety of classes, but you have to choose a ‘class’ to go into: Science, Economic Science, or Literature. They gave me Literature because I said that I liked history and literature, but it also has more French classes, so that’s a double win. I’ve made some pretty cool friends since I’ve been at school, Rudy and Anna (French and German pen pals who visit one another’s homes every couple months for a a couple months), Cyril, Pierre, Sylvin, and Caleb (my awesome nerd friends who I try to talk about video games with), Tucdual (he’s the same age as me and we talk about music and hang around when we’re not in class) and many, many other people, including my host brothers’ friends.

The Rotary has been extremely welcoming, accommodating, and many other positive ‘ing’ words. We’ve met as a district twice and each time most everything went great and I got to my host club’s meetings as often as I can, but they don’t really have them that often because they’re cancelled for holidays or moved to be a charity event on the weekend (like two weekends ago, we had this great event for building the Rotary presence in Vietnam and helping with the construction of schools there). The Rotarians here (and back home) have been very helpful and friendly.

I’ve been in France for almost two months now and it has definitely had its ups and downs just like the Rotarians and Rotex stated. Honestly, I didn’t think it would happen. When I was initially feeling sad or alone, I just dismissed it as being tired or just being an off day, then it lasted a week. I talked more with my Rotary, hung out with my new friends and stopped getting on Facebook and, guess what, just like how Rotary said, I got better. Now I’m talking with my host family more regularly (when I’m not trying to get these blog posts right) and enjoying the heck out of this exchange so far. Now, I’ve got to pack my bags for our family trip to Paris, until next time.

Danny Ochoa
2012-13 Outbound to Japan
Hometown: Sunrise, FL
School: Piper High School
Sponsor: District 6990,
Host: District TBA, Japan

Danny - Japan

Danny’s Bio

Konnichi Wa!

My name is Daniel Ochoa, but I prefer to be called Danny. I was born on September 25th 1994. I am 17 years old and currently a junior at Piper High School. There I am on the debate team. I like listening techno and rave music, reading about history from both World Wars, and playing RPGs (Role Playing Games). I tend to be a straightforward and generally easygoing guy. I have had much experience in talking in public and it seems to come naturally to me.

I am excited to be a part of this program. I remember hearing stories of people going to other countries to study for a year or two, but it didn’t seem like something that would be nearby. When my parents told me about the Florida RYE program, I was astounded! How can something so amazing be so close? The application was easy. The doctor and dentist forms were a little tedious but I got them done. Finally, I survived the interview. (Yes, survived it really brings into question what you want to achieve by joining).

Speaking of which, I hope to be able to learn Japanese well enough to understand the people in their native tongue. I started reading up on Hiragana and Katakana. I am learning from an iPod app and have burned a CD with full Japanese courses. The language appears to be very complex, but I am never one to turn down a challenge. I hope these few months until departure go by fast and I hope Japan doesn’t let me down.

Tinson Nhon
2012-13 Outbound to Belgium
Hometown: St. Petersburg, FL
School: St. Petersburg Collegiate High School
Sponsor: District 6950, FL
Host: District 1630, Belgium
The Rotary Club of Esneux-Aywaille

Tinson - Belgium

Tinson’s Bio

Bonjour, my name is Tinson I am seventeen years old, and currently a senior at St. Petersburg Collegiate High school. After I graduate, I will be going to Belgium through the Rotary Youth Exchange from 2012-2013 and I could not be more excited! I live in St. Petersburg, FL and I’ve lived here for all of my life. My parents however did not have the luxuries that I did growing up here since, they were born in Vietnam and worked so hard just to get to the states to have a better life for themselves, and I am so grateful for all of the support and help they have given me. I am currently a Fine Arts Major, and I eventually want to get a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Fashion Design. I haven’t really taken any formal art classes yet, except for the ones in Elementary school but I will be taking my first formal classes at SPC this semester so I am kind of nervous, and excited to see how that goes. Although I haven’t taken any classes, I kind of just draw on my own time and just keep on practicing in hopes that I will get better that pretty much consumes most of my free time as well as practicing yoga, going to the gym, and playing League of Legends or various games on my PS3. The first time I traveled was when I was five years old, and my parents surprised my brothers and I with a cruise to the Grand Caymans and Jamaica although I don’t really remember the details of that trip, I remember how much fun I had. After that I went on another cruise, and after fifth grade, I went to Vietnam to see my family that was still living there. Although travelling was fun, I didn’t fully enjoy all the joys of travelling until the summer after tenth grade, when I went up to DC on my own and visited my uncle. While there I got to go out and about DC on my own and it was so much fun, this helped me to realize how much there was to experience in this world. I feel like being an exchange student would just be one of the most amazing experiences in my life, and I couldn’t pass up an opportunity this great. I don’t really know what to expect from this exchange, but I plan on enjoying every experience to the fullest and using my surroundings for artistic inspiration.

Tinson’s Journals

This probably sounds so typical, but it’s only been two months and it’s extremely difficult to try to describe how wonderful my experience has been so far. It’s been pretty crazy but in the best way possible. It’s still a little surreal because sometimes I catch myself thinking oh my glob I’m in Belgium right now, and it just happened again while I was writing this sentence. I’m not really sure where to start but I guess I’ll start with my first impression of Belgium. Also sorry if I make a bunch of grammatical errors, my dad has already gotten on my case for that. I sent an e-mail to him and he was responded normally and at the end was your grammar is getting bad, and I was just like cool… love you too.

So it’s somewhat hazy, but I remember when I was on the plane and I was getting closer and closer to Belgium and I caught myself thinking ” What am I getting myself into?” But all of that doubt went out the window as soon as I landed got all my belongings and met my host family. I don’t really remember what it’s like to be an infant, but I felt like one as a sat in the car on my way to my new home, everything just seemed so new and unfamiliar and trying to absorb it all while listening to French. I think I would have a better chance of solving a crossword puzzle written in Sanskrit than I would of trying to describe all of the emotions and thoughts that were flooding my mind during my first couple of days in Belgium. I’m not sure but that flow might be constant and if that is the case I’ve gotten used to it. So I thought this was kinda funny but I left my family in Florida with two older brothers who were 23 and 26, and then I came to Belgiu m and my two host brothers are 23 and 25 which I just thought was weird but I probably think it’s funnier than most people. Also my host brother did his exchange in Florida so he speaks English really well, but we mostly communicate in French unless I don’t truly understand. I also have a host sister, but she’s in Argentina doing her exchange, however I did get to meet her 3 days before she left. I think I got extremely lucky with my host family and I don’t think I could’ve asked for a better one to start off with, I actually don’t want to switch host families although I know it’s inevitable. But I think one of the greatest things about my host family is that my host mom is extremely interested in the arts, and it’s just great to talk to her about the arts, and things. Although language is sometimes a problem, it’s slowly getting better.

While I’m on the subject of the arts, I am at a an Art school in Belgium called St- Luc Secondaire and I love it so much. St-Luc was not the school I was supposed to go to originally, in fact I was supposed to go to an English immersion school called Saint Veronique that my friend went to. Her name is Victoria and she was an inbound in Florida last year. Actually if I had not met Victoria I probably wouldn’t be at Saint-Lu at all. It’s because I was able to meet and talk to her father who is a Rotarian from my club (and also my neighbor here in Belgium) about my interest in the arts, and he set up everything for me to talk to the Director of St-Luc and I have him to thank for me being there. The students at my school have a genuine interest in art, and it’s awesome to be able to see their work and at the same time for them to see mine. School is so different here, I mean not only because the teachers speak French at light speed but also the general attitud e of the student body, and HOW LONG SCHOOL IS, 8:30 till 4:30 after going to Collegiate For example on Mondays I have a two hour math class, and after that I have 6 hours of Composition which is an art creation class and one of my favorite classes here. On Tuesday I start the day off with 4 hours of sketching, and we’ve done things like going to the Gare de Guillemins and just sketched whatever our heart desired, and we’ve also gone to the Botanical Gardens by my school to draw plants. Thursday I have sculpture which I don’t hate but I’m not a huge fan of sculpting. One of the strangest but coolest things that I’ve seen at my school is my science teacher. I mean this guy is the complete opposite of what I would expect a science teacher to look like. The first day of science class this guy walks in with a band t-shirt skinny jeans, and crossword puzzle converse on, and to top it all off he has an awesome mohawk it was awesome. Maybe not the coolest thing I’ve ever seen but probably somewhere in the top 20. Also I’m going to go to Venice with my school in March for 6 days and I’m so excited I want to explode. Sorry this post is such a disorganized mess, my head is all jumbled. I guess I’ll end this post with some random things that I’ve done in Belgium.

Well on my first day I ate this thing called Filet Américaine which is raw beef sometimes with spices sometimes not. I feel like most people would be put off by it I was at first, but it was actually so good that I couldn’t stop eating it. It was funny because it’s called an American Filet but it’s not American at all. Also I had mayonnaise with truffles for the first time and I was like oh that’s probably a Belgian thing so I went to a Friterie and asked if they had mayonnaise with truffles that I could dip my fries in and everybody that heard my broken French looked at me like I was crazy. I think one of the more embarrassing things that has happened to me so far is when I was in my sketching class and we were at the botanical gardens with my class and we were just sitting around sketching and talking. I take a step back to look at something and I fall into this thing full of water and plants, and my pants are soaked up to my calves and everybody started laughing at me including myself, but I wasn’t even surprised something like that happened to me because I’m so clumsy. One of the things that I hear most often is that I am always smiling, and people the Belgians at my school are like why are you so happy you’re in Belgium, but my answer is always the same I’m just like you would be smiling all the time too if you were on exchange, it’s inevitable. WELL I guess I’m going to end this post now, but I think I’m going to try writing in a journal to make this process easier, although that’s probably not going to happen.

A Bientôt,

Tinson Nhon

January 7, 2013

It’s incredibly difficult to believe that 4 months have already passed since I arrived here in Belgium when it only feels like yesterday that I was on my way to the airport. This period of my exchange is getting pretty weird because it’s almost time for me to change families. I suppose it’s weird because the home that I’m living at right now really does feel like a home, and once again I will be uprooting myself to experience another way of living. My family life is rather calm because everyone is usually off doing their own thing like school or work up until around 5 and then everyone just kind of settles in while my host mom cooks, and then usually around 7 we eat and everyone gathers to the table to eat. For me this is kind of weird because back at home I was just used to getting myself something to eat and I wouldn’t eat with my parents often because they would usually be at work. My host parents I enjoy going to museums and expositions so on the weekends if we have time we usually find an expo or museum to go to. I think of my favorites that we visited was a museum in Bruxelles that had a permanent exposition on René Margrite who was a Belgian surrealist artist, mostly because Surrealist art is probably my favorite kind of art. The last exposition that we went to was an exposition on Salvador Dali and I remember being in the gift shop looking at post cards when I saw some of the paintings that we have in the Dali museum in St. Petersburg, and it kind of just took me back home for an instant and it was a really surreal feeling. However it’s even more surreal that I’ve reached the point in my exchange where I will be changing families.I find it amusing that before my exchange there was this mixture of anxiety and curiosity welling in my stomach in anticipation of what was lying before me, and it’s kind of odd to experience it again during exchange. I have met my second host family already and the y seem like wonderful people it’s just going to be weird to have to get used to another new routine all over again. However that is exchange and I already have friends who’ve done it so I suppose there isn’t much to worry about.

I’m glad that changing schools isn’t something I have to do because I’ve made friends who have gotten to know me better, and that we’ve become so familiar with one another. It’s so different from when I first arrived there I just remember being lost in this giant crowd of students and not knowing where to sit so I just kinda sat by myself. Personally I’ve always been to shy to approach people that I don’t know but it’s something I had to do if I wanted to make some friends on exchange, and I suppose making friends is a good way to get a better grasp of French. Which has improved dramatically since I’ve arrived. Before I was hardly able to speak, and now I’m able to understand a lot of the things people say to me, and carry on a conversation. I’ve also had a dream in French so that was kind of exciting. Although I was talking to my professor and was saying that my French has gotten a lot better compared to before, but sh e then told me that I kind of talk like a child because I actually said that my french is getting a lot more better. A lot more better is something I’ve said in French so many times that I instantly became embarrassed and tried to correct myself but ended up saying it again. But I’ve gotta start somewhere I guess.

I find it a little bizarre not being able to drive myself around anywhere, or to school. However this doesn’t derange me too much because the transportation system here is awesome. You can get to a lot of places within the city just by taking a bus or walking, and the system seems to be pretty organized which makes it easy to take/ navigate. At first it was kind of weird to see how many people take the bus here, but after a couple of months I realized that sometimes it was more practical than having a car at least here it is. I guess one of my favorite things about the bus is that it allows me to get to my destination without having to focusing on the road and it just gives me time to relax and just think, and it’s kind of nice. Although I am usually greeted by rainy grey skies every morning, I kind of find it to be somewhat nice. I mean I suppose the weather is dreary, and there isn’t much sunshine but at the same time it just holds this air of tranquility th at I can’t really describe. Well I don’t really know what else to talk about, so I should probably go ride the bus some more and keep that for the next journal.

À Bientôt,

 April 11, 2013

Welp, I forgot where I left of on my last entry so I visited the site and ended up reading my previous entries, and it’s really really bizarre. I find it bizarre because it’s so weird to look back at what I was thinking, how I’ve changed, and how much time has passed since. Speaking of change, I will be changing to third host family this Sunday and I’m not sure what to feel. I’m actually not too sad to leave my second host family, because I’m going to come back every Tuesday to do Silat with my host dad. However it does make me a little sad to think about the great times that I’ve had with this family, and how much they’ve helped me. Specifically my host mom, because of her I’ve made so much progress on my end of the year project for school, which will be the first dress I’ve ever made and designed myself. I know that it’s not much, and that there are people who make dresses all the time, but I’ve been dreaming of this moment for the past three almost 4 years, and finally it’ feels like it’s starting to come together, and I can assure you that this would’ve never happened if I had still been in Florida. My host mom took me to the store where we looked at fabrics for over 2 hours without even realizing it, she encouraged me to do my best, and helped me with making the pattern. I can’t thank her enough or my host sister because she agreed to be my model, and because she deals with me getting all spastic over my project.

Speaking of school, the week before Easter break we went on a trip to Venice for 6 days where we went to various museums, and went around the city drawing the buildings and scenery. But to be honest the weather wasn’t too agreeable, and it was really cold. There was one point where we had snow, hail, and rain all in the same day. SNOW. IN. VENICE. I was with my friends and we were just like this is the worst joke in the history of jokes. It was funny cause I remember all of us being on the bus like hopefully it’s not too cold in Venice, maybe it will even be nice. We arrived in Jesolo where our hotel was and it was raining and we were just like greeaaatttt. Besides the weather the city itself was beautiful, and the people were wonderful. Well I had other friends from school who told us that the people were not nice at all, but I think they were only nice to me because one of my friends that I was in a group with spoke Italian fluently. I think that one of the greatest things about the trip was that I was able to get even closer with my classmates, there were nights where would we stay up late at night just talking, having a great time, and even though the weather wasn’t great a couple of the nights we went to the beach just to see it and to hangout there. I found it funny that for me 7 months of not seeing the beach was like an eternity but I had friends that haven’t seen it for over 2 years, and I was just felt so bad for thinking 7 months was long.

Besides that, nothing else has changed I’m still drawing all the time, and now I have a new project to consume my time and I’m so grateful. However I’m going to have to cut this short because I’m going to go see my neighbor’s cow have a c-section which I’ve never seen and I asked them to call me when they have one. I’m pretty excited and might take a video. Thanks for listening.

Katie Marshall
2012-13 Outbound to India
Hometown: Fleming Island, FL
School: Fleming Island High School
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District TBA, India

Katie - India

Katie’s Bio

Namaste! Hello! My name is Katie. I’m 17 years old, and a senior at Fleming Island High school. I’ll be spending next year in India! I’m so lucky to have this amazing opportunity, and I’m sure my year in India will be a fantastic one! I live in Fleming Island, Florida with my mom, dad, and younger sister Jenna, who’s 13 years old. We also have an older sister, Alyssa, who’s 19, and is going to school at UCF.

In my free time, I like to dance, play ultimate frisbee, bake, watch documentaries, write, and more than anything, hang out with my friends. Music has a huge part of my life. I play guitar and piano, write my own music, and my friends and I are always going to shows.

Going on this exchange has always been one of my biggest dreams, because for as long as I can remember, other countries, cultures, languages, and people have fascinated me. One day I’d like to work for the US Foreign Service, and quite possibly be an ambassador to the UN.

I’m so excited for my year in India, and I’m so grateful to everyone that has supported me, my friends and my family, and everyone involved in the RYE program for helping to make my dreams come true! Thank you all so much!

Sebastian Karlson
2012-13 Outbound to Norway
Hometown: Fleming Island, FL
School: Fleming Island High School
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District 2275, Norway, The RC of Sortland

Sebastian - Norway

Sebastian’s Bio

Hi, my name is Sebastian Karlson. I am a freshman at Fleming Island High school and also a rotary youth exchange student. Next year I will be spending a year in Norway!

I have two siblings, both of them are older than me. My oldest one is my sister, who is 18 and a student at Texas A&M. I also have an older brother who is 16 and is spending the year in Thailand on an exchange with the rotary. I love to play soccer, I play for Fleming Island High School as well as the Clay County Soccer Club. I also enjoy just listening to music or going out with friends. And i also have a job! I am a referee for youth soccer games. There were two people who mainly influenced me on my decision to do an exchange. The first one was my first exchange student, his name was Eric and was from Sweden. Before we got Eric if you had asked me if I wanted to to an Exchange I would tell you never in a thousand years. But after having Eric I was really began thinking about applying to be an exchange student. The second person who really made me want this exchange was my brother. As I have mentioned earlier he is an exchange student in Thailand, and after talking to him and hearing him speak another language and seeing pictures of how much fun he is having and all of the new experiences he is having I knew I wanted this exchange more than anything! I am most exited about going to Norway because of the language, and the snow. I have never lived where it snows like it does in Norway.

Thank you Rotary Youth Exchange for giving me this once in a lifetime opportunity!

Sebastian’s Journals

November 2012

It’s been a little over three months since I have arrived here in Norway, and I have loved every second of it. One massive difference I can think of right now is all of the snow! It started snowing around the 20th of October and it hasn’t stopped since. And as I found out I am not very good at winter sports as I have never really seen snow before now. For instance skiing on the water in Florida is much different than skiing on the snow in Norway. On the subject of sports I have finally been cleared to play soccer for a team here in Norway, and I get to play in my first match on Sunday. I also do a lot of different sports here than just skiing and soccer, the class I am in at school is a sports class so we do a lot of different sports almost every day. Some of which I would not think of to be fun, but to my surprise was a blast! For example I’ve done gymnastics a few times since I started school here and enjoyed it quite a bit.

I must say I got extremely lucky with having such an amazing host family. I have a great host dad and host mom and awesome host siblings. In fact I have three host brothers, so I am never bored at home. I have also met and been in contact with my second host family quite a bit and they seem great as well, so like I said I got extremely lucky with the host families.

It’s honestly hard to believe that I have already been here for three months as for I have constantly been doing stuff and time has flew! I have been to southern Norway for an inbound orientation camp and have also been to Tromsø, a city about five hours north of where I live right now. It’s amazing that I live so far north now so yes it is extremely cold but also there are amazing Northern Lights here. I have seen the Northern Lights probably about five times now and once was with other exchange students that came to visit me.

July 9, 2013

Wow I’m really sorry to Rotary on how late this journal entry is. It is amazing how quick time flies by, my exchange is almost over here and it went so fast. I had such an amazing year though there has been much sorrow as well. My time was shortened one month do to my father’s accident, but I can say I am happy to have returned to finish my exchange. If I hadn’t I would have missed all these great experiences I’ve had since then.

For instance my class trip to Björkliden has been one of my favorite moments of the year. Here in Norway they do school trips right, instead of taking a bus to the Zoo or a museum they really out do themselves on school trips. Mine this year was with my class when we went to a ski resort in northern Sweden called Björkliden. The first day we arrived there we were split into groups and we had to make snow caves to sleep in over night. This I can honestly say was not my favorite part of the trip, the best part were the two days after, when we were just allowed to ski all day. This I think is definitely the best memory I will have of my Norwegian class.

After Björkliden things for me didn’t slow down at all. About a week later my host family took me with them on a trip to Svalbard. Svalbard is the closest I ever see myself coming to the North Pole at 78 degrees North. The best part about Svalbard had to be the dog sledding. Before I came to Norway I’d of course wonder what I’d be doing here in Norway. And I knew I would probably end up doing a lot of skiing, but dog sledding? That I did not see myself doing, but I absolutely loved it!

I couldn’t name one favorite part of my year, that’s impossible! But I can definitely say that Eurotour is up there with the rest of the memories! The Norwegian Eurotour this year was like no other. It was truly amazing, instead of going to all the very touristy typical Eurotour cities in western Europe we went to eastern Europe! It was two weeks of traveling with some of the best people in the world, exchangers!

Overall I have had an absolutely fantastic year, a year I wouldn’t change a single part of. It hasn’t been an easy year, I have faced many challenges whether it was age related, language problems, or the decision to return to Norway and finish my exchange or not. But I can happily say that I feel like I made the right decision and am proud to have completed my exchange here in Norway.

Krista Hill
2012-13 Outbound to Denmark
Hometown: Jacksonville, FL
School: Paxon School for Advanced Studies
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District TBA, Denmark

Krista - Denmark

Krista’s Bio

Hej alle! My name is Krista and I will be spending the next year of my life somewhere in the small Scandinavian country known as Denmark!

I am a senior at Paxon School for Advanced Studies and will go on my exchange as a gap year. While everyone around me is anxiously awaiting acceptance letters to college, I will be studying up on my dansk! It is an amazing feeling to finally know where I will be going, and I am so excited for the years that lie ahead! I currently live with my sister, mother and maternal grandparents, and our two dogs, Daisy and Reuben. I also have my dad, step mom, step brothers, and half sister. It keeps things interesting :). I love to listen to music and read and draw and do all sorts of other crafty-type things.

A few years ago if you had told me I would be spending a year in another country as a foreign exchange student, I would have called you a liar. I didn’t think that exchange programs existed outside of high school movies. I first heard about Rotary Youth Exchange my first day of junior year, when I met an inbound named Mads who just happens to be from Denmark! A little later on in the year Bill Learn visited my school and I just knew that this was something I had to be a part of. Denmark really appealed to me because it is such a small and progressive little country. History is most definitely my favorite subject in school and I’ve always been fascinated with European and Scandinavian history in particular. The way the government provides so much for it’s people and how Danes emphasize equality and a high standard of living is amazing and very different from the views of so many here in America.

Danish will certainly be an interesting language to study. The language is very flat and some have said it sounds almost as if Danes talk with potatoes in their mouths :). Nonetheless, I will take this opportunity to learn a new language, culture, and lifestyle and run with it! I have lived in and around Jacksonville my entire life so I am super excited to get the opportunity to live away from home for a year and stay with families who are sure to be very different from my own. I would like to thank everyone who has made it possible for me to do this, I appreciate it so much! This is such a wonderful program and I wish that everyone had an opportunity to do something like this. Mange tak!

Taylor Grinnen
2012-13 Outbound to Russia
Hometown: Orange City, FL
School: University High School – Orange City
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District 2220, Russia

Taylor - Russia

Taylor’s Bio

Привет! My name is Taylor Grinnen and I am 16 years old. I am currently enrolled as a senior at University High School. I am graduating a year early because I have sufficient credits for graduation. This upcoming year, I will be a 2012-2013 Rotary Youth Exchange Outbound Student to Russia! I live in Orange City, Florida, located in between Daytona Beach and Orlando. I live with both of my parents, my younger sister, and our Golden Retriever named Kenzie. I have lived in Florida my whole life, but I often travel throughout the United States. I have only been out of the country twice on a cruise; we went to the Bahamas, Mexico and the Cayman Islands. At school I enjoy art, science and foreign languages. I am currently in my fourth year of Spanish, and my first year of French, and I can’t wait to start learning Russian. I also enjoy Biology and Marine Science. In school I am in the Spanish Club and the Literacy Club.

I am rarely ever bored; even the simplest activities will spark my interest. In my spare time, I really enjoy baking cookies, being with friends, fishing, going the movies, and traveling. Thank you Rotary for giving me this incredible opportunity to be a foreign exchange student! I am thrilled to go to Russia and I can’t wait to experience the culture and begin a new adventure.

Taylor’s Journals

February 18, 2013

I am now living with my second host family in a duplex house in the city centre. My family is really kind and welcoming to me, always treating me like family. My host mother and I get along really well.  Just the two of us went for a trip to St. Petersburg for two days, and we are going again tomorrow for 4 days.

Already I have traveled around Finland, Southern Russia, and Moscow region. In March my family and I are going to Prague and Vienna!

I have 3 host siblings: Sasha who is 17 and lives in Petersburg,  Vlad and Nastia are twins in the 7th grade. Since being with this family, I have joined art school which I go to on the weekdays. On the weekends, Sasha comes home and we do some activity and have a lunch on Sundays.

I attend a small private school with about 200 students. School is for 6 days a week from 9:00 until usually 2:10, each class lasts 40 minutes with 20 minute breaks in between. At this time students can do homework, talk with friends, walk around, play outside, or eat in the cafeteria.

The weather is very predictable here: cold with grey skies.

When I first arrived here in September, I was wearing shorts for two weeks, and one day I woke up to discover that winter had begun with a foot of snow on the ground. Now, winter is long, and most days cold. Anything above 10 F is considered warm. Most days are with grey skies, and only 8 hours of day light. Despite this, the occasional days of sun and frost are some of the most beautiful days I have ever seen!

• When entering the house, you must immediately remove your shoes (there is usually a special hallway for this) and put on house slippers

• Russians drink hot tea called chai. This was hard to get adjusted to (I was told that is traditionally 5 times a day), but now I always enjoy green tea with milk!

• They use the metric system. Although I now feel temperature in Celsius rather than Fahrenheit, I still can’t understand distance.

• People are really reserved and prefer to keep to themselves, and to the people they already know.

• People don’t have sleepovers. Friends are for in school, and for after school walks around town/going to cafes. In my 2 months with my second host family, not once have they had friends over at the house.

• The food here is very different in a very small way. Everything is heavier, but soup (which is eaten everyday, usually for lunch, or directly after school) is very watery, with a few vegetables.

• Juice here is delicious!  You can find it in any flavor of any fruit!  My favorites are Peach, Mango, and Apple with Pumpkin.

• Smetana is the sour cream of Russia. Russians love it and are proud of it and believe that it only exists in Russia.  They put this on everything!  Soup, cake, meat, sweets, bread, and just by the spoonful!

• ‘Salad’ to a Russian means something entirely different from my idea of salad. There are countless various kinds of salads, all consisting of small diced vegetables, small diced meat or fish, mixed together with mayonnaise or smetana. Similar to a potato salad, with more vegetables.

School goes up to 11th grade and there is school on Saturday

• In school, they use notebooks of graph paper, rather than lined paper

• People dress more formally for school, girls often wear high heels

• In USA it is expected that you be on time, you should be 15 minutes early. Here being on time is being 15 minutes late.

• Roads are in very poor conditions, often there are holes, cracks, and uneven or unflattened sections of the road.

• Almost everybody lives in apartment buildings which most often look plain and run down on the outside, but clean, small and modern on the inside

• Probably the first thing I noticed, is that almost always, the stairs start out tall, and gradually decrease in size as you ascend up a stairwell.  Or vice versa.  I have still not adjusted to this, and I frequently fall up and down the stairs!

• Houses have colored, scented toilet paper

• A public bathroom you may have to pay 10-20 rubles to use. You’ll be lucky if the public (or school!) bathroom has a toilet seat, you’ll be even luckier if they have toilet paper!

• There are larek at every bus stop and corner. Lareks are little huts that sell pirozhki, or individual baked pies of meat, vegetable or sweet.

• Clothes dryers don’t exist, everyone hangs their clothes on a clothes rack in the house which can can many days to dry.

Rotary did I really great job of preparing us for exchange! I am so grateful to Rotary to have given me this opportunity to live my dreams and explore another culture!

Rachael Russell
2012-13 Outbound to Denmark
Hometown: Freeport, GBI
School: Bishop Michael Eldon School
Sponsor: District 6990, GBI
Host: District TBA, Denmark

Rachael - Denmark

Rachel’s Bio

Hej, mit navne er Rachael! or Hi, my name is Rachael! if you speak English instead of Danish. In just 7 months I’ll be speaking Danish every day while I live in Denmark and hopefully I’ll be fluent in it a few months after I arrive. I’m nervous about being in a completely different environment, culture, everything but I’m immensely excited. I’ve wanted to be in the Rotary Youth Exchange Program for years and I’m finally on my way! This has been a dream of mine that seemed so far away but now it’s right in front of me. I can’t believe it. For right now, I live in The Bahamas and I have for my whole life. One of my best friends moved away and then came back to visit recently and we went to the beach. She said how beautiful it was and how lucky I was to be able to come to the beach in December/January and how close it was to my home but I hadn’t really given it a second thought. A beautiful beach has always been there for me to enjoy whenever I wanted and it was always close by – always only a couple minutes driving. Going to Denmark will be a huge transition but one that I am definitely going to embrace. I want to travel and experience all kinds of different things all over the world and this is a beautiful start. I live in a house with both of my parents, two of my younger sisters (I have two older ones who don’t live with me) and my younger brother, plus two cats and two dogs. There are only around 70,000 people on the island that I live on (Grand Bahama Island) and just over 300,000 people in the whole of my country. It’s very small compared to other countries like the U.S., which has around 301 million people, or Denmark with 5.7 million people. The Bahamas can’t even touch any of those countries! I’m currently in the twelfth grade but in August when I go on the exchange, I will have already graduated. I chose to do the exchange then because here in The Bahamas, we take exams called BGCSEs, very similar to GCSEs in the UK. The courses are usually 3 years each and taking a year off anywhere from tenth grade up would have disrupted my study and preparation for these exams completely so I would have had to repeat a grade. Doing it this way is more convenient and it gives me a chance to be free and not feel so much pressure of making very good grades because I will have already completed high school. At school, I play for our senior girls soccer team. I love soccer and we practice almost every day after school on the school’s field. I have so much fun and have made a few new friends from playing the sport. It provides me with regular exercise that I welcome. When I’m not at school, I go to the beach like I mentioned before. Sometimes I take so much about being here for granted but since I’m leaving soon to go somewhere so different and far away, I’m getting a better appreciation for my home. I go out with friends more, cherishing every moment. I love just being with people who make me happy, not matter where we are (even if we’re at school!). I love to laugh and make people laugh. Something that I like about myself is that I can laugh at myself – I don’t take myself too seriously and I love a relaxed environment where I can be myself and not feel any pressure from anyone to act differently. I love people who feel the same as me. Sometimes I might be a bit shy at first but then I can relax and have a good time. I really look forward to meeting new people through my exchange – other exchange students, members of my host family, Rotary members and the natives of Denmark. I also love to read. I read multiple books a month. I can get lost in any type of book – fiction or non-fiction – anything. I especially like historical books, fiction or non-fiction and also fantasy books. They’re my escape, taking me to different worlds and making it possible for me to travel all over the world (and beyond) even though I can’t move from my small island. I love watching movies with my family because it’s a way for us to bond. We enjoy something together and then can talk all about it later.

I attend church regularly and control the slideshow that displays the songs. I assist with the sound when needed and I love learning new things to do with it. My father leads the songs and plays bass at church while my mother organizes the Sunday school. I love to help out when I can at church and at my church’s you group called IMPACT! I’m one of the oldest and have often had to step up to a leadership role. In the summer of 2011, we went to a camp in Panama City, Florida and I was the female leader of our group because our original leader fell unexpectedly sick. Although this was unfortunate for her, I was glad for the leadership experience. I had a great time. Every June my church has a bible school where a team from North Carolina comes down to help and I always have a great time with them. I’m so excited to go to Denmark that I haven’t been able to explain exactly how excited I am to someone. I love history so much and Denmark seems rich in history and culture. I’ve always wanted to travel all over the world, to see everything that I possibly could but I never had the opportunity. Now that this is happening, I barely believe it. I’m going to Denmark! It’s crazy to think that. I know that I will have the time of my life over there and there will be no experience to match it. It will certainly be a year to remember. I can’t thank Rotary enough for this opportunity.

Nathalie Turnquest
2012-13 Outbound to Ecuador
Hometown: Freeport, GBI
School: Sunland Baptist Academy
Sponsor: District 6990, GBI
Host: District 4400, Ecuador

Nathalie - Ecuador

Nathalie’s Bio

Holaaaa 🙂 ! My name Nathalie Turnquest and I’ve recently been accepted to go to…..ECUADOR !!! I am extremely excited as a few years back my family & I hosted an exchange student from Ecuador, he was amazing and i can’t wait to meet more people like him!

I am 16 years old and I live in Freeport, Grand Bahama. I attend Sunland Baptist Academy where i am studying as a 12th grade student. I am and active member of my schools interact, drama and music clubs, these are activities i truly enjoy. In my spare time i enjoy reading, singing and spending time with family and friends. I am an outgoing person and I love to meet new people. I am also a part of the Grand Bahama Youth Choir where we are given the opportunity to sing for many important individuals and travel in the summer time. My family is very import to me being that we are close knit, they mean a lot to me.

I wanted to become an exchange student to gain this wonderful experience. I am excited to learn a new culture, language, meet new people and completely indulge in a new way of life !

I am so thankful to Rotary for allowing me the wonderful opportunity to go on this exchange and I cant wait to begin my journey !

Dakota DelValle
2012-13 Outbound to Finland
Hometown: Key West, FL
School: Key West High School
Sponsor: District 6990, FL
Host: District TBA, Finland

Dakota - Finland

Dakota’s Bio

My name’s Dakota DelValle and I’ve moved more times than there are letters in my name. The next place I will be moving to is Finland from 2012 to 2013 during my senior year of high school. I currently attend Key West High School, the southernmost high school in the continental USA. At Key West High School, I am in four clubs and on the school’s paper “The Snapper.” I live with my mother, my father, and occasionally my brother when he’s home from college. I frequently write, play ukulele, indulge in food and video games, knit, and practice my language skills. My parents were both in the Navy, so they have gotten their taste of the world, which has followed them throughout life. Subsequently, my brother was born in Germany and lived there with my parents for two years after. From those years, my family has kept up with the German language, throwing words and phrases here and there every so often and seeking out the best German restaurants and food.

Over the past few years the Spanish language emerged in our household from the classes I have taken and from what my father has picked up while working in South American countries. It is interesting that Spanish is not spoken in our house anyway as my father’s family is from Spain and Cuba. Now joining these languages is the difficult, but beautiful Finnish language, and I couldn’t be more excited. Hearing my parents’ tales of far off lands peaked my interest for new cultures outside of the U.S. as I yearn to travel to places that I have never seen before. Finland is a place that no one in my family has ever been to before so I will be the first to mark the territory as part of the DelValle’s adventures, ensuring that the legacy of our nomadic family will live on.