Outbounds 2015-2016

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

Abbey - Thailand

Hometown: Tallahassee, Florida
School: Lincoln High School
Sponsor District : District 6940
Sponsor Club: Tallahassee Sunset, Florida
Host District: 3330
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Don Tum

My Bio

Sawadeeka! Hello! My name is Abbey Schultz. I’m 15 and currently a sophomore at Lincoln High School. I’m going to be spending the next year of my life in Thailand and I am very excited (and nervous) for this awesome experience. Lets just say the language is coming along well, but moving on, more about me.

I play volleyball for the Tallahassee Juniors Club and my favorite subjects are Chinese and AP Human Geography. I am also in Symphonic band and play the clarinet. I am an assistant volunteer for my sister’s girl scouts and I’m a member of my school’s Interact club. One of my special hobbies is cosplaying. Cosplay is when you dress up as your favorite character from either a book, show, or video game and go to conventions like Comic Con and have a blast.

As you can see from the country I’m going to, I love the Asian culture from their traditions to their food. My room is practically like walking into an Asian museum. I also love to read books like the Mortal Instruments Series. I have a little brother and little sister who drive me up the walls on many occasions and a cat who is the cutest little thing. I have been wanting to study abroad since I was in eighth grade, and I still can’t believe this is actually happening to me. I’m so happy that I get to have this chance of a lifetime to go to Thailand thanks to my District 6940. I can’t wait for what’s to come during this adventure.

 JOURNALS: Abbey-Thailand 2015-16

§   Abbey, outbound to Thailand

I have been in Thailand for about 3 months now. I can’t describe in one report how happy I am for getting selected to go to Thailand. The whole month of October was Midterm Break for Kongthong Wittaya School. I really thought not being able to see my friends for a whole month would be terribly boring, but that was an understatement!

The first week of my break I got to go on a field trip with my class. We went to a little farm and learned about economics. When I first heard that we were going to learn about economics, I just thought whatever I’ll sit through a three hour lesson not understanding anything, but it turned out to be very fun since it was all about using empty water bottles. I learned I could make a water bottle into a toilet paper holder! The field trip was so much fun, everything was just really chill and fun a.k.a we learned nothing except how to be creative with empty water bottles.

During the midterm break, I actually got to hang out with my tomboy friends a lot. I would go to school, and just play a whole bunch of sports with them. One time, I played sports with my friends for 12 hours. I was beat! I also got to go to a Tug-of-War tournament with my tomboy friends for 2 days which was awesome. Later on in the break, I got to go to Chiang Mai with my host family. You think we would go to see all the wonders that Chiang Mai holds, but every day we just went to different restaurants and cafes to eat.

My host brother loves to eat! He is an EATING MACHINE, but don’t get me wrong when I say I enjoyed it very much as well! Each café and restaurant had its own theme either being very weird like IBerry Café or being very cute like the café’s with all the sweets and chocolate’s (ugh now I am hungry and I am typing this report at 8 in the morning in school). If you ever go to Chiang Mai, eat Khao Soi. It is known in this region of the north of Thailand to be very delicious and believe me i t is! Next, I got to go to Phuket with my foreign exchange friends!

The first two days where like survival challenges from dragging, climbing, and plunging my way throughout a cave swarming with bats in the dark in a pair of sandals to having a 6 hour hike up a mountain where I had to climb up trillions of steep stairs to steep hills (lucky me I didn’t fall in the mud or get leeches wahahahahahaha).

My friend Natsuko (from Japan) has never been in the woods, so when we were 5 hours done with our hiking journey, I asked her (while her foot was bleeding)… “So what do you think of being in the woods???” She is truly innocent when she said she liked it hahaha!

After those two days of pure survival, we got to go see the beautiful islands of Phuket. Yes! They were extremely beautiful when I say the water was so clear and blue to the sands being pure white. I also got to see Leonardo Dacaprio Island which was beautiful in every way. I am happy to say I barely got sunburned because Phuket was very very very hot. In Phuket, we got to go see a Transgender Simon Star show which was so cool and hilarious. The women were so so beautiful even though they were actually men hahaha!

While in Phuket, all the girls including me went crazy over these cheap bohemian looking pants. Every time we would see one we would go and buy one. They are just so comfortable and relaxing! By the time I got back from Phuket more fun was still in store!!!

I got a package from my aunt filled with tons of candy, I got a lot of exercise in, I got to go swimming, and I got to hang out with my friends!! For the first time, I got to go see a 4D movie in Thailand, and it was fricking amazing. I went to see the Last Witch Hunter with my host family and Natsuko. If it snowed in the movie, it would snow on us; if there was fire in the movie, there would be smoke on us; if there was rain in the movie, there would be rain on us, etc. It was so so so awesome I recommend anyone coming to Thailand to go see an action movie in 4D!!!

By the time I actually payed attention to the days going by, school started again! I was happy to see all my friends again, but I hated waking up early in the mornings all over again. Then Halloween came. I knew coming to Thailand, I probably wouldn’t be celebrating holidays from America, but I was totally wrong. My host family had a Halloween party it was spooktastic wahahaha! I got to invite my foreign exchange friends, dress up as a penguin, and eat a whole lot of chicken wings and candy! It was also my host mom’s birthday on Halloween, so I got to eat tons of cake too!!!

So yeah! That has been my month. I am going to school having an awesome time when I am not falling asleep in class.

Sun, November 29, 2015

§   Abbey, outbound to Thailand

Here are some things I have done so far: I got to go to Tiger Temple and pet a tiger. I got to go to Saiyoknoi Falls and walk across a bridge with a very beautiful view of the river. I also got to experience yoga in Thailand, and it was very difficult in the end. I also got to go to one of the biggest birthday parties I have ever been to in my life for one single Rotarian (If only I can have a birthday party like the one I went to). I got to go exercise at the beautiful Mahidol University with my second host family. I got to experience a retirement ceremony at school for one of my teachers. I got to take the English Exam at my school. I got to go to Ratchaburi, go inside an incredibly beautiful cave, and see tons of bats soar through the sky. I got to go to Mae Klong, Samut Songkhram, and Don Hoi Lod. I got to go on a field trip with my class to learn about economics which was surprisingly really fun. I got to teach little kids English and go to a mall Japanese themed. I also got to go to Siam in Bangkok which was a very amazing and a very indescribable experience.

Sports/Friends: So pretty much every day I have been going to school to hang out with my friends (even though midterm break has started). Each day is different from spending so many hours to playing Ping-Pong to running and doing exercise. I also get to watch my friends play Tug-of-War which is very cool. I really wanted to play the sport at the beginning, but everyone made a big deal that my hands would hurt. Many Thais want to have white, pale skin, so since I’m white my hands will hurt, but that is just the culture. They say I can play now, but I am so embarrassed that I still have to think about it. Also, I get to play Muey Thai with my friends and volleyball which is fun. I also got to go eat out with my friends at my favorite restaurant, Steak Nathimp. I eat here literally all the time that the people who work there remember me.

Literally hanging out with my friends has been the best part of my exchange so far. From playing pranks on each other to taking tons of photos yelling “Capture!!!”I remember the times my friends and I walked home throwing ice at each other to riding home at night with them in the back of a truck while they sing very loudly. My friends are crazy, but I love them. I also love going to the market every Wednesdays with my friends and buying Nam Dang Soda (very delicious). Something that I have noticed is that my friends have known each other for a long time because middle school and high school are connected here in Thailand, so they are always in the same classes. I have only met my friends in August and there is a little language barrier, but I am already so close to them and they accept me into their lives just like that. This makes me feel very special for having met such wonderful people. They take care of me and hang out with me and really include me in everything they are doing. It just makes me really happy that I have such awesome friends that I can count on for anything.

Cultural Mistakes: For exchange students coming to Thailand, you are bound to make culture mistakes. You would be the greatest exchange student of all time in Thailand if you only made so little, but as for me I make culture mistakes constantly. I have waded while holding shoes in my hands towards teachers so many times that I have to apologize for forgetting. I almost shook hands with a monk and had to apologize for not knowing. I have kicked a coin, and had to apologize because it is respectful since the king is on it. I have worn improper clothing to a funeral, and many more things, but if you apologize and learn from your mistakes. People will understand because you didn’t know.

Exchange is a learning process. No one said it would be perfect, but the key to not letting these culture mistakes ruin your exchange or make you feel bad ( because I am a sensitive person) is just to apologize and build off of them. Also some things that have gotten hard for me, and my get hard for future exchange students is the word “Farang”. Being different looking and everything really makes you stand out so a lot of the students who I don’t know at my school like to make fun of me by shouting “Farang” at me either walking past me or behind my back, and say other things as well. I don’t like it, but I learned to ignore it by talking with people about how I feel. I also got really good friends who stick up for me if they see it to.

So for those students who you just don’t know but like to hurt your feelings. They are not important. Don’t let them ruin your exchange because people will stick up for you if you just take the effort to talk to someone. Now some people are going to try to be funny, but not in an insulting way, you just learn how to joke back and everyone becomes buddy buddy, but believe me some people just take it to far like this one guy kept yelling at me “Very good.”, “Your Beautiful”, “I love you” while I was playing volleyball with my friends. Believe me it was so embarrassing and I kept giving him weird looks, but he just thinks he’s being funny when in reality he is totally creeping me out. That fact alone makes me not really care because I found it funny that he was pretty much making a fool out of himself. Go with the flow, speak out if you’re upset, and just don’t let the simple things get to you and you will have a blast on your exchange.

I love Thailand and I am glad that I didn’t get any other country.

Mon, October 5, 2015

§   Abbey, outbound to Thailand

Intro: I don’t know how to begin this report because I have done so many amazing things so far in Thailand that it is indescribable. When I arrived in Thailand I got to go see the biggest temple in all of Thailand in Nakhon Pathom (my province), go to the ZOO to take a picture with an elephant, and celebrate a truly special holiday that I wish it became more important in America, Mother’s Day. Oh Yeah! I should probably start off saying my name is Abbey. I am from Florida in America. I am living in Thailand for ten months as an exchange student in Nakhon Pathom province in Don Tum.

Daily Stuff: The house I am staying at is really cool and very big. I leave from my house and walk to school around 7:30a.m. Monday through Friday. It is very difficult for me to eat in the morning just because in America I was always too lazy to make myself breakfast before. It is even more difficult because I feel like I am eating dinner for breakfast like how some people eat pizza for breakfast. Blaaaahhhh!!! But I am getting use to it, and eating good amounts unlike the first week that I was in Thailand I ate very lightly. My host family was so worried because I ate very small amounts of food, but no they just eat a lot!!!!!

School and Friends: I never thought I would fit in the shoes of a celebrity, but at my school I truly feel like a superstar. Everyday students say Hello to me, shake my hand, or want a picture with me. As you can see my school has never had an exchange student and almost all the students in my school has never seen a foreigner except on TV. One time this girl screamed my name, hugged me, and walked away. Then there are some students who try to make fun of me or call me a farang (white foreigner) even though they know my name, but I just ignore that silliness because it is too small to make a big deal out of it.

Also at school, a lot of the students ask me if someone is handsome or beautiful. I tell the girls they are beautiful, but when it comes to guys I tell them I have no clue. Ok! There was this one time where I called a guy beautiful because in my mind he truly was. Also, everyone always wants me to sing a song even though I am really bad at it, but I just sing badly in the end to get it over with!!

Oh my gosh!!! I love my classmates. I am really close to a lot of them and I like that I can be myself around them and have fun. My friends and I always stay after school playing volleyball, ping pong, or that sport that I forgot the name to, but it is this little ball that you try to keep up in the air, but you can only use your head and feet. One time I played it, I kicked the ball, and I ended up kicking myself in the face. Spectacular!

Every Wednesday, after school I go to the market with my friends and buy sweets. I love to buy Nam Dang Soda! It is very delicious. Also, one time at school, I was sitting in my physics class and the teacher was looking at the boredom swirling all over my face (usually in classes that I don’t understand I study Thai writing) and he said I could draw on the walls. I got really confused like you want me to draw on the school walls even though I am not an artist, and he said yes, so I used my creativity and drew a bunch of really random things. I think I quoted from Finding Nemo, “Fish are friends not food,” on one of them. It was awesome!

A lot of my friends at school are really overprotective when it comes to me, which shows they care so I don’t mind. My friends walk home with me every day and won’t let me walk alone during school. I always have to be guided. Also, they always buy me things even though I have money which makes me feel bad in the end. They also fan me if it looks like I am really hot from the sun, but I tell them I am ok. It is very HOT in Thailand though!!! My friends look after me a lot, but I love them!!!! Also, there is this one guy at my school. He is in the middle school part of my school, and he really really likes me. He is so adorable because he is so small and cute. One day he gave me this key chain with a little doll with Thailand written on it. Awwww He is just so adorable!!! Also, one of my friends at school braids my hair every day and she is amazing at it. She has mastered the sacred art of braiding!!!! My friend in America needs to become her disciple!!!!!

Neat fact! When it rains in Thailand, it really rains hard. My school always ends up flooding. It is hilarious and cool at the same time, because all the students are soaking wet and dragging themselves through the flooded road to the school while my friends and I just stay in the buildings and play ping pong.

Stuff: I had my first inbound orientation at Hua Hin (where I first used a squat toilet; it is not as bad as you think) which was really fun because I got to meet all the other exchange students from around the world along with very beautiful scenery. These past couple of days I went to a temple and saw monks, the Palace in Nakhon Pathom, and the Floating Market in Ampowa. The coolest part to Ampowa was seeing all the fireflies light up the trees. There were thousands of them. It looked like Christmas with a tinge of hot weather.

Sport Day: My school had Sport Day these past three days which was so much fun. I finally got to play volleyball competitively which rocked and I got to play a game with the volleyball teachers against their students which was fun. I also got to dress up in a Thai traditional outfit and walk in a parade with the tallest pair of high heels I have ever worn in my life which was extremely painful, but still rocked since I got to dance at the front of the parade. I also got to see my friends do Chokaye (Tug of War) which apparently my school is known for.

One of my friends is really really athletic!!! She competed in basketball, soccer, tug of war, volleyball, running, and who knows what else. She gave me one of her first place medals which I love her for, but my volleyball team got a second place medal, so I got a medal with my own endurance and strength. Ha! Also, Sport Day was so much fun that I just had to even it out with a really bad sunburn that is really painful, but hope fully it will go away soon!!!!

My Understanding So Far: Something I am really grateful for in America is health insurance. Sometimes it is really sad to see others who are not in the best conditions. One time I went to the market with my host sister and it was really crowded, and there was this lady dragging herself on the ground to get to her destination. Also, when I went to the Floating Market, there was many blind people singing to get money. They have to work so hard every day to keep themselves going, and it just makes me really sad to see something like that, but it helps me to realize more things that I am grateful for and build maturity. Also there are many stray cats and dogs. I am an animal lover and when I see these dogs not in good conditions it also makes me really sad.

Note For Future Outbounds: It is ok to make culture mistakes. Everyone will understand that you didn’t know. The only reason I am saying this is because one time I was at a temple and one of the monks was greeting me with my YEO. He was holding his hand out like he wanted me to shake it like the students at my school do, so I was about to shake his hand when my YEO quickly pulled me back. I was so confused and kept saying sorry in Thai and bowing over and over again, but apparently monks are not supposed to touch women. I was so scared I thought I was going to have a heart attack, but the monk understood that I didn’t know and was laughing at me. So it was all good. Hahaha!

Finale: My time in Thailand has truly been amazing so far. I already can’t imagine leaving my friends when the time comes. Luckily I haven’t gotten homesick yet, and I hope it stays that way!!! I didn’t even tell you guys how I said a speech in Thai in front of 1,000 students at my school (Kongthong Wittaya) which no one understood! Hahahaha!!!!!

Fri, September 4, 2015


Alex - Japan

Hometown: Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
School: Suncoast High School
Sponsor District : District 6930
Sponsor Club: Jupiter-Tequesta, Florida
Host District: 2770
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Kawaguchi North

My Bio

こんにちわ!私のなまえはアレクスです。Hello! My name is Alex, and I’m a 10th grade student at Suncoast Community High School in Riviera Beach, Florida and I live in a small city called Palm Beach Gardens with my mother and father. My favorite activities are reading, watching movies, going out with friends, and studying philosophy. Philosophy in particular is one my passions, and I belong to the Philosophy Club at my school. Hopefully, I’ll be able to find a similar club at my host school in Japan. I’m an anime and manga fan, and I’ll often spend time watching and reading those.

I’ve always wanted to be an exchange student, particularly to Japan, so one can imagine just how excited I was when I heard that not only was I accepted into the RYE program, but to my first choice country! Although I’m very passionate about understanding other cultures in general, I am especially looking very much forward to immersing myself in the Japanese culture for a year. I have lived in other countries in the past, but never have I lived in such a radically different country like Japan. As such, I hope to be a good ambassador of the American culture during my exchange and to break down cultural stereotypes with the people that I meet. Wish me luck!

Journals: Alex – Japan 2015-2016

  • Alex – Outbound to Japan


Hello everyone, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?

Although the New Year has come and passed, it’s hard to believe that it’s already Valentine’s Day, 2016. It seemed like it was just a few months ago that I came to Japan, but my exchange is already about halfway over.

Considering the time period from Christmas from to the end of the New Year Festivities is traditionally the most important and festive time of year in the US, I thought it would be a good opportunity to note how the holidays in the US and Japan (including today’s very own Valentine’s Day) differ.

While in America, Christmas Day is considered to be quite likely the single most important family day of the year (and not just for Christians), in Japan, it’s a day for couples as opposed to family. People often take their significant other out for dates at luxurious restaurants (with reservations weeks in advance), go together to a resort for the weekend, and the like. It’s not uncommon for most family members to eat separately from the rest of the family with their partner. Moreover: turkey isn’t really available in Japan. They eat KFC on Christmas Eve instead (apparently it was a trend started by foreigners living in Japan wanting to substitute for turkey).

Instead of Christmas, which is a relatively new holiday in Japan, the more important day of the years-end time period is the New Year, or お正月. Japanese people clean out their houses (similar to spring cleaning, in a way), relatives all gather and have reunions, friends and family party, and many visit shrines and pray for good fortune for the next year. Many people also perform what is known as 餅つき (mochi-tsuki), or “making the rice cake”, which is traditionally done around the year-end, and is a ritual which both ties the community together and lets one eat a deliciously-prepared rice cake. Essentially, a large amount of rice is put in a holder, and two men then hit the rice with a large hammer and knead the rice for consistency (about 100 times in total).

After the start of the new year, people will often first greet people they have not seen since the last year with あけましておめでとうございます, or “Happy New Year!” Traditionally, Japanese people also have two weeks after the start of the new year to go to a shrine for good luck.

After the New Year, people get back into the regular routine of things until the next major holiday. Valentine’s Day, while a day associated with love, is not quite the same here in the Land of the Rising Sun as back home. To begin with, only women give chocolates (usually to men, yes, but often to their friends as well). The favor is returned a month later on White Day, when men give back (a noticeably larger quantity of) chocolate to those who gave them the sweets. Couples may often go on special dates, but it’s not required nor necessarily expected, and the gift-giving of chocolate is the main part of the holiday.

Aside from Japanese holidays, I’ve been enjoying myself quite greatly in my everyday life here. School life is easy-going and fun in general, but I particularly look forward to the after-school club activities.

Every week, on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, I attend 書道部, or Japanese Calligraphy Club. Although clubs exist in the US, they rarely hold the cultural or social significance that they do here — kids often feel school is worthwhile because they get to attend club. To illustrate this, let me make a comparison: In America, every student (and almost every teacher) had to leave the school grounds by four PM, virtually no exceptions. Here in Japan, that limit is often 7 or 8 PM, and most students do, in fact, stay until the latest possible time.

At first, being at school for such a comparatively extremely long period of time was very off-putting for me, and thus I rarely attended any club. However, I slowly began to realize that this wasn’t just necessarily an example of Japanese 頑張り過ぎ(trying too hard, to the detriment of the actor), but that, unlike in the US, people in Japan made their real school friends and felt most themselves within the context of these activities. These activities, to them, weren’t really just an extension of school, but a great use of the little free time they had. I realized that if I was ever to really integrate myself into Japanese school culture, I also had to more regularly attend club and for a few days a week, be at school for over 11 hours.

For American students (and European ones too, apparently), it sounds quite difficult, but for calligraphy at least (I can’t speak for the sports clubs, which are particularly intense and practice every day), club is quite relaxing and a good way to de-stress and disconnect from the rest of the day. Japanese calligraphy is intricately connected with the Buddhist tradition of Zen in Japan, and often emphasizes “emptying one’s mind to let the words write themselves”. Although I’m still quite the beginner at the millennia-long practice, I’d like to continue practicing and learning even after my return to the US.

For the time being, I’ll continue improving my skills and friendships at school here in Japan, and enjoying every day with the knowledge that I truly am lucky to be able to have this incredible experience — and with the slightly melancholy realization that I only have a few months left in the best year of my life so far.

Sun, February 14, 2016

  • Alex, outbound to Japan


I’m currently in D2770, Saitama Prefecture, Japan, right outside of Tokyo, and arrived the 23rd of August, 2015. It’s been a little over two months since I’ve gone on exchange and quite a lot has happened.

Experiences had: Having lived in Saitama for over two months now, I can feel that I have immersed myself ever deeper into the culture and lifestyle of Japan. I’ve gone to all the major cities in Tokyo, such as Akihabara, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, Shibuya, Odaiba, and the like, travelled to other prefectures and seen the Japanese countryside, and familiarized myself with my city.

It’s definitely a humbling experience to go and see sights where one thousand years ago, people prayed to local gods and spirits. Similarly, it’s breathtaking to see castles that have stood for centuries, or to visit the Imperial Palace, where the royal family (a line unbroken for two millennia) resides.

Japan is an ancient culture that has long been isolated and free to develop by itself, and thus still has feats of architecture and engineering that are much older than either of my home countries (Colombia and the US). Seeing, touching and feeling these works of art (and of war) puts my existence in perspective. In front of me, there is a piece of culture, a fragment of a nation’s emotions, aspirations, and desires, that is much older and ancient than all of the places that I can trace my own heritage back to. That feeling allows me to really appreciate the vastness of the world.

Feelings: There are definitely ups and downs to exchange. No one has an exchange that’s all roses and rainbows, but very few people have exchanges that are truly bad.

It’s all a matter of how one views it. It’s easy to believe that after a bad week (or two), that the rest of exchange will be equally unpleasant, or even worse. However, one will often find that, given enough effort and luck, the next day will be much more enjoyable and rewarding. For every boring, bad, stressful, or sad day, there will usually be many more that are good or fun.

But more than that, the entire experience of exchange makes one grow as a person – seeing new things and meeting new people, allows one’s view of the world to expand. Both times, the sad or frustrating and the happy and joyous one, give one a chance to learn and understand.

Overall, I personally have felt quite comfortable and content (that’s Japanese hospitality for you), but I do remember some days where I’ve felt bored or frustrated. The key is to not let it get to you too much – every day only happens once, after all. Savor the good things and let the bad ones pass.

Language: Every day I’m here in Japan, I fall slightly more in love with the Japanese language.

Japanese is what is known as an agglutinative language, which means that (similar to languages such as German or Korean), in Japanese, words are constantly put together to form longer and more complex words. This is usually done by way of adding together kanji (漢字), or a set of about 2000 logographic characters borrowed centuries ago from Chinese. For instance, the kanji 今 (now) and日 (day) can join together to make今日 (today). Similarly, the kanji for Japan (日本) can join with the kanji for person (人) to form “Japanese person/people” (日本人).

While on that topic, it’s a common misconception that the Japanese writing system is impossible for foreigners to figure out. It’s true that it’s more complex than English, where a simple alphabet is used, but the complexity of the Japanese writing system adds to the character and beauty of the language (while still being reasonable).

Japanese uses two syllabaries, which are similar to an alphabet, but where each letter/character represents an entire syllable as opposed to a mora, or just a part of a complete syllable. Each of these has 46 characters, with some diacritics added when the sound needs to be slightly changed: さ(sa) → ざ (za). In total, slightly over 100 sounds exist in Japanese, so this system of having one character for every possible sound works quite well (in English, we would need thousands of such characters to adequately express phonetics). However, Japanese also uses a set of logographic characters borrowed from Chinese (common usage include just over 2000 characters).

This may be daunting for people used to alphabets, but the meaning of these kanji are rationally built. For instance, combining the kanji for “day/sun”日 and “birth” 生 gives “star” 星. The birth of a day is caused by a star, right? As such, learning kanji isn’t simply memorizing 2000 (far more in Chinese, by the way) isolated characters, it’s building upon less than two hundred radicals (building blocks). Here’s another fun example: writing the kanji for “tree” 木 three times gives “forest” 森.

For those of you thinking about going on exchange to Japan (or Taiwan, where many more kanji are used), or anywhere at all, but are worried about the language: don’t worry. Languages can be very different, at times even seemingly bizarre, but they always seem logical to the people who speak them. Problems often arise when trying to think “in English in Japanese [or any other language]”, but this is not because the language is intrinsically difficult, but because we are accustomed to thinking about grammar, vocabulary, and indeed, language in the way that our own native tongues view them. The most significant obstacle is thinking like a native speaker (for instance, in Japanese, thinking more about grammatical particles than about word order, since word order is important in English, but not in Japanese). After that, it’s (mostly) smooth sailing. So if worries about the language are making you hesitate to go on exchange, don’t worry: you can figure them out.

Everyday Life: I go to school five times a week, participate in the school’s calligraphy club, and spend most of my time either at school, with my host family, or hanging out with friends. And, of course, studying Japanese.

I go once a week to Rotary meetings (which have provided, I think, a good way to keep track of my progress on Japanese, since I need to give a weekly speech), and about once a week to other, miscellaneous Rotary events.

Observations about cultural differences: Japan has often been described as a very traditional, rigid, culture. Drawing from its “samurai roots” and its “Confucian culture”, Japan, even in the modern world, is sometimes seen as a rather moralistic, old-style society.

In some ways, this can be seen as true: respect for authority and one’s elders is paramount here, following instructions unquestioningly is the norm, interpersonal respect and distance is highly valued. But in other ways, it’s not really true at all: there is often more cultural innovation in Japan, with works of art containing values and actions that are quite contrary to the rigid moralism of traditional societies (or even today’s modern world), there are entire cities (literally) dedicated to sex, alcohol, love, and niche artwork that one can go to without being stigmatized by mainstream society, also entire cities dedicated to wild fashion and acute levels of self-expression that would simply be badly seen in other countries (would you really resist the urge to stare at a vampire maid girl walking down the street in the US? In Japan, it can be normal).

As such, I find that the traditional spectrum of “traditional to liberal” to be inadequate for expressing the character of the Japanese culture – or any culture, for that matter. It’s easy to want to divide societies, nations, peoples, and individuals into neat little boxes, “conservative” or “liberal”, but the reality of the world is more complex. People don’t think on spectrums, and if they do, they think on so many varieties and quantities of them that any particular one likely has little meaning with regard to the entirety of a culture.

People are people wherever you go, and the same complexity and richness of personality that one finds in some people in one’s native land can easily be found elsewhere as well. Some people are rebellious both in the US and in Japan, some are conservative and genteel, most tend to be in the middle and act accordingly, sometimes preferring one or the other depending on the situation and context.

In general, it’s true that Japan has a tendency to be more conservative and quiet than in the US, but yet this is also a misconception because it implies that the Japanese are always like this, when they can, in fact, show a richness, subtlety, and powerfulness of expression in private (or when drunk) that Americans often simply wouldn’t be able to express.

Final Thoughts: Overall, I’m really quite joyous with regard to my life here in Japan, and truly excited to experience the rest of my exchange!

Thanks so much to the Rotarians and volunteers who have enabled me to go on this amazing journey and to grow (as I feel I have) as a person — your efforts have been received with much gratitude. Once again, thank you.

Sat, November 14, 2015


Allison - Czech Republic

Hometown: Sanford, Florida
School: Seminole High School – Sanford
Sponsor District : District 6980
Sponsor Club: Sanford (Breakfast), Florida
Host District: 2240
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Kroměříž

My Bio

Ahoj! My name is Allison Miller and I will be spending a year in the Czech Republic! I am currently 17 and I have lived in the small city of Sanford, Florida for my entire life. I am a senior attending Seminole High School and I will be graduating in May 2015. I have been involved in the National Art Honor Society at my school for 3 years now and this year I am serving as the chapter secretary. I live with my parents, younger sister, our three cats, and two dogs. I currently work at the Patio Grill in Sanford and I volunteer at the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando’s Sanford branch. I absolutely love volunteering and helping the pets find a home. After I return, I hope to major in Art History or Literature.

I have been extremely lucky to have been accepted to Rotary Youth Exchange. I was lucky to even have been able to apply for this opportunity and I am even luckier to receive the support of my family, friends and teachers on this journey. I am so glad I am going to the Czech Republic since it was one of my top five. It will be a real challenge to teach myself another language but it is entirely worth it because of the adventures I will have.

Journals: Allison – Czech Republic 2015-2016

  • Allison, outbound to Czech Republic

Now that the big climax to any European exchange is over and gone, an odd feeling is left. I have seen and done so much and I’ve been here for what is nearing nine months but it all feels like a dream. Even in the moment. Even when standing atop the Eiffel Tower, or in the Colosseum, or on La Rambla in Barcelona, it feels surreal. It’s something akin to what F. Scott Fitzgerald describes in The Great Gatsby as a feeling of being “within and without.” It feels as if everything I have done is merely a fact like the ones you read in your high school history textbook. But looking back, even though it feels like facts from a textbook, they’re part of my own fairytale. A fairytale with ups and downs and unfortunately an end. That great long awaited trip of my year was possibly the best two weeks of my life. Two weeks crammed into narrow hostels in great cities, sharing food, naps in the sun and countless hours and miles of walking and riding in a bus with the seventy plus people that I am so lucky to know. Even the feelings of temporary discomfort and anxiety that arose are precious memories. And now all of this has me in a state of “now what?” I am nearing the end of this chapter in my life and I am determined to make these last times the greatest and to keep the goodbyes that will be inevitably said as far from permanent as possible.

Tue, May 3, 2016

  • Allison, outbound to Czech Republic

I believe wholeheartedly that I have been extremely lucky. In every way possible, I am extremely lucky.

I am lucky to be in the most beautiful place I have ever been in my 18 years. I am lucky to have a host family that makes me feel like I have lived with them my entire life and I am lucky to support close. I cannot even begin to imagine where I would be and who I would be if this exchange process went differently.

Kroměříž is the most amazing place I have ever been. There is so much history surrounding you even when you walk the 15 minutes it takes to go to the Lidl. As the former seat of the bishops of Olomouc, Kroměříž retains is religious past with one of the main attractions here: the Archbishop’s Chateau and Gardens. I have had the opportunity to see the Czech Republic’s best violinist live in the great Baroque hall of the chateau. We also have the great French style Baroque gardens which are the most stunning gardens I have ever seen.

Czechs are extremely active in the summer and into the fall. So far, I have biked 35 km (22 miles), climbed 60m (196 ft) to the top of a minaret, and have hiked about 10km on the tallest mountain in Moravia. The nature is so beautiful that I wish I could just carry it with me everywhere. It is so absolutely breathtaking that I wish I could describe it in words.

Orientation recently ended and it took place in Strečno, Slovakia. It is amazing how fast all the inbounds have bonded and I firmly think that I have made friends for life. I almost wish that our time as a whole district would last longer but now I am looking forward to seeing the other Czech inbounds again in Prague for Christmas.

I have included some photos from my (almost) month here in the Czech Republic.

P.S. If you are reading this and contemplating exchange, please take the leap and go for it. Don’t let this opportunity pass you by. Every step you will take with Rotary will be worth it.

Sun, September 13, 2015

Amanda - Finland

Hometown: Winter Springs, Florida
School: Home Schooled
Sponsor District : District 6980
Sponsor Club: Winter Springs, Florida
Host District: 1410
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Loimaa

My Bio

Hei! Hej! My name is Amanda and I’m from Winter Springs, Florida. I’m sixteen years old and a junior at both Winter Springs High School and Circle Christian School. As of August, I’ll be leaving for a year abroad in Finland! This is by far the largest and greatest decision I’ve ever made. I live with my mom and dad, older sister, older brother, two exchange students, and two dogs. I am the third and final child from my family to go on an exchange. For the past five years, my family has been hosting Rotary exchange students and it has been a very eye-opening experience and has made the world feel much, much smaller. After watching so many people exchange all over the world and seeing the effects it had on them, I knew I had to go on an exchange as well. At school, I’m currently enrolled in an aeronautical program, in which we are building a RV-12 airplane, I am dual enrolled at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, and I am a member of the Interact club. When I have free time, I spend as much of it as I can with my friends. In only a few short months I’ll be leaving behind my family, friends, native language, and everything I’ve ever known, only to be greeted by a new family, culture, and language. I hope by next year to be calling people who are now strangers to me: my family. I hope to be able to speak a new language. I hope to gain and lose character traits. I hope to be able to share about America. Lastly, I hope to explore and learn as much as I can about Finland and its culture.

  • Amanda, outbound to Finland

Five months. Almost one-half of my exchange has passed by, sooner than I could ever have imagined. While preparing for exchange, the length seemed never-ending, a year. Telling people about my future endeavors, they couldn’t believe I could leave home for a whole year; I couldn’t believe it myself. However after arriving, my first day became my first week, that soon becoming my first month, and in the blink of an eye, it’s been five months. I feel as if I’ve done more than I ever could have imagined, while simultaneously feeling as if I haven’t been doing enough. Exchange is filled with these contradictory feelings. As Perry (on exchange to Estonia) wrote in our group chat…

“I feel anything but at home. I feel I’m not myself anymore. Both for the better and for worse. I feel sick some days and I feel alone some days but it’s so addicting to feel new and different. It’s amazing. I feel like a grown-up. I feel like a child. I feel like I can’t do anything. I feel like nothing is holding me back. I know I could just go somewhere in this country on my own and be back by dinner, yet I don’t know what to do/feel confident enough. I feel like I’m in a dream, but one that I could get hurt in. I feel special, yet so insignificant. I feel like I need a hug but no, lost the desire for one…and plus that’s not the culture. I feel like I have friends, but they aren’t real friends. I feel so patriotic. I feel like I have no home. I feel cold and on my own. Yet, then I see true friends and feel like I’m not alone. I’ll always have you guys (exchangers) and I’m thankful for that. I feel like I could cry every day. I feel like I have no tears. I feel like I’m messing up everything. I know I’m messing up everything, yet I feel like it doesn’t matter. Yet, I know this is the most important year of my life. I just feel different. Simple as that.”

This quote sums up my emotions in totality. It’s the strangest feeling to love the give and take of exchange but it’s quite thrilling, and the good always overtakes the bad.

Besides all of that, I have begun to settle. Life here is becoming my life. I have a semi-regular weekly routine; school, dance, guitar, and Finnish lessons. Throughout the past few months, I’ve done so, so much!!! I’ve gone multiple times to Helsinki with exchange friends, as well as, my host family. I went to Pori for our district camp. I experienced my first Finnish snowfall. I went on a Rotary trip to Lapland, where I skied for my first time(!!!), walked across the Finnish-Swedish border, met, pet, and fed reindeer, met (the very, very real) Santa in Santa’s Village, and went on both husky and reindeer sleigh rides! I went on a trip to the beautiful Tallinn, Estonia with my host family! I met up with all of the exchange students in District 1410 for a district meeting in Salo. I performed in a dance show with my dance studio. I spent my first Christmas away from home with my Finnish family. Then last week, I rang in the New Year with Finnish friend s and my friend, Emma (an exchange student from California), at a little cottage in typical Finnish fashion, with sauna and negative degree weather. Throughout my normal week, I still am experiencing new things; whether it’s picking mushrooms with my mom or going somewhere new with friends.

Rotex always made settling seem like a bad part of exchange, because it’s no longer such a mystery anymore and while that’s true, I’ve found it quite nice to be able to know my way around town and be able to bike places without directions, to know how the train system works and be able to communicate with the ticket checker without needing English. It’s nice to have a favorite cafe in the city where the woman knows you, and to know where cities are when people refer to them. It’s refreshing not to be ((as)) confused in school and to know where my classrooms are. While I wish that new, mysterious feeling would stay prominent, settling makes it feel a bit more like home. Exchange isn’t meant to be a vacation or to feel like a tourist, but to live regularly among another culture so I’m glad it’s feeling more “normal” here.

I’ve been trying to keep track of the things that are now normal to me that hadn’t been before, however now that I’ve been here so long and they’re becoming normal to me I can’t help to overlook them. Things such as tap water rather than filtered water from the fridge, drinks with no ice, sparkling water, low diversity rates, incredible (well to me, not so much to locals) transportation, wool socks, a jacket on top of everything, just about every student taking their academics seriously, and so many more things. Oh and for me, not understanding has become pretty normal to me, although I’m hoping that will change soon.

Tue, January 5, 2016

  • Amanda, outbound to Finland

I’ve been in Finland for nearly two months now! It’s crazy how the time has flown and how much has happened. It’s been quite the adventure so far and I have been busy non-stop in the best way possible. I’m starting to adjust and create a routine for myself here and it’s starting to feel more and more like home with every passing day.

When arriving in Finland, I immediately went to orientation camp. I was a day late due to my flights but it gave me the opportunity to meet five other exchange students who were also arriving late, as well as, a boy from Finland who was on his way home from his exchange year in New York. The six of us who were late were brought to the train station and told where we needed to end up; the rest was for us to figure out. 6 teenagers, 13 bags of luggage, 5 different languages, and 2 train rides created quite an interesting first day in Finland, and a day I’ll always remember. Orientation was fantastic and took place in a beautiful place, Karkku. Over a hundred and twenty exchange students from around the world all meeting, learning Finnish, going to sauna, swimming, and exploring, I couldn’t imagine a better way to have started off my year in Finland.

I’ve been in school now for over a month and it’s been really great. I like the dynamic of it much more than school back in the states. It’s much smaller than schools back home, the high school here has around 300 students total. It’s much easier to get to know the people around you since there are so few students. The schools here allow you to have much more freedom as well; you get to choose your classes and your schedule and there’s a 15 minute break between all of the classes in which you get to socialize. It seems a lot less rushed and stressful than at home and the students hold much more responsibility here. I’m taking six classes right now so I’m there from 8am to 2pm. Currently I’m in: two English classes, biology, math, music theory, and art.

I’ve been trying new things and trying to fill my time with all types of different activities. Two weeks ago, I went on a three day hike through the Tammela forest which was incredibly beautiful and I’m really glad to have gotten the opportunity to go. We walked about 20km and the views were definitely worth it. Two weeks ago I also visited a car factory with my Rotary club and competed in a soccer tournament with my school. This past week, I started all of my after school activities. I started P.E., Finnish language lessons, guitar, and dance lessons. The Finnish lessons are really useful and I hope they help me more with my language skills. It’s really fun taking guitar and dance and trying new things that I’ve always wanted to do but have never had the opportunity to do before. Any free time I have is spent with my host family or my friends.

Last weekend, we had our first Rotary district meet-up. We all met in Turku then took a bus to Ruissalo, an island in the Archipelago Sea, where we had a picnic and we shared food from our country. I spent the day before biking to the store and baking an apple pie from scratch to share. It was really great to be able to see everyone again since orientation and meet the Australians for the first time. This past weekend, Emma (an exchange student from California) and I took the bus up to Tampere for the day to visit another exchange student, McKenna, for the day. The transportation is great here and I love being able to travel around so much.

So far everything has been so much better than I could have ever imagined and I’m really grateful for this opportunity. Leaving home sounded terrifying at first and it was harder than I expected but as soon as I left it didn’t feel so hard anymore. After you leave, you realize it’s finally happened, and the journey has begun. It’s crazy to think of leaving home and living in a new country for a year, but after you arrive in the country, then you just live and try to make the most of every second you’re away.

Tue, September 29, 2015

Ana - Japan

Hometown: Kissimmee, Florida
School: Osceola High School – Kissimmee
Sponsor District : District 6980
Sponsor Club: Kissimmee Bay, Florida
Host District: 2550
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Ashikaga nishi

My Bio

Kon’nichiwa!! My name is Ana Jacome, I am a 17 years old junior at Osceola high school here in Florida, US. I have lived in Kissimmee FL with my family for 8 years now. We are a total of four not counting our Shih Tzu named Honey. The only one that was actually born in the US. We are originally from Brazil. Born and raised till I was 9 in the capital of Paraiba, João Pessoa. A place covered with beautiful beaches and a nice all year around summer weather. Portuguese was my first language, spoken in Brazil. I eventually learned English when I moved here. I also learned Spanish, which I can say I am steps always from speaking fluently and a little of sign language, and I cannot wait to start learning Japanese! What I most enjoy doing on my free time is spending time with my family and friends, going out, traveling, reading, and whatever else comes along. My hobbies are volunteering at GKTW, theater at school, also I am the historian for theater at school, I also love taking pictures and editing them. I am grateful for the opportunity that Rotary has given to me, I have always wanted to be an exchange student, and Rotary made that happen. I sincerely could not describe how happy I was when I received the phone call from Scott saying that I have got accepted. I cannot wait to share my excitement with my host family and the new friends that I am going to make through out the process of being an exchange student and in Japan.

Journals: Ana – Japan 2015-2016

  • Ana, outbound to Japan

こんにちは!! It has been awhile. I am Ana, I am in Ashikaga city in Tochigi prefecture. I have been here for about 3 months and a couple of weeks and so much has happened.

The most exciting thing that I have had the opportunity to do was going to Disneyland Tokyo with my new host family. Even though back home I lived 15 minutes away from Disney World you can not ever get enough of Disney! Disneyland Tokyo has a multitude of similarities to Disney World in Florida, but there were parts of my experience that I really enjoyed. For example my favorite Disney character is Winnie the Pooh ( or Pooh-さん as they call him here in Japan) and they had a whole store dedicated to Pooh-さん. I can not express the joy I felt in words when I entered that store, I think I never wasted so much money in one store in my entire life. I bought everything from a Pooh-さん umbrella and a Pooh-さん chopstick to a Pooh-さん ear cleaner.

Since the holidays are here, I think it would a good time to say that for the most part you should not expect the winter holidays to be so important here. In my experience Christmas was almost non existent, New Year they usually spend it in a shrine or a temple. However even though the holidays are either not celebrated at all or celebrated extremely differently, I was still thankful that I got to experience this. It really gave me a new perspective and helped me to appreciate the way we celebrate the holidays back home.

Thu, December 31, 2015

  • Ana, outbound to Japan

こんにちは!! Time really does fly hum… A whole month already! In the first day of school after my first period where I introduced myself, everyone in my class came to talk to me and it was like that for the first two weeks. They were having a school festival where I helped my school get ready for. Everyone is so kind and helpful to me, specially my classmates. I have joined the english club at my school, and I plan on joining many more clubs. I will be going on the school trip to Okinawa, a prefecture full of beautiful beaches and with a lot of history. I have visited the most beautiful places here in Ashikaga, such as Ashikaga’s Flower Garden where they have the most gorgeous garden, fill with flowers all year around. But between April and May is where the garden can leave you speechless. I have also visited the the oldest school in Japan, Ashikaga’s Gakko here in my city, The school is said to have been established ca . 832 in the Heian period. There are so many beautiful shrines here, I have visited a few of them and I loved each and every single one of them. My first host family is really nice, my host mother is helping me learn Japanese. They have a dog called Leo, which at first she was scared of me, but now we are best friends. So this is how my first month has been, soon I will add more journals and pictures. またね!

Tue, September 29, 2015

Anna - Norway

Hometown: St. Johns, Florida
School: Creekside High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Bartram Trail, Florida
Host District: 2305
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Hadeland Syd

My Bio

Hello! My name is Anna Thompson and I am excited to say that I will be living in Norway in just a few months! I live in St. Johns and I am currently a junior at Creekside High School. I am 16 years old. I live at home with my parents and my older brother Chase (18) who is in college. My oldest brother is Nicholas (22). He lives in Georgia and attends UGA.

I was born in South Georgia and when I was 12 my parents moved the family to St. Johns, Florida. My freshmen year I joined the Color Guard at my school (we spin flags with the band). I continued Color Guard into my junior year. I am in the NAHS (National Art Honors Society).

In my free time I like to spend time with friends and go to the movies. My parents have always enjoyed taking the family on vacations. Many of the vacations were to another state and a couple was out of the country. That is what sparked my interest in traveling. While on the vacations I always enjoyed seeing the different cultures and ways of the people around us. I hope to try many new things and to make lifelong friends. I would like to thank Rotary for being able to send me on this amazing journey and once in a life time opportunity.

Journals: Anna – Norway 2015-2016

  • Anna, outbound to Norway

Now it’s below freezing everyday. It gets dark around 3:30pm. But, coming from where it does not snow, I have no idea how to dress for the snow. So, I find it often when others have to tell me how to dress.

Since the last time I have written there was Halloween, Thanksgiving (a Norwegian version), and Christmas. It has been an emotional roller-coaster, as exchange always is, but I survived it with a big smile on my face.

About five years ago, Norway had no clue what Halloween was. Some people still do not know what it is. People sell pumpkins but do not carve them. Then, there came Thanksgiving! Wait! What? Thanksgiving in Norway? Many Norwegians have moved to America and back to Norway and brought the holiday with them. My host family wanted to throw me a Thanksgiving. That was very sweet of them wanting to include my traditions. We invited our grandparents and it was a great day! It even snowed that day!

Norwegians start decorating and getting ready for Christmas in the middle of November. That was very early for me! They believe in the Nisse (gnome) that comes into your barn to leave presents for the good kids and coal for the bad kids. If you have been bad, the Nisse could also put a spell on your barn animals to make them sick. The children will leave out Grøt, rice pudding, for the Nisse to eat. Norwegians celebrate on the 24th of December instead of the 25th. We had dinner and opened up presents on the 24th. I was very grateful to receive presents when I was not expecting anything! We also had another dinner on the 25th with more family. It was very hard being away from my family in Florida during Christmas. But, my host family made me feel special and at home.

Wed, December 28, 2016

  • Anna, outbound to Norway

The first week of February, I had a ‘Winter Camp’. It was where all the inbounds come together and spend a week in Nesbyen. I was so happy to be with the other exchange student because it had been such a long time since we had been together. Its nice to be with people in the same situation as you. We were able to go skiing, snowboard, and downhill skiing. I was able to try so many new snow sports. It was such a great experience and being with my friends made it even better.

The day I returned home, I had to pick up a Spanish student from the airport. Why? I have the great opportunity to have a ‘mini exchange’ inside a big exchange. My Spanish class will travel to Barcelona, where my Spanish student came from, for a week. They already had been here for a week. They came here to practice their English skills, because the Norwegians are so good at English. They also came here to learn about the Norwegian culture. I will do the same thing in Spain but I will be practicing my Spanish. It was a special experience it me because when they came I was no longer an ‘American’. I was considered a ‘Norwegian’. I was able to introudce the Norwegian culture and life to them, just like it was my own.

At the end of February, we had another winter break. At the end of the winter break, I moved to a new family. It was hard to leave my first family because I had been with them so long and we had made very good connections. But I was also excited to move families because it would be a new experience. My new family has a daughter in Florida and the older brothers do not live at home. So, it is just my host parents and I. It’s a bit more quiet then my first family (they had four kids). I moved on a Sunday night and I had dinner with my first family and my second family.

In the second weekend of March, we had another meeting with the inbounds. Here we were able to visit Oslo, the capital. The day before we met was my birthday. My host mom threw me a party, she is so sweet! I was so happy to be able to see the other exchange students. I live near Oslo, so I visit it often, but we still did many things I have not done yet. We visited a Viking Ship museum. I found this so interesting because the Vikings did so many curious things. We also visited the Nobel Peace Prize Center. Did you know the Nobel Peace Prize is given out in Oslo, Norway? This was also very interesting. They had a temporary piece that was about what soldiers around the world aim at. We also visited the palace, the Vigeland Parke (the famous park with naked statues), and the Resistance Museum.

At the end of March, we had a week of for Påskeferie (Easter break). My family went to the cabin for the week. We went skiing every day, it was so much fun. My skiing has been improved from nothing to something! We were in the cabin with my host mom’s sister and her family. We were nine in the cabin. I thought it would be crowded and not so much fun being there for a week. But in the end, I had so much fun! On that Sunday, we ate Lamb and I was given an Easter egg with candy. I thnks its intersting how much Easter is celebrated in Norway. Most people in Norway are not religious. But Easter was celebrated with everybody and a big celebration. It has rained and now the snow is almost gone! I will miss the snow, it was so pretty.

My language is certainly better than it was in the beginning. It a great feeling when you speak the language with a native and they understand you completely. It’s a great accomplishment and I am so proud. Now I look at my time left and I realize I only have three months left?! Did I not just arrive in Norway? But time flies when you are having fun.

Thu, March 31, 2016

  • Anna, outbound to Norway

Now it’s below freezing everyday. It gets dark around 3:30pm. Coming from where it does not snow, I have no idea how to dress for the snow. So, I find it often when others have to tell me how to dress.

Since the last time I have written there was Halloween, Thanksgiving (a Norwegian version), and Christmas. It has been an emotional roller-coaster, as exchange always is, but I survived it with a big smile on my face.
About five years ago, Norway had no clue what Halloween was. Some people still do not know what it is. People sell pumpkins but do not carve them. Then, there came Thanksgiving! Wait! What? Thanksgiving in Norway? Many Norwegians have moved to America and back to Norway and brought the holiday with them. My host family wanted to throw me a Thanksgiving. That was very sweet of them wanting to include my traditions. We invited our grandparents and it was a great day! It even snowed that day! I had so much fun with my family!

Norwegians start decorating and getting ready for Christmas in the middle of November. That was very early for me! They believe in the Nisse (gnome) that comes into your barn to leave presents for the good kids and coal for the bad kids. If you have been bad, the Nisse could also put a spell on your barn animals to make them sick. The children will leave out Grøt, rice pudding, for the Nisse to eat. Norwegians celebrate on the 24th of December instead of the 25th. It was a little weird not celebrating on Christmas Day. We had a typical Norwegian Christmas dinner and opened up presents on the 24th. I was very grateful to receive presents when I was not expecting anything! We also had another dinner on the 25th with more family. It was very hard being away from my family in Florida during Christmas. But, my host family made me feel special and at home.


Tue, March 29, 2016

  • Anna, outbound to Norway

I finally had two Rotary camps. Well, the first one was a district conference in Hamar. Here I was able to meet the other exchange students in my district. They were all Australians or went to Australia on exchange. My host sister Liv Nenny was there too. The Australians have been here for ten months. We had to ‘mingle’ with Rotarians and I was proud to have people think I had been here as long as the Australians had with my language skills. We also had to stand on the stage in front of 150 Rotarians and introduce ourselves. Then we sang ‘Let it Go’ from Frozen in Norwegian. That was interesting. Many people were laughing but they were laughing with us. We received a big round of applause afterwards and that was a wonderful. Then, I had another camp the next week where I learned about Norway’s history (yes, about the Vikings). We also had some language lessons but it was hard because the teacher spoke a different dialect than the majority of the class. The camp was so much fun. I was able to meet all of Norway’s 27 inbounds. We went bowling and had pizza.

On Saturday, we went to another conference and they wanted all of the exchange students to perform something. So all of the countries grouped together. The Americans danced to ‘American’ songs like the ‘YMCA’ and the ‘Cupid Shuffle’. The Australians did Australian slang. The Latin Americans did poetry and a Taiwanese girl sang a song she wrote. We all made so many friends in such a little time it was hard to leave them in the end. It was nice to have other exchange students to talk to.

I was expecting bread but not THIS much bread! Bread for breakfast. Bread for lunch. Sometimes we even have bread for dinner. Don’t worry, I’m not complaining! I like it. The most typical way to eat bread is with butter and cheese. An ‘open’ sandwich, with no top slice. However, you can dress it up with egg, ham, jam, peanut butter, or chocolate. In my family, we have Friday night tacos. However, it is not tacos; it’s the tortilla wraps that you roll up into a burrito. Many families have some sort of taco night. It is the exact same in every house, ground beef and a buffet of toppings. Saturday is Dad’s Pizza. Pepperoni is never a topping. Its always ground beef. Sometimes we have had corn and hot dogs as toppings. Saturdays we eat the pizza in front of the TV and watch their favorite TV shows. I am always looking forwards to Fridays and Saturdays! One of my favorite foods so far is “Kjøttkakke og brun” sauce. Its like meatballs with a brown sauce. It is often served with potatoes.

Some days I feel great! I feel like I can understand everybody around me. It feels as if I will be fluent by next week. Then, some days I wake up and it seems as if everybody is mumbling words to me. I can’t understand half of what they are saying. Then, it feels like I will never learn the language. On those days, I come home very sad and exhausted. But then I remember I WANT to learn the language and I do NOT want to give up.

Tue, November 10, 2015

  • Anna, outbound to Norway

My Rotary meetings are every Monday at 7 PM. We usually have the meetings at a church. My counselor has been so kind as to pick me up every week to take me to the meetings. I have been invited to dinner with her family a couple of times. This Rotary club has about 12 members. Sometimes we have the meetings at other sites, like a “field trip”. We have been to a hiding spot from the Nazis in WW2 and a 1700 mansion on a golf course. Here the Rotarians were taught to play golf; golf is not a common sport here in Norway. The meetings are in Norwegian, of course, so most of the time I’m not sure what they are talking about. My councelor tries to translate some but she is usually too involved With the conversation. I can tell when they talk about me because I hear my name and everyone stairs at me. I get really nervous but I have just learned to just smile and nod.

My typical school day goes like this:
-I wake up at 6.45-get dress, ready, etc…
-I eat breakfast and make my matpakke. (A plastic container that my lunch is stored in.)
-My host Dad Drives Liv Nenny (sister) and I to school because he is a teacher at our school.
-School starts at 7:55 and that is usually when I slide into my seat.
-My school day usually ends around 2 and by the time we get home we have dinner waiting on us.
-Then we pass the rest of the night with family time. My host dad will play some guitar and my host sister will play the piano. There is a great deal of time where there is music playing in the house. Eventually, most nights we end up in the family room all watching TV together.

At my house in America, recycling was sorting the trash into 2 bins. One was cardboard, bottle, cans, and paper. The rest of the trash went into the other bin. Here in Norway there are 5 different places to throw your trash away/recycle. There is a bin only for food. There is a bin only for paper. There is a bin only for plastic, but we separate the plastic bottles. Then anything that cannot be put into those four bins goes into “restafall” (the rest). Even though I have been here for almost two months, I still have to stop and think before I throw anything away. They can take the plastic bottles to the grocery store and turn them in to this machine, which will give them money toward their next purchase on bottles products. They get paid to recycle!

Before I left people kept telling me about how cold and isolated Norwegians could be. They kept telling me it would be months before I could make friends with them. I must have gotten lucky because my class is very nice to me. They ask the other exchange student and I to events after school to get to know us better. It is so great to have a nice class. We are not already best friends like Americans would be but I think we are on a good track to being great friends. They make me feel so welcomed and not so much like an outcast.

These past few weeks I have been signed up to take a dance class. It is a hip-hop dance class and I take it with two of my host sisters. It is a great way to spend time with them outside of the house. The class is so much fun! They play, of course, music in English but it is a great way for me to just be myself and blend in. This class is great because there are some girls from my school taking the class also. They like to see if i can understand what the teacher is saying, if not, they help me to understand. Sometimes it is not that hard to understand because it is a dance class and I can just follow along.

I can already tell that the days are slightly shorter than when I arrived. The sun rises later and sets earlier. The air is becoming chiller by the days. All of the fields and trees were green when I arrived but now they are changing color. They are becoming this beautiful mix of orange, yellow, and red. One of my favorite things to do right now is to take a walk into the fields/woods around my house. I have already fallen in love with the Norwegian nature. It is just so beautiful. I have to take plenty of walks now before it gets too cold later to go for walks.

I have been hiking again. This time I went to Mørkganga, which was not far from where I lived. I went with the other exchange student at my school. We went with her host mother and some of her friends. It was a very steep climb towards the top. You could hold onto a rope at the top. At the top of the mountain, there was a river. You could not see so much of the view climbing up because of all the trees but when you go to the top, there was a big, beautiful view, and a lot to look at. There was clear blue skies and a huge lake below us. I could of sit on the top of hours. You could see for miles! A Norwegian tradition is to bring chocolate with you so when you get to the very top you can stop and celebrate by having chocolate. The most common to bring on hikes is Kvikk Lunsj. It is like the American Kit Kat.

Tue, September 29, 2015

  • Anna, outbound to Norway

It has been almost a month since I have arrived in Lunner, Norway! I have no scary airport stories to tell. My flights were smooth besides almost missing my last flight because of a late flight. I made the flight but my luggage did not. When I arrived in Oslo (with no bags) I heard many “Anna”s and “Hallo”s. I was rushed with many hugs by my first host family. My third host mom was there along with her daughter who was flying to Orlando in a couple of hours. My Rotary counselor was also there to greet me. My little host sister made me a sign that said “Velkommen Anna” After I explained that we had to wait for my bags we sat down and had lunch. This gave me a chance to talk to everyone.

The ride home was very quiet except for my host dad pointing out stuff. We stopped by a shop so I could meet my other host sister Liv Nenny who went to Brazil last year. I had arrived around 2am Florida time so I was very tired. I managed to stay awake all day. That day I meet I all the grandparents and they brought over fruit and ice cream. That night (like may to come) we sat down like a family and watched Modern Family with Norwegian subtitles.

Breakfast consist of bread, butter and your choice of cheese. But of you don’t want cheese there is plenty to choose from- jam, ham, salami, and spreadable meat. We sit down as a family to eat breakfast together.
I learned very quickly that Nowegians love nature. I have already been on many walks through the forest. I have been with family, dogs, and horses. Everywhere you go there are trees and flowers. Any house that you go in is covered in plants and flowers.

My school is called Hadeland Videregående Skole. They rent out computers to the students for their studies. My classes include Sicology, Math, Gym, Marketing, English, Spanish, Norwegian, and History. The English teacher likes to compare my accent to hers because English is my first language and not hers. I am in a general studies “line”. A line in school can determine what extra classes you have like music, art, mechanics, and cooking (there are many more). The school schedule is different everyday and you could have a lot of time between classes. Some of my days end earlier than others. If you have time you are allowed to go across the street to a mall. The kids in my class are very nice and the like to help me in all my classes.

I was told I was going to be the only exchange student at my school, and that worried me a little. The first day there I met a girl from Switzerland named Maren. We are they only exchange students and it’s great that we have each other.

My second week in Norway my host family took me on a trip to the mountains. We went to Galdhøpiggen. It is the highest mountain in Norway and northern Europe. I was told we were going to climb a mountain. I was not sure what to expect, which was probably a good thing. We hiked/climbed 10 miles in 7 hours. We had to cross a glacier- Styggebreen. It means ugly glacier because it has cracks in it that people could fall in. We had to tie ourselves to each other on a long rope in case someone fell in, the person would be caught by the rope. It was my first time on that much snow. Everyone took turns helping me walk on the snow. They said it was a good bonding time.

They have also taken me to Hunderfossen which is an amusement park in Lillehammer. It’s theme is trolls and Norwegian fairytales. The Swiss exchange student came with us. It was so much fun to hear about the Norwegian fairytales.

The first month of settling in has been full of English AND Norwegian. But my host parents are “forgetting” how to speak English. This will be helpful with my language skills because in Norway everybody speaks Englsih.
I live in the countryside. It is hills and farms everywhere. There are sheep in the street and cows are walking freely.

I have been so happy to be here. This has already been such a great experience. I am so grateful for this opportunity. Thank you Rotary!

Ha det!

Sat, September 5, 2015

Caneel - Italy

Hometown: Tampa, Florida
School: Other (not on list)
Sponsor District : District 6890
Sponsor Club: Tampa Interbay, Florida
Host District: 2050
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Brescia Sud Est Montichiari

My Bio

Hi! My name is Caneel Dixon. I am from Tampa, FL. I am a strong, independent, adventurous leader who likes a challenge. I have a two siblings and a loving dog named Koa. I love doing community service, in fact I started an Interact Club at my high school to teach others about giving back as well. I am also involved in National Honor Society, Student Council, a mentoring program for middle schoolers at my school, coaching a youth girls soccer team, Girl Scouts, and teaching Sunday school and Vacation Bible School at my church.

I have a passion for sports and keeping fit, whether it is by playing soccer, swimming, or doing yoga. You can always find me outside doing something active! If I have any spare time I like to read books and magazines and hang out with my friends, biking around town or seeing a movie. I knew I wanted to be an exchange student when I hosted two exchange students at my house. I learned so much from them, especially helping them acclimate to a completely new culture and climate. It is from these two girls that I hosted that I found what I wanted to accomplish as a foreign exchange student; to become truly immersed in another culture, to speak fluently to others, and be able to relate and have a bond because of that.

Journals: Caneel – Italy 2015-2016

  • Caneel, outbound to Italy

A lot has changed from my last blog post. One of the biggest changes being when I moved families. I’m not going to try to compare the two because every family is different and I like them each for their own reasons, but here is an update for what my current “normal” is like and also a belated recap of my Italian Christmas season.

I’m not scared of change. I did move to Italy by myself, after all, but the night before I moved host families, I stayed up almost the whole night. In reality, I had nothing to fear. Since I moved in, my new host family has been making me feel right at home. My host mom even offered to kick her own daughter out of her room so that I could have my own. I assured her that this was not going to be necessary, thinking about my own brother and sister having to move in together in this situation.

My host sister is like my twin, an experience I never thought I’d get to have. Now I know some of the experiences that my other real twin host sisters have; like always being together, but having different friends and how people have to decide to invite one or both of us to events. Also how you can help each other through bad days and low grades. We have a lot of differences, but at the end of the day, we are lying next to each other and can whisper “Buona Notte” and know that we have each other.

My host brother and real brother are so similar it’s scary. I have noticed a lot of people look the exact same as someone I know back in the States, but these two are the real deal. With dirty blonde hair, always playing soccer in the house, being difficult with their mothers and having a challenge for every ask or order. A love of their technology, but a bigger love for their sisters (sometimes they are just good at hiding it). I have had so much fun playing soccer with my host brother, from one-to-one, to him putting me through drills to help me get better. He has given me some of his old grammar books and will work with me going through them, never getting frustrated if I don’t understand something on the first go.

My host parents have treated me as one of their own as well. My host dad picks me up from soccer practice and my host mom reads my art textbook to me, helping to put it in simpler terms so that I’m ready when my teacher gives me an “Interrogazione”.

I used to be the last person to rise in my house, but now I’m the first. I get the table ready for breakfast and turn on the gas so that the various pans of milk, caffè, and hot water can all be warmed up while I eat some yogurt. Although I have been living here for five months now, I still find that I need to eat a little more than just a few cookies for breakfast. My sister and I then run out to catch the bus at 7:05. Luckily, the bus stop is almost right in front of our house, so if one of us is running late, we can just listen for the sound of the bus approaching.

Although I’m getting up an hour earlier so that I’m ready for my half hour bus ride, I’ve found that I really don’t mind it (or dread it like I thought I would). I use that time on the first bus to write my daily journal and then walk twenty minutes to get to school (the walking is by choice; my sister takes a second bus and we arrive at about the same time). I love that I get to see the sunrise every morning as I’m coming down the mountain and get a beautiful view of the entire Lago di Garda.

Unlike in the morning, where the bus is silent- everyone’s in their own semi-awake world, everyone is discussing something after school. This has allowed me to make a lot of friends on the two buses that I take.

One day when I was half way down the path to the bus stop, I realized that I had forgotten something in my desk at school. I turned to go back and get what I had forgotten and was then amazed by just how many people stopped to say goodbye to me and knew me by name as I climbed back up the hill. In a school where no one changes classes (except me), it can be hard to meet people, but these people had clearly made an effort to meet me and it was really heartwarming knowing I had all these people here for me.

A great custom and part of the Italian and general European culture is meeting for a caffè or tè. In the U.S. I always felt like if I wanted to meet up with friends, it needed to be centered on a meal, but here if you want to hang out or meet up, a drink is a perfect excuse (and it doesn’t have to be alcoholic!). Another useful aspect is that it can be used for any level of acquaintance, from work colleagues to other family members. Also it can be at any hour of the day, morning, afternoon, or evening.

I think I say this every post, but I truly couldn’t be happier. I also included the majority of this in Italian for my host Rotary club and specifically because my host grandparents (My “nonni” told me that they wanted to read my posts and that google translate wasn’t giving my words justice). Ciao a tutti!

Diario di Rotary: Italiano

Un sacco è cambiato dal mio ultimo post di blog. Uno dei cambia,enti più grandi è stato traslocare e cambiare la mia famiglia. Non voglio comparare loro perché ogni famiglia è diversa e voglio bene a entrambi per ragioni diverse, così questo è un aggiornamento per cosa è normale nella mia vita qui in Italia.

Non ho paura di cambiare in generale, sono venuta qui da solo, giusto? Ma la notte prima di traslocare in una nuova famiglia, non sono riuscita a dormire. Però, non avevo niente di qui avere paura. Da quando mi sono trasferita qui, la mia nuova famiglia ospitante mi hanno fatto sentire a casa mia. Anche se mia mamma ospitante mi ha offerto di stare da sola nella camera di sua figlia, cacciandola nella camera del fratello, le ho assicurato che non sarebbe stato necessario. In quel momento ho pensato che anche i miei fratelli in Tampa non ne sarebbero stati contenti.

La mia sorella ospitante è come la mia gemella, un’esperienza che non ho mai pensato potesse accadermi nella vita. Ora io so come si sentono che le mie altre due sorelle ospitanti che sono gemelle realmente. Ad esempio noi stiamo sempre insieme, però avendo amici diversi, quando le persone fanno delle feste non sempre ci invitano tutte due. È molto bello perché ci possiamo aiutare quando abbiamo avuto una cattiva giornata o abbiamo preso voto basso. Abbiamo un sacco di differenze, ma prima andare a dormire, stiamo sdraiate l’una vicino all’altra e ci bisbigliamo “Buona Notte” e sappiamo che possiamo sempre contare sull’altra.

I miei genitori ospitanti mi hanno trattata come si fossi loro figlia. Mio padre ospitante mi viene prendere dopo l’allenamento di calcio e mia madre mi legge il mio libro di arte, aiutandomi a mettere le idee in parole più semplici, così sono pronta quando la mia insegnante mi interroga.

Mio fratello ospitante e mio fratello reale sono simili, è un po’ spaventoso. Ho notato che qui un sacco di gente assomiglia ad altre persone che conosco negli Stati Uniti, ma questi due sono davvero simili. Loro due hanno i capelli biondo sporco, giocano sempre a calcio in casa, non ubbidiscono mai alla mamma, e trasformano ogni cosa che gli si chiede in una sfida. Hanno un grande amore per la tecnologia, ma uno più grande per loro sorelle (ma non sempre lo mostrano). Mi sono divertita molto giocando a calcio con mio fratello ospitante, sia giocando uno-contro-uno, sia quando mi faceva fare esercizi per aiutarmi a diventare più brava. Mi ha dato alcuni dei suoi vecchi libri di grammatica e mi ha insegnato qualcosa non era mai infastidito se non capivo la prima volta.

Una bella abitudine è una parte della cultura italiano e dell’Europa in generale è incontrarsi in un bar per un caffè o un tè. Negli Stati Uniti se volevo uscire con i miei amici, dovevo per forza uscire a mangiare qualcosa, ma qui, se vuoi passare il tempo, una bibita è una ragione perfetta! Questa cosa si fa anche tra colleghi o membri della famiglia, non per forza solo tra amici; questo è un aspetto molto utile. Anche quando non è un appuntamento importante, tutto le ore del giorno sono disponibili.

Nella mia prima famiglia ospitante, mi alzavo per ultima, ma adesso al contrario per prima. Ora mi alzo un’ora prima, così sono pronta per prendere l’autobus per Salò dopo un viaggio di trenta minuti. In stazione camminano verso la scuola per circa venti minuti. Le prime volte pensavo che era un tragitto troppo lungo, ma adesso, mi va bene: perché questa distanza è perfetto per riuscire a scrivere il mio diario ogni giorno e anche perché mi piace vedere l’alba ogni mattina con una bella vista del lago.

Preparo il tavolo per colazione e accendo il gas così le pentole per il latte, il caffè, e l’acqua calda si possono riscaldare mentre mangio il mio yogurt. Anche se abito qua in Italiada cinque mesi, non mi sono ancora abituata a mangiare solo biscotti per colazione. Mia sorella e io corriamo fuori per prendere l’autobus alle sette e cinque, siamo fortunate perché la fermata è proprio davanti a casa nostra, così se una di noi è un po’ in ritardo, possiamo sentire quando arriva.

Ho imparato un sacco nel mio primo inverno (perché l’inverno della Florida a venticinque gradi non è un vero inverno). La neve non c’è, ma sono contenta lo stesso. Prima, non sapevo tante cose dell’inverno, come per i vestiti- che è importante usare tanti strati e che non hai bisogno di tanti vestiti invernali, solo un paio di jeans e una giaccia o una felpa perché le magliette che tu indossi, nessuno le vede. Questo significa che tu sembri lo stesso in ogni foto- stessi jeans e cappotto. L’unica differenza tra le foto è che lo sfondo è diverso o sei con altre persone.
Penso che dico questo in ogni post, ma non è possibile per me essere più felice di come lo sono adesso. Ho fatto questo diaria in italiano perché i miei nonni ospitanti hanno detto che loro vogliono leggere i miei post e che “Google Traduttore” non è sempre giusto, e lo faccio anche per il mio club ospitante di Rotary. Ciao a tutti!

Thu, March 3, 2016

  • Caneel, outbound to Italy

School: Italian vs. American
(& all the details in between)

One of the questions I have been asked the most during my time here in Italy is, “Which school system do you think is more difficult: Italy’s or that of the United States?”. In reality there is no easy answer because there are so many differences, so I’ll point out some of the main ones that I noticed this first semester (their two semesters are from September to January and then February to June). I have stated a few of these points previously, but this is solely devoted to the school systems of Italy and the U.S.

First is classrooms. You never “change classes” because you stay in the same room for the entire day. The only exception to this is gym class when you go to the gym, but even then the teacher first comes to your classroom to check everyone in and write on the student portal what we will be doing for that day (every class starts by teachers taking attendance and then logging what will be covered that day in class). If you are late (you have about a 5-10 minute grace period after the bell rings to actually be considered late) or absent one day, you bring in your justification book that your parents sign, or if you are older than 18, you can sign it yourself- no reason is needed, just the time of entrance and their (or your) signature [see figure 1]. Seems a lot easier than some of the trouble I had to go through to get a doctors note for my old school, but every place is different! It’s only if you miss more than the allotted number of school days (about a month) that you need a real doctor’s note- amazingly enough a girl in my class has already missed more than 35 days because she is sick so often.

Since you don’t change classrooms, the room is yours, the student’s, to do what you please. This means that your class paints it the color that it wants and can decorate it as much or as little as you choose. My classroom is a soft hospital gown blue and decorated by a map of the world, a cross that Gesù Cristo was once hanging off of, but then fell off due to rough play, a small Italian flag (we are the only class to have an Italian flag up- update: that has since come down) and a small American flag that I brought in and gave to my class (which hung for months, but has disappeared as of late). Ours is one of the more minimalist classrooms. Others have student drawings taped up or language posters (language school) or one is even painted bright green and has a welcome mat and plants in it. After the Paris attacks, half the classes put up a version of a “Pray for Paris” sign and for Christmas, some had Christmas lights around their boards [see figure 2]. It really is up to your class. This also means that your desk is actually yours, well for the year anyway. You can draw on it, store snacks, or if you are like me, store all of your books in it (there are no lockers, so everyone else lugs all of their books to and from school every day).

The students can also organize where they want to put their desks, the only exceptions being fire safety and general ease of use getting around. In most cases the desks have an order already set when the year starts (just because all of the desks have to fit in the room), but ours is different. Our classroom is one of the largest (it had to be big enough to fit the 29 students in our class and the teacher inside) and unlike every other class whose desks are evenly spaced in pairs across the room, we have four rows of desks all smushed together since the location of our board is in the left corner of the room and everyone wants to be able to see somewhat. It’s funny how people’s grades tend to be in direct correlation with where they are positioned in regard to the board..

There are five classes every day and each class is an hour, so the school day lasts from 8-1. There is a break at 11 for a snack where you can get a caffè or tè from a hot coffee vending machine or go to the “bar” and get a piece of pizza (slices do not exist here in Italy) or sandwich. Living with my new family up the mountain from my school, I then ride two buses to get home, so I eat around 2 [see figures 3]. This works out perfectly because my host brother finishes his school at 2. He has one additional hour every day so that he does not have to go to school on Saturday like my host sister and I do.

Italian schools have staffed hall monitors. I think they probably have a different title, but that is what they do; sit in a desk in the hall for the whole day. There are two for each floor strategically placed on opposite ends of the very long hallways that make up our school, near the bathrooms and exits, one for the gym locker room area as well as one for the laboratory who acts like a teacher’s assistant, fetching any of the needed materials.

The Italian school system places more emphasis on independent learning. My host sister phrased in nicely by saying how since they spend less time at school doing work and learning, they are expected to do more studying by themselves at home. With your afternoons free, you can thus choose to spend them how you would like. My siblings in both families are good students and often spend their time studying. There is not as much homework to do in the sense that something is collected and gone over in class (the majority of textbooks have the answers printed right next to the corresponding problems), but teachers may give problems on the material that you are covering. These problems are optional to do because it’s never going to be graded and may or may not be gone over in class depending on the teacher. It’s more a chance for you to see what you need to ask questions about the next time you meet in order to clarify whatever you don’t understand.

I think that a lot of people have seen movies that depict American schools as really easy because people always seem surprised to learn that, yes, I did in fact have a lot of homework every night along with sports practice and other things to do with the addition of our school getting out three hours later. It’s also difficult to describe how there are different levels of classes, so you can take easier or harder classes based on your abilities and interest level in a subject. Sometimes I feel like I’ve been transported back in time to the one room schoolhouse days of America, with everyone learning the same things, no matter what level they are at something. An example of this is a boy in my class whose mother speaks English at home. He has a beautiful British accent and is great at English, but he is in the same class as other people who can barely string a few sentences together. In the U.S., those students would be seen in “AP English” and “English 1” respectively because the classes you take are more based on your skill level.

The way that classes are taught is different as well. There is very little student participation, with the majority of lessons being taught as lectures, so it’s more like what you would experience as a student at a university. There are no student presentations or group projects and if you go to the laboratory to do an experiment, it is the teacher who actually does the experiments/ demonstrations. Students just watch. In the five months that I’ve been here I’ve been to the laboratory a total of five times, so that just goes to show how infrequent they are (to put it in perspective I think I had weekly labs in my Chemistry class). More lectures means less use of the board, which was one of the most challenging parts of school here for me when I arrived because they spoke too quickly for me to understand, much less take notes on. The board was another surprise because it isn’t a white board with dry erase markers, but a blackboard with chalk [see figure 4]! We also have a version of a “Smart Board”, but teachers only use it as a projector. I guess no one taught them how to use it or they don’t care. Although I have read on quite a few blogs from Italian exchange students in the U.S. that they were shocked by how young the teachers are in the States.

The bathrooms took a little getting used to, being squat toilets instead of the western style, but by now it’s completely normal. I will admit to looking up how to use one after being here for three months, just to make sure that was doing it right. The teachers have what Americans would call “normal” toilets, except there is no seat on the toilet bowl.

In my high school, students safety was always a priority. One way of providing that was having an unobstructed view into every classroom. This meant every door had a window in it that was viewable from the outside, or doors were just left open in general. Here, I realized pretty quickly that there were no windows or other ways to see into a class because if you want to enter a class, you need to knock on the door. The class then lets out a chorus of, “Avanti!”, meaning “Come in!” to whoever is outside (I believe it’s only supposed to be the teacher who says this and gives the outsider permission to come in, but in reality it’s everyone together). Sometimes these interruptions are from the hall monitors, bringing something for the teacher to sign about a change in schedule for the class (it almost never has anything to do with the teacher in the class at all, but they need proof that an adult was present to tell the students the change). Other times it is other students asking for latin dictionaries, calculators, or art design tools. You really never know who is going to come through the door, but it always provides a small break in the class which is taken full advantage of.

Once classes are formed in your first year of high school, there isn’t a lot of change from year to year. The only exception of this is splitting a class because it was too big or joining two together because it was too small in the previous year. Every year you elect two leaders of the class who are the connection of students to teachers and tell the class about any school changes or events. They really do a lot and are the class leaders. I actually ran to be one in my class, my speech being “Hi, Vote for me because I’m Caneel” which was about all the Italian I could string together, but I still got two votes (Yes, one of them was my own, but one was not!)!!

There is not a lot of change after your first year because upon entering high school you have to choose which “school” or specialization you want to study for the next five years (I thought being 18 and picking my major when I go to college was stressful, much less 14!). These choices include “Classics”- studying more Greek, Latin, and general classical works, “Applied Science”, “Human Sciences”, “Integrated Science”, “Linguistic”, and my school, “Scientific” [see figure 1 again for the logos]. We take 10 classes that include Math, General Science (includes Chemistry/ Biology/ Geology), Physics, Latin, Italian, English, Philosophy, P.E., History (we just finished covering the American Revolution and the history of America in general [my teacher, “Yes we will quickly cover the history of the US because it is very short”- true, but very funny to hear] which was fascinating to study in another language and from another perspective- the actual war against the British and the civil war were just bullet points! No tactics or battles were discussed, just the names of each side and who won [see figure 6]), Art (about half is art design, drawing complex interwoven 3-D figures with shadings [see figure 7], and the other half if art history which is incredible to learn about some of the famous works that I’ve gotten to see so far in person in Rome and Milan), and Religion (an optional subject that about half my class stays for, the others have an hour of free time where they can go to the school cafeteria and do other work) [see figure 8 for my personalized schedule]. Other schools offer technology and art specializations as well, or you can go to a lower, “easier” level of school (mine is the highest level, called Liceo).

Private schools are generally thought to be for the students who would have had to repeat a year at Liceo or who are generally not as smart. Also, although “Liceo” is a public school, very few people transfer in from other schools or other areas because people generally move a lot less here. Instead, families tend to all stay together in the same town. This causes some tense conversations for some families when students in their fifth year are deciding on the college they want to attend.

School wide protests still happen here. They are organized by the elected student government and seem to be very effective so far. We had one in December and another one is scheduled for the middle of February. The December “sciopero” was in protest against the lack of heat in the school since the school was trying to save money [see figure 9]. The students came to school at 8, like any other normal school day, except everyone waited outside the main school gates. At around 9 everyone marched around the school and sang chants and held up their really creative signs. The local news station even came out to cover it. The next day when we went back to school, it was nice and toasty. Side note: it’s funny to walk down the hallway during our 11 o’clock snack break because you will see clumps of students spaced evenly down the course of the hallway; all leaning against the heaters.

Grades are measured from 1-10 here with a 6 being passing. This is very similar to the U.S. system of 1-100, but a big difference lies in what is being graded. Grades at my old school were majorly comprised of homework, participation/harkness, presentations/projects, and tests (although it varied between classes) and were also weighted according to importance. Here, all grades are weighted equally and it is possible to have as little as two grades to make up your average for the semester. These grades are comprised from written tests or oral tests, or what we call “Interrogazione”. There is only one class that has homework that is graded, meaning it is very important that you spend a lot of time on it since it is worth the same as a test. Another big difference is that there are no exams at the end of a semester or even at the end of the school year. The only exam comes at the end of your fifth and final year of high school, which is what you need to officially “pass” high school.

The 5th year exam. This is the pass or fail of high school. You also take one at the end of your last year in middle school. Each tests covers all the material that you have learned over the course of your time at that respective school. You also take a practice test in your third and fourth year of high school that count as test grades to help prepare you. They are given by a separate committee, not your teachers, and include both written test portions as well as oral. It is similar to the exams that U.S. students take around Christmas and before summer break, with very subject being on a different day for a week, but they are a bit longer, being between four to six hours depending on the material. The material you are tested on also varies every year. This year the math test is apparently centered more on generic math, while next year’s will put a bigger emphasis on physics.

Grades are not sent to colleges or seen by anyone else other than you and your family, so this means that students can really do as much or as little as they want to get by and pass the year. I believe it is this reason why repeating grades seems to be more common here. In my class of thirty, two girls have had to repeat a year. However, if you do well enough, you can be eligible to get money from the community where you live. My host sisters each got about 400 euros from the government of the town where we live for having some of the highest grade point averages in that community. Other communities only give around 200, but it is still a substantial amount. My parents in the U.S. did this system with me in Elementary school one year, except I think I got 50 cents for every A. Close enough..

In addition to the amount of grades that make up your average being different and their lack of being weighted, the ways of testing are also different. I stated earlier how the two types are written or oral tests, and will now explain the different skills they give you for life. Afterall, isn’t that the whole purpose of school- to prepare you for jobs/ life after school?

In my high school in the U.S., harkness is a common method of teaching for history and English classes. It involves talking on a specific topic with students leading the conversation (the goal is for the teacher to not have to talk, only redirect the conversation when needed or give another point of view to talk about). This is good preparation for future job meetings, teaching you not only how to express your ideas and speak up for yourself (one aspect of your grade is how often you speak in addition to what it is that you say), but also when to listen.

In Italy, they have oral tests called interrogations where between one and four students sit/ stand in front of the class by the teacher’s desk and are drilled, to various degrees of difficulty on whatever topic is being covered. Some are conversational, some are literal interrogations, probing you on every little detail in a painting for art or events that happened in Dante for Italian. This equips you to be ready for job interviews or public speaking since you are expected to think on your feet (literally and figuratively in some cases depending on the teacher) in front of the class.

One difference between interrogations and written tests is that interrogations can take up to a month to get through the entire class versus everyone on one day. With only three students going every day, that’s ten different class periods of interrogation. Also, sometimes the teacher forgets that they are still doing interrogations because it’s been going on for so long, so a few classes might pass in between interrogations. Interrogations don’t necessarily take the whole class, it depends on the teacher and the material being covered- in physics, maybe 10-15 minutes, in Italiano, always the full hour.

Thoughts on Cheating
Because classes are formed and then remain largely unchanged for the next five years of high school, the students get really close and a class mentality develops. This “team” mentality also transcribes over to when you are taking tests, written or oral. I remember my host dad asking me, “Well, you guys help each other out, right?” (referring to helping each other cheat in class) and my host sister said, “No, they don’t have the same unity as us” or something to that effect. Other examples include:

After my first day of school I was starting to do some of my Latin homework (before the school had me change classes to take more Italian classes during Latin) and immediately a group chat had been formed and the first question was, “Who did the Latin homework?” and within an hour someone had already sent it to the group. That pretty much set the bar for the rest of the year.

When taking a written test, it’s easiest to bring a “biglietto” or little note card with information in to cheat off of, but another common method is whispering. A teacher might be interrupted by the hall monitor and needs to sign something, whisper whisper; another student asks a question, whisper whisper. Everyone breaks out at once comparing answers and asking each other for help. It’s not subtle either, the teachers know what’s happening too, some try to rein the class back in, others just let them carry on.

For oral tests, students can sometimes choose how they want to orientate themselves in regards to the teacher. Often it’s to the side of the teacher so that the student can look out to his or her peers and see their classmates trying to mouth or “cough” the answers to them. It’s rather entertaining to watch.

You can see that cheating really is a problem here and nothing is being done to try and prevent it. It actually just seems like another part of the school system. There is no honor code or real punishments if you get caught cheating either. Once a guy in my class was caught using a little note card on a history test and his test was taken away, but then he just took it again the next time the class met. Another time a different guy google translated the entire latin test, and the teacher knew because it was written how a machine translator would write it, thus still having a ton of errors, so the teacher corrected it as so and the student got a 2, which seemed to be punishment enough. One day I walked into the room I share with my host sister to find her making a formula cheat sheet for math and copying notes into her translation dictionary to use the next day in her latin test. It was so normal that I almost forgot it wasn’t actually allowed, since everyone else in the class was doing the same exact thing.

Today in my art class, the other students asked the teacher, who is in her late 60s and planning on retiring after this year (also one of the more serious ones in regards to how she runs her class and cheating), “Come on, teacher. Didn’t you cheat too?”. The teacher then replied something along the lines of “Well, yes”-not sure if she meant middle school, high school, or college, but she wasn’t going to try and deny her “cheating” past either.

Now I’m not so naive as to think that the U.S. or even my own high school didn’t have people who cheat, but it’s just hard to explain how normal it is here.

Fri, February 12, 2016

  • Caneel, outbound to Italy

I’ve learned a lot in my first “real” winter. Although there has not been much snow, the winter temperatures have been thrilling enough for me. I’d never known about neck warmers or how important layering is. I also saw that your winter wardrobe doesn’t need to be very big, just a pair of jeans and a sweater, because the shirt(s) you wear underneath never get seen. This means you look the exact same in every picture- the same jeans and winter coat. The only aspect differentiating the days or pictures is your background or who you are with (instead of one bundled up Eskimo, there’s two).

In addition to the weather this winter, Christmas was also very different for me. I really enjoyed how the entire season was focused on spending time with both friends and family, and food (often intertwining so you got both at once). Christmas trees were the same, but lights and other decorations outside the houses were a lot less common. I went to four or five Christmas dinners/ lunches: one with all the coaches in my soccer program, one with four other families where we all exchanged gifts, another with my host sisters friends, another with my host aunt and uncle and their kids, another with both sets of grandparents, another with Rotary… The list goes on. All of them were huge celebrations, eating a ton of great food and exchanging good wishes for Christmas and the new year as well as reflecting on what we had done and what we planned to do this year. An added bonus was Santa Lucia who came on the 13th of December, so it was fun to learn about that tradition for the kids (the Italian version of a Santa who brings candies and board games except it’s a women who rides a donkey and drinks the wine that you leave out for her instead of a man on a sleigh with reindeer who drinks milk.

The Pre-Christmas season however also felt a lot shorter than normal because I had my first day of Christmas break on the 23rd. Although this period was stressful for my sisters because it was filled with tests, it was nowhere near the exams that I was used to in the US. One day of break and then it was Christmas eve.

We started off the festivities on Christmas Eve by going over for dinner at 8 at the host cousins house (Stefano, Giulio, Danielle, and Daniella), joined by the grandparents (Nonni) to have a large fish themed dinner. We brought all of our gifts including the ones between our family to exchange at their house (all my gifts that I had brought from Florida filled half of the big box that we brought over- I had brought enough gifts to be sufficient for an American Christmas, whereas here they really give and get one gift for everyone). All of us “kids” got three gifts- one from parents, one from grandparents, and one from Aunt/ Uncle (it was funny because my host mom had bought pajamas for the cousins to be our family’s gift to them and then they had gotten us girls pajama sets as well haha- which was a perfect gift for me because I didn’t have any cool weather pajamas). . It was refreshing because each gift was really thought out and meaningful, it wasn’t a lot of things that you kinda liked, but just one big one from your family. I had brought a lot of gifts with me to give my family, so I think I overwhelmed everyone a bit, but I loved that I had gotten to know my family well enough to know who would appreciate what. After, we played a game of “Clue” before heading to the midnight Christmas Eve service where my host mom read one of the liturgy readings. It was very casual when compared to what I was used to in the States. I had known that it wasn’t normal for Italians to dress up for church, but I assumed that Christmas would be the exception.. I wore a nice red dress and when we went to the service, I was the only one wearing a dress

The actual Christmas Eve and Christmas day traditions were new for me as well. Christmas Eve consisted of my family getting together with one of my host cousin’s families and grandparents to have a large fish themed dinner and then playing the “Clue” board game before exchanging Christmas gifts. All of us “kids” got three gifts- one from parents, one from grandparents, and one from Aunt/ Uncle. It was refreshing because each gift was really thought out and meaningful, it wasn’t a lot of things that you kinda liked, but just one big one from your family. I had brought a lot of gifts with me to give my family, so I think I overwhelmed everyone a bit, but I loved having getting to know my family enough to know who would appreciate what. After, we headed to the midnight Christmas Eve service where my host mom read one of the liturgy readings. It was also very casual when compared to what I was used to in the states because I had known that it wasn’t normal for Italians to dress up for church, but I assumed that Christmas would be the exception.. I wore a nice red dress and when we went to the service, I was the only one wearing a dress.

Christmas was the opposite. I was used to wearing pajamas for the whole day, so when I came out in jeans and a t-shirt, my host mom nicely suggested that I might want to change back into the “nice red dress from last night”. The whole day consisted of eating, from sunup to sundown. The same people who went to the family dinner the night before all went to my grandparents house for lunch and dinner. We started with a large “aperitivo” course with little sandwiches, a meat tray, bread, vegetables soaked in vinegar, and more. Next came the “Primo piatto” of broth with ravioli’s. The “Segundo piatto” was the meat course: cow tongue, rabbit, and chicken served with lentils. The dessert course was a choice of Pandoro o Panettone. Two airy cake like desserts. The pandoro has powdered sugar on top and the panettone can be eaten with or without cream and has little pieces of fruit inside. These are the desserts for Christmas. Any dinner in the month of December or January will have an option of one or both of these for dessert. Other family members also stopped by the house for various amounts of time during the course of the afternoon. When it came time for dinner, we had all somehow managed to regain our appetites and ate the leftovers from lunch. After, we wrapped up the evening by playing card games (I taught them some and they taught me some) and my new favorite board game, called “Carcassone”. It was my first Christmas away from home and I wouldn’t have rather had it any other way.

Fri, February 12, 2016

  • Caneel, outbound to Italy

When my host parents tell me that we are going somewhere, there is still a lot of confusion on my end of where that place actually is. This is how I came up with the name of this journal/ the book of my life here in Italy: “How I went to find a friend and instead found Gesù Cristo: and other stories of exchange”. I had thought that my parents had said we were going to meet some of their friends and get a gelato, but in actuality we went to church and got communion bread instead.

The morning after I got here I woke up in a panic. I couldn’t speak English for an entire year and barely knew any Italian (my first few days were almost entirely Spanish, hoping the words were the same [they aren’t]). As my time here lengthened however, I realized that I’d started to dread hearing English because it meant that I was failing to do what I had come here for, to learn and speak Italian.

A bio I used for myself on social media when I first arrived was, “I smile a lot and pretend to know what you’re saying”. I found this fitting because so often people would be talking to me, full of passion and animation (OK, Italians saying anything), but I would be completely lost. I really came to appreciate the people who would talk slowly to me, because, as I learned from my English class, speaking slowly in your native tongue can be quite difficult and it requires continuous thought.

Like I learned to speak slowly, I have also learned to listen here; to hear the sounds of people’s voices and use that to my advantage. When I first arrived I dreaded the sound of a voice turning up at the end (having an upward inflection), because that meant someone was asking me a question when A) I had not been listening or B) I had in fact been listening, but was still clueless about what was being talked about. Option B was my life.

The best way that I have found to show that I am listening is to rely on social cues, when to nod my head in agreement or shake it in disbelief. Basically anything other than the deer in the headlights look that my host family must have thought was my natural, resting face when I first came since I used it so much. Finding other ways of expressing myself like using grand hand motions and smiling, have been instrumental in my adaptation because if you can’t portray or say anything else, you can always smile to get your point across or tell how you are feeling.

I’ve truly found happiness in Italy. That’s not saying I don’t have challenging days, but I don’t think I’ve ever laughed this often. I find myself laughing at funny shirts written in broken English, my own language blunders, and the sheer irony of situations. An example of this was when I went out for pizza one night with my host sisters and exchange counselor. We were amused by the group of loud English speakers sitting behind us that were clearly tourists, so we started comparing some of the differences between the Italian culture and theirs. 1) You don’t normally eat the bread given to you when you first sit down, but instead use it for during, or after the meal to literally clean your plate (real Italian places seem to offer you a few types of packaged bread/sticks you can eat too). 2) To-go boxes are not used to take whatever’s left on your plate home with you because they literally do not exist here. Even containers for leftover food at home aren’t that popular because the meals prepared are expected to be finished. This means that when it comes down to, “Who’s going to eat the last chicken leg? Caneel, you’ve only eaten five, you might as well make it even and finish it”, that’s exactly what you do, finish it. 3) Never count on any course being your last because you never truly know how many more are coming- are we having cheese and marmalade for dessert now? Oh wait, we still have two more regular courses to go.. I used to wonder where everyone was putting all of this food, but then came to realize that it is very similar to the Mary Poppins magic bag; there is no bottom to their stomachs. To put it simply in Calculus terms, the limit does not exist; a perfect description of the seemingly infinite amount of courses capable of being consumed. Even when my sisters say, “Basta! (Enough!)” after finishing a plate, that doesn’t mean they are done eating for good, just with that course. At the end of the night as we were leaving the restaurant I was struck with amazement. For once I was no longer the English tourist. No, here I had just spent the entire evening speaking Italian with the natives. How blessed I am.

It’s little things that make me feel like I belong, like going to school every morning and seeing the same people on my way. There is the man walking his little lap dog, the other student who always uses a mysterious shortcut that gets him to school faster (side note: I finally figured it out after trying to inconspicuously stalk him for a week, then giving up on not being seen and flat out running to see the different turns he makes), and the pack of three girls who never seem to be in a rush to get to school, yet always make it on time. These things have become like clockwork and I find myself basing my route and walking speed off of where they are. The three girls are just meeting up to start on their way, today can be a leisurely speed walk, the 7:45 bus passed me before I even left my street, I’m running late. Although like most things in Italy, school doesn’t actually start at 8. Sometimes the students come in a few minutes late and sometimes the teacher will come in a few minutes after the late students. If not, just blame the bus (it’s like blaming the dog). Every Sunday when we go to church, I would say half the congregation (including my family) walks in as the bells are ringing signaling that the service is in full swing already and that you are now late, but you just go with it. It’s all part of the culture.

Italy is a place where Fiat’s fit in, smart cars are well, actually smart, and when you have a bumper sticker of “Bimbo in car”, it’s not talking about a dumb person or airhead, but your very own child. Things like being the only one to buckle my seatbelt in the backseat, or using the squat toilets at school/ other public places have become my new normal. Other things that have become routine are seeing shrines on every corner dedicated to La Madonna and/or Gesù Cristo (so common that I often don’t even notice them anymore). Something else I have learned here is that no one hangs flags outside their homes. The only places that have the Italian flag are government buildings or for tourists, so if you are a local, you tend to avoid those places. There are also gates for every house/complex here. When I showed my host cousins a picture of my house in the US, they were shocked to see that there was no gate around my front yard separating the property from the street. I, on the other hand, was so unaccustomed to having a gate that I never remembered my keys to unlock it, so I always used to hop mine (until my sisters taught me how to jimmy the gate open with my pinky finger). Windows are actually used here too. They are opened to let in the fresh air at school and there are window covers at night so you have something even better than blackout curtains (no crack of light in the middle with these) for the morning when you wake up. One aspect that I haven’t been mastered yet is the hand motions, although I study how/when/in what context they are used religiously so that one day I will be able to use them and look nonchalant and normal about it. Already I’m finding myself talking more with my hands, it’s just easier to get your point across!

Elevators are not common here because there are no skyscrapers or buildings over six stories here (the tallest building in my town is the church, anything higher would be the surrounding mountains). This isn’t a problem for my families apartment building because there are only three floors, but I was amazed by how my Nonni’s apartment, which is six floors, has only stairs as well. They are in their 70’s and live on the top floor, but seem to have no problem walking up and down the flights of stairs multiple times every day, sometimes with loads of groceries. Me, on the other hand, I’m a little winded each day going to their apartment; dragging my backpack up behind me as I crawl up each flight, just trying to make it to lunch so I can refill my empty stomach.

I have found, at least in my area, that doing organized sports (other than volleyball) is not popular for high school aged girls. You either do volleyball (which is very competitive), or you do nothing. Coming from a high school where I played on four different varsity sports teams, volleyball unfortunately not being one of them, I was a little lost on what to do to get exercise. My family then showed me the gym/pool which is strategically located right next to my Nonna’s apartment. Everyday when I leave her house after lunch, still reminiscing over that tasty risotto I just ate, I have to walk right by the gym to get home. This means that I am going in most days of the week. I actually met one of my friends from school this way; we both were at the gym and then realized that we went to the same school. You never know where or how you will find friends, so keeping an open mind and following the Rotary guideline of never saying no to new opportunities, can only help.

I have already gotten to meet and hang out with the other exchange students both in my district, and from across Italy a few times so far and it has really been incredible. Something about us all being in the exact same position of being lost and clueless about what’s going on made us all really close over a very short amount of time. Whether it be swapping host family stories, the difficulty of making good friends in another language, or planning our next adventure, we never seem to run out of things to talk about. I think Rotary does a great job of selecting wonderful, kind, genuine people to go on exchange. Everyone who I have met so far is open to new experiences and truly grateful to be here.

The style here is very uniform in that everyone wears very similar things. The unofficial dress code I made up based off my observations at school, theme parks, and just out on the town is as followed: a variation of an American flag t-shirt, something with an English saying on it (about 3/4 of which actually make sense), or a hard-rock Caffè t-shirt. If you are not wearing one of the above mentioned, you are not wearing anything. You would literally be naked (you definitely won’t see workout clothes or my old normal style of track shorts and a t-shirt). When I went shopping for winter coats it was the same. There are two styles that everyone gets, all you need to do is pick out the color you like. Here, I normally dress for the weather, so I always seem to be warm, while my more stylish sisters are often caught saying, “Fa freddo!”, which means, “It’s cold!”

Exchange is the thrill of going into a shop and only speaking Italian, dispelling any idea the shopkeeper originally might have of me being just another tourist. It’s walking around your town for hours, losing yourself in the history and finding all these little cracks leading to different worlds, or even better, a free women’s bathroom (akin to gold here- literally since you need to pay for public restrooms). I stumbled upon one down a long alleyway and through a building’s courtyard past a free book cart and in a dark corner.. Sketchy, but functional- I’ll take it!

You never really know how fast you go through something till it’s not available for you to get more of. That was definitely the case for me and peanut butter, my one true love. I wasn’t missing my friends or family, ok maybe my dog a little, but peanut butter??? It was killing me. I needed it back in my life. I had limited myself to only bringing one jar on the plane with me because A) my luggage was already 5 pounds over and the airport employee was kindly already looking the other way (I attribute wearing my Rotary blazer in the airport for allowing me to go over on the weight of my bags and getting me a free plane ticket upgrade on my nine hour flight) and B) peanut butter is a fail-proof way to get your bag inspected since it has the same consistency as a bomb, and I really didn’t need any extra troubles on my international flight. That jar lasted a week and a half, and that was me rationing it out.

When my grandmother sent me a jar, hearing my cries of pain from across the Atlantic, it cost her $30 to send. Once it arrived, my family here in Italy had to pay $20 to go pick it up. That is some EXPENSIVE peanut butter. My host mom knew that this wasn’t going to work out, so she nicely bought me the only peanut butter that they sell in the supermarket here. It comes in a tiny jar and is basically sugar with some peanut flavoring, but I was not about to start getting picky. I’ll take it in any form I can get it. After that jar had a good dent in it, my host family then had the idea of making peanut butter together from scratch. We bought a big bag of peanuts and then made a party out of it, unshelling and peeling them to then mix together in the blender. This is how my Italian families homemade peanut butter recipe came to be my new favorite type. It left both of my families happy and saving a large sum of money. Now I can whip it up myself whenever my supply is depleted (I have already made it three more times).

Both of my host sisters are in the process of applying to go on exchange next year with Rotary. When I saw that they had ranked Canada and Australia above the U.S. for their top English speaking country picks, I was curious. Was I not doing a good job of representing my country to them? My American pride was a little hurt, but they then assured me that they liked the States. So what was the reason? Turns out they took my crazy love for peanut butter and associated it with every American’s relationship with the heavenly substance. They didn’t want to be seen as outcasts because they weren’t fans. This goes to show that you never really know what people will choose to identify a country with because of you. Not your kind, loving nature, but instead your peanut butter addiction.

My school decided to switch a few of my classes, which is normal in the U.S., but very different here in Italy since we don’t normally leave our classroom during the day. This meant that now, instead of Latin, I take more Italian classes, and have substituted some of my philosophy and religion classes to take more physics and help teach some English classes (Lord of the Flies, anyone?). I am the only exchange student in my school, so people are always interested to learn about me. Now that I have been here for a while, when the other students ask me questions about myself, they tend to be pretty surprised when I can answer in Italian (no, I am not German, but thank you for the compliment!).

Now that it is getting colder, the mountains surrounding my town have snow covering their tops, making the area even more picturesque. A feat I had deemed impossible, with the swans swimming gracefully in the lake and the roads looking just like Italian streets are photographed. I still can’t believe that I get to call this beautiful place my home and that I have already been here two months! I am truly grateful and could not be happier here. Grazie per tutto, Rotray e tutte le altre persone che aiutano con questo programma.

Update about kissing on the cheeks: it’s actually the right cheek first, but honestly, just go for whatever side is offered to you

Mon, November 9, 2015

  • Caneel, outbound to Italy

Bellissimo. Magnifico. Incredibile. I often find myself often saying these words wherever I go here in Italy simply because it is just so beautiful and different from where I am originally from in Florida. I currently live in Northern Italy in the small town of San Felice, where I will stay for about another month before I move into the nearest city, Salò, with my family to be closer to everything: my school, the supermarket (very important because we go almost daily for fresh ingredients), and my host parents work. There is so much to see here that I am never close to being bored. If you just look out my bedroom window, past the neighbouring vineyard, you would see a field of cows, something I love to watch since I come from living in a city.

I love my host family. Although they started off speaking English to me (which was flawless), I stressed how important it was to me to try and speak Italian. I think I still sound like a cavewoman, but progress is being made. My host sisters are two of the kindest individuals I have ever met. Whenever they hang out with their friends at a theme park or even at one of their friends birthday parties; they are happy to bring me along. They always check up on me and introduce me to their friends. I know that I am probably an annoying shadow, but it really does help. My host parents are also great and I enjoy spending time with them. I make post office runs with my host dad and take long walks along the Lake with my host mom, learning about the history of the area and about their life B.C. (before Caneel).

I was surprised by how much Italian I could actually understand within my first week here (my previous four years of Spanish really helped). I am exciting to start school next week, ready with my new Italian planner and clothes that my host sisters helped me pick out. It is already starting to get cold here, so me being a Floridian, I have already pulled out my big “Florida Winter” jacket. The rest of my family just laugh and tell me to wait for winter, that is when the real cold comes.

Because iPhone’s don’t work here, I use mine for pictures and writing down words that I don’t know while I’m out, to look up later at home. This has been instrumental in building my vocabulary. When I came here I took up journaling, which has also helped with my Italian. I would be writing in English and then wonder, “Hmm, I wonder what that word is in Italian”. I end up with a serious mix of the languages, which just adds to the fun. At night, we often watch a movie together as a family, American and Italian made, with subtitles. I jot down words I see on the screen that I don’t know and then look them up after. This is my favorite way to see conversations (if only real life had subtitles!).

Everything is smaller here: food portions (but not the amount of courses!), cars (the streets are tiny!), and the people (even though it seems we only eat carbs, I have yet to meet someone is extremely overweight!). The food is some of the best I have ever tasted, finishing my plate is not a problem, well by the third course I start leaving a few crumbs… The apartment buildings are also closer together and come in brighter colors, making the streets come to life.

One of the D’s (rules that you cannot break) is no driving. I had been driving for three years before I came to Italy and found that it is such a nice change to not have to drive because a) now I can look out at the scenic countryside, b) I would not know how to navigate the hundreds of traffic circles that are so plentiful they almost replace traffic lights and c) the speed and driving style is similar to any car chase scene in the Fast and Furious franchise (high speeds and extremely sporadic), yet everyone is calm- no one honks.

I love being here in Italy. The times of being completely lost and clueless (my new normal) are overshadowed by the wonderful moments of clarity when you finally understand what a word means or can answer a question the first time someone asks you it, instead of the fourth. I know I am still in the honeymoon stage of exchange, but I can hardly wait to see what the rest of the year has in store for me. I’ll be ready. Grazie Rotary!

Ciao! *kiss on both cheeks (left side first though!!!)*

Thu, September 10, 2015

Cassidy - Denmark

Hometown: St.Johns, Florida
School: Creekside High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Bartram Trail, Florida
Host District: 1461
Host Club: The Rotary Club of H.C. Andsersen

My Bio

Hej! Mit navn er Cassidy or Hi! My name is Cassidy! I am so thankful that I have been given the amazing opportunity to spend a year abroad in Denmark for my 2015-2016 school year. I live in Saint Johns, Florida with my mom, dad and brother and am so thankful for their support during this process. I know this experience will be life-changing and I am beyond excited!

Outside of my classes at school I participate in many clubs and activities and am very involved in my community. I am taking my third year of American Sign Language and volunteer at a local elementary school every week to teach ASL to third grade students which I absolutely love. I am the Vice President of the Future Business Leaders of America club at my school and am also an active member of the Best Buddies Club, Junior Ladies Club, FCA, Psychology Club, Interact Club, and Legion of the Knights. I am a competitive cheerleader for an All-Star travel team and also cheer on my high school Varsity cheer team. I love competing with my All-Star cheer team because I get to travel to competitions throughout the United States and compete nationally. I practice 2-3 times a week and also take tumbling classes.

My goals for the year ahead are to become fluent in Danish, to make lifelong friendships, and to learn and experience as much as I can while in the beautiful country of Denmark. I am so very thankful for this unbelievable opportunity the Rotary has given me!

Journals: Cassidy – Denmark 2015-2016

  • Cassidy, outbound to Denmark

Five months ago I entered the beautiful country of Denmark and I honestly could not be any happier. I can’t imagine being anywhere else on exchange. This year is going by so fast, I’m almost at the halfway point of my exchange and I never want to leave! It feels like I just got here but at the same time it feels like I have been living here my whole life.

Since my last journal I have done so many things. In Denmark they have fall break for a week and I was lucky enough to go to France with my host family to visit their parents. It was such an amazing experience. We visited castles and museums and ate five course meals. French food is absolutely amazing!

Over the past few months I’ve been bridge walking, gone to the Odense Zoo which is the largest zoo in Denmark, gone to a Lukas Graham concert (very famous singer in Denmark), and I have experienced fall with leaves changing color and snow!

Even though I love Denmark, let’s just say that Denmark’s weather is very depressing compared to Florida. It’s cold, rainy, and only light outside for 7 hours a day. I am definitely not used to this growing up in Florida my whole life. The sun rises at 9am and sets at 4pm. So basically I go to school in the dark and come home in the dark.

I have moved to my second host family where I live with my host parents and a sister who is 18 years old. They have been so nice and welcoming to me. I have an unbelievable two story bedroom, yes two stories! They have taken me on a weekend trip to Aarhus and along the West coast of Denmark. They also just told me that they are taking me on a trip to Rome over winter break in February!

This holiday season has been the best I’ve ever had. I’ve been able to share Halloween and Thanksgiving with my family and friends here which they typically do not celebrate and had the greatest Christmas of my life! Christmas is a huge celebration in Denmark and is celebrated the whole month starting on December 1st. Every Sunday kids get a present leading up to the 24th. Danish Christmas isn’t so different than an American Christmas other than celebrating on the afternoon of the 24th and then two days after that where we celebrated with family and friends. Oh, putting real candles on the tree (yes, real candles!) and lighting them and then dancing and singing around the tree before we opened presents was definitely different from back home. I also just celebrated New Years in the third biggest city in Denmark with friends and the fireworks were amazing!

Danish is still very difficult but it is getting easier and easier to pronounce and speak. I am now able to understand almost everything spoken in Danish which is great progress. It is much easier to understand what is being spoken but more difficult to speak in Danish.

My best friends here are Andre, Kira, and Manu and I don’t know what I would do without them. I can’t imagine my life next year and not being able to see them every day but we are already planning trip to meet in a couple of years.

Denmark has become my new home and I am already dreading the day that I have to leave behind the life I have made for myself here but I am looking forward to the next 6 months of my life in this beautiful country and will enjoy every minute of it. Thank you Rotary for this life changing experience you have given me!

Mon, January 4, 2016

  • Cassidy, outbound to Denmark

Hej! I have been living in Denmark for one month and I can already tell that this exchange is going to be everything I hoped it would be and more. I can’t believe how fast the time has gone by. The things I have experienced and felt during these last few weeks cannot even be put into words. I have learned and experienced so much in just this short period of time and can’t wait to see what is in store for me for the next 10 months.

The plane ride to Denmark went very smoothly. I didn’t have any delays or get lost (thank goodness!) because it was my first time traveling alone. I arrived in Billund the morning of August 9th. My host family greeted me with welcome signs with the Danish flag on them. I live with my host mom, dad, and 3 brothers. We left the airport and went home and had our first lunch together on the terrace. We laughed as I tried a new combination of foods- really dark dense bread with moldy cheese on it (which was on purpose!), meat, eggs, tomatoes, and potatoes. It was actually really good! The next day I started school. I have 4 other exchange students that are in the same class as me. They are from Chile, Brazil, California, and Columbia. They are my best friends in Denmark and we have already become so close.

I am lucky to live in the city of Odense which is the third largest city in Denmark. It is a small island and is so beautiful. The driving age in Denmark is 18 so students ride their bikes to school and when going out with friends. I can bike from my house to the center of the city in about 5 minutes. Everyone is so nice here, especially in my class at school. I go to a business school and some of the classes I take are English, Economics, and Marketing.

School in Denmark isn’t at all like school in the United States. A typical school day starts at 8:15 and ends at 1:30 some days and at 3:15 other days. We stay in the same classroom all day and the teacher will switch depending on the subject. This is great because it is easy to get to know the other students in your class and I am already really close with my classmates. There is so much more freedom at school in Denmark, we have breaks during the school day and can go outside and hang out or ride our bikes around the city but at the same time the students really care about learning and getting an education. I am part of the international class at my school so half of my classes are in English and the other half are in Danish. I’m actually really enjoying school so far and have already learned a lot of words, phrases, and sentences in Danish and I hope to be fluent soon. The language itself hasn’t been that hard to learn but it is very hard to pronounce the words.

I’ve had so many great experiences already in my short time here. The first weekend I was here my host family took me to Copenhagen which is the largest city in Denmark. Copenhagen is about an hour and a half from Odense. We went on a boat tour and walked around the city. I had seen pictures of the city, sailboats, and colorful buildings before my exchange but seeing it in person was unbelievable.

During my second week here my class had a “team track” day where we bonded and did activities all day. That night we had a sleepover at school with my classmates which was crazy because that is not something we would do in high school in the U.S. The next day we had the day off and then had a school dance which was so much fun.

Other great experiences I’ve had while in Denmark have been going to a paddle ball tournament and festival with my host family. I went to an amazing outdoor concert with friends and toured the city with friends during the Odense flower festival. The city was decorated with flowers and it was so beautiful. Other days I have gone to dinner with friends or just hang out with my friends and family. I have also started taking a tumbling class once a week.

During my third week, I went to intro camp with over 150 exchange students from around the world who are living in Denmark this year. We participated in Danish classes 6 hours a day which was tiring but good because it really helped me learn more of the Danish language. After our lessons we had so many fun activities to do at night- a concert, rock climbing walls, a dance, and much more. During intro camp it was my 17th birthday and I can honestly say I wouldn’t have wanted to spend it any other way. That day we didn’t have Danish lessons and we went to Aarhus. I got to spend the day in the city with my best friends in Denmark and we went on a tour of one of the biggest museums in Europe which was amazing.

People in Denmark eat very healthy compared to what I’m used too but it is so good and my host mom and dad are amazing cooks. We eat all of our meals together as a family and in Denmark families hardly ever go out for meals because of the cost. For breakfast on a normal day we have cereal, for lunch we have rye bread with meat and cheese, and for dinner some type of meat with potatoes and vegetables. The weather is already getting cold compared to what I’m used to. It’s around 45 degrees Fahrenheit on a normal day.

Life so far in Denmark is amazing! Luckily I still have 10 more months here in Denmark. My adventure is just getting started. Thank you Rotary for this amazing opportunity!

Wed, September 9, 2015

Chloe - Denmark

Hometown: Lake Mary, Florida
School: Lake Mary High School
Sponsor District : District 6980
Sponsor Club: Lake Mary, Florida
Host District: 1450
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Esbjerg-Fanø

My Bio

Hej! My name is Chloe Hill and I will be spending my junior year of high school in DENMARK!! I am so very excited to be spending a year in such a beautiful country and I just can’t wait to make so many wonderful memories while there! I am currently a sophomore at Lake Mary High School and traveling is definitely one of my favorite things to do and I have my parents to thank for that! At the age of nine I moved to the amazing country of South Africa and I lived there for nearly six years. There I discovered my passion for the performing arts as I have been involved in theater, violin and of course: sports! I have participated in tennis tournaments both in South Africa and here in Florida but I must say: going to track practice every day at school is always the highlight of my day! Even though our training is super tough, going home knowing that I have conquered a great challenge is the most incredible reward! I am definitely one of those people who believe that to reach your goals you need to work hard to get there. Meeting new people and learning new languages are also things I adore! I am bilingual (English and Afrikaans) and I take German at school and I can’t wait to learn Danish first-hand! I am extremely blessed to have such amazing friends and family who support me and while being away from them will be difficult, I know that what I will gain while in Denmark will help me to become a wiser and stronger woman- everything my family and friends could ever ask for. Mange tak Rotary!

Journals: Chloe – Denmark 2015-2016

  • Chloe, outbound to Denmark

I can hardly believe that I am now writing this update in May, my 9th month of exchange here in this lil’ country I am pleased to call home. In these past few months I have met more incredible people and made even greater memories with my friends.

Every day the fact that I will be back in Florida in a matter of less than 2 months and not here chilling with them overwhelms me. It is getting to be that time of exchange that we exchange students get asked a million times when we will be going back to our home countries and if we will be able to come back to our host countries in the future. It really is bitter sweet now knowing that I can be with my old friends and family but it may be a long time before I step back into my Danish lifestyle. I know I will even come to miss riding my bike and the weather which is really saying something.

Lately I have had the opportunity to go to my school’s parties which are crazy amazing. Things are starting to slow down here at school though with their exams coming up and no more parties to look forward to:( . I do fortunately have the Eurotour to look forward to where we will be traveling to Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria, Italy, France, Belgium and The Netherlands! I can’t wait to travel more and I am thinking of possibly going to Sweden after Eurotour as well!

I am also proud of myself to say that I have started windsurfing not too long ago! They say here in Denmark that if you can conquer windsurfing in Hjerting (where I windsurf), then you can windsurf almost anywhere in the world because the wind is so intense and the water is beyond freezing! It definitely is a lot harder than it looks but I can’t wait to get back out there!

I have learned so much about myself these past few months, more than I think I ever have, and it feels so great to know that I have made it here in DK. I am practically fluent in Danish, I have a good comprehension of Norwegian and Swedish, and I have tried the most stereotypical Danish teen things.

My biggest goal this past month or two has to try new things because I think it is still possible to be in your comfortable zone even on exchange. It was a really long, dark winter here in Denmark and now that it has become lighter and warmer outside, I want to make the most of a Danish lifestyle that I can.


Sun, May 1, 2016

  • Chloe, outbound to Denmark

It has been one hell of a ride being an exchange student here in Denmark this year. I have learned so much on how to be street-smart and I am proud of myself to say that I earned it. I have also learned how to cope with the transportation system that varies with complexity all over the country and traveling just like a local would with the rules of being a pedestrian or a cyclist (both of which I have successfully mastered I must say).

Most importantly though: I can say “Rød grød med fløde!!” I am also thankful to have the support that I have from Rotary on both sides of the world for reminding me to smile even when times have been tough and having them never giving up on me because they see the potential in me even when I have made a mistake. I honestly believe that if someone was to go on exchange that Rotary is the organization to do it with because I wouldn’t be where I am today without their guidance and support. I think I have gotten over the biggest heap when it comes to exchange and I mean Christmas, my birthday which was in January and just it being my 4/5th month at those times.

To experience those days here in Denmark was both incredibly amazing and difficult because I was so homesick but loved all the little things that a Danish Christmas consists of. I wouldn’t take any of it back for the world. The only things I wish I could change though in all seriousness is my skin color, which went from golden brown to an oddly-pale brown color, and my body weight which consists of bread, eggs and McD. So yeah, I definitely have some things to look forward to by being back in Florida in the summer.

Sun, February 21, 2016

  • Chloe, outbound to Denmark

Quite honestly, I can’t remember how long it’s been since my last journal which if you think about it, is a GOOD thing because it means that I am so focused on the here and now;) .

I can recall that I have been having an amazing and incredibly rollercoaster ride of a time here in Denmark. The honeymoon period is over and now I am settled. I have my daily routine throughout the school week and make plans for the weekends and just practicing as much as Danish as I can!

I have had some really hard times lately with family, school, and of course, the language. I have taken the wrong bus, said the wrong words in Danish, and have exercised my patience which I didn’t know I even had. Lets’s be real. I have messed up so many times but you know what? I am happy. My friends here are beyond anything I could have ever asked for and they make everything better. You won’t know your feeling high if you have never been low (totally stole that line:) )

So far in the past month or maybe two I have: Given a Rotary presentation for my awesome club, gained my age in weight 🙂 [don’t think I am kidding], I have been to the most northern tip of Denmark (Skagen Grenen), partied duh, nearly got killed by a bus because I sucked so bad on my bike at that point (la pro though now;) ) , tried liver (ew), wrote a badbutt essay (determined to speak in nicer terms since Danes know their swear words and mayyy be rubbing off on me- admitting nothing).

My time here is going phenomenally overall and time, I do know, is going way too fast.

Danmark er mit hjem nu.

Thu, October 29, 2015

  • Chloé, outbound to Denmark

Soooo I have been in Denmark for over a month now and I can’t decide if time has gone extremely fast or has been sort of normal because I feel like I have been here my whole life. I have experienced so many different things, met incredible new people and all of a sudden- I’m the big sister! Maybe “big” isn’t the most suitable word because my one younger brother is 14 years old and is 6 FEET TALL! I am 5ft 6in and I am 16! I’m the boss though. I really do love them more than anything and I don’t even want to think about the day I have to say goodbye.

Being in Denmark has been surreal to say the least. I know I have been here a month already but I still catch myself thinking “oh.my.—” I am here! Whether it be while exploring the vast forests in Odense, during physics class at Esbjerg Gymnasium while I pretend I know exactly what’s going on, or on the train after I have just spent time with other exchange students from all over the world. I am just amazed.

I wish I could sum up everything that has happened but I just can’t because sometimes things can’t be put into words. They have to be seen, experienced and if you could just step into my shoes and walk where I walk, and see what I see then you would understand. That’s why I believe becoming an exchange student, especially with Rotary, is the best thing that could ever happen to anyone. There is always something to be learned in life no matter how high you climb.

Until next time,

Sun, September 13, 2015

Chris - Sweden

Hometown: Islamorada, Florida
School: Coral Shores High School
Sponsor District : District 6990
Sponsor Club: Key Largo, Florida
Host District: 2360
Host Club: Lerum Aspen Rotary Club and Lerum Rotary Club

My Bio

I am a senior in high school, I plan on going to college for computer programming and software development. I have been programming for three years and I am currently working on a smart house program along with my brothers using a combination of Raspberry Pi’s and Arduinos (Raspberry Pi acts as a computer relay that can receive, process, and output data to an Arduino, a electrical relay, which can send and receive electrical impulses. Both are open to limitless customization). I am a big technology and science fan; I am intrigued by feats of engineering, physics, chemistry, and computer sciences. A large portion of my life is devoted to figuring out how objects and machines work, why they work, and how I can make them more efficient. I’ve done this with many objects ranging from broken portable gaming systems, to speakers, to lamps, and even a television. After studying these objects I’ve gotten a feel for how they work and I’ve been able to recover some that were failing or broken. Other than the technological world, I am interested in learning about different cultures. I want to learn more about other countries’ lifestyles, the food they eat, the way their political system is structured, the way their cities are designed and what reason they’re designed in that way.

Journals: Chris – Sweden 2015-16

  • Chris: Outbound to Sweden

Hey everyone! These past few weeks have been amazing! I just started school again after the winter break where I came back from a skiing trip in Branäs where I learned how to ski for the first time. I also went to the south of Sweden to Åhus where I visited the whole family of my first host family. When I came back I moved to my second host family and marked the 50% point on my exchange.

Wed, January 13, 2016

  • Chris: Outbound to Sweden

Hejsan alla! (Hey everyone!)

I brief update on my adventures here in Sweden, the days are slowly becoming shorter but are still just as action packed as ever. In the near future I will be skiing with my current host family as well as my next. The Swedish language is becoming easier to understand and learn every day. I have also experienced “sill” which is a very accustomed taste, consisting of herring and a strong mustard sauce.

Mon, December 7, 2015

  • Chris: Outbound to Sweden

Hej alla! (Hey everyone!) A small update on what I have been doing over the past month, I went on so many different trips both with Rotary and some with friends that I have made here in Sweden.

First we went on a weekend long sailing trip from Uddevalla to go and explore Sweden’s archipelago on the west coast.

The next week I had my final crayfish party with other exchange students and Swedes from the Gothenburg district and the Stockholm district.

After that weekend I helped out with a program called Världens Barn (The World’s Children) which is an organization that helps children in under developed nations with education, living, and more.

And yesterday I participated in an event called Journey to the End of the Night which is a race in Gothenburg that takes place at night where the participants (runners) have to go to a series of checkpoints which are located on a map. While trying to figure out where to go and how to get there the runners had to avoid people called chasers who’s jobs were to chase after the runners and capture them making that runner into a chaser (some of the chasers were dressed in Halloween costumes and that can get a bit frightening especially because some legs of the race were not lit up at night). A lot more pictures to come!

Sun, October 11, 2015

  • Chris: Outbound to Sweden

This is the start to many journal postings I will display on the RYE Florida website. I arrived into Sweden on July 30th mentally preparing myself for an experience that would be life changing for me. After nearly an entire day in the air crossing the Atlantic (referred to commonly as “The Pond” here) I had finally arrived in Gothenburg Airport where I met both of my host families and several members of the local Rotary clubs. My first host family is truly amazing and I had the greatest opportunity to meet their son before he left for his exchange to The United States.

This past week I had been in Ädelfors for the language camp that Rotary provides for the exchange students coming to Sweden. Much like everywhere else in Sweden, Ädelfors is breath-taking. The entire week was nothing but clear sunny skies and cool nights. I met numerous students from The United States, Europe, South America, and Asia, and by the end of the we ek we all felt like we’d known each other for years.

Now you may be thinking “Wow! That sounds awesome, what could be better?” and I will tell you what made this week at language camp the best week I have experienced. We went to Kleva Gruva which is a copper and nickel mine dating to the mid 1600’s. The cave alone is roughly 60 meters below the surface and there were pools of water that ran another 50 meters.  Towards the end of the week in the language camp there was a meteor shower; and in Ädelfors you are basically in the middle of nowhere so the night sky was so visible you could see parts of the Milky Way.

Fri, August 14, 2015

Corbin - France

Hometown: Longwood, Florida
School: Lake Brantley High School
Sponsor District : District 6980
Sponsor Club: Seminole County South, Florida
Host District: 1710
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Lyon Vaise

My Bio

Hi, I’m Corbin Muntz. I live in Longwood, Florida, but I’ve lived throughout the Southeastern United States, and even California. I have nine siblings, four live with me, and the others live scattered across the country. I am a Sophomore at Lake Brantley High School. I believe my faith is one of the most important aspects of who I am. I go to Journey Christian Church, and I volunteer as a Middle School leader there. There is nothing I love more than working and volunteering with kids. I can honestly say that working with younger children, including my younger siblings, has made me into who I am today. Aside from working with these kids, my friends and I go to downtown Orlando to feed the homeless and less fortunate people in that area. On top of all this, I also play sports. Starting in Seventh Grade I joined my school’s track team and have been doing it ever since, and it is something that really relaxes me.

I am looking forward to possibly being able to continue this in France. While not doing all of this, I love to listen music. In addition to this, for the past few months I have been playing guitar and ukulele. I’ve taken two years of French, but know that I am going to need to dive more into the culture and language than ever before. I couldn’t be more excited about doing that though, because the French language and culture is something that fascinates me beyond explaining. I am truly excited to go and am incredibly grateful for the experience that Rotary has offered to me.

Journals: Corbin – France 2015-2016

  • Corbin, outbound to France

Just recently it was brought to my attention that I only have 100 days left in my exchange, or actually, now, it’s only 98. I am definitely starting to get scared. I’ve been here for a little over seven months, but now it is all I know, I have lived an entire life in the course of a year. I have completely forgotten what so many things are like back in the US. It is crazy, I have people here that ask me what a certain thing is like back in the US, and I honestly can’t respond to them. I no longer know. Obviously, now, I can easily say that I have been fully immersed in the culture.

I have become so French in these past few months. But, and I believe even more importantly, my character traits have either been changed or strengthened. The amount of patience I have gained in this year is incredible. I have also become more understanding, more happy, more loving, more open, but also, less hateful, less shy, and less ignorant.

The easiest possible way I can explain this to you is by the movie the Grinch. You know when his heart grows 3 sizes? Well, I feel like mine has grown at least 10.

Any ways, I could not possibly thank Rotary enough for all that they have done for me. My time is coming close but I still have my 98 days; 98 days of happiness, 98 days of learning, 98 days of friendship, and 98 days of a life inside of another.

Sat, April 9, 2016

  • Corbin, outbound to France

Month two is coming to a close and I couldn’t be happier. Every six weeks in France they have a two week vacation, so right now I’m experiencing my first vacation, French style. To start it off my host dad and I drove north to the region Ile de France(the region of Paris). We met my host mom at her sister’s house just outside Paris. The next day we went and saw my host brother in at his apartment in the 18ème arrondissement, and then walked around the city. There are no words for how great the place was. I got to see the Eiffel Tower from a distance (I’m okay with that because we are coming back for Christmas), I got to see the Louvre, and then all the other famous amazing things about Paris, for the first time in my life. IT WAS AMAZING.

The next day we left for my host-grandparents house. They live on a farm (no wifi..) and none of them speak English, so right now writing this journal is the only English exposure I am getting. So in other words, I’m overly content with my situation right now. I got to tour the farm last night and heard this “Ici, on a 420 vaches” (here, we have 420 cows). At first I thought I was translating what she said wrong, but turns out nope, they actually have that many cows, it is crazy. (Btw we had steak last night and I’m pretty sure there used to be 421 cows..)
I leave here tomorrow to go back home, and then the very next day, I leave for a weekend with my friend at her house about an hour outside of Lyon(already checked with my host Rotary district and everything, I promise). Following that I get a week more off of school just hanging out in beautiful Lyon with my school friends/exchange friends.

I can’t believe I’m saying this but I can not wait for school to start back up, all of my friends and teachers are so nice and helpful and fun with me. They don’t speak English with me unless I’m really stuck (or we are in English class and no one can pronounce a word), and I’m now able to have relatively meaningful conversations.

My Rotary Club is also amazing and they are getting me set up to play with a famous French guitarist at the end of April with other exchange students. All in all, I’m enjoying myself and getting settled (and the food still blows my mind). À tout alors!

P.S. My French friends who read this journal are probably going to correct all the French in it, so wish me luck!!

Thu, October 22, 2015

  • Corbin, outbound to France

Before I left for exchange I was told that I was going to experience a lifetime in a year. I never would have guessed I would experience what on what hand feels like a lifetime in a month, but on the other hand feels like two days. As of last Friday I have been in France for one month, and everything is absolutely amazing. I have made so much progress in my language it is insane. However, there are still a lot of times I feel completely lost in the language while at school.

It is so hard to think of what to write for this. Like what have I done in the last month? I don’t know? Everything? I’ve done ropes courses with a view of Lyon (the second biggest city in France), I’ve explored Lyon for hours by myself, I’ve walked past horses everyday, I’ve taken the train to get to school, I’ve visited castles, I’ve gone to Rotary events, I’ve gone to parties, and I HAVE SPENT A MONTH IN A FRENCH SCHOOL. I feel like I have done so much, but yet there is still so much to do.

I think the hardest part of exchange for me so far is not being able to fully express myself. I am a person who likes to talk, and that is something that is kind of taken away from me here. I can easily carry on a conversation here in French, but I can not fully express myself. A lot of people here can understand English(except my host parents, the people who I see the most…) however, most people can not understand me when I use emotional words, or anything outside of a first graders vocabulary.But it is getting better, I start some classes for learning French next week and I am so excited. I just can not wait to be able to have deep meaningful conversations here.

I have two favorite things about exchange. One, all things I have learned, and two, all the friends I have made.
I saved the best for last. The. Food. Is. Awesome. Baguettes are no joke here; every single meal there is an entire baguette on the table. In the US, I was an extremely picky person when it came to foods, but that has changed so much since I got here. In just the last week, I have eaten snail(escargot), scallops(coquilles Saint-Jacques), a hodgepodge of vegetables (ratatouille), sandwiches with goat meat(kebab), and then a bunch of other things that I haven’t quite figured out what they are yet. All in all though, the food is literally the best food I have ever tasted in my entire life.

I would just like to thank Rotary so much for this amazing experience. I have already grown so much in this last month, and I can wait to be able to take everything that I have learned here and bring it back to the US.

Tue, September 29, 2015

Danielle - Italy

Hometown: Clearwater, Florida
School: Clearwater High School
Sponsor District : District 6950
Sponsor Club: Clearwater East, Florida
Host District: TBA
Host Club: TBA

My Bio

Ciao, my name is Danielle Dilday and after living my whole life in Clearwater Florida I am thrilled to being spending this coming year in Italy! I am ecstatic to be living a year abroad and am so grateful to Clearwater East Rotary for sponsoring me. I am currently a junior at Clearwater High and am earning credits at St. Pete College. I am the President of my Venture Crew and a member of the National Honor Society. I really enjoy getting outdoors; hammocking in parks, swimming at the beach, and camping. I live in the city of Clearwater with my mother, sister, and three dogs. In my free time I love practicing my photography skills at the beach and park. One day I hope to work for National Geographic where I can combined my two loves of traveling and photography. Living in a foreign country has always been a dream of mine and I can hardly believe it’s really happening! The idea of spending and entire year in a foreign country really took root in me after I went on a two week exchange to Japan. Ever since then I knew I was meant to travel. I’ve always believed that traveling and learning about other cultures opens your eyes in a way nothing else can. It provides you with a whole new perspective on the world around you and that is completely priceless. I can’t wait to immerse myself in the Italian language, people and, culture. I also cannot begin to thank Rotary enough for this life changing opportunity and what will be my greatest adventure in the beautiful country of Italy!

Elle - Brazil

Hometown: Saint Petersburg, Florida
School: St. Petersburg Collegiate High School
Sponsor District : District 6950
Sponsor Club: St. Petersburg Midtown, Florida
Host District: 4760
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Padre Eustaquio

My Bio

Discovering the Rotary Youth Exchange program has been a very exciting experience for me. I am from Saint Petersburg, Florida, attended Saint Petersburg Collegiate High School, and have never left the country. I have practiced the languages of French, some Spanish, and American Sign Language. I enjoy traveling and learning about various cultures. I have a lot of experience traveling through my country and have had the blessing to see all kind of atmospheres, such as tropical islands, deserts with mountains, country sides with hills and forests, and have experienced weather as cold as 3 degrees Fahrenheit and as hot as 117 degrees Fahrenheit. I live in a four bedroom house with my mom and dad, brother, 4 cats, and a dog. I LOVE animals very much and live on a plant-based diet free of animal products. When I’m not busy with my school work, I like to hang out with my friends, and stay as active as I can. I like activities such as ice skating, yoga, tennis, paddle boarding, boating, riding my bike, going to concerts and festivals, and just feeling like an active member of my community. I would also like to mention that I am very open-minded and not afraid to try new things. I have participated in extreme activities such as snow skiing, white water rafting, zip lining, parasailing, and numerous other heart pumping adventures through the years. Living in Brazil is now another achievement I can add to my bucket list. I am thrilled to find out what other things my future has in store.

Elle – Outbound to Brazil 2015-2016

  • Elle, outbound to Brazil

Christmas and New Year’s was rough to be without my family for the first time. On Christmas Eve my parents in Florida were at my cousin’s house where all my family was, and I got to talk to my aunt, uncle, grandparents, and other more distant relatives in my family. This is a time we always spend every year eating and exchanging presents together. I got to video call with them for a little bit and experience that time with them from a far. All my family had sent me packages for Christmas, so the next morning I video called with my parents and brother as I watched them open their presents and they watched me open mine. It was an emotional morning, some tears were shed, for it was so meaningful how much effort they made to keep me involved and still feel together, although I was missing that Christmas morning hug and kiss from them. This is the hard part of being on exchange. But this is the part of exchange that also makes us grow up and mature so quickly. We grasp on tightly to our new independence.

For New Year’s, I got to go with my host family on a road trip to Sao Paulo city, one of the most famous cities in Brazil, where I got to see some tourist points of the city and also have the opportunity to meet up with my friend Kam, from Orlando, Florida, making his exchange there! He introduced me to some of the other exchange students living there as well, which is a neat comparison to see how life in a different city can be for them.

For the actual celebration of New Year’s, we went 3 hours more to the city of Sao Sebastiao, where I got to swim in the ocean at the beach for the first time on my exchange. Being a Florida girl, I was ever so grateful, for that may have been a cure for any homesickness I may have had. New Year’s Eve night, the tradition for Brazilians is to wear white clothing as a sign of purity or peace for the oncoming year, wear brand new underwear to start the year fresh, and then jump over 7 waves in the ocean and make 7 wishes. On the beach there was candles set all around the ground, and people had white flowers to send out into the ocean to a sea god. To top it all off we went swimming in our white dresses under the sky of marvelous fireworks. It was a New Year’s Eve I will never forget.

Mon, February 29, 2016

  • Elle, outbound to Brazil

Every country has it’s own ways of celebrating holidays, and of course many countries won’t have the same holidays and have others we may never had heard of. Brazil recognizes many of the holidays that America celebrates, but more often in the form of having an excuse for more “festas”. The more “festas” the merrier right? The holidays Brazil and America have related to each other are New Year’s, Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Labor Day, Mother’s/Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day, and Independence Day, with some dates varying from ours. Considering Halloween isn’t a very recognized holiday, it felt special being able to still celebrate it with the students of Plug Minas, a school us exchange students participated in volunteer work assisting them learn English, and they would in return help us with our Portuguese. Good friends and memories were made here, and a very fun Halloween dance party as well.

Mon, February 29, 2016

  • Elle, outbound to Brazil

My Rotary Club Padre Eustaquio meets every Thursday night at 8:00pm at the San Francisco Flat in the central part of my city, Belo Horizonte. My club has 5 other exchange students: a girl from Canada, a girl from Belgium, a girl from Taiwan, a boy from Poland, and a boy from Germany. It’s a time for us to challenge how well we know our Portuguese while the presenters go to the front of the room and talks to us, and us the opportunity to test our language speaking skills as well as we talk to the club about our experiences in Brazil such as our family, school life, friends, activities we enjoy doing, etc. It’s also been nice getting to know the future outbounds as they prepare for their journeys.

Mon, February 29, 2016

  • Elle, outbound to Brazil

My first month in Brazil was awesome. I remember the exhilarating feeling of stepping off the plane, feeling a little frantic about not getting lost, trying to find my host family, make a good impression, look nice and all. I embraced them in my arms for the first time, hug and pecked on the cheek the Brazilian way, and feeling the sunshine hit on me as I admired the environment of my new city around me when I stepped outside. At that time Brazil was still in Spring, and the light air felt refreshing after a hot summer in Florida. As we drove off to encounter the new place I would be calling home for the next 6 months, the first markings of culture shock began to hit me: the roads made of stone made for a bumpy ride, all the streets went up and down and curved and sideways and in infinite directions, the Brazilians had their own kind of “driving habits”, I could already tell I was in for quite the experience here. And that, I was. I have adapted to this and many other changes similarly to become one with a new culture.

Mon, February 29, 2016

  • Elle, outbound to Brazil

I’ve been a bad exchange student and haven’t put sent any journals as I have been 6 months into my exchange- I have been just having way too much fun here! I am now making some down time to share everything about my adventure I have not yet to share.

Here are some photos from my Brazil Rotary Exchange Student Orientation week in the mid of September 2015. I got to spend my 19th birthday with another 30 some exchange students from around the world going through the same emotions and experiences as me now, and how great it felt to open up and bond as we began our journey of learning the culture and language of Brazil.

During this week, we stayed in a “sleep away” camp type of place in the city of Contagem, and we spent our mornings studying our new language: Portuguese, day time traveling to Minas Gerais tourist cities of Inhotim, Mariana, and Mariana, and then our nights playing “ice breaker” games.

I can’t believe how long it’s been since that week already, and what an impact it has made on me.

Mon, February 29, 2016

Emily - Denmark

Hometown: Saint Johns, Florida
School: Creekside High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Bartram Trail, Florida
Host District: 1470
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Skovshoved

My Bio

Hej, jeg hedder Emily Benson, and I am thrilled to be spending my junior year in Denmark! Three years ago, I moved from Chicago, Illinois to St. Johns, Florida. I live with my Mom, Dad, two younger brothers and my guinea pig, Riggly. After living in Chicago’s cold climate for so long, I have gladly welcomed the sunshine and sandy beaches of Florida. I attend Creekside High School where I am on the cheerleading team, and a member of many clubs including the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Future Business Leaders of America, National English Honor Society and Best Buddies. In my spare time, I enjoy helping with the youth programs at my church, spending time with friends, reading, and listening to music. Last summer, I had the privilege of going on a mission trip to Costa Rica. I loved being able to learn about the rich culture and way of life there. This fueled my desire to explore the customs, traditions, and languages of other countries. While studying abroad with Rotary Youth Exchange, I hope to gain long lasting friendships, valuable language skills, and memories that I will never forget. I cannot wait to immerse myself in Danish culture and I look forward to experiencing all that Denmark has to offer. Indtil næste gang, until next time!

Journal: Emily – Denmark 21015-2016

  • Emily, outbound to Denmark

As crazy as it is to think, I am almost halfway through my exchange. Before coming to Denmark, I couldn’t conceptualize what my life here would be like, who my friends and family would be, or the things I’d get to experience. I’ve come to realize that life here is exactly that; life. I have a family I love, amazing friends, a country I feel like I’m a part of, a school I don’t want to have to leave, and a language that sometimes comes to mind before my own.

With a three-month gap between my first blog and this one, a lot has obviously happened. In October I was off from school for a few weeks. During that time, I went on a 10-day trip to Rome, Florence, and Siena, Italy with my first host family. It was an absolutely amazing trip and I am so grateful for the experience! I also went to Galla at my school, which is similar to the American prom. It was a great night with my friends and I am so happy to have gone. In November I celebrated Thanksgiving at a Rotary event and in December I switched to my second host family and went to a Lukas Graham (a really popular Danish singer) concert. I am now living in Skodsborg, Denmark with my host mom (Christina), dad (Claus), brother (Nicolai-11), and sister (Anna-7). I am enjoying living here and they have truly made me feel at home!

In Denmark, Christmas is pretty much a month long celebration. Leading up to Christmas, I attended Christmas dinners, went into the forest to cut down our tree, listened to plenty of festive music, and even made traditional Danish ornaments. A few unique things about Danish Christmas are the annual Christmas show on Danish television, the advent calendar, and that it is celebrated on the 24th. In December there is a Christmas-themed TV-series and every day there is a new episode. My younger siblings love it and looked forward to seeing it every day. Also, while we usually just have chocolate advent calendars in the U.S., in Denmark we receive a gift every day before Christmas. For Christmas Eve, one of my host mom’s sisters and her family came over. We ate duck and flæskesteg for dinner and afterwards danced around the Christmas tree (which held lit candles) while singing Christmas songs. We then sat and opened presents. The days following Christmas Eve are called the first Christmas day, the second Christmas day, and so on. On each of those days we ate a big dinner with family. My family held a New Year’s party as well that was full of great food and fireworks. There were over 30 people here and it was a blast!

Winter in Denmark means that there is 7 hours of sun a day and very, very cold weather, so it is definitely something to get used to coming from Florida. However, by dressing in many layers and keeping busy with friends, winter is flying by.

Language update! I can’t believe how far my Danish has come in the past couple of months. At this point, I can express myself and can understand the majority. I have been using duolingo and watching Danish television series to learn as many new phrases and words as I can! I am excited to see where my Danish is at the end of this year.
Christmas break is now over, too, and I am happy to be back with my friends. School is becoming more interesting now that I can understand and am starting to participate more.

Overall, I am so happy here in Denmark and do not regret my decision to do an exchange one bit. I cannot imagine having to leave in just 5 months.

Sun, January 10, 2016

  • Emily, outbound to Denmark

Hej alle sammen! I have now been in Denmark for nearly 2 months, and so much has happened. It is a lot to cover, but I will do my best!

I arrived in Copenhagen on August 8th and was met by my host mom (Lone), brother (Simon-16), sister (Sarah-12) and my counselor (Jannik). They were all so welcoming and made me feel completely at home. I currently live in a townhome in Gentofte, which is about 10 minutes from school, 15 minutes from the center of Copenhagen, and 10 minutes from the coast. I am absolutely loving how accessible everything is and I usually get around by bike or train.

I did not start school until a week after I got here, so my first week was spent with a group of eight exchange students in my area. Each day a Rotarian took us somewhere, usually in Copenhagen. We saw churches, museums and big tourist attractions in the city. This was a great experience to get to know the area and each other. After my first week, I also said goodbye to my host brother, Simon, as he went off for his exchange in Paraguay.

I attend the first year at Øregård Gymnasium, where the school year is started off with intro week. This is where all first years spend the week playing games and having fun, with our class as our team. The Thursday and Friday were spent on a cabin trip on the southwest coast of Zealand. We bonded and had an amazing time. Intro week finished with a huge party at the school.

At school, I am in a course line called “Global Studies”. I am with the same class for almost all of my classes, which is great because I’ve gotten to know them really well. Age-wise, Danish gymnasium is comparable to American high school. You go for 3 years, usually starting when you are 16 and ending when you are 19. The ages can vary a lot, however, because many students take a year off before starting gymnasium to do an exchange or attend efterskole (“afterschool”).

My third week in Denmark, all of the Inbounds gathered for our intro camp in a small town in Jutland. During the day, we studied Danish, and at night we hung out and did organized activities, with the exception of one day spent in Aarhus. Overall, it was a great week where I got to meet amazing friends!

Once back from intro camp, I began my first regular school week and started to get into a regular routine. I love what my life here has become, from going to cafes with friends to walking around in the city, and I know that this will be a year I never forget. With that said, I want to thank Rotary for everything they’ve done so that I could be here, having the time of my life!

Okay, so below I am just going to list some observations/differences/random facts:
-Danish is hard, but I’m forcing myself to speak less and less English, so it’s getting there. I also have Danish lessons twice a week with other inbounds
-EVERYONE speaks fluent English
-Teenagers don’t wear color (not an exaggeration)
-Teachers are called by their first name and the student-teacher relationship is super casual
-Danes swear A LOT
-All school work is done and submitted electronically on a website called Lectio that also has your schedule, homework, messaging, and grades
-In school, you are with the same class the whole day, but have different teachers and go to different classrooms
-There are no substitute teachers, so class is canceled all the time
-The schools have an “open campus” so you come and go as you please
-Teens are much more independent
-Potatoes are a dinner time staple
-Danes love licorice (even though it’s horrible)
-Sweden is super easy to get to (I went on a weekend trip there and had a blast!)
-Danes are really friendly
-There’s free wifi on all the trains

Vi ses!

Sat, October 3, 2015

Emily - Norway

Hometown: Lake Mary, Florida
School: Lake Mary High School
Sponsor District : District 6980
Sponsor Club: Seminole County South, Florida
Host District: 2290
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Hadeland Syd

My Bio

Hei! My name is Emily Floyd, I am 16 years old and currently a sophomore at Lake Mary High School. I was given the opportunity of a life-time this last December to embark on my greatest journey. I will be spending my junior year in NORWAY!! I am an passionate artist, vocalist, and budding musician. My grandparents built a home in 1973 where I live with my Dad, Mom, and 3 siblings, Jonathyn (19), Dathyn (12), and Elayna (9). My favorite things include hanging out and finding new places with friends, listening to music, and doing all things art (painting, photography, creating new things). Travel is something I’ve spent my whole life dreaming about; the people, the language, the scenery, the food, and so much more. I feel honored and forever grateful to Rotary for giving me this amazing opportunity. I’m excited to see what challenges this trip will bring me. I hope to gain a new and greater perspective of this beautiful world, as I grow in my confidence and understanding of life. Of course you will be taking this journey with me too, so be looking out for lots of photos and stories. Till next time! Emily xx

Journals: Emily – Norway 2015-2016

  • Emily, outbound to Norway

Alright, where to begin… 5 months.. 5 months since I stepped foot onto Norwegian soil. Soil which I’m now deeply rooted in. I can’t quite explain to you the feeling of leaving the life you’ve known behind, to become part of a place you know so little about, to invest yourself into a new culture, and learn a completely new way of life. But that feeling, whatever it may be, has changed who I am forever in such a small amount of time, and I can’t help but find myself happier than I’ve ever been.

My first four months I was lucky enough to spend with an incredible host family. I mean moving across an ocean and into the home of strangers isn’t always easy, but because of this family it couldn’t have been easier. It took only a few weeks for me to realize that I am truly a part of their family. From my host dad’s cheesy jokes, great taste in music, and love for pølse (like hot dogs but SO much better) to my host mom’s big heart, warm hugs, and beautiful confidence. But I’m especially thankful for my host sister who showed me what it’s like to have a big sister who I can look up to. Because of them I now know what it’s like to jump into freezing waters and feel complete numbness, what it’s like to receive a meaningful birthday surprise, and really just what it means to be part of a Norwegian family.

In our last month together they made a lifelong dream of mine come true and took me to England to visit my host sister who is studying at a University in Essex. We spent 2 days in London being as touristy as possible, then 2 days in Colchester the city next to my host sister’s University. England was everything I had a hoped for and more. I moved out of their home the last week of November, and although it was difficult, I’m settling into my new host family quite well. But before I get into that I should tell you about school.

I’m in the second year (there’s three years of high school here) music line at Greveskogen Videregående Skole. The school system here is fantastic; there’s so much freedom and room to breathe. To start off, at the beginning of the year students get to pick what “line” they want to be in and each line focuses on something specific, while having other regular subjects. So for example, I’m in the line they call 2MDA (M standing for music and D standing for drama), but I’m specifically in the music half. In my schedule I have normal classes such as Math, History, Norwegian, and Science but I also have music classes like Music in Perspective and Music Theory. I get the great opportunity to have a vocal coach and piano teacher too. We get about 15 minutes between each class (that’s 10 more than I had back home) and some days I start later and end earlier than others.

The teachers here are just as great as the school system. They really find ways to connect with the students and they’ve been so patient with me.. giving me things in English but also challenging me a little to make sure I work on the Norwegian. Which if you were wondering, is slowly but surely becoming easier to understand, not so much speak, but I’m getting there. The friends I’ve made in the past few months mean more to me than anything. I thought it would be hard to make such great friends in such a small time, but on exchange I’ve learned that some things I thought were impossible, really aren’t.

Now I’ll finish this by telling you about my second host family and the Norwegian Christmas holiday. I moved in November 30th and I can’t say that it’s easy adjusting to a new family and a new routine after having grown so accustomed to one. But I now have a host brother, who I got to know pretty well before moving in, so that made things all the more easy. Now I mean it when I say Norwegians don’t hesitate to start celebrating when it comes to Christmas. From day 1, it’s decorations and traditions all around. I’ve been to more Julebord’s (directly translated: Christmas table) in the last two weeks then I could count on both hands. Julebord’s are these wonderful Christmas dinners where you dress up and have the most delicious traditional foods such as pinnekjøtt and ribbe. I love them, but I think I gained at least 5 pounds this month.

In Norway they open presents and celebrate on Christmas eve, not Christmas day, so that was an interesting yet exciting way to spend Christmas. After having spent such an important time of the year with my new host family, I grew closer to them through it. I’m starting to get that feeling again where I realize that I’m really becoming part of the family.

So if you were wondering how I’ve been, and just how AMAZING Norway is so far, I tried my best to sum it up. But words don’t do this place justice… you have to see it for yourself.

I can’t even begin to tell you how grateful I am to RYE for giving me the chance to know what it feels like to really live. Exchange is such a beautiful thing and I don’t want this year to ever end. But I won’t get ahead of myself, because I’ve still got 6 exciting months ahead of me, and I will be sure to share more in the time to come.
Vi Snakkes! Oh yea, Happy New Year!!

Fri, January 1, 2016

Emma - India

Hometown: St.Johns, Florida
School: Allen D. Nease Senior High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Bartram Trail, Florida
Host District: 3060
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Baroda

My Bio

Namaste! My name is Emma Risner and I am currently a senior at Nease High School. I am so fortunate and proud to be a part of the outbound students for 2015-2016 in district 6970. I will be spending ten months in INDIA! I live in St. Johns, near St. Augustine, the oldest city in North America. Here, I live with my parents and my eight year old sister, Ella. My extended family also lives here and are a big part of my everyday life. In my spare time I work at a local diner, and usually spend time with my family or friends after work. Some of my favorite things to do are going to the beach and traveling. Recently, I spent a month traveling in Thailand which has really inspired my love of Asia. I’ve always loved being adventurous and different. Immediately, when given this opportunity I wanted to complete an exchange in India. I am excited to see the contrast in culture as I know Indian life is very different than here in America. In addition, I can’t wait to learn Hindi and meet the families I will be staying with. I am so thankful to be able to participate in this exchange. Thank you Rotary! Can’t wait!

Journals: Emma – India 2015-2016

  • Emma, outbound to India

Greetings, from my new home in India!
I have been here almost a month now and time is already going way too fast. After getting over jet lag and adjusting to my new routine I have almost forgotten what life is like back home in Florida. Hindi and Guajarati words are coming to me before English ones do, if there’s a traffic jam I know there must be cows standing in the middle of an intersection and if someone gives me a price I can bargain them down almost immediately. Although I have adjusted quite well to Indian culture, it is a very drastic change from life back home.

India is truly distinct and is a place you have to see to believe. Some of the first things you notice are the amount of people, the heat and the social customs. The roads are packed with not only cars, scooters, rickshaws, bikers and walkers but cows, donkeys and street dogs, as well. Although it’s crowded, the traffic flows pretty well, unless the cows decide to stand in the middle of the road.

The weather in India is hot, but also very humid too! There is absolutely no point in styling your hair or putting on any makeup because it comes off almost instantly. The climate was also a great excuse for me to purchase a brand new wardrobe of traditional kurtas and leggings.

I’ve noticed a variety of differences in social customs. India is a more conservative and traditional country, than most European and Western nations. Before greeting elders, to show respect you touch their feet. Indians also generally never want to tell you “no.” They will usually tell you what you want to hear to avoid conflict but then do the opposite if that is what they prefer. This can be difficult when you’re asking rickshaw drivers if they know where someplace is, because they normally don’t know where it is, but always say “yes.” Only after we set off do you figure out that they don’t know where they are going!

My typical day in India is waking up at 6:30 am and going to school by 7:30. Since my time zones are 9 ½ hours ahead of those in the Eastern United States, that means that my days begins at a time everyone at home is getting into bed for the night. I have to remember that when I think of what my family and friends are doing as I set off for school! During my first week of school I started as a student and sat in the 11th grade commerce class. The students were very focused on school and their board exams. It was difficult to make real friends especially because the students are two years younger than me and less mature than I am used to.

Since I have already graduated high school, in Florida, attending classes was not a direct benefit to me. At first, I spent most of my time in the library reading and working on college applications for back home. After a few days of this, I met with the Headmistress of the school to talk about a new plan for me. She noticed that I fit in better with some of the teachers and they were very interested in the western style of teaching. We decided that I could be more helpful, and have a better experience if I helped teach some of the younger grades in subjects such as English.

Now, for the rest of my time here, I will be working as a teachers-aide alongside some of the other teachers at my school. I have helped out in Yoga, English and art classes. In addition, I sit in on younger Hindi classes to learn language and have someone tutor me. At the end of these two months I will give a speech on the differences and similarities between school in the United States and school in India. Also, when there are any field trips, no matter what grade, I am invited to come with the teachers. So far, I have been to an organic garden and to a demonstration on terrace farming.

After school, I come home for lunch (I’ll tell you about the delicious food in a later post!) and have adopted the Indian custom of taking a short nap afterwards. This is followed by an hour or so of yoga at a local studio, which I have taken to very well to because of my practice back home. After Yoga, I come home and eat dinner usually around nine o’clock and then sleep and repeat!

Life here is just now getting started. Soon, I plan to be volunteering frequently and starting my own project. The first month has been difficult as well as very enjoyable. Hopefully there are great things to come!

Fri, September 4, 2015

Emma - Germany

Hometown: Palm Harbor, Florida
School: Palm Harbor University High School
Sponsor District : District 6950
Sponsor Club: Palm Harbor, Florida
Host District: 1860
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Stromberg-Naheland

My Bio

Hallo, Ich hisse Emma! I live in Palm Harbor Florida. I am 16 years old and plan to graduate in spring from Palm Harbor University High School. My senior year will be a “gap” year spent in Germany!! I love to travel and luckily my family shares the same desire. I have been to London, Paris, Rome and also went to Barcelona as an exchange student for 3 weeks. Because my parents value new experiences and change our family took the opportunity to live in New York City for 3 years. My time in New York City really impacted me as a person. I was exposed to so many new people and cultures. Being surrounded by so much diversity was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had. It helped me better understand the world and gave me a desire to learn more about it. Since being back in Palm Harbor at school I participate in clubs such as UNICEF, SADD, Multi-Cultural, University Booster, NHS, and am in the process of starting a new club. Outside school I enjoy hanging out with my friends, hammocking, camping (or anything that involves the outdoors), and trying new things. As for the future I am not sure what I want to do but I do plan on attending college when I return and hopefully have the opportunity to go abroad again in my college years. I am so excited to embark on this journey to Germany through Rotary and cannot wait to see what the future holds!!

Journals: Emma – Germany 2015-2016

  • Emma, outbound to Germany

I have been in Germany for just over a month and this month has been the best month of my life! Aside from being delayed in the Atlanta airport overnight on my way here everything has gone smoothly. At the Frankfurt airport I was welcomed by all of my host families and it was such a relief to finally be where I was supposed to be. My host family has been so wonderful and welcoming since my arrival and I truly feel at home. Luckily I arrived two weeks before school started which allowed me to explore this beautiful country a little bit. I have been to wine festivals, where I have tried many different foods – curry wurst being my favorite – castles, museums and on beautiful hikes. My local town, Waldalgesheim, is very small but I am close to Frankfurt and my school is in Bad Kreuznach, which is a quaint town.

After being in school here for two weeks, I can say I am excited to be able to understand and participate in class. Right now, my morning commute to school is not bad but I do take a bus and a train. The afternoon commute is longer because the connections are not the same. Most of the time I have to wait but it allows me time to study and everyone around is very nice. When I get home we usually have lunch as a family and talk about our days. My host family is very supportive and we are having a very good time.

This past weekend I had my first district orientation where I met all the inbounds, it was so great to meet everyone I would be sharing my experience with during my time here. I will be attending an intensive language course over the first break of school but then will be participating in the Berlin trip sponsored by Rotary which I am very excited about!

Mon, September 21, 2015

Eriana - South Korea

Hometown: Orlando, Florida
School: Colonial High School
Sponsor District : District 6980
Sponsor Club: Winter Park, Florida
Host District: 3680
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Seocheon

My Bio

안녕하세요! 저는Eriana입니다! Hello! My name is Eriana! I’m a 2015-2016 outbound for South Korea. I’m 17 years old and currently a junior at Colonial High School. I don’t really have a basic nickname because it’s kind of hard to do with my name, so my friends all have their own nicknames for me. If you come up with one too, go for it!

Let’s see, well I love any form of art. I love the fact that art allows people to express themselves. I also love any form of storytelling, like books, movies, or music. I think storytelling is a form of art in itself. My favorite flowers are cherry blossoms, orchids, lilies, peonies, and lotus. I think one of the biggest interests I’ve had for awhile now is other cultures. I love learning the things that make the people of this world special, what sets us apart, and the parts of us that are similar and remind us that we’re all connected, even in small ways. I LOVE other languages! I think they are beautiful, and I can’t wait to speak fluent Korean! Languages I would also like to learn in the future are Japanese, Spanish, and French.

As for this exchange trip, well I’m excited beyond words! I’m so grateful to supportive family and friends and appreciative to everyone from Rotary for this opportunity! When I first got my call, after I hung up, I was sitting in the passenger seat of my mom’s car laughing and crying at the same time (apparently it’s possible everyone). I couldn’t stop smiling for the next week, I still smile whenever I think about what my future holds. I’m a bit nervous, but it’s only natural I think and my anticipation outweighs it all. Watch out Korea, here I come!

Journals: Eriana – Korea 2015-2016

  • Eriana, outbound to Korea

Hey everyone!

It’s been awhile and I can’t believe so much time has passed already. I’m down to under a month and half and I have so many feelings that I don’t even begin to know how to process.

I feel like I’ve lived a whole lifetime in under a year, and at the same time like I haven’t lived long enough. I’ve made so many amazing connections both in my town and in school that I’m confident will feel like home for years to come. I’m always delighted when the workers in cafes and restaurants I often go to recognize me and give a cheery greeting. Walking around this place, I feel so privileged to have had the opportunity to call it home for a year.

I’ve been so many places while I’ve been in Korea and thanks to many of my friends and family I’ve been able to truly learn and experience much of the culture. Korea has without a doubt found a solid place in my heart and has become like home. I’m nowhere near ready to leave, and even though my language skills are not where I wanted them at this point, I will continue to study and strive to be better in the future. It is my wish to come back one day soon maybe for college or for work.

Recently, my family from Orlando had the opportunity to come and visit me here in Korea and I was beyond ecstatic. For me, this visit was symbolic of my two worlds and my two homes colliding. This trip was so fun and I was so happy to be able to introduce my host families to my mom and my aunt and I was even more happy when we stayed in Seoul because it’s one of my most favorite places in Korea!

There was a time before I went on exchange when I didn’t know a single thing about this country. Through Rotary I got to learn about not just through a text book but up-close, hands-on, and in person. I have fallen so deeply in love with South Korea and I just want to thank everyone again who made this experience possible for me.

It’s been real South Korea, I’ll be back for you one day really soon!

And thanks to everyone for enjoying the journey with me.


Thu, May 19, 2016

  • Eriana, outbound to Korea

안녕하세요 여러분!

너무 오랜만에… 죄송해요~! Hello everyone! I’m sorry it’s been awhile.. But for now I decided that it would be a good time to submit another journal. Right now I’m on my fifth month of exchange and I’m at my second host family’s house! So far I’ve had the kindest host families and I’m so grateful for it.

While I was still at my first host family’s house, my older host sister took me with her to Seoul for Halloween! It was so fun; we got our faces painted, met her friends, and walked the streets of Hongdae and Itaewon! The streets were FULL of people in costumes, makeup, or even people just dressed normally and taking a night out in the city with friends. I love the streets of Seoul morning, afternoon, or night. There’s always such a big and interesting crowd and it’s so full of life. Then that night, instead of a hotel, we slept in something of a Korean spa/bathhouse called a Jjimjilbang! It was quite the experience.. there’s a wash area, several large baths, and more than a few sauna rooms. Then, after you’re done washing up, there’s a common sleeping area for everyone if you choose to stay the night. So me, my host sister, and her friend grabbed a corner and slept the night away. The next day we did SO MUCH SHOPPING. Shopping in Seoul with the m was one of my favorite experiences so far because I saw so many things and completely fell in love with the city. I want to live here in Korea for a few years one day…

Now that I’m with my second family, I miss my first host family a little but I still go back and visit and it feels like coming home every time. Now instead of two older sisters I have one older brother and one younger sister and they’re both so kind! So far I really like this family too and I’m certain that I’ll be just as close with them. Christmas is not really celebrated in Asian countries very much at all..so I decided I would get my host families presents anyway just to share a bit of my own culture! And I was so happily surprised when they got me a present too. I now own one of the cutest polar bear sweaters thank you very much. Also, New Year’s is another holiday that is not very celebrated here in Korea. However, there is something that occurs on this day that’s very different from the rest of the world. On New Year’s day in Korea, everyone gains a year together because although birthdays are celebrated, you only gain a year to your age when a New Year comes. Also, it’s counted from the year you were born! So to find your Korean age you subtract your birth year from the current year and add 1! Example: 2016-1997+1=20 My Korean age is 20!

Just recently I went ice skating with my host sister and some friends which was really fun. And also we went to a very big amusement park in Korea called Lotte World and that was a really cool experience because it’s actually indoors and connected to the Lotte World Mall and Department Store. It was so big and awesome to see! Right now in Korea students are on Winter Break… so it’s up to me to keep up with my studying and adventuring. But I’m having too much fun! I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year has in store for me.

Thank you everyone from home, especially some of the coolest Rotarians I’ve met, for all the continued love and support!

Thu, January 14, 2016

  • Eriana, outbound to Korea

안녕하세요 여러분!

Hey everyone! It hasn’t been too long since my last journal post but today, this weekend in general, was awesome enough that I figured I’d share a bit with you!

This weekend is one of two very big Korean holidays; it’s their version of Thanksgiving and it’s called Chuseok. Different families celebrate in different ways of course, but in my area it seems it’s mostly a very traditional holiday. My host sister tells me it’s usually a three day process:

The first day is usually preparation; families getting all the food ready and everything… But on prep day I actually did something a little different. My friend and her family invited me to go with them and the exchange student they’re hosting to another city where we went to a place called Hanok Maeul. It was very fun because we wore traditional Korean clothing and walked around what was something of a small town comprised of traditional Korean houses turned shops/restaurants.

The food was SO delicious; my favorite was the octopus! Never thought I would say that. But the octopus on a stick was the bomb. I always have fun whenever I’m with my friend and her family so I’m so happy to be invited places with them! The German girl they are hosting is like my best exchange student friend over here, we got really close really fast. My friend and her brother and her mom are all ALWAYS so kind and funny. Also, they brought another friend along who comes with us to church on Sundays as well! Whenever we’re all together it always makes for fun times. When I got home that night I spent the rest of prep day watching tv with my host family.

Today was the actual day of Chuseok and the experience was somewhat beyond words. This morning we all slept in quite a bit and when we all woke up it was so fun getting ready together. My host mom, my host sisters, and I were all running around the house laughing together as we put on our hanboks, the traditional Korean clothes. I did my host sister’s hair and we all took turns putting on the makeup…it felt like playing dress up somehow haha.

Then, on Chuseok, it’s traditional to go visit your grandparents on your father’s side of the family. It’s usually so personal that I’ve heard of some instances where the exchange students are asked to stay home. I didn’t really understand this until I saw it in person. In my host family’s situation, my host father’s parents have long since passed on so we went to their resting place. The journey was so beautiful as we traveled roads that climbed through the mountains. The colors of fall are starting to decorate the trees here and it was breathtaking.

Then when we got there and the actual experience started I was left without words. I was formally presented to the deceased grandparents to whom I respectfully bowed and introduced myself. Then, tables with burning incense were scattered throughout the place for people to set up memorials for their deceased loved ones.

The set up goes a little something like this: there’s a mat on the floor in front of the table where you are not allowed to wear shoes. The incense burns just in front of the mat. Then, on the table usually a picture goes on a little stand, this is in the center, but my host family just put up a piece of paper with writing in Hanja (Chinese based characters). Then around the picture are candles and fruits and the favorite foods of those particular people. Then, after you set up the picture and food, you step onto the mat and pour alcohol into a cup, swirl it before the incense, and place it next to the picture. After this, you must do two deep bows all the way to the floor in greeting. It almost looks like an altar but having experienced this in person I can confidently say it’s not really like that.

The Korean Thanksgiving is exceptionally different from the American Thanksgiving. Granted, on this day there is still much good food involved. But the food is not generally the focus of the day. The purpose of Chuseok is to honor and give thanks to those who came before you. While this is similar to our American holiday, we mostly focus on what we are thankful for in the present on our Thanksgiving even though it was a tradition started because of the past. On Chuseok, the place that resembles an altar is more like a re-creation of favorite memories, and the two deep bows are the signs of deepest respect and thanks for making the current life possible.

Also, on Chuseok it appears to be tradition to greet the husband of the house with a deep bow as well and as an acknowledgment of your greeting, your are presented with money. Another tradition is for you to make sweet rice cakes with your family; it’s a bit tiring but very fun! Like we eat turkey as a special food every Thanksgiving, we eat rice cakes in Korea.

The last day of Chuseok, tomorrow, is a day of rest. Sit with your family and watch tv….I look forward to doing so. The day was fun but a little tiring! Nonetheless, I was so honored to be able to experience this very cultural and traditional holiday!


Sun, September 27, 2015

  • Eriana, outbound to Korea

Hi everyone!

Wow okay so first journal. It’s hard to believe it’s already time for this because it really feels like not too long ago my exchange year was still just talk; yet now, here I am! But at the same time I know my journal entry is a bit overdue because more than a month has already gone by and I almost didn’t realize it. Actually, it was quite alarming to realize a month on exchange goes by that fast and I only get nine more of those months.

One month. I’m still unsure of how to describe to you all how this feels because I don’t think words can do it justice. I’ve already seen and done so much and there have already been ups and downs and I have things that I like and dislike and quite a few things that I never would have expected to be normal to me already are. Somehow, without me realizing it so I don’t know when, this place became home even through some discomforts.

Now I’m pretty happy because life has become a weird mixture of routine while at the same time every day is an adventure. On most weekdays I have Korean classes in the morning and school classes in the afternoon. After school sometimes I go downtown to a cafe with friends or sometimes I’m too tired and just go home. On Sundays I go to church with a friend and her family in a nearby city. It seems normal right? Well, what I think makes everything the most special to me are the people: my Korean friends, my exchange student friends, my host family, my friends’ families, the people I meet on the streets, and even my neighbor! Actually, my neighbor’s house is always my favorite house on my street because his garden is beautiful and is in just the perfect position so that you can sit and enjoy either the sunrise or the sunset (which are both breathtaking here by the way).

My friend and her family took some of us exchange students to Jeju Island and it was such a beautiful place! I’ve seen a little bit of Seoul as well and I love the city! The food here is amazing. First thing I’ll miss for sure.

OH! Something I thought was really interesting when I first got here is that it seems most people in my area leave their dogs outside all the time. Rain or shine, hot or cold, day or night, all dogs stay outside. I’m not really sure why it was one of the first things I noticed here, but it was just so different to how I was used to dogs being cared for at home.

Also, food and makeup and actually a lot of things here are pretty cheap. But fruit are pretty expensive most times; me coming from Florida where fruits are abundant, it’s shocking to see some of the prices. And clothes are so expensive here! I love Korean fashion, but Korean sale prices are definitely not American sale prices…

My first host family is lovely. My host mom is so kind right to her very core. She’s always concerned with me and wonders how she can help whenever she can. My host father is a quiet man and he works very hard, but he also is very kind. My youngest host sister majors in animation and she is amazing at digital art! Her artistry is beautiful. My oldest host sister rocks so much. She has done so much for me since I got here and worked so hard to make me feel comfortable and I will be forever grateful for it. The thing about my first host family is…none of them speak english. My host mom, youngest host sister, and host dad speak zero english whatsoever. My oldest host sister speaks minimal amounts but its very hard for her to understand me most times. So, learning Korean has been a must for me.

Ah…language. It’s both my favorite and least favorite part. Korean is such a cool language! I love it and all the cultural significance that goes along with it! But…it’s quite difficult. I studied quite a bit before I left and even though my Korean friends tell me I’m doing well and my exchange student peers tell me I’m the best out of all of us, I still find myself wishing I had studied harder. It is definitely not the hardest language but nonetheless learning a new language is quite the strenuous task. So I am working very hard. At home everyone who knows me knows how much I love people and how much I love to talk and how much I love to talk to people. But here I am with barely the basics for getting by and it’s the challenge of a lifetime to interact with people and it’s so frustrating. Future outbounds be warned: of all the things to take seriously, let language make the top of your list. Your language skills will be your best friend when you get to your country.

Oh so so so much has happened and I can barely make a scratch in the surface of my life here with these journal posts. The journey has only barely begun and yet what an experience it’s shaping into! I’m so appreciative to Rotary for every single second.

With love,

Sat, September 19, 2015

Erika - Austria

Hometown: Orlando, Florida
School: William R. Boone High School
Sponsor District : District 6980
Sponsor Club: Orlando, Florida
Host District: 1920
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Bad Ischl

My Bio

Guten Tag! My name is Erika Gutierrez and thanks to Rotary I will be spending my year abroad in the beautiful country of Austria. Florida has been my home since I was born. I have enjoyed living on Lake Conway in Orlando with my dad, mom and a sister who attends the University of Florida. Currently I am a senior in the Law Magnet at Boone High School and more than halfway through an AA Degree thanks to the dual enrollment program provided by Valencia Community College.

At Boone I compete in the varsity swim team and partake in our school’s photography club. Growing up on Lake Conway made me develop a love for all water and board sports. In my free time you can usually find me wakeboarding at Orlando Watersports Complex, where I have gotten the chance to meet people from different parts of the world. Other things I like to do are surf, longboard, skateboard, and hang out with friends. I also have a part-time job at Quicksilver/Roxy in the Florida Mall.

I have been fortunate to travel significantly with my family and these trips have instilled in me a passion for adventure and learning. Having experienced other cultures has augmented my wanderlust, love for the world, and yearning to expand my global awareness. I am looking forward to meeting my host family and making new friends. Being an exchange student has been a dream of mine since middle school and the opportunity has finally arrived! I am very excited to immerse myself in a new culture, language, and environment. Thank you so much Rotary Youth Exchange! Österreich hier komme ich!

Journals: Erika – Austria 2015-2016

  • Erika, outbound to Austria

When I last wrote, I was still new to Austria. The language was a mystery, winter was coming, and the culture was still not clear. My amazing adventure had just begun. Now the winter has come and gone and I am writing again between two trips. This last weekend, the Rotary Youth Exchange Program hosted a weekend in Budapest and next weekend we leave for the infamous Eurotour.

Now, I think the best way to sum up the last 7 months for you future exchangers is to write down the main areas of exchange and the progression of them since I last wrote.


Of course one of the biggest, if not the biggest point is the language. I remember at the beginning of the exchange I was lost and confused language wise. Every exchange student will feel this and it is okay to get frustrated. However, without effort comes no fruit. If you work hard, the language will come. I remember there was a turning point for me on exchange concerning the language acquisition. Some time in January the light bulb just switched on in my head and I was able to understand most of everything (even some of the dialect) and sufficiently express myself in the language. After this point, the language just got easier and easier until it became natural, like now. Read, write, buy a grammar book, do the exercises, make flashcards, practice with your host parents, practice with yourself in the mirror, watch shows with subtitles. Just think of how awesome it would be to be able to speak two (or more) languages! If you are low on language learning stamina, I found these videos really helpful: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d0yGdNEWdn0

Host families:

At the beginning of January I switched host families with one of the other exchange students in my city. It came as sort of a surprise because we were both under the impression that we would be staying with our families until the end of our exchange. I really did not want to switch because I really liked the house and location in the city that I was in and I knew the other family lived much farther out from the center. At the house of my old host family, my best friend from school was my neighbor and my school and the train station were a short walk away. Nonetheless we switched and I think it was one of the best things that could have happened to me. It is good to see different perspectives of living in your host city. I get along with my new host family much better than my other one. Although the house is a bit far, the bike ride to and from the city is extremely gorgeous and it really helps with keeping the exchange weight gain in check! So future outbound, my advice to yo u would be not to be afraid of change, you never know what great things could be waiting for you, and if you don’t like it you can always try to switch back!


School will be different for everyone depending on what school you go to, how your host parents are, and if you are done with High School in America. In my case since I did not need credits to transfer, so I just used school as a platform to meet people and study German. Now that I have a really good grip on the language I spend my time working on stuff for university, reading books, and sometimes actually participating in the class. I have made many acquaintances in school, a couple friends and one best friend. I am in the 7th grade here (equivalent junior year in America) so my schoolmates have a lot to study all the time. This means during the week I usually spend time with my exchange friends and on the weekend I make plans with my Austrian friends if they don’t have any big tests the following week. Exchange, especially with Rotary, is like a game of cards and you must deal with what you are dealt. Do what you can to make the best out of your hand of cards. My clas s has been very welcoming and we have done many fun things together!


With the Austrian Youth Exchange Program you will have many travel opportunities. Also, usually every student in an Austrian school receives 2 cards, one that gives you free access to all public transportation in your state in Austria and one that give you half off on all train tickets. This is convenient for day trips without Rotary. I have been to almost every major city more than once including Vienna, Salzburg, Linz, Hallstatt, and Innsbruck and in the coming months I will go to Bregenz and Graz. Some cities outside of Austria that I have been to with Rotary include: Prague, Dresden, Berlin, and Budapest. Next weekend I will be leaving for Eurotour, which will add about 17 more!


I am just going to put it out there…I absolutely love wearing a dirndl! A dirndl is the traditional clothing for women in Austria and for men it’s lederhosen. I think Austrians will find any excuse to put on their traditional clothing, especially in the part of Austria where I live. Which is great. There are so many traditions here that are just so unique and without explanation and that I just find beautiful. During Christmas time look out for Kristkind, Krampus, and Glöckler! Fasching, the equivalent of Carnaval in Austria is also tons of fun. Austrians are very musical and like to dance. Many times have I stood on tables with my school friends dressed in the traditional clothing singing and dancing.

Integration into the way of life and culture of Austrians was relatively easy; I did not experience much cultural shock. They do go about things very differently but not to the extent were it is extremely conspicuous. I am to the point of my exchange that I am so used to living like an Austrian that I have forgotten what it is like to live in America!

I think that about covers most of the important points. Writing this (a bit overdue) journal entry has allowed me to reflect on how this year has gone. A year abroad is something very unique. At times it is hard, at times you are the happiest you’ve ever been in your life, but the fact that you as a young adult came to a foreign country to learn about it and to share your culture is something to be very proud of. Exchange changes you as a person. Your horizons are broadened, your wills become clearer, and you become more confident. Coming into exchange it is normal to have expectations. However you will notice that what you experience, you would have never been able to expect. Yet, that is the best thing about it. This year has been full of so many beautiful memories, people, and places. As an exchange student every day is a new adventure. Being here I have really learned to make the most of every day since I know my time here was always limited since the beginning. I fall in love with every day and I am very grateful to Rotary for the amazing opportunity. I am excited for the following last months!

Sun, June 12, 2016

  • Erika, outbound to Austria

If you are an awaiting outbound to Austria, get ready. I would have never imagined to have done so much and learned so much in only two short months. Great ready for the best year of your life.

For all exchange students in Austria it begins with language camp. About 3 days after I arrived in Austria I packed up again and left for Altmünster to attend two weeks of “Sprachkurs.” Here we learned the basics of German with 65 other students from the whole world. We had class every day but also lots of freetime, which we would spend enjoying the sun and swimming in the Traunsee, or walking to the next town over, Gmunden. In our first weekend there we even had an excursion to Hallstatt! It was at this camp where I obtained not only a great starting base for my German acquisition but also met my awesome new family of other exchange students staying all over Austria.

Unfortunately my short Austrian summer came to an end and fall quickly approached as I spent the next two weeks after camp getting to know my city, host family, and preparing for school. I have to say right now, I love where I live. Coming from a big city like Orlando, to the small resort-like town of Bad Ischl is just what I needed. Bad Ischl is a pretty popular town in Austria. It is only 30 minutes away from Hallstatt and is a city many tourists visit since it used to be the summer home to the emperor of Austria. Also the surrounding area is the most beautiful land I have ever seen. I live in the area of Austria referenced as the Salzkammergut. I couldn’t be placed in a place more opposite than Florida. There are many lakes where I live and they are all enclosed by mountains. Well they are probably not “mountains” (to me they are), but nonetheless I think a part of me will always be at peace, even after I’ve left this country, just knowing this part of the earth always exists and lives on. Yes it’s that great.

But as I was saying…completely different from Florida. With that I mean the weather. It’s so cold!! Okay probably not that cold, but a beach girl like me is rapidly learning how to dress for the cold weather and not die. It’s only October but recently a teacher pointed out to me snow on top of one of the big hills (mountain) you can see out of the window in my classroom.

Naturally, this opportunity in Austria is a learning experience for me on all aspects of my life. Living in cold weather, becoming more independent, getting to know more about myself, what I want for my future, how I get along with others, learning about the history and life in Europe, and of course, learning a new language. Which brings me to German. Please fellow future outbound reading this, start learning your language! As soon as you can. As you’ve probably already been told, it will really help with everything! You’ll make friends faster, learn more about where you live faster, makes it easier to speak with Rotarians, and just helps you to integrate a lot faster than you would coming with zero language skills.

I didn’t come to Austria with much German. It was hard to fit studying in between trying to graduate, working two jobs, and getting ready to leave your family, friends, and beloved state (I only realized how much I liked it right before I left). However I am happy to say now at the month 2 mark I can understand almost everything people say to me, and I speak only German with my host family and school friends.

Now this didn’t come with just living in Austria for 2 months alone. It comes with hard practice and studying and just not being afraid to make mistakes. You should see me at school. Since I don’t understand my teachers that well yet I am always knee-deep in flash cards, my German to English dictionary, and my notebook reserved only for learning German that is on the brink of breaking. If you wish to be fluent, like I hope to at the end of the year, just remember it’s not easy but it is possible. Also if you are coming to Austria, be aware that many parts of Austria (like the Salzkammergut) speak dialect and not High German. Like seriously it will take me 30 solid minutes to try to figure out what my class is saying in our Whatsapp group chat, and even after reading it over and over I cannot understand at all.

Another thing to look out for…travelling! The exchange students to Austria have the opportunity to do many awesome trips with the RYE program here. So far I have been to: Hallstatt, Altmünster (not well known but I love this city so much), Klosteneurberg with my host family, Linz, Salzburg, Gmunden, Hiking in Tauplitz, Rome with my school, Pilzen in the Czech Republic with the Rotary Club of Bad Ischl, this weekend RYE Austria is having a Vienna weekend, and next weekend we are going to Prauge, Dresden, and Berlin!

I can’t believe I was allowed this amazing opportunity to grow, see and do. I am eternally grateful to Rotary and Rotary Youth Exchange for this chance of a lifetime. Sometimes as I walk around my city I find myself smiling randomly, or singing, or just straight out dancing because my heart is so happy. I can’t believe I’m living out the dream I’ve had for so long.

Fri, October 16, 2015

Georgia - Italy

Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Fletcher High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Jacksonville Oceanside, Florida
Host District: 2100
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Ottaviano

My Bio

Buongiorno! My name is Georgia Pinner, I am currently a senior at Duncan U. Fletcher high school in the small city of Neptune Beach, Florida. Words cannot express my gratitude towards everyone in Rotary for giving me this life changing opportunity. This summer I will graduate with my classmates and then embark on a ten-month journey in the beautiful country of Italy.

I love the beach, music, art, and just hanging out with friends. At home I live close to the beach with my mom and dad. I have an older sister who is twenty-two but lives in Tallahassee, Florida while she studies environmental science at Florida State University. I am Vice President of my senior class and also in Interact club. I have always loved trying new things and experiencing different cultures people live in. Italian is one of the most fascinating languages to me and I hope to be fluent in it by the time I return. I know this next year will be one of the most challenging things I ever done but will also be one of the most rewarding as well. I am very much looking forward to experiencing a new way of living and sharing those new experiences with all of you. Ciao!

Journals: Georgia – Italy 2015-2016

  • Georgia, outbound to Italy

Every morning I wake up around 7:15, I get ready for school, brush my teeth, and eat breakfast with my host sister. We (try to) leave the house around 7:50 and get to school around 8:10. School is usually 5 hours with one 6-hour day, I say usually because if a teacher is absent or there is an assembly at school we get to leave early!

Italian school is very different from American school. My classmates have been together since their first year of high school and are now in their fifth year so they are all very close. They are very sweet and funny but the boys in my class are very loud and crazy haha. Everyone tries to include me as much as they can and I become very popular during English class!

Half way through the day we have a break where we can buy a piece of pizza, a sandwich, anything like that.

After school my host sister drives us home where we eat a big lunch my host mother makes for us. Then I usually take a nap and go to the gym or just take a nap, haha. Later I sometimes grab an espresso with friends or hangout in the Local Square or “piazza”.

For some reason I assumed learning the language while I’m in Italy would be easy, I am not sure why I thought this because it is very hard! I have gotten better but I definitely am regretting not studying every second I had free time back in Florida!! The days when I get frustrated with myself for not knowing the language better are the days I do miss home a little more, and then I remind myself that I don’t have time to miss home because I am only in Italy for 10 more months, which seems so short.

The people in my life back in Florida will always be there when I return in 10 months, but I may never see some of the friends I have made here in Italy again. (Wow this is a sad and scary thought.) Anyway, I am loving Italy and can never thank Rotary or anyone who helped me get here enough for this amazing experience. It is so much harder than it looks but it is also so worth it and amazing being here.

Mon, October 26, 2015

  • Georgia, outbound to Italy

I would like to start out my first Journal entry by first thanking Rotary or anyone who has helped me with this amazing experience!!

I arrived in Naples, Italy on September 3rd, 2015. I was greeted by my host mother, my host sister, and my host cousin who were standing right in front of the crowd waiting for people with a huge sign that read, “Benventura in Italia Georgia” or Welcome to Italy Georgia! We then went straight to the coffee shop in the airport where I drank my first Italian espresso.

I live in a small town in Naples, Italy called San Giuseppe Vesuviano. I will attend school next week in Ottaviano which is the next town over, also only about 10 minutes away from my house! The first day I arrived my host sister and her friend took me to a little coffee shop hang out that is on Mt. Vesuvius! People hangout and drink coffee or Coca-Cola and play cards or just talk. There are so many trees and it’s nice and cool up there so its good to go on hot days! This is one of my favorite spots so far. Everyone I meet is so interested in me and wants to know more and more! My host sister just came back in July from being on exchange in Canada for a year so her English is very good and it really helps when it comes to meeting new people and them asking me a lot of questions.

I love my host family. My mother Anna, My father Luigi, my sister Antonia, and my other host sister who is currently on exchange in Bennedetta,Texas. They are sweet, understanding, and truly want me to have the best exchange! I cannot imagine leaving them and I have only been here for a week. Over the weekend my family took me to their Vacation home in Santa Maria, which is about an hour away from my host town and is on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The water is crystal clear and the town is very old and beautiful. It has houses going all up the side of the mountain and one night we ate dinner on the top! It was so much fun.

Because my sister and I are in our final year of high school (did I mention I will have school on Saturday?) a lot of her friends are having 18th birthday parties which are equivalent to an American 16th birthday party. They are at these amazing venues and all their friends and family are invited. There’s music, Dancing, food, and at the end they play a sweet video their family makes of them growing up. After the video they have a huge cake with big candles that they blow out, then they take about 50 pictures with all their different friend groups and family members.

A normal day for me is waking up around 10am, eating a big lunch at approximately 2pm then resting, then going to hangout with friends or my host family, then eating a light dinner at around 10pm. Although I am still adjusting, everyday I am here I feel more at home. As soon as I was with my family and saw my new home for the first time I knew this was where I was meant to be.

Believe Rotary when they tell you they will find you the perfect place for YOU. I feel as though I am right where I belong and couldn’t imagine being anywhere else! Things already seem like they are going by so fast and I don’t want to miss a second of it.

I will update soon once school starts again. Ciao!!

Wed, September 9, 2015

Grettel - Japan

Hometown: Saint Petersburg, Florida
School: St. Petersburg Collegiate High School
Sponsor District : District 6950
Sponsor Club: St. Petersburg, Florida
Host District: 2610
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Kanazawa

My Bio

こんにちは, 私の名前はグレーテルです! Hi, My name is Grettel and next year I’ll be going on exchange to Japan! I’ve wanted to be an exchange student with Rotary since I was in the 7th grade (about 5 years) so I am enormously excited to have been accepted into the program. Thankfully, I already know a bit about Japan and the language since I studied it a bit when I was younger. Right now I’m a senior at Saint Petersburg Collegiate High School and my favorite subjects in school are English and Humanities. I’m involved in a lot of things as school, I help out a lot with National Honors Society and Student Government and I attend club meetings for Multicultural club and Interact when I can. I live with my mom and my grandmother. A big passion of mine is graphic design and it’s the field I hope to work in and study. I like doing all things creative such as sewing, baking, painting and writing. I’m really excited about my exchange and experiencing everyday life in a country that is so different from the United States. Something I really want to do in Japan is join school clubs and really get involved with my class and school. I think it’s really awesome to be an exchange student and I’m ready put my all into making this exchange great.

Journals: Grettel – Japan 2015-2016

  • Grettel, outbound to Japan

My first host family was the Yonei’s. They lived really close to the train station which was convenient, and two doors down lived another exchange student from Australia. The Yonei family was made up of Mr. and Mrs. Yonei and their daughters Shiho and Maho. Shiho goes to college in the UK, so i never actually met her, and Maho left for her own exchange year in Canada a week after I arrived. Mrs.Yonei is an English teacher, which was nice, but it also meant that I used English all the time while living with the Yonei’s so my Japanese didn’t improve as much as it would have if my first host family hadn’t known English that well.

The Yonei’s house was quite new and very pretty, it was always really clean and smelled nice. I enjoyed studying at the living room table and I loved all the cute and yummy breads they bought me. Mr.Yonei was the president of a branch of a construction machine company, he was a guitar player and really into rock and roll. Mr.Yonei taught me how to play ‘Smoke on the Water’ which was really fun, and lent me a small guitar to practice with while I lived there. He was also really into anime and would often play his favorite shows for me to watch after dinner or in the car. The Yonei’s would always take me to their favorite restaurants which was awesome, I ate so much delicious food my first three months here.

I think a memory I’ll never forget was my first week there, when we sent off Maho at the airport. As she got in line to board Maho started sobbing, which made me recall having to leave my mom and grandma at the airport, and caused me to start crying as well. It was embarrassing at the moment because the tears just wouldn’t stop coming, but when I look back on it, it was a bit funny. No one knew what to do with the crying exchange student hahaha.

While at the Yonei’s house I helped where I could and usually wiped down the table after dinner. I made sure to always pick up after myself and other than that my only chore was to do my own laundry.

The Yonei’s also took me to a lot of events in the city, like a sweets festival, a crafts event, and even an Evangelion anime exhibit. There was always something fun and interesting to do with them. I also attended calligraphy lessons with Mrs.Yonei which were hard but fun. One of the pieces I did even got put in the local calligraphy journal! Recently I saw the Yonei’s at a Rotary event and they gave me t-shirts they had made of my 壁ドン calligraphy, they’re so cool looking!

I had a wonderful time adjusting to Japan with the Yonei’s and I’m very grateful to them for being my first host family.

Tue, February 2, 2016

  • Grettel, outbound to Japan

こんにちは!I honestly can’t believe I’ve been in Japan for more than a month already! Time is flying way too fast. I’ve adjust really well I think, nothing really feels that shockingly different, and I’m having a really awesome time.

I am a horrible procrastinator, so you bet I was packing and rushing to get things together the day and night before leaving (I didn’t sleep at all the night before leaving). Once I had my mess together my family and I drove up to Tampa international in the wee hours of the early morning. I got there in a rush just to find out I had just missed the scheduled check in time (internal screaming!).

I’m embarrassed to admit I broke down crying because of the stress, which was just emphasized when my luggage was overweight and I had to take things out! My flight was moved around and they changed my first flight to Newark instead of whenever else the one I was supposed to take was going (I’ve forgotten by now). I cried most of the way to the terminal especially since I couldn’t go in with my grandma and had to leave her early. I made it to my plane just in time and sniffled like a baby on the flight to Newark.

Lesson learned though, get to your flight super extra early to avoid tears and panic!

I got to see the Statue of Liberty as we descended into Newark! My flight to Japan was 14 hours of sleeping punctuated by occasional bland airplane food. I made sure to guzzle down like 5 bottles of water though and move my feet around a lot, to avoid dehydration and leg problems.

When I got to Narita Airport and got through customs, I stuck in my headphones, played an action movie soundtrack and began my mission to make it to the showers get out of my sweaty 14-hour-flight clothes. I had researched the showers beforehand and I was VERY excited to wash off the grossness of the long flight.

After a trek back and forth though the airport I finally broke down and asked an airport worker where the showers where. I’m eternally grateful for learning how to ask where things are in Japanese before leaving. The showers were SUPER nice! It actually felt like a mini hotel to be honest! And because I was on an international flight they were half off! Making it only about $4 for a delicious and refreshing 30 minute shower. They even had hairdryers! Once I had gotten dressed in my arrival outfit, thrown on some makeup and fixed my hair, I was ready for action.

I arrived in Kanazawa pretty late and all I remember is that there was a きゃりーぱみゅぱみゅ concert on TV that night and I was like… yes.

I’ll send another journal in a bit about Kanazawa and more! またね~

Tue, September 22, 2015

Haley - Poland

Hometown: Tallahassee, Florida
School: Leon High School
Sponsor District : District 6940
Sponsor Club: Tallahassee Sunrise, Florida
Host District: 2230
Host Club: The Rotary Klub of Olsztyn

My Bio

Cześć! My name is Haley Hughen, I’m 17 years old, and I’m going to be spending ten months in Poland! I’m a senior at Leon High School in Tallahassee, where I live with my mom, my younger brother, and our cat. You can usually find me running around school, trying to manage club meetings and getting all my homework done – I try to stay very involved at school, and I’m also taking 5 AP classes this year. It’s a bit stressful but I really believe that it will help me in the long run. In my free time I love to read and watch movies, and I’m trying to become a better runner.

I’ve been interested in exchange for about two years – I was reading over all the forms last year, and had plans to apply for the 2014-2015 school year, but I was afraid of missing senior year. Now I’m taking a gap year between high school and college to do this exchange. I’m so excited – to learn the language, to experience a new culture, to make new friends – I’m excited about it all. I can’t wait for this year to unfold. Bardzo Dziękuję, Rotary!

Journal: Haley – Poland 2015-2016

  • Haley, outbound to Poland

I’m drinking coffee in bed at nine PM on a Friday and nothing makes sense.
I’m staring at the glow of my laptop that, for some reason, has a broken webcam, which makes skype sessions difficult, and when you’re an exchange student skype sessions become very important and honestly I have no clue why the webcam is broken because I left my laptop at home and home is Poland now and I left my laptop at home when I went to Germany for a week and when I came back it didn’t work and nothing makes sense.
I only have two months left on exchange, fifty-two days exactly according to the counter on my phone, and in fifty-two days I go home to Florida from my home in Poland.

I must admit, I’m not entirely sure who I am anymore.
In the past eight months I’ve been to eight countries, gained six kilos, lost my tan, lost my way, gotten on the wrong bus and the wrong tram, been on the right tram without a ticket, begged my way out of a ticket and had it work, tried to beg my way out of a ticket and failed (bye bye, sixty euro), I’ve made friends at my school who I missed when I was with my friends from Rotary, I’ve met people from countries I’ve never been to. I’ve had political discussions with people who speak very broken English, I’ve made horrific grammatical mistakes in English myself. I’ve seen places I never thought I would see, I’ve seen wonders I never knew existed. I’ve learned a language, poorly and incorrectly and not fluently, I’ve made a family.

I made a life.

I made a life, and then, I saw the ocean in Italy, and I sobbed, because I felt like I was home. Rotary forbid us from going in the water past our knees, and maybe I broke that rule just a little bit, but I couldn’t help it, and swimming in the ocean was the only reason I’ve ever been in trouble on my exchange. I saw the ocean in Italy, and memory hit me like a punch to the gut, and in that moment I realized that Florida was, is, and will probably always be a bigger part of me then I can comprehend. The beach makes me think of my uncle’s house and the fourth of July, it makes me think of road trips with friends crammed in the car, it makes me think of the conversations that led me to start this crazy exchange year in the first place. The beach makes me think of family vacations, of sand burning my feet and overripe watermelon, fiery sunsets and falling off surfboards. All these things are Florida things, my family and my loved ones, they’re boldly and undeniably Florida. The beach is really where I’m happiest, and I never even knew how much I had missed it until I saw the shore from our little hotel window.

When I interviewed for this program I was asked where I wanted to go. “Send me anywhere”, I said, and this is part of the reason I believe I was chosen – because of my supposed openness and desire to see the world. Here’s the thing though, it wasn’t that I wanted to see the world so much as I felt trapped. I wanted more than anything to GO, to get out of Tallahassee.

Obviously, I was successful. I left.
I won’t be returning the same.

I’m a calmer, happier person now, I’m more confident in my own skin and my own abilities. I have a deeper respect for where I grew up and the people who raised me – and I love them more, now that I can step back and see everything from a more objective vantage point. Life was never supposed to be as hard as I made it. I’m less dramatic now, I’m braver. I’ve shed prejudices I didn’t realize I had and learned to be a better friend. I genuinely want to see the world – there are whole continents I’ve never been too, languages I’ve never heard spoken in person. From Thailand to Brazil, Australia to Argentina to Antarctica and back again, in my soul I want to see it all.

A few days ago, I felt my old self creep back into my new skin, when some financial aid paperwork went astray. I slipped back into my old panic, my brain going a million miles an hour, I thought “This is all my fault I was too stupid I can’t believe I made that mistake I can’t believe my mom made that mistake I’m not going to get any aid I’m going to have to drop out I’m going to have to go to community college and I can’t handle this why is everything so awful what do I do they’re gonna take my scholarship away and I need that scholarship it’s huge without it I’m going to have to drop out ”, in circles for an hour and a half before I managed to call a friend and ask for help. “Calm down”, he said, reminding me to breathe. “Just try to have a little more faith in humans”. Later, the problem was resolved quickly and easily.

Thank you, JP. You were right, always are.
Just try to have a little more faith in humans. Next time I’m stressed, next time I feel the panic of life get to me again, I’m going to remember all the happy memories I’ve had, and breathe, and have faith. I think we should all try to do something similar.

Breathe. Have faith. Smile.

Some rules are worth breaking, so go run into the ocean while you still have time.

Fri, April 29, 2016

  • Haley, outbound to Poland

Have you ever been happily walking downtown with friends, or perhaps sitting on the bus, or just quietly eating you lunch when your brain hits you with a thought along the lines of “Wow. I am literally so lucky. I might be the luckiest person in the world.”?

Yeah. Me too.

In fact, it can get a little troubling trying to lead my day to day life when every time I stop to think I get hit by waves of gratitude, followed quickly by disbelief that this is really happening, and often accompanied by shock that, yes, I am living in a country thousands and thousands of miles from where I was born and not only am I getting happier each day, I’m thriving here (if I do say so myself).

Then I usually remember with horror that I only have six months left here, not even, and that at some point I’m going to have to go home. But what even makes a place your home?

Family? I’ve got family here. My host family is my family. They are my mom and my brothers and sisters, because I have moms and brothers and sisters now, plural. I have a mom here who calls me her daughter and who tells me jokes and talks non-stop when we share meals, I have a sister who knows what I’m going through because she’s done the exact same thing in Brazil and brothers who protect me and look at my photo albums and tell me which dishes I should do my very best to avoid on Christmas eve dinner. I have more family then I’d ever had before.

Friends? Don’t get me started. I’ve never had so many friends in my life. You know what I think is the best measure of if you’re close to your friends? Gossip. My Polish friends talk to me about their boyfriends, about how that one girl got a cold sore from kissing a gay guy, they tell me what’s happening in their houses and how their little sister has chicken pox and they trust me with their secrets. They’re sweet and lovely and sarcastic and they never stop complaining, because this is Poland, and if you don’t complain you probably haven’t been here very long.

Community? Because that’s the best way I can think of to describe the exchange students here. We are all friends, yes, we are each other’s family, but there’s a painful simplicity in saying that. We are connected through a bond that I know will last far beyond our remaining months here (we are also connected quite closely through WhatsApp, Facebook, and snapchat. Sorry rotary, but I never followed your advice to take a social media hiatus). These people, these amazing, funny, brilliant, talented people, understand exactly what my biggest struggles here are, without me having to say a word. I could write an essay about each and every one of them. These people, I will sob when I have to leave them.

Just before Christmas, there was a meeting in Wroclaw (which is, side note, beautiful and you should all visit it. I think I’ve said this before but everyone needs to visit Poland at least once in their lifetime. The old town is huge and colorful and the lights shine and there’s history in every cobblestone. ), where because of either a booking error, a timing error, something, the exchange students were split into two groups and put in different hostels. This was a big deal. For most of us, it was the first time we had seen each other in months, and it was the first time we were all together since the very beginning of exchange back in Bydgoszcz. Nobody was happy about it (we might have tried to stage a protest on Facebook. Didn’t work).

Anyway, we saw a really interesting World War 2 memorial/museum, the old town, a castle, and even a greenhouse – nobody really explained to us why we were at the greenhouse, but it was super cool nonetheless. Fast forward to the last night, where we went to a Rotary Christmas event – some of the exchange students put on short skits, there was traditional dancing, a lot of speeches in Polish, some music – a lot of performance is the best way to describe it. The last act was one of the American exchange students, Emma, singing ‘Hallelujah’, a fantastic song best known for its appearance in ‘Shrek’. All of the exchange students joined in the singing, unplanned by anyone, and we swayed to the rhythm with our arms around each other. The Rotarians joined in, and the room was filled with the coming together of people from twelve different countries, to listen to the beauty of Emma’s voice while we stood with her.
Afterward, when I went to congratulate Emma on her performance, she told me ‘no, it wasn’t me. It was the moment, and it was all of us, it was everybody’.

Later that night, we danced and cheered for while a student from Taiwan, Kevin did the most incredible beatbox I’ve ever heard in my life. We sang together and crowded into a tight ball, though there was plenty of space in the ballroom, and we stayed in that formation while the Rotarians called to us to end it, to go to dinner, the food would be cold if we waited this long.

They didn’t understand that simply being together would always be the trump card. Because Emma was right, the magic is in all of us, hearts beating as one with our stolen moments of solidarity.

So what I think I’m trying to say is that yeah, my home is in Florida, but it’s also in Poland. How those two things can coexist, I have no idea. I’m still trying to work it out. And no, I don’t want to go ‘home’, because I already am. I don’t want to go back to Florida, not at all. Sorry, mom.

Exchange has taken my heart, and beaten it raw, stretched it a whole lot bigger, opened it more than I thought possible, and then stomped on it about a thousand times in a row. And it’ll do more, and I’ll take it, without question.

In fact, I can’t wait to see what the next six months will bring.

Wed, January 6, 2016

  • Haley, outbound to Poland

When I was first applying for my exchange year, I must have read hundreds of journals. I dug through all the years Rotary Florida has been sending students out, and poured over their entries like they were sacred religious texts – and I always got annoyed at the students. It seemed to me that 80-90% of the outbounds had gaps of months between their first and second entries, and many didn’t write more than one or two entries the whole year, if that.

I mention this now because I am a hypocrite. And I mention this now because I understand why they did it. It’s been almost three months since I last wrote a journal entry – and I think the reason why is because it’s so hard to start writing.

There’s so much that’s happened in the last three months that trying to put it into words would be impossible, but at the same time, what’s happening here is just life now. There’s not much interesting about my daily ride to school anymore. But if I look at my last entry, school hadn’t even started. So I’m going to try to fill in that gap now.

I go to Liceum 11, in the middle of the city of Olsztyn. I’m the only exchange student there, but a lot of the students speak English, and many have patience beyond belief for letting me practice my Polish. (Side note to anyone reading this who’s going to Poland next year – wear black pants or a black skirt, and a white shirt on the first day of school. Trust me.) My class schedule varies every day, much like a college schedule, and all students have from 8 to 15 classes – but some are only once or twice a week. The classes, for me, are pretty boring, because I don’t understand enough to fully participate, so I usually read novels or study my Polish notes. Making friends was really hard at first – but now that I can speak more, it’s gotten much easier. I think my language skills have also benefited a lot since I don’t have other Rotary students in my city to rely on.

Twice a week, I also attend a Polish course for foreigners at the university in my city, and there are a dozen or so college exchange students there, mostly from Europe with the exception of one boy from Egypt. I love that class, because it’s just so helpful. There’s only so much you can learn through Rosetta Stone.

I’ve also seen snow for the first time, gone ice skating, spent a week in Germany, traveled to Warsaw, I’ve gone to a volleyball match with my Polish friend Anna, I’ve gone to class parties, and generally gotten a lot closer to my classmates. I’ve done so much. In three days I’m traveling to Wroclaw to meet with all the other exchange students for a Christmas event, and I’m excited beyond belief. The family I’ve made here with the other exchange students is incredible – everyone is beyond kind, brave, and supportive.

I’ve also spent a lot of time in my room, wrapped in a blanket and wondering why the sun sets at 3:00 now. I’ve spent more time baking bread, I’ve spent hours in cafes by myself, reading and writing and studying. This exchange has taught me a lot about relying on myself – because I’m not going to lie, I spend a lot of my time alone. I’ve probably been lonelier here then I’d ever been before. But now I know how to fill up time productively, I know how to challenge myself, and I know how to be happy enjoying my own company. I don’t know if that particularly makes much sense, but I know the feeling is both wonderful and mildly soul-crushing.

Poland is beautiful. The people are amazing and kind and friendly and proud when you try to speak their language, the chocolate is fantastic (and it’s were all my money goes to. Mom, if you’re reading this, send money. I’m going broke).

Poland was also my 5th choice country and I cried the night I found out I was coming here. But I truly couldn’t imagine myself anywhere else. If you’re an exchange student in the process of applying, I highly encourage you to put Poland on your list. If you’re an adult, make it a point to visit this country in your life. It doesn’t have the glamor of Italy, I’ll admit that, but this country has a soul. Just come to Poland. Take my word for it.

I’ll try to write again soon, but because I’m a hypocritical monster made of procrastination, no promises.

Mon, December 7, 2015

  • Haley, outbound to Poland

I’ve been in Poland for about three weeks now, and it’s pretty much impossible to describe everything that’s happened, and all the changes, the people I’ve met and this damn language, so this is going to be super unorganized (but at least it exists?). Here I go!

– I have never eaten so much bread in my life, and I can count on one hand the number of meals I’ve had that have not included sliced tomatoes
– Polish people are way more into ice cream then Amerians, and the ice cream is better
– 3.7 zloty to a dollar means I’m rich
– I’ve visited Bydgoszcz for language camp, which I thought was the most amazing city I’ve ever seen, and then I visited Torun, which is too pretty to be real
– The other exchange students and I visited a castle that’s twice as old as the United States

– Speaking Polish is a real challange and I wish I had studied more before coming here

– I truly believe that if everyone did exchange, there would be no more wars
– There are bees everywhere
– I have an apple tree in my backyard
– I can curse in five languages
– There are no clothing dryers and no window screens

At the language camp, I was able to meet all the other exchange students in Poland, there are about 50 of us total – and now I can say I have friends not only from the United States, but from Brazil, Colombia, Canada, Argentina, Mexico, France, Italy, Taiwan and Australia. The friends I made at language camp amazed me constantly – I’ve never felt comfortable with a large group of people, and I’ve never felt more loved, accepted, or supported. I think the biggest thing that surprised me was how at home I felt. In the middle of a crowded Polish city, unable to do more then form basic sentences, surrounded by people I’d known for five days, thousands of miles away from my family, I felt truly at peace.

Poland is amazing, completely amazing. And since I’ve been here, I’ve had some of the best moments of my life and some of the worst, I’ve felt brutal homesickness and utter joy. There aren’t words to describe how it feels when your host mother calls you her daughter, or you realize you can’t see your host sister again because she’s in Canada, I can’t explain how the countryside makes me happy and the exhilaration of swimming in a freezing lake in the middle of the woods. At a hostel in Torun, about thirty five of the other exchange students and I crammed ourselves into a tiny kitchen on the last night, and danced to songs in Portuguese, using our phones as strobe lights, and I think it was the happiest I’ve been in years. Everything here is amplified – the highs are higher and the lows are lower.

I start school in a few days, so I’ll see how that goes – I have to learn to ride the busses, and make friends in my town (I’m the only exchange student in Olsztyn). But I can’t wait.

Anyway, I’m not entirely sure how to end this, so i think I’ll just upload some photos and leave it like that.


Mon, August 31, 2015

Hannah - Lithuania

Hometown: Winter Springs, Florida
School: Winter Springs High School
Sponsor District : District 6980
Sponsor Club: Winter Springs, Florida
Host District: 1462
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Kaunas

My Bio

Sveiki visi! Mano vardas yra Hannah Nelsonas! (Hello all! My name is Hannah Nelson!) I am 17 years old and a senior at Winter Springs High School. After I graduate in May, I will be spending a year abroad learning, and experiencing a new culture in Lithuania. I love to travel and experience new things so this opportunity is what I love to do. In school, I am a section leader in the Band of Gold and apart of the Symphonic band. Also, I am part of the girl’s varsity weightlifting team as co-captain. I am so blessed to have such a great support system through Rotary and through my friends and family. My family consists of my dad, Larry, my mom, Sherise, my sister, Petrea, my brother, Kaleb, and my two dogs, Nacho and Daisy. They help me so much with things like learning Lithuanian, learning its culture, and much more. When I return in 2016, I plan on going to the University of North Florida and majoring in International Studies. I am excited to start my journey towards the adventures and stories I am going to make in Lithuania and to the best U.S. ambassador I can possibly be.

Journals: Hannah – Lithuania 2015-2016

  • Hannah, outbound to Lithuania

1 month left. This is not a drill, it’s the real thing. Am I ready to go back to Florida? I don’t know. I will be uprooting my whole life here in Lithuania to go back. I have so many questions running through my head. What if the people back home don’t like the new me? How am I going to deal with that much sunshine again? ARE MY DOGS GOING TO REMEMBER ME?! This is the final chapter in my exchange year and I don’t want it to end.

When you are preparing to go on exchange, you think the date for departure couldn’t come any slower. Then you come and you start a whole new life. You change, you evolve into this person you never thought you could be. You become friends with strangers, you learn the hardest language ever, and you start to feel normal again. 1 month goes by, then 3, then 6 and then you are looking at your calendar and it says May 30th… 1 month left… You start panic because you realize that you only have 31 days until you leave this life you have worked so hard to build. But then you talk to your Person and you realize you aren’t alone. Someone in the Czech Republic is going through the same emotions and events you are. And then you start to think about who you get to see when you go home. Like your brother who you haven’t seen in over 2 years. Or your sister who is genuinely your best friend. Or your mom who you haven’t gone grocery shopping with in over 10 months. Or your dad who you haven’t seen a football game with all season.

You start to feel anxious and excited to go home. But there is always that thing in the back of your mind saying to you that you don’t want to leave. The mixture of emotions is confusing and hard to deal with but at the end of the day, you know you can handle it because the people back home will always love you, there is never enough sunshine, and your dogs will never forget you. And the people you leave behind in your host country will always be there for you no matter how far away they are.

So what am I going to do with these last days here in Lithuania? I’m going to go spend it with the people that helped make me into the person I am today and enjoy every minute in this country I can call my home. 🇱🇹❤️

Mon, May 30, 2016

  • Hannah, outbound to Lithuania

Wow. It’s been awhile. Sorry about that. Life got crazy here in Lithuania. These past 7 months (yes, I have been here for 7 months) have been a crazy roller coaster of holidays, trips, and emotions. Only 3 more months to absorb everything I possibly can before I return home. But I don’t want to think about that yet. Way too soon for that.

Life here in Lithuania has finally become normal. I feel apart of the culture and life here. I know what to do in certain situations now. For example, we do not shake hands and greet one another over a door way. It’s bad luck. I know how to get around with public transportations. Actually I use an app to help me but that’s okay, every one uses it too. I can order my daily dose of caffeine in Lithuanian without getting flustered or resorting back to English. I now can tell the temperature in Celsius than in Fahrenheit. But, unfortunately, I still can’t get my head around the 24 hour clock. And I still don’t like herring no matter how many times I try it. So those I still have to work on.

I am currently living with my 3rd host family. They are amazing people! It has that crazy (in a good way) family vibe which is what it’s like in my family back in FL so it’s very comforting. I live in a small village outside of the city so I take a 40 minute bus ride to the city everyday. But if I’m really lucky, my host mom or host dad will drive me on there way to work. We hike in the forest behind our house every weekend. I have two host sisters (16 and 12 years old) and we have sister movie night at least once a week. I am so happy I get to spend these next 3 months with this family.

School is going really well too. I get to teach English lessons a couple times a week and I also have private Lithuanian lessons with one of the best teachers at the school. My school also offered me to become a free listener at a local university. So everyday after lessons I go to VDU and take linguistic and political science lectures. I get to meet international students and become friends with some of the coolest people.

These next 3 months are going to go by so fast, I can already tell. Some of the best adventures I’m going to go on are just around the corner!

Thu, March 31, 2016

  • Hannah, outbound to Lithuania

One month. One month is all it took for me to fall in love with this small Baltic country.

It feels like just yesterday when I hugged and kissed my friends and family goodbye and left the comfort of home for strangers, awkward moments, no English, and a lot of strange food. Little did I know that those strangers would become friends and family, those awkward moments would become memories of a life time, no English would become a language I find beautiful and frustrating at the same time, and those strange foods would become cravings.

I live in Kaunas, Lithuania. It is the second largest city in Lithuania with about 300,000 residents. But to be more specific, I live in a small suburb called Noreikiskes. My host parents are wonderful! My host mom, Brigita, is a physical therapist and my host dad, Pavelas, teaches human anatomy at the local university. They are so nice and I love my host moms cooking. My host brother, Vilius, is amazing too. He helps me out a lot. I also have a dog who can open doors by himself which is not so cute at 6 in the morning… We have plums, apples, raspberries, and so much more just growing in the back yard. Makes it easy when I’m hungry and I don’t want to cook. I can just go outside and get my lunch off of a tree! I take a bus or trolley bus into the city which takes about 30 minutes.

When I’m not home, I’m usually in the city. I go to school at Jonas Jablonskis Gymnasium which is the school on top of the hill next to Christ’s Resurrection Church. You can basically see the church from anywhere in the city. School can be difficult when the teacher only speaks Lithuanian, but the students are so nice and they try to translate for me. The school even gave me a private lesson with one of the Lithuanian teachers! I can feel my Lithuanian get better day by day, but it is still frustrating not being able to say what I want to say.

9 more months is all the time I have left in this beautiful country. Which means I have 9 more months of adventures, getting lost, and new experiences. Lithuania is changing me in every way you could think.

Can I just stay here forever, please?

Tue, September 29, 2015

Ian - Finland

Hometown: St.John’s, Florida
School: Creekside High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: St. Johns, Florida
Host District: 1430
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Lappeenranta

My Bio

Hello, My name is Ian King. I live in Jacksonville, Florida. Next year I will be studying abroad in Finland and I couldn’t be more ecstatic! I am currentIy attending Creekside High School as a Junior. I am involved with two of the school’s clubs at the moment, the Psychology club and the “Junior Gentlemen” Club, which is a club for that offers the junior men at my school a chance at volunteer work. In my free time, I like to draw and I also enjoy playing basketball with my friends when I can. I was born in Alabama and moved to Florida when I was young. I have two siblings, an older sister named Avery who is 22, and a younger brother named Liam who is 12. I have aspired to explore the world, since I was very young. This desire came from the people that I know and people that I have met. That includes my friends, my teachers and most of all my parents, who support me in everything I do. Although I am a little nervous, I cannot wait for my journey to begin and I can’t wait to see myself grow to become an experienced individual. I cannot thank the people of Rotary enough for giving me this opportunity to see the world.

Journals: Ian – Finland 2015-2016

  • Ian, outbound to Finland

So my first blog post in sometime, I’ll start by apologizing for the lack of updates. I am truly sorry. However My new years resolution is to put up these blogs every second weekend so this is the first of those posts! Since I last left you much has happened.

First I’ll speak about the second period of school. My schedule included 5 classes; Finnish, Cooking, Music, European History, and Art. Two weeks into the second period of school we had a week break off of school. During this time my first host family brought me to Estonia. That trip began with a 3 hour drive to the capital of Finland, Helsinki, where my host Aunt and Uncle live. We spent the first night in their house, the next day I went to explore the capital. I found it to be amazingly beautiful city, because of the fact that did not face the problems of the large cities I’ve been to elsewhere, such as crowded streets due to overpopulation or the “city smell” due to overwhelming pollution.

Helsinki was an incredibly clean city with more than enough personal space. We walked around and used the trolly system to get around. We went all over the city the most notable location were the Presidents house, the train station, the Harbor area, and the US Em bassy. On our way to the Harbor we passed by the President’s house, an impressive building that hosts a massive party ever year on Finnish Independence Day, it was no where near as guarded as the White House, which I found interesting and a good example of the level of security that Finns feel. The harbor was also stunning. We walked around the edge and eventually got some food at a small stand. I tried some muikku, which is a small salty fish that was fried and served with a garlic sauce. We also walked around a small market place at the harbor.

Once we were done with that we went to find the US embassy, we found the street that housed most or maybe even all embassies in Helsinki. I found it really cool to look at the various embassies and see different elements of culture that are plainly visible. We then went back to the city center where the train station is. The reason I find the train station to be memorable, is the statues out front, there are four identical sto ne men holding what appears to be globes, for a reason unbeknown to me these statues stand out in my mind. That afternoon we boarded the ship that would bring us to Estonia, while the boat ride over was only a few hours at most we weren’t allowed to enter the city until the next morning.

The time we spent on the boat was fun but it reminded me of staying at a hotel, the buffet we went to served some great food. The next morning we walked out into Estonia’s capital Tallinn. Tallinn is hard to describe, it is a city in which you can clearly see the history alongside the modern life. I really found the medieval architecture next to the modern shopping buildings to be quite an amazing sight. The day we spent there consisted of going to get coffee in the morning and then shopping for souvenirs. We had to board the boat again that afternoon. Once back in Helsinki we took a train to a station near to the host Uncle’s house where spent the night playing board games as well as the Host Uncle trying to teach me how to play the bass guitar. The Next day we went to a Jokerit ice-hockey game. The Jokerit team plays in the KHL, the Russian hockey league and it is the only team in Finland to do so. After the game we drove back home to Lappeenranta.

Once I got back my friends and I started making plans for Halloween. We planned on taking the Malaysian exchange student, Emily Wong, trick or treating for the first time. We put together some Star Wars Costumes and then we were ready. My friend from Canada, Colton Wynnychuk, lives just an hour or so away in Hamina so he visited for the holiday. Although we planned on having a large group we only ended up with a small group of five; Colton, Me, Janina Tirronen, Aleksandra (Janina’s friend), and Janina’s younger cousin Elli, unfortunately Emily couldn’t make it. Trick or treating is not a very common tradition in Finland so not every house had candy, I suppose one of the causes for the lack of popularity is the temperature, as the night was close to freezing. Colton was still visiting the next day so we went to see the local hockey team, Saipa, play early in the evening, we were joined by Emily and Janina. Afterward Janina, Colton and I went to see the new James Bond movie, in the brand new theater just opened in our town. That was a great day, as it was the first time I had seen a Rotary friend in a month or so, also since then I have become much better friends with those who I spent the day with.

In order to keep these blogs at a readable length, and to be able to add as many pictures as possible I will end this post here and pick up at the same spot in the next one. So thank you for reading this, the next one should be up in a day or so and I’ll continue to post frequently until you are all caught up

Sun, January 17, 2016

  • Ian, outbound to Finland

Hei! This is my first journal entry, I have been in Finland for a little over a month now, so brace yourself I have a lot to catch you up on.

So I departed on August 1, once I landed in Europe I met the first of many new exchange student friends. Their names were Sofia Darovskikh and McKenna Middlebrook, both from New York. We flew from Amsterdam to Helsinki and arrived on August 2. From there we were met by the rest of the Inbounds to Finland and we spent the week at our Language camp.

At camp I had a great time. I made friends from around the world, there were Mexicans, Canadians, Brazilians, Germans, Italians, and people from France, Japan, South Korea, Spain Austria and I’m sure I missed some but I can’t recall which. Although I made close to 100 new friends there were three that I became especially good friends with; their names are Malcolm Dunson Todd, Cora Gehring, and Annemarie Velemir.
During the camp we had Finnish classes separated by language/nationality. Once lessons were over we would head to sauna then play basketball, floor ball or soccer. We went into Tempere for a day trip on that Thursday. It was our first real chance to experience the Finnish culture. My new friends and I explored the city, ate doughnuts, watched a “different” public performance in which the dancers would walk like they were in slow motion and then freeze in a seemingly random pose, after a few steps. We also had a tour of the city and even visited the Cathedral in which there was some amazing art. On Saturday I met my Host Family.

Leaving camp was tough. I had just left all my friends and family in Florida, then I spent the week with these exchange student who became my new family, and I was asked to leave them again. Although I left I will never forget that week or those friends.

My first host family has been amazing! They have helped me get comfortable here, as well as teaching how things such as public transportation work. My host Mother has taken me to hockey games, showed me the bike route to school, taken my to a summer cottage and even a crawfish party. My Host Brother Jussi, has shown me around my new school introduced me to his friends and has invited me to hangout with them many times. My other Host Brother Kalle, is in the Army so I do not see him during the week, but on the weekends we get a chance to talk and he is very nice.

My first week in Lappeenranta, was also the first week of school. There I was met by two other rotary exchange students, both from Mexico, Maria Herrera and Maria Mendez, as well as a german named Lisa that is on exchange with another program. For the first semester I took easy classes. I am taking two art classes, english Finnish and a sports class. My schedule changes every day. Some days I start at 8:00, some 9:30 and then on Fridays I start at 11:00! I really like the way the school system works here. I feel much more independent and in control of my education, than I did in the States. Also having free lunches is pretty awesome! I have heard many Finns say that the lunch food isn’t very good but I have liked everything I’ve tried.

So I also practice with the Lappeenranta basketball team, Namika. I have practice in the afternoons Monday-friday and the morning practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I went with my team to a tournament in Espoo, there I became much closer friends with my teammates.

After returning from there my school had some events for the “freshmen.” Although I’m in the second grade I participated in these events. The first was a day full of team building exercises, such as races, games, and a few blindfolded courses we had to complete with partners. During this event I made some new Finnish friends! The second event was a dress up day for the first years (again I wasn’t required to dress up with them but I participated anyway). The theme was babies, so most of the girls dressed up and some other guys did as well. At the end of the day I was awarded the title of Best Costume! Plus because I dressed up many new people talked to me, people who normally are very Finnish and wouldn’t usually start a conversation with a stranger.

I have a few Finnish friends however there are only really two that I have hangout with, Kaisu Keltanen, and Konsta Urhonen. We have walked around the city, watched movies and spent time at the harbor.

So far my Rotary club has had me hold off on coming to the meetings, however on the 21st I am scheduled to go and introduce myself to the members there. I have already met a few during the “Rotary Day” that we had in the city. During this day there was music by the harbor, as well as a few Rotary booths with information about the Rotary. I spent the day there helping the Rotarians in any way I could, I ended up selling raffle tickets for the better part of the afternoon.

I just came back from my district camp. I was reunited with some friends from language camp. The camp was very relaxed. We had a lot of free time, but also went on a 8 km hike and had what they called “Camp Olympics.” The Olympics included events like a dizzy race, a race to complete a phrase in Finnish and a quiz about Finland. In the end my team, Team Karhu(bear in Finnish), won! For winning we got a bag of Finnish candies. We then spent the night around the campfire roasting sausages. After that we went back to our cabin and watched movies until about 5:30 in the morning. Although I had to wake up at 8:50 I don’t regret it in the least, spending that time with friends was worth the tired state that came with it. The rest of that day was spent in the train station, saying goodbye to those friends a second time was painful but I can look forward to the Lapland trip in November.

So now you’re all caught up! From now on I will try to update this blog every two weeks or so, so check back soon! Now I would like to thank you for reading this and being interested in my exchange. I’d also like to again thank Rotary for getting me to where I am now, without them my life would be much less interesting. Moi moi!

Mon, September 14, 2015

J.P. - Belgium

Hometown: Tallahassee, Florida
School: Leon High School
Sponsor District : District 6940
Sponsor Club: Tallahassee Sunrise, Florida
Host District: 1630
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Chaudfontaine

My Bio

Salut ! I’m Juanpablo Sullivan (but my friends all call me JP). I live with my dad, stepmom, dog, and two cats. I’m from the bustling city of Atlanta, Georgia and grew up there until the age of eleven, when I moved to Tallahassee, Florida. Now I’m a junior at Leon High School. This year I’m loving French and English Language & Composition. In addition, I row for my city’s team, Capital City Rowing. We practice six days a week and race all over the country. I’m also working for the popular coffee chain Starbucks, and I’m loving it as well. When I’m not doing homework, working, or rowing, you can find me reading a book or catching up with friends over dinner or coffee. (Or for international friends, over Skype with a cup of tea in hand.) Going on exchange has been a dream deep in my heart for a long time, and I’m absolutely beside myself with gratitude and joy that now it is being realized. I’m looking forward to the places (literally and metaphorically) exchange will take me, to becoming part of the Belgian culture, becoming fluent in one of their languages, and growing more than ever. Not to mention the waffles and fries. À plus tard !

Journals: JP – Belgium 2015-2016

  • JP, outbound to Belgium

Four months have absolutely flown by, which is equally a good thing and a little terrifying. Although each day it may not feel like the time is passing quickly, every time I look back, I know it definitely is.

At the very center of oneself, each person is still “him,” or still “her;” that said, I am a very different version of myself right now than the version of me that touched down in Brussels four months ago, or even the version of me that celebrated one month of school having passed. I’ll refrain from sharing details of my life which made me grow in this space, because those belong to me and the people I chose to share them with only, but I will say this to future exchange students reading this: At least for the first trimester of your exchange, but really all throughout, don’t forget how cathartic, healing, and strengthening it is to write about your feelings. Writing helps the mind process emotions and information better, and you’re going to be processing A LOT, because this is an extremely rewarding but extremely rocky path. It’s the best thing you can do, but it is one of the hardest things you will have done up to this point. I am ve ry happy to have grown so much. I am the most well-prepared, confident, and open-to-the-universe version of me that I have ever been, and that makes me happy, and makes me even more excited to be here, even now.


Because I studied my target language (French) so much before arriving, I was able integrate rather quickly; I passed all my classes the first grading period and I passed my winter exams. It’s one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. I wasn’t required to pass, but I tried incredibly hard anyway – for myself. Because I wanted to prove it to myself, and because school and studying actually teaches you a lot about your language and helps you acquire more every day.

Before you leave, as soon as you know your host country, you must have discipline, and you must make yourself study your target language every day, or your exchange will be more difficult, and it will take you longer to start the real journey. I’m very glad I did.


Cultural differences: There will quite possibly be more than you expect, and their impact on you might be stronger than you expect. Do not dwell on this. You are doing this for a reason, and you wouldn’t be doing this if you weren’t meant to. During your exchange, if you are making an effort and being kind, you aren’t doing anything wrong. Don’t worry so much. Go with the flow of things as much as possible while at the same time not being afraid to ask questions. Breathe. Recognize that the point is to discover your new home, your new culture. Accept that, and revel in it. It’s a gift and a beautiful opportunity.


Right about now you the future exchange students are most likely waiting around succumbing to whatever nervous habit you have waiting on exchange news, be it your acceptance into the program at all, or your host country. Don’t. You biting your nails/rocking back and forth/refreshing your email seventy times a day will not make it go faster. And when the day comes for you to step on that plane, you’ll be ready, but you’ll wonder where all that time you spent worrying went. Breathe. Things are going to take their proper course. Focus on your present. And when you do find out your country?


There are a lot of ways to learn a language out there, and a lot of ways to set yourself up for success. But there are no tricks. It is hard work, and it requires effort and discipline. You’re going to have to make yourself sit down with your study materials and dive into it. You will be glad you did. Good luck. Soon you will have a new country to call home.

I know Belgium is my second home. My heart is half red/white/blue, half black/yellow/red. I have a more Belgian side of me, and a more American side. I think in more than one language. The number of people I can meet and share thoughts with because of this has skyrocketed. That’s a gift.


A List of Adventures I’ve Embarked On and Things You Might Find Interesting

1) Trip to Aachen, Germany with my Rotary district.
2) Conversation table about beer with my Rotary club.
3) Vacation with my host family to Venice, Italy.
4) Chocolate and waffles really are that good here.
5) Sometimes I think out loud in half-English, half-French sentences (i.e., “Oh wait, I THINK y a du jambon in the frigo.”)
6) Public transportation in Europe…I’m in love.
7) Belgium’s got a bad rep (in the eyes of some people) for excess partying, when in fact, I have never met more responsible and studious people.
8) I’m reading the Harry Potter series in French.
9) Lots of people randomly blurt out cute English expressions in the middle of their otherwise non-English sentences and it’s adorable.
10) In this moment, I equally never want to leave and imagine that I will be very happy go back to my other home (the U.S.) Exchange will tear your heart into two perfectly equally sized pieces.


I will try not to let so much time pass before I write again, but no promises. ; )

x JP

Sun, December 27, 2015

  • JP outbound to Belgium

I don’t know how to start this. I have a lot of thoughts and a lot of feelings. This will read more like a list of thoughts and anecdotes, but that’s how I’m feeling right now and I think it’s helpful to the future exchange students reading this anyway.

I arrived a little dead-feeling, because the trip was long and uncomfortable and stressful. Flights were delayed and missed, I had to track down KLM/Delta employees, I know every square meter of the Schipol Airport in Amsterdam now…long story short it took three hours of running around Schipol to get a replacement train ticket to Brussels.

My host parents came to get me at the Brussels Airport and weren’t the slightest bit annoyed at me for all the trouble with my trip, the changing time of arrival etc. They have proven to be one of the coolest, most welcoming and active families I have ever known. They participate in and enjoy life to the fullest and I love them a whole lot. My host brothers are the best. My younger brother adores me and he asks what I’m doing every day to see if I can hang out with him. Yesterday we made waffles at home and it was super fun.

The day of my arrival, my French was awful. I’ve studied very, very hard for three years, at school and outside of school with other Francophone people I’ve met, and I could barely string together sentences. But two days later, the jet lag wore off, and I felt the gears start to turn. Now I have conversations throughout the whole day, and I work with people if there’s a word or an expression I don’t know (worst case scenario, we just look it up online or in my dictionary). Every day I feel myself getting a little better, a little more confident, and the sentences come with a little more ease.

I was reunited with one of my best friends, Gus, who did his exchange in my city/at my school two school years ago, because he lives in the same city as me in Belgium. In addition, my third host family hosted my good friend Ella last year, who I’ve also known for a long time from Tallahassee. The world is small.

I’m in love with my village, my city, and this country. Exchange is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do, and I’ve already had one of the most difficult and emotionally taxing days of my life here– but I also wake up every day and look out the window and know that this is definitely the path I was meant to take, because in just a week (OH MY GOD IT’S BEEN SEVEN DAYS ALREADY) I have also experienced the best time of my life. And this is only the beginning.

Tue, September 1, 2015

Jade - Japan

Hometown: Coconut Creek, Florida
School: Pompano Beach High School
Sponsor District : District 6990
Sponsor Club: Coconut Creek, Florida
Host District: 2690
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Okayama East

My Bio

こんにちは!私はクロスビー・ジェイドです。 Hello! My name is Jade Crosby. I live in Coconut Creek with my mom, dad, younger brother (Jacob), and cat (Tigerlily); and I go to the magnet school, Pompano Beach High School. I am currently in my senior year, and I am almost always working on something for school. At my school, very few classes can be taken in their “regular” format, so all of my classes, save for Chinese class, are either at the honors or AP level. Even my drama class is honors level! If that doesn’t keep me busy, I’m also in my school’s Interact club, International Thespians club, and drama club. In addition, I am Lead Critic on my School’s Cappies team (theatre Critics and Awards Program), Head of Costuming for drama, and I also write and draw for the school paper. It’s okay though, I love staying busy!

In my limited free-time, I like to knit, sew, read comics, watch cartoons, and learn languages. I have taken three years of Spanish classes, and I am currently taking Chinese. Fortunately, I have also been studying Japanese on the side (although, not too seriously until recently), so I can already read some of the written language. I am so excited to be going to Japan! Japan was my first choice, but I was certain that I wasn’t going to get it. In fact, I had completely given up on the idea. You can’t imagine just how shocked I was when I found out that I had been assigned to Japan! Thank you to everyone who is helping me to go on such an amazing journey!

Jade, outbound to Japan

It’s been a while since I last posted. I tried making a post back in October after my school trip to Hokkaido, but I had some issues posting it and, unable to save as a draft, I totally lost the post when my computer rebooted. After that… I just forgot about it. I know that I, as well as other current outbounds, harassed the Rotex about how little they posted in their journal. They took it like champs, and always responded with “you’ll see.” Well, I certainly do see what they mean now! I used to follow all of the posts on Facebook of the 2014-2015 outbounds, and after a while, I started to wonder if it got tiring. If they got bored of living somewhere abroad, just living out a normal life… but now I realize that that’s exactly the point. The only way to get “bored” of living abroad is to become bored of living in general. Sure, going to school, coming home, studying, eating dinner, going to bed, waking up and repeating isn’t exactly riveting stuff, but that’s not what people live for. We live for the moments that make us feel: The moments where we smile, where we cry, where we feel like we have a purpose. It is no different being abroad. I won’t deny that it is hard, and I also won’t deny that this is the loneliest I’ve ever been, but I also know that if I can make it through this, then I can do anything. Except fly, I still can’t do that. Unless…

I could go on in great detail about what all I’ve done in the first third of my exchange – yes, I am actually that far along! – but I have a blog for that (if you haven’t seen it yet, it is easy enough to find.) I feel like that would be just skimming the surface. I will, however, give a quick recap so you can get a feel for what I’ve been through.

I have gone to all four major islands of Japan: Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu. I have been on airplanes, bullet trains, in taxis and cars, and on more trains, buses, and streetcars than I have any desire to record the number of. (Now, the different types of streetcars I’ve been on, I’ve kept track of. There are three different companies fighting for the same track. Let’s just say that, in order to stay competitive, they have some interesting designs.) I was in Hokkaido during a typhoon, and I went to Kyushu on the day of the earthquake that I’m sure you all have heard about. Everyone is fine, in case you were wondering. I didn’t even know that there had been an earthquake because I was too far away, but other exchange students who were able to feel the quake have said that it really wasn’t all that bad. In fact, it wasn’t even on the news here. I asked my counselor about it, and he pretty much said “this is Japan. We get earthquakes.” I guess it’s kind of like how Floridians feel about hurricanes.

In Hokkaido, I climbed a snow-covered volcano, stayed at two onsen (hot springs/ public baths), learned about the nature and wildlife of Hokkaido, and visited Japan’s most famous zoo, Asahiyama Zoo. The promotional video for said zoo being so outlandish that I am sure that, had it been a shorter video, it would have gone viral, followed up with comments to the effect of “oh, Japan!”

In Kyushu, I watched sumo wrestling, went to a very old Japanese restaurant where women in kimono serve you, visited caves out in the middle of the ocean, ate raw squid (not bad, by the way! I was a bit nervous about it though), and visited a temple at night.

I’ve done many other notable things as well. I’ve visited many temples, I played a role in my class’s play for the cultural festival, I am currently practicing to play a role in Beauty and the Beast, I’ve been to the zoo in Kobe and Osaka Castle, and I recently was able to view a beautiful light display in a Japanese garden.

That should pretty much tell you what I’ve done up until now. In my free time, I usually knit, sew, translate manga (Japanese comics), or practice my new hobby, crochet. I had tried, and failed, at crochet in the past, but I finally understand how to do it. I’ve successfully made a blanket, a snowflake, a teddy bear, a stocking, a scarf, and dragon slippers. Am I going to far? Absolutely not! Do you know how satisfying it is to be able to actually wear the things I create? In Florida, being able to knit was a lovely way to fill my closet with things that I would never get to wear, but here, I am expanding my wardrobe. It’s a good thing that I’m able to to too, as I only brought one suitcase of clothes (I wanted to ensure that I could bring back a lot of stuff and I knew that I would have to wear a uniform most of the time) and I’m not exactly “Japanese-sized,” if you know what I mean. I never felt so big before I moved to Japan. Now I spill over my seat, and fill up the isles at grocery stores. It’s rather inconvenient, but I’m just glad that I’m not any taller, as I already hit my head on things all the time!

I am beginning to understand why people have such a hard time reconnecting when they go home. Even at one month in, I felt that few people back home would understand what I’d been through. And how do you sum up exchange in a word or short phrase? You can’t just answer “good,” like when you come back from camp. It just doesn’t work that way. There is no phrase that so perfectly sums up what you go through on exchange. If anyone finds one, let me know.

I got lost for the first time, which, thanks to my training, felt more like a milestone than a catastrophe. I was taking the bus home from my Japanese lessons for the first time. My host family told me to take the bus from platform 9. They neglected to tell me that multiple buses come to platform 9, and that they go in different directions.(Something similar happened when they told me to take the train from platform 2 to get to school, but it is actually platform 1! It’s a good thing that we wear uniforms, otherwise, I would have got on the wrong train!)

As I’m sure that you have figured out by now, I got on the wrong bus. Of course, I kept holding out for my stop, telling myself that it would have to come up eventually, until we reached the very last stop – Saidaiji. I knew that there was a place in town called “Saidaiji-cho, but we had been driving too long to be there. I was beginning to feel a bit panicked, as it was late at night, and most buses had alread y returned to the station. I sat on a bench and decided to take some time to think. I, rather optimistically, wondered if I was perhaps within walking distance of my house. I quickly took my phone out and asked Google “where am I?” It turned out that I was about 45 minutes away from the stop that I was supposed to get off at. At this point, I resigned to telling my host family what had happened. After some investigation, I realized that there was one more bus heading back to the same place that I had just come from. I at least knew how to get close to home from there. I told my host mother where to meet me at, and it was quickly settled. Other than a loss of time and money, I got out of it rather well.

I feel like I am a much more capable person these days, even though I have spent most of my time feeling like a child. I don’t know that I’ll ever get to the point where I’ll have a desire to stay that is strong enough that will make me unwilling to go home, but I do know that going home will be a whole new kind of culture shock. I wonder if anyone has gone home feeling as though they didn’t really fit into their host country, but because of how much they’ve changed, they no longer quite fit in at home. It reminds me of the song “Giants in the Sky” from Into the Woods: “And you think of all of the things you’ve seen/ and you wish that you could live in between/ and you’re back again, only different than before…” Just some food for thought, I guess. Recently, I’ve been rather certain that in the highly unlikely event that I get to choose a superpower to gain, I would choose, above even the ability to instantly learn a language, the ability to teleport anywhere at will. I’ve heard a lot of other people that are living abroad say this as well.

I’ve gotten a lot of good advice from expats on how to navigate through Japanese culture. Talking to them has made me realize something about culture, and that is that, while a native can live a culture, only an outsider can explain it. This may seem backwards and a bit presumptuous, but think about it. How many of your daily actions are done consciously, and how many of them could you defend? I don’t know why I’m irked by the slurping of noodles, but I do know that by slurping noodles in Japan, you are less likely to burn your mouth. Yet, if I ask a Japanese person why they slurp noodles, they will almost always answer “because that’s how you eat noodles.” When you do something for so long in one way and have never seen another person do it in a different way, you come to believe that the way you and “everyone else” does it is the only way to do it. By believing that there is no other option, you forget the reasons why you do things the way you do them. That is basically culture in a nutshell.

Hopefully, I will post again sooner next time. I’m not exactly sure though, since I’ve been told that my next host family’s wifi may be a bit spotty (not sure if it’s true of not). Either way, I’ll find a way in time.
Thu, December 3, 2015

  • Jade, outbound to Japan

I finally found out my departure date a week before I had to leave for Japan. This, and the fact that I left in the middle of night, made it feel like my going was little more than a dream. However, as the sun began to rise outside of my plane’s window, it became clear. I was really going to do this, I was going to leave my city, my family, and the home that I had lived in since birth. I’d being lying if I said that that first flight wasn’t a little bittersweet.

Arriving in Tokyo was as exciting as it was terrifying. As soon as I stepped off the plane, I was herded into immigration, where I somehow managed to get through only using Japanese. With my shiny, new residency card in hand, I wandered through the airport, giggling from exhaustion at the seemingly absurd fact that I was actually in Tokyo. While standing in line for currency exchange, I was suddenly pulled into an interview for some Japanese show. They asked me questions about why I came to Japan, what I wanted to see, and what I enjoyed about Japanese culture. I felt a bit overwhelmed standing in that crowded airport, being asked a bunch of questions while I had hardly slept in a day, and knowing that I had a bus to catch.

Finally, they let me go and I quickly exchanged my currency and bought a bus ticket. The bus took me from Narita Airport to Haneda Airport, from whence I would take my last flight. While waiting for my flight, I nearly fell asleep in the airport. I was sure that I would sleep the entire flight to Okayama, but I was wrong. Just as I was settling into my seat, a stewardess brought over two crying girls and told them “don’t worry, big sister will take care of you!” She explained to me that the girls were travelling alone for the first time to go visit their grandmother in Okayama. I then told her that I could understand how they felt because I had been traveling without my family as well. She asked me my story and then translated it to the girls. After she left, the girls kept asking me if I was really all alone and wouldn’t see my family for a year. I told them that it was true, and they offered me some of their candy. It was really adorable. I spent the rest of the flight speaking to them in broken Japanese and helping them with a Disney puzzle that they had brought.

I was a bit nervous landing in Okayama. What if no one was there, or what if they were mad at me because I only gave them a week to prepare for my arrival? My fears were unfounded as I was instantly greeted by my host mother, host brother, about half a dozen Rotarians, my counselor, and even my homeroom teacher. Everyone was very welcoming. I went out to dinner with my host family and tried melon soda for the first time. I was totally surprised to hear my host brother (who is only 11 years old) speak fluent English without any sort of accent. Living with him, I have come to learn that he actually prefers speaking English: When he talks in his sleep, it’s in English, and even though his mother speaks to him in Japanese, he responds in English. The majority of his friends are foreigners, with his best friend being a girl from Australia. At first, he begged me not to learn Japanese, but after reading my RYE handbook, he learned that I would need to learn Japanese in order t o stay in Japan. He has been a great support. Once, he told me that one of my host clubs rules is that I not get too homesick. Since then he’s been saying “Don’t get homesick!” and anytime that I’m feeling a bit down, he distracts me by taking me for walks around the neighborhood. We treat each other like real siblings. He ropes me into all kinds of games, and challenges me to pick him up almost every night. I once asked him if he thought I had a big nose (because there seems to be a stereotype in Japan about foreigners having big noses) and he said “you look like Luigi.”

My host family has been very kind to me. They are always telling me that I don’t eat enough, and have been giving me lots of sweets. I feel like I am going to get fat.

My host club has also treated me well. So far, I have been to a welcoming party (which consisted of a seven course meal. Far too fancy for me…) and a regular meeting. The Rotary meetings here are far more formal and grand than the ones in America, so it was a bit intimidating at first, but everyone is very encouraging and no one criticizes me if I make a mistake. They have also given me a rather generous gift: They are paying for my school trip to Hokkaido next month! Hokkaido is considered to be the most beautiful prefecture in all of Japan, so I feel very lucky to be going there. Expect a post from me about it afterwards!

School can be a bit boring at times, but I have not fallen asleep in class even once. I have, however, nearly fallen asleep on the train to school. Every morning and afternoon, I have to take a car ride, train ride, and bus ride to get to and from school. It’s not an unpleasant trip though. Only when I’m coming home in rush hour is it uncomfortable. In Japan, you don’t see rush hour traffic on the roads, but instead on trains.

My favorite class in school is musical class, which actually sounds like a class that I would make up. In musical class, you learn all the songs and dances from different musicals. Right now, we are doing “Beauty and the Beast.” No one else in the class has done a musical before, but I have, so I at least have a leg up in one class that isn’t English.

Another class that I enjoy is fine arts class. We are currently working with oil paints, which is something I’ve always wanted to learn how to use.

I change my shoes at least 4 times a day: I have my outdoor shoes, my indoor shoes, my carpet slippers, and my gym shoes. I often have to change shoes even more than that. It’s supposed to keep the school cleaner, which is good because students have to stay after school three times a week to clean the school.

This weekend is my school’s cultural festival (called “bunkasai”) and my class is doing a Doraemon (a famous Japanese cartoon)-themed play. I even have a role in it! My whole class was surprised that I could read Japanese. There will be a bunch of other stuff at bunkasai too, but I’d rather make another post about that later, after it’s already happened.

Thu, September 10, 2015

James - Italy

Hometown: Tallahassee, Florida
School: Leon High School
Sponsor District : District 6940
Sponsor Club: Tallahassee (Capital), Florida
Host District: 2031
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Pinerolo

My Bio

My name is James McAuley. I am 16 years old. I live in Tallahassee, in a bungalow house. I am a sophomore at Leon High School and will be abroad over my Junior year. I love to be outdoors. I love outdoor sports like soccer, road biking, mountain biking, and running. I like watching movies. My favorite genre of movie is comedy, but I sometimes watch sci-fi, action, and independent movies. My favorite thing to eat would definitely be tiramisu. I love traveling and seeing new places.

Going to live abroad is always something I have longed for so I can’t wait to go to Italy, because I have never been anywhere like it in my life. I am very excited to go to Italy because it is truly unknown for me. I don’t know anybody from Italy, nor have I spoken to anyone who has lived there. I am excited to learn about an entirely new and unknown language and culture. I also hope to drastically broaden my worldview on my exchange. I think its becoming very important for us to adapt to an international perspective in order to have fulfilling relationships with others who live abroad. All in all, my main goal throughout this journey will be to make new connections, learn a new culture, learn a new language, and learn about the world we live in.

Journal: James – Italy 2015-2016

  • James, outbound to Italy

Here we are, 4 months in. Much has changed, much has remained the same. I have switched host families. My first host family lives across the street from my current one. In this family I still have two siblings. I have one sister, who is 15, and one brother, who is 9 and 5/6ths. I have never had a younger sibling before and I am relishing being so all-knowing and important in his eyes. Of late, I have had the great pleasure to work through the dreaded long division with him. We are due to study the verb “to have” for English tonight. I find these interactions legitimately rewarding.

After my first post the weather turned a trifle dull. It became rather cold in the mornings and remained cloudy for what felt like 3 months. There sadly hasn’t been any precipitation for quite a long time in northern Italy so at the moment we are lacking snow and there is a small air pollution problem in the city centers of Torino and Milan. I am still holding out with the hope that come January we will be graced with a few inches of snow. In such a case I believe a ski trip would be in order. A boy can but dream.

Thanksgiving and Christmas have both gone by with manageable levels of homesickness. I feel I have been very lucky so far in regard to my host families, who have treated me extremely kindly. My current host father loves to bike, and for Christmas he bought me a used mountain bike so that I could go on rides with him. We just recently went on our first ride with the new bike to the top of the small mountain on which we live. The weather was really beautiful that day, and has been much more often since. I am so relieved to see the sky once more.

On the top of the mountain there were some ruins of a small catholic church. I went inside and gazed at the classically curved roof and at what seemed to be a deeply faded Jesus, painted directly onto the arched cement of the ceiling. I asked my host father how old the ruins where, he nonchalantly responded “They’re from around 1200 A.D…”. I was absolutely stunned. On this mountain on which I had been living for a whole 4 months, and on which mere minutes before I had been cursing for being too steep for any human being to bike up, resided church ruins that were over 800 years old and I had no idea! Nobody had thought that piece of important enough to mention at any point in 4 months. Even my host father considered it more of an afterthought out of all the attractions of the peak of the mountain.

This, I suppose, is one of the most stunning things about Europe that I find the most difficult to really grasp. It’s age. So much human history has passed by the same places that I so take for granted. For example, in a short visit to the mountain ski town of “Sestriere” my first host family was recounting how the 2006 Winter Olympics were for the most part held there. Right after that we passed by an out of the way stone marker. We stopped for a moment to read it, and I was shocked to find that the marker was a death-marker of the place where Homer died. Homer. The Homer. As in, The Odyssey and The Illiad Homer. I find it absolutely unbelievable how much history there is in Europe, especially in Italy.

Italian is going very well, I am making progress slowly but surely. There are good days and there are bad days. It’s interesting how much real fluctuation I experience day to day in competence. I suppose patience is key in learning, don’t expect to ever see gigantic leaps in fluency, that’s simply not a trait of learning in general, especially not of learning languages. Patience is not the same thing as indifference to the learning process, however. I have found that I learn most from focusing on individual words and phrases and then making a conscious effort to reuse those same words and phrases.

Still to come is the second half of this year, I really hope it doesn’t fly by as did the first half, barely giving me time to process it.


Until next time,
Happy new year.
Best of luck, and better of life.

Sat, January 2, 2016

  • James, outbound to Italy

To begin to attempt to describe this journey in and of itself is a daunting task. I fear that my inevitably inadequate description of these events equates to no less than an injustice. Nevertheless, an attempt must be made.

The trip overseas – no pun intended – flew by. Before I had realized what I was actually doing, I was stepping off an airplane onto Italian soil, and into the car of my new host family. I was greeted at the airport by my host father, Ulisse, and one of my host brothers, Claudio. We spent the 15 minute drive to their house making small talk in a rather obscure blend of English and Italian. Having managed to discuss their city, sports, Florida, and the quality of my flight, we finally arrived at their house.

The home portrayed a striking blend of modernism and classical architecture, putting a classical Italian twist on the modern suburban home. Having entered the house I then met the rest of the family, including my other host brother, Luca, and my host mother, Daniella. They were extremely welcoming and in the process of organizing plates of food for my host father’s birthday party. I then met many of my host families friends and relatives, who came to the birthday party .

The next day, there was yet another party, this time a pool party at the next door neighbor’s house. My host brothers and I played a game of soccer versus all of the children at the party (there were 6-8 of them), needless to say, the 3v8 Thermopylae-esque match was hard fought but inevitably lost. At this party I met the neighbors, and a vast number of other people, all of whom were very welcoming and eager to speak with me.

Now the days have begun to blend together, beginning to ferment into the fine wine of the “exchange experience”, I suppose. We ran errands one day, played more soccer on another. Last night (9/10/2015) my family and I went to a dinner party with all the other exchange students and their families near the main city of Torino, There were four Americans, including myself, one Colombian boy, and one Taiwanese girl. The party was lots of fun and we got to celebrate the birthday of the Taiwanese girl, Rich, who turned 18.

In this first week, a lot has happened. My main takeaways have more or less been these:
1. Study your language. I feel am having a much better time because I studied Italian. My host families main worry was that my Italian would be bad, I think I won them over just by having studied Italian before I came.
2. Try to maintain “la bella figura”, or, “the beautiful appearance”. It is an unavoidable fact that you will be making a million first impressions on exchange, especially early on. Being able to look nice, smile, be courteous, and be attentive will take you far when you go to three parties and meet 100+ people in the first week of your exchange.
3. Give complements and be gracious. While this doesn’t mean you must be obsequious to every person you meet, it certainly does entail being consistently kind. No matter who you are with or what you are doing try to give complements, it may seem simple or even unnecessary, but Rotary is a purely volunteer-based organization, and your friends in your host country or your host parents or the friends of your friends or the friends of your host parents or… or… or… they all deserve complements and gratuity. Something which is admittedly obvious, but undeniably vital.

I hope to make my entries a trifle more narrative in the future, I am just having trouble processing everything at the moment. I don’t really know how best to finish this entry, but I suppose a quote will have to suffice.

“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” – Ludwig Wittgenstein

This applies more to exchange than to life itself.

Until next time,



Fri, September 11, 2015

Joe - Spain

Hometown: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
School: Allen D. Nease Senior High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Ponte Vedra Beach Sunset, Florida
Host District: 2201
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Vigo

My Bio

¡Hola! My name is Joe Gravelle and I am exited to spend next year in Spain. I am extremely grateful to Rotary for this opportunity. I live in Ponte Vedra Beach with my parents and my older brother. I am a Sophomore (age 16) at Nease High School. My favorite subjects are science and english, although they are not necessarily my strongest. I am quite laid back, and I rarely get stressed or angry. I love to play soccer and hang out with my friends in my free time. I gravitate towards people who have varied interests, and a sense of humor. I also am a lector at my church, and I play piano for fun. I love to speak in front of large groups of people, and even more than speaking in front of groups of people, I enjoy doing spirited debates. I spend most of my time either doing homework in the rigorous IB program, playing varsity soccer at Nease, or doing freestyle with a soccer ball in the driveway. I am extremely psyched to be a part of this exchange because I love doing new things, meeting new people, learning, and doing something different than the usual crowd, I feel like this is the perfect combination of those passions of mine.

Journals: Joe – Spain 2015-2016

  • Joe, outbound to Spain

The past two months of my exchange have passed incredibly quickly, and I savor every day I have left in this amazing country. I can’t imagine leaving behind the life I have been able to create here thanks to Rotary.

A few weeks ago I went to the city of Burgos on a phenomenal trip with Rotary. I was able to learn more about the culture of Spain, about the amazing excavation site called Atapuerca, and most importantly I was able meet some amazing people. I think it is incredible that students from countries all around the world can come together and create amazing and lasting friendships; and learn that although there are many geographical, lingual, and social differences separating us, we still have so much in common.

Although I love spending time with Rotary students, I spend most of my time immersed in the amazing Spanish culture with the friends I have made here. The Spanish culture is amazing. It’s laid-back, and the people are incredibly nice and outgoing, I have really made some amazing friends here in Spain who will be tough to leave behind.

School in Spain in very different than school in the United States, and I think, for the better. School here definitely is more difficult and is victim to less grade inflation, grades are given on a 1-10 scale, a 5 is passing, and it is normal for students to have there grades average around a 6 or a 7. Most classes don’t have any homework, and only one or two big exams every trimester.

The exams and curriculum isn’t as government-run as in the United States, and this gives teachers more freedom to teach more complicated subjects or whatever subjects they feel deserve more attention. The school is not divided into an advanced group and a standard group. Everyone spends time with the same class filled with students of varying school performance levels the whole day, and although I feel this could be less than ideal for some students, it does keep the majority of the students from being left behind. It also creates a social system in which the students have more co mmon ground, as they are all from the same class.

In the Spanish school the ideas of cliques, popular, jock, or nerd are really unheard of. I have people come up and ask me about those types of groups after seeing American movies taking place in high school, and regretfully I have had to inform them that a type of social hierarchy does in fact exist in the schools in which I have been in the US (of course not nearly to the same degree as in movies). I feel like this social hierarchy which results in bullying and cliques of students could be a product of intense competition in American culture. I’m not saying competition doesn’t exist in Spanish culture (take Spanish soccer as evidence), but the Spanish culture does not put the same amount of pressure to “be the best” on children in schools as does the American culture.

I am absolutely loving my time here in Spain, and I can’t imagine leaving this amazing country in June. Thank you Rotary for this amazing opportunity.

Thu, April 7, 2016

  • Joe, outbound to Spain

As I cross the halfway point in my exchange, I can look back and really see how far I’ve come. I’ve adapted to living in this new culture, a culture that a year ago I knew almost nothing about. I’ve learned the language at a fast pace, and am able to express my self in my new language. I have learned an incredible amount about the world, Spain, and the United States, and how people and societies from around the world really can learn to work together and live in peace. And also with its due importance, I have learned much about myself.

During the past month and a half I have been very busy with school in Spain (which is quite rigorous), but one weekend I was able to travel to Madrid to spend two days with a family who live in Madrid that I knew from the United States. It was very cool to visit them again, as when we would spend time together in the United States we would only speak in English, and if they wanted to say something that maybe we wouldn’t want to hear, they could switch to Spanish and we wouldn’t have a clue. When I went to visit them in Madrid we spoke a fun mix of English and Spanish, and me being able to speak Spanish definitely added another layer of depth to our relation.

To speak about my language acquisition in Spain, I would be avoiding the elephant in the room if I didn’t mention the word “fluent”. Fluent, “able to speak a language very well” (Merriam Webster), I believe carries with it a misleading connotation. A huge focus of my exchange (and I feel the exchange of most students) was to become fluent. My quarrel with this word is that its usage seems to imply there exists a moment in which one crosses the line dividing fluency and non-fluency. That one day on my exchange I would go to bed not knowing the language, and wake up fluent. I feel like this goal of a singular moment of achievement has anchored my ideas of what defines excellence or success. That if I reached the level “fluent” in Spanish I would be able to talk to so many people and I would have reached a level of excellence in Spanish. That if I became rich I could travel the world and do so many cool things, and live a life filled with excellence. That if I got good grades in school I would be guaranteed excellence without regard for keeping the work ethic learned by getting good grades.

In school (in Spain) I study the subject philosophy. In this class I have learned the interesting way in which great minds view the world. Aristotle (a very important figure in this subject) says in his famous quote “we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.”. I feel like this quote is incredibly true. Relating to my views of achievement listed earlier, would working hard to achieve excellence in fluency of Spanish really achieve anything if I didn’t practice the language for years afterwards, and lost the fluency? Would becoming rich matter if I abandoned my practices which made me rich and squandered my money and got left with nothing? Would getting good grades in school matter if I abandoned the habits and practices that helped me achieve good grades after graduating? This quote by Aristotle articulates a great lesson I have learned on exchange. That Excellence is not just a goal we can reach (becoming fluent, getting rich, getting great grades in school) nor is it reaching a certain level or status (“fluent”, “millionaire”, “Harvard”). Excellence is the values (determination, love, compassion) that we show every day. By creating and living by these habits of excellence, we can still achieve these goals. But we will not be who we are or excellent as a result of achieving a goal, we will have achieved the goal as a result of who we are and what we do every day to grow excellence.

Bringing this view into the perspective of my year as an exchange student. This year is not just “my one year abroad in Spain”, of which I can tell stories of my achievements for years to come. This is a special year woven into the fabric of my life; a year with incredible challenges to help me shape who I am , and who I want to become. By the same token, I will strive to implement into my daily habits what I learned in Spain. I will act upon what I have learned from my year abroad every single day, to shape who I am. If I bring the lessons I’ve learned, the people I’ve met, the places I’ve been into my everyday life. I will become something much more than a title, an achievement, or a story. I would become closer the embodiment of the values of determination, love, and compassion I would show every single day.

So I feel that what one should ask about a student’s exchange is not if the student is fluent, but if the student is applying themselves fully to immerse themselves in the culture, to learn the language, and to grow and learn as a person.

I would like to thank Rotary for giving me this incredible opportunity to experience the world in a new way.

Wed, February 24, 2016

  • Joe, outbound to Spain

On Monday, November 23, my teacher told us (my class and I), that we were to have an exam in the afternoon right after school on Thanksgiving Day. I was rather disappointed to hear this, as I was definitely opposed to the idea of having to take a lengthy test on Spanish literature on an important American holiday. Despite this, I studied for the exam, and went to school with the exam looming over my head all day. When we went after school (my class and I) to take the exam, we were not presented with an exam – we were presented with a Thanksgiving surprise lunch. I was incredibly surprised, and my dumbfounded reaction surely stirred my classmates into laughter. More than surprised, I was extremely grateful, that my class, my teachers, and even the principal took time to prepare this amazing surprise for me to help me celebrate a national holiday of my home country.

This amazing act of kindness – like many other acts of kindness I have received in my stay in Spain – is something I don’t think I will ever forget.

Since my last journal I’ve been in Spain in a great time of year, “holiday season”. This constituted of my host family and I trekking to the South of Spain and visiting their family in the city of Jaen (we also visited Seville Salamanca and various other smaller towns on our way to Jaen). In Jaen we had a very large Christmas celebration with a lot of (host) family, food, and… more food. We also celebrated New Years (eve and day) in Vigo, and this too consisted of a lot of family and food.

Overall I am having an amazing year and experience, and I would like to thank Rotary for giving me this opportunity.

Sat, January 2, 2016

  • Joe, outbound to Spain

I’ve been in Spain for around 2 months now, and I am truly having the time of my life, and I am extremely grateful to Rotary for this incredible opportunity.

Trying to describe my life so far on exchange in just a journal is like trying to tell a really weird and personal joke that is hilarious to me (and to whoever was there), but impossible to understand for listeners. And some listeners will even think that they understand the joke, but really they can’t. Everyone has these “jokes”, and many strong friends will share profuse amounts of them. I feel like these “jokes”, these stories that can’t be captured in a picture or story or journal, are something really special about life, and more directly, my exchange. In my journal there is no story I can tell, no picture I can show, no feeling I can write that can really capture the true essence of my exchange. But with that said, here is my journal recounting the last surreal month I have spent in the beautiful city of Vigo.

Since last posting a journal I travelled an incredible amount and participated in many activities. I’ve gone to Italy for a week, and travelled all around Galicia (my region of Spain). I’ve gone to fiestas, ran a race, played soccer; I could make a list for every week. But what has really made these moments special so far is the people I have been around. I talked last week about how great my host family is, and how friendly my classmates are in my school at Spain, and now I am hitting a point when I am starting to make real connections with these amazing people.
The connections and friendships I have made in Vigo are unreal. My friends and I try to get together about all the days we can, we walk to and from school together, and Whatsapp daily. I’ve also really realized in my time abroad how strong my connections are with my friends and family in Florida. I love them all, and have felt homesick on occasion. The time I’ve spent away from them has really solidified how strong our bonds can really be, in that I think about them every day.

I feel like an important facet of my exchange so far has been that I have been another student in my school, and not just “the exchange student”. In my school I am (usually) treated normally by my professors. I have to do the homework, study for tests; and I, like my classmates, make plans for the weekend, and of course, wish it would come faster. Yes, I don’t get privileges such as not having to go to school, or getting to travel all of the time with Rotary, but in return I get a very accurate and personal view of school and life as a student in Vigo, Spain.

I keep this journal short because there is really one thing I’ve learned so far on exchange. What matters the most is not where you go, what you see, or what you gain. But instead it is that you do what you love, and much more importantly, you do it with people who you love.


Sat, November 14, 2015

  • Joe, outbound to Spain

I have been in Spain for a month now, and am definitely having an experience like no other. When I was informed I would be spending the next year of my life in Spain back in December I was absolutely elated. I was exited that I would be able to see Europe, learn Spanish, and watch La Liga. Now that I have been here for a month I am more elated than ever to be in Spain, but for different reasons. What has really made my experience special so far is the amazing people I have been surrounded by.

My host family in Spain is very different than my family at home, but an absolutely amazing host family that I am lucky to now be a part of. I have a very compassionate mother and father, a brother my age, another brother slightly younger, and a very young sister (who along with my younger host brother can be quite entertaining and also quite loud). My host family has been instrumental in the success of my exchange so far. They are always eager to talk with me, help my Spanish, help me with my homework, or help me with anything else I could need. They have really treated me as if I were their own son.

The friends I have made so far in Spain are amazing. In school, my classmates are very compassionate, helpful, and funny. Just after three weeks of school I have a group of actual close friends that I can Whatsapp, walk home from school with, and count on to have my back if I need help with anything. On my two soccer teams my teammates and coaches are extremely helpful in making sure I actually have an idea of what is going on, and helping me develop as a player. The friends I have made through Rotary are special as well. I am stunned how people from all around the word can come together and form such strong friendships. I now have close friends from Spain, Germany, Austria, Canada, Japan, and Taiwan. This forever changes my view of the world, and shown me how easily it is to get along with anyone.

Since coming to Spain I have also been able to see awe-inspiring sights and go to amazing places. I have been to a beautiful Island Chain (The Cíes Islands), Seen Celta Vigo beat Barcelona in person, play soccer almost every day, go to fiestas, and much more, and that is just in my first month. I am going to Italy in a week, and plan on traveling much more around Spain after that.

I live in a huge port city called Vigo in Spain and I absolutely love it. In Vigo everything I need is close to my house. My friends live nearby, I have a small soccer field behind my apartment building, the grocery store is across the street, and I can walk through a beautiful city to and from school with friends.

What I have learned in Spain in such a short time is absolutely incredible. I have learned an incredible amount of Spanish. I have learned how much a seemingly small action can affect someone’s life in unimaginable ways. I have learned to never be afraid of talking to someone. I have learned how far just confidence and a smile can take you. I have learned how similar people from all over the world are. And I have learned how generous people can be if you just ask for help. I will carry these lessons, and all the lessons I learn on this exchange, with me for the rest of my life; and they’ve already helped me grow as an individual.

I would like to thank Rotary for providing me this opportunity, and my family and friends for their unfaltering support.


Wed, October 7, 2015

Joe - South Korea

Hometown: Tampa, Florida
School: Brooks DeBartolo Collegiate High School
Sponsor District : District 6890
Sponsor Club: New Tampa, Florida
Host District:   3600
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Pyeongtaek

My Bio

안녕하세요. My name is Joe Olmstead. I am one of the lucky outbounds for South Korea 2015-2016. I am currently a Junior at Brooks Debartolo Collegiate High School in Tampa, Florida. In school I have developed an interest in the topics of Physics, Engineering, and Psychology. Outside of school I practice twice a week at my local fencing studio. I have been fencing for five years, and have participated in local competitions as well as a few national level competitions.

Throughout my life I have also had a passion for drawing, illustrating, and creating stories and worlds all of which I hope to one day publish in some format. I also very much love to sing, and I am currently (very slowly) teaching myself to play piano. In my free time I spend a fair amount of time consuming various forms of media, including anime, videogames, and many different genres of music. I also enjoy going to various conventions dedicated to those forms of media of which I am an avid fan.

I often cosplay (dress up as) my favorite characters from videogames and shows. I decided to go into Rotary Youth Exchange because I recognize the opportunity to live a year abroad with a native family presents a uniquely life changing experience, and believe I will become a better person as a result. I have an intense passion to learn of that which is foreign to me, and such places as far away as Korea were very high on my list of desired countries. I have always wanted to travel and experience the world like this, and to see all the beauty that it has to offer. 감사합니다.

Journals: Joe – Korea 2015-2016

  • Joe, outbound to Korea

Alright yo yo yo what’s my my friendos, I’m back once again with more of these hot Korea deets and the latest in the life of the Joe 2 the Olmstead yehaw.

So last time in my thrilling tales of adventure, I was staying with my Host Uncle/Aunt’s family and had just gone to Gyeongijeon hall. Well I ended up staying with that family for a bit longer than I expected (a full month to be exact, but by now I am in fact back at my host family’s house) and we had lots of adventures! One thing that started up was I began taking Piano lessons over there in Boryeong, which were really fun! I actually gained some minor competence in piano, learned an Adele song, and learned that these here Koreans (and apparently a lot of other Asian countries) use Do Re Mi and so on instead of the letters for notes like we do in the good ol’ U S of A.

Another thing that happened that might be described as a singular event rather than a lengthy series of events like Piano lessons, was when me and the fam went to this rad Snow Village! No idea where it was, never actually asked, we just kinda showed up there and it was super hype! They had tons of snow sculptures and even some wild snow slidey type ride things (they were intense, my butt hurt afterwards). Also at the end of the day, we all stood around a fire and roasted walnuts. It was certainly an experience I’d never had before and I suppose that’s one of the best parts of exchange lmao.

Another thingaroo that happened was we went to a Modern History Museum in Gunsan! It was pretty neat, we saw plenty of things and stuff pertaining to the development of Modern Korea, and more specifically Gunsan. So yeah! A day or two after that me, my host cousin, and her friend went on a boat tour, which was fun! A bit after that event thingy (which was pretty much one of my last days in Boryeong with that family) we went to another relative’s house to celebrate the Korean New year, much in the same fashion that we’d celebrated Chuseok. We just stayed over, woke up early, and honored ancestors before eating and heading home (of course, I ended up heading back to my original host family’s house rather than the family that I’d stayed with the past month.) And thus was the end of my adventures in Boryeong! Since then I’ve mostly just been chilling at my host fam’s house, studying some and doing some art stuff (also me n’ the bro saw Kung Fu Panda 3 which was hype) so yeah! That’s all the latest in my life.

Thu, February 18, 2016

  • Joe, outbound to Korea

Hey there kiddies! So as of this moment I just heard that them there new outbounds just had their orientation, so if you’re reading this and all, AYYYYYYE what’s up buddo. Of course you can’t respond but I guess it was a retorical greeting. Though is what’s up ever really not rhetorical? I guess it is sometimes not rhetorical but whatever I guess it doesn’t matter buddo. Anyway I’M BACK BUDD back with amazing stories for my beloved parental units, and tiny bits of advice for you discerning RYE outbounds yo yo yo. Anyway kids here we go.

So since I last typed here, something interesting happened, not really much to write about, but the dog got a haircut! She looks ridiculous. Pic below. Anyway, one thing that happened is I went to a local museum built out of an old school. There was a lot of stuff in there, from historical things to recent art projects. Just kinda a culture/korea museum? All around p interesting I’d say. Also I went skiing! I went with my host cousin, her brother, his girlfriend, his friend, and my host brother. It was nice because I got to use my korean more than I normally do and also because it was the first time I’ve actually gotten the chance to ski since the last mass extinction! So good times all around kiddies.

As of late I’ve found myself sort of adopted temporarily by my host uncle/aunt’s family. Ya see, I was told I would only be shipped over here for about a week to get to know everyone and have a good time, but due to weird complications with the date of arrival, the date of departure was left undecided, and eventually I (a person who only packed for a week) ended up with a departure date after about a month of staying here. Note: I don’t actually mind, the family here is really sweet and great, I’m just missing a few supplies.

Anyway, the home I’ve found myself in is in Boryeong-si, Sinheug-dong. It’s RIGHT on the sea (like, I can see the ocean from the window in the family apartment) and my host fam here actually owns a seafood restaurant down the hill from the apartment, where I get most of my meals. It’s a really cool environment here because unlike my host family’s house in Songtan, almost no one speaks any english, so I’ve been forced to use Korean a lot more, which has made me realize how much I know, taught me a lot, and has alleviated a lot of my stresses about language learning since I feel like I’m making actual major progress in learning now! Whilst here I’ve done some learning of Korean drums, painting, AND I got to visit the Gyeongijeon Hall in Jeonju WHILST wearing a hanbok. Good times kids.

So I guess now I’ll just talk a little bit about advice and stuff regarding the country so here we go. In case you’re wondering – no, you won’t have to eat any dog. The stuff’s rare and p much all Koreans are super understanding that it freaks out foreigners. You may have to eat intestines, larvae, lung, and a few other things tho (don’t worry, the intestines are like some of the best food in all of korea imo). Korean Rotary is SUPER hands off so you’ll probably not be dragged along by Rotary to too many events? Just kinda do your thing and enjoy what ya can budd. Also, in case no one else tells u, a T-Money card is your ticket to getting around here in Korea budd. It’s just a bus/train pass that you can put money on. Good times. Another thing, if you really want to go to an Aquarium, but don’t feel like paying an entrance fee, just go to a fish market here. Good times.

Thu, January 14, 2016

  • Joe, outbound to Korea

Yo yo yo your favorite Korean exchange student is back with the hottest news on his Korean escapades. Things have kinda remained slow recently so I’ll probably keep the event update kinda shorter than previous entries yehaw.

So alright since I last updated my thousands of anxious fans on here, I’ve been to an event in Seoul called the “Musical Concert” a name that I was initially confused by (thinking that it was a simple awkward translation) but it turned out to be a concert of songs primarily from musicals. The performers were excellent and it was quite interesting to see how western culture, namely singing styles and stories had made their way into the Korean popular culture. I went there with my Host Mom and Host Bro as well as a few friends of my Host Mother’s, and so our car ride was filled with my introduction and some of my awkward attempts to converse and introduce myself in Korean.

One thing that was pretty interesting was the fact that it started snowing! This has been my first time living long termish in an area that actually snows so it was quite a joy to see. What was less of a joy was attempting to navigate the slippery and watery mess that was the sidewalks. It was pretty nice initially but there was one day when I came home with my socks soaked and another when I actually fell on the ground because there was honestly no non-slippery ground. Either way, it’s been pretty fun! (Despite how bloody freezing it’s been).

The most recent event of notability for me was heading to a new sauna with the fam. While that doesn’t sound like the most wild of adventures, it was a bit more interesting than you might think. You see, in case I’ve not mentioned in my other journals, me and my family has been going to the local sauna together every Sunday for the past few weeks. The facility we’ve been going to consisted of two simple rooms for either gender with pools and steam rooms and such, but this facility was that and so much more. It was called Roman bath and was a good way away from our home, at its entrance it leads into two rooms similar to the regular spa back home, but once you finished getting all steamed up and such, it lead into a larger room which both genders were allowed to be in (only after putting clothes on however). The larger room had many steam rooms installed as well as an arcade, massage chairs, restaurants, and even more. It was quite an impressive facility and we ended up spending just about the entirety of the day there. One fun thing that I did there was have my feet nibbled on by fish. You see, they had little pools filled with tiny fish, which you would place your feet in and the fish would clean your feets up by nibbling off excess matter and all that somesuch. Good times.

Alright so that’s my update. Now that we’ve come to the end-ish of this particular journal I thought I’d just include some tips for potential Koreadventurers who might be reading this, so here we go. 1) Learn vocabulary LEARN VOCABULARY, it will help so much in comprehension, and really you can just figure out a lot of grammar on your own as long as you have plenty of vocabulary okay good heavens it’s important. 2) Kimchi and rice together are really good. Idk this is common knowledge but yeah there ya go. 3) Learn to enjoy spicy food if you don’t already. Yes this is necessary. 4) If you’re a gamer, get into league of legends. I promise it will help you make friends(I’m not sure how well this will work among girls as I’ve only tested it at a male only school). 5) Scarves are your friend during winter.

That’s all I can remember right now so that’s all kids yehaw B-)

Wed, December 9, 2015

  • Joe, outbound to Korea

Wowo okay here we are a few days late past the submittal date but its fine kids its fine… Alrighty then, It has been yet another month since my last journal and I’m back again on the block with more info for all you crazy kids.

So one very major event that has occured here in the 조 family home, is that we got a dog! Yes, we have finally claimed a furry beast to call our own. Her name is Mimi (I call her Meme) and she is a maltese puppy! When we got her she was only a week or two old, and was very very tiny. She has since grown a bit, but is still just a little ball of fluffy energy. So far she’s gotten really attached to my host brother, and he to her. It’s all pretty cute over all.

Another neat thing that happened is I visited Incheon! I stayed with a friend of my Host Mom’s over the weekend and just sort of visited around. My first day was spent mostly at their house with some shopping and such as well. On Saturday I went to Chinatown and journeyed around there for a bit with a friend of the woman I was staying with. Chinatown was pretty rad yo. The various displays of art and statues were quite impressive and I loved the sort of temple covered mountain type area at the center. On Sunday the family I was staying at took me to visit their church, and after that I headed back to my home here in Songtan.

Upon what I recall being the following weekend, my host mother, a few members from the Rotary club, one of their sons, and I, all went to the DMZ. We visited there for a bit, had some good food, and even participated in a festival that was going on at the time! After we finished up with our tour there, we drove over to the local “English Village”. This was something that can only really be described as being like some sort of disneyfied combination of an American colonial village, an English country town, and a non-nondescript European castle. It was a rather surreal experience to be there as it was a sort of foreigner’s take on western(specifically english) culture. After wandering the streets of English Village for a bit, we headed over to one of the buildings there and ended up working as volunteers with a large group of individuals in this sort of festivity, the reason for which I don’t particularly recall(whoops). Either way, it was a good time and I ended up getting a free pink volunteer shirt out of it yehaw. B-)

The next day of that same weekend, I ended up participating in the Pyeongtaek Marathon! We had to get up at a rather early time of 6am(ish) much to the upset of me and my host brother, but nonetheless we got up and got to the place on time. The event itself was pretty nice, a good 10k run with cars as the winner’s prizes (I did not win). Every time I slowed down to walk for rest, I would often have my fellow participants greet me with words of encouragement to keep going, it was quite an inspiring thing and kept me running a bit more than I might’ve otherwise been willing to. In the end I ended up running alongside a fellow American who I found running along, and we crossed the finish line together as a symbol of American freedom and independence and such yehaw B-)

One final thing to mention tho, I think about a week or two ago, I went to Everland! It was a school trip, specifically for schools in Pyeongtaek, and as such I went with my school homies B-). Due to the event being open to so many students tho, the park was extremely packed, with waits upward of an hour or two on some rides. Needless to say, me and my friends didn’t get to go on too many rides, but we still had a good time over all, especially with the haunted house they had there.

And yeah I guess that about raps up what I’ve been up to event-wise. I’m not sure if I have any advice or anything for any of you crazy Koreabound kids who may or may not be reading this, but either way, dank memes to all of you my friends. B-)

Sun, November 8, 2015

  • Joe, outbound to Korea

Hey kiddies, I’m back again with more quality journal related content. It’s been around a month since my last journal, and a number of things have happened so lets get into it kids.

Last time I wrote in this here journalroo thingadoo, I had been through a rather wild course of initial events introducing me to this here Korea country creating for a rather different attitude in writing than the one I’m making now. Maybe it’s a thing of my personality or maybe it’s just a thing of the situation I’m in, but I’ve found myself entering a sort of “new normal” what I mean, is that I’ve sort of found a grounding in this once distant land. I’ve gotten used to the usual schedule of waking up and going to school, of what times I have lunch, of what friends I usually hang out with, and all that one might normally find to be the norm in a highschool life. Essentially I’ve sort of created a stable and normal life for myself in this new home. I think it’s a bit too soon to personally decide for myself what I think of that, but I suppose it may indicate that I’ve fit in quite well? This feels like something I might’ve heard about if I actually read a bit further into other previous exchange student’s journals (if you’re still reading these journals of mine, good on you, buckaroo) either way, I guess it wasn’t anything major that I needed to be warned about right? I mean, I’m not really experiencing any manifestation of anxiety any longer, and I’m generally comfortable where I’m at in learning the language and getting used to the situation, so, it’s all good in the hood kids.

Anyway, since I last wrote I’ve been to Seoul twice, my first visit was with my brother and his friend, just looking around Yongsan station and seeing the rad Doraemon festival that was going on there, while my second time was a more complete tour of the city along with the son of one of the members of my Rotary club. We made sure to visit plenty of neat tourist destinations and eat only the most quality of foods(unfortunately we didn’t make it to the figurine store that we were gonna go to at the end of the day however, which was truly the greatest travesty of my life) all in all, a good trip!

Also a thing that happened since my last journal: Chuseok! A thing commonly described to me as “Korean Thanksgiving”, Chuseok is a yearly harvest festival in Korea, upon which, I got a week off of school (heckie yeah) and had several neat adventures! On the first day of the break, my family got ready and headed over to my host dad’s brother’s house (host uncle’s house??) and we had a meal together before staying the night. The following day, we traveled to several other family’s houses and proceeded with the main celebration of Chuseok, good food was eaten, and good times were had yo. The next day, my family and I met up with the family members we had celebrated Chuseok with at a local cemetery to pay respects to the dead and have a quick snack. Later that week of Chuseok, I also went harvesting sweet potatoes with my host mom and members of my rotary club. Good times on Chuseok yehaw B-).

I suppose those are all of the big updates on my life to put in the journal? I dunno we’re also getting a puppy later this week which is cool. Yeah there it all is my compatriots wahoo B-)

P.S. Another protip for my future Korean outbounds that might be reading this: Bring your own toilet paper to school. Do it. Seriously. They don’t have their own toilet paper there, nor do they have tissues. Just bring a roll and keep it in your bag. Seriously like this is super important kids, ya gotta do it yo.

Tue, October 6, 2015

  • Joe, outbound to Korea

Alright so here we go kids, first journal. So I’ve been in Korea for about 2 weeks or so now, and it already feels like I’ve been here for so much longer.

I suppose I should go back and start with a few details on the flight, since that’s where it all began. The flights were generally uneventful, aside from a bit of crying when I left, everything went smoothly and I really don’t have much to report from that whole ordeal. The only notable thing from my flights is that I did meet a Canadian RYE student traveling on the same flight to Korea as me! We made sure to swap pins and contact info of course. After the following flight however, is when my true journey began.

As soon as I got off, I was taken by the sudden presence of Hangeul on all of the signs. I guess the reality that I was in Korea was hammered home by that? Either way, I made my way through the airport, following the crowds and asking help from what English speakers I could find my bag and the exit. Without even exiting the baggage claim area, my host mother spotted me and began to excitedly wave to me, she and my coordinator were there waiting for me with a sign, apparently having gotten a bit worried as to when I would be arriving, since I’d been taking a somewhat long time. Upon meeting the two of them, I quickly realized that this exchange would be one in which I met some of the nicest people I’ve ever known.

My first week here in Korea was a calm yet eventful one. I didn’t start school until my second week, so I spent the majority of my time at home or off adventuring with my family. My mother was the main individual to interact with me, her English is quite good, and we made sure to give each-other tips on speaking one-another’s language. On Thursday, I went to my first Rotary club meeting in Korea. It was a bit smaller than home, but I had long since learned that was a feature of Korean cities. I was surprised to find that the club was made up entirely of women, with my host mother of course being the president. All of the members greeted me and were very nice. At that meeting I ended up issuing a short speech that my host mother had written for me to introduce myself that morning. I made my fair amount of mistakes, but of course everyone clapped and kindly complimented my ability to speak Korean.

My second week was one that began on Sunday night, with me being swamped with messages and friend requests from Korean high school students from the school I would be going to, they having been long since notified of my coming arrival, apparently. My Monday immediately began with dramatically new experiences, as I had to take the public bus alone to get to school, a thing I’m generally unaccustomed to, being one from Florida which is a state equipped with a rather lackluster public transportation system.

Once I made it to school I was immediately being greeted left and right by eager and amazed high school students. Constant “hello”s and other attempts to practice English greetings could be heard all around me, with students often jumping up and peering out their classroom door to see the American. When I arrived in class, I was greeted with cheers and clapping, and groups of people coming to greet me. I found myself with a massive group of new friends that day, friends I’m sure I’ll find myself becoming closer with over my time here in South Korea.

My school week went on progressively calmer after that initial hectic day of new found friends. My favorite class has unsurprisingly become English, primarily because my teacher is kind and very willing to talk and ask input of me. My English teacher even teaches me Korean after lunch every day of school! It’s a service that I am extremely thankful for in all honesty. The other teachers have a certain degree more difficulty communicating with me, but each of them is nonetheless extremely kind, and always willing to offer a smile.

In just two weeks, I’ve found myself in love with this country, it’s people, and of course its food. The cities are hectic but cozy, and the countryside is simply beautiful. The weather is much more varied than it is back home, and there are cute dogs on almost every corner. If you’re reading this in some distant future, a future outbound to Korea yourself, I can tell you, that if you keep an open mind and a smile on your face, you will fall in love with this place faster than you might think.

Oh also protip my dawgs, in case you plan on using a bathroom here in Korea, one thing I’m sure many of you will likely need to do, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll not want to flush the toilet paper. Some places don’t mind, but at a lot of others, there’s a special bin for the stuff, and if you flush it, serious harm may be caused to the plumbing. Just some advice.

Sat, September 5, 2015

John - Netherlands

Hometown: Winter Springs, Florida
School: Winter Springs High School
Sponsor District : District 6980
Sponsor Club: Casselberry, Florida
Host District: 1590
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Dronten

My Bio

Sziasztok! My name is John Calhoun, and I am voyaging to Netherlands! I am currently eighteen, and I will be spending my gap year after high school abroad. I am currently living with my mother, my older brother and my younger sister in Winter Springs, Florida. I am so thrilled to get this incredible chance to go somewhere completely outside of my sphere of knowledge with the amazing support from all the people working with RYE Florida and especially from the fantastic members of District 6980!

I look forward to delving into Netherlands culture (and food), as well as sharing my love for things like singing, acting, bass guitar and computer science! I’ve been in a chorus for seven years, I will have been in four and maybe five musicals before I depart, and I taught myself how to play the electric bass. My love for computers might seem like a bit of a weird jump from all that music, but I would not be offended if someone called me strange or different. It might be that quality that best prepares me for exchange. Who knows? I can’t wait to experience the rush of new opportunities I will have in Netherlands.

I am also excited to see a different country like no tourist ever can, mixing with the natives and assimilating into the culture instead of merely sailing through the country and seeing only the buildings rather than the people who give the country life. Thank you again to all you amazing Rotarians, Rotex, community members and relatives who made my adventure possible! I can’t wait to share my experiences with you!

Journals: John – Netherlands 2015-2016

  • John, outbound to Netherlands

Hello again!
Yes, I know that two weeks does not equal over a month, but I lose weeks here and there so I feel a little less bad about that than I probably should. It turns out that time moves by way too fast when you are on exchange. In the United States, the days and weeks crawl by. With the inexorable approach of events like Halloween and the onset of weather cooler than 25 degrees (wait… make that 77 degrees… Celsius problems) September and October seem to drag on forever.

In this country, the thermostat drops below 60 degrees during September and never climbs above there from then on out. Also, they don’t celebrate Halloween outside of their theme park, Walibi World, so there is no anticipation for any kind of great holiday looming on October 31st. Maybe I would be more focused on the passage of time if I had to deal with a rigorous study regimen or a schedule of tests to remember, but I didn’t even know I was going to have this week off from school at the b eginning of last week.

All in all, time is passing by as fast as I can enjoy it, which is really quite quickly. I was all ready to Skype with Lania for an informational meeting when I realized that it had happened the week previous and I had completely missed it. I was still saying I’d only been in the Netherlands for almost two months until I realized that I was about halfway to my third month already.

It is becoming clearer to me how easy it might be to miss a year like this entirely by not participating in your host family’s life, in the events of your school or your Rotary club, or by simply not accepting any and all the opportunities that are offered to you. For instance, if I had said no to going with my Rotary club and another Rotary club from England to Friesland for a day tour, I would have missed out on meeting some wonderful people and seeing some amazing things. My reason for my almost-rejection was the people would all be older than me and I would feel out of place, but it was quite the opposite. I met and, I’d like to think, befriended a good number of the British Rotarians, who were excellent people to be around and to share my experiences with. There is nothing quite like being a Floridian touring Friesland with British people discussing all the interesting features of the Dutch. It was a truly enjoyable occasion that I almost entirely missed.

Another great experience I was a part of was the celebration of Hug an Exchange Student Day in Utrecht. It was arranged somehow using some magic of social media, and whoever finally got everyone in the same place deserves a medal of some kind. The occasion was a great rendezvous of all three main exchange student organizations in the Netherlands: RYE, AFS and YFU. If I hadn’t already been returning to Dronten from a friend’s birthday party in Rotterdam through Utrecht, I probably wouldn’t have gone considering train costs and general time used, but fortunately for me Utrecht is directly between Rotterdam and Zwolle, an important city on the route back to Dronten.

When we were finally united with all the other exchange students, it was an awesome experience that I might have just skimmed over without thinking twice. I got to meet people f rom Estonia, Italy, China, France and other countries I’d never seen people from before, including more people from great countries like Finland, South Africa and Argentina. We all moved in a group of different nationalities through the streets of Utrecht, getting free hugs from strangers and from each other. We even brought “Hug Me” signs that had reasonable success.

The moral of the story… Ew. Nevermind.

Impossibly long story a hair shorter, I am really enjoying my exchange. I have a few days when I wonder why on earth I couldn’t go to Hungary or to a more populated place like Amersfoort, where I was originally going in the Netherlands, but then I get over it because there is always something I can be doing somewhere. There is always something better to think about, and if I start blaming things on other people or just the work of the universe, that does not help anything. Thank you for teaching me valuable life lessons, League of Legends. And with that alliteration, I will bid you all goodnight. Or good afternoon to the US. Or morning in Asia. As some people say, it’s always 5:00 somewhere.
Tot ziens!

Mon, October 19, 2015

  • John, outbound to Netherlands

Hoi, iedereen!
So, writing a monthly journal is basically impossible. I am resolving to henceforth write more than once per month because more things have happened in this span of time than I could write a book about.

Skimming the boring bit, I flew about 8,000 kilometers (that’s about 5,000 miles) from Orlando International Airport to Detroit to Schipol Airport in Amsterdam. When I landed, I was greeted by my host family and my counsellor, who proceeded to emit that typical Dutch vibe that I didn’t understand at that point. More on that later.

After the drive to my new home for the next three months, I failed to unpack my suitcase due to my sheer exhaustion. A day later, I packed my smaller bag to travel a bit over an hour to Meppel for my Dutch Orientation Course. There, I met a group of strangers who quickly became some of the closest friends I have ever had. It’s something about sharing such a different and incredible experience that pulls people together more than anything else. The DOC in Meppel was an amazing week, getting to learn elementary Dutch with an awesome group of people and staying with four other great exchange students at a temporary host family, the chiefest of all the things I got to do that week, was incredible.

That introductory week over, I returned to my first long-term host family in Dronten and began the process of figuring out what living in a new family entails. First, I learned that breakfast in the Netherlands is essentially the same for almost everyone everywhere: buttered bread topped with either cheese or hagelslag, the latter simply being chocolate-sprinkles-but-totally-different-because-we-eat-them-for-breakfast. Besides that, I learned the meaning of biking everywhere when I rode for about an hour with my host brother to a golf course in a nearby town.Nearby, I said. And I also agree with that idea, because there are several nearby cities that I look forward to reaching in only fifty minutes of biking. Biking in the Netherlands is the most liberating sensation. You can get yourself anywhere as long as you have a bike and enough time.

You also have to know whether being late is an issue, because that is the most dramatic difference between individual Dutch people. Some of them are very laid back, to the point where they are ok with anything as long as it isn’t too stupid and showing up late just means the food is laid out at the table instead of still being in the oven. Others, however, tend towards their German neighbors and expect perfect punctuality all the time everywhere, along with perfect adherence to the rules and the soundest of logic. It’s always important to know the Nederlander ahead of time before you consider a time-consuming method of transportation. That’s something of what I mean by “Dutch vibe.” The Dutch give off this feeling of being right where they want to be in the world. It’s a refreshing world view, and it’s easy to feel at ease around a Dutch person. But I digress. (Heh. I’ve always wanted to say that…)

To make a long story dubiously shorter, I found myself in a Dutch classroom with a room full of people who speak twice as many languages as I do at least, listening to teachers speak at speeds I thought possible only at auctions. I immediately ran into two problems: everyone in my classes was considerably younger than me, and my classes were ALL SCIENCE. Natuurkunde (Physics), Scheikunde (Chemistry) and Biologie (Biolo… oh) mostly, which was distinctly not exciting for me. Thus, I talked to my school counsellor and got moved up to a higher class level to solve the age problem and into a culture track. Between my first and second weeks of school, I went to Bergen op Zoom (that’s “Zoam”) for the birthday party of one of my exchange student friends, which was very much fun.

My second week began with a new group of people and a new bunch of classes, but this one came with the fact that I had none of my books. Still don’t, actually. But I made friends less awkwardly and I was in classes that will be much more interesting once I learn enough Dutch to follow the teachers’ record-setting speed. During my second week… wait. No. During my first week… ah, everything is mixed together.

In my first week I visited the city Kampen, both as a representative of Rotary Youth Exchange to help my inbound coordinator give a presentation and as a sightseer, getting a pony-cart tour of the gorgeous little city. On the weekend of my second week of school, I got to go to the 25th wedding anniversary of my third host family, which was a lot of fun. A week later, I went to Goes for a weekend organized by the Dutch ROTEX, which was an amazing experience.

I’ve abbreviated all of these different occasions to an almost criminal degree because there really is too much to write about in one entry. I have done and seen so many things and met so many new people, and with each of those comes another story. I’ve learned so much about this wonderful little country, and also about some things I’d never really thought of about the United States and my own life. This first month has been the best time I’ve spent doing anything, and I am so excited by the thought of ten more months ahead of me. I am a fresh exchange student, still naïve in the ways of exchange, but I look forward to the future. I want to send a huge thank you to District 6980, and especially the Rotary Club of Winter Springs for sponsoring me on this amazing exchange. I also want to thank all the people who prepared me to go on this exchange and the people who helped me fund it. Thank you all so much.

I am so excited to share my story with everyone, and I am so grateful for the people who enabled me to write this new chapter in it. I’ll share more about what it’s like being an exchange student when I know more about what it’s like being an exchange student. It is not a simple condition, and I still don’t know half of the repercussions. Tot ziens! Until we see each other again!

Thu, September 10, 2015

John - Brazil

Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: Allen D. Nease Senior High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Ponte Vedra Beach Sunset, Florida
Host District: 4650
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Blumenau Norte

My Bio

I am John Hutton, an Outbound for Brasil. I have lived in St. Augustine my whole life and am incredibly excited and thankful to live somewhere else, especially somewhere as stunning as Brasil. I hope to work heavily on my Portuguese as well as grow as a person while on exchange. My main hobbies include playing clarinet and piano, going to the beach, sailing, camping, and eating. I have played Clarinet in the Nease Band for four years and played Piano a little longer. As I said, I have grown up in St. Augustine close to the beach and come from a sailing family. I am a strong swimmer and proficient sailor. I’ve been in the Boy Scouts since Kindergarten and have sound knowledge of the outdoors. As far as food is concerned I consider my palate to be open. I will eat just about anything as long as it is not too spicy. I used to play lacrosse and basketball and enjoy throwing Frisbee and playing Ultimate Frisbee. I am working to learn Portuguese and have taken four years of Spanish at Nease High School. I have attended Memorial Presbyterian Church my whole life but am more than open to any religion. I have two marvelous parents, Skip and Nancy Hutton, and a fantastic older brother, Daniel. I am incredibly thankful for this wonderful opportunity.

Journals: John – Brazil 2015-2016

  • John, outbound to Brazil

Howdy from Brasil! I recently went on a trip with Belo Brasil to the state of Amazonia in northern Brasil. It was an amazing trip and is really hard to describe. My favorite part of the trip was the people I had the opportunity to meet. People I may never see again but will nonetheless have a lasting impact on my life. But, I cannot hope to convey how wonderful many of the people I met are. I can however describe the things we did together.

We flew into Manaus, the capitol of Amazonia, and stayed there one night in a lovely hotel. Our second night was in a jungle lodge father away from the city. The first night there we saw a dance troop, ate quite possibly the most delicious pineapple the world has ever seen, and chose our boats. That night we also hiked to a waterfall, first in the pouring rain that gives the rain forest its name, and then in the dark. On this hike we entered a cave full of bats and walked through a waterfall. It was such a unique experience and an incredible way to start the trip. The next morning we walked to another beautiful waterfall and swam there. Then we took a bus to the boats we would use to explore the Rio Amazonas and the Rio Negro. There were three boats for sleeping: Sloth, Alligator, and last but not least Anaconda. There was also a dinning boat where we would eat breakfast lunch and dinner. The food was excellent and I certainly enjoyed the all you can eat buffet three times a day. I also enjoyed the delicious watermelon and pineapple that was constantly available on the individual boats.

The majority of the trip was spent on the boats. We saw a little bit of the Amazon River but spent most of our time on the Rio Negro. The Rio Negro is more acidic than the Amazon and therefore less mosquitoes hatch in its waters. Where the two rivers meet the water does not mix for three reasons. The Rio Negro is warmer, more acidic, and flows slower than the Amazon so the two different colored rivers appear to be separate. We saw this the first day in the boats after leaving Manaus. We visited an Indian tribe during our time on the boats. We saw a traditional dance, some of the medicine that they used, and their school. Later in the trip we visited a normal community in the region. We saw their school as well and played a fun game of soccer with the locals.

We saw many unique and rare animals on the trip but the coolest animals were the Bixo Pregisa( sloth), the Jacaré ( alligator), and the anaconda (anaconda). We took pictures with all three of these animals. I will try to include them in this entry. Everyone loves sloths so it was great to get a picture with one. My favorite animal was the Boto Rosa which is a pink dolphin not to be confused with Bota Rosa which is a pink boot. We swam in the water with these dolphins twice. There were “dolphin trainers” who would feed fish to the dolphins while we swam in the water next to the dolphins. It was insane to be that close to such a powerful, beautiful, and wild animal. Learning about the unique animals, trees, and people in the Amazon was a once in a life time experience.

Thank you to anyone and everyone who helped get me to Brasil and to the Amazon. It was unbelievably fun! I enjoyed it so much! I wish I could go back and I hope I can visit the wonderful people I met in the future.

Sat, June 11, 2016

  • John, outbound to Brazil

Howdy from Brasil. I have been in Brasil for almost five months now and it has been incredible but this journal will focus on a trip outside of Brasil. Recently I traveled to Buenos Aires, Argentina to visit my Aunt and I had a wonderful time. I stayed in Buenos Aires for 5 days at the beginning of my Christmas/summer vacation (summer because the seasons are inverted in the Southern Hemisphere). The neighborhoods within Buenos we visited were Palermo, Puerto Madero, La Boca, San Telmo, Constitucion, and Recoleta. I got the chance to practice my Spanish or more accurately my Portunhol (a mixture of Portuguese and Spanish). Some of the highlights of this trip were staying in the gorgeous Palermo neighborhood, walking through La Recoleta cemetery, experiencing the numerous parks located throughout Buenos Aires, visiting La Malba (probably the coolest museum I’ve ever been to), and seeing the Teatro Colon, El Obelisco, and the Floralis Gene rica (a giant moving aluminum sculpture of a flower located in the Plaza de las Naciones Unidas). However, the best part of the trip was of course seeing my lovely Aunt and Uncle.

One morning while my Aunt and Uncle were still asleep I walked to the Floralis Generica to see the sun rise. What I did and saw is completely describable. But the feeling of walking through the beautiful streets of Buenos Aires, confident in my ability to be alone in a foreign country, and marvelling at the gorgeous sunrise is indescribable. Without a doubt these are memories I will keep with me for the rest of my life. Other than walking we took taxis to navigate Buenos Aires.

Other cool miscellaneous information about my visit to Buenos Aires is within La Recoleta, a giant cemetery in the heart of Buenos Aires, is the grave of Eva Peron. Buenos Aires is famous for tango although there is a debate whether it began in Uruguay. We saw a tango performance on the street in Buenos Aires. While I have never been to Europe, Buenos Aires is supposedly very European. Buenos Aires is sometimes called “the Paris of the South.”
While there were many great meals in Buenos Aires I think the best was at a steak house in Palermo. The meat in Buenos Aires was almost as good as the meat in Brazil but this steakhouse was very very close. The atmosphere reminded me of the Ice Plant Bar and Restaurant where I worked in St. Augustine, while the food was deliciously Argentinian. Aside for its meat, Argentina is famous for its Alfajores. Argentinian Alfajores consist of Dulce de Leche between two round cookies. We found a lovely Confeitaria near the Airbnb where we stayed. That sold wonderful pastries including Alfajores. It was super fun cooking with my Aunt in the Airbnb. An Airbnb is an apartment that functions as a hotel. So we had an apartment with a functioning kitchen for the duration of our stay. Basically, the food in Buenos Aires was excellent.

Overall, Buenos Aires was the prettiest city I have ever seen. I was astounded by the beauty of Buenos Aires from the buildings, to the parks, to the Jacaranda trees, to the people. Buenos Aires is a remarkable city and I am thankful and pleased I had the opportunity to visit.

Wed, January 13, 2016

  • John, outbound to Brazil

De todos os lugares do mundo, eu prefiro estar aqui.

Howdy from Brasil. I am John Hutton and I am currently living in the beautiful city of Blumenau, in the gorgeous state of Santa Catarina, in the wonderful country that is Brasil. I couldn’t be happier to be in such an amazing place and I have to start off my first journal entry with thanking Rotary.

Being an exchange student is such a unique and singular experience that would never be possible without the devoted work of so many incredible volunteers from Rotary. Also, to all the host families across the world who are selflessly giving up their time, and money, and normally a room so that a young person can have the opportunity of a life time, thank you. My first host family has been incredibly welcoming and generous, sharing with me their culture, life style, and, almost as important, their food.

I will talk briefly about the food here in Brasil, although it can truly be summed up in three words, come try it. My favorite food so far is Picanha, a cut of beef of which the poor residents of the United States are incredulously oblivious. Churrasco, the Brasilian version of barbecue, is how picanha and many other meats are prepared in Brasil. Many of the foods here are surprisingly similar to foods in the US. For example, maionese, which translates to mayonnaise, is rather similar to what the U.S. calls potato salad. However, Farofa, a delicious flour mixture, is nowhere to be found in the U.S. While the transition into the Brasilian diet was flawless for my mouth, my stomach has needed some yogurts and bananas to help win it over and is now fully on board with the diet.

An important aspect of exchange is the Rotary club in your host country. I belong to the Rotary Club of North Blumenau and thoroughly enjoy attending meetings and Rotary functions. I was fortunate enough to give my presentation within my first month here and share about myself, my city, and my country. I was thrilled when after I had answered some questions one of the Rotarians stood up and complimented my Portuguese and my speaking skills. The Rotary here loves to have Churrascos much to my delight. In fact, the past two weekends we have had back to back Rotary Churrascos.

My school is called Escola Barão do Rio Branco and I enjoy not only the students but also the professors. I have made good friends with my classmates and am currently working on a project about the history of rap. Every day we have different classes and unlike the U.S. the professors rotate from class to class instead of the students. This is helpful because I stay with the same group of students all day. While I don’t understand everything my teachers say my Portuguese is rapidly and pleasantly improving. I will talk more about language in a later episode of Howdy from Brasil but for now I will sign off until next time as I should be getting ready for dinner. Tchau tchau.

Tue, October 6, 2015

Jonah - Croatia

Hometown: Ponte Vedra, Florida
School: Allen D. Nease Senior High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Ponte Vedra Beach Sunset, Florida
Host District: 1913
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Prelog

My Bio

Dobar dan, my name is Jonah Paxton and I am a freshman at Nease high school. I am enrolled in the IB program and dedicate most of my free time to school and the Boy scouts of America. I am close to achieving the rank of Eagle Scout and have spent three years working to get to this point. Boy Scouts gives me the opportunity to pursue my two favorite activities, volunteering and being in the outdoors. My favorite hobbies are camping, hiking, rock climbing, swimming, and wrestling. I live at home with both of my parents and a younger brother along with two dogs. On the weekends, my family and I like to play Frisbee, go to the beach, and see movies. My dad and I like to play guitar, although we’re both terrible. I want to send a big Hvala, Thanks, to RYE for giving me the chance to study abroad and experience cultures and traditions that are unique to Croatia. I am most nervous about making friends in a foreign country where I don’t speak the language well, and trying to develop lasting friendships. I can’t wait to spend a year in Croatia because I’ll be able to participate in unique activities which will allow me to explore and take in Croatian traditions. Thank You and Goodbye, or, Hvala i Doviđenja.


Journals: Jonah – Croatia 2015-2016

  • Jonah, outbound to Croatia

Before a Rotary youth exchange student is allowed to spend a year abroad, they are required to attend an event known as “Outbound Orientation”. During this orientation, Rotarians and past exchange students describe everything there is to know about exchange to the kids who are about to leave. They talk about adapting to new cultures, what the kids are supposed to pack for the trip, and how they’ll react to exchange as the year goes on. Towards the beginning, I had a tough time believing the idea that some kids that completed an exchange a few years ago, would have any clue about how my exchange would go. But, I have to admit, they knew what they were talking about. Who would’ve guessed?

Since Christmas, time has gone by much faster. I feel as if I have only been here for a couple months, but in reality, I’ve hit my seven-month marker. And unfortunately, that means I’ll have to go back to Florida soon. In three months I’ll have no more fried squid on Fridays, no more coffee breaks during school, and no more krafne… You know, I don’t think anyone would mind if I just decided to live in Croatia for a few more years, just for a few more krafne. If Rotary disagrees, I will just send them a few krafne, then they’ll understand.

On a different note, the other exchange students in Croatia and I took a weekend trip to Dubrovnik last month. The city of Dubrovnik, located at the southernmost part of Croatia, is a city on the Adriatic Sea. It’s actually where Game of Thrones is filmed, and the new Star Wars, plus the new 007 movie. So it’s a pretty popular tourist destination with beautiful scenery and rich history. Anyway, we took a bus from Zagreb on Thursday night and arrived to Dubrovnik on Friday morning with the ride itself being a healthy 9 hours. Once we checked into our hotel, everyone got a much needed coffee. But because Dubrovnik is so touristic, the coffee cost almost triple what it would have been normally. We were so tired though, that nobody cared to spend a few extra kuna for some caffeine. The hotel we stayed at was nicer than anyone expected, and everyone took a power nap before we left to explore the older part of the city. We got to walk around the beautiful Dubrovnik Star i Grad, and even got to peek at some of the set of Star Wars and Game of Thrones.

We slept like rocks that night, and woke up the next morning to an enormous breakfast buffet. After we stuffed ourselves, we got on a bus with a bunch of other Rotarians to go to a city called Ston. Ston is known for its incredible salt production and vineyards. As a gift, we received bags of salt that were made in Ston. The Rotarians told us that no matter how much salt we ate, it wouldn’t have an effect on our bodies. So all the exchange students decided to try and prove them wrong by eating handfuls of salt. The Rotarians were right, It had no effect, other than our funny faces from all the raw salt in our mouths. In my opinion, it was probably the tastiest salt I’ve ever had. Once we recovered, everyone went to a local seafood restaurant and had a great time.

Later that night, we drove back to our hotel. Some of us chose to explore the city a bit more, while others chose to explore the hotel’s sauna and pool. Try and guess which one the guy from warm, beach filled Florida went to… Yeah, I must have spent more time in that sauna than anyone ever has. It was like a mini-Florida. Hot and humid, with everyone in their bathing suits. I felt right at home. The last day in Dubrovnik was fantastic. We spent all morning taking pictures of the city and its stone wall. And after that, we ate sandwiches on the bus ride back to Zagreb, and slept the rest of the way. Overall, great trip.

About a week later, Rotary club Zagreb hosted a fancy dinner party. It was great to see everyone in black tie, and even better to dress in it. Another great Rotary event with more fantastic people. And now, it’s Spring break. I didn’t make any huge plans to do anything. I’ve just been hanging out with friends and classmates (and a little bit of Netflix). And soon, I have my Eurotour with the exchange students in Croatia and Austria. We’ll be going all over Europe to places like Rome, Venice, Milan, Monaco, Avignon, Strasbourg, and Linz for two weeks in May. I’m really excited to go, and I can’t wait to post pictures on Facebook about it.

To wrap things up, I’m very happy in Croatia. I am having a magnificent time while I can, although it is a bummer that I have to leave soon. As always, thank you Rotary for everything you’ve given me, I am extremely grateful. Thank you, Hvala, Goodbye, Doviđenja.

Sat, March 26, 2016

  • Jonah, outbound to Croatia

It’s incredible how fast my exchange is flying by. Almost 5 months in, and it feels as if I’ve only been in Croatia for a few weeks. I’m definitely not prepared for the idea of leaving in June.

Since my previous journal, a few important events took place. Well, there was Thanksgiving, Trip to Salzburg, Christmas, and New Year’s Day, but first, I’ll discuss school. Prva Gimnasia Varaždin has been a blast to attend. I have great friends, interesting subjects, and helpful teachers. Interesting enough, my relationship with my classmates fluctuates depending on the subject we are in. For instance, in English, everybody is my best friend, while in Croatian, no one seems to recognize me. Of course it’s not that literal, but that’s the concept.

For Thanksgiving, I planned a trip with the other exchange students, for us to meet in Zagreb to eat a Thanksgiving feast. We each brought something for the potluck, and luckily I was in charge of drinks and cups. Among the rest of the food was turkey, stuffing, mac and cheese, vegetables, and sweet potato pie (my favorite dish of the night). Once the meal was finished, we all looked like walruses, who had also eaten a large meal which had left them slightly bigger than when they started.

In early December, the Croatian exchange students and I took a weekend trip to Salzburg, Austria. We all piled into a small bus and drove eight hours to reach our destination. We slept in a nice youth hostel with the 80 other exchange students in Austria, and it gave us a chance to swap stories about exchange. Out of the 12 exchange students in Croatia, there are two boys, and one of them is me, and being around other guys was a pleasant change. During our time in Salzburg, I roamed the city. I got to see the house of Mozart, and visit the Hohensalzburg Fortress. It might be because I am from Florida, or that I’m an exchange student, but the point is I hate looking like a tourist. That might have been one of the reasons that I joined Rotary in the first place.

Next on the list is Christmas. Croatia celebrates Christmas a bit differently than the United States. In Croatia, there is a much larger emphasis on family, while in the US, gift giving is a big part of the holiday. On Christmas morning, I received slippers, a shirt, and some toiletries. Even though it wasn’t as much as I receive in Florida, I still thought my Christmas was fantastic. Another big part of Christmas is church, in Europe. I sure felt that when I was sweating inside an overcrowded church on Christmas Eve. New Year’s Eve was standard, I just hung out with my host family, and waited for 2016.

Since winter break began, my host dad and I have gone to a local gym to play badminton and work out. However, there has been some snow in Croatia, and having to shovel it out of the driveway is my way of working out. I like to think that I do a good job at cleaning the driveway, but I usually see my host dad going over my previous streaks of snow.

On a different note, I’m starting to see next year’s exchange students are getting ready for their year abroad. It just makes me remember when I was in the same situation, just so eager to explore the world, and having my own expectations of what Croatia was going to be like. Now that I’m actually here, I can say that my original expectation of what my year abroad was going to be like, is completely different to what it actually is. Exchange is really a once in a lifetime opportunity, and is unique to each individual. What I am trying to say is that I’m very lucky to be here, and that I’m grateful for everything Rotary has given to me. Thanks everyone!

Sat, January 9, 2016

  • Jonah, outbound to Croatia

Has it really been two months since I arrived in Croatia?! Since my arrival in what I consider to be my new home, I’ve had some of the best experiences of my life. Why don’t I get started?

Compared to my first month in this beautiful country, things have gotten better. To start, I have definitely improved my language skills. For instance, I am now able to hold a basic conversation from beginning to end with only minor mistakes. And, on a good day, I can navigate through an intermediate discussion. In my opinion, the most frustrating part of exchange has been the language barrier, especially when I hear my name being thrown around in a foreign conversation. It goes a bit like this… Ja sam iznenađen da ste prevođenje ovo, Jonah, ako što prevedeno to, onda to nema smisla. Confusing, right?

Since my last journal, there have been many changes in my weekly schedule, with the biggest change being school, Prva Gimnazia Varaždin. School starts at 7:30, however, I must wake up around 5:30 in order to catch the 50 minute train ride to my school. At school, I am enrolled in over 15 separate subjects, some of which are history of art, ethics, Latin, and English (my personal favorite). My school also offers the students a free period, giving us time to grab something to eat, get coffee, and hang out. The students follow a weekly schedule that distributes necessary subjects to each class. For example, my class has English, art, and Latin on Monday, and gym, geography, and math on Tuesday. Subjects are different lengths in order to fill our 7 hour school day. School ends at 2:15, giving me just enough time to take a train back home.

Honestly, I love going to school. My class, consisting of the same 23 Croatian teenagers, is the main reason. As opposed to schooling in America, Croatia puts together a class of around 25 kids and keeps them together for the entirety of school, meaning, if you don’t like someone in your class, get over it. The classmates spend 8 years with each other in primary school, and 4 years together in high school. Anyway, my classmates are the reason I have such a great experience in Croatia. My classmates and I are friends as well as colleagues in school, we can have fun together and still get work done.

My class is my main source of Croatian too. Everyone speaks English in my class as well as Croatian, giving me an opportunity to improve my translation. However, like many other exchange students, my classmates filled my vocabulary with Croatian curses, swears, and vulgar expressions within the first few weeks. And, to express my appreciation, I help them with their English. In fact, in English class we read my Rotary journals. Shoutout to Razred 2.D (my class, if you were curious).

Outside of school, I hang out with a few friends, but there isn’t much to do in a village in the middle of nowhere. I also like to be with other exchange students on the weekends. The majority of exchange students in Croatia live in the capital Zagreb. Zagreb is about an hour and a half away from Donji Kraljevec, my village, and we enjoy meeting up and going out to eat in the city. The exchange students and I have been on a few trips with Rotary too.

One weekend, we took a bus to Plitvice Lakes and hiked around for a bit, and the next day, drove to an old castle to take a look around. More recently though, we had a barbecue with Rotary. We ate tons of meats, pastries, and soups, and afterwards, got to listen to authentic Croatian music. All in all, every Rotary event has been a blast!

On a more serious note, I can definitely tell that I am changing in Croatia. Not just my attitude, however, my emotional stability, general outlook, and behavior are all improving with every day I spend in this fantastic place. I feel much more comfortable than when I first got here too. I am able to stay calm around stressful situations, and I am talking with many more people the longer I stay in Croatia. Rotary Youth Exchange is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I hope to take full advantage of this unique experience.

To wrap things up, I want to thank Rotary. Thank you for this wonderful opportunity, and thanks for all your hard work to make it possible. Hopefully my year abroad won’t pass me by too quickly, and give me enough time to fully appreciate this phenomenal country. In my opinion, the most relatable expression to an exchange student was said by Andy Dwyer from Parks and Recreation, “I have no idea what I’m doing, but I know I’m doing it really, really well”. Well, so much for me maturing while in Croatia. Doviđenja!

Thu, October 29, 2015

  • Jonah, outbound to Croatia

Dobar dan. Hey everybody, I’m going to jump right in to my life here in the best and most beautiful country in the world, otherwise known as Croatia. Even though I’ve only been here for a week and a half, I have already created memories worth a lifetime. But, I’m going to stop wasting time and start to discuss my experiences so far in Hrvatska.

Since I haven’t started school yet, every day is kind of last minute and random. For example, on Sunday I went with my Club Counselor to a Rotary Event called “Rotary Health Days” on Trakosćan Lake. Whereas, Friday night, my friends dragged me to a music festival in Varaždin called “Špancirfest” (I will go into more detail on those events later).

However, on a regular day with no special events, it goes as follows:
Wake up around 8, shower, and get dressed for the day. At 8:30, I usually go downstairs to eat breakfast which is either a sandwich or a bowl of corn flakes. I’m going to go off on a tangent by saying that cereal in Croatia and how it’s prepared is completely different than in America. So, my host mother pours the milk BEFORE the cereal. Again, she pours the MILK BEFORE THE CEREAL. That alone is a huge red flag in America, but there’s more. Once my host mom has poured the milk (before the cereal), she puts the bowl of milk in the microwave, and heats it up. Let me remind you, we aren’t eating oatmeal or porridge, we are preparing cereal. By far, the biggest change in my lifestyle since my arrival in Croatia.

Where was I again? Oh, that’s right, my routine.
From 9 to 12, I go with my family to run errands. Errands like going to the grocery store, butcher, deli, bakery, and other food shops (we love food). Afterwards, around 1 or 2, I help my host mom to prepare lunch. In Croatia, lunch is the biggest meal of the day and is normally eaten with the entire family.

Later, at about 3, I go with my mom to visit my host grandmother. We ride our bikes to her house, and run her set of errands due to her difficulty with walking. When we deliver her groceries back to the house, we drink tea and talk in Croatian. By that, I mean that my mom talks with my grandmother in Croatian, and I sit close-by, silently listening (silently not knowing what is going on).

We get home at 5 and rest until dinner. Dinner is at 7, and is normally only eaten by my host mother and I. We eat sandwiches and fruit normally, and talk for another hour. I go to a local café with a few friends at 8 and we hang out, talking until 10. When I get back home at 11, I wind down and fall asleep at 12.

Again, my routine will be different once I begin school on the 11th. In school, I will take 10 classes in a week, but only 7 classes in a day. My school begins at 7:30 and ends approximately at 2. However, the train that I must take to get to and from school takes around 40 minutes to travel on, sigh.

Recently, I went to a music festival called Špancirfest. All it was, was a 10 day long party in Varaždin with street vendors, performers, concerts, and great food. I went with a few of my friends to walk around the streets and see the concert for that night. First there was a Serbian rap group (which I enjoyed), and afterwards there was a band aimed toward teenage girls (which I did not enjoy as much). The concert was packed full of people, and I think that the outcome of people was record-breaking for Špancirfest. Once the concert was over, we walked through the streets of the city. We managed to get a ride back home at 2 in the morning, and let me tell you, I fell asleep as soon as I got in my room (and the car that took us home). I was exhausted.

A few days later, my Club Counselor Lily invited me to go to a Rotary event which entailed eating delicious soup and meeting new people. I was hooked before she could mention that it was also a 5k run. We drove to Trakosćan Lake, which was about an hour and a half away, and did what she promised… meet and eat. Fortunately, I didn’t have to run the 5k, but instead, got the chance to hike around the lake (don’t worry, I enjoy hiking). Once our bellies were full from goulash, we toured a castle set atop a hill overlooking the lake. There was tons of history inside and tons of good pictures outside. We were both tired after all the eating, hiking, and climbing, so we left in her car (again, I slept in the car). I’m known for falling asleep in Florida, especially in cars.

To sum everything up, I have had a phenomenal time. Croatia is awesome, the people are even better, and I feel even better than that. I just want to thank Rotary, and all the Rotarians that make this experience possible. I can already tell that Croatia is going to change me forever, and I have only been here for a week. 1 week down, only 40 more to go! Goodbye, or Doviđenja!

Thu, September 3, 2015

Justin - Peru

Hometown: Jacksonville Beach, Florida
School: Fletcher High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Jacksonville Oceanside, Florida
Host District: 4455
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Arequipa

My Bio

Buenos dias amigos! My name is Justin Michalman and next year I will be traveling to the beautiful country of Peru! I am very excited to begin my adventure in this new country and explore the land, culture, and food! I am a very outdoorsy person, so I am eager to set foot on many ancient ruins and experience Peru’s backyard. I am currently a senior at Fletcher High School in Neptune Beach, Florida, where I will be graduating this year. I am stoked to engage myself in my classes that I will be placed in Peru. Originally, I am from Connecticut, where you walk outside during winter and see a foot of snow, but during summer you see beautiful foliage and weather.

I will miss my family and friends very much while I am on exchange, but being a very outgoing person, I am thrilled to think of all the new faces I will meet and what can be shared between us. I am very interested about learning about the earth and all that it has to offer. From politics to how different countries enjoy their time, I would like to learn as much as I can.

Rotary has given me a once in a lifetime chance to experience something much larger than me to adapt to and move outside my own “box” so that my eyes are aware of a little bit more. I hope I can pass this opportunity along after I come back from Peru. But for now, I am more than excited to begin my adventure to Peru and do nothing but immerse myself in their culture and education. Oceanside Rotary and my future host families have given me an amazing opportunity, so I thank you so much for that! Hasta luego amigos!

Journals: Justin – Peru 2015-2016

  • Justin, outbound to Peru

Bienvenidos todos! How’s the weather in your neck of the woods? I can tell you that it is more than beautiful here! As I sit down and think and think about what I’m going to tell you all in the next few paragraphs, I first have to say that the first (almost) two months of my exchange feel like I have experienced so much more than what I would experience back at home in the US. Who am I kidding, this is my home now! Rotary, in-bounds, Rotexs, and directors, they are all right when they say this is going to change your life, they are right when they say this year is going to be like no other year! The first two months here have not been all sunshine, but let me tell you, the amount of light and bliss that comes out of the times of darkness, is something I cannot begin to explain in words! Positiveness and resilience are what I think about every day! I learn something more and more about myself every day, some things that I would never think I could do. But in that time what I say to myself, is take the leap, take the step and go for it!

Alright alright, I’ll stop with my preacher-hood and explain some of the feelings and experiences I’ve had so far! When I arrived in Miami and was waiting for my flight to Lima, Peru, that is when the moment (or a few moments) of “You’re going to be living in Peru for a year” hit me. It hit me hard! And that’s when the whole experience started! I landed in Lima, carrying my 65 L backpack and my suitcase. The biggest three smiles were waiting for me as I search through the terminal for familiar faces. This must be them! They hugged me, and it felt good to be hugged! They greeted me in the warmest way, offered to carry my bags, asked the ins and outs of my trip and wanted to begin this journey with me! I cannot thank them enough for that! My first family’s house was beautiful, far out from Lima in a district called San Borja. I was welcomed by my first host brother, Luis, my host sister, Fernanda, and my other host sister, Joseline! What amazing people they are! I am so excited to visit them in January!

TALK. That’s what helps. A LOT. I found myself at a loss for words sometimes, well a good amount of the time, and felt like “Man, how am I gonna improve my Spanish?” But then I remembered just keep asking questions, keep wondering, and keep learning! So that’s what I tried and try to do every day. Ask “What is this?” “What street are we on?” “What am I eating?” (Definitely ask that) you guys get the point! Not only does it take your mind off any worries you have, but you learn so much about where you are!

The food. Well put it this way. I’m having trouble seeing my shoes any more, because of the food. It is very very very good, and it is a lot! Here in Peru, I eat a lot of chicken, with a lot of rice, with sides of different potatoes that I can never seem to get the kind right! A new kind every day! Two well known staples for Peru’s agriculture are Potatoes and Chicha! Chicha is a purple corn that is grown only in Peru. It is then boiled in water, and the flavor is extracted, add some sugar and extra fruit and you have yourself a refreshing drink! I’ve learned to say yes to all the food I’m offered…”More?” “Absolutely!”

After my few short weeks in Lima, I hopped on a plane and took a puddle jumper down to Arequipa where people love their city and love constructing building out of pure Sillar rock from the surrounding mountains. You guys remember, when I said how welcoming and loving my first host family was, well now you can multiply that by about 32. The family that I am living with now, make me feel so at home, they are so welcoming and caring! My mother cooks and cooks and cooks and makes sure my host father, brother and I have more than enough! My host brother, Carlos, 18 now and loving his exchange in France! It was a very short time spent with him, but if it wasn’t for him I would not feel as comfortable walking around the city and knowing some of the history! He’s a amazing friend, and I hope to continue that with relationship with him! Thanks man!

A day in the life: Wake up around 6:30 for class at Dunalastair. Water is heated from the sun, so showers are in the evening. Step outside, to a beautiful blue sky with hardly any clouds, feel the sun beat down on your neck, yet still feel the cool morning air touch your fingers. Driving is crazy, but I love it! There’s something about, darting through a 6 ft gap with your car and then slamming on your brakes as you notice the taxi in front of you slamming on his breaks because the bus in front of you wanted to watch the street performers that come out while the red light counts down from 30. I get to school around 8:00!

Here’s another blessing, the 12 exchange kids in my school! They are from all over the world, and In two short weeks they have become my friends. We have planned trips already and made plans for the rest of the year! Our laughs together I think make the band in school seem weak! They are amazing and I so look forward to sharing more and more experie nces with them! Get done with school at 5:20, long day right? It goes by quicker than you know it! I like it! Tomorrow we go to a dog shelter to clean up and give care to them! GIVING BACK is something I hope to do here every chance I get. I could not thank Rotary enough with all that they have done not just for me, but all the current and previous Exchange students! You guys are all a blessing and I hope I can show all of you what a blessing it is!

I hope you guys have enjoyed reading this post and all the other students! I will update you in the next month with the progress in my Spanish and the about the upcoming trip all of us are taking around the Southern parts of Peru. YES, that means Machhu Pichhu!

Until next time,
Salud! Take great care! And shoot past the moon!


Sun, September 20, 2015

Kam - Brazil

Hometown: Sanford, Florida
School: Lake Mary High School
Sponsor District : District 6980
Sponsor Club: Lake Mary, Florida
Host District: 4430
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Sao Paulo Norte

My Bio

Oi, Meu nome é Kameron Walton. I’m currently a sophomore at Lake Mary High and will be spending my junior year in Brazil! Being from Sanford, Florida has its ups and downs. It’s a relatively small town with not much to do but its peaceful which makes up for it. I’ve lived in Florida half of my life and in Georgia the other half. I moved back to Florida for my freshman so I could go to high school in Florida instead of the one I was zoned for in Georgia.

Some of the things that interest me the most are skateboarding, photography, lifting weights, and swimming. At home I live with my mom, grandma, and our dog. At school I am involved with the photography club and weightlifting team. Even though I can’t involve skating in school I always go to the local skate park and improve my skills there. Since I’ve always had a passion for traveling, when Scott came to my school and gave a presentation to the foreign language classes I couldn’t wait to try and convince my mom to let me spend a year in Brazil. During my exchange I hope to become fluent in Portuguese and I hope to be so blended in with the culture that I’m able to bring customs from Brazil back with me.

Journals: Kam – Brazil 2015-2016

  • Kam, outbound to Brazil

Eae gente! It’s been a while since I wrote a journal. So much has happened in 2 months so I’ll start with March in April.

In the months of March and April,the biggest even that happened for me was that I would be going on a 13 day trip with exchange students to the cities of Foz do Iguacu, Porto Alegre, Gramado, Canela, Florianopolis, and Curtiba in the south of Brazil and also to Argentina and Paraguay. We started our trip on March 16th and headed to the city of Foz do Iguacu. In Foz do Iguacu we first visited a park of birds which contained 500 different species of birds from Brazil and also from other continents. It was really cool seeing all of the different species of birds that I have never seen before. After the Bird’s park we headed towards the Foz do Iguacu waterfalls on the Brazilian side. The view of the waterfalls was really amazing. As we approached closer and closer to the waterfalls the water from the falls would hit on our clothes lightly but after about 30 minutes everyone’s clothes were soaked haha.

After Foz do Iguacu we headed to the city of Porto Alegre. In the city of Porto Alegre we took a city tour where we viewed downtown, historical landmarks, and a cathedral. It was very nice. The next cities we went to were Gramado and Canela. Arriving in these cities was one of the best parts. All around you you could see mountains, trees, and a green scenery surrounding you. In these two cities we went to a Black Lagoon in the morning which was really nice with mist, and 60 degrees weather, a car museum where we saw a bunch of antique cars from the 90’s and 80’s, a chocolate factory which had in my opinion the best chocolate that I’ve tasted in Brazil, and we went to and enormous waterfall that sat 131 meters tall.

The last two cities that we traveled to were Florianopolis and Curitiba. In Florianopolis we visited the Fig Tree which one of the city’s touristic spots, to Inglese’s Beach, and also to Armacao’s Beach. At Inglese’s beach we had a really nice time. We played soccer, swam in the warm beach’s waters, and played football. It was a chill day. At Armacao’s Beach on the following day it started to rain as everyone started to put their bags and stuff down but that didn’t stop some of us from getting in the water haha. While it was raining we jumped into the water and it was such a good feeling minus the part about the raining hitting our bodies which hurt a little kkkk. We made the best out of the day even with the rain in our way. In the last city of our trip, Curitiba, we toured a botanical garden, the 24 hour street, the Civic Center, and the Flowers Street. My favorite would’ve had to been the botanical garden because it was a really ni ce to see all of the beautiful flowers, plants, trees, and lake. After coming back from the trip to the south of Brazil I started to miss my family, friends, dog, and city. I began to have a lot of mixed emotions. With less than 45 days left in Brazil, I don’t think it will be easy to leave this beautiful country that I now call my home. Being in Brazil has taught me a new language, how to be more responsible and independent, and things about myself that I never knew. Exchange definitely changed my life.

Thu, April 21, 2016

  • Kam, outbound to Brazil

E aí Gente! I’ve delayed slot with writing journals but I have a lot to talk about so prepare yourself haha.

In October a lot happened for me. Everyday my brother and I would walk to class together, come home to have lunch , do after school activities such as soccer, skateboarding, volleyball , and after a long day have dinner with the fam. At school I started studying Portuguese a lot more than I was since I could hardly understand what was written on tests but it became better and improved by the week. On the weekends my family and I would usually go to my uncles house for Churrascos which are Brazilian barbecues. Whenever my family and I wouldn’t be going to my uncles house, I would go meet up with friends at the mall, parks, skatepark to have a session, or at museums. My weekdays and weekends are pretty packed haha.

For Halloween in Brazil, the holiday celebrated that much. Kids don’t go trick or treating door to door and you don’t really consume loads of chocolate and candy. It’s more chill. For my Halloween I went to two parties. I went to a party of exchange students the day before Halloween and a party of Brazilians with my brother the day of Halloween. The party of Brazilians were with people from my school and was a costume party. I couldn’t decide on a costume so I dressed pretty casual. Thankfully I wasn’t the only one who forgot their costume.

For November and December I was on summer break. In Brazil the seasons are switched so summer begins in November and winter starts in June. At around the end of November is when my break started so I and the other Americans in my district decided that we would throw a thanksgiving dinner for our families. The hardest part was getting to my friends city where it was going to be held. So three other Americans and I decide that we’ll take a taxi to the city since are parents couldn’t. On the taxi ride there everything was fine until out taxi driver started asking for directions. Why he didn’t have a gps is a question I wish I could answer. So pretty much a guy helps us and leads us to this type of neighborhood which is called a favela. A favela is a neighborhood with many shacks and houses stacked on one another. These neighborhoods are … Let’s just say sketchy. We arrive there and look for the house number and didn’t find a house with it so we call t he mom of the American girl and she tells us that there are 3 other neighborhoods that have the same name of the street in the city soooooo after 45 more minutes of driving and worrying we finally make it. When we arrived we have no time to buy meat so it ended up being a vegetarian thanksgiving dinner. The gals cooked and the guys played football for the majority of the time. I made mashed potatoes and boyyyy were they good. We had a lot of pie, vegetables, macaroni and cheese, and other American delicacies. It went really well.

For Christmas and New Years I spent my time with my family in my city. Most of Brazilians for New Years head to the beach dressed in all white and jump in the water with their clothes numerous times. At my uncles house where we stayed we swam in the pool and had a big meal with salmon, turkey , rice , beans , pies, cakes, and a lot more. I enjoyed myself a lot.

In January I changed to my second host family that lives 10-15 minutes away. At my second family I have 2 sisters, 1 brother, a mom , a dad and a dog named Mel. During the month of January I skated a lot, went out with friends, went to the beach, and gained a pound or two kkkkkkk. A member of my sponsor club offered me the opportunity to be a part of my São Paulo’s Carnaval. I took the opportunity right away and was able to participate for free. Carnaval is one the biggest holidays here. The only thing I can compare it to that we have in the USA is Mardi Gras. For Carnaval, samba schools compete against each other parading for bragging rights for a year. One mistake while performing can be very bad for your school. My school was Vila Maria. Samba schools normally start preparing 1 year before they perform to get the floats and costumes and their theme together and well put. I performed with 3 other exchange students and the rest were Brazilians. Our costumes were a sort of human fish that has diving gear on and rain boots haha. It was so hard trying to put everything on. We sambaed for over an hour and that tires me for sure but it was well worth it. Just to think that I was watching the movie too in my bio class and now 2 years later j would be performing in the Carnaval parade that was in the movie. The whole experience for me was surreal and breathtaking. I’m very grateful to have taken apart of Carnaval for 2016!

Life here has taught me so much in such little time. I’ve been here for a little over 6 months now and have changed a lot in half a year. At the beginning of my exchange I knew maybe a total of 100 words and phrases combined in Portuguese. 6 months later and I’m fluent and can understand the majority if not everything. My English is getting worse by the day but I know this is good for my Portuguese. Advice to all of the future out bounds… Start learning as much of your language as you can before you arrive in your country. If you can find people to talk to who speak the language before you go then it will help you so much and you’ll be way better off.

Até mais galera ! Tchau

Thu, February 18, 2016

  • Kam, outbound to Brazil

E ai mano! I’ve been in Brazil for a litte over 2 months now and words can’t describe how much I love it here. The host family that I am with right now is perfect because I have a host brother who is 15 and a host sister who is 16. My host brother and I go skateboarding a lot together. My other host brother also skates but he is on exchange to Denmark. I live near a subway station and the bus stop is right outside of where I live so trasportation is very convinient for me. For the past 2 1/2 months I have done a lot.

In August I went on a Rotary trip during my third week to Rio de Janeiro. Around 100 other exchanges from my state in Brazil, Sao Paulo, Minas Gerais, and Rio de Janeiro met up together in Rio. We did a flash mob dance for the Rotarians since we were there for a Rotary Conference. It went well, more or less I think haha. After we performed the flash mob dance, our group from Sao Paulo went to the beach. Nobody had their swim suits with them except me who for some reason slept in swimming trunks the night before. Wearing jeans and a t shirt didn’t stop everybody from getting in the water. The beach was so beautiful. While diving into the massive Rio waves you could feel the refreshing water rush upon your skin as your body submerges completly under a a wave. It was definitely one of the best feelings that I’ve had for sure. For the rest of August I went to a couple birthday parties, skated with my brother, made friends at the skatepark, and tried many different Brazilian foods.

In September I did a lot of skating and exploring my city. My host uncle took my cousins, brother, and I bowling. Back in Florida I am sooo horrible at bowling but for some reason here I am actually good haha. I won 2 games and my uncle won the last one. For the rest of September I went to Avenida Paulista a lot which is similar to Times Square with other exchange students. I also had Inbound Orientation which was very nice. I was able to see all of my good friends and able to play football, soccer, volleyball, get in the pool, and play a game of pool with my friends. My Rotary district and another district which makes up ExpoBrasil went to an Expoflora event in Holambra which only happens on Fridays and Saturdays in the month of September. The event is a flower festival with German foods, rides for kids to get on, shops to buy things, and museums. It was nice and very hot which everyone had to deal with for a good 4 hours in the sun. During the festival all of the other exchange students and I represented our countries with our flag in the parade that we were in. It was a really cool event.

Being in Brazil for a little over 2 months has humbled me a lot and has taught me a lot. My host parents speak only Portuguese which is a big help to me even though my host brother and host sister speak with me in English sometimes which I always have to tell them to only speak in Portuguese with me haha. But I love them a lot. My Portuguese has gotten a lot better since I first arrived in Brazil. I am able to talk to my parents and other people who speak only Portuguese with knowing the gist of what they’re saying to me haha. I’ve learned that learning a foreign language studying abroad, hanging out with natives of the country, and laughing and spending time with your host family is definitely an experience of a lifetime. Thank you, Rotary, for blessing me with this once in a lifetime opportunity.

Fri, October 16, 2015

  • Kam, outbound to Brazil

E AÍ Mano!!! I am finally in Brazil and I’ve been here for a little over a month now. My life here is very different from my life back in Florida. I love it here.

On the day of my departure from the Orlando International Airport, I didn’t have a lot of nervousness that day. I was ready. I said my goodbyes to my family in Orlando and headed into customs. Everything went well thankfully. I boarded my flight to Atlanta in time but something tragic happened. There was a thunderstorm in Orlando at the time which delayed my flight for a hour but after the storm we finally left. The flight from Orlando to Atlanta took 1 hour and 35 minutes. I get off the plane and rush to the international gates with 20 minutes left before the plane from Atlanta to Sao Paulo takes off. I board the plane, put my earbuds in, and watch a couple of movies while on the flight. We finally arrive in Sao Paulo after 9 long hours and I am greeted by my host family with a big sign saying “Bem-Vindo Kam”. I was so happy and it felt as if I was living out of a dream. We sat at a table, I tried the well known Pao de Queijo and Guarana., and then we headed on to the home.

At the home I live with my host mom, host dad, host cousin, and host brother. We had a big breakfast and I tried many different foods. After the breakfast my host brother and I took the subway to Avenida Paulista which is a famous street in Sao Paulo. We went to a buffet with my host brother’s friends and after we headed back to meet my other host brother at the skatepark. My first day here was really nice and I love it here!

Thu, September 10, 2015

Kat - Slovakia

Hometown: Pembroke Pines, Florida
Sponsor District : District 6990
Sponsor Club: Davie/Cooper City, Florida
Host District: 2440
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Spisska Nova Ves

My Bio

My name is Katrina hickey. Most people call me Kat. I am currently a senior at American Heritage school on a performing arts scholarship in Plantation, Florida. I work at Maui Nix surf shop In Pembroke Gardens. I love acting and spend a large amount of time on stage rehearsing for upcoming shows. I spend almost all of my free time at the beach or hanging out with friends. I love the ocean. I do many activities such as snorkeling, surfing, and anything to help keep the beach clean.

My mother works for the airline which enables me to travel often. I have traveled to a few places in Europe but I have not yet been to Slovakia. I am extremely excited to live with my host family and learn an entirely new culture as if it is my own. I feel so blessed to have this opportunity that I am certain will completely change my life. I am anxious to communicate with people in a language other than my own and I can not wait to meet life long friends in the process. I am thankful I have never ending support and love from my my mother and father and all of my loved ones in every aspect of my life. I am also thankful that when this journey comes to an end, I will have comforting certainty that my family will be waiting for me back home with open arms. Thank you, Rotary, for this incredible dream about to come true!

Journals: Kat – Slovakia 2015-2016

  • Kat, outbound to Slovakia

I would like to start by saying.. Rotary is magical. Rotary youth exchange makes miracles happen every single day. They did for me. My main goal of exchange was to make at least one life long friend and to hopefully find myself along the way. Thanks to rotary, I can proudly say I have amazing friends from all corners of the globe; Taiwan, Ecuador, Brazil, Australia, Mexico… Not only have I made life long friends, but I have made friends that I now could not live without. Really. One has already bought her plane ticket to visit me in Miami when I return home.

As my exchange is already halfway over, I realize how time is flying by. I have already moved host families and they are wonderful. For example, my host mother just spent 30 minutes wrapping up and taking care of a microscopic cut on my foot. I feel so welcome in this new house and I can easily call it a home.
I feel as if I’m almost in a dream. Of course, the winters in Slovakia are tough. One would think that the lack of sunshine and harsh negative temperatures can really put a damper on a Floridian’s time. But what would an exchange be without such challenges?

Long story short: I’m having the time of my life.

With the rest of my time in Slovakia, I will improve my Slovak, go on some more awesome adventures, and take every opportunity I am given.

Sun, January 24, 2016

  • Kat, outbound to Slovakia

At the very beginning of this journey I was deeply saddened to find out I was not only going to a country that was not one of my top five, but also one that I had never heard of before. I was worried, upset, and mostly disappointed.

Right now, sitting in that very country I was so saddened about, I could not be happier.

I have only been here two weeks and Slovakia has already became my home away from home. So far, I have seen some of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen in my life, and have made many friends in school. I have the most welcoming and loving host family I could have ever imagined who have done everything in their power to make me feel like part of the family. I am so excited to see what the future has to offer and I am incredibly thankful for such an experience. It is a true blessing to live in such a lovely country.

Wed, September 9, 2015

Kaylee - Belgium

Hometown: Sanford, Florida
School: Seminole High School – Sanford
Sponsor District : District 6980
Sponsor Club: Sanford, Florida
Host District: 1620
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Thuin-Thudinie

My Bio

Hello, I am Kaylee DaCosta. I will spend 2015-2016 in Belgium! I was born in the Virgin Islands and grew up in Florida, so I am going to freeze my butt off in Europe. My parents are divorced so my little brother and I spend an equal amount of time with each parent. Even though my parents are divorced, they are the best parents I could ever ask for. As a senior at Seminole High School, I am part of Interact Club, American Sign Language Honors Society, and Best Buddies. When I was a junior Scott, the chairman of my district, came to my psychology class and explained Rotary; ever since then I knew I wanted to be an exchange student for Rotary. My 2nd school is the dance studio. Dance has been a major influence in my life for almost 15 years. My older brother tours around the world with a dance company (I have to say I am pretty jealous). Luckily, he doesn’t mind me and my family traveling to wherever he is performing to visit him. Even though I’ve been fortunate enough to tag along with my brother in a couple of countries, it is a great feeling knowing I will be going on my own adventure. I hope my journey connects me to new culture, people, and language, but most of all brings a new understanding of the world and myself.

Journal: Kaylee – Belgium 2015-2016

  • Kaylee, outbound to Belgium

One of my favorite aspects of exchange is the ability to travel. A perk about doing exchange in Europe is easily being able to visit other countries and exchange students.

My first experience of visitation was back in November when Chloé Hill (in Denmark on exchange) came to Belgium right after the Paris attacks. She spent a day at my school and met my Belgian friends and host family. It was hard to grasp we were actually in Europe together so far away from home.

In February, I went to the Netherlands with Rotary. I am grateful for this visit because I had the opportunity to visit many inspiring museums such as the Vermeer museum, the Anne Frank House and the Van Gogh Museum.

The most recent break, spring break, I spent in three countries. At the beginning of the break, Nick Pollio (in Germany on exchange) came to Belgium despite the terrorist attacks that happened in Brussels the same week; I find it bizarre that there is always a terrorist attack right before someone visits me, but this just goes to show we must keep on living life even if a group of people try to scare us. Nick and I visited many cities in Belgium and created memorable exchange stories.

After he left, I went on a Rotary trip to Greece with 56 other exchange students. At the start of the trip I had no relation to most of the exchange students but by the end of the trip we were a family. It amazes me how a group of random people around the world placed in a random country for a week can form a family. In Greece, we visited Olympia along with other ruins, went on a boat ride to an island, hiked up a 588 meter mountain to visit a monastery, which we discovered was closed after having climbed to the top. We swam in the sea, biked 25 kilometers around an island and spent time in Athens. I can easily say this trip was one of the best trips of my life.

The day after landing back in Belgium, I was on another flight headed to Germany to visit Nick. While in Germany, we explored Berlin and Dresden. Although I have already been to Dresden a few years ago, I fell in love with the city all over again. I had the chance to meet and spend time with Nick’s friends, getting a taste of his exchange life. My last night in Germany, Nick and I found the best Döner aka Tuna (not actually tuna) in Berlin. We spent 40 minutes finding the “restaurant” ( we later found out it was just a food stand) and another 40 minutes waiting in line. It was all worth it.

I have had great travels while on exchange and I can not wait to explore more of Europe during these last three months abroad.

Thu, April 14, 2016

  • Kaylee, outbound to Belgium

Before I even started my exchange the phrase “ this is will the best year of your life” was engraved in my head. Well here I am over six months into “the best year of my life.”
After completing over half of my exchange, I would not give this year the title of the best year. Leading up to exchange, exchange students participate in retreats which explain the roller coaster of exchange. Despite all the helpful exercises and storytelling, nothing can truly prepare a student for the year they are about to endure. I have had lows I have never experienced prior to exchange. In a split moment, a normal day can turn into me fighting back tears, longing to go back to the comfort zone I call home. Whereas the next moment, I cannot imagine boarding the plane home that signifies the end of my exchange. But at the end of the day, I know that this year is a year that can never be repeated. I can always continue to travel or have another opportunity to study abroad, but no matter the circumstances, nothing will ever be this exchange year; this thought frightens me the most.
I may not classify this year as the best year of my life (yet) but it is the most rewarding. So how do I entitle this year? “The year of confusing happiness.”

P.S. I promise my next entry will be about all the fun things!

Tue, March 8, 2016

  • Kaylee, outbound to Belgium

Sorry for the poor English. Writing English is becoming harder and harder.

It has almost been 3 months in Belgium. I have spent these past couple of months creating relationships. It is crazy thinking that the people I interact with everyday were once strangers. It is a great feeling being able to say I have developed relationships with these used to be strangers.

Since I have been here, I have noticed that about 3 of every 5 people remind me of people who relate to the United States. The people who the Belgians remind me of are not necessarily people I am close with; it can be someone I used to walk past in the hallways of my high school or other exchange students from different countries I have met in Florida.

True friendships are forming with other exchange students and the students from school. I always look forward to exploring the country with the other exchangers because memories are always bound to be made, and I love being around Belgians because I am engaged in the culture. At school, I enjoy singing English songs with the students (Victoria), and most of the time they know the lyrics better than I do. I am also grateful that the students are willing to help me with the language ( Prof Lucie).

I am having an amazing time on my exchange but with the tragic events that have happened around the world, I am reminded of what the goal of exchange is. My exchange is not only about the amazing experience or finding who I am, but it is about being an ambassador of my country to create what is really important: World Peace.

Tue, November 17, 2015

  • Kaylee, outbound to Belgium

One month into my exchange… I have lost my sense in time. A day can feel like two weeks yet two weeks can feel a day. I have lost control over my emotions; one moment I am gleeful the next moment I am mournful. But one month into my exchange and I have already gained so much: a new family, a new school, new friends, weight, new adventures, new knowledge and a new life.

For starters, I gained a family that I adore. My first host family includes a dad, mom, brother, and a sister who is also on exchange. Every member of the family has made me feel very welcomed. It amazes me how in just one month I have a great amount of respect and appreciation towards my family. I am beyond grateful I am placed with such a wonderful family and I hope one day I will find a way to share my appreciation.

School has been the biggest cultural shock for me. I hardly remember my first day, but I remember feeling hopeless. Everything was completely different (of course I knew things would be different, but nothing hits you until you are actually in the situation). I originally come from a high school that has thousands of students and my school now has fewer people than my graduating class in Florida. So this school reminds me of a doll house.

As time went on, I adjusted to the school. Now, school isn’t all that bad. There are 2 exchange students including me attending the school. Having another exchange student has its pros and cons. We are both in grade 5 (grade 11). It sometimes feels weird being in class with people who are 2-3 years younger than me; most of the time I forget how young they are. As a whole, people at school are kind and I hope to develop close relationships with students even if they are younger than me.

One of my favorite part of exchange is meeting other exchange students. We all are going through the same experience yet every person has their own unique experience. Knowing hundreds of students around the world can come together and form positive relationships brings me joy. There is always new people to meet and bond with at every Rotary function.

One of my worst part of exchange is gaining weight. As much as I hate the feeling of gaining weight, I cannot stop eating. I eat bread daily. My favorite snack is a waffle. When I bite into a waffle I can see all the clumps of sugar… it is delicious. The fries are best when it is homemade. It’s best to leave it at I eat well here in Belgium.

My exchange has already brought the most difficult challenge: learning a new language. There is nothing like being plopped in a country with a different language. I came knowing very little French and I still know very little French. A month ago I would have thought I would have a better grip of the language. I am learning but at a slow pace. There are days when I feel accomplished with the language and other days I feel like a complete failure. I often have to tell myself that everyone learns at a different pace because the other students in my club are more advanced than me.

Do I wish I knew more French before I arrived? Yes. But a little part of me doesn’t mind I came knowing very little because this has been the biggest challenge I have had to face ( If any future outbounds are reading this, do not think this is an excuse to go to your host country not knowing any language. Know as much as you possibly can!!).

Living outside the United States has brought awareness to myself. I can feel my tough shell slowly soften but also harden. I think about the personality I have always had in the states and realize how it is slowly transforming. Of course I am still me but being away from everything I have ever known brings a sense of consciousness. I have also become more open-eyed. There are things I never expected to be different which are completely different. For example, I asked my host brother for writing paper and he handed me graphing paper; I looked at him like he was crazy. On my first day of school I realized he wasn’t crazy because every single person uses graphing paper as if it were college ruled paper. So I suppose I am the crazy one.

When I think about my month in Belgium, I don’t think I have done much. But in reality, I have had many adventures. I visited the capital, Brussels. I went to my first festival. I explored Mons, the European capital of culture. I biked over 20 miles in the neighboring city Charleroi. I attempted to golf. I went kayaking and I ended up in the freezing water. Everyday is a new adventure.

Before I jumped on the plane to my new life, saying “I will be living in Europe for a year” was a big deal. Now that I am actually living in Europe, that’s exactly what it is: living. It is my life now, it is normal. But when I realize that this living isn’t permanent, I take a moment, view my beautiful surroundings, smile and remember to make this a year to remember and make my life worth living for.

Sun, September 27, 2015

Keelin - Taiwan

Hometown: Saint Augustine, Florida
School: St. Joseph Academy
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Coastal St. Johns County, Florida
Host District: TBA
Host Club: TBA

My Bio

Nín hǎo! I am Keelin Frazel, and I will be a Rotary Foreign Exchange Student to Taiwan in 2015!!! I am a 14-year-old sophomore at Saint Joseph Academy (SJA) in Saint Augustine, Florida, and I love to do anything to get me up and outdoors. At SJA, I sign up for any sport that is in season. I adore playing football in the summer, basketball in the winter, and track/field in the spring. My family certainly does not inhibit my lifestyle as most of them love the same things I do. My brother Dirk is 22 and just graduated from Florida Atlantic University. In high school, he played basketball and went on to play football in college. My sister Marea is 20 and attends the University of Florida. She has been an inspiration my entire life as she was a previous Rotary Exchange Student to Italia. The Last, but not least, my sister Julia is 17 and a junior in high school. Julia was born with a spinal disability, but her perseverance through her hardships have strengthened our whole family. Even in my mere 14 years, I have always aimed to achieve more. In school, I strive to obtain the most out of my excellent education. Outside of school, I am a member of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). The BSA has provided me with invaluable skills and traits that I can employ throughout my exchange year. As a Life Scout, I am well on my way to attaining the rank of Eagle Scout. I am always ready to jump at the next opportunity, and Rotary has provided! I am so thankful for the chance to travel abroad, and I cannot wait to begin my year in Taiwan!

Journals: Keelin-Taiwan 2015-2016

  • Keelin – Outbound to Taiwan

Hello everyone! Before I start my FIRST journal I could go endlessly on with excuses as to why I haven’t written one until now but I am afraid I would bore you to death. Instead of that, I will just say better late than never.

Anyway, the day before last marked an important event for me in my time as an exchange student. I, along with three other exchange students performed on stage in front of upwards of 3000 people. This wasn’t any old performance, it was a Chinese traditional 相聲(xiang sheng) performed completely in Chinese between the four of us. It is basically a comic between two to four people with one person cracking jokes and the other responding. After we finished the performance, I think it really appeared to us how much our skill in the Chinese language had improved. We’ve been on this beautiful island, Taiwan, for a little over 7 months already. I can’t speak for the other exchange students, but I can rest assured that my limited time as an exchange student has not been wasted.

In the beginning, I was dropped into a situation where I had the opportunity to speak Chinese every single day. I am VERY fortunate to have been placed in host families that, for the most part, could not speak english. I think this inability to communicate well was vital in my quest for skill in the illusive Mandarin Chinese language. I mean, one of the few sentences my first host family said to me was that they could not speak english very well, so I must learn Chinese quickly. Right there is where it all began for me. I was instantly given the drive to learn as much as I could, as fast I could, and in the CORRECT way. I put emphasis on the correct way because pronunciation is not a factor to be forgotten while speaking Mandarin Chinese, but I will dive deeper into this later. For now I will to touch on an extremely interesting factor in the background of chinese/ taiwanese culture.

“”NO ONE WHO CAN RISE BEFORE DAWN THREE HUNDRED SIXTY DAYS A YEAR FAILS TO MAKE HIS FAMILY RICH.”(-Chinese proverb) I really love how anywhere you look you can see people exercising and flinging their arms in the air. I think it reflects the underlying nature of Taiwanese people: Always working to maintain the blood flow in their bodies, and their countries. Numerous amounts of research has been done to learn why the top asian countries, including Taiwan, has the highest scores in math and other subjects. Many studies find out that it can be traced all the way back to the times of ancient when rice, a seemingly worthless grain, was considered money and was the most important part of anyone’s daily life. It wasn’t just because they ate the rice, rather in the ways that the rice had to be farmed did the rock solid work ethic of Taiwanese and other East Asians develop. Although today China is a very different country compared to other East Asian natio ns such as Taiwan, Japan, Singapore, and Korea; all the ancient cultivation techniques of rice stemmed out from there and spread throughout. In the words of Malcolm Gladwell in his fantastic book, Outliers, he elegantly sums summarizes some of the techniques used in rice farming. “Rice paddies are “built,” not “opened up” the way a wheat field is. You don’t just clear the trees, underbrush, and stones and then plow. Rice fields are carved into mountainsides in an elaborate series of terraces, or painstakingly constructed from marshland and river plains. A rice paddy has to be irrigated, so a complex system of dikes has to be built around the field. Channels must be dug from the nearest water source, and gates built into the dikes so the water flow can be adjusted precisely to cover the right amount of the plant. The paddy itself, meanwhile, has to have a hard clay floor; otherwise the water will simply seep into the ground. But of course, rice seedlings can’t be planted in hard clay, so on top of the clay, there has to be a thick, soft layer of mud. And the claypan, as it’s called, has to be carefully engineered so that it will drain properly and also keep the plants submerged at the optimum level. Rice has to be fertilized repeatedly, which is another art. Traditionally, farmers used “night soil” (human manure) and a combination of burned compost, river mud, bean cake, and hemp — and they had to be careful, because too much fertilizer, or the right amount applied at the wrong time, could be as bad as too little. When the time came to plant, a Chinese farmer would have hundreds of different varieties of rice from which to choose, each one of which offered a slightly different trade-off, say, between yield and how quickly it grew, or how well it did in times of drought, or how it fared in poor soil. A farmer might plant a dozen or more different varieties at one time, adjusting the mix fro m season to season in order to manage the risk of a crop failure. He or she (or, more accurately, the whole family, since rice agriculture was a family affair) would plant the seed in a specially prepared seedbed. After a few weeks, the seedlings would be transplanted into the field, in carefully spaced rows six inches apart, and then painstakingly nurtured. Weeding was done by hand, diligently and unceasingly, because the seedlings could easily be choked by other plant life. Sometimes each rice shoot would be individually groomed with a bamboo comb to clear away insects. All the while, farmers had to check and recheck water levels and make sure the water didn’t get too hot in the summer sun. And when the rice ripened, farmers gathered all of their friends and relatives and, in one coordinated burst, harvested it as quickly as possible so they could get a second crop in before the winter dry season began” (Gladwell 225). When I read this excerpt in Gladwell’ s book, I suddenly understood what I had been seeing everyday on my bus ride to school. Despite the fact that this is thousands of years after the dominant period of rice farming, the painstakingly diligent processes of rice farming still appeared in their daily life. Every morning around 7:00 am, the scooters begin rambling down the narrow streets, the vendors begin to setup shop, the students start scrambling onto buses to get to school on time, and all of it comes together to bring the island to life. Meanwhile, I, a lone foreign exchange student, begin my day as well. My morning obviously isn’t as hectic as many others, but fortunately this lack of chaos gives me the opportunity to observe something beautiful. Every morning anywhere you look you can spot the older generation of Taiwanese beginning their day by doing some Taiqi. You can see numerous amounts of people swinging their arms in circles and making crazy movements for exercise. To the naked and ignorant ey e of a foreigner, such as I, this spectacle appeared absolutely comical. But, after several more seemingly mundane commutes to school, I realized this morning routine alluded to the country of Taiwan as a whole. While the older Taiwanese generation are simply waking up to get some exercise, the deeper meaning uncovers itself and shows us that the drive to keep that perfect rice paddy, has seeped down through the ages to now appear to us as a simple morning routine, but really they’re simultaneously maintaining the blood flow of their own country.

IF possible to take one thing from this escapade into Taiwanese work ethic, looking past the facade that some things may be bad or dull remains an important skill that all exchange students must master to be able to understand and accept exactly what their host country has to offer.

My Chinese learning continues to be an absolute pleasure for me and, hopefully, the people teaching me along the way. In the beginning, I learned how hard this conquest of the language would be for me to get through. The first few days I was the most tired I had ever been. This wasn’t because of the “jet lag”. I’ve been on long plane rides before, and this wasn’t the same type of weariness. I discovered I had used my brain more than I ever had in the past. I was mentally exhausted. My mettle was put to the test. But, luckily my spirits weren’t dampened. I rested up well and began the work of listening, attempting to speak, and processing all of this new information in my head. After a while, maybe two to three months, it all became automatic, and I began to realize that all the work that I had put in during the beginning truly paid off. Chinese is a complex language, but it is not hard. Many people have asked me “Do you feel Chinese i s hard to learn?” and my reply eventually turned out always to be “If you decide that Chinese is hard, then it is hard. If you decide that the language is easy, then it is easy.” I believe this mindset is vital in the learning process of a secondary language because many people can and will find it very challenging. But, in the end, it’s all up to the person learning the language. It’s what you decide and how much work you put in that will determine what you can do on your exchange year, and in your lifetime.

For the benefit of future inbounds to Taiwan, I will give some insight into the learning process of my language. I will outline what I have done to learn Chinese in the past, and what I do today. Out of the entire 60+ exchange students in my district, I tested first on the written exam, and won the speech contest hosted by our district as well. So, I don’t mean to be a braggart, but as a sixteen year old boy in a foreign country learning Mandarin Chinese I think I know what I’m talking about. Although, I am nowhere near “fluent”, I still feel I have done a decent job of learning Chinese. But in the end I still know nothing and I hope to continue learning every single day. Anyway, in the beginning I focused on listening as I wanted to learn the most useful phrases and I wanted speak exactly like the natives did. So, whenever I checked the dictionary, which I did a lot, I would see which word the Taiwanese would use because they use different words for t he same meanings in different Chinese-speaking countries. I began to imitate the way the natives spoke. When school began, I started my Chinese classes: three hours a week. Obviously these classes weren’t nearly enough to reach where I am now in the language, so I hope you can see how important individual dedication and work in the your target language is. No one is going spoon feed you Chinese, or german, or french or portuguese. If when you arrive in your host country expect a teacher to “teach” you a secondary language, then you will not go far, or you will not have enough time to do as much as you want. I have seen it first hand with many of the students here in Taichung, my city. I began class with the other person in my school and after about three months she felt the classes weren’t enough. So she paid lots of money to begin schooling at a local university’s language program. My classmate still cannot hold a basic conversation with me in C hinese, but oh, she can write some characters. This is the “I want to be taught” mentality. I believe it’s wrong and should be avoided during anyone’s time as an exchange student or during other escapades in life.

I’m finally editing this on the last day of my exchange and I’d like to apologize to every Rotarian in Florida who participates and works in RYE because I basically failed them. I signed a contract at the beginning of the year promising that I would write journals and look how it turns out! I’ve ended up with one posted all the year. I could go on and on about Chinese but it looks like it must be left for another day. Anyway, I hope I can be forgiven and I hope I can make it up in some way. Maybe…it just proves I was having TOO much fun in Taiwan……..Thank you Rotary and all the Rotarians who made this year possible. I failed this portion of exchange but I can assure you the other factors of my exchange were extremely successful.

Mon, July 4, 2016

Kel - Paraguay

Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: Buchholz High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Gainesville, Florida
Host District: 4845
Host Club: The Rotary Club of San Lorenzo

My Bio

My name is Kelly Wright and I am from Columbia, Missouri. At the age of fifteen my parents and I moved to Florida to start a new chapter. I enrolled in Buchholz High School in Gainesville and became a member of the soccer team. Transitioning to a new school and a new state was difficult, but I persevered and became a stronger person because of the obstacles I had to overcome. I had to get used to not knowing anyone and become accustomed to a new life, all of which would eventually prepare me for this experience.

I decided to apply to Rotary because I believe in experiencing life outside of my comfort zone and learning more about a country than what a textbook tells me. I was ecstatic to be accepted to the Rotary Youth Exchange, and even more excited when I found out I would be going to Argentina. I have studied Spanish for three years and am eager to put my knowledge to use. In my free time I enjoy going outside, playing sports, and spending time with my friends, family, and cat Daisy. I am passionate about being a citizen of the world, meeting new people, and learning about a beautiful culture.

Journals: Kel – Paraguay 2015-2016

  • Kel, outbound to Paraguay

As you are heading into your new countries that will become your new home and things start to become easier you have to remember about time.

My exchange has gone by so fast and its probably because I have had the best time of my life on my exchange and I can’t have asked for a better country to spend a year in. Paraguay has captured me by the heart and has shaken my whole world.

Yes it is a different culture and language but the people you meet and the things you experience will change you forever and I couldn’t have asked for a better 10 months of my life.

As you are sitting in the interview chair sweating as I did a little too much but you think “If I get this 10 months is a long time” at the welcome home dinner and all the former outbound’s tell you it goes by fast and you think they are crazy because you are worried about what to do and what not to do and the language barrier. Just relax and it will all come in time.

One of the trips I took was the best two weeks of my whole entire life and all of you will experience a moment where you feel so happy and you are so immersed in the culture you forget your an exchange student you forget you’re one of the girls from Gainesville, Florida.

In closing my time has gone by so fast and my last 17 days are going to go by even quicker. I love Paraguay for its uniqueness and its never ending love from the people of Paraguay. Your country will capture your heart as Paraguay has captured mine.

Wed, June 1, 2016

  • Kel, outbound to Paraguay

I’m currently sitting in my room and unable to stop thinking. I have been reflecting my exchange and how quickly it does go by. I arrived in Paraguay on August 8th and I will be departing my new home on June 15th, which is in 49 days. I will be returning to hot weather something I am all too familiar with here in Paraguay, sandy beaches I have missed and returning to my family.

What Rotary doesn’t tell you is how attached you will get to your new home. When you are on exchange the word goodbye becomes too frequent. You say goodbye to friends who leave to go home, host families that have taken you under their wing, saying good bye to classmates, and saying goodbye to your fellow exchanger’s at inbound camps not knowing if you will see them for the next one or see them ever again.

Reflecting on my time here in Paraguay I have been thinking about the places I have seen, the people I’ve met and the experiences I have experienc ed that will stay with me forever. I have met the most amazing people on my exchanged, and I have been to places I have never dreamed of. Rotary has given me such an amazing opportunity to explore the world, and learn about a culture first hand, and for that I am entirely grateful. You will have your bad days, and you will run into some difficulties along your exchange but its how you choose to deal with them that makes the difference.

You will have days when you are lying in bed wondering why you went on exchange, you will question if you want to stay or go home. There will be days where you will want to, cry, and binge watch a season on Netflix, trust me I have done all of these things, and that’s okay. Its not a bad thing to want to be alone for a little while. If there is one thing I have learned on my exchange is that its okay to make mistakes, its okay that you don’t know the language fluently, its okay to ask for help, its the fact that you are trying everyd ay to get better than the day before that counts.

It goes by so quickly and if you don’t spend it wisely I am sure in the future you will regret it. Your experience that you are given is YOURS not anyone else’s, its not your parents exchange, your friends, Rotary’s, its yours so seize it. Make every opportunity to explore your new home for what it truly is and be free. May the wind blow you on a path you never would have seen. Explore places you never thought of exploring, and be a part of a culture that you will learn to fall in love with instantly, and for that is the magic of exchange.

Sat, April 30, 2016

  • Kel, outbound to Paraguay

Hola! Feliz Navidad! I know its two days past Christmas but Happy Holidays. I know around this time of year the exchange students get homesick. I won’t lie I am a little sad but I did switch to a new family the day after Christmas. Some friendly advice. I know it can get hard and your family tells you its not the same without you and you see photos on Facebook, or social media which let me tell you it doesn’t help. Whatever traditions you do in your home country you won’t do in your host country. It will seem like you are out of place. It is just one Christmas but you will never forget it.

Some advice about switching families. Whatever the relationship is good or bad always say thank you, you don’t know if it was hard for them to do what they did to host you in their home. You might cry, be happy, or just sad. But you can visit them whenever you want. Once you arrive to your new host house just get as comfortable as you can. Once you settle in it will be time to leave again for your next house.

You realize you have too much clothes and should probably stop buying things. You still have to get everything back home. I have been in Paraguay for 4 months almost 5 months and I am still in love with everything here.

School starts back up in the middle of February. I am going to a different school and to be honest I am very nervous. I don’t know anyone. My host brother put me in his class group chat before I left and I knew a lot of my classmates before I came. Now I have to start over. If I can live in a foreign country for 10 months I think I can sit in a class for 5 hours right? Trust me its harder than you think. You’re the new toy. Everyone is asking you questions and wants to try out their English. Let me let you in on a secret… its dangerous. I let my classmates try out their English and I would help them and I would forget simple Spanish in 10 minutes. Your brain get so overwhelmed by switch back in forth from English to whatever language you are learning. If you are constantly tired that is normal, your brain is on over drive from translating every day. It would come back but it wasn’t the best thing just starting out.

Sun, December 27, 2015

  • Kel, outbound to Paraguay

Hola, Buen Dia! I have been in Paraguay for almost three months now and I am in total and complete bliss. School is a lot of fun! I love playing handball, and playing traditional games with preschoolers. Lunchtime is when I get Spanish lessons from my classmates.

My classmate Sofi ran for class president and the campaign was a long process. Sofi went all out for it. Her slogan was “Untied for the same reason” and she made posters, she made cupcakes, she even made T-shirts. One day after lunch my classmates and I left school and we went a couple blocks away from the school and we decorated cars and there was a huge bus that we decorated and it was blasting music and girls were painting the slogan on their bodies. We rode into school on the backs of trucks,out the windows of cars, and it was crazy and so much fun! There were games, and it was so weird that the school would allow them to do it but they did. The next day we found out who won and Sofi won!!

This past week a couple houses down from me there has a gas line explosion and a house actually blew up and the whole neighborhood was out of power, and it was very interesting experience.

I have been placed in the most beautiful country. Obviously every exchange student will same the same thing about where they are, but I can’t thank Rotary enough for this experience. We have been given a chance to explore another culture, and language. Most people our age wouldn’t want to leave home, or even be scared to leave home. Learn as much as you can while you are on your exchange and experience all that you can because your time is short and it will go by so fast.

I have visited a couple cities that just takes your breathe away. The mountains, lakes, and rivers are just so beautiful! When you go off course, take the back roads, and you reach the top of the hill and you pull over and look back you just freeze and think how is this even possible. Its the most amazing feeling. You won’t ever get another chance to see another country or culture so seize every moment of it!


Sat, October 17, 2015

  • Kel, outbound to Paraguay

Happy Holi also known as the festival of color was this past Saturday. I went with another exchange student from Canada. The concert started at 2 in Paraguay that means you will melt once you get out of the car. It was about 100 outside and when David (exchange student) and I walked in everyone was either totally in white or covered in colored powder. We got 2 bags of powder and we went straight into the colossal of people. There was amazing familiar music playing and by the end of 10 minutes David and I felt nasty because we were drenched in sweat and powder that dries to your skin. David and I left at 8 and we had such an amazing time. We can now say that we went to a rave in a foreign country.

This past Sunday I went around town with my sister and her grade and we went on a big scavenger hunt for our school and we get points for everything we find. Needless to say it was very hard to find all these objects on the list. It was a lot of fun and the contest lasts two weekends so next weekend we will try to complete the list of things to find.

I am understanding more in class. This past week my ethics teacher who I have been told is the meanest teacher in the whole school was talking about violence and she made the class read about Ghandi and Ghandi happens to be one of my role models so I was really excited about the lesson. Another teacher came into the room to talk to my teacher and my teacher pointed to me laughing and said in Spainsh “she doesn’t understand anything”. All of my classmates just looked at me with horrified faces because they knew I understood what she said and they were waiting for me to get upset or say something back. I remembered from my last orientation the right response to say to someone. So I said to my teacher “I understand you perfectly, your talking about Ghandi and how he used non violence and how he never gave up hope when most people would have”. Her mouth dropped open and she was taken aback by the fact that I knew what was going on and what we were doing in class. All of my classmates started cheering for me. I wasn’t mad or anything but even though I might not speak the language fluently I know what’s going on.

Tue, September 22, 2015

  • Kel, outbound to Paraguay

Spoiler: I actually am in Paraguay. Rotary switched me a couple of months before I left and I couldn’t be happier! When I first arrived in Paraguay I was like a little kid in a candy store, my face was glued to the window and a look of amazement on my face. My host dad was driving and I actually thought I was going to die in the car. He swerved into on-coming traffic to pass one car and to this day he still does and I still think I am going to die on my way to school every morning. So between being totally amazing and covering my eyes of my possible death was my car ride home on my first day in Paraguay.

I had lunch with my family and it was amazing, we had pig, rice, and pasta. We have a maid named Armenda and she is very quiet and very quick. My first day of school was very busy. Everyone was kissing me, hugging me, and pointing at me. A teacher extended her hand as my class sat on the floor waiting for my class room to be opened and she kissed me on both cheeks and told me in Spanish that if I needed anything to come to her. At recess all the young kids came up to me and asked me my name and ran away screaming, or they wanted me to play, or hold them.

My school is three stories and there are kids from pre-school to graduating high school. All of my teachers on my first day either looked at me and carried on with their lesson of the day or said hola. The only teacher that talks to me is my English teacher (how ironic) and he lets me help my classmates or he lets me teach the lesson. I have been to about 8 English classes where the younger students ask me questions about America and I love doing it! They always ask me why I picked Paraguay because no one really knows about it and I have to explain why I didn’t pick it.

There is a man at our school and sells ice cream, candy, chocolate, etc. At first I was confused at why kids would buy candy from him. Didn’t someone say to them in their childhood “stranger danger”. Well my classmate Sofi told me that he has been there since she was young and he is harmless. I still didn’t buy anything from him for a week just in case.

I am so amazed at how beautiful everything is here. The trees, the stores, the people, and how fast everything goes by like the cars weaving in and out of lanes. I am so astonished about how fast people talk and you just stare at them thinking, was that even Spanish? I have said that many times to my classmates.

I have been to other cities and it is so breathtaking. The mountains, the rivers, and even how people change with every city. For example, when you are at a stop light people clean your windows even if you don’t want it, there are people selling newspapers, things they have made, selling chipa (bread) with a huge basket full balanced on their head, or even people standing on a skateboard that is balanced on a chair and juggling at the same time.

Paraguay does have some things that are different. For example, if you are at a gas station there is a police officer with a loaded gun. I have seen people go to the bathroom in the streets, I have seen someone been mugged in the middle of the day, in the middle of the street, and the people walking by did nothing about it they just kept walking. I have been to a park with a river but you can’t see the the water because its filled with trash. There are trash cans in the parks and throughout the town but no one really cares, they just throw it out of the window of their car, or just drop it when they’re one with it.

Some people sweep up the trash around their house and set it on fire. There has not been a day that I haven’t seen trash burning and it does not leave a pleasant smell. Everyone asks me what my favorite part of Paraguay is and I am sure they are waiting for me to say empanadas but I say the people. Everyone is so nice here you aren’t greeted with a “hey nice to meet you”; you are greeted with a hug and two kisses no matter if you are a girl or boy. Everyone wants to help me, even with my Spanish and they don’t expect anything back. The people here are so passionate, yes they goof around like friends do but they are family. My classmates have been together since they have started school and that is something I will always envy.


Wed, September 9, 2015

LaRae - Hungary

Hometown: Destin, Florida
School: Niceville Senior High School
Sponsor District : District 6940
Sponsor Club: Destin, Florida
Host District: 1911
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Sopron

My Bio

Szia! My name is LaRae Harris; I am 16 years old and a junior at Niceville High School where I take AP, AICE, as well as college classes at Northwest Florida State College. I am a NaGISA extern through the Niceville High School gifted program, which is a program that monitors coastal biodiversity, and I organize all of our collections and analysis. In the past I have been a clarinetist in the band and on the swim team. The school subjects that I am most interested in are literature and psychology because I feel like they are most applicable in the real world.

I live with my Mom, Dad, and younger sister in the tourist town of Destin, Florida which means I spend a lot of time at the beach paddle boarding, and of course swimming! Along with spending time at the beach, it isn’t uncommon to find me curled up with a good book, playing pool with friends, or studying Russian and Hungarian in my free time. I have a passion for learning about the world and have always dreamed of traveling abroad as an exchange student. Now that I am finally able to I plan to master the language as quickly as possible in order to take advantage of all the cultural experiences presented to me. I’m so thankful for Rotary for this opportunity and to my family for supporting my decisions. Viszontlátásra until then!

Journals: LaRae – Hungary 2015-2016

  • LaRae, outbound to Hungary

Three weeks. An eternity packed into twenty-one days. On the morning of August 20th I met my family in the Vienna airport and drove an hour south to the city of Sopron, Hungary. Sopron is populated with about 60,000 people and filled with old colourful buildings on small winding streets. In the first week of my exchange I got to help my family prepare for my host brother’s exchange year in Canada.

On the 26th of August we saw him off in Budapest and then spent the day sightseeing. We walked through the city and saw the Fisherman’s Bastille, the Hungarian Parliament, Buda Castle, and the Hero Square. Budapest is a striking city and I am looking forward to my next visit. School started on the 1st of September and it has been a very positive experience for me. Many exchange students thing “how can I explore my host country when I am stuck in biology class?” but school has proved to be a valuable part of my exchange. I would never have been able to see so much of the city without the aid of my new friends. I have visited numerous cafes, book stores, and played pool with my classmates in less than two weeks of school. They are wonderful resources for my vocabulary and grammar questions.

My school is an extremely old building near the middle of the city. Over the years it has been expanded into a labyrinth of connected classrooms and thousands of stairs. Since each day is full of different classes in different rooms with different release times, I find myself following my classmates around like a lost puppy. On the other hand, I am proud to say that I know my route to school and I can make the 15 minute bike there without any assistance. I haven’t been hit by a car; however, riding on the road is still a work in process. I have finally stopped flinching when cars speed around me, steep hills are now an easy way to gain speed (no longer a death trap), and the hand signals are becoming a habit.

My Rotary Exchange orientation and language camp starts on the 18th of September at Lake Balaton and I am excited to meet my fellow exchange students, focus on my Hungarian, and see the massive lake. Tonight I am attending my first Rotary meeting with my host club. However, instead of a normal Rotary meeting, we will be taking part in a game in which we are locked in a room and have to use hidden clues to find the key. This is a great way for me to meet my host club’s members. Although I am still working on my Hungarian proficiency, I can ask and answer questions as well as provide an introduction. I am slowly getting used to the way Hungarian grammar works, which is definitely the most difficult part of the culture. Luckily, I am no longer surprised when someone greets me with two cheek kisses or by the sheer amount of paprika in the local grocery store and I am excited for the remainder of my year here.

Fri, September 11, 2015

Lauren - Taiwan

Hometown: Ponte Vedra, Florida
School: Ponte Vedra High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
Host District: 3480
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Hsin Tien

My Bio

Hello! Nǐ hǎo! My name is Lauren Ahmad. I am fourteen years old, and a freshman at Ponte Vedra High School. I was born in Keller, Texas, near the Dallas/Fort Worth area, but I moved to Florida a few years ago. I have three brothers, two of which are adopted, and two loving parents. I also have two dogs and two cats, including my kitten Skype, who I will miss dearly. Since I was a little girl, I loved to travel and learn about new cultures. New languages and countries have always made me curious to find out more about the world!

I look forward to going to Taiwan, and discovering a new way of life. I am so thankful to Rotary for this amazing opportunity, and I knew that from the first presentation of the club, I had to join and be apart of this incredible experience! Currently, I love to read, write, draw, and code websites, but I hope to try some new activities when I go to Taiwan. I used to love playing soccer, but I haven’t had the availability to participate in the most recent years. Honestly, I am so excited to start this new chapter of my life, and what I feel will be my biggest adventure yet! I’m already enjoying learning the language, so I feel it can only get more exciting from here! I look forward to the challenges and bumps ahead, along with the fun and adventure. Thank you!

Journals: Lauren – Taiwan 2015-2016

  • Lauren, outbound to Taiwan

Wait, what’s today? Are you serious? There’s no way it’s January 2016. Let me check all seven of my calendars again…

Yup, it’s 2016… and this is only my second journal. Which means I’m in some trouble. But hey, instead of making excuses about how busy I was (am) in the hustle and bustle of daily Taipei life, I shall dive straight into the crazy stuff I’ve been up to. There’s a lot, so I won’t be as detailed as my last journal. All in all, I’m sure you guys will be satisfied. Just note, these are in loose chronological order – I’m using my camera roll to recall most of these because there’s been so much stuff.

So in October, my Chinese class took our first field trip. We went to a traditional market that sold anything from entire chickens to live fish tied up in waterless barrels. It was what the kids call “culture shock”. After this, we went to the local university, which happened to be the most famous university in Taiwan. We toured the campus and then walked through a history museum about the Aboriginals of Taiwan. It was pretty interesting! There was a pretty scary story about a scalping tradition that gave me shivers…

Later that month, my host club’s sister club in Japan came to visit us. I’ve been taking Japanese, so I was asked to introduce myself by my host father. I actually did alright (I guess, they understood me at least!), and it was a pretty fun night. We even ate some Japanese dishes that were delicious! Mostly fish, but hey, fish is great.

And in November, I went on one of biggest trips yet – I stayed a night in Yilan with my Taiwan classmates on a school trip. This adventure was packed and I have pictures to prove it. We got at school at seven and loaded up several school buses (the whole entire school was divided into three different field trips). We took an hour to drive to the coastal city, where we boarded a boat and sailed to Turtle Island. Inhabited by few and rich with historical culture, we explored the caves, crossed lakes, and hiked in the hot sun.

Despite being a bit motion sick, and my partner having an asthma attack without being able to communicate it with me (so basically while everyone was trying to help I was just freaking out trying to figure out what was happening?) it was pretty fun! Then we went to a beach, where as a class, we pulled in a giant net of fish. It took everyone pulling the rope out and then going back for more until finally, we brought in our pitiful basket of eight fish (plus a crab). It was still really amazing and we had a lot of fun doing it. After this, we went to try to local seafood that the area was famous for.

Once sufficiently stuffed to the max with fish and equipped with ice cream, we headed to a local museum and learned more about the culture there. Finally, we headed out for the event we had all been anticipating. The night market! We only had thirty minutes, so we quickly bought some food before being ushered back to the buses. But it was my first market and it was incredible!

The hotel was wonderful, though my classmates had no intention of sleeping. Dancing, KPop, candy, and fun. Also breaking glasses by accident and having to be forced to bed by our concerned homeroom teacher. The next day we woke up groggy but managed to get ready on time. We ate breakfast but had some time to spare afterwards, so we played a Taiwanese card game with KPop cards. My classmates even taught me some slang (though I can’t say all of it was necessarily stuff I would use often). The rest of the day was more subdued. We went to a wine/cake factory and observed the production, something Yilan was popular for. Then we went to an arts market filled with Taiwanese artisans and DIY activities. We made traditional Taiwanese bracelets (with a modern spin on them) before heading home. It was a great trip and I got much closer to my classmates.

After that, the exchange students immediately were thrown into Rotary activities. A Halloween party, which was pretty ordinary (and Western). But afterwards, on my way home, I got lost for the first time in the city. It was a rainy night and I was dressed like a zombie apocalypse survivor. I called my host sister but my signal was horrible so I ended up asking for directions in Chinese (quite nicely I might add). He answered in English and directed me to the station I needed to go to. I ran in the dark and barely caught the last bus, making it home just before curfew. It was a great night.

Not too long later, Rotary took us on the Yingge Pottery Tour, something I was excited about since I saw previews at the orientation. Yingge is a city famous for it’s history with pottery. After an hour train ride, we were taken to a building where we made our own pottery on spinning wheels and painted cups. After this, we went to the local market and browsed dozens of shops filled with unique pottery. I was amazed by the beautiful artwork (it made me wish my bowl was a little cooler…) Then, we went to a museum where we perused the history of pottery in Taiwan. It was pretty amazing, and much more interesting then you would’ve thought.

Not long after, my Chinese class took another field trip. This time we went to a local temple where we learned about Taoism. We learned how to pray, the Grandfather (the “deity” of the religion, but as the name suggests, more of a comforting family figure to talk to your feelings about), how to use divination blocks and sticks. It was wonderful, as I love visiting the temples. Then we went to another traditional market and ate amazing food.

Finally, I left instantly to get back to school because-
That day, our school’s sister school from Japan sent students to visit! I rushed back just in time to greet them. Each school did a performance, before we all went back to our homerooms followed by a class each. My classmates were very shy, so I hopped around helping everyone get comfortable (since I was familiar with all of it). One girl in particularly followed me around everywhere talking to me in a mix of small Japanese words and English. It was really fun! Then we escorted them all to the Shilin Night Market where we spent the evening showing them our Taiwanese culture. Once it got late, we led them back to their hotel and traded gifts. Finally, I headed home with lots of Japanese candy.

Not too long after, my school held a fair where we made food and listened to music as a big fundraiser. My homeroom teacher noticed how bored I was, so I actually got to help out a lot before getting really sick and going home. Still fun though!

Our Chinese class also had all the exchange students participate in a talent show to show off our Chinese skills. So, I and two of my friends performed on ukuleles while singing a lovely Taiwanese love song. It was super cute and we did well.

Christmas came and went with little celebration as expected. I got pretty homesick, but I kept it on the down low since my family in America was practically in pieces. But hey, guess what I got on Christmas morning? Essence of Chicken! I won it in the Rotary Christmas party raffle (I didn’t mention the Christmas party but it was fun. Mostly just karaoke, santa hats, and choking on octopus. I turned blue and nearly passed out but no one understood so I had to pull it out myself before anyone realized I was actually dying). Turns out it was a chicken soup-like thing that’s supposed to make you grow stronger.

New Years was a blast though! First off, we didn’t have school, which is always great. We had our placement test for our Chinese classes and then we went to Ximen to waste time. I bought some clothes as a Christmas present for myself before we all headed to the Taipei Grand Hotel. Why? Well…

Rotary organized us to do a giant dance thing. We were divided into two groups and each week of November, we practiced our dance. I was apart of the hip hop group, A.K.A. the actual shame of the event (I tried learned the dance but it became harder to participate when I got a concussion – a story I don’t remember that well). Nonetheless, we danced on New Years and I only tripped twice. It was amazing… Then the Lion group dance, and everyone forgot about our performance. The Lion dancers actually dances a traditional Taiwanese story that made sense with New Years. It was really cool to watch! They released us at 8 so we were free to go wherever for New Years.

I tagged along with a group I trusted and we made our way to Linguang. There, we climbed a mountain (about twelve flights of stairs in heeled boots. With a headache. I can’t begin to explain the pain I went through that night). Nonetheless, we got a great view of the Taipei 101 (despite the fact a bunch of tall people blocked my way). It was beautiful and probably the best New Year’s I’ve ever had.

And finally, we reach January. The first weekend I spent with my Japanese friend Nao at her first host family’s house. She was moving to her second host family, so I went to her going away party. We had a feast of Taiwanese food before making Japanese dessert. I helped her load her stuff in the car and went to her second host family where I was invited to dinner. We watched the news and discussed politics before I headed home.

Then midweek I changed host families. My new host family lives in the mountains outside of Taipei, a twenty minute bus ride to the MRT station. And the bus only comes once an hour. This was all fine and dandy until the weather decided to turn into freezing rain everyday. Hasn’t changed, by the way.

Nonetheless, I love my new host family! The mountain home life is totally different from mid-city apartment building life, and both are drastically different from my life in America. I love it!
So, that’s my recap about the adventures of the last month. This is where most of you can feel free to clock out, as now I get into the emotional nitty gritty updates.

My Chinese is going well. I feel like I’m really learning a lot. I can communicate my feelings, ask for directions, make small talk, make new friends, and even sing new songs! The culture feels second-nature to me now, and I feel so normal. It’s strange, as I find myself doing things that I would a. never think of doing in the last year and b. never have the opportunity to. Like for instance, eating flaming hot fish meat off it’s face (directly under the eyeball), with spices so hot that your nose runs. Or maybe competing in dance competition in front of the whole school to a military song remixed with three different KPop songs.

It’s just hard to believe how much I’ve changed in this amount of time. It’s strange thinking that a year ago I was at an Outbound Orientation, terrified to make conversation with people and talking to Rotex thinking “Will I actually be doing this? Is this real?”. If this was a cheesy, cliche message to myself back then, I’d say “Yes, it’s real. Also study your Chinese. I’m serious. No really, go do it right now.” But this isn’t a cheesy message. This is now.

Anyways, this is getting really long and my host parents are home. Like I said, I’m crazy busy (which is good right?). But hopefully, I’ll be able to update more often so I don’t have to explain every journal in a four page recap. Also, if any future outbounds are reading this, HIT ME UP. You guys are probably thinking, similar to how I was, that you’ll never need to worry about updating. “Pfft,” you think, “Like it would be difficult to update ONCE a MONTH.” And to that I say, good luck.

Thu, January 14, 2016

  • Lauren, outbound to Taiwan

Being a Rotary Youth Exchange student is a lot like being a toddler with almost-adult responsibilities. You travel halfway across the world by yourself. You take public transport around the city, make new friends, and see things you’ve never seen before. You even have your own budgeting to manage. Yet, at the same time, you have the speech abilities and cultural knowledge of a six year-old. Everyone calls your name like a lost puppy if you lag behind the group, convinced you’ll get lost. You forget where your house is. Oh, and you also cry for your mommy a lot.

The day I’m writing this marks the one month anniversary of coming to Taiwan. Coincidentally, it’s also the date of the Mid-Autumn/Moon festival. It’s honestly so hard to believe everything that has happened has all been crammed into four weeks. It’s been thirty-one days since I pulled an all-nighter as I anxiously waited to board an airplane that would take me into a new life. The next twenty-four hours would be the longest wait of my life (combination of excitement and inability to sleep a wink on any of my flights).

Thirty days since I exhaustedly marched into the Taiwan Airport greeting room, meeting with two of my host families and some of my host club. We must’ve taken thirty pictures, before my host sister realized I was in desperate need of sleep. So we drove forty minutes to my new home in Taipei, only stopping to grab a bite to eat at McDonalds (still the only time I’ve eaten McDonalds since I got here).

It’s been twenty-nine days since I stared at my new bedroom ceiling thinking to myself “Oh my god, I’m in Taiwan.” I woke up to the most amazing smells of lunch: the day happened to be a celebration to honor our ancestors, so our living room was covered in a feast. The rest of this day would be spent frantically running around the city, exchanging money, taking passport photos, filling out forms for resident cards, and trying new food.

It’s been twenty-eight days since I went to my Inbound Orientation and made it my goal to meet as many exchange students as possible. I collected dozens of pins and made so many new friends. We played lots of team building exercises and even made our own barbecue.

It’s been twenty-six days since I took the MRT for the first time and went to Ximen, which is like a Taiwanese version of Times Square and very popular with the foreigners. As promised to all of my fellow exchange students, I went to the Modern Toilet, a toilet themed restaurant. It was everything I had hoped for and more!
It’s been twenty-five days since I stood in front of my classroom for the first time and confidently introduced myself in Chinese. The rest of the day would be spent smiling and waving at shy students whenever they glanced at me – and eventually talking to some of my future best friends.

It’s been twenty-three days since I had my first “uh-oh” moment and basically ran into the language barrier face first. My host mother had taken me to Chinese class, an hour bus ride away from our home and my school. We normally get out of class at 11, and to eat free lunch at school I have to be there by 12. But since we got out late, I knew I wasn’t going to make it to school for lunch. I tried to tell my host mother this the whole way home so she could let me stop for lunch, but our language barrier prevented her from understanding. So instead, I ended up having to sprint to school, running up six flights of stairs and two steep inclines. I managed to get to class with my lunch with a solid five minutes, with a small bowl of rice, a single chicken tender, and a sports drink. Honestly, this was probably the smallest meal I’ve had while in Taiwan (my host mother would have been beside herself if she had understood).

It’s been twenty-two days since I got out of school early to go to my first host club meeting. I stood in front of the meeting and gave a similar introduction to the one I did at school. Though I confused two of my lines, everyone was forgiving and I managed to get through it. I was sent home with my allowance as well as a box of pineapple cakes from one of the host club members.

It’s been twenty-one days since I went to the Eslite Spectrum: possibly the coolest department store I’ve ever been to. I explored a floor of artisans, selling everything from jewelry to soap to cacti. I even found a coffee shop-like area where you could rent paintbrushes and paints to sit with you coffee and make art. It was possibly the coolest thing ever.

Afterwards, we went down the street to walk through an art exhibition with more artisans – except this one was based around food. I was offered dozens of free samples (that for some strange reason were only free for me – strange). At one point, I was offered the most bitter coffee I had ever tasted. But like a good exchange student, I downed it all, and managed to smile (after wincing and making my host mother laugh).

It’s been sixteen days since I explored the Bitan Bridge, an amazing boardwalk beside a river. I tried out my language skills, naming the types of dogs I saw and learning new words from my host father.

It’s been fifteen days since I explored a 24/7 night market, a European chateau, and the Fisherman’s wharf with some new companions. I met up with my host sister from my second host family, her friend, and the French exchange student (who currently is in that host family). We all walked together, taking selfies everywhere we went, and sharing umbrellas. I even tried sushi for the first time, which I have mixed opinions on.
It’s been thirteen days since I met my extended host family for my host grandma (Ama)’s birthday. We celebrated at a fancy restaurant, where I met my various uncles, aunts, and cousins. Everyone was super welcoming, and despite the new wave of homesickness, I was so happy to be accepted into this family.

It’s been twelve and a half days since I experienced my first earthquake, which nearly gave me a heart attack. I sat in my room, at 2am, trying to decide whether or not it was really happening. It was only confirmed by my friends at school the next day, yet no one but myself and my host mother had actually felt it.

It’s been eleven days since I went on a huge field trip with all of my fellow exchange students. We ate Taiwanese pizza (we call it that because it’s always covered in strange assortments of toppings) in the Taiwan City Council meeting room, explored a museum on Taiwan/Taipei’s history, and gaze across the city on a balcony made especially for the city council. This normally was unavailable to the public, but they pulled a few favors for the Rotary Youth Exchange students.

It’s been ten days since I dined on The Top restaurant. This restaurant is situated in the mountains just outside of Taipei, overlooking the entire city. My Rotary club gathered here to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, dining for hours on delicious food.

It’s been five days since my classmates tricked me into eating duck eggs, one of the less pleasurable experiences I’ve had here. But it was very interesting to try, and I managed to convince everyone that I actually enjoyed it by eating three pieces and smiling. This surprised everyone, who seconds before had been wanting to video tape my reaction. On the same day, my classmates provided me with a fruit, who’s peel is big enough to be worn on your head. After being asked by my classmates, I happily put it on, wearing it for the rest of the day.

It’s been zero days since the Mid-Autumn Festival. I celebrated this by going out with my classmates for a barbecue. Since it was pouring rain (a typhoon was on it’s way), we sat in a pavillion near where my friend Hiro lives. We spent an hour getting our miniature grill started (we had to light the fire and tend to the coals ourself). Then we grilled our own food, dancing to music, and toasting marshmallows. It was a bunch of fun. I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get to see the moon on the Moon Festival (especially because this same moon, when viewed from America/Europe/Africa in a few hours, would be a Super Blood Moon). My host sister later assured me it was the same moon I saw in the United States, which I acted supremely surprised about (“It’s the same moon? I thought we had multiple moons???”).

Overall, this month in Taiwan has possibly been the best month of my life. I’ve tried so much new food (my weight gain definitely shows it) and I’ve visited so many places that I never thought I would see in my life. I already have a bunch of friends: classmates, teachers, host parents, siblings, other exchange students. I’m so thankful to be here – thank you to all of the Rotary members back in the States that made this possible for me! I hope I can update this again soon, so my journal won’t be as long. Until then, I’ll try to get exploring so I have more adventures to add!

Tue, September 29, 2015

Leah - Poland

Hometown: Newberry, Florida
School: Newberry High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Gainesville, Florida
Host District: 2230
Host Club: Rotary club of Kielce

My Bio

Cześć! My name is Leah Hawes, I’m a sophomore at Newberry High school and I’ll be spending a year abroad in the country of Poland and I couldn’t be more thrilled. I’m from a small town named Newberry and live with my mother, father, and my sister who is currently attending college and my family has supported all of my adventures, including this new and most important one.

At the Big Reveal, where I learned my exchange destination, I didn’t have an ounce of nerves, just complete and utter excitement. But once I learned that Poland is my future home, it all began to feel real, possible, and nevertheless, scary. Once it all started to sink in, and the more I researched Poland, the nerves withered away leaving glowing gratitude and excitement for my future year.

Poland’s art, history, and music come to mind and inspire me; I count myself very fortunate to have received the country that I did. I learned of Rotary Youth Exchange at a spring Interact meeting, late in my freshman year. It was an informational meeting and the topic of RYE was brought up, the sponsor asked if anyone had an interest and I was the only one with a hand raised. Almost a year later, I’m here about to embark on an experience of a lifetime.

My mother has always appreciated and embraced traveling; luckily she’s taken me along for the ride. I’ve been all around the globe but I’ve just had a taste of what the world has to offer and I want to learn and experience more through this opportunity. My life is about to change for the better so I’d like to take this opportunity to thank every one at Greater Gainesville Rotary for making this possible.

Journals: Leah – Poland 2015-2016

  • Leah, outbound to Poland

Sometimes you don’t realize how happy you are. You have to remind yourself to take a step back and look at the whole picture. And the whole picture is nothing less than a blessing. I have a family whom I love. A family in another country. One I met only months ago. And, I love my family, every aspect of them and the household we’ve created. I have a host mom who took me in, knowing I didn’t speak Polish and she spoke only some English and she has made me a daughter. I have a host dad, who makes me laugh effortlessly and treats me with such kindness and he seems to do so effortlessly. And I have a host Grandma who loves me like a granddaughter. I don’t even know her name because I’ve called her “grandmother” since day one. I have a sister, who is on exchange right now but even a county away, has made me feel so loved and so cared for. I have a host brother who is hilarious and everything a brother shoul d be. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I hit the jackpot when it comes to host families.

I have friends that give me nicknames and smile at me in the halls and lend me their shoes for school dances. They are kind and generous and even though they miss my host sister they make sure to make me feel not only welcomed, but their friend too.

I have a class at school that feels like such a family, asking to be moved up into their grade was one of the best decision I have made so far. They have come to understand Jess and I and learn our personalities without having to speak fluently in either English or Polish. I have lost the ability to be nervous or uncomfortable or embarrassed around them. I tend to be clumsy and they have learned that about me, so when I drop all my bus change on the floor or trip on the stairs or drop my phone they are always there to help me back on my feet. I don’t feel like a guest in the classroom, I feel like a classmate. It’s selfish, but I hope next year, when Jess and I are gone, the class feels as if it’s missing a person or two. These 20 odd group of Polish teenagers are some of the funniest, kindest, and most overwhelming group of people I have ever met.

People often say they pity me. My teachers, my friends, and any person passing by that wants to share their input. For being in Poland, being put in the city that I am, the cards I was dealt. I don’t pity me. Maybe for a second or two but, absoultly not. I have too much to lose if I wasn’t placed here. My family? My friends? My class? What would be the point of pitying myself when I am so happy where I am? It’s not the ideal location, I won’t lie to you and say it is but that’s not the point of exchange, my friend. The goal is to be happy no matter the circumstances, the difficulties, or the undeniable problems. I know exchangers with, on the outside, a perfect exchange. Perfect location, perfect view, perfect situation but they are scared, overwhelmed, and on a flight home. I know kids who have come home from that perfect looking exchange. It has so so little to do with your exchange and your personal happiness, stop looking at things for face value.

Yes I miss my family, yes I miss my school, yes I miss my town, and YES I miss my dog but that’s not important right now. I will be back in a matter of months, but I will never have this again. Never again will I have a November 25th in Poland. My first and last. Now how the hell and I supposed to mourn my old life when I will never see this one again. Easy days don’t exsit. Fun days do, good days, easy moments, good months. But everyday is hard. I think that’s what I will tell future exchanger when they come begging for advice at Lake Yale, same as I did when I was there.

It gives you thicker skin, more resilient, confidant. I find myself doing things I never would have done before, with zero thought. I think its because you’re so uncomfortable/nervous/excited 100% of the time that you become almost immune to the sensation. If everything scares you, then nothing does. I find myself thinking that I ‘ve lived through everything that’s happe ned so far, I most likely survive this too. School is still a mystery to me, I miss it when I am not there but I’m frustrated when I am because I understand so little. I’ve picked up the habit of going to a local elementary school and sitting in on the second graders lessons. Considering I have the vocabulary of a Polish toddler, this is a good fit for me. I understand more and the children are so fearless. It is so much easier to befriend a six year old rather a sixteen year old. The school sees so much potential with me, I feel the longer I am there the more interactive I will become within the school. They say having a native speaker is an opportunity for them but it works both ways, having someone willing and excited to talk to me makes life a lot more fun for me.

My host family and I celebrated Thanksgiving together and it might have been the best Thanksgiving yet. There were no traditions to uphold and no awkward mentions of Christopher Columbus. It was the opposite of tradition, which is why I think I liked it so much. We ate at random times and the meals spread out over hours. It was relaxed and calm, effortlessly happy. I cannot cook for the life of me; I am a firm believer that if I can’t get it delivered to my door, than I don’t want it. But we did try.

We all went to my Host Aunt’s house (who is the most wonderful women in Poland) and we cooked an adorably small turkey and tried to make Mac and Cheese. It came out a bit more Italian than red-blooded American but maybe that was a blessing in disguise. Nonetheless, it was edible. While the turkey cooked, my host cousins and I made snowmen out of socks, which reminded me of Thanksgiving at home. Mom cooks and after the meal my sister and I decorated for Christmas. It was the exact same feeling in the exact opposite of what I know. It was such a peaceful day full of eating and laughing and such a family atmosphere. My host aunt and Uncle are some of the kindest, warmest people I have ever met. After I got off the plane, we drove directly to them. They are the first people I ever met in this country, besides my family, and I can’t explain how fortunate I am to have people like them. They have three sons and I can’t help but smile every time I see them. I have never had brothers but this is the closest I will ever feel to having baby brothers.

Polish is hard. I almost want to leave it at that. Now I know that when I heard “You’ll pick it up in three months” “Soon, you’ll start dreaming in the language” they were not talking to the ones leaving for Poland. For other counties that is a very true statement, very plausible. But I would never put the word “Poland” and “Plausible” in the same sentence. I will get there, I am sure. But I have a very realistic fear that as soon as I start to grasp it completely, it’ll slip right through my fingers because I’ll be on a plane because my exchange will have came to an end.

I am surprised with how far I’ve come in the language but on the other hand, I’m disappointed that I’m not fluent. I just have to remind myself that Polish is not a one-year kind of language. Do you ever flip the pages of a book really quickly one by one? It makes like a “sh” sound. That is exactly how Polish sounds. What I didn’t see coming was how quickly and completely I have lost my English. Having fluent English conversations is a struggle for me, I get questions wrong in English class. I don’t speak English or Polish, but I can speak a few choice words in Spanish (thanks Jess)

All the challenges and struggles of the last few months were rewarded in Wroclaw. This last four days, I had the absolute pleasure of meeting the other exchange students for our Christmas eve meeting in Wroclaw. And I’m sure that every group says this and all exchange students feel this way but the exchange students in Poland are a family. We are so incredibly close that not being with them feels unbearable. Days before the meeting, we all were counting down the days. On social media, the group chat we have, it was like counting down to Christmas. “Three more days, guys!!” “Almost there” “TODAY EVERYONE” “#wewanttobealltogether” “On the train”.

Being together was something we all needed, a welcomed “pick me up”. The morning of, Jess and I got on a train for the 5-hour ride to Wroclaw. We had problems with our tickets but that gave us an opportunity to practice our Polish, which went surprisingly wel l. Once we arrived I made a beeline to the Starbucks because I don’t have one in my city and I’ve been craving an iced latte since I arrived four months ago. We all meet at the center of the train station and that is where all hell broke loose. There was crying and hugging and falling to the floor with excitement. Tears and laughs and all the promises we made months ago rekindled. I’m looking for the words; it was like seeing both your family and best friends after months of separation. We had all changed and grew but we were still the same.

We had this mental and emotional breakdown in the middle of the train station, which was extremely inconvenient for literally everyone else but amazing for us. Maybe all exchangers feel like this, like family with almost 70 strangers? How am I going to return home without them? Taylor lives in New York, Emma Missouri, Low Brazil, Louise France, Jess Mexico. When are we going to be together again once this year is over? I can’t think of it, I don’t want to. People ask me “How I liked Wroclaw” and I honestly don’t remember anything about the city. I remember drinking coffee and being 20 minutes late. I remember trying to learn Polish Christmas carols and laughing so hard with Taylor that I fell off the couch. I remember eating a whole gingerbread loaf with the girls in my room. I remember doing my make up with all the girls in my hostel which was the definition of girl bonding. I remember dancing until I couldn’t stand but never wanting to stop. But above all, I remember being so at peace and so happy with my exchange family. Wroclaw is beautiful, I’m sure. But my friendship are just a bit more beautiful.

Christmas is around the corner and I don’t fear it at all. This month is prime time for homesickness but I already went through my rough patch. I did my suffering early so this month is nothing but smiles and holiday cheer. My mom hears my happiness in my voice and the thought of going home repels me. I know that the hard parts over which only means that the rest of exchange is going to move much too quickly for my taste. I have skiing in January, then a trip to London, then my mom is visiting, Europe tour, and goodbye meeting, trip to Prague, and then I’m home. That’s it. The end is in sight and I want to turn around. I say home but I have to explain which home, I say family but I have to explain which family, I say life but I have to explain which one.

Thu, December 17, 2015

  • Leah, outbound to Poland

Exchange is about growing up. Making decisions and sacrifices that age you well beyond your years. You can’t afford to be a child anymore, to think and act like you don’t know yourself. Before I left, I tended to act older than my age but now when I tell people I’m sixteen, they do a double take or don’t believe me. I’ve stopped telling people my age because I don’t feel my age. You aren’t a teenager anymore because you make the choice to be happy now, to dive into new experiences and a new life with a smile. You don’t wait around anymore; you make the active choice to make this exchange your own instead of letting life’s surprises dictate that for you.

You matured the second you landed, no, you matured the second you really left your family at the airport. Really got on that plane. Yes, you knew that’s what you’d do when you signed up, but you never really thought you’d go through with it. But you did, and every day since you become more middle aged and less of the nervous teenager that you were. I don’t remember much of my flight; most of it was a blur of panic, hunger, and stomach illness. I remember small things, like watching “Brave” and crying because I already missed my mom, and the man next to me dropping his water on everyone in my row and carrying around my carry-on full of my favorite books because I couldn’t bare live without them (was that choice unrealistic? Yes. Do I regret it? No.)

People say, “It’s only one year” to sooth themselves about the fact that you are leaving. That “it’s not that long of a time”, and they’re right. One year is one year. But it’s not the time I mourn, it’s the fact that I’m already a different person. I like who I’ve become but it’s not the person who said goodbye to my family at the airport, or someone my 1st period geometry class would recognize. So yes, it’s only a year, but it’s also a lifetime.

I can’t begin to break down all that has happened in this last month. But without a doubt the most important thing about exchange, the thing I will remember in 50 years, the most important thing that I never saw coming are the friendships. My native Polish friends, my exchange friends, Jess. These relationships are so complete and absolute. These people mean the world to me and I can’t begin to explain how much of my heart belongs to them. I know that I won’t leave Poland without leaving an impression on these peoples lives.

Now that the two month marker has hit, the initial spark and excited of exchange has worn of. And yes, I was prepared for this moment. But in a way, I’m relived that exchange is showing some of its flaws. That not every thing is shiny and perfect. A life is not perfect, even on exchange. I’m no longing living in anticipation of the slope of exchange.

Real talk, homesickness is a real thing. No matter how strong you think you are, how independent, how confident in your ability to be away from home. It’s going to happen one way or another. God, If I could go back in time, I’d tell one year ago me to stop being so damned arrogate and really listen when they talk about homesickness.

Homesickness is sneaky, it come in small packages. Your mom’s perfume, a dish similar to what your dad makes, a purse you’d know your sister would like, your friends favorite song, When the dog does something bad so you scold him using your real dogs name by accident. All these things alone don’t hurt too much, small pains. But one day you’ll just get hit. Sometimes with forewarning, sometimes it’s a semi truck you didn’t see coming. One day, something will happen and you’ll just snap. All the small wounds are inflicted in one punch, all the tears you refused to cry at the airport, all the times you turned to make an inside joke and you realized the only person who understands it is across the globe. The meals you craved but couldn’t eat, the words you regret not saying before you left, the conversations to thought were best to save for another day. It all just rains on you, leaving you breathless and sobbing and empty. These days don’t happen often, it takes time for these feelings to build up. But it’s important to know that these are going to happen to you on exchange, that’s for YOU to remember. I need to remember that this is going to happen again and it won’t be easier the second time around, but you have to look up, get up in the morning even if you still feel sad, smile like you didn’t just cry on your host mom shoulder, and face the day with optimism and faith that you did this for a reason.

For every high, there has to be a low. And there are a lot of amazing days so by default, you can’t expect to never have a bad. But we were told about these days during orientation, we were prepared. So I know I’m not a bad exchange student, I know that I am not failing or doing anything wrong because this was foreseen. This is just to be expected. So you call over your friends, you call other exchangers, you watch old movies and eat chocolate, and you do what you need to, to feel better. That’s why you never judge another’s exchange, you have no idea what they went through, what they dealt with, what expectations they couldn’t meet. You don’t know.

Exchange is so complex; there are so many parts to it and layers. Exchange is important for a developing person, forget “fun” and “exciting” exchange is so important for your development. You learn about yourself, you learn about your old life. You romanticize your old life, appreciate more. You become an adult in all the ways that matter. Your pride and selfishness is shoved aside so that you can survive and thrive into this new environment.
There’s no secret to Exchange, no foolproof way to make it amazing, each person has to find his or her own way. I understand why it was so hard for the Rotects back home to explain it. It’s more of a “you just have to go” thing. The overwhelming adjustments, and difficulties that have such satisfying solutions. Exchange is neither good nor bad, it’s a lifetime. Some people expect a whirlwind of adventures 24/7, and some days it is like that. But they forget about the small adventures. The trips to the grocery store, the late night TV, the bus ride to school, the boredom of class. These things are just as much if not more important during exchange. They are what develop a life and not a vacation.

Polish is not easy. It’s not a language you can pick up in a week or two. It takes hard studying, listening to the bus driver speak, lessons and lessons and lessons. It takes frustrated tears and a will to learn this language. I don’t blame year ago me for not trying harder. Some things you really need to learn from experience and not one hour lessons twice a week. I know so much more than I did before, I can follow basic conversations and reply well enough sometimes. That doesn’t sound like much but I’m very proud of it. The nice part is that Poles are aware that parseltongue is easier to grasp than Polish so when you do speak or show minimal effort, they are proud of you. They smile because you are trying to adapt to them and not the other way around. The not so nice part is that living in the rural area that I do, fluent English is not easy to come by. Semi fluent is hard to come by. While challenging right now, in the end I’m going to be so proud when I can carry a conversation with the people I wish I could approach right now.

School is better than a month ago, people know Jess and I and those who know us take us under their Polish wing. They laugh when we can all sing “Single Ladies” because there isn’t a teenage soul in this world who doesn’t know that song. Our teachers are kind and forgiving. Try to incorporate us when they can but teach without distraction. Our head teacher, who has the most impressive outfits I’ve ever seen, assigned a presentation for Jess and I to do about us. It was terrifying but they all were so interested by my project, it made my heart warm that they even bothered to pay attention or laugh at my lame jokes. But right after I felt so comfortable and happy I proceeded to fall down the stairs in front of them all.

Like I said, with every up there is a down. We had class pictures recently and it was the cutest thing I ever witnessed. In my school in the U.S., we had individual photos and that’s it, silly of me to expect that’s how it would work in Poland too. No, we all gathered in neat rows and one person held up a sign stating our class name “2D” (I think that’s my class but I’m still not sure) and we all smiled together for the flash. Never had I felt so a part of that class until then.

While I live in a small area, with some limitations. I do love my family, my friends, and Jess. But I’m ready and waiting for the next adventure. So whether you are contemplating exchange, or are about to go on your exchange, or you finished your exchange years ago and are just reading these for kicks. Exchange is crazy, and dramatic, heartfelt, sincere, hopeful, eye opening, but it’s also what makes you a certain type of person. A better person than you were before.

Thu, October 22, 2015

  • Leah, outbound to Poland

Before I start, I would like to say that Poland is one of the most underrated countries in the world and two, Poland is not for every exchange student. Poland is not a destination wedding; Poland is not the averge study abroad location. Poland is not flashy or shiny or new. Poland is a home and it’s my home.

I don’t understand the system of matching kids with their counties, that process is Rotary top secret, but Poland is humble and subtly beautiful and honest and satisfied with themselves as a country. Traits that I value and understand myself. I never really fit in with America’s traits of flash and new and “The Best”, but I feel like I understand Poland. I feel a sense of home here that I never really felt in the USA.

Poland wasn’t my first choice; Poland is not many peoples first choice due to misconceptions and preconceived notions. Poland is like stumbling into a puzzle that you didn’t realize you fit perfectly in. I didn’t know what I wanted. I mean I had an idea but I’m big on “gut feelings” and Gut feelings aren’t exactly reliable. I wanted The Netherlands, I wanted a big city, and I wanted more English speakers. I didn’t get one of those things and I thank God everyday that I didn’t.

It astonishes me how easily this place feels like a home to me. I’ve been here less than a month, 26 days, and I feel so at peace and so happy. When I’m at school I think,” I want to go home..” and I mean my home 20 minutes way, a bus ride away, my Polish home. I don’t mean the United States. I’m not nervous around my host family, there’s no nervous laughter or pained conversations there’s only warm smiles and tight hugs and honest laughs, my host dad can make me burst out laughing even though he only knows four English words.

I make Polish meals with my host mom and she leaves me breakfast before school. My host dad smiles so huge when I speak minimal Polish. My grandma hugged me when I finally understood what she was saying to me. My aunt comments on all my Facebook posts and her sons play Wii bowling with me. I go for walks in the woods with my parents and dog (Fido). Blood has so little to do with family, I realized that here. I realized that the second day I was here.

I learned how little some things matter. Homecoming, volleyball tryouts, Garden Clubs meetings, all these things that are happening in my home town that just don’t interest me anymore, I have so many plans, so much to do. How can I care about who’s running for homecoming court when I have a complete new life here? I’ve traveled in my life but there was always something about being a tourist that I hated. Hated only seeing one layer of a country. Not the truth, the tourist traps and smoke screens that block what the country really is. What I cherish about exchange is that while I get to enjoy the touristy souvenir shops and ice cream parlors but I can also go back to my 800-person village and actually feel like a real Pole. Do things that a native born pole does. Walk to the bus stop, explore the woods behind my house, go to school, and bike to the market. I love walking into a store and they think I’m Polish. How easily I blend in, well until I open my mouth. It’s crazy how little I miss my old life, its crazy how instantly comfortable I am, It’s crazy how much I care about my host family, Its crazy that I’ve only known some of my friends for a few weeks but I can’t imagine life without them. Exchange is the craziest thing I’ve ever done.

I live in a small village in southern Poland, Gadka. Under 1,000 people. Every building looks vaguely haunted (so cool) and thrift shopping is a big hobby here. It’s farmland and cows and bread factories making the air smell vaguely like cooking bread. When I got off the plane I immediately had my host mother, father, and sister greet me with more warmth than I could have dared hoped for. My host mom, who wears blue eyeliner and star earrings, hugged me along with the rest of the family and while they don’t speak much English, they seemed so happy and loving and accepting.

I was sick to my stomach the first four days I was in Poland, couldn’t eat a single thing without feeling like discharging everything in my stomach. This was extremely disappointing, considering I wanted I eat all the perogies in the world but could barely stomach hot tea. My second (or first? Third?) Night there, my host mom hosted a bonfire for all the local teens to meet me. That night I met my host sister’s four best friends who have completely adopted me into their close knit circle of friends and them doing that for me is the kindest thing that they’ve could have done for me.

The way these four girls welcomed me into there lives without a thought, I don’t know If I could ever be as kind as they are to me. Anyway, I met them that night along with so other neighborhood kids which was just as awkward and scary as it sounds but I also was able to meet my counselor and second host family and the other exchange student in my city (village) Jess. Jess and I have turned into very close friends in the month that we’ve known each other. Her host family is going to be my second host family so we spend a lot of time together during school, taking trips together. We’re exchange sisters in the closest sense.

The next day, I left for a two-week language course in Bydgoszcz with Jess and my wonderful host sister, Kamila, left for the USA . The night before she left I spent with my second host family so that my first host family could have the night to themselves. And my second host family drove Jess and I to Bydgoszcz. My second host family (Jess’s first) is a wonderful wonderful family. Gorgeous generous mother and sweet father with two daughters, one on exchange in Mexico right now. Luiza, the younger sister, is the sweetest girl I’ve ever met; every time I see her I can’t help but smile. Jess, Luiza, and I are adorable group of girls, we play Uno and go on road trips and have sleepovers and we have a certain sisterly bond even though we’ve known each other one month, even though we’re all from different countries. I feel connected to these girls.

Now lets talk about language camp. Those two weeks were the most fun and most exciting and comforting thing that’s happened on exchange so far. I was able to meet so many life long friends that I doubt I could ever forget. As I ’m typing this I’m thinking of all my friends I miss from camp and the text messages I need to send to them, the plans we need to make. Exchange friends are the easiest friends you could ever meet. It takes a three sentences conversation and it’s an immediate connection. Speaking with them about your problems is such a comfort because they perfectly understand what you’re going through and having someone who understands something you can’t even explain to yourself is such a weight of your shoulders. When I want to call my mom I call my friends first.

All day you speak to people that only understand 35% of what you’re saying and then you understand about 5% of what’s actually going on and you voice these concerns to another exchanger and they just nod along like “I know, I know and I understand. This is what I did to fix it…” And to think I would have never met these people if one factor was different. If I didn’t get to go to Poland, if I asked for a different country, didn’t apply at all. I wound have never meet Low from Brazil, or Roselle from France, Maggie from Michigan, Sydney from North Caroline, Alex from California, Alfonzo from Mexico, Jenny from Canada. All these people I would never have met without exchange and they enrich my life so much. They leave me with memories that I’ll always treasure. They are my allies and closest friends in Poland and It’s strange to feel such a bond with these people and I own sweaters longer than the time of our relationship.

I miss our nightly walks to the local store “Lidy” were I bought sweaters and chocolate until my roommates had to cut me off because I “had enough” and “spending all my money on black leggings”. The food that we complained about everyday and the bees that attacked whenever you went outside. Our crowded rooms where I spent two weeks with my three other roommates Jess, Haley, and Sara. The nights we spent laughing and talking out the window to the other exchangers and candy we’d eat for breakfast. Once we took our Polish test and passed we moved on to Tourn, Poland and toured around for two days.

I won’t break down every aspect of those two days, because I doubt you care but I will tell you what comes to mind when I think of that amazing weekend. When I think of those two days I think of Gingerbread, frogs, light shows, club dancing in the kitchen, pizza every night, amazing tomato soup, banana cherry ice-cream. FO Fions group, noise complaints, talent shows, boat rides, “Ona to jest”, singing, pins, pins and more pins, teary goodbyes, and promises to keep in touch. Language camp brought us together to make a Rotary family.

Once we returned from camp it was about time to start school. Now, school is school. Being in Poland doesn’t make it glamorous, school isn’t magically fun but I’m grateful that I have it. School brings a nice routine to life. The first day, my friends drove me and everyone looked very nice and I looked very underdressed but hey, I’m the exchange student no one really cares about my mistakes. I say that a lot these days, being an exchange student allows a certain freedom because it’s impossible to NOT make mistakes, so might as well have fun. Being confused 100% of the time has its advantages.

The principal stood in front of the whole student body, made Jess and I stand in front of the whole student body and introduced us to everyone at once. It was so awkward but it was a necessary evil. Jess and I were put into separate classes, which was sad and hard on me for a few days. The class they put me into was much younger than I am and they were very scared of me and didn’t speak much English. I spoke to Jess and we mutually decided that it would be easier on the teachers, the students, and us if we were placed together. So that following week I was placed in the same class as Jess and it has completely change school for me. I’m slowly making friends and the class is feeling much more comfortable around Jess and I.

I found sharing snap chat and instagram usernames are a wonderful icebreaker. (BTW for future exchange students, Polish boys are super cute) I enjoy classes, I do. It was difficult at first because the classes change every single day so I was (am) lost every second of every day and I’m late to most (all) classes because I insist on wandering around the three story building until I find someone looking vaguely familiar and I follow them into a random classroom. It’s easier since I joined Jess because being lost is more fun when you’re lost with someone.

I’m confused in class all of the time, but I mange to occupy my time with journaling or writing notes or conjugating Polish verbs or (when its deemed socially appropriate) reading a book. I find things to do because staring blankly at a wall is just not my cup of tea. But I excel in English class! The most frustrating class is math because I feel so close to understanding but I still don’t. I know that if it was taught in English I’d understand perfectly but that’s not how exchange works. You bear with it until life starts to make sense.

My favorite part is the bus ride to and from school. There is nothing more relaxing than that 20 minute ride though the countryside of Poland vaguely listening to the Polish grandmothers gossiping. There is no “ yellow school bus” there’s a city bus (more like van) that transports all types of people to and from the closest city. All my friends live within a block of each other, two minute walk. I help them with their English homework and we have sleepovers and bike rides. I love the friends I’ve made but I worry about being more trouble than I’m worth. But that is for me to ponder another day.

These past few days I’ve found my favorite spot in all of Poland and it’s a path through the woods behind my family’s house. My host mom says it’s magic and I believe her. I take the dog around sunset and go for my walk, no matter how cold or windy the weather is, the trail is always short sleeve weather. You walk beside the wheat crops and the dog, Fido, always scares the deer away before I can come within reaching distance. I walk until I come across the pond where Fido scares the ducks away before I can come within reaching distance, and there’s a swing and wooden deck next to the family’s little lake house by the pond where I can relax and read a book and behind the house there’s a fire pit and a swing above some flowers. The deeper in you go, the woodsier it becomes. More wildlife and tall plants if you turn left there’s harvest ground for some crops and if you turn right… I’m not sure yet. I’ll find out tomorrow.

It’s gorgeous and breathtaking and almost spiritual. Exchange is neither good nor bad. Exchange is a lifetime where you feel every emotion every single day. You feel both younger and older than you did before you left. You understand how important it is to be humble and tolerant because you need people to be patient with you at all times. You’re a child reborn in a different country, its exhausting, scary, amazing, life changing, extraordinary, saddening, but most importantly, it’s worth it. I promise.

Mon, September 14, 2015

Leanza - Czech Republic

Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: St. Augustine High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: St. Augustine Sunrise, Florida
Host District: 2240
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Trutnov

My Bio

Hello! My name is Leanza and I’m currently a Senior at St. Augustine High School. I am fortunate enough to be spending my exchange in beautiful Czech Republic. I hear it’s pretty cold there so that will definitely be a climate shock, considering I’ve lived in sunny Florida my whole life. I come from a blended family with 4 parents, 3 sisters, 2 brothers, and 2 nephews. My dad and step-mom live in New York. My mom and step-dad live with me in Florida. My siblings range from ages 16 to 24. Through high school I’ve spent 4 years in the AICE program, the Academy of Future Teachers, and played soccer. I am also the Vice President of our Senior class, a member of NHS, and was our school mascot for 2 years. I love to stay involved, so I’m always attending performances and sporting events when I can. When I’m not at school, I’m usually working or hanging out with friends. I love to laugh and spend time with people, although I can be very independent as well. I don’t have one single friend group I hang out with on the regular, I enjoy spending time with as many different people as I can. With that being said, I do have one best friend that has been by my side since I moved to St. Augustine. Her name is Madison, and she will be spending a year in Brazil through the Rotary Youth Exchange program. I still cannot believe we will both be on opposites sides of the world, but I’m ready for the adventure this coming year holds! I cannot be more thankful for this opportunity, it’s all I’ve wanted since Freshman year and it’s mind-blowing that it’s finally happening!

Journals: Leanza – Czech Republic 2015-2016

  • Leanza, outbound to Czech Republica

Ahoj 🙂

I really don’t know where to begin… So much happens in a month. It’s crazy because it feels like I’ve only been here for one month but enough has happened to fill 6 months worth of time.

I guess I can begin with my new host family. I really love it here. My family speaks only Czech with me unless I really don’t understand something, then they will try to tell me in English, so that’s very beneficial. I have two younger brothers and a sister my age. My sister went on exchange last year to Ecuador and when she found out I was on exchange here, she asked her parents if I could move in even though I had never met any of them.

Saying that my parents are generous is an understatement. They changed their extra room/office into a room for me, they are constantly caring for me, they have taken me to Prague, and include me in all the family gatherings. I love my extended family as well, my aunts and uncles and cousins. I am especially fond of my grandmothers here. They are very patient and calm, yet eager to talk with me even though they don’t speak any English and know we will have a few language problems. My host mom is very big on cleaning, so we all do chores everyday.

We are also expected to constantly keep our room cleaned, which I actually have managed to do the majority of the time. (My parents in the U.S. won’t believe this when they are reading it, hahaha.) I have formed a really close relationship with my four year old brother, Lukáš, even though I hardly ever understand anything he says. He calls me Leo most of the time and it’s so cute. I have never been one for nicknames, but I am definitely fond of this one. I don’t ever sleep in on the weekends because if my little brother is awake, the whole house is awake, hahaha. My family is insanely loud, always yelling and laughing, and I love it. The atmosphere here is everything I had hoped for. I feel so fortunate to have a big family and especially this family.

As I said, I went to Prague with my family. We went for one night and even though I didn’t see it during the day, Prague at night is beautiful! I also went to Dresden, Germany last week with my school. Something really cool about going on exchange to Europe, you most likely will get an opportunity to go to another country with your school. It’s totally normal and insanely cheap. I paid a little over 20 USD to go to Dresden for one day. This included the bus fair and museum we went to. It was the most fun trip I have been on. I have made some really good friends, and I really enjoyed the trip and hanging out with them. It was great. This coming weekend I will be in Prague again, this time with Rotary and other exchange students for a district meeting. We will have the opportunity to go to the Christmas markets there. I’m really excited, I love all of the Christmas markets here in Czech Republic.

Christmas here is more of a month long celebration. I love it. Instead of stockings, my family has these bags for every day of December and each morning we open them as a family and there is a piece of candy for each of us. We also have four candles at the dining room table, and you light one for each week of December while you eat. So right now when we eat, we light two of them. There are Christmas markets all through the month of December, they have many handmade things for loved ones, along with delicious traditional Czech food. There is also a special celebration I just experienced last weekend. It is for little kids. Saint Mikuláš (dressed like a Bishop) comes to the house with a Devil and an Angel at his side. It is usually other members of the community dressed up (maybe teenagers or young adults). They question the children on if they have had good behavior during the year. It is common for kids to cry when this happens because they are so scared by the Devil. My brother and little cousin were bawling their eyes out. But in the end they get candy and treats. I thought it was really cool.

My favorite moment since my last entry: November 21st. It was the first snowfall. My family and I had been cleaning and preparing food all day for a family gathering at our house and right after I finished getting ready, I heard my host dad call me. I went to the kitchen and looked out the window and it was the most beautiful snowfall. My dad lives in New York so I have seen snow before, but this was so different for some reason. It felt like Christmas to me. Then as more snow began to fall, my family showed up and the rest of the night I was in the best mood. I’m always really happy with surrounded by my family here, and the snow just made it better. It doesn’t snow every day, but when it does, for some reason I am taken back to that day and I am in such a great mood. I was scared of the cold weather, coming from Florida, but oddly enough it puts me in such a happy and content mood.

Something new I’ve learned about Czech Republic: people here repeat clothes very often. People wear the same shirt two or three days in a row then again a few days later. It’s not just some people, both of my host families have done this, as well as everyone I know in school basically. This is perfect for exchange students because we obviously can’t bring our whole closet with us. So I never feel uncomfortable or out of place repeating outfits after a few days. It’s something about this culture I really enjoy. They buy fewer things that they really enjoy wearing, and can wear them more often.

Advice for future exchange students: making friends is really difficult here. It’s the culture, they are more introverted, but don’t give up. Always smile, always offer to hangout. Yes, it is awkward at first. I had to hangout with a few different people until I found my best friends here. Plus, I was the one who had to message them first, talk to them first, and ask them to hangout first. I love them though, and waiting to become close with them was totally worth it.

Mon, December 7, 2015

  • Leanza, outbound to Czech Republic


At my orientations in Florida and here in Czech Republic I had to learn about culture shock. As I learned about it, I thought that there can’t be one general pattern for everyone when people are so different. For me though, I have learned I am going through the exact same pattern I have learned about. When I first got here I was so fascinated with everything, I was still a tourist. I thought I could live here forever, and there really aren’t that many differences. Then as time went on, I started to pick out all the differences between the U.S. and here. I became homesick, never wanting to actually go home, but I missed certain things about the U.S. Now I’ve grown to appreciate everything different here. For example, the windows in houses here just make more sense. There’s a handle and if you turn it halfway it opens the window, if you turn it all the way it cracks the window at the top. It’s more modern and it just makes more sense. I hated opening my bedroom window in the U.S., it was rather difficult to push up to open and push back down to shut.

Another thing I didn’t think was very different was school. Except, the more time I spend in school, the more I realize it is different. So my school is the Gymnazium in Trutnov. Basically a Gymnazium is a school for students planning to go to University. There are other schools in Czech Republic dedicated to certain work forces, such as a nursing school. This prepares students who are planning to be nurses in the future. A Gymnazium requires students to be well-equipped in all core subjects. Students in my school enter at the equivalent to the 6th grade level I think, then others usually can enter at the 9th grade level. Your class, which is the group of students you are in classes with every year, depends on when you entered the school. I am considered the equivalent to a Junior in the U.S. but students here start school a year later, so the students I am with are 17 turning 18. The grade above, equivalent to Seniors, are students my age.

On my first day I was told I only need to take 3-4 classes every day. I thought that would be pointless because how can I make friends if I am not in school?

I am taking: Czech literature, Czech grammar, Czech composition, PE, 3 English classes, German, History, Geography, Social Sciences, Computer Programming, Art, Math. I also have lessons on Monday and Friday one-on-one with a teacher to improve my Czech. (The crazy thing is the other students also take Physics, Chemistry, and Biology… I decided to not take part in those classes, haha)
In the Czech classes, my teacher brings me separate worksheets to help me practice reading and writing Czech. I am so thankful to use class time actually doing something. Honestly, most classes I have no idea what is going on.

German class is quite an interesting challenge.I was given a workbook in Czech to learn German, and every class my teacher gives me work to learn German… in Czech. Right now when I think of colors I think half in German and half in Czech, haha.

My art class is two classes long on Wednesdays and I’m with a different class for this subject. I am so bad at art, but I took it to do something.

Math is really funny because I just started taking this class recently. My worst subjects in school were math and science so initially I did not want to take any of these here if I didn’t have to. Then, one of the math teachers started talking to me everyday and told me I should go to her math class because numbers are the same. Now Tuesdays and Fridays I have math. It’s funny because she teaches the equivalent to 8th graders. I am in an 8th grade level math class. It’s gets funnier, because I actually feel challenged in this class. These kids look at me and probably are thinking, “What is this 19 year old girl doing in our class and why can’t she add?” Sorry U.S., I’m proving the stereotypes to be true, haha.

Classes change daily, you don’t have the same schedule everyday. The teachers and the students change rooms. Instead of having a room, teachers share a cabinet of offices with other teachers teaching the same subject. They spend their time there usually if they don’t have a class. You generally stay with your class of students in every class. There is 10 minutes between every class, and once a day there is a 20 minute break between classes. Lunch is 30 minutes but at different times everyday, and every class doesn’t have lunch at the same time. My school starts at 8:00 am, and depending on the day it can go until 1:30-3:30.

Something different in school are the boards. These boards are either white boards or chalk boards. The boards are trifold, so there is a front and back to both sides. If it’s a white board, there is a smart board in the middle and white boards on both sides. It’s an efficient use of space. It takes up less room and covers the same amount of material the long white boards in the U.S. would. Also, all the boards in my school can move up and down. So the teacher can write at the very top of the boards then move it up for the class to see. It’s a small difference but it makes so much more sense.

My favorite moment since my last entry was: I moved host families, and my first night in my new host family was amazing. I really feel at home here, and I could write a whole journal entry on my amazing family but I am going to wait until next time.

Something new I’ve learned about the Czech Republic: It is not inappropriate to blow your nose anywhere, anytime. People don’t leave class to blow their nose. People blow their nose on the bus, during conversation, at the dinner table. It’s just not rude or uncomfortable here.

Advice for future exchange students: the exchange 15 is real. You will gain weight, especially if you go to Czech Republic because the food is absolutely amazing. My advice is, you only have a year to enjoy all the food this country has to offer, so do it. Don’t stress about the number increasing on the scale as long as you’re comfortable. Just embrace the exchange 15.

Mon, November 2, 2015

  • Leanza, outbound to Czech Republic

Dobrý den,

Today it has been exactly one month since I left from the United States to the Czech Republic.

I can’t really find proper words to write what I have felt in this one month. I could give you 33 adjectives and it wouldn’t be enough.

Before I left, I thought I was well prepared mentally for this journey. I am so thankful for the orientations RYE Florida provided, because being here I have noticed not everyone from around the world is prepared as well before they leave. That being said, there are still not enough workshops or lectures or stories from Rotex that will prepare you fully. I did not realize the intensity of this exchange until I was here. This is because no one has ever been in your exact same position, no one can prepare you for YOUR exchange. Every single one is different and unique in their own way.

Rotary has always said this is not a vacation, and I knew this fully, but I want anyone considering exchange to not take that statement lightly. Would I ever reconsider knowing how truly challenging it would be now? Absolutely not. Today I am still struggling, but I feel the potential this year holds for me and I couldn’t be more excited. Plus, it’s not like this month has been terrible or anything. It’s been amazing. I just wanted to break through the sugar coat trend many people post, I want you to know the truth. Everyone struggles on exchange. It is normal. It is worth it.

So that was pretty general to every exchange. This is about all the great things unique to my exchange:
– I live in Trutnov, Czech Republic. Technically right now I live with my host family 30 minutes north of that in Velká Úpa. My school, Rotary club, and main square are located in Trutnov. I live in the mountains of Czech Republic and it honestly feels like I’m in a movie. The scenery here is breathtaking. The pictures don’t even do it justice, I am so fortunate to see it in person everyday.

– I am the only exchange student in my school and my entire city. Most people would think that’s a negative point, as I did before I came (I was actually pretty upset about it) but there’s so many good things to being the only exchange student. One, I am forced to not cling to the other exchange students. I am more approachable this way and will be integrated into the culture quicker because of this, I think. Two, I cannot be compared to anyone else. Since there is no one else, there is no better or worse, it’s just me. Three, I really have to push myself if I want someone to talk to. Four, I am learning so much about myself. Being on my own, I am given so much time to think. I am learning my strengths, but also learning to acknowledge my weaknesses. And finally, I have learned that being alone does not mean I have to be lonely.

Before I came here I never went anywhere without being with someone, I didn’t even go get a smoothie by myself. There is no way I would ever go eat a meal somewhere by myself, and now I am learning that it is not something to be ashamed of or scared of. If another exchange student were in my city I think we would always be going out together, and I think this of all the lessons was most important for me to learn. I could have never done this in Florida before now and this was only made possible for me because of the exchange I was given.

– The language is hard (who won’t say that about learning a new language, haha). It’s been a month and that scares me because I still am constantly frustrated with myself for not communicating better. But, I am starting to be able to hold basic conversations with people and that’s exciting. Czech will be a really cool language to be fluent in.

– I joined a “Rugby” team they call it here, but it’s American football. I’m on an all girl’s team. It’s really fun, and it’s so much easier to make friends when you’re not just sitting in the classroom.

– THE FOOD. Being completely honest, with the research I did on the country, I did not think I would like the food much. I love the food. There’s a lot of similarities to food in the US, they have potatoes, chicken, fish, vegetables, fruit but the meals are just prepared better. Everything here tastes so good. Of course they have traditional Czech foods too that are not common in the U.S. It’s normal to have a garden, or if not you generally buy your fruit and vegetables locally. I can write a whole journal entry about the food and the culture that goes with it.

– Getting lost, I heard it happens on exchange… It didn’t happen to me until this past weekend… On my 19th birthday 🙂 I got on the wrong bus and had to search for someone who spoke English that could help me. I don’t have a Czech number or anything so it was silly. I don’t know, it’s exchange and it was just another adventure.

Okay so my favorite moment since I’ve been here was: definitely the day I rode on the back of a motorcycle through the mountains of Czech Republic. It was beautiful weather, sunny and mid 70s. We drove through small villages and all through the winding roads of the mountains. I remember looking around and I couldn’t stop smiling. I think it was an hour maybe (around two hours total if you count the ride back), and I know I was smiling the whole time. It was the first time it really hit me, wow I’m in Europe. I’m in the most beautiful place, on a motorcycle under the sun, breathtaking nature surrounding me. It sounds cheesy but it was so surreal for me.

Something new I learned about the Czech Republic since I’ve been here is: they have “house shoes.” In every house you take off your shoes when you enter and are given a new pair of shoes to borrow for while you are in the person’s home. You even have to bring house shoes to school, the majority of teenagers wear crocs in school, haha it was a surprise for me to see.

Advice for future exchange students: Force yourself to do things you’re not comfortable with. I was so nervous for my first day at Rugby practice and I’m so thankful I did it. It’s nerve racking to be the first to talk to students your age when you don’t know anyone, and even if only one out of ten students become your friend that day, it’s one more than you had. Maybe a goal could be for you to push yourself out of your comfort level everyday, or at least twice a week. Talk to someone new, join something new, ask to sit with people at lunch instead of sitting alone first, there’s so many things you can do to push yourself. Trying new things is what exchange is all about 🙂

Okay I think this journal is long enough, sorry I wrote a novel.

I would like to end with thanking my parents and Rotary for giving me this opportunity. I really can’t imagine being in college right now instead of finding myself here.

Mon, September 21, 2015

Luke - Brazil

Hometown: Saint Augustine, Florida
School: St. Augustine High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: St. Augustine, Florida
Host District: 4420
Host Club: Rotary Club de Santos

My Bio

Oi! My name is Luke Mahan and next year I have the amazing opportunity to live in Brasil for a year! I am incredibly excited for this opportunity. I am 18 years old and am a senior at St. Augustine High School. My Sister, Sara, was a Rotary exchange student 4 years ago and went to Spain. Going to visit her and see her assimilation into a foreign culture really inspired me to take on this challenge myself.

My Father, Mark, is a port engineer and manages ship repairs for big shipping companies. He’s my best friend and I enjoy working on old cars and motorcycles together with him at our shop. My Mother, Leah, is a first grade teacher at St. John’s Academy, a private school I went to for K-8.

A little bit more about me, I’m a super big car and motorsport guy. I love tinkering with all things mechanical. I love taking machines apart and putting them back together (most of the time haha). I love watching Formula 1 and Endurance racing and someday hope to get involved in the sport. I’m very fascinated with engineering of all kinds. I’m looking forward to spending this year abroad and really learning about other cultures as well as myself. Thank you Rotary for this amazing opportunity!

Journals: Luke – Brazil 2015-2016

  • Luke, outbound to Brazil

Greetings again from down south!

It’s been a little while since I wrote my last journal. I can’t help but feel guilty limiting all these amazing experiences here to a short journal entry. Christmas and New years has come and gone with its emotional roller coaster. Time seems to slip away like sand through my hands, falling more rapidly with each passing month.

Summer break has ended and school has started again. The usual grind of classes accelerates time, yet a new class and meeting new people continues to breathe new life and different understandings into my surroundings. It’s different this time. I can finally communicate fluently with people and share my thoughts and emotions easily. I feel that I can begin to connect with people on a deeper level than just the usual “Hey where are you from, and do you like Brasil?” speech.

Speaking a person’s native tongue allows you to step into their own culture. You begin to understand why certain things that appeared so strange to you upon arrival, exist as they do. It lets you enjoy a casual conversation with a stranger on the street. It lets you feel more confident in yourself when you’re able to explain a complex order to a waiter. It lets you enjoy dancing and laughing with friends during carnaval. It lets you discover new music and expand your music tastes. It also lets you empathize with close friends as they share their own personal struggles with you. You think deeply about how you would try to handle a lack of job opportunities, rampant corruption, massive wealth gaps, and an incredible cynicism of the future for your country.

Brasil is not in a good place right now. I don’t need to elaborate, you can see it on the news and the currency exchange rate. It is painfully obvious to any person living here. This certainly creates an uncomfortably situation for an exchange student from the United States. How do you respond when countless bright and young teenagers in school tell me that they are trying to move to the US as soon as possible for work, often times leaving behind their families? Part of me is proud that my country can represent opportunity to people around the world to create a better life for themselves. People always joke that exchange students and international travelers are the most unpatriotic snobs. But, after living in a foreign country for almost 6 months now, I can’t help but feel a powerful pride in my home country. But it’s a different kind of pride. It’s not a blind pride of relishing in past greatness and staunch nationalism. Rather, it’s a pride that my country opens its arms to the “tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” of the world and hopes to become stronger through diversity. We don’t “Make America great again” by closing our doors and trying to emulate the past. Rather we need to connect with what makes us human, and look boldly into the future.

I feel for the Brasilian people. I have fallen in love with their culture and language. I have felt incredibly welcomed and a wonderful sense of warmth from so many people. I would argue that Brasil is one of, if not the best country in the world for a cultural exchange. The people are beautiful inside and out and genuinely love to share their emotions with you. There’s a reason dinner reservations are made for 3-4 hour time blocks. Everyone enjoys socializing!

I just finished a book last week called “Why Nations Fail.” It was a very lengthy, yet compelling read. It just made me feel good to be a human. The main premise was this: Nations can only grow and prosper when political and economic institutions are designed to be inclusive and allow every member of society to have a hope to participate in the future. This is how people’s beautiful and unique gifts are able to create disruptive technologies which ultimately improve the standard of living for every member of society and continue to allow freedom of expression.

I feel a personal connection with the Brasilian people and hope they can weather this storm. I see the beautiful personalities and artistic gifts of so many people and am inspired in humanity. I see dedicated and hardworking entrepreneurs like my host dad and see hope for innovation. I hope very much that the society as a whole can make a stand against massive corruption and continue to grow along with the other BRIC countries in the world.

I again can’t say enough thanks to Rotary and my host family. I feel a wonderful warmth and genuine sense of caring from them all. Even if they don’t see this, I wanted to recognize the many people who make exchange possible.

Wed, February 10, 2016

  • Luke, outbound to Brazil

Embarrassments, laughter, awkwardness, plateaus, and moments of feeling on top of the world. What do all these have in common? Being an exchange student.

Summer has just started here (weird, I know), and school is out! My simple life here just got much more simple.
Some of the things I’ve been up to lately:

-Waking up around 12-1pm usually 🙂

-Struggling desperately to not gain an exorbitant amount of weight. They weren’t kidding about “The exchange 15.”

-I just joined a Hawaiian canoe club. It’s really popular here and an awesome workout! It’s always interesting trying to stay in sync with 15 other people in an outrigger canoe and understand what the heck they’re saying! Finally starting to get rid of my farmer’s tan. It’s an amazing way to enjoy the nature here and meet more locals. Any exchange student in Santos should definitely try it once.

-Eating lots of beans and rice “feijão com arroz”

-Lots of running on the beach

-Watching lots of futebol with Brasilians. I honestly didn’t care much for soccer before coming here. After my first week I realized that Futebol is a religion, Pele is the Lord, and you better not like the club from the neighboring city! My city, Santos, is playing tonight in the final round of “Copa do Brasil” (the national championship). Needless to say, many games have been nervously watched and cheered on, leading up to tonight. It has been very exciting. I would strongly encourage any exchange student coming to Brasil to at least follow a little futebol from your city as it is a great way to strike up a fun conversation with plenty of locals.

-Eating more feijão com arroz

-Making a fool of myself as always trying to make jokes with people. Nothing boosts your self confidence more like hearing crickets when no one understands what you said 🙂 🙂 🙂
-Feeling awesome after carrying a conversation with a friend for a couple hours in Portuguese

-Having circles ran around me trying to play futebol with locals. They’re really good!

-In search of a samba club and want to take classes…

-Making new friends almost anywhere I go. Brasilians are incredibly friendly and love to talk. A quick bite to eat at a restaurant can turn into 4 hours of conversation, usually culminating in a nice “cafezinho” to wake you back up.

-Discovering new places in my city all the time. Santos is HUGE (430k people). And there’s always something going on here.

-Did I mention feijão com arroz?

-Thanksgiving day was an odd experience. It was the first time I had been away from my family for the holiday and I definitely felt a bit empty. Skype is pretty dang cool though. It’s an amazing time to be alive. Being an exchange student 30-40 years ago would be a dramatically different experience.

Learning a new language in a foreign country is an incredible character building process. You feel like you’re running into a concrete wall, and when you least expect it, you realize you can actually hold a conversation. The way the brain works and trying to process everything is incredible. Don’t try to translate everything word for word. Just let your mind flow. It’s very akin to how we learn song lyrics by just hearing them over and over again without realizing it. A little studying verbs and phrases goes a long way though. I always try to think in Portuguese and that helps tons.

It’s starting to dawn on me how fast this year is going to fly by. I’m over 3.5 months in and the weeks keep ticking off. Re-adjusting is going to be incredibly difficult and I am not looking forward to it. I am already a very different person from who I was when I left home and it will be weird to return.

Exchange changes your life and world view in an incredibly rapid and dramatic way. You suddenly feel split between two cultures and aren’t sure what to make of it. You look back on the person you were before coming and see such a narrow minded and ignorant person. You have moments of feeling lost, unsure of where you fit into this crazy world we live in. You’re constantly rediscovering who you are every day and what you’re capable of.

I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything.

Wed, December 2, 2015

  • Luke, outbound to Brazil

Ola todo mundo! Tudo bem? Hello everyone, greetings from the beautiful city of Santos, Brasil! It has been a real whirlwind since I arrived here two months ago. I’ve already had so many amazing experiences that I will carry in my memories forever. I feel like the luckiest exchange student ever.

My flight and the travel went smoothly. I arrived at about 5am in Sao Paulo. Circling the city and seeing the massive sea of lights, it finally hit me that this was it. What I had been working towards for so long was about to begin.

I can’t say enough praises about my host family and city. My family has been absolutely wonderful to me. We get along so well. They just had a baby 8 months ago so it is nice to have a cute baby to take the attention away from “the exchange student” at family gatherings and events. My host mother slaves in the kitchen so many hours a day to put wonderful fresh meals and delicious fruit juices on the table. She is a saint, I love her. While it took me a little while to get adjusted to the cuisine (rice and beans at least once every day), now I feel like I can’t live without it.

Santos is a large port city located 2 hours outside of Sao Paulo on the coast. It has about 430,000 people. It has been an incredible change to live in an apartment in a big city. There is so much to do here in Santos. From cheering on my local futebol clube, going to concerts and baladas, or just enjoying a nice coconut water and pastel on the beach with good friends, there’s hardly ever a dull moment here. I have those “pinch me I must be dreaming” moments all the time. This past weekend I took a bus on my own to a suburb of Sao Paulo and cooked a Churrasco (Brasilian bbq) party with a bunch of exchange student friends. It was an accomplishing feeling to finally be able to communicate and travel on my own speaking Portuguese. It was also very cool to actually cook Churrasco this time after observing many Brasilian dads teach me their secrets.

If you weren’t an introspective person before exchange, you certainly will become one during it. So many times when you’re sitting clueless as to what people are talking about. So much time left to your own thoughts, wishing you could communicate. It’s nice to take a long run down the beach to clear my head. I’m finally starting to understand most all of conversations and can communicate, but it wasn’t easy. I’ve had to work very hard to learn this language. It is very different from English. The education system in the United States really does a poor job of preparing students going into international settings. It is pretty embarrassing to be surrounded by trilingual/quad-lingual European exchange students and all I know is English and broken Portuguese.

I can’t believe that almost 2 and a half months have already gone by. I can’t begin to thank Rotary enough for everything they’ve done to build this program. Both RYE Florida and Rotary Club de Santos have been very professional and devoted to my success and wellbeing. I feel incredibly fortunate to be where I am. I am especially thankful to Rob Overly for giving me this opportunity to live in Santos. I now understand why it is so fiercely defended by Rotex who lived here before me. I can’t wait to see where this year takes me. Thank you so much to everyone who has supported me thus far!

Mon, October 26, 2015

Madi - Brazil

Hometown: Saint Augustine, Florida
School: St. Augustine High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: St. Augustine, Florida
Host District: 4550
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Ilheus

My Bio

Olá! My name is Madison, and I am from St. Augustine. I was born and raised in Florida and have only been as far as Mexico. I come from a blended family which includes my dad, Brian, my step mom, Jessica and siblings of all varieties: Mallory, Mayson, Logan and Laney. I also spend much time with my mom, Kelly, who would just love to come to South America along with me. I go to Saint Augustine High School and am enrolled in the AICE program, as well as the St. Johns County Center for the Arts. I am also part of the dance team and have participated in various sports like softball, soccer, and swimming. In my free time, I hang out with my friends or watch movies with my siblings. I love going to the beach and can’t wait to spend summer on the beaches of Brazil. I’m so thankful that Rotary has given me this opportunity, and even more thankful that I’m going to Brazil. Portuguese is such a beautiful language, and I get the privilege to become fluent. I hope to give a positive portrayal of Americans as well as learn everything I can about the Brazilian culture. Obrigado, Rotary!

Journals: Madi- Brazil 2015-2016

  • Madi, outbound to Brazil

I arrived home from the Amazon today, so let me write this all down before I forget something. I apologize now for my horrid English. So the first day we went to Presidente Figueiredo. We ate typical amazon food so lots of fish and yummy rice. These days were fun minus the cockroaches and spiders we found all in our hotel room, but we are were in the Amazon so of course there will be bugs.

We went on a hike through the forest and saw some waterfalls and explored a cave. I got a great video of Nicole falling on her butt as we were going downhill through the mud. In the night we hung out at the hotel and played games like “what are the odds” which is always fun and a good way to get to know eachother. We went to a few zoos near the city where we saw monkeys and parrots, etc.

One of the days we went to a giant waterfall where we jumped off a dock and swam all day. We stayed at that hotel for a few nights then moved to a 5-star hotel in Manuas. This was quite a change. We swam in the pool and played soccer with the other exchange students. There were about 90 of us on the trip. In the night we went to a show and watched some Brazilians dancing in an Amazon Rainforest themed show. They called us all on stage to dance with them and then we had a mini dance off.

We went to the market there and bought lots of presents for our fams the next day. We also went to a really old, beautiful theater in Manaus. The real fun started when we got on the boat. We had 3 boats and slept in them either 4 or 5 nights. I completely lost track of time on this trip. The boats had two stories and we slept in hammocks on the top. In these days we swam in the river and watched the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets that I have ever seen.

We took smaller boats to the forest and went on a survival hike through the forest with men that have stayed nights there with nothing but a knife and a few supplies from your backpack. We learned how to make fire with a cell-phone battery, how to make shelter from palmettos, how to trap animals and where to find them, what fruits you can eat, and I even ate a worm. Afterwards we had a delicious lunch of fish, farofa, and watermelon, using our hands to eat and a leaf as a plate, naturally.

This was an interesting day, but also the worst day for me because I was getting eaten alive by mosquitos, despite using every different type of repellent I could find and reapplying every 7 minutes. After this we took the boats back to the bigger boats. On the way, we swam in the river in the rain and had a war between biats of throwing seeds and berries etc.

One of the nights we went to an indigenious village and watched them perform typical dances and ceremonies. They even invited us to do a dance with them which was really cool and then we shopped a little at their market with all the things they made. A different day we went to a village of native people where they taught us how to make tapioca and acai from scratch. We also played soccer with some of the natives and then later had a mud fight in the rain. We went swimming in the river to wash it all of and did backflips off the boat.

In the night we would seperate girls and boys boats, so we could have shower dance parties at midnight and talk in our hammocks all night long. My favorite day was when we seperated into 4 small boats and a tour guide took us around. I was so lucky that I picked the best boat. We had the best tour guide and the best coordinator(Laura).

We were riding down the river and our tour guide stopped the boat because he spotted something in the tree. He climbs up it from the boat and brings us a sloth to hold and take pics with and then puts the little guy back in the tree. This was such a cool experience. He literally just plucked a sloth right from the rainforest. After this we stopped next to the forest near the trees and pulled out some bananas.

All of a sudden a dozen little monkeys are climbing all over us. At one point there were 6 monkeys climbing on my body from my lap to one sitting on my head and I think this was the happiest moment of my life. I had tears in my eyes. After the monkeys we went to a different spot and fished for piranhas and only the girls were able to actually catch any fish. And more monkeys came to hang with us.

After fishing, we drove the boat to an open part of the river and watched the sunset and we were the only boat that was there and we got to swim a well. This was probably the most peaceful moment of my life and I just swam there thanking God for making such a beautiful view. Once the sun went down we went through a small canal under a canopy of trees and caught us a baby gator. We got to hold it and it was so small but already it had 7 years of age. After that we went back to the big boat and ate and hung out. All the meals on the boat were delicious too.

The next day we swam with pink river dolphins near the beach. This was awesome and they weren’t shy at all and stayed swimming with us long after we stopped feeding them and all the fish were gone. On the last night we had a luau on the beach and ate and danced and had a final party before we had to get back on the boat and head to the city. We slept on the boat for our last night and it stormed so heavy all through the night, which represented our feelings of saying goodbye I think. Surprisingly I slept great in the hammock every night and I actually miss it right now as I sit in my bed writing this. When we got back to Manaus we went shopping. Thank God for that because I did not have one single peice of clean clothes left, and we found Mexican food.

After shopping we went to the airport and said our goodbyes and everyone went in their different directions. This trip was an amazing experience, but really it is thanks to the coordinatos Ron and Laura. They really treated us as their equals and considered us friends instead of a bunch of kids they have to look after. So a big thanks to them for the experience of a lifetime!

Fri, May 13, 2016

  • Madi, outbound to Brazil

Christmas in Brazil is celebrated on Christmas Eve and the whole family gets together and exchanges gifts and eats lots of food. It felt more like Thanksgiving than Christmas, but maybe because it was about 88 degrees and not a normal cold Christmas Day. I went to the beach on Christmas Day, like it was any other normal day.

New Years here was sooo fun. I spent a week at a friend’s house and went to 3 days of concerts and shows on Batuba Beach with thousands of other people. New Year’s Eve was one of the best days because I was also with the other exchnage students and we snuck are way into the VIP area where we got free food(very important on exchange). On New Year’s in Brazil everyone is in white. White symbolizes the peace everyone wants for the new year. You can also wear yellow, to symbolize you want gold/money, red, for love, etc. However, with everyone in white it made it very hard when asking my friends if they thought “that guy there. In the white shirt” was hot. Overall a great night/morning with friends and fam.

Carnaval in my city was the last weekend in January and it was so fun! It wasn’t super crowded like the one in Salvador, and it was much easier to run away when creepy guys tried to kiss you. Basically we just danced in the street all night and followed the music.
Carnaval in Salvador was crazyyy. The first day we(20-30 exchange students and Rotex) were on the ground following a bloc. Following a bloc just means that you follow a trio and by follow I mean you get pushed around in a mosh-pit with matching shirts. Carnaval is NOT for the claustrophobic. You are pushed up against strangers and everyone is just mixing sweat while jumping up and down to the music. And there are quite a few fights that break out(because the majority of everyone is drunk). Although it doesn’t sound too glamarous, it was extremely fun. The second day we spent half the time on the ground and the other half on a trio. Being on the trio was fun because you can blow kisses to strangers and never see them again. Also, if you accidentally dump water on someone’s girlfriend, the super scary, strong boyfriend can’t chase after you because he doesn’t have the bracelet to enter. However, if someone is very determined to reach you on the trio, they wi ll. Like in the case of my older siser that was visiting me and came to Carnaval with us; she blew a kiss to a guy on the ground and he managed to climb up the emergency ladder of the trio(a difficult feat) and get his well-deserved kiss from my sister.
I got to go to a 3rd day of Carnaval because I got lucky and the super awesome German family I was staying with, took the 4 of us girls that were staying in their house. We were in Camarote this time, so we just ate a lot of free food and watched the trios and blocs pass from a nice, spacious upper area. When we were leaving we saw a sea of white headed towards ur, and this sea of white were the Sons of Gandhi. They dress in all white and blue with hundreds of blue and white bead necklaces around their necks and a bottle of perfume in their hands. If you kiss them they spray you with perfume and give you a bead necklace. An excellent addition to my blazer.

The next week was my birthday and my sister and her friend came to visit. It was nice to show them around my new home and we went to the beaches and the iate clube.
This past week, the exchange students from my city and the next city over, were on the news and then went to a Rotary meeting where I got to speak a little speech that we all wrote about the influence of exchange. It was my first time speaking in front of a Rotary Club for more than 15 seconds. I was so nervous and could never have been able to do that 2 months ago, but I think my Portuguese is improving and I definitely felt that at the meeting.

Me and two friends got to go to a beautiful waterfall with their mom and swim around for the day, which was awesome and made me forget that vacations already ended.
Tomorrow I will change families for the first time! I will surely miss my family now. I love my mom and little brother, but am excited for a new experience with a family that is super welcoming.

Mon, February 29, 2016

  • Madi, outbound to Brazil

I have been here 3 months now and it feels like time is flying by. I’m on summer vacation now until around February. It’s the holiday season, so I know we are supposed to be getting homesick around now, but it’s pretty hard when you live in paradise. Since summer started this is my daily routine; wake up, usually eat lunch because I slept in, go to the beach or the yacht club with friends, get an acai bowl(every day), go home, shower, eat again, and then go out again with friends. Usually someone is having some type of get together because it’s summer, so we go to that and try to be taught how to dance.
The dances consist mostly of just shaking your butt. #Brasil
15th birthdays here are a very big deal and the birthday person has a giant, fancy party and you dance until the sun comes up.

The Rotary Christmas party was very nice and we all made food from our country. I made Shephard’s pie and it seemed to be liked because it was almost gone when I left. The exchange students from my city all went to Itabuna for a Blue November event and we got to go to their interact meeting and then the event the next morning, which was very fun even though it was about 90 degrees. We went to another event at a school where we dressed up in costumes and danced with a bunch of 4-7 year olds. It was fun but my hands were extremely sticky after, I don’t think I could ever be a pre-k teacher.

Every day is so hot. Lock yourself in the bathroom and you have a private sauna. By the time you step out of the shower, you’re sweating again. I would think maybe I’d be losing weight because I walk every where and am always sweating, but nope. The food is so good and I am always eating. Why is there so much bread and why am I always craving a ham/cheese/egg sandwhich? Pastel and coxinha are also too hard to pass up. And for dessert banana frita.

The language is coming along. I can talk to people and get my point across, but my grammar is awful and I speak veryyyyyyyy slowwwwwww. I like texting Brazilians because it helps so much when you can read the word and it’s so much easier to understand and learn.

Something that is differnt in Brazil is time. I don’t mean the time change. If you are invited to a party at 6, plan to be at least 2 hours late because that’s when the party will actually start. And if someone says that we’ll leave here in a moment, be prepared to stay another hour. Another thing that is different is that when you finally arrive to wherever you’re going, you can’t just wave hello to everyone. You need to individually kiss each person on the cheek. It doesn’t matter if you don’t remember their name, just do it.

I really love it here and can’t imagine what life is going to be like back home. When I was saying bye to my family a year seemed like ages, but now 8 months seems like way too soon.

Tue, December 22, 2015

  • Madi, outbound to Brazil

Bom dia!!!!! Brazil is absolutely amazing. And Ilhéus specifically, is the best place in the world.

Saying bye to my family at the airport was extremely sad but also the most empowering feeling, because once you pass through security, you are on your own. Your heart is almost beating through your chest and you feel like a total badass in your Rotary blazer. The panicking did come though. My first time on a plane and I had 5 minutes to navigate the Atlanta International Airport so I didn’t miss my connection. Once in the Brasilia airport it really hit me. I’m in Brazil. I can’t speak Portuguese. And why is everyone staring at me? After being given the wrong gate number and waiting there for about an hour, I realized the mistake and rushed to the correct gate and was on my way to my new home. Brazillians are the most welcoming people I’ve ever met, so naturally there was an army waiting for me at the airport. So many strangers hugging and kissing me and speaking things I couldn’t understand. But as an exchange student you just have to go with it. The first few weeks just consisted of smiling and nodding because what else can you do when you have no idea what’s going on.

Every day at noon I have lunch at my grandmother’s house next door, which I dreaded the first week because the food made me sick and I felt awkward. Now I enjoy going over there because I get to do every exchange student’s favorite thing; eat. And I can understand some of what is being said.

I started school my second day here. The school is like a castle and overlooks the ocean. I am in the second year so everyone is about 15-17, making me the oldest in the class. I only notice I’m with younger people when I talk to a boy classmate and they start yelling for us to kiss like in the 5th grade. Other than that, people are pretty cool. The teachers switch and not the students, so we sit in the same spot from 1:30-7 which is extrememly boring and takes up the whole day because the sun goes down at 5ish. Lucky for me, yesterday was my last day of school because everyone else has tests which I don’t have to take.

I got to go to Salvador for 4 days because I missed orientation with the other exchange students. This was aweome! I stayed with an exchange student from Saint Louis and his extremely generous family. They gave us a personal tour of Salvador (the mom knew ALL the history) and they took us out on the boat and we island hopped and swam in the clearest water.

I went another trip with my school to Chopada Diamantina for 3 days. This trip was a mix of emotions because I made friends which was good but also felt like such an outsider because I couldn’t understand the jokes, the music, the games, etc. But I saw the most beautiful scenery, waterfalls, mountains, crystal clear lakes, caves endless stars and the moon rising over the mountain. We got to snorkel and explore caves, and snorkel in caves. A very cool trip.

My Portuguese is coming along aka I can understand most things but not really respond so well. Speaking in a language you don’t know is scary. Mainly because I emberass myself daily. Telling my host mom “I ate bread” but the word for bread is almost pronounced the same exact way as the word for male genitalia, and of course I always accidentally say the latter. I don’t know how she doesn’t laugh in my face because I started cracking up when she was trying to tell me our zumba teacher was gay, but mixed up the words gay and bit#%.

Some Differences:
1. There are no rules to the road
2. Barely any traffic lights and stop signs are only suggestions
3. You can see the ocean from anywhere you are
4. You see someone you know everywhere you go
5. You have to greet everyone with a hug and kiss on the cheek
6. Everyone is always eating something, making it very easy to gain the Exchange 15
7. People take multiple showers a day
8. I’m “rich” here
9. I have to wash my own underwear and hang them to dry
10. Everyone can dance!
11. Small bikinis are beautiful not promiscuous
12. Brazilian food is NOTHING like Mexican food
13. Beans and rice are an everyday thing

I think that’s everything. Thank you Rotary! & FAM Exchange is amazing and I can’t imagine what I would be doing if I wasn’t here. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU

Fri, October 23, 2015

Max - Chile

Hometown: Saint Johns, Florida
School: Allen D. Nease Senior High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Ponte Vedra Beach Sunset, Florida
Host District: 4340
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Talca

My Bio

My name is Maxwell Alexander Nelson, but please, just call me Max. I am a 17-year-old senior in the IB program at Nease High School. I am from Saint Johns, where I live with my family: mom, dad, and twin sister, between the cities of Jacksonville and St. Augustine.

Next year is an adventure that I can’t wait to unfold. I have wanted to be an exchange student for as long as I can remember. As someone born and raised in Florida, I have the burning desire to strike a path outside our borders. I can’t wait to experience someplace entirely foreign and I can’t believe this is finally happening.

At school, my favorite subjects are history and Spanish, which I have studied for many years. I participate in many clubs, including drama, photography, and Interact. I am the president of both the Young Republicans and the International Students Club. When I am not at school, I love all things aquatic: boating, sailing, swimming, and more. A favorite for the past few years is the sport of rowing and I’ve had the chance to compete at the Florida State Rowing Championship three times.

In the future, I plan to attend a university to study global health and international business. One day, I hope to work for an international organization such as the United Nations or the World Health Organization. South America has always intrigued me and I know that my year in Chile will give me so many opportunities, both today and in the future. Thank you to everyone who is making this possible!

Journals: Max – Chile 2015-2016

  • Max, outbound to Chile

If you eat too much avocado does your skin turn green?

That was a legitimate worry when I first arrived to the Republic of Chile. Now, eating my weight in avocado on a monthly basis is a completely normal part of my Chilean life.

That’s right, life. I no longer feel like I’m the outsider here in Chile. Instead, I feel like Chile is my home. I have friends here, family, I fit in. For the first time, I had a full conversation with a stranger without her realizing that I’m a foreigner, the ultimate compliment for an exchange student.

As it is summer in the Southern Hemisphere, I’m on break from school. Because of that, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to travel. From Argentina, to Patagonia, to the coastal city and UNESCO World Heritage Site of Valparaíso, I have had numerous opportunities to explore this long, skinny country that I call home.

Before coming to Chile, I was worried that over the summer I would be bored. In fact, its been quite the opposite. Every day it seems there is something new to explore. In my town’s quirky-but-quaint downtown, my fellow inbounds and I make it a habit to discover new things. From the coffee shop that most resembles American Starbucks, to the juice bar owned by the friendly Colombian, adventures never cease.

In just a few short months, my language skills have improved drastically. Today, I proudly consider myself a fluent Spanish speaker, even though not a day goes by when I don’t learn something new.

Chilean Spanish has definitely been a challenge, though. From centuries of virtual isolation from the rest of Latin America, Chilean Spanish has morphed into its own dialect, complete with its own grammar, slang, and accent. While my Spanish still isn’t quite Chilean (I’ve actually been told it sounds more Mexican or Cuban), I am always met with a smile whenever I try my best to use Chilean words. ¿Cachai po weon?

In short, I can’t believe that I’m already at the halfway point of my exchange. I’m so happy here, and I’m thankful to Rotary for the five past months, and grateful for the five left.


Sun, January 31, 2016

  • Max, outbound to Chile

Before I sat down to write this, I was brainstorming all the things I could include: how I’m practically fluent in Spanish, how I had the opportunity to travel to Easter Island, how much I love my Chilean family and friends… Really what it all boils down to, though, is what an amazing time I’m having here.

Though it is sometimes frustrating, I’m glad I chose to come to South America. While I wish that my house could have heat or the road be paved, it along with the tin roofs, numerous horses, and stray dogs, is just part of the bright Chilean character.

Every day is a new adventure. Of course, it’s not without bumps in the road. In religion class, I mixed up the words for “drunk” and “Hebrew”, for example, but it’s just part of the territory. Chilean Spanish is not what I learned in school. Consonants are optional, and sometimes they seem to make up the grammar as they go along. They still tell me I have a weird accent, like a Mexican or Cuban, but I guess that’s better than sounding like a gringo!

While I have yet to really be homesick, there are definitely moments that I miss home. I would give everything just to be able to sit at home on my couch with my parents, sister, and cat, watching the Gators with Publix chicken in hand. However, I just remind myself how fortunate I am to be watching La Roja, the Chilean soccer team, eating empanadas alongside my host family, through the window the snow-capped Andes Mountains in the distance. Of course, my effort to incorporate myself into the culture doesn’t stop there.

September 18th was the Chilean national holiday, when I danced La Cueca, the Chilean national dance, in front of the whole school, sombrero, poncho, and all. Later, they had me dance the YMCA, and were completely shocked when I already knew the choreography, not understanding that it is common knowledge for every American.

That same week was a very strong earthquake. While very common in Chile, the most seismically active country in the world, the reactions of my friends and family alerted me that this one was different. All of a sudden, I heard this sound, like a tap-tap-tap. My first thought was that it was the dog coming up the wooden stairs, but then the door began to move in its hinges, and I realized that the sound was coming from the side of the desk hitting the wall.

Everything began to shake: the bed, the lamp, the chair. The dogs barked. The walls creaked.

When I stood up, the floor moved below me like the deck of a boat gently rocking from side to side. I had never experienced anything like it, and I hope I never have to again. In a split second I grabbed my coat (winter, remember?) and phone and carefully went down stairs and out into the driveway, Gari the dog still barking at my heels. Fortunately, I was far enough from the epicenter that everything was fine, but I was still pretty shaken up—pun intended.

Since then, at least 3 earthquakes have passed, so I’m now a seasoned earthquake veteran.

As the school year draws to a close, I can’t wait for summer vacation. I have trips planned to both Patagonia and Argentina, and I hope to spend my long summer days exploring my city with my friends. I am so thankful for everything Rotary has done, and I can’t wait to share more.

Que estén bien,
(That’s how they spelled Maxwell on my wristband at the doctor’s office)

Tue, November 10, 2015

  • Max, outbound to Chile

Fiesta. Siesta. Repeat.
Sounds pretty great, right? I think so. I’ve only been in Chile for a bit more than two weeks, and I’m already having the time of my life, but let’s start at the beginning.

I arrived in Santiago, Chile bright and early after a long night of travelling. Seeing the rising sun reflect of the Andes Mountains from the plane window is definitely a sight I will never forget, and it made the perfect welcome to my Chilean adventure.

When I got off the plane and cleared customs, I was greeted by my host family waving a big sign with my name on it, the Chilean and American flags, and a big fat cartoon alligator. I love them. Of course, I was expecting my host parents and sister to greet me at the airport; that was no surprise. What I didn’t expect was to see all the aunts, uncles, cousins, and even my 86-year-old abuela there as well! Latin families are so big and so close, and they were so fast to adopt me as their own. A group of Rotarians even performed La Cueca, the Chilean national dance for us at the airport to welcome all the new exchange students.

Upon leaving the airport, two things became immediately apparent: the weather and the mountains. Reading through the blogs of my fellow outbounds, I’ve noticed that many of them have mentioned the heat in their host countries. However, I’m having the opposite problem. It’s winter in South America, and I’m the only South American outbound far enough south to truly experience winter. Yes, it’s chilly in Chile. And yes, I’ve been waiting to make that pun for about 8 months now. Also, Santiago has some of the tallest buildings in South America, but you would never realize it because they are dwarfed by the mountains that surround the city. Seeing the beautiful mountains every day is definitely one of my greatest experiences so far. It’s as if they peak from behind the clouds to say “Oye, Max, you aren’t in Florida anymore.”

Chilean food is not what most people would expect. None of it is spicy. The chili pepper has an entirely different linguistic origin, and thus the only spicy food I’ve eaten is that seasoned with the sauce I brought from home. Every day we eat an obscene amount of bread and drink an absurd amount of coffee, even before bed. Chileans eat about 3.5 meals a day, give or take. The only constants are breakfast and lunch—the main meal, eaten at home. (Actually, I eat lunch at my abuela’s house because she lives closer to school). In the evening there is once, which is most like tea time, accompanied with bread, cheese, butter, and frequently avocado. La cena, or dinner, is only eaten sometimes. In my family, we usually merge it with once on the weekdays. When we do have dinner, it is usually the leftovers from lunch.

I was surprised to learn that Chileans don’t eat a lot meat, but when they do, shellfish is a very common choice. I have eaten shellfish of all shapes and sizes, including mussels, clams, shrimp, and abalone. My favorite meat, though, is the completo: a really big hot dog with avocado, onions, tomatoes, ample mayonnaise, ketchup, and mustard.

In my short time south of the equator, my favorite part has definitely been school. At school, I’m a celebrity. The younger students follow me around, and I shake more hands and pose for more pictures than I can count. Once, I was even late to history class because everyone wanted to talk to the gringo with blonde hair and green eyes. Fortunately, my uniform helps me to blend in—until I open my mouth.

That’s all for now. I’m off to take a siesta. Chao, hasta luego!

Fri, September 4, 2015

Mei - Taiwan

Hometown: Tallahassee, Florida
School: SAIL high School
Sponsor District : District 6940
Sponsor Club: Tallahassee, Florida
Host District: TBA
Host Club: TBA

My Bio

Hello, my name is Amelia Maddox but I prefer to be called Mei. I am an adventurous Chinese adoptee who will be traveling to Taiwan for the 2015-2016 year through the Rotary Youth Exchange. Yay!! I lived in Oregon with my mother until the start of fifth grade, when we moved to Florida. Middle school years were hard, but whose isn’t? High school on the other hand, has been absolutely amazing. I love my courses, my fellow students, and my teachers. Although I’m very much a science and math person, my favorite courses are related to history. Whenever I’m not at school, you can find me in my robotics club (I’m team captain) or playing Ultimate Frisbee. I am outgoing, optimistic, and full of curiosity. I find other cultures fascinating and always am seeking ways to expand my horizons. For years I’ve wanted to experience a culture from a non-tourist perspective. Rotary Youth Exchange provided the opportunity for me to do so. While I’m in Taiwan, I’ll face challenges and most likely some homesickness at first. Ultimately, however, I hope to grow as an individual and return with a new understanding of the world. Thank you, Rotary, for this amazing opportunity!

Mikayla - Slovakia

Hometown: Clermont, Florida
School: East Ridge High School
Sponsor District : District 6980
Sponsor Club: South Lake County (Clermont), Florida
Host District: 2240
Host Club:The Rotary Club of Bratislava

My Bio

Ahoj! Volam sa Mikayla. Hello! My names Mikayla. I’m currently 18 years old and attend East Ridge high school in Clermont, Florida. Originally I’m from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (I’m still a Brewers, Packers & Badgers fan at heart) The transition was surprisingly easy for me to adapt to. Even though I was going from a winter wonderland to a tropical peninsula. I’ve had to overcome a lot in my life time, the weather was the least of my worries. The most challenging part was facing the reality that my biological parents were unsuitable to raise kids. So both my brother Dawson and I were adopted by my grandparents. Looking back, it was actually the best thing that happened to me. My life story is what made me a stronger person. It also allowed my opportunities to grow over a mile long and to become a successful student. At school I’m involved in a program called “Teen Transcenders” that helps tutor elementary children. I’m also on the Swim team. I enjoy taking photos and listening to music in my spare time. I’ve traveled around the world, to Europe on an “educational tour” of Italy, France, and Spain. I’ve also been to the Dominican Republic on a mission’s trip for my church, The Crossing. However I wanted to challenge myself by switching from a tourist to an actual citizen. I never would have imagined a years ago this is where I’d be… in the Rotary Youth Exchange program preparing myself to spend a year in SLOVAKIA! The most ironic thing is that I’m actually part Czechoslovakian. Now I’m able to learn and live out my heritage. A year ago I was still day dreaming about what it would be like to be an exchange student and now it’s turned into reality.

Journals: Mikayla – Slovakia 2015-2016

  • Mikayla, outbound to Slovakia

Slovakia is not a popular choice for any exchange student to put on their top five, and I must admit at first I was a little skeptical, but after being here for a month it would have knocked out all the clique tourist countries I wrote down and been my number one choice. This small country has so much to offer and a lot of hidden beauty. Fun Fact: Slovakia is the “heart” of Europe, it’s in the exact center.

First Host Family:
All year I will be living in Bratislava, the capital city.
I am currently staying with a single host mom who only speaks Slovak not English, while her daughter is on exchange in the United States. Before I arrived, my biggest worry was we would have a major language barrier and never be able to form a close relationship. Now I’ve realized I was worrying for nothing. I’m actually learning Slovak faster and we are closer than ever. The other day she introduced me as her daughter, not her exchange student and it made me feel really special. It’s just us and Kola, a dog. She was named after Kofola, a Slovak beverage brand that is sort of like a version of Coke.

First Few Weeks
By the time I arrived, I had 2 weeks of summer left but my host mom still had work so sometimes she would bring me with her to her job. She introduced me to her collogues who had kids my age, who introduced me to their friends, now we’re one big group of friends. One in which owned a lake house where we went to spend the day and go swimming. During other times, her brother spent a lot of time showing me around the city. He showed me all the major land marks and castles, took me to see his sons hockey game, get coffee or ice cream. Bratislava is a beautiful city within itself, but there is a lot of graffiti everywhere.

Public Transportation
In the states I am so use to driving everywhere by car, but here in the city they use trams, trolleybuses, buses, and their own two feet to get from place to place. At first it was a little intimidating.. using the 24 hour system to determine when my form of transportation would arrive or depart and also figuring out how to plan out my way, but now I’ve got the hang of it.

First Day of School
I am currently attending Gymnazium Jura Hronca.
Since I graduated in the states, I do not receive grades here. However, I’m required to attend school every day. This school is a bilingual school, so some of my classes are in English but mostly Slovak. The exchange students at this school are very lucky because we have a teacher teaching us Slovak. The schedule is very confusing. Each day of the week is different. We have a main classroom where most of our classes are held and switch classes sometimes. When the teacher enters the room, all the students stand and wait to be told to take a seat. I’m with the same group of students all day, which is great because it’s pushed us all to become so closer.

The national dish is Bryndzové Halušky, potato dumplings with sheep cheese and bacon. Slovak food is great, but they serve really large portions and most Slovaks eat really fast… so I’m always the last one eating. Almost everyone here in Slovakia owns their own garden, something you don’t normally see in Florida with having sand instead of dirt. When Slovaks are finished eating, they place their eating utensils on the right side of the plate to signify that the food was good; if it was bad they place the fork and knife in a form of an X. Another thing, they don’t refrigerate milk until they open the box it comes in.

Thu, January 7, 2016

Natalie - Turkey

Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: St. Augustine High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: St. Augustine, Florida
Host District: 2430
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Adana Seyhan

My Bio

Merhaba! My name is Natalie and I live in St. Augustine with my mom, brother, sister, and two cats, Mr. Fluffy Pants and Thomas. My mom is a nurse in surgery, my brother is a freshman in high school, and my sister is in seventh grade. I’m a senior at Saint Augustine High School and I’m so excited to graduate!! I currently work two jobs; my first job is at restaurant on the beach called Salt Water Cowboys and my second job is at a store for teen girls called Justice. I love to read books in my spare time, I’m a bookworm. I also like to go to the beach during the summer with my friends and love to shop. During the summer, I volunteer at the hospital in outpatient surgery and I love it!!

After my exchange, I plan on attending the University of Central Florida to go to medical school. I’m so beyond grateful for this opportunity to go to Turkey!! I love Greek mythology and ancient Roman history, so Turkey is perfect for me!! I am so excited to travel all around Turkey and Europe and to broaden my views. Thank you to everyone who made this opportunity possible for me! Daha sonra görüşmek üzere!

Journals: Natalie – Turkey 2015-16

  • Natalie, outbound to Turkey

Merhaba arkadaşlar,

So it’s been a little while since I last wrote a journal and month 6 is about to begin in a week. It’s really hitting me that exchange is flying by and I leave in June, and I don’t think I’m prepared one bit for my exchange to end. At the beginning of my exchange I would think, “I have a whole year to accomplish everything I want to and to learn Turkish fully”, only I was completely wrong. Yes, I have accomplished a lot in the five months I’ve been here and have come very far with learning Turkish, making best friends from all over the world, creating a family connection with two Turkish families, and making memories that will last me a lifetime. But, if I could go back to August 8th and tell myself one thing, I would remind myself to salvage every minute that I have in my new home country. I’ve also have had time to reflect on how grateful and thankful I am for every person in my life, here in Turkey and back in America. Being over 7 ,000 miles away from your family really helps a person to realize and acknowledge how important your family is and how much you really truly do love them. So thank you specifically to my mom who has been my main supporter and there for me through all the weird and amazing things that have happened to me since I left home.

So most future exchange students are probably curious about how the holidays were away from home, but all I can say about it, is that it’s a different experience for everyone. I have an amazing host family that wants to celebrate and incorporate my American traditions into their families as well as the Turkish traditions, so my host parents threw a Thanksgiving dinner party with family and friends. I also had an American exchange student who lives on the other side of Turkey in a city called Samsun come stay with me for a couple days. Between the dinner, having my friend, and my amazing family, I really didn’t experience any home sickness because I felt the meaning of Thanksgiving, being thankful for what you have and loving the people around you. As for Christmas, I was very fortunate to go on a Rotary trip with all my exchange friends to probably the most beautiful and unrecognized city called Cappadocia. I’ll explain what Cappadocia is in a minute, but Christmas didn’t really feel like Christmas. Turkey is about 99% Muslim, so Christmas Day is just another ordinary day for the Turks, but being with the other exchange students really helped spread some Christmas cheer, so I didn’t feel very homesick because I was very busy on Christmas Day.

Cappadocia definitely needs to be one of the seven wonders of the ancient world and it makes me so mad that it’s not. Cappadocia is rich with history and natural beauty and truly looks like it came straight from a fairytale. Around 1800-1200 BC, the area of Cappadocia, called Göreme, was occupied by the Hitties and later sat on the borders of the Persian and Greek empires and later Roman and Byzantine empires. Göreme being located on the border offered protection for some locals in the rocks, so the locals began carving and living in these rocks. Early Christians also used the caves to hide from prosecution from the Roman Empire, and in the 7th century, many monks created monasteries in these caves and rocks and painted Byzantine frescos, which are still preserved and there today in its original form. Seeing those original Christian paintings that were taken straight from the bible was so beautiful and humbling. Around 400 BC, the largest underground city was dug and carved and was used throughout history as a place of refugee. The city goes to about 2600 feet deep and is very detailed
Exchange has taught me so much about myself and who I am as a person and that you have to focus on yourself and who you are before you can worry about others. People will come and go and they come and leave your life for a reason, but family will always be there, even your host families. There are a lot of stereotypes about Turkey, the culture, and the religion, but you can’t always believe what you hear. To any exchange students coming to Turkey in the future: you are very very lucky to experience this beautiful country in a way a lot of people don’t get to and I hope you can treasure every waking moment and live your exchange to the fullest.

Till next time, Görüşürüz


Mon, January 4, 2016

  • Natalie, outbound to Turkey

Merhaba, arkadaşlar!

It’s been two and a half months here in my beautiful country. I can’t believe how time is flying already, it honestly still feels like I’m living in a dream and will wake up any minute and be back in Florida. I can’t even grasp the fact that I live in a country 7,000 miles away from “home” and I’ve created a life for myself here. I have friends, I have a home, I have school, and most of all, I have begun to find myself.

So, since my last journal I started Turkish school. I was so nervous and did NOT want to go, and it wasn’t like a typical teenager feeling of not wanting to go to school, I was completely and utterly terrified. I was scared I wasn’t going to fit in with my classmates, not be able to communicate at all, and that I wasn’t going to enjoy it…… but I have never been more wrong. I love love love love school!!!! I have made so many friends and been accepted as one of them, it is such an awesome thing to see; a group of kids accepting a foreign girl into their lives.

Even though there is some issues communicating with my teachers and classmates, because they don’t know much English or none at all, I look forward to school. I wear a uniform, which they are very lenient with. My uniform consists of a yellow/brownish skirt or pants, any type of sneakers, and any school tee-shirt, however, I cannot wear makeup, nail polish, or wear earrings. Turkish school is very different from school in Florida. Firstly, the bus picks me up in front of my apartment building around 7:25 every morning, but the bus isn’t the typical “yellow bus”, it’s a very nice and small bus with air-conditioning. I then arrive at school around 8, and go to my classroom on the third floor of the high school building. There are several buildings in my school, there is a pre-school, elementary school, middle school, high school, cafeteria, gym, pool, dance studio, art studio, and a music area.

The first class of every day is “home-room” which is just 15 minutes, then the day really begins. The schedule differs from day to day, some classes repeated throughout the week. I take biology, chemistry, math, history, religion, philosophy, guidance, Turkish literature, English, German, PE, physics, and art. Classes are 40 minutes with 10 minute breaks between each class, and an hour break for lunch. Typically, with the core classes, there are two lessons back to back, like for example, on Thursday morning, my first two classes are physics, with a 10 minute break in the middle. During the breaks, students are free to do or go where within the school, and use their cell phones, which is something I’m not used to. Lastly, about lunch. Lunch like in American schools, changes day to day, but the school lunch is amazing. The cafeteria has several flat screen T.V.s and they play popular music, either American or Turkish, and at every table there is a pitcher of water and glasses. The lunch tables don’t look like American lunch tables either, they have picnic tables or like little cafe tables.

I tried two Turkish food/drinks that aren’t very normal, one is more abnormal though. First, I drank “banana milk” or “ muse süt”, and it was reallllyyyyy gooood!! Second, my exchange friend from Tawain, Apple, and I tried “şırdan”. It was the worst thing I’ve ever eaten…. It’s famous in Adana, so mostly all people born and raised in Adana love it. Basically, şırdan is goat intestine. It’s cleaned and stuffed with rice, then sewn, and boiled. It looks awful, tastes awful, and smells awful. But, as Bob White, my country coordinator in Florida said, “ I hope you have consumed something that you never thought you would eat in your life.  If not, you are missing something”. So that’s that! Until next time my friends.

Güle Güle!!

Thu, October 8, 2015

  • Natalie, outbound to Turkey

Today I experienced being lost for the first time by myself and it was one of the scariest feelings I’ve ever experienced. I got on the normal bus to get to the other city center near my house and it took a detour which was odd. The bus driver was very angry and stopped the bus in an area I’d never been to and made everyone on the bus get off. I had no idea where I was and nobody spoke English, I felt so sick to my stomach. I found some woman who spoke no English and I explained, in the best Turkish I could, that I had no idea where I was and I was trying to get to T. Ozal and she helped me to get onto a different bus. I am very fortunate to be in a country that the people are known for their hospitality, because even though there is an obvious language barrier, the people want to help in any way they can. Every exchange student has this type of experience, I think it’s honestly one of the best ways to learn your surroundings and it forces you to speak the language even if your scared.

So, I’ve experienced three very important Turkish events in the past couple weeks. First I went to a celebration called Sünnet. Sünnet is an Islamic and Jewish religious tradition in which circumcision is performed on boys typically aged at 7 or 8. After the circumcision, the parents of the boy throw a huge party for the boy, where family members, friends, and strangers will attend and eat a lot of food and dance all night. The boy wears traditional clothing( usually a cape, a sash and a crown) and the people at the sünnet put gold onto the boy’s cape as a present. It’s a very strange celebration, but very interesting, haha.

Next, I went to a Turkish wedding, which are very different from American weddings. In a traditional American wedding the bride walks down the “aisle” with her father, but in Turkey, the bride and groom walk up to their seat which is elevated near the stage. There is a lot, and when I say a lot, I mean A LOT of dancing to traditional music. When it comes time for the bride and groom to get married, they sign in a book in front of a government official and then the groom kisses the bride on the forehead. There aren’t any bridesmaids or grooms men, but the bride and groom choose one person each to be their “witness” for their marriage. In some Turkish weddings, people will throw American money when people are dancing, which is meant for the band and workers at the wedding. Unfortunately, my friend and I were not aware that it was meant for the workers and we took the money that was thrown at us by some old man, haha.

The last event that I was apart of was Bayram. Bayram is an Islamic holiday in which Muslims will sacrifice a sheep/goat and donate part of it to the poor and eat part of it. Families will all get together to visit and there is a lot of eating and “ Iyi Bayramlar”.

About the food, at the beginning I wasn’t the biggest fan of the meals here, but I have come to love everything and I’ve gained a little bit of weight :(. For breakfast, which is “kahvaltı”, the traditional Turks will eat cucumbers, tomatoes, special bread called Simit, millions of different cheese, olives, yogurt, and Turkish tea, called “çay”. For lunch and dinner it really differs, just with any culture. My family and I eat a lot of kofte, which can be compared to a meatball, but it has a different taste, in a red sauce with potatoes, and a mix of fresh vegetables, like zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, onions, scallions, squash, etc. Another really popular dinner/lunch is Kebab, especially in Adana, my city. Adana is the founding city of the kebab, and its eaten with onion,bread, parsley, tomatoes, green and red peppers, and a lot of random vegetables.

Adapting to the Turkish culture and language was difficult, but I am finally starting to feel like I belong here. I can not imagine myself in college right now or in a different country other than Turkey. Maybe I can convince Rotary to let me go on exchange again next year, (double gap year?) :))?!?!? As hard as it has been, I love the life I have begun to build for myself. Like other exchange kids have said in their journals, this is NOT a vacation, although you do get to go on very very many vacations, this year is very hard, and it’s not for everyone. You have to be really dedicated to your exchange, because it’s very easy to think “I want to go home”, but you have to go out and explore or even just Skype with the other exchange kids in your country, because it will take your mind off things. This is truly and honestly a once in a lifetime opportunity and it shouldn’t be taken lightly, so if you are applying currently for Rotary, take it seriously, because you are extremely lucky to have this opportunity.

Güle Güle, Görüşürüz!!

Mon, September 28, 2015

  • Natalie, outbound to Turkey

Merhaba! As many of you know, there is a lot of events happening around Turkey currently, the most well known being IS. The past week or two, there have been some attacks on the training bases for the Turkish military, which is compulsory for Turkish boys after they turn 18. The Turkish people are enraged by this, because these boys are considered the country’s “children”. The past three days there have been very peaceful protests and marches on my street for the fallen soldiers, and it is a beautiful thing to see, all the Turks getting together to support and pray for these innocent kids. The Turkish people are very caring and loving and is safe. The media distorts the truth of this beautiful country and its heartbreaking.

Last weekend, Rotary payed for myself and the other exchange students in Turkey to all fly to Antalya, a big beach city on the Mediterranean Sea. We all attended a big conference called EEMA, where Rotarians from all over the world come to one country and tour it. This fall, Turkey got to host it! We spent only one night there sadly, but we made the best of it. Rotary payed for everyone to stay in this five-star hotel called the Titanic, and it was designed like the actual Titanic. It was all inclusive and had a private beach.

Getting to spend time with the other exchange kids is honestly the best part about exchange. Everyone is awesome, and you get to learn about different cultures other than your host country’s. Even if you aren’t the most outgoing person, everyone is so welcoming and loving that you don’t have to feel shy or uncomfortable. I’ve come to learn that it’s not where you are, it’s who you’re with.

So, some different things to know about Turkey:
– they LOVE to eat, after saying “Yeter” (enough) three times, they give me a third serving
– they have McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, Popeyes, Dominos
– A LOT of stray dogs and cats
-they put yogurt (not american yogurt, theirs is salty) on top of everything. pasta, meat, bread, pizza, anything
-dinner is about 5 different courses
-they have some squat toilets, not all of them are though
-they kiss on both cheeks to greet somebody
– always take off your shoes when you enter someone’s house
– Turkish coffee is not normal espresso coffee
– they drink Turkish tea several times a day
-Turks talk really really loud and fast

Wed, September 9, 2015

  • Natalie, outbound to Turkey

Today marks my third week in Turkey, and in these three weeks, I have experienced so much and seen much of Turkey, but I have also experienced the worst luck I have ever had. From losing $1000 dollars on the plane from the U.S., to experiencing bad jet lag, breaking my toenail off, the airport losing my luggage, my brand new Macbook breaking, and losing important paperwork, I’ve experienced it all. However, I also have gotten to see Istanbul and the amazing history it offers, Izmir, and Cesme.

In Istanbul, my host parents took me on a boat tour of the Bosphorus River, which was used throughout history for trade and a connection to the Black Sea. We also went to the Haggia Sophia and Blue Mosque around one in the morning, so we weren’t able to go inside, but we were able to sit and drink cay, outside of the Blue Mosque, which is hard to do during the day because of how crowded it gets. In Istanbul, I also experienced my first “call to prayer”. I was standing in the kitchen with my host sister when I heard this man singing in Arabic on a loud speaker for everyone to hear, and I remembered reading about the call to prayer. The head man of the mosque calls everyone five times a day, to stop what they are doing and pray to God. He calls at midnight, five am, lunch time, five in the afternoon, and later at night. My host parents also took me to this very famous street, called Taksim, at night. It has many many shops, bars, restaurants, hotels, the Greek embassy, and many street performers. After Istanbul, my host mom, sister, and I stayed in a beautiful hotel in Cesme for a week. We spent our time swimming in the Aegean Sea, eating lots of Turkish food, laying in the sun, and shopping down popular night streets.

After two weeks of much fun exploring Istanbul and Izmir, I finally was brought to my home in Adana, located in southern Turkey. People told me “Oh Adana is very very, very hot”, but coming from St. Augustine, or Florida in general, I figured I would be used to it, no big deal. Well, unfortunately I was wrong. Adana is hot. It’s humid, hot, sticky, and there is this hot wind that you hits you while you’re walking down the street. Other than that, I’m in love with this city. I live on the sixth floor of an apartment currently, and I have an ice-cream shop and makeup store below me and a Subway and frozen yogurt store across from me. Safe to say, I understand why exchange students gain weight. The street I live on is all shops, traditional restaurants, dessert stores, and apartments.

My city, however,  is also very well known for the Seyhan Dam. It is so huge though, it looks like it could be the ocean, and it is beautiful. Learning Turkish has been a difficult, slow process, but I am learning so much by just talking and listening to my host parents, Rotarians, or friends speak. You can only learn so much on your own, and the best way to learn is to fully immerse yourself in the language in the country. My host family is surprised at how quickly I’ve learned Turkish, but when all people speak is a different language you don’t know very well, you are forced to learn it as quickly as you can.

I love the other exchange students in my district as well. Even though I have only known them for a short time, they have become my best friends. We all share the same ideas and we all want the same things. I love that they are from all over the world, because not only am I learning Turkish culture and language, I’m learning culture from Australia, Tawain, Mexico, New Zealand, Germany, Japan, Brazil, Canada, and many more places. I’m so thankful for Rotary and everything they do to make this life changing experience for us. Well, until next time. Güle Güle, Hoşçakal!

Sat, August 29, 2015

Nick - Germany

Hometown: Kissimmee, Florida
School: Osceola County School for the Arts
Sponsor District : District 6980
Sponsor Club: Kissimmee West, Florida
Host District: 1880
Host Club: Canaletto

My Bio

Hallo! My name is Nicholas and I have been honored with being in one of the select groups of students to be a part of this amazing program! I am so excited to be going to Germany for my year abroad! I am 17 years old and I am a senior, vocal major at the Osceola County School for the Arts. I have been part of the Interact club at my school for three years and this year I was fortunate enough to be the President! The Interact is where I got the chance to be part of the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA) and this is where I found out about the Rotary Youth Exchange program! I remember that being the first thing I told my parents as soon as I saw them. My family has been nothing but supportive throughout this whole process and I couldn’t have done it without them! I have three brothers and two sisters who are all older which makes me the “baby” of the family. I grew up in New Jersey and I still miss the snow so I am more than happy to be reunited as I get to go to a country that has more than two seasons. I have always loved being outside. I try to go out with friends as much as I can to play Soccer, Football, Frisbee or any other sport I can get my hands on. I hope I can continue that pattern as I start this new adventure in my life. I can’t wait to start my adventure through the Rotary Youth Exchange program because I feel like family when I speak with anyone in the program and that is why I know this program is going to be amazing from beginning to end.

Journals: Nick – Germany 2015-2016

  • Nick, outbound to Germany

So it’s been a little over a month now and it’s going absolutely fantastic!

In the last couple of weeks I have made a ton of friends, gone hiking with my host family, been to some of the oldest places around, enjoyed more culture than I expected to in the first four weeks and the list goes on..
It is truly amazing here in Dresden, Germany. The city is big, the people are welcoming and the beer is freshly brewed!  Haha! (I can’t say that last part, can I?)

My family is more than understanding with my problems with the language but over the past week or so, everyone has noticed how much better my German has gotten since I first arrived..

It’s sometimes hard to comprehend that I am in a different country half way across the world.. there are moments where it hits me like a bat out of hell and I start to tear up.. But then I remember how amazing it feels to sit down with 3 or 4 friends and just talk in German for an hour or two… it is one of the most rewarding feelings I have ever had.

And then I realize, none of this was possible without all the amazing people that have been part of my life.. I just want to say thank you to my family and friends that I know will walk with me through this new part of my life..

So, until my next entry, Tschüss!

Mon, September 14, 2015

Rachael-Janai - Brazil

Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Mandarin High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: West Jacksonville, Florida
Host District: TBA
Host Club: TBA

My Bio

My name is Rachael-Janai Pace and I will be spending all of next year in Brazil! I am so very excited to have this opportunity to travel to Brazil, meet the people, study the culture, and learn the language. I have been living in Jacksonville until this year. This year I’m attending Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan, a top rated arts boarding school. I live in Picasso dorming house where I live with my roommate Sara from South Korea. I love to meet new people! At home I live with my mother and my dog named JoJo Ma, named after YoYo Ma. I am studying classical violin and I also love to sing jazz.Besides practicing violin and voice all the time, I love to swim, ride bikes, surf, kneeboard, and anything else outside. When I lived at home I was on the girls basketball team as well as the swim team. I also love to read books and write songs. I am very outgoing when I get to know people and I can’t wait to meet my new host family and all of the wonderful people in Brazil! I also wanted to thank my future host family for giving me the opportunity to live with you! Obrigado!

Ravyn - Spain

Hometown: Crystal River, Florida
School: Lecanto High School
Sponsor District : District 6950
Sponsor Club: Crystal River-Kings Bay, Florida
Host District: TBA
Host Club: TBA

My Bio

I am a sophomore at Lecanto High in Florida. I live in Crystal River, Florida. It is somewhat small, but still very populated. A lot of stores have left the area as they don’t get much business. Mostly manatee tours thrive since Crystal River is close to the coast. Even though I live in Crystal River I am able to go Lecanto for school because of the programs it offers. I am currently in an art program and a college prep program called IB at Lecanto. We get to do a lot of fun projects in my art classes. This year we get to create a bust of ourselves. My family consists of my mom and my brother. Unfortunately we live in poverty, but that just makes us closer. During my free time I usually go online or draw. I sometimes crave to read a book too. I like to visit my friends as often as possible, but they live in other cities. I tend to joke around a lot, however there are times I can be as silent as a lamb. I view being reserved as a virture, but it doesn’t hurt to have fun when the time is right. Finally, my goal is to have a life changing time in my country of destination; Spain.

Robin - France

Hometown: Tallahassee, Florida
School: Lincoln High School
Sponsor District : District 6940
Sponsor Club: Tallahassee Northside, Florida
Host District: 1520
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Bourbourg-Gravelines

My Bio

Bonjour! My name is Robin Rodriguez, I am currently 16 years old, and I will be spending my junior year abroad in France!! Since I was little, I always knew I wanted to live overseas, experience a different culture, and learn a new language at some point in my life. This interest to see the world was sparked by my parents, who lived for one year in West Africa, and three years in the country of South Africa, teaching at an American International School. My brother and I were born in South Africa, and we’ve been travelling as a family ever since. I’ve always adored travel, but I’m even more excited for this upcoming year of my life, and being fully immersed in a different culture, not just going on vacation! At my school, I participate in band (I play French horn!), French National Honor Society, and Interact Club. My favorite subjects are band, French, and AP Art History.

In my spare time, I love to read, write, play music, spend time with my friends, and play with my dog Chloe! I will certainly miss my friends and my family while abroad, but I am so thrilled to be going to France next year. While I have been studying French for four years, I know that real world French will be almost entirely different from what we learn in school. Next year will be crazy, I am certain of that, but I hope to come out of the year knowing more about the world, and hopefully fluent in another language! I am so grateful for this experience of a lifetime given by Rotary, and for all my family and friends for supporting me. See you in France!

Robin – outbound to France

I thought I would write once more, the last time before I leave. I have 25 days left in France. Scary to think, because I feel like I got here yesterday, but more and more I’ve begun feeling like I’ve lived here for 10 years. Which is weird as well, because I have been here for only 10 months. But in 10 months, I think I gained 10 years, and yet I’ve never felt younger, or more my age.

It’s difficult to describe.

In 25 days there’s still so much more I’d like to do. See my friends once more before I leave. Say goodbye to friends who are leaving before me. Go to the sea once more. Go to Lille once or twice more. Go to this one art museum I’ve never been to, go see the white cliffs by the ocean where you can see England.

I feel now the way I felt 10 months ago, when I thought about leaving. Even the day I left, it didn’t feel like I was leaving. You live your everyday life and then are suddenly uprooted from it, thrown into a new pattern, a new culture, a new language, a new setting, new people, and begin another life. I’m doing that again in 25 days. Going back to rediscover what I thought I knew so well before I was taken out of it. After 6 months in France, I remember, the thought of leaving hurt so bad. It was halfway through my exchange. At 10 months, the thought aches in a different way. More subtle, softer, but maybe more prominent, because the date is more prominent. I’ve accepted it. At the same time, I’m so excited to go home. To feel heat. To see my friends and my family and my dog Chloe. Excited to start a new chapter.

It’s just complicated. Because I don’t want to say goodbye to France. Everything clicked into place a few months ago. I was fluent in French, knew how to get around, stopped being afraid of the busses and trains and metros that were once so foreign to me, my families gained complete confidence in me and my abilities, I had friends to see and a continent and a country to discover. A few months ago, I started milking every second out of my exchange, enjoying every moment, enjoying the fruits of my labor. We could say “Darn, I should have done that thing months ago!” or “Why didn’t I think of that at the beginning?” or “Why didn’t I realize that sooner?” But that’s the thing about exchange. That’s the thing about self-growth. We learn and we change and we are better for it. I do not regret anything, because it is all of those realizations that changed me and made me better for it.

Am I ready to be suddenly uprooted from my everyday life once more? I don’t think we can ever be ready. Goodbyes are just as painful as they were a year ago, we just get used to them. Some of my best friends in the world have already left France, and I knew I was going to miss them but I didn’t know just how MUCH I was going to miss them. It’s not the same without them.

But if I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that nothing will ever be “the same”. We shouldn’t mourn the past or what we can’t control. They’ve left, I’m leaving, and that’s my life now. Not to say I shouldn’t be allowed to be sad or I shouldn’t be allowed to miss people, but we can’t keep living forever in the past. There’s the saying, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened”, and it’s been pretty resonant with me these last few days. It’s bizarre to think people are already back in Florida. It feels weird to have my days numbered in a life that feels like it’s never going to end. Weird to think I’m just going to step back into another country as if nothing ever happened, as if I never lived a year of my life in France. And I bet it will be hard. Because for 16 years I lived a life in Florida. I lived for one year in France, but so de ep and so fully that I learned just as many life lessons if not more, I made tons of friends, had tons of adventures, made plenty of mistakes and errors and slipups, and now it’s time to blend those two lives together.

However, I think this adventure has just begun. My year in France was just a prologue. I know I am braver than I ever thought I could be, I know how to handle myself in the world, I have countries to visit and friends to see and knowledge in my head and new eyes for the world and I am ready. I have two countries I love and so many more to see, I have two languages I enjoy to crack jokes in, I have a long road ahead of me, so much more to learn, I’m on a roller coaster that may have bumps but can only go up, my friends.

All my thanks to you, Rotary.

Mon, July 4, 2016

  • Robin, outbound to France

I haven’t written in a while, and that’s because in a way, it hurts to write. I truly NEVER understood that last year when I would read these journals, and people would say it’s difficult to write. It hurts to have to sum up a life into a few paragraphs. To try to make sense of it for people. To reduce this life I have, into telling people where I went and what cool countries I’ve been to and how awesome the food is and things like that, that are only 1% of my year.

Exchange is a life in a year. And you can’t experience this; you can’t understand this, until you go on exchange. And it feels uncomfortable, knowing that people I am so close to and who are so dear to me, it feels sort of odd knowing they don’t get it, as much as they might try, or as close as they might imagine.

Before exchange, I thought of all the amazing places I would get to visit. I thought of how I would become bilingual. I thought of how I would get to experience new foods and new climates. I thought of how many different people I would meet, but I did not get it. It’s as simple as that.

I came into this life, not speaking French very well, not really understanding the country or the culture even though I had read a lot and studied. I came in and I was a stranger and a foreigner and I was confused and surprised and amazed and I truly, truly, truly, had no idea what I was in for.

Because what happened next was better than I could have ever imagined. A life came. A normal life. And the travels are cool but they’re not my exchange year. I don’t live in Paris. Eurotour was amazing but the bottom line is, those cool photos and those cool countries are not exchange, and if you’re hoping to go backpacking through Europe, this is not for you. And I hate writing this because my words fail me. I gained a life here, a life far away from my life in Florida, a life with families and the best friends of my life who were at once just names on paper. Strangers.

The best thing I gained in France was friendship. I can honestly say that the best friends of my life live in France with me this year, but they are from all over the world. My best friends, who I can tell anything to, do anything with, talk about brilliant ideas and thoughts and politics and art and also just joke around with, they are from all over the world. Mexico, Colombia, India, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Philippines, Japan, Canada, Ecuador, Bolivia….the list goes on and on. And we are all so different. Sometimes I pause and wonder, would we have even talked to each other back home?

Meeting people from all over the world, sharing my life in France with them, it changed me. I realized people are more complex than we’d like to believe. That there are people raised completely differently from you, who do things in different manners, who have different ways of thinking, who don’t agree with you, who do things you wouldn’t, who speak different languages and dress differently and at the end we’re all the same people. I thought I was open minded before, but this year just blew my mind. My world grew significantly.

What I love about my friends is that it’s never petty gossip. No one is small minded. Not to say we don’t gossip, but it’s never so shallow, so serious, so petty. I’m friends with people of all religions, of all sexualities, of all races, and I love how everyone is so understanding. We’re all in this together. We are the crazy people that moved half a world away on our own for a year for this adventure that became a life, and we became each other’s backbone. The best thing this year has given me is these friendships.

I laugh with my friends and say my heart grew three sizes in France, because it is true. I genuinely love everyone so much. I see their faults, I see human mistakes, human people, and I love them so so much. When you are on exchange, the dumb foreigner who doesn’t know how to speak or eat or live in this foreign world, it is impossible to be judgmental.

I gained another language, and that’s opened up my world. For example, one of my best friends, from Argentina does not speak English and I do not speak Spanish, and we’ve become best friends speaking in French. All the friends I’ve made at school, all the French exchange students I’ve been able to become so close to….language connects people, and language brought me, once again, so many new opportunities and so many new people.

And it’s not easy. It doesn’t happen overnight. Language comes at different times for everyone. I am bilingual now but I still want to return to France soon and perfect my French even more. I want to visit the world. I want to travel but not to see the touristy sights and take pictures and eat at the restaurants right by historic monuments and buy snow globes of the city. I want to travel and talk to the people and try speaking the language and eat the good local food and wander around and appreciate the sensation that you get when you’re in a place you’ve never been with a backpack and a bottle of water and you’ve got a full day of exploring ahead of you, no agenda, no tourist traps.

I have never appreciated time more, or gazed so much out the window, or said yes to so many things. I do not want my exchange to be over. I know it’s sad, but I don’t want to go back to Florida. I love Florida, I love my family, but to leave France is to leave my best friends. To leave families that took care of me. To leave my school and everything I built on my own in these past few months. I’ll be happy to see my best friends and my family…my dog and my room…but I will be leaving my best friends and my families, my pet and my room back in France as well. And that’s scary. I know I’ll come back but it’s scary. To have to live life with a heart torn between two places so far away from each other. To always be missing somewhere or someone. That’s the price we all paid for another life.

I don’t want to go back and have people ask how my “trip” was. If French guys are hot or if the French people are mean or if France is “pretty” and how was Paris and say “you’ll have to tell me allll about it!” My life here isn’t a trip or a stay, it’s a life. People are people and no nationality can be more physically appealing than another, “the French are mean” is the biggest stereotype and generalization of a people I’ve ever heard, France is a huge country with beautiful things and not so beautiful things, my exchange wasn’t at Paris, and I cannot sum up a life in a year. I can’t “show photos” because what do you do when you show photos? You show the travels you went on. I can’t show a picture of my bedroom or my bus stop or the 88 steps to the top of my school or the fields I lived by or the 7 am bus ride to school. People don’t want to see the simple things that were a part of your life; they want to see your “adventure”.

Outbounds are dying to go to their countries now, and I know they don’t understand. And it’s okay. It’s the cycle of life, in a way! They’re dying for the time to speed up and we’re all begging for another hour, another day. You don’t understand now but you will. I never thought about that very much before my exchange. It’s hard when you have SO much advice to give and so much to tell and it feel s in a way like a secret you’re holding in because you’ve lived through this all before and they have no idea. They are fresh faced and bright eyed. I want to laugh, because I know they don’t “get it” yet, just as I didn’t get it. We all changed.

And that’s another thing! To go on exchange is to change. It has been like that and it always will be. I saw a beautiful drawing on the internet where someone says to this girl “You’ve changed” and she looks confused and says “I’d hope so”. I am not the girl that got on the plane 9 months ago. And I’m glad, because I’ve liked who I’ve become. My mind was expanded, my heart replenished, I’m who I’ve always been and yet I feel so different, so new. Because I do stress and I do get nervous and I do have doubts but I don’t let them stop me, and I know everything is going to be okay, and I don’t let all of that eat me up or affect me. I am a bit shy when you first meet me, maybe, but that doesn’t stop me from talking to people are making friends. I don’t hold back when I have something to say now. Exchange doesn’t make you this superhero person, but it changes you in ways you can’t describe. From little things like the way that you eat to the way that you think, you change. We grow up on exchange. We become independent. We learn how to figure things out on our own and solve problems on our own and be happy on our own. The final forming of a person’s character is, as they say it, in their own hands. Who you become is truly up to you.

And so, you guys who are leaving for your countries soon. You’re about to live a life in a year, and it won’t be all the time pretty, but your year will be beautiful. Let it change you. Don’t curse the different culture or say things or easier or make more sense back home—learn to do as the people do and soon it will make sense to you. Don’t spend your time in your room—do your homework on the kitchen table, if you have any (ha). Stay in the kitchen when your host mom is cooking, even if you don’t help out. Don’t speak tooooo much English. Work super hard on the language because it makes all the difference.

Be smart. Because you’ll see a world of people that aren’t like you and you can still be yourself. You have a brain in your head—you can think and act for yourself. Don’t think you’re cool, because you’re not in your new country. Humility goes out the window on exchange. You’re the dumb foreigner; don’t try to be “cool”. It’s okay to be confused and not know what you’re doing. And when you have newbies, remember that you were once a newbie too—confused and helpless. Don’t call them dumb or laugh at their language skills, because you were once the same. Don’t try to act cool for them—be their friend, help them. Compassion and being humble are the best things you can be on exchange, and certainly things you will gain.

It’s a life in a year, and if I could just hold onto this minute, hold onto the good times we’ve shared, I would. I love you all in Florida and I can’t wait to see you again. But as you can imagine, another hello is also another goodbye, and a harder one.

I would not be who I am right in this instant without this experience. Without this chance I was given, without this year. Everything I am now has been shaped or is because of my exchange year. It will be hard to be understood, it will be so hard to leave, I will miss my friends and my second country, but I’ve gone around the world and I know that this next step, while the most difficult, will be necessary, and I will come out with even more lessons learned. I guess I learned that in France too—we’re always growing, always learning, always changing. There’s never a time where we stop, and that’s how it should be.

I of course have to thank the Rotary in Florida for this chance at adventure, for this opportunity to gain a second life, the best friends of my life, families, and grow as a person. I have to thank the Rotary in France for the unbelievable support, the friendships they helped create, the incredible experiences I got to have, and that I continue to have. I have to thank my parents, who encouraged adventure and new things and travel and learning from when I was little, and it’s because of this that I wanted to see more of the world. I have to thank all my French friends who I will all miss terribly next year and who have shared their culture and their world with me, and who I can say with certainty that I love so so so so much. I have to thank my international friends, for the memories, for the best year of my life so far, for the friendship that I will have until we all die…I am so grateful for all of this, and I still have 2 months in France, but that is no time at all to me now. I will be forever grateful, and I feel funny wanting to shout out all this advice but at the same time laughing and just thinking “they’ll all see…!”

So be nice, be compassionate, don’t try to be cool, be understanding, be kind to all people, no matter how different from you they may be, try the weird foods, say yes to everything, don’t complain about the culture, don’t sit in your room, speak as much of the language as you can, learn from your mistakes, laugh at yourself, don’t eat at the touristy restaurants, look at place before you take 131493 photos of it, enjoy the meal, and know that your year won’t be perfect but it will still be amazing. You win some you lose some, you try and you grow, you learn from your mistakes and you move on. You all have no idea what you’re in for, but it’s going to be amazing.

Wed, May 11, 2016

  • Robin, outbound to France

It’s « les vacances » in France, and I have more time, so I figured I’d do a little update on how everything’s going! Firstly, I accidentally said in my last journal that I’ve been in school for almost 3 weeks, but that’s way off, haha…to give you an idea, we have 2 weeks of vacation here in France after every 7 weeks of school, so I’ve been in school for a while! I also said I was going to French classes on Wednesday, but I meant to say Tuesday. Haha, just wanted to set a few things straight! I figured this time I’d write some of what I’ve been up to.

I’ll start with something around 2 weeks ago. My host mom and I did the craziest thing ever! At 8 o clock at night, in the pitch black, rain, and wind, we walked straight into the North Sea….I don’t think I can accurately describe this, or how cool it was. I thought we were doing some cultural activity, but I think it was more of a sport. It was insane!

First we had to wear these skin tight wet suits….when I say skin tight, I mean I could not feel my circulation. I was really concerned about this, but everyone was like, “No one can feel their circulation, it’s all good.” It was IMPOSSIBLE to get on, and probably the most uncomfortable thing I’ve ever worn. Then, there’s no better way to say this, we just walked into the ocean. It was insane.

Here it was, mid-October, freezing cold (had I not just been wearing 3 jackets, a scarf, and leggings under my pants??), raining, and pitch black, and we were about to walk into the North Sea. It felt so wrong, haha, but it was amazing. I felt like I was somehow beating the system, because here I was, playing in the ocean, and it was cold outside! I was not cold, but when the waves were high, your whole body would get wet. Well, we were neck deep in water anyway, so really, your face just got cold! I have no idea how no one drowns on this expedition, but people seem to like it! And it was amazing.

It’s a work out—I think we walked around 2 miles in the water, and it felt like trudging through muck because, obviously, it’s not natural to walk neck deep in water. (We walked parallel to the shore.) Afterwards, I swam around a little, and it was the first time I had swum since Florida! It was an incredible experience and a great memory. It was hilarious watching my host mom fall in the water! (I’m not mean, it was really funny! And she was fine, so I could laugh!) The water was black, frothy, and quite frankly looked like that scene in the 6th Harry Potter movie where Harry’s with Dumbledore trying to get the Horcrux from that cove in the ocean. (Watch it. You’ll know what I’m talking about! Black water, huge waves, etc.) But I literally felt like I was conquering nature and it was the coolest thing I’ve ever done. Honestly. If you ever hear of a sport like this, try it! And the colder the climate, the sketchier the ocean, the better! It would not be the same in the warm Gulf of Mexico!

Next, I went to Mont St Michel with the Rotary for 3 days last week! Best weekend of my life! I now have friends from all over the world, and unforgettable memories. I walked through quick sand, water, trudged through mud that felt soooo gross, and managed not to fall down. I saw one of the prettiest sights in the world, and did all of this with my best friends! One of the best memories from this was the first night there. After eating, we all stood by this cathedral at night and the exchange students from 8 districts all filled the square. Everyone was talking, everyone was friends, and here we were, in France, people I would have never ever met had it not been for Rotary, and we just hung out by this beautiful backdrop.

Also went to the American cemetery in Normandy..I had already been there with my family a few years ago, but it was a very different experience, and the weather was perfect. It is a magical and beautiful and humbling place…I felt very lucky to go again. The weekend was just so perfect, and now I have a TON of pins!

I’ve done obviously a lot more things, but I’m just writing the coolest! (In my opinion.)
Saturday I went to Lille with some of my best friends in France. We took the train (my first time!) and walked around the city together, not with any real agenda. I love my friends here. I cannot accurately describe how much I love them! And how am I supposed to go back next year, knowing we will be so far away? L But we still have much more time. I have so many good memories and stories and I realized that I can never tell them as good as I can remember them, and feel them in my heart! Like when your friend makes her train at the last second, and jumps onto the train right as it takes off, sitting on ancient church steps listening to music with people all over the world, getting lost in the narrow streets, knowing you have time to get a little lost, and then discovering beautiful parks and places you never would have found had you not gotten a little lost!

And (drumroll) yesterday I skyped my parents for the first time in 2 months! I was so happy to see them! I’m glad I didn’t skype immediately, because I feel like not talking to anyone from home for a while gave me a good start to my exchange and helped me focus only on France. It was so nice to see them, and I know I’ve changed since I left. I’m more confident in myself. I know I can do anything. I don’t know how to describe this change, but I’m more confident in my abilities. I no longer wonder if I will be capable of doing something—I know I can do it. When you’re on your own, you learn you can handle a lot more than you may think you can, and you learn that you’re a lot tougher and resilient than you would have imagined!

I’d also like to thank the Rotary…I can never thank you enough. I am living my dream in France, and none of this would have been possible without this program, and the people in it. This is an experience you need to live to understand, and it is truly a life in a year! I can never ever ever thank the Rotary enough for this life in a year—I have learned so much, and I know I have so much more to see, and there is so much more to come.
A la prochaine! Bisoussss

Mon, October 19, 2015

  • Robin, outbound to France

Bonjour!! I have been in France for nearly 2 months now and so much has happened I can’t begin to describe it all. So I’ll write about what I would have wanted to read last year, when studying abroad was just a dream…and now it’s just everyday life!

I left home on August 24th, the last flight of the night. It seems like forever ago that I did that, but it also seems like it could have been 10 minutes ago. Goodbyes are always hard, and sometimes when I think about it, I’m like, “Oh my God, I can’t believe I actually did that.” It’s nerve wracking, the day you leave, because what was all in your head is now becoming your life for the next year. I was thinking, “How on earth am I going to manage speaking French all day?” or “What will it be like to meet my host family?” or “How will I SURVIVE?!?!?!” But rest assured, I speak French all day, my host family is lovely, and I am very much alive, and enjoying my exchange.

I am glad I took 4 years of French, because it provided a really nice background. However, I think you can get a decent background in the language in the few months before you leave. My host family does not speak a word of English, so I am fully immersed. It is a sink or swim situation, and so far I am swimming! No one at school speaks English either, and I am in a class with no exchange students. This sounds daunting, but I feel I really got lucky with this.

The week before school started, I travelled all around the Nord Pas de Calais region, visiting different churches, museums, monuments, and generally sightseeing. The day before school started I was hanging out in Belgium (hahaha that sounds so weird, but it’s like 20 minutes away.) I feel like I was more nervous for school before I left. The day school started, I think my mind kind of shut off so I wouldn’t explode with jittery feelings.

Going to school that day felt like being shoved off a bridge! I woke up, and before I knew it I was getting on the public bus (not knowing how the public bus system worked!) and soon I was at school. Found my classroom, and then there I was. Sitting in French high school. I heard horrible things about French high school. Everyone seems to hate it. But I’m going into my 3rd week there, and I don’t hate school at all.

On the first day, there was a long break between 2 classes and I had no idea what to do, so I was just kind of standing there for a second, and a group of French girls said I could come with them. Ohhhhhh I was SO relieved. Turns out, they’re awesome people, we have a lot in common, and they are quickly becoming very good friends!

Here are a few things about French high school :
• You cannot sit down until the teacher tells you you can sit down. Again, sounds scary, but it’s really not. You just sit down when class starts.
• You do not have the same classes every day. It’s more like a college schedule. My hours, classes, and basically my schedule changes every day. Sounds horrible and complicated, but it’s really not. You have a schedule and just follow the schedule!
• Sometimes I have long breaks in between classes and me and my friends hang out in the town.
• The school schedule does not necessarily match up with the bus schedule. Meaning, some days I wait 2 hours for the bus to come after class. On Wednesdays, my schedule is so messed up, I have to wait 4 hours, but I think I am getting this changed. Everyone takes the bus, and it is a public bus. Sounds scary, but it might as well be a school bus because all students take it.
• On Wednesdays, school ends around noon. I am going to start going to a French class in Dunkirk Wednesday afternoons.
• The cantine (lunch room) at school is amazing, and food is really good. Wayyyyy better than lunch at American high schools, still not as good as food at home, but really good.
• My favorite class is history and my least favorite class is ECONOMICS. I have like 7 hours of economics a week.

  • ALSO everyone does the bisous (kiss thing). Takes a while to get used to, but now I am an expert! 2 cheeks—left, right, just do it to everyone to hurt no one’s feelings. It is kind of nice because everyone does it and it feels like everyone is one big family, but at the same, it causes HUGE traffic jams in the hallways because if you see someone you semi-know, you’re obligated to do the bisous. But it’s one of those cultural things you have to experience first hand to get the hang of.
  • In French high school, you have to choose a “track” to take—Literature, Economics, or Science. I originally wanted to be in the Literature track but I am in economics, and glad I’m there. It’s a more balanced course load.
  • My name (Robin) is a boy’s name in France. Wow. Horrible. People pronounce my name “Robon” with a big French R, because that’s how the name is pronounced in French for boys. The first week, everytime I answered “oui!” to my name, people kind of snickered, because everyone thinks it’s a boy’s name. Now they pronounce my name “Robeen”, but I kind of miss just plain old Robin! I even took my name for granted back home, ha. But I know I will miss “Robeen” when I return to the U.S.

In addition, I have been biking SO MUCH with my host mom. I looked forward to this before I came, but I didn’t think much about it. We basically bike every day, and while I thought this was a flat region (and in general it is) there are definitely some steep slopes, and it tires me out every day. I pictured casual bike rides, but I’m talking like we biked through 4 towns one morning in the cold and wind! However, this is good. Being constantly busy gives you less time to be homesick. ALSO this is good because I am not getting fat, haha. However, I am writing this journal now because it is the first time since I’ve been here I’ve had some time alone. Being busy is great but it is nice to have some time to yourself.

I’m trying to think of other things I would have wanted to read about…oh, language! Like I said, 4 years of French provided a very nice background. I can understand questions and answer back, but I can’t give really thorough answers, or have a really nice conversation. I’d say I can understand about 70% of everything, but it really depends. Sometimes I understand conversations word for word, and other times I have to ask people to repeat something three times, and then I still smile and nod. There is no magic formula. I think I can understand more than I can speak though. Immersion is really cool though. And with my exchange, there is no other choice but to speak French.

None of my family speaks it, and this is a pretty rural region, so no one really knows English that well. At first, I was just learning more words at first, and by now I am beginning to see a clearer change in my French. Sometimes I say things and I don’t hesitate at all and the words all come out so quickly and l’m like “That was smooooth!” And then other times I can’t think of the right words and it’s frustrating, but honestly, it’s not a big deal. You learn this way also…mistakes are a good way to learn. Like one time I accidentally said my brother was 18 hours, not 18 years old. (No idea how…but when you’re talking fast words can get mixed up, trust me!)

Smiling and nodding works a lot. However, it gets frustrating when you’re like “I really want to understannndddd” but honestly, the language is going awesome. I can get my point across, and I understand most of everything, and I participate in school. It’s difficult and I can’t fully express myself, but something that helps out a lot with learning a language is curiosity. Sometimes I look around the house for just things I don’t know how to say, and I either look them up or ask.

Also, while immersion is the best way to learn, you can’t just let words fall over you and assume you’re going to come out of the year bilingual—you actually have to work on it!

Another thing—this year is not a vacation. You’re not backpacking through Europe. You’re not at an exchange student party. Take the effort to get integrated with your culture and family first. Exchange students are amazing people and you will instantly be best friends, but it’s soooo important to really focus on the culture and family first, I think. Don’t be that kid that asks for permission to take the train to meet some “friends” in another city and be really vague about it on your 3rd day in your country. (Hey these people are real!)

Making a real effort and focusing on your country and your host family is so rewarding….that’s one of the best tips I can give. Also with this idea, just don’t picture your year as a big trip. I had no idea what life would be like in France, and I was so delighted and so fascinated when I realized it’s just life here. Ordinary life. And that’s the most beautiful and most rare things in the world to have—I get to live an ordinary life in another culture and in another language, and truly an ordinary life. That’s the magic and rarity of exchange, and that’s where the magic is!

One last thing before I go! I want to talk about the region I am in France. I am in the Nord Pas de Calais region, on the very tip of France, bordered by Belgium, and then the North Sea, and straight across in England. No one really knows about this region, but it is the joke in France. Nord Pas de Calais is known for being cold, rainy, industrial, the people kind of simple, and with weird accents. Let me clarify. Do not trust stereotypes. This is an incredible and beautiful region in France. The people are considered to be the “warmest” in France, and I have found this to be true. Everyone has been so kind and so helpful to me.

Yesterday, for instance, I was with my host mom in Dunkirk, and suddenly we were sitting in some people’s house for a big family meal, I had no clue who they were (I think somehow related to my host mom) but they talked and joked with me as if we had known each other our whole lives. The weather is what it is. It rains some, but when the sun is out, no one takes it for granted. This area is Flemish country! Way back when, this part of France used to be a part of Belgium or the Netherlands (or something like that…I can’t really remember!) Either way, Flemish (like Dutch) was spoken here, and this area has beautiful Flemish architecture.

At first, I thought I would not be learning true French culture. However, in this day and age, there is no “true” French culture. I am learning and experiencing something I could never have learned about in a textbook. This region is absolutely breathtaking. I’ve learned some Flemish words, eaten waffles and “frites”, ridden my bike past windmills, and all the while been in France! (Oh that’s also a cool fact—this region has windmills!) I cannot begin to describe how happy I am to be in this region, and also in this Rotary district—the best in France! It truly is. And to the people who in a few months will learn they are going to France—pretty sure one of you will be in this district, because Florida sends one person to d1520 each year. And if you are sent here, get ready for a treat!

I have to go now! I hope to be able to write soon. These weeks have been amazing, and I am excited for the weeks to come. There have been tough times and there will be tough times, but the good is SO much better and more abundant than the bad. Bisousssss!

Robin J

Tue, October 6, 2015

Sabrina - Austria

Hometown: Miami, Florida
School: Immaculata – La Salle High School
Sponsor District : District 6990
Sponsor Club: Perrine-Cutler Ridge/Palmetto Bay, Florida
Host District: 1910
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Perchtoldsdorf

My Bio

Hi! My name is Sabrina Alexandra Aguirre, and I’m from the sunny sunshine state known as Florida. I call this bustling, fun-in-the-sun vacation spot, Miami, my home. I’m sixteen years old and currently a junior in high school who is preparing to spend my next year in Austria! I’m a perky, positive person, and have enjoyed being involved in many school activities including being a cheerleader for five years, being on and editing my school’s television production program for the the daily school news, and being an active member of SAC (Student Activities Council.) I’m often described as an outgoing, creative person who tends to do things differently.  I love meeting new people, exploring new places, seeing new things, and discovering new perspectives. So, I am beyond thrilled to have the opportunity to live in a whole new country!

Currently, I live with my mother and 19 year old brother, Sebastian. In my free time, I love being active and outdoors so I run and rollerblade daily. I love music. So, unlike most students, when I was told I would be going to Austria, the first thing that I did was look up Austria’s top ten songs on iTunes. When I discovered that Austria was known worldwide for it’s music and that so many renowned composers had come from Austria, you can imagine my excitement. I can’t wait to see what Austria has in store for me when I abandon the title of tourist and actually get the chance to live there! Mit herzlichen Grüßen, Sabrina

Journals: Sabrina – Austria 2015-2016

  • Sabrina, outbound to Austria

Seeing the new outbound class of 2016/2017 is surreal. It feels like I was just there. Then, I blinked my eyes and was starting my year in Austria and blinked again and it had been five months.

With December, came the Christmas season, which is pretty important in Austria. It all starts when the streets of Mariahilfer Straße and Stephansplatz (two main shopping streets at the center) are decorated with massive chandlers made of christmas lights that are strung down the street. As the month progresses, the city is filled with Christmas Markets. Walking around the city feels like Disney World has taken over the streets. Little huts with festive knick-knacks, Christmas lights strung everywhere, and scents of and punch fill the air. You are living a fairytale, which, to some extent, you are, because Walt Disney gained his inspiration from Vienna.

“Are you going home for the holidays?” was a question I kept getting asked. Accordingly, every time I said no, I got a look of pity and apology. I had to try to explain that the point of the exchange was to immerse yourself fully in a new culture and traditions. With that being said, many students warned that Christmas time was hard. For me, it wasn’t hard, it just did not feel like Christmas. The day came and went without feeling much “Christmas spirit.” Talking to other exchange students, i’ve found that this feeling is felt by many and pretty normal.

This is why I would like to point out that exchange is not a vacation. So many times when preparing for my trip, I was told things like, “you have a whole year off that’s great” and “you get to vacation in Europe for a whole year and do nothing, I’m so jealous!” Yet, I cannot tell you how wrong these assumptions are. Exchange is not a vacation, you cannot just go home whenever you’re tired, feeling sad, or even when it’s the holiday season, you have to stay. Before coming, you knew the consequence and probably did not think much of it, but once you’re here, it really hits you. So, before you leave, spend time with your family and friend, you’re going to miss them more than you think.

Overall, i’m feeling good in Austria. Yet, I did not follow the traditional emotional diagram shown at outbound camp. At first, we were suppose to be at a high, taking pictures of everything, so entrained with the new world, I was not. I actually, really did not like Austria. I was not homesick, I just did not like it. Then, you were suppose to go down and get homesick. Instead, when everyone was getting homesick, I began to like Austria more. Now I am pretty steady and haven’t experienced any downs. So when you go on exchange realize that maybe you may experience the typical emotional diagram, but, if you don’t, that’s ok too, everyone is different!

Tue, January 12, 2016

  • Sabrina, outbound to Austria

As a girl that comes from a city which has one method of public transportation, that goes in only one direction, you could say that I wasn’t too prepared for European transport. Yet, after a week of no one being able to show me around, I thought it would be a bright idea to try to figure it out by myself.

Soon I realized that there’s a lot more than just one station. Actually, there’s one on every corner, and where there’s one, there’s another one directly across the street from it.

I decided to go to the nearest bus stop because it seemed right, but, of course, as an American, I always think I seem right. I sat there and waited for the bus for a few minutes and then when he pulled up I got in. Unfortunately, the driver only spoke German and, since I’m from Miami, the closest I ever got to a second language was a solid background in Spanglish.

Struggling to ask the driver if this was the right bus, I reach down into my pocket to pull out my phone. Well, I guess Americans are known for having guns so this motion caused the now startled driver to jump up in fear with a high shriek. Blushing, he realized it was just a phone. He looked at the route I had mapped out and shock his head, it was the wrong bus.

Before I could get off, he started the bus and motioned for me to sit, I obeyed, confused. 30 seconds later he stopped again, motioned for me to get out, and tried to point me in the direction I should go to catch the right bus. Well, his hand signals certainly did not compare to Cuban’s over-drawn motions so I once again was lost.

I wandered a bit and eventually I ended up in front of a supermarket. It was food so I, of course, went in. I bought a huge box of cereal and went on my way trying to find the right stop again. By this time it was 14:00 and I had spent almost three hours walking up and down the blocks. I took out my cereal and began eating directly from the box. This is not exactly smiled upon in Austria so a few elder Austrian’s gave me hawk stares, but it tasted really good.

I finally got to the stop that the cashier from the supermarket had pointed out to me and waited. The bus pulled up, it was the same driver. He slowed down a little, glanced over, and when he saw me accelerated without even stopping.

After that, I gave up for the day and walked home. By the time I got home all my cereal was gone which was unfortunate because I had five hours until dinner.

After this, I got the clever idea to invest in a long board. Now, this seemed like an awesome idea, but I forgot to take into account that, in order to use a long board, you have to know how to ride it first. So now I have an overpriced longboard that I need to learn how to use without falling on my face. On the bright side, I know now that the super market is in walking distance and that they accept VISA.

Sun, September 6, 2015

  • Sabrina, outbound to Austria

When Austrians say we’re going for a walk, it is NOT a walk.

Austrian’s should have their own dictionary which defines what they really mean when they say something.

For language camp they said to bring “good shoes.” Well, in Miami, good shoes translates to high pumps or cute ballet flats. While in Austria, good shoes translates to shoes meant for hiking up steep mountains full of mud, trees, and animal residue.

Also, when someone tells me, “We’re going for a walk,” I picture a nice stroll along the beach, a flat surface. This WALK that I picture is taken at a slow speed that is good for chatting. Well, in Austria, a “walk” translates to a two hour hike up a muddy mountain that is so steep that you feel like you are walking up a vertical wall.

They said there would be a “nice view” at the top. I pictured some water, clouds, maybe some boats. I saw, mountains the looked like they were from a dream, a lake so big and blue that it didn’t even compare to my Miami ocean, and a little fairytale town nestled seaside, along a forest green land, beside the mountains.

Sun, August 30, 2015

  • Sabrina, outbound to Austria

Basic Day in Language Camp
here’s our schedule:

7:30-8:30 breakfast
8:30-10:00 class
10:00-10:10 break
10:10-11:30 class
11:30- 1:00 class
2:00-5:45 break
5:45-8 dinner/break
8-9 homework
9-10 snack/lights outs

Knowledge of this would have helped me a lot because I had no idea what to expect since the instructions were sent in German, yikes! Being around other exchange students is very helpful. You get to relax and learn at the same time. Some kids are having a harder time than others so it’s great to talk about that here with one another. This camp is also great because you get to find out who lives by you so you make more friends to hangout with. Even though, they suggest not hanging out with exchange students a lot and to make Austrian friends, the camp is helpful because you make connections and have people to talk to that actually understand you and what you’re feeling.

Sun, August 30, 2015

  • Sabrina, outbound to Austria

“home or home home?”

This was a frequent question asked at language camp and it really is a drag having to clarify. Whenever someone would say, “I forgot this at home,” or something referring to home, everyone would always in confusion ask, “which home?” Austria was all our new homes now, but we were still too new to be able to say that and be comfortable with it.

Language camp was fun, the location was like a place from a movie. The rooms weren’t so movie-like though. They all had different setups and sizes, but they each consisted of a small bathroom, and old wooden beds against the walls. How many people were in your room and the size of your room was all luck. I didn’t get so lucky, but we made it work.

Altmunster is beautiful, we stayed in this school known to the locals as BEA which is next to a palace-like structure. The school isn’t so palace-like, but they have a slide, and if you explore enough you can find a whole rock climbing room with walls and everything downstairs.

The classes were kinda tiring, but fun, we always had free time in-between and after. The town is beautiful with tons of mountains, colorful flowers, and fairytale-like cottages, but there’s not much to do. So we normally passed our time by walking down the mountain to the lake and just chilling, swimming, and eating, of course. Spar, the supermarket also become quite the hangout spot for buying junk food.

The last week we found out that if you keep walking down the road you can find a town named Gmunden where they have actual stores, bigger supermarkets, and just more to do. It’s about 30 minutes there so it’s a bit of a walk, but def. worth it. The ice cream there is sweet!

Word of advice for anyone going to Austrian language camp:
there are no washing machines and hand washing is not as easy as it sounds
-Bring extra undergarments (especially girls)
-Bring swimsuit
-You can repeat bottoms you wear, but still bring enough
-Bring multiple shirts
-There’s no soap or shampoo so bring your own

Sun, August 30, 2015

  • Sabrina, outbound to Austria

How does one pack seventeen years of their life into one suitcase? Simple, you DON’T. Instead, you splurge and pack two big bags and then, if you’re me, you pack two big suitcases, one small rolling one, and an extra large backpack. Then, you still manage to arrive in your host country, thousands of miles away, and realize that you forgot half of your things.

When I got to the checkin line at the airport, the nerves began to hit. As I walked up to the counter, I looked up at the Airline associate and put on big Rotary smile, partially because I was nervous and partially because my bags were both over weight and I didn’t want to pay extra.  I put my first bag on the scale, 53 pounds, for a second she hesitated and then took the bag, not saying anything. Then, came the next bag, she was going to charge me extra for sure.

So, I did the most logical thing, with a smile I put on my Christmas tree, Rotary jacket and grinned ear to ear, she recognized the blazer, constantly I didn’t have to pay extra for my 58 pound bag.

After, having a bite to eat, I said the big goodbye to my mom and brother. Anxiously I then waited in line as they stared and watched me with bleeding eyes. If I could just make it through the security check, before they saw me start to tear it would be fine. When I got the the front I realized that I had somehow  managed to lose my boarding pass. This made things even more awkward because I had to get out of line, go wait for another boarding pass, and do a whole new now tear-filled goodbye.

When I boarded the plane I felt like I was leaving something behind. I kept checking my bags to make sure that I had everything…
wallet 2. phone 3. charger, everything was there.

I had a layover in New Jersey, the airport was huge, and I had to take a bus to get to my terminal for my final departure flight to Austria. When I got there I bought a chocolate chip cookie, I didn’t think much of it, it wasn’t even that good, but the things I’d do for a bite of that American Chocolate Chip cookie now are unbelievable.

I waited around for a while and ran into a girl from Canada going to Austria too. She was only fifteen years old, I was in disbelief that someone so new to high school could go abroad. We went to the desk and asked to be seated together, the flight wasn’t full so they switched our tickets to be next to one another.

Eventually, we ran into a guy who was traveling with Rotary to Poland and taking our flight as a layover flight. We all chatted about our clubs back home and made small chat about our families and activities we liked until it was time to board. When we boarded we ran into another Rotary student going to Austria as well. He had been left sitting alone the whole time waiting to board, oops!

As we sat in our seats, we stared out the window as the plane zoomed off American soil. As we gazed through the small oval shaped window, we watched down as the plane ascended higher and higher into the sky, as we caught our last glimpse of our home.

*I wore black leggings, a white collared shirt with a cream colored v-neck, light sweater, convers,and my rotary jacket

Fri, August 28, 2015

Sarah - Germany

Hometown: Tallahassee, Florida
School: Leon High School
Sponsor District : District 6940
Sponsor Club: Tallahassee Southside, Florida
Host District: TBA
Host Club: TBA

My Bio

Guten Tag! My name is Sarah Walker and I am currently a 17-year-old senior attending Leon High School in Tallahassee, Florida. Next year I will be spending another senior year in Germany! I currently live in an almost suburb style neighborhood with my Mom and Dad, this year my sister is a freshman in college, so she only comes home for long weekends and holidays. We also have a dog, two cats, and a dwarf hamster. I have always loved to travel and it has always been a priority in my family, together we have travelled all across the United States and to Europe and last summer I traveled to Ecuador. My family has always taught me to be global, the same ideals that Rotary instills in all its members. I have had quite a few good friends do a year of exchange with Rotary, something I have been considering ever since the end of freshman year. My parents and I had quite a number of discussions before we decided it would be best to do a year abroad as a gap year. I am beyond excited to be spending the next year in Germany. I cannot wait for the huge adventure next year will be. Besten Dank Rotary and district 6940!

Savannah - Brazil

Hometown: Sanford, Florida
School: Seminole High School – Sanford
Sponsor District : District 6980
Sponsor Club: Sanford, Florida
Host District: 4500
Host Club: The Rotary Club of NORBREX

My Bio

My name is Savannah Charbonneau. I was born in North Carolina but raised in Orlando, FL. I am the middle child of three and I am a Senior in high school this year. I live in two houses because my parents are divorced so I am constantly moving around. I love to keep busy. In my spare time I coach a cheer team or work at one of my two jobs. I am in many clubs at my school including the National Honor Society and I am on the Varsity Cheer squad as one of the captains. I have a very outgoing and sarcastic personality. I have four dogs, two at my mom’s and two at my dad’s. I love animals and being outside.

I always have a smile on my face because everything happens for a reason. I love adventures and exploring any free time I get. I want to become an exchange student to better my knowledge of the world around me and to get the opportunity to experience the Brazilian culture. I hope to accomplish a lot this upcoming year. One main thing I hope to accomplish is to meet new people that I will have lifelong friendships with.

Journals: Savannah – Brazil 2015-16

  • Savannah, outbound to Brazil 2015-2016

Trying to avoid writing journals because it makes me sad to think about how little time I have left. Since my last journal in February so many things have happened. The three major things I’ll be writing about are my birthday, my sister coming, and my trip to the amazon! To start, my 19th birthday was by far one of the best birthdays I’ve ever had. It was on a Monday and right when I walked into school I had a group of people hugging me and singing. When I walked into my classroom my whole class had decorated the room and sang happy birthday to me and I couldn’t stop smiling.

During our break all of my friends threw a surprise party for me with food and a huge bouquet of beautiful roses. After school I went to my favorite sushi restaurant for lunch with my friend Caroline and host sister Luana for lunch. That night I went to gymnastics and they had another surprise party for me there and after I went to my favorite burger place for dinner. It was such an amazing day to experience all of the love from my family and friends here and experience my birthday like no other with a different culture and language.

My family also helped me to throw a birthday party. We went around and bought decorations and invited lots of friends and best of all was that sister came for my party. It was amazing for my sister to meet all of my friends and experience a Brazilian birthday party. The week after my birthday I spent with my sister. It was almost like a game of how much I can show my sister of my life here in such a short amount of time. We went all over and I showed her some of my favorite places in Recife. Saying goodbye was definitely hard but it was amazing to be able to see her.

This past week I went on the amazon trip and it was one of the most incredible amazing experiences I’ve ever had. We spent the first two days in hotels going trekking and seeing the city and the last 6 days we spent on a boat. Our group as so big that we had 3 boats for all of us to sleep on. Each boat had 20-24 people on it and throughout that time every single person on the boat was like family to me we all got so close. On this trip I saw and experienced things I will never have the opportunity to see again in my life. I held and played with a sloth, anaconda, alligator, and pink dolphin. We also went canoeing and swam in the river. One of the nights we actually slept in the Amazon Rainforest, which was actually terrifying but so incredible. Like how many people get to say they have slept in the Amazon?!?! Going on this trip was one of the biggest things I have been looking for ever since I found out I was coming to brazil and it was something I will never forget.

Being in the last few months of my exchange I often sit in class or at home wondering where the time went. In a blink of an eye I’m speaking a different language and have a completely new life and soon I will just have to leave it all behind. Leaving is something I can’t quite wrap my head around yet. I’m not ready to face reality and go back to speaking boring English every day but on the bright side, I have learned and discovered more about myself this past year than I would’ve ever known if I stayed in the states. These last few months will be spent with my family and friends here; making more memories that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

Fri, April 29, 2016

  • Savannah, outbound to Brazil 2015-2016

Being half way through my exchange I want to go back and explain my process of how I got to where I am today. Sometimes it amazes me to look back and realize how fast life goes. I got selected as a student to study abroad in November of 2014. The time of waiting from the interview to the call from Scott was horrible. Every day my stomach turned more and more. I was pulling into Chipotle to get lunch when I received the call from Scott telling me that I got accepted. I walked into Chipotle with puffy eyes and the biggest smile on my face. When I got back home I told my mom “you’ll miss me next year” and she automatically started crying (at the time I’m pretty sure they were tears of fear).

Reveal dinner was a night full of smiles and strangers. So many kids that barley even knew each other’s names. Then came my first outbound orientation, which was fun and boring and stressful all in one. Little did I know that was just the beginning. We started having monthly district meetings, which brought all of us together. Having a group of people go through the same thing as you makes the whole process much easier. Managing the assignments and high school and work got really difficult for me but I figured it out. I didn’t realize how important the assignments were until I arrived in Brazil. (If you’re reading this take the assignments seriously!!) When I finished school and my departure came closer I did as much as possible with my family. It all seems so surreal until you are in the airport saying goodbye. My goodbye was easily one of the hardest most exciting moments of my life.

I strongly feel that Rotary gives you two major things… a family and new start. I have formed such a bond with so many people that I honestly cannot see my life without. My best friend is from Denmark and Denmark is really far from Florida (We are already planning dates for her to come visit me next year). My host sister has grown such a place in my heart as well as my host mom and dad. I have been fortunate enough to stay with the same family all year (something I asked for). I was matched perfectly to this family and I cannot wait to finish out my exchange year with them by my side.

Recently I went on a trip to Rio de Janeiro, which was arguably one of the best experiences I’ve had on my exchange so far. I saw and experienced a different part of Brazil from the thousands of people, the STARBUCKS, the different culture, to the style of dance (I cannot samba). The last night there my phone was stolen out of my room while I spelt from one of my fellow roommates. As upset as I was I didn’t let that ruin how amazing the overall trip was. I am very thankful to have had my gopro videos and pictures. New Years was amazing because of the different culture and traditions that correspond with the holiday. Everyone dresses in all white and jumps 7 waves for good luck when the clock strikes 12. The holiday is very family orientated and special. I loved having my whole family around and celebrating with them (and the food). I just started school again and I will start gymnastics again next week. Life is great here in Brazil.

One of my biggest goals that I wanted to accomplish while on exchange was to find myself. Taking that leap of leaving everything for a year to study abroad was one of the hardest and most rewarding decisions I’ve ever made. I have learned more about life in the past year than I did in all of high school. I have made lifelong friends and been experienced to a culture and whole new world that only few are lucky to experience. With all of that being said… Happy 5 months (and 3 weeks) and thank you so much Rotary for changing my life.

Wed, February 10, 2016

  • Savannah, outbound to Brazil

Feliz tres mesesssss!!! Feliz natal!!!! (Happy 3 months and merry Christmas) I have such a hard time writing these journals because I never know how to express my feelings for Brazil in writing. I’m a very vocal person meaning I love to talk so that is definitely helping me to learn Portuguese. Unfortunately I am also a very lazy person so that isn’t helping much. With everything going on around the world I go to sleep and wake up worried and nervous.

Some of my bestfriends are all over the world right now. Luckily Rotary has built an amazing foundation and the strength of all of us abroad helps me feel content. I love knowing that they are all safe. With the holidays around the corner I know this will be really hard for me because I am such a family girl; but I also know that I have built a strong relationship with my host family and they will make it amazing and show me the different Christmas culture.

For Thanksgiving my friend Caroline (from Kentucky) and I cooked an American thanksgiving meal. The flavor turned out amazing except everything looks really gross. For example: we made a sweet potato casserole but the sweet potatoes here in Brazil are green instead of a pretty orange. So the whole casserole looked like throw up (but it tasted so good). It felt amazing creating some American food and having our host families taste it.

This weekend Caroline and I plan to do an early Christmas dinner for our host families including desserts and gravy (the whole 9 yards). This meal will be bigger and better than our Thanksgiving meal. My host sister and I have also been Christmas decorating around the house making snowmen out of socks and tree ornaments and more! Christmas isn’t as much of a big deal here as it is in the US. The families don’t decorate their houses besides a small fake Christmas tree so at first I was sad because I’m used to the whole lights everywhere happy crazy people shopping Christmas. But I decided not to get discouraged at this so I showed my family how to make some really cool decorations that they’ll keep long after my exchange. My amazing family will always have a strong piece in my heart. They truly are perfect for me. Until next time! T’chau ☺

Sat, December 12, 2015

  • Savannah, outbound to Brazil

Happy 2 months!!!!!!! I swear I wrote my last journal yesterday. I honestly cannot believe it has already been 2 months. Before I arrived in Brazil I knew the major cultural differences that everyone would know if you Google searched it. But I had no idea about some of the smaller differences… Differences you really don’t know until you are living in your country. Dogs here are not very common. One of my biggest struggles was getting used to going from a house with 5 dogs (in the US) to going to a house with no dogs here in Brazil (no more dog hair on all of my clothes). Another difference is the celebrations. When Brazilians celebrate the parties start around 10pm and last until 4am-5am (which is much later than I usually stay awake). The dancing and the loud music makes you forget about the time until you check your phone and its 3:30AM (I then sleep until dinner time the next day)!!

These two months have been the most emotional months of my life. I cry and smile more than I ever have before. Everyday something new happens. Some sort of surprise whether its holding a 4 week old puppy or being extremely underdressed for a very dressy dinner (sorry) I never know what to expect and that is honestly the joy of exchange. Live day by day and have no expectations because if you have no expectations you can never be disappointed.

I haven’t gotten sick in over a month, which makes me feel like superman (also makes me feel fat because I eat nonstop). My family also loves bike rides!! Literally loves them… 22miles of love every week ☺ Brazilians love working out and waking up early (two things I’m not very good at) but I’ve adapted and wake up at 5am every weekend to go running with my host dad! I feel like I could write pages and pages of stuff but when I go to actually write my exact thoughts are “wait how do I say this in English….?” So that’s why this is shorter. I’ll write more next month!!! Tchau

Mon, November 9, 2015

  • Savannah, outbound to Brazil

I’d like to start this with the fact that I’ve already broken the promise I made to myself of writing every two weeks. The last thing on my mind is writing about all the amazing things I’m experiencing. I’d write a novel if I said everything I’ve done so far here so I’ll just list some of my favorite moments.

The day after I arrived in Brazil I got on a bus with some fellow exchange students and drove 2 hours to our first “inbound orientation” at the beautiful Maragogi beach. I met 50 other exchange students from all over the world that are on the same adventure and feel the same way that I do. Four days into my exchange, I got a stomach virus and failed to eat or drink for 48 hours (something anyone could forget to do!!) which led me to visit the hospital so they could tell me “you need to drink. A lot. And eat. A lot.” So over the next few days I did what I do best, I ate (and drank). Three days later my host dad asked me if I wanted to go on a short bike ride. I felt better so I jumped up and said yes. 12 miles later I couldn’t feel my legs but somehow they managed to work long enough for me to jump into the pool and swim a few laps.

Starting school was like everyone finding out Miley Cyrus is actually Hannah Montana. Everyone knew exactly who I was and couldn’t contain their excitement when I walked into class. Some of my favorite questions/comments I’ve heard so far would be “Do you live at Disney?” “You’re a cheerleader?!?!” and “You’re life is so much like High School Musical”.

Everyone was so welcoming and understanding my first week at school. My school comes to life at night with all of the sports that take places so I began volleyball and gymnastics. I fell in love with gymnastics so instead of doing both volley and gymnastics, I decided to do 2 classes of gymnastics. Besides the fact that I am constantly sore, I love it and the girls in my classes so much.

My host dad Bruno shares the same love for music that I have so he’s been taking me under his wing when it comes to band and music here. There is a public school in a poor community here that Rotary Built many years ago that is known for their band. They don’t have many instruments but the ones they do have are played every day of the week. Kids in the band range from ages 10-18 and they are all equally good at playing. Bruno helps a lot with this band in getting them better known around Recife. Last week they had a competition and I had the opportunity to go on the court with them and take pictures of their winning performance. It was so exciting and fun.

Brazil is beautiful and I am so lucky to call it home.
Until next month (or less)

Tue, September 29, 2015

  • Savannah, outbound to Brazil

As I lay in the bed I now call my own I think about how real this all is. But let me back up some, my name is Savannah Charbonneau. I am a Rotary Youth Exchange outbound student in Brazil. When I started this adventure around Christmas time, I had no idea what I was doing but I knew one thing. I was excited. I was excited to find out what country I was going too, and then I was excited to find out where in that country, and my host family, and best of all. I was excited to find out when I was leaving. After months of waiting for my visa and my orientation in Brazil coming sooner and sooner I began to worry that my visa wasn’t going to come in time for my first orientation. The “excitement” kicked in when my visa came Tuesday and I discovered that I was leaving Wednesday.

Yes, the next day. So as any great procrastinator like myself would know. I hadn’t packed yet. 6 hours and 125 lbs later I was packed and ready to begin my adventure. Hours before heading to the airport I lost my appetite and began feeling nauseous (aka nervous). I slept on the way to the airport and cried as said goodbye to my comfort zone and walked through security. Still feeling unsure, I sat on my aisle seat for my first flight to Miami (a 40 minute flight) and slept. I ran (literally) to my next gate where I walked straight on the plane to my window seat where I prepared myself to take on the 8-hour flight to Recife, Brazil.

As you can probably guess, I slept 7 out of the 8 hours on the plane but when I woke up I did not feel well rested at all. Just nervous to go through customs and meet my family (and of course find my luggage). All went well my family is amazing. After sitting in traffic for an hour we reached my new apartment home, which is on the 25th floor. In love with the view and space I began to unpack my lifetime supply of t-shirts and shorts. My first lunch in Brazil I thought I was going to eat all the food it was so good. But now I find myself here, in this bed that I now call my own. Smiling. Just excited for what is soon to come.

Sat, August 29, 2015

Savannah - Germany

Hometown: Coral Springs, Florida
School: Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School
Sponsor District : District 6990
Sponsor Club: Coral Springs-Parkland, Florida
Host District: 1800
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Haldensleben

My Bio

Hi, I’m Savannah Groll, from tropical South Florida. I’ve always wanted to travel, and visit different countries, learn different languages, eat different foods, and immerse myself in different cultures. The differences and interactions between countries has fascinated me ever since I was little. I aim to work in the international relations and affairs between countries when I’m older, and look forward to helping companies and peoples exchange their ideas.

In my free time, I make plans with friends, I listen to music, read, draw, and when the weather is nice, I like to roller blade or just simply walk around outside. Where I live now is in a cluster of neighborhoods, with everything else being a couple miles away. Since a lot of homes are grouped, it’s easy to get to most friends’ homes. But, if we want to go anywhere else, we have to drive. There isn’t much public transportation here, and so driving or walking is the only way to get around. I have many interests, and am continually expanding my horizons. Personally, I think my strong characteristics are that I am friendly and adventurous. I love trying new things and never turn down a new experience (including new foods), and I can easily adapt to any situation. I have a fascination with the history and iconic architecture of Germany; which is partly why I am so excited in going on a year-long exchange.

As an exchange student, I wish, and look forward to, learning the language, culture, and customs of Germany. I later plan to attend college, and hopefully partake in other study abroad programs, which will only add to my world view and experiences.

Savannah, outbound to Germany

In just the matter of a few days, I now have a new family, new home, new school, new friends, new language, new landscape, new climate: a new life. My perspective of the world has already begun to change. No longer is “Europe” just a continent in a far away land which has great food and a different way to measure things. I’ve only spent 3 weeks in Germany, and I think I’m quite honestly in love. The language is still difficult (doubtful if it will ever become easy) but I am improving everyday.

Back in Florida, I would only have about a 5 minute drive to school. Here, it is more of a journey to and from school each day. And the thing is, I actually kind of like it. It is so pretty, so cool, and it gives me a sense of adventure every single day.

And don’t even get me started on the food here. OMG. I love it. Bread with practically every meal; what’s not to love? I’m always going out to a cafe for a coffee with friends, and having some kind of small dessert. It is a good thing that I do not drive everywhere here, because using public transportation and walking is the only thing that is keeping me in shape 😉

In just a short time, I have completely fallen in love with life here, and have a hard time remembering how things were back in Florida. Well, apart from the weather, because it is cold here. No matter what the “locals” say, this is NOT summer! Not time for “hot pants”, and definitely not “nice and warm”. Germans need to experience a South Floridan summer. But, then again, they do not have AC here, so maybe it is a good thing that it isn’t hot. 🙂
Soon to write another journal…
Savannah G 🙂

Tue, September 8, 2015

Sequoia - South Korea

Hometown: Tallahassee, Florida
School: Leon High School
Sponsor District : District 6940
Sponsor Club: Tallahassee, Florida
Host District: 3590
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Jinju

My Bio

안녕하세요! That is how you say “Hello!” in the wonderful country of South Korea! My name is Sequoia Heidt-Kausch. I live in Tallahassee, Florida with my mom who is, after twenty years, going back to college at FSU to get her degree in Biological Science. I’m a sixteen year old junior at Leon High School. I’m a part of the NHS, SHH, Key Club, Art Club, and International Culture Club. I’ve been exposed to art all of my life, and I love it―drawing, photography, dance, music―everything. But my passion is language. I’m learning Spanish and French in school. At home I’ve been teaching myself Japanese and now Korean.

After these four languages, there are many more I want to learn: German, Russian, Lithuanian, Chinese, pretty much anything I can get my hands on. I first heard about Rotary my Freshman year when Eri Ono, a Japanese exchange student, would eat lunch with me and my friends. I was intrigued, but I never thought I could do something so amazing, so I stored it in the depths of my mind. Until this year, when I heard my friend talk about applying. It dawned on me that maybe this WAS something I could do. So I did a lot of research, convinced my family, applied, went through the intense but fun interviews, and was, to my astonishment, accepted. I can’t thank everyone enough, my grandma, mom, and the amazing Rotary staff!

I want to thank Ella Smith in particular because she gave me confidence and guidance on a personal level and made me realize that I could achieve this dream. There will be tough moments, but many lessons are learned when there is struggle. Things are going to change, and definitely for the better. Thank you all for this phenomenal opportunity!!!

Journals: Sequoia – Korea 2015-2016

  • Sequoia, outbound to Korea

I wrote this on May 1st
262 days and I finally manage to write a journal. Sitting in bed at 2:30am after two weeks of being away from home and I’m overcome with a sense of longing. I’m longing to see my home in Florida, yet I’m already longing to come back to Korea.

My host dad and I had a nice conversation earlier tonight. We talked about how we never see each other because he’s so busy, because Koreans are always so busy. He told me him and my host mom and sister don’t go on vacation because they’re always working or studying, but then he told me that one day they’ll come to my house in Florida.

He asked me if I like Korea and I said yes and he said why, the U.S. is good, Korea isn’t. All the while he was making funny sound effects and had gestures to show how the U.S. is good and Korea isn’t. He told me to stop studying and go play more. That I should do what I want and have fun. To not hurt because everyone is so busy and we don’t see each other because I’m at my school dorm all week and on the weekend he’s working. He felt really bad about how busy they are, but that’s just Korean life, everyone is always busy…faster, faster, faster…that’s a word I’ve now hear more than any other in my life because Koreans have so much work and so little time that they need to do everything in a split second.

It’s good to be efficient, but to push yourself to such extremes as so many Korean high school students do is unhealthy. Not all of the stress is self inflicted, it’s a combination of pressure from the teachers, parents, and themselves. The smartest classes are worked to the bone, starting school at 08:10, lunch break from 12:30-13:30, class again from 13:30 until an hour break for dinner at 17:30 and then having to either go back to school for night study from 18:30 until 24:30 or go to an academy to study.
I may not realize all of the things that have changed about my character and personality, but I know I’m not entirely the same person that left the United States 8 months ago. I don’t really know what version of myself is here right now, but I feel it’s one of the better ones.

I’ve lost 4 kilos, lost my tan (I can see my veins! It’s weird), lost my way, taken a city bus to another city. I repeatedly skimp on the bus fare because I’m a broke exchange student, I got a free taxi because this drunk dude was going to the same apartment as me and he just paid the taxi and left…I don’t think he even knew I was in the back seat, traveled more on my own than I ever had. I’ve become a native English speaker who uses some of the wrongest grammar ever. I speak Korean and I feel a little anxious, but I feel happy. I feel happy when I can communicate with my friends at school and they understand me, even though my accent is American and I will never be mistaken as a native. In a country as homogeneous as Korea I stand out as a white, light haired, chestnut eyed American. I stand out so much. People stare all the time whether I’m just walking down the street, ordering food, or taking the bus. They especially stare if I’m wearing my school uniform. When I’m not in uniform most people think I’m either an English teacher or a college student.

There’s this one first year at school who, whenever I see him, has this enormous smile on his face, his eyes smile too, and he waves enthusiastically with both hands and says hi, and tries his best to speak in English. Whenever I see him in the lunch room he always says “Have a good lunch!” and I reply “맛있게먹어!” He’s been getting some of his friends to wave too, but they’re so shy. Most of the first years think we’re intimidating.

Age is a HUGE deal in Korea. If a person is older than you the whole dynamic of your relationship is changed before it even begins. This is of course a generalization, and there are people who really great friends even if they’re different ages, but the norm is for people of the same age and grade to become friends, stay together, and be scared of the older grades, because they’re oppa (older brother for a girl), noona (older sister for a guy), hyung (older brother for a guy), unni (older si ster for a guy), and sunbae (people you respect who have more experience).

We don’t really prescribe to this hierarchy as much as the Koreans do. Of course we still respect our elders, but if there are people in the age range of say…15-25 we don’t really make the people younger than us use polite form (unless they want to) and we don’t really use polite form with those older than us, unless they’re complete strangers that we aren’t friends with, that we’re supposed to respect. basically, if they’re our friends we speak in the casual form, and if they’re older, strangers or important people we speak to them in formal form.
This was a really random journal but I figured, what the heck I just need to write something, and this is what came. I will write again! Soon!

Thu, May 5, 2016

Tulaasi - Sweden

Hometown: Port St. Lucie, Florida
School: Lincoln Park Academy K-12
Sponsor District : District 6930
Sponsor Club: Port St. Lucie Sunset, Florida
Host District: 2400
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Växjö S:t Sigfrid

My Bio

Hej! Jag heter Tulaasi och jag kommer att vara utbytesstudent i Sverige nästa år. Which translates to: Hi! My name is Tulaasi (pronounced Tulsi- the a’s are silent) and I am going to be an exchange student in Sweden next year! I am a senior in high school at Lincoln Park Academy, so my year on exchange will be a gap year before I begin college. At school, I am part of the International Baccalaureate program and am Vice President of the National Honor Society. Outside of school, I work at Chipotle and take a few yoga classes every week. As someone who has never left the United States, this is going to be an exciting experience for me- to say the least!

I live here in Florida, in a somewhat small city called Port Saint Lucie, with my mother and three sisters. My sisters and I are very close- both in age and in our freindships. My older sister is 18, I am 17, and my two younger sisters are 16 and 14. I was born in Hawaii and raised in Oregon, so I do have some experience outside of Florida, and refer to Oregon as my home more often than I do Florida. However, I hope my experience while on exchange will completely redefine what I know as the meaning of home- and give me a new language to explain it in! My name is Sanskrit and translates to “the indescribable one” and I want my exchange to shape me as a person to fit that definition even more than it already does. Updates to come as my adventure begins!

Hej då

Journals: Tulaasi – Sweden 2015-2016

  • Tulaasi, outbound to Sweden

The end is here. Tomorrow is my last day in my little Swedish city that will be the answer to maybe the most common question I will receive upon my return- “so, where exactly were for the last year?” Glad you asked.

I think I’ve always been slightly confused about where exactly “home” is, but living in Växjö has made me completely at a loss of words on the subject. If I was able to make this relatively unknown city in the middle of southern Sweden home for what is almost a year, who’s to say it couldn’t happen again in Turkey, or Japan, or maybe even Tanzania? Ok I know those are slightly bigger steps out from the states, but what I’m trying to say is I feel like I have that ability now. I think this experience has allowed me to set the foundation to an adulthood fueled by curiosity for the world and the confidence to pursue any dream I am crazy enough to think up. I’m more excited for what possibilities the future holds than I ever have been in my far too short 19 years, and it’s all just getting started. My best friend from Florida arrived here in Sweden yesterday, and I’ll be traveling with her and my older sister for three weeks before I head back to Florida. Then it’s only 5 days before I move across the country back to Oregon, where I spent a large chunk of my childhood. It’s a busy time, to say the least. And I’m sleep deprived beyond belief. So don’t ask how I found the energy to write because I honestly have no clue. It’s been around 5 months since my last journal, and I’ve been struggling to mold my thoughts into comprehensible strings of words ever since.

Although I very much look forward to seeing my family and starting another chapter in life that will be full of new challenges and adventures, I would be lying if I didn’t say I was nervous as all heck. How do you answer simple questions like “so how’s it been?” or “did you have a good time?” without completely pouring your heart out about every intricacy you’ve learned about this vast yet incredibly small world? Because I could quite easily go on for hours on end about the happenings that have occurred in the past year. But attempting to communicate an experience like this isn’t exactly something that can be put into words. Don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll try anyways. And then I’ll remind myself that bringing up another reason why I miss Sweden every other sentence will get redundant really quickly. A lot can happen in a year. And that goes for everyone. Friends have found their life partners. Others have had babies. And youngest siblings across the country started the scary chapter of life that is driving, including my awesome sister Suby. Life hasn’t stopped in the states to pick back up again when I return. Skylines have changed. A crazy election season has begun (which I still want to be convinced is a drawn out prank being played on the US). And I’m sure there will be many slang words I’ll need explained to me. Society is different in very subtle ways and this transition going back will be nothing like what I have been through. But I am ready for it.

This year I’ve made life long friends from countries I have to use my fingers and some toes to count. I’ve had the amazing opportunity to visit Swedish Lapland, which most Swedes wish to some day visit – but that 20 hour train ride is understandably not feasible for most people, not to mention that Swedes usually prefer to escape the cold climate while on vacation. I’ve visited Paris with my amazing Swedish family that I adore and will miss dearly. I’ve had the opportunity to travel to Italy and stay with a great friend, James, who is on his Rotary exchange near Turin. Visiting James and his host family really gave me a whole new perspective as to some subtle changes that have happened in both of us, and definitely gave me the first glimpse of the tidal wave of reverse culture shock I’ll endure so soon. It’s unnerving and exciting, but the best part is that the people I knew when I left I will have the opportunity to get to know again with a whole new appreciation and understanding of companionship and humanity. And I could not be more thrilled.

Thank you, Sweden, for teaching me everything I needed to learn this year in your unconventional, progressive, and innovative ways. You will be missed. But don’t worry, I’ll make sure to visit as soon as possible.

Love, Tulaasi

Wed, June 8, 2016

  • Tulaasi, outbound to Sweden

It’s December 25th and I am skyping with my mom back home. She has conveniently propped “robot me” in computer form on a chair so I have a good view of the festivities and am easily pivotable to get a better view when needed. Mom put the bacon in front of me on the chair and we took the appropriate pictures for the moment of me pretending to take a piece from the other side of the screen. The sun is out in Florida, and it looks unreasonably bright to be only through a computer screen. It feels like the sun just rose here on the Scandinavian side of the world, and it’s gently sinking back over the horizon again.

I spent Christmas with my really great friend Calla, who’s also an exchange student, and her wonderful host family. I have had the opportunity to get really close to them too, and they definitely feel like another one of my host families, so it was super nice to be able to spend the holiday with them. Christmas in Sweden is celebrated on Christmas Eve, so I get to celebrate it twice now which I’m actually really ok with. Swedish Christmas involved a whole lot of food, which I am also really ok with. They don’t joke when it comes to eating on the holidays. And they down it all with some schnapps to make sure it digests nicely (but none for the exchange student who isn’t allowed to drink of course). I was allowed to indulge in some glögg though (the Swedish version of mulled wine) which I am definitely bringing back to my family as a tradition. We ate kroppkakor (literally translated to “body cookies”) but they’re actually potato dumplings. Oh, and I definitely noticed a theme of pomegranate seeds- and can’t decide whether it was a coincidence or a festive delicacy that wasn’t ever really part of a conversation.

After we ate, the kids all gathered around the TV to watch a bunch of clips of Disney movies dubbed in Swedish, the main one being with Donald Duck (or Kalle Anka på svenska). Because Swedes are so fluent in English, movies for kids are basically the only ones dubbed in Swedish, so this was the first time seeing anything dubbed into another language for me and it was pretty dang entertaining.

Gift giving is a little different over here in Sweden. Tomten (or The Christmas Gnome) knocks on the door sometime after dinner when it’s dark outside and brings a sack with a gift for each child in the house. The children are meant to be scared and delighted of Tomten, which I’m still a little confused about. One of the parents is conveniently missing while the children are each nervously receiving their first gift from the burlap bag. I don’t know if this is part of the tradition in Sweden or just the family I was with, but the Tomten had a hard time pronouncing everyone’s names- which is obligatory with mine anyways- to add to the act in some way.

Side note, it was Calla’s host mom Sara that played the Tomten, so I’m going to refer to her as a “she” for now. She teased a few of the kids as they attempted to grab their package from her hands moving quickly in random directions so as to keep it away as long as possible. But once everyone received their first gift, we all gathered downstairs to open those and the rest of them.

I gifted a few ceramic pieces I have made in school this year for Calla’s host sister and dad, crocheted pot holders for Sara, gave her younger host brother candy and action figures, and wrote a poem for Calla. I have totally had way too much time for crafts this year and I love it. I got a cute little green ukulele from Calla, Hildur and Elis (host siblings of Calla), which I am going to play so much now because I miss mine back home a lot. It’s strange, I didn’t really play my ukulele very often back home, but it was always an option I had whenever I was bored, and there’s so many things like this that I never thought I would miss. Like Poptarts, or Burts Bees products, or having my yoga mat to take with me everywhere (maybe I should invest in one here?). I’ve really gotten used to living out of a backpack and freeloading off of others’ endlessly generous hospitality, so these weird perks are definitely a distant memory to me at this point. Don’t get me wrong, I have been endlessly spoiled here, and I am so grateful to everyone that has made this possible, but I can’t help but miss those little joys I had from back “home” too.

I moved from my first host family almost two weeks ago. My exchange while living with them was very difficult for reasons that are hard to sum up into words, but I will say this for any future exchange students out there that have stumbled upon this entry: if you are having a hard time really connecting with your host family and feeling comfortable, don’t feel bad. Sometimes it is as simple as being the wrong match and it was just a personality clash. That certainly does not mean you did anything wrong, and I know it is easy to slip into the cycle that you would seem ungrateful and rude if you were to bring anything up with your host family or even your club counsellor. But these people are here to make you feel comfortable in this unfamiliar land and culture, so let them know how you feel in order for them to help you. I waited far too long to explain exactly how I felt about my host family to my club counsellor, which I realize now is a main reason why I was having a difficult time on my exchange.

I am still endlessly grateful to my first host family for opening their house to me and I wish them well on their next chapter in life. I am currently living with my club counsellor Claes and his wife Ingrid. They’re a wonderful couple in their 60s and all their kids have moved out, so this is the first time I have lived without people close to my age- but I am really enjoying it a lot more than I expected. Ingrid is petite, very patient with my Swedish, and is very physically active for her age. And Claes is humble, soft-spoken and makes amazing food. I will move to my next host family in about two weeks, which I am very much looking forward to, although I will miss living with Claes and Ingrid. I will have a host sister in my next family named Elinor. She is seventeen soon, has a freakishly similar taste in music to me, and will be going on exchange next year. We already get along really well and she reminds me a lot of my sisters back home, so it will be exciting to have another sister, with the added bonus of her being Swedish. Her father is my math teacher and mentor in school, and I have noticed that he always is making sure I am doing well in school.

It is comforting to know that he is looking out for me, and I’m excited to have him as a host dad soon. They also told me a little while ago that they will be taking me to Paris over Påsklov (Easter break) which I am very much looking forward to. (I seriously can’t believe I am getting get to go to France while on exchange). There will also be a trip up north in the Arctic Circle that I will be going on with other exchange students sometime soon. We will be traveling the distance from here to Italy- but in the opposite direction- so that gives a heck of a perspective of how huge Sweden is geographically. I feel so incredibly lucky to be able to have an opportunity to explore this part of the world with some amazing people that I have met in incredibly coincidental circumstances.

As the year is coming to a close my perception of time is going into question again. I am basically half way through this crazy year of being an exchange student which figuratively blows my mind. In just a few weeks, Sweden will be saying goodbye to a great group of exchange students from down under in Australia and New Zealand and will be welcoming some newbies to take their place. It will be impossible to replace a few of my oldies that I got really close to, but it’s exciting to think that I will be able to meet fresh new exchange students and hopefully form a similar bond with some of them.

Quick update on my literacy in Swedish: I have read the first 250 pages of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in Swedish, which was painful for the first few chapters but got surprisingly easy after that. I can understand almost everything in normal conversation, but I’m still very embarrassed to practice with people, so I usually just talk to the dog in Swedish whenever I feel like saying things out loud that sound funny. One of my New Year’s resolutions will definitely be to put myself out there more when it comes to speaking Swedish and stop leaning on my English crutch.

I am excited to see what the second half of my exchange has in store for me. The winter Solstice passed this week, so the days are finally going to start getting brighter from here on out. It’ll be nice to be coming home from school when it’s not pitch black outside in a few months. It has been an experience, and a pleasure for sure, to live through the Swedish winter, but I can see why seasonal depression is common here, for sure. I experienced my first Swedish snow a little over a month ago, but it has been surprisingly warm ever since and I don’t see snow coming again anytime soon, if at all, this year.

Skyping with my family earlier today was wonderful. Knowing that they are only a phone call away makes the distance feel a lot smaller and although I miss them a lot, I know the sweet hugs at the end of all this will be so much sweeter than if I cut this all short because I can’t bear to be without them any longer. Because the reality of it is that I almost can’t. I miss them almost every day. But this is exchange and I am taking this opportunity to become a Swede instead of spending my time missing my life back home. I definitely have realized more than ever that I am so lucky to have such a loving family back home. It sucks to miss them, but I would rather miss them more than anything than have nothing to miss as much as them. Ok, I’m signing off on this entry and again, am super bad at good byes. So see ya later interwebs!

Fri, December 25, 2015

  • Tulaasi, outbound to Sweden

Consistency is something I struggle with more than I am willing to admit, so for those few of you out there that are actually interested in my journals, I apologize for this one being far overdue. It has been over three months here in Sweden. The colors of the leaves changed almost as quickly as I feel the time has gone by so far. But now the trees are bare and a looming gray haze sums up the majority of the exponentially decreasing time in the day.

There is a field of ridiculously tall sunflowers outside of the school I go to, and just a few weeks ago they were still in bloom- but now they are tired and wilted as though to match the weather. This three month mark is supposed to evoke the deepest homesickness while on exchange, but I feel like I already went through the worst of it about a month ago. I was having some pretty serious sister/mama withdrawals and it got to the point where my immune system was affected and I was sick for a while. Although I don’t anticipate it getting any harder than it already has been, there’s something strange about being on exchange that seems to magnify each emotion to its full potential. The lows are much lower, and the highs are even higher, so it really does make sense now that this will be the worst and best year of my life.

Looking back, these past weeks and months have been pretty eventful. I went on a canoeing trip with other exchange students down the Rönne Å where we slept in military tents. And then went canoeing again two days later with some of the IB (international baccalaureate) students. My arms were boiled noodles at that point, but I still had a great time. I went to Halmstad to attend the District Conference, and of course, I was spoiled rotten. I’m pretty sure we had fika every hour, and some wonderful Rotarians gave us exchange students canvases and paint instead of making us sit through the lectures (which I’m sure would have been interesting if I could understand the language). We also attended the fanciest dinner I could have ever imagined, where I was served a different kind of wine with each course, and there was a magician casually walking around as entertainment.

I went to Anderstorp to attend a crayfish party, and met probably around fifty more exchange students here in Sweden. Crayfish parties are a tradition here where everyone puts on pointy hats, drinks schnapps, sings the classic song, and of course eats crayfish.

I went to Karlskrona, Helsinborg, and Lund to visit other exchange students, where we explored the network of winding cobblestone roads that make up every city here.

I’ve visited my closest friend that I have made while on exchange several times in Ronneby. Her name is Calla and she’s from Wisconsin. I’m so glad I have been able to get to know her- she reminds me a lot of my sisters and home. We have had a lot of forest excursions and moderately successful cooking experiments, but the coolest thing we did was turn her attic into a coincidentally Alice-in-Wonderland-themed fort. She basically lives in a mansion, and naturally, it is filled with beautiful antique furniture and vintage robes, and other miscellaneous items (like a super old papier mâché seal that now looks like a burn victim) that turned into the perfect combination for our fairy tale hangout spot. I totally feel like I’m back in my childhood when we’re together, and I am definitely embracing my inner kid.

Daily life has become more normal and a routine has settled in. It is pretty hard to not have a job, or something I can consistently do for a large chunk of my time outside of school, so I have been trying out a lot of new things. I have found is that I really enjoy doing things that I am really horrible at next to people who could be professional. It sounds strange, but it makes me appreciate all the hard work and dedication they have put in to getting that good at what they are doing, and I also really enjoy watching the learning curve in myself.

I go to a yoga class and gym class, both once a week. I go out for a run almost daily, and try to take a new path each time. I also tried acroyoga, which I was so bad at but it was so fun, and I wish I had the money to invest more of my time there. Before this year, I never really enjoyed cooking, but I think that this is the most significant change in me I have observed. Food is such a multifaceted area of knowledge so I know there will always be something new for me to learn- and I think that’s what intrigues me most.

In the first almost two months that I was here, a lot of my time was spent drawing, which is something that I had anticipated would happen before coming. Drawing for me has always been something I can turn to when I want to express myself in ways that words can’t, but recently I have found a sense of selfishness and indulgence when I spend hours on end with paper and my pens. It’s hard to express in my own words, so I’ll steal some from Harper Lee to suffice: “People in their right minds never take pride in their talents.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

School hasn’t gotten much easier for me, and the only subject I have even the slightest grasp on is biology (but I think that’s because I had three years of it before I came here). My Swedish has improved ever so slightly, and my confidence in being able to pronounce the words is virtually nonexistent, so I almost always revert to English. I really need to stop doing that. I joined a Swedish for beginner’s course a few weeks ago because I am getting pretty frustrated with how difficult it is to learn the language. I don’t know exactly what makes Swedish so difficult, but I’ve heard that it is statistically one of the hardest to learn. So I’m giving myself some credit for being able to understand a lot more than I was able to when I first got here.

Last night I came to the realization that confusion is now default for me. In any given situation, I do not expect that I will understand what people are talking about or doing, and ordering from a menu almost always turns into a surprise of some sort. This is going to sound strange, but I actually really enjoy having a large portion of my surroundings being something that I don’t understand. Being in a constant state of aloofness to my surroundings is my new twisted sense of comfort. I think this is my distorted way of saying that the Swedish culture is becoming less and less foreign to me. Either that or I am numb to it.

The days crawl by slowly, but the weeks go quickly and the months have flown by. Time is funny that way, and before I know it, this year will be over. I have never been good at goodbyes or endings, so until next time…
Har en bra dag!

Thu, November 12, 2015

  • Tulaasi, outbound to Sweden

Today marks the closing of my sixth week here in Sweden. On July 29th, I left Florida to embark on this crazy journey we call youth exchange. As with all great adventures, I had a notably rocky start. I was not informed about my resident permit or my plane ticket until the day before I left, so that last day was definitely an adventure in itself. (Thank you Mom, Grandma and Grandpa for helping with all the last-minute paper work!) Saying goodbye to my sisters and mother for the last time was ineffably difficult, and gosh, what I would give to go back and hug them all a little tighter. I don’t think I actually had a grasp on the idea that I wouldn’t be seeing them for a long while, so I definitely took that moment for granted. Other than the anxiety of anticipation leading up to my departure, my flights went pretty smoothly with a few minor annoyances.

I had a nine hour overnight flight from Miami to Zurich and then a two hour flight the next day to Copenhagen. Under normal circumstances, I’m pretty sure I have a super power that allows me to sleep anytime and anywhere should I need it- but that first flight was anything but normal. There was a crying baby, a pubescent teen incessantly kicking the back of my seat, and I’m pretty sure it was near 37 degrees (Fahrenheit), need I say more? But after I got off that first flight, I brushed myself off and put on some more decent clothes to meet my host family in Copenhagen. My host mother (Hillevi), her twin brother (Calle), and her son (Nils) greeted me at the airport and it was so nice to finally meet them after only communicating through social media for almost six months.

Our first stop was at Calle’s apartment in Malmö where I had my first meal in Sweden- Thai food! I definitely wasn’t expecting that one, but what a wonderful surprise. We got back in the car and drove two hours north, passing through Skåne- the picture sque southern Sweden with fields upon fields of farmland and little red houses with white borders. We stopped in Vislanda, which was about thirty minutes outside our final destination, to pick up the dog (Bea) and pick some wild blueberries. And soon enough, we arrived in Växjö, the city I am calling home for the next year.

It was surreal, to say the least, seeing this wonderful place for the first time.
Växjö is wonderful. It’s about a fifteen minute bike ride into the city center from where I am staying right now. My host brother Nils took me around the city on my third day here with the bikes. He showed me where my school was and some other important landmarks in Växjö, including the church, the central bus station, and the lake that is named after the city (or maybe the city is named after the lake- which came first, chicken or egg?). Much of my first week here was spent either drawing or going out to Stojby where my host brother and I would swim in the lake and relax on the “brygga” (which translates to bridge, but it’s actually like a big cement dock-type of thing).

During my second week I went to Göteborg, Sweden’s second largest city, where we stayed with my host mother’s close friend. We went to the city’s amusement park called Liseberg and went on a boat tour of the archipelago which I believe went out to the western most point of the country. I also had the opportunity to catch up with my friend Simon who lives in Mölndal, a suburb of Göteborg. Simon was an exchange student to Florida last year and heavily influenced my decision to put Sweden on my list of options for exchange, so it was pretty special to see him so soon after I had become an exchange student myself.

The next weekend there was a festival in Växjö called Karl-Oskardagarna- which is on my list of favorite times on exchange for sure. I had the opportunity to meet a guy named Simon (different one than before) whom we had only known through mutual friends from back in Oregon. I got to meet his cousins and we all had a blast together that Saturday night.

The following week was language camp in Åhus: a small city in southern Sweden, right on the ocean, and also home to the famous Absolut Vodka. I finally got to meet all the exchange students in the southern part of Sweden. They’re a really diversely talented group of young people and I feel pretty lucky to have met them and create a bond with them so quickly. That week was filled with countless trips to the candy aisle of the grocery store where we discovered the powerfully addicting chocolate of Sweden. (Good thing it was a decent walk to and from the store). We learned a lot of very basic and introductory Swedish, which I had already learned most of on my own, but it was nice to learn with others the beautifully impossible Swedish language. And soon enough, that week came to an end and it was time for school to start.

School here is very different from Florida. The first day was very similar to what we would call an “Open-House” back in Florida, where you get your schedule and meet your classmates. There is no dress code in school, lunch is like actual real food and tastes great (and is free!), and the schedule rotates weekly instead of every-other day. I am taking drawing, religion, history, biology, physics, math, ceramics, and physical education- all in Swedish (and I’m taking English because I couldn’t help myself from indulging in one class that I could actually understand.)

I am going into a program called “Natural Sciences” and am in the third and final year- which means that this class is already a pretty tightly knit group of kids. But they are so nice to me, and I really couldn’t be happier with being in such a great class. I have managed to make a few friends so far, but I can tell that I will start to make more as my Swedish improves an d the year continues. My Swedish is still at a very basic level at the moment, and I am definitely having a pretty tough time learning the language and all its intricacies. It makes it especially more difficult when basically every Swede is beyond proficient in English, and of course they love to practice with the American exchange student. It will come with time, and I seriously can’t wait for the day when it just clicks.

The second weekend after school started I took a trip to Stockholm. I fell in love with the city quite easily and had a “wow, I’m actually in Stockholm right now” moment at least once every hour. I stayed with my childhood friend, Morgan, who lives in Oregon and has been in Europe for the past six-or-so weeks. It was pretty crazy to see him considering that we hadn’t seen each other in almost a decade, yet we had so much to catch up on with all that elementary school drama and the thousands of other things that can happen in ten years. We walked around the city for hours on end, and my feet were most definitely not prepared for the blisters that would ensue.

We passed four weddings in one day, toured the Old City (or Gamla Stan på svenska), had several amazing meals, and went to a photography museum. Stockholm has a pretty intricate subway system, but it was pretty cool to get around on something that seemed so complicated with someone who knew h ow to navigate it effortlessly. Traveling to and from Stockholm on my own was pretty great in itself. I got to take a train, and I hadn’t been on one since I was ten years old, so not only was it super exciting because it was a train, but I got to see the beautiful countryside of Sweden from a Hogwarts-esque cabin and everything felt like magic. (Side note: I think I am obsessed with trains now.)

So far, exchange has been pretty difficult, but also very wonderful. It is everything I had dreamed of and nothing like what I could have imagined. It sucks missing familiarity and my family back home, but I can tell this year is going to change me and make me appreciate the little things a whole lot more. I already have come to realize that cobblestone roads are probably the most underrated thing on the planet, and I know there are so many things just as great that I neglected to appreciate back in the states. I am doing my absolute best to stay positive through this process of missing home. But soon, this will be home to me. I am eternally grateful for this opportunity and am eager to see what this year has in store for me.

Wed, September 9, 2015

Vina - Poland

Hometown: Pinellas Park, Florida
School: St. Petersburg Collegiate High School
Sponsor District : District 6950
Sponsor Club: St. Petersburg West, Florida
Host District: 2230
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Bydgoszcz Brda

My Bio

Cześć! My name is Vina Aggabao, and I am seventeen years old. I was born in the Philippines, and came to America when I was nine years old. I live with my sister, her husband, their two daughters, and two dogs. I am a senior at St. Petersburg Collegiate High School, and President of our Interact Club. I’m also a National Honor Society member and one of the four representatives of Junior Achievement for SPCHS. In my spare time, I like to spend time with family and friends, as well as working out at the gym and training for obstacle course races. Moving to Florida at such a young age, I had no idea what to expect. I barely spoke English, did not have many friends, and I was really shy. So I focused on school, did my homework, practiced speaking the language, and before I knew it I started loving the American lifestyle. I got good grades, made new friends, and got out of my comfort zone when I started playing volleyball in and outside of school. I realize that living a new life in another country is hard, but I know it gets better in time. I want to become an exchange student to grow as an individual, and learn on my own without the guidance of my family. Becoming an exchange student is a privilege, and I would like to thank RYE Florida for giving me the opportunity to live abroad, and take part in this life-changing experience.

Journals: Vina – Poland 2015-2016

  • Vina, outbound to Poland

A little less than two months left of exchange and I’m struggling to figure out how time flew by so fast. I’ve heard it a million times, “Time flies” but I’ve never really taken it into consideration until now. Before I started writing this journal, I visited the homepage of RYE FL, browsed through the pictures of my fellow exchange friends, and remembered how just a year or so ago, I was sitting at home doing my research about exchange, and wishing that my adventure would start already. Now here I am, writing to you from Poland with only two months left of exchange. It’s a bittersweet feeling, a mix of happiness that I will be returning to a new life in Florida, but also sad that my great big adventure is ending. Not that living in Florida isn’t great because it is, but the reason being that Poland is also home, where I have a family whom I love dearly and friends that I will stay in contact with for years to come, as well as speaking the language I’ve come to love.

So before I end this short journal, I want to answer a question I get asked often, “Why exchange?” Now, of course there are a lot of reasons why someone would be crazy enough to get on a plane and live in a foreign country for a year. The answer is different for everyone. But as for me, I wanted to go on exchange because I wanted to find myself. I wanted adventures, figure out what I want to do with my life, and I found just that. Explaining my reasons would probably take awhile to explain, because even I’m still processing it all in my head. But that’s the great thing about exchange, others don’t have to understand it, as long you do.

Exchange is life. It’s challenging yourself, stepping out of your comfort zone, finding out what you want in life, and so much more. It’s singing with your girlfriends while walking down the street feeling like you’re Adele or Beyonce, it’s dancing randomly in the middle of the square because you got dared to, it’s messing up a sentence and having people laugh but know it’s okay because you know you’re trying. Exchange is the best thing to ever happen in my life, and I’ve loved every day of it, even the good and bad days.

Wed, April 27, 2016

  • Vina, outbound to Poland

Hello, 2016!

It’s crazy to think I’ve been here for 6 months. Sometimes I still find myself looking back at my first few weeks here and how I struggled so much missing my family and friends, wishing I was nowhere but home in the comfort of my own bed. It’s so different now. I’ve developed a closer relationship with my family, made new friends that I know will last a lifetime, and adventures. I’ve traveled to different cities, went on hikes to see some of Poland’s finest views, and even learned how to iceskate and snowboard!

So what’s new after 6 months? Well, my Polish is definitely a lot better than before. It’s not perfect but it’s better. I can understand more of what my family and friends are saying, and from time to time can have a solid conversation in Polish. Sometimes I still struggle with my sentences but my friends have complimented me on how much my Polish have approved. It’s one of the most rewarding feelings.

In January, the Bydgoszcz group and I went on a trip to the mountains to learn how to snowboard! It was one of the best weeks I’ve had, learning and failing with my buds, but still laughing in the end. Encouraging each other when we got frustrated. It was nothing but good vibes. On our last day, we were able to go up on the highest mountain and snowboard all the way down. Who knew? A Floridian on the slopes. It was scary, exhilarating, and fun I would do it all over again. I also learned how to ice skate, which is another thing I’ve accomplished.

Future exchangers to Poland, be prepared for a wild ride. Not everyday will be a great big adventure, but it is your job to make it count and memorable. You don’t have to go out every day or weekend to feel like you’re getting the most of this experience. Even staying at home to spend quality time with your family is enough. Some of the best laughs I’ve shared with my family were during our card games or even during dinner. Be open to changes while on exchange, it’s all about growing and learning.

Wed, February 17, 2016

  • Vina, outbound to Poland

Dzien dobry! I have been in Poland for about 5 weeks now and so much has happened it’s still hard for me to believe I’m really here. I just want to say that Poland is beautiful and breathtaking. There are so many beautiful places to see, history to learn, people to meet, and new food to try you won’t run out of things to do! To say that I got lucky doesn’t do justice for everything I have already experienced.

In 5 weeks, I have visited beautiful towns/cities: Ciechocinek, Malbork, Torun, Warsaw, and of course, exploring my city Bydgoszcz. I have completed my 10 day language camp, visited the Malbork Castle which is the largest castle in the world, cruised on the Vistula River, seen the fascinating light shows in Torun, visited Old Town in Warsaw, and went to the Mrozu concert here in Bydgoszcz (he’s a popular Polish singer)! I also went to Bulgaria for a week with my host family where I spent my 18th birthday. Yes , in just 5 weeks!

Some of you future exchangers are probably wondering how the school is like here in Poland so let me help you out. Liceums are the high schools here so you will most likely be in the first year class which isn’t really a problem because you won’t understand much of what they are saying. A lot of the students speak English but may be shy to approach so you will just have to try to talk to them first. They may seem closed off, but once you start trying to talk to them in Polish they will help you out because they love the fact you are trying to learn their language! Just keep trying and eventually you will understand more.

The classes are 45 minutes long for each subject and you will stay with the same students when you go to the next class. We also have 10 minute breaks in between classes to eat lunch, then after the 4th class you will have 15-20 minute breaks. Our days end on different times depending on our schedule, so on Monday – Wednesday I get out at 15 :25, Thursday at 17:25, and Friday at 12:30. I really like my school, it’s in the middle of the city not too far from my home and there are lots of nearby shops and cafes to check out. I have also made a lot of friends in the first few weeks in school. It may seem intimidating to approach the students, but you just have to get over that fear and talk to them! Before you know it, you will be making plans to go to the mall or cafes or cinemas!

Now, let me talk about my host family. I absolutely adore them! They have been so loving and caring since I got here that I don’t even want to think about when I have to move on to my next host family. My host dad, Marcin, and sister, Marcelina speak English pretty well, and my host mom, Agnieszka is still learning. She teaches me Polish while she’s learning English. I also had another sister, Julia, and she went on her exchange to Australia while I was at my language camp. In the short 5 days we spent together, we have gotten really close and I’m happy to be able to call her my sister.

My host parents work a lot during the week, but we eat dinner together to talk about our days and what happened at school. There is always something new to talk and laugh about. On weekends is family time which I love because no matter how busy we are during the week we still find time to spend together. My host grandparents are also the cutest! You are never hungry around them and they are all so loving and caring. My grandmas here will give me random hugs and kisses on the cheek and it just makes me feel really loved.

Going on exchange has been one of the best choices I have ever made in my life. Yes, it is scary to leave home, start a new life in a new country and not know the language, BUT it is also growing up and stepping out of your comfort zone and saying to yourself, “Wow, I can’t believe I’m really here.” Not in a “shocked” way, but more like an “I’m glad I made the right decision”. If you are considering going on exchange, I’d say go for it. And if people ask you why, reply with, “Why not?”

Thank you for reading my journal and a big thank you to Rotary, my sponsors at St. Petersburg West Rotary club, and of course, my loving family back home. I wouldn’t be on this adventure without all of your support and for that I am forever grateful.

So I will end this first journal with one of my favorite quotes:
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” –St. Augustine
Greetings from Poland! Until next time!

Sat, September 19, 2015