Outbounds 2017-2018

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

Alex - Japan

Hometown: Atlanta, Georgia
School: Riverwood International
Sponsor District : District 6900
Sponsor Club: Sandy Springs, Georgia
Host District: 2770
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Urawa-Diamond

My Bio

こんにちは。Hello, My name is Alex. I’m currently sixteen and live in Atlanta, Georgia. I’ll be studying in Japan next year, and I’m very excited. I live with my parents, my dog, my rabbit, and two cats. I have an older brother who attends Furman University in South Carolina who wants to major in physics. Music is a huge part of my life, and I’ve been playing piano for over eight years. I also play trumpet in my school’s chamber winds, and have played in the marching, jazz, and pit bands throughout high school. I’ve also been taught a little bit of drum set and guitar, but I don’t know too much yet. I’ve made a music video, too. My favorite subjects other than music are psychology and literature. In my free time, I enjoy hanging out with friends, watching movies, playing video games, and writing. I’d say my favorite hobby is paintball. I love art, but I can’t draw, so I like to color and buy artwork for my room. I love to make people laugh, and there’s no better feeling than making someone’s day brighter. My father says the Japanese culture is a completely different way to be modern. I’ve taken Japanese since middle school, and I’ve always liked the language- its structure and flow is fascinating to me. I’m thrilled to live in Japan for the next year of my life. I think I’ll have an incredible time. Maybe I won’t have to use subtitles when I watch anime when I come back. I’m ready for a life changing journey, and I wonder how I’ll change. My world is so small right now and I know there is so much more out there to learn. I can’t wait.

Journals: Alex-Japan Blog 2017-18

  • Alex, Outbound to Japan

It is so difficult to believe that yesterday marks five months of my exchange, which means I’m halfway through. This sounds cliché, but it really doesn’t seem that long ago that I got on the plane to come over 6,000 miles from home.

Life has been a rollercoaster.

Since the beginning of October, college applications took the spotlight of my free time. Truthfully, ever since I came to Japan, I can’t believe how busy I’ve been.

In the middle of October, I traveled to Hiroshima with my school, and that trip was absolutely incredible. It was heartbreaking, beautiful, and unforgettable.

Shortly after, I was a part of a big documentary project in school, and I spent many of my afternoons and evenings filming. When I wasn’t filming, I was working on university applications.

Towards the end of October, I started to not get along with my host family at all. Fights broke out and my home life became miserable. November was the most difficult month of my exchange. With the holidays coming around, being stacked with college applications, and having a really difficult home life, I felt so alone and sad.

However, I reached out to my counselor and I got to change families on the first Saturday of December. Immediately, my life turned around.

The fact is, it is so easy to feel alone on exchange. You’re in a country where you aren’t like anyone else around, you can’t speak the language perfectly, and you just want to belong. I felt so on the outside.

The way this changed was really reaching out to exchange students and becoming involved and trying to make friends at school. Thankfully, I became so close with a few friends at school who have made me feel like I’m a part of everything here. One of these friends, I play in a rock band with at school. Joining a club activity can really make all the difference at school. You not only feel like you are a part of something, but you will grow so close with your club friends bonding over something you all share in common.

Outside of school, the exchange students truly have become my extended family. When the holidays came around, from spending Halloween at Shibuya crossing, Thanksgiving hiking and barbequing, to Christmas in Tokyo’s Roppongi Hills, the exchange absolutely changed everything for me. It will be so hard for me to leave them when June comes around, but for now, I truly treasure every moment with my family of awesome teenagers from around the world.

In my new family, I got to experience Japanese New Year’s in the most perfect way imaginable. I had quite the quiet New Year’s Eve spent watching the annual national TV program called Kohaku, where a bunch of singers, dancers, and comedians provide entertainment for the whole country. Around midnight, I went to a nearby temple to ring the bell. In Japanese New Year’s, the bells at temples are rung exactly 108 times, as it is said in Buddhism that there are 108 sins. We ate traditional Japanese noodles that evening that represent longevity and hope for a wholesome coming year.

New Years’ day was relaxing and enjoyable. More traditional food, Osechiryori, started my morning. I got to rest and spend time with my host family for the rest of the day. The following morning, my host family and extended family all traveled together to a place called Kinugawa Onsen. In total, there were 27 of us all staying in a hotel together. Those two days have, by far, been the highlight of my exchange. I spent one of the best days of my life in a traditional Japanese Inn with the most loving, fun, and lively 27 new family members of mine laughing and enjoying each other’s company. That evening, it snowed like I had never seen before. What a perfect day. The next morning we all woke up to a winter wonderland before heading back home.

Finally, college applications were finished and I am so happy to say that I have been accepted into the University of San Francisco with a scholarship as well as the University of Colorado Boulder! I still have five more schools to hear back from, but now that the applications are finally done and I know I’m in somewhere, there’s a huge weight off my shoulders.

There’s still somehow always lots to do, between Rotary activities and assignments, schoolwork, travel plans, and club activities, but overall, I absolutely love my life here. I’m now in a family that I love, with a support network of friends- exchange students and Japanese alike.

Yes, sometimes I still feel alone, and sadness hits me hard. Despite that, though, the everyday life I have I enjoy tremendously, and those times when I finally understand the Japanese around me, have an amazing conversation with my host family (all in Japanese), or when those absolutely perfect days come along- I had another one yesterday, in fact- it makes it all so worth it.

Just like these first five months have flew by, I bet these next ones will do the same.

Until next time,


Sun, January 21, 2018

  • Alex, Outbound to Japan

I arrived in Japan on August 20, so it’s been just about a month and a half since I moved to Japan. Moving here has already changed my life forever. I absolutely love living in a completely different place hearing a different language all day. Learning how to live your life in a completely different way, as people do in different country than you, is what exchange is all about. You will find that living in another country is beautiful, amazing, and extremely challenging. Exchange isn’t a vacation, you don’t stay in a hotel and just go do touristy things all day. That’s not what exchange is about at all. To me, it’s learning about how people on the other side of the world do things- school, transportation, meals, and things as small as going up the escalator. If you go to Japan, you’ll find out what I mean. You learn about the underworks of a culture, finding out how the reasons behind what they do can go back for centuries, or sometimes people don’t know why they do certain things; they just do them. With time, you learn to just do them too.

Most all days I truly enjoy here. Even simple things like walking to school from the train station make me feel full and happy with life, because I know I’m living life somewhere so different than back home. It’s exciting and incredible. Then there are the days where something truly beautiful happens, and I feel like the luckiest person alive to just experience the world. These are the days that stay with you.

Going on exchange means you get to experience these things, but it also is the most difficult challenge you will take on thus far. In only a month and a half, I experienced sickness, new allergies, losing my bike key and tickets, extreme exhaustion, Japanese language difficulties, miscommunication with my host family, and sleepless nights. Exchange isn’t easy. There are times when I wish I could just give my parents at home a hug, or just understand what on earth was going on around me. These things just take time and you just have to get through them. If you’re not ready for some of the hardest days yet, you’re not ready for exchange.

For me, though, it’s more worth it than anything I’ve ever done. Getting through the days that seem impossible, and enjoying life have made me stronger already. I feel my language ability stronger bit by bit every day, and those crappy days make the great ones even more beautiful. Being on exchange has made me appreciate life in ways that I had never done before.

I wanted my world to be changed and different than anything else I had experienced before, and that’s what I’ve gotten.

Tue, October 3, 2017


Ana - Denmark

Hometown: Weston, Florida
School: Cypress Bay
Sponsor District : District 6990
Sponsor Club: Weston, Florida
Host District: 1470
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Sønderbro

My Bio

Hej! Jeg hedder Ana Oliveira – Hi! My name is Ana Oliveira. I am currently attending Cypress Bay High School as a sophomore and am excited to say that during my junior year I will be living in Denmark as an exchange student! Part of me wants to jump into this amazing adventure feet first and the other is nervous about communication and assimilation. However, I feel that once I get there, the magic of living in a new place will certainly open my mind a bit more and will allow me to have a successful experience during my exchange. I have lived in three different countries so far and have had the privilege to travel to an array of foreign places in my lifetime. I am originally from Brazil, but lived in Canada for five years, and am now living in Weston, Florida. I actually enjoy cold weather and snow, so this is yet another reason why I am so glad I was chosen to go to Denmark. I am fluent in two languages and am learning Spanish at present. Whenever I am not studying, I enjoy practicing piano & guitar, singing, deciphering movies, exploring new genres of music, discovering new bands, and taking pictures (which I hope to do lots of in Denmark). I’m really looking forward to learning the Danish language and coming back being able to speak it fluently (hopefully). I am forever grateful to Rotary for presenting me with this incredible opportunity.

Journals: Ana-Denmark Blog 2017-18

  • Ana, Outbound to Denmark

Almost 5 months since I’ve been in this amazing country and It already feels like a year’s gone by. Thinking back to my first week is like thinking back to a whole other period in my life, and it wasn’t even half a year ago.

Here, the Danes start Christmas insanely early. I had already started seeing decorations being put up at the end of October. Christmas season really is the most ‘hyggelig’ and time of the year. And in Denmark, they take it really seriously. Almost the whole house is covered in Christmas decorations, like ‘nisse’ (elves), reindeer, stockings, mistletoe, tiny snowmen, and more. Not even the bathrooms are off limits.

A tradition they have here is that on the first day of December we start counting down the days to Christmas using a ‘julekalender’ (Christmas calendar). Everyday you open a new tab and find a piece of chocolate. It sounds amazing but I’m also pretty sure I’ve gained at least 10 pounds just this month.

The traditional Christmas food also hasn’t helped as it basically consists of meat and three different types of potatoes. We have flæskesteg, which is roast pork with crispy skin, roasted duck, boiled potatoes with brown sauce, caramelized potatoes, potato chips, and red cabbage. For dessert we have ris à l’amande, a rice pudding with nuts, covered with cherry sauce. One single peeled almond is placed inside and the person who finds it in their dish gets a present. You can also have æbleskiver which translates to apple slices but really are just small pancakes in the shape of a sphere. You eat it with powdered sugar and jam.

Another tradition here is that on Christmas (here we celebrate it on the night of the 24th), the whole family makes a circle around the tree and dances and sings. This year my family got kind of carried away and started a conga line throughout the whole house. After dinner, singing, and dancing, we sit around the table and play a game called pakkeleg. For this game every guest has to bring a small gift around 40-100 kroner ($7-$16). The gifts are all placed in the middle of the table and one person starts by rolling a dice. The rules differ from every family but usually if you roll a six, you take a gift. The dice is passed around the table with each person rolling once until all the gifts are taken. Then it gets really crazy. From that point one, a timer is set for an unknown amount of time, but usually 6-10 minutes, and everytime someone rolls a six, they’re allowed to steal a gift from someone else. Once the timer goes off, you stop playing. Sometimes people can end up with no gifts, or even all of the gifts.

Christmas time here is really cozy and happy, but there’s also some problems that come during this time of the year. For example, darkness. The sun starts rising at 8am and setting at 3pm. That only gives us a couple hours of sunlight and it definitely takes a while to get used to. Sometimes I get sick of the dark and start wishing I was in Florida where there’s sun everyday, all of the time. But I know for sure that I wouldn’t want my exchange to end right now, it’s just a bit difficult dealing with the darkness. What really helps is spending time with your host family and friends, and going out instead of staying in watching Netflix. Also, with the holiday season, the homesickness really sets in. Seeing pictures of my family and friends together was really really hard. But I know that in a couple of months I’ll be home again and seeing pictures of my Danish friends and Denmark. I’ll be really nostalgic and sad, so it’s better to just enjoy the time while I’m here.

So far, I’ve been learning more Danish and I’m starting to understand a lot more of what people say. It’s still quite hard to get all the words in a sentence but when people speak to me slowly I pretty much get the gist of it. it’s so satisfying being able to listen in on conversations instead of just sitting there and not being able to contribute. Studying the language really really pays off.

Even though I’m almost 6 months in, I still can’t wait to see what I’ll experience during 2018 and the second half of my exchange. Being here has been amazing so far and I’m so glad I chose to leave home and travel to a country I knew almost nothing about. I’m in love with Denmark and so happy to be here.

Fri, December 29, 2017

  • Ana, Outbound to Denmark

So I’ve been putting off writing this journal as I really didn’t know how to fit such a large count of experiences and emotions I’ve had into one entry, but now I’m forcing myself to write this as I know that the longer I wait, the more I’ll have to write about, and the harder it’ll be to get it all out on paper (or in this case, keyboard).

I’ve been here for three months now and I can’t tell if the time has flown or if it feels as though I’ve been here forever. I guess it’s a mix of both.

Arriving at the airport, I was much more nervous than I thought I would be. Leaving the baggage claim and walking out the exit, I spotted my second and third host family, as well as my counselor and his family. The smiles on their faces and the welcome sign immediately calmed my nerves, leaving me so, so, so excited and much more optimistic for what was about to begin.

After hello’s, we all drove to my counselors house for lunch, to drop my bags off and to talk. Not having slept for a straight 30 hours made that lunch difficult to stay awake for. Later that day, when everyone had left, we went out for a “quick bike ride” (this was a lie, it was 10 kilometers) to Kastrup Søbad, to visit the first item on my bucket list. I learned that day that Danish people bike A LOT.

The first day of school was definitely one of the highlights of my exchange so far. After hearing for months that Danish people would be cold, reserved, and unkind when I first met them, I was, understandably, a little anxious to go. When I got there however, all I received were hugs, kindness, and warmth. This was an example of something I wish I would’ve thought more about before I came, to not believe all the stereotypes about the country you’ll be exchanging in, because 9 times out of 10, they aren’t true.

Of course, I’ve still been a little shocked about the cultural differences I’ve experienced since I’ve been here. For example, the teenagers in Denmark have an immense amount of freedom. Instead of their parents driving them to wherever they need to go, they take public transportation instead, all by themselves. And the parents here don’t really mind where their kid goes either, as long as they tell them what time they’ll be back.

Another cultural aspect that is really nice here is that the Danes tend to keep their opinions (about others) to themselves. No one here will tell you you look ugly or speak weirdly or dress badly. They talk to everyone the same way, and accept others the way they are, regardless of where they come from, or what they look like.

Food culture in Denmark is also nothing like I’ve ever experienced before, and it definitely takes a lot of getting used to. The first traditional Danish thing that I tasted here was black liquorice. It was hands-down the worst thing I had ever tasted in my life. Funnily enough, the Danes are always surprised at the reaction of the foreigners, as most people here love the candy. Another food I tried was liverpostej, which is usually spread on rugbrød (rye bread). It didn’t taste nearly as bad as liquorice, but the thought of eating baked pig liver was enough to not make me want to eat it again. However, Denmark does have some delicious things, like remoulade, which is (basically) a mixture of mayonnaise and relish. Also, Danish pastries are really, really good.

So far, I’ve been having the time of my life. I’ve fallen completely in love with this country and I can’t imagine having picked another. I’ve met some incredible people here, that I hope I’ll keep in touch with for the rest of my life; they’ve become some of my best friends in the shortest amount of time. Truthfully speaking, exchange was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. But I’ve come to realise that it’s not always easy. Even though I know now that I made the right choice, in my first two months I seriously doubted my decision. I was, and am still, faced with a number of challenges. But the longer time goes on, the stronger I become and the more problems I am able to face head on. I feel myself growing as I person and I can’t wait to see how I turn out at the end of exchange.

Thu, November 9, 2017


Ana - Germany

Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: PK Yonge
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Gainesville, Florida
Host District: 1930
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Villingen-Schwennigen

My Bio

Hallo! My name is Ana Barrientos, I’m currently a senior at PK Yonge High School in Gainesville, FL, and I’m ecstatic to be spending a year in Germany! Ever since I was a little girl, I was fascinated with other cultures, learning new languages, and traveling around the world. My family is originally from Guatemala which taught me to value the ability to communicate in different languages. One of the accomplishments I most look forward to as a result of this exchange is to be trilingual (knowing English, Spanish, and German). I live in Florida with my dad, my mom, and my sister. We are a really close family so we enjoy doing many different things together like swimming, cooking, fishing, going to the movies, and traveling (we’ve been to Madrid, London, Paris, and Equatorial Guinea (Africa)). Some of the things I enjoy doing on my own however are drawing/painting, indoor rock climbing, yoga, dancing, Colorguard, and playing music on multiple instruments. At school, I’ve participated in Hispanic Honor Society, Marine Science Club, Cooking through Cultures Club, the Varsity Swim Team, Marching Band, Concert Band, and Winterguard. I can’t wait to bring what I’ve learned and experienced to Germany but even more than that, learning and experiencing new things in Germany. I’d like to expressly thank everyone who has helped me get to this point because without your support, I wouldn’t be where I am. With an open mind and heart, I look forward to where this journey will take me!

Journals: Ana-Germany Blog 2017-18

  • Ana, Outbound to Germany

Hallo Leute! Ich freue mich, euch zu schreiben!

I’m extremely excited to tell you guys all about February!!! Lots of very exciting events happened this month and honestly, I can’t believe it’s already over.

First of all, for the first and only time in my exchange, I switched to a new host family. Now, I can’t even begin to explain this feeling of changing families. You hear about changing host families from Rotex, Rebounds, and other exchange students so you think you’re prepared but it sort of hits you from nowhere. I hadn’t had contact with my second host family except for my host sister who was in Paraguay on exchange because my host families weren’t friends and I hadn’t had the chance to meet them before and that made me sort of panic the first night. With my first host family, I had talked to them very much before I had even come to Germany so I knew what to expect. With my second host family, I was going in almost completely blind and that is a completely terrifying feeling. However, it was apparent right away to me that I would be very happy in this new family and that my feelings of worry were totally for nothing. My host sister from my first family, Danny, stayed with me for a little bit longer and helped me break the ice and asked the first night questions which helped me a whole lot. After that, everything felt nice and relaxed because this new family is literally one of the most amazing families I’ve ever met. Right away, they were so attentive and always making sure that I was happy and comfortable. I was also worried at first because this family speaks no English! Now I know what you’re thinking, you shouldn’t be speaking English anyways. To be honest, I stopped speaking English with my first host family around the 3rd month when my language skills improved enough to be able to. However, if I needed to and I couldn’t think of a word or phrase, I could always fall back on my English. With this new host family, the training wheels were taken off and I felt like I was going to completely mess up every time I spoke German to them because I had lost my security. Now I see, this was the best thing that could’ve happened. As hard as it was at first to not have a back up plan, my language skills made a huge leap that first month with this new host family for which I’m actually extremely thankful.

I didn’t have a whole lot of time in the family though before I was off to an event made by the Rotex in our district, the Paris Weekend. The Rotex arranged for the 11 exchange students in my district to spend a weekend in Paris at the beginning of the month! I had been to Paris before but as any exchange student can tell you, everything is more fun when you go anywhere with other exchange students. We did everything from climbing the Eiffel Tower, to going to the Louvre, to going the Champs Elysees at night. I was completely enchanted with this wonderful city and find that when you wander the streets with some of your best friends in the world, everything becomes brighter and you look at the world a little differently. I also can’t lie, eating crepes by Notre Dame was something I had really been looking forward to and it didn’t disappoint. I am so happy that the Rotex planned this for us!

Coming home after this weekend, I was so exhausted and I caught a little cold. It was totally the worst timing however, seeing as what came next was perhaps my favorite German holiday. That’s right everyone, I’m talking about FASTNACHT! Now this holiday has different names all over Germany like Carnaval or Faschings but in Schwarzwald, it’s Fastnacht. The story behind this festival goes way back in history. The point of it is to dress up and celebrate for a week in order to scare away the Winter. I have to say, the parades during this time are amazing! There are all kinds of costumes and these things called Hexens. Hexens are a group of scary looking witches that perform dances throughout the Fastnacht week and also participate in parades. When you go to parades or fastnacht parties, you have to dress up too and it felt a little like Halloween, if Halloween lasted a week. The music at Fastnacht is very much like marching band music and everyone comes out to watch the shows that are given by the Hexens as well as other groups. I enjoyed dressing up and getting to experience something so unique to German culture. It was astounding to watch the way in which everyone was super enthusiastic and into this holiday.

I have to say, February was one of my favorite months during my exchange. I liked my new family and I got to have a lot of fun always doing something. I’m so excited to see what March and April bring because next month I start the… wait for it… DEUTSCHLAND TOUR! Bis nächsten Monat!

P.S. The crazy but cool German word of the month is Studentenkrankenversicherungsmeldeverordnung which means student health insurance registration. What I find totally crazy is that one word in German is four words in English. I learned this word because my schools has the students get their particular insurance though I didn’t need to because I had my Rotary insurance.

Fri, July 6, 2018

  • Ana, Outbound to Germany

Hallo alles und frohes neues jahr! I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted a journal but I’m finally catching up on everything which is surprisingly hard to do when you’re wrapped up in the world that is exchange. I’m glad to finally be able to share my experience with you all though!

First, though I am not doing a journal for November, I would like to include something that happened from that time which was actually pretty cool! I was invited to attend a classical music concert with a Rotarian from my club because she knew of my interest for music. It was quite amazing and I was impressed with the level of musicianship and professionalism. I thoroughly enjoyed the concert and taking part in something that a Rotarian was kind enough to invite me to.

That being said, I can’t wait to talk about the holiday season in Germany because it truly is a white Christmas!!! For a Florida girl, especially one who has never lived in anything other than a tropical climate, winter during my exchange was a huge shock and totally different to what I had previously experienced. When I suddenly was surrounded by snow, it was as though if I was living in a snow globe. I was walking to school in snow storms, shoveling snow from around my house, and embarrassingly, slipping on ice more often than I’d care to admit. However, I’ve never seen a more beautiful view than the Schwarzwald covered in a blanket of white!

During the month of December, I went to one of my friends’ birthday party, went to a concert from a famous German rapper, experienced Nikolaustag, went to a school dance which doubled as a fundraiser for my class, went to a Rotary weekend in Ulm, and went to many German Christmas markets of course! The Christmas markets here are absolutely breathtaking because if ever there was a place to find holiday spirit, this would be it. There are lights everywhere, homemade Christmas ornaments being sold, and hot drinks being served constantly. One of these said drinks I think is quite delicious and it’s called Kinderpunsch. It almost like apple cider but it tastes slightly different, more fruity. There is, of course, an alcoholic version of this drink called Glüwein because usually the non-alcoholic version is only for kids. In Germany, the drinking culture is especially apparent during any kind of celebration and Christmas would be no exception to that. I think my favorite part of this time was simply experiencing the different way in which Christmas is celebrated. Sometimes in celebrating holidays the same way every year, you don’t realize that every person, city, and country celebrates differently but in a cool and exciting way.

New Years was one of the most fun times I’ve ever experienced though because I spent this holiday with exchange students and some Rotex. We ate a typical meal for the holidays which is Raclette. It’s sort of like a buffet where you can cook things right there on the table because there’s a hot plate in the middle and everyone has their own little pan to cook things like vegetables and meat. We went out to a field right before midnight and watched the fireworks and it was so spectacular. One thing I found interesting however is that the tradition of the midnight kiss is not so common in Germany. When you turn on the TV in the US and see, for example, Times Square at midnight, it’s so normal to see couples kissing. However as I looked around at midnight, nobody really made a move to do something like that. Instead, the overage people were toasting the New Year in with some champagne which was really strange to see because in the US, these people wouldn’t be allowed to drink as they aren’t 21 yet. Overall though, I found that it’s celebrated quite similarly to us in the US.

January was a month I was really looking forward to because my birthday is during this month!!!! It was really nice to celebrate it with my host family and my friends but I’ll admit, it was very strange not to see familiar faces. I think it was the first time I’ve felt something on the verge of homesickness but not quite. The good thing is though, my dad was in Frankfurt on business and was able to come visit me for my birthday. He was really shocked at how I was speaking German and totally intrigued at how my new life had become so normal to me! I think for family and friends back home it must be so strange for someone they know and love to be so different when they’re picturing the same person that got onto the plane at the beginning of exchange!

I was also able to do more winter like things during this month because school slowed down enough to have more flexibility. For example, I was invited to go sledding with my friend, Genie. It was so fun and very thrilling which added to the reasons why I love snow! I really had an unforgettable winter in icy, cold Germany and I hope one day in the future, I’ll be able to come back and experience this season once more! Tschüss und bis bald Leute!

P.S. Seeing as I’m doing two months this journal, I’ll include two crazy but cool German words 🙂 The first word would be Naturwissenschaft which means science. I thought this was crazy because it sounds so long when you say it and I couldn’t believe it only meant science. The second word would be reaktionsgeschwindigkeit which means reaction time. I learned this one in biology and I almost died when I saw it on the page. I am seriously happy I have very good friends in that class because I immediately asked them what that meant and luckily for me, they are always happy to help me with my German!

Fri, July 6, 2018

  • Ana, Outbound to Germany

Hallo Leute!

I’m writing this as I hit the two month mark here in Germany and it seems as though time has started to move a little more quickly. October was definitely a fun-filled month with lots of different events happening which I’m excited to share with all of you!

This month was filled with quite a few Rotary meetings which were really fun to go to! It’s a tradition in my club to eat typical German food at every evening meeting, which are the ones that I go to, and so it’s always fun for me to try new foods surrounded by Rotarians. I’ve come to very much appreciate their amicability and willingness to teach me all about Germany. It was also during this month that one of the Rotary meetings was at a Rotarian’s house, another tradition my Rotary club has, and I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so much in my life. We had a typical German meal with a sausage called Weisswurst, different kinds of potato salads, salad with lettuce, and bread. I may have been stuffed by the end, but it was one of the best meals I’ve had in Germany. The family hosting was also really nice and after hearing about my love for classical music, invited me to a classical music concert in November (I’ll write about that in the next journal).

As far as school goes, well, it’s actually quite hard now. In all the trainings and orientations that Rotary provides, you try to prep yourself mentally for what it’s like to not only be surrounded by this foreign language all the time but to have to think in the said language. It’s something completely different when you’re actually living it. That said, I’m becoming more and more comfortable with German. Some of the things I could barely follow before, I am able to follow quite well now. I am especially loving History and English because in English, my teacher is so cool and it’s a break for my brain and History because now that I can understand more, I can actually begin to participate more frequently as well as it being one of my favorite subjects. I am also enjoying school because of my wonderful German friends. I joined a group of girls at school who have known each other for a long time and it feels like they’ve taken me in as one of their own despite the fact that they’ve just met me which is a warm feeling I can’t quite put into words. I think on exchange you make so many friendships that you never thought possible and that is something I will have with me even when I do finish my exchange. One of my friends, Lucy, has this special book for the people she cares about and you get to decorate a page and write a message; almost like her own version of a yearbook. She gave that book to me this month and it almost brought me to tears because it was sort of a symbol of how far we’ve come in so little time. I had a great time filling that out and making it pretty (It’s included with the pictures for this month) but seeing her reaction to my page was the best part of having that book.

So seeing as its October, I know most people must be wondering, what about Oktoberfest? Believe it or not, in Germany it is more common to celebrate Oktoberfest towards the end of September than to do it in October. Still, I was happy that my Brazilian exchange student friend, Bruna, invited me to come with her to an Oktoberfest party pretty late into October. Bruna lives in a small town close to Freiburg named Wettelbrunn and I stayed the weekend at her house because the actual event was in Munstertal which was one town over. I was so excited to go because it was also my first time wearing my traditional German outfit called a Dirndl. Oktoberfest was full of live music, dancing, and delicious traditional German drinks. My drink of choice here was hot chocolate and let me tell you guys, the hot chocolate in Germany is the best hot chocolate I’ve ever tried. It’s so rich and decadent as well as being so authentically chocolate. It was a great time with Bruna and my other exchange friend, Kara from the US. We got to experience such a unique tradition and the happiness on everyone’s faces told me how important it is to the German people. The Sunday after we went to Oktoberfest, we also joined Bruna’s host family at a carnival in Freiburg and it was amazing. We played the typical carnival games you would find in the US but there was also many stands to buy German food/souvenirs and places to buy clothes too. It was the best weekend in October for sure.

Something different here, that I found completely fascinating, was that instead of having Thanksgiving holidays in November, you have Autumn holidays at the end of October. It felt weird to be off so early but this particular week off, we had a Rotary event called Wanderwoch (Hiking Week). All the exchange students from the district come to Triberg for the week and get to explore the Schwarzwald (The Black Forest). We did everything from ice skating to going to a shooting range to walking more than 10K in the rain to going to a water park. I would go on and on about this week but at the risk of making this journal any longer, I think the pictures speak for themselves. I really love the fact that all the exchange students in the district are so close; they feel like a second family. Though you don’t want to get inbound syndrome, it’s still always nice, those occasional times you do get together and share unforgettable experiences which is what this week really was. It also gave me a chance to appreciate the place that I was living in more because the other exchange students live in bigger cities and they pointed stuff out that I had missed just because I do happen to live in the Schwarzwald full time.

All in all, as time passes by, I’m falling more in love with Germany. My friends, my family, and my life here have made me feel so at peace. I didn’t have this country as a choice when I applied to Rotary but I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. I think that I’m in exactly the country I should be in. I can’t wait to see what November brings! Until next time, bis bald!

  1. S. The crazy but cool German word of the month is Einhorchen which means squirrel (there’s an umlaut on the o)! It’s definitely a weird word and all my German friends asked me to say it because they say it’s funny to hear foreigners try to pronounce it. Now that I actually can say it though, I love it.

Tue, November 21, 2017

  • Ana, Outbound to Germany

Click HERE to read more about Ana and all her blogs

Hallo Zusammen!

I can’t believe it’s been almost a month since I’ve been in Germany! It feels like I’ve been here for much longer and I think my family and friends would agree! I’ve been meaning to write a journal for a while now, because I feel like so much has happened, but the first lesson I’ve learned on exchange is that there is always so little time and so much to do! Naturally, I have no idea how to even begin to relay all that’s happened so let me start at the most logical point: the beginning.

My Trip/Arrival: It was very bittersweet to leave pretty much the only place I’ve ever known. I can’t even begin to describe the feeling of walking away from my family and friends and onto a plane that would take me across the ocean to another continent. I think this is one of the hardest moments of being an exchange student. The moment you finally walk away from everyone and everything and realize, it’s just me and I’m going to be somewhere different for a year. Luckily, despite me leaving a little before Hurricane Irma would arrive in Florida, I had a really smooth trip. I had about an hour flight to Atlanta and an 8 hour flight to Stuttgart. I met a really nice stewardess on my flight to Atlanta and she asked about my blazer so we talked a lot that flight and now she wants her daughter to do RYE! I’m always happy to share about my experience with Rotary! When I landed, I didn’t have to wait long in Atlanta (30ish minutes), which was great becaus e I was anxious to get to Germany. Then the flight from Atlanta to Stuttgart felt so short, I couldn’t believe I had arrived in Germany so quickly! The Stuttgart airport was really easy to go through and though my luggage took what felt like forever to come out, I finally made it outside where some members of my host family were waiting. They were waiting with this really beautiful poster that they had made and it felt so nice to finally meet them!

My first couple days in Germany: Stuttgart is about 1 ½ hours from my city, Sankt Georgen im Schwarzwald, which meant that I had time to take in the scenery and talk to my host family. Now, before I left I had talked to my host family a lot which actually made it so much easier to talk and I highly recommend it. They will always be strangers when you first meet them but I felt like talking to them before made me feel so much more comfortable and helped me transition from stranger to family much quicker than I would’ve thought. My host family is made up of my host mom (Conny), my host dad (Henny), my 3 host sisters (Jenny, Danny, and Anny), my 3 host brothers (Jonny, Benny, and Lenny), my host grandmother (Oma), and my host grandfather (Opa). It’s definitely different to be living with so many people, sometimes I feel like I’m living in the German version of Full House. I have to say though, I love it! I’ve always loved being around people and everyone i n my host family has been so welcoming that I can’t help but be happy to be living with so many people. Later that day, my host family took me to a farm owned by their friends and I got to see so many different farm animals! It was fun to see how a farm works and we got some fresh milk which I don’t think I’ve ever had but it was really good! The next morning, after eating breakfast, my host mom got straight to cooking because the following morning was my host brother Lenny’s birthday! One of the things I love most is to cook so I asked her if I could help her and she was happy to oblige. At that point she introduced me to a wonderful, magical machine called Thermomix. It’s like this machine that does everything from cooking rice to making bread dough to making slushies. My mind was blown because we don’t have anything like it in the US. After making stuff for Lenny’s birthday, I played some boards games with Lenny and my host mom. I felt li ke I really bonded with them which was a great feeling. That being said, I didn’t have much time with my host family before I had to be in Lindenberg for Language Camp so though I met everyone, I didn’t have much time to really talk to them.

Language Camp: Sunday morning, I had time to sing my host brother happy birthday (my host family celebrates birthdays in the morning) and then I had to leave for language camp. To be more efficient, I carpooled with Genie, an inbound from Taiwan and also the nearest exchange student to me. It was great meeting another exchange student and I took a ferry in a car for the first time which was really cool! One of the most famous lakes in Germany is the Bodensee (Lake Constance) and this was the lake we took the ferry on. It took about 3 hours to get to Lindenberg but it was worth it because it’s a really nice town. Walking into the building where language camp was being held was crazy because I really didn’t know anyone, but that changed really quickly. At first, we had to sit through a presentation from Rotary about the rules, expectations, etc. and we had to take a placement test to see which class we would be in for the week. We didn’t really have the chance to talk to each other then but after that it was really cool because it was sort of like free time and we all got to talk. All of the inbounds are really great and throughout the course of the week, we all got really close. Though it was all German classes in the morning, in the afternoons we had activities like swimming, arts and crafts, and going out into the city. On Wednesday, it was a little different though because it was excursion day and we got to go see waterfalls which was a lot of hiking but it was worth it. Coincidentally, a couple of students from our group accidentally took the wrong path and ended up in Austria which we all had a good laugh about later. Overall, language camp was a great time! On my way home from language camp though, I was with another exchange student and for some reason our tickets were incorrectly labeled and we accidentally took a train to Switzerland! We both kept cool under pressure though and were able to get home again with just an hour delay. I als o got appointed to be the group speaker with my friend from Taiwan which means that we will be talking to the district chair and speaking for all of the inbounds in 1930 (like middle men). I was so honored to be chosen for that!

My First Week of School: After coming home from language camp, I only had half a day and then suddenly it was time to go to school. I thought it was really surreal to be starting in a new school, especially since I’ve only ever gone to PK Yonge but it was refreshing to start somewhere new. Similarly to my school back home, my school in Germany has children of all ages so at first it was a tad overwhelming due to so many people in the halls, but my school here is so wonderful! My host sister went on exchange in Paraguay last year so she had to be in 10th grade instead of 11th this year, but she did introduce me to all her classmates from when she was in that grade which was nice because they were all super friendly and it made it easier to meet everyone in my class. In pretty much every subject they asked me to introduce myself briefly and let me just say, my district motivating me learn my elevator speech for language camp was the best thing to ever happen because now I know wh at to say whenever someone asks me to introduce myself. A whole day in a foreign language tends to make you so much more tired than you’d think but it’s the best way to learn and that first week was definitely one giant learning experience.

My time here in Germany has been amazing so far! It’s had it’s hard times, especially when it comes to doing and thinking everything in German, but this new culture, family, and school that I find myself in has opened my heart and mind to so many new things. I wish I could write so much more but I don’t want to go on forever. Also to any future outbounds, if you guys have any questions or just want to talk, I would be glad to help or talk to any of you. When I was applying last year, talking to the current rebounds who were outbounds at the time, was really helpful and reassuring. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, find out everything you can, and enjoy the application process because as you’ll quickly learn on exchange, time flies by and you only get to live things once! Until next time, Auf Wiedersehen!

P.S. Every time I post a journal, I’ll put a crazy but cool German word of the month. This month it is: Unwahrscheinlich which means Unlikely.

Wed, October 4, 2017


Ana - Czech Republic

Hometown: Pinellas Park, Florida
School: St. Petersburg Collegiate
Sponsor District : District 6950
Sponsor Club: Gulf Beaches, Florida
Host District: 2240
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Kroměříž

My Bio

Ahoj! My name is Ana Bagaric and I will be spending my Rotary Youth Exchange in the Czech Republic! I’m currently attending St. Petersburg Collegiate High School and will be graduating this year. I was born in Berlin, Germany but grew up in Pinellas Park, Florida. My family is originally from Croatia and I can speak some of the language. The summers I’ve spent visiting my family in Croatia and learning about my heritage were very memorable and exciting. At first I thought the Czech Republic would be too similar to Croatia but after doing research I’ve found that they are completely different. I’m excited to know two Slavic languages. At home, I live with my parents, older brother and my spoiled little dog. In my free time, I have a job at Panera Bread where I make sandwiches and serve guests. I also love to go on runs, bake, and be creative through craft making. I applied to this program because I have always loved to travel and think I will learn so much by immersing myself into a different culture. I knew when a presentation at my school was given that I would regret not doing this. I am so thankful for this amazing opportunity!

Journals: Ana-Czech Republic Blog 2017-18

  • Ana, Outbound to Czech Republic

Its officially been almost 100 days since I’ve been here (99 today) and the time has gone by so fast, yet it feels like an eternity at the same time. Again, I don’t know where to begin with this journal. I guess we can start with the weather. This Florida girl is freezing over here. It hasn’t snowed yet, but the weather is normally 0-4 degrees Celsius (that’s 32 to 39 degrees Fahrenheit). My host family took me to buy boots, a winter coat, a scarf, mittens and some beanie-all things I have never owned or needed to own before. It was quite funny for them to watch me attempt to put a scarf on correctly since I’m incredibly clueless with anything winter related. Everyone here is amazed when they find out I’ve never seen snow before, and I’m impatiently waiting for the first snowfall.

An update on the dance lessons: they were amazing! As I mentioned in my last post, I hate dancing and dresses. But I actually had fun and wore a total of 4 dresses throughout the 12-week lessons. That’s more dresses in the past three months than my entire life. The final ball was incredibly nerve-wracking as all of our host families (my current and three future ones), all of my teachers, classmates, and basically everyone in the town attended. This event is a big deal to Czech students and their parents, maybe even more than prom in the U.S. We did an introduction routine, the waltz, tango, jive, cha-cha, salsa, blues, polka, foxtrot and mambo (at least those are the ones I can remember). Me and my partner weren’t too great but it was hilarious to laugh at ourselves and I had a great time. I will always remember these lessons.

I have become very close with the exchange students in my town. It feels as if we’ve known each other for years, not just three months. They are a great support system as they’re going through the exact same thing I am. In October, we were told by the director of our school that we would do a ten-minute presentation in Czech in front of the ENTIRE school. We all hate public speaking so you can imagine how nerve-wracking it was for us. The point was to share our culture with the school and get more students to recognize us. We all worked together to create our presentations and practice our Czech. It was terrifying to have to speak for ten minutes in front of a crowd of native speakers. Although I stuttered a bit during my presentation and probably mispronounced multiple words, I am proud of myself for doing it. Nobody laughed at us and they seemed impressed with our effort.

My dance lessons are over, and soon we will wrap up our Czech lessons that we have three times a week. I’m currently looking for another hobby to take up, possibly a sport since all I do is eat here. In America, I would usually be given a list of all the clubs and activities at my school and just pick a few, whereas here they don’t do these things in school. I have to go out and look for them myself, which makes it a bit more difficult. The city is quite small and I feel as if I have explored it fully. It’s strange to see classmates, teachers, and Rotarians walking around, there are constantly people I know passing by me and saying hello. Living in a small town has its ups and downs. Sometimes finding things to do with friends requires a bit of creativity. We have eaten at all the restaurants, tried the cafes, been to all the stores, the movie theatre, and the bowling alley. That’s about all there is here. It’s very different to home, where I’m so close to St. Petersburg and Tampa and there are endless possibilities of what to do it now seems.

The Rotary here has been great so far. My Rotary club is invested in their exchange program, and we attend the meetings once a week. In September, I attended the first orientation meeting and met all the students living in either Czechia or Slovakia, District 2240. It was held in Trenčin, Slovakia, where we got to go on a hike altogether to the beautiful caste there. The next Rotary event will be the Christmas weekend in Prague, which I am looking forward too. I will also be attending the Vienna Christmas market with my host family. I’m so excited to celebrate the Christmas holiday here!

Sun, November 26, 2017

  • Ana, Outbound to Czech Republic

Click HERE to read more about Ana and all her blogs

Dobrý den!

I have been here for a little over three weeks now, and I can say that I’m having the time of my life. So much has happened in the past 24 days that I can’t possibly fit it all in one journal post, but here are some of the highlights and challenges I’ve faced so far.

The beginning of my exchange was a little overwhelming, as I was constantly being introduced to new people and was bombarded with questions. I am a pretty shy person, and one of the reasons I went on exchange was to step out of my comfort zone and open up more. Living in a new home, being surrounded by new things and hearing a different language was strange and it took some time for me to settle in. However, I can say that I’m comfortable now and I appreciate everything that my host family and Rotary club are doing for me.

I live in a village called Jarohnevice, that has a population of about 300 people. It is only a few minute’s drive away from a larger town called Kroměříž, with a population of about 30,000 people. This is a quite a difference for me, being from a much bigger city. Kroměříž is filled with beautiful historic buildings and small cobblestone streets. My host mom and sister took me to the famous gardens in our town, which had mazes, statues, and interesting architecture. The area surrounding my village is filled with nature…it’s so peaceful and relaxing here. I could for sure see why someone would prefer it rather than a big city. My family’s backyard is filled with fruit trees, such as apples and pears. They even have a farm with sheep, chickens and pigs.

During my second week here, my host dad took me to Croatia for five days. This news made me SO excited since my family is Croatian and I’ve barely spent any time at the Adriatic Sea. My host family has a yacht in a fisherman’s town called Tribunj. Unfortunately, I did experience some seasickness that caused headaches and tiredness both on and off the boat. However, the trip was something I will never forget. We slept on the yacht and spent time riding the boat through neighboring islands. One of the most memorable parts was gaining the courage to jump in the icy cold water. Being a Floridian I’m a complete wuss when it comes to anything cold, but after pacing around the boat in fear for twenty minutes I managed to do it. I don’t think I’ve ever been so cold in my life.

Before exchange, I promised myself I would say yes to any opportunity that came my way. So when I was told that all four of the exchange students in my town would take ballroom dance lessons, my initial reaction was to run and hide. There are two things I don’t do: wear dresses and dance. I was taken to a dress shop against my will and it was obvious that I was uncomfortable. When it came time to go to the lessons, all four of us exchange students were nervous. None of us were thrilled at the idea of dancing. Surprisingly, we ended up having a great time and were laughing throughout the entire class. I am genuinely excited for the next lesson, and it goes to show that trying new things is important. I have seen and done so many new things due to just saying YES when opportunities reveal themselves.

To end this journal, I just want to say thank you to RYE Florida and all the volunteers that helped us outbounds. All the preparation we did has made a big difference in my exchange.

Thu, September 14, 2017


Anna - Italy

Hometown: Thonotosassa, Florida
School: The Paidiea School of Tampa Bay
Sponsor District : District 6890
Sponsor Club: , Florida
Host District: 2050
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Cremona-Po

My Bio

Ciao! My name is Anna Dixon. I’m sixteen years old, and my year abroad will be in Italy! I live with my mother, father, and my two younger sisters outside of Tampa, Florida. I’ve always been interested in learning about other cultures. I’m a good student and I love to learn. At my school, all my classes are honors and I take two dual enrollment courses, which means I take two classes at college. In my free time I enjoy singing in a youth choir, which sings all over the world, and practicing martial arts. I also love being with my friends and helping around the house with my parents. Without my family’s support, I wouldn’t be able to participate in all my interests. I’m in 10th grade and I go to the Paidiea School of Tampa Bay, which is a small, private, liberal arts school. I’m so thrilled to be a part of the Rotary youth exchange program and I can’t wait to experience something life-changing, which is Rotary. Sometimes this feels like a dream and I have to keep looking at my acceptance letter to make sure it truly is reality. I know that it will be difficult to leave my family for a year but I’m so grateful to Rotary and my family for encouraging me to enter this unbelievable program. During my exchange I hope to meet new friends, experience cultures dissimilar to my own, and expand my knowledge. I think that understanding new things and being away from my family will help me grow in maturity. I’m incredibly excited to be given this chance. Grazie!

Journals: Anna-Italy Blog 2017-18

  • Anna, Outbound to Italy

Last week my mom called me to tell me that my blog posts needed more content than me just writing my feelings down. She said I should probably start writing about what I have done and where I have gone. I am going to and I thought I was already doing that, but as I read back I realize she was right and for the most part all of my blogposts were about something other than my adventures and more about the dramas and exhausting situations Exchange students find themselves in. I like to write these things down because if I don’t, I know I will forget them and even though at times I really do want to forget how dramatic being a 17 year old girl in another country, surrounded by other dramatic 17 year olds is, I know that it’s not what my mom wants to read about, and probably not anyone else.

For Christmas and New Years, I went on a trip with my family to the south of Italy. As I have probably written before, my host parents are both southerners. Christmas was spent in Macerata, a small but beautiful city in the central area of Italy, near the Adriatic coast. We spent a week there. Then, for New Years, we went to a small town in Puglia, where my host mom is from, San Marco in Lamis. We spent eight days there. While I was in San Marco, I went on a lot of little trips with my host dad to interesting places that are greatly revered in Puglia and the south. The south has a patron saint whose name is Padre Pio. My host dad took me to his crypt, and I saw his body, still in perfect condition. Padre Pio is so famous and so loved that it is almost more of a sin to take his name in vain than God’s. My host nonno has a huge tattoo of Pio’s face on his left shoulder. I got to see three Churches that were constructed in honor of Pio. I also visited a city that looks out on the Manfredonian Coast. The day before we left for Cremona, my host dad took me to Napoli (Naples). We visited every single landmark in one day, which Gino (host dad) called a “miracle”. The day we all returned to Cremona it snowed in Macerata. Since we had to go through Macerata to get home, I was able to see it. This was my second time seeing snow in Italy and in my life. I really, really don’t like the cold, or the grey that comes with it, but snow is very beautiful. The few days before school started were taken up with activities because I was invited to both Venice and Milan right after each other. I had a great time in both cities but now I wish I had said no and just slept and recuperated after a long two weeks with my family. Now school has started and the Short Term exchange students who arrived in December are starting to go back to their home countries. Their exchange is only for 6 weeks and to me that is so unbelievably short I cannot even imagine it. I get jealous that my other long-term exchange friends are getting to stay until August or September while I must leave in July. I can’t explain how much I love my family because there are not words in English for how I feel. They are so different from my family in Florida, yet so similar, in the ways that count. I really appreciate them and though I know that it is hard to take care of a child that isn’t their own, they really make an effort to make me feel like I am a part of them. I also love having a brother so much. In Florida, I have two little sisters and though I love them, sisters can be mean in ways brothers can’t imagine. Anyway, tomorrow I will go to one of the gyms in Cremona to buy a membership and see if I like it. I came to Italy very thin and very fit, and I want to leave with me at least staying as fit as possible, if I can’t accomplish thin. Until next time!

Fri, January 12, 2018

  • Anna, Outbound to Italy

Since it is my 3-month-anniversary, I figured that I should really sit down and write about what Italian school is like, and what I am enjoying most about my exchange at this moment.

Italian school is difficult. My school in Florida expects me to have marks by the end of the year, and let me tell you, I am very worried. I have a modified schedule but since it is not in effect yet, I am in each lesson that my class participates in. In Italian school the children do not change classrooms. The teachers do. I actually really like this because, even though the students don’t have that precious in-between-class-pretending-to-get-their-books time, I believe that it wastes less time, and if a class is late, it isn’t the students fault – it is the teacher’s fault. My day is set up like this; I wake up at 6:45 in the morning in order to comfortably eat breakfast, get dressed, comb my hair, brush my teeth, check my backpack, and walk to the bus stop. I have to be at the stop by 7:15, or else. I listen to music on my way to school to put me in a happy mood before I see everyone at school. We have different lessons per day. On a typical Tuesday I would have Italian Literature and Language (very difficult class in which I understand niente), Latino (which I usually take with the first years because it is very different from the way I learned), Chemistry, Physics, and Gym. Probably the most interesting “test-like” thing teachers give in Italian school are “interrogations”. Interrogations are when a teacher schedules one of their students to come up during the lesson and then the teachers ask them very hard and complex questions about the subject matter they have learned. It is very embarrassing, even for the students who aren’t scheduled for the interrogation, because when the student that is chosen does not understand the work or did not study, the teachers are very passionate and disappointed.

Italian students do not party or go out with friends late into the night during the week, for the most part. They are busy studying. It always makes me laugh when I am on my bus home from school because it is very quiet and the teenagers and children are finishing homework on their way home. Also, when I say “late into the night”, in Italy this has a different meaning than in my family in Florida. Late into the night means that it maybe isn’t morning yet.

The worst thing about Italian school is school on Saturdays. Some schools have it, some don’t. Mine does. I am the only one awake on Saturday morning at 6:45, preparing for school, because my host father is a teacher at a school that doesn’t have classes on Saturdays, my host mother only works during the week, and my host brother has no school as well.

The most frustrating thing about learning a new language is that when you understand someone or something that only speaks, or is in Italian, you cannot go to your teacher or your Italian friend and say, “Oh my god! I understood and this is what it is in English, let me tell you!” You cannot say this because they will either not understand or not care.

The best thing about being an exchange student in Italy is that there is no taxes on food, clothes, or supplies. Only on houses and vehicles (which the percentage of tax to income is around 25%). Yes, things are still somewhat expensive, especially because the euro is stronger than the U.S. dollar, but if you don’t think about it, it seems reasonable.

You may have already known this, but dryers are not used in Europe. If you want a nice, warm, freshly dried pair of jeans on a cool, windy day, too bad! But it is okay because Italians iron everything.

I am in Italy, so everyone I see must be fashionable, right? And beautiful? Well. No. It is hilarious to me because I see women and men with designer clothes, or a designer item “statement piece”, but it doesn’t have to be beautiful. In fact, it could be really unattractive but because it is a brand item, they will wear it.

Right now, for teenage girls, the rage fashion in Italy is;

A thick jean jacket

A loose fitting shirt, cropped or tucked in

Very tight, high-waisted jeans

White shoes (Adidas, Vans, Nike, or Converse)

Straightened hair

This is the outfit I see over a hundred times each day. It is cute and comfortable, and it doesn’t make you stick out of the crowd too much. I think that it is supposed to convey that “I am edgy and gorgeous, and I am also naturally stylish” Italian vibe.

The most cringe-worthy fashion trend I have seen on men of all ages in Italy is super-skinny jeans. I never realised how much I had never wanted to see that until I had seen it, which unfortunately is just how it goes.

Everyone smokes in Italy. Even 11 year old girls smoke outside of their middle schools. Almost anyone who looks old enough and has the money can buy cigarettes. But, the food here is incredible. My host mother and my host father are wonderful cooks, and my host brother wants to be a chef and goes to cooking school. I was under the illusion, however, that in Europe there are smaller portions than in the United States. Maybe Italy is an exception but whoever said that lied to your face and you should expect to be fed A LOT of food. At first I could only eat a very little amount for each meal, but as I started biking more and taking longer walks with my host mother, I am able to eat almost as much as them or as much depending on how hungry I am.

Sun, December 3, 2017

  • Anna, Outbound to Italy

I have been in Italy for three days. My family is unbelievably wonderful. They do not speak that much English at all; only my host father can speak it. This is good, however, because it forces me to communicate in Italian when I can. It is frustrating because I have taken enough Italian that I can understand most of what the Italians say to me or around me, but I cannot say what I desire to say back in Italian. I am now speaking this complicated mix of English and Italian that is confusing to both Italians and other exchange students. I visited Cremona for a few minutes and my host father and brother showed me the Cathedral which was breathtaking. They said they will take me all the way to the top of the bell-tower one day. Cremona is famous for their violins. I also visited Piacenza to get my bus pass for school. Piacenza is an industrial city that houses most of the car, clothing, and furniture manufacturers in Northern Italy. My host father told me that there are many illegal immigrants in Piacenza from Africa and the Middle East because they can work in the factories. Castelvetro Piacentino (my town) is very small. It is only 3km, which is almost 2 miles. It is famous for its cheese and milk. My host family has a huge slice of  parmesan that we take slivers off of before lunch and dinner. One thing about Italy is that they eat a lot of food! I am not used to have three-five course meals yet! Today we also finished my paperwork and now it finally feels almost real. It is still like a wonderful dream that I can’t quite wake up from.

Mon, September 4, 2017


Ashley - Slovakia

Hometown: Lake Mary, Florida
School: Lake Mary High School
Sponsor District : District 6980
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Oviedo, Florida
Host District: 2240
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Banska Bystrica Classic

My Bio

Hello, My name is Ashley Zerick but all of my friends and family call me Ash. I was born in Colonial Williamsburg Virginia, but I currently live in Lake Mary Florida. I have 3 great parents that love me, My Mother is a RN, my Father is a boat engineer and my Stepfather is a water waste engineer. I have 2 sisters, 1 older (20) and 1 younger (15), so yes I am the middle child and love being a little and big sister. I am 17 years old, but will be turning 18 in April a month before I graduate this year. Currently I am a senior at Lake Mary High School where I have found a love and interest for Art and Art History. In my spare time I love to do yoga, spend time with family and friends, and hit the beach, but I can never go wrong with curling up on the couch or on my hammock and reading a great book. I am very optimistic about what I want to do with my life, I am bouncing around the ideas of either being a Physical Therapist or a hostel owner in a different country other than my own. With being an exchange student I really hope to be able to gain all the knowledge I can about the country I am being sent to, I am very excited about being given this opportunity to go to Slovakia and say I was able to spend a year in a completely different country and be submerged in their culture and to represent the US. This will be an experience I will carry on for the rest of my life.

Journals: Ashley-Slovakia Blog 2017-18

  • Ashley, Outbound to Slovakia

Since I have first arrived in Slovakia I have learned that exchange is so much more than traveling to a different country and staying there for a while. At least for me, I have learned that exchange is about conforming to another culture, being submerged in a different language, tasting new (sometimes weird) foods, becoming friends with people from all over the world, and learning to be comfortable in someone else’s home really fast. I have been in Slovakia for almost 5 months, which is already half of my exchange, and I can’t imagine leaving. Although Slovakia wasn’t my first choice and I wasn’t even sure where the country was at first, being placed in this country has taught me to always appreciate your life because no matter where you are, there is ALWAYS going to be good people and extremely good views. Everyone involved in Rotary always say that the holidays are the hardest part on your exchange, which in some cases is true, but honestly the holidays were some of the most beautiful, loving, and exciting parts of my exchange so far. In Europe during Christmas time almost every town sets up Christmas markets that sell traditional foods, drinks, and handmade crafts. My town especially was filled with these markets, it was so comforting to be around a lot of people eating, drinking, and sharing conversation. Slovak Christmases are celebrated on the 24th at night and are very family oriented. Everyone spent all day in the kitchen preparing the dinner and at night we all sat down together and ate and talked about what we were thankful for and how happy we are to be able to be together and then we opened presents and played board games. I’m so grateful to have had a family that was able to include me and make me feel very comfortable and loved during this time because it made it a lot easier to not be home sick and be able to enjoy my time with them. I honestly couldn’t thank Rotary enough for this experience, it is going by so fast but it is truly such a blessing to absorb a different culture at a young age in the way rotary has allowed me to. I did not at all expect exchange to be the way it is and have such a powerful effect on the way I see the world and the way I am as a person. Exchange has made me extremely open minded, loving, and positive; not just for traveling to a different country but to actually living in a different country. It has pushed me out of my comfort zone by forcing me to make new friends. Whether it’s with other exchange students in my district, or my Slovak friends at school, I have seriously met some of the most all around perfect people that I will never forget and would like to keep in my life forever. Exchange isn’t just fun and games, it is hard and challenging but I will never regret spending what would’ve been my freshman year in college, abroad learning so much that I would have never learned in a classroom.

Mon, January 8, 2018

  • Ashley, Outbound to Slovakia

AHOJ! My name is Ashley Zerick, I am from Orlando, Florida and I now life in Banska Bystrica, Slovakia!

I never thought it would be so easy to fall in love with a country without knowing much about it before my arrival. Upon my arrival I have been treated and welcomed as if I was a part of the families I have been given to stay with. I’ve gotten to meet all 3 families I will be staying with while I am in Slovakia and adore all of them. My first impressions of Slovakia were quite tricky because I wasn’t sure what to expect but each day here I love the country more and more. Slovakia is A LOT different from Florida; it is fall here but feels the an extremely cold winter in Florida. I feel l lucky to be able to experience real season because there isn’t much of a difference between seasons in Florida. The food here is also very different as well, I eat more bread, cheese, and meat, than I ever thought I would… my exchange food baby is rapidly growing but all the hiking and dancing and exercise I am doing is making up for it. The school system is also very different, since I am here to learn the language and culture and not subjects in school, I spend a lot of time trying to learn the language and interacting with my classmates and other exchange students.Rotary has given me an exhausting schedule during the week and especially the weekends. Although it isn’t more difficult than mine in Florida, constantly not knowing much of what anyone is saying or what they want you to do makes it a lot more tiring than you’d think. The language here is hard and is compared to learning Chinese. Having extra Slovak classes and constantly being encouraged to learn the language makes you WANT to learn the language so you are able to speak with the people who made it possible for you to be here and to make friends. They aren’t kidding when they say language is freedom, having a language barrier between you and your classmates, you and your family, and you and Rotarians makes it really hard to know everyone on a personal level. Being the Extroverted person that I am it makes it a lot easier for people to ask you if you’d like to go somewhere or do something with them, and even if you aren’t sure about it; always saying yes will make a good impression and help you in the long run. The first family I am staying with are probably the funniest and most caring people I know and I am happy that they are my first family because it helped me be more comfortable about staying in a house that is not mine and being told “act as if this is your house now, you can do, and use, and eat anything you’d like.” but you still feel awkward to eat a small piece of bread. Slovakia is also known for its castles and hiking, since I’ve arrived in Slovakia I have been to 5 castles and hiked the tallest mountain in the Low Tatras. I’ve also visited Slovakia’s neighboring country; Austria’s capital city Vienna; which was so beautiful. And have gotten to spend a weekend in the capital city of Slovakia; Bratislava with Grace who is from Florida as well. I’m so lucky and thankful that I’ve gotten this opportunity to travel to a foreign country and to meet the amazing people I’ve gotten to meet so far and cannot wait to see where this year abroad takes me. DOVIDENIA

Wed, October 11, 2017


Ayuanna - South Korea

Hometown: Tallahassee, Florida
School: Leon
Sponsor District : District 6940
Sponsor Club: , Florida
Host District: 3680
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Seocheon

My Bio

Hello, I am a sophomore in high school. I will be a part of the 2017-2018 trip to Korea. For a long time I have been interested in Korean culture especially their music. I love generally all types music, especially Korean Pop. Because of that I am in Concert band and Marching band. The time I spend outside of band is usually catching up on my eating and sleep because my sleeping pattern which is extremely flipped. Many of my friends are in band, and the same grade as me. These are usually the people I hang out with after school. Almost all of my friends are in music related things, whether its guitar, orchestra, or chorus. When I go out its is usually to eat. Most of my friends say that I am a very talkative person who isn’t afraid to speak her mind. I love any kind of food, but my favorite is pizza. I think the food I’m most ready to eat is probably Kimchi. Even though I am on my phone a lot, I think I get good grades. I hope my time in Korea will be a great learning experience, and that I will always have fun.

Journals: Ayuanna-South Korea Blog 2017-18

  • Ayuanna, Outbound to Korea

It’s been a month since my last journal and many things have happened. I am half way finished with my school’s two month break. I am also over half way finished with my exchange. I feel like it is going by fast, but also slowly at the same time. I really miss America and my friends, but at the same time I never want to leave Korea and I love it here.

At the beginning of January I took a trip to Busan, which is one of the biggest cities in Korea. It wasn’t really that interesting because we only stayed one night and mostly just walked around. The trip costed me a lot of money, so for the rest of January I just stayed at home.

Yesterday I went bowling with my host brother and sister. It was the most fun I’d had since our vacation period started. It was cool to be able to let go of all the worries that being an exchange student brings.

This month we have school, but only for three days and I won’t be there for two of them. This will be the last time that I am in the same class as my current friends. I am a little sad to see the go, but I hope that they will not push themselves too hard as third years. In Korea there is a saying that third years are no different than robots. They only worry about studying, and barely have a social life. I wonder if I will still be able to meet my friends outside of school or if they will be too busy.

Tomorrow I am going on a trip with my host sister to Seoul, the capital of Korea, and it will be the first time I’m not going with a Rotary Chairman. I am so excited to finally be free to go somewhere that isn’t with an overbearing adult.

My host sister is the best. She is a former exchange student, so she understands that sometimes I want to go on trips when I don’t have enough money to. We have a lot of trips planned, even after I leave their house and go to my last host family. On February 20th and 21st we are going to a ski resort with one of her friends who wants to get better at Korean.

About a week ago I Skyped one of my closest friends from America. We talked for hours and it was great to catch up on everything that I had missed. It was one of the longest conversations that I’d had since I came to Korea. It really helped me cure my homesickness that I was feeling.

I have started to look for colleges, and I decided that I really want to study here in Korea. I usually talk to this former Exchange student that lived in my town. She now goes to the third best college in Korea. She helps me a lot with figuring out what to do once I get back to America, and how to come back to Korea after exchange.

Sun, February 11, 2018

  • Ayuanna, Outbound to Korea

Firstly, I want to start off by saying congratulations to the new exchange students for next year. I know that they will do great!!!

So it’s been almost 5 months since I got here And a lot of stuff has happened since my last journal. For the first time I spent Christmas without my family and it was a little sad because not many Koreans celebrate Christmas here. Though I did video call my mom the day after Christmas because Korea is one day earlier than America could still did not feel the same.

Since my last journal I change my host families. I now live in the country and I take a 30 minute bus to school every morning and every evening. In my new host family I have three siblings. There are two boys and one girl. They are all older than me. My host sister comes home on the weekends because she does not have college on the weekend. Though right now she is living at home because her college is on break. I don’t get to see my house brothers that much.

Around mid December we had to take a lot of tests at my school. I did not know that I would have to participate in these tests so I didn’t really do that good. I even did that on English which really surprised all of the students in my class. Taking a test is very different than American test taking. They don’t use any electronic devices including computers on any of their test, and they have this newspaper like paper that has the questions on them and they can keep them and grade them after the test. During the English test they use the intercom to repeat the questions and the dialogs that are on the test. When the intercom is on it is very hard for me to concentrate on my test.

About a week and a half ago, I was very sad because a very popular Korean singer died. A lot of Koreans liked him very much, and he was one of my favorite singers. Many people in Korea were sad, even a lot of my friends were very sad because he was part of a very popular group.

Last week my school held a festival. Every class entered the talent show and dress up contest. There were many different performances, and my class also performed together. I can’t dance so they pilot me in charge of filming the video. It was a very fun day for me, and I got to see all of my friends bring out their funny sides.

Yesterday was my last day of school before all of Korea takes a three month school break. It is kind of like the summer break of American schools.To celebrate all of my class went to a town 40 minutes away called Gunsan there we took pictures, shopped, and ate lunch together. It was a lot of fun and I’m glad that I didn’t have to spend my last day inside of school.

Next year I will have a different set of classmates because in Korea the semesters are different than Americans. The semester that I got here was actually the second semester. Therefore, all of my friends will be moving on to the third year while I will take the first semester at the second year. I’m very scared that I will not be able to make friends as close as I was with my classmates this year.

Overall, I love being here in Korea and it will be very sad when I leave. Though until then I will keep working hard at learning Korean.

Sat, December 30, 2017

  • Ayuanna, Outbound to Korea

So many things have happened since my last journal. I’ve made a lot of new friends, and I go out with my friends a lot now.

I am also teaching myself how to draw, and it relieves my stress a lot. I did not really like to draw before I came to Korea, but a lot of times I sit in class, and I don’t have anything to do, so it keeps me occupied.

Soon I will have to change houses. We change houses on December 2, and I move 30 minutes outside of my town. Now I will have to wake up way earlier than I used to. The host family that I am going to is new, so no one really knows anything about them. I don’t know if they have a child abroad like the other host families that I am going to go to, but I am looking forward to meeting them.

Most of the tests for my grade are done so I get to hang out with my friends a lot more than I used to. Because Korea focuses heavily on studying and education I don’t get to talk to my friends as much as I used to talk to my friends in America. I don’t talk to the other exchange student from Florida as much as I did in the beginning but I hear that they are having a great time, and I am having a great time too.

I wish I could get more pins for my jacket, but I don’t meet many exchange students and my district is very small. There are only three exchange students including me. I really don’t think I will ever meet the other exchange students in Korea, but we do talk in a group chat.

I go on many trips with my host mom in my host brother. They treat me very well, and I don’t feel homesick very much. My fluency in Korean is getting better, and I can basically understand what people say to me if they talk a little slower. I try to answer everyone in Korean as much as I can.

At the beginning of November we had our first in country trip to a mountain called, “Naejyang.” It is very popular in Korea. There were many foreigners, so we could enjoy the mountain without being stared at. Though it was very cold and the lines were very long so we did not stay for long. I got to eat this very delicious food called “Ddeokbeokki.” It is eaten in Korea a lot.

Last week we had a festival in my town, and I was crowned the strongest girl. It wasn’t very hard to beat the other girls because they are more petite than me. Going to the festival allowed me to get closer to the people in my class because many of them were a part of the booths that were there. I will be very sad when the school year ends and I have to make new friends. In Korea it is different, the first semester starts in April and ends in June. Then the second semester starts in July and ends in December.

Yesterday it snowed for the very first time. It was so pretty, but the snow did not stick so it quickly melted by today. In Korea it is typical of couples to watch the first snow together because it signifies being together forever. It was the first time that I saw snow in eight years even though I slept through it. Though in the morning when I was walking to school it was not very fun to slide on the ice.

Since Korea is very big on cosmetics, my friends wanted to help me try cosmetics. It also helps that my mom wanted me to try cosmetics too so once our school break comes we will go out of town to buy cosmetics. I am looking for to going out of town for the first time without my host family.

Fri, November 24, 2017

  • Ayuanna, Outbound to Korea

Click HERE to read more about Ayuanna and all her blogs

It’s been almost 2 months since since I got here, and I have to say that I thought Exchange would be different than how it’s going. There’s been a lot of good times, but they’re has also been a lot of bad times.

I do have a lot of friends here in Korea because we don’t switch classes like in America. I’m learning a lot of Korean very fast. I even know colors now in Korean, and now I’m starting to memorize animals. My friends help me a lot with learning different things, and I have a really cool homeroom teacher who helps me translate things I don’t understand. There are times when I don’t get Korean etiquette right, and they will kind of get mad at me, but overall though forgive me if I explain that I didn’t know what I did wrong. I also joined a school club that does everything and anything. I don’t really know what the club is called, but so far we went to Seoul, which is the capital of Korea, and we asked foreigners questions about Korea. We also went to an elementary school in our town and taught kindergarten students English songs so I think it is an English club!

I try to interact with as many people as I can but the language barrier really stops me a lot. I get along with my host family very well and tomorrow we are even going to my grandmothers house for the upcoming holiday called to Chuseok in Korea.

Sun, October 1, 2017

  • Ayuanna, Outbound to South Korea

So far my exchange has been really good even though I have only been here for one week. I get along very well with my host family especially my host brother who speaks the most English out of all of them even though he is only 13. Recently my host mom’s family came down from Seoul and they knew English really well, so we went to Gonsan ,a city that most people go to to have fun, and went to a festival and bowling, so that was very exciting for me. Monday was my first day of school and everyone really surprised me with how nice they were!! They all wanted to shake my hand and asked me questions but they were too afraid to speak English because they thought it wasn’t good. I even met two other exchange student one who went to Thailand and another who went to Florida but they were in the Jacksonville area. I could not really do anything in class because I did not understand Korean so in the future I hope to get better at Korean. I have Korean lessons on Tuesdays and on Wednesday afternoons I think that will really help in progressing my Korean. There is a lot of stuff that I need to get in order to further myself into the schools normality. Like in school they use slippers instead of regular shoes, so I need to buy those. Also after eating lunch they brush their teeth so I will need to remember to bring a toothbrush and toothpaste with me. I also need a book bag because I did not bring mine with me because it was too big. Emotionally I feel like I am at home in Seocheon I really like the tranquility of the town even though I’ve only been here for a week. As I was walking through the town it was very quiet and people were very polite. I feel like I will make great friends in Seocheon because they try so hard to help me in class and include me in everything they do. They even told me I could join their lunch group and that made me very happy. I hope everyone even my host family will be understanding and help me learn Korean!

Tue, August 15, 2017


Bronwen - Croatia

Hometown: St. Petersburg, Florida
School: St. Peterburg Collegiate
Sponsor District : District 6950
Sponsor Club: St. Petersburg West, Florida
Host District: 1913
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Zagreb Gradec

My Bio

Bok! Ja sam Bronwen! Drago mi je. Hello! I am Bronwen! Nice to meet you. I was born in Fremont, California but I moved to St. Petersburg, Florida when I was 12. I have lived here now for about 5 years now. I am currently attending St. Petersburg Collegiate High School which allows me to be full-time at St. Petersburg College. However, I am in the class of 2017 and will be graduating high school in May with a two year degree. Therefore, I am taking a gap year in order to do my exchange in Croatia. I am thrilled to do my year abroad in Croatia. As I am applying to colleges as a history major, I am excited to learn about history in a place where so much has happened. At school I am a part of a few clubs. I am the secretary of the National Honor Society and while that takes up most my time, I am also part of Interact, Multicultural club, and the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. I live with my mom, Nancy, and my dog, Loki. My dad only lives across town so I see him pretty often. I will miss my family and friends dearly. However, they all support me and are almost as excited for me as I am. This will not be my first time out of the country. I have been to London and Paris on a school trip, I went to Costa Rica with my family, and I have been to Italy on a two week study abroad. All in all, I am extremely excited for this and very thankful to Rotary international for giving me this opportunity. Dovidenja!

Journals: Bronwen-Croatia Blog 2017-18

  • Bronwen, Outbound to Croatia

When first arriving to Croatia I wanted to update this blog once a month. Well, you can see how that turned out. Now don’t get me wrong, I was going to update it on time. However, I kept thinking about how I was going to do something exciting within the next week so I should wait to update so I could talk about said exciting thing. So, here I am, three weeks late.

Well, I’ll start from the beginning. All the exchange students to Croatia arrived within the same week. The first weekend that all of us were here Rotary took us on a trip to the Neanderthal Museum in Krapina, Veliki Tabor, Varaždin, and Plitvice Lakes. It is a lot of walking, I suggest you bring multiple pairs of good shoes. Also, it gets colder faster than one may expect so I suggest bringing clothes for cold weather.

September was a month for getting used to all the changes. The beginning of October was also mostly normal day to day life. Then October 14th came along. The exchange students around Zagreb went to a barbecue at the top of Sljeme with the local Rotary clubs. We walked up the mountain. It took us two hours. It was quite fun meeting the local Rotarians. However, none of us wanted to walk back down the mountain so we ended up hitching a ride with the band. After getting home a few of us decided to go to a soccer game. By the way, if you want to go to a game you need to have an ID on you. The local team in Zagreb is called Dinamo. All around Zagreb there is graffiti about the team and their fan club, the Bad Blue Boys. The game was really fun, Dinamo won the game and we discovered just how crazy the fan club is. They had huge flags, drums, and speakers to blast music. At one point they even threw flares onto the field and the game wasn’t even paused; a firefighter ran on the field and grabbed the still burning flares. After the game, I lost my phone. I left it at a tram stop. Luckily for me Croatia is filled with amazing people and I was able to get it back the next day. The next week, all the Croatian inbounds went to the beautiful cities of Osijek and Vinkovci for a three day weekend. I made good friends with some of the local students, a few of them came up to Zagreb a few weeks later and wanted to hang out. We were also lucky enough to get a picture with a professional soccer team from Split called Hajduk. It was later that I learned that Hajduk and Dinamo are rival teams.

My birthday has now come and gone. I turned 18. When I woke up I was sad. I was feeling guilty that I couldn’t celebrate with my parents back in the US. I was feeling really lonely all week and when the day came I didn’t really want to leave my room but I did and it became an amazing day. When I left my room my host family had prepared a present and cake. Then later I went out to watch Thor: Ragnarok with my friends from school. All in all it was a very wonderful day. Then came along my favorite holiday of Halloween. Now Halloween isn’t celebrated here and that made me a little sad. Still, I wanted to share the fantastic holiday so I gave out some candy and wished my friends a Happy Halloween. After school, I went over to a friends house and we watched Halloweentown and Nightmare Before Christmas.

November 1st is a holiday called All Saints Day. Everyone got off work and school so that they could spend time with family and visit family graves. I went to Mirogoj cemetery with a few other exchange students to see all the candles. There were thousands and thousands of candles filling the cemetery. It was truly beautiful. A few days later I visited Vukovar on a school trip. Vukovar is a city that was completely destroyed in the war 26 years ago. It was a truly eye opening experience for me and I admit, I teared up a lot. This past weekend was the 26th anniversary of the fall of Vukovar and I went with my host father and one of my host sisters to a memorial service on Vukovar street in Zagreb on the 17th. All down the street there were candles lit in remembrance. On the 18th, the actual date of the fall of Vukovar, I was on a school trip in Slovenia. I had been to Slovenia previously in order to go to a water park with some of the exchange students in our language class, however, we didn’t see anything other than the water park. With my school I visited the UNESCO sight of Škocjan Caves and the capital city of Ljubljana. Slovenia was stunning, it is a very mountainous country. There was snow! I love mountains and snow. The caves were absolutely breath taking and again I must recommend that you bring some good hiking shoes. Luckily for me, the tour was in english so I could listen and learn along with my classmates. Next we went to Ljubljana and it was also a fantastic place. There is a beautiful castle on a hill that overlooks the city. I can also now say that I have had hot chocolate in a castle.

Also! Croatia has made it to the 2018 World Cup!! A few other exchange students and I were lucky enough to be able to experience the World Cup Playoff here in Zagreb. Croatia won 4-1 against Greece and I am very happy I got to be there for it. Just a warning, in order to see this game we had to have our OIB which is basically a Social Security number for Croatian residents. Unfortunately, a few exchange students hadn’t yet got theirs and were therefore not allowed to purchase tickets. So, I recommend getting all the police stuff over with as soon as possible because you never know when you’ll need it.

All in all, the past few months have been wonderful. I have done and seen so much. I definitely recommend that everyone take advantage of the opportunities they are given. Now I look forward to a Rotary trip to Salzburg, Christmas, and New Years.

Sun, November 19, 2017

  • Bronwen, Outbound to Croatia

Click HERE to read more about Bronwen and all her blogs

Hello everyone. Writing this is very difficult. What do I say? I’ve never been very good with words. I could talk about myself but I know most the people reading this probably just want to know more about Croatia. This small country that has become my home over 5000 miles away from my other home. I will get to that, I promise. But first, a little about me. Clearly you can already see that my name is Bronwen and I am from St. Petersburg plus whatever you read in my first little spiel. I am staying in Zagreb, Croatia. I have been here exactly a month. I am living with my host mother, father, and three older sisters. I am 17 years old but that changes in a month. You might find it interesting that the reason I have difficulties writing is because to me, this is life. I have a schedule, i make plans with friends, I help out around the house, etc. I am in a country far away from the United States in most aspects and that sounds incredibly thrilling but really its just normal day to day life. I think thats the most important thing. I take the tram and go to a city center to be surrounded by building that are older than my home country. I don’t feel the need to take picture of everything or buy all the souvenirs. I see these buildings at least twice a week. I’ve settled in here. But let me tell you this, everyday life is pretty fantastic.

Now, I know when I was trying to become a part of Rotary Youth Exchange I read over these journals for hours at a time. I’ll try to answer your questions and make this fun to read.

First, a fun fact; I am writing this while sitting at home instead of in school because I sprained my ankle falling down the stairs. I am not the first inbound to have done so in Croatia. Therefore, I must say, invest in a good pair of shoes. Also, bring a jacket. You may have good ideals of shopping when you get here but there really isn’t a whole lot of time and you will be freezing in the interim.

So here are some answers to questions I had when I was looking up exchange. Laundry; everyone has a washing machine but very rarely do people have dryers. The dryers are things that go on the patio and hang your clothes. Since it is cold it takes a couple days for clothes to dry. Most people in the city live in apartments or flats. Most people speak english fluently in the city. My classmates scored higher on the last english quiz than I did. You will have language lessons if you are in Zagreb or within a 25 minute bus ride from Zagreb. I have lessons every Tuesday and Thursday. They are really helpful. I am not going to lie — the language is hard. The words change a lot. Almost every word has at least 10 different ways to say it depending on a whole lot of things I am not entirely positive about. I was practicing writing sentences in school and two of my friends started reading over them and giggling. Speaking of school, I’m on to my next point. I have 15 classes but only 6 or 7 classes per day. I am taking english, spanish, biology, croatian, math, music theory, art history, history, philosophy, physical education, chemistry, geography, physics, ethics, and politics. I go to every class. Do I understand what they are saying? No. I almost jump out of my seat with excitement when I recognize a word. Now lets talk about food. Almost every meal you eat will be home made. Honestly I can’t tell you much about the food. I don’t always know exactly what I am eating. But it is fine, I’ve never been a picky eater. There is nothing really to tell you about. They eat a lot of bell peppers and they eat them raw. Croatians really like local ingredients. Almost every week there is a market in the center square of Zagreb that has vendors selling whatever they made at home. A little bit north of that market is another that is every day and they always sell only Croatian home grown vegetables or hand made crafts. There is always something going on in the city. Finally, I’ll talk about money. While Croatia is a part of the European Union they do not use the Euro. They use the Kuna. Right now, as I am typing and not as you are reading, it is about $1 to 6kn. With rotary you will get an allowance of 400kn a month. Talking to my classmates, it is higher than their monthly allowances. Things are cheaper here than in the United States. I went to a fancy cafe with friends, we ordered a slice of cake and two coffees. It came out to be 40kn which is less than $7.

Wow this was way longer than I thought it would be. If you’ve read this far more power to you. I hope I was able to answer your questions and tell you a little more about the day to day life about exchange in Croatia. Live free and prosper.

Wed, September 27, 2017


Camille - Finland

Hometown: Lighthouse Point, Florida
School: Pompano Beach
Sponsor District : District 6990
Sponsor Club: Lighthouse Point, Florida
Host District: 1410
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Pori Teljä

My Bio

Hei! Minun nimeni on Camille Stanbury (Hello! My name is Camille Stanbury), and let me just start by saying I am so unbelievably excited for this this amazing year to come. So a little bit about me, I live in Lighthouse Point Florida with my mom and twin brother Mason. I’m 15 years old and attend school at Pompano Beach High, where I’m in the tenth grade. At school I take all honors classes, not counting electives, and I do very well. My favorite class is probably team sports, mostly because I’m very athletic and it’s just nice to have time to unwind during the stressful day. In my free time I like to play water polo, swim, or go to the beach, anything involving water you’ll find my there. I’ve always loved traveling so much and my dream of going abroad just seemed very unlikely until I got this opportunity, I never thought this would actually be a reality for me. During my exchange year I’m wishing to accomplish a number of things. I want to become more aware of the world around me, I want to become so engulfed in a culture I forget my own. I want to gain independence and confidence, and I believe that stepping out of my comfort zone and doing this will allow me to do so, and have such an amazing impact on my life.

Journals: Camille-Finland Blog 2017-18

  • Camille, Outbound to Finland

So here I am 10 months later, the end of my Exchange is looming in the near future and my heart is breaking at the end of each day. My exchange for a lack of better word has been sensational, I’ve had the best year of my life thus far and it really hurts to think it will be over so soon.

The last to months have been so insanely busy and I’ve truly loved every minute. April started with and early Easter,my family and I painted Easter eggs, real egg shells filled with chocolate, with water colors, and ate Mämmi, a traditional dish made out of baked rye. My Aunt came to Finland during the first week of April, so I spent the time being a tourist and it was honestly very refreshing. I also had my district conference where I got to meet my district’s newbies; these conferences are so nice because it just gives all of the exchangers time to catch up and just spend quality time goofing around together.

When May finally showed up I watched the snow quickly melt and the clouds leave, leaving us with beautiful warm weather. The first day of May is a holiday in Finland called Vappu, and Vappu is by far the best holiday in Finland. Vappu is just a day to enjoy time spent with you friends and family, to party, and basically forget everything important for a day; the feeling is unexplainable and something that I think everyone should experience. In April my host sister participated in a week long school Exchange to Italy, so in May we had the pleasure of hosting and Italian girl. It was such a cool experience to get to host a student while being on exchange, and I can now say I have another sister in my international family. It’s crazy to think that the school year is done, and it honestly hurts to think about what I’ve had to say goodbye to. I spent my last few weeks of school just taking everything in, looking at the paintings on the wall, running down the halls, smiling at new people, and enjoying time with the ones I love. I took a trip to finland archipelago island Åland, and it was so beautiful, it felt like stepping back in time and I’m so thankful that my family took me.

Although I still have about a month and a half left I had my final Rotary presentation… and cried. I’ve said goodbye to Exchange friends… and cried. I’ve visited cities for the last time… and cried. And now I am on my way to start my eurotour and guess what… I’m crying.

It’s hard to believe that next month I’ll be back in Florida, and everything will be over. These last 3 months of Exchange have been better than I ever could have expected and I just feel so grateful every, time I even think about everything I’ve been able to experience. I feel so attached to everything I have here and no part of me wants to give any of it up. I love Finland.

Sun, June 3, 2018

  • Camille, Outbound to Finland

So here I am 8 whole months later… that must be some kind of record. I can now say that after 6 whole months of winter I am in the clear, and spring finally decided to show up. There has been snow on the ground since the middle of October, and even now a week into April there is still snow covering a fair area of the ground. But like I said spring is here and I can tell you how I know, for one the temperatures are staying mostly above freezing even at night and the rain has come back.

So to follow up on my last journal I had my wanhat dance, and it was wonderful. I had the most amazing time dancing with all of my friends, we all had so much fun and made some amazing memories. All three of my host families came to watch me dance; while looking out into the crowd and seeing them smile while watching me made me feel so unbelievably loved, I truly felt like a princess that day. After the dance the school had a huge party which gave me the opportunity to meet and talk to so many people I had never had the chance to prior to that night, the next week at school so many people were smiling, waving, and nodding at me as I walked down the hall, and I have to say it felt great.

The big dance was really an important turning point in my exchange, the winter months leading up to that day had really taken a serious toll on my overall well being and I felt big change in myself. It was so cold and dark for such a long period of time, and I am someone who thrives on sunshine and beach days. I hadn’t felt like my normal happy & goofy self for a long time, and it was ridiculously hard for me to pull myself out of the slump. I am so grateful to have had such amazing people surrounding me during those tough times, to pick me up and remind me of everything and everyone I had to be thankful for. The big dance really reminded me of why I had chosen to do exchange, it forced me to do something completely new and showed me I could do anything if I worked hard enough. The week after the dance the sun started coming out and the days got longer, and I felt an immediate shift in my mood and now I am on a roller-coaster that only goes up.

I changed host families in the beginning of March and it was hard, saying goodbye to my new family, my little sisters, the dog… they all took pieces of my heart. So I packed up my bags and said bye to the countryside and hello to the city (if you could even call it that). In my new and last family I live only a short distance from my school and the city center and it is so nice, I have a lot more freedom and I don’t need to depend so much on my family to get me everywhere I need to go. The family has made me feel so welcomed and loved since the first day I was here, and I could never thank them enough. I had my 17th birthday the first week I stayed with them and without even asking they went out of their ways to throw me a little party, and even though the gesture was small it was the best present I could have asked for.

So as I mentioned in the first paragraph spring is coming, the sea is no longer frozen, and when I look outside I can see the green grass. There’s a feeling that comes with spring, I think just the idea of knowing that winter is over and I made it through is crazy. Winter brought so many struggles and so much heartache and now as the snow is melting I feel like a lot of my past issues and problems are too. I’m proud of myself, I’m in the home run of my exchange, I’m almost there. I’m not ready to go home, and I don’t know if I ever will be, but I’m excited to see what my last 3 months have in store for me.

Fri, April 6, 2018

  • Camille, Outbound to Finland

I have been in Finland for 6 months now and with over half of my exchange done I’m starting to realize that this year won’t last forever, and to be completely honest it’s kind of scary. Everyone told me that my year would go by so fast, and even though sometimes the weeks felt like years it’s crazy to think we’re already in 2018. My oldies have left and my newbies are here and I have my return flight booked for July and everything is just rushing by.

So the biggest event that has passed since my last journal was Christmas. Christmas in Finland, although the same in theory as in the U.S. is very different. Break started just 3 days before Christmas, but Christmas here is celebrated on the 24th and there is no christmas eve or celebrations on the 25th. On the 24th we woke up early and rice porridge and lots of fruit for breakfast, then we began cooking the dinner. In between cooking we went to church, played games, sang, and cooked some more. For dinner we dressed up and ate together as a family, we completely stuffed ourselves. After dinner SANTA CAME, here santa comes to your house and gives you your gifts and it was honestly such a sweet experience seeing my little sisters get so excited seeing santa sitting in the living room. I also got my white christmas, it snowed the whole day and it was absolutely beautiful. Christmas break was spent mostly at home enjoying each others company, but my host family also took me to cross country ski and are really trying their best to help me learn. All and all Christmas was great, and even though it was hard not being with my family back home It was so special to be able to experience Christmas in a different culture.

New Year was Celebrated how it’s celebrated in the U.S., I spent the night with my friends running around our little city enjoying ourselves. We watched a huge firework show on the river that runs through the city and screamed and danced and laughed as we welcomed the New Year, and I can easily say it was one of the highlights of my exchange so far.

In Finnish high schools there is a tradition called Vanhojentanssit, which is comparable to Prom. For this dance everyone finds a partner, and for about three months you learn and practices traditional ballroom dance and there is also a portion of the dance choreographed by the students. To dance the women must wear long ball gowns and the men suits with tail coats, and we perform our dances for basically the whole city. Everyone has been working so hard and I’m so excited to perform for everyone.

For the last couple weeks it has been freezing, and when I say freezing I mean trying to fit 3 pairs of socks into your shoes because you don’t want to lose a toe. With the cold comes snow, and even though some days I wish it would all melt, it makes the short dark days feel brighter and longer. I have to say even though I’m some varying degree of freezing everyday I do appreciate the winter and the joy it brings with it, and I appreciate my parka so much more.

We’re already a month into 2018, and I’ve been ridiculously busy but I wouldn’t want it any other way. So with the days getting longer and no end of winter in sight, I can honestly say I’m excited to see what opportunities the new year brings me.

Tue, January 23, 2018

  • Camille, Outbound to Finland

4 months in my new home, it sounds like such a short time but feels like i’ve been here for so long. The amount of things I’ve done and goals I’ve accomplished is so crazy to actually think about, and I’m still ready for more. Since my last blog a lot has happened, I’ve been so busy with everything from school to rotary events and I absolutely love it!

The first thing I want to talk about is the ensilumi or first snow. The first snow was in late october and when it fell it fell all at once, in one night we got around 5 inches and the trees, roads, and buildings were all covered in a beautiful white blanket. Snow where I live in Finland is special, because I’m on the west coast only about 15km from the sea snow doesn’t fall too often and when it does it doesn’t stick around. Another amazing thing that happened is that I got to see the northern lights. Now before that night I had never seen the northern lights before, so you could only imagine my excitement when I looked outside and saw the green lights dancing in the sky. My host mom and I just stood out side barefoot in our pajamas in the cold, and everything was perfect. I also went on a trip with rotary to Lapland which was amazing beyond words! Lapland is the northern part of Finland in the arctic circle, so in other words it was freezing and covered in snow. The trip was full of good friends, sled dog rides, skiing, meeting reindeer, and lots of laughs. In all honesty I only found out reindeer were real about a year ago, so getting to meet one and pet it was magical. Getting to be with all my rotary friends together in one place was so special, and the time spent with my oldies was priceless. I’ve also been to Tampere about a dozen times… but that’s pretty normal.

Since being here I’ve really begun to value and understand how important friends are. The friendships I’ve made here in my new home are ones so special that being thousands of miles away in a few months won’t change a thing. My exchange friends are always there to listen when I need to talk about the troubles of being an exchange student, and my Finnish friends are there to show me how amazing friendships of only a couple months can be and helping guide me through this incredibly different culture. I couldn’t be more thankful for the wonderful people who have made their ways into my life, they have all made my exchange 100x better than I ever thought it could have been. I’ve also been keeping in touch with my friends back home, updating them on the important things that I’ve been doing while here. It’s nice to know all the support I have waiting for me when I finally have to leave my new home.

Another big happening is I’ve moved host families! This was especially hard because I fell in love with my first family, and having to say goodbye felt like leaving home all over again. My advice to all the newbies is try to be as close with your host families as possible, it makes everything so much more special. As it usually goes overtime you begin to collect more and more stuff, so when it came time to pack up my room it was not easy task. So after two days of packing and hugs that didn’t seem to last long enough I said bye, and took a ride out to the countryside with my second host dad. My new family is a lot different than my first, with two little girls under 10 it’s really been a little crazy. I’ve missed being around kids, but I forgot how tiring it is especially when they don’t speak any english. Nevertheless I’m enjoying my time out in the country, and the new pace of life is refreshing.

So with Christmas coming up and the days getting shorter and darker time seems to be moving so slow but so fast at the same time. With one third of my exchange done and 7 months to go, I’m excited to see what’s in store for the future. It’s a little scary knowing that I have so much to get done when I go back to Florida, but it also makes me appreciate my time here more. All I can say is that after 4 months here I’m definitely not ready to go home anytime soon.

Tue, December 5, 2017

  • Camille, Outbound to Finland

Two months in Finland? That sounds so crazy to say, my time here is moving so fast! The last couple weeks I’ve been getting busier and busier, and it’s really helped me to fall in love with my exchange. As I’ve been getting closer with my host family, new friends, and other exchange students I’ve been noticing the homesickness really starting to fade, which has been such a breath of fresh air.

I’ve been traveling a lot lately, Finland has such an amazing multidistrict, I can pretty much go anywhere in the country anytime I want with only the permission of my host family and counselor. So far I’ve been to Turku for a D.1410 meetup, and Tampere with the two other RYE florida girls. I also spent a weekend in Helsinki with some family friends which was absolutely amazing, and I’m going back to spend my fall break with one of my oldies! Riding in the buses from place to place has also helped me to really appreciate Finland for all of its beauty, watching the countryside roll by is really a sight to see.

I also just wanted to say that when I first found out that I was going to Finland I was really nervous, because I feel that no one really talks about or goes to Finland ever and it’s was almost scary knowing I was going to this country that really no one could give me any sort of input on. So I wanted to write about some of the reasons that have made me fall in love with my new home. First off as I’ve stated above is Finland’s multidistrict, It’s amazing you can go practically anywhere you want anytime you want, and it’s so easy! Second is the school system, school here is so relaxed and the kids who are there want to be there, and if you’re lucky like I was you’ll get to pick out exactly what classes you want when you want them. Third is the nature, Finland has open land and green fields covered in wild flowers and trees for as far as you can see and wherever you end up there is probably a lake somewhere near by. And Lastly for this list is the language. Yes Finnish is a terribly hard language to learn, but once you really put in the effort and show other Finns that you really want to learn everything starts coming so much easier. Almost all Finns speak fluent English but are so shy to to speak to native English speakers, but when you even just try to speak even a little Finnish they are always so impressed and excited that someone is trying to learn their language. Finns are also so motivating with the language, they will always be so happy with anything you say and will always try to teach you more once you show interest.

I wanted to close this journal with acknowledging the fact that it really is almost a complete turnaround from my last entry, Finnish culture is SOOO different than in South Florida and I in no way was expecting the culture shock to hit me as hard as it did. Finland like a lot of things in life is something that gets better with time, and I think I just didn’t allow myself the time to take the country in for what it really is. I am so in love with my life here, and am enjoying my time to the fullest which I think is what exchange is really about.

Mon, October 2, 2017

  • Camille, Outbound to Finland

Click HERE to read about Camille and all her blogs

Yksi kuukausi, en månad, one month. I’ve been in Finland, or should i saw Funland, for one month now and it’s honestly so weird to think time can move as fast as it has been lately. My time here so far has for a lack of better words been a dream. I left home on Aug. 5 with some really hard goodbyes, and hopped on a plane to Chicago where I met up with about 10 other exchange students and flew 9 straight hours to Helsinki. All 110 RYE students from all over the world going to Finland and Estonia went to a camp called Karkku, where we all got to meet and really get to know the Finnish language and culture. Karkku was really a soft landing for me which was nice, being able to calm down and in such a friendly and supportive environment. I met up with the other three exchange students from Florida, having familiar faces around me was amazing and we’ve all grown so close. Karkku was so much fun!!! We did all the stereotypical fi nnish things, from going to sauna then jumping into the freezing lake, to cooking Finnish markkara over a campfire. In the middle of the week we took a trip to the nearby city of Tampere, where we were set loose by the rotex with one goal: make some Finns uncomfortable. The last day of camp came with mixed emotions, as I was leaving my friends and the feeling of being comfortable, I was really jumping into my exchange head first… which was terrifying. When the host families came to pick up their kids, it was like a puppy adoption. People coming up and asking “are you my kid?” “do you know where I can find so and so?” but finally after everything I ended up in my beautiful home and city, Pori. My first day in my new home was great, everything was relaxed and I just unpacked, took a deep breath, and took everything in. My family surprised me and had a welcome dinner, since my host siblings are all older and live away from home I got to meet them all, and really get to know everyone. The two days I had before school started were spent with my host sister, who is now on exchange in the US, and exploring my new city. I’d just like to give my family some props for being so patient and understanding with me while I’ve adjusted, they’ve truly been amazing. School started the next week, and I’d like to tell you all I had the most amazing time and I felt so welcomed and happy… but the truth is, I didn’t. Finns are for being shy and unwelcoming, and let me tell you they really lived up to their stereotype. I found myself sitting alone everywhere I went for the first week, and just to sum the week up into one word it was awful. But then after some persistence, and trying my best to blend in with the culture people started talking to me. I’d also like to say there are five other exchange students with me at school, 2 of which are rotary and the other 3 afs, and they’ve all been such an amazing support system. Now that I am a month into my life here though, I’ve formed a routine and am really starting to feel at home here in MY country. I’m really happy with my life right now, and as I’m learning so many new things, and meeting so many new people, I’m falling more in love with Finland everyday! Kiitos to everyone who helped me through the shortest month of my life!!

Mon, September 4, 2017


Colson - Brazil

Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: Pedro Menendez
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: St. Augustine, Florida
Host District: 4310
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Piracicaba: Cidade Alta

My Bio

Ola! Hi! My name is Colson Fairchild and I am proud to be representing District 9670 this year as an exchange student to Brazil. I am from St Augustine, Florida and I go to Pedro Menendez High School. This year I decided to take a leap of faith and apply for the Rotary Youth Exchange Program. I was inspired by my good friend Nikki Johnson who was an outbound to Belgium this year, and by Fred (Minsu) who is an inbound staying with my family right now. My parents have been very supportive during this process; they have made sure to let me know how sad they’ll be to see me go. I am in the middle of my two siblings, one younger brother and one older sister. My brother loves sports and everything that you can do outdoors and my sister spends a lot of her time at church and on mission trips to help the less fortunate. My family is constantly busy with different activities so our house is rarely full. I’m the worst culprit about having no free time. I have a job at Chick Fil A and I have school to go to. On top of that I study a Korean martial art called Tang Soo Do. I have been doing it for about 4 or 5 years now and I am a first degree black belt. I try to make time to spend with my family and friends, luckily school, my martial arts studio, and Chick Fil A are all closed on Sundays, so I get a little reprieve there. I love to hang out with my friends whenever I get the chance, I’m excited to get to make new friends in Brazil where I’ll have more time for them. Wish me luck y’all!

Journals: Colson-Brazil Blog 2017-18

  • Colson, Outbound to Brazil

Alright so the time has finally come, I’m gonna write my third and final journal. (I meant to do like at least 2 others this year but I’ve been busy and I apologize deeply). The time has also come for me to say goodbye, it’s my final month and everything is coming to a close. We all went into this experience with some expectations, some were met, and others weren’t. But we’ve all come out on the other side with a new understanding of ourselves and our little world we call home.

This week I said the first of many very hard goodbyes, my dear friend has gone back home to Denmark and started the process of shrinking our friend group. In the coming weeks other exchange students I care deeply about will board their planes and say a final “see you later” for the time being. In 23 days I’ll be boarding mine and leaving behind a life I built from the ground up. It’s strange to think about this because I know exactly what I’m going home to, but it’s almost as terrifying as boarding the plane to take me here.

I learned a lot this year, to be quite frank I learned more than I thought I would. I learned the obvious things, Portuguese, Brazilian music, and Brazilian culture. But I learned a lot of things I never expected. I learned about the existence of a tiny country called Timor Leste, I learned random phrases in countless languages, I learned how to make friends with people who seemingly have nothing in common with me. I learned how it’s all the little things that we take for granted, we know how things are and don’t even think of how they could be different, because it’s just how it’s always been.

Making friends truly is the best and worst part of doing an exchange. They bring you so much joy and make everything go from good to great. But this is what makes it so sad when you have to say goodbye. I’ve bonded better with people in 10 months than most people I’ve known since I was 5 years old. They say an exchange students heart is always broken because it’s spread around the world, and it’s true. But it’s the best kind of broken because I know that my friends will always have those parts with them and our bond we’ve formed was forged in fire. We’ve been through each other’s highest highs and lowest lows, and that’s what’s so beautiful about this year abroad, our friendships.

But all good things come to an end, that’s what we all know going into an exchange, one day we go home and start up our old lives again. I have to go to college and get a job, that’s reality and I’m not looking forward to rejoining it. But an end doesn’t have to be the end of everything, with friends in the four corners of the earth the idea of traveling has become much simpler and more attainable. I know I have many homes that will be open for me in brazil always, but also in Germany, India, Indonesia, Denmark, Timor and many others. My friends all know that the same deal is available for them in the Sunshine State itself. I’m excited to enter this new chapter of my life where the world really is my oyster.

Thu, June 7, 2018

  • Colson, Outbound to Brazil

Alright so I meant to do this months ago. And I was strongly encouraged to do this about a week ago, so it’s finally here. My second journal about my wonderful life in Brazil.

I’d like to start by saying that I’ve been putting this off because I’ve had a whole lot of events that I wanted to include that were week after week. Actually my graduation/prom is tonight but it’ll just wait until the next journal because I need to just pony up and do it. I also want to say in my last journal I mentioned not going to Rotary, not 5 minutes after posting it my host mom told me I had Rotary that night, and now I’ve been at least twice a month for meetings. I promise I’m not slacking on all of my responsibilities.

Anyways onto the good stuff, what’s actually been going on during my exchange. About 2 weeks after my first journal we had our district orientation for all of the new inbound exchange students. I feel blessed to be from RYE Florida because I knew everything they said before they said it. Extensive training sessions are something to be grateful for! My district has just about 32 exchange students in it, a third of them are Mexican so I got to hear a lot of Spanish that weekend. (Just that weekend because Brazilians speak Portuguese and not Spanish). We stayed in another city with host families that weekend, the family I stayed with were a blessing, they had the cutest son he was only five years old and he loved to talk about Cars. (The films not the vehicles). Overall it was a great chance to meet the other exchange students and make friends that I know will last a life time.

The next big event was the Rotex organized trip to Hopi Hari, an amusement park in the state of São Paulo. Almost all of the exchange students went and we had such a good time. The whole trip cost about as much as the admission to a Disney World park, so I’m glad about that bonus. My group actually spent most of the day tailing the Rotex. They’re actually really cool people and I recommend everyone try and meet their Rotexes and get to know them. About halfway through the day I gave up on rides and became the designated bag sitter, but it was still fun and I got to ride the important rides. The day ended with a huge party in front of the main stage at the park, everyone was involved and some exchange students ended up on stage dancing for everyone to see.

The very next week was Halloween and my school threw a party and I dragged all of my friends to it. I went as a zombie because I’m too cheap to buy a $20 costume and I packed to many T-shirts and could afford to tear one up. My great friend did zombie make up for me and I really looked like a corpse (which was great because by the end of the night I felt like one). My class organized the party and also worked the haunted house. So I went through with other exchange students who were freaking out while I couldn’t stop laughing. That was a great night.

After that my friend invited me to go with him and his family to their beach apartment. Being the good exchange student I am I said yes. We went to a little beach town called Ubatuba and I got sunburnt on the very first day. But it was fine his family was so sweet they went and got aloe even though literally none of them get even close to burning in the sun. My Mexican friend went with us too, I’m pretty sure he ended up burning by the time we went back home. While we were there we spotted a rotary world fair (you can’t escape rotary, they’re everywhere). One night at the world fair all of that districts exchange students went so I got to meet more people from around the world. We actually only got noticed because during the talent show that they were putting on, I obnoxiously shouted USA! USA! for the girl from Texas. The chairmen of that district pulled us aside and took us on stage. He knew not only our countries but also our names, Rotarians know all, keep that in mind kids. The night was fun and we ate tacos that the Mexicans disapproved of. I ate so much food going to a beach in Brazil is essentially going to a buffet.

Then I did a Thanksgiving with my Portuguese teacher’s English class. We ate a lot of popcorn and burgers and said what we were thankful for. I did a lesson for them on what thanksgiving is completely from memory. I would recommend not trying to sum up the entire history of a holiday from memory, take the time to just write some note cards for yourself.

One week later I went with my brother and my Portuguese teacher to Curitiba, a city in the south of Brazil, to learn more about different cultures in the country. We took a historic train tour and got an overview on the region. I had a really great all you can eat Italian dinner there in a restaurant we were all underdressed for.

Last weekend we went to São Paulo with the Rotex and we got a tour of the city. We visited museums and the classic tourist traps. I drank really good boba tea in China Town and enjoyed the classic Mortadella sandwich from Mercadão in São Paulo. It was almost the size of my head and it was so good. We visited a different outdoor market and ended up spending so much time taking photos that no one bought anything.

So if you’re still with me, congratulations, now I’m gonna talk about what I think is more important. What life is like here on a day to day basis. Everyone wants to hear about trips but exchange isn’t all about trips I promise.

I just finished school and I’m on summer vacation, but while I was in school I was getting up at 6 am for class and coming home around 1 for lunch. Now I’m getting up around 11 for breakfast and having lunch at 1 still. Where I’ll be going to school next year is actually up in the air at the moment. My school actually closed this year, the director is going to open a new school so hopefully I’ll be going there but it’s not set in stone. I promise I’ll be going to school I am aware that I’m an exchange STUDENT.

After school I usually spent one of two ways, I either ate lunch and took a nap before an event at night. Or I ate lunch and went to my good friend Pedro’s house (more about him later). I had a couple of things I did at night, primarily because Brazilians just prefer to do things later in the day. Every Monday I went to interact, every few meetings we went around the room introducing ourselves and I always got a laugh from my classic line “Hi I’m Colson from the United States, and I’m a really cool exchange student.” Tuesday and Thursday I have capoeira classes. (Capoeira is a Brazilian martial arts developed by run away slaves that disguised it as dancing practice when it became outlawed). Monday and Wednesday I was taking handball classes, I’m not great but it’s not at a competitive level so it’s a good way to make friends. Fridays I have Portuguese classes so I can keep improving my language. When my mother told me I’d be super busy in Brazil like I was in the US I told her she was crazy. Mothers tend to be right. There’s always something on Friday and Saturday night, someone’s having a party or friends are going to the movies at the mall. I’ve had multiple people complain that I’m impossible to do stuff with because I’m too busy, and I think that’s a mark of a successful exchange, I don’t have the time to be wasting. (I don’t consider an afternoon nap a waste, especially considering my host brother and father take them too, it’s cultural exchange).

About my darling friend Pedro, and the important reason you want to make local friends. I probably have spent more time in his apartment building than in mine, because he’s so active in trying to do as much as possible with exchange students. But one day I was explaining to him that I wasn’t sure what I was doing for my next host families, because the two others I had backed out of the agreement and my counselor thought it’s better I don’t live with families forced into hosting. Pedro didn’t think twice and just said “ok come live with me.” I honestly thought he was just kidding because that’s a big offer, but he went and asked his mom and last night the family met with my counselor. I officially have my second host family now because my friend is really just that great.

This is barely scratching the surface of what it’s like here but I’ve rambled on long enough. All I can say is thank you to Rotary for giving me this chance to build a life for myself in Brazil, the most beautiful country on Earth.

Thu, December 7, 2017

  • Colson, Outbound to Brazil

Howdy hey y’all, I’m here with a great update on everything I’ve been getting up to here in Brazil. So it’s been about a month since I arrived, I wanted to have this posted on a month exactly, but one month fell on a friday and my weekends are literally ten times busier than weekdays so this got put off a little. But the weekend is over and I’m ready to crank out this journal so y’all know I haven’t dropped dead.

I’m gonna start out with a little comment that my friends would greatly appreciate being mentioned. They want everyone to know brazilians do wear clothing and there are not monkeys hanging out everywhere. You would be astounded how many people have asked me “Did you think all brazilians are naked living in the jungle with monkey best friends?” So I really just want to make sure everyone is aware Brazil is just as advanced as the rest of the world. That being said one day there was a monkey at my school and literally everyone was hype and busted out snapchat to brag to their friends (myself included of course).

Now that the formalities are out of the way let me just say, exchange is weird… Like all the little things that I took advantage of at home are just slightly different and make me do a double take. School works differently and not seeing the same teachers everyday or doing the same subjects is weirdly disconcerting to me. Three reais are worth one dollar so I look at price tags and have a mini heart attack before realizing that I’m actually getting a decent deal on most things. The showers are different too and luckily I did manage to figure them out after a few tries.

“If we made fun of you we’d do it in English so you would understand” -A quote from my friend my first week of school. My friends are really similar to my American friends, they’re really sweet but also we bully each other for fun. I’m so thankful that my principal’s daughter is in my class and did exchange before. He essentially had her round up her friends to be an impromptu welcoming committee for me on my first day of school, AKA my second day in Brazil. They’ve quickly become my best friends and also are probably the best Portuguese teachers out there. My “studying” was haphazard at best before I came and now I can carry on a fullish conversation with people. Also brazilian are super outgoing and forward, and they expect the same from me which is not also super in my comfort zone. But being on exchange is all about being outside of your comfort zone so I’m just trying to do as they do and hoping for the best.

Side note for all the future exchange students who may end up reading this: just trying to speak the language impresses people so much, they love seeing someone put in effort and will be way more likely to talk to you if they see you care.

My host family is so nice here and they are so adaptable. I’m not sure if it’s misunderstanding the language or it’s the culture or it’s a continuation of my old bad habits, but usually I have no idea I’m going somewhere until the day of and I end up springing it on my family that I need a ride. They’re always super chill about it and usually send my host brother to shuttle me around the city to get to somebody’s house. Or more importantly, shuttling me home at midnight with minimal notice. Apparently that’s an early night here though so they have no problems whatsoever. Or they haven’t expressed any I’m not sure. I swear I’m working on figuring out my plans in advance and I’m not going to do this to them all year, I promise. My host brothers are super nice and have gone out of their way to include me and take me with them to parties and to soccer (futebol) games. FYI parties are just part of life in Brazil they aren’t anything special like in the US, I’ve been to at least 2 a weekend since I got here. And as great as that sounds in theory, it’s actually exhausting in practice. This weekend I was at a family party and was actually visibly exhausted they just kind of showed me a bed and I ended up waking up right when clean up started, whoops.

My interactions with Rotary here have been… scarce. I’ve been to like 3 different Interact clubs and to Rotaract but I’m not positive if I’ve actually been to a legit club meeting for my host club. I went to this like “world fair” that was put on and there were like 7 or 8 other inbounds and a couple of rebounds and we represented our countries to a Rotary club, but I don’t think it was mine. Our district was supposed to have an inbound orientation in mid August, which has now been set back twice and is going to be at the end of September. This is fine because now I just have that much more time to work on my Portuguese to try and make myself look brighter than I really am to my District Chair. I’m going to figure out this Rotary situation I swear.

I’m blessed by the fact that I live in a city with so many inbounds, especially because they all are desperate for something to do so there is always someone who wants to meet up. Last weekend we played paintball, which I have never done before. I ended up getting shot in the face protector twice, luckily that had the most protection so I’m not walking around covered in welts. We have a running joke between us now, “Pray that I will be rich and be able to visit your country”. Unfortunately I have had to say the first of many goodbyes. In my class there was a girl from Germany doing the STEP program and Sunday was her last day here in Brazil. Goodbyes are never fun and she was always saying she wished she did the long term program because one month just wasn’t enough time. This is a reminder to me about how short exchange really is and how I need to take advantage of this great opportunity, it’s too easy to let this go to waste.

Now that my very brief recap of the many many things that have happened in this month is over I want to say thank you. Thank you to Mrs Paula and Mr David for coming to Pedro and showing me this great opportunity. Thank you to my parents for both allowing and funding a majority of my exchange, none of this would be possible without y’all. Thank you to my friend Nikki Johnson who went before me and showed me and my parents that it could be done. Countless Rotarians and Rotexes put in work every year to make this program as a whole possible so thank you for facilitating the Rotary Youth Exchange Program. Also thank you to whoever designed the RYE Florida training system, I was talking with other inbounds and they didn’t have anything similar and I honestly feel like the constant motivation from Florida really has helped me out tremendously.

Tue, September 5, 2017


Cora - Denmark

Hometown: Homosassa, Florida
School: Lecanto
Sponsor District : District 6950
Sponsor Club: Sugarmill Woods, Florida
Host District: 1461
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Assens

My Bio

Hej, my name is Cora Rice and I am excited to say that I will be spending my junior year of high school in Denmark! I live in Homosassa, which is a small town in Citrus County, Florida. I live with my Mom and Dad, my one dog, and occasionally my sister when she comes back from college. I go to Lecanto High School and I’m on my school’s swim/dive team, which are number one in the county, and I am also apart of the AVID Program. I enjoy playing all types of sports, but my favorite one is swim. I love anything that has to do with fashion design and I hope to pursue that as my career one day. I’m involved in many clubs within my school like the Interact Club, MedShare, and Ugandan Pearls. From a young age, I have moved from state to state, seeing almost all of the United States, but I have never been able to travel out of the country. Through Rotary, I’m going to be able to experience a whole new country. I’m thrilled to learn the Danish language and culture and meet new people along the way. I am so thankful for this once in a lifetime opportunity!

Journals: Cora-Denmark Blog 2017-18

  • Cora, Outbound to Denmark

So many things have happened within my first four months in Denmark. Just recently, I changed to my second host family. I am so excited to be living with my new family and I can’t wait to have new experiences with them, but at the same time I am also sad that I had to leave my first host family. They did so many things to help me get adapted to my new life in Denmark and they were also very patient with me learning the language. I got really close with my host siblings so I will definitely miss my host brother constantly joking around with me and the nights when my host sister and I stayed in and ordered pizza and watched movies. Even though I really enjoyed my stay with my first host family, I think it is good that I changed families. With every different family I get to have so many different experiences and I get to meet more people.

It somewhat feels like I am in the beginning of my exchange again because not only did I change host families, but I also changed classes. Not everyone has the same experiences with their classes in school. Some people have an amazing class that is so helpful and nice and others have a class that doesn’t even talk to them. Unfortunately, my first class was not that great and it was super hard to become close with them since they weren’t really interested in getting to know me. Since school is such a big part of exchange and I want to enjoy it, I decided to change classes. Something very important I learned throughout the process of me trying to change classes is defiantly do not give up trying if you really want something. It took around 3 months of me complaining about my class to my school counselor and nothing getting done when I finally decided to go to the headmaster of the school myself. If I didn’t decide to take the initiative and go to the headmaster and ask to change classes, then I probably would have never been able to change. So it is very important to be persistent if you want something done.

Being an exchange student is defiantly not easy and everyone goes through different obstacles throughout their exchange, but it is defiantly worth it. I have had so many amazing experiences in the last two months. I went to København with the exchange students in my Danish class and we spent the day in Tivoli. It was October when I visited so the whole park was filled with pumpkins and scarecrows and even though it is a small amusement park, the rides were really fun. My friends and I rode the bumper cars and the roller coasters over and over again. In the beginning of November my first host family took me to stay on Sprogø, which is a small island between Fyn and Sæjlland. It has become one of my favorite places in Denmark because of how beautiful it was. My host siblings and I walked the shore of the island and we went up into the lighthouse and could see everything. Around the end of November me and another exchange student from the U.S hosted a small Thanksgiving dinner with other exchange students from different countries. We made a turkey, macaroni and cheese, creamed corn, biscuits, and tons of different pies. It was really nice to share the Thanksgiving tradition with people from other countries and they seemed to really enjoy it. A few people even said that they want to try and celebrate it with their families when they get back home.

Mon, December 4, 2017

  • Cora, Outbound to Denmark

It’s unbelievable for me to think that I have been in Denmark for two months already. It feels like I just stepped off the plane yesterday to start my new life in another country. I have already met so many amazing people and experienced thing I never thought I would be able to.

One thing that has made my first two months so enjoyable is my host family. I can not even express how important it is to try to make an effort to be apart of your host family. When you show them that you care and that you want to be there, they will start to open up and treat you like a real member of the family. The little things I do with my host family are definitely the things I enjoy the most. Usually every night I help make dinner with my host mom and as we cook she teaches me new things to say in Danish and in the evenings I make hot chocolate with my host sister and we watch tv together. For efterårsferie, a school break in October where everyone gets a week off of school, I stayed in a summer house on Sjælland with my host family and they showed me around København and Hornbæk. I got to see so many incredible things like castles, beaches, The Little Mermaid statue, and Christiania.

Another thing that has also made my exchange so enjoyable are the friends that I have made. Not everyone has the same experience making friends at school, some people find it very easy to fit into the class and some people find it extremely difficult. It definitely has not been the easiest thing for me to try to make friends in my class. If you want to be close with your classmates you really have to put in the effort and try to talk with them, but in the end it is definitely worth it. I am particularly close with two girls in my class and they help me out with my Danish, we exchange candies and food from the U.S and Denmark, and one girl is going to teach me how make traditional Danish Christmas food. I also get along really well with the exchange students that I go to school and language classes with. I really enjoy going to the language classes with the other exchange students because we all understand what it is like trying to learn a new language and how difficult it is, so there isn’t any pressure when we try to speak in front of the class or ask a question when we do not understand something. After school some of us will meet in Odense, the third largest city in Denmark, and either get dinner or just hangout and relax in the park.

There are also many cultural differences that I have observed so far. One big difference is the amount of freedom teenagers get here compared to the United States. I was shocked when my host family said that I could go on a bus or a train and go where ever I wanted to hang out with friends, as long as I let them know what time I’ll be home. Parents and the schools in Denmark value their relationship with teenagers, so they trust them a lot. My school holds an event where the students spend the night at the school, but there are absolutely no teachers or staff in the entire building. I thought things like that only existed on tv, but because the school trusts the students they have this event. Another culture difference that I have noticed is that the school environment is the complete opposite of what it is in the U.S. The school I attend in Denmark, Vestfyns Gymnasium, has a very relaxed atmosphere and is kind of like college. My classes can get canceled or I can get more classes added on and some days I don’t even start school until 12 in the afternoon. I thought an environment so free would make it easier for students to mess around and skip class, but when the environment is not stressful, unlike how my school in the United States is, it makes going to school so much more enjoyable and you actually want to be there.

So far, my first two months have been so much better than I could have ever expected. I am getting to experience so many things so I can not even imagine what I’ll see throughout the rest of the year.

Sun, October 22, 2017


Dani - France

Hometown: Pembroke Pines, Florida
School: Cypress Bay
Sponsor District : District 6990
Sponsor Club: , Florida
Host District: 1710
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Lyon Croix Rousse

My Bio

Bonjour! My name is Daniela Sanchez (my friends and family call me Dani) and I am 16 years old from Pembroke Pines, Florida. I am a senior at Cypress Bay High School, and I’ll be spending the next year as an exchange student. Words can not express my level of happiness and gratitude for Rotary Club for granting me the opportunity to become an exchange student. A little background on me and my family. I was born in Barranquilla, Colombia but when I was only 11 years old, my family moved to the United States. I visit once a year my relatives and call both, the U.S.A and Colombia my home. As I mentioned before, I am a senior at Cypress Bay where I am highly involved in extracurriculars such as DECA, National Honor Society, French Honor Society, 4-H, UNICEF, Political Awareness Club and more. When I go to college, I would like to study Political Science and Business Administration and hopefully become an ambassador or a representative for the United Nations. Whenever I am not studying for an exam or staying after school for a club, I like to explore new places in my community: museums, restaurants, artistic events. I love to be a tourist in my own city! I also love to spend time with my family and friends. I am more than excited to start this next chapter in my life. To become an exchange student is one of the greatest dreams I had. I hope to expand my knowledge of the world and learn about different cultures in the following year abroad.

Journals: Dani-France Blog 2017-18

  • Dani, Outbound to France

We tend to look at the end of exchange as tragic and unavoidable, as a nostalgic closure to our lives abroad. However, it shouldn’t feel like a burden as we are experiencing possibly the best moments of our youth. I intended to live each day to the fullest along with my friends and host families, to make every moment count and to leave off that plane without regrets: the could haves, would haves, should haves and what ifs. Fortunately, it was exactly what I achieved in my last days and I couldn’t have been happier.

Earlier in June, I had the opportunity to meet my parents over at Paris for a couple of days. It was an amazing feeling seeing them at the airport, hugging them once again and just spending time together. While they didn’t have the opportunity to see Lyon, I still got the chance to show them around Paris and all of its wonders: Montmartre, Saint Germain, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre just to name a few. I felt comfortable guiding them around the city and ordering at restaurants; not only was I confident in my language acquisition, but in the skills, I’ve learned throughout my journey. I was able to guide them through the metro easily during peak hours, warn them about pickpockets, handle an airline strike and many more. Something, I wouldn’t have been able to do a year ago in South Florida.

As for the rest of the month, I spent the majority of it running around Lyon. On a regular day, I could be found at the airport waving goodbyes, hanging out in Place Bellecour with friends, shopping for souvenirs in Vieux Lyon or finishing my bags at home(and more than once, doing all four). It was the most hectic month of my exchange; Inversely, it was the most heart-warming time for all. I found myself in a never-ending emotional roller coaster: joyful and happy, and equally melancholic. I enjoyed every walk past my favorite patisserie, every afternoon spent at the park, every morning spent chez Jocteur eating croissants and pain au chocolats, every day and night spent taking the bus. The thought of each moment possibly being the last one tortured me on my sleep and the question that occupied most of my time was: Where did time go? How fast does time fly?

All three of my host families, along with my closest friends from D1710 and school, accompanied me the morning of July 1st to the airport. The morning of my departure was rather dull. I was checking weight restrictions, passport and other documents needed, making phone calls and so on; but by the time I arrived at the airport, I found myself in a sea of tears. I was sobbing uncontrollably and in the limited time crunch, I waved not a goodbye but rather a “see you soon” to my friends and families; soon, let it be a year, two, ten or twenty but anytime soon. I felt heartbroken at first, but as time cleared my head I felt lucky, so lucky to be loved by those people present throughout my exchange. I felt extremely grateful for the moments I shared along with them and I couldn’t have imagined spending the past ten months, 301 days, along with anyone else.

My transition back home to South Florida has been another roller coaster on its own. I’ve been home for two weeks and while adjusting back to speaking another language has not been a struggle, there are certainly some. I am learning once again my family’s routine and trying to adopt my own. I didn’t know for the first week where something as simple as coffee or sugar was in my kitchen. I am also preparing for a new stage in my life as I am moving out, so I found myself back home unpacking only to pack once again for my first semester in college. Needless to say, not all is as complicated as it seems. I’ve also had the joy of going to the beach once again, having arepas and empanadas, reuniting with friends and family and so on. Perhaps the most difficult part of moving back home is letting go of exchange, letting go of the life I created in one year. There are mornings when I wake up only to find my phone buzzing with messages asking to meet by Hôtel de Ville or to grab a snack by Cordeliers, and I couldn’t help but wonder how would my day differ if I was in France.

In the midst of this exciting year, I had the opportunity to grow as an individual. Well, how do ten months abroad differ from ten months at home? I guess it has to do with a variety of factors. For starters, a new location that brings the best of my curiosity that allowed me to explore freely my surroundings; it helped me ask questions as to where and why, to bring my inner philosopher and explore more. Another reason could simply be the fact that I spent the past ten months with other teens, who were as highly motivated and equally as curious through exchange. While there are millions of reasons as such, the most significant to this growth has been a new perspective and attitude that have led to a better experience. As exchange students, we go through similar experiences: rotating host families, traveling alone, experiencing the holidays far from our loved ones and so on; but what truly differs us from each other is the point of view that each one embraces. Some may see a birthday alone as saddening and tragic while others look at it as joyous to celebrate another turn around the sun.

To the future outbound, enjoy every second of your exchange. Please value every lesson learned, every laugh and tear shred, every spelling error, and every compliment. Don’t forget that it’s normal to make mistakes and that each one only helps you become stronger. Always remember that you are only once on exchange: you will only be at this gorgeous country with your classmates and friends, living with your host families once and you will cherish this moment for the rest of your life. Lastly, be thankful to those who made this experience truly one of a kind: host families, teachers, Rotarians, volunteers and any other that made your experience valuable. A simple “thank you” can go a long way and it takes two seconds to express your gratitude!

I want to thank my sponsor district 6990, as well as my host district 1710; the club of Hallandale Beach-Aventura for sponsoring this dream of mine and the club of Lyon Croix-Rousse for hosting me in France. Most importantly, I want to thank all of my families who supported me on each step of the way. It has been the most amazing year of my teens and I am truly thankful for the past months.

As Stein once said “: America is my country, and Lyon is my hometown.” Or something like that.

Bisous et merci encore pour ses dix mois plein de joie et du bonheur

Sun, July 15, 2018

  • Dani, Outbound to France

Ever since Spring Break came to an end, I’ve felt like time is slipping away faster than any other month. These past few weeks of May and early June have been a roller coaster of mixed emotions: nostalgia for our first days, joy for my experience abroad, sadness yet curiosity to see what the future holds. Perhaps is the fact that school is almost over for all the seniors in my class, exchangers are already waving their goodbyes or simply that time is truly passing by and I can only do my best at making sure every minute counts.

Since my last blog post, I’ve changed host families once again. It was difficult to switch from my second host family since I developed a strong relationship with them, and the thought of starting with a new family scared me (especially towards the end of my exchange). I grew into the routine of my second host family: going grocery shopping with my host mom on Saturdays in the marché, playing cards and board games Sundays, taking the school bus with my host brothers and so on. While my relationship with them is one I will always remember, I have one equally as amazing with my third host family-the Massonnat. My last host family is reconstituted, meaning that both of my host parents were in a previous marriage and have now joined their lives together with their kids. I still have a full house with three host siblings: Julie (14), Jean Felix (13) and Melanie (17; currently in Argentina). I never had a sister before so it’s great having a girl right down the hall to do makeovers, fangirl over Riverdale and watch movies when bored. What I truly love the most from my third host family is the feeling of being at home, since day one. I feel comfortable talking to them about anything and we even play our French version of Carpool Karaoke with classic songs from Téléphone, Indochine and Jacques Brel. In one month, I have created amazing memories with my third host families that I’ll always cherish

Following my bucket list, I was able to scratch off going to a soccer match from the Olympique Lyonnais in the Groupama Stadium(thanks to the help from Rotary!). D1710 invited all exchange students and future outbounds in early May to see the soccer match of the OL versus Troyes. I went all out like a true lyonnaise with my t-shirt and scarf, supporting the OL along with my friends and it was a success! We scored three goals and Troyes went home with none. It was a fun memory plus it was my first time attending a soccer match, let alone one in Europe. Plus, we had a tour backstage of the stadium including the player’s lockers and press conference rooms.

On my last month, I’ve also been on the road quite a lot. My school offered the exchange students to accompany the sixth grade class on their field trip to Freiburg, Germany. We spent a day visiting town, sightseeing and taking pictures all around while we went to Europa Park on our second day. It’s a theme park, just like Epcot center, with all the European countries and even the giant ball. I was so excited to go to a theme park again! We went on the roller coasters and water rides all morning and spent the afternoon visiting the “countries.” My favorite part was probably riding the Silver Star with my friends and singing midway through the loops(I think the people in the cart with us were probably freaked out but oh well). A week later, my host family took me to the region of Ardèche, two hours south of Lyon, for a family reunion; all the family of my host dad came together for a weekend to celebrate birthdays as well as going aways. We were over twenty all together, everyone sharing their stories for the last months and their projects and it was a cute moment together with the family. We visited the region together: l’Aven d’Orgnac, la descente de l’Ardèche, Uzer and checked out the farmer’s markets in the towns nearby. L’Aven d’Orgnac is a set of caves where limestone forms and creates beautiful statues all around; those 700 steps down were absolutely worth the view. While I enjoyed the visit, my best memory from our trip was around the table. I love the importance France grants to spending time together at the table, as a family. It was great because everyone gets along to share a meal and there’s no rush to leave. Between l’Appero(earlier than an appetizer, consider it a pre-appetizer with chips and drinks), l’entrée(appetizer), le plat(main dish), le fromage, le dessert et le ‎café and soon after, le gouter-each meal could last anywhere between three to six hours and it seemed like we never left the table!

Towards the end of May, D1710 organized a “Rotary Gala” with its inbounds,outbounds and rebounds to celebrate the beginning and end of an adventure. It was prom for exchange students since girls were dressed up to their toes while guys in suits and ties; and just like prom, an evening to never forget. We took dozens of pictures and even waved our goodbyes to our friends leaving the morning after. It suddenly hit me that my exchange was coming to an end that what once were my “firsts” will become my “lasts:” last grenouilles, last bus ride, last day of school and so on.

As of today, I am enjoying my first day of summer break. This year in France, I was part of Terminale (Senior year) and just like in the States, senior year is memorable for many reasons: it is the last year of high school, last time waking up by 7AM for class, last time seeing your childhood friends together, Prom and graduation and many more. I had the chance to finish high school once again and just like a year ago, it was a wave of emotions. We spent our last days dressing up and my senior class pulled a prank monday during recess by turning the parking lot into a beach, YES NDBeach. Most students dressed up as Tacky Tourists and walked around school like it was a beach (we even had a water fight and picnic) with maps, sunscreen, Crocs and anything else you could imagine. Yesterday, we also dressed up in costumes and had a parade all around school before having a BBQ/ shaving cream fight. It reminded me a lot of my last days in Cypress Bay and it was equally a success. Monday was also our last full day of class, before final exams start, and I couldn’t help but get in the feels-What about the first time I walked in that room not knowing anyone and now leaving talking to most? I didn’t speak that well French and came to class with no supplies and now, I was leaving with a heart filled with memories of my classmates and friends.

I still have twenty two days left of my exchange, twenty two blank pages in a book coming near to an end. I can’t anticipate what the future holds,but all I can assure you is that I don’t want to regret any missed opportunities. So here it goes, to the last few weeks abroad and what the holds: Que du bonheur!

Until next time,

Bisous bisous

Fri, June 8, 2018

  • Dani, Outbound to France

Mes chers amis, it has been nine months since I arrived in France. It has been an incredible learning experience, one that was never in my plans, that will soon come to an end in twenty three days as I return back home. It is surreal how fast time flies, especially these past few weeks, but I can only live each day to the fullest. These past few months have been busy all around and equally as amazing as the others; between attending Rotary events, traveling and changing host families for the last time. So, I’ve decided to make two blog posts to fully capture my emotions and souvenirs. Allez-y!

After Winter Break, March came by with a busy schedule and a couple of pleasant surprises. For starters, the beginning of a highly-anticipated season, Spring! I loved winter and all of the activities around snow: cheese raclettes, skiing and raquettes but I was excited for spring. As soon as the calendar marked March 21st, there was a change all around in between the flowers blooming and the days becoming longer; while there was no much change in the temperature(I still have to wear sweaters occasionally), it was amazing seeing a new season. Spring in Florida is meaningless besides the arrival of grasshoppers and all sorts of insects, since the weather is relatively stable year round; however, in France, it means a change of diet and lifestyle. We went from eating fondues and raclettes to salads and fruits, and my families began planning more activities outdoor: walking in les Monts d’Or, paddleboarding in la Saone, water skiing in le Rhone and so on. This change in degrees also reflected in the activities around friends! Since the days were longer, my French friends and I would hang out more after school: sharing a goûter at the park, sightseeing around the city or having a picnic. In one way or the other, the season helped me build a stronger relationship with my Frenchies and I am extremely thankful for their friendship and help all year round.

Towards the end of the month, I had a couple of excursions around my region.My school principal invited the exchange students from our school earlier in March to visit l’Abbaye de Cluny: one of the largest abbeys in the world founded in 910 by the duke of Aquitaine. However, it was significantly destroyed by the first French Revolution in 1789 and only its ruins remain today. It was a very interesting visit! Not only did we get the opportunity to see how monks lived, but also enjoy the town of Cluny- a charming village that was one of the most important capitals of the Christian community by the end of the XIth century. My host parents also took me to visit the medieval town of Perouges, about thirty minutes away from Lyon; it’s a town in the mountains, located in the department of l’Ain, that preserved its original architecture from the Middle Ages. The town and its residents have a charm from the era, all wearing costumes and engaged in their craftsmanship: welding, baking, pottery and so on. It was like a renaissance fair year-round in Perouges, and completely unexpected near a city like Lyon.

Another month, another two-week school break after Easter: Spring Break. The first half of my break, I spent it in no other than the city of love. I have dreamed of visiting Paris for as long as I can remember, ever since I was a little girl watching “Ratatouille” and “Gossip Girl;” it was a dream come true thanks to my second host mom. My host mom and I spent five days in the heart of Paris, in the Latin Quarter, visiting as much of the city as possible. We went to all the tourist attractions (as well as some local favorites): les Champs-Elysees, Eiffel Tower, le Louvre, l’Arc du Triomphe, Galeries Lafayettes, la Sorbonne, etc. While my host mom wasn’t a Parisian, she knew the city by heart and it was always a dream of her to study law school so she offered a different insight that no other tour guide could. My favorite part was a visit to a very unique art expo in the onzième arrondissement“:l’Atelier des Lumières.” It was in an abandoned factory that was renewed into a temporal exhibit of Gustav Klimt, a famous Austrian artist from the Vienna Secession modern art movement. What made it completely different from any other exhibit is that you get to truly live in it: there are projections all around the room of his most famous pieces along with pictures of Vienna and the pieces that inspired Klimt at the time, all under the melody of an Austrian waltz. This trip also brought me closer to my host mom and we got the opportunity to talk through the days of our goals, dreams, likes/dislikes and so on. As Rick said in Casablanca “,We’ll always have Paris.”

For the other half of my break, I spent it following my Lyon Bucket List. Yes, I have a bucket list with things to do before leaving this beautiful city and while some may be touristy others are silly. Here’s a look of what I have accomplished so far:

-Pretend to be a tourist and follow a random itinerary for a whole day(we even asked strangers to take group pictures of us and asked for directions, 100% worth it)

-Walk up the hill of fourviere and down la Montee de la Grand Cote

-enjoy a brioche bread with pralines in Vieux Lyon

-eat at Steak and Shake Lyon(disclaimer: I was craving a milkshake and we haven’t had a real American burger in nine months so this was necessary)

-visit the confluence of the Rhone and Saone river.

Make sure to follow part two of this blog post to stay up to date on what I’ve been doing since the end of Spring Break and how my last days living à la française have been so far.

À bientôt,

Bisous Bisous

Thu, June 7, 2018

  • Dani, Outbound to France

“What does it feel like to live so far from your family and loved ones in an unknown country for a year?”Certainly, it feels like the best decision of my life to this day. I have been in France for six months so far, living each day à la française. These past few months have been incredibly amazing yet quite hectic; between changing host families, attending Rotary meetings, traveling and more-it has been a struggle keeping up with my blogs, Désolée!

For starters, I changed host families by the end of Christmas break. I was aware that at some point I’ll be switching host families, but I never expected the day would actually come. However, all my fears went away as soon as arrived in my second host family, the Chanclou. I went from being a single child with my first host family to having a full house with two younger siblings: Gaspard(11) and Gregoire(16). It’s a different family dynamic that I love; I can just go down the hall to bother my host siblings, play board games or just take my dog for a walk anytime.

Earlier in January, I had the opportunity to be part of a gastronomical experience at Guy Lassausaie’s Restaurant for my host mom’s birthday. Lassaussaie’s restaurant is a two-star Michelin restaurant, known for their twists on classic dishes and amazing cheese offerings(SO GOOD). It was delicious after all it is no secret that France is well-known for their food and Lyon for being its gastronomical capital: saucisse, pralines, cheese, baguettes, croissants and the list goes on; I feel like a modern Marie Antoinette just trying all the desserts! It won’t come to a surprise to all if I arrive in Florida with a carry-on filled with my favorites.

February arrived with an amazing surprise: a two-week winter break. I spent most of the first part in the city, hanging out with my friends and so on while the other in Normandy and Brittany with my family. My host dad grew up in Laval in the region of Pays de la Loire so we went up to visit his family for the weekend and later on throughout Normandy to check out the museums and beaches from D-Day. We started in Mont Saint-Michel-an ancient abbey, prison, and fort just off in the English Channel; the architecture was amazing plus all the history in regards to the building was so interesting. We spent the rest of the week between Caen and Bayeux visiting WW2 memorials, Omaha Beach, and respective museums. My favorite visit was the American Cemetery and Memorial off by Colville; it’s a place that I feel everyone should visit once in their life. It has a memorial filled with stories from letters exchanged between soldiers and their families, as it served to put into perspective the impact of the war. This trip served as a giant history lesson come to life and is one of my favorites so far. Normandy will always have my heart with their breezy beaches, Camembert, and cute towns!

During winter break, I also had the chance to go on a hike up the Alps with my host dad and brothers. It was a struggle for sure climbing for three hours in the middle of the snow, but the view at the top was just breathtaking! It was all covered in snow plus it was a clear, sunny day in the mountains-which made it even better. Once at the top, my host dad said something so simple yet meaningful: “you look at the mountain two different ways from the bottom and at the top once you climb it.” To all my future outbounds, the same applies to your exchange: you will have two perspectives once before leaving and another during your exchange. I remembered all the excitement and false expectations from a year ago(no, you won’t travel to Paris every weekend since your exchanger budget won’t allow it so) and how now I have a grown into a more mature, passionate individual. Exchange has been the best learning experience so far, one that I am extremely thankful for every day. The friendships made with my classmates and exchangers, the countless times getting lost on my own and all the memories made so far have a dear place in my heart. I can’t wait to see what the next four months hold in store abroad in France.

Until next time,

Bisous Bisous

Wed, March 7, 2018

  • Dani, Outbound to France

It’s surreal the fact that a little over four months have passed by since I stepped off a plane in Lyon’s Saint-Exupery airport and met most of the people I now considered my family. In the past 128 days, I’ve discovered more about the world and myself than I ever did throughout high school. December was probably the biggest learning adventure to this point that felt like a never-ending roller coaster, so this blog will probably be one of the longest.

The holidays started off on the right foot with a very merry Thanksgiving. I offered to cook a Thanksgiving meal for my host parents, who absolutely loved it. Over the course of two afternoons, I made my first Thanksgiving dinner as I was jamming to Christmas carols; I prepared everything from the stuffing and cornbread to the apple pie. I also managed to share a little more of my American culture with my classmates through a slice of apple pie as I explained the importance of Thanksgiving and how my family celebrates it at home. It was a success and to my surprise, I didn’t burn any of the dishes nor the kitchen! Following Thanksgiving week, I had an excursion to the region of Beaujolais, one of the largest wine-producers. We visited the Hameau Duboeuf Wine Museum where I got the chance to receive a “wine-education;”learning from the production to the maturity of wines. It was an amazing visit for the day and I got the chance to learn more about wines, a French jewel.

December was the most wonderful time of the year. It started off with a family road trip to Alsace to visit the most beautiful Christmas market in Europe- Colmar. There is truly a no better way to get in the holiday spirit than by visiting one: the lights going through the houses, the shops selling ornaments, the smell of vin chaud and the sound of kids singing Christmas carols-all the signs calling for Christmas! On my trip, I also got the chance to sample some local delicacies: white chocolate brioche, Flammekueche(a tart with ham, cheese, heavy cream, and onions) and tons of Choucroute Alsacienne. Plus, I had the pleasure to scratch off my bucket list escargots(snails) and grenouille(frog legs). I was a little scared to try off grenouilles since I imagined an actual frog on my plate but I embraced it and ended up loving them.The next weekend, I celebrated like a true Lyonnaise la “Fête des Lumières.”Lyon was one of the few cities untouched by the Black Death; therefore all residents, as a way to thank Virgin Mary for saving them from the plague, light up candles by their windows the night of December 7th. The event evolved into a beautiful light festival that takes place the same weekend where all the major plazas and buildings light up giving its name as the “city of lights.”Friday, I celebrated with my host family by putting candles around the house and making crepes while Saturday, I visited most light exhibits with my friends. Because of all of the terrorist attacks that have occurred in Europe these past five years, security has been reinforced everywhere so it was quite difficult moving around in one night. However, that didn’t stop us from enjoying the lights displayed in Place Bellecour and throughout Vieux Lyon- a night to remember for sure!

Just when things couldn’t get any better, Mother Nature sent an early Christmas present: SNOW. It was so beautiful and unexpected; the weather channel has been announcing it for weeks but nothing happened. A Monday morning, my host mom woke me up and guided me to the balcony for a surprise: everything was covered snow! Since it was a surprise for all, the buses stopped working and so did the metro, therefore, school was canceled. I spent my day listening to “White Christmas” while drinking hot chocolate- just like in my favorite Christmas movies. It wasn’t until two weeks later that I got the chance to enjoy the snow for real at the French Alps with my host family and their friends. I was so excited that the night we arrived, I ran out the door to play with the snow; I did my first snow angel, played my first snowball fight and went down a sled in my winter wonderland.

While I had a wonderful time all throughout my exchange, this month was certainly the hardest. It started with the obvious winter blues that come with the holiday season; there was less sunlight, more rain, fewer degrees and so on which made it difficult at first to go out. I remember looking at the weather in South Florida and on multiple occasions wishing I could be at the beach rather than home with my sheets. With more free time at home, social media was the way to go so seeing pictures of all my friends heading back home to their families, hanging out in my hometown certainly didn’t help. I remember at Orientation thinking how it could never happen to me as if homesickness was a myth and not my reality. I had to embrace it: I was homesick and I had to do something to snap out it. I didn’t want to stop my exchange for some fuzzy feeling so I had to come back and fast, resiliency. For starters, I began accepting the weather: carrying an umbrella, wearing coats and sweaters-this made it easier to actually enjoy my city. I also stopped checking social media as often, giving myself some space to profit each one of my days to the fullest. Last, I stopped comparing home to France and it is the latter one that had the biggest impact. All I could think at first was how my Christmas tree at home was prettier, the weather nicer in Miami, the season somehow jollier and the food warmer. However, it was all in my mind and so out of context. I focused on all the positive things, realizing that there would probably be one Christmas out of eighty-something that I won’t spent at home. Besides, how many people get the chance to say they spent a French Christmas? Not many so it was all about looking at the positive side. In reality, my Christmas day was wonderful with presents from my host parents and a delicious lunch-dinner with tons of seafood, escargots, turkey and so much more. I celebrated Christmas Eve and Christmas day with my host dad’s family in the region of Calais, northern France. We also visited Arras and their Christmas market-which check plus, I got to ice skate with my host mom and spent the following weekend at the French Alps with my family and their friends.

To start off the year on the right foot, I got the best compliment any exchange student could hope for at my Rotary meeting. As I was talking with a Rotarian, he stopped me to congratulate me on my French saying that I sound just like a local; I was overly joyous! Like they say it, at the end “vouloir c’est pouvoir”-meaning when there’s a will, there’s a way. Learning your language pays off: every hello and goodbye, every awkward small talk and all other efforts were finally rewarded.The merriest season of all came to an end but as 2018 starts, I can only hope for a more fulfilling adventure.

Until next time,

Bisous Bisous

Fri, January 5, 2018

  • Dani, Outbound to France

Two months have passed by already in France! It has been a roller coaster with various highs and lows this past month that I wanted to share. The first weekend of October, I went along with other exchangers from my school on a field trip to the region of Auvergne. It is a completely different setting from Lyon, as it is mostly rural surrounded by mountains. During our stay, we visited the Michelin museum and sampled the regional cuisine. However, the visit I enjoyed the most was the Puy du Dome- a large lava dome located in central France. It’s a natural gem, one of France’s best-kept secrets, that shares an incredible view of all the volcanoes in the area.

Next weekend, D1710 organized a presentation for all inbounds and exchange candidates in my high school. We all had the opportunity to present our country, culture, and customs to the candidates and their parents. During the picnic, you could see diversity at its finest: all the students representing their country with their flags, hats, music and so on; on one side you could see the Mexican exchangers with their sombreros and on the other side Brazilians dancing samba and funk. While we all come from different origins, we share a passion for exploring and an endless curiosity for the world.

I feel comfortable in school as I am following thoroughly my courses and developing friendships with my classmates. I didn’t want to take classes off my schedule so my days are relatively long compared to those in the USA. A nerd at heart, I began participating in class and taking quizzes just like my classmates in which I am doing surprisingly well!

Every seven weeks or so, France grants a (much needed) two-week vacation for students. The first half I spent it in one of the most interesting European capitals, Berlin, along with my senior class. We visited the Brandenburg Gate, Alexanderplatz, the Reichstag Building and so much more. During my visit, I also got the chance to meet up with another outbound from my district back home along with her friends. I had a great time catching up with her and meeting other inbounds in Berlin. It was an interesting trip filled with great memories that brought me closer to my classmates who are now my friends. The rest of my break has been well-spent hanging out with my friends, being a tourist in my own city, catching up with my friends and family and so on.

For the first time since my arrival, I had symptoms of “homesickness.” I was shopping with my host mom and we enter a home-decor store filled with Christmas decorations and I couldn’t help but wonder about my family’s traditions during the holidays. To all future exchangers, it’s fine if you miss home from time to time, however, it is important to not let those feelings overshadow your exchange. After arriving home, I talked it off with my host mom who told me it was fine and we talked about Christmas and how our traditions differ. I felt better instantly and she encouraged me to share them with my host families and friends. I am currently planning my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, for my host parents and friends! I’ll keep you posted on the next blog post on how I managed to (hopefully) find turkey and not burn my house while preparing dinner.

As November arrives, the leaves fall and the temperature drops. I’ve woken up to zero and one-degree Celsius when I usually wake up to twenty-five in South Florida. It’s funny to notice the differences and what seems normal for some just shocks others. I tell my friends how I used to go to the beach for Christmas and New Years and their eyes suddenly grow, astonished, as they are used to wearing three or four layers and sitting over the chimney. There is the beauty of exchange in the “exchanges” of opportunities, experiences, opinions and so on.I will switch my bathing suit and sunblock this year for a beanie and a sled as I head over with my family to Northern France. I am so grateful for everything that I have been able to experience these past two months abroad and I am excited to see what else the next couple of months hold.

Sat, November 11, 2017

  • Dani, Outbound to France

Click HERE to read more about Dani and all her blogs

It has been a wonderful month in France and so many wonderful things have happened! Since this is my first journal submission, it will be quite lengthy. My journey to Lyon included three flights: from Miami to Detroit to Paris and at last, Lyon. I had the chance to meet five other exchangers from the USA and Mexico on my flight to Paris and meet others around Charles de Gaule Airport as I walked around from my district and all around France during my layover. By noon of August 29th, I arrived safely to Lyon Saint Exupery and met my host parents. To my surprise, as I am picking up my bags, I was greeted with hugs and giggles by my host parents, ROTEX and some other exchangers who arrived earlier. After checking in with Rotary, we head home to lunch and spend the afternoon unpacking and going over the rules.

My first host family is the Wojtasik. I live with both host parents yet I have three host siblings. The oldest, Marine, is married and lives just fifteen minutes away so I always see her during weekends and play with her one year old daughter. My first host brother, Ben, also moved out and lives with his girlfriend while my second host brother, Antoine, is in Brazil. All have been extremely kind to me and treat me like I was their daughter. I have the opportunity to see my first host family grow as both of my host siblings are expecting! Besides having a loving first host family, I have neighbors that feel like family. My host parents and neighbors are close since their sons are best friends. I have two host mothers (if we include my neighbor in my first host family), five siblings, and one grandmother.

I live in Lyon, right across from the Saone river and L’Ile Barbe. Lyon is the third largest city in France yet it doesn’t feel like it. The streets are relatively narrow and everything is within walking distance so it’s easy to move around. I, a true history nerd, love living in a city that exploits my curiosity. I have spent my past weekends exploring Vieux Lyon, visiting the Fouvriere cathedral and watching the sunset at the Gallo-Roman Amphitheatre. I have free and unlimited access to all museums and discounted prices, thanks to a card offered by the state called Pass Region.

My school is Notre Dame de Bellegarde located in Neuville, around thirty minutes by bus from my house. I am in my senior year, Terminale, in the economic and social sciences route. I was always warned of the French curriculum yet I find it similar to the one back home. I am taking economics, history/geography, philosophy, statistics, English, Spanish and political science. I took various AP courses before so perhaps I am used to rigorous academics yet I am not used to long school days. I start every day at eight in the morning and finish every day by five. However, I have a one and a half hour lunch break so I have the chance to relax a bit. I go to school with fourteen other exchangers from different organizations who I have grown to love like my family. We are all from different origins and nationalities, different programs, and ages yet we have an excellent group dynamic. My school’s principal is a Rotarian and has introduced a program to help exchanger’s language abili ties. We have phonetic classes twice a week to improve our pronunciation and French class with six graders three times a week. At first, I found it pointless to take classes with six graders since I am a senior but I’ve had the opportunity to learn from my grammar mistakes. In addition to the program, we have multiple excursions within the Rhone-Alps department. Last week, we visited the Rock of Solutre. We hiked to the top to find a gorgeous view of all the vineyards and farms around and had lunch in a nearby vineyard. In a couple of weeks, I’ll be in Berlin with my class for a week during the Toussaint vacation    (I’ll keep you posted on the next blog post)

Here are a couple of tips that I’ve learned from experiences/others:

-“Language is Freedom:” a direct quote from my country coordinator and the most accurate phrase of all my exchange so far. Since I studied A LOT my language before leaving, I feel more comfortable talking. I still make mistakes but, I am able to talk with my host parents and classmates, participate in class, go out and understand my surroundings. Therefore, it’s important to always study your language even after your arrival. I am so glad I am studying a language I love and loving the language I am learning!

-Don’t ignore popular culture: My host parents were so surprised that I recognized movies like “Amelie” and “Welcome to the Shti,” that I knew about bands like Telephone and BB Brunes and so on. It’s popular culture that makes the difference and the one that bonds you to others; singing along with your classmates to rap or relating to a movie in a conversation has actually served as the best way to meet people.

-You can’t anticipate exchange: I used to be the person that would plan ahead so meticulously during trips to Disney, the “mom” in the group walking around with an itinerary for rides. With the exchange, I’ve learned that there are some things you can not anticipate regardless of how much you plan. I went on the wrong bus and ended up lost in the metro station while meeting my host sister, I’ve walked in circles for hours looking for a place and so on. While I am still a planner, I now embrace the present with open arms and curiosity.

-Don’t hang out with exchange students only, even worst only Anglo-Saxon ones: I know it’s comfortable talking in English during Rotary meetings and that wonderful feeling of meeting other Americans that miss Chipotle and Chick Fil A just as much as you do. Yet, you have to stop. I have learned to dance Brazilian funk, mumble some Thai words and so on because I’ve explored outside of my bubble. Besides, hanging out with natives eases the process and it helps out being friends with classmates. I am not close with them yet but my classmates ask me to hang out with them on weekends and I learn slang from the best.

-YES will probably used the most: I know from ROTEX that this was an obvious one, but be open to try new things. As soon as Rotarians/my host parents offer me

I couldn’t be happier with all the things that have happened, good and not so good, and what is next to come. I am so thankful for this opportunity granted by Rotary and their YEP program! Here’s to new beginnings, delicious food, and great friends that feel like family all in one month.

Wed, October 4, 2017


Destiny - Poland

Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: Pedro Menendez
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: St. Augustine, Florida
Host District: 2231
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Bydgoszcz

My Bio

Cześć! My name is Destiny and I live in St. Augustine Florida with my grandparents, and my two golden retrievers, Bella and Cody. I am thrilled to be spending this coming year in Poland! I am so grateful for the St. Augustine Rotary Club sponsoring me to be living a year abroad. I’m currently a junior at Pedro Menendez High School as well as earning credits at St. Johns River State College. I am a member of the National Honor Society, I like to volunteer at local pet shelters, and am on the World Winter Guard team. I love to spend time with my family and friends. I also love to read and listen to music, I find it very relaxing. In my free time, I like to go to the beach with my friends, go camping, kayak, play guitar, and shop. I have always loved the outdoors and cannot wait to see all the beautiful nature in Poland. After my exchange, I plan on attending Flagler College and majoring in International Business. I will forever be grateful to the Rotary for this once in a life time experience that will change my life forever. I never would have thought that I would be spending my senior year in Poland. It is truly a dream come true. I know that I will create friendships and relationships that will be never ending. Poland is rich in its culture and I can’t wait to be a part of it. It will be so amazing to learn a new language and experience all that Poland has to offer. I am so excited. Dziękuję Rotary!

Journals: Destiny-Poland Blog 2017-18

  • Destiny, Outbound to Poland

Since I last wrote I actually switched back to live with my first family. I switched families because it was what would benefit my exchange and my happiness the most. I created such a good relationship with my first family and I am so happy to end my exchange with them.

In April I had my Euro tour, I saw 7 countries in 18 days. Verona, Capri, Barcelona, and Paris were some of my favorites. I discovered that I want to live EVERYWHERE! I created memories with my exchange student family that I will cherish forever. I also spent quite a chunk of money so watch out outbounds you will need to save up.

I turned 18 in May and got to celebrate with my host family. They got me a cake and a four-leaf clover necklace so that I would have good luck in all that I do. Then I went to London on a Rotary trip. It was so amazing and we got to stay with host families while we were there, so we got a real feel for what British people are like. I really enjoyed this aspect of the trip because I liked experiencing the culture from a native’s point of view. We got to see Tower Bridge, Big Ben, the Parliament, Westminster Abbey, and of course Buckingham Palace. My favorite part was the tour of the Harry Potter Studio where the movie was actually shot.

In June, we had our last meeting with all of the 70 inbound students. The weekend consisted of writing on flags, a lot of tears, and sharing our favorite memories of each other. My exchange friends have become my family and they always will be, whether we are together or spread out across the world. They made my year so memorable and I am so beyond grateful for them.

For my last Rotary trip, we went to Prague in Czech Republic. We saw Prague Castle, St, Charles Bridge, the John Lennon Wall, the Wallenstein Garden, and went on a boat tour. Again, this was another outstanding trip that I took too many pictures on. It’s so hard to pick my favorite trip because they were all so special to me. I never thought I would ever even get the chance to travel and see so many different countries, I am extremely blessed.

I had my last Rotary meeting with my host club and exchanged banners with my Counselor. I gave a speech to my club thanking them for such a beautiful year. They really enjoyed my speech and they said they would love to see me in the future. My counselor told us that we made him so proud because we were such good kids and had a great love for Poland and that made me very happy.

The last few weeks I have just been living my normal life in Poland, spending time with my friends, exploring new places in my city, kayaking in the river, and of course eating as much Naleśniki as possible. Life in Bydgoszcz has become so natural to me and it’s strange to think in a few short days I will be “leaving home to come home” as they say. I finally got to see the slack line competition that I have been waiting to see since the beginning of exchange. The Brda river runs through my city and competitors from different countries come to walk across the river on a slack line very high up. I was overjoyed when I saw this and felt so complete because I realized I did it all. I saw everything I wanted, I traveled to so many new places, I experienced Poland, its culture and traditions, and made the best friends of my life. I have Rotary and my grandparents to thank for that. I come home this week and cannot wait to share Polish culture and my experiences with everyone.

Dziękuję za rok wymiany, to był najlepszy rok w moim życiu. Do zobaczenia.

Tue, July 3, 2018

  • Destiny, Outbound to Poland

The biggest things that have happened in the past three months: On January 19th my good friend Jed finished his exchange and went back to Australia. The other exchange students and I were extremely upset; a piece of us was in another place now. But through this we all started to spend more time together and we got even closer. My Polish friends took me ice skating which for this Floridian was quite a challenge. My friends were super kind and taught me a few tricks to help me glide. I still fell a few times, but the most important thing is I got back up and tried again. (An important thing I have learned on exchange, don’t give up, try again). January 27th -February 3rd I went with Rotary on a skiing trip to Austria. It was the absolute best week of my life. How many people get to say they learned how to ski in the Alps? We had a ski instructor and at the beginning of the week skiing seemed so difficult; however, at the end of week I felt like a pro (sort of). I plan on going skiing with my family and friends a lot more in the states. The slopes were beautiful, and the hot chocolate was great. Every night the Rotarians would play trivia games with us about our countries. We made so many amazing and funny memories and it was definitely one of the highlights of my exchange.

In February 8th, we had Tłusty Czwartek which is Fat Thursday. It is a holiday where you eat as much Pączki as you can. It is believed that if you don’t eat Pączki you will be miserable for the rest of the year. Pączki are Polish “doughnuts” that have many different fillings (plum, apricot, strawberry, custard, and bacon). My friends and I had a lot of fun eating all the Pączki we could that day. Later that month three of my good friends and I went on a ski trip to Zakopane. It was so much fun and we all had a great time skiing together again. We even got to visit the city if Zakopane, and we got to see some beautiful handmade plaques and traditional Polish clothing.

At the beginning of March, I was asked to make a presentation about the different stereotypes of states around the country. All of the students were interested about what I had to say and they loved hearing about the United States from a natives view. I got to celebrate my host cousins first birthday with her and our family. There is a tradition when a baby turns one that the mother will lay 3 items in front of them. The items are money, a rosary, and a shot glass. The money means the child will be prosperous, ambitious, and driven. The Rosary means the child will be religious and spiritual. The shot glass means the child will be outgoing and very social. My cousin picked the money and we were all very happy for her.

Weather: It is still cold here. I woke up today and looked outside, it was like winter wonderland. Some days are beautifully sunny and quite warm 45-50 degrees; then out of nowhere it will start to rain or snow. But I remember I must be adaptable and try my best to stay prepared (always carry an umbrella). I think my new favorite thing is watching the snow fall. I love that I can look out my window and see the trees frosted, it’s beautiful. It’s quite a different view from Florida’s hot and sunny beaches.

Friends: I could talk about them all day. I feel like I have said this a million times but the exchange students are my family. We laugh together, cry together, travel together, and experience Poland together. The thought of leaving them breaks my heart, but it also makes me think about how lucky I am to have made such strong relationships with these people I have only known for 7 months. The exchange kids in my city are lucky because we have a group of 9 students. We all have shared so much about each other’s countries and I have learned about Japanese Canadian, Mexican, Taiwanese, and Australian culture. I know I will stay friends with these people for the rest of my life. In fact, we are already making plans to visit each other soon after exchange.

This past weekend, Rotary took my whole district to Kraków and Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Kraków is a beautiful city and my new favorite. We got to go on a tour of the Wawel Castle, it was breathtaking. The markets in the city center sell very traditional things like: headpieces, hand painted Easter eggs, and my favorite, Pierogi. They even had carriage tours around the city. In the middle of the markets there were people performing traditional dances in traditional clothes. The exchange kids and I were so happy to see so much culture being displayed. We all have a lot of love for Kraków.

The next day we visited Auschwitz Concentration Camp and Birkenau Death Camp. It was so crazy for us because we had all learned about the Holocaust and seen pictures of the concentration camp in textbooks before; however, actually being there and seeing it in real life was a whole other story. It was something really hard to accept and comprehend. To stand in the place where thousands were mass killed… there was just no words. But I would not trade my experiences for anything and if you ever go to Poland it is definitely something worth seeing.

I would like to thank Rotary so much for my exchange and for being able to experience so much in this year. I really do love Poland and I have loved growing as a person and becoming more independent. I would also like to thank my family for always supporting me and loving me. Dziękuję i do zobaczenia. Jeszcze trzy miesiące …

Thu, March 29, 2018

  • Destiny, Outbound to Poland

I remember Mrs. Paula always telling me and the other outbounds to always say yes; this advice has led me to great opportunities. To every future outbound I encourage you to always say yes because that’s when you truly start living.

In November I got to go on trip with some other exchange students in my city to Czech Prague, Vienna Austria, and the mountains in the south of Poland. I got to see snow for the first time in years. As soon as we all saw the snow we jumped out of the train and started throwing it at each other and it was so much fun. During the trip me and the girls became really close and I will cherish the hilarious memories we made together. Also, if you ever get the chance to go to Prague TAKE IT! It is the most beautiful city I have ever seen.

I have been told from exchange students that Thanksgiving is a very hard time where you will feel the homesickness, they are not wrong. I was really lucky though because my host family made me a big Thanksgiving dinner and they had my grandparents come over. I was extremely touched, and it helped me so much. There is a tradition in my family where we pray and then pass a spoon around the table and we say the things we are thankful for. When my host grandma started praying she was thanking God that I came into their lives and that I was such a good girl and that she was thankful I was a part of their family. I cried very much because I felt so loved and happy and they all made me feel like I was family.

Recently I got to go to Warsaw and see all of the Christmas decorations and my good friend Weronika. We even got to go Ice skating in front of the Palace of Culture and Science, which is probably my favorite building in Poland, it almost felt like dream. To be honest I have a lot of these moments because on exchange I have experienced so many things that I have always wanted to do. I have made really good relationships with exchange students, Polish friends, and my host families, and I absolutely LOVE my city Bydgoszcz. Side note, it is extremely easy to make friends with exchange students, they will become your family while you are on exchange. It is super easy to connect because you all go through the same things and you know how to comfort each other.

Recently I also went on a school trip to the Christmas markets in Dresden Germany. In December, we had our Wrocław Rotary trip. It was a lot of fun seeing everyone from our exchange group. We got to go to Ksiąz castle where Hitler lived and worked. We also went to the Zoo and we went to a hydraulics museum. During our weekend we went to the Christmas of many nations meeting where exchange students would sing Christmas carols in Polish. At the end, we all got in a circle and sang “We Are the World” and it was one of the most beautiful moments I have ever experienced, I will never forget it.

I got to celebrate Christmas which was a very nice holiday. In Poland we celebrate on the 24th. We have a big dinner which mainly consists of many different fish dishes. We also open gifts this night too. There is a tradition here that you break apart a piece of a wafer and wish everyone good health, a happy life, and you bless them. It is such a sweet thing to do and I will definitely be bringing this tradition back to my family in the U.S. I will say Christmas time was probably my hardest time so far in terms of homesickness; the only advice I can give is to realize how lucky you are to be on exchange and live it to your fullest because next year you will be back with your family again. So, try to be positive and soak up as much of this new culture you can.

I also switched families a little after new year. I am so blessed to have had such a wonderful first family and now a wonderful second family. I already love them so much. I have a little sister and I can tell we will be close. On my first night she sat with me while I unpacked, and we listened to music and danced and played monopoly and I think she is the sweetest thing. My parents are extremely helpful and are super funny. I have already picked up new Polish phrases and words from speaking with them.

The weather is definitely something that takes some adjusting to get used to, layering is key and always keep your head covered. Something else that is helpful is to get waterproof boots for the fall and winter seasons because it rains and snows a lot. Public transportation is something very daunting at first, but you will get the hang of it quickly; I take buses and trams all over my city now.

Polish is definitely difficult, but it is also do able. Practice makes perfect. Also, don’t be afraid to use your Polish, people will be happy to see you are trying because they know it is such a hard language to learn. Making mistakes also helps you learn more and faster so don’t be afraid.

Good luck to all of the new outbounds, whoever gets Poland I know you will love it just as much as I do. Thank you Rotary for giving me this once in a life time opportunity to grow as a person and to see the world. Dziekuje, powodzenia, I do zobaczenia.

Szczęśliwego Nowego Roku (Happy New Year).

Wed, January 10, 2018

  • Destiny, Outbound to Poland

I am almost at my 3-month mark here in Poland. I really do believe that this is a life within a year and not just a year within my life. I have seen and done so much already. I have been traveling to different cities almost every weekend. I have made some really good friends that have helped me so much. My friend Natalia took me to the Philharmonic in my city Bydgoszcz, which is the best one in Poland. It was beautiful. I went to a city called Grudziądz and got to see some of the other exchange students. Then we had a Rotary meeting in Toruń with all the other exchange students, we got to go to the Gingerbread Museum and learn how to make homemade Gingerbread. We also got to go on a boat tour. My Rotary Club took me and 4 other students to a camping trip. We went on a hike and got to see all the leaves changing. It was breathtaking and definitely one of my favorite things about Autumn in Poland. Then my parents took me on a trip to Gdańsk, Gdynia, and Sopot, also known as the Tri-city. We had so much fun together. We went to the WWII museum, Destroyer tour, Carousel ride, and I got to see the beach that I have been missing.

Then I went to Wrocław to see some of my really good friends. We got to see the city and the Dwarfs of Wrocław, which is something I have wanted to see since I heard I was coming to Poland. On November 1, we have a holiday called All Saints Day. It is a holiday of remembrance to those who have passed. My family and I went to the village where my mom grew up to celebrate and meet family. We went to Mass then went to the cemetery. There must have been 100 families there. The graves were decorated beautifully, there were big tombs made of marble and they were covered with flowers and candles. The Priest came and sprayed holy water and prayed over everyone. It was a very beautiful holiday to celebrate. The most breath-taking part was seeing the cemeteries at night. The candles lit up the whole sky and you felt this type of peace. It was so touching to see how much everyone cares and loves their families.

My Rotary Club has signed me and some other students up for Thai Boxing. It is really fun. It is very intense though… I have to work off that Pierogi somehow. The weather is definitely a lot colder than what I’m used to. It is rainy and cold most days. The Autumn season is leaving, and Winter is on its way. I am hoping I will get to see some snow soon.

Polish is getting easier every week. I can understand more than I can say. I have a Polish tutor who is helping in the areas of Polish I am not strong in. For me and the other students this is grammar. With Polish you can’t just be submerged, it’s not enough. You really have to work for it. I really like Polish though and everyone says I am getting much better. The best feeling is ordering your meal, buying a train ticket, or just talking to your family at the table. It makes all the hard work worth it.

I would just like to thank Rotary for this amazing experience. I know I am growing as a person, becoming more independent, and falling in love with Poland. For all of you future outbounds picking countries please put Poland on your list. You will see how much love is in this country and you will not be disappointed. Do Zobaczenia, Dziękuję.

Sat, November 11, 2017

  • Destiny, Outbound to Poland

Click HERE to read more about Destiny and all her blogs

Dzień Dobry! It’s hard to believe I have been in Poland for a little over a month now. I cannot explain how much love I have for this beautiful country. The first thing I would like to talk about would be my flight and my airport experience. The day before I left I was just so excited I couldn’t really think of anything else, other than the fact that the big day had finally come. However, the day of my actual flight made me very emotional. There is a surreal feeling you get when you are about to leave everything you have ever known and loved; anyone who is or was an exchange student will know what I am referring to. It is this nerve wracking yet exhilarating feeling you get and all you can think about is this brand-new adventure that lays ahead of you. I really want to thank my family for being so supportive of me and for giving me the strength to go on exchange because it is something I have always wanted to do. I love you guys with all my heart.

When I arrived in Warsaw, Poland I was greeted by my host dad and sister, and my exchange friend Weronika; I was so happy to see them. Some of my first impressions of Poland were: lots of open landscapes, lots of windmills, and lots of trams/ trains/ and buses. Also, we eat a lot of Potatoes here, baked, boiled, and fried.

I got to meet my grandparents before I went to language camp and they were so sweet and welcoming. My grandpa had said that whenever I am missing him or my family back home, I can come over and give him a hug and spend time with them. My grandparents come to my house every Saturday and I help my grandpa in the garden; I love spending time with him. He will point to objects and tell me the word in Polish and it helps me to learn new words. My host dad was very touched that I spend time with my grandparents, I really love my family here.

Language camp was the BEST experience. I met so many people from all over the world. I have friends from Mexico, Thailand, Brazil, South Korea, Canada, Japan, Taiwan, Chile, Venezuela, and all over the United States; and I am still meeting new people. During the course, we got take Polish grammar, vocabulary, music, sports and history. My understanding of Polish increased dramatically. I really liked my teachers, they were so helpful. We also got to visit some very interesting places like Malbork Castle and an Army Museum. My favorite part was when we got to visit the President of Bydgoszcz and introduce ourselves to him in Polish. It was so cool and I was so proud of myself for speaking Polish to him. The last day of language camp we took our exams and I got a 100% on my speaking portion, I was ecstatic.

I started school on September 4th. On the first day of Polish school, students wear a white shirt with black pants or a black skirt; this is uniform for the first day because you will meet your main teacher and classmates. I really love my school, it’s so beautiful and the people are so helpful. I have a mix of classes that I take: Spanish, Physics, Biology, Civics, Religion, Basics of Enterprise, Polish, Chemistry, Math, Education of Safety, Knowledge of Culture, History in Spanish, Geography in Spanish, and Polish history. Here we stay with the same group of people for all our classes, it makes it easier to make friends so I am happy about that.

September 8-10th I was in Warsaw at a Rotary conference called EEMA. The exchange students got to participate in the flag ceremony and it was very exciting. We all got to represent different countries. I really enjoyed seeing people get so happy when an exchange student was carrying their flag and representing their country. We also got to meet the former President, Lech Wałęsa, who freed Poland from Communism. We were in awe, it was so inspirational to hear him speak at the conference. After this we got to take a tour around Warsaw and spend time together, which we all really enjoyed because we missed each other.

I really am loving my life here in Poland, my family here is so supportive, helpful, loving and caring, I am so blessed. I would like to thank my family and friends back home for loving and supporting me. I would also like to thank Rotary for this amazing opportunity, I will forever be grateful.

To anyone thinking about going on exchange, PLEASE do it, you will have the best time of your life. Also, choose Poland, there is such beautiful culture, traditions, and language here. No matter where you will decide to go, exchange will change your life and it has made me so happy.

Porozmawiaj z tobą wkrótce, Dziękuję bardzo

Tue, September 19, 2017


Devon - Brazil

Hometown: Tallahassee, Florida
School: Leon High school
Sponsor District : District 6940
Sponsor Club: , Florida
Host District: 4640
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Araucaria

My Bio

Oi future friends and family of the RYE community! My name is Devon L’Heureux and I’m a graduating junior at Leon High School. I’ve always loved learning languages and meeting new people, so I think the life of an exchange student fits me well! I live with my two adorable 11 year old sisters, as well as my loving mom and dad. I am a bit of an animal lover so we have two gerbils, a fish, and my cutie patootie cat, Pusheen. Trying to finish school in three years has definitely made my usual day pretty busy. I do dedicate a lot of time to the chorus groups at Leon a well as my Latin club. I have two part time jobs, one as a tutor at Kumon, and the other hostessing at a Mexican restaurant. While being a hostess is fun, I absolutely adore my job at Kumon! I think that teaching children is definitely one of my passions and I hope I can have a career somewhere in that field. In terms of some of my hobbies, I enjoy listening to Kpop, having fun with my friends, learning new languages, and learning instruments. I tried to teach myself guitar but I have really small hands so my recent introduction with the ukulele seems to be proving fruitful! I suppose I now have a new hobby after finding out that I was picked to go to Brazil! Surely like many exchange students before me, I immediately went home and began learning Portuguese! Thrilled would be an understatement to describe how excited I am to go! Though it may be challenging, I feel like I will be able to board that plane well prepared and ready to start the next chapter in my life.

Journals: Devon-Brazil Blog 2017-18

  • Devon, Outbound to Brazil

Seven months ago, I arrived to a new world where I didn’t speak the language and knew no one. I can’t believe how fast it has gone by! So much has happened, and I honestly think it is too much to convey in writing.  In just seven short months,  I have learned a foreign language, made many friends from around the world, and have created a bond with my family that is unbreakable.

In January I went on a month long trip to the North East of Brazil! I saw so many amazing sights! In Macéio, I saw beaches with water so blue that you could be up to your shoulders and still be able to see your feet. In Lençóes, I saw and climbed giant mountains that formed thousands of years ago. I went swimming in underground caverns, exploring in pitch black caves, and dune bugging on the desertous terrain of Natal. However, my favorite place was by far Salvador. Walking down the cobblestone roads, you see people singing traditional songs and performers showing off their Capoeira skills. Every building looks colorful and cultural, the aura of the place can only be described as dreamlike. There, I saw amazing churches that were covered wall to wall in gold. If you want a romantic get away, Salvador is the place to go. Every day made me think, “This can only be in Brazil or else it would be Hollywood.” Obviously I went to Cristo Redentor where I did the iconic arms-stretched-open-with-Jesus pose! Moments only seen in movies were happening to me in real life.

In February, I travelled to Joaçaba to participate in the Carnaval parade! I, along with my other exchange student friends, wore extravagant moon and sun themed costumes. On the day that we were supposed to walk in the parade,  the sky opened up and started raining unbelievably hard. However, even a monsoon cannot stop Brazilians from partying. There we were, dancing in time to the music and jumping in every puddle, while the crowd sang every word to the songs being played over the loudspeaker in unison. It was such a thrilling feeling. I felt one with Brazil more than ever in that moment.

Even though these trips are beyond amazing, I can’t ignore the wonderful home life that I have been lucky enough to have. I love coming home from school to have lunch with my family or to return home late at night to share tea with my host Mom Something you never think about before going on exchange is the family. I now know family means so much more than just who you are related to. I feel so close to my family here and I grow sad at the thought of leaving them behind.

This is just the tip of the iceberg for me. Many of my stories will have to be told in person. I know that the memories that I have made in just this one year will last me a lifetime. I do look forward to seeing my friends and family back in Florida, but I can’t help but dread the day that I will have to leave.

Wed, March 14, 2018

  • Devon, Outbound to Brazil

How four months have flown by so quickly, I will never know. So much has happened in what seems like such a short time. As I’ve walked in the shoes of a Brazilian, I’ve seen myself change in more ways than one.

For starters, I’ve become very bold in the time that I’ve been here. I have come across many chances for public speaking, and have earned opportunities because of this. Just last month, my Rotary club invited me to speak at a dinner with all of the Rotary Clubs in my city, as well as the Governor of our district. Wearing my blazer and a nice dress, I gave a speech in Portuguese detailing the importance of Rotary, as well as the importance of Rotary Youth Exchange. I was applauded for my efforts, and gained the recognition of the Governor. It was thrilling and empowering all the same.

Due to me living in the Southern Hemisphere, summer is currently in full swing, regardless of it being December. Likewise, summer break has also started. Since I do not have school, I have had an abundance of time to experience my city. If you thought America was crazy about Christmas, you should see Brazil. In early November, my city decorated the whole downtown area, and had a giant Christmas parade. They then rented a Ferris wheel and a train tour. I was so flabbergasted by the amount of effort that went into the Christmas celebrations. I went to a town with a population of 4000 people that had a Christmas firework show that would trump many of America’s Fourth of July shows easily.

Speaking of Christmas, for the first time in my 18 years alive, I spent the holidays with someone other than my family. It was a weird change, however, not a bad one. I spent Christmas by going to my host club president’s house, and celebrating until 1 in the morning. The next day, I exchanged gifts with my host parents, and then went to a party on a farm with all of their extended family. All 11 siblings of my host mom were there. We had Brazilian BBQ, known as Churrasco, as well as a buffet of desserts. The gift that I received for Christmas is both thoughtful and hilarious. I am always joking with my host mom that she needs a cat, which is usually shut down by laughter. For Christmas, my host mom gave me a Beta Fish that she appropriately named “Gato”, meaning cat. He is adorable, and I couldn’t be happier. I gifted my host mom a cute succulent plant, and I gave my host dad a Bible stand. Overall, it was a memorable Christmas.

I absolutely love my host dad, but we don’t always have things to talk about. His whole life revolves around work, church, and soccer. Recently, however, I was able to have a really cool bonding experience with him. Though I am not religious, I was given a Bible that is in both Portuguese and English when I left for Brazil. I don’t use it often, so I decided to let my host dad borrow it since he was interested in learning English. I ended up sitting with him and teaching him English phrases from the Bible for well over an hour. There was no religion being pushed onto me, or forced conversations, purely me teaching English to my Brazilian host dad. I have felt much closer to my host dad ever since, and I feel more and more like I am part of the family. My host mom has even started calling me “Filha”, meaning daughter.

Of course I have had days where all I want in the world is to smother my mom in hugs. I have had days where I miss my family so much that it hurts my chest. However, as I spend more and more time here, the more I feel like I never want to leave. I’m dreading the day that I will have to say goodbye, but as I creep on my fourth month in Brazil, I know that the fateful day is drawing closer as well. It’s a difficult reality when you have two homes. Both hold memories and loved ones. My life already will never be the same, both for the good and the bad. I hope to make many more memories in the months to come, now especially since they are numbered. I can’t wait to see what else my exchange has in store. Captains Log: This has been Devon L’Heureux, Brazilian in training, signing out for now.

Tue, December 26, 2017

  • Devon, Outbound to Brazil

My goodness gracious! I can hardly believe that it has already been two months since I boarded a plane for Brazil! So many things have happened since I’ve arrived. I’ve seen amazing sights, met wonderful people, and learned more about Brazil and myself than I could have ever hoped! When I first arrived, I was greeted with many happy faces and warm welcomes. My host family had arranged a party for me, and invited many people who would soon come to be some of my very good friends. It took about a solid two weeks for me to finally settle in, as my first host family was not ready to receive me quite yet. As I spent my first weeks here learning basic phrases and adjusting to my surroundings, the cultural differences between The States and Brazil couldn’t have been more obvious than an Elephant in a Wal-Mart. I soon found myself trying to rewire my brain to do things that I had never thought about doing before. On of my initial challenges was trying to not forget that Brazilians don’t flush toilet paper, they throw it in a little waste basket next to you. I have had way too many close calls with clogged toilets in public bathrooms. Another cultural difference is that Brazil is a very touchy country. Extended family, friends, acquaintances, complete strangers, or all of the above need to be greeted with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. As someone who can fumble around awkwardly during such interactions, this was definitely a major adjustment on my part. As could be said about many other countries, the cultural differences change every aspect of your day, such as: needing to wear shoes inside, not making the “ok” sign with your hand, not letting your feet get wet, always needing the windows and doors open when it is daytime, and the list goes on. As an exchange student, I acknowledge that these are things that I must adjust to, and that I must use the slightly hilarious sounding mindset of “Be the Brazilian”.

One common misconception about exchange is that it is all rainbows and butterflies; exchange is the extended yearlong vacation of a lifetime. Well have I got news for you. Exchange is a job, and a hard one at that. Yes, this year will probably be one of the best years of my life, and will surely change my future drastically. However, it is hard to leave your friends and family behind for a whole year. It is hard to not be able to express all of your opinions and feelings to those around you. It is hard to not understand anything on price tags, menus, billboards; even ramen instructions are difficult! I remember trying to order French fries at a restaurant for R$ 9,00, but because I didn’t understand the woman when she asked if I wanted to “Super Size” my order, I ended up with a family order of fries and a R$ 21,00 bill. However, I must say experiences like this end up being the memories that you take away, as you learn to become one with a different culture. I definitely treasure these moments, and I hope I continue to learn from my mistakes.

Another bit about exchange that may not seem as too much of a shock, is homesickness. After settling in, getting into a routine, and getting out of the honeymoon phase of exchange, I realized that I really missed my family a lot more than I thought I would. I really started loathing being alone, because it made me miss home more and more. I then decided to stop being a soggy towel on the bathroom floor and find something that I really enjoyed! I soon joined a gym, where I became active in a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu group by accident, and it is now my favorite part of the week! Additionally, I have started taking part in my group’s community project where we teach younger children Jiu Jitsu every Saturday! I try to volunteer as often as possible, as I feel good inside with every lesson I teach and every practice I attend. I have made so many Brazilian friends from joining this group, and I feel stronger and more confident as well!

Some valuable advice that I took away from ex-exchange student extraordinaire, Ashley Campbell, is to do as much with my host Rotary club as possible. Though it may seem boring at first, due to lack of language skills, these people will grow to be your life line, as well as the people who make or break your exchange. I have grown extremely close to my club members, as I have been invited to their children’s birthday parties, gone out to eat with them every Tuesday night, been invited to take trips out of state, and overall built a community of likeminded people who are there for me no matter what. My advice to aspiring exchange students is to attend your host club meetings religiously.

In the two months that I’ve been here, I’ve already done so much! I would have to write a novel in order to properly describe the amazing experiences I’ve had. I’ve seen waterfalls that put Niagara to shame, seen architectural beauties that give their surroundings that Brazilian welcome, went jet skiing with another exchange student’s family, went long distance swimming in a crystal clear lake, and so many other adventures that would take too long to list. I am so thankful that I have the privilege of being here in Brazil, and if I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. If I could say anything to those that helped me get here, it would be a great big THANK YOU!!! This has been your semi-normal captains log from your local Brazilian in training, Devon L’Heureux. Thank you for reading and see you next month, Tchau!

Fri, October 20, 2017


Eliot - Thailand

Hometown: Fort Myers Beach, Florida
School: Florida Southwestern Collegiate
Sponsor District : District 6960
Sponsor Club: , Florida
Host District: 3330
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Nakhon Si Thammarat

My Bio

Sawadee krap! Hello! My name is Eliot Lincoln; I am a fifteen year old 9th grader from Fort Myers /Fort Myers Beach Florida. Thailand has similar weather to Florida, so I won’t have to buy cold weather clothes! I come from a large extended loving family who all live far away but get together for reunions. My older brother and I go back and forth between two homes. My dad’s home is on a busy beach island, and my mother’s home is in a nice apartment complex with a workout gym. I love animals—between both houses I have four cats and one dog. Some of my other interests are soccer, tae kwon do, board games, and being outdoors. I have been doing magic tricks since age 7, when I was inspired by my cousin, a professional magician in New York City. I am also serious about my primary sport, fencing. I have been fencing since 4th grade. I am hoping I might learn Muay Thai in Thailand. Most of all, though, I am looking forward to learning a new way of life from a very different people. I love being an adventurer, and I love making friends of people very different from myself. I feel like fencing and magic and going to a different country all share something in common—providing a competitive challenge while making lifelong friends. I can’t wait.

Journals: Eliot-Thailand Blog 2017-18

  • Eliot, Outbound to Thailand

I just got back from my second trip. It was truly an amazing experience, not only did I get to see many of my friends again but the trip in and of itself was truly spectacular. This journal is going to be more about my second trip then my feelings on being in Thailand, so if you are reading to know what I think about Thailand then maybe this is not the journal you should read. So, all the exchange students met up at Bangkok the first day. Then the next day we woke up early and it was cold, for Thailand at least. We stopped for breakfast, and then around 8 am we arrived at the base camp of Phu Kradueng. Going up the mountain was a 5 kilometer climb and then, once at the top it is a 3 kilometer walk to the base camp. It took me around 3 hours to make the climb and I was exhausted. I was so tired from the climb when I arrived I took a nap right on the grass. The next day me and about half of the exchange students walked 10 kilometers to see some amazing cliffs, and then we walked all the way back. At this point my legs were completely dead and the worst part was knowing I had to climb down. The fourth day we all hiked down and I was so sore. Then we switched buses and headed to Maha Sarakarm. We had a Christmas party there, even though it was the 26th. The reason for this was no one was willing to carry all the presents up the mountain, so we did it the night we got back. We all had someone who we needed to get a gift for, and I really enjoyed it. The next day we traveled to the biggest elephant village in the world, but it was sad, because we could see how baldy they treated the elephants. Then we went to the Aranya Prathet/ Poipet crossing market, where we look through the shops. We got to the hotel right near the border of Cambodia. Then, we crossed over the border and headed to Siam-Reab Cambodia. The next day, we saw the amazing temples of Angkor Complex. I felt so lucky to be able to see one of the wonders of the world. It was breath taking to see what the people could build during the 12th century AD. Then we went back to the hotel and slept. The next day we spent most of the day traveling to Pattaya, and waiting at the border crossing. Once we got to Pattaya it was New Years, and we had a little Rotary celebration. Then the last day of the trip, we went to a huge water park. It was fun, and it reminded me of the water parks in Orlando. The next day we all went back home, and for me that meant a 16-hour ride back to Nakkon Si Thammarat, where I arrived at 4 in the morning.

Wed, January 10, 2018

  • Eliot, Outbound to Thailand

So far I have been here 4 months and I have just switched host families. It has been a big change not just in families but also in location. My first host family was really far away from the city in the middle of nature. Now that I moved I realize how much I miss that, those peaceful bike rides through the woods. Luckily, I can still go there on the weekends if I miss it too much. In the city everything is so close, but it is always busy. My host families are also completely different. My first host family was in a big house where it was only me, my host mom and host dad. Most of the time my host dad was out working so it was just me and my host mom. It felt sorta lonely until I went out exploring. I feel that my new host family is completely opposite. I live with my host mom, dad, sisters, grandmas, and grandpas. It is a big family in an average house. So there is always something going on or something to do. Also, you can take the buses pretty much anywhere. I feel that since I have been in Thailand I have changed so much. I remember at the airport when I first arrived, how I acted and who I was. I had somewhat low confidence but I would try to hide that by trying to be funny or just acting along. Now I have a lot more confidence and because I am not spending my energy to try to hide that I and a lot happier as a person. I have been pushed so far out of my comfort zone that now I have a completely different view of not only myself but the world around me. What I would say pushed me the farthest out of my comfort zone is the people. I am always being stared at. It starts from the moment I walk outside, everyone is looking all the way until I get home after school. Now, I don’t mind it, but it made me feel like I was always being watched. The part of me that was trying to hide my low confidence could not keep up with being watched 24/7, so when my low confidence did show, it made me realize no one cared. No one was judging me, everyone accepted me as who I was. So because of that my confidence in myself grew a lot. At school I still sometimes feel lonely because everyone talks so fast. By the time I understand one thing, another thing has been said. So I am always one sentence behind. I can understand but I can’t add my thoughts so even though they are my friends I feel lonely and left out at school sometimes. That feeling has pushed me in trying to learn more Thai, and I believe will really help me push past the learning curve. All in all, I am so glad I have gone on exchange. Like anything challenges have been presented and I have had to overcome and adapt to them and the culture. As a result of that as a person I have changed for the better. The most exciting thing is I am just half way through, and I know I will still change much more in the next few months.

Wed, December 6, 2017

  • Eliot, Outbound to Thailand

September 5, 2017

It has been a little less than a month here in Thailand, and what can I say but WOW! It feels like almost a year already, I have already learned so much and have grown as a person I couldn’t be happier. But, let me start at the beginning. Getting on the plane, the moment when I left my parents, I left my comfort zone. That moment was one if not the hardest moments of my life. On the plane, I slept most of the time. After all it was a 25-hour flight, but when I wasn’t sleeping I was thinking about my friends and family I left behind, until I got to Thailand, the moment I arrived I was confused. My parents took off my phone number so I couldn’t call them for help (which in my opinion was a good thing), all I knew was I had to meet them after I got off my flight, and if I couldn’t find them to meet them at the Starbucks on the second floor. The issue was that I didn’t know where my bags were, if the Starbucks was on the second floor before immigration or af ter immigration, I didn’t know if I had all the right paper work. So, I asked someone and they said the Starbucks is on the other side of immigration, so that is where I went. The person hardly spoke English, so I didn’t even know if he knew what I was asking. The line for immigration was 1 hour long which doesn’t seem like a long time, but trust me with a heavy computer bag and an 11-hour jet lag it is a long time. Finally, I got up to the front and gave the guy my passport, he said something in Thai and I just stood there and then he stamped my passport and nodded his head. So, I got my bags and luckily the people who picked me up were right there, the next day I flew to Nakkon Si Tammarat, with another exchange student named Elliot (which by the way I’m good friends with), and we got a huge welcome.

That is just one of my many adventures, and I just got to Thailand. I have done so many new things, like go to a waterfall and catch a fish in my shirt, I am very proud of that because my host sister named Mui said no one could. I have fed some monkeys bananas, I have eaten so much that I thought I would never be hungry again, I have gone to a beach right next to a mountain, which is one of the most beautiful sights ever. I have also made a ton of new friends and every day I fall in love with Thai culture more and more.

My host family is everything I could have asked for and more, I call my host dad Pa, and my host mom Me, I have 2 host sisters. My host sister’s names are Mui and Lin. Then also living near us is my host uncles and aunts, as well as grandparents.

School is fun, it is the largest school I have ever been in consisting of 2,900 students, but they all seem to love to call my name and wave hi. I don’t mind it though, it is sort of funny how everyone always wants to talk to you, it is like just because you are from a different country you are popular. I do have a lot of friends that help me learn Thai. If I had one thing that I should have done it is learn a lot more Thai. I was under the impression that once you are in a country you just wake up one day and know the language. It isn’t like that, you have to put in the work, it doesn’t matter where you are if you don’t try to learn you won’t. I am placed in a scenario where I have to learn, my host dad and mom don’t speak any English, and my host sisters are away in other countries right now. So, I had to learn to communicate, also my friends speak very little English so I just always try to speak Thai. Trust me there are some days my brain hurts , and others where I will think a sentence in English but use Thai words without knowing. I am putting in the work now, but I wish I put more work in before coming here.

All in all, I am doing great. I do miss my family and friends and I have had to face that fact many times. But I try not to think of them and only on the positives in Thailand, of course there are some things I don’t like here but that is nothing more than my ignorance of living in a different culture. Such as I don’t like picking out bones from my food, but that is because I never had to before. I love the people, they are so nice and always smiling, and I can’t wait to be here for 9 more months. I live in the middle of a ton of nature far from the city, and Thailand has the most beautiful nature I have ever seen. Sometimes I catch myself taking that for granted, but then I look around and ask myself if I was in Florida and I saw this what would I say and the answer is always the same. Thailand is beautiful both culturally and physically, and I would never ask to have my exchange in another country.

Wed, September 6, 2017


Em - Brazil

Hometown: Merritt Island, Florida
School: New Covenant
Sponsor District : District 6930
Sponsor Club: Rockledge, Florida
Host District: 4710
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Arapongas

My Bio

My name is Emily Hagglund, but I like to go by Em. I live with my parents and my two brothers, Zach and Drew. I live in Merritt Island, Florida; which is near Kennedy Space Center, but I’ve lived all over the country. I am currently homeschooled, but I play softball for my old school. In the past, I’ve been Class Secretary and Vice President, I was the Secretary for National Junior Honor Society, I was in FIRST Lego League Robotics for five years, was a part of Showstoppers for two years, in three school plays, and played for the middle school football team. In my spare time I like to play my guitars, bass, and ukulele, I also like to listen to music, watch sports, hang out with my friends, and go to the beach. I’m used to the American way and I want to experience other cultures and their way of life. I’ve always wanted to travel the world, and to live in another country, and I want to get out of my comfort zone and experience what the world has to offer. These are the reasons why I want to be an exchange student. I hope to accomplish many things while I am away. I hope that I grow as a person and learn who I really am, to learn their cuisine, their way of life, learn how people do things in Brazil compared to how we do things in America, and to make friendships that last a lifetime.

Journals: Em-Brazil Blog 2017-18

  • Em, Outbound to Brazil

As the days tick down, faster with each passing day, I wonder where all the time has gone. In retro-spec, the past 279 days, has had the same amount of time in years past, but on exchange, time seems to go by even faster. I look back on these past nine months and see all the ups and downs and how I have changed and learned from these situtations. I now see the world differently from when I left.

Two weeks ago, I was in the Amazon with Kennedy and 65 other exchange students 20 different countries. This was by far one of the greatest experiences in my whole life. From meeting full-blooded Amazonian Indians and small communities (where we got beat in a soccer game 2-0) to holding different animals like sloths, crocodiles, anacondas, giant spiders, and so much more. We slept in the rainforest one night and, of course; it rained at 2 a.m. and my hammock was soaked. The 9 days (actually 10) I spent in the Amazon are ones I will never forget, especially the last 2 days. The last night we slept (slept is the keyword) was spent camping in the rainforest with the huge thunderstorm, so everyone only got about 2 hours of sleep that night. The next night was spent at the airport, which we arrived there at 9 p.m. and my flight wasn’t supposed to take off until 4 a.m. A lot of people had left before us, so we had pretty much-said goodbye to everyone except 5 people (not on our flight) when we went to board, the flight was delayed because of weather and then an hour later it was canceled when the flight that left after us still took off on-time… So, 4 people from my district and 16 people from a Santa Caterina district were stranded. We collected our luggage and went to wait in a VERY long line to figure out what was going to happen next. When we finally got to the front of the line, the guy said that we needed to stay another night in Manaus (understand that it was only 6 a.m.) and that we would have a 3 p.m. flight to São Paulo the following day and we would have less of an hour layover in São Paulo. We had to wait at the airport for another 2 hours for our taxi because we couldn’t check-in before 9 a.m. and it was an hour drive to the hotel (the best hotel in the whole city). We were 30+ hours of no sleep, alone just the 4 of us in the Amazon. Our inbound coordinator told us not to worry and to get some sleep, so that’s what we did.

The next day, we got on our flight and arrived into São Paulo, and we almost missed our flight to our city, but we made it just-in-time, right at last call when they were calling our names. I got home at 11 p.m. when I was supposed to be home at 2 p.m. the day before.

I learned a very valuable lesson from this. I learned that sometimes you cannot control everything, that some things just don’t go the way you want. But you can’t let that ruin the time of your life you just had. Like on exchange you’ll have some bad days, but that doesn’t mean you had a bad exchange, just look at all the great times you had. Also, with the end of exchange coming up, I can’t let me not wanting to leave affect the end of my exchange, because I have some amazing things coming up real soon. All good things must come to an end so that we are able to look back and remember and enjoy all the memories we made.

Thu, May 3, 2018

  • Em, Outbound to Brazil

When you are on exchange, it seems like there’s a different feeling of time, the days feel long, but months fly by; it seems so long ago I left home, but it doesn’t seem like I’ve been in Brazil for that long. These pasts few months, there has been a lot going on. I switched host families, spent Christmas and New Years at the beach, went on a month-long trip to the Northeast of Brazil, got home to start school, went back to the beach for Carnaval and now I’m back in school.

The strangest feeling, I have had on exchange so far is when I switched host families. Now, I only have two host families, so I only must do this once. Packing up everything you brought here and bought here, makes you realize how much stuff you have and what you should do when you pack to leave. I had two large suitcases, one small suitcase, and two backpacks that were full and heavy; so, I need to figure out what to do when I pack to go back. But that’s not the strange thing I’m talking about. It was when my first host dad was driving me to my new house, and my host mom was at work. It’s hard to describe the feeling, but when I was in the car is when I realized that this is the last time he was driving me somewhere and I’ll never stay in his house again; in fact, I’ve only seen him once since I moved. But, my two families are very different and I’m really excited to be spending the rest of my exchange with them.

Just only five days later, I had to pack for six weeks at the beach. I was spending two weeks with my host family and then four weeks on the Northeast trip (which I’ll talk about later). When heading to the beach, it supposed to take about eight hours, but that has never happened because there is so much traffic, so it usually takes ten to twelve hours. We left around 7:30 am and arrived in Camboriú at almost 8 pm. We didn’t really do much, just spent time with family. Then came Christmas Eve, but it didn’t feel like it, it was just a normal day, we didn’t even have a Christmas tree up. We went to the beach for a few hours in the afternoon, and then got ready for dinner. Everyone was dressed up nice and for dinner, we had sushi (which my host family loves), then we watched TV until it was midnight when we hugged each other and said, “Feliz Natal”, to each other; about ten minutes later there was a knock at the door and my littlest host sister got her present from Santa. That was our Christmas, because Christmas day, we didn’t do anything, it was just a normal day. The next week, we had family come in for the New Year. For New Year’s dinner, we had a nice homemade dinner and then at 11:50 pm we went down to the beach. The beach was crowded with party-goers ready for the New Year. When the clock hit midnight, there was cheering, kissing, hugging, and champagne being sprayed on us from the apartments above, and there were fireworks for a good thirty-minutes. This was the best New Year’s I have ever had.

Just a few short days later, was the start of the Northeast Dream Trip. Now, a month-long trip seems very long, but people say once January hits, your exchange goes by even quicker, and on trips the time goes by even faster. The month-long trip only felt like a week, and on the last day we wondered where the time had gone. There were fifty-two other exchange students on the trip, which seems like a lot and it was, but at the beginning of the trip we were strangers and now we are family. The trip was not just one of the best of my exchange, but of my life. I saw places and learn about things I wouldn’t have otherwise if I hadn’t gone on the trip. I will never forget this trip as long as I live.

After I returned from the trip, it was back to reality. I arrived back in my city on a Friday afternoon, and my host mom told me on Sunday that on Thursday we were going back to the beach. She thought it was the funniest thing ever that I just got back from the beach and not even a week later we were going back. I went back to school on Monday and it was not easy. It was hard because I hadn’t been in school since October, and there is so much material that they learn that by the end of the day, you felt like you were about to pass out. But it was great to see my friends again that I hadn’t seen since October.

Thursday after school, we left for the beach. I’m being honest, this was the most difficult drive out of all of them, just because I was sitting in class all day and we were in the car for eleven hours, but it was all worth it. For Carnaval, we didn’t really do much because I have a seven-year-old host sister. We did go to the beach, a nature park on top of a mountain, and to the “Disney World” of Brazil. Also, we went to the parade every night. Even though, we didn’t do the “typical” Carnaval, it was great to spend time with my family since I missed a whole month with them. Now, I am back in school until we go back to the beach in March (they love the beach), and the Amazon trip in April.

Switching host families, going to the beach for Christmas and New Year’s, the Northeast trip, returning to normal life, then going back to the beach for Carnaval, and now back at school has been crazy. The past few weeks my life has been busy, but I also don’t have that much time left. So, I am taking advantage of everything to make my last four months the best. I love my family and friends here, and I don’t want to leave. I love it here… I love Brazil… eu te amo Brasil!

Tue, February 20, 2018

  • Em, Outbound to Brazil

Even though it has only been just over a month since my last blog, a lot has happened. I went on my first Rotary trip to Pantanal and Bonito, I had my 19th birthday, and I am getting ready to go to the beach with my host family and one of the other inbounds here from Mexico. I can’t believe how quickly this year has gone, I have been here for 115 days and it feels like yesterday I arrived but in reality I am over ¼ through my exchange year. I was really homesick for the first 3 months of my exchange and I still get home sick every now and then, but now I am loving it. I am not too sure if I will get homesick over the holidays just because I have so much going on, like I live for the beach on Thursday for a week, and I leave for the beach again with my second host family on Dec. 20th, and then on Jan. 4th I leave for the Northeast trip which is a month. I would say though, it was very weird not doing anything on Halloween, but I was also traveling that day too so I wasn’t so homesick. This month I will have only gone to school for 5 days this whole month, yeah that seems crazy, but for the first 2 weeks I was traveling with Rotary, and then we had Wednesday off because of a holiday, Thursday my school had testing so I didn’t have to go, and then on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of this week they have testing and Friday is also the last day of school and we’re on summer break. Which is also crazy to think about, another summer break when I just had one 4 months ago, and then when I get back I will have another one, that is 3 summer breaks in a matter of 1 year!

The Rotary trip I went on to Pantanal and Bonito was amazing, and it went by so fast and it felt like a dream that it feels like a dream to me. I went on the 2nd group which means I got to meet the other two groups that went, so I got to meet all 100 exchange students who went on the Pantanal and Bonito trip. The trip in all was the best part of my exchange so far. I also got to meet people from all over the world! Some of them are only here for a short term, 4 month exchange and my friends and I were talking and we can’t even imagine what they must be going through, that they have to go back in less than a month and if I were them, I would not be ready for it. But I also made friends with them, and everyone else on the trip, and now I truly have friends all over the world.

My district here in Brazil is really small and we only have 16/17 exchange students in all, and we’re about to lose 4 of them. For 3 of them, they started in January/February so their time is up. The other one though, who is from America, has to go back because he has an internship that he needs to do, but he might come back in May for 6 weeks. It’s hard to believe that when I got here, the 3 who did a calendar exchange were half way through their exchange year, and now 2 of them are leaving in just over a week. That means I am almost half way through my exchange year and I honestly can’t believe it. I really don’t want to go home, because I will be leaving my home here. I know it’s a long time away but I just can’t believe how quickly time goes by when you are having fun. I will be switching families on Dec. 14th, 4 ½ months through my exchange. Wow, that is really hard to believe. Brazil is my new home and I can’t believe how quickly time is going by.

Sun, November 19, 2017

  • Em, Outbound to Brazil

Click HERE to read more about Em and all her blogs

It’s been over 11 weeks since I arrived in Brazil, and I can tell you I could not believe my eyes when I saw 11 weeks. Life on exchange has gone by so fast and I want it to slow down. Living in brazil for almost the past 3 months has changed my life forever. I have already made great friends that’ll last forever. When you live in another country you must change your way of life and your way of thinking, and it teaches you so much more about the world. This is the best choice that I have ever made, even through the difficult times.

I pretty much have a daily routine down, I wake up at 6:30, head to school that starts at 7:05 and walk home after school around 1:10, school ends at 12:50 but I stay for a for minutes to talk with my friends. Then on Mondays I go to Portuguese class at 2, and on Tuesdays I go to volunteer work at 2, and on the other days I stay at my house. I live in the city of Arapongas and there are a lot of stray dogs in this city and every day on my walk home from school, the same dog follows me to my house.

For my volunteer work, I go to Das Damas, which is a place for elementary age girls can go if their parents work all day. I go for 2 hours a week on Tuesdays and I help teach them how to play the guitar. These girls are some of the sweetest girls that I’ve meant in my life and they always want me to teach them words in English. I also go to Interact on a weekly basis and I go whenever they have volunteer work. A few weeks into my exchange we went to a nursey/day care for underprivileged kids, and I went to the nursey to play with the babies and when they went down for their nap I went to play with some of the older kids. I learned with this is that even with a language barrier, you can still make underprivileged kids smile and laugh.

I have gone to Londrina (which is the biggest city in my district) which is about a 40-minute drive to hang out with the exchange students there two times. I am in love with that city and I love going there, especially since my city I’m in is so small. We went out with some of the exchange students but also with Brazilians and I have made so many great friends there and they want me to come every weekend, but I can’t because getting there is not easy, and the transportation here sucks. I also sometimes go out with my friends here in Arapongas but it’s difficult because my friends here are still in high school and they study a lot because here in Brazil you must take a big test to be able to get into college. I went to São Paulo within my first week of being here to drop off my host sister Ana, who is on exchange in Nebraska and I just got back from the beach with my second host family. We were there for a week and I loved it so much, it has been the best week of my exchange so far! That I didn’t want to come back. But school starts up again tomorrow and I am not looking forward to it. Like school is okay I guess but like I said people here study so much.

I have my first Rotary trip on Oct. 31st- Nov. 9th and I’m going to Pantanal and Bonito, and then on Nov. 15th we have our first district trip, and I’m also switching host families in November. Oh, and we also start our summer break in November, so you could say that the month of November is filled up, because my birthday is also in November. The people of Brazil have been helpful with helping me adjust to my new life. Not everything about exchange has been easy. Exchange is just a normal life of your country, not everything is perfect like you see on Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat. It’s a normal teenage life here and yes you get to go on trips occasionally, but it’s not every day.

Exchange is not easy, but I wouldn’t give this up for anything. I am in love with Brazil, and I never want to go home.

Sun, October 15, 2017


Gina - Poland

Hometown: Apopka, Florida
School: Orlando Science
Sponsor District : District 6980
Sponsor Club: Lake Buena Vista, Florida
Host District: 2231
Host Club: RC Łódź 4-Kultury

My Bio

My name is Gina Perez and I was born and raised in Apopka, Fl. I currently am 15 years old. I go to Orlando Science Schools, a school that focuses on the STEM curriculum and has granted me many opportunities. For example I am a part of Model United Nations. Model United Nations has given me a different perspective on countries relations, and a chance to open my horizon to solving problems that benefits more then one country, including public speaking, writing and research. However as much research I can do on Poland, it isn’t the same as living in Poland. My position and exposure to Model UN has given me the chance to look at the opportunity, I was blessed with and relate it to my passions and goals. I have a passion for helping others and learning new culture and points of view. I joined Rotary Youth Exchange because I see this as an opportunity of a life time to potentially build connections in my assigned country to help others. Rotary grants the rare opportunity to live and experience a life outside of the United States. This experience can help educate me and many others on other countries culture and way of life outside from a computer screen and experience it head on.

Journals: Gina-Poland Blog 2017-18

  • Gina, Outbound to Poland

So I have been in Poland for a little bit over 5 months and A LOT has happened since the last time I wrote you guys. I have already switched families. Switching families is a very odd experience because i have spent over 3 months with a family becoming a part of their family and then to switch it is very hard. I would have never imagined that within 3 months I will build this relationship and become this family’s daughter. My first host family and I shared many amazing moments like cooking while singing to music, going to plays and concerts, and even traveling Poland. One day, I went to a concert with my host mom and she had my CD signed saying “ The best daughter in the whole world from mama” . I have been with my second host family for a month or so, and I haven’t quite built the connection I had with my first but that is ok. I still keep in contact with my first host family and I hope that will continue for years to come.

So the holidays have also come and gone. First came Thanksgiving, another exchange student from the US and I made a whole Thanksgiving dinner for our first host parents. For our Thanksgiving we made a WHOLE turkey, which was so challenging. We also made stuffing, mash potatoes, pumpkin pie, and OUR version of mac and cheese from scratch. Before we served the dinner we explained the history of Thanksgiving and everything was perfect.Then came Christmas, a Polish Christmas is very different from how I would spend Christmas in the States. A Polish Christmas starts on the 24 of December, they do not eat any meat, it is a lot of fish and Kapusta. During the Christmas season the exchange students of Lodz learned a couple Polish Christmas songs, which was so much fun. I loved singing alongside them.

There comes a point in your exchange where it no longer is like a trip or a vacation but normal life. So every day we go to school eat dinner watch movies, and that can become kind of a routine. So being in Poland is ALWAYS important to find a way to do something with other exchange student because going home and spending time in your home isn’t going to help. So I took the time to do face masks with my host sister, go watch the last Jedi trailer with one of my friends, going to the movies and binging TV shows with another friend, learning guitar from a friend but the most impactful is cooking. I didn’t know until I came on exchange how much I love cooking. Andres, Carli, Yasmin and I would pick a dish and we would try to replicate it. We would buy soda and turn the music on and dance around the kitchen as we cook. Cooking is something so simple but it truly helps you get to know your friends.

So when it comes to living another country the language is SO important. I understand Polish for the most part but my Polish is still VERY cavemen ( cavewomen) -ish. Everyone learns at their one pace and it is completely normal. Just keep at it and don’t be afraid to make mistakes because you always will.

One of my favorite parts about exchange is the family that you build with your Polish and Exchange student friends. My friends truly have become family, I care about them so much and I hope I can keep the relationship with all of them long after exchange.

Wed, January 31, 2018

  • Gina, Outbound to Poland

Dzień dobry! Nazywam się Gina Perez!

I can’t believe I have been in Poland for a bit for over a month now. It is crazy to think I’ve only been here a month and I have seen and experienced so many new things. But I am getting ahead of myself. I remember the night before leaving it was crazy and filled with so much preparation, so the excitement and the emotions didn’t hit me until the next morning. I had an early departure, I was going to fly to Canada then Warsaw. We made it to airport and everything went smooth, then as I showed my ticket and passport to the clerk and walked through the final terminal , I looked back at my family gave them a wave, and the wave of emotions hit me. One of my biggest dreams I have, was about to come true. I was excited, nervous, all the above. I am sure all exchange students can relate to the wave of emotions you get as you leave behind your home to start this amazing adventure. As for my airplane experience it was great, I made friends who showed me how to navigate through the airport and other exchanges waiting to board their plane. I finally arrived in Warsaw the next morning greeted by my host mom , my host dad, and another exchange student’s family who coincidentally was on the same flight as me. Within the first couple days of my exchange my host family took me to a folk concert, it was wonderful. This concert gave me a chance to connect with my host family, plus the music was pretty good. Before I knew it, it was time for language camp.

Language camp was the first impression with the other exchange students . We all became so close so fast. We began with exchanging pins. We exchanged so many pins. As for classes, we had Polish classes, history, music and sports. The Polish language courses were great, we received so much information and it truly laid down the foundation of our polish. Language camp provided us a chance to visit the Malbork Castle and an Army Museum. Each filled with so much history and I am so glad I was able to go. But the most exciting part of language was the ability to introduce ourselves to the President of Bydgoszcz. Language Camp provided me with enough basic Polish to help me feel a little bit more prepared for school.

School soon started and I remember the first day so well, walking into school with other exchange students attending my school, so nervous.There are 3 other exchange students attending my school, we all became friends very quickly. We talked into school with our pinfilled blazers, we had already collected so many pins from language camp. We walked the halls and into the gym where EVERYONE could tell we were the new exchange students. We got introduced to the school and they were thrilled to have us.Everyone was so nice and helpful.We didn’t make any close friends until the class trip.We got to visit the Czech Republic and Wroclaw. It was so beautiful. But for me the most memorable moment was when we were on the bus to the hotel from Prague, Some students were singing songs in English and of course myself and the other exchange students joined in. Before we knew it we the whole bus was singing. We started to sing “Hallelujah” and it was perfect and brought us together as a class. We weren’t seen as these new foreign kids we were seen as one of them . It was wonderful. Music truly became part of uniting us because a Polish tradition during these trips are to sit around a campfire , sing , and enjoy each other’s company. That trip truly brought the class and the exchange students together and I am so grateful for the trip.

On topic of trips, the EEMA conference was a conference held in Warsaw and exchange students from all around Poland were invited to perform the flag ceremony. Also during this trip we got to meet and hear a speech from Lech Wałęsa. Lech Wałęsa is a noble peace prize winner and is responsible for leading Poland out of communism. Lech Wałęsa’s speech focused on inspiring us the new generation to stick up for what they believe in and it is our duty to make a difference and change the world for the better. His speech left us exchange students speechless and inspired to change the world someday. On this trip we also got to tour Warsaw and hear about the history of Warsaw.

I can not thank Rotary enough for sending me on exchange and for sending to Poland. Poland overall is beautiful, filled with history and I can not imagine spending my exchange anywhere else. Poland has become my new home and I have only been here for a little over a month. I can not wait to see what else is in store for my new adventure here in Poland. If you are a thinking about going on exchange at all even a little bit, my best advice for you is: go for it, being a future outbound might be a lot of work but believe me it is worth it”

Dziękuję bardzo! Znowu porozmawiaj!

Sun, October 8, 2017


Grace - Croatia

Hometown: Ponte Vedra, Florida
School: Nease
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Ponte Vedra Beach Sunset, Florida
Host District: 1913
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Dubrovnik

My Bio

Bok! (or Hi!) My name is Grace Schneider. I enjoy sunsets and long walks on the beach…just kidding, well, kind of! I have both of those readily available to me on a daily basis in my beautiful home, Ponte Vedra, Florida. I am currently a sophomore at Nease High School. I live at home with my mom, dad, two younger sisters, and very small dog. My first time out of the country will be the 10 months I am spending in Croatia! I love learning new things and exploring and could not think of a better way to do it. I am quite the social butterfly and will pretty much do any and everything so long as I have a friend by my side. When my friends and I aren’t exploring our way around town, I can be found in the pool swimming laps or curled up with a good book. I am so excited and thankful to Rotary Youth, not only for the challenge and opportunity to learn a lifetime of new lessons, but also for the ability to ramble on and on in not one, but TWO languages. I love to laugh and can most often be found with a smile on my face. I can only hope this journey will bring laughter, smiles, and much more along with it! Kisses from Croatia , thank you, and goodbye!

Journals: Grace-Croatia Blog 2017-18

  • Grace, Outbound to Croatia

1 month and 4 days back home.

Although my year abroad has come to an end, I wanted to upload one final blog post now that my life at “home” has returned to normal.

Let me catch you up

Since my last blog post in March a lot has happened. The last few months of my exchange were extraordinary and filled with enough joy to compensate for any early morning or late night I suffered during the year.

Towards the end of March my class took a weekend trip to Rijeka, Croatia. The trip, while short, provided lots of laughs, memories, and bonding. I will always remember the time we spent together in those 3 days as one of my favorite memories.

My family came to visit me immediately after my class trip, we spent a few days in Vienna and then one week in Dubrovnik. It was a bittersweet, action packed reunion. I really enjoyed showing them around my city, and introducing them to everyone in my life, however the reality that I would be heading home sooner than later set it in…hard.

Immediately after my family left, my class took a weekend trip to Rijeka, Croatia. The trip, while short, provided lots of laughs, memories, and bonding. I will always remember the time we spent together in those 3 days as one of my favorite memories.

In early May, I flew to Paris to see my mom for 4 days. Paris, a city I have dreamt of visiting since age 10, did not disappoint. We packed in enough museums, monuments, and baguettes in for 7 days (or more).

At the very end of May, I went on Euro Tour!! For 15 days myself and 70 other exchange students travelled throughout France and Italy. Although I spent enough time on a bus to last me a lifetime, and had very little sleep…I would not trade those 15 days for anything. The highlight of the trip was visiting Monte Carlo for 4-5 hours during the F1 Grand Prix!! I did not live near exchange students during my year, so the time I enjoyed with them on Euro Tour meant very much to me.

In between all of the travelling and reunions, I simply enjoyed myself with my friends. While all of our coffees and card games made it that much harder to say goodbye, I could not be more thankful for them.

It’s Over??

Almost 2 years ago when I began the journey of becoming a Rotary Exchange Student, I never imagined the ways in which it would change my life. I remember sitting through meetings and orientations finding it hard to believe that my year would be as unforgettable as those who came before me…boy was I wrong.

The 10 months that I spent in a city and country I had barely heard of, have been the best 10 months of my life. It is impossible to appreciate the beauty of certain moments, while you are experiencing them, but the memories you’re left with are just as good, if not better. My year was hard. I didn’t wake up every day over the moon excited, or go to bed each night happy, however reflecting on the good times and the things I have gained completely negates every bad emotion I felt throughout the year. I won’t ever forget how difficult the low times were, or how strong they made me, but the pros outweigh the cons from this year 100 to 1.

I could type 50 pages on every laugh, sunset, or cat that made this year as amazing as it was, but I will keep those for myself. This year I travelled, I learned, I grew, and most importantly…I loved. When I look back 1, 5, and 20 years from now the thing that will always remain in my heart, are the friends I made. I miss them every day, and could not be more thankful to have met them. They taught me acceptance, a new language, and perseverance. They were the rainbow at the end of every thunderstorm and the brightest lights on every sunny day. I did not realize I had it in my heart to love 12 people I met only 10 months ago, but they made it easy. I owe them my year, and hope they enjoyed their time with me as much as I enjoyed mine with them.

Now that I am home, everything looks a little different. I feel as though I can conquer any obstacle life throws at me, and I appreciate all the little things about life that I payed no mind to before.

Exchange gave me strength, maturity, love, memories, opportunities, and above all happiness, and I would recommend to every person in the world if I could.

I will forever be thankful for this incredible experience. I will forever think of Dubrovnik as my home. I will forever want to travel and explore. I will forever love people from every corner of the world. Most importantly, I will forever know that happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.

Thanks for coming along for the journey,

Catch ya on the flip side,


Tue, July 17, 2018

  • Grace, Outbound to Croatia

Long time no blog…oops!

6 months and 7 days in…

How’s life?

Things have certainly slowed down on exchange. Winter, currently wrapping up, left the Old City oddly quiet, and lacking many tourists. School remains painfully boring, but I continue to numb the pain via coffee after coffee with friends. I grow closer and closer with my classmates every day and the thought of leaving them looms on the horizon threatening to send me into a bout of tears daily. I joined a swim club afterschool as a way to stay in shape, and kill some time. On Fridays instead of swimming we go to the GYM…a true first for me.

And now the highlights of past 4ish months…

Austria, Christmas, & New Years

10ish days before Christmas the other exchange students and I traveled to Salzburg, Austria for a snowy, wonderful weekend with the Austrian exchange students. My countdown for the trip began ages ago. Expectations of border crossing, exchange student reunions, and true cold weather grew in my head. The weekend proved everything I dreamed of and more. I reunited with 2 Floridians, but came back with at least 10 more wonderful friends (Austria’s’ large Inbound group contrasted wonderfully with our tight knit, lovable 12 in Croatia). Given copious free time, I made many great connections, walked many streets, and bought (one too) many souvenirs. The most wonderful part, however, came in the form of a heavy snowfall just 2 or so hours before we left…although I see snow almost every year, standing in Europe with a view of the mountains, surrounded by people I shared a fantastic weekend with gave the weather an especially magical touch. The trip, forever treasured in my memory, ended far too soon, and I admit, a few tears were shed on the scenic train ride home.

Following a tough first act…Christmas proved somewhat difficult. I come from a family of many loud, crazy cousins…this year, I shared a large Christmas lunch with only adults. Without stockings on the mantle or presents underneath the tree, loneliness can only begin to describe my holiday, and in all honesty I felt quite relieved as it passed. The experience surely did not fulfill imagination, but I came out of it with a lesson in making your own happiness. I baked extra sweet Christmas cookies for the class, leaving them amped up on sugar and nursing aching stomachs, and spent Christmas Eve and the second half of Christmas Day with friends (Christmas here felt a lot more social than Christmas back home…this I enjoyed…sorry mom (; ).

Winter break for my school lasted forever and a day. At home, nearly 25 days off of school existed only in my dreams, however the real deal here felt like torture! Ideas for daily entertainment escaped me, and I saw my friends every few days or so, but mostly spent the time alone. The unproductive, solo winter break did not prove completely useless however. After not seeing most of my friends since the end of school, coming together for New Years Eve made for a fantastic night. The Old City sported large, glowing “2018” signs for nearly a month, and when the big day finally arrived we kicked it off with a midnight fireworks display (hopefully setting a precedent for a bright new year).

New Host Family

The biggest change since my last blog came in the form of a new host family. While most students change families one or two times, I originally had no plans to. Luckily and surprisingly for me, circumstances changed. My first host family had no children aside from myself, now I have two younger sisters…just like home! The three of us all go to different schools, but see each other for meals and spend the evenings working our way through the entirety of Netflix. Not only did I switch families, I also switched locations and routines. I now live in a suburb call Zupa, located about 15 or so minutes from the Old Town. This means longer bus rides, which I don’t mind, and earlier mornings, which I ESPECIALLY mind. I have reached the conclusion that no human should need to wake up before at least 7:30…or at least I shouldn’t.

February Fun

Every month on exchange brings new experiences, but January felt like torture. However, the long dreary month finally ended and gave way to a fantastic February. I spent every weekend either busy with friends, or traveling and could not have enjoyed it more.

The first weekend took place at home, where I celebrated one of my best friend’s birthdays. We talked up the big day for weeks, and when it finally arrived we could not have asked for more. Almost all of my friends came together and we spent the evening laughing, dancing, and eating cheesecake.

The next weekend I traveled to Zagreb, where I spent Saturday hanging out around town with some exchange students, and on Sunday our entire group traveled to Rijeka, another city, for Maskare. Maskare, a big parade / carnival to mark the end of winter (although it is still cold!!), happens throughout the country and reminds me a great deal of Halloween meets Gasparilla (celebrated in Tampa, FL). We choose Rijeka as our destination to celebrate, because it houses the biggest festivities in all of the country! The weather turned out for us, and we spent the sunny but chilly day eating classic carnival food and watching a long but entertaining parade.

The third and best weekend of the month I traveled to Amsterdam for a reunion with my dad. Getting there took many hours and a great deal of energy, but it all payed off as I stepped through baggage claim and saw him for the first time in nearly 5 months. We walked everywhere there was to walk, saw everything there was to see…and ate enough as well. I loved the look and atmosphere of the city so much, and already have hopes to return. I especially enjoyed seeing everyone on bikes, although it made me a big nostalgic for my beach cruiser back home. I tried new things, visited countless museums, and spent time with family…but the best part of all was, of course, the hotel bed (on our Rotary trips we stay in hostels..which always treat us very nicely, but could never compare to the Hilton).

Two other awesome things happened this month. For one week or so the Game of Thrones cast came to Dubrovnik and filmed their final season in Kings Landing!! Despite many hours spent sitting outside designated filming areas…no famous people crossed my path, oh well at least the security guards can’t ever forget me! A happy ending to the month fell from the sky for the last few days, snow! Although none stuck to the ground or caused any snow days, it still proved a rare, wonderful sight!

The Hard Stuff

Homesickness hit me pretty soon after arriving in Croatia. I spoke briefly about it in my past blog, and not much changed. I expected some relief, or at least a break, sooner or later, but have had no such thing. My wealth of free time often leaves my mind wandering and wondering…what is my family up to? Do my friends miss me like I miss them? When oh when will I have Chick Fil A nuggets again? Of course each exchange gifts us with unique ups and downs, surely others have it worse or better. However I never expected to feel the way I do about my exchange. The truth (in my case) about homesickness unfortunately seems that it plans to impact me the whole 10 months, somedays in the worst ways and others only minimally. As negative as it all sounds I don’t let these feelings hold me back. I don’t wallow in my sad feelings and memories, no matter how badly I want to, I force myself out of the house to see friends or watch a sunset. It works for me from time to time, but certainly not always. The important thing to remember remains that I don’t want to look back on my exchange and see I spent all of my time missing home AND in my room, I have to make memories while I still have the chance. I get by with the help of all my wonderful friends here, and my supportive parents and best friends at home. It has made me a much stronger person and I know one day it will all pay off.

Cats also help

Until Next Time

Although based on my track record thus far you probably think I will never blog again, I hope to add at least 2 more posts before this crazy ride ends. Sending many thanks to all those who deserve it and a late Happy Holidays to anyone who reads this.

Catch ya on the flip side


Wed, March 7, 2018

  • Grace, Outbound to Croatia

2 months and 16 days into my exchange…

Where am I?

I live in Dubrovnik, Croatia. Seen in Star Wars every once and a while, and known for its role as Kings Landing in the HBO series Game of Thrones. Now, when I say I live IN Dubrovnik I truly mean it! Not a 30 minute drive away, or in some outer suburbs. I am lucky enough to be a long stroll, or quick bus ride away from the center of the city – the Old Town. Within the city walls there lie many museums, restaurants, and most importantly…cafes! I spend most of my time either in the city or cutting through it on my walk to school.


Yes I go, though I am far from a straight A student. My school day runs from 8am – 2pm one week and 2pm – 8pm the next. I take 15 classes total, but only 7 everyday…that schedule was difficult to remember. I spend my days with my class of 17 students, 5 boys and 12 girls. We have every class together, every day, except when we break up into our language classes (the 3 options being Italian, German, and French). I originally worried that seeing the same people every day would cause me to grow bored or irritated. In reality, I am beyond thankful to have the opportunity to grow so close to my class. Since my first day of school they have treated me with so much kindness it is hard not to want to see them all the time!

What do I do outside of school?

Not much, in all honesty. Of course I spend time with my friends and explore around Dubrovnik, but I have come to the realization that my life here has more similarities to my life at home than I had expected. The main difference being that I now have a much nicer background.


In all of Croatia there are 12 Rotary Youth Exchange Students. Our group lacks diversity, but makes up for it in energy with 11 of us being from North America (we have 10 Americans, 1 Canadian, and 1 French student) we all got along well right off the bat. We have taken two trips so far. Our first in early September stopped in Krapina, Varazdin, and the beautiful Plitvice Lakes. More recently, our second trip took place in some historical cities in the Eastern region of Croatia – Slavonia.

All fun and games?

Yes and no. My life here is extraordinary and amazing – but has taken some getting used to. Packing up and leaving home seemed easy until I landed in a new place with all new people. I miss my mom, my friends, and Chick-Fil-A. I try and remember that this wonderful experience will be over in the blink of an eye and I’ll be home soon enough, but homesickness has become more than something I prepared for at Rotary Orientation. I feel homesick almost every day, but I don’t view my familiarity with homesickness as a bad thing or the end all be all of my exchange. I see homesickness as more of a new challenge to overcome, and an obstacle that will ultimately help me as a person. Worse than homesickness though, I underpacked!! So take my advice and bring all the clothes you think you’ll need if you go on exchange because, you never know where the nearest shopping mall may be.

All in all these 2+ months have been quite the experience, and I look forward to find out what I will be writing about next. Until then – xoxoxo

Mon, November 13, 2017


Granger - France

Hometown: East Cobb, Georgia
School: Walton
Sponsor District : District 6900
Sponsor Club: East Cobb, Georgia
Host District: 1740
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Riom/Châtel-Guyon

My Bio

Bonjour mes amis! My name is Granger West and I am 17 years old and live in East Cobb (a northwestern suburb of Atlanta) with my mom and younger sister. I am a junior at Walton High School where I am enrolled in the STEM Academy for Biomedical Sciences. Although my classes focus on preparing me for a medical career, my favorite classes are French and History. Outside of school, I am heavily involved in my Boy Scout Troop, my Church, and my Varsity Rowing. I have always been interested in various things, some of my favorite things are cooking, practicing music, discovering different cultures, trying new things, and now exploring the world… So, I am beyond stoked to be spending my senior year in France, representing district 6900 in Georgia for the first time. I can’t wait to see what is in store for me on exchange and look forward to becoming bilingual, bicultural, making new friends, and creating worldwide connections. I would like to thank my friends, family, and teachers for supporting me along this journey and of course my biggest thanks to all of Rotary for making this once in a lifetime dream come true. Merci, à plus tard!

Journals: Granger-France Blog 2017-18

  • Granger, Outbound to France

PrS. (I don’t know of that’s a thing but like a pre-script and not a post-script) I’m really sorry this is coming a little bit late; I got caught up with the holidays here and then j’avais trop la flemme (the best translation I can give for this is I was temporarily too lazy).

Second, after reading through my last post, I realized how many mistakes there were in my English; sorry if it was difficult to read.

I want to start with some of the good things of my exchange that happened before I got sick. One Saturday morning, my host brother and I summited the Puy-de-Dome -the tallest and most known dormant volcano in our area (and France)- for sunrise. It was a gorgeous sunrise, and I could see as far as the tip of Mont Blanc. With the exception of about 4 or 5 other people, we were all alone on the mountain, a nice contrast from its typical touristy aura.

Also, my friend Grace from New Zealand, who lives in Brive-la-Gaillarde, came up to Clermont and stayed at Jasmine’s (my Australian friend) a couple of days and at mine one. When they came to stay at mine, we made a big Mexican fiesta. We had all been craving something spicy, since the French don’t really eat anything at all spicy.

My oldies: (left to right) Jasmine-Australia, Cati-Argentina, Grace-New Zealand

After that is where Part 1 of this post picks up. So now I’ll skip to after.

After going back to school, I had a week left with my first host family. That week things got a little better with them and we ended on a good note. The morning I switched I made them a grand American brunch with pancakes, egg casserole, grits, fruit salade, bacon, and toast. I then proceeded to pack my bags.. which weighed 330 lbs. Let’s just say I’m going to have a hard time finding room to bring all that home.

So I’ve switched host families and already I can tell that I’m loving here. I understand why Rotary tries to put you in 3 different families, and its really great that they do. For me, my first host family, while we didn’t really have too many problems they were necessarily the best fit, or what I had imagined what living in France would be like. With that said, I still tried to make the best of it, and I learned some things with them. I haven’t been here long but I can already tell this family is going to be a lot better fit, and fulfill some of the expectations and hopes I had for living in France.Banner Exchange with District Governor

My current host family through me a little birthday party with all 3 of my host families, counselor and Raquel (a Mexican exchange student who is in my town and school and who’s 3rd host family is my current). And for the actual night of my birthday we went out to a local little restaurant and got to try some local specialties. I also got to pop in at the Christmas market in my town where my Rotary club had a booth selling pineapples and oysters to raise money for a couple charities. The following day I helped volunteer at the booth, where I got to know and came closer with Rotarians in my club, and then saw our local orchestra perform in our little beautiful theatre in Châtel-Guyon.Christmas Market Booth: Counselor’s Husband (left) and Current Host Dad (right)

My Rotary Club gave me a neat gift for my birthday. I went and made my own Thiers knife at the factory in Thiers France, the renowned cutlery capital of France, and the world for professional Chef’s knives. It was something I’ll remember more than just the knife itself and the experience was certainly an interesting one.

So when I changed host families I also changed towns, even though they’re neighboring and not that far apart. Initially when doing my research for France, I couldn’t find any information on it besides that it was small with only about 6000 people. I thought I would like my first town though because its had more than 3 times that many inhabitants. However I find that here in Châtel, it’s a lot prettier and much more lively. Which I’m going to love when spring and summer come. The town itself is a hot springs town, there are several sources, and even a hall with natural heated pools that attract lots of tourists. Where also one of the limited towns in France to have a Casino, which also features a room which puts on shows similar to the Moulin Rouge in Paris. This year one of the largest bike races in France the Paris-Nice makes 1 of its 12 stops in Chatel, (and though not always, usually gives hints at the course for the next years Tour-de-France).

I’ve also had the opportunity to spend Christmas in the French fashion. We went to my host grandparents town in Allier (about 1.5 hrs north) for Christmas. There we stayed with cousins in my dad’s parents’ house. They great part is my mom’s mom lives just down the street so we celebrate Christmas together with both sides of the family going. Boy did I eat traditionally, and buy did I eat good.

Christmas Eve Dinner (9 or 10 courses- depending how you count):

–Apéro, or formally, Aperitif in French are appetizers and usually a white wine or Champagne

–Entrée 1, not an American entree, which is the plat in French, but a French first course of oysters

–Entrée 2, Foie-gras (duck liver pâté in English even though any French person will tell you its not a pâté)

–Entrée 3, Smoked salmon

–Plat, main course consisting of baked chicken, potatoes and carrots, and roasted chestnuts

–Fromage, the cheese course

–Salade, the salade course

–Dessert 1, rolled pastries and sweet typical French desserts

–Dessert 2, fruit salad

–Café et Chocolat, pretty sure you can figure this one out

The next day for Christmas Lunch we had a similarly large meal as well consisting of many of the same items, this time featuring Wild boar as the main course, and an incredible 46 year old Bourgogne. But speaking of food, I love French food so much, cheese is even growing on me. So to answer some questions about typical French foods and my reactions to them. Escargots: love them. Bread: oh God its so good here. Foie-Gras: good in moderation and special occasion. Pâté: beef only. Charcuterie: everything but Jambon cru, or cured ham, but especially saucisson, or pepperoni in English, one of the world best comes from a department just south of mine. Pastries: anything and everything. Frog legs: havent had the chance to try it but look forward to it. Tar-Tar: not really my cup of tea, I prefer my beef cooked. Fromage: I don’t care for the most common type in my region (St. Nectaire) but like Gruyère/Emmental, Comté, Cantal, fromage a tartiner, and others that I cant necessarily find in my region, oh and Raclette… ah Raclette.

After Christmas one of the other outbound from Florida who lives in Antibes (in between Nice and Cannes) came up to visit me for a couple of days. We had fun but most importantly she now has to invite me down to come visit her in the French Riviera… I spent New Years with Jasmine at her house in a little town of Gannat, which was a great end of the year. (Until the last minute of 2017 when I dropped my 3 day old brand new iPhone 8+ and cracked the screen. But I guess that’s my fault because I declined to buy protection, even though the guy at the Apple Store selling it to me asked if I was sure I didn’t want to buy a case or something for it 3 times…) I then spent a couple more days with some cousins at my grandparents house, and even had a chance to do a day trip into Bourges, perhaps on of my favorite cities in France.Bourges Cathedral

Bref (all in all) after recovering from mono, I started having a great time on exchange. While for most exchange students the holidays are the hardest part of exchange, I was really alright. My low was Thanksgiving and since them I’ve been just rapidly improving and loving exchange. Sure Christmas was different, there were new traditions I dis ouvertes and France and certainly old one I missed somewhat from back home but its been great. Having a loving, caring host family has made it great, and I look forward to where the rest of my exchange leads.

À Bientôt

Tue, February 27, 2018

  • Granger, Outbound to France

So it’s been a while since the last time I posted, so I to not make this super long, I’m going to split it into 2 parts. The struggles of the last monts and the great things that happened. This is the more somber one, so make sure you read all the great things that happened right after this.

So it has been a little over 100 days in France and its hard to believe how fast time flies. The last month has been an interesting one for sure. Shortly after my last time writing, I felt really inspired and wanted to change lots of habits to learn French faster. I went off of social media until Christmas. (Didn’t fully last, but I explain that later) I decided I should try to think all the time in French, should go back to the basics and use flash cards to help me retain all the new vocab I was learning, and some other things too. And it worked to some extent, nearly a week or two later I found myself hitting a major milestone that all exchange students desperately want to hit: I DREAMED IN FRENCH. I felt so accomplished and was really at a high in my exchange, happy with living in France and not wanting to go back to the States.

Unfortunately this began to decline after another week or two. I came down with something. At first, I just thought it was a little sore throat, maybe strep. I was fairly tired from the sickness and thus spent a good amount of time in my room. I started retracting from my family and came down with a bit of blues. It wasn’t too serious but completely normal. Around 3 months is certainly the hardest time of exchange; it’s when homesickness is the greatest. My host family and counselor tried to help me by doing exactly what they should’ve done: keep me busy and don’t give me the time to stay in my room and relax. However, I wasn’t just homesick. I was sick sick. After several doctors appointment, and a couple failed antibiotics, I was nearing my 3rd week of feeling sick still without anything helping me.

Thanksgiving was hard.

After waking up still feeling terrible, asking my host mother to stay home from school, we got into a fight before 8 in the morning. The result: I ended up going to school. After my second class I couldn’t handle it anymore and went to the nurse to ask to go home. After she took my temperature and saw even with ibuprofen it was still fairly high, she recommended I go home and called my counselor.

Here was the climax of some tension with my counselor and host family. My counselor forbid the nurse from letting me go home, stating that she believed I was not as sick as I really was. That I was capable of going to class, and was trying to get out of it because I was homesick. The truth was until that moment, I wasn’t super homesick, maybe slightly just wishing I could have a Thanksgiving meal but not wanting to go home. But when I heard that; when I learned I had to spend the next 6 hours in the infirmary, until the school day was over, and I could finally go home, I hit an all time low. I was at that moment when I was ready to get on a plane to return home. There was nothing more that I wanted than to be in my bed or eating a Thanksgiving meal (even if it was mashed potatoes because I couldn’t swallow anything).

Saturday, came my saving grace. I had a blood test in the morning and then helped volunteer with Rotary for 4 hours until 2. (Quick side note, I feel terrible about this now. But then, I have never before wanted to turn down helping the needy. In this case volunteering collecting food for a food bank. But in that moment there was nothing more I wanted to do than not be there.)When I got home, the results of my blood test were back. Certainly not great news, but I was overjoyed to hear it. I was positive for mononucleosis.

Finally after reading the results and 2 separate doctors recommendations, my conflict with my family and counselor was over. But here came a little bit new set of weaknesses. When I was at home for the next week. I was bored, so I redownloaded some social media to talk with my friends back home. I also binged a lot of Netflix. 5 full seasons of “Suits” to be exact. So practically, until my family got home at 7ish. I was speaking or listening or thinking in English the entire day. The result was when I returned back to school the next week. I noticed I was not on that same upward course of improving my French, that I had started before I was sick. There are many things about learning other languages, but two things that dont work are: trying to mix the two together and switch between French and English quickly and taking a 10-12 day break of living in French at a crucial time of the learning process: 3 months in. A week after returning to school, it was time to switch host families.

Another change that brings many of it own difficulties with it.

Perhaps one of the hardest things though for me during this time period, was comparing myself to the other exchange students. For me the only interesting thing I had done since last time was invite Grace and Jasmine. My two Aussie and Kiwi best friends over for a weekend. I watched as other outbound from Florida or other inbounds in my district where heading off to there host family’s Alp chalet. Or going to Geneva and the Rotary Peace Conference at the UN. Or Paris, or Sweden, or Prague, or Bordeaux. These incredible places or if not travelling, at least doing something great in there awesome towns each weekend. Or even things like having a great host family and feeling like a family with them.

I began to start to regret exchange. Why was I stuck in a small town with nothing to do? But then I remembered oh yeah, I asked for it. And then I was mad at Rotary for sending me to France, a country I originally had on my dont go list, but reluctantly put after I wasn’t able to go to any of my first choices. I started making excuses and excuses for why my exchange was going terrible and and everyone else’s seemed perfect and dreamy. I did just about everything I was told not to do: compare your exchange to others, withdraw to your room.

Fortunately after starting to feel a little better and a dinner with my second host family, a week before I moved to them, I started realizing that I was at the low in my exchange. The so called 3-month slump. All the signs were clear, the timing was about right and I knew this was going to happen (even if for a while I thought I was above that, like I knew it would happen to others but not me). It was accepting I was there that was hard. But once I did, I was able to stop doing the things to keep digging that hole and start minimizing the hard times and work towards another high in my exchange.

So that’s what Part 2 of this blog is about, make sure to check it out to see how things are going now.

Fri, December 22, 2017

  • Granger, Outbound to France

Today is my second month in France, and while the past month has been one of plenty of adventures, and its ups and downs I wanted to just briefly touch this. At the start of the month I went with my district and about half of the other ones in France to Mont-St.-Michel, an ancient monastery and little village on top of a rock island in the English Channel off the coast of Brittany. Words cannot do it justice, all I can say is look at the fairytale like pictures on my page to start to understand. Also getting to meet hundreds of other exchange students was fun and it was a great time to get PINS PINS PINS!

The weekend after I went and visited a couple of exchange friends in Brive-la-Gaillard. To future exchange students, you’ll soon find that the other English speakers, Canadians, Aussies, and Kiwis particularly will become some of your greatest friends on the planet. You don’t even have to spend a whole lot of time with them on exchange to form deep inseparable bonds. It also gives you an excuse to go visit your friends all over the world after exchange. (One quick note I’d suggest, while it’s incredibly easy to make friends with exchangies, also make sure you spend the majority of your time making friends with those of your host country)

The next weekend began my first break “Vacances de Toussaint” I have to admit 2 week long breaks here roughly every 6 weeks of school are much appreciated. They are also much needed because French school is a lot. I have a schedule with one of the least amounts of courses and I still take 4 hours more of courses than I did in the States. (For others they go to school from 8-6 almost everyday.) But more on the vast thing called “école” another time.

For a couple of days during break my family went on vacation to see some natural wonders in the south central part of France. I’ll let the pictures do the talking for the beauty of nature and small villages in France.

One main thing I wanted to talk about was how I view one aspect of exchange. There are plenty, perhaps infinitely many reasons why to go on exchange but one that really struck me recently was the concept that exchange is a what I like to consider the ultimate stage and transformation into adulthood. Although we as humans are constantly learning, if we simply break our education into two parts we have childhood and adulthood. In between, there is an awkward phase known as adolescence. While many people view this as a horrible phase filled with acne and plenty of awkward moments, it is in fact an incredibly crucial phase in our development. I believe exchange is one of, if not the best way to truly shape teens and tailor them into amazing adults that they want to be.

I’ll admit one of the big reasons I came on exchange was to explore a sense of independency, I so desperately desired. And what I found was that exchange is independency and also at the same time not. It’s breaking away from the family, school, and life where you grew up as a child, but at the same time its not the independency of a true adult. On exchange you’re still going to school and have a family and Rotary who are responsible for you. And this entirely unique environment that’s created is incredibly formative for exchange students, if they want it to be.

I’ll use what happened this morning as an example. I had my first dispute with my host mom. It was about me wanting to do something last minute. In the states I would have been able to do, but here in France it required permission from Rotary to ensure my wellbeing. The only thing is if I were to wait for Rotary’s permission I would have missed to opportunity. And while I know that I would be fine and nothing bad would happen, it was the concept that Rotary and my host parents were responsible for me that caused me not to be able to go. Now had something like this happened back home, I would have been upset, even angry with my parents for not letting me go. And a situation like this wouldn’t have arisen in the adult world, because no parent would be telling em what I can and cant do. But in this environment on exchange, I knew I couldn’t be mad with my host mother. I could clearly see she only had my safety at heart and was following protocol. Plus would getting mad with her help me on my exchange or if another similar situation arises? So what was I left to do? I used it as an opportunity to learn, to think of what I would do if something happened like this as an adult. Sure I might not have a parent telling me what I can or can’t do, but there are plenty of things in the world that our out of our hands; that we can’t control. Instead of the natural human instinct to be angry and mad or even hate the person or thing preventing us from doing something, I had the ability to work and develop a beneficial response to scenarios like that. I turned it in to a good thing, was happy, and learned from it, instead of the opposite. And before long that will hopefully become second nature.

Exchange allows you to respond, develop, and practice those skills you learned from school, organizations, culture, and even Rotary Orientations in a real life situation. Until now all the things I had learned, I’ve only really gotten a chance to practice in made up controlled scenarios. When you learn something you tend to practice it right after and you know how to respond. But the correct response never becomes second nature. On exchange you are challenged with those same scenarios often times, but at completely random times when you’re not expecting it. Our nature is to respond with our instinct when were caught of guard and not with maybe a better practice that we’ve been taught. Exchange fosters us to make those best practices second nature and thus make us better adults and humans searching for a better world.

I’ll give a couple other examples. The smartest and most successful people say listening is perhaps the best skill you can develop. You want to learn how to listen? Well when your learning a new language you always understand the language before your able to speak it. When your forced to listen, because you can’t respond yet, you develop this ability to listen to others.

Or another one. When I desperately needed a haircut (and usually do once a month) but my host parents told me it was my responsibility to pay. I also found out that haircuts were about 20 euros more than my monthly allowance from Rotary. So I was forced to think what’s a way I can solve this? Maybe spend 20 euros on a hair clipper and cut my hair myself? I was a little nervous but it turned out great (see pictures). Not only were the problem solving skills used but doing things that are out of my comfort zone allow me to stretch and extend my comfort zone constantly. With more things I’m comfortable with I’m wont have as many problems trying different things and being flexible as an adult.

The vast majority of those who don’t go on exchange, are left to the change between childhood and adulthood when they move out of home and go to college. They never really get the chance to test out skills in a safe environment with parents but also with out your real ones, who your to comfortable with and know how they will respond. This unique environment creates incredible people who are truly changing the world and making strides towards peace.

Rotary’s goal in sending students on exchange is to foster world peace, and I couldn’t truly explain how well it works. I’m reminded of a metaphor for World Peace I like to use. Imagine the earth with a big chain and padlock on it. If we can unlock the lock we would have world peace. Well if you can imagine a chain and lock on the earth, it probably has to be massive. And if the lock’s massive the key must be too. The key to peace is not small or hidden away, we know where it is. It’s big and right in front of us. The key to peace is not some mysterious recipe that’s extremely elaborate that we have to do just right to achieve world peace. Its quite simple to achieve world peace we just need to understand others, to listen, and love them without reserve because of difference in thought or culture. So why don’t we already have world peace? Because we need every person on the planet to lift up that big key and turn it.

That’s the challenge. Trying to get people to actually practice those principals. Not just saying they’re practicing them but actually practice them. To the point where it’s second nature.

That’s what exchange allows.

So if your interested in exchange, know that you would be joining a family of teens (of course having fun and doing millions of things) but working to bring peace among the world. If your a current exchange student, don’t let yourself get down. Keep focused on using all of your challenges as learning experiences; it’s not going to come passively. And to the Rotarians and parents, know us exchange students are doing incredible things so let us do them, but please please also challenge, test us, keep us on our feet to improve. Wow, what an incredible program to be a part of!

À tout à l’heure

Sun, October 29, 2017

  • Granger, Outbound to France

Click HERE to read ore about Granger and all his blogs

Time is flying, wow it doesn’t feel like I’ve been here for a month today. I’ve done so much but here’s just a brief rundown that’s happened in the last 3 weeks.

* Made my family dinner (lemon garlic grilled chicken, potatoes de Provence, French green beans, and an apple tart… not very American… but they think its is)

* Got sick (not because of my food)

* Broke my toe

* Visited Châtel-Guyon

* Saw another Château

* Tried Archery

* Tried Fencing

* Visited Clermont-Ferrand

* Ate my first French crêpe

* Ate at my first French restaurant (it was a burger place)

* Had my first “French” fries (there better)

* Made friends with most of my classsmates

* Took my first train (very confused at first)

* Went shopping in Clermont-Ferrand with Jasmine (my Aussie friend)

* Failed my first English assignment (2/20 but I had to write in French)

* Improved on my second getting 16/20, still writing in French)

* Took my first History test (didn’t understand a thing that was going on so different from the States)

* Started new “good” habits

* Fallen in love with fromage blanc (like yogurt but better) and every type of french bread especially brioche and pain au chocolats

* Watched my first French movie and understood a good majority of it

* Become familiar with my daily routine

* Answered about 100 questions for my History teacher about America’s Involvement in WW2

* Explained the US’s Higher Education System, Court System, stance on Global Warming and the Paris Accords, and foreign policy on North Korea (in French)

* Become conversive in French (not fluent yet but making strides each day)

* Learned to make La Madeleines and crêpes (another thing I’ve fallen in love with)

* Took my first History and Math tests

* Went on my first camping trip with Scouting in France

* Had my first French Pique-Nique (picnic)

* Attempted my first Philosophical Dissertation, did not go well…

* Made dinner for my host family again

* Learned the heavy cream here is different and thus ruined my desert I was trying to make

* Went to the park with my class

Last time wrote, I was experiencing my first culture shock. While I still am shocked at some new things from time to time, I bounce back quicker. I’m in my daily function now and at least besides the language, I feel for the most part French.

One thing I said I’ve started doing it “good habits.” Because exchange was such an abrupt change in my life, it was really easy to start getting in the habit of doing good things. You know keeping my from clean, actually flossing everyday, taking vitamins daily(**Exchange student tip, you need to do this one the change in food messes about you body’s normal levels of certain vitamins and causes a lot of exchange students to get sick within the first couple weeks. But you can prevent it). But no in all seriousness (in addition to those things) some of the big ones I do now are: write down every French word I dont understand and look up the definition later; take notes on observations I’ve made on the French culture and people, and take notes on the things I like in each culture to help me blend the two and develop my personal philosophy. I also plan out my time better now and have created checklists of things I need to do and set time limits for when to get them done.

Exchange student tip-

//**To the future exchange students I would suggest making a list of good habits you want to start and start doing them as soon as you arrive. Also I would get two journals. One to write the activities you did each day and the development of your feelings towards the things that happened, like a diary. Then the other to write things such as checklists to do, fun facts about your town, recipes you’ve learned, cultural observations you’ve made, vocab words you’ve learned. and you philosophical thoughts on various topics. The first one helps you have a reference to what you did when where as the second can be messy and is just a written collection of you thoughts throughout the year. I take my second one with me everywhere and am constantly writing in it.**

Now that I’m feeling more and more comfortable with the culture and the language, I’ve started to try to direct my attention on helping others. One of the major ways is answering the plentiful questions I get from my teachers, especially my English and History ones. I translate things for people when I can, and I’ve started helping others understand dans study for math. (Although I in senior year here, the curriculum is roughly the same as my freshman year curriculum back home, but more on this later.. look out for a blog on French schools next weekend.) I make diner roughly once a week for my family and introduce them to American cuisine. Last night I made a favorite of mine: meatloaf with mashed potatoes and peas, my host mom and sister loved it so much they want me to make it again when my whole family is here.

I just found out that I will be going to do fencing every Wednesday. And on the subject of exercise. I ride my bike about twice a week to school. It’s 15 minutes each way and I get to see the city. I also sometimes walk home if the next bus will arrive in more than 30 minutes.

I guess that feeds into my first month. Today is one month since I’ve arrived in France and overall it’s been great. Sure there have been a couple down moments but for the most part there great. It’s not exactly how I imagined it being when I arrived. I was expecting I guess a more hyped up honeymoon period. Sometimes It doesn’t feel any different than home like home but jut 4500 miles away. Before I left I set some goals of things I wanted to accomplish. Now I’m realizing its time I have to start working on accomplishing them, and with that I keep getting motivated to do more and more each day. But at the same time the enjoying life, and the French no rush attitude is starting to sink in; I’m looking for a happy medium. I’ve also added some new goals of things I want to accomplish while I’m here. Mainly, by the end of the year holding a presentation of America vs French Culture, among other things, for the community.

I’ve contacted back home a couple of times and although some of my friends have started becoming homesick, I haven’t felt the slightest bit of it yet. (Family and friends back home this isn’t against you, I still love you and miss you, but just not homesick.) Also, I’ve found balance with my friends, I still occasionally say hi to my friends back home and hang out with the exchange students every now and then (shout out to my Aussie and Kiwi) but they’re really not distracting me from making French friends. I feel like my class is very accepting to me and although I wouldn’t say I’m best friends with them yet, I friends with most of them and am seeping our relationship everyday.

For now though enjoy some picture of Clermont-Ferrand from to weekends ago and look for some great ones to come. Next weekend I’m off to Mont St. Michel and the Brive-la-Gaillarde the following one. I’m also finally getting to meet my Rotary Club next Tuesday, so I look forward to getting to know them and helping out on their projects.

À bientôt


Fri, September 29, 2017


Hailey - Chile

Hometown: Ocoee, Florida
School: Ocoee High School
Sponsor District : District 6980
Sponsor Club: Winter Garden, Florida
Host District: 4340
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Talca

My Bio

¡Hola! My name is Hailey and I am 16 years old. I was born in Raleigh, North Carolina but Central Florida has been my home since the age of two. However, I spend my summers in Blowing Rock, North Carolina where my grandparents have a house, and consider this to be my home away from home. It is in N.C., where I gained an appreciation for the outdoors, such as: hiking, kayaking, white-water rafting, etc. I live with my parents, younger brother who is 15, and two pets—a dog and a cat. I am currently a junior at Ocoee High School and have been a varsity swimmer for the past three years. I also swim at Southwest Aquatics, a traveling swim club, which keeps me conditioned year-round. I’ve always had a love for traveling and experiencing new places, cultures and people. I’m beyond excited to have been given this opportunity to spend my senior year in Chile! I can’t thank the Rotary organization enough for giving me this life-changing experience. I’m looking forward to making new friends and memories that I will cherish forever. I am eager to experience the world from a different perspective and I know that this exchange will empower me to be the best version of myself. I anxiously await the day I arrive in Chile, but in the meantime, I look forward to learning about my host country, my host families, and becoming more proficient in the Spanish language.

Journals: Hailey-Chile Blog 2017-18

  • Hailey, Outbound to Chile

It’s crazy that I am already entering my third month abroad. These past few weeks have been full of lots of learning, growing and fun! I have finally adjusted to life here and have settled into a new routine. I couldn’t even imagine going back to my life in Florida right now. I love everything about this country and I am starting to understand how everything works.

Including me, there are 6 exchange students here in Talca. Three of us from the United States and the remaining three from Europe. We all have become so close that it is almost impossible to believe that a little over three months ago, none of us knew we even existed. I’ve learned quickly that close friendship doesn’t associate with time. It is safe to say they are my best friends and I know I can always count on them. We love to go all of the time whether it be eating lunch or to some crazy event happening in the city. During the week, we have a spanish class at the local university on Mondays and take tennis lessons together Wednesdays.

For school I attend Colegio Montessori Talca. I am in year 3 because the seasons here are different and when I arrived here, it was already towards the end of the school year. my last day of school is December 10 and then we have summer until March. I will enter year 4 with the same class. Weird to think of Christmas being in the summer, right? Anyways, I wouldn’t trade the people who make up my class for anything. They include me in everything and always know how to make me laugh and feel apart of the family that they have built up over the years. We hangout outside of school a lot as well. I love it because not only am I friends with exchange students, but the beautiful people of Chile as well. It’s given me lots of crazy opportunities and forces me to practice my spanish. Recently, they have even been telling me how much my spanish has improved and it encourages me to continue to practice and try my best.

I’ve been to cities all over Chile with my family over the course of my time here. North to South, mountain to beach, I’ve been able to see and experience a lot. I am thankful for such a caring and wonderful family who has given me opportunities like no other.

I also found out that I will be going on my first Rotary trip to Patagonia on December 15! I am beyond excited to see such a beautiful part of the world. I can’t thank Rotary enough for making all of this possible. Life at the moment feels like a dream. I am seeing things in a new perspective and understanding the world a little differently. I can already tell how much more independent I have become and how my mindset has expanded and how much I have learned here that I could never learn in a classroom.

Sun, November 19, 2017

  • Hailey, Outbound to Chile

Click HERE to read more about Hailey and all her blogs

I can’t believe I have already been living in Chile for a month, time really does fly. So much has happened in such a short amount of time and it has already had a huge impact on my life. Coming here I had no idea what to expect and as any other exchange student about to leave to spend a year in a different part of the world, I had fears. However, as soon as I arrived they vanished almost immediately. The people of Chile are the KINDEST people I have ever met. My first day of school I walked into my classroom, shaking from nerves, only to be greeted by a huge group hug and food from my classmates. They made me feel welcome right away. I am so blessed for this opportunity. I have already made so many amazing friendships and connections. We go out practically every weekend and always have the best time. I have already made memories that I will cherish for a lifetime. I love my family here so much. I live on a city street in the center of Talca. I live with three brothers and a sister. On the weekends, my older brother who lives in Santiago comes home. Coming from a house with only one brother, you can tell how big of a change it was for me. However, I love it so much because there is always something happening and the house is always filled with life.

The food here is to die for. We always eat home cooked meals and I’ve already tried all of the traditional Chilean foods, one of my favorites being a Chilean hotdog. Here it is referred to as a Completo, which is a regular hotdog in a bun but generally topped with tomatoes, onions, avocado and mayonnaise. It may sound odd but it’s the best and in the past month I have already had 7.

My younger brothers are my best Spanish teachers. It is a lot easier to converse with them because they don’t know as much slang and don’t speak as fast. I know it will take some time to feel comfortable with the language but I am understanding and learning more and more each day. Another contribution to my great experience so far is the country’s natural beauty. Chile is interesting because it has such a wide variety of landscapes. In my city there is always a view of huge, snowy mountains and it always leaves me in awe and the sunsets I have seen here are beyond compare (sorry Florida!!).

All in all, this month has been the most confusing, craziest, best month of my life and I can’t wait to see what these next 9 months have in store for me. I have already seen big changes in my personality. A little over a month ago, I was more conserve and shy and it took me time to get comfortable with people. Since my arrival, I see myself coming more out of my shell more and more each day and never turning down an opportunity.

Sun, October 15, 2017


Hannah - Japan

Hometown: Apopka, Florida
School: Lake Brantley
Sponsor District : District 6980
Sponsor Club: , Florida
Host District: 2610
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Kanazawa

My Bio

Hello! My name is Hannah Smolin. I go to Lake Brantley High School and am a sophomore, grade 10. I am currently 15 years old and live in Altamonte Springs, Florida with my family. I live with both my mother and father who originally came from Ukraine along with my older family members. My younger two brothers and I are the first generation of our family to be born here in America. In school, I am a part of clubs that surround the idea of giving back and spreading kindness such as Key Club which is for volunteering and Sunshine Club which is where we spread positivity throughout the school. My favorite thing to do in my free time is play piano, I have played the piano since I was 5 years old so I’m passionate about it and anything surrounding music. I also enjoy drawing in my free time along with reading manga, which are Japanese comics. I was beyond overjoyed when I found out Japan is my destination for exchange, being my top choice. I was always interested in learning about different cultures and opening my mind up to the world. Words could not describe how grateful I am to Rotary for this opportunity. I hope to achieve a new perspective and understanding of life. I hope to immerse myself in a new culture and language and to be able to learn so much from it all. Thank you again Rotary, I cannot wait to begin a new life as an exchange student in Japan.

Journals: Hannah-Japan Blog 2017-18

  • Hannah, Outbound to Japan

Yo, it’s been a while since I’ve last said anything. I’m already at my half way point and the amount I’ve changed as a person here is so crazy to me. I like looking back at how I was when I first came here and thinking how absolutely lost I was and how accustomed I’ve become to being here. Right now it’s winter and it’s absolutely brutal. Winter is no joke. It’s absolutely freezing and has been snowing nonstop for the past 2 months, something I’ve never even experienced besides having a flight delayed on a trip in New York due to a blizzard (I’m having a snow day in right now because school got cancelled). I wouldn’t say I’m feeling homesick……I just miss one thing…you know…warmth lol. It’s harsh and I will never take not having snow in Florida for granted ever again T_T. But besides snow, I’ve having a great time here. It really finally hit me now being here 5 months that this is my time here. My own exchange and the most important thing is to do what will make me happy and make my time here the absolute best it can be. I really realized I have control over how it goes, although there’s other factors it really is up to me. Life here is really nice overall. I love school, it’s the highlight every week. Even if I have to wake up still at ungodly hours and zombie my way through with every one else, my friends here make it worth it everyday. The smallest things like walking home together – or to the bus stop, make my day. I love them bunches :). Friends aside, being alone is also an amazing thing about being abroad. I have so much freedom when I go out alone and can go anywhere I’d like to with just public transportation that isn’t Uber. It’s sooo wonderful and it makes me happy knowing I have that ability here. Even though I’m always thinking about the future, I should take time to enjoy the present. My time here is so valuable to me. I’ve already maxed out completely all the space I have with how much stuff I accumulate here, it’s no joke. Be prepared or you’ll end up like me having to use extra shopping bags to pack away things as a suitcase when moving host houses. But nothing will be left behind, every item I get here is so precious to me because it came from my exchange. Being here already 5 months was not easy always. There have definitely been hard stressful times and not everyone will understand because they are not in your position. You really learn a lot about yourself during these times, even the smallest things. You do tons of self discovery here. And it’s important for that, to venture out on your own and just get to know yourself as a person. Sound sooooo serious but it’s true I wouldn’t have thought I’d say these things when I got here but you become so different and grow T-T. Anyway, I’m super excited for spring in Japan because God knows I’ll take up my entire phone storage with photos of cherry blossom season :D.

Wed, February 7, 2018

  • Hannah, Outbound to Japan

Yo, it has finally been a full month of my exchange in Japan! It went by a lot faster than I thought it would. So far it has been so surreal. I keep forgetting I am even on exchange and that I am finally here after anticipating these moments I have finally been able to live for a year now. I love it here, everything: the food, my friends, my city, my first host family even. My city, Kanazawa, is so beautiful. There is so much to see and so much historical sites to visit (truly a dream come true lol). Right now, it is finally cooling down with temperature which is something that has never occurred in this time of year in Florida and people think I’ve lost my mind for being so excited about it. My first host family is great, the food is so yummy and they treat me so well I really feel at home :’). I have also been able to find a lot more people with the same interests as me which is so greatttttt!!!!!! I made a lot more friends than I would have thought too, my class is so fun and mess around a little too much than what I would even think to be acceptable in America. I also am slightly addicted to milk tea…..I buy one daily, they are just too good :/. Honestly for now, all I can say is I’ve truly been having such a wonderful time in and out. Everyone has treated me so well and I can not name one reason to be homesick yet, I really feel at home in my city here! I am so glad to be here and I’m so excited to see what else I get to experience in my year!!!

Tue, October 3, 2017


Hannah - Brazil

Hometown: Fort Myers, Florida
School: Salem Academy
Sponsor District : District 6960
Sponsor Club: , Florida
Host District: 4760
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Santo Agostinho

My Bio

The name’s Hannah. Hannah Susanna. And Hannah Susanna is officially going to Brazil! I was born and raised in Fort Myers, Florida, where I have had the pleasure of spending much of my life. At 13 I was given the opportunity to attend Salem Academy, where I have gladly been since. I am heavily involved with the arts, taking on projects as a painter, drawer, and sometimes a photographer. I adore history and politics. I’ve interned multiple times with the Holocaust Museum & Education Center of SWFL, which led to a human rights project abroad. To go a bit further, I love foreign policy and cooperation (or understanding) between countries, resulting in many Model UN conferences, where I have had the pleasure of representing the countries of Egypt, Australia, and the United States! I am eager, excited (and a little scared) to represent the United States once again, this time in the real world. I cannot wait for the incredible people I’ll meet, the food (of course), the language, and all of the memories, good and bad, that will come over the next year. I cannot wait to be in Brazil absorbing bits and pieces of a culture I know I’ll one day consider my own. Well, you know how it goes. Até breve! Happy trails to you! Tchau!

Journals: Hannah-Brazil Blog 2017-18

Hannah, Outbound to Brazil

When I first arrived to Brazil, I was automatically placed in “ensino medio” (high school) because Rotary Youth Exchange is intended for high school students. I was the equivalent of a junior and studied there for about five months.

I really liked this time because it gave me a chance to catch onto Portuguese (taking notes in class and listening to lectures helped so much!) and to learn some basic things I needed to know, like important presidents and events from history.

When the school told me they didn’t have room for me the following year, I saw this as an opportunity to try something new. Rather than switch to another high school, I asked if I could go to university. Things worked out, and I have now been studying at a university for a few weeks.

My school is called UniBH and it’s private. Something I’ve found interesting is that here, public universities are like Ivy-League schools: only the “best and brightest” get in and attend because they have entirely free tuition. It’s kind of paradoxical in the sense that in order to get in, you need to invest thousands of reais (dollars) into a private middle and high school education. The people that can afford to do that usually don’t need to worry about paying for college. Here, you have to pay for private universities, although the amount is significantly less than that of the United States. (But when looking at Brazilian salaries, it’s absurd).

My school has three different units in Belo Horizonte. I study at the largest unit. In all, the school has about 22,000 students currently enrolled, although you wouldn’t know it by taking a course. My “sala” (class) has about 33 students (based on the group chat) but on any given day, I’d say there’s significantly less, about 25 or so (unless there’s a test).

I am enrolled in the “relações internacionais” (international relations) course (equivalent to a major) here. The classes I’m taking include: Social sciences and anthropology; communication, diversity, and critical thinking; negotiation and bargaining; the modern history of international relations; and languages and international relations. Yes, they are all taught entirely in Portuguese. It’s awesome.

To be honest, I’ve been pretty confused so far. I started the semester about two months late, so I’ve missed a lot of material. I also entered halfway through most of the chapters so I missed the vast majority of the instruction for each of my classes. The students are currently taking tests, so I figure that once the next portion of material begins I’ll be able to catch on. Some of the professors have been really nice about this. They’ve sent me emails with prior readings enclosed or will take a brief second to recap a concept they’ve already gone over. (I can’t say this is entirely for me, but the fact they look me in the eyes as they do the recap makes me feel it is.)

As is frequently the case with Brazilians, I had no trouble being accepted. Everyone has been really nice, offering to let me join their groups for group work or letting me look over their shoulder as they complete assignments I don’t do. (I don’t have access to the computers or textbooks since I’m not a legitimate, paying student, so everyone has been really helpful with this).

I’ve made one pretty good friend in the class named Italo. He’s honestly hilarious and I live for his stories about times he was robbed and his love for Mary Kay, which he sells to afford tuition. If I’m ever confused about a meeting place or class activity, I go to him.

Every day, I go to school at 7:40 and finish at 11:40. As my school days end so early, I’ve acquired two awesome internships for the rest of my time in Brazil.

Internship number one is at UniBH working in, well, whatever they want! I’m split between two “bosses”: Leticia and Janaina. I work with Leticia on Mondays and Wednesdays. I usually get to work from home since most of the work for her is online making presentations on topics from my life in the United States to my opinions on Brazil. We meet to discuss what I’ve been doing and so I can receive feedback. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I work in an office with a lovely group of people.

So far, I’ve been doing really random work. I’ve mostly been working on activities for students. They’re having a party for the World Cup and I was responsible for planning activities for each country playing. I chose things like crash courses for K-Pop for Korea and rock bands for England.

Last Tuesday, I was asked to give an interview to the school TV station. I’m sure a looked like a complete fool – the moment the camera turned on, my Portuguese stopped working. But it’s okay! It was a hilarious experience for me and everyone was really nice anyway.

This internship has turned out to be one of my favorite parts of my experience at UniBH! Especially the days in the office. I have my own desk and computer, which makes it feel serious. The ladies I work with are a ton of fun. Every day at about 4pm, the girl who sits across from me, Rafa, brings in pao de queijo, which always makes me smile. Everyone is always offering to make me coffee or tea or to get me water. This just goes back to the hospitality of Brazilians.

Last Saturday, one of my coworkers had a birthday party. I went and it was really great to get to know them in a non-work setting. I can assure you, it will not be the last time I go out with them.

For me, this is really exciting because it shows just how good my Portuguese has gotten. I can understand just about everything except for some “giria” (slang), which they have no problem clarifying for me. Most of the people I work with don’t speak English and I love this.

My second “internship” is less of an internship and more like sporadic volunteer work. I wrote before about Rita Rico, an American diplomat living in Belo Horizonte, and how I met with her to discuss her work. She put me in touch with a man named Leandro. Leandro works as an “educational consultant” at a company called Education USA.

Basically, Education USA is an institution that aims at promoting American culture and the English language. They have events at middle and high schools to talk about life in America. They have english classes. They also help Brazilian students navigate exchange years and the college application process in the United States.

Because part of the State Department’s goal is to promote and share American culture, Education USA has a partnership with the State Department. That’s the reason Rita is involved with them.

My work there mostly involves American culture. So far, I’ve gone into english classes and tried to engage students in conversation. Because I’m a native speaker, this is really valuable for them. Most of the students have never met an American or heard one speaking in real life. It warms my heart to see how excited they get when they can effectively communicate with me.

I also have been asked to give presentations on aspects of American culture. Leandro says I’m a gift from God because the week I reached out to him, he was told to speak about American high school, a topic he knows nothing about. I prepared and gave an hour long presentation about my high school in America, which is a topic I’m always eager to talk about. After I finished, I had three girls come up to me and ask about how to apply to school in the United States. It was a great feeling to see how excited my presentation had made them.

I think these “internships” are really great ways to spend my time. It’s a really good way to get to know people I’d never know otherwise. It’s also a really good way to give back. At first, I was worried that this would mean I never get to see my friends, but it just means my days are a little more rich (and a little more busy). I usually go to school, come home for lunch, go back for work, and then go straight from work to seeing my friends. It’s definitely a “correria” (rush) as Brazilians would say, but it’s pretty fun!

I have to say, Rotary was right. I am nine months into my exchange and only have 47 days until I’m back. I’m dreading it. I finally spend my time productively, have a good grasp on the language, have good friends (both Brazilian and other exchange students). I finally have a life I really love, where I would change nothing. I’m really content. I’m really happy. And as soon as I get used to this, I have to go back. It is not a good feeling. Regardless, I am blessed to have had such a wonderful opportunity, and I look forward to making the most of the next 47 days. It’s certainly flying by.

Wed, May 9, 2018

  • Hannah, Outbound to Brazil

Part of the reason I decided to go to exchange was to help myself in the future. You see, I plan in working for the State Department, and I wanted to become familiar with another language, another culture, another mentality. When I go to college next year, I plan to study International Relations, Political Science, and Spanish. So why not take a year to learn another language? That’s why Brazil was perfect for me.

I value diplomacy because I believe it’s the path to creating a more peaceful, better functioning world. I strongly believe that with an open mind and dialogue, a mutually beneficial agreement can be reached. I look up to diplomats and the sacrifice they make as they strive to make changes across the world.

A few weeks ago, an American diplomat moved into the apartment building where I was living. It was fate. The first time I met her, I was so shocked, I just kind of stood there like a smiling idiot. I knew I had to make contact.

I decided to reach out and express my interest in following her path. I asked if she would sit down with me and talk with me about what she does, how her life works, and which steps she took to get to where she is now. Kindly, she replied and invited me to come into her office yesterday to talk.

Her name is Rita Rico and she is AWESOME. After graduating with a Ph.D. in Political Theory and working as an advisor in the Senate, she started her career with the State Department. She worked as a deputy cultural attaché in Santiago, Chile; a consular officer in Nairobi, Kenya; a political officer in Caracas, Venezuela; and she is now serving as the American Presence Officer and Public Affairs Officer in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. She is fluent in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.

Our discussion was invigorating. First of all, she just got back from a trip with the US Ambassador to Brazil throughout the state of Minas Gerais. How awesome is that???

She went through and described what it’s like working as a Foreign Service Officer for the State Department. She described the tedious application process (which takes about a year to complete and is composed of a written test, an essay, and an oral exam). She described the various positions offered and what exactly her position is. I got to ask about how policy works (especially with the recent departure of the Secretary of State) and how it affects diplomats all over the world. I got to ask about language learning and comprehension.

In my opinion, her most interesting job was in Venezuela. As a political officer, she essentially spent her years there doing research on the Venezuela political system: talking to presidents of parties, learning about interest groups, learning about hot topics. She would report her findings back to Washington. I would LOVE to do something like this.

To me, the most exhilarating part is that the job is never the same. First of all, you move every 2-4 years, so you’re never in one place for very long. You are constantly faced with new objectives and people and “missions” to tackle. Every position you take as a diplomat will be learning on the job and using your own judgment to further US foreign policy. There is a lot of power in that. Everything Rita does is a big deal: building relationships with Brazilians, encouraging travel to the US, promoting US culture, promoting economic interests, so many things for one person to be in charge of. It’s crazy. Everything she does affects the relationship between Brazil and the US.

We talked a bit about the upcoming election in Brazil, and she mentioned that the diplomats all have the opportunity to meet with the candidates and ask any questions they might have. I think that’s incredible and I am so jealous.

This weekend, I will go with Rita to a college fair for American Universities in Brazil. She also put me in contact with a man who helps Brazilian students prepare their resumes and applications for American universities. She said it would be nice if I could talk about my college application process, what I looked for in schools, and how college works there.

After meeting with her, I’m much more certain in the path I want to take moving forward. I’m nervous, because it is such a competitive field, but I’m eager to continue striving for this huge dream I have. I know it will take a lot of work and dedication, but the journey has already begun. I strongly believe the education I have already received, the people I’ve already met, the experiences I’ve already had have more than prepared me for the insane journey that lays ahead of me.

Sitting in her office, I could picture myself in Rita’s shoes. That is who I will be in 15 years. Mark my words.

Tue, April 3, 2018

  • Hannah, Outbound to Brazil

Remember how I went to Brasília back in September and I thought I wouldn’t be back for years? Funny how things work out, because I got to return!

Well, I actually just got to pass through, but driving down the main stretch and just seeing the ministries again brought me so much satisfaction.

This time, the real destination was Rio Quente Resorts: where Corina (my host aunt) and Claudio (her husband) have some sort of membership which allows them to return each year. This time, they generously invited my family to join them for a week.

Rio Quente is one of the most incredible places I’ve been. It’s essentially hot springs morphed into an amusement park that’s designed for the whole family. They have naturally heated pools. They have lazy rivers. They have waterslides and rides. They have diving and kayaking and just about everything you could ever think of. OH, and the food. Don’t even get me started.

As a Floridian this might come as a shock, but it is, in fact, better than Disney in just about every way.

Honestly, we spent most of the time relaxing in the water or eating. Everything about it was wonderful, but my favorite moment happened outside of the park.

One night, my host brother and I went walking down the main stretch in search of some souvenirs. We stopped outside of one store and we were sitting on a bench speaking in English. One of the restaurant owners, Gio, overheard us and immediately approached us, saying (in Portuguese) how much he’s always wanted to learn English. One thing led to another and the next thing I know we’re in Gio’s restaurant meeting his wife, two daughters, and his son.

My host brother and I were given free Cokes and we took a seat. We sat in Gio’s restaurant until (no exaggeration) 1 AM. We made a circle and just started talking. The conversation started light, talking about where I’m from and how I, a gringa, ended up in Rio Quente with a Brazilian family. As time went on, the conversation gained more and more weight. We talked about everything, from feminism and abortion to drugs and arms to current events in Brazil and the US. Gio invited us to return the next day and eat for free.

We met Gio on the second day of our trip and we saw him every day after. We would either eat there or pick up food or just stop by when we were passing to chat for a bit. Every time I saw him, he was smiling. He was happy. He was so content with his life and where he was at each moment. This brought me so much joy. Despite this “friendship” we developed, I never got to properly say goodbye.

Whenever someone finds out I’m an exchange student, they always ask the same thing: why Brazil? Why not Germany or Spain or literally any other country?

THIS is why Brazil. Not just Brazil, but really South America in general: the people. Maybe I’m terribly mistaken, but I feel like there are very few places in the US a foreigner would be treated the way I am every day, with such kindness and warmth. Even by strangers. Even with my flawed Portuguese. Everywhere I go people are so helpful, so interested, so welcoming, so wonderful. Brazilian people are truly the best part of this country. Claudio says that’s a political answer. I say it’s just the truth.

Rio Quente was great, but this experience with Gio and his family was far greater. It was probably so small to them, but I can tell you that it was one of the highlights of my exchange. Sitting in that restaurant at 1 AM and discussing complicated topics with people who view the world completely different than me… well, that’s why I did exchange. I was seeking a wider world view, a new perspective, something like that. Day by day, person by person, I’m getting there.

Fri, December 15, 2017

  • Hannah, Outbound to Brazil

When I was either a freshman or a sophomore, my art teacher (one of the best people I’ve ever met) said the following: “I like my classes with the seniors more. By that time, they’ve developed a personality.” I always thought this was funny because I spent most of my time with her. (Seriously. About 4-5 hours a day minimum).

I kind of understood it, but not to the extent I do now. Freshman, sophomore, and even junior Hannah lacked the confidence and self love to jump halfway across the world and construct an entirely new life, new self. I’m still amazed there are 14 and 15 year olds who have the courage to do such a thing.

This weekend was inbound orientation. It was, no exaggeration, one of the best weekends of my life. So many different events across the course of the weekend highlight the level of confidence I’ve achieved, which was nonexistent my early years in high school.

The weekend started with a talent show. If you know me, you’d know this is the kind of thing I hate, the kind of thing where I hide in the back and hope no one notices I exist. Well, a Rotary intern and my first Brazilian friend had mentioned performing together since I first arrived. I thought he was joking. He was not. So next thing I know, after the Mexicans had performed some awesome dance and people had made funny jokes, Lucas and I are standing in front of all the inbounds “singing” (lip syncing) “The Start of Something New” from High School Musical. It was awesome.

I’d say the weekend as a whole was a lot like that moment. You’re just kind of thrown into things and you either do really well or you’re terrible and fail, but in the end it’s always okay. The second day we had a competition between three groups of exchange students in various obstacles. I am not athletic, I’ve never been athletic, so I kind of stood to the side of things. But there was one event where they needed the smaller people to carry through a small rope structure without hitting the sides. This was my moment to shine. All I had to do was stay very still, put my hair up, and tuck my t-shirt into my spandex so my teammates could carry me through the rope. This is the event I’ve been waiting for my entire life.

It’s funny, because I used to be a very private person. I was ashamed of the things I’d done in the past. I thought my actions made me a bad person, an outcast, someone not worthy of love or friendship. I’ve stopped caring about what people know and what people think because the past is the past. It’s what made me who I am and it’s showed me who I do and do not want to be. For this reason, I’ve been able to make friends who know ridiculous, random pieces of information about me. Friends that can tease me and that I can tease. It’s so much more fun this way.

Skylar, for instance. I swear we are the same person. The same thoughts, the same likes, the same experiences. Well, to some degree. We think similarly. It’s incredible that I only met her in person three days ago, because it feels like a million. The coolest part? We’re probably going to the same university when we return to the US. And if we don’t, we’ll at least be in the same city. And I think that’s pretty cool. Here, we’re 6 hours away from each other, but we’re hoping to meet over our summer vacation and we’ll definitely see each other at the other district events.

I have to say that in general my favorite part of exchange is the people. I’ve talked a lot about the love I have for Brazilians (or so I think I have) but this weekend I was exposed to so many people from so many different nationalities. I got to talk music with a Mexican boy, talk politics with Americans, talk the Holocaust and WWII with a Polish girl. I got to talk to so many unique people with lives entirely different from my own. That is the exact reason I wanted to go on exchange.

I’m glad I’ve developed a personality I’m proud of, one that I’m confident of, so much that I can already let loose with you guys. It’s been such a blast to get to know you, whether it’s been the last three days or the last three months. (Yes, three months. Some of us were talking before we came!)

This weekend was probably one of my favorite yet. Between dancing in the pool and every single exchange student leaving with a sunburn, there was this sense of community and comradeship that filled the air around us. We’re now connected, every single one of us, in a way that can only be understood entirely by exchange students. We’re a different kind of community, a dysfunctional family. I adore you guys.

Wed, September 27, 2017

  • Hannah, Outbound to Brazil

Click HERE to read about Hannah and all her blogs

If you’ve seen Mean Girls, I’m sure you’re familiar with the following (cliché) exchange:

“I like math Damien”

“Ew why Cady”

“Because it’s the same in every country”

Now, I still hate math, as has been confirmed by the last two days of class, but the principle is the same: being an exchange student is hard.

I’ve gone to school with exchange students for the last four years. We’ve had people from all over: China and Spain, Korea and Brazil, Ghana and Albania. Despite this, I never understood what they were going through. My friend from Ghana, Adwoa, said she cried the first few days and hated things, and I can understand why. It’s hard to transition from one school to another, but especially a school with completely different customs from the previous one.

My transition period has been difficult, but it could be much worse.

I am one of four exchange students in my class of about 25 people. Besides me, there’s Alberto from Taiwan, Camilla from Italy, Andy from Colorado. I was very relieved to have another student from the US in my class.

My school is called Coleguium and it is bilingual. In this aspect, I’m both lucky and cursed. It’s nice to be able to understand things, as other students can help when I don’t follow a conversation, but it also means it’s easier for me to avoid speaking Portuguese at school. So far, all of my classes have been in Portuguese, which I like a lot.

I have a much harder time understanding students when they speak. They tend to speak all at once, very loudly and quickly, so the words and sentences blend together more than in any other situation I’ve been in. For this reason (and the fact I can never hear), I almost never know what they’re saying.

Here are some basic differences between my Brazilian school and US school:

Students stay in one class and teachers rotate around each period.

It’s appropriate for students and teachers to curse or be vulgar around each other.

There is no lunch at school, but there is a cafeteria open all day for students to buy food during breaks.

There is about five minutes between each class and then an extended break, which lasts about 20 minutes.

The school is literally in the middle of the city. From the top of the building, where PE takes place and where students go during breaks, you can see a lot of buildings around. It is very beautiful.

All of my teachers are very young. I’d say the oldest is only in her 40s.

Most classes don’t have homework (yet, at least) and if they do, it’s relatively short. (Tonight’s is 10 math questions)

It’s acceptable for students to not pay attention at all, which is a bit of a shock coming from Salem where we stand when a teacher enters the room, never talk when the teacher is, and get woken up if we sleep.

My classmates are very friendly and generous. They always share their books with me and take me with them when they leave the classroom, although I’m sure I contribute nothing of substance to their days (yet).

There’s a girl named Izabela in my class who has taken me under her wing. She is very good at English and helps translate some words in lessons (like “fixo,” which refers to the Axis powers in WWII) or just translation in general. She’s also helped me with grammar a lot. Today her and another boy helped me say the alphabet, which will be vital to understanding better and also being able to pronounce things the right way.

Yesterday, they were talking about what foods they should bring to school today for the exchange students to try. During our break today, we had a little pot luck of food. They brought typical Brazilian snacks and I brought some American candy.

As I mentioned before, I still hate math and don’t care much for science either, but I still like the classes here. When the teachers use powerpoints or write on the board, I can understand what they’re talking about pretty well.

So far, I really enjoy literature, history, and geography, although literature was a little difficult for me to understand. I’m eager for the day I can analyze Portuguese literature without having to translate so frequently.

A lot of exchange students hate school or wish they could go on exchange and not go to school, but it’s actually one of my favorite parts of the day. I enjoy getting to know the culture and way of life through the students. I also get exposed to some really interesting content. Today Izabela showed me a portion of the textbook which talks about Brazilian politics. I learned about it a little bit when I was in Argentina from my Juans (I miss you guys) but I’m hoping it’s covered in some of my classes. As I mentioned in my last post, politics are getting a lot of attention in Brazil. This is probably the most interesting topic to me.

I’ve always loved school. If I could, I would go to school in every country. I think going to school just makes you that much more intimate with the culture.

Thu, September 14, 2017

  • Hannah, Outbound to Brazil

Before I came to Brazil, I didn’t know what to expect. People told me about the friendliness of the people and the wonderful food and certain songs that may or may not be relevant anymore, but of course hearing about something and experiencing something is always completely different.

My first “exchange” moment happened on the plane. I was so nervous. My hands were sweating. I was worried my insufficient Portuguese would get me in trouble (it has, mildly) and my host parents wouldn’t like me for some reason, or something stupid. Welcome to Hannah’s mind! The flight attendant was making rounds. If you’ve ever been on an international flight, they tend to speak the language of the country you’re going to. The flight attendant asked me “frango ou massa” (chicken or pasta) which I knew from Duolingo but my anxiety hindered my understanding. Without even attempting to listen or make out the words , I turned to my neighbor. I’m sure I was white as a ghost and looked like a deer in a headlights. After replaying the moment about twenty times in my head, I finally relaxed and thought about it. I did, in fact, know what he was saying. Had I just relaxed, I could have easily answered the question. So it goes.

After that cringy situation, I arrived to Belo Horizonte, my city, on Tuesday August 8 at 8 am. I was met by my wonderful pais with a lovely sign!

I was immediately taken aback by how beautiful the city is. It is much bigger than I thought it would be. Buildings extend on forever and when you’re driving you get glimpses out over the entire city. The city is also surrounded by mountains. That’s why it’s called “Belo Horizonte” (Beautiful Horizon).

My host parents are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met.

Meu pai is a graphic designer. Since the moment I met him, he emphasized how much he loves America and wants to learn English. His english is very good but he wants it to be perfect. I told him if he teaches me the rules of Portuguese, I’ll help him with his English. He intends to go to the United States one day, where he wants to go to Florida, California, and New York.

Minha mãe owns a women’s fashion store. It is incredible. Everything is hand made. The dresses have intricate designs. Everyone there is very nice to me, although I can’t always follow the conversation. There’s a man who works there named Ander and he speaks Spanish, so we were able to communicate.

I spend most of my time with minha mãe. She is one of the most patient people I’ve ever met. Yesterday after school my brain was fried and around 4 it just shut off. There was a period of four hours where I understood nothing the first time, yet she remained calm and continued to rephrase and explain the meaning of words.

Some of my favorite moments thus far have been with minha mãe. She actually reminds me a lot of my mom in the United States. She is very religious. In her office at work she has at least seven pictures of Jesus, Mary, and various saints. I personally am not and have never been a religious person, but I envy her devotion to God and the values she upholds.

We talk a lot about religion, politics, and government. She aligns with Brazil’s conservative values. In the past year, I’ve been called a communist or socialist more times than you count, so I tend to be extremely liberal all around. Although we have very different beliefs, it has been really nice to hear her ideas. Once I get a better grasp on the language, I’d like to ask her more questions about Brazil’s previous leaders, her opinions on current events, ect. Now is a very important time for Brazil because recently there’s been a lot of corruption in the government. It will be interesting to see how they move forward. I very much look forward to the day I can contribute more than a few sentences to a conversation about this topic.

Because I’m interested in this general topic, minha mãe gave me a book to read about the history of the 20th century entirely in Portuguese. To my surprise, I understand pretty well when I’m reading, although it takes me a lot longer to read.

Regarding language, here comes the classic line: I wish I had studied more. It’s difficult to remember things because I learn much better in a classroom setting and I’ve never had formal training in Portuguese. Portuguese is written like Spanish but when you speak, the pronunciation of words is VERY different, so it is hard for me to determine when a word begins and ends in a sentence. I attribute much of my confusion to this. When I do understand, I can’t form complete (correct) sentences in Portuguese yet when speaking, so I tend to fall back on my Spanish.

Despite the confusion, I am so glad I decided to experience this. I am grateful to be here. Thank you to everyone who contributed in making this a reality. This is already one of the best experiences of my life.

Sat, August 19, 2017


Henry - Thailand

Hometown: Dunwoody, Georgia
School: Dunwoody
Sponsor District : District 6900
Sponsor Club: Dunwoody, Georgia
Host District: 3350
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Chatuchak

My Bio

My name is Henry O’Connor. I live just outside Atlanta in the northern suburb of Dunwoody. My family moved here when I was 2 years old from the Washington, D.C. area where I was born. My father grew up in Chicago and my mother grew up in a small town in southern Virginia. My only brother, Edward, is a junior in high school. I attend Dunwoody high school as a freshman. My love of language is, in part, due to my grandfather who taught himself French at the age of 50 and took his first trip to France when he turned 70. My language studies began in middle school with German which I continued into high school. This is my 3rd year studying German, and next semester I begin studying Latin. Two years ago I taught myself Japanese and that sparked my passion for both linguistics and languages. In my spare time, I play around with other languages such as Russian. As a Boy Scout, I was recently selected to join the Order of the Arrow (the national scout honor society) and am pursuing the rank of Eagle Scout. Some of my current hobbies include Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, playing various musical instruments, and tennis. I’ve played a number or sports (tennis, soccer and Kendo) and what I most enjoy about sports is their competitive nature. My desire to travel internationally began a few years ago. When I discovered this program it was like a dream come true. This exchange gives me opportunities to grow as a person and gain valuable life experience that will serve as a foundation for my future. I am most excited to go to Thailand because of its truly unique culture and insulation from western influences.

Journals: Henry-Thailand Blog 2017-18

  • Henry, Outbound to Thailand

Last year I was an Rotary youth exchange student in Bangkok, Thailand. When I first came to Thailand I was apprehensive about many things. “How could I learn such a foreign language?” “How do I make friends with these people?” But immediately I felt the warmth of these people towards me. They had never met me before in their lives but they welcomed me into their homes. My first family was a very busy household which was certainly something I was not used to. I had a host brother, mom, dad, aunt, grandmother, and 2 little sisters all in the same house. They were very helpful with learning Thai even if some of them believed it would be impossible for me (It most certainly wasn’t). These would be the people I would spend the next 3 months of my exchange. My first day of school was a great day. I walked into the classroom and they were quick to embrace me They were curious about me and I was a notable person from day 1. In school I took many of the same classes I would have taken in the United States had I not gone to Thailand but as a whole they seemed quite a bit easier than the material here in America. I also took the opportunity to take Chinese and supplementary Thai lessons at my school. After I was getting comfortable in my school and in Thailand in general It came time to switch to my 2nd host family. I had a lot of contact with them before I switched because during my time with my 1st family she would take the exchange students all around Thailand on trips. Even while I was with my 1st family I felt like I had 2 host mothers. In my 2nd host family I was an only child. My host dad was a high ranking police officer so his constant absence means I spend most days at the house alone with my host mom and our dog. Our house was in the traditional Thai style. It had only 3 rooms on the top floor and the bottom floor was completely open to the elements. It was made of beautiful teak wood and was next to rice fields and a swamp. Every morning I would go outside and there would be many many large water birds and animals in the fields. My 2nd host was the one I was closest to and still am contact almost daily with. She was an amazing host and would sit down with me and help me learn Thai whenever I wanted to. She was the owner of a successful nursery in the City and I would make frequent trips to help teach English to the kids there. Since I began to stay with her my Thai rapidly improved to the point where I could describe myself as fluent to some extent. My school year ended in February of this year. I spent that summer doing fundraisers, Rotary events, and traveling around the country meeting people. Near the end of my break I entered into a Buddhist monastery as a novice monk for 25 days in May. That was one of the most impact-full things I’ve ever done. My Thai improved greatly being in a Thai monastery and I made many new connections to the monks themselves. I may be back in America now but I know that I will always have a second home in Thailand

Tue, July 31, 2018

  • Henry, Outbound to Thailand

Hello! I am writing this with about 2 months remaining in my exchange and in between my 2 large Rotary hosted trips around my host country. School has ended for me and I’ve been on break for about 2 months now. Currently I’m still with my second host family and looks to be like that for the remainder of my exchange. But despite having all the free time in the world I have been constantly busy for the summer. In fact my summer has been busier than anytime before.

School ended for me around the end of February and at the time I was uncertain what I would be able to do for the remainder of my exchange. It started out very slow, only interrupted by trips with friends and activities with my host family or visiting work with my host mom. I’ve spent a lot of time playing sports with my friends or playing with my new dog or going into the city to hang out at the malls as well as numerous Rotary excursions like vaccine drives and fundraisers. One of the things I was worried about was losing some language after not being able to go to school but thanks to my wonderful host family I’ve been engaged all summer.

I’ve also gone on many fun Rotary trips. The first was to the beaches of Phuket Island on the west coast of Thailand. The drive there was around 16 hours which I was not expecting. It was still fun because on the bus you can talk to the other exchange students and play music! For the first few days we stayed at Phi Phi Island and went snorkeling and swimming a lot. The hotels we stayed at a large hotel in Phuket city. Our room was on the 4th floor and had a great view of the ocean and the surrounding city. Many great restaurants were also withing walking distance of our hotel so we could quickly go out and get food. Next we moved to the main Island of Phuket and stayed there for the remaining 2 days. We got to go to many fun areas in Phuket city and eat some amazing sea food.

Tomorrow I’ll be going to Chiang Mai for the Thai new year called Songkran. Chiang Mai is a large city in the northern part of Thailand famous for its elephants and wonderful festivals. Songkran is a holiday with a huge water party. Squirt guns and water is thrown everywhere in the celebration. I’m so excited to be able to go. After I get back I’ll be entering into a Buddhist monastery for a few weeks. Ever since I came I’ve been somewhat interested in Buddhism and I figured the best way to learn about it would be to experience the life of a monk first hand.

My exchange is 80% done and its been hard to really come to terms with that. When I first arrived it felt like I would be there forever but the longer I’ve been here the faster time seems to go. It already feels like I’m going home tomorrow. I think that’s been the hardest part of my exchange for me as of now. I plan to do as much as I can until then.

I’m happy I got the opportunity to go to Thailand for my exchange. Even with all of its ups and downs living here has been absolutely life changing for me. I’m so grateful for all the opportunities I’ve been granted by everyone. I’m very happy to be living in Thailand today.

Mon, April 9, 2018

  • Henry, Outbound to Thailand

August 7th I stepped off the plane into the next 12 months of my life. It was around 11:30 at night when we touched down and my heart was going a mile a minute as I was going to meet all of my host families in person for the first time. They forgot my sign so I only recognized them by their shouts when they saw me in the airport. I had my first real Thai food that night. Whole shrimp. They were about 5 minutes fresh and they were delicious. I was so excited that I finally got to sleep at about 4 am that night.

I could only speak a bit with my host family but luckily the little English they knew helped guide me through my first week. School started in 8 days and I wanted to be ready. Jet lag is from the 25 hour flight was really tough, and the first 2 weeks I could only get 4 hours of sleep a night.

School is my favorite part of exchange. Most of my classes are in Thai so for now there’s not a whole lot I can understand. But math is a lot better. The material also seems to be what I studied a number of years ago. The school did put me in the English program however. At the beginning this was very stressful to me, and I was scared of getting stuck in the English trap. My whole class could speak English and were eager to do so. It was difficult at first to make my way out of “The English Trap” but with a little persistence and studying it has gotten a lot better. Remember, learning your languages is the key to pretty much everything on exchange.

If there is one thing I’ve done a lot of so far on exchange it would he traveling. So far I’ve been near the Cambodian border, the border with Myanmar, Bangkok, many other small trips, and right now am on my way to a southern province with my second host mother. The beaches and food are amazing here. That morning we were awoken by 10 or so monkeys on top of our small rented cottage. I love traveling with my host family. On my trip to the Cambodian border we stayed in a small village where my 2nd host dad is from. The surrounding area was heavily wooded and there were chickens roaming free. The house we stayed in was had some running water but only as a sink and a Toilet. The shower consisted of a bucket of water and a ladle. They had some electrical appliances but the house had no air conditioning. In fact most of the house was completely open to outdoors. The ceiling was covered with spider webs and small insects. The food however was delicious. Dinner was rice and whole fish caught in a neighboring rice paddy. Eating was a very informal occasion and we all ate at different times. That night we all slept in one large bed covered by a malaria net. Early that morning we woke up to the crowing of roosters.

Rotary here is structured very similarly to Rotary in the US and meetings follow the same formula. I go to Rotary meetings once a month where I usually speak or give them a rundown of how my exchange is so far. It’s a good way for them to check in with how I’m doing and how my language is. I have gone on quite a few trips with my Rotary club. My favorite one would have to be when we visited a farm run owned by a Rotary member. It was relatively isolated in the forest and we planted trees for an ongoing environmental project. We also had the chance to hike through a forest in Thailand. The wildlife here is truly astonishing. Giant millipedes and massive earthworms are commonplace here.

Many of the exchange students are struggling with homesickness after the initial “honeymoon” phase hit. Everything about Thailand is completely different than what we have in the US. In Thailand every meal is rice, rice, and more rice. With fish or vegetables also of course. Even in McDonalds or KFC here the food is completely different. In KFC everything is spicy. I do miss American food like burgers and real pizzas but then again. I didn’t come here to eat American food and I’m happy with that.

My language has been progressing steadily since my arrival and I speak exclusively Thai with my host family and I speak Thai with my friends at school. Exchange so far has been such an eye opening experience for me. The world seems so much smaller to me. So far life has been treating me so well. My first 3 months have been a blast and its hard to believe I’ve been through 30% of my exchange already. I’m so excited to see what will happen next!!

Wed, October 25, 2017


Jasmin - Thailand

Hometown: Tallahassee, Florida
School: Leon
Sponsor District : District 6940
Sponsor Club: , Florida
Host District: 3330
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Samutsakhon

My Bio

Sawadeeka! Hello! My name is Jasmin Tajdari and I will be living in Thailand for the next year of my life. While abroad, I hope to see and experience an endless amount of new things, make new bonds/relationships with new people, and most importantly learn. When my year comes to an end I hope to be able to identify with Thailand as a second home for me. I also hope that I will have made amazing memories that last a lifetime and make up the stories that I will tell over and over again. As far as what makes me who I am… I am currently 17 years old and a senior at Leon High School in Tallahassee, Florida. I have somehow managed to live my entire life in the same city and the same house. I grew up in a family of 6 people and am the youngest of 4 kids. I have an older brother, older sister, and a twin sister (who is a minute older than me). I participated in gymnastics and ballet when I was very young. Now however, the only sport I play is soccer which I started when I was 7. Music is quite big in my family and has been apart of my life for as long as I can remember. I have played the piano since I was 7 and the flute since I was 11. All of my siblings are skilled at a wide variety of musical instruments and happen to also sing (I didn’t quite get the gene). I am beyond excited and cannot wait for the experience that is in store for me. I owe all of my thanks to Rotary for gifting me with such an amazing opportunity. Thailand, here I come!

Journals: Jasmin-Thailand Blog 2017-18

  • Jasmin, Outbound to Thailand

I’m now a little more than 7 months into my exchange. Now, 7 months didn’t quite call for a huge celebration. However, hitting my 6 month mark did. When the time came I wasn’t celebrating the fact that I had survived this long. Although, I must admit that I didn’t think I’d last a whole month my first week here. Rather, when the time came I was celebrating the reality of my life and what I had realized in that moment. Back in December I went on my second Rotary trip. It was two weeks long and went through Christmas and New Year’s. I got to visit different parts of Northeastern Thailand and actually spent Christmas on a freezing cold mountain and New Year’s on a hot beach. We also had a new exchange student from South Africa that had just started his exchange which made things fun. In addition to traveling around Thailand on this trip we also got the chance to leave the country and visit Cambodia. I didn’t think much about the idea of going to Cambodia. To be completely honest, I thought it was going to be the exact same as Thailand. I didn’t think that anything could (or would) give me culture shock after having moved from the United States to Thailand. I was 100 percent, absolutely wrong though. I remember crossing the border into Cambodia and just feeling completely lost. In Cambodia they drive on the right side of the road like in the United States (in Thailand they drive on the left). A good portion of the people speak very good English unlike in Thailand. I couldn’t understand the native language, I couldn’t read the signs, the food was different, the money was different, and I don’t know how but the weather was actually hotter. It didn’t take me a long time to realize that I was actually going through culture shock again. We only spent 3 days in Cambodia but when we returned to Thailand I felt a huge sense of relief. After being in Thailand for 6 months I took the time to think and reflect about everything that had happened in my exchange so far. It was then that I realized how comfortable I actually am in Thailand now. I wouldn’t classify my self anywhere near fluent language wise but I know that I have improved a lot and can generally say what I want and need to. I’m able to use the public transportation here without any problems. I know majority of the rights and wrongs, the do’s and don’ts of the culture. I have been mistaken for a Thai person a few times. Reading and writing in Thai feels natural now. When I reached 6 months of living here I realized how much Thailand actually feels like home now and that was well worth a celebration. I’m now more than halfway through my exchange and am just living my normal day to day life. In other words, things are going great.

Tue, March 13, 2018

  • Jasmin, Outbound to Thailand

Today officially makes 4 months in Thailand for me. I would like to use this journal to talk about my personal learning experience while on exchange. I graduated from high school before leaving for exchange. I even got accepted into college but am not enrolled anywhere as of right now because I did not want to take online classes. My year abroad is serving as a gap year for me and I honestly don’t think that there is a country better than Thailand to be doing a gap year in. Before I came to Thailand I thought that every school would be like the stereotypical rigorous Asian school. However, I now know that in Thailand not every school is like that. Here is a little similar to the United States. You have public schools, which I and every other exchange student I know attend; private schools, which are more like the stereotype; and international schools, which are insane and like the private schools of private schools. I was scared that I would be attending a very strict school here that wouldn’t let me learn what I wanted to and made me very stressed about homework or tests. Luckily though, I got put in the most perfect school in the world for me. I attend โรงเรียนสมุทรสาครวิทยาลัย (Samutsakhon Wittayalai School) in มหาชัย, สมุทรสาคร (Mahachai, Samutsakhon). Surprisingly none of my host families live in the same city as my school so I must take long bus rides my entire exchange to travel to and from school. I would not want to go to school anywhere else though. This school is perfect for me because of the amount of freedom they give me when it comes to learning. For my first semester here the faculty picked my schedule. I only took electives because the school was aware that I had already graduated from high school. I got to learn traditional Thai dance, Thai ballroom dance, traditional Thai music, traditional Thai art, Thai cooking, Thai handicraft, Thai culture, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, badminton, and ping pong. This schedule allowed me to branch off and learn new things instead of sitting and relearning material I already knew in math, science, or English. The big surprise and cherry on top was realizing I never was given homework, tests during the semester, or exams at the end of the semester. I’m able to learn at my own pace without any stress at all here. Also, the freedom I’m given allows me to focus on learning the language a lot which I love the most. My school provides me with about 5 hours of Thai language lessons a week, my district provides me with 1 hour of Thai language lessons everyday after school, and the rest I study on my own. My first semester here was an absolute dream come true and so much better than I could have ever imagined. Currently, I’m more than a month into my second semester. Everything is pretty much the same as my first semester except this time the faculty let me pick my schedule. I thought it would be best if I took math and science classes to ensure I didn’t forget everything I had learned in high school before going to college. Now I learn, calculus, biology, chemistry, soccer, futsal, Thai ballroom dance, Thai language, Thai culture, Thai handicraft, and traditional Thai music. I take a lot fewer classes than last semester because I knew I would need time to start re-applying to college and I’m able to see my friends at school more too. I have learned a lot thanks to the freedom my school gives me. I still have a lot more to learn but I’m sure I’ll be able to learn everything I want and more at my school.

Fri, December 22, 2017

  • Jasmin, Outbound to Thailand

Wow! Okay. Let’s do this, my first journal entry. สวัสดีค่ะ (hello). That was one of the very few phrases/words that I had known when I embarked on my journey over two months ago. Having never left the United States before, I remember stumbling into the airport in Bangkok and being so intrigued by the new sights and sounds like I was told I probably would be. I was not so intrigued by the slightly unpleasant odor however. After a few hours of aimlessly wandering and trying to get some help I was able to locate my host family and really begin my new life. I vividly remember our rather long walk through the airport towards the car. We reached the edge of the airport, the sliding glass doors opened, and all I felt was this unbearable heat that surrounded my entire body within seconds. I did imagine what the heat would feel like beforehand and can honestly say that I greatly underestimated it. I started sweating profusely and my host family taught me my first thing in Thai, ร้อนมาก (it’s very hot). From then to now I’ve experienced and learned so much in such a little time. Within my first day I had the realization of how much food I’d be eating when one of my host sisters and I ate both breakfast and lunch with a five minute break in between. I would not recommend anyone attempt that unless they have a professional/experienced person like my host sister with them. Within four days I had found one of my absolute favorite places in the entire country. Some people from my host family are very serious runners and go to this amazing park about three times a week. I on the other hand do not like running and only go with them because of how beautiful the park is. I can honestly say that I wouldn’t want to be in excruciating pain anywhere else than there though. Within a week I had met the other exchange students and instantly made twenty new friends. Within two weeks I had started school where I met hundreds of new people and learned what it feels like to be a celebrity a little. I actually got about three hundred new Facebook friends and about two hundred new Instagram friends in my first week of school. After about one month of school I still have people all over campus saying “hello” and taking photos. Within one month I learned to read and write Thai. In my opinion I got extremely lucky in that my Rotary district wants to ensure that we learn the language. As a result, I take multiple Thai language classes in school and have Thai tutoring everyday for at least an hour.Now, two (almost three) months in I’m already on my first Rotary trip and about to get on a three and a half hour ferry to go live on an island for a few days. I can’t believe everything I’ve done and how much time has gone by so far. Cramming everything experienced in two months on exchange in these journals is absolutely impossible. This first one is a little hectic and unorganized but hopefully my next one is better.

Wed, November 1, 2017


Jeremiah - India

Hometown: St. Petersburg, Florida
School: Shorecrest
Sponsor District : District 6950
Sponsor Club: Saint Petersburg, Florida
Host District: 3141
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Mumbai

My Bio

In describing major roles I play in life, I would name friend, son, brother, grandson, pet owner, teammate, and fan. As a friend, I am that one who always has a joke or funny story to share and adds laughter to our group. I love visiting my friends’ families and having them over to my house too. When my family moved from West Virginia to Florida before my junior year, I was able to make new friends pretty quickly due to the welcoming atmosphere at my new school and my bright outlook. I am hopeful that spirit will earn me many new friendships in India. I live in beautiful, sunny Saint Petersburg, Florida with my parents, my 15-year-old sister, an exchange brother from Taiwan, and three orange cats. We moved here to be close to my elderly grandmother and her partner as we knew they would benefit from our help. I love family gatherings, especially with my large extended family in West Virginia. I will miss them all while I’m abroad, but I look forward to seeing how families live and play in another culture. It would be a huge bonus if my Indian host families have pets and/or babies. I enjoy playing sports, especially football and basketball, but I’m up for learning new sports too. I know that cricket is the #1 sport in India; I’ve got to learn about it. I love watching college and professional sports too. My favorites are: West Virginia University football and basketball, the New England Patriots, the New York Mets, and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Occasionally, I’ve been lucky to get to go to games live, but usually I watch on TV. I also am the Commissioner of our family’s Fantasy Football League, which is a real chore considering the varied personalities.

Journals: Jeremiah-India Blog 2017-18

  • Jeremiah, Outbound to India

One’s mother tongue is Spanish, the other’s is Danish, and the third’s is French. I speak English. Yet we are brothers.

I figured I would make great friends during my exchange year, but I never expected to create the type of bonds I have developed with the Chalo Boys. “Chalo” mean’s “Let’s go” in Hindi and our gang of four — the Chalo Boys — are always on the go and up for anything. Poncho of Mexico, Andreas of Denmark, and Amaury of Belgium, and Jeremiah of the the US — the Chalo Boys.

As for language, I have learned that it doesn’t matter where we come from or what language we speak, we are all capable of loving each other.

I feel strongly that the most important part of my exchange has been the connections I have made with others… my dear host family members, my fellow students at school, all the great adults in the Rotary Club of Mumbain. But forever holding a special place in my heart will be the other exchange students from all over the world. Our bonds are strong.

I am amazed by the idea that, in the future, I will be able to go almost anywhere in the world and have a great friend waiting for me — someone who also shared this exchange adventure in India.

I also have been extremely lucky with both host families I have stayed with. In the first family I had two host brothers, one 18 and the other 14, who I became extremely close with. When my older host brother, Kabir, left for his exchange in Italy I really felt my brother was leaving. He did so much for me such as show me how to get around the city and introduce me to his friends. However, after he left I started to get very close with my younger host brother Divyum. I would do things like help him with his homework and play soccer with him and his friends. My first host mom helped me so much with completing all the formalities necessary to be in Índia and she also let me host small get together with the other exchange students so we could get to know each other better. When leaving for my second host family we were all holding back tears.

My second host family is very different but equally as great. My host parents have two children but their son, Aryan, is on exchange in Spain and their daughter, Namrata, was studying acting in New York for the first two months I was at their house. I was worried because I relied on my host siblings so much in my first host family, but my concern quickly disappeared because my host parents are so nice with me and we enjoy talking to each other. For example, I am not a huge fan of some very popular Indian dishes so when my family has those dishes for dinner my host mom will make me something she knows I like.

I love all my host family members and will be so sad to say good bye.

I know that saying goodbye to these people who have done and mean so much to me will be extremely hard but the fact that I know we will see each other again all around the world puts a smile on my face.

Wed, March 21, 2018

  • Jeremiah, Outbound to India

The Taj Mahal is one of the seven wonders of the world but for me, the real wonder has been this Rotary Youth exchange program.

Everything that has happened this year has helped me grow up and mature so much. Being on my own away from my family, making many of my own decisions, handling my own money, traveling to so many interesting places, being in a huge metropolis, encountering new people every single day. My list of growth opportunities goes on and on. But perhaps one of the things that has pushed my development the most, especially the development of my world view, is is the fact that I came to India — such an amazing nation and so very different country from my homeland.

India is very different then my home in Florida in a lot of aspects. First of all, the huge crowds in Mumbai. They say the population 22.5 million of those they can count; but everyone acknowledges there are far more people flying under the radar of the census takers. The congestion and density is different than anything I had ever experienced before. After learning how to navigate the crowded trains (and by crowded I mean I have to push the crowd in to make a space for myself), I am confident that I will be able to use any public transportation anywhere in the world. Secondly, the diversity here in India is incredible. Diverse because there are so many different religions, cultures, languages, foods, and festivals. I have been able to enjoy everything that’s come my way. The festivals, especially, are such fun and most of them are unique to India.

One of the trips Rotary Youth Exchange in India offers is a north India tour, from which I just returned. On this amazing adventure, I experienced a variety of cultures first hand. In Amritsar, a walled old town, for example, I saw a large population of Sikh people whose heads must be covered in dastaars, or turbans. This headgear is associated with Sikhism and is an important part of the Sikh culture. Among the Sikhs, the dastaar is an article of faith that represents honor, self-respect, courage, spirituality, and piety. It’s an important part of the unique Sikh identity. When I needed help tying my own turban in order to see the Golden Temple, several people were more than happy to help. It’s fun when strangers jump in to the experience! The gilded Golden Temple is the holiest religious complex of the Sikh religion and I was privileged to have experienced it. When we visited another city, Dharamshala a hillside city that’s home to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile, we got a great look at Tibetan culture.

I could go on and on about my Rotary Exchange experience but it’s so much better if you experience it yourself. So, if you are a high school student considering going on exchange, my advice would be to just do it. It will be the best year of your life.

Tue, March 20, 2018


Kate - Mexico

Hometown: Alpharetta, Georgia
School: Veritas Classical Schools
Sponsor District : District 6900
Sponsor Club: Alpharetta, Georgia
Host District: 4185
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Puebla Centro Histórico

My Bio

¡Hola! Me llamo Kate Rojales, y ¡estoy muy emocionada por estudiar y vivir en México en 2017-2018 con el programa de Intercambio de Junventud de Rotary! My name is Kate Rojales, and I am thrilled to study abroad in Mexico for the 2017-2018 year with the Rotary Youth Exchange Program! It is such an honor to be selected for this amazing opportunity. On my exchange journey, I am most excited about building meaningful, lifelong relationships with the people from Mexico and across the world because people give meaning to our lives. I love meeting diverse individuals and listening to their stories because I believe that through relationships, we can truly understand and appreciate new perspectives. I try to ask thoughtful questions, listen without judgement, and respond with compassion and empathy to create these connections. Here in the United States, I live with my mom, dad, and 14-year-old brother, Jason, in Alpharetta, Georgia. I am a senior at Veritas Classical Schools, and I also attend classes at Georgia State University. I have studied Spanish for 9 years with my dream of becoming a physician aiding Spanish-speaking populations. Outside of school, I love reading, playing the piano, and volunteering. I founded my own non-profit organization, Hope For Mail, which sends words of encouragement to families battling life-threatening childhood illness. I also volunteer as a weekly Sunday school teacher for elementary children, and I have served on mission trips to Guatemala and El Salvador. I cannot fully express how grateful I am for this opportunity to grow, experience life in a new culture, and build lifelong friendships. Thank you to the Rotary Club of Alpharetta, District 6900, Rotary Youth Exchange Florida, my host club and district, my host families, and countless volunteers for making this opportunity possible! ¡Hasta luego!

Journals: Kate-Mexico Blog 2017-18

  • Kate, Outbound to Mexico

June 30, 2018

This final month of exchange has been a whirlwind for me, with school finishing, some traveling, and also saying goodbye, and a million other memories big and small, I tried to maximize every moment of my time left on exchange by spending time with the people I love.

We all process and handle the end differently, and I do not know how to begin explaining the emotional rollercoaster of the last month of exchange and the first days back in the United States. For me, every day had its own ups and downs, and it was overwhelming at times with my mind and its endless train of thoughts and my heart with its thousands of conflicting emotions. Sometimes I felt everything at once and then nothing at all. There were some moments where I would feel so content, peaceful, and fulfilled by the relationships I had built; I would just step back and smile and feel so loved. Then in an instant, that fullness of my heart would turn to lead, a deep and heavy sadness from having to leave these people too. Sometimes I would miss people so deeply, and the pain was truly heart-wrenching, and other times, I just walked around with only a dull ache in my heart. I had moments so full of joy and times when I just could not cry enough tears to express the agony of leaving behind families, friends, and a life. However, other days, even while saying goodbye to very dear friends, I could not even cry more tears because of how emotionally numb and empty I felt. The countdown of how many days left was like a timer on an emotional bomb, and every morning, I woke up to the dull realization that I had one day less of exchange, one last opportunity to share a meal with my host families, one last time to laugh alongside my friends, one last chance to be a part of the streets’ beautiful chaos. How could I even imaging leaving this life?

However, as difficult as the emotional journey was, I still faced every day with a determination to make it count, to live life to the fullest, not to waste time. I finished school two weeks before my return date, so I used every day to check off some bucket list items and make some final memories with the people I love. With my best friends from school, we had a bonfire where we burned old tests, homework assignments, and notes together. One of my close U.S. exchange student friends and I finally made a traditional Thanksgiving dinner from scratch for our host families (which we had been talking about since October) that included stuffing, green beans, mashed potatoes, corn casserole, pumpkin pies, and chicken from a local takeout restaurant chain. My third host family took me on trips to the coastal beach city of Veracruz and México City, and I also went with my friend from Poland to visit the pueblo mágico (small historic town) of Zacatlán for a few days, where I could see another piece of the beautiful country of México. I also had a small goodbye party with all three of my host families (including extended family) and a few close friends, which was such a bittersweet day. I was surrounded with so many of the people I love, but it was also a goodbye.

The beginning of exchange is characterized by lots of new faces (and name-forgetting for me), a general sense of confusion, a nervous excitedness, and maybe some heartache for our first home. But the end of exchange? The end means saying goodbye; it means leaving behind everything and everyone whose names are now etched in our hearts forever; it means suffering and grieving a loss. Having to leave to the end of exchange is another challenge, another struggle we must overcome in order to build more resilience and personal growth. For me, it was not easy to “return home” because I also had to leave my new home. But I am so grateful that it has been challenging because if leaving was easy, I wouldn’t have had the amazing relationships that broke my heart to leave. For me, easier is not always better because it would definitely be easier not to have to carry this burden in my heart every day. But, I would rather have my heart ripped out a million times and cry a thousand rivers of tears, and say goodbye over and over again if it means that I have the memories with friends and families that I do. It is all worth it for the times when my best friends and I walked for miles to find a place to print school assignments. For every time I sang at the top of my lungs in the car alongside my different sisters. For every time I stayed late after school to talk with my teachers as real people. For every time my host parents would roll their eyes, take a deep breath, and say “Ay, Kate.” For every time I stayed up until 2 AM talking about everything under the sun with other exchange student friends. For me, all the heartbreak and all the goodbyes are made worth it a million times over with the little moments, the little memories, that happen every day with the people we love. So that is how I deal with leaving, with exchange ending by realizing how grateful I am for the relationships and for the people I will always carry with me in my heart.

My first host family and my two best friends took me to the airport that final day, and on the plane ride back to the United States, I cried and cried and cried. Looking back, I probably worried the flight attendants…this young kid, in a crazy pin-covered blazer, travelling alone, who couldn’t stop crying and who didn’t understand English. (True story: After speaking Spanish for eleven months, my brain had trouble thinking, processing, and speaking English. One U.S.-based flight attendant resorted to speaking English very loudly and using charade-like gestures in order to offer me the complimentary snacks and a drink with ice). On my flights, I was reading the book of absolutely beautiful letters people had handwritten me. Their words made me laugh and cry and smile; their phrases reminded me of all the memories we had made, and their sentences and paragraphs that will forever remain dear to my heart. So the tears were equal parts happy and sad – devastated to be leaving but also so fulfilled by the impact I had. When I finally exited immigration and customs, I was greeted by my smiling family and best friend as well as a poster and a balloon bouquet. I completely lost all composure (and ability to speak English) after hugging them again after so long. And, although I was excited to see my family again and ready for this next chapter of my life (and eat Chick Fil A again), my heart does not ever cease aching for what I left behind.

Besides struggling to speak English, I have been also dealing with reverse culture shock. My mom even jokes it is like they are hosting an exchange student from Mexico as I work to readjust to the United States again. They have to explain their routines to me while I listen with a wide-eyed expression, smile, and nod. Roads seemed so wide, and everything seemed so quiet after eleven months in a big, bustling, chaotic city (and people actually follow the traffic laws!). It feels weird to be in air conditioning and a Hotlanta summer again after Puebla’s moderate climate. I tried to greet people with a hug and a kiss on the cheek before embarrassedly realizing that we do not do that in the U.S. My old room did not feel like my own, and I felt like a stranger in my own house. Without thinking, I respond in Spanish before hurriedly translating back to (a somewhat broken) English. I had not realized how much I was integrated into my host families and the Mexican culture until I started adapting, and I am so grateful to my family for being so patient and understanding with me. For future exchange students: be patient with yourselves too. We have grown and changed so much on exchange, and it may take time to find a new “normal” post-exchange, just like it did when we first arrived in our host countries.

I know people say don’t cry because it’s over, but smile because it happened. But what I have learned on this emotional rollercoaster of saying goodbye, it is okay to feel everything. Know that it is okay to laugh even when your heart is broken, okay to cry even when you feel like you are on cloud nine, okay to feel so empty and drained that you can’t even cry, and everything else in between. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to feel, but I think it is also important to not let the emotions distract us from the moments we can still share. So I would also say be fully present, and make sure your head and heart are where your feet are, or you might miss opportunities to spend time with the people you love.

Tue, July 3, 2018

  • Kate, Outbound to Mexico

June 4, 2018

What is Culture? Future Outbound Candidates, as you get ready for Outbound Orientation II (also known as Cultural Boot Camp) in Lake Yale, I would like to share my perspective ten months into my exchange. Before exchange, I was like many of you: culture refers to food, traditions, history, and language. I remember researching the Day of the Dead, typical dishes like mole poblano, and the history behind the Cinco de Mayo when I was writing my research paper. Now after truly experiencing a change in cultures, I realize that culture is so much more subtle, that is way more than what we think, and much deeper than a dictionary definition.

During my first week in Mexico I remember my host family telling me, “Ahorita we are leaving,” which means in a little while, whenever, or who knows when. And I, with all the innocence and naiveté of a small child, immediately put on the worn hiking shoes that had brought me to this strange place. I still remember how I sat down next to the door, ready-ready to leave in any moment, ready to overcome the day’s challenges, ready for everything. Except waiting. In other words, prepared for everything except what I did for three hours. Despite my confusion and frustration, I fell asleep, and when they woke me up, I was still ready and also lost in my new world.

Although now the story makes me laugh and I think I looked like a fool (and surely you too), the truth is that I did not understand. I reasoned like this: if “ahora” means “now,” adding the “ita” should change the word to mean more immediate than now, like the phrase “right now.” My confusion didn’t come from a misunderstanding of language, but more than anything, my lack of knowledge of the Mexican culture. Through my experiences living as a foreigner in another country, I have seen-no-I have felt and experienced this complex phenomenon known as culture.

What is culture? Upon hearing the term “culture,” many think of food, for example, the tacos of México or Italian pasta. Others imagine traditions and customs like the ofrendas (offering) for Day of the Dead, the dragons of Chinese New Year, or Carnaval in Brazil. Although these are definitely elements that form part of this concept called culture, culture goes much far beyond this. I would define culture as the shared ways of thinking, feeling, and doing of a society or group. I include thoughts and feelings because we include the context in which we live in together. There are things that cannot be explained because that is just the way they are.

In my first months in México, I had a thousand questions about everything that seemed strange and different. Why is it better said “se me rompió el vaso (the glass broke on me)” instead of “rompí el vaso (I broke the glass)”? Why do we greet we each other with a hug and a kiss? Why do we say “miss” to the women teachers and “profe” to the men? How am I going to get sick if I go to bed with wet hair or walk around barefoot? “That is how it is,” they would answer, and the lack of “logical” explanations frustrated me so much. Why “that is how it is” when for me, nothing made sense, and everything was strange? Now I understand these cultural differences, and they are normal, part of my daily life, something that I do not think about because culture, through the process of socialization (mainly by our families and formal education), gives us the feeling of what is considered “normal.”

In addition, cultural norms reflect its deeper shared systems of perceiving the world, thinking, and feeling. “Ahorita” represents the Mexican perception of time, a style in which relationships with people are more important than a fixed schedule. All the hugs and kisses are the ways a warm people express their love and affection, and “se me rompió (it broke on me)” compared to “rompí (I broke)” reveals an underlying tendency to avoid blame. All this part of culture is something that cannot be explained by a book or a touristic website, but something that we have to experience for ourselves, even making (sometimes embarrassing) mistakes.

The process of adapting to a new culture sometimes can be very uncomfortable. That is common when two distinct systems of living crash together, like my exasperation with “ahorita” and the stiffness with how I greeted people and my frustration with every “tápate (put on a jacket)” and “cómetelo (eat it)” and “ya duérmete (go to bed already)” and the nerves in my stomach every time I opened my mouth to say anything in Spanish because I come from the United States culture that prefers punctuality, personal space, and individual privacy. The first step to adapating is to accept that everything is different, not better or worse. I am proudly bicultural, just as comfortable and happy in México as in the United States.

Culture is what unites us; it lives within and around us; it forms us, and we shape it; it gives us part of our identity and has much more influence than what we realize. Living in another country requires much more than speaking the language. We have to learn the cultural intricacies because culture is truly what dictates daily life, determines how we interact, and defines part of how we think. So, now, I receive my lectures and drink my five liters of lemon water (it supposedly cures almost everything!) with a smile inside because I know it means that I matter to them. And when I hear “ahorita,” I calmly keep doing what I was doing until I hear the door because at the end of the day, I may have some Korean features and the American mind, but I am a Mexican at heart.

Tue, June 5, 2018

  • Kate, Outbound to Mexico

May 31, 2018

Welcome back to another journal! I know it has been a long time since I wrote, but I have 24 days of exchange and 4 days of school left, and I am trying to live it to the fullest.

In these last two months, I have been very involved in Rotary activities. I have had the opportunity to speak at three local Rotary Clubs, including my host club and my host grandfather’s Rotary Club. I was very grateful for the opportunity to share with these Rotarians the impact Rotary Youth Exchange has had on my life. For México’s Day of the Child on April 30, many Rotary Clubs in Puebla joined forces to give 650 children from low-income families a fun day watching a movie, playing in the park, and riding the ferris wheel. From playing soccer to hand-clapping games while waiting in line at the ferris wheel, I loved volunteering alongside my friends from Interact, other exchange students, and many dedicated Rotarians to spend time connecting with the kids.

From May 17-19, my host Rotary district had their fourth district conference. As part of the event, all exchange students in the district had to learn traditional Mexican and Latina dances. So for a month, all 40+ exchange students in my city had group dance rehearsals for over eight hours a week. I have a wide variety of interests, but dancing definitely wasn’t one of them, so I hated going to the first practices. I felt so lost and confused; the dance teacher moved so quickly, and I felt like I couldn’t catch on. Little by little, I found myself smiling and enjoying the classes more and more as we all learned the basic dances and later the more complicated choreography. It was also so much fun to regularly hang out with the other exchange students (especially dancing with my Indonesian soul sister, even though it meant I had to learn both the guy and the girl dance parts!). It was also so rewarding to see how far we came from our first day to our final rehearsal (video link: https://youtu.be/6yopsiHkvEs) in which we perform two cumbias, two bachatas, salsa, and meringue. Even though I only performed in three dances at the Rotary event, I am so proud that me, the girl with two very uncoordinated left feet and no hips, learned how to dance four different Latin styles, how to move to a rhythm, and more importantly, how to have fun while doing it.

For the district conference, all of my district’s exchange students (more than 100 of us) along with many Rotarians, gathered together in my city, Puebla. My friend from New York came a few days early to spend time with me and our friend from Michigan, and we all stayed with my second host family. I treasured every moment with them, staying up ridiculously late to talk about literally everything, hanging out at my host dad’s amazing work project, going to explore the Center, and everything in between. It was electric being with my exchange friends again, but also bittersweet because we knew it would be the last time we would see each other.

On the first night of the conference, we attended an opening reception with the Rotarians in Cholula (the city right next to Puebla) on the roof of the city’s theater. The next day, we attended the conference sessions, staged a flag parade, and also rehearsed and performed our various dances, and after that day, we were exhausted. On Saturday, the Rotarians took us all to tour the Great Pyramid of Cholula, but the important part were the jokes and conversations and moments that we shared together, on the bus and in the hotel and everywhere in between. Saturday night was also the black-and-white dinner gala where we danced the night away alongside the Rotarians. We arrived back at the hotel at 2:30 AM and stayed up even later to enjoy our last night together before collapsing from exhaustion.

Sunday was a day of tears because we had to say goodbye. I think I have cried only four times on exchange, and I was a complete mess that morning. We were all crying our eyes out; we are not all best friends, but there is a special bond that we all share from being exchange students together. What do I do when my heart is broken in so many pieces, and each one leaves for a different corner of the world? To India, to Japan, to Brazil, to Poland, to the Czech Republic, and to Indonesia? Part of being an exchange student is to form these amazing relationships and also have to say goodbye, which is made so much harder because I don’t know if I will ever see them again. But I know I would say goodbye and shed buckets of tears and feel my heart be broken again and again and again if that means that I have the chance to meet my soul sisters from around the world. Because the relationships and the moments and the memories are worth every bit of heartache, and I will carry them with me forever, on my blazer and in my heart.

Fri, June 1, 2018

  • Kate, Outbound to Mexico

April 22, 2018

The first week of April, my mom, dad, and brother from the United States came to visit me in Puebla! Although I have not felt homesick recently, words cannot describe how my heart leaped when I saw them for the first time in 8 months. In that moment, the moment when I ran to them and we hugged, was when my worlds collided. My family from the United States, from my old life, from my first home, was here with me in the life I have built on exchange, in my second home. Among exchange students, it is often said that we will never feel completely at home again because part of our hearts will always be elsewhere, but that is the price we pay for the richness of loving people in more than one place. And I have found that for myself, that is so true because of the amazing people who I love and who love me.

On Saturday, we had a comida with my first host family at Lake Valsequillo, a small lake not too far outside of the city of Puebla. Language-wise, my brain struggled handling switching between English and Spanish, and more often than not, I would turn to my US family and start speaking Spanish without even realizing it until I saw the confusion on their faces. I also had not seen my first host family since I had moved families, so I loved the opportunity to see them again. On Sunday, my grandmother and aunt from my first host family very generously took us down to tour the Historic Center of Puebla. We showed them the Cathedral of Puebla, the Church of Saint Domingo with its chapel decorated entirely of gold, and the San Francisco Conventual Church, where there is a real mummified saint. We also walked around the Zócalo (city square), Street of Candies, the Parían (the artesian market), and the Fuertes (Forts) where the famous Battle of Puebla (the battle celebrated on May 5). More importantly however, my family tried churros (I know Costco churros are good, but they just can’t compare), and we all just enjoyed each other’s company.

On Monday, we just spent the day hanging out the four of us. We played countless games of Uno, a few rounds of chess, watched some TV, and just caught up. A lot can happen in eight months, and I have missed a lot by being out of the country! On Tuesday, we visited the Great Pyramid of Cholula, which is the largest pyramid of the world by volume (it is not in Egypt!). The pyramid is 180 feet tall, and its base measures 1,300 feet by 1,300 feet. Although the church on top (Church of Our Lady of Remedies) was built in 1594, the pyramid started to be built in 3rd century BC. I actually had not ever visited before because after the earthquake in September, it was closed for a few months for renovation and restoration. At the top, the view was absolutely stunning, and we also toured the tunnels underneath the pyramid. That same afternoon, we went to my second host family’s home. My Atlanta family had brought Easter eggs to do an egg hunt with my little sisters, and it was so fun watching them run around, expressions of pure delight on their face. We then went out to eat tacos with them for dinner and just smiled and joked together.

On Wednesday, my third host family very kindly invited us to come and share a meal with them at their home. It was the first time I had ever met them, and so we all got to know each other at the same time. I am so grateful that my US family was able to meet all three of my host families in México, since they are all so important to me. On Thursday, my US family was able to participate in one of my favorite routines from my first host family: weekly comida at the grandmother’s house with all of the family. First of all, we ate the best food, homemade mole poblano (a special type of chili and chocolate-based sauce from Puebla), tacos de cochinita pibil (my favorite kind of tacos: pork prepared a special way, originally from the Yucatan Peninsula), and lots of different desserts. But more importantly, we were spending time together, engaging with each other. Thursdays comidas have been one of my favorite parts of exchange, and I was so glad that we were able to share this with my family. On Friday, my family and I went back to the Center, and we toured a talavera workshop where they explained every step of the long process. Talavera is a special type of pottery that is unique to Puebla, typically blue and white, and almost every step of its months-long creation is done by hand. Then, we went for dinner with my second host family again for their last night here in Puebla, and that night, we said our “see you later’s”. Saying goodbye did not make me sad; I was ready to return to my “normal” life that I had built on exchange. But, having my family visit reinvigorated me and made my exchange all the more special.

There is a word in Spanish that perfectly sums up my family’s visit to Puebla: convivencia. Convivencia means really being together, to being really present; it refers to conversing, joking, laughing, and smiling together. It is a word that I feel like has defined my exchange as a whole and also my family’s visit. Although visiting may not be right for all exchange student families, I am so happy that my family came. I loved the opportunity to share a piece of the life that I have built here on exchange. That they met all of my amazing host families, for whom words cannot fully express my love and gratitude. That they could get a glimpse of the México I know and love, not just the México portrayed in the news. And that I could be with my family again, spending time the four of us, being ourselves together.

On April 8, the day after my family left, I moved to my third host family, and I am very excited for the opportunity to get to know another host family and very grateful that they are hosting me. My third host family is so sweet and welcoming, and now I live with my third host mom and dad, and a host sister and host brother. My host siblings are triplets my age, and one of my host sisters is currently on exchange in Brazil. I have been fortunate to have the most amazing three host families, which has made my exchange so rich and meaningful. However, it was so hard to leave my second host family, a place that felt so much like home, like a family. When they dropped me off at my third host family’s house, my heart felt so heavy, and I had a lump in my throat and tears welling up in my eyes. As I unpacked and had time to reflect, I realized a few things about love. When my worlds and families collided, I learned that love is infinite, that love does, and that love accepts.

I believe that love is infinite. That there is no limit on the number of people we can love deeply, that loving more people doesn’t reduce the love I already have for others. I love my host families so much; they have opened their hearts and homes and welcomed me with open arms. They are so much more than just hosts; they are my family. I am proud to have 2 brothers, 7 sisters, 8 parents, and countless other extended family members (except when I screw up…then I have several people who yell at me!). This is why I dislike the term “real family” to refer to my family from the United States because the love I have for my host families makes them just as much my “real” family. My host dad once told me that I do in fact have two last names, one being the family’s. My former host sisters keep calling and talking to me even though I don’t live with them any longer. My host mom still jokes with, listens to, and talks to me about everything. I have no doubt that this is real, that this is love.

I firmly believe that love does. That love is not passive, that love move us to act for the people we love. Because when we don’t care, we do nothing. Love drives us to engage, to have that awkward (but necessary) conversation, to always be present, to take someone to the hospital (my poor families), and to do a million other things for the people we love. I believe that love does when we give, especially our most precious resource-time. So many people opened up their hearts and homes to welcome me and also my family from the US, and it reminded me how much my three host families love me and how much I love them. Love inspires us to action, and I believe that love does not just happen by chance, but that it needs intentional investment to flourish.

And above all, I believe that love accepts. That love accepts us for who we are, everything we are, our strengths and our flaws and our everything in between. Before exchange, I doubted if people outside my family who saw all of my shortcomings could still love me. I held people an arm’s distance away because I was afraid. Through my amazing host families, in nine short months, I have found people who love me for who I am even with all of my imperfections. They know the tired Kate, the angry and frustrated Kate, the sick Kate, the hungry Kate, the crazy Kate, the Kate who hates prime numbers. They have seen all of me, at my worst and at my best, and yet they still accept me. My families have taught me that I can be myself, and I am still loved.

Sun, April 22, 2018

  • Kate, Outbound to Mexico

April 7, 2018

Welcome to my first guest journal! I hope you like the different perspective on my Rotary Youth Exchange, which has been written by my amazing mom, Therese.

If you are reading this blog, you may fall into one of four reading audiences.

  1. You are a friend or family member of Kate (here in the United States or there in México). You probably have been subjected to the craziness that is Kate…for which I do not take responsibility for her actions. Haha!
  2. You have walked alongside me as my friend or family as I said goodbye for almost a year…thank you for supporting me.
  3. Your own child will be leaving in a few months for their own exchange…brace yourself, it’s an adventure for everyone.
  4. You’ve done a Google search about exchange student programs, and you’ve found yourself on this page…no two exchanges are alike, so please take what you read with a grain of salt.

First, let me tell you a little bit about myself. I traveled on my own exchange to West Germany for three months when I was a high school student. To give you a hint of how many years ago that was, there were two very different German countries (East and West), I crossed a very intimidating Communist East German border to visit the Berlin Wall and mailed handwritten letters that took weeks to arrive back in the United States. Fast forward (several years), and now my own daughter was asking to go on exchange. As a mother, I was somewhat conflicted. I knew that experiencing a year living in a foreign country would be an amazing opportunity for Kate. But on the other hand, a whole year? That is a lot longer than just three months that I had experienced. Seriously, how do you prepare to say goodbye for a whole year to your teenager who’s never been away from home for more than a week? Many people told me I was crazy to even consider it, didn’t I know all the dangers and risks that she could encounter? I like to consider myself a fairly level-headed person, but the skeptics weren’t completely wrong. Yes, there were definite risks on exchange, but where in life is it risk-free? I had to trust that I had raised a strong, resilient, wise daughter who would be capable of navigating the challenges on exchange. But on the flip side, what an incredible opportunity to experience life in another culture. And when I say experience life, it really is life. Not a visit, not a vacation, not a trip. I knew that Kate would grow and change in so many different ways that I couldn’t even begin to imagine all the benefits of going on exchange.

As I write this, Kate has been on exchange for eight months. I won’t lie, saying goodbye at the airport was extremely difficult. We took several photos with Kate and we all had big smiles. In fact, I think when people see the airport photos they wonder why we aren’t more emotional during such a big moment. I was so happy and excited for Kate to begin this adventure, but I was also trying to put on a brave face so that Kate didn’t have the burden of my broken heart on her mind as she boarded the airplane for Mexico. I stood and watched Kate go through the security line and disappear from my view…and then I lost it. I had literally just watched a piece of my heart head out into the world where I could no longer protect her the way I had been accustomed to for 16 years. The first couple of weeks at home continued to be extremely difficult emotionally. Seeing her vacant chair at the dinner table, walking past her empty room, the deafening silence without her conversations. Although I was missing Kate so much, I never regretted letting her go on exchange. As with most big changes, time is a healer, and eventually we all settled into a new “normal” with Kate living in Mexico.

Before the students depart for their exchanges, Rotary Youth Exchange provides valuable training to both the students and parents to help prepare you for the ups and downs that you’ll face during the year. One particular session that I found interesting was about the “Culture Shock Cycle” by Dennis White. To briefly summarize the session, he discussed how typical exchange students will go through a wave of ups and downs during exchange. The four basic stages students may go through are:

Excitement and Enthusiasm – just before departure through arrival in host country

Irritability – realizing what have I gotten myself into?

Adaptation – gaining confidence in language and ability

Biculturalism – competence in living in another culture

He also discussed how students are often so well integrated into their exchange that when it comes time for them to return to their home country, they are sad and upset. As I listened to Dennis speak, I nodded my head in agreement thinking I could see how that made logical sense. But it wasn’t until much later when I realized that as a parent, I was also going through a series of emotional ups and downs. And often times when Kate was up, I was down and vice versa. She was so excited to leave on exchange, and I was dreading the day at the airport. When Kate was getting to the irritability phase of her exchange, I was starting to find equilibrium without her daily presence. As Kate was adapting and finding the joy in exchange, I started to feel like a year is a really long time!! And I am sure that Kate will have many mixed feelings of sadness when it’s time to head back to Atlanta, and yet I will be jumping for joy at her return! The most important thing is to find people to support you through the difficult times and celebrate with you during the good times.

While I had hoped that Kate would have a conflict-free exchange, I am realistic enough to know that life is not conflict-free. Before I discuss a few challenges Kate has experienced on exchange, let me again reiterate that no two exchanges are the same. So please do not let this deter you from considering exchange for yourself or your student.

Just six weeks into Kate’s exchange I received a message from her, “I just experienced my first earthquake.” I have never felt an earthquake myself, so just reading this message stopped me in my tracks. A thousand questions rushed into my consciousness. What?! Are you okay? Where are you? Is there any damage? Kate assured me that she was fine and not to worry. Not worry…that is impossible from the moment you become a parent. Several people had text me after seeing the news about the earthquake and asked if Kate was safe. I assured them that “Kate was fine and not to worry.” Two days after the earthquake I received another message from Kate, “My asthma is not responding to the treatments, and I’m struggling to breathe. We are on the way to the emergency room.” Again, my heart skipped a beat or two and my mind began to race. What parent wants to hear that their kid is on the way to the emergency room…in a foreign country?! I tried to remain calm and rational, but I wasn’t sure how to react. Kate ended up being admitted into the hospital for 4 days. I hated being so far away and feeling so helpless. A mom should be at her daughter’s bedside comforting her during a hospitalization! At some point I had to question who’s judgement should I be most concerned with – my own for not flying down to take care of my daughter in the hospital? Or Kate’s for saying “Don’t worry, everything is fine.” when she was a patient in the hospital struggling to breathe!! I wondered at what point would Kate decide that it IS time to worry?? I had to resist my urge to jump in and try to “fix” things, because Kate was right. She was going to be okay, even without me by her side.

You would think that an earthquake and hospital admission in the first 2 months of exchange would be enough drama for one person…but if you know Kate, you know that she likes to exceed expectations. She experienced 2 more severe earthquakes and two more unrelated visits to the emergency room. But in typical Kate style, she handled each crisis with courage and determination that made me so proud. It showed me that she did have the strength to overcome extremely difficult circumstances. She has shown me time and time again that she is more than capable of navigating challenges and resolving issues.

I hope that I’m not giving you the impression that exchange is all negative. Far from it!! Just scroll through Kate’s blog posts, and you will see all the amazing growth and opportunities that exchange can provide. I knew from my own (albeit shorter) exchange experience that so many benefits are intangible.

Kate left for exchange on August 1, and we visited her in México the first week of April. Kate has shared so many heartwarming stories about her friends and family in Puebla. But to personally witness the sincere love between my daughter and these people made my heart explode with joy. People who were strangers less than a year ago have accepted Kate as one of their own. Their genuine love and concern for her was evident by watching their sweet interactions with Kate. I saw how happy Kate is and the purpose she has found in life on exchange. I have peace knowing that Kate has discovered her own voice and place in the world. What more could I possibly want as a parent?

I am so grateful for all the people who have made Kate’s Rotary Youth Exchange so meaningful. I am forever indebted to the host families who have opened up their homes and lives to my daughter. They have shown her love and support when I was hundreds of miles away. I cherish Kate’s teachers and friends who have given her a place to be accepted for her crazy uniqueness! I appreciate all the Rotary volunteers all over the world to invest their time to provide the Rotary Youth Exchange Program for students like Kate. I truly believe our future lies in the hands of these students who are learning to become better global citizens.

Although I do miss Kate more than words can describe, I am so proud of her courage to go on exchange. It is not easy to leave everything you know and everyone you love behind, move to a foreign country, and establish a new life, but the positives far outweigh the negatives.

Sat, April 7, 2018

  • Kate, Outbound to Mexico

Time is flying, and this week, I realized that I have three months left of my crazy, beautiful, Rotary Youth Exchange. Three months left in my second place I call home. Three months left with some of the most amazing people that I have met. Three months left to make my exchange count. Three months.

In less than 2 weeks, I will be moving to my third host family. Although I am very excited for the opportunity to get to know and spend time with my next host family, I am very sad to be leaving my current family. Ever since I arrived, they made every effort to make me feel welcome and part of their family. In 3 months, I have grown to love them so much and am so grateful for all the time that we spent together, whether it be going to Puebla’s ferris wheel together to grilling out with the extended family to teaching my host sisters how to play chess. I love how we joke around and tease each other (for example, they call me chiva loca or crazy goat as the direct English translation), how they care enough to reprimand me, how they have supported and taken care of me when I have been sick, and a million other things. My host family has treated me like a member of the family, not as an outsider always looking in, and there are not words to describe my gratitude to them. I know being a host family is a huge commitment and responsibility, and I am forever indebted to my host families for the love they have shown me.

I have been keeping quite busy in March with a variety of different activities (Tip for future exchange students: get involved in different activities that interest you. It is a great way to meet a variety of people). On March 1, I went with my Human Anatomy class on a field trip State of Puebla’s Medical Forensic Center. As we waited outside, we were as excited as little kids for Christmas as we put on the disposable gowns, gloves, and masks (my classmates more than me, I was so sleepy and tired. All I wanted to do was nap). We were given a brief tour of the building before being ushered into an observation area. Below us, the forensics team was analyzing the cadavers of two murder victims from the day before. In small groups, we had the opportunity to actually enter, walk around, and watch up-close in the room with the cadavers. (It didn’t really smell that bad or that strong). A few minutes after I entered, I started feeling light-headed, so I tried to exit the room. However, I started to pass out, so one of the forensics team members and my teachers carried me outside. After lying down for a while and eating some sugar, I felt a lot better, just weak, but I was not able to reenter the facility. Only time will tell if I am meant to be a doctor, but this experience definitely did not scare me away!

The first weekend of March, I attended my host district’s Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA) in Oaxtepec, Morelos. I loved the opportunity to meet so many Mexican future outbound students as well as to spend time with some inbounds. On our first night after dinner, we had a disco dance party. Much to my friends’ dismay, they found me playing chess instead of partying (Disclaimer: after the game, I did join the party). The next morning, we attended a session about leadership. I was chosen to go to the stage and read Rotary’s Four Way Test, and then we listened to several speakers talk about leadership and Rotary Youth Exchange. In the afternoon, we went outside and participated in many group integration activities that emphasized skills essential to exchange such as teamwork, trust, and confidence. After the comida (biggest meal of the day) we had free time, so I went swimming and for a photo hike with some new friends (future outbounds from México) before dinner. After dinner and the evening talent show, I stayed up (way too late) talking with two of my closest exchange student friends. I think that exchange students should avoid only making friends with other exchange students, but that we should also enjoy the camaraderie and fellowship that can be found in the bonds between exchange students. On Sunday, we all had to say goodbye, to current inbounds and future outbounds, to new and old friends. And every time, it is harder to say “goodbye” or even “see you later,” because we know that one day that goodbye will be forever.

After RYLA, preparation for Model United Nations (MUN) for my whole school system (UPAMUN) became much more intense. MUN is an extracurricular activity where students roleplay delegates from different countries in simulations of different United Nations Committees. Every day, we had practice sessions at the university campus. The practice sessions that used to be full of goofy antics became serious as we all realized how little time was left before rehearsal became real. One week before UPAMUN, the (second) president of my committee left, so I became the president and the moderator for the Emergency Security Council. Thankfully after two months of very intense preparation and practice, I had already learned both roles, but I was still intimidated at the prospect of leading a committee practically alone (this was only my second Model United Nations ever). My job was to moderate the debate, lead the committee in protocol, and guide the delegates towards an effective solution. My committee is also a crisis committee, which has a very different format than a standard committee. With the help of our faculty adviser and High Command (the student team who organized UPAMUN), I wrote 13 “news reports” to periodically update the delegates of my committee on the current state of the Sudan border crisis. And then, the time for preparation and practice was over.

UPAMUN was held from March 14-16, and on the first day, I woke up with butterflies in my stomach. Up until the very last seconds before the first session, we all were scrambling to accommodate last-minute changes (like how my committee’s room changed to another building across campus less than an hour before the first session). After we got started, I slowly relaxed. This is what we had rehearsed and practiced for months. However, it was still exhausting, and my feet were killing me by the end of the day (because I was standing for over 8 hours in sessions). On the last day, after hours and hours of debate, my delegates had arrived at a compromise, and their draft resolution (plan to resolve crisis) passed! For the last session, we all just joked around, listened to the official song of UPAMUN 2018 on repeat (“En Tus Tierras Bailaré”), and voted on the macanazos or superlatives of the committee (for example, Trump is for the delegate who fights with everyone). To conclude UPAMUN, we had the Final Ceremony where we give awards for the best delegates in every committee. I was very surprised, honored, and grateful when I won the award for Best President, but the best part of UPAMUN were the friendships we made. We have become a crazy, MUN-obsessed, and pineapple-loving family, and although UPAMUN was an exhausting and stressful few months, I would do it again and again in order to spend time with this absolutely amazing group of people.

After recovering from UPAMUN (and struggling with post-MUN depression), my school as well as many other prepas (high schools) in Puebla competed in inter-school competitions (interprepas). My school actually canceled classes so we could watch the games and cheer on the Prepa UPAEP Sur (my school) soccer and volleyball teams from Wednesday to Friday. The air was electric as we yelled the UPAEP fight song (Alerombo!! Alerombo!!) and cheered on our classmates. I had not gone to a high school football game in the United States, so I never had experienced something like this with all the camaraderie and school spirit. Interprepas was also a great time to spend time with friends-from school, from MUN, from RYLA, and other exchange students. One night, we had another MUN session (even though UPAMUN is over) just to hang out because we already miss seeing each other. On Thursday (the day I took over Rotary Youth Exchange District 6900’s Instagram), before my school’s soccer games, I walked to the Zócalo (city center) with a friend from RYLA and my friend from Indonesia where we explored and went to the artisanal market (where I bought myself a chess set). Unfortunately, the business simulator competition (that I was supposed to compete in) was canceled on Friday, but then we were able to support my school’s soccer team and a friend in the Rubik Cube finals.

Now, I am on spring break for two weeks, and my parents and brother from the United States are coming to visit me in a few days! I am very excited for the opportunity to show my family a piece of what my life is like here in Puebla and for them to meet some of the people who matter to me the most in this world.

Mon, March 26, 2018

  • Kate, Outbound to Mexico

Welcome back to another English journal! The first partial (one of three school grading periods) of the semester is wrapping up for me, and I finally have had a chance to sleep again like a normal person after all the projects, presentations, exams, and activities. Even though technically I am an exchange student, I love that I am not treated as one at school, but just like the rest of my classmates. I do everything in Spanish (except for English class, where I do everything in English), and I am held to the same grading standards. I improvise in all my presentations in Spanish (without notes now!). I even have the same time limit on exams which are not multiple-choice, but free response. And although I have already graduated high school and so I cannot receive credit for the work that I am doing, I am still proud of the results, especially given that Spanish is my second language.

Some interesting assignments from this partial include:

Designing an equation, building a model, and applying calculus to a roller coaster for math

Watching the TV series Black Mirror and exploring the consequences of technology for English

Planning a presentation that will explore the impact of language on a culture’s prejudices and stereotypes for Theory of Knowledge

Designing and performing an experiment about the effect of a routine of balance exercises on balance for Human Physiology

Analyzing real-life case studies for Business Management

On February 2, we had a school wide rally with a variety of academic and physical challenges, similar to a combination of field day and oral exams. We all dressed up like zombies or survivors of the zombie apocalypse (even the profes) while we competed for bragging rights and bonus points in our classes. There were eighteen different stations where we were asked questions from all of our past subjects as well as about the school and Catholicism. Physical challenges included a wheelbarrow race, water balloon volleyball, a human pyramid, and making a little clay snowman. Although I struggled through the physical challenges (I was still sore from maybe falling out of a tree…), I was glad I could contribute by answering a lot of the academic questions for my team (and not just at the English station!). It was a fun afternoon of teamwork, camaraderie, and good-spirited competition with my classmates, and out of the eighteen teams of the school, my team won second place (¡Vamos Caifas!)

Outside of classes, I have also been very busy with the Model United Nations for my school (UPAMUN), that will be part of an inter-school competition called interprepas in mid-March. Interprepas is a week of sports tournaments and academic competitions between my high school and other local high schools that also includes basketball, soccer, volleyball, and public speaking. I am the moderator for the Emergency Security Council in UPAMUN, and since the end of January, we have had meetings multiple times a week at the university campus. It is definitely a lot of work from all the research to having to learn all the official protocol (I am sure my friends are tired of hearing, “Delegations!! The floor is now open. Are there any motions on it?”). The sessions can be quite entertaining as we debate whether quesadillas need to have cheese, doughnuts as cultural heritage, and the global extermination of cats. I have really enjoyed meeting and spending time with other students passionate about debating and Model United Nations, and I have found our progress exciting. I will also be competing in the Business Simulator as part of my school team, which is another activity that I have never tried before.

I celebrated Valentine’s Day for the first time since kindergarten this year on exchange, and my grade at school was responsible for organizing the schoolwide celebration. As subjefa (a class officer), I was responsible for helping organize my salón’s (class’s) station. We sold potato chips and sodas, but not your standard pre-bagged chips, but papas locas, or potato chips Mexican-style. Like many other foods that we eat in México, we put lemon juice and a variety of salsas to give the chips some (more) flavor. So, I spent the celebration hawking our made-to-order papas locas (“Papas, papas, 15 pesos! Rebajadas especialmente para usted!”), squeezing lemons, and dumping salsas on the chips (and accidently on myself). Other salons sold pizza, chanclas (a Puebla dish that has bread and some chicken covered in salsa and topped with avocado and onion), roses, and chocolates and also organized karaoke, a photo booth, and a valentine delivery service. It was fun but tiring, (and me still being me) after school, I took a nap and then studied for my upcoming exams.

On February 15, I went with my classmates to México City to visit the Museum of Memory and Tolerance. We arrived at school really early in the morning because it was a three hour drive. Before touring the museum, we listened to this lecture about tolerance, stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination. The first part of the museum was about remembering the Holocaust and the atrocities the Nazis committed. Next, the museum discussed other genocides in world history such as Rwanda, Yugoslavia, Guatemala, Cambodia, and Sudan. The museum concluded with sections about human rights violations, prejudice, and discrimination in México and the world of today as well as about how we as normal, ordinary people can make a difference. It was a very somber, but powerful, experience. I would highly recommend this museum if you are going to México City, but just as a heads up, everything is in Spanish. After touring the museum, we walked over to the Palacio de Bellas Artes, an art museum. We did not actually go inside because of time constraints, but the building is absolutely gorgeous. We then ate lunch in a nearby park and enjoyed each other’s company before the three hour ride back to the school.

The museum defines tolerance as “the harmonic relationship between our differences.” This doesn’t mean we have to agree with someone’s choice, opinion, or viewpoint in order to respect them as a person. We as a community, country, and world are so beautifully diverse, in age, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, political affiliations, strengths, weaknesses, and perspectives. And all too often, we allow these differences to divide us, for “us-versus-them” mentalities to develop. We allow hate, spite, and revenge to fester instead of respecting, celebrating, and learning from our differences. In spite of all of our differences, we all have so much in common. We are all human beings that walk on this earth, living, breathing the same air. We all are equals who deserve respect. We all need people we love, who love us back, and who accept us for who we are. We all have a story and are on a journey. We all have scars from the past, a present reality, and hopes and dreams for the future. And this is far more powerful than our racial, ethnic, religious, and political differences.

Wed, February 28, 2018

  • Kate, Outbound to Mexico

17 de febrero de 2018

¡Bienvenidos a mi primer blog en español! (To my English speaking readers: welcome to my first post in Spanish! I am planning on posting another blog soon, so don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about you all!) He estado acá en Puebla en mi Intercambio de Jóvenes de Rotary por 200 días, y hace una semana, tuve que reservar mis boletos de avión de regreso. Es la primera vez que he considerado y entendido las implicaciones del fin de mi intercambio. No quiero irme, pero también sé que no es realístico. Ir de intercambio significa irse en el fin, y en un nivel cognitivo y racional, siempre he sabido esto. ¿Pero emocionalmente? No creo que alguien entienda lo que significa de verdad hasta que el tiempo llegue. Apenas mi cabeza y corazón empiezan a entender la gravedad de dejar a las personas que quiero muchísimo. Y decir que “voy a casa” es la verdad, pero solamente la mitad porque también me voy de un hogar y familias y mejores amigos y una vida, pero esta vez, no sé por cuánto tiempo. Mi corazón ya se está rompiendo en dos, entre my family y mis familias, entre my friends y mis amigos, entre Atlanta y Puebla, entre mi pasado, presente y futuro. Entonces sigo viviendo cada día al máximo con las personas que quiero y me quieren mucho.

Me encanta México, no hay otras palabras para decirlo. Es un país hermoso, tiene una cultura rica, la comida es la mejor, y la gente es muy cariñosa y cálida. Y estoy tan felíz y contenta acá en mi intercambio. Pero la belleza de intercambio es que no es un viaje, ni una vacación. Es una vida normal: vivo con dos familias, voy a la escuela, hago (todas) las tareas, vamos al super, todo que se hace en una vida normal. Veo a mis amigos de intercambio en todos lados del mundo, arriba de elefantes, junto a la Torre Eiffel y con serpientes gigantes. Con la primera mirada, mi intercambio parece muy ordinario y aburrido en comparación porque no viajo, solamente he salido de Puebla tres veces. Pero me acuerdo por qué vine en intercambio. No me fui de intercambio para viajar y ver el mundo. Vine para conocer gente, para construir relaciones significativas que espero que duren para la vida. Y lo he hecho. Estas relaciones y estos momentos con las personas que quiero me llenan completamente. Encuentro el sentido, el propósito de mi intercambio todos los días. Está en la escuela, en cada broma y juego con mis amigos, maestros y compañeros. Está en todas las veces que dormí muy tarde por hablar con mi hermana. Está en la emoción de mis hermanas chiquitas cuando me ven. Está en como mis papás me cuidan (y a veces me regañan). Está en las incontables rondas de juegos de mesa. Está en las comidas familiares, cuando comemos juntos y platicamos. Está en mil otras cosas, en cada conversación y sonrisa y risa compartida en todos los dias, solamente tenemos que buscarlo. Desde la perspectiva de alguien más, se puede parece que mi intercambio no es lo más aventuroso y emocionante, pero para mi, es una vida muy rica y satisfactoria porque estoy con gente que quiero mucho y que me quiere también.

Mi intercambio me ha enseñado muchísimo; he crecido y madurado en una manera única que no sería posible si me hubiera quedado en los Estados Unidos. Estoy aprendiendo como ser más flexible (¡especialmente porque casi todo es “ahorita” acá en México!) y como respirar cuando las cosas no siguen el plan. Estoy aprendiendo como tener el valor y la integridad para comunicar como realmente me siento. Estoy aprendiendo como ser más aventurera y probar cosas nuevas de la comida (todavía voy poco a poco con chile) a un estilo de vida muy diferente. Me he convertido en una persona más fuerte, resiliente y segura de mí misma a través de los desafíos de intercambio. Tengo un entendimiento más profundo de mí misma después de que he decido quien soy y que valoro más.

Pero sobre todo, estoy aprendiendo como vivir con el conocimiento que cada día es limitado. Intercambio es una vida normal, pero es una vida única que probablemente no tendré otra vez. Cuando me subí ese avión en Atlanta el primero de agosto, puse mi vida allá en pausa por un año, pero asumiré esa vida después de intercambio. Pero cuando me vaya de Puebla, probablemente no podré regresar a mi vida acá (a menos que me mude acá, algo que consideraría en serio). Claro, puedo visitar y mantenerme en contacto y recordar, pero no es igual. Y con cada día que pasa, es un día menos de esta vida real y normal y extraordinaria con las personas que quiero. Cuando llegué, 11 meses parecía y se sentía como para siempre, pero después de 6 meses, me he dado cuenta qué poco 11 meses es en una vida. Entonces vivo muy consciente que cada momento, cada día, cada temporada y cada vida llega a su fin y que nuestro tiempo es muy precioso y limitado. Vivo sabiendo que sí importa como paso mi tiempo y que no quiero arrepentirme de nada. Vivo con un sentido de urgencia, de deliberación, de propósito. Esto no significa que tomo riesgos innecesarios y salto en paracaídas, sino intento, en mi vida diaria, tratar bien a todos y recordarles que sí importan. Porque creo firmemente que invertir en los demás y en relaciones realmente hace una diferencia. Y esto no acaba con intercambio, quiero vivir así, con propósito, por el resto de mi vida.

Sun, February 18, 2018

  • Kate, Outbound to Mexico

January 29, 2018

I have to book my return flights within the next two weeks, and it is the first time I have truly considered the implications of the end of my exchange. I don’t want to leave, but I know that is not realistic, and I am excited for college and the next chapter of my life awaiting on the other side of the border. To go on exchange means to leave it at the end, and on a cognitive, rational level, I have always known this. But emotionally? I don’t think anyone really understands what that truly means until the time comes. I am just starting to wrap my head and heart around about who I am leaving behind. And to say that I am “going home” is true, but only half-true, because I am also leaving a home and families and best friends and a life, but this time, for forever, not for a year. My heart is already beginning to be ripped in two, between my family and mis familias, between my friends and mis amigos, between Atlanta and Puebla, and between my past, my present, and my future chapters of my life. So, I will continue enjoying every day to the fullest surrounded by people I have grown to love dearly.

Today through social media and the Internet, we now can stay connected regardless of distance easier than ever before (like you right now, reading this blog, and thanks for reading by the way!). We can text, video call, share photos, and post status updates instantaneously. However, I believe that it is also so much easier to fall in the trap of comparing our own private lives with everyone else’s public ones and feeling discontentment. I see my friends on exchange around the world riding elephants, visiting the Eiffel Tower, and holding giant snakes-all the things shown in the promo photos and told by former exchange students. And at first glance, my exchange seems so ordinary and boring in comparison. I have traveled outside of my city only twice, both times during the first two months of my exchange. But then I remind myself why I came on exchange in the first place. I didn’t go on exchange to travel the world or to see the sights. I came on exchange to meet people, to build meaningful relationships that will hopefully last a lifetime. And I have done that. I am so fulfilled by these relationships, the everyday moments that are so easy to miss, by just being together. From an outsider’s point of view, my exchange may not seem the most exciting and adventurous, but for me, it is so incredibly rich because I am with people who I have grown to love and who love me back.

But in order to truly connect with people, we need language. We don’t really think about it, but language is how we think and feel and process the world and communicate with other people. We understand ourselves, other people, and our reality with letters and words of a language. Without a common language, it is extremely difficult to build deep relationships. I arrived in México with decent language skills. I actually could communicate from the beginning with more than caveman and charades. I could express my basic needs, likes and dislikes, ask and answer simple questions, introduce myself, and more. Even so, it was so difficult to articulate my thoughts, feelings, and the subtleties they require. I felt trapped by my inability to express myself completely, and But asking where the bathroom is, ordering food, and shopping at Walmart are markedly different than being able to connect with people on a deeper, emotional level. It is also hard to be intentionally funny in another language and culture, but that’s a discussion for another day.

However, language skills aren’t everything. Even among people fluent in the same language, relationships are not automatic; they require intentionality. For me, this means looking for ways and moments to connect, no matter how small they may seem, because relationships are built on consistently and intentionally engaging. It starts simply with not being on my phone constantly, but instead choosing to engage with my host family and friends. It means choosing to initiate conversations, ask thoughtful questions, and listen with my full attention. It means opening ourselves up and sharing what we truly think and feel, as well as allowing others to do the same. It means looking beyond ourselves and our own agenda to see the needs, hopes, and desires of the people around us. Sometimes (and even often) it can be awkward or uncomfortable in the beginning, but in the end the reward is so worth it.

On Monday, January 22, the spring semester finally started after over 5 weeks of Christmas vacation. I was really disappointed because there was a change in salones (classmate groups), and I was separated from my closest friends. Although we still miss being in class together, now I have the opportunity to meet some new classmates. I am so happy to be back in school again and to hang out with my friends. And today, my classmates elected me subjefa (like vice-president) of my salon, and thankfully there is nothing political about the role! I feel very honored that they would even consider me for the role and very surprised as well. I mean, how many times does the exchange student get voted to be a class officer? But, then I remember that no one really considers me an exchange student; I am just part of the class and school, which truly is an amazing feeling.

In other news, last week, I was climbing a tree with one of my host sisters, and I fell out and landed on my back. I was pretty sore for a few days. My host parents took me to the ER a few days after the fall just to double-check that I hadn’t seriously injured myself. The doctor ordered some X-rays (more for my collection!) and thankfully I didn’t break anything. I do have a couple weeks of physical therapy though. My mom says that all my poor host parents have been officially inducted into the Kate’s Parents Club because now my parents and all of my host parents have taken me to the ER or hospital (It’s not intentional! I promise!) I have also earned myself quite a few lectures from my host parents, natural parents, and other concerned individuals (you know who you are!) for being such a bonehead. So, no more tree climbing or any other sort of climbing for me, at least while I am still on exchange! ¡Nos vemos!

Tue, January 30, 2018

  • Kate, Outbound to Mexico

As we enter 2018, I have now been on my Rotary Youth Exchange for over 5 months, and I changed host families on January 5 for the first time. Although I will miss my first host family, I am really excited for the opportunity to get to know my second host family. Now I live with a host mom, dad, and 2 younger twin sisters, and their other daughter is on exchange on France. I believe that every family is a different “microculture” of a society with a unique lifestyle, value system, and dynamic, and by changing host families, we can learn and experience more of a country’s culture. I did miss my family back in the U.S. over the holidays, but I loved spending it here with my host family and having a completely different experience.

A good friend of mine from Interact invited me to experience a posada, a traditional Mexican celebration before Christmas with her family. While we were waiting for the extended family to arrive and for it to become dark, we played dominos and Jenga. When it was dark, we all took a candle and a copy of the song, and someone carried on a plate small statues of Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus. This commemorates the months before the birth of Jesus and Joseph and Mary’s journey to Nazareth. We walked in the street carrying our candles and singing this special song. Then, we divided into two groups: one inside the house symbolizing the innkeepers and one outside representing Mary and Joseph. We took turns singing the different parts, the innkeepers refusing to allow Mary and Joseph to enter, and Mary and Joseph asking for posada (also known as lodging). Eventually, we were allowed to enter, and the posada continued.

Another critical part of the posada is the breaking of the piñata. We all took turns, in order from youngest to oldest, to be blindfolded and spun around. If it was not hard enough already, someone is moving the piñata from the end of the rope it is hung on too. While one person is trying to hit the piñata with the decorated palo (stick or pole), everyone else is singing this song, and once the song is over, that person’s turn is over. It was so much fun, and when the piñata finally broke, we all raced to pick up the fruit and candy that fell. I actually didn’t realize that the piñatas were stuffed, so for the first one, I was so surprised that I didn’t try to pick up the candy. Everyone else laughed at another one of my clueless exchange student moments because trust me, they happen! We also received aquilaldos (bags filled with peanuts and more candy).

We all then warmed up inside, talked, and ate tacos de cochinita pibil (pork or chicken prepared a certain way originating from the Yucatán Peninsula) and drank ponche (punch very popular in México during the Christmas season). Ponche is a warm, sweet drink that contains sugarcane, apples, guayabas, tejocotes (type of hawthorn native to México), jamaicas, tamarinds, prunes, and cinnamon. I love ponche, and I am definitely going to miss it next Christmas! I am very grateful that this family so willingly opened their home and invited me to experience the beautiful tradition of the posada.

For Christmas here in México, we celebrate more on Christmas Eve (December 24) than Christmas Day (the 25). I went with my host family to Catholic mass at 8 PM, and then we all went over to my grandmother’s house for Christmas dinner. In the United States, my extended family is very small and they live very far away, so this was the biggest Christmas dinner I ever had. From my host mom’s side, her parents and brother were there. And from my host dad’s side, his mother, his cousin, his brother and his family. We started eating dinner at around 11 PM, and we had a shrimp soup, more shrimp, spaghetti, turkey, pork, chilis stuffed with cheese, ayacotes (a type of bean), apple salad, and tortas (a type of bread). We also drank ponche and for dessert, some gelatins and buñuelos (a traditional Christmas treat). After we ate, we sat around the table talking until 2 AM. We then exchanged and opened gifts (this is definitely the earliest I have ever opened Christmas gifts!). We enjoyed each other’s company some more, and finally at 4 AM we left to go back home. Christmas Day was much more lowkey and relaxed as we slept in, trying to recover from the night before. My host family and I went for a comida (main meal here in México, eaten usually between 3-5 PM) at the great-grandmother’s house. My host family went to visit see some friends that night, so I was able to talk to my family in Atlanta on Skype. Yes, I did miss my family back in the United States and some of our traditions, but I loved spending Christmas with my host family and the extended family. Everyone, over the past 5 months, had really welcomed me with open arms and had accepted me like a member of the family, so it was a truly amazing and unforgettable Christmas.

To celebrate New Year’s, I went with my host family to the house of my other grandparents for a late dinner with some of their friends as well. Similar to Christmas, we ate some more amazing food such as barbecue ribs, pork, bacalhau (a type of cod dish), pig’s feet, chilis stuffed with cheese, spaghetti, apple salad (which my sister and I made!), and tortas. At midnight, we ate 12 grapes along with the 12 bell rings at midnight while thinking of 12 wishes and resolutions for the new year, a very common New Year’s tradition here in México. Unlike Christmas, I couldn’t manage to stay awake for much longer, so I fell asleep on the couch around 12:45 am while everyone else continued celebrating the new year.

Because I switched host families on January 5, I spent el Dia de los Reyes Magos (3 Kings’ Day) with my second host family. It is a holiday celebrated on January 6 and commemorates when the 3 wise men brought the gifts of gold, myrrh, and frankincense to baby Jesus. In preparation, the day before, children write letters to Melchor, Gaspar, and Baltazar asking for the toys they would like to receive. Then, it is very common to tie the letter to a balloon and set it free. So, my host mom’s sister and her family came over, and all of the kids (me included) wrote letters to the 3 kings and released the balloons together. That night, we all (my host parents too) set a shoe by the Christmas tree along with some brownies and milk. During the night, the reyes magos left gifts for us all. I think the reyes magos know me (and my big stomach) pretty well since they brought me peanut butter, my favorite cereal, cookies, and slippers.

Another important part of the Dia de los Reyes Magos is the rosca de reyes (a special type of sweet bread). Families and/or close friends gather together to cut and eat the rosca together, but hidden in the rosca are various lmuñecos (little plastic representations of baby Jesus). Everyone must cut a piece, and everyone who finds a muñeco has to pay for the tamales for the celebration of the Dia de la Virgen de Candelaria (Day of the Virgin of Candelaria) on February 2. I was really happy because I was able to cut and eat rosca 3 times, once with my first host family, once with my second host family, and once with both host families and other family friends. Not once did I find a muñeco, so I got out of paying for any tamales when February comes around! I have loved experiencing new traditions during this holiday season on exchange with some of the people I have grown to love very dearly.

Mon, January 8, 2018

  • Kate, Outbound to Mexico

December 26, 2017

Congratulations to the next class of Rotary Youth Exchange future outbound candidates for the 2018-19 year! I remember a year ago myself being so full of excitement and anticipation. Take this time, excitement, and energy before exchange to STUDY YOUR LANGUAGE. You will hear it over and over and over again, but you will hear it from me too. In the months between your selection and your departure, it is easy to think “I will have time to study my language later.” Or “It doesn’t matter. I am going to learn it on exchange anyways.” But every little bit counts to make your exchange more meaningful, especially in the beginning. No former exchange student will tell you that they studied a language too much, and most of them probably regret not learning as much as they could of the language before their exchange. Language skills leads to trust with your host family, more freedom, friendships at school, an easier integration into your host community, and so much more. Language is the key to unlocking the true potential of your exchange. Enjoy your first Outbound Training weekend. It is a lot of information, but trust me, RYE Florida has excellent training that you may not fully appreciate until you are in your host country.

I have now been on my Rotary Youth Exchange for over 4.5 months, and two weeks ago, I just finished my first semester of school. So after catching up on some much-needed sleep and celebrating Christmas, I have had some time to reflect about my first half of exchange and what I have learned.

On exchange, I am definitely learning how to be more flexible and to trust that things will work out. My natural instinct is to plan and anticipate how things will go. In a culture when everything happens “ahorita” (English approximations: who knows when, whenever, or in a little bit), my tendencies to thoroughly plan have been forced to relax a little bit. “Plans” constantly change at the last minute, or sometimes the plan never existed at all. I usually feel like I am flying by the seat of my pants, which has really stretched my limits, forced me to adapt, and developed some flexibility. Although I have adapted to the Mexican culture and lifestyle, I still think I am a planner at heart though.

I am learning how to stand up for myself in a respectful non-confrontational way. By nature, I try to avoid any sort of conversations that might cause personal conflict (I do love debating though). But, I have learned that sometimes these uncomfortable conversations are necessary in order to take care of my needs and protect myself. I have realized that there is a difference between being a complainer and healthily looking out for myself. It is not always easy, especially with the people we know and love, but I am so glad I have talked with my host family about certain things that have bothered me. We just talked it out and came to an agreement, and I am learning that it is not as scary as I once thought. The reality is that addressing things that affect us is a life skill because in order to truly have close relationships, I need to have the courage and integrity to communicate my feelings.

One of the things I am learning on exchange is to just go for it, try new things, and be adventurous. My rule with new food is that I need to try at least one bite. I don’t always like it (like the time I tried taco de sesos or a cow brain taco), but I don’t know until I try, and I have found some new favorite foods here in México. In addition to trying new foods, I have also tried new activities like theater. On exchange, in my second language, I acted for the first time in the play at school for literature class (Bodas de Sangre by Federico García Lorca or Blood Weddings). Originally, I was working on adapting the original text, and then later, I became an actor. I really enjoyed the challenge of learning all my many, many lines and then trying to make them sound natural instead of recited. We rehearsed a lot, and it was amazing to see our progress from beginning (stumbling through the book and losing our place all the time) to the end (confidently and from memory). Sure, I messed up the pronunciation occasionally and was far from perfect, but I am so glad that I tried something new and went outside my comfort zone.

On my exchange, I am not just getting to know México, this beautifully chaotic culture, and some amazing people; I am discovering a lot about myself too. One of the things I selfishly wanted from my exchange was the opportunity for me to learn who I truly am and what I believe in and value. Not just because this is how my parents are, not just because this is how the American culture is, not just because this is how my life is. Because on exchange, all that changes. I live in a completely different family and culture with a different routine, so I am just left with me. Sure, I am growing; my view on the world is expanding, and I have adapted to another way of life. But, my core self is almost the same here in Puebla as it was there in Atlanta. I am still nerdy, sarcastic, and crazy (in a good way*). I still love to learn and probably study too much. I still would call myself an idealistic realist. I still don’t emphasize appearances, and I still value meaningful relationships with real people and prioritize my integrity.

I am learning how to live knowing each day is limited. Exchange is a normal life, but it is a unique life that I probably won’t experience again. When I boarded that plane in Atlanta, I put the life I had built there in the United States on pause for a year, but I will resume that life after exchange. But when I leave Puebla, I probably won’t be able to come back to my life here (unless I move back here, something that I would honestly consider). Yes, I will visit and keep in touch and remember, but that is not the same. And with every day that passes, that is one less day I have left of this beautifully real, normal, and yet extraordinary life with the people here that I love. When I first arrived, 11 months seemed like forever away, but now at almost the halfway point, I realize how little time 11 months is in a lifetime. I live painfully aware that every moment, every day, every season, and every life comes to an end and that our precious time is so very limited. I live knowing that it does matter how I spend my time and that I don’t want to have any regrets. So I live with a sense of urgency, a sense of intentionality, a sense of purpose. This doesn’t mean I live recklessly or go sky-diving, but I try, in my everyday life, to see past myself and to look for ways to build other people up, to remind them they matter. Because I firmly believe that in order to truly make a difference, I need invest in other people and in meaningful relationships. And this doesn’t end with exchange. I want to live this way, with purpose, for the rest of my life.

Wed, December 27, 2017

  • Kate, Outbound to Mexico

November 26, 2017

One question I was asked quite often before I went on exchange was, “So, what exactly will you be doing in México for a year?” That’s a great question… Sometimes even I wonder what crazy, beautiful adventure of a life did I apply for over a year ago? As I have touched on in other blog posts, I chose a normal life where I live with a host family and go to school; it’s not a vacation or endless days of partying. And I also agreed to leave my loved ones in the United States for a year and to the responsibility of serving as an ambassador of the United States.

Since the beginning, I knew that exchange would mean I would have to leave my family and friends behind. I knew I would miss them; I knew that I would miss birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and all the days in between. And unfortunately, knowing in advance does not make it any easier in the moments when my heart is burdened by how much I miss them. For me, I did not cry at the airport when I said goodbye to my family. I was too excited and nervous and confident and overwhelmed by exchange to feel much else. But recently with the holidays, this homesickness has hit me hard, and I have had to wrestle with these feelings of missing my family.

As much as I miss my loved ones back in the United States, I still have a choice whether I will wallow in my sadness and have a pity party or choose to engage in my life here with the people I care about here. We shouldn’t ignore our feelings and try to push them aside like they don’t matter, but we shouldn’t let these emotions consume us either, a balance I am trying to learn through exchange. We have a choice of whether or not to intentionally connect with other people and appreciate what we have. Thinking less about me and more about other people has helped me continue to push through these feelings of missing my family. I don’t want to let some homesickness, although real, cause me to miss part of exchange and moments with the people I love here.

However, I still had an amazing birthday and a fun Thanksgiving. At school, my friends had surprised me with a (non-chocolate!) cake and had decorated the whiteboard with a bunch of sweet notes. They had also asked some of my favorite profes (teachers) to be there, and all their thoughtfulness really touched me. After school we went to eat and to watch Coco (which is a really great movie in my opinion, and I don’t typically like animated films). The next day, some of my exchange friends came over to my house, and it was a lot of fun to goof off, try to sing songs in Spanish, and play an epic version of Ninja on the roof. And on my actual birthday, my host family and some of my extended family took me to eat Japanese food and then we all watched Coco together. It was such a special birthday, and I know I will always have a family here in México.

As expected, we do not celebrate Thanksgiving here in México, but on Black Friday, we had a small Friendsgiving in English class. Everyone brought food to share, so we enjoyed ham sandwiches, lemon and chili-flavored chips, rolls, flan, Jell-O, brownies, lemon pie, and soda. I was supposed to make lemon pie, but I messed up, and mine was more of a lemon pudding! The flavor was really good, but the texture was all liquidy. I also briefly talked (in English) about what we do for Thanksgiving as a family, why it is important to us, and some of the delicious typical Thanksgiving dishes. On the day before Thanksgiving at my Interact meeting, I was the speaker, and I talked about and showed photos of how we celebrate Thanksgiving, Halloween, and Christmas in my family and then in general in the United States. I was very proud of myself because I only had a day’s advance notice, and it was the first presentation I have winged in Spanish without any prior preparation or notes whatsoever!

Speaking of Interact, one of my favorite activities every week are the meetings of the Club Interact de Puebla Centro Histórico (also known as the best Interact club ever!). Interact is like Rotary Club for high school students, a place for students interested in community service and exchange to hang out together. We meet every week in a local coffee shop for about 2 hours. Every meeting, we have an icebreaker and a brief reflection about a quote or something that has happened, and then we have the main speaker. Sometimes it is more serious such as the talk a Colombian Rotaract student (Rotary for college-age students) gave us about “Rotary as a Lifestyle” and sometimes it is more casual like the time we learned to draw or dance the bachata (I am still terrible at both by the way!). We have some protocol, but in general, it is very casual and more about building friendships and spending together. We also do service projects together, such as helping in the collection centers after the earthquakes, and we are planning some more community service for the upcoming year. Every week I look forward to Interact meetings because I know we will laugh and have a good time together.

I have also had other opportunities to represent and share about my life in the United States in my role as an ambassador. A few weeks ago, my local Rotary district hosted a day of tests, interviews, and information sessions for the future Mexican outbound applicants. As inbounds, we made a country fair for the students and their families. Another student from the US and I set up a booth about the United States, and I really enjoyed answering their questions about exchange, showing photos of my family and the US, and giving out pins. (Future exchange student tip: before you leave, make a photo album of photos of you, your family, your city, and other parts of the US to share about your life.) That day, I also spoke to all of the parents as part of the small panel of inbound students about my experiences on exchange as well as helpful advice for them as future exchange student parents. During events such as country fairs, the role of an ambassador is more obvious, but as exchange students, we always represent more than just ourselves. People develop opinions about our countries and our cultures based on what we share, how we interact with them, and how we behave in our everyday lives too.

In general, I also get asked lots of interesting and polarizing questions about the United States, some by people I just get introduced to. Some of the more common and memorable ones include:

What do you think of México?

How is México different than the United States?

What do you think about Trump?

What do most Americans think of México?

How did that idiot get elected as your president?

Do most Americans hate Mexicans?

Why does the government allow people to own guns if there are massive gun shootings that kill lots of people?

How is México better than the United States?

This one is not a question, but it was very memorable: “Like a third of your country’s land isn’t even yours. It’s ours. You stole it from us.”

Naturally in conversations with my host family, classmates, friends, and Rotarians, I get lots of questions about my daily life, traditions, differences between the US and México, but typically out of curiosity and without hostility. With polarizing questions and especially with strangers, I don’t state my own opinion, remain neutral, and calmly state general facts. I have found that this approach works really well because I don’t provoke arguments, and I also do not just agree automatically with whatever they said.

Thank you so much for reading, and ¡hasta luego!

Mon, November 27, 2017

  • Kate, Outbound to Mexico

Click HERE to read more about Kate and all her blogs

November 5, 2017

Exchange is both daily life and also the special opportunities to celebrate the unique cultural traditions of our host countries. This past week, I have experienced one of México’s most famous holidays: Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) on November 2!

My grade at school entered in a city-wide competition designing a unique ofrenda (offering or altar). I loved the opportunity to participate in such an essential and characteristic part of the Dia de los Muertos celebration. Ofrendas are not to worship the dead, but they are set up to honor the memories of loved ones who have gone before us. The art students and teacher designed a very unique and creative ofrenda inspired by traditional ones. Instead of the traditional tiers of an ofrenda covered with a tablecloth, we took big boxes and painted them with canvas-colored paint and arranged them in different levels. We also didn’t use typical skulls and skeletons, instead we very patiently hot-glued individual black beans, pinto beans and popcorn kernels onto the boxes to create the skeleton and flower patterns. The designs on the skull were also meticulously arranged and glued beans, and the sign was very carefully hand-drawn and painted, and then on the border we glued more layers of (you guessed it!) seeds! All of the beans were a unique way to tie the different elements of our ofrenda together, and I didn’t see a single other ofrenda in the Casa de Cultura (Culture House) that used beans like we did.

We then added the more traditional elements; on top of the boxes, we placed sugarcane, guayaba, mandarins, and candles. The orange and purple flowers in the ofrenda are cempasuchil (marigold) and terciopelo rojo (red cockscomb), very classical flowers used on the ofrendas. On the background, we used the typical papel picado (colorful tissue paper with cut-out shapes) and purple and orange tissue-paper flowers. On the ground, we laid down more layers of black and pinto beans, flowers, and candles, as well as hojaldras or pan de los muertos (a traditional bread for Día de los Muertos). Lastly, we placed photos and mementos of the former student of my school who passed away in an accident to whom we dedicated our ofrenda.

Helping with the ofrenda was a lot of fun, and I loved the camaraderie as we laughed, joked around, and constantly burned our fingertips together by accidentally touching the hot glue. As a very non-artsy person, I really liked that I could still contribute because after all, I can use a glue gun with the best of them! It was amazing to watch the vision of the art teacher come alive, students and teachers collaborate so closely, and our ofrenda come together piece by piece. It definitely was an experience that I will never forget.

On Sunday, I spent the day with my host dad’s extended family making hojaldras or pan de los muertos, a very traditional food for el Día de los Muertos. It is a type of circular semi-sweet bread with bone-shaped and tear-drop pieces on top to represent the circle of life and the tears of the living. We started with 6 kilograms (13.2 pounds) of flour, 72 eggs, 6 cans of condensed milk, and 1.5 kilograms (3.3 pounds) of butter as well as yeast, some sugar, and agua de azahar (orange blossom water) to make several batches. First, we took the flour and made a large ring and massaged the mountain of butter until it was very warm and workable. Then little by little we added the condensed milk as I mixed it with my hands with the butter. Next we mixed in the eggs and the egg yolks, the yeast, and the agua de azahar, routinely adding flour to thicken it up. Eventually, we incorporated all the flour into this massive ball of dough, so we started the very tiring and tedious, but ultimately rewarding kneading process. After kneading and kneading and kneading, we let the dough rest and rise for a few hours. After kneading, it was a lot of dough, but when we checked it a few hours later, it was like the dough had multiplied! We then measured out the dough and shaped the balls into traditional hojaldra shapes: circular rolls with bone-shaped pieces crossed on top, with a little ball in the very middle. We brushed some egg on top, sprinkled sugar and ajonjolí (sesame seeds), and then stuck them in the oven! I think we made over 70 hojaldras The smell of fresh baking bread quickly filled the kitchen, and I couldn’t wait to try my first hojaldra, especially after a day of working to make them. After my first bite as a carb addict, I have discovered that I love hojaldras, and I probably ate too many in the days that followed, but after all, I am only on exchange once! I was really grateful to my host family to be included in this family tradition and to learn how to make one of my favorite typical Mexican foods.

On the actual Día de los Muertos, November 2, I had the day off from school, so my host family and I ate out, and then we went to el Centro (the Center) of Puebla. We waited to enter la Casa de Cultura (Cultura House) where I could see some other ofrendas, and I showed my host family the ofrenda that my school had put up. I was absolutely amazed by the grandeur and creativity of the other ofrendas we saw (although I may be partially biased to ours!). There were so many people in the Zocalo (main square) dressed up as catrinas with the classical white base makeup and then black or other colored accents. We then stayed to watch a parade of giant skeletons that were at least 10 feet (3 meters) tall that people had made. One person would have a pole strapped to their back that bore the majority of the skeleton’s weight, and the 2 other people carried poles that moved the skeleton’s arms. And there were dozens and dozens of them in this parade!

I absolutely have loved celebrating Dia de los Muertos here in México, and I have fallen even more in love with this beautiful country, rich culture, and warm people. Thank you so much for reading, if you have any questions or comments, leave them in the comments or send me a private message, and I will do my best to reply. ¡Hasta luego!

Mon, November 6, 2017

  • Kate, Outbound to Mexico

My family is right when people ask about me and they reply, “Kate graduated high school and moved to México.” I am not on a year-long vacation, tour, or mission trip. For me, exchange now feels like my life because moving and establishing a new normal is exactly what I have done. I came to a new place with my suitcases, hopes, and determination, and now I have found another home by building meaningful relationships with my host family and friends. I don’t feel like an exchange student, instead I feel like I have always lived here in Puebla because of how natural and normal my life feels here.

So after a pretty hectic September with the earthquakes and being sick, my life has finally gotten back to normal. On October 1, some of the Rotarians in my city planned a day trip for the exchange students and host families to Teotihuacán or “City of the Gods”, an ancient Mesoamerican city, that dates back to 100 B.C. Teotihuacán is a historically, culturally, and architecturally significant site in the Valley of México, known especially for its 2 enormous pyramids, dozens of smaller ones, and the remains of a once-thriving city. La Píramide del Sol (Pyramid of the Sun) is 233.5 feet high, one of the largest pyramids in Mesoamerica, and the 7th tallest in the world. When I stood in the shadow of this massive stone structure, I was simply awestruck by the magnificence of this temple and how it has endured for almost 2000 years and counting. I felt so small in comparison, and it caused me to revisit the question of the kind of legacy I want to leave behind: on exchange and with the rest of my life. Unfortunately I did not climb to the top of the Píramide del Sol because I ran 0.75 miles one way due to an unsettled stomach to use the restroom and then had to walk back. (So, tip for all people visiting a national park, outdoor monument, and similar places: use the restroom when you see one because you don’t know how far away the next one is!) After the tour of Teotihuacán, we all went to a restaurant to eat, talk, and hang out together before beginning the 2 hour bus ride back to Puebla. I really enjoyed learning more about the rich history of México while spending time and making memories with some of my exchange friends and their host families.

As much fun as visiting Teotihuacán was, I realized for myself that the occasional trips with the other inbound students are not what gives my exchange its beautiful meaning. It is staying up too late at night talking with my host sister, who is more than just a host sister, but my sister forever. It is joking around with my school friends during breaks every day. It is the comida (biggest meal of the day) with my host dad’s extended family every Thursday. It is going to Costco with my host grandmother because she knows I miss American food or to the bakery with my other host grandmother because she knows I love bread. It is my host mom making my favorite foods when I was sick. It is my host dad driving me to school every day at 6:30 AM without complaint. These “little moments” and a million more remind me everyday why I love my life here in México. Because just like back in Atlanta, it is spending time with the people I love and choosing to see the blessings that bring me joy.

Even though I am on exchange in a foreign country, I am still a student, so I spend the majority of my waking hours at school or working on homework. After 2 months, I have already fully integrated into my school. For me, this is more than just being welcomed, but I have become a part of my school community and am never treated as the “exchange student,” which can be a good and a bad thing, depending on the situation! I take it as a compliment that the my classmates and the profes (teachers) think my Spanish can handle being held to the same grading and participation standards as everyone else. Occasionally, especially when I am really tired, I think it would be nice not to do the homework or study for the tests, but I remind myself that me meeting the expectations of a normal student is partly the reason why I am a “normal” student. One thing I love about my classes here in México is the variety of classwork and projects we do, something that I did not have in my high school experience in the United States. Also, 90% of the assignments are with a partner or in a group whereas practically all of my schoolwork in the United States was individual.

Some of my more memorable assignments include:

Drawing all the bones of the hand on my hand for Human Anatomy

Building a three-dimensional cone and then cutting it to demonstrate the 4 conic curves for Calculus

Acting and improvisation exercises in Literature

Reading a 23-page essay (in Spanish!) about St. Thomas and his view of the relationship between faith and reason and then creating a visual map for Theory of Knowledge

Designing a poster to deter teen pregnancies for Marketing

Building a scale model of all bones of the human thorax (vertebrates, ribs, and sternum) out of paper maché for Human Anatomy

Creating lots of PowerPoint presentations, writing some essays, and participating in a handful of debates

Outside of classes, I joined my school’s Model United Nations (MUN) team, and we had our first conference on October 5-7, 2017. The week before the conference was hectic as I tried to learn the very specific rules of protocol, researched my assigned country and the issues as in-depth as possible, and wrote 2 position papers. I represented the Arab Republic of Egypt in Security Council where we discussed, debated, and formulated potential resolutions to the issue of weapons development and its effects on international security for 8-12 hours for 3 days. Talk about international…the exchange student from the United States living in México who everyone thinks is from China or Japan represented Egypt! I loved the experience, all the discussion and debating and sharing of ideas as we worked towards a goal of world peace from such different perspectives.

It was at the MUN Conference where I realized how far my Spanish has come in just 2 short months. MUN was held in English, and I constantly found Spanish coming to my mind first and I would have to switch to English. I now think first in Spanish (far from perfect Spanish, but it is definitely not English!) and automatically respond in Spanish. When I hear Spanish, I don’t translate into English; I simply understand. I still get confused every day and have to ask for clarification quite often, but that is a good thing. Because every time I ask and am not afraid to admit that I am lost, I learn something and improve instead of remaining in the dark (I also have very patient friends and host family!)

If you have any questions, comments, or feedback, leave them in the comments or send me a private message, and I will do my best to reply. Thank you for reading, and ¡hasta luego!

Mon, October 16, 2017

  • Kate, Outbound to Mexico

September 27, 2017

Hola de Puebla, México! I have now been on my Rotary Youth Exchange here in México for almost two months, and my last month has been quite interesting to say the least. Living as an exchange student is experiencing life in a year with both ups and downs. For any future exchange students, I think it’s important to go into exchange with realistic expectations. I’ve already shared some of the positives that I’ve experienced, so here I am going to also share a few unusual challenges that I have faced. These difficulties are not easy, but they are ultimately what can make us stronger and more resilient.

I experienced my first earthquake on Friday, September 8 just after midnight. An 8.2 earthquake had registered off México’s southern coast, the most powerful earthquake to hit México in a century. I was writing my first journal when I suddenly felt my desk and chair shaking. I hollered, “¿Qué pasa?” (What is happening?) to my host mom, and she told me to come downstairs. When I stood up, the floor was swaying underneath my feet, but I ran downstairs, and my host mom and I went to go stand outside. I was frightened but the earthquake was over fairly quickly. School was canceled the next day in all of Puebla as well as in México City and 10 other states, so the foundations could be double-checked. My host family and I are okay; our house was not damaged, and Puebla was not very affected as a city. The southern states of Chiapas and Oaxaca suffered more damage, and tragically dozens were killed by the earthquake.

I have asthma, and just like back in Atlanta, if I get sick, my asthma flares up. For a few days, I had a cold and had been using the medicines I had brought with me from home. Unfortunately I got worse and needed to go to the emergency room on Sunday (September 10), just two days after the first earthquake. I was expecting that I would get a breathing treatment in the ER and be sent home. To be on the safe side, the doctor decided to keep me for 24 hours for observation and so I could receive stronger IV medicines. On the day I was admitted, I was very proud that I could give my fairly long and complex medical history completely in Spanish since I had learned the Spanish words before exchange. (Tip: If you have allergies, dietary restrictions, religious constraints, or medical conditions, learn how to explain them briefly in your target language before you leave.) My 24 hour observation turned into a 4 days and 3 nights hospital stay. As much I knew that was the probably the wise thing, I was still frustrated from being sick and in the hospital. But, I was still grateful for the quality of care that I was receiving. I was in a private room on the pediatric wing of a very modern hospital under the direct care of a fantastic pulmonologist and attentive nurses the whole time. My host family also took amazing care of me too. I was not a huge fan of the hospital food, so my host family brought me a pepperoni pizza, cereal, and my favorite cookies. My host mom stayed overnight with me even though the little couch was so uncomfortable, I coughed all night, and the machines beeped constantly, just because she didn’t want me to be alone. I felt terrible for putting my host family through this experience.

Being in a foreign country, sick, and in the hospital were probably some of the most difficult weeks of my life. Missing your family is a normal part of your exchange, and never did I want my family with me more than those days in the hospital. During the other times I have been hospitalized back in Atlanta, I didn’t do anything but sleep and try to get better. I could be weak while Mom and Dad managed everything. But this time, I had to be the director. I had to talk with the doctor and nurses about my asthma in Spanish, try to get the necessary papers to submit to insurance, update my family back home, and in the end, pay the bill (Side note: my entire hospital and doctor bill only came to approximately $1800 USD!). I don’t know how I kept functioning except for the fact that I had to, so I did. This hospitalization showed me that I am stronger than I thought and also reminded me that it is okay to ask for help and rely on others. I also feel like my Spanish improved because I didn’t have any other option.

On Wednesday (September 13), I was released from the hospital, but the doctor told me that I could not leave the house for the week so my lungs could continue healing. I was disappointed, but I recognized that it was (again) the wise thing to do, and I was still very grateful to be leaving the hospital. When I went to the pharmacy to find the medicines I needed, the pharmacist told me that one of my medications was administered by needle injection at home. I was a little freaked out (okay, maybe more than a little), but my host grandmother did a great job both times with the injections. During my four days of house arrest, I slept, worked on my blog, and watched lots of Netflix. It felt so good to be home in my own bed, with better food and Wifi, and the freedom to walk around without the IV pole. Friday, September 15 is when we celebrate Mexican Independence, but I was still under doctor’s orders to remain at home. I was really disappointed to miss the party at school and the festivities downtown, but I guess that just means I have to come back one day to México to celebrate!

I experienced my second earthquake at about 1:00 PM Central Time, Tuesday, September 19 (the anniversary of the terrible 1985 earthquake that devastated México City). This earthquake had a magnitude of 7.1, and the epicenter was in the town of Raboso, Puebla, about 35 miles from my city of Puebla. This earthquake felt much stronger than the one on September 8, and as soon as I felt the shaking, I immediately ran downstairs and out into the backyard. I was scared and very worried about my host family who were not home with me at the time. Cell phone service went down for a while, and since it happened in early afternoon, people were at school and work. People could not reach their family members; traffic lights stopped working, so the streets were jammed with traffic. My host family came made it home a little while later, and thankfully we are all safe. In our house, only a couple of photo frames fell off the wall and broke. In the cities of Puebla and Cholula, the damage was worse than the earthquake on September 8th, as several older buildings were heavily damaged, and several church steeples fell. The earthquake affected México City more as whole buildings collapsed and tragically more than 300 lives were lost, and there are still people missing.

After an earthquake, government inspectors have to survey building foundations for structural integrity. School was canceled again for all of Puebla and México City from Wednesday to Friday, to check the schools and so students could help with the relief efforts. On Wednesday, the day after the earthquake, my host mom and I went to a makeshift collection center to donate supplies and volunteer for a while. Dozens of people were working together around a small truck and a couple of folding tables while more volunteers unloaded the endless stream of cars full of donations. We sorted the contributions and prepared bags of the different supplies ready to be handed out to families in need. I loved seeing how ordinary people were organizing relief efforts and how the community was rallying together to aid affected communities.

On Thursday morning, my friends and I met at school, which also was a collection center, to volunteer together. We brought donations, as did so many other students, and together, we had filled a whole room with bags of clothes, nonperishable foods, and other necessities. We sorted, counted, and then re-boxed the donations to take to a central collection center at one of Puebla’s convention centers. Next, some other students, teachers, and I went to drop off the supplies and serve some more. When we arrived, I could not believe my eyes. Hundreds of people stood in a line to form a human chain that stretched from the road, across the plaza, inside the building, and all the way to the back of this huge room. Cars would pull up to the curb, and volunteers would unload them. The human chain then passed every donation, from cases of water to packages of medicine, down the chain until it reached the end. We first served by processing donated boxes of cookies, counting cookies and then marking the boxes for distribution. We then helped break down pallets of rice, lentils, and beans, re-grouping and bagging 10 individual-sized bags. Lastly, we grouped cases of diapers and bagged them together to be delivered to families in need. We left a few hours later, and I was so grateful for the opportunity to help in any small way I could with some amazing people.

The sheer volume of donations and volunteers working together at this collection center absolutely amazed me. It was like an instant Costco warehouse of donations. There were rows and rows of cases of water stacked at least 5 feet high, and the piles of sorted clothing formed a sea of small hills. While hundreds of volunteers processed the donations, other people walked around, handing out donated waters, fruit, and tortas (very similar to a sandwich) to us volunteers. It was so incredible to witness people of all backgrounds and ages uniting to serve our community. High school students volunteering with their teachers. College students working alongside business professionals. Young children serving with their parents. We all had a common goal, which was to bring aid to those most affected by the earthquake. And together, as a community and country, we accomplished so much. Relief efforts were mobilized immediately, and supplies were delivered to those in need in less than 24 hours.

On Friday, some of us Rotary Youth Exchange students, our host families, and local Rotarians worked together to unload a small truck that Rotarians from another area had sent full of donations. We formed a human chain and quickly sorted the cases of water and bags of supplies. When we finished, my friends from Germany and Indonesia, our host families, and I tried to go serve somewhere else, but in some cases, collection sites already had too many volunteers and were turning people away. What an amazing “problem” to have. We were able to help load a truck at a local university before heading home, my arms tired, but my heart full. Despite such a tragic natural disaster, I was moved to see an entire country working together to help our communities recover.

I hope this blog post didn’t freak you out, but I wanted to show that life happens, no matter where you are. And you persevere and do what you need to do. In spite of 2 major earthquakes and a hospitalization, I have never wished I could return to the United States and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world. I absolutely love my life here in Mexico and the people I have grown to love. I knew that there would be ups and downs during my exchange, and for me, the positives far outweigh the negative. We have the choice to see the blessings in every experience and challenge. Although, it would be okay (for me, my host family, and my family in the U.S.!) if there are no more illnesses or natural disasters for the remainder of my exchange. Thank you for reading, and ¡hasta luego!

Thu, September 28, 2017

  • Kate, Outbound to Mexico

¡Hola de Puebla, México! I have now been on my Rotary Youth Exchange here in México for over one month, and it has finally sunk in that exchange is not a dream, but a reality for me. Although it was tough saying goodbye to my family, I thankfully had an uneventful travel day where everything went smoothly and according to plan—no delays, no lost bags, and no missed connections. On August 1, I flew from Atlanta to Monterrey, had a 2.5 hour layover, and then flew from Monterrey directly to Puebla. While deplaning in Monterrey, a Rotex (past Rotary Youth Exchange student) found me because of my Rotary blazer and stayed with me until baggage claim in Puebla, which was so kind of her. I flew into Puebla at around 8 PM where my host parents and host sisters (Renata and Paula) were waiting for me with open arms and a bouquet of balloons. I ate dinner with my host family in a restaurant and when we got home, I collapsed into bed from exhaustion.

In my first two weeks, I have walked around some of the Centro Histórico, gone to a coffee convention, and visited the Museo Amparo (an art museum) and the Museo Internacional del Barroco (International Baroque Museum). My host dad also gave me a tour of where he works: one of the most popular radio stations in Puebla! I even spoke on air briefly!

After enjoying a relaxing 2 weeks here in Puebla, I started school! I absolutely love my prepa (high school) here in México. My classmates are so nice and welcoming, and the profes (teachers) are very friendly and helpful. Here in México, we have 3 years of prepa (high school), and I am in the fifth semester or the final year. I am also really enjoying all of my classes, which is good because I have nine. Most of my classes are classes pretty typical to what students take in the United States, with the exception of Ciencias y Saberes, which is a very interesting class about the theory of knowledge. I also chose medicine as my academic focus, so I take Human Anatomy, Physiology, and Bioethics. Because we have so many subjects, our class schedule is different every day of the week. But everyday, our first class starts at 7:00 AM sharp, and we finish at 2:00 PM. My host dad and I leave at 6:30 AM every day which is just a little early for me, but I am adjusting, an d I really appreciate my host dad’s willingness to take me to school every day.

Even though all my classes are in Spanish (except English!) I pretty much understand everything in my classes, so the teachers treat me like a normal student. Being a “normal” student does include doing homework, but it also means I have the opportunity to experience more of a typical life here instead of constantly being treated differently as “the exchange student.” The style of school is very collaborative, so I get to participate in all of the group work and group projects. We do almost all classwork in pairs or groups as well, which has allowed me to interact with lots of different students in my salón (group). We always stay with the same classmates in all of our classes except our electives and English, which means we get to know each other pretty well throughout the course of the semester in all of our classes. I absolutely love my classmates in my salón. They have welcomed me so warmly, and I am so excited to spend the school year with them.

Part of Rotary Youth Exchange includes the opportunity to learn and experience Rotary International in another country. I have attended two Rotary meetings of the Club Rotario de Puebla Centro Histórico. I was proud to represent my sponsor club, the Rotary Club of Alpharetta, as I exchanged Rotary Club banners with my host club. The Club Rotario de Puebla Centro Histórico is hosting 6 other inbound students, coming from Indonesia, Thailand, Germany, France, and 2 others from the U.S.

This past weekend, my host Rotary district held our inbound orientation, and it was amazing. I went to Acapulco, a beautiful beach on the Pacific coast, with over 100 other Rotary Youth Exchange students from 22 different countries from around the world. It was such a fun weekend to talk with the other inbounds. We had a talent show; we toured the city of Acapulco; we watched these crazy brave divers jump from cliffs; we had dance parties every night; we traded pins and pins and pins. My friend from Australia and I were also interviewed by the local TV station (in Spanish!) about what we thought of Acapulco as exchange students, which was so exciting for me since I have never been on TV before! The District Governor also came to our orientation, and there was a pretty formal dinner one night. (Word of advice for future exchange students: always bring a decent outfit with you on trips, because you never know if you might need one…) We staged a flag parade, and I was very hono red to be the one chosen to represent the United States. But without question, the best part of inbound orientation was talking to the other exchange students. We shared and learned so much about the represented cultures, and there is something about being fellow exchange students that can instantly create connections. I know I made some lifelong friends that weekend, and I cannot wait to see them again in November for one of our Rotary trips.

I am absolutely in love with México. Even in just my first month, I have experienced how México is not sombreros, tequila, and drug trafficking. After barely scratching the surface, I see a beautiful country with full of warm, welcoming, hard-working people, a unique culture, and rich history. Puebla is so fascinating because of the combination of historic architecture and modern conveniences, with a cathedral and a Costco only a few kilometers apart. Here, we greet and say goodbye by hugging and kissing on the cheek. Even as a foreigner, everyone greets me this way. Here, meals are more than times to sustain our bodies by feeding them. Meals are a time to relax, talk with family and friends, and enjoy each other’s company. I have already shared countless wonderful meals with the extended family, who have warmly welcomed me into the family with open arms. I have already fallen in love with my host family and the emphasis on family here in México. Yesterday my host parents told me that I am not just estadounidense (United States American), but that I am Mexican too, which just fills up my heart with love. They are my family for forever, not just temporary hosts.

Despite having studied Spanish for 9 years, I just felt so overwhelmed in my first week. I could barely keep up with the conversations and most of the time just heard words, not able to process the meanings fast enough. I constantly was translating from Spanish to English, which I could only do if someone spoke slowly and clearly. It was so frustrating not to be able to communicate or understand everything automatically without thinking. My brain was always tired from trying to understand everything in a foreign language, and I have to pay 100% of my attention to understanding someone. I constantly asked (and still do) my host family and classmates “¿Qué es ésto?” (“What is this?”) or constantly look up words on my phone in order to build vocabulary. But now, after 5 weeks, my brain has finally switched from English to Spanish. I understand almost everything said to me without translating in my head, and although my Spanish is not p erfect, I can now communicate what I think and feel. So many tell me, “Your Spanish is so good! When did you get here?” and one of my friends at school told me that she forgets that I am not fluent in Spanish. I actually was reprimanded in English class for responding in Spanish, and now it is harder to text in English. But this is not luck. This is from years of hard work with an amazing teacher. So to all future exchange students: study your language as hard as you can before you leave. In the months between your selection and your departure, it is easy to think “I will have time to study my language later.” Or “It doesn’t matter. I am going to learn it on exchange anyways.” But every little bit counts to make your exchange more meaningful, especially in the beginning. No Rotex will tell you that they studied a language too much, and most of them probably regret not learning as much as they could of the language before their exc hange. Language skills leads to trust with your host family, more freedom, friendships at school, an easier integration into your host community, and so much more.

These things are all so exciting and new now, but exchange is not a trip or a vacation; it is life. Exchange is life with ups and downs, good days and bad days. Exchange is definitely a different life than the one I left behind in Georgia, but it is still life, not all parties and excursions. We go grocery shopping, and I also help do the laundry and wash the dishes. I had to say goodbye to my host sister Renata as she embarked on her own exchange, which was sad and reminded me of my family that I left behind in the United States. Even though I have only been on exchange for five weeks, I feel so integrated with my host family, my school, and daily life here that it feels like this could have been my life forever. There are definitely moments where I miss my family and friends back in the US (and I might possibly miss hometown Chick-Fil-A a little!), but I think that these pangs are normal. They are definitely overshadowed though by a love that grows every day for the people, cult ure, and country that I am coming to know as México.

It has been such an honor to serve as an ambassador on exchange, trying to build goodwill and friendship between different parts of the world. When we go on exchange, we represent so much more than just ourselves. We represent our communities, our sponsor Rotary clubs and districts, and our countries. I think it is important to realize that people will develop opinions about our countries and our cultures based on what we share, how we interact with them, and how we behave. I was chosen to be an ambassador of the United States in México during a particularly turbulent time in U.S.-México political relations. And I do not just want to confirm the negative stereotypes portrayed by Hollywood and the news media, but I want to leave people with a real impression of my country. A United States that has conscientious, informed, and engaged students. A country that is full of compassionate people who come together to support those in need. A richly diverse nation that h as many different ethnicities, religions, and belief systems.

But as much as I came to represent, I came first to understand. I am here on exchange to fully integrate myself in my host family, school, and community and to learn the Mexican culture and their ways of life. This is how we truly break the stereotypes and misconceptions of our countries, by building strong relationships and humbling ourselves. Then, we have the opportunity to have deep conversations and represent our culture in a more personal, meaningful way. I recently was talking with two friends, inbounds from two different continents. Our conversation moved from casual chit chat to a serious discussion about our religious beliefs. It struck me how powerful it was that a Christian, Muslim, and Atheist could have such a open-minded conversation while coming from such “opposite” perspectives. But it was because we all approached the discussion with tolerance and respect for each other’s beliefs. I realized that our different beliefs do not have to divide us, but tolerance for different perspectives can help us unite if we first seek to understand.

Thank you so much, Rotary, for giving me this amazing opportunity, and thank you for reading.

Fri, September 8, 2017


Katie - Netherlands

Hometown: Tampa, Florida
School: Armwood
Sponsor District : District 6890
Sponsor Club: , Florida
Host District: 1590
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Raalte

My Bio

Goedemiddag! My name is Katie Stephenson and I’m currently in the 10th grade at Armwood Senior High School. Thanks to Rotary Youth Exchange, I will be spending my junior year of high school abroad in the Netherlands! Being able to travel to completely new place that is so vastly different from Florida will be quite the experience, I can’t wait to learn more Dutch, make friends from all over the world, and I can’t forget about the amazing culture I will get to immerse myself into! Here in Florida, I live with my mom, dad, and my older brother. They’ve given me so much support through all of this, I don’t know where I would be without them. In my spare time, I greatly enjoy playing the alto saxophone, piano, and a little bit of the ukulele! In my school, I participate in the band, which takes up a lot of time, but is worth it for all the fun times we have together, it is really a second family on its own. Drawing, writing, and reading are some of my favorite hobbies to keep me busy, and I can’t forget about ice skating and hanging out with my friends! I can’t express how excited and thankful I am to be given this life-changing opportunity! I know this year won’t be the easiest, but I am up for the challenge it will give me, and all the adventures I will get to take! I’m so excited to explore the Netherlands, and hopefully Europe as well! Tot de volgende keer, Katie 🙂

Journals: Katie-Netherlands Blog 2017-18

  • Katie, Outbound to Netherlands

Let me begin by saying I apologize for how long I’ve gone without writing a new journal, I’ve been insanely busy the last few months since my last journal. But I am ready to tell you all about my past few months, so settle in, get ready, indulge yourself in some popcorn, because this will be a lot to read.

Now, the last time I made an update about my exchange was January 3, 2018, the day I moved to my second host family. The Van Doorlemolen’s. Leaving my first host family was very hard for me, I made such a connection with them that they started to feel like my real family, and sometimes it sounds very weird to say but I sometimes found myself calling my host parents “mom” and “dad”, but that’s exactly how they felt to me. I had so many wonderful memories within my first host family, and it felt like my real family. Plus, moving to my second host family meant that I was halfway through my exchange and that’s sometime that scared me so much because at the time I couldn’t even begin to think of this year ending. When it was time for me to leave my first host family, I was crying my eyes out, it was like I was leaving Florida to go on exchange all over again. At the same time though, I was excited to get to know my second host family more, and they instantly took me in and made me feel super comfortable. Little did I know at the time, that I would slowly grow to love this host family as much as I loved my first host family. I was only there a few days before I left for a Rotary event, a swim marathon for Shelterbox! I was in 3rd place for swimming the most laps, and we raised a lot of money for shelterbox that way. Then when I got home to my host family, the next day I ended up getting the stomach flu! Ahhhh, it sucked so bad, I was between the bed and the toilet for 3-4 days at least. I couldn’t go to school at all that week because of how badly sick I was. Funny thing was, my host family and I joked about how I had only lived there with then a few days now and my gift to them was the stomach flu… yep, I ended up passing the stomach flu to my entire host family. Whoops… then later on I also ended up with just the flu. I’m glad they were there though, it sucked a lot because I stayed in my room a lot at the beginning because I was so sick all of the time with them and I didn’t want to get everyone else sick. Safe to say, that after January I wasn’t too sick anymore.

January 14, my Rotary club had a huge get together for New Years, it was super nice to see everyone, but really I was just excited to see my first host dad since it had been two weeks since I had seen him. We implemented a thing when I changed host family that I couldn’t see or talk to my first host family for a while since it was so hard for me to switch, which helped with me getting used to my second host family, aside from me being sick so much. My host dad and I planned that the next weekend I could come over and have dinner with them and stay the weekend! Before that Friday, I got to know my second host family a lot more, we sat one night and looked at baby pictures the entire night laughing at old videos and pictures. Silke (my older host sister) and I were sending pictures of them as kids to her sister on exchange in Illinois. Then came along that Friday, when I walked in I saw my old dog, Welsie, she was so happy when she saw me, that she ended up peeing on the ground! Now everytime since I go to see Welsie she whines and pees on the floor because she’s so happy to see me again but also so sad that she hasn’t seen me in a while. I love Welsie. But once I walked in that Friday, my host brother, Wessel, instantly said “Oh no” and we laughed at that while I cleaned up Welsie’s mess. We all sat down and played monopoly together, and of course Wessel won the game, but I sold all my stuff and technically lost the game but still claimed that I won by being the first one out. It was such a nice feeling being back there, it was like I had never really left and we just picked up where we left off and talked about the past few weeks.

In February there is a holiday that is very popular in the South of the Netherlands called “Carnaval” where people dress up like it’s Halloween and stay up for days on end dancing to some of the worse music in the world, but to be honest I really like carnaval music, it’s my favorite.

It ended up being so cold around the end of February that we were able to ice skate on natural ice, it was so cool! But also, insanely cold.

Then, before I knew it, it was time to move to my third and final host family. Ruiter-Journee. It was different this time switching host families, I didn’t cry this time, and I went and visited my first host family the same day I moved because it was my host mom’s birthday. Then later that week my mom and brother were here to visit me! It was super cool but also very weird to have them here. Together we went to Belgium together, and explored Brussels for a day before returning to their hotel and later that week, they came all the way from Amsterdam, to a tiny area in overijssel called Wijhe. The day started with us arriving at Wijhe station and getting picked up by my first host dad who took us around the village for a while and then to his house to show my rooms and to my second host families house to see where I lived and then we arrived to my third host families house to be greeted by everyone there. My mom and brother met all of my host families, my counselor, and inbound coordinator. It was a very traditional Dutch night with the food, and my mom said her grandfather made food like stampot and I found out that I actually have some Dutch in me! The entire night was very nice, everyone got to meet and talk with my mom and I got to chat which a lot of people that I haven’t seen in a while. My mom even brought gifts for everyone and said thank you to everyone for hosting me. Then I took them back to the hotel so I could see them off in the morning.

In the past months I’ve gotten to explore more cities in depth like Zwolle, Deventer, Maastricht, and Leeuwarden. All of these places are so uniquely beautiful, I hope I get many more chances before I leave to go explore these places a few more times before I leave.

My third host mom took me and my little host sister to see The Lion King – Live! Of course, I cried when mufasa died and my host mom couldn’t stop laughing at me for that. I also went to the Keukenhof with my third host family and we definitely took way too many pictures of flowers that day, but it was a lot of fun. My host dad and I have even started training to bike from Maastricht to Groningen, basically the bottom to the top of the Netherlands. That’s 217 miles! We plan on being able to bike it within two days… wish us luck!

Then came along a very big day in the Netherlands: Koningsdag, Kingsday in English and it’s a celebration for the king’s birthday! The entire country is dressed up in orange and out in the streets celebrating. It was an amazing day of just celebration, we met up with a lot of exchanges students that day and explored Amsterdam, we saw so many markets and people playing instruments and so many different shades of orange that day. We ended the day with pizza and when we were done eating everyone had left Amsterdam and kingsday was over.

Now, here we are today. A week before I go on eurotour, and I’m sure I’ll be writing another blog post after those two weeks of pure exploration around Europe with exchange students. There is one thing I have to say about this part of my exchange right now. I guess you could call it “homesickness” (?) but I’m not entirely sure that is what it is, but here let me explain it. On one side of it all, I’m very excited and ready to go home to see family and friends that I haven’t seen for almost a year, but at the same time I don’t want exchange to end and I don’t want to leave my new home. I know that everyone back in Florida I was going to see again, but with everyone here in Holland, I never know the next time I’ll see them, and I guess you could say that’s something that deeply scares me since I love it here and love everyone I’ve met this year. This is definitely so far been one of the hardest years of my life, but it is also just the beginning of my many adventures in life that I’m going to take and go on. To exchange students who are about to go on exchange or thinking about becoming an exchange student, cherish every moment you get, not only on exchange but also day-to-day life because we’ll never be as young as we are now or as old as we are now, and life is so short, but time goes so fast that we have to live for every moment we get. So don’t you dare waste one!

Tot de volgende keer iedereen. Ik hoop dat jullie hebben deze journaal leuk gevonden! En voor mijn andere hollanders, ben ik te vak van mijn fiets gevallen… grappig hé?!

Doeeeeei! Katie

Thu, May 31, 2018

  • Katie, Outbound to Netherlands

Hallo allemaal! Hoe gaat het met jullie? Ik hoop dat jullie zijn goed!

It’s been quite some time since my last journal, and I just moved host families today, so I thought it would be a good time to update everyone on how my exchange is going and what I’ve experienced so far since my first journal. This will be a lot.

In late September, all the exchange students that are inbounds in the Netherlands, went to a Dutch Orientation Course (D.O.C.). Where of course, we spent a week learning Dutch together and meeting everyone. There were 41 students in total, from 17 different countries! All here in the Netherlands! How crazy is that?! And we have 6 oldies who are still here, that will soon be leaving in January, making it a huge group of 47 students altogether. It was an amazing week with all of us together and it really helped with our Dutch and gave us a lot more confidence than we originally had in ourselves. We went to a small place called Schiedam, a 20-30min ride from Rotterdam, and we all had temporary host families for a week. I lived with three other exchange students, and we are all still very close now because of this week. There was Sam from New York, and Paulo and Lucas from Brazil. On that Sunday when we arrived and met our host family for the week, we all instantly clicked together. In fact, on Sunday Paulo and I were raving about our love of sushi and how he has made sushi with his host family and I was talking about how I haven’t had it at all since being in the Netherlands, and from this conversation we actually found out that our host sister that week knew how to make sushi. So the following day, on Monday, we made sushi with our host family. It was so much fun to learn how to make sushi. Sam, Paulo, Lucas, and I later, on Thursday, all went and explored Rotterdam and we got to see things like the Cube Houses, the famous food hall there, and explore a little of Rotterdam before it got too late and we had to go home.

I’ve been to so many places here in the Netherlands, naturally I explore and do the most touristy things possible with the other exchange students. I’ve been to places like Amsterdam, Deventer, Zwolle, Den Haag, Hoorn, and quite a few other places. I haven’t been everywhere yet though! That’s the plan though, and I haven’t traveled outside of the Netherlands either, which is okay. My life here from day one has felt like everyday life and I haven’t really had extreme ups or downs, it’s all been normal to me, but I can definitely say that I’ve loved each and every single moment that I’ve spent in this country. Especially with all the people I’ve met over the last four months, and all the friends and family I’ve made here.

Halloween here wasn’t that big of a deal, some people threw parties and things, but I decided to stay home and spend the night with my host family. In my village, Boerhaar, right outside of Wijhe, has a bike tour all around Wijhe and the smaller villages right around it. The bike tour is supposed to scare the bikers, so my host sister, Dorien, and I went outside with balloons to pop and only popped a few balloons when two bikers past before we gave up and went back inside. It was insanely cold and it was raining at the time and we still, to this day, think it’s hilarious.

Christmas, Kerstdagen, is a lot bigger here than Halloween. They have Christmas eve, Christmas day, and second Christmas day. Though, no one here believes in Santa, de Kerstman, because we have Sinterklaas instead! Which is December 5th, where you get a few presents, and tons of pepernoten from zwarte piet. I spent December 5th with my third host family, since they still have little kids who believe in Sinterklaas. The plan for the night is that during dinner, their neighbor would come by and throw pepernoten and live a huge present at the door for everyone. When this happened though, I was in the middle of eating and I got scared by the loud knock at the door and the sudden dropping of hundreds of pepernoten, my third host mom wouldn’t stop laughing. It was also very nice of them to get me presents for that, because I wasn’t expecting that at all. And they were quite humorous presents, handwarmers and a scarf because they know I’m almost always cold since I’m from Florida. Before Christmas got here, it started snowing! It snowed for at least 5 whole days, and it was the most wonderful experience. I had a snowball fight with my host siblings, learned how to make a snowman, and then filled the entire yard with snowmen, made a snow angel, and overall it was just gezellig. A few days before Christmas (sadly there was no snow for Christmas) my host dad and I went out and bought one of the biggest Christmas trees ever. My host family ended up having to go buy more lights and ordainments to cover it all! There is also this thing that Rotary does around the Netherlands, it’s called a Santa Run. Where you run around 3km I think, dressed in a Santa outfit. Least to say, it was an absolute blast and I did some of the funniest things while dress up as Santa – Beard and all! Then came Christmas eve, where I met all of my host mom’s side of the family. Then Christmas day where all of us finally got out of bed around 11:30am to finally eat and open presents. I wish I was taking pictures of when my host family opened the presents I got for them because the look on all of their faces you could tell that they were very happy with what I got them. And I was happy that they were happy. Later in the day, we went to my host dad’s side of the family which is a lot closer and sees each other a lot more than my host mom’s side of the family. We played games the entire night, sang some songs together, ate great food, and went home and sat in the kitchen talking about the entire evening.

Then right before New Year’s, my host uncle has a birthday on December 30th, so I got a preview of what would be happening the next day. In the province of Overijssel, there is this thing called “Carbid” where you have a milk can, have a type of carbon and mix it with water which will give a reaction that is gas once it is closed in the milk can, there is a hole somewhere on the milk can and you break a fire cracker in have and stick it in the whole and then after around 66 seconds, light the fire cracker and watch it blow the lid or ball off the top of the milk can and almost making everyone around deaf. On New Year’s eve, I was with my host brothers and their friends and lighting that off until dinner where I stayed home and hung out with my host family the entire night until it was 12! Gelukkig Nieuwjaar! We lit off a few fireworks of our own, but where we lived, we could see fireworks being fired from Olst, Broekland, and Wijhe, and the fireworks continued all of January 1st, the entire day, it was non-stop fireworks going off around us.

Now, today is January 3rd, and I just moved to my second host family. It was really hard for me to move, my first host family became an actual family to me, to the point where I started calling my host dad and mom “papa” and “mama” just normally. They’re such a unique family, and there is definitely not another family like that, I have never seen a family closer or more loving and opening towards everyone and everything than them. It will be hard not seeing them every single day, but I know that being here with my second host family will be an amazing time as well, and I’m very excited to see where that leads.

Now, I’ve tried explaining some of the most important and big events that have happened to me since my first journal and honestly, there will never be enough time for me to write down everything and tell you exactly how it happened, exchange is another life, and there is no way I’ll ever be able to explain how this year went in just one word. I’ve been here for 136 days now, soon to be 137 days and I feel like this is what my life has always been like, I feel so at home here, and I cannot believe that soon it’ll be my halfway point in exchange. Time goes to fast when you’re having fun. I’ve grown so much already, and I’ve faced a good number of challenges. A challenge that is not usually common or at least you hope that doesn’t happen is someone close to you dying while you’re gone. One of my very close friends passed away early December, and it was a very difficult time, but I told my host brother the second I found out the news because we were eating breakfast together and I just started tearing up and crying. Thankfully, he told the rest of my host family so I didn’t have to keep explaining to everyone why I was crying. Talking it out with them and having them there during that time helped me a lot, and they got me through it and now I just try to live every day for my friend.

There are no words to explain exchange to someone. It’s a different life, full of so many different things that would never happen a normal every day to day life. Exchange is worth every second of it though. I would urge anyone who is interested to at least try to do it. Because I’ve never been happier with life than I where I am now.


Wed, January 3, 2018

  • Katie, Outbound to Netherlands

Dear Past/Present/Future Exchange Students, Moms and Dads, Friends and Family, and of course, to anyone who happens to find themselves reading this.

I would like to start this very first journal of mine off with:

Hallo, ik heet Katie. Ik ben zestien jaar oud. Ik kom uit Tampa, Florida, en ik woon in Nederland voor het volgende jaar.

Now for those of you who don’t speak Dutch and that way you won’t have to go to Google Translate to find out what I’ve just told you:

Hello, my name is Katie. I am sixteen years old. I from Tampa, Florida, and I will be living in the Netherlands for the next year.

I have now been in Holland for currently 26 days, going onto my 27th day, so close to a month already! There are so many things I wish I had enough time to tell everyone about this wondrous country. But first, I promised myself that I would address this before getting to my experience on this exchange so far.

Being an exchange student is not an easy task, but everything that happens to you on your exchange year will be worth it in so many ways that it’s hard to name even one of them. Everyone tells you to learn the language before you go, trust me, I didn’t do ENOUGH studying before I left, I already wish that I did so much more – even in a country where everyone speaks English. Here’s the thing about that though, even though I could totally get away without learning a lick of Dutch, where would be the fun in that? So many people prefer to speak in their mother tongue that when they’re in a group of friends they’ll speak in that language and with you not knowing it, you will instantly feel left out. And trust me, it’s not the best feeling in the world. Also, not everyone you’re going to meet is going to speak perfect English, although they may try, it will be better to learn their language instead because that is the reason you are there for! It’s so true when Rotary and the Rotex tell you that, “Language = Freedom” but it also equals understanding, safety, friends, politeness, and everything else. Learn the language, even if you don’t have that much time, the basics are fine too, even just knowing a few sentences to get across how you’re feeling at that point in time like, “Ik hab honger,” and “Waar is de WC?” just small things like that will make them happy and surprised you even learned that much of their language so far, even introducing yourself in their language will make them proud to have you around.

Now, with that very important note out of the way, let’s get to how my first 26 days have been and my experience so far, since I’m sure that is why my family keeps reminding me to update this journal. Which, I don’t blame them, I mean if my daughter or niece went away for a year I would want her to write something like this too!

Where to start though? There are so many things that have happened so far! Hmm… my Host Family! I know not everyone is lucky to get an amazing Host Family, whether it is their first, second, third, fourth, whatever. I can’t express how much love and grateful I am that they’ve taken me in, without even knowing me! When a Host Family takes in an exchange student they get very little information as to who exactly they are hosting for these few months or a year, as do the exchange students when it comes to learning about their exchange families. Of course, the Families will get a pictures of you, information on you, all that jazz, and the most the exchange students get is emails from them welcoming, maybe you call, or skype in advanced, but that sure didn’t happen with me. I’ve met all my Host Families within my first week, and they all seem so unique with personalities. My first Host Family, the Van Remmen’s (I’m a name dropper, I know) is fill ed with such a loving family. My host parents Ton and Veronique are so caring and hard at work to make sure everything is done and to care for all of their kids, and they still have so much time for everyone else in the family! My host siblings, Thomas (M/23), Dorien (F/21), Wouter (M/19), and Wessel, (M/17) are amazing, I love them all so equally already, and they all have taught me things whether they realize it or not. Thomas, for instance, thought me not to give up on anything this year, and even got me in the spirits to learn guitar soon, or at least try too! Dorien, taught me fashion of Holland (lol), and to get out there and make some friends whether your age or not, and to care for them all equally and treat everyone as family. Wouter, taught me that no matter where you are in the world, it’s okay to be a little crazy and weird, even if it makes people uncomfortable. Wessel, taught me that school isn’t as scary as it seems to be and there will always be a friendl y face around to help, and that I all of my host siblings and their parents where always there for me no matter what, that I am their family. (Ohana). Now, at home, I only have one sibling, an older brother, so having 3 older brothers, and a sister is quite fun, especially since I’m the youngest so I get “tiny person” perks, as they call it (minus the perks), because they’re all over 6ft, and I’m barely reaching 5’4”. With this family, we tease and joke around like siblings and parents would to their children, my host siblings and I actually went to the Eteling, which is kind of like Disney World, but for Dutch people, with more roller coasters, and less crowded. Wessel and I almost have a pillow fight every day after dinner, with Wouter butting in to stop us from actually hurting each other by accident. There is even this little joke that goes between Wessel and I with a pink notebook we bought for school. Neither of us wanted it, so we bas ically throw it at each other and hide it in each other’s room, and it’s been going on like that for two weeks now since both us still don’t want it and it’s pretty wrecked by now.

Next? School! I’m sure this will be in almost everyone’s journals, but oh my god… the Dutch school system is so different from America. I will try my best to explain the difference and maybe the pros and cons of both systems. So, in America, of course, you have Freshmen, Sophomores, Juniors, and Seniors, in the Netherlands, you can either go to school for 4, 5, or 6 years depending on which part of the smartness system you get put into. There are three different “smartness systems” VMBO, HAVO, and VWO, VMBO is like regular and extra help classes in America, it is also the 4-year trek. HAVO is like honor classes, and goes on for 5-years. VWO is like AP classes and goes on for 6-years. Somehow, being me, I was able to land myself in VWO, in grade 5. “Grade 5?” You might say, well let me explain further, no I am not in the 5th grade with children who are 9-11 years of age, I am with kids my own age. How they do it over here though, is they go f rom 1st to 8th grade like we do, and then when it gets to high school, it goes back to 1st to 6th grade/year. Also, within Dutch schools, or at least my school, Carmel College Salland, they have 4 specific routes for their students to take, that being a business route, an art route, science route, or even more nerdier science route. None of the courses really mixing that much, I am taking the less nerdy science route as I really wanted to take physics, and a few other courses they offered in that route, with the exception of music, of course. Speaking of music classes, today was actually the first day I took my music classes (“wait, first day? I thought you’ve been going to school for like two weeks now?” Shhh, young grasshopper, I will explain schedules later. Don’t get ahead of yourself.) I had two hours of music classes, the first hour had around 5-6 kids in it, and the second hour there was maybe 10 kids, but not many people are interested in music here. The “Big” Band they even have here has about 20 people in it, with teachers and students alike, but it isn’t exactly what you’d expect, I know I found myself with a delightful surprise when I walked in this morning. The first thing we did was play “The Thrill is Gone” by BB King, since they were going over jazz music, how it sounds, and the history of it. We had people playing drums, pianos, bass guitars, and of course singing. Nope, no wind or brass instruments, it was strictly guitar, pianos, guitars/basses, or singing. Which was quite the switch for me, since I’m used to a marching band type of class with all kinds of wind and brass instruments, luckily I knew enough about piano to still join in and participate for the hour. At the end of the school day, there is an extra hour for those wanting to go, to go to the “Big Band”, where I was able to play the alto saxophone, but we played songs on the radio, jazzy songs, and things very heavy on that topic, which was a good kind of different, it’s the kind of music I’m not used to playing a lot so hopefully they’ll help me with that a lot this year, and I was able to sight read everything today, which made me stupidly happy. (Thank you, Mr. Sorey & Mr. Childs). Okay! Before I forget: schedules! Everyone starts at different times of the days, the first hour of the day starts at 8:30, some kids come for their first lesson of the day around the second or third hour, and everyone leaves school at different times as well. Within the day, you could end up having blank hours with no classes that we call spare hours which can be used to go into the town for a while to get a quick bite to eat, yes, that is right, you’re allowed off campus during school hours, but not to cut your classes of course. These spare hours could also be used to study, read, or do homework for your next class. After the first 3 hours of the day there is a 15-minute break for everyone in the same grade, and after the next two classes there is another break and lunch for 30-minutes, and after the next two classes after that (if you’re still at school that is), there is another 15-minute break, and then the school day ends with one hour left in the day.

In school, I’m glad to say that I have gathered up myself a small group of friends, who accepted my right away once I was introduced to them and have continued to help me out tremendously since day one. I am instantly so thankful for them, because they have introduced me to so many new things, invited me to things, and have even made me try more Dutch things like “pepernoten” (pronounced: papernoten, which is heerlijk by the way).

Soon, I’m going to be setting up Dutch lessons during the spare hours I have in school or after school, and I am beyond excited to start taking those lessons and learning even more Dutch than I already know. I am also so ready for the D.O.C. (Dutch Orientation Course) and Rotex weekend that is happening at the end of September.

I will also be posting YouTube videos about my exchange, so keep up to date with my YouTube channel! At this moment, I only have one video uploaded and 3 more videos I need to upload… I’m so behind already! https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCU9YHiNa5ltwf1mhxzo780g

Hopefully, I’ll be able to keep on updating this journal for Rotary, friend, and family, every Month, at least that is my goal so far!

Tot ziens!

Katie 🙂

Sun, September 17, 2017


Lindsay - France

Hometown: Lake Mary, Florida
School: Lake Mary
Sponsor District : District 6980
Sponsor Club: , Florida
Host District: 1780
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Bonneville

My Bio

Hi! My name is Lindsay, I am 16 and a junior at Lake Mary High school. At home, I am a middle child. I have an older sister named Bethany and a younger brother Cameron. I am very bubbly and always have a smile on my face. I LOVE adventures and am always up to try new things! I am so blessed to have the opportunity and see and discover a new country, and see how they live. I am also really interested in art, I think it is so cool how one can be so creative. Something else I love it is classical music, it’s so soothing and really beautiful. I am a lover of sweet tea and bulldogs. I have such a great support system whether it be my friends or my family, I am beyond thankful for everything they do for me. Some of my favorite things to do in my free time is go to Disney, spend the day on the lake, or go to a hiking trail nearby. I absolutely LOVE being outside and

Journals: Lindsay- France Blog 2017-18

  • Lindsay, Outbound to France

WOW!! Happy May 1st! These last 8 months have flown by and have definitely been the quickest 8 months of my life. Sometimes this life feels just like a dream and that I’m bound to wake up any second. Since, I’m going home in 19 days ( how is that even possible ) I’ve decided to write one last time to reflect on my exchange and to talk about my feelings. First off, this exchange has definitely changed me and has helped me grow, tremendously. I am NOT the same person who boarded that plane to France last August. I’ve learned countless lessons from appreciating the little things to learning how to do things for myself to even learning what I can do to become more environmentally friendly. This has been an incredibly emotionally year for me, as well. I’ve always had a big heart but my heart has grown 10 times the size as it was before. I think part of the reason is now I understand. I understand how hard it is too communicate when you don’t speak the language, I understand what it’s like not to have many friends or people you know, I understand what it’s like for people not to understand you ( in many aspects). I understand it all now and I think now I just want to make sure no one feels the way I’ve felt multiple times throughout my exchange. Another big thing, is the cultural differences. You’d think that France and the United States really aren’t that difference especially when you compare the U.S to an Asian country. But, there are quite a few cultural differences and it’s really hard because there is somethings I LOVE about France that I wish I could bring back to the U.S with me and there are somethings about the U.S that I appreciate so much more and have definitely missed. For example, in France when they greet each other they do the ” bises” ( the kisses on the cheeks) and in the U.S we usually hug. I prefer hugs, I think its a lot more intimate and personal. But, in France they’re a lot more family oriented, and we eat dinner together as a family EVERY night, personally I LOVE this. I think it’s incredibly important to have family time and it has definitely helped me grow closer with my host families. The other night, I woke up from a dream sobbing because in my dream I was saying goodbye to my two best friends here, Irina and Kristine. ( Exchange students from Norway and Argentina ) These girls have been my rock this year, I couldn’t have done this exchange and survived the countless hours of school without them. Going home is going to be incredibly bitter-sweet. I never really understood the quote ” you leave your friends and family to go home to your friends and family” before, and now I do. I always thought like “oh this is just a year, then I’ll go home and my life will be the same. ” Oh was I crazy for thinking that. This has become my life, and my whole heart. Of course I’m super excited to get to see my friends and my family in the U.S again, but I don’t know what I’m going to do without the people I call my ” friends and family ” here. Honestly, it kind of makes me sick to my stomach knowing I probably wont ever be complete, again. This has become my Home, and of course the U.S is my home but so is France now. I’m not saying this year was perfect, because it definitely was not perfect or even close to perfect, but, I will miss it with my WHOLE heart.

Tue, May 1, 2018

  • Lindsay, Outbound to France

So, I’ve been in France for almost 7 months now and time is going by so quick. I have about 2 months left of my exchange (because I am going home to graduate with my class), it seems like I have so much time left but I also know in about what feels like 2 seconds, it’ll be time to say my goodbyes. Some days I’m ready to just hop on a plane back to the U.S and other days I can’t imagine saying goodbye to this life. I think before exchange we all had this idea in our heads that this will be the best and easiest year of our life. If anything this has not been the easiest year, I’ve struggled a lot this year, though I am grateful as I know this has definitely helped me grow as a person. I’ve learned so many lessons from cherishing time to tolerance to learning to love myself. But the biggest lesson I’ve learned is to appreciate everything. if anything exchange has taught me to appreciate everything from my life back home, to someone taking the time out of their busy schedule to help me with my French. One of my friends back home asked me yesterday “do you regret going on exchange?” and my response was ” there are some days when I do ask myself “why am I here? ” but no I don’t regret coming on exchange because every lesson I’ve learned, every person I’ve met, every new food I’ve tried, and every new thing I’ve done is 100% worth all the struggles I’ve faced”. 7 months in you would think, I’d be over being home sick but lately, I’ve been getting more homesick now then I have been throughout my exchange. you know the expression ” you don’t fully appreciate something until it’s gone” well, that works for both situations. I never appreciated my life, my friends, my family, and every little thing from home until now, though I have friends and a host family here, they can never replace the things from home. and I know when I leave to come back home I will miss the same things from here, and I will miss my life here but i guess that’s just apart of exchange, you get to live 2 incredible lives within one lifetime and you will always be missing something. On the Bright side I’m getting a little bit of home in a few weeks, my dad and sister are coming to visit me and I am so excited to see them and visit Paris/Nice, Spain, and Italy. they are coming in 3 weeks from today, which seems like a lifetime but I’m exploding with excitement and joy. Now, I just have to get through the 3 more school weeks until spring break!!! I am really lucky to have lived this life the last 7 months, and I’m looking forward to what my final 2 months have in store. I still have so much I want to see and do but if I don’t get to do it this time, I guess it will motivate me to work hard and come back!!

Sun, March 18, 2018

  • Lindsay, Outbound to France

To start off with, exchange isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. My exchange so far has had its share of ups and downs. There have been days when I want nothing more than to go home, and if you’re a future outbound, I am sure you will have days like this, as well. Exchange is not the easiest thing in the world. From the outside looking in, it appears like a year vacation or just traveling by yourself with the help from Rotary. But, really this is probably the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. One of the biggest Challenges while on exchange is trying to deal with all the emotions… I have been Happy, sad, lonely, confused (a lot) and exhausted. With that being said, this will be the best experience of your life. They say after 3 months in your country it gets easier. I have recently passed my 3-month mark, and it has gotten a lot easier. I have noticed, especially within the last week that I am understanding a lot more and starting to process French faster. Also, now I am a lot less homesick and I’m even considering moving back in a couple years. When I first got to France, I was so in love ( mostly because I was still in the honeymoon stage) and then I was getting really homesick and questioning why I was here and wanted to return to The U.S. But, now that I’ve really adjusted, I can see this country for what it really is, beautiful. I am really starting to enjoy the food, especially. if you know me, you know I HATE cheese. Well, I’m actually kind of starting to like cheese now. I honestly love the lifestyle I live here, I exercise more often and I eat better both in quality and in health. The last time I weighed myself I had lost 7 pounds, but now I think I am starting to gain it all back because of the constant boulangerie trips. I think this is the first time in my life where I am genuinely happy. As, I said earlier it’s not all rainbows and butterflies and of course I have my bad days but I am truly happy here. I really cannot imagine having to return back to reality and to my old life. it is going to be absolutely heart-breaking and I am not looking forward to that day. Originally I had planned to come home in may for graduation and walk with my class but as time goes on, the more and more I fall in love with the food, culture, people and the country. As time goes on, the more I never want to leave. I want to take a second and thank every single person who has made this adventure possible for me because It is truly the adventure of a lifetime. As some people know, I was not guaranteed to go on exchange and I was ” wait listed”. But I prayed every night and I wished on every eyelash that I would be able to experience this . I know God sent me to France for a reason and I cannot wait to find out why. I am incredibly blessed and thankful for all of the people I have met on the way, all the new experiences I have been able to experience, all the new food I have tried and all of the love I have found within myself and the world around me.

Sun, December 10, 2017

  • Lindsay, Outbound to France

WOW! I can’t believe I have already been in France for a month!!!! Time Is going by so fast… Over the past month I have done sooooooo much. I’ve started school, attended inbound orientation, and have even visited Paris!!! I’m not sure where to start so I guess I will start with school. School is so confusing and it’s very frustrating, due to the fact that I can’t express my wants and needs or even understand A lot. Also, making french friends has not been the easiest because literally Almost no one in France speaks English, with that being said… if you’re going to France please study your french before you leave!!! I enjoy french school because it is set up like college, you go to a class and have a break, the only thing is my school days are so long I go from school from 8-6 and get home around 7pm. But during my breaks, I always stop at the boulangerie ( I will probably come home fat because of all of the pastries I’m eating). Inbound orientation was A lot of fun, we hiked in the mountains, went on a boat ride in lake Annecy, and met other exchange students. Finally, Paris was absolutely incredible and super beautiful. While I was there, I visited the louvre, Notre Dame, and the Eiffel tower. I am so blessed to have 3 incredible host families that I have been able to meet and spend time with. I am especially thankful for my first family, as they have been so patient with me as I learn and adapt to french culture. I love France A lot. The architecture, The pastries, The kissing on the cheeks, The scenery; It is all so incredible. Though I love France, I also miss America A lot. I miss my friends, family, oh and chick fil a!!!

Tue, October 3, 2017


Marcella - Germany

Hometown: Deerfield Beach, Florida
School: Pompano Beach
Sponsor District : District 6990
Sponsor Club: Coconut Creek, Florida
Host District: 1830
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Stuttgartb

My Bio

Hallo! My name is Marcella Britto. I am a 16 year-old student at Pompano Beach High School. I came to the United States from São Paulo, SP, BRA four years ago. My family consists of me, my mom, dad, eldest sister, middle sister and dog; I am very close with my family. I like to think of myself as an active person and positive person; I like all sports, from volleyball to pedal boarding. I am also very fond of music of all kinds and as I result I sing and dance all day! My favorite subject in school is math and science, the more exact subjects. I also like reading and watching criminal justice shows. I wish to one day have a career in the justice system or medical field. One of the reasons why I chose to take this risk in life and travel abroad is because I enjoy languages. I am really impressed of how people can communicate all over the world and share ideas; its fascinating! I hope I master the incredibly difficult german language and fit in over there. I hope to challenge myself this year to come because as Mary Kay Ash once said “Don’t limit yourself. You can go as far as your mind lets you. What you believe, remember, you can achieve.”

Journals: Marcella- Germany Blog 2017-18

  • Marcella, Outbound to Germany


225 days have passed since I first arrived in Germany, and soon will be time for me to leave, which I dread the mere thought.

On March, it was still very, very cold and cloudy. I still needed to wear my Winter jacket every time I left the house and, to make things better, it would occasionally snow!

However, it doesn’t matter how cold it is outside, life goes on.

On this still very cold month, I went to a ballet bestowed to me by my second host family, which was one of the highlights of my month.

Classical music and dance in Germany are very appreciated, therefore the Operas and Ballets are always packed with hundreds of spectators. In addition, Stuttgart has a world renown Ballet company, which made it all the more special! Although I thought I would enjoy it, I absolutely didn’t expect to love it! My host mom and I adored the show and bonded over it.

The other highlight of my month was the Boogie-week. This is when 10th-grade students in German Gymnasiums (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gymnasium_(school)) work for a week in a place of their choice to further understand a profession they are interested in. In my case, after a lot of help from my RYO, I was welcomed to work in a surgery center specialized in cataract operations. I find it amazing that students have a chance to experience a little of what they want for their future, and decide if they really are interested in a career they are leaning towards. In any case, working with the surgical team taught me a lot about patient treatment, teamwork, drugs, and the medical field in Europe. I even got to see surgeries being performed! I found this experience to be eye-opening, as now I know that the medical field really does interest me.

At the end of March and beginning of April, our school had a two-week Easter break, and that was when my parents decided to come visit me. It was amazing to see my parents and sister again! We went on a tour through Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic, starting in my city and ending in Berlin.

In our tour, there was a lot walking (which, FYI, is very common for European cities), eating, and picture-taking. We went to several historic cities with old monuments and buildings, some even affected by the World Wars. The historic streets are really what make Europe so amazing and beautiful. Moreover, my family and I went snowboarding on the tallest mountain in Germany, Zugspitze, which this time, I was way better at (for more information read previous entry).

Overall, I was excited to show my parents my new life and culture, but it was a bit weird to notice how much I do without them. And as corny as it may sound, it made me feel grown-up.

Also, next week-Sunday, I will be moving to my next (and last) host family’s house.

March and April have flown by and so is my exchange year.

Sun, April 15, 2018

  • Marcella, Outbound to Germany

In the end of October, my school had its second break. My sister, living in Paris, had invited me to spend a week with her. So I took an ICE (fast German train), and in three hours I was, for the first time, in Paris! As much as I had heard about how beautiful Paris is, and that is the best place to go on vacation, I didn’t really believe it, but as soon as I walked through the city, I understood the wonders of the capital!
What is so amazing about Paris is that the buildings are all very old and makes you feel like you’ve gone back in time! I also had the chance to spend Halloween in Paris and that was so much fun! My sister, her friends and I painted our faces in the Halloween spirit, and walked around the city till dawn! I also got to try real French escargot, which was interesting, tasty actually!

Then came my Birthday! I really didn’t know what to expect, but it was actually the best birthday I’ve ever had! I went with some friends to a club and we danced like there was no tomorrow. I also got presents from my host family, and probably the best was the Shoe Horn. I know that doesn’t sound that exciting but I have never seen that before in the USA or Brazil and it blew my mind!

In the beginning of December, we had a field trip with the school’s Choir, Orchestra and Jazz Band. We went to a big historical hotel in Ochsenhausen to practice for our Winter/Christmas concert later that month. The three days there were all about singing, singing and having fun. I bonded so much with my classmates and just had an amazing time singing nonstop! The concert was very well done and each performance was better than the last.

Christmas in German is very special, because of all the traditions they have! The towns are turned into Christmas Markets in a blink of an eye, the people huddle up outside drinking warm drinks and buying presents for their friends and family. It’s truly amazing to see so many people gathered in the streets even though it is freezing outside.

Also, I had to switch families a week before Christmas, which wasn’t very appealing to me at first, because I would spend Christmas with strangers, but I couldn’t be more wrong.
After I said my goodbyes to the Pfeiffer family, I was warmly welcomed by the Vetter/ Goldstein family. Because they were so friendly, Christmas was great. We went to Church, cooked dinner, and then opened presents.

This Christmas was very, very different from what I am used to because my family always has big, energetic Christmases with usually more than twenty people, and here I had just a small, cozy Christmas just my host mom, host dad, and my host brother.

I have just been having the best days here in Germany, every day finding something new and exciting in my path!

After Christmas, I was invited to join my third host family on a trip to the north of Germany; we were to spend two weeks in the Nordsee. After 8 hours from train to train, we finally got there, and boy, was it windy! That was the first time I had gone to an unbearably cold beach; there was always wind and the water was so cold that it would instantly freeze one’s hand with the mere touch- but in its defense it was still Winter!

We stayed at my third host family’s friend’s villa along with another 30 friends to celebrate the holidays. We even had a Late-Christmas celebration since everyone was together.

Because it was always cold, we would play games all day or travel to neighboring cities. I even saw the process of milking cows, which was pretty interesting!

On New Year’s Eve, some German families have the tradition of feasting with grills, that means that we would have the ingredients on the table and grill the food ourselves. I also ate cow’s tong and deer heart, liver, and kidney for the first time, which was a little weird, to be honest. Not to mention that my host brother had hunted the deer. But overall, we had an awesome New Year with Fireworks and typical New Year’s songs.

In the Winter season, several churches in Stuttgart have soup kitchens every day to feed the homeless. So this January, I helped Rotary with their Hands-On Project of feeding the homeless. Hundreds of people came and we helped serve them.

It was surely an awesome experience to help the community.

In the beginning of February, my school had a one-day ski trip to Oberstdorf, in the border of Germany and Austria. This is a funny story because I haven’t skied, or more specifically, snowboarded for two years, and was not especially good at it when I did it, either. But, I always liked snow and winter sports so I told myself “Let’s give it a try”. And indeed I did… I really did try, but I would fall on my face every time, and all of my school friends were pros because they have grown up with snow, so in my opinion, they had an unfair advantage! But after many, many, many falls, I started to kind of get the hang of it. And regardless of how bad I was, it is always fun when you are with friends. One of my friends even tried to teach me and was really sweet to me even though I was terrible.

A German tradition that I also really liked was the Karnaval. I was only familiar with the colorful, energetic Brazilian Carnaval and its Parades, but this was totally different. In German Karnavals, people are supposed to look ugly and scare the public. These people participating in the parade, wear ugly masks of witches or ogres, for example, scaring, giving people high fives, and just acting silly. The Karnaval has a really nice energy and everyone is very into it, which I thought was very special.

It has already been 6 Months and I am still loving it!!!

Thu, February 15, 2018

  • Marcella, Outbound to Germany

My Exchange in Germany

The first two months of my exchange were just amazing!

Though I didn’t get welcomed by a poster with my name and a bunch of people, like I expected, I was warmly welcomed by my older host brother, Leo, and my host mom, Susanne. It was a bit awkward at first since everything was new to me and also because my German wasn’t very good. But as time passed, I got more and more used to the family I was living with.

They were always very nice to me and showed me things about the German culture and its traditions.

We also traveled to pretty cities nearby and to my surprise to Italy! I was so happy, because I’ve always, always wanted to go to Italy. I loved the Italian culture, language, and definitely the food!!It was so fun and warm, in contradiction to the cold weather of Germany!

Other pretty exciting things I did were that I went to the Mercedes-Benz Museum and the IAA (International Automobil-Ausstellung)- the biggest car exposition in the world! This was very significant to me because I love cars and it is something that I always wished to do with my dad, and- check!- I finally did it!

I definitely did not know what to expect from my school, but in the end, I really liked it. The bad part about going to school was that I had to take a train and 2 buses to get there, which is more or less AN HOUR! But other than the painful two hours of my life each day on public transportation (the public transportation here is amazing, just a lil’ boring!), my school was interesting. Most days we leave school after lunch, so that was awesome compared to my 9 hour-school-days back home.

The people were very friendly, all, of course, wanted to know the exchange student, which made it so much easier to make friends. And, to my surprise, everyone-and I really do mean everyone- speaks English here, and that is not very good for me because everyone wants to speak to me in English, but all I really want to do is practice my German!

In addition, I have become part of my school’s Choir and International Club. Moreover, I have also joined a dance class and a German course, which not only are fun, but I get to meet more people outside school!

Finally, the biggest change I have had experienced is the cold weather!!! Living in Florida for four years, I had almost forgotten that Winter existed and I was definitely not ready for it! I’ve had to buy so many sweaters, long sleeve shirts, and warm shoes here, but I am pulling through… I will survive this winter!

To the future OBs: I definitely think you guys are going to be very happy with your decision to go abroad, I know, I sure am!

Plus, if you guys have any questions about exchange don’t hesitate to ask!

Sun, January 7, 2018


Nikki - Bosnia and Herzegovina

Hometown: Lawrenceville, Georgia
School: Brookwood
Sponsor District : District 6900
Sponsor Club: North Atlanta, Georgia
Host District: 1910
Host Club: The Rotary Club Bosnia

My Bio

Hola! Me llamo Nikki! I’m 15 years old and currently a sophomore attending Brookwood High School. I live in Lawrenceville, Georgia with my mom, stepdad, and two sisters. In my free time I enjoy engaging in extracurricular activities like swim, dance, martial arts, piano, and most prevalently: art. I love all types of art, though I favor the new school style above all else. I was a candidate in the Governor’s Honors Program (a competition where only 9 art students from our student body of 3500 were selected) this past year, and the process opened my eyes to all the possibilities of a future in the world of art. I am very passionate about art and intend to pursue an art path after high school and college, which is one of the many reasons the exchange experience will positively impact my future. Fully immersing myself in a new culture will give me a new perspective not only in art, but in all the psychographic aspects as well. During the exchange process, I’m hoping to be given the opportunity to share my culture and learn about new cultures. I’d love to live in a Spanish speaking country. I’ve spent a couple of months in Spain with my family and the experience was enlightening. I am currently studying Spanish, and becoming fluent would be majorly beneficial throughout my life because the ability to speak Spanish and English enables me to communicate with 2/3 of the world! Though a Spanish speaking country is ideal for me, should I be sent somewhere else I’m confident that I would adapt and embrace the opportunity. I know that you get out of an experience what you put into it and that’s why, regardless of where I’m sent, I will give it my all!

Journals: Nikki-Bosnia and Herzegovina Blog 2017-18

  • Nikki, Outbound to Bosnia and Herzegovina

Finally finding time to journal! (I may be speaking too soon and this may just be a burst of inspiration that results in me writing more than necessary then going MIA for a few months, but I hope that’s not the case).

I’m going to start telling some stories–small, awkward moments or quotes I’ve experienced and heard while on my exchange up to this point.

Goats and Corn
As you may know, the public transportation system in America is lacking (to say the least), so riding the bus took some getting used to. My first host family lived about 20 minutes away from the city center, which is considered to be a “village” because in general, my city is pretty small and compact. I’d ride the bus to school every morning, and back home in the afternoon. Nearly a month had passed since school had begun, and I finally thought I was getting the hang of the bus system. I had the schedule, stops, and tickets memorized for the whole week, and apparently that made me a bit cocky. Me, being the directionally challenged individual that I am, let my newly found navigational skills get to my head. One day after school I routinely boarded the 12:45 bus, and started playing games on my phone. Like I said earlier, the bus ride from the center to my house lasts around 20 minutes, so I didn’t see the need to be constantly aware of my surroundings–Mistake one. After about 15 minutes, something didn’t feel right, or rather, didn’t SMELL right. I may have lived in a “village” but my neighborhood was urban as Tokyo in comparison to where this bus had taken me. I look up from my phone to only see goats and corn on all sides of me. “Don’t panic, the city isn’t that big. These buses can’t go THAT far, right?” I saw it best fit to stay seated and wait for the bus to complete its route and take me back to the center where I could call my host family or board another bus. 10 minutes….20 minutes….30 minutes passed before the bus came to a stop behind a field of wheat. The driver, a chubby man with much more than a 5 o’clock shadow trailing from under his nose down to the collar of his unbuttoned dress shirt, with patchy chest hair peeking out. He was something you’d see in a cartoon, and his thick, Slavic accent only added to the stereotype. He began humming to himself as he wriggled out of the drivers seat, shocked to see a passenger still on board. He boomed something in his deep voice, scratchy from at least 10 years of smoking; something I didn’t understand, considering I wasn’t even speaking the language at a caveman’s level at that point. I stuttered, with my thick American accent “Ja sam Amerikanka…er… ne govorim Srpski” (I am American. I don’t speak Serbian), one of the only things I actually knew how to say. Instead of slowing down or even thinking for a moment, the man repeated the same sentence, ONLY LOUDER in hopes that I would understand. Obviously it didn’t work, and we were both equally frustrated. He then gestured with two fingers for me to sit back down and wait, as he went into a small building for a few minutes. I sat, shaken, trying to come up with a plan. Considering my phone was almost dead and I was yet to purchase a sim card or data, I was a bit stuck. About 10 minutes later, I saw the man waddle out of the building, crush the beer can he was drinking from, and approach the bus. He looked at me again and loudly asked “Centar?” “Yes! I mean… Da!” I eagerly responded, thankful that he was able to guess my end goal. My relief was short lived as he rambling and waving his arms at me, confusing and flustering my newfound composure. I sat with my bag in my lap and he reached for it–Maybe I was just too shaken to react, or too scared of what would happen had I pulled my bag away from this man who towered over me and had the ability to snap me like a kit-kat at his will. He shuffled through my bag and pulled out my wallet and aggressively pointed to it. MONEY! He wanted money! How could I have been so stupid and not realized I hadn’t paid for a ticket back. I quickly provided the driver with the money for a ticket; grumbling, he retook his seat and we were on our way back to the center. It was around 2:30 when we arrived back to the center, and my initial plan was to connect to wifi and call my host mom to come pick me up, but at this point my phone had died and I was almost out of money. I decided to get on the next bus 13 that passed through the center and hope for the best. Not exactly my brightest idea, but everything went smoothly. I boarded the 2:45 bus and was home by 3:00. My host brother answered the door normally and didn’t even question where I had been for the last 2 hours. That afternoon at lunch I retold my bus mishap and after a solid 15 minutes of laughter, my host mom managed to explain my mistake “There’s 13a, 13b, 13d, and 13. WE ride 13. Today you rode 13d into another city.”

I slept the best I had since my arrival given the adrenaline rush and the amount and speed of the thoughts that raced through my head that day.

Sat, January 27, 2018

  • Nikki, Outbound to Bosnia and Herzegovina

It has been just over two months since I arrived in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and I’m still starstruck. I would say that I’ve come down from the high of the “honeymoon phase”, but the country itself still leaves me speechless. I’m living in Banja Luka, a small city with just under 200,000 residents. The biggest positive to living in such a small city is that everyone pretty much knows each other, and that makes my stay all the more welcoming. It feels more like a community than a city.

Let’s start from the beginning:

My flight was a challenge. I flew from Atlanta to Paris, and from Paris to Zagreb, where I was picked up by my host mom and brother. I had a 2 hour layover at the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, but we were held on the plane for about an hour. Once we were let into the airport, me, being the directionally challenged individual that I am (thanks, mom), got lost. I managed to get onto the plane to Zagreb less than 10 minutes before our departure. It was an unnecessary adrenaline rush that I hope to never experience again. After getting lost in the airport in Zagreb as well, I found my 19 year old host brother, Nikola, and my host mom, Gordana, waiting for me. Nikola was a Rotary youth exchange student in Florida 2015-2016, so he is fluent in English and has gone through what I was and currently am going through mentally. The first thing i noticed when the plane landed, was the air. It tasted crisp and fresh. It was very hot in Zagreb, hotter than in Georgia, but thankfully less humid. I credit the clean air to all the greenery and low usage of cars (because of public transportation). It was about a 3 hour drive from the airport to Banja Luka, of which I mostly spent sleeping. While I was awake, I got to see the beautiful nature that Croatia has to offer. I’m looking forward to a trip I’ll be taking to Zagreb next month.

The biggest positive change for me in living in Europe (I know it seems minimal), is probably the public transportation. As I mentioned earlier, it’s so convenient and effective, and has improved my options for social interaction tenfold. It really is so convenient and I’m baffled as to why it isn’t used everywhere in the U.S. Also, freedom of speech is highly respected here, unlike how it is from my experience in the U.S. People aren’t easily offended and all opinions are heard and respected, and I find that to be a beautiful thing. Another BEAUTIFUL thing about this country is the food. It’s absolutely amazing. In the U.S., I would NEVER eat vegetables. It was a huge problem to the point where my mom would have to sit with me, a 16 year old, at the table and watch me finish them. Insane, I know. But here the produce and agricultural goods are not only bearable, I sometimes enjoy them. Everything tastes fresher and cleaner. Sadly, it’s impossible for any amount of healthy food here to cancel out my sweet intake. Every day after school, I walk to Manja, a cafe in the center, and order some gelato. One of my favorite things about Europe is the sweets, and it’s becoming a problem. Not one I’m willing to fix, of course. I don’t have that kind of self control. It’s more of one of those issues that I complain about with no drive to change my ways. The cake is just too rich and I’m not strong enough. I’m currently embracing the weight, if I’ll be honest. I should be starting training at the dance academy where my host sister, Kristina (22), trained.

the biggest “negative” change in living here? It’s hard to say. There is somewhat of a bias against Americans due to the conflict between our countries in the past, but nothing major at all. I still feel welcome and cared for, so there really is no threat. I guess for me the cultural quirk that I dislike the most is the lemonade. They drink it lukewarm… That’s new for me. I’m sure I’ll get used to it. Eventually…

So much has happened, It’s hard to put it all into words. I’ll span out my ventures in these journal entries over the next few journal entries. Hopefully I’ll the time to write monthly, but life is super busy between school, social life, dance starting, and bonding with my host family.

Sat, October 21, 2017


Natasha - Taiwan

Hometown: Palm Harbor, Florida
School: Tarpon Springs
Sponsor District : District 6950
Sponsor Club: Tarpon Springs, Florida
Host District: 3250
Host Club: Chiang Kai-Sek Memorial

My Bio

Hi! My name is Natasha and I’m 17 years old. I live in Palm Harbor, Fl with my mom, dad, younger sister, and golden shepherd. I’m a senior at Tarpon Springs High School in the Leadership Conservatory for the Arts as a member of the color guard and orchestra. Being part of the music program, I’ve been able to have many amazing opportunities, from preforming in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade to winning the Grand Nationals Championship. When I’m not at practice (which is rare) I love to volunteer at a local elementary school teaching orchestra. Occasionally, when the teacher is out, I get to run the class by myself. As a result of handling thirty, third through fifth graders, my patience has grown exponentially. I also have taken part in my schools NHS club, Mu Alpha Theta, and Academic Team. I really enjoy taking challenging classes, particularly in math and science, though I still enjoy social studies and english too. When I’ve been graced with free time, I like to go shopping with my friends. I enjoy the feeling of a bargain, and I’m usually found hovering around the ‘Last Chance’ clearance items. I’ve been wanting to experience being an exchange student for years and I’m incredibly thankful for the opportunity I have to live and study in Taiwan. I’m excited to experience all the Chinese culture has to offer and developing my fluency in Mandarin.

Journals: Natasha-Taiwan Blog 2017-18

  • Natasha, Outbound to Taiwan

Already into 2018! It’s been a while since the last journal entry because I felt like there hasn’t been too much to write about. The holiday season is quite different form what I’m used to in America. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years were fairly uneventful.

What was had been really fun was a trip I got to take with my school to 鳳林 Fenglin. It was a camp for elementary schoolers from Taipei and Fenglin. There were students from my school that came as camp counselors. The camp was about learn about one of the aboriginal tribes, the Truku (pronounced Te-lu-ku).

Thursday 1/25

After meeting at the translation with all the elementary schoolers, we left for Fenglin. It was my first time taking the train such a long distance and with so many people getting on the train at once there was a bit of a jam of people trying to find a space for their luggage and their seats. When we arrived at the Fenglin train station, it was clear how far out of the city we were. The air was so clean, you can notice the difference. It was really quiet (besides all of us) and there were hardly any other people. We loaded our bags in some pickup trucks and squeezed into cars to drive to the school. After getting organized into our groups there were a few presentations on Truku culture. We learned how to say ‘good morning, good afternoon, and hello’ in Truku, as well as a story about one of their traditional foods and I think a brief history on the area we were in.

Friday 1/26

The second day there were several actives planned for the elementary schoolers. The morning was games and the afternoon was more cultural actives. First a language class where we learned some more phrases and how to count to ten. Then a dance class and a music class. In the evening we had barbecue. As part of their culture they kill a pig so I got to see a pig die up close and personal. The way they do it is tie front legs back and have a rope in it’s mouth to keep it up. Then after a prayer it’s a knife straight to the neck to bleed her out. They held under the hole to catch the blood so they can make soup with it. After the pig is dead they use a flamethrower to clean the body and they scrape off the top layer of skin with a shovel. Watching the pig getting butchered was pretty interesting too! First the head gets chopped and set over to the side where will shave all of the meat off. Then they make a long incision down the stomach, where they first pull out the intestines before opening the body and start cutting pieces out. Two men chopped up the ribs while another worked on cutting the spine out. I kept watching as they continued to take apart the pig, but before they finished we were ushered inside to participate in a talent show. Both elementary schools had a dance performances with Xilin Elementary (the Fenglin school) doing a traditional dance and Xiushan (the Taipei school) dancing to a pop song. The high schoolers also danced to a song and as the exchange students we sang to a couple songs. After the show and dinner we got to talk with some of locals and everyone was super nice!

Saturday 1/27

The morning we went out to a local attraction. In the afternoon we went to do some more cultural actives: pottery and making mochi. The pottery was pretty fun, as we were allowed to make what ever we wanted, all of the exchange students coincidently picked sea animals. The mochi was also really interesting, as the way it’s made, you take a huge stick and pound rice. It takes a lot of strength to do, and I was only about to try for a fairly short time. That night we went on a hike into the mountains to search for frogs. The best part of that was when we all stopped and were completely silent, listening to the sounds of the woods around us.

Sunday 1/28

The elementary schoolers were paired up today, so they spent the morning with their buddy. For the high schoolers, we got to go to a farm and help pick some of the food we were going to have for lunch. We picked a lot of peas, and we also got to pull up taro plants, which is the main ingredient in the bubbles for bubble tea. I was really surprised, because I hadn’t looked up a picture of the plant before, but they resemble potatoes and the inside is white. When we got back, we mashed the taro up in a similar way to the mochi from yesterday. We mixed it with sweet potato and made a soup with it. After that we had barbecue and KTV. Elisa and I decided to go for it and sing a song and when we saw Five Hundred Miles, we immediately picked that one. Unfortunately for us, it was not the version that we know and instead is a different song with the same name. We could barely sing we were laughing so hard. The kids came back in the afternoon and we had an obstacle course set up to race in. Each team would try to get to the other side, but when you run into the opposing person, you face off in rock, paper, scissors, losers has to turn around. I was really lucky, because when I went to run, I won every round of rock, paper, scissors and broke the tie for my team! For dinner one of the locals invited the high schoolers to their house where we had a home cooked traditional meal.

Monday 1/29

More cultural activities today! In the morning we got to do archery, and it is definitely harder than it looks! Some of the kids from Fenglin were really good, while many of the Taipei kids had a hard time even just shooting the arrows. Afterward we learned how to build animal traps using only rocks, sticks, and a little bit of string. We had another talent show this night too, which each group either dancing or singing to two songs. It was fun and at the end of it they thanked the high schoolers for helping out. Afterwards we got to talk with some of the adults again and ended up paying with their kids for a bit. Tomorrow we were leaving for Taipei and I didn’t want the night to end.

Tuesday 1/30

Our last day in Fenglin. The morning we took a hike up the mountain and got to see the gorgeous scenery. Living in Florida, the land is so flat that everyday in Taiwan I still lose my breath at the sight of the mountains. After getting back to the school, they let everyone put on tattoos that were like the traditional ones members of the tribe would get, and they gave everyone from Taipei a Truku name. We then loaded of stuff up, went to the train station and returned to Taipei. This was probably one of the best weeks of exchange so far, and I was really sad when it ended. Sometimes it’s the things that you think might not be too fun, or that you don’t even know what’s going to happen that are the parts that you enjoy the most.

Mon, March 5, 2018

  • Natasha, Outbound to Taiwan

So in the two months I’ve been here I’ve been through a few different school schedules. The average Taiwanese student, the classes for exchange students at my school, and now my schedule with Chinese class everyday.

My school is one of the top schools in the area, so the students study a lot. School is from 7:20 to 5:00 (Wed. And Fri.) or 6:00 (Mon., Tue., and Thur.) Each class is 50 minutes with a 10 minute break in between. The classes taken vary day by day, with some classes happening once a week to twice a day. The teachers switch class rooms, which I was expecting, but what surprised me is that all the teachers use microphones! Another thing that is very different from American school is that everyday, the students have a 20 minutes break in the afternoon where they have to clean. They also have a nap time after lunch everyday, which I totally understand because their days are so long! They don’t get to pick any of their classes, even electives, and every day they have tests. A lot of students go to cram school after school is over or on the weekend to take extra classes. Tests are the most important thing here and your scores are the largest determining in where you can go to college.

Because the other exchange students and I have absolutely no idea what’s going on, the school was very helpful in offering us other classes to take. There is a community college across the street from the high school so we were able to take calligraphy, Chinese dance, and TA an English class. We also have Chinese painting and Home Economics with the middle schoolers. Everyone is very nice, but the average age for the classes I’m in is either 15 or 50, because the seniors study too much to be in a class with them.

Now my schedule is a different from the other exchange students at my school. They are all from a different district than me, so they have Chinese class twice a week on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, while my district has classes on Tuesday and Friday afternoon. I switched out of the regular class for the Rotary students because I have already taken Chinese for a year and I wanted to take a class that was more my level. My club was very helpful in calling the school and getting things worked out so now I have class everyday from 1:30 to 4:30 with college students. I really like the class and I feel like my reading and writing of Chinese characters has progressed a lot since switching. There’s more homework, but when I’m at school my teachers let me study Chinese during the classes that I can’t understand.

Overall no matter what class I’m in the people are very nice and I’m enjoying the opportunities to learn new things about Taiwanese and the culture (even if I don’t always understand what’s going on)!

Sun, November 5, 2017

  • Natasha, Outbound to Taiwan

Click HERE to read more about Natasha and all her blogs

So, it’s been a little under a month since I have come to the island of Taiwan, and while everyday isn’t an epic adventure, I have been immensely enjoying my time here. After traveling for nearly a day I was greeted at the airport by my my families, exchange students and other Rotary members. I thought my Chinese was pretty okay, but after being surrounded by it constantly I realized I have much to learn. My listening comprehension has definitely improved the most since arriving, but I have had A LOT of practice speaking as well. My second day here I went with my host mom to Taipei 101 and the Chiang Kai-Sek Memorial. The memorial is absolutely beautiful! It reminds me of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. One thing that really surprised me is that by the memorial there are concert halls, and there were several groups of students dancing in from it. Street dancing is really popular here and there anywhere there is a large free space, the re are groups that meet up to dance.

One of the things I absolutely love here is the MRT (subway) system! I’ve used the subway in New York City, but I was always pretty confused and it was my parents who always made sure we were going the right way. In Taiwan, after one use of the MRT, I was able to use it myself. Everything is in Chinese AND English, so I’m able to read the maps and the signs. I have an easy card, so every week I put some money on it and I’m good to go! It helps that my apartment building is directly above one of the stations, so I don’t need to take buses very often. I love being able to go anywhere I want whenever I want (with my host parents permission of course) and it’s really great to be able to meet up with the friends I have made here!

Sun, September 17, 2017


Nikki - Italy

Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: Ponte Vedra High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: St. Augustine Sunrise, Florida
Host District: 2032
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Sarzana-Lerici

My Bio

Ciao! My name is Nicole Packo, but please call me Nikki. I am from Saint Augustine, Florida born and raised. Currently I’m a student at Ponte Vedra High School in the biotechnology academy. I’m super excited to go to ITALY!!!! Italy seems so amazing and my personality will fit in great. I come from a huge close family, I have 5 older brothers. My brothers have been lucky enough to travel the world now its my time to go and travel. I love animals they are very important to me. I cant wait to see Florence football it seems like so much fun. I’m so ready to try and learn some many new things from their culture. I have been blessed by a great family who has many stories to tell me especially my grandfather. My grandfather Daniel J.Hill is a huge American hero and I want to make a impact on people like he has on me, and be able to pass down the experiences I get from this exchange to the next generation. Then they will be able to do the same and it becomes a tradition. I hope to do some great things with Rotary Youth Exchange. I am so thankful for the opportunity I have gotten with Rotary.

Journals: Nikki-Italy Blog 2017-18

  • Nikki,Outbound to Italy

Ciao tutti,

I’ve been busy lately, I just moved to my 3rd host family a couple days and it was hard because I really liked my 2nd host family. I felt really connected with them. I went to London with my 2nd host family which was so much fun. My 2nd host mom took about a thousand photos of me and my host sister. I was excited for Starbucks because in Italy there is only one I think in the Milan airport. It’s crazy how I have about 2 months left. It stills feels like yesterday when I was talking to a past exchange I met on the airport before landing in Pisa. This weekend I’m having friends come over for brunch because I’m making pancakes… I found out Italians love pancakes. I have to say since I’m on the topic of food, Italian food is really good. My favorite is Gnocchi with Pesto and it’s easy to make but Pesto is amazing. Also this weekend I am hoping for good weather because then my friends can take me to Cinque Terre for the first time. I’m excited about that. School is good. The students in my class treat like one of them, so that’s good. It was really cool because my class went on a field trip to a jail and we went to Rome. In Rome Giorgio Napolitano said hi to my class which I thought was really cool. In May my class is going to Napoli. I’m excited about that because I’ve only been to Tropea in the south and I was told Napoli is so different from the rest of Italy, especially the language. It’s nice now because it’s starting to get warm which means I go can go to the beach. My 3rd host family is just me and the mom because one daughter is in Mexico and the another studies in Milan for university. It’s nice because my host sister now (the one who studies in Milan) her best friend is my other host sister from my 2nd family. It’s nice because at least once a week my 2nd host mom will call me to see how I’m doing. Every Sunday my new host goes to Nonna’s for dinner which I enjoy. Easter was good but the day after Easter is like the Easter for friends where they cook and hang out but I was sick and got my sister sick. Over the weekend the weather was nice so me and my friends went to Lerici which is right by the sea. It’s so pretty right there because of all the boats. It’s like a perfect picture. Plus in each town they have a little castle or fort which is always nice to see and normally they have a nice view with them too. Also the castle always have some history to go along with them and the towns which is interesting. Lerici is really beautiful. I rather like going to there with all the boats is very beautiful.

Mon, April 9, 2018

  • Nikki, Outbound to Italy

Ciao ragazzi

So it is Christmas time and it has been crazy around here I have been really busy. Let me start off with the day we decided to put up the Christmas tree. My host mom bought a brand new fake tree and my host dad opens the box not knowing what to do with it , so I knew exactly how to set the tree up and did that in like 20 minutes or so. After a minute of setting it up the base of the tree isn’t really holding the tree at a balance so my host dad tries to fix and my host dad is not really a “handy man” he doesn’t like tools and stuff. I think we had to take the tree apart 3 or 4 times. He ended shoving wood pieces in the base to get the tree balanced and my host mom kept telling him that she would just get a new tree but he didn’t want to set a new tree up. Once the tree is balanced my host mom says she wants it taller so we have to find something to put the tree on when we do we tried like 3 different tables and every time we would pick the tree up to move it somehow we would end up dropping and starting at square one. We finally get everything all good and my host dad wants to go take a nap because he got so frustrated with the tree. Also if you come to Italy there is a Holiday so you can put the tree up. Then in school I did secret Santa with my class. I think we had to draw names 3 different times until like a week before Christmas everyone was like no more changing our person. So I drew the same person twice and he got me twice too and the girls in my class we did gifts too. In my class its about 28 students with only 6 girls because I am in a Sport Scientific class. Yesterday night we had the family over for dinner and then after we open the gifts on Christmas eve because that’s when Italians celebrate Christmas. The dinner yesterday didn’t finish until 1:30 am. Today I went to church with Nonna (grandma) and that was interesting compared to home at church before you leave you kiss baby Jesus which I thought was interesting. Then we all went out with the family today for lunch at a restaurant right on on the ocean, it was nice. I ate about 4 plates of seafood and was dying because I didn’t think I could eat so much food. My host parents told me we weren’t going to eat dinner because we ate so much at lunch. Around 6 my family starts showing up with more food and I was like we are eating again. Also it wasn’t like a little snack it was like a 4 course meal I was dying trying to eat all of it.

Tue, December 26, 2017

  • Nikki, Outbound to Italy


So since the last time I wrote I have changed schools and I am in love with my new class. The whole class talks to me all time. My second day there they asked to go to lunch and I thought it would be with a few girls … Nope they are planning for all 27 of us to go eat lunch somewhere. My gym class went rock climbing and I’m afraid of heights but still did it and I was freaking out when the teacher said “once you get to the top just drop down” well it was scary at home I would never do that. I went to Geneva over the weekend. We went to the second largest aquarium in Europe. This Sunday the 26th I am suppose to go to Cremona with Rotary to meet district 2031/2. I have two little host siblings and love them to death my little sister reminds of me when I was her age the funny thing is she looks exactly like me at that age. She told her mom “Mom make sure you keep Nikki’s number forever”. My host parents want to send my little sister to live with me in America when she gets older. My little host brother says he wants to be fluent in English because of me. Next year my host family wants to come to Saint Augustine… I am super excited !!! I am suppose to make Thanksgiving dinner for my family and they are so excited because they love my cooking. I love how much this family makes me feel like their own daughter. At my house downstairs lives my host moms sister and below her Nonna (grandmother) lives. The other day I ate lunch with Nonna and after lunch she showed me all the family photos I feel like I would never forget that. In December I am suppose to go with my class to Florence. My town is starting to put up Christmas lights and I feel like a little kid walking around with big eyes. I went ice skating here it was kinda different from home but it was something different I enjoyed it. I am so excited to have Christmas in Italy I really hope it snows where I live even if it is only a very light snow because it already has snowed everywhere near us but not my town. I love Italy more and more everyday I really can not believe how much I fell in love with it. I love when I dress I look Italian I get so excited. Also if you guys are looking for gifts to bring your family my host family loves the peanut butter and yum yum sauce or shrimp sauce they literally put it on everything. Its funny because they put it on more things than I do. I feel like I made them unhealthy because they were healthy and now I feel like changed that. Everyday they ask me to tell my mom to send more yum yum sauce or if they can buy some in Italy.

Mon, November 20, 2017

  • Nikki, Outbound to Italy

Click HERE to read more about Nikki and all her blogs

Hey guys so I am just starting to feel better after getting sick. I went to south Italy for orientation and I GOT ON ITALIAN NEWS!!!! I was so excited about getting on TV here I said I would give a speech on the news but they didn’t want me to. My 2nd day of being home I was in alot of pain in my stomach so they called the doctor and he said I got a stomach virus. While here is the thing kids don’t drink tap water in a foreign that you don’t know if the water is clean. Guys if you come to Italy you will have your orientation in a paradise its normally in southern Italy the water is so blue. I went into the water thinking that its warm… Nope not true its cold and very salty which I thought was odd. After one of our meetings I got to meet all these Italians I was so excited, I think I scared them. Some of the girls were excited to meet me but the guys were like oh nahhh thats the crazy American girl!! I went on my first train in Italy going to orientation they are not what I thought they would be like. I thought the train was like the subway in New York where you stand up the whole time welp you don’t you sit down ( without a.c. so it gets hot). Sunday I will be moving to my first host family they were moving houses. So I have lived with all my families but my first it 3-2-1. My first host families has DOGS and KIDS!!!!! Thats sounds exciting for me and these kids are little which is amazing. I hope my dog can sleep with me but I cant hold my breath on that one.

Thu, September 28, 2017

  • Nikki, Outbound to Italy

Ciao everyone my name is Nikki and Im in Italy.

I would today I have been in Italy for about 8 days or so. My first day here it was good I got in around 11:30 in the morning. The second day here I went to hang out with the Australian in Sarzana. On my 3rd day in Italy I got this feeling of love and I feel in love with Italy which I never would of thought its such a amazing feeling to have. One day I went to Sarzana to see my friends and I got on a bus but I missed my stop and decided to get off this bus to follow a lady who said my town name but the rest she said I didnt understand. I follow her to this other bus and I say about 10 minutes on this bus she gets off and I have no idea where I am. The bus ended up at some bus stop thats 2 hours away from my house and my phone dies. My friend who put me on the bus is freaking out for hours because she cant get a hold of me. It took me about a hour or so to find someone to help because Im so lost. I finally find my bus and walk up my mountain to get home and I cant open the door so I had to wait till my host mom gets home. Right when she gets home I get the door open. Another time I go to take a shower and the bathroom gets alot of steam so I open the window and the alarm of the house goes off and I start freaking out. I thought I woke my host mom up from a nap because the alarm was going off.

Sun, September 17, 2017


Nouni - Brazil

Hometown: Lake Mary, Florida
School: Lake Mary
Sponsor District : District 6980
Sponsor Club: Lake Mary, Florida
Host District: 4500
Host Club: The Rotary Club of João Pessoa Norte

My Bio

Oi, meu nome é Nourhan Nasser. I live in Lake Mary, Florida and I’m going to be an exchange student in Brazil. I moved to the United States about four years ago from a tiny country called Lebanon. I am the youngest of three children and currently live with my mother and sister. My father and brother live back in Lebanon where my family is. I am a very extroverted and loud person and I enjoy hanging out with my friends in my spare time. I am very involved in school academics and extracurricular activities. I am a four year varsity waterpolo player and swimmer and a member of National Honor Society, Spanish Honor Society, Art Appreciation, and the Biology and Medicine Club. I also currently have two part time jobs; working at Chikfila and my family’s pizzeria. I have always been interested in learning about different cultures and languages because I am bicultural and have always wanted to expand my horizons. By learning a new language I will be able to experience a completely different way of life and become exposed to a different perspective of the world and Brazilian culture. I am going into this program with only what I have learned online and from other people but I can’t wait to actually experience everything firsthand. I am so thankful to Rotary for allowing me to embark on this once in a lifetime experience and life journey.

Journals: Nouni-Brazil Blog 2017-18

  • Nouni, Outbound to Brazil

Major Events:

Swim meet: Got to travel to another city with my team for 4 days. To any future outbounds, I highly recommend becoming involved in a sport or an activity because it gives you the chance to make a bunch of new friends who you share a common interest with.

Beach swim relay: Each relay consists of people from all ages, starting from pre-teens to master swimmers so its a lot of fun because everyone gets to meet new people and cheer them on. Since my city is on the beach, my team started to organize different swim events at the beach to keep everyone involved and engaged.

Summer Concerts: AMAZING.. I never thought I would fall in love with Portuguese music given the fact I hated it before leaving. Saw all my favorite Brazilian artists and actually cried at one of the concerts.

RIO: Best travel ever! One of the most beautiful places i have ever visited in my life. Going into Rio I was actually really scared because ever since before my exchange everyone has been warning me about how dangerous the city is. Thankfully i had a very smooth experience there. It actually super funny to hear the different accent they have in different regions in Brazil and the different jargon they use. You can 9/10 times guess where someone is from in Brazil based on their accents and even the exchange students are able to notice the difference.

Christmas: Spent Xmas day visiting family and ended with Christmas dinner at my exchange students house with her family and mine. X-mas dinner started at 11 PM ! I was starving hahahaha. Christmas really depends on your family more than your host country. My Brazilian Christmas experience was completely different from other exchange students in Brazil, let alone form the other exchange students in my city. This is also an important time to remember that everyone’s exchange is different and you shouldn’t compare your exchange to others.

Rotary Christmas Celebration: Rotary organized a Xmas weekend with all the exchange students in my multi-district. Left the hotel in the morning, rode buggies everywhere around the city, visited historic monuments, went to beach via ferry, watched the sunset on a boat, and came back for a Xmas dinner with gift exchanges and give aways.

New Years: Best new years celebration ever. Beach followed by a concert (More about this below) I want to spend every single New Years Eve in Brazil.

Family change: Who knew that leaving a bunch of strangers would be so hard? Changing families was one of the most heartbreaking parts of my exchange so far. I’ve created a certain type of relationship with this family that is hard to explain. Like family lunches on Saturdays at grandmas house ending with everyone singing and dancing and telling jokes. I became really close with my host mom’s family especially with my cousin and my mom’s twin sister and her younger brother and his family and of course his wife who is absolutely insane and one of the funniest people I’ve met on this exchange. So the day before switching families I packed up all my stuff and we put everything in the car and head out to grandmas for a farewell lunch with my favorite meal. The afternoon ended with a full stomach and a bunch of hugs and kisses saying goodbye to everyone. It was very difficult and I was very reluctant to change but I ended up liking my new family a lot. At first I was frustrated with Rotary for making us do this and change families. I spent my first five months with my first host family and truly became part of the family. I truly believe that they will always be my family. However, I honestly believe that family changes allow you to experience a lot more from your exchange because it forces you to step outside your comfort zone even more than you already are. My first family reunion with my new family i was so nervous and wouldn’t talk to anyone because there were around 50 family members. However, I got to meet my host cousin who is around the same age as me and her friends who are practically family. So changing into this family allowed me to become really close friends with around 8 girls all my age who I started going out and having game nights with. Another positive to changing host families is host siblings. I come from a family of 4 kids and I am the youngest so I was really excited when i found out that I was going to have younger host siblings in 2 of my families. So far I have loved being an older sibling, it’s something i have always wanted to experience. I became really close with my 9 year old brother; he helped me improve my Portuguese more than most people I have met on my exchange by listening to Brazilian music with him and singing along during car rides. Its the small things in my exchange that i am beyond grateful for.


As Exchange students ROTARY prepares us for the year ahead by explaining the different stages an exchange student goes through throughout the year. So going into December I was a little bit nervous because of feeling homesick during the Christmas holiday and missing New Year’s tradition. However December was by far my best month so far. Learning about a new culture doesn’t mean you have to let go of your old one. Around the third month of my exchange my host parents decided to get a divorce and given the fact that my host mom’s parents were divorced my Christmas was a lot of jumping around. It was mainly me, my host mom, and my nine-year-old host brother and we went to different houses and congratulated everyone before going to another exchange student’s house to celebrate Christmas with her family. It wasn’t the traditional Brasilian Christmas but it was one to remember and I’m glad I got to experience something different this year.


This New Years Eve was by far the best New Year’s eve I’ve ever had. I actually never want to spend another New Year’s eve outside of Brazil. Brasilians really enjoy celebrating New Year’s eve and have several free concerts on the beaches, which everyone goes to and usually leaves around 5am in the morning. Spent the day at the beach with my family and my exchange friend, then i spent the rest of the day with my swim mates, and for the count down the five exchange students in my city met up at the beach to celebrate together. It’s so simple but so perfect at the same time. New Years in Brasil is something else. I’m completely in love with the Brasilian tradition of wearing white for New Years as a symbol of peace and happiness. They also have a superstition on the color of underwear you wear on this day in which each color represents a resolution for the new year; like pink is for romance and yellow is for money. Another superstition is jumping seven waves at the beach and making a wish for each. We ended the year at the beach with friends and family and we got a panoramic view of all the fireworks going off in my city. Finally ended the night at a New Years concert and got home around 5am. I am beyond blessed to be on this exchange and cant thank the people who made this possible and keep making this possible enough.

I am completely satisfied with how my exchange has been so far. I was sad that I had to change families but I feel like it was for the best because this family fits me just as well as the other family did. Playing dominoes till 4 AM with my host parents and host brothers, crazy competitive monopoly games until 2 AM that end up with my younger brother cheating and stealing the money out of the bank and hiding the houses, sunrise watching every morning that end up with the best grilled cheese sandwiches. I’m around halfway or a little bit more than halfway through my exchange and I couldn’t have asked for anything different it has actually been better than I even imagined. All the little stuff make it so much better and make me proud to be the person I am today.

Thu, February 8, 2018

  • Nouni, Outbound to Brazil

100 DAYS

I can not believe how fast this exchange is passing by and how fast I’m learning my host language. Within 100 days of living in Brazil I have achieved a level of fluency that allows me to smoothly communicate and understand what is going on around me. Exchange truly brings out the true version of yourself because you get the chance to start with a blank slate with whatever version of yourself you choose to be. I have had crazy and adventurous days that will always be imprinted in my memories and bring a smile to my face but I have also had many normal days that have made my exchange what it is. Moments like sitting in the kitchen with my host mom and having a conversation about my day or car rides with my Brazilian best friend that always end up with us eating Acai or the sing alongs after family lunches at grandmas house that bring the entire family together. These are moments that have molded me into a different person, into a happier person, into a Brazilian by heart.

A part of exchange is making mistakes and bursting into laughter days or months later after remembering what you’ve done. At first I was afraid to speak my host language in fear of messing up and being made fun of but after I started communicating with people, no matter how wrong my grammar was, I started to make stronger connections with people and they genuinely wanted to help me learn their language. Very common exchange student things is mixing up similar sounding words. This one time after practice my teammates and I decided to get some Acai and as I was ordering mine I asked for “leite em pau” instead of “leite em po”. “Pau” is the Portuguese word for penis, so you can see where that went. Another time I tried asking my guy friend for a ride home which is “carona” but I asked if he could give me a “carinho” which is “affection” in Portuguese. Of course at the moment I was confused and my face turned red but these are all memorable moments I will always remember and laugh at.

I full heartedly believe that your exchange is what you make it out to be. Starting with how close you get with your host family, to how hard you try to speak your host language, to the extracurricular activities you participate in. The fact that my host mom knows exactly what I’m thinking without me saying anything shows how close we have gotten in the past 100 days. The mere thought of leaving my first host family brings tears to my eyes. You can live in the same city as another exchange student, with the same family, go to the same school and still have a completely different exchange. I am lucky enough to have made many Brazilian friends from various background that have all taught me various different aspects of Brazilian life. I look forward to seeing where this exchange takes me.

Thu, November 2, 2017

  • Nouni, Outbound to Brazil

I truly believe that you can never be sad when around a Brazilian. Today symbolizes my two months in this under appreciated country that I have grown to love. My exchange started off bumpy, seeing that I left my home city at 8pm on a Monday and got to my host city at 2am on a Wednesday. I had some trouble with my luggage and ended up losing my connection and having to take a taxi to another airport where I lost that connection as well and had to book another flight to a different city because they didn’t have anymore flights to my city that day which was another 7 hours wait. In addition to all this barely anyone understood yet spoke English and I couldn’t contact my host family because I had an American line. Despite the emotional turmoil I appreciate everything that happened to me because I learned how to deal with an extremely stressful situation.

It’s been two months living in the northeast of Brazil in a small city called Joao Pessoa but I feel like I’ve lived here and known these people my entire life. I was welcomed with open arms wherever I went and greeted with friendly kisses and warm hugs from strangers that soon became my friends and family. I would have never imagined to be welcomed so lovingly and taken into someone’s home so easily. At first I hated the thought of going to college where not a single person spoke English but despite the language barrier, I found all my classmates coming to my aid without me even asking for help. I’m not going to lie, not understanding the language of the country you’re living in is extremely difficult and frustrating especially when you can’t communicate with the people around you. I was very hesitant to speak Portuguese my first month because I had my host sister living with us and she translated for me and was my voice. However, she left for exchange to Poland at the end of my first month and it was heartbreaking because I never thought I’d get close to someone so fast. However it was also beneficial to my language acquisition because i was forced to have to speak and understand everything. I will full heartedly tell you that your exchange is what you make it and how fast you master your host language is solely up to you. You can find people who speak English in your city but you can also choose to practice your host language despite how much more difficult it is.

I later joined a neighborhood swimming team at a place called “Villa Olímpica” where only one person and I mean one person spoke English. She is a past exchange student who went to Ohio and I am so grateful for her because sometimes you need an aid to explain the people, culture, and surroundings of your host country. Excluding her no one else on my team speaks English and my practices are completely in Portuguese which was EXTREMELY confusing at first. I expected to solely learn a language but I have fallen in love with Brazilian people and their culture and I have learned so much from the people I have meant from around the world. I have listened and learned to love German rap, watched Korean soap operas, learned a Finnish cultural dance, and most importantly started to love Brazilian music despite the fact that I hated it before my exchange.

If you’re reading this and you’re thinking of doing exchange do it because it is a once in a lifetime experience to live a completely different life. If you end up going to Brazil you will be loved unconditionally, invited to random people’s birthday parties (there are so many), eat the best food, and learn how to dance to any music.

Tue, September 19, 2017


Ocyrus - Hungary

Hometown: Clearwater, Florida
School: Countryside
Sponsor District : District 6950
Sponsor Club: , Florida
Host District: 1911
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Clearwater East

My Bio

Szia. My name is Ocyrus Erickson. I’m a tenth grade student at Countryside High. While currently being enrolled in all Honors, AP and STEM classes I maintain high grade averages, despite their difficulties. I love to learn new things and I have no doubt that this experience will teach me plenty. I live in Clear water with both my parents, a pretty needy cat and my pet snake. Most of all my two year old brother whom I love very deeply. I like to read, hang out with my friends and play video games. I hope to gain a lot from this trip, I was told I will come out a new and improved me and I’m excited for the change. When I was called by Doug I was reluctant about Hungary. I knew nothing about it except that it was in Europe and I didn’t even have it on my list. I would never turn down such an opportunity though, and I believe that was the right choice. Through hours of research I began to become fascinated by everything the country had to offer, it’s rich culture, history and above all else the language. In its entirety of forty-four characters I was extremely intimidated by it. This was only my second language studying and I still have a very long way to go. This will be the experience of a life time and I’ll remember all the new memories I created while outbound. Rotary seems to be an amazing program with their interests in all the right places and I am most certainly glad to have the opportunity to take part in it.

Journals: Ocyrus-Hungary Blog 2017-18

  • Ocyrus, Outbound to Hungary


This past month and a half has been an extremely busy one. While I am still traveling every weekend and doing activities after school, more has still happened.

For starters, we had our second and final language camp. I could not have thought of a better way to execute how the week played out. This time I was lucky enough to have it in my town, rather than needing to travel across the country. Every day was two or more hours of studying the language, while the rest of the day was group activities and excercises. Our entire group would always go out into the city with the teachers and have fun. One time in particular we spent a few hours at a bowling alley, many bowled while others enjoyed some other activites like pool or table tennis. Over all it was a fun day.

My favorite activity was the volunteer teaching. A few groups of students partnered up to teach individual lessons of their choosing. I decided to team up with a good canadian friend of mine. We decided to teach about Fidel Castro’s dairy obsession. This was an extremely funny class to teach to everyone. While they still learned something it was never a serious topic, with constant jokes and hand drawn diagrams.

Some other less memorable events are the trivia games, that hardly worked due to technical issues, a trip to my city’s museum of aviation and a festival called Farsáng. Which celebrates the official end of winter, although this spring weather is still very cold and snow covered.

One other significant event was the Poland weekend. We went to three distinct different locations. Our weekend started with an eight hour bus ride directly to Auschwitz. We had a guided tour through Auschwitz one and two. This was full of heavy imagery and somber feelings. Although it was emotional to say the least I am glad for seeing it. Our second destination was Krakow, an amazing and beautiful city. We spent hours walking around and exploring the riverside, castle and the city itself. Later in the afternoon we were given a tour of the city and ended in the Jewish district for a traditional dinner and some additional time to explore. Some friends and I used this time to get some famous Polish perogies. I expected more from them, but they were good none the less. Finally we spent hours exploring an underground salt mine. This was an out standing sight to see, with miles of tunnels and a few completely carved out cathedrals. This place was not something to be taken lightly as it was years of hard work and ingenuity at work. We went around 150 meters down, although we were still only halfway down the entire tunnel system. What surprised me most was how all these beautiful sculptures were made completely out of salt.

Everything else has been fine and I can’t complain about anything. I continue to practice the language and guitar on a daily basis and both are showing signs of improvement. Thank you for reading this.

Wed, March 21, 2018

  • Ocyrus, Outbound to Hungary

During this past month I have had the best week of my exchange, my family ski trip to Austria. Every single day it was below freezing and the snowfall reached at least a meter every day. During three of the days, we had a series of blizzards, although I continued to ski in the storms. Learning was tedious and difficult however I eventually figured it out. What made this week so special though was just all the time I got to spend being with my family and growing closer to them. When we were not skiing, we were together laughing and playing cards or some sort of activity. Every view in the mountains was amazing, especially at the peak above the clouds. I managed to get through the week practically unharmed as well.

I have also traveled to the capital of Hungary, Budapest for multiple occasions. First of which was to wish my farewells to an Argentnian girl who was a crossbound. Majority of the students went to her home and threw her a final surprise party. Two other times was for me to be taken around the city to see some interesting sites and attractions by the local exchange students. One particular day stands out. First we spent hours in a pinball museum, filled with tons of playable pinball and assorted arcade games. This was a great time and was absolutely money well spent. After this we went to an interesting cafe, The Cat Cafe. It was named this because as you are sitting in the surprisingly comfortable seats and enjoying your ordered food or drink, there will be about twenty or so cats roaming around the shop. They could be seen sleeping or playing, but mostly they would come up to you and lie down next to you to be pet. Considering my love for most cats I thourougly enjoyed this place. Granted it was a bit pricy and I am on a limited income. Another day trip was for the birthday of an exchange student. A good portion of exchange students gathered for this. We ate, talked, played music, and a lot of table soccer. While only a day, it was definitely a good one.

I really enjoy my current family and I am glad to be a part of them. Although at times everyone can be independent and be going about their own activities I enjoy the time we spend togeth, especially nce my mother returns after her long day from work and I sit down with the little time I get each day.

While writing this I am two weeks away from our second and last language camp, which is luckily being held in my city so I won’t have to travel far. Last one was an absolute blast and I think this one will be even better. Another event I have to look forward to is our traditional pig slaughtering and cook out. Something I am very interested in experiencing. Finally there will be a trip to Poland in march to see some key sites during the second world war.

Thank you for reading.

Tue, February 13, 2018

  • Ocyrus, Outbound to Hungary

These past few weeks have been a great time. Traveling cities, meeting up with fellow exchange students, holiday events and switching families.

I was able to organize two three day trips in these past few weeks. One to Györ, a beautiful city to the West of Szolnok. It is closer to Austria than Budapest. I was lucky enough to arrive during the outbound interviews, so I spent a few hours conversing with the future students. Also due to Christmas, the city was decorated with a spectacular display of lights and decorations. When night fell, the city truly lit up. Aside from those major events I spent many hours exploring the city with friends. On our return day we realized that the next three trains were completely booked and forced us to spend another night in the city, I was only intending on spending two days in Györ. Although I have no regrets, as I was able to spend more time with friends in that city. My Second trip was to Debrecen, about an hour East of Szolnok. This went much smoother than the Györ trip, simply because it was much closer to my city. Like Györ, Debrecen was heavily decorated in lights. An amazing city, with plenty to do. I went to a birthday party with the Rotary and AFS students in the city on the first night and the second night my friends and I went to a disco ice skating rink. Exhausted from the previous days we spent the entire third day inside and simply watched movies. All in all these trips were a blast.

Everyone told me that the holiday season would be a truly difficult time in my exchange, how I would miss my family and feel away from home. I could not have felt more different than that. I did not miss my family that much simply because I was caught up doing things with my Hungarian one, and I never felt away from home because I feel like Hungary is home to me. Christmas is basically the same with just a few small differences. On December sixth santa comes and fills up the childrens boots with candies and nuts. This was quite an interesting site to wake up to, because I had not expected it to happen to me. Presents are given on the same day as usual except in Hungary, Jesus gives the gifts not Santa. An interesting change but acceptable. My family did not do much for Christmas, but I still enjoyed it. Spent time with relatives, baked cookies and sang songs. Still saying so it was different from normal so I truly liked it.

Writing this, I am currently on my first full day with my second family, and they are amazing. I have three brothers, a younger, older and one the same age. While I have not been able to talk with all yet I know I will in time. My parents are sweet and caring, plus the father is an amazing cook so that is a plus. My youngest brother loves animals and they have plenty. Four turtles, two dogs, a hamster and more fish than I can count. This house and family are great and I really like it here so far. Hopefully the new year brings good things along too.

Thank You.

Wed, January 3, 2018

  • Ocyrus, Outbound to Hungary

This month started off very strong then settled into days of just calmness and organization. We had our first trip out of country to Vienna which was absolutely amazing. Although the time we spent there was brief it was dense with interesting and amazing views. We spent just a day and a night and were given both a guided tour and free time. As interesting as an opera sounds it was incredibly long and I could not understand a word considering it was entirely in German.

When we returned home I continued going about my daily life as usual. Hung out with friends during the afternoon and attended school during the day. During a short walk I took with a friend to purchase a new set of earphones, everything was great until we got caught in a rainstorm about 45 minutes away from home. Needless to say it was miserable and I got sick, having a fever of 40 degrees Celsius the next day. This day just so happened to be during another Rotary event in a city just north of Budapest. I would have attended the volunteer tree planting day. I heard all about it from my fellow exchange students and how they got to cook and just be together once again. I’m even more disappointed that I missed karaoke. I would have loved to pick up the microphone for a few songs but sadly I could hardly even stand let alone sing during that day.

Fortunately I got better and continued with everything else as I would have. My host sister had her 16th birthday and we had plenty of relatives over and I quite annoyed conversing with them. I had my first vegan birthday cake and I absolutely loved it. Regarding some extra information, I have completely planned out the first chapter of a novel I am beginning to write while abroad. Language is still moving slowly but improving all the same. Tutoring children at a grade school with English is also a good day to look forward to every week. Meeting everyone in the class is interesting to say the least, but I’m happy to be of some help to the students.

A week or so later I met with my youth counselor and we went out to a basketball game. It was my city against another; I soon realized that Szolnok had the best team in HU. I felt as if I made connections that night that may help me in the long run.

Finally a few days ago I was taken out into the woods to go on a traditional Hungarian rabbit driving. In other words about seventy people all grouped up in a line to herd the rabbits into the end of the field where a long line of netting was set up to catch the rabbits. This was a very interesting day, considering that everyone was whooping, screaming, clapping hands or using noise makers to force the rabbits out from their hiding spots. Keep in mind that this day was incredibly foggy and at its thickest you could hardly see more than 30-40 feet in front of you. This was an all-day endeavor; I started at around 7 in the morning and did not return until 7 in the afternoon. By the end we captured around 50-60 rabbits.

This has been one of my favorite months mainly from just a lot of small activities and being able to complete things off my to-do list is always a great feeling too.

Mon, November 27, 2017

  • Ocyrus, Outbound to Hungary

Click HERE to read more about Ocyrus and all his blogs

The first week after my blog was fairly simplistic, I managed to put a few needed things into order then I made some new friends while going out and exploring the city. A goulash festival was also held in my town this week and my Rotary had their own tent set up there. On the third week my local Rotary held a kanoeing trip down the Tíza, except they did not bother to tell any of the kids that it was going to be a 15km trip that would take multiple hours. Though as unprepared as we were, it was still great fun to be cooped up together. A few days later I took Frida and Oriana (the other inbounds in my city) to a circus that was performing in my town. Aside from other small various activities the only other major activity was the language camp in Zánka, which was amazing. A ton of fun to socialize and meet new people. Most of the teachers were pretty cool too. School is fun as well, plenty of friends and people to talk to. Two Hungarian lessons a week also help to excel my knowledge.

As for future plans I have a few things in mind. I am trying to figure out how to get into Judo and marksmanship in order to consume some of my spare time and allow me to make new friend groups. Along with those, some minor things are to begin training the puppy myself for the family, so that it’s not crazy once it matures and I have begun planning out a novel that I am planning to start writing. Working out with friends is also a new pass time of mine, although it is not as frequent as I’d like. Finally along with everything else previously mentioned I am still studying and improving my Hungarian.

Mon, October 9, 2017

  • Ocyrus, Outbound to Hungary


I have stayed almost two weeks in Szolnok, Hungary, as of today. I was welcomed into my knew home of the Paksi family and began to start my exchange year. Can’t honestly say I started off running though. The Jet Lag hit me incredibely hard and my sleeping schedule was destroyed for the next few days. However that didn’t last forever.

On my first and second day I went out once with my host Father, Csaba, and the next with my host brother Barnabas, to explore the city. I soon realized that exploring the city could only occupy me so long as Szolnok is incredibly small. I saw majority of the city in those two days. However it’s noticing the smaller details of the city that start to make it shine. I had some of the best Ice cream I have ever had on my second day, and stores with randomly assorted items that are simply just fun to cruise around in.

On the third day my host family went out to adopt a dog for my host sister. Nobody knows what breed it is but I feel it may get big. A few days after adoption the dog came down with a serious illness however and almost died. Luckily she pulled through and is shaping up much better today then she was days past.

Another day I went to volunteer with my siblings at the same dog shelter they adopted the dog at. It was a fairly interesting experience. It was apparent that budgets were low, but spirits high. Many people were there to help out with maintaining the shelter. I absolutely love dogs and it was an amazing day. The smell of dog took awhile to leave my clothing too, but I saw it as a fair exchange.

Family time is always important and I try to have plenty of it. Spending the afternoon at a restaurant with my host parents and some family friends to inviting the other two inbounds from my city to the house so we could all play darts with my brother. A day where I went with my mother and her mother to another city by bus so we could visit some hot springs stands out particularlry well.

Of the three days of school I’ve had so far, they’ve been fairly simplistic. Nice kids and made more friends every day. In the growing spare time I’ve started to work on my language skills and vocabulary.

On a final note, McDonald’s is not much better than it is back home. Although I hardly ever ate it, the small taste of American was welcomed.

Thank You,


Tue, September 5, 2017


Olivia - Finland

Hometown: Marietta, Georgia
School: North Cobb
Sponsor District : District 6900
Sponsor Club: East Cobb, Georgia
Host District: 1390
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Hämeenlinna

My Bio

Moi! My name is Olivia Lord and I am 16 years old. I am currently a junior at North Cobb High School. I live in Marietta with my parents, my sister, and my two dogs. My favorite subjects in school are art and history. This is because I love learning about new cultures and how they differ. Outside of school, I enjoy going to the lake, traveling to new places, and going on adventures with my friends. Being a Georgia native I don’t have much experience with winter but Finland will give me the opportunity to experience real snow! I love ice skating but I am excited to try skiing. I am also excited to be a part of Georgia’s inaugural outbound exchange. This exchange will allow me to achieve my goals of learning a new language, immersing in a new culture, and creating lifelong friendships. I have always been interested in travel. I caught the travel bug at a very young age from visiting my family around the country. This eventually led me to travel with my family, with school to Europe, and on my own to Belize. My whole life I have been a part of international programs at school, so I feel that this exchange will be the perfect capstone.

Journals: Olivia-Finland Blog 2017-18

  • Olivia, Outbound to Finland

Part of exchange is never having a real sense of time. These past five months have been the fastest of my life. Days blur together and sometimes I find myself wondering what the date is. But to me, that is beautiful because life back home is so structured and pressured, and here my main focus is taking advantage of every opportunity that is presented to me.

Since I last wrote I have had so many more opportunities. I’ve been to many other cities here in Finland and traveled to Lapland (the northernmost part of Finland) twice! Lapland is definitely my happy place. The first time I went was with Rotary and we went on husky safaris, reindeer sledding, and downhill skiing. It is hands down one of the best experiences of my life, especially since I got to spend it with some of my best friends. The second time I went to Lapland was with my host family for the holidays. This is very common in Finland because many families have small cottages all around Finland that they love to spend their time in. We took an overnight train to a town called Kolari and unloaded our car from the train and drove an hour to our house in Olos. The next day was Christmas Eve, which is when Finns celebrate. We ate the traditional Christmas riisipuuro, went to a church service, opened presents, and had Christmas dinner. We spent the rest of the week cross country skiing. It was my first time trying it and I absolutely fell in love. For new years my host family’s friends joined us and we set off fireworks, went sledding, saw the northern lights, and rung in the new year.

Even though I have been having such a blast it’s not all fun. At the beginning of December, it was time to move host families. I was sad because I love my first host family so much but I was also excited because it was time for a new adventure. Also, just this week we had to say goodbye to our oldies, which are the exchange students that come from the southern hemisphere from January to January. It was so sad to see them go, but part of exchange is knowing that it’s not goodbye forever. Also, Finland itself can be hard sometimes: the winters are dark, grey, and wet, the language is hard, and the people are so quiet. But, these things never stop me from loving Finland. If anything they make me appreciate it more because it is so different than home. In Georgia, I never would have had the opportunity for a week and a half of arctic nights or to experience -30 degrees Celsius. But, the winter solstice has come and gone so every day gets lighter.

Exchange is hard but every struggle is worth it because you will make the most amazing memories. I can’t believe my halfway point comes in less than two weeks; I’m not ready for it to end!

Sun, January 7, 2018

  • Olivia, Outbound to Finland

Wow, it’s hard to believe that I’ve been in Finland for about two months now. It feels like yesterday that I was packing and say goodbye to all my friends and family. Time on exchange definitely flies by faster than it should. Days can sometimes feel like minutes.

It’s safe to say that I have fallen in love with Finland. It offers so many amazing people and the nature is absolutely spectacular. I spend most of my time at school, with friends, and traveling around. Finnish people are definitely shy at first but when you get to know them they are some of the best people you have ever met. And having a strong exchange student community is so important because they know exactly what you are going through. School is here is way different than the States. Here you are free to leave whenever you want and you can plan your schedule to your fit. So, if you want to sleep in you can or if you want free periods you can. Traveling around Finland is so easy and affordable, and you are allowed to go where you would like as long as you inform Rotary. I have traveled to Tampere and Helsinki with my friends and to meet up with other exchange students.

Rotary in Finland makes a very large effort to create a really strong community for exchange students. When you first arrive you spend a week at camp with all the new inbounds, so you can all get to know each other and get a crash course in Finnish culture. Then, your district will probably plan a weekend for all your district exchange students to spend together. My district, 1390, planned a camping trip which was such a blast. Also, on your own, you have the opportunity to make plans with exchange students. For example, the other RYE Florida girls in Finland, Delaney and Camille, and I met up in Tampere. And last weekend several exchange students came to my town and we just hung out for the day.

I think Finland’s biggest downside is the weather. But a little rain is definitely worth it when you see the beautiful autumn colors. It is a lot colder here compared to Atlanta but you get used to it really fast. Last weekend we finally had “Finnish summer” which was sunny and 58 degrees and I broke out my shorts. But, all in all, Finland is definitely a challenge with the language and the culture but I definitely worth the work.

Wed, October 4, 2017


Paula - Taiwan

Hometown: Weston, Florida
School: Cypress Bay
Sponsor District : District 6990
Sponsor Club: , Florida
Host District: 3481
Host Club: The Rotary Club of East Asia

My Bio

Nǐ hǎo! My name is Paula Basantes. I was born in Ecuador (Quito) but I moved to the United States almost three years ago. Now I am living in Florida and it is very hot! I like to spend my free time by playing the guitar, playing video games or drawing. These activities help me relax and forget about the bad stuff in life. I will become an exchange student through the Rotary Younth Exchange Program traveling to Taiwan. I was a little surprised by the place at first but I have become to feel more anxious about it. The language might be one of the biggest changes I will have to accomplish because Spanish and English are totally not very similar to Mandarín and the words pronunciation are very important be understandable. I learned that “Wô” is “I” and that “Wō” is nest, so I’m looking forward to saying nest many times. The thing that I want to learn in this process is to become more social with other people that I don’t know and to learn a new language. This will be one of the most interesting adventures of my life and I will enjoy it to the fullest and work hard on it too so it

Journals: Paula-Taiwan Blog 2017-18

  • Paula, Outbound to Taiwan

大家好,我覺得我的中文是比較好。現在我著台灣八個月。I have had great experiences in Taiwan and I am grateful to have met all the people I have met. I recently was involved in a lion dance performance and it was awesome. The teacher chose the people he thought it would be better to play drums and he chose me. I practice to be a drummer every weekend. In the beginning it was difficult because the pace was very fast and because I am left handed so I had to mirror the movements that the teacher made. Eventually I became the best of the group and the teacher made me teach the ones that still didn’t know. I felt very proud but that meant I was gonna be the leader of the group and I had to be in the front. I also had to keep the pace for the others and for some reason every time that I made a mistake they would get lost as well but when they made a mistake I could keep the other ones on the correct time. So it was a lot of pressure for sure but I was determined to make my best effort. The day of the performance came and I was consumed with anxiety. A room full of Rotarians was waiting for our performance and surprisingly we were pretty good. It was an experience full of excitement and I am thankful that I did it because it was an unforgettable afternoon.

After this event I had a trip to Yilan. We went to do cycling around the coast, hiking in Rueifang, fishing like (fisherman) , and we saw the Guishan Island on a boat. I was totally dead after doing more exercise in those days than what I have done my hole life. The only bad part was than in one of the hotels that was like cabins one cockroach the size of my fist got in, we killed it eventually.

Mother’s day was coming and I proposed to make a cook off between Willie, Lucie and me (they are the exchange students I change houses with). I was doing appetizer, Willie was doing main course and Lucie was doing dessert. I did empanadas and it was funny how they used chopsticks to eat them with ketchup. Willie did a fancy chicken with pasta which was okay, not as good as my empanadas of course ( actually it was pretty good). Lucie made a cheesecake which gave me a diabetic coma because it was so sweet but I was also good. This experience has given me different views in life , a different perspective of the Asian culture and an understanding of the value of money. I am sad that some of my friends are just weeks apart from departing to their own countries and the reality has made me appreciate how lucky I am to have my parents support me on this decision. Overall I am excited to go home and continue my life in America with the wisdom the I have developed and achieved during my exchange in Taiwan.

Thu, May 17, 2018

  • Paula, Outbound to Taiwan

Hello, this journal is a month late.. sorry. but a lot has happened. I went to Chien hu Shan fancy world with my classmates and the exchange students from my school for 2 days. It was pretty fun because it was like Universal Studios but the rides in Taiwan are very wild and long so I almost vomited the first day. We also when to the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts and the National Taichung Theater. Unfortunately we were not given an abundance of time so I could not appreciate the buildings in a more attentive way. Something that was a first in Taiwan was me feeling an earthquake on the 17th floor. In Ecuador there are earthquakes of different levels and in America there are hurricanes but I never felt an earthquake so devastating. Thankfully for me the earthquake was far enough that I only felt a strong waving sensation but sadly for Hualien it was a different story. For them it was almost a direct hit and many lives here lost. If you are planning to come to Taiwan be aware that things like this could happen and know the safety procedures for your own good.

After that my family decided to make a trip to Beitou with me, Lucie and Willie (We rotate families so it is very common for us to spend time together). This place is very common for its hot springs and one of Its famous spots is called Hell Valley. We visited there and it’s a lake with boiling water that could cook a person if one entered the water, so its not really recommended to do so. After that we went to enjoy some hot springs, and realized that it was a no swimsuit area. I don’t mind being naked with other people but my friend Lucie was a little uncomfortable. I see it as part of adapting into the new culture so I didn’t complain. The water was hotter that what I expected so I had to leave and cool down almost five times because I would have fainted on the water and turned into some boiled chicken.

I don’t really enjoy hiking but if someone invites me to go I won’t say no. My first host mom invited me and Lucie to go hiking in Pingxi and I actually had a good time. Most of the hikes I have done had involved an enormous amount of endless stairs, however; this one was so steep that you had to pull yourself up with a rope to get to the top. the view was beautiful and I don’t regret a single stair it took to get there.

Rotary took all of the District 3480 to the “Beehive Festival of fireworks” in Yanshuei. Basically it’s a festival where you carry statues of goods in this carts while being shot with fireworks. I was kind of surprised they would let us join this activity mainly because they are very protective about a lot of things. I had a blast pushing this cart with my friends until a Taiwanese guy told me that I was highly flammable because my protection gear (literally a sweater, scarf, gloves and thick pants) were all made of cotton. Funny enough in my cart I was the one in charge of extinguishing fires that could be on my friends clothing. I decided to stand a little in the back to lower my possibilities of getting engulfed in flames. Weirdly one of the fireworks strikes my back and pierces trough my “protecting gear”. It hurt really bad but the good thing was that I wasn’t on fire. After this I go to the bathroom to check on my back and I see a bruise the size of my fist. It was black and purple and a little burned on the sides. If I would do this again I would probably wear a thicker jacket. The funny part of all of this was that it was so hot outside and all of us had a bunch of thick clothes so everyone was sweating under their helmet.

I went to Juifen to see the place where an animator got inspired to do a movie called “Spirited Away.” It was beautiful and very full of tourist. I spent most of my money there and now I am eating air. On the same day I went to Cat Village and I love cats so I felt like I was at home. Unfortunately the cats are feral and it’s kind of sad that they don’t have houses but the people that visit give food and love to them.

That has been all that has happened and I am happy that the exchange is coming to an end and sad at the same time. kind of scared for the big Chinese test but thankful of being here.

Sun, April 8, 2018

  • Paula, Outbound to Taiwan

Hello, these 2 months have been very wild. When I came to Taiwan I wanted my exchange to be upwards and never downwards but just when I thought I had become stable in Taiwan my backpack got stolen. To me it was like someone just took my soul because that backpack had my two phones, my credit card, my resident card, my student card ,my easy card (that is used for the MRT) my keys and some of my Rotary money. I was kind of sad because now I have to re-make all this paperwork to get new cards, need to buy a new phone and kind of build a new foundation over the destroyed one that was pretty much shattered.

The months have also been very busy. Rotary pretty much takes all my energy out of me. There are endless events, places to be, people to meet and volunteering to do. Literally Taiwan has been the first place where I needed a calendar. When there is a new event I always remember how in Florida the Rotarians told me to never say no to any event, and I never say no unless I have school or if I am sick (which I have been 3 times sick and it sucks). That tip has literally made me so much more outgoing and made me experience things that I would have never said yes to in America just because I was lazy or because there was a new video game I wanted to finish.

In December there was a talent show that had to include something in Chinese. I made a song. Obviously I can’t sing but I don’t have any talent so…yeah. It went well, didn’t win but I became more brave so that for me counts as a win. There was also another talent show but this time in my school. The other exchange students in the school and I decided to sing and dance Chinese Christmas songs. We made a nice choreography and on the day that we had to do the show one of the exchange students was unable to come. It was very suspicious because the reason that he gave was not believable. I totally knew that he wouldn’t come because he did not practice at all and did not know the songs. So I started to make the arrangements to make the dance and the songs without his presence work with the students that where there just before the show. Somehow it worked and we did an awesome job without him. The teacher was kind of impressed because instead of giving up and not going we managed to use quick thinking and work with the problems.

Christmas was weird. Here people don’t celebrate it. The shops have Christmas gifts and decorations but only the young give presents to other people. Most of the older people don’t bother. I totally did not mind not having Christmas but the other exchange students were frustrated because the wanted a free day on Christmas and to not go to school. My perspective over all of this was that this is a different culture and we have to adapt to it instead of change it into ours. Our goal as exchange students is to blend and become like the Taiwanese people and not to expect special treatment because we are not from here. The exchange students pressured so much the Rotarians that they made a little party for us. At the party the exchange students weren’t happy because they said it was not a party kept complaining. I saw that there was free food so I was happy. The Rotarians made us sing a song and after that everyone left.

I changed to my second house recently and I am enjoying it. They are nice and they help me with my Chinese so far. They play video games with me and they have taken me to eat outside very good meat and I love meat. I hope we get along well. They have a cat named Hanbao (hamburger) he is pretty cute but badly behaved.

The Chinese new year was very fun and interesting. I saw how the Taipei 101 threw a bunch of fireworks and had a countdown of the time. I was with my new family, some exchange students and some family friends on my new house enjoying the fireworks on the roof and eating hotpot. 2018 has started and I will try to make the best of it.

Mon, January 1, 2018

  • Paula, Outbound to Taiwan

Hello, this is my first journal and I have experienced more things than what I have experienced all my life in these 2 months. First of all I will talk about my first host family. This family is made up by 4 members. Laura Mom, Baba Rei, older brother Henry and a sister called Maggie that is on exchange in New York. Most of the time I am busy or they are busy so we haven’t have time to know each other really well. The house where I am living right now is a small and comfy apartment. My school is called Nang Gang vocational high school. I am taking Math, English, Chemistry, PE, Art, Music and Domestic Economy. I am also doing service hours in a kindergarten that is on the school by teaching the kids English. Most of the kids are very young and because of that my exchange student friends and I are called Mata (Margarita), Nana( Katharina), Gaby (Gabriel) and Pola (Paula) by the kids. I took a very hard task and decided to join the swimming team even though I can barely swim. It was a way to fill my time after school, do some exercise and to learn something that I can take home. At the beginning I felt intimidated because I am in a field where the only thing that matters is how fast you can swim and it didn’t matter how good I was in English because I was trash at swimming. But then I made friends with some girls and boys from the swimming team. Every time that I swim there is this middle school boy that always tells me ” courage” and that motivates me to keep going but sometimes I feel like I made a mistake because some exchange students want to hangout but I don’t have time because of swimming. Others times I see how my body is looking better and how I can freely eat whatever I want without having to buy new pants like some of my friends. While being here I have realized that I suck at finding locations, most of the time I get close but not to the exact point of meeting. There are always new events, festivals, celebrations, Chinese classes and other stuff that requires me to use a calendar. To be honest I have never needed to use a calendar because I have never been busy like this before. Taiwan is one of the most cheapest places to be living in but this first two months we expensive as hell. I needed to do the resident certificate, create an student easy card, buying school materials and swimming material, paying the emergency found, and some other stuff. Rotary here gives me 130 dollars to use and that is teaching me how important is money management and that not everything that I want to have I should have. It has really made it a struggle to me to get what I want but easy to get what I need. It has set my priorities straight and made me somewhat a more mature person. This student exchange is no joke and I have seen people leave because the can not take the difficulty of not having their way all the time. In my opinion I have never been more happy and tired in my life. And I am not gonna give up. Lets go 2 months done and more to go!!!!

Sun, October 22, 2017


Pessi - Thailand

Hometown: Alpharetta, Georgia
School: Chattahoochee
Sponsor District : District 6900
Sponsor Club: North Fulton, Georgia
Host District: 3350
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Nongkhae

My Bio

Hello, My name is Pessi Lansirinne and I am sixteen years old. I’m originally from Finland but my family decided to move to Atlanta couple of years ago. This made me to realize how big the world is. Now I would like to learn more and experience new cultures and places. I live with my parents and my little brother in Alpharetta, Georgia. I go to Chattahoochee High School and I’m now a sophomore (10th grader). I like my school’s safe, friendly, and international environment. I like to keep myself busy. My hobbies are swimming, under water rugby, skiing, playing piano and guitar, and making origami. I also belong to my High School’s Technology Student Association. After graduating from a university, I hope to become a physicist and maybe some day I will start my own science company. My life is busy right now. I don’t have much free time due to daily swimming and schoolwork; when I do have spare time, I like to relax or hang out with my friends. Meeting new interesting people is important to me. As a Rotary outbound candidate, I hope to achieve a life changing experience in another country. I hope to become fluent in a new language, to meet people, and to get life-long friendships. I have positive attitude to learn and experience totally new cultures and to reach better understanding of the whole world.

Journals: Pessi-Thailand Blog 2017-18

  • Pessi, Outbound to Thailand

Sawaddii Krab,

It has been a while since the last time I wrote here. I have been busy with traveling and other things here in Thailand. During the past few months I have fallen in love with Thailand even more than before. I have traveled to almost every part of the country and I have seen things that I couldn’t even dream of: Ancient Hindu temples in the east (Buriram), beautiful islands, beaches and scuba diving in the south (Koh LIpe, Phi Phi Islands, Phuket, Krabi, Pattaya etc.), waterfalls and railway bridges in the west (Kanchanaburi), and beautiful sceneries, mountains, elephants, ziplines, and markets in the North (Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Sukothai). I have also traveled to nature parks, ancient cities, rivers etc. close to my home here in central Thailand. Even though the most famous parts in Thailand are far away from my house, one of my favorite trips was to a rice field not far away. I was wearing a traditional Thai farmer outfit and picked rice all day. I felt like I was a Thai person and my mind was at peace. However, this was only one of the hundreds of places I went to. There are simply too many trips to write about! I am very thankful to my host family for taking me to all these places.

In addition to all this, Rotary has organized multiple activities for us here in 3350. In the beginning of the year, we had a English camp where we taught English to little kids. We also had two bustrips, one to the North and one to the South, with all the inbounds and outbounds. Finally, we have had massage and meditation camps in Bankgkok.

On the bus trips, I got to spend time with all my friends and we learned a lot about each other. The first trip was to the South. We visited some of the most beautiful islands and beaches on the planet. We swam in hot springs and had a great time at the hotel swimming pool.

The second trip to northern Thailand was a little longer and very different from the South trip. In the north we visited the highest point of Thailand, the most beautiful white temple in Thailand, the Golden Triangle (where Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos meet) , the remains of the last kingdom in Thailand and much more. But the best thing was not visiting all these places. The best thing was to spend time with some of the most amazing people which I can now call my third family.

The meditation camp in Bangkok, organized by Rotary, was also an experience I will always remember. Together with my friends, I slept in a Wat Pho temple right next to the famous Grand Palace. Even though meditating with so many people around was much more difficult than in December when I ordained for a couple of weeks, I still learned a lot and had a good time with my friends. We all wore white uniforms and followed a monk around Bangkok. We visited multiple temples and even took a boat around the canals. In every place we visited, we practiced meditation.

In May my friends and I asked Rotary if it was possible to organize a massage camp to learn traditional Thai massage. Fortunately, Rotary said yes, and the next week we all spent more time in Bangkok together. I slept in the house of my Japanese friend Takumi. His family was really nice to us and I really appreciate their hospitality. Every day after the lessons ended, we traveled to Bangkok in a big group. We went to markets, restaurants etc.

District 3350 , together with the south district, had a district conference in Pattaya. At the conference, inbounds and outbounds had a dance performance. Every weekend before the conference we practiced and we were finally able to perform a 20-minute-long show built from many different parts and songs. Personally, I was impressed at how well our teachers were able to teach us, people with absolutely no background in performing. As I am one of the few exchange students who can speak Thai, I was asked to speak for all the exchange students in the district conference. However, my mom had booked a trip to the nearby island and I had to leave before the speech. Fortunately, my friend Henry was able to help out.

Last year, Rotary told the exchange students that we could start a charity project if we wanted to. In February, I started selling pizza to raise money and food for children from low income families. At first I only had a microwave size oven. After working all day and still getting nothing done, I figured that I need to build a bigger oven. I found some bricks and pieces of metal outside my house and I built a real Italian pizza oven. I followed Italian recipes and in four days I was able to make more than 50 pizzas by myself. I sold them for 200 baht (6.50 dollars) each and I was able to raise a lot of money. In addition, I sold bags of fried banana chips at the district conference. The day before the conference, I worked from 9 am to 2 am with my family to finish the snacks. Finally, we had about 450 bags of fried banana. At the district conference, almost every Rotarian bought a bag or two and I was able to sell all the bananas. The final amount of money I raised was 16,327.00 baht (520 dollars), and together with Rotary Club of Nongkhae, I will donate the money to Wad Kum Hak School here in my hometown Nongkhae.

My city is very small and there are not many Rotary families where I live. I only had one family over the whole year. This did not bother me at all because I was lucky and got the best family ever! However, I spent the first week of May in another family in Saraburi to get familiar with the lifestyle of multiple families in Thailand.

In Thailand, seasons don’t really exist. Here we only have the rainy season, hot season, and really hot season. Therefore, “summer holiday” also doesn’t exist. In Thailand the long two and a half month break from school is from the beginning of March to the middle of May. About three weeks ago school had started again. I enjoy school even more than before because my Thai language skills have improved during the break. Now I am able to communicate with my friends even better than before. In school I only get grades for classes that are easy for me. These classes are math, chemistry, music, English, PE, and individual studies; basically everything that does not require me to read books in Thai. Now I can read Thai, but back when I signed up for classes I couldn’t. Therefore, I have a lot of free time at school. I try to spend my time wisely. I have read books about things that I am interested in, I have learned a lot of Thai, started my own affiliate marketing business online, and studied for standardized tests for the coming year in high school. I have had time to do things that I like and that I am interested in, instead of studying what teacher tells me to study like back in the USA. I can say that in one year in Thailand I have gained much more useful knowledge than I ever gained in the USA or Finland.

I think now it is a good time for a little advertisement. I have bought a lot of elephant pants that I am planning to bring back home (to USA) for my family and friends. I am asking for 10 dollars per pair for the expenses and transportation. Let me know if you are interested! I will add pictures of the pants down below.

Now my exchange is coming to an end. I only have a month left until I return home on the 1st of July. It feels like it was only yesterday when I stepped out of the airplane. I already know that I will miss this place and the Thai people. However, I am very grateful for the opportunity and all the amazing memories that I got. I would like to thank the following people for everything:

Thank you to my biggest sponsor, my own family, for letting me do this.

Thank you to my host family Tulyanon for being so supportive and kind to me during the whole year.

Thank you to Michael Parks and everyone else for fighting for the program in Georgia district 6900. Without you none of us could have the best year of our lives!

Thank you to Rotary Club of North Fulton for sponsoring me.

Thank you to my host district 3350 for having me here and organizing all the events for us.

I have changed a lot as a person and experienced a completely different culture than the one that I am used to. I have made lifelong relationships with the Thai people. Yesterday I gave my final speech to the district and all the exchange students. I spoke about my charity project, my memories that I have from Thailand, and said goodbye to all my friends and families. Some of my friends have gone home already. It is time to say goodbye to all the people going home already, however, I still have a month or so left of my exchange. I will spend the last month like I have spent every month so far: taking every opportunity out of every day. I will travel to Phuket and western Thailand once more. I will have a field trip with my school to a beach. I will shop for things to bring back home for my family and friends. I have also promised to take my host family for a dinner to an expensive rooftop restaurant in Bankgkok to thank them for everything they have done for me.

I can now call Thailand my third home and I will for sure come back in the years to come.

I love you Thailand!

Sawaddiikrab, Khobkun Krab.

For the district here in Thailand I have to write a report on a given topic every month. Here are the reports from February to June:
February essay:
I am now halfway done with my exchange. So far everything has been great. I am enjoying every bit of my life here. I have an amazing host family, I could have never even imagined having a better one. They take me to travel a lot and help me with everything I need. Yesterday I counted how many provinces I have visited in Thailand and the final count was over 30!
Experiencing Thai school has been a great experience. Even though I still do not understand everything, I have been able to make many friends and learn about another education system. Also the school lunch is very delicious and cheap in my school.
I already speak Thai conversationally. It’s helpful when I need to plan things with my family or school. It also helps to make new friends and to communicate with them. To be honest the language is difficult but not impossible to learn. I still struggle with some vocabulary, reading, and writing yet I study every day.
Overall, I am enjoying Thai culture, and everything in Thailand. The 5 months have passed very quickly. Right now, I am looking forward to the bus trips and travelling to Chiang Mai with my host family.

March Essay
How have I adjusted to my new host family?
My second host is very busy with her restaurant startup, and therefore I have not been able to change families yet. I get along with my first host and I am fine with the situation. Nongkhae, the town that I live in, is very small, and there are not many host families available. In this host family, I have an amazing host brother, Ice, and we travel a lot. Every weekend, and sometimes during the week too, we travel to new and amazing places. The Tulyanon family has been better than I ever imagined my host family being. My host parents and Ice are very kind, flexible and understanding.
I also try to do my part in the family activities; I clean the floor every day after dinner and I talk and participate as much as I can. I help my family learn English while they teach me Thai. I feel that for everything they have done for me, this is the least that I can do for them.
I do hope to change families before the end of my exchange just because I wish to see life in another family. The ways of this family might not be how things are done in other Thai families and by changing families I wish to understand the Thai culture and “ordinary Thai family life” better than before. However, I have got time left before going back to the USA and at the moment the situation is perfectly fine with me.

April essay:
I had a great time on the bus trip to southern Thailand. I really loved every second of it. I have never seen such beautiful beaches and islands before. I have enjoyed swimming and snorkeling since I was very little and I was amazed how clear the water was. I also got some great pictures with my Go Pro. Spending five days with my exchange friends strengthened our friendships and I also made many friends from the outbound group. Together with some of the other inbounds I taught the outbounds about the European and American culture. The waterfall and springs that we traveled to see were also really beautiful. In Phuket I enjoyed the Show and food at Fantasea and the walking street at night. Overall, the trip exceeded my expectations and I just wish it did not go by so fast.

The north trip was also great. My favorite part was Song Kran day(Thai new year), of course. I have never seen anything like it! Thousands of people on the streets having a waterfight. I walked with my friends around Chiang Mai and we had a lot of fun together. I even swam in the river because I was already so wet!

I also liked all the temples and waterfalls we went to. It was amazing to visit the highest point of Thailand, the Golden triangle (the point where Thailand, Malaysia, and Laos meet) , Loi Ithanon, and the white temple. At the hotel I enjoyed being with inbounds and outbounds. I made a lot of new friends and I was able to help the outbounds with some questions about exchange

May essay:
How have I prepared for departure?
I am going home July 1st so I still have over a month left in Thailand. Even though the scary date is coming closer and closer, I still have not really thought about it. So far I have asked my parents in USA to send me a list of things that I need to bring back home. On the 26th of May I am going to Jajujak market to buy a lot of things. It is better to shop here than back home because Thailand is much cheaper than America. I also got a suit made in Bangkok for the same reason. I will need a new suit next year for high school graduation, prom, and other things, so I figured it would be better to get it from Thailand. Before I go home I am also planning to visit the temple where I ordained in December in Wangnamkiau province. To thank my host family for everything that they have done for me, I have promised to take them out to eat on a rooftop restaurant in Bangkok. Other than the things I mentioned, everything is still pretty normal. I travel with my host family a lot and sometimes I go to Saraburi to see my friends. My Italian friends in Saraburi (from AFS) are leaving next week and some of my Rotary friends have already gone home for school things. It is a little sad to say goodbye to everyone but I am sure that we will meet sometime in future.

June essay:
May was a busy month for me. Even though my exchange is coming to an end, I still travel a lot with my host family. I started the month at Eduardo’s house. I spent a week with him to get familiar with the life of families other than my host. After the week was finished my parents picked me up to go to Khao Jai nature park. We went to a waterfall and paddled on a lake. The next week, Rotary organized a meditation camp in Bangkok. I had a great time, even though meditating with lot of friends around was really difficult. When the camp ended I visited Grand Palace with my friends.
My family took me fruit picking. We picked mangos, jack fruits, and small orange fruits (I don’t remember the name). It was fun and I got some good pictures. Then, after a couple of days at school, we went to Kanchanaburi in western Thailand. The first day we visited one of the most beautiful temples that I have ever been to, a railway bridge, a massive tree, and finally we spent the night on a lake in a floating house. The next day I went to see seven beautiful waterfalls in a forest. The water was clean and I was even allowed to swim and jump.
Now, it was time to wrap up my pizza project. I fixed my old oven in the front of my house and spent one day making pizza. The final amount to be donated to a school in Nongkhae became 16,327.00 baht!
Henry and some of the inbounds, including myself, were interested in learning Thai massage. Fortunately, Rotary was able to organize a massage camp in Bangkok. During the camp I slept in Takumi’s house with Henry. It was great to spend little more time with my friends before our departure and learn an extremely useful skill. The final day of the camp I met my host family at Asiatique. My mom had booked an amazing dinner on a boat. The food was great and it was really beautiful to see Bankgkok, the river, and Grand Palace at night!
My family bought two puppies. I play with them every day when I return from school. After the break I have enjoyed school more than normal as I can now communicate more with my Thai friends.

Wed, June 6, 2018

  • Pessi, Outbound to Thailand

Essay 1: How did I Adjust to My First Host Family in Thailand?

Contrary to the ordinary experiences of other exchange students (things I have heard and read from them so far), my arrival to the “land of smiles” was very smooth. I have enjoyed every moment since I stepped off the airplane approximately three weeks ago. Initially, I experienced a very small amount of culture shock, but it was a positive experience. I had read about Thailand before my exchange year began, making adjusting to the culture not too difficult; in fact, I enjoy finding and learning about cultural differences and seeing new things. However, sometimes I get comments about the Thai etiquette. For an example, when I turned the fan on with my foot my host father told me to always do it with my hand.

My first host family is absolutely amazing. I have a brother, about the same age as me: Ice. He has become my best friend and source of support. My family loves to travel and almost every day I have been lucky to see new and extraordinary things. So far, I have been to Bangkok, Saraburi, Lopburi, Nan (in north), Hat Nang Lam beach, a Navy base, Korad, many markets, malls, temples, waterfalls, sport facilities, swimming pools, and even a river that I rafted down in a rubber boat. At home, I haven’t really had any problems. If I had to name one, it would be the toilet but that is slowly becoming part of my everyday life. Thai food is delicious and I am now able to eat spicy foods. However, it gives me stomach pain. At school, everyone has been very nice to me. Teachers teach me the Thai language and help me do things I like on the campus. Among the students, I am famous due to my blond hair and white skin. I was excited to finally meet all the other exchange students at the orientation. I am especially close to Kalyn (Mali) and Eduardo (Inci). Together we even went to meet the president of Saraburi which was an unforgettable experience. In conclusion, please don’t worry about me: I am doing great!

Essay 2: How have I adjusted to Thai school?

My first school day was just two days after I arrived to Thailand. I walked in during the morning ceremony. When the students first saw me in my brand-new school uniform, they began clapping and yelling. I guess my blond hair is something that they do not see every day. Making friends has been very easy. During the first couple of days it took me hours to go to the bathroom and back because everyone wanted to take a picture with me. One of the English teachers has been my “counselor”. She helps me with everything and tells me where to go. Since the first day we have met and talked almost every day. I have no schedule but I do have classmates that I normally follow during the school day. However, during classes that require advanced language skills, I usually go play Thai music instruments or table tennis. I have also done many sports including fencing, Thai traditional dancing, and martial arts. I hang out with the teachers a lot too. They teach me Thai language and give me free food. The first week of school I had to speak in front of the whole school three times in Thai! Also during the Asian day, some of the teachers made me dance in front of everyone. That was way out from my comfort zone but I soon learned that students here are very open minded and do not care if one looks funny or does something stupid. Overall, I like my school a lot. Everyone has been kind to me and I am super popular. Right now, we have a midterm break so I won’t go to school for another month.

Essay 3: November

Between the middle of September and the beginning of November I had long break from school. During this time, I spent a lot of time with my host brother, Ice, at the Rangsit University. Ice did not have a break so I attended classes with him. The campus also had a big swimming pool and a gym, so sometimes I did exercise instead of going to class. My birthday was on the 16th of September, the first days of the school break. For my birthday I went to Hua Hin with my family. On our way we stopped at water market. Hua Hin was amazing; the first day we spent at the resort swimming in a pool eating delicious seafood. We went to the beach on the second day.

Every Saturday during the break all the exchange students had a Thai language class in Bangkok. It was fun to get together with all my friends, even though I didn’t learn much in the classes. I study Thai myself every day and I already knew everything they taught us. After the class we usually went to the Terminal 21 shopping mall to eat and hang out little longer. The days when I did not have anything to do, I usually went to a gym. I got a bicycle fixed for me so I can now move around on my own in my small hometown.

During the king’s funeral, I was giving out water and food to people at a big festival on a football field close to my house in Nongkhae. The day was very hot and I enjoyed seeing people smile as I handed out drinks. On two occasions, my host family took me to a Kao Jai nature park in the mountains. I really loved walking in the woods and paddling and swimming in a lake. The cool weather in the park reminded me of Finland, and it was very welcoming after spending two months in extremely hot tropical Thai weather. Overall, my break from school was full of fun experiences and I enjoyed every bit of it.

December Essay: My 2nd Semester in School.

I really haven’t had any problems at school since the beginning of my exchange. Everyone has been nice to me and I’m still very popular among the students. Student and teachers understand the language barrier so they do not expect as much from me as from other students. However, during the second semester I have begun to comprehend Thai much more. I hope to get a grade report in February and a teacher told me that to get it I need to take the tests. Math, English, and Chemistry are very easy for me and I often help my friends with homework. Other subjects are harder because I miss a lot of Thai vocabulary. Two weeks ago, my school had a sport day. What a great experience! I participated in running and shot-put and won both. Unfortunately, last week I couldn’t go to school. I had a big ACT test in Bangkok and I spent the week in my house studying for it. Now that the test is over, I am looking forward returning to the school tomorrow. I am planning to spend my Christmas break as a monk in a temple close to Kao Jai nature park. I am very excited for that too!

January Essay: Holidays in The Temple

My Christmas and New Year were very unordinary. Not only because I am in Thailand, but because I spent the holidays as a Buddhist monk. Between December 18th and 31st I was ordained in a temple close to Kao Yai nature park. I won’t ever forget those two weeks. I decided to become a monk because I wanted to live a simple life without any belongings or stress. I think I was lucky to be born in a relatively wealthy family and country. Being a monk, I wanted to find happiness from other things. I wanted to learn about my mind and body and find peace. Of course, achieving this all would take much more than two weeks, but I did get to experience the journey to some extent.

The monastery was close to the forest and two times during my stay I went to walk and meditate in the forest with some of the other monks, including my tutor from Germany, Tilo, and my good Malaysian friend, Lean. The forest was completely natural, wild and untouched by humans. I saw multiple birds, snakes, elephant footsteps, etc. Our walks were about 6 hours long and very peaceful.

Every morning the bell rang at 3 am. From 3 to 5 I had morning chanting and meditation. It is hard to believe because I am in Thailand, but in the mornings, it was freezing cold at the temple. I only had my robe and a couple of blankets so it was difficult to stay warm, however, I got used to the cold after a while and I realized that it was nothing compared to Finland.

From 5 am to 6 am I cleaned, usually swept the floor, emptied trashcans, or wiped dust. At 6 we quickly put our robes on and went to the nearby village for alms round. It was my favorite part of the day. We walked bare footed for approximately 4 kilometers as the sun was rising over the forest and mountains. People, who had woken up early, gave us rice and snacks. After we got back to the monastery we prepared for the only meal for the day. Before the meal I had 30 minutes of free time that I usually spent meditating or cleaning.

Before the meal, there was half an hour of chanting and Dharma talk in Pali and Thai languages with the lay people in a big hall. During that time some people often gave goods to the temple. The chanting ended with the males taking the bowls from us; they helped the monks carry the bowls. The food was all vegetarian but still very delicious. By the time I was about to eat for the first time after 23 hours, I was starving. Every day, I ended up taking and eating way too much and almost throwing up.

One of the reasons why I picked this monastery with my host family, was because of the head monk running the place. Lum Paa is one of the most powerful monks in the world. He has reached complete happiness and peace. I have never seen anyone so truly happy and honest. He also had some crazy psychic skills like reading my thoughts accurately or knowing what was happening on the other side of a wall. He was so well known that people all the way from USA and Japan came to see him for advice. Every monk at the temple appreciated him a lot and we all tried to make good karma by helping him and giving him things. My job, for example, was to wash his feet every night. He spent his days in the forest or hospitals taking care of animals and people. The monastery was also collecting money for a whole new hospital. One day I was awarded by Lum Paa to travel with him to Yamaha Motorcycle factory close to Bangkok. Yamaha donated money for the hospital and we went to receive it. The night before we went into the factory, we spent a night in another forest temple close by. This place was literally a jungle with trees, flowers, and plants everywhere. I slept on the floor like usual. Going inside a huge factory with thousands of workers was a dream for me. I, together with the other monks, did an alms round around the factory following with a ceremony for receiving the money for the hospital.

Let’s get back to the monastery. After eating I prepared meals for Lum Paa and people visiting the temple. It took approximately until 12 o’clock . After that I was able to go back to my goodie (a small and simple house where the monks sleep) and take a nap until 3pm. From 3pm to 5pm I worked more and from 5pm to 6pm I took a cold shower and meditated. At 6 o’clock some of the monks went for the evening chanting but I usually washed Lum Paa’s feet and helped him give snacks and advice for the people visiting the temple. I learned a lot myself while I sat behind the great monk and listened what he had to say. During these two weeks I learned a lot about the universe, mind, happiness, and loving kindness. At 9 pm I went back to my goodie in the darkness not interrupted by any lights from human settlements. I looked at the stars which I had never imagined to be so many, so bright, and so beautiful.

On Sunday December 31st, my parents picked me up from the temple. The two weeks had passed very quickly. I was very excited to see my host family but at the same time sad to leave the temple. But I was sure I would come back. After washing my clothes and the disrobing ceremony my family took me to a mountain park. We spent the new year camping on a mountain, watching fireworks and eating good food. The next day we went elephant riding.

Tue, January 16, 2018

  • Pessi, Outbound to Thailand

Sa wat dii kraph! I have been in Thailand for about three weeks and I am already in love with this country. Before my exchange, I had travelled to many western countries, but Thailand is something completely new for me. Every day, I learn new things and am surprised about many cultural differences, even though I had educated myself about this place before landing here. But let me start from the beginning!

The flights to Bankok from Atlanta were long. I tried to sleep as much as I could and not check the time during the first flight to Seoul, South Korea. Luckily, the guy sitting next to me in the airplane and I had many things in common and we could talk forever. During the last hours, I was trying to spot The Great Wall of China from the window. I think I saw it… maybe.

In Seoul, I was supposed to have a relatively small gap between my two flights. The airport was big and I had to walk for a long time before I was able to reach and get through the security check and find my gate. Finally, after stressing and running, I found out that my flight would be delayed by 2 hours. I was relieved, but at the same time I was enthusiastic about getting to Thailand as soon as possible. However, every fifteen minutes, one hour was added to the delay. Finally, the plane took off about five and half hours late. I was tired and it was little frustrating to think that my new host family would have to wait in the Bangkok airport for hours.

I was supposed to land at 9 pm on the 13th of August but because of the delay I arrived at 2 am on the 14th of August. I went to the immigration line and waited for my turn for about 20 minutes. The officer asked me, “What are you doing here? What is your address in Thailand? What school are you attending here?” I, half asleep, responded with something like “It should say it on the paper.” or “I cannot remember, sorry.” Luckily, he let me proceed to the baggage claim. I found my suitcase quickly and walked to exit number 14 to meet my family. They were waiting for me with big WELCOME sign that had my picture on it. Not only was my family there, but also other Rotarians. I hugged everyone and we took some pictures. I felt bad for keeping them waiting for over five hours for me. On the one and a half hour drive to my new home in Nongkhae, Saraburi, I tried to sleep. However, I was way too excited to do so. I unsuccessfully used my superhuman eyesigh t to spot things from the completely black night of Bangkok. For a long time, I had been thinking how it would feel to sleep for the first time in another country on the other side of the globe. However, I cannot remember anything about that because I fell asleep immediately after arriving at my new home.

Every day since I have experienced unfamiliar places and customs. I never really got a culture shock, or if I did, it was all positive. So far, I have been lucky to visit tens of temples, markets, restaurants and cities. I have been to Bangkok three times and visited other big cities, like Lopburi, and Saraburi. I have made a trip to Nan (a province in Northern Thailand, next to Laos). My family has taken me to charity events, waterfalls, drafting, forests, malls, and so many other places. With my class from school, I made a fieldtrip to a navy base, beach, and music festival. Also, I have met the famous Thai singer Peck and some super famous movie star who built his own temple.

I live with my host brother Ice, mom Suchada, who I call Me, and father Thiti, Pa. In another small house, right next to ours, there live the grandparents. Everyone is super nice to me and I couldn’t have been happier with my host family. The grandparents own a pig farm with hundreds and hundreds of pigs. The pigs can smell quite bad sometimes and make loud noises when they get hungry. Other than the pigs, the yard is full of exotic fruits and some other animals like cats, dogs, and geese.

My first day at school was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had. I walked in during the morning ceremony. More than 2000 students were sitting on the football field in lines, singing songs and praying. But when they saw me they started clapping, yelling, and some even stood up. It was a huge shock, but I soon understood that my blond hair and white skin caused it to happen. Ever since, I have got hundreds of friend requests on Facebook and everyone waves at me when I walk by. I would like to be normal and it is not right that they hold me as superior because of my genetic outlook. At school, I have lots of fun. I spend my days playing table tennis and Thai instruments, painting, studying the language, eating, and more. I cannot say that I really understand anything in the classes (other than math and science) but during those classes I often hang out in the teacher’s room, watch movies, or study my own things.

For the free time after school, I bought a guitar and gym membership. I am a competitive swimmer but unfortunately the swimming opportunities here are not good. There is a bathing hot pool 30 minutes from where I live. My family has taken me there twice. Of course, I also hang out with my new friends after school.

So far Thailand has been amazing and I am so happy that I was given a chance to study in this country. I enjoy experiencing new and weird things and I cannot imagine a better place for that than Thailand. Thai food is good and healthy. I am very used to saying “Aroi maak maak” (very delicious). In a week, it will be my birthday. I heard my host family has planned something special. I think we are going to a beach. But I will tell more about it in my next update. Sa wat dii kraph!

Fri, September 15, 2017


Sabrina - Peru

Hometown: Lake Mary, Florida
School: Lake Mary High School
Sponsor District : District 6980
Sponsor Club: Baldwin Park, Florida
Host District: 4455
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Baldwin Park

My Bio

Hola! My name is Sabrina Hashimi and I am currently a senior at Lake Mary High School. I am so excited to spend my gap year in beautiful Peru! I am so thankful that Rotary is giving me the opportunity to travel to Peru and immerse myself into the vibrant Peruvian culture! I live in Lake Mary, FL with my mom and 3 siblings, so I’m pretty accustomed to a loud and hectic house. My favorite subject in school is AP Government because I am really passionate about politics and love to learn about the political structure of the country I live in. In fact, I am involved in the Florida Democrats Association and during election season, I volunteered for the Hillary Clinton campaign. Regarding school activities, I am involved in my school’s nationally acclaimed dance team, the Lake Marionettes, editor on Yearbook staff, Spanish Honors Society, and president of Quill & Scroll Honors Society. Outside of school, I am also a 2nd degree black belt and have been doing taekwondo for 10 years. In my free time, I like to hang out with friends, watch CNN, and play my ukulele. I love Spanish culture and I am so excited to strengthen my Spanish skills and fluency. I have never been out of the country so my exchange is going to be my first time out of the United States! I’m really excited to get out of my comfort zone and experience things I’ve never experienced before. I can’t wait to learn Spanish in the most authentic way possible. I hope to gain a new perspective on the world and become more aware of what’s going on around me. I can’t wait to make unforgettable memories and lifelong friends on this journey. ¡Muchas gracias para todo Rotary!

Journals: Sabrina-Peru Blog 2017-18

  • Sabrina, Outbound to Peru

Hola from the Southern Hemisphere! Words can’t explain how crazy and amazing these last 2 months have been. 2 months since I’ve left the US and everything I know. 2 months since I’ve left my comfort zone and my family and friends. 2 months in an amazing country I now get to call my home.


The day I left the US was a pleasant memory. My family and best friend sent me off to the airport and my other best friend left for her exchange that same day. That day was a range of emotions..it was indescribable in a way. I couldn’t put a pin on how exactly I was feeling because there were just so many different emotions crossing paths in my mind. What I could say, however, was that the most prominent emotion was definitely excitement for the crazy step in my life I was about to take. I came into exchange with an open mind and zero expectations at all. Not that I didn’t want to set myself up for disappointment, but because I wanted to make this journey my own and with a blank slate I could create myself. This was the start of an amazing and once in a lifetime opportunity. Nothing was going to get in my way.

Once me & 3 other exchange students landed in Lima, that’s when reality hit..I had to actually start speaking Spanish. My host mom in Lima didn’t speak very much English which made for a lot of me digging in my brain to make as much use of the high school Spanish I had learned prior. A funny thing that was hard for me in the first weeks was not realizing I had to respond to Spanish. Because I had never been used to responding Spanish in the US, I wouldn’t realize when a person was talking to me and I would seem like I was ignoring them.. Good thing I got used to this and I’m more alert now when people call me!

Key differences I’ve noticed between here and the USA:

-Spanish people love adding ito and ita to words (ex.- Sabrinita, aguita, ahorita)

-The greeting here is a simple hola and 1 kiss on the cheek, regardless of if you know them, how old they are, or what their gender is. Even in school, some teachers will kiss you everyday when you come in!

–a lot of respect is held within greetings, if you don’t greet someone it can be seen as disrespectful

-most people here only know basic/ minimal English, or none at all, which definitely reinforces the need for Spanish

-public transportation is HUGE here, with majority of the population using taxis, Uber’s, buses, and combis

-water isn’t free in restaurants like I am used to in the US, and tap water isn’t safe to drink so everyone drinks bottled water

-shoes are worn inside the house! I’ve asked a couple of different Peruvians about why this is, and I’ve received varied answers like – it’s cold, there’s a lot of dust , feet are dirty, etc.

-there is lots of slang (jerga) used here, which is a bit difficult to learn because there is so much and they are not in the dictionary… they also vary by every Spanish country

-Peru is a very conservative country!! Especially in comparison to its bordering countries

-when eating, you don’t really wait for everyone to get their meal because it will get cold and there can be a large difference in the times different plates arrive

-there is a big difference between the upper and lower class , with a small but growing middle class. Most of the time, your family is either very wealthy or very poor

-most of the time you have to pay for public bathrooms..even if it’s only .30 soles which is very cheap, but just the thought of having to pay to use a restroom is a little strange to me. Also, you can’t flush toilet paper- but this is usually only the case for public restrooms

-peanut butter is not a popular food here! Coming from a country that peanut butter is a common household pantry item, I personally couldn’t function without it. My family had to go to 4 different grocery stores to find it!

–most people have never even tried peanut butter, (my host family included) so I introduced to my family pb&j sandwiches which was really nice to share some American culture with them

-most people that have been to the US have been to FL, mostly Orlando and Miami, in part because of the proximity and also because of Disney world and Universal

-everyone knows where FL is so when I tell them where I’m from, they immediately ask if I go to Disney everyday

–most people, however, are not aware of the less known mid western countries

-many, many people here have studied abroad already or want to at some point in their lives


School here is very different than the US and it was where I received the most culture shock.

I attend an all girls, private, Catholic school called Colegio de Los Sagrados Corazones. What I have noticed is that school is just as boring no matter where you are in the world. While the language is indeed different, learning a subject in a classroom setting is the same anywhere. The dynamic at my school is very different than what I’m used to…no phones are allowed, uniforms are worn, teachers are more relaxed and viewed more like friends with the students. To get the teacher’s attention, students yell out “Miss!” pronounced “Mees!” If the students whine enough about not wanting to take an exam that day, they can convince the teacher to push it back another day. I was very confused with this at first because that sort of thing just didn’t happen in my high school in the US. Whe I told one of my classmates this, she was shocked because of how normal negotiating with the teacher is here. When a teacher doesn’t show up, most of the time it is just a free period. Having religion in school has been very different as well because I have always been used to a secular method of teaching. My school is the equivalent of K-12, with all the grade levels in one school- and even then, it’s less people than just my graduating class in the US. Every school here is different and this is just the case with my school.

Here we don’t have the big yellow school bus, instead there are multiple caravan type cars called a “movilidad escolar” that picks up students from each of their homes. Because I’m the first stop, I’m on the movilidad for an hour to go to school and an hour to get back.

Something also interesting is that to enter a university, students take an exam that determines whether you are accepted or not, while in the US- it takes grades, SAT scores, essays and more. I actually took a university entrance exam and it was very difficult, most likely more so for me because it was all in Spanish. I feel for the students here because they have to study really hard for these exams if they want to go to university. One funny tradition they have here is if a guy passes the exam, they shave their head.

A really cool opportunity Rotary in Peru gives exchange students is being able to go to university in the second half of our exchange. I’m so excited to experience how different the dynamic is and to see how a Peruvian university differs from the ones back home.


All I can say about the food here is that it’s one word- amazing. I now understand why Peru is the gastronomical capital of South America. One major pro to eating in Peru is that it’s all super cheap, especially in comparison to the prices I would pay for going out to eat in the US. You can have a nice meal at most places for the equivalent of 6 USD. $1 here is approximately 3 soles, which definitely works in my favor. I’ve also noticed that I eat a lot healthier, and food has a lot more flavor and a lot less grease here. My favorite foods so far have been ocopa, lomo saltado, and my all time favorite- queso helado. It translates to ‘cheese ice cream’ but it’s a creamy dessert topped with cinnamon and it is to die for.

I’ve also tried many new fruits and vegetables here that I’ve never tried before. Being able to see how much more our planet has to offer us has been amazing. Also, a big difference is that water isn’t readily available or free in restaurants like it is in the US. Everyone drinks bottled water, never tap water. Coca Cola and inca Cola are the top beverage competitors here in Peru. Inca Cola is an extremely famous drink here that is yellow in color and has a taste similar to bubble gum. I personally don’t drink very much soda so it was a little odd in the beginning to get used to so much soda. When ordering water, the immediate question is “con gas o sin gas?” which means “with or without gas?”


Traffic here is an absolute nightmare! Most people do without cars because 1. it’s difficult/scary to drive on the roads here, or 2. public transportation is just easier. I would equate driving here as a free for all…there are stop signs and rules set into place but they are very loosely adhered to. The popular modes of transportation include walking, taxis, buses, and combis. Combis are basically small buses stuffed with as many people as possible. They all usually have a little man standing in the opening of the car yelling out different destinations that the combi is going to. These are the cheapest ways to get around, but not always the most secure, because they are famous for having valuables stolen. I haven’t been in a combi yet but when I do, I will definitely make sure to be smart and keep all my valuables away. To add even more fun in driving, there are people that take advantage of red lights to provide their services in efforts of making money. These red light shenanigans can range from street acts of juggling balls of fire to people selling their products to even people offering to clean your car. All within the shortspan of a red light…I personally find this really cool and something I would never see back home in Florida.

Here in Peru, we have something called “Peruvian hour” which is basically an extra hour Peruvians give themselves before parties or meetings. If a party starts at 8 and you come at 8, the host will probably still be getting ready. With the Peruvian hour in mind, 9 will be when everyone ends up arriving. I think this is a big reason of why the traffic is so bad here. I personally wouldn’t recommend a very punctual person to live here because of this!

Experience in Lima

Before settling in our respective host cities, all the exchange students stayed in Lima for the first 2 weeks of our exchanges to explore the capital and for our inbound orientation. I myself had an amazing time in Lima. My Lima host family was very accommodating and so friendly. I lived with my host mom and her parents, and because my host family was divorced, my host siblings switched back and forth between the parents houses. All of my host siblings were very nice to me and I got really close with my host sister especially. My host mom was also really sweet and we often went walking around the Pentágono right in front of the apartment building. We had a man that would open the doors for us when we came in and elevators that took us straight to the apartment which I’ve never seen before but it was interesting to see. Most people live in apartments here and mine in Lima was beautiful and had an amazing view of the city.

My host sister and I visited Miraflores and Barranco, which are 2 very nice and touristic districts in Lima. They were both equally beautiful and many of the buildings were very European in architecture. We also visited the Historic Centre of Lima, where we were able to see catacumbas in the Convento de San Francisco, and where I tried authentic ceviche for the first time. All of the exchange students were given the incredible opportunity of meeting the First Lady and President of Peru as well in the center of Lima. We were able to witness 3 different native Peruvian dances, listen to the First Lady speak, and we all danced together with the Peruvian dancers at the end. It was truly an amazing experience I will never forget.

In the Southern Hemisphere the seasons are switched, so when I arrived, it was mid winter. Winter in Lima was extremely cold- I wasn’t prepared at all. I brought one thin jacket and scarf and the rest summer clothes because I didn’t think winter would be that cold…no warm clothing combined with no sun in Lima was definitely a wakeup call and had really made me appreciate the ever so existent sun in Florida.

Majority of the exchange students are located in Lima. Rotary in Peru also gives us exchange students another amazing opportunity and that is switching cities in the summer. I am returning back to Lima for the summer (January/ February) and I am very excited because there are many things to do in the capital and also to see my former host family and friends back in Lima! Being able to experience the capital of Peru was incredible and I am very blessed that I was able see everything I did for the short time that I was there.

Experience in Arequipa

I was welcomed in Arequipa with a beaming host family, posters, flowers, Rotarians and more. I could not have asked for a better welcome and host family. My host family here in Arequipa is also incredible and I seriously can’t ask for more. They have made me feel so welcome and like their real daughter.

The difference between Lima and Arequipa is major! Arequipa is much more calm and tranquil than the busy capital of Lima, with small streets and not as much noise. Don’t get me wrong though, Arequipa is beautiful, and called “la ciudad blanca” for a reason. Almost all of the buildings are made from a white volcanic rock called “sillar” and gives the city a very antique and historic look. Arequipa is surrounded by 3 volcanoes- Misti, Chachani, and Picchu Picchu- which can be seen from all around the city. The people of Arequipa are immensely proud of their city, and some even consider it as separate from the entire country. The dialect here is a bit different than in Lima, with a more singsongy sound when they speak. There are even foods and drinks that are specific only to Arequipa, including a beverage called “Kola Escosesa” which tastes like Cherry Coke, and can only be found in Arequipa. One thing I love about living in Arequipa is the close proximity of everything. I have 2 other exchange students within a 2 minute walk from me, and the others within a 2 mile radius. Because of this, all of the exchange students in Arequipa meet very often and we have all become really close.

Another major difference is the weather here. It is sunny year round, no matter the season, but only during the daytime. In the daytime it is usually about 80 degrees Farenheit, and in the morning and night time, it can hit 40 degrees Farenheit, which calls for very confusing mornings when trying to choose what to wear. Coming from Lima with no sun to coming to Arequipa with sun all day was really nice and it made me realize how much I really missed it. Because Arequipa has a very high altitude of 2,335 m, the sun is very strong and apparent. Getting used to the altitude was a little bit difficult for me in the beginning, but thankfully now I am accustomed to it and have no problems.


One thing I will definitely say is that having four years of Spanish prior to coming here has helped tremendously. I had an amazing Spanish teacher in the US that really instilled the Spanish culture in our classes and really made me enjoy the language. It was really cool to come into the country and already know the lyrics of popular songs here because I had already listened to them in the US. However, no amount of language classes can prepare you for a full immersion in a country that speaks basically only that language. First landing in Peru was definitely a wake up call because everything was in Spanish. One great thing with having Spanish classes beforehand is that I can understand almost everything. Personally, speaking for me is more difficult because you have to produce the language spontaneously and it is more out of my comfort zone because I always feel like I will say something wrong. What I have learned so far on exchange, however, is that you have to accept that you’re going to make mistakes in the beginning and the only way to improve is to just practice speaking all the time. I am slowly but surely getting out of my comfort zone regarding speaking, and having host parents that don’t speak English has helped tremendously. During my first month, speaking was my biggest struggle but in my second, speaking has become much easier and more comfortable. When you have no choice but to speak the language, you definitely pick it up much faster and make a stronger effort to learn it.

For any family or friends reading this- I am doing great and I am having the time of my life! The people here are one of the most hospitable, welcoming, and friendly people I have ever encountered. I feel so welcome here and honestly feel I’ve lived here all my life. I haven’t really felt any kind of homesickness yet, but there are definitely times here and there when I miss my friends or family.

If you are from the US and reading this, please do me a favor and go get some Chipotle or Chikfila. I didn’t think I would miss American food very much, seeing how amazing the food is here, but I guess some things never change. Fast food is more expensive here and not eaten as often as it is in the US. Some restaurants and fast food chains that I still have here are: McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King, Papa Johns, Chili’s, Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, and more. It has been really interesting to see how these chains differ internationally and how they acquire specific items on menus depending on the location and culture.

Everyday I wake up in this beautiful country, I am reminded how lucky and blessed I am to have this opportunity. Having never left the United States before, this is has been by far the most incredible way to travel to another part of the world and completely submerge myself into the culture. Thank you Rotary, for allowing me to be apart of this amazing global organization with the means of changing world perspectives at this age. Time already feels to have flown by so fast and its only been 2 months. I can’t wait to delve deeper into the abundant and rich culture that I am already getting lost in and falling in love with.

Tue, October 17, 2017


Sam - Austria

Hometown: Orlando, Florida
School: Timber Creek
Sponsor District : District 6980
Sponsor Club: International Drive, Florida
Host District: 1910
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Traun

My Bio

Guten Tag! Ich bin Samantha. (Good day! I am Samantha). Technically I am an only child, but I’m sure my four legged brother would like to differ. I’m originally from New York, and moved to Orlando with my Mom and dog AJ when I was 7. I am currently a sophomore at Timber Creek High School, and I cannot wait to spend my junior year in Austria!! I’m very involved in my high school’s arts departments, so I can always be found in the theatre, art rooms, or choir room. Though I used to be very shy, I’m very proud of the positive, outgoing person I’ve become. I make it a point to try to talk to at least one new person a day, and try to do five things for others a day. As well, I love to read, and I’m avid collector of books, many which evaluate techniques of art, and their history. Whether it be an art book, or a book with a plot, I love exploring through words. In my free time, I can be found hanging out with friends, exploring the hidden gems of cafe’s and coffee shops in Central Florida, or spending too much time and money at Disney World. I am quite the Disney fanatic, and I find the magic of Disney completely enthralling. Needless to say, I am absolutely thrilled to exchange to Austria! I cannot wait to experience the culture firsthand, learn German, see the beautiful landscape and architecture, and so much more. I hope in this year that I can grow as a person and a citizen of the world, hopefully gaining a global perspective. I’m so thankful for this opportunity that I have been given by Rotary, and can’t wait to begin!  Auf Wiedersehen for now!

Journals: Sam-Austria Blog 2017-2018

  • Sam, Outbound to Austria

So I’m coming up on my 6 month mark. I cannot believe that I’ve been here for almost half a year. It actually freaks me out a little bit when I think about how much time has passed, and how it feels like nothing at all.

I’ve been up to quite a bit as of late. All of the exchange students went to Salzburg in December for a meeting. It was cool, as we got to see the kids from Croatia, meaning Valentina and I got to see some familiar faces from Florida! We also had our Christmas break, in which I spent with my host family in the south. We went hiking literally everyday, and my favorite was when we hiked a mountain called the “Dobratsch” and sledded down as the sun set.

Christmas was nice. We lit candles and sparklers on the tree, ate smoked fish, sang songs, ate cookies, and opened gifts. I thought I’d be homesick but I wasn’t!

After Christmas, we drove back up north to Linz for a couple days for New Years. I spent New Years with my second host family, and my best friend Abby. Abby came in from Vienna, and we went to a big dinner with friends of my host parents, lit fireworks, and just danced to music on the radio…it doesn’t sound like a lot, but it was really fun. I think sometimes fun isn’t defined by what you’re doing, but who you’re doing it with.

On New Years Day, I went back with Abby to my first host family, and we drove back down south. Abby and I spent 2 days in Klagenfurt, the capital of the state of Carinthia, with our friends that live there. The best, was when we found a “Running Sushi” restaurant, one of those conveyor belt Asian restaurants, and it was a buffet! We ate there both days and it was sooooo good.

We also went with my host parents to Venice, Italy. Italy is on the southern border of Carinthia, so it was only about a 3 hour drive to Venice.

In Venice, we walked around the beautiful streets, and ate awesome food. We ate lunch in a small restaurant, where I ate pesto gnocci, and it was amazing. We also had real Italian gelato, which was to die for. On the way home, we stopped in Udine, Italy for dinner. There, Abby and I each had our own pizza, and then shared a platter of fried calamari with an amazing citrus cream sauce. My stomach had a really good time in Italy!

After the second week of vacation, Abby went back to Vienna, and we went back to Linz where I started packing for my family switch. I had already known and loved my second host family, so I was really excited.

I have two new host siblings, a host brother who’s 12, and a host sister who’s 13. They’re awesome! I love my new host family and feel so lucky!

Right now, I’m looking forward to a ball they’re taking me to on the 27th. Super excited!

Also forgot to mention, I had my debutante ball! It was awesome, and I’m continuing to the next level of ballroom dances in my dance school, I’m really excited!

Fri, January 19, 2018

  • Sam, Outbound to Austria

Hey there. I’m in my 4th month of exchange right now. I can’t believe it. November has flown by so fast, and next weekend already is the first weekend of December.

Today is Thanksgiving back home, so I thought I’d talk about what I’m thankful for in my life right now.

Obviously I’m thankful to be on this exchange. This experience has truly changed my life, and by no means would I be the person I am today without it. I have learned how to pick myself up when there’s no one else there to help me, I’ve learned how to live spontaneously, and I’ve also learned that sometimes you just need to call your mom and cry, because no matter how old you get, there’s nothing wrong with that.

I’ve learned to stop being embarrassed and insecure, if people really like you, they wont care how straight your hair is or how perfect your skin looks. They’ll love you for you.

I’ve learned a lot about love these last few months as well. Here I’ve been lucky enough to meet some of the most important people I’ve ever had in my life. I don’t know what I’d do without the other exchange students here. Don’t get me wrong, I have fantastic school friends and I love them too, but all the exchange students, we’re like a family. We are a family.

My friends have taught me so much about love. They are the most selfless, hilarious, wonderful friends I’ve ever had, and god I’m so thankful. No one is ever left behind with this group; You can’t afford something? They’ll figure out together how to cover you. Need someone to spill your thoughts and feelings too? They’re lining up to be there for you. We are all so comfortable with each other, like we’ve known each other for years not months.

Also concerning love, I’ve learned that when you can’t find love in other people, you need to be able to find it within yourself. For me, this means appreciating small things as if they were the best gifts in the world. Yesterday for example, the sun shined for the first time for a long time. I love Austria, but the fall to winter transition weather has been very cold, grey, and rainy. Anyways, yesterday there was sun. I was in school, and I just sat their and looked out the window, watching how the sun shone into the room, and I felt so warm inside. I’d never thought I’d appreciate something so simple as the sun like that, but I did, and I found that love within myself.

Off the topic of giving thanks, Christmas markets are starting. There are a few in Linz, but so far I’ve only been to the big one in the Hauptplatz because it opened first. It really feels like magic with all of the lights and people and warm food. I’m kind of broke right now, but I can’t wait until I get my December stipend to buy small gifts for my family and friends, and try the yummy food there.

I’ve also taken up some new hobbies. I really missed singing since I do musical theatre at home, and so I talked to my host dad and we were able to get me voice lessons. I’m so excited, my teacher is lovely, and even better she speaks no English, so we’re forced to speak German.

I also started knitting! Call me Grandma, but I actually really like it. My best school friend and my best Rotary friend wanted me to try it, so I gave into the peer pressure. I’m kind of messy because I’ve never done it before, but hopefully with time I’ll get better.

Lastly, I’m becoming a debutante. It’s really exciting and all of my school friends are too, so we’re doing it together. On December 9th there’s a huge ball where we’ll dance in white dresses, and I’m super excited.

So yeah everything is good. I’m addicted to European sweets, but that’s not new. I’m happy. In all honesty, I’m not as jumping for joy as I was the last few months, maybe it’s because I’m missing the holidays season, but I’m very content, and that’s more than enough that I could ask for.

I thought I’d include some photos. They’re not of anything in particular, but just things and people that make me happy and I’m thankful for. Enjoy.

Thu, November 23, 2017

  • Sam, Outbound to Austria

Click HERE to read more about Sam and all her blogs

So in one week I will be hitting my 3 month mark in Austria! That’s so crazy to think about, that I’ve actually been here for three months. That’s almost a quarter of my whole exchange gone.

Life is settling down now and is pretty good. My German is soooo much better. When I say so much better, I really mean so much better. I came to Austria with practically no German skills, and now my host family and I speak together in only German.

I really like my school, and the people in it. It’s sometimes a little challenging to keep up with the social lives of my Austrian friends both physically and financially, because they always seem to have plans, and they always want me to come!

I also love my Rotary friends. The other exchange students here are some of the best friends I’ve ever had in my life. This past week, were on a Rotary trip, and we all started belting “Don’t Stop Believing” in the bus together. It was one of the most pure moments ever, we were all laughing and singing and having so much fun, and all I could do was just look around at everybody and see all the love and happiness our group shares.

The trip we went on was actually really awesome. It was called “City Tour,” and it was a 4 day trip through Prague, Dresden, and Berlin. Each city was absolutely beautiful in it’s own unique way. We were given tours of each city by professional tour guides, and free time in each city to explore on our own. My favorite was probably Berlin, just because it was so large and diverse, with so much to do.

Also, when we were in Dresden, I got to see Ben, another exchange student from my home district 6980. He’s in Dresden on his exchange now, and even though I didn’t have much time (the only time I had was literally when we were checking out of the hotel), it was so cool/weird to see a face that makes me think of home. I mean here Valentina the other outbound to Austria from Florida and I have gotten really close, but because I didn’t know her personally back in Florida, in my head I identify her with my exchange here in Austria. Seeing Ben was cool though, and I was really glad to hear he’s thriving on exchange also.

Unrelated, but something I just I’d mention to any future outbound to a German speaking country…German is hard. Unless you’ve studied German for an extensive period of time, you’re not ready. I didn’t have German class in school, nor the funds for a private tutor, so Duolingo was my best best. I will tell you right now, Duolingo is made to learn words and phrases to open up your knowledge in a language, not teach you the whole thing. When I first got to Austria I thought I was well prepared for at least basic things, but as soon as my exchange began I realized I knew nothing. Luckily, in Austria there is a Language Camp for two weeks, so that was really useful for beginning my German immersion.

A few tips for anyone learning German:

  1. There is so much regional dialect it’s almost annoying. You won’t understand it at first, but just listen really closely to people’s tone of voice in what they’re saying and what the words you’re hearing could possibly mean. Zum beispiele (for example), the simple phrase “Ich weiss nicht” meaning “I don’t know.” In the region of Austria where I live, a Hoch Deutsch (High German) as it’s called sentence like this would be pronounced completely differently from how it’s read. Typically you’d read it as “Eech-vice-neecht” but in Upper Austria it’s pronounced “Ee-vass-neckt.” So confusing!
  2. German grammar is dare I say a witch with a capital B. There are 4 cases in German, and with these cases, the articles of the words in the sentence change not only in gender sometimes, but what the article is itself. The article “der” for example, can change to den or dem depending on the sentence structure. Same with ein (“a” or “an” in English). Depending on case and gender “a” or “an” could be ein, eine, einen, einem, eines, etc. Again, so confusing!
  3. Greetings. I guess this can fall under dialect, but greetings differ so much depending on what country you’re in. I feel like such an idiot now, because in my RYE bio the first thing it says is “Guten Tag.” Let me tell you firsthand, no one, and I mean NO ONE uses “Guten Tag” in Austria. If you say Guten Tag, you’re so obviously foreign. In Austria for example, people say “Servus,” “Grüß Gott.” I’m sure in Switzerland, and Lichtenstein they have their own greetings as well.

Maybe I’ll write a whole journal about German, because I genuinely wish I had a guide book to all of this when I first started.

Anyways, everything is good for the most part, and I’m enjoying myself. So ja, auf wiederhören!

Tue, October 31, 2017

  • Sam, Outbound to Austria

Wow. I cannot believe I’ve been in Austria for almost a month now. This has probably been one of the best months of my life, I can’t even believe that my exchange has finally become a reality.

I spent my first week with my host family, then the next two weeks at a Sprachkurs (language course) with all of the other inbounds, and now I am back with my host family.

The first week was awesome, we spent the first two days touring around Linz (Austria’s 3rd largest city, where I will be living). We went to museums, walked around the beautiful architecture, and had the best ice cream ever. The next day, we went to Attersee, a town on a beautiful lake, where Gustav Klimt did a lot of his work. It was absolutely beautiful here, the lakes are crystal blue. We went swimming in the lake, and then had dinner at an Italian restaurant, where I had the best serving of Pesto Pasta I’ve ever had in my life. The end of the week was spent in Wörthersee, a village near Klagenfurt where my host family has a nice home over looking the water. The view of the lake is surrounded by mountains that mark as the borders to both Italy and Slovenia. Here we swam, and hiked a small mountain where there is a viewing tower on top. After climbing the viewing tower and taking in the amazing view, there was a slide all the way to the bottom, which I got to go down twice! It overall was a great week.

On that Sunday, we drove to Almünster, a town in Upper Austria closer to Linz than Wörthersee, where the Sprachkurs would be held.

The language course was a blast! I got a chance to get closer with all of the other Inbounds here in the Austrian multidistrict, and improved my German drastically. Before, I could barely make out what my host family said in German and we spoke only English. Now, I am able to understand a substantial amount. Though I’m not so great at speaking yet, it’s nice to have a better grip of what’s going on when listening to people speak.

On the weekend between the first and second weeks of the language course, we took a trip to Hallstatt. It was so crazy going there, because when you look up Austria online, typically the first photos you see are that of Hallstatt, so it was crazy actually being there. We went inside the top of a mountain to take a tour of the Salt Mines, which was insanely cool. There were also slides inside the mountain that during the tour we got to go down. After wards,we were free to tour Hallstatt, so a few friends and I went for lunch where I had my first Schnitzel. It was so so good. Then we headed back to Almünster, where we continued the Sprachkurs.

The course really improved my non-existent German. I have a really good foundation now, and I will continue to build it up, as I’m going to be taking another German course when school starts.

The one negative to the language course, was that it got me addicted to European chocolate. We were given freizeit (free time) every day after classes, which most of the exchange students used to go to the Kebap restaurant, the lake, or in my case, the grocery store to stock up on chocolate. My favorite is a kind called “Schoko-Bananen” which are moist banana marshmallows coated in semi-sweet chocolate. They are absolutely to die for!

The breaks were also really nice to just enjoy the scenery and nature of Almünster. It was so wonderful, there was one day that was very rainy and grey, and during the freizeit a couple of friends and I walked down to the lake. It was so picturesque- the fog hanging over the mountains and water, it was a dream.

Currently I am back in Wörthersee with my host family for the week for vacation, and next week we will go back to Linz. This past Sunday we went down to the tourist area of the lake, and did tube-skiing. It was like water-skiing, except that connected the boat were durable inflatable tubes. It was crazy, because you skipped on the water after the boat, and if you skipped on too big of a wave you got thrown out of the tube whether you liked it or not. Today, we are going to a pasta making factory where we will see the pasta being made before we eat it for dinner…yum! Tomorrow we will go to Italy for the day, which I am ecstatic about, since, well, it’s Italy!

This month has truly been a blast. I know everything will calm down when school starts, but for now I’m enjoying it!

Tue, August 29, 2017


Saniya - France

Hometown: Tallahassee, Florida
School: James S. Rickards
Sponsor District : District 6940
Sponsor Club: , Florida
Host District: 1730
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Antibes Juan-Les-Pins

My Bio

Bonjour! My name is Saniya Pradhan and I am an outbound student to France. I am 17 years old and live in Tallahassee, Florida with my parents, my brother, and my dog. I am currently a senior at Rickards High School and will be going on exchange during a gap year. I am part of the IB program at Rickards as well as a member of many clubs including Model UN, National Honor Society, and Photography Club. I also intern with a photojournalist at the Tallahassee Democrat. In my free time, I enjoy taking pictures, watching Netflix, reading, and listening to music. My parents moved to the United States from India so I grew up in a family that frequently traveled around the world. I went to France in the summer of 2015 and fell in love with the people, the food, and the atmosphere. I am so excited to have the chance to now spend a year there! I look forward to so much this coming year, including learning a new language, meeting new people, and immersing myself in a new culture. I hope to come back as someone who was able to overcome challenges and take on new opportunities while abroad. There will be so much to miss about Tallahassee, but I can’t wait to start this new adventure. I want to thank RYE Florida for giving me this opportunity to spend a year in France!

Journals: Saniya-France Blog 2017-18

  • Saniya, Outbound to France

Bonjour à tous!

Next week will mark four months since I’ve been on exchange. Time is really passing by so fast and things are changing for me all the time. My first month in France was hard, as I was still adjusting to all the differences; but now that I’m used to living here I can see a life starting to build around me. My language is improving every day, I’m making friends at school and with the other exchange students, and I feel comfortable going out in my city and exploring on my own.

I would say I’ve settled into a pretty comfortable routine. Every Monday through Friday I have school, but the schedule changes every day. This was something that took a while to get used to, but I really like it. French school hours are much longer than those of the U.S., but I see it as an opportunity to spend more time talking to the kids in my class, making friends, and improving my language. I’m in the equivalent of senior year, so all the kids are focused on making sure they graduate. However since I’ve already graduated in Florida, I’m only there to learn the language, and I’m not required to do any of the work.

Every weekend I either hang out with kids from school or the other exchange students/Rotex in my district. We all live in different cities but it’s so easy to pop over to Cannes, St Tropez, Monaco, or Nice by train or bus! By making sure I do something every weekend, with friends or my host family, I’ve already seen a lot of cities in my region and experienced much of what the Cote D’Azur has to offer.

Speaking of which, I am incredibly happy with my placement. Antibes is so beautiful and it’s right in between the beach and the mountains. Every day I am in awe of the beautiful sights around me. When I talk to local kids, they always tell me that they don’t find the south of France beautiful, but that they would love to see Florida. I can’t even compare the two. It’s so interesting how you can be blinded to the beauty of something just because you see it every day.

Every few weeks I think that my exchange is going better than it was a few weeks before. I can feel that it’s constantly improving and that I’m slowly changing as a person. I am more confident, grateful, and comfortable with myself. I’ve learned that it’s okay to make mistakes; and I’m no longer embarrassed at every little thing. Additionally, my sense of style is definitely improving, and becoming more expensive (sorry mom and dad)… Anyway, I can feel myself growing as a person and becoming more independent. I find that because every day is a challenge, I feel more satisfied at the end of every day. Each day brings so many new opportunities because I know I have so much left to learn.

That being said, I know I wouldn’t be where I am without the support that I have back home and here in France. Everyone at my sponsor and host clubs have been incredibly encouraging. Thank you to Sal, Larry, and all of Rotary Florida for everything that you guys do for us. If anyone from Rotary 1730 is reading this, merci beaucoup for organizing amazing trips and always helping me figure everything out!

Happy Holidays to everyone and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for 2018!

With love from the French Riviera 😉


Wed, December 20, 2017

  • Saniya, Outbound to France

My journey to Antibes was 18 hours, 3 flights, and a thirty minute car ride. I left my friends and family at the Tallahassee Airport and boarded a flight to Miami. I’ll admit, saying goodbye did make me question my sanity a little bit, but soon I was relaxed and excited again. I flew from Miami to London Heathrow, where I had a 4 hour layover. I spent this time relaxing and roaming the various stores and restaurants. On my flight from Miami to London I was upgraded to Premium Economy! My seat was bigger (and reclined in three different ways), I got better food, a nicer blanket, and to top it all off it was an aisle seat. Overall, the flight probably went the best that it could have gone for me. It was my first taste of the Riviera lifestyle.

Fast forward to my arrival in Nice. As we flew over I could see the coast and the mountains and everything there is to love about the Cote D’Azur. As I stepped off the plane I felt a familiar wave of heat wash over me. I was greeted by a few Rotarians, my host mom, host brother, and two other exchange students. Then I headed home. The first night was spent replacing my SIM card (my number changed!), eating a dinner of rice and stew, and getting to know my host family and the town of Antibes. Needless to say, I was beyond tired, so my host family told me to sleep in the next day.

My host family is the Olson family. It is made up of a mom (Daphné), dad (Conrad), and three children (Eric, Elise, and Bryan). However, Eric and Elise are both out of the country on their own adventures. Daphné, Conrad, and Bryan have been incredibly kind and patient with my broken French, and are really keen on showing me around the French Riviera and teaching me the language.

The first week here was spent with my host family and getting accustomed to Antibes. Bryan taught me how to ride the bus (go public transportation!!), and now I ride it every day to school and back. It’s about a 20 minute bus ride from my house to school, which is a lot better than the 35 minute car ride in Tallahassee.

Daphné took me to Vieil (Old) Antibes, the charming center of my town. Vieil Antibes looks like a typical small European quarter with cobblestone streets lined with tiny shops and plants climbing up every wall and window. It’s a good place to walk around and get lost in. There is also a market here every weekend with vendors selling many different food items. I tried about 4 types of pesto, saw a lot of spice vendors, and tried “Socca,” a typical Niçoise dish made from chick peas and spices.

The day before school started, my host family and I went on a little road trip to the town of Vidauban, where there is a chateau, vineyard, and apple orchard. We picked about two and a half bags of apples and bought two bottles of fresh apple juice. After that we went to a park with a zipline course. It looks similar to the tree-to-tree adventure at the Tallahassee Museum, so I made the mistake of thinking it would be about the same. omg. It was so much more challenging. The course was both physically and mentally exhausting, but a lot of fun. After that, I though we were done, but my host dad and brother wanted to do another (slightly easier) course. By this time what I wanted most was a shower and a nap, but as a good exchange student I agreed. My arms were sore for about 4 days after and I had bruises for the next two weeks but it was completely worth it. There was satisfaction in achieving the physical challenge, and I hope that it serves as a metaphor for the rest of my exchange .

The next day I started school. I don’t want to get into the differences between French and American school but just know that they are very different. After completing my first week I’ll admit it was really draining. Rather than being “stereotypically” French, everyone I’ve talked to has been very warm and accommodating, but it’s still really hard to maneuver with a language barrier. I realize now I definitely took cultural competency for granted. In the United States, I know the language, the mannerisms, the social rights and wrongs. I can make friends, hold a conversation, and even write a really long blog post if necessary (sorry!). But here in France, I don’t have the same effortless communication, honestly I don’t even know how to open their doors. I did know this was coming, but it’s impossible to prepare for it. At this point I’ve just accepted that looking and sounding like an idiot is part of the process.

Sun, September 17, 2017


Sharday - Bolivia

Hometown: Lecanto, Florida
School: Lecanto
Sponsor District : District 6950
Sponsor Club: Crystal River, Florida
Host District: 4690
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Amboro

My Bio

Hola, cómo esta, me llamo Sharday Patrick, I am fourteen years old and currently I am a freshman at Lecanto High School. During the 2017-18 school year I will be in Bolivia thanks to the rotary youth exchange program. I am so very thankful to have this opportunity and I hope to come back from this exchange a better person and with a better sense of the world outside of my small home in Lecanto, Florida. Speaking of home, I live with my mom, dad, and four brothers. At school, I am in the Pre-IB program and take Spanish 1, which is one of the best coincidences ever, due to the fact that Spanish is the official language of my host country. In my downtime, I like to draw, read, write, and recently, even knit. As a kid, I used to move around a lot due to the military, so traveling has become a common theme in my life, and I have come to enjoy and anticipate it, so this exchange is something that I am looking forward to. I cannot wait to finally see the world outside of America, meet new people, and have many distinct experiences and unforgettable memories.

Journals: Sharday-Bolivia Blog 2017-18

  • Sharday, Outbound to Bolivia

Hey there everyone, it has been quite a while and in that amount of time an equal amount of things have happened, if not more.

One thing is that I have received a new family, who I am so happy with. I live much closer to my school and so many other places that were just too far before. Each of my families have been so different from not only each other but also my family back in Florida. My father works a lot and my host siblings go between living with me and my host dad and their mom. I even have a maid in this host family who is so nice and is such a helpful resources with learning spanish and new foods to cook.

Going back to school this month has been a trip. All my classmates are so impressed by how much I’ve improved with my spanish and that now I can understand them with out needing a translator on stand by. I am getting much closer with my classmates due to this and sometimes I find myself speaking in spanish when there is no need, like in english class, to my parents back home, or even in my head. It is quite funny but it makes me so happy to see how much I have grown and how much more I will grow in these next 4 months that I have.

My 16th birthday was just a couple weeks ago, and I know that I will never forget this one, it will be one of the most interesting ones I have ever had. I didn’t really plan on having a party on my birthday, just spending it with my family and some friends. So when i woke up to a cake and my family and their friends, I was a little surprised. Later I went out and got my nails done with my friend, we went back to the house to pick up so stuff before we had to go and meet some other. When i had walked into my house, I was greeted with all the exchange students in my city. There was cake, confetti, a pinata, and many many laughs shared. I got my face shoved into a cake which is a normal thing to do here, and a first time for me. Nevertheless, I loved it and all the people who helped plan it.

One of the best things to happen to me not only here, but ever, has got to be the Bolivia Trip. Spending two whole weeks traveling with all the exchange students in Bolivia was so much fun. We got to see so many different parts of Bolivia, how each department is not the same, the weather, foods, and spanish all vary in each part. It was so cool to no only be able to learn about my host country, but all the other countries of the many different exchange students. This trip was filled with so many different emotions that I never realized we were reaching a close till we were in the airport. That probably one of the saddest days in my life, only to be topped by the day that I finally have to end this dream.

I truly have been loving my exchange, there are its down points. When it greats very stressful, or frustrating when the some words go over my head, or when the homesickness hits me really hard on one day. But then I go out and hang out with my friends, or think about how much I have changed over 6 months and I realize that this exchange is nothing easy, but it is something that is totally worth all its pitfalls.

Mon, February 19, 2018

  • Sharday, Outbound to Bolivia

Hola, so this is my first journal entry of the year, let’s hope I make this a good one.

So far it has been about 7 weeks and Bolivia is so so so great. Before coming here I knew nothing about Bolivia and my Spanish was so very small. But now, after spending sometime with the people and learning the ways that things are done, I can say I really really like it here.

My first day was very busy, I went out and at then went home, put my stuff down, took a shower, and then headed off to school to meet my classmates, my host brother and have some lunch. It was fun and everyone was so nice, later I took a Spanish test, which would help place me in my Spanish class that I have every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

From there, I started getting a schedule, I would go to school and then on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I would go to the gym for two hours, I decided to try out boxing, and then go to Spanish for an hour. My weekdays are busy, most Tuesday and Thursday are spent catching up on sleep or hanging out with my aunts, uncles, and grandparents who live across the street from me.

A few things that are new to me is the kissing one the cheek, you always do it. With friends, or people who are friends of friends/family, or classmates. Its actually fun but it took sometime to get use to.

Another thing is the heat. Oh my goodness is it hot, and I knew it would be, I mean it is South America, but it slipped my mind that the seasons are opposite. So, even though I think it is very hot now, it is only spring, I’m just waiting for summer to roll around to see just how hot it gets.

There are tons of more things that are so new to me that I could go on and on about, but I will save them for another time.

My host family is a god send, though no one but my brother speaks English, they help me out so much, and they have taught me so much. Because of them, I have to say my Spanish has improved a lot more from where it was at before I left. My family here is big, which isn’t that much of an adjustment since I come from a family of six, but it’s different to have my aunts and uncles and grandparents so close, a few feet instead of miles away.

School is very different, I have a ton more class and instead of having new faces each class, I see the same ones in each different classroom. The other kids are very nice and try to include me and the other exchanges students in the things they are doing.

Speaking of the other exchange students, they all are so nice and just very fun to be around. Most of the kids are from the US and France, but there are some who are from other countries. We like to hang out and talk and speak in Spanish if we can.

All in all, Bolivia has been a blast these last seven weeks, going to see Cotoca, a market place not to far from my house, and going to school, taking the Mirco (a public bus), and so many other things has just been too much fun and so very different from anything in my life before, I don’t really have the words to say it. But, its absolutely amazing.

Wed, October 11, 2017


Sierra - Denmark

Hometown: Orlando, Florida
School: William R. Boone
Sponsor District : District 6980
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Orlando, Florida
Host District: 1440
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Aalborg Nørresundby

My Bio

Hej mit navn er Sierra or Hi my name is Sierra! I am so excited to spend my sophomore year in the beautiful country of Denmark. I have had many opportunities to travel with my family and I am now ready to fully immerse myself in another culture. I live in Orlando, Florida with my mom, dad, two younger brothers, and my dog, Olive. I am currently a freshman at Boone High School and am involved in many clubs, such as Fellowship of Christian Athletes, French Club, and Interact Club. I also played on the Junior Varsity volleyball team as well as the Junior Varsity Lacrosse team. My favorite classes in school are AP Human Geography, French, and Medical Skills. As I am currently taking French 1 in school, I am ready for the challenge of learning another foreign language at the same time. I enjoy spending time with my friends, traveling, playing volleyball, playing lacrosse, and playing guitar. I can’t wait to see what God has planned for me while on exchange and what experiences I will come away with. My goals for exchange are to meet new people, try new foods, and become fluent in Danish. Although I am a little bit nervous about learning a new language, making new friends, and being homesick, I can’t wait to see how much I grow as a person while on my exchange. Lastly, I would like to thank RYE for giving me this awesome opportunity of a lifetime!

Journals: Sierra-Denmark Blog 2017-18

  • Sierra, Outbound to Denmark

I have been in Denmark for almost seven months now and I know in my past entries I said it was crazy how long I have been here but time is truly flying by. I didn’t write after Christmas, but spending Christmas in another culture without my family was really cool actually. I missed my family and friends of course, but I didn’t miss home as much as I thought I would. It was weird not being with my family during Christmas time but Denmark has so many Christmas traditions that are different from the U.S. which made it really fun during Christmas. My favorite by far was the Christmas Market in Aalborg. It was so cute and fun to walk around and hang out at after school. Another one of my favorite Danish Christmas traditions was that every Christmas season in Denmark, they have a julekalendar, or Christmas Calendar show, that has one episode every night.

I spent New Year’s Eve with my class, which was also fun to see how they celebrate it differently. In January, saying goodbye to the oldies was really hard, especially because I had gotten really close to a couple of them, but we also welcomed our newbies which was exciting.

In January, I went to Aarhus again to meet up with some exchange students that live there and it was so much fun. Also, in the beginning of February, some of my friends that live in Sjælland, the island that Copenhagen is on, came to visit and it was such a great weekend. It’s always fun to reunite with people you haven’t seen in awhile. That weekendI also watched the Superbowl with some of the exchange students that live in my district. It’s fun to do some American traditions every once in awhile, because I do miss the traditions that we have.

During the winter break in February, I went to Uganda with my host family on a service project for 10 days. It was an amazing experience that I’ll never forget and it really made me realize how much I take for granted and that I should try to appreciate all that I have. It was an amazing 10 days. The whole month of February really flew by. This past week has been sooo cold, I don’t think the temperature has risen above 0. The limfjord in Aalborg is almost completely frozen over. It’s crazy that it’s so warm in Florida and so cold here. Though I do like the snow, I hope it warms up soon.

I have to move host families soon, which is crazy to think about. I honestly can’t believe that I’ve been in Denmark for seven months! Time is truly flying by and I’m trying to appreciate every moment that I have here because I know that I’ll miss it so much when I leave. Time is such a crazy concept. I’m going to miss my host families, my classmates, my exchange friends, and just Denmark in general.

Hej hej from Denmark,


Sun, March 4, 2018

  • Sierra, Outbound to Denmark

I haven’t written a journal entry for two months and a lot has happened since then! It’s been a little over four months since I arrived here. During the fall break, I went to Copenhagen, Aarhus, Skagen, and many other places in Denmark. I also went to Flensburg, Germany. I also went to a get together with all of the other exchange students in Denmark for a weekend. It was so much fun, and being with all of the other exchange students is always great because everyone knows what you are going through. On Halloween I didn’t do anything special because it isn’t celebrated very much over here, but a few trick-or-treaters stopped by my host family’s house which made me really happy.

November was pretty relaxed for me and not much happened. I made Thanksgiving dinner for my host family, which we all really enjoyed. I also had a district meeting with all of the exchange students that are in my district. It was a farewell meeting for the oldies of our district, but I know I will see them again before they really leave in January. But it’s really sad to think that they’re leaving already and how fast the time has been going since I arrived here. Also, the Prime Minster of Denmark, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, came to visit my school and gave a presentation which was pretty cool. I also visited some other exchange students in a city called Aarhus to shop and hang out.

On December first in my school, we have a tradition where we run to nearby high schools and middle schools and sing Christmas songs and run around. It was so much fun and was perfect to put all of us in the Christmas spirit. I also changed host families on December first, which I had mixed emotions about because I really liked my first host family, but my second host family is also really great. During my first weekend with them, I went to a nearby castle which are quite common in Denmark since it’s a very old nation.

Last weekend, I went to Copenhagen with my host family to see Tivoli during Christmas and to do some Christmas shopping. Copenhagen is a beautiful city and I really enjoy spending time there. While I was there, I had the chance to meet up with some other exchange students that live in and around Copenhagen who I hadn’t seen since October. Also, this week in Denmark we got snow for the first time this winter! Snow is so beautiful and so much fun to play with. I love it now, but probably mostly because I’m not usually used to seeing it. Yesterday at my Rotary Club meeting, we played a game called kejlespil, which is similar to bowling but with nine pins and a much smaller lane. I’m really looking forward to spending Christmas in Denmark, even though I know I will miss my family a lot. It’s going to be interesting to see Christmas celebrated in a different way than I’m used to.

Fri, December 15, 2017

  • Sierra, Outbound to Denmark

It is crazy to say that I have been in Denmark for over 2 months now! The time has flown by. I have discovered so much about another culture and about myself in these past months. I am going to focus this blog mainly on advice for students considering going on exchange because applications are due soon and interviews will also be coming up. I had some doubts before going on exchange, so here is what I would tell a student who is also deciding whether they want to become an exchange student or not.

One of the reasons that I was hesitant about going on exchange was because I thought that I would miss out on a lot at home. I can tell anyone who is also experiencing this doubt that the experiences you will gain while on exchange and what you will discover about yourself is worth so much more than anything you will miss at home (which won’t be much, by the way).

Another concern that I had was that I would miss my family and friends too much. Of course, I do miss them but I have been so busy with sports and language practice that the homesickness just fades away. I also have other exchange students at my school, so it is good to talk with them sometimes about how we are doing and if we miss home or not and what we have learned.

Something else I was worried about was missing an academic year of school in the US. If you are considering being an exchange student during your sophomore or junior year of high school and would still like to graduate with your class, it is possible (with a lot of work, though). I took some classes on FLVS before I left, I have to take one here, one more online class when I get back, and I will have full schedules my junior and senior years. I know that it is going to be a lot of work, but it is so worth it for going on exchange.

I was also concerned about the language barrier and whether it would be harder to make friends in my country because of this. All of my classmates and a lot of other students at my school have been so welcoming to me, and always make sure that I am included during class. I had heard stereotypes that Danes are really shy at first, but I found it to be completely untrue and quite the opposite actually. Once you get your country assignments, and are starting to learn more about the people in the country do not believe the stereotypes because they are almost never true. Come to your country with an open mind and find out for yourself about the people of the country and the culture you are living in.

If anyone who is reading this is considering being an exchange student, please do it! I know that there are a lot of doubts in your mind about what will happen, but exchange is so worth it. Also, you can always ask Rotex or past exchange students about their experiences and I am sure they would be happy to help. I hope this helped anyone who is considering going on exchange.

Hej hej from Denmark,


Thu, October 12, 2017

  • Sierra, Outbound to Denmark

Click HERE to read more Sierra and all her blogs

I can’t believe I’ve been in Denmark for almost a month. The time has flown by. Sometimes I forget that I’m over 4,500 miles away from my family and friends. During my first week here, I stayed with my counselor so that she could tell me all that I need to know about Aalborg and the rules for me here.

Aalborg is such a lovely place. The streets are so clean and quiet, they have amazing shops, and of course the beautiful limfjord. We visited my counselor’s second home in Egholm, a little island on the limfjord. The houses are so quaint and woodsy. I also went to Blokhus with my first host family during my first week. The water temperature is quite different from Florida’s beaches, but it was so refreshing. I also went swimming in the limfjord at the fjordparken in the morning when it was cold and windy.

I started school after being here for a week, which I was nervous for because I’ve never started at a new school in which I don’t know anyone. My classmates were so welcoming to me and always make sure that I understand what is going on and what the teacher is saying. I haven’t been speaking a lot of Danish because I can’t pronounce anything and everyone always speaks to me in English. For me, Danish is so hard to learn, partly because of the pronunciation but mostly because everyone speaks English and it’s very hard to force yourself to speak in a language that you can’t fully express yourself in.

After school on most days I usually go into town with the other exchange students to a cafe or shopping. Our school is about a five minute walk from the Main Street in Aalborg. I’m not used to hanging out with friends after school so often in Orlando, because I usually have too much homework to be able to do anything besides sports and school. I bike to and from school about three miles each way, which is a great exercise and also helps me wake up in the morning.

I started volleyball practice two days after I arrived in Denmark. I like the practices and my team a lot, and it’s also another activity to keep me in shape after eating so much Danish food and bread. I also go to my Rotary Club meetings every Wednesday. It’s cool to see how different Rotary Clubs function around the world, even though I can’t understand most of what is being said in the meetings.

This week I went to language camp in Bjerringbro with all of the 157 exchange students that just arrived in Denmark. It was probably one of the most fun weeks I’ve ever had in my life. I met so many new people from so many different countries and got to know the other exchange students that attend my school better. Other exchange students are so easy to get along with and make friends with because we’re all in the same boat. I learned a lot about the Danish culture as well as the language.

I’ve had such a great time in Denmark so far and learned so much about myself.

Fri, September 1, 2017


Sydney - Norway

Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: St Augustine
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Coastal St Johns County, Florida
Host District: 2260
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Kløfta

My Bio

Hallo, jeg heter Sydney Garrison! Hello, my name is Sydney Garrison. I go to St Augustine High School, where my favorite subject is international history. I’m 15 years old and in the tenth grade. I was born in Minnesota and lived in southern Wisconsin until third grade, so I’ve always felt very connected with Scandinavian culture. I live with my mom (Leslie), dad (Derek), and younger brother (Rowan) in St Augustine Beach, just a short walk away from the beautiful Anastasia State Park. My friends and I like to go to the beach, walk downtown, and organize themed parties. For example, we have an annual Eurovision themed party where we all dress up in cultural costumes and score each performance. My parents both taught English in Taiwan after college and travelled all around southeast Asia, and have instilled in me a love of travel and language. I’m a French 4 student and have already started studying Norwegian! I’m also very interested in history, mythology, and literature. I’m not just academically oriented though, I also love the outdoors and hope I can spend some time skiing and hiking. Tusen takk (Thank you very much) to Rotary and to my family for providing me with this amazing opportunity. I can’t wait to see what new adventures I’ll have!

Journals: Sydney-Norway Blog 2017-18

  • Sydney, Outbound to Norway

I’ve been in Norway for more than two months now, but it’s gone by so fast. I guess they do say that time flies when you’re having fun. The exchange has been amazing so far. Although I’m having a little trouble getting used to the cold (especially during outdoor gym class), I really enjoy seeing this country and its beautiful nature. I’ve gone berry picking twice, and I walk my host family’s dog every day. I love seeing the leaves change. In Florida, we really do miss out on the whole “seasons” thing. I also really like my class. I feel like I’ve moved past just being “the American” and my classmates are getting to know me and become friends because of my personality, not my country. I still eat lunch with the same group, but I spend breaks with lots of different people.

I was able to meet the rest of the Rotary exchange students in Norway during introcamp, which was on the west coast in Sola. We learned some basic language and culture (okay, mostly trolls), and got to know each other. We took the bus one day into Sandnes, and we went to a children’s museum and walked around downtown. Some friends and I got ice cream and walked to the marina, and a few stores. I was also one of the few students brave enough to swim in the ice cold ocean at introcamp- it was fun but freezing.

Last week was fall break (called høstferie) and my third host family took me with them to Stord, a small island on the west coast where my host dad grew up. The drive was eight hours of breathtaking scenery (we went across mountains and along fjords) and sharing a bag of Norwegian candy with my future host sister Sigrid. We stayed in a house that has been in the family for generations. It was really fun, and I was able to get to know my future host family better. Sigrid and I made tacos one night, and another night we ate fish we’d caught ourselves. Going out fishing was great. We had coffee and skoleboller on the boat, and I was able to catch two fish. On the last day before I flew back, we took the ferry into Bergen. We went to the top of a mountain overlooking the city and its harbor, and then came back down to walk around the cute old houses and shops downtown. Unfortunately, Bergen ended up living up to its reputation of the rainiest city in Europe, and we spent most of the late afternoon looking for cover from the downpours.

Last night, I went with the president of my host club, his wife, and another exchange student to see the Barber of Seville in Oslo, Although the show was in Italian and I couldn’t understand much of the plot, it was super enjoyable. Plus, the opera house in Oslo has really nice architecture. Tonight, I’m seeing Annie in Jessheim with my host parent’s granddaughters, so I have more live play experiences to look forward to.

Sun, October 15, 2017

  • Sydney, Outbound to Norway

Click HERE to read more about Sydney and all her blogs

So I’ve been in Norway for about a week now, and I’m still shocked at how beautiful everything is here! Everywhere I look there are green open fields or forests. Wildflowers grow on the sides of the roads and I haven’t even seen a billboard yet, so car rides in Norway are definitely different than the US. Another thing that’s different- my host club sings at the beginning of the meetings, which my sponsor club definitely doesn’t do! Luckily they keep lyric books on every table, so I was able to follow along.

I go to a school in Jessheim, which I have to take 2 different buses to get to. The school building itself is new, and it’s really nice. It’s definitely the biggest school I’ve ever attended. I’m having difficulty understanding some classes, but my classmates have been really nice and accommodating in helping me understand. In English class, we’ll be covering “American people and culture”, which should be interesting to take as an American. The textbook has Bruce Springsteen lyrics for students to read and understand the American working class. I’ve made two good friends in my class so far, Hedda and Mozhgan. I’ve also been in communication with my future host sister Sigrid.

My neighbor Julie has also been a really good friend. She taught me how to eat like a typical Norwegian teenager (ketchup on pizza and Pepsi Max), and I went to an activity park with her, her boyfriend Casper, and their friend Ivar. The activity park was really fun, even if it physically could be a challenge for an out of shape American like me. Afterwards, we shared an apple cider and talked about music. Her friends were very fun, and had a similar sense of humor to my friends in the US.

Also, my host family has a dog! This is really exciting to me, because I’ve always wanted one and my brother is allergic. His name is Elvis, and I’ve really enjoyed walking him in the forest by my house. I also got to see my host parents’ grandson’s band play at Jessheim Storsenter, and they were really good. They did covers of some songs I’m familiar with- Johnny B Goode and Communication Breakdown.

The other day, my host mom took me into Oslo. We had coffee and ice cream on a peninsula on the fjord and went to the Viking Ship Museum, the Fram Museum, the Kon Tiki Museum, and the top of Holmenkollen. Holmenkollen was amazing- you could see everything from the top. But my favorite had to be the Kon Tiki Museum. I’d heard about Kon Tiki, but I didn’t really know much of Thor Heyerdahl’s story. It was so fascinating!

So far, Norway has been a dream come true. I would like to thank Rotary as well as my amazing families (both host and biological) for making this possible. I would also like to leave you for now with a Thor Heyerdahl quote that greets you when you enter the Kon Tiki Museum, and has made me think a lot about my exchange “Borders? I have never seen one. But I have heard they exist in the minds of some people.”

Tue, August 22, 2017


Taylor - Brazil

Hometown: Longwood, Florida
School: Lake Mary
Sponsor District : District 6980
Sponsor Club: Seminole County South, Florida
Host District: 4420
Host Club: The Rotary Club of São Paulo Parque do Ibirapuera

My Bio

Hi, my name is Taylor Behling. I am 17 years old and a senior at Lake Mary High School in Florida. I have lived in Florida for about 10 years now. My family has 4 people. Me, My sister, My mother, and My father. We moved to Florida from Michiganwhere we lived in a very small town, there was only one stoplight in the town. I really loved the way everyone there was so willing to help others, no matter what they were doing. I have spoken English my entire life and I started learning Spanish my freshman year of high school. Now i can speak spanish at about a 2nd grade level and I can’t wait to learn Portuguese. I really enjoy spending time with my family and friends in my free time. We do anything from just watching a movie on the couch to going ice skating. My hobbies would include drawing and singing. My whole family likes to sing and my sister an I got really into drawing because it is a good way to express yourself. I am so grateful for the opportunity that I have been given. I have wanted to travel and meet new people for a long time and I can’t even begin to describe how amazing this program is. I can’t wait to meet new people and share my new experiences with. I am beyond excited and can’t wait to start this amazing experience in Brazil.

Journals: Taylor-Brazil 2017-2018

  • Taylor, Outbound to Brazil

I am 4 months into my exchange and I still have moments where I find myself asking if I should really be doing this. I still talk to some of my friends in Florida and they are all in college and starting their lives. I always think that when I get back, I will just be starting. And I know I am doing something amazing and I wouldn’t change it for anything because I honestly love it here. Everyone here is so nice and so open. Even if you just meet someone they are willing to have a full conversation with you. Last weekend all the exchange students got together at Itanhaém beach. It was the first time I got to go to the beach since I have been here, and it was amazing. We had the privilege to visit a spot where an infamous priest used to go to write poems. It was a rock that looked like a bed because it was so smooth. It even had a rock on top of it that protected you from the sun. We walked around the city all morning and we had a Brazilian barbeque for lunch. I honestly think that everyone here knows how to cook. On the way home I even got to see some beautiful little waterfalls. For the family that made the barbeque, I went to their house and made tacos for them. My grandmother sent me taco seasoning a little while back and it made for an awesome dinner. It’s so crazy to me to think that less than a year ago I was told I was going to be doing this and now I am. It all happened so fast that even now I’m just like this is crazy. The new outbounds are getting selected already. I am still in shock that this is my life now. I cannot even imagine what I would be doing right now if I was not here. I have also begun to miss my family. Here they do not celebrate thanksgiving, so they have already begun to set up for Christmas. I am beginning to miss the things my family does for Christmas. Like when we go pick out a tree or bake Christmas cookies together. Here, they have a fake tree and they even have some Disney ornaments. They also have this little town on the TV stand. It’s all cute and different. We even went out to buy a stocking for me to put up next to their stockings. I am very excited to see what other traditions they have here. My host mother told me that they open one present the night before Christmas and then they open the rest on Christmas. Also, here Christmas is in summer here, so we are going to be spending Christmas at the beach and we will spend new years there too. It’s a little strange that its going to be hot enough to go to the beach at Christmas.

Tue, November 21, 2017

  • Taylor, Outbound to Brazil

Click HERE to read more about Taylor and all her blogs

It has almost been three months and I have officially hit normal. Normal is the usual, average, or typical state or condition. My normal is pretty much the same as it was in Florida. I go to school and then home every day. After school I don’t have a whole lot to do. Sometimes I go to the mall down the street and it is so much fun. Sometimes over the weekend my host family travels to different areas. One weekend we went to Campos do Jordão. I got to ride a horse and see the boa vista palace. This palace is where the governor of São Paulo spends his summers. The palace was so beautiful and had so many ornate details. On another weekend, I was able to explore Avenida Paulista with the other exchange students before going to watch IT. I have never had so much fun. We saw dancers on the street. So, we joined them. I have no idea what kind of dance we did but it was so fun. After the dancing we continued to walk down the street and look at all the different things that the vendors where selling. Some of these things were homemade and so precious. The strangest thing I have ever seen was when I went to a seven-year old’s birthday party. The parties here are more extravagant than some sweet sixteen parties I’ve been to. The party had waiters walking around all night with different types of food, the music was so loud and there were so many people. They had their entire family at this party. Every single member of their family was present at the party. The sweet buffet was humungous. They had a cake, cookies, cake pops, brigadeiro, etc. The building that was rented had actual carnival rides for the kids to ride and the party went until 12 at night. I don’t know about you guys but the parties I used to go to, at least for a seven-year-old, never went that late. Usually by around nine o’clock the parents are saying good bye to the party guests. Life here is so different than life in the USA. Earlier this month, I got to attend a very fun weekend in Praia Grande with the interact students in Praia Grande and the exchange students around me. We got to play some fun games in the pool, listen to some great music, and even a paint water balloon fight. The exchange students also got to win an award for being the most lively and happy people there. Finally, I made hamburgers and fries for my host family. I had never actually made a hamburger before and I called my dad to ask him how you make a hamburger. I also made chocolate chip cookies for my host family. We didn’t have allot of the ingredients, but the cookies still turned out amazing. My family said that they loved both dishes and can’t wait for me to make them again.

Wed, October 25, 2017

  • Taylor, Outbound to Brazil

I have been in Brazil for 26 days and it still feels like a dream. When I got off the plane I was greeted by my host mother and host sister holding a banner and flowers for me. I was immediately taken to the outbound orientation for my district. I was asked to speak in front of the parents in Portuguese. I was completely terrified. I took a breath and recited the introduction I had rehearsed. “oi meu nome e Taylor. Eu sou dos Estados Unidos.” Everyone Cheered and I was taken to the room with the outbound students. I was asked to talk to the students in English and explain what the process to be an exchange student is like in America. After that we came home and I was finally able to sleep. When I first started school, I was so nervous I could hardly remember how to walk. Looking back, I didn’t have anything to worry about. Everyone in the class came up to me and told me that if I ever needed anything, I could ask any of them for help . School is still a little hard for me because I don’t know the language very well yet, but I am understanding about 30% of what the teachers say. I still try to take notes and participate because that’s the only way to get better. The first weekend I spent in Brazil, I spent at an amazing house on a lake. I got to try water skiing. I found out it is so much harder than I originally thought. I got to try paddle boarding too. It was so much fun and so peaceful. I had my first orientation last weekend. It was so cool to meet all the other exchange students. I found two other girls from the USA and a girl from Germany who only lives 20 minutes from where I am staying.

Wed, August 23, 2017


Titi - Austria

Hometown: Davie, Florida
School: Western High School
Sponsor District : District 6990
Sponsor Club: Miramar Pembroke Pines, Florida
Host District: 1910
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Ried im Innkreis

My Bio

Hallo, my name is Valentina and I am very fortunate to say that I will be spending a year of my life in beautiful Austria. Currently, I live with my mom and dad, Karen and Juan, and my two sisters; Valeria, the eldest, and Victoria, the youngest. We all are fluent in English, Spanish and French. I am so grateful to my parents for instilling in us that the more languages one knows, the more doors open. I have seen the benefits of becoming an exchange student through my exchange sister, Veronika. I believe she has been an incredible example of what an exchange student should be. To add on, I know that my past experiences have prepared me for this massive undertaking. A move from sunny Florida to mountainous Tennessee required me to adapt quickly. On a more personal level, some things I know will contribute to a more unique experience in my year abroad is my love for music and art. I delight in singing for others as well as playing the cello. Taking photos of the places and people around me is a hobby I love. Some other things I enjoy are roller-blading, bike-riding, horseback riding, skiing, and playing tennis. I can’t wait to be able to do this with my future host family. I am very excited to take on this adventure and am hopeful to meet great people and learn of new cultures and traditions. Thank you to everyone who has made this possible for me and until next time; auf wiedersehen.

Journals: Titi-Austria Blog 2017-18

  • Titi, Outbound to Austria

I wrote this speech for our Rebound Weekend when they asked the rebounds to say something about how our year went, memories we made or some things we had learned on our exchange.

I wrote my speech based on a few of the things I have learned in this past year.

TO ANY FUTURE EXCHANGE STUDENTS, this year will be, without a shred of doubt, the most rewarding. You will learn a new language; you will make a family; you will travel with your friends; you will immerse yourself in a new culture; you’ll broaden your opportunites for your future. In addition to all of that, it will also be, at times, difficult. You will have to sacrifice yourself for others. Whether it be your time or attention.. The Rotary moto “Service Above Self” is put into action throughout your exchange.


No one says exchange is easy. No one says it’s a walk in the park. But EVERYONE says that it’s all worth it.

The year that I looked forward to; the year I feared yet couldn’t wait for; the year that’s now passed…

It taught me that not everything is perfect; it taught me that a year is what you make of it; it taught me that you can NEVER have enough family.

“A river cuts through a rock, not because of its power, but its persistance.”

The fact that we’re at the end of our exchange shows, not that we’ve gained enough strength that nothing can take us down, but that we’ve aquired enough persistance to where nothing can HOLD us down.

My year. My adventure. My leap.

I’ve learned that YOU’RE NEVER ALONE.

Those who can relate to you strive to help you in a time of need and those who can’t make it a point to help you succeed .

For me, one beautiful moment was worth all of the difficult ones:

-The first time my host mom called me her daughter

-The first time my little host sister said she loved me

-The first time I felt like family

These all obliviate the times I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore; the times I felt like I had failed; the times that don’t even compare to all the memories I made.

To imagine myself without this year seems impossible, and to pay back those who who gave their time for my success seems insurmountable.

I learned that trust can be given just as easily as it’s taken away.

I learned that grace is something some people bestow upon you and some don’t.

I learned that patience is a virtue and is not easily gained.

I learned that ‘listening to hear’ can be much more rewarding than ‘listening to speak’.

I learned that just because someone doesn’t see your worth doesn’t make you worthless.

The struggles I have fought through have given me the strength that I’ll need for tomorrow.

Challenges are what make life interesting and overcoming them are what make life meaningful.

I’ve found meaning in my year. My adventure. My leap.

Wed, August 1, 2018

  • Titi, Outbound to Austria

So yesterday marks exactly 30 days until I go back home! It’s incredible how much time flies by and it goes so quickly! I the last 3 months, I’ve switched host families (FOR THE LAST TIME!!!!!), see multiple live concerts, and show my family the city and country that I’ve been living in!

For Easter, my older sister, who is living in Berlin, came to visit me! Her family was coming to a town near mine in Austria to visit some family and told her that she could spend some time with me, which was also really fun! My little 6-year old host sister absolutely loved her and to this day will ask me to send her some voice notes over WhatsApp.. We went to Vienna and Salzburg and we also went Easter egg hunting together! It was something we hadn’t done in a long time and we were able to experience it again in a new country with a new family and with a new tradition.

From the 10th-17th of March most all the exchange students attended ski week. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to ski because the week prior to ski week, I had a bad accident that tore a ligament in my knee and caused a tear in my meniscus. After hearing this, the man that is in charge of ALL exchange students in Austria wrote me an e-mail saying that I was not allowed to go on the Ski Week. Thank God, I had a LONG talk with him, Walter Weidenholzer (who YOU, outbounds to Austria, will be dealing with) and I pleaded him to let me go. On top of that, I had already paid so I politely told him that the least he could do is allow me to spend some time with all the other exchange students. To everyone’s astonishment, he agreed and let me go!

My 3rd host mom, Carmen, is the youngest host mom I’ve had out of all 4. She felt to me more like a sister than a mom. We would frequently joke around about how she was teaching me to be the perfect house wife or perfect farmer’s wife with all the foods she would teach me to make! Or we would do things like watch “The Bachelor” (Which we still do by getting together on Wednesdays and watch it), or she would ask me my opinion when she was doing some shopping! She would often invite to her “Girls’ Night” with her friends!

On March 23, my host mom and her 2 best freinds invited me to go to a live jazz concert! I LOVE jazz but I was contemplating not going for a reason that I honestly can’t remember. I decided to accept the invitation and it was one of the most fun nights I had here on my exchange! We then went to Oma und Opa’s house (grandma and granpa’s house) where we ended up laughing and talking all night and sleeping in the same bed (because her husband had fallen asleep with my little host-sister in the bed where she was supposed to sleep)! She was so cool!! Just like a big sister!

On the 13th of April, the coordinator for all American exchange students in Austria, Rudi Gruber, (the COOLEST Rotarian EVER), because we live only a couples houses apart, he invited me with his wife to go see an orchestra concert in Vienna! It was a cello concert with a cello soloist, and since I play the cello, he thought of me! Turns out, Sol Gabetta, one of the most famous cellists in the world, was the soloist in the concert! I almost flipped!! But before getting to Vienna, we stopped for a couple hours in Salzburg because his wife had a class reunion! Rudi and I went to eat some lunch in the city and then walked up to the fort overlooking all of Salzburg city! (See picture of Rudi and I up in the fort below!)

On the 20th of April, my parents flew in to visit!! I picked my parents and my little sister up from the airport in Vienna and then we picked up our ex-exchange student from the train station (Hauptbahnhof) who was also coming to visit and spend time with the family. We stayed a couple days in the capital and I excitedly showed them around! It was incredible to me that the moment had finally arrived; the moment we had spoken of for so long! The moment I would be able to show them that I could ask for dirrections or order something in German, talk to the natives in their own language and have them understand everything i’m saying! The moment had come where I could tell them that it was all worth it. Everything they had done to help me get here was all worth it.

We walked; we got lost; we ate some good food; we ate some bad food; we laughed; we cried; we cried laughing… We had the best time!

They were able to meet 3 out of my 4 families!! With my last two host families, we went to each house and they prepared meals for us! With my second family, my host parents invited my real parents to go to a wine tasting in the city that only happens twice a year! They had already met quite a few people in town and when they got to the wine tasting, they said they felt like celebrities! EVERYBODY knew who they were! They told me that they had the most fun and that they HAD NOT expected ANYTHING like that! We then all went out to eat together and we all talked for a while!

***********My parents brought some gifts like: Simply Southern shirts and caps for the girls and Hollister shirts for the guys! For my little 6 year old host sister, they got her an outfit with a really cute design and some tassels (see pic below)!!***********

Last night, I babysat my little host sister, and as usual, when putting her to bed, I would climb into her bed and read her a book in German. Last night, after I read her the whole book, she asked me if I could just lay there with her a little while longer because she knew it was the last time we would be together. She feel asleep hugging me. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever had the blessing to experience! Thankfully though, I’ll be seeing her soon!

Having said all of this, I cannot believe that in exactly one month, this chapter of my life will be over. In these last 9 1/2 months have been the months most challenging, most interesting, and definetely most rewarding of my life. Living on your own, in a different country, you learn about yourself and getting through difficult situations on your own; you learn about standing up for yourself and you learn to appreciate all the little details and moments that come your way.

Till next time,

Bis später alligator:)


Thu, May 17, 2018

  • Titi, Outbound to Austria

Okay, so it’s been about 5 months since I wrote my last journal and only because I’ve been so busy. Through the last couple months, I have been through such an emotional roller-coaster.. Here are some of the things I experienced and think you, as a future exchange student, should know.

Before I start, I would like to say that all of these feelings are normal and don’t take away from all the incredible experiences and people I’ve been exposed to. These cons don’t even compare to all the positives of being an exchange student. I’m just putting this out there so that if you are an exchange student sometime in the future, you can know that you are not the only one who has gone or is going through these feelings and you will get through this.

No one tells you the difficulties of being abroad.

No one tells you about the times where you just feel like giving up because you feel lonely.

No one tells you about how much you’ll miss your family.

You really won’t understand what being an exchange student is like UNTIL you experience it for yourself.

Unexpectedly, I wasn’t very homesick during the holidays.. I’m not sure why and I wasn’t expecting it but I really did my best to embrace the new Christmas traditions that were very VERY interesting..

**TIP #1: Sit down and ask one of your Host PARENTS about the traditions. This will show them that you’re actually interested.

I participated in a Christmas caroling charity and we went around Ried (where I live) for around 4 hours and sang a song in German and then people would donate. It was so amazing seeing how generous people are here! In the U.S., when I’ve raised money for charities, I would usually get a couple dollars from whoever would buy whatever I was selling. Here in Ried, the average a person would give was 20-80 Euros. It was seriously one of the most impacting things I’ve been able to experience here!

After Christmas came New Years and I spent it in Berlin, Germany! The fireworks were beautiful and I met a lot of people and was introduced to new traditions.

On the 6th of January I changed host families. I went from a 5 person family to a 3 person family. And instead of having older host siblings, I am now the older sister. My little host sister is exactly 10 years and 2 months younger than me and her name is Valentina as well. As different and challenging as it may be, I feel like being 6 months into my exchange, I have already gained so much more confidence and face my problems head on.

Even though it’s different and at times challenging to have a little sister, it’s also very rewarding. For example: one of the first nights I was here (with my new family), my (host) mom asked me if I could read to my little sister and honestly I felt like this wasn’t going to end well. I thought they were treating me like a nanny but now I try to read read to her as much as possible.. It’s so awesome to read a book and understand it or actually be able to read it to where SHE can understand it. And it’s also very helpful to have a little sister around because she’s going to teach you a lot of words and they look up to you. She copies almost everything I do. It’s sweet and it’s amazing seeing the impact that you have on someone!

As far as activities, I go to the gym about 5 days a week. For me, one of the things that scarred me the most was the whole GAINING WEIGHT part of exchange and it will happen. When I start realizing that i’m not eating the best foods or not feeling too good about myself, I start to change things up. I eat salads and meats.. Sometimes pasta because it’s my favorite food and I go to the gym and work out hard. It’s not a that big a deal for some people but I just like to keep it under control.

I’ve also started ballet. We just did a show on Saturday and Sunday and I played an OberOsterreiche Puppe which is an Upper Austrian Doll. I’ve gotten to know a lot of people and made more friends!

-Every Monday, I have Cello in the music school that I conveniently live right next door to. Then I go to the gym.

-Every Tuesday, I go to the gym before school, I have 2 hours of singing classes at school where I am learning to sing classical music and then go to Rotary meetings which I LOVE going to!

-Every Wednesday I have ballet.

-Every Thursday I go to the gym and end up doing some sort of activity with my host family.

-Every Friday I have 2 hourse of choir in school and usually go to the gym afterwards.

Moving on to the more fun parts of exchange, FERIEN!!!!!

Ferien are your vacations from school or your days off. Today, I just came back from a week of skiing in Gastein. It was so much fun and at first a little stressful but I survived. I took two days of skiing classes with a teacher and payed for four days worth of skiing tickets. My host parents graciously payed for the hotel and the food and all things of that nature. PLEASE REMEMBER TO SAY THANK YOU. Honestly, after spending their money on you and hoping that you had a good time, the least you can do is put on a smile, be helpful in every way possible and show them how grateful you are by also saying thank you. It’s something a lot of exchange students forget to do.

So, just a quick back track, for Christmas, I went on a Rotary trip to Salzburg so I got to see the beautiful Christmas Market. I also visited my home city’s Christmas Market and my host family took me to the market in Linz before going to watch a Christmas orchestra concert. I later went to visit my host sister in Vienna so I also got to see the Christmas market there.

I think before coming on exchange, the part I was most scared of (emotionally) was how I would feel not being with my family during the holidays. I missed my family but I focused more on what gifts to get my host family and asked loads of questions on what the traditions were like. And the Austrian Christmas traditions are SO interesting and fun. I will definitely be implementing them into my Christmas next year.

New Years I actually spent in Berlin. One thing I was told is that in Austria, on New Years Eve, when the clock strikes twelve, everywhere around Austria, on the radio or live, Austrians will dance the Walz into the New Year.

Also, early in February, I ended up doing my introduction presentation to my Rotary club. It was only photos and a video and I spoke and explained all the pictures. I opened my presentation by introducing myself and saying how happy I was to be in Ried and how thankful I was to Rotary because of how welcomed I felt. I’ve been told all the Rotarians loved it and were very happy that I was spending my year with them.

On another note, one of the Rotarians in my club recently became a widower and it just so happens that he is my next door neighbor. I was just getting home from a school choir trip and my family had gone to one of our neighbors house as a play date for my little host sister. Before getting home, I decided to go back into town and buy some flowers and ring this Rotarians doorbell. He answered the door and I gave him my condolences and told him that I just wanted to see how he was doing. He invited me into his home and we sat and talked for about an hour. He told me of his childhood and about his kids and it was just so refreshing to have a conversation and listen to someone of another generation and see him smiling and laughing. It was really beautiful. I only say this because at first, I was debating whether I should actually go up to him or not; whether it was an invasion of privacy; whether he was going to be cold or not; whether it was going to be awkward or not… In the end, it really paid off. Everytime we see each other whether he’s going on his daily walk through town or I’m getting home from school, we greet each other and have a nice conversation. All in all, it’s nice to be nice.

I think that concludes most of what I’ve been up to for these first two months of 2018..

Till next time,

Bis später alligator:)


Sun, February 25, 2018

  • Titi, Outbound to Austria

Dear readers,

Since my last journal entry, a lot has happened. I’m sitting here in class, trying to understand what the teachers and students are saying. I’ve always been that student in class that worries if she gets anything lower than an A so, coming into a new class setting, with a new language, as the new girl, I was so scared of what would happen if I didn’t do my homework or didn’t pay attention or didn’t take the exams; I didn’t know what the teachers were expecting of me or what I should be doing. However, sitting here, I can honestly tell you that the way the head mistress explained it was so clear: “You did not come here for the schooling. You have come here to engage with new people, new ways of life, new cultures.” This year, you do not need to stress about when your homework was due, or whether you have a test or not.

Besides, your peers, the teachers; they are all really impressed that you’re willing to even sit down and pay attention to what they have to say (even though they know you aren’t understanding a third of what they are saying). It’s impressive; to put yourself in a situation like that; to go through the fear of starting a new life in a different country where you don’t know the language. It is an experience that is so important to learn; especially early on, surrounded by people who want to know more about you.

*****TIP #1: LISTEN. When you’re in class, listen. Or at least pretend to listen because your teachers will like you so much more if they see that you’re actually trying to learn. It earns you respect. You’ll be surprised how many words you can actually pick up.

Now, of all my classes, I really try to understand and pay attention in Music, English, German, Gym, French, Choir, Singing, and Religion because I know I can handle them. Also, it is very probable your English teacher will ask you to answer some questions or help them out. However, I am taking online classes but it’s honestly a decision you have to make. Take into consideration how much time you think you will have on your hands and how diligent you really are. There is no shame in not graduating on time. If that is one factor holding you back, take it from me, this year is well worth it. Who cares if you graduate a year late?.. You get to live AN ENTIRE YEAR ABROAD!

This exchange is a definite challenge. It is a process. It is slow and at times painful (emotionally, mentally, sometimes physically -believe me, hiking is NOT ANYTHING like what it looked like in sound of music.. You SWEAT. A LOT. And your muscles feel like they might give in at any moment. You walk like you have noodles for legs while an Austrian 5 year old passes you by). Don’t feel discouraged if there are other exchange students that speak German better or more fluently. Remember that there is always someone that is better than them too.

*****TIP #2: Speak to your friends IN GERMAN. Your exchange friends; your school friends; your parents’ friends’. SPEAK AS MUCH GERMAN AS YOU CAN. When you do this, your friends will kinda take a step back and realize.. “hmmm, this exchange student ACTUALLY WANTS to learn German.”

As dumb as you may feel, because, believe me, I feel really REALLY dumb sometimes, do it. You don’t sound as bad as you think you do. If you want to get to a state where you can tell jokes fluently in German or speak to your friends without them turning their heads like puppies trying to understand what you’re attempting to say, YOU HAVE TO START SOMEWHERE. And starting somewhat kindergarten-ish is where we all start.

It is so vital in this year that you take this seriously and completely submerge yourself into the German language. German TV; German music; German traditions… because if thats not the reason you are doing your exchange, I’d reconsider your decision.

As annoying as this may sound, the best way to learn german is by SPEAKING it. Whenever I would watch videos on how to learn German quickly (which I have learned the hard way is NOT an overnight process), the point people most emphasized was actually SPEAKING GERMAN.

*****TIP #3: Even if you’re sentences are as simple as “Was machen wir?” “What are we doing?”, your friends will respond to you in German and WANT to include you in their plans because they won’t be thinking “Man, this is going to be AWKWARD.. I don’t speak good english, she doesn’t speak great german… lets just avoid that and NOT invite her.”

*****TIP #4: DON’T BE AFRAID OR EMBARRASSED TO ASK QUESTIONS! This is how you will get better. Ask your friends after you’ve said something in German: “Did that make sense” or “Is that how you would say it?”

*****TIP #5: Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself. That is one of the most important pieces of advice my mom ever taught me. Whenever someone speaks to me in German, and I ask them to repeat it, they will usually say it slower or break it down, and even though it sounds perfect to me and I’m like “FINALLYYYYYY!” a lot of other students will find it hilarious! Or when I use a word incorrectly like if I were saying “When I AM four…” they think thats really funny too.Laugh with your classmates when they laugh about the way you speak or the words you use because they’ll be like “Heyyy, she’s cool! We can joke around with her..” instead of “Oooooooh, maybe we shouldn’t have said that..”.

When they laugh, I laugh. Even when I don’t understand what they’re saying, I’ll laugh because someone else’s laugh makes me laugh.. Theres A LOT of laughing.

*****TIP #6: Say YES to everything you’re offered. Believe me, in my first month here, I can honestly tell you I’ve gone to more places than some people go to in a lifetime.. Restaurants, towns, castles, villas, mountains… The places I’ve been blessed enough to visit have shown me that, oh my gosh, there is so much of the world that we don’t see. So many cultures we don’t know of. That reminded me of how important this opportunity is.

You will be blessed enough to see places you can’t even begin to imagine; places you thought would have stayed in the past; crumbled away; places you thought never have existed; places that look like they’ve been plucked out of a universal set from the Cinderella or Beauty and the Beast movies…

*****TIP #7: Try to indulge yourself as much as you can in the culture. Just a couple days ago, I got an Austrian made Dirndl! Surprisingly, a lot of the youth use them in festivals like Volksfest and Oktoberfest.

*****TIP #8: Listen to German and/or Austrian music. My favorites so far have been Julian Le Play and Cro. Cro is EXTREMELY popular here and for good reason.

Start listening to your host countries music! If you tell an Austrian that you love music, the music they refer to is CLASSICAL MUSIC. They will ask you who your favorite composers are and they wouldn’t mind you dropping a couple Austrian names into the conversation.

All of this is a learning process. I’m sorry if my journals are long. I just really appreciated it when I got to hear oldies (past exchange students) share their experiences and give us tips. I’ll share some of my experiences in a different journal entry!

Till next time,

Bis später alligator:)


Sun, October 1, 2017

  • Titi, Outbound to Austria

To start:

I can’t believe how blessed I am to be writing about being ABROAD. I knew this moment would come, but I didn’t really KNOW; it never really sank in.

A piece of advice I would give you: breathe in when you give your parents the last hug before you go through TSA because it’s the last memory you’ll take with you of them. Also, pre-write your family members birthday cards. I forgot to do this but it’s a really nice surprise because it takes 3-4 weeks for postcards or just cards in general to get back to your family…

Here are my tips and my experiences so far-

*****TIP #1: DON’T BE NERVOUS to the point where you’re scared to meet your family for the first time. Be a good nervous; remember that they’re nervous too. You’re not the only one.

Today marks 22 days since I arrived here in Austria. I live in a smaller town called Ried Im Innkreis. It is located in Upper Austria and it’s 1 hour away from Linz, 1 hour away from Salzburg, and 2 1/2 hours from Vienna.

*****TIP #2: Learn all the 9 states in Austria. They’ll really enjoy that.

These past 22 days have been the most eye opening. From small differences like the different breakfasts to the big differences like the constant German, these last 3 weeks have been filled with excitement and unexpected surprises. One of the best pieces of advice my dad gave me was “Do everything there that you won’t be able to do here.” So when my host family offered me dance classes, my answer was “HECK YES!!”. Hiking; YES. Walk around town; YES. Orchestra concert; YES.

*****TIP #3: Be ready to walk A LOT.. In your city, at language camp…

Language Camp:

Language camp was so much fun! You meet a lot of new people. Try and get to know them. Believe me, you’ll want to get to know everyone and they want to get to know you too; just take the first step. I can honestly say that i’ve met my best friends at language camp. With some people you just click and with others, well, they grow on you. Friendships take patience… Give it time. Also, don’t lose communication. I’m not the best with communicating but be the person who texts “What’s up” or “What are you up to”. That’s something these past three weeks have taught me.

**PAY ATTENTION IN CLASS. YOU’RE BEING GIVEN 2 WEEKS OF EXPENSIVE, INTENSIVE GERMAN CLASSES AND THEY REALLY HELP. I came with 6 months of German but after language camp, I feel like I don’t have to think as hard as before. Words tend to flow more..

*****TIP #4: People forming into groups is inevitable so don’t dread it but don’t confine yourself to two or three friends.

*****TIP #5: Don’t complain too much. That’s something language camp taught me. No one likes to hear someone who’s like “Thank God it rained because I REALLY didn’t want to do that…”

I am so thankful to God and my parents for giving me this incredible opportunity. I think it still hasn’t hit me that I am away for a whole year but I also have a feeling that this year will go by sooooo quickly.. I feel really blessed to have a host family that treats me as one of their own. My advice to you is pray every day for your family and don’t get discouraged if they don’t seem loving because it might be that they’re nervous and don’t know your comfort zone or your boundaries or don’t know what to say. God knows the desires of your heart and whatever you ask in faith, you will receive.

Till next time,

Bis später alligator:)


Wed, August 30, 2017


Vale - Germany

Hometown: Davie, Florida
School: Alpha Omega Academy
Sponsor District : District 6990
Sponsor Club: , Florida
Host District: 1940
Host Club: The Rotary Club Berlin Gedaechtniskirche.

My Bio

Hallo, my name is Valeria Olano. I am incredibly excited to become an exchange student. I am 16 years old, born in South Florida with a Colombian nationality. I have 2 younger sisters, Valentina ( 15 ) and Victoria ( 11 ) and 2 wonderful parents, Karen and Juan. I currently live in Davie, FL where I spend most of my time figure skating. YES, I skate in the sunny state of Florida. Because of my sport, I have had to sacrifice the social life that school brings; however, I enjoy homeschooling with my skating teammates. When I am not skating or being bombarded with rigorous school work, I always find a way to stay active while being accompanied by friends and family. Also, my favorite hobbies include dancing, acting, and singing. In past years, I was involved in musical theater, ballet productions, and several talent shows. Furthermore, my family and I love to have people over, which is why socializing comes easy to me. I love to meet new people and learn about different cultures. This past year, my family and I were able to open our home to a wonderful exchange student, Veronika, from the Czech Republic. She has been a great example of what being an exchange student is all about. Having her live with us opened my eyes and understanding that life can be more exciting embarking in a new journey abroad. Though living away from home is not always flowers and rainbows, it still is an unforgettable experience that I am so honored to have. I look forward to meeting my future families in Germany. Auf Wiedersehen – goodbye 🙂

Journals: Vale-Germany Blog 2017-18

  • Vale, Outbound to Germany

9 months in Berlin and just 1 month left until I fly back home! As I approach the end of my exchange, my heart is heavy. Of course I am excited to return home to my family and friends but at the same time, I’m leaving an incredible exchange life behind. The thought of saying goodbye at the airport brings tears to my eyes. However, I still have 30 days left of adventure!

This month was even better than the last, filled with lots of traveling and adventure.

Right after my Eurotour, I had the blessing to have my parents and sisters come visit me in Berlin. They stayed 10 days and it was filled with so much excitement and sightseeing. They got to meet my host families, my school friends, and see the city that they have only heard of on the phone when I share things with them. My dad had been to Berlin years ago, as the wall was still up, so this time was completely different and still a total new experience for him. My mom had never been to Berlin before so everything was new for her as well as for my little sister, Vicky. Valentina came to surprise me as well and had the chance to visit Berlin for the 3rd time. We traveled with trains and it was so cool to show them how everything worked and how they depended on me completely to get everywhere, something I used to do back at home. It was also incredible to show them how much German I learned and them asking me to translate certain things for them when they couldn’t communicate with someone.For 3 days, we all got to travel to Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic, where George, my Rotarian, invited me to go to the Karlsbad. It was incredible that my parents were able to tag along because we all had the chance to visit such a beautiful city that none of us had seen before. Karlsbad is quite an elite ball that can only be attended by personal invitation, so for this to have been my first ball ever was outstanding. I got to meet such powerful people and even what’s left of European Royalty. I danced the entire weekend. Friday night was a cocktail dress party, Saturday morning was a horse race and at night was the Grand Ball, and Sunday morning was the church and brunch followed by a themed ball; Carnival in Venice. Everything was prepared months ago and finally the moment arrived to wear all the exciting costumes! Unfortunately, my parents couldn’t stay with me the rest of my exchange so it was time for them to fly back home. After they left, I went on traveling through Europe, which was also a huge blessing.

My second host family invited me to go to Denmark with them because of a confirmation from a family member. We stayed directly in Copenhagen and it was a blast. We went shopping, sightseeing, and had the opportunity to go to the oldest amusement park in Europe, TIVOLI. It was incredible how many people could speak fluent English in Copenhagen. Now you might think, “oh everyone speaks English, it’s a universal language.” Well, the key word here is everyone and it isn’t true, which came as a small shock to me when I arrived in Berlin. In fact, here in Berlin, not everyone can speak great English. People that work in supermarkets or areas that are not touristic, speak barely any English, which forced me to really learn the language. Even in school, very few people actually wanted to practice their English, they found it easier to speak German to me, even if I didn’t understand. In Denmark, everyone, everywhere could understand and speak English which made things easier for the family and me. The following weekend, George, the famous Rotarian that I constantly write about, invited me to go to the Netherlands for yet another ball; The Tulipp Ball, located in Amsterdam. It was such an exciting trip for me because I had always wanted to visit Amsterdam. It’s culture is so intriguing and its history is so fascinating. It exceeded my expectations. The best thing was the amount of time I was able to spend there, a total of 5 days and I got to see so much. I saw a total of 4 museums: The World Press Photo Museum, the Heritage Museum, the Diamond Museum, and finally the Stedelijk Museum. I also got to see the entrance to Anna Franks house. Unfortunately, all the tickets were sold out for the entire month so I didn’t have a chance to go in however, I have another reason to visit such a beautiful city again! There was no way to not take a boat tour in the famous canals, so that was the first thing we did when we got there. It was also really cool to go with George since he is originally from Amsterdam. Just listening to him speak with others in Dutch was so cool! An interesting fact about George is that his family began the clothing company C&A and he ran it a few years ago. Now he is retired and that’s why he has the time to travel and has given me the opportunity to travel with him and other friends. His last name definitely opened doors on my trip to Amsterdam and I will never forget this trip. Another country to check off my bucket list. The past 2 weekends I’ve been in Berlin and yet I haven’t stopped with my adventure. George picked me up from school in his Caterham, the car he spent a year building. It was incredible for all of my classmates to see him in this toy car, and I just casually getting in. Such an adrenaline rush to be honest. In Berlin, when someone has an exotic car, you drive down the famous shopping road called Kudamm, and that’s exactly what we did. It was something I hadn’t experienced before and something I would repeat everyday if I could. What made it even more unforgettable was the fact that we got in and for the first 5 minutes, it was beautiful outside… Warm, sunny, and a bit of breeze. In a matter of seconds, it started to rain, and as you will see in the picture below, we didn’t have a roof to protect us from the cold water. What was crazy was that it didn’t just rain, it started hail. I had never seen hail before, or even been outside to actually feel it, but seeing smalls balls of ice on my shorts left me speechless. I took lots of videos while getting soaked. We couldn’t stop laughing which also made it such a cool bonding experience. Another interesting passion I’ve acquired on my exchange is the Opera. I went once again with my counselor, Jan, to see a classic Opera piece called La Traviata. It was actually a Christmas present from him and we finally used the tickets! I cried I enjoyed it so much. The emotions and singing were incredible and left me in awe. Now I know what I’ll be searching for back in Florida.

So these past 3 weekends have also been about sleepovers and meeting new exchange students from other organizations… as well as saying goodbye to old ones. And now it’s really hitting me that my exchange year is almost done. But with 30 days left, who knows what more adventure is in store!

Mon, June 4, 2018

  • Vale, Outbound to Germany

8 months in this beautiful city. How quickly time has flown by, it’s scary to think that I have 2 months left before I return home. This past month, I’ve actually been traveling more than I’ve been at home which has been so fun and also a main reason that I am late in writing this journal. I recently came back from my long awaited Eurotour and it literally exceeded all of my expectations. It was probably one of the best 2 1/2 weeks of my exchange. My district, 1940 Berlin, left early on April 8th to Ostbahnhof, one of the main stations in Berlin. Our first destination was Dresden, a city located North East of Berlin. There we had a 1 hour tour of the city, since it is quite small, and met up with the 2 other districts that were accompanying us on the Eurotour, 1950 and 1880. That same day we drove to our second destination, Prague- Czech Republic. We had a city tour of 2 hours where we visited the famour Charles Bridge, the Prague Castle, the St. Vitus Cathedral, and the Old Town Square. The rest of the day was free time and there we walked around the city and had the luxury of beautiful sunny weather. We stayed 2 nights in Prague and then we left to our third destination, Budapest- Hungary. It was probably one of the most beautiful cities from the Eurotour. We stayed 2 nights and 3 days and I didn’t waste a minute to go sightseeing. We saw the Buda Castle, the Hungarian Parliament Building, the Matthias Church, the Fisherman’s Bastion and the Chain Bridge. It’s also very similar to Berlin in the sense of being a youthful city. Lots of students and night life. From Budapest, we left to our 4th destination, Bratislava – Slovakia. Unfortunately, we only stayed for 2 hours which didn’t allow us to see very much; however, the main “attraction” that we saw was the Bratislava Castle. We had to walk a bit up hill to reach it but the view of downtown Bratislava was very worth it. It was also a very sunny and beautiful day so we took memorable pictures. From Bratislava, we took a boat to Vienna which was surprisingly close, only a 2 hour ride. I had already been to Vienna before but the second time was also lots of fun! We had a lot of free time the 3 nights that we stayed there. Some of the sightseeing we did was the UNO, the Schönbrunn Palace, the Belvedere Palace, the St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the amusement park Prater, the Vienna State Opera, and the art museum Albertina. Even seeing all of this, there was still so much left to visit. From Vienna we traveled to Venice, just about a 10 hour bus ride, the longest ride from the trip. We left early in the morning which allowed us to late in the afternoon but no time to go sightseeing. Actually, our hotel was in a small city in Italy called Lido, a (7-mile) long sandbar in Venice, northern Italy, and it is home to about 20,000 residents. We did however get to go swimming in the freezing ocean in Lido, quite an experience. We left early the next morning on a boat to visit Venice for the day. Absolutely beautiful. One of the first things we did was a Gondola ride, just like in the movies. Very peaceful and romantic. I loved riding it with my friends. We went to the Piazza San Marco, the Bridge of Sighs, and the San Marco Campanile. We took a wonderful water taxi tour on the Grand Canal and there we saw a lot of Venice: the Rialto Bridge, the San Giorgio Maggiore, the Ca’ d’Oro, the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore as well as other well known cites that would take this entire report to write. Our next destination was Rome! One of the most awaited cities that exceeded my expectations. Some of the many sights we visited were the Vatican. I had the opportunity to see Pope Francis. The speech he gave was about 1/12 hours long since they had it translated in 6 different languages. Next we saw the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Roman Forum which is a rectangular forum surrounded by the ruins of several important ancient government buildings at the center of the city of Rome. Next we saw the Piazza Navona, the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican Museum, the Spanish Steps, and the Altare della Patria. It was such a historical city with so many ruins yet its beauty remained still intact. I had one of the best gelato’s in the world in Rome, Günther Rohregger Gelato. No ice cream has ever tasted as amazing as this one, there are just no words to describe this wonderful sweet. I ate so much pasta and pizza during Eurotour that I can’t eat it for a while. I can now say that I’ve eaten real Italian pasta and that it was delicious! Our next stop was Innsbruck – Austria. This small city was mainly for relaxing from such an adventurous week. The beautiful mountains, the peaceful nature, and the warm sun restored the energy all 110 exchange students desperately needed. However, we did get to see a beautiful yet small castle called Linderhof Palace. One of the coolest castles I got to see Schloss Neuschwanstein, which is the same castle in Disney World. From Innsbruck we left to Bamberg – Germany, a town in northern Bavaria. There we had a small city tour where we saw the Altes Rathaus, the Stephanskirche, the St. Michael’s Monastery and the Alte Hofhaltung. We also had some time to recover before the Eurotour came to an end in Berlin. We had 2 days in Berlin and on one of the nights Rotary took us the the Friedrichstadt-Palast where we got to attend a really cool must see show called The One Grand Show. Unfortunately every great trip must come to an end, and so I parted ways from great friends made on the trip; however, I met a ton of really great people that I can visit in the future. That’s what’s great about exchange, you meet people and also gain an extra home in all parts of the world. This past month was incredible and I am so honored to be here at this time. I’ve take over 100 photos but I can only share 8 favorites from this wonderful trip. Cheers to 8 months in Berlin!

Tue, May 8, 2018

  • Vale, Outbound to Germany

I’ve made it to my 7th month of exchange! Just last August I put a pause to my daily routine in South Florida and took a plane to Germany to begin a new daily routine. It’s truly an indescribable feeling because it’s like I’ve lived my whole life in Berlin yet at the same time, it feels like I left just yesterday. If I were to share how much I’ve changed since the beginning of my exchange to now, I would never finish. The experiences I’ve encountered, the people I’ve met, the culture I’ve adopted, and the new language I’ve learned, are what have shaped me every day to becoming an independent, strong, and confident person, and just for that, I’m so grateful for this opportunity given to me by Rotary.

So, this month is probably the calmest I’ve had since my exchange started. I had a wonderful dinner outing with a fellow Rotarian and my counselor. One of the exotic foods I had to try was Goulash and I can finally check it off my list. Just for a little extra info, Goulash is a stew of meat and vegetables, seasoned with paprika and other spices. Originating from the medieval Hungary, Goulash is a popular meal predominantly eaten in Central Europe but also in other parts of Europe. And all I can say, is that it is absolutely delicious! I enjoyed every bite. I’m blessed to have the counselor that I have. It’s thanks to him that I’ve tried a variety of delicious and foreign food. We went to the Goulash restaurant near his home and chatted the whole night, just him, a Rotarian friend, and I. Chatting with adults in German is something I never imagined myself doing but now, it’s something I plan to do as much as possible. It’s amazing how much wisdom one can acquire when speaking to those who have gone through life’s obstacles and overcome them. I can also say that the relationship I have with my counselor is very unique. There isn’t a week I don’t see him or do something fascinating with him. He’s like a best friend to me, someone I can also talk to, whether I have a problem or not. He’s always there and all I can say is that he’s been the biggest angel on my exchange. The next exciting thing I did this month was attend a theater show called Frau Luna, a “burlesque-fantastic equipment operetta ” by the composer Paul Lincke based on a libretto by Heinrich Bolten-Baeckers. The most famous pieces of music from the operetta are the march That makes the Berlin Luft, Luft, Luft, ( air ) the duet Give me a little bit of love and the aria castles that lie in the moon. It was so much fun to see a show in German and listen to the actors sing and see them dance. It is a very well known operetta in Germany, specifically to Berlin. I went with my host mom, a friend of hers, and her daughter. Definitely a night to remember.

It was in this month that I decided to cut my hair! Right before Eurotour, I wanted a drastic change, so I made my appointment and what took me a year to grow out, only took a few seconds to cut. My hair is definitely lighter, healthier, and it was so much fun going to class with a new look. Everyone turning their heads as I walked by and then finally noticing the new look. Of course, my parents approved but for the first time, I made a decision for myself and made my own appointment. It doesn’t seem like much but for me, it was a big step. It was also fun to do it with a good friend of mine from exchange. Carol from Brazil. As I cut my hair, she colored hers and it brought us even closer, as cheesy as it sounds.

During the month of March, German schools in Berlin have Easter vacation, from the 23rd until the 8th of April. However, I have Eurotour from the 8th until the 26th of May, so for an entire month I’ll be missing school. Of course I am so excited for this trip and I’ve waited for it since before my exchange; however, I’ve made such great friends at school that not seeing them for a month is just a bit sad for me. So we took a group picture before the break started and now I can post it in my journal as a memory. The next and greatest adventure I’ve had this month was visiting my sister in Austria. The last time I saw her was for New Years when she came to Germany to visit me so for this vacation, my host family took me to visit her and it was a beautiful Easter gift. She lives in a small village called Ried Im Innkreis. I left early on Sunday morning from the main station in Berlin and it took about 8 hours to arrive to her station. Monday we walked to the center of her town and Tuesday the adventure began. We took an early train to Salzburg which is only 2 hours away from where she lives and without a plan in mind, we were on our way. The German spoken in Austria is different from in Berlin, accent wise. So, thankfully Valentina could understand them because I could not. We had no idea how to get anywhere; however, people were really nice and helped us out. We saw Die Mirabell Palace, a historical building in the city of Salzburg, Austria. The palace with its gardens is a listed cultural heritage monument and part of the Historic Centre of the City of Salzburg UNESCO World Heritage Site. They also filmed a scene from the movie ” The sound of music, ” when the von trapp family and the nun walk up and down the stairs singing the famous song DO A DEER. The day was also beautiful, very sunny! Then we walked to the birth house of Mozart and then the house where he grew up in. From there we went to the famous Cafe Tomaselli, and we ate the famous Sachertorte, a specific type of chocolate cake, or torte, invented by Austrian Franz Sacher in 1832 for Prince Wenzel von Metternich in Vienna, Austria. It is one of the most famous Viennese culinary specialties, yet we ate it in Salzburg. Wednesday through Friday we spent tim in Vienna with an exchange student from Valentina’s district. Iciar from Spain, a great hostess. We also spent some quality time with Valentina’s families, her second and third one. Unfortunately, it was time for me to leave her and head back to Berlin but over all it was a beautiful week in Austria. I could go on about how amazing my 7th month was but these were my highlights that I wanted to share. Until next time!!

Mon, April 2, 2018

  • Vale, Outbound to Germany

Schon 6 Monate in Deutschland!! Just a tad late but better late than never. This is my 6th journal and every month has more surprises and adventures!

From my last journal, I forgot to post more pictures so I will be posting a few from my wonderful trip to St. Moritz!

Early in February, for winter break, my second host family and I went on a trip for a week to Norderney. It is one the East Frisian Islands off the North Sea coast of Germany. Its sandy beaches include Weisse Düne and family-friendly Westbad. The island is part of the Lower Saxony Wadden Sea National Park, home to seals and waterbirds. It was a lot colder than I expected with temperatures below 30F, but still, the sun shined and the sound of the ocean brought good memories of back home. During my trip there, I saw a seal on shore, up close and personal, my first time ever being so close to one. It was so beautiful, small, and white!! I’ve never walked so much in my life, everyday for about 6 hours, 10km ( 6MILES ) and for a Floridian that is always in a car, it’s a lot. But it’s something about walking with family that makes the time pass so quickly. This trip definitely brought us closer, even more than we were. I shared a bed with my host sister while my host mom shared a bed with my host brother. Every morning, my host mom walked to the bakery to buy us warm toasted bread with incredible toppings and at night we walked to the center to go grocery shopping and we cooked delicious food along with great desserts. I took some cool pictures along the beach and just for the pop of colors, I took my jacket off, in freezing weather. That was quite a thrill!! After our trip, it was back to reality. I had my Rotary presentation, FINALLY! But the best part was, I did it all in German, a great accomplishment for me! I never imagined myself speaking in front of my Rotary club in German and rarely having to switch back to English. It’s insane how much my German has improved!! It’s very frustrating to not completely understand or follow a language when you really want to, and now, I can feel it coming, I can feel it becoming more and more fluent which makes me so happy!! I can now carry a conversation and when people speak to me in German, I no longer have to translate it to English, it just sort of clicks which is something I’ve been hoping for. Now, I just have to dream in German and my goals will be complete! Another cool thing I did this month was attending a an American play with my English class. We watched Fahrenheit 451 and it was so entertaining and touching at the same time. I had read the book in school, but the play was really cool. Also because it was in English so I felt somewhat at home.

Just this past weekend, I had my 2 and last orientation 🙁 In my district we are around 50 exchange students, and we’ve created such a special bond that thinking about saying goodbye breaks my heart. I was a bit nervous going into this weekend because it was the “oldies” German test, which basically is a way of showing the district and yourself how good or bad your German is. The first exam was 50 questions of German grammar and then 100 word essay of our exchange. The second exam was an oral test, and you had to maintain a conversation with a German adult. At the end, they would call up the exchange students that had the best scores in either the written, oral, or both. I can proudly say that I was called up, among 7 others, for the best grade in both the written and oral. The biggest accomplishment from my exchange. It really showed me that my hard work is paying off and that watching German shows, reading German kid books, and forcing myself to only speak German in school and at home, is all worth it, no matter how uncomfortable or annoying it may be.

MY TIP to all exchange students and especially to those going to Germany is to push, even when it gets tough.

” When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” I live by this quote and it has helped me push through the difficult times throughout my exchange. It’s been a beautiful 6 months and I am beyond blessed to be in Berlin and in district 1940!!

Mon, March 5, 2018

  • Vale, Outbound to Germany

Fünf Monaten!! Wahnsinn! The first month of 2018 and it’s been unglaublich ( incredible ). I definitely want to stay in this beautiful city, I love it so much. I have been incredibly blessed with an amazing Rotary club, counselor, and host family. Early this month, a Rotarian member: George Brenninkmeijer, invited me to go on a trip with him where 2 of his friends would also join. It was a road trip to Switzerland where we stayed in the beautiful St. Moritz. The scenery was breathtaking and the people were so elegant and welcoming. We stayed there for six amazing days and I can honestly say, I was in paradise. Our hotel was called Hotel Baeren and it was located right in front of the Cresta Run, which was one of the main reasons Mr. Brenninkmeijer goes to St. Moritz. The Cresta Run is a natural ice skeleton racing toboggan track. The 1.2125 km run is one of the few in the world dedicated entirely to skeleton. This sport is quite elite and only men are allowed to do it. Women can only be invited by a Cresta run member to ride down the icy track. Thanks to Mr. Brenninkmeijer, I was able to enter the exclusive Cresta Run club where I could watch all riders go down the tracks but still stay warm. In St.Moritz I was also able to figure skate on the natural ice lake, outside, surrounded by mighty white mountains. Almost everyday it snowed so I had the opportunity to skate while the snow hit my face… An amazing experience I wouldn’t get in South Florida. I was also blessed to eat delicious food in the best restaurants in St. Moritz. We ate at the Kulm Hotel, Kempinski Grand Hotel Des Bains, Hotel Reine Victoria by Laudinella, and the Carlton Hotel St. Moritz. St. Moritz was without a doubt one of the best trips I have ever taken. I also had the chance to ski the beautiful South Eastern Alps. It was amazing to come down the black slopes and see the beautiful sun shining down on the small village. Every where you looked, it seemed as though it was a picture or a painting… The most outrageous attraction Mr. Brenninkmeijer arranged for all of us to do was bob sledding. An activity I had seen on TV since I was little but never in a million years thought I would be able to try. There we met Vera and Jan who were the two main trainers of future world and Olympic competitors. They gave us the grand tour of the Bob sledding area where we walked for about 30 minutes and saw some of their teams train. I rode with Mr. Brenninkmeijer and I can’t even begin to explain the adrenaline and emotion I felt inside the sled. Even before I got on, I was freaking out of excitement. It was the fastest two minutes of my life. We had Jan, the driver, and Alec, the breaker. I was second and Mr. Brenninkmeijer was right behind me. The only thing we had to wear was a helmet, the rest was up to you. The entire time we went down, I felt a strong pressure and sometimes it felt like I couldn’t sit straight. However, it was totally worth it to watch everything and fight the pressure. Every 5-10 seconds, we would twist or turn, and it got to a point where the wind was so strong I felt my eyes were drying out. It was the most unreal attraction I’ve ever lived, far better than any rollercoaster in Disney. That same day we got into one of the most if not the most exclusive club St. Moritz has. Thanks to Vera, we were able to reserve a spot and enjoy a fantastic night. The name is Dracula club, where the celebrities and Cresta run Members go to party until late. It’s in the bob sledding club house, and you would not recognize it in the day because it is completely transformed at night. There I saw one of Germany’s playboys, Rolf Sachs… Unfortunately, because of how exclusive this club is, no pictures were allowed so I didn’t get a picture with him; however, I did get his signature on my bob sledding certificate. I can’t express how thankful I was and am to have been invited to his trip. It was the best way to start my year!

After coming back from St. Moritz, I changed to my second family, the Loges. I have 2 small sibling, Lotte ( 13 ) and Hans ( 11 ), and Katharina ( my mom ). I absolutely love them. They are quite different from my first family but amazing in their own way.

Some great things I have done this month are go to the Opera with my counselor. My host brother, Hans, is in the children’s Deutsche Oper, and we went to go see him perform. We watched Carmen and it was sensational. The Deutsche Oper is the country’s second largest opera house and also home to the Berlin State Ballet. I found a new love for Opera and I can’t wait to watch new ones.

This month was exceptional and I am so blessed to be here.


Sun, January 28, 2018

  • Vale, Outbound to Germany

Vier Monaten in Berlin! Every month just gets better and better and I say that honestly. December was quite an experience, nothing like back at home. To start off, the weather got a bit colder and I experienced two beautiful days of snow. According to people, it was so early for the snow to start falling in Berlin. Normally, it starts in January – February. Unfortunately, because of the amount of people walking, riding bikes, and driving on the streets, the snow only lasted the night and then morning it disappeared… Nevertheless, it was the beginning of a real Christmas, sort of like the ones you see in a Hallmark Christmas movie. At big shopping centers and touristic areas, there were big and small Christmas markets where you could enjoy a famous glühwein is a Scandinavian mulled wine from red wine and grain or vodka and spices, such as. As cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and cloves and is now one of the most famous drinks in Scandinavia. They also give kinderpunsch, which is like glühwein except no alcohol. It’s really nice to drink this because the drink is so warm and when you’re holding the cup, it warms your hands as well as your body. Aromas of flame-kissed sausage, roasting nuts and gingerbread fill the air as well as festive music that fills the ambience. During this time of year, a lot of tourists come, so naturally, almost all Christmas markets are quite full. My favorite Christmas market was the Christmas Market at Gedächtniskirche. This market is very known because of where it is situated and sadly because of the terror attack that occurred in 2016. When you walk through it, you can see lit candles and beautiful written signs that serve as a reminder of those who died that day. The reason it was my favorite is because it’s smack in the middle of one of the chicest shopping centers in Berlin, so all the trees and light poles are decorated with bright colorful lights and the stores are also elegantly decorated. Even though it was cold outside, I enjoyed the real Christmas atmosphere. I am quite proud to say that I got through the month of December without feeling homesick… I was quite worried how I would feel around this time being away from friends, family, and of course home traditions, but experiencing such a different tradition was so pleasing that I didn’t have time to think about Christmas back home. Which leads me to the best tip I have learned… The more occupied you are in your day to day life, the less time you’ll be homesick. Of course you won’t be out everyday because you go to school and you have other responsibilities but meeting friends, going to the gym, or simply walking outside and spending time with your host family will be of great help emotionally.

My Christmas day was quite calm but so beautiful. My family and I woke up and had a big brunch at home where they bought exotic meats that were only sold on Christmas, delicious baked bread, and expensive cheese and toppings. From there, we slowly started to get ready for the night celebrations. My host mom planned to stay home and that night, we would only be close relatives… So as I got ready, I also helped cook which I had never done in previous years. Around 7pm, we all went to a catholic church where the service laste 1 1/2 hours. The interesting thing is that my host mom doesn’t have a car and the train would take even longer so we walked 15minutes which is also very different from back at home. As of right now, I am getting used to it. From church, we went back home and ate a traditional German meal. Goose, Sourcrout, and Potatoes. I felt quite full after just one serving. Underneath the Christmas tree were all the gifts. Also a new and exciting fact is that in Germany, everyone buys real authentic Christmas trees and then they decorate it with beautiful ornaments and real candles. The next three days after Christmas are called Feiertags which means holiday. Every morning we had huge breakfasts and every evening we had traditional meals, like the one at Christmas. Just a few days after Christmas, I was able to go up the fernsehturm which is a well known monument in the East of Berlin that is 368 meters and is the tallest building in Germany and also the fourth tallest freestanding structure in Europe. Up there, you can see all of Berlin. Luckily, I chose a day where the sun was shining and the clouds were no where to be seen.

The last, most exciting thing I experience in 2017 was New Years! That was absolutely crazy. On the 31st, I had dinner at home with the whole family where we ate Raclette, a very traditional meal enjoyed during Christmas and New Years. At around 9:30, I met up with some exchange students and we went to a home party and at exactly 12;00, we were outside and everyone in the streets started lighting up fireworks, they call it war, because it can be beautiful but dangerous at the same time. Some people have told me that sometimes, fireworks are thrown at people but thank God I was safe and sound. At around 1;00am, I left to Hauptbanhof which is the main station in Berlin and from there you can see the big and colorful fireworks that are ignited from Brandenburg Gate. This Gate is like being in NYC when the ball drops, it’s so packed that at around 7/8, the gate is closed and no one can come in. The night last quite long for me but it was so different from celebrations back home. I simply enjoyed myself at every moment.

These past 4 months have been incredible and I earnestly say, I can’t wait for what 2018 will bring!

Tue, January 2, 2018

  • Vale, Outbound to Germany

THREE MONTHS! It’s unbelievable how amazing this past month was. I keep falling in love with this city and the people. It’s starting to feel like home to me and it’s the best feeling an exchange student can have. I had my second orientation in Paris from the 1st of November to the 5th and our Rotary district took us to Paris!! We left one of the main central stations here in Berlin ( Ostbanhof ) and drove in 2 buses about 16 hours from Berlin to Paris. It’s true when people tell you that you don’t get sleep on a bus when you’re with friends because the entire time you’re talking, laughing, or even dancing. Poor bus drivers, they didn’t get much rest on our way there and back… When we got to Paris we had a pretty tight schedule which was wonderful because we had the opportunity to see such beautiful sights and learn about the cities history. The first day we got there we went to the ” Louvre ” a beautiful well known museum with lot’s of art and old artifacts. From there, we had some free time to walk around the ” Champs-Élysées ” which was the main touristic area for shopping. The next day, Rotary took us to the ” Palais de Versailles ” and it was simply stunning. It was also great weather, a bit chilly but the sun was out so it was the perfect balance. Later that evening we went on a tour around ” La Seine” which is a 777-kilometre-long river and an important commercial waterway within the Paris Basin in the north of France. Our first time seeing the Eiffel Tower up close. Our last day in Paris was a trip to the Eiffel tour where we went up half way and saw all of Paris. It was breathtaking to say the least… Everything looked like it was a painting, all the buildings with their different structures and colors made the 600 stairs worth it. Of course when a trip ends it’s bitter sweet, great memories were made but it’s back to reality. Recently, I was able to go to Hamburg to visit some friends and there I also got to do some sightseeing. It’s crazy how different Hamburg is from Berlin, not only physically but also the accent they have. What I mean by this is that the way they pronounce German words sounds slightly different from the way Berliners pronounce them. Much like in the US, depending in which state you are in, people have different accents and even slang words. My friends took me on a boat tour around the Elbe where I got to see the Elbphilharmonie. It’s absolutely beautiful! It is a concert hall and is one of the largest and most acoustically advanced concert halls in the world. The last thing I got to see in Hamburg before I left back to Berlin was the ” Miniatur Wunderland ” a model railway attraction and the largest of its kind in the world. The detail that went into this project is astonishing. Everything was so carefully built and thought through that people that have visited these countries in real life say it looks exactly like them. Truly a wonderful experience.

This month was filled with so much exploring and learning the great wonders of this country. Like I’ve said before, everyday is a new surprise, there is always something new to see, learn, and enjoy. If there is anything I can tell the future exchange students from Florida is that now is the time to enjoy the warm weather, because if you’re going to any country in Europe, prepare to freeze! But seriously, I am loving my exchange and I can’t imagine coming home again… Berlin has my heart! Happy 100 days in Berlin to me!!!!

Thu, November 30, 2017

  • Vale, Outbound to Germany

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Today marks 2 months in Berlin and I couldn’t be happier!! It is seriously unbelievable how fast time is flying by…

This month has been very calm for me, more about adapting to this new life and culture than anything else. Luckily, the language is only getting easier and I am starting to understand about 50-60% of conversations which gives me so much hope about these next few months. It has definitely helped to speak only German at home, with friends at school, and even with some exchange students. That is my number 1 tip, to learn a new language, you have to force yourself to speak it, even if you can’t fully express yourself at first, eventually you’ll learn how to… Some people just want to speak English with you or any other language other than the one you need to learn and you just have to keep telling them no, only German, no English. In this month I was able to celebrate with other exchange students, Germany Unity day, ” Tag der Deutschen Einheit 2017 ” It commemorates the anniversary of German reunification in 1990… Therefore, the name addresses neither the re-union nor the union, but the unity of Germany. Lots of museums were open and the entry was free which was a great advantage for all tourists and exchange students. In this month, lots of Rotary districts are traveling and I got to meet the French district from Lyon. As a matter of fact, I met up with a friend of mine that is from my district back home and it was a great time. I met amazing exchange students from that group and we all got to get to know each other. That’s what I love about exchange students, we all have one thing in common, we are all away from home and ready to make new friends everywhere we go. And the best thing is that since everyone is from different countries, they give you a great reason to visit new places around the world. Also, as I am writing this journal, I am on vacation. From October 23rd until November 4th, Berlin has Herbst Ferien, Autumn Holiday. Since I am not traveling with my family, I have been to many museums, I’ve hung out with friends from school and other exchange students, and I’ve been able to catch up on sleep. Much needed sleep. The weather has only gotten colder, and living in the Sunshine State of Florida, anything below 75 degrees is FREEZING. Doesn’t matter how many layer I have on, I am still cold. It is the one thing that will take me a while to get used to. It has also been raining a lot, which makes sightseeing not enjoyable since everything here requires a bit of walking. I seriously have walked more these past 2 months than I have in my whole life. It is true blessing to be here on exchange and share with you my journey. Berlin, you still have my heart!

Sat, October 28, 2017

  • Vale, Outbound to Germany

Today marks 1 month here in Berlin, Germany and I have never loved a city and a country more in my life.

It’s crazy to think just 9 months ago, I went to my first orientation back in Florida and how I spent everyday dreaming about my arrival in Germany. This month has exceeded all of my expectation.

Let’s start from the beginning, my departure and arrival. On August 27th, I left Miami international airport at 4pm and it was one of the hardest goodbyes I’ve ever had. It didn’t sink in that I was leaving for a year, even the week before my departure. I gave my ” see you soon ” hugs to my family and I made my way to the gate. My first stop was in Detroit and I was so exhausted I slept the entire plane ride. At 8pm, my plane left to Amster