Outbounds 2018-2019

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

Alex - Taiwan

Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: P.K. Yonge Developmental Research
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Gainesville, Florida
Host District: 3482
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Taipei Far East

My Bio

Hello my name is Alexander McInnis. I am a senior at PK Yonge Developmental Research school and will be taking a gap year in Taiwan. The elation that over took me when it was announced that I was going to Taiwan was too much to handle. I am so thankful for this opportunity to travel abroad. I have participated in many activities over the years but the ones that have stuck with me have really helped me become the person that I am today. The first being the Martial Art known as Aikido. Aikido is a Jiu Jitsu and Judo-like martial art which aims to not injure your opponent. I have practiced this for roughly 6 years and have helped teach the kids classes on Saturdays for some time now. I have been playing the violin for roughly 5 years and helped teach the orchestra class at my school for about three years (until its ultimate dissolution last year). When I’m not doing either of those things I will go with some friends to downtown Gainesville and busk, eat at deliciously over-priced restaurants, and play games with friends. I feel like this exchange opportunity will give me some much needed perspective. Through my life I rarely ever traveled and subsequently, have a narrow grasp on the ever changing global community. I feel as thought the world can be a much better place if there are open-minded people who inhabit it; and what better way to expand one’s mind then to travel and live in the shoes of others.


Journals: Alex-Taiwan Blog 2018-19

  • Alex, Outbound to Taiwan

October was a really odd month. Pretty much only because of the Halloween party. It was decided early on in the month that would dress up as Miss America for Halloween. But before that I was really training hard with the track team. The track team trains six hours a day everyday. Three hours in the morning and three hours at night (or rather after school). I was doing my absolute best to attend all these practices in an attempt to get closer with my classmates. My schedule looked about like this. 4:30 wake up, leave at 5 to catch the 5:12 train to arrive at Taipei main station at around 5:45 walk to the green line and arrive at roughly 5:50. From there ride three MRT stations and transfer at Nanjing Fuxing arriving at roughly 6:05-6:10. From there ride seven stations to arrive at school to make the 7:00 training (allot for time to wait in lines at MRT). From there I’d train until roughly 11:00 and start class with my classmates. Training starts with warms ups and in the mornings during off season its strength training. I never knew how out of shape I was until training with people. Lord Almighty. It was usually squats and other sorts of exercises specifically for track. After class on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday we’d go to the gym and continue training at school. However on Tuesday and Thursday we’d leave school and 14:00 to go to Taipei arena and train in the large arena there. This was super cool the first time. I asked my classmate if she thought it was cool that we caught to train in Taipei arena and she looked at me and laughed “it was cool the first time, but it’s extremely exhausting.” I’ll never forget her saying that. At the arena we warm up of course then we run… we don’t actually stop running. It starts with 15-17 laps around the 400m track, then we divide into which events we are doing. I had no idea what I was doing so I just asked what I should do. The coach put me in 100m dash which I thought was pretty nice. “Shortest distance, less to run, not as hard” was my reasoning. Needless to say I was severely mistaken in the line of thinking. I don’t know how many times I ran that 100m but it was coaches goal to get me, and the rest of the team, to vomit everyday. I say that and it sounds really bad but his philosophy is that it means you’re pushing past your mental limits. This was one of my seemingly unmeasurable goals for exchange, to push past all of my limits as much as possible. But now I had a sure fire way to know whether or not i pushed or not. Although this is not to say that my goal each time was to train hard that I vomit but it was just a bit of a test, a right of passage so to speak. Anyhow, after all of this I also asked my Rotary club to see if they could help me find some Tai Chi or wing chun to practice. They found a really wonderful women who teaches in taoyuan on Thursday nights 7:30-9. So I also practice taichi every Thursday in taoyuan. It became a sort of way to strengthen my spirit. The way in which we trained was quite difficult for me. It was very slow and extremely precise. Each practice challenged my patience and frustrated me. I was constantly being corrected and at first I was really embarrassed. Everyone else in the class couldn’t have been a year shy of 67 and I was the only one struggling. A part of me was extremely impressed and another was confused as to why I was unable to reproduce these seemingly simple movements. However after thinking about it for a long time I think it really doesn’t matter how accurate the movements are its the mental benefits you gain from it. The ability to be relaxed and still have control and power over yourself and things around you. A lesson I’m admittedly still struggling to learn but am happy to have figured something out. NOW, the moment you’ve been waiting for. Me, dressed in a dress constructed only of the flag of these United States (well actually we just bought an American flag pattern dress). I went to a Rotary sponsored event in drag. I showed up, and we went to a night market to mess around for a little bit. Then Rotarians and Rotex lead us to this bar they had rented for the evening for us to eat at. The food was really good, all fried and gross you know? They had each person walk down the aisles of the restaurant showing off their costume. The time finally came for me to walk around the restaurant. I didn’t really know what to do so I just danced to the music that was playing. Which was okay. Then the Rotex called for a pseudo awards ceremony. They’d ask people to nominate someone for best costume, sexiest costume, most unexpected, and best overall. Apparently a lot of people really like my little bit so I won best over all and won 500 NT and a cool little phone lens. The Rotarians thought it was really funny so I thought the whole night was a win.

November was definitely the lowest point of my exchange. It was the point when I felt most home sick and began to have troubles deeper within myself. These were issues that were technically omnipresent, just not issues that were often brought up until I left my monotonous environment back in the States. The ever changing atmosphere of exchange really brought out the uggly parts of my personality. Those things that you try to keep hidden from those around you. I found myself becoming more impatient and aggressive with my friends and host family. Seemingly for no reason. I was able to recognize this behavior and recognize that this was absolutely no was to act, but I couldn’t find a way to stop. It wasn’t uncommon for me to try and isolate myself in my room during this time. I can’t imagine what my host family must have thought. Quite frankly, If I had an exchange student living with me acting the way was acting I’d be very angry. But thankfully they were more patient with me. I remember in the second week of November, which seemed to never end, they asked me what was going on. I really wanted to say nothing, nothing is happening. But for some reason I just said “I don’t know” which I guess was a better answer than “nothing” because they nodded and just continued about their business. To be honest I didn’t pay much attention to it at the time but now I think they were just looking for any kind of explanation. Even if I didn’t know they accepted that as an answer. One of the other things I thought which seemed more likely at the time was that they really didn’t like my uncertainty; That they took that answer as another line of disrespect. But I actually asked them later, and this is one of the moments I knew this host family was my absolute other family, they said “it’s okay to not know why you feel some way, this is really new and difficult so we understand. We’re just glad it not something that we’re doing. That’s what we were concerned about.” but a lot of this changed after I was invited to go to a place that I think really changed my perspective on life. I went to Taroko gorge with my second host family. They had invited me to join them on this trip as a sort of first impression. My second host family hadn’t really told me a lot about what we might be doing but I just thought it sounded like a really cool opportunity so I didn’t ask any questions and trusted it would be moderately safe. I stayed with them the night before because I had to wake up extremely early in order to get there at a reasonable time. The next morning we had breakfast and drove down the east coast of Taiwan, it was one of the beautiful but dangerous rides of my life. Flying around corners where on one side its mountain and the other is cliff, speeding down hills in the rain. When we finally arrived at the hotel i was already breath taken. The hotel we stayed at was ON the mountain. We’d passed by temples on the way up and the scenery was so different than anything I had ever seen even in pictures. The first day on the mountain was mostly just relaxing and walking around the premises of the beautiful hotel. It was owned and operated by and aboriginal tribe. The hotel structure was more similar to a camp with cabins as a pose to a sort of ‘traditional hotel’. The cabins lay at the base of a small cliff on an itty bitty plateau that seemed just big enough for these structures. It all seemed so perfect, they even had wifi. As night started to fall I became more and more obsessed with the things around me. This was really the first time I had ever truly experienced mountains. I hadn’t really ever traveled anywhere before this and now there are these monolithic towers of rock erupting out from the ground. Although this unprecedented awe I had been experiencing was coming to an end, I could feel the homesickness creeping back to the front of my conscience mind. Thankfully it was getting dark and i had hoped to sleep it off but, and I cannot make this up, the Rotarian and my second host dad snored so loud that I was absolutely unable to sleep. This, naturally, was very agitating. After a while of trying various methods to block out the quake like rumbles of their obviously marvelous slumber I got my things and decided it would be preferable to sleep outside. It was at this point when I forgot my blanket inside and tried to open the door that I knew I had made the wrong choice. I didn’t have a key. So I’m outside in the dark no blanket and locked out of the room. I was too frustrated at the time to try and wake up the Rotarian and didn’t think it was too cold so I thought it best to just find the nearest bench and rough it for the night. Thankfully the nearest bench was directly in front of the cabin. So I plopped down there and in the background… the snores… I can still hear the snoring. So I just give up I start walking around and thinking. And thinking. And thinking some more. Which was a bad idea because now I was getting sad again. I just felt like my whole world (or at least the idea of my world) was falling apart. So I just kinda started walking. And walking. And walking some more. And sooner or later I wasn’t anywhere near the hotel. I was at one of those temples we’d passed on the drive earlier. I took a moment to appreciate it and sat down to just think and observe what was going on around me in an attempt to cheer myself up I guess. I looked around saw the same thing I saw earlier, but also something different. The mountains were no longer stationary, at least in my mind. I realized that these mountains, this scenery, the river that cuts through the landscape, is constantly changing. It just from my perspective I can’t see it and I have no way of stopping it. The mountains are growing and changing shape over time, the river is slowly getting wider and deeper. The trees grow and die. Everything is at the mercy of the laws of nature and there’s no point in resisting it, because you will lose. It’s such a simple idea to understand on an intellectual level. It’s easy to acknowledge that yes, change is going to happen and you have to find a way to deal with it rather than resist it. But to really internalize it. That’s not something I’ve ever experienced until this point. Another thing I realized is how you should try to improve yourself and intern that will benefit the group you’re apart of. If you’re as respectful and kind as possible to everyone and you try to be the best ‘you’ you can be, then I think your life will be fulfilling and wonderful. It sounds a little crazy when I put it into words but I really felt like it was a truly profound experience. I finally found my way back to the hotel room I think at around 4 am? And slept on the bench. The day after we walked around the park and saw more of the scenery. We went to a cave with water pouring from the ceiling. Then we went back to Taipei. A few days later I had Thanksgiving with some of the other American exchange students because they all wanted to celebrate. I made the best chili I could with the ingredients I had. We danced around a little and I did a legendary death drop. You know the dance move where you fall on your back gracefully? Yeah i didn’t actually know how to do it so I jumped into the air, super-maned on my back, and fell straight down making a loud thump. Overall November was a good month.

December was a really interesting month. I was able to go to Sun Moon Lake with my host family and the exchange student at my school’s mom, had a rotary Christmas party, and went SCUBA diving in xiao liu qiu. Shortly after I returned to school after Taroko national park I was confronted by my friend at school and said that her mother was coming to visit early. I then told my host family. Somehow no one told me that we were all going to sun moon lake together. I wasn’t really bothered by this just no one told me until they showed up at the apartment the day they woke me up at 5:00am and said “hey we’re going to sun moon lake.” So I was of course excited. The drive was around 3-4 hours. Erica’s, the exchange student at my school, mother was really interesting to talk to. I really enjoyed her company along with my host family. It was a really fun time over all. We walked around the lake a little on the first day. Went to the night market and forced Erica’s mom to try some local food which was really fun. And had some amazing Assam tea. We went back to the hotel room, played some smash bros ultimate™ and went to sleep. A simple but wholesome and fulfilling day. The next day was the day that we had planned to travel across the lake. We went to some temples and some old streets. At one of the temple’s they had free books and things that you could take. I was talking to the guy at that temple and he kept giving me things to take and I couldn’t really say no. all the stuff was really cool. Like the 100 vegetarian dishes cookbook, some other Buddhist texts, and a little charm. After the boat ride was over we went biking around the lake and saw some more of the scenery. The weather that day was wonderful. Then after this we all went back to Taipei. A very simple and fun trip I’d say. The month went by very quickly. It was also during this time that had changed host families to my second. It was Christmas in what seemed like a week. Rotary had previously told us that we were going to go back to yilan for the Christmas party. The Christmas party was actually quite fun. We could video call our parents in front of everyone and wish them a merry Christmas, we got to exchange gifts, and of course we got to dance. My gift was a traditional Chinese puppet that I had previously won in culture class. I received a sweater which was really nice and warm. I unfortunately was unable to call my parents for Christmas. It was a little too early in the morning for them so they said I could call them later. I really hadn’t called or spoken to my family before this point too much. A part of me was proud I was able to resist the temptation but another part of me wanted to say hello to everyone and see what was happening back home. Finally we were able to dance. You may or may not remember but I had previously attempted to perform the ‘death drop’ maneuver at thanksgiving. This was my chance to try again. Of course, turn down for what was on and there I was… in the center of the circle. Everyone watching, exchange students, Rotex, and Rotarians. And it happened. I did it, and didn’t hurt myself. The hype was unbelievable and I solidified my position in group as ‘death drop Florida man’. After Christmas there was new years. My second host family had previously asked about my diving experience. I’ve had some experience and told them accordingly. So they planned and booked a trip to a small island off the coast of southern Taiwan called xiao liu qiu. When we arrived at the hostel we were going to be staying at, Saw that from that point we were able to see around the entire island. It was gorgeous. I was missing the ocean so much and finally I was surrounded with it. My first dive was a little rough. I had some trouble equalizing because it had been a long time since I had done any diving, but thankfully it wasn’t a very difficult dive and I was able to get used to it a little easier. We got to see several sea turtles and over fish i didn’t recognize. Pacific fish I thought looked familiar but had no idea how to ask because i didn’t know their Chinese names, let alone the English names. We resurfaced and ate dinner. Had a great time watching the Taipei countdown on TV. the next morning we had another dive which was also really fun. But i had to return early because I wasn’t using my oxygen efficiently. Then for the next several days I just chilled out around the island. Sat on the roof and watched the ocean, listened to the sounds of the island. It was very relaxing. A really cool experience.

January was the upward curve of my mood and development on exchange. This was really when my Chinese started to improve to a point where I could hold a basic conversation with most people. This high of continuous and consistent improvement felt amazing through the entire month. I think it was mostly due to me moving host families. My second host family spoke no English at all. I was forced to use Chinese even when I had an emergency. This continuous exposure was the best possible thing to happen at probably the best time. This host family also lived in keelung. Keelung is actually outside Taipei. It’s about a 35 minute bus ride into Taipei every morning so yeah… my schedule got a little more hectic. At 4:30 run to the bus stop and hopefully and get on the 1061 or 1062 and arrive at songshan station. From there go to nanjing fuxing and rinse and repeat from the previous schedule. So yeah, just lots of time on transport. But through the rest of the month I began to dread going to track more and more. I lost the sense of responsibility I felt towards attending each grueling practice. My classmates were too focused and tired to interact with me during practice and they wanted to quit themselves but their attendance at the school depended on their track performance. The coach was literally running everyone into the ground and things didn’t really seem to have purpose in practice. I’d ask my classmates if they’d ever had to do remotely like this in years past and they said that this was new and didn’t seem to be improving their times or technique. So after a lot of thought and self deliberation I decided it was best to quit the track team and focus my time and effort on another endeavor. What that was at the time I honestly didn’t know. But it really helped me. My energy quickly returned, I felt like an actual person again. I had time to indulge myself during the week and do things I had been wanting to do since the beginning. Like take all my friends out to see keelung! I planned a whole day trip for some friends and me to go to Keelung and show them the city. Many of them hadn’t ever been before and this was my opportunity to also explore the city a bit more. So I took them all around and we had a great time exploring the markets, temples, and seaside scenery. One thing Keelung is famous for is the street food. It’s not quite as good as in southern Taiwan but the Miao Kou night market has some of the best seafood in the north. We enjoyed extraordinarily large bubble teas from a small stand on the corner at the entrance of the night market. It was really cool to take other people around a city for a day. I felt like I was really fitting in to this place and that i really belong here. I was able to identify which stands were good and which were bad. I was starting to pick up and local sense of things. Felt good.

February everything seemed to slow to a halt. The excitement of the life I was living became normal everyday life and that was okay with me. Being here became living here in February and it just became normal life. The once seemingly insurmountable obstacles of the culture were now easily more easily navigable paths. Of course not without my mishaps here and there but certainly much smoother than before. In fact, I started to notice when tourists would break these unspoken cultural rules. The most common one is standing on the left side of the escalator. You don’t do that here. You leave that side open for people to walk up and down. Or talking very loudly in public places. There are just things you do and don’t do that take time to learn. Other exchange students around me were going through the same thing and it was like we were all assimilating almost uniformly. But also within our own groups. A sort of unique exchange student culture was developing quickly. Certain rules and of course memes that you have to follow as apart of this group. I found it all very interesting. Now that most of the hype of just living in another place is long long gone and we’ve had some time to settle in more effectively. We somewhat effectively began the process of further assimilation. But the thing is with Taiwanese and Chinese culture is that there are thousands of years of it to learn in such a short time and we’ve all kind of accepted that we won’t be able to learn even half just because of the sheer amount of quantifiable things there is to learn let alone the qualitative things. It seemed daunting at first but after all the people said mei guan xi and you learned something new, things just started to fall into a better place. Of course I’d still make a lot of mistakes during things I’d only seen once or twice or things that were kind of obscure. But everyday interaction I had down I’d say. I was developing a new confidence within myself because I was actually doing it. I was actually living semi sufficiently in another country. And i would have a chance to test out my new found language ability and cultural adeptness on my schools graduation trip with my and other classes. The trip was five days long. A bus trip around the island and making stops mostly in the south. Since I had quit the track team I had been seeing my classmates a little less than I liked. I really liked hanging out with them but because of their training schedule it was difficult once I wasn’t on the team. Two of them in particular I became really close with two boys named Wu Huang Yu and Ting Fong. I was really glad to see them again and hang out on the trip. We ended up going to the chi mei museum and walked around. I noticed that they weren’t nearly as excited about the museum as I was. But I guess I’m just a nerd and like museums. Then we went to walk around in some flower gardens in tainan. The flowers were in full bloom and it was gorgeous. After that we stayed at a hotel and went to kenting in the morning to go play a dodgeball tournament which my class won. We weren’t allowed to swim at the beach which the florida man in me screamed about. Then after that we went to another hotel and walked around the kenting night market. A few days and interesting activities later we were back in Taipei. It was a nice trip to end the month of February.

March was when I moved back to my first host family. I didn’t have a third so the plan was just to move back to my first. I have an extremely good relationship with this host family. I absolutely cannot imagine exchange without them. They have taken me many places and welcomed me like their own son so quickly. Every month the whole family gets together to eat and talk over dinner. This month we were all going to a steakhouse to eat and my host family had asked me to invite Erica. They all really enjoyed her company. At the dinner we were able to interact with everyone in Chinese without much issue which was good as previously if I had a mishap they’d switch to English. As for the rest of the month it was mostly just maintaining regular life in Taiwan. One thing that was a continuous effort was jade mountain training. Earlier in the year I had signed up to go and climb jade mountain. After quitting the track team I wasn’t getting much exercise and could feel fitness sort of falling away. So I started to try and exercise as much as I could while still maintaining the schedule that was comfortable for me. Thankfully after Chinese class every Tuesday and Thursday I was able to go with a few friends to a gym and work out a little bit. I had the pleasure of meeting two French exchange students named martin and Eugene. They were gym bros so it was an interesting time for sure. But rotary also had designated times for training. We went to yangmingshan to train several times and most of the time it was extremely wet and cold to simulate the peak of jade mountain. Mountains were also a thing that I was finally getting used too. I’d never really seen them before Taiwan and by this point I couldn’t imagine a landscape without them.
My school life had taken an interesting turn since I quit the track team. I was spending a lot of time by myself. Once I got back from Chinese class my classmates were usually already in practice and the classroom was empty. I didn’t mind for a while but it gave me lots of time to think, overthink, calm down, and study. But it started to get really lonely. I was just sitting in this room for hours a day by myself with little to do. I asked the school if there was anywhere else I could be ad they said the library. But I’d still be alone. So I just tried to make the best of the situation. I didn’t really have access to a computer while in the room nor did I have access to internet fast enough to do anything significant. I was left to entertain myself. So I just started doing math. I honestly don’t know why but I’d just write down certain problems and do math. Then when that got boring I’d try to imagine certain scenarios just as thought experiments. Then after that I tried meditating. This was actually very helpful. Trying to center myself was a really helpful thing but all of this only lasted so long. Weeks and weeks of this grew tiresome, except the meditation. I was very difficult for me to think of new equations to solve or new scenarios. I just started to get lonely.

April was more of the same from last month. But I was much more comfortable by myself. I was just able to use the time to reflect and relax. A sort of thinking period through the day that was actually productive. I found myself being able to control my thoughts and emotions a little bit more than when I left. It certainly was a nice feeling. Another thing that happened this month was the last practice jade mountain hike. It was actually really beautiful this time around but still quite wet. We started out the 9 km at yangmingshan. Then we continued through the trail much more uniformly than in previous hikes. It was a lot more organized and controlled. I really appreciated that because on some of the other hikes we’d wait at the resting point for upwards of 20 mins for some of the people line the back, which granted I didn’t really mind but it seemed to use a lot of time. But it was important for those in the rear to take it at their own pace so it made sense. Anyhow, this time was different people were able to say a lot closer together and it made the experience overall much more enjoyable. We could walk and talk about various things. It was almost like a bonding experience that you see in TV shows. Like a workers retreat or something. Another thing that was different about this hike was the fantastic clear weather. It was sunny the entire time and the wide was very nice at the top of the mountain.
April was more of the same from last month. But I was much more comfortable by myself. I was just able to use the time to reflect and relax. A sort of thinking period through the day that was actually productive. I found myself being able to control my thoughts and emotions a little bit more than when I left. It certainly was a nice feeling. Another thing that happened this month was the last practice jade mountain hike. It was actually really beautiful this time around but still quite wet. We started out the 9 km at yangmingshan. Then we continued through the trail much more uniformly than in previous hikes. It was a lot more organized and controlled. I really appreciated that because on some of the other hikes we’d wait at the resting point for upwards of 20 mins for some of the people line the back, which granted I didn’t really mind but it seemed to use a lot of time. But it was important for those in the rear to take it at their own pace so it made sense. Anyhow, this time was different people were able to say a lot closer together and it made the experience overall much more enjoyable. We could walk and talk about various things. It was almost like a bonding experience that you see in TV shows. Like a workers retreat or something. Another thing that was different about this hike was the fantastic clear weather. It was sunny the entire time and the wide was very nice at the top of the mountain.
I made a decision in April that I don’t think a lot of people are going to agree with. I thought it was time for a change okay!? I cut my hair really short. I told people it was because I was going to pursue an ROTC track in college and that my hair to be short for that but the real reason is because it just really needed to be cut. It was so unhealthy they wouldn’t even let me donate it. It was just a rats nest on top of my head and it stopped being cool. So I cut it. Felt super weird at first. I haven’t had my hair cut like this since sixth grade. But I had various reactions, I had one guy look at me straight in the eye very serious and say “you’ll never be the same again” whereas my when I walked into my class they all were shocked and a wave of “好帥!” flooded the room. I was really enjoying the life I seemed to building in Taiwan. I have friends and people I absolutely consider family. So yeah, that was the extent of my April.

May was when a lot of things started to happen again. In the beginning of May I finally went to jade mountain, went to jia yi and tai nan with my host family, and said my last goodbye to my class. Jade mountain was… a challenge (to put it lightly). The first day was very simple and easy. We went to the hotel at the base of the mountain and stayed there the entire day. It was simple and fun. One thing we noticed was how much rain and clouds there were. However we were all reassured that this would clear up by the next morning and continue to be nice throughout the trip. We all chilled around the hotel playing cards games, walking around the really pretty grounds, and talking about our experiences thus far. I was talking to the new Australian on the trip Gus who I shared lots of interests with. We were both interested in a pilot track through the Airforce and just sharing our hopes and concerns about such a career choice. I also talked with a German girl Magda about life and her general philosophy on things. Anyhow I had lots of stimulating conversation about various topics on this day. The next day we left the hotel at around 7:45 and began our 8km hike to the base camp. As promised the weather seemed gorgeous and wonderful. However as we ascended the weather slowly got worse and worse. It wasn’t raining yet but we could tell that there was a strong possibility. About 4.5km in it started to rain very lightly and get cold. The trail was starting to flood and all of our shoes were getting soaked. Only about a kilometer passed then it started pouring down rain. Of course because at this point we were roughly 3,400m high it was getting really cold. The last 3.5km of that hike were freezing and wet. When we finally arrived at the small building that was base camp we were all a bit, confused. We were all happy to have made it to some kind of structure but this place was just as wet and cold as outside. Our excitement was quickly replaced with existential dread and various mummers of “why did I sign up for this.” Many people were starting to feel quite ill, myself included. The altitude at the base camp was roughly 3,570m which is the highest many have ever been outside an aircraft. So here we all here, freezing cold, soaking wet with no way to dry off, and feeling really sick all trying to pile into a set of three large bunk beds in a room no bigger than a janitor’s closet. The facility had a set of nice sleeping bags which was a blessing for us because we were able to get out of our wet clothes to get warm in the sleeping bags. The next morning we had to wake up at 2:00 am to make it to the peak on time to see the sun rise. So we all tried to sleep at 19:00 to get sufficient sleep. So after dinner at 19:00 we all laid our heads down and tried to get some sleep, seemingly simultaneously everyone at 10:30 said yeah I can’t sleep. See we sat the rest of the time just looking at the clock just praying for it to be 2:00 but at the same time praying we’d be able to stay in this moderately controlled environment. So 2:00 finally did come around and we did make it out. Everyone was wearing soaked clothes and shoes. The hike to the peak felt like I was a walking dead man. There was not a single part of my body I could feel. My wet clothes had soaked all the heat out of my body, the wind wasn’t helping, and the continuous dropping temperature wasn’t doing me any favors either. Then we reached a certain point where we had to start bouldering. There were chains you could grab but none of us brought gloves. The rock had little streams forming on them so it was getting dangerous to climb. All of our hands were hurting from climbing and grabbing the cold wet chain. When we finally reached the top we all quickly took our pictures and left. The hike down was the real endurance test. We still had to hike in our wet clothes and it was still pouring rain. But we summoned the last of the energy that we had and left. We made it back. I realized how much of a city boy I’ve become. Anyhow after this may host family took me on some trips to places down south to just take pictures. We first went to jia yi, this was a really cool place to go because we took a boat out to this sand bar to catch these really small crabs. I’m not sure why but it was super fun and it felt like the beginning of my exchange again because everyone only spoke Taiwanese and it was really difficult to understand what people were saying. I’ve tried to learn Taiwanese but it just hasn’t been something I’ve been able to learn alongside Mandarin. Next we took a two day trip to Tainan and took pictures there. We went all around and saw all sorts of things. The last thing I did was say goodbye to my classmates. They threw the most wonderful party for me. I can’t really describe the feeling of seeing them for the last time. It was really painful and I cried in front of everyone but I also felt a great sense of closure. These were the people I spent a lot of time with. They helped me get through the year. They accepted me and welcomed me into their lives, class, and country. Then they started to say their goodbyes to me individually. That was extremely painful and made me really not want to leave. It takes a lot of love to make someone who’s already graduated high school want to go back just to be with a group of people. I love them all and I’ll see them again someday. But damn, in that moment I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to stay more than ever.

Today, 2019/6/21. 
Today is my last full day in Taiwan. I have this deep feeling in my stomach and chest like I’m about to fall through the earth. Yet at the same time it doesn’t feel real. It doesn’t feel like I’m about to go back to a life that I built so long ago. Everything has changed and it just doesn’t quite feel like going home is the right decision. Unfortunately it’s my only option. I have my family back home of course and it’s not like there aren’t things I’m looking forward to ding and people I’m happy to see. But I just can’t shake this feeling like it’s just not my time to leave yet. I know I have too and I just have to face it with a smile and move forward. What else can you do in the face of great change? Just bare and grit the bittersweet pain of saying goodbye to everyone. Bare and grit the pain coming home and having normal things somehow be different. Bare and grit the pain of having to remake your life again. These are all things we signed up for in the beginning. Exchange has helped me to grow as a person and helped others do the same. It has been the finest experience of my life and I wouldn’t have done anything differently. Well maybe a few things. But you know what, I did it. I made it all the way through this year. I’m leaving on my departure date and I’ll be back in the US on the 23rd of June. Actually that is going to literally and figuratively be the longest day of my life. It’ll be the 23rd of June for 48 hours because I’m crossing the international date line and then I’ll have just begun making the grandest transition of my life back into the culture and family life I once had. I think people have got it all wrong. The hard part of exchange isn’t the exchange itself. It’s what you do with it after. Coming how and getting used to being in something that by ever metric you should function and be happy I but there is just some barrier you’re unable to break down prohibiting you from fully integrating back. I cannot express the gratitude I have for my host families. They have truly kept me afloat here. They have been like real family and I absolutely need to come back and see them soon. This isn’t really closing a door and it’s not an absolute goodbye. It’s a see you a lot later sort of deal. My hot brother and I fully intend on being in consistent contact by playing smash brothers and just talking. I think things will suck for a while but just like in the beginning of exchange they’ll eventually turnout okay. Life goes on no matter what and I don’t want to get left behind. Just gotta keep moving forward no matter what. I’ll stick to my two life motto’s. “Go hard or go home” and “ if it’s not hard, it’s not worth doing”

Fri, June 14, 2019

  • Alex, Outbound to Taiwan

The first few weeks of my exchange have gone very well. The first two weeks of August were all about getting acquainted with Taiwan and my responsibilities here. My first night with my host family was really brief. I arrived at their apartment and immediately fell asleep. The plane ride was exhausting. The next day they told me that I was responsible for my own room, my own clothes and so on. I was honestly quite relieved that they were willing to accept me as a family member so quickly and easily. A few days later I had a meeting with the school at 13:30, however I was complaining of some shoulder pains. So my host dad suggested that before we leave to meet the school we see a traditional doctor. To be honest I was really nervous about seeing a traditional doctor because of the things I have heard and read. I wasn’t really on board but I was like, what the heck might as well right? So I said “sure that sounds good.” But it wasn’t at all what I expected. We drove outside of Taipei into the mountains down these tiny roads. With each turn the road got narrower and seemed not as well maintained, until there was no road. Then there was what looked to be a really small parking lot, almost on the edge of a cliff with the mouth of a trail at the back of it heading downward. So I, extremely confused, was wondering what I’m about to see. We get out of the car and walk down this tiny dirt path to this small shack with a few patients and this old man doing what looks like a judo technique on another old man hanging upside down. I am scared. My host dad speaks to him in Taiwanese and explains what the problem is. The doctor gestured me to lay on my side on this old massage table in the center of the small shack. I do so and he proceeds to do… something and he tells me host dad exactly what the issue is. He finagles my arms in sorts of positions and my shoulder feels a lot tighter by the end. It really helped. I think it was a super cool experience. He said to be really careful with it for the next three days and put some herbs on it. I then went to meet with my school which was productive. I met with the other exchange student at my school who was also from the US. We sat through the meeting and learned what was expected of us. We were essentially expected to show up and be respectful. There was very little in the line of school work that they expected us to do. I was placed in the athletic and sports class and thusly I was obligated to join a sport. They had three available; Track and Field, Archery, and Handball. My obvious choice was archery but they said that I didn’t bring a bow, and lacked experience to be on the team, I had no idea what the heck handball was, so I sufficed with track and field. The other exchange student did so as well. Although she was placed in a different class. The next week school began and my first meeting with my classmates was almost like that out of an anime. The teacher walked me in, introduced me, had me introduce myself in Chinese (which was admittedly very rough) and sat my in the corner at the front of the class closest to the windows. Although one of the first things, or rather people, I noticed were two people; One was another foreigner which I was surprised to see, and the other was a boy who wouldn’t stop staring at me. The other foreigner was a girl who had lived here almost her whole life. Her Chinese was perfect and she had agreed to help me with mine, thankfully she was also on the track team. School was slow for the first couple of weeks so I was thankful to finally have my orientation. I would be able to meet all of the other exchange students in my district(s). The designated meeting time was 6:30 am which sucked. But once I arrived I saw a few other exchange students, but they had all mostly circled up into their own little groups by this point. It was so fast, people had already formed little groups. Thankfully I was able to sort of go around and introduce myself to everyone. I had brought my violin to this event which was a great conversation piece, it really helped me find an opening to conversation. Exchange students are always very curious I find. Any how we arrived in Yilan which was a little ways away from Taipei but it was beautiful. Most people were complaining about the heat, but me being the Florida man I am I enjoyed it. We were all assigned into groups in roughly 8 people. The Rotex took us through the itinerary of the things that were to come and they leads us through some icebreaker activities. The icebreaker stuff was honestly a little cringy but it was effective. We sat through several hours of lectures, not unlike our first orientation, and were given chances to earn little prizes by answering questions. It was boring but a worthwhile activity. That about sums up my first month of exchange.

Fri, June 14, 2019

Caroline - Sweden

Hometown: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
School: Douglas Anderson School of the Arts
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Ponte Vedra Beach Sunset, Florida
Host District: 2370
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Södertälje Östra

My Bio

Hej! My name is Caroline Bernet. I am so excited to spend my year abroad in the beautiful country of Sweden! My home consists of my mom, dad, sister, brother and four cats. I was raised in the Washington D.C. suburbs of Maryland before moving to the Jacksonville, Florida area. The weather here in Florida is very pleasant, and we live about 15 minutes away from the beach. In my spare time you can find me hanging out with friends, playing piano, volunteering at the local library, and spoiling our cats. My family has hosted many exchange students over the years and I’m so excited to become the daughter and sister of my own future host families in Sweden. Currently, I am a tenth grader attending a performing arts high school and study both classical and jazz saxophone. Through my experiences, I can see how valuable it is to be able to communicate with people through music, and can’t wait to have the same feeling as I learn Swedish. Not too long ago, my family had a chance to visit Stockholm briefly and I fell in love with the beautiful buildings, cobblestone streets, and the mix of old and modern architectural styles. Through my exchange, I am looking forward to gaining lifelong friendships, independence, and a new perspective of the world. Thank you, Rotary, so much for this amazing, life changing opportunity!

Journals: Caroline-Sweden Blog 2018-19

§  Caroline, Outbound to Sweden

Although it is crazy to believe, 11 months have gone by, and on June 29th I will be leaving Sweden. Since I will be returning home so soon, I have been reflecting a lot about all the amazing people I have met that made my year extraordinary. Before leaving for my exchange year I ate at a Chinese restaurant where I got a fortune cookie. On the fortune stood, “Good friends and laughter will soon surround you.” I put it in the back of my phone thinking of my up-coming exchange year. Boy, was that fortune spot on. Between meeting amazing friends at school, other exchange students, and my incredible host families, I feel so lucky. My stomach churns at the thought that my exchange will be over so soon. I am beyond grateful for these past 11 months. Even if every day wasn’t easy. Even when I hated the dark winter. Even when I was absolutely fed up with learning Swedish. I know I will always carry this year with me.

It feels surreal that I will be leaving so soon. Part of me understands that I soon will be on an airplane headed back home. However the other part of my brain refuses to wrap itself around the fact that I will be back stateside in just a few short days. When I said goodbye to some of my school friends earlier in June, it didn’t click in my mind that I would be leaving. After meeting such amazing Swedish friends at school, it’s hard to think that I won’t return to school with them this fall.

These past final months of my exchange have been busy, so here are some of the things I have been up to.

-My family came to visit me in April, after being apart for 8 ½ months. It felt unreal showing them where I live and go to school. Having them meet all my families and friends here was a special thing too; it felt like having both my homes at the same time. We were able to visit some cities in Sweden, and we also made it to Oslo, Norway. It was incredibly difficult having to say goodbye to them, however I am grateful they could experience my life here in Sweden with me for a couple of days.

-In early May I visited my sister, Abbie, who is studying to get her masters degree at Malmö University. It was nice to get to see a little bit of southern Sweden and to have a chance to catch up with Abbie. Even though we have both lived in Sweden this year, we have had different experiences which was cool to talk about. One thing we share in common though is some of the good snacks and chocolates we have found here in Sweden haha.

-At the end of May, my host family took me to France to visit my host mom’s cousin and her family. France was absolutely beautiful and the trip was incredible; especially considering that fact that I adore my host family so much.

– Last week I went to the archipelago where my host family’s summer house is to celebrate Midsummer. Midsummer night is the lightest night of the year and its origins come from welcoming summer time and the season of fertility. Curious as to what Swedes do during midsummer? They all leave the city and go to their summer cottages. They eat lots and lots of strawberries, because Swedish strawberries are truly delicious this time of year. They dance around a pole and sing about small frogs, among other things. They wear flower crowns and eat meatballs and herring. I am glad I got to experience this unique holiday! It also is truly exquisite to be outside at 11:30 PM and it still be light outside.

Other than that I have been keeping busy meeting friends and enjoying the summer weather. Sweden’s summer weather is pretty crazy. Either it’s in the 60s or the 80s, but overall I can say I’m scared to return to Florida’s weather. I have adapted to cooler weather and now I can even appreciate 55F without freezing.

It’s incredibly simple and complicated as this; I’m excited to return to Florida but I am far from ready to leave Sweden. It’s a tug of war of feelings. My heart is split between Florida and Sweden which is a pretty extraordinary thing, but also quite difficult.

So thank you Rotary. Thank you mom and dad. Thank you my wonderful host families, friends and counselor here in Sweden.

Tack för allt. Jag kommer att sakna dig Sverige. Jag kommer att sakna mitt andra hem. (translated: Thanks for everything. I will miss you Sweden. I will miss my second home.)

Thu, June 27, 2019

§  Caroline, Outbound to Sweden

I have just started my ninth month of exchange, and it is truly crazy how fast time has started to fly by ever since January. I’m running out of weekends to meet up with all the amazing people I have met here in Sweden. As my classmates here discuss what classes they will take next year, I am reminded that my life in Sweden is ending soon. Sometimes I feel like I’m stuck in this void. I am excited to see my friends and family back in Florida, i’m excited for summer weather, and to really see how I have grown as a person as I adjust to my life in the US. However, I am not ready to say goodbye to my host family, exchange friends, and school friends. It’s a weird feeling to create this whole other life in just under a year, and then have to leave it all behind. Towards the beginning of my exchange, sometimes time would feel as if it was dragging. Now it feels like time is moving so much faster than usual–too fast.

Halfway through January I changed to my second host family. Although it was nerve wracking to change families, it has been a good experience living with two different families. I really love my new host family and am so thankful to have been placed with them! Something I have realized while on exchange, is that the little things are truly what makes this year memorable. Yes, Rotary trips are amazing, but making sushi with my host family or dancing with my younger host sister are some of my favorites moments.

I have had some awesome opportunities for trips these past months as well. Earlier in March I went on a trip to Kiruna, Sweden with other exchange students. Kiruna is located in the Arctic circle, and is the northernmost town in Sweden. In Kiruna I was able to go dog sledding, see the Ice Hotel and northern lights, learn about the Sámi culture (indigenous people of Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Russia), and pet/feed reindeer! Although my feet and fingers were freezing most of the time, it truly was an incredible trip. I have also gone skiing with both my host family and just recently on a trip with other exchange students. The ski trip was actually my favorite Rotary trip. Being goofy with exchange students, eating three tubs of ice cream over three days, and watching each other fall down while skiing made for some priceless memories and pictures.

I am not ready to leave Sweden, but I am excited to make the most of my last three months of exchange. As of right now I am waiting for warmer weather, but I can happily say the sun comes out more and flowers have begun to bloom 🙂 My family is coming to Sweden to visit this Friday and I am so excited and proud to have them try my new favorite foods, meet some wonderful people, and just show them my other home.

Mon, April 8, 2019

§  Caroline, Outbound to Sweden

Hej hej! I figured I should write a journal to start off the new year. Happy 2019!

It’s normal life over here. I go to school, take a dance class, meet up with friends, and eat way too many carbs and sweets. Some days I feel a little more homesick for no apparent reason, but I mostly feel quite content over here. I am about to switch to my next host family, which is nerve wracking but also exciting! I really feel at home with my current family, so I am sad to have to leave them, but I am looking forward to experiencing life differently with another family.

School is definitely difficult. Although I have some really great and caring friends, I miss being able to understand the entirety of lectures and being able to complete assignments and tests. However, with the start of 2019, I’m going to try my best to change the way I feel about school. I am also beginning to help a class of 10-year-olds with English. Well more accurately, I will speak Swedish with them and they will speak English with me. It’s the perfect scenario, because speaking Swedish is much more difficult than understanding. I have already met the kids and they are super sweet, so I’m grateful for this new experience.

To my surprise, I wasn’t terribly homesick over the holidays. It was exciting celebrating in a new way, and it definitely helps that I really enjoy spending time with my host family. During the holiday break we returned to one of my host grandparents house in Fjätervålen. I tried cross country skiing for the first time, and although I was quite terrible at it, I would love to be able to try it again when I get back to the States! We also rode snow scooters, and it was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had. The sun was still rising, creating skies painted with pink. Look left–there’s a mountain covered with snow, glistering like crystals. Look right–there’s a typical Swedish red cottage surrounded by trees. I wish I could have captured it on camera, but some moments are best just to experience.

I am almost at my halfway point through my exchange. Although it is the most difficult thing I have done in my life, I would not trade it in for anything. Sometimes it can be tiring to constantly pick yourself up again and again. It was like when I tried skiing (downhill) again. After falling for the hundredth time, I just wanted to lay in the snow and give up. Sometimes you can feel the same about exchange. However you find the strength in you–and I have certainly learned in these past 5 months that I am much stronger as a person than I ever knew– and you pick yourself up again. Through struggles to express myself through Swedish, missing my cats, traveling to and from school in pitch black and freezing temperatures, I have definitely struggled on this journey. My best advice to the new outbounds is to talk to people! Talk to other exchange students, your counselor, Rotex, school friends! I also 100% recommend to journal, and don’t feel pressure to journal everyday. Just have a place where you can write down your thoughts, especially when you are feeling a rush of emotions. It is really inspiring to go back and read and see how much you have grown as a person. I think it’s really important to have an outlet to let all your feelings out, because I have found I can’t express how I am feeling as much as I need to.

“Going through things you never thought you’d go through will only take you places you never thought you’d get to.” Morgan Harper Nichols

I can’t imagine my life without exchange. I am so proud of the person I am becoming and I am looking forward to the second half of my adventure here in Sweden!

Tack Rotary! Tack så så mycket familjen Bjerka! Jag kommer att sakna er! Ni är alltid välkommen till mig i Florida!!

Mom and dad, I look forward to showing you guys my new home in April and giving you guys a big hug!

Hej då och gott nytt år!

Caroline Bernet

Wed, January 2, 2019

§  Caroline, Outbound to Sweden

The point of these journals is to show the feelings of an exchange student, however it’s incredibly difficult to describe my emotions. For example, the weeks seem to go by super fast, but at the same time, I feel like I have been gone from home for a year already. Sometimes I feel so exhilarated and happy. Like when walking through Stockholm as it snows–in October, or when one of my host brothers said he didn’t want me to change host families. Those feelings make for amazing highs, where I truly feel on top of the world. However, just like regular life, there are moments where I feel so empty and like I’m missing something. Sometimes it can be hard to take in that I still have 8 months on exchange. Not because I don’t love Sweden or my host family, but just because exchange is more emotionally and mentally draining then I could ever imagine.

My favorite moments are either spent with my host family or with a really cool exchange student from Belgium that I met named Marie-Liese. My host parents are so caring, and my host brothers are so goofy and fun, so I absolutely love spending time with them. Marie-Liese and I love to meet up for fika breaks at cute little bakeries and then walk around Stockholm. However I think the long walks might start coming to an end because it’s truly starting to get cold, and yes she thinks it’s cold too, not just me the Floridian haha!

Two really fun things happened in October. (Also my host family decorated the house with decorations and we baked Halloween treats, so it truly felt like October!!)

Firstly, all of the first year students in my school went on a trip to England! We stayed in Cambridge and saw all the beautiful architecture, and one of the days we went sightseeing in London. Since my line or track at school is natural sciences (aka i have biology, psychics, and lots of math) we also visited a botanical garden and a science center. It was a great way to get to know my classmates better, and I really felt apart of the school!

Secondly, I returned back up to my host grandparents winter house in Fjätervålen during autumn break. The week was filled with walks through snowy forests, lots of hot cocoa, and tons of board games played with my host brother, Vide, and my host grandparents. It was so cozy and fun! I also ate moose meat and it was really good!

This past month has really made me think of a certain quote by the one and only Winnie the Pooh; “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” I miss my family back home like crazy, and sometimes all I wish is that I could be running into their arms at the Jacksonville airport, however I know that this year is not forever. I mean, I’m already 3 months in! That sounds crazy to me!

To those currently in the application process, I wish you luck at interviews! You’re applying to an amazing program that truly transforms you as a person. I already feel so much stronger as a person, and I’m not even half-way through!

Thanks for reading!

Caroline Bernet

Sun, November 4, 2018

§  Caroline, Outbound to Sweden

Hej från Sverige!!

From stopping to eat blueberries as I climbed up mountains with my host family, to having to stop in the road to let reindeer pass, my time here so far has felt surreal!

I arrived in Sweden August 1st and I have enjoyed my first month here so much! I live in Stockholm, but the second day I was here in Sweden, my host family brought me to their grandparents winter house. It’s about 6 hours from Stockholm and their house is located right next to a mountain for skiing. (Fjätervålen) We walked through forests, bathed (a lot), climbed mountains, picked blueberries then made blueberry pie, went fishing, and saw lots of reindeer! Everything was so beautiful and there was a stillness and quietness in the air that was so beautiful.

I really like my host family!! They are so fun, kind and welcoming and I am so happy I am with them! I have a 12 year old brother (Vide), 13 year old brother (Kasper), 15 year old sister (Lova) and then my host parents (Nicklas & Kristina). Lova just left for France, and although i’m so excited for her to start her exchange, i’m sad our month together is up!

Another fun thing I did was go crayfishing with my host family. Although I didn’t participate in putting the dead fish in the traps, I did get to go out on the little boat and pull up the crayfish we caught from the water! We then had a party, which consisted of quiche, lots of bread and cheese, crayfish, and ice cream cake.

As for school, I started August 20th and I’m in the natural sciences track. This means i have biology and lots of math, in addition to Swedish, religion, Spanish, P.E., and English. My class at school really feels like a community. I’m in the first year so everybody is new to the school and everyone seems to look out for each other. I have people to sit lunch with everyday and hang out with during breaks between classes. And we all bonded over feeling super sore after our first gym class haha.

So how is school in Sweden different?

-Schools have different programs. (At my school they have the economics track and natural sciences track.)

-I have the same people in all of my classes which I love! It makes it easy to really bond and get to know people

-Teachers commonly let students out of class 10/15 minutes earlier if they’re done with lessons.

-I start/end at different times every day. (On Thursday I start at 10:10 and on Friday I get out at 2!!)

-Everybody gets a laptop

-Lunch is free, and they always have knäckebröd (hard bread) with butter set out, as well as vegetarian/vegan options.

What else is different about Sweden?

-Everybody is out walking, biking, bathing and enjoying the nice weather! This goes along with an important right in Sweden, Allemansrätten一or “everyman’s right.” Under this, Swedes are granted the right to roam wherever they please in the countryside, forests, etc., as long as they respect the land.

-Little kids have a lot of freedom/independence and you even see young kids finding their way to school by themselves via public transportation.

-There’s bread/cheese/butter with almost every meal. (And I’m in love…)

-People don’t drink as much water or just beverages in general. Maybe i’m just so used to having to stay hydrated in Florida, but it’s definitely weird using tiny cups, and not having free refills.

-Fika really is a prominent thing in Sweden! Basically fika is where you take a break, drink coffee and eat sweets, and maybe catch up with friends. I’m always happy for a fika break!

And Homesickness?

Of course I have moments where i really miss my family, friends and cats, but I also know this year will not last forever and I need to appreciate and enjoy it as much as I can! It’s hard to have to say goodbye to all that you know, but the thing is you have so many hellos and new experiences waiting for you ahead. Yes there are days I wish I could be eating Chick-fil-a with my friends or making countless target runs with my mom, but i know those moments will be waiting for me when I return home. It’s also important to find a balance of communication back home. I don’t think you have to cut off communication completely, but also don’t go overboard every day.

“We are torn between nostalgia for the familiar and an urge for the foreign and strange. As often as not, we are homesick most for the places we have never known.”

Lastly I wanted to say thanks, tack så mycket, to Rotary for making my exchange possible! Thanks to Mrs. Paula/Jeff for all your passion, dedication and kindness you pour into this program. And of course thanks to all the support and love from my family and friends!

Vänliga hälsningar,

Caroline Bernet

Fri, August 31, 2018


Chloe - Taiwan

Hometown: Saint Petersburg, Florida
School: Saint Petersburg Collegiate
Sponsor District : District 6950
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of St. Petersburg Sunset, Florida
Host District: 3490
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Chiao-Hsi

My Bio

你好! Nǐ hǎo! Hello! My name is Chloe and I am a 17-year-old Saint Petersburg Collegiate Student. In a few months I will depart for Taiwan, where I will spend a year learning traditional Mandarin. I have never studied Mandarin before, so learning the language is an interesting challenge. My sister, Taylor (15), studied Mandarin for a year in school, so I am hoping that she can help me out. Currently, I am an active member in my community and enjoy volunteering with Thurgood Marshall Middle School, Oceanography Camp for Girls, Ryan Nece Student Service Program, and National Honor Society. I also love pole vaulting and photography, and I spend a lot of my time outdoors because I feel very at peace in nature. Travelling is another big part of my life, and I do it as much as I can. My first time abroad was 3 years ago, and I travelled to England, France, Switzerland, Greece, and Italy on a school tour. Then, last year I had the privilege of being the ambassador for Saint Petersburg to Takamatsu, Japan, and I fell in love with the culture. I hope to incorporate my love for travel into my business career, and I think this foreign exchange in Taiwan will give me a head start by broadening my cultural perspective and sharpening my international relations skills. I know this next year will be a challenge, but I am looking forward to every exciting moment that awaits me. I am ready to tackle my fears and fully immerse myself in a different way of life, and I cannot wait to see the person I become.

Journals: Chloe-Taiwan Blog 2018-19

§  Chloe, Outbound to Taiwan

I am now halfway through my exchange and I am feeling a mix of emotions. On one hand, I feel like I’ve been here for so long, but when I realize that it’s been 5 whole months I find myself wondering where all the time went. December was a very busy and exciting month, which was exactly what I needed. I wasn’t really homesick at all and I think its because I was so busy with my life here. At the beginning of December I went to Yulin with my parents to stay with my 奶奶 and 爺爺 (grandma and grandpa), and my family took me to a huge night market. The market had lots of fun games and I ended up winning two betta fish. I named them 火 and 冰, the Chinese words for fire and ice, because of their red and blue colorings. I unfortunately caught the flu shortly after this, and I am just now recovering (over a month later!). That meant a lot of days at home, but it gave me plenty of time to catch up on all the books and movies I had been meaning to watch. I was even able to find Spongebob in Chinese, which helped me practice my listening skills.

Speaking of movies, I finally got to go to a U2 with friends this December and it was incredible. In a U2, instead of a few blockbuster selections being played in a big movie theatre, almost any movie of your choosing is played on a projector in a small room full of couches and pillows. You can order food and drinks to bring into the U2 with you and it is such a relaxing and fun experience. Another fun Taiwanese past time that I got to try was KTV. At the KTV in Ximen my friends and I sang our hearts out to different karaoke classics for 3 hours. By the end we had all lost our voices and had to go get milkshakes to soothe our sore throats. It was an absolute blast!

The highlights of December were definitely Christmas and New Years. On Christmas Eve I bought myself a hot cocoa and went to see the giant Christmas display at Banqiao. It was definitely worth the visit, as the entire area was absolutely covered in Christmas lights. The lights hung in the sky resembled stars, and there were stalls selling different wares everywhere. It was so colorful, exciting, and beautiful, and I’m grateful that I got to experience it. Christmas was a little melancholy but our district threw us a Christmas party, so no one was too sad. We did secret santa (I was gifted wonderful fuzzy socks and some different Taiwanese trinkets), played cards, went on a hike, and did Christmas song karaoke. It was really nice to be surrounded by other people who were also spending their first Christmas alone.

As soon as Christmas passed everyone turned their attention to New Years, and it definitely lived up to the hype. My closest friends and I joined nearly one hundred other exchange students at Sun Yat Set memorial hall, which had an incredible view of Taipei 101. We all counted down to 2019 together and watched in awe as Taipei 101 was lit up in an explosion of color. The fireworks were so beautiful, and it was truly a once in a lifetime experience.

I am excited to see what 2019 has in store for me here. As I reflect back on the last few months, I realize how much I have dealt with on my own. My Chinese is good enough for basic conversation now, and I can talk about my day every night at dinner with my host parents exclusively in their language. I have been sick with several different illnesses but I’ve been doing my best to take care of my health. For the first time I spent Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years alone, but I did my best to make the holidays fun and interesting instead of letting myself be homesick. I am definitely on the upswing, and with Chinese New Year coming up I am sure to have even more incredible experiences to share in my next report. I think the first 5 months are all about getting into a rhythm and figuring out how to self soothe and that can be messy and difficult, but it makes the next 5 months all the more worth it and I am thrilled for what the second half of exchange has in store for me.

Wed, January 23, 2019

§  Chloe, Outbound to Taiwan

In just a few short days I will have been in Taiwan for a whole month! I feel as though I’ve barely scratched the surface of the language and culture here, but at the same time I already feel like this beautiful country is already becoming a part of me.

When I first stepped off the plane, I was surrounded by the sound of hundreds of voices speaking a language I didn’t understand, breathtaking but unfamiliar sights, and a warm, welcoming family who I knew nothing about, but was desperate to get to know. Needless to say, I was excited, but more confused and uncertain than I’d ever felt before. As I sat in my family’s car as they drove me home for the first time, peering out at the sprawling city that surrounded me, I wondered how I would ever fit here. I’ve spent every day since answering that question.

My first few days here were spent familiarizing myself with my family and I quickly realized how lucky I was to have been placed with the Li’s. I was so fearful of speaking Chinese with them because I was embarrassed about my pronunciation skills, but they encouraged me to say what I could and praised my efforts, even if I made mistakes. They were eager to show me Taiwan and the Taiwanese way of life, but they also encouraged me to be independent and let me try things on my own. From the very first day I got here, I have been treated with respect and trust, and there was never a moment where I felt like a guest, rather than a member of the family. They have welcomed me into their home and their life with open arms, and I can never begin to thank them enough for that.

I also feel incredibly lucky to have been sent to New Taipei City. I can say with utmost confidence that Taipei has the best public transportation in the world. Before I got here, my family mentioned that the public transportation was very accessible several times in their emails to me, and I didn’t think much of it. After all, I had never ridden a public bus in my life, and even when I had visited cities with subways like New York or Chicago, the quality of public transportation was the last thing on my mind. I now understand why Taiwanese people are so proud of their public transport. You can go literally anywhere you could possibly want in Taipei and the surrounding areas in just a few hours via the MRT (a high speed rail) and bus system. It’s safe, clean (spotless, even), and often faster than taking a car. If I could pack up the MRT and take it back to Florida with me, I would in an instant.

Taiwan is also one of the safest places I have ever been. I’m not proud to admit this, but last week I was dumb enough to leave my wallet and airpods on the table of 7/11 when I was trying to get to Chinese class. After my 3 hour class finished and I realized it was missing, I ran like a maniac to the 7/11 only to find that both my airpods (which cost around $180 dollars) and the 3 credit cards, $100 cash, and unlimited ride MRT pass in my wallet, were all still there. I was flooded with relief, and I realized how different the experience could have been if I hadn’t been in such a safe country. I can also say that I will never be making that mistake again!

Both the safeness and accessibility of Taipei have allowed me to meet so many new people and visit so many new places. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t get to go somewhere I have never been before. I return home every day absolutely exhausted and filled with the excitement that comes with seeing or trying something new. Some of my favorite places that I’ve been are Taipei 101, Ximen, Yeh Liu Geo Park, and most recently, Qixing mountain.

Perhaps the most challenging part of being here so far is learning Chinese, which is to be expected. It is well known that Chinese is one of, if not the most, challenging language to learn. When I first started, understanding Chinese seemed impossible because of the sheer amount of information to learn. You have to learn characters, how those characters sound, what those characters mean, what pinyin corresponds to which characters, how to pronounce that pinyin, etcetera. Frankly, it’s overwhelming, but being in Taiwan makes me want to learn it. I want to communicate with my friends and host family. I am proud of myself when I am able to order food for myself. I am delighted when I can read a street sign! I spend hours at and after school studying Chinese, and I am beginning to understand a language I once thought impossible to decipher.

Of course my advice to future exchange students is to study the language beforehand. Everyone says that, and it’s true. But I can honestly say that a mistake I saw myself and many other exchange students make is that we never gave ourselves a reason to want to study. We were told to “study before you get to your country” and we listened, but in my honest opinion, no one studied as hard or as much as they could have. I think the reason for that is because we didn’t feel any real motivation to, so our efforts were half-hearted. We knew we were going on exchange, but it didn’t feel real. Even now that I am here in Taiwan, I still see other exchange kids not making any effort to learn the language because they don’t see a reason to.

If you are a future outbound reading this, please take my advice. Give yourself a reason to study. Don’t just say “Oh, I really want to learn Chinese/Portuguese/French/Italian” and not ask yourself why! Your reason for learning the language shouldn’t just be because “rotary told me to.” You must find reasons to be passionate about the language you are studying and will be hearing for the 365 days of your life. Now that I’m in Taiwan I study incredibly hard because I gave myself goals and reasons to do so. I want to be able to talk to my host family in their native language so I feel connected to them. I want to do well on the TOCFL (Test of Chinese as a Foreign Language). I want to be able to use Chinese in my future business career. My Chinese skills have gotten exponentially better because I made myself passionate about learning the language, rather than just doing it as a requirement of exchange.

All around, I am so thankful to be in Taiwan. Though I do feel twinges of sadness whenever I think of my friends and family, I haven’t really felt homesick because I keep myself busy and immersed in Taiwanese life. Taiwanese people are incredibly friendly and kind, and if you make an effort to get to know those around you, you’ll never find yourself bored or lonely.

I am continually surprised by Taiwan every day, and surprised by what I am learning about myself while I am here. I’ve always considered myself to be adventurous and capable of adapting to changing environments, but nothing has ever tested this belief quite like exchange. I can’t wait for what the rest of the year has in store for me.

Mon, October 1, 2018


Emily - Brazil

Hometown: Dunwoody, Georgia
School: Dunwoody High School
Sponsor District : District 6900
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Dunwoody, Georgia
Host District: 4580
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Viçosa

My Bio

Oi, my name is Emily O’Day and I’m 17 and a senior at Dunwoody High School. I am so happy and grateful to say that I will be going to Brazil next year. I live in Dunwoody, GA with my parents and an older brother who is a sophomore at UGA- Go Dawgs! Unfortunately, I have no pets, but I am certain I will have two dogs when I grow up. My favorite subject in school would definitely be math, but that doesn’t reflect my love for books and fictional worlds! I adore playing club and school volleyball as a libero and outside hitter. I started playing volleyball when I was in middle school and once I reached high school I started to play club volleyball at NAVC. I also do Taido Karate and have been attending since I was 5 years old. I received my black belt in 2015 and love performing and competing in tournaments. Actually, my father and brother have also been attending the same karate for years and received their black belts as well. I also love cooking. Whenever I’m stressed I always run straight to the kitchen and bake away my worries. Though another room I often find myself in is the ceramics room. I specifically love throwing on the wheel and making abstract pots. I am incredibly excited to become an “estudante de intercâmbio” (exchange student) for an experience of a lifetime in one of the most beautiful and cultural countries in the world as well as become a part of the awesome community that Rotary International has created. I look forward to keeping you updated, but until then… Beijos, tchau!

Journals: Emily-Brazil Blog 2018-19

  • Emily, Outbound to Brazil

Wow it’s been a few weeks since my last post and time is flying by faster than ever. THe clock is ticking and I feel like I have to count my moments here and make sure they aren’t being lost. I’m starting to make sure that I’m reaching harder for those moments. The moments that will make my exchange and that I will remember forever. I’ve realized that my exchange is going to change the way that I live from here on out. One of these changes in attitude is definitely that you cannot just wait for things to happen for those “holy cow my life is awesome” moments to be handed to you. My generation, including me, has become very afraid to ask for what we need or want. That is what I’m starting to change as my last few months of exchange roll out. I’m starting to reach out harder for my goals and I’ve found that a lot of times they are a lot closer than you think. It’s just the daunt of that first leap that’s stopping you.

More food for thought: Every single exchange student leads a life that is so unique and special. We are united in many ways and do similar things on exchange when in reality each and every one of us is experiencing something completely different. Our exchanges are specialized for us allowing each student to make it what they will. No one else knows exactly how it is or what is was. Not our parents, not our friends back at home, neither our fellow exchange students. It’s a year in our adolescent and vulnerable lives that is completely and entirely our own. I think exchange allows us to take more chances, make more choices and experiment with who we want to be. All this without feeling analized under a telescope by society as many of us felt growing up. And at the end of the year we can say that it was us who stepped over every obstacle. That feeling of pride and achievement is one that few can experience.

Now after pouring out all my random thoughts, I can give those curious the new update on my life. The most important of which is to enjoy the time I have left in my city with those people that I love. I slept over at my best friend’s house this past weekend and we talked, baked brownies and laughed the entire night. It’s these people and these relationships that I have made here that I will miss so much.

The most significant thing that has happened recently is Carnaval. Originally my family was not planning on doing much and on top of that my city does not celebrate Carnaval. Then at the last minute, they told me that we were going to Belo Horizonte to visit family and friends and do some celebrations. There is nothing in the world quite like Carnaval in Brazil. It’s a chance for everyone in the entire country to come together, friends and family, and just be happy and spend time in each others company. I was also able to reunite with some exchange students that I met on the Rotary Northeast trip for the first time. Overall, it was an amazing experience that I will never forget.

I started a new portuguese for foreigners class recently with the University here. The class is small and made up with graduate students from all over South America. Therefore I have been able to also practice some of my spanish as well. I has been really nice doing these classes because everything that I’ve learned so far has been self taught and learned by reading books and conversing with people. The class will help me correct a lot of grammatical mistakes and errors I didn’t know I made.

I also started playing volleyball for my high school and the federal college team here in Vicosa. It has been really fun getting to play volleyball again and meet all my fellow teammates. I hope to play with them as much as possible before I leave.

This weekend is my host mom’s birthday, and we have become very, very close in the past few months I’ve been living here. I’m going to be cooking and baking American food for the entire party that with come to celebrate her birthday. I’m a little bit nervous because I’ve never cooked for a group this big, but it will sure be fun.

In a few weeks I will be going on another trip to the Amazon rainforest with the Belobrasil company and other exchange students. I’m super excited go see all the tropical plants and animals, especially the pink freshwater dolphins. I’m also excited to spend some more time with my exchange student friends.

I feels great to write a few thoughts down on paper! Until next time!

Fri, March 29, 2019

  • Emily, Outbound to Brazil

Wow I cannot believe how the time has flown by. I’m arriving towards the middle of my exchange and finding that it’s has become ever so slightly harder to talk in English. I take this as a positive boost because it means that I have immersed myself into the Portuguese language enough that my mind is confusing the two languages. For example the other day I was having a conversation with my mom about how my 90 degree F, huge Brazilian family Christmas get together was going. Apparently, I was stumbling on my words and every now and then unconsciously blurting out Portuguese words instead of English.

Every morning I wake up and am at a loss for words at how my mind has transformed on exchange. Believe it or not it is possible to think and talk in another language. Although I´m still conjugating words incorrectly and, at times, frustratingly saying things that make absolutely no sense, every day it gets easier and more natural speaking in the language I have come to love.

Now on to how my holidays have been going. I’m not going to lie, they have gotten off to a pretty sweet start. On the 23rd of December, I left for the capital of my state Belo Horizonte with my host family to spend Christmas at my host grandfather’s house. The city is huge and a big change from my cute and quaint town, set the famous rolling hill countryside of my state. The following days were filled with with a series of get togethers with various members of the family (of course always involving some sort of yummy food or churrasco). Finally, the festive celebration ended with a final dinner involving 25+ members of the family where we ate made from scratch Capelliti. Capelliti is an Italian pasta similarly compared to tortellini with a cheese stuffing paired deliciously with a chicken broth soup. Members of the family get together about a week before Christmas to make the dough, stuffing and form the capelliti to be ready for the 25th of December. Then Christmas day is dedicated to perfecting the broth all to be eating that night.

One of my favorite things about exchange is about indulging in different traditions not only unique to Brazil, but also within the families that I stay with. Becoming a part of your host family involves spending the quality time making soup and seeing how the family enjoys the holidays.

After our time in Belo Horizonte, my family and I drove to their beach chalet in Paraty, a historical port city in the state of Rio. There we spent our time exploring islands and going to secret beaches with my host father´s boat. It was a week and a half long dream where I got to bond with my host sister and drink freshly picked passion fruit juice. One of my favorite memories was the day we had a churrasco, a huge outdoor barbeque get together with extended family and family friends. We ate picanha and pao de alho (certain type of meat and garlic bread) until our stomachs were more than full. At the end of the night, our family friend picked up the guitar and we all sang classic Brazilian songs until half the group lost their voices. This night will be a night to remember and on top of that, I got the chance to learn many new songs that every Brazilian must know.

Now as I sit here typing this journal entry, I am preparing and packing for my Rotary trip with the exchange students. Tomorrow I will be catching a flight to Fortaleza, a city in the northeast of Brazil, and from there we will start the descent on the coast of Brazil by bus visiting beaches and cities along the way until we reach Rio de Janeiro. I am incredibly excited for this trip and cannot wait to get to know new exchange students as well as new cities in Brazil.

Fri, January 11, 2019

  • Emily, Outbound to Brazil

Wow, yet another month has gone by in my journey through exchange. It seems as if it was just last week that I was writing my first journal entry. Life here in Viçosa has sped up a bit as I have accustomed even more into a daily and weekly routine. That means days are passing by even faster. Sometimes I have to stop and remember to enjoy every second and cherish every minute.

What has happened in the past month? Many things. The 2018 Brazilian elections occurred last week and a runoff will be happening within the next few weeks to determine once and for all the president. All around me I hear debates and political banter about the current climate in Brazil and may I say, Wow! What a time to be exchanging in Brazil. I have been able to learn new political terms, learn about foreign politics and even have deep discussions about how the country should be governed.

Another big thing that has happened recently was the state-wide Interact convention that I was lucky enough to attend along with a little over a dozen other exchange students from around the state. The convention was called EMIC and was in the city of Mario Campo, a few hours from my city Viçosa, just outside of Belo Horizonte (the state capitol). This four day convention was packed with dance parties, lectures, group activities and games. Each morning after breakfast we received a lecture from Rotarians and Rotaract members about the difference Interact club can make in a community and the world and how to better organize the club itself to be more productive. Each night we were able to dress up in themed costumes and just enjoy each other’s company.

The weekend was incredibly memorable for me as I was immediately able to click and become closer to many of the exchange students around the states. I was able to make a friend out of each and every one of them. On the other hand I was able to become even closer to many of the Brazilians. It just solidified my belief that Brazilians are the most receptive and excited people I’ve met. Each and every Brazilian I met was eager to hear my story, just as I was to hear theirs, and help with any Português doubts that I had. In just this one weekend I know that I made friendships that I can count on for the rest of my exchange and maybe even longer.

I think one of the most memorable events that happened was the color party. This entails that everyone dress in all white. Then neon colored powder packets are passed out to the crowd. Everyone counts down to one and throws up the powder into the air screaming and laughing. By the end everyone is covered in every color combination imaginable. For the rest of the night we danced and talked in the now far from white clothing.

It’s these types of memories that make exchange “vale a pena” (basically meaning “worth it”). It’s these types of memories that I cannot wait to write about in my diary, and it’s these kinds of memories that I will remember for the rest of my life.

I can’t wait to see what happens next on exchange and tell you guys. By the chance that any student thinking about joining exchange is reading this, I write this directly to you. Exchange changes your life. A year ago this time, I had no idea that I would be living halfway across the world. Exchange was only a dream; I never truly thought it was attainable. I made excuses that I don’t have time to stop my life in the US. Whatever the problem or doubt you have that may be impeding you from applying, just apply and see what happens. There are so many Rotarians, Rotex and people around you that you may not even know willing to help you get there. Because exchange doesn’t stop your life, it starts it.

Sun, October 21, 2018

  • Emily, Outbound to Brazil

It’s hard to imagine that only a few weeks ago I was sitting at home daydreaming about Brazil. Before I arrived, I had no idea what to expect. I had formed many ideas in my head about what exchange would be like, but in reality, I was clueless that I would be living what is now my day to day life.

My flight touched down in Belo Horizonte, the capital of my state, Minas Gerais. From there, my host family picked me up. Immediately I felt a part of the family as if I had known them for years. We then went to eat dinner where I had my first tastes of the Brazilian cuisine. I ate rice and beans with with farofa, mandioca fries, steak, and chicken hearts on a stick. Now every exchange student talks about their experiences trying “exotic” foods, so for me, this was definitely one of them. I’d say out of all the things that I’ve tried, I’ve especially liked the fresh acai and salgados (various Brazilian pastries).

My second day in Belo Horizonte my host family and I visited some extended family where we all sat on the rooftop balcony and talked the entire night. This was an absolutely amazing experience and introduced me to the Brazilians’ love of simply being in each others company for hours on end. As we sat of the rooftop and watched the belo horizonte (Portuguese for beautiful sunset) in Belo Horizonte, I had my first aha moment. My exchange had started. I was to be living, eating, and speaking Portuguese like a Brazilian for the entire next year.

After four days of exploring Belo Horizonte, my family and I drove four hours to Viçosa, my new home. My bedroom window opens up to a huge Ipe tree (the national tree of Brazil) that is currently in bloom with yellow flowers. I share a Jack and Jill bathroom and closet with my host sister, which is great because makes it really easy to hang out.

My typical week has come to vary a lot, but it is loosely structured with a routine, something I believe to be really important in having a successful exchange. Three days a week my host mom drops me off at ensino médio (high school) by 7 AM. I’m currently in the second year of high school and have six classes a day with a twenty minute break in between. Another thing I like about my high school is that we stay in the same classroom with the same classmates while the teachers move between subjects. This made it a bit easier for me to get to know my classmates and make friends. One thing I love about my experience here so far is that everyone is very animated and curious to know each other. My classmates are always very accepting and willing to help if I don’t understand something.

The other two days a week I go to Univiçosa, a university less than a 15 minute walk from my house, with my host sister. She goes to Univiçosa full time for psychology. Therefore I have been privileged to audit classes with her, get to know her friends and classmates, as well as understand a piece of university life here in Brazil.

I always love telling the story about my first day at Univiçosa. When I arrived to class, the professor immediately started to lecture about the upcoming semester and what the class will be like. I was understanding bits and pieces of the lecture, but definitely was missing something. The professor kept saying this one word “comportamento,” probably about 50 times. I had no idea what it meant and for the rest of the class it became sort of a mystery game to figure it out. I finally discovered “comportamento” meant “behavior.” Ironically enough, I later found out the title of the class was Behavioral Analysis and that the entirely of the class was about “comportamento.”

I’d say this story encompasses a lot of experiences I have had since the beginning of my exchange. A lot of things are lost in translation and many times I have no idea what is going on, but slowly day by day I’m learning more and more about Brazil and the Portuguese language. I’ve found that I can hold longer and more profound conversations. I’ve found that it’s getting easier to connect with people and forge deeper relationships with those around me. It all depends on me being open to putting myself out there, unafraid to make mistakes.

I’ve also learned to appreciate my host family and each and every friend I’ve made, because those are the people who are supporting me. Something as simple as going to the open market with my host mom to buy groceries is valuable. I’ve also learned to be more flexible and malleable, because not everything is going to go as planned. I have had to accept that and realize it’s inevitable, but on the other hand, things I never even fathomed before exchange have also happened. That’s what I think is absolutely incredible. Yes, I won’t lie. There are days that are harder than others, where I may feel alone, miss things, or make mistakes with my host family. But these are the things that make exchange matter, that make exchange significant. It’s a chance to seek discomfort. It’s the opportunity rotary gives you to change your life forever.

This past weekend D-4580 had its first orientation. The ten exchange students in my district met in a city called Juiz de Fora. From there we drove to our coordinator’s farm in the countryside. It was an absolutely incredible weekend. It was my first time meeting the other exchange students in my district and we all immediately hit it off. At the farm we hiked, rode horses, had a churrasco, picked farm fresh eggs and mandioca, and much more. I will never forget the trip and I got to meet many Rotarian in the district who are supporting me. Our last night, our coordinator, Juliana, and her husband told us the history of the farm, showing us tools and objects they found over half a century old. One object that was especially interesting was an unopened glass bottle of snake venom antidote that had expired 50 years ago.

Over all I’d say that my experience here has been beyond anything I could have imagined. I’m not going to lie and say that everything has been easy, because it’s not. Coming here, it has been up to me to adjust, learn the language and make stronger relationships. It has been one of the hardest challenges I’ve faced in my life. But it’s these challenges and slowly overcoming them that is the most rewarding achievement.

Wed, September 12, 2018

Erilyn - Sweden

Hometown: Tallahassee, Florida
School: Leon High School
Sponsor District : District 6940
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Tallahassee, Florida
Host District: 2370
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Stockholm-Söder

My Bio

Hej!! This is how you say hello in Sweden, my home for the next few months. My names Erilyn Read, and I’ll be spending my junior year in Sweden!! I’m from Tallahassee, Florida and currently a student at Leon High School. I live with my mom, dad, and younger brother. Some of my hobbies are spending time with my best friends, playing my ukulele, and enjoying life. I’m going to miss my friends and family, being so close to the best college football team in the US (Go Noles!!), and having the best theme parks and beaches at the tip of my fingers. However, I’m extremely excited to start this new chapter of my life. As an exchange student, I seek to improve my knowledge on other cultures, and improve other people’s knowledge on mine. It is so important for people to be kind and loving in this world, and putting yourself in new places can help you understand them, and reach that goal of unity. I’m also not mad about living somewhere that actually appreciates hockey, unlike Florida. I’m also not a huge fan of the cold. Well, I’m not a fan of what Florida calls “cold weather.” I’ve never even seen snow! But I’m so willing to adjust to my new home and its surroundings. Cheers to new beginnings (: Vi ses senare!

Journals: Erilyn-Sweden Blog 2018-19

  • Erilyn, Outbound to Sweden

I have really sucked at these journal things and I’m sorry!!!! I have so many things to catch up on so be prepared.

I guess the absolute most exciting thing about these last 6 months is my trip to Kiruna in March! Me and a bunch of other inbounds traveled up 200km (125mi) north of the Arctic Circle for about a week. There were two weeks we could go on this trip and I chose the second week as it was the one with most of my friends and some of the other exchangers I haven’t met yet. During this trip, a high school tourism class from Kiruna were our tour guides and the ones in charge of us for this week. On Day 1 (Monday), we either flew up or took the train to Kiruna (I personally chose the 1 ½ hour flight over the 15 hour train ride). Once everyone arrived, we went to our hotel to unpack and get ready for the evening planned for us. We walked to the ski mountain to eat dinner and do some downhill sledding! During dinner we introduced ourselves and got a preview of the week that was ahead of us. Then it was time for the sledding. I had never been sledding before and after this experience, I can say I personally haven’t missed out on anything and am definitely 100% a Florida girl. I had to walk my sled up the second half of the slope (in knee deep snow) and by the time I reached the top, I was ready to be done with it. The whole time I was sledding down, every other minute I would fall over and have to get back on again so overall not the best experience. Later that night, we walked back to the hotel and were really hopeful to see any Northern Lights, but we weren’t so lucky. So instead we went back and watched Adam Sandler movies on Netflix on the TV in our communal living room.

The next day we went to Jukkasjärvi to visit the ICEHOTEL and a Sami village/open air museum (Sami are the indigenous people to Sweden, Norway, and Finland). First we visited the Sami museum and we got to feed and play with reindeer! We learned a lot about the way of Sami living which was really interesting to here. They live in the Lappland of Sweden, Norway, and Finland and they move with the reindeer. For lunch we ate a traditional Sami meal with reindeer and it was actually really delicious but I have eaten reindeer meat earlier in the year so I knew it was good. The people who live up north in Kiruna (even regular Swedes) say they regularly will eat reindeer meat. Then we went to the ICEHOTEL. The ICEHOTEL was absolutely incredible! Every room had a different theme with different artwork entirely made up of ice and snow. There is an ICEHOTEL that’s around all year round which is inside of an actual building and then there is the one that is made every winter and melts every summer that is made 100% of ice. My favorite room was probably the one that had a Volkswagen van in it. In the ICEHOTEL is also a chapel wher people can get married, and a bar. The other exchange students and I got mocktails (because we follow the 4 D’s!!!!). You could choose an orange pineapple flavor or a blue raspberry flavor in an ice champagne glass for 100kr (approx. $10) but it was worth it for the experience. That night, around 10pm, we got to see the Northern Lights! It was one of the best experiences of my life to be honest. It was a big check off of my bucket list not only for my time in Sweden, but in general. They were around off and on for about an hour and a half and it was a night I’ll never forget. I even started crying at how amazing they were. I still can’t believe I really got to see them.

The next day, we went on a dogsled to a camp area owned by ICEHOTEL and did various different activities. We went ice fishing, snowmobiling, cross country skiing, and just hung around and talked. For lunch, once again, we had reindeer. The rest of the day was just us spending time together before we left the next day.

I’ve gotten the opportunity to do lots of other things in the last few months and I’ll share some of them now, and then in a journal that I will upload shortly after this one!

In February, I went on a ski trip with my school! In Sweden, they have days in the school year called ”Sports Day” where they have different activities to choose from and be outside being active. My school gave us the option to go indoor rock climbing, ice skating, going on a scenic walk, and going to Romme Ski Resort to go skiing or snowboarding. I went snowboarding and it was REALLY hard. I had never done it before and maybe underestimated how hard it might’ve been when I signed up. I probably should’ve choosen skiing first since I’ve never done either but it was still a good time. Not many of my friends went on the trip so I made some new friends from my school who helped me learn how to snowboard. I did the bunny slopes for a while to get the hang of it, and then once I felt somewhat uncomfortable I decided to try one of the green slopes. I fell a lot, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be and by the 2nd and 3rd time I did it, I was having a pretty good time! I’m glad I went since I had never done anything like it before and proud of myself for taking the risk and going out of my comfort zone.

For Easter, we get a week off from school so during that break I hung out with my classmates and other exchange students almost every day! The weather was finally getting over 50° and it was really sunny. During that time was when I think I hit the peak of my exchange. The language started coming so easy to me, I had solid friends, and my exchange felt complete and like I was a Swede at heart. It felt like all my time working and trying so hard finally paid off and I felt like the most me I could be. Ever since then, I’ve been in a really good mood and making great memories.

Just 3 weeks ago during the first week of June, my mom came to Stockholm to visit me for the week! She arrived the night of my birthday and it was the best present I could’ve gotten. While she was here I showed her all around the city to some of my favorite local spots but also to my favorite tourist spots. We went on a boat tour around the different islands of Stockholm, to the ABBA Museum (my favorite!), Skansen to see reindeer, my school to meet my classmates and teachers, and the infamous Old Town. It was so good to show her into my life for the last 10 months and to just talk with her and hug her again. It also gave me inside to some of the reverse culture clashes I may face when I come back home.

And from then on, it has kind of set in that soon I’ll be home again. It’s really weird to think about. Life here has gotten so normal and I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. Speaking and hearing and seeing Swedish everywhere has almost become as normal as it is in English. Riding the subway to the city center, taking trains to visit my friends outside of Sweden, making spontaneous plans with the exchange students… It’s all so strange it’s coming to an end. In a week I’ll be back home and with my family in my old room 5000 miles away from my other home and my other family and the room I’ve lived in for 8 months. I’ve learned so much about life and while I have learned about myself, I feel like this year gave me so many opportunities to be the me that I’ve always been but never had the chance to back home in Tallahassee. I’m still the same me, but I feel like maybe an extra version of me. This year has truly been a dream and I’m forever grateful for the experience. Every person who has contributed including Rotary, my parents, and all the amazing people I’ve met like my host families, classmates, and other RYE friends: I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. You’ve made this the best year of my entire life. I wouldn’t redo anything or wish this year went any differently. All of you have such a large place in my heart. Stockholm, Sweden is always my second home. I’ll be back sooner than you know it and it’ll be like I never left!

Thank you Rotary for everything you have contributed, taught me, and given me this past year. This is not the end of my time working with Rotary! I’m so excited to become a Rotex and potentially a Rotarian in the future.

I’ll try to upload one last journey during this last week or maybe even once I’ve arrived home. But just in case, I wanted to include all of my thank yous and goodbyes into this one.

Hejdå Sverige och vi ska träffas igen snart!

Sverige i mitt hjärta, forever ❤️

Mon, June 24, 2019

  • Erilyn, Outbound to Sweden

Hej allihopa!! I am sooo sorry for leaving y’all hanging for like 5 months… However, in those 5 months, I have been having the best time here in Sweden! Since there is a lot to catch up on, I’ll be splitting this journal into 2 or 3 different topics sections and will probably end up posting another one soon with the same idea. But knowing me, this will probably just end up with me going all over the place.


In these past 5 months, I’ve done my fair share of traveling in and outside of Sweden.

In September, I went to Sweden’s largest amusement park, Liseberg, in Gothenburg with my host family! We had a blast and the park had a subtle viking theme to it. This was also my first time visiting Gothenburg, Sweden’s 2nd largest city.

In October, a few of my exchange friends in Stockholm traveled to Strängnäs and Eskilstuna to visit our friends at a fair, and then to celebrate our Australian friend Jill’s birthday. Strängnäs is a cute little town of about 14,000 people so it was such a fun time to visit as it is so different from Stockholm. At the end of October, we had one week off for fall break. My host family and I traveled to Copenhagen for a few days. It was such a fun trip!! We saw and did so many great things. We saw went to Nyhavn, Den Blå Planet, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, The Little Mermaid statue, Experimentarium, and Tivoli’s. Danish is very similar to Swedish in written form, but when it is spoken it sounds completely different. Even my host siblings had a hard time to understand. It was such a fun trip and I’m so happy I got to experience it!

In November, me and 30 other exchange students in Sweden traveled to Eskilstuna to have Thanksgiving together! We had traditional American/Canadian Thanksgiving foods, and those from somewhere other than the US and Canada made a dish from their home countries. We all spent the night together and had such a great time. Exchange friends are truly the best friends!

To kick off the beginning of December, my host mom, host sister, and I spent the weekend at a cabin in Ornö in the Stockholm Archipelago. While was there, I did my first sauna. I didn’t do it the Swedish way (completely naked), but I did it! Then I ran out and attempted to jump into the cold water, but I could only manage to dip my toe in. Maybe I’ll get over my Floridianness and jump into the ice cold water.

And my latest trip was to Skövde to spend Christmas with my host mom’s family. The town is in the countryside, which I have seen very little of due to me living in central Stockholm. I had a great traditional Swedish Christmas eating Swedish meatballs, Christmas ham, potatoes, and so many sweets. In Sweden, Christmas is celebrated on Christmas Eve (the 24th), rather than Christmas Day (the 25th). One Christmas tradition that Swedes have that I love is writing rhymes on their Christmas presents to give hints to the ones receiving them. Swedes also gather together around the TV at 3pm on Christmas to watch ”Kalle Anka och vänner” or Donald Duck and friends. It’s a program that’s been running every Christmas for at least 40+ years filled with short Disney cartoon clips. Being the Disney fanatic Floridian I am, I loved it! I didn’t really get homesick on Christmas because I have such a great host family. I focused on being in the moment and enjoying the time I had with them, as I never know when I will get to experience this again. I didn’t spend Christmas with my biological family, but I still spent Christmas with ones I love like family.


After the holidays, on Jan. 4th, I switched host families. I was pretty sad to leave my first family as I had grown to love them like actual family, but I was excited to get to know my new one. So far, the transition has been really good. I had met them before, so I knew they were very kind and fun people. From the first day, they welcomed me into the home so fast and I feel so comfortable here in just almost 3 weeks! Their daughter is currently on exchange in South Carolina, and they’ve visited the US and Florida a few times so it gives us things to talk about and relate to. We also share similar interests which is very nice as well!

I have also been experiencing winter!! And fall!! Seasons are so cool and I wish Florida had them, although I do miss the warmth during these cold months. I’ve had my fair share of playing in the snow, ice skating, and of course ice hockey. I saw snow for the first time last year when I traveled to Toronto, but it is nothing compared to what I’ve seen here! I love the snow and it is so pretty to see it fall from the sky. However, I hate how icy the roads, sidewalks, and pretty much any walking surface gets after it snows. I’m definitely not a fan of almost slipping and falling.

My Swedish is coming along pretty well I’d say. I understand most of what people are saying, and I can read Swedish better than when I listen. My speaking is not as good as my understanding, but I am working on it! When I’m ordering food, at the store, or out in public I try to use as much Swedish as I can. I go to an English speaking school, and even though I take Swedish classes there, it has put me back in my Swedish. Swedes are also very good at speaking English (90% of Swedes can!) which sometimes makes not speaking Swedish easy. However, I practice and I am determined to get as best at it as I can while I am here. Swedish words can be very literal when translated into English. For example, the word hospital in Swedish is ”sjukhus” which literally means ”sick house.” Another example is the word dentist which is ”tandläkare” in Swedish and it translates to ”tooth doctor” in English. There are also a few Swedish words that are very similar in English. I try to find the similarities between the two, and I’ve been trying different methods to learn Swedish and so far I’d say it is working well. It is really cool to be able to speak any language, but I think it is even cooler to learn a less common language such as Swedish. You also never know all the amazing opportunities learning another language can bring you, so I am very determined to continue getting better.

I don’t want to bore you guys too much with one LONG journal post, so I’ll wrap it up. I hope you enjoyed this one, and look out for more very soon!! I am going to be getting very better at posting more journal submissions to help my fellow future Swedish outbounds, my parents, and to also stay on Ms. Karen’s good side. 😉

Hejdå!!! Hoppas att du har det så bra och vi ses snart!!

Wed, January 23, 2019

  • Erilyn, Outbound to Sweden

Hej hej!!

To start this journal off, I just want to say THANK YOU to all the Rotarians with RYE Florida, and my sponsor club for making this dream of exchange a reality!!!! You all are amazing!

I can’t believe it has been almost ONE MONTH since I have arrived in Stockholm, Sweden. In less than a month, I have grown to love this country and everything about it. Since it has been 4 weeks since my arrival, I thought I’d celebrate with a journal submission.

Getting to Stockholm was a long and frustrating process, but I won’t get into too much detail. Basically, my flights leaving Tallahassee towards Atlanta we’re delayed due to a severe thunderstorm and I kept switching between 2 flights as one seemed like it would leave before the other. I was supposed to leave at 12:50pm on Tuesday July 31st and didn’t end up leaving Tallahassee until about 7:30pm that evening. I said goodbye to my family twice and boarded 2 different flights (that I got off of due to an extreme delay) before I actually said goodbye and was on my way. This was frustrating as I was filled with so much emotion. I was feeling anxious, happy, excited, and sad all at the same time. The Delta staff were very kind and let my family wait with me at the gate while we were figuring everything out.

The next day, August 1st, I arrived in Stockholm and was greeted by my amazing host family. I was so happy and relieved to finally be in their company after the day I had just dealt with.

My first 1 1/2 weeks in Stockholm were filled with all kinds of adventures. We took a guided tour of Stadshuset, Stockholm City Hall, (where the Nobel Prize Banquet is held every year in December), the Vasamuseet (a 16th century ship that sank during it’s maiden voyage in Stockholm Harbor and was almost fully recovered in the 60s after spending 300+ years underwater), an Arsenal preseason futbol game (my first futbol game) with my host brother, a trip to the Riddarholmskyrkan in Gamla Stan, and probably one of my favorite museums, The ABBA Museum!!

My family here has been amazing and have let me see and experience so much of Stockholm. Living in the center of such an alive city definitely has its perks. I have grown a liking towards public transportation (specifically the subways!), fika, the weather, the nature, and if we’re being honest, EVERYTHING! I can’t fully express how much love I feel towards my new home, as the emotion is just too great.

After about two weeks into my exchange, it was time to go to Sundsvall to spend a week at the language camp Rotary has set up for us. This was an amazing week filled with new friendships, new food, new experiences, and learning new Swedish words and phrases. Students from districts 2370, 2350, 2340, 2330, and 2320 came together to meet each other for the first time. I made so many friends and relationships that will definitely last forever. Swimming in the lake while it was 14 degrees Celsius, walking to ICA, and taking trips into downtown Sundsvall are all memories I will hold onto.

I came home from Sundsvall on a Sunday, and the next Monday would be my first day of school! I wasn’t that nervous as I had met some of my classmates a few weeks before. I was just very excited to see them again. My first day was amazing, and everyone in my class is so nice and wonderful! Everyone is kind to each other and especially to me which I was grateful for.

I attend Internationella Engelska Gymnasiet, which translates to International English High school, as all the classes are taught in English by many native English speaking teachers. The school also has a lot of influence from high schools in English speaking countries such as the US, Canada, and the UK. For example, my school has many clubs and sports teams which allows the students to become very involved. The school has also adopted the house system from Britain (and Harry Potter!). Basically, there are 4 houses that students are places in based on what Swedish national program they are in. They are also all named after Nobel Prize winners. There is the Pavlov house (my house!!) which is where the students in Natural Science and Social Science (my program), Russell house, Curie house, and King house. With these houses we create events together, and have house competitions in all kinds of things (sports, dance, debate, etc). There is so much to do and be involved in at my school and I love it!

In this past month, I’ve truly understood what it means to be an exchange student and a citizen of the world. It is one thing to hear from your Rotarians and Rotex back home, but it is a completely other thing to experience it first hand in your new host country. While the big picture has been sunny and amazing, there have been times where I didn’t feel my best. Some days I come home with a pounding headache from the reality of everything. Hearing an unfamiliar language all day, traveling to different places, meeting so many new people… It is all amazing but there are times when it can get to you and that is just the reality of being an exchange student.

However, exchange is truly what you make it and even though I’ve been here for a relatively short amount of time, I can say that statement is 100% reality. What you get and experience from your exchange, will be a representation of what you have put into it to experience those things. I have always been and considered myself a positive, outgoing person so I haven’t had that hard of a time bonding with my new friends and family and really trying to be connected to Sweden. I have only talked to my family back home maybe a handful of times (and not for long either). I’m so happy I did because it has allowed me to keep my mind in Sweden with my body. Keeping your mind where your feet are is a huge thing to be reminded of on exchange.

Language is a HUGE thing that I have focused on since I have been here. Sweden is a country where most people speak relatively fluent English, so being able to learn the language is rather difficult on top of going to a Swedish school where all my lessons of taught in English. I am enrolled in Swedish 2 (the class my Swedish classmates are in), and Swedish for Beginners at my school. I will also be taking an intensive Swedish course with my host club. And on top of that, my family is teaching me new words, phrases, and helping me practice my Swedish at home. And if that wasn’t enough, I’ve been taking 10 minutes out of my day in the evenings (or extra time whenever I am free) to practice my Swedish using Duolingo. With all of this practice, I am so amazed by the Swedish I have picked up on in such a short amount of time. I can sometimes understand my family, my friends, and even some peoples conversations on the subway! Starting with the basics has helped me be able to understand the context or purpose of what someone is saying even if I cannot fully understand it. I’m not going to lie, speaking Swedish to Swedish speakers when they can tell I’m American by the second I say one word is nerve-wracking. They will want to speak English with you since they are so good at it. But you just have to get over that fear and stay persistent to speak the language. I can read a good amount of Swedish, but I am trying very hard to speak Swedish to get used to the unique language.

Long story short, I love it here in Sweden. This first month has been the best time of my life and I can’t wait to see where the rest of my exchange leads me.

(PS: to all the high schoolers back home reading this, APPLY FOR ROTARY YOUTH EXCHANGE!! It will be the best experience of your life, I can promise you that!)

Hej då!!!!!

Wed, August 29, 2018

Hannah - Slovakia

Hometown: Saint Augustine, Florida
School: Ponte Vedra High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of St. Augustine Sunrise, Florida
Host District: 2240
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Spišska Nova Ves

My Bio

Ahoj! Hello! My name is Hannah Gundelfinger. I live in Saint Augustine and am a senior at Ponte Vedra High School. I am so lucky to say that next year I will be living abroad in Slovakia! To give a brief summary of my life: I have lived in three states (Texas, Colorado, and Florida), two countries (U.S and Costa Rica), and have learned four languages (English, Spanish, Chinese, and German) — although I am definitely not an expert in most of them. Because of all of this, I know change is a good thing and I cherish the different possibilities it can create. In my free time, I love to hike, go to the beach, read, explore, and teach. I live with my parents, one younger sister, and the best dog ever. While I will miss them next year, I am super exited to meet all my host families, make new friends, and create lots of memories over in Slovakia. On top of that, I am so ready to be back in the mountains, hiking, skiing, and actually having seasons! I am so thankful to Rotary for giving me this opportunity and am happy to be sharing such a life-changing experience with a wonderful community. Life is about to take me on an incredible journey and I’m ready.

Journals: Hannah-Slovakia Blog 2018-19

  • Hannah, Outbound to Slovakia

It blows my mind that I’ve been on exchange for five months already. I remember reading posts before my own exchange about how fast the time passes, but couldn’t believe it until now. Now I am begging for it to slow down. I adore my life here. Every week passes faster than the last, as with more time, I continue to gain more experience, knowledge, and freedom, leading me to try so many new things. During the months between August and December, I mainly stayed within my town, focusing on cultivating local friendships. As I am the only exchange student in my school, I quickly realized I would not just blend in. On the first day of school, I remember walking in, with no idea what to expect. What I ended up being met with were smiling faces and whispers of “hi” as I passed by. Everyone knew who I was before I had even walked to my first class.

The first day of school only lasted about an hour and a half. I met my class and class teacher, who I would spend the majority of the year with, and then had an assembly with the entire school where the director (similar to principal in the US) welcomed everyone and spoke about what to expect of the school year to come. Because her speech was in Slovak, I didn’t really understand what was going on until suddenly I heard my name and was being pushed to the front of the crowd by my class teacher. I had no clue what was going on, but I just went with it, smiling and waving.

Between then and now, I have developed close friendships with many of my classmates as well as with many of my other school mates. During the first week of school, I was placed in only English speaking lessons, where I was introduced to many students. This gave me a great opportunity to meet lots of different students and made it easier to talk with them outside of class. After the first week of school ended, I expressed my desire to learn Slovak and have less lessons in English and more in the native language. I have six lessons every day, but they change each day. Throughout the week, I have Slovak Language, Math, German language, English language, Chemistry, Biology, History, Physics, Sociology, and Geography —all taught in Slovak. I don’t receive grades in school, therefore I don’t have to do homework or take tests. Really I only attend school to socialize and for the language exposure.

Two days a week, I have a conversational English class where I help students with their speaking skills at my school. These classes are also a great opportunity for me to share information that goes beyond just stereotypes about America. It also gives them an opportunity to teach me about their country. So far I have learned two traditional dances, how to make Bryndzové halušky (a traditional meal), and have played games to help my understanding of their language.

On Fridays, instead of attending my school, I go to my host sister’s primary school in our village. I usually stay for four to five lessons. I help with English classes for kids ages six to ten, as well as attend a Slovak Language class. I attend this class solely to help with my progression in learning the local language. Because it’s a class meant for children, the grammar and pronunciation is broken down to a much easier level for me to understand. It really is a hilarious sight. It looks like something from the movies where the big kid was never able to pass the fourth grade and just kept getting held back.

I really enjoy teaching, so after school on Thursdays I take a bus to the town next door to help with English at a school that specializes in teaching real life skills to those with mental and physical disabilities. I arrive during their free time so I tend to do crafts, play music, or just talk with them for about an hour until study hall where I help them with their schoolwork related to English. Their English and my Slovak are very rudimentary therefore there is a strong language barrier that makes proper communication difficult; but another thing I have learned while living here is that understanding is always possible. These students are so understanding and patient, and I always look forward to spending my Thursdays with them.

I have also become involved with a new volunteer program that recently started at various hospitals in Slovakia. The program is called Krajši Den (Better Day) and the purpose is to brighten the days of patients in the hospitals by having volunteers come in to play games and speak with them. We are able to be with either long-term patients or the children — and only those who are approved to be with to prevent any spread of illness. I started with this program back in October and since have gone at least once each week. In the beginning, I alternated between the groups of patients but now I tend to stay more with the children because they speak closer to my level of Slovak. While the language barrier continues to be a struggle, I have found ways around it and really enjoy my time here. I had one of the best conversations of my life with one patients — completely in Slovak — who reminded me just how important it is to continue to live, no matter what struggles we face, rather than just survive. I didn’t understand everything she said, but enough that I left the conversation feeling fulfilled and hopefully she felt the same.

Between these activities, I usually go to coffee with friends everyday after school. One of my goals in the beginning was to try to meet as many people as possible, and in order to achieve this, I began to ask a new friend to coffee each week. This has really led me to make lots of fun, new friendships. We would alternate between Slovak and English, making sure that understanding was met.

At the beginning of my exchange, I had this idea in my mind that I would be fluent by January. Now I have realized just how unrealistic this expectation was; for a while I was very disappointed in my level of language. I have just learned to keep pushing myself to learn and that hopefully by the end of my exchange, I will achieve fluency. Slovak is a really hard language, but once I learn it, it will make it easier to learn other Slavic language such as Czech, Polish, Russian, Croatian, etc.

Now I feel like I’ve just given you an overload of information about my exchange so here are just some things I’ve done since my last post summarized up into some bullet points:

Hiked my first summit

Ran in the second largest marathon in Europe

Met 70 students from over 12 different countries

Traveled throughout Slovakia by train

Eaten excessive amounts of my new favorite foods: Pirohy and Halušky

Gone to christmas markets in Vienna, Bratislava, and Košice

Explored Vienna

Skied in Slovakia with two of my closest exchange friends

Made friendships which will a lifetime

Went to Stuzkova

Visited lots of castles

Performed in Imatrikuly at my school

Made a fool of myself while ice-skating multiple times

Figured out how to navigate the train system myself!

Indoor rock climbed a lot

Experienced the holiday season in Slovakia

I really am loving it here and am so excited for so many more fun adventures to come this year. I am so thankful for Rotary making all this possible.

Thu, January 24, 2019

  • Hannah, Outbound to Slovakia

August 25, 2018:

Ahoj! Volam sa Hannah and welcome to my blog!

I am not going to lie to you. Exchange is hard — but it is ALL worth it. If you are going to read anything in my blog it is that no matter how difficult the application process, preparation, and adjustments, exchange is the best thing you can do for yourself. Now for what you really came here for:

I arrived in Slovakia on August 21st at 15:50. For the two weeks prior to my departure, I did everything in my power to be as prepared as possible. I packed away my room, made piles labeled “bringing”, “maybe”, and “heck no”, and soaked up every last minute I had with my family. One week before my departure date, the reality of what I was about to embark on hit. So I did what any sane person would do: drain three cups of coffee at my favorite coffee shop and make list after list of things to-do, words to learn, papers to print, and hugs to give. After feeling satisfied with my preparations, I was able to relax and enjoy the rest of my time at home. My family, dogs, and I spent so much time together that I think they were sick of me by the time I departed.

My journey to Slovakia went about as smoothly as I had expected. Four flights, 28 hours, and one sleep deprived girl resulted in a lot of running from gate to gate and rushing through international security to make it to my flights. But God is real because as I was about to miss my very last flight, it got delayed! And Mallori, another exchange student from district 6970 going to district 2240, was on that flight. We spent our delay and flight together and talked about our arrival in Slovakia. It was so perfect because I was able to share my worries with someone else who really understood.

Now I have been in Slovakia for a little over a week. My family is so wonderful, although they speak very very limited English. When I first arrived they had a friend come along to work as a translator because their English and my Slovak was so poor. Although it was a little awkward to talk through someone, it made asking all the first night questions a lot easier than if I had to do it on my own. After she left, we began to speak in broken English, Slovak, and through google translate. Our conversations are limited and simple, but I feel like I have learned so much already. We can communicate enough that I am never uncomfortable but are not quite at the point where we can fully get to know each other. But that is okay because have 4 more months together to learn!

I have two younger host siblings and my grandmother, grandfather, aunt, and baby cousin all live right next door. Since school hasn’t started yet, I spend a lot of my time with my younger host siblings. My little sister reads Slovak fairy tales with me and teaches me different words. My little brother is a toddler so we are on the same language level, meaning that we get to learn together! It is so perfect because when he is taught a new word, I get to repeat it over and over again until both he and I understand it.

Since my siblings are so much younger, we tend to spend most of the day at home and go out in the afternoon once my host dad gets home from work. Since being here, they have taken me to the Low Tatras, the largest underground cave in Slovakia, Spisska Nova Ves, Levoca, and on bike rides through their village. Last weekend was also the 750th anniversary of my town, so there were traditional festivals where they preformed traditional songs and dances. Once school starts, I hope to join a local traditional club where I can learn some of them as a way to become more immersed in the culture.

School starts on September 3rd and I am a little nervous. I have heard it is very different from the American school system and I am afraid of getting lost or being rejected. I think that’s been the hardest part of being here so far: I haven’t had the opportunity to meet my peers or get to know anyone from my school so I am going in blind. I also don’t understand the public transportation system, which is how I am getting to school. Luckily my host mom is able to drive me for the first week while I adjust, but after that I will have to learn. I know it will all work out in the end and I may be laughing at this post a week after I start school, but we will just have to see.

Thanks for reading. Dovidenia!

Wed, August 29, 2018

JC - Italy

Hometown: Decatur, Georgia
School: Decatur High School
Sponsor District : District 6900
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Decatur, Georgia
Host District: TBA
Host Club: TBA

My Bio

Buongiorno, io sono JC. Next year I get to live in Italy! Currently I am a sophomore at Decatur High, in Decatur Ga. I also dual enroll at Georgia Piedmont Technical College for half of my classes. At school I really enjoy my Latin class, so much that I joined my schools Latin club and even attended the statewide convention. I am also very fond of my Graphic Design class. I love to create things and that class gave me a whole new medium to do that. Once I get home from school there are a wide range of things that I could do, but one of my favorite thing to do is play my guitar. I am in a band with some friends from school and we even write some songs ourselves! My friends and I also really enjoy solving Rubik’s cubes. Currently my record is 23 seconds! I have a very very large family. At my Moms and Dads house, I have a step brother, sister and mom, along with two biological sisters that have moved out already. Also between the two houses we have five dogs and five cats. I was born in the state of Louisiana (which is convenient because it and Italy are both boot shaped) but my family and I moved to Decatur when I was a few weeks old and I’ve been here ever since. I am so excited to experience a new part of the world and share those experiences with others once I return! Ciao!

Journals: JC-Italy Blog 2018-19
  • JC, Outbound to Italy

Hello again, welcome to my final journal entry. I’ll dive right in to the start of Eurotour; on the morning of the 10th of June I woke up earlier than normal and got on the metro to get to the meeting point for the tour, a Hotel a little outside Milan. For an hour or two, my district and the other two districts that went on Eurotour with us (Cremona Italy, and Romania) mingled and started to get to know each other better until we had a small orientation. Then we got on our massive double decker bus that somehow fit all 73 of us, and started heading to our first destination: Ginevra, Switzerland.

Sadly we only got to spend about thirty minutes there due to bad weather and the bus running a little late but it was still nice to see. Afterwards we headed to France to get to our hotel, because the next day we would head to Paris!

For the next two days we toured Paris, seeing things like the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre Museum, and yeah, I did see the Mona Lisa. After wrapping up with Paris, we headed to Brussels, Belgium for the next day.

We ended up staying in Brussels for two or three hours around lunch time and it was so incredible. I ate some genuine Belgian waffles and fries and even did some thrift shopping, then we got back in the bus and made our way to Holland.

We took a bike tour around Amsterdam and had a picnic half way through (It’s also worth noting that up until this point the weather had been rainy, cloudy and cold the whole trip so it was a really welcome change of pace when the sun came out just in time for our picnic). Later in the day we took a boat tour around the canals of Amsterdam and then we went to the A’DAM tower and did a 5D movie as well as a swing that swings over the edge of the very top of the building!

The next and final stop for me and the other kids doing the first half of the tour was Berlin. It was a ten hour bus ride to Berlin from Amsterdam but that time goes by really quickly when you are spending it goofing around with friends on the bus.

In the morning we toured the city of Berlin and it’s really incredible how evident the history is there. For lunch we all went to an awesome flea market. Afterwards we visited the concentration camp Sachsenhausen and the experience isn’t something that words can express.

After Berlin I headed back to Milan and spent the week with my Italian friends and some exchange students that did half the tour like me or didn’t do it at all. Once all the other kids got back from the rest of the tour I got to say one final goodbye to them all. The next day I said goodbye to my Italian friends. That was yesterday. Now I’m in New Jersey waiting for my flight back home writing this.

For most of exchange I felt like I wasn’t really phased by the whole experience and I was kind of just along for the ride, but in the past few months things have come into a clearer light. You never truly know what you have until it’s time to let it go right? Someone wise once compared life to a circle, and before exchange that circle was complete. Everything and everyone I needed was with me and only one place was my home. Now that circle won’t ever be complete again, my world has opened up so much and I’ll never have everything and everyone in one place again, and that won’t change, I’ll just have to learn to live with it. I’ve made some incredible friendships and met some truly wonderful people and I’m so glad that I’ve had this opportunity. I’ll wrap this up with a few words in Italian.

Non è un anno in una vita, è una vita in un anno.

Thank you again to all the Rotary volunteers that made this possible and to everyone that has treated me with so much kindness this year.

Thank you, Grazie Mille, Arrivederci,

JC Redmond

Thu, June 27, 2019

  • JC, Outbound to Italy

Once again this journal is extremely overdue so I apologize for that but I’m excited to catch you all up on what’s been happening on my exchange.

I’ll begin with when I switched host families for the first time all the way back in January. I was really excited to experience another perspective of the city of Milan and to get to know my new host family, and I’m glad to say both of those things were accomplished. The move went smoothly as my second family is only a five minute walk away from my first, which was very convenient, because I could also take the same bus to and from school with the same friends I had taken it with before, further growing our friendship.

In the first few weeks I was with my second family we took a weekend vacation to the Alps and there was a lot of snow where we were staying. I also went to Padova, Italy with my host mom and brother for a weekend so that I could take the SAT, and to Venice with my Rotary district for a day trip.

During my time with my second family the friendships I made really grew massive amounts. I spent my time playing basketball and studying physics with my Italian friends and hanging out with other exchange students more and more.

Towards the end of my time with my second family my Mom and Stepmom visited me in Italy for one week and it was honestly relieving to have my Mom with me again. It felt like I could take a break for a little bit and trust my issues with her. I also showed them around the City and they took a trip to Venice that I didn’t get the chance to go to since I had a physics test.

After they left it was time for me to switch to my third host family, at the time I thought it would be my last family but I later learned I would switch one more final time. When I was living with my third family is when I grew the most as an individual for sure. Shortly after I moved families the other exchange students from my district and one other district toured southern Italy for six days. During this trip I became way closer to three very important people, Olivia, Rachel and Sophie. These three girls have become some of my best friends and I’m so sad we didn’t become so close until the end. They live in a town called Lecco which is about 40 minutes by train on Lake Como. In the next month after the trip I visited Lecco a ton of times and they came to Milan a few times as well.

By June it was time for school to end and I was ready for it too. The last week of school I didn’t have much to do but it was still nice to spend time with my classmates. After school ended I had to pack up all my things to bring them to my next family before eurotour started. In the next Journal I’ll talk about that.

Okay, thanks for reading,


Tue, June 18, 2019

  • JC, Outbound to Italy

It’s been a while since I wrote my last journal entry and a lot of stuff has happened since then, so this Journal will be loaded with fun stuff I’ve gotten a chance to do so far on my exchange.

I think I’ll begin at Thanksgiving. Now, you may be thinking that since I’m not in the United States that would mean no turkey for me, but that’s where you’d be wrong. One of my closest friends here in Italy, GIulio, has an American mother. I was lucky enough to get invited to their home for Thanksgiving and I can’t say I was disappointed. The food was great and the company was even better. It’s great to get to know your friends and their families better and occasions like that are a great way to do it.

Next I’m going to jump in time to when I got the opportunity to visit the cities of Pisa, Florence and Rome with my fellow exchangers here in Italy.

The first place we went was Pisa. Yes, that’s right, I was lucky enough to climb to the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa before even turning seventeen (thank you Rotary)!

After a morning and afternoon in Pisa, we got on our bus and headed towards Florence. The hotel we stayed at was comprised of these cabin type structures that housed three to four people. Once morning came around it was time to hit the city. The first thing we did was go to the Uffizi Gallery. I got to see several works from my favorite painter, Caravaggio, as well as works from Leonardo da Vinci, and Michelangelo. The evening followed with some gelato, and then we were headed to Rome.

For the first day in Rome we explored the huge city, visiting several churches, as well as the Trevi Fountain (I got some more gelato of course). The second day in Rome was even more incredible as we were able to see the Colosseum and the ancient Roman Forum. It was like walking back in time. It’s a surreal experience to see photographs of something for your entire life and then to actual be able to see it. The Roman Forum was really something special and I think it’s very underrated. When I was walking through it felt just like a place I would go in a dream, only it wasn’t a dream, it was real! Afterwards we got back on the bus and drove the six hours back to Milan.

After Christmas, I headed up to Bormio, Italy with my host family for the two week break off of school. There wasn’t much snow in Bormio, but when we went up to Livigno, which is at an elevation of nearly six thousand feet, you can imagine there was a lot of snow.

When I was in Bormio I had the chance to play golf with my host grandfather and try snowboarding for the first time. After a few days I was beginning to pick it up, but I fell on my knee and had to retire from my snowboarding career.

For New Years me and my host family had a big dinner in Bormio and watched fireworks. I made friends with some of the kids that were in the same apartment complex as us and we went ice skating and played cards.

In my next journal I’ll talk about the time I went to Venice and how switching host families went.

One final thank you to all the Rotarians and volunteers that make this possible for me and all the other exchange students, and I’m off.


Tue, March 26, 2019

  • JC, Outbound to Italy

In two days I will have lived in Milan for two months, but let’s start from the beginning.

After leaving the airport with my host father and sister, the first thing we did was get gelato.

It was the best gelato I had ever had. I’ve lost count of the number of gelatos I’ve had since I’ve been here.

For the first two days I was suffering from jet lag which caused me a bit of homesickness, but I got over it quickly. My host mom was freaking out a little bit because the jet lag made me lose my appetite (food is very important in Italy so this scared her), I slept instead.

Once the jet lag passed, my exchange could really begin, and it did. On the third day my host family took me all around the city, seeing the famous Milano Duomo, the Santa Maria Delle Grazie church (which holds leonardo’s “Last Supper”), the Scala theater, and handfuls of other churches and landmarks. This was my first taste of life as a Milanese.

Fast forward a few days and it’s the first day of school for me. For the first two or three days I was only exchanging pleasantries with my classmates and not really making friends with them, but I quickly became friends with three individuals, Davide, Niccolò and Giulio. Eventually I started speaking more and more with the rest of the class, and now I can confidently call just about all of the students my friends.

I’ve also been able to make close friends with other exchange students that are hosted here, in and around Milan. At the first orientation in Varese, I didn’t get to know any of the other students well, but recently I spent some time with them, thanks to the bi-weekly Italian class we all share, and now I’ve got some friends from all over the United States, as well as friends from Canada, Australia, and even Taiwan.

As far as my host family and club, they’ve been great. My family treats me just like I’m their real son and are always looking out for me and my interests. They loved the American treats I brought them, but they weren’t used to the sour candy, so even one sour gummy worm was too much for them!

I also had the opportunity to visit Verona (the town in which Romeo & Juliet is set) with my host club. It was incredible. Verona is a beautiful city with an arena, a river, a castle, and Juliet’s famous balcony. I was even able to get a Romeo & Juliet pin for my blazer!

I’ve also visited Turin with my host district and the other exchange students and we saw one of the most highly acclaimed Egyptian museums in the world! It was so interesting to peek into the lives of ancient egyptians.

And Finally, today, I went on top and inside of the Duomo. The inside of the gothic cathedral was breathtaking and the view from the top was too. Being able to see the Duomo, the city, and even the snow capped mountains in the distance is definitely something I’d like to see again.

Now I’d like to just say that none of this would be possible without Rotary and it’s wonderful members, so thank you.

Okay, ciao, see you at four months!

Sun, November 4, 2018


Jordan - Denmark

Hometown: Marietta, Georgia
School: Mt. Bethel Christian Academy
Sponsor District : District 6900
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of East Cobb, Georgia
Host District: 1461
Host Club: The Rotary Club of H.C. Anderson

My Bio

Hej! Jeg hedder Jordan Milligan – Hello! My name is Jordan Milligan. I am a junior at Mt. Bethel Christian Academy, and I will be spending my senior year in Denmark (2018-2019). In Marietta, I live at home with my younger sister Lindsey and my parents Tony and Allison. In my free time, I enjoy taking part in my school extracurriculars such as Model UN, clay target shooting, drama club, and swim team. For the past 3 years, I have been able to go to Puerto Rico on a mission trip with my school and serve the local community. I was also given the opportunity to travel to Liberia, West Africa in February of 2018 and serve at a school and orphanage there. Service is a big part of who I am; I love helping people and seeing how I can impact communities all over the world. My goals while studying in Denmark are to become fluent in Danish, to grow more independent and more mature, and to make friends I will remember for the rest of my life. I am so thankful for this amazing opportunity I have been given by Rotary Youth Exchange! Vi ses senere! (See you later!)

Journals: Jordan-Denmark Blog 2018-19

  • Jordan, Outbound to Denmark

Hej Hej!!

It has been a hot minute since I have last submitted a journal…. Sorry mom and dad…

SO my last journal was about my first month here and everything that happened then. I thought that I wouldn’t be so busy after the first month, but if anything, life has just gotten busier. I will give a quick update of my months in Denmark since my last journal:

September: I got to go to Copenhagen for the first time with my host family, which was super cool because I was able to see all the famous “hot-spots” that are popular. I also got closer to all of my classmates, I am so lucky that all of my classmates are so sweet and that they talk to me. I began weekly Danish classes with all the exchange students in my city, this was super fun because I was able to meet new people that are with other organizations.

October: My birthday!! I got to celebrate my 18th birthday here in Denmark. I was woken up early in the morning by my host family singing the Danish birthday song to me, then at school my class sang to me another Danish birthday song, and then at Danish lessons there was ANOTHER song. It was such a fun day and truly a memorable birthday. There was also a get together for all of the exchange students in Holbæk. (about 1 hour west of Copenhagen) One of the nights there was a costume competition, and everyone dressed up. Because Halloween isn’t celebrated in Denmark, it was fun to have a bit of an American holiday representation.

November: Trip to Copenhagen again! This time I went to Copenhagen with Rotary and we got to go to Tivoli, which is a super cool amusement park. (It actually was one of the places that inspired Walt Disney to create Disney World) There is no Thanksgiving in Denmark, and so it was weird that there was no Thanksgiving decorations or celebrations, but I got to go to dinner with some of my American friends and eat a full Thanksgiving meal on the 22nd, so it actually turned out to be really nice and hygge. The days also really began to shorten in November. The sun rises at 8:30, and it is dark outside at 5 pm. At first it was weird that there was never light, but I began to get used to it, and now I just try and go outside as much as possible during the day so that I don’t start feeling depressed from lack of sunlight.

I had to move my host families at the beginning of December which was super sad because I had gotten so close with my host family and I felt that I would lose contact once I moved, but that was not the case at all. I still talk to my host sister all the time, and I go over probably once a week to eat or just to say hi. I also love my new host family, and they are so sweet.

December: December was probably one of my favorite months on exchange. I heard that it was common to get homesick and sad around the holidays, but instead, I was always so happy. I missed my family, but the traditions and memories that I was learning about here made me so excited and curious to learn more. Our Christmas celebration was on the 24th and my host family all danced around the Christmas tree singing classic Christmas songs and we ate some super good food. New Year’s was also a fun night, I went over to my friend Julia’s house and celebrated with her family. Fireworks are illegal in Denmark all year, except from Dec 31- Jan 2. After midnight on New Year’s Eve, there were fireworks going off for 2 hours straight without any pauses where I was, it was so crazy to experience because I had never seen or heard as many fireworks as there were.

My new year’s resolution is to speak only Danish to my classmates and host family. I can understand when Danes speak, but I am very self-conscious about how my Danish sounds so I don’t converse in Danish as much as I would like to. In the new year, I will try and speak Danish, even when I am not confident because the worst that can happen is that I have to repeat myself in English.

Something so cool about exchange is not only becoming a part of your host countries culture but also being able to experience small bits of so many different countries’ cultures. I have become great friends with so many people from around the world, and especially my friends from South America. The bonds created among exchange students are unbreakable because you are all somewhat going through the same things. All of us left home for a year to come live in a different country, and because of this, we are all connected. Meeting new people is my favorite thing in the world to do, and exchange creates an atmosphere of endless friendships to be made.

I have now lived in Denmark for 5 months, and in just the small amount of time, I have created a new lifetime of memories. Recently I have been thinking a lot about how this year will eventually end. It sucks that I can’t live here with all my friends forever, but instead of thinking about what happens when I leave, I’m trying to live my life in the moment and have as much fun as possible. At one of the orientations last year we were told to never say no to anything. That really stuck with me because I don’t want to have regrets when I get back to Georgia. If I was asked to give advice to the future outbounds, I would definitely say to go into exchange with no expectations and say yes to everything possible. Make your own exchange. It is hard to not compare, but every exchange has the potential of being the best year of your life if you make it. Also learn your language. But I’m sure you will hear that millions of times haha.

Thank you for reading my jumbled mess of thoughts from these crazy months of my life. I truly am having the time of my life, and I want to thank Rotary for the best opportunity ever. Vi ses!! <3

Tue, January 8, 2019

  • Jordan, Outbound to Denmark

Hej alle! I cannot believe that I have already been in Denmark for a whole month. Even though it is quite stressful at times, I quickly have fallen in love with this beautiful country and my amazing city.

I live in Odense, which is the 3rd largest city in Denmark and the largest city on Fyn island. Because of where my school is located, I take the bus home from school. Saying that public transportation is confusing is an understatement. I have been confused and lost many times, but luckily I have my host sister and a wonderful iPhone app guiding me through and making sure that I get where I need to be. Here in Denmark, you don’t get your drivers license until you turn 18, so basically, all of my classmates and friends either ride their bike or take the bus everywhere. Even though I miss driving, it is very nice to be able to be on your phone on the way home from school.

Last month when I arrived, I flew in on a Sunday and then began school on Tuesday. Being thrown right into a schedule was nice, and I am lucky that my classmates are so friendly. The first day of school I was terrified that no one would talk to me, but right away the girls in my class welcomed me and so I felt like I wasn’t as much of an outsider, which was so amazing. Even though it can be tough sometimes not to speak the language that everyone around you speaks, if you make an active effort to learn more and make friends, I have noticed that people will realize your efforts and be more patient and understanding with you.

One of my favorite memories from my first month here was RYE Intro Camp. My third week here, I took a train with about 30 other Rotary exchange students up to Bjerrenbro, where we met with all the RYE inbound students in Denmark. There are 155 Rotary inbounds in Denmark and it was so amazing meeting other students from all over the world. During the week, we took Danish lessons, salsa lessons, played volleyball, and went on a field trip to Århus. I had so much fun and I am excited to meet up with my friends again throughout the year.

Learning Danish is probably one of the toughest things I have attempted. I can already see the improvements that I have made in only a month, but it is still very tough. I am looking forward to learning more words and not having to work so hard to understand conversations being spoken around me.

I want to thank Rotary again for giving me this wonderful life-changing opportunity. One month in and I already feel like Denmark is a huge part of me, I can’t even imagine how I will feel later in the year. Thank you for reading, and I look forward to keeping everyone updated on my year here in Denmark. 🙂 Vi ses!

Thu, September 13, 2018


Judah - Germany

Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: Gainesville High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Gainesville, Florida
Host District: 18421
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Wasserburg

My Bio

Hallo! My name is Judah Bachmann. I live in Gainesville, Florida and attend Gainesville High School. I will be going on exchange to Germany next year! I live with my two sisters ages 13 and 7, my dog, Goose, and my mom and dad. I love playing tennis, drawing, photography, art, sewing, and listening to and playing music. I’ve been playing piano since I was 7! I love travel, and I’ve always wanted to go abroad to learn another language. I’m drawn to Germany for the industrial design, and can’t wait to learn more about Germany and the culture. Every summer I go to a camp in Wisconsin where I meet people from all over the world. There I have learned how to sail, barefoot waterski, hike, and canoe, as well as many other sports and activities. I have also learned how important it is to know people from around the world. Some of my best friends from camp are from Mexico and France. I take great value in this opportunity that has been offered to me by Rotary, and anticipate my next year with excitement and eagerness. I’ve made new friends already through this amazing program, and I can’t wait to make even more and see where RYE takes me in my life. Danke schön!

Journals: Judah-Germany Blog 2018-19

  • Judah, Outbound to Germany

Well, I’m more than halfway through. This journal is very overdue, but better late than never amirite?

In my time here since my first journal I have done countless amazing things and experienced several completely new things. I go to Munich typically weekly, I have gone skiing, and my friends from school and from exchange are all fantastic. It will truly be hard to leave this country. It’s sort of a crazy concept, this whole building a life in a foreign country and then leaving it all after a year. But at the same time it’s an amazing gift to ourselves to experience such an amazing thing. I wouldn’t swap my experiences, friends, new language, and skills for anything.

I have journaled every day of my exchange. I have collected papers and photos and wristbands from around Germany and filled the pages of my journal with them. This book alone is one of my proudest accomplishments. At this point I’ve already booked my return flight. That was sort of a surreal moment, looking at the calendar and picking the day I want to leave this life. It was even more surreal when I opened the email from my travel agent and learned the exact minute I leave this wonderful place. I’m certainly not looking forward to it but it is after all nice to know that I have so much back in the US that I get to go back to.

I recently switched host families. It was a little bit strange at first since I was moving in with the girl I sit next to in class (who will be going on exchange next year), but now it’s all good. My first day after moving in with them we went skiing for the whole day in Austria. That was a super fun way to start out my time with them. They live directly in the city, which is a huge change from where I lived before, about 20 minutes away in the countryside by car. I have already been enjoying the location, especially on school days since it only takes about 6 minutes walking to get to school as opposed to 30 with the bus. Plus I can wake up at 6:45 instead of 6. That’s lovely.

I’m not sure what lays ahead of me exactly, but I know it’s going to be great. This second half of my exchange is already totally different than the first. I can speak the language very well, I have a good group of friends, I can work the public transportation system perfectly, and I know a bunch of cool spots not just in my hometown here but also in Munich. It’s always funny when people mistake me for a local. Just last week I went to buy a pen at the store, and after conversing with the salesman for a while he asked me why my debit card was in English when I payed. After explaining that I was an exchange student he laughed in surprise. We then proceeded to talk about one of my crazy teachers in school here. It’s always fun to surprise people with the whole “being an American” thing.

Hopefully I’ll write at least one more journal in my time here. As I tell other people, I journal for me, and that’s why it’s so hard to sit down and write a post for everyone else. But I’ll certainly try. Thanks for reading.

Sun, February 3, 2019

  • Judah, Outbound to Germany

Well, it’s been about two and a half months. What a crazy time it’s been.

This time last year I can remember myself thinking, “I wonder what my life will look like in a year.” I can specifically remember sitting at my lunch table at GHS the day after I sent in my application thinking that. It’s insane to me that it’s already been a year.

I’ve been journaling every day of my exchange. Every night before bed I sit down and write about my day. This is one of my practices that I’m most proud of. It’s a fantastic way to take a second to look back at my day and my exchange and see how much me and my life has changed. I haven’t missed a day of journaling yet. So now actually being forced to sit down and write about EVERYTHING is proving difficult. It’s been one crazy ride. So I’ll try and start at the beginning.

My first month was a whirlwind. My first week I spent getting accustomed to the time change and all the little things that had to change immediately. Like having to push a switch to summon the hot water from the water heater for my showers. And eating a big meal together at lunch instead of dinner. And eating bread all the time. And putting my laundry down a chute as soon as I’m done wearing it. (I still haven’t been able to quite get the hang of that). The next two weeks were my language course in Dachau with the other exchange students. That was a blast, and I made some great friends. Then I had a week before school started, and before I knew it my first month was gone. My second month was mainly just getting used to school and trying to make friends, something that proved difficult. I ended up basically just making friends with girls because none of the boys wanted to talk to me. But that’s improving now too. I had a weekend in the German alps as well as a school field trip to an opera in Austria. We had another field trip to the Dachau concentration camp, something that was both fascinating and horrible but equally important to see.

School is very interesting here. The curriculum is practically impossible for me given that it’s in German and that its entirely new to me. But I think I learn more by merely observing the way of life and the minuscule differences between American and German students. Now I have a much greater perspective on the way we educate ourselves, and I personally find that much more valuable than what is in the lessons. Of course I say that now knowing that I will most likely have to repeat my sophomore year of high school and that none of my grades count, so we’ll see how I feel about it in a year when I’m in a grade surrounded by people two years younger than me.

Back on the topic of learning things that you can’t get from school, my German is coming along very well. From the very beginning I have only spoken German, and coming over with a strong base in the language set me up for instant success. I am so happy that I did that in the first place. It paid off. Now when the exchange students are together I can switch back and forth between English and German without a second thought. To all future outbounds, even though they haven’t been chosen yet, I’d say to begin with a language learning program as soon as you know your country. I started in the car ride back from the big reveal. You won’t regret it.

So back to my breakdown of my time here so far. After my first few weeks of school, before I knew it it was time for my first tour. My awesome host club paid for the trip, which was a week long tour in Berlin with the other exchange students. We saw the Bundestag, a couple of castles, the wall, the city, the Stasi museum, Checkpoint Charlie, and a bunch of other cool things. It was a blast. And now I’m back to my normal school life. Crazy that it’s almost been three months. Time flies. What an an amazing life it is.

Tue, November 6, 2018


Julia - Denmark

Hometown: Clearwater, Florida
School: Saint Petersburg Collegiate
Sponsor District : District 6950
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Clearwater, Florida
Host District: 1461
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Otterup

My Bio

Hello, my name is Julia Mannella and I’m currently a Senior at Saint Petersburg Collegiate High School. I live in Clearwater, Florida with my mom, dad, brother, and my chocolate lab. I’m involved in the various clubs at my school, such as Interact, National Honors Society, and Junior Achievement. My biggest passion is teaching, which is what I do for a living. I’ve been a teacher’s assistant for almost four years and that will be one of the things I miss most while on exchange. Most people can’t say that they love their jobs at my age, but I LOVE my job. I like to have time to myself to do things like hot yoga and running outside. I love to travel and go on adventures, and I’ve always been that way. Before I was even a year old, my parents would bring me along on their vacations to places like New York, The Bahamas, and on cruises. If I’m not traveling, chances are I’m probably planning where I want to go to next. I think that traveling is the best way to learn about how the world works because it really opens your eyes and makes you recognize that your way of life is completely different from another cultures way of life. On this exchange, I want to build better communication skills, learn a new language, and expand my world view. I’m both nervous and extremely excited to live in Denmark, where it is definitely going to be a different way of living than Florida. I’m so grateful for this amazing opportunity, and I can’t wait for all of the adventures and learning experiences soon to come. It still feels like it’s all just a dream, and I can’t thank everyone enough for making this dream a reality.

Journals: Julia-Denmark Blog 2018-19

  • Julia, Outbound to Denmark

I am officially in the last hundred days of my exchange and it is bittersweet to say the least. I have met such amazing people and learned so much. I am so grateful for this opportunity. I left the United States as a person different as I am coming home. I have learned not only about Danish culture, but about the culture of all of my friends I have made along this journey. When I left, I had no clue what I was doing. I didn’t even really know where I would live. All I knew is that wherever I went, I would have an amazing time.

It hurts my heart to think that soon, this will end. However, in a way, exchange will never end for me because I know that I will always have my amazing and beautiful friends and family to talk to, no matter the distance. In fact, we are all already planning our future trips together. The beauty of exchange is that although it is just one year of your life, it stays with you forever. I will always remember all of the laughs I have had with my friends and family. I remember the many times I have said the complete wrong words in Danish, like giving birth to my friend’s verses following them or saying an inappropriate word instead of the color red to my host mom. I love having tea time and eating fastelavnsboller with my family, exploring the beautiful unseen parts of cities in Denmark with my exchange friends, soaking in all of the sun we can possibly get during the winter in parks, and dancing and singing Danish music with my classmates. These are moments I will forever cherish in my heart.

I never really know what to write about in these journals because there is so much that happens while being abroad. I have had some highs and some lows, but in the end, it has been an unforgettable experience. My best advice to people would be to never say no. I have tried things I would have never done in the United States and having an open mind and being willing to do things that are a bit out of my comfort zone has allowed for me to make some of the greatest memories. Being open minded has allowed for me to take a ski trip in Sweden, explore some of Denmark’s most beautiful places, and make lifelong friends. The little bit of embarrassment or nervousness I may have felt is nothing compared to the great times I have had.

January was a very hard month for me because it was very cold and dark without any snow. I had to go back to school, change families, and readjust to a new schedule. However, I still had a good month overall because I bonded with my family and was able to see my friends. February has come and gone in the blink of an eye. It became lighter outside and just a bit warmer. I went on a ski trip in Sweden for a week which was very fun. I was amazed when I found out that I was able to put my skis on at the house we were staying in and then ski in/out to go to the mountains. I was also able to see how similar, yet different Danish is to Swedish. It was quite confusing at times to go to ski lessons when the instructor spoke fast Swedish. When I told people that I was an exchange student, they were surprised that I could even follow her instructions. Seeing the snow made me feel a bit better because when I had left Florida, I thought I would live with snow when I was abroad, but we only had about three centimeters of snow the whole winter. After being in snow for a week, it’s easy for me to say I am so happy that there wasn’t that much in Denmark because I didn’t realize how annoying it was to walk in. I was also able to take a day trip to Malmö in Sweden with my friends, which was “hyggeligt”. We were able to be tourists for the day. It was funny to see how different Swedish people are from Danish. For example, Danish people will not cross the street unless the walking sign is green, even if there are no cars, but the Swedish people crossed whenever they wanted.

March has brought plenty of rainy days. I think it has rained for two weeks straight. Many of my exchange student friends and I have started to realize that we are coming towards the end of our exchanges, so we always try to make sure to enjoy my time here and keep busy. I go out with my Danish and exchange student friends on the weekends and spend time with my host family. We are trying to cross all of the things off of my exchange year bucket list, so saying I am busy is an understatement. My class trip was to Rome for about a week, where I learned more about Italian culture and was able to do this with the people I love, which made it all even more special. March is now over, and it is crazy that we are already in the month of April, but time flies by when you’re having fun.

I sometimes forget how much my life has changed and how the lives of my friends and family back in the United States has moved so much slower than mine. These past seven or eight months have been full of more experiences than I have ever had in the past ten years of my life. I forget that I am abroad because it all just seems so normal to me, until someone asks, and I have to explain what I am doing. I watched a video on why students should study abroad and almost forgot that this is exactly what I am doing right now. I know when I come home, I will realize just how different the way of living is here, but now, I can say I have fully emerged myself in the Danish culture and I feel as if I am just a local, which is simply the best feeling.

Wed, April 3, 2019

  • Julia, Outbound to Denmark

It has now been five months since I have arrived in Denmark. Since my last post, there have been so many new things I have experienced. November was a month full of change. There was physical change when it came to the beautiful colors of trees going from green to orange, and now being lifeless and grey. The weather has become colder and darker. The “sunrise” is at around nine in the morning and the sun “sets” by four, that is if the sun decides to come out. I go to school in the dark and I come home in the dark. It has been around negative two degrees to a high of about eight. However, despite the dull skies and cold weather, there is still light. In Denmark, Christmas starts in November. The streets are full of Christmas lights, gigantic trees, and even the grocery stores have 30-foot trees lit up outside. This helps a lot with keeping a positive attitude during toughest part of many students exchanges. In December, it gets even darker and colder, but believe it or not, I still have not seen snow in my city.

December is one of the craziest months for people in Denmark. There are many traditions that I would like to bring back with me to the United States. For example, from the first of December to Christmas, I had a julekalander, where each day, I opened a door with a chocolate inside. There is also the julekalander show, where every day, there is one episode played until Christmas Eve, where the story ends. Most families sit together and watch it every night (very hygge). On each Saturday night leading up to Christmas, I hung my stocking up on the door of my room, and while I slept, the “elves” would come and put a gift in them. Then, on Sunday morning, I woke up and opened my gift. These are traditions that all lead up to the biggest night, which is Christmas eve. We ate until we can eat no more, then we ate again. We sang Christmas songs and ran around the tree, trying to burn off all of the food we just ate, trying not to vomit from being so dizzy. Then, to finish the night off, almost all families open Christmas presents on Christmas Eve (my family didn’t). Another popular Christmas tradition is something called a Julefrogost, which directly translates to “Christmas Lunch”. Ironically, it is almost never during lunch time. We sat together and ate food, like leverpostej, and, rugbrød, and ost. I had so many julefrogosts and I must have gained at least five killograms from all of the Christmas foods. The julefrogosts are popular for the days leading up to Christmas as well as the days after.

New years in Denmark is also very big. I spent it with my family, where we ate food, talked, watched the queen give her annual speech, and danced until midnight. A popular tradition in Denmark is to “jump into the new year”, which is literally everyone rushing to find a chair or table to stand on in the final seconds prior to the clock striking twelve. Once it strikes twelve, we all jumped onto the floor together screaming “god nytår!”. Fireworks are INSANE. We lit off our own fireworks, and it seems that so did every other person in the country. The explosions of all of them made it sound like World War Three was about to begin. I don’t think any Fourth of July fireworks show will ever top off the fireworks in Denmark.

After the new year, the excitement starts to die down, we prepare to go back to school, and for me, I prepare to say farvel to my first host family and halløj to my new family. I have just changed a couple days ago, so I don’t have much to say about it right now, but I know that my new family is amazing. Part of exchange is learning about the culture, so living with different people and learning how each family works is part of learning. I loved my first host family and I know my second host family will be just as great. I lived in “the city” of the town I live in, so everything was very close by. Now, I live out in the countryside, where I have to bike to get anywhere. However, the views of the fields make up for the trek it takes to get to the bus. My first family had three children living at home, but for this family, I am the only child at home. It was nice having brothers and a sister my age, but it is also nice to have more free time to spend out with friends. Basically, my living situation is now the opposite from last time, which is a good change to have.

I will wrap this journal by saying that exchange is different for everyone. We all go to different cultures, have different families, and deal with stress in different ways. To all of the students who are currently preparing to go to their country, know that you will experience things far different than what you are used to now. You will change, whether you notice it when you are on exchange, or when you arrive back home. Exchange is not easy, and it is not this perfect life. There are times where every person thinks about what they would be doing back at home, but that is part of it. I have learned to appreciate my family, friends, and the Florida heat so much now that I don’t have it. When I go back to the United States, I will probably also miss the things Denmark has given me, but that is the beauty of it all. I came to Denmark as a bit of a shy girl, but now, I have learned to open up to people and make amazing friends who bring out the best in me. This is a year I will cherish forever, and I hope that so many more people are given this opportunity and take it in their lifetime

Tue, January 8, 2019

  • Julia, Outbound to Denmark

Since my last post, I have experienced so much more culture, met new people, and learned more Danish. I have been writing in my journal everyday so that I can remember what I have done, because it is so easy to forget when we are constantly doing so much! My family and I have gone to cities nearby to see what they look like and explore, which is very nice of them. We have bonded so well, and I love them so much. I call my parents Mor and Far because they truly are my mom and dad. Fall seems to be a popular time to have a birthday in Denmark, so I have gotten to learn a lot about this tradition, and celebrated the fødselsdag of my host mom, two of my host siblings, and my Farfar’s (dad’s dad) and he is just so sweet.

I have also gone to a lot of Rotary events and meetings and it is interesting to see the differences between Rotary in different countries. For example, a lot of times, my Rotary club will have meetings and do a “field trip”. I was able to tour a heste hospital (horse hospital) and learned about how they care for these animals when they are sick or injured. Some of the Rotary members have also invited me to join them with their own activities. I made homemade æblemost, where we picked apples off of the tree, washed them in cold water outside (my hands were numb), hand grinded them into small pieces, then hand juiced them the old-fashioned way. In the end, we would take the apple juice and put them into jars and drink it. There is no need for sugar or added anything, so it is as fresh as you can get.

I also went on a fishing trip, which has been by far the most memorable yet most horrible experience so far. I went out on a fishing boat and sailed out to sea for about 6 hours. I’m pretty sure I was closer to Norway than I was Denmark! When I woke up, I got ready to fish, but it was very cold, windy, wavy, and dark. I was able to catch a fish and took a picture, but within about 30 seconds, I was getting sick off the side of the boat…. for a LONG TIME. The rest of the trip (9 hours) I slept to avoid getting sick again. In the end, I was very tired and miserable, but it is a trip I will never forget… plus I got to bring my fresh filleted fish home, which fed eight people!

My exchange has been full of many adventures and many embarrassing moments. Besides waking up after sleeping through the entire fishing trip and everyone jokingly asking, “did you have a good nap?” I have also learned a lot about the way Danish doctors work. I fell down just six stairs and ended up passing out at dinner and getting a concussion, so now my friends and family always joke around and ask if I need help going up and down the stairs. We also had a district conference, where we do a flag ceremony, which is when all the exchange students walk on stage with the flags of their countries in front of many Rotarians from all over the district. Well, I was given the United States flag and again, fell on the stairs in front of everyone as the recorded us with their phones. After the event, I had the president of my Rotary club come up to me and joked that he had it on camera.

Learning a new language is tough, and although at times I embarrass myself, those embarrassing moments are the best way to learn and remember! I learned very quickly the name for the woman’s bathroom versus the men’s bathroom because not every bathroom has a picture to go with the word. The word “herre” is for men and “dame” is for woman. However, I read “herre” like “her” and have quickly jolted out of the bathroom many times. Another easy mistake I made was saying “jeg er meget fuld” (fuld sounds like full in English) thinking I was saying I am very full. It turns out that “jeg er meget mæt” is the proper way to say it and that I was actually saying I am very drunk instead of full. I was also saying “I have to piss” instead of “I have to use the toilet” which was not the best thing to say to teachers. In the end, these are just a few of many mistakes I’ve made, and I know I will make plenty more, but that is the fun of being an exchange student.

My advice to anyone learning a new language is don’t be afraid to try or to fail. The best way to learn is to practice. Especially in Northern Europe, where everyone speaks perfect English, it can be hard to learn when you have the easy way out: English. Now, even if I am nervous, I will still try to order food in Danish, buy groceries, and ask for directions in Danish. Worse comes to worse, I mess up! People will still appreciate the effort and trying makes a great impression.

I have been in Denmark for almost three months now and it is crazy to think that one day, I will have to go back to the United States. When I was choosing between different countries about a year ago, I had this desire to go to South America where it is full of warm people and warm climate. Instead, I was chosen to go to Denmark, which is almost opposite of this. Yet, somehow, this country is the perfect place for me. Many of the exchange students come from South America, so I have been learning to dance like a Brazilian or give love like the Latinos. In August, when I had first arrived, I was commenting on how cold it is IN AUGUST. Well, fast forward to now in October, and it is going to be 0 degrees. YES, THAT MEANS SNOW IF IT RAINS. In fact, we actually had the first snow of the year in Jutland, which hasn’t happened in over 20 years. Although at times I question how I am going to survive the cold, windy, and dark winter here, trust me, it gets easier. I have learned how to dress warm yet keep up with the interesting Danish fashion. Let me tell you, Danes LOVE to look nice. Most wear nice shirts and dressy pants, which make me stick out wearing a baggy sweater and jeans. Being that I come from a climate with about a week of winter, I thought that people wore gloves, scarves, big boots, and fluffy coats. However, my friends in school tell me its more about fashion than staying warm. But this is just one of many weird things Danes do.

Throughout my exchange, I have keeping a list of “Weird Danish Things” that I have learned. Some include:

-Shower with everyone naked at school

-Put butter or mayo on everything

-Get drunk with teachers as bartenders- drinking culture is something that I didn’t know much about until living here. School parties are very popular, where students can drink alcohol, which is often served by their teachers. It was weird to watch students from my class playing beer pong with my math teacher.

-Sing everywhere and about everything- there are songs for every occasion… very “hygge”

-Follow ALLLLL the rules- The Danes take rules very seriously. At the beginning of my exchange, a woman was talking to me and yelling, but I didn’t understand her, so I just smiled and crossed the street when the walk sign was red (there were no cars) Now I know what she was yelling about!

-Wear long socks with short pants- a very popular style here is wearing pants that in USA would be considered too short on us. Here, showing about 4 inches of your lower leg is normal… sometimes the guys have on tighter and shorter pants than I do!

-Wear hats but don’t cover their ears- as I said, fashion is everything, so if a person does choose to wear a hat, it’s not to be warm.

-Peeing out in public (even next to bathroom)- I think this is also tied with drinking culture, but this is more normal than you would think.

-Jam and cheese on rugbrød

-Bikes have the right of way more than walkers- I have almost gotten hit by more bikes than ever in my life. If you see a bike coming, you have to stop walking and let them go through, otherwise they will probably hit you.

-So much candy, cake and chocolate milk- Danish birthdays are very big here and are full of cake, warm and cold chocolate milk, buns with cheese and jam on top, and lit candles at the table (very hygge)

-They call ketchup “cold pasta sauce”- My host family also put mayo on for “flavor” (crazy I know)

– Smoking cigarettes is very popular among people from around my age and older. People know it is bad, but they don’t really seem to care. I hate this because you can constantly smell the smoke and it sticks to your clothes, even if you weren’t the one smoking.

So, as you can see, my life is continuing to be filled with new adventures each and every day. I sleep a lot more here because its tiring going between Danish, English, and Spanish, but it is all worth it in the end. I have made some of the most beautiful exchange friends, I have wonderful classmates, and an amazing host family. Many people are probably wondering how the whole homesickness thing is going, and I just want to say that it is different for every person. For me personally, I have had no homesickness at all. The closest thing to homesickness I have, is wanting certain foods, but when I am craving food I used to cook back in the USA, I just tell my host family I want to cook dinner, which they are always happy to hear. I have emerged myself in well with the culture and kept an open mind about everything, which is why I think I am having such an amazing experience. Granted, I know that I might experience some lows in my exchange, but the highs practically wash away the hard times. We have good days and bad days no matter where we are in the world, but building a support system of friends and family is what helps. Even if it is something small, like buying an overpriced pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and eating it with friends makes all the difference!

Thu, November 1, 2018

  • Julia, Outbound to Denmark

It is hard to believe that I have been in my new home in Denmark for a month now because it feels like I have been here for a year. I arrived in Denmark, and within two days, my host family told me to pack my camping bags for about a week-long festival and get ready for Smukfest. I knew I was going to a festival, but I didn’t realize just how big this one was. For the next five days, I got closer than ever to my host sister, Alberte (literally next to each other in a small tent) and now she is like a real sister to me. We do so much together and get along great. (we even have matching t-shirts that we wear to school) During Smukfest, I helped my host family with their pancake business, listened to famous Danish and US singers, like Post Malone, Shawn Mendes, and Kendrick Lamar, and certainly learned a lot about the Danish culture.

After that crazy first week, I started at my new school. I’m not going to lie, the first day of school was really hard because I thought that people wouldn’t want to include me because they already had friends, but I’m laughing now because my classmates are such amazing people. Every class I take is in Danish, even my English class, so it can be overwhelming at times, but my classmates always help me translate and include me inside and outside of school. For example, today we went to Odense (the third largest city) after school to get food at a cafe and go shopping. They have been helping me get more involved with the Danish culture, like going to school parties, trying new foods, and watching popular movies.

Before I left the United States, Rotary drilled into my head “always say yes” and I never really understood what they meant until I got to Denmark. The first day I was here, I tried fried duck with mayo fries. Since then, I have tried warm liver, canned fish, pickled herring, and a bunch of different breads and sweets. Now, back at home, if someone told me to try something like warm liver, I would have quickly declined, but being here has made me more open already!

My host family and Rotary club are very supportive. I am very close with my family and I feel like I can tell them anything. My host sister and I can get a laugh out of pretty much anything. She is like a sister I’ve never had. In Danish culture, there is a word called “hygge” (hew-gah), which means cozy time. When we “hygge” we usually light candles at dinner, watch movies with Danish candy, or do other relaxing family things. This has been one of my favorite things about Denmark so far because it has really helped me bond with everyone around me. My Rotary club is also very supportive and helpful. I have gone to two meetings so far, including one held at a shooting range. It was funny to be one of only two girls who were with the other members of the club. I feel like I am adjusting well to my surroundings and I know I couldn’t do it without the support of the people here in Denmark, as well as everyone in the United States that has helped me get here.

In order to be an exchange student, you have to honestly be just a little crazy. If you think about it, I decided to pack just one suitcase of belongings, leave my family and friends for a year to go to a country that I have never been to, meet people who speak a language I don’t understand, and live with families I have never met. It sounds a bit crazy, but it has been the best decision I’ve ever made. I didn’t realize what being an exchange student was until I went on this journey myself. The world we live in is so large and diverse, so why should we choose to only live our lives in one place? Being an exchange student is stepping way outside of your comfort zone, discovering a culture other than your own, and becoming a better person. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I’m so grateful to call myself a Rotary Youth Exchange Student. Tusind tak Rotary (a thousand thanks) for giving me this opportunity. I can’t wait to continue to share my adventures in my new home in Denmark.

Mon, September 3, 2018


Julia - Finland

Hometown: Deerfield Beach, Florida
School: Pompano Beach High school
Sponsor District : District 6990
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Coconut Creek, Florida
Host District: 1410
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Turku

My Bio

Terve! My name is Julia Cerreta I’m a sophomore at Pompano Beach High school. I’m really active in school clubs such as SGA (student government and Peer counseling. I’m in the concert band and have been playing the clarinet for 5 years now. I absolutely love school so much and I’m so grateful to be introduced to this life changing experience. I live with my mom and our 3 pets ( 2 Pugs and 1 cat). On my free time I go to the beach, explore, listen to country music, go to the movies, volunteer, and spend time with my friends. I’ve been going to sleep away (Camp Jewel) for 5 years now and had amazing adventures such as, hiking the Appalachian Trail, canoeing down the Vermont river, and biking from Connecticut to Massachusetts. I absolutely love nature so much I can’t get enough of it just being outdoors makes me feel free. With all the adventures I’ve experienced I think going to Finland will be the best. I’ve never seen snow before and just jumping into Finland will be the best way to do it. I’m so excited to be embarking on this life changing journey and meeting so many new people and making new experiences. Julia Cerreta

Journals: Julia-Finland Blog 2018-19

  • Julia, Outbound to Finland


Life has been crazy here. Since the last time I wrote a blog I changed host families, went to Lapland, had Christmas/ new years, and have kinda survived the Finnish winter.

These couple of months have been amazing and difficult. I first went to Lapland for a week with Rotary. That trip was the best trip ever. I went skiing, dog sledding, and a reindeer ride. It was also my first time seeing SNOW!!!! Also just being with all the exchange students was great.

Next a couple of weeks after Lapland it was time for me to change host families. It was kinda crazy thinking leaving everything I knew and my safe place. I knew things were gonna be making in my new family but it was just the thought. So when I moved I was happy but not so happy. After my first night I fell in love with them. I have a host dad (Juha) and a host sister (Eveliina) that live in the house with me. I also have two other host sisters Kamila and Pauliina. everyone in my family is the best. Very different from my first family but it’s a good different and I couldn’t ask for anything different.


Thanksgiving in Finland. Well it’s not a thing which is kinda good. So me and my American friend Siobhan just went to our favorite Mexican restaurant (Taco Nito). Then, CHRISTMAS/ HYVÄÄ JOULUA, well it was actually amazing. Finnish Christmas is different but am amazing different. So the first different thing is that we celebrate in the 23rd of December not the 24th. Well the day state of with me and my host sisters going sledding and coming back home and going to sauna. Then all go us having brunch. After brunch we stated getting the food ready for dinner. We love all sending time together and just spending time playing games and being together. We got ready and had dinner then opened presents. After Christmas day I thought the festivities were over but no. The next day we went to my host moms house and it started all over again. After this two days I thought it was all done but nope not even close the next day we went to go visit the whole family. Which was absolutely amazing. Meeting the whole family and just being apart of everything just go try mind off of being away from home. Next New Years, well that was also amazing. Me and some of my exchange friends and Finnish friends went to the river and watched the fireworks. Then went to go get food at Hesburger.

I never really thought it exchange was extremely difficult. But after New Years it came time for the oldies to leave back to Australia and one of my best friends was apart of that. The week before Isaac left we took a trip to Helsinki with Siobhan. We absolutely had the best time the next week me Siobhan and I travel back to Helsinki to say our goodbyes. It’s kinda crazy just knowing that you don’t know the next time your gonna see that person. Now walking around the city with Siobhan without Isaac is so weird and different. It’s absolutely bizarre knowing that things are never gonna be the same in our friend group.


Man It is AMAZING, words can’t even describe how mind blown I am about It. Yesterday was -24 degrees Celsius with about 6 cm of snow on the ground. Seeing everything covered in snow is so pretty. Yet kinda annoying. Do you guys know the they do not plow there snow here in Finland so basically you’re just walking on ice. They put pebbles down on the sidewalks but it doesn’t help. I’ve literally fallen so many times. But it’s all about the experience.

Wed, January 23, 2019

  • Julia, Outbound to Finland

So I arrived here a little over a month ago leaving my family and friends. But this experience so far has been the best time of my life. Even though Exchange is hard and challenging but it’s the best decision I’ve ever made. When I first signed up for Exchange I wasn’t sure what I was looking for or what I wanted out of Exchange. After finding out I will be spending a year in Finland out of all places I was ecstatic! Waiting for August 5th was hard thinking about thinking about all the new things I get to do. But when I got here everything got better. I got sent to Turku, Finland district 1410 on the southwest coast of Finland. I don’t think I have fallen in love with something as much as I love this place. Since being here I started school at Turun Klassillinen Lukio. At school, my lessons are Music, Art, Spanish, and English. Going to school in Finland is so odd but a good odd. I’ve made so many new friends who have helped me find my way through school and the teachers. My host family is amazing, I have two little host brothers (Eero and Eemeli), a dog ( Sissi ), and my host mom and dad (Katri and Teijo). They have taken me to do weird and new exciting things like explore Turku Castle, biking in the freezing rain, going to Cheek concert which made me a real Finn (Cheek is a very famous rapper and he ended his career, and everyone in Finland loves Cheek). when coming here I was thinking to my self its Europe how much different it can be from America. But Europe a big step up from America you get a different view and opinion about your country. There are also different cultural things as well as for example in Finland they have about 5 meals a day and for me, I find that very odd because back in the states I only eat about 3 meals a day. Also which I find is pretty strange is how they give their younger kids so much freedom. You see 7 and 8-year-old kids going on the bus by themselves and walking around the city by themselves. But people here give their kids a lot of trusts.

After here for this long, I really haven’t sat back and reflected on myself. So I went for coffee and took about an hour thinking about myself and I asked my host family if they saw any changes in myself. I realized that I have really have matured with certain things. It took me a while to really take it all in that I was on the other side of the world really on exchange. But after I after took it all in it has been amazing. I’ve really learned from my mistakes and I enjoy how I’ve seen myself change through them. I can’t wait to be able to experience more amazing this on this wonderful journey I’m on.

-Julia Cerreta

Tue, October 16, 2018


Kaya - Bolivia

Hometown: Marietta, Georgia
School: Walton High School
Sponsor District : District 6900
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of East Cobb-Marietta, Georgia
Host District: 4690
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Sucre

My Bio

¡Hola, me llamo Kaya! Hello, My name is Kaya! I am from Cobb County in Georgia where I’ve lived with my parents, younger brother, and dog since before I can remember. Currently, I’m a sophomore at Walton High School but next year I will be spending my junior year somewhere in Bolivia. In my free time I enjoy playing musical instruments, reading, listening to music, spending time with friends and family, and practicing photography. I play 4 instruments (or 5 instruments, if you can call a one-string cigar box guitar an instrument), but mainly I play the violin and bass. I’ve been playing the violin in my school orchestra for nearly 5 years and the bass guitar for 4 years. I like to read realistic fiction and fantasy and I listen to most genres of music, but my favorite musical artist is David Bowie. I’ve been interested in social sciences and learning about new cultures and languages since I was young making the Rotary Youth Exchange one of the most, if not the most, exciting opportunities of my whole life so far. I’m so excited for this opportunity to grow and expand my own and others’ perspectives of the world, gain insight into who I am as a person, experience a new culture and make many new friends. I’m so excited for the next year of my life in the Rotary Youth Exchange Program and all the things I’ll learn, from a new language to a foreign culture. I am so thankful for this opportunity.

Journals: Kaya-Bolivia Blog 2018-19

 Kaya, Outbound to Bolivia

I’ve been super busy here in Sucre and traveling recently and haven’t posted in a while, but I have had the opportunity to do and see so many fantastic things that I’m excited to share!

In early September, I went to the Orchid Festival with all of the other RYE students in Bolivia. The Orchid Festival is in a town about 5 hours outside of Santa Cruz called Concepcion. While we were there, we visited a few restored churches in the area and saw concerts in two of them as well. We also visited a town nearby our hotel to see their celebration for the Orchid Festival and danced with some of the locals before going on a hike up a mountain (by Georgian standards) near the town. We finally saw some orchids our last day of the trip during a presentation about growing and breeding orchids. The Orchid Festival was a really cool opportunity to experience one of Bolivia’s celebrations, and I met many new RYE students and can’t wait to spend more time with.

In October, I went to a Rotary meeting here in Sucre, finally, and finally did my presentation. The Rotary meetings in Sucre are much different than what I’m used to in the US. In East Cobb, Rotary meets at 7:00 a.m., but here in Sucre the meeting started at 8:30 at night (but it didn’t really start until around 9) and went until about 11 p.m. I didn’t quite understand everything that happened during the meeting but I understood enough to volunteer myself and all my other Sucre RYE friends to help with the Rotary fundraising effort for World Polio Eradication Day. I was the first exchange student in the Exchange student in Sucre to give my presentation. Although I’m pretty sure I mispronounced a couple of words, and forgot a few points I wanted to bring up, my presentation was well received. Although I felt uncomfortable presenting first, I know my friends were happy to have more time to practice so I felt good about being able to help my friends make sure they have the best presentations possible.

In late October, we learned that Halloween which isn’t really widely celebrated here in Bolivia (although from what I understand it’s growing in popularity). My friends and I didn’t really celebrate Halloween except for watching a horror movie or two and eating some American candies the day of Halloween (which killed off the last my Jolly Rancher supply). My younger sister did a lot more to celebrate. Her class had a party, she went trick or treating in our neighborhood, and I gave her some of my American candies.

In early November, I watched my younger sister and her kindergarten classmates perform a couple of traditional Bolivian dances from different regions around Bolivia. The entire presentation was really cute and I was proud of my sister too because the day before she seemed a little anxious about performing in front of people but she did really well in the end. Also in November, there was an international trade fair in Sucre called the Feria. I went to the trade fair with a couple of friends. It was basically just an eclectic collection of different companies presenting their products, but it was cool and there were some cool artisans there. It and it was fun for a couple of hours, but then we got stranded there for a while. The day we went was the last day of the Feria and my friend’s moms who were picking us up couldn’t get there to pick us up due to traffic. The traffic was so bad, they were delayed for a couple of hours—which gave me extra time to spend with friends. A few days after the trade fair, I went to a Rotary project where hearing aids were distributed to those that needed them around Sucre. I got to spend some time with my RYE friends and help people in need which was really nice.

A few days later, I went to the valley (which is about 40 outside of Sucre) with my family. It finally felt like summer for the first time since Sucre’s weather is a little weird. I spent a lot of time with my brother and younger cousin, Coni, just hanging out and my whole family went swimming. I ended up getting sunburnt somehow (maybe it had something to do with forgetting to put on sunscreen until I saw how red I was). That same weekend, I went with my brother to my cousin, Fer’s, Quiñce (which from what I understand was pretty laid back for a quince) but I was too tired to really enjoy it. The day after the Quince was my birthday. I woke up late and opened a few birthday gifts before going to a family event to celebrate (whose) birthday. At the celebration, we ate cake for my birthday (as well as cake for the other birthday) and I got my face slammed into a cake as is tradition. On the night of my birthday, I went out for dinner with a couple of friends and I had a lot of fun. The end of the night was bittersweet though because we all had to say goodbye to a friend that was going back to Switzerland.

Also, in November, my friends and I set up a dinner for Thanksgiving since there are three RYE students from the US in Sucre. We invited our families and a couple of friends. Making the food for Thanksgiving was kind of difficult because none of us had ever made Thanksgiving before and we didn’t quite know what we were doing, but it got done and it was pretty good (the turkey was kind of dry though) plus it was nice to share part of our culture. After our Thanksgiving dinner we got hail, or as I like to call it “big snow”, to ring in the Christmas season.

The day after Thanksgiving the RYE students began the 2-week long Bolivia Tour. RYE students all met in Tarija which is the wine production area of Bolivia. The main thing we did in Tarija was a really boring wine tour that no one really enjoyed but it was fine because next we came to the best city in the country, Sucre. In Sucre we saw a couple things I hadn’t seen yet since I hadn’t previously been particularly interested in the museums. After Sucre we drove through Potosi, to get to Salar de Uyuni, the famous salt flats of Bolivia. The altitude was so bad in Potosi that when we were talking during lunch I could barely hear anyone that was talking to me, even if we were only a foot apart. After lunch we went to a cool old convent. My friends felt sick at the convent, and swore it was because the place was haunted although I would bet it was just the altitude messing with them. After the convent, we continued our route to Uyuni and we saw llamas (it was my first time seeing them and it was really cool) and we got out of the bus and got pretty close to them one time! Then we went to Salar and did a tour of it for the full day, we saw so many things including an very old, very dead coral reef (the whole salar used to be an ocean). We went to a hotel made of salt (it really is made of salt, trust me I tasted a wall and a chair). It was my favorite part of the whole trip, the Salar not tasting the wall!

After the salt flats, we took an overnight train to Oruro. I didn’t get much sleep on the train, so the next day in Oruro was rough. We then took a bus to La Paz. La Paz is such a cool city, and we spent about 2 days exploring there. While we were in La Paz, we threw a RYE class Christmas party where students from every country tried to make traditional food (every country but Denmark succeeded). The Americans made mac and cheese, but I was busy helping the Germans make potato pancakes (I forgot the German name). It was so nice to be with everyone on the exchange.

While we were in La Paz we drove 4 hours Lake Titicaca, the highest lake in the world. At Lake Titicaca we took a boat tour to Isla del Sol, the largest Island on lake Titicaca and a sacred land to the Inca people (it’s the supposed origin of the sun god). The visit to the island was great since it was on my list of things I wanted to see while I was here in Bolivia. However, the hike on Isla del Sol nearly killed all of us because of the altitude. The next city was Cochabamba where we saw a little bit of life in the countryside and a bit of the city life as well. Our last night together, all of the RYE students put on a and each country did something different. The students from the US performed the Pledge of Allegiance, danced a little bit of the Cupid Shuffle and the Cotton Eyed Joe, and we sang the National anthem, rather poorly. We all left from Cochabamba yesterday. Saying goodbye to everyone after getting so close in those two weeks was really difficult and I cried while I said goodbye to all my new friends. I really hope I can see these new friends again soon.

I got home to my family here in Sucre around ten at night and tried to help decorate for Christmas (I did a little bit and it was really nice) but I had to go to sleep because after two weeks of travel I was exhausted.

Speaking of Christmas, I celebrated my first Christmas away from my family! Although I really missed my family and some of our traditions, I did my best to bring some traditions to Bolivia. Namely, baking and eating lots of sweets with friends and family. My first endeavor being baking and frosting sugar cookies with my little sister, then making chocolate chip cookies and brownies with some friends, then making snickerdoodles on Christmas Eve out of boredom and homesickness (which was surprisingly helpful). I also went to a Rotary Christmas dinner with my other exchange friends, and we ate picana (which is soup that traditionally is Christmas Eve dish here). Then two days ago on Christmas Eve I found out that the more important day here is Christmas Eve, or Nochebuena, as opposed to the US where the more important day is Christmas itself. For Nochebuena my family and I went to a Christmas party for both sides of the family where we ate picana and buñuelo (a really good pastry), made toasts, and opened a couple gifts. Christmas day I spent with my family and we opened gifts together and we made and ate breakfast together. This Sunday my family is taking a trip to Santa Cruz for a couple days and I’m so excited to celebrate with them and some friends in Santa Cruz, as well as spend part of the new year with my friends and family here in Bolivia!

Sat, December 29, 2018

  • Kaya, Outbound to Bolivia

I arrived in Sucre just a little over a month ago now and it has been an amazing experience. When I first arrived, to be honest, I had nearly forgotten why I even wanted to be an exchange student in the first place. Everything was unfamiliar, I barely understood what anyone was saying to me, and I just wanted to go home.

I went to school on my first full day in Sucre, which was probably for the best, since it forced me to spend time with my new classmates right off the bat. I made a couple of friends from Sucre on my first day. And, even though I tried to focus on meeting people from Sucre, I made friends with some other exchange students too, since we’re all in the same class together at school. My friends and classmates from Sucre are really friendly and everyone has been more than willing to help me out when I need help, especially with Spanish. Most of my classmates speak really good English and if I forget or don’t know a word they can help me out. A lot of them speak English to me just out of habit from previous exchange students, so I try to respond in Spanish which normally makes people switch back to Spanish. It’s difficult to always remember to respond to English with Spanish, but I want to be easier to talk to and improve my Spanish so I can make friends more easily.

And my Spanish has already improved. I can finally understand more than I can’t understand when someone is speaking directly to me, but when people aren’t speaking directly to me I still have a lot of trouble understanding. For example, when my local friends have a conversation between themselves or when my teachers are speaking to the class I can barely understand and I’m lucky to just get the gist of what someone is saying.

Another adjustment I’ve had to make is that in Bolivia people are very social and it’s normal to go out with friends a lot more than I’m used to. When I can, I try to be in the plaza (or the town square) after lunch, or after any classes I have after lunch , so I can find someone to do something with. During the weekends I try to go the same parties as my local friends. Through this I’ve discovered that I’m far more extroverted than I thought I was at first.

I have had a little bit more of a hard time acclimating at home though. My family is wonderful and very inviting, but when I first got here I started finding excuses to be in my room. My family spends a lot of their time in their rooms because it’s winter here and its more comfortable. I felt like I was intruding when I went to their rooms and had trouble getting used to the idea that it was alright to be there. But I’m getting significantly more accustomed to being in their room even if I’m not always able to talk to them. I’m trying to put Rotary’s advice about socializing and not isolating yourself in your bedroom to use, since what we learned in RYE training has worked in every other facet of my life thus far. I told my host mom about this issue I’d been having and she was really helpful and supportive, and my whole host family was really inviting towards me when I finally started getting over this.

Lately, I’ve been feeling much better than I was after first arriving, and I want to thank Rotary for giving me the skills and knowledge to be able to acclimate and make friends here. And even though it’s hard sometimes to be so far from my friends in Georgia and my family, I love it here in Sucre. I am so grateful to Rotary and RYE for this opportunity, and I’m also grateful for my host family and friends here in Bolivia who have shown me nothing but kindness and warmth, which I hope to continue to return.

Wed, September 26, 2018


Lizzy - Finland

Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: Gainesville High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Downtown Gainesville, Florida
Host District: 1420
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Espoo Meri

My Bio

Tere!! Hello, My name is Elizabeth (Lizzy) Landauer and thanks to Rotary Youth Exchange Florida I will be living in Finland next year! I could not be more excited to embark on this amazing journey with an open mind ready to embrace every opportunity I get. But first, a little bit about myself. I am a sixteen year old in 10th grade at Gainesville High School. I have two lovely parents, Leslie and Peter Landauer and am the youngest of four children; Jacob, Sarah, Laura and me. I have lived in Gainesville, Florida my whole life (go Gators!) but love traveling around the country as I have traveled along all the east coast, up to Maine and have traveled to California. I am a very energetic person as I am always laughing, singing or smiling. I have done sports all my life, such as soccer and am currently on a club swim team. When I’m not swimming or doing loads of homework, I like to hang out with my friends and talk, play music, do a photo shoot or workout. I also have a passion for music as I play guitar, ukulele, piano and sing. I hope to continue my musical adventures throughout my exchange and meet life long friends, families and dogs. I wish to become pretty fluent in the language and experience all the culture and beauty of Estonia. I am also excited to see what kind of person I become through this and where this journey will take me. Can’t wait for adventures ahead!

Journals: Lizzy-Finland Blog 2018-19

  • Lizzy, Outbound to Finland

Moikka ja anteeks. It has been a hot minute since I have uploaded a journal, so I’m so sorry to all of my fans (my mom) who are always excited (my mom) to see what I have been up to (my mom). Okay so it is currently March 7th 2019. And a lot has happened. In short- I HAD A WHITE CHRISTMAS!! It was so cool to experience another cultures Christmas as in Finland everything happens on the 24th, and the ~real~ Santa comes to give you your gifts. I really bonded with my host family during this break, went skiing on Christmas Day. I tried avanto which is where you go to sauna (get slapped with some birch branch), then run to the frozen lake where they cut out a hole of ice to swim in. in one word- COLD. I got to visit many little Christmas markets which was amazing. The Estonia Girl finally went to Estonia and it was beautiful. I got to go to Lapland in November which was- words cannot describe how amazing. Huskie rides, meeting Santa and going to Santa Clause Village, snowboarding, long bus rides with the coolest people, laughing, feeding real reindeer and learning about the Sami people and their culture. Okay! so luckily I was not homesick during Christmas time. Which made it easy to fully immerse myself into Finnish Christmas culture! Okay next biggest thing was Wanhat- an old traditional dance done by the second graders at the high school. I got to take part in that which was so cool. And it is NOTHING like prom in the US. Here your dress-for one- is big and fancy and ballgown like. Second- you have to take the class to learn all the traditional dances. Everybody looked beautiful that day and for the girls its like the biggest day of their life after their wedding day. Then it was skiing holiday where I went to Turku and tried downhill skiing for the first time (I did not fall once!). I moved in with my THIRD host family a month and a week ago. And I move in another month. At the end of this month I go to Sweden, and next month is the World Championships for Ice skating AND GUESS WHO GETS TO GO!!! (its me and my host families if you are bad at guessing). But okay now for the real talk part I include in every journal. My year is nothing like I expected it to be. Now I would not give this opportunity up for ANYTHING. But I think unfortunately I will always be excited to go back home. I have not felt that “I never want to leave!!” feeling… yet, maybe it will come. But I have about 100 days left In Finland, and in June I have Eurotour so that will be AMAZING!. But lately I was affected by fools spring. Where I THOUGHT spring was coming as the snow was melting, the sun was shining and it was getting up to 45 degrees F. But as I type this, lots of snow is falling and it is 25 degrees. Lately I have also noticed that since Jasmine left to go back to Australia it has been hard making new friends. I have friends to go to coffee with and hang out with but they aren’t like best best friends. I mean I have met one of my best friends here who is an exchange student from Michigan who I could not be more thankful for. I know for a fact that we have built a life long friendship. But okay, the snow is back, the cold is back, people still forget to tell me important things like “oh class is cancelled” which is why I have decided to write this because that happened today and I had nothing else to do. But I remembered Rotary’s five finger rule. You cannot have all five. I certainly do not have all five. But I have great host families- amazing exchange friends and honestly? I am content. School and local friends and the language are all very hard. And I have tried so hard to learn Finnish. I understand so much, but my speaking abilities are low. But that’s okay because I tried, and I am still trying. Local friends? I am working on it, I still ask people to hang out a lot and I am becoming closer with lots of people at my school. So, no, I don’t have all 5 fingers, I have two. But hey, at least its not none. When things like the darkness, cold, and loneliness beat you down you have to keep going. Whether you want to or not. You cannot choose what happens in your day goes but you can choose how to look at it. And you have to stay positive through the tough things. Because this isn’t forever. And when I am really upset I always go for a walk. I have a new rule. No matter how cold or how upset or lazy I feel- if the weather is nice (sunny and clear), then I go for a walk. But to you new exchange students! When the weather sucks, its dark, you feel homesick and lonely. Journal, go for a walk, be with your hos family, hang out with a friend or call a friend here. But don’t shut down!! Sometimes you just have to take it day by day. Everything gets better with time, so just let time do its thing and before you know it you’ll have only 3,5 months til you return home again. Its all a learning experience and don’t compare exchanges! Anyways, til next time.

Sat, March 9, 2019

  • Lizzy, Outbound to Finland


Ok so I’m not sure why but I just felt like doing a journal entry because I have a lot of emotions running through me I want to share. So basically an update is that I can’t update you on everything that has happened since my last entry because so.much.has.been.done, and so much is going to happen. I’m going to see Phantom of the Opera and get to see backstage! Then I see Cinderella in December. Lapland is in less than a month! My birthday is soon too. I swear I’m having new experiences everyday and I loooveeeee that so much. I had my district camp not too long ago in Suomenlinna where we exchange students stayed in a hostel together. Exchange friends are all I could ever ask for. Everyone is so kind, funny, and the coolest people you’ll ever meet. I love them with all my heart and I’m always so happy to be around them. It’s crazy to think I now have best friends from all over the world. We did a rowing for herring event where we got to row in the Baltic sea and see Helsinki from a different perspective. My first host family has been amazing. They have really helped me take an easy landing in my new life here and taught me so much (and showed me so much) about Finnish culture. I couldn’t be more grateful. This Saturday I repack my things (which have somehow multiplied) and move to my new host family in Helsinki. I’m a little nervous about the change. After 2 1/2 months of knowing my bus numbers and routes I can take, and all the normal routines I had- everything changes. But I’m so so excited for this new change. My next 3 host families are all like best friends and live super close to each other. They all have little girls and 2 boys and I honestly cannot wait!! Though I’m sad to leave this host family I know that it won’t be my last time with them. It feels like I’m going on Exchange again by packing up all that became familiar to go to even more unfamiliarity. Getting used to the swing of things and how the family works. This past week was Sysloma or autumn break. I traveled up to Vierumäki to ride Icelandic horses, ice skate, rope climb, zip line, swim, hike, laugh, and make memories. Then to Viitasaari to visit my host parents home town. Then to Mikkeli to walk around the town and make a new friend. It was amazing and I will forever rememeber my host parents surprising me with an early birthday present to ride horses and singing “paljon onnea” to me at breakfast. My school is really cool. This Jakso, which is like term I guess?.. I’m taking health, PE, musical theater where we’re writing our own musical in Finnish, Spanish and English. It’s quite nice. And recently the language has started to click for me. I can understand so much now it’s crazy!! I’ve had so many conversations in Finnish and I can understand the conversations I hear sometimes and I slowly know more and more of what’s going on. And it’s so cool!!!! Ok. But time to get real here because I know some people think Exchange is the best time of your life 24/7… and while this has been the most amazing (almost) 3 months I’ve ever experienced (yet), like many wise Exchange students have said before… it’s also been some of the hardest. Some days I miss home like crazy. Some days all I want is a hug from my mom and to hear the sounds of my dad playing guitar and the familiar smell of nighttime popcorn and a history documentary my parents would watch. I miss some of my favorite foods, some activities. I miss my hometown & football games & my dog. I miss doing stadiums with my sister. I miss my friends. I felt really homesick for a while and missed so much about home it would bring me to tears. It’s still been a little bit hard finding local friends because everyone is so busy and I feel like a burden for them to have to speak English with me. But then as I talked to my wise new best friends on exchange they reminded me that this isn’t forever. I’ll be home again one day whether I like it or not. Even if that day seems forever away. It will come sooner than I think. I could spend these next 8 months I have here dwelling on what I’m missing back home. Or spend all my time thinking about what I miss most. But I’ve learned that that does no good. I decided to break contact with back home and though some of my friends didn’t understand why and got mad- I knew that it would help. And it did. I deleted Instagram and have stopped checking Facebook expect to update relatives occasionally. But I don’t scroll through the feed. I know that when I look back on my time here I’m going to regret feeling homesick. But while I’m here these emotions can be hard to shake. But I’ve noticed I’ve become more positive and I look at things differently already. I know i’ll Read this much later and say “ha ha!! you fool. So young and naive- you had no idea”- but for now I’ve realized that there’s always a solution to problems and problems that seemed huge back home don’t even seem like problems here. Ha past Lizzy- you’re so over dramatic- you thought that was hard? Try not being able to understand anything going on & constantly making mistakes and not being able to express your apologies correctly. But when I’m asked “why Finland?” Or “why Exchange?” I have no answer. I’m still trying to find the right one. I don’t know what made me want to do this so badly but I’m so happy I did. I’ve learned more than I could imagine and mature more everyday… ok well most days. The days where everything seems to go wrong that I cry and eat out of the ice cream tub- I’m still thankful for those days because they’ve made me stronger. I’d rather be crying and eating ice cream while Finns walk by me staring than back home so… that’s something. But I am so happy here. Even when I’m frustrated or annoyed or mess up. I’m still happy deep inside. Which is so amazing that no matter what I always have this little hint of happiness in my heart. I’m so thankful for my family and friends. They truly are amazing I can’t express it. They mean the world to me and I appreciate them and all the little things in life (like Publix baby carrots) so much more now. Exchange makes you feel so many emotions man. From wow I really want some Chipotle even tho I’ve only had it a few times back home. To MY DOG. To isn’t this the best thing in the entire world look at this. This is my life… wow. To- ok I miss my mom. I want my dad. They’re my rocks and I would do anything for them. But it’s all an experience. one I couldn’t be more thankful for. Seriously. Through sickness and health, for better or for worse. Ok I’m procrastinating because I’m supposed to be packing. Haha

Moikka <3

Thu, October 25, 2018

  • Lizzy, Outbound to Finland


It’s been a little over a month since I’ve arrived here in my new home, Espoo, Finland and every day blows my mind in a new way. I’ve gone on boat rides through Helsinki with my host dad, eaten lots of Finnish foods, went kayaking in cold waters, drunken countless numbers of coffee, seen the most beautiful sunset of my life with my best friends, gone to an amusement park, and so much more!! I feel so lucky with my host family. They’re understanding, patient, so kind, goofy, and are always there to support me and help me with my Finnish. I’ve made more friends than I ever thought I could have, joined a soccer team, and really have become apart of my host family. I love it here. Exchange has been the best choice I’ve made in my life so far. But don’t be fooled… Exchange isn’t an escape from anything. And it DEFINITELY is not an escape from emotions.This past month has been one of the best and hardest months of my life (so far). I’ve cried multiple times, gone through some things I never would’ve imagined having to deal with, felt homesick and cried some more. It has been hard, I’m not going to try to sugar coat it. Some days I just want to lay in bed and watch Gilmore Girls all day. But I don’t. Because I know that my family wouldn’t have sent me half way across the world if they didn’t think I could do it. With every time I’ve cried I’ve become stronger and I already feel much more mature. I feel confident when handling situations on my own instead of terrified. I’ve learned so much about myself and Finland in the past month. While it certainly is incredibly hard to leave everything familiar behind to go into a foreign country which you’ve only researched through books and the internet- it is incredible. Everyday is a new day to experience something you’ve never experienced before. Everyday is a new day to try something new. Even though I am currently dealing with something I still handle everyday as a gift. Because I know I only have one September 9th here. And I don’t intend on wasting it crying alone in my room. I already know how to cope with feelings of homesickness and I know that exchange is roller coaster of emotions. But I wouldn’t trade this past month for the world. I am having the time of my life here! I am truly in love with Finland. I love my new friends, both exchange and local. I love my host family. And I just love this whole country. I always smile when i remember I’m actually living here! I’ll also let you in on a secret haha. (Sorry mom & dad if you’re reading this). But my mom really didn’t think it was the right choice for me to go on exchange. “Just wait til college, you’ll have more freedom” she kept telling me. I kept trying and I said “will you just go to a meeting PLEASE!” And she did go. Well I guess that meeting went pretty well because look where I am now. Which also says something- if you’re really passionate about wanting to go on exchange don’t let the word “no” stop you. I didn’t and heyyy from Finland!!! Parents will see all the incredible work rotary does and see how many kids went and had the time of their lives. So my secret to you (which another exchange student told me)- is if your parents are saying no- just tell them to go to a meeting before they make up their mind. It worked for me! Ok I’ve rambled on for 655 words now. But thank you for reading! If you’re thinking about doing Exchange- ask any of us outbounds because trust me- we LOVE talking about our exchange.

-Lizzy Landauer

Sun, September 9, 2018


Luke - France

Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: Buchholz High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Gainesville, Florida
Host District: 1780
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Tricastin

My Bio

Bonjour à tous! Hello everyone! My name is Hayato (Luke) Shiomitsu, and I live in Gainesville, Florida with my mom, dad, older sister, and two dogs. My parents are both from Japan, but I have lived in the United States for my whole life. Raised in a bicultural family, I am bilingual, and I am excited to become tricultural and trilingual (English, Japanese, and French!) through Rotary Youth Exchange. I am currently a freshman at Buchholz High School, where I love to study math, science, and French. At school, I am heavily involved with the Buchholz Math Team, French Club, and Orchestra. I am also a member of the Alachua County Youth Orchestra since the 7th grade. In my spare time, I find myself playing with my two dogs, Jack and Choco, and flying radio-controlled airplanes. In the summer of my 7th grade year, I went to a French immersion camp for two weeks, and from then on, I found myself constantly thinking about being a foreign exchange student. Through Rotary, I hope to connect with the French people and culture, learn a new language in the process, and present France to my friends and family in the United States and Japan. Words cannot express my appreciation towards Rotary for a once in a lifetime journey. I am looking forward to my year in France, and I am excited to eat delicious dishes in France!

Journals: Luke-France Blog 2018-19

  • Luke, Outbound to France

Questions, questions, questions…

Hey guys! I am going through a multitude of emotions right now, so instead of lying on my bed doing nothing, I thought that I would be a little productive and update my blog post. Just thinking about returning to the United States is sending shivers up my spine right now.

Today I just came back from my final Rotary weekend with the entirety Rotary D1780, because not everybody will be able to come to the succeeding meeting. In other words, people are leaving to get back to their respective countries, which makes me think about my return trip to the United States. I find myself getting scared of the day I get home, mostly because I don’t know or expect how to feel. At one side, I have my old friends and my family waiting to give me a heart-warming welcome, and on the other side, I have my French friends and family (including the exchange student fam!) that I will have to leave. They have made such an impact in my life that I don’t know if I can usher enough courage in order to board the return flight to the United States. I’ve made countless of French and exchange friends that I am reluctant to start saying my final goodbyes. At the Rotary meeting today, I found myself saying not “goodbyes” to my exchange friends, but instead “see you laters,” promising them that one day, I will see them again. I know I still have a little more than a month in this wonderful country, yet I am here contemplating about the return trip, when I believe I should not think about it. Questions, such as “What am I going to miss in France?” and “What do I miss from the United States?” are constantly circulating my brain. Thus, going to the inbound weekend today just reinforced the thoughts I had already had.

At the moment, I found myself looking over my past blog posts and my camera roll, to read and look over what I had done for the past months. I often wonder if I have changed over my exchange, and if so, in what kind of way. It is hard to say because it is nearly impossible to judge oneself, but one thing is certain; I have learned countless of new and important things during my exchange. From learning how to water ski to learning how to dance the Cotton Eye Joe (Which I should have known before, shame on me), exchange has been a place for new opportunities. These opportunities, such as eating different plates depending on the season, or accidentally asking my host mother to have a marriage, etc. have made me a stronger, and a culturally aware person. I’m sure that even though I am not aware of it, I am starting to think just like a French person at times. All in all, I think I will understand better the scale of how much I have changed once I return to the United States, live with my family and meet my old friends.

Exchange is a rollercoaster ride. Period. Some days are better than other days, some weeks are better than other weeks, and some months are better than other months. But one thing I am certain is that this year is not better than any of the first fifteen years of my life. Rotary Youth Exchange opened my world, and this year is definitely the best of my life so far.

Perhaps to some people like me, the hardest fact of exchange is that we are obliged to return one day… So, with the short time I have left, I will have to try to live each and every day to my fullest, in order to leave no regrets in France. I know that I must leave one day, so I will spend the most time I can with those that I will miss the most when I go back to the United States.

At this point in time, I am starting to think about the last gifts I am going to give to my host families, and the things I am going to bring back to the United States.

In all honesty, even when I have written such a solemn post, exchange is an amazing experience. I have met new people in new places and had new experiences in what was a new country. I have spent wonderful times with my friends and host families, which I will never forget in my lifetime. Not once have I regretted going on exchange, although I have been through hard moments.

With that note, I will live my exchange life to my best extent.

P.S. I feel like I am losing my knowledge of the English language.

P.P.S. I am excited to go to the Bus Trips in June!!!!!

For those who are interested to knowing what I did during March, April, and May:

Following my Bus Trips in February, I:

– Went on a strike for the environment and picked up trash in the community.

– Went skiing chez Patrick, which is in the Alps.

– Ate at a Michelin starred restaurant!

– Changed host families.

– Met a Canadian on exchange with OSEF, who was hosted by the cousin of my host brother.

– Went to do a geo-cache with my friend.

– Made a small hole in my ear drum, which resulted at the doctors office.

– Had a birthday party with my friends!

– Went to Vendée for the second time, and went to the beach, which was extremely cold.

– Turned 16!

– Toured Paris for 3 days, because the family of my host family lives there 🙂

– Watched the monter de l’arbre de Montségur, a tradition in my village to change a big tree in the village “castle” (This tradition is from the Middle Ages!!!)

– Dyed my hair.

– Made a Carrefour costume with my host brother out of cardboard and went to school with it.

– Went to Ardèche weekend for Inbounds.

– Volunteered at a middle school to teach English to students.

Mon, May 20, 2019

  • Luke, Outbound to France

I’m absolutely stuck on what to write my blog on. I have too many things to write about; from changing host families to experiencing a new level of winter. However, I feel that if I list every single interesting “touristic” thing that I have done in the past three months, I feel like this will be utterly boring. So, instead, I have decided to take you guys through a typical day in the life of Luke.

6:10 The dreading alarm rings. I unconsciously know it’s going to happen, I know it is my enemy, and sometimes I have to resist throwing my phone across the room. The “Happy days” are over. In other words, I am not, absolutely not happy to hear my alarm go off. I was still in the “Happy days” when I wrote my first blog post, but now, I am in the “Not Happy days.” As I rest in my bed for about another five minutes, it’s always a battle between me and sleep. If I accidentally sleep, my host mom will come to wake me up again, and to avoid that happening, normally I win the battle, go Luke! After waking up, the first thing I do is go to eat. It gets my day started, and I am still half-asleep while I eat. My host family learned that it’s never a good idea to talk something important in the morning, because I will 99.99% forget it. Future exchange students, I assure you, we aren’t like Superman. We’re still human beings, and we are prone to everyday hardships like any other of you guys. Breakfast usually consists of cereal, loafs of bread, or grillettes. If I’m lucky, there’s a cake or crêpe resting from the day before that I would definitely take. I eat with my host mother and host sister, while my lucky host brother gets to sleep a little while longer, as he goes to middle school. After brushing my teeth and washing my face, it’s game on. The second that cold water hits my face, I am forced to wake myself up, and this officially starts my day. I usually (*correction 50% of the time) pack my backpack the day before, which make things easier. All that rests is putting on clothes for the day, and we are off into the car to go to my bus stop. Notice that I am extremely proud of myself that I haven’t missed a single bus (Although I have been dangerously close) to get to school. I will most definitely celebrate if I can make it through the school year without missing a bus. After my host mother drops me at the bus station at 7:00, the bus arrives about two minutes later, and I am greeted by the bus driver. To anyone reading this, whether it be future exchange students, or their parents, or anyone, it is always important to be polite, especially in France, where people will not be friendly if you don’t start a conversation with a simple ‘Bonjour.’ And the boring wait begins…

For about an hour…

Just to get a school…

Yup, that’s right. A full hour to study French, socialize with bus buddies, listen to French music, an hour with endless possibilities, two hours everyday including the return trip! Instead, I use this time to sleep, or in most cases, to try to sleep because I have trouble sleeping in buses. What a great use of time, Luke. As I enter a time warp of an hour, I am then beaten awake for the third time of the day, this time, by my best friend (Soon to be my host brother in April) who usually sits next to me on the bus, Damien. Once at school, we don’t really stop to talk to anyone, but instead we go directly inside the school building, due to the cold temperatures. Winter is at its finest, and you can tell when every breath you take releases a white vapor. In the morning, the temperatures are in between 0 to 5 degrees Celsius, and the highest temperatures that the day can reach is around 10 degrees. Once inside the building, most of our classmates are in front of the classroom, in which we have about 5 minutes to socialize before courses start. Guys greet other guys with a firm handshake or a handshake that you make up, whereas girls greet other girls with a cheek kiss known as la bise. Guys greet other girls by doing a “chèque” (Two taps on the hand) or by doing the bise if they feel comfortable with the other girl. By the time we greet our classmates, the professor arrives, opens the door, and he/she commences class. School is definitely not the best part of being an exchange student. It is exhausting to try to understand a class in a language that is not native. Classes differ each day, but each subject determines my participation level. For example, I fully participate in math and science classes, however, in French class, I struggle to listen (As we study difficult literature equivalent for reading Shakespeare in America). It really depends on the exchange student and his or her teachers if they have to participate in class or not. Like school in the United States, I prefer certain courses over others. One of the interesting things is that as much as I don’t fully understand French class, the teacher is very funny and makes the class interesting. In France, school starts at 8 and ends at 5, except for Wednesday’s where they end at noon. We usually have 10 minute breaks after every two courses, and an hour break for lunch. Other than the hour break for lunch, we usually have one or two hours a day for free time. During the free time, I usually do one of three things; go out into the city with my friends, go to the library with my friends, or roam around the school and halls with my friends. I can’t stress out the importance of having friends. I don’t think it matters what country you are going to, but friends are necessity in order for you to progress in the language. Not only that, they are a mean of support, they are trustworthy, and can help you overcome your struggles. I was extremely fortunate when I found out that my best friend is going to become my host brother! Anyways, going back to school, I probably talk more than I should, especially in classes I don’t understand, but at least I talk in French, so I don’t see it as a problem. Talking is very important as well for learning the language, and I always strive to find conversations to join on. A great place to talk and socialize in is the cafeteria. First and foremost, I have to admit, that the United States school food is lacking a lot compared to the French school food. I believe this is due to the fact that the importance of food is ingrained in the French culture. They have embraced this culture and have passed it down through generations, which we can all observe through the quality food. As I get back into the bus at 5:00 after parting with my friends, I once again start to sleep (But instead, for the past few days, I have been writing this blog on the bus). Getting off the bus at 6:00 I either go directly home, or I go to tennis (every Tuesday and Wednesday). Also, some Mondays, I go to orchestra from 7:30 to 9:30, and every Thursday, I go back to my first host family’s house because they take me running with my first two host brothers. On the days I do go home at 6:00, I usually stay on the couch in the living room, with my host brother, or simply in my room until around 7 to 7:30, when we eat dinner. My host father cooks amazing traditional French dishes, which is a great combination with delicious French bread. However, I have to admit, sometimes I do miss American and Japanese food, but that can wait because I can always have that when I get back. Normally after eating, brushing my teeth, taking a shower, it is already 8:30 to 9:00, at which time I go into my room to either study or watch some television series (Always in French or at least with French subtitles), and then… I sleep to wake up again to the alarm.

This is an average day of an exchange student. It’s not really similar to what an average exchange student posts on their social media, like Instagram. Obviously there are fun moments, but life is not constantly made up of fun moments. I just came back from a Paris/Barcelona bus trip, which was probably the best week I have had so far on my exchange, as I got to meet up with Miles, a fellow exchange student from Florida in Spain. We were forty exchange students in France discovering more of our country and our fellow neighbor, Spain. When I came back from that Bus Trip, I ended up staying up the whole night not being able to sleep because I felt like the best times were over, and that I was going to return to a normal day. Mind you, in my opinion, the normal day of an exchange student is already unique and better than an average, repetitive day in the United States. I have 6 weeks until the next vacation, and I hope I will have experiences as amazing of those I had on the bus trip. I have four months left of exchange, and I am starting to have the notion that one day, I am going to have to return to life in the United States. But as of now, I will try to forget about that fact and live fun times with my new friends and families.

Tue, March 5, 2019

  • Luke, Outbound to France

Coucou! Next week will mark my second month of being in this extraordinary country, France. It seems unreal that I am in this country even to this moment, and I sometimes have to close my eyes, re-open them, and pinch myself in order to make sure that this life isn’t a dream. At this point, I am more than sure that the hellish amount of paperwork and essays for Rotary back in the United States was completely worth it. Right now, I am in a 8 hour car ride to go to Cholet in the Northwest of France, but before I get there, I am going to rewind my whole exchange to the beginning.

I still remember the day I left my home country as if it were yesterday. After breaking tears at the airport with my family, I flew to Atlanta, where I had a connecting flight to Amsterdam International Airport. Unexpectedly, the flight didn’t seem that long, because I made good friends with a German person, Tassilo, (I’m surprised I remember his name!) and I ended up talking to him for most of the flight. Upon arriving at Amsterdam, I saw a couple other exchange students going to France, and we ended up staying together to wait for our final flight. I flew into Lyon that day, and I knew that there was something going on, because I couldn’t understand what people were saying to each other. It’s frustrating, when you’re trying to understand what people are discussing, and you can’t catch any of the sentences or even the words. Nonetheless, I was welcomed by a warm-hearted host family, the Mignet’s , at the airport. The family consists of the mother (Marietta), the father (Tony), and three brothers (Adrien, Angel, and Alix). Adrien left for his exchange in Brazil, so currently, I live with Angel, who is 13, and Alix, who is 10. They’re an extremely nice family, and I could sense their generosity from the first day. Anyways, the big idea is that on my first day in France, I definitely had an unusual feeling that I wasn’t in the United States anymore. From the obvious things such as language, to the less obvious things, such as the buildings, cars, landscapes, climate, and much more, I remember telling myself and my host family the phrase: “I am in France!” And yes, I am in France, the country of food and love, and the food hasn’t disappointed even once. Especially the cheese and bread. Every dinner, we have a cheese and bread course (After the main meal) and the bread here is crunchy and savory, so it is super good. Also, there are more than a million types of cheeses here, that even if I try one type of cheese everyday, I would not have eaten all types by the end of my exchange. My favorite type of cheese here right now is Beaufort, and the Beaufort and baguette is a match made in heaven. The main courses are just at good as the cheese and bread, but it is always the desserts in France that gets the credit. And I can understand why. From the savory mille-feuille to crêpes and tarte aux pommes, the patisseries here in France are phenomenal. Food plays a big role in my life at this point, that this blog post could be all about food!

But instead, I think it’s about time that you know where I live 😉

I live in the Southeast of France, in the region of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, in the department of Drôme, and in the village of Montségur-sur-Lauzon. It’s a small village (1,200 people), and it is known for its Lavenders and truffles (the mushroom). Also, there is a small old castle that overlooks the village and has an incredible view. Old buildings, such as churches and castles are so common in France (And World War memorials), that nearly every village has one. I have already visited more than five castles and have seen numerous churches and buildings that have been dated back to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. To add on, the climate is definitely different from Florida, and I prefer it here more than Florida, because there is absolutely no humidity here. Instead it is much colder, and there is much more wind in this region. In addition, it rarely rains here, and most of the time, you can’t spot even one cloud in the sky. But I think I am not prepared for the winter, where it apparently becomes super cold that it snows from time to time. But the exchange students who are going to Scandinavian countries definitely have it worse (Shoutout to Brad and Zach!), so I am not complaining.

In order to save you guys from boredom, I will make a list of the highlights (In chronological order) of my time in France:

– Arrived in France!!!

– Visited neighboring villages (Clansayes, Grignan, Le Garde-Adhémar, etc.) and saw old chapels, castles and buildings during my first week in France.

– Went to the accrobranche and had a blast with my host brothers.

– Met my second and third host families and had a dinner with them.

– Went to Ardèche, and my host family and I canoed down the river for five hours (the view was phenomenal). At the end, we had a picnic with my second and third host families.

– Started school and was relieved to find out that my host brother of my third host family was in the same class that I was.

– Started Tennis and track and field (with my host brothers).

– Went to a Rotary meeting and was warmly welcomed by all the members (Also, the food at the meeting was amazing).

– Welcomed three new animals to the family (1 pig and 2 hamsters).

– Went to a festival with my friends and had the time of my life.

– Went to Annecy to meet the exchange students living in France for the first time, and made a lot of friends that were going through the same thing that I was. Exchange students all have a connection, and we understand each other the best ;).

– Visited Orange to see a famous old theater called le Théâtre Antique d’Orange.

– Went to a mountain cabin with my friend three hours from my home, and spent a night there.

– Hiked with my host family and my third host family in the mountains near the Mont Blanc.

– Saw my exchange friends for the second time.

– Went to the movies as a class.

– Had a cross-country race, and my class was definitely the best 😉 Also, if we win, we get a day of skiing as a class!!!

– Went to the “American Festival” hosted by my village and the stereotype was that every American has a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

– Went to Avignon to cheer on my host brothers for a track and field competition. Also visited the city of Avignon.

– Currently going to the west of France (the city of Cholet) and next week, I will go again back to the mountain cabin of my friend (And host brother of my third host family) to spend a couple days there.


School is getting a whole new section by itself, because my life right now is divided into two main sections: Life at school, and life not at school.

Anyways, I have just finished my seventh week of school, as there is a two-week vacation (Called Toussaint) after the first seven weeks of school. School normally starts at 8 in the morning, and finishes anywhere from 12 o’clock to 5 o’clock depending on the day. On Monday, I finish at 4 o’clock, on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, I finish at 5 o’clock, and on Wednesday, I finish at noon. Everyday (except Wednesday’s), I have an hour break to eat, and on Fridays, I have a three hour break, in which I will explain later what I do in the three hours. But before anything, I need to explain that school, especially the first day, is very awkward and hard.

Walking down the halls the first day of school is extremely awkward. I was lucky that my host brother could help me around. Especially in class, I could sense the stares of the people. It’s hard in that situation, to go up to different people and talk to them. And unlike the United States, most of the people don’t come up to you to talk to you. But everyone in my grade level is new to high school, so that made it a little easier to talk with more people. On the first day, most of the new friends I made were through my host brother, but by the third week of school, I felt much more comfortable talking to other people, and I had talked to everyone in my class and made friends that were not related to my host brother.

As for the courses, the first month, I didn’t understand a single sentence that my professor said. I caught a couple words and wrote down what everybody wrote, but the comprehension skill was not there. Nonetheless, I tried the homework, arriving with little to no success. Right now, the only classes I fully understand is math and English. The other classes, I’m struggling to understand, but I know that I am starting to catch more words and sentences that the professor is saying, so that is a good sign. In addition to my classes at high school, I have 4 hours of extra courses at middle school, in order to improve my French.

In addition, some of my best memories so far are definitely made at school. Every Friday, my friends and I go out to the city, because we have a 3 hour break to eat. I usually go to Kebab with my friends to eat on Fridays. My class has gathered at the park during these 3 hour breaks, and we normally talk with each other and spend our time peacefully. Also, our whole grade level has gone to the movies and had a running competition, which are kind of like “field trips” in the United States. I am obviously biased, but my class, 2nd3, is definitely the best, and we are the most tightly-knitted group, compared to any other class in our school :). Perhaps I will go into further detail on the broad topic of school later. All in all, I absolutely love going to school right now (Not for the courses, but my friends) and there are new things to do everyday with the people in my class that makes it fun.

To future exchange students (Or anybody interested in doing exchange) who had the patience to read my blog post:

Firstly, congratulations for reading through this blog post ;). As a nice gift, I will give my tips for what I did and what I wish I had done when I was in the United States.

  1. You can never over-practice your language. Exchange will be ten times much easier if you have a basic understanding of the language before you leave for exchange.
  2. Get organized, right now. I wish I had learned that exchange requires so much organizing of life, because nobody is here to tell you how to spend each day and what to do.
  3. Learn your country, and after you know where you are going, look at a map. That way, when you are lost, you will know where you are, unlike me.
  4. Get cooking. Cooking with the host family is precious bonding time! So far, I’ve cooked dinner and made desserts for my host family.
  5. Get in shape. I’ve definitely walked 100x more than my time in the United States, and I’ve still gained weight because the food is just too good 🙂
  6. Get your news reel rollin’. People really want to know what is happening in your country, and it’s also cooler just to know some basic current events.
  7. Learn your conversions. The metric system exhausted me the first month I was here. Learn your conversions beforehand!
  8. Just apply (If you haven’t). Exchange will open your world to so many more things, and learning a different culture through exchange has changed my life.

It is impossible to capture everything that has happened in the last two months, but hopefully I gave a good overview on what the first two months of exchange is like. I am enjoying every day of my exchange, despite all the hardships and occasional waves of homesickness, because I don’t want to leave any regrets during my exchange. The first two months have definitely passed by too fast. All in all, I have had a phenomenal time in the first two months in this country, and I am just starting to understand the extent of greatness that the Rotary Youth Exchange program encompasses. It is truly a program that connects two cultures, and I am honored to represent the United States in promoting world peace. Merci Rotary pour cette opportunité génial!

Wed, October 24, 2018


Maggie - Austria

Hometown: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
School: Ponte Vedra High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
Host District: 1910
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Wien-Prinz Eugen

My Bio

Grüß Gott! Ich bin Maggie. I am 17 years old and a Junior at Ponte Vedra High School. I have two older brothers (in college) and I live at home with my twin sister, Katie (Who will be on exchange in Brazil next year!), as well as my Mom, Dad, and my sweet, golden retriever, Runner. Being the daughter of a flight attendant, I’ve had many opportunities to travel, which has nurtured my curiosity for the world around me. While I’ve always enjoyed traveling, I am so ecstatic to LIVE somewhere new, not just visit for a few days; and I am so thrilled to say that next year I will be living in Österreich (Austria)! I can’t wait to immerse myself in the culture and learn a new language! Being a classically trained cellist, as well as working a lot with my school’s theatre department, I can’t wait to see the art and music scene in Austria. As a Floridian, I am psyched to experience an Austrian Winter complete with Christmas Markets and snow! I have so much gratitude towards my parents and Rotary for supporting me and allowing me to go on this adventure. Six months ago RYE wouldn’t have been in my wildest dreams. At least once a day I find myself saying “What the heck! I’m going to Austria!” There are not enough words in the English language to describe how excited I am! Perhaps I’ll find the perfect words in German? Auf Wiedersehen!

Journals: Maggie-Austria Blog 2018-19

  • Maggie, Outbound to Austria

Hi! So I know I’m a bit overdue on this, but as anyone who’s been on exchange knows, the last half flies by! So much has been going on and I haven’t had time to write it all down! So, to make amends to all my readers (and by ALL my readers I mean my Mom), here’s a summary of what I’ve been up to in the last few months…


I finally got to open and attend my first ball! I can honestly say without a shred of doubt that it was the most magical night of my life. I had been preparing since September to get to this night and it was so gratifying! After hours of learning how to waltz, I got to stand tall with the other students opening, and show off my mad skills! The ball lasted until 5:00 am… I only made it until 3:00 am. The night was filled with Waltzing, Fox-Trotting, Tangoing, Salsa-ing, etc., and of course, several hours in the disco downstairs. The entire night felt like something out of a Jane Austen novel! I am so grateful to my host parents, the Techniker-Cercle, and Rotary for making such an elegant, unforgettable, fairytale of a night night possible for me!

Only two days later, I got to go to another ball of a completely different kind! The Jäger Ball (Hunter’s Ball). This is a very traditional ball, but instead of ballgowns and tails, the guest wear their traditional Austrian clothing—Dirndls and Trachtzüge. And instead a traditional opening to classical music, it was a traditional Austrian folk dance, to folk music. This ball was held in the Hofburg Palace, which is the imperial place of the Hapsburg Dynasty, and in the center of the city. It’s so huge, I got lost inside when on my way out. It was such a cool opportunity, and different experience from my first one.


The first week of February, I had a break from school. I used the week to visit my friends in neighboring cities, visit a Therme (Thermal Pools), and catch up on museum exhibits I’ve been meaning to see! At the end of the break, we spent a night at my host grandma’s and then visited a family friend’s country home. We hiked up a mountain in the snow, ate lunch at a typical Austrian ski hut, and then sled down a sledding track on traditional Austrian sleds! We then went back to their house for dinner. It was by far the coolest thing I have ever done on exchange! Overall, it was a super relaxing week to recharge and refocus on my last half of exchange. Oh, and I also went to a play and an opera in February!


In March I had another ball! The Elmayer Ball, also held in the Hofburg Palace, is annually thrown by the Elmayer Dance School, where all the high-society teenagers of Vienna (including me) learn traditional dances (Waltz, Fox-Trot, Tango, etc.). It was so fun, and unlike the other balls, where I only knew a handful of attendees, I knew almost everyone there! It was such fun night (mainly spent in the disco) with my classmates.

Only two days after the ball, my parents came! They stayed for about a week, and it was a great time to show them my life here. Having them see where I go to school, meet my host family, and see the beautiful city I live in was so cool. Rotary doesn’t recommend parent visits, but for me it was exactly what I needed. I had been feeling so homesick, especially since I was on Month 4 of winter. Getting a week’s with of hugs from my mom and dad gave me exactly the energy I needed to keep going. It also helped me see that the end to my year was coming closer. While many exchange students struggle with homesickness after their parents leave, I was only more motivated to enjoy the time I had left.

The day after my parents left, I left for my week long Rotary Ski Week in the alps! It was the most stunning, tiring, and fun week of my exchange! I also really improved skiing! Some of the best memories of exchange came from this week. Any future exchange students reading this who are deciding on what trips to take, if your district provides a ski week, GO! It’ll be worth every penny.


The weather finally warmed up, so I spent most of April in parks, or along the Danube River! It was so nice to have consistently warm and sonny weather again! The flowers began to bloom, the ice cream shops opened again, and my world was turned from brown and gray to bright green and pink and yellow! It was an absolute dream. As a Floridian, I was more than excited to celebrate the end of winter with the arrival of spring.

With April came Easter! I spent Easter at my host grandparents’ house and it was stunning! I also got to take day trip to Graz (second biggest city in Austria) while there. It was so beautiful and different from Vienna. We spent the day walking through old town, climbing up to the palace overlooking the city, eating a very delicious lunch, and visiting an art museum. It was a great day with my host mom and sisters. We celebrated a wonderfully traditional, Austrian Easter. The evening before, we had a huge easter fire. This is a pagan tradition coming from The Festival of Fertility. The fire is meant to bring a good harvest to the farmers and fertility to the women and animals. The next day the kids had an easter egg hunt, where we hunted for real eggs (my family thought it was so weird that American’s hunted for plastic eggs…) which we ate that evening! The rest of the afternoon was filled with walks in the forest, playing board games with my host grandpa, and reading in the garden. My personal paradise! The next day I went to a traditional easter mass with my host mom and sister. Overall it was a beautiful easter , and one I will cherish for years to come.

I also got to do several really nice hikes in April. As it turns out, I really enjoy hiking! There is no better feeling than that breathtaking view on a peak, after sweating out all your body fluids trying to get up the steep path.


May First marked day one of my 18 day Euro Tour! We went to Germany, Belgium, France, Monaco, and Italy! Although the first leg of our trip was dampened (literally) by a stormy downcast, it was the trip of a lifetime. Seriously, climbing up the Eiffel Tower in 40 degree weather while its windy and pouring down rain—and then on the top of the tower snowing—is a memory I will carry with me forever, along with cold I got from it! All jokes aside, it was an amazing trip with amazing views, the funniest and most understanding of travel companions, and so so so much gelato! I mean, What more could a girl want?

The day after I came home, we got to celebrate my little brother’s first communion. The mass was held in Stephansdom, the most important church in Vienna. It was such a beautiful and traditional ceremony, and a big stepping stone for my host brother. I was so proud of him! He has been such a big part of my exchange, and I know I’m gonna miss him always correcting my german, asking me to play shoots and ladders with him, and making me watch all five Ice Age movies with him.

The next weekend I had my school ball! It was the last ball of my exchange (tragically), and it was by far my favorite! Essentially, the school ball is like prom, but way cooler! It goes from 8:00pm-3:00am. At midnight theres a special show from the seniors, and teachrs. The seniors did a skit, then the teachers dud a dance, which was followed by a teacer-student band. The Ball was held in the Palace of Niederösterreich, built in 1513. Upstairs was a beautiful ball room, built in 1571, where one could waltz. Downstairs was a disco, where I spent the majority of the evening. And outside, there was a bar and seating, where one could talk with friends. Let’s just say that my senior prom next year has a lot to live up to.

Right now, I only have one month left! Thinking back, I am so grateful to everyone that has helped make this year possible for me. It’s crazy to think that in 31 days I will be back in Florida. A lot of my exchange friends never want to leave. I feel pretty conflicted about the matter. Part of me doesn’t wanna go either. I live in a beautiful city, that’s in a stunning country, with a wonderful family, and great friends. I’ve worked so hard to create the relationships I have now, to speak the language, and to become an Austrian. Now you’re telling me I have to go home? Just when the weather is getting nice again? Of course there is the other part of me that is so excited to go home again. I miss chipotle, my dog, and bike rides on the beach. And more than that, I miss my twin sister! The hardest thing about this entire year has been being away from her. She’s my best friend and constant companion. All that being said, I only have one month left, and it’s gonna be one heck of a month. Every weekend I have something to look forward to. I know it’s gonna fly by so fast, and that my sister will be waiting in the airport for me, so I need to celebrate every moment I have left.

Tue, June 11, 2019

  • Maggie, Outbound to Austria


Hi Readers! It is already halfway through my exchange and I am NOT here for it! Time is moving too fast and I am not even ready to think about going home. Five months used to seem like eternity, but now that thats all the time I have here, it feels like a minute! I survived the dreaded holiday time—where most exchangers feel overwhelmed with homesickness—and have lived to tell you all about it…


In September, my host mom mentioned to me an article she read about American Thanksgiving and asked me about how my family celebrates it. After a long conversation, it was decided, we were going to celebrate it here in Austria. Fast forward a few months to the Saturday after Thanksgiving. My host mom and I spent the whole day in the kitchen, making Pumpkin Pie, Sweet Potato Casserole, Green Beans, and of course a Turkey! My host brother thought it’d be disgusting to eat marshmallows on sweet potatoes and pumpkin as a dessert. I actually bet with him on if he’d like it or not. Funny enough, he was the only one of my family who actually liked the combo of marshmallows and sweet potatoes. The rest of my family took one bite, and politely scraped the remaining marshmallows aside. My brothers still owes me those five euros… The day was overall a wonderful time to spend with my host fam, and gave me lot to be thankful for….

Fröhes Weihnachten!!!

I survived my first Austrian Christmas and I am here to write all a bout it! It was the most beautiful and loveliest experience of my entire exchange and I’m pretty sad to see it go. To start, I thought I’d write down some traditions that we celebrate in Austria, that aren’t celebrated back in the U.S.


In Austria we have Christmas Markets. This tradition dates back to the first Winter Market in Vienna in 1298.They are little markets of huts where one can buy handmade gifts, sweets, or hot drinks. The two traditional drinks of Christmas Markets are Glüwein (A wine mulled with spices and tea) and Punsch (Warm punch). They are magical, quaint, little villages in different important parts of the town. They begin in Mid November and go up until Christmas.


Okay, so some people have this tradition in America, but it comes from Europe. An Advent Calendar is a Calendar with a little window for each day of December leading up to Christmas. Typically it has chocolate or sweets inside. Our family had one with beautiful pictures inside, and my mom had made little sacks to open with a sweet inside for every child in the family. My class also did an Advent Calendar with a bag of sweets for a different student each day.

Advent Kranz

Every family has a wreath on their table with four candles. Every Sunday before Christmas we light a new one until all four are lighted. Traditionally, Advent Wreaths have three purple candles and one pink, however ours had four green-grey candles. Every Sunday we’d have an Advent Breakfast. We’d sing Christmas songs as we light the new candle. My host dad made song books filled with traditional Austrian Folksongs and it had all their favorite Christmas songs inside. My class also had an Advent Kranz that we “lit” (the candles were fake) every Friday. I think this was probably my favorite Austrian Tradition.


In Austria, a predominantly Roman Catholic Country, gifts aren’t brought by Santa Claus. They are brought by Christkind (Baby Jesus). Along with the presents, the whole tree is brought and decorated by Christkind. How an infant is able to pull this off I have no idea. But that is the magic of Christmas and Jesus’s miraculous powers…

St. Nikolaus and Krampus

On the 6th of December, St. Nikolaus comes and leaves goodies for well behaved children. We all got a chocolate Nikolaus in our window from St. Nikolaus. On the eve of St. Nikolaus’s Day, his companion, Krampus comes to punish misbehaved children. The tradition is that he puts the bad children in a sack and hits them with a stick. Today, in small towns, men dress up in sheep skins, ragged clothes, chains, and devil-like masks and run around the town whipping whoever is in their way. I was visited by Krampus at my waltz school. He and St. Nikolaus made a visit. All of the students had to learn a special “Krampus Dance” and if we did it poorly we were whipped by Krampus! It was honestly the most terrifying dance lesson of my life.


We celebrated the Winter Solstice! We were invited along with 25 others to a traditional Austrian Winter Solstice celebration. We hiked up a snowy mountain at night to a mountain hut where we drank Glüwein, Tea, and Frankfurters. Then we went outside and sang traditional Austrian songs around a Bonfire. The last song we all sang while holding hands. It was about life and friendship. Then we all jumped over the fire to bring luck in the new year. We then climbed down the mountain. It was so beautiful! You could see the snow perfectly as it was a full moon. My host dad later told me that probably only 500 people in Austria celebrate the Winter Solstice every year, and that I was surely the only RYE Student to ever celebrate it. It was so wonderful to celebrate such an old tradition! I will never forget it.

Leading up to Christmas

Now that I’ve identified some differences, here are some of the wonderful moments leading up to Christmas!

Going to the Movies with Friends

I finally got the courage to ask girls from my class to hang out! We saw the new Nutcracker film, and ate so much popcorn and Christmas candy. It’s nothing huge, but it was a big step for me to ask them, and it was such a nice afternoon out with the girls.

Rotary Christmas Party

My host club had its annual Christmas party on December 12th, and it was so wonderful! My host mom, the club president, organized the whole thing. It was quite the elegant affair, and a nice opportunity to talk to people from the club.

Salzbrug Weekend

RYE Austria hosted a Christmas weekend in Salzburg. We got to see the beautiful city, check out the Christmas Markets, and have a Christmas Dinner all together, where each country presented its traditions. Us Americans sang “Rudi the Red Nose Reindeer”, in honor of our wonderful Country Coordinator, Rudi. The weekend was so lovely, and probably one of my favorite trips.

Last Day of School before Christmas

I started off the day, by exchanging Christmas gifts with my friends. One got me an empty recipe book to fill with all of my favorite Austrian dishes. She wrote in the first one for me, one of my favorite Austrian desserts, Kaiserschmarrn. It was such a thoughtful gift. Being in a Catholic School, Christmas is way more festive here, than back at my public school in Florida. To start, we had a Christmas School Mass. Then, during one of the long, class breaks, my friend Regina took my hand and said “Come with me.” We all rushed to the main hall, where a concert by the music club was put on. They played instruments as we sang along to classic Austrian Christmas Carols. It was so sweet! During all of our other class breaks, we played Wham’s “Last Christmas” and Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas” and sang to the songs at the top of our lungs. This was nothing new though, as we literally did this everyday of December. I think I could go the rest of my life without hearing this two songs… or maybe just until next December. To the end the day, we had our class Secret Santa and Christmas Party. It was such an amazing day, and I loved celebrating my school’s Christmas traditions.

Christmas Day

What a magical magical day! I woke up having absolutely no feelings towards it being Christmas, as I didn’t feel that rush of knowing there were Christmas presents and filled stockings waiting under the tree for me… that’s because Christmas in Austria is celebrated on the evening of the 24th. I woke up and ate a normal breakfast and my brother opened the last window of the advent calendar and unwrapped the last little sack (it was filled with a chocolate Christkind for each kid). After breakfast I spent the rest of the day in an apartment downstairs with my other siblings baking Christmas cookies with my neighbor. Meanwhile my host parents were preparing the tree and wrapping the presents for all the children. My sisters helped a bit too. The only two people who weren’t allowed any part in the preparations were nay brother and me. This was because my brother still believes in Christkind and because my family wanted me to have an authentic Austrian Christmas as they remember it as children. After baking cookies I hurriedly finished wrapping presents for my family and threw on my dress just as my extended family arrived. The doors to the living room were closed. My family drank cocktails and ate appetizers when all of a sudden a bell was rung… Christkind had arrived! We opened the doors to the biggest and most beautiful Christmas tree I had ever laid eyes on. It was adorned with beautiful traditional ornaments, candles, and sparklers! The top branch reached the roof and was bent over. My host mom does a different themed tree every year, but said that this year she decided to go with traditional Austrian theme for me! I was so enthralled with this tree! We then sang a few songs and wished each other a Frohe Weihnachten. The presents laid in different piles for each kid and adult. After opening all of our gifts we ate a delicious dinner of home made Pumpkin Ravioli, Steaks, Salad, Potatoes, and of course the homemade Christmas cookies. We then spent the rest of the evening talking and enjoying each other’s company. After all the guests left, my host mom, older sister and I rushed to the city for a midnight mass. The music and church were so beautiful! Lots of students have doubts or worries about Christmas on Exchange because they are away from their family and miss out on their traditions back home. For me, it was one of the most magical Christmases I’ve had in a long time. Celebrating new traditions made Christmas feel new and mysterious, as it did for me as a kid. I will never forget the beautiful Christmas I celebrated with my host family!

The Celebration Continues

The next morning after Christmas we all went to my host aunt’s house for brunch. I got to meet a lot of extended Family on her side while eating some very delicious Prosciutto. The day after that I want to my Grandparent’s house for a late lunch. We ate a delicious meal and sang songs. This was really nice, as it extended the Christmas celebration a little longer.

Trip to Weißensee

A few days after Christmas, we headed to Weißensee, a beautiful lake in the mountains. First we stopped at my host-grandma’s house for the night, where we ate a traditional Austrian Christmas dish, Karpfenfisch (a baked fish). The next day we finished our road trip and arrived. The whole week was supposed to be devoted to winter sports: Cross-Country Skiing, Alpine Skiing, Ice-Skating, sledding, and snow-hikes. The forecast showed there to be tons of snow all over Austria… except in Kärnten, the state that we were in. The whole week there was practically no snow. Fortunately, they had the slopes groomed with snow for skiing, and the lake was completely frozen over, so we were still able to get in lots of ice-skating, and lots of skiing. In Austria, Skiing is a national sport. It’s their NFL. I, being from Florida, had practically no skiing experience. So, they enrolled my 7-year old brother and me in Ski-School, where I was surrounded by other young children. We hit those bunny slopes so hard that after three days of skiing, my little brother and I were pros. Ice-Skating, on a frozen lake was a first for me, and such a cool experience! On our first day, we ice skated two loops around the lake, and then skated up to a hut, where we drank warm punch and ate apple strudel. In the afternoon, we went on a hike. The next day my brother and I went to ski school in the morning, while my sisters skied, and in the afternoon we went hiking again. The rest of the week continued in that fashion, of hiking, skiing, and skating. Learning to ski, in a different language, and having no trouble understanding felt so gratifying! Not many can say they learned Alpine Skiing in the actual alps! I learned the terms for the technique in its original language. How cool is that? It was an amazing week filled with lots of activity and lots of delicious, Austrian food. Spending so much quality time with my family, doing the things they love, I definitely bonded with them. It was also so nice, because of how well my German is coming along. I had no problem knowing up with their jokes and stories and being able to make witty replies. I really feel apart of the family! I am so grateful to be in their household, and to experience Austria through their eyes.

Back to School

Initially I was hit with brick wall that going back to school always brings, but I soon got over it and got right back into the flow of thing. Since being back in these two weeks, I have survived one pop quiz, two final tests, and done three presentations, each in three different languages (Spanish, English, and German)! I’m also spending a lot of my time after school prepping for the Ball I open in just two weeks! Things are kind of crazy right now, but I’m glad. Being so busy is really helping me with homesickness, and forcing me to be more involved in the community. I have to go do my German Homework, so bis später Leute!

Sun, January 20, 2019

  • Maggie, Outbound to Austria

I have been in Austria for 100 days and its unglaublich (unbelievable)! As I am recounting all I’ve done for this blog, I am in shock of how many things I’ve done since being here. Looking at the next 100 days, it seems like such a long time, but my first 100 have gone by in a flash. I wanted to give whoever’s reading this a glimpse at my regular life. Because while it’s easy to just write about all the adventures I’ve been on, its my everyday life that has really defined my exchange thus far. And of course, I’ll write about the cool things I’ve done at the end.

An average Day in the Exchange Life of Maggie Frantz

So in my host family’s household, breakfast is at 6:00 am sharp every weekday. At first, I was a little dismayed by this (I am used to rolling out of bed at 8:30, grabbing a smoothie to go, and leaving for school by 8:50 to get there before 9:20, when school starts.) but, I’ve grown accustomed to this routine and I really enjoy it…ok maybe I don’t really enjoy it, but I’m trying to. Breakfast is the time in our day where we can talk over plans, schedule, etc. We eat fruit, yogurt, granola and bread with jam and butter. At 7:00-ish, I leave for school. Some days after school I stay in the city and meet with friends, or do some shopping, and some days I go straight home for lunch. Once I’m home, I relax for a little bit, and then I straighten up my room or empty the dishwasher. I then work on homework or do some reading. Once my host parents come home, I spend all my time in the kitchen talking with them about the day, and helping my host mom with dinner. We all sit down to eat around 7:00. The rest of the evening is spent talking, reading, relaxing, etc. A new thing that’s been added to my routine is that sometimes I read a children’s book out loud with my host mom. She asked if I wanted to start doing that to help with my pronunciation. It’s been so helpful. Evenings are my favorite time of day. I really enjoy spending time with my family and talking about the day. It’s also a great time to ask them about German. German is such a fascinating language, and sometimes we’ll have hour long discussions on different topics. Last month, we spent several nights discussing the differences between “Ich liebe dich” and “Ich habe dich lieb”. These are two different ways to say “I love you.” Essentially one means “I am really fond of you” and the other means “ I’m in love with you”, but it’s actually a lot more complex than that! Every person I’ve asked about it has said something different. I usually go to bed around 9:30. And then I wake up the next morning and repeat!

An Average Weekend in the Exchange Life of Maggie Frantz

So, my weekends here are a lot busier than they were at home, but I like it that way! On Saturday morning we have Lange Schlafen (Sleeping In) which means breakfast starts at 8:30-9:00 am. Then after that, my host mom goes grocery shopping. I usually go with her, and honestly it’s one of my favorite routines of exchange. I love seeing the different foods there and every week is a lesson from my host mom on the importance of buying organic produce. After we go grocery shopping we usually have some sort of plan for the day. One weekend its going to a Rotary sponsored Children’s Marionette Opera, and the next weekend its hosting family friends for the afternoon. Whatever we’re doing, I usually love it! On Saturday night, we typically watch a movie together. My favorite was “Im Weissen Rössl am Wolfgangsee”. Its a famous Austrian musical-comedy that I am determined to learn all the songs from. On Sunday we usually make an Ausflug. An Ausflug is Day Trip. We’ve gone on hikes, been to National parks, visited beautiful lakes, etc. I’ve really enjoyed all the new things I’ve experienced and new people I’ve met from the activities I’ve done on the weekends. On Sunday evenings, I’m usually doing homework, as I have German tutoring every Monday morning.

School and Extracurriculars

So I go to a school called “Sacré Coeur” Privat Gymnasium. It is a private, catholic school in the inner city. I’m in the high school there, but it’s a grades K-12 school. It’s part of a group of “Sacred Heart” schools all over the world. I go there with my 12 year old sister. To get there I take the tram to my local train station, and then I take the S-Bahn (city train) into the inner city. I take 14 different subjects: Math, Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Religion, History, Geography, Music, Art, P.E., Spanish, English, German, and Latin. School starts everyday at 8:00 am. Most days I get out at 1:40, but on Mondays I have a 4 hour break, and then return to school at 5:00 for two hours of P.E, and on Thursday I have a one hour break, and then get out of school at 3:25 after my chemistry lesson. There are 8 grades of Gymnasium in Austria. I am in the 6E class, which is a bilingual German-English class. Unlike American school, I spend the whole day with the same class in the same classroom. My class is made up of kids who are originally from Brazil, Denmark, Germany, Spain, Russia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, and of course, Austria (however they group in Austria). The age group is 15 and 16 year olds… I am 18. I couldn’t be placed with kids my age, as there was no room in the older classes. At first, it was pretty hard for me to be in such a young class. I felt really out of place and disappointed with my situation. But I’m really grateful to be in the class I’m in now. I have really grown to love them and can honestly say that I have some really good friends! They’re really sweet, hilarious, and make sure I’m not completely lost. Some of them even took me to get a library card and showed me the book section for german learners. My class may be young (and a bit immature at times), but they’re also really fun and friendly. They’ve made me feel so welcome. My teachers have also been really helpful. My english teacher understood how I felt about being in such a young class, and offered to take me with her to her older classes. It’s a win-win for both! She gets a native speaker to help her, and I get to meet more kids my age… and skip some math and latin lessons. As of right now, my main focus after school is dancing. I am opening a Ball in January, which means I have to learn how to waltz! On Wednesdays, I go to Elmayer Dance School. It is the oldest and most traditional waltzing school in Vienna. All the kids from my class in school go. Additionally, my host mom arranged for me to have a few private lessons, so that I can learn the Linkswaltz (left Waltz) which is needed for the Opening Ceremony. Starting next week, I will also have my lessons with the other students opening the ball to learn the choreography.

The Best city in the World

I am in Vienna. It is the capital of Austria and the most beautiful and elegant city I’ve ever laid eyes on! Every corner is filled with history. I love the imperial palaces, the coffee shops, and beautiful, diverse architecture. I live in Floridsdorf, Vienna. It is over the Danube river and is kind of on the edge of Vienna. Floridsdorf is the 5th largest growing area in Austria. It’s very diverse part of Vienna and has people from all classes, backgrounds, etc. Floridsdorf is…very interesting. In the words of my host mom, “Floridsdorf is the place where you can wear pajamas on the street and no one will look at you twice.” (It should be noted that while this doesn’t sound extreme to most Americans, when I told my school friends that kids wear pajamas to school during exam week, they couldn’t believe it.) On my street, there is a store called “Pferdfleisch” which literally means horse meat. Apparently traditional goulash is made with it. Whenever I ask my mom about the “interesting aspects” of Floridsdorf she simply replies, “Because that’s just Floridsdorf, Maggie.” One thing I love about this area, though, is that it really only has locals. My family took me to a Gasthaus down the street from our apartment for dinner one time, and my mom was pointing out the customers, the waitress, and the menu. She was trying to explain to me the genuine nature of this place, and couldn’t find the exact words. She simply smiled and ended with “This truly is Vienna, Maggie. You won’t find any tourists here. This is where we live.”

The Cool Stuff I’ve Done

In September I had a hiking weekend with all the exchange students. It was a chance to check in with everyone now that school had started, as well as to meet our oldies (The exchange students who have beee here since January/February and leave this January.) I met my people. Two girls from Australia and a girl from New Zealand. They are the loveliest, most intelligent, interesting girls I’ve met and I am so heartbroken that they leave me in only two months. On the weekend we had a 6 hour hike and an evening walk complete with torches and Punsch (basically cider). In October we met again for Vienna Weekend. It was no huge thrill for me, as I live here, but seeing all my buds again was so great (and much needed). On Friday we saw an Operetta in the Volksoper (It was a 11/10!!) and on Saturday we toured around the city and went to Schönbrunn Palace. On the last weekend of October, I had another Rotary Trip. We went to Prague, Dresden, and Berlin. It was so cool! In each city we had a guided tour and then free time to explore the city. In Prague, I met up with my fellow OB from Florida and best pal Ryan Jones. It was so comforting to see a face from home. In Dresden my friends and I went to “The Old Masters Gallery” in Zwinger Palace where we saw beautiful and well know paintings such as “Sistine Madonna” by Raphael. In Berlin my friends and I visited the Jewish Museum. Two days after the Rotary City Tour, my family and I drove to Northern Italy and stayed for four days. It was a trip filled with beautiful churches, quality time with my host family, and delicious food of course! I had the best Tortellini in my life. While all these trips have been wonderful, I’ve found my more local experiences the coolest. Last month I went to a traditional dance fest with my host family. We were all decked out in Tracht (Traditional Austrian clothing) and danced traditional dances such as Polkas and Waltzes. I spent the night dancing with my host dad, little brother, and a few locals who asked me to dance. It was so cool! We’re going to another on December 21st and I am beyond thrilled. I’ve also really loved going to the Opera. Last month I saw Strauss’s “Elektra” with my host mom, and this past week I saw a Ballet called “Sylvia” with my host sister. The two productions could not have been more different in the themes, costumes, and music. Both were absolutely wonderful! Another cool opportunity I had, was celebrating my school’s 150th Anniversary. We had a celebratory mass in St. Stephan’s Cathedral or “Stephansdom”. This was really special and a big deal, as Stephansdom is the most famous church in Austria and age the heart of the city. It was such a great day to celebrate my school and spend time with my classmates outside of the classroom.

Advice for the Future OBs

In these upcoming weeks, you will find out your host countries. What an exciting time! The few weeks between finding out I got exchange and then finding out which country I’d be spending my year in felt like an eternity. Well, it came eventually, and then soon enough I was in Austria. Time has flown by! It feels like just yesterday that I was going through the application process. So please, for all the other exchange students regretting not learning more of their language beforehand, the second you find out your country, make a language plan and stick to it! Also hug your parents and dog and siblings as much as you can. You might be joking now that you’re ready for that 10 month break already (okay maybe that was just me), but there are some days on your exchange when you feel like you’d sell your kidney for just one hug from your mom. Also please eat some Chick-Fil-A on behalf of all the current outbounds!!

Thats all for now. Until my next journal, Tschüss!

Fri, November 16, 2018

  • Maggie, Outbound to Austria

Language Camp

So in Austria all the Inbounds go to a Sprachkurs, or language camp for two weeks. It’s a time for the students to really learn german basics and to get to know each other. It was held at a boarding school on this beautiful lake called Traunsee. The first night we arrived, we were interviewed to determine which level class we should be in: beginner, intermediate, or advanced. Initially, I was put into the advanced class (A big thanks to D6970 for all the language prep)! However, after one day of that class I asked to be switched into intermediate. We were going over more advanced grammar in only german in the advanced class, and while I could keep up, I felt like it wasn’t going to be very beneficial for my progress. After a few days of being in the intermediate class, I knew I made a great decision. I was learning SO MUCH and building a really strong foundation for my language skills. Also, I really bonded with my teacher. Her name is Kathi and she went on exchange to Australia with RYE and now she is a middle school teacher. She was so helpful with questions about German and exchange! She used her vacation from teaching, to teach! Her service made a pretty big impact on me. Honestly, I am so grateful for the Rotexes involved with Rotary here in Austria and back home in Florida. I was so glad to have her as my Lehrerin (teacher)! My schedule everyday went as the following:

Frühstück (Breakfast): 7:30

Unterricht (classes): 8:15-11:30

Mittagessen + Pause (Lunch and Break): 12:00

Unterricht (More classes): 1:30-300

Freizeit (Free time): 3:00-6:00

Abendessen (Dinner): 6:00

Unterricht (Study Hall): 8:00-9:00

Licht Aus (Light‘s out): 10:00

During my free time, I went swimming in Traunsee and to cafes with my friends. A lot of students weren’t thrilled about how much time we spent in class, but honestly it was my favorite part of camp! On the weekend, we had some really fun activities that Rotary provided for us. On Saturday we went on a really nice hike with a beautiful view! And on Sunday we went to the infamous Hallstatt. Hallstatt is this stunning Austrian town in Upper Austria. It’s also the first picture that pops up when you google Austria. In the morning we went into a prehistoric salt mine and went on-wait for it-Europe‘s longest underground slide! It was pretty cool guys. For lunch we picnicked on the mountain, and afterwards we hiked down. In the afternoon, we had time to ourselves to explore the beautiful town of Hallstatt. I had been looking forward to seeing this town for so long, and it did not disappoint! I think my favorite part of the day was going to and from Hallstatt. The view on the drive was sehr schön! While the first week felt like my entire exchange year, the second week flew by so fast! During the two weeks I was becoming very impatient with myself. I just wanted to be able to express myself in German. I wanted to speak freely in my host language. However, I didn’t realize how much German I was actually gaining. Things were slowly starting to sink in. By Saturday when my host mom and sister picked me up, we dove right into the German-and I was able to keep up. Of course they kept it pretty simple, but I was able to understand almost everything and reply! When I didn’t understand something, I would ask for them to clarify (In German) and they would find a simpler way to explain it (Also in German!). Later that day we had dinner with some family friends and I was able to keep up a whole conversation about politics, exchange, history, etc. with a really nice, older woman I had never met before. Was my german perfect? No. Not even close. I sounded like an American, attempting to speak another language-but I just went for it! I cared more about what I was saying and less about how I was saying it. While my two weeks of Sprachkurs taught me a lot grammatically, it mainly just gave me the confidence to speak a new language. I am so thankful to Rotary Austria for having this language camp for the Inbounds. It has really jumpstarted my language progress. I also want to thank RYE Florida and D6970 for all the training I was given. Every little thing I was taught or required to do, from the Research Paper to how to address Rotarians, was so helpful! In places where other exchange students were confused or struggling, I knew exactly what to do. Vielen Dank Rotary!

Advice for future OB‘s to Austria:

Focus- While language camp is about bonding with other exchange students and having fun, it is also a great opportunity to advance your language skills! When you’re in class pay attention!

Ask questions- At school in America, it can be easy to just stay in the back and not ask questions. Usually if you don’t understand something, you can fake it till you make it; but here, you’re in a foreign country learning a foreign language! If you don’t understand when to use Akkusativ or Dativ, or how to conjugate Reflexive Verbs, just ask. You’re here for one year, and there’s just not enough time to be embarrassed over a “dumb question”.

It’s okay to ask for help- I’m a very independent person and I always hate asking for help. I guess I just don’t like being a burden. The thing is though, that you can’t figure everything out by yourself, especially on exchange! My dad once told me, “You will never get to know your neighbor if you don’t ask to borrow a cup of sugar.” And this is so true! Asking for help will not only clarify things for you, but also help you get to know more people on your exchange.

Take advantage of your time now- You are going to hear it a billion times: Learn the language. Let this be the time that it sticks! I thought I did really well when it came to learning the language. I studied often, I could talk a little bit with german speakers. I learned how to sound like I knew German (to non-speakers), and it helped with Rotary training, but once I got here I was really lost! And with that being said…

Learn vocab- When you get here, you will learn sentence structure and grammar, but the most important thing that you can learn now is vocabulary. Make flash cards, label things in your house, find sets on online, and make sure that when you learn the vocab, you learn the word, the article, and how to make it plural.

Show some Gratitude- The teachers who are there for you are volunteering two weeks of their vacation to teach you german! Bring some Thank You stationery and some American candy. Learn how to say thank you in german! The first german word I was taught by RYE Florida was “Dankbar”. It means grateful. You can also show your gratitude through your actions. Always be on time, stay positive, and follow directions. Don’t be one of those stereotyped, “disrespectful, complaining Americans”. The people at this camp help determine if you can go on trips or not, or go to places on your own. How you behave in these two weeks will also affect how easy they will make it for you to travel.

Well that’s all for now. Next week I start school in Austria! Bis Später Alligator!

Tue, September 18, 2018

  • Maggie, Outbound to Austria

Background on my exchange

Before I go into all the details of my time here in Austria, let me tell you a little bit about my situation. So I am in the capitol: Vienna, Austria. As of now I live in Floridsorf in District 21. I live with a big family and have 3 siblings: my older sister Iduna (19), my younger sister Freia (12), and my brother Baldur (7). I also have a sister Rhea, (15) who is in New Mexico for her exchange.

I really love my family dynamic. Back in Florida, I also have three siblings, but I am the second youngest. Now I am the second oldest! My family lives in a really beautiful apartment with a nice balcony, courtyard, and a lovely garden. Soon I will be attending a school called Sacré Coeur Privat Gymnasium. My younger sis also goes there.

My First Week in Austria

This week has been so amazing!  I feel like I’ve learned so many new things and have seen so much!


I arrived in the Vienna International Airport at 12:05 pm. My host family was at the airport as well as my little sister’s best friend! My host mom gave me a huge hug and immediately made me feel so welcomed! We put my luggage in their car and drove home. Usually she takes a quick route home, however she wanted me to see the city, so we took a route that allowed me to get a glimpse at Downtown Vienna. My eyes got bigger and bigger with every corner we turned. We then came home and ate a snack. We had a pound cake and a delicious apple vanilla tart-both baked by my older sister! My host mom is a landscape architect so she is very creative. Our apartment is beautifully decorated and has plants everywhere. I love it! After we ate, I unpacked my luggage. While I was unpacking, my sisters asked me if I wanted to go swimming in the Danube River. The Danube is the second largest River in Europe and it flows through a lot of Central and Eastern Europe. Many locals here go swimming in it. There are many parts and channels of the Danube. The water felt so nice and it was such a pretty day.  Afterwards we went home, had dinner, and went over the schedule of the week and questions about exchange. It was a perfect first day!


On Tuesday, my older sister took me into Downtown Vienna and showed me my school, my little brother’s school, her university, and a lot of the famous buildings in Vienna. She also took Baldur and me to her favorite Ice Cream place. I learned that Topfen is the German word for cream cheese. It’s my sister’s favorite Ice Cream flavor. She was explaining the flavor to me and once I understood, I interrupted “Oh, cream cheese!” She responded with “No! It’s definitely NOT cream cheese” When our ice cream came out, I took one bite and immediately recognized it as cream cheese. My host sister was an au pair in London for a year, and speaks fluent English, but in London they used the word Quark for cream cheese. When she heard cream cheese she imagined Feta or Cheddar. It was really interesting to compare the differences between Oxford English and American English.


On Wednesday, I met one of my host grandpas for the first time. He might be one of the coolest people I have ever met! He is a historian and knows all the history about Vienna and Austria! He also has written a book about his own history and ancestry. As my host siblings’ Opa, he believes its his responsibility to teach his grandkids about the history, culture, art, and music of Vienna. He took my host brother, older sister and I to the Schatzkammer, or Imperial Treasury. We looked at beautiful crowns, capes, and jewels of the Hapsburg Dynasty. We even saw a very large Narwal Horn! Back in the day (The Holy Roman Empire), it was considered very rare and believed to have protective powers. We also drove around the city for a little bit, and he explained to me important buildings and history. He played for me famous classical music from Vienna, which I was a big fan of, and we talked over art, architecture, politics, music, etc. He only spoke a little English and I only spoke a little German, so we tried our best with both. It was a conversation full of hand gestures and pointing. But it was really nice, because it gave me the opportunity to practice my German! After our amazing morning, my siblings and I went home, took a quick nap, and went out for the afternoon. My sister took my little brother and I to an outdoor bath (it’s a pool) with the best view of Vienna! It’s called Krapfenwaldbad. Fun Fact: Krapfen translates to Donut Forest, but this pool is actually named after Franz Joseph Krapf.


Thursday was very stressful. It was my first time traveling alone in the city and it did not go as smoothly as planned. I was invited by two girls from Australia who have been in Austria since January to hang out in the city. The night before, my host mom and sister helped me with directions and patiently explained how the public transport system worked. The next morning, I was feeling confident and ready to take on Vienna. As I walked to the tram near my house, I remember thinking “Wow, I’m gonna remember this as the first time I was able to go in the city alone.” False. I confused the S-Bahn for the U-Bahn (the S-bahn is a local train, and the U-bahn is the subway)! As I was leaving the station, the scenery around me looked so unfamiliar (Red Flag #1). With each stop I was getting more and more panicked. Also, did I mention at that point I didn’t have a phone plan? I was having serious trouble with getting a new sim card, so I went into Vienna alone, without a working phone, hoping I would find wifi along the way (Red Flag #2). So, I’m on the U6, realizing that I’m not where I’m supposed to be, and that I was supposed to be there 25 minutes ago. So, I stepped off the subway, and did the only thing I knew how to do: go back home. When I got to my home train station, I got wifi, called my friends, and explained to them what happened and that I was just gonna go home. Then I realized I had no idea what tram I was supposed to take home. I texted my sister, no reply. My other sister, no reply. Then I texted my host mom. She gave me instructions, but in German. I finally figured it out, and went home. When I arrived at my apartment, I pulled out my keys, and tried to unlock the door. (So a little side note about my apartment. I have three different doors I have to unlock and each are unlocked a different way.) I couldn’t unlock the door! I was stuck in the street, and had no Wifi, so I couldn’t tell my host mom that I was stuck outside. At this point I was ready to assume fetal position and let the tears flow but then my neighbor arrived and unlocked the door. I tried to go in with her and she said, “Um can I help you?” Ahhhh. It was so stressful. I was struggling to say in German that I was an exchange student and living with a family in the apartment building, but somehow she understood and let me in. Then, I got locked out at my second door. She tried to help and couldn’t figure it out, so I borrowed her phone and called my host mom. My host mom called another neighbor who showed me how to do it. Once I was inside, I crashed on my bed and slept for two hours. It was a very emotional day. Fortunately, I was a able to laugh about it later with my host mom. In fact, as I am writing this, I can proudly say I have mastered public transport in Vienna.


Friday was a MUCH MUCH better day. My host sister spontaneously took my brother and I to Schönbrunn Palace, where we walked around the gardens and had a wonderful lunch. We were going to tour inside the palace, however the tour was going to be too long, and we had to attend a Rotary Event that evening as a family. So instead, we went with my host brother’s choice of museum: The Vienna Natural History Museum. It wasn’t as interesting to me as some of the other museums, but watching his face when he saw the Dinosaurs and Mammoths was so funny! His favorite animal in the museum is the Ostrich! That evening, I had my first Rotary Function. It was a dinner at one of the Rotarian’s house. She lives in a beautiful cottage outside of the city. It was really nice to meet everyone, however I couldn’t understand much of the conversation. It was really good for me though, because it motivated me to want to learn the language!


On Saturday, we left Vienna for Styria, to stay at my Host Grandma’s house. She has a gorgeous house in the country that she and my Host-Grandpa have been slowly restoring for the past 10 years. It was at her house, that I had my first schnitzel. Schnitzel is a very typical Austrian Dish and is a thin piece of meat that is fried and served with jam. It was SO delicious. Also, it had that grandma’s touch, that made it especially tasty. Honestly, I could eat schnitzel everyday. The rest of the day was spent swimming and taking a nice walk in the woods near their house. In Austria, there are plants, and herbs, and berries everywhere. We would stop in the forest and eat raspberries, and then pick up some mushrooms to cook at home, and then my host dad would show me a good plant that helps with head aches. It was so cool! Also, my host sister told my little brother Fairytales about witches on our walk, because the woods that we were in looked like the were straight out of Hansel and Gretel! It was a fairy tale day away from the city.


Sunday morning, after we ate breakfast, we headed for Altmünster for my Rotary Language Camp. The drive to Altmünster was wunderschön! It was filled with mountains, lakes, and cute little villages. When we arrived, as my host parents dropped me off, I realized how lucky I am to be with the family that I’m in. As I said goodbye, my host dad gave me a bag of apples he had picked that morning at the country house. My host mom said “Maggie, if there is anything wrong, please call me. I am your mother now and I want you to be safe.” I knew she meant this more practically, but still. I was so touched! It was definitely bittersweet saying goodbye to them for two weeks.

Well, that was my first and very eventful week of exchange! I learned so much, and fell in love with my new home! I am so excited for my year abroad! And with that, (to continue a tradition of last year’s OBs to Austria) I’d like to say: Bis Später Alligator!

Advice for Future Outbounds to Austria:

When you arrive, you will think that the biggest luxury in America is air conditioning, or tall drinks with lots of ice and free refills, or your queen bed! You are wrong. The biggest luxury back home is the ability to express yourself freely, without a language barrier. Being able to say exactly what you mean, without even thinking about it, is a privilege and something we take for granted. Sure your host fam might speak English, but being able to read an ad and understand it or know what your little host brother is saying is so gratifying! Also, if you’re like me, a lot of your homesickness will stem from feeling isolated. Not being able to speak the language is a big part of this. What I’m trying to say is…Learn the language! Don’t put it off until summer. Don’t make false promises to yourself about how you will start tomorrow, or next week, or next semester! Now is the perfect time to start. There is so much time in the day that you can use to study your language. You can study on the school bus, during lunch, before bed, whenever! I promise, you will never, ever, ever say, “Wow, I wish I hadn’t studied German so much before I came.”

Wed, September 5, 2018


Mason - Germany

Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: St. Augustine High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Coastal St. Johns County, Florida
Host District: 1930
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Coastal St. Johns

My Bio

Hallo! My name is Mason Hicks; I am 15 and currently a sophomore at St. Augustine High School. In school I am in the Cambridge AICE (Advanced International Certificate of Education) program, Interact Club, Marching Band, Concert Band, and Chamber Chorus. Outside of school I am involved with my church where I am the youth elder, which means that I help make decisions for my church and youth group. I also love hanging out with my friends, playing sports, and playing guitar and saxophone. I have played guitar since first grade and saxophone since sixth. I love to go to the beach and when it’s warm enough I go almost every day since I only live about five blocks away. I live in St. Augustine Beach, Florida with my mom, dad, younger brother, and two dogs. I love to travel but I have never left the country so I am ecstatic to be spending a year in Germany. I’m excited to be able to try so many new things, and to make new friends and new memories. I am also very excited to try new foods and immerse myself in the German culture. I am so thankful for my family for allowing me go on exchange and for RYE Florida for giving me this life changing opportunity. Tschüss!

Journals: Mason-Germany Blog 2018-19

  • Mason, Outbound to Germany


A lot has happened since my last journal. In January, we celebrated Fasnacht in Germany. It’s a huge festival where everyone dresses up like a witch and there are big parades in every city. It was a great way to experience the German culture.

At the end of the Fasnacht break, I went on a trip to Paris with my district. We saw a lot and it was really nice meeting with all the exchange students again.

A few weeks later, I met up with a friend from my district and we started talking about exchange. We talked about how when we applied, we didn’t really know what to expect but we just wanted to learn about a new culture and see how other people live their lives in other parts of the world. Now that we’ve been here for a few months we realized that exchange doesn’t just teach you about a new culture, but you actually change and this new culture and way of life becomes how you live. Exchange is more than a learning experience it gives you a total new outlook on life. Exchange helps you grow as a person and it opens you up to so many new experiences that you never would have expected. If anyone is reading this wondering if they should go on exchange, do it. Exchange is life changing and you will grow so much as a person.

Another rule of exchange that RYEFL always tells us is to always say yes. A few weeks ago my grade had a big meeting for the classes they could take next year. Since I won’t be here next year I didn’t have to go and I could have stayed home and slept in. My family made me go to school and instead of trying to fight it I just went anyway. At first I was a little annoyed because I couldn’t do anything all day and I just had to sit there and do nothing. But after a while I started hanging out with some of my classmates and we decided to ride bikes to McDonalds which is like 3 miles away. We were 4 four kids and we only had two bikes. We rode two to a bike and ate so much. It was definitely my favorite school day I’ve had this year. This was a wake up call that I need to start saying yes more and not worry so much about what we’re doing.

On top of all of that, I’m starting to get really close with Germans here and I’m getting invited to do stuff with them a lot. My German is also getting a lot better. I’m going to take a B1 language test soon and then technically my language will be good enough to get citizenship here…maybe I won’t have to come home after all.

Now I’m on a bus going to Bayern because my Deutschland tour starts tomorrow. It’s a 21 day long trip and we’re going to 26 different cities around Germany. I’m really excited to see more of Germany, but most important it’s almost a month off of school!

I think that’s everything new for now so until next time,


Fri, April 5, 2019

  • Mason, Outbound to Germany

It’s so crazy that it’s almost 5 months in Germany! The holiday season is over so I decided to talk about what different here.

At the beginning of December my district had a Christmas weekend in Ulm. We took a language test, met the future Outbounds from this district, claimed the highest church in the world, and went to an amazing Christmas market!

One of the most amazing thinks about Christmas in Germany is the Christmas markets. The Christmas market is a big market with really good food, Glühwein (or kinder punch 😉 ), good Christmas music, lots of booths selling Christmas souvenirs. In one month I’ve gone to seven Christmas markets in three different countries.

In Germany Christmas is pretty different than in the USA. On Christmas Eve I spent time with my family. That evening we went to church and came back and ate fondue. When we were done eating, we went for a walk around the neighborhood. When we came back in we waited for a bell, and then we saw that Christkind and had put the presents under the tree. We open the presents and then went to bed. And Christmas day there isn’t much celebration. We ate some good food then went hiking.

I New Year’s Eve, I made my family and American breakfast and then finish packing because I was switching families that night. I got to my new family’s house in a couple hours before we went to a party at a friends house. When we got to the party we ate RacletteWhich is A very common meal for Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. We have bought a fireworks and it took hours to shoot them off.

I really enjoy it with my new family. I already knew them because my host brothers of my class. I’ve started doing karate with my family because my host father is a karate teacher. We also go skiing every weekend, and it’s a lot harder than it looks. The first time I went on the mountain, I wasn’t able to break, so I fell the entire way down. Although now I’ve started to get them hang of it and my family might sign me up to compete in a few months if I get good enough.

School has started again and now that I can understand what’s happening, it’s getting a lot easier. Since I’m in the 10th class, I’ve learned most of the stuff before it’s just a matter of translating. I have to take all of our class tests and it’s very hard but it’s always funny seeing my score when we get them back.

Not much as happened since then. Soon I have my second language camp with all the newbies in my district. In March my district will go to Paris for a weekend. In April I have my Deutschland tour. For Deutschland tour we have 21 days to visit 23 different cities in Germany, Im really excited. I’ll write my next journal after I have done some more with my district.


Mon, January 28, 2019

  • Mason, Outbound to Germany

Hallo! I’ve been in Germany for three months now and I still can’t believe it. So far my exchange has been so amazing and I am still in shock that I’m actually in Germany. I’ve been getting lots of questions from people back home so I decided that I’ll try to answer some of them here.

My host family: My host families are so amazing! They’re all so helpful in teaching me German and I’ve done so many new things with them. I’ve already been to France and Switzerland. My next family is going to take me skiing almost every weekend once it starts to snow. I’m so lucky to have them!

School: School in Germany is very different from school in the USA. Here I have one class and we go to all of our lessons together. Everything here is also way less competitive. In Germany we have no GPA or class rank, the students just try hard because they want to learn. In my school a normal day is from 7:50-1:05, which I love. Classes are in one hour periods and most of the time I have two periods of each class. Every Wednesday, I have an hour long break for the Mittagspause at 1:00 and then I have more classes after that until 5:00. On Thursdays I have band but it ends earlier. During the pause we’re allowed to go into the city and buy lunch. In Germany instead of only having one science class or one history class, we take a little of everything. Here I have English, Music, Latin, Math, Chemistry, Biology, German, Art, History, PE, Politics, Physics, Religion, and Ethic. I try my best to participate and I take all the tests, but obviously it’s very difficult. School is very different here but I like it a lot.

Language: German is very difficult, but for only three months I think I’m doing alright. I’ve started a language course which is also helping a lot. In school, I only speak German, and at home I only use English if I really need to understand something important. It’s very hard but it definitely helps. It’s also very tiring; I don’t think I’ve slept more than I have since I’ve gotten here. If you’re reading this before your exchange: study as much as you can before you leave, it’ll make life so much easier.

Friends: I‘m very lucky to have met the people that I have so far on exchange. My classmates are all super nice and they help me so much. I hear so many stories about exchange students having trouble making friends and it makes me so thankful for the friends I’ve made. A few tips I have for making friends on exchange are:

1) Be able to laugh at yourself. When I first got here I wasn’t able to understand much so when people talked in groups I’d just say “genau“ which means “exactly“ and people would laugh.

2) Be as outgoing as you can. In lots of European countries people are a little shy and won’t start conversations with you. Don’t worry! Once you start talking with new people almost everyone is nice and wants to be friends but they were just too shy to introduce themselves first.

3) Make as many plans as possible. If you hear people talking about going to a party or a movie, ask if you can go too. If it feels too weird to invite yourself, try inviting people to do something. Once you start making plans you start getting invited to more things and you start making more friends. It’s also very helpful to go and find people to do things with once you start to feel a little homesick.

4) The best way to make friends is when you meet new people, to say, “Hi, I need friends. Here’s my Instagram and Snapchat, let’s hangout soon.“ Or once you’re close with someone to tell them to introduce you to their friends. It might feel weird at first but it definitely works.

Food: The food in Germany is amazing! I’m already trying to figure out how to start a restaurant with German food back home. For breakfast normally we have bread with butter and jam. In the US that’s not much, but German bread is so amazing and the jam is all homemade. After school I have lunch with my host mother and brother. We have anything from pasta to soup or schnitzel. On days where I have longer school, I eat in the city with my friends. There are lots of options, we have Chinese, Dönner (which is my favorite), we can also get pizza or curry wurst. For dinner most days we have bread with butter, wurst, and cheese. I think I’ve eaten more bread in these three months than I have in the past three years in the US.

Differences in culture: I didn’t really experience much culture shock when I got here, but there are a lot of differences. First off, Germans are a lot healthier than Americans. Here they only use a car if it’s completely necessary. My five mile bike rode to the train station is considered nothing. Another big thing about Germany is that they don’t use ice. Iced coffee doesn’t exist here and it makes me very sad. Here we do have Eiskaffee and it‘s coffee with ice cream in it which makes the no ice thing a little better. A lot of the German stereotypes are true. They eat lots of pretzels and drink beer. Sausages are also eaten almost daily. There are also lots of things that are only here for tourists like Kookoo clocks and Lederhosen.

Rotary: I’m in District 1930 and I love it. There are 15 of us, and we’re all a huge family. We met at our language camp a few days after I got here and we still meet up every few weeks. So far as a club we’ve had two trips. We were in the Black Forest a few weeks ago for the fall break and it was so amazing. We hiked, swam, ice skated, and the most important thing for a Florida boy: we saw snow! Last weekend we went to Ulm for a language test and to meet the future outbounds. We also went to the Christmas market which was beautiful and we climbed the tallest church in the world. It’s really important to be close with the other exchange students because they are going through the exact same things that you are. If I have any problems, I know I have so many other people that understand exactly what’s going on. My club is also great. My YEO got me a saxophone to use in band and he set me up in a language course so I can learn German faster. In a few months, we have a trip to Paris and after that we have our Deutschland tour.

I wrote this journal sitting in my Latin class because I can’t understand anything that’s going on. Before I finish writing this already too long journal, I just want to say that if you’re thinking about going on exchange, please apply. Coming to Germany is probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Also if you have any questions you can always message me or any of the other exchange students because I don’t think we’ll ever get tired of talking about our exchanges. Okay, until next time,


Wed, December 12, 2018

  • Mason, Outbound to Germany

Hallo! I can’t believe I’ve already been here for a month! Everything here is so amazing I don’t even know where to start.

I got here a few days before I went to my language camp, so I got to meet my host family and a few people that live near me. Then I went to language camp and met all of the other exchange students in my district. They’re all so great and we’re all like one big family! Once I got back from language camp, I started school. School in Germany is very different than in the US but I like it a lot. Most days I get out at 1 and then I have the rest of the day to hangout with my classmates. In school I normally only have 3-4 classes a day which last for 2 hours each. We’re also allowed to leave the school during the big break and get food from any of the restaurants nearby. My classmates all help me so much with learning German and all of my teachers are very understanding and very helpful.

My German is getting so much better and I’m already able to have some conversations in German. The culture is so interesting to learn about. Some of the German stereotypes are true, like I think I’ve eaten more bread this month than I have in the past two years back in the US. Another thing that I have to get used to is the fact that there’s actually a winter in Germany. Coming from Florida, I’ve only seen snow once and most years I can wear shorts and a t-shirt in the middle of December. It’s the beginning of October and every morning it’s already around 5°C.

I keep falling more and more in love with Germany every day. Sometimes I’ll be walking with my friends around the city and I’ll see a huge cathedral or see a castle on a hill and like I just think like, “Wait a minute, I’m living in Germany, WHAT?” It’s just so crazy to think that I’m actually on exchange, I always hear stories about people doing this but I never imagined that I would actually be here.

Although I love it here and I’m still in denial that I have to leave this summer, there are some things that are difficult. Things that I took for granted back home like being able to say anything that’s on my mind whenever I want to, are so difficult here. I also find myself missing my friends and family, and being able to go to Friday night football games or seeing all of my friends perform in the school musical; but every time I start to get homesick, I remember that I’m homesick in Germany and everything starts to feel better.

Right now I am writing this journal on the train back from visiting some inbounds from my district in Karlsruhe which is a city a couple hours north of my city. If you told me two years ago that this would be my life, I never would have believed you.

When I was applying for RYE last year, I read almost every journal on the RYE Florida website. So I just want to say, if you’re reading this considering going on exchange next year please do it. This was the best decision I have ever made. It’s only been one month and I have so many new friends and I am learning so many new things.

Auf wiedersehen!!

Fri, October 12, 2018


Murphy - Brazil

Hometown: Ponte Vedra, Florida
School: Ponte Vedra High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Ponte Vedra Sunset, Florida
Host District: 4530
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Araguaína

My Bio

Olá! My name is Murphy Movsovitz, I am a junior at Ponte Vedra High School. I live with my mom, dad, grandma, little sister and little brother. I also have one older sister who is off at college. We have two cats and one dog, that I love to play with. We live in a beautiful community about 15 miles from the beach. It is called Ponte Vedra, Florida. I enjoy driving around soaking in the beauty with my friends, walking along the beach, or sun tanning by the ocean. Being with friends is one of my favorite things to do, I am quite the social butterfly. I have a passion meeting new people and enjoy learning about their culture. I am so incredibly excited to be able to do this for 10 months in Brazil! Although this is my first time ever leaving America, I couldn’t be more thrilled. I love to experience new things, create new friends, and am pumped to learn a new language! I always enjoy a good adventure, and am ready to take on the world. I am so thankful to have been chosen by Rotary Youth Exchange and am honored to represent Florida and America to people from all over the world. I will begin my journey with my head held high and a smile on my face. Hugs and kisses from Brazil!

Journals: Murphy-Brazil Blog 2018-19

  • Murphy, Outbound to Brazil

And just like that here we are at the end of my exchange. 10 months could not have gone by faster yet felt like a lifetime. I am in the ending stages of my exchange and I have never felt nor expected to feel this way. As of today, I have 20 days left in my new home, Araguaína, Tocantins. I can tell you last year at this time I was not excited about coming here and easily not ready to consider this place a home. Now 287 days later, I am sitting and dreading leaving.

The ending of exchange is such a paradox. You feel excited to return home, see your family and friends and house and life after living abroad for 10 months. But at the same time, you are dreading giving up what you have created. It is exactly how they explain it, learning to live with your heart in two separate homes.

While I could not be more excited to hug my Kaki and my Dad, be with my siblings, or kiss my best friends; the thought of leaving my new sister, my new dad, and my new friends makes me feel equally devastated. Moving away from this newly comfortable, free way of life back to reality is daunting. Now the tables have turned, and the fear of the unknown has become my own home. What has changed? How tall is my little brother? How will things be when I get back? While the constant and comfortable has become the life I had once been asking these questions about.

Since the last time I have written a few more extra-noteworthy events have passed by.

I went on the Amazon Rainforest trip. This was 9 days of traveling, we got to visit the capital of the state of Amazonas. Then we embarked on 3 boats and spent 7 days living in the Amazon Rainforest. It was such a special and amazing experience. We slept in hammocks along the boat and passed each day disconnecting to our phones and connecting with each other and nature. I met new friends from all over the world, I got to see breath taking sights, and so much more. This really is a major “to do” for those exchange students heading to Brazil. Some of my favorite activities were canoeing along the river, planting trees in the rainforest, getting to hold a sloth, and even spending the night in the rainforest!

After returning from the trip I experienced the typical “Post Rotary Trip Depression”. I spent lots of time crying and wishing I was home, but nothing new here. Very quickly after I had returned from my Amazon trip, I convinced my parents to let me visit the city where I had wanted to do my exchange, Curitiba. Luckily things worked out and Rotary gave me clearance to go and visit. I had my final Rotary orientation coming up, so I planned my Curitiba trip right after that. The Rotary orientation was a tear jerker being that I had to say my goodbyes to the rest of the exchangers from my district. The kids who openly welcomed me to this country and kept me strong in my times of need, the ones who were facing many of the same problems I had faced, the ones who had soon become some of my best friends for life. Saying goodbye that early was really hard and really was the start of my heart being pulled in two.

Shortly after I was off on my trip to Curitiba. I cannot put into words my love for this city. I have never loved one place so very much, maybe it was because of my wonderful company I had with me, but regardless I know one day I will be going back. Curitiba is a city full of things to do, places to visit, things to explore. It is an ideal place to have an exchange, those going there are quite lucky. I was able to get a taste of the Brazilian city life and some of the luxuries that I was missing back in my good ‘ole cowboy city, Araguaína. At the end of the day I do not regret my extra trip to Curitiba one bit and would easily do it again if I could.

After coming home from Curitiba, I surprisingly felt very little depression. In my head I was expecting to come home and just be smashed by sadness, but it was honestly quite the opposite. I was refreshed with a newfound respect and love for my small little cow town, Araguaína. Yes, Curitiba is beautiful and luxurious and everything I had hoped for from my exchange… but Araguaína is my home. They say that it’s not about the place you go, it’s about what you do with the experience. Although Murphy from 10 months ago would aggressively disagree and probably start crying hearing that, Murphy now would undoubtedly agree.

Yes, if I could go back and choose a country I had wanted, I would. But at the same time, I do not think I would change a single thing about my exchange. The challenges and hard times I faced and was put through only made me into a stronger person than I was in the past. Not to discredit other exchanges being that each is unique to the person and situation, but I feel that receiving a country that 1, you hardly expected to receive and 2, really did not want to receive creates more of a challenge to your exchange. It forces the exchanger to open their mind and become an even more receptive person. I know it was very difficult for me to accept Brazil and then even more difficult accepting knowing I was heading to live in the middle of no where Brazil. But the sensation of knowing I did it, and did it successfully is 100 times more rewarding than that of going to a tourist city in Europe.

For those of you considering exchange, preparing for exchange, or on an exchange reading this:

Keep going, keep pushing, keep your head held high. Regardless of what you are going through now, know that in the end the outcome highly out ways the beginning. In the moment your current problems and issues may seem like the end of the world or may cause you to feel that going home is your only option. It’s not the end of the world and do not even give yourself the option to go home. Finish whatever you start and do it smiling because each challenge we are faced with only makes us stronger. At the end of the day you will regret not taking these opportunities you are given and who wants to live in regret?

For Rotary, my family, and my friends:

Within a few short weeks I will be home and be with you all. All I can say is thank you. One of the biggest lessons I have learned from my exchange is: Be thankful. Be grateful. Be humble. Saying “thank you” never hurts anyone and showing your gratuity is a beautiful thing. I am beyond thankful for Rotary for giving me this opportunity. I am so grateful for my friends and the support they sent me throughout my time here. And my family, I could never say thank you enough to you guys. The overwhelming love and support you guys provide me with helped me push through each day and continue going to create the best exchange I could.

Honestly speaking, did I think I would ever make it to this point in my exchange? No. Did I feel as though the world was constantly against me? Yes. But did I make it out a survivor and a better person? 110% YES!

Sun, June 23, 2019

  • Murphy, Outbound to Brazil

Hello! It has been awhile since my last journal, and man does it feel like it. October feels like it happened eons ago. Let me catch you up to speed.

November- Early December

Through this time, I was going to school, trying to keep busy, form relationships with my classmates, the whole nine yards. I had a very set day to day life. I would wake up and go to school, come home have lunch, nap, workout, eat dinner and repeat. At this point I was not very close with anyone in my city but my host family. As time had gone on, I made some friends from school and others from Rotaract (a volunteer group of people from 18-25 years old). I was still having lots of issues with homesickness being that it was still early in my exchange and it was holiday season. I had some really rough patches but overall stayed strong.

The most important thing I had in this time was working out. I was staying active and healthy and it really helped me clear my head. Which I really needed because I started to have some issues with my host family. I still love and adore them, and I am so incredibly thankful for them. But there were little things that would push my buttons on the daily. None of the issues were major, just little things that happen when you live with someone and are with them 24/7. One really important tip my sweet best friend Grace Schneider told me is: when facing issues on exchange instead of thinking negatively on the problem, look at it from a new perspective. Such as, “Wow, I can’t believe my host mom wakes me up at 7’o’clock every Sunday to clean my room… BUT I can’t believe this is happening in Brazil!” So instead of dreading on the fact that a situation is not ideal, I have found it super beneficial to use this mindset.

I also really enjoyed school, I was able to converse with people and practice my language skills. I have super sweet classmates, so they helped make it a super enjoyable experience. School was also a mini escape from my host house, I was there a lot because my host family never really went out. So, going to school gave me an assured time to go out.

Early December- January

This time period was “ferias” or summer vacation for Brazil. School was over and it was time to celebrate. During this time my host sister and I were going out a lot, hanging out with friends, going to parties, etc. It was super fun and I made some really good friends. I was able to really work on my Portuguese because I was constantly surrounded by only Portuguese speaking people. I got to a really strong point with my language and could taste fluency.

I made some super crazy and fun memories with my host sister and just enjoyed myself the best I could. I never was too bored because there was always someone to hangout with or something to do. Homesickness was still present but was nothing too awful. Like I said, I was super busy so I didn’t ever have too much time alone to think about home. Christmas was a little sad, but I was super excited to celebrate like a Brazilian so it wasn’t awful. I was fairly underwhelmed by how uncelebrated it is here, coming from my family back home who truly decks the halls.


Throughout the whole month of January, I was traveling all over the Northeast of Brazil. Rotary Brazil offers some big trips (you have to pay for) and I chose to take one called, the Northeast Dream Trip. I can confidently say this was one of the best months of my whole life and easily the best of my entire exchange. It was me and 50 other kids from all over the world. I made some amazing friendships, saw some breath-taking sights, and really was able to get to know the Northeast of Brazil.

I cannot describe the gratefulness and joy of what this trip brought to me and my exchange. I was beginning to feel very trapped in my host city, being that it is a fairly small city with very little to do. Taking the trip let me experience some beautiful parts of exchange and beautiful parts of Brazil. The experience was so life changing.

The only issue with going on a trip with 50 other exchange students is that English is used more often than the host language (typically). Due to the universality of English, it is easiest to create bonds and get to know each other in English. For me it was really my first time speaking only English for awhile because my host city has very few English speakers. I definitely saw myself lose some language skills but at the end of the day it was nothing major, and I was able to practice Portuguese with our coordinators and natives in the cities we visited.


In the beginning of February, I got home from my big trip, and the following week I had to change host families. It all happened very quickly and left me in a pretty sad state. After my trip I was exhausted from over 30 days of travelling, I was super sad to have parted from many, many great new friendships, and upset to return to my host city which is very minuscule compared to the giant cities of the Northeast. On top of all that I had to change from my host family who I had become very comfortable living with. My new host family is very kind, I really like them, but any host family change is difficult.

Thankfully school was starting up again, I was very happy to get back and see my friends with my new tan I achieved from “ferias”. Being that my language has become a lot stronger, I am able to participate more in school. It is such an odd feeling than when I first arrived, now that “the gringo” has been living here for 7 months and is no longer hot, fresh, and exciting news. It feels super nice to feel like a regular student who is just living their Brazilian lifestyle, but I can’t lie, being the famous exchange student is also quite fun.


This month has flown by, I feel like it was just last week that I sat down and said, “Time to write this journal, it’s already March.” And now March is over? This month has been full adaptation, 100% living my Araguaínese life. I go to school, come home, eat lunch, workout, and hang out with the host family. It is difficult to go out with friends because school has started back up and everyone is always studying. My class is Brazilian “senior year”, and it is a very important year for them. They take their SAT/ACT, called ENEM, and that decides what course they can take in college. This singular test basically decides what they can do for college.

This month holds the famous Carnaval of Brazil! Where I live unfortunately Carnaval is not celebrated very much, it is more famous in the Northeast. Luckily my new host family took me on a trip to the capital city of my state, Palmas, Tocantins. It is a beautiful city and Carnaval is celebrated there (thankfully). I went to some typical Carnaval “block parties” where everyone runs around in the streets, wearing costumes. I loved this fun little trip, and it definitely helped to get comfortable with the new host family.

I have started going to a gym and doing weight lifting. I walk to and from the gym, and this time is so precious to me. I really try to take in everything and create as strong of a mental picture I can. It is nice to have these 20 minutes just to myself to think because when I am home, my little host siblings are normally all over me and I don’t have too much privacy. Just as working out helped me clear my mind in November, it is doing just the same again now.

Things with my host family have become very smooth and they are really growing on me. My host dad called me “son” for the first time, and it made me feel very happy. Finding little pieces of happiness like that are super important for this time of exchange because things can get incredibly frustrating. The time is ticking away every day, language can be aggravating, homesickness still kicks in, so really working to focus on the positive aspects of exchange is essential.


I am in a really happy state. Yes, I can openly state that the thought of going home crosses my mind at least once a week, but whoever says they don’t think of that is lying. I feel very successful with what I have accomplished so far and am so excited what these next few months have to bring for me and my exchange! I hope you enjoyed and get prepared… next week I leave for my Amazon trip, once week in the Amazon living on a boat!

Hugs and kisses from Brazil!

Thu, March 28, 2019

  • Murphy, Outbound to Brazil

Oi e bem-vindo a meu diário primeiro!

Hi and welcome to my first journal! I have been in Brazil for almost a full month now. It feels crazy to say that, in just these past few weeks I have already experienced some crazy emotions. My first weekend here I stayed in Brazil’s capital, Brasilia, for my Inbound Orientation. Although I was supposed to arrive around late July, I experienced some visa issues and ended up arriving September 6th. During my first weekend I was able to meet all my fellow Inbound students and create some amazing memories.

I arrived after a long 30-hour flight schedule and never had much time to rest. My second day, September 7th, was Brazilian Independence Day in which I woke up at 05:30 to get ready for a parade starting at 07:00. The following day we went to a cachoeira (waterfall) called Itiquari. I had never seen such a massive waterfall in my life, and I was so in awe by its beauty. Our final day of the orientation we got a tour of Brasilia, which is quite an interesting city. It is shaped as an airplane and was only founded about 60 years ago.

After my fantastic weekend of tourism, I flew up to my official host city, Araguaina. There I arrived in the single room airport and was on my way to my first host family’s house. Now I attend school every day from 07:10-12:10 and have been living as a typical Brazilian teenage.

Overall, I have thoroughly enjoyed myself, but I have been very surprised by a few things. Applying for exchange and going through the pre-exchange process, I had never imagined half of the realities I have faced. You can never fully expect what you are getting, regardless of receiving a country on your Top 5 or not. It is basically impossible to fully know what your living conditions, family, and friends will be till you are there living those moments. And to many that might sound absolutely terrifying, but to exchangers, that is the thrill of it all.

Although most of the time exchange seems like this wonderful, vacation-esque life… it’s not. It is so much more than that. Yes, you will experience many situations and trips that will make you so happy and will be drop dead gorgeous, but there will also be days where all you are going to want to do is cry. I thought I would not feel homesick, but boy was I wrong. Everyone feels these emotions in their own way so there really is no way to prepare yourself besides acknowledging the fact that homesickness will come, and that it is difficult.

Along with homesickness, there will be things you miss that you had no clue you would miss. In my city we have no public transportation, no Uber, no bus, no nothing. I have to get my host parents or siblings to take me to almost everything I do. For me, an 18-year-old, (who has been driving for 2 years) this makes me so frustrated and really miss home. Before coming here, I had no idea I was going to miss my beautiful black Honda Civic 2017 so badly.

Despite all of this we are taught to overcome these obstacles. There are two sayings I constantly remind myself when I am feeling down, “Be a problem solver, not a problem causer.” (Love you dad 😉) and “Blossom where you are planted.” (Love you guys too, Abbie and Paula<3). To me these signify what it truly means to be an exchange student. We are faced with tons of problems on a daily basis, and our success depends are how we handle these problems. Whether it be missing a train, getting lost, or not understanding a conversation; the true test of your strength is overcoming and growing.

When all is said and done, I could not be more grateful for where I am in my live right now. I am so thankful to Rotary Youth Exchange for this opportunity. To my amazing mother and father who unconditionally love and support me, to my amazing siblings who always are checking up on me. To my amazing best friends, Kacey and Grace, who never cease to make me smile even though we are thousands of miles away. To my host family who are bending over backward to make sure I am enjoying myself. To the friends here who pretend to understand me when I am trying to speak Portuguese. To so many spectacular things that help create my unique exchange.


Murphy Movsovitz

Mon, October 15, 2018


Mya - Thailand

Hometown: St. Petersburg, Florida
School: St. Petersburg Collegiate High School
Sponsor District : District 6950
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of St. Petersburg Midtown, Florida
Host District: 3360
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Chiang Mai Phuping

My Bio

Hello, I’m Mya Senesom. I was born and raised in St. Petersburg, FL. I currently go to St. Petersburg Collegiate High School where I’ll earn my AA degree and high school diploma when I graduate. I’m a part of my school’s Interact Rotary club and Take Stock in Children club. Both clubs do many volunteer and charity activities like food drives, toys for tots, recycling, etc. My major is International Business Marketing. I love to travel and learn new cultures. I’m interested in researching demographics, especially in the Asian market. Despite my studious major, I’m actually more of a creative person. I enjoy activities that include writing, music, fashion, and film. I’m the type of person who can sit for hours just listening to music and writing down ideas. My exchange country is Thailand which I’m excited for as I am Laotian. Thai and Laos are sister countries so they have similar cultures and language. But unfortunately I don’t speak the language too well. My grandparents immigrated to America in the late 70s so my mom was born here. Since me and my mom were both born here, we don’t speak Laos fluently. I have had exposure to the culture since my grandparents put their best effort to keep traditions but it isn’t the same as actually living there. I’m very joyous to join the Rotary Youth Exchange. I hope to use this experience to learn more about my culture and be able to encourage others to take this great opportunity.

Journals: Mya-Thailand Blog 2018-19

  • Mya, Outbound to Thialand

It’s been 7 months! Time really does pass by so fast. It’s been almost 2 months since my last journal and quite a bit of things has happened. Mostly I’ve been going to school and hanging out with my Thai friends/YE on the weekends. I think I’ve come to the point in my exchange where I’m comfortable and living daily life. I can already tell I’m going to be so sad when the last few weeks come.

February has been fun! I didn’t really have anything to look forward to since I don’t really celebrate Valentines day and didn’t think Thailand did. They don’t celebrate it as much as we do at home, but they do like to give out chocolates and put heart stickers all over you which is cute. They celebrate it commercially like decorations and special items at the mall or in cafes but I think it’s just for tourists.

One thing that’s very renown in Chiang Mai is the Flower Festival. It’s usually in the beginning of February and very popular. It’s a big festival with a lot of beautifully decorated flower floats parading across town along with dance and drama performances. My school does the performances for the parade but unfortunately, I couldn’t partake. It was still fun to see and watch since it’s only in Chiang Mai.

The most fun thing I did though was participate in a dance performance for my school! I didn’t think I was going to be able to since I don’t have nearly as much experience as my classmates, but they let me participate in the school’s end of year performance evaluation. I actually got sick right before so I had to practice harder and wake up early to get dressed up with makeup and stuff. It was real fun even if I had quite a bit of stage fright. I’m happy to experience something like that and my school was proud of me. They even did a little interview afterwards on how long I’ve been at the school and if I’m enjoying it.

My rotary club had two big events this month. They first held a charity ball with live music and entertainment for guests. The second was a Walk Rally to help destigmatize mental illnesses. The YE in my club helped with both events. Both were great causes and glad to have helped.

Right now it’s exam time in Thailand since school is ending soon and my classmates have been very busy studying and practicing their performances. Now it’s the university’s end of year performance evaluation. I don’t know what I’ll do once school ends but I think I’ll take the time to explore some more and definitely study my Thai. My Thai language has improved but it could be better. I really want to be fluent in reading, speaking, and writing when I leave but need to step up my studying skills. I think schools begins in May but I’m not sure what grade I’ll be in and what I’ll be doing exactly. I’m excited for the months to come though!

Wed, February 27, 2019

  • Mya, Outbound to Thailand

It’s almost 5 months since I’ve come to Thailand and so much has happened in that time. In October I had my first Thai Halloween which is more just costumes and for adults. My Thai friends took me to a haunted house which was honestly not that scary but fun until we got lost figuring out where to go. Still real fun and afterwards we went to a street market to eat food I hadn’t tried before.

In November, it was my first Thanksgiving without my family, but I didn’t really feel homesick. I did miss my family a little more than usual and I found out that they don’t eat turkey in Thailand. At all, really. In November I experienced my first Thai Loi Krathong. Loi Krathong happens during the 12th month of the Thai lunar calendar and is celebrated to show respect to the river Goddess. Chiang Mai celebrates Loi Krathong longer than other towns as they typically celebrate for only a day or two. Chiang Mai celebrates for 3 days filled with festivals, lanterns, and positive wishes. For Loi Krathong I celebrated with my Thai friends who took me to put my banana flower float (meant to represent the previous years bad luck) in the river (to wash away the bad luck and bring in good fortune). They also took me to release lanterns and visit the temple to pray for a good new year.

December was my busiest month. I went to Chiang Rai (a province more north from Chiang Mai) with other YE for a few days. At Chiang Rai we visited the white temple, blue temple, hill tribe people, and Hinoki land (Japanese theme park). It was all so fun to see and experience. During the month of December my school had a big end of the year play. It was really cool to see the process of who gets picked to be in the plays and how everything is created from scratch. For anyone in the play it was a huge honor to be included since you are meant to represent the school’s pride in being a performing arts school.

I was a little homesick during Christmas time, especially the morning of Christmas day, but my school had a lot of fun activities for Christmas. It made me feel much less homesick. In the morning my school had a fun day with a play about the birth of Jesus, a Christmas tree contest, a fashion show, and many prize drawings. I also handed out candy canes to everyone to show my thanks and Christmas spirit.

For New Years countdown, I went with my Thai friends to a night market near the center of Chiang Mai where we ate and walked around before counting down to the new year. It truly was one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen. As we were counting down, there were paper lanterns lighting up the night sky, fireworks in the background and people around me laughing and excited for the new year. I’m so happy to have brought a new year in Thailand. I’m so excited and grateful for what’s to come in 2019.

Mon, January 7, 2019

  • Mya, Outbound to Thailand

I can’t believe it’s been one month since I’ve started my exchange in Thailand. Everything I’ve experienced and seen has been amazing. The people I’ve met and became friends with have all been very nice to me and help with anything. Especially my host family. My host mom is really great to me. She allows me to have my own freedom and treats me like her own daughter. My first week here, I spent time adjusting to the 11-hour time difference and getting know my host family as well as other exchange students.

My second week, I had my district orientation during the weekend and it was great to meet all the other exchange students. I’ve become good friends with a few of them and also closer to my district Rotarians. We have a district group chat in order to keep in touch and updated with other students and Rotarians. I only met my host club once so far since they have their meetings during school time but they also are very helpful and even welcomed me to their club with a bouquet of roses.

I started school a few days before the orientation but I would say that I really started during my third week of exchange. On my first day at school, I had to introduce myself in front of the whole school. I was extremely nervous but managed to introduce myself in English and in Thai, but I wish they informed me beforehand that I was going to speak in front of the whole school. The Thai students are so sweet and so helpful, I don’t know how I would’ve survived my first few days if they weren’t so kind. Everyone is always a little shocked when they talk to me and learn that I’m not Thai and actually a foreign exchange student since I look like a normal Thai student.

School here is a little different. It may be because I go to a dramatic arts school and their main focus is on the student’s performance skills rather than academics. My school is from middle school to college but the number of overall students is small. My schedule is also different from the other high school students as they typically have their performing classes in the morning and academic classes in the afternoon. But since I already graduated, they’ve given me only performing classes for right now. I currently have Thai dance in the morning and Thai instrument in the afternoon but I definitely want to learn Thai theater and international music later.

Outside of school, I’ve had the opportunity to explore and experience the Thai culture by visiting many temples (including the Wat Phra That Doi Suthrep, located on the mountains), visit night markets, shop at their huge malls, eat new foods, and so much more. My Thai friends are actually taking me to experience my first Thai movie theater tomorrow so I’m very excited. Thank you to RYE and the Rotarians in my district and sponsor club for giving me this amazing opportunity and I can’t wait to share more of my wonderful exchange.

Sun, September 9, 2018


Rory - Italy

Hometown: Ponte Vedra, Florida
School: Nease High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Ponte Vedra Beach Sunset, Florida
Host District: TBA
Host Club: TBA

My Bio

Ciao! My name is Rory Karasulu and I am going to Italy next year for my junior year. I am currently a sophomore at Nease High School and live with my parents, my little brother Lucas, and my two cats in Ponte Vedra, Florida. I’ve lived in Florida my whole life and haven’t had much of an opportunity to travel so I am beyond excited to learn about new people and cultures. I love to go to the beach with my friends and my family, but most of the time you can find me practicing the flute at home. I spend most of my time doing anything band related from after school rehearsals to weekend fundraisers or competitions. I am in Nease marching and concert band. I play the flute there as well as perform at other events. I am also in the IB program at Nease and even though it’s tough and a lot of work, I do a pretty good job keeping up with my grades and the work load. I also like to go to the beach with my friends and family on the weekends. On my exchange I hope I get to know and understand the Italian language an culture. I am so thankful to Rotary, my family and my future host family and hope that Italy will be a new place I can call home. Arrivederci!

Journals: Rory-Italy Blog 2018-19

  • Rory, Outbound to Italy

Hey everyone buckle in because I’m about to cover five months of journaling in one monster Journal. I’ve been in this gorgeous country of Italy for a little over five months now and it’s been absolutely amazing, even though it comes with its difficulties. I hadn’t really written any journals both because it wasn’t something I felt particularly excited to do but also because I felt like maybe my exchange wasn’t good enough or I wasn’t doing well enough as an exchange student to write something that would be helpful to any of you thinking about or going on exchange. It’s a lot of pressure when everyone talks about exchange as the most magical time of their lives and you want to live up to that. But the truth is that exchange is incomparable and no matter the ups and downs, I have already taken so much away from this experience in so many positive ways. I feel a little guilty about not journaling though so I’m going to try to tell you all about these crazy five months.


Month one was pretty crazy. You’ve heard everybody talk about jet lag and culture shock. The flight was pretty bad and when there was a five-hour delay for my flight to London Heathrow they transferred me to a flight going to Lisbon last minute and I barely made my flight. You just have to push through it if you run into any airport nonsense (I hope you don’t). But nobodies ever not gotten there so it’s nothing to worry about. The jet lag and diet change really don’t make you feel good when you get there. I couldn’t really handle eating all that pasta (even though it was so delicious). But all the new experiences are enough to make up for and yucky travel side effects. I was taking pictures of every little street and my host family thought I was crazy. They were so welcoming from the second I got there and luckily I get to stay with them the entire year. They always treat me like family and do small things that are really kind. The second week I got here my host mom took me to show me how to walk to school and we had a cappuccino and chocolate croissant at the bar across the street. My host sister who’s thirteen always wanted a sister so she took it upon her self to teach me Italian with board games and her favorite TV shows and it’s one of the main reasons I can speak pretty well now.

Month one was also the month when I started school. Everyone came and shook my hand at the door really excited about the new exchange student. It seemed to me that to them meeting a foreigner was so fascinating because in Italy most people are Italian like you would think. The United States is pretty new compared to Europe so people who aren’t 100% American much more common than in Italy. You guys will get sooo many questions about American culture and movies. My favorite question of all time that they ask is, “Do you put the pasta in the water before it boils?”

School was fun and it was really interesting to see the differences between Italian and American school but it’s really hard to make friends. Because they’ve been in school with the same people for three years and I live in a very small town.

I live in Tivoli, which is a little outside of Rome and it is the cutest thing ever. There are three beautiful Villa’s and an actual castle. The history is so interesting too because it’s actually older than Rome and It’s small so I can walk everywhere and it’s not too much colder than Florida.


Coming into my second month I still spoke pretty bad Italian, but you could see it improve every day. The improvement could really be seen when we would go to my host Grandma’s (nonna) house every Sunday for lunch. The food is so amazing and they have a farm where the grandfather makes his own fresh ricotta and mozzarella, grows his own tomatoes, and hunts his own rabbit. They gave us a tour of the whole thing and I was in love with the big white sheepdogs.

During my second month in Italy, I also became friends with the one other Canadian exchange student and we’ve always been there to help each other through our exchange because we’re the only two students in our area. (now three because of the new Australian student)

My host mom also took her, my host sister, and I to Florence and Naples when she had to go there for work. It was so much fun to see everything and eat our way through the cities, literally. Florence had gorgeous churches everywhere it was absolutely beautiful.

In Naples, we met a few colleagues of my host mom who were participating in a food festival and we ate food at every single one of the cute wooden stands.


In November I had to start dealing with a lot of my host families drama. It really made me want to switch families even though I already felt so at home with them. But it got better and Rotary let me know that if it ever became serious then they would help me change families.

December was awesome. I did get homesick around Christmas but I wouldn’t give up experiencing Natale for ten other Florida Christmas’s. We only ate seafood on Christmas Eve and when it was midnight on Christmas Day we all gave the Baby Jesus a kiss and opened presents. We barely slept before we went back to my host Nonna’s house to eat traditional Christmas Italian food.

I was also my birthday! And I’m so fortunate for the host family that I have because they took me to Vienna and we got to see museums and Christmas markets and all the sightseeing.


Because my host mom is addicted to traveling (I’m not complaining it’s so nice) we spent the new year in Tenerife, Spain. It was gorgeous and me and my little host sister hopped on the bus and explored the island by ourselves while my host parents stayed at the hotel.

It was so interesting to communicate because we would speak Italian, and the locals would speak to us in Spanish but we still understood each other and had conversations in the two different languages.

And by now in the present day, I feel so much better with the language and the culture. I don’t consider myself fluent, but I would like to be by the end of exchange even though it’s very hard to define the meaning of fluent.

It’s hard when there’s drama and when it’s hard to make Italian friends but I’m still having an amazing time. I used to think that my exchange wasn’t good enough and I was so stressed and determined to have the life-changing exchange that all the Rotex talk about at Lake Yale. It stopped me from taking away the positive things and when you stop caring about what you don’t have, you realize you’re still in a whole foreign country and there’s so much to do. I can honestly say that I’m having an amazing time with the ups and the downs. Rome and Tivoli finally feel like my cities.

Tue, February 19, 2019

Sophia - Paraguay

Hometown: Alpharetta, Georgia
School: Chattahoochee High School
Sponsor District : District 6900
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Alpharetta, Georgia
Host District: 4845
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Luque, Paraguay

My Bio

¡Hola! Me llamo Sophia! I am currently 16 years old and I will be going to Paraguay for the 2018-2019 school year. I live with my mom and stepmom (Lori and Cathy), younger sister (Summer), two dogs (Red Dog and Yukon), and my cat (Tinkerbell) in Alpharetta GA. I’m currently learning Spanish outside of school, so hopefully I’ll know a little by the time I go! I go to school at Chattahoochee High where I am active in my Musical Theater and Orchestra programs. I’m currently in two musicals; Follies and Clue the Musical. I love to sing, dance, play violin, guitar, and ukulele. Outside of music, my passions are writing, drawing, and going on adventures! Going to Argentina for a full school year will really be one of the biggest adventures I’ve ever had. My mom went to Brazil as an exchange student from 86-87, and when I was younger she always talked about her experiences and how much she loved the program, so when we found out that Rotary had started the program here in Georgia, we both became very excited! Hopefully this starts a family tradition that we can experience for generations. This is an adventure I really can’t wait to start, and I look forward to learning all I can about this different culture, and about myself! ¡Chau!

Journals: Sophia-Argentina Blog 2018-19

  • Sophia, Outbound to Paraguay

2nd journal Months 2 and 3

The world is so much bigger than I ever could have imagined. The past few months have been crazy. The honeymoon period is over and things are starting to seem more normal. Normalish. Life is still crazy most days and honestly I’m struggling to find time to keep track of it all!

Exhibition: My school has an opportunity for each of the classes to learn a dance and perform it in front of the school in a competition type of thing. It was so much fun! We spent weeks preparing! There were practices on Sundays and after school and every free moment in school was spent going over the dance getting it engrained into our heads until we could’ve probably done it in our sleep! It was a Hip Hop routine that was to Billboard/Top Ten music in Spanish. I’m writing about this because I think this was the beginning of something very lovely with me and my friends from school. It became a chance for me to bond and talk with everyone, solidifying friendships and building new ones. I loved every moment of it and I feel that my friendships are so much stronger now. It helps that I can speak to everyone much easier!

New thing about me: I’m blonde! My second host mom took me to the salon and I decided that it was a new year and a new me and I wanted to change something about me to match that. I’m always changing my hair and messing with it so bleaching it blonde really wasn’t too big of a change but it definitely was a shock to my friends back home!

Interact Club: Literally some of the best people I have ever had the fortune to meet. Honestly some of my best friends are in Interact and the club itself is really well run and really fun to be a part of! So far we’ve done a few projects including painting benches at a church, selling pizzas to raise money for a charity, and selling hamburgers to raise money for an Interact camp in Argentina that I’m going to be a part of!

Rotaract: So Rotaract is a club for adults ages 18-30 and it’s basically for young adults who want to give back to the community. Now, I’m not old enough to properly be a part of Rotaract (there are some meetings held in locations that are for 18+) but all of my host siblings are a part of it, so I contribute as best as I can! We did a project recently where there was a field for people who wanted to play soccer or lacrosse or other sports and there was an expanse of empty land behind it. We got permission and ended up planting about 60 trees in one afternoon in this area! It was so much fun, but it was so hot!!! The weather here is crazy during the spring. One moment it’s chilly and the next you feel like your face is melting off!

First day of Spring: First day of Spring was September 21st and this was when things got tricky to talk back home. Because while we turned our clocks forwards, the USA turned theirs back. So now there’s a 2 hour time difference which makes it difficult to find time to call home but we make it work even if it’s just one call a month! However there was a party in school for this day! The first day of spring is the same day as Día de los Jóvenes (which is a day to celebrate teenagers) so the school allowed us a day without uniform (still Catholic school appropriate- no legs allowed!) And there was music and food and a LOT of dancing! The teachers were even dancing for a good part of it!

Teaching English: I think I’ve found my calling in life. I’ve never really known what I want to do work-wise. It always seemed like such a daunting question: “What do you want to study in college?” Well first of all, how am I going to pay for college is the first question! College in America is so expensive and the thought of being in debt for the rest of my life sets me a bit on edge, but there’s a school in Argentina called UBA (University of Buenas Aires) and it’s considered one of the top colleges in South America. And it’s free. I’d still have to pay for housing (and pass the exam to get in!) But I’d really like to go there if I get the chance because they have an amazing program for Foreign Language Education, specifically English. Working with my students and seeing them grow and change and learn so quickly (they didn’t know how to count to five before and now they know how to count to 20 and they know different types of foods and family members!), it makes me feel really accomplished. It also makes me really really happy. My students have become a huge part of my exchange life and I can’t imagine not walking into the elementary school on a Friday and not getting showered with “Hola Tía!!!”s and general excitement over learning something new.

Mi Debut: I went to a ball! Not only that but I was “presented” at the ball! It was such a strange experience for me having never done anything similar in my life! I had training to walk in high heels (which I can now do for about 8 hours with little problem!) And training for the ball itself! It was technically a competition but since I didn’t want to compete, I was just a part of the group for “the experience”. I was the first person not born in Luque to participate in this ball (ever!).

Changing Houses: I am currently with my second host family and let me tell you, it is extremely different. While my first host family was home all the time and there was always a hustle and bustle about the place (so much so that I barely had time to breathe!) My second host family is much more chill. My host parents work all the time and don’t really get home until 8pm and since school is out, I’m alone in the house a lot. That’s a lot of down time for me so I started 2 music classes for singing and for violin, as well as a chorus and an orchestra! I’ve also started to have more friends than before and it’s very nice to be able to connect even more with new people!

Tips and tricks after 3 months complete:

  1. Take pictures. Take a lot of pictures. Create an Instagram for your exchange. Post those pictures to Instagram and caption it in your native language and the language you’re learning. It’s so cool to see the pictures from other exchange students and your family want to see what you’re doing back home.
  2. IF YOU GET SICK ASK FOR HELP. I got very sick for a while and I ended up not wanting to go to the doctor for fear of not being able to use my insurance (some exchange students mentioned having problems with it). This was a mistake because it ended up being worse and the sickness lasted about 3 weeks leaving me unable to eat certain food for a while. I’m much better now and I can eat whatever I want, but I think if I had asked for help before, I would’ve been much happier and healthier.
  3. Honeymoon period is real and it does end! After a while, people stop coming up to you and you need to start going up to them. You need to be the one to take initiative and make friends because you can’t expect everyone else to do this for you. Be first!
  4. Oof. Homesickness. It’s not fun. I haven’t experienced full out, ache in my heart homesick as some exchange students of explained to me, but there are times when I really miss little things like the Thai food shop near my house that I went to eat at with my mom on days when neither of us wanted school food. A good way to combat this is to surround yourself with friends and family in your host country. Whenever I’m feeling a bit down, I can always call a friend and they can come over or we can talk on the phone for ages. It really helps to get my mind back into this country and not back home.
  5. Get rid of old clothes. If you haven’t worn it since you’ve arrived or it doesn’t fit anymore for whatever reason, get rid of it. You won’t have room for it in your suitcase when you go home so you might as well stay on top of it so you don’t need to do a suitcase purge at the end of the year!
  6. Be the exchange student you want people to talk about when you leave. Be nice. Be kind. Be amazing. Make an impression. You’re only here for one year. Make it count.

Besos de Paraguay! Les amo!

-Sophia Gomez

Wed, December 12, 2018

  • Sophia, Outbound to Paraguay

What a heck of a beginning to my adventures abroad. I thought I was fully prepared to go but what I wasn’t (and couldn’t) prepared for, was a storm delaying my first flight from Atlanta to Miami, which made me miss my flight to Santiago, Chile. I was sent to American Airlines (since that was the plane I had just got off) and tried to get myself on a different flight, but they told me that I would have to go through LATAM because that’s the airline of the flight I missed. However, LATAM was in the South Terminal, and I was in the North Terminal. Already stressed, I walk for 25 minutes until I find LATAM and I start talking to an agent and they tell me that the only flight they have room on is at 5:20pm the NEXT DAY (Keep in mind is was 11:00pm and this would mean I had to sleep in the airport or find another arrangement). So I ended up calling my travel agent and there was some bits and bobs of drama because of full flights and all that, but finally I asked if I could just stay in a hotel.

Turns out, minors can’t stay in hotels alone.

At this point I can honestly tell you I was CRYING. Like, not just a few tear drops, like, full on sobbing. Not fun in an airport at 11:00pm. So I called my mom to update her and lo and behold, her motherly knowledge comes in handy. Apparently, I have family in Miami I could stay with. Bless. I called and Uber and ended up getting to their house around midnight. My abuela helped me get situated and then went to bed while I got ready for bed as well.

The next day my uncle drove me to the airport really early. I was so early that I ended up not being able to check in for 2 more hours. The rest of my travels were pretty uneventful except for one plane “dinner” that was a plate of brie cheese, three crackers, a sandwich with turkey, spinach, tomato and olives (why olives of all things?), And something sweet that tasted vaguely lemony. I did like that flight though. It was a red eye from 12:30am to 5:20am and it was a clear night so all the stars were out. Being a city girl I haven’t seen stars very much. There were times when we were flying over a more rural area where the pinpricks of light on the ground mimicked the stars above them and it was difficult to tell where the earth stopped and the sky began. I’m really not looking forward to customs and immigration and visa stuff, especially cause my Spanish is WAY worse than I thought.

Okay so immigration was super easy thank God. I got my visa and went through in 5 minutes, tops. Customs was literally me putting my bag on a machine that looked inside it and the people running it were NOT paying attention. At all. I forgot I had my backpack on and none of them noticed, or cared. To be fair, it was 5:00am.

My entire family was there to greet me when I arrived. Literally. All of them. Or so I thought. There were 50 people waiting for me in the airport, but turns out that’s just a small portion of my family. Wow. This was when I found out my 3 host families are all one family, and my 3 host dads are brothers!

After the airport we went to the gas station/restaurant/cafe thing and I got coffee and a GORGEOUS empanada con pollo. So good. We chatted for a while and headed home.

My family had to go to work so I took a long nap and relaxed because I was tired from restlessly sleeping on the plane.

Week 1: Oh God week 1 was hectic. I clearly did not understand much and needing my host sisters Carmi and Celsi to act as a translator most of the time. I went shopping and explored my neighborhood with my sister Carmi (who is one year younger than me and also an exchange student going to Canada). One of the things I had to buy was my school uniforms. My Rotary program put me in a Catholic school and having not identified with any religion for quite some time now, it’s a bit strange to be praying every day. I love the people in my school but the teachers are very strict and VERY Catholic. I have a few classes I’ve never taken before such as Lógica and Guaraní and I’m always excited to learn new things so I appreciate it all.

The first week had a lot of firsts. Foods being most of them. My favorite foods are Chipa and chorizo but I also really like sopa paraguaya, corazón de pollo, and a few others. I even tried yakare (crocodile)!

I also had my first Interact meeting which was cool because I got to see how kids contribute to the community here. At the first meeting we were raising money for a charity we had picked.

The first week was also my first Friday teaching English to kids at the school my Host mom works at. I love working with the kids because they’re always eager to learn and they soak up all this new information like a sponge. (More about this later).

I went into the city for the first time and got an empanada and walked around during a small festival with music. This was fun because my host family got to show me the historic bits and bobs of their city, as well as the more modern parts. Turns out, Paraguay had the first train in South America.

My Spanish comprehension improved a lot my first week but I still struggled to speak anything coherent. I took the 30 day challenge so I haven’t had any contact with home but Luque is really starting to feel like home anyway.

Week 2: The second week flew by like a dream. Rotary meetings, family dinners and even a new edition to the family being born. I became even closer to my family here and my host sister Carmi prepared to leave.

Week two was really cold. It was so cold that there was one day we didn’t go to school because it was too cold to move. I forget sometimes that this is technically winter in this country.

I helped my friend with a photography project by being a bit of a model for his photos, along with Carmi and my other sister Romi. I continued to help at my Mom’s school teaching English to kids and also continued learning more Spanish as it went along.

Weeks 3 + 4: My Spanish is a lot better and I understand about 80% of what’s being said and I can reply with relative decency. God bless life has slowed down a little. I still have lots of random dinners and spontaneous going out with friends for random things. I joined a hip hop group with my friends and while I’m not very good at dancing, I’m having a lot of fun. We spent a day in a country house my family owns, relaxing and eating delicious foods. We managed to take some really good photos and enjoyed the last bit of time before Carmi left.

The day that Carmi did leave, the entire family went to the airport for a send off and took so many pictures. Carmi will be well missed but she’s gonna have so much fun in Canada!

Cool things that I did:

Student Exchange Orientation!: This was one of the most fun things I have ever been able to do. We played lots of games and I met people from all over the world! There were a lot of people from Germany and Denmark but I think the students from the United States out numbered the other countries! My district (4845) is also bi-national so we had students from Argentina and Paraguay all together at this camp. It was really interesting to see the difference between the two cultures, even though the countries are so close. (For example, in Paraguay we use two kisses to say hello, in Argentina, you only do one.) I learned quite a bit from this camp, mostly about how to be confident enough to talk to people you don’t know in a language that is not your first language! I also got so many pins! My jacket is looking pretty spiffy now!

Teaching English to Children: Oh boy this is an interesting one. Kids are willing to learn but not always willing to sit still so teaching them English is like teaching 2 month old golden retriever puppies. With my younger group (aged 3 and 4) we teach numbers and colors in any way we can. There was one day where we had them tell us a number and we had to jump that many times while counting each jump in English. I don’t know if it helped but I definitely got in my exercise for the day! With my older group, (ages 6 and 7) it’s a bit easier to teach and to have them retain the information. Along with numbers and colors, we can teach them things like “Hello!” And “My name is…” And “I’m hungry”. But they’re still kids and they still want to run around so we come up with crazy things for them to do as well. One of the class favorites is a game where we call out a color in English and they have to find something in the classroom that’s that color and run to touch it. I work with some really cool people that are native Spanish speakers but are really good at English, as well as another exchange student from New York.

Tips and tricks for future exchange students based on my first month:

1: Wifi is rare and data is expensive. Keep a Notes app on your phone to help you remember tricky parts of the language.

2: Stay hydrated! There’s nothing worse than feeling dehydrated in the middle of school, knowing your break isn’t for another hour.

3: My school starts at 7am and goes until Noon, and that’s really early for me, but sometimes things happen and you cannot get to bed until late at night or really early in the morning. Mints are great for this, they wake you up and help you focus.

4: DO NOT BE AFRAID TO ASK QUESTIONS. You’re in a whole different world, but you’ll survive as long as you can ask for help. No one will judge you.

5: Make friends! Then make more friends! You can literally not have enough friends! Spread the love!

6: Make your host family food but bring an English recipe translated into Spanish to the grocery store! You probably won’t have WiFi and determining the difference between baking power and baking soda is hard when they literally look exactly alike and you can’t read Spanish.

7: Stand up for what you believe in, but be willing to listen to both sides. Currently there are a few political issues going on in Argentina that are leaking into Paraguay about topics such as abortions and other things. This can lead to some pretty personal questions about your beliefs. My advice to you is to answer honestly, but respect the other opinion.

8: If the food is good, eat it. Don’t care about gaining weight, it’s just a part of exchange.

Final thoughts of month one: This is my home now and I think when I go home I’ll have to leave a part of me here. I haven’t experienced much culture shock but that also means I’m extremely comfortable here. My family feels like family and for the first time I genuinely feel at home. I love it here and I think it’s going to be very difficult to leave.

Many kisses and love from Luque, Paraguay! Chau!

-Sophia Gómez.

Wed, September 19, 2018


Sydney - Finland

Hometown: Lecanto, Florida
School: Lecanto High School
Sponsor District : District 6950
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Inverness, Florida
Host District: 1410
Host Club: Turku Aninkainen

My Bio

Moi! Hello, my name is Sydney Noel Gamble. I am a “ready for adventure” 16-year-old girl. I am a Sophomore at Lecanto High School, where I am involved in activities like AVID, tennis, volleyball, and weightlifting. I live at home with my parents in Lecanto Florida, along with my two older sisters and my grandmother. Outside of school my adventuring knows no bounds! I love anything outdoors, like hunting, fishing, or just roaming around. Family time and volunteering play a huge role in my day-to-day life. It is important for me to give back to my community and family in any way I can. At 14 years old I attended an incoming Rotary Youth Exchange Party and I knew from that day that I wanted to be an exchange student too! I am so excited to begin this new chapter in my Life. Traveling and seeing new cultures, people, environments and new ways of thinking will be only the beginning of my new journey. I love snow and cold weather and it is on my bucket list to go see Husky’s under working conditions. So, I hope that I get to go to northern Finland to experience this. I will do my best to represent myself and my country in Finland and I am so excited to meet my new Host family. Thank you, Rotary, for making this possible!

Journals: Sydney-Finland Blog 2018-19

  • Sydney, Outbound to Finland

I have been in Finland 5 and a half months. I am half way through my exchange here in Turku. I will be flying back around the second week of July. In my last update I had been here only 2 months, and everything was fairly new. Now I am getting settled in and I am used to my routines. I really want to tell you about some of my amazing adventures and the many things that I have learned, but first I want to tell you some exciting news.Today I met my second Host Family, and I loved that my host sisters were so excited to meet me. The whole family made me feel welcome, even their two dogs 😊 I will be only about 5 minutes from my current host family, so I would be able to easily visit them. I will be moving in with my second family in 1 week. I am happy and a little sad at the same time, but that is part of this exciting Rotary adventure. I have had an amazing time with my first Host family and I am very grateful for everything that I they have shown me, and they will always be a big part of my life. I know that there are more learning opportunities and new things to experience before my time in Finland is over.

One of my favorite activities with my host family is cooking and learning how to make Finnish foods. My host mom and sister helped me make Pulla (a sweet bread similar to cinnamon rolls). We also made some amazing sushi the other day. Some days, just like at home, I have a lot of free time. I have found that I love doing puzzles, sometimes with my family and sometimes on my own. I have also joined a gym close to my school to help me stay busy and healthy. My host parents have also helped me find a tennis coach so that I can continue to practice while I am here. Just like in the U.S. I have been going to the movies with my friends from school, the last one that I saw was Fantastic Beasts. The movies here are almost always played in English and subtitled in Finnish which is very helpful for me. A couple of things that I have had to get used to are first Less sunlight (only 6 hours a day or less) and second if I am listening to a long class or a concert in Finnish, I find that I get a head ache. I didn’t realize how much my brain has to work to try to translate that much information. Something really important that I bought since I came to Finland and it has started to snow more was my Vans snow shoes/boots. I love my Van’s from back home, but they were not practical at all, unless I enjoyed slipping and falling down all the time and having cold wet feet. These may be one of the most important purchases I have made here yet (Thank you Ulla for helping me find them). Now at school I really enjoy my Art class and have created a lot of art work (my planets portrait being my favorite). I also had a party in my homeroom class and we made pizza, Yum!

I love that Rotary and my family have made sure that I have been able to take trips and see new places. In October I took a trip to the Capital, Helsinki, and got to see the beautiful Capital Building, the Town Square, a Church built into the rocks, and the Amos Rex Art Museum. Also, in October I attended 2 different Halloween Costume Party’s, one with Rotary and one with friends from school. Both were great! November brought some beautiful Fall leaves and some more trips to Korpo, Russialo (with other In-Bound Students), and finally an amazing Rotary trip to Lapland. Lap land Tour began with a 16-hour bus ride that I tried to sleep through. We had many stops, some picking up more students and some to eat and use the bathrooms. Once in Lapland (In the Arctic Circle) we participated in some really unique activities. We skied, visited Huskies and Reindeer and also went on sled rides pulled separates by Huskies and then Reindeer, cooked sausage on a camp fire, and walked across a bridge that was half way between Finland and Sweden. We always stayed on schedule because there was only about 2 and a half hours of daylight each day and after the sun went down, we stayed inside. If you have the opportunity to go to Lapland, I highly recommend it. On the way back to Turku we stopped at Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi to meet the real Santa Claus. It is Christmas there all year around and it is magical. December brought more snow and Christmas. Christmas is Celebrated on Christmas Eve and Santa brings gifts to every child personally. I baked cookies for my Host family and I also made some for a club that I am in at School. Everyone seemed to enjoy them. On New Year’s Eve we saw fireworks and I got to wish my friends and family in Florida Happy New Year 7 hours before they had their New Year, which was pretty cool.

There are many small things that happen everyday that remind me how lucky I am to be on this amazing adventure. Some days I will still get a little homesick and miss family,friends, and even sometimes American food, but then I realize that I am in Finland and then I look forward to my next adventure such as a new Host family, a wonderful trip to the Archipelago, or even a trip to an amazing underground Museum in Turku. Sometimes just the unknown is part of what makes my Rotary Youth Exchange exciting.

Thu, January 24, 2019

  • Sydney, Outbound to Finland

“The two important things in life is to learn that you are as powerful and strong as you allow yourself to be, and that the most difficult part of any endeavor is taking the first step, making the first decision.” (How appropriate that I found this on an “I love Finland” Facebook page as I was getting ready to post my first journal entry).

I am so glad that I took that first step! Kittos to Rotary Florida district 6950 for helping make this dream come true. And also “Turku Aninkainen Club” in district 1410 for sponsoring me. In the short two months that I have been here so much has happened and time has flown by. My trip started out exciting, then I had a little hiccup, but now is even more amazing!

Leaving on August 4th I felt totally prepared, thanks to all hard work and planning that I did with the Rotary’s help. At the airport I shed a few unexpected tears as I said my good byes. But as soon as my family was out of site I was fine and could focus on finding the right terminal and starting this incredible adventure. After a brief layover at Chicago O’Hare airport, where I met 4 other Rotary exchange students, I boarded my final plane to Helsinki. It was a 9-hour flight in which I slept for most of it.

Around 3 am Florida time and 10 am Finland time I landed and met up with many other exchange students some really tired and some that were surprising full of energy. I was somewhere in between. Eventually buses picked up all 100 plus exchange students from all over the world and drove us to our Language and Culture camp in Karkku. We spent the week learning and having adventures not only about Finland but also some things about the students from the other countries that were there, which was really amazing to me. In the middle of the week we all took a trip to Tampere. It was such a wonderful city full of culture and history. On Saturday, at the end of camp, we said our goodbyes to the new friends that we had met and Hei to our new Host families. What a site, all of the Host moms and Dads and siblings all there to gather their new daughter or son. When mine found me, they gave me big hugs, even though I had read that Finnish people were not big Huggers. We loaded up my bags and traveled to my new home in Turku, Finland.

My new family consisted of a mom, dad, sister, and brother. My host brother was there only a week before he also had to leave for exchange in America. After one day of unpacking and getting used to my new surroundings I started school in Turku. As far as I can tell, I am the only Exchange student in my school. There are other Rotary exchange students in Turku, but they go to different schools. I quickly found that I loved my Art class and my English class the most. The people in my English class are so much fun! I have met some really amazing people at school. My Finnish is still a work in progress, but I started with speaking Finnish to my host mom and host Aunt’s dogs’. It feels like I am the dog whisperer here in Finland, haha. I love that I have free periods at school and that I can leave school with friends and go walk around town or have a smoothie (since I don’t drink coffee) and then return to finish classes. I have so much more freedom here and I am trusted to do more on my own. I even participated in a debate at school and found it refreshing.

Not everything the first day went perfectly. After school I was responsible for finding the right city bus to take me back home.  Welllllllllll……… That didn’t happen haha- Big fail! I got on the wrong bus and it took me three more bus transfers to get me back to where I needed to be. Needless to say, I took the scenic route home that day and learned quickly how to correct my error.

In my free time I walk around near my house and take pictures of the rivers and churches and of course the wonderful Nature all around.  My host family has been amazing and has helped me feel comfortable with all the changes. In the first few weeks they have taken me to see the Zoo in Helsinki, Old Turku where I got to see how they lived and made things in the past, and they even let me go to a concert in Lahti to see a famous Finnish rapper named Cheek.

After being in Finland for only 3 and a half weeks, I ended up with a surprise illness that basically stopped everything and kept me home from school for 2 and a half weeks. (The Hiccup) The worst part of being sick was feeling really weak and not being able to do many things for myself and the Pain. But after some great care from my Host parents, a lot of rest, and some antibiotics I was thankfully able to continue my unbelievable adventure here in Finland. I was really frustrated at the time, but I have also learned to appreciate my Exchange even more. I also learned during this time that I really like milk in my hot tea 😊 Kitos to my host Mom.

If you are considering going on exchange and happen to read my Journal, I would highly recommend Finland as one of your top 5 choices. You won’t be disappointed with the fascinating beauty of Nature here and the people and the places you will get a chance to visit. My favorite place so far has been my trip to Naantali visiting my host Aunt and family. The Fall has been amazing and the old town and the nature by the sea were incredible there. Turku’s Castle and the old churches are definitely places you have to visit. Rotary does a lot here to provide us with opportunities to go places and see new things, From a trip to Lapland and the Euro-Tour to great weekends in Pori and Fireworks after a Rotary dinner. One thing I do miss is strong flavors of some American snacks. For me I found that I missed Taki’s and really sour candy. (I received a care package from my family with those requests are more inside)

All in all, I am settling in and really enjoying my time here and I am ready for all that Finland and Exchange has to offer with an open mind.

Kaikkea hyvää,

Sydney Gamble

Mon, October 15, 2018


Taylor - Austria

Hometown: Clearwater, Florida
School: Saint Petersburg Collegiate High School
Sponsor District : District 6950
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Clearwater East, Florida
Host District: 1210
Host Club: TBA

My Bio

Guten Tag! Taylor here all the way from sunny Clearwater, Florida! Thanks to Rotary Youth Exchange International, I will be moving to grand country of Austria this summer. This is the most excited I have been about anything, ever! Most of my friends would describe me as the busiest person they know. I absolutely love meeting new and diverse people. 4 days a week I take a part in the beautiful sport of figure skating at Clearwater Ice Arena. Since fourth grade, I have been competing solo in the U.S. and recently I picked up pairs skating with my partner Justin. It is something very close to my heart. Aside from figure skating I also enjoy roller/skate park skating. It is so fun and was fairly easy to transition over. As President of Chicks in Bowls Tampa Bay our goal is to, together empower girls to take on skateparks regardless of their male dominated reputation. As President of SPC Gibbs campus Vegan Educational group (V.E.G.), spreading awareness on the topic is very important to me. I currently run my own animal cruelty awareness blog on Instagram. Other things that define me would definitely be how I am very into makeup and fashion. Also, being outside in any form of nature is where I find my peace. Every time I am I appreciate this beautiful world a little more. If there’s one thing I go by, it is definitely to not wait you whole life before you start living. Before we know it it will be halfway over and we must appreciate every day we have and live it to the fullest. That, and also- no matter how bad a situation is- find the POSITIVE in it. It will be much more rewarding. Auf Wiederhören! -Taylor L. 🙂

Journals: Taylor-Austria Blog 2018-19

  • Taylor, Outbound to Austria

When I think of how my exchange has been so far I have running through my head is a million experiences that I could never even come close to capturing the magic of in just this journal. Both good and bad, but a learning experience with all. To the future outbounds, I hope you have that feeling soon as well.

I love my host family more than anything, spending time with them is my favorite thing to do here. I thought that Christmas and New Years would be a hard time to be away from home, but really I was having such a great time with my family here that I was not even thinking much on what I am missing at home. I think that is also an important key to a good exchange is to stop worrying about what is happening at home. Home will always be there, the experience to live across the world for a whole year won’t be. And honestly, with time you will not even think of it as being away from home. It will just feel like your ‘other’ home. That is what I love most.

I think one of the craziest things about exchange is really how fast it goes. I have been here for five months already and it feels like I just blinked. Another thing is, even if I went back to Florida right now, I would look at everything completely differently. It feels like I have learned more in these five months than I have in my whole life. I knew that I would be grateful for learning on my exchange but wow… wow. However, there were definitely some hard times so far. At first I did not have many Austrian friends, I was not used to eating such different foods, and I even ended up in the hospital from skateboarding at one point. But in these times, I feel I learned the most. But now, oh my goodness- even the smallest things are so easy to appreciate. I think that one thing exchange really teaches you is how to live in the now, when worrying about the past or the future it is easy to forget to live NOW.

To the future outbounds, I promise it gets so much easier and before you know it you will be having the time of your life. That being said, exchange is also what you make of it. Knowing the language makes everything so much easier and less stressful, so get STUDYING! I promise promise promise that you will feel so much better if you do. I recommend that leading up to your exchange you mostly focus on learning VOCAB words. Once you get the Vocab down, you can at least talk like a caveman and the grammar will eventually come too. Eventually into your exchange, your brain will just click into place and you will be like ‘wow, I am actually understanding people’s conversations’ and it is such a great feeling.

The best of luck to all of the Outbounds(study vocab ;))!!!

Xoxo, Taylor from Austria

Sat, January 5, 2019

  • Taylor, Outbound to Austria

Hallo Freunde!

Tis’ me! Taylor the Floridian in which is currently FREEZING cold Austria! I wanted my first journal to be both an insight as to what I have done in my country so far but also an inspiration to the students who are in the same exact seat I was a year ago, reading everyone’s journal articles. To you, I hope these paragraphs inspire you to make that jump into the incredibly amazing world of Rotary Youth Exchange.

One of the most common questions people ask me is “Why did you choose Austria?” And to be honest I think I have given every person a different answer. That is simply because there was not just one reason why I chose this Mountainous dreamland. To start, I kind of wanted to go to a country that I did not know much about. I started researching and no matter what country I was reading about I just kept ending up back looking at google images of Austria. If you are reading this trying to choose your top five countries right now, I definitely suggest writing your top 10 down in a notebook, and writing the pros/cons for each- (ex. Already knowing some Spanish from school, so traveling to a Spanish speaking country.) At the same time, I think it is most important to follow your heart. If you feel yourself being pulled a certain way- trust in it! I think half research and half spontaneity is key. Another reason I chose Austria is because it is geographically and climatically almost the exact opposite of Florida. I thought that if I am given the chance to experience living in a different habitat for such a long period of time I might as well take it because 1. I will never be given the opportunity again and 2. It will either make me appreciate Florida EXTRA when I get back, or make me realize that I’d actually love to live somewhere else long term. Exchange really is the perfect opportunity to start figuring out where you will thrive the best- we only have one life and we must make the absolute most of it!

So far in Austria, (Osterreich in German 😉 I have been so grateful as to experience a number of different events, nature, and architecture all unique to this Gorgeous country. I have done everything from exploring Underground Salt mines to hiking through the incredibly beautiful and zen Alps. As I am residing in the countries capital, Vienna, I am surrounded by countless historical landmarks and jaw-dropping architecture. My best advice to anyone who is going on exchange, or thinking on going on exchange, is to go into it with an open mind. Don’t have your heart set on one place because you know all about it already- whatever happens was meant to happen! I wanted to be put a completely different place at first and now, there is no where i’d rather be than here in Vienna. Keep an open mind and heart and you will never be disappointed.

For those of you that are staring at all these journals, contemplating going on exchange for a year: There is one thing that i would love for you to take away from this blog post, no matter how crazy it seems- do it!! I promise you it will change your life for the best, I have been here a month and have learned so much already. So many doors will open for you that were not there before. I have been here for a month and I already feel like a new, more mature and grounded person. It is a lot of work, of course, both mentally and physically. But I promise that in the end you will be so grateful, because it is so so so worth it. Traveling the world will teach you more than any textbook! And of course, you can always email or DM me if you need any advice or have any extra questions….

“When it feels scary to jump, that is exactly when you do it.”

xoxo, Taylor

Wed, October 3, 2018


Taylor - Peru

Hometown: Lauderdale Lakes, Florida
School: Pompano Beach High School
Sponsor District : District 6990
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Pompano Beach, Florida
Host District: 4455
Host Club: The Rotary Club of San Borja Sur

My Bio

¡Hola me llamo Taylor! Estoy emocionada por mi viaje a Perú. I’m a 15-year-old sophomore at Pompano Beach High School where I participate in many activities: Key Club, Mentoring, Think Tank, GSA, World Language Competition (Spanish) Model UN, and NSHSS Ambassadors. At home, in Lauderdale Lakes, I live with my mom, dad, and younger brother. Both of my parents were in the USN so I’m a bit of a military brat with awesome memories of encounters with servicemen of different nationalities. In addition to my school activities, I love to volunteer at my nearby elementary school where I either assist teachers in the grading or teaching process. The best part is when I get one-on-one with the kids. There are so many students in a single classroom that teachers cannot always give attention to a one child; therefore, by helping the student I am helping the teacher, and vice versa. I’m also fanatic of world culture, as are other members of my family which makes for an interesting dinner. I enjoy studying ancient civilizations like the Greeks, Egyptians, and Mayans as well as modern cultures like Korean, Peruvian, and British. Most of all, I am very passionate about learning indigenous cultures which is one of the reasons why I’m so grateful for the opportunity to spend my junior year in Peru. By the end of my exchange, I wish to be fluent in Spanish and learn a bit of Quechua as well as study the many indigenous peoples in the region. Another reason is to gain a sense of independence. College is just around the corner and if I can survive year in a foreign country away from my family, then I can survive my freshman year at college, too.

Journals: Taylor-Peru Blog 2018-19

  • Taylor, Outbound to Peru

There are officially two months left of my exchange and I have honestly never felt more upset. I feel like I just wasted eight months of my life but at the same time I have learned so much about myself personally. I finally found my niche here in Peru. It took two schools, four families, thirteen countries, three Rotary trips, countless taxis, hundreds of presentations, and a few unforgettable days to help me realize that I have made a home here. In these eight, nine months there’s been so much personal growth that I fear that I’m coming home a complete stranger. Like I have literally forgotten some cities exist in my state. It is definitely going to take some time to adjust to pretty much everything.

I don’t think I’ll miss Peru so much but I will miss definitely miss my exchange. Not going to lie, if I did not have my fellows inbounds here as buffers I probably would have canceled my exchange after the first three weeks. They are not my blood but they are my family. I have a gorgeous, sarcastic German wife; a 6’2, scrawny son from California; a smart aleck German son who just burned half his face on a yacht; an adorable supermodel of a Danish daughter; the most religious heathen from Indiana; a former Mormon mother/daughter; a rambunctious, crazy father from Connecticut who’s also Mama Peru; a sister from New Hampshire who can’t dance but loves to anyway; and my two Taiwanese sisters who literally ying-yang (no joke, one is an angel and the other is devious but they’re both amazing). There are so many more aunts, uncles, and cousins in my new exchange family that I absolutely love to pieces.

January. February. March. Quite possibly the BEST months of my exchange so far. I just want to go back and relive them. January was full of quality time with my favorite host family. Just so many karaoke parties, beach trips, movie nights, and water fights. I miss them so much but unfortunately my new home is so far away from them. I also got to experience 5-star, all-included VIP treatment when we went with Rotary to the Royal DeCameron resort in Punta Sal. Three days of feeling like an absolute rockstar. Once that trip ended it was off to Ica for my February fun. Let me tell you, I have never been in a desert and was definitely NOT prepared for that extreme heat-especially in the summer without A/C. There isn’t even a beach or something to cool off. The closest beach is about two hours away and even there it was so hot that I got my first ever sunburn plus heatstroke! That was pretty amusing for my little Canadian else who listened to my endless complaining about my sunburn. While there, I was also able to visit Chincha, Paracas, and the Vina Tacama, which are some popular tourist attractions. But I’ll have to wait until May to see the Nazca Lines. This month I was super involved with Rotary activities as my host mom is in charge of Interact and Rotaract there. Once vacations ended it was back to Lima to prep for our jungle trip. This is like the most important of exchange because all the mini projects we do in the beginning serve as fundraisers for our major project in the pueblos of Loreto. There’s just something about Iquitos, about the Amazon that’s so special. I really want to just go back. It’s my favorite part of Peru, my favorite place in the world. I just kind of calls you and draws you in. the people are so happy and warm, the food is muy rico, the nature feels like home, and the animals are so unique. We were able to see rare pink dolphins, fish piranhas, and play with some of our monkey cousins-capuchins are the superior species. More than that, we listened to communities. When i went in December, the river was pretty low but since then the rainy season has started and the water has elevated about fifteen feet. Many of the communities there have been flooded and students have had to relocate because it isn’t safe to enter the classroom. Some students who used to attend schools a thirty minute distance from home either can’t go to school or have to go to one in another community about two or three hours from home. Some students have to take boats to cross the river and go to another if they want to be educated. So with what little funding we had, we built a refuge where kids can still attend school without such a hassle but there are still communities affected out there who need help. Sadly, we had to end our trip and it feels wrong like there was more we could’ve done but that’s for the next group. We ended that trip feasting on delectable suri, which taste just like pretzels if pretzels were fried larvae on a stick. The weirdest part was when we landed my new host family was there waiting for me with a poster and neither my current host family at the time nor I knew about it. They kind of just picked me up and I went with them because no one else in Peru is named Taylor and that’s a fact. And since then, everything has been better. I’m hanging out more with kids from my first school, I even went to support my friend at her final gala for Miss Teen South America and she didn’t win exactly but she came home with the title of Miss Sympathetic; and I’ve immediately clicked with the kids at my new school like my first week of school they taught me how to play volleyball and invited me to a quince which never happened at my old school. I am also pretty close to fourth family: I help them in their mini market, take my sister to dance classes and to celebrate St. Paddy’s day we made green slime and ate tallarin verde. So, in summary, life’s good.

Mon, April 1, 2019

  • Taylor, Outbound to Peru

Exchange is basically a choose-your-own-adventure type fantasy, like the lovechild of Life is Strange and Undertale. Well, maybe a little less Undertale. The point is you’re in charge of how most events play out and I’ve figured that you get the best results when you reiterate a two simple phrases: “thank you” and “yes”. Literally, just that will get you so far; it sounds really repetitive especially after years of hearing adults telling you to be polite, but the fact remains that it is so easy to do. By saying “yes” that just opens doors for you, like an endless supply of opportunities. The reality is exchange can get very busy and stressful, but it can become extremely boring just as easily. There are days when you just want to stay in all day and sleep or rest a little, and it is completely normal to feel a bit drained but still try to say “yes”. It’s like if you wanted to get to know someone and asked them to hangout but each time you suggest an activity, they shoot it down, wouldn’t you tire of asking? It’s human nature and happens so quickly on exchange. For me, my classmates invited me out a couple times but I not one of the times I was able to go and so they eventually stopped asking. The worst part was that they would watch me on Instagram with other exchange students and thought I was standing them up not realizing we had mandatory events.

All that negativity aside, saying “yes” has given me what is quite possibly the biggest opportunity of my life. In early December, a team of inbounds and I traveled to an island in the middle of the Amazon to bring Christmas to the children there. The situation over there is that the majority of the children have never experienced Christmas, some don’t even know about it. So, we brought over a boat full of gifts, traditional panettone, and packets of powdered cocoa to make hot chocolate. That was a bit weird considering we were drinking steaming hot chocolate in the humid desert at about 36 o C (90 o F mas o menos). It was just an amazing, interesting experience. These children are so precious. They are the sweetest people I have ever met in my life. I was talking with this one little boy named Gregori who’s about eleven years old and he reminded me of my own little brother back home, which was comforting for me. The best part was when he discovered that I have never had a dog as a pet—only fish and frogs so he decided to give me one of his puppies. Then two. Then three. Then four. This continued until I was literally covered with a liter of sleeping puppies. The whole trip was just as crazy as us, inbounds, had to fight off bats, cockrocaches, frogs, mosquitoes, and other pests as we slept. Luckily for me, I’m from Florida so it wasn’t anything, however, for the girls from France and Belgium…I never realized that a human could scream so loud. I ended sleeping for an hour or two because the girls kept waking me up kill to the cockroaches. Honestly, I could become an exterminator. Worst was the spiders. Two girls had arachnophobia, so that plus tarantulas aren’t exactly a good mix.

Coming back from the trip, we jumped into the holiday season, which I spent with my second host family. I’ll just say one thing: they are absolutely crazy. Like some mad hatter type of crazy and I love it! This morning right after breakfast, I was led to the backyard where my grandmother was providing me with water balloons to prepare for our battel, but I didn’t see my uncle sneak up on me and attack me with a bottle of water. That was about two hours ago and my back is still wet as I write this. The past few weeks here I have been full of ridiculousness. There’s a party practically everyday for someone’s birthday, I sparred against my mom and grandma in laser tag, we snuck three bags of groceries into the movies to see Bumble Bee, we stuffed ourselves in Chinatown, I beat them karaoke, I made tacos for them and apparently not enough because they wanted more, and we’ve been living it up at beach right behind my house every…single…day! Did I mention we’re in the middle of a two-week long water fight?

Update: they started fighting again. I have to go fill my water bottle!

Sun, January 13, 2019

  • Taylor, Outbound to Peru

Whoever said exchange wasn’t easy was definitely not lying. It’s so easy to be frustrated especially when you don’t know the language. One time I was cleaning my house and my mom began shouting instructions at me in Spanish but I didn’t understand her so she got frustrated and would shout louder. After she calmed down I explained that I simply didn’t understand, but in her mind I was being lazy and disobedient. There have been so many incidences of miscommunication here, most of which are hilarious. Like that I meant to say that I fell but said I crapped myself or accidentally told my class I’m in a gang. Now I understand why they asked me if I ever killed someone. Not only is it frustrating on my end but for my family and peers as well. At times, people give up talking to me because it takes awhile, they just straight up stop talking and walk away. When it first started happening, I wanted to crawl into a shell and hide from everyone then I wouldn’t have to talk and risk feeling horrible about my Spanish. However, I just kept in my broken, caveman Spanish so now it has improved substantially during conversations. At first, reading and writing was easier but now I think speaking is at the same level as reading. Also, now, there when times I can talk for hours on end in Spanish. It really depends on my brain in the moment. The weirdest part is forgetting English. The other day I was at a sleepover and my friend’s grandmother asked me how to say veterinario in English, I still cannot say it right. Aside from the language, adapting to the culture in Lima is somewhat easier than other cities. Lima is more westernized and honestly districts like Miraflores or Barranco can be compared to San Fran, Chicago, L.A., or NYC. But if you really want to feel at home Plaza de Armas de San Miguel hits the spot. It’s full of brands from the U.S. and even has a Lego store. It’s the perfect place you go to if you are feeling homesick. No lie, it’s just like any basic mall back home. But nothing beats traditional Peruvian culture, it’s so warming and inviting. During our first trip, we went to the island Amantani in the middle of Lago Titicaca. Its inhabitants are usually garbed traditional Andean clothes: polleras, k’eperinas, ponchos, chullos, etc. And it’s one thing to walk around natives, live near them for a few days, and learn their customs; it’s a whole other thing to walk WITH them, live WITH them, and ADOPT their customs. There was this one night that felt so surreal. All the exchange students were presented with traditional clothes to wear, clothes that felt as if someone was giving you a warm embrace, ones you didn’t want to take off. They told us that we would meet up in the Plaza de Armas and when we got there we saw a huge fire lit on the ground. Then, we danced. We danced to the sound of Huayno which flowed into our blood. It was as if someone put a spell on us, we were not ourselves. Just locked in a trance hopping and giggling around an enormous flame.

Mon, October 15, 2018

  • Taylor, Outbound to Peru

Part One: To Atlanta

Hello! Sak Pase! ¡Hola! I have had so much fun in the past few hours stressing myself to death. Today should’ve a day of saying goodbyes, hugging my friends and family at the airport, and relaxing before I am tossed into a world unknown to me. However, I am NOT a simple gal. I decided to try and get my permit this summer right before leaving. The problem is i got up with the thrill of exchange that I didn’t finish the class until Friday. That meant I would have to get my actual permit on Monday, the day I fly out, which is a big nono. It ran smoothly until the printer stopped working delaying my plans. Not to mention, I also had to run to a shop to repair my iPad so that I could do these journals. ALWAYS CHECK THAT WHATEVER YOU ARE PACKING IS IN WORKING CONDITION A WEEK AHEAD OF TIME!!!!! Everything worked out but then I was left with another problem: my mom. Now parents, your child is already anxious with the language barrier, impending presentation, school, etc. so it is not morally correct to share your own worries with them. It almost feels suffocating. Now, I understand my mom’s intentions but at the moment it was extremely frustrating. NO ONE LIKES A HELICOPTER PARENT! So when it was time to say goodbye, we were both pretty much done with each other’s shenanigans for the day. Each minute I regret not giving her a proper hug. I thought that that was last of my troubles, that I could board the plane and relax. But that was too easy. My plane decided to not work and was delayed for almost an hour. You could the pilot’s fear over the intercom. Each time he would try to liftoff, we would have a nice start then it would all slow, refusing to fly. A stubborn plane it was. If this had been a direct flight, the delay would not have mattered much. However, here’s the kicker, I have a layover/connection in Atlanta that I almost missed. This is a start to a great year abroad!

P.S. did I mention that I have had one meal for the day?

P.P.S. There’s a really nice and tolerant lady sitting next to me whom I have probably annoyed this entire flight but she tried to help me with the flight delay and really calmed my nerves.

Part Two: To Lima

I don’t know what the pilot did but he shaved twenty minutes off the flight so instead of being forty minutes, we were only twenty minutes late. With this in mind, when I landed I thought, “hey this should be easy, I have forty minutes to get to my gate.” Boy was I wrong. The airport in Atlanta is HUGE! This means that when I halfway there traveling from gate B-something to E9 they were already calling for final boarding. I then hightailed it to the gate, nearly crashed into a disabled person, and arrived flustered to the verge of a mental breakdown. I managed to get on but did not have any room to stow my carry on overhead so I resulted to placing it on the floor by the window, crushing my legs the entire six hour flight. I felt bad because the lady next to me was sleeping and I interrupted her then took up of her space because of my bag. For five and a half hours I felt this way, and for four hours of it wanted to call my mom or see if I could book the next flight because I felt like a wreck. I say four hours because my phone died after that. REMEMBER TO CHARGE YOUR PHONES NOT EVERY PLANE HAS A CHARGER! In the last half hour of the plane, I grew a pair and began a conversation with the lady next to me. The best thing was that she didn’t speak any English meaning I could practice my Spanish. Our conversation made me realize that my Spanish is better than I thought and I will be able to survive. Also, I told he about my mishaps of the day and exchange, which made her open up to me and tell me a bit about Peru. I have felt so confident since then.

The Aftermath

I finally arrived home and met up with some other intercambistas. It was nice to have someone who understands how you’re feeling and in your language, but we’re leery about Inbound Syndrome. Once getting our bags and going through customs it was time to meet our families. I love my family so much! I don’t care if people say it’s because I’m in the honeymoon stage, I love my family. They gave me the most beautiful flowers, a really cute ballon, and another Peruvian flag that has my name on it. The car ride home was basically my brother and I acting crazy stupid; my other brothers were waiting in our home, which I did not expect. My room was all decked out and pretty. My family and I had lovely tea time then it was time for bed. The problem was I could not sleep. Okay I could because I was uber tired after a half hour of staring out of my window to see busy district of Surco. I really feel at home, like I fit in. To the point where my brother, Nicolas, gel comfortable enough using giving me a tour as an excuse to go on a date. Of course my brother Boris and I later teased him about it.

Key Differences on My First Day

1.) There aren’t any reclining, comfy chairs in there movie theater.

2.) Personal space doesn’t not exist: in the U.S. people would much rather sit in the front row of the movies than next to someone else, which is what happened in Peru.

3.) People clap after the movies: when another intercambista and I didn’t clap we got really weird looks.

4.) The traffic is crazy: I was almost hit by three cars in a half hour span before I got the gist of it.

5.) It’s like Jamaica or Miami in terms of driving & traffic: there are one way streets like in Miami where there will be 4-5 lanes all going in the same direction.

6.) No traffic lights really: there are two main types; one is a timer for driving in that direction & the other is a timer for walking in that direction.

7.) Some doorknobs don’t twist, you push to push a button then pull open/close

8.) There’s boxed water: never drink the tap.

9.) Before using the public bathroom stall, bring toilet with you.

10.) Everyone eats a lot: lunch was two courses, a giant soup then rice and steak, I think. I really don’t because my policy is eat now, ask later.

Thu, August 23, 2018


Tina - Taiwan

Hometown: St. Petersburg, Florida
School: St. Petersburg Collegiate High School
Sponsor District : District 6950
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of St. Petersburg West, Florida
Host District: 3501
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Hsinchu South

My Bio

Hello! My name is Justina Le, but you can call me Tina. I will be turning 18 years old this summer. I currently live in St. Petersburg with my mom, brother, and our two cats, Kiki and Mimi. I attend St. Petersburg Collegiate High School, which I be graduating from in the spring. Thanks to the Rotary Youth Exchange Program, I will be a 2018-2019 Outbound to Taiwan. Currently, I am only able to speak English and understand Vietnamese, but learning new languages has always been an interest of mine. Mandarin may present a challenge for me, especially due to the complexity and vast number of characters, but I excited to be learning a new language and hopefully even becoming fluent in it. My math and computer classes were the two courses that I enjoyed the most; my love of math, computers, and languages led to my plan to major in computer science or something related to technology since it combines using math, working with computers, and learning a new (computer programming) language. In my spare time, I enjoy listening to Korean music, as well as watching Korean programs, and reading manga and webtoons. Through this exchange, I am hoping to immerse myself in a new and different culture from my own. I’m extremely grateful for this amazing opportunity and am looking forward to the experiences that I will gain. With the help and support of Rotary, I am glad that Taiwan will be the country’s culture that I experience first. After my exchange, I also plan experience the cultures of Japan and South Korea. My goal for this exchange is to make the most out of this opportunity, try new things, and create memories.

Journals: Tina-Taiwan Blog 2018-19

  • Tina, Outbound to Taiwan

大家好! Time really flies while on exchange! Suddenly I’m already approaching my fifth month in Taiwan and I’ve loved every moment thus far. My exchange likely differs from most of the other exchange students in Taiwan since I’m Asian-American. I’m able to easily blend in and I commonly get mistaken as Taiwanese. Unlike the other exchange students, I don’t get stared at or stand out, although it’s usually shocking to others when they find out that I am American and speak English. Although my exchange is different from the other exchange students, it isn’t any less enjoyable. The scenery in Taiwan is absolutely beautiful. I am still not used to seeing the magnificent mountains in the distance—they look like what I would see in a photograph—and there is picturesque greenery all over Taiwan. Everyone that I’ve met in Taiwan has been incredibly friendly and welcoming: my host families, my classmates, local Taiwanese people, and the other exchange students. This, coupled with support from my family back in the United States, has made my exchange progress smoothly.

I made my first change in host families on December 1st. At first, I was rather nervous changing host families because I had just gotten acclimated with my first host family and I would have to experience joining a new family again and adjust to a new lifestyle at home. Of course, I was worried for nothing and feel well adapted to my current host family as well. My current host family members are often busy with work, but they still make time for me and we regularly have meals together. Although I did take the advice from Rotex not to bring too many things abroad because I’m bound to buy many things and have to bring everything back in the following summer, I discovered that I have already accumulated so many material items that would not entirely fit in my luggage.

In November, we had a country fair where we introduced our home countries to future outbounds. Since there were so many American RYE students, we had to split into 2 booths. For the booth that I was a part of, we tried to make it resemble a traditional American diner. It was also interesting to go around and look at the other booths that the other RYE students set up and learn about their countries. The district prepared a Christmas party for the inbounds on December 23rd. We needed to have a speech entirely in Chinese ready and a perform in a group talent show. The next night, we had another Christmas party with Japanese interact members. It was very nice being able to participate and meet the Japanese students. New Year’s Day has just passed and my district in Taiwan set up a 3-day trip to the capital of Taiwan, Taipei, to see the fireworks at midnight. The first night, we went to Jiufen and there were lanterns hung up all over. The next day, we wrote on lanterns and at night we went to Taipei 101 to see the fireworks. The next morning, we went to Ximending to shop and then we went home. Winter break is coming soon and it will end at the beginning of February. Chinese New Year’s occurs during the break, on February 5th, so I am anticipating how my host family will celebrate.

I only have about six months left in Taiwan, but I am looking forward to the upcoming experiences. I remain incredibly grateful for this experience and will make the most out of the upcoming months.

Sat, January 12, 2019

  • Tina, Outbound to Taiwan

I find it hard to believe that I’ve already been in Taiwan for one month. It feels like I just left the United States yesterday, yet it also feels like I’ve been in Taiwan for a year. I departed from the airport the morning of August 20th feeling nervous but excited. After a five-hour flight to San Francisco Airport, I had a two-hour layover before departing on a 13-hour flight to Taipei. Around 6:30 PM, I finally arrived in Taiwan and notified my host family that I would be seeing them soon. After retrieving my bags, I met a few members from each of my host families as well as some members of my host Rotary Club. We grabbed my bags and headed for Hsinchu City, where each of my host families and I went to eat dinner. They threw me right into a traditional Taiwanese meal consisting of fish, tea, intestines, and an oyster omelet. Although it was a bit overwhelming eating unfamiliar food and not completely understanding what people were saying, everyone was extremely friendly and asked me questions about myself and what I wanted to do in Taiwan. After dinner, I went to the home I would be staying in for the next few months with my lovely first host family.

On August 25th, I had my District 3501 Inbound Orientation, where I met around 30 RYE Inbounds from around the globe, six of which were from America. Everyone was so friendly, and I would be attending Chinese language and culture class with 18 of the Inbounds starting on September 11th. The orientation ended that same day and I met my older host sister for the first time, as she was returning from her short-term exchange in Brazil. My host brother would later leave for his exchange to Spain on September 9th and my older host sister began university September 10th, so I currently stay with just my host mom, dad, and younger sister, while still occasionally seeing my older host sister on weekends.

I started school at Cheng De High School on August 30th; I get in a lot of exercise because I must walk up a hill each morning just to reach the school and go down to get to my bus stop. On my first day of school, I had to do a presentation in front of the entire school along with another RYE inbound from Italy. The next day was a national testing day for high schoolers so I mainly spent the day studying Chinese and learning how to write my Chinese name: 沈沛萱 [Shén Pèi-Xuān]. Chinese classes occur each week on Tuesdays and Thursdays at Tsing Hua University, so I attend Cheng De High School on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. My high school starts at 7:30 AM and ends at 4:50 PM. My schedule each day is different. Unlike the other students who stay in their classroom the entire day, I go to other classes’ elective classes such as home economics, ukulele, traditional Chinese instrument, art, and computers; however, my homeroom is class 501. When I am in my class, I usually study Chinese because I don’t understand much of what the teachers are teaching. On Tuesday, I take two Chinese language courses with the other exchange students and on Thursday, we have one Chinese language course and one Chinese culture course.

This past weekend was a major holiday in Taiwan known as 中秋節 [zhōngqiū jié], or Mid-Autumn Festival. Families often get together and eat mooncake and pomelo while having a barbecue. I went with my host family to Nantou City, where their family lives and we barbecued. It was very exciting to experience a holiday that I haven’t ever celebrated in the United States. I am extremely grateful to Rotary for the opportunity to experience this and future experiences. Honestly, I was very hesitant about taking a gap year to study abroad at the beginning; however, as time progresses, because of the people that I’ve met and my past and future experiences, I know that I made the right choice. I love the people, the culture, the scenery, and the language of Taiwan. 我愛台灣!

Tue, September 25, 2018


Tomomi - Croatia

Hometown: Pompano Beach, Florida
School: Pompano Beach High School
Sponsor District : District 6990
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Coral Springs – Parkland Club, Florida
Host District: 1913
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Dubrovnik

My Bio

Bok! Ja sam Tomomi. Hi! I am Tomomi. I am a 15 year old sophomore at Pompano Beach High School. I am half Brazilian and half Japanese. I speak Portuguese and I am currently in Spanish 4. I am quite active in my school. I play cello in my school orchestra, participate in Interact Club, and mentor freshmen. I live with my mom, dad, a dog named Spike, and Valerius the Parakeet!. We recently adopted Spike from the Humane Society of Greater North Miami and we love him so much! I volunteer at the Morikami Museum with my mom; we enjoy experiencing our Japanese culture, especially the bento boxes from the Cornell Cafe. Culture has always been a big part of my life due to my multicultural family and friends. My dad always says that the beauty of America is that you can experience and learn about different cultures and it is true. I have learned about many cultures because of my friends and foods. I am absolutely honored to be given the opportunity to be a Rotary International exchange student and an ambassador for Rotary. I am thrilled to be going to Dubrovnik, Croatia for my junior year (2018-2019). I am still trying to believe that all of this is really happening! Although, I will miss my family, friends, and pets they are all really happy for me. I hope to gain a new perspective on life, experience the Croatian culture, and inspire future exchange students. The “Tomo” part of my name signfies friendship between two nations and “Mi” signifies beauty; I hope that I can make beautiful friendships on this incredible journey! Hvala Rotary! Thank you Rotary!

Journals: Tomomi-Croatia Blog 2018-19

  • Tomomi, Outbound to Croatia

Dobar dan svima! Hi everyone! It’s been a while since my last journal so, let me catch you up.


I started school in September. I have 17 classes. That’s right, S-E-V-E-N-T-E-E-N. It’s definitely a big change from my 8 classes back in the U.S. Here’s a list of my classes: Math, Physics, Chemistry, Psychology, Biology, Art history, Film history, History, Geography, Sociology, Religion, Croatian, Spanish, English, Homeroom, Music history, P.E, and Logics. Each class is 45 minutes and we have 6-7 classes every day. There are two schedules: morning (8am-2pm) and afternoon (2pm-8pm). To be completely honest, it isn’t much fun. Since my Croatian isn’t exactly the best, I’m unable to participate. I do participate in my English and Spanish class though! I enjoy my English class because my teacher is fun! He grew up in Australia and teaches more Australian English; the students have a very slight Australian accent. My classmates speak pretty good English however, some are shy to speak it; only half of the class speaks to me. The ones who do speak to me are very nice! They are always happy to answer my questions about school, Croatian, and Croatia. Aside from school, I’ve done quite a lot of traveling! A couple days after I arrived, my host family and I drove to Austria for my host dad’s triathlon. I got to see Ljubljana (Slovenia), Graz (Austria), and Bratislava (Slovakia). It was a lot of fun and a great chance to bond with my host family! In mid-September, I went to Hrvatsko Zagorje, the Zagreb region. It was a Rotary trip so, I was able to meet the other inbounds! In the end of October, I went on a Rotary trip to Slavonija, the east region of Croatia. My host family and I went to Split and Zadar for my host dad’s marathon where I saw the Zadar Sea Organ in mid- November. I did a lot of traveling in December! Mid-December, I went to Salzburg, Austria for a rotary trip and got to meet the Austrian and Bosnian inbounds.I also saw snow for the first time! A few days later, I flew to Norway! I have a cousin who lives in Norway, so I went to visit her and her family. My aunt, uncle, and other cousin also happened to visit her, so I was able to see them as well. I had a blast! I have to say, December has been my favorite month so far. On New Year’s Day, my host family and I will be taking a 2-week trip to Seville and London! I have been very fortunate to have a host family who travels a lot. I really like my host family. They are very nice and I’m extremely grateful to have them.


Christmas is a very big deal in Croatia! There are decorations everywhere! For the whole month of December, there is a winter festival that takes place in the Old Town and Lapad (a region in Dubrovnik). There are little kiosks lined up on Stradun, selling food and drinks. One of the foods they sell is Prikle! Prikle is the Dubrovnik word for Fritule, a Dunkin Donuts munchkin type dessert. It’s really good! Bubble waffles are also sold and they’re ukusno (delicious)! As you can probably tell, I really love Croatian food. In fact, I’ve gained about 2 kilos. On Christmas Eve, there is a big bakalar (cod) lunch because meat is forbidden. Eating Bakalar is a Dubrovnik tradition. Afterwards, everyone goes out with friends to the Old Town and some go to a midnight mass. Christmas day is reserved for family. Presents are opened in the morning. In the afternoon, there is a big lunch with the whole family. Croatian meals consist of an appetizer (bread with cheese or cold cuts), main dish, and dessert. French salad, a salad of peas, carrots, potatoes, and mayonnaise, is a traditional appetizer. For the actual meal, we eat Sarma, cabbage rolls stuffed with rice and meat, and mashed potatoes. Let me tell you, I was already full from the appetizers but Sarma looked too good to resist. Don’t even get me started on dessert. My host mom’s raspberry Swiss roll was DIVINE. Everything was delicious. I might’ve already gained a kilo or two just from Christmas.


Homesickness, friends, and Croatian are what I struggle with most. I miss my parents and my dog. I also miss fast food places. There are no fast food places here; it’s either you go to a restaurant or cafe. Making friends has definitely been a struggle. Making friends has never been an issue for me until I came here. I have friends in school but they’re only school friends. I never go out with them because they’re always busy. Fortunately, I became friends with a former exchange student (she went to Zagreb last year) who studies at R.I.T Dubrovnik. I have also become close friends with some of the inbounds. Unfortunately, they live very far from me, so I only get to see them on Rotary trips but, I keep in contact with them. Another struggle is Croatian. I have never encountered such a hard language such as Croatian. It is so difficult that it is starting to become unmotivating… Even though, there are difficulties, I try not to dwell over them. After all, what’s exchange without ups and downs?


1.Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask questions when in doubt! If I hadn’t asked about which bus to take, I would’ve ended up in a city an hour away!

2.If you are traveling with more than one bag, pack clothes in each bag. I brought 2 suitcases to Norway: a carry-on and a checked-in bag. My checked-in bag was lost on the way to Norway and coming back… Thankfully, I had some clothes in my other suitcase, so it was okay.

3.Be prepared for STAIRS. Dubrovnik= stairs. Stairs are EVERYWHERE. There is no escape.

4.Enjoy the little things. Yes, this sounds very cliché but it’s true! I love to watch the cotton candy sunsets, or the turquoise waves wash over the rocks… I could go on forever, but the point is to enjoy while it lasts.

5.Be prepared for hard times. I thought exchange was going to be like a fairytale- every day would be perfect- oh boy, was I wrong. It’s definitely harder than I thought it’d be! You will encounter problems sooner or later. It’s just how life is. An exchange year is still life so not every day will perfect. Don’t be intimidated, I know you future outbounds can handle it!

That’s all for now. Thanks for tuning in to TCT! Ćiao!

P.S. Locals in Dubrovnik are the only ones that use “ćiao”! There is a lot of Italian influence present in the language and culture.

Sat, December 29, 2018

  • Tomomi, Outbound to Croatia

Dear friends, family, future Outbounds, Rotarians, and everyone!

As you probably already saw, my name is Tomomi and I’m 16 years old. I left my home in Pompano Beach of about 110,000 inhabitants for Dubrovnik, a town with a population of about 40,000 and can I just say that it was the BEST DECISION I EVER MADE!!!!! Dubrovnik is BEAUTIFUL. Yeah, you can see pictures on Google and say “how pretty” but it is truly breathtaking in person. Dubrovnik is so unique because there is mountain and sea. Usually, places have one or the other but not Dubrovnik! I’ve been here for three days and I just can’t believe it. It feels like I’m in a dream. Every once in a while, I have to pinch myself to make sure it’s real. I just can’t thank Rotary and my parents enough for this amazing opportunity. My wonderful host obitelj (family) consists of a mom, dad, 17 year old brother, 16 year old sister who is on exchange in Florida, and a 13 year sister. I don’t have siblings, so this is a new experience for me. I am very excited to be a younger and older sister!


On the day I arrived (August 25th), my host family took me swimming! I forgot my swimsuits at home, but my host family was so kind as to buy me a new one; a very nice Rotarian in my sponsoring Rotary Club, Mr. Bob or as I call him Royal Highness Bob, is coming to Dubrovnik in late September and is bringing me my swimsuits. The beaches here are very different than the beaches in Florida. Here they have PEBBLES! Also, it’s very deep. I can’t even touch the floor! The water is quite choppy. The next day, I met with Lara, a Croatian inbound that came to my district (6990 IS THE BEST!) and we went out for coffee. Now the thing about coffee is that it is VERY bitter. I am not a coffee drinker so maybe for me it was bitter. I put 3 bags of sugar and it was still bitter, but I still drank it anyway. I learned that in Croatian culture, people sit in cafes for HOURS even if they’re finished with their meal or drink. They just keep chatting. After about an hour, I could not take it anymore and we left to go explore the Old Town. Lara then showed me Stradun. Stradun is the only street that is level in Dubrovnik. She also showed me my school: Gizmnazija Dubrovnik. I’ll be starting school on September 3rd , if you’re wondering. I also learned the greeting Adeo. It is like a hello but only if you aren’t going to continue the conversation with the person. For example, if you were walking down an ulica (street) and you see a neighbor (susjed), you could say “Adeo”. For dinner, we had Palačinke. It is like a pancake and crepe in one. I got the limun or lemon one and it was great! In Croatia, lunch is the biggest meal. Dinner is usually something light. My host mother’s cooking is DELICIOUS. My host dad also cooks well. Sorry, pai (dad in Portuguese), but you might need a couple of lessons from him. Tomorrow, my host family and I will be driving to Vienna, Austria and Bratišlava, Slovakia for my host dad’s triathlon. I’m so excited!


  1. Make a list of things you are going to bring. This helps you keep track of what you pack. I made a list at first but then I completely forgot about it. I totally forgot to bring my swimsuits, Ranch (sadly, no ranch here), and noodles.
  2. Buy a converter in your host country. I bought a converter on Amazon a week before I left, and it doesn’t fit in Croatian outlets. Here in Dubrovnik, the outlets are type F. So, if you want to buy a converter before you leave, do some research to buy the right one!
  3. Say “Yes”! You may have already heard this a bunch of times but it’s true! When I arrived, my host family wanted to take me swimming. I was a bit tired from traveling so I honestly was not in a mood to go swimming. I was going to say ”Ne, zao mi je” (no, sorry) but then I then I saw how much they wanted to take me, so I agreed. They even bought me a swimsuit! So moral of the story: SAY “YES”! You won’t regret it!
  4. Don’t drink coffee when you’re jet lagged. If caffeine doesn’t affect you then you can go right ahead and have a sip of coffee but if it does, then I strongly discourage it. I went out for coffee with Lara and drank a small cup. I was already having trouble sleeping with the time difference, but the coffee made it even worse. I went to sleep at midnight and slept until 1a.m. I could not sleep so I unpacked and started this journal. I was finally able to sleep at 8a.m. I ended up waking up at 3p.m… that was not very fun so don’t drink coffee when jet lagged.
  5. Be patient with your host siblings. My host siblings are quite shy. They don’t really talk to me unless I talk to them. They are very nice though. Today, my host brother talked to me for the first time yay!! My host sister talks to me occasionally. I’m sure they’ll warm up. After all, I’ve only been in their house for 3 days!
  6. Read and pay attention. Turns out I have been using lotion as soap oops… I didn’t pay attention to the label and thought it looked like soap, but it was lotion.
  7. Change your money to your host country’s currency at the airport. It’s better to be prepared when you arrive in your host country. I didn’t change my currency and I thought to trade with my host family, but I keep forgetting to ask.

So that’s all for now! I hope these tips are helpful! Thanks for tuning in to Tomomi’s Croatia Talk (TCT)!

Vidimo se!

Tue, August 28, 2018


Veronika - Brazil

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

My Bio

Olá! My name is Veronika Suyupova. I am 18 years old, and currently a senior at Saint Petersburg Collegiate High School. I am beyond excited to travel abroad to Brazil for the whole year! I was born in Volgograd, Russia, and moved to Saint Petersburg, Florida when I was 9. I have already undergone one culture shock when I first moved here but I adapted fairly quickly because I was still pretty young. I have learned to make connections with diverse populations and adapt to different environments from having to constantly move; however, my experiences have made me appreciate the world around even more for its various cultures and languages. I love my family for being my biggest supporters and helping me throughout my journey. After school, I plan on applying to the University of Florida and majoring in World Languages and Literature, along with Psychology. For my hobbies, I like to ballroom dance, rock climb, and spend time with my friends by going on road trips or simply exploring our own little city’s coffee shops and boutiques. I love traveling and meeting new people. Every person has their own story and experiences of enlightenment so I really appreciate making small talk with them about their origin or any life-changing occurrences. I am very fortunate to participate in such a powerful organization which will allow me to meet new people, make lifelong friends, and get close to people who I will call my second family. I can’t wait for this year abroad to bring me new challenges and experiences, a whole new language, and unforgettable memories!

Journals: Veronika-Brazil Blog 2018-19

  • Veronika, Outbound to Brazil

The school year has come to an end… that means it’s time for SUMMER BREAK! This month was filled with so many end of the year festivities, parties, and of course… graduation! Although throughout the entirety of this school year I did almost nothing (besides doodle and use class time to write down all of my experiences in my notebook instead of taking notes) I did get to make some friends from school who helped me navigate through my first four months here and accept me for who I am. Some of them read my blogs, so shout out to you guys for being there for me when I felt like I had no one. Graduations here are definitely different from the ones at home, speaking from personal experience being a high school graduate student before arriving here, because the after party (“Prom”) here is a family event. The school provides dinner at a beautiful venue after graduation and gathers together all of the graduating students and their families for a long night of dancing and partying.

So soon after that, in the month of December, right after our second inbound orientation that took place in the historic city of Ouro Preto, I switched my host families. I would describe this as one of the most exciting yet bittersweet moments you will get to experience. It hurt to leave my first host family because they were the ones who helped me get on my feet since the day I landed in Brasilia, yet I was thrilled to move into one of my school friend’s house who just got back from her exchange in Alaska. It didn’t feel weird transitioning from one house to the other because I knew that I will still get to see my other host family since we live in the same city.

My second host family, the “Pois é” family, has already brought me so much joy into my life, we even have our own inside jokes already. I don’t pass a day here upset or homesick because they always make sure to include me in anything it is that they’re doing. With them, we have already been through everything from lighthearted conversations to tears and more serious topics like the politics and the environment. They were kind enough to invite me on a trip to Salvador, the capital of Brazil’s state of Bahia known for its “Portuguese colonial architecture, Afro-Brazilian culture and a tropical coastline”. This trip has really helped bring us closer together in the first two weeks and everyone felt more accustomed to each other and their habits. During this nine-day trip, we have traveled to different parts of Bahia, one of them being Praia do Forte where not only did we get to enjoy actual paradise, but also learn from Projeto TAMAR, a nonprofit organization to protect sea turtles from extinction in the Brazilian coastlines. Bahia receives 4/5 species of turtles that nest on the Brazilian coasts: leatherback, green, olive ridley, loggerhead, and hawksbill, and the project helps the turtles reproduce, as well as, inform the citizens about the importance of preserving our oceans and the marine life (LIKE NOT USING PLASTIC STRAWS, pelo amor de Deus, please stop). The whole point of this trip was to pass Christmas on the beach which is their family’s tradition. Truly an unforgettable experience! I personally didn’t feel too homesick celebrating holidays away from home mainly because my family always occupied me with things to do, or I FOUND things to do myself. However, it wasn’t until New Year’s came around when I started missing both my family in the United States and Russia simply because it is one of the most important holidays for me and my family, a day filled with traditions and the feeling of wholesomeness. Although it hurt to call back home to see everyone happily celebrating without you, I went to the best New Year’s party of my life and got to make the best memories with my best friend here, Alexa, the other exchange student in my city from Mexico. I quickly forgot about my homesickness because I was surrounded by love from my Brazilian friends who taught me new traditions from their country which I will gladly take back home with me, like wearing all white on New Year’s!

Click HERE to read more about Veronika and all her blogs

Sun, January 6, 2019

  • Veronika, Outbound to Brazil

After 3 months I have learned how to appreciate the little things in life. I live in a relatively small city; there’s really only so much you can admire here. Like, an occasional rain in the middle of a hot day, or a cup of coffee with the people you care about the most… or better yet, when you get presented with an opportunity to travel! I cherish these beautiful moments the most. This past month alone, I got to go on a road trip to the state of São Paulo. Inside the state, we stayed in four different cities: São Paulo, Campos do Jordão, Ubatuba (Ilhabela), and Poços de Caldas. Initially, the trip was only to go to a wedding in the city of São Paulo, the biggest city in Brazil, but instead, that trip got extended to a nine-day vacation. Inside of São Paulo, we stayed in a neighborhood called, Liberdade. Liberdade is located in the heart of São Paulo and is considered the city’s Japantown. Filled with Japanese, Chinese, and Korean markets and diners, I got to experience all kinds of new foods… from dorayaki, a pancake filled with a sweet paste made out of red beans, to authentic green tea flavored boba tea. On the streets, you will encounter tall, red torii arches and hung up lanterns that light up the streets during the night. The wedding was incredible! Everyone left with a sense of happiness, fulfillment, and a slight feeling of tiredness… yeah, go figure, we all danced like no one is watching and returned home around 4:15 am! Our next stop was Campos do Jordão. The highest city in Brazil with an elevation of 1,628 meters (or 5,341 feet) inspired by Swiss, German, and Italian culture and architecture. Definitely looks like an “outro mundo” (another world)! The streets look NOTHING like Brazil. The most popular foods I was able to find were fondue and hot chocolate, they were practically on every corner. Our program included staying in a castle, taking the cable car to the top of the highest peak, and taking an all-inclusive trolley trip around the city! After we experienced what “cold” really feels like (9 degrees Celsius in the “summer”) we decided to change up the scenery and travel more North to the coastline. We stayed in a hotel on the Ubatuba Beach where we got to enjoy the sunny, touristy city. However, one beach wasn’t enough for us so we traveled across the bay to an island called, Ilhabela, literally meaning a “Beautiful Island”. This island was filled with rich villas and crystal clear water. The biggest difference between beaches here and Florida is that here, they are surrounded by mountain ranges across the horizon which makes the whole experience just THAT much more breathtaking and unforgettable. The centers of the cities are filled with boutiques of colorful bathing suits and clothes for surfing. The atmosphere was very laid back, the only thing I wanted to do was lay under a palm tree by the ocean and drink coconut water, you know? But the want to visit the last city made us get up and travel some more. This time we were headed to one of the most southern cities in my state of Minas Gerais, Poços de Caldas. Here we got to stay in the oldest hotel that the city had to offer, take a cable car (yes, again) to see the statue of Jesus overlooking the panorama view of the city, visit the Japanese garden and the Fonte dos Amores (the Fountain of Lovers). The two days we spent there felt the most normal because we had the comfort of staying in our home state and eating the “Mineiro” food. Didn’t think I would actually start missing Paracatu but the crammed week and a half of traveling did make me miss the comfort of my own bed that my family has provided for me. Moments like this make me thankful for everything I own in life. Be kind. Beijos.

Sat, January 5, 2019

  • Veronika, Outbound to Brazil

Every day here brings a new experience and new knowledge. Have I not been sent to Brazil, I would have never learned that Brazilians eat avocados with sugar, threaten to beat their kids with a flip-flop, and hold their knife in the left hand and fork in the right. Brazil is just as wild as I imagined. They have free roaming parrots, tall banana trees, and limitless supply of coconut water. Talking about coconut water (and everything “organic”), it is very popular in Brazil to drink freshly squeezed juices. They made them out of every single type of fruit here, maracuja, tamarindo, jabuticaba, and orange colored lemons… the possibilities are endless! What’s really weird is the way they peel and eat their oranges AND mangos. Oranges, they cut off the peel using a knife and then cut the orange in half, eating only the juicy insides of the fruit and leaving the skin behind. Mangos, they peel the skin off usually using their hands, but a knife works just as well, and then bite into it letting the fibers be stuck in their teeth. As much as this culture shocks me sometimes, the feeling is mutual when I tell them about things we do in the United States and Russia. Like, in the US, our dogs say, “woof, woof”, here, their dogs say, “au, au”. Or the fact that in Russia kids get punished by getting hit on the head with a wooden spoon and here, kids have a universal fear of flip-flops.

You guys were probably wondering, “Veronika, how’s the weather down there?” As all of the other exchange students who got sent to countries on the northern hemisphere are familiarizing themselves with the “true” colors of fall, here in Brazil it reaches 100ºF (38ºC) almost every day and IT’S NOT EVEN WINTER YET! Winter is their hottest season here, also the same season where they celebrate Christmas and New Year’s (no one cancelled these holidays because of the heat). Their longest “summer” break is also held between the months of December to February ← this should be another reason to motivate future exchange students to come spend their year abroad in Brazil. BUT, there is a slight disadvantage… air conditioning is very limited. In my case my family doesn’t have air conditioners in their home so I am left with a fan, an open window, and hope that it will rain again soon. I remember my family asking me in a joking manner if we have air conditioners in our bathrooms and with the straightest face I responded with, “Yes… of course”. They all started hysterically laughing (1) in pure disbelief (2) because they felt bad for me, calling me “tadinha” because no one in Brazil has air conditioners in their bathrooms… that seems absurd to them. They started laughing even more after realizing that we were talking about air conditioners while being stuck in the living room because it was the only room at the time that had a fan. Now, whenever I complain about it being too hot in Brazil, they always bring up my anecdote and say, “SORRY we don’t have air conditioners in our bathrooms!” calling ME the crazy one.

Calling someone “crazy” or a “clown” is completely normal, it’s the way they joke here; however, calling someone “boring” is considered to be the biggest insult. This basically summarizes the Brazilian culture. Coming here, you will find the best people who accept everyone with open arms and are always ready for a good time! They especially love foreigners, their “gringos”! A quote from my classmate, “You are very lucky you got to come to this country” and I couldn’t agree more. It’s extremely easy to make friends here which will help you get through this exchange and introduce everything they can to you, the food, parties, their friends, parents, aunts and uncles, you name it. Everyone and everything!

P.S. Some places I’ve visited this month:

– Belo Horizonte: Inbound student orientation where I got to meet exchange students from all around the world and exchange pins

– Caldas Novas: Visited waterparks with my family.

– State of Goias, Pirenopolis: Got to explore waterfalls and jump from a cliff

– Brasilia: National Zoo and Park Shopping

Tue, October 9, 2018

  • Veronika, Outbound to Brazil

One month…

It has officially been a month since I have arrived to Brazil. What can I say, time flies when you’re having fun…

This has already been such an incredible journey. Brazil never stops surprising me! Everyday feels like a blessing and it is all because of my amazing host family, my colleagues at school, and the brand new culture which I’ve given into to teach me valuable lessons and help me adapt to a different way of life.

My family here makes me feel like I won the golden ticket. They are simply the best. My host mom and dad are both of a Japanese descent so I have the luck of experiencing two different cultures, Brazilian and Japanese! I have a really big family here which I am not used to because my family back home is really small. I have two uncles and one aunt… All three of them already have families of their own. I also have a cute little brother Matheus who lives with us as well. My family here is nice enough to take me on road trips to some of the most beautiful places in Brazil. During this one month I have already visited Brasilia (the capital of Brazil), Belo Horizonte, Ouro Preto, Ouro Branco, Lavras Novas, and Caldas Novas, along with experiencing beautiful waterfalls across Brazil.

Brazil is incredibly large; however, I live in a very small city called Paracatu in the amazing state of Minas Gerais (MG). Apparently, Minas Gerais has the best food in all of Brazil! This is the state where the famous pão de queijo originated. The food here is incredible and very easy to get accustomed to. People in Brazil eat rice and black beans EVERYDAY. It sometimes feels like they don’t really have a variety of different foods but it’s the churrasco that makes the world of a difference. Churrasco is a famous Brazilian barbeque and people in Brazil have them whenever! You get married – CHURRASCO. You get divorced – CHURRASCO. Someone is born – CHURRASCO. Someone dies – CHURRASCO. School ends – CHURRASCO. School starts – CHURRASCO. Friday – CHURRASCO. Sunday – CHURRASCO. MONDAY – CHURRASCO! No occasion is too frivolous for some cooked meat. To put my experience with food in simpler words, I haven’t tried anything I didn’t like yet. The restaurants here are very different! Instead of waiting for a waiter to bring you the menu for you to order from, you are presented with a variety of foods in a self-service style and after you just put your plate of food on the scale and receive your total. It’s that simple and convenient. Brazilians eat A LOT of food, so this is the perfect way for them to bring service to their clients. After every meal, Brazilians like to finish with a cup of black coffee with sugar. The other surprising thing to me regarding food in Brazil is the variety of different fruits they have here. My personal favorites are papaya (mamão), Brazilian pinha, and pineapple (abacaxi). Brazilians consume a lot of freshly squeezed juices, it’s like water to them. Two other VERY Brazilian things are local soda “Guarana” and açaí! I really wish we had that back home. The açaí here is so much different than it is in Florida because here they add the guarana berry to it… won’t understand the taste until you try it for yourself!

The language is definitely hard… My biggest advice is to learn a lot of verbs before coming here. It’s a lot easier to try and explain an object by playing a little “charades” (you will notice using your hands a lot more to help you describe things) but it’s a lot harder to connect words together when you don’t know the verbs. My knowledge of Spanish and Russian has also helped me tremendously to understand people and translate sentences quickly in my head. Going to school has helped me to learn the language as well, although my classmates do try to talk to me in English. They ask me how to say things in English and I ask them right back how to say things in Portuguese. This way it helps both of us out. DO try to speak in Portuguese at school as much as you can! Your classmates are there to help you! USE THEM! I also have a notes section in my phone which I use all the time to write down words I don’t understand and look them up later, or I also use it to write down random, weird encounters I experience here in Brazil as memories to reread later or share with my friends. For example, the fact that people in Brazil brush their teeth after every meal… or how over salted or extremely sweet everything here is. Brazilians have a universal handshake they all know and love, and they also don’t take off their shoes before entering a house… yeah, why would you if you have a maid to clean up after you every day. I totally understand now why Americans are so amazed when they host students from Brazil who tell them they don’t know how to wash or iron their clothes but IT’S TRUE. Here you literally just put your dirty clothes in a bin and they come back the next day perfectly ironed and folded and put away in the closet for you!

Talking about that “luxurious” lifestyle, I go to a private school here but it’s very different from private schools in the United States. Here, no ne brags about what kind of car they have, or if their daddy is a doctor. Here, everyone is treated equally. Boys and girls are not divided, instead, they all learn how to get along with each other. There are no cliques. The classes here stay together from middle school so you’re stuck with the same group of people until graduation. I like it because it helps unite everyone and build friendships for life. They all hang out together, party together, go to concerts together… you get it. For the uniform we all just have to wear the same t-shirt with our school logo on it. The classes here are super hard! I got placed in their “senior” year because of my age and next semester, after everyone graduates, I will be enrolled in a college! Compared to schools back home, here, students are required to take 5 different math classes, 5 different science classes (biology, anatomy, physics, chemistry, and zoology), world history, history of Brazil, geography, philosophy, humanities, Portuguese, and English. Sleeping in class is totally acceptable! The school knows that students have a ton of subjects and they allow the students to sleep during some classes to help them be more awake and alert for other classes. My school day starts at 7:30 am and ends at 1 pm; however, schools in Brazil have mandatory afternoon classes as well which start at 2pm and can last until 5:30 pm depending on the amount of classes. I personally don’t like to stay for the afternoon classes so I usually go home and get ready for CrossFit. Joining a sport helps me not only to stay in shape (because of all the cheesy bread I’m consuming here) BUT it also helps to keep me busy and not think of home as much. I haven’t felt homesick since I’ve arrived here and it’s all thanks to my family here and sports. It also helps going on exchange after you graduate because you know all of your friends are leaving off to go to college so you won’t see them either way when you come back. I also get away from missing my family by calling them once every week. They are very supportive of my decision of coming to Brazil and are always curious to see new pictures and hear stories from me. Once I told my Rotary Club here in Brazil that we aren’t allowed to talk to our family and friends for a whole month, their faces turned pale. They told me “It is NOT the Brazilian way! Here family stands above any law and it’s ridiculous that you can’t call them”. It was super embarrassing for my club coordinator here to pull me aside at a Rotary meeting and lecture me on how it’s fine for me to call my family if I want to talk to them. She told me that as a mom, she can’t imagine not being able to talk to her child abroad to ask what life there is like. The first month is definitely the most thrilling one and you will want to share everything with everyone! Feeling homesick is totally fine and crying over the fact that you’re not understanding the language is also totally fine! But don’t forget that you came here for a reason. We all come here to make new friends from around the world (at orientations especially), build connections with your families which will feel like home away from home, and be fluent in a completely different language! Everything you’ve worked so hard for will definitely pay off in the end!


Veronika Suyupova

Fri, September 7, 2018


Zach - Norway

Hometown: Ponte Vedra, Florida
School: Ponte Vedra High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
Host District: 2250
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Klepp

My Bio

Hello! I am Zach Greenwald, and I’m heading to Norway! I currently live in Ponte Vedra, Florida and in 11th grade. I’m in love with both music and theatre, so naturally when their combined in to this magical thing called musical theatre, I’m definitely all about it! I have three dogs and a brother and sister, in which the latter is involved with theatre as well. Playing piano is also one of my main hobbies as well, as a big goal of mine is to end up composing soundtracks for movies and even musicals hopefully on that really cool thing in New York called Broadway! Now about my take on Norway, I was in disbelief when I heard that that’s where I’d be heading as the first region that popped into my mind when I decided I apply for exchange was Europe, and more specifically Scandinavia. To me Scandinavia seemed like such an abstract place because I knew so little about it, but I did know people had lived there for a very long time and remained fairly isolated which would explain why they all speak different languages in each of the countries and implied a culture unique to that place specifically. I have incredible and amazing friends in Ponte Vedra that I will no longer be graduating with, but the biggest draw for exchange for me was the challenge of being forced to be outgoing and connect with people before I leave, being outgoing and fearless while I’m on exchange to defeat the language barrier, and use all the skills I’ve acquired to simply make new friends when I get back and for the rest of my life. I’m just so excited!

Journals: Zach-Norway Blog 2018-19

  • Zach, Outbund to Norway

I’ve been in Norway for a little over a month now, which is unbelievably shorter than what it has felt like. Norway’s incredibly easygoing nature has made it easy to find a day to day week to week rhythm after less than five weeks. When I first arrived, I had spent a few days with my exchange counselor to sort out paperwork and wait for my luggage to arrive. That was the first time I was able to try ‘typical’ Norwegian food, which basically means bread with butter or jelly with any type and of meat on top for breakfast, then a 4:00 PM dinner with again some grilled meat and potatoes.

Right now I’m living with my amazing host family in a small farming town called Varhaug. By small, I mean that 3,000 people live here and if you look it up on Google, the number one spot on the things to do list is visit the cemetery, which was actually a beautiful cliff side view. There’s a cow pasture for each direction you look with sheep just about everywhere in between. In the morning I take a 7:16 train ride to the city Sandnes, for school. In Norway there are thirteen years of school before university yet specialization in fields and lines begin in the 11th year in a casual high school like setting. Each day has a new set of classes that reconvene once to twice a week, such as history which I only have on Fridays. The classmates however, are the same for every class as we’re all apart of the 12th year drama department class which consists of about 28 girls and 4 boys (including me). Since we’re the drama class most of or courses consist of various theatre related classes such as theatre history, theatre production, and theatre and movement. There is absolutely no competition among peers for grades, but rather a pass-fail type system to weed out the kids that even show interest in moving on to universities which often isn’t the case as many can get a sufficient degree for jobs right out of high school.

I got an amazing opportunity to travel to the southern tip of Norway in a town called Lyngdal, where I met the other 32 exchange kids to Norway. 17 of those kids are from Canada and the USA with the rest coming from various South American and European countries. Our common situation made bonding unbelievably easy. In between the Norsk language lessons by the exchange officials, we got to explore the area through mountain hikes and visits to salmon farms. Most of the time however, was spent swimming, first in the Fjord until the French exchange student named Thomas got stung by a jellyfish, then in the hotels indoor pool, which has been the only place I’ve actually gotten warmed in the otherwise unflinching 40-50 degree summer weather.

It would take pages to even scratch the surface of the differences between Norway and the USA as most are within the casual subtleties of life. The nature of this experience however is to forget what everything I think I know about how people should generally and buy in to this Norwegian version of life as much as I can even if it means standing on the train everyday (because apparently if someone sits on one seat they claim the whole row and they’ll passive aggressively show you their rage if you infringe on their unnecessary amount of space). It is with this attitude that allows me and my fellow exchange students to slowly everyday begin to see this obscure Northern European country as home.

Sun, March 3, 2019

  • Zach, Outbound to Norway

A few weeks ago I officially passed the five month mark on my exchange which depressingly means I’m more than halfway done with this adventure. In four months time I’ll be back in PV preparing for my senior year of high school. It’s no exaggeration to say this school year has been the fastest of my life almost even to the point where it seems to be escaping me.

The Norwegian language is tricky business because as much as I think I know, all it takes is a person who lives two hours away to remind me I can pretty much only speak and understand the language in Rogaland, the region I live in. I’m pleased nonetheless, as in class I can at the very least understand what the topic we’re learning is about. Talking with my friends isn’t too bad as they know they have to speak slow if they want me in on a conversation. Then there’s Phillip, my history teacher (Yes in Norway they call the teachers by their first name). This guy is German, speaks fluent English and Norwegian, and hasn’t said a word to me in English at all besides one time during an oral test. I know that he’s really just trying to help me with the language but some of my friends can’t even understand his way of speaking Norwegian. Luckily the class is basically a toned down version of World History at PVHS, so I haven’t really failed any test yet.

Despite currently being with a Dutch host family, my Christmas was about as Norwegian as it could get. In Norway the day of Christmas is actually on the 24th, and on that day I went back to my first host family to celebrate during the day. We went inside a barn with a bunch of other families and waited until the “barn Santa” entered from behind the hay to collect his porridge and give gifts to all the little kids. He came with a classic Santa gift sack and one by one called the names of the kids who would collect their prize and give him a hug. Naturally I was called and by far the oldest of the group. During the night I stayed with my current host family and ate traditional Norwegian Christmas food and exchanged gifts which were mostly things I could use to keep warm as the array of clothes I brought were no match for the winter here.

There’s actually a million things I could talk about in this last paragraph, but one thing in particular epitomizes exactly what I feel youth exchange is all about, and it happened yesterday (or the day before I wrote this piece 01/26/19). It was a Saturday and all I really had planned was to meet my fellow exchanger friends from Germany and Canada at the library in the city about a 25 minute train ride from where I live. I arrived an hour earlier so I could stop at a café and play piano in the libraries music room. The German girl arrived first and we waited for about an hour until finally the Canadian says she won’t make it. From that point the day just got crazier as we decided to grab something to eat and saw there was an Ethiopian restaurant not too far and ate there. Neither of us had ever eaten Ethiopian food before but it was basically different kinds of meat, beans, and sauce on an extremely spongy bread. After some more walking we stumbled upon a little studio with a sign that read “GRATIS AFRIKANSE DANSSEKLASSE” which means free African dance class. It started ten minutes from when we arrived and after some convincing I got my friend to go inside. We were just thrown into it and just began to copy the choreography which was mostly different ways of stomping on the ground to the beat of a drum. After a whole hour of this the leader of the group said we’d be moving in to a church to perform for a few people. A few people ended being roughly 150 and before you know it, it was an African dance party in a church with 150+ older Norwegian folks on a Saturday. This is exactly what an open mind and a plan-less day can get you here in Norway and I’m hoping for a few more days like this one.

Sun, March 3, 2019


Zoe - Japan

Hometown: Decatur, Georgia
School: Decatur High School
Sponsor District : District 6900
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Decatur, Georgia
Host District: 2770
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Omiya Nishi

My Bio

Konnichiwa! My name is Zoe and I’m currently a freshman at Decatur High School. I have lived in Decatur, GA for the past six years. I live with my mom, my dad, our two dogs, and a cat. I also have an older brother who is nineteen. Before moving to Decatur I lived in the Philippines. Growing up in another country sparked my curiosity about the world and is what’s caused me to become so fascinated in learning about different cultures. I am beyond thrilled to be spending the next year of my life in Japan and to embark on this incredible new adventure! Music is a really big part of my life and in my free time I love to play guitar and write music. I also participate in music theatre and chorus at my school. I’m also a member of my school’s Model U.N. team and am on student government. My favorite subjects include Literature and Social Studies. Outside of school I have been apart of Girl Scouts for five years and am pursuing my Gold Award. I enjoy spending time with my friends whether it’s going to the movies, walking around the neighborhood, or even just sitting and talking. I am so grateful to Rotary and to my family for this incredible experience. I look forward to representing the U.S., meeting new people, and broadening my horizons!

Journals: Zoe-Japan Blog 2018-19

  • Zoe, Outbound to Japan

Well hi again. It is so surreal writing this and knowing that I only have two weeks left until I’m back in the United States. This last month has left me feeling a whole range of emotions. One minute I am loving life and laughing with my friends, and the next I am heartbroken by the fact that I have to leave all of this behind in such a short matter of time. While I am excited to see my friends and family in the U.S. I am dreading saying goodbye to my life in Japan. In just one year Japan has become my home. I’ve met amazing people who have supported me and shaped me as I went along this journey. I’ve gained invaluable experiences and life lessons, a new perspective, and new found sense of self. As the end of my exchange draws nearer, I have begun reflecting on how this year has impacted me. Most exchange students will tell you that their year abroad changed them into a whole new person. While I understand this sentiment, I found myself struggling to relate to it. The way I see it, exchange didn’t throw out my old personality and start from scratch. Instead, it tore down the walls I had put up and revealed who I was at my core. Because of my exchange and the challenges I faced, I learned that I am resilient, and caring, and confident. I believe that these traits were always there, but had gotten lost in a sea of fears and doubts. My life in America never required me to step out of my comfort zone, but going on exchange meant challenging myself in ways I never had before. Every day of exchange I pushed myself to try new things, to work hard, and to persevere despite the difficulties I encountered. I believe that these traits lay inside all of us, but sometimes we have to struggle and take ourselves out of our comfort zones in order to discover and utilize these qualities.

While my exchange year ending has been sad for the most part, I’ve still made incredible memories and continued to bond with my family and friends here. One moment that stands out was when I went to karaoke with my whole class. They told me that we were going to out to celebrate how well we did on sports day the day before. I should have known something was a little odd since we lost almost every competition that day 😂. They ended up surprising me and turned the evening into a small goodbye party. It was so much fun to be with all of my classmates laughing and singing. They also got me beautiful wooden frame to put a photo of our class in. The whole night was filled with so much love and happiness, but still my heart began to ache knowing that this may be one of the last times I would hang out with my classmates. I’ve had moments like this a lot this past month, whether I’m with my family, my Rotary club or my friends, it keeps hitting me that this could be the last time I get to spend quality time with these people. Pretty soon I’ll no longer have the opportunity to go to art museums with host grandmother, or go to Purikura with my friends and take silly photos. What I am trying to do now is live in the moment as much as possible, focusing on where I am and the people I’m with. However, when I start feeling really sad I find it helpful to think of what I have to look forward to when I arrive back in the U.S.. Maybe it’s going to eat at my favorite restaurant again, or going to the park with my friends, or singing along to the radio with my mom. As difficult as it is to leave my friends and family here, it’s comforting to know that I will be greeted by a whole other group of people who love and care about me.

This year has allowed me to grow in so many different ways. I’ve learned so much about myself and my capabilities and my hope is that I continue to use the lessons I’ve learned on exchange even after I return. I’ve been fortunate enough to experience so many “once in a lifetime” kind of moments. Looking back on this year I feel a sense of fulfillment. As I’ve said before, I am truly grateful to the Rotary Youth Exchange Organization for giving me and countless other teenagers this incredible experience. Going on exchange was nothing I expected, and everything that I needed. I am in awe of how the world is simultaneously so vast and complex, but so closely connected and intertwined. While we are all so diverse and unique, there are still fundamental things that bring us together and bond us as human beings.

Tue, June 18, 2019

  • Zoe, Outbound to Japan

Hi again! I thought that with the first month of the New Year already behind us, now would be a great time to give some updates on what I’ve been up to and some reflecting over the last month. This month has been filled with a lot more travel than usual, which has been great. I’ve realized that in these last 6 six months or so I haven’t really seen much of Japan, so I really want to try to experience as much of the country as I can before the end of my exchange.

My first trip of the New Year was with my host family. We drove up to Chichibu, a mountainous town a few hours from my city. Aside from gorgeous views of the mountains, Chichibu also has a lot of beautiful shrines. They aren’t necessarily very big, but they have so much character and are really incredible to visit. Although our trip only lasted a day, it was nice getting to spend time with my host family.

A few weeks later I got the chance to go to Osaka with my host mother. She has some extended family that lives there, so we got to visit them and have them show us around the city. They took us to Tsutenkaku, which is a famous observational tower in the city. They also showed us around Dotonbori, which is a popular destination for tourists. The streets are lined with all sorts of stores and restaurants (and a takoyaki stand on literally every corner!). Halfway through our stay in Osaka, we met up with one of my exchange friends who was also there on vacation with her host mom. Together we toured Osaka Castle, which was built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the year 1583. He intended the castle to be the center of a new, unified Japan. However, after Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s death, troops stormed the castle, destroying it and terminating the Toyotomi rule. Throughout the years the castle was rebuilt. It is now currently home to an informational museum and serves as a popular spot for tourists. It was fascinating getting to learn all about the history of the castle, and how complex it is. The next day my friend and I went to the Universal Studios Park in Osaka. Since it was just the two of us we were able to speak in English, but it was always fun seeing people’s reactions to us finding out that we could speak Japanese. The highlight of the day was, by far, going to the Harry Potter World within the park. My friend is a huge Harry Potter fanatic, so she loved exploring the park. We strolled through Hogsmeade, sipping on butterbeer, and peering in to all the different shops. We even got to tour the inside of the Hogwarts castle and it felt as if we had been transported to the actual Hogwarts.

While all of that was a total blast, there were still times this month that weren’t all sunshine and rainbows. It hit that my exchange was already halfway over, and the aftershock left me feeling a whole range of emotions. Part of me is looking forward to being back in America and getting to see my natural family and friends again. However, a bigger part of me is already dreading having to say goodbye to the friends and family I’ve made since arriving in Japan. I feel like I’ve grown so close to so many people that leaving them is going to be really difficult. Also, as the end of my exchange gets closer, I’ve had to start thinking about things like re-enrolling in school, getting my transcript from my school here, and trying to tie up any loose strings that I run into, mostly regarding my transition back into my school in America. I’m trying to stay present in the moment, but being the worrier that I am, it hasn’t been as easy as it usual is. Sometimes the stress of it all can really get to me, but I know that putting it off will only make things more stressful in the future. One valuable lesson I’ve learned from all of this though is that I need to be willing to ask for help. Typically, I try to do everything on my own. I feel like if I have to ask for help it means I’ve failed in some way. But that’s not true, and I must condition myself to stop thinking it is.

Well, thank you as always for reading. I hope you enjoy hearing about my exchange. From exciting adventures to useful lessons I’ve learned, I love getting the chance to share my experiences with you all. Till next time!

Tue, February 19, 2019

  • Zoe, Outbound to Japan

Hey y’all! My oh my how time flies! It’s been over four months since I arrived in Japan and it’s been one heck of a ride. I’ve experienced so many ups and downs in this time, but nonetheless I wouldn’t dream of being anywhere else. It certainly hasn’t been easy adjusting to my new life in Japan. So many things are different from the U.S. that it’s taken a lot of getting used to. And on top of it all, I’m also faced with the challenges of speaking a different language.

The language barrier can make even simple things difficult. Especially in the beginning, it was frustrating not being able to express some of the things I was thinking. I have certainly come a long way with Japanese, but I still have a long, long way to go before I would consider myself fluent. There are still times when I feel like I can’t understand a single thing someone is saying, or I just long to have a conversation where I don’t have think so much before everything I say. My friends at school have definitely helped me feel more comfortable about speaking, and I’m really grateful to have them.

Speaking of school, it has been going pretty well. I’m actually kind of impressed with how much I can understand sometimes. I even take most of the same tests as my peers, sometimes the teachers will translate the questions into English, but most of the time everything is in Japanese. It’s nice being able to take some of the same classes and tests as everyone else. It make me feel less like an outsider and more just like any other student. I also got the opportunity to go on a school trip with my class recently. We went to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for three days. While there we were hosted by a local school. The students showed us around the city, taught us about Malaysian culture, and shared lots of laughs with us. At the end of the three days we put together presentations about what we learned, and even made up a song and dance. After the closing ceremony we got on a bus and drove to Singapore, where we spent the final two days of our trip. While in Singapore we met with students from the National University of Singapore. They took us around to some of the more touristy spots in the city and told us about life as a university student. The next day we woke up early in the morning to go to the airport and fly back to Japan.

Everytime I think about this trip I am reminded of what an incredible opportunity it was. I was able to grow so much closer to my classmates and it made me feel like a part of the class. I am still so grateful to my school and my host Rotary club for allowing me to go on this trip. Not only did I get to experience a new country but I also got to make lasting memories and further the friendships I have with my class. Most Japanese classes have been together for the past few years, so the majority of the students already have a very tight-knit bond. This was something that I was a little worried about before coming to Japan. I wasn’t sure how my class would deal with a new student, much less a new student who didn’t speak much Japanese. However, I quickly saw how open and kind all of my classmates are, and this trip just further proved that.

Well thank you all for reading! I hope that you’ve enjoyed learning about my exchange. In the new year I hope to start uploading more blog posts sharing the good and the not so good. As always, thank you to Rotary and my family and friends for supporting me in this awesome adventure. I am already feeling bittersweet about having to leave my family and friends in Japan at the end of my exchange, but I’m trying to think of that as little as possible. As Rotary always says, “Keep your head and your heart where your feet are.” Till next time!

Mon, December 31, 2018

  • Zoe, Outbound to Japan

Hi there and welcome to my first ever journal entry! It’s been a little over two weeks since I landed in Japan, and my experience so far has been quite a whirlwind. These first two weeks, although challenging at times, were incredible. First let me give you all some background on my exchange. I’m living in Saitama City, specifically in the Minuma Ward. It’s about 30 minutes from Tokyo by train, which is pretty awesome. My current host family includes my host mom and my host grandmother. I also have a host sister but she is currently on exchange in Florida (District 6990). I haven’t gotten to meet her in person since she left before I arrived, but she’s given me lots of advice and really helped me navigate everything. She also connected me to some of her school friends because I’m attending the same school that she went to. I’m really lucky to have such a great host family, and I am already falling in love with my city!

My first few days in Japan were very laidback, which I appreciated being that I had a pretty bad case of jetlag. I visited my school, explored my new neighborhood, went shopping, and got to spend some quality time with my host family. Four days after I arrived was the district-wide orientation for all of the inbounds in District 2770. We all met up August 22nd at Omiya Station in Saitama City, and from there rode a bus to the ryokan (Japanese-style hotel) where we would be staying the night. The first day was filled with mostly logistical things about our time in Japan along with some advice from Rotex and Rotarians about how to make the most of our exchange, and how to best acclimate to life in Japan. The second day we got to walk around the city, going places like Omiya park and Hikawa shrine. After our little excursion we went back to the hotel and got to watch a traditional tea ceremony (called sa ̅do) be performed, some of the inbounds even got the chance to try it themselves. The tea ceremony concluded our orientation and we all packed up our things and headed back to Omiya Station to meet our host families. The whole orientation was great, especially getting to meet and hang out with all of the other inbounds. It’s nice to have people who are going through the same thing as you and who are able to relate to your struggles.

A couple days after orientation, my host family and I went to visit my host mother’s cousin and attend a “hanabi” (fireworks) festival. It was absolutely beautiful, and arguably the best firework show I’ve ever seen. I also appreciated the fact that my host family wanted me to meet their relatives. It showed me how much they care about me and that they’re making every effort to make me feel apart of their family. Two days later I went to my first Rotary meeting at my host club. I was a little nervous given that I had to give a speech in Japanese, but all of the Rotarians were really kind, and afterwards told that I did a good job. After the stress of making my speech was done with, my focus was on my first day of school, which was the next day.

I had no idea what to expect from my first day of school. I had visited it once before and met three girls who gave me a tour around the campus. The moment I arrived it was pretty clear that I would stand out. Not only was I the only exchange student, but my uniform had not arrived yet, so I had to wear my own clothes. After homeroom, one of the English teachers at my school introduced herself to me and told me that I would have her class for first period. After English I had a free period. Two other girls who had a free period introduced themselves to me and asked if I wanted to help them make posters for Bunkasai. For those of you who don’t know, Bunkasai is a cultural festival that basically all schools in Japan have. They’re a very big deal and students will spend weeks decorating the school and preparing fun games, performances, and concessions for the two day event. After my free period was lunch, which I had kind of been dreading. It was confusing trying to navigate the cafeteria, but thankfully one of the girls in my homeroom offered to help me and invited me to eat lunch her and the other two girls in my homeroom.

After lunch I had a few more classes, which I could hardly understand given that the teachers were speaking so fast. Despite my confusion at times, it was a good first day. I expected that there were going be a lot of times when I wasn’t clear what was going on or when I didn’t understand what someone had said. But those are just things that come with living in a new country and speaking a different language. The reason I don’t get discouraged is because I know that if I keep trying hard enough, one day things will start clicking. Eventually, the class I could never understand will finally make sense, what seemed confusing and strange will become second nature, and what I once regarded as a foreign country will feel like my second home.

Sat, September 8, 2018