Outbounds 2019-2020

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Outbounds 2019-2020

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

Aleida - Croatia

Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: Eastside
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Gainesville, Florida
Host District: 1913
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Pula

My Bio

Bok! My name is Aleida Wells and I will be spending next year in the beautiful country of Croatia. I am fourteen and in my freshman year in the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program at Eastside High School. I have lived in Gainesville, Florida with my parents, younger brother, dog, and cat my entire life. Ever since fourth grade I have wanted to study abroad, so I am beyond excited to live in Croatia for an entire year! I have close relationships with all of my friends and hang out with them a lot of my free time. Otherwise, I like to read a good book or listen to music. I love to do anything artistic, from writing to photography to drawing to theater. I also enjoy learning about other cultures and languages so I am eager to become fluent in Croatian next year and accustomed to the unique traditions of Croatia. I hope to gain a more wide perspective of the world and take home new ideas that I can share with others and incorporate into my life and art. In addition, I look forward to picking up new skills and hobbies along the way so I can expand my comfort zone. Although I will miss my friends and family (especially my sweet dog, Clover, and my cat, Buttercup), I cannot wait to start my study abroad adventure in Croatia. Doviđenja!


Journals: Aleida-Croatia Blog 2019-20

  • Aleida, Outbound to Croatia

June 12, 2020

It has been a very long time since my last journal, which I apologize for. I think something that you don’t expect when you go on exchange is to get so caught up in life that you forget that you are there temporarily, and to almost forget that life happened before you left to go abroad. Life here became so normal that it felt strange to write about it like a travel blog, since it didn’t feel like I was on a vacation anymore. It just felt like my day to day existence. That’s not to say that life became mundane or unhappy in any way, actually quite the opposite. The more normal that life became, the happier I grew. Because it meant that I had started to form friendships so that I wasn’t so alone, and had grown comfortable with my city so that it wasn’t as novel and mysterious like when I had first arrived; it just became my home.

So now I am about five weeks away from my departure date, and it’s sad, because as I think any student who has studied abroad can attest to, it’s right when you’re about to leave when it seems like everything is finally completely falling into place. Now that I have made and solidified so many amazing friendships, and now that I can actually imagine staying here and never leaving, is when my time is coming to an end. Which I know will be very difficult.

I’m not going to get into everything that has happened in the last eight months or so, because that would take up pages and pages and pages. But I’ll go over a little bit of what has been going on lately. Of course, with coronavirus, a lot of exchanges have been sadly cut short. I’m lucky enough that it never got bad enough here that I felt that I was safer in the US than in Pula; in fact, coronavirus has been very sparse in my particular region. For over a month already, almost everything has been opened; the countless cafes, the mall, restaurants, markets, public buses, sports practices. It actually feels like normal here. The only differences are the hand sanitizers at the entrance to every store and the signs that ask people to keep some distance (which honestly people don’t really follow). But life feels more or less the same. It also helps that the weather has gotten beautiful here (with the occasional rainy day), so people are often on the many walking paths through the forests or by the coast, enjoying the beginning of summer.

Myself, I have been seeing friends whenever I can (their online school ends next week, so then we’ll be able to go out more often) and going to rowing practice five days a week, which is great because even if I’m having a lonely or unproductive day, rowing always makes sure I get outside and moving and around other people. I’ve loved going on picnics with my friends by the water, or biking through the lush green forest, or just going on hours of meandering walks along the coast. Tomorrow is especially exciting because it’s my 16th birthday (!!) and I’m going to spend it with my host family at a pizza place, and then with several of my friends on the beach.

If you were wondering, my Croatian has been coming along. I am definitely not fluent by any means, but I am able to communicate effectively. My host mom still forgets to talk to me in Croatian (she’s trying to improve her English), but my host dad speaks to me exclusively in Croatian and many of my friends speak just in Croatian with me as well. I do wish I was able to understand more than I do, but I am also proud of the amount that I have learned, especially considering how complicated of a language it is.

Because of coronavirus, the remainder of our trips were cancelled, like they were for most other students in other countries as well. Personally, I was meant to go skiing in Austria, on a spring trip to Dubrovnik (south of Croatia), to London, and Eurotour. While I was initially a little sad about missing out on all of these trips, it all worked out for me really well in the end and actually became something positive. Had I gone on all of the trips, I would have collectively been gone from Pula about 7 weeks or so. But since I had to stay here, I’ve had more opportunities to see my friends here and explore the city. If everything had gone as originally planned, I would have not visited so many amazing places in the very city I live in, and I don’t believe I would have gotten as close to my friends as I have. To me, spending time with people here is far more valuable than going on trips to places that I can always visit again in the future.

I think in general there is something to be learned from that. No matter what happens or goes wrong (because things will go wrong at some point), you have to try to make the best of it and go forwards with a positive outlook. I have learned and grown so much more from the difficult, disappointing, and embarrassing experiences than I ever have from everything going perfectly. At times on your exchange, you will mess up, say something wrong, take the wrong bus, maybe not take an opportunity you should have or not talk to somebody you could have. And as unfortunate as those situations are, and as terrible as they might make you feel, each time you will learn better how to cope, and what to do differently the next time, and you will come out the other side a better and more mature person.

In regards to my host family, I have a bit of a unique situation, since I never changed families the entire year. There is one other exchange student in Pula, and the original plan was for us to switch families sometime in January or February. But we were both so happy with our respective families that we decided not to. While I understand that it can be good to change families to get new experiences, I think staying with the same one has been really positive for me. I’ve been able to get to know and form deeper ties with my host family, and I have become very familiar with the area I live in, beaches and beautiful areas I can walk to, and the bus routes that I can take. Without having to worry about getting to know a new family and area every few months, I have been able to focus more on making friends and growing in other aspects.

At this point in my exchange, I can’t even fathom going back to life in Florida. I don’t remember the last time I was seriously homesick. Occasionally I’ll have a lonely day where I don’t see a friend or get anything done, and I’ll call my mom back in Florida to catch up, hear her voice, and fill some of the empty space. But that is a feeling I was familiar with before exchange, and isn’t unique to being abroad. For me, I don’t think I followed the ‘typical’ homesickness arch that you’re shown. Of course, it will vary for every person, but my homesickness during the year was based off of events that happened rather than the timeline itself. The most homesick I have been this whole year was within the first week that I was here, and during a rough patch sometime in the winter when I didn’t yet have solid friendships and the weather prevented any outdoor activities or many social outings. At those times, I sometimes felt like it would never get better, and that a part of me would always long for my established friends in Florida. But as time has progressed, I’ve realized that those bouts of homesickness were amplified by my internal monologue glorifying life back in Florida. I would compare my loneliness here to how much ‘fun’ I thought people must be having in the US. But then I would have to remind myself what life in Florida actually was like, rather than how I was painting it in my head.

In reality, when you are missing something and aren’t experiencing it anymore, you tend to make it seem much greater and more exciting than how it actually is. And while that thought didn’t necessarily lessen my homesickness, it allowed me to now have a greater appreciation for the time I am here, so that I can look back on it and genuinely have beautiful memories of my life here. I’m not sure if any of that made much sense, but long story short, try your hardest not to put your life in your home country on a pedestal. You have spent 15, 16, 17 years living there, and you are going to have a lifetime there when you return (if you choose to stay). But the year that you have in your host country is fleeting, and while you may come back in the future to visit, or possibly live, you will never be there at that same moment in time, surrounded by the same kind of network of your host family and friends. So, at risk of sounding like a broken record, just enjoy your time there and truly take as many chances for growth and exploration as you can.

Something else that I think is worth noting is that once you form bonds with people in your host country, it makes the world and the future seem a lot less daunting. Knowing that you have the ability to grow roots and thrive in a foreign location where you initially had nobody is very empowering. And it puts your relationships back in your home country into perspective. That’s not to say that you have to lose friends back home; I have so many wonderful friends in Florida that I know that I will have for life. But for me, it made me realize that I don’t have to feel such pressure to create an entire, perfect circle of friends in Florida that I will be with forever. There are so, so many people in the world that you will meet throughout your life, and you don’t have to limit yourself to meeting people from the same city or state that you originate from. It is important to gain new perspectives through global friendships, and through friends that have different interests and come from different walks of life. Being here has taught me that I don’t have to cling so tightly to where I come from, that I can let go of toxic cultures in my hometown, and that wherever I am, I don’t have to settle for being around people who don’t value me as a person, or who make me feel bad about myself.

This year has absolutely been the best of my life, I have learned more about myself and the world than I ever thought I would in one year. And I truly do not want to leave the life I have built here. But as sad as I am that my departure date will eventually come, I know that this is not the end of my journey, but the beginning. I hope that if you decide to go abroad, that your experience will be as enlightening and beautiful as mine has been here. All the misfortunes and low moments are all, one hundred percent, worth it.

Ćao! 🙂

Chao! I have been in Croatia for almost a month now (I arrived on August 31st), which is absolutely surreal to think about. It’s so strange how the months of preparation preceding my arrival felt like they would never end, and now that I’m actually here the speed of time has doubled. It feels as though I’ve been here for three times as long as I’ve actually have; so much has happened!

Where am I?

I am in the city Pula, which is a city on the northern coast of Croatia in the region called Istria. It is only three hours away from Venice by ferry boat (across the Adriatic Sea). Since it is so close in proximity to Italy, there are lots of Italian influences. For example, my host family speaks fluent Italian in addtion to Croatian; there are ruins and historical structures throughout the city from when it was under Roman rule, such as the huge, beautiful ampitheater downtown; and a lot of the food in this area is similar to Italian food, so lots of bread, pasta, pizza, fish, olives, olive oil, tomatoes, and cheese. Since I’m a vegetarian, I haven’t had any of the seafood, but I hear it’s really good and always fresh. What I’ve noticed is that life here revolves a lot around food and family. Often people will discuss what they will be preparing for the day’s meals, and people like to eat as a whole family. And people eat so much here! I was not expecting that. Whenever I don’t want to eat anymore, my host parents will always try to get me to eat more because they don’t think I’ve had enough. This is all very different from my home in Florida because my family doesn’t eat together all that often, and what or when we’re going to eat in the future is never something we think or talk about. I also am not used to having to eat multiple full meals a day; usually at home I eat maybe one big meal and snacks throughout the day. But regardless, the food here is delicious and fresh. My host mom loves to go to the market downtown to get all fresh fruits. She also loves the beach! My house here is only a five minute drive from her favorite beach. Especially in the first week I was here, she and I would go to the beach every day for hours. The ocean here is lovely; I actually haven’t gone swimming yet, but the water is so blue, clear, and still. And the sunsets are breathtaking! The ocean isn’t the only beautiful thing about Pula; the city itself is so lovely. The roads are fairly small (which is typical for European towns) but it’s really charming. Also, there is maybe five stoplights in the entire city; everywhere else there are just roundabouts.

People and Language

About the people… most people here are very welcoming and friendly! Everybody greets eachother with a kiss on each cheek or a hug. When I go downtown with my host mom, she stops maybe twenty times in one outing because of all the people she sees that she knows. People love to talk, and talk loudly. It can be frustrating since I can understand literally nothing from the conversations I hear, but I find it interesting to listen to the language. Everything flows together so beautifully, and it makes me want to learn the language so much more so that I can actually have conversations in Croatian! The language has been the main struggle for me since I’ve arrived. Almost everybody speaks good English (people in older generations tend to only know a couple phrases), including my host family and all of my classmates at school, so it is very difficult for me to practice. I’ve pretty much resorted to saying only very basic and occasional things in Croatian and speaking English for nearly everything, which is disappointing. I am definitely going to start studying more phrases so that I can start to incorporate them more into my daily conversations and eventually start speaking Croatian more. Honestly, I didn’t have the best foundation for language when I got here. I had tutoring for a couple months which was amazing because I got a feel for the language, learned quite a bit of vocabulary, and started to understand the (very) complicated grammar. But unfortunately I forgot some vocabulary and didn’t learn enough phrases that I can actually use. On top of that, I am a more introverted person and I find it very intimidating to even say simple things in the language. I am definitely working on becoming more confident in saying things in Croatian, but I also need to devote more time to actually studying and learning new things. It’s a work in progress, for sure. The best advice I can give to future outbounds is to study the language as much as you can. But also don’t beat yourself up too much if you’re having trouble with it. The main lesson I’ve had to learn is to stop dwelling on what you could have done or studied or prepared in the past, and start setting a new precedent for yourself. If you’re having trouble studying your language, just devote small amounts of time each day to learning a few new phrases or vocabulary, and realize that short daily studying over time is worth more than occasional cram studying. I know that I really did a disservice to myself while getting ready to go abroad by being so intimidated by studying the language that I just never did it. Also! It will really, really help if instead of just doing flashcards or memorization for studying, you actually try to incorporate some of the language into your daily conversations. I didn’t do this, but I think it would have been very beneficial for me. So when you’re talking to your parents, siblings, friends, etc., talk in English, but then afterwards say the same thing but in your host language. It will help you get used to actually saying the words out loud and also help you know which phrases you will be using most often and what you should try to learn the best.

School? Friends?

School has been an interesting experience for me. I started on September 9th, which is almost a month after I start school in Florida. I take 15 classes, which sounds absurd, but is not as bad as one might think since students here hardly ever get homework. The classes I currently take are: English, French, Croatian, Latin, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Math, Informatics, Geography, History, Ethics, Art History, Music History, and PE. I actually do participate in many of my classes, but in several of them all I do is sit there or copy the notes even though I don’t understand them. Really how much I participate depends on the teacher; for example my Chemistry teacher was upfront with me from the first day I had her class and told me that I would do nothing in her class. My Physics teacher, however, explains everything to me in English and even prints out some worksheets in English so I can follow along. And during a double English class we had, my professor had me give a presentation about my life– it lasted the entire two blocks, so almost an hour and a half, since the teacher kept asking me questions and telling me to elaborate. Something that is also different about school here is that during lunch break and during your free blocks if you have any, you can just walk around the city center and get food outside of school. My school is right in the center of the city, which is very convenient for getting a quick snack or hanging out after school with friends. Speaking of friends, it is so important to put yourself out there and make an effort to make local friends! Being outgoing, especially in new situations, is something I have always struggled with, so I am very grateful that many of the kids in my class are very welcoming. But I have still made a concious effort to be more open to making friends, even though it can be difficult at times. I feel like even being here for the short while I have has made me a more adaptable and outgoing person. It’s not like I have turned into a completely different person, but I’ve learned how to be more comfortable in social situations. I’ve already seen several different people outside of school, and I hope that I will continue to build friendships here and hang out with friends. I know that although it can be awkward in the beginning to connect with people, it will be so rewarding after time has passed to have friends and people here that I can depend on and enjoy being with.


Unfortunately, none of the classes I take here in Croatia or grades I receieve will count for credit back in Florida, so I’m going to have to take several classes online when I get back. If you are going on exchange, you will definitely want to talk to your school counselor at home so that you can sort out your credits and everything. I know that sounds like a given, but it took so long to finalize how my credits will play out. In fact, I first started talking with my school counselor in early December, so right around the time I found out I was coming to Croatia. I am so, so glad that I did because she was able to get me enrolled in a 10th grade Florida Virtual School class that I completed and recieved a credit for. This means I don’t have to worry about making up that particular class now, so it is one less class I will have to take online my junior year.

What I’ve been doing!

So much has happened in the last month, I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to write down. I’ve traveled to many parts of Croatia already (both with my host family and with the other inbounds in Croatia), gone to Venice (!!); taken the wrong bus home and momentarily gotten lost in the ciy; joined a rowing team here; gone to a climate march with lots of people from my school; made many friends; eaten lots of pasta and bread; gone for walks by the beach at sunset; and more. My host family has been so kind to take me to lots of different places. There are many seaside towns all around Pula, so we are a short drive from the sweetest cities, such as Rovinj and Fažana. I have also visited Rijeka (meaning ‘River’ in Croatian), since my host sister goes to medical school there. During inbound orientation, I got to go to Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. Zagreb, having a population of almost one million, is also the largest city in Croatia. I loved all of the beautiful buildings and parks throughout Zagreb; because of its location, it has lots of Austro-Hungarian architechture. This is the same with Varaždin, a beautiful city near Zagreb that I also visited during inbound orientation. The other exchange students and I also went to Plitvička jezera (Plitvice Lakes), the most renowned national park. It is absolutely gorgeous! I am lucky enough to have been able to visit Venice, Italy with my host family earlier this month. Since we traveled there by boat, we got to see the gorgeous buildings and bridges lining the Grand Canal as we were arriving.

As much as I’ve done and seen while being here, I’ve also spent a lot of time relaxing and just enjoying being here. It is still just ordinary life many days, even though I am still always in awe with everything, from the beautiful buildings to the stray cats everywhere. I love to take the bus home because it is always nice to look out the window at the city passing by, just reflecting and thinking quietly. The amazing thing about exchange is that you have the opportunity to come to a completely different place, thousands of miles away from everything and everyone you know, and start a new life. Nobody has any preconceptions about you, and everything is undeniably different. While such a drastic change can be difficult and scary, it also puts you and your life in perspective. It gives you this power to be independent and make your own happiness . It shows you the infinite possibilities in life. So while life may be ‘mundane,’ it really doesn’t feel that way because you have a newfound appreciation for the littlest things.


First off, I just want to say that everybody on exchange truly has a different experience. For me, the first week was definitely the hardest. Walking through the airports and getting on my flights felt like an out of body experience, like I was this different person and everything was changing. And while I was extremely nervous, I was also so, so excited. Then I arrived in Pula and I was absolutely exhausted. But since it was still very early in the day, I spent the whole day going around the city with my host parents seeing things and talking with them. Since I was so busy that first day, when I finally got the chance to go to bed, I had been awake for almost 30 hours and I hadn’t processed being in another country alone. Once it hit me, I was extremely homesick. While I still managed to engage with my host family, in the back of my mind I was always sad. At one point I was even panicky and questioning why I was there at all. And while I know Rotary advises you to not contact home for the first month, I relied heavily on texting and sometimes calling my mom during the first week; it actually made me feel less homesick to be able to talk to her. But I found as time went on, I naturally started to acclimate to living in Croatia, and I just stopped texting my family. It wasn’t a concious choice to just drop all communication with home, I just stopped feeling the need to talk to them. I still occasionally text them to say hello and so forth, but at this point I feel so much more comfortable with living here that it feels like home, and I don’t have to rely on a connection with Florida. So, what I would say is that you need to give it time and try to wait out the homesickness. And stay strong! It feels awful and never ending, but the more you dwell on it the more it will hurt. What really helped me was writing in my journal, thinking through it by myself, and also engaging more in my life in Croatia. The more your host country feels like a home, the less you will miss your first home.


Okay! So there is a lot more I could probably write about, but I think this journal has gone on long enough. If you are thinking about applying, go for it! It will be an experience that you will never forget and one that will give you back more than you could ever imagine. If you are starting the application process, I would say do not get discouraged by all the essays, interviews, etc.! While it seems like it is taking forever and a day, you will be on a flight to your country before you know it. And if you are in your host country right now, maybe struggling with homesickness or making friends or language, remember that you are never alone. There are countless people behind you, cheering you on. Never feel weighed down by the expectations of others, because if you are giving it your all, that is all that really matters. Get the most out of this year, but also remember to slow down and appreciate it while it lasts. 🙂

Thanks for reading my journal! I hope you enjoyed and got something from it. Come back in another month or so for another update!  🙂 Chao!

Sun, September 29, 2019

Aliya - Slovakia

Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: Gainesville
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Gainesville, Florida
Host District: 2240
Host Club: Rotary Club of Žilina

My Bio

Ahoj! My name is Aliya Riechers and I am absolutely thrilled to be spending my senior year in Slovakia. I am 17 years old and I currently attend Gainesville High School as a junior. I come from a loving, blended family. I live with my dad, step mom, and three younger siblings. I spend most of my free time reading books and studying photography. I’m passionate about the art of nature and I am very lucky to be studying abroad in one of the most beautiful countries in the world. I was intrigued by RYE not only because of the experience I’d be gaining but also because of the skills I’d be learning. Things like: cultural diversity, independence, responsibility, communication and people skills, not to mention another language. Not only would I be carrying the amazing memories of my exchange, but also the tools that made it successful. My goals for my exchange are: to become fluent in Slovak, make friends, master a new skill, join a club, learn a recipe, and to overcome my shyness. I want to make my family proud by proving to myself that I can accomplish anything. Thank you to RYE for welcoming me into your program and giving me this amazing opportunity to discover not only the world but myself as well.

Journals: Aliya-Slovakia Blog 2019-20

  • Aliya,Outbound to Slovakia

Ahojte. It’s been about five and a half months of me living in Slovakia. I swear, the days here have just been going by quicker and quicker. It’s hard to imagine myself back in August when I was on the plane first coming here. I’m definitely a more evolved version of myself now. That doesn’t mean it’s not still difficult but exchange has already taught me how to really support myself independently.

I’m half way through my exchange already and I will say the first half was a lot slower. The first half was great, I had so much fun. I actually wasn’t expecting my honeymoon stage to last so long. When Christmas and my birthday hit is when the dazed feelings wore off. I think the second half of my exchange has been the most difficult for me, for others it’s the opposite. The same experience depends on the person. Even students in the same city and school have different feelings at different times. I try to remember and not compare myself or my experiences with the other exchange students here.

But just because recently it’s been more difficult doesn’t mean I haven’t had fun.

It’s winter time here in Slovakia and it’s the first time I’ve seen snow. I get to skiing, also for the first time, next month. I couldn’t be more excited… or more scared to break my legs.

I think it’s good to put your efforts into all of the 5 fingers (of a successful exchange) that being: host family, school, local friends, youth exchange friends, and Rotary Club. So you can try to have a good support system wherever and whenever you need it. Not all of them will be great all of the time and you have to keep that in mind.

I like to keep myself busy with the gym, cheerleading practice, friends, and my host family. I actually just switched host families at the end of last month and I gotta say it was the best timing. I feel really comfortable with my “new” host family and it feels so refreshing and comforting that I get to end my exchange living here.

I can’t wait for all of the trips I get a chance to go on. I’ve already been to so many cities in my country. I’ve even traveled to Poland with my school and to Austria with Rotary. Did I mention that I get to go to the Czech Republic at the end of this month? I’m going on a trip with my cheerleading team, and I couldn’t be happier. In May/ June I get to go on Eurotour. Every student who went to Europe on exchange says it’s the most fun they’ve had. I’m so excited for it to come but I know it will be here in only a blink of an eye It’s so crazy to me that in a few months I’ll be going back to my home in Florida where most people you meet speak only one language and the weather is always the same. I’m so grateful to have gotten to have my experiences here, even if that means I’ll have to leave it soon.

Thu, February 13, 2020


Aliyah - Netherlands

Hometown: DeLand, Florida
School: DeLand
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of DeLand Breakfast, Florida, Florida
Host District: 1650
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Apeldoorn-Noord

My Bio

Hoi! My name is Aliyah Molina. I am 16 and going to DeLand High School. I live with my mom, dad, little brother, and three dogs. Although, next year I’m going to be living with a different family in the Netherlands for my Junior year of high school! So exciting! I used to live in Italy (my father was military) for three years and then we moved to Florida when I was ten (retirement). So going back to Europe and living there again is amazing! I heard the Netherlands is rich in art and I love to draw. I also love to listen to Kpop and watch Anime and those inspire my art. Reading is a big hobby of mine and I have so many books that I bought but haven’t read yet. I especially love plays. I didn’t get theatre this year but I did get ROTC and DMM1 which I am in course two of both. In ROTC I am an element leader, meaning I am a higher rank than most second years and I have the responsibility of making sure first years learn all they can to prepare them for next year. I hope they have some sort of ROTC program in the Netherlands. Or DMM1 which stands for Digital Multi-Media. The class is all adobe. Photoshop, Illustrator etc. The reason I’m doing this is I’ve been traveling since I was a baby and I’m still not tired of it. I want to learn about other cultures and teach that to people and pass it on. The moment my father told me about RYE I went to the website to apply. I am so thankful for the people that made this opportunity possible! Thank you!

Journals: Aliyah-Netherlands Blog 2019-20

  • Aliyah, Outbound to Netherlands

Three weeks in and it’s amazing here!

To start, the country itself is so beautiful and and the houses are so pretty!

Everything is walkable from where I am, the library, the museum, the grocery store, and the mall plaza! My school is about a 10 bike away. But even better I don’t even have to go to school at the same time everyday. Sometimes it’s as early as 8:30 and sometimes it’s as late as 11:30am. I absolutely love it. My classes are a bit hard though. I still can’t understand Dutch that much, but I’ve made a few friends to help translate. Everyone knows English here, but I try my best to ask for Dutch translations as well. I have a book and every night me and my host family fill it with 10 new words. I’ve learned words Duolingo wouldn’t have told me for weeks. Dutch is hard when it comes to pronouncing the G but people understand.

I also go to every Rotary meeting with my host dad. They are very nice (especially the dinner meals) and I really enjoy going to them. Yesterday we went to Hanos a super market that only people who own food related businesses are allowed to go into. We got to try a ton of different cheeses and they served us some other samples as well. I talked to a lot of Rotarians, everyone has a story to tell. A few of them have been to Florida so it was fun to talk to them about that.

Speaking of which I got to meet the Rotex student here that went to Florida as well! She’s really nice, along with the other exchange and Rotext students! We went for a weekend in Goes and played some games, as well as visit DeltaWorks and go sailing (I didn’t sail though, I have a fear of small boats haha). But it rained there and it’s been raining a lot here too. I’m pretty sure I’ve caught a cold, or maybe allergies but my nose has been running the entire time writing this journal. I hope I get over it though I actually don’t want to miss school. And if this weather gets me sick than I’d be sick all winter. I’m so excited for December to come! Everyone’s been telling me about Sinterklass and the food and the celebrations ah! I’ve decided to make Coquito for my host family. It’s a Puerto Rican drink that my parents make very Christmas to give out to friends and family. I’m so happy to be able to share it here!

And then to share their Christmas food with me too. There’s Pepernoten, they’re like cinnamon cookies and they are absolutely delicious!

They share them only around this time so everyone is excited to eat them. I’m going to have SO MANY! And I might go eat some right now. Or some Hagslag with bread (sprinkles on bread). Now I’m just rambling on about food. I should go eat something.

Thu, September 12, 2019


Alyssa - Ecuador

Hometown: Palm Coast, Florida
School: Matanzas High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Palm Coast, Florida
Host District: 4400
Host Club: The Rotary Club of RC. Portoviejo San Gregorio

My Bio

¡Hola! My name is Alyssa Rodriguez, I am currently 15 years old and I can’t wait to spend my junior year in Ecuador! Right now I live in Flagler County and go to school at Matanzas High school. I am an all honors and AP student and I am a part of a bunch of clubs/groups at school. For example, I am an active member of the Interact club, the women’s choir and I take part in as many volunteer opportunities as possible. When I’m not studying, volunteering, or practicing I like to relax by listening to music while reading, painting or pretty much anything that I have never done or seen before. I love trying new things and pushing myself out of my comfort zone which is one of the big reasons I am excited about my exchange. I live by the motto “if it doesn’t challenge you it doesn’t change you” and going on the exchange will definitely do both challenge and change me. Going on exchange is something out of a dream to me because ever since I was a little girl I’ve always daydreamed about seeing the world and now its happening. With this opportunity, I can get a better understanding of the world outside of America and apply what I learn abroad to situations when I come back. I am ecstatic to completely immerse myself into the Ecuadorian way of life and learn all about the customs, history, language, architecture and anything else that may come my way.

Journals: Alyssa-Ecuador Blog 2019-20

  • Alyssa, Outbound to Ecuador

Hola!!! To start I would like to apologize for not posting a blog in a long while. I have gotten caught up with my amazing life here that I kinda forgot about my life at home (and I am not sure if that is a good or bad thing) However I am here now and I will get you guys caught up with my life since September.

To start in October was a little crazy because in Ecuador there were protests against the government. It was crazy because I never experienced anything like it in the United States. The cause is a brief rundown was because the government raised prices for gas to try and stimulate the economy, however, many of the lower class citizens relied on the lower gas prices to keep their small business running. So naturally, this caused an outrage in the public, and there were protests everywhere, but larger ones in the bigger cities like Quito, Guayaquil, and Cuenca. The protests didn’t affect my city too much, but we had a curfew to when we had to be in our homes, there was a shortage of meats and schools weren’t open. However, some of my exchange friends that lived in the bigger cities listed told me stories about the things that were going on there. For example, those cities had curfews as well, but they still wanted to protest so they would open up their windows and bang pots and pans. Soon enough the protests ended and we were able to back to school.

A few weeks later we had a trip with Rotary. The Beach Tour was hosted by my Rotary club so the first night and the next day was spent in my city. The first day there was a parade in my city and the exchange students were honored to walk in the parade. It was so much fun and it was so cool to walk through the city and meet new people and just have fun. After we were on our way to the beach hotel that we would be staying at for the next few days. One night Rotary rented a DJ and we had a talent show from all the countries and for the United States we did a lip sync battle and it was so much fun. Afterward, we had a pool party and we all just enjoyed the rest of the night. However, the next day was really fun because we got to go to the rainForest and went hiking through. We had a guide and we got to see monkeys and so many other cool plants and animals (However I wouldn’t recommend hiking in the jungle with VANS that was a bit difficult haha.) Afterward, we went to a beach and walked up 700 stairs to go to a lighthouse (also wouldn’t recommend doing in VANS) but it was so worth it! The lighthouse was on the edge of a cliff and it was absolutely gorgeous and it was so peaceful (I also got a killer workout in.) After we walked down to the beach and we saw a bunch of turtle nests and the guide talked to us about the turtles and how they try and keep the eggs safe to help raise the number of turtles. After we went to another beach and swam for a bit. All in all, it was a day that I will always remember. The rest of the month was spent with my host family and my friends and it was an amazing month.

Next, it was November and it was also an amazing month. At the beginning of the month, my host family and 2 others rented out a huge house on the beach and spent about 4 days there and it was so much fun. My favorite part was the roof that overlooked the beach and had hammocks. We went down to the beach a lot and at night we would make a fire and roast marshmallows. It was so nice to be in such a beautiful place and making memories with my host family and family friends. A few weeks later was the time around Thanksgiving. We had a Presentation in front of the whole school about thanksgiving and explaining what it’s like and the common traditions. It was hard to have an actual Thanksgiving unfortunately with all the other exchange students in my city (there are 15 of us) so it was hard to line up schedules so a few friends and I went to a nice restaurant to celebrate and it was fun to spend time together and just have a good time and talk about all the things we are thankful for. Towards the end of the month was the start of Christmas themed parties and our first was a Rotary event. We had a nice dinner and named the Queen of Rotary Club San Gregorio and danced and had fun for the rest of the night. Some of the Rotarians tried to teach us how to “Dance like an Ecuadorian” and it was a lot of fun.

Now for the month of December. This is the month that a lot of exchange students are scared for because it is the holidays and around the time many get the most homesick. However for me, that hasn’t been the case (but don’t tell my family back at home that, and if they just so happen to read this I am sorry mom haha.) But this month has been great and eye-opening. This month was also very busy for me as it usually is during the Holidays. My host family and I had many events to attend but it was a lot of fun. The first was the crowning of the queen of the tennis club and my good friend Salma won and I was so happy for her. A bunch of other exchange students also attended it was a lot of fun, and my host sister performed a dance at the ceremony and it was super cool. Dancing is a HUGE part of the culture here. The people are always dancing even if its a traditional dance or just for fun which I love because I love to dance. A few days later we had an event in the park that I especially loved. It was the Portoviejo Beatles Contest and I love The Beatles so I was so excited about it. My host bother performed in it and he did so good and I was so proud of him. He and I bought matching shirts and just had a good time listening to live music. It was so cool because there were so many people performing and it was an amazing night.

As Christmas approached, we had things called Novenas that are celebrated for 9 consecutive days. It is a Christian celebration of the 3 wise men’s journey to see Jesus and they tell the story of his birth. It was super cool to experience something like this because in the United States this isn’t as common as it is in Ecuador. On the last day of Novenas, it was also my host sister’s birthday so we celebrated everything at my host family’s house. The same night we had the official Christmas party of my Rotary club so after the Novena, I went to the club and we had a nice meal and exchanged gifts and all the exchange students got jerseys from the soccer team here and backpacks with Inca patterns and “Ecuador” sewed in. It was so nice of them to do that for us and it was probably one of the coolest gifts I’ve gotten. A few days after we had a Christmas presentation in front of the school and we had to sing and make a dance in front of the school. It was embarrassing but it was fun nonetheless, and that marked the last day of school and the start of Christmas break. The next two days were Christmas eve and Christmas and it was a lot of fun. My family got ready for pictures and we had a nice dinner at home and we sang songs, and just enjoyed each other’s company. In Ecuador exchanging presents isn’t as common as it is in the United States but I surprised my family with presents anyway to show how grateful I am for them, and we opened them at midnight. I am happy to report that they loved their presents a lot and my host mom told me that they enjoyed it so much that they will probably do it again next year which made me so happy. All in all these past few months have been incredible and I still have a ways to go. I am loving every minute here and I am forever grateful to have this amazing opportunity.

As I am getting more into life here I feel more and more at home. It feels like Ecuador is a part of me, and I couldn’t be happier. Yes, the occasional cravings for Chick-fil-a and Olive Garden are hard but nonetheless, I don’t ever want to leave. I remember last December at my country reveal someone had told all the outbounds “You don’t choose the country, the country chooses you.” and that couldn’t be truer. I am so happy that this country, this city, this community has chosen me because I couldn’t imagine my exchange going any other way, and I still have more adventures to go so until then Chao!

Sun, December 29, 2019

  • Alyssa, Outbound to Ecuador

So, I’ve lived in Ecuador for a little over a month already (it’s so crazy to think about.) I can’t believe that it’s been a month already, and at the same time I can’t believe it’s only been a month. Ecuador has been amazing to me and I couldn’t be happier! To start I boarded my first plane on August 24th from Orlando to the Miami International Airport then from there to Aeropuerto Internacional José Joaquín De Olmedo in Guayaquil. In the beginning the Orlando to Miami flight it was a bit stressful because I was almost late for my flight, but lucky enough one of the ladies at the kiosk recognized my Rotary blazer and helped me bypass an almost 1-hour wait which was such a relief. After that, I said bye to my family and was on my way which was kinda scary only because the Orlando airport is so big and I have no sense of direction and get lost very easily. But after I found my terminal (with 5 minutes to spare) I relaxed and soon enough I was on my way to Miami.

When I got to the Miami airport I was shocked because the Miami international airport is like 3 times bigger than the Orlando airport, but luckily I had a 4-hour layover so I figured if I got lost at least I would have four hours to find my way to the right terminal haha. When I finally reached my terminal I was lucky enough to meet two other exchange students also going to Ecuador, and it was so cool cause we had seats next to each other on the plane so we were able to talk and get to know each other on the flight. I also found out one of the students was going to the same city and the same school as I so it was cool to know I had a friend before I even got there.

When we finally reached Guayaquil I was so nervous but excited. Honestly, my mind couldn’t comprehend it all and it felt like a dream or like it wasn’t happening. Soon my new found friends and I stepped off the plane and went to baggage claim which wasn’t as bad as I thought because the journals that I read of the other students that went to Ecuador said that baggage claim was absolutely crazy. It was probably because we got there at like 9:30 at night, but I like to think I was on a lucky streak. After I located my bags I headed towards the main lobby where I knew my new family awaited me. I was so nervous because you can’t redo first impressions. When I walked through the door there I saw my host family holding a sign for me and waving excitedly at me. I walked up to them and they welcomed me with open arms and each one of them gave me a big hug and kiss on the cheek. Let’s just say it was an easy first impression because as I would come to know Ecuadorians are very friendly, warm and welcoming so I felt comfortable right away.

Soon we left the airport and they took me to eat at one of the plazas in Ecuador. The food tasted so good and it was all so cheap and I couldn’t believe it, because a meal like the one I got would easily be $10 in the United States and here it was only $3.50. After the meal, we walked around the plaza and then soon went to the hotel where we stayed for the night. The next morning we woke up and started our drive to Portoviejo where I would be living in for the next 10 months. The drive took a bit but it was a good opportunity to see lots of things like the beautiful mountains that they have here in Ecuador and lots of the different communities that are here. When I reached my new home I got settled and unpacked my things, and then went to spend time with my new family. And that’s when I found that I would be starting school on Monday and I would be going to get my uniform the next day, so you could say that I was a bit nervous.

The next day I got my uniforms and then prepared for my first day of school. I woke up early for school because here it starts at 7 A.M then I was on my way. I was so nervous because I wanted to make a good impression on my classmates. I walked into my first class which was theater. When I walked into class I saw that there was another exchange student in the class as well, so I got so excited. I learned that she is from Germany, and now she is one of my closest friends here. As the day went on a lot of my school mates came up to me and introduced themselves, and asked my name and where I was from. It was surprisingly easy to talk to new people and it was very common for other students to invite me into their friend group and start conversations with me. So, all in all, I can say my first day of school was a success.

As the days went on I established a routine where I would wake up around 6:20, go to school, get home around 2, eat lunch, spend time with my family and eat dinner around 8:30 and then get ready for the next day, but eventually on September 5th my family took me on my first trip. We went to Cuenca and it was an experience that I will never forget. We left in the early afternoon and it was a 6 and a half-hour drive but every second was worth it. I got to see a new side of Ecuador that was full of huge rice and plantain farms and there was a lot of livestock and culture. One thing that I noticed though was that they don’t keep their livestock in gates and some were just on the side of the road and if I rolled down the window I probably could have touched one of the cows (I didn’t do it but I did think about it a few times haha.) Eventually, we started to drive towards mountain territory and it was interesting because in Florida it’s flat so driving through mountains was new for me. But the best part was as it got later and the sun began to set the colors of the sky started to dance and it put me in such awe. I thought Florida sunsets were beautiful but nothing compared to watching the sunset in the mountains just below the clouds. We finally reached Cuenca and it was kind of late so we found a place to eat dinner and then we retired to our hotel and got ready for the next day.

The next day we woke up pretty early and got ready. I learned that we would be going on a tour of Incan Ruins. When we got there, it was so cold because we were in the mountains, but as we went on with the tour it was so amazing. I could only understand some of what the tour guide was saying but either way, it was so interesting. After the tour, we returned to the city and went on a bus tour of Cuenca. It was on a double-decker bus, so it was really cool because I had never been on one before, and I understood the lady speaking to us so I was able to learn a bit about the history of Cuenca while seeing some really cool places in the city. We left Cuenca on Sunday afternoon and then I returned to my routine.

A week later on September 23rd my first Rotary event arrived and I was excited to meet all the other exchange students. We spent 5 days and 4 nights in the Royal Decameron Mompiche in Esmeraldas and it was such an amazing experience. I got to meet and get to know a lot of the Rotary members and the other inbounds and the whole experience was full of bonding and learning, and other inbounds and I celebrated our one month since arriving. All in all, being here in Ecuador, learning about the culture, meeting new people and making bonds that I wouldn’t have made without coming here has been unquestionably amazing and I cannot wait to see what else is in store for me in the months to come, so until then Chao!

Sun, September 29, 2019

Amelia - Sweden

Hometown: Micanopy, Florida
School: P.K. Yonge DRS
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of , Florida
Host District: 2360
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Majorna

My Bio

Hi! My name is Mya, or Amelia, and I’m going to Sweden. I’m so excited to be going on this adventure and learning Swedish. Both of my parents are thrilled for me and very happy that I was given this amazing opportunity by Rotary Youth Exchange. I live with my Mom and Stepdad in my hometown of Micanopy. My brother lives close to us in Gainesville, which is about 15 minutes away from Micanopy. I have four cats, three dogs, six goats, and a lot more animals. I am a Sophomore in high school and I am involved in over six clubs at my school. My favorite ones are Robotics, Thespians, and Odyssey of the Mind. Outside of school I am very interested in music and I play the piano and the cello. I’ve been playing piano for awhile and I just recently started cello lessons. My favorite pianist in Yann Tiersen , a French Composer. In my spare time, I like to read, play video games, and rock climb. My favorite book is The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, and I also really like The Ender’s Game Series by Orson Scott Card. I want to be an exchange student because it would be so cool to live in another country for a year and learn the language and culture. I love traveling and always wish that I could live in the places we go and now with Rotary I can. I am really excited to learn Swedish and meet new people. I can’t wait!

Journals: Amelia-Sweden Blog 2019-20

  • Amelia, Outbound to Sweden

Hi everyone, I’m Mya and I’ve just hit 4 months here in Sweden. It’s honestly insane how fast this year is going by.

I’m living in Gothenburg, the second-largest city in Sweden which isn’t saying much as the population is only a little more than half a million people. It’s such a cool city and I love the architecture here. The host family I am staying with lives in Central Gothenburg, right next to a tram stop. The public transportation here is so nice and you can go virtually anywhere, granted Rotary’s permission of course. We live on the 4th floor of an apartment building, very different from my home in Florida, three bedrooms: one for my host parents, another for my host brother, and the last for me. It’s not a small apartment but it can feel cramped at night when everyone gets ready for bed. My high school is named Hvitfeldska and it’s huge; with over 2,000 students and five stories, they have a lot of stairs. It’s only a 10-minute walk away from where I live, the only drawback is that it’s getting colder and colder so it takes more layers to go out.

I usually wake up around 8 because most of my school days start at 9:30 – I know, really late – although some days I go to the gym before school and get up earlier. Most of the time, everyone is on their way out of the house when I have breakfast, usually bread and butter as well as a piece of fruit, so I spend the morning practicing piano. My host family has a real piano which is the absolute best thing in the world, I don’t know how I’ll go back to my keyboard after this year. I usually leave for school about 20 minutes before class to make sure I’m there on time and to chat with my classmates before. School has been the hardest part of my exchange because academics and extracurriculars have always been really important to me but in Sweden, I have to focus on different parts of life more because of both my own inability to understand a lot in class and the fact that they don’t have extracurriculars in the same way as in the US. School here is so different from the US, I won’t explain it all but basically, they have high school programs like Science, Social Studies, Music, etc. and students just take classes related to that over three years. I’m in the second-year-Natural Science class and take Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Math, Social Studies, Swedish, and English. I think their classes are a little harder and more in-depth than our AP classes in the US but they take them over 3 years. I’m usually 87% lost in my classes so it’s always a special moment to understand something. We usually have about three classes a day and lunch is a different time each day of the week. The lunch is free and it was really good the first few weeks of school but now – I’ve probably just gotten used to it – it’s mediocre. They have a few things I really like though. My favorite part of school is playing card games with my classmates and hanging out between classes.

After school, almost every day I go to the climbing gym. When I found out I was coming to Gothenburg, one of the first things I did was to see if they had one. The gym in Gainesville closed a few years ago, so being able to start climbing again while here has been one of the greatest things. I’m super excited because after the Christmas break, we’re going to climb in the Swedish P.E. class and the teacher asked me to help. Climbing has been super great for my mental health here because it’s a meditative sport in some ways and a physical challenge I can focus on. I’m so happy there’s a gym here. After the gym, usually around 5:30 pm, I head home and, nowadays, it’s dark when I leave. I take a bus and walk, sometimes visiting a cafe/bookstore to study or read a little. We eat dinner around 6 or 7 and it’s so good. My host family has a meal kit service so it’s a different thing every day. We talk about the day and plans for the rest of the week. After dinner, we clear the table and have some time to ourselves. I usually practice piano or do SAT prep. At the end of the day, we always watch some T.V. So far, we just finished “Vår tid är Nu”, a Swedish Family Drama. Lastly, we watch the Swedish News which is always interesting and there’s usually some mention of Greta Thunberg.

Sweden is in many ways very similar to the US. The standard of living in Sweden is a little higher than the US and it’s definitely a very developed country. Perhaps the largest difference is in the Swedish government, which I believe also translates into little differences in the way of life and mind set of Swedes relative to Americans. Sweden is a socialist country, meaning they are very focused on the health and well being of workers. As a result, they have a 44% income tax but with tax brackets requiring less or more depending on income. Though the taxes seem very high, they pay for Sweden’s social welfare programs. There’s free healthcare and education – university included – which is really cool. Job security in Sweden is also very different but I don’t feel knowledgeable enough on the subject to explain it just yet.

When I first arrived in Sweden, I was very excited because I knew I would have a lot of free time and I had planned to find some places to volunteer. During one of my first dinners, I brought up the topic to see if my host parents knew of any opportunities near us, to which they promptly informed me that volunteering isn’t really a thing in Sweden. It was definitely one of the more shocking realizations about Sweden but I’ve talked with many Swedes about it and the consensus seems to be that volunteering, or the work that would be done through volunteering, is seen as something the State should do so they leave it to them. My host father says that churches are really the only places that do volunteer work and it’s almost always involving the homeless or very poor. It’s one difference that has let me better understand my adoptive home and the mindset of its people.

Sweden is also a very progressive country when it comes to sustainability. More than half of Sweden’s energy production is renewable and every household I’ve seen, and likely all of them, recycle. That was one thing that struck me immediately when coming here. Before my arrival, I would say I had a fatalistic viewpoint of environmentalism and the future, but after living in a country where sustainability is just a part of life, I am definitely more optimistic about the future.

On-exchange you get a LOT of time to think and really analyze yourself and your motivations, finding the things you want to work on. The years before exchange I was very focused on school and extracurriculars, as most teenagers are. The months before my acceptance into Rotary I performed the worst I had before in my academic life. I was overjoyed to be accepted into Rotary but it was bittersweet as I struggled with choosing this experience or focusing on academics and my “future”. Just for clarification, I am a Junior now, the most important year for academics and the year that colleges consider most during the application process. I had a very hard time leaving for exchange because as much as I wanted to do it, I thought it would cost me. When I arrived in Sweden unable to understand the classes and lacking any familiar outlet to explore my interests and work towards college I felt jarred, depressed, and like a complete failure. In my first couple of months, I couldn’t speak Swedish enough to express all that I wanted so I relied heavily on my English, something I warn future exchange students to Sweden to avoid. Speaking English helped me to connect and make friends in Sweden but immediately added to my feeling of failing really before I had even started my exchange. Learning to accept and enjoy being in a place and environment where I can’t be perfect, has been so difficult and it’s an ongoing process but I’m so thankful that Rotary has given me the opportunity to realize this about myself so that I can work to change it.

Overall, my exchange has been great with many more fun days ahead!

Wed, January 15, 2020


Anne - Italy

Hometown: DeLand, Florida
School: DeLand High
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of DeLand, Florida
Host District: 2050
Host Club: The Rotary Club of ?

My Bio

Hello! My name is Anne and I will be going to Italy for my 2019-2020 exchange. I live at home with my mom (Kimberly), my cat (Ollie), and our two dogs (Precious, and Max). I am in 11th grade and attend DeLand High School. I am a huge theater geek and will often sing songs from “Hamilton” until my moms ears bleed. I have an older sister (Katey) but she has long since moved out and lives with her husband and their two children. I had planed on becoming an ASL interpreter after College but now that I am trying to learn Italian my hope is to now become a multilingual interpreter so I can help people to communicate better with each other. I am so very exited to be spending a year in Italy so I can really appreciate a new culture. I am ready to try new a new way of life to experience what it would be like if I truly lived in Italy instead of America. My whole family is very exited for me and have supported me all through the process and I am extremely grateful for that. Because of them I have been able to push myself and reach for my dreams and have been able to excel beyond what I have ever imagined. My family are my biggest fans and I will never take that for granted.

Journals: Anne-Italy Blog 2019-20

  • Anne, Outbound to Italy

Hello everyone! Wow it’s been five and a half months! I still can’t quite believe it! Many things have happened since I last wrote. For one I went to Paris with my host family! They knew that I wanted to travel this year so they decided to take me. This was between December 20th- December 23rd. So visited many things while we were there for example: The Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower, The Mona Lisa, and The Opera House! Afterwards we flew back into Italy into the airport in Parma where we took a look at the Leaning Tower Of Pisa before driving back home. Then for Christmas my host family said that we are going on yet another trip to Barcelona in March! I am very excited! Then for new years we went back to their mountain house for a week and let me tell you It was so pretty and me and my host family went on a couple of hikes together higher up in the mountains where it was snowing! (I absolutely love snow!) That was all around Christmas time but as far as more recent events we went to Venice for Carnivale and let me say there were so many people! Now Venice isn’t very wide so it was very crowded but it was so worth it. Oh and this week we go back to Milan. So far I have an event every single month of my exchange for the rest of my time here.

This month: Venice (we already went there), and Milan

March: Barcelona, and a Rotary trip

April: Easter

May: Sicily trip with Rotary

June: Home sadly

And as of today I only have four months left and I’m not quite sure how I feel about that 🙁 but anyways I love it here. Being in a little town has really made this experience more enjoyable because it feels just like home and I’m also involved here. I have great friends and am involved in a small theater program and we are going to preform our own interpretation of the classic story Cinderella. The play is also in March which is very soon! The play is also completely in Italian (of course) and I have practice every week for two hours. This is a good way to make friends (this is for and future outbounds) because when you get involved it’s easier to make new friends especially if you have common interests! As of now I am trying to fit as much as possible into my exchange before it ends so I can say that I lived it to it’s fullest and I definitely fell like I have done a good job at that so far. I am also grateful for my host family because they have done their best to help me accomplish that and without them I wouldn’t have had the opportunities to do certain things otherwise so I would like to thank them very much for being my family and treating me as if I were their own.

Well that’s all for now!


Wed, February 19, 2020

  • Anne, Outbound to Italy

Hey everyone! I can’t believe that I have already been here for almost a month! It’s so crazy it doesn’t even feel like it has been a month. I absolutely love it here and I absolutely adore my host family! It’s almost like my family back home except Italian. My host mom is super sweet and an amazing cook and treats me like her own daughter as well as my host dad, speaking of my host dad he is super funny and likes making jokes with me and teasing me, and my host sister and I are like real sisters! Me, her, and her friends often go out together for dinner, gelato (I love gelato so much), a festival, or we go to sort of like a mini fair, we also have been to Milan (where I bought a movie in Italian), and then we walked to China Town. The second I arrived my entire host family welcomed me with warm arms and we have done so much together. They took me to their house in the mountains and we went on a hike, then we went to a traditional parade/festival to celebrate the animals coming down from the mountains it was so cool! And they have also taken me to Cremona a couple of times. I really like my school and my teachers and love my friends at school. They had no problem welcoming me on the first day and make me feel like I belong. Everything is so different here. The way people talk to each other, the family structure, the school, the expectations of children, even the way people think, and eating meals here is very different too! At home for lunch I would make a sandwich and have some chips (or have school lunch if I am at school ) but here? Oh no that is not an acceptable meal. They usually have pasta (of course) meat, cheese, bread ,and then after that fruit (and sometimes gelato after that) and they all eat together. Another thing is my Italian has improved a lot since I have been here. I struggle to understand most of time but I can form full coherent sentences (very badly conjugated but still…) And I can communicate if I need something. I also love my exchange friends alot. It is so interesting to see so many international people in one place! It’s like exploring more of the world without being there. I have so much planned while I am here as well! Next week I am going with Rotary and the other exchange students to Rome! In early November I am going with my host sister to a cosplay convention, for New year’s me and my host family are going back to the mountains to celebrate, and so much more! I am so very excited for everything! Well goodbye for now and I will keep you all updated.


Fri, September 27, 2019


Bianca - Brazil

Hometown: Homosassa, Florida
School: Lecanto High School
Sponsor District : District 6950
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Homosassa Springs Rotary Club, Florida
Host District: 4730
Host Club: Club de Curitiba Cidade Ecologica

My Bio

Ola, My name is Bianca Dvorsky and I am 16 years old. Currently I’m a sophomore at Lecanto high school, which means I’ll be spending my junior year in Brazil! I cannot express how excited I am and how incredibly lucky I feel. I live with my mom, our cat, and our dog. One thing I really love doing is playing the piano. I’ve been playing for about 11 years now so it’s a big part of my life. I’m also a huge book nerd so I absolutely love reading. I actually have a mini library in my room haha. Something else that I’m extremely passionate about is theatre. I’m a part of Thespians International and my school drama club and it’s something that I just adore. That and all things Broadway are a few of my favorite things. Speaking of Brazil, I’m actually part Italian myself which is why I couldn’t be more elated to try Brazilian food and really immerse myself in their culture. I’m also really looking forward to seeing all of the amazing artwork they have to offer. I’m a part of the Lecanto School of The Arts so I’m looking forward to furthering my artist ability in Brazil. Being apart of the Rotary Youth Exchange Program, I hope to really push myself out of my comfort zone and get over some of the anxiety that tends to disable me at times. I couldn’t be more thankful to this program for allowing me this opportunity of a life time. Next stop: Brazil!

Journals: Bianca-Brazil Blog 2019-20

  • Bianca, Outbound to Brazil

Wow! I cannot believe I have been in Brazil for a little over 5 months now. Let’s pick up where I left off my last entry. So many things have happened since then.

On November 30th, 2019 my host family threw me and my mom a birthday party to celebrate. It was an unforgettable night. There’s no better feeling than celebrating, surrounded by people who love and care for you. These people have already become so important to me and I am thankful I got to spend my birthday with them.

The following week I did many presentations at my school about the United States of America. It’s such an interesting event to educate others about the country you come from and you begin to realize how little they know. Most of their knowledge comes from movies, television shows, and their country’s news programs. Much of that is inaccurate information and it’s great being able to educate them. The students at my school were very surprised to learn about our politics and education systems. That was one of many moments where I quite literally was an ambassador for the U.S.A, for Florida. I realized how important it is to be that person for your country.

On December 5th, I had been in Brazil for 2 months.

On December 7th, I went on a 2-day Rotex trip to the Guartela Canyon – The largest canyon in Brazil. This was an interesting trip. I got the chance to bond with some of the other exchange students and became very close friends with one of them. On the first day I went water rafting for the first time, which was such a fun experience. Later that day, we relaxed in the mountains and explored a waterfall. On the second day, we went to the Guartela Canyon. It was absolutely gorgeous. We spent the day walking around the canyon, which was an all-day event due to the size of it. It was just my luck that I tripped down a set of very steep stairs and hurt my ankle. It was very early in the morning, so I ended up having to walk on it all day. We later found out that I had sprained my ankle badly and it took a few weeks for me to walk normally again. Despite that, I really did enjoy this trip. I made an amazing friend and I got to explore more of Brazil.

On December 13th, my family took me on a 3-day trip to Ilha do Mel (Honey Island). This was an incredible opportunity for me and a trip that I’ll never forget. It’s a beautiful island filled with different areas to explore and I wish I was able to see more of it.

On December 16th, I taught a gingerbread making class! This was such a fun day for me. I helped showcase an American tradition to a group of Brazilians who really enjoyed themselves. I’m so thankful I was able to take part of this. I was very nervous because I was told at the very last minute that I was the one teaching the class, but it went so well!! I think one of the biggest aspects of Rotary Youth Exchange is being able to go with the flow. Nothing goes like you expect it to and you must have the ability to adapt to different situations.

We celebrate Christmas on December 24th in Brazil and I cannot describe how important this day was to me. I come from a very tiny family. It’s just me and my mom and then we spend the day with my 2 grandparents. This year, I spent my Christmas with well over 20 family members. I lost count of how many people were there. It was such a different experience for me, and I loved it. We did a “secret friend” gift exchange for all the family under 18, which I got to take part in. Then they have Santa come with all the presents in a sack and hand them out to all of the family. It was so cool.

On December 25th, I got to spend this day with my second host family. They hosted a Christmas party for their family and wanted me to be apart of it. Again, a big family event with around 20 people or so. It was also great to see what my next home and family was like. I had never been to their home before or spent a lot of time with them, so it was a good experience.

December was also a month filled with sadness for me. I’m not sure why, but I found myself having a lot of sad days. It was a bit rough, but my friends were always there for me.

Since summer in Brazil is the opposite of the U.S, we left on December 27th for our summer vacation. I got to spend almost 1 month at the beach with my family. We spent the first half in Balneario Camboriu and the second half in Florianopolis.

I met some amazing people on this trip, and I feel so lucky that I was able to have this experience. I went zip lining for the first time in Camboriu and I was absolutely terrified. By the time it was over, I wanted to do it all again. I zip lined off a mountain in Camboriu and it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.

We also celebrated New Years when we were there, which was so different for me. New Years has never been a big deal to my family in Florida. Normally I spend it with a friend, and we watch the ball drop. Nothing too exciting.

Here in Brazil, New Years is a very important event and it’s widely celebrated. They have a gorgeous fireworks presentation in the big cities, on the beach. There were so many people, you couldn’t even see the sand on the beach – just people. Thousands of people covering the 6 km long beach of Balneario Camboriu. Luckily, we had an apartment overlooking the beach where we got to watch from. Everyone wears white for good luck going into the new year. You can also wear other colors for different things, but white is the most traditional. It was the most beautiful fireworks I’ve ever seen. It’s a big, synchronized presentation that is incredible.

We also climbed a mountain called Morro do Careca, which translates to “bald hill”. It was amazing to see the city from the top.

On January 5th, I celebrated 3 months in Brazil with my brother. We went out to a Japanese restaurant together and had a lovely dinner. It’s one of my fondest memories with him.

After 11 days in Camboriu, we went to Florianopolis (Floripa). I have to say that Floripa is probably my favorite place. It’s like a little island of paradise with over 40 different beaches. We spent 10 days in Floripa in a large beach house with multiple families. While there, I met even more incredible people and formed some great friendships. My family took me to a beach club there as well. They told me that they wanted me to have the experience, which was so sweet of them. It was called Parador Internacional and it really was such a cool experience. There was a concert there as well at night. We spent an entire day there and I was able to bond with the other girls my age staying at the beach house with us.

This trip was lovely and sad at the same time. When the trip was over, I was switching to my second host family. It was like a sense of dread, especially when the last week came. As excited as I was to be with my second host family, I was so devasted to leave my first. These people are my family and I never wanted to leave them. Joao became the brother I always wanted, Andre became the father I never had, and Jerusa became the second mother I never knew I needed. Needless to say, I cried a lot. I know it wasn’t goodbye, but it definitely felt like one. Even though it wasn’t the last time I would see them, I also realized that I would never get to live with them again or be as close to them as I was. It was difficult, but that’s just apart of the exchange experience.

On January 16th, I switched host families for the first time. When we switched it was actually in Balneario Camboriu, so I got to spend 5 more days there, after Floripa.

On January 21, I went back to my first home to pack my things. The only person there was our maid Lu, who I was going to miss so much. She means so much to me and we got so close over my time there. We even gave each other Christmas gifts. She was amazing enough to help me pack all my things. Which oh my lord, I had so much stuff. I had to borrow a very large suitcase just to bring everything to my second home. My family actually let me take the keyboard in my room to my second home because they knew how much I used and loved it. It was bittersweet saying goodbye to the room I had grown to love. I miss the view of the city outside my window and the coziness of the small room.

It was quite a rough adjustment switching families. It took awhile for me to adjust to everything. I went from a tiny apartment to a very large house with completely different people. I do have to say, I really missed having my own bathroom. I think that’s something I always took for granted before having to share with my brother for 3 months.

I had my first day of “senior year” in Brazil on February 3rd. I’m enjoying school so much more this year. I have made so many more friends at school and now I can understand some of the lessons.

On February 5th, it was 4 months for me in Brazil. Not the best day honestly, but that’s just part of exchange.

On February 7th, I took the bus for the first time!! I know, after 4 months you’d think I would have already taken it. We just never had the time and I almost always used Uber because my first family believed it to be safer. It was a good first experience with one of my closest Brazilian friends.

On February 21st – 25th, I celebrated my first Carnaval!! It was so interesting and different for me. I’ve never experienced anything like it before. My host aunt and uncle were gracious enough to take me with them to Caioba for 5 days to celebrate with them. One of my exchange friends was also there for Carnaval so we went to a party together on one of the nights. It was amazing. Even though we got rained on, it was an absolute blast.

As of March 5th, I have been in Brazil for 5 months now. It’s crazy to me that it’s only been 5 months because it feels like I’ve lived here forever. At the same time, I can’t believe its already been 5 months!! It’s one of the strange emotions you experience during an exchange year.

On March 6th, my host mom and I traveled to Sao Paulo for my college audition. We went to the MASP museum which was incredible. I was in the presence of Van Gogh, Monet, and Picasso. It was unbelievable. I had my audition and workshop on March 7th, which I feel went very well. Originally the audition was supposed to be in my city, but unfortunately it was cancelled. My host family was so amazing that they flew me and my host mom to Sao Paulo just so I could still have that opportunity.

On March 16th, I got to spend time with my first host family for the first time in 2 months. It was an amazing day and I realized how much I truly missed them.

It is currently March 18th and things are a little rough right now. School has been cancelled for at least 20 days and I am advised against leaving my house on orders from my Rotary district. I am afraid that I might be forced to return to Florida if the situation gets worse. Currently I feel I am very safe in Brazil and the Coronavirus is being very well controlled. I hope it stays that way. All Rotary and Rotex events have been cancelled. I have exchange friends that are going home in a few days, which is heartbreaking. Having to say goodbye, especially 3 months early, is difficult.

After 5 months of Brazil, I feel like my Portuguese is great. I understand most of the language, but still have a lot to learn with speaking. I’m very proud of my progress. One of my favorite things is being asked if I’m Brazilian and being mistaken for a regular student, which has happened many times. My goal is to get more Portuguese classes after this situation has calmed down. I still have quite a way to go on my journey to fluency.

Even though its only been 5 months, I can already tell that I have changed so much as a person. I can’t believe my exchange is more than halfway over. It feels like it just started. I plan to make the most of the next 4 months and I am so excited to see what they hold!

Thu, March 19, 2020

  • Bianca, Outbound to Brazil

Oi! I can’t believe I’ve almost been in Brasil for 2 months. The time flies so quickly, but it also feels like I have lived here forever. Over the past month and a half, I have gotten to do things beyond my wildest dreams and it still feels incredibly surreal. After one of the hardest years of my life, I finally arrived in Brasil on October 5th, 2019. Leaving Florida and my mom wasn’t as difficult as I thought it might be. I wasn’t scared or anxious…All I felt was excitement. 3 flights later, I landed in Curitiba, Brasil. Getting to meet my host family for the first time is something that I’ll truly never forget. Not only was my first host family at the airport to meet me, so was my second host family, a Rotarian, as well as family friends. It was incredible. That day feels like a lifetime ago. 3 days after arriving in Brasil, I had my first day of school. I go to a private institution in Curitiba called “Sesi Internacional Colegio”. In all honesty, I was very nervous about my first day of school. I knew virtually no Portuguese and I wasn’t sure how things were going to work. Dozens of questions and thoughts were running through my mind and before I knew it, I was on my way to my group. The way school works at Sesi is like this: You are put into a group (aka a classroom) and inside of that group, you have a team. The teams are a circle of desks that consist of 5-6 people. You stay in your group all day and the teachers rotate out; every day you have different classes. I was walked to meet my group and my team for the first time, and I was greeted with the warmest welcome you can possibly imagine. I knew instantly that my anxiety was all for nothing. My team and group are made up of some truly amazing people who I have become very good friends with over the past month. Most of my team speaks English almost fluently which makes it easier to communicate with them. My Brazilian friends are some of the best people I know. It’s only been a little over a month, but I’ve already made some lifelong friendships. I have a few exchange friends as well, but I try not to spend all my time with them. Here in Curitiba, the exchange students tend to spend most, if not all, of their time with other exchange students. I think it isn’t the best way for me to learn Portuguese because they only speak English together. When I spend time with my Brazilian friends, I can listen to Portuguese conversations and learn new words. It’s a great learning method that I’ve found works well for me. My first week in Brasil, I had my first Rotary meeting with my host club. At this meeting, I was presenting both Rotary flags I brought as a thank you to the club. One from my Florida district and the other from my sponsor club. In return, I received a flag from my host club to bring back for my sponsor club. I was very nervous because I wasn’t sure if I was going to have to speak with my non-existent language skills, but it ended up just being a rather quick exchange in front of everyone with minimal words exchanged. I did get to say a big thank you to the entire club for taking me in and being so welcoming, especially so late in the game. Even though I couldn’t speak or understand Portuguese, seeing as it was my 4th day in Brasil, I made a point to go around the club and introduce myself to everyone during dinner and give them a pin. I truly think I made a wonderful first impression on my host club, I heard a lot of good things said about it over the next few days. My second week in Brasil, I started my mandatory Portuguese classes. Because I was almost 2 months late in arriving, we decided it was best for me to attend group classes 4 days a week. Group Portuguese class was extremely confusing for me in the first month. Because they were already 2 months in, the class was being taught in Portuguese which made it almost impossible to learn anything. After a few weeks of not understanding or learning, my host parents were gracious enough to sign me up for private Portuguese classes to aid my learning. I now attend private classes every Monday and Wednesday, and group classes every Tuesday and Thursday. I do want to mention how amazing my host family is. My family consists of my mom, Jerusa, my dad, Andre, my host brother, Joao, and our dog, Doki. From day one, I’ve felt comfortable and accepted by them. They’ve truly made me feel as if I’m apart of their family. I’ve gotten to bond with each one of them, as well as get to know them much better. I don’t consider them as my “host” family, I consider them my family and I know the feeling is mutual. They’ve already told me that they fully plan on flying to the USA for my college graduation, whenever and wherever that might take place. I love them so much. My Brazilian friends and family have made this transition unbelievably easy and fun for me.

Over the past month, I’ve gotten to go to many different places in my city as well as my state in Brasil. I am absolutely in love with Curitiba, it’s such an amazing city. Not only is it extremely beautiful, it’s eco-friendly. My city is all about recycling and green energy. Even the straws here are made from recycled material which I really love. A few weeks ago, I got to visit Santa Catarina, Brazil with my second host family for three days, it was so beautiful. Santa Catarina is another state in Brazil that is right below my state, Parana. I really like my second host family and I found out that I am switching families on January 16th. As excited as I am to spend more time with them, I am so sad to leave my current family.

I also had the opportunity to visit Foz do Iguacu for 4 days a couple week ago. Foz do Iguacu is located on the opposite side of Parana and it is incredible. It’s on the border of 3 different countries: Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay. We went to the falls in Foz do Iguacu and it was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in really life, it was amazing. I was so lucky because while we were there, my family took me to Argentina!! It’s crazy that I got to visit another country on my exchange. Argentina was so beautiful, and I really enjoyed my time there.

Today is November 28, Thanksgiving Day. I had my 17th birthday two days ago and I can’t put into words how amazing it was. Currently I can understand a good amount of Portuguese when people speak to me, but it’s mostly picking out words here and there. Today is my last day of group Portuguese class and next week is my last week of private lessons. In my opinion, as well as my family’s, I’m doing well for less than two months of being here. My speaking skills are nowhere where I want them to be, but I’m getting better every day. I have completely fallen in love with Brasil, the culture, and the people. I cannot wait to see what the next 8 months have in store for me:)

Fri, November 29, 2019


Catalina - Japan

Hometown: St. Johns, Florida
School: Allen D. Nease
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of St. Johns, Florida
Host District: 2770
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Urawa East

My Bio

こんにちは! My name is Catalina Casillas and I have been blessed with the most amazing opportunity to study abroad in Japan! I am extremely grateful for all who have helped me so far on this journey, as I would not have been able to become an exchange student without them. Here in Florida, I study at Nease High School as a sophomore and take part in the International Baccalaureate program. I participate in the French Club and International Students Association at my school, and I strive to do my best in school and in my extracurriculars. I live with my two younger sisters, parents, and two dogs. Dancing is my passion, and I take multiple classes a week. I love to sing and draw as well, and I hope to maintain my dedication to the arts overseas. This coming year, I am prepared to immerse myself in a new culture, trying new foods and reaching new heights. I want to create global connections and gain a new perspective, opening not only my eyes but other people’s eyes to the diversity and unity of the world. I am looking forward to this life-changing experience, so thank you Rotary, friends, and especially my family for this opportunity. I will make everybody proud!

Journals: Catalina-Japan Blog 2019-20

  • Catalina, Outbound to Japan

It’s spring here in Japan, and that means new beginnings for Japanese students. The school year has come to a close, and the sakura trees are soon to bloom. Despite all of the end of the year preparations and celebrations, it doesn’t have the closure I’m used to in a school year. For one, I missed a big festival that my dance club and I prepared for since January because of a Rotary trip for the third graders that are going to university this coming school year, and the growing fears of corona virus have shut down the school and made school officials cancel exams until March 16th.

Maybe it’s because I, as an exchange student, don’t have as much academic responsibility as normal students and the fact that school is canceled tentatively until the sixteenth, but I feel as if I’m just going along where the waves take me. I used to be like that in Florida. I was a very go with the flow type person, whatever came my way I would deal with it when it got there, but here its different. Going on exchange was the first thing I really really worked hard for, not to say that I didn’t put effort into other projects, but exchange is different. I knew that this year, every day would bring new challenges and new experiences, not all of them amazing and wonderful but new all the same. It won’t be like a normal life in Florida but a normal life in Japan, a place radically different from the states. I know now that at least here I can’t just let life takes me where it wants to go. I need to get up and do the things that I want to do because I know that here, my time is slipping away. Once I leave it’ll never be the same.

Moving on, I changed host families a month ago and this is the first time I’ve had a very set routine where I wake up consistently on time and not fall asleep before taking a shower at night and just take one in the morning like I used to. My past host families were very lax about their routine, I would sometimes go home and fall asleep before taking a shower, and take in mind cleanliness is very important in Japan, but in this host family I feel obligated to take a shower in the evening, that is just the way they do things here. Every morning my host mom leaves by 8:20 and every night comes home at 6:00. Every morning my host dad leaves at 7:30 and comes home at 9:15. There is something beautiful in doing the same thing every day, something I thought I would never say. They are very schedule oriented, going as far as to print a detailed itinerary of our three day trip to Akita prefecture, something that I think is extremely Japanese.

That leads me to my next point, that something that I’ve noticed in Japan is that everything is presentation oriented. Either to be more convenient to others or to add beauty to their work or to give them some sense of peace in their minds, but that culture is very strong here. When I was invited to raise funds for the Japanese Red Cross Society, the teacher at my school that works with them gave me a printed color map to the place I needed to meet him, despite it being two minutes from my house. Everywhere you can find very well designed brochures for museums, cafes, and shops that my host families insist giving to me to remember the places I’ve been to. Even in cafes the food is beautiful, and drawings by students that aren’t artists are very clean and refined. Gifts must always be wrapped, and your family name etched on a plaque outside your house, and no food should come without a plastic wrapper lest your good cleanliness be disturbed.

Maybe it’s because of the precision of learning characters of the three writing systems and the high standard of cleanliness that promotes this culture, but here in the states pretty much everyone in Japan would be considered a perfectionist. I’m not going to miss the wastefulness of individually plastic wrapped bananas, but I will miss the beautiful food and the high standards people hold themselves to. In America I am very forgetful and last minute with most of the things that I do, and my way of life conflicted with this sort of aspect of society, making me feel even more forgetful and clumsy at times, but I’ve learned how to adapt and, per say, procrastinate less.

I really don’t want to think about the fact that I only have until July to stay here. I don’t think I’ll ever be ready to leave. It’s only downhill from here, but how do I slow down gravity?

Wed, March 4, 2020

  • Catalina, Outbound to Japan

I am now halfway through my exchange here in Japan. I know it sounds cheesy, but I can’t believe just how fast time has gone by. I still feel like I’ve barely started my exchange and yet I’ve already made so many friends and experienced so much.

I live in southeast Saitama prefecture, about an hour from many of the popular places inside Tokyo. I can literally take a day trip to Shibuya or Harajuku after school and be back in home in time for curfew. Living in America we are deprived of the wonders of public transportation. The train system, especially around Tokyo is literally the coolest, it’s so liberating to be able to travel everywhere with the tap of your public transport card.

I won’t bore you with every single little detail of my exchange, that’s not what these journals are about. I am here to share my experience and feelings with you so that you might be able to realize the joy and freedom this opportunity has provided me with.

Before going on this exchange I didn’t realize just how global this program really is. Yes, I knew I was going to meet locals, that was a given before I left, but I never even stopped to think about meeting people from across the globe like Switzerland and Brazil. These people have become some of my closest friends, I am not sure what I am going to do with myself without them after I leave. We are really lucky to speak English in America, my exchange student friends speak English really well, so I can easily have conversation with them. I love spending time with these people, and I know I will keep them in my life forever. The Rotex in my district all have gone to countries completely different from their own and are happy to have a little fun with us because they know how we feel, which I appreciate. I’ve noticed that a lot of exchange students, current and past, are much more confident than their prior selves. I didn’t even notice it until one of my exchange friends pointed it out to me but I myself have changed in the past five months. I used to live in Texas, and that is where my heart stayed long after I moved to Florida. I used to think Florida as only temporary, but I started describing the places and friends I have in Florida to one of the exchange students I’m closer to, and I realized I really have a home in Florida. My heart doesn’t belong just to Texas, it belongs in Florida just like it belongs in Japan too. I’ve learned to love places that I wasn’t originally from, and this is what my exchange has taught me.

I feel much more confident now, I have been forced to order food and ask questions to strangers in a language I am far from fluent in and I’ve had to start all over again in a completely new environment with strange people. I’ve noticed my language skills improving and I’ve made so many new friends! I am so excited to see how much I will change over these next six months of my exchange, I know it can only get better.

In my preparation to go exchange I knew that I was going to a place where I barely spoke the language and I didn’t know anyone and that was scary. Once I started taking off in my Japanese and becoming closer with the people that live here with me, I knew that Rotary had prepared me well for that aspect of exchange. For me, I hadn’t cried at all at the airport before I left or not even in the first two months. What I was not expecting was to become so close with my first host family. I only had two months with them but I had gotten into the rhythm of things and I felt really at home in their house. My siblings were amazing and my host mother was supportive in every way. The first time that I cried on this whole exchange was when I had to leave them. I cried twice that day. When I took my house key off of my keychain I realized that this was it. I’ll never get this back again. This part of my exchange was over and I had to move on to the next, but the transition was especially hard for me. Some time after that, I was at a Rotary function and my old host mom was there accompanying her son who is going on exchange next season. She was talking to another mom and called me her daughter. I was shocked. She said it again to me in Japanese and then in English “You are my daughter.” That was the third time I cried. I can’t believe just how profound this experience is and I’m barely halfway through.

When you think of American culture, what do you think of? Hamburgers? Ford 150s? A poorly edited bald eagle over a clip art American flag with explosions in the background? That isn’t true. American culture is truly a mix, a wonderful thing, and I should know. I am a biracial American, and I have experienced two radically different cultures within my own family, not to mention the teen culture as well. Getting to think about my culture has led me to think about this new one that I am living in right now. People think differently when they live in different places, not just across national divides. Living here in Japan, I didn’t realize just how their own unique culture is embedded into their lives. I never realized how culture is embedded into American lives too. We do things the way we do because of where we come from, and how we were raised. The Japanese put out decorations for the New Year’s instead of Christmas, and they visit a shrine to welcome the new year. Waiters and store clerks often apologize for keeping you waiting and thank you for walking in and out of stores even if you think buy anything. It’s one thing to research about a culture, but you don’t really know how it really is unless you live in it, and that is something I am so grateful for. We all say “Oh I want to expand my cultural horizons” before we leave to go on exchange, not really knowing what that phrase meant. But I know now that is something us exchange students can understand, it’s something beyond words.

I couldn’t be more happier here in Japan. The exchange student closest to me said “This exchange is a dream and I don’t want to wake up.” I couldn’t agree more.

Tue, January 7, 2020


Catherine - Germany

Hometown: Pembroke Pines, Florida
School: West Broward
Sponsor District : District 6990
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
Host District: TBA
Host Club: TBA

My Bio

Hallo, my name is Catherine Bornmann and I will be spending my junior year in Germany! I’m currently a sophomore at West Broward High School and I live in Pembroke Pines, Florida with my mom and stepdad and in Plantation, Florida with my dad and stepmom. I have an older sister, Liz, who’s 17, and 4 dogs. In school, I am apart of Science National Honor Society and the TV production program. In my free time, I love to bake and draw while listening to music. As for my family, my dad is American and my mom is Italian. I was born in Italy, but we moved to the US before I was even one, so I don’t really speak Italian. I’m very excited to go to Germany because my great great grandparents are from there. Although my last name is German, my American family doesn’t have any current ties to Germany. I look forward to being able to connect to my roots and I’m immensely excited to learn a second language. I also hope to create lasting relationships with the people I meet while on exchange and to immerse myself in the German culture. I’m so thankful for Rotary for giving me the opportunity to study abroad and for my family for supporting me through all of it. Auf Wiedersehen!


Christian - Czechia

Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: Allen D. Nease
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of St. Augustine, Florida
Host District: 2240
Host Club: The Rotary club of Opava

My Bio

Ahoj! My name is Christian Hughes and I am going to Czechia for the 2019-2020 school year. I am from St. Augustine, Florida and I am a Sophomore at Allen D. Nease High School. I live with my dad and my cat, Barbra. I enjoy spending time with my family, as they support me in everything I do, including exchange. My dad and I usually walk around downtown St. Augustine or watch movies, and my mom and I usually go to art galleries in downtown St. Augustine or go to Vilano Beach near St. Augustine. At school, I am in the Model United Nations and Robotics clubs. I really enjoy engineering class, as it is similar to what I do in my free time. In my free time, I work on various engineering and science projects. These projects include 11th bionic fingers, automatic drone landing pads, and exoskeletons. Of course, I won’t be building exoskeletons on exchange, but that’s okay! I love studying foreign culture and language as well. I have studied Spanish for four years and Russian for one year because of this interest. I believe this experience along with my open-mindedness will help me with learning the Czech Language and culture while I am abroad. I am incredibly excited to go on exchange to Czechia for the 2019-2020 school year, and I am deeply grateful to Rotary and all of the volunteers that help with exchange for making this possible. It truly is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Journals: Christian-Czechia Blog 2019-20

§  Christian, Outbound to Czechia

Hello! My name is Christian and I’m an outbound to the Czech Republic. It’s been a very fun and interesting five and a half months so far! I’d like this journal to mainly focus on the feelings I’ve felt thus far, and my general experience overall. When I arrived here, I was incredibly exhausted, disoriented, and unsure of what my future would hold. I remember walking out of Vaclav-Havel airport and realizing that everything here is different like yesterday. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t easy at first. I remember trying to make a sandwich on my second day here and my host sister complaining about how I made my sandwich like an American. I didn’t have the best host family at first, so that didn’t help my acclimation here. I was judged for all of my mannerisms that weren’t “Czech.” Eventually however, sometime in November, I began to sort of get used to my life here. I learned how to deal with my host sister constantly berating me, and how to deal with my host family. I believe that, despite it not being the most pleasant one, dealing with my first host family was a valuable experience because it allowed me to learn how to deal with people that I might not necessarily like in situations where I have to be diplomatic. The holidays were the toughest for me. The holidays weren’t the toughest because I was homesick however; the holidays were the toughest for me because my entire host family was in town and they were all so judgmental and rude towards me. But do you know what is great about Rotary Youth Exchange? You get three host families (usually.) That meant that I didn’t feel the despair of having to deal with this abysmal family for the rest of my year, as I knew that I had a host family change in a week! I dealt with that host family for a week, and then I moved. I was very disoriented at first. Even though my old host family was bad, it was more comfortable than moving to an entirely new host family. I kind of missed my old room, but I realized that my second host family is very nice and understanding, and this place will be better for me in the long-run. I ended up getting used to my second host family, and it’s amazing here. I actually feel at home for the first time during my exchange. They’re understanding and kind, and they actually want to spend time with me. I’ve noticed a legitimate drop in my stress levels and I’ve had a much better quality of life. Throughout all of this, I have somehow made friends and become a part of my community at school, but now I have a great host family. My life feels “complete” here. I speak the language, I have friends, and I have a good host family. My point in all of this is that sometimes a certain aspect of exchange isn’t the best, but that’s okay! Rotary has had thousands of exchange students over the years, and has really structured this program in such a way to where, as long as you’re persistent and clever, you can always have things resolved.

Until the next journal!


Tue, February 11, 2020


Courtney - Spain

Hometown: Inverness, Florida
School: Lecanto
Sponsor District : District 6950
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Inverness, Florida
Host District: 2202
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Sugarmill Woods

My Bio

Hola! My name is Courtney Giddings. I was born in Naples, Florida but raised in Inverness all my life. I live with my dad and am currently a sophomore at Lecanto High School. I am in the Pre-IB program, trying my hardest to take each of the rigorous courses available such as pre-calculus at the moment.

I am going to Spain for my junior year! I am an overall well rounded person and am very much looking forward to taking on a new part of the world! I fell in love with the Spanish language and to completely immerse myself in their culture as well will be the best way to learn it to its full intensity.

While I am not busy with school work, I am either participating in jujitsu, my martial arts passion, playing an instrument or reading a book. I also have a deep passion for writing and try to write whenever I can for fun. I also have a passion for photography which would be amazing to put to use in places like the beautiful country of Spain. A big thank you to my father for allowing me to take such a big opportunity at a young age. A huge thank you to Rotary for giving me the opportunity in the first place. Growing up is to come!

Journals: Courtney-Spain Blog 2019-20

  • Courtney, Outbound to Spain

Being in Spain is nothing less than a dream come true but also nothing like I imagined. The rest of the world apparently has a joke about Americans not knowing geography or not knowing anything about anything really other than what goes on in the United States. When I chose the countries I wanted to go to I picked nothing but Spanish countries, (wow, how weird maybe she wants to learn Spanish?).

Although this may be a little late for the 20-21 future outbounds, I want everyone to know that is reading this that has the idea of going on exchange, language is not the main reason for exchange. Although extremely important.

Back to my non-geographical self point, believe it or not how embarrassing this is, Spain was my number one country and I didn’t even know how to point it out on a map at the first orientation. I picked Spain but do you know what Catalonia is? If you’re anything like me, you would say no. Before exchange everyone told me wow, Spain is like the motherland for Spanish you’re going to come back so fluent. Catalonia is a section of Spain that includes Barcelona wanting independence from Spain so much my 3rd week here the teachers and students didn’t even show up for school, yeah imagine no language knowing me all confused because not only is Catalonia really strong about their independence and government, they also do not speak Spanish… sad day for me. So a person who has been there tip number one: do not go somewhere only for language and know something about the countries you pick including studying the regional languages because no matter how many times I was warned, you never think it’s going to be you.

Do not get me wrong, I am still having the year of my life and everyone here does know Spanish because they have to if they want to travel to the rest of Spain. Catalonia is just about the only place people in the world speak Catalan so there are not a ton of movies in Catalan which means all movies are watched in Spanish which basically means I am in the superior place for exchange and able to learn two languages. B)

Yes I am focusing a ton on language for me because it was a big reason why I went on exchange. One of my favorite stories was my first host family, every day after school my host mom asked me what is one word I learned at school, just one. All day I sit through classes i do not understand and try to translate as much as possible. I did not know one word in Catalan before I got here and today being my 104th day in Catalonia, I now can understand basic conversations in Catalan, I just can’t respond back yet. Well that day with my host mom, the one word I learned was “yo tinc” which in Spanish is “yo tengo” which means I have. Later that day, host mom and I were about to leave the house but she couldn’t find her phone. Everyone in the house was looking for it so when she found it she screamed “yo tinc!” so host dad would know. I said “she has it, wow I have it”. Host mom looked at me so weird and asked what. When I explained we squealed and did a victory dance and it was so cute.

On exchange I have done things I have never and could never do in Florida, like catching a train to go over an hour away with friends just to go shopping for the day. Hike a mountain with my host family just because it’s their favorite hobby. Visiting landmarks like Saint George, a church in the center a Catalonia and you can see all the cities together. Getting a Christmas present from my host family to go to Paris for three days with my host sister. Do you know how much going to Paris would be from the US? Expensive.

The holidays were different being with another family but it was the best experience. Catalonia has so many traditions for Christmas that even the rest of Spain doesn’t have. The children do not believe in Santa, they believe in tio. Which happens to be this piece of wood with a face and legs that you will find in every house. Starting the 13th of December you have to leave him food at night and in the morning he will have eaten it. If you don’t feed tio, you don’t get presents. They also have a three kings parade, a white king, a black king and a blonde king. Representing Asia, Europe and Africa. My host mom told me “there wasn’t an American king because America wasn’t discovered yet” and it was so cute. My host dad is actually the white king for my town and I got to see them glue facial hair all over him.

Even with everything I didn’t expect, I find things everyday that I think Spain was the perfect place picked for me and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else on exchange.

Wed, January 8, 2020


Dani - Italy

Hometown: Davie, Florida
School: Western High School
Sponsor District : District 6990
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
Host District: 2110
Host Club: The Rotary Club of ?

My Bio

Cíao il mio nome è Daniela Vallejo, I am a 16 year old girl born and raised in Ecuador. I have been living in the United States with my parents and my little brother for 5 years. I am a Senior at Western High School which is located in Davie, Florida!! I would say one of my favorite subject is Forensics or anything that has to do with investigation and just trying to solve things is my thing. In my free time I love going out and taking pictures. I’m also really into fashion. I love mixing colors and trying new things. I am grateful to have the opportunity to be a Rotary exchange student who will be going to Italy!! This is going to be a fun and new experience for me since I have not been away from home for an extended time of period. This will help me view things in a different way, have more knowledge, grow as a person, become a better version of myself, be more independent and learn my third language!!

Journals: Daniela-Italy Blog 2019-20

  • Daniela, Outbound to Italy

Heyy everyone, It has been 3 months already and It feels unreal is like I arrived yesterday. I’m currently living in my second host family in Modica, which is located in southeastern Sicily with my host mom Donatella, my host dad Luca and my two little host sisters Anna and Flavia (these little ones are amazing by the way) and we have two cats Fufi and Felix.

When I arrived here the only thing I could think of was how I was going to introduce myself and thank my host parents in Italian, I kept practicing over and over in the plane. All the hard work for nothing since I forgot everything I memorized when I saw my first host family. They were right there waiting for me, my host dad, mom and little brother with a sign that said: “Benvenuta a Italia Daniela” they were absolutely nice and welcoming. That same day at night they had taken me out to see the center of the town to exhibit and learn some of the most important aspects of Modica. It was amazing and unbelievable to see such a small town but with so much history and landscapes representing other periods of time.

For school, the system in Italy is a little bit different from the USA since high schools are divided into different types of subjects like art, scientific, cooking, musical, classical and linguistic. Linguistic schools tend to have more girls since the majority of guys are “suppose” to attend a Scientific school. I attend Liceo Linguistico Verga which is 5 minutes away from my house. I’m basically taking Spanish literature, Italian literature, history of art and Religion in 4LNB – which is the second to last year of high school. I have 24 classmates, 22 girls, and 2 guys… yes, 2 guys. I had to start school 2 days after I had arrived. So you could imagine how I was feeling nervous, anxious, worried and definitely tired but it ended up being a satisfactory day. I had met students from Rotary and other exchange programs since it’s a requirement to take Italian lessons in lower-class grades. Communication was not really a problem because everyone in my class speaks English or Spanish, understanding Italian for me was not too hard but I could definitely say my Italian speaking skills have improved a lot since I came and a percentage is thanks to my classmates since from day one they were very helpful in teaching me and correcting my Italian.

So far I have been in Rome-Tivoli for my first Rotary orientation with all the exchange students from Italy, travel around Sicily to Catania, Palermo, Siracusa, Pozzallo, and Pachino with my host family and exchange friends. I’m beyond happy with the memories, friendships, and knowledge I have built over these past months. I had the opportunity to meet different people from all over the world, learn their culture and important aspects about them and where they come from, travel together, try new food and so many other things. I can’t wait for what’s coming up next in this amazing chapter of my life!!

Sun, January 12, 2020


Daniela - South Korea

Hometown: Dunwoody, Georgia
School: Dunwoody
Sponsor District : District 6900
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Dunwoody, Georgia
Host District: 3680
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Seocheon

My Bio

안녕하세요! Hello! My name is Daniela Sanchez and I am currently a ninth grader at Dunwoody High School in Georgia. I live with my mom, dad, and brother. In school, I am a part of the marching band and Sign Language Club. In my free time, I enjoy playing the flute and piano, reading, and listening to music. I was born in Florida and I lived in California for two years as well. My parents were born in Colombia, so I am fluent in Spanish and English and am learning French and Sign Language at school. I have also been learning Korean at home for a few months. I have been wanting to go on exchange ever since I was little. I have always dreamed of spending a year abroad and having the amazing experiences that come with it. When I found out where I was going, I was beyond excited to have been selected to spend my exchange year in Korea! I am very happy to be able to learn as much as I can about a new culture and language. On exchange, I want to broaden my horizons and learn about how other societies work and what people think about ours. I am very grateful to my parents and Rotary for making this incredible opportunity possible for me. I’m looking forward to see what the future has in store!

Journals: Daniela-South Korea Blog 2019-20

  • Daniela, Outbound to South Korea

Journal #3 2020. 03. 22

It has been quite a bit since I last posted a journal. I wanted to experience the holidays and a Rotary trip before I wrote a journal so I apologize for the delay. I will begin by saying that Christmas and New Year’s in Korea are very different from how I am used to celebrating the holidays in the United States. I celebrated an early Christmas about a week before the actual holiday with the other exchange students in my area and we did a secret Santa gift exchange. If you are not familiar with Secret Santa, it is a game in which each member of a group gets a present for another person. On December 25th, we only got one day off of school for Christmas. On that day, I went to church with my host family from 10 AM to about 1:00 PM. After that, I met up with two exchange student friends and a Korean friend. We had a pretty simple Christmas and did what we usually would on any other day. So, pretty much karaoke and we went to a cafe afterward as well. In Korea, Christmas is not a family holiday as it often is in the United States, it is more popularly celebrated by couples and sometimes friends. The next day, everyone went back to school as scheduled. Another difference between Korea and the States is that in Korea, schools have a long break in the winter rather than in the summer. The last day of school for this school year in Korea was on the 31st of December. After school on the 31st, I went to church with my host family as well. We were there to experience the new year and left the church at around 12:30 midnight. There was no countdown to midnight or anything, we were in the middle of a song when I looked at the clock and realized that it was already midnight and we were in a new year. It was a unique way to experience the new year. That week, I started Chinese Language classes once a week to make use of my extra free time during the school break. A few weeks later, from January 24th to the 26th, we celebrated the lunar new year. For lunar new year, my host family and I went to my host grandfather’s house and spent the weekend there with a bunch of host cousins, aunts, and uncles. We ate delicious foods and I got to meet the extended family members. In February, four of the eight exchange students in my town celebrated birthdays, me included. We had mini parties for everyone throughout the month. On my birthday, I went out to lunch with my first host mom and sister as well as one of my friends from school and dinner at my host house with some exchange friends as well. My host moms are so sweet and I felt so touched that they took time out of their busy days to spend time with me. I have truly had the best host families and I love all of them so much. They are all so compassionate, caring, and understanding. On February 21st, we had a Rotary trip to a city called Busan. Saying that I fell in love with the city would be an understatement. It is a coastal city, so there are beaches but there are also green mountains everywhere. This makes the scenery spectacular no matter where you are in the city. The Busan beaches are clear blue and beautiful. I could look onto the sea for hours. There were also plenty of shops and tourist areas. On the trip, I also got to see Rotary Youth Exchange Students from other districts that I hadn’t seen in a while. While we were in Busan however, COVID-19 cases began to pop up in the city. Our Rotary Club decided to continue the trip cautiously. We stayed in large areas that had few people. We were in Busan for three days. When we came back, we stayed in self-quarantine for two weeks to prevent spreading the virus since we had been exposed to it. Luckily, no one from our District was infected. During those weeks, the number of cases in Korea were increasing at alarming rates. Because of that, two of the eight of us had to go back to their countries. I decided to stay a little bit longer to see how the situation progressed. Now, I am happy to say that the Korean government and people have been very careful and have been dealing with it appropriately. Though there are still cases, the daily report has decreased incredibly. There are no cases in my area as well so I am safe as of right now, but of course, I am taking the necessary preventive measures. To everyone reading this, please be careful and wash your hands, stopping this virus is a team effort! I hope everyone stays healthy and in good spirits.

Sun, March 22, 2020

  • Daniela, Outbound to South Korea

Journal #2 2019. 11. 25

It is crazy to think that I have been in Korea for almost four months now. It’s been a little while since my last journal and lots of things have happened. First of all, in October, all of the inbounds in my district and some other districts in Korea had a trip through the Gangwondo Province. The trip was three days and we got to go to the DMZ and lots of museums about the war as well as some art museums. Though everything we saw and visited throughout the trip was very interesting, most of my fondest memories from that trip came from getting to meet people that I had never met before from lots of different countries. A few days after the trip inbounds from my district and a couple from other districts were allowed to go to a Taekwondo Camp in the mountains of Muju. In Muju, there is a structure called Taekwondowon (this is where the camp took place). Taekwondowon is the taekwondo capital of the world. There are many training areas as well as a full taekwondo stadium. The campus is absolutely beautiful. There are dormitories and if you go to the roof of the dormitories and look around, you can see mountains surrounding you. The camp was five days and six nights long. On the first three days, we would learn Taekwondo, and after lunch, we would have some sort of cultural experience. The last two days, they took us to different places on field trips. Whenever we were dismissed for the day I went hiking in the surrounding mountains with some of the other inbounds. The view was stunning. The lights from the buildings in the dark looked like stars on the ground below us. When we would get back from our hikes, we joined the rest of the inbounds and listened to music and got to know each other better. It was really cool to be able to see the other inbounds after the orientation. The taekwondo camp was the best experience I have had so far on exchange. I got to learn so many new things about the Korean culture and I had the chance to become even better friends with the inbounds in other districts. Having to go back to school after Taekwondo Camp was a little difficult because it was a snap back to reality, but I was happy to be able to see my school friends again. The week after Taekwondo Camp, all of the exchange students went to a Rotary meeting. At this Rotary Meeting, I did a presentation about life in Georgia and the culture in the United States. I was very nervous because it was a pretty long presentation and all in Korean, but I think it turned out okay. After my presentation, they made some ending comments and we all went out to eat together. A few weekends ago, our Rotary Club Coordinator took all of the exchange student to a city called Daejon. While we were there we each got a Hanbok to take home gifted to us by our Rotary District Governor’s wife. Hanboks are the traditional Korean clothes. We had chosen the colors a few weeks ago, but we got to see them all put together and take them home. We stayed in Daejon overnight. All of the exchange students stayed in a different Rotarian’s house. My Daejon host mom was extremely friendly and had super cute dogs. Though the trip was short, it was very fun to be able to see a different part of the country and to meet such amazing people like the Rotarians and their families. These past few months have gone by very quickly. I have felt my language skills increasing and I have formed strong bonds with people that I would have never met. I’m looking forward to the upcoming holidays to learn a little more about the Korean culture and how it differs from what I am used to in the United States.

Thu, November 28, 2019

  • Daniela, Outbound to South Korea

Journal #1 2019.09.04

I have been in Korea for 33 days now and it has been absolutely incredible so far. It would take hours to read everything that I have done in the past month so I am going to outline some of my best memories so far.

My first day in Korea:

I arrived in Korea at 4 in the morning in Korea’s time after a 14-hour flight on August 3rd. I was pretty tired, to say the least. My host mom and host sister came to pick me up at the airport along with my host club coordinator. Everyone was super friendly as soon as I arrived. I felt so relieved and happy to finally be here. It was a 3-hour drive from the airport to Seocheon which is the town that I am currently living in. When we got to the place I now call home, I was greeted by my host dad and host brother. In pictures, my host dad appeared really serious, but I quickly learned that he is quite the comedian. My host family is really great. They are so nice and patient with me. They explain things to me and speak slowly so that I can understand. I am so thankful that I got such a great host family. We stayed home and everyone slept for a few hours when I got home because it was so early here too. Thanks to this, I did not experience jet lag and was able to last the whole day. After sleeping for a few hours, my host grandparents and cousins came over to visit. I shared some gummies and snacks with them from the United States and explained to them where exactly in the U.S. I am from. We then all went to a beach nearby and swam and played for a bit. The water here is warm in the shallow parts of the beach; it was quite surprising when I stepped into the water for the first time because that is something that I am not used to. At the beach, we also rode a banana boat. It was my first time riding one and it was pretty scary but so fun. After going to the beach we went out to eat 삼겹살 (pork belly) with my host family as well as host grandparents, aunt, and her friends. It was delicious, but I was so tired that I could barely keep my eyes open. That was just the first day.

Korean Classes:

Every Tuesday, I do not go to school and I attend Korean culture and language classes with the other inbounds. There are eight of us and we are all really close with one another already. I could not ask for a better group of friends to spend this year with. We all get along very well.

My trip to Seoul:

On the weekend of August 17th, I went to Seoul with my host family. My host siblings had to attend a Rummikub competition so they decided to do some tourist things since I was there as well. My host brother ended up getting third place which was pretty exciting. While in Seoul I was able to visit Insadong and Hanok Village. We slept at my host aunt’s house and went to a beautiful botanical garden. We later went to a cave which was absolutely stunning. There was a light show and sculptures on the inside. There was also a light tunnel. It was so incredible. That cave is now one of my favorite places in the world. Going into and coming out of that cave was the moment in which I realized how incredibly lucky I am to be able to take part in this amazing and life-changing experience.

The PSY Concert:

My favorite memory so far along with the cave in Seoul is when I went to a PSY concert. PSY is the man who sings Gangnam Style. They gave all of the Inbounds as well as one of the Rotex tickets to a PSY concert. We had floor tickets so we were able to dance and sing to our heart’s content all night. This concert, however, wasn’t a normal concert. While PSY sang they poured tons of water on everyone in the audience. By the end, we were all absolutely soaked. During the concert, I once again felt how fortunate I am to be able to have come to Korea and be surrounded by such amazing people throughout the year. We all hugged and danced together for hours and felt so happy to be there together.


We had Inbound Orientation last weekend. The Inbound students from Busan and Gwangju came and met up with us here in Seocheon for Orientation. It was really nice to be able to meet them all. We had a ceremony first in which we all introduced ourselves. I was chosen as the representative for the Inbounds, so I read a sworn oath in Korean representing the Inbounds of 2019-2020 for the Rotarians. It was a bit nerve-wracking, but they told me I did well in the end; that was good to hear. After the ceremony, we went to where we would be sleeping. We had some time to get to know each other and talk after that.


Going to school has been very fun so far. I am starting to make some Korean friends. I can understand most of the time when they talk to me slowly. The classes, however, are very difficult and I can’t understand almost all of what is going on. I study Korean in my textbooks whenever I am having extra trouble understanding classes. The teachers and students are all very patient with me and help me when I am struggling or don’t understand.

Being here has already been unforgettable. I am so excited for everything that is to come this year. I want to say a huge thank you to Rotary and everyone who helped and supported me in my preparation for allowing me to come here and do something that I know will change my life for the better. I can’t believe that one year ago I was sitting in a conference room with Mr. Parks telling me and a few other teenagers that it was possible to travel, learn a new language, and make amazing memories through a program called Rotary Youth Exchange. I had never heard of this program before and decided to give it a try. I am so glad I did. If it is you sitting this year in a conference room contemplating whether or not you should do it or not, this is my advice to you. If you want to do it, go for it. Rotary is an amazing and well-organized program that gives you everything that you need to be ready when you depart. You won’t be alone in a different country, because they give you plenty of resources that you can use if anything ever comes up. You are not alone, but you are independent and that is the beauty of it.

Thu, September 5, 2019


Demi - Thailand

Hometown: Newnan, Georgia
School: Newnan
Sponsor District : District 6900
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Vinings Cumberland, Georgia
Host District: 3330
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Tharua, Kanchanaburi

My Bio

สวัสดีค่ะ! My name is Demi Sherman. I am 16 years old, and currently a sophomore at Newnan High School. My hobbies are photography, singing, dancing, theatre, and spending time with my friends. I also enjoy academic subjects such as literature, history, and psychology. I participate in the school’s drama club and have experience singing in the choir. I live on a farm with my dad and step-mother, and have three adult siblings that come to visit occasionally. I’m very interested in learning about different cultures, languages, and meeting new people. Because of this, I discovered the great aspect of going on exchange. I was casually learning Japanese for around 2 years (including 2 semesters online), and have recently started learning Thai to prepare for my future journey in the “Land of Smiles.” I enjoy gaining new experiences, so I’m elated to have gotten this opportunity from Rotary. On exchange, I’m looking forward to making connections with new people and experiencing their culture, becoming as proficient as I can in Thai, gaining new life experiences, and adventuring around as much as I can. My biggest dream in life is to travel the world, and I am so excited to embark on that journey by going to Thailand. Thank you to Rotary and everyone who has helped me along the way for making my dreams a reality!

Journals: Demi-Thailand Blog 2019-20

  • Demi, Outbound to Thailand

On August 7th, I got off plane in Bangkok after a long 24 hours of trasnsit. I lugged my bags through the airport after going to baggage claim (it was actually a little difficult), and I was warmly welcomed by my host families, club president, YEO, and other important Rotary people in Kanchanaburi. I said phrases like “nice to meet you” in Thai, and then we headed back to our houses. The first week was mostly getting accustomed to the time change; I was so jet-lagged! I did a decent amount of settling in during this time. In terms of culture shock, I am not used to all the attention I’ve been getting. People call me beautiful and stare at me, which actually makes me a bit uncomfortable, but I’m trying to get used to it. I can’t help but think they’re only complimenting me because I’m a white foreigner (the beauty standards in Thailand center around a lot of European features). Within a week of arriving, I was put in a traditional Thai dress for Mother’s Day (August 12th in Thailand), and the Queen’s birthday. I have also gone to a few cool places so far — Wat Tham Sua, Wat Phra Pathom Chedi, The Grand Palace, Chinatown, a few festivals, markets, and some malls! In my opinion, the food here is SO much better than in America. I’ve experienced being dressed up in school two times, one for a recycle dress contest and the other for sport’s day (which is going on today). At school I speak Thai, and quite frankly sometimes I really have no idea what is being said. Usually I can at least understand some words being said, but if I don’t and need assistance, I use this Thai-English translator app (I love it because it shows you the word in Thai script, shows the tones, and there’s even an option to search words through transliteration). I learn some stuff through that, which is good. I do have a problem with everyone always trying to speak English with me no matter how many times I say I don’t want them to. They either approach me speaking English or they resort to using English when I’m not understanding them, but I’ve made it a habit to keep responding in Thai and sometimes reminding people (nicely, of course) that I don’t want to speak English. If I wanted to speak English, I would’ve gone to Thailand years later as an English teacher, which is obviously not the case. My language skills are progressing more and more, and with normal conversational Thai, I can understand a large amount of it. I think I’m doing alright with making friends, as the attention is always on me. It seems mostly like they’re more school friends than anything else, since nobody hangs out with me out of school. I would like to have people talk to me outside of just school. I do have some issues with feeling sad, alone, being moody, etc. sometimes because of missing a few people and pets back home, and because I can’t really connect with people on a deep level with my current language skills. I know I will continue to progress, and hopefully will adjust more and more with time. I’m loving the country itself, and it’s absolutely gorgeous! Here’s to one month in the “Land of Smiles.”

Thu, September 5, 2019


Emily - Austria

Hometown: Alpharetta, Georgia
School: Johns Creek High School
Sponsor District : District 6900
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Johns Creek, Georgia
Host District: 1910
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Perchtoldsdorf

My Bio

Grüß Gott! My name is Emily and I excited to be studying in Austria for the 2019-2020 school year! I am currently in my third year at Johns Creek High School, in Johns Creek, GA, where I have lived my whole life. I live at home with my parents and dog, and have two older siblings. My sister attends college in Alabama, and my brother is in the National Guard. I enjoy playing sports, so you can usually find me on the softball field, basketball court, or lacrosse field after school. Sports are a huge part of my life and I am interested to see how I will continue that next year in Austria. When I’m not competing, I volunteer within the school and community through Beta Club, National Spanish Honor Society, National Math Honor Society, and NHS. I spend some of my free time studying other languages, and even founded the school’s German club! I am very fortunate to have traveled a bit as I have grown up which has influenced me greatly. My travels have helped me gain a global outlook and realize that the world is so much bigger than we know. I hope to continue learning these lessons during my Rotary Youth Exchange year. I am so excited to continue to grow my global knowledge and experience the joys and challenges that exchange will bring. Tschüss!

Journals: Emily-Austria Blog 2019-20

  • Emily, Outbound to Austria

Hello again from Vienna! Yesterday marked four months of me being in Austria, and the past few months have presented me with many new opportunities and challenges that I never once thought I would have.

I finally met my Rotary Club on the 11th of November. It was an interesting experience, much different from my Rotary Club in Georgia. My counselor picked me up and gave me a brief overview of the club, and I arrived at a restaurant to the club with only male members. It was slightly uncomfortable at first, but I introduced myself to each one of them, and everyone was so welcoming, so it ended up being fine. I didn’t get to listen to the meeting but rather sat aside with my counselor and YEO to discuss the year so far and how I’m doing. I then got to present about myself and my exchange so far, which was nerve-wracking, but well-enjoyed by the club. There were many interesting questions that I got to answer, all in German!

I arrived in Austria with a solid base of German, and still have only spoken German with my host family. This has been difficult all year because of my limited skills. There is quite a disconnection between us because I cannot completely express myself, and don’t have many words to say. They wish I would talk more, I wish I could talk more, but it seems a bit too far to speak any English in efforts of building a better relationship. Nonetheless, they are still a loving family that cares deeply about me, and I am so thankful for that.

I speak a mix of German and English at school because my classmates love to practice their English. Language skills are constantly improving on exchange, but not always steadily. You will feel like you haven’t learned anything in weeks, but suddenly notice a huge improvement a few days later. My best advice for studying your language before leaving is to sit down and study vocabulary and learn grammar through reading newspapers and listening to shows in your host language. For vocabulary, it is helpful to use a list of the 300 (100, 500, 1000) most common words. This prevents you from first learning words that you won’t use commonly. For me specifically, my grammar wasn’t great three months ago, but from immersion, I have picked up on the German cases and different word order. Just today, I noticed that my classmates only spoke German with me, and they invited me to go to the Christmas markets with them, it took three and a half months of school, but I finally made a big step in having local friends!

Homesickness has recently become a reality for me. The first proper homesickness that I felt was on Thanksgiving. I thought I would be fine because the holidays were never too big of a deal for me, but I woke up and my heart just ached a bit knowing that I wouldn’t feel the togetherness of my family not only for that day, but for many months until I return to Georgia. I celebrated the way my host family does annually, by going to a restaurant and watching American football. I thought this would be a great reminder of home, but when I walked in, a skyline of Atlanta was on the screen, and I didn’t know I would ever miss the city. I went home that night and made a list of things that I am thankful for here while listening to country music, and felt much better later. As the holiday season has progressed, I have felt a bit more down, but realized it’s because of the amount of time that I’ve been here, not the holiday season. After so much time, you begin to settle into a routine and life feels normal. Personally, this feeling of normal often gets to me because there’s only so much time left and I want to make the most of every day.

Part of this normal life is taking part in local activities. I go swimming a couple of times a week for exercise, and it has been good to be back in the pool, also good exercise considering it is so cold outside. I also joined a ballroom dance class, and have that every Tuesday night. I went to my first ball of the season and it was a truly amazing experience. I went with four other exchange students, we took photos at the Christmas market, had a nice dinner, then went to the ball for 6 (SIX!!) hours until 4 in the morning. We took public transport around in our ball attire, definitely got some funny stares, but had an amazing night attending a traditional Viennese ball.

In the past couple of months, there have been three more trips with Rotary and all the other exchange students, and I have gotten to travel a bit more as well.

The first was a four-day trip to Vienna, so not as special for me because I am lucky enough to live here, but it was great to show other students around my city. We saw The Sound of Music at the opera, had a tour around the city, went in the palace, had a ballroom dancing class at Elmayer, and went through city hall. I got to do so many of the more touristy things in Vienna that I hadn’t previously done, and maybe wouldn’t have gotten to do otherwise.

The second was City Tour, a four-day trip between Prague, Dresden, and Berlin. We were really lucky to have great weather for the entire trip, relatively warm and sunny the entire time. I took the train from Vienna to Linz, where we met the other exchange students and got on the bus to Prague. After a few hours, we arrived in Prague where we had a walking tour and a little bit of free time before heading to Dresden. Prague is a beautiful city, very similar to Vienna, and I am so glad I got to see a little bit of it. The next stop was Dresden, a smaller city in Germany, but quite interesting because a lot of it was destroyed in the war. We got to see all the sights, walked around the Neustadt (new city), then had a picnic along the river. We drove to Berlin in the evening and had some free time after dinner. The next day, we had a bus tour of Berlin, and then the afternoon free. Berlin is such a cool city because around every corner there is a piece of history. It is a rather large city, so I hope to be able to go back and explore more of it.

The third was last weekend where we met in Salzburg. This trip was a bit different from the others as we had a German test, some other organizational things, the inbounds to Croatia were there, and it was the last weekend with our oldies. I found the German test to be quite difficult, but I did very well on it, thanks to the amazing language preparation by RYE Florida and District 6900. It was sad to say goodbye to our oldies, but it’s a good thing as it made us all realize how fast time passes, and to take advantage of the next 6-7 months of our exchanges.

I had a long weekend in mid-November and took advantage of that time to visit some friends in Vorarlberg, the region of Austria on the other side of the country. After 11 hours on the overnight train, I arrived and got to explore the city. It was cool to explore on my own for a bit before meeting up with friends in the evening. The dialect of German is very different over there, so it was fun to see these differences talking with the host family that I was staying with. We went to Feldkirch, which is a small, adorable town nestled in the Alps and had a coffee, then decided to catch the bus 40 minutes to Liechtenstein! It really is a micronation with little to do, but we climbed up to the castle, got a good view, then headed back to Bregenz for the night. On Sunday, we met with a different group to go ice skating. Later, we went and celebrated the birthday of another exchange student by making macaroni and cheese and chocolate chip cookies. Baking here is different because the ingredients are not the same as what I’m used to. Brown sugar isn’t really a thing, you use vanilla powder instead of extract, and chocolate chips don’t really exist either. We improvised and made some of the best cookies I’ve ever had. We grated six large blocks of cheese, boiled a kilogram of pasta, and ended up with a delicious, American meal. After a day of pure fun and togetherness, I dreaded going home, but I reluctantly boarded the night train back to Vienna after one of the best weekends of my exchange so far.

I then thought my travels were slowing down for a bit until I got a text asking if I wanted to go to Venice for the weekend, say yes to everything, right? I met with another student and his host family in Graz on Friday afternoon to begin our weekend trip. We drove four hours across the Alps and arrived in Mestre, Italy, about 30 minutes from Venice, on Friday evening. We were staying with the host grandparents of my friend who only speak Italian. It was so cool to connect with them by speaking German through the host parents to Italian and back. Visiting Venice was an absolute dream, and even better because it was the low season for tourists. Even though there were still some crowds, we got to see the major sights and wander the streets along the canals relatively easily. I also had some of the best food I’ve ever eaten. The grandparents cooked both nights, fresh seafood, fresh pasta, bread, polenta, vegetables, and so much more.

These trips are amazing not only because I get to see more of Europe, but also because they bring people together. One of the main goals of my exchange is to create lasting relationships with people from around the world, and I think I have been rather successful so far in doing so. I am so thankful to have these trips because I otherwise would not have had.

I would like to conclude this journal entry with a big congratulations to all the students that have just been selected to go on exchange next year. You have just made one of the best decisions of your life. I have had the best months of my life so far, with many highs and lows included. Start studying your language now, it helped me so so much, and you won’t regret learning more of it rather than less. Once again, congratulations, and until next time,


Thu, December 19, 2019

  • Emily, Outbound to Austria

Servus! Another month has passed here in Austria, and I have started settling into a more “normal” life. My school started at the beginning of September, and it has been interesting.

Academically, school is not too difficult for me. I recognize the topics in Chemistry, Math, Geography, Spanish, and Physics, and English is also quite easy for me. I understand close to nothing in History, Psychology, and German, so I study language in those classes, or translate words from the lessons. That has definitely been the best use of my time when I don’t understand, because it helps me pick up more of the language.

My hours for school are quite favorable. On Monday and Wednesday, I start school at 9 am, and end at 1 pm. On Wednesday, I start at 8 am, and end at 3:30 pm with a 1 hour break, and On Thursday and Friday, I start at 8 am and end at 2 pm. This leaves me plenty of time to meet up with friends after school during the week which has been very nice.

The difficult part at school has been the social aspect. In Georgia, I would always look forward to going to school to be able to see my friends, but I don’t really have any school friends here (yet!). I heard it would be challenging to befriend locals, and that has definitely proved to be true, but I will keep trying! I never really got the “new exchange student popularity,” but was rather just a normal new student. The main difference that I have noticed between Austrian school and American school is that I remain with the same class all the time, and the teachers move from room to room. It is also different having different classes each day rather than the same 6. I like these differences, they will hopefully allow me to get close with this smaller group of classmates and it is nice to have some variety in my daily schedule.

We had another Rotary trip halfway through September for a weekend. It was hiking weekend, so all the exchange students met up in Villach, in southern Austria and we took a bus to Bad Kleinkirchheim where we stayed at for the weekend. The train ride was about 4 hours from Vienna, but the scenery was beautiful and all the Vienna area students traveled together which makes it even better. This was the first time that all the oldies and newbies had met up, so it was great to get to know some new people. The hike was also absolutely beautiful! It was 12 kilometers up the mountain, across the ridge, then back down. We hiked up into the clouds and it got cold, but once the sun came out it was quite warm. In the evening we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Rotary Club of Bad Kleinkirchheim with a gala dinner. I got to wear my dirndl and we had a lovely dinner. There were a few speeches, but I doubt any of the exchange students understood anything through the quick speaking but also the different dialect.

Since then I have done many other cool things. I took a day trip to visit another student who was in the hospital after a climbing accident. It was good to see her once again before she returned home to recover, and I got to visit Salzburg again. The weather is beautiful this time of year, making it an impeccable day. I went to Burgenland with my friends and their host families and we went for a walk around some fields. The weather was beautiful again and it was great to be together. On Friday, September the 27th, I participated in the climate strike in Vienna. It was great to see so many young people taking action for global issues that they are passionate about, and it gives s strong sense of hope for positive change in the future. Other than that, I have spent a good majority of my free time with other exchange students.

This month has definitely been more difficult than the last. I have found that it is best to keep myself busy, rather than staying home alone giving myself time to think. I met up with an old neighbor that grew up in the same area as me, and he helped me gain a new outlook on some of the cultural differences found here in Austria. I know that it will be very good to have someone who has a longer-term experience here that can help me through tough situations that I encounter. Despite it being frowned upon, I meet with other exchange students many days per week. I believe this has had a positive impact on me, because similar experiences make it easier for us to bond, and we provide a strong support system for each other. I have also looked into new activities that I can take part in that might open new opportunities for finding local friends. I’ve started running more, and hope to do a race in the spring. It has been a good way for me to get out of the house, not spend money, and get some exercise to work off all the good food I’ve been eating. I also plan on doing ballroom dancing classes, ball season starts in late November and I have heard they are lovely in Vienna. I also reached out to the local lacrosse team to see if I could join them for the rest of the year. I guess we will see how much I get involved with in the next few months!

Bis Später,


Mon, September 30, 2019

  • Emily, Outbound to Austria

Hi everyone! I have been in Austria for over 3 weeks now and have had a great time so far. I figured I should start with some background information on my exchange, so here we go:

I am staying in Vienna, the capital of Austria, in the 23rd district. I live here with my host parents and my host sister, Vanessa. I also have two host brothers, Marvin is currently on his exchange in Vail, Colorado, and Timmy lives with his girlfriend, Celine. There is also a dog named Happy! I chose Austria for many reasons. I wanted to learn German, I love the nature, and I like to ski, and Austria offers all of those opportunities. My dad also lived in Vienna for a while after college, so that also influenced me.

I left Atlanta on August 8th and had very conflicting emotions, I was very excited to start this adventure, but it was really hard to leave my family and friends. I arrived in Vienna on August 9th and was greeted by the entire family at the airport. The first day was really a blur because I was so tired from not sleeping for 40 hours…


My second day here was my birthday and I was surprised with a great breakfast. We later went to Schönbrunn, the summer palace of the Hapsburgs. It was very beautiful and is close to my house, so I can go there as often as I’d like. I had my first schnitzel that day and we played some card games. In the evening, I was surprised with a bunch of people, Sachertorte and some gifts. We had a barbecue that night and it was great.


On Sunday, I met up with some oldies (exchange students from Australia and New Zealand that stay from January- December) and they showed me around the city. It was my first time going into the Innere Stadt and it was absolutely breathtaking. It reminded me why I was here. That was also my first time using the public transportation system, I had no issues at all, I just followed the colored lines until I got to my station. When I got home, I described my day to my host mom, only using German.


Monday we worked on logistical things like my phone, bank account, and visa, but only accomplished getting my SIM card. In the evening, I thought we were heading to the Rotary meeting, but we went to a restaurant in the city and did trivia night. I was pretty much clueless about everything, except I recognized the translation of Royals by Lorde and helped with the question 🙂


Tuesday was pretty cool too, we went to Hans Zimmer, he is a classical composer and lots of his music is in movies like The Lion King, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Inception. The concert was in Burgenland and there was a great view of Neusiedler See, the biggest lake in Austria, from the venue.


On Wednesday, I met up with oldies again and we went shopping. I saw some new parts of Vienna and we met up with a Rotex for dinner. Everyone has given me so many tips to make my year the best ever and it has been super helpful.


On Thursday, my host mom took me on a tour around the city and I again saw many new things. The highlights were definitely the Hundertwasserhaus and the amazing view from Kahlenberg. This city is beautiful and I am so grateful to have been placed here.


I woke up early on Friday to take care of my visa. We drove to the office, waited in a bunch of lines, and were done after about 2-3 hours. In the afternoon I met up with other students from the US and Canada. We walked around and talked about everything.


On Saturday, I spent most of the day relaxing and getting ready for a cultural event that night. Most people wear Lederhosen and Dirndls, so I wanted to fit in. My host mom asked her friends if they had one I could borrow and they did! I met up with other students and some Rotex and we had a great time.

Language Camp

On Sunday, I left for Salzburg for two weeks of language camp. I met with many of the Vienna students at the train station and we headed off to Salzburg. I sat on the train with Maya, Serena, and Daniel and we all bonded super well, we spent most of our time with each other. It is good that my closest friends are from Vienna, because we will be able to spend lots of time together outside of Rotary events. The first night was interesting because we were not very sure of what we had to do, so we took it as free time, and had a great time meeting all the other 40 students from around the world. The days usually followed a consistent schedule. We had breakfast at 8 AM which was Semmel (bread), meat, cheese, vegetables, Müsli, yogurt and coffee. They brought in some fruit after about 5 days for us and that was delicious. We had class from 9 AM-12 PM, lunch from 12:15 PM-1PM, and afternoon class from 1PM-3PM, usually. We had free time from 3PM-6PM and 7PM-10PM, with dinner from 6PM-7PM. The schedule was sometimes changed with shortened class to go swimming if the weather was nice. In our free time, we went into Salzburg, walked along the river, played cards, swam in the river, and simply enjoyed each other’s company.

On Sunday, we took a special trip to Hallstatt for the day. The town is very small, but beautiful. We got our first glimpse and it was breathtaking. Later, we took the cable car up the mountain and went on a tour of the salt mines. The tour was in both English and German, so it was cool to see what I understood first in German before it was told in English. After the tour, we went back into the time and had time to explore on our own. We wandered the streets and found a great view of the church and lake. I had a good time talking with new people on the bus ride home, and we stopped for Schnitzel for dinner. I’d say it was a pretty great day.

Our trips into Salzburg were also a good time. We saw the gardens, castle, went shopping, and both times had Asian food for dinner. The city was the most beautiful in the sunlight, the colors of the buildings were so vibrant and the views were even better. We also ran into some oldies while we were there, which is always cool!

Yesterday (Saturday, August 31st) was the end of language camp, and Maya’s host parents drove us back to Vienna. Although I loved being in nature in Puch with everyone, I was filled with so much joy to be back in Vienna. It was great to be home, and even better to know that this is home and feels that way. Today I went for a walk at Schneeberg with my host mom. It was relatively chaotic when we arrived because she accidentally locked the keys in the car. Luckily, help came about 30 minutes later and all was fine.

The most difficult thing for me has been the language. I arrived with a strong base of knowledge, but my host family will only speak German with me. I know this is going to be very helpful for me, but I struggle to follow conversations. Big meals with people are the most difficult with more than one person talking, I do my best to answer properly, but I am still limited to pretty basic German. Nevertheless, I am proud that I have been able to succeed in responding to questions, order my meals at restaurants in German, ask for directions, and anything else when I am out.

Today is the first day of September, crazy to think of how one month ago, I was anticipating this grand experience, and now it is my real life. I have been known among my friends to say, “guys, this is our country” when there is a beautiful view or when we are having a lot of fun. As cheesy as it sounds, I am still in awe that I live here and get to experience so many amazing things surrounded by even better people.

These journals were the most helpful thing for me when I was deciding to go on exchange, so I will do my best to make time monthly and give updates here. To future outbounds: follow your dreams. If you’ve always wanted to go on exchange, apply! Rotary is an amazing organization and will help you reach success. I am so thankful for this opportunity and am looking forward to all the other amazing adventures I will get to go on this year.

Until next time,


Mon, September 2, 2019


Hannah - Taiwan

Hometown: Clearwater, Florida
School: SPC Clearwater
Sponsor District : District 6950
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of , Florida
Host District: 3481
Host Club: The Rotary Club of ?

My Bio

Hello! My name is Hannah Rebekah Jospeh and currently I am a sophomore and 16 years old. I am taking classes at my local community college here in Clearwater, Florida, as a dual enrollment student, it’s just five minutes away! I live with my mom, my brother Ezekiel, my sister Chloe, and our cat Ruby. I’ve lived in two other countries previously, Trinidad and Mexico. My dad is from Trinidad and my sister was born in Mexico. It was a great experience and I’ve always wanted to do something similar, Rotary given me this fantastic opportunity and I look forward to living in Taiwan, meeting my host family (and maybe their pets too…) and learning even more about Taiwanese culture and their heritage. I can’t wait to try the new foods there and visit the sights such as Sun Moon Lake and Taroko National Park. Outside of school I enjoy reading, rock climbing, watching movies, boating, listening to music, hanging out with my friends and siblings, and trying new foods! I’ve studied Spanish for several years, and I’ve recently taken up fencing. I enjoy English and history class the most. I’ve also taken a couple of theatre tech classes at Ruth Eckerd Hall, as well as stage makeup and stage combat. Stage combat is a lot of fun and I recommend you try it if given the opportunity. I helped with my high schools production of ‘The Great Gatsby’, it was a hit!

Journals: Hannah-Taiwan Blog 2019-20

  • Hannah, Outbound to Taiwan

my most recent post as of January 25th


On Monday we went on a field trip to the Sansia District, this was also the day I did my takeover of @ryeflorida s instagram. In the Sansia District we went to a local temple. This temple was meant to give students food luck. Then we walked around and went into a few shops and then we went to another place to create little leather bags. We painted something onto the bags, I’m not sire of the name but I think it was to make the leather soft and shiny. Then we went to eat lunch. We were on a field trip because our school was taking exams.


Tuesday was a regular school day.


On Wednesdays our school has a meeting in the early morning that the exchange students don’t have to attend. However, this Wednesday we did. We introduced ourselves in Chinese. I forgot to bring my jacket and flag but I was on time!! After that, we went back to our classes for a few hours and then we got together again for our English culture class. Since it is October and Halloween is this month, our teacher planned out an activity for us. We learned about the history of Halloween and then we drew paper masks (I drew the joker). Then she brought out a few squashes and pumpkins. We carved them and put little candles inside, they turned out well.

Thursday was also a regular day of school, but on my way home walking down the stairs I tripped several times and twisted my ankle a bit. Luckily, nobody was around so they didn’t see me being dumb and also I was close to the house.


On Friday I got ready for school like usual, but my host parents took me to the doctor to treat my foot. It was very different than american clinics. It was quiet, and we were the only patients there. I didn’t get my weight taken, or blood pressure checked, the doctor just got straight to the problem. I didn’t break anything, I just slightly sprained it and the doctor gave me about 3 days of rest. Which is convenient because it’s on the weekend, but also inconvenient because it’s on the weekend but I’m o


October 25th

I went to a Rotary dinner with my host family.


October 26th

Rotary threw a Halloween party for d3481. Giovanna, Eryk and I dressed up as vampires.


October 27th

I went to d3482’s event where we carried buckets with food in it to a temple.


October 29th

Our Chinese class had a field trip to the Lin Family mansion.


November 2nd

I went to Ximen with Eryk and Kaneta. We visited an arcade that kaneta’s obsessed with and played a dancing game.


November 3rd – November 5th

Rotary trip to Kinmen. On Kinmen we went on a mini bike tour, visited the zhaishan tunnel, Generals fortress, Hujingtou battle museum, Moran street, ceramic factory where we painted wind lion gods as well as other local factories and businesses.

day 69

November 16th

Country fair.

The students from districts 3481 & 3482 came together and set up a table to introduce our country to future exchange students with food, photos, books, and knick knacks.

day 77

November 24th

Wuling farm.

My host family took me on a trip to Wuling farm in Taichung, it was really beautiful

day 82

November 29th


Our school took us on a trip to Tamsui, we went on a walking tour of local historical sites.

day 83

November 30th

Celebrating Kaneta’s birthday!

day 91

December 8th

Secret Santa reveal!!

Lindsey revealed herself to be my secret Santa and it was epic. The Americans has an organized secret Santa gift giving thing going on.

day 94

December 11th

Lindsey and i went to a Mexican restaurant and got sick from the WARM horchata. They did not have ice!

Sat, January 25, 2020


Hannah - Thailand

Hometown: Tallahassee, Florida
School: Leon
Sponsor District : District 6940
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Tallahassee, Florida
Host District: 3350
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Bangkhen

My Bio

Hello my name is Hannah. I am currently a sophomore at Leon High School. I have lived in Tallahassee, Florida my whole life. I will be spending my Junior year in Thailand (which I am super excited about). In school I am involved in Color Guard which is a part of band, we spin flags; rifles and sabers. I live with my mom and my aunt. I am excited to get this opportunity. I have always wanted to go to another country and learn a different language. The Asian countries have always interested me the most. I love learning about their culture and their languages have always fascinated me. I am super happy I got Thailand. They have an amazing language and lots of historical sights. I found the exchange program through a presentation in my class and I was super excited. I know a lot of people who have done it and they all really enjoyed the experience. I will miss being in Color Guard       (they don’t have it in Thailand) but I will find other things to be apart of and still have fun. I can not wait for this amazing experience of going to Thailand. I am really looking forward to meeting new people and getting to know a new culture.

Journals: Hannah-Thailand Blog 2019-20

  • Hannah, Outbound to Thailand

So I have been in Thailand for almost 5 months now and I can say I love living here more and more everyday. I still live with my first host family and I love them so much they are my second family now. I also have made a lot more Thai friends now since I am getting better at the language. I am still not super amazing at Thai but I am practicing and getting better. Since my last journal we had the holidays. And I know a lot of exchange students feel sad during the holidays but I didn’t feel sad. My host family tried to keep me busy and my host district planed thing so all the exchange students could see each other. We had a speech contest and did secret Santa which was so much fun. Then a bunch of us went to a Brazilian restaurant our Brazilian friends wanted to try it was super good and so much fun. But I did have to take the bus home alone later and it was really far and it was my first time doing it alone and I got kinda lost but I called my host brother and he helped me. And I finally got home. My host dad and brother also took me to an aquarium and it was so cool. I had so much fun. Then we went to a water buffalo sanctuary and I got to see a lot of water buffalo. My host brother is in university and he only comes home on the weekends but he was off for break so he was home a lot. During the first part of my exchange we where not that close but we got a lot closer during break and I am glad. A bit of advice try to get close with your host siblings. When I wasn’t close with my hair brother we didn’t hang out or really talk and it was really awkward to be around him but now I love hanging out with him and he invites me to do things and it helps me get out of the house and do more things. I have also done some events with my Rotary club we had a car scavenger hunt. We went to Kkhao Yai Which is like a 3 hour drive from where I live but it took almost 6 hours because we kept stopping for the scavenger hunt. We stayed in a nice hotel and it was pretty fun. On they way back we went up a mountain and went to a really pretty water fall it was a long way down stairs to get to the waterfall and we didn’t think it threw very well and we almost didn’t make it back up. It was really funny. We had a lot of fun. In school we had sports day which is a big event in Thailand at all schools. They have a parade which I was a part of I got to dress up in traditional Thai clothing and walk with everyone. And they have sports and games and it’s just a fun day. I had so much fun at sports day it was a really long day though I had to go to school at 5 so I had to get up at 4:30ish. I was so tired at the end of the day. We also had to do another country fair for the future exchange students who are from Thailand in our district it was pretty fun. We will also do one more in a couple of days for about 200 Thai students to come and see. It’s a lot of work but I love hanging out with the other exchange students we always have fun. For Chinese New Year I went to a mall called central world in Bangkok and went to a food festival it was amazing so much amazing food and I went with my Italian friend Elena. Then I went with my host brother to another mall so he could study he didn’t really study we just hung out with his friend and then went to eat ice cream. It was so much fun. Some advice I have for exchange students is learn the language it really helps you get more freedom to do things because your host family isn’t worried you can’t communicate and also make friends. It’s easier to learn the language with friends you feel more comfortable then with a teacher and they are with you a lot more that one class once a week or something they can really help and they can invite you to hang out so you can see more places and have fun. I love my exchange student friends but it is very different from my Thai friends and I live my Thai friends a lot they make the school day easier and they make the language easier.

Sun, January 26, 2020

  • Hannah, Outbound to Thailand

This is my first blog. I have been in Thailand for a almost 3 month I am really enjoying it here. They drive very small cars and they drive a lot differently then in the USA the roads are narrower and they drive very fast and they also are a lot more aggressive in how they drive and will just pull in front of someone and not care how close they are and the will also go around people even on narrow roads and they will nearly hit people and other cars. I’m not super good at Thai yet. My host sister is leaving for Taiwan with Rotary as well I also have a host brother (he also went to Taiwan last year with Rotary).We went to have noddles and boba tea with my host mom and sister. Super good Thai tea much better then in the USA. We also got donuts and went to 7/11. The first night I barely slept but I was really tired half way through the next day.We went to get me a school uniform. At gas stations people pump the gas for you. We took the new subway in China town. It was super cool and nice. Jet lag was really getting to me so the next day I did a lot of sleeping. We went to Korean barbecue and we got ice cream which was super good. We stayed out pretty late much later then I would in the USA. The next day we went to see my school and it was really nice. We where going to take the bus home from my school but that bus doesn’t run on Sundays so my host dad took us to the mall. I also went with my host brother and sister to the mall where we played games and then my host brother had to go tutor a kid in English and I got to help. It was fun we where in a cafe where we got green tea with honey and jelly the drink was good except for the jelly. The student we where helping was not very good at English but he is working on it. It was fun. I am still working on my Thai but my family is helping a lot and I really enjoy them. They are teaching me Thai by making me say it in Thai then telling me what it means in English. It is helping so far. Also my host family doesn’t seem to have a problem with me drinking or eating after them or them drinking or eating after me. Which is fine but it’s different for my then USA. My host brother had to go to university for something and then it was only me and my host sister. Thai food is very spicy not all of it but a lot of it is. We went to a Texas chicken which I found interesting that it made it to Thailand. We did I bus karaoke it was super fun I didn’t sing because they only had Thai song but it was still fun. We also took the sky train home it was pretty cool. The sky train is very nice. They also have Ikea here which I thought was cool. I had a really fun day with my host siblings they are great.I will really miss my host sister when she leaves for Taiwan. But It is cool I am only with this family until December 1st. I have my inbound orientation on September 1st. I had to get up super early to go meet my teachers. We where early so we had to wait the school was nice from the parts I saw. It was a little nerve racking just sitting there and having people stare at me but then was ok. School starts at 7:03 ends at 3:00 and it is 5 days a week but I will only be in school a week or so before it gets out for a little over a month. My host dad had to go do something while we where there and left me alone sitting by myself and it was very uncomfortable but I will just deal with it. When I went to visit my school one of the other exchange students from Japan did her introduction speech. I also met an exchange student from Italy with AFS(another organization). She was super nice and we have a lot of classes together. The English teacher at my school is from Hawaii and he is super nice.At school the classes I have Japanese, Chinese, English, math, Thai cooking, and a few others. Normally the students stay in one class but me and the other exchange students change classes. And our schedule changes each day. I had to go with my host dad to Thai imitation because we had to register me for something. We had to drop my host mom off at the airport she went to India for 3 months. Almost every night we go out to dinner which was new to me and I am having to get use to.I am about to get out of school for a month and a half. During that time my district has set up Thai classes for the inbounds and we have RYLA. I have attend two Rotary meetings and it was super fun. At the first meeting we had to introduce ourselves which was very nerve racking it it was still fun then we had an auction and my host dad got me a minion cup and we did karaoke after. I have been making so many new friends Thai people are so nice and they love to come and talk to me. My and the other exchange students in my club went bike riding around this really cool park and it was so much fun. Then we walked around and took photos. We ate lunch at the park the walked to the weekend market it was so cool there! There where a lot of cool things to see and they had really good food. So far I am having an amazing time in Thailand! I was on break from school for a month and a half and I didn’t do much during that time I was home a lot which was ok because I got to know my host family better and got a break from all the stress of being an exchange student. I got to go to the beach with my 3rd host family and another exchange student we and so much fun! I also had language camp every Sunday during my break and it was super fun getting to see the other exchange students and learn Thai. So far exchange has made me more outgoing and much more confident in my self I have had problems but I have been able to handle them on my own which gives me a lot of confidences. I did get very sick and had to stay in the hospital for a little while but I was able to deal with it and I am much better now. I just started school back and I am loving it. I get to see my Thai friends and my friends who are also exchange students at my school. I really love Thailand so far and it will only get better the more I learn.

Thu, November 14, 2019


Imani - Brazil

Hometown: Tallahassee, Florida
School: Lincoln
Sponsor District : District 6940
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of , Florida
Host District: 4500
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Joao Pessoa

My Bio

My name is Imani Woodin, I am sixteen years old and I am originally from Tampa, Florida, USA but now I live in Tallahassee, Florida, USA. My father is originally from the US and my mother is originally from Kenya and together they raised my brother and I in a multicultural and globally aware household. My upbringing has reflected on my extra curricular activities in which I participate in- including Model United Nations, Muslim Heritage Club, and National Honors Society. In my spare time I enjoy read many books, watching documentaries, and spendig time with friends. I would like to participate in Youth Exchange to gain a new view of the world. I say this because for most of my life I have been living in the US, and although I have visited other countries and talked to people who have originated from different cultures, i have never stayed in a foreign country for an extensive period of time. Consequently, my view on the world has been limited to the American perspective in respect to personal experience. I have been speaking English and celebrating the same national holidays every year for as long as I can remember, and experiencing a new culture is the change that I believe I should endure in order to gain the world view that I desire. In the next year I hope to learn a new language and to have an experience that wouldn’t be obtainable if I stayed home.

Journals: Imani-Brazil Blog 2019-20

  • Imani, Outbound to Brazil

I was not sure how to write this entry because writing the journal in a traditional sense was a little more difficult than I foresaw, and recently I have been very intrigued by interviews, regardless of its context. So, in light of my recent interest, I have decided to do this next journal in the form of an interview with myself.

Interviewer (me): If I remember correctly from your last journal, you were basking in the fruits of your laborless life when you first arrived in Brazil. Has your daily routine changed since your last report?

Me: Hahaha yes, I for sure took advantage of the fact that I had nowhere to be for most of the day in the most sedentary sense imaginable, however I did come to realize that I was wasting a lot of time sleeping, so began to live with more intention, and instead of waking up at 11:00am everyday, I began to get up around 6:00am, walk on the beach with a friend, and go back home to eat lunch before heading to school.

Interviewer: And how does Christmas break work over there?

Me: I got out of school at the end of December for Christmas break, which also doubles as summer vacation, so I will have off of school until mid February.

Int: What are your plans for the summer?

Me: For the majority of summer break, I will stay with my host parents in their beach apartment- which feels amazing to say- especially because we live 10 blocks from the beach normally, but my family rented a separate space even closer to the beach to save ourselves 15 minutes of commute time.

Int: How is it living on the other side of the equator?

Me: I would say temperatures are more consistent here than Florida due to my city’s proximity to the equator, but the heat of the sun becomes more intense in December and January, which made Christmas feel a little out of place.

Int: Speaking of, what was it like to celebrate the holidays away from home?

Me: Christmas was such a different experience to the point where it doesn’t feel Christmas happened at all. I celebrated with my host father’s side of the family which includes his four siblings and their respective children and spouses in a large reunion- which I am not accustomed to whatsoever, coming from a fairly modest family. The whole occasion felt more like an assembly of family members and less like a holiday.

Int: And how was Thanksgiving?

Me: Well, I celebrated Thanksgiving with a group of English students who sought out to have a traditional American Thanksgiving and graciously invited me. The Thanksgiving itself was very different from my normal Thanksgiving, being that it took place in a school with people I am not well acquainted with and featured more Brazilian cuisine than a typical one, but was a very nice experience.

Int: What do you think you will miss about Brazil when you return to Florida?

Me: What an excellent question! It’s hard to pinpoint just one thing, but I will miss the energy of the people here. In my experience, Brazilians have been the most vibrant peoples I have ever met and are overwhelmingly inviting and friendly.

Int: What would you say was a big culture shock coming to Brazil?

Me: I wouldn’t say this was a big culture shock, but in the text culture here, they don’t say “lol” and typically don’t use emojis, they express their laughter through the letters “kkk” which have a very different significance in our culture, but they are simply making an onomatopoeia.

Int: How odd… but good to know! Unfortunately that is all the time we have today, but thank you for joining us!

Me: Thank you for having me.

Sun, January 5, 2020

  • Imani, Outbound to Brazil

Boa noite! I am writing you from my home for one year- the easternmost Point of the Americas: João Pessoa, Paraiba, Brazil. The weather is warm, the people are vibrant, the food is incredible, and the beaches are extraordinary.

Here, I live on the first floor of an apartment building ten blocks away from the beach with my host mother, Flaviana; my host father, Marcos; my live-in maid, Nadi; and my host dog Simon. My host sister, Maria Theresa is doing her exchange in Canada- in my district, it is mandatory to host an exchange student when your child goes abroad. You couldn’t tell, however, that my host parents were obligated to receive me- they have been so warm and generous to me, even on the day I arrived I felt at home here.

In my city there are four exchange students: Malte from Denmark, Hannah from Germany, Lua from Taiwan and myself. All four of us go to the Federal Institute, which is a government funded trade school for high school aged students. We all carpool together to and from school and we are all familiar with each other’s host families, as they will later be our own when it is time to swap. In school, my area of study is civil engineering. I am learning how to draw buildings digitally and by hand, however the workload is light and the expectations are low because the school recognizes that as exchange students, our language is limited and their concern is more centered on linguistic and cultural familiarity than scholastic progress.

On a typical day I will wake up around 10 or 11am and drink coffee, then I will either study Portugese, go to the pool, or go to the mall with my host mother. Afterwards, I eat lunch with my host mother before heading to school. My schedule varies day to day, but roughly, school is from 1 to 4pm and consists of two different classes. For example on Wednesdays I have Brazilian History from 1:00-1:50 and Technical Drawing from 3:20-4:40. After school, I sometimes see my friends, but I usually go to my friend Hannah’s apartment where they hold dance classes for the residents of the building on Mondays and Tuesdays, or I go to the gym. On Thursdays I visit my Rotary club, where meetings are typically from 8:00pm to 10:00pm. All the cooking and chores are done by Nadi so I live with minimal responsibility concerning maintenance.

A cultural difference I have recognized here is that people are a lot more welcoming. For example, in school, there are no distinct cliques and there is less of an ingroup bias. In class, all the students sit as one big group and socialize as one entity as opposed to the classroom setting I am accustomed to where everyone breaks off into their isolated groups. People are more than willing to invite others to sit with them and to share food, which was very odd initially. Adults here also go to more parties and have a more active social life. My host father, for example, watches soccer with his friends every Wednesday night, and at least once a week my host mother meets up with her friends. Because they go out so often, my host parents encourage me to go out as well and to embrace my exchange, and if I don’t have anywhere to go, they always let me tag along with them.

I was very fortunate to have such a wonderful exchange. I have been so graced to have such a fantastic experience here. Without my family, my friends, and of course Rotary, I would have never been able to live as I am now. I will forever be grateful for what you all have given me. Obrigada!

Tue, November 5, 2019


Jaylyn - Germany

Hometown: Homosassa, Florida
School: Crystal River High School
Sponsor District : District 6950
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Kings Bay Rotary, Florida
Host District: 1800
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Stendal

My Bio

Hi! My name is Jaylyn Stratton. I live in Homosassa, Florida, which is a small town, but attracts a lot of tourists because of the water. I’m currently a sophomore and play lots of sports for school such as soccer, track and cross country. I am currently the track and cross country captain. I’m involved in my school’s Health Academy program in the Emergency Repsonse section. All of my classes are honors because of that, which can be quite stressful at times. I enjoy being outside in nature (hiking, fishing and swimming); anything really. I love animals and taking care of them. Some people say I have a special heart for them. I enjoy making new friends, which is one of the reasons I’m so excited to be part of RYE. I tend to be quite friendly and sometimes can talk too much (ha, ha). I love traveling and visiting new places to learn about the culture, the language and try different foods. I’ve already started to learn the German Language. I know with time it will get easier. I’m so very thankful for this opportunity to participate in RYE and become an exchange student. As an exchange student I want to experience things that I may have never seen or tried before. I’d like to learn new things about the German culture and lifestyle that I can share with others. And most of all I hope to come back home with a new understanding of a whole different country besides my own. I know this will be an absolutely amazing experience. I can’t wait to get started!

Journals: Jaylyn-Germany Blog 2019-20

  • Jaylyn, Outbound to Germany

Wow this is my very first journal and I’ve been here for over 5 months. Where can I start off I don’t even know. LOL. So I arrived in Germany August 9th, can’t believe it’s been that long. I was warmly greeted by my first and third host family, along with my Counselor and YEO. And immediately they spoke German to me, and I looked so confused and tired, that they had to speak to me in English. I did feel bad though cause I wanted to speak German with them. Anyways my first day went so good my host and I went to a party together and I was my first one. Everyone their was either a past exchange student or knew all about exchange and Rotary. So that was very different for me. A couple weeks after that I started school, in Johannes Kepler gymnasium. And I got put into 10th grade which was kinda annoying but it ended up being good. I made friends easily everyone was so open and nice to exchange students. It seemed like every other day I was out with friends having so much fun and struggling to speak German (which people thought was funny for me to try.). I became friends with exchange students fast too they’re all funny and crazy. I also joined a soccer team which was fun. The start of my exchange was like a movie. I even got to go on my first date with this nice German boy. But we ended up being friends so it’s still okay. Fast toward to October, I had a crazy two weeks. The first week was spent in Halle, where the terrorist attack happened and my friends and I actually were on the streets while it was happening, but we ended fine. Still scary though, because I was on the phone with my Dad when it happened. And he kinda freaked out cause I said I had to go somethings going on. So that was kinda a nightmare for him to experience cause his daughter was put into a dangerous situation, but I told him how everything is fine and how we’re hiding and all safe. Anyways to the next week I went to Spain for my first time with my host family. It was amazing but tiring. 2 hour flight and a 6 hour drive to the mansion. But my host sister and I slept the whole time so it was okay. But it was amazing the view I fell in love with it. Plus I missed the beach and being tan and the heat and luckily I got it all back their, hehe. I learned how to surf even which takes all your energy out but it’s okay. Then I got to meet my host families friends and their kids. And I ended up becoming good friends with the boy there. And I’m still friends with him to this day. I had a lot of great adventures there, from walking down to the beach at 3 am, to playing this werewolf Board game with the other kids (which I highly recommend to anyone cause it’s fun). Anyways my first holiday without my family it was Halloween. I handled that pretty well actually, I hung out with some friends and got chased by people in costumes and even went trick or treating. But I also got a tiny concussion cause my phone hit my face, oops. (I know I’m clumsy.) Then I Thanksgiving hit which was kinda hard for me but I got through it. My host family ended up celebrating it with me so that was very fun. Shortly after I moved to my second host family. Who I immediately fit right into, and they loved me a lot. We always made funny jokes and understood each other like a family. We even all went ice skating together which was fun too. They had a daughter and son who were just a year or two younger than me. So that was nice. Her and I both had a boyfriend (I know not allowed) and we all hungout a lot and became all super close with each other. Shortly after a month an incident did happen at my now ex boyfriends party so I was forced to leave Hannover for my safety. (All I need to say is be careful.). It was very hard for me to take on and for everyone else. Cause my host family really did love and care about me, and leaving my boyfriend was hard but I got over it pretty quick. But leaving my friends and family really hurt and was super hard. Because I moved to a new city, where I didn’t know anyone. And it was hard for me to open to the new family cause they expected so much out of me. Also they didn’t know what happened nor cared to know which made it harder. Because at that time I needed support and I didn’t even have any not even from my parents back home it felt like. All I had I felt like was some Rotary people who I thank everyday for helping me to be where I am now. I did make friends super easy in the new school so that was super easy for me. I also celebrated Christmas with them which wasn’t hard for me and but I cried some but got over it. But then I went to my Rotary weekend and found out my new host family complained so much about me. Then they said how they were about to kick me out and let Rotary deal with me. Which made life even harder then it already has been, and I got told I can choose to stay or leave and go to a different city and family. And that’s exactly what I did (I told myself I’ve been through so much already I can handle this too.). And now I’m often called very strong and a fighter for what I’ve been through and how I’ve pushed through it. So here I am now in my new AMAZING host family. Still meeting with friends from my last city (Salzwedel) and now living in Stendal. Which I think is okay. I’m in a new school which I’ll start Monday. And I’m on a volleyball team which is something I never though I do not be good at. But my coach tells me how I’m very good for just playing so I love playing it. And everyone is so nice it’s a boys and girls team so that’s different for me. I’ve also started going to the gym, which is something I’ve always wanted to do and now are. And I might even start on a football team so I can keep my mind busy. And I think it helps keeping my mind busy or myself busy, because it helps with the homesickness and what’s happened here. Also speaking of homesickness I’ve handled that well I think, yeah I have cried some but I’m human so it’s fine. Anyways I leave June 18th and I can’t believe it’s that close it’s shocking. I kinda want to go back but at the same time no. I love it here. But I think this is it for now until next time.

Sat, February 15, 2020


Jetta - Belgium

Hometown: Invernwss, Florida
School: Lecanto High School
Sponsor District : District 6950
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Inverness, Florida
Host District: 1620
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Charleroi-Sud

My Bio

Bonjour and Hello!! My name is Jetta and next year I will be going to Belgium! I am currently an IB senior at Lecanto High School and will be spending a year in Belgium before college. I have taken four years of Spanish in high school and learning new languages has been an amazing experience for me. I am so excited to have the opportunity to learn French in another country next year. At home, I enjoy spending time with my friends and family and going in the waters near my city like Three Sisters Springs and the Gulf of Mexico. My dad is originally from Malaysia so my family and I have enjoyed many trips over there to see our family. Being half Malaysian is something very important to me and I hope to share the different aspect of that culture while in Belgium. Alongside Malaysia, I have been lucky enough to see other part of the work such as Japan, Thailand, France, and England. My trips to those places have been life changing, but living in a different country for a whole year is different then spending only a few weeks somewhere. During my time in Belgium, I hope to pick up a good level of fluency in a French, and make great new friends!

Journals: Jetta-Belgium Blog 2019-20

  • Jetta, Outbound to Belgium

I’ve officially been here in Belgium for 3 months now! I can confidently say that these have been some of the best three months of my life. Belgium is such an amazing country and unique country.

When I arrived here, the weather was cold and wet; but after a few months here, I know that it this is typical Belgian weather and I have grown to love it. I like it a lot better than the heat back in Florida. My first two days here my host family to Le Marche Saint-Roch which is a three day long cultural festival in Ham-Sur-Heure, Belgium. People take off work and sleep outside for the festival. The festival consists of music, parades, food, and drinks. It is one of the largest of the Folkloric festivals/marches in Wallonie. After a few days, Belgium experienced really nice weather. It was sunny and warm for a few weeks. I didn’t start school until September, so I spent most of my time outside trying to study french since I hadn’t had the opportunity to meet other students yet. My host family also has a really nice garden which I have found is common in Belgium. They grew tomatoes, basil, thyme, rosemary and other spices, along with apple, cherry, hazelnut, and chestnut trees. We eat a lot of fresh food, a lot of it coming from the garden too. There is also a lot of wild blackberries everywhere when it is warm out.

A few weeks later in August, I had the inbound orientation with all the exchange students in Belgium. There is over 200 in bounds in this tiny country so it was CRAZY with all of us walking around Bruxelles in our blazers. The day of the orientation I went to the train station, finally met other exchange students, and then took the train to Bruxelles Central where all of the exchange students met at the Royal Palace. We got to tour the Royal Palace, walk around Bruxelles, visit the Grand Place, and then sit inside the Belgian Parliament building for the actual talking part of our orientation. I made a lot of great exchange friends during this day and enjoyed finally getting out and seeing more of Belgium.

The weeks that followed before school started I spent going out and visiting other places with my new exchange friends. We went to Charleroi a few times since it is the closest big city and where mine, and my friends school is, but we also went to Bruxelles a lot since there is so much to see and do there. Overall, my first month was really good here. The food is really good and all of the people are really nice! Before coming here, I thought that there was just one “Belgian” waffle, like the ones at home. But there is actually two, the Liège waffle and the Bruxelles waffles. The Liège waffle is sweeter and thicker, and the Bruxelles waffle is lighter and not sweet. Here, they sell waffles everywhere on the streets and you eat them usually in a paper cone at any hour, not just breakfast. The Liège waffles are 100000x better than the Bruxelles waffles and I have them at least once a week.

Tue, November 26, 2019


Jose - Peru

Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Mandarin
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Rotary Club of Mandarin, Florida
Host District: 4455
Host Club: The Rotary Club of ?

My Bio

¡Hola! My name is Joseph (Joe or Jose) Hutchinson, and I am currently a senior at Mandarin high school where I participate in activities such as the Spanish club, and the swim team, which I have been part of for 3 years. I am 16 years old, and I am ecstatic with this wonderful opportunity I have been given. I live in Jacksonville, Florida where I have lived my whole life in a family of 6. I have 3 sisters, Rachel (20), Rebecca (18), and Abigail (11). I have been studying Spanish for around 3 years, and I am looking forward to calling Peru my home for almost a year. I always have been interested in different countries and cultures, but I recently fell in love with Peru. I have always loved Hispanic culture, and one day I look forward to traveling all over South America to gain insight in what those countries are like. Whenever I have free time, I enjoy activities such as basketball, video games, spending time with friends and family, as well as most any sport. My goals for my year abroad are forming everlasting bonds and international relationships, evolving as a person, and learning a new language. I have already made great friends through this organization, and I cannot wait to change my life forever!

Journals: Jose-Peru Blog 2019-20

  • Jose, Outbound to Peru

Peru is a marvelous country that everybody needs to visit at least once in their life. It has everything ranging from mountains, to the jungle, to deserts, to beaches. I live primarily in the city of Lima but I can honestly say I do not enjoy my experience in Lima because the city is sad and depressing. What makes it worthwhile is the people that live there and help me day by day. In Lima there is not very much culture it’s a dirty metropolitan city, but there are nice districts so it’s nice to visit them once in a while. I did not clash very well with my family Lima, we had somewhat of personality conflicts, but my host dad there was great. Right now I am on summer vacation and I have changed cities to Cusco where Machu Picchu resides. I love Cusco so much and I do not want to leave but I think I might have to after my vacation ends here. Every day is a new adventure here, I go outside and I see indigenous people walking around with the customary clothes and it’s amazing. I cannot portray how much I love the city and do not want to leave. School here is a drag, but school is school. The problem I have with it is that they treat me like a child and that I do not know a single thing and it’s like a jail they control everything you do. But at least I have a couple friends in the school but I don’t really hang out with the youth in this country because all they care about is drinking and smoking. I cannot portray how much I love the city and do not want to leave. School here is a drag, but school is school. The problem I have with it is that they treat me like a child and I do not know a single thing and it’s like a jail they control everything you do. But at least I have a couple friends in the school but I don’t really hang out with the Peruvian youth because all they care about is drinking and smoking and are generally immature. I have a host sister in this city of Cusco and I love her just as dearly as any of my blood sisters. That is the beauty of exchange the relationships you get to form, I have also made friends throughout Asia, Europe, and the rest of South America. I am also proud to say that I am now fluent in Spanish and I think I am picking in the language up splendidly , I understand everything people say and it doesn’t seem like everyone is talking fast anymore. The food in Peru is good and it’s healthy. But what I like most of all is the street vendors where you can just go outside and buy a churro or buy an empanada for one sol which is equivalent to ¢.33. That’s another thing I love about this country everything is so cheap and easy to afford. I hope whoever is reading this enjoys it, ¡ciao!

Tue, February 11, 2020

  • Jose, Outbound to Peru

My exchange so far has been great. Peru is a country very rich in culture and the food is amazing. I used to live in a city called Lima, Peru but now I’ve changed to the city of Cusco and I love it here but sadly I have to go back to Lima soon, because I’m only here in Cusco for vacation. I have visited amazing places like Machu Picchu and the sacred Valley and I can tell you that Peru is one of the most beautiful countries that I’ve ever been to. Walking on the street I always see native people dressed up and It always being a smile to my face. There are always festivals and parties going on in this country it is amazing. My current house family is the best and I do not wanna leave them or go back to Lima but sadly I think I might have to. School here is a drag but school is school but the problem here is they treat you like you’re a child and like it’s a jail. In my daily life I usually just hang out with friends and go to school but right now I’m on summer vacation so I don’t have to do anything. When I’m in school they don’t really make me do much work so it’s more honorary than anything. I can proudly say that I’ve graduated twice, as I’ve graduated from my school in Peru as well as my school in the United States. Peruvians are nice and they only mean well but a lot of the youth are only focused on drinking alcohol and smoking tobacco which is sad when you don’t want to take part in things like that but that’s all the youth does. Although, I have made friends with a bunch of other exchange students from various countries and I love them all dearly. My first host family in Lima meant well but I did not clash with their personalities well. It seemed there was always a problem in the house or a negative environment but nobody was ever really mad at me the house just felt icky because of all the negativity. But the host family I’m with now is amazing. They always take me on trips and they always have something fun to do and I have a little house sister and she’s the best. she’s like a real sister. I can truly say I have four sisters now. Peru is so amazing because it contains deserts, jungles, mountains, and the beach, what more could you ask for? Peru will always have a special place in my heart and I will surely come back to visit the people that I love here, and also the wonderful people I have met through exchange in their home countries. If anybody was ever to visit Peru I definitely recommend every city except for Lima, The problem is, is it’s so sad and depressing and it’s always gray, cold, and humid, And coming from Florida it really takes a toll on you. I hope whoever Is reading this enjoys what I had to say ciao!

Tue, February 11, 2020


Kaitlyn - France

Hometown: Roswell, Georgia
School: Centennial
Sponsor District : District 6900
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of North Fulton, Georgia
Host District: 1730
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Beausoleil

My Bio

Bonjour! My name is Kaitlyn and I will be spending my sophomore year of high school in France! I am fifteen years old and currently a freshman at Centennial High School in Roswell, Georgia, where I have lived my entire life. I live with my mom, dad, three sisters, and two cats. Outside of schoolwork, I am an active member of my school’s Interact club and Model United Nations team, in both of which I have won awards! I also do Irish dance and play the piano and guitar. In my spare time, I like to paint, read, and learn French! I am extremely excited to have the opportunity to live in France for an entire year, and I cannot wait to become fluent in a second language and make international friends. I have aspired to be an exchange student ever since the sixth grade because I want to be a diplomat and help the world at an international level when I am older. Even though I am going to miss my friends and family while I am away, I am anxiously awaiting this opportunity to get out of my comfort zone. Travel has always been a large part of my life, and I have always felt more at home in a foreign city than my hometown. When I come back to the United States after my exchange, I hope to have better French skills, new amazing lifelong connections, and a special respect for the world and its different cultures. I cannot wait to see what these next few years of my life have in store for me!

Journals: Kaitlyn-France Blog 2019-20

  • Kaitlyn, Outbound to France

Bonjour! Wow, I can’t believe I have already been on the wonderful Côte d’Azur for five weeks. This last month has felt like one of the longest, but also one of the quickest months in my life. I am so fortunate to be hosted by the Rotary Club of Beausoleil, which includes the towns of Beausoleil, Cap d’Ail, Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, and La Turbie (all of which surround the Principality of Monaco). I am so grateful for every day I wake up in this amazing country.

My first host family lives in a little village called Peille, about half an hour north of Monaco, at the start of the Alps. Peille has a population lower than the number of students at my high school back in the States and has one road in and out that you have to take for 20 minutes to be in another population center. At first, I was a little daunted by the thought of this, but it has been amazing to be living in nature and being able to live in a little village that has the small winding streets and beautiful architecture that people visit Europe for. In Peille, the church bells ring every day at twelve and seven, the restaurants are family-run, and everyone knows the names of all the other people and animals around town. There is no supermarket, no McDonalds, no movie theater, but instead a boulangerie and three restaurants that are open one day a week. The newer buildings here are 200-300 years old, and the village is full of now-unused communal washing and bathing spots and two-hundred-year-old artwork. It’s like living in a medieval village with modern-day people.

I never feel cut off from the world, though, because I attend school in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, which is a town on the coast that lies in between Monaco and another town called Menton. It is about an hour away from my house in Peille, but I love being able to go from being in a quiet village to a busy town every day, with a 10-degree difference in temperature and the 3000-meter difference in elevation. It is there where there are supermarkets and McDonalds, so I always have the comfort of living in a city. I go to a private Catholic school, but this means something different in France than it does in the States. Here, private schools are still funded by the state, so they follow almost all of the same rules as public schools, and despite the church in the middle of the campus, there is no uniform, mandatory mass, or extra days off school. Most people go to my school because of the proximity to their house or the more rigorous coursework and longer school hours.

My school day here is very different from what it was in the States. First of all, there are two alternating weeks with different schedules. For each of those weeks, every day has a completely different schedule that ends at different times. For example, on Monday during week A I take 2 hours of French literature, followed by 1 hour of math, 1 hour of history, 1.5 hours of physics and 1.5 hours of biology, all of which runs from 8 am to 5 pm. Then, on Tuesday during week A I will have gym for 2 hours, math for 2 hours, social and economic science for 1 hour, and then the French as a foreign language class for 1 hour, with school ending at 4. Having to memorize 10 different daily schedules has been tough for me. To make matters even harder, every class is in a random room (both teachers and students move rooms), so I might have history in room 402 on Monday, but on Tuesday I will have it in room 306. We even change rooms in the middle of class sometimes! Long story short, French scheduling is very different.

I am in the grade “seconde” at school, which is the equivalent of 10th grade in the States. Here, I have one class of 40 people, and we move around to the different classrooms together. There is no choice of classes in seconde, and there is no separation based on level (like on-level, honors, or AP), so I am with the same people all day, every day. I take (only including the academic classes) French literature, math, technical and numerical science, programming, math, physical science, biology and earth science (one class), history and geography (one class), gym, English, French as a foreign language, and social and economic science (thankfully I was able to exempt taking Italian). I also have “vie de classe,” “orientation,” and “DST” every week. Unlike most of the other exchange students in my district, I get no special treatment (except for no Italian) at school. I get the same work, the same grades, and the same hours as everybody else in my grade. I also can’t say I’m not tired when I wake up at 5:30 to go to school and return at 8 pm. It is a challenge, but I feel it has helped me improve my French even more.

One of the things that surprised me about France is that the students are not rigid, highly academic workers. Yes, the teachers are generally strict and most classes are on a lecture format, but I was given the impression before I left that every class would be the students sitting quietly and respectfully while taking notes, and then packing up and leaving for the next class. This is definitely not the case. While French student note-taking still leaves me speechless with the amount of different colored pens, the perfect handwriting, the use of rulers for every line, and the crazy amount of highlighting, most French students are laid back. They talk in class (even when they’re not supposed to), joke with the teachers, don’t always study, copy each other’s work, and don’t always get stellar grades. The one thing that is still very rigid here is that the structure of the class is to sit down and get the notes from the teacher, and then learn the material at home for a later test.

My Rotary district, 1730, encompasses the French regions of Alpes-Maritimes, Var, and the island of Corsica. It spans from the border of Italy to Toulon from east to west and from the coast to the low Alps from south to north (and Corsica). I am very lucky because I feel that 1730 is the best district in France, with the beauty of the coast and the mountains and the very warm, sunny weather (I don’t I would survive the winter in northern France). I am extremely happy with my placement in the district, for my house is near the city bustle of Nice and Monaco, the quietness of Peille, and the small town with big-city vibes from Roquebrune-Cap-Martin and Menton. My school is in an amazing location as well, for it sits on the border between Roquebrune, which is a bit more suburban-feeling, and Menton, which is an extremely beautiful old city that has an amazing downtown area. From my classroom, I can see the ocean, and instead of having pigeons as pesky birds, we have seagulls. The bus ride to school every morning is a mixture of mountain scenery, medieval-era villages, and an overview of Monaco and the many yachts that line its waters. I am also in a very unique place because the town of Menton borders Italy, so the city is as Italian as it is French. Local cuisine is a mixture of Italian and French food, every sign and menu is in Italian, and a large population of the town only speaks Italian. It is pretty cool to say that the students at my school commute from three different countries (France, Monaco, and Italy) every day.

For some reason, when I thought of going abroad before I left, I didn’t think about the aspect of speaking French. I anticipated the many social and cultural differences, but when I thought about learning French, I only saw the end in which I would be fluent, not the first 5 months where it would be a struggle that I’ve gotten used to enduring. I did study before I left though, and thank goodness for that. I have been taking French class at school since the sixth grade, which left me being able to say basic words and phrases, but not much else. Throughout the years, I have also studied French at home (not intensively, though) because I think that it is a beautiful language and I always had the dream of studying abroad (this is what also motivated me to plan my classes years in advance so that I would not have to retake a year of high school if I went abroad). I only really started taking it seriously in December of last year, when I found out that I was officially going to France. That’s not to say that I studied for three hours a day and became fluent before I left. No. I changed some of the ordinary things in my life to French (watching movies in French, setting my devices to French) and slowly built up to learning different tenses and grammar tips. Another thing that has really helped is for about 20-30 minutes every other day, I would take everything that I thought in my head and translate it into French. This was hard, but it helped me master a lot of phrases that I used frequently. If you are applying to go abroad or have already been accepted (if so, congrats!), I know you have heard/will hear to study study study your language, and I am going to be another voice in the crowd and agree. While I know it might not seem too serious for you right now, once you land in the airport of your host country, you will regret everything that you never learned in the language.

Because I studied the language, I was pleasantly surprised to find that when I touched down in the airport in Nice, I could understand almost everything my greeters were saying to me (looking back they were most likely using simpler words but all the same). That day was one of the hardest for me thus far because I was hot, tired, sick, and getting used to being in a completely different country (I had never flown before, and the farthest I had been was Toronto). Since then, though, I have found that I am taking to the language pretty well. This doesn’t mean that I can speak complicated sentences or use many tenses, but what I can say comes easily to me. Just being in the country and hearing French has made me able to understand almost everything people say to me (even if it is just the general gist of the conversation). I can read very well too, and writing has become slightly easier. Speaking is giving me the most trouble because I have to formulate a phrase very quickly, but it does have it’s pros because almost all French verb conjugations are pronounced the same despite wild differences in spelling. Thankfully I found a teacher last week who is very nice and willing to tutor me in French once a week for free, so I hope this will advance me even more. Thus far, I have been learning words by improving my listening comprehension. Every few days, I will start to hear a word or phrase repeated a lot that I never noticed before, and I will look that up and learn the phrase and any related grammar additions. Learning from situations has helped too, for nothing helps you learn the word “I missed the bus” better than watching the only bus to your village pull away and leaving you stranded. Every day, I feel that I don’t make a lot of progress, but looking back I can definitely see an increase in ease of use of the vocabulary if nothing else. It helps that I am a perfectionist in this situation, for a lot of people tell me that I speak French well, but I am never content at my level and always striving to learn more. I wish I had more time to sit down and learn, but my school schedule plus homework keeps me busy until 11 every night.

The process of learning French has given me a different perspective on English and other languages in general. Whenever I learn a sentence or a conjugation or a verb tense in French, I compare it with English in terms of how it was phrased and made up. Since I have been speaking English all my life, everything just seems right, but now I am finding out why. It is also interesting to learn French phrases that have no translation to English and vice versa. It really shows how the language we speak can shape our personalities. I have found that I am already starting to lose my grip somewhat on English and English grammar (for that I apologize for the horrible grammar in this journal, for I already wasn’t great at grammar in the States). I have even found myself to write in French while making this post and having to delete it and start again.

Rotary district 1730 has a smaller exchange program compared to many other parts of France and the world, but I feel that this is better. The district chairmen and administration are extremely nice, and we have monthly get-togethers. There are 17 exchange students in my district, all of which I have grown close too already. Almost everyone can speak English too, even if it was not their maternal language, and if not it is becoming increasingly easier to speak French to them. Every time we have a discussion as a group during our outings, it still amazes me that the information will be initially spoken in French, then translated to English, then Spanish, then Japanese, and then (sometimes) Chinese. I would have to say I have grown closest to the Americans in my group purely because of our shared experiences and memories. One thing that is a little inconvenient is that I am the furthest away from everyone else. While I do like this because my exchange is purely my own and I can never speak English to anyone, the next closest person to me lives in Nice (about an hour away). I could go to many cities in Italy quicker than visit the other students. I personally feel that I live in a better area than the others, though, so I wouldn’t change anything if I had the choice.

One thing that I have noticed is the lack of language preparation and willingness to try from some of the other students in my district. A lot of the inbounds in my district did little or no studying of French beforehand and exclusively speak in English here, which shows during our district meetings when only me and a couple of other students can understand what our officers are saying. This only motivates me to try harder with my French purely to see the difference between myself and those who don’t take the initiative to learn during their year abroad.

I am extremely happy with my host Rotary club. Everyone in the club is extremely nice and very close to me and is patient when I attempt to say a sentence that I have never said before. My host counselor is amazing and I am so lucky to have her. My club is also extremely active within the community, so I always have something to do if I am bored (which thus far has been never). I could not have asked for a better host club.

I also could not have had a better host family. My only host sister is in Argentina this year for her exchange, so it is just my host parents and I, which I actually prefer because it is a nice change of pace from having three sisters at home. My host parents are extremely kind, patient, and outgoing. It is nice that they can fill the silence when I can’t think of anything to say. They always bring me out and about and keep me busy. They always make time for me and go out of their way to do things for me, which makes me grateful every day. Also, they are both musicians, so music and art are usually part of my day. I don’t feel like a guest in their home, but a part of the family. They are super proper like some of my friend’s host families and are very informal with me, which I love because I don’t feel the need to watch my every step when I’m at home. I also never speak English with my host family, partially because they don’t speak English and partially because I asked them not to, which has helped tremendously with my French. I have absolutely zero complaints or hesitations with my host family and I am extremely fortunate.

There has definitely been a considerable amount of highs and lows, but at this point I almost feel that I overprepared emotionally for exchange because none of the challenges have been as extreme as everyone made it out to be during training. No one is mean to me, I haven’t felt left out of conversations, and I haven’t been homesick at all. I only call my family about once a week. I don’t check social media a lot (I didn’t in the States either), but whenever I see a post about home I am never longing to go back, just curious about what’s happening because I am so out of the loop. Maybe I am still in the “honeymoon” phase of my exchange, but it hasn’t been so hard because every day I’m still me and it’s still my life, I am just living in a different place. I have felt frustrated many times though. When I have a long day at school and everything goes wrong, or if I am frustrated by not being able to say what I want to in French, I just want to shut myself in my room and take a break. The hardest part of my exchange is to resist this urge, even if it just means sitting in the family room instead of my bedroom. These little things keep me distracted and help me move forward past the frustration.

France is a country very culturally similar to the United States, so in the big picture, things are not that different from life back home. I have found that it is the little things that constantly remind me that I’m not in the States (other than the language of course). I have compiled a list of some of these minute differences (These might not apply to all of France- this is just what I have experienced):

There is no AC in the buildings. The only place I have encountered AC is in cars. This is very noticeable at school during the warmer months, for it can get extremely hot and students are not allowed to wear shorts or short skirts

There are no water fountains. At school, students drink directly out of the bathroom sinks and there are ancient spigots that people drink from in public areas

The toilets have their own room- they are not in the bathroom

A lot of the showers have no curtain or door

The buses have stop buttons that one must press if they wish to get off

There is an extremely high amount of scooters

The roads are very narrow and turn into one-lane roads constantly, creating some crazy situations when cars are coming at each other in opposite directions

Most highways (called autoroutes) are privatized and have a lot of tolls

The French write their 1’s like they are typed (Americans write 1’s like I), their 7’s with a line through the stem (to prevent confusion with 1), and their 9’s like they are typed (so that it almost looks like a g)

The paper here is 8.5×12, and it is a mixture of grid paper and lined paper

There are no folders for school papers- the French cut and glue all their papers in their notebooks

Notebooks are very large to accommodate for the papers

The French think of Mcdonald’s (called Macdo) as a luxury- it is rare that they ever eat so unhealthy like that

Most meals have multiple courses- at my host family’s house, we have soup, the main dish, bread, cheese and ham, and desert (4 courses)

These are just some of the differences I can think of off the top of my head.

Throughout my month here in France, the only day that I haven’t gone out is the day that I am writing this (I am home sick from school). Because of this, I have traveled and done a lot of different activities while I have been here. I am very fortunate to have host parents who love to go around and show me the area, a host district that puts together many trips, and a host school who goes on lots of trips because it is a private school. Here are a few of the things I have done and the places I have been so far:

Larger towns I have visited:

Menton: a pretty coastal city with a very tranquil vibe and a beautiful old downtown

Roquebrune-Cap-Martin: a town with an old fort, great (pebble) beaches, and a history of welcoming many celebrities such as Coco Chanel

Monaco: a separate principality on the water surrounded by France that is famous for its royal family; various attractions such as casinos, museums, and the Grand Prix; yachts; and one of the richest places in the world (⅓ of its residents are millionaires)

Nice: one of the largest cities in France, featuring it’s famous Old Town and Promenade des Anglais

Cannes: A beautiful city known for its film festival

Éze: a beautiful town with a very pretty historic village perched on a mountain

Grasse: A (once again) gorgeous old town famous for its perfume

Île Saint Marguerite: an almost uninhabited island with an old military fort, protected forests, and amazing beaches

Saint Tropez: a town known for its sailing and celebrities

Sanremo, Italy: a pretty Italian Riviera town

Some things I have done:

Went paddle boarding, sailing, and kayaking on the Mediterranean

Swam at a secluded cliff beach

Learned some Italian while navigating my way through Italy

Biked for 5 hours along the Italian riviera

Visited a Salvador Dali museum and the Casino Monte Carlo in Monaco

Went hiking in the mountains

Met some famous French celebrities (who I don’t know of) at a movie festival

Walked the red carpet used for the film festival in Cannes

(Attempted) to watch a regatta in Saint Tropez

Visited a perfume museum and factory in Grasse

Had a 4-hour long lunch with a bunch of British Rotarians

Ran for the bus/tram (many, many times)

Acted as a translator for many, many people

Got my lunch stolen by a seagull

Flipped an entire sailboat over

Got stung by a jellyfish

Participated in a flashmob

Cooked American meals with French ingredients (which didn’t turn out well)

Had a birthday party on the beach

And much, much more.

For me, it’s not just the big experiences that make my exchange, but the little interactions between people of all different ages and origins. One of my favorite memories is when one of my exchange friends invited me to her second host mother’s house, where she was having a grape picking and wine-making party for her vineyard. I cherished the feeling of community when everyone was sitting in a circle, picking grapes off the bundles. Everyone was laughing and having a good time, and despite my rudimentary French, I felt closer to them all by the end of the night.

When it comes to making French friends, I consider that I have so far succeeded. While it was daunting at first to go up to random people at school, everybody is very nice to me despite the language barrier and is happy to help me learn French. It also helps that I have joined some after-school activities, such as sailing and windsurfing, to help me make friends outside my school. I haven’t felt excluded by anyone in terms of attitude or appearance as well (French teens and American teens dress the same).

On a final note, if you are considering applying to go on exchange, just do it. It is an adventure that you will never regret, and I am 100% that you will have the time of your life, make amazing friends, and feel like a truly global citizen of the world thanks to the youth exchange. I would like to thank the Rotary Club of North Fulton and the Rotary Club of Beausoleil, as well as Rotary Youth Exchange Florida for giving me not a year in my life, but my life in a year.

Wed, October 9, 2019


Kate - France

Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: Allen D. Nease
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of St. Augustine Beach, Florida
Host District: 1640
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Saint Hilaire du Harcouet

My Bio

Bonjour! My name is Kate, I am currently 14 years old and a freshman at Allen D. Nease High School. I live in St. Augustine Beach with my Mom, Dad, my sister Quinn, my brother Finn, and my adorable dog Stella. In school I am in Drama club and am on the swim team. In my free time I read, swim, bake, and hang out with friends. I have been taking French in school since 7th grade and I can’t wait to apply the skills I have learned when I spend my sophomore year in France. While I am nervous to leave my friends, family, and dog for a foreign country, I am so excited to learn a new language and culture. I am so grateful that Rotary gave me this opportunity to grow as a person and hopefully become fluent in a language I love. When I come back home using the experiences and knowledge I have gained from my exchange, I hope to help make the world a better place and connect people around the world. Once again thank you Rotary for this opportunity and I can’t wait to go on an experience that I will remember for the rest of my life. Au revoir!

Journals: Kate-France Blog 2019-20

  • Kate, Outbound to France

My first journal ahhhh! It’s so exciting. It has almost been a whole month in France and I am having an amazing time in France doing so many things!

When I arrived in Paris on August 27th, I was overwhelmed and confused. It made me feel a lot better to see my family holding up homemade welcome signs for me. After I got my luggage and met my host family for the first time, we took a scenic drive through the streets of Paris. In addition to an amazing drive showing me the sights of Paris, we got to walk around the Eiffel Tower. It was so beautiful up close and very surreal that I haven’t even been in France for 2 hours and I already got to see the Eiffel tower up close! After an exciting afternoon we had a long 4 hour drive ahead of us back to my new home. I wanted to stay up the whole ride to see all the sights of driving in France, but I was eating my words when I fell asleep for the whole car ride 15 minutes later. I then woke up in a daze with the car pulling into the driveway of my new home, I then put my suitcases up in my room, had my first dinner with my host family, and then passed out. My first day definitely got me off on the right foot!

The first few days were me adjusting to the language, my new family, and time difference. My first few days consisted of things like going to the town next door for a beautiful market filled with different meats, cheeses, and vegetables. I also got to do something I wanted to do since middle school…. see the Mont Saint Michel! I was so excited to see it because it is only 30 minutes from my host family’s house! For those of you who don’t know what the Mont Saint Michel is it’s an island with houses, a church, and shops. What makes it special is that it is protected by the tides, when the tides are low you can walk around the island in the sand, but when the tide is high people do things like kayak, and water surrounds the island. I went there with my family during my first week because there was a special light show going on inside the church telling the history of the island. It was really cool and certainly was something I am going to remember all of my exchange. Shortly after this amazing trip, school started for me, school has been very difficult for me to understand but I have already made amazing friends and improved my French a lot.

A usual day for me is this during the week. In case you’ve ever wondered what the average day of a French exchange student is.

6:20 (AM) – I wake up, get ready for school, and eat breakfast with my host dad

7:00 – I walk to my bus stop and take the bus to school

7:30 – I arrive at school and talk with other students before I start my classes

8:00 or 9:00 – depending on the day of the week this is when I start my classes

1:00 – 2:00 – I eat lunch with my friends and hang out before my second half of classes

3:00 – 6:00 – again, depending on the day of the week my classes end between 3 and 6

6:15 – I catch my bus back home

6:45 – I arrive home, talk with my host family for a bit and do my homework

7:30 – I eat dinner with my host family and watch the news

9:00 – 10:00 – I finish the rest of my homework and go to bed

I know A LOT in one day, but I have gotten into the habit of it and it isn’t that bad. There are a few exceptions to this schedule including the weekends and on Wednesdays I finish my classes at 12:00 and go home at 1:00. I am glad I have such a busy schedule I don’t have a lot of time to think of home and get home sick, so I haven’t that homesick my whole time here.

Recently I have been doing a lot of new activities with my host family. One of them was going to Zumba with my host mom this Tuesday. I normally thought of Zumba as being not fun and boring, but it was actually super fun and got me to break a sweat. I am actually going to start doing Zumba every Tuesday afternoon now. I was also able to understand the class, which is not much of an accomplishment since it was small words like right, left, and use your arms, but still a victory in my book! I also have been running a lot with my host dad which has been a huge task on its own. He runs many different kinds of events and races so when I have practice with him and his little group, we run around 3+ miles! I ran in Florida for fun, but man do I struggle with running. It is extremely hard but a great workout to keep me in shape.

Two weekends ago was when I went to my orientation weekend in a town two hours away from me called Houlgate. It was an amazing weekend with singing, dancing, and walks around the town. The town was right on the beach, so I was happy I was able to see the beach again since I missed the beach back home. It was amazing to meet people from all around the world and make new lifelong friends. I can’t wait to see them in October.

Exchange has been full of up and downs, the downs of missing home and the people back home, but the ups of adjusting and loving my new home, the food, and all the new friends I’ve been making. My first few days I was a little sad because I was starting to miss things like the beach, Mexican food, my dog, and my family. However, I’ve learned to love the little things here that are different from Florida, like seeing cows, goats, and sheep everyday outside the window of the bus on the way to school, the sky at night with SO many stars, and the views of my small town outside my classroom windows at school. All these things help me appreciate France more and stop me from missing Florida so much.

It’s very surreal to be writing this because I remember when I was applying for exchange and checking the website everyday for new journals, reading them with excitement thinking that I could be doing what the current outbounds were doing a year from now. And here I am now writing journals about my adventures in France! My advice to the students reading this, thinking of applying for exchange, is go for it! It may seem difficult or even impossible to leave home for a year and go to another country, but it is so rewarding, and home will be there when you return, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity waiting for you with a great organization and great people.

Before I finish this journal, I want to thank Rotary, my sponsor club, and most of all my parents for this opportunity. I can’t wait to see what the coming months have in store for me. À bientôt!

Sun, September 22, 2019


Keiko - Argentina

Hometown: Decatur, Georgia
School: Decatur High School
Sponsor District : District 6900
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Rotary Club of Decatur, Georgia
Host District: 4905
Host Club: The Rotary Club of West Chivilcoy

My Bio

¡Hola! Me llamo Keiko y estoy tan emocionado de vivir en Argentina por 2019-2020 para mi año en el extranjero con Rotary Intercambio de Jóvenes! My name is Keiko and I am so beyond elated to live in Argentina for my 2019-2020 year abroad with Rotary Youth Exchange! To give a brief background of myself: I am Japanese-American and growing up as bicultural has taught me that there isn’t a rigid outline of life, which was one of the leading forces of my strong curiosity in going on exchange. I live with my parents, two brothers, one sister, and my dog. Here in Decatur I am currently a freshman at Decatur High School where I am an active member of the chorus and enjoy science, Spanish, and German class. Outside of school, I really enjoy volunteering, painting, reading, and taking hip hop, modern, and ballet class. One of the main reasons I wanted to go on exchange is accredited to my belief that true self-discovery begins where your comfort zone ends. In going on exchange I am looking forward to grow tremendously as an individual and create meaningful relationships that go deeper than self-interest. I believe that peace and understanding in the world begins from individuals putting themselves in another’s shoes, and what better way to do so than living a life in a country completely different from my own? There are not enough words to express my gratitude for this once in a lifetime opportunity and become a citizen of the world. Thank you so much to Rotary Youth Exchange making this dream a reality for me! ¡Chau!

Journals: Keiko-Argentina Blog 2019-20

  • Keiko, Outbound to Argentina

May 22, 2020

Ever since the national and mandatory quarantine in Argentina started, the rhythm of my “normal” exchange life slowed down as I was not able to go outside, meet up with friends, go to school, or participate in activities. But I still woke up every morning with the determination to live each day with purpose. This was my exchange and I was going to make the most of it.

My return flight was scheduled for July 9th (coincidentally Argentina’s Independence Day!). However, my Argentine Rotary District told us they can no longer be liable for us and recommended exchange students return early. On top of that, on April 27th, the Argentine government announced a decree that banned all commercial flights to, from, or within Argentina until Sept. 1st. My possibility of returning on July 9th was disappearing in the blink of an eye.

Monday, April 27th, 11:30 AM
Chivilcoy, Province of Buenos Aires, Argentina
It was a Monday morning when I received a call from my dad. He told me that I must go home in less than two days to catch a flight to Miami. I spent the rest of the day communicating with the US Embassy, Rotarians, and my parents (5 in total including host and natural parents). What documents do I need? Who will take me to the airport? (Because of the strict quarantine, no host parent or Rotarian was legally allowed to drive to the airport) What if something goes wrong? Will everything I have fit into my suitcases? And a million other questions swarmed my head.

Tuesday, April 28th, 10 PM
Chivilcoy, Province of Buenos Aires, Argentina
I finished my last dinner in Argentina, it was my host mom’s pork chops and homemade french fries (very tasty). Earlier that day I packed my entire Argentine life into two suitcases, a backpack, and tote bag, with barely enough time to say goodbyes to just a few people (mainly over phone).

Wednesday, April 29th, 4:30 AM
Chivilcoy, Province of Buenos Aires, Argentina
I woke up to the sound of my alarm.
I made sure I have my important documents, my passport, a charged cell phone, and money for the taxi driver. At 5:30 AM, I said goodbye to my host family, climbed hesitantly into the back of a complete stranger’s taxi, and stared out of the window. The only way I could go to the airport during this quarantine was by taxi. It would be a two-and-a-half-hour ride.

I was met with a brisk sense of uncertainty and saw only darkness as the sun hasn’t risen yet. I was not sure what to think; I was just in the moment trying to process everything. It was 5:30 AM, I had a chunky pin covered blazer on, I was going to the airport with a stranger, and I was leaving the land that I have lived in for the last eight months.

After a few minutes of awkward silence, the driver and I started to talk. I was skeptical about him and about this situation. I couldn’t see his face in the rear-view mirror, it was still too dark outside. Can I trust him? Is it okay to be friendly? Over the course of the trip, my skepticism slowly faded as I learned more about him. We talked in the darkness first and then the sun started to rise. He shared with me about his life and values, his hardships and joys, his role as a father and a grandfather.

Near the end of the ride, he admitted that at the beginning, he had assumed (based on my background) that I would not be friendly or be willing to make conversation. The US Embassy in Buenos Aires had called him beforehand (so he knew I was from the US) and I had obvious Asian traits. He reasoned that he had met a few people from the USA and East Asia, who he considered as preserved and a bit “cold”. What he did not know, is that I had been in Argentina for eight months, and by then, I had picked up the way of their conversation. After talking with me for the entire two-and-a-half-hour ride, he was surprised at my unique presence (an unexpected mix of Argentina, Japan, and the US) and clearly appreciated our genuine conversations.

Although our day started early, we were both tired (I had only three hours of sleep the night before), and we were skeptical about each other at first, it was evident the common divides that separated us dissolved and we were able to see each other as fellow human beings. I share this anecdote about my last taxi ride in Argentina because it was a reminder of the purposes I had fulfilled on exchange. I wanted to come on exchange for three main reasons (the ones I shared on my first post):
1) To get outside of my comfort zone
2) To be an ambassador
3) To spread love and light

I was doing all three of those things and had been driven by purpose throughout the eight months I lived in Argentina.

1. I wanted to step outside of my comfort zone. When we step out of where we feel the safest, we experience unimaginable growth and learn about ourselves and others. On that specific day (at 5:30 AM) staying in my comfort zone would have been sleeping on the taxi ride, instead of what I did: show genuine curiosity and listen to the driver and his stories. During some uncomfortable (but necessary) conversations to work out differences with my host family, I stepped outside of my comfort zone as I stood in vulnerability and talked about how I truly felt. Staying in my comfort zone would have been to not apply for this exchange at all. I was out of that zone, and the growth I experienced was unlike anything I confronted before.

2. Another purpose of going on exchange for me was to be an ambassador. I do not always associate that role with talking about politics or addressing certain topics. In fact, the thing I did most as a youth ambassador was to simply look up and see people for who they are. To remember the humanity we all share, no matter where you are from, what you look like, what you do, or how old you are. Then, the moments when we recognize our humanity while appreciate our uniqueness, is when I felt fulfilled as an ambassador.

3. And finally, my last purpose was to spread love and light. Love and light is already within us and only needs to be uncovered to be seen. It was always in small and seemingly insignificant things that I fulfilled this purpose. Maybe I did so by having an authentic conversation with a classmate, showing genuine kindness to the taxi driver on an early morning, making tea for my host sister on a hard day, or volunteering at a hospital with my host Rotary club. It is in these acts that people feel seen and special. Sometimes, it was not even in “doing” something, and instead just being there in the present moment. It was through fulfilling this purpose that I realized time is a gift to be shared.

As I arrived at the airport, I thanked the driver, and gave him about 4,000 Argentine pesos (about $60 USD). I went into the international terminal, through check-in, past security and immigration, and finally arrived to the gate. I felt relieved. Next, I would go on a 10-hour flight, meet up with my mom in Miami, sleep in a hotel, and then be off to Atlanta the next day.

Friday, April 30th
Atlanta, Georgia, United States of America
The end of exchange was a roller coaster for me as I was confronted with leaving behind my new home in such a short amount of time. I had to leave behind a life that I had built from scratch. There is a unique set of emotions that comes during this time: happy to see your natural family and sad to say goodbye to your new family, fulfilling to see your impact and heartbreaking to leave it all behind. But it was only when I landed in Atlanta that I was able to fully process what happened over the last couple of days. With all sorts of logistics to be considered before my flights–paperwork, fitting everything into my luggage, arrangement for the taxi, goodbyes, and a layover in Miami, I was just focused on getting to Atlanta safely and on time.

When I landed in the US, I was faced with reverse-culture shock. Reverse-culture shock is a feeling of disorientation and discomfort when returning to one’s home culture after being abroad. Because I had become so accustomed to Argentina, there were things that locals in Atlanta considered normal were confusing for me. It felt so strange being back in Atlanta’s humid forest after being in the clear skied pampas of Buenos Aires. After speaking Spanish constantly, hearing and responding in English felt unnatural and was much harder than I expected. The wide roads and big houses looked so foreign. Who knew there were such inventions as dish washers and clothing dryers?

When it finally dawned on me that I had left the country and the people that I love, the sadness was heart wrenching. But soon after the hurt, I felt a reverberating gratitude and joy that was stronger than I have ever felt before. I have returned to the US as a changed person; I feel free, more authentic, and with a heightened sense of awareness. I have fulfilled my purpose of exchange. I have created lifelong relationships with incredible people. All of the tears are worth it for the moments of uncontrollable laughter (the kind that makes your stomach hurt) with my Argentine family, for the memories with friends that I will remember for decades, and for unbelievable amounts of self-growth. So even though my heart broke into a thousand pieces when it struck me that my exchange has ended, I realized that authentic joy, unmasked happiness, and limitless growth is something I would break my heart for.

So, while the end of my exchange has been a whirlwind on a psychological and emotional level, I sit here, at my desk in Atlanta, overflowing with gratitude. I am grateful for meeting all the people who have become my family and friends. I am grateful for all of the beautiful moments but also all of the challenging ones (like sudden goodbyes in under 48 hours), I am grateful for all of the joyful times but also times of hurt; it is this paradoxical nature of my exchange (and life!) of ups and downs that has shaped my exchange into what it is, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Thank you Rotary Youth Exchange Florida, Rotary District 6900, the Rotary Club of Decatur, Rotary District 4905, the Rotary Club of West Chivilcoy, and all of the volunteers, my family, and my friends for your steady support on this crazy journey!


Hey guys! I hope you all are well. In this journal I’ll talk about my school situation, COVID-19 conditions, and what my current life looks like.

So far on exchange, my school situation has been quite comical and unique. The academic school year in Argentina is from early March to December. This means that when I started school here in September, it was already getting close to the end of the school year. When the school year ended, I had three months and two weeks of summer vacation. I started the new school year on March 11th, but after March 13th, educational institutions nationwide were canceled. To put it in another way, I have had more summer vacation than school, and now, I have about one month more of staying home due to the quarantine.

Currently, I am getting sent assignments for all 12 of my classes through WhatsApp. This year, I have Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Math, Politics, Earth Science, Art, History, Literature, Geography, Physical Education, and English. My favorites so far have been Earth Science, History, and Art. In general, I am grateful that I have food to eat, a place to sleep, a computer to do my homework on, WiFi for accessing resources, and adults who can help me when I need it. I am aware that this quarantine really widens the education gap, because there are students who don’t have the privileges that I do, which makes it very difficult to study and succeed in school.

In relation to school, I understand everything the teachers say and can fully participate in all of my classes and activities. I remember before going on exchange, I was self-studying all of the Spanish grammar that I had never learned in school. I practiced conversations by Skying a fluent Spanish speaker every week for an hour. My US classmates thought I was a little crazy when I pulled out a Spanish textbook when we had free-time in class. Even here in Argentina, I expand my vocabulary every day and ask people to correct me all of the time. I think all of the extra work is worth it when I can build friendships with the locals, when I understand everything my teachers say, when I navigate public transportation with ease, etc. I am proud of myself for working hard and reaching a point in Spanish where I can get around like a local, and I am grateful for the opportunities and people who have helped me along the way.

Fun Facts about my school:

1) I attend the morning session, which is from 7 AM to 12:30 PM. Most schools here have morning sessions and afternoon sessions to split the number of kids because everyone (1st-12th grade) does not fit in the building at the same time.

2) The building that is now my school was originally a hotel! When the first train arrived in Chivilcoy in 1866, this building was constructed as one of the first hotels in my town. Now it has converted into a school; the classrooms are the old hotel bedrooms, and there is a lobby area where we can go to during break.

I have now been in Argentina for a little over seven months (I can’t believe it!). I remember about this time last year, I several ideas of what exchange could be like, but I had never thought that going outside would be legally prohibited for weeks. Due to the global pandemic known as COVID-19, Argentina has been under a mandatory nationwide quarantine since March 20th, and we have not gone to school since March 13th. Exemptions of the quarantine are few, they include movement to obtain food, medical care, and international travel for ticketed passengers. Initially, the quarantine was planned to end on March 31st, but the president of Argentina, Alberto Fernández, clarified that the quarantine will be extended through April 12th (and possibly after). It is speculated that the peak of the virus in Argentina could be around mid-May. To avoid mass evictions, the government has frozen rent and mortgage. The government wants to freeze them for 180 days but the oppositions want no more than 90 days.

I understand that this is a really rough and uncertain time, especially for businesses, vulnerable populations, and low-income families and neighborhoods. In the end, everyone is effected in one way or another. For me, taking care of myself is a big priority, because I have learned that I can only be the most compassionate, positive, and kind version of myself when I have my physical and emotional needs met.

Since the local economy in Chivilcoy has come to somewhat of a halt, I help out others in ways I can. For example, my dance teacher here can not give dance classes in her studio due to the quarantine, which stops her flow of income. As an alternative, she is offering online yoga classes, which I am taking as a way to get more movement into my day and support the local economy. On the same topic, Lionel Messi (a famous Argentinian soccer player), voluntarily decreased his salary by 70% to support the FC Barcelona club. Additionally, he and the other players will be making more contributions so that the club’s employees can continue to receive 100% of their salaries.

My intention for these coming weeks is to make the most of my time here by being present. After all, this is my Rotary Youth Exchange, and the circumstances I am experiencing (living in Argentina, with a host family, 16 years old, during a global pandemic) is quite unique. I am making the most of this interesting experience. On a daily basis, I have been getting daily exercise, cooking some meals for my host family, doing school work, painting, and reading books (in Spanish!).

Before I end this journal, I want to send strength and compassion to those who are struggling through this difficult time, and thank those who are patiently staying at home. We are in this together and it will pass.

Thank you so much for reading. Until next time!

Wed, April 1, 2020

  • Keiko, Outbound to Argentina

Hey everyone! In this blog I’ll share a few reflections, my experience changing host families for the first time, getting ready to go back to school, and also talk about a few trips I went on! Hope you enjoy 🙂

With my first host family, I had the privilege to go on a six day trip to Merlo, San Luis. Merlo sits at the lower part of the Comechingones Mountain Range in the province of San Luis. In six days, we walked through rivers for hours, saw sunsets from the mountains, ate several river-side asados (one asado included a local goat), and even got stuck in a cloud (true story). I am grateful for their generosity in taking me on this trip!

Fun fact: The Village of Merlo is well known in Argentina for its micro-climate. Micro-climates are influenced by the topography of the land and are often different from the climates at similar latitudes. In this case, Merlo is surrounded by a mountain range, which changes the atmospheric circulation and creates a climate that is distinct from the climates of neighboring regions and areas.

On another note, I have changed host families after being with the same family for six months. Rotary Youth Exchange students have anywhere between two to four host families in their exchange year. In my case, I have two host families, one for six months and the other for four. Back in 2018 as I was learning about exchange, I became instantly excited when I was told I would have several host families. Why? I think it was because I knew that meant I would have the opportunity to experience different micro-cultures of different families. Every family is very unique, and considering that my parents are two Japanese immigrants, I personally know that there are so many different ways of life, beliefs, foods, traditions, etc. that different families have, even in the same country.

I had been with my first host family for six months, and in that time we had really evolved so much that our relationship reflected a real family. I think we all felt as if I was not only an exchange student. My host parents really thought of me and treated me as their own daughter, and I thought of them as my real parents as well. From the time that I landed in Argentina to now, they have seen me at my best and at my worst, and they still accept me. I can’t believe how this family that I considered strangers a year ago are now people that I laugh with, cry with, bicker with, and have opened up to. I am so grateful for all they have done for me.

As much as change is difficult at first, I also feel ready for the new, to keep growing and learning. I am now with my second host family, and I am happy to say that I have had so much luck with my host families here. My last family was incredible, but I know that I am going to have a great time in this home as well.

I also went to the coast of Argentina to a beach town called Pinamar with my second host family for six days! I am very fortunate to have been able to go on vacation twice with two different families this summer. The days at the coast were filled with uncontrollable laughter, unpredictable weather, lots of delicious food, and funny stories. I am so grateful to have these memories that make me smile.

Another fun fact (I love fun facts, if you can’t tell): Pinamar in Spanish means pine tree ocean, but about 80 years ago, it actually lacked the very thing that it is now known for, pine trees! Pinamar’s forests that are abundant now didn’t exist naturally, but instead were planted to keep the sand dunes in place against the strong Atlantic winds. It wasn’t until Jorge Emilio Isidro Bunge proposed the idea to plant the trees that the forests grew.
With summer coming to an end, I will share a few reflections. Recently, I have been contemplating the word authenticity. According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of authentic is: “true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character”. I have been observing how it looks like, feels like, and what it is to me. I think that being true to who you are is really important, and personally, being authentic has its way of bringing abundance and clarity into my life. When I stay true to myself, so many things come to me with such ease; the right friends, activities, hobbies, opportunities, etc.

While observing the topic of authenticity, I have been realizing that it is not something that you search for, discover, and keep easily for the rest of your life. I think of it more as a muscle that requires the intention to exercise it on a daily basis, gaining natural strength as time continues. Someone who is authentic just shines from the inside out. To me, feeling really authentic is like an inner warmth that comes from a profound sense of inherent worthiness and acceptance.

Part of being really authentic is to accept and love all of the parts of me, the good, the bad, and everything in between. To embrace my story, where I come from, who I am, and where I want to go. I consider myself as courageous, sensitive, driven, sweet, intelligent, and kind. I think that those traits have positive and negative reflections sometimes, but in the end, that is what makes me who I am. My story is not perfect, and that is what makes me, me. I am my strengths and my flaws, my successes and my failures, my hopes and my doubts, my joy and my sadness. And right here, right now, I am exploring what it truly means to appreciate the unique person I am and staying true to myself.

Now that my summer is coming to an end, it means that it is back to school season. In a few days, I start school again in Colegio Santa Cecilia with the same classmates that I studied with last spring. This feels like a new transition, with a new host family, new academic year, and starting after-school activities again; I feel sense of readiness to get back to studying, and a lingering feeling of gratitude for the difficulties that helped me grow this summer, the memories that make me smile from within, and the moments where I felt happiness.

Thank you for reading my journal! See you next time!

Wed, March 4, 2020

  • Keiko, Outbound to Argentina

Hello everyone! Inspired by the new year, I am going to share a few new projects that I am working on! I started a book club, participated in a Rotary project, completed several cultural investigations, and I am exploring new art.

Book club: I started my own book club! My idea of starting it came from a place of wanting connection with people, not to analyze literature. Although it is quite small, with only four people, I think that is also what makes it so special. At first, it was slightly difficult to recruit adolescents to join my book club during their summer vacation. Many people that I invited to join fell into the category of not liking to read or not wanting to have a schedule in the summertime, which I also understand. Therefore, it consists of four girls ages 16-19!

We have had four meetings so far. We meet every Tuesday for two hours and drink tereré (juice with yerba) with cookies/pastries. The book we are reading is Mi Historia otherwise known as Becoming, by Michelle Obama. We read two chapters in our own time, and come together to discuss, reflect, and connect.

The purpose of the club was to create a comfortable environment of shared vulnerability to promote more understanding and compassion for our stories. The statement for my book club is: leave the fear, share the love. Fear hushes our voices, fear builds walls of judgement, fear constraints. I wanted to leave all of that when we enter the book club. I wanted to share love, which is compassion and understanding for each other’s stories. Love is listening to each other without ego and judgement. Love is uplifting and empowering one another to embrace our diverse backgrounds.

Each of us have completely different stories of where we come from, who we are right now, and where we want to go, and there is a profound power and joy in getting together every Tuesday to discuss our own stories and those of Michelle.

In the first chapters, Michelle talks about her childhood and slowly builds to speak about her adolescence. We followed that same format for conversation in the book club. We reflected on her stories of childhood and shared our own. Something that I realized was that this is how we understand people. Not by accomplishments, trophies, or extravagant titles, but by going back to the roots of their experiences and understanding how these things shaped them. Understanding what lessons their parents taught them, understanding how their grandparents were, understanding their day to day life as a little kid. That is how you get to know someone. Not by scrolling through their Instagram or Facebook feed.

Michelle says, “What makes me, me, is how I grew up, not the eight years spent in the White House, that kind of just happened”. I think that is a great example. One of my purposes in coming on exchange is to really learn about other people, other cultures. This book club gives me just that; the privilege to understand how other girls my age grew up. And that in itself is the fulfillment of a big purpose of mine in coming on exchange.

I also learned from this club that so many of our struggles are personal while simultaneously universal. That these universal fears, doubts, and pain show up in our lives in different ways, but at the core of it all, we are so very similar to each other. Conversations about personal and universal struggles are humanizing and it is humbling to think about. We may all be of different backgrounds, but most of the time, what seems so personal is the most universal.

And finally, I learned that vulnerability is power and that it requires courage. Often times, vulnerability is thought of as a sign of weakness. However, by using my voice to shed light on my own story, I automatically gave another person permission to light up their story as well. And little by little, an environment of empowering vulnerability evolved.

Rotary Project: Reading corners in waiting areas of medical centers.

I also participated in a project with the Rotary Club of West Chivilcoy. We built three reading corners in the waiting areas of three medical centers! Essentially, there were six steps to this project: Gather people and materials to help, paint and decorate chairs and tables, collect donations of over 40 books, turn them in to the medical center. In the end, we donated three tables, three book stands, 12 chairs, and over 40 books to three medical centers. Our project was also in the local news! (https://www.larazondechivilcoy.com.ar/locales/2020/1/10/rotary-club-chivilcoy-oeste-efectuo-una-donacion-caps-de-la-ciudad-119630.html).

This project was able to lighten up the room and bring joy to the workers and patients at the medical centers as well as myself and my Rotary club. Waiting rooms that were originally barren with only a few black chairs, became more colorful and comfortable. The kids in the waiting room became engaged in reading. This was not a huge philanthropic project, but I think that the change that makes the most impact happens on a local level and always comes from a place of humble desire to make the world a better place.

Oil Painting:

I also finished an oil painting from my art class that I am taking here! The class is specifically geared towards oil portraits in black and white.

I love art for its innate process. I think there are so many life lessons that you can catch in its process if you observe closely. From an artist’s perspective, art with its interconnected nature helps me understand the sweet melancholy and complex simplicity that make up this life. You can find a photo of my painting in the photo section below my bio!

Other than that, I have been working on a few cultural investigations for Rotary District 4905 (my district in Argentina) about traditional Argentine music, food, and a really interesting monograph of Chivilcoy, where I tell the history of my host town through the architectural heritage. So I have been researching, interviewing, and writing about those topics as well! It has all been quite interesting and I love learning about my host culture and its history.

The start of 2020 has been full of new projects, and I’m grateful for these experiences and happy to be able to share a little bit of it on here with you all! As always, thank you so much for reading.

Sun, February 16, 2020

  • Keiko, Outbound to Argentina

Hello everyone! Today I will be sharing a funny short story of my first time drinking mate and answer a popular question: what is mate in the first place?

About a year ago, I was a curious girl excited to go on exchange. And while researching about Argentina, I skimmed over an article about mate, but never went into detailed research. All I knew that it was an herbal tea that you drink out of a straw. Little did I know, that there is lots to learn about the art of mate, all of its intricacies, and how it reflects the Argentine way of life.

Short Story:

August 26th 2019 was a normal Monday for many people in Argentina. However for me, it was the beginning of a completely different life called exchange. Around 9:30 am, I got off of a 10 1/2 hour flight from Atlanta, a little shocked at how I had arrived in Argentina alone at 15 years old while simultaneously nervously excited to meet the strangers that would become my new family. And this was just the very beginning. On the same day, around 8pm, I was supposed to meet the mom of the second family I will stay with. But after a 10 hour flight, 3 hour car trip from the airport to my new house, the beginning of culture shock, already feeling homesick, doing a little shopping, and meeting many new people, all I wanted to do was to sleep by the time 8pm came around. But my second host mom was waiting on me, so my first host mom told me we would just go for a “little chat” and leave.

When we got there, my second host mom offered me mate, and I automatically said yes, remembering what Rotary had told me: always say yes to new opportunities. As far as I was concerned, mate is just a tea that you drink out of a straw. I thought, a 5 minute tea session couldn’t hurt! But little did I know, there is no such thing as a 5 minute mate. It takes 5 minutes alone to boil the kettle (on a gas stove, we don’t use electric kettles here because electricity is expensive). Then, my second host mom put the boiling water into a thermos and set it aside on the counter. After that, she put some loose leaves into a little cup, placed the metal straw, and poured hot water into the cup. After we drank the tea for more than 5 minutes, I was confused as I watched the clock tick by. 15 minutes. 30 minutes. 45 minutes. 1 hour. We kept talking and talking and talking, as my host mom repeatedly poured and poured as we all took turns drinking the peculiar tea. I thought, “what in the world is mate and why does it take so long?”. Without wanting to be disrespectful, I finally expressed my exhaustion after about an hour and a half. Finally, the mate session finished, and my host mom and I kissed them on the cheek to say goodbye. As I climbed in the car completely exhausted, I asked my host mom, “so that is a ‘little chat?'” and we laughed together as she told me that I should expect to be in conversation for at least 45 minutes/one hour if I say yes to mate.

There have been several similar instances where I had to learn the long way, and while it was sometimes tiring and confusing, it was kind of fun to be in this stage of oblivion because I can laugh at myself with the knowledge that it will pass as I integrate. Now, after five months, I understand why mate takes time and how it relates to the culture here. As far as the Argentinians are concerned, punctuality is not of upmost importance and time well spent is sharing conversations with people. But coming from a more punctual society in the United States and Japan, this was a novelty and it only felt comfortable after I integrated well.

What is it: Mate is a traditional Argentine tea that is usually shared for 45+ minutes with a small group of people (although you can drink it alone if you want to!). The full name of the tea is “yerba mate”. Yerba (pronounced share-bah) is the word used for the leaves and twigs of the Ilex paraguariensis plant. Mate (pronounced mah-tay) is the word used for the little cup that holds the tea.

A common misconception: Many foreigners (including myself before coming on exchange) have the idea that every person gets their own mate, however in reality the mate is shared and everyone uses the same bombilla (metal straw).

Where: Most commonly, mate is shared in plazas, parks, or someone’s house. In my town, there is about one plaza every eight blocks, which is just a green space for people to socialize. For road trips, mate is a must have. At gas stations on the side of the road or travel stops, there is always a hot water machine to fill up your thermos!

History: The origins of mate come from an indigenous group of South America, the Guarani people. When the Spanish conquerors arrived and expanded in present day Argentina, the native practice of mate expanded to the Vice Royalty of the Río de la Plata (a territory in power of the Spanish Empire, which helped Buenos Aires grow into a bustling port city). From the indigenous Guarani people to people in the Vice Royalty of the Río de la Plata in the 18th century to current day, mate is an important and basic part of life here.


  1. Place water in a kettle and bring the water to point where it is almost boiling.
  2. Place the water into a thermos (that way you can bring it places).
  3. Place the yerba (loose leaves) directly into the mate (cup) until a little more than 1/2 of the mate.
  4. Place the bombilla (metal straw) in the mate.
  5. Pour the hot water in the mate carefully. About 1/4 of the mate should be filled with the hot water.

Taste: There is mate amargo (bitter) and mate dulce (sweet), those who prefer sweet mate just put in sugar before step 5. Mates made of plastic and glass work better for mate dulce as well as tereré, as the sweetness of the sugar won’t stay in the material and will go away once washed. Mates made of wood or gourd are most used for mate amargo.

How: The person who is preparing the mate is called the cebador (male) or cebadora (female). Basically, they are the ones responsible for pouring the water into the mate. Starting with the cebador/a themselves, they pour the hot water into the mate and drink out of the straw until there is no more water left. Then, repeating the process of pouring water, they give the mate to the person on the right. Once that person has completed drinking, they pass it back to the cebador/a. The process repeats, with the same person pouring the water and handing the mate to every individual going in a circle from the cebador/a’s right hand-side to left hand-side.

Fun Fact: Depending on who prepares the mate, it can taste differently due to the techniques used. For example, it is quite known among family and friends that my host dad prepares mate much better than my host mom. When preparing the mate, my host dad puts luke-warm water first and then slowly adds hot water so that the yerba does not burn, while my host mom puts in hot water directly the first time, which creates a more bitter/burnt taste.

At the end of the day, it feels like mate is more than a drink. I like to think that mate actually reflects a unique part of Argentine culture. Here, community and connection with people is an important value, which is why mate is literally a custom to share conversations with people intentionally. It is a reason to get together and catch up with friends on a cold winter day or a nice summer evening. It slows life down a little bit and allows you to chat about the little things in life. Now when I talk about my Argentine experience, it is almost impossible to avoid talking about mate; it is the cornerstone of Argentinian way of life.

As always, thanks for reading! I hope you learned something new!

Sun, January 26, 2020

  • Keiko, Outbound to Argentina

Hello everyone! I hope everyone had a great start to this year. Today I’ll talk about how I started 2020!

On the night of December 31st, 2019, we had about 20 people over at my house for dinner. We had an asado (Argentine meat roast/barbecue), but this time was different than what our regular asados look like. Normally, we eat various meats including cuts of steak, pork chops, chorizo (sausage), salchicha parillera (hotdog), and chicken. However, for this special occasion, we had a 33 pound steak rib roast!

Fun fact: The ribs were 33 pounds when purchased but after being cooked for 4 hours, its weight decreased by half.

As for the other foods that we ate, it was pretty much the same as Christmas (you can check the last journal for my Christmas experience). During the holiday season, the appetizers and desert are typically remain the same for large meals. The only dish that changed was the main course, which is the meat. On Christmas, we ate a piglet, and for New Years, we ate ribs. The typical holiday appetizers are chorizo seco (dried sausage), matambre (thin cut of beef), bread, salad, as well as escabeche de pollo (chicken and vegetables), and vitel tone (tuna and mayonaise). Desert is usually pan dulce (sweet bread), garrapiñadas (dried peanuts covered in sugar), mantecol (peanut butter blocks), and fruit salad.

After many laughs, conversations, and food, I fell asleep around 3 AM. Then, I woke up the next day on January 1st and did it all over again! 20 more people came over and we ate the same things for lunch. As you can probably imagine, a lot of food was made. I am so grateful for my host family here who make me feel included and a part of their family instead of an outsider. I know I will always be welcome in my home here, even after my exchange ends in July.

In my Christmas journal, I had written that Noche Buena (Dec. 24) and Christmas Day were not the only days for exchanging gifts here. Argentinians also celebrate Los Reyes Magos (The Wise Men) on January 6th. It is a date to remember the Wise Men and their gifts of myrrh, gold, and frankincense to Jesus. Young children would put their shoes out on the night of January 5th, and by the next morning, there were gifts in their shoes. This year on January 6th for me, the Wise Men gifted me traditional Argentine shoes! They are some cloth slip on shoes called “alpargatas” and are used by people who live in the countryside.

In other news, I went to Alberti on January 3rd alone and stayed for two days (Friday and Saturday). Since I go to Alberti so often (I go atleast once a month), the bus driver now knows who I am and we even have an inside joke! When I go to Alberti, I usually help out my grandmother, cook and learn her delicious recipes, and have fun conversations with my host grandmother, host cousins, and neighbors.

On that Saturday morning in Alberti, I sat in the kitchen with my host grandmother, her bother, and the house cleaner who had sat down briefly after cleaning. Being the type of person my host grandmother is, she instantly offered cookies and mate to her. As we all sat in the kitchen drinking mate, they reminiscently told me stories of how they celebrated Christmas and New Years when they were kids. On Christmas Eve and New Years Eve, streets would be closed off so that the neighborhood could dance and sing in the streets all night; things like your age, who you are, or what you do didn’t matter, the only important thing was having fun. Another tradition that they talked about with nostalgia was Serenata, which is where people sing, chant, and bang on pots and pans outside of a neighbor’s window. Then, the neighbor hears them, opens the window, and gives them a pan dulce (sweet bread) or wine! Things like this are my favorite parts of exchange: connecting with people in a authentic way and learning new things about people in Argentina.

The next day, I took a mini trip to the capital, Buenos Aires. The capital city is a completely different environment from Alberti. However, I had an amazing time there with my host parents, host brother, and my host brother’s girlfriend. From walking in the colorful streets of La Boca to browsing the most beautiful book store in the world and laughing in a restaurant with my host family, I have lots of great memories.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, many Europeans immigrated to the port-cities of Argentina. Among these cities, La Boca, Buenos Aires was where many Italians had immigrated. The immigrant and traditional styles of music and dance began to mix, which lead to new styles such as tango. Now, La Boca is a big tourist hub, a vibrant home for tango, and the home to one of Argentina’s most famous soccer teams, Boca Juniors.

After the visit of La Boca, we ate lunch at a restaurant nearby. Following a nice lunch, we went to Buenos Aires’ famous book store, El Ateneo, to relax and browse books. El Ateneo is a beautiful library that was originally a theater! The box seat-areas are now reading corners with furniture, and the stage is a converted cafe where you can order pasteries, coffee, cake, etc.

Before I end this journal, I want to share one of my main intentions for this year, which is to be present. Exchange goes by so fast and it takes my breath away when I realize that I am almost half way though. I’ve been living with this intention of being present from the beginning of exchange, but it is always good to remind myself to be present and live in the moment. Searching for what I can do where I am, with the people I am with, is how I plan to make the most of my time here.

Thanks for reading! And hope you all had a wonderful New Year!

Sat, January 18, 2020

  • Keiko, Outbound to Argentina

Hi everyone! Happy Holidays! Although this journal is shorter than the others, I posted it for the purpose of a brief overview of my first Christmas in Argentina.

To begin, I want to put out there that I really enjoyed seeing how another culture celebrated this holiday. Upon noting several differences between Christmas here and back in the US, I learned how there is no superior or inferior way of celebration. Not only does this apply to the celebrations of Christmas in different countries, but to diverse people and ways of life altogether. I think that differences and diversity are just opportunities to view the world more collectively.

In the US, there is a strong holiday spirit from the end of November and all throughout December, whether it is shown through Christmas cards, family and friend get-togethers, Advent events, Secret Santas, White Elephants, etc. This holiday spirit is more laid back here in Argentina. Here the aspect of Christmas that holds the most value is to get together with friends and family.

My host parents and I exchanged gifts on Christmas Eve (Noche Buena) before leaving for dinner. From what I have seen in my community here, the gift giving culture is more modest and humble in comparison to where I lived in the US. In the US, I was accustomed to seeing piles of wrapped boxes and gift bags around the tree, while here, my Christmas gift was a water bottle, and I have some friends who did not receive anything. Again, I don’t think it is better or worse, it is just the way it is.

Later, around 10:30PM, I went to my host-grandparent’s house on the side of my host mom for Noche Buena (Christmas Eve) dinner. The principle dish for dinner was lamb! When the dinner ended, it was about midnight, and my two little host-cousins were excited to open presents from Papa Noel (Santa Claus). Here in Argentina, presents are opened at midnight before going to bed, while in the US, presents are opened in the morning after waking up. Not only do children open gifts on Christmas, but also on January 6th. January 6th is a date to remember Los Reyes Magos (The Wise Men/The Three Kings), who brought gifts of myrrh, gold, and frankincense to Jesus. Upon hearing stories of my host dad’s childhood, I remember him emphasizing he always anticipated January 6th far more than Noche Buena and Christmas. They would put their shoes out on the night of January 5th, and by the next morning, there were small gifts in the shoes!

After opening gifts and the Noche Buena dinner, I went to the house of my friend around 1 AM. We just put on music (Christmas music was in English and dancing music in Spanish) and just had fun talking, dancing, and singing. I am grateful to have been able to meet them in my limited time here. They are some of the funniest, smartest, and kindest girls my age that I know. The title of this journal is, “A not-so silent night” as I refer to singing at the top of my lungs with my friends at three in the morning in the backyard. It is not uncommon to hear loud music in the middle of the night from your neighbor’s backyard on summer nights. It is even more common on Christmas, as many people are celebrating. After spending the first hours of Christmas with them, I came home around 5:30 AM and fell fast asleep. A few hours later when I woke up, it was time to get ready for the Christmas lunch. The first dishes on the table were chorizo seco, matambre, bread, and salad (from vegetables from my host-grandmother’s garden). Then came escabeche de pollo, vitel tone, and baby piglet (lechón). And followed desert, which was pan dulce, garrapiñadas, and mantecol.

After lunch, I felt a drowsy tiredness that washes over me every time I need to take a little nap (siesta). Siestas are a necessity here because stay up late (for me, anytime from 11pm to 2am is normal). After my re-energizing siesta, I woke up and went on a short run at a nearby park. Later, I ate left overs for dinner with my host parents and host-grandmother, and watched “Los Dos Papas” or “The Two Popes” on Netflix. It pictured conversations in 2012 between Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio. Jorge Bergoglio, also known as Pope Francis, is Argentinian! Although he was born and raised in Argentina, he was born to two Italian immigrants in Buenos Aires. To be of Italian descent in Argentina is not uncommon at all. In fact, about 62% of Argentinians have Italian heritage, which explains the heavy Italian influence on various aspects of the culture, including food and architecture. I have also met many people here on my exchange who qualify for and/or have a double citizenship from Argentina and Italy.

On another note, I have now spent a full four months in Argentina, which is mind-boggling to think about!! It is hard to wrap my mind around the fact that 125 of exchange have already passed. It felt as if the days blended into weeks, dissipated into months, in the blink of an eye, two fifths of my exchange flew by. At the same time, it also feels like I’ve been living here much longer because of how much I feel a part of my family and the community.

In my time here, many people have asked me, “what is your favorite part of Argentina?” My answer is always the same, as I smile and reply, “the people”. I love how they are so expressive and affectionate, and how there is literally a custom (mate) to share conversations with people intentionally. I relish in the easy going and care free approach most people take to life, and I love how I can always laugh with the people here, no matter my mood, time of day, or what we are doing.

Through all of this, reaching four months of exchange and celebrating Christmas here, the strongest emotion that I feel is gratitude. There are a million more things big and small that I feel plenty of gratitude for, but I can’t fit it all into this journal. To name a few, I am really grateful for this opportunity to see life through a new culture, it has brought so much learning and growth. When I look at my family and friends here, I see the joy, laughs, and connection that we share, which is something I am grateful for everyday. And I can’t forget the people who have supported me and allowed me to go on exchange in the first place, you know who you are, thank you!

The last thing I want to say is thank you to you all! The person reading my journal right now! This was my last journal of 2019 and of this decade, so thank you so much for reading. I hope you are able to learn something new or enjoy this perspective.

Chau! See you in 2020!

Sun, December 29, 2019

  • Keiko, Outbound to Argentina

Hello! Welcome back to another journal.

First off, I want to congratulate the next class of Future Outbound Candidates for the year of 2020-2021! What an exciting time of year! I remember myself in these same shoes last year, full of anticipation, excitement, and hope for what this life in a year would bring. This is going to be a crazy, beautiful, sometimes hard, yet wonderful year of growth, and I am so very excited for you all!

If I had one piece of advice in regards to preparation, it would be to invest in studying your host language. It takes you 10 steps ahead and allows you to truly live up to your greatest potential. If you think about it, navigating public transportation, personal safety, making friends, and building trust in the host community can not be done without a strong base of knowledge of your host language.

(Tip for my Spanish speaking country people: focus on the grammar, especially the tenses because there are so many. Unlike vocabulary, the tenses (future, conditional, preterite, imperfect, present, subjunctive, etc.) is harder to catch onto if only learned by listening. Yes, learning this grammar is basically purely memorization, but it is so worth it when you apply it on exchange. I bought a grammar textbook called Practice Makes Perfect: Complete Spanish All-in-One by Gilda Nissenberg which is available on amazon, and learned a lot. To practice oral speaking, I skyped a Rotex to Mexico on a weekly basis for about an hour, and used the Spanish Pimsleur Program which was generously provided by Rotary Youth Exchange Florida.)

I have now been on summer vacation for a few weeks and life feels much different than it did during the school year. I noted is that there are no sleep away camps or day camps for teenagers to go to during the summer, which is different from the US. Many teenagers in secondary school (12-18 years old) do not work and many extra-curricular activities stop during the summer. For working parents with young children, there are day camps where kids learn how to swim and play in the pool, but that is the extent of available summer activities. With school out for the summer, no more extra-curricular activities, and a lot of unstructured time, it felt like my town moved into a different rhythm of life.

A year ago, I would never have imagined myself living like this, laying by the pool in 100 degrees Fahrenheit during Mid-December, or staying up a little too late talking with friends (maybe 4 AM on average), or going to an ice cream parlor at 1 AM and seeing it packed with people. At first, when I first hit summer vacation, a sense of restlessness stayed with me for about a week. As someone who likes to have an agenda, a plan, a to-do list, this summer was a daunting to go into. I wanted to go on adventures, start projects, and keep busy like I was during the school year.

However, I took a step back and realized that I was trying to apply the US culture of productivity in a more laid back culture, which doesn’t really work. In the modern society that we live in, it has become more uncommon to live life spontaneously and care-free. Nowadays life can feel nonstop, rushing from one thing to another, which sometimes makes us forget to be present and just live. I am really grateful for this wonderful opportunity to let Argentina soak into me and marinate; I am learning to live more presently and enjoy living in the moment, day by day.

From December 6th to 8th (Friday-Sunday), I went to Alberti, a neighboring town that I go to often. This time was different because I went with my friend from school and stayed at host grandmother’s house without my host parents for the first time. That weekend, there was a folklore music festival called Pre-Cosquín, which many folklore singers and dancers preform all night.

The preformances started around 6PM and went on until about 8AM! The best dancers/singers from Pre-Cosquín in Alberti will then go onto the Cosquín Folk Festival, which is a large and prominent annual folk music festivals in Argentina and in Latin America. It lasts 9 days and takes place in the second half of January in Córdoba. Córdoba is another province northeast of the Province of Buenos Aires (where I am living).

With live dancing and singing in the background, people browsed a street that had turned into a market where local artisans displayed their leather goods, painted mates, and more. My host-grandfather who passed away last year was a well known artisan in Alberti, and to honor him, the municipality named this street market by his name! My extended host family takes pride in this and participate in the artisan market on an annual basis.

Again on December 16th I went to Alberti again. It was my first solo trip! I went to Alberti and came back to Chivilcoy by bus (30 km/18.6 miles). My motive to go to Alberti again was to help my host grandmother, who is 81 years old. My host parents were going to help her with a few household chores, but due to complications, they were not able to go make it there. Since I did not have any plans that day, I just decided that I would go alone and help her out! I got out her Christmas decorations, put them up around the house, helped her out in the yard, and cut some wood for asados.

One thing that draws my attention about Alberti is the simplicity. I love how the people there are very happy with such a simple lifestyle. Recently, I am learning how to run towards the things that bring me joy, of which includes being in nature, dancing in the rain, and reading on the bus during a rainy sunset. For me, the joy of simplicity is something that Alberti really brings out in me.

Making the most of this summer in Argentina has really helped me relax more. I don’t have much of a rigid schedule, which makes space for spontaneous adventures and get-togethers with friends! I do go to classical dance for 4 hours a week and oil art classes 2 hours a week. Since most places don’t have air conditioning, the times for these classes changed to the morning and the evening (before they were in the afternoon), to avoid the hottest time of the day. It is actually rare that these two activities that I do continue in the summer, as most extra-curricular activities do not continue during the summer. I really enjoy having these things to keep me occupied and integrated in my host community.

Recently, I found out that I love to wake up around 5:20 AM to see the sunrise and go on a little bike ride through town. There is a path that I love to go on, it is perfect for running or biking, and there are even workout stations on the side of the path! I have also committed to learning street names and how to get around my town (without Google Maps) so that I will be able to get myself places.

With more time to reflect in the summertime, I have been realizing a few things:

  1. I’m learning how to be okay not knowing what is next. I think this is so valuable because in life there are going to be so many times that I may not know where I am or where I am going. Taking the risk of the uncertain path that is made as I go is where the most unexpected and beautiful things happen.
  2. I’m applying the knowledge that everything requires a balance. Even in the very relaxed summer time, exercise and healthy habits are necessary. For me as an introvert, it is also good to have a balance between alone time and social time.
  3. I am learning who I really am, away from my family, my friends, my culture, my society. Because here in Argentina on exchange, all of that changes, and the only thing I am left with is myself.
  4. I am discovering how to allow my boat to be driven by love instead of fear. Truly loving one’s self means accepting and embracing who you are, even if it is a little weird and far from perfect.

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it! I had fun writing this one!

Fri, December 20, 2019

  • Keiko, Outbound to Argentina

Hey guys! Sorry for the lack of content, with a Rotary trip, the end of the school year, going into summer, getting sick, and more, the end of October and November have been quite packed.

I went on a Rotary trip was from October 28th to November 4th. For these 7 days, I traveled through the Patagonia region of Argentina with 30 other exchange students, which was quite crazy! In every country, Rotary offers these special trips for exchange students to visit attractions and points of interest. For example, my friend in India is also on a trip that goes through Southern India, and my friends in Europe have “Eurotour” where they visit about 20 countries all around Europe.

The trip began with a night in Buenos Aires (the capital city), which was fun because I live quite far away from the capital and don’t get the chance to go often. The next day, we woke up at 3:30 AM to head to a city called El Calafate, which is also known as the National Capital of Glaciers. El Calafate is an important tourist destination, because it serves as the hub to visit different parts of the Los Glaciares National Park, including the Perito Moreno Glacier. The first day in El Calafate, we had a free day to eat lunch, go to Lago Argentino, walk around the city, etc. It was such a beautiful, sunny day and I had a lot of fun walking around El Calafate! El Calafate is situated on the border of Lago Argentino, which is the largest lake in Argentina and the third largest in South America. I learned from a tour guide (in Spanish!) that the water of the lake is just melted glacier, and it gets its clear turquoise color due to a very fine powder produced by glacial abrasion. In the winter, the lake is used as an ice skating rink for the locals of El Calafate, and it is 1570 square kilometers large (although it becomes a little larger every year because the glaciers are retroceding).

Another thing I learned about El Calafate/El Chalten in general was about scattered rocks in the semi-arid landscape. There are rocks scattered here and there in the fields, and according to the same tour guide, it is actually due to the past glaciers. The glaciers from the Andes Mountains that once reached those areas had literally taken out rocks from the Andes, brought them there, and when the glaciers melted, what was left were those rocks! It was interesting to learn information about the place we were at while seeing things for myself.

The second day, we went to Perito Moreno Glacier which is just absolutely beautiful. First, we went to the sightseeing area, it looked like a picture taken directly out of Google. We were close enough to see the general details, but also far enough where we could feel the enormity. Then, we cruised across the lake on a boat to reach the glacier, and that is where we began a mini-trek on Perito Moreno Glacier itself! We went trekking on the glacier for about an hour and a half, which was quite an adventure. From drinking water from the melted parts of the glacier and trying to walk with spikey shoes, it was a very fun and unqiue experience. Here are a few fun facts about Perito Moreno Glacier that I learned from the tour guide:

  1. Perito Moreno is named after Francisco Moreno, who was a prominent explorer and academic in Argentina. He was often called Perito Moreno as “perito” means expert in Spanish.
  2. The glacier itself is 250 square kilometers! To give it a comparison, the city of Buenos Aires is 203 square kilometers.
  3. If you pay attention to the glaciers surface, it appears as an upside down V due to the varied speeds of movement in different parts of the glacier. The center part moves at approximately 2 meters per day while the sides at approximately 20 cm per day due to more friction of rigid surfaces and rocks.

The third day, we traveled to El Chalten, and while there are less fun facts to be said, I had so much fun in El Chalten! El Chalten is known as the National Capital of Trekking. Evidently, in the two days that we stayed in El Chalten, we walked more than 16 kilometers and completed 3 treks! El Chalten has to be one of my favorites, for seeing so many different things and climbing various mountains. It is one of my favorite feelings in the world to sit at the top of a mountain, a little out of breath, and view the world from a higher perspective. In the two days, we saw snow fall as well as lakes, cascades, rivers, valleys, and it was just so beautiful. It feels pretty crazy to be doing these things while all of my peers back in the US and in Chivilcoy are in school.

After El Chalten, we went back to El Calafate, spent a night, and then the next day we took a 2 hour plane ride to Ushuaia, also known as the southernmost city in the world. When Argentina first claimed the territory they wanted a population there so that Chile does not occupy the land. However, no one had the desire to live in Ushuaia, as the journey to the town itself would be very long, and life there would be cold and dark. Therefore, it became a town where convicts were sent. Eventually, there were more than 600 convicts that occupied the cells of the prison until its closure in 1947.

In Ushuaia, we had a different tour guide than we did in El Calafate and El Chalten, but he had many stories to share from his own travels. I learned about his adventures that he had collected through his travels to countless countries, which was very interesting. I think travel allows us to meet new people and hear new stories, which can be really valuable and eye opening. The remaining days of our trip were lived fully in Ushuaia, which we spent by walking around the city, learning about its history in a museum (which actually used to be a prison), going to the National Park of Tierra del Fuego, a boat ride through the Beagle Canal, and we shared more meals, laughs, and special moments together with the exchange students.

Being with all of the Rotary Youth Exchange students for a week made me think about how incredible this opportunity is for teenagers to learn, grow, and mature as global citizens. The motto of Rotary Youth Exchange is “building world peace one exchange student at a time”. On a fundamental level, what do we perceive as world peace? Is it a world with no war, no conflict? Is it when there are no differences of opinion?

As I am learning on exchange, world peace is not when we all think, feel, and believe the same thing, but that world peace is achieved moment we are okay with the fact that we all think, feel, and believe differently. Why? Because this means that despite the inevitable differences, we are able to love, respect, and accept each other. Perhaps accepting and loving despite our differences requires much more strength than living with judgement, hate, and bigotry, but I truly think to move forward together in this world, we must accept and love more. I believe that Rotary Youth Exchange truly does manifest this purpose of building peace because on exchange, as teenagers are able to soak up a new reality, a new culture, a new world. I think it makes closed minds more open, it makes followers into leaders, it makes judgement into acceptance.

There is a quote that says “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn” by Benjamin Franklin. I find myself resonating with these words. In Rotary Youth Exchange we are not sitting in classrooms being taught about different cultures, languages, and ways of life, but we are involved in it. This program has completely involved me with a different country, culture, language, and community, as it has for the 35 other exchange students in my district, and the 9,000 teenagers that participate in Rotary Youth Exchange around the world every year. How amazing is it that at 16 years old (although I was 14 when I applied), I have such an amazing opportunity to learn, experience, grow, and travel away from everything I have ever known? This learning is something that brings me true joy and happiness, because I feel that I can move forward with these lessons, stories, and experiences to make the world a more peaceful place.

To me, this feels like education. Education brings new knowledge, perspective, and thoughts and helps people make the world a more peaceful place. But when I say education, I mean that which does not have much to do the mind, but with the heart and the soul. There is a whole other world of learning that has nothing to do with the traditional classroom. It is of encountering people and creating experiences together. It is of personal struggles, victories, fails, and triumphs that hold so much potential for new knowledge. As I am learning more and more in this world outside of school, I found 3 things that were helpful to keep in mind:

  1. I have to be okay with feeling uncomfortable, different, and vulnerable. To embrace who I am, a 16 year old Japanese-American girl living in Argentina, and continue pushing the line where my comfort zone ends.
  2. To keep the positive side of me always stronger than the negative. There is always light and dark in everyone, but what we choose to feed is what we become. The times when things don’t go my way, or maybe it went the opposite way, are also the times that I must see the light.
  3. When things are going our way, we feel like we are winning, and when our hearts are full of light, it is so important to feel grateful for the people who lifted you up when you felt down, remember where you started, and also remember that this is just the beginning.

One thing that may seem surprising is that I was happy when the trip ended. I felt a sense of happiness and comfort came with returning to my normal life here. Yes, this 7 day trip with 30 exchange students was a once-in-a-lifetime, crazy experience and I am so grateful for it. But the moment that I walked through the doors of my home was also when I realized that my sense of fulfillment, happiness, and joy on exchange is not derived from picture perfect moments and fun excursions. Trekking on a glacier, flying to the southernmost city in the world, and hiking up beautiful mountains are all incredible experiences, but my exchange would not be half as meaningful without laughs, conversations, and moments that I share with the locals, who are now my family and friends forever.

Now I am back to normal life; cooking food with my friends, drinking mate and terere in a nearby plaza, talking about the details of my day with my host mom, and a million other small moments that make up my daily life. I cooked gyoza, a Japanese dumpling, on two occasions, as well as another Japanese summer noodle dish called hiyashi-chuka on another occasion, which was really fun. I also got sick and went to the doctor 3 times in 4 days, but now I am better, and as I write this I am getting ready to go to another Rotary orientation where I will take a Spanish test and present about the USA.

I have also finished up the school year! I now do not have school for 3 months until March, which is quite crazy for me since I also had 3 months of summer vacation before I came to Argentina. What am I going to do this summer? I am planning on jumping on whatever opportunity that comes my way and seek new adventures to make the most of this summer and my exchange.

Thank you so much for reading! I hope you enjoyed this journal!

See you next time!

Mon, December 2, 2019

  • Keiko, Outbound to Argentina

¡Hola! Hello! こんにちわ !

Two months ago I landed in Argentina, and to be completely honest, I wanted to go back to the US or to Japan. I knew I wanted to get outside of my comfort zone, but I thought, perhaps this was a little too far. Everyone was a stranger, even my family. I felt lost in conversation and every encounter felt like a blur. For the first few weeks, I was exhausted by the time it was time for bed, with constantly listening to Spanish, meeting new people, getting used to sleeping at midnight due to late dinners, and waking up at 6 for school, it was not easy to feel at home at first. And now? After 2 months, the last thing I want to do is go back to the US or Japan.

I finally feel fully integrated into this beautiful culture, speaking and thinking in Spanish, establishing life long relationships, and enjoying every single moment. I say enjoying every single moment, because if there is something that I have learned these past two months, it would be that everything comes and goes. The good, the bad, the in between will never stay forever. I am learning that nothing is permanent, not culture shock, not the moments when I feel like I am on top of the world, not language barriers, nothing. But that is life, everything comes and goes, the only constant is change. So I am learning to enjoy every moment and never take anything too seriously.

As for language, I will say that it is a continuous progress, that I will never arrive to a certain point where I think, “yep, that’s it, my Spanish is perfect”, because there are always new things to learn. But as I reflect on where I started, in my room, head bowed into my grammar textbook, I realize how far I have come. Now, the sentence structures and verb conjugations are alive. They are not just concepts that I memorized, they have been the key to understanding, trust, and freedom so far in Argentina. I am able to use it to build relationships with the locals, to understand the material and ask questions in school, to present at Rotary events, to feel more safe walking alone, to understand instruction in art/dance class, etc. Choosing to spend my time in language learning has been the best investment for my exchange.

At home, both of my host parents don’t speak English, so at first conversations were slow and progress felt unnoticed. At school, there were many times where I didn’t understand due to the fast pace of lectures. I felt annoyed when I couldn’t express myself the way I wanted to or understand everything. But this is all part of language immersion, to feel annoyed at times and bump into language barriers, but also to learn how to navigate, overcome, and learn from the barriers. Nowadays, I am having dreams in Spanish, and on my birthday when I Face-timed my family, I kept responding in Spanish instead of English/Japanese. I had become so accustomed to automatically thinking and responding in Spanish that switching languages instantaneously was a challenge.

I have now been with the same host family for 2 months, and it is crazy to think that not too long ago, they were complete strangers. Before coming on exchange, I had seen their social medias and talked to them on WhatsApp; they seemed like good people, but also distant and unknown. I knew that the mom likes to bake cakes, the dad has a hawk, they have two sons, and that they have hosted 4 other exchange students in the past. That was about it! But since the moment that I got off of the plane that brought me here, I have been getting to know them more and more as people every single day on a level much deeper than Facebook posts and Instagram stories.

It is quite ironic because my family life is almost the exact opposite in the US than in Argentina. In the US, I am one of four siblings and there is a competition for attention. Here in Argentina, I am the only child (one of my brothers is in France for exchange and the other is studying at university in the capital) and I am the center of attention. In the US, my parents are first generation Japanese immigrants, and until recently, we did not have any family in the US. The closest family we have would be 5 hours away by plane. Here in Argentina, most of my host family is within 30 minutes of one another. For mothers day, there were more than 20 people over at my house. In the US, even for Thanksgiving its always 6 people (my parents, siblings, and I). Since I am the only child, my host mom and I always talk about the details of our lives one on one, something I am totally not used to in the US. My mom in the US does not like to cook, on the contrary, my host mom here loves to cook (especially pizza, pasta, bread, etc.) and is a cake decorator. Nothing is better or worse, just different, but I have definitely been enjoying this completely different family life here.

My host parents are some of the most loving people I have ever met. They love me for who I am. They love me at my best. They love me at my worst. They love me despite the distance that will eventually separate us. I am their 5th exchange student and 7th child (they have 2 biological sons). They have sons and daughters, in the US, Germany(x2), Belgium, and now another in the US and Japan. Through the many stories and conversations I have heard, it is obvious that they have so much love for every single son and daughter, despite the eventual distance, despite the flawed characters, despite hard times, despite everything, they have so much love. This is love, love accepts us for who we really are, even if we are not perfect. My host parents also let both of their (biological) sons go on exchange, and I know that it was not easy for them to do so, but love allows you to go places, to experiment, to soar, and always keeps the doors open at home. This is love, love liberates. Every single day, they live with so much love, and I truly admire them for the wonderful people that they are.

On my birthday (October 14th), I invited about 11 friends to a casual get together to eat hamburgers for lunch and after, to the afternoon drinking mate. This day, I saw so much beauty and felt loved, in the way my host mom tried her best to make me feel comfortable in this home, how everyone who I invited to my birthday came and shared their time with me, how my school friends got me a mate set, my favorite candies, and a set of cards (very appropriate since we always play cards!). For me, who was chosen to come to a small suburb of Argentina, the little things are the ones that have made me feel fulfilled. Laughing uncontrollably alongside my host parents, who are now like my real parents, making bread with my host mom every Saturday morning, playing cards with my classmates during break, joking around with my friends, staying up late having interesting conversations, these little things with beautiful people are what fills my heart with joy.

If there has to be one thing that has helped me most with integration, it would be respect and acceptance. To fall in love with a new country, new people, and a new culture, also means to embrace the act of acceptance and to always respect. Nothing is perfect; I have traveled back and forth from the US and Japan countless times and every time that I travel between the two, the flaws and strengths become more and more apparent. Even in Argentina, of course, there are flaws. It is not possible for something to be flawless. But I have learned that the places that I see the most flaws or see things that I don’t necessarily like, are also the times that I must remember to accept and respect before anything else.

This concept, I have been trying to use everywhere I go. It is so important in school, at home, in art class, to accept and also respect one another for how we are. We are often met with words, appearances, and actions of people, and sometimes what we see on the surface can provoke preconceptions or assumptions about people. But in the end, it is important to realize that every person is a world, completely unique and very complex. To truly get to know someone, is important to interact with a genuine curiosity in who they are as this beautiful, layered, and unique person. I’ve seen how the world tends to categorize people as a certain type of person, because it is easier to do that instead of realizing that we are a little bit of everything; layered and simple, beautiful and flawed, and we are a living image of our past, present, and future. We are all on our own path with a history, and that is enough for respect. There is something about the act of total acceptance and respecting, that brings everything into a positive light.

I hope you enjoy 😉

Thanks for reading!

¡Nos vemos! See you! またね!

Mon, October 28, 2019

  • Keiko, Outbound to Argentina

¡Hola! Hello! こんにちわ !

One month ago today (August 26th, 2019), I landed in Ezeiza International Airport and my new life in Argentina began. As short as one month seems, a lot can happen; with going to school for the first time in 3 months, to integrating into the culture, to trying dulce de leche with bananas (so good), and many other new experiences, I think it is time for an update (also my mom has been asking for one… hi Mom!).

During my first week of school, I noted many, many differences (which is a topic to be discussed in a later post). But it is normal to see and feel these differences, it is called culture shock. The way of life is just different than what I am used to, not better or worse. I am making it my intention to observe, ask questions, and learn about Argentina on a deeper level before forming opinions or jumping to conclusions. But not to be mistaken, I really enjoy getting to know my classmates, and encounter this normal and genuine part of a teenager’s life in Argentina. I came on exchange to experience and learn about a new reality. I think that waking up at 6 AM to go to school, doing the assignments, and engaging with my classmates makes this a real life. It would definitely not be the same if I came to Argentina just for a vacation. After my first week of school was complete, I was exhausted and was under the weather for about 4 days. It could have been due to the season change (the US and Japan are located in the northern hemisphere and Argentina in the southern hemisphere) and also getting used to a different daily routine. After I felt better, I began trying different activities. For example, I tried out to a Jazz-Contemporary dance class and art class, both of which I loved and hope to continue!

The second weekend here, I went to a neighboring town called Alberti to meet and spend time with my host dad’s family. Alberti is a small town less than half the population of my city, Chivilcoy. As I stepped into my host-grandmother’s house and into her kitchen, I felt warmth coming from an old fashioned stove, and I smiled when I saw my host grandmother rolling dough by hand for ravioli. Then, my host dad took me out to the back of the house where I was met by my host grandmother’s beautiful and lively garden, empty pig pens, a horse, and 7 or 8 hens. I picked some ripe fruit from the kumquat tree (kumquat is similar to an orange the size of a grape) and washed them in the well right before I popped them into my mouth. The sun was out and I listened to the sound of the wind in the trees and the birds singing. I really enjoy this essence of my host grandmother’s house; down to earth, charming, and comforting. My host mom and host grandmother are both amazing cooks, they make many dishes from scratch such as ravioli, pizza, bread, etc. (there is a deep Italian influence in Argentina). Some of the most memorable times so far have been when I was helping in the kitchen, and of course, the food turns out delicious. Evidently, in two weeks, I gained two kilograms!

My third weekend here, I went to a festival called “Rural” where farm animals are auctioned, tools and trucks are sold, complete with live folklore music and food. I live in a small city surrounded by lots of country and farmland, so at this festival people can buy their farm supplies and create business relations. At Rural, I met up with my Rotary counselor, two Inbounds from France, and a Rotex (past Rotary Youth Exchange student) who went to Germany last year. Later that day, I went to Alberti with my host family and enjoyed some choripán (a type of sandwich with chorizo, similar to the American hot dog) while watching dances for “La Semana de la Juventud” or “the Week of Youth” with my host cousin and her friends. The next day, I woke up late and enjoyed a delicious asado complete with fresh vegetables from my host grandmother’s garden. Then, I went to the birthday party of one of my classmates! Later that week in school we celebrated the coming of spring, which is called “the Day of Spring”, and “the Day of the Student”. Really, these are just good excuses to celebrate, all of which I have been enjoying! My class decorated the common area of my school, drank mate, and enjoyed food together. When the day of the celebration arrived, there was music playing throughout the school and the whole school sat in the court yard watching funny games/activities which were played by teachers and students of all grades. Now it is officially spring; the flowers are blooming, the days are becoming warmer, the sun rises earlier. I like to enjoy the nice weather by going on walks with my host mom/friends and jogging in the park.

I have gotten together with many people, including the family on my host dad’s side, several birthday parties, and other get-togethers for food, mate, or walks around the city. But one of the most memorable times so far was when one of my classmates invited our entire class to his grandmother’s house in the countryside. School ended early on Friday and most of my class (22 people out of 29) took a little afternoon trip. A few of my classmates built a fire and cooked everyone hamburgers for lunch, which was quite yummy (not because of the quality of the meat, but because of the plain fact that we all chose to be there that day, eating hamburgers in the middle of the nowhere together). Later, we all walked to the middle of a grass field while listening to music. We just sat on the grass in a circle, feeling the sun on our skin and the wind in our hair; some people took a mini siesta while others chatted and joked around. No one was on their phones, it was just us, food, and cows and sheep here and there (how beautiful?). There were several times that afternoon when one or two of the boys would run after the cows and sheep which made us all crack up! It was nice to be in a different, more free environment with my classmates. I got to know them in a different way, the classroom environment is very distinct from an afternoon in the country side. Here in Argentina, the teachers move to the different classrooms instead of the students. Therefore, I am with these same classmates all day everyday, and I am really enjoying laughing with them and getting to know them.

I also have been involved in several Rotary activities these past 4 weeks. I went to my first Rotary meeting at the Rotary Club of West Chivilcoy (my host club) and presented in Spanish for about 15 minutes. I had the opportunity to sit at a table with a Paraguayan, French, Argentinian, and Italian for dinner! On another occasion, the president of my Rotary club took Max (french Inbound at my school) and me out of school early to have a chat with the mayor of my city (which was filmed and aired on the radio and TV!). As an exchange student, there are countless moments like these to represent your country, no matter how small or big it is. I have experienced here that manifesting my purposes of going on exchange, which I talked about in my first blog, do not always come in extravagant forms such as talking on TV and speaking to large audiences at events. But it comes little by little, through genuine conversations with the people sitting right next to you at lunch or maybe building up the courage to talk to someone new. Progress does not come all at once, rather one step at a time. A mile is traveled foot by foot. A house is built brick by brick. A staircase is climbed one stair at a time. I am living the life that I dreamed of a year ago, and it all started from something so small as going to the interest meeting and turning in an application. Many things may seem big and significant, but when you look closer, it is made up of many small and insignificant things.

With the mayor of Chivilcoy during the interview

On my fourth weekend here, I had the opportunity to go to a welcome camp held by Rotary Youth Exchange in Chascomus, a city 3 hours away from Chivilcoy. At the camp, I met 36 exchange students from 16 different countries that are living in Rotary District 4905 this year, and it was a beautiful and interesting experience. Really normal experiences such as eating pizza can be interesting when you are sitting next to Finnish, Thai, French, and Danish teenagers all at the same time. We played games, participated in group activities, played cards, went swimming, traded pins, and more! As I reflect on how only 7 weeks ago I was in Japan, 4 weeks ago I was in the United States, and now I am in Argentina where I met teenagers from 16 different countries, I realize how distinct each culture is and how unique every person is. Yet simultaneously, we have so much in common if we chose to see it and embrace the similarities that we share.

It has officially been one month since I have left behind everything that I have ever known. My family, my friends, my school, the food, the language, the customs, the daily routine, everything. Although this life that I lead here in Argentina is completely different that anything I have ever experienced before, I am growing to love the people and life that I have here and enjoying every second of it. One month ago, I boarded an airplane that would take me away from my home for a year. And now? That the airplane I boarded did not take me away from my home, but brought me to it.

Time truly goes by in the blink of an eye and a quote I read while ago by Chaim Potok resonates with how I feel. It says, “The blink of an eye in itself is nothing. But the eye that blinks, that is something. A span of life is nothing. But the man who lives that span, he is something. He can fill that tiny span with meaning, so its quality is immeasurable though its quantity may be insignificant.” I think it is saying that purpose and meaning is not automatically given to time, but the life that we can fill time with can be rich in meaning. It is this sense of living every day, consciously being me, Keiko, that can fill this speck of time with some meaning. In school, this looks like engaging with my classmates, having conversations with teachers, and proactively asking questions when I am confused at the material. At home, cooking with my host mom and saying yes to every opportunity. In dance class, art class, or when I am out and about, I like to meet people in the most genuine way possible and get to know them as people.

I am so grateful for everyone, especially my host family here in Argentina, my family in the US and Japan, and Rotary Youth Exchange, for allowing me to take on this incredible adventure, for supporting me through the difficult times, and for celebrating the happy ones with me. It is crazy to think that one month out of ten has now passed and that this is just the beginning!

Thanks for reading!

¡Nos vemos! See you! またね!

Tue, October 1, 2019

  • Keiko, Outbound to Argentina

Hello and welcome to my first journal! Because my exchange is purpose-driven (meaning that my actions will reflect my initial intentions) I wanted to give a little bit of a background of what drove me to come Argentina as well as share my experience so far. I hope this may inspire or open new perspectives to its readers!

My day of travel from Atlanta to Buenos Aires went extremely smoothly and according to plan; I boarded and landed on time, I had all of the documents necessary to enter Argentina, there was no lost luggage, and I even had two open seats next to me on the plane! Shortly after I landed, I was warmly welcomed with a hug and a kiss from my host family. We sat, ate breakfast, and talked in a McDonald’s until it was time for my host brother, Thiago, to depart for his Rotary Youth Exchange in France. His departure definitely reminded me of my own when I saw his mother/my host mother get emotional. These goodbyes are so difficult, but from the perspective of the parents, I can see how it is a complete act of love. Love does not clip your wings, love liberates and allows you to soar.

In this moment that I am writing this, I have been in Argentina for exactly one week, and I have learned how the people here live with so much love and light in their hearts, how welcoming and kind they are, how rich and beautiful the culture is, and also how lucky I am for this opportunity to explore, learn, and grow. In these first few days I have met many new faces (including a woman who’s last name is also Ito!), gotten shown around town by a kind people, shared delicious meals with family and new friends, started school, and more.

I think exchange gifts us irreplaceable experiences. On exchange you have countless unique opportunities, you gain so much insight, you grow as a human being, but at the same time, it is not necessarily the easiest thing in the world. The day I left for Argentina I felt a myriad of emotions, excitement, gratitude, and hope, but also a sadness that came with leaving my family. That morning, my grandmother who I had spent a month and a half with, boarded a plane that took her 11,016 km away from me as she went back to Japan. And later that day, I had more goodbyes with my Aunt and Uncle who mostly live in India and Bhutan, my family in Atlanta, and my last goodbye was my mom, who stayed with me at my gate until I boarded. I never expected to feel such heartache when leaving, to cry so many tears, or to have such complex feelings that I can’t seem to comprehend. And although these feelings are cumbersome to deal with, I think it is normal. I am just a normal teenager who must accept, overcome, and embrace these emotions to grow as a human being. A few days after I arrived, my host brother heard about how I was feeling, and so he offered to come all the way from the City of Buenos Aires to spend a day with me! The City of Buenos Aires is autonomous and a different entity from the province of Buenos Aires. The commute from the City of Buenos Aires to Chivilcoy (where I live) is about 2.5-3 hours. We enjoyed our time together by eating a lot of food. First, we went out for breakfast, then we came home and ate more food while watching his favorite Anime (it was interesting to see Japanese culture through a different lens), then for lunch we had an asado (Argentine barbecue), then came ice cream for desert, and finally we played chess until he had to leave. Essentially, almost too much food, lots of laughs, and a good weekend. I am so grateful for people like Quimey (host brother) who have held out a helping hand during this emotional roller-coaster of homesickness and culture shock. When you are in the phases of culture shock and homesickness, it is hard to have clarity. But as someone who is seeing a little clearer everyday, I found that it works best for me to be accepting of my emotions (its completely normal to be homesick and experience culture shock), reach out often, try to say yes to everything, and surround myself with people I can trust.

My main purpose and goal in going on exchange was to learn more about other people, cultures, countries, but also about myself. I read a quote that intrigued me about a year ago, it said, “True self discovery begins where your comfort zone ends” (from Pencils of Promise by Adam Braun). His words and stories sparked a curiosity, a yearning, to step over the line where my comfort zone ends. I wanted to feel uncomfortable. Why? Because for me, being uncomfortable breeds growth, learning, and new perspectives, things that being comfortable can not produce as much of. When the idea of exchange was brought up, I knew that living and studying in a country that I knew nothing about was as far away from my comfort zone as planet Earth is to Pluto. So, naturally, I applied! And after one year of hard work, I was on a plane, going 8039 km away from the place I have lived for 8 years. I am a little crazy for doing this at fifteen, and my mind is full of doubts, but also hope. I feel a heavy sadness for leaving my family in the United States, Japan, Bhutan, and India, but also love for my family here in Argentina who have welcomed me with contagious kindness and joy. And I can say, the moment I stepped off of the airplane, I was very, very far from my comfort zone (yay!).

Another purpose that is coupled with going on exchange is to represent responsibly. Every Rotary Youth Exchange Student bears the responsibility to act and behave as an ambassador for everything that they represent. When students go on exchange, they represent their country and culture. People’s opinions and ideas form around who they are, how they behave, and how they handle situations. This power of influence comes with a real responsibility. Here in Argentina, I have been introduced as the American exchange student, and while this is true, it is also acknowledged that I represent more than the USA because I am also the daughter of two Japanese immigrants. The person I am today at fifteen has been shaped by both the Japanese and American way of thought, life, and being. Being a bi-cultural exchange student means that I have this unique and beautiful ability to express and share two cultures, that of the USA and of Japan. However, that also means that I carry this heavy responsibility to not only express one culture (like a normal exchange student), but to express two very distinct cultures accurately and respectfully. With that in mind, I knew that going on exchange would simultaneously make me the ambassador of Japan and the USA. I bear this power and responsibility in a particularly interesting time, and I intend on navigating this challenge with love and respect for everyone and the intention to understand as much as I want to be understood. So the next time I don my awesome pin covered blazer, I must have the awareness that I also don the responsibility to represent Rotary Youth Exchange, Atlanta, the United States, Japan, and more.

And finally, I wanted to go on exchange to spread love and light. To meet new people and create genuine and lasting relationships with the people of Argentina. Love is what creates real, life-long bonds, to love others and to be loved is such a powerful force that allows peace and respect to flourish in the world.

Thank you to the members of the Rotary Club of Decatur, Rotary District 6900 leadership committee, and Rotary Youth Exchange Florida. Rotary Youth Exchange is completely powered by amazing volunteers who want to make the world a more peaceful place, and I am so honored to be a part of their mission and grateful for this opportunity to spread love and light, be an ambassador, and grow as a human being.

Thanks for reading! Chau!

Thu, September 5, 2019

Keily - Japan

Hometown: Pompano Beach, Florida
School: Pompano Beach
Sponsor District : District 6990
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Host District: 2550
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Ashikaga East

My Bio

こんにちは、私はケリーです . Hello, my name is Keily pronounced like Kaylee (Titi or Lee work fine too). I am 15 years old and I am currently a sophomore at Pompano Beach High School. The School has offered many opportunities to travel and this is where I discovered the RYE exchange program. I’ve been obsessed with Japan since elementary when I was placed in the Japanese class and I’m praying that I learn the language. I know English, Spanish and I understand Portuguese. I wasn’t able to learn the Japanese because Japanese was removed due to budget cuts, but I was lucky enough to get my share of Japanese competitions. Quick recap of my life so far! My parents and sister are Venezuelan, but I was born and raised in Florida!! My parents encouraged me to go on exchange (my mom was a bit against it at first since I’m the youngest ). I play the violin at my school’s orchestra and at the Gold Coast Youth Orchestra. I’m a mentor at my school where I help out the freshman and I’m currently involved in the National Art Honor Society. You can usually find me drawing characters I’ve created, playing the violin or petting my French Bulldog Rollie. I’m a little too obsessed with Art and Music, but how could I not be? My dream Is to work at Pixar as an animator. I’m hoping to become better as a person during exchange and to hopefully surprise myself with what I accomplish! The journey will be rough, but it’s worth it!!

Journals: Keily-Japan Blog 2019-20

  • Keily, Outbound to Japan

Hey! It’s Keily Again!

It’s been three months and a week since arriving in Japan and I gotta say, everything has been going amazingly!

Yesterday I switched host families and it was rough. You wouldn’t think changing host families would be such a big deal, but it truly is! I became very close to my last host family and it was hard for me to say goodbye. I was basically leaving my home away from home to go to another home and start all over again. It’s a bit frustrating when you have to start all over when you’ve finally gotten used to everything, but that’s how exchange is. Change is so common in exchange, you just have to get used to it really.

Now onto the more interesting things.

During October, I visited Tokyo with my host family! We visited all the popular tourist locations such as Shinjuku, Shibuya, Harajuku, Asakusa, Nakano and KoreaTown!

I have to say, Tokyo is one of the coolest places I have visited! Out of all the places I ended up going to , my favorite place had to be Harajuku.

Harajuku is well known for its street fashion and “cute” culture. There’s so many cute clothes and items to buy! Tokyo is super expensive though so you gotta be careful not to spend all your money. Don’t be like me is what I’m trying to say.

I also visited the Shibuya crossing or “scramble”. It’s the crossing you see in every Japanese anime or movie. It’s HUGE. You need to be careful not to get lost because I can assure you that it is super easy to get lost in.

In KoreaTown, I ate a cheese corn dog. It’s essentially a giant mozzarella stick, but it very much resembles a corndog. On the outside, you can add sugar (which is what basically everyone does) and tons of different sauces such as chili sauce and cheese sauce to give you a few. It’s a popular food among Japanese and Korean people. KoreaTown is also well known for it’s cheap face masks and makeup. Korean makeup is very popular with Japanese people so many go to KoreaTown to buy their makeup.

In Late October, my high school had a sports festival! It was a very new and exciting thing for me! My part in the festival was to run an 80 meter dash. Every student was put to do a certain thing. All classes were competing against each other. My job was to run and in my mind I thought “Well running isn’t too hard. I think I’ll be fine”, but little did I know I would be racing against the track and soccer kids. Needless to say… I lost. It was a really fun experience though! All the girls also had to do a dance too. Over 200 girls all dancing in sync. Super fun to do. I hope I end up doing something like that again!

Time skip to November.

November was a pretty uneventful time, but by November my language skills seemed to be getting better. I can now understand and speak a lot more! I’m still in the phase where big words are confusing, but most of my friends just use simple language on a day to day basis so I’m fine talking with my friends. Since I can understand a lot more and speak a lot more, I can finally know what is going on around me, I can ask where places are if I’m lost and I can even order my own food at restaurants! Things are starting to get a whole lot easier now! Looking back to when I first arrived, I can see a big difference. You don’t really see it right away because it’s so slow and gradual, but eventually you start to see it!

Like I said before, November was a pretty uneventful month.

I went to a city in Japan called, Karuizawa! It is an extremely beautiful place well known for its nature and giant resorts and homes! During this time, my host Rotary club had some Rotary guests from Thailand so they invited me to come along! It was extremely beautiful there. The trees were turning orange, yellow and red! You don’t ever see that in Florida.

Later in the month, my host family took me to a traditional Japanese festival where people pray for good luck for the next year. Many people bought rakes that had many objects on it that signifies good luck. It was super interesting for me to see. Very odd too. It is a literal rake!

At one of the schools I’m attending, I’m learning to play the Koto. It is a traditional Japanese harp! It’s so cool! Very confusing to play though. I hope In eventually get better at it. To play the koto you wear some sort of picks on your fingertips. They sort of look like nails. There is also a certain way you strum the strings. I always mess that up.

I almost forgot to mention! Since I am in my school’s art club, I got to put one of my drawings in an art exhibition at the mall near my house! I didn’t win anything because all the other students were AMAZING, but it was super great to participate along with many other talented people.

Last thing before I finish. Japanese food is AMAZING! I’m not too fond of traditional Japanese food, but there are many things that I do like!

Taiyaki is a sweet that is shaped like a fish. I don’t like red bean so I bought mine with custard cream. If you ever get the chance to try it, definitely do! It tasted like pancakes

Sun, December 1, 2019

  • Keily, Outbound to Japan

It has been a month and some since I arrived in Japan and I’m loving it here! I have been given so many opportunities to explore new places and meet new people! I am currently attending three schools at the same time, but I don’t mind it. It’s great being able to meet new people from all around the world. I joined my art club and the members are all goofs and I love them dearly. Once a week, the English club interviews me and asks me questions given from students! It’s so strange being in a school where everyone knows you, but you don’t know them. Having arrived in Japan, I noticed that my Japanese wasn’t as good as I thought it was, but within one month I have been able to improve my understanding skills and speaking skills. Reading and writing was what I mainly focused on in the first month, so now it’s easier to go places! I have not really been hit with homesickness as of yet, but I do see myself missing a few things here and there such as visiting my favorite clothing stores or eating my favorite foods. The food in Japan is sooooo good! I’ll never get tired of it.

One thing I will say is that being in Japan is no longer strange for me. The first few days I’d wake up and look out my window and think, “wow! I’m really in Japan!”, but now I see Japan as a second home. This wonderful place is no longer strange for me, this has become my “normal”. Riding to school by bike, going to 7 Eleven, talking with my friends, it’s all so wonderful. Some of the places I have visited are, Utsunomiya which is one of the larger cities in my district. Ashikaga is where I live at the moment and its on the countryside. I have also visited Edo wonderland which is a ninja and samurai theme park. Everything there is made to look like it was from the Edo period. I have also visited many shrines! Shrine etiquette is very important here in Japan! Arcades are one of the places I love visiting the most, its soo much fun! There are so many games to play! Sometimes the choices get overwhelming, but still very fun! Dance Rush seems to be my favorite arcade game at the moment. Looking back on just the last month here, I can see what I can improve upon, but yet again, I am proud of myself for the improvements I have made. They may not be extremely big accomplishments, but I’m getting somewhere. You always have to look back and reflect on how different you are now then when you first started.

If someone would have told me that one day I would be living in Japan, I wouldn’t have believed them. This is all so surreal.

I’m proud of this big step I have taken!

Mon, September 23, 2019

Laney - Turkey

Hometown: Pompano Beach, Florida
School: Pompano Beach
Sponsor District : District 6990
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Coconut Creek
Host District: 2430
Host Club: Çukurova

My Bio

Merhaba! I am Delaney and I will be spending my Junior year of high school in Turkey! I am sixteen years old and enrolled in Pompano Beach High in Florida, where I have lived all my life. I come from a Christian home and live with my mom, dad, little sister, little brother, three dogs, and a lizard. I take almost all honors or AP classes. My favorite being AP World History, Mandarin 2, and English 2 Honors. Aside from school, I actively participate in two clubs: Improv and First Priority. When I’m free, I love to read, write, and play games with my friends or family. I have won a few competitions for writing, one of which being the DAR Essay competition. For the past five years or so I have been working on three books, one of which is up to seventy thousand words! Writing, language, and history are my passions and I’ve always wanted to do something with them. I am so excited to go live in Turkey for a year! I will be able to learn so much! It will be like I’m living in a constant state of inspiration. I know I will have several challenges to overcome, but I am ready. I want all of the new experiences, the good and the bad. I want to grow more as a person. I want to open my mind up even more to the world, and I want to be able to write about it all. I want the inspiration, the struggle, and the experience. When I return after Exchange I hope to be bilingual, have new connections, help others, and gain a newfound respect for the world. I am eager to see what the next few years of my life will bring.

Journals: Laney-Turkey Blog 2019-20

  • Laney, Outbound to Turkey

To live in the home of a stranger you only met a few months or even merely a day before, and being able to instantly call them “mom” or “dad” is one of the most miraculous things of exchange. During my time here in Turkey, I’ve really come to believe that “home is where your heart is”. And my heart is here.

It’s been 5 months officially, and 6 months incoming since my arrival. So far I have stayed with 2 families. The first I communicated with very easily, as they knew English and had been to Amerika before. Though definitely Turkish, they were very aware of my culture and language. Somehow though, I don’t think I connected to them as well as I have with my current host family.

My current host family is actually just one woman. She has grown up in Russia, Bulgaria, Germany and Romania and now she lives in Turkey. She knows Turkish and Russian but not much of English and acts very differently than my previous family. We have had some misunderstandings which I talked about before, but honestly they have only brought us closer together. I feel very comfortable with her and in our home. Just this morning I was thinking about how amazing it can be to adapt to new, vastly different homes. It isn’t necessarily easy, but if a person is willing then it’s possible.

For myself, I was a very anxious person, particularly around people. And still, certainly I can be but it isn’t so difficult anymore. It has become easier yet at the same time more difficult to express myself and my feelings too.

(The new language(s) both gives you new ways to say things, and mixes up your native tongue pretty badly).

Anyways, I usually reserve the words “I love you” and the like for people I’ve known longer than a few years, but with annem (my mom) I say it so easily- and I have only been in her home for roughly a month and a half.

Part of it is the culture I’ve been surrounded by. Both Turks and Russians tend to be very expressive, at least from my experience in Adana. Saying “seni seviyorum” (I love you) or calling your friends “canım” (my darling) is entirely normal. Hugging twice and kissing both cheeks is the typical greeting in Turkish culture, and for my Rus Anne (Russian Mother) it’s giant bear hugs and 5 kisses at least.

None of this is what I am accustomed to in the US, but it’s been amazing to grow to be used to it. Now these are my greetings and my ways of saying goodbye.

A big reason Rotary sends kids to go on exchange is so they can become “citizens of the world” or “global citizens”. It’s a beautiful thing really, even if the experience itself genuinely sucks sometimes.

Being able to learn a new culture and a new language does a lot to you. Before coming here, I knew very little of Turkey or Turkish. (It’s part of why I chose it) But now, after having been here for 5 months I have grown to learn and forget an awful lot. Things with English, my culture, my country I have forgotten but it’s been replaced and/or modified by things I have learned and gained here. A good example would be actually “seeing”.

By seeing I mean being able to actually see things the way they are. Since I’ve been here, I have actually been able to see Amerika in a very different light. It is akin to a bird and a tree. The bird is on the ground for food and it sees a city at eye-level, but when that bird flies to the top of a tree it can see just how far that city expands. It can see both the beauty of fireworks that we launch on the 4th of July, the smoke that is being put into the air, and the flags that flutter proudly. Not all is bad but not all is good. It’s just different now.

As for Turkey, I also feel like that bird. At the beginning, even though I was in a plane, I still saw the cities from the view of a bird on the ground. Everything was so large, so magnificent and magical. It was so much to grasp until I started to fly up, see, learn and understand more. Now I’m starting to see things from a bird’s-eye view in the air. Both the whole of my new city, my new country and even the world.

There is a lot I don’t know, and I can see that a lot better now. The vastness and intricacies of varying countries, their politics, their beauties and their problems massively outweigh the amount of life we have to live.

Before I arrived to Turkey, people warned me about how it is a “Muslim country”, an “Arabic country” and I need to be more careful as a woman.

When I first arrived, I saw the opposite of what people had told me. I saw that most people actually are not religiously Muslim, but born Muslim similarly to how Jewish people are born Jewish. And Turks are definitely *not* Arabic. Both the history, the blood, the culture and the language are very different.

About midway from then until now, I came to see some of foreigners’ views being true. I have experienced sexism here and it can be dangerous for me to be out at night. I have learned of some Arabic influences such as words like “inşallah” (If God wills it/I hope it will be) and even things like Künefe, a very common dessert.

And now I understand all the sides from first-hand experience rather than word-of-mouth. And what I see is a country filled with different people who hold different beliefs and have influences from everywhere. Because today we have a globalized world, no country is without influence from another. And Turkey which is the land of Anatolia and is in the middle of it all, has tons of differences garnering it’s shores and mountains like raindrops on a spider’s web.

It has furthered my belief that one-person’s view can be vastly different from another’s.

Mon, February 3, 2020

  • Laney, Outbound to Turkey

Right now it feels like 5 years has been wrapped up into a few days. Often I get confused for how long I’ve been here; has it been a week or a whole year? But then of course, as I sit down at this random computer to type and struggle 20 minutes to learn how to use the foreign keyboard, I then remember it has only been four months.

The past four months have felt like a lifetime. Exchange thus far has not been what I expected because it has been so absurdly normal, ama not normal in the sense that it is akin to my life back home. No, it is very different but a life all the same. I hang out with friends, be with family, go to school, eat and sleep. I feel very at home here and perhaps that is why it feels this way for me.

When I first arrived in Turkey I went directly from Miami to the New Istanbul Airport which was a 12 hour flight. It was so weird because I had never flown alone before, nor had I ever been so far away from the US. In fact, Istanbul was my first city outside my country, and following that, Ankara, the capital of Turkey. It was all so exhilarating and rather frightening. Ever since I found out what country I was going to go to, I was super nervous about the travelling alone part, but on the plane I spent the majority of my time wondering, “How in the world did I get here?” rather than “What am I going to do!”

It was strange. I think I was in some sort of shock, so shocked to the point my brain decided all of what was happening was normal. I felt ready for it.

I spent my first and second official days in Turkey at a Rotary Orientation which held Rotexes, all inbounds, and all outbounds. This was held in Ankara at a hotel and needless to say, it was the strangest, yet most awesome experience ever.

It was insanely loud and people were swarming the area and crowding around me, all greeting me in so many different ways. People shook my hand, kissed me on one cheek, on both cheeks, hugged me once or hugged me twice. I had no idea what to do so I kind of just became a lump who was moved around and being made to answer the same questions over and over again like,

“Where are you from?”

“What is your name?”

“How old are you?”

“When did you get here?”

Despite the fact I had been abnormally confused, I was extremely excited. I was meeting so many people from so many different places! It was and still is such a dream.

Anyways, that was how my exchange began. Since then, I have been pretty busy most every day with the exception of the first month.

The first month of my exchange was pretty humdrum actually, and there were an awful many awkward parts. I don’t think the doors like me here. On my first few nights I could not get this one door open or closed. It would always get stuck and I would have a ten-minute battle with it, and once or if I succeeded in opening, it would not stay closed! And I’m really sad to say there were many cases like that following. In my defense, I am not the only one who has made an enemy of doors here.

I eventually did learn how to open and close all the house-doors because I stayed inside a lot. I did not have any friends or know any of the exchangers ın my area because I was a month early for school, and at the orientation I did not get the chance to really meet the exchangers who would be living in my city. In a way though it was nice because I got to spend time with my family and they even took me to their summer house in Mersin, a city an hour away from mine; however, once the first month had passed of my exchange, my life went from staying at home most of the time to being out and about a ton.

I didn’t have many friends in the first month of my exchange as all inbounds arrived a few weeks before school started. So, much like my fellow exchangers, I spent the majority of my first days inside and/or with my host family. The first week or two were pretty great; however, I started to catch the infamous Exchanger Depression and Loneliness. It was only cured when I went to my first Rotary meeting, because that was where I met my best friend.

Note- The good thing about (most) exchangers is that they/we are always looking to make more friends, so İ thank the friendly spirits for this. It can take a lot to go up and talk to new people, but honestly having the label of “exchanger” behind you really helps take away the fear and usually initial awkwardness too because there is always something to talk about. Not to mention, every student is in the same situation- we are in an entirely new place! So making friends is essential for us, which leads to fellow exchangers being some of the easiest friends to make (typically)

At the Rotary meeting I met my best friend and kardeşim (brother) here. His name is Mathias and we both live in Adana about 20 minutes away from each other, and in fact, we both share host families. Technically anyways. His first family is now mine, and now his current family is my old family. We switched, which was a little strange during the process (to be frank, the process in general feels weird) but nevertheless because we got to know each other, it made things easier.

He has been my brother veya, “Kardeşim” ever since. And because I met him It was easier to get to know the other exchangers who live in and near my city Adana. Through Mathias I ended up meeting another one of my close friends– Simon from Argentina. The three of us first hung out in the middle of August. It was merely USA, Paraguay and Argentina in the beginning. Ever since then, we have adopted more people into our “crew” and have traversed the streets. Now İ know most of the City like the back of my hand.

Overall the first month (and second) is by far the strangest, and I discovered there tends to be an awful lot of downtime, but as soon as you secure some good friends things start to become much better. The only issue with making a bunch of friends is that you end up spending less time with your host family during the day so night becomes the best time to really do anything. It is really important to make time for your host family though, during the day AND night, as not only is it important to bond, but they have the real power when it comes to travelling and seeing your host country. Not to mention, for me at least, annem and baba helped me so much with my Turkish. I would be even more confused than I am right now without them.


Turkish is pretty difficult once you move past the basics and start speaking. Understanding and reading is easy but actually speaking it is difficult, primarily for English-speakers. Turkish is in it’s own language group called the Turkic Group however it can be classified in the Altaic Language Family. Like Finnish, it is an agglomerate language where it adds suffixes to the end of a word rather than having individual words in a sentence in order to convey a particular meaning/ For example:

Go = Gittmek

To say “I am going” (With English we use three separate words)

You say, “Gidiyorum” (With Turkish you only use one word)

To say “I went”

You say “Gittim”

With the word “Gittmek” you essentially drop the “mek” and replace it with another suffix such as “yorum” which means “I am” in the present simple tense. In the process you might have to change some letters as well in order to cohere to the Vowel Harmony and other rules in the language.

Nothing is impossible to learn if you set your mind to it, but it is not a cake-walk either. It isn’t something you can expect to pick-up on without trying.

Anyways, I am currently with my second host family. I switched about a few weeks ago and so far it has been really nice. I do miss my first host family a lot though. 1st Anne and Baba and my host brothers will always hold a special place in my heart.

Though it is nice now, and I really do love annem (my second annem, she is actually Russian not Turkish), I have had more problems with this family than I had with my other family. A lot of this is do to our language barrier. Annem’s first language is Russian, mine is English. We use Turkish to communicate but always there is some misinterpretation that not even a translator can solve. Nevertheless, I do actually feel very close to annem despite our disagreements and misunderstandings. I find myself easily speaking conversational Turkish now because I talk with her so often.

I have overall adapted to her and how she wants things done in her house (as it is usually just the two of us). She has some different and confusing values to me. I come from a very Western Culture obviously and growing up I rarely ever sat down to have meals at the table, for example. But to annem, sitting down to eat together is often a priority and she almost always wants me home before sundown so we can have dinner together. Thing is, I did not know this at first and I accidentally made her upset when I stayed out until 9pm one day (because my other family was usually okay with that if I asked). She was so mad at me that she didn’t even speak to me when I got home. That was scary for me because the last thing I want to do is upset her. So recently I have become much better at getting home on-time and communicating better. She really is a great woman.

Şimdi! Now, I want to talk about the city where İ have lived for the past several months.

I live in a city called Adana which is in the southeast of Turkey by the Mediterranean Sea. Around Adana there are two other, smaller cities which, when you look up on google, might say they are in Adana even though they are not. There is Tarsus (where İ go to school) and there is Mersin (a port/coastal city where a lot of people have summerhouses in). Both are about an hour away from Adana itself.

All three cities are very different. Adana is a bigger urban center and kind of reminds me of Boston but hot. In one part of the city there is actually an American Airbase called Incırlık so there is some American presence around, though it presents itself mostly through English. Normally, people will know at least a few words in English, for example. But that doesn’t mean you should go on the street and expect to be able to have a conversation with anything but Turkish.

In Adana, there are a bunch of buildings that look like apartments but they are actually homes. Typically, Turkish cities don’t have houses-houses like we do in the US. İ actually do not think İ have seen a “normal house” since I arrived here and İ have so far been to Adana, Mersin, Tarsus, Ankara, Konya, Adıyaman, Şanlıurfa, Gaziantep, Kapadokya and technically İstanbul. Every Turkish city, or at least most, except for more rural ones, have apartment-houses and they are actually pretty nice.

Alongside the numerous apartment buildings, there are many small and big shops throughout Adana, especially in the City Center where I first lived during my first four months. In the day and ın the night, the city is very busy. There are beautiful lights all around and during the winter-time it is even lovelier, albeit cold. One of my favorite memories so far was when me and my friends from Paraguay, Argentina, Mexico, Brazil and Venezuela were walking through the City Center with ice cream, at night, with a chilly breeze blowing by. It may not seem like much, but I can’t remember a time when I felt so amazed, content and happy. Who would have thought a bunch of teens from half-way across the world would find each other on the streets of Turkey speaking a strange mix of English, Spanish and Turkish? None of us ever did.

In the streets of Adana there are some really cool things, but also some strange things too. For example, dogs and cats are everywhere. You cannot walk in Adana without coming across a “dog gang” or a “cat party”. At first this was such a shock to me– İ have never seen anything like it. Ama now, I am very accustomed to having dogs and cats walk alongside me like people going about their normal business on a normal day. Some of them I even consider my friends, as I can call them and they will walk with me when I want to go somewhere. Both cats and dogs.

In Tarsus, at least the parts I have been to, I have not seen nearly as many dogs or cats goıng around like I do in Adana though they definitely are around.

Tarsus is a much more rural and run-down city compared to Adana. A lot of the buildings are very old, as it an extremely old city that actually used to be a port. Some people refer to Tarsus as having villages rather than it being one big city. My school, TAC, will do trips to some of the more poor villages in order to teach English or deliver books.

My friend from Mexico and a lot of my Turkish friends actually live over in Tarsus. This makes it difficult to hang out with them because one or more of us have to take a train in order to get to the other, but I go to Tarsus everyday for school (except Saturday and Sunday) so I am fairly comfortable with it. Tarsus actually has a mall called Tarsu where we sometimes go to play billiards.

Mersin also has some good places to hang out such as the Marina, which is a popular mall-type place by a major port. Mersin is a very beautiful city in most areas, and some parts remind me a bit of Florida. Still filled with apartment-buildings for regular living and summer-vacationing like the other two cities, but İ feel that Mersin is a little more pristine and cleaner than Adana and Tarsus. At least, the areas I have gone to.

All in all, these three cities are very historical (Tarsus especially — it even has one of the oldest churches in the world AND an old part of a bridge where it is said that Cleopatra went to). You can find statues almost everywhere you go, mostly of Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, and there is always a shop to go to and visit, whether it be for food or clothing. In addition, there is always a Pazaar somewhere. A Pazaar is one of those market-places where people sell fresh fruit, vegetables and other things and it moves around every now and then.

Side Note– Pretty much all of Turkey loves Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and when it gets down to it, most Turkish people are very patriotic. Flags are everywhere, statues and commemorations for Atatürk permeate the landscape, people take the National Anthem very seriously (they will even stop in the middle of doing something if they hear it playing), and overall there is a strong sense of love for the country across the board. One can never say “all” for sure, but certainly for the most part people take a lot of pride in being a Turk.

Anyways, travelling between cities is like travelling between states in the US, but Turkish people definitely travel way more often. It doesn’t even always take so long, sometimes just an hour drive. It is strange to me that they do this, and also that they refer to different places like Adana and Ankara as cities rather than states. And I mean strange in a positive way, not a bad one. It is very different.

I think about my time here very often, as it is something I will treasure forever. The cities of which I live in have allowed me to garner many new experiences and gain so much knowledge. A big reason why I had chosen to go to Turkey was because I knew I could really learn a lot here. My world has definitely been opened up to a new way of understanding things.

Tue, January 7, 2020


Liam - Taiwan

Hometown: St. Johns, Florida
School: Creekside
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of St. Johns, Florida
Host District: 3501
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Sanyi

My Bio

你好! My name is Liam, I am sixteen years old, and I am one of the outbounds lucky enough to be chosen for Taiwan in 2019-2020. I was so happy when I found out I was going to Taiwan–it was in my Top 5! I first heard about Rotary when my brother, Ian, did an exchange year in Finland; but it wasn’t until much later that I first wanted to become a Rotary exchange student–when I realized the immense potential exchange students have for change: not only to change themselves but also those around them. Making a difference is one of my passions—both in my local community and myself. At my school, I try to participate in as many service opportunities as I can handle and that’s a habit I want to keep up in Taiwan. One of my other passions is poetry. Throughout my journey with poetry, I have learned to view the world from a more diverse and poetic perspective. One of the things I’m really excited for on my exchange is the opportunity to learn another language by actually being in another country–for the past few years I’ve had an interest in studying languages, but there’s a major difference between learning from people and learning from a textbook. By learning a new language, I’ll be able to make international friends and become a true ‘citizen of the world.’ I owe this opportunity to Rotary and I’m immensely thankful that I was chosen to participate. The night I was chosen for Taiwan, I was told that for every student that was chosen for the program, there was a student who was not chosen, and that’s been engraved in my brain ever since. It’s the uniqueness of this experience that inspires me to make the best of my exchange.

Journals: Liam-Taiwan Blog 2019-20

  • Liam, Outbound to Taiwan

At the time of writing, I’ve been in Taiwan for around 100 days. Let’s start by talking about how I’ve been here for 100 days and yet I’ve only found the time to write two blogs. Basically what it boils down to is that writing is actually crazy hard. Not only do I have to summarize the time I’ve had, which is difficult enough in its own right, but I also have to make it interesting? It’s crazy! But, exchange is literally all about doing things that are really hard for the sake of learning something really useful, so I’ve resolved to write again. I just hope that you can come to enjoy reading about my experiences as much as I enjoy living them.

While we’re on the subject of incredibly difficult things with extremely useful outcomes, lets take about Chinese. Have I mentioned that it’s hard before? Well… it kind of is and it kind of isn’t. The thing that most people know about Chinese is that’s it’s the “most difficult language to learn in the world.” Unfortunately, this is also the biggest misconception about the language. From the perspective of someone who doesn’t know a single thing about Chinese: it’s absolutely terrifying. I remember all the way back in December, when I first learned I was going to Taiwan, one of my first thoughts was “Oh god, how am I ever going to learn Chinese?” We in the U.S.A sometimes seem to think that Chinese is actually an impossible language. When you actually start to learn Chinese, however, you discover that it’s really not.

So how is one supposed to study such a vastly different language. Honestly, I have zero idea. I don’t really know that there’s one particular way you’re “supposed to” learn Chinese. To be honest, I’ve tried everything and continue to try everything. At school I go to the library and read children’s books, on the bus home I listen to Chinese music and, when I get home, I watch Netflix in Chinese. But of course, out of everything I’ve tried, the most effective way to learn has been having conversations in Chinese. Now, I’m gonna be real with you—this has been one of my shortcomings thus far. Until recently, if someone started a conversation with me in Chinese I would try to keep up but I would never dare to start a conversation of my own in Chinese. If somebody chose to speak to me in English, I would play along and respond in English. I haven’t been practicing what I preach. In my experience, speaking Chinese with native speakers has improved my language the most and yet for the longest time I’ve shied from it. Why? You could attribute it to my persistent and undying perfectionism, but honestly I think the deeper issue is that I’m not comfortable with my skills yet. But, and I wrote about this last time, exchange is about making mistakes. In this case, my mistake was not realizing that to speak absolutely perfect Mandarin Chinese I was first going to have to learn how to speak absolutely horrible Mandarin Chinese. It may be surprising that I’m being so candid about what is, admittedly, a huge mistake on my part. I feel it’s important, especially for an exchange student , to document mistakes. For starters, the first question of the 4 Way Test is “Is it the truth?” and it wouldn’t exactly be the truth if I pretended I was a Chinese prodigy from the beginning and I encountered no difficulties on the way. Additionally, if I ever want to beat that perfectionism that has held me back before, I have to admit that I can make mistakes. Documenting mistakes means documenting growth. Even now I look back on my notes from the first week and realize how much I’ve grown already. At the moment, my Chinese is far from marvelous and I’m struggling with perfectionism; by June I hope to read this blog and feel like I’ve grown since.

Continuing on the subject of difficult experiences with an abundance of knowledge at the end, let’s talk about the Country Fair: my district arranged for all the inbounds (foreign students in Taiwan) to set up a booth to display their country for future outbounds (Taiwanese students going to foreign countries). I’ve been told before that exchange students are ambassadors for their home countries and culture, but I never could’ve expected just how literal this can sometimes be. I don’t think there’s too many things you could do to be much more of an ambassador than standing behind a table with an American flag for 8 hours and explaining different aspects of American culture. It sounds absolutely exhausting (it was) and also kind of boring (it wasn’t). How could 8 hours of stress and hard work possibly be enjoyable you ask? Well we got pizza for lunch, first off. But as delicious as the pizza was, the more important thing is that this is part of the job. When you’re an exchange student probably a majority of the time you spend in your host country is hard work, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it. When I signed up to be an exchange student I knew it was gonna be really difficult and, like I talked about last time, that’s part of what drew me to the concept in the first place. So yes, I was standing behind a table for 8 hours and by the end of the day I was too tired to function, but I loved every minute of it. Second, not only was I standing behind a table explaining American culture to others, I also got a chance to stand on the other side of the table and have foreign cultures explained to me. I tried a TON of unique foods: French crepes, Italian spaghetti, Belgian chocolate, Polish bread, Brazilian brigadeiros, Spanish paella, Japanese snacks, and actually a lot of American classics. I got first-hand accounts about far-away places I’ve only ever heard of or read about before. But, most importantly, I got to learn more about my friends. Such international experiences like this one are not uncommon for exchange students; for this reason, I sometimes feel like I’m actually not on exchange with Taiwan, but instead I’m in Taiwan on exchange with the entire world. In addition to learning Mandarin, along the way I’ve picked up some Italian and improved my Spanish. In addition to getting myself accustomed to Taiwanese culture, being around so many Europeans has me learning some of their habits. In my last blog I said that one of my main goals for my exchange was to become a “citizen of the world,” and honestly this is the goal of mine that I’ve made the most progress in so far. Everytime I start to feel bad or wonder about how happy my friends are in Florida, I always come back to Earth when I remember that this simply would have been IMPOSSIBLE from the confines of a Floridian high school. No offense intended or anything, but it’s simply impossible to become a citizen of the world when you don’t leave your comfort zone. I realize this experience is one that so very few people will ever have, so I am extremely grateful that I’ve been lucky enough to be one of them.

Enough about what’s already happened, let’s talk about what’s in store for the future of my exchange. Right now is a slightly difficult time to be an exchange student because I know back in Florida the holidays are in full swing, yet in Taiwan it’s business as usual but colder. School in Taiwan doesn’t have a winter break until mid-January. BUT, on the bright side, Taiwan has a whole set of completely different holidays for me to experience. Honestly it kinda goes with the theme of my exchange so far: it’s so much easier to live around what’s familiar to you, but so much more worthwhile to live around what’s completely different. Suffice it to say, I’m living around a lot of things that are COMPLETELY different. I can’t wait to see what comes in the next season of my exchange. Thank you so much for reading and happy holidays! See you next time. 謝謝你們!下一次見!

Wed, December 4, 2019

  • Liam, Outbound to Taiwan

So I’ve been in Taiwan for about 6 weeks. I don’t know if that news will shock you but it absolutely STUNNED me. My first month of 10 went by like THAT. It’s kind of made me realize the power of youth exchange. Sometimes I just think about how wonderful and strange of an experience this is. Not only because I’m a teenager living in a foreign country where literally everything is different and I am far, far away from my comfort zone; but also because of how much I have learned in such a short amount of time: about Taiwan, about (former) strangers, about the world, about making friends, about myself, etc. Point is: I’ve been here 6 weeks and it feels like 12. It’s absolutely bonkers to think that a little more than a month ago I was still a boy in Florida who spoke a little Chinese, but over the course of about 42 days I’ve animorphed into a Floridian boy living in Taiwan who speaks a bit more Chinese. The key word here is living. In the past 6 weeks I’ve begun to actually live, halfway around the world from the place I grew up. What I mean by this is that I go to school, I buy breakfast, I do homework, I hang out with friends, etc. However, I won’t go and pretend that everything is just life as usual: I get strange looks no matter who, what, when, where, and why, I don’t know what anybody is saying half the time, and I CONSTANTLY make mistakes. The way I live is DEFINITELY not ordinary, but I live in Taiwan.

With that being said, let’s talk about my life in Taiwan: is it everything the movies said it would be? Well, funny enough… yeah. One movie in particular, Outsourced–a movie very familiar to the exchange students of RYE Florida–actually pretty much hit the nail on the head with regards to culture shock, which I absolutely did NOT expect. To very quickly summarize, the main character in the movie moves to India and at first has a bad mindset that makes it hard for him to adapt, but as the movie progresses he realizes that he’s the one who change–not the people around him. When I first saw the movie, I kinda just wrote it off and assume it would never happen to me. I mean, I’m not a mean person and to just offhandedly reject another culture is a very mean thing to do. Little did I know, it would actually be exactly what would happen to me For the first day or so of my exchange, I had a pretty ethnocentric take on a lot of the things I experienced. As time progressed, I began to realize this and quickly corrected my mindset. A lot of the things I rejected at first because I feared them I now use daily. Moral of the story: anyone can get culture shock and respond negatively to it, and if you don’t think it’ll happen to you then it almost certainly will in some way or another.

So why am I sharing this? Isn’t this blog supposed to be about all the cute experiences I’ve had over the past 6 weeks? Absolutely for what reason would I possibly want the world wide web to know that when I first arrived I had a really bad attitude? Actually, it’s because I’ve begun to cherish making mistakes. Which, honestly, is a skill you really have to learn when you’re an exchange student, because exchange students make a LOT of mistakes–ESPECIALLY this exchange student in particular. For every day I’ve been here I’ve made at least a dozen mistakes. You might think that this many failures would leave me feeling sad and hopeless, and if you had asked me a few weeks ago, you’d have been absolutely correct. At first, everytime I made a mistake I would come home sad and just incessantly dwell on them. Eventually, however, I realized that the entire reason for my being here was to make mistakes. A year ago, when I first started my application, my goal was to learn a foreign language and a foreign culture, and return as a true citizen of the world. Of course, this is still my goal, and that I now have come to realize that to do this without making mistakes is simply not possible. So instead of dwelling on how embarrassing all those little tiny mistakes were, I choose to focus on what I learned from them.

So you might have noticed that in this blog I talked a lot ABOUT my time in Taiwan but I kinda skimped out when it came to giving specific details. You might have also noticed that this is my September blog and I’m posting it in October… whoops. For the first issue, all I can say is that I already have so many stories and experiences in Taiwan that I couldn’t imagine trying to pack them into one post. To make up for it, I’ll attach some pictures to give you a bit of a better idea of what my life looks like. As for the second issue, the tardiness… well, yeah. Really the main reason why this blog took so long to get up is because I took so long trying to perfect it. Eventually I realized that I’d rather have a couple good blogs than one absolutely perfect one–so here we are. The whole perfectionism thing is something that I’ve actually felt improving a lot since I arrived in Taiwan, so maybe next time I’ll post my blog at a more appropriate time… who knows. Anywho, the first 10 percent or so of my exchange has just wrapped up and I’m so grateful to the past version of myself that decided to apply for the program in the first place; but more than that, I’m grateful to Rotary for even making the program in the first place and providing me with the help of all the many people who put me here.

Thu, October 3, 2019


Libby - Italy

Hometown: Tallahassee, Florida
School: Leon
Sponsor District : District 6940
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of , Florida
Host District: 2080
Host Club: Cagliari Anfiteatro

My Bio

Hello! My name is Libby. I am fortunate enough to be a Rotary exchange student of 2019-2020 outbound to Italy for my junior year! I am currently a 15 year old sophomore and go to Leon High School in Tallahassee, Florida. In my free time, I play the piano, draw/paint, watch TV, hang out with friends, run, and volunteer occasionally. I live in different houses, depending on which parent I am with! Other than my parents, I live with a brother, two dogs, and a couple of gerbils. Many people in my family are professional musicians, including my parents, my step-mom, my aunt and uncle, and my grandmother. This has lead me to appreciate music more and more over the years. In Italy, I hope to be able to see lots of different art and architecture, learn more about the language and history, eat good food, and meet plenty of new people! I don’t speak any languages, but I am learning some Latin in school. Art is definitely my largest passion at the moment (I absolutely LOVE it) and I really want to improve and study different pieces and styles more abroad. I am very eager to see what unfolds within the next few year through Rotary!

Journals: Libby-Italy Blog 2019-20

  • Libby, Outbound to Italy

Ciao a tutti! It has been almost three months since I arrived in Sardinia. It is very beautiful here. I came early to spend some vacation my amazingly kind host family on the beach. It was extremely awkward when I first got here because the members of my host family were complete strangers, I met so many new people so fast, and I couldn’t understand anything. For the first week or so, I did beach stuff and then moved to Cagliari. After, I prepared for school and explored the city (there is an awesome archaeological museum and a gorgeous cathedral). School in Italy is more difficult than school in the United States. They have more oral tests and less group work, etc. My classmates are all very kind and help be out a ton. I am one of the lucky few exchange students who doesn’t have to go to school on Saturdays. Typically, my day goes like this: I wake up at like 6:45 to get ready, leave at 7:35, walk to school (around 1.5 miles) and then have school from 8:20 to 2:20. I go to a scientific school where every student takes physics, art, English, Italian, math, PE, religion, history, philosophy, and chemistry. After, I take the bus home and eat lunch around 3:00. In the afternoons I either study or hang out with other exchange students, or do both. Dinner is around 8:30 and is the most important “family meal” because my host family and I eat together then almost every night. On the weekends I go to hang out or just relax. Here in Cagliari there are around 18 or so exchange students so we get together quite often and find something to do. At first, we went to the beach a lot, but now it is cold and rainy and gets dark much earlier, so we do things more in town (like get food). The food here is A M A Z I N G. The cool thing about Italy is that each region has their own food, and Sardinia has very good food (they put sea urchin in pasta???). I eat a lot of pasta, pizza, sandwiches, and gelato. Not that there is much outside of these categories, but I haven’t gotten sick of it yet. As far as the language is coming along, when I first arrived I couldn’t tell where one word began and another ended. Now I can understand more than I can speak, and I feel as though I have improved, but I still have a long way to go. I was so surprised when I came here at the amount of people who know English. Many of them are very good, so communication hasn’t been too hard. But, it is probably also hindering my understanding of Italian. Sardinia has a cool dialect that only way older people or those in more isolated villages speak. The younger people use it to curse or to express something specific and it’s fun to learn. There is an Instagram account, if anyone reading is interested, called @sardiniansays that has some slang. Some of my local friends have been teaching some words as well. I have also traveled some, like last week I went on the Italy tour offered by Belo and saw Milan, Florence, Pisa, Rome, Naples, and Sorrento. My favorite cities were Florence (there is so much art there) and Naples (it had a cool vibe and the best pizza ever). It was awesome besides from the fact 25 passports were stolen in Rome out of the 61 students who went. That ended up being a mess. Deciding to go on exchange was the best decision of my entire life. I have met so many amazing people, I have a wonderful host family, I have learned already so many new thing and seen so much that I wouldn’t have if I stayed in Florida. I am so grateful for this opportunity made possible by the support from people I love at home and Rotary. Although it’s not always easy (homesickness, language difficulties, etc.) I can confidently type that I am not just almost three months into my exchange but rather the best year of my entire life.

Wed, November 20, 2019


Marin - Italy

Hometown: Ormond Beach, Florida
School: Seabreeze
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Flagler, Florida
Host District: 2041
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Monza

My Bio

Ciao, my name is Marin, I am sixteen years old and a junior at Seabreeze High School. Next year, I will be taking my senior year in Italy! Recently, I moved to Florida from North Carolina, where I lived for ten years. Being taken out of my comfort zone helped me realize how much I love meeting new people and trying new things. I am passionate about learning new languages and understanding other cultures as I am currently studying American Sign Language, Spanish and now Italian. I initially became interested in this program with hopes to strengthen my global awareness, learn new languages, and gain an understanding of myself. In the future, I see myself getting involved in social services so that I can provide children with the support and love that they need, and I see myself working to serve others to my best ability with the knowledge I gain through this experience. I love spending my Sunday afternoons volunteering at a local senior center, giving manicures and offering a helping hand wherever I am needed. Speaking to the residents has given me more motivation than ever to travel, learn, and of course, volunteer. During the rest of my free time, I enjoy reading classics and historical fiction, listening to indie and jazz, and going to the beach with my friends. I also adore writing personal essays and short stories. I can only imagine the intricate stories my exchange will invoke! The history behind Italy’s architecture, food, and language fascinates me already. I cannot wait! Grazi, Marin.

Journals: Marin-Italy Blog 2019-20

  • Marin, Outbound to Italy

Ciao tutti! Can you believe I have been living in Monza, Italy for five months! I cannot believe it! I will try to address the most important topics. There is so much to write about, but no amount of words can describe my amazing exchange so far.

I am slowly beginning to pick up the language. I often have to remind myself how much I have learned within just these short months. My exchange began with the inability to distinguish between Italian and Chinese. Adesso, parlo un po e capisco piu che mai. È difficile, quando uscito con i miei amici è non riesco a capire niente perché è veramente troppo veloce, tutti parlano insieme. But I enjoy it nevertheless. It’s so much fun just listening to the conversation! In the beginning, I took the most joy from subconsciously understanding, and I would think “were they just speaking English or Italian?” Now I am at a point where someone will ask me for an English translation of what we are talking about, and my mind goes blank. It is an ongoing joke between my friends and I that I don’t speak any language now, just bits and pieces of English and Italian.

Within the last five months here, I’ve learned so much more than I anticipated. I have learned about myself and, more specifically, who I am without those who have almost always been a part of my life. Now that I have been given the freedom to be who I am naturally, without any outside influence or history, I’ve discovered an entirely new part of myself that’s confident, ambitious, and truly optimistic in every situation. I have gotten to know not only about Italian culture, but so many other cultures, including my own. Meeting students from around the world in the same situation as me, makes the world seem a lot smaller. Along with the local Italians, we have developed a bond unlike any other. We come together to celebrate everyone’s culture, trying each other’s favorite foods, sharing music tastes, discussing different holidays celebrations and even putting together celebrations for the locals to experience.

My host families thus far have been incredibly sweet and considerate. I am so very lucky to have not one, not two, but three families that truly care and are empathetic to the ups and downs of my exchange. I am currently living with my second family, ma sono già legati con mia terza famiglia. Believe it or not, my third host family is actually that of my best friend, Carlotta. My first host mom, Daniela, arranged this for me just a few months after my arrival, since I didn’t have a third family lined up yet. My first host family really was the perfect family to ease me into this new country. Daniela is a busy bee with the best fashion sense. She was always giving me pep talks, reminding me to put myself out there and get busy. My heart fills with appreciation every time I recall it, she encouraged me day after day and thanks to her, I am busier and more social than ever. My first host dad, Sergio, is always joking around, starting conversations (everywhere), and taking the lead. I greatly admired watching him interact with others, friends, family, or strangers, so effortlessly. I am so incredibly grateful to learn so much from each of my families.

This is another aspect of exchange I did not expect to learn so much from. How often in a lifetime does someone get to see what it is really like in the life of another family, and furthermore, becoming a part of that family? Living in another person’s home, getting to know their habits, their interactions, their struggles, and their beliefs, it’s so interesting to see and understand universal family traits. I found it even more interesting to see what was so different between our families. Italians are very openly affectionate, physically and verbally. I will admit, at first the random kisses, pinching of the cheeks, and general loss of personal space is definitely something to adjust to. But after a few months following this affectionate lifestyle, it truly has changed the way I view my relationships with those I love. I feel it has brought me so much closer with my best friends here, I often find myself hugging my friends and kissing their cheeks. I view this now as such a necessity for any relationship, how could I live any other way? This is honestly the thing I will miss the absolute most about Italy, just the love. Another major difference is that I currently live in a very wealthy city. Living in this kind of world, understanding what it’s like from such an inside view, it’s life changing. Kids come to school decked out in designer clothes, with designer shoes and bags. Each family has their apartment here in the city, a house in the mountains, and a house on the beach. I think the most shocking thing to me was realizing, truly realizing, these people don’t worry about money. Can you imagine? It gives me hope as well, that one day I will be successful enough to afford not to worry.

Here in Italy, I have school six days a week, meaning Sunday is the only day with no school. This is not nearly so bad. Generally, I have the opportunity to study Italian and read books throughout the day. School ends at 1:15 p.m., except on Saturday where I get out at 12:15! After school, my friends and I walk home and, yes, actually cook lunch together. This is my favorite part of the day. I always take a picture of the things I buy at the grocery store and send it to my family back home, as my American junk food diet suddenly changed to fresh bread, cheese, meat, and vegetables. This after school ritual has helped me learn to cook and appreciate fresh foods. I feel it has brought us all much closer, as we sing along to Italian classics and talk about our day, and finally sit down to eat together.

As for my social life, it’s safe to say that I’ve made more friends within the past five months than I’ve made in my life. I am so thankful for having gone through a similar experience 2 years earlier when I moved from my hometown in North Carolina after my freshman year to begin my sophomore year in Florida. That move taught me the importance of immediately putting myself out there. I started off my exchange with one main goal: to meet as many people as possible, and put myself into scary social situations so often, that it’s not scary anymore. This has changed my life. Before I arrived in Italy, I was too terrified to talk to anyone, and now I am starting up conversations with random people on the bus, in school, and around the city center. Already, I have made several close friendships, stronger than my own friendships back home. My heart breaks at the thought of leaving this life I’ve built here.

Saturday nights in Monza are something I know I will miss terribly. My friends and I dress up in our nicest clothes and go out into the city center, which serves as the local hangout for all of Monza’s teenagers. I absolutely love living in such a small town, everyone knows everyone. I find it interesting how differently teenagers act here. There are a lot of social standards, which may be stressful at times, but mostly, I absolutely love it. In America, nothing is as formal as it is here, especially not for teenagers. The formalities give each of us, I feel, more of a genuine sense of self, confidence, and independence. During dinner, which normally consists of pizza or pasta, my friends and I are often interrupted every few minutes with other teenagers coming to say hello. They say a friendly “Ciao, ciao amo” to their friends and turn to me, the infamous American, and freeze, unsure whether to greet me in Italian or English, and then, finally, let out a breathy “Hi!” before running to meet the rest of their group. A lot of people here are afraid to speak with me in Italian because they think I won’t understand, and when I tell them I will, they speak incredibly fast with slang I haven’t picked up on yet, and then I smile and nod. Under normal circumstances, though, I am able to understand nearly everything!

Lastly, I must explain, Italians are absolutely wild about their food. They take their food very seriously, they will discuss food with you for hours. You may have realized that I have also picked up on this. The number one conversation starter here is food, and yes, they really do eat pasta everyday. One of the first things anyone says to me when they find out I’m American is, “Oh you like hamburgers haha. You do know alfredo is not a real dish right?” So to all of you Americans reading my blog right now, never mention alfredo to Italians, they will get upset because it’s not an Italian dish at all. Also, never ever mention pizza with pineapple. Never. As my dear friend Carlotta once told me, “Gli Italiani hanno delle regole sul cibo.”

Now that my Italian friend’s can relax, knowing I’ve done my part to educate Americans about these food injustices, I suppose it’s time to end my first blog entry. Love you all.

Tue, February 11, 2020


Marissa - Italy

Hometown: Roswell, Georgia
School: Centennial
Sponsor District : District 6900
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of North Fulton, Georgia
Host District: 2041
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Milano Precotto San Michele

My Bio

Ciao! Hello! My name is Marissa Fish and I will be spending my junior year abroad in Italy! I am currently a sophomore at Centennial High School in Atlanta, Georgia. During the past four years, I have taken Spanish, which I hope will help me to learn Italian. In addition to academics, I actively participate in my school’s Interact Club, and am also the starting goal keeper on the JV soccer team. When I am not studying or at school, I enjoy spending time with my family and friends, whether it is simply taking pictures together or just hanging out. I love socializing and enjoy meeting new people, something that I know I will have the opportunity to do while studying abroad! I also really enjoy playing soccer, and have been playing ever since I was five years old. At home, I live with my mom, dad, and adorable dog Zeke! I also have an older brother who is a junior at the University of Georgia. Among other things, I am passionate about traveling, and have been focused on the idea of living in another country since I first traveled outside of the United States at the age of eight. Not only do I love exploring, but I also enjoy learning about new cultures; I am beyond excited and grateful to immerse myself in the Italian culture! I also look forward to exploring Italy’s amazing history. Besides exploring, I am eager to learn more about myself, and to give back to my community. I am honored to be chosen as an exchange student, and can’t wait to see where this journey takes me!

Journals: Marissa-Italy Blog 2019-20

  • Marissa, Outbound to Italy

Ciao famiglia, amici, e futuro studenti di scambio!

I am beyond excited to have officially begun my journey in Italy. The past month here has been absolutely amazing and I can’t wait to see what this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity has in store for me. Now, before I get into all the adventures I’ve been on, I want to give a little background about my exchange…

I am currently living with my first host family in Garbagnate Milanese, which is located about 30 km (about 20 miles) from the fashionable city of Milan. I live with my host parents, Claudia and Federico, and host siblings, Matilde (12 years old) and Filippo (19 years old). They also have another son, Giacomo (17 years old) but he is not living at home since he is currently on exchange in Bixby, Oklahoma. We also have two pet turtles, Hugo and Ruga, which I can confidently say is quite different then having a dog, but I am really enjoying them! It might sound crazy just being thrown into a life with another family, but I am absolutely loving the experience.

For school, I attend Liceo Falcone e Borsellino, located in Arese, which is about 4 km (2.4 miles) from my house in Garbagnate. It is a scientific/linguistic school, but I study mostly in the linguistic half, meaning I take French, Spanish, English, Italian, philosophy, physics, mathematics, religion, chemistry, art, and history. Though it seems like a lot of subjects, I do not have every class everyday, and school is only from 8am-2:30pm, Monday through Friday (unlike some schools which also have Saturday school). School in Italy differs greatly from school in the United States, not necessarily in a good or bad way, just different. One of the main differences is that you stay in the same classroom the entire day, and the teachers switch classrooms, rather than the students. There are six periods in every day, and each class is 55 minutes. There is a 15-minute break between 2nd and 3rd period, and then again between 4th and 5th period. Other than that, there are no breaks and students are usually not allowed to use the bathroom, eat a snack, or get water during the class. Though there is no lunch time, there is a small cafe in the commons of the school that has fresh Italian pastries and sandwiches everyday that students can purchase for a very affordable price (about €1-€3) per item. In the hallways, there are also vending machines that have snacks and drinks, along with a coffee machine in which you can get any type of coffee, for just €0.40. Another big difference is the social life during school. When one starts liceo (which literally means high school in Italian), they are assigned a class and stay with the people in that class throughout their five years in liceo. This means that they start high school at 14 years old (in which they are in the first year, or prima anni) and stay with the same people until they are 19 (in which they are in their fifth and final year, or quinta anni). This allows them to form very strong bonds with the people in their class, but they often don’t know many other students in other grade levels or classes, as they do not have any lessons with them. For me, I am in the base class of 3CL (terza anni in the linguistic part of the school) but I move around to secondo, quarta, and other terza classes, which allows me to meet many students of all ages. I personally love this, as I am now able to have many more friends and see how the different types of classes work. The students are all SO nice to me and very helpful, and I really don’t know what I would do without them. Another difference, although smaller, is that computer are not used at all in classes here. For example all notes are taken by hand and students also write essays by hand. As someone who has been using computers in school since 5th grade, this is quite different for me, but it is nice to not be reliant on a computer. Overall, school in Italy has proven to be more academically challenging then in the United States, but I am enjoying the challenge!

Okay onto my adventures! I have only been here a month (although it already feels so normal), and have already been to some of the most amazing places. I am familiar with the train, metro, and bus system, and enjoy the freedom that it gives me, as I can get to Milan in 24 minutes by taking just one train. Within my first few days of arriving, my host brother and his best friend took me to Milan (it was my first visit and it did not disappoint!!), and we visited the Duomo, the Cathedral Church of Milan. It was absolutely breathtaking, and it’s safe to say that I am in love with everything about Milan – the architecture, the fashion, the people, and of course the food. I have been back to Milan many times, as I go with friends and also have Italian lessons provided by Rotary twice a week in the center. Another amazing place that I got to visit was the town/commune of Castelnovo ne’ Monti, which is located in Central Italy, about two and a half hours from my house. I went with my host family and some of their family friends, and we hiked the cliff Pietra di Bismantova, and got to see the most breathtaking views at the top. One more experience that is definitely worth mentioning is the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. These are the two most holy Jewish holidays, and it was such a spiritual experience to be able to celebrate them at a synagogue in Milan. Although I wasn’t able to be with my family or celebrate the holidays the way I usually would, my host family was more then accepting and my host mom even attend Rosh Hashana services with me. To top it all off, we had my second and third host families over, along with my tutor, and I prepared them a traditional Jewish meal. This really helped me connect back to home and made me feel like a part of the family. These are just a few of the many places and adventures that I have experienced, but I look forward to many more trips, adventures, and overall good times!

To future exchange students: don’t be afraid to put yourself out there! People (especially teens) are so interested in learning about life in other countries. Going up to someone and simply introducing yourself as an exchange student (even better if it’s in your target language) will likely start a conversation. I can’t explain how helpful it has been to have a strong base of Italian friends, as they are always willing to help, whether it’s in regards to school, language, or just showing you around. A second piece of advice is probably one that you can guess: study your target language as much as you possibly can before you leave! I’m sure you have heard this plenty of times before but the more you know, the more freedom your host family will give you, the easier it will be to make friends, and the stronger your day to day life and communication will be. I could go on and on with more advice, but just always remember, don’t go into exchange with set expectations, because every exchange is different. If you’re considering exchange, go for it! I can’t think of a simpler way to put it, and I strongly feel that if you’re even considering exchange in the slightest, it’s because you know its right for you.

A dopo!

– Marissa

Wed, October 16, 2019


Marley - Slovakia

Hometown: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
School: Ponte Vedra
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
Host District: 2240
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Bratislava International

My Bio

Ahoj! My name is Marley McCauley. I am beyond excited to spend my year abroad in Slovakia! I am thrilled to learn a new language, immerse myself in new cultures, meet new people, and finally experience seasons. I am 17 years old and live at home with my two younger sisters, my mom, her boyfriend, our cat, two dogs and chickens. I will miss my family next year, but I can’t wait to make new friends and meet my host families. Before my family moved to Ponte Vedra we moved around, living in Colorado, Virginia, and Costa Rica before we settled down in Florida so I could attend preschool here. I am currently a junior at PVHS and am very involved in our school’s music program. Music is a huge part of my life, I play the trumpet, piano, and just recently learned the mellophone. In my free time I love to hang out with my friends, go to the beach, hike, listen to music, bike, read, and my favorite: explore. Just six months ago I would have never thought that I would be given the opportunity to live in a country 5,000 miles away from home, but I’ve learned life is full of unknowns and cannot wait to see what my future holds. Just recently my friend introduced me to a quote by MLK Jr,“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase” and I feel like this truly represents the experiences I have gone through thus far with Rotary, and they will only continue with this exchange. Overall, I cannot thank my grandma enough for sharing her love of traveling and the world with me, my family for always supporting me, and lastly, Rotary for allowing me to experience this life-changing adventure. Dovidenia!

Journals: Marley-Slovakia Blog 2019-20

  • Marley, Outbound to Slovakia

Hello again everyone! Here’s a little update on my life, how I’m handling everything surrounding the COVID-19 situation:

The most frustrating thing that’s happened on my exchange so far is all of the unknown going on surrounding the corona virus. I left my host family on Sunday (March 8th) to go snowboarding with Rotary and everything was completely normal, two days before the first case had been diagnosed here in Bratislava. That following Wednesday, Rotary had to cancel our trip to the waterpark because it closed, then the slopes that we had been snowboarding on all week closed on Friday so we had to leave to go home a day early (which was a whole ordeal in itself). Within the matter of a few days everything changed. I was having the most amazing time learning to snowboard with all the exchange students here, I was in a little bubble for 4 days. Paying no attention to what was going on in the outside world, spending 24/7 with friends having a great time. Then that Thursday afternoon my instructor told us there was a 95% chance we wouldn’t be coming back tomorrow and we were all like “what???” …The government had just shut down all ski resorts in the country. That’s when things started to get real.

I was riding the train home, no clue what I was about to walk into. All of us exchange students had no idea what was going to happen when we go home, we knew our schools were closed for the next two weeks, but had no idea how much freedom would be taken away from us. The train was almost empty, and the few people we encountered all had masks. I then got in the car with my host mom and she basically told me I was going to be quarantined in my house with my host brother for at least 14 days. Within the next hours/days the government had announced:

  • all three international airports will be closed down
  • People with a permanent or temporary domicile in the Slovak Republic who return to Slovakia from abroad will be obliged to remain in quarantine for 14 days
  • All schools and educational establishments will be shut
  • Temporary border control with all neighboring states will be imposed, except for the Republic of Poland, where the situation will be continuously monitored
  • International and domestic train and bus transport will be limited, except for imports and supplies
  • Bars, leisure facilities and premises (ski centers, wellness centers, fitness centers, amusement parks and aquaparks) will be closed
  • Social and cultural establishments will be shut down
  • Shopping centers will have limited operation – on the weekend, only food, medications and drugstore items may be bought
  • The opening hours of customer centers will be limited
  • Visits of the hospital patients will continue to be prohibited
  • The organization of sporting, cultural, social and other mass events is prohibited
  • Hotels and restaurants will be open.

I can leave the house for a walk or skate around the lake, but I can’t use public transportation because it’s too risky, which means I’m going from seeing my friends every day at school to not for a while. Everyone is wearing masks, keeping distance from each other, it’s crazy to me how in the matter of a week this could happen. I went away for a Ski week with rotary and now I come back and everything’s going to be online for a while. I plan on lots of skype calls, and school will be over the computer. That will be a very new experience, group “zooming” my classmates and teachers to have classes, which means my classes in Slovak will be difficult with no one able to translate ideas for me. I wonder when the next time I’ll have the opportunity to be in the city center again…. I know that during this time I need to keep myself busy and everything will be okay.

This first week in quarantine really did mentally take a toll on me, I was doing good at first then everything snuck up on me and now it’s Friday morning and I’m crying my eyes out because one of my best friends has to leave to go home. We’re all stuck at home and I don’t know if I’ll get the chance for a proper goodbye 🙁 Every day this week I’ve gotten a notification about kids from my home district going home, kids in my district at the airport here saying bye- it’s all too much. Who would’ve thought a pandemic would hit 2020. Definitely not me.

On a happier note I have learned a lot about myself spending these past few days alone. I have all of the time in the world and I’m trying to use it to my advantage, to better myself. I go on long walks everyday in the fields behind my house with my dog, sometimes put some skates on and do a few laps around the lake. Funny story about that actually. The first time I ever put skates on my feet was a couple days ago and I decided it would be a good idea to go all the way from my house to the lake. Which is a solid 2-3km just to get there and then 6 km around the lake. So, turns out I have no clue how to stop and you have to go down a hill from my house, that was one of the scariest moments in my life, I completely lost control and was just praying there wouldn’t be any cars. I got lucky, and the rest of the way was hilarious, trying not to die on sidewalk cracks and everything. I told my host mom about it and she was like “how did you get down the hill???? Are you crazy?”. So, I learned from my mistake and the next day rode my bike with skates in a backpack to the lake. Still don’t know how to stop though, I just grab onto trees. When I do go outside, I make sure to avoid people and my host mom says I have to wear a mask (which is annoying when you’re doing some kind of physical activity but I know it’s for the best).

Other things I’ve been doing in my quarantine:

Listening to lots of music and podcasts

Lots of watching the news at night with my host mom, following the situation around the world

Spending a lot of time on Slovak, and picking up some Portuguese

Finally trying to learn how to ollie

Lots of zoom calls with my class for school

Some schoolwork

Skype calls with friends

Cooking with my host brother

Reading books

Working out

Here’s a little update from my now 3rd week in quarantine/self-isolation. I am doing a lot better mentally; I’ve learned to except the situation I’m in and know there isn’t much I can do about it. I have noticed myself losing motivation to do work, but I’m trying and know it’s better to keep busy. The weather has been crazy, some days it’s 17C outside and I can sit out in the sun and others it’s been -2C, back to being stuck inside. I’m in a much better mood the more time I spend outside. I mentioned before that my friend had to suddenly leave Slovakia and go back home to the US, that was hard to get over. But I made an agreement with my host mom and she was nice enough to drive me to say bye to her. I am so glad that I had that chance for a somewhat proper “goodbye for now”. It still hasn’t really hit me that she left, we can still talk on facetime like we were doing before, so it’s like nothing has changed- but she’s actually in a completely different country than me now. When I can leave the house and go to school that’s when it’ll actually hit me.

Slovakia has introduced a few more laws surrounding the virus; it’s now required to wear masks outside, all shops are open 9-12 for the elderly and immunocompromised only, and everything should be closed on Sunday’s. Just like the rest of the world we don’t know when we’ll go back to school, if we do. Who knew I’d miss school this much…?

I just got news I’ll be switching families after Easter; I’m excited for a change in environment, but I also really do not want to leave this family now, I love them so much. At that point I’ll have been in the house for over 4 weeks so it will be good for a change, also really give me a chance to know them under lockdown haha.

Anyways, I’ve been documenting my whole “quarantine experience” in journal entries in Slovak so that will be interesting to look back at in a few years when all of this is well over. I’m hanging in there for this crazy experience, living through a worldwide pandemic in Slovakia. I have been given an interesting opportunity to see first hand how a country other than the US is dealing with the virus. I hope everyone is taking the necessary precautions, please self-isolate as much as possible (I know its annoying but in the long run it’s for the best). Stay healthy and we’ll all get through this together!!! I want to thank everyone in my life for constantly checking up on me, Rotary making sure I’m okay and I want to stay, my host family for taking care of me, I wouldn’t be able to do it without all the amazing people in my life  I know this will end and am keeping a positive energy about everything.

Wed, April 1, 2020

  • Marley, Outbound to Slovakia

Ahojte! I know it’s been awhile since I’ve written one of these, life has been crazy, it always is. It’s still hard for me to believe I’ve already been here for over 5 months…my exchange is already halfway over 🙁 It feels like I haven’t been home in Florida for such a long time, but at the same time time’s flying as I try and take everything in over here. I’ll try and catch you up on everything that has been going on for the past couple months. Sit down, maybe make some tea if you actually want to read this-I’m sorry it’s so long.


Lots of new experiences for me packed into this month. The first weekend of October I took a train with fellow exchange students across the country to a city called Košice. There we ran in the oldest marathon in Europe called the Košice Peace Marathon, the weather wasn’t ideal in the slightest-cold and rainy. It was my first experience in the “cold” here, at least at that time what I thought was pretty much unbearable (like 8 degrees Celsius). Despite the weather I had a great weekend exploring the city with friends, making lots of memories. This month consisted a lot of me exploring my own city before it got too cold. Many afternoons exploring the nooks and crannies of Bratislava, lots of cafes, I found my favorite little Vietnamese restaurant in a cute outdoor market, many visits to the castle, just lots of walking in general. Before the weather got all rainy my skateboard was my best friend, helped me catch a lot of buses on time, even though the streets here are 100% not made for skating on-caused me to fall quite a few times. My host mom took me to see my first ballet of the Swan Lake, it was beautiful, but who knew ballets were almost 3 hours? Not me. As I’ve learned Halloween is pretty much only celebrated in the US, even though stores here do sell Halloween decorations and my host sister and I carved a pumpkin together, but there’s no trick-or-treating. I got asked countless times if we actually did that in the US, and everyone was always so surprised when I said yes. My school has a couple American teachers and one of them organized a spooky night hike as sort of a way to celebrate Halloween and to be able to show Slovaks some of our American traditions. It was a chilly night and about 8 of us met at around 11PM and hiked up to a place called Koliba in a small mountain range in Bratislava. We sat around a fire all night, singing songs, telling ghost stories, and showing the Slovaks how to make smores. I had a really good time and ended up getting home at around 8AM. We had a fall holiday at the end of the month and I was lucky enough to spend a couple of days in Prague with my host family. My 10-year-old host sister and I got really close, spending 24/7 with each other and I was at the point I could understand at least some of what she was saying.


I’m realizing this is taking too long to write so I’ll just highlight my experiences. It got cold this month; way too cold for this Florida girl. I’ve never had to wear this many layers in my life, having to consciously dress to stay warm every day is a lot for me. My host mom warned me that this was her least favorite month and now I see why, there’s barely ever sun and it’s cold and rainy. Anyways, I turned 18!!! It was tough to be away from family, but my friends here made it special for me. We walked up to the castle after school and watched the sunset, one of my favorite things ever. My rotary club got together at an all-male rehabilitation center to make traditional Slovak Christmas treats called oblátky and trubičky, not easy to make at all. At the end of the month was Thanksgiving, which at first, I was not looking forward to at all, because it is an American holiday so it’s not celebrated here. But it turns out my school had a very special event for all of the Americans (because I go to a bilingual English-Slovak school they have native speakers here teaching students English.) They invited me to a huge thanksgiving feast, it was so cool to be able to share this holiday with a few Americans in Slovakia, and teach some classmates what the holiday means to me. Made me extremely thankful for the community around me and this life changing experience I am currently living.


I was ecstatic to wake up on December 1st to snow flurries falling from the sky. My host family didn’t understand why I was so excited for the tiniest amount of snow, but I felt like I was in a winter wonderland- as we all know snow isn’t a thing in Florida. Sitting in my religion class I didn’t catch a single word I was too busy looking out the window. My friends and I ran outside during our break and danced and played in the snow like we were 3 years old, honestly didn’t even feel the cold I was having such an amazing time. Of course, it didn’t last- by the time my next class was over at 11 all the snow was melted and the sun was out. After school I went ice skating outside at the Christmas markets in the city. I will never, for the rest of my life, forget that day. We had our second orientation meeting for all the inbounds in Slovakia here in Bratislava, and we all took a bus together to Vienna for the day. I was super stressed because we had to take a Slovak language test, but it turned out fine and the rest of the weekend was fun. The Christmas markets in both Bratislava and Vienna are beautiful, very crowded, but I would recommend going. Living in Bratislava I found myself walking through the markets almost every day, by the time Christmas came I knew what every little shop had to offer. I also went to my first ever hockey game with fellow exchange students, go Slovan! And the last day of school before winter break, we did a secret Santa in my class and then a few Christmas related workshops throughout the day.

Christmas here was full of a lot of new experiences for me. It is celebrated on the 24th, I spent the whole day with my family hanging around the house, preparing for dinner. Unfortunately, the days leading up to Christmas I was extremely sick so I missed out on making the million types of cookies with my host sister (but it’s okay I still got to eat them). On Christmas there’s a tradition to put fish scales on the dinner table for good luck, but we didn’t have any so we replaced them with coins instead. We started dinner eating oblátky with honey and a clove of garlic. Then kapustnica (sour cabbage soup) and carp with potato salad for the main meal. My host sister could barely sit still waiting for us to finish dinner because then came with the ring of a bell Ježiško (baby Jesus), delivering presents under the Christmas tree when we went outside to look for him. It was really nice to be able to celebrate the holiday with a different culture’s perspective.

After Christmas I drove 5 hours with my host family across Slovakia to Prešov to visit my host mom’s family for a few days. We visited the high Tatras and it was honestly the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. Hiking in the mountains with everything covered with snow was breathtaking, and it was a beautiful day outside-the sun was shining, making everything prettier (and less cold, the -10 C was enough!) I had a fun time with my host uncle, he learned how to say “yellow snow no” in English for me and probably repeated it 100 times that day.

Though I did have plenty of good days in November and December, those were probably the toughest months I’ve had so far on exchange. Physically I was drained, the weather was gloomy, the sun was barely ever out, and I was constantly exhausted. Mentally my brain was overstimulated constantly trying to translate everything around me, which caused a lot of frustration because I still couldn’t understand a lot. Seasonal depression is a thing y’all.


I went into the new year with my friends sitting on the bank of the Danube river watching a beautiful firework show. Never, in a million years, did I think that’s how I would go into 2020. As soon as January hit everything has started going by so fast. I am completely comfortable living in a not-so-foreign (anymore) country. I love my life here, and before I came, I didn’t know I could grow this much as a person. My whole perspective on the world has changed and I’m beyond grateful for that.

This month I had a lot of changes again. My host family wanted to make the most of my last couple of days with them (and the last couple days of winter break). We visited a fairytale looking castle and a Caravaggio & Bernini art exhibit in Vienna. Both beautiful experiences. Then came time to say čau to my first family and that was rough. I spent almost five months with them, I’ve grown so much since my first day here. They had to teach me everything about the culture here, from little things like different table manners to big things like language and transportation. Everything was new to me and I’m thankful they had the patience to immerse me into their culture and welcome me into their home. It was hard to pack all of my things; I didn’t realize how much stuff I’d accumulated until I tried to fit it into my bags and it just didn’t work. I got super emotional saying bye to my little sister, she latched onto me and would only let me leave when I promised I would come visit soon.

Walking out that door I started a new chapter of my exchange. I moved to a completely different part of Bratislava, called Senec. Before I was living 5 min from Hungary and now, I’m definitely not. To get to the city center I now have to take a short train ride, which is pretty inconvenient only because the trains to my little town don’t go very often. I thought I woke up early before, but now my train leaves for school at 6:30, and it takes about an hour and a half, with all the transportation I take, to get there. But my host family is amazing so that inconvenience doesn’t even matter. They welcomed me into their family immediately, and are some of the sweetest, kindest people I have met since I’ve been here.

I understand now why we switch families. My new family eats different foods, has different mannerisms, etc.- I’m experiencing a different “interpretation” of Slovak culture. I now have cute little dog and 16-year old host brother. When I moved in with this family, I wasn’t the little baby I was when I first flew into Slovakia, I already have my routine, friends, klubs. I know how everything works, I can get around the city alone, so I don’t need to rely on them for every little thing like I did with my first family. With our busy schedules it was a different way of getting to know each other. Little bits at a time- at dinner after school, occasionally not staying out with my friends and going home just to exercise with my host mom, spending a Saturday at home and spending time together-just making these little efforts from both sides in the matter of less than 2 months I feel like a part of the family.

The biggest question I get from people back in Florida is “how’s the language? Are you fluent yet?”. It didn’t take me long to realize how hard Slovak was, it just took me a long time to accept that my Slovak would never be perfect and by the end of these 10 months I still probably won’t know most of the grammar, won’t be able to have long complicated conversations. Part of this may be due to the fact that almost everyone around me speaks English, I go to a bilingual English school, I live in the capital city. BUT I’ve seen an exponential increase in my Slovak when I moved into my new family because they don’t know English. This is the push I’ve needed- to be forced to speak Slovak in order to communicate. I was so embarrassed at first because my pronunciation isn’t the best but now, I realize that’s stupid. They are the most amazing people being patient with me, I learn so much every day with them constantly correcting me. Now I can have a conversation with my host mom on the phone with no problem. And at this point I’ve accepted that any accomplishment, no matter how small, is a win with Slovak. The other day I was able to have a conversation with the barista at a café, and a lady on the street asked me for directions and I was able to respond in my broken sentences and horrible grammar. So, when I get that question “are you fluent yet?” I can confidently say I am trying my hardest and am almost conversational.

So far since I’ve moved in with my new family a lot has happened. I had another rotary orientation weekend for all the inbounds in Slovakia, this time in Poprad. We spent all day hiking in the mountains, on literal ice, so we all took multiple falls. It was really nice to be able to hang out with all of the exchange students again, we all got very close over that weekend. I also sled for the first time ever with a fellow Floridian and that was the most fun I’ve had in long time, lots of crashing. My host family took me snowboarding for the first time, only for a few hours, but it was so fun. They said I did really good for my first time and I’m looking forward to being able try again. It also snowed for the second time in Bratislava (it’s been a warm winter for Slovakia)!!

Then another exchange student from Australia arrived in Bratislava and it’s been exciting getting to know her. She’s in my class at school and I love being able to learn about Australian culture and it’s funny how different their English is than ours. It’s also crazy to see that I was in her situation 5 months ago, I’ve learned so much and hopefully can help her out some. I love how since I’ve been on exchange, I’ve not only learned a lot about Slovak culture but also Brazilian, Canadian, Australian and Colombian cultures. RYE is really an amazing way to connect the world.

And last but not least, February:

The sun finally came out!!!! I was ESTATIC when the weather slowly switched from being constantly foggy and cloudy to the sun occasionally shining (at least 3-4 times a week now). This month Riko, the Australian, has taught me how to make sushi, and if you know me you know how much I love sushi. I’ve visited 4 more castles with my host family, walked to Austria (don’t worry it was only like 4 km), went to another hockey game, and done a lot more exploring of the city. My goal now is to find the perfect café. Bratislava has the infamous UFO tower on the “new bridge” that overlooks the whole city and after 6 months of crossing the bridge every day I finally went up, and that view was amazing.

Then I had my spring holiday, and that was an amazing week. I visited Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, then spent two days in Prague with my close friends. We had such a great time exploring the city all day, it was so weird to hear so many people speaking English, it’s almost all tourists in the center. It was pretty cool that we could go to a café there and speak Slovak to the barista and they would respond in Czech and there wasn’t much of a problem understanding each other. I was not ready for the holiday to end I was having such a good time, but now I’m back in school, back to my normal schedule. The next thing I have to look forward to is a Ski Week organized by rotary in March!

Okay, as we would say here ďakujem vám za pozornosť (thank you for your attention)! I’m sorry if I bored you but I’m glad I can share. Thank you to everyone for continuing to support me through my exchange, especially all the Rotary members who have had my back since the beginning. I’m looking forward to my next couple months in Slovakia and I can’t wait to see what the future has in hold for me 🙂

Thu, March 5, 2020

  • Marley, Outbound to Slovakia

Ahojte! Oh, I have no idea where to start, this has truly been a life changing experience and it has only been a little more than a month of me living here. Time really does fly. I started my exchange with a “30-day challenge”- I didn’t talk to anyone I was close to back home, friends and family, for 30 days. I did post some on Facebook and Instagram so everyone (my mom) knew I was alive and doing well. This really helped me to integrate myself into life here and I would highly recommend to future exchange students. I feel like it also really helped me avoid homesickness my first couple of weeks. Anyway, here’s a bit about my exchange so far.

Airport “adventure”:

Leaving Florida, I had a long journey ahead of me, one that I wasn’t entirely prepared to handle or, at the very least, expecting. I’ve heard stories of flight problems, delays and such but I just never really thought that would be me- guess who was wrong. I said my final goodbyes, and I remember walking through that security line thinking “wow, I’m really about to do this” it was an insane feeling. So, my flight out of Jacksonville on the 20th of August ended up getting delayed so I missed my connecting flight in Washington DC, which was not fun. I had to talk to a million people to change my flights and everything but I did it. Instead of flying straight from DC to Vienna I had to be rerouted to Munich then Vienna, which added another 8 hours of traveling to my itinerary. I ended up landing in Vienna on August 21st after 4 airports. I was exhausted, my back hurt because my backpack was so heavy, my blazer was annoying me, but the feeling of relief when I was greeted by my host family is something I’ll never forget. Eliŝka, my host sister, sprinted towards me and gave me the biggest hug and everything after that was a blur. I found out on the car ride to my new home that it was Eliŝka’s 10th birthday so when we got home, we celebrated with a chocolate cake (my first “meal” in Slovakia). I was beyond exhausted and slept for like 15 hours that night.

Where I live:

I live in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. The population is roughly 433,000 making it a smaller European capital. Bratislava borders Austria and Hungary, Vienna is only 55 km away from the city! The Danube river goes through the city, and the little Carpathian mountain range isn’t very far. It’s crazy living so close to everything, I get to experience city life, and at the same time all the natural beauties aren’t far from me at all. My first full day here my host cousin showed me around the city, we saw the Bratislava castle and some other touristy places. And it was my first time riding public transportation. Let me tell you it took me a long time to understand the bus schedules and even now I still miss the bus or end up taking the wrong trams. But it has been really nice because I can get pretty much everywhere here by the buses and trams, and I’ve been given a lot of freedom to explore the city. I live in a cute little neighborhood 25 min by car outside the city, there’s a lake here that everyone goes swimming at in the summer and just down the street from my house there’s a bakery in someone’s garage and at night the street smells amazing. Everyone is so into exercise here, in the evening there’s a bike road all the way to the city behind my neighborhood and so many people either bike, scooter, run, or rollerblade. My host dad has invited me out to bike with him a few times and the first time I went we biked 20 km, fast…my legs hurt so bad after but it was such a good feeling. I’ve also started running a bit with a girl I met in the neighborhood. It’s helped me to clear my mind and it gives me something to do when I’m bored.


I go to Bilingválne gymnázium C. S. Lewisa, a bilingual high school for English here in Bratislava. School here is so different than it was back in the US, and I’ve been told that my school isn’t even a typical Slovak high school because it’s bilingual. There are about 450 kids here in grades from freshman to super seniors (everyone has 5 years of high school in bilingual schools). I really really like this school but I was kind of disappointed to hear that most of my classes would be in English because I’m missing out on a lot of language immersion-but my school allowed me to drop some of them so it turned out alright. I stay with the same class of 12 people all day, except for when I have Slovak lessons. My schedule changes every day (about 4-6 classes a day) and most of the classes we take only have lessons twice a week. I am usually done with my lessons by 2, then I eat a big lunch usually with soup, some kind of salad, and the main meal. And everyone eats a snack (usually a sandwich and fruit) at about 10. Biology, geography, and civics are all taught in English and physics, PE, religionðics, math, art, and Spanish are all taught in Slovak. And my classmates take even more classes than that because I dropped out of some! I’m very thankful that my school put me and the 3 other exchange students here into 5 Slovak lessons a week, it’s helping with my language skills a ton.

We have 10-15 minutes between every class and when there are even longer breaks in my schedule, I can leave school to take a walk or go to a little grocery store for a pastry or something before my next class. It’s super nice having all of this freedom at school. Or sometimes I just stay in the school and hang around till my next lesson. I’m writing this journal from my school’s café, and in what we call the gallery (it’s probably closest to what we call an auditorium in the US- but it’s open and in the middle of the school) there are beanbags and couches to hang out on. Also, another new thing about school here is that starting in October we have to change into indoor shoes because the weather gets really rainy and they don’t want us stomping mud all over the floors. Catch me freezing pretty soon, everyone tells me the school gets really cold in the winter because there’s no heating.

What I’ve done:

My third day here my host family took me on an amazing trip to the Low Tatras, a mountain range in Slovakia. It was an incredible start to this exchange and a great way for all of us to get to know each other. We went to a waterpark, saw a horseback riding competition, I caught a fish, we went to the top of a mountain on a ski lift, we hiked 15 km up a mountain and through valleys, and so much more. The nature here is breathtaking, I’m so happy to be living in this beautiful country.

Me and 3 other exchange students living in Bratislava went to a city called Martin for a medical check that’s required to get our residency permits to stay in Slovakia. That was interesting to say the least.

I met 72 other people from at least 10 different countries spending their exchange year in Slovakia or Czech Republic. I’ve definitely made friendships that will last a lifetime. It was an amazing weekend with little sleep. And me and a girl from Brazil tied for best score on our Slovak language test!

I’ve seen at least 6 castles.

I rode my first train.

I went on a 5-hour hike in the rain with my schools hiking club to the Pajŝtun castle ruins.

I joined my schools dance club, even though I’ve never danced a day in my life. And I’m so bad, but it’s fun.

I’ve seen traditional Slovak dance performed multiple times.

I’ve tried so many interesting and delicious new foods. Everything is so good and homemade.


Slovak language

Trying to learn a new language is hands down the hardest thing I have ever done. Sometimes I’m sitting at my desk trying to grasp this language and I think “why did I do this to myself.” Hearing people speak a different language 24/7 is definitely something that has taken getting used to. At times it is extremely frustrating to not understand what is going on around me, but it just makes me work that much harder to learn this language. I feel so accomplished when I can pick up words or phrases, or read a menu or billboard. It is definitely a work in progress, and a very slow one at that. But my desire to learn this language is indescribable, I want nothing more than to be able to communicate with these people in their language. A lot of people I meet are very surprised I even want to learn Slovak, if I’m going to be here for 10 months of course I want to try, even if only 5 million people speak it. I’ve surprised a few kids at school by saying a few simple phrases in Slovak, they just assume I know nothing. And because everyone knows English it makes it very hard to practice my Slovak, they either speak to me in English or too fast for me to understand.

A few things I’ve learned since being here: I really can’t “roll” my r’s at all. And that’s a problem considering that’s how every r is pronounced. And almost every TV show here is in Czech, except for the news in Slovak, because the languages are so similar everyone here speaks both with no problem.

I urge anyone considering going on exchange, do it, it’s totally worth. Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard, like really hard. I’ve only been here a month and I’ve already grown as a person. I’ve learned to see things from a different perspective, I’ve discovered a new culture, met so many new people. But you have to remember exchange is real life. There’s not always something fun and exciting to do all the time. Some days I wake up, go to school, then go home-nothing special. But overall, I’m building a life for myself in a new country and so far, it has been incredible. There are no words to describe how incredibly thankful I am to Rotary for giving me this opportunity, and for providing me with an amazing support system both here and in the US.

I know this journal is long, and I rambled a lot, but hopefully this gave you an insight into my life here in Slovakia! Honestly, I think more people should know about this beautiful country. Thanks for reading 🙂

Fri, October 4, 2019


Mia - Brazil

Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: Pedro Menendez High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Rotary Club of St. Augustine Beach, Florida
Host District: 4571
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Petropolis

My Bio

Oi! Hello my name is Mia Mondello and I will be headed to Brazil soon! I am so excited this is a dream of mine and cannot believe I will be living it soon. I am sophomore at Pedro Menendez High School in St. Augustine Florida, my hometown. In school I take Spanish which I have found out is a lot different then Portuguese. But I’m so excited to learn a new language! I live with my mom ,dad ,and a dog. When I am not in school I love spending time with my friends and family we love going to the beach, walking downtown, going out on the boat, riding bikes and skate boarding. I am on a sailing team at our local yacht club, it is one of my favorite things to do because I love being out on the water and enjoying the outdoors. I am so excited to be living in Brazil for next school year! I am most excited about meeting my host families and making new friends from around the world. I also cannot wait to try new foods, learn about another culture, and explore new horizons. I am hopeful to travel and see different areas while I am there also. Since I have found out that I am going the Brazil, I have been taking Portuguese lessons, watching travel videos, studying maps of South America, and talking to people from Brazil that live in St. Augustine. The new year is bright and I am looking forward to my Brazilian life experience in 2019/2020. Até então!

Journals: Mia-Brazil Blog 2019-20

  • Mia, Outbound to Brazil

Oi! It has been 4 months since I have been in this amazing county! I am living in a small town called Petropolis. It is a little mountain town about an hour away from Rio de Janeiro. When I first got on the plan here I really had no idea what to expect. For some reason I was not that scared or nervous I think because so much was going on in my life and everything was about to change that there was no time to be scared. But of course saying goodbye to my friends and family was like the hardest thing ever. And there was many tears and many feelings. When traveling by myself most of the time I was just paranoid that I was not going to make it on my flights on time. But everything worked out and there was nothing to worry about. I had a night flight so I landed in Rio de Janeiro at about 10 in that mourning. Once I got there my whole host family came running to me and gave me the sweetest welcome so I was no longer nervous. Once we left the airport I was just so amazed by my surrounding. Every thing in my life had changed. Especially the way people drive.(There are the craziest/scariest drivers in Brazil). But now I am proud to say that I am used to it.

My first month here I did tons of things like starting school. Which is so much more different then school in the USA. Here I go to a small private school called Pensi . In Brazil it is normal to go the private school if you can afford it because public school is not so good. But I have learn to love going to this small school. I study in the afternoon which is also so different for me. My school start most days at 1:40 to 7:10. My class is very small we only have 13 kids in it. I am in the 2nd grade which is like the same as 11th grade in the USA. Being in a small school it was easy to get to know everyone and become friends fast. Also Brazilians are the sweetest most welcoming people ever! I live about 40 minute drive from school but it usually takes me a hour to go by bus which is what I mostly do.

I had a host sister for the first 2 weeks here her name was Anna. I love her and we really got along super well but unfortunately she had to leave to go on here exchange too. So then it was just me and my host parents. But there are very sweet and we have had some hard time but we are very close now. In my town there are 4 exchange students. One from Denmark her name is Freja, Mexico his name is Rodrigo, and one from Venezuela his name is Diego. I am really close with the girl Freja. There are also 11 more exchange students in Rio. We go there lot and hang out with them.

So far in Brazil so much has happen but I will share some of my best memories. On my second week they brought me to see the beaches in Rio. It was so amazing I started crying. After this I went on a Rotary trip to Caragutatuba. I met all the exchange student for the first time. After this I went to many birthday parties. I did a project with my school and we feed the homes in town. I went to my first music festive called Rock in Rio with my best friends. Then went on anther Rotary trip to Campos do Jordao, Hung out with may friends in Rio, went to Sugarloft with some exchange students, then had some friend visit my town we did a big hike and swam in a waterfall. After this I went to Rio again for a Rotary costume party. One of my friend brought me to Buzios which is just and amazing beach town. Went to Christ the redeemer,hung out with many friend in my town for a awhile. Then I went to an amazing 15th birthday party which is a really big deal in Brazil. Finally my most resent adventure was to Vassouras with Rotary. We went to a water park and had a Christmas celebration with them. Now I am back in my town but plan to go to Rio on Thursday because I am now on summer break! Till next time! Tchau!!!!

Wed, December 11, 2019


Molly - India

Hometown: Decautur, Georgia
School: Decatur
Sponsor District : District 6900
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Decatur, Georgia
Host District: 3141
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Bombay Airport

My Bio

नमस्ते! My name is Molly Ann and I will be spending my exchange year in India. I’m very excited about what the exchange has in store for me. Right now I live in Decatur, Georgia and attend Decatur High School. I have two older sisters who no longer live in the house. I was born in New Jersey and grew up in Virginia. During my 1st grade year, my family lived abroad in Scotland. During our summer break that year, we camped around Europe in a VW van. The trip left me with a love for the outdoors, and since then I have spent every summer on backpacking and canoeing trips. During the school year, most of my hours are filled with cross-country and other clubs. I participate in the math club and environmental club and am a member of the Fantasy Story club. In my free time, I love spending time with my friends, whether we are shopping or going camping. I am also passionate about music and have played the piano and trumpet for several years. I enjoy crafts and recently picked up quilting. Around me, while I am crafting, is always my two cats and my dog. I can’t wait to discover the art and music of India and am very excited and grateful for my opportunity to go abroad.

Journals: Molly-India Blog 2019-20

  • Molly, Outbound to India

Sitaram! As of yesterday, I’ve been in India for five months. It is crazy to think that, and even crazier that I haven’t yet written a journal about it. Even though I live in a technological hub, I truly have not used a computer in months. Logging on to the computer was so strange. My gmail password, which generally rolls off my fingers, was awkward to type. The formatting of google drive looked so sleek and modern, I wondered if it had always been like that. Now that I am finally ready to type, I don’t know where to begin. The sheer amount of experiences and lessons I want to share looms over me like a really scary monster. That’s probably why I managed to procrastinate on writing a journal for so long. Even to describe walking down the street in Mumbai seems like a hike uphill. Describing my first day felt like a marathon.

My lifestyle has been changing a LOT, and even when I get a somewhat consistent schedule, I still manage to have widely different timings and activities every week.


6:30 a.m: I hear movement and noise in the house. If my sister happened to have slept in my bed last night, she is woken by our mother and gets ready. Otherwise she is sleeping in our parents room.

6:40 a.m: My alarm goes off. I wash my face and change shirts.

7:00 a.m: I walk, crossing the train station and the highway.

7:30 a.m: I arrive at yoga class

8:30 a.m: My yoga class ends

9:00 a.m: I arrive home

9:00-10:30 a.m: I make tea and eat lightly with my mom and dad. I wash the dishes and my mother starts doing the house chores

10:30 a.m: I leave the house for Paino/College/Street Shopping/Hindi Class/ Dance Class/Meeting friends

4:00-10:30 p.m: Reach home, eat dinner with my family, wash dishes, and sleep.


I love traveling by train, which I do a least twice a day. It is incredibly convenient. Sometimes the crowds are dangerous. I have no doubt in my mind that traveling at rush hour is far more dangerous than traveling alone at night.

During rush hour, woman in the second class compartments will push and shove with no mercy to secure a place on the train. This results in incredibly packed spaces.

If someone isn’t lucky enough to fully enter the train, they will grab onto the handles and poll in the doorway and hang on. I’ve only been in this desperate situation once, but it was memorable. My grip was firm and there were women inside trying to help me.

The trains do not have doors that open and close. Rather, they remain open all the time. If one train is stopped next to another train, people can jump between them.

On particularly crowded days, in large stations, Men will jump onto the tracks and enter the train from the non-platform side (if that makes sense). They can manage this because there are no train doors to prevent them from entering on that side.

There is an unspoken code for what you do when riding crowded trains (wear your backpack in front, enter deeper into the train depending on where your stop is, giving up you seat for people whose stop is further away)

There is no better feeling than standing at the train doorway, with one hand clasped on the outside handle, and the other holding an inside pole. You can feel the rushing wind on your face and see the city pass by. Of course in Mumbai you can see just about anything: lots of trash, baby goats, maids walking along the tracks, and small families who made an empty repair shed their home.

There is still so much to say about trains. It actually raises some interesting topics. Many, but definitely not all, Rotarians and upper class families will not use the trains. Instead they will spend hours in traffic being driven around the city by their drivers. Lack of experience can make the trains seem daunting, when in reality they are nothing but fast and convenient. If one really wishes to avoid all possible dangers, they can purchase a first class ticket (which still costs next to nothing). Nevertheless countless people won’t come near trains.

I also usually get to take a few rickshaws everyday. Rickshaws are cheaper and easier than normal taxis, plus it gives you an extra thrill just to see what kind of illegal turns these rickshaw drivers can really pull off. Honestly the streets are full of rickshaws, scooters, bikes, cars, many pedestrians (who prefer the street to the empty wide sidewalk), and these huge trucks and buses. We also share the road with dogs, cats, cows, chickens, goats, and the occasional horse.

Like everything else in Mumbai, rickshaws have two sides. On the one hand, I find that the drivers are incredibly knowledgeable about the city. They seem relatively indifferent to whoever their passenger is, but they do an honest job and get customers to their desired destination. However, of course everyone runs across the cheating driver. They will take you extra long routes, neglect starting the pay meter, or act like they have no change for your bill. However all of these things are so easily preventable (by simply using google maps or starting the meter yourself) that it is hardly a problem. Only twice have the rickshaw drivers appeared threatening in a serious way. Both times being level headed and attentive (invaluable qualities that my friends and family have shown me) prevented anything bad from unraveling.

Anyways, that is all I have time to write at the moment. I have been sitting at my chancellor’s house, which is very luxurious. She has ordered some street food which I am looking forward to (a maid has just delivered cold tea and sev puri to my room). I still have a lot to write about including my loving family, the food, the caste system, my college, different traditions, my travels, religion, the languages here, and some stories. If anyone has any questions or comments at all, or if they found a particularly bad typo, please reach out to me!

Sat, December 21, 2019


Morganne - Lithuania

Hometown: Ponte Vedra, Florida
School: Nease
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Ponte Vedra Sunset, Florida
Host District: 1462
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Siauliai Harmonica

My Bio

Labas!! Hello! My name is Morganne Percevault and I live in Ponte Vedra, Florida. I am so so very blessed to say that I will be living in Lithuania next year! You may be asking yourself, “Does she really want to go to Lithuania?” The answer to your question is yes! My grandmother was from Lithuania, and I am excited to experience my heritage. The language is daunting, but just as so many other aspects of exchange, I am ready to overcome challenges! I live with my parents (Bonnie and Joe) and my older sister (Mallory). I am originally from Pennsylvania, where I lived until I was 14. Currently, I am a junior at Nease High School. I am a member of the cross country and track team, and I am involved in a number of clubs, including, Student Council, Best Buddies, and French Club. I work as a hostess at a small restaurant, and the people I work with are some of closest friends. When I’m not studying or working, I enjoy running, reading, and going to the beach with my friends. I will miss my school, family, and friends while I am gone next year, but I am welcoming my new school, new family, new friends, and new life with open arms! I would like to give a BIG thank you to Rotary, and all of the volunteers who make exchange possible! I am ready to grow and change as I go through this crazy journey! Viso Gero!!

Journals: Morganne-Lithuania Blog 2019-20

  • Morganne, Outbound to Lithuania

June 21, 2020

It is now time to write the journal that I think no exchange student wants to write.

I leave in nine days. NINE. It is absolute insanity that my time here is almost over. I honestly don’t think it has hit me yet that I am actually going home; it doesn’t feel real. It seems unfair to me that I have to leave, just when it feels like I am really becoming Lithuanian. Of course, I miss my family and friends, and I’m excited to see them. However, every space in my heart wishes that I could pick Lithuania up and put it right next to Florida. I will miss it so so much. I’ve had people say to me, “Morganne, you can always go back and visit.” I think every exchange student can agree with me, that it is not the same. Going back home to America, I am leaving my entire life as an exchange student behind. Living in Lithuania, I live as a Lithuanian, with routines and everything else that comes along with a life. When I come back to visit Lithuania, I will simply be a visitor.

Being an exchange student was the most challenging thing that I have done in my life, but I think returning to “normal” life will be equally as challenging. Clearly, I am sad about leaving, but I am also looking forward to moving on, and using all of my knowledge I gained in Lithuania back home. I already know that I’ve changed from the time I arrived here. I look back at pictures from September, and I think, “that is not the same person.” I am 100% more mature, and 200% more confident in myself. I think change is a wonderful thing, and during our whole lives we continue to morph into different versions of ourselves. But- I cannot help but be a little nervous with my return home. How will I feel as this new version of myself in what is supposed to be my “home,” when I have changed to fit in with Lithuania? So yes, I’m a bit nervous, but if exchange has taught me anything, it’s that life is what you make it. I’m excited to face the challenges that will come my way, and to live for the rest of my life as if I only have 9 days left on exchange!

This past month has been really great. I moved back in with my first host family, and my host sister is my best friend. Our quarantine restrictions have been mostly lifted, so life is “back to normal.” Everyday I have tried to do something meaningful. Not only because I have so few days left, but also to make up for the time I have lost during quarantine. If you are a future exchange student, my advice to you is- do NOT waste any of your days. Yes, there are days where you do not want to do anything or go anywhere, but push yourself, because you never know if another global pandemic will take away two months of your exchange. I also would just like to say how awesome Lithuania is in general. A small, but beautiful country. Not only beautiful landscapes, but a beautiful culture as well. My appreciation and understanding of the culture grows each day, and I simply love this country. Lietuva yra mano antrieji namai!

I’d like to finish the journal off by simply saying thank you. Thank you to everyone in Lithuania who made my exchange great; my families and friends. Thank you to my family in America for supporting me when I needed help. Of course, thank you to each Rotarian who makes exchange possible.

– – – – –

Hey guys! Just popping in to say I’m just chilling in quarantine..

First I was really lucky to have gone to France before the virus really hit here. I visited my host brother Joris (who my family hosted last year). It was a really wonderful trip for a bunch of reasons. Firstly, where he lives is absolutely beautiful; Annecy France, a smaller city by Switzerland. I also got to visit to Lyon and Geneva for a day, both lovely cities. Of course, I love French food; cheese and bread, and then some more cheese 😉 But the most interesting part of this trip was to meet my host brother’s family. After living with him for five months, I loved being able to see the family that made him the person that he is. The day I got back from France was Lithuanian Independence Day, which I spent with the other exchange students. We went on a hike through the capital to celebrate, and I got to watch a parade & my host grandma made these really delicious pancakes that they only eat on special occasions!

Now talking about the virus. My euro tour was cancelled, and a trip to Poland I had planned. There is no school, and we are stuck inside because the weather still is not that great. BUT I am making the best of it. Everyday I try to wake up and do something productive. I exercise, study Lithuanian, and spend time with my host family. I have done some painting, and admittedly have watched a lot of netflix. I’ve called friends and family back home; basically have done everything you could think to do if you have been inside for 3 and a half weeks. For a few of the days that we actually have had good weather, my family and I went to their “fazenda.” It’s my host dad’s grandfather’s house, and let me tell you, it is OLD. Over 100 years! There is no running water, which means using an outhouse. When we were there we did preparations for the spring and summer. We cleaned out the garden and did a lot of raking. My favorite thing was the grilled chicken my host dad made on the fire. I’m hoping the weather gets really nice soon so we can go more often, because it is beautiful. You are surrounded by only fields, and you feel peaceful.

Some people have asked why I’m not coming home. First of all, I have a sister who has a very weak immune system. I feel as though right now it is more dangerous to travel than to stay in Lithuania, and I would be worried to spread the virus to my sister if I were to return home. In addition, I still don’t feel as though my time in Lithuania is finished. I would rather be in quarantine here for two more months, with the possibility of having one last month of a “real” exchange, than to return home now. Even being in quarantine on exchange is an experience. I’m spending time with a wonderful host family, eating the food, and learning the language. There really is nothing more I can ask for, except for all of YOU to stay inside, and to wash your hands 🙂 I’m hoping to come home to a country out of quarantine!! Thank you Rotary for helping us during this strange time.

Wed, April 1, 2020

  • Morganne, Outbound to Lithuania


Yay!!! This journal will be happier than the last one!!!!!! These past two months have been very very lovely. Of course with some small bumps in the road, but I really can’t ask for anything better.

My first few weeks at school in January were really difficult for me. I felt very alone at school, and that I had “no friends.” Looking back at that time only a month later, I can see the things that caused me to feel that way, and what I could have done to make it better. First, the weather was really bad. It was cloudy and cold everyday. I wish that at that time, I understood that it was partially the weather contributing to my mood and outlook. Second, I really missed my family. Coming back to Lithuania after being in America for a few weeks made me really miss them, which is kind of backwards to how you think I would feel. Whenever I felt alone, I thought of my family in America, instead of focusing on the people I had to support me here in Lithuania. Which only made me miss them more; the spiraling effects of homesickness. Third, I expected local friends to continue to reach out to me. In the beginning of my exchange, I worked really hard to make friends. After coming back from America, some of these friendships changed. It took me some time to accept that some friends, I had to move on from. This meant that again, just like in the beginning of my exchange, I needed to work to make new friends. This of course is difficult when you aren’t the “new foreign kid” anymore. For a few weeks, instead of doing the work to again make better local friends, I became a bit isolated. I spent time in my room pitying the fact I had “no friends” (even though I did) (this was dramatic Morganne). Fourth, I had a new host family. Even though I was present with my family, and was really trying to get to know them, the first month with a new family I think is something that is difficult for every student. Of course, my family is wonderful and I love them now, but living with a family you don’t know that well simply makes you feel even more alone. Along with there not being many things to do in January in Lithuania, this combination of things made it a pretty rough month.

But February! February was my month! I went to London! It was a short trip- 3 days- but was really really awesome. I saw every tourist sight and maybe a bit more 🙂 Going back to school after London was easier, I was again my normal, outgoing self. I now again enjoy going to school and love seeing friends there each day. This past month I became really close with my host family. They are really invested in making sure I truly understand Lithuanian culture; we visited another Lithuanian city together, celebrated Lithuanian Mardi Gras (Užgavėnės), and they are ALWAYS cooking me Lithuanian food. My favorite thing that I have done with them, and one of my favorite things from my entire exchange, is visiting a Lithuanian village with them. My host Dad’s Aunt and family lives in this village, and it was so so so awesome. This village has one food store, and one “items” store. There are around 35-40 people living in the village, and they are the literal definition of a “close-knit community.” At my family’s home in the village, they get their water from a well, heat there home with a stove, and use an outhouse (no plumbing!!!!!). They have chickens, cows, pigs, rabbits, and one really old sheep. I was lucky enough to see 6 day old piglets, and I watched my family milk the cows. It was truly amazing for me for more than one reason. Firstly, I didn’t realize that in my host country, people were still living like this. It is a complete contrast from the city I’m living in, which does indeed have plumbing. Secondly, talk about exchange being hard work?! Talk about waking up everyday at 5am to milk cows and never taking a vacation, that’s hard work. I also really enjoyed the people I met there; they have a heavy accent, so I didn’t understand much of what they said, but they gave me lots of food, which usually means they like you 😉 In February I also visited Klaipėda (a city by the sea), this was an awesome trip. I got to spend it with a Lithuanian who had gone to Taiwan with Rotary last year, and he showed me all of the secret spots of the city. I also had a really awesome time with my exchange friends at an indoor ski slope, where Rotary arranged snowboarding lessons for us! (Thank you Žydre) We all had a really awesome time, and it makes me look forward to the euro-tour at the end of the year. February was one of the best months of my life, and I’m ready to make March even better.

Speaking of the end of the year- I cannot BELIEVE I only have four months left. It is absolutely crazy that I will be home so soon. I know that this time is going to go especially quick because I have so many things going on, and I am working to make each day meaningful. There are still so many things to do, so many places to see, and so many people to meet! This mindset is something that exchange has taught me, and a way that I will continue to live even after exchange. You have to live life each day as if you only have four months of exchange left! 😉

I can of course talk about how exchange has changed me as a person. My priorities have definitely changed. I do things for myself now, not for others. I really feel like I have a better grasp on how I want to live my life, how I want to make it meaningful. Exchange was something I did to grow myself as a person. I can say that I have certainly grown more than I expected, and with 4 months left, I know I will grow into someone even more different than I thought.

Love you and miss you Mom, Dad, and Mallory!!!!

Until the next journal~~~~~~

Wed, February 26, 2020

  • Morgannne, Outbound to Lithuania

It’s definitely past time for a journal. The time since my last journal has been busy, full of more ups and downs than I have experienced in a long time. The last time I was writing, I had just returned from a trip to Spain, and life was great. In Lithuania during the month of November, my exchange was going well. My Lithuanian language was getting much better, I had found places to volunteer, I felt close with my host family, school was going well, and everything else that was a component in my exchange was how I wanted it to be. During this time though, there was always something in the back of my mind; my sister in America was becoming quite sick. On November 8, she arrived in the hospital, (Now I won’t go into lots of detail about my sister’s situation, but rather on how this affected my exchange.) and this was difficult for me. It’s very hard to continue to love being on exchange, to be excited to try new things and meet new people; when you know that someone important to you at home is not okay. Of course, I had people in Lithuania to help me. My host family and friends were very supportive. But really what was quite difficult for me, was not only my own need of support, but the fact that I was not in America to support my family. It was difficult for me to accept that I was on exchange, with the ability to have a really awesome time, when the three most important people to me were going through an extremely hard situation at home without me. I continued on with my exchange as best I could. I made Thanksgiving dinner for my family, which was great. My host family really allowed me to make it feel like Thanksgiving; not only did I make the traditional dishes, but we also went around the table with each person stating what they were thankful for, just like my family in America.

During November I also mushroom picked, went to a concert (a popular Lithuanian band), I visited the capital city to see other exchange students, and went to the capital of Latvia with my host family. Riga was wonderful, the city has a very beautiful “old town” area, with brick roads and detailed buildings. November also allowed me to experience even more cold!! Everyday, I wore three pairs of socks… However, the warmth I continued to feel from my friends and host family was enough for me 🙂 (cliche I know).

Then December came, which was the difficult month. I had to go home. My parents called me and said that the doctors had advised me to return home, as Mallory was not doing well. Of course, I had no desire to leave Lithuania and everyone I had met, but it was something that was not really a choice, I needed to be with my sister and family. With the help of a lot of amazing Rotarians, I was on a flight home the next day. When my friends in Lithuanian found out I was leaving, it was something I would call amazing. People who I had known for only three months were coming to my house to say goodbye! The people who weren’t able to make it to say goodbye wrote me messages with genuine words that made me smile. Leaving Lithuania was difficult, and it came with a lot of tears. But I’m thankful for all the love and support that Lithuania gave me during that time, which I certainly wasn’t expecting. Once I was home though, I was in a strange place. I was able to be there for my family, which made me feel better. It was still odd though, returning home early when you had prepared to be gone for much longer. I was stressed out and confused; unsure if I was happy or sad to be home. My family was telling me I would return to Lithuania, when I was unsure if I could. BUT, this journal does have a better ending, which is somewhat of a miracle. After a difficult week at the hospital, Mallory began to recover, which no one was expecting. She was on a long road to a full recovery, so I was still unsure if I wanted to go back to my exchange. With lengthy conversations with my family, we decided I would return to Lithuania! We decided that my exchange was something I worked really hard for, and my parents did not want this to hold me back. I must say though, it was much more difficult to leave my family the second time than the first. I was, and I still am worried that my sister could take a turn for the worse again, but we will cross that bridge if we reach it.

Returning to Lithuania was interesting. I had arrived December 21st, so school was already on holiday. I spent time with my host family, we went to Latvia to see the Christmas village, which was lovely. Christmas was also lovely, I celebrated with my host family and friends! Interesting though, we celebrated Christmas more on the 24th than 25th. December 24th was the family day where we had a large meal and opened presents. Christmas Day, I met my host grandparents for the first time, and afterwards my host sister and I had a party with friends. For me it was a bit strange to not spend all of Christmas with family, but it was still really great. 🙂 The day after Christmas my host sister and I embarked on our trip to Milan, Italy, which was so much fun! I ate every Italian food you can think of; cannoli, pizza, tiramisu, ravioli, spaghetti, and lots of coffee (the Italian way of course). It was great to go to Italy and spend time with my host sister, as I moved to my new family a few days after returning to Lithuania.

Moving families is interesting. It’s not quite the same as moving into the first family because you are not a baby, so the second host family doesn’t need to help you as much as the first. Although the routine and independence that you have already gained in your country is great, I think this can make it difficult to get to know and adapt to the second family. In my first host family, I needed help with everything, so I spent a lot of time with them. With my second family, more effort is needed to get to know them; I think this is really the time for every exchange student to not be couped up in their room, but with the family who opened their doors for you. So far, I really like this family! I again have one host sister the same age as me, and I think we will get along well. My host parents are also lovely; they know a bit of english so I’m doing my best with only speaking Lithuanian, which i’m a bit behind in after going home for a while.

I know this journal is quite long so I’m going to stop here. I really think this journal is an example that exchange is not perfect, but full of ups and downs. I’ll keep you updated on my new family, and my return to school in the next journal! Thank you for all your help my lovely Rotary!

Viso Gero!

Wed, January 8, 2020

  • Morganne, Outbound to Lithuania

Labas! Currently, I am writing this journal on a trip back from Spain with my host family. This vacation, besides being beyond enjoyable (full of beautiful views and delicious food) (BIG thank you to my awesome host family for bringing me along), it also made me realize some things about my exchange. As I was walking around Spain with my Lithuanian family and friends, I realized I was visiting Spain not as an American, but a Lithuanian. Although it has been just two months in Lithuania, I already feel connected enough to the people and culture that leaving for Spain made me feel as if I was leaving my home. Now, as I am on my flight back to Lithuania, I feel as though I am on my flight back to my home. This is crazy to think about, because again it has only been two months. How will I feel about Lithuania during month 4, 7, or 9?? Clearly, you can tell by my writing that I am still loving Lithuania. Another month and a half has passed since my last journal and I have made stronger connections with my host family, local friends, and exchange friends.

My host family has begun to feel more like my true family, not just a place to live. My host mom yells at me when I don’t wear socks, and I’ve learned my host sister is not a morning person. I feel more comfortable with them, I can ask them for anything if I need help. I will always be appreciative towards them for how they have welcomed me into their home and have made me feel a part of their family. In addition to the trip to Spain with them, we have gone to a play, a 25k hike by the sea, and a shooting range. My favorite times with them however, are when we sit at the dinner table together, and they try to understand the little Lithuanian I know. Those times are filled with smiles and laughter that are irreplaceable!

School has luckily become much easier, I’m not nervous to go to class anymore! I have lots of people to talk with in the hallway and eat lunch with. The goal has also been accomplished to be invited to things outside of school, which is always a lovely feeling!! (Thank you to those awesome friends for making me feel so welcomed at school and in the community). At school, I’ve given several presentations about myself and America. It’s interesting to see what the other students know or don’t know about America. At school I also had the opportunity to teach the English classes for a day! I gave a lesson on English slang, which I think everyone enjoyed. Currently we are on fall break, so I have a week off of school. 🙂

My exchange friends and I have also grown close to each other. (There are only 12 of us in Lithuania because it is so small) When we are all together, we only have laughs and good times. I’m personally very happy that I’m with a small group of students because we are able to grow close and support each other. The other exchange student in my city (Fanely from France) and I have gone to the capital city where most of the exchange students are to visit a few times now. We all usually just walk around the city looking like a really strange group of people. Two Americans, four Brazilians, two Frenchies, two Mexicans, one Taiwanese, and one Italian provide for a very odd looking group of people! We are also all going on a skiing trip together at the end of November, which should be quite fun.

The first two months have been quite busy for me. There have been a lot of things going on in school, stuff happening on the weekends, after school activities, and of course studying Lithuanian. One thing that has begun to happen to me however, is I do not feel like I have truly accomplished anything meaningful in Lithuania yet. Yes, I have done everything I have needed to make my exchange go well and be enjoyable. I have had lots and lots of fun, but I would say I am someone who is used to having a lot of responsibilities. I was involved in sports, had a job, and studied hard in America. Here in Lithuania, I don’t have to study much in school, so it’s almost like I’m going a little crazy only having fun. Therefore, I have a few goals this month. I’m going to work harder on studying Lithuanian, and try to find volunteer opportunities in Lithuania through rotary or another organization. I would like to make my exchange about helping people and doing something meaningful, not just living “for myself” while I am here. I’m also going to try to teach myself guitar, so that should be interesting! I will keep you all updated on how I make my exchange matter. 😉

My language is of course one thing I also really need to work on. The more I learn Lithuanian, the more I realize I need to learn more Lithuanian. I think I’m saying something totally correct and then the person I’m speaking to says, “well, actually it’s this….” This has proved to be very frustrating for me. I was expecting to understand more than what I am understanding at two months with the amount of work I have put into studying Lithuanian. Of course, I cannot give up, so I will be studying even more this month. The goal is that by the end of November, I will be able to understand and use twenty verbs correctly in the past, present, and future. I am also going to work on understanding and being able to change the endings of nouns. (I will explain what I mean by this) In lithuanian, they don’t use words like “in,” “on,” “of,” etc; they change the endings of the noun that those words would refer to. For example, if you say “I am going home,” you say “Aš einu namO.” But, if you say “My home is there,” you say “Mano namAS yra ten.” There are seven different variations of each noun, with some variations that are extremely difficult to understand because we don’t have the concept at all in English. This is why Lithuanian is not only difficult to speak, but also difficult to understand. I may learn one form of the noun, but may not be able to recognize it when someone is speaking because they are using a different form of the noun. This means, to truly be able to use and understand one word, I need to know seven words. However, I am working on it!

Although I really miss my family and friends, I would not say that I am homesick. I think of my parents and sister every day and I wish they were here to experience certain things with me. (I love you guys so much) However, I’m still experiencing lots of new things, and enjoying my new life. One thing I am a bit worried about is seasonal depression. It is only the beginning of November and it is dark at 5:30 at night. I started to take vitamin D though, so hopefully that helps with it. I’m also starting to exercise more, I was so focused on trying a lot of new foods that I put a couple extra pounds on. 😉 But as my host sister always quotes from the movie Eat Pray Love, “So this is what I’m going to do, I’m going to finish this pizza and then we’re going to go watch the soccer game and tomorrow we’re going to go on a little date and buy ourselves some bigger jeans.”

Thanks for reading my journal! I again recommend exchange to anyone, so far it has been full of only good experiences. I’m always thinking about how one year ago, it was me reading these journals, thinking about how crazy it would be if I actually became an exchange student. Now I’m on exchange, and sometimes I’m still thinking that it is crazy I am really here! However, Lithuania is the only place I can imagine being. I am happy (and cold)! Until next time, viso gero!

Tue, October 29, 2019

  • Morganne, Outbound to Lithuania

Labas vakaras mano draugais! I am so happy here, and it has only been a week and a few days. Never mind the beautiful scenery or fun activities; the best thing for me so far on exchange is the kindness I have received from the people around me. It is unbelievable how loving people can be when they barely know you- when you can say only a few phrases in their language. There have already been so many moments where I feel a surge of happiness run through my heart due to the smiling faces of other people. Of course, it is also difficult. It is difficult to not be frustrated when you cannot understand what your host parents, friends, and teachers are saying. However, my Lithuanian has gotten better each day. My desire to learn Lithuanian is indescribable. I listen to the people around me speak, and it almost hurts that I cannot understand them (Lithuanian is one of the hardest languages in the world). Of course, the people here only encourage my efforts to learn their language; they are even surprised that I want to learn Lithuanian. This is surprising to me, as of course I want to learn the language of the country I will be living in for a year. I am writing down all the new words I hear on my phone to ensure I remember, and doing my best to only speak in Lithuanian.

Now of course, I will talk to you about my activities. I was fortunate enough to go on a tour of a few places in Lithuania with the rest of my exchange friends. We toured Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania (where 8/12 of the exchange students are staying). Vilnius is the biggest city in Lithuania, with 750,000 people. It has different districts, including the old-town and art district. I enjoyed the tour, and I am excited to visit Vilnius again. I however, live in a city called Siauliai. It is the 4th largest city in Lithuania, with 100,000 people. My city is much quieter; the people from Vilnius claim that it is boring! I am happy to be in a smaller city though, I think it is the perfect size. I am able to go downtown to get that “city” feeling, but when I am there I do not have to push through any crowds like in Vilnius. In my city, I have one other exchange student from France, Fanely. She is awesome- I can already call her my best friend! My host sister is my other best friend here- Vilte is beautiful both inside and out. We have already had many discussions expanding my outlook on the world. My host mom is great, we use google translate to talk to eachother- which I am sure you can imagine has provided for many laughs! I am currently writing this in my living room in my family’s apartment, which is beautiful. One thing that is quite cool is that in addition to the apartment, my family also has a house in the country. It is about thirty minutes from the apartment, and I think is going to be my favorite place. At the “homestead” there are chickens, bees (for homemade honey), and lots of trees. It is peaceful in comparison to the city that I will be spending a lot of time in.

My first day of school occurred today, which sure was something. I was fortunate that my host sister was able to show me around to all of my classes, and introduce me to my teachers. If she had not, you can bet that I would have been lost and very, very confused. My teachers all reacted to me in different ways; a few introduced me, and a few let me introduce myself. The stares I received from the other students once they knew I was from America was honestly a bit scary. I did receive a few smiles though, which were helpful to get me through my day. It was only the first day of course, so it can only get better from here! I am excited to make friends outside of my family and exchange friends. One thing that is interesting about school here is that you can have breaks in your schedule. During this time, you are able to leave the school to grab a coffee or something. Something else that is interesting is that we do not have the same classes every day. Some days I have three periods of Lithuanian with one period of biology, some days I have two periods of math with two periods of art, etc. Update: I am finishing up this journal the following day, so I have some more to say about school. The second day went much better. People talked to me in all of my classes, and three different people asked me to hang out (Goal ACCOMPLISHED)! Other than school, I am also getting involved in some other activities. I am going to take a Zumba class, and join a running team. I may also try traditional Lithuanian dance and guitar. I will update you on these endeavors once they begin to happen, of course.

There is so much more I could fill you in on. I could talk about how good the food is; fresh and homemade. I could say what the weather is like (already slightly cold). But the most important thing to say is I am happy. If you are considering exchange, DO IT. It is definitely a challenge, but exchange offers so many rewards. I would also like to thank my host rotary club, my sponsor rotary club at home, and my mom and dad. Thank you for giving me this amazing opportunity! Until my next journal, viso gero.

Thu, September 5, 2019

Nena - Finland

Hometown: Fort lauderdale, Florida
School: Pompano beach
Sponsor District : District 6990
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Coconut creek, Florida
Host District: 1420
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Verkkorotary

My Bio

Hei! Nimeni on Nevaeh and I’m going to Finland! I found out about the RYE program through a friend of mine who is doing the foreign exchange program this year. I’m a sophomore at Pompano Beach High School and I can’t wait to go on exchange. My school has so many opportunities as it is and I thank God I was lucky enough to have this one. At school, I’m in orchestra and novice honors society. I’m more into music more than anything else. I’ve played my viola for going on 10 years and I’m in love with it. I’m also really into medical sciences and plan on being surgeon in the future. I’m usually listening to music, playing my viola, or messing around with my siblings. I’ve been obsessed with Finland since I had heard about it at the assembly they had at my school introducing the RYE program and I can never stop talking about it. I feel blessed enough to have my first choice and I’m excited to learn about their cultural and traditions first hand and fall in love with the country in itself. My hopes after exchange are to become even more independent and experience a once in a life time opportunity.

Journals: Nena-Finland Blog 2019-20

  • Nena, Outbound to Finland

Hey ! I’m not sure if this is my first or second journal entry but 🤷🏻‍♀️. My name is Nevaeh and I’m in Finland on exchange. Been here for half a year already and I really am having the time of my life . For the past few weeks I’ve been out in the city almost everyday , just hanging out with friends and host families. The joints in Helsinki are the ones that not everyone goes to. I suggest for this time of year going out to some cafes and spending time in libraries and museums 👌🏼 it’s pretty windy and still cold so you don’t wanna be outside ALL the time. Also , this winter has been a pretty big bust but hopefully it doesn’t get worse in the years to come. I can’t tell you how many Finns have apologized to me about the weather ! Like it ain’t your fault lol. But I’m pretty sad that we didn’t have A LOT of snow like they had hyped me up for. It’s light tho. The ice is a different story🤣 it’s sooo crazy how you would be scared to walk down a sidewalk ! Definitely get some spikes for under the shoes or just some good ol’ timbs cause yeeshhh😵another thing I wanna say is that Finnish people are a different BREED. I love Finns I really do , but if you’re extroverted like me , it’ll be hard to get used to it . I’ve never met so many people that are so quiet and to themselves. It’s funny when I’m the loud one in a group of my Finnish friends because their reactions are everything. Once we were in Forum, a shopping mall in Helsinki, and I was laughing so hard that one of my friends had to tell me to quiet Down because people started to look. Finns hate getting too much attention haha. Sometimes I’m loud just to mess with them 😅 Having Finnish friends is a great accomplishment though. If a Finn becomes friends with you expect a friend for life , no cap. I’m so happy I’ve made such amazing friends here , it’s truly a blessing. I urge any future out bounds to PLEASE talk to the other students around you. And learn the language cause god will you be surprised when you get here. My friends have always been try to incorporate Finnish into our conversations and it works out great , would recommend. I also urge for future outbound to take advantage of the language courses some of the schools offer. It’s so nice to meet new people that are on the same boat as you when it comes to learning a language , I have many friends that we study together and we progress as a team . It’s really nice to see 😌 and I think this will conclude my first journal entry on Suomi! Hope this was a nice read, another one on the way👌🏼

Mon, February 17, 2020

  • Nena, Outbound to Finland

Hellooooo it’s another journal entry . I figure I also talk about my experience during the holidays leading up to now. I do have to tell y’all that it’s a very good idea to get out of the house . It’s depressing all the time because of the darkness during the holidays but please either go out with friends or surround yourself with your host parents and family there . I promise it’ll be a bit better than it would be if you were to lock yourself in a room. I’m really positive that if I had stayed in my room I would’ve fallen into some sort of depression. I’m a very family oriented person , and not having my siblings and parents around me was really hard , but I’m thankful that I was lucky enough to have an amazing host family who knew it’d be hard for me. My friends didn’t understand very well but did their best to be there for me. I went out a few times , but in all honesty I should’ve gone out more often . Especially since your exchange flies by in 2 seconds. It’s already February and it feels like Christmas was a week ago . Go out and enjoy yourself. Don’t let the hurt make you stay home , it really isn’t good . I’ve regret being so sad toward Christmas and new years . It really sucks and makes you want those days or weeks back . I can’t believe I leave soon ya know , even if it’s months away. Finland feels like home , and I totally believe that if y’all future OB’s go out and enjoy yourself during that time you will be sooo happy. Don’t break any of the D’s tho, especially on New Years 💀. Time really does fly, the Rotarians weren’t kidding. By this time in my exchange, I’m getting really used to the language and being able to have maybe a few convos. My friends and I are closer than ever and we can’t believe next year I won’t be here to see their vanhat, and be in classes together. It’ll really hit you like a truck , but I hope all of you can make the most of it , cause that’s what I’m tryna do . Exchange is so crazy , and I always tell my friends that it’s like making a life in a year , and having to leave after you just settled down completely. And that’s the truth, but it’s an amazing life you make in a year, and I stand by that. Don’t mess up and do stupid things either, really ain’t worth it to be honest . Eventually though, I hope that I can come back cause oh my god do I love this country ! Really get the most outta your exchange it’s a big part of really remembering everything. You’ll really makes the best memories with the best people. I also suggest making friends with the locals and don’t hang out much with the other exchangers. I only say this because the locals know the area better and speak the language. But , I’m not saying don’t hang with the other inbounds . They are really the only other people who get what y’all will be going through♥️ it’s a family you didn’t ask for but get anyway and I would push for you to get as close to them as possible during Rotex meetings, trips with other districts, ect. Alright, that’s it for the second entry.

Mon, February 17, 2020


Nikos - Spain

Hometown: Decatur, Georgia
School: Decatur
Sponsor District : District 6900
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Decatur, Georgia
Host District: 2201
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Tres Cantos

My Bio

¡Hola! My name is Nikos Verlenden I can’t wait to spend my sophomore year in Spain! I live with my parents in Decatur, Ga, a small city outside of Atlanta. I am currently a freshman at Decatur High School. I was born in Louisiana, but I spent the first 9 years of my life in Cairo, Egypt. I am interested and passionate about many things. I love music, and it has become a very large part of my life. I currently take lessons in piano and trumpet, and I have also picked up multiple stringed instruments on my own. Outside of musical instruments I take chorus and musical theater. These activities have always been parts of my community. I am also an athlete. I play lacrosse, cross country, basketball, and even ping pong. I am a very devoted student, and I love learning. My favorite class by far is math. I find it so interesting to see what inspirations I find from learning new equations and formulas. As well as math I am an avid reader, and I love exploring new genres and authors. I cannot wait to discover and learn more about Spanish literature. I am so excited for this amazing opportunity that awaits me in Spain. I can’t wait to see what exciting adventures, interesting people, and delicious foods I encounter next year. I know that I will have many challenges during the program, but I am ready to tackle them head on! More than anything I am overjoyed for what this year will have to offer. I want to thank everyone who has supported me in this program including the Rotary Youth Exchange organization, my parents, and my friends!

Journals: Nikos-Spain Blog 2019-20

  • Nikos, Outbound to Spain

Hola! I have officially been in Spain for two months, though it feels as though I’ve been here for only a week. Spain has been an amazing experience and I can’t wait to share all of my news with you guys in this journal.

Here I am living in the beautiful city of Tres Cantos, just a 20-minute train ride to the center of Madrid. Tres Cantos is a relatively recent planned city. It is the most recently added municipality to Madrid. My family is truly wonderful. In my family, I have three host siblings as well as my two great host parents. The oldest sibling is my host sister, Lara. She is in my grade and she helps me so much here in Spain. My other host sister is Nadia. Nadia is one of the funniest and silliest people I know and can always bring up my mood. I also have a host brother named Diego. Diego has become my trainer and has taught me all of the best music to listen too. My host parents are both great too. My host dad works at Huawei and is always trying to convert me from Apple. It makes for some fun conversations. My host mom is passionate about education and works in the Madrid Parliament. They are both also amazing cooks. There are three main meals in Spanish culture with the largest being lunch. For breakfast, I usually eat a small meal of some cereal and maybe a muffin. Lunch is the largest meal for Spaniards. After school, I come home and eat lunch with my host sister. Some of the more common lunches I have are pasta with meat or tomato sauce, chicken and peas, and even an occasional hamburger. On the weekends the lunches are much more elaborate dishes, including the famous Valencian Paella. For dinner, we usually have a meat-based meal along with fried potatoes, rice, and a salad.

Week 1:

My exchange truly started the moment that I left Atlanta. My flights were perfect but a little bit hectic. I had two flights to get to Madrid. My first flight was Atlanta to Philadelphia and the second was Philadelphia to Atlanta. However, my first flight was delayed for an hour making my connection between flights was just 20 minutes. Because of this immediately after my flight landed I started running on my flight to Spain. I barely made it and the door to the airplane closed just five minutes after I made it on the plane. My flight itself was wonderful. The travel agency got me a flight in premium economy, which usually doesn’t mean much but because it was an international flight it made a world of difference. I arrived in Madrid on Saturday, September 7th at 7:30 AM and so I had a full day ahead of me. I was exhausted from my long flight but also so excited that I was finally in Spain. After meeting my host family at the airport, I immediately got a taste of Spain with some breakfast churros with chocolate. I then went to Madrid for the day with my host sister and her friends where I was shown around some famous areas before we all saw a movie together. The school didn’t start until Wednesday and so for the next few days, I was mainly just getting accustomed to Spain. I was introduced to my sister’s group of friends, I enjoyed some delicious Spanish cuisine and I signed up for a gym membership. I have not had many problems on exchange but I did have some confusion with my school early on. When I was signing up for my visa and my other papers to come to Spain the school that I was going to go to was the same as my host sister. When I arrived it turned out that they were still not one hundred percent sure what school I would go to. A couple of days later I was told that I would be going to a school called Manrique. However, there was a problem with that because I was enrolling so late. I would only be able to be in the social sciences section when this year the credits I needed were for the sciences. So I talked to my host mom who works in education and she helped to get me transferred to the school right down the road where I would be able to take my science classes. On Thursday I finally started school and immediately loved it. It is quite a bit harder than school in the United States (mostly because of the language barrier), but it was such an exciting challenge. The first day I met everyone but I didn’t really make a friend until the second. A kid in my class, Alberto, offered to help me with translating teachers and he became one of my closest friends immediately. I also found out that another Rotary exchange student was in my English class along with a Rotex. This foundation has allowed me to get an easy start to school.

Week 2-

The second week was where I started enrolling in activities and truly participating in school. My host sister, Laura, is a member of her school’s Lego Robotics team which went to nationals last year so I joined too. It was a really good group of people and now they have become good friends. I also joined a climbing class on Tuesdays and Fridays. It was the second week where I realized just how much work would be and honestly as an exchange student, I’m gonna tell you to try and avoid having your credits count while you’re abroad, at least in Spain where school is focused on strongly. The week went by uneventfully but that weekend I went to a two-day festival that was thrown by the city. It was amazing fun and the most surprising part was when I realized that I could recognize a lot of the people at the festival. That week I also made a workout plan which has been one of my favorite parts about exchange. Physical exercise can be such a good thing during exchange. Studies have shown that exercise can make you happier and the gym is a great place to get out the stress which you will no doubt have during exchange. Also, the gym is a commitment that can really help you to focus on it more during exchange and keep some normality in your life.

Week 3

My third week has been one of my best weeks so far. It was a week where I made really close connections with my friends and I found people to hang out with during breaks as well as after school. That weekend I had an amazing Rotary meeting in the countryside of a city in the south of Spain. This is because the club that I am hosted by is an Electronic Club, therefore the members are located all over Spain and they usually meet just over Skype. Occasionally they meet in person and usually make it into a bit of a vacation. That weekend I took the train an hour and a half to Albacete where I carpooled with some other members to the house that we were all staying at in the countryside. There I met the other exchange student who is hosted by my club and we became fast friends. The house was situated at the top of a mountain and the view was truly beautiful. It was as if I had entered into a movie landscape. That weekend we went on several hikes. The first day we hiked to a castle in a city nearby. It was a great experience, especially for an American considering that we don’t have things like castles in the United States( Disney World doesn’t count). Just outside of the castle was a wonderful restaurant where I had a delicious lamb soup. We also bought meat and veggies from the nearby supermarket so that we could have a bbq that night. We actually had a little bit of a problem after lunch because it started raining and we needed the cars to get back to the house but they were an hour’s hike away. However, in the kind spirit of Rotary, two Rotarians immediately volunteered and ran/hiked all the way back to the houses to get the cars. When we finally arrived back at the houses we went out searching for wood to start the fire for the barbecue. We had a delicious Spanish barbecue which ended up being one of the best meals that I’ve had. The next day we woke up, had a nice breakfast, and went on another hike. This one was to the birth of a famous river that runs through the mountains where we were staying. The river water is actually the cleanest natural water in Spain and the small town on the river has a bathhouse that attracts many people from the neighboring cities. The birth of the river came from a beautiful waterfall where we had several photos taken. After seeing the birth of the river it was time for everyone to split up and go back to their respective cities. My train, however, was not scheduled until 7:30 that evening and it was only 2 pm. So the host family of the other exchange student in my club took us to a different small town on the top of a different mountain where we had another delicious three-course lunch. After lunch, we finally headed back to Albacete where I got on my train and headed home to Tres Cantos.

Week 4

My fourth week in Spain was my week of the Rotary Orientation. The school week was a fairly normal one but the orientation was great. At the orientation, I met give or take 40 other exchange students from around the world as well as some Rotex. The orientation was based in a small town in the mountains where we slept in sleep away camp type lodging. We were all divided up into different bunks but most of our time was spent outside playing football or basketball or team building games. At the orientation, we covered relatively all of the basic rules of exchange as well as some language skills but they left most of the time for bonding activities between the exchange students. Over the weekend I made some true life long friends and I also discovered several people who live close to me in Madrid.

Week 5/6.

Spain was starting to get more normal and now life is just life. There were some fun moments however including the National Day of Spain. That day I went down to Madrid with some exchange students and Rotex and we watched the parades. It was a really fun day as well as a good time to bond with the other students. I also started to notice the small gym gains that I’ve been working on.

Week 7

We had another Rotary Orientation this week as well. It was a smaller and optional one but almost every exchange student came to it. For this orientation, we were just working on team building as well as some extra information for exchange students who had arrived late to Spain. One of the main activities that were planned for this weekend was an exchange of foods that are classic to your home country. I made ginger snap cookies that turned out under average but in all, it was a great time. Some of my favorite dishes were a tiramisu made by my Italian friend, a delicious pasta dish from Taiwan, and a good old banana’s foster. It truly was amazing.

Week 8/9

Week 8 did not have much to offer but week nine did. Week nine was the week of Halloween which is a surprisingly big deal in Tres Cantos. This is mostly because of the big festival that the city puts on. My host family and I decorated the house with plenty of decorations and everyone was really in the Halloween mood. In all the day was great fun and I got to hang out with a lot of friends from my school. We had a long weekend after Halloween which made things even better. A number of my exchange student friends from other cities came to Madrid and we all hung out a ton together as we found restaurants, took great pictures and did some great shopping.

That is as far as my journey has come so far but before I end this journal I just want to share what an amazing opportunity studying abroad is. Every day there is a moment when I realize that I’m halfway across the world and truly having the time of my life. If you are considering exchange I recommend that you got for it. Every good moment is a great moment and even in the bad moments, you realize just how good a time you are having in all. I truly can’t thank my parents or Rotary enough for this amazing experience.

Sun, November 10, 2019


Paola - Denmark

Hometown: St. Johns, Florida
School: Creekside
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Bartram Trail, Florida
Host District: 1470
Host Club: Copenhagen Rotary Club

My Bio

Hej! My name is Paola Camacho, I am 17 years old, and I’m so excited to be a part of the Rotary Exchange program! I have a deep love for theatre, the cinematic arts and writing. In my free time, I participate in the theatre department at my school, watch a lot of movies, write my own scripts, and film my own movies. I also love to dance. I mostly do Ballroom dance- such as the salsa, tango, waltz, etc.- , but I love many other styles as well. In my family, I have a mother, father, and three older brothers- all of whom I love very much! They are my rock, and without their love and support, I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish all that I have in my life. My family is from Colombia and I am fluent in Spanish. I love my Colombian culture and everything it entails- the dancing, the music, the food, etc. It is apart of who I am. However, I have lived in America all my life and I am very proud to be a citizen of such an amazing country. I have been blessed with two cultures- Colombian and American. Now, I am ready to add another culture and language into my life! I have so much love and curiosity about the world and its different cultures; I am eternally grateful to have this opportunity that will launch me into a lifetime of global learning and understanding! I will be an outbound student to Denmark and I am so excited for the experience that awaits! To all my future friends and family, thank you so much for helping my in my journey and I can’t wait to create long lasting memories with each and every one of you!

Journals: Paola-Denmark Blog 2019-20

  • Paola, Outbound to Denmark


I am just about half way through my exchange and with each day, I see how much I have changed.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it- these past few weeks have been a little rough. This holiday season was a very special one for my family in Florida, so to not be there was very hard. Paired with the grey, rainy and cold Copenhagen weather, it was even harder. Although this month was difficult for my personally, I am so grateful to the friends I’ve made here and the culture itself for helping me through it. Despite the difficult times, this past December was beautiful and memorable. Danish Christmas is an entire being on its own, full of new and exciting traditions and foods. One tradition that really differs from mine back home is that the tree (a real one) was decorated the day before Christmas (here it is on the 24th) with simple and homemade decorations. Christmas night, we danced and sang around the Christmas tree before opening presents. Not only that, my host mother is Norwegian so my christmas was also partially Norwegian! (very different)

I went to a couple Julefrokoster (Christmas Lunches) this month, where friends and family get together and eat traditional foods, play games, and more. I am a big fan of the christmas foods here- Risengrød, Gløgg & æbleskriver, etc. I also basked Danish Christmas cookies with my family- literally some of the same store-bought Danish Chrsitmas Cookies my parents back home buy every year. Needless to say, I am learning how to make these foods and will make them every year from here on out.

I turned 18!! It was great to celebrate on my last day with my first host family. I also had theater rehearsal where they made me stand on a chair while everyone sang to me one of the many Danish birthday songs and yelled “hurah” 18 times. The day before, I got together with my exchange friends for dinner and to watch a movie. Not much has changed since being 18, but I definitely feel different- like I have a lot more responsibility.

Here, the Christmas Elf is a big holiday symbol and decorating with Danish Flag for celebrations is a custom. Loving it all, I bought sooooo many christmas decorations for my mom back home (my mom loves Christmas and so do the Danish- perfect match) I also decided to treat myself as well to little souvenirs and gifts of my own 🙂

It’s important to remember that exchange is for YOU. To discover yourself, to challenge yourself, and to find what makes you happy. So when you’re not feeling happy, the best thing to do is to do something.

As I feel myself slowly transition out of this funk, I am looking forward with a positive mindset and looking for more activities I can do while I’m in such an incredible city.

In fact, I will be going to yoga today 😉

If my legs aren’t dead. I just got out of PE and I have theatre rehearsal after school. Either way, it’s the thought that counts.

Happy new year!

stay groovy

Paola Camacho

Tue, January 7, 2020

  • Paola, Outbound to Denmark


It has been an incredible 3 and half months in Denmark. So much has happened in such a shot amount of time, and yet I feel like time is going by so quickly.

I am starting to really learn Danish- things are clicking and I’m remembering so much more now. I’m able to hold up conversations and I understand most everything people say to me! I found that there is no shame in asking for help or for someone to clarify something- in doing this, I’ve improved so much.

Since the beginning, I have felt a very close connection with my fellow exchange students, especially a small group of girls (3 from Brazil, 1 from Mexico, and 1 from Canada) who I see as my best friends. This group of friends has made me so happy because these girls know who I am, they understand me in a way no one else can. We help each other through the more difficult times of exchange and are always there for each to celebrate the great days as well.

On the topic of friends, I have also grown very close to my class at gymnasium. At first, everyone was very kind and welcoming to me, but there was still a barrier between us- I was new, I didn’t know Danish. Little by little, however, I started feeling like one of them. As I learn Danish and show up to school everyday, I feel my classmates seeing me as just that- a classmate, a friend (rather than the exchange student.)

I’m so happy for this because my class is filled with some of the funniest and most caring people I’ve ever met.

I switch to my second family in 3 weeks and it’s a mix of emotions, to be honest. Of course, I am excited. My next family is super sweet, but I really bonded and grew close to my first host family. Just like as with my exchange friends, they managed to really understand my personality. They made me feel like I was a part of the family and just the same, I see them as family. Moving to the new family, I’m nervous having to start over again- introducing myself, getting used to my new family, learning the new routine and house rules. In a year where the norm is never knowing what’s happening and always being confused until the end of the year when the language learning starts to show itself, it’s very comforting to have a place where you know what to do. That’s how I feel with my first family. But, I’m optimistic because obviously, it wasn’t always this way with my first family. I had to observe and learn, and I’m excited to do that with my next family! Especially since its almost December, and let me tell you, the Danish really do Christmas well. I’ve heard so many stories about traditions and things to do in Copenhagen and I am soo excited! Colombian christmas is also full of tradition and family love, so I’m happy that I will have that this Christmas as well :):)

Missing Florida a little more recently since getting darker and more rainy here in Copenhagen. Wish me some sun in these next few months!

Sat, November 23, 2019

  • Paola, Outbound to Denmark


These last two months in Copenhagen have been unbelievable. It’s hard to know where to begin, so I’ll just write as things come to me.

Copenhagen is a fairly small city so it’s very easy to get around by either walking, taking the train/metro, or biking. They have a strong biking culture here, and it’s reallllll transportation- nothing like those leisure bike rides on the beach. People get to where they need to go and they go fast. I’ve started biking everywhere since I’ve been here and it’s super convenient. Overall, moving from one place to another keeps the Danes fairly active which is great, but in all honesty, it is more physical activity than I am used to so here’s hoping I look like a goddess by the end of the year. Also, there is a strong culture of eating healthy home cooked meals and food made from scratch, such as baking their own bread! Danish food is incredible, I’m definitely learning how to cook while I am here.

As I said, Copenhagen is a small city so all of the beautiful tourist sites are relatively very close to each other- you can see everything, such as the Little Mermaid statue, NyHavn, etc., in the span of one-two days! I actually go to school at Gefion Gymnasium which is very close to the city centre and all the touristy areas so I get to see it all with just a 15 min walk from where I am everyday. But don’t let this fool you, there are always things going on in Copenhagen! There is a festival or event happening almost every week. It is never boring here. In fact, I am going to a Latin American festival with my exchange friends this weekend. Since I go to school here and live very close by, I like to walk the old European streets of Copenhagen and “get lost” because I see something new every time and add it to the ongoing map in my mind- more and more, I realise how everything in this city is connected! The city of Copenhagen is very artsy, with the Danish Royal Theatre, the Opera House, and more nearby. Being a theatre nerd who loves artsy things, you can imagine why this is a major plus.

Danish people are so kind!!! I felt at home in this country by the second day I was here. My first host family, whom I am currently staying with, is incredible and I don’t want to switch. I have two younger brothers- one is 5 and one is 13. If you are going on exchange, pray you get a younger sibling because they are the key to learning a new language. You see, everyone is Denmark speaks perfect English. You’ll be able to make friends and bond with people this way initially, but it makes it difficult to learn Danish. However, children typically haven’t learn English and they don’t necessarily speak complicated or advanced Danish so its perfect to practice and learn! My brother taught me the numbers and colours on day one.

I love my classmates and all the Danish friends I’ve made here. They genuinely want to know more about me and care about my experience here.

The education system here is very different. The Danish equivalent to high school is called gymnasium. I won’t get into it too much, but basically, student choose a “path” , such as science or language, at the beginning of their first year and for the rest of the 3 years, all of their classes are geared toward that path. They take all of their classes with the same group of people who choose the same path. I am in the Language-Spanish class and there is about 26 of us. It is great because everyone is so close; we are all friends because we see each other all the time!

School here gives a lot of freedom and independence to the students. There is no dress code, students can leave the school for lunch, and every single day is different. Every week, a new schedule is published and it tells you what days you have what classes at what time. Classes are 1hr 30min and you never have more than 4 classes a day; often, you will have less. Also, classes can get cancelled so you can just go home or have a free period. As I have had it explained to me by my classmates, the student is responsible for his/her education; you are there because you want to be there so it is your responsibility to go and get work done. They use a lot of technology and computers in class- rarely is there anything on paper or hand-written.

Denmark is amazing and more people should know about it!!! I am so happy to be here and already feel how hard it will be to leave.

This was a basic intro to life in Denmark. Next time, I will be sure to include more specific stories, such as falling off my bike on my first day here.

Have a great day, kind reader 🙂

Thu, October 3, 2019


Sabrina - France

Hometown: Weston, Florida
School: Cypress Bay
Sponsor District : District 6990
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Weston, Florida
Host District: 1770
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Selis

My Bio

Bonjour! Hello! My name is Sabrina Fridschtein, I am 15 years old, and I live in Weston, Florida. I am originally from Brazil but have been living in the United States for three years now. I am fluent in English, Portuguese, and will hopefully be fluent in French as well! I love learning new languages and immersing myself into new cultures. Learning languages is almost like a hobby to me, not only am I learning French, but I’m also currently learning American Sign Language, Spanish, and Korean. I am currently a sophomore at Cypress Bay High School and am heavily involved in my school’s French Club. I will be attending a competition representing my French class in the speaking category soon, which means that a judge will ask me a question in French, and I will have to give a minimum three-minute answer in French, I am very nervous, but also very confident. I have always loved the French language and am incredibly grateful for this opportunity Rotary has granted me of living abroad in my dream country. Ever since I was little, I have always wanted to help people, and for the longest time, my dream has been to become a doctor. I am sure that by learning French I would be able to help many people all around the world and maybe make a difference. I have previously lived in Brazil, Switzerland, and Boston so I have learned to quickly adapt to new environments and learn from their diverse cultures. So I am confident that this year abroad will be amazing.

Journals: Sabrina-France Blog 2019-20

  • Sabrina, Outbound to France

It has been a while since my last journal, about three months to be exact. But I swear those three months passed by so fast, too fast even. And I have done A LOT. Also, please excuse my poor writing. Not only am I naturally just very uncreative but English is also my second language and is not always easy for me. I also blame the fact that French has become my first language here, I seriously forget English and Portuguese sometimes, It’s a crazy feeling. Bilingual? More like Byelingual.

Firstly, in December my district had a nice little Christmas celebration with all the inbounds, getting to spend another day with my exchange family is always the most fun, but that was also the day when we had to say goodbye to our oldies, which are exchange students from the southern hemisphere, usually from South Africa, New Zealand, or Australia. It was a little preview of what we would have to do once our time was up, and we would have to go back home. It’s super crazy to think that I’m already half-way through with my exchange when it feels like it just started. Anyways, I’m not looking forward to when my time to leave comes. I also went on a small Christmas trip to the West of the country with my host family and got to visit the beautiful Baie de Somme which is a large estuary in the Picardy region of France, where I live. But technically the region isn’t called Picardy anymore since it joined with another region called Nord-Pas-de-Calais and now is called Haut-de-France.

Then, at the beginning of January, I changed host families and now I live in the center of my city, Senlis, which I love! It is a lot easier to go to school now and to go out with friends. I also am enjoying my new host family, I have three small host siblings now and even though sometimes it can get crazy, I like the fun. And at the end of January we had another district meeting but this time it was only with the Rotex and we all went Ice Skating in Paris which was a lot of fun. I am looking forward to what is to come, especially since I have gotten used to my life here now.

I also have some tips for future exchange students. Sometimes locals can be mean, say mean things, call you names, make fun of your accents, and all that stuff. Just know that, most of the time, they don’t really know it is hurting your feelings. Jokes are different in different countries. Here in France most of the jokes are very sarcastic and they love making fun of others for no matter what. So don’t worry too much about it because most of the time it’s not personal. And if it really bothers you, talk yo your family, Rotary, or school, about it. It could also really help to talk to the person who is making the jokes and understand their point of view.

Wed, January 29, 2020

  • Sabrina, Outbound to France

Well, welcome to my first Rotary Journal.

I’ve been in France for nearly 3 months and it has been by far the best three months of my life, but there were some hard times as well. Let’s start from the beginning, I arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport on August 27th, 2019. There I was welcomed by my first and second host family as well as many other Rotarians and Inbounds. It was funny how all the inbounds got there together and were all equally as tired and lost from all the traveling and French speaking. Immediately as I got there I went to this awesome Creperie (basically just a restaurant that specializes in Crepes) and then I had time to get settled at my new home in a small city called Pontpoint (It’s at 60km north of Paris). The next day the other inbound who’s in my City, Zoe from Argentina, and I went to a nearby city names Compiegne and got to visit this beautiful garden next to a castle. That weekend was Integration Camp and I got to meet all of the other inbounds in my district, we are 25. Everyone got along so well and it’s amazing to see how even if we don’t all speak the same language and have the same experiences, we still understand each other and try our best to communicate with one another. I love my district.

The first day of school came right after on September 1st and wow it was so scary. Having Zoe there with me definitely made it easier, however, I was put in Seconde, which is 10th grade here, which means I’m with people who are a bit younger than me and even though the difference isn’t much, sometimes I do feel that they can be extremely immature. School if very different, every day the number of classes and what classes we have changed, we get to leave the school during lunches and breaks, and if the teacher is not there we get to just leave, substitute teachers are not a thing here. On most days my school day goes from 9 am to 4:30 pm, but sometimes I start at 8 am or even end as late as 5:30 pm. On Wednesdays, I leave at 1 pm, which is very nice.

Here are some things I have found different about France (With my family at least) compared to what I’m used to so far:

– Always have bread at meals. And cheese too;

– They mostly eat food planted on their gardens;

– Eat all meals together, as a family;

– They leave the water outside on the kitchen table so that it’s

room temperature;

– Recycling is a big thing here;

– They have these fruit-flavored syrups that they put in the

water so that it has flavor;

– The toilet bowls are awkwardly very deep;

– No water fountains at school, people drink from the sinks;

– School lunch is mostly very healthy and well prepared;

– Everyone has the same 4-colored Bic pen, it’s funny;

– In school everyone wears their backpacks high up on their


– In small villages, people walk in the middle of the street.

After the first month, I had a Forum des Pays, there the other inbounds and I got to present our countries to the future outbounds. It was nice getting to see all the inbounds again, I feel like at this point we are all like a big family, these are my people and I love them all. My district tries to organize things at least once a month so that we can all see each other. And at the end of October, we had our first Bus Trip. We got to visit the Mont Saint-Michel which is an Island and commune in Normandy, France. There we joined four other districts and we even got to have a Halloween Party!

So far the exchange has been a roller coaster of emotions and while I’ve had a lot of good times, and some bad times as well. At school sometimes kids can be a little mean, especially after they get used to you. In my case, I’ve succeeded in making many French friends but sometimes they’ll make fun of my accent or comment on something about how I look “as a joke”. The French are also very sarcastic and even though most times they don’t even notice, they can be a little rude. But overall everyone is very nice and welcoming.

Now life in France is starting to be more normal. I have made French friends at school who I speak only in French with (Students at the High Schools are really bad at English, it’s crazy), I also speak only in French to my host families and Rotarians in my club. I’m very excited for what is to come and the adventures I have yet to live.

Sun, November 17, 2019


Safi - Chile

Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: Gainesville
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of , Florida
Host District: 4340
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Cartagena

My Bio

Hola! Me llamo Safi and I am so excited to spend the 2019-2020 school year in Chile. I am currently a junior at Gainesville High School and live at home with my mom, Brenda, and dad, Dan. I also have an older brother who is in college named Eliot and we have two black labs, Martha and Olivia, who I will miss dearly next year. When I am not in the classroom, I can be found running the local trails with my cross country and track team. Although I am sad to be leaving the place I call home, adventure awaits and homesickness has never been something to hold me back. Whether it was moving to Washington DC when I was 4, Ghana when I was 10, or Cambridge, MA, when I was 14, I have always known to cherish the moment and not dwell on wishing to be somewhere else. Living in Chile next year still seems surreal to me, but it represents a unique opportunity to perfect my Spanish and get to know the country where my grandmother was born. I am more than ready to embark on this journey and make lifelong connections with students from around the world. Once again, I would like to thank Rotary for this opportunity and my friends and family who have been more than supportive of my decision to go on exchange. Adiós.

Journals: Safi-Chile Blog 2019-20

  • Safi, Outbound to Chile

17/12/19- Hi!! So I have been in Chile for almost 4 months and time has been moving really quickly. Here is a little life update- I finished school last week and and now have a couple months off for summer (future South American Outbounds… yes that’s right you get 2 summer breaks!!). I am also changing host families in 10 days, which seems crazy to me. I am sad to be leaving where I live now especially because I am just a 3 minute walk from where my running team practices and 10 minutes from a cute plaza where I often meet up with friends, but I am excited for the change. Yesterday I got back from a week long trip to Cartagena de Indias, Colombia with part of my class for our “Gira de Estudio.” Gira de Estudios are a Chilean tradition where you go on a trip with your class at the end of tercero or quarto medio (equivalent of 11th/12th grade) to celebrate your hard work almost being done with colegio. It was super fun and a really great way to bond with my classmates but I am happy to be home and sleeping in my own bed.

While I was traveling I kept on thinking back to what I read in Morganne’s (outbound to Lithuania) post when she traveled to Spain as a Lithuanian… I was in Colombia as a Chilean. Our group would be addressed as “Chile” by local vendors who recognized our thick accents and of course all of our tours and events were in Spanish. At first it was a little strange for me to not be addressed as “gringo” (lol) but it was so amazing traveling with a different perspective. I mean our teachers and tour guides even took us to a disco one night which would never happen in the US (lol).

I also realized that I was geographically closer to my home in Florida than my home in Chile and also somewhat culturally. Colombia uses the same outlets as the US and I felt at home eating the arepas, fried plantains, fish, beans and rice that I eat regularly in Gainesville (Thanks Mi Apa). I was also easily able to find peanut butter in the grocery stores there, which is virtually impossible here in Chile. Overall, a wonderful trip that I definitely won’t forget.

Now that school is out I don’t really have any major summer plans (especially because I don’t know what my next family will be doing during the summer) but hopefully I can travel to Santiago to visit the other exchange students and get to know the area where I live better. However, I am planning on attending a running camp for a week in the South of Chile called “Rapel.” My team said I could go with them and apparently its near a lake but there is no food, bathrooms, or structures to sleep in. You have to bring your food for the week and a tent and whatever else you may need, but I am super excited because it is basically a running sleep away camp in the woods and I would be there with all my friends.

I am feeling happy with how my life is going here and am excited to be making close local friends that I want to spend more time with. Last week for example, my friend Martina invited me to “lo Vasquez” which is a religious pilgrimage to a Church. I went with her and her family and were met by thousands of other people, some who had biked or even walked over 100 kilometers from Santiago or their respective cities to make the journey (we walked the more comfortable 7k from our car). At the end we were met by a HUGE ferria (market) with vendors selling everything from watermelon to Christmas decorations. Then we took the micro (bus) back to where we parked. We then went to have a delicious lunch at a restaurant called “el sauce” filled with salad and huge racks of ribs… it was so so so good.

Anyway congrats to the outbound class of 20/21, if you have any questions, comments, or concerns feel free to reach out to me, you have such an exciting year ahead of you (and start studying your language NOW!!).

Chao, Safi

Wed, December 18, 2019

  • Safi, Outbound to Chile


Hi- so I know this is super overdue but I think I’ve been in Chile for 50 days (woohoo) and I’ve already made lifelong memories. They weren’t kidding when they said exchange was going to be hard but if you are a prospective student and are reading this- DO IT DO IT DO IT! Ok now for the content you actually want to hear about:

School- I go to school in a town called Cartagena which is a 20 min bus ride away from my neighborhood. Every morning I wake up at 7:10 and put on my plaid skirt, white button up, tie and sweater and run to my grandparents house to make oatmeal for breakfast and normally put it in a container to eat on the bus. I really enjoy this bus ride because we go through the middle of my town and by the port and along the coast and if I am lucky I can see a sea lion or two. The bus is just a really nice time to relax and reflect (I think all exchange students can relate to this). Everyday at school I have a different schedule, for example today I had math elective, then a breakfast break and today we got bread with scrambled eggs, PE where we are learning a class dance which we will perform in front of the whole school, we even have custom made costumes to go along with it. Then I had physics, lunch (noodles with tomato sauce with tuna and a pear on the side. Then after lunch we went to biology elective where we were supposed to have a quiz but ended up having a free day and so I talked with my friends about the Lollapalooza Chile 2020 lineup that came out today and bee stings.

Everyday after school I go to running practice at a park near my house, and this is probably the highlight of my day every single day. My teammates are people my age and it’s really fun to workout but also just hangout and talk with them, and it makes it easy to bond because we have shared interests.

Last weekend, I went with my team to a town an hour away to run a 7k race and it was super fun because after we ran were just able to explore the town and eat lunch.

Family- I spend most of my time at my host grandparents house which I next door to mine since this is where I eat all of my meals, shower, and sometimes sleep. I also spend a lot of time playing with my 4 year old host cousin here too, because she also eats and spends afternoons and weekends at the house with her mom, Jessica. Jessica and I also spend time together, and will go to the market or even make sushi together!

Language- my Spanish is coming along pretty well and I’m able to communicate with my friends and host family here. I think it helps that I basically never speak English and when I hang out with the other exchange student in my town we speak in Spanish. My vocabulary has expanded so much and I can already tell that my understanding of what others say has improved so much since I first arrived in here in August. Chilean Spanish is a different breed but I’m getting the hang of it.

Food- the food here is pretty good but I definitely miss different flavors and spices because most things taste the same and no one eats spicy food here, despite the name of the country, but I like it in general. It is true that a lot of bread is eaten here but it is almost always fresh which makes it delicious. The Chilean diet is pretty much carbs, meat, and sugar but I have been able to integrate more vegetables, dairy, and fruit into my diet so I’m feeling fine. My host grandmas are pretty good cooks too and will often leave me a plate leftovers from lunch that I can eat after I run so that’s really nice. Chilean empanadas and sweets are delicious and the empanadas are unique in the sense that they are baked not fried, which I think makes them more delicious.

In general people here are extremely nice and welcoming, so if you are a prospective exchange student and wondering what countries to out on your list I strongly encourage South America! People here, especially in Chile, will go out of their way to make you feel welcome and always greet you with a hug. I am so grateful for the opportunity Rotary has given and I can’t wait to see what the next 8 months have in store! As always feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions about being an exchange student and adios.

Wed, October 16, 2019

  • Safi, Outbound to Chile

(29/8/19) I arrived in Santiago, Chile last week along with all of the other 4340 inbounds (there are 80 of us). We were picked up at the airport and brought to El Quisco for a weekend orientation. It was super beautiful because we were on the coast and could watch the sunset and hugs waves crash into the rocks. The Rotex led the weekend and we played a Chilean version of dodgeball (I won!!!!) and did this crazy relay where we had to jump rope and spin and crawl and put our faces in a pile of flour to search for candy. This ultimately led to a flour fight but it was super fun and a great way to bond with all of the other exchange students. Most of us are from either the US, Germany, or France, but there are a few kids from Canada, Finland, Denmark, Austria, New Zealand, Belgium, and Hungary. Everyone was pretty tired from their long flights and time changes (especially the Europeans) but we managed to have a dance party and we learned some traditional dances like the Cueca.

We were picked up by our host families on Sunday afternoon. I am living in San Antonio, Chile and have actually moved in with my host grandparents and will be sleeping here for M,T, W, Th nights and at my host parents F, Sat, Sun (they live next store to one another). I have not started school yet because there have been complications with paperwork and other formalities and my YEO and counselor are looking into a different school for me to attend (Lions school in Cartegena not Colegio Fénix in San Antonio). I think I’m going to go look at Lions today with my counselor.

This past week I have been doing errands in the morning like getting a SIM card and trying to get a Chilean identity card but in the afternoon I eat lunch with my grandparents (yesterday I had the traditional Pastel De papas which is basically a mashed potato cake with a bottom layer of meat then potatoes and then on top is melted cheese) at there house and then play with my 4 year old cousin Leanor after she gets dropped off at the grandparents house after school.

Her parents (Jessica and Cristian) have been super helpful and Jessica has been taking me to her work in the afternoon at the city hall building of San Antonio where she works in marketing, communications, and writes articles. Her coworkers have been super welcoming and they do marketing and design for the city (make posters for city events, run the social media pages and website, conduct interviews etc). They often ask me about the US and I even had to explain conspiracy theories like the moon landing, flat Earthers, and “is water wet?” which was pretty difficult to do in Spanish. I also went to the library yesterday and it was so beautiful because it was redone earlier this year. I think it is one of the only buildings in the entire town with heat (it’s winter here!!) so that was a nice change.

I can already tell that my Spanish is improving and speaking with Leanor (the 4 year old) is very helpful because everyone else has such a thick accent and people here use so much slang like adding “Po” to sentences and words like si and ya or saying cachai??. I also have been reading books to her which helps me a lot too. I Hope everyone stays safe during the hurricane (Dorian?) and I am off to eat breakfast (tea and bread and hopefully an orange).

Adios, Safi

Wed, October 16, 2019


Sanoor - Czechia

Hometown: Tallahassee, Florida
School: James S. Rickards
Sponsor District : District 6940
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Tallahassee, Florida
Host District: 2240
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Praha Staré Mesto

My Bio

Ahoj! Hello! My name is Sanoor Pradhan and I will be spending my 2019-2020 exchange year in the Czech Republic. I am from Tallahassee Florida and am a senior at James S. Rickards high school. I am involved in several extra-curricular activities including Model UN and Chess club. In my free time I enjoy playing piano and drawing. I live with my parents and our dog, and have one older sister. I attend the International Baccalaureate program, and live 30 minutes away from school via car. Because of this distance, I have lots of time to listen to music, podcasts and audio books, Some of my favorite authors are Haruki Murakami and Malcom Gladwell. I am very interested in global politics and take part in a local radio politics debate show called “411 Teen”. I look forward to spending a year in Czechia! I can’t wait to learn more Czech, meet my host families and make friends once I arrive. Being an Indian- American I look forward to sharing my unique culture with others as well. Having an interest in politics, I am preparing myself for witnessing and learning about more cultural perspectives about the global and national climates in Czechia. In school I have taken Chinese for two years and Latin for four years and have little familiarity with Slavic languages in general. Although intimidated, I am excited to tackle such an unfamiliar language. I am thankful for RYE and my rotary district for giving me this opportunity at an amazing year in Czechia!

Journals: Sanoor-Czechia Blog 2019-20

  • Sanoor, Outbound to Czechia

Ahoj a vítejte na mém deníku! Hello and welcome to my journal! I have spent over 60 days in Prague, Czechia so far and in that time it feels like there are an infinite number of events that have occurred worth sharing here. I have gone on trips to: castles (castles, and more castles), a military plane manufacturing company, a nuclear power plant, Vienna, Slovakia and an uncountable number of places within Prague itself. I will use the attached photos to share some of the information about my trips and I will reserve the rest of this journal for things just about m day to day life.

During the weekdays I have school (surprise). The classes I take are Math, Czech language, Czech literature, History, Philosophy and English. This is abnormal for most exchange students and Czech students themselves. The Czech high school system normal has around 10-16 classes that the student will take through the course of the week. Due to the fact that I attend a Czech-German school my schedule had to be altered. My school does not have a cafeteria and so my host mom packs me huge amounts of food every morning. Normally I will eat bread with jam or butter for breakfast and a couple sandwiches for lunch (also the dairy products here are fantastic). After school on Tuesdays I have dance classes, which is a tradition for most Czech students to do with their graduating classmates. On Mondays and Thursdays I have Czech language lessons with the other 10 exchange students in Prague. After these activities or in my free time, I enjoy going out into the city with either my classmates or fellow exchange students. There are a huge amount of small hidden cafes and restaurants that are so fun to find by random chance when you are wandering around the city center. Prague also has many art galleries, exhibitions and events. The first week I was here we went to a French impressionist gallery with works by artists including Monet.

Now for food, although I mentioned what I eat for breakfast and on school days, that is not a true representation of what Czech food is. Czech food is great. Most meals will consist of some kind of meat, some kind of sauce, and some kind of dumpling. I had pheasant for the first time last week and it was terrific. Although I miss eating spicy food at times I really enjoy trying new foods and have yet to be disappointed. My favorite meal here is called Svíčková. It is comprised of bread dumplings, beef and a vegetable sauce, it is served with whipped cream, cranberries and a slice of lemon. When eating Svíčková (and most Czech food), you are supposed to get equal portions of dumpling, sauce and meat on your fork for every bite. This was very challenging at first and I would always be eating long after other Czechs were done with their meals. Over time however, I can tell that my skill with a fork and knife are improving. Another thing to note is that Czech people eat much more than people in the US from what I have observed. It is common for Czech students to eat two lunches, one in between the second and third class when there is a longer break and one during the actual lunch break time.

The final thing I wanted to mention was the language. Put simply: Czech is hard. Because I am in the capital City of Prague, most of my classmates and strangers speak English and are constantly attempting to speak with me in English which makes learning Czech even harder. For future exchange student considering coming to the Czech republic, it is great and 100% worth it, but it is vital that you put as much effort as you can into learning the language or else you will be struggling through your whole exchange year.

Na shledanou,

-Sanoor Pradhan

Thu, October 31, 2019


Tiana - Brazil

Hometown: St. Petersburg, Florida
School: St. Petersburg Collegiate
Sponsor District : District 6950
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of , Florida
Host District: 4760
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Barro Preto

My Bio

Oi! Hello! My name is Christiana Hendriks and I am a 17-year-old student at St. Petersburg Collegiate High School. This summer I will be headed to Brazil! I have never studied Portuguese, but some of my oldest family friends are from Brazil and they are already helping me learn the basics. Growing up I was always very interested in different cultures and languages because I have a very large family that stretches across many different countries around the globe. But somewhere along the line, my interests shifted. I find myself spending my free time differently every day. I love to make music; I write songs and play piano, guitar, and ukulele. I love to write poetry, read novels, and create my own short stories. I often go to the skate park with my friends. I play competitive soccer, and am the captain of my team. Some days I’ll find myself outside, wandering around and taking in the sights. Other days I’ll want nothing more than to curl up in a ball on the sofa and watch TV with my family. On the whole, I love learning new things and cultivating healthy relationships with my family, my friends, my surroundings, and myself. When I’m not messing around with friends, I’m usually in the library or in class. Even though I love my hobbies, I’m excited for the chance to rediscover my love for traveling and learning new things about the world I live in. During this exchange, I hope to gain a perspective of the world that I didn’t have before. I am ready to take on a new challenge, make new friends, and bring everything I learn home with me.

Journals: Tiana-Brazil Blog 2019-20

  • Tiana, Outbound to Brazil

Oi! Hi! I have been living in Belo Horizonte, Brazil for three months now, and I have enjoyed every second. I’ve been lucky enough to have been placed with an amazing and loving family (who have been absolute angels in helping me adjust to life here, even though they speak NO English whatsoever), made great friends both native and other exchangers, and overall my experience so far has been priceless.

It was really interesting to celebrate the Holidays in a different country. Aside from the obvious fact that we do not celebrate Thanksgiving in Brazil, I found myself surprised by just how different the Christmas celebration here was from home. Christmas is celebrated on both Christmas Day and Christmas Eve here, with a big family dinner and present exchange taking place at Midnight on Christmas Eve. It was really fun to be able to experience a new tradition for the first time. After the Holidays, I traveled to Bahia with my family and friends for vacation time. Bahia is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in all of Brazil, and I had an AMAZING trip. Everything was absolutely beautiful. I have been to lots of different beaches in the United States, but the energy that Bahia had was completely different than anything I had experienced before.

Now that I’m back home, I’m getting ready to switch host families for the first time. Although I’m excited because I already know my second family and I’m excited for the opportunity to live with them, I am sad to leave my first family because my host mom and I grew very close over the past few months. To show my thanks to both of these families, I decided to host a dinner at my house this weekend, and my friends and I are handling everything so that my family can relax and enjoy the dinner.

I am very grateful that I have such a great relationship with my host club here as well. The only real problem I’ve had on exchange so far had been with my school situation, as the school I was enrolled in when I first got here was a high school that didn’t let me participate in anything. My host club has done everything they could to help me find a new school after I reached out to them about this issue, and I’m happy to officially announce that I’ll be starting university classes at FUMEC in the fall, studying fashion textiles!

Since it’s summer break right now, I haven’t started taking any classes at FUMEC yet, but I already have my school schedule and I have visited the campus that I’ll be taking classes at, and I’m very excited for the new school year to start next month. I’m very thankful that I was lucky enough to have a host club that was willing to help me find a school that was a good fit for me.

One of my happiest moments this month was actually a few days ago, on New Year’s Eve. I spent the night on the beach with my friends and family, and we stayed up all night, chatting, dancing, and having an amazing time. At sunrise, we all went in the ocean in our clothes! It was an amazing memory that I’ll never forget.

One of my most challenging moments this month was dealing with homesickness over the holidays. It’s usually easy to get swept up in the craziness of everyday life here, which keeps me focused on my relationships here and not missing everyone back home, but it was a bit difficult to spend Christmas so far away from my family for the first time in my life. However, I do find that I don’t miss home as much as I thought I would.

As for my language skills, I am at the point where I am able to understand almost everything when someone is speaking directly to me, but I am still having trouble figuring out exactly which way to phrase a sentence correctly when it’s my turn to respond. But I’ve made so much progress in such a short amount of time, and I’m really proud of myself. When I got to Brazil, I was able to ask for and understand only the absolute basics. But now, every time I have a conversation about something new or find myself using a word I’ve never used before, it’s the most rewarding feeling in the world. Just gotta keep studying!

Wed, January 8, 2020


Tristan - Sweden

Hometown: Fernandina Beach, Florida
School: Fernandina Beach
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Fernandina Beach, Florida
Host District: 2370
Host Club: Katrineholms Rotary Klubb

My Bio

Hej! Jag heter Tristan Peevy and I will be spending my junior year of high school in Sweden! I am from the small island town of Fernandina Beach, which is the most northern island on Florida’s east coast. I live with my mom, dad, sister and our cat and my dog. I was born in Atlanta but moved to Florida in fifth grade. I play tenor saxophone in the jazz band at my high school. In my free time, I like to bike around my town with friends, and I like to watch and go to football games of all levels from middle school to NFL games. Go Dawgs! I am very interested in other sports. I also enjoy the water, I like to kayak, swim, fish, and boat. I saw the Rotary Youth Exchange flyer at my school, and after I was a guest at a Rotary meeting where I heard a current exchange student speak, I decided to apply for the program. I have had an interest in the different cultures of the world for many years now, especially Scandinavian Europe, so being able to experience what it is like to live in another country and not just be a tourist, will be an amazing learning experience for me. I would like to thank Rotary and especially my Mom and Dad for even letting me have this tremendous opportunity.

Tristan, Outbound to Sweden

Journals: Tristan-Sweden Blog 2019-20

Hi Everyone! This is my first journal since early September and a lot has happened since then! I have had many ups and downs and have experienced many new things. We had our district conference in October and that was a lot of fun to see all the other exchange students. It was also held at an actual castle that was used by the King of Sweden a couple hundred years ago. For me November was a down month, not much was really happening and the Swedish November is awful to put it in a nice way. It rained almost everyday and was only sunny for a few hours on 1 day of the entire month. December was really good! I made a late American Thanksgiving for my host family and club counselor and did a lot of Christmas activities and of course had Christmas Break which was amazing. I visited my host families other family members and went to some Christmas Markets with some other exchange students. In January, school started back and has been going well, school in Sweden is fairly easy if you can understand what is going on (I can sometimes but not often). Making friends with Swedes has been kinda difficult because they are known for being quiet and keeping to themselves and also not speaking their language very well doesn’t help. Its getting better though I am starting to do more stuff with them other than be at school but its still just baby steps. I celebrated New Years with my host family and I had an exchange student friend over and it was a lot of fun. I will be changing host families for the first time in the next few weeks so I am looking forward to that and the change. It has been an odd winter for Sweden, where I live there has not been any snow in the month of January which is really uncommon so hopefully there will be some snow in the next few months even though we are approaching spring very fast. I think I have grown as a person and matured a lot even though there is still a lot of room for growth. I have learned many things so far and hope to learn many more things with my remaining time.Overall, I have loved my time in Sweden it has been a lot of fun and full of different experiences. There are a lot of different things that I still want to do and I hope I will be able to do. I go to Stockholm on a regular basis to see the other exchange students because it is always a lot of fun. I joined the local scouts here in my town and was a bit skeptical at first because I used to be a scout back in Florida and I hated it but its so different here and actually fun, there is no adult leader and mainly we are just hanging out and having a good time! I would like to thank Rotary back in Florida and Rotary in Sweden for making this possible! Until next time, Hejdå!

Sun, January 26, 2020

  • Tristan, Outbound to Sweden

Hej, I have been here in Sweden for 6 weeks now and it has been amazing so far. I got off the plane on August 1st in Stockholm and drove about 2 hours south to where I will be living for the next year near a town called Katrineholm. I actually don’t live in Katrineholm though I live in a village of about 600 that is a 15 minute drive from the town. On my first day I slept when we got back and then I had my first fika in Sweden. Fika is a time where you stop your day and eat, talk, and relax for a bit. After about 5 days I left for my language camp in Sundsvall, Sweden. Sundsvall is a really cool place, it sits about 3 hours north of Stockholm near the Baltic Sea. There are a bunch of dragon statues around because of an old folk story about how the dragons protect the city. At language camp I played cards with an Indian, Italian, Korean and a French person, to me that defines what this is all about. Getting to learn about and experience a different culture is something really special. The language camp took place at a hotel that was near a lake so everyone went swimming at least a few times. At the language camp I got to meet all the other exchange students that are in a suburb of Stockholm like myself, I have never met a group of people that is as easy to get along with as this group everyone became friends pretty much on the second day of the camp. I started school about a week after I got back from the language camp, I didn’t know what to expect and my Swedish was (and still is) not very good, I can understand parts of sentences but not the whole sentence. My classmates where a bit confused at first because my town rarely gets exchange students but after a few days they would start asking me questions and I have already made a few friends. At the end of August I went to my first Rotary camp in Åre, Sweden. Åre is where most of the mountains in Sweden are located which is near Norway. It was a long day of travel to get there but it was worth it. That was the first time I had ever hiked up a mountain, it was a bit more than 4000 feet tall! I got to meet some of other exchange students that are in the south of Sweden. I went to the amusement park Grönalund in Stockholm with some exchange friends and it was really fun, it was my first time to a theme park in a while and I really enjoyed it. This past weekend I went Falun to visit my host moms parents. It was really fun to see a different part of Sweden. This past Wednesday I went to Stockholm for the day because I didn’t have school. I got to see some friends and finally eat some Mexican food that I have missed so much. I am very tired most days because I am hearing two different languages everyday. It has been hard to learn Swedish but I know that eventually I will get it. I am really enjoying my time here in Sweden, some parts have been hard but have so far been worth it. I want to thank Rotary and especially my parents for allowing me to go on this journey that will change my life forever.

Sun, September 15, 2019

Tytus - Thailand

Hometown: Lecanto, Florida
School: Lecanto High
Sponsor District : District 6950
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of , Florida
Host District: 3330
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Sanamchan

My Bio

My name is Tytus, and I have the amazing and exciting opportunity to go to Thailand next year. I am currently in my sophomore year, and I am coming back to the United States my senior year. I’ll be spending my junior year abroad. As for my family, I live with two sisters, my brother, and my step dad and mother. I’m originally from Pennsylvania, and we moved down to Florida about 6 years ago. I moved down here when I was in fourth grade. In school, I participate in the Robotics club, in which I learned some mechanics and coding with robots, I am in the Pre-IB program, in which I take rigorous courses, and AP classes, and I am taking Guitar 2 in school as well, showcasing my passion for guitar. In my free time I enjoy reading a good book, or playing guitar, or practicing my martial arts. I enjoy working out too, whether it be lifting weights or jumping rope, I’m pretty open to try just about anything. Being an exchange student caught my interest when I looked at it from a different view. I looked at it from a perspective of what I could gain, and I can gain a lot from this experience, so I started my adventure to go abroad. I hope to gain a view of different cultures, and I hope to see how the rest of the world views the United States. I am very eager to learn the Thai language and I cannot wait to immerse myself in the Thai culture and to see what all Thailand has to offer.

Journals: Tytus-Thailand Blog 2019-20

  • Tytus, Outbound to Thailand

This is my second journal entry, the outbound to Thailand, Tytus Simmons, from district 6950. As of now, the Corona Virus is causing us all stress. This unexpected turn of events has my trip cancelled, but this just goes to show that anything can happen while you are on exchange, either good or bad, it all counts to your experience. As of today, this is my last day with my second host family and I will be moving tomorrow. I have had some amazing experiences and I have had some saddening moments. Overall it has been eye opening and I suggest everyone who is interested to keep an open mind and be mindful of your decisions and others as well as they affect everyone. One of my best moments was spending a week with my Mexa on vacation with the family, a very memorable experience that allowed me to see what things to expect in Thailand and as well as be exposed to the culture. This also allowed me to practice my Thai as learning the language is an ever growing obstacle. While in Thailand I have to adapt to very different ways of living because here it is the exact opposite of the United States in most regards. It does take time before you adjust to all of the life styles here and it does take some open mindedness to accept these differences and adapt them to your personality. As much of the culture that you are learning, the people here who meet you are also learning and adapting to your culture. A good example of this would be an example with my amazing host family who helped me open up and who helped me speak a lot more Thai. They started getting me Western Food and I did not realize that for a long time and I was very humbled and happy at the thought that not only are they exposing me to their culture with their food and with their eating habits, but they are also helping me with comforting food in case the culture is too much to handle all at once. This just goes to show that no matter what you can enjoy your exchange wherever you may be. Lets talk about acceptance and being thick skinned in a sense, because in order to be an exchange student, no matter how much you learn and how much you know, being an exchange student makes you stick out, especially in Asian countries. Being here, every time I go out into the public, I get stared at, and that is just something you have to come to terms with and learn how to deal with on your own. This does not have to be a bad thing, however, you make what you want of the situation. You will get stared at, but some people will be brave enough to talk to you, and then you might just have made a lifelong friend, but you never know if you don’t try and this is how you could help yourself through exchange.

Mon, March 16, 2020

  • Tytus, Outbound to Thailand

So, my name is Tytus Simmons and I’m the outbound to Thailand, and it has been an amazing adventure so far. Let’s start from the beginning for those of you who are looking for something substantial to read, when thinking about exchange. I have never been on an airplane, so my first flight was out of Tampa International, to the Chicago O’Hare airport. Then from Chicago, I flew to Tokyo, Japan, then to Bangkok, Thailand. So I had around 24 hours in flights and layovers as my first experience. Not bad at all but the jet lag was terrible. The United States and Thailand, are now currently at a 12 hour time difference. So if it’s noon here, it is midnight in the States. But all of my host families met me at the airport and greeted me, which was awesome. On exchange there will be many downs, and sometimes you will think that there is nothing to do or that nothing will help. But then the next day comes around and it’s the best day ever. There are many ups with exchange as well, you will see that your language will improve. Being in Thailand, Thai is one of the hardest languages to learn, hands down. But if you are persistent with your language then there won’t be an issue, it will just take time. I have been persistent with my Thai and I can see an obvious improvement. Language, is a big part of the exchange, but it is not all of exchange. There are many things that do not require the native language that can be an amazing experience. For me, living in the city of Bangkok, traveling around the city has given me many amazing experiences. I’ve traveled the country where I have seen so many amazing things that I will remember for life, and exchange has given me this opportunity to see all of this. One of my most memorable experiences, comes from hanging out with the other exchange students in my district, where we traveled to the north for Christmas and New Years. When we traveled there, I got to experience different things with everyone, that I will never forget. Barbeques and wooden Go-Kart races, everything that I had done with them was amazing. You get to meet those people who are in your same situation and can relate to things you are going through. All in all, exchange has given me a multitude of things that I will remember, and for anyone that comes here to Thailand, welcome, and don’t be scared to talk and learn. That is a big thing here, they talk fast and it sounds different, but listen for words you know, and build upon your knowledge for the future. Things to keep in mind when coming to Asia for exchange, if you have not been here already, there is a lot that is different here. Everything from food to restrooms, to how you eat. But, some things are better in that aspect, and you won’t know until you try it. So always try to say yes to something, you might enjoy something that you previously thought you would not enjoy.
Sincerely, Tytus Simmons, Outbound to Thailand.

Thu, January 9, 2020


Willem - Finland

Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: St. Augustine High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of St. Augustine, Florida
Host District: 1420
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Helsinki

My Bio

Hei! My name is Willem Hall. I am 16 years old and I’m currently a Senior at St. Augustine High School. I live with my parents, my sister, and my two pets(a dog and a cat). At my school, I am in the AICE (Advanced International Certificate of Education) program. A few classes that I like are Psychology, Art, and Calculus. In my free time, I enjoy drawing, skateboarding, playing piano, and hanging out with my friends. In my hometown, there is a lot to do here. My friends and I love to go to the beach, see all of our historic monuments, or visit our favorite restaurants. I am a very creative person and I care a lot about my friends and family. I also love nature and traveling, which is part of the reason why I’m so excited about my exchange. Next year I will be venturing to Finland through Rotary Exchange. I am looking forward to learning a new language, expanding my worldview, and meeting new people. I am so grateful for the amazing people at Rotary who have given me this opportunity to live in a new country. I am also thankful for my family and friends who have been very supportive of me. I can’t wait for this next chapter of my life to unfold.

Journals: Willem-Finland Blog 2019-20

  • Willem, Outbound to Finland

This is my first journal entry on my exchange. I’ve currently been in Finland for about 6 months and the journey so far has been incredible, to say the least. I’ve changed so much as a person, even if it’s not noticeable to everyone around me. So here is a summary and stream of my thoughts about my exchange so far.

For me, getting on a flight to another country wasn’t that big of a deal. The real challenge for me was saying bye to my family for a year. Personally, I had no trouble being independent as I was 17 when leaving and had just graduated from high school. I then boarded the plane and got ready for a journey of a lifetime.

Once I arrived I was greeted by a bunch of other exchange students who would later become my best friends and many other Rotary officials. We got on our separate buses and headed to our week-long language camp in a city called Karkku. There, I was introduced to important basics of the Finnish languages and I was given insight on Finnish culture. It was such an amazing experience and I’ll remember it forever. Some of my favorite parts were my first Sauna, visiting Tampere, and hanging out with my best exchange friends.

After Karkku, I had to say bye to my exchange friends and I met my first host family. A few days after the camp I was a bit sad, but I was just learning to adapt to my new situation. I had settled in with my new host parents and they taught me how to use the Finnish transit system. I was shown around my town in Vantaa and I learned how to get to my school, Ressun Lukio.

My first day of school was very interesting. For the time being our school was under renovation so my first experience in Finnish lukio (high school) was at a temporary building. I arrived at school with the other exchange student Lolie, who is from Spain. For the first few weeks, Lolie and I stayed together as we had the same schedule and didn’t have many friends at Ressu. After that period of time, I made a lot of friends and got invited to hang out. To be honest it was very lonely at first because most Finns are very shy and many kids already had established friend groups. Finnish school is also a lot cleaner and more organized than in the United States. The people at school are also very mature and take school seriously.

About half a year has passed since I left for exchange and I have had many ups and downs. I’ve had to say goodbye to some of my best friends in Australia and I’ve learned many life lessons. I feel like I truly live here now as I’m able to travel the city by myself with ease, I have great friends here, and I have made amazing bonds with my host family. Sometimes I’ll be on the bus and I’ll think to myself about how this is my new home and about how far I’ve come. I’ve become much more independent and have increased my ability to rely on myself. I went up to Lapland with my host family and my little host brother actually taught me how to Ski. I also vividly remember the first time I saw snow coming home from school in Helsinki. I had just gone shopping with some friends after school and snowflakes just started floating down. Being raised in Florida, it was a pretty magical thing to see. One piece of advice I’d like to give is that you can make your exchange truly yours by being able to adapt to what you’re given. My exchange has been in the city center so I’ve had to adapt to city life, while some of my exchange friends are way up in the North and have had to adapt to what they were given. It’s all about perspective and being able to adapt.

Learning Finnish has been quite difficult. I take university courses every Tuesday and Thursday, and I take a Finnish class on Mondays at my school. I practice with my school and local friends as well as with my family when possible. Even so, it is still very hard to speak and communicate my thoughts to others. I find myself learning and understanding more every day, but it is hard to stay motivated. I can hold basic conversations and can mostly understand my friends when they speak, but it is hard as spoken Finnish is drastically different from written Finnish. I would say my goal is not to be perfect at Finnish but to be able to have better conversations and understand most topics that people say to me. Learning Finnish fluently in one year abroad is not very realistic and I would have to devote too much of my time to do so. But, I do want to be able to understand day to day things and I believe I am on the right track to doing so.

All in all, these past 6 months in Finland have been amazing. I hope to continue to adapt to the culture and I am so excited about my future travels in Finland. It has gone by so fast, so it is important to make every moment count and savor what you can. Don’t be afraid to do something out of your comfort zone and always say YES to new opportunities. This exchange has changed me so much for the better and I want to thank Rotary for this amazing experience. Kiitoksia!

Wed, February 12, 2020


Wyatt - Hungary

Hometown: St. Johns, Florida
School: Bartram Trail
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of , Florida
Host District: 1911
Host Club: The Rotary Club of ?

My Bio

Szia! My name is Wyatt Delaney and I am from St. Johns, Florida. I’m 16 years old and have lived in St. Johns my whole life. I’m a junior attending Bartram Trail High School, and will be going on exchange to Hungary next year! I’m living with my mom, dad, and older brother. I also have an older sister who is in college. At school I have been taking an architecture class for three years, so given the opportunity to live in Hungary for a whole year is a dream come true. Outside of school I love to longboard, fish, hike, listen to music, and hang out with my family and friends. I love weightlifting, the outdoors and anything to do with exploring. I have traveled all over the east coast and all throughout Florida, but I have never been to Europe. In Hungary, I hope to be really open with my host family, develop as a human being and take as many opportunities as I can. I’m super excited and grateful to be given this opportunity through Rotary, and I’m looking forward to learning a new language and to be thrown into a whole new culture. I’m looking forward to the life-long memories and how next year will treat me!

Journals: Wyatt-Hungary Blog 2019-20

  • Wyatt, Outbound to Hungary

The winter holidays for me are traditionally spent along side with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Instead of what I previously had been doing, this year I spent it around everybody around me and the friends I have made through my exchange. The whole month of December was very special to me and what happened throughout the month. On December 1 I visited my first Christmas market in my home city Szeged. The city was illuminated with colorful lights, a massive Christmas tree, all the small little houses set up selling goods, and a big ferris wheel to shine with changing lights bright lights. It was a fantastic night getting to see everything and I would come back frequently to the market for food, and other goods. Fast forward a few days to December 6 and Santa Clause came and dropped chocolate off for me and my exchange brother in our shoes. Something very different is that on the night of Christmas Baby Jesus comes and drops the kids their presents instead of Santa. After a week of the first celebrations, I had gotten to meet the new short term exchangers who arrived in Hungary at a Rotary dinner. While at the dinner I chatted with everyone and we have all become great friends. During the dinner me and the other long term exchange student had to read a poem off to our Rotary club as well received gifts from Santa once again. A couple days after the dinner I went on a trip with my class to Budapest. Early in the morning I had to go to the Szeged train station and meet with all of my classmates. The train ride was about two hours long and I got to get to know some of my classmates better. One of my favorite part about going to Budapest is the massive train station and how pretty it is. Once we arrived we walked to the large and beautiful parliament building. We had an educational guide and we saw the Holy Crown of Hungary which dates back to the 1070’s! After parliament we went to the famous St. Stephen’s Basilica. We went inside to see the large and gorgeous paintings and other art work as well as the Encasement of the first Hungarian king St. Stephen I. Outside of the Basilica is voted to have the prettiest Christmas market in all of Europe. The market was crowded with many tourists but this did not take from its prettiness. My classmates and I got an hour of free time to walk around the city and the markets, when it was dark out the lights were magnificent and the city was full of life. After the trip Christmas was creeping up quickly. The 24th my host fathers family came and visited, they live just outside the city and we had an amazing dinner. The 25th we all had to wake up early and celebrated a little family Christmas then immediately hit the roads to my host mothers parents house. She stayed in a little village about two hours away. When we got there we met up with most of my host mothers family and I met a lot new people and had a great time. Christmas after that was normal for the most part, we all had a big dinner and passed out around the TV. That has been my December, exchange has been amazing in many different aspects. I truly see the change that has been going on not through just me but to everyone around me and the other exchange students as well. From now on I am going to take the most out of the time I have left in Hungary and make the most out of it.

Wed, January 8, 2020


Zuly - Taiwan

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

My Bio

My name is Zuleyka Cardenas, a junior at Ponte Vedra High School. I’m thankful, and so very excited to have an opportunity to spend my senior year in Taiwan learning their culture and language. I was born in Mexico and upon turning one, my parents decided to move to Puerto Rico for familial reasons. I spent ten years in my new home, receiving my elementary and sixth grade education. At the age of eleven my family moved to the United States for better employment opportunities. In all honesty, it was incredibly difficult to adjust to our new nation of habitancy; I wasn’t fluent in English, and my grammar was, at best, horrific. As time flew by, I discovered that being enveloped the language had vastly improved my speaking and written skills. I found myself excelling in my new environment, both academically and socially as I made new friends (some I’d even come to consider family) and maintained strong ties to those I’d left behind. The experience I have gained over my life from nation hopping has taught me the importance of respecting and understanding cultural differences, which is why I am truly ecstatic to have the opportunity to broaden my horizons once more in Taiwan. Our time on this Earth is limited, so we should explore and experience as much as possible before it expires. I dream to live a life filled to the brim with tales to tell, and a well-practiced cultural background to inform others of the astounding differences humans have created with boundaries and time. I want to look back on my life fondly, remembering all the people I have met and taught around our world. I cannot express my extreme gratitude to Rotary for this wonderful opportunity to fulfill my dreams in Taiwan.