Monday, January 31, 2011


I don't think I have mentioned this before, which is kind of ludicrous because it's exciting. I wrote an article a while back about my first 2/3 months on exchange for the local paper back home. The editor didn't quite know if it would make it in or if only the pictures would make it in, so I didn't get my hopes up. A month or so later, I had almost a full page in the Times Indicator! It was quite nice. My mom sent me a copy and I sent it on to my outbound coordinator from my sponsor club. Today she sent me a link to the District 6290 Newsletter because my article was published in that, too. Man, oh man this is all so much. I'm happy that it was so well-recieved and that people are reading about youth exchange. Here is the link to the newsletter. I'm not sure if people are supposed to see it if they're not Rotarians, but it has a lot of information about projects around the world our district is working on. Check it out! --sjinternational

Friday, January 28, 2011

time is flying and so am i

Welcome to the end of January and the halfway point of my exchange... What happened there? Remember that time when it seemed like forever until I would leave to begin my exchange? Yeah, neither do I. It almost seems unfair because I still have so much to learn and accomplish, but the time is ticking away like the Jeopardy theme song in my head. Last weekend, time was not the only thing that was flying. We had our ski weekend with the Rotex in Oberstdorf. Any time you get a rowdy group of Brasilians trying to do a winter sport, especially on the top of a mountain, things are going to go down. As my fourth time ever being downhill skiing, I was naturally terrified when our group- the 'advanced group'- headed right for the peak of the mountain, Nebelhorn. You see, that's what happens when mountains are big enough- they get christened. The view was breathtaking as the mountains ripped through the fog and clouds. We were about 2,300 meters up and headed back down at a back breaking pace. I flew down that hill, not only because going faster than the speed of light is easier than trying to control myself, but because it is unlike any adrenaline rush I have ever experienced. I was out of my mind with fear, but that smile remained plastered on my face. The day had it's share of wipe-outs, North and South Americans alike. We spent most of Saturday night re-capping highlights and icing bruised bodies and prides. Sunday, as we made our way to the station, we stopped at the mountain one more time to check out the ski jump they have set up there. We all went to the top of the jump, most of the people by the lift. I, however, took the stairs. It had seemed harmless at the time... We were blocked near the top by a fence, easily jumpable. As I climbed up the side, a sudden draft halted my motion. Once safely on the groud, I assessed the damage of my newly mangled jeans- a gaping hole from mid-thigh to the zipper sent everyone into hysterics. Pictures will no doubt be circulating soon. Once getting past my humiliation and the cold air seeping into my body, I saw the jump. It was absolutely insane. The men and women who do this for a hobby- I salute you. A person has to have some serious guts to go flying not only down a mountain, but off of it. After the side trip, it was time to go to the station. Saying goodbye is never an easy thing, especially after such an amazing weekend where friends have become the only real family we have here. For the ones of us that will still be here, there is always the promise of next time. Our next meeting through Rotary is at the end of February in Augsburg: an Inbound/Outbound orientation of sorts. We are going to meet the new Inbounds that have just arrived and the fresh-faced Outbounds just beginning their journeys. I remember being an Outbound, but's hard to imagine being anything but an Inbound. Not only that, but we are the older ones now. We're the ones with experience who must take the places our mentors and friends left for us. No pressure. Coming back to school was good, too. In my Sport class, we are training for a city run by learning how to vault. Talk about flying... I love Sport class. It's the one class where I am just like everyone else and I can interact with my friends. Thursdays are the happiest day of my school week because they remind me that these girls really are my friends. I will be changing into my next host family exactly a week from today. I can't believe how fast the time is going. See you in February!--sjinternational

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

light as a feather, stiff as a board

Well, it certainly has been a while, or at least it feels that way. The new year is well underway and my holiday blues are long gone. I feel brighter and happier; I'm excited to start the next leg of my year As Rotary said, it will only go up from here. I imagine that the weather has played a hand in my good moods lately; it's been practically spring here for the past week. The sun was shining, the snow is all gone and it's been in the 40s (F). Absolutely unbelievable for January. A lot of things seem to be changing. It's not good or bad, just change. My friend Hayley's year has ended and she is now back in Australia beginning a new chapter after exchange. It's always hard to have people leave, to know that they won't be there the next time our group gathers. Seeing how many people were affected by her departure showed me that this is important. What I'm doing sends ripples and makes a difference, even if it's a small one. Just two weeks ago, the newspaper in my town published an article that I had written over my first 2 months of exchange. I was so proud and happy to see that other people could read about what I'm doing. I simply wanted other students to know that there are other paths. Sitting in a classroom for a year isn't the only way to learn, that you can get out there and live while learning on the fly. I have also learned more about my family changes. Up until now I had absolutely no clue as to when I would be changing households. Now, I have a complete layout of my living situation fór the rest of my exchange. Keep up if you can. I will be moving to my second host family at the beginning of February. I will live with them until my 3 week Germany tour starting in April. Directly after the Germany tour, I have the trip to England with my class at school. At this point I will have been living out of a suitcase well into the month of May. When I finally come home, I will be moving back into the house of my first family until a week or so into June. My last leg of exchange will be spent with my counselor and her family until I go home, probably sometime in early July. I'm relieved to have some knowledge of my life, but it's also a bit shocking to have my life so specifically broken down before me. Another change at the moment is the death of my computer. My laptop is being attacked by a virus posing as an Anti-Virus company- the irony is killing me. I can still answer e-mails on my iPod or my host family's computer, but things were definately much easier on my own computer. The virus began just in time for my Rotary presentation. Thankfully, I was able to save all of the pictures I needed to show for it. In my four and a half months here, I have gotten pretty comfortable communicating in my new language. I am also quite comfortable speaking in front of a group of people. That being said, the feeling is completely different when I was speaking in front of the people providing for me on my exhange in another language other than my mother-tongue. I was so ridiculously nervous. I felt like a kid on his first date. You know how it goes: shaky hands, forgetting what to say, making small and unnecessary mistakes you berate yourself constantly for making. In the end, it could have gone better, but that's just me being my own critic. The Rotarians, of course, were wonderfully generous in their compliments and said they were impressed by my progress in the language. Also, my second host family was there. It was my first time meeting them and they were really nice. They are Rotary Exchange veterans, persay, having two daughters who've gone on exchange and having hosted at least once before me. They love the program and supporting the opportunity to see a culture through different eyes. Their younger daughter, Verena, is a Rebound who went to Argentina last year. We are going to be good friends. You want to know how I know? She pointed to the Wicked pin on my blazer and exclaimed, "You like Wicked, too?!". Oh yes, we'll be just fine. This coming weekend is our Ski Weekend in Oberstdorf. With all this spring-like weather, I hope that the Alps still have some snow for our use. I was also invited to my Rotary Club's Ski trip at the end of February, so my presentation really must not have been half bad. With the weather fluxuating from winter to spring and a wealth of new information in my head, I feel somewhat lighter. The oppressive winter darkness and homesickness melted away with that first round of snow and here I still stand, beginning to truly enjoy simply being here. Even the lack of my computer hasn't cast a shadow on my mood. Plus, I have some mighty good books on my Kindle, thanks to my all-knowing mother. I feel lighter, happier, and I'm sure of my place here. It will only keep getting better.--sjinternational

Thursday, January 6, 2011

edelweiss in the new year

Welcome to 2011! I'm now entering into the next part of my exchange. I've gotten past the "hump-stage" and, according to my Rotary charts, it's all downhill from here. There's no doubt that the holidays were hard without my family to share them with, but my hosts did all they could to make my Christmas special. After Christmas, I stayed with my counselor while attending skiing lessons. Just another thing I've fallen in love with over here. I had never been skiing before, but once I got a taste of it, I was hooked. It's so much fun and I'm glad, although it was physically challenging, that I had three full days on the mountains! I can't wait until the Skiwochenende with Rotex at the end of the month! It was also nice to just spend time with my friend, Sophia, who happens to be my counselor's daughter. The day after the lessons ended, my host family and I headed to Berchtesgaden, where we'd be spending the New Year. Simply being in the Alps again made me happy. Berchtesgaden is nestled in a valley in south-east Bavaria, pretty close to the Austrian border. Adolf Hitler used this convenient geography for his base of operations in the south. His 'Eagle's Nest' is situated on a mountain overlooking the valley. The town was lit for the New Years celebration. As the clock struck midnight, cannons, church bells, and fireworks blasted us into the new year. It was quite the spectacle. I toasted my family and friends back home, who still had to wait 6 hours to see the ball drop in Times Square and declare their resolutions. I made a couple myself, one being to focus more on the present than always being 4 steps ahead of myself. Hopefully this will help me make the most of my 6 months left on exchange. Along with my host mother's parents, we went out frequently to restaurants, and let me tell you, after a Bavarian lunch, I couldn't eat anything until the next day. The Bavarians invented 'hearty meals'. We visited the Salzburgwerk, which are the salt mines under the mountains in Berchtesgaden. They called it 'white gold' because the economy in these parts was so dependent on the mining of salt, since there was no refrigeration. There was a school group from Tennessee that I met and talked to. It's always interesting to meet people doing other sort of trips. Compared to 9 days all around Germany, my year abroad seemed a bit drastic to them. My host mother and I took a day trip to Salzburg, something I had been looking forward to. We signed up for the 4 hour 'Sound of Music' tour that highlights some of the filmed places in the movie. I was so extremely happy that we got to go on that. Not only do I love the film and the music, but we saw some amazing sights on the way. I also learned a lot about the real Von Trapp family and their story. The twists that Hollywood puts on stories is almost depressing sometimes. The family actually took a train to Italy for their great get-away. No mountain climbing, but here's the kicker: the mountain they were filmed climbing over (as they tried to get to Switzerland from Salzburg?) would lead them straight into the 'Eagle's Nest', Hitler's base of operations. Well done, Hollywood. There was so much laughter and singing on the tour, and I had a lot of fun. Back in Salzburg, I got side-tracked by a shop with paintings out front. Not only were they beautiful enough to pull me off the street, but they were pretty well priced. I went inside and met the painter and his wife. They were wonderful. I bought two paintings and even though this wasn't a significant experience, I know I'll always remember them and their beautiful paintings of Salzburg. What a vacation. I've never really had one like it. I was sad to leave the Alps, but it felt good to come back to the normal ebb and flow of Friedberg. Now I'm back to dealing with Rotarians and school without the serene backdrop of the Alps, but hey, that's life. We're getting the ball rolling in 2011 and I have 6 months to enjoy the progress I've made since September. Happy New Year!-- sjinternational