What is a True International Student?

I have been asked the question many times “What do Exchange students even do?” Well to tell you the truth, it’s a lot more information than what anyone expects, but I sum it up into one word “LIVE”.

Not to toot my own horn, but Exchange Students are some of the most outstanding people you will meet in your life. We have all been bitten with the disease to explore the world and to become something more than what we are. We have to travel and see as many parts of the world as we possibly can. We are not satisfied staying in one place for too long.

What do we do? We study. We leave everything familiar to us. We explore. We make bonds with people all over the world that no one else can even fathom. We break boundaries. We educate others. We become something that we never knew was possible. We change. We adapt.

We are the crazy kids that get dropped in the middle of a foreign country, with no idea of which way is up. We become the people our parents always wished that they could be. But most importantly, we thrive.

Many people try to relate exchange to the same difficulties of going of to college in a new town, but trust me, it is much more difficult. Most of us are at least 3000 miles from our “homes” and spend months contemplating our decisions of coming to the unknown. After initial shock, we realize that we couldn’t picture ourselves anywhere else. We learn languages, even ones not related to the culture we are submersed in. We expand our knowledge of the world, and want nothing more but to share it with others.

We attend schools in another language and have no idea what is happening, but continue to push ourselves to be as uncomfortable as possible. We are comfortable being uncomfortable. We realize that we have many more homes than what we thought. We have one thing we all want… to explore!

We start to think about traditions back home. We forget about them. We start forgetting our own language and can only remember the words in our new language. We are happy. We are sad. We are depressed. We are ecstatic. We love to have a healthy dose of knowledge and an unhealthy dose of food. We have happy “Hello’s” and tear-filled “Goodbye’s”.

We know what we want. We don’t know how we want it. We don’t know where we want it. We don’t know how we will do it. But, we know we will do it. We are wanderers. We are travelers. We are anything we think we are. We talk to strangers. We eat things that only resemble food. We live.

Exchange is not something that can be understood, because it cannot be defined. It can only be experienced. We can tell you “Oh exchange is this amazing thing where you go to another country for a year and learn a new language and culture.” Well in my opinion that just does not do Exchange any justice. It is much, much more than that. Exchange is more difficult than moving to a new town. But, more valuable than all the money in the world. Exchange is not a Year in the Life, but a Lifetime in a Year.
-Jay Rhoden Outbound to Poland 2013/2014

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The Truth About Travelers

Definition of Exchange students!

infinite satori

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We have been called many things. Travelers, by default. But we like to be called nomads. Explorers. Vagabonds. Adventurers. Wayfarers. Modern gypsies. Wanderers. We’ve adopted them all. A growing breed of humans with restless feet and the inability to stay still, the inability to stay in one place.

That is who we are. And that’s just the gist of it.

We come from all walks of life, from bustling gray colored cities, sleepy beach towns, snow-covered metropolises, small villages nestled in between lush green mountains, we come from everywhere. But our inner gravity always brings us to the same place… the road.

We deem courage weighs more than money when it comes to travel. We’re not rich, not financially well-off and we don’t travel for luxury. Our money does not come from rich parents, trust funds, or whatever privileges you think we have in order to maintain…

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A Week of Skiing (and Falling) in Italy!

 

 

This my first blog post! I figured I should start keeping one even though I am halfway through my exchange. But, the next few months should be the most interesting!

Well to start it off this past week I spent my time in the Northern region of Italy in a small village called Folgaria. Rotary set up an amazing trip for us exchange students to go skiing in the Italian Alps! To say the least it was my favorite trip that I have taken on exchange so far.

I left my beautiful city of Wroclaw to travel to a friends’ town called Poznan, about three hours away.  I stayed at one of my best friends’ house, from Mexico, for two nights, where all we did was feed off each others excitement about a week of skiing in Italy. I mean how many people get to say they have done that! We spent the nights going around and exploring the awesome city of Poznan. To reflect back, I made the decision to get my ski equipment from Wroclaw instead of renting in Italy, now I don’t understand why I made that decision, because that meant I had to carry these huge skis and ski boots, along with my already heavy luggage. Let’s just say I looked like a crazy person getting on and off of the small train doors.

On Friday morning we began our journey to Gorzow Wielkopolski in the North-West part of Poland, where we would meet the participating exchange students to begin our second journey to Italy. Friday morning was a bit of a mess because there were eight of us getting ready to go to the bus station with all of our luggage and ski/ snowboarding equipment. Needless to say we missed the first two buses that we wanted to take. The buses was nice and cozy with every seat filled and people not enjoying the excited group of exchange students headed to Italy. I don’t think we made it better by singing “We are the World” and “Danza Kuduro” for the three hour bus ride, but some did love us and even began to sing along.

We arrived in Gorzow to find a group of Rotarians waiting to take us to their homes for dinner and snacks before our long bus ride. We arrived at about 3 pm and had 5 hours to kill before the overnight journey. My friend Liberato, from Brazil, and I were taken to the same house to relax until meet up time.

To be honest finally getting to Gorzow was the biggest relief of my life! Before the trip there were many problems with bank transfers, contacts and travel. I spent the last month stressing non-stop, because this was a trip I had been preparing for and been excited for since October. It took until three days before my departure for everything to finally go through and my spot on the bus to be secured.

Liberato and I left the Rotarians house at about 7 pm to drive to the travel agency where we would me the other participants. Only 16 exchange students were able to go on the trip, so the travel agency filled the other 24 spots with friends and family. That part made us exchange students nervous because if you have ever been on a trip with us, you know we don’t sleep no matter what time it may be. We are filled with way too much energy and excitement to keep it all in. Luckily for us, the other people were just as crazy as us and we spent most of the ride singing Disco Polo songs. We did however finally tier out around 3 am and all of us fell asleep.

We woke up at our third break of the journey somewhere in Austria. That was our first view of the Alps. Let me tell you it was the most unreal thing I have seen in my entire life. The view was the most amazing thing any of us have ever laid our eyes on. I have seen mountains before, but the Alps are just something that something that you can’t compare anything else to. We continued driving and just kept getting further into the jaw-dropping mountains.

We arrived in Italy after 16 hours of driving and torturous roads that winded up the side of one of the biggest mountains I have ever seen. Normally I’m fine with things like that, but we were in a big tour bus, filled to capacity and not even a foot of road left for any errors in driving.

We all got off the bus and took some time to take in our amazing surroundings. Everywhere that you looked, you could see mountains pushing their way up into the sky. Folgaria is a quiet ski village placed right on the edge of a steep mountain. It is exactly what you would picture a mountain town to be. People walking dogs and children, small restaurants, a million pizza places and small shops on every corner.

The hotel we stayed at was “Hotel Irma” which is situated directly in the middle of the village. It is a very nice hotel with big rooms, a lounge and a restaurant. The first day there, was set aside for people to explore and to obtain their ski equipment. We spent the whole day and night walking around looking at all of the sites and stores around the place. At 6 pm we had to be back at the hotel for our first real Italian dinner! When we walked in to the restaurant, there was a buffet set up for us to start eating. Little did we all know, that was just for an appetizer and we were going to receive three other courses of food. By the end of dinner I felt like someone was going to have to roll me out of the restaurant. But, that didn’t keep us from doing the same thing every night, even when we were aware of the other courses, we continued to pig out on all of the pasta and pizza that our stomachs could possibly hold!

The second day would be our first day of skiing in the Alps. Mind you I have been skiing before (once and only for about 30 minutes). We were asked at the beginning if we had ever been skiing before, even my 30 minutes counted as experience. Little did I know, by saying yes to this, they were going to take me to the advanced slopes and trails. Luckily, I was able to push all of my inhibitions aside and ski down every slope they brought us to. Except for one…. It was the steepest slope at the resort. It started at the top of the mountain and went all the way to the bottom. I made it half way down and then just couldn’t handle it anymore and slid down the rest of the slope on my butt. Even the experienced skiers said that is was very rough for them and they took their time going down it.

The third day of skiing was much better for me. I finally learned how to control my turning and stopping and was able to go down the slopes with no problems and without even take time to think about my imminent death. Saying that, I will tell you there were a few falls, but nothing bad at all, mainly just sliding on my side, but being able to get right up and continue down the mountain.  We spent six hours every day on the mountains, taking only a one hour break for lunch and then going and doing it all over again.

I continued to improve throughout the week, even calling on the attention of the pro skiers to comment on how much better I was doing in such a short time. I have never really been the athletic type, but apparently skiing was something I could really do! By the last day, I was able to keep up with all of the people that had been skiing for most of their lives. It was a very proud moment for me when all of my fear left and I just attacked the mountains with all of the confidence in the world.

It was another breathtaking moment for me, arriving in a beautiful country and spending six days skiing in the Italian Alps. I get moments like these where all I can do is just think how lucky I really am to be in this amazing place. I have so many people to thank for making this year possible for me, but so little time left in this place. I knew as soon as January arrived, that exchange would go by in the blink of an eye. In one short month I will be leaving for a three week journey around Europe, then I will be in London for a week, and after that my family will be in Poland to visit me. After all of that I will only have a week left in Poland and the hard goodbyes to all of my amazing friends and family will be here. I look back and see all of the things that I have experienced and just can’t believe that this is all real. In three and a half months I will be flying back home and all of this will be just a memory.