First of all, apologies for the lengthy times between my updates and how rushed my last update was. Hopefully this one will be much more comprehensive. I’ll try to include everything, but as my fellow exchange students know, so much goes into the preparation for exchange that it’s hard to keep track of it all.
I’ll talk a little bit about my host family first. I have a host mother and father, a host grandmother and grandfather, a host brother, and two host sisters, one of which is leaving for exchange in Canada the day before I arrive in Croatia. My host brother is 12, and my other host sister, the one who will actually be home, is 21. My host grandparents live in a connected flat and do all of the cooking for the family. My host parents own a cigar import company. Their office is right across the block from my school, and the school and office are about a 10 minute walk from their house. The school is in the very center of Zagreb, so I will be close to most of the city’s amenities. I have pretty good contact with my host family. We are all friends on Facebook, etc. so I get to see snippets of what life is like there and they get to see snippets of what my American life is like. We have exchanged emails/messages, my host mom and real mom have talked on the phone quite a bit, and I am hoping to Skype with them before I leave.
Speaking of leaving, I finally got my plane ticket booked last week. My departure date is September 1st, which is about a week later than all of the other Croatia-bound exchange students, unfortunately. I’m not bothered, though, because no matter what, I’m getting to Croatia! I will be flying from Raleigh, to DC, to Munich, and then into Zagreb, and I should arrive on September 2nd if everything goes according to plan (which it probably won’t, considering the frequency of delays when it comes to planes). The longest flight I’ve ever been on was only an hour and a half (from Raleigh to New York City, I believe), so I am honestly more nervous for the whole plane/airport scene than I am for the exchange itself! Luckily, with my blazer and hopefully other exchange students with me, I’ll be pretty recognizable in the airport and staff will be able to help me much more easily.
A few weeks ago, I attended one of my local Rotary’s meetings for the last time. I gave a short speech on what I had been doing to prepare for my exchange since I last saw them, and the club’s president gave me a present, which I was told to open after the meeting was over. I opened it when I got in the car, and it was a laptop case with my initials on it. It meant a lot to me that the club went out of their way to order a customized gift for me, especially one that will be so useful for transporting my laptop (which I’ll be doing a lot of during my travels). I can’t thank Rotary enough for everything they’ve done for me- it’s truly a wonderful organization and I’ll sing its praises until I can’t anymore.
On a lower note (this is actually a pun by the way just wait), I did find out that I won’t be able to bring my guitar (see?). The airline I am flying with would require me to purchase another ticket to bring my guitar on board, and guitars will break if they’re not brought on as a carry on. There was an option with another airline, but it was more expensive and even then could not guarantee that I would be able to bring it on board. This was pretty disappointing, but I’m hoping that my parents can ship me my guitar after I leave so that I can continue to practice. I found out that my host brother is beginning to take guitar lessons around the time that I arrive, so it will be nice to be able to have someone to play with, since no one else in my family here plays an instrument.
Related to exchange, but not mine, my best friend is hosting an exchange student this year. She’s from Mexico and should be arriving in three days, so I will hopefully get to meet her before I leave! She’s not coming through Rotary, so I’m interested to see how her exchange program differs from my experiences. Another close friend of mine has begun the process to be a Rotary Youth Exchange student for the 16/17 year. I met with her and went over all the information I could possibly go over, with everything from basics, to rules, to contact information, to packing. She has a meeting today with the district coordinator for exchange, so I’m very excited to see how that goes! I know she will make a great exchange student and I’m glad that my experience was able to impact someone else’s life positively.
Speaking of packing, I’m leaving in exactly two weeks and all I want to do is pack. I don’t know why, but I kind of enjoy packing. However, if I did pack now, it would mean that I’d have nothing to wear for the next two weeks, so that’s probably not the most amazing idea. I’ve cleaned out my closet, though, and narrowed it down to just the things that I’m bringing on exchange. This is an incredibly difficult task when you’re a stereotypical clothes-loving teenage girl, but I’ve significantly narrowed down what I’m bringing and I’m proud of it. I wear mostly neutrals in the first place, so it was perfect for packing long-term because almost everything I own matches with each other and is layerable!
Relating to the Croatian language itself. I will admit I’ve been a bit lax about studying the language because it’s summer, and who really wants to do anything vaguely educational? Anyway though, I’ve been trying to get better about studying. My personal favorite tool has been the app Memrise, which I have used almost daily. It’s basically online, premade flash cards that build on each other. It’s very useful and I would recommend it to anyone looking to study language or any other subject. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Croatian music (Vatra’s “Tango” is my favorite, thanks to Delaney for suggesting it), watching Croatian movies with English subtitles (or trying to, since almost all of them that I can find are about war…), and simply copying down notes and vocabulary from various webpages.
Lastly, some advice about exchange. If you’re a prospective exchange student, once you get your country, MAKE CONNECTIONS. Join Facebook groups. Find people going to your country, your district, etc. Find blogs about people going to your country, reach out to them, get to know them BEFORE you go on exchange. I have already been in contact with almost all of the other outbounds to Croatia for months, and it’s been great. I’m already good friends with them, and we’ve planned things to do together once we get to Croatia. I even got to meet one of them in person (she was right near where I live on vacation), which was a ton of fun and I can’t wait to meet her again in Croatia. Seriously, I think it will make exchange a lot easier already being friends with the other exchange students. That being said, be careful about only being friends with other exchange students. When you’re on exchange, you need to befriend the locals and your classmates as well. They’re the ones who can help you with the language and really show you what life in your host country is like. While a language or cultural barrier may make it hard, I believe that the rewards of a friendship like that greatly outweigh that risk.
With that, I’ll end my ramble. I probably won’t update until i’m actually in Croatia, since there won’t be too much new information between now and then. However, expect an update about traveling/my first night, etc. coming in two weeks (: