Traveling abroad is a lifechanging experience.
Milford Central School graduates Julia Brennan and Jennifer DeMell experienced the pleasures and difficulties of traveling to another country, which was made possible through the Rotary Youth Exchange Program.
Julia and Jennifer recently got home from spending a year abroad. Julia visited Poland while Jennifer was in Slovakia. Both girls said the language barrier was the most difficult problem to overcome.
Julia said communicating with members of her first of three host families was most difficult because nobody spoke any English. She said the son was an exchange student at Cooperstown Central School while shewas overseas. Jennifer said nobody among the three host families she stayed with spoke any English. She said her host brother from her last host family knew a little bit of English, but was away at college.
Both girls said, while overseas, they came to appreciate their own country and language a lot more.
Julia stayed in Wroclaw while in Poland. It was a big cultural shock, she said.
``Poland is a country with a lot of cultural conditions,’’ said Julia. ``I never experienced anything like it.’’
For example, Julia said her first day at school was very interesting. She said everyone, even those in the city, were dressed alike wearing white and black.
Julia said holidays were celebrated much differently in Poland compared to the United States. Christmas was one of those holidays.
``It was special,’’ said Julia. ``It was not commercialized at all.’’
According to Julia, each person is given only one gift. Most of the celebration happens on Christmas Eve, not Christmas morning, explained Julia. She said the family comes together and is expected to eat a meal of fish and cannot start eating until the first star comes out. Before eating, Julia said everyone makes a wish for what they want for the next year. Julia said she received lotion from her host mom while there for the holiday.
``It was really moving how they did it,’’ she said. ``Christmas morning was not a big deal at all.’’
Both girls said the schools they attended were ``huge’’ compared to MCS. Julia said it was a lot different than she expected.
``We did not have to do any of the work, which was weird because when an exchange student comes to the U.S. they are expected to do assignments. But when you go to a place like Poland and the language is so difficult you are completely lost and there is no possible way to complete a biology assignment or something like that,’’ said Julia.
Julia said a typical school day is never the same in Poland. Some days students would attend school from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and on others from 8 a.m. to noon. There is not a block schedule, she said.
Julia said she missed having a close relationship with teachers while in Poland. She said there was little interaction between teachers and students and the classes in general were much harder than what she was used to.
Jennifer stayed in the city of Banska Bystrica and said she attended the largest school in the city. She said the students were welcoming, but the teachers really did not talk to her.
``Honestly, they probably would not have noticed if I had skipped a class,’’ she said. Jennifer said her schedule was different every day.
People were a little more closed off until getting to know them, said Jennifer. She said once she learned the language better she was able to meet more friends.
Jennifer said a lot of the Slovakian students knew English, but were too shy to speak the language in front of her.
According to Jennifer, Slovakians celebrate more holidays than Americans. She said 20 years ago the country was still a communist nation so some of the holidays they celebrate are from those times. The country is now democratic, she said.
Jennifer said her first bad experience was when she got kicked out of class when her phone rang during a class. She said classmates were supportive and met her in the parking lot to help calm her.
Both Jennifer and Julia said they plan to go back to visit the countries they became a part of for a year. Jennifer said some of her classmates wanted her to come back for a graduation ceremony in December. However, Jennifer said she does not think she will be able to make it back that quickly.
``I know I will come back sometime definitely,’’ said Jennifer.
Julia said she plans to revisit Poland in 2012 to see the European Football Championships, which will be played in the city she stayed.
Both Julia and Jennifer are MCS graduates. Julia plans to attend Oberlin College and Jennifer will be heading to Washington D.C. to American University.
Three MCS graduates will be traveling abroad with the Rotary Youth Exchange Program this year.
Jane O’Bryan has made her way to Argentina. Before departing, Jane said she would be residing in Puerto Iguazu. She said she hopes to become fluent in Spanish and be able to see a lot of the country.
``I felt really relieved when my first host family said they do not eat any red meat,’’ said Jane, who is a vegetarian. Jane said she anticipates having to eat things she would not normally eat here in the U.S.
Chelsea Foster has packed and gone to Taipei, Taiwan. Before leaving, she said it was not her first choice, but was happy to be traveling anywhere.
Chelsea said she was chosen as an alternate by the program and was given the choice of visiting Hungry or Taiwan.
``I chose Hungry at first, but was later told I could not go and had no choice but to go to Taiwan,’’ she said. ``It did not bother me much because I am the type of student who just wants to go somewhere and said just send me.’’
Chelsea said she was in contact with her first host family before heading off to live with them. Chelsea said the first email was completely Chinese and she had no idea what to do with it. She said her host mother is slowly learning English from her daughter, who is now doing most of the communication for her, so things are going a little more smoothly.
Chelsea said her host brother will be in Germany while she is in Taiwan.
Tonya Aho has delayed her college plans to travel to Japan.
``A lot of people look at foreign exchange as a time to get away for a year and have some fun,’’ said Tonya. ``While that is true, it is also about culture and learning a new language, and what better of a country could you do that in than Japan.’’
Tonya said Japan was not on the top of her list when she first went to the passport fair to choose a country to go to.
``I looked at the choices and I thought automatically I’m crossing Japan off my list,’’ she said. ``However, once I heard Richard Matsushima give his speech about Japan-I fell in love.’’ Tonya said she knows her adventure is going to be a challenge beyond belief, but is ready to take it on.
``With the support of my family, friends, and Rotarians in both America and Japan, I know that it will be a great experience,’’ she said. ``I will learn things that couldn’t have been taught my first year in college and I will discover myself.’’
Tonya said she plans to head to Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida to major in special education and minor in speech pathology. However, she said after a year of life changing experiences, her views may change completely.
Next year, MCS will host a student from India and a girl from Mexico. In early September the school district will hold an informational session for any students interested in applying for the exchange program for the 2011-12 school year.
Please look for more Rotary Exchange news coming up in the Crier beginning in September. Several area exchange students have agreed to write about their experiences. Some will also be blogging while overseas.