nine months

I’m sitting in the back of my Czech language class doing what I normally do at school now, wondering why the hell I’m here.

School for exchange students is almost always boring, but I think now it is getting even worse for us. My school in the U.S. is finishing this week, with graduation scheduled for this weekend. Here in the Czech Republic, I still have about a month left.

The main thing is I can’t really do much. I used to try and keep up in class to a modest extent, but now I am gone so frequently with meetings and activities that knowing what’s going on is nearly impossible. I’ve also begun to shift my focus back to school in the U.S. I’m trying to remember how math works and English grammar and everything in between, so that I don’t completely bomb the ACT in September.

Being gone so frequently now has its pros and cons. The pros are that I get to see my exchange family which I have gotten so close to a lot more, and also get to see a few more places before I go. The downside is I’m away from my host family and my friends here, so even coming back home to the Czech Republic gives me a bit of culture shock each time.

All the weekends and activities also make it really easy to be negative. I’ve found myself overcome by bitterness in the past month, feeling like I don’t belong in this country after all. Yet, I think most of this is my own, self-induced fault. Nobody is trying to kick me out before it is my time to go. I have friends and family here, and I know my way around. I can speak the language a bit, and I have places I love to go and frequent. In the 40ish days that I have left, I am going to try really hard to remain positive, and remind myself of what an amazing time I have had while I’ve been here.

I got to spend this past weekend with my exchange family, this time with all of the kids who live in Slovakia as well as the Czech Republic. We didn’t sleep much, but had tons of fun. It was weird because some of those people I may not see again. Some will be going home before the next weekends that we have scheduled together. The finality of things like that is overwhelming, and makes me so scared to say goodbye. I have friends all over the world now, and there is never a 100% guarantee that I will get to see them again. That’s sad.

I am now entering my last month and two-ish weeks here. I can’t believe that it has gone by so fast. It feels like yesterday I was waking up in my first host dad’s car to see Ostrava for the first time. I’m going to see my exchange family twice before the end. I’ll turn 17 this next month. I’ll meet my host sister in my last host family for the first time. I’ll have to figure out how the hell I’m going to get all my stuff home, because I don’t want to let any of it go. It should be a good one.

I was really hoping that I would kill the entire 45 minutes that makes up this Czech lesson but I’ve failed pretty bad. I’ve got 22 more minutes to suffer through. I guess life could be worse.

The entire exchange family last weekend, in Košice, Slovakia.

The entire exchange family last weekend, in Košice, Slovakia.

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eurotour

For those of you who don’t know, I just recently came back from a two-week long trip through France, Spain, and Italy. Now you get to hear all about it.

The journey began on the 25th of April, with a train ride to Bratislava. All of us crazy exchange kids reunited at the train station in Bratislava, before departing on an 18 hour bus ride. 18 hours on a bus is brutal, but we all managed to survive. The fact that we were on our way to Paris didn’t hurt.

Once in Paris we checked into our hostel and began our first day. We had a walking tour with a cool British woman named Nancy, and then spent the afternoon in the Louvre. The next day we had another walking tour with a German woman (whose name I forgot) but was really funny and clearly loved the area. She showed us some of the places famous artists of the past hung out before leaving us at a beautiful church on top of a hill overlooking Paris. (Also forgot the name of the church. Oops.) That afternoon we went up to the Eiffel Tower (but I personally didn’t go all the way up.) It’s a very cool structure, but on a windy day it can be a bit scary. Finally, we got free time. Some of my friends and I decided to go back to our hostel and we got to wander around the streets of Paris at night by ourselves. Nothing is more liberating than exploring a city you don’t know with your friends, especially at night. This is a trend that would continue. The last day in Paris was spent at Napoleon’s Tomb, Musée d’Orsay, and Notre Dame. We then set out on a 14 hour bus ride to Barcelona.

Really beautiful bridge we saw on our first day in Paris.

Really beautiful bridge we saw on our first day in Paris.

Louvre

Louvre

This is the church on top of the hill whose name I forgot.

This is the church on top of the hill whose name I forgot.

Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower

Now we are in Barcelona! I wasn’t really looking forward to Barcelona. I figured it would be a good experience, but nothing special. I was completely wrong.

Barcelona is an absolutely amazing city. Unlike Paris, you feel like life actually happens in Barcelona. While there are tourists in a lot of places, there seems to be normal city-dwellers as well. The history of the city is fascinating, and it is still happening today with Catalan Independence movements. On our first day we had a tour guide named Erik from the U.S. He had mentioned that he did work with the homeless and also did tours like ours. I decided to ask him about it near the end of our tour, and I really liked his outlook on life. He did the tours to make some money, helped people as often as he could, all while living in a city he loved. I can definitely see myself living like that in the future.

We got lots of free time in Barcelona, and my friends could probably tell you that I ran around that city like a child. It was so exhilarating being able to make our own decisions and choose where we wanted to go in such a bustling city. We relaxed on the beach, got lost in the streets, spent some time in a park, went to the FC Barcelona Stadium, and made a lot of wonderful memories. I also got to see my friend who is from the same city in the U.S. which was great. I miss Barcelona dearly and can’t wait to go back. (Hopefully with my brother next time.)

Christopher Columbus pointing towards the sea.

Christopher Columbus pointing towards the sea.

Me on the beach.

Me on the beach.

Sagrada Familia. The most awe-inspiring structure I have ever seen.

Sagrada Familia. The most awe-inspiring structure I have ever seen.

Messi!

Messi!

*virgin mohito

*virgin mohito

Finally, Italy. I’m just going to cram all of Italy into one small section. We were in Rome, then Pompeii, Florence, and finally spent a few hours in Venice. I was the most excited for Italy, and while it is a beautiful country, it wasn’t my favorite. I think most of my other exchange students would agree that a lot of this is because we were all becoming sick and exhausted at that point, along with our tour guides not being as exciting as those in the past. But, I still enjoyed Italy. We got to see all of the things that we had only seen in history books, which is a bit surreal. Venice was probably my favorite city that we were in, due to its insane beauty. The whole time you look around and wonder, “How is this possible?” I’ll let the pictures talk for Italy… 🙂

Colosseum

Colosseum

We got to climb up Mt. Vesuvius and then saw all of the ruins of Pompeii.

We got to climb up Mt. Vesuvius and then saw all of the ruins of Pompeii.

Florence :)

Florence 🙂

And one last snapshot from our brief time in Venice.

And one last snapshot from our brief time in Venice.

Finally, I want to thank all of the people on EuroTour. A big thank-you to Rotary for allowing us to have this opportunity, and for organizing such a great trip. Another big thank-you to everyone who donated money to get me on this trip. All of your support means the absolute world to me, and I’m so happy that I was able to have this experience. And last but not least, thank you to my exchange family. I am incredibly grateful that I got to spend those two weeks with all of you. We have all made lasting memories, and I can’t wait to see you all again soon!

It's always fun to have people ask us where our group is from because we get to reply, "Everywhere!" Love you all. <3

It’s always fun to have people ask us where our group is from because we get to reply, “Everywhere!” Love you all. ❤

mom

I would do anything for my mother. She is the person that has been with me my entire life, which is not an easy task. She has dealt with my stress, immaturity, anger, sadness, frustration, tears, triumphs, and pitfalls with such grace. I couldn’t have breakdowns on the kitchen floor with anyone else in the world.

I recently got to that point in life when you realize that your parents are people just like you. It’s a terrifying and liberating feeling. You suddenly understand that you have to be there for your parents the way that they are there for you. Exchange has taught me that I could be a lot better at that.

I am looking forward to seeing my Mom again. I have missed talking with her constantly. I have missed our homemade pizzas and her willingness to jump at every insane idea I have.

My Mom never doubts me, and I now have learned never to doubt her. She is the strongest woman I have ever encountered. She comes out of situations unbroken. She takes risks and is learning to speak her mind. She is my biggest cheerleader and I can’t wait to go home and once again be her’s.

I could talk about my mother for days on end. I hate seeing places I know she would love without her, but I’ll guess I’ll just have to work to take her around the world with me. The next time I see Van Gogh and Monet in one room she has to be there with me. The next time I run around a city like a child, I want her to be right beside me. I have faith that she will be.

Before I end all this, I want to simply thank you, Mom. I would not be the person I am today without you, and I am so proud to say that. Thank you for every single thing you’ve ever done for me (the list is far too long to post).

Mom, I love you more than you could ever imagine. I think about you every day, and I cannot wait to see you. Love you lots. ❤

❤ ❤ ❤

She's raised two great kids. :)

She has raised two great kids. 🙂

eight months (a wee bit early)

(This blog is a few days early because tomorrow morning I head out for EuroTour.)

I was talking with one of my friends the other day about my exchange and how I sometimes wondered if I had made the right decision. I sometimes think that I should be at home taking a bunch of AP classes, taking the ACT, volunteering, beefing up my college applications. My friend mentioned that he thought maybe it would be better for me to just have been here for five months. He said that (based on my blog) I seemed happier then, and then I could go home and get a jump on things that I was worried about but couldn’t do anything about here.

I disagreed.

Near the end of our conversation my friend also mentioned the phrase Dream Big, Work Harder. We laughed because it’s such a cliche, but at the end of the day we both knew he was right.

I have dreamt fairly big for someone my age. And I have worked very hard. At the surface, exchange students tend to look like wealthy kids who wanted a vacation for a year. That may be true for some people, but that’s not me. I worked for this exchange, the same way I have made the effort to go on EuroTour (and look, I’m leaving tomorrow.)

I am very proud of myself and where I am based on the amount of work that I put into it. I understand that I am not entitled to any of this. This experience was most certainly not handed to me, and I’m happy that it wasn’t.

When I get back home there is going to be a lot of work to be done. I have goals and dreams to accomplish there, and I am not someone to be disappointed. I will have time then. I do not need to waste the time I have earned with foolish thoughts like, “Well will this school accept me without AP Psychology?”

For anyone trying to become an exchange student, understand that it could very easily be hard work. You may have to sacrifice graduating with your class, time spent with friends because you need to work, and millions of things in between, but genuinely every moment is worth it.

I’d like to thank everyone (again) who helped me get to where I am today. Hard work is easier with a good support team. I’d also like to thank Honza for giving me the opportunity to see my exchange from another perspective. (Good luck on Maturita.) 🙂

Gotta go pack now 😉

But one quick story…

In the Czech Republic students who are graduating are in what is called “Maturita.” Maturita refers to kind of the whole process of graduating which is a bit too complicated to explain. But, what is easy to explain is “poslední zvonění” or “last bell.” The Maturita students finish school before all the other students, and so they are officially done with normal lessons now. On their last day of school, they dress up in costumes (usually with a common theme) and then go out asking around for money (they buy their teachers presents). If you give them money, you get some kind of mark. I know a lot of people in Maturita, so this was my face for the whole day…

poslední zvoněníI got a lot of funny looks in the grocery store later that day… Good luck to all the Maturita kids on all of your big tests. Hope to see you all (at least) one more time before I go home. 😀

Now I really gotta go pack.

seven months

THRIVE

I had forgotten about this word for a long time. Recently someone mentioned it in a video I was watching on YouTube, and I remembered it. I remembered how much I wanted to thrive.

Foreign exchange gives you a lot of opportunities to thrive. Usually, they aren’t easy. It’s challenging to thrive in a new city, new school, new family, new culture, new everything.

I’m seven months in and trying to find ways to thrive. I think most of the people who know me here would say that I’m doing well. I know some of the language, I know about the culture, I enjoy the food, I’m nice to people (or at least try to be). For me that’s all fine and great, but it isn’t thriving. Sometimes I maybe think that I am simply not in the right place.

I do not want to go home. That is a fact. I miss some things here and there, but I do not want to return. Some of this is due to deep-seeded bitterness that these past seven months has not managed to cure. It’s also because I don’t think I belong back home. I won’t thrive there.

Yet, I also find myself thinking that I won’t thrive here. Some exchange students that I have talked to imagine continuing their lives here. I am not one of them. I love the Czech Republic and Ostrava. I genuinely do. But I don’t think I would thrive here either.

This past month has been full of a lot of social interaction. My best friend, Ellie (another exchange student) visited me for four days and we were constantly doing something. I went to two plesy (I don’t really know how to make an English plural of the word “ples”) which are basically balls/dances/proms. I danced and had fun. I have an Andy Warhol art exhibition I want to go to and there’s this espresso bar/showroom that I want someone to accompany me to. Two of my friends have offered to have sleepovers at their houses, I’m going on EuroTour, and then there are (at least I think there are) three other Rotary weekends between now and when I go home. Also I’ll be turning 17, and depending on my mood, may want to do something for that too.

All of these plans make me slightly nervous going into my last host family. With just Rotary events, I will be gone for nearly a month when you combine all the days together. That’s a lot of time away from home. I won’t get to know them as well and they won’t get to know me as well. So I go into this next house a bit cautiously. I don’t want to just be a tenant in their home, but I’m also a bit worn out of picking up all of my things and then setting up camp somewhere else. Integrating into a family means pushing yourself, and right now, today, I am tired.

I’m going to try and remember to attempt to thrive for the next three months. When I think about flying away in three months I can’t understand it. Where did all of the time go?

history (bud)

Being the “realist” (translation: pessimist) that I am, experiencing a new culture has had some downs. In addition to being a realist, I am also a highly observant person, who picks up on a lot of things. While I’ve been in the Czech Republic, one thing has really irritated me and I have had a hard time dealing with.

I often find that people here do not care about problems if it does not personally affect them in any way. Whether that is something as simple as someone getting harassed on the street to downright poverty and racism, I have rarely seen many people willingly offer a helping hand.

This all bugs me in particular because I am someone who wants to spend the rest of my life helping people. Yet, today I realized that I may not be seeing the whole picture…

You cannot judge a culture by what’s on the surface. Every habit and custom has some kind of history tied to it. The same goes for the Czech Republic. Communism hasn’t been gone for that long, and that is evident. Only the very young have been able to experience the world as a wide open place full of different people and opinions and progressive ideas. Before this time, there was one established idea. There weren’t multiple political parties and the world was not an open place to explore. Again, all of this changed fairly recently.

With this history, the Czech Republic has to now try to grow and thrive like every other country. It has to learn to accept other cultures and ideas. I have realized that this does not happen immediately. It is a process.

Like every other place on this planet, the Czech Republic has a history that affects the way it functions today. Whether that is valid or not is up for the individual to decide, but the fact of the matter is that you cannot simply judge a place without knowing the past it has.

I can now proceed forward with the rest of my time in the Czech Republic with this sort of knowledge in my back pocket. It will probably help me understand more and more. Every place has a context.

an open letter to my brother

As you can guess, one of the hardest things about being an exchange student is being away from your family for a grossly long period of time. While I feel like I have dealt with that fairly well, it is hard sometimes. Today I wanted to take some time for my brother, who has his sophomore recital tonight (he’s in college and majoring in classical guitar).

Dear James,

Tonight is a big night for you. I know that you have been practicing a lot for this. I’m sure that you are nervous about it, which is good. Nothing is worth doing if it doesn’t make you at least a little uncomfortable.

I have always admired your hard work and tenacity. Although I make fun of you for sitting in your room for 8 hours a day during the summer playing Bach, I have seen what amazing things come from all of that work. As I have gotten older I have realized that I am so lucky to have someone like you as a big brother. You have shown me how to work hard for what I want. When I see you achieve great things I know that I can too. It’s always great to hear all of the compliments people give you after they hear you play.

I miss you dearly. I have yet to find anyone in this whole world who I think is as funny as you. Today I was looking at a fairly weak selection of Mexican food at the grocery store and I teared up thinking about you yelling at me to make the guacamole because dinner will be ready soon. Remember when you always tried to get me to run away from Mom in the grocery store and I always chickened out? I miss talking on the porch and boxing in the living room and everything else James.

We have come to the point in life where siblings go different ways a bit earlier than other people. But I have always appreciated your support. You always assure me that I am doing well and that you are proud of me too.

I love you sooooo much James. I don’t want to be anywhere else other than Louisville, KY tonight watching you perform, but unfortunately I can’t be there. I’m so sorry about that. I wish you had some European tour dates that took you to Prague or even Ostrava coming up, but we’ll probably have to wait a few more years for that.

Next year I’ll be there sitting right next to lil d just like last year. I am so proud of you James. Really. I can’t imagine where I would be without you. Tonight is going to be absolutely amazing. I don’t expect anything less. I can’t wait to watch a video/hear an excerpt of your recital tonight.

Break a string bud (is that funny? I’m not sure)

-Al

Recital

This is the program for the recital. Classic James.

If you want to take a look at the recital program: https://www.facebook.com/events/773239662759567/

YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC4L0NFmXNxb6TvRhmTB8g5A/feed

Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/jamiemonck

(Okay okay I’m done promoting my brother…)

six months (!!!)

This is all so bittersweet. It’s been half a year and now I’m really starting to feel like I am running out of time.

This month has been challenging like all the rest, just in different ways. The main issue has been dealing with loneliness and exponentially increased independence (some of which I don’t want). It’s ironic that I say this as I am sitting alone at the train station (again) waiting to go home. At the end of the day I spend slightly over two hours going to and from school, and that is usually time spent alone. I don’t have my big host sister anymore to talk to and follow around all the time. When I go home to my host family, I kind of have to fend for myself. My friends have all of the responsibilities that come with being good students in school, so my free time is often up to me.

All of this alone time makes me feel independent, more so than usual, but there is an extent where I am just a 16 year-old girl who isn’t always sure of what she’s doing/going. I go through phases now where I really just miss having someone constantly worrying and checking in on me. My host family trusts me to be safe, which is nice. Yet, sometimes when I’m walking home by myself when it’s dark I wish someone took a bit of time to drive the two minutes to get me.

So yes, this month has been hard(er).

BUT

These past few weeks have really pushed me out of my normal comfort zone and have made me adapt more. I have pushed myself to speak more Czech so that I can talk to more of my classmates and relate to more people. I have tried to ask more people to hang out with me. This has resulted in new friendships and me finding people who share the same interests as me. I have learned a lot about being self-dependent and trying to work with people even when I am tired and my patience is running out. I think you could say that I have grown up a lot.

I can tell that these past six months have really changed me as a collective whole. I honestly didn’t think I would make it this long. Before I left my home, I always imagined something happening that made me go home, or need to be home. Despite the harsh ups and downs of this month, I have managed to focus and appreciate the ups more than dwell on the downs.

So month seven is officially here and it’s something that makes me feel happy, sad, proud, and everything in between. It has been one hell of a time in the Czech Republic so far, and as always, I can’t wait to see what this next month has in store.

pooh truth

američanka

I went into this sixth month of my exchange feeling confident. I felt more at home here, like I was doing a lot of things right. Yet I’m only a week into this month and that confidence is fading quickly.

For most of my time here I have been referred to as the “američanka.” This is funny for a while but at this point it frustrates me and irritates me. I am very proud to come from the country that I do. Yet being from the United States and being a native English-speaker does not define me. It doesn’t even hit the surface and I am sooo very tired of that being all people see in me here.

Every month I send an e-mail update to some Rotarians back in the U.S. and Canada about what I’ve been doing, how I am, etc. This past month one of them gave me some advice that I didn’t realize I needed…

“Do something to make them remember you as Allie and not the American they had for a year.”

This has been hitting home a lot lately. A lot of people message me and I know it’s just to talk to “the američanka.” I’m tired of that. I’m tired of feeling guilty for not responding to people who don’t actually want to get to know me.

I don’t want my class here to tell other kids they know that they have an američanka in their class. I want them to say that they have Allie in their class. I want my nationality and language to be mere aspects of my personality and not what ultimately defines me.

I am very independent, honest, opinionated, sensitive, caring, loyal, ambitious, etc. I like to think I am kind and fun to be around. This is how people should describe me. I am not merely an American.

So from now on I am going to work harder to be Allie and not the američanka. I don’t really owe anyone here anything. This exchange is ultimately my experience and my journey. I want to finish this time being myself and not rushing around trying to fulfill everyone’s expectations of me. I can only be who I am, nothing more.

-Allie

five months

This is probably the most bittersweet moment of my exchange so far. I am officially halfway through my time here. The days are going to go by so quickly now, and before I know it, I will be going back home.

This past month has been a time of great change and growth. I switched host families right after Christmas and before the new year. I now live with people that I do not know very well. I have two very young host brothers. It takes me nearly an hour to get to school each morning. There are added challenges to adjusting to different people and trying to continue on with the normal ebb and flow of life. I have learned a lot about being patient and finding the positives in things this month (I know I say that every month but still…)

I have done so many presentations this month it’s uncanny. I have spent multiple (possibly a dozen?) hours standing in front of people and telling them about where I’m from. The topics of presentations tend to be broad, the U.S. political system and American literature being two examples. This past Friday I spent four hours talking about myself and where I’m from in an elementary school. People seem to enjoy these which I find particularly interesting. At the elementary school, I took pictures with the kids after each presentation and one girl said “I touched an American!”

Last weekend I went to a city called Třebíč with Rotary. It was a very relaxed weekend and I had a blast with all of my exchange friends. I am fairly comfortable with my results on my language test this time around. I think I have made a lot of progress with Czech. Although I am not anywhere close to fluent I know that I have learned a ton since I have been here.

This past language test is the last one before we find out who gets to go on EuroTour. I really hope that I get to go, as I have raised nearly all of the money for the trip (actually it looks like I have raised all of it as long as the exchange rate stays in my favor!!!) I am super excited about getting this experience as long as everything works out.

One of the things that I noticed while in Třebíč is that everyone seems to be adjusting greatly to the changing of host families. It is a massive adjustment, and it can be a hard one to make for some people. I will change families again around the end of March, and it will again be a time when I will have to exercise great amounts of patience. Yet I think all exchange students will tell you that things will get better over time.

This month has really been a turning point in not feeling so obviously foreign here. I’ve been able to communicate with people in Czech at the post office and the train station and other places. All of those interactions ended with everyone getting what they needed. When I think about returning home I get really weirded out. Living with my mom instead of a Czech family seems odd. Going back to my high school is bizarre. Not seeing my friends here every day makes me very sad. I don’t look forward to leaving. I’d much rather my family move over here and hang out with me.

I missed some stuff this past month and I will miss some more things this coming one. I missed getting to see my extraordinarily talented brother play guitar with another man who is apparently very good as well. I am going to miss my brother’s twentieth birthday (when did he get so old???) I’ll miss time with everyone in my family, seeing all the horrible couples on Valentine’s Day, etc. Yet, I continue to trust that this next month will continue to be filled with amazing days and opportunities.

Month five has been a good one. It has had its ups and downs just like all the others. I’m halfway gone now. I hope I make the most of it.

PICTURES!

Ellie and I pretending to be German.

Ellie and I pretending to be German.

My class took a picture with me to commemorate five months and they are officially the best.

My class took a picture with me to commemorate five months and they are officially the best.