A lot happened in June—so many trips and so many memories! I experienced Ikea for the first time (of course trying the Swedish meatballs), played in a basketball tournament (meeting some Ukrainians), and tried water skiing (which proved much harder than it looked).
With Rotary meetings, exchange student excursions, and family trips, my schedule was kept full. Time was running out so I figured I would try to fit in whatever I could! My few remaining weekends were booked with lots of different trips in lots of different places:
- One of these weekends we had the third orientation meeting which gave us inbound exchange students a chance to meet the future outbound exchange students from Slovakia, all whilst hiking in the national park of Slovenský Raj (Slovak Paradise). There, I was able to meet up with a boy who will be coming to my town in Florida this upcoming exchange year! We had a scavenger hunt/race in the forest, met the mayor of Spišská Nová Ves, and performed a talent show for the local Rotary club.
- One of the exchange students noticed a concerning amount of deforestation while hiking in the Low Tatras (Nízke Tatry) near her host city, and decided to organize a short, day-trip into the forest with an environmental mission. Even though it was D-Day, not Earth Day, a small group of us went with a local tree nursery to plant some saplings in the forest and help replenish the National Park. Later, we frolicked a bit in a field of canola flowers, then visited a the Vice Chairman of Rotary Youth Exchange in Slovakia who invited us over for ice cream. Hours later we found ourselves off-roading across the scenic Slovak countryside in a restored U.S. army jeep—such a patriotic and unexpectedly American experience—definitely one that I’ll never forget!
- One weekend my host family planned to take a short drive up to Poland with some of the other exchange families. I had once mentioned wanting to visit the Auschwitz memorial and museum so that was one stop on our trip, followed by a major change in atmosphere the next day. We went from a somber tour of history to a thrilling tour of Energylandia, an amusement park in Zator, Poland. While Finn and I wanted to ride all of the rollercoasters, the rest of the family decided that the water park was more of their forte; nevertheless, it was a great day spent screaming, spinning, and occasionally suspended
- Our final Rotary meeting was Farewell Weekend located in a village Valtice, Czech Republic, near the Austrian boarder. It was a rather athletic meeting; the first day consisted of a hike through some vineyards, followed by a day of cycling forty-seven kilometers and a bit of lake-swimming, ending with a final day of rafting. And to top-off all of that, we also received our final certificates which marked the successful completion of our exchanges. It was our last time seeing the other exchange students who had become a sort of family throughout the past ten months, so you can imagine the goodbyes—emotions plusexhaustion!
- Because the school year had just ended, it was a custom for students to organize some kind of trip or outing for the class to be together for one last time before summer vacation. My class spent a few days in the High Tatras (Vysoké Tatry), staying at a golf resort and getting in some team bonding activities. We had a little barbecue—a “last supper” of sorts—and created some last memories together.
- The next stop was still in Slovakia, in a small village near the Ukrainian border where a group of us exchange students spent a couple days tent-camping. After a few hours of hiking, carrying backpacks full of food, water, and other supplies, we arrived at our destination—a quarry lake—and immediately jumped in for a swim! We roasted sausages over a fire, cooked bacon on a stone-made stove, and even tried spear-fishing, but that bit wasn’t as successful… *Zoom in on the picture to see us on the shore of the lake!* Though challenged at times by factors like sun, mosquitos, and rain, the camping trip was actually one of the best experiences of my exchange and gave me many great memories—plus a pretty good tan!
- During the last week of my exchange, my first host family invited me on little trip to a city I had not yet been to—Budapest, Hungary. There we did all of the touristic things—visited the massive and rather crowded Central Market Hall, watched the Margaret Island Musical Fountain, saw Hungarian art in the Buda Castle, sat and chatted in Heroes Square while looking at The Citadella, walked past The Shoes on the Danube Bank memorial, and went inside of St. Stephen’s Basilica. It was great having the chance to see one more big city and even more special having that last bit of time with my first host family.
I speak a lot of these lasts, but regardless of how insignificant certain activities may have seemed at the time, nostalgia has made the most of each experience and memory. My last Rotary meeting, last day of school, last halušky/gulaš/trdelník/kofola (traditional foods and drink), last train ride, last lake swim, last day with friends, last night with family…the list goes on.
Of course, all the fun eventually had to come to an end. On July 9th I said goodbye to the friends, family, and life I had made in Košice. Though it was hard to leave, I am glad it was, because if it wasn’t I wouldn’t feel that I had a successful exchange. My exchange in Slovakia connected me with amazing people and gave me memories which I will never forget. Leaving one home and returning in another has been a bit weird but I know that with time I’ll adjust to everything and be ready for my next adventure! Until then, I’ll be starting a new journey at Florida State University and taking on a different kind of adventure as a seminole!
More from Lauren: