Hello there to whoever might be reading this, this is my way of keeping in touch with you all during my year spent in Slovakia. A sort of e-journal/scrapbook/photo album, if you will. 3 days ago, I left my life and everything I knew to fly halfway across the world to live with a family I had never met and to go to a school taught in a language I do not understand. But that’s the reality of an exchange student.
Instead of flying to the capital of Slovakia- Bratislava- I flew into Vienna, Austria. Vienna is about an hour away from Bratislava and many more flights come into Vienna than Bratislava so that is where my final destination was. My family would then come from their town 2-3 hours away from Bratislava to Vienna to come pick me up. We would then spend the night at my host mother’s sister’s house in Bratislava.
So I arrive in Vienna and walk out of baggage claim to see 4 women holding up a big sign that says “Emelia- Welcome to Slovakia” with a drawing of mountains (I’ve attached the picture below). I knew from the moment I saw that poster that I would be okay here. I met my host mother- Lucia, my host sister- Barbora, and Barbora’s aunt and grandmother. They were immediately so welcoming and kind, helping me with the two giant suitcases (don’t worry, they were both miraculously under 50 lbs), my carry-on suitcase, and my backpack.
We spent the night at Barbora’s aunt’s house (her name is also Barbora), and I ended up sleeping from about 3pm- when we arrived at the house- to 1:30 in the morning. Jet lag is a real thing, folks, and it hit me like a truck.
We spent the next day in the pool at the house, as it was unbearably hot out. Naturally, I got sunburnt. But later that night we said goodbye and thank you and headed to Martin, the town I will be living in. Martin is a town in between two mountains so it is much cooler and less humid. The 2/3 hour drive was nice, we passed about 5 castles total (Slovakia and Czech Republic have the most castles per sq kilometer than any other place in Europe) and I got to see all the lush scenery and mountains. We arrived late, around 9pm, and I got to meet my host father, Dalibor, and my other host sister, Paulina, who were just as kind and welcoming as the rest of the family I was shown the room I would be staying in and I hit the sack like a potato.
The next day I had to wake up early to go visit the school I will be attending with Barbora. The bus came at 8:43 and we were there by about 9:00am. The walk from the bus stop to the school isn’t too short and it’s uphill, which, under the beating sun, makes for a red-faced and sweaty Emelia. That walk will get my American butt into shape. I met my teacher, a kind woman who is, appropriately, head of the English department. During my tour of the school, I was accompanied by my Rotary counselor, Robert. A Rotary counselor is just someone you can go to if you have any issues that you don’t want to talk to your family about. They are also a Rotarian so if you have an issue Rotary can help to solve, your counselor is your line of communication. After the tour of my school, I met with my Rotary Youth Exchange Officer-who is in charge of helping all the exchange students who come into that club- and the two other exchange students in Martin, Cande from Argentina and Joao from Brazil. After going over the rules, Barbora and I left to go get lunch with her friends. We ate at a popular restaurant in Martin which serves Vietnamese food. So I was in Slovakia, eating Vietnamese food, and Aretha Franklin is playing over the radio in the restaurant. Go figure.
After eating so much I thought I was going to explode (and for 5 euros, it was a great deal), Barbora and I went home where she practiced with her Slovak folklore music group that obviously plays traditional Slovak music. I loved the style of the music and it was very cool to meet more of her friends, and her boyfriend, who is very kind.
Soon it was time to go to bed, and the reality of what I had done was sinking in. I had none of my friends, none of my family, and every little thing was different. I started to think “Emelia, you’re crazy, why did you do this?” and has a mini existential crisis. But after talking a bit with my mom (shout-out to you mama) I calmed down and realized I was very overtired and went to bed.
So here we are now, Saturday, and I feel like I am more comfortable than the first two days. Most exchange students say the first few weeks you are on exchange feel like you’re on vacation and everything is new and exciting and wonderful. I can’t say I feel like I’m on vacation, especially with the impending first day of school on Monday, but everything is new, that’s for sure. I’m sure everything will be different once I start school, but for now, I’d say it’s a little too strange for the honeymoon phase.