Wednesday, 11 June 2014
Almost exactly a year has passed since I last wrote here, and much has happened in that time. Luckily, I had written down much of my last month in Slovakia already, so quite a bit of this post was written up to a year ago.
My last month in Slovakia sped by in a whirlwind of weekend adventures with Rotarians from the Banska Bystrica club as well as a final Rotary-sponsored week in the Czech Republic with the other exchange students. I spent a day hiking with Mari and her host family in the High Tatras and then spent the night at the Observatory on the highest mountain point of Slovakia, where several scientists live during the week to study the sun. We rose at 4am the following morning to watch the sun rise over Slovakia from the top of the mountain. The country stretched out for miles (kilometers!) in every direction, and my Rotary counselor told me that you could almost make out Hungary to the south and Poland to the north. The High Tatras (Vysoké Tatry) are beautiful, but also rather surprising. They seem to rise virtually out of nowhere, and end just as abruptly. There are a few ski areas in the High Tatras (not to be confused with the Low Tatras/Nízke Tatry, the lower but longer mountain range where I skied all winter). Slovakia doesn't get much credit for its natural beauty, which I find unfair. It's a lovely place.
No party is complete without folk music and singing!
Towards the end of June, I spent a final week with my fellow exchange students with whom I had bonded throughout the year. We spent a week biking, rafting, swimming, and hiking around Valtice in the southeast Czech Republic. The first days of the week were really atrocious, especially the bike ride, during which we all got eaten alive by mosquitos for hours on end. Central Europe experienced heavy flooding that spring, so there were more mosquitos than usual. I could look down at my arm and see at least 20 insects swarming it at once. I wish I were exaggerating, but it seemed like something out of a horror movie at times. The raft trip was fantastic, though, and a particular bonding moment for me, Emma, Katie, and Justine. The following day, we all said goodbyes as people left to return to their host cities for the last few weeks of our exchange year.
On the last day of school, my classmates gave me a scrapbook they had made of pictures and notes from the year. I get pretty sentimental in general, but their gift took me by surprise and was so overwhelming that I started crying in the middle of class. It was rather embarrassing, but they hopefully understood how much their gift meant to me. The last weeks I was there passed with packing and a long series of goodbyes. Dominik and Zorka drove me to the Budapest airport and we said goodbye as I began my long journey home to the US.
So much happened in a year, and I made so many friends who mean so much to me. I still try to stay in contact with friends and family in Slovakia, as well as the friends I made among the other exchange students. I reunited with Justine, Katie, and Emma in August before Justine and I headed off to college and Emma and Katie started their senior years of high school. I miss everyone, and the wonderful Slovak language and culture. I miss the Christmas market and the Banska town center. I miss my friends at school and at the Konzervatorium, and the absurd miscommunications about which we laughed so hard. I still talk about Slovakia all the time, and I'm sure my friends are more than sick of hearing about it.
It feels odd thinking back to all of the Rotary weekends I spent with my fellow exchange students, and how close we grew over such a short few weekends. The goodbyes were especially strange because deep down, I think most of us knew that we will never see each other again. We promised to stay in touch, but as life often goes, few of us have. I like to think that if I am ever in Brazil or Japan or Taiwan or even Florida at any point in my life, I could see these old friends and reminisce about our experiences together as exchange students.
One year later and I'm back in California. I finished my first year at Oberlin College in May, then flew home to see my sister graduate from college. The transition to living in Ohio hasn't been too hard, especially when I had already lived through a Slovak winter. We talk about the Freshman 15 for new college students, but, thanks to the Rotary 10 Kilos I gained during my exchange year, I actually lost a substantial amount of weight during my first year of college. I did a lot of fun things during my first year, including piercing my nose, working on an organic farm (WWOOF for those of you familiar with the organization), and walking barefoot through the spring rain storms. At Oberlin, I sing in an early music choir and intend to declare a Russian and Eastern European Studies major with perhaps a minor or double-major in Economics. If you're not familiar with the higher education system in the US, here's a good link: http://nyintl.net/story/the_american_university_system_explained. Hopefully it can help explain how I have been in college for a year already and yet haven't decided what I'm studying. I'm heading to the Middlebury School of Russian this summer for a two-month summer language intensive, and in the meantime I have been spending time with friends in California and taking day trips to hike, go to the beach, and go to baseball games in San Francisco. I have fewer long-term concrete career goals, but I do plan to study abroad in Russia for at least a semester and live abroad for a period of time after college, perhaps even in Slovakia again. I hope that in the near future I will be able to return to visit my friends and family in Slovakia and bring my family with me to meet them. I miss my families there very much, and try to keep in touch with them occasionally as well as with my friends. I miss Slovakia every day and my Slovak language skills have faded much more than I want to admit, but I know I'll find a way to return, and I know that I'll never forget the wonderful year I spent there.