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Michelle Silverwood – Czech Republic

Name: Michelle Silverwood

Host Country: Czech Republic

Host District: 2240

Host Club: Cheb-Eger

Sponsor Club: Mt Vernon

School: Mount Vernon High School

Ahoj! My name is Michelle Silverwood and I will be residing in Cheb, Czech Republic for the next year. I currently live in Mt. Vernon, OH, which is a small town an hour North of Columbus. My year abroad will be a gap year between high school and university. I graduated from Mt. Vernon High School in the spring of 2016. In high school, I participated in varsity soccer, Key Club, National Honor Society, In-the-know, yearbook, student government, and student council. I hope to continue to be active within my school and community while abroad in the Czech Republic. Outside of school, I enjoy being active whether it’s running, hiking, snowboarding, or kayaking. Traveling has also been an influential part of my life that has shaped my personality and my future expectations for myself. On my exchange I hope to develop a second language, Czech, and to grasp a deeper understanding of the individuals in my host community. I cannot wait to try new foods, meet new people, and serve as an ambassador for my county and Rotary International. Thank you! Děkuji!

 

 

October 1

Ahoj! Today marks my twenty-sixth day living in the Czech Republic. First, I would like to thank everyone for making this experience possible for me. Without Rotaries support and encouragement for me and the Youth Exchange Program, I wouldn’t have this opportunity.

 It is so difficult to summarize my first month into a simple friendly letter. So I will start with the basics, I live with my wonderful host family outside the city, Cheb. Cheb contains a population of around 32,000 residents, which is about double the size of Mount Vernon. I attend a prestigious high school were students from surrounding cities come to prepare for university. The school system differs from a typical american school in many ways such as, the relationships between the teachers and students, the schedule, and habitual routines. Everyday after entering the school, it is mandatory that you must change your shoes (I never thought I would see Crocs come back in style ever again, until I came here). All students have a different schedule with different times and subjects, so it is vital to constantly refresh the online schedule. Last week, I had five to seven classes cancelled or changed and the week before we were released early due to the heat. Although I am not expected to participate, I enjoy listening and trying to understand the language. I often study Czech in my classes and I find that it has helped expand my vocabulary quickly. I am fortunate that I have already met a great group of friends and it is typical for us to go for walks around the city and meet at the local teahouse. The weather has quickly turned from sunny eighty degree weather to fifty degrees and cloudy. However, everyone here is still outside enjoying fresh air.

A major focus of the Rotary Youth Exchange Program is to remain conscious of our actions throughout our journey. To do this, the program created the “6 B’s”: be first, be on purpose, be of service, be grateful, be in the moment, and be curious. This month, I have choose two B’s that I thought would be appropriate to focus on. On my first day of school, I chose to be first. After the first week everyone said I had an “american smile”, which I could only hope was a good thing. Being first also helped me become closer to my family, every morning I always make a point to try to speak with my little brother and sister. We have a plethora of funny stories from the morning when I try to speak czech and he tries to speak english. I try to be curious when I am with my host mother. Once a day we sit together and share coffee; we talk about our day and previous stories of our past. I have learned so much of her life as well as the history of the Czech Republic during the many different periods between communism and now. In October I am going to focus on service; I have spoken to my local Rotary Club about my interest in getting involved. I will hopefully begin teaching english to a group of children once to twice a week. I look forward to working with them and I think it will also be beneficial for my language skills.

Overall, I am very happy with my life here. It can be difficult to stay positive when I don’t understand the language, customs, and people, but I know that is only a small part of the big picture. I am excited to learn and I will continue to write home every month with new updates. I hope everything is going well at home and good luck on all your upcoming projects.

 

Nov 1

Yellow Aspen leaves, knitted hats, and ginger tea have finally arrived and autumn is at its peak here in the Czech Republic. We are on our fall break this week, so it has been wonderful to sleep in, to meet friends at the local cafe, and enjoy my afternoon runs. I have had the opportunity to visit many cities around the country this month including, the capital, Prague. We spent the whole day touring the city and it was remarkable to see how much history has been preserved through the years of conflict and turmoil in the heart of Europe. The romantic city cherishes its unique variety of architecture that accurately depicts the many different periods of time that had influenced the city. Although Prague is seen as the one of the most famous cities in Europe, I prefered my weekend trip to the small village of Neurazy. In the home of my host family’s friend, each person that came was a complete stranger, but by the time everyone cleared the kitchen table it was as if we had been family friends from my childhood. I met a couple from Prague that has a four year old boy named, Marcus. They have traveled the world cycling and have ridden through the peaks of the Rockies near my home town in Colorado. They brought their four year old son who is on his way to become a cyclist himself, training twenty miles a day on his little bike. I listened as they told me their story, half in Czech and half in English. The hostess of the weekend, Maruška, joined the conversation as she prepared a new pot of ginger tea for the next round of people. Her english being even more limited, we played an early morning game of charades as she told me how the group of friends met. Later that day, we ran up a muddy mountain together that was straight up hill for 2km. However at the top, we celebrated the climb and cherished the beautiful country we live in. Despite the language barrier in a place half a world away from home in the house of a family friend of my host family, we all found a connection. That morning I not only savoured my last bite of apple strudel and the last drop of coffee, but also the warmth and memories of the people who sat across and beside me at that wooden table in Neuarazy. The next day, the community organized an athletic competition where whole families participated in activities and enjoyed food together. Two months ago I left my friends and family behind and I ventured into a new place where everyone I met was a stranger. Today, those strangers are all that I have. They are my teachers, my neighbors, my friends, and my family. They will be my support for the next seven months here and I look forward to each new stranger that will also become entangled in my life. Overall, this has been a great month and I look forward to the months to experience the new traditions of the holidays. I miss everyone at home and I wish everyone a Happy Halloween and Happy Thanksgiving. I am so truly thankful for Rotary.

December 1

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving with lots of turkey, friends, and family! Although, mine was not celebrated in the traditional way with my family, I still had a wonderful time sharing our traditions to my host family and friends. I was able to persuade my English teacher to let us have a little party in class, but I was still surprised when everyone brought in a beautiful and delicious dish. We feasted on homemade pies, rolls, and cookies, while I shared the history and the modern traditions of Thanksgiving. I brought in my favorite holiday dessert, Apple Crisp, which my host family helped me prepare. I have become so close to my family that I feel as if I am their third child. Whether we are making dinner together or doing Sunday cleaning, we are always able to laugh and have a good time. Now that November is coming to an end, I am preparing to change host families. Although I will miss my family and the comfort of their home, I look forward to the new people and experiences that await me with my next family. Besides spending time with my family, I have been staying very busy.

It is my third month in the Czech Republic and I have made a weekly routine. A few weeks ago, I volunteered to help Rotarian’s children learn english. I meet with two families every week and it has been wonderful to help and get to know the families of Rotarians. I also started Czech lessons at our local language school, which offered me the class for free. In my free time, I found an outlet in running and painting. Almost everyday I am outside running around the beautiful countryside of the Czech Republic. Not only is it breath taking, but it also brings me so much joy and renewed energy on even the hardest days. Since I have been here, I competed in a few races and met a great community of people in my city that all share a similar passion. Overall, I am very satisfied with my city because it is the perfect size and is made up of a diverse group of people. It is known for having one of the best Christmas markets in the Czech Republic, which will open tomorrow. I look forward to the music and all of the traditional Christmas foods that I have heard so much about. Although I have heard December is the hardest month for exchange students, I am excited to share the Czech holiday with my new friends and family. I hope that Finia is also doing well and I look forward to hearing about her holidays with all of you back home. I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and I hope to hear from you soon!

 January 1

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and will enjoy the approaching New Year. My favorite tradition on New Year’s Eve has always been discovering everyone’s New Year’s resolution and creating my own. I find it beautiful that everyone has motivation to try something new, to improve a skill, or to live a healthier lifestyle (even it is a short-lived motivation for some). Last year my goal was to learn a new language. Although I am no where close to being fluent, I am proud of how far I have come and will continue to practice. It was difficult to for me to choose next year’s goal, considering I have so many big steps approaching in my life including, coming home after a year living another life, deciding on a college, and going to college. I thought of a long list of practical goals, but I decided on one that has been a way for me to escape practicality. My 2017 New Year’s resolution is to run a half marathon here in the Czech Republic. Not only it is a feat to run an entire 13.1 miles, but I would like to do it alongside the people who have motivated me throughout this year. I hope to be able to write you about the success story, but first it will be a lot of time running and hard work.

December has been a very busy month for me and I am sure that most of you can also relate. Nevertheless, it was a beautiful time to learn about Czech christmas traditions and to spend time with family and friends. This month I also had the opportunity to travel to many different cities in the Czech Republic and Germany, which was breathtaking and filled with delicious foods. I went to Prague with my Rotary District to see the christmas markets and meet with with my friends that are also here through RYE from around the world. I think that the christmas markets were my favorite christmas tradition for this region. Local people sell their special crafts and there is always the traditional food a drink.

This month I also moved to my second host family. The wonderful Pavelkova family has adopted me into their family like a second daughter and a new sister. I have one sister who is sixteen years old and one brother who is four years old. I was so happy that I was able to share their Christmas with them and meet their extended family. My little brother, still only four years old, waited patiently for baby Jesus to deliver gifts after our lunch around 3pm on December 24. This is a very different tradition than in America where we celebrate on December 25 morning after Santa Claus delivers presents overnight. Overall, it has been such a great month and it will end with a week off from school where friends and family visit one another and relax. However, shortly after we return to school I will be taking a ski trip to Italy with a family friend. I look forward to this and all the new adventures ahead of me. I wish everyone a Happy New Year!!

March 1

I have a new recipe that I would like to share with you. It is simple, fast, and requires typical household ingredients: spaghetti, ketchup, canned tuna, and onions. To someone who likes all of these foods separately, you might think it is paradise on a plate. However, the mere smell of tuna or a single drop of ketchup is enough to make me lose my appetite. After suffering from the smell for 20 minutes, my host mom set an enormous mound of spaghetti on my plate and I knew I needed to try it. Not only did I eat it, but I finished it. My mother always preached to me that I must try something at least 17 times to like and to this day it has never failed to be true (even though I know she said it so I would finish my vegetables as a child). After taking my first bite, it turned out that the taste was as bad as the smell. Meanwhile, I looked around the table at my family devouring it. I realized this is very similar to the feeling of being on exchange. As an exchange student, you are thrown into a new environment and served a plate of unfamiliar and sometimes unpleasant situations. The main idea of exchange sounds great and has well-known benefits, just as spaghetti appeals to the majority of individuals. However when you change the recipe, it is not always what is seems to be. It might not be good at first and you may hate it, but after those 17 attempts of trying to understand and being patient you may learn to accept it or even come to prefer it. That evening when I looked around the table, I saw a family that not only enjoyed it, but did not think twice about it because it was normal. In that situation and in my life here in the Czech Republic, I always have to remember to put everything in perspective. I have to try new things with an open mind; I need to take off the lenses of my own culture in order to look at situations as a Czech person. This month marks my sixth month abroad and although I don’t consider myself like-minded to the average Czech person, I have accepted their society and culture because I have taken the time to understand it. Overall, my past month has gone very well. I continue to become closer to my family and friends and explore more of this beautiful country. I would like to once again thank you for all your support and I hope everything is going well in Mount Vernon (I hear that we have a new Japanese restaurant). So if you are feeling adventurous in the kitchen next time you want spaghetti, swap the typical tomato sauce for ketchup and dump a can of tuna on top, you may surprise yourself that you actually enjoy it (just maybe after 17 attempts).

April 1

Well it is official, I am in my last third of exchange. Along with changing families in the next few weeks, I also must make a final decision of where I will attend university next fall. Aside from dealing with tasks at home, I had a very busy month. Two weeks ago, I had the amazing opportunity to snowboard in the Austrian Alps with my classmates. It was not only a beautiful spring week to go skiing, but I also bonded with many of my classmates. After an eight hour journey with sixty students squished on one bus and a week of eight girls sharing one room there’s only two possible end results: dead or best friends. Everyday we woke up at seven and were on the mountains by nine. Since the trip was to learn or improve skiing, we were divided in groups. I was shocked when I was placed in the most advanced group and almost cried as we descended down the steepest slopes in the region. I am happy to say that by the end of the week I saw significant improvement and can’t wait to tackle Mt. Mansfield at Snowtrails next winter.

In Cheb, school is going well and I have been trying to participate more in class, since I am beginning to understand more of the lectures. Tomorrow, I have tryouts to be apart of a running team. The top three girls and top seven boys will all run 4km that will add up to a half marathon. Last year, my school went to nationals where they raced in Prague’s biggest running event of the year. Outside of school, I stay busy by teaching and spending time for my friends and family. In addition, I started a project to clean-up my city. Every Sunday, I grab my green rubber gloves and blue trash bags picking up trash. Although most of the time I go alone, I try to recruit friends to join me. I hope this can be a small way to give back to the community that has welcomed me. In conclusion, I am doing well and although I am sad that my time on exchange is dwindling, I have a lot of things to look forward to in the future.

May 1 

April 23, 2017 8am: I am abruptly awaken from a deep sleep, due to a knock on the door. I stumble out of bed and open the door to a boy singing with a whip in hand …

Before you are too scared for my safety, I will reassure you that I was in no way permanently damaged. This is actually considered a normal and traditional Easter morning for woman in the Czech Republic. In fact, it is said that women who are hit by the boy’s handmade whip, made from young pussywillow branches, will be healthy and youthful for the whole year. In return for this gift of rejuvenation, woman bestow the men with either a painted egg or some sweets. Even my little three year old brother from my second host family, visited me to sing the poem he has been practicing for the past two weeks. Throughout the whole morning, boys rang the doorbell, whipped, sang, and left with full baskets of treats. In the eyes of most Americans the tradition might sound absolutely ridiculous and in some ways even offensive to women. However in the end, the little bit of pain was worth the overall wonderful and hilarious experience. After twelve o’clock, the whole family went to my host families grandparent’s cabin for Easter lunch. We had a traditional meal consisting of duck, cabbage, and dumplings. It was delicious and after we enjoyed many various kinds of desserts.

After all the festivities had been completed and everyone was in a perpetual food coma, I laid in my room and contemplated the day. I thought about how important holidays are to a culture. It brings families and communities together to celebrate a shared tradition. The traditions themselves tell the country’s history and creates stories to tell to future generations. As I baked with my host mother, she explained all of her memories of her past Easters throughout her childhood. I learned about how even in the one small country of the Czech Republic, different regions celebrate in different ways based on the outcome of the World Wars. I sat in bed after the day was over and I reflected on the traditions in my own culture. For example, in the USA Easter traditions seem to be more influenced by religion with many families attending church on Easter Sunday and the celebration of the conclusion of Lent. Comparing the two, I found distinct differences, however they were very easily explained based on my knowledge of the two different cultures, neither one better than the other. Both create a beautiful atmosphere where people gather and show appreciation for the lives around them.

Two weeks ago I moved into my third and final host family, the Capkovi home. They are some of the most caring people I have met. Their family consists of three sons, but only one still lives at home. My father is a pediatrician and my mother is teacher at our local school. The whole family is gifted musically and it is rare that a moment goes by without hearing the piano echo through the halls or the drums vibrating the floorboards. It has been a drastic change from my previous family, but in many different ways comfortable and pleasant. On the topic of families, I had the pleasure of reuniting  with my real mother and aunt. I had a great time guiding them through the cities, the traditional food, and my daily life here. I am also expecting my father and two sisters to visit during the last week in May. I have been staying very busy and I will be for the remaining two months. I hope everyone had a wonderful Easter and will continue to enjoy the beautiful Ohio weather.

 

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