Ahoj!! Hello! I’m Gretchen Spears and I have been awarded a scholarship from the Dublin AM Rotary Club allowing me to study abroad in Slovakia for the 2018-2019 school year. I am currently a senior at Dublin Coffman High School and will be taking a gap year before attending college. I love to run in my free time and was part of my school’s cross country team the past couple years. Not only do I enjoy doing outdoor activities like hiking and rollerblading, but I also volunteer for my community as much as I can. Rotary has allowed me to experience so many new things, as I have already done two short term exchanges—one to Austria and another to Italy. With this year-long scholarship, I hope that I will be able to learn a new language while experiencing a culture that I would not be part of if I stayed in Dublin. As a representative for the United States, I will do my best to always enact Rotary’s motto “Service above Self”. I thank Rotary and all of their volunteers who are helping me achieve my dream. I have learned to travel for the experience and culture rather than just being a tourist, and cannot wait to learn more about Slovakia. I know I am going to have the time of my life and look forward to sharing all of my adventures with everyone! Ciao!
October 1, 2018
I hope everything in Dublin is going well, I definitely miss my hometown; however, life here is simply amazing.
As I left my family behind at the airport in Ohio headed for a new country I had no idea what was waiting for me on the other side. Travelling went very smoothly, and I even met a family from Austria who were very interested in all of the pins on my blazer. As we got off the plane in Vienna, I said goodbye to my companions, picked up my bags and headed out to begin my adventure. Right outside of the doors, my host family and YEO were waiting for me with a big welcome sign.
I had two weeks of summer left until school started. I met some friends from my village and went on a few day trips to nearby towns. I learned that Slovakia has the most castles per capita compared to any other country. It is so cool to see how much history such a small country has. In my first couple weeks I spent a lot of time with my family and we went on various trips. The biggest shock to me was grocery shopping! Because I live so close to the Czech Republic we just drive maybe 30 minutes over there and go grocery shopping. I think it’s crazy being so close to another country, it’s just like driving to different states in the USA.
Then school started. My school is in a super old building, but my classroom is one of the new ones that they made 2 years ago. It is super nice (even if I have to climb up 4 flights of stairs to get to it’s spot in the attic). My classmates are really friendly and help me out a lot at school. Just recently my class went on a trip to Poland to visit Auschwitz and Krakow. Not only was I able to get to know my classmates better, but it was also an amazing experience that I definitely would not have had if I were still in Dublin.
One thing I have been trying to do is say yes to everything, which led me into walking to a “nearby” town for a church service. The walk began at 3:30 in the morning and it took about 7 hours for my group to walk the distance (equivalent to a half marathon) to the city. We stopped a couple times for breakfast and bathroom breaks. But I am so glad I was able to participate. It was an amazing experience and something I will never forget.
I have had such a great first month and I can’t wait to tell you about the next 10!
My family and me at the Vienna airport.
Jumping for joy in front of the President’s house in Bratislava.
The view of Skalica, the city where I go to school, from the top of the church bell tower.
My family and me all dressed up for the wedding.
Me and some classmates in Krakow, Poland during our school trip.
I was able to meet all the other exchange students here in District 2240 during our orientation meeting.
November 1, 2018
I hope everything is going well back in Ohio and that everyone had a happy Halloween. I have done so many things this October that it is crazy to think another month has gone by. At the very beginning of the month, I helped my friend and his family harvest their grapes from their vineyard. Here in Skalica it is very common for people to have their own vineyards and make their own wine, so it was a really cool experience. During the week I hung out with friends after school and everything was pretty normal; at least until the next weekend. I had signed up to run a half marathon in the Košice Peace Marathon Race (the second oldest one in the world). It was so awesome. I had a blast and was so excited to be running again. That same weekend in Košice, there was a Biela Noc event. They lit up the city with different colored lights and projected videos and animations on buildings–it was super cool. Plus, I was able to meet Olympian Matej Toth which was amazing! Unfortunately I had to leave, but I came back home and went to a theater in Bratislava with my class. It was hard to understand what they were saying, but the acting was really good, so it was enjoyable. The next weekend was my classmate’s 18th birthday so I went to his party and we all had a lot of fun. The next day I went and helped picked some more grapes with a different friend. It made me miss picking apples with my family a little bit, but it was still fun. With really late notice, my third family asked me if I wanted to run a race in Skalica the next day and of course I said ‘yes’! I ran with my dad and I ended up finished in 8th place! The next couple weeks I just hung out with my friends and was able to make a cheesecake with my host sister Marcela. I was really happy because I miss baking a lot. On the 20th, I went back to Bratislava with my third family and saw a performance about Slovakia’s history. I really enjoyed it, because it was a lot of dancing and interpretation, so I was not confused about the Slovak language. The next weekend was the Romanian Party my parents host and I got to say the opening speech (in Slovak of course). It was a fantastic night, but I danced so long I got a blister on my toe. This last week of October is fall holidays for us because the 100th anniversary of making Czechoslovakia (which is no long a thing anymore) was on Sunday and then Slovakia declared themselves as a nation on the 30th so we celebrate that as well. Unfortunately, they do not celebrate Halloween here, but I spent the day with friends so it was not too bad. I also got to visit Vienna and it is such a beautiful city, especially now in the fall. I want to give a huge thank you to Dublin AM Rotary, because without any of your support I would not be able to have any of these experiences. I can’t wait to tell you about next month
Grape Picking in Skalica!
Hanging with my friends after school.
We are finishers!
exchange students got a photo with the Olympian
Our cheesecake was delicious
My opening speech at the Romanian Party
Group picture in Vienna
View of the Stephansdom
December 1, 2018
I wanna say Thank you so much to Dublin AM Rotary Club for sponsoring me. I have had amazing experiences so far and I can’t wait for more.
I really hope that everyone back home had a lovely holiday and stayed warm throughout November. I can say that I had a fantastic month here, and unfortunately for me, the weather is getting colder with not much snow.
At the very beginning of the month, on November first, I celebrated dušičky ( šesť svätých ) which is like All Souls Day. My family and I waited for my sister to come home from university and then we went to my grandmother’s house. In her village we went to the graveyard and put candles and flowers by my grandfather’s grave. Next we headed to my cousin’s house and put candles by my uncle’s grave. It was a really solemn holiday but I wish that we celebrated in the USA, because it is always good to remember our family and friends who have passed away. On this holiday, almost all families went to the cemeteries to pay their respects. It was amazing to see.
The next day I went walking around a forest next to Skalica and was just in awe of the autumn colors and the beauty of the nature. That weekend I went to Bratislava with a friend and met up with a couple other exchange students. It was really great to see them again and get out of Skalica for the day.
That Monday I had to go back to Trnava to the Foreign police…again. We got there and had all my paperwork, but apparently I needed a signature from my host mom as well as my host dad so we left after 15 minutes. A total waste of the day because I spent the rest of it on the trains back to Skalica. The next day in school my chemistry teacher (who doesn’t speak English) told me I was taking the chemistry test on Thursday with my classmates. Not knowing anything that they were learning (organic chemistry basically), I Skyped my oldest sister who is majoring in chemistry at West Virginia University. She did her best to teach me the basics and I gotta say thanks to her, cause it is super confusing. Thursday comes around and I take the test, nothing I learned was on the test except maybe one or two questions. I ended up getting a 5 (equivalent to an F) but the point was that I tried.
The rest of the week I hung with friends in the evening and Friday night I went to a little get together that was teaching traditional Slovak dances. My friends and I went and danced and I learned that I have absolutely no rhythm at all, but it was still a lot of fun. Saturday I went to Trenčín to visit some exchange students and on Monday my class went on a trip to Brno. We went to a really cool science museum that was kinda like COSI.
The next weekend I went to Romania with my parents. We went to the place where my dad grew up. It was a very small village right by the boarder of Hungary and Romania. I had an amazing time. We went to a Christening and had a party and then cleaned up all Sunday. The people there were so nice and welcoming and it was just an experience I will never forget. I am so glad I got to go, and I even got a couple new stamps in my passport! Also the morning we left it snowed! First snow of the season…so that rounded out my fantastic weekend.
The next week was Thanksgiving and since they don’t celebrate here, I had to go to school. My classmates didn’t know when it was, but they taught me how to say Happy Thanksgiving in Slovak. It was a good day. I wanted to make a Thanksgiving dinner but it was just my dad and I so we didn’t. However, I did call my family back home and said hi to everyone. And they made me jealous with the yummy looking pies. That weekend I was invited to a Thanksgiving dinner in Trenčín, so I went and met with my friends and then we headed to the dinner. It was a lot of fun–I’m glad I was able to have a mock Thanksgiving, if not with my real family then with my exchange friends.
School the last week was a bit boring, but my classmates and I always have fun during the breaks. I’m starting to understand more and more and hopefully soon I’ll be starting to speak better too. I hope you have a great holiday season and I’ll update you in a month about my December adventures! Ahojte!
The graveyards on the 1st.
The trees look amazing!
I met with Britney and Cherry in Bratislava.
Katie tried teaching me Chemistry.
I met with my friend Paťka for dinner.
Happy Thanksgiving! I was happy there was yummy food.
My father’s side of the family (the Zetocha family)
Where my dad grew up in Romania.
Met with Nick, Valeria, and Haley in Trenčín.
Slovak dancing was fun.
January 1, 2019
Ahojte everyone! Veselé Vianoce a Štastný nový rok!
December has been full of so many adventures for me and a lot of new experiences. I started off the month with a trip to Budapest with my friend. I saw so many great sights and the Christmas markets which were beautiful! Dalma set me up with some exchangers living in the city so we were able to meet with them too. It was a fantastic trip…although I was freezing cold. On December 6th it was Saint Nicholas’ day, and I woke up to some sweet treats in my shoes and after school went to hand out gifts dressed as Nickolas himself. That evening some friends from my village stopped by and were dressed as angels and devils and St. Nick. A tradition that was definitely new for me–but a lot of fun to experience!
The next weekend was Rotary’s Christmas Meeting. All the Slovak inbounds gathered in Bratislava and we went to the Christmas markets and had our second language test. The next day we all went to Vienna and stopped by some more Christmas markets as well as Schönbrunn Palace. It was a fantastic day and I’m so glad I was with the other exchangers again. We even had our own little Secret Santa gift exchange and got to decorate cookies after a short little talent show. On Sunday it was pretty sad because we all had to say goodbye to the Australians, since they will be leaving in January and will not be at our next meeting. After that weekend I took a trip back to Bratislava to meet up with a couple people. We went to Ikea for the day and had so much fun. We had never ever been before and we were having the best time walking through all the rooms, and learning a bit of slovak from all the tags. During the week I visited an elementary school in Radošovce to talk to a few English classes about American holiday traditions.
The next day was my last one taking the bus from Radošovce to Skalica because I would be moving families on Sunday. So on the way home I got a picture with my bus driver. He is so sweet and I’ll definitely miss him. That evening I went to Trnava with my friend to see the Christmas market there. We had some delicious pancakes and a great time walking around. The next big thing was on Saturday. I ran from Slovakia to another country! The is an annual run from Skalica to Hodonín (Sk to CZ) which is only about 12km long. I ran with my third host dad and it is something I will always remember.
On Sunday, I moved from my first host family to my second. It was super sad to leave and I will definitely be back to visit my first family, but my second family is amazing as well. I am super excited to start the new year with them. Soon it was Christmas and we put up the Christmas tree and had a traditional Slovak dinner. It was soup and then oplatky with honey and nuts and finally carp and potato salad (with cookies and little cakes for dessert obviously). The biggest difference for me was the food for sure, but also Christmas is celebrated on the 24th. After dinner we opened presents, and I got a special surprise from back home. I received about 30 Christmas cards from friends and family and my host family gave them all to me for Christmas. Probably the best present ever. After we opened presents we went to my Uncle’s house and then to my Aunt’s. At midnight we went to church and after mass there were trumpet players playing from the top of the tower. It was so cool. The next day I skyped my family back home and said Merry Christmas to them. It was nice to see everyone again.
To end out the year I went ice skating a couple times with my family and friends. I travelled to Bratislava with two close friends for New Year’s Eve and there was a little get together where we sang and danced and played games until midnight when we saw a ton of fireworks going off. 2018 was a fantastic year and I cannot wait to see what 2019 brings!
My friend Haley and me in Budapest
The Christmas market in Budapest was amazing
Helping at English lessons
My friends really surprised me.
Christmas markets in Bratislava
Schönbrunn Palace with all the Slovak Inbounds
Vienna is a beautiful city.
Traditional gingerbread cookie decorating
We had a little breakfast at Ikea.
My amazing bus driver Roman.
Trnava Christmas Market.
It snowed right before the run from SK to CZ!
My first and second families got a photo together
Mama 3 and Otec 3 welcome me home
Putting up the tree on the 23rd!
My second family is amazing!
I got plenty of gifts. I am so grateful for everything!
I skyped with my family back home.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the Kunak’s
February 1, 2019
I hope you all had a good first month of 2019! It’s so weird to think that there are only 11 left. Anyway I had a blast this month, as usual, and I wanna share a bit about what I did with all of you.
So my first trip of the year was to Vienna. I went for a day with one of my exchange friends. Now this trip was probably the most interesting, because on the way to meet my friend, my train crashed, and even the rest of the day we had some interesting travel experiences, whether it be missing our train and catching a cab, or running as fast as we can to catch our bus. Anyway, the day in Vienna was fantastic. Because we were younger than 19, we got into the Belvedere for free and saw some nice works of art. Then after lunch we headed to the Albertina and they had an exhibit on Monet–so we saw quite a few of his paintings. It was such a fun day! And then the next day, we travelled to the middle of Slovakia, Banska Bystrica, and visited our other friend. He showed us around his town and we sat and talked to him until we had to leave to catch our train back. It was a good start to the new year.
The next day I went back to Bratislava to meet up with my Australian friend, because it was her last week in Slovakia before her exchange ended. We spent the day together and just enjoyed being together in this random country. That night it snowed and school started the next day. After school my classmates had a snowball fight. It was hilarious to watch, and we all got pretty cold from throwing, and unfortunately being hit, by snowballs. That evening I made a huge snowman with my brother and dad and then in the morning we saw that it had fallen down. That week in the evenings I went out with my classmates and we all had a good time. Saturday I took another trip to Vienna, but this time to the airport. Some other exchange students and I went to say goodbye to the Australians before they hopped on the plane. I really hope that we are able to see each other again someday. Then I headed home, and that evening, I was able to wear the Slovak traditional dress, the kroj, to a ball where many people were wearing the clothes of their regions.
That week I took a trip to Nitra, because it was my friend’s birthday, so we spent the day together and celebrated. Then on Friday morning, David and I left to catch the train to Poprad where our Inbound Winter meeting was being held. We had our last language test and also were able to hike up in the beautiful Tatras (our mountains here in Slovakia). I wish I lived closer so I could visit the mountains more often. As always it was great to be with everyone again and it was sad to leave, but we will all be together again during Ski Week in February.
The next weekend I was able to go to Austria with David, our cousin, and our Uncle for a ski trip. Oh goodness it was simply amazing. I was nervous at the beginning because I had never skied on mountains before, but I had the best time ever. Everyone was so nice and it was actually cool being back in Austria. And now I am ready for Rotary’s Ski Week.
The last week there was a volleyball tournament at my school. I was able to play with some of my classmates, and even though we had fun, we played horribly. We won one out of the three games we played, but we got to miss a whole day of school and enjoyed ourselves. And on the last day of the month I went out with my classmates again and we all talked and had a great time!
I don’t want to think about it, but I keep getting reminders that I am basically half-way done with my exchange. I feel like I just arrived a month ago! This has been one of the best experiences of my life and I can’t wait to see what happens in the rest of the time that I’ve got here.
Time to look at some art!
Of course I had to get a photo with my Ohio flag!
I didn’t say this earlier, but I do participate in school. Here is what we are doing in math seminar. I was so happy when I was able go up to the board and complete a problem in front of the class.
Julka and Ninka watched the finale with me.
Paul, me, David, and Peter on our ski trip.
Our hike through the mountains was amazing.
We took this photo on a frozen lake.
Time to celebrate Haley’s birthday!
Julka, Anetka, and I, in our kroj.
Our massive snowman
Skalica got snow!!!!
Britney(right) and I, spending time with Liz before she leaves.
March 1, 2019
April 1, 2019
I honestly cannot believe that March has come to an end. It is weird to think that I have been here for 7 months already! This month was full with a ton of activities as well as a special visit. The first week I went skiing with my school in the High Tatras. The weather was super warm so the days were beautiful, but in the afternoon we could guarantee that the snow was almost slush. The next week my mom and grandma came to visit from the US. It was awesome to get to show them around where I’ve been living, although my brain certainly hurt a couple days from having to translate all the conversation. We got to visit my first host family and see the Štefánik memorial and we went to the village where he was born. We spent the rest of the day touring Skalica. Next we headed to Bratislava and I met up with other exchange friends and they helped me show my family around the city. My family got to try the national dish, bryndzové halušky, as well as the Slovak version of Coca-Cola, Kofola. From what I saw it seemed like they enjoyed them both. The next day they took a rest and I went to school. I was happy to be back. On Friday we went to Trnava and met my first host sister who showed us around and then we went back to my first family and had dinner. While there, my mom and grandma tasted some home made slivovica (I don’t think they were big fans). Saturday afternoon, we made some American food (pigs in a blanket, mac and cheese, and chocolate chip cookies) to bring to my presentation about Ohio for all of my host families. Sunday morning we went to church with my family and then we had lunch and got all our things ready to head to Vienna. We stayed in Vienna for a couple days before they left and saw all the sights, as well as going biking through the city. Finally I was able to go back to school. And on my second day back I took a math test that I had missed the week before. Fortunately, I ended up getting a 1 (equal to an A) and I was super happy! That Saturday, I switched to my last host family. It was definitely hard to leave my second one and I was trying to hold in tears for sure, but I knew it was time to go. Since then I’ve been training for my marathon and hanging with my family. And now it’s April. Time sure flies by when you’re having fun, and I am sure that these next few months will go even faster. I hope everything is well in Dublin and I can’t wait to update you next month!
We definitely had fun on our skiing trip!
Welcome to Slovakia!
Trying to figure out which ingredients are good for Mac and Cheese.
The food was a hit at the presentation!
I also was about to go to my classmate’s 18th birthday party.
Funny photos in Vienna
Moving day…although I sent some stuff home I still have quite a bit.
My new sister and I went picnicking with some friends while picking wild garlic.
I went with my parents while they voted for the new President!
May 1, 2019