Friday, June 24, 2011

Guarantee Forms

At last. The anticipated day has arrived. I know it's hard to take in, especially considering the trials and tribulations I endured to get this far (aka waiting since October). But the all-too-vital Guarantee Forms have finally arrived in my hands from Italy!!!!!!!! I have never seen more beautiful paperwork in my life. They were mailed on Tuesday, so I wasn't expecting them until Saturday, but somehow they got here this morning! When Keith Remy, my Rotary counselor, called me a few hours ago with the good news, I hung up and screamed and started running around my house like crazy. It was about 10 times worse than when I got the news I was going to Italy all those months ago. Even though I've been planning this for a year, now I realize that it's actually happening!

The GF's were signed by me, my parents, my sponsor club officials, my host parents, my school in Italy, and my host club officials. And I now know that my first day of Italian school is 12 settembre. Which means I have to make a flight reservation soon for sometime between 2 and 6 settembre. Hopefully I can get that done tonight so I have a set day of departure when people ask, "So when are you leaving?" :)

Along with the blessed GF's, I also received documentation from my school, my host club, and some government things. I couldn't read most of it because they used BIG Italian words that are far beyond me. But it's all important because I have to mail it to the Italian consulate in Miami to get my VISA! The visa is the next step on the road to Italy. I was waiting to start my visa application until the GF's arrived, but now that they're here, I will eagerly begin filling out (more!) paperwork so that I will legally be able to live in Italy.

Besides all the papers from Italy, Keith also gave me 6 banners from my sponsor Rotary club here in Starkville. I will give these banners to my host club and Rotarians in Milano if they want them. Apparently some clubs don't care about collecting other clubs' banners. But oh well. In addition to all of the above, Keith showed me the layout for my business cards, and we printed about 20 of them for me to start with. The rest will be professionally done at some copying place here in town. I feel so legit with my business cards, ambassador nameplate, and paperwork!! I expect my next post will be about flight arrangements and/or visa application. Ciao :)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Ambassadors

I wanted you all to know about the lovely pins the outbounds received at graduation. They are gold nameplate pins and mine says my name and the words "Ambassador to Italy" underneath. We are supposed to wear them on our official Rotary blazers, but Madalyn and I wore ours with our matching exchange shirts as we traveled from OK City to Atlanta. We'd been told that wearing our Rotary blazers in airports would gain us a lot of positive attention, but considering the attention the small pins gave us, I can't imagine what it will be like when I wear my blazer! Madalyn and I were asked numerous times about our upcoming trips to Europe, and more than a few people congratulated us and asked us to represent America well while abroad. It was a wonderful experience!

On the plane from OK City to Atlanta, we were sitting next to a college student who was flying to ATL for her connection flight to study abroad in Italy. I was excited to find out she was going there, of course, so we asked what program she was with and how long she'd be there. She was with OU's study abroad program and would be there 4 weeks. She asked us, "So will you two be in Europe just for the summer?" Madalyn and I had to restrain ourselves from laughing. When we said we'd be there for a full year, the college student gasped and didn't know what to say. hahaha. It was ridiculous how funny Madalyn and I found this situation. Thankfully the flight was over then and we were able to leave the plane before bursting into laughter. Some people still don't understand why anyone would want to study abroad for more than a few weeks.

Update on the GF's: my school finally signed them, and in a few hours they will be on their way to Mississippi by courier. It should take no more than 4 days, so I will start expecting them to arrive on Saturday. It's SUCH a relief to know they're finally on their way! I have so much paperwork still to do this summer, the most important being my visa application, but I can't start any of it until the GF's are in my hands. Fingers crossed that they'll get here this week!!!!

Monday, June 20, 2011

OUTBOUND CAMP!!!!

WHERE DO I EVEN START??? I'm pretty sure the past 4 days have been the best of my life! I arrived in Edmond, OK (a suburb of OK City) on the campus of the University of Central Oklahoma for 2011 OUTBOUND CAMP. After being greeted by Rotex (former outbound students who provide insight to new outbounds) who only spoke foreign languages such as Spanish and Norwegian, I was off to a great start. But let me start from the beginning.

Upon arriving in OK City, I was met by a Rotarian and we waited for another outbound to arrive on her plane. Her name was Madalyn, she was from Alabama, and we immediately connected since we were each the sole outbound student from our respective states. We were driven to UCO and checked in and everything. Moved into my large dorm room and met my roommate who was named Colby, from Texas.

The rest of camp is pretty much a blur. We attended numerous presentations in a theater with the other outbounds, of whom there were 60 total. We were divided into color coded groups based upon our host countries. My group, Yellow 1, consisted of 5 Italians and 3 Spaniards, all of whom were girls except me. Our group's Rotex advisor was Cathryn, who had done her exchange in Italy 4 years ago. Eventually we devised a clever mash-up name to combine our host countries of Spain and Italy: Spitaly. But then it reminded us of spit, so we used the native names of the countries to form L'Espalia, which sounded much better.

We played one or two cultural experience games each day of camp, from Thursday to Saturday. Most of them were rather pointless and did not serve their purpose of preparing us for eventually being immersed in a foreign culture. The Rotarians in charge had good intentions with the games though so it was okay I guess. On Friday, the outbounds were split into 2 large groups, and one group delivered pre-written speeches at UCO while the other group spent time at a local nursing home. My group went to the nursing home first, and we had the pleasure of playing bingo with the residents. It was so much fun! I met so many incredible adults who had seen so much in their lives.

In the afternoon, my group gave speeches. Although I practiced many times before camp, I ended up being extremely nervous, even more nervous than when I gave my valedictorian speech to several thousand people. My speech's topic was meth, and it turned out pretty well despite my nervous swaying and stumbling over my words. We had to make a speech because we will have to give many presentations in our host country in the host language.

Cathryn taught my group many things about Italian culture. At one meal, she spoke nothing but Italian and made us eat dinner in courses in true Italian style. She showed us her memorabilia from her exchange year including her journal, school documents, speeches, movie tickets, and pictures. She answered everything we wanted to know, and we were all very grateful to her for that.

Rotarians made presentations all day and night. It was quite exhausting. These presentations ranged from Health Information to Culture Shock to Packing to Exchange Rules (which were covered extensively) to Gifts for Host Families. We each received a 130-page manual/survival guide that covers basically anything we ever need to know about how to have a successful exchange. I will be married to mine this summer to make sure I have everything done before I leave.

On Saturday night, after many EXTREMELY EMOTIONAL Rotex stories (which I will not go into detail about), we had The Dance. It wasn't just any dance, however, because it was a costume party dance. You will remember my posts about the Yellow Brick Road costume. Well, I made it to OK with the costume safe and sound, and it was a hit at the dance. Everyone looked stunning though. There were some really creative costume ideas that related to each group's color. The music was great, and everyone lost their inhibitions and just had a great time. It was the best dance I've ever been to. I even had a dramatic duet with Snow White at one point singing Don't Stop Believing in the middle of the dance floor. 'Twas magical.

Now let me explain graduation. On Sunday morning, after the big group picture, we returned to the theater for camp graduation. Each outbound was recognized on a large screen and received a certificate, an official nameplate for his/her blazer, and an American flag. After receiving these items, we hugged every Rotarian before sitting down.

By the end of camp, we were a family. I know it sounds stupid and cheesy, but it's true. Many of the friends we made this week will likely last our entire lives because we will share the same experience of being exchange students this year! I know that 4 out of the 5 Italian outbounds in my group will be in the Milano area, close to me, which means I will see them often at district events once we are in Italy. Other friends live close by in Europe as well. For example, my plane buddy Madalyn will be near Nice, France, which is pretty close to Milano.

Plane buddy? Why yes, it turns out that Madalyn and I had the same flight back to Atlanta before parting ways. We were able to sit next together and pour our hearts out to each other. Even though I had only known her for 4 days, I felt like I'd known her for years! It was the same with many other friends from camp, though. Strange how things like this work. I became closer to these people in 4 days than many people in Starkville I'd known for 4 years. This is the power of meeting people who share your goals and dreams. This is the power of meeting people who understand your life choice of wanting to be thrown into a foreign culture and eventually become bicultural. This is the power of knowing people who share a need to challenge themselves.

Unfortunately, I did not meet these incredible people until after high school. I cannot imagine what life would have been like if I could have enjoyed their company longer than our 4 short days together. Regardless, I will attempt to maintain contact via internet and provide support to them as we all step into the most exciting year of our lives. At this point, this blog entry has far exceeded my normal limit, and so I shall end here. No more word on the Guarantee Forms, but they should be here late this week. Thanks for reading. :)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Pre-Oklahoma

OUTBOUND CAMP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I hope I am still this excited after camp as I am now. Let me explain: It is now 16 hours until I fly from Columbus to Memphis, and then from Memphis to Oklahoma City. The time has finally come for my Rotary Outbound Camp!! By the by, this will be the first time for me to fly completely alone, so I am excited for the new adventure! I have to get used to navigating airports, cause I'll be doing plenty of it in a few months. Annnnywaysss. I haven't really comprehended that I will be living with other outbound kids for 5 days...but it's slowly sinking in as the pressure builds to finish packing the many things I have to bring. The list is pretty extensive.....application, medical forms, clothes, homework (which I blogged about earlier), toiletries, sheets/pillows/towels, costume (for the dance) and several other items. I'm really wondering how I will get to OK with all of this stuff. I'm just kind of assuming that most of it will fit in my suitcase and carry-on...cause if not....well let's not think about it. :)

The carpets in my house were cleaned this morning and have been drying all day. This prevents me from going upstairs (or anywhere else) and getting my stuff together for camp......not cool. Being a person who hates procrastinating, this is making me nervous that I have to wait until after dinner tonight to finish the packing. But OH WELL. There is nothing I can do about it, so I am trying to get other things finished that don't require me leaving the immediate vicinity (i.e. the dining room).

In other newsssss, I received an email from Milly giving me yet another update on my evasive Guarantee Forms. In case you were wondering, this is the 5th delay of the Forms. Turns out that the school principal is on holiday/in the hospital (not really sure which one....apparently both?) and will sign the forms on Thursday the 16th. Then she will deliver the forms to the Rotary Secretary, which is supposedly the last stop before they will be mailed across the pond into my hands. Also, my school is expected to begin sometime between September 7 and 12, and Milly will let me know about that very soon. I dunno if I've mentioned this before, but my host family will take 1 or 2 weekend trips to their beach house in La Spezia during September, and I'm super excited about it. Which is a big deal because I generally despise going to the beach. But hey, it's Italy. :)

So since I'm forbidden to have my phone, ipod, and laptop during camp, I will be cut off from all human contact until Sunday night the 19th.....! Well, all non-Rotary contact, at least. I will try to remember everything that happens so I can give detailed accounts once I am home and full of new information!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Waiting

Ugh. If nothing else, I have learned from this experience thus far to be PATIENT. I am, of course, referring to the mythical Guarantee Forms. You may recall that I mentioned they were delayed at Customs and would arrive any day now? Well that is not the case. They still have to be signed by the "School Manager" who is inconveniently on holiday until this upcoming Monday. I should have these all-too vital forms by the end of next week. Which is while I will be in Oklahoma at Outbound Camp. Without laptop, cellphone, or ipod because of the camp rules. I do believe this is the 4th time the Forms have been delayed. I don't think there is a word in Italian for "haste." But I guess I'll find out, won't I? In any case, the Rotary district 2040 representative in Milano assures me that everything is under control. I'll be waiting until next week, Italy!

I have been working with several lovely Italians through skype and facebook chat to improve my language skills. Today I learned that there are 5 different ways of saying "What are you doing?" All very similar, but with different verb tenses. I just need one tense!!!! Again, the Italians comforted me by remarking that even they didn't understand their language. Sigh.

I have a long way to go.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Homework

Now that I have an established host country, district, family, and school, I have to get ready for camp. Not Boy Scout camp, not theatre camp, but Rotary camp. It's a 5-day camp for outbound students (like me) from parts of the states Texas, Arkansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Mississippi. There will be about 60 outbound kids there. We will attend numerous seminars about various things we need to know before our departure in a few months. Kids who went on exchanges in the past few years, known as Rotex, will be there to tell us all about our country. Each country will be in its own small group of about 10 students, with one Rotex and several Rotarians (adults) assigned to the group. My group consists of mostly outbounds to Italy with a few going to Spain. I believe I am the only male in the group going to Italy, which should make for an interesting camp experience!

Before I can actually go to camp, which is at the University of Central Oklahoma from June 15-19, I had to complete 9 extensive "homework" assignments. These ranged from basic Italian phrases to currency exchange exercises to researching histories of my state, the US, and Italy. Many more subjects were also covered in the homework. As of today, I have 97% of it done, which is great considering camp starts in less than a week! I still have some info. to fill in, but I will not receive that specific info. until I receive the elusive Guarantee Form which will include the most specific information about my school and every host family I will live with (probably 2 or 3). Apparently the Form got held up in Customs coming from Italy, but it should arrive in my hands any day now!

You're probably wondering how I've been learning Italian. I have been attempting to learn it through a software program and several workbooks I have, along with the help of Anna Follett, a Rotex who went to Italy last year. I now know basic vocab. that covers food, numbers, colors, greetings, shopping, and time. Easy enough. Grammar is the hard part. Words in Italian are so mixed up from their normal order in English. It's. So. Confusing. I'm used to Spanish, in which some parts of speech are flipped around, but in Italian it's even worse. Even Italians themselves admit that it makes no sense. So how am I, a NON-ITALIAN, supposed to learn it?!?!?!?!?! I'm kind of sort of REALLY freaking out here!!!!!! But I've been told that after a few months of being immersed in the culture, I will start picking up on it better than before. I'm desperately hoping this is true.

P.S. For camp, it's not all boring seminars and lectures. There is a talent show as well as a dance. For the dance, each country group was given a color theme and told to make a costume that color for less than 5 USD. My color is yellow. YELLOW. Sigh. Worst color for a costume. But I got over it and eventually decided to be the Yellow Brick Road. Clever, right? I can't wait. The costume turned out pretty well, but now I just have to figure out how to fly to Oklahoma without messing it up...

First post!!

Okay people. Let me introduce myself before anything else. My name is Davis Richardson, and I live in Starkville, Mississippi, USA. I have made the decision to participate in the Rotary Youth Exchange Program for the 2011-2012 school year. What is this wonderful program, you ask? Well I’ll tell you. This program allows kids 15-18 from all over the world to travel abroad and live with host families, learn a foreign language, immerse themselves in another culture, and learn a ridiculous amount of information about our world and its diversity. 
So here’s how I got to where I am today: I started this process of application early last fall (2010) and had 3 top choices for my host country: 1) Italy 2) Spain 3) Switzerland. Thankfully, by December I learned that I had been accepted to Italy!! My host Rotary district is 2040, which covers the Milano metro area in northern Italy. When I learned this was where I would be living, my reaction was ASODFIJALS;DFJLKASDJFL;ASDKFJA;LSDKJFL;ASDJFKLJAOSDIF over and over again.
However, it was not until early May that I received any information about my first host family. While other countries are efficient with their paperwork (students in some countries knew their host families in February) I soon learned that the Italians take their time with many aspects of life. Let me tell you that waiting the entire spring semester for specific information was torture. 
But it was well worth the wait. When I learned my host family, my reaction was even more OISJDFKL;ASDJFL;ASKDJF; than when I learned I got Italy as my country. My host parents are named Emiliano and Emilia (Milly) Giorgi. They have 3 sons: Andrea, 21, in college; Marco, 18, starting college this fall; and Luca, 16, who will be in Virginia on exchange this year as well. I’ll probably never meet Luca in person but oh well. The Giorgi family lives on a street right in the exact geographic center of Milano itself. Not a suburb; the actual city. Of Milano. With 1.320.000 residents. SO AMAZING. 
Soon after I learned my family, Milly asked me which school I would like to attend. That’s right, even though I just graduated here, I will still be in high school in Italy! I could go to the high school section of the college of Conservatorio di Musica, the largest music college in Italy; or I could attend a high school that is considered more “normal” when compared to US schools. Given my interests in music, it was an obvious choice.
Soon a teacher from the Conservatorio contacted me and requested videos of performances. I sent her some, and she said she would let the choir maestro view them and she would also find me a suitable piano teacher. Seeing as I haven’t taken piano lessons in 4 years, this is going to be interesting. Especially at the foremost music school in the artistic center of the world. Starting to question my choice of this school….I mean these kids are going to be like professional opera singers!!!! Ahh!!! I guess I’ll have to just….blend in? We shall see.