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. :)