By JAMES WILLIAMS
SLOVAKIA -- Holy cow December went by incredibly fast. I have no idea how it’s already over and the Christmas markets are closed and even Christmas is over! But with a new country comes new traditions for a big holiday such as Christmas and I’m excited to let you know all about it! I did a lot more traveling too in and I’m excited to share the pictures of the beautiful cities!
So starting off I would like to talk about the holidays that they have here so they have a bit more than us in December but they don’t have thanksgiving like we do so I guess it makes sense. First off they have Mikuláš, and that is the coming of St. Nikolas, he only comes to those kids with clean shoes! He won’t give anything if your shoes are dirty!! But with a pair of freshly cleaned shoes. I got a gift from Mikuláš a wonderful bag of goodies, chocolates, toothpaste, sweets and more! Now I think that it was more for younger children, and for people to clean their shoes but I did it anyways. I wanted clean shoes and I got rewarded for it! The other holidays are of course the normal holidays of Christmas and New Year’s, but Slovak people have their own twist to it. Their giving gifts day is Štedrý deň the 24th of December. The typical day of opening gifts and the big dinner and being with the family. For tradition most people eat oplatky s medom (think of really thin crepes but crunchy and honey) kapustnica(cabbage soup) and carp. My family had these and more. We had mushroom soup, carp, mashed potatoes and potato salad. The carp was alright, it had a ton of bones and didn’t taste very good to me (prepáč pre slovaci ktory prečital tomu). My host brother actually caught the carp in summer and they kept it frozen until now, a little interesting bit! Other than the carp the soups, potatoes and everything else was great! After dinner we opened presents and my family was really thoughtful with their gifts and I was happy to see them open mine! But being with this family for all this time has really made me feel as they are like family. With family over and everyone being involved and talking was just like home. The next holiday is the 25th of December “Christmas day” Vianoce and this is a day about going to see family and spending time more with cousins, aunts and uncles. We went to my dad’s side parents and I got to meet some host cousins, they were older but nice to meet! The 3rd and final “Christmas” Holiday was Štefana where my family went to the 2nd grand parent’s home and we joined some neighbors for a small gathering to celebrate Vianoce! I ate a lot of food, I think that no matter where we go Christmas and lots of food go together. Finally, New Years. New Years was very fun. I went to the city center and saw lots of classmates and friends. There were lots of fireworks but the fireworks were pretty different. The fireworks weren’t very controlled, it was more people setting them off and running away and that was all. At exactly 00:00h that was when the most were shot off and you couldn’t hear yourself think and I was totally mesmerized by the sight. Booms so loud you couldn’t think, and the lights bright as a sunny day. It was an awesome experience, being with friends and seeing all the fireworks. \
We also had a Rotary meeting from the 9th to the 11th of December where we went to Bratislava and Vienna and had an awesome time together. In Bratislava the night we got there we went to the main castle and it was a wonderful castle but after traveling, school, and a rainy cold December night we were a little cranky. The next day we went to Vienna where we toured a Palace and I don’t remember how it was called but it was huge and beautiful. Then we walked around Vienna a little more with a Rotex who was studying there for college. I was talking with him in Slovak for a very short time, just small conversation and he asked me if I was Rotex or where I was from, I told him that I was an Inbound and he was totally astonished by my ability to speak Slovak. I was proud of myself for that! Then we had free time to wander about the Christmas markets and that was my favorite part! We also did a secret Santa where I had get a gift for the Rotex president! Her present was a Santa hat with a light that blinked and some chocolate and she loved it! Then we danced and sang to all types of music (Slovak, English, Spanish, and Portuguese) and it was wonderful an amazing mix of all types of culture! We also had a Slovak test during this Rotary meeting, the test was not easy but I ended up with the highest grade of all Slovak inbounds! I was really proud of myself for this! But I still have much more to learn in Slovak, especially about cases. I know that other people did very well and I ended up with the highest grade.
Below are some pictures from Vienna! (Post continued below!)
Then I also had about a week and a half off of school in December and during the first weekend I went skiing with my host family, if you know me well then you would know that skiing is weird for me! I usually snowboard but this year I decided to change it up and try something new! We went to one ski resort the first day where I had my first full day on Skis and the 2nd day we went to Jasna the best ski resort in Slovakia! It was beautiful there! Besides the fog on most of the day when we saw the sun is was always incredible. Then I spent a lot of time at home with my host family and that was really nice to be able to spend this holiday with them as mentioned before! I really feel that I am part of the family and I’m a sad to be leaving. But I already know my second family and I know they are a very good people as well.
During the first weeks of December I had school. I am starting to be able to understand some classes more but it is still very difficult for me to follow everything. But still often I study Slovak or read books during the classes I don’t understand enough. But school is going well, my classmates are all wonderful. But I’m happy I already finished high school! I also started going to a Slovak hour with the 3 other exchange students and I really enjoy going there. For me it is usually simple but I am always learning the most there. My teacher is wonderful and is actually an English teacher at the language school but also knows Slovak, well because she is a Slovak woman!
All in all I learned a lot about Slovak culture and from my exchange friends what they do for the holidays! I'm rieally enjoy my time here. Majte sa krasne!
- James G. Williams is a 2017 graduate of Geneva High School. He is spending a gap year on a Rotary International Fellowship, sponsored by the Geneva Rotary Club. He writes occasionally for Geneva Now.