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Letter From Slovakia

New Country, New Celebrations         

SLOVAKIA --   Whoops! Almost forgot to post this monthly report, sorry about that! But... I had an eventful November, I have found a rhythm of the days and started to understand the language a lot more. But every week I do new things and I’m always excited to experience and hear about the new thing I will do!

So there was a new holiday for me on November 1st and that was “All Saints Day” which I knew about but never celebrated. It was about respecting past elders even if we don’t remember them or know them. It was very solemn. I thought about my relatives that passed away. Later in the day we went to the living elder’s homes and celebrated their lives as well. It was much happier when we got to the families homes it was more fun. One of my host grandfather’s asked me a lot of questions about Halloween and our traditions with it and they were totally surprised by what I told them, it was totally for me and they didn’t expect anything of what I said. I really like to share our culture with people and to learn about theirs by talking and seeing and doing.

The next week I had a normal week other than I played a sport with my school! Here its different playing sports with the school because it’s only for one day. It’s not a regular occurrence I played basketball with my school and we won 3 of 4 games! We even beat our rival school and that was a tense game that went into overtime! The tournament was organized for 5 teams of teams around the Piešťany area. I was really happy to represent my school in something and it wasn’t the last sport either! Later in the month I participated in a run that was for the celebration of the start of the Velvet Revolution. Many people didn’t have to work and we didn’t go to school. I was surprised there wasn’t more about the celebration such as a parade, I wonder why they didn’t do more. The run was 10km but with 10 people it went very fast! My school actually had 11 but we ran 2 in one and it was good! These events are fun for me because I get to meet more people than in my class and often I see people I know! The race was supposed to be with other schools but we were the only high school so we automatically got first!

Also I got to visit Martin a bit when I had to go to the hospital for my visa’s medical test. It was a very pretty and bigger city of Slovakia. Apparently in Martin is where they officially created the Slovak written language so the people there are very grammatically correct. I had a funny little fiasco at the hospital where I got lost and didn’t know where to go but everything was sorted out really quickly! The other people taking the tests were very nice and helped a lot! Also in November I got my official Slovak residency card and I can stay the whole year! Vsetko v poriadku!

I also had 2 thanksgiving dinners which were both wonderful to go to! The first one was in Piešťany organized by my club and this day I got to hear Kris, the Taiwanese guy in my town, play his violin for the first time and he was wonderful! He is really good and has definitely worked hard at it. We ate our typical American thanksgiving dinner and that really made my happy to have some very similar food. One of the Rotarians actually made pumpkin pie and it was seriously one of the best I have had in my life, really good. They know how to cook well here! I also gave my presentation on myself, Geneva, and the thanksgiving holiday. All in Slovak, it was difficult but the audience understood everything and as I walked back to my chair I got a lot of high fives so I think it went very well! The 2nd dinner was organized by rotary club Martin where all the American exchange students in Slovakia were invited. I came early so that I could help prepare the restaurant for the dinner. There was much to do and I helped make some food and I actually had an interview with a news group in Martin where I spoke in Slovak a little bit about our holiday and why for me it’s important, I was actually in the news as well and I was very excited about that! This dinner was more formal but also very nice to spend some of the day with other exchange students. Then later I stayed the night in the Vice-President’s, of the district, home where I was completely welcome and almost the whole time I was speaking in Slovak where they were very excited that I could speak and understand a lot of what they were saying. I was proud of myself for that because I am working very hard on the language and I am seeing my hard work is paying off.

These events are the more unusual things that I have taken part in but now to more of the usual things I do in my daily life. Every week I play hockey 3 or 4 times and I am loving that, I might try and join an amateur league where I could compete in games every weekend to add that onto the already busy schedule I have. I also go to school Monday to Friday where I usually take the classes I don’t understand and study Slovak. I also go to a rock wall in my school with Kris from Taiwan every Monday where we learn about how to rock climb and different helpful techniques which we can use. On the weekends if I am not busy I either spend time with the other exchange students in my town and we go to movies and each other’s houses. Or I will spend time with my classmates, we go and wander around the town and talk about things and people and have lots of fun. In my time at home I am usually talking with my host family about what I am up to, they are busy as well but they are wonderful. My host family is amazing right now and they are as my real family. I don’t know what I will do when I have to change families!

Anyways I have been doing very well overall and I am super excited to get better at Slovak and spend more time with new people and the friends I have already made. There is a lot coming up with Christmas and the new year, I don’t want it to go too fast because these 3 months have already gone too quickly! 

James Williams is a recent graduate of Geneva High School. He is spending a gap year in Slovakia, sponsored by the Rotary Club of Geneva and Rotary International.

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