Nick has been back from his Exchange year in Slovakia for over one year. Obviously we have had difficulties meshing our schedules for a speaking engagement. He is just completing his Freshman year at Houghton College, where he spent the last semester in London and had to return early because of the Corona Virus.
Nick had three host experiences and seemed to enjoy each one thoroughly for different reasons.
His first family consisted of father Peter, mother Andrea, older brother Bernard, grandmothers who helped him learn the language and a brother Gregoire, who returned early from his Exchange in India due to illness.
Peter was a farmer of sorts and Andrea was involved in financial investments, while Bernard was an entrepreneur.
The family hiked, played hockey,biked and skied (Nick learned to ski there, but not in America). One of his most memorable experiences there was when Peter butchered a pig and made sausage, giving him a perspective on a more traditional lifestyle.
Nick's school (called Decupertina gymnasium) consisted of classes of 7 to 8 students in each grade who had been studying together for six or 7 years and were now at the end of their primary education before going to university. The classmates were very close and participated in rafting, skiing and even visited a nuclear power plant.
Nick fondly remembers partaking of the spas on Piestany's Spa Island that offered a true traditional though medical spa vacation of mud baths provided by physical therapists. He especially enjoyed walking and riding through the beautiful gardens on the island.
Nick's second family consisted of father Eric and mother Tanya and daughter Sonya who was an exchange student to Mexico. Again the family enjoyed hiking and many other outdoor activities such as mountain biking and swimming and skiing over Christmas. He even got to be a gaming texter playing mobile computer games all day for a programming group in the Czech Republic.
Nick's third family consisted of Milos and Fekete who were members of Rotary. They were his last family and provided the opportunity for some unique travel experiences such as St.Catherine's Cathedral, begun in 1488 and a castle that housed the Shroud of Turin.
Other adventures included visiting Croatia and staying with former exchange student Petra's family in Sagreb where Petra's mother was particularly helpful in touring him around the area.
Then Nick departed on his European tour with other exchange students all meeting in Bratislava and headed for Paris, where they saw the Notre Dame Cathedral 2 weeks after the massive fire. They toured the Louvre and Palace of Versaille and then headed to Barcelona where they toured Gaudi's La Sagrada Familia. Then on to Rome and all that it offers to the eye including the Colosseum, then Pompeii and Naples.
Nick was happy to make lots of close friendships and is so grateful to Rotary for the many experiences that have left permanent marks on his personality.
He feels he grew a great deal on his exchange and was operating much more independently by its end. He is not fluent in the difficult language but certainly functional.
This past year he has studied philosophy and theology at Houghton and his first class helped him understand his emotional experiences of his exchange much better. Nick will begin studying physical therapy in his sophomore year.
Vince Horrigan was in Slovakia 25 years ago and commented on how backward and stark it seemed and asked Nick about life there today. Nick responded that the country seems to be doing quite well. They are a large manufacturer of industrial materials; they have revamped their economy; and there is much foreign investment in bratislava.
Randy Sweeney asked what they thought of America and Nick said "the usual', they are not terribly negative, but more economically focused.
Nick commented that he wished he had been better prepared for the emotional confusion and displacement anxieties he experienced early on in his exchange. Cheri responded that the Exchange Program is working hard on developing preparatory classes to help the students deal with separation anxiety, etc. on their first trips away from their families for such an extended time. Unfortunately, next year's out-bound exchange may be cancelled and this year's students USA trip has been cancelled due to the COVID virus.