An update after a long time

I realise it has been quite a while since my last post, but in my endeavours to procrastinate a little bit more I decided that a little recap of the past years in terms of the impact of an ASSIST year over a longer time-span might be enlightening.

I have long lost count of the days since I left Fort Wayne. It must have been about 2 years ago, give or take. I came back to Austria, overwhelmed with feelings. I yearned to go back, incredibly grateful for the moments I was allowed to share with my fantastic host family and Canterbury High School, yet I was happy to be back on familiar grounds, speaking a language that had stopped feeling native, seeing my animals I hadn’t seen in ten months and above all seeing my parents.

The transition was bizarre. What had just happened a day, a week, a month ago felt intangible, the only proof of my experience were memories and plenty of photos. I may as well have been dreaming. And I was dreaming of it, a lot. Reliving the graduation parties, social meets, theatre productions, the many things I tried, yes even the presentation of my independent project stole itself into the vivid images I saw in my sleep.

Over the summer fun had won over revision and I was entirely unprepared for the start school, as I essentially had substituted year eleven in Austria for my year abroad, where I had not taken several classes I would have needed. After having spent the summer traveling the US, riding through the Tyrolean mountains, reading as many books as I could get my hands on, exploring the works of Woody Allen, Alfred Hitchcock and other filmmakers working prior to roughly 1950 and trying (failing) to bind a book, school was a distant, yet very real thought. In the blink of an eye, summer was over and I stood in front of the school building, wondering what had changed, wondering how I would cope with seeing the people I knew, yet had not seen in a long time.

My last year of school was fantastic. I made closer friends than I had had before the adventure and even I could determine that in fact, I had changed. I had become more open, I would approach people and laugh without wondering what it would entail. In many ways, I see my experiences in Fort Wayne as one of the most formative phases in my life. When I left, I criticised the need to return to the country of origin, essentially making the program a two-year, rather than one-year, experience. Looking back, I would even go as far as to say that the second year, back at “home”, is essential to the understanding of both cultures, to the realisation of the year’s impact, to the idea of ASSIST!

I graduated from the Bundesrealgymnasium Schwaz in June 2014, incredibly grateful for an overwhelming final year of school.


Like many other ASSIST students, I applied to some US colleges, but decided to try applying in the UK as well, mainly because one of the many things I took from the year abroad was that simply trying may lead to amazing things. I thus applied to the University of Cambridge, which I used to jokingly name as my future university (when I was three). Not in my wildest dreams would I have believed that my application to St. John’s College to read architecture would be successful. I am now sitting in my room in John’s writing this post while looking through the thousands of pictures I kept from that year that seems like it was forever ago. At this point, this past October may as well have been a decade ago.

Life is and remains exciting, lessons are learned daily and I could not be happier to say that Cambridge has taught me many great things in the comparatively short time I have been here. I started rowing, am going to as many talks as I can possibly fit in and have not yet given up trying to do everything.

Cambridge has entered its exam term, things are getting quieter, clubs are closing for the intense period that lays a calming cover on the town. It is a surreal experience, entirely separate from that in the US, entirely separate from any other places I was fortunate enough to grow up in, but just as surreal as I seem to, at this point, perceive most of my experiences.

If any future applicants to the ASSIST program happen to read this, I have, in essence (still a short essay in itself), only one thing to say to you (though I could of course say much more, anyone who knows me will vouch for that): DO IT. No matter how scared you are of what it may bring, do not worry about language barriers, problems with adjusting to the culture or anything else. I was incredibly scared when I came to the orientation camp (which I absolutely loved in the end). I almost turned around and ran back to my parents who were standing at the end of the path. I was convinced that I didn’t want this, that in fact I should have declined the scholarship, that being at a day school in a state I had heard of only as the corn state would be horrible, that I would be on a flight back before November. In that moment I decided that yes, I would go home, but that I would simply have to jump into the cold water. I knew that I would not forgive myself if I hadn’t at least tried. I didn’t turn around, didn’t look back.

Of course, I didn’t leave before November, I enjoyed that corn state more than I every would have believed and the school could not have been better chosen. And when it came to the day I had to leave, I cried because I had to leave, not because I wanted to. Don’t let any doubts overshadow an opportunity to see the world in a completely different perspective. Go in, forget about “home”, and above all enjoy! It won’t get any better. Well, it will, but I only say that because I’m too optimistic to admit that the peak of happiness does not exceed the scale every single time it hits the maximum.

Going to Fort Wayne was a decision in the distant past, it was hard and I didn’t think much of it, but it was one of the best I have made in my life.

– STOP –

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6 days left…

My time at Greenhill School has come to an end. Yesterday was the Awards Ceremony in the gym, and I realised that it would be my last time seeing the school. It was a strange feeling- I tried to soak up every little detail of the campus when I was walking through it for the last time. It’s hard to say goodbye to a place so special. Even though I’ve only spent a year here, Greenhill will stay with me- it has had a lasting impact on my education, my personality, and the way I look at life.

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I didn’t expect to receive anything at the Awards Ceremony, but I ended up coming away with the Precalculus award! Then, I got to stand up when they read out the athletes who had played sports in all three trimesters (this year I have played field hockey, cheerleading and lacrosse). After the awards were given out, the head of the Upper School, Mrs. Ross, made a small speech recognizing me and my impact on the school this year. She also thanked my host family, the Shosids, for their generosity in hosting me. Then I was invited up on stage to receive a book! It was a really nice way to end my time at Greenhill.

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After the ceremony, we had the junior (rising senior) class lunch in the courtyard, and we all received our yearbooks! Everyone was so excited about becoming the seniors of the school!

It’s weird to talk to all of my American friends about summer, because I know that in Australia, it’s actually winter, and I will be going back to school in about a month…I’m actually moving down a grade (because I missed a full year at my school), so I will have to make new friends again. But I feel as though that won’t be too hard considering I’ve become very skilled at meeting new people!

Something else I know that I will have to adjust to when I get back is the fact that no one back home has gone through this experience with me. I know that people will be interesting in hearing all about my year, but there’s only so much they will want to listen to. I was talking to one of my teachers Mr. Mercurio who said that I need to find an outlet where I can express my feelings and thoughts about my ASSIST year. He suggested that I either write it down in a journal, or find another student from ASSIST to share my experiences with. I actually have a few friends in Brisbane who were part of the ASSIST program this year, so hopefully I’ll be able to talk to them!

I only have 6 days left before I get on my flight back to Brisbane, Australia. In those 6 days, I need to pack, say goodbye to Dallas, say goodbye to my host family and close friends, and most importantly, thank all of them for the generosity and kindness they’ve showed to me. I have already said goodbye to the other Dallas ASSIST students. We all went out to an American restaurant to meet for the last time. It was really nice being able to talk to them about their years, and all reflect on how far we have all come since Orientation. Here’s a picture of our first meeting together 10 months ago, and our last meeting together.

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I’d like to wish all the other scholars a wonderful last few days/weeks in their American cities. And before I sign off, I’d like to thank ASSIST- I don’t think I will ever be able to fully express my gratitude for this organization. You have given me the greatest gift- an education at one of the most prestigious school in the nation, and an experience of a lifetime. I have not only learnt about American culture, but I have immersed myself in it, and I can’t wait to go back and share some of the things I have learnt with my community.

Until next time,

Lizzy

Trying new things

I’ve been living in the States for a little over 6 months now. It’s crazy how fast time has flown by…

I remember when I left Australia, I thought to myself, “this is the year for trying new things, and if you fail, it doesn’t matter because no-one will ever know!” I can definitely say that I have tried new things this year. Probably the biggest ‘new’ thing I’ve tried would be cheerleading. Growing up, I always watched American movies and T.V. shows and wondered what it would be like to be a cheerleader. So when I found out they were having auditions for winter cheer (like fall cheer, except cheering at basketball games instead of football games), I decided to try out. Even though I’m probably the most inflexible and uncoordinated person in the school, somehow I MADE THE TEAM!

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I made lots of new friends, and all of the games we cheered at were so much fun. It was hard learning all of the cheers and chants that most of the cheerleaders already knew, and I never properly mastered the toe touch, herkie, and front hurdler stunts, but overall, I don’t regret doing cheerleading. I am so grateful to go to such a spirited school. The atmosphere at some of the big home basketball games was incredible- the stands would almost always be full with students. It really helped to motivate the basketball boys in their games.

Trimester 3 begins on Monday, and I’m starting another new sport- Lacrosse! Luckily, I automatically made the Varsity team because they were fairly short on numbers. I’ve been practicing for about 2 weeks now, and I’m slowly learning the rules of the game.

Something else new I’ve tried this year is all of the American food. There’s the classic Texas fried chicken, ribs and all the meat you can think of. Also, living so close to Mexico means that the cooking here has a slight Mexican influence. My host family likes to make chili soup, fajitas and guacamole. I used to hate black beans with a passion, but because of my motivation to try new things, I’ve grown to love them. And then there’s all of the new Jewish food that I’ve tasted from my host family’s Shabbat dinner (challah bread, matzah ball soup, brisket). I can’t wait to go back home and share all of these new foods with my family and friends.

Recently my mum came over from Australia to visit me for a week. She took me to New Orleans in Louisiana. We had an awesome time visiting all of the museums and historical sights, discovering cute little cafes in the french quarter, and listening to the local jazz music. A mix of influences from Europe, the Caribbean and Africa, make the city’s culture so unique. Once again, I tried lots of new food, like seafood gumbo (a thick, spicy stew filled with all sorts of fish), the famous New Orleans beignets, and bakes oysters.

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On the last day in the city, we went on a paddlewheel steamboat tour of the Mississippi where we learnt about all of the history behind the famous river. It was really nice seeing my mum for the week, and being able to share with her my experiences so far.

This year I’m also lucky to have had the opportunity to try lots of new subjects. American government, art history, video production, fashion drawing and black & white photography, are some of the new classes I’ve taken. My school has an awesome fine arts department that offers a large range of courses. Fashion drawing, a class I took in Trimester 2, was really cool. One of our projects was to draw a timeline of outfits inspired by fashion throughout the eras. The timelines turned out so well, that my teacher decided to get them hung in the admissions building!

fashion drawing timeline

Black and White photography was another class I really liked. We learnt all about how to use cameras as they did in the early 20th century. When developing the photos, you couldn’t expose the film to light (otherwise the photo would be ruined), so we had to do a lot of our work in the dark! I always had photography in period 1, which was a nice start to the day (I could properly wake up considering we were in the dark most of the time haha).

black and white photography comp photoOne of my photographs actually made it into a high school competition in Fort-Worth. The photograph was made up of 12 small photographs, which joined to create a full picture of a power line. I ended up getting a “Landscape Honorable Mention Award”!

According to my countdown app, I currently have 95 days left in the U.S. It’s sad to think about, but I know that there’s many more memories to be made in the next few months. Hopefully I won’t run out of new things to try…

Until next time,

Lizzy Cox

Half year through

When I applied to ASSIST, I never imagined how great this experience would be. It seems like yesterday when we were saying goodbye to everything back home and first got here, but it has been 5 months! I don’t really know how it ended up being Christmas. It’s not like I hadn’t seen any Christmas lights, listened to any Christmas songs or dressed up with Christmas sweaters a month before Christmas but I guess time goes by very fast.

My family came to visit me and that made me the happiest person ever! I have to admit I had missed my family more than anything and it’s hard being so far away… They arrived the last day of school before break and got to meet my school, teachers and friends. I think they liked everything as much as I do. Only my sister speaks fluent English but my friends tried to throw out some Spanish words. One of my friends told my parents “happy birthday” instead of “merry Christmas” but they knew what she meant so that’s good. On the 23rd, they came to dinner with my host family and it was one of the funniest things you could ever see. Bradlie (my host) got to practice her Spanish. It was nice that they got to see where I am and how great everyone is treating me. We later went to New York, which was so much fun, but they left on the 29th… That same day I came back to Philly and I was very glad I was going that same day to Lake Placid with my host family, because I knew how homesick I would have been that day.ImageImage

The funny part of all is that after packing again in an hour, one of the tires broke after 15 minutes! I guess that having 7 people, two dogs and all our suitcases was too much for the wheel. Lake Placid was fun! We went skiing one day and another day, we went snowmobiling. I had never been that cold! It was freezing! In New Year’s Eve in Spain we have the tradition of eating (chocking) 12 grapes the last 12 seconds of the year. Each grape means luck in every month and after you eat them all you make a wish. We all ate the 12 grapes (or 14 because we add 2 more in some cups) or unless we tried to! After a couple of days there, we went to a cabin in Hemlock Pond where we had to pull a 4-wheeler out of the pond. All the family came for a last Christmas reunion and it was nice to meet the other side of my host family.ImageImage

Now Christmas break is over and we are back at school. On Monday we started a program called JTerm in which each student selects a course to take during that period of time. There are courses about history, literature, photography, music, art… I am in “Escape from the Western Diet”. It is about food and how to eat healthy. We are going to cook next week and I am pretty excited about that! Tomorrow we are going to Chipotle to see how bad fast food is and then to a farm to see how quality matters. Today was 0F/-16C and I seriously froze so I hope it will be warmer tomorrow. Ohh tomorrow is HUUUUUMP day! Happy early hump day! hahahah I have a great obsession with this…

In three weeks I am moving to my next host family! This seemed so far away… This year has been great so far and I cannot wait to see what’s coming next (hopefully some warmer weather and some Spanish homemade food!).

Happy New Year!

Lucía

Thanksgiving in Texas

In the last couple of days I’ve been asked multiple times whether I celebrate Thanksgiving in Australia. And the answer is, no. We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Australia…but gosh I wish we did!

After doing some research on the holiday, I learnt that Thanksgiving became a North American (and Canadian) tradition when the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast in 1621. It’s known to be a time of families and friends coming together for a special meal- usually involving turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and of course, pumpkin pie!

My host family, the Shosids, have a tradition of taking part in the annual “Turkey Trot”, a fun run that starts in the Dallas City Hall Plaza. This year, I joined their family and ran in the 3 mile race! Although it was literally a few degrees above freezing point, I ran the whole race (I think it was because I knew I’d be warmer running than walking)! It was great fun.

After the Turkey Trot, we all went home and prepared for the big Thanksgiving dinner that was to be held at the Shosid’s house. Relatives from both sides of the family started to arrive around 3, to watch the Cowboys football game. There was about 35 people at their house! It was great meeting all of the family. Everyone was very welcoming and friendly to me, which I appreciated.

When the Cowboys game was over (they won, hooray!), we all got our plates and headed over to the food tables. We were also celebrating Hanukkah (since the Shosids are jewish), meaning that not only was there Thanksgiving food, but there was Jewish food! I can’t remember the last time I ate so much… If I can remember correctly, my plate consisted of: turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, corn bread, normal bread, corn casserole, ham, kale salad, brussels sprouts and cous cous. IT WAS DELICIOUS! Except I felt incredibly sick after eating it all…

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Then it was time for dessert- my weakness. Somehow I still had room in my stomach for a bit of chocolate cream pie, pecan pie and pumpkin pie. I seriously don’t know how I hadn’t tried any of those before I came to the States!

As much as Thanksgiving is about the food, I realised that it is also a time of being thankful for everything I have. I’d like to thank my amazing host family for so generously looking after me these past few months. You’ve given me a wonderful gift, that I will always be thankful for. In addition, I’d like to thank my family in Australia- for their constant support and love. I feel so blessed to have such amazing people in my lives. And finally, thank you ASSIST! Without ASSIST, I wouldn’t be here today, having the absolute experience of a lifetime! Especially on this holiday, I feel incredibly grateful for all that this scholarship has done for me- broadening my knowledge on American culture and allowing me to try all of the amazing food!

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Happy Thanksgiving to everyone,

Lizzy Cox

A bit about Richmond, VA

Hello y’all!

 

I guess it’s time for me to write something here and I’m not exactly proud of the fact that now, after eight weeks in the United States of America, I finally made time for the blog, but hey, better late than never, right?

 

So, let me tell you a bit about my adventure here.

 

I am truly happy to tell you that my host-family is being very nice to me – it is always funny when I have to explain how am I getting along with them – it just happened! It’s unbelievable – they opened up their hearts for another daughter/ sister and I am glad to say that I love the time spent with them. I have the cutest little brother and sister possible so it is a great fun.

 

Also, school started five weeks ago and, after the initial shock the first two of them, now I am getting comfortable with the environment. It is so much different from what I’m used to – the people, the teaching methods, the schedule (I had a hard time comprehending how the rotation of A Weeks, B Weeks and C Weeks works, but now all is good!), the very way you feel on campus. I am so thankful for being placed in that particular place – it really is the perfect match for me. Tomorrow, in fact, I am going on a fieldtrip to a performance in the Richmond Ballet and I’m super excited!

 

In addition to my first short post (from now on I’ll try to be consistent, although I can’t promise anything – time just flies faster here!), I would say that with the beginning of the fall and the absence of the humidity here, in Virginia (Richmond at least 😀 ), I feel way better and I am ready to see what this great adventure will offer me, without gasping for air every time I go out!

 

Greetings from me, I hope everyone is enjoying their year in the States!

 

Maria

Life at Greenhill School

It’s already been five weeks at my new day school, Greenhill School in Texas, and boy has that time flown by!

There are so many differences between this school and my school in Australia (Brisbane Girls Grammar School). For example, instead of going to an all girls school where I have to wear a uniform every day, I go to a co-ed school where I can wear my own clothes. Also, my old school was right in the city, whereas Greenhill is in a town called Addison and the campus is very spread out. It actually used to be a peacock farm so all over the campus, you’ll see peacocks wandering around (they’re looked after by the school now)!

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The first two weeks of school were really quite overwhelming. I found myself getting lost all of the time and feeling confused in class. It was also hard remembering all of the names of the kids in my grade and in my field hockey team. Field hockey practice is from 4-6pm every day and twice a week we have lifting (weights training)! I definitely wasn’t used to this kind of intensity!

But each day, I started to find myself feeling more comfortable in class and finding my way around the school. I got used to practising for field hockey every afternoon and was slowly learning everyone’s names. Being new can be hard but it is also kind of exciting too! I’ve been told by so many people that I have the coolest accent (I still can’t hear it haha). I’m also experiencing a bunch of new subjects: black and white photography, beginning video production, art history, precalculus, tragedy through the ages and honors physics.

I’ve already been to two school football games! The first game I went to was an amazing experience because it was the first time in two years that Greenhill had won! It was even more exciting because the game went into overtime and everyone was standing up in the bleachers cheering on the Hornets (our school mascot). When they scored the winning touch down, we all ran onto the field and screamed and cried 😀

I’ve made lots of great friends. Last weekend, I spent Saturday with one of my new friends, Sera, and we went and saw the Red Bull Flugtag in Las Colinas.  It was pretty much an event organized by Red Bull where competitors attempted to fly home-made, human-powered flying machines. The flying machines were launched off a pier about 30 feet high into the lake. It was awesome!

The weekend before last, I met up with the other ASSIST scholars from Dallas at the Greenhill college fair. Afterwards, we all walked to a nearby taco place and had an early dinner together. It was great to catch up with them all and to share our experiences so far.

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In these last five weeks I’ve gone through a lot of emotions but I’m glad to say that the majority of those are positive! As much as I miss my family and friends back in Brisbane, I’m really enjoying my time with my host family and new friends. And the exciting thing is, that this is only the beginning of my year in the States.

Until next time,

Lizzy