Every year, the Belfast Rotary Club — like thousands of other Rotary clubs around the world — sponsors local high school students for year-long exchanges in other countries. This year, the Belfast Rotary group sent four students abroad, three to European countries and one to South America.

These students left home in the summer of 2011 and will be returning in June and July of this year. Each month, the students provide updates on their experiences; these updates are from early January, and were shared with VillageSoup by the Belfast Rotary Club.

This has been a super busy month for me, but amazing! At the beginning of the month my (host) parents took me to Crakow, Poland for a weekend. It was absolutely beautiful and so much fun. I got to go to the huge Christmas markets that are full of traditional Eastern European foods and sweets and handmade crafts.

They have a traditional Christmas soup that is mostly sauerkraut and has sausages and other types of meat and spices, which is very good and they sell in the markets. We got to walk around the city and see the amazing architecture. Crakow is said to be the part of Eastern Europe most influenced by the Renaissance, so the architecture is absolutely incredible.

The next weekend I went with Rotary to Bratislava which was also beautiful. They had a huge Christmas market and ice skating right in the middle of it. Christmas was extremely different and I believe that everything we did was very traditional, but I can’t be sure so I will just tell you all what I did.

Instead of celebrating Christmas on the 25th we celebrated it on the 24th, Christmas Eve. We had Christmas dinner, then we opened presents and then watched a Christmas movie. Christmas dinner was also very different. First we had the sauerkraut soup that I already mentioned, then we had grilled fish with baked potatoes and potato salad, which was between our potato salad and German potato salad. It was very good. Then we had Christmas cookies like we would in America.

New Year’s Eve was extremely similar to what it is at home. At the center of town we have a square and a watch tower. At midnight about a thousand people gathered below the watchtower and counted down the seconds on the clock on the tower; at midnight, they lit fireworks from the tower that were amazing but which unfortunately rained debris over everyone watching.

Fireworks are also legal here to people over 18, so people were randomly lighting them in the middle of the crowd of people. I’m still amazed that no one got hurt, but it was very fun and a very new experience.

Eve Norberg is a junior at Belfast Area High School, and is living in Slovakia for the year.