The fifth month has passed since I left what I’d been calling home, and with it came the end of the first school semester. For others, it might just mean we’re getting closer to summer, but I find it rather scary than exciting. It means half of my exchange year is behind me, and I only have a few months left here. Time flies by when you’re having fun. Or at least busy. And I must say, I have been relatively occupied, mostly in wrestling.
Unlike the previous month, when it was all about practicing and preparing for the competitive season to start, December’s calendar was filled with wrestling meets. The first one I attended, right on the first day of the month, was not the one I competed in, though. It was just a dual against Ravenna’s boys, no girls involved. However, we had a girls’ tournament incoming, and I still wasn’t entirely sure how wrestling worked, so I came along to watch. For the first time, I saw it in action, and to be honest, I got a little scared. It looked stressful. Intriguing. Thrilling. Entertaining. Yet hard to watch from time to time. It left me terrified but still excited to undergo it all myself the week after.
My first actual wrestling meet/tournament went better than I expected. Not so much from the point of view of sports results as my inner feeling about it. I had three matches, and I lost all of them, getting pinned within the first two minutes. However, I went home feeling terrific. My goal for the day was not to die, which I accomplished. Over and above that, I very much enjoyed the day. I fell in love with the sport, the people who do it, the ones that come to watch it, the way they all support each other, even across rival teams, and the overall atmosphere of the event. And that was just the beginning. At my second meet, I earned my first two points for a takedown, and at the third one, I won one of my matches. I got my first pin ever. For once, I wasn’t the one with their back on the mat, and it felt amazing. I wished to win at least one match throughout the season, and somehow I already reached that goal at my third meet. There was still a lot more to come, while I already saw progress. I could see myself getting better at what I loved, and I couldn’t have been prouder of myself.
Christmas break came in the way, so our team had to stop practicing for a while, but we got right back to it after the holidays. We had our last tournament of 2022 on the second to last day of the year, and although I was the only DT girl competing that day (due to my wrestling partner’s pre-fractured wrist), it didn’t bring me bad luck. Not a bit! I pinned two of the four girls I went against and placed 5th overall. And when I wasn’t currently wrestling, I was making friends with the girls from other schools since there was almost a party in the locker room during the breaks. We were opponents on the mat, but after our matches, we talked and had fun together as if we had known each other forever. Quite a paradox, I became closest with the girls who had previously beaten me. 😀
Wrestling meets/practices have been the best part of my days and have brought me tremendous joy, but not everything is like a fairytale. It is a challenging sport, demanding energy, effort, and time. It’s harsh both on one’s physical and mental health. Meaning it probably was no help to my prior disturbed state of mind. I hate to admit it, but they were right when they said the time around the holidays is probably the hardest part of an exchange year. It was for me (at least so far). Everything was going well as the end of the first semester was getting closer; I enjoyed going to school even when others were stressing out about upcoming finals. I’d go to basketball games or out with friends in the afternoons when I didn’t have to wrestle. I even experienced a snow day – school got canceled due to the winter weather, and I could spend all day at home watching movies, baking, or playing Minecraft with my friends. The next day we went back and went on as if nothing had happened. Christmas concert took place at the school, and although we thought we weren’t prepared very well, not knowing what songs we were singing, let alone the music itself, we did moderately well. Honestly, I’d say we sounded nearly magical. 😀 Later in choir class, we had the chance to audition for this year’s spring musical, and even I overcame my fears of performing in front of people and sang a solo at the auditions. The week of finals came, and everyone was stressing out, but I cared more about the basketball game we were to play against one of my fellow Czech exchange students and his school’s team. I got to see an “old” friend, speak and hear my native language again, and cheer for a player on the opposing team, which made me immensely happy. 🙂 Finals I passed stressless and without any problems. I can’t wait to return to my Czech school, where I’d have to worry about studying for finals extensively more than at an American high school. 😀
But now, back to what I mentioned earlier. Winter break. And my take on seasonal depression. For the first time since I’ve been here, I experienced homesickness. I associate Christmas time with my family, who I am used to spending time with during this season. However, none of the people I’ve known my entire life were here with me this year, and I allegedly don’t feel like a part of my host family enough to not recognize the difference. No matter how much I tried to be comfortable where I was and who I was with, I felt alone. Some days I spent with my host family or friends here, others in my room talking to my people on the other side of the world. But nothing truly helped me feel less homesick. Not until the actual Christmas arrived, and I got busy, and therefore distracted, again.
For the day before Christmas Eve, my host family had tickets to a Grinch musical, so we took a trip to Lincoln to watch it, and then I spent the rest of the day baking Czech Christmas sweets with my host sister. Our kitchen magic continued the next morning when we made potato salad, another traditional thing that helped bring home to me. And it didn’t end as a disaster. My host parents tasted it and liked it so much that we made another brew to have enough. I virtually attended my family’s Christmas dinner, then went to a Christmas Eve church service followed by supper with my host family, looking at Christmas lights, board games, and an all-time favorite American Christmas movie.
On the morning of Christmas Day, we woke up to stockings filled by Santa, and once everyone got up, we jointly unwrapped the presents under the tree. After we all shared our gratitude for the gifts we received (including the ones from my parents, who sent them across the ocean), we went to my host mom’s mother’s house for a family gathering. It was similar to the last time, on Thanksgiving, except only with fewer people. And when we got done eating, I convinced everyone to stand in front of the tree and say: “Veselé Vánoce!” while I recorded it for my family back home to wish them merry Christmas. Once other relatives had left, we repeated what we had done in the morning – opened presents. But this time, we knew what to expect from most of them since each of us had formerly gone shopping with grandma to pick out what we wanted. 😀
Soon, we took down Christmas decorations and, with that, ended the holiday season. However, New Year’s Eve was coming up, and I couldn’t miss the opportunity to make plans with some friends. The day came, and we had a reservation in a restaurant for the night. But the girls part of the group, being girls, got ready about four hours earlier, and since we had nothing better to do, we met up before we originally planned to, got coffee, and took a trip to Target in Kearney. We drove to Kearney and back just in time to eat in the fancy-ish restaurant with the rest of our friends. I finally got to encounter American server tipping, something I’m not used to from back home. I needed help from my friends on paying, but then we all laughed at it together. We said our see-you-next-years and went our separate ways again. The two of us, who previously bought new purses at Target, waited for the ball to drop together, playing card games with the friend’s family. We might have been too focused on the game to notice, or perhaps there were no fireworks at midnight. It somehow didn’t feel like New Year, and it will definitely take me a little while to acknowledge that I’m flying home not next but this year already. 🙂