When Riko Fitzgerald made the big decision to move in with complete strangers in a foreign country she was not expecting to find herself in lockdown for the majority of the year.
Riko left on a Rotary Youth Exchange on January 17, 2020 to spend 12 months learning all about the culture and people of Slovakia.
Everything started off great.
She travelled to various sites around Bratislava and beyond, to places like Vienna and Prague before beginning high school, learning the language and even took up traditional dancing.
According to Riko, when COVID hit Slovakia went into its own version of lockdown for period of time.
"In the beginning it was okay. The cases were only around 100 a day," Riko said.
"We went into lockdown on March 13 and were out again by the middle of May."
During that time her host siblings returned from international travels where they too had been on their own youth exchange.
First, her host brother returned from South African followed a fortnight later by her host sister from Belgium.
Each arrival required a two week home quarantine which meant the entire family was locked in together for four weeks.
Riko had the option to come home at that stage and cut her adventure short.
But, at the time it was safer to remain in Slovakia compared to Australia in regard to the COVID situation, and as she had made her mind up to delay her HSC year in Gloucester, she didn't want to pick it back up halfway through.
Her dad was happy for her to stay, so she did.
Then the school holidays hit and for June, July and August, people were allowed to travel around freely with very little restrictions, except for wearing masks.
Her host family started travelling and Riko was once again seeing new sights and enjoying new experiences.
By September, the daily number of cases jumped into the 1000s.
After only being back in the classroom for one month, it was back into lockdown and online school.
"I was only physically in school for two months out of the whole year," Riko said.
In early December, one of her host brothers contracted COVID and transmitted it to the other brother.
The whole house found themselves in quarantine again with daily rituals of avoiding each other and disinfecting.
"Dad wanted me to come home," Riko said.
But instead, she moved to the host aunt's house where she spent five days in quarantine before a COVID test cleared her and she was free to move around again.
By the end of December, her host family was clear of the virus and she returned to celebrate Christmas with them.
On January 9 Riko boarded her original return flight home, meeting up with fellow Australian exchange students along the way.
"There were a lot more people still on exchange than I expected," she said.
She was able to catch up with some of the students she'd met on the way over and they all swapped COVID stories, each having a little bit of a different experience.
When Riko arrived in Sydney on January 11, she went straight into hotel quarantine for the mandatory two weeks.
"It was easy. I'd had so much practice," she said
"It was only two weeks and I was prepared for it. In Slovakia I didn't know when it was going to be over."
Overall for Riko, it was still an amazing experience and she happily advocates for other young people to give youth exchange a go.
She has built up a bit more confidence and knows that she can spend long periods of time by herself.