Destination: Salvador, Brazil
Sponsor Club: Mandarin Rotary Club
School: Bartram Trail High School
July 14, 2002
Ah well, I've been here, in Lauro de Freitas about 2 weeks now, so I'm just writing up a little report on how things have been have been going... Great, in fact. School is really, really, really tough w/the material and the language, but fortunately I live w/a chemical engineer and a pediatrician, both proficient enough in English to help me understand Metallic links and quadratic formulas... My Portuguese is actually coming along well, I think. I started taking tutoring classes last Monday, and it's four times a week, an hour and half apiece, for a month, and then, I'll gradually cut down the glasses as time goes by...
My family is FANTASTIC. Both my host parents are really wonderful, loving people. Marci helps me out with everything, and makes sure I feel at home...She bought me peanut spread and strawberry jam the other day! My host brothers are hilarious, so much fun. They tried to teach me futbol, and the youngest one, Caio, is a little nuts (He got into his sister's heels and purse, let me do his hair, so we could take pics, so funny). My oldest sister, Vica, has taken me out to meet a lot of her friends, and has shown me around Villas do Atlantico, as well as Salvador. I've met a lot of my extended host family as well, little baby cousins and grandmothers and aunts and uncles. It's nice to have people want you to call them aunt and uncle...
As far as school goes, socially, it's good. The kids are a little younger than me, but it's not really a problem. There are some girls my age in my class, and they're very helpful with the language and social customs and what not. I'm in Interact here, and we meet once a week, for an hour or so, at a pizza place on Sunday evening...
Some awesome moments so far...My host mom woke me up last week, and even though I was half-conscious, when she called my name, I answered 'sim' (yes)... It was really cool. And today I asked Vica what time it was, in Portuguese, and it seemed to slip out really fluidly... When someone opens a door or hands me something, I can think obrigada. I guess it sounds weird that it's coming so soon... But I've really been estudando muito (studying a lot)... so maybe it's paying off. The pronunciation is impossible, though.
And the hardest aspect of the exchange, so far, is not being able to do my own laundry anymore, make my own bed, clean my own bathroom, or do my own dishes. I was cut such a raw deal! Actually, it's really weird to have 'maids' do stuff like that for you, but, they're more like a part of the family here. I haven't relaxed enough to where I'll let them put my laundry away for me, yet.
I tried to dance forro, a typical Brazilian couple dance, on Friday. It's impossible! I'm so not used to getting so up close and personal with people here, whether it's in greetings, in conversation, in public, or on the dance floor. But... you always feel VERY welcome.
Okay well... It's sort of late by my American standards... All I ever want to do is sleep... I'll talk to you again soon...
I guess this'll be my journal entry for August, time has flown...sort of. Well, a lot has happened since I last wrote y'all...I've been here just over 7 weeks now. My Portuguese had reached a bit of a plateau around the fourth week, but the more I talked conversationally after that, the more it improved. I'm still taking a tutoring class twice a week now (instead of four times, like the first month).
Well...For all you hopefuls out there that dream of being an exchange student, I'll tell ya one thing : No matter how much you want to travel, see the world, be independent, spend a year abroad, etc, etc, etc, YOU WILL BE HOMESICK. Whether it's just a mild case or an all-out nervous breakdown, homesickness is pretty much inescapable for any exchange student. I'm still dealing with mine right now, but it's a lot better since I've come to terms with the fact that I pretty much have less than a year left here, and that's far too short a time to be completely miserable for no reason other than self-pity.
When I first arrived, I experience the normal sensory overload, and got really upset from all the stress of leaving home and being tired and not knowing how to conjugate verbs correctly. That was over in a few days, and I thought I was home free. Two weeks went by where I was like ´YES! I LOVE BRAZIL! WHERE'S JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA? HA, LIKE I'M GOING BACK THERE...´ And then I got sick, with a flu-ish sort of ailment that had me coughing up a storm for more than two weeks. It was raining a lot and I couldn't really carry on a conversation with anyone at school so it was a depressing, dreary, lonely two and half weeks. I was worried about school, about the language, about making friends, about how different I appeared and acted from the rest of my host family, about how school was starting back home and how I'd miss everything, my junior year with my friends, SATs, football games, homecoming, prom, French club...Then I talked to my host mom and my mom, and everything began to work itself out.
Now I'm a little more conversationally apt , and in school, I actually talk. Unfortunately, the material is still impossible to the language and level of difficulty, but I guess it'll just have to come with time. I have some friends, not like a huge group or anything, but people I talk with in school and what not. For the most part, I hang out with my host sisters on the weekends and see the other exchange students about twice a week.
I try to keep busy with studying and writing in my journal, and soon I'm going to join the swim team at my school...All you can do is try to stay busy, avoiding food, television and the internet. Despite all of this though, the homesickness has been pretty awful, and this is coming from someone who thought she wouldn't experience any...
On a lighter, my host sister, Taís Ribeiro arrived August 4th, from her exchange year in Jacksonville (The two of us met before we knew we'd be living together). I turned 16 on the 5th, so when she arrived, there was a nice big party, lots of people, lots of Brasilian stuff like dancing and clapping and eating Feijoada (A typical Brasilian dish made of beans, meats, and rice)...a really good time. Last weekend I went to a MASSIVE party with a trio eletrico, a huge truck with a band that plays on it. The truck goes around in circles and everyone dances around, following it. Soooo much fun...I went to a Samba show as well (Samba's the international dance of Brasil). I go to the beach pretty often but mostly I'm here at home, until I trust myself enough to take a bus into the city.
Something I think I should touch on as well is the social situation in Brasil, and how incredibly different it is from the U.S. Before I came here, I knew I'd be exposed to a different brand of life, see things I hadn't before, perhaps a country with a different economic situation. Well, yes...things are very different here. Living here, everyday, you are visually exposed to poverty that you may not be able to see on such a grand scale, at home. Favelas, large, poor neighborhoods with poorly constructed housing, stretch on for miles. The conditions are very bad, and most people do without many of the modern luxuries we all take for granted, like electricity, or running water. Often, you see small children begging in traffic, trying to wash windows for some money or trying to sell rotted fruit to tourists. For the most part, it's really, really upsetting...but, I'm glad that I'm able to see, just to know that the majority of the world lives like this...I mean...that's part of the whole exchange, to see how other people in this great, wide world live...And you come to realize that the life you have in the U.S. is incredibly blessed, and even the life you live with your host family for that matter.
Talk to y'all soon enough!
Abraços e Beijos,
Well I still really miss Jacksonville and the family and the friends and all, when I think about them.
The language is now really starting to come together. I know I still have a lot to learn, but I can read, write, speak and understand Portuguese - and this makes a world of difference. People stop seeing you as a 1-dimensional exchange student and as more of, well, a person...duh.
I have really, really good friends, or I'd like to consider them so. The other exchange students who live in my neighborhood are just so great, we all get along like we've known each other forever, and even when I see the kids in Salvador it's like we're best friends or cousins or something.
School is still incredibly hard, but at least now I understand what I'm studying, what I'm supposed to be doing in class, etc, etc.
Day to day, I hang out with friends mostly. I'm working out at a gym with my host dad, going to the beach about 3 times a week, doing some interact stuff, etc, etc. I still go to some concert and parties, and to the shopping mega mall at least once a week.
OH MY LORD!!! About two weeks ago I took a tour of two islands right off the coast of the city I live about 15 minutes from, Salvador. Sophie, from Sweden, Amy, from California, and Alessandra from Switzerland went too (along with Alessandra's family)...We toured the islands on a Schooner, this old wooden boat, but it was just, so amazing. The islands look like exactly what one thinks of when Paradise is called to mind...green mountains just sort of randomly placed in PERFECT turquoise water...The mountains curve inward with white sand, gray rocks, REAL COCONUT TREES (I still can't get over it)...Everything is amazing, so tropical, so naturally beautiful and majestic. The shoreline is littered with colorful fishing boats, painted buoys, people swimming, venders selling beaded jewelry, and there are bars right in the sand.
On one particular island we visited, there was a cliff with an old, old, old abandoned church atop. From the cliff, you could see a perfect 360-degree view of the shoreline and surrounding islands...So I'm there, sitting on the cliff, seeing the sun, and the shore, and the trees and the water. Knowing I'm in Brazil, exactly where I want to be, with amazing friends and amazing people, and more complete beauty than I could have ever dreamed imaginable. Any doubts you have about staying, about leaving your life behind - everything negative, scary and daunting is just washed away. You're overwhelmed by how light and free you feel as you careen through the water on a speed boat, or how surprised you are when you look in the mirror and realize that the girl staring back is about 10 pounds heavier, 10 times more tan, wearing earrings, and using absolutely no make-up whatsoever. When you go running and meet up with a little chirping monkey on a fence, or when you're slurping the milk out of a chilled coconut on the beach with your friends. There are so many little instances I can tell y'all about to exemplify how happy I am here. When I talk to my host mom about everything and anything and realize that she really does care about me quite a bit...Or when I think about my mom at home and miss her more than anything in the world and think about happy I'll be to see her when I get home.
I don't know. Just being able to write a page and half in my diary, totally in Portuguese, that's an incredible feeling.
With the bad days, the mood swings, the inevitable homesickness, there are the incredibly highs that makes all the bad stuff worth the pain and confusion.
After awhile you realize that you voluntarily chose to do this exchange, and that there is a specific reason why you're here. Or there. Whatever. The point is, I'm living a life I never could have in Jacksonville, I'm speaking a language that most people will never even hear, and I have never felt more free, enabled, or blessed in my entire life.
Okay...a quick bit of reality for y'all. From the same girl who said she'd never be homesick, I also said I'd never gain the standard exchange student 15. The 15 pounds, ya know? Okay, maybe I haven't gained 15 pounds, but I'd say around a good 5 to 8. Luckily, my clothes still fit and all, but my face is definitely fuller and I could balance a tray and a pitcher of water on my butt if I really wanted to. It was a little depressing at first, but now I really don't care. I'm only here for a year, and I'm not going to be able to eat Brazilian beans and rice and milk pudding back home, so what is a couple of pounds anyway? I joined a gym just to keep this sort of balanced, and I am starting the school swim team this week for added physical activity, other than dancing Pagode and what not (Pagode is a really popular from of dance here...Samba is another word for it too)...
Gosh, well, I could tell you guys all about the beautiful historical districts in the city, or the GORGEOUS Brazilian boys (ahem, Rotary Rules, look but don't date), or about how incredibly awesome my host family is...but I'm getting so sleepy! I wake up at like, 6 every morning for school, and sometimes we have tests on Saturdays, so sleep is like a necessity around here.
My first Rotary trip is coming up on October 12th, so I'll write y'all 'bout it later!!!
Abraços e Beijos,
Well, it's October...Actually it's the end of October. On November 2nd, I'll have exactly 4 months here. That's just so insane for me to think about! I mean, it makes sense now, because I feel pretty settled in, very comfortable with my life here, with my family, and finally with the language. But 4 months...it goes so fast! To think, already 1/3 of my exchange is over! I don't even feel like I've gotten started yet, you know? Ah well, the first 3 months, I've been told are the hardest, the longest, the ones you really can't measure the success of your exchange by. When I say success, I mean, making friends, doing well in school, communicating on a semi-sufficient level, feeling at home in a completely strange place. The first 3 months, I think, are basically the exchange student's orientation for the rest of his/her year.
Now that I'm just about done with my 4th month (3 months and 22 days to be exact), I'm starting to realize changes within myself that I was told would eventually happen. Take for instance, the other day at school: We were having some sort of technological science fair about Brazil, and one group was putting on a theatrical presentation, of some sort. A lot of girls were dressed up in camouflage gear, with army boots and such. At one point in time, one of the girls in the production took off her camo jacket to reveal a fake bomb strapped to her torso. It was just part of the production right? No big deal. At first, I didn't think anything of it, I just laughed with everyone else. But something was off about it to me. So I was thinking, and I realized, that in American schools this would never fly. The funny thing about this realization is that it took me almost half a day to realize. But when I first arrived in school here, I was always so quick to point out what was different about the schools here, and why certain things would never happen in my high school back home. It's cool though, Now I can gauge how I'm changing and relaxing and becoming more of a Brazilian-ized girl (I'm not going to say Brazilian, cause I'll never be Brazilian, but I think after this year I'll be pretty darn close to it). Same thing with what I consider beautiful...In the United States, a woman's ideal body is usually tall, very thin, with little fat around the bottom and thighs, and a larger bustline. Here, though, a beautiful body is one that is medium in height, with a large bottom, larger thighs, defined hips, and a very small bustline. At first, I just thought that it was very...not ugly, but not pretty at all. Now I see a girl with this ideal body type and all the other exchange student girls and I are like "Ohhh We're SOOOOOO Jealous! Look at that big perfect butt!!" Hahaha...What else? Ohhhh... People here tend to dress up for everything, the girls with their matching bags, platforms, belts, huge earrings...At first, I rebelled and just wore comfy athletic pants and sneakers the entire time. Now...Oh man it's bad! I bought a couple of little handbags and all these huge shoes, and earrings out the wazoo. It's crazy...I never would have dressed like this at home.
So I'm starting to really love my family so much. I mean, I always "loved" them, like you love a new friend or something, but now, I mean...I can't see myself with any other family at all! I cried for the first time, in front of my host mom a couple of weeks ago, after having talked to my best friend in Jax. I was really upset about a few things, really stressed, and I just started to cry when she asked me what was wrong, but she was so great about it. She knew that I needed a mom, or at least some sort of maternal affection, and she was totally there for me the entire time. I could just cry, I didn't have to explain myself or feel silly or that I had to justify being so sad, my host mom just understood. Period. There has been no better moment in my exchange since then, or before that. My sisters and brothers and I have a lot of fun too...I'm more relaxed now, I know how they function, what they like, what they don't, how to sort of integrate myself into the family without totally throwing the dynamics off. My host Dad and I have a really good time too. He was an exchange student once too, so we talk a lot about my experience, how it parallels his, etc, etc.
The language is good. I can converse! With a lot of mistakes, of course, but still. I mean, I can talk in it, you know, without really any hesitation. I know I'm not fluent right now. I don't know if I'm thinking in it yet... I mean, when I talk to my family or my Brazilian friends, I certainly don't think in English... but what's it like to think in Portuguese? Am I doing it? I think I'll know when I am thinking in Portuguese, for sure. But for now, I'm content. And yes, I've had dreams in Portuguese, but the funny thing is, it was in the first two months of my exchange, and I didn't understand a thing!
School's okay, I mean...It gets better with each day, each test I take, each page I read in every textbook. You're constantly bettering yourself. That doesn't mean that you'll walk out of school with straight A's just because you tried. It takes work, and even then, it takes more work. I can't stress that enough. Sometimes it's tiring and stressing, and you just have to relax and take everything in stride.
I have friends now, Brazilian and Exchange students alike. I just got back from my first Rotary trip, to the South of Brazil...I did many outdoorsy things, like fish for Piranhas, snorkel in freshwater rivers and springs, raft over waterfalls, hike inside (BEAUTIFUL) caves, go horseback riding through rivers and over dried up swamps, go on safaris, etc, etc - but with 80 other exchange students!!! It was so great, the atmosphere, the talking, the laughing. I made so many friends over the course of just 8 days, and discovered this incredibly beautiful, pure, perfectly preserved part of Brazil. It sounds corny, like some sort of commercial logo for the Rotary Youth Exchange program, but it's true. I met people from all over the world, and had the time of my life with them. When you're with other exchange students, you already share this common bond, and it can just grow and become super-intense in a matter of days, because everybody talks so much about everything, you can tell your life story to somebody just have 5 minutes of knowing them. Ah man...it's been less than a week since I got back, and I already miss everyone from the trip. Haha, it was such a good time.
Still getting fat, but it's all cool. You're allowed to be a little butterball when you're an exchange student, you know? People try and feed you all the time, and there's just so much culture involved with meals that it's not worth dieting! Plus, all of us exchange students in my neighborhood are girls, and girls bond over chocolate, popcorn, potato chips, and the ice cream from the shop near my school. Most of my clothes still fit (not that they look good or anything), so I'm not in really any trouble yet.
One more thing ... Well, no, I'll just leave it at that. I'm loving my life here right now, I'm happy, I'm content. I just had to give it time, you know? I think I've loved it from the beginning, but now everything is really coming together.
Another update soon...
I can't believe that it's been a month since my last entry. I still feel like I just got home from my first Rotary trip, and now, in 2 days, I'm leaving for my second one! I'm going on a 3 1/2 week long tour of the Northern Coast of Brazil...It should be amazing, as all things in this country are tuning out to be.
I really don't feel like I have any new news since the last time I wrote...Let's see...Oh, I went to my family's beach front Island house twice in the last 3 weeks...That was pretty amazing and gorgeous and tropical.
The weather keeps getting hotter and more sticky-sweet every day, being as we're nearing summer here - isn't that weird? I went to the mega-mall the other day and saw this enormous Christmas Tree, complete with a very tan Santa Claus (Papai Noel) and all of his little prancing elves in mini-skirts. It hasn't really struck me yet that I'm nearing Christmas, or that Halloween has already passed, and that all you Americans are upon Thanksgiving.
Despite the changing seasons and upcoming holiday festivities, I'm surprisingly not really missing anything, except, the obvious, like best friends and Taco Bell. I mean, of course I miss my parents, but, we're in pretty close contact, so mostly, it's just like my parents exist in a little computer box and I can talk to them almost any time I want to. Although, of course, I refrain from overly frequent contact with people back home...It doesn't really do you any good to be in constant correspondence with those you love so dearly and miss so much...You just start romanticizing home and thinking about what little of a past or foundation you have in your host country. Like, my best friend called me about 2 weeks ago, and although I was TOTALLY psyched to talk to him, I knew the minute I heard his voice on the phone that I'd definitely need to hang up within 10-15 minutes, and say goodbye and remind myself of how far away he is. This year isn't about forgetting everything you've ever known and everyone you love, but it's learning and later taking this knowledge back to where you came from, even if it means temporary discomfort and what not.
Anyway...Today was my last day of school, so now I'm out for summer. Exciting stuff...I don't think I go back until February or early March, and that's including Carnival (which I'm totally stoked about).
Oh yeah, Brazil has a new president now too, Lula. Lula is pretty much loved by the Brazilian people at large, and they're really putting a lot of confidence in his ability to turn things around here, both economically and socially. It's a little strange to think that I'm in country which has just elected a President who is known for supporting some socialist principles, but also interesting at the same time, because I know that I'd never have this experience in America...I'm able to see a lot of social and economic instances that would never occur in the United States, and consequently, start to think about how our country (the U.S.) functions and interacts with the rest of the world. I have to say though, I don't think America receives the same news as the rest of the world. I'm seeing a lot of stuff about Iraq that's really disturbing to me now, and mostly because I think I'm not in the U.S. receiving a different spin. Okay, I won't endeavor to elaborate on my opinions about Foreign Policy now...
Anyway on a lighter note...ON DECEMBER 2nd IT'S 5 MONTHS THAT I'M HERE!!!!! I'm not going to say that I can't believe how quickly time passes, because it's too much of an Exchange Student Cliché, but...If I could say it without feeling like a cliché, I would. It definitely is starting to feel like I've been living here all my life or something, because everything is so natural and tangible now - I can relate to my surroundings and I have a very, very small piece of history here . I mean...I don't feel so Brazilian when people shout "Hey, are you German, Finnish, English or American????" or "GRIIIIIIIIINGA" (Gringa is Portuguese for foreigner, as I've been told)...
Ahem...I apologize if this entry has not been as eventful or insightful as the last couple, but this last month has pretty much been an easy stretch for me. I'm having such a good time with my friends and family, and I'm so relaxed in almost every aspect that sometimes I become a little unaware of how much my life has changed and is still changing. I don't know if I have changed so much as a person though...I can't really monitor that at all, but I guess I'll see in less than 7 1/2 months! (That's so sad!!!). I live each day like I'm never leaving this place. I know that one day I'll eventually jump on a plane back home but I still haven't grasped that concept completely...
Hmmm. One aspect I've been enjoying a lot lately is how my ability to make conversation has improved, and hence, my power in abolishing American stereotypes. Now I can tell people that not all Americans eat bacon and eggs for breakfast, and that Halloween is not a bigger holiday than Christmas. It's funny for the most part, but a little irritating when all you hear "I know you guys eat hamburgers all the time because I see it in every American movie I go to". I just have to keep cool and remember most Americans get their ideas about Brazil from the Discovery Channel documentaries on vanishing Amazonian tribes.
Okay guys, well, I gotta finish packing for the trip and get some sleep!
Let y’all know how it went next month!
Abraços e Beijos,
Okay, I'm a little late with my December entry, but there's a perfectly reasonable explanation - I've been traveling since November 25th! As I previously mentioned in my last journal entry, I was going on a Rotary Trip around the Northeast of Brazil, for a month. Well, the trip ended December 20th...It was INCREDIBLE...There isn't any one word fitting everything I felt and saw and experienced on this trip. I'm a little impatient to sort through and organize all the tiny yet monumental details, so I'll summarize :
The tour began on November 26th, where 60 exchange students from 22 different countries met up in one small mountain town, and over the following 3 1/2 weeks we visited 8 different major cities in Northeast Brazil, with some stops on the way : Lençois, Maceió, Fortaleza, Natal, Recife, Salvador (my city), Porto Seguro, Rio de Janeiro/Angra dos Reis. I saw some of the world's most beautiful cities and some of the most preciously preserved beaches in Brazil. I suppose the last stop on the trip was my favorite : RIO DE JANEIRO!!! Although Rio is not in the Northeast of Brazil, it was definitely a worthwhile stop...Rio is a city full of life, culture, and is visually spectacular. The city is a perfect marriage between majestic and modern architecture with natural, majestic beauty. Rolling Mountains line the city, dipping into the sapphire-blue and aquamarine-colored ocean. I stayed in a hotel on Copacabana beach and I could see the Christ Statue ("Cristo, O Redentor") from my hotel window. There in Rio I went to the Maracanã (the largest soccer stadium in the world), Pão de Açucar (Sugarloaf Mountain, from where you can see all of Rio), Cristo, O Redentor (The Christ Statue, Rio´s most famous symbol), The Sambodrome (the street where Carnaval takes place), Hard Rock Cafe, and the best Brazilian barbecue restaurant in ... the world.
But I suppose the best aspect of the trip were the friends I made. I knew a lot of people from the last Rotary trip to the Brazilian Pantannal, so when we all saw each other again, it was like a family reunion. But, sadly, after a month of being together, parting was even harder than any of us imagined. The worst was having to wave off the Australians and Malaysians, because their year is now drawing to a close. I guess that's being an exchange student - it's terrifying and painful sometimes, but I think it's the price you have to pay for those ecstatic moments of pure ecstasy.
So I arrived back in Salvador, safely, December 20th...On the 21st, my host sister, Taís Ribeiro (who just got back from her exchange year in Jacksonville in August) had her two host brothers from Jax arrive at our house to pass Christmas and New Years...Needless to say, I've been speaking quite a bit of English in the last few weeks and having some flashbacks from my first 3 or 4 weeks here. Christmas was kind of weird, not really Christmas to me at all - I sat on the beach, getting sunburned and eating crab with my family - but hey at least I was in a bikini and not freezing my butt off! Less than 6 days after arriving home from the tour, I set off on another trip with my Brazilian family, their American host brothers, and some friends for the mountain town of Lençois, a town with a wealth of natural wonders like waterfalls, mountains, caves, freshwater springs - not to mention that Jimmy Page has a house there! I spent New Years in Lençois, which was surprisingly better than I'd expected - definitely wild and overjoyed. People were dancing in the streets, spraying champagne every which way, fireworks were going off, and I sort of just stood there and reflected in the split second it took for 2003 to come...Everything was outwardly beautiful and crazy, and strangely, I felt a happy calm wash over me...January 2nd was my 6-month anniversary here in Brazil, which was incredibly hard for me to believe. 6 months - I survived, I made it, I'm happy...There is no greater feeling than knowing you are capable and resilient. There is nothing more beautiful than talking to my Brazilian host sisters in their native language, which opens up this door of intimacy and perspective - they are able to express more of themselves in Portuguese, who they truly are, what their life and their culture is. Looking back over the last six months is strange for me, like an out of body experience...So much has happened for me, and I stopped thinking about the constant change occurring in myself, growing with it. Now that I'm trying replay the first half of my year here, I'm seeing so many incredible things in myself that have been here much longer than I'd known. I'm not afraid of life anymore, I'm not afraid to ask for help, I'm not afraid to put myself on the line, I'm not afraid to get hurt. It's cool.
So I'm on summer break right now, which is still disorienting in itself, but hey, if I have to have 2 months off while all you Americans are freezing through school and work, so be it.
Well, I'm just about drained of current events, except that I'm going to the island house tomorrow and probably won't be back for 3 weeks...Tough life. Everyone should be an exchange student, hehe.
Feliz Ano Novo para Vocês!!!
Whoa, I didn’t even realize up until ten minutes ago that I’m already into the month of February and have exactly 7 months here in Salvador, so I need to post some notes about January. It's a little terrifying to know that things are slowly starting to close out here...I’m starting my last semester of school, everybody's asking me when I’m going home, my mom is on her way to visiting me (arriving Feb. 14), and I’m already making preparations for my last Rotary Trip of the year...Seeing all the newly-chosen candidates (by the way, congratulations guys) didn’t help. My two best friends have called me in the last week, asking me when I’m coming home exactly so they can start planning my welcome-back party (my date of arrival back in the U.S. will be a secret up until I set foot on the land of the free, home of the brave).
My host mom gave me a little planner/agenda-thing that I started filling up with appointments and birthdays, and after about 5 minutes of furious scribbling I realized that I'll only be using this planner for about 4 more months, here in Brazil. I mean...I still have A LOT of time left here, right? I know it’ll pass me by like a freight train...I’m totally succumbing to every exchange student cliché in the book...Yes, now I'll admit that "as soon as I’m accustomed to everything, as soon as I can take the language and culture in stride, I wake up and realize that a good majority of my time here has long since passed". I crossed the bi-lingual milestone of dreaming in Portuguese, and I was very much pleased with myself, being as it occurred two or three days after my 6-month anniversary. Now I actually laugh at jokes when told to me in Portuguese and sometimes even make jokes that hint a hidden sense of semi-Brazilian humor...Often, I have trouble remembering whether conversations during my first months here were held in Portuguese or English...both seem pretty natural to me. Granted, I often make errors in Portuguese but I also am constantly building upon the capacity to express myself, in Portuguese, as I would in English.
To look back and think about how much progress I’ve made is strange as well...Before arriving here, I never really thought that this point in my exchange would occur. I definitely had my doubts about Brazil after I arrived, in the immediate 8 weeks to be precise...Everything that I had been told by worried family members and classmates in school, stuff that I had automatically ignored and disregarded in order to float on Cloud 9 of pre-exchange year giddiness, was realized: "Oh, Brazil is soooo dangerous, it's a third-world country, they’re only about their parties there, Argentina’s dragging it down in their economic crisis, all Latin American countries are the same, you’d benefit much more by going to Europe..." . For awhile I let my immediately tangible surroundings scare the Bejesus out of me, until I got so upset, so frustrated, so acne-ridden (as a result of the frustration), that I was totally miserable and counting the days until I could come home. Eventually, miracles were worked and I made really awesome, amazing friends, and with time gained more confidence in the language. Then I learned that just like any other place, there are plenty of downsides and dangers and fears to have. After that point, that’s when you can start realizing the beauty and wonder in a city, or a beach or a forest or a country. Rotary trips help a lot too : ) . Now that I’ve arrived, at the magical mid-year transformation, I can totally rule these last couple of months here and make them my own. I know that I’m dead-set to have a complete-blast and come home with flying colors.
In other news, I’m officially home from my family’s island house, and like I said, school starts in less than a week. Carnival is at February’s end, so I have another 2 week vacation to look forward to! Carnival in Brazil, does it get any better?
Okay...in spite of all the great summer chill going on here, I just found out yesterday about the NASA accident with the 6 astronauts, who died over Florida. I got really emotional when I saw the first report on the news...I always remembered in Elementary School and even up until High School our teachers would take us out on the School Lawns to see the NASA lift-offs rocket through the sky. It just hit home for me, NASA's always been one of Florida's prides, something that I’ve been to numerous times, something that connects me to home, in a way. Then, to think about all the tragic details of that day 6 young, healthy people, their families waiting for their loved ones, the confusion, the questions, the fears all over again. No matter how many hours of CNN I watch, I still feel pretty isolated from what’s going on over there...I’m thinking a lot about everyone's reactions...How it is...As long as this is a website open to the public I just want to emphasize my condolences to the families that lost somebody on that Space Shuttle-Bus...
I guess this is why you have to live it right, be happy, be thankful, find joy in everything...Never dwell on self-pity or crappy circumstances, always find the wonder in things. Always.
Talk to y'all in a month!
E aí galera????
February was quite an eventful month for me...School started on the 10th, and I switched all my classes up so I was with completely different people, which was a nice change. My mom (American) arrived here in Salvador on Feb. 14 (Valentine's Day - which we don't have in Brazil, not the way it is in the U.S., so it was a really nice present). My mom and I had a complete blast for the 12 days that she was here...My host parents took us to the island house for a weekend, then my mom and I spent 4 days of sun and shopping in Rio de Janeiro, again. This time around, I didn't really follow the same tourist path I had in December; my mom's afraid of heights so we couldn't go see the Christ Statue or Sugarloaf Mountain (although we got plenty of long-distance pics). Again, our hotel stayed right on Copacabana Beach, and since we got there the week before Carnaval, Copacabana and Ipanema were alive with colorful decorations and people from all over the world. I swear, every time I walked into our hotel I never once heard a word of Portuguese - there were Germans, Polish, Japanese, Americans...like being on a Rotary trip or something. The highlight of my trip was being with my mother, and going to Pétropolis - a city high in the mountains of Rio, an 1 hour and 1/2 north of the city limits. Pétropolis is totally European - lots of German and French and Portuguese influence. The city itself held special interest to my mother and I, because it's where the Portuguese Emperor constructed his still-standing summer palace, and various other forms of architecture likened to it. I lived in Portugal with my family for 3 years when I was a little girl, so it was interesting to see the somewhat continuation of all the castles and courts I saw more than 8 years ago. After arriving back in Salvador, I spent another week or so showing my mom around my favorite parts of Salvador, explaining everything, showing off my Portuguese, annoyingly correcting hers...I had such a blast and had no idea that I'd missed my mom that much until I saw her in the airport.
I'm thrilled that she sort of saw things from the other end, where I go to school, where I sleep, meeting the people part of my life here. It was strange though, when I was with her, I didn't feel as changed as everyone told me I'd be. She didn't feel it either. It was a relief to know that I hadn't done a radical 180 on my old self in Jax, because I liked my life and who I was before I left for Brazil. But at the same time, I didn't feel so affected by my exchange experience, as much as I'd hoped. I've seen so many cities, and met so many beautiful people...I'm living differently than I was in Jax, and I speak Portuguese well. I wondered what more I was expecting, because I felt as though something was missing. I realized that I was looking forward to going home, but that had always seemed like a normal reaction to me. I am loving my life here, but when the time comes to depart, I know I'll be ready to do so, and be happy to be home. At one point I even wished I was going back with my mother. I would never, ever do that, of course, but even the desire to get on that plane with her frightened me. I started thinking about all I had done and hadn't done this year, so far, and got upset...I didn't know if I'd lived it to the fullest, or if I really exercised its full potential (the exchange). I still worry about certain things that have yet to be resolved at home, like my high school credits, or the prospect of not being able to graduate with my friends. I worry because 3 close friends, one my best friend since 5th grade will have moved away by the time I return home. I worry because my sister is alone in her first year of high school, more sensitive and impressionable than I seemed to myself at that age. I worry because I have friends graduating, in other schools, or leaving to get their GEDs. It's all scary yet necessary stuff that I should have anticipated from the start, but I'm still a teenage girl and I'm allowed to have an adolescent crisis every 6 months or so, right? As many “ups” there are in an exchange, there are like 3 times as many downs...You just learn to cope and adjust and realize your problems are way less threatening than the rest of the majority... I think of how much I'll bring back home with me, being fluent and what not, all these awesome memories I have with my best friends here, the love of a Brazilian mother and father...I know in the end it's totally worth it, but everyone has doubts.
Well, the day after my mother left, Carnaval started, so I pretty much dug myself out of that rut and danced non-stop, 3 days straight. I didn't believe what everyone told me about Carnaval, how packed Salvador can get, how many tourists come to party in the streets, how mad and reckless people get. Lucky for me I spent Carnaval with my Brazilian host sister and her friends (and of course some exchange students) so I got a thoroughly Brazilian experience. I bought admission to a Bloco, which is basically a huge truck with a very famous band that plays atop, and follows the designated course for Carnaval, with a designated group of people (who paid) roped in around the truck to dance their butts off. There were about 4,000 people in my Bloco, which is about the average for every Bloco...The route for the Blocos is a stretch of scenic highway along the bay of Salvador. Now image about 30 blocos a night, around 500-4,000 people in each bloco, and countless on the street. Not counting people watching in balconies set up along the streets, holding even more onlookers. It's insanely hot and sweaty and loud, a sensory overload. You dance constantly, until you can't continue or until the bloco ends. Brazilians really do love their Carnaval...everyone is so happy, so disconnected from responsibility and purpose – they just dance and smile and eat for a week straight. It's like Spring Break in Daytona with a bit more discretion or Mardi Gras in New Orleans without all the extravagant floats. I'm not feeling very descriptive at the moment, I hoped I'd be able to validate all these reactions I had and observations I made...Just night, a sea of people, music you can hear beating in your throat and stomach and temples, the salt of sweat on your lips...So many people – laughing, sneering, screaming, jumping, fighting, kissing...Every night was like exploring a jungle, like taking part in some sort of primal celebration of life – just the element of music and joy were required to participate. Quite an experience.
Maybe I should elaborate a little on school...I was pretty shocked to sit down the first day back in class, when the teacher opened his mouth and I understand every word that spewed from it. I was so used to sitting there, struggling with everything that the teachers said, trying to decipher verbs and articles and nouns and put the random words I did recognize into sentences. The half of the year had been so vague for me, I mean, I came to understand more and more with time, but I really struggled to retain information and test well. Now I've been able to answer the teachers’ questions – correctly! I can participate in discussion, little by little, with actual input. I love it so much. It was strange to actually witness my own drastic progress between the months of November, when school ended, and February, when it started again. I usually grow with change, I have no tool or instrument in gauging it...but this was sooo cool. I guess that's a horribly mundane adjective word to use but my English is a little basic right now...
Well, until next month...
Abraços e Beijos...
P.S. Something I have failed to do in every entry up until now is to thank Rotary for the opportunity they've given me and the promise that they've maintained this year by making this exchange completely possible and accessible to me. I'd like to thank Al and the District 6970 committee for selecting me and sending me to Brazil, and the my hosting district 4550 for accepting me and helping me throughout this year... You guys make it happen, and I totally want to thank everyone involved...
Okay...I got kind of lazy with the journal entries, so lazy that I'm writing my last one in the United States...Yes, unfortunately I've already come home...I got home on the 27th of May...Tuesday. It's hard. I mean...I love seeing everyone again, it's nice to be slightly less of an attraction.
Honestly, all I can think about now is how good I had it in Salvador, my best friends there, my amazing family...
Let me see, where did I leave off?
Oh, so I did the tour around the south of Brazil, it was amazing...I went with like 100 exchange students all together to Belo Horizonte, Foz de Iguazu (A series of waterfalls that pour into the meeting borders of Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil), Porto Alegre, Canela, Gramado, Beto Carrero World, Florianopolis, Curitiba and Sao Paulo. It was the best trip I did in Brazil, and as always, the friends were the best part. The south of Brazil is so different when compared with the Northeast where I lived : All the cities in the south are generally cleaner, well-organized, slightly more modern, with a lot of European colonization and influence - also, it's actually colder down there too in the autumn, which was the time period in which I visited. I was re-united with some of my best friends from the last couple of trips and I made some great new ones too, which was unfortunate because I was entering my last month of the exchange year.
So I got back from the trip on May 2nd, and really, the last month and just had some exchange student friends visit me, said goodbye to everything, took it all in one last time. My Portuguese was so fluent and comfortable, or at least I thought so. My life was my life there, there isn't any complete way to fully explain how I lived everyday and what I saw and felt and tasted to someone here. It was just this amazing, different life - no limits, living everyday with the prospect of something new and beautiful. As time wore on, I became more aware of the change that had occurred within me, how my happiness touched everything and how everything touched my happiness. There I felt as though I'd been complemented, well-rounded...I got to know myself so well. I can be direct and outgoing and unafraid to say what I want...I resolved not to waste my time and life on things that don't leave me sublimely happy and that don't better myself or my environment. That may sound selfish, but there's no other true way to live than in peace of mind and general happiness. I learned what friendship can be, how to love anything and everything and to accept love in all its various forms. I don't know if I "matured" or did a complete 180...The only thing I can say is that I found paradise in Brazil and realized that I can take that paradise with me anywhere...I have so many dear people in my life and so much to smile about. Happiness is something that only I can find and make within myself and take from life...
I am sad to have left Brazil, but in returning my heart is so full of love and good memories, so much confidence. I survived! Now I feel as though I can accomplish anything...Not that what I did was such a grand feat...I just became this...Positive person. I like myself now, I can honestly say that...I consider this to be a great accomplishment that I can never humble.
The goodbyes in the airport were hard...Mostly with the other exchange students, these two girls, Sofie from Sweden and Alessandra from Switzerland were like my sisters, I love them. I spent every waking moment I could with them...We became Brazilian together, through thick and thin, shared almost anything with each other...They really freed my inhibitions as a person and aided some badly-needed personal growth and perspective.
My host parents, sisters, brothers...They all cried. I couldn't take it...goodbyes seem so final. My host sisters said it was just until later...My host mother told me that I proved love doesn't exist in blood...She told me that she loves me. It was hard.
But I left with one more wonderful family, a house that is mine, and literally, a world full of best friends. I think that within all my sadness and difficulties re-adjusting, there is sheer proof of the success of my exchange. I feel as though I gained so many unexplainable little strengths and insights, that I was given some sort of second chance, a clean break to find out who I am. I haven't got it all figured out yet, but I'm sure Brazil pushed me 3/4 of the way there.
Now, for me, what life boils down to is just being happy for BEING. I mean, in Brazil, in Salvador you see these impoverished neighborhoods, people walking around half dressed, starving, begging for change, stealing to get by, never knowing what the sounds of a school classroom sound like or what air conditioning feels like or what a full meal tastes like...From these same people you can hear screams of laughter and jokes, see smiles, dancing in the streets, a celebration of life...We could all learn something or another...
This world is so grand and vast and beautiful and complex, even if we never leave our own backyards...There is always something to smile about and be thankful for.
To the Rotary Clubs of Mandarin and Lauro de Freitas, thank you for everything you've given me, and to the districts 6970 and 4550 of both northeast Florida and Bahia, thank you for choosing me, accepting me as an American and as a Brazilian in both your communities.
...It was the best year of my life...
And my one piece of advice to any exchange student:
YOU make your year, so take your time and run with it.
Beijinhos pra tudo mundo
VIVEM O MOMENTO GENTE!
E VIVA O BRASIL!
Exchange student to Salvador, Bahia, Brazil...