Alexis Vigil
2006-07 Outbound to Brazil

Hometown: Jacksonville, FL
School: Paxon School for Advanced Studies
Sponsor: West Jacksonville Rotary Club
Host: Barretos Rotary Club
District 4480, Brazil

September 2 Journal
 I'm exhausted.
I am spending my exchange year in the city of Barretos, São Paulo. Barretos is most known for hosting one of (if not the) biggest rodeo festivals in the world. This year that festival occurred August 17-27...during the first month of my exchange. My host parents got together with my host Rotary counselor here and bought me a pass to go everyday to this festival. The first day, I was excited to go. Some friends of my host sister traveled to Barretos and stayed with us for a weekend just to go to the festival. About 3 PM, I was wondering why we weren't leaving. About 7 PM, I figured that we were waiting to go the next day. At 10 PM my host sister told me to get ready. Confused, I put on some jeans, tennis shoes and a shirt. When I came out of my room, I noticed that all the girls were wearing 'open' shirts, and my host sister's friend said "Aren't you going to put on make-up?" "I don't have any." So, she pulled out her make-up bag and put eye-liner on me. I could've swore that she was going to poke me in the eye. Then, we went outside, my host sister and her friends pulled a beer out of the cooler, and then we packed five people into a two-seater car. We drove to the arena, and then we entered and climbed over a white fence to get inside the arena which had a dirt floor. The arena was packed with people. Then there was a techno concert that lasted until 2 AM. The whole time, I was wondering "Where's the rodeo?" During this concert, there were a lot of drunk guys that would try to grab random girls to kiss. I think I screamed about 10 times. After the concert, I thought "YES!! We can go home now!!" But I was wrong. We left the arena and walked around, passing a lot of loud speakers blasting techno and Black Eyed Peas. People would stop and just dance in the streets. Finally, at 4 AM, we started walking toward the car. Talk about "culture shock". But after the first day, when we would go, I met up with my friends from school there who don't drink, dress promiscuously, or kiss drunk guys, so I felt more comfortable. And if any guy looked suspicious, my friends would grab my hands, form a line, and travel to another area in the arena. So I felt safe with them. I also stopped screaming whenever some guy would grab my arm. If you start slapping at them they leave you alone (haha). So with my friends, I started to have fun, but I have to say that I never got used to staying out until 4 AM. So I took every opportunity to skip a couple days of the festival. =) Oh, also, I found out that the rodeo stuff happens during the day, and at night it's just big party. Nevertheless, I'm glad that's all over!!

Other than the festival, I'm adapting pretty well - Yes Rob, hugs and kisses on the cheek and all, haha. I love school. Everyone is so nice!! The principal gave me a choice of what grade I wanted to go to, and I picked what's equivalent to the Junior year. Because if I go the grade where everyone is my age, at the end of the school year in December, I'll have to start the same senior year all over again, but with different people. So I chose the grade where I can stay with my friends for the longest time. The food is different here, but I'm getting used to it... and I still think that macaroni on pizza is pretty weird. And if anyone asks me what's the best thing about Brasil, I always say 'the juice', haha! I don't know what it is about it, but orange juice tastes so much better here! And I'm not having language difficulties... which I know is a miracle from God... and apparently I blend in here because everybody thinks I'm Brasilian until they hear my accent. So to the future exchange students: STUDY THE LANGUAGE BEFORE YOU LEAVE! It's so much easier! Well, talk to y'all later!

Bjoos

December 2 Journal
 It's December already!!
Last week marked my four months here in Brazil. I feel so adapted that it seems like I've been here longer and I don't want to go home so soon seven months from now. But at the same time, when I think about my family at home, the rest of my time here seems like an eternity. It's like I have two lives, two families, two groups of friends and everything. But I think it's worth it. This is definitely one of the best experiences I could ever have.

Summer break just began! I just left summer break back in July back at home, and now I have summer break until February! And then there will be a two week vacation in February for Carnaval...I love Brazil. =) During this summer break I'll be traveling with an English teacher that I help once a week named Miriam to the city of São Paulo. It'll be lots of fun. and plus, that's where all the souvenirs are! The only souvenirs here in Barretos are from Festa do Peão, the big Rodeo Festival.

After four months now, my Portuguese has improved A LOT. And at the same time, my English has gotten a lot worse. When I help Miriam with her English class, sometimes the students correct me! Also, I think I've lost my fear of saying something wrong. I learned that it's okay to mess up every once in a while. Plus, it's usually funny when you do. For example, one day I tried to say that my brother has a beard and is really hairy, which means to say that he is "peludo". On accident, I said that he's "pelado", which means butt-naked. haha!! My friends still joke about it today.

I LOVE my new host family. The family consists of a mother and a 19-year-old daughter. They are so nice and it's here where I feel most at home. We go to church every Sunday and on Saturday there is a Teen Service, where there are three teams. Of course, I entered into my host sister's team. Last week, each team had to present a play. I played a New York policewoman who only spoke English, to make it funny. And my host sister was the villain, and I had to arrest her and take her to prison. It was a lot of fun!. And WE WON!!! Our play was the best! Afterwards, we all played games in the churchyard until 1 a.m. and after that, everybody went to the lakes to play some more. My host sister and I ended up coming home at 4 a.m. I couldn't believe it. I swear ... only Brazilians would go to church at 8 and come home at 4 a.m. haha!

Well, I guess I'll close out this journal. I'm having a great time, making lots of good friends, and losing a bit of my timidness every day. And I don't think that crazy questions about America will ever end...last week someone asked, "Are there cows in the United States?" haha!

Beijos!

February 17 Journal
 It's CARNAVAL!! Which means...a week off of school!!! haha. Last night began Carnaval, the most well-known holiday in Brasil. On TV all you see is the colorful parades in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. The decorations are extraordinary and the dancers from the samba schools wear beautiful, bright-colored costumes. After all the commercials and advertisements about Carnaval, I already learned how to samba.
Last month, I had my first birthday outside of the USA. And it was my first big party too! Because I wasn't able to go on the big Northeast trip with Rotary, my host family put together a huge birthday party for me. There were 30 kilos of STEAK! (steak is way more cheaper here by the way) When I had first made the list of who I wanted to invite, I couldn't believe that I had over 80 friends here after only 5 months in the country. I ended up only inviting 50 people, and every time that I took a name off the original list, it was like a stab in the heart. The majority of the people there were from my host family's church that I fell in love with. When people started to arrive, I felt so nervous that I began to sweat like a pig. But after a while I got the hang of it. I helped serve soda to everyone and then I had asked the pastor to pray over the food. Extremely happy that I had asked, he asked everyone to stand up and hold hands and we prayed. Then everybody ate steak, rice, beans, cassava, farofa (spiced breadcrumbs), tomato sauce and bread. When it came time for the cake, everybody sang Parabéns for me and I gave the first slice to my host mom. After that, I couldn't handle wearing dressy clothes for so long so I changed clothes and we all played games. The party was from noon til 6:30 PM. It was great!

Beijos

March 18 Journal
 This week at school was Integração 2007. Every day there were at least two events that all the grades would compete in. Each grade chose a theme and by coincidence my class chose the United States.
I participated in the Checkers, Chess, Soccer, Exhibit, and Typical Dance competitions. In checkers, I won 1 out of 2 games, leaving our team in 3rd place. In chess, I won both games, leading our team to 1st place! In soccer, I only played one game and it was because there weren't enough girls to play, and we lost (haha).

For the exhibit of the United States, I displayed everything that I had from home, even peanut butter and my Rotary pins, and we dressed my friend Fernanda up as the Statue of Liberty holding a basketball and a Coca-Cola bottle. My friends Vanessa, Marcella and Talita dressed up as cheerleaders, and Vinicius as a basketball player. And me and Larissa dressed up as breakdancers. After all this, nobody understands why we ended up in 3rd place for the exhibit, but at least it was fun!

And finally, I participated in the Typical Dance competition. The typical dance consisted of first my friend Alini dancing to Frank Sinatra and afterwards me, Larissa, Isabella, Keyla, Silvia, and Tali breakdancing to hip-hop music. I have NEVER breakdanced in my life, so we asked a breakdance teacher to pass us a choreography. After two weeks of practicing, we were ready for the competition Thursday night. The day of the competition, I woke up nervous 4:30 in the morning (an hour and a half too early) , I wasn't able to eat lunch or dinner (I was only able to force myself to eat a cereal bar one hour before the show) and I began to shake and sweat right before the competition.

After hours of anxiety it was time...the song "New York" ended, and our song began. We ran out on the stage, I lifted my hand up to God for guidance and after that I couldn't hear anything nor see anything... (no I didn't faint haha) I just danced the best that I could and the song ended...the crowd went wild. When I returned to our team, everybody congratulated me and all I heard was that I was the best dancer, the judges were only looking at me, and that everybody was screaming my name. I couldn't believe it. I surprised everyone...better yet, I surprised myself! While we were waiting on the results of the competition, they played music and everybody went to the dance floor. And then suddenly, all my friends started circling around me, telling me to dance some more! Finally, the results...we tied for 1st place!!!

About 11:30 I caught a ride with Alini and went home. When I went to bed, all I said was THANK YOU JESUS! because me helping to win a competition by breakdancing had to be a miracle. Friday morning I arrived at school, and everybody turned. I walked up to my group of friends and everybody applauded and shouted! Now everybody knows me as the American that can dance...I never thought that this would happen on my exchange year in Brazil.

Beijos!

June 4 Journal
 Well, I have 11 days left.
Last Sunday my mom, stepdad and brother came out to visit me and they just left an hour ago to go back home. When they arrived here, I didn't cry like I thought I would...but I think it's because I knew that them coming meant that I going home soon afterwards. Plus, I know I'll always have my family and friends at home waiting for me, but how do I know I'll be able to come back to Brasil? And how soon?

So...11 days...what do I do in 11 days...

When I got back to my host family's house today, I went ahead and packed one suitcase of stuff that I won't need until I get back home. After that I cried. Man, being an exchange student is really cool, but at the end, it REALLY SUCKS!!! =) Now I'll have to say good-bye to everyone that helped me grow this year and made me into a better person. Some people I actually consider family now. One of my host cousins asked me to be a bridesmaid in her wedding 2 years from now! So for sure, I'll get a job when I get back to Florida, even if it's just to save up for plane tickets.

So, right now I'm full of a lot of mixed feelings...I want to go home to see the rest of my family and my boyfriend that I had left back there one year ago. But at the same time, I want to stay because I feel like I'm already at home. But it was very nice to see my Florida family here in Brasil. They liked it a lot and I got to show them my life as an exchange student: my host families, Rotary club, art classes, churches, and all the friends that I had made here.

But now I'm sad because my exchange year is coming to an end. But I know for sure that even though my "stay" in Brasil is over, that doesn't mean that the friendships and experiences are over as well. Now I have extended family and friends outside my home country.

Thank you, Rotary, for this opportunity that I'll never forget. And I thank God that I made it through and that there will be tears when I leave because that means that I put my mark in other people's lives.

Beijos