Oi! My name is Laura Hundersmarck and I am going to be spending my senior year in BRAZIL!! I currently attend Buchholz High School in Gainesville, FL and live with my family. I moved to Florida 6 years ago from Pennsylvania where my best friend in the entire world still resides. I love my family and they are a big part of my life. I live with my parents and brothers at the moment. My younger brothers are named Justin and Ryan, they are 14 and 12. I also have an amazing older sister named Julie who is 18 and is currently spending her own exchange year in Braunschweig, Germany. We also have the cutest golden retriever ever named Ava.
At my school, I am on the diving team and have done 2 years of cheerleading, but I also spent 3 years on a competitive cheerleading team (outside of school). I am also in the National Honor Society and German club and my favorite class in school is photography. My favorite things to do include traveling, hanging out with my friends, watching all kinds of movies, sleeping, wakeboarding, snowboarding (which I recently did in the SWISS ALPS!!) and reading all the Harry Potter books over and over. I love little kids and used to babysit a lot. I've also just been accepted to be a counselor-in-training at Camp Crystal Lake which is going to be awesome since I had so much fun when I was a camper.
I am so excited about spending the next year of my life in Brazil. I have just heard from my host sister, Anna, and brother, Felipe. It felt really good to get their emails because now my trip seems so real, like it's already started! I found out that I will be going to a town called Tres Marias in the state of Minas Gerais. I'm really excited about my year and I cant wait to learn some Portuguese!
August 22 Journal
So I've been in Brazil for a exactly a month and I have already fallen in love. When I arrived in Belo Horizonte on July 22nd, I was overwhelmed and utterly exhausted. As soon as I went down the escalator to get my luggage, I saw my host brother and cousin, waving frantically and holding up a sign that said "Welcome to Brasil, Laura!" I couldn’t remember how to say anything, but “Oi!” so all I did was smile like crazy while I was introduced to my entire family, one of my cousins, and my host sister's boyfriend. They were all speaking frantic Portuguese, giving me hugs and kisses and taking pictures with me. It was like my whole trip was leading up to this meeting and I couldn’t even understand what they were saying to me, let alone tell them how glad I was to meet them! It was in those first 2 minutes that I had felt scared, excited, nervous, anxious, and slightly relieved all rolled into one messy pile. It certainly was an experience I will never forget.
It turns out that I was placed with one of the warmest and loving families in Brazil. I have two twin sisters named Anna and Izza and two host brothers named Felipe and João. My host sisters are so nice and have really been there for me when I needed them most, which occasionally meant, speaking a little English. They both go to the college in Belo Horizonte, which is the capital of my state and about 3 hours away from my city, Três Marias. My host brothers are also so nice to me and always help me with my Portuguese. They joke around a lot and have a way of making me feel at home. Although I have four siblings, I don’t live with any of them. Felipe left on Sunday for the United States to begin his own exchange year in Andover, Massachusetts and João studies at a school in Belo Horizonte. My host parents, Silva and Beato, are extremely nice and loving. Neither of them speaks a word of English except for the phrase, “the book is on the table” (which I later found out were song lyrics) and each of them can recite the days of the week. My host dad owns a hotel and a shoe store that are very close to my house, and my host mom owns a perfume store two stores down from the hotel. It’s very convenient because I love perfume and shoes! Since I’ve been here, they have always taken the time to talk with me and ask me questions about my life at home and things I want to do while I am here. Now that I speak a little Portuguese, we are finally building a relationship.
During my first month in Brazil, I experienced so much. The first week I arrived it was winter vacation so the atmosphere was relaxed, but we did tons of fun things! I went to see my first waterfall with my host siblings and a couple friends and it was amazing! The water was freezing of course, but it so much fun. It was in this valley where we had to climb up a bunch of rocks to get to it, but once we got there it had a big pool to swim in and a place to jump off into the water. I also went to my first Brazilian night club called Taberna do Lago. It is right next to the huge lake that my city is known for and has a gorgeous view during the day time. We also had a going away party/barbecue for Felipe the first week I got there. It was so cool! There was tons of food. My host parents brought huge pots filled with rice and beans and there was tons of meat and chicken. The place also had these big coolers that had about 10 crates of beer in them. So many people showed up, friends, family and neighbors!! By the end of the night the place had turned into a night club and everyone was dancing with the stereo blasting and people just drinking glass after glass of beer. It was so different from anything I’ve ever been to.
I love the food here, too. Every meal is pretty much the same, but I like it all so that doesn’t matter. The big meal of the day is lunch. Everyday after school ends I go to my host dad’s hotel to eat lunch with my parents. We always eat rice, beans, some kind of meat, different types of sauces for the rice, salad and home made juice. It’s all so good! I experienced culture shock first hand, when I got to school my first day. It’s almost as if it’s optional to listen to what the teachers are saying. Everyone talks while the teachers are talking and does what ever they want. The things I’ve noticed so far include: talking on the phone, listening to ipods, sleeping, walking out of the classroom to talk to people in other classes or just having conversations all while a lecture is going on. Just yesterday, during Portuguese class, I talked with my friend Raissa during the whole period about what we did over the weekend. Later that day, during Math and Physics, a bunch of people put their desks in a circle and we played a game for like an hour and a half instead of doing work. Sometimes I can’t believe I’m actually in school. It’s so different from my high school back home. Here, I go to a really small private school, so things are bound to be different. There is only one class per grade so everyone is friends with everyone. I walk to school every morning with my friends Bruna and Carlos. It starts at seven (ughh) in the morning and goes until twelve fifteen, but halfway through the day, we have a break where we can eat, talk and walk around. It’s so great because each day is different and always seems to be better than the day before. For the first time in my life, I like going to school.
I honestly feel like I haven’t even skimmed the surface in this entry, considering everything that has happened to me. I really can’t believe I’ve been here for a month! I’ve loved every second of it!! Até mais..
Beijos e Abraços,
October 25 Journal
So it’s been a little over three months since I got here and I don’t know how in the world it’s gone by. I’m finally getting settled into my city and life here, which consequently means the “newness” of everything has worn off. But of course, Brazil still has constant surprises for me…
I never saw myself living in such a small city, but it has its benefits. In a city of 30,000 inhabitants and the center of town being a five minute walk from my house, it’s inevitable that I have some luxuries. Every time I go into O Centro I run into at least five people I know on the way. In the beginning this was a hazard because I never remembered how I knew the person who was waving at me, but always felt obligated to say something to them when they passed. I would just awkwardly wave feeling flustered to where I couldn’t manage a single word, but now I always can get out a “está joia?” (how are you?) and a smile. It’s really nice to see people I know everyday, even if I still remember some of their names!
I’ve also had some small town surprises. Just yesterday, I was with my friend Bruna while she was buying hair clips and I watched her take four clips out of a pack of ten and then put the half-used pack back on the shelf. When I asked her what she was doing, she looked at me funny and said that she only wanted four, not the whole pack. Now to me, this was a wonder because if you want only four hair clips in a pack of ten in the US, you always have to pay for the whole pack! In Bruna’s words, it was a small town and everyone does it. Another convenient surprise was when I went to the post office and the lady at the counter recognized me as the American, because her daughter goes to my school, and was extra patient when she helped me send my first package.
School is getting harder now that the end of the year is coming (I finish December 15th) and everyone is more focused and studious during lessons. Classes are less out of control and more mentally draining for me than ever. As much Portuguese as I’ve learned already I still can only manage to understand surprisingly little in school. This is mostly dependent on which class it is. I have completely given up on Biology and my Brazilian History class, but I understand a lot in my Chemistry and Math classes. Coincidently, it usually depends on how fast the teacher talks rather than which class! But surprisingly enough I got 5 points out of 8 on my Physics test, when I’ve never taken a Physics class before in my life. The test schedules are very different here too. I take 3 tests on Thursday nights for 3 or 4 consecutive Thursdays along with occasional 8 am Saturday tests. I hardly ever take tests in school unless they are for electives.
The food here is amazing. It explains the weight I’ve gained since I arrived here, and it provides such temptation now that I’m trying to make myself eat less! It doesn’t help that my host mom is always bringing me plates of food when I least expect it and encouraging me to eat more at mealtimes saying gorda bonita which means “being fat is beautiful.” There’s a fine line between declining food because you’re truly not hungry and not wanting to seem rude. I also don’t want to seem closed minded about eating habits in Brazilian culture, but it still amazes me how Brazilians have the natural ability to eat a huge meal and then fill the plates with seconds. The truth is Brazilians love food. I think I’m well on my way to becoming one. My one true weakness is pão de queijo also known as “cheese bread.” My state, Minas Gerais, is known for it. Everyone seems to know how to make it. I’m planning on taking the recipe back to the US and introducing it to anyone and everyone I meet. I’ve also learned to love Brigadeira which is made at almost every movie night or social gathering where there’s a stove. It is made with condensed milk (which everyone loves here) and chocolate. It’s really addicting once you take one spoonful.
Portuguese is finally coming to me. I am definitely not fluent, but I can understand a lot more than I ever thought I would after three months. I understand almost everything in everyday conversation. Understanding is a lot easier than speaking, though. I’m constantly confused with verb endings and the correspondence of feminine/masculine and singular/plural words. I end up getting out half a sentence, than switching the verb tense three or four times before I get it right, then forgetting the rest of the sentence. It’s definitely frustrating, but when I say something at perfectly normal speed and don’t make a mistake its amazing. I can also talk easily when I meet new people and tell them the basics of my name, why I am here and how long I’ve been here. I’ve said it so many times it's routine. And I have finally gotten to a point where I can learn a new word because someone describes it to me in other words that I already know in Portuguese and not having to revert to saying it in English. Things that I took for granted in the US, I now find to be extra rewarding. It’s the greatest feeling in the world now when I can make my friends laugh by saying something funny or laugh when I (finally!) understand their jokes. It’s also seems strange to even mention but when I got here I was scared to answer the phone but now, I can finally do it with no fear of what the person will say or how fast they’ll say it. The little things I’ve achieved are some of the some of the most rewarding.
For the end of the year senior trip we went to Porto Seguro, which is a beach city in the state of Bahia. The beach was absolutely gorgeous! We spent a total of 10 days there, but only 8 days at the beach. We rode in a bus up there for 24 hours, so you can imagine the craziness that lasted all night! When we finally got there we spent the day at the beach and I got really sun burnt. It was a horrible way to start off the week! There was this outdoor bar/restaurant with a stage and constant music called Axé Moi, where it seemed everyone would hang out during the day. During the second night we were there, we went to this night club called Transylvania which was outside and had a “Halloween theme” so there was people with extravagant make up around corners to scare us until we got to different rooms of the club. It was really cool and so different from any place I’ve been. During the third and fourth night, we went to these two shows called Chiclete com Banana and Ivete Sangalo. They’re really famous here and everyone loves them! Even though I didn’t know the words to most of the music, it was still fun to dance with everyone else! On the fifth day we went to this water park on the island of Arraial D’Ajuda which was so beautiful and overlooked the ocean. Although it rained in the afternoon, there was still this awesome show where everyone was in the wave pool while the band played music. It was so much fun! On the last day, we went to this outdoor club on the same island and it started to pour rain by 1:30am. Unlike some of the smarter people, I didn’t make an effort to get out of the rain (because in my state we hardly ever get rain, so now I love it), so after a half an hour I was freezing and went back to the bus to sleep until we finally got home at 5:30am! Everyone woke up with sore throats and terrible coughs. I couldn’t even swallow because my tonsils where so huge. It wasn’t exactly the best way to end the trip, and in the days after we got back I was still sleep-deprived and coughing terribly. But when I think about it the trip was totally worth it! It just makes me a zillion times more excited for when I go on the month long Dream Trip of Brazil’s most gorgeous beaches and cities with the other exchange students in January.
After school, I have a lot of free time so I’m still in the process of finding things to do to occupy my time. I joined a gym and am actually going regularly for the first time in my life. It’s so nice because they offer this aerobics class which I fell in love with. Every Tuesday, I return to school after eating lunch with my host family in the hotel (the one my dad owns) to help out in the English classes for a couple hours. It’s nice because they never speak English so I’m always talking in Portuguese with the kids or helping them by saying Portuguese words in English, if I know them!
I’m lucky there is always the weekends that are filled with things to do: movie nights with brigadeira and coke, walking to get ice cream at the sorverteria, and of course, festas!
January 5 Journal
Feliz Natal e um Bom Ano Novo!
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
I know I’m a little late. I guess it’s a mark of how much fun I’m having that I’ve completely forgotten to write my Rotary Journals for the last two months, or maybe it’s the fact that I can’t seem to explain everything that’s happened to me and do it justice at the same time.
I guess I’ll start with November. School ended on the 15th which meant a considerable amount of fun! On the last day, almost every boy in my class brought eggs, coffee (in powder form), markers and paint for a war that I didn’t know would take place. It started after our last exam and everyone who was smart, left the school as fast as possible. After that, it was on! We spent half an hour throwing eggs, drenching people and giving unwanted hugs to make each other as dirty as possible. After trying to run and avoid it all, I gave in and ended up with egg in my hair, paint on my uniform and (new!) jeans and had the time of my life! We all ended up walking home together laughing, talking pictures and getting countless stares from the people in the streets of my city. It was an experience I’ll never forget! The same day all the girls in my class (after taking 30 minute showers, of course) went to my friend Paola’s house for a sleepover! It was so nice to get to bond with them all. We ate a ridiculous amount of food, danced to blasting music and didn’t go to sleep until 5 in the morning!
Also in November, I went to Brasília with my host parents and fell in love! It is in the state of Goiás which is very different from my state (Minas Gerais). For starters, it’s much greener and full of trees. I didn’t realize how dry my state was until this trip. It was not until after this trip, which was my second time outside of my state (besides my trip to Porto Seguro in Bahia, which was at the beach) that I realized how much diversity Brazil has to offer. The ride there was gorgeous and when we got to the city I was literally blown away. The city reminded me so much of the US, but even better because I was still in Brazil! There were 4 lane highways, skyscrapers, and bright lights, along with lots of green grass and blooming trees and the best part: it was cold! Rain in Brazil always makes the weather colder and living in one of the driest states, rain is always an unexpected pleasure! In Brasília, it rains a lot which makes it a gorgeous green. I only stayed for the weekend because my host dad was going christening my host cousin, but I learned a lot about the city. My host dad told me that it is a cidade planejada which means “planned city.” There have been three capitals of Brazil so far, Salvador, Rio de Janeiro and as of 1963, Brasília. It is considered a planned city because it was built from the ground up and was carefully set up. There are sections for neighborhoods, banks, and stores. Everything is separated and there are hardly any intersections because of ramps and the huge main highway that runs through the city. During my stay there, I was going to go to the christening, but instead my host dad paid for me and my other host cousin to go to a concert of a famous band called Asa de Aguía. It was such a surprise, because I found out that I was going about 10 minutes before I left!
The end of November and December meant summer break. Of course I took advantage of it and went out with my friends as much as possible, mostly because a lot of my friends are leaving to do their senior years in other cities to get ready for the vestibular (kind of like the SATs). My best friend, Bruna is one of them, so I tried to make the most of my last months with her. Also summer break meant that everyone who studies in other cities came home for the holidays. I spent Christmas with a huge family full of aunts, uncles and cousins on both sides of the family. On Christmas Eve, we all got dressed up and ate a huge dinner (which crazily enough started at like 11pm). We also did a type of “Secret Santa” which took forever, since we had about 40 people. On Christmas day, it was very laid back. My host sisters gave me a shirt and a pair of sandals and my host mom gave me my favorite perfume from her store. We had a big lunch and then I called my family and friends in Florida and spent the rest of the day relaxing.
I had the best New Years of my entire life here in Brazil. My host sister and I started getting ready at about 10:45pm and didn’t leave the house until 11:30pm. I mean I knew Brazilians are known to be fashionably late, but I thought we were cutting it really close. I mean it's New Years; the important part is at midnight! We ended up getting settled at our table at 11:50 and after being there for 10 minutes, I passed the New Year without really believing that it was 2008. We went to this place called the Mar Doce, which is a hotel/country club type place. The band was really lively and the dance floor was on top of the pool! I swear I haven’t danced or laughed as much as I did that night in probably my whole time in Brazil. It was definitely a highlight of my exchange so far! By 5am I started to get tired and ended up talking and sleeping for a little on a pool chair for an hour with my friend Léo. I didn’t get home until like 8 in the morning and went straight to sleep and didn’t really wake up until like 5 at night.
Although I had an amazing New Years and summer break so far, nothing will compare to the month I’m about to spend. I’m going on a trip of Brazil’s most famous beaches known as the Northeast Dream Trip for a month! If anyone read Alex’s January Journal from last year, like I did (with envy!) you’ll know what an amazing trip is in store for me! I’ll be in Rio de Janeiro this time tomorrow! Then Arraial d’Ajuda, Porto Seguro, Itacaré, Lençóis, Salvador, Recife, Porto de Galinhas, Natal, Jericoacoara, Fortaleza, and Brasíla! I know this trip is going to be a highlight of my exchange and I keep thanking my lucky stars for this opportunity! I’m thrilled to have the chance to experience the natural wonders of Brazil and spend it with exchange students from all over the world. Traveling and getting to know different parts of the world is my one true passion.
Então, até a prómixa!
Beijos e Abraços, Laura
March 4 Journal
My Northeast trip was like a dream. It was my first time spending almost every day at the beach in the month of January. Can you even imagine!? I spent 27 days in the company of 82 exchange students from all over the world in the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. After going to ten different cities up the coast of Brazil for a month, I was amazed at how unique each city really was; they were all a completely new experience. From Rio de Janeiro, probably the most touristy city in the whole country, to the small town of Jericoacoara (where we had to take special jeeps to reach it), it never ceased to amaze me the unbridled beauty this country has to offer. If you don’t believe me, I have about a thousand pictures to prove you otherwise!
The prettiest beach was in a little town called Itacaré. We had to hike through the woods to get to it, and when we came out, it was paradise. It wasn’t just a strip of beach with large crowds and busy restaurants like all the others, but a little palm tree covered cove which made me feel like we were completely cut off from the rest of the world just for the day.
My favorite city on the trip was Salvador in the state of Bahia. The city is huge, but in the day-long city tour I had already felt like I got to know it so well. The churches and winding street shops were full of native Brazilian trinkets, along with postcards and T-shirts for a tourist like me! Of course it was blazing hot the whole trip and everyone savored the long air-conditioned bus rides as opposed to the sweaty walking tours, but in the end it was worth it to get a few shades darker. : )
It was funny that after meeting so many different people from 19 countries around the globe, my best friend turned out to be an American guy from Wisconsin! But of course, there were tons of exchange students who I will never forget and who made the trip amazing for me. I can’t even count the thousands of good moments we had together. After it all, I can now say that I went to the top of the largest statue of Jesus Christ in the world, rafting in Itacaré, sliding down natural water slides in Lençois, took a boat to deserted island in Salvador, rode around on the sand dunes of Jericoacoara in buggies, went snorkeling in Recife, and took five native Brazilian dance classes; things that will be stuck in my memory for years after my exchange.
February has passed pretty fast. I came back with a week and a half until the new year of school started and basically spent as much time as possible with my friends going to barbecues, parties and going to the reservoir in my city. When I went back to school, it was a big shock. Five of my closest friends moved away to do their senior year in a bigger city (where the education is better) and start getting ready for the Vestibular (big entrance test for college). The first week my class kept getting new people everyday and now it’s even bigger than last year. Everyone new is really nice and I have a new group of friends in my class. At the end of that week we had a huge barbecue with our junior and senior classes. It was at a place called Cemig, which is like a country club center that overlooks the reservoir. There was loud music, food, and tons of people!
Two weekends ago, I had my second Rotary weekend. It was so nice because I got to see a handful of my friends from the Northeast trip. We all went to a city called Pirapora which is about 2 hours away from my city and has the same river (São Francisco River) that produces the reservoir in my city. We took a boat trip down the river Sunday morning and it felt like we were in the Amazon. There were trees on both sides and no view of the city or other boats. It began to rain torrentially in the middle of it and everyone got soaked and was running around in the rain. : ) On the way home, I stayed at one of my friends’ house for a night. She is from Finland and I got to meet her Finnish mother and sister who were visiting, as well as her Brazilian parents.
Last weekend was the 45th birthday of my city, Três Marias, and we had four days of concerts/shows in the city square. Everyone claimed the bands were not that good and not worth going, but in the end everyone turned up which of course made it so much fun. I got to see a lot of my people who I hadn’t seen in a while, including my next door neighbor and best friend who left to study in Belo Horizonte this year.
Above all, I’m psyched because my family is coming to visit me on the 9th of March! We are going to spend two days in two historical cities in my state (Minas Gerais), 3 days in my Três Marias, and one week in Rio de Janeiro! It’s going to be amazing being with my family again and having them get to know my Brazilian family and my way of life for the past 7 months. : )
Até o próximo mês…
Beijos e Abraços,