Lauren Keister
2008-09 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: Buchholz High School, Gainesville, Florida
Sponsor: Downtown Gainesville Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Curitiba Água Verde Rotary Club, District 4730, Brazil

Lauren's Bio

 “I go to seek a Great Perhaps.” – Francois Rabelais

My name is Lauren and I live in Gainesville, FL – home of the Gators. My involvements and extracurricular activities have changed often because I love to try new and different things (especially food J). I’ve done soccer, belly dancing, piano, capoeira, yoga, and various volunteering services. Reading is a big passion of mine. Two of my favorite books are the Alchemist and the Little Prince, because both are very insightful about life.

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is.” – Albert Einstein

Ever since I first read this quote when I was twelve, it has been a favorite of mine. Having been given this life-changing opportunity to foreign exchange is truly a wonderful miracle to me. I would like to thank the Rotary for selecting me, and my family and friends for their support.

“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” – Miriam Beard

Since I was five years old I have wanted to travel the world. So, after eleven years of waiting I’m more than ready for this new and exciting adventure.

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” – Jawaharal Nehru

My eyes will be open.

December 1 Journal

 Oi, beleza? I arrived in Brazil about 14 weeks ago, yet it seems like I’ve only been here for half the time, but have done 6 months worth of activities.

Flying to Brazil was my first international flight and it was an exciting one with all of the other 30-something exchange students also headed for Brazil. I don’t have any crazy flight delay stories or any conflicts like that, but we exchange students managed to have fun anyways. In D.C. we pretty much took over the money exchange counter, so much so, they had to bring in more reais (the Brazilian currency). Of course people stared as the huge group of navy-blue blazered teenagers walked around the airport.

Even after packing, saying goodbye to my friends and family, and finally meeting the other exchange students it still didn’t hit that this was finally happening- that I was going to be living a year in Brazil. It somewhat hit me around 4 o’clock in the morning when we were flying somewhere over the Amazon. I kept thinking, “I am flying over the Amazon Rainforest right now. THE Amazon Rainforest!”

Once we arrived in São Paulo, the only dilemma was when our chaperone got detained because his passport was left in D.C.. And yes I was one of the people that Sherise mentioned getting too excited over how coffee didn’t come in to-go cups but in actual ceramic teacups with the saucer and everything. When another Rotary exchange student, a Brazilian outbound headed for Slovakia, recognized our blazers and came up to us and started talking in Portuguese, all of the inbounds’ jaws just dropped and forgot any Portuguese they may have known. So when her expression turned into an “uhh…are you guys okay?” look, that’s when I came to everyone’s rescue and piped in, “Não falamos português” which means “We don’t speak Portuguese”. Then she understood that we were now inbounds, not outbounds.

When I arrived at my final destination, another exchange student and I walked out to meet our families. As soon as they saw us and we saw them, they grabbed our arms, pushed us together, and started taking pictures like they were the paparazzi. As soon as we made the rounds with taking pictures with her family and my family and etc., we finally went our separate ways and went to our new homes. After having had 24 hours of flying and layovers, I was so tired and looking forward to sleeping in my new bed. However, when my host sister asked if I wanted to go out that night, of course I said, “Yeah!”

The next day, my second day in Brazil, I went to my first Brazilian soccer game- Curitiba vs. Atletico, the two biggest rival teams in my city. Unfortunately, my family thought that since it was my first game we should sit in the “calm” part and not in the “crazy” part of the stadium. Despite this, it was still an awesome experience and so funny to watch both adults and little kids cursing at the referee and the other team.

Already I have met all of my four host families that I will live with. Everyone is so nice and I can’t wait to know them better! My second host dad and siblings (12 and 9 year old boys and a 7 year old girl) offered to take me around the city to show me some of the sights. This was so much fun and made me even more excited to have little siblings, since I’m the youngest in my real family.

My school…well it’s a Catholic school, with nuns, a church, morning prayer, and pictures of the sacred heart of Jesus in every room. I’m not Catholic so it took some getting used to at first. My classmates are all really friendly and like to joke around with the teachers, who are really helpful. The school has all grades (elementary to high school) and it is still smaller than my high school in the States. On my first day, there was actually a point where all of the kids in my class moved their desks around me and started asking questions all at once. The most common question I get asked is what type of music do I listen to. Even after being here for 2 months, I still had people I don’t know coming up to me and saying “Hi” in the halls. I have to wear a uniform, and I’ll admit I was kind of excited to wear the plaid skirt and be a little Catholic schoolgirl, but uniforms are different in Brazil. My uniform looks more like I’m about to go jogging than to school. I don’t understand what my teachers are saying when they lecture, but if we have to take notes, then I usually understand what’s going on in most of my classes. Physics and chemistry…I have trouble understanding them in English, nonetheless in Portuguese, so I have given up hope of being able to follow along during class. Math and Geography are probably the classes I understand the most in, besides English class. Overall, school is good. At times, however, it is hard not being able to participate because I didn’t understand what was going on. I’m used to doing well on tests and in school, and now I have to adjust to getting really bad grades. I do pride myself, though, on getting the same score as some of the other students on a Portuguese test, despite how bad the grade was, and even getting a much higher grade than some students on a Spanish test.

After having been here for about 2 weeks, I had my first Rotary Inbound Orientation. It was so much fun to finally meet all of the other exchange students. There are about 25, more or less, in my city. During the orientation, each inbound had to get up, introduce themselves, and say where they are from and that kind of thing. Even though everyone said their introduction in English, I was like, “I know how to say this in Portuguese. I had to say more than this in Portuguese at the last Outbound Orientation.” So I said my introduction in Portuguese and impressed the Rotarians with my only having been in Brazil for 2 weeks. Thanks Al for that preparation.

Twice a week, from September to December, all of the inbounds have to go to a Portuguese class. Because of this, us inbounds see each other so much and have become really close friends. Every time it’s someone’s birthday, we always have a little party after class.

Fortunately, where my first host family lives is walking distance or either really near to most of the best clubs and bars in my city. It is extremely funny to watch exchange students try to samba. I’m so-so. I used to belly dance so I can move my hips, but my feet don’t really do what they are supposed to.

One thing I dislike about here is how much American culture there is (music, movies, television, even food). I refuse to eat at a McDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut, or Subway while I’m here. However, the Pizza Huts here are much nicer and cleaner than they are in the States, ironically.

In September, my city had a holiday weekend, so my family and I spent a few days in a city a couple hours away called Florianopolis (nicknamed Floripa). It can be described as a relaxed, surfer, and fishing town. The seafood there was amazing, and with blue waters and soft sand, I didn’t want to leave. Floripa is one of those places that wherever you look, it could be a picture in National Geographic.

On September 9, I turned 17. It was a school day so I of course had to go to school, but my classmates sang me Happy Birthday. Later that day I had to go to my Portuguese course with the other exchange students. They surprised me with a cake and presents. One of the gifts was this container made from a fruit that is used to drink a certain kind of tea that is traditional in the south of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay. Afterwards we all hung around in the city. When it was getting dark we finally headed home. Well… I was taking the bus, and it was my first time taking it alone. Even though Curitiba is known for having the best public transportation in Brazil, that didn’t stop me from accidentally getting on the wrong bus and end up further away from where I needed to go. So, I got off the bus and went to a bench to figure out where I was on my map and tried not to panic. Well the place that I was at wasn’t on the map (and I later found out that I had been in the center of the city, which wasn’t exactly the safest place to be alone at night). I finally went back to the bus stop to find someone that could help me. Eventually, I found a woman that spoke some English. I ended up having to go back where I started and then take the bus that I should have take in the first place. As I was getting on the bus platform, the bus I needed arrived, so I quickly paid and rushed for the doors, not thinking that another bus come about 2 minutes later. But as I was going through the doors, they closed on me and my foot got stuck between them. So there I was, standing on one foot, the other one in pain, and praying that the bus didn’t brake or jolt a lot. Eventually, the old men around me realized what had happened. They tried to pull the door open, at least enough for me to pull my foot out, but the doors were not budging and my foot was then in more pain. After this failed attempt, they finally had to call up to the bus driver to stop the bus and open the door. By this time, everyone on the bus was staring at the silly American with her foot stuck in the bus door. But what a relief it was to have my foot back, though.

I had a birthday party. It wasn’t anything extreme, just a nice dinner with all of my friends and host families. It was good to spend time with everyone and have my friends and family meet each other.

Moving on from things I have been doing, Brazil is amazing. My city is very different from stereotypical Brazil of Bahia and Rio de Janeiro. I live in the south of the Brazil, which is very different culturally from the north. People here are so generous and are always willing to help. However, compared to other Brazilian cities, Curitiba is supposed to be one of the more unfriendly cities, but I haven’t encountered that. When I arrived it was winter, so it was really cold. Now it is spring, and it is still really cold. Not exactly what people think of when they think of Brazil and it’s definitely not what I expected. The weather here is horrible and unpredictable. In the morning it can be 8 degrees Celsius, then in the afternoon it can be 25 degrees, then back down to 8 that night. Also, one minute it can be hot and sunny and the next be cold and rainy. It’s like wherever you go you have to take a coat and umbrella with you.

Brazilian food is so good. Churrasco, feijoada, brigadeiro, açai, goiabada, and guarana are all things I know I’ll miss when I return. My first host dad let me try caipirinha, which is Brazil’s delicious national drink made from sugar, lime, and cachaça (a Brazilian alcohol made from sugarcane). It was hard at first getting used to eating bread and cheese and rice and beans almost everyday, but now it’s weird if I don’t eat them.

I still can’t believe that I have been here for almost 4 months. The time has flown by, and I feel the end of this exchange year approaching too quickly. Even though Brazil hasn’t given me culture shock, there are some things I don’t think I will ever make sense of, like how even when it’s cold out Brazilians keep the windows open. Despite these differences, Brazil is so easy to adapt to. With the people being so open and friendly, you can’t help feeling comfortable. I love how people greet each other here with a kiss on the cheek and a hug. When people go to shake my hand, it feels awkward. I can’t imagine myself being in any other country right now. It’s so natural and easy for me to be here, trying to be a part of Brazilian culture. There is something magical about Brazil, and I’m so happy I was given this opportunity to witness it. I want to thank Rotary and my family from the bottom of my heart.

Beijos, Lauren

“The trees all dance, and the warm wind blows, and the same old sound; and the water below gives a gift to the sky, and the clouds give back every time they cry; make the grass grow green beneath my toes, and if the sun comes out, I’ll paint a picture all about the colors I’ve been dreaming of, the hours just don’t seem enough to put it all together. Maybe it’s as strange as it seems.” --Jack Johnson