Who am I?
When I was 5 years old, I wanted to be a Power Ranger. Not just any Ranger (although they were all, admittedly, phenomenal), I wanted to be the Pink Ranger. For weeks on end my friends and I would defeat the evil forces on our kindergarten playground, determinately keeping our apple juice and 24 packs of Crayola crayons safe from villains while still having time for snack. Now, at 18 years old, I have retired from my days as a wannabe spandex-clad superhero and progressed (I hope) to much more mature ambitions. I still have a love of all things superhero, and shamefully attempt to hide my overwhelming love for all Marvel comics from my family and friends. However, I do play golf and attempt to lead a relatively normal life.
I am the youngest of 3 kids, and my brother, sister and I are each a year and a half apart. Growing up, I had built-in playmates, and even now that we are all ancient (18, 19, and 21) we still attempt to have a good time together. One of our latest endeavors is learning how to unicycle, and are all nobly withstanding the pain and humiliation that comes along with it. I applied for Rotary exchange because I wanted not only to see the world, but also to experience it. I have always been fascinated with languages and culture, especially the history of language. Although I have traveled throughout the US and Europe, I still haven’t quenched my insatiable thirst for exploring.
So there I am. A failed superhero, unicycling, history-loving explorer who is ready for action and prepared to jump into the world and make her mark, however big or small it may be.
August 9 Journal
A year ago, I never would have imagined myself on the balcony of an apartment in Catanduva, Brasil, discussing grizzly bears with my host mother in Portuguese and learning that sign language is my new best friend. I never would have imagined that McFly, a lesser known British band, would be the obsession of my sixteen year old host sister, and I know only in my nightmare would I have thought that I would sleep underneath a giant poster of them whose eyes follow me wherever I go, like the paintings in the Haunted Mansion. (I’m just kidding, the drummer is actually quite a fox. I’m sure he’ll be nice to wake up to in the morning.)
My point, other than I have a rather pitiful imagination, is that everything I thought I prepared myself for, all my preconceived notions about Rotary Youth Exchange and Brasil, were wrong. And I think that’s a good thing. No, a great thing. For one, my evil American father had, in an attempt to break my Diet Coke habit, tried to convince me that it didn’t exist in Brasil. Well, Dad, if it doesn’t exist here, what is that six pack in the fridge that my host mom bought just for me with my name on it? Magic Juice?
I’m finding the surprises to be the best part of my journey. I never knew that all I needed to do to bond with my new family was to completely forget the word for lettuce every three seconds. I was in the grocery store with my new mother and sister, and we were playing a game to see if I could name the items in the cart after they told me once. And I obviously won’t be asking for fruit salad anytime soon, because for the life of me, after naming the two items at least twenty times in the grocery store, the car ride back, and every time I have walked into the kitchen, I still can’t remember!
Wait, I got it: abacaxi (pineapple) and alface (lettuce). Okay, so I had a little help from the online dictionary, but I eventually got it. And to think it only took me one time to learn urso (bear). Maybe if I developed a fear of being attacked by pineapples while hiking in Yellowstone. Maybe then I would remember their name!
So a day’s worth of knowledge, a healthy fear of pineapples, bears, and British bands named after Michael J. Fox characters, and I can’t wait to continue my journey!
August 26 Journal
Well, two weeks have passed in Brazil, and I keep expecting to wake up tomorrow morning to find the Honeymoon period over and expecting all the wonderful things in Brazil to turn on me. (See, Mr. Kalter? I did read the handbook!) Yet, everyday, I continue to find myself more and more impressed by the culture, the people, and, of course, the delicious food.
I was a person who had never really paid much attention to Portuguese before, except to taunt my Spanish teachers when they said that all the countries in South America speak Spanish, which I still do quite frequently. And why do we always ignore Suriname, Guyana and French Guiana? Don’t they count? Although my host mom loves to make fun of my American accent, I am picking up a lot more of the language than I thought I would, which is nice. An American accent in Portuguese is over pronouncing the letter R, which I find rather hilarious given the fact that, as a child I required extensive speech classes to learn how to pronounce the letter R. My poor parents, having to spend all that money for speech classes when they could have just sent me to Brazil and no one would have been the wiser.
I have been to two Brazilian parties, which were very fun but only helped to validate my already white and nerdy image to myself. The Brazilians don’t even start getting ready to go out until nine, which is the time I am usually tucking me and my teddy bear into bed to watch bad American TV. (I can’t believe how sad that sounded. I do go out occasionally, when I can resist my the urge to hop into my immensely comfy bed.) The other thing I’ve noticed is that while apparently all Brazilians came out of the womb doing the samba, I am dance-impaired. My sprinkler and shopping cart routine were no match for all my Brazilian friends, and served to do nothing but both amuse and frustrate the brave souls who tried to help me learn. I’m amazed I didn’t injure someone with my overenthusiastic hip movements. Nevertheless, the Brazilians seem to appreciate just the effort, which is nice.
I also never knew that my extensive, yet seemingly useless, knowledge of American pop culture would ever come in handy for anything other than beating my dad at Trivial Pursuit. However, it seems that merely knowing that the band McFly was in the Lohan movie Just My Luck gained me some mad street cred in Brazil, and I am not ashamed to say I love it. Heck, I might even get a gangsta chain or something.
Now, my last bit of news from way down south is that I am apparently dreaming in Portuguese. I say apparently because I don’t remember anything, but both my host mom and sister have told me that they heard me talking in my sleep in Portuguese. What was I saying? “I forgot English,” that’s what!
I fear I must say tchau now, because I have very important exchange student things to do. Namely, going to the gym with my host mom to work off all the delish food I have been eating. I do, however, want to take a moment to thank all those people involved in helping me, especially the Rotary Youth Exchange and the Ponte Vedra Beach Rotary Club. Without you, I would be sitting on my couch eating Ramen and watching Grey’s Anatomy, the only international experience in my life being the occasional trip to Epcot. So thank you for giving me the experience and skills of a lifetime!
October 30 Journal
I have been in Brasil for almost three months now, and the honeymoon period has yet to wear off. I feel like an impromptu Vegas bride, who after partaking in a quickie Elvis-themed wedding in the wee hours of the morning, discovers that the stranger she married actually has grown on her as a person. Of course, my flight to Brasil was lacking both the flair of the Vegas strip and the presence of the King (although there were some questionable sideburns on one of the flight attendants), but the oh-so-loveable Brasil has grown on me in more ways than I thought was possible. We certainly share way more than just a love of long sunset walks on the beach and poor estimations of our alcohol tolerance.
As any normal teenager, I occasionally have received invitations to social gatherings that might be classified as “parties” by those of a more advanced age than myself. Of course, only after schoolwork and chores are completed would I ever go to one of these events, but they are an entertaining break from scholarly pursuits. However, prior to the 10 hour plane ride, I was entirely clueless of what Brasil had in store for me on the party front. It was definitely not on the Wikipedia page next to the information about population growth and free election. If I were to contribute to the entry I might edit a line or two, solely for the purpose of educating future Rotary youth: “The Brazilian Federation is based on the union of three autonomous political entities: the States, the Municipalities and the PARTY ALL NIGHT LONG.” I’m not complaining or anything, I’m just a bit taken aback.
For those who aren’t as familiar with Brazilian “festas”, an example: I come home from school on a Thursday and tool around my house, napping and drinking Guarana (the nectar of the gods sent from Olympus conveniently canned and sold in the grocery store for us mortals) when my host mom informs me that I will be attending one of the aforementioned “social gatherings.” Of course, we don’t go out until the late hours of the night, so I have plenty more time to curl up with my teddy bear and go back to sleep. My host sister and I don’t even start getting ready until 9:00, when we decide on our outfits and put on our makeup. Then, around 10 or 11, we go out and join the rest of Brasil in the night life. Ah, what a nice “vida” this is.
Other than the parties, Brasil has introduced me to more foods than I thought was possible. I, a stupid American, had actually grown tired of meat in the U.S. I now know it was because I had not truly tasted all the varieties available. Brasil is like a meat carnival, where everyday I am introduced to another delicious way to not be a vegetarian. And of course, to counteract all this meat are the most delicious breads known to man. One, known simply as “pão de queijo” (cheese bread) has captivated my attention since the first day I arrived. Not only is it delicious, but provides a built-in intellectual puzzle. I am also sad to admit that, despite being the recipient of a high school diploma from a well respected establishment, I have spent many sleepless nights trying to figure out how they get the cheese inside of the bread. Mom and Dad, I have failed you. At least now I can introduce you to my new friend Brazil. Did I mention we met in Vegas…?
December 25 Journal
Boas festas, feliz Natal e prospero Ano Novo.
It’s hard to believe I have already been here for almost five months. I feel like just yesterday I was stumbling off the plane and into the welcoming arms of my host family, and scrambling for a dictionary just so I could say hi. More and more I have adapted into the Brazilian culture, and I can already see the changes I have gone through, such as ignoring personal space and talking with as many strangers as possible. Okay, I am lying about the personal space thing (I was born in Connecticut, and we New Englanders are not known for our warm, effusive personalities) but I have gotten better at kissing everyone I see - on the cheek, that is.
Still, during a time in which my sacred Exchange Students Handbook says I should be feeling the most homesick, I am actually having more fun than I could have ever imagined. Christmas in Brazil is a magical time, and not just because I am on summer vacation and don’t have to be back in school until mid-February, even though that does help a lot.
On the 23rd, I walked with my family to the center of Catanduva, my little city in the hills of Sao Paulo. Everyone in the city was there, and in the midst of the chaos I was lucky enough to see a capoeira performance, the church’s choral group (singing some very impressive opera, btw) and a very random, very hilarious dance group performing CATS. There was also a forty-member group of motorcycling Santa Clauses, who all stopped of at a bar to drink beer and watch the fireworks.
On the 24th, my entire family went out to our country house to ring in Christmas. Unlike my family in the US, my host family celebrates Christmas with the whole extended family, so it was a huge group. For my youngest host cousin, a hired Santa Claus came and passed out her gifts at 11:00 (the real one, of course, was probably flying over Iceland at the time). It felt like New Years, because we all waited until exactly 12:00 am to hug and kiss and open presents. Then we ate an entire suckling pig (sans head, thank God) and laughed and hung out until three in the morning.
The 25th was fun, sleeping and eating leftovers and chillaxing by the pool. The best part of this, of course, is that I get to repeat the whole thing in a couple of days to ring in the New Year!
Anyway, that about wraps it up for my very merry Christmas experience. Kissing, hugging, motorcycling Santas, and capoeira. Not just a sentence fragment, but the Brazilian way of life, and one of the best holidays I have ever had. Still, I have to thank Rotary again for giving me this experience and making this year a great one. I raise my Guarana Antarctica to you, district 6970, and toast you a happy New Year.
March 9 Journal
While it’s been awhile since my last blogging effort while in Brazil, I can’t say that I have been wasting time during my long absence from the net. In fact, the last few months have been a whirlwind of traveling, parties and, of course, the biggest party in Brazil (and the world) Carnaval!
After a wonderful Christmas season with all my extended family here in Catanduva, I was ready to embark upon the trip I had been waiting for since I first found out that I was coming to Brazil. A month long vacation to the northeast of Brazil with a busload of exchange students, starting in Rio de Janeiro and ending in Brasilia, the country’s capital. It was a crazy adventure and a new perspective into the country I have been living in for the past 7 months.
Rio de Janeiro was everything that I thought it would be: beautiful, scenic, and hotter than the center of the sun. While all the lucky European exchangees are bundling up and shivering away, we Brazilian exchange students are experiencing a summer hotter than anything I’ve ever seen in Florida. I bummed out on Copacabana Beach, met a lot of girls from Ipanema, and took thousands of pictures at Christ the Redeemer. And yes, I did almost break a hip attempting a samba.
As the trip continued up the coast, the exchange students got the opportunity to partake in quite a few extreme activities. I almost died in a freak rafting accident (okay, I’m exaggerating, but it sure felt like it at the time), rode horseback on the beach, snorkeled, and got a gigantic wedgie sliding down a huge natural rock waterslide. By the time I got off the bus in my host city, I was sun burnt and exhausted, but never happier.
The greatest part of coming back from my trip was knowing that Carnaval was a few weeks later. One of the biggest celebrations in the world, and there I was, right in the thick of it, experiencing the magic. Five days of parties, street parades and samba, it was everything I could have asked for and more. Leaving for the club at midnight, and coming back at five in the morning, it was any American party on steroids. I danced, I sang, and I partied like a Brazilian. It was an exhilarating culmination of all my hard work in learning the language and culture. Never have I have been gladder to be an exchange student in Brazil.
So that was my past few months: boating adventures, near-death experiences and, sadly, wedgies. And I owe everything (except the wedgie) to my Rotary club in Ponte Vedra for giving me this incredible experience.
April 9 Journal
As I write this, tears are pouring down my cheeks and covering the keyboard with tiny droplets of sadness. Okay, maybe I am exaggerating a tiny bit, but the sentiment is basically the truth: I am depressed. I have less than two months (two piddling months) left in the country I have called home for the past eight months of my life. It’s been a tough struggle to become a part of this lifestyle, this culture, and this country, but I can honestly say, now that I am….I DON’T WANT TO GO HOME!
I love the United States, of course, more than ever. I miss it too. (Who knew I would miss Kraft Macaroni and Cheese more than my siblings? Weird.) Still, I have never had so much fun (strictly in educational circumstances, of course) in my life. I have done things I never imagined myself doing before, like riding a camel on the dunes in Natal, snorkeling in the crystal clear waters of Porto de Galinhas, and oh yeah, speaking Portuguese. In fact, I never would have guessed that checking that little Brasil bubble on the RYE application would lead me to where I am right now. A split second decision in my life and all of a sudden I am rafting down a river in Itacare, scared out of my mind but loving it.
As sad as I am that I am going home soon, I couldn’t be more excited for the months to come. My parents come next week and we are traveling for two weeks around the country. I haven’t decided yet whether I will translate for them or not. Maybe they should see what it feels like, feeling completely lost without a language. Gosh, I’m an awful daughter. Guess they’ll just have to leave me here…. Anyway, after I send them on their merry way, I am going to the Amazon, to stay for 6 days in a boat on the widest and longest river in the world. I am hoping to return with all my limbs, and hopefully without gruesome war stories of piranha attacks. I’ll keep you updated, though.
As I reflect on my time here, I can’t forget how I got here. Without the support and help of the Ponte Vedra Rotary Club, my knowledge of Brazil would be limited to the steakhouse down the street and the episode of The Simpsons when they go to Rio. With the help of Paula Roderick, my delightful counselor, and Al Kalter, the scary but extremely wise leader of the RYE program, I would be nowhere fast. So, as they say in Brazil…OBRIGADA POR TUDO!