November 4 Journal
There's always gonna be another mountain
I'm always gonna wanna make it move
Always gonna be a uphill battle
Sometimes I'm gonna have to lose
Ain't about how fast I get there
Ain't about what's waiting on the other side
It's the climb
The struggles I'm facing
The chances I'm taking
Sometimes might knock me down
But no, I'm not breaking
I may not know it
But these are the moments that I'm gonna remember most, yeah
Just gotta keep going
As lame as it sounds, Miley Cyrus has it all right in her song “The Climb”. I have had a rough start here, but from what I hear from Rotarians here, “The rougher, the better it is for me because the more I will grow”. I have to agree. Future exchangers, be ready for some of the hardest times of your life, but also some of the most fun and memorable moments of your life. In the beginning, there may be more downs than ups. But it will all work out in the end as long as you give it your all. This I promise you.
But wow!!! Three months in already....
The first day I arrived, I was in complete shock. We got off the plane and went through Brazilian customs, which was a breeze besides filling out paperwork in Portuguese. I was picked up and driven home. This is when I realized: “Hollie, you aren’t in the United States anymore.” The drivers here are like madmen! If only someone could have taken a photo of my horrified face and me grasping the car for my life as we drove past cars almost hitting them. The lanes here are so tiny. The cars here are tiny too, but sometimes, the lanes are too small for the cars! Most of the time, there is a motorcyclist driving between two cars! During all of this, all I saw were small houses with gates around them. This isn’t what I had imagined Brazil to be.
My second week here I went to Rio de Janeiro. It was a lot of fun and I got to experience all of the usual tourist things! I went to Corcovado and all of the beaches. It was so beautiful, and I had so much fun with my family.
I am happy to say that I have made some of the best friends that I could possibly make. God was definitely watching over me when he showed me to these people. They have been so nice to me and have helped me with their language and have taken me out as often as they can to show me their culture! One of my best friends here is Sarah. Her grandpa started Betim Rotary, the Rotary in my city. But this Rotary doesn’t sponsor me. I am sponsored by the Rotary of Belo Horizonte, and since they are far away, Betim Rotary has been so helpful and welcoming to me. Sarah invited me to her Sweet 15, which was amazing. She held her party in a rented place called “Versailles” and it was decorated with special lights, flowers and modeling pictures that she did specifically for the party. To get into her party, you had to have this mini invitation and then next to the door were people taking gifts. There was a candy bar! I had too much fun there! I will probably return to the United States fat! There were tables with food and more candies! She had hired a personal photographer and videographer for the party. Each person at the party had to leave Sarah a “memoir” on film. I learned that it is customary for the birthday girl to give out havaianas (sandals) to each of her girl guests. I got my havaianas which are of a special design created by Sarah. Sarah did the valsa with 15 boys, which is very common at sweet 15’s. Sarah also took me and another exchange student (Logan from Belgium) the other day to her Grandpa’s farm (the one who started Betim Rotary). We rode horses, swam and had a churrasco. It was so much fun and I learned that many people here in Brazil have relatives that have farms and do what we did often.
I didn’t like my school, Colegio Tiradentes, so Rotary moved me to a new school, PUC (a university here). I am studying “direito” (law). I have learned that college here is very different from back home. Students only take courses directly related to their major. That is all that is required of them. Also, people here aren’t nearly as serious about school as we are back home. Students get up and leave the classroom all the time and teachers don’t do anything! A majority of students cheat on the tests and make it obvious, and normally the teacher doesn’t do anything about it. Despite this, I love my school. The people in it are so nice and helpful, and the teachers are hilarious.
I wish all of you future exchangers the best of luck in interviews. Those of you that get accepted, know that you are blessed. This is truly one of the best experiences anyone can ever have. It really is life changing. I hope it rocks your world like it has mine. I hope you have many struggles so you can grow and learn like I have. Good luck and love from Brazil!
Beijos e abracos,
Hollie G. Harrison
January 10 Journal
It is Christmas Eve in Frutal, Minas Gerais, and it is as hot and humid as Florida’s summer. There is no Christmas music or decorations whatsoever- meaning yes, there really is NO Christmas tree. And the thought that keeps crawling through my mind: “Is Christmas really tomorrow?”
But yes, it is. Brasil may not have the Christmas decorations or music, but Christmas spirit still is here. People who don’t know each other scream “Feliz Natal!”. The homeless roam the streets begging for money, and they receive in the giving, Christmas spirit. Families are gathering, and churches are ready with a Christmas sermon. It may appear differently, but it still is Christmas. And the people here do this every year! Every year it is this hot for Christmas! This truly is a Brasilian Christmas, or at least, Frutal Christmas. I do not live in Frutal. I live in Betim, but my family and I travelled here to see my grandma and the rest of our family- something that hasn’t change for me, travelling to see family for the holidays.
For New Years, I experienced even more new traditions. For New Year’s here, people wear the color with the symbolism that they want to happen next year. Most wear white for peace, but because of the economic difficulties back home that is hurting my family incredibly, I wore both white (for peace) and green (for money).
As Rotary will tell you, homesickness DOES kick in around this time. You will want to be home with your family decorating your tree and doing your usual traditions. But, you have to keep in mind, that you do that EVERY year! You have done these traditions every year and will continue to do them when you get home. You have to think like this or your homesickness will really get to you. Not to mention, you will be here! Learning and creating new traditions! You can bring some of these traditions to your family in the USA when you return! How cool will that be!?
When I last wrote, I was in the middle of changing host families. My second host family is incredible! I adore them! We are a family of only girls because my mom and dad divorced. They talk nonstop, which has made my Portuguese DRASTICALLY improve. I have only been with them for a month and half, and many people have seen a strong improvement in my Portuguese. I understand almost everything now, and if I don’t understand, I am always able to understand when they explain it in Portuguese. I still have trouble communicating back because of trouble with verbs, but my family is patiently helping me with that.
Now, I am about to leave for 25 days to Nordeste (the Northeast of Brazil). I will travel all of their amazing beaches, many state’s capitals and their national capital- Brasilia. I am very anxious for this trip, especially since I will be turning 19 during this trip. At first, I was sad to be spending my birthday on a bus full of exchangers instead of my family here in Brazil and my friends here. But then I remembered how hard Christmas and New Year’s was for me without my family and friends back home in the US and I realized that the best people to see on my birthday were my exchange friends. Because they can help me the most on this day with homesickness. Plus, my family is throwing me a party the day after I arrive home from Nordeste. Never forget your youth exchange friends. They understand you the most, with everything. Though, do not cling to them. Be very weary of this. Many of the exchangers in my state cling to each other instead of making Brazilian friends. DO NOT BE ONE OF THEM. You came here to experience the culture, and the best way to do that is to be with the people from that culture! Not to mention, learning the language too! Because the other exchange students tend to grasp on to English for life.....
I know that the new exchange students have been chosen, know their countries and have their first orientation very soon! I want to say to you all: *do not let time pass you by*. Take advantage of every opportunity! Study as hard as possible! Because the less you know, the more jokes and other things you miss out on! You want to be able to live life as normally here as soon as possible! And you certainly don’t want to look back and say, “Man, I can’t believe I spent that time goofing off when I could have been doing something meaningful.”
Also, I read Grant Simon’s journal, and as humorous as it was, take heed in everything he said. It is all TRUE.
Especially listen to not being alone. Many exchange students have done that here and it has not had good results.
I wish you all the best of luck!!!
With love from Brazil,
July 12 Journal
My last few months in Brazil were still full of much adventure and curiosity. I travelled on the Nordeste trip, which took me all around the North-East of Brazil. I went to Tiradentes, a historical city not just for my state but also for my country. Tiradentes was named after a Brazilian military leader in the “Inconfidência Mineira” revolution. They wanted full independence from Portugal and to create a Brazilian Republic. However, when the plan was discovered, he was arrested, tried, and hanged. He has been considered a national hero of Brazil and patron of the Military Police in the state of Minas Gerais (my state). The city I visited was named in his honor.
I sadly had to leave Brazil a month early for college and family matters. Leaving all the relationships that I had built there was incredibly hard, but I know that I will see them again someday. Coming home, I was filled with many of the same emotions I felt upon leaving for Brazil: sadness of leaving loved ones, excitement to see my family and friends in the USA again and to have American food, and confusion and disbelief that I was leaving.
Upon my arrival home, all family and friends were shocked about how much I have changed. Even my appearance was changed. Although they were shocked, they have loved the changes.
I too have loved the changes. I feel more independent and more aware of my surroundings and others. I like being able to relate the USA and Brazil. It has certainly given me more perspective on matters.
I still can’t believe my exchange is over. However, the cycle continues for the new outbounds to go and experience as much as they can and grow like I did. I wish you all courage. Make sure to listen more than you speak. That will make you understand, learn, and grow even more. Most of us are used to interrupting and talking whenever we please. You must remember NOT to interrupt and to listen more than you speak. Calculate your responses wisely. You will be judged on every encounter and NEVER forget that Rotary smile!
Good luck and enjoy!
Rotary, thank you again for giving me this opportunity. It has been and meant the world to me! I cannot describe how thankful I am. I hope to one day repay you for your generosity. Until then, I’ll be spreading that Rotary smile and telling anyone who listens about you.
Beijos e abracos! (xo)