Jesse Coates
2009-10 Outbound to Brazil

Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Bartram Trail HS
Sponsor: Southpoint Jacksonville Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Olimpia Rotary Club, District 4480, Brazil

Jesse's Bio

Ayyo! My name is Jesse and I am a senior at Bartram Trail High School. I turn 18 January 15th 2009 and will be celebrating my 19th birthday in Brazil. I couldn’t be more excited! While most seniors are busy planning for college and making their dorm arrangements, I am busy learning Portuguese and figuring out how to pack up my life for a year in only 100 lbs. worth of space.

I first learned about Rotary when I was in my freshman year and my Spanish class went to the auditorium to hear from two kids who spent the previous year overseas. At the time I thought it sounded cool, but I never thought that I could handle something that…foreign. But I decided that I would always keep the option in the back of my mind. I didn’t take a foreign language this year, so I almost forgot about Foreign Exchange completely. Then I met a boy in my English class who went to Japan for a year through a different program. Instead of working on our project, for the next 90 minutes I bombarded him with questions about his exchange. I decided to look into Rotary. The following weekend I met Pat Murray, who went to Hungary last year, and I had almost the same conversation with him that I had had with the other boy. I decided it was fate. I signed up for the meeting, filled out my application, survived the interviews, and was accepted into the Exchange Program.

I was raised with the idea that after I graduated high school, I would backpack across Europe for a month like my mother did when she was my age. She instilled the love of travel at a very young age. As a family, we’ve always gone camping and have chosen our pop-up camper over hotel rooms for years. I am very close to my Momma, Daddy, and my two younger sisters Lindsey and Casey. I will miss them so much when I leave, but all of us know that it will be an experience of a lifetime that I will never forget.

When I first brought up the idea to my parents about being an exchange student I wasn’t met with hesitant or surprised looks at all. My Dad informed me that he wasn’t surprised that I’d want to put off college for a year and spend a year expanding my horizons in another country. They encouraged me to apply and have been by my side through the entire process. They have always supported me in everything that I have ever done, and I can’t thank them enough for that.

I’m fun-loving, compassionate, and sarcastic. I love to giggle. I like trying new things and going on adventures. My friends and I are always going to the movies, the beach, the mall, and Starbucks. I have a passion for music, but I don’t know how to play any instruments. I’m interested in art and I am a section editor on my school’s yearbook staff. I love working with the elements of design and photography. I’m a huge Yankee fan with a soft spot for their shortstop Derek Jeter. I’m not exactly sure what I want to go to college for yet and I’m hoping that maybe I can be steered in the right direction this year.

Most of my friends think I am crazy for doing this. They don’t understand how I could leave everything familiar behind to go to a place completely unknown and alien to me. Yet, even though they do not understand, they support me. I love them all so much and will miss them terribly. I know I’ll have someone to come home to.

I would now like to take the time to express my gratitude to Rotary for taking this seemingly unreachable opportunity and placing it into my eager grasp. I know this will be a year of growing and learning and finding out who I really am.

I welcome this opportunity with open arms and bright eyes.

Jesse's Journals

November 22 Journal

"I love my country, but I think we need to start seeing other people." - seen on a bumper sticker

I've never been one to be good at expressing how I feel with words. I have always worn my emotions on my sleeve. But I will never earn a prize for a speech or be able to write something heartfelt enough to make someone cry. I'm just simply not good with "palavras." So like Sarah said, I have had a horrendous time doing this journal. I have started at least 100 times and have never been satisfied. There is so much to say and I am just not quite sure how to say it.

BUT! I have decided to stop being a brat and try to explain what I am feeling and going through during this truly awe-inspiring experience. I don't know what it is, but I can't seem to make my self sit down and write this journal. I can write an email, I can write a Facebook message, but I can't write this. It should be a piece of cake, right? Wrong. For me, it couldn't be any more wrong. I have lived so much this past 3 months I can't find words that express enough emotion for me to be satisfied. I know that words aren't enough to let everyone else feel or see or touch anything that I am submersed in. So in some ways I'm like, "damnit, why even try to write." But then I remember it is required.

I am being nagged in all directions. From my parents back home, to friends, to even the Brasileiros. Everyone wants to know what I have to say. I have ignored them up until this point and I have been lazy in my "show and tell."

But enough of this nonsense because now I am here, internet and music off, brain focused, notebook open and letting my hands freely flow across my keyboard. Brasil is slowly but surely becoming the love of my life. Right now, I am in the puppy love, state of infatuation stage. Everything is new. Everything is exciting. Everyone wants to know me. Every day is a complete adventure. As more and more time passes I am slowly starting to see how truly hard it will be when I have leave this paradise. I can see that this love I am feeling will grow and become more mature as I live and become more a part of this culture.

I am not homesick. I was for about the first week because I understood NOTHING people said to me. But now I am comfortable. I can breathe. I have perfected my Rotary Smile. There are times that yes, I do miss my friends from home. I do miss my bed, my car, my sisters, my momma's hugs, my daddy's jokes, but I know all of these things are still in Florida and I know they will be there when my plane arrives back into the humid Floridian air in July of 2010.

Brasil is everything I expected it to be and more. The people are absolutely beautiful, in both a physical and personal sense. Within two minutes of arriving in a new place with people I am unfamiliar with, I am already feeling at home. Everyone is so warm and friendly. They want me to be happy and they want me to love Brasil as much as they do. Brasil is so relaxed. So wonderful. So different. So beautiful. Since day one, everything has been an adventure. My first night here, at 4 in the am, I managed to call the police. I was just trying to call home to tell everyone I was safe. I thought I dialed the wrong number, so I hung up to try again. I was right. 3 seconds later the phone rings and I instinctively answer. On the other end was a very distressed native Portuguese speaker. I threw the phone at my host brother and I remember the look on his face when he told me "Take care with this number, Jesse." hahahaha. Mannn. Good one.

My first host family has been wonderful. For the first week I had two host brothers, David who is now 18 and Guiliherme who is now 10. I say "for the first week" because David is now loving life in Germany. He was my life saver my first week in S. America. Seriously. He was the only English speaker in this household and he answered every question I bombarded him with. He told me the rules. He took me to Thermas. He introduced me to all of his friends. I was a leech. But I know he enjoyed my company. :D And my host mom is an angel. She helped me with everything. Always. And she gives good hugs. She is also now addicted to chocolate chip cookies. haha.

School here...is school. I have never been a fan of school. I graduated early in January, so it was a good 7 months until I had to return this August. And omg, ugh. Everyone is always going to have a different exchange year. Different experiences. Different school. So what's expected of you in school all depends on a million different things. I do nothing in school. Not because I am a lazy bum, but because there is nothing for me to do. No work sheets, no papers, no homework, no tests, no nothing. Just my very uncomfortable metal desk and my sweater as a pillow. BUT! Friends do always help this situation. So besides the fact that I am bored out of my mind, I do have people to talk to and keep things interesting. The only good thing about school is it is over by noon. This is a beautiful thing.

It's very hot here. But I don't mind. I live 5 minutes away from one of the most famous water parks in Brasil. That and I have a fear of the cold. Living in Florida all your life can do that to you. heh. Right now Brasil is heading into summertime because we are under the equator. Needless to say, I am pumped because that means no school. Yay!!

I am so thankful for this year. I am so happy. Every day. There are some times where I get super bummed because I want to hug my mom or have major girl talk with my best friends back home. These times are hard, but they don't last long. I have a wonderful group of friends here. They're so much fun. They're so much help. I feel like they've been there for me for forever. It's amazing how fast things and people become important to you when you're put in this sort of situation.

Exchange students are definitely, THE best people in the world. No doubt. No matter how different two people are, if they have the exchange in common I think that's all that matters. They get what's going on in your head without actually having to listen to you tell them what's up. Butttt, I am proud to say that my best friends are Brasileiros over exchange students.

Olimpia is such a small city. I don't need to use a bus to get anywhere. Everyone knows everyone. There are no huge buildings and a lot of it is very country. However, it is now my second home. I couldn't be happier walking to the super market to get an apple on my way to school. It's such a cute place to live.

I have this rule of "not saying no." And before any Rotarian freaks out, lemme explain. This rule was a larger deal when I didn't understand anything that was said to me, but it still very much applies now. When someone offers to take me somewhere, I go. When someone offers to do something for me, I say yes. When someone says I should try something, I try it. No matter how tired I am. No matter how much I don't feel like it. It doesn't matter if I am "in the mood" for an adventure or not. I go. I said I was welcoming this year with open arms and bright eyes. So therefore I will not miss a thing. (**Disclaimer** :this does not include doing drugs, binge drinking alcohol, crazy sex parties, or driving a motorized vehicle). A good family friend once said "I collect experiences, good or bad." I think this is a perfect thing to live by. Since I have been here, I have done and experienced so many things. I rode a horse ... and enjoyed it ... more than once (I hate horses). I was in a fashion show. Like a legit one. (I have super stage fright.) I ate chicken hearts (okay, ew). And so many other things that I would not have normally done. I have also been to a wedding. I went to one of the largest Rodeos in all of Brasil. I have been to shows in other cities. And I watched a baby horse be born. :)

Ah! The food. Oh jeeze. The food. It's good. But omg, beans and rice. Every. Single. Day. No joke. I will die if I ever eat another bean in my life. But besides the ridiculously repetitiveness of this and how NO ONE gets sick of it, the food is delicious. Really. And brigadeiro is God's gift to Earth.

Oh yeah! Annnnnnnnd, I have an English class! That is exciting. In exchange for Portuguese classes, I give English classes at a language school in my city. It's so cool. I never would have expected to be in front of people...teaching. ew. But it's a lot of fun. My class and I always have a lot of fun.

I am so happy here in Brasil. Rotary is a match maker. I am thriving and loving life. Embracing all things new and it's beautiful. Everything is beautiful.

Thank you Rotary. Thank you Mommy and Daddy. Thank you Ms. Irwin. Thank you everyone who has helped me get to where I am right now. I can promise you that now that I have finally spit out this first journal, it won't be another 4 months until you hear from me again. Scouts honor.

Beijos from Brasil<33

May 28 Journal

"Pra quem tem pensamento forte, o impossível é só questão de opinião"

When everyone told me this year would be hard, I listened to their words...but I don't think they quite sunk in. It was more of an "in one ear and stay in the brain for 5 minutes, then out the other ear" kind of thing. I never actually realized that when people said "hard" they meant "really freaking difficult." I have never felt so many things in my entire life. Over these past 10 months I have felt emotions that I didn't even know existed before. But that's only to say the least.

This year has really taught me about myself. What I can handle and how to handle what I think that I can't handle. The word "can't" has left my vocabulary. There have been times where I thought that I couldn't take things anymore. I think the hardest month I had was from the end of December to around my birthday (the month of January). I just wasn't happy. I felt that nothing was right, I felt my Portuguese still wasn't up to par. I felt lonely. I wanted my home back in Florida. I wanted my blanket of comfort. My house. My car. My friends. My everything. It felt like something new went wrong every day. I would talk to my family back home on Skype and it would squish my heart into a thousand pieces to say good bye to them. To put it blankly, it just sucked. SO much. I would go into my host mom's room and sit on her bed and just cry. She wanted to help me. So bad. I could tell. She would hug me and not let go and tell me it would get better and that I had to be strong. Just like my real mom would. I love her. An indescribable amount. She has a special place on my heart and I will never forget everything that she has done and continues to do for me. *-*

But anyways, it was about the end of January when I really started to think and re-evaluate things. Well, not just "things," but rather, myself. I realized that my happiness is MY responsibility and not anyone else's. It is no one's job to entertain me. To make sure I am adapting and learning and studying and trying hard. My unhappiness is no one else's problem but my own. And I was making it everyone else's problem. I was mad at Rotary and my counselor because I didn't want to face the fact that I, Jesse Coates, was wrong. I was blaming them for the things that I was unwillingly admitting were my fault. I have always been stubborn, and still continue to be, but this year has taught me that it's okay to be wrong. It's okay because I am a human being. It's okay to make mistakes. If you never make mistakes, you never learn. So, I admitted that I was in the wrong; that I was losing precious time of the most important year of my life, moping around and crying over things that I had complete control over. I looked into what it really was that was making me unhappy. I took some REAL personal time and started picking up the pieces of my messy life that I had spread everywhere. I admitted that I was wrong and realized that only I could fix my problems.

Since my own personal epiphany I have been absolutely thriving. I have strengthened my relationships with ALL of my host families. I had made life-long friendships, with Brasilians and the exchange students around me. I have traveled all over Brasil. I have done things I have never dreamed of doing. I have found my place in Olimpia. And I am happy. Truly happy.

Things have been so normal now. Things don't surprise me anymore. I am living life as a Brasilian. And I have never been more proud of myself. I eat rice and beans every day with fresh squeezed juice. When someone tells me to be ready at 3 p.m. I am prompt to START getting ready at 4 p.m. I hug and kiss everyone on the cheek like we've known each other for years. I can samba. I can walk up to any random stranger and say to them anything that I would like in Portuguese. This place has really become my home and I just can't imagine leaving in less than two months.

I have grown up so much this year. I have learned so much. I have changed so much. I am not the same blonde American who stepped off the plane in São Paulo almost 10 months ago. I am a better, happier, stronger person. And I couldn't be more proud.

This year has been a complete roller coaster. Just like everyone said that it would be. They told me I would have hard times. That I would be upset. That things would go wrong. But they also told me that I would remember it forever. That I would have some of the happiest moments I have ever had in my life. That I would discover new things about myself. That I would fall full heartedly in love and never want to leave. I am in love with Brasil and everything it has taught me and shown me. I am so thankful for everyone who has made this year possible. My parents, my grandparents, all of my family and friends really. And Rotary. Rotary, I was totally mad at you earlier for putting me through this. But now I can't thank you enough. Al Kalter, Daphne Cameron, Jody Davis, all of you, you know what you're doing and I really just can't express with words how thankful I am to have you guys in my life. Thank you so much.

Beijos e abraços,

Jesse