Lauren Youngerman
2009-10 Outbound to Brazil

Hometown: Fleming Island, Florida
School: Fleming Island HS
Sponsor: Fleming Island Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Recife Encanta Moça Rotary Club, District 4500, Brazil

Lauren's Bio

You're a harbinger of good things to come

A sign that it's all changing for me.

It's a happiness, euphoria

Something out of a fantasy.

And that is exactly how I felt when I received that one phone call informing me that I would be going to Brazil for my junior year of high school. When I hung up the phone all sorts of emotions hit me at once. It was probably one of the happiest moments in my life, and probably the biggest life change in such few words. I can guarantee that I have absolutely no clue how this will effect my life, but I know it will. This knowledge has brought up a very common question ... Who exactly am I?

The easiest, most unique way to describe me is I am Lauren Youngerman. I attend Fleming Island High School as a sophomore. I've spent all of my sixteen years living in northeastern Florida, and I am a total wimp when it comes to cold weather. I started off my life being an only child, but about a month after my fifth birthday I had to move over and share my family with my brother Tristan. Since then we've gone through many things together as a family, and I love them dearly. Throughout the years we've also gone through many pets, leaving us with our current dog named Jake, and cat named Spaz.

Well yes, that is all the easy stuff.... Yet again, the question does appear, Who exactly am i? Being a "Lauren Youngerman" that defines me as many things. Fun, unique, crazy, kind, caring, lovable, helpful, independent, friendly, entertaining, and so much more that would take forever to list! If sounding self-centered, that is the last thing I aim to be, I'm just confident on who I am. I'm the kind of girl who will hold her head up high no matter what happens, and I enjoy to make the best of any and every situation.

Fun is guaranteed when I'm in a place. Anybody would easily agree with me, no matter the situation, I can make things fun. There isn't much that I do grudgingly, and I will try everything. Sure, sure try everything, but one may ask what I really truly love to do. Sailing is my most favorite thing to do in the world, and I try to do it whenever I can. I love the feel of rushing across the water being powered by an aspect of weather, the wind pushing me along the horizon. It truly is a magical feeling. I also enjoy the simple pleasures of life, however, such as hanging out with friends and family, exploring what there is around, shopping, and just watching a decent movie.

Well, I'd have to say, that pretty much sums me up. I'm ready for anything life throws at me, and I'm very excited about being able to spend a year abroad. I'd like to thank everyone who has made this wonderful opportunity possible, and I'm very honored to be a part of it.

Lauren's Journals

September 24 Journal

Oi Florida! Tudo bom?

So I've been in Brazil for over a month, and I've done an AMAZING job at putting off this journal. It's not that I don't have anything exciting to write about, but it’s just that I keep putting it off, I'm a master at procrastination. Sorry about that (: So, how do I put the most amazing month and a half of my life into words? It's honestly not at all fully possible, it’s been so much more than I expected and over all just completely wonderful. I've had the best experience of my life so far, and I'm sure it’s only going to get better.

I left the United States August 2, 2009 on a flight leaving Miami at 9:20 PM (I did have another plane from Jacksonville to Miami before then, however). The 8 hour plane ride went by much quicker than I thought. I only was able to sleep for 30 minutes but I kept myself entertained by watching a movie and coloring, and I spent nearly 4 hours coloring in my Disney coloring book that I brought along. Landing in Salvador led me to confusion. Almost no one in the airport spoke English and I had such a hard time trying to find where I go to check back in to another flight after Customs! But luckily I experienced right off the warm and friendliness of the Brazilians and someone showed me the way. 3 hours later, I was on a plane again on my way to my city! I hadn't really began feeling anything until I began to see the beach and the outline of a big city in the distance. I instantly knew I was going to fall in love with this beautiful beach city.

Leaving the plane I was greeted by my host family waiting outside the doors for me. Exiting that airport was stepping into another world I was so unprepared for, so excited for, and so ready for.

Sometimes, it’s so hard to believe I'm doing this. I've become so accustomed to everything that goes on in my life here, it's feeling all too normal! I have to remind myself sometimes that I'm in Brazil. I already can see myself changing, I know I will never be that same girl I was before I left.

School here is wonderful. I don't understand a thing, but it’s good. Everyone here is so much louder in the US, and at times school is so much more fun. However, one thing I noticed upon reading my friend's journals was that most of them seemed to be really enjoying English class. Honestly, my English class is my LEAST favorite class. I don't understand ANYTHING! How, one might ask, can I not understand a class that teaches the language that I actually know? Well, to begin with, my English teacher does NOT know English, she's taught the class things that are wrong, I try to tell her and she ignores me because she doesn't know what I'm saying. Also, when people try to ask me a question on how to write a certain form of a sentence, I get so confused! These were things I learned maybe in the 2nd grade and do not remember a single thing about! My friends here are quite disappointed that I can never help them with their English work. On my first English test I received a mark of 7.3/10 on the test. That shows how well my English is, right? Well besides English class, I have a variety of other classes which I still can't remember what they are or what days they come on. I know I have 2 chemistry classes, 2 physics classes, 2 biology classes, a math class, a Portuguese class, a gym class, an English class, a composition class, and I think maybe another one or two that I'm forgetting. Here, teachers switch classes instead of students, so I never had to worry about going to the wrong classes. Overall though, school started off great but now has just become school, but I completely adore it and the people inside!

About my city? Rotary didn't tell me that I'd be living my year abroad in complete paradise. I live an entire four blocks from such a beautiful beach! I go at LEAST once a week. I love it. However, you can't swim in the beach here (or at least you aren't supposed to, but I have anyways) because of a shark problem they have in this city. It's so much more beautiful than the Florida beaches I've grown up with. They are definitely much cleaner and much more lively here! Someone is always trying to sell you food or jewelry or clothes or anything on the beach, it’s neat.

Since I've come to Brasil, I've already been on a few trips, but none of them outside of paradise. I've gone to the prettiest beach in the country, in my opinion the world, called Porto de Galinhas. I had never seen anything like that! It is the kind of beach you only see in pictures, yet it was completely real! I've gone to Maragogi, a beach in the state to the south, a few times as well. The first time I went to Maragogi was with Rotary. Oh, that was such a wonderful trip! I got to meet the other inbounds in the Norbrex multidistrict, they are all such lovely people. This was our inbound orientation, and we honestly did little with Rotary. We spent the weekend creating friendships, playing games, swimming in the ocean, building sculptures out of people buried in the sand, dancing, eating, feeding monkeys, turning guys into girls and vice versa, and overall just having an amazing time! I adore the other inbounds and cannot wait to see them again in December! I also went to Maragogi this weekend, but this time with my family and my sister's best friend to my family's beach house. I had a lot of fun (:

Brazilian food is the best thing in the world, really. I was a vegetarian before coming here, and I hadn't eaten beef in YEARS. I just thought it was nasty. Now you wouldn't hear me say that or even anything close. I love the meat in Brasil. There is such a variety of meats and flavors, it’s all delicious! A fairly common food here is chicken hearts, and as disgusting as that sounds, it’s very good.

Many of my friends here say that they prefer American (US) food more than Brazilian food. I am usually very confused by this statement and have to ask them what they mean by "American" food. This leads to disappointment for me, they respond with "Oh, my favorite is the Big Mac!" or just simply say "McDonald's." I then usually hear about how when they think of the US, all they think of is McDonald's and Disney. It disappoints me to hear this, I don't even like McDonald's, but I'm glad I can be here to make an impact and change their views on what they think of "All Americans". In being an exchange student, I realize there is a lot thought about me, especially when I am in a place that hasn't seen other exchange students from Florida. They look up to me, this is how they will think of Americans. It's a lot of responsibility, but I think I can handle it!

One can easily see that I've changed, at least a little already, and will continue changing. I'm welcoming said change. I'm also helping change the world around me by "sharing the sunshine state with the world". Thank you Rotary for giving me this opportunity, I'm going to make the most of it.

Beijos!

-Lauren Youngerman

December 1 Journal

Oiiiiiiiii Florida! It’s been a while, huh?

I’d like to begin with apologizing on how long it has taken me to write this journal. It’s hard, so many things happen at once and you can’t help but be overwhelmed. Brazil is treating me wonderfully! I’m having a tremendous time, and it’s only getting better! I have the most wonderful friends (some Brazilian, some other exchangers), a great family, and the most beautiful city.

Since my last journal I’ve done many things. I’ve gotten incredibly ill, I’ve visited some of the most beautiful cities nearby (Olinda), I’ve gone to the beach countless times, I’ve seen new moon at midnight with my host family, I’ve gone out with exchange students, I’ve gone out with Brazilians, and oh so much more. However, recently was when the real fun started to happen. A couple weeks ago I went to Miribilandia, a local “theme park”, with my school. Honestly? The park was terrible. It has very few rides/attractions, and some of the rides are the same ones that we have at our local fairs in Florida. It was an amazing day however. I know the rides definitely disappointed me, and I was going through kind of a funk at the time where I was just completely having a bad day. But this time of the year, the park hosts its Nights of Terror, where every night there are shows of pirates and cannibals while they run around the park with other frightening figures scaring people and there are also multiple horror houses to enter which will scare the socks off of you! This didn’t scare me at all, but it definitely made my day. Actually, no, what made this trip so great wasn’t because of the monsters, but my friends’ faces in fear of the monsters. The most hilarious thing I think I had seen. It was so wonderful; it was an amazing day for sure. I always have a good time with my friends from school. They are such wonderful people.

I’ve also done some pretty amazing things as well. A couple of weeks ago, Rotary had this “small walk” on the beach. This “small walk” was actually 25 kilometers, which is approximately 15 miles. I am not sure if I’m proud, or angry with myself/Rotary to be able to say I walked the entire way. It was pretty great though. With all my exchange student buddies, we walked along some of the prettiest beaches for 25 kilometers and just had a blast. When we finally arrived at the house we were going to, we had lunch and went swimming in the pool. All the Americans and other pale skinned foreigners were bright shades of red, and everyone was just exhausted. That morning, I woke up at 5 to make this walk, and we met at the beach at around 5:30… That’s even earlier than I wake up for school! I didn’t return to my house until maybe around 5 or 6 that evening, and shortly after I made plans to go to a party that night. I ended up staying at this party until after 4 AM and I arrived in my house shortly after 5. This was the most killer 24 hour day of my life, but definitely a great one. I had so much fun, and I really do love all of the people here.

Saturday, I went to a place where they make sugar. That was actually kind of interesting, minus the horrible smell. However I think what made it so great was going with the other exchangers. Not only did we go with the 8 kids in my city, but we went with about 16 or 17 other exchange kids from other nearby cities. When we arrived at this sugar cane factory place, we were made to wear these very sexy hard hats, and bright orange ear plugs. Watching the sugar cane being transformed into sugar and then into other products, such as Álcool for cars, was a really different and neat experience.

After that the 20 something of us piled into a small bus and took off for lunch. While eating lunch, I spotted a monkey in the restaurant. Not a little picture of a monkey, or a stuffed animal, but a living monkey climbing around the restaurant walls. This is one of those “Only in Brazil…” moments. Before coming to this country, I had never seen a wild monkey climb around in a restaurant, or have cats walk by and rub up against my leg in the middle of lunch, and the strangest part is that nobody thinks anything of it! It’s completely normal!

After lunch we all piled back onto the bus and went to a “reserva floresta Darwin.” We took a hike through the woods while being told about plants and such, and how many of the plants only found in Brazil are used in many medicines. It was pretty neat, and the best part was when our little tour guy dude spoke about this stuff -  it was in Portuguese but I could understand everything he was saying! This is always a wonderful feeling. After our little hike, we went over to this little place to see animals. The animals we got to see were a 2-headed snake, a “dog rat”, a variety of screaming monkeys, a two-toed sloth, and a large snake. There was something very interesting about these last two though, we all got to hold them and take pictures with them! That was really neat. I never would have thought of having a giant snake draped around my shoulders and feeling it slowly move with every muscle across my arms, or of being able to pet the fuzzy lazy animal that I only ever see in the Jacksonville Zoo when it’s sleeping! I really had so much fun this day.

Portuguese is a very difficult language, but I understand it more and more each day! I can’t say I’m fluent yet because commonly I stumble over words or am not quite sure what I’m trying to say or just some days I can’t seem to understand anything… But I am learning! Commonly when I talk to friends or family back home I catch myself slipping into saying something in Portuguese, or when I’m talking with friends here in English I suddenly change languages on them. It’s really cool thinking about this. Sometimes I even begin to think in somewhat broken Portuguese! However, I have not had a dream yet in this language, and that’s a real downer. I’ve been here for almost four months, and still nothing. I can’t wait for it to happen though!

Well, that’s all that is occupying my mind at the moment, except for the fact that I’ve got a lot to look forward to! My birthday is quinta, or Thursday, which also marks 4 months in Brazil. I’m quite excited and I plan on going to the beach for sure (since I can do that here). There is a downside though. My host parents will be in FLORIDA on my birthday, visiting Orlando and Disney World (How slightly ironic, huh?). Either way, I’ll still have a good 17th Birthday, and I’m actually really excited about that. A week and a half after my birthday, I get to go to a nearby city in the north east, called Natal, with all of the other exchange students. This will be a blast, I can’t wait. Then after that, Christmas and New Years, and so much more! J Sometimes, recently, I’ve been feeling quite homesick (because of the holidays and such), but all that I’ve got to look forward to and my amazing friends get me through it all! Eu amo Brasil!

Again, I must say Obrigada to everyone who has helped me get here. Thank you Rotary for making this possible, Thank you Rotarians for helping me out along the way, Thank you Mom and Dad for just being there and helping my dream become reality, and Thank You to anyone and everyone else who deserves a thank you!

P.S. In my last journal, I mentioned paradise. Right now I’d like to take a moment to reflect on that. It hasn’t changed, it is currently around 80-something degrees outside, and it will only get slightly warmer for the next few months. Because of this, right now I LAUGH at all of you back in FL or in more northern countries at the moment. I hate the cold, so this area of Brazil is absolutely perfeito para mimJ. It’s also very nice being on summer vacation right now, not having to wake up for school in the morning, and being able to go to the beach or shopping center every day? Oh, it’s simply perfect!

January 9 Journal

Before I begin telling you about my life in paradise, I’d like to wish everyone a feliz ano novo, or a happy new year. I hope that everyone had a great Christmas and New years, and wish that all is well for you in the new decade.

Since my last journal a lot of things have happened. In December my parents and friends threw a surprise birthday party for me at the local Pizza Hut, my best friend took me out to dinner on my birthday (which I spent most of the day at the beach), I went to Natal with all the other exchangers, I survived Christmas away from my family and friends, and so much more.

One weekend in December we went to a city in the northeast called Natal for our “Natal em Natal” (Literally translating into Christmas in Christmas, but the second “Natal” is the name of the city), and it was just absolutely wonderful. We stayed with families rather than staying in a hotel. The family I stayed with was really wonderful, I stayed with a girl (Paula) who went to the US a couple years ago and who has walls COVERED in harry potter, no joke. Paula and I quickly bonded over the food we miss from the US, such as Froot Loops and Mexican food, and easily became friends. Saturday, the only full day we had in Natal, began quickly. We were on the beach at 9:00 in the morning to help clean the already decently clean beach, and to give Christmas presents to the kids who helped us.

After this we all piled into a numerous number of Buggys and took off for the dunes. Being from Florida, just the site of these dunes was breath taking. These sand dunes were notably bigger than any hill I’ve ever seen in Florida. This experience was completely terrifying but undeniably one of the most fun things I’ve done. It was like a rollercoaster without restraints through mountains of sand. Near to the ending of our great sand adventure we stopped to take a group picture and hold some animals. In this area, when you looked around, you didn’t see much other than sand for such quite a distance. Here, there was a guy with a monkey, and a guy with an iguana that allowed you to hold and take pictures with the animals. So, I held a monkey. Actually, I didn’t hold it. That little monkey jumped around from people to people if anyone was near by. The little monster attacked my sunglasses which were on my face at the time, but it was incredibly cute. After our little break we all packed up and headed back to the dunes and on our way to a little stop where you could take something like a swing on a zip line into a lake. That was an incredible amount of fun. Once everybody got their turn, we headed out to lunch then back to meet with our host families again to eat dinner and get some rest before our party that night. Our party began at 10 PM and lasted till around 3:30 am. It was nice to be with all the exchangers talking, dancing, eating, and just having a good time (:. The next morning was even earlier, we had to meet at 8:00 in the morning for breakfast, and shortly after we were on our way back to our cities again. It was kind of sad knowing that I wouldn’t see most of these amazing people again until the district conference, but it was awesome because the kids from Aracaju (a city farther south, by a 10 hour bus ride or so) came to Recife that day.

My host parents were still in Florida at the time, so I ended up staying over at the house of Laya, my best friend from Germany. However, the exchange students from Aracaju needed a place to stay as well, and we ended up having 5 people in total sleep in Laya’s reasonably small room. Lexie, from the US, Johanna, from Germany, and Erin, from Canada, all stayed with us. We really had a blast. That night we went out to Skillus, a little restaurant in the shopping, to have dinner with all the other exchanger students from Aracaju and some Rotex. We then returned home and stayed up late just talking about all sorts of things, and just had a good time. Eventually we got to sleep and were awoken early the next morning to travel with everyone to Olinda and Recife Antigo. The day was a blast and ended with us going out to a bar with all the exchange students from both cities for several hours. Most of these people I don’t see or talk to too much, but still people that there is no problem connecting and talking to. I really love the group of exchange students in Norbrex. Everyone is really wonderful, and I’m really grateful to have such good friends here from all over the world. The next morning, the Aracaju exchangers packed up their van and headed back home. It was sad to say goodbye, because they are so far away, but I know I’ll see them again some day. Finally, I went back to my home where my host parents had already arrived home from their Florida vacation as well.

However, December was a difficult month for me, but I’m sure it was difficult for most people. I was away from friends and family on my birthday and Christmas, and I did get a bit homesick. Here in Brasil, it's summer time at the moment, and I’m so close to the equator at sea level, meaning it was quite far from chilly. Christmas didn’t really feel like Christmas, and there weren’t any crazy different traditions. Of course Christmas was definitely different. Instead of celebrating on the 25th, we celebrated on Christmas Eve. I went to my host grandmother’s house for a ham and turkey dinner, and nobody could open any presents until midnight. It was nice, but I definitely admit that I miss the anticipation of waking up on Christmas morning to go look under the tree to see what was left there for me the night before.

Before I knew it, Christmas was over, and I was packed into the car with my host family on the way to their beach house in the beautiful town of Maragogi, where we spent our New Years. We spent 5 days there laying on the beach, swimming in the ocean, staying up till 5 am to watch the sun rise, going to the pool, playing in the sand, laying in the hammocks, and just had a great time.

New Year’s Eve, it’s common to wear certain colors to bring good luck into the New Year. Most people wear white because it symbolizes peace. I’m not sure what any of the other colors symbolize, but most people just stick with white anyways. I transitioned into the new year sipping champagne (less than half of a flute of it) with my host family on one of the prettiest beaches I’ve ever been to, watching the fireworks shoot off all along the beach and looking up at the stars. It was wonderful. Sadly, I got sick around 2 am and decided it was best if I went to sleep. For some unknown reason I always get sick to the stomach whenever we go to the beach house. However, at 3:40 I received a phone call from my best friend who was still back in Recife wishing me a happy new year. This phone call woke me up just in time to go see the first sunrise of the year on a beautiful beach in paradise. I relaxed on the beach till around 5 when I was tired and decided to go back to sleep. I then woke up around noon, and the crazy Brazilian summer vacation cycle started all over again, and I wasn’t back in bed until 5am on the 2nd of January.

Ever since arriving here, I do believe that the number one cause of sleep deprivation is Brazil. I had one day of rest after coming back, then the next day I was out with friends again. This week I’ve been to several different parts of the city, out to Olinda, to Plaza Shopping on the other side of the city, to Shopping Recife several times, the beach numerous times, a variety of bars, and to several cinemas. This week I’ve been inviting anyone and everyone out, because I simply do not want to be sitting around at home all day every day. It’s been great.

Monday was tough, I got some bad news and was upset most of the day, but then I went on Tuesday out with Laya to see Avatar on her side of the city (that’s an hour and 20 minutes of busses just to get there) and everything was better. Wednesday I went to my shopping center with Laya where I bought these beautiful enormous shoes, and then out with my sister and a bunch of people to an oyster bar that night. That was fun. Thursday I spent the day at the beach with Carol (my sister) and some of our friends. That day ended with going out to see Couple’s Retreat that night. Friday we went to the Center of the city to this little market that was seriously located inside of an old prison. Call me weird or whatever, but that really was a creepy feeling for me. The little stands/shops were located in the old cells, and it was full of people, and I was just overcome with this incredibly creepy feeling. Afterwards, we went out to Olinda to take some photos of the beautiful city. That night my sister and I once more ventured out to the cinema with friends to watch Sherlock Holmes. I wasn’t overly impressed, but we had fun. We then got a bite to eat and headed home. Some friends of ours were at downstairs in our building, so we stayed out with them till around 2 before going back and going to sleep. This week has been incredibly exhausting, and I honestly haven’t gotten too much sleep!

There’s so much to look forward to, and I’m so excited about everything! Maybe this upcoming week I will be taking a trip to Natal again to visit Paula and see the city a little better. I will change host families on the 19 or 20 (Note, I’m still in my first host family). Carnival is in February, and that’s definitely an experience I’m looking forward to. School will start, and I will meet new people again. Life is just great at the moment, I’m enjoying every day in Brazil, and I don’t want to be anywhere else but here. I can understand full conversations in Portuguese, and I can take part in them.

However, I know I will never fit in completely here in Brazil. I look incredibly American, but I kind of like that. It’s kind of fun and nice to have people stop on the street and tell me that I’m incredibly beautiful, and then continue on once more. It does nicely for the self esteem. However, I’m still not dreaming in Portuguese. However when I dream, I seem to notice it lacks a language. There’s never any speaking, thinking, or dialect. I remember feelings, but never words. I’m thinking in Portuguese sometimes now. Not all the time of course, and I know this. Sometimes, I’m incredibly confused on what language I’m thinking in. I catch myself remembering conversations that were spoken in English completely in Portuguese, and vice versa. When I try to think about what language my thoughts are in, it honestly confuses me. Subconscious thoughts are really hard to follow and remember, and I’m not sure what goes through my mind at times (don’t laugh =P).

Carol, my host sister here, leaves this month for Germany. Germany was never one of my top 5 choices, but I can’t help but feel incredibly jealous of her. She’s getting all of that attention of people wanting to hear about what she’s doing and where she’s going. She’s filling out paperwork, buying presents and pins, clothes and necessities for her trip, and I’m incredibly jealous. Seeing the new outbounds on the site, and knowing that they are going to their first conference at Lake Yale, and starting to prepare for their adventure makes me incredibly jealous. It feels like just yesterday I was filling out my applications, shaking in my seat at my interview, getting that depressing letter in the mail that said “alternate”, getting the call saying I would be living in Brazil for a year, writing my bio, going to Lake Yale and getting lost, meeting some of the best people I’ve ever met (aka RYEFL Exchange students), working on a 12 page report about Brazil, giving a speech in Portuguese (which I’ve honestly not even done in Brazil yet), and just everything.

However, all of this dates back to farther back than a year ago. Half my exchange is almost over, and I’m so glad to be here. Thanks everyone who made this possible. I’m seriously living my dream. I’m changing. I’m learning. I’m teaching. I’m exploring. I’m helping others. I’m being helped. I’m being independent. I’m being ready for anything and everything. I’m trying new things. I’m speaking another language. I’m in a foreign country. I’m having the time of my life. I now have friends and family from all areas of the world. I don’t know what I’d be doing if I wasn’t here right now, but I don’t think about it, I don’t really care. Nothing could be better than this.

Thanks Rotary for making this all possible, I’m doing the best I can of representing everyone back there, juro. Thanks to my family, for helping me financially, physically, mentally, and for everything you’ve done for me. Thanks to my friends for always being there for me when I was stressed out. Thanks to everyone. I can’t tell you how thankful I am to be here, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

April 26 Journal

This is honestly the strangest feeling I’ve ever had. I can’t tell you how much I can’t wait to get home, but just the thought of leaving this place brings me to tears. The people, the culture, just everything is now a part of me. I go back home in 72 days, and that scares me even more than boarding a plane to a foreign country where I don’t know anyone for an entire year.

I can’t even begin to describe how much I’m enjoying my time here in Brazil. Seriously, what’s not to love? Since my last journal I have not had much access to a computer or to the internet, which was actually a good thing. A little note for any future exchangers: When the Rotarians tell you not to bring a computer, sure go ahead and bring one, but if you go on everyday to check your facebook and email your friends back home, you won’t be as happy as you could be. Being without connections back home made me just completely forget my life back home. Honestly, now, it’s difficult to tell anyone about my life “back home,” because I think of Brazil as my home now. Florida is a thing of the past, and Recife is where it’s at. Its scary thinking that I’ll have to go home this summer, it’s a scarier thought than leaving for a year to a foreign country where you hardly know the language and you don’t know anybody. But yeah, I’m completely in love with my life hereJ. Since the last time y’all heard from me, a lot has happened, and a lot has changed. I’ve ridden a horse in a fazenda in Gravatá. I’ve fallen off a horse in Gravatá. I’ve gone to the beach several times. I’ve experienced the Brazilian holiday of Carnaval. I’ve started school again. I’ve switched host families. I’ve eaten foods that don’t look to be edible but taste so delicious. I’ve just been enjoying the wonderful Brazilian culture and life style.

January 28 was my last day with my first host family, and the last time I have seen my host sister, Carol, on exchange. I feel terrible, I never had a chance to say goodbye to her because I moved while she was at the movies with friends and she left the next morning to begin her exchange in Germany. At some points of my exchange, we were really distant, but I think within that last month with her we managed to get pretty close. I don’t know if she will end up reading this, but I would like to leave a little goodbye for her:

Carol! Minha irmãzinha! Estou com saudades de você L. Você vai ser minha irmã para sempre. Gostei muito de você, e eu não vou te esquecer. Espero que um dia você vá me visitar na Florida ou eu vou voltar para Brasil. Desculpa que eu não disse “tchau” para você... Eu queria muito, mas estava na aula quando você foi. Estou pensando de você, e to com saudade! Beijos minha irmãzinha!

If you didn’t understand that, don’t worry, it wasn’t about youJ.

So, Yes, I switched host families on January 28, 2010. I really love my new host family. It’s much more “normal” for me. Instead of having two sisters, like the previous family, I only have one younger brother of ten years. My new host family made me feel welcome right away. They are great people, and I’m really glad that I’m living in their home. My new home is two blocks from my first, and about 6 blocks from the beach. Tragic that I live so far away, isn’t it? This is one of the larger buildings in the area with 30 floors and decent sized apartments. I now have my own room to stay in, it’s quite nice. The building is facing the beach, so there is always the most wonderful breeze blowing through to keep things cool. Speaking of the lovely breeze, I have absolutely no complaints on the weather here, it’s perfect. Okay, so back on the topic of my new building, it’s completely filled with life. There’s always a group of kids or teens running around downstairs. We’ve got a decent sized pool and a soccer court. I spend much of my time downstairs just hanging out. The people in the building are pretty amazing too. On the 13th floor, there’s another Rotary exchange student, from Poland, it’s really nice living so close to her. However she’s already gone back to PolandL. On the 29th floor lives a friend of mine who did exchange in Georgia last year and the view from his balcony is one of the prettiest things I’ve like ever seen. Also on the 18th floor lives one of my best friends, I met him here and have become very close with him and his family. I’ve met many other incredibly amazing people in the building as well but I don’t think I’ll bore you by talking about all of them. Within my first two weeks here I decided to play a game of futebol with some of the guys in the building. I can now honestly say I’ve played soccer until my feet have bled. Playing soccer with bare feet hurts the first time you do it; I got some pretty nasty blisters that popped. It hurt to walk for the next week and a half or so, it was pretty bad, but while playing I didn’t notice them at all. I guess I was having too much fun to notice.

Okay, so honestly when I started writing this, it was like early March. Now it’s Mid-April, and I’ve realized that I need to finish it.

So in February the Brazilian holiday of Carnaval took place. I wish I had great exciting stories to tell everyone about this, I’m sure every other exchange student does! Well I went to Olinda one day which was great, and Maragogi beach another. As for all of the other days, I passed really sick. It was not a fun time, and I’m so disappointed that I didn’t get to experience it more.

In March a lot of things happened. Or maybe you would think a lot of things happened, but in truth, not that much has. I’ve just been living my life here. These past eight months have felt like such a short period of time, but yet it’s also felt like forever. I think in Portuguese, I dream in Portuguese, I talk in Portuguese. My friends are Brazilians and other exchange students. My classes aren’t in English, and neither is the language spoken in my home. My English honestly sucks now. But, somehow, all of this is incredibly normal. I’m completely okay with it and wouldn’t want it any other way.

In the end of March I went with Rotary to the Paixão do Cristo. This was an Easter spectacular about the death and rise of Jesus Christ. It was really kind of cool. We hopped into the 3 hour van ride out to Nova Jerusalem and went to see the show. Before we entered, we being exchange students decided to take pictures. Soon enough there were crowds of Brazilian teens swarming us wanting to take pictures with us too. It was quite awkward but yet quite fun as well, Brazilians love their photos! Okay, so then we went in. This show is much different than any other show I had ever been to before. Instead of sitting and having the scenes change behind the curtain, you walked around from scene to scene. I thought it was a cool Idea at first, but after 3 hours of walking, I was exhausted! Afterwards we all headed back home.

The following weekend was Semana Santa, or the Easter weekend. I went to Gravatá with my family and stayed there for several days. I actually got a bit of a tan as well! It’s funny how I go to the beach and get sun burnt and go to a farm to get tanned. Well it was a nice weekend. I ended up going to a friend’s hotel one night and staying out till four. I was incredibly exhausted afterwardsJ.

This past weekend I went out with all the exchange students again to some hydro electrical dams. It was actually a pretty neat trip, but sadly a 7 hour bus ride. It was also quite sad that it was the last time that I might ever see some of those exchange students againL. We left early on a Friday morning and everyone was in the hotel by about 5 PM. We stayed in a little hotel in Paulo Alfonso, Bahia. Friday night after dinner, everyone collected on the roof and most of the exchange students ended up in the pool. There was a little band playing, and all of us were just goofing off and having a good time.

Saturday morning we were off to AL to see Xingo, one of the biggest dams in Brazil, or the biggest, I don’t quite remember. It was neat to see it. After the tour we went to the river that lead to the dam and rode a catamaran boat around. We stopped in this really awesome super deep part of the river with these giant rock walls surrounding to go swimming. We stayed there for a while, got a bit sun burnt, and just had a lot of fun. After we went back, we had lunch, and then started to head back. However before going back, we stopped in this little town called Piranha. Oh my gosh, definitely the worst part of the trip. Rotary, being the evil that it is, made us climb this huuuuuge hill with sooo many steps leading up to the top. This climb nearly killed me, I really do not like stairs. After we finished with this, and went back to the hotel, everyone was pretty much exhausted. It was a much less eventful night.

Sunday morning we all packed up and left the hotel at around 8 in the morning, but we didn’t go home just yet. Our first stop was the Paulo Alfonso Dam. This dam was SO much prettier than Xingo, but for sure much smaller. The river leaving from it also has some pretty waterfalls that we got to go see as well. After this stop we said our final goodbye to some of the exchange students that we will never see again, and began to head back to our cities. It was a really fun trip for sure; I absolutely love my fellow exchange students. I stopped thinking of them as friends a long time ago, these kids are my family. I will definitely miss themL.

Since then, nothing overly interesting has happened in April. It’s just been normal life. Don’t get me wrong, I love EVERY second of it, but it’s something I’ve become so accustomed to that it doesn’t have that initial thrill of “Oh I did this, and this, and I went shopping today, Oh I went to a party and I also did this…” It’s honestly much better this way. I couldn’t imagine things being any different, and I don’t think I’d want them to be. Sure I’ve had difficulties, things aren’t always perfect, but that’s how I learn and grow. I love my life here, and I love all the people in it.

So yes, Brazil has been treating me wonderfully. My English is getting terrible (and please don’t tell me you didn’t notice by reading my journal, even when I re-read it over and over again I can’t seem to get things right. Oh, and my mom comes this weekJ. On April 29, my mom arrives in what has been my home for the last nearly 9 months. It’s a very strange feeling for sure, but I am totally stoked! Without my mom finding the program I probably would have never gotten the chance to come here anyways. I’ll show her that getting me into this program was for sure the right thing to do. Okay, well I’m in the middle of the shopping center right now stealing their free internet, and I gotta get home so I can start getting ready to go out tonight!

Tchau! J Beijos Florida! Vou te ver no julho!

July 6 Journal

I’m not exactly sure where I left in my last journal, but anything since before then until June 11th, stopped being important on this date. On June 11th, 2010, the World Cup started. Brazil wouldn’t be Brazil without its soccer. The country literally seems to stop for every Brazil game. I had never had much interest in soccer, but I have watched almost every single game. I followed several teams through their games and actually became quite educated in the world of football. I watched the US do better than any Brazilian thought they would do. I saw two normally really good teams (Italy and France) lose quickly. However the Brazilian games were the ones that the whole country stopped to watch.

The first game was against North Korea, a game that everyone thought we would win in a heartbeat. This game I went to watch with that friend of mine that from the building. I mentioned him in my last journal, the guy from the 18th floor, his name is Caetano. He has become my best friend here in Brazil. He is closer to me than anyone in the world. I’ve also become close with his family, and they are such great people. This first game I went up to Caetano’s house to watch Brazil win. To make things interesting, we got together a bet of what the outcome of the game was going to be. I put my 5 Reals down on 2-0 for Brazil… and I almost won! Outside, no cars are on the road, nobody is out walking around. Everybody is gathered in front of a TV somewhere nervously watching the game. The first half, nobody scored anything, then in the second half Brazil made their first goal. A Brazilian goal is something totally indescribable. You’ve never heard anything like it, trust me. When the ball flies into the net, the city screams. You’re able to hear screams from probably everyone in the city. People are constantly blaring horns and just yelling “gooooooooooooooooooooooooal!” Fireworks get shot off. It’s unlike anything I’ve experienced before. Not too long after Brazil scored again. Things were looking good for me, until in the last 5 minutes, North Korea scored!?! Brazil was a bit confused at first, but we still ended up winning, so it didn’t matter too much. For the rest of the day the city was basically in party-mode, with everyone super excited about the win and the wins to come.

The next game was one June 20th, and I wasn’t able to watch all of it. I really wasn’t overly upset to be missing the game. The reason I missed half of it was because I had a flight to Rio de Janeiro! This trip ended up being the best trip I have ever made. I went with my best friend, Caetano, who actually lived in Rio for 2 years a while back. We stayed at his grandparent’s house which was located 2 blocks away from Copacabana beach. Rio is the prettiest city I have ever been in for sure. I had such a fantastic time.

My first day in Rio was spent visiting the “Sugar Loaf” or pão de açúcar in Portuguese. It is such a beautiful site. You can see basically the whole city from the top of this mountain thing. You go up by taking two different little car like things hanging from wires. I was completely terrified of them. But all in all, it was BEAUTIFUL. I enjoyed it so much J.

The next day we spent traveling to shopping centers and walking along the beach at Copacabana. There’s actually a Starbucks in one of the shoppings in Rio, called shopping Leblon. Oh my gosh! I was so excited to see Starbucks. I quickly got in line, ordered my “usual” and felt so incredibly happy afterwards! My friend Caetano was so amused at how thrilled I was to have Starbucks that day.

The following day (or maybe two days after, or even the day before, I’m honestly not sure; it’s difficult to remember which day was which) we started the morning off by watching a very emotional US game. I was so thrilled to see the United States win and pass on to the next stage. None of my Brazilian friends could believe that the US made it to the final 8 games. I also managed to watch on Saturday the US lose to Ghana. That was a very emotional game too, and we were SO close! I was honestly a bit disappointed afterwards, but all was good, because Brazil was still in! Oh and I did go to the “FIFA fan fast” on Copacabana beach when I was in Rio to watch the Brazil-Portugal game. It was a bit disappointing, but at least we didn’t lose this game.

There was one night we went to see a play called “A Giaola das Loucas”. It was a play about a bunch of gay men in drag. I can honestly say I have never seen anything like that before. I really enjoyed it, but wow, I have NEVER seen so many men in dresses and actually make decent looking girls!! It was a bit strange, but it was really good. It had apparently a lot of very famous Brazilian actors in it, which I thought was quite interesting. Speaking of famous people, we actually encountered one of the most well-known women in Brazil, Xuxa. She’s been on the TV for years, and basically everybody knows her. She was sitting in the row in front of us. Sadly we were without our camera, but at least we got an autograph from her and talked a little with her! When I told my friends back in Recife, nobody believed me at first :P but it was true!

One day we spent by visiting the Corcovado. That is one of the most beautiful places I have EVER been. If you don’t know what the Corcovado is, it’s only because you don’t recognize the name. You know the big Christ that is in Rio, the one that is always shown with the city? Yeah, that’s the Corcovado. The view from up there is absolutely beautiful! You can see the entire city from up there. And the Christ statue is so beautiful as well. I’m so happy that I got the chance to go and see it. Oh, and for any Brazilian who wants to say that the Corcovado is bigger than the Statue of Liberty, I researched it, and the Statue of Liberty is significantly bigger. And for those of you who don’t know, the Christ at Corcovado was a present from the French, like our Statue of Liberty was.

Throughout the rest of the trip we just had a great time, walking on the beach, visiting other parts of the city, going to several delicious restaurants and many different shoppings. It was such a great time. It’s a trip I will honestly never forget. On our last day there, we went to the Copacabana fort. I really enjoyed that. The sight from on top of the fort was beautiful, and it was such an interesting thing to go to. My Rio trip was the BEST trip I have EVER been on. Thanks to Rotary for giving me permission to go! I had an amazing time there J.

I came back from Rio on the 27th, and I basically went home and slept most of the day. I was so exhausted. However on the 28th was the next Brazil game. Again I went up to the house of Caetano to watch Brazil kick some butt! The game was Brazil and Chile, and of COURSE Brazil won J. It was a good game to watch. The next day I spent working on my Rotary presentation which I had to present on the 30th. I believe that my presentation went pretty well, I was really nervous about it though.

Now I’ve gotten up to the July 1st, 6 days before I’m supposed to leave. Today as I write this it is actually July 5th, and I’ve got only one day left in Brazil before I leave. I’m a little bit afraid of returning. I think the thing I am most afraid of for when I return is how people are going to react to my English. I’m sure that you while reading this can’t believe this is a 17 year old American writing this. I can’t believe my English is so bad, but I know it is. I’m sure I’ll get it back quickly when I return, but for the moment I’m terrified. I still can’t believe it’s going to happen. In the last week I’ve been going out with friends a LOT. I’ve gone to several good-bye parties, and several days just going out to a bar to drink a soda with some friends. I also went to watch the final Brazil game on the beach here in Recife. It was a lot of fun, but it was honestly incredibly depressing watching Brazil lose to Holland. The following game of Argentina-Germany was an interesting game. I would have sworn it was a Brazil game with the way the city screamed for every Germany goal. There is a really big rivalry between Argentina and Brazil, and everyone here was so happy that they got completely killed by Germany in this game.

So, tomorrow is my last day, and I can’t believe it. Not one bit. I don’t want to leave, but I am honestly excited to be going back. Brazil has become my home. Portuguese has become the language I speak. The people here have become my friends and family. I love this place. There are so many things I miss back in Florida that I am so ready to have again as well though. I’m caught between my two homes, my two nationalities, and I don’t know what I’m going to do about it. I can’t even begin to describe how much I’m going to miss Brazil. However this year has been perfect. I had ups, I had downs, but overall the year couldn’t have been better. I wouldn’t change a thing, and I’d gladly relive every second over again if I could. I had such a wonderful year, and I will never forget it. Thank you Rotary and to anyone else who has helped me get here. You don’t know how grateful I am to you for that. Thank you thank you thank you thank you! I’ve had an amazing year, and it wouldn’t have been so amazing if it hadn’t had been for you all. Thank you for everything. J