September 26 Journal
Minha Primera Mes (My First Month)
Hello to everyone from Brasil!!!
I've been here for a little over a month now and it has been a lot of fun! I honestly can say that I didn't know what I was getting into until the moment I walked on that plane in Orlando. It finally hit me that I was actually leaving, and for the first time I realized that I would not see my family and friends again for a whole year. But later I realized that a year really isn't that long, so I decided to enjoy every minute of it instead!
When I arrived in Brasil the next morning after a very long flight, my host family was all waiting for me with open arms, well all except for my younger sister Veronica, because she was still at home sleeping (a girl after my own heart). As we left the airport I got my first real view of my new city, Salvador. It is beautiful here; it is an enormous city and is absolutely teeming with people all the time. And like every big city there are high rises, beautiful sculptures, and amazing architecture, but there are also favelas (slums), too.
My first day went by quickly as I spent my time getting to know my family and going to a family gathering at a relative’s house. The very next morning, I started school. Here I am in the 1st Grade, which is equivalent to the 10th grade in the US, so it’s about right. I have fourteen classes and they are Math, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, English, Spanish, Portuguese, Literature, Composition, Geography, History, Religion, Philosophy, and Laboratory. It sounds like a lot but since I don’t have every class every day, it’s not too bad. Everyone is very nice and helpful, and here you have every class with the same people and the teachers move, so the people in your class become your close friends, like a family even. Some people in my class have been studying together for eight years now! The school day lasts from 7 am to 12:30pm, during which I have six 50 minute classes and a 30 break. Our uniform consists of a polo shirt with the school logo monogrammed on, jeans or shorts that go the knee, and closed toed shoes. School here is also a lot more relaxed and the teachers and students are much friendlier with each other. From what I hear, it is one of the best schools in Salvador, and is for very bright kids, so some people are amazed that I can manage. It is almost the end of their 2nd semester here though, so I am not going to receive grades for this year, and some exchange students never get grades, but I am hoping to be a normal student next year anyways.
It gets dark here at about six o’clock and my sister Mari was studying for exams all my first week, so I didn’t do too much. The following weekend, though, I had orientation with all the other exchange students in my district. Here in D4550, we have 21 inbounds, 8 Germans, 7 Americans, 2 Canadians, 2 Danish, 1 Norwegian, and 1 Taiwanese. We all had a lot of fun together and bonded a lot that weekend. We went on a tour of Salvador, visited Vilas do Atlanticos, went to Praia do Forte, saw Protect TAMAR (sea turtle preserve), and went whale watching! On Saturday we did have a few informational meetings though. All in all, it was a great weekend.
The next week I really settled into my new routine, I went to school all week, started speaking more Portuguese, and went back to reading books, starting with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (in Portuguese, of course!). I visited the mall here one time with an Aunt and Vê, and it’s huge, like 4 or 5 levels all full of stores, which makes it all the more ironic to me, that they only have two theaters. I tried lots and lots of delicious new foods, and old ones fixed up a new way. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten more rice in my life! I’ve eaten rice and beans, churrasco, and things I can’t even remember the name of. I love the food here because it’s always so fresh and has so much more flavor to it. That weekend our family went to Guarajuba, where the beach house is located, and it was beautiful. The worst part was it is so windy there that even though the sun is very strong, you don’t feel it; it’s like insta-burn (but don’t worry mom, I wore sun block).
Time has continued to fly; my third, fourth, and fifth weeks went by in a snap! I still can’t believe that my exchange is 1/10 of the way over! I have just been going to school, to my “grandmother’s” birthday party, where I got pretty embarrassed because I didn’t know their Happy Birthday song, and to the mall or swimming pool occasionally. I did go to the airport once, but I wasn’t running home, I promise, I was just going to register my visa with the Federal Police. On the weekend between my third and fourth weeks I went to a festa do quinze anos (15h birthday party) for a friend of my sister, Mari. It’s a really big party here, and it is a big tradition, like a coming-out party. It was huge, I had an amazing time dancing and having fun with my friends and two other exchange students, Jola, from Norway, and Annika, from Germany. I think this party was almost as big as the homecoming at my school in Florida, and it was only for one girl. There were pictures of her everywhere, and everything was personalized with her name on it. It was amazing! Plus, the good news is I have been invited to another 15th birthday party next month for a girl in my class!
Oh I almost forgot the people, and that would be leaving out a lot. My first day of school was hilarious, between the language barrier and all the crazy questions. I was asked everything from, “Do you go to Disney World every day?” to “Do you know Robert Pattinson?” to “Is high school really all cliquey like in all the American films?” Actually, my whole first week was like that, random questions about anything and everything, I felt like I was being examined under a microscope, but I don’t think I’ve ever laughed that hard in my life. Brasilian people also do not know the meaning of personal space, and you can’t bring your personal bubble here with you either, because they can’t even imagine something like that exists. Other than that people here are very much like Americans, the way they act and do things is very similar.
As for my Portuguese. I am fairly functional - I can read, speak some, write some, and understand a lot. I even half-dream in Portuguese. It’s not too hard to catch on; I think listening is the key. I also took my first test, which I didn’t have to take, for Chemistry, and I got one of the highest scores in the class! What a surprise that was. I am also very happy to say I’m almost finished with Harry Potter e o Prisioneiro de Azkaban, only 5 chapters left! Next I’m on to O Ladrao de Raios, which I was so happy to find in Portuguese, because it’s my favorite book of all time in English!
To finish, I just want to say thank you to Rotary for sending me to this amazing country, with these crazy-but-wonderful people, and giving me the opportunity to shine more than I even thought I would. I also so thankful to my parents, both here and there, for being able to help through all these changes, and my friends in both countries, for everything!
Muitos Beijos do Brasil!!!!!
(P.S. It amazes me how often, when I say that I am from Florida, that people go, “Oh, so you’re one of Al’s kids.”)
November 19 Journal
Os Segundo e Terceiro Mêses ( Months Two and Three 9/23 -11/23)
“The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called ‘truth’.” - Dan Rather
Brasil has changed me, in so many aspects of my life. It leads me to new things, dares me to rethink the way I’ve lived for 15 years, drives me to succeed, and has brought me closer than ever to God. I will never be able to express my gratitude to all my teachers, the ones who believe in me through all of this and support me. Without all of them I can’t imagine I’d have ever made it this far.
These two months have been both busy and boring, both amazing and nerve wracking; it’s like good old regular life, but in a new way. The routine I’ve settled into is so similar, yet changing, that sometimes I forget this isn’t the way it’s always been. Now I am just another member of the group, for the most part, as I participate in trips, tests, homework, and hanging out with everyone, the only thing I don’t fit in well with is my Portuguese, which is getting better every day. As it improves, I feel myself beginning to make more and more friends and get more involved.
My second month consisted mainly of school and weekends in Guarajuba. We did have one week off from school in the beginning of October, but I was unlucky enough to be sick the entire time with a cold. I also was reading a lot, finishing O Ladrão de Raios and beginning the first Harry Potter book, The Sorcerer’s Stone. School had become much easier, as my level of understanding increased, and I was soon participating in class projects and other activities. My second month was the slowest so far, and I was sick a few times, so it was hardest then not to miss home, but as time flew by, I fell more and more into a pattern of living here, in my present life, and not in the past.
This month has been crazy and exciting and fun. I’ve been getting so much more involved, in sports, with friends, with school, and with Interact. I took my first school trips, one to a public school for disabled kids here, and one hiking in Santo Amaro! Santo Amaro was a blast because it was a great opportunity for me to bond with my classmates and get to know them better. And let me just tell you, you haven’t had a crazy bus ride, until you’ve ridden on a bus full of Brasilian kids with music and cameras!
My first weekend of this month I had another big 15 party for my friend Saprit, which was totally amazing! All the people from my class were there and we danced and hung out and had a wonderful time, it was a lot of fun! I spent the rest of that weekend with my best friend here, Mariana, and it reminded me of how laughter is an international language, as well as worship. I attended church for the first time with her and her family, and was shocked to see that among so many differences, worship is still the same, the feeling in the room, the joy of seeing hearts turned to Jesus, and one word we could all sing together ‘Hallelujah’. It was like a miracle in itself!
The second week of this month, I also had my first, and last, PE class, for futsal. Futsal is a type of soccer played inside on a something like a basketball court, but with soccer markings. Me, being my usual clumsy self managed to run into the fence on the side of the court. Who knew how much traction cleats and grass provide??? It was particularly funny because my coach, who speaks almost no English, managed to yell one word, “Brakes!” before I slammed into the fence. I had a lot of fun and managed to score a goal later on in the class, so I wasn’t so embarrassed leaving.
The following weekend I traveled on a bus for 8 or so hours to Itabuna for the Interact CODIC Forum. For eight hours people danced in the aisles, listened to loud Brasilian music, talked, and went crazy, it seemed. The weirdest part for me was how the adults didn’t seem to mind at all, which is such the opposite of the US. Once we got to Itabuna we were going all weekend with meetings, games, parties, and everything you can imagine. It was a pretty long weekend, and we were all tired afterwards. We all looked forward to sleeping on the long bus ride home, but of course the music came on and everyone was up and going again. When we finally got home at 10:00 Monday night, we were all exhausted, and I think all our parents let us sleep through school the following day! When the parents let you sleep, then you know you must look exhausted!
The third week we had a kind of farewell party for our futsal class, which was pretty interesting considering I’d only been there for one week before, but they said I should come anyways. We ate and laughed and goofed off together, and I’m really looking forward to playing with these girls again next year! The weekend came quickly that week and I got a lot of much needed rest in Guarajuba.
The fourth week was my final week of school, as this week was all exams. I grew more and more excited for summer as the days went by, it was a strange feeling, anticipating another summer so soon after I had just finished one, but it’s was still exciting, nonetheless. Friday afternoon came and I was bursting with joy to be done again with school for a few more months.
This past Saturday, I had another party for a friend of my sister, and it was fun too. I danced with my little sister, my friends, and even a couple guys. I also learned than high heels are murder, but that’s not too important. All in all it was a great way to kick off my summer!
This week I’ve been diving into my reading and also spending a lot of time with my sisters. I’ve now finished the first Harry Potter and am working on Crepúsculo (Twilight) now. I went to school yesterday to say goodbye to my friends and get my ticket for Lua Nova (New Moon), as I’ll be going tomorrow with all the girls from my class. It’s nice that we’re all so excited for the same thing, even though our interests normally differ.
Right now I’m really trying to get into the language that is Brasilian Portuguese and immerse myself in it. My brain is currently living in the state of limbo where it juggles between English, Portuguese, and Spanish, and even dabbles in other languages that I’ve never really studied, like Latin, French, and Italian. It’s truly amazing how all the Latin languages are so interwoven with each other, and I can’t wait to try and learn more when I get home!
My time here has brought so many questions about my life into mind lately, both old and new, ones I’ve previously pushed aside or need to rethink, and also new ones. As I work through these things I have learned to lean so strongly on God, and He has answered a lot for me, I just wasn’t listening too well before. I understand that for most people exchange is about finding yourself, but for me I think it has been more about finding God, and I think I finally know why I’m here, in Brasil, right now. My only hope is that my exchange continues to help me along in making these life altering decisions, and also in my quest to find more of God.
Well I guess that’s about it for now, but I’ll try to keep you guys a little better posted in the next month so there won’t be any more two month journals. As the realization that my exchange is three tenths over is beginning to hit, I’m starting to realize just how much time has been flying, and it’s motivating me to enjoy my life here that much more, because it will be over before I know it. I am really having the most amazing time here, and I’m so thankful to Rotary, my parents, God, and all my other teachers that were poking and pushing me along and guiding me to where I am now, and to where I’m headed.
January 6 Journal
Meu Quarto Mês (My Fourth Month 11/23/09 – 1/05/10)
“To know what would have happened, child?” said Aslan. “No. Nobody is ever told that.”
“Oh dear,” said Lucy “But anyone can find out what will happen,” said Aslan.
-Prince Caspian, by C.S. Lewis
Finding out what will happen is the whole idea of being on exchange. Saying yes to everything and never wondering what would’ve happened. Writing your own story and seeing what will happen. The past month for me has been amazing and strange at the same time. It’s been high, low and every feeling in-between. In my mind it was perfect.
My first weeks of summer vacation were fabulous; I spent time with my family, devoured books, and had fun! My family went for a boat trip to one of the islands inside the Baia do Todos os Santos (Bay of All Saints) with friends of my parents. We got a lovely day, a beautiful sunset, and the chance to swim at one the ten best beaches in the world! I saw The Twilight Saga: New Moon with all the girls from my class and my Lit. teacher, spent a couple weekends with friends, went to church a couple times, and spent lazy days in the Guarajuba beach house. It was the perfect beginning to my second summer. =]
The week of Christmas all the extended family in Salvador started to gather and the work holidays begun. Christmas Eve we had a charming party at my Grandmother’s house with all her children in Salvador, and some visitors from São Paulo. We ate, talked, drank, and opened presents merrily. It helped to keep my spirits very high to be in the presence of all my incredible host family, rather than dwell my absence from my own. We arose early the next morning and set off for Guarajuba where we stayed together for three or four days. During this time I became aware that my thoughts were changing language of their own accord and that the words were flowing from my mouth easily, as if I’d been speaking Portuguese for a year, rather than 4 months. It was a great surprise for the people here to learn that I am not a quiet person, I just couldn’t express myself very freely before, and now I’m pretty sure they wish that I’d return to quiet again. For the last two days we stayed in Guarajuba my family hosted two Danish girls, Anna and Anna Sophia, who are currently participating in the CISV village program. As the girls spoke no Portuguese, but good English, I became the main communicator with them. I don’t think my brain has ever been as confused as was when I would switch back and forth from English to Portuguese over and over again!
My family returned to Salvador with plenty of time to spare before Révillon (New Year) celebrations began. My family gathered again in my Grandmother’s house, which is the closest to the Farrol da Barra (Barra Lighthouse), from where you can get a good view of the fireworks, the concert, and the drunk partiers. My dad, two sisters, two aunts, and I ventured out into the chaos and had quite the adventure. The crowd was immense, it appeared sort of like a gigantic tailgate party with the loud music, street vendors, and drinking. As we were about halfway through the crowd it struck midnight and champagne corks flew everywhere, along with a good amount of champagne and beer. It was like taking a shower in champagne (which I do not recommend by the way), and it was not so cool. The smell of champagne mixed with sweaty people was enough to keep me from drinking until I’m 30! Other than that we heard some good music, watched tons of fireworks, and eventually made is home for a good night’s rest.
Since New Year’s I’ve been relaxing in Guarajuba and packing my bags. I’ll be moving to my second family this Sunday. And yes I did manage to fit everything back in my suitcases as unbelievable as that sounds. I can truly say that I am sad my time with the Henriques family is over, they were the best family I could have ever asked for, and I’ll always remember my first Brasilian family with love. I can only hope that I’ll be blessed with an equally amazing second family.
Oh and of course, I have to mention all those books I’ve been devouring. I’ve finished Lua Nova (New Moon), and I also read A Garota Americana (All American Girl), Bass Ackwards and Belly Up, Pride and Prejudice, Tamanho 42 Não Ê Gorda (Size 12 Isn’t Fat), Garoto Encontra Garota (Boy Meets Girl), and The Magician’s Nephew. Also I’ve read Genesis and Exodus of the Bible. As you can see, I’ve had my nose in the books again, but what’s new?
And this, I believe, brings me to the end of another journal, which sadly signals the end of another chapter of my exchange. As I now see half my exchange behind me, I know now I wouldn’t change the way things happened for anything. I no longer wonder what would have happened if I’d stayed home, or what will happen when I return there. I’m solely focused on what will happen here because my time is short, my hopes are high, and my eyes are set straight ahead. Again I feel so enormously thankful to God for bringing me this far, and to my parents, teachers, friends and Rotary for helping me all along the way.
Beijos, Abraços, e Amor,
February 27 Journal
And Now Time Begins to Fly (1/5/10 – 2/27/10)
“I was thinking about how disjointedly time seemed to flow, passing in a blur at times, with single images standing out more clearly than others. And then, at other times, every second was significant, etched in my mind.” -Stephanie Meyer, Twilight
As it always happens with exchange, you begin to lose track of time, the months feel like weeks, the days like moments, and before you know it, the end is imminently approaching. These past two months have been perfect. The way things worked out will never cease to amaze me, now my life has really begun here.
January flew by in a blur, as the end of summer break always does; I fell in love with my new family, read books, saw films, hung out with my sister, went to parties, and experienced Festival de Verão (a festival of concerts). In February it was back to school again, though only for a week, and then Carnival began.
I have returned to school with a changed perspective, I am now part of the group, and though I may not look Brasilian, I fit in. No one treats me special, no one talks extra slow so that I can understand, and they understand me too. And I must say it feels good to blend in, to be a part of the Brasilian culture.
As I am writing this, I can happily say I have survived Brasilian Carnival and all the madness that goes along with it. I went out with my host parents one night and out with the Rotary group another. The thing about the Salvador Carnival is that it’s the Carnival of the people- it’s not Rio where you see the samba dancers parading through the streets- it’s the popular modern singers of Brasil and millions of people jumping, dancing, laughing, and having fun together- just going wild. It was so great to just get out there and jump around and dance like no one’s watching with all my exchange friends, one of the best nights of my life, so far.
My life right is really great, full of friends, family, music, books, learning, and every good thing in life it seems. The best part is I have this amazing life here, but I also have an incredible one to return to in three months, and I don’t think any exchange student can ask for more than that. Yeah it’ll be hard to leave Brasil, but in reality I’m not leaving it, it’ll always be in my heart.
As the days come to pass I realize just how much Rotary has given me in this remarkable experience, and how much growth it brings in the lives of everyone affected. Not just the exchange student changes, but their families, host families, friends, counselors, and communities. I can never thank enough my God, Rotary, my families, and my friends. Without your support this year would have been a lot harder, even impossible. Thank you all!
April 22 Journal
The Beginning of the End (2/28/10 – 4/20/10)
It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.
-Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859 - 1930), (Sherlock Holmes)
I spend every day falling deeper in love with this amazing country, Brasil. And when I think about it, I wonder if every country is really this unique and beautiful and special, and we’re just too blind to see it. It seems like we are so focused on our own culture, that we only know to describe others as different and strange. But in reality, it’s like the pearl in an oyster; you have to get past the barrier to find the astonishing treasure hidden inside.
The past couple months have been more than perfect. I’ve gotten to spend time with all my loving families, even my real parents and brother, go out with friends, read great books, be a tour guide, participate in Interact, turn 16, grow in my relationship with God, study at a great school, and just live life to the fullest ~ the whole idea of exchange.
These months have been full of the little things, like having my parents here, it was something else to be a full time translator for a week, and though I absolutely loved having my parents and brother here, I still have a newfound sympathy for translators, because saying everything five times can be tiring.
I had the opportunity to go visit an association that supports children and families on a school field trip, too. It’s located in the poorest neighborhood in Salvador, and it’s amazing how many lives this association has touched and changed. I got the opportunity to get to know and befriend some of the teenagers. The amazing thing was that these teens have the same hopes and dreams, just like any other adolescent, and they also are blessed in a way many of my school don’t understand. These kids are happy with the things they have, and though it’s not much, it’s enough.
One of my favorite things during these two months was the amazing performance given by a group of girls in the historical part of the city, Pelourinho. This band was sponsored by a grant given to get girls and women off the streets, away from drugs, and back into the classroom. You would’ve never known, from looking at them, that these girls and women had once been homeless or drug addicts; it was like they had been given a second chance at life. Not only was it a phenomenal performance, but it was a sensational experience to see how music has changed these girls' lives.
Every little moment has come to mean more, if possible, as I see that there’s not enough time left. With a month and a half left, full of traveling, family, friends, and school, it doesn't seem like everything’s going to fit in, in the end. Without a doubt, we’re meant to live like there is no tomorrow, and exchange is like a crash course in that, especially with the earthquakes in Haiti, Chile, and China.
I don’t know if I can ever thank my parents enough for letting me go, or Rotary for the opportunity, or God for the courage, but I will certainly try, and I will certainly give back, because this is a year I’ll never forget! This chance only happens once in a lifetime! Thank you everyone!
Beijos e Abraços do Brasil (Kisses and Hugs from Brasil),
May 25 Journal
It’s Not Over (4/21/20 – 5/25/10)
I may only have 2 weeks left but it’s not over. It’s far too soon to be going home. I don’t see where nine months could have already gone by and left me with this measly remainder of two weeks to get everything done! I remember that coming was hard, saying goodbye to all I knew and loved, but what I’ve found is that leaving is harder; as you can never be 100% sure you’ll be back.
They always say you never know what you’ve got till it’s gone, and though I can’t really know what it’ll be like to live without Brasil, I do believe that I will miss it a lot. My loving parents and siblings, Sandra, Jadilson, Fernanda, Roquelina, Eugenia, Ricardo, Veronica, and Mariana, and my dear friends Mariana, Esther, Alessa, Camila, Raissa, Amanda, and Larissa and the rest of my class will be missed more than anything.
As I just got back from the Amazon, which was one of my most amazing Brasilian adventures, I have even more great friends, and even more great memories, to remember. I got the chance to see all kinds of exotic animals I never thought I would get to see in real life, met over 70 exchange students, participated in an traditional folkloric festival, saw an amazing Opera House, learned lots at the Museum of Natural History of Manaus, went swimming in a waterfall in the jungle, got painted with all natural “war-paint”, and held an alligator. Not to mention, swimming in the river, meeting an Indian tribe, visiting a plantation, trying to gather açai, visiting a local community, swimming with the pink dolphins, playing soccer with the natives, canoeing, planting a tree, learning to survive in the jungle, going to the beach, and partying all week long! It was so awesome!
Since then I’ve been full of things to do, parties, family stuff, school, going out with friends, all the good stuff ;) I have loved it all! I can promise you all one thing, I’m going to love it and live it up until the end, “‘cuz it’s not over till it’s over”!