Maria (Alejandra) Garcia Narvaez
2010-11 Outbound to Brazil

Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: St. Augustine High School
Sponsor: St. Augustine Sunrise Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Bom Despacho-Arraial Rotary Club, District 4760, Brazil

Alejandra's Bio

Hello, my name is Maria Alejandra Garcia and I’m setting sail to Brazil come the end of summer. The town I live in is quaint but I love it! It’s the little things that make it charming, like the fort wall overlooking the water, the Lightner Museum’s water fountains and balcony, and the much appreciated beach.

I live with my madre, my dog Brownie and my cat named Cat. My father lives in Naples with his wife and two daughters Carolina and Daniella, whom I see occasionally. My other brother lives in Pennsylvania with his wife Nancy and two kids, Cesar and Gaby. I grew up with my sister Sandra so we’re really close and I miss her now that she’s living in Tallahassee. She started traveling when she was 16 and I believe that sparked my curiosity to explore the world. I decided to do the exchange because I strongly believe that you have to live your life in the moment and set out to try new things without putting them off otherwise you’ll never go through with it.

I’m really active at school where I’m a member of the AICE program, the swim team and quite a few clubs. I’m a dedicated dancer and have been since I was 4. I go to The Dance Company and let's just call it my home away from home since I practically live there. I don’t play any contact sports but I wish I did. Therefore, I’m determined to learn soccer in Brazil and COMPLETELY convinced that I'll come back a pro. The smallest things make me laugh...we’re talking knock-knock jokes and the silliest riddles here. In a nut shell: I'm short, goofy, and outgoing.

I want to say "thank you" to my family for supporting me on this journey, the friend who gave me pep talks when I had doubts, and those who have stood by me every step of the way (you know who you are). I’m looking forward to the challenge of living in another country for a year and would like to thank Rotary Youth Exchange for this opportunity. I’m not gonna lie, I’m kind of scared. However, most importantly, I’m excited, leaving open minded, and ready to face the adventure that awaits.

Adeus!

porto degalinhas

porto degalinhas

rich-people-church

rich-people-church

Rio

Rio

wooden-structure

wooden-structure

USA

USA

b-day party

b-day party

Alejandra

Alejandra

Congonhas

Congonhas

chapada diamantina

chapada diamantina

community service

community service

Alejandra

Alejandra

Egged

Egged

Italian

Italian

dolphins

dolphins

interact

interact

Mom

Mom

formandos

formandos

secret santa

secret santa

sunset

sunset

Alejandra's Journals

August 20

Day 13: I'll admit, I was quite upset upon departure from the states but now that I've been in Brazil for over a week I don't see what I was so worried about. As soon as I saw my family at the airport with a "welcome" sign I knew I'd be okay. Every moment spent in this beautiful country makes me realize I'm exactly where I need to be. I fit in with my 1st host family immediately. My dad, Elano, is always looking out for me. He always brings home a different kind of food for me to try and every time I'm done eating he makes me eat more. Needless to say I quickly learned the phrase "I'm full". My mom, Tereza, treats me like a daughter. We walk down the street arm and arm and already she talks about how she'll miss me when I switch houses. My eldest younger brother Elano Jr. has been my salvation. He's the only one who speaks English so y 1st couple of days I would just stare at him and he'd translate. The youngest is Vitor and he's 11. Alas I have someone to give a knuckle sandwich to and just have fun with. The other day we went to the little kids park (there's a sign saying 10 and under only) and cracked ourselves up on the sea-saw. Him and I sing and dance in the car together...Justin Bieber is a big deal over here so naturally my rapping abilities in "Baby" were much appreciated.

My 1st night in Bom Despacho we went to the birthday party for one of my uncles. I was paraded around and introduced. Everyone was so warm and a fun activity was trying to get me to call different uncles "gay". Unfortunately the word stays the same in Portuguese so they didn't have any luck. We visited Divinopolis the next weekend. It's the nearest town with a movie theater and bowling alley. The movies were all in Portuguese and without subtitles so we settled for bowling and ate acai which is a fruit and they serve it like ice cream. All the food is scrumptious. I have rice and beans literally every single day but it's always accompanied with something else. Usually it's a meat but other times it's pasta or something of that nature. I've noticed a great use of corn as well. I've had one pasta dish where I didn't spot corn Lasagna, bow tie, spaghetti and more all held the little yellow veggie. There's an official snack time in between meals. It took a little getting used to but now I've adapted and enjoy it.

I started school my 1st Monday here and I can officially say I somewhat know what it feels like to be a celebrity. That whole week I had kids looking at me through the window. Some more forward peeps stood in the doorway between classes and made eye contact before running away giggling. Even at home I have family friends coming over just to meet me. The students here stay in one classroom all day with breaks in between classes to go outside and mingle. I've gone from giving complete blank stares to laughing at the jokes I catch and occasionally throwing out a comment or two. The teachers here rotate instead of the students and everyone takes classes ranging from Physics to Sociology to Grammar to English to Math and on and on. I go to a small school so my class is the whole grade and we have 15 students including myself. Classes start at 7:10 and end at 12:40 at which point I go home to have lunch with the family.

The rest of the day I hang out until my brothers are done with homework and some days we go to the athletic club or hang out with friends. Everyone here takes English class at school but a lot go to a company outside of school to get the speaking part down. The "d's" here are pronounced as the 'g' in 'gentle'. I noticed they transferred this to apply in English as well when I kept getting asked if I liked Gisney Worlg. At times I feel childish pointing to things and asking for the name in Portuguese but it pays off when I can finally use it in a sentence, even if' it's a fragment...eventually the point gets across and it's rewarding.

Other times though, I find myself in a pickle.

For example, let's explore my 1st day home alone. Everyone emphasized how I should not let anyone that wasn't family which I thought was easy enough. Five minutes after the last person left there was a ring at the gate. I had just watched Edge Of Darkness (w/ Portuguese subtitles) and was feeling a bit paranoid so I proceeded with care downstairs hiding behind walls and peeping around corners to see who was there. Low and behold who should be waiting but an attractive guy. Still suspicious (darn you Mel Gibson!) I went up to the window and saw what he needed. I caught something about a printer and he must have thought I was mentally challenged since looks-wise I fit in and I just stared at him. No one said anything about a printer before leaving! I explained I was foreign to the best of my ability and so I made him wait downstairs as I messaged Elano's cousin asking him to call him for help because I had forgotten to get the family's numbers. I then went downstairs and the guy explained he needed to come inside to see the printer. The only problem was I didn't know enough Portuguese to explain I wasn't supposed to let anyone in. So you can see my dilemma I'm sure. Part of me was saying "stranger danger" and the other said "just look at him!" Oh I meant to say "let the man do his job". I decided Elano must have just forgotten to tell me about the man and let him in. I went back upstairs to see a message instructing to not let the man in until someone else got there. Hmmmm.... whoops. In the end it turned out the man was legitimate and merely early so I got a pat on the back. Later my friend Leah told me in some movie a girl is in a foreign country and sold into slavery by a good looker so luckily I missed that film or Elano would be without his Rotary application.

Next week I'm starting guitar lessons and also am going to take up samba/zumba classes at the athletic club. I have multiple offers on a soccer coach so I've started with Vitor and will take lessons as I go on from the rest. This weekend we're traveling to the most visited town in the state and there happens to be a food festival which I look forward to. My birthday is next week and all the kids are talking about bringing cake to class.

Even with all the amazing people surrounding me, at times it gets lonely. As the brilliant Dr. Seuss put it, "Whether you like it or not, alone will be something you'll be quite a lot." And it's OK to feel like that. I got in a funk for a couple of hours and then I was fine. Sometimes you can't help but feel alone in the experience. All you have to do is breath. A look around shows you all the smiling faces eager to help you and when you remember all the familiar ones at home cheering you on that feeing of loneliness goes away. To all you future exchange students, homesickness is just one paragraph in a book of adventures....and I've only been here for two weeks.

I'm so blessed to be here and want to thank God and everyone in Florida who made this possible. My family, Jody Davis, Daphne Cameron, Al Kalter, the St.Augustine Sunrise Rotary club and all of district 6970: I offer my infinite gratitude. By the way Daphne, I plan to out-write your Switzerland kids. Just saying.

Tchau!

September 8

Day 31: Hello there beautiful people! I'll go ahead and start where I last left off. I went to Tiradentes for a weekend and made a pit stop in São João del Rei.Tiradentes is the most visited city by tourist in the state of Minas Gerais. For starters, our hotel was splendid. It was so colorful, there was a hammock right outside my door. and random dogs to play 'catch' with.

The town itself was very historical and beautiful as well. We got a guide in this horse carriage. Minus the excitingly decorated buggy, I thought it would be similar to St.Augustine horse tours: slow and somewhat boring. My oh my was I wrong, that hello-kitty decked out ride galloped full speed down those narrow stone roads! The sights we visited were all facinating. The slave and rich folk's churches had real gold ranging from 8 to 460 kilos (respectively). You just walked in and were left in awe at the hand work people did thousands of years ago. Other sight-seeing included a fountain with an interesting legend. There were 3 statues that spewed water out. The 1st story claimed that if you drank from the statue #1's water you'd be happily married, take a sip from #2's and you'd be left a widow and get ready for a nasty divorce if you dare swallow the H2O from #3. Eventually someone must have realized that 2/3 of the tale was negative because currently the statues spew out love, health, and riches.

On our last day we stopped at São João del Rei. We had lunch and saw an old school train station then saw two more churches. One of them was of São Francisco and actually held the tomb of an ex-president. The church took around 40 years to build and held giant wooden structures all around which were built by one man, alone!! Next to the alter there was a unique chandelier. There's only two in the world and it's twin is currently residing in the Louvre. Afterwards we went to another church that had all these paintings on the ceiling whose eyes followed you everywhere you went.

My birthday was on a Thursday this year so I went to school and at lunch time all the kids in the 2nd and 3rd year surprised me with a surprise party. They all pitched in money to buy sodas and snacks and then my classmate made a cake. I have to say it was one of the sweetest things ever done for me. Now, let me describe to you a painful yet entertaining birthday tradition in Brazil. I have no idea how this came into existence but on the day of your birth, you get egged. I knew it was coming because I was warned by some and the kids repeatedly told me how good eggs and coffee are for your hair. I was thinking maybe 5 eggs total, no big deal right? Then I see Kyara walking towards me with 30 eggs and all the kids start swarming her to get some. This was when I started running away. Unfortunately I wasn't quite sure where I was so they caught me pretty quickly. Since the eggs were bought directly after school they were very cold and hard from the fridge. Ergo, the first time with my skull or upper body it wouldn't break. Logical solution? Hit harder. I  imagine I have a clue as to what it felt like to be stoned in the Jesus days. At the end I was given the last uncracked egg to break over my own head for a picture. Really guys? You didn't stop to think for 1 second that I'd just hit the person right next to me. And gee golly you can bet your dollar I hugged everyone I could catch! That night we had a party at my house with friends and family. My guests attempted to teach me how to dance "funky" and my grandma made this gigantic sandwich. It was a fun night and after everyone left I had the chance to phone my gorgeous sister Sandra and Skype the special woman who gave me birth :) Looks like 18 is my new lucky number.

This Saturday I got to go to my 1st wedding. The bride was my dad's cousin and since we have a nice car, he drove her to the church. The after party was different than I expected. The music ranged from Portuguese to some good ole' English classics: my favorites were "I Will Survive", "Another Brick In The Wall", "Dancing Queen" and let's not leave out Akon's "Dangerous"! In case you are wondering, Gloria Gaynor stirred things up a little bit and did a duet...with me.

Today is Brazil's independence day and there was a parade early in the morning. Tonight everyone is going to the Praça Mall to eat ice-cream and probably dance in the street. Now it's time for the update on my ordinary life. I go to dance class and the gym 4 times a week at my athletic club and you'll be proud to know that I can walk all by lonesome without getting lost. I take guitar twice a week and so far I've been taught a Portuguese song and "I'm Yours". I say taught because I haven't quite grasped the learning part (yet). Rotary here has community service projects every week for the exchange students. So far I've visited a rehab center and helped out at the special Olympics.

I explained in my last journal how d's are pronounced like the 'g' in gentle but since it makes more sense I'll now refer to it as a 'j'. You should also know that r's are pronounced like h's. So for this journal my favorite Portuguese pronunciation of an English word is "Red Bull". Example: No, I don't personally drink HEJ BULL but my sister and her boyfriend are quite fond of the drink when undertaking a long road trip. HEJ BULL.

So there you have it folks, the bigger events in my life up until today. Ate mais!

October 1

Day 54: Time is starting to become a blur. I've been here for almost 2 months but it seems like only a couple of weeks .

I finally went to a sweet 15 birthday party. It's the 2nd most important day of your life right next to your wedding. The planning takes place years before the event and there's an entire hour ceremony full of rituals and traditions welcoming the girl into womanhood. I was told it wasn't that great of a party but to me it seemed like quite the event. That same weekend I went to a club. Since I just recently turned 18 it was my 1st time ever and I had the most splendid time. There were neon lights everywhere, English techno music playing , and creepy guys hitting on you everywhere. I guess some things don't change no matter what country you're in.

I visited Rio the week after and enjoyed myself thoroughly. I traveled with Elano and my mom by plane (a 45 flight compared to an 8 hour drive). We arrived at night so we met up with an uncle and had dinner then proceeded to our hotel in Copacabana to get a good nights rest for the next day's events. My brother, the founder of PECA, was filming a documentary about his organization so there were cameramen filming us walk out of the hotel as we made our way to the lecture. It was held at the local high school of actress Bia Arantes. It was my 1st time attending a PECA event and I found it really interesting. Afterwards we went out to a shopping mall for lunch with the actress and her mother. This mall had about 8 floors and was bigger than any mall I'd seen in Florida and obviously put Bom Despacho's little praça to shame. For the 1st time in Brazil I was able to eat Japanese food (sushi!!!) and frozen yogurt. Afterwards we went to Brazil's equivalent of Hollywood: Globo. We were given a tour of the environmental area, a couple sets and met the director of Globo's environmental policies. While we were there, the filming of a show was taken place literally the floor right below us and a popular Brazilian band, Fiuk was playing. The next day was supposed to be beach day except it was raining so instead we met up with Bia again at another mall (only 4 stories but considered the "highclass" mall). I had frozen yogurt again and then we parted ways to go to another mall where we were to meet another one of Elano's actress friends. This one was called "New York Mall" and was complete with the statue of Liberty at the entrance. There were a lot of American stores here, it was 3 stories tall but so wide I think it was bigger than the other 2.

On our last day it was a little cloudy but I was determined to go to the infamous beaches so we walked to all the major beaches, saw the winner of Big Brother casually walking on the street, and of course ate frozen yogurt again. Every single one of the beaches was absolutely beautiful. The water was a deep (and mind you, clean) aqua that despite the temperature lured me in for about 5 seconds until I realized I had to walk back to the hotel in the wind with no towel. Another interesting site was the sand castles. I can't even really call them sand castles because it was more of a piece of art. There were men all down the beach sculpting these intricate masterpieces complete with people, houses, windows, roadways...everything! I was reluctant to leave but I look forward to returning with all the other exchange students on the Northeast trip.

When I got back to Bom Despacho everyone wanted to know if I'd rather live there and I could truthfully answer that I was perfectly content where I was. I have a family, friends and a life in Bom Despacho that I wouldn't trade for all the frozen yogurt and clear beaches in the world. The next weekend our family rented a house in Betim along with the other 2 aunts in Bom Despacho and their families. We spent the weekend lounging in the pool, playing pool, and eating lots of meat. I also learned how to make brigadero which is condensed milk mixed with chocolate...I think I may have just found my downfall.

On another note, elections are taking place this Sunday to elect a new president into office. According to the polls a woman is in the lead and should she win, she would be the 1st woman president in Brazil's history. Paying attention to the advertisement campaigns I must say I'm a little disappointed in the US's candidates habit of bashing one another. I have not seen or heard a single advertisement for one opponent critizing the other. There are hired cars that cruise down the street with giant boom boxes blasting catchy tunes, which I admit can get annoying, and the TV commercials are all positive and based on themselves. I mean it, not a single negative jab at an opponent to get ahead of the game. I think that's something to be admired.

As far as my Portuguese is concerned, I've been getting better with practice. I was in street the other day and all of a sudden realized I could understand what the people on the street were saying to one another. I've also come to the conclusion that the hardest words to pronounce are the American ones used here. I've spent my whole life saying "milkshake", "internet", "notebook" (which means laptop here) one way and now I'm expected to say it completely differently. You might as well call me Clouseau ("hamburger" has also given me great grief). The other day a girl at school told me I was starting to look Brazilian. She couldn't explain it but she said that something in me changed since I'd gotten here. Before I was clearly American and now I was capable of passing as a native. I called her crazy and laughed but it made me proud. Now all I need is to start dreaming in Portuguese and we can call it a done deal.

November 16

Day 100: Hey there peeps, this now time to be updated on my Brazilian life. November was pretty routine. My life here is starting to feel more grounded, thus the sensation of curiosity has shifted. I now know where all the best spots in town are to eat, get ice cream, as well as the places I should stay away from. The reality that I live here has settled in and I can't label it as a good or bad thing because truth is, it's my life which as we all know has it's ups and downs. Every time I leave town I come back to "home" not, "my host city". I feel comfortable but in the beginning of the shift life was confusing because it was such a huge step and at times felt boring because nothing was new anymore. Then I focused on the high lights and realized what an amazing occurrence was taking place. For instance, I have my own friends who call me to go out, I can go to the plaza on the weekend and have an ice-cream alone if I wish because it no longer feels like I need a tour guide. Of course right when you find your ground, things are switched up. In other words, I switch host families this week.

Rewinding to the past: I attended my 1st inbound orientation in Belo Horizonte and it was funny to see us all get along within the 1st five minutes together. My district apparently hosts the most students, so the weekend was never boring since there were always people to talk and get to know. All those things Rotary says about finding life-long friends through the program are actually true. I can say with self assurance that even after I'm back in the states, I will still have the friendships with the amazing inbounds I've met. The day after the orientation I went to an Interact event in Moema (Bom Despacho's neighbor town) which was fun and eventful however combining the previous weekend of no sleep with my newly made friends led to exhaustion.

There was a concert scheduled for Gusttavo Lima that I was looking forward to that unfortunately got canceled the day of because the fire department declared the location unsafe. For the life of me I couldn't understand why they would wait until minutes before the show to inspect it but on the bright side it got moved to later this month. My friends Kaylee (from Holland) and Liisa (from Finland) had come to visit me that weekend and attend the show so naturally we were bummed but then my mom called the hotel and found out what restaurant the singer was at so we shimmied on over and got to sit down and eat with the guy which we all agreed was more fun anyways. After they left my other friend Doris (from Austria) came to visit and she actually exclaimed that my city was "big!" leaving me shocked but it turns out her town doesn't even have a plaza so I'm counting my ducks...or however that expression goes.

I also visited Juiz de Fora for a cousin's confirmation and went to the movie theaters for the time in Brazil. It's the 3rd largest city in Minas Gerais which means it has a lot of American influence therefore the movie was in English with Portuguese subtitles and the shopping mall was complete with McDonalds, Burger King...you name it. Now let's talk community service! I went to a school in the poorer part of town for "children's weekend" (we should really put this holiday into effect back in the states by the way) and served lunch. The kids were really eager to meet Ball (Thailand exchange student) and me and hear anything in our native languages. My club also had their annual fundraiser which was...wait for it...Italian night! If you know me very well, you know my love for Italian food and this will all make a lot more sense. On this very night I was also required to dress up as an Italian which is hard to explain so I'll enclose a picture. We also went to a church in the poorer part of town to put on a festival of sorts for the people of the community and made more hotdogs than I ever care to see again.

Speaking of hot dogs I would like to discuss the size of simple food items. Hot dogs for instance, come with tomato sauce, cheese, ham, corn, and crunchy French fry looking things on top of it all. This is all ON the hot dog and you're always offered ketchup and mayonnaise as well. Hamburgers are pretty much the same except you can get an egg in there too. Everyone seems to be perfectly alright with it except me who can't take a bit with the whole thing falling apart but I like to believe I’m getting the hang of it.

On a historical note, Brazil elected the 1st female president: Dilma. The 1st run around she didn't have over 50% of the populations vote so the 2 contestants with the highest numbers proceeded the round 2 which were of course, Dilma and Serra. Much to my sadness, round 2 consisted of a great amount of bashing opponent's campaigns but at least it was clean for a while...

Now, on to my everyday life. I had a dance performance not too long ago at an event for the community which was nice and I got all nervous before going on stage just like back in the states. Guitar classes unfortunately have slowed down because I won't be able to take them once I switch host families cause it's too far away from where I'll live. Daphne Cameron will be glad to hear that I began to dream in Portuguese. I'm not sure when it started but I just realized that for a while I've been talking in Portuguese in my sub-conscience. I don't magically lose my accent though which was upsetting considering people dream about flying and being invisible so why am I still a foreigner when I'm snoozing? Progress is hard to measure by myself since I’m fully immersed (kinda like how you don't notice aging since you look in a mirror everyday) so I’ll take people's word when they say I learned very quickly and am doing well. Something to keep you to look forward to. I’m going to be modeling for my mom's store soon. She makes dresses for weddings and 15 year old birthday parties so I will be dressed up as a bride. It's pretty common knowledge that I’m clumsy and needless to say, the dress is long so I think you can see where I'm going with this... Should I survive the runway I'll be sure to let you all know...Ate mais!

January 16

Day 193

Alright, so I left my readers off with the suspense of me walking down a runway. I made it alive although I was freaking out the whole time and I’m pretty sure my face was redder than the carpet because I was so embarrassed that everyone was looking at me. The month of November also held my switch to my second host family. I am now living with an elderly couple in the middle of the city. It’s nice because everything is a lot closer to where I live however changing families was a harder transition than that from the USA to Brazil. I got so attached to every member of the family and then to move to another with completely different dynamics was difficult. Luckily I live in a small town so remaining in contact was easy, making the move a whole lot easier. I took my first trip with the new host family to Conganhas. It’s a historical city in my state well known for its basilica: the Santuário do Bom Jesus do Matosinhos. It is home to the world renowned sculptor, Aleijadinho’s soapstone sculptures. Thanksgiving was shortly after I moved and since it isn’t celebrated in Brazil (and I don’t know how to cook), my friends Rafaela and Matheus came over and we made a delicious pasta dish…well, they cooked and I supervised. It wasn’t the traditional meal in any way shape or form but just having people who cared about me made it special on its own.

December didn’t hold much activity except “secret Santa” at school and the obvious holidays. It was fun at school because it reminded me of all the times I did the same things with my friends and swim team. Christmas was spent with my first host family because my current one for big traditions. We went to my grandmother’s house and had secret Santa all over again. My first family also bought me a pair of earrings which was nice. In Brazil Christmas is celebrated on Christmas Eve. You gather the entire family and have a big feast with lively games and such. It goes into the next morning and I must say there wasn’t a dull moment. Everyone was always making jokes and goofing around so there was always someone laughing. After leaving grandma’s house my friend’s family picked me up to go to her grandmother’s house. Her family had more teenagers so their secret Santa involved pranks and after every person went they had to dance a funky number which was especially entertaining when the drunken adults went. Christmas day was spent at the Rotary president’s farm where we had lunch and the festivities were officially over. For New Years I went to a local country club with the host parents. Here everyone wears white on New Years because it’s believed to bring good luck. Call me crazy but I feel like on New Years the most popular color is black… The party was chic, complete with live music, flashing lights and fireworks.

Now January….January was the best month of my life. Yep, I spent the entire month of January traveling along the Northeast coast of Brazil and ended it with a stay in Rio de Janeiro. I won’t go in to the details of every city but instead talk a bit about what a marvelous experience I had. The beaches come first. They were downright gorgeous. The water, sand, dunes, and trees: everything blew me away. In Natal we stayed at a charming hotel in the praia de Pipa. It was within walking distance of the beach and we had a group that would wake up early to see the sunrise. I would just marvel at the fact that here I was, in Brazil watching the most beautiful sunrise ever and in that moment I felt complete awe. Never had I felt so blessed to be where I was at that very moment. For the record, beach also had the most delicious mango smoothies. In Chapada Diamantina we climbed a rock of sorts and witnessed the most incredible view of the mountains that once again left me breathless. In Rio we were exposed to the tiniest bikinis mankind can imagine and saw the infamous Christ statue and Sugarloaf. To be completely honest the Sugarloaf was my favorite because it gave you a view of the entire city and we got to experience it at sunset. Every single city we visited was magical. I am aware of how cheesy that sounds but its true. To travel with 35 exchange students was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I made friendships in one month that are stronger than others I’ve had in a lifetime. Rotary tells you that lifetime bonds are formed and they’re not messing around, it really happens. Saying goodbye to everyone at the end of the trip was heartbreaking. Despite the fact that we’ll see each other again before we leave we all cried and procrastinated leaving the bus station until the last possible moment. We understand eachother better than anyone else, and after this year that only applies more.

When I returned to Bom Despacho my friend threw me a surprise “welcome home” party which just melted my heart. I have reached the realization that leaving in four months will be unbearable. Future exchange students this is for you: you don’t get this opportunity again. You can’t get this year back and even when you come back to visit it’s not the same place you left. There have been times when I’ve wanted to go home more than anything and there have been obstacles thrown my way that have tested my balance but at the end of the day I’m standing tall (figuratively of course since I’m only 5’ 1”) and I’m happy to be where I am. In 6 months I have formed a life just as important as the one I spent making for 17 years in the states. I’ve learned more about myself than I thought possible and I’ve grown (figuratively since the doctor said I’m destined to remain this height forever). Rotary is incredibly smart for having us all sign that contract promising to return to our countries of origin. I never thought it was possible to feel so at ease this far away from everything I knew. Thank you Rotary once again for believing in us and giving us the opportunity to claim somewhere else home. Future outbounds you’re in for an indescribable experience. I remember crying at the airport saying bye to family and friends. The current me would go back, slap that Alejandra and say “calm yourself woman! There’s nothing sad about embarking on an adventure.” Where’s a time machine when you need one?

May 27

Day 324. This journal right here has been the victim of my procrastination for some time now. Every time I sat down to start documenting my experiences I was reminded of the fact that by writing what I had gone through, I was admitting that those memories were gone. Every journal I write brings me closer to the last one.  Not to mention the fact that words can’t describe the emotions I feel in regards to leaving Brazil. To say I love this place is an understatement.

The months of February, March and April were different that the first half of my exchange. Before, every experience felt like a lesson. The latter half of my exchange was less a course and more of a full emersion. Obviously when you land in your host country you’re fully involved but it's different once you settle.  The glorious tourist days come to a halt and I became another resident.  I it was like being a newborn baby all over again. The act of being brought into the world was a celebration, the first step was applauded, my first words were cherished and even the mistakes were smiled upon. The beginning was easy because I was the center of attention and everything I did was labeled cute. I could say something wrong but people would still “aw” because the fact that I said anything at all was precious. With time, I was expected to correct my errors and even if I can still get away with small slip-ups there was always this hard critic that wouldn’t get off my case: me.

The hard work was worth it when people started to lose their curiosity about me. It proved that I was no longer a sore thumb, that I was accepted. I realized who my true friends were, and I now have the true sense of what it feels like to live here. Whereas before I felt I stood out, now I blend in and there’s this feeling of belonging that just wasn’t as snug a fit before. I love the feeling of having inside jokes with everyone, going to my best friend’s house every day after lunch to watch an old soap opera, waving to people around town, going to dance class and being just another student. Only recently was I reminded of the fact that my place here is, sad as it is, temporary. I’m constantly flooded with questions regarding the date of my departure which are immediately followed with a sad face and plea to stay longer. I was told I’d be sad to leave but I didn’t know I would feel this strongly nor did I understand why. So one day I went for a walk with the company of my iPod, put on depressing music to awaken my sensitive side and thought about it.

It dawned on me that my entire life up to August of last year was of equivalent importance to the 10 months spent in Brazil. Bottle up every single feeling I’ve had to this day and then put that into one year. That's what this exchange was. Confusion, betrayal, happiness, victory, love... you name it. I’ve practically already felt all these emotions but the difference is that the second time around I didn't have the support group I spent 17 years building. So what's the big deal? If I already felt everything it should be easier the second time around. Not so much. Everything I felt here was at least twice if not thrice as intense the second time around. I think that the whole time, underneath everything I was scared. Realizing I had such strong feelings for people and a place I had known for such a short time frightened me because in the back of my head I knew I’d eventually have to say goodbye. Yet I couldn’t stop myself from getting attached.

I came to love everything about my host country in less than a year with as much passion as I do the States. I saw sunrises and sunsets that I could have sworn were a mere creation of Photoshop. I formed friendships that I thought were only so compatible in movies. I felt deeper. I had a pleasant run in With Al Kalter in Manaus. We stayed up talking late one night with my friend Kelly from Texas and he said something that I hadn’t thought of before. All along I thought this was such a milestone because I was embarking on this journey alone. I called it my first act of independence. But as wise Al pointed out, I’ve been more dependent than ever. It was all those pillars, in the end, that lead me to become the self assured person I am today.  Through dependence I learned to be independent but it had to be a leap of faith. It couldn’t have been with my biological family or life long friends. The people and places that helped me had to be ones that I had a set time to rely on, and a marked day to say good-bye. New experiences and surroundings will lead to more changes but it's not as abrupt and dramatic. Leaving the states was scary because I was leaving everything behind for the first time but I knew I was going back. What about now? I have a family, friends, and a community that I got attached to and in two weeks I'm saying my farewells without knowing when I'll return. I don't want to forget a single detail of what I've experienced. I don't want to be forgotten here. My heart is split in two pieces. I can't favorite one over the other and yet I'm getting on a plane and choosing to leave one behind. All I can do is promise to never forget what I lived here, what I’ve learned and most importantly: who I’ve become. So far going on exchange has been the best decision I’ve made in my life. I made choices, I made mistakes, I made repairs and I really looked at myself for the first time.  GnĊthi seauton: know thyself.