Oh. My. Goodness.
It is here. Finally, here!
After ten months of knowing that I would be spending the next year living in the wonderful city of Santos, the time has finally come for the good byes, the packing, and the reality of this incredible year ahead.
So many people have asked me if I am nervous or scared, and I am. But the reality of the situation is that my excitement trumps any of those feelings! Even as I write this, the butterflies in my stomach are dancing around with such a joy that it is difficult to write down in words.
I would not be able to do this without my incredible support system of friends and family. Through this experience I have come to love Silvia Posse (Turkey) and Robert de La Torre (Italy) as my brother and sister. I have found great words of experience and guidance in Rotex members Natalie (Brazil), Noah (Brazil), Drake (Hungary), Andee (Italy), and rebound April (Austria). Of course, my exchange sister Carolina (Eli, Paraguay), my brother Blaine, my mom, and my dad gave me the courage to go for my dream of living in another country. And District 6970 has become my family, with the rest of the RYE Florida 2010-2011 class!
So here the adventure begins, and I am not looking back!
It is absolutely crazy to think that I have been here for over two weeks, but it is true! I am in Brasil, something that I have been waiting to arrive for well over 8 months. So much has happened in the week before I left and the week that I have been here, I think it will be easiest to explain everything in subsections…
The last week and the airport
The week before I left was a wild go around of trying accomplish last minute tasks, saying “See you next year” to my friends and family, running errands, and finding time to sleep in the middle of it all. Suddenly the countdown I had been doing ended, and I woke up on Friday the 13th knowing that my life was going to completely change in the next year.
After checking my baggage, my family and I ate at the airport Mario’s restraints. Then the hard part came: Having to say good bye to them. Despite all of my excitement about leaving, I cried when I had to leave them at security. Saying good bye is very, very hard no matter what your disposition on the situation may be. Once I got through security and waved good bye one last time, I was okay and back to being excited. My flight from Orlando to Miami went smoothly, and after an emotionally hard layover in Miami, I was on my way to Sao Paulo!
Arriving and the first day
My flight to Sao Paulo went smoothly, but we arrived a little late. I went through Customs and Immigration with no issues and picked up my suitcases. At baggage claim, many people had crowded the area, and I was not able to pick up my suitcases the first time they came around. A nice Brazilian man closer to the suitcases tapped me on the shoulder and asked me what part of Brazil I was going to in English. When I looked at him a little shocked, he explained that a few years ago he had gone on exchange to the USA with Rotary, and the he had recognized my blazer. We spoke until my bags came around and he kindly got them for me and wished me luck.
When I first walked through the sliding doors and saw my host parents smiling faces, all my anxiety disappeared! Everything was fine: I was with my family now. We drove two hours back to Santos while I spoke with my host Dad in English and stared out the window at the beautiful scenery!
After dropping my bags at the house, we went to a churrascaria. Now, I had been told that I would try many different strange foods on my exchange, but I never expected it to begin less than 3 hour into Brasil!
So what did I eat? Chicken Hearts. Yes, that’s right! Chicken hearts! They are a delicacy here, and many Brasilians adore them. As for me, I had three, but that was plenty for the girl entering some culture shock. After that, we returned home and I slept for the next few hours. That night, my host mom helped me unpack my bags before we left to go to the pandaria down the street. We picked up fresh bread and a cake to celebrate my arrival. It was a wonderful first day!
I began school 3 days after I arrived, and that in it of itself was an entire experience and deserves a journal of it’s own. I will say that the students are wonderful about speaking slowly and even try to speak English with me. I enjoyed that the first few days, but now I am asking them to speak Portuguese with me. After all, that’s why I’m here!
For the record, you can never study too much.
Seriously, I had practiced, studied, and tried to learn more than the basics of Portuguese in Florida, but it was absolutely nothing compared to the real thing. The first few days were difficult because of that fact. My first host dad speaks English, and during those early days, he would be nice and translate things for me. Now, after about a week and a half, I am on my own. Only when things get really confusing or I have absolutely no idea what is going will he explain in English.
And you know what? I love that! Because of this, I study everyday after school. I speak the Portuguese that I know and look for words to expand my vocabulary. Even if I make mistakes, it is okay! I am learning, and it is the effort and drive to learn that counts.
Santos is beautiful. The town is on canals, which makes it easy to give your location to somebody. My house is about a 10 minute drive from my school, a 10 minute walk to the local malls, and about 15 minutes away from the gorgeous beach.
Right now, I share a room with my host sister Mariana. I have two host puppies, Pipa and Boo. My family lives in a beautiful apartment complex near many of the other exchange students, so I always have friends nearby.
I had the chance to go to Sao Paulo about a week after I arrived in Brasil. We went to a Churrascaria again, and I had chicken hearts again. Afterwards, my family and I went to an open air Japanese market. Sao Paulo has the largest Japanese population outside of Japan, so it was very fun to walk around the different stalls and see the various merchandise. Sao Paulo is a huge city, and even though I have been there twice now, I know I haven’t seen the tip of the ice berg!
I also had Inbound Orientation this past weekend! I was a blast to have so many exchange students from different all over the world. There are over thirty students in my district from the USA, Mexico, Poland, Germany, Japan, Taiwan, France, and Denmark. Needless to say it was crazy, but in those three short days together, we already formed bonds that will last much longer that the year ahead.
At the orientation, all the students had to introduce themselves. Typical, right? The moment I said I was from Florida, every adult in my district smiled and said, “So you are one of Al’s kids!”. Among these people were the Chariman of my district, the President of Belo Tours, the Director of Belo tours, the past Chairman of my district, and the Inbound Coordinator. So if you are going to Brasil and are from Florida, you are very lucky! You have a reputation to hold, so wear that Florida Rotary smile with pride!
I cannot wait to see what the year holds. There have been some moments of homesickness, but you recognize what you miss, allow yourself to miss it, and then things get back to normal. Whenever homesick happens, I just remind myself, "I am in BRASIL!", and suddenly, things get better.
Beijos e abraços, Halsey
You know that Rotary saying, “Never say no to any opportunity”? In case you were wondering, it is 100% true.
Over the past two weeks, I have had some incredible chances to go out and see different aspects of Brasil.
The first one began when I went with my host mom to her school in a town just west of Santos, Cubatão. I spent the day in her office, talking with some of the first and second graders, and then staying for their Father’s Day performance. They sang a few songs thanking their dads for being great dads, and it was adorable. Two days later, I was invited to go to Expoflora, a flower exposition held in the town of Holambra (which is Holland in Portuguese) with the same students I had met a few days before. It was very cool. There were many different flowers, colors, sights, and expositions to see. Plus, since I was with all of the kids I met at her school, I got to speak in Portuguese for the entire day! The most fun part of the day was right at the closing. One of the final activities that this exposition holds is the flower petal shooting! The Expoflora mascot comes to the top of the tower and then begins to shoot flower petals and confetti from a tube. It is crazy! Everyone in the park gathers around this platform, waving their arms to try and catch the falling petals and singing along with the loud music playing in the background.
I also went kayaking with a few other exchange students and our host families in an area called Bertioga. The drive alone was a treat with the rolling mountains, dense tropical trees, and the occasional bright flowers. When we finally got to our destination, I did not think that things could get any better… but, of course, they did! Our group of nine people took three canoes down this remote river that was surrounded by trees, pristine water, and the sounds of the forest around us. It was incredible! We stopped at a very small sand area about 45 minutes into paddling to take a break and just enjoy our surroundings. Then we began the trek back to where we started. In words, this adventure sounds simple, but when you are in the middle of it all, it is very real and very different.
My host families have also taken me around to the towns surrounding Santos. I have been to the first city in Brasil, São Vincente. Cedric from France, Espirit from Michigan, and I went after our Rotary meeting on Friday to one of the mountains that overlooks the city and Santos. It was very cloudy, so the pictures we took did not come out very clear, but the view was gorgeous! I have also been in Praia Grande for a short time, São Paulo a few times, and São Bernardo for orientation.
Each place I have been, part of the adventure has just been the drive to the locations. The drive to Holambra took about 4 hours, and it took the same time frame to get back, but it in that time, you see the diversity of Brasil. There are the industrialized cities and the pristine tropical forests. There are the favelas and the skyscrapers. There is sunshine, clouds, smog, and clean air. It amazes me how different everything can be.
Sometimes I wonder if I will ever stop being completely star struck by the many wondrous things in my new home, but I don’t think I ever will be. It is true that every day on exchange is a new adventure, and that each chance is a new opportunity. You take each one that you get, because you never know what might happen next.
Happy Halloween! Or as it’s said here, Feliz Halloweenie! As I write this, my family is during the 10 hours that takes us home form Minas Gerais. What better time to catch everyone up on what I have been up to?
Things I have done since my last journal:
* Gone to a real Brasilian soccer game (Go Santos!)
* Understood what my teachers actually said in class
* Heard negative views on the USA
* Been called a “gringa”
* Taken the wrong bus and ended up in the wrong city
* Had a real conversation with my host mom
* Seen a Brazilian film… In Portuguese, no subtitles
* Finished applying for college
* Learned how to Samba and Fo Haw
* Bought a Brazilian bikini
* Created my true Rotary Family
School has been a whirlwind adventure since I started 2 2/12 months ago. It is hard to imagine that I have less than 3 weeks left, and none of them are full weeks! When I first got here, things were crazy: I was brought in and introduced to my class, swarmed by all the students for two weeks because they wanted to speak with the “Americana”, and had constant adventures trying to understand and being understood. Since that first day, I have lost the shiny new toy complex, but I fee like a real part of my class now. Speaking of which, my class is crazy- seriously! They have the reputation for being the worst behaved class on campus. Teachers here switch classes, not students, so during those breaks, the guys are always up to something; right now it’s hackisak tournaments that the teachers sometime get involved with. At my school, there are three exchange students: Esprit from Michigan, Cédric from France, and myself. It’s nice having them here, especially when days can be overwhelming.
Like I wrote before, I am currently driving home from Minas Gerais. I went with my first host family to visit my host mom’s mom. We went to the city of Umberlandia –a city full of warm weather, blue skies, green grass, and red dirt. When you think of Brazil, you probably do no think countryside, but the geographic diversity is amazing. While I was there I got to try a whole new conglomeration of foods –fruits, quejo minaras, Guarana miniero, pão de quejo minaras, seuquilos, and a few other fish and chicken dishes native to the area. All of it was so good and so different from the “normal” food eaten in Santos. The area is the opposite of Florida because it is all hills that roll and roll and roll. Normally, it felt like were on a type of rollercoaster, going up and down the steep hills five times a day. Even though our trip was short, I am so happy my family gave me the opportunity to see another part of Brazil.
Things I have gotten used to:
* Rice and beans- eaten every day at lunch
* Listening to the conversation instead of trying to talk the entire time
* Brasilian driving and the constant thrills it brings
* The continual daily banter that sounds less foreign every day
* Bread, bread, bread, bread, bread- another key staple in an Brazilian’s diet
* The increasingly warm weather because it is now summer!
More and more, I am learning that there are good days and bad days for language, life, and activities. I had my first bad bout with homesickness that lasted around a week. Each day seemed to have no end, the weather was depressing, and I continued to get into a deeper slump. I do not know what started it, and I do not know how I managed to pull myself out of it. However, I do believe that recognizing what I was experiencing and realizing it would end certainly did help. My friends and I went to see Eat, Pray, Love, and the movie is exactly right: Every thing just needs a balance. Your bad days make you stronger and help you appreciate the really good days. The holidays are around the corner, and they are going to be tough not spending them with my family in Florida. However, I am excited to experience them with my new families I have found down here!
I would say better late than never, but the lovely Miss Daphne Cameron will tell me "Better never late"!
As a result, my apologies for not writing in a very, very long time. The thing is, life has just become so incredibly busy here, that the thought of writing a journal about every thing is a little overwhelming!
So where to start?
November was a crazy month. School for the year finished for summer vacation, Portuguese lessons with the other exchange students also came to an end for break, I switched to my second host family at the end of the month, celebrated my first year without Thanksgiving, prepared for the holiday month of December, and had my first year of summer vacation that started in my "winter months". I also had the chance to go to the beautiful beach town of Maresias with my first host family during the first weeks with past inbound Clarissa.
As December approached, not going to lie, I was rather wary. Many people will tell you that this part of your exchange is the toughest part. Not only has the honeymoon phase of the exchange ended, but now you have to celebrate the holidays without your family. For me, I did not end up too terribly homesick. I helped my host mom with two service projects the entire month bringing the Christmas spirit to two very different groups. One of the projects worked with underprivileged kids; we collected presents for over fifty different children and threw a huge party full of food, cake, a visit from Papai Noel, and lots of fun. The other project was in association with Rotary to commemorate the holidays with the elderly women of a local nursing home; we prepared baskets full of vanity items like shampoo and lotion, sang lots of carols with Rotary's band members, and I even played a few carols on the piano. Christmas Eve night was one of the best experiences that I have had in Brazil. The entire day was spent cooking, welcoming family, cleaning, and waiting for midnight to come. A little before midnight, we began our Brazilian Christmas feast (with a few traditional American dishes) and opened presents after we finished. I managed to skype my family back in Florida and each of my families wished a happy holiday to the other.
New Years, though, was better than Christmas. Much like Christmas, the entire family came to the house and had dinner at around 10 before heading to the beach to welcome in the New Year. Despite the fact it poured as the fireworks signaled that 2011 had started, my family and I smiled and cheered and danced with all the other people on the beach. All of January was spent doing typical summer vacation activities like going to the beach, walking around the city, and traveling. It was during this month I got the chance to go to Rio de Janeiro with my family! We went for the weekend to visit some of our relatives and for me to know the city. I got to see all of the famous locations like Pao de Acucar, Corcovado, Copacabana, and the beaches of Ipanema. Rio is an amazing city with beautiful locations, and I managed to take over 300 pictures in less than 24 hours.... I also went to the concert of my favorite Brazilian group, Exaltasamba, twice, had an American baking day with some of the other exchange students, and said a sad good bye to our "oldie" Australian before welcoming the "newbies".
February was a month of getting back in the motions. School started again- but the cool thing was, I could actually talk with people in my class! I could understand them and they could understand me. It was the complete opposite of all the feelings I had when I had my first "first day" of school in August! During the summer, I made the transition from broken sentences to keeping a conversation, and proceeded to learn more every day with my classmates' help. This was the month that I knew something had changed, and that made me very proud.
March so far has been wonderful. I had my golden birthday (19 years old on the 19th of March), and I could not be happier to have celebrated it in Santos with my friends and family. We had a Brazilian churrasco with lots of meat, bread, friends, family, and laughs. It was pouring, again, but that didn't damper my spirits when every one began singing "Parabens" (Happy Birthday!). I almost cried as I looked at all these wonderful people, that 7 months ago I had never met, but here and now, they were the most important people in my life. It was a day that will stay with me forever.
I am excited for the upcoming months: I am going on a cruise with Rotary and then I am going to the Amazons for 10 days. I can't wait to write and tell you all about those too!
I would like to take a second and congratulate the new outbound exchange students class! Parabens! You did it, and I hope you know that your adventure is just beginning now. Seriously, start studying your language, don't miss you deadlines, and make a point to know where you are going. You may think that six months is a long time, but trust me, I flies by!
On exchange you learn alot of things. First and foremost, you learn about yourself. I have learned where I stand on social, cultural, and political issues through a better understanding of myself, my beliefs, and my morals. I have learned how to listen to others. I have learned that I can be weak, but I have the strength and courage to see it through. I have become introspective. Second, you learn about the world around you. Obviously, you are living in a different country and culture, but you learn exactly why having things so different is sometimes so beautiful. There are times that my host mom will say or do things and my reaction is that she is insane - however, some of the things I say or do make her think that I am crazy. Despite this, I think it what makes our bond even stronger sometimes because we have the ability to share the diverse points in our lives.
But through all these months, there is one thing that I am absolutely certain of: I have changed. Alot.
In some ways, I do not even realize it yet, and in other ways it has become very obvious to me. How I interact with my classmates and other Brazilians, how I eat my meals, how I participate in daily life, and how I even talk have transitioned to more that of a Brazilian and less than that of an American. How I view country interactions, politics, policies, etc. has become more informed and knowledgeable because of my desire to be a true world citizen. The way I follow local superstitions (don't go to bed with hair wet- you will get a cough!; don't eat the middle of the French bread- it will make you fat!; don't walk around the house without shoes on- you will get sick!), the way I find it easier at times to speak Portuguese, and the way I now dream in a different language with my Brazilian family as my actually family all tell me that I am on my way to making a full transition. I kind of find it fun to think of what my family back in Florida will think when I get back....