Matthew Galbraith
2010-11 Outbound to Brazil

Hometown: Keystone Heights, Florida
School: Keystone Heights High School
Sponsor: Keystone Heights Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Fernandópolis-Nova Era Rotary Club, District 4480, Brazil

Matthew G's Bio

Hello, or should I say…Olá! My name is Matthew Galbraith and I live in a small town in north-east Florida (Rotary District 6970) called Keystone Heights. As of this year, I am a senior at Keystone Heights High School, a school that I have been attending for 6 years due to the range of grades it encompasses. All of that is about to change, however, as I start my exciting journey towards becoming…Brazilian!

I am the baby of my family at only 18 years old. I have two older sisters – Kerry, who is 30, and Cassidy, who is 20. I live with my mom only – and our multiple dogs. Almost 6. Well, 6 exactly. Living in a small town, there aren’t many things to do, so I usually spend my time reading about all of the wonderful places of the world that I probably won’t visit, but which nonetheless interest me. I also frequently read the world news to keep me up to date on what exactly is happening in all of my dream places!

At my school of about 1000, I am quite active. I am the president of the Science Club and part of many other clubs such as Interact, National Honor Society, Student Council, and the COMMIT Community Service Club. I am also president of the 12th grade student body. All of this means, basically, that I am constantly on my feet planning events or helping out my community. Of course, I also take as many honors and AP courses offered at my school, but due to the low number of students, there aren’t many.

Initially, when I heard I was going to Brazil, I was a little shocked as I was expecting a Spanish country due to my ability to speak, read, and understand Spanish fairly well. After the shock wore off, I knew that the main goal from then on was to concentrate on learning Portuguese ASAP! Being able to converse in Spanish after four years studying the language was one thing, but Portuguese in only a few months? It seems daunting, but with such a wealth of information at my fingertips, be it speaking with Rotex who have gone to Brazil or using a Portuguese workbook, I can only see this now as an exciting challenge. Those same Rotex, incidentally, completely changed my confidence level in going to Brazil, a country I knew almost nothing about in the beginning. I now can’t wait to visit such an exotic and interesting place!

World…Brazil…here I come!

Matthew G's Journals

September 7

Brazil. Wow. I don’t think I could have anticipated any of this. Everything the Rotary told me, every seminar for preparation. I don’t think anyone could prepare themselves for something like this. Words really can’t describe the feelings and thoughts that go through your head when you are away from your home…thousands of miles away, for almost a year.

One thing they can’t prepare you for, for instance, is the utter hurt that you feel when you realize you are going to have to leave your family. It’s funny – the Rotary Outbound Handbook calls this period the “Honeymoon” period. I'd like to think that maybe it’s the Honeymooners period if “one of these days” really did come and he really did send her “right to the moon.”

The last couple of days before leaving my family and I went out and to buy little knick-knacks that would serve me on trip. We went out, buying some clothes, some toiletries, and all that. We made a day of it, which was nice, if not only to spend some time with my family and have fun, which it seems I hadn’t done a long time before that.

I made amends with some of the most important people in my life in those last few days. This, at times, feels like a double edged sword. The comfort of knowing there everything is OK and your life is better is an amazing and cathartic feeling, but knowing that you can't go back to that safe and happy place for 10 months is a gut wrenching sentiment.

Then the day came. I woke up, packed what little more I had left to pack, and went off to say my goodbyes. That was the hardest part. I went to my friends’ houses, saying goodbye to everyone I knew and everyone who was my life. After a good round of tears and hugs, I was off to the airport with two of those friends and my mom.

After arriving, I was suddenly faced with the reality that I was about to go on a plane to another country for a whole year of my life. Standing there at security with my mom and friends was when it really hit me. I wasn’t going to see these people again for what some consider a long time (more on that later). I said my once again tearful goodbyes, and went into security.

Only a few minutes later, I was on my own. I had about an hour wait for my flight, so I thought I would call one of my closest and oldest friends. We talked for a while, which for me was a time killer and a kind of last stand to grab some of the most important vestiges of my life back. Just a little something to put in my pocket because my heart was full. Just for a few more minutes.

That’s when it happened. “Flight XXXX delayed 1 hour”. Ok, no problem. One more hour in the airport looking at the migrant people and the slew of crappy tourist stores. No problem. After 40 more minutes though, 1 hour turned into “Canceled”. Ok, now I was worried. But it wasn’t a time to worry; there wasn’t ANY time to worry. I had to act. I lined up with the rest of the people boarding the flight at the desk to reschedule it. After about 20 minutes in line, I was told the only flight was the next day, around the same time. Ok. Nothing they can do – no point in yelling at this lady. I knew what I needed to do, call the emergency number.

And that’s what I did. After making that one call, though, things started to complicate themselves. I had cash on me, but the payphone only took change. Ok, so get change. But I couldn’t. All the stores at that time were closing, so that wouldn’t work. I had to think fast. Luckily, I finagled one woman into giving me change behind the security cage the store had at its entrance. God love that lady. With that, I was able to make a call to my district chair who advised me to make sure my host family knew about the change. But, with that call, my money was depleted. So I opened my laptop, and luckily, my host brother had a Facebook on which I was able to tell him about the change. So all was well. Except I had just got done saying all these heart filled goodbyes to everyone, and now I had to go home again. Luckily, I was able to text my mom from the internet, and she came to bring me home for one more night.

Flashing forward…

The next day, I boarded the flight. Emotionally drained, it was much more autonomous. A connection in Miami led me to meet another outbound to Brazil from some other part of the country. So that was nice. It made me feel a smidge better. But the whole flight to Sao Paulo, I forced myself to sleep, only so I wouldn’t be overanalyzing all the things that were flashing through my mind. Are my friends going to be there when I get back? Will SHE be there when I get back? Can my friends wait for me? Can SHE wait for me? What about…

When we arrived, though, a lot of my fears were alleviated at the sight of my host brother holding a sign that read “Welcome” maybe it said Matthew. I don’t remember. It was a blur. But in that blur, a kind of mechanical sense of obligation took hold of me and I knew what I had to do, without thinking. I had to help my new friend find out where his flight was. I had to love this new family.

My host family lives about 7 hours away from Sao Paulo the city, so what was up next was a long drive to a city and life that I had only thought about (while at the same time not tried to think about). That was a long drive. But the jetlag once again allowed me to sleep, if not the fear of trying to converse with these people I had never met before. On the way home, we stopped at something like a truck stop, and I had my first taste of Brazilian food, a hot cheese sandwich. I could barely eat. I was so nervous.

We made it to my new home some time later, and I unpacked. The first couple of hours here were basically me reading phrases to my family from a “Dummies” book. Then, we had our first interact meeting, which was MUCH more organized and important than in the U.S. So, in that aspect, we have a lot to learn.

And learning is what I am doing the most of here. In only 2 weeks, I have learned so much about so many things: languages, people, places, foods, animals…but most importantly myself. Being here has made me start to confront those feelings that I didn’t want to deal with in the U.S. Those feelings and thoughts and ideas that I could easily suppress and abscond without batting an eye. Things about myself. I am starting to realize the kind of person I really am. A person who can go, be faithful to my friends, be faithful to my family, to her, to everyone I can in a life that I WILL have to return to inevitably. Because, I’ve realized here that things are only going to happen when YOU make them happen, and, a majority of the time when they go wrong, those things are YOUR fault. It’s hard to admit that. Harder than anything. It’s too easy for me to get mad at and blame something like a pen or computer when I don’t spell something write right. Or a higher power when I am sitting in a position that feels like the lowest point in my life. And nothing, sardonically, goes as planned. But the only thing you can do, the ONLY thing, is to be yourself and live honestly in the pursuit of what you want. At least, when the time comes where something goes wrong and it isn’t your fault, you can say you did everything you could – when you really did.

I don’t know what’s going to happen here. Some days are amazing and beyond comparison, some days I just feel tired and irritable. But I know what I have to do. And maybe, I am starting to know what I want.

 November 15

You caught me at an auspicious time. Things change so fast here. But they don’t. Maybe it’s just the appearances that are what change. In reality, it’s hard to know what is changing and what isn’t. Sometimes the certainty comes easily, sometimes it seems irrevocably strained. Sometimes I know what I’m doing, other times I’m utterly lost.

As of late, it hasn’t been the routine that has been changing, but perhaps my life in general. I’ve heard so many stories about kids from foreign youth exchange going home. I think the total is somewhere around 5. Even the American girl in my town here has been on the verge of returning for almost a week. And, indeed, this month on the “Exchange Student Undulating Chart of Emotional Incoherence” this is listed as one of the most difficult months right next to December, although I wonder if that goes for the Jewish exchange students as well. I think it’s hard to group people’s emotions into a cohesive line like that. Or maybe it’s just me. I don’t think I could ever even begin describe my own emotions in some sort of comprehensible average. Every day I feel like this is the best time of my life – and within that I ask myself when it’s going to end. I don’t know if its pessimism or realism or cynicism. Probably a mix. It’s come to a point where it’s difficult to differentiate between realities. I say realities because I have come to understand that in Brazil, here, now, there is a certain life that is the truth for all those around me. Across the world in Florida in the United States (the full name now necessary), life continues in its own isolated reality that engulfs those within it. The only comparable glimpse I’ve gotten of this before – and what I think is an interesting experiment for anyone reading this– is by looking at the people in the cars driving along side of you while on the highway. In that one moment where your window aligns with the opposing vehicle’s, you are able to see a fleeting vision of those people’s lives. They most likely aren’t looking at you. Just see them. Don’t stare, which is universally rude. Every time I have passively gazed out the windows on an insignificant trip, this inevitably occurs and leads me to ponder, “What are these people doing? Who are they? I wonder where they are going. Do they have the same problems I do? Is their car just as dirty as mine? They must have a whole history, I mean, they’re here aren’t they? Look. I’m willing to bet that’s the mom. That’s the son, the daughter. What do they think about when they are…alone?” Where I am supposed to find enjoyment here? My family, my friends, my routine? Should it be in the future I am so uncertain about? The possibility of college, and a life that continues in my home country? I’m aware the politically correct answer is to take joy in the moment that I’m living. The experience as a whole. This solution is mostly touted by those looking from the outside in – outside of my life here and outside of my own thoughts. I’ve learned a lot here, without a doubt. Enough to change me for life and it hasn’t even been three full months yet. Despite that, however, I feel as if I lack a defined purpose, or even if that purpose exists, the goal it seeks to reach is muddled. In between school, family events, and the Rotary, what do I have here? I think that, if anything, that void has to be filled by myself. But maybe that’s the frightening part. Not only does that mean I am confronted with personal time that I have to deal with the emotions of my past, present, and future, but that I have to actively seek to produce something worthwhile. Even if I don’t know precisely what I’m running towards, I cannot live a life of mediocrity. It’s just not in me. Like a tiger poised, poignancy is going to be produced from the action about to occur – be it of negative or positive consequences. But one thing is certain – it will be worth noting.

I’m leaving this entry with the one thing that I know will get me somewhere – absorbing every infinitesimal bit of knowledge that I can. Maybe if I do that, I can answer these questions that consume every minute of my being. Maybe.

January 11

So it’s 3 A.M. Tomorrow (well, today, I suppose) is my first family change. It’s funny.  I never thought I’d have second thoughts about leaving this home. But it really has become just that – a home. My life has been in these last 5 months. I have so many doubts about what the next family will be like, but I think I’m beginning to realize these are just petty inconsistencies in routine rather than self-doubt. I think in the beginning that’s what ate me up so much – doubting myself. Maybe I didn’t know if I could do it. Now, it’s just the change of scenery that scares me. Looking at my bag re-packed and the empty armoire brought back a lot of feelings. I can remember how it first felt when I came here – like it was a visit, like it was fresh and there was a kind of tension in the air that I couldn’t really put my finger on or permeate through. Now, I take a step back from myself and see that that barrier is simply gone. I don’t feel the same as I did when I arrived. These people don’t seem like strangers. Now exposed to their inconsistencies and nuances, they’ve become family. It’s the idiosyncrasies that really humanize us, I guess. Each family has their members with their appointed positions (mom, dad, sister, brother, etc.) but what really defines them is what makes you wonder “Why would they do that? What are they doing? What the…

My last few week here has been great as I've been in Goiania the capital of the state of Goias here. We stayed at the apartment of the grandparents there to celebrate New Year and the like. The flat, amazingly, had ridiculously modern furniture and had a beautiful view overlooking the city. We visited tons of stores there (including the hilariously named Flamboyant Mall). Walmart is always surreal here, as was Outback Steakhouse which had everyone perplexed as to what was served there. Tron 3D in the mall was awesome and memorable because of my ignorance as to what they meant when they asked me if I wanted an “inteiro” or a “meio” ticket. I just followed my brother’s lead and said “inteiro” but then immediately turned to him who would want to see only HALF the movie? That led him to burst into laughter leading to tears as he explained that’s how they ask if you want a student I.D. discount.  The whole spectacle died down in the line for the movie and even turned touching talking to this kid and his father who explained to us it was his son’s first time seeing a movie in a theatre. Bet he never forgot that.

I hope I can make the next phase in my stay just as memorable. I hope for reciprocation. I hope for the best and give it my all, and that’s all I can do…and say.    

April 26

Not but a few days ago marks my 8th month in Brazil – and it’s been a rollercoaster. Lately, it seems just like everything just fits. It’s hard to explain. I’m not living the life as a foreign exchange student, I’m living as if it were, well, my life. The routine may stay the same here, but it almost feels like I’ve finally found my place in the scheme of things.

Since my last journal quite a bit has changed. I previously mentioned in my last journal that I changed houses. Though I was thoroughly nervous to do so, it has been turning out fantasticly and has proved to be a logical stepping stone in my stay here. In my first home, I had my host siblings as my best friends who helped me cope with everything along with a strong mother figure. Now, I’ve changed to a home where I have more independence and need to rely on my own means to make friends and be productive in general. It’s been a nice progression that I feel mirrors a lot of the inner change that I’ve been going through. Almost a “growing up” phase that I have gone through manifested in a change of scenery.

While at my new home, I participated in my first Rotary sponsored trip to Rio de Janeiro. There is a distinct lack of words to describe the peacefulness of Rio. Getting there required a solo plane ride which was my first taste of being completely alone in this country – and I liked it. Arriving I went through the usual formalities of getting situated in the hotel and the like. One of the first things as a group we did was go the beach which was literally a two blocks away from the hotel. It’s just…so…like you think it is. I didn’t think the beach meant that much to me but seeing it, smelling the musty, salty air sting my nose I began to realize exactly how much I had missed it. If I closed my eyes I could feel the wind taking a part of me and taking it back out to sea, maybe in an attempt to keep a little part of me to send back to Florida. And the vantage point from the beach looking towards Rio which wraps around the incoming water is tantamount to instantly becoming part of a post card, or maybe even a character on one of the popular telenovelas. Either way, I had the time of my life seeing all of the usual sites like Christ the Redeemer, Sugar Loaf Mountain, City of Samba, and the garage for the floats for Carnival (and that was two days before it caught fire which I witnessed as we made our way up to see the Christ), and even made some cool friends.

Coming back to my life in my host town. I’ve made some connections here that feel genuine and that give me a reason to come back. That’s not to say that I didn’t have them beforehand, there’s just something about having made friends on your own account and subsequently “clicking” with those people based on your common interests. By yourself. I suppose that’s the most important part.

The sweetest thing about my time lately is that it just seems to flow so naturally. There are moments when something catches my eye or some random thought reminds me of “home”, which I’ve realized is now an ambiguous term. Sometimes my upbringing and life in Florida just feels like distant memory of a past life, but I quickly take myself out of that harmful thought and bring myself back to reality. In that way it’s more about self-respect. That’s something that I’ve learned a lot of in the past few months. There are times where I feel better than I ever have, but I can’t deny the other side of life. I’ve become much more accepting of that. Deep down, I don’t just try to forget anymore – I genuinely strive to improve. I will be continuing down that path for the rest of my stay here, that’s for sure.

 June 19

  So this is it. This is the end. Its funny, you know, I never thought it would be like this. I never expect to feel this way about it. It seems like it was just the other day that I was sitting in class with my first host brothers or stepping off the plane scared out of my mind as to what was in store for me. But the end is nigh, and I suppose I do have a few things to say about it.

I realize now just how many lives I’ve lived here. My first life with my first family was a completely different existence. I had a completely different family dynamic. A mother, brothers, a little sister. There was much more structure. I went to a different school, had different friends (though that isn’t to say that I am not still friends with those people). Moving to my second host family and “graduating” from my first school, everything changed. The family's interaction, my school, even my friends.  It wasn’t worse, it wasn’t better. Just different. But I only realized this gradually and in small bursts. Its almost as if my change mimicked the maturation of a person leaving high school and living in the real world. By that I mean of a person in the real world that isn’t influenced by the Rotary exchange because, and I don’t think I’m the only one, in the beginning it all seems like a trip – one giant vacation with obligations. A controlled experiment in which the subject is only to be observed. But after a while, that novelty wears off and the experiment becomes utterly meta. You can see yourself living the life that you’ve led, even if in some sense it still feels manufactured. At very least, It has prepared me to live my life where I left if off back at home.

    But approaching the end my day to day has changed. I had two friends from Florida come and visit me here, so that was amazing to see them. It really made me realize how much I had taken for granted their presence. We had an amazing time at a local festival here which lasted for a week. It was essentially a fair, only with a much larger focus on the rodeo aspect, and an even larger focus on the live music acts that were there. Outside of that, I suspect that just living with them at my house really provoked my aforementioned realization – having to explain all of the little idiosyncrasies of Brazil that I only appreciated in the beginning. Eventually, though, they had to leave. That was hard. What was even harder was saying goodbye to my friend Nadia, a foreign exchanger from Mexico. We both thought that our time here wasn’t going to end, and she was definitely my best friend here, my rock. So that’s shoutout to Nadia Azucena. With their departures, it has been bittersweet. I’ve been comforted by being with my other close friends here, but in the back of everyone’s mind the thought still lingers.

  So coming to the end it’s pretty surreal. This is my last journal. My last Sunday, in fact.  But overall, I feel good about it. I feel like I’ve accomplished what I came here to do and then some. I’ve matured, I’ve met friends, I’ve gained confidence, I’ve  learned Portuguese. So there’s that. I am just excited to see how all of this is going to translate (pun intended?) to my life in the U.S. For the future exchangers I´d like to say that it isn’t something you can prepare yourself for. All the training, all the camps. I think the best advice I have is to enter the exchange with an open mind, be able to forgive mistakes as they are really only growth in disguise, try to be as confident as you can even if you have to fake it, and realize that your time will end here so that you can keep your goals in focus.

    I suppose this is me signing off for the last time, leaving my last mark on this website. So goodbye. Tchau. Adios.