This isn’t goodbye, just “see you later”; this isn’t the end but a new beginning.
I don’t really know how to start this journal. When I think of RYE I think….why are people crazy enough to do this? And furthermore, why are there parents out there who are crazy enough to let their kids do this? All these feelings, however, disappear when I look through my photos of Brazil, and through the other exchange student’s photos. I take comfort in the fact that if I’m crazy, there are at least another seventy kids in Florida who are the same way.
When I left Freeport, Grand Bahama on Saturday August 7th, 2010 I didn’t cry. I wasn’t sad. I was more anxious, worried, skeptical, but most of all excited. There was a new life awaiting me just a couple of thousand miles away. I made my first stop in Miami Int’l and almost got lost (that airport is huge!). Next stop: Rio de Janeiro! On this plane I had many thoughts and concocted many schemes of how I could get kicked off the plane and go back home. Here, once again I had to remind myself that other kids have already been through this and I can do it too. All of this pep talk was rewarded with bright smiles, open arms, and excited if non-English speaking families-to-be and friends.
My first day in Brazil I took a shower in cold water, which doesn’t sound so bad unless you take into account the fact that it was maybe 12 degrees Celsius. Then I went to my first Churrasco (Barbeque). It was very nice! The types of food, oh my gosh, I ate chicken heart, yes chicken heart. And it was good! Haha. There was baked cheese and steak and lots of other things to try. In Brazil they don’t drink many varieties of sodas, basically coke and Guarana which is made from a fruit of the same name. It’s awesome!
My school here is really different from what I’m used to. The uniform is like slacks and a tshirt with the school name on it, and whatever shoes I want to wear. You can wear any kind of jewelry, bring ipods and cell phones. And the teachers are so cool! It’s easy to develop a very good relationship with your teachers because they are very easy to talk to, friendly and always willing to help; even if they can barely understand you and vice versa.
It’s been three weeks since I arrived in Brazil. I’ve been to two parties, a soccer game, a parade, RYE orientation, started Portuguese classes and school, been to the mall oh and of course taken the bus and gotten lost! I was coming home from the mall one day with one of the Mexican exchange students, we took the omnibus (big red bus that travels throughout the city) to the closest station to us and we were supposed to walk to her house which isn’t very far away. But it was night, and we got lost looking for her house. So we decided to go to my house, I was pretty sure I could find it even in the dark. It is about a thirty minute walk from the bust stop. It was an experience to remember. The entire time we were just laughing about it, because it was either laugh or cry. We passed hookers on the street, had random guys drive past and shout at us, tripped and got scared out of our pants by house dogs. Needless to say, my host parents were extremely worried, but we made it home okay if not a little tired and out of breath.
One of the things that really stuck out with me was the day that the son of my Rotary Club President came back from his exchange in Australia. He was due to arrive at about 11 p.m. and we all went to the airport to greet him. And I mean everybody! Not only did it seem like the entire Rotary Club was there but so were their families. Wives and children and friends, they were all there. And with signs, balloons, whistles, cameras and everything! I felt so bad for the cleanup personnel after we left. But the feeling there, it’s indescribable but I will try. The love, it was buzzing through the room, you felt that everyone there was connected in some form or fashion. It felt like family, the things that you value most in the people that you love the most all together in about 30 – 40 persons. Like I said it’s indescribable. And to think that ALL of these people came to welcome just ONE person back to the country. They stood at the exit screaming “Oooooh O Bernardo chegou, o Bernardo chegou, o Bernardo chegouuuuuuuuuu!” It means “ooh Bernardo arrived”, Bernardo being the exchange student. It was a feeling I will never forget.
All in all I am really enjoying Brazil. The people are friendly, the other exchange students are awesome, and the city is so lively and beautiful. There never has to be a dull moment. I’d just like to say thanks again to Rotary for this once in a lifetime opportunity, I really don’t think there is ever anything I could do to make them fully understand how I feel and how grateful I am, but I will do my best!
Beijos e Abraços
I’ve spent 89 days in Curitiba, Brazil so far and I must say my biggest problem is the language. I want to go out and to enjoy the city life like a native Brazilian, but it’s impossible when you don’t always understand what everyone is saying. I want to ride the bus and not have people look at me funny because I speak English. Oh of course I can hold a conversation in Portuguese, I know enough to get what I need when I need it even if it takes a little longer than it would in English. But it’s not the same. Some days I feel like my Portuguese is getting so much better; other days I wonder if I’m learning anything at all. I love Brazil and I like Portuguese, but that doesn’t always make it any easier.
Sometimes being an exchange student is exhausting. Everybody wants your time and attention, and there is only so much of you to go around. Everybody thinks you’re so cool and so brave for doing exchange, they don’t know that some days you just want to be away from everyone, spend the day in your room reminiscing, reading a book, listening to music, watching TV, sleeping or whatever else you can do by yourself. If I had the chance, would I decide not to do exchange? NO WAY. There are downs definitely but there are ups as well. Sure it gets depressing and frustrating, sure you’re gaining a whole lot of weight, sure you miss home but doing exchange is about knowing all of this and STILL wanting to stay because it’s the opportunity of a lifetime. To live in a different country, learn a new language and culture, make friends with people from all over the world and experience something different every day.
This past weekend I went to Sao Paulo with two other exchange students and a host family. We drove there from my city, which took about five hours give or take. We arrived pretty late at night and had to get up very early the next day to take the train (my first time on a train) and then the metro into the city. I can honestly say that I have NEVER in my entire life seen so many people in ONE place. After getting out of the station I could only stare in awe at what looked like thousands of people going about their everyday lives. It was amazing! There was lots of shopping to be done. And after that day I was VERY tired. In Sao Paulo I visited a park, a mall and probably gained two pounds haha. It was an awesome trip and I was a little sad to be returning home.
A few weeks ago, I went to a theme park in Santa Catarina (the state above mine: Parana) with another exchange student and her family and my Rotary Club president and his family. It rained ALL day, but this didn’t stop us (or any of the other people) from having fun. We bought those raincoat caps and went on like the sun was shining. I thought it was very interesting because at home the park would have been closed, but here it seemed just as fun to ride a rollercoaster with the wind and rain slapping you in your face as to ride it with the sun shining. That night there was a monster show on a little island in the theme park where you entered into a cave and monsters jumped out from behind things in the dark and you couldn’t see. Sounds scary? Ha, you can’t imagine. I had a lot of fun.
My days in Curitiba are becoming almost normal. I still can’t believe I’m about to make three months here in two weeks. I don’t know where the time has gone. All I can do is try to improve my Portuguese and enjoy the time I have left. And this I intend to.
Life is a journey, and when it’s over it won’t matter who you were when you died but the things you did while you were alive.
I changed families about five weeks ago. It was a Friday and I was really, REALLY nervous. What’s my new family going to be like? Will they like me? Will I like them? What about where I live, will I have to take any new buses? Will it be far away from the city? I obsessed about these things all day until I just told myself that it doesn’t make any sense, because worrying won’t change anything. Luckily enough, my new family is AWESOME! I have two parents, a brother and a sister who are both older than me. I couldn’t be happier. I have Wi-Fi now (not that I’m spending all my time on the computer) but that’s not even the best part. My family is just…. they’re just the best. They are easy to talk to, completely understanding when I get frustrated and my Portuguese starts sounding like Chinese or when I don’t understand them, they make me feel so welcome and comfortable here, almost like my family at home. Don’t let anyone fool you, yes you should hang out with the other exchange students, yes you should make friends native to your host country but your host family can make or break your exchange, and mine is definitely making it! :)
The past few weeks have just been a blur. I can’t believe it is December already! Christmas is only twenty days away. It feels like I’ve been in Brazil forever and for just a few weeks all at the same time. I try not to think about Christmas too often, I don’t want to imagine what it’s going to be like without my family in the Bahamas, without our usual traditions, without the cold (but then again I’m living in Curitiba it’s quite possible it might be cold even though it’s summer). All of my friends who have gone to college are coming back, everyone keeps saying “you’re coming home for Christmas right?” or “I’ll see you on Christmas break” and I have to remind them that no, I won’t be coming home and no you won’t be seeing me unless it’s by webcam. Imagining all the parties that will be going on that I won’t be a part of, and as if to make it all a personal torture, every event will undoubtedly be posted on Facebook. Like I said, I prefer not to think about it. But at the same time, I’m thinking about how little time I have left (about 6 or 7 months and yes I did say little) and it makes me so sad, to think about all the things I will be leaving here, the friendships I have already made and will make. It’s the same emotion, sadness, but two different causes are warring for claim. I find it quite funny sometimes.
Last week Monday was my last day of school and my homeroom threw a party for me. They all brought food and drinks, dessert and my Geography teacher brought chocolate. We all had a good day. I thought it was really nice of them to do that, we took pictures and everything. All the teachers hugged me and said goodbye (in Portuguese of course). Then they all signed this paper, kind of like singing your shirt and the end of the school year. It was really sweet. It wasn’t always the best time in school, sometimes the kids were so into their work they didn’t have any time for me. Some days I just sat there, trying to understand what everyone was saying, staring into space, listening to music (yes Brazilian music too) and waiting for the day to end. But at the end of it, they were all really cool and I did learn a lot from being there.
I went to my first fifteenth birthday party about two weeks ago. It was really cool. There were these imitation alcoholic drinks (imitation because the drinking age is 18 and of course I wouldn’t have been able to drink it otherwise :) }, lot’s of food and sweets and a wide open space for lot’s and lot’s of dancing. Did I mention there was a chocolate fountain? Okay there were TWO chocolate fountains, regular chocolate and white chocolate. Now let me tell you something, Brazilian music is good, some genres anyway but the stuff that they were playing in the beginning was just horrible. It was this pop techno funk kind of thing and you COULD NOT dance to it, but somehow the Brazilian girls managed to do it I don’t know how. Towards the end of the party, that is about 11:30 p.m. / midnight they started to put on the good music. And of course, no party is complete without “follow the leader”! We got home a little after 2:00 a.m. which was early (apparently), too bad we had a Rotary ecological project the next morning. The party was hosted in one of the rooms of the largest restaurant in the world. Yes people, the largest restaurant in the world in is Curitiba, Paraná, Brazil and it can hold about two thousand people. I’ve been there twice.
Last week, our district (4730) held a really big dinner for all the exchange students, former, present, and future. We all had to wear out district shirt and the blazer (Did you know that Canada and Switzerland have red ones?). All parents and Rotarians were invited as well, and it was a good time to get to know the future outbounds and the rebounds and Rotex better.
Rotary Youth Exchange has afforded me so many opportunities. To meet other people, whether they are other exchange students from outside my district or native Brazilians, to experience a new culture, to get to know other places than just Curitiba; I couldn’t be any more grateful to them for what they are allowing me to accomplish and experience. From horseback riding to visiting one of the largest cities in the world to learning a new language, not everyone gets an experience like mine and I am determined to enjoy it to the best of my ability. When my dad (Bahamas) makes fun of me because I get confused when I skype him and can’t remember enough of the English language to properly express myself, when I can start a conversation in English and someone simply says the name of a place in Brazil and I switch to Portuguese without even realizing that I’m speaking a different language, that’s when I know that all the ups and downs are worth it.
School has been closed for a little over a month now and time is just flying by. I’m officially out of the loop back home, I come on Facebook and everyone is singing a new song that of course I don’t know, parties are going on, people are coming and going and I have no idea what’s happening. And to be honest I don’t really have a problem with that. I have favourite Brazilian singers, I know about politics here, I can give directions in Portuguese. Life is going on at home without me, but it’s alright, because life is going on here too, with me, and it’s absolutely amazing.
The last few weeks have been full of firsts. My first Christmas away from my family and friends, first New Years in a different country, first time confidently giving directions in Portuguese, first conversation with a four year old; lot’s of new frontiers just waiting for me to confuse myself.
Let’s start with Christmas. I spent Christmas with my family here in my city. The WHOLE family. Grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and their boyfriends, everybody, and it was crazy. There was a lot of noise, kids running up and down, TV, conversations going on. And then there was the food. Oh my gosh, there was SO much food, they had this kind of vegetable rice thing that I really liked, white rice, turkey, some other kind of meat similar to turkey, vegetables, sausage, pork chops, pig meat and the lists goes on and on. Then for dessert, there was cake, and ice cream with multiple toppings and Hershey’s chocolate sauce. Can you say YUM?! Here Christmas is celebrated on the 24th of December, which is when the dinner was. The whole family did Secret Santa, which was really interesting in Portuguese because you had to guess who the person was (my gift was really nice) and then we went home and opened presents. It was different for me because of course we do all of this on the 25th and there was no ham which made me sad but all in all it was a lot better than I expected and there was so much happening I didn’t have time to be sad or miss my family too much.
I spent New Years 2011 on one of the beaches in my state. I stayed with my extended family in a beach house for about a week. It was very nice to go back to the beach, walk in the sand, get some sun (because Curitiba, my city, and the sun apparently are not very good friends), and just be away from the city for a while. On New Year’s Eve at about twenty minutes to midnight my family and everyone else in the city walked to the beach to watch the most spectacular fireworks show I have ever seen in my life. It was SO beautiful, I cried. I mean I cried because I missed my family but I was so happy, to think that I had to chance to pass this holiday in not only a different country but a different hemisphere. It was incredible. During this trip I had a conversation with my four year old cousin. Now this kid is the most hilarious, sensible, gentleman-like kid you will ever meet. He talked to me for about five minutes about this particular dragon movie and I understood maybe 20% of what he said. We were all sitting at the table outside and the kid says that someone “passed gas” and asks if it was me. Now I was not familiar with the word for “passing gas” in Portuguese so I said I didn’t understand and everyone starts laughing because nobody knows how to explain it. About a minute later I got it though and clarified that no, I did not “pass gas”. It made me laugh to think that I could be having a simple conversation with a four year old and not understand him; it also shows that I still have a long way to go.
Back to Curitiba!
The beach was nice but I was happy to be back in the city after that week. As the days went pass I realized just how much I was learning. I noticed that I can now watch TV in Portuguese and understand almost everything. I can watch movies; I even have a favourite Brazilian soap. The other day I was trying to translate something from English to Portuguese and I thought of the translation and then put the English version in an internet translator and got the same thing that I thought of. I was so proud of myself.
An American exchange student and I often make fun of how we seem to be forgetting English. We make a game of trying to remember certain Portuguese words in English or trying to find the proper translation or if there actually is a translation (because there are a lot more words in Portuguese than in English). We often find that we sound like four year olds, or people whose native language is not English. A few days ago I met an exchange student from Canada who was spending some time in my city and after a few minutes of talking with him he asked me where I was from, and if I was sure English is my first language. I didn’t know whether to be happy or insulted! Now I’m just trying to manage both languages, after all that’s what being bilingual is all about isn’t it? :)
Tomorrow I will start one of probably the most awesome trips I will ever take in my life. Thirty days, with the other exchange students visiting Northeast Brazil. I will be sure to take lots of photos! Until next time :)
On January 12th, 2011 I embarked on one of the greatest adventures of my life to date. I began the journey from my city in Brazil to travel the Northeast. This trip lasted for thirty days, passing through some fifteen cities including the capital city Brasilia and two of the most populated cities in Brazil Salvador and Rio de Janeiro (I live in the city with the fourth largest population, Curitiba, with more than two million people). There is no possible way to express worthily how much fun I had but I’ll do my best!
I left Curitiba from the bus station sometime in the afternoon on January 12th, 2011. It was rainy and some almost twenty other exchangers from my district were there to get on the bus with me. In total this trip would consist of some forty exchangers from some thirteen different countries. As you can will probably imagine, our bus was big (double decker, air conditioned, fully furnished with a sound system, DVD and CD player, blankets, mini pillows, foot rests, freezer, coffee machine and a bathroom). We set out for Sao Paolo, where we just spent the night and then moved on to our first official stop, the capital city Brasilia. Here we visited various political places and a church where we walked the labrynth and found ourselves at peace. When I got there I just remember thinking “wow, this place is very…organized”. It was completely planned out, the city structure, the roads, it reminded me of a rut, of people in one of those commercials where they show the same day happening over and over again every day of your life. It was nice though. We only spent a day here.
The next stop on our journey was the city of Lençóis. Lençóis was one of my favourite cities, here we slid down a natural water fall, (it was lots of fun but the rocks do hurt your butt) trekked up a mountain to have one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen, and went swimming in this remote river, were we jumped from about 2 or 3 stories high. The actual city was so cute and quaint; it seemed like a little city that should be a hidden treasure somewhere in Europe. Here we also had a Capoeira class (this is kind of like Brazilian martial arts in the form of dance, the history is that the Brazilian ancestors who were brought here were not allowed to practice self defense but they did it anyway and disguised it as a dance) and a body painting session that I didn’t go too. Lençóis was a fun city, but it was a very stressful time. Simply because the layout of the city was lots of up and downhill, therefore something as simple as a five minute walk to the town center was a hike, and in the Northeast sun that wasn’t easy.
Our next stop was Salvador. I remember this city in particular because it is one of the largest cities in Brazil (only following Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro) and it was where I reconnected with two friends: Gabriel Abade, a Brazilian who did exchange in my city last year and Alejandra Garcia-Narvaez a fellow exchanger. I’ll be honest, I cried when I saw both of them. The thing about being the only exchanger from the Bahamas is that there will never be the possibility of seeing someone else from my country, because it’s only me. So you can imagine, that seeing another exchanger from Florida and an old friend was the closest I would get, and more than good enough for me! In Salvador we visited a market, where we were interviewed by a local newspaper researcher, met a couple from the U.S. who were on vacation and had an exchange dance party (with exchangers from the other district that was staying in the same hotel as us). Gabriel accompanied us on one of our adventures, to a beach not too far off of the coast of Salvador (where the water is A LOT more saltier than mine) and the party :).
The rest of the trip continued this way, moving on from city to city, different experiences, and extremely interesting bus rides. You can only imagine what it must have been like to be with an odd 40 or more exchangers in one bus for hours at a time. Sometimes our bus rides took us all day, to get from one city to another, sometimes two (of course with us spending the night in the hotels). There were many nights without sleep, many grumpy mornings, lots of jacking food from the breakfast buffet, some fights, misunderstanding and anything else you can possibly think of that would happen among so many teenagers. We watched movies on the bus, blasted music and had a theme song for our trip, learned how to dance to typical Brazilian songs and had dance marathons in the bus (yes we did that and recorded it too). It was a wild adventure. Some of my favourite cities were Jericoacoara, (to date the second best city of the whole trip only to be topped by Rio de Janeiro) where we got to ride SAND DUNES in BUGGIES. “Luiza 16” It was one of the most wonderful experiences. Then city was ever cuter than Lençóis! I don’t know how to describe it; everything was so close and in tune with itself. Jericoacoara was an awesome city! Another one of my favorites was Itacaré, for more or less the same reason of quaintness and being in tune with itself. Not to mention the nicest beach that I have seen here so far, it even reminded me of home.
I made unforgettable friends from various cities in Brazil, as well as memories that will most certainly last a lifetime. Anyone who has ever asked me about the trip will tell you, that I said and still say it was the best thirty days of my life hands down.