My first few days in Brazil were rough. I had pictured for so many months being immediately lulled by the beauty and excitement of my new home, but it just didn’t happen. It was then I realized that no chart or book could tell me how I was going to be feeling at certain points in my exchange. For some foreign exchange students it is easy to leave everything behind, but for some it is not. I guess we all just react to different experiences in a genuine manner and moods can be very unpredictable. Aside from those first couple of days however I have become completely enamored with everything about Brazil.
My first day of school couldn’t have been better. I am the first exchange student to have attended my school here in eight years so everyone was so welcoming and excited to meet me. My host brother, Bruno, is my age and has helped me a lot showing me around the school and translating for me when needed. School is so different here! I have twelve different academic classes and my school starts at seven thirty (which means I have to wake up at five thirty!). Also, we do not change classes, the teachers switch so I am with the same students all day.
Even thought I love the beaches back home, the beaches here are so much more beautiful! I have had the opportunity to travel to many other cities where the beaches are more private. However, in Brazil, you will always find the same things at the beaches! Smaller bathing suits and coconuts and cheese on a cart!
I am also completely obsessed with the fruit in Brazil! They have so many fruits that you just cannot find back home! I have even tried a few hybrid fruits! One was an apple/peach and the other was a mix between two other foreign Brazilian fruits.
Anyway, everyday here I begin to understand not only more of the language, but more of Brazil as a whole. I am beginning to not look at things as weird or different, but more as just another way of living.
I have almost completed my fourth month living in Brazil and I still cannot wrap my head around the experience that has come my way. For the longest time I worried about my life back home. I imagined if I would be more content and settled remaining in my old life. I worried so much for so long that I couldn't focus on my new situation. I wanted my "real" friends and my "real" family and with this came may consequences. I became insecure about speaking the language and I didn't put myself out there enough to try to make good friends. Obsessed with the idea of what could be I fell more deeply out of my exchange. I don’t know if it was a sudden realization or if it was a slow change in state of happiness, but things became so clear to me that this is an experience so indescribably wonderful and to waste it could become something I could regret forever.
I knew I had to change the way I was treating my exchange. I started by pushing myself to be more social in my classroom. I hadn't realized before how much a little conversation could fill up your schedule! Making good friends that weren't foreign exchange students helped me drastically in my lack of language learning. I knew I had missed out on a lot of practice however so I talked to my host parents about my wanting of some extra Portuguese classes that other foreign exchange students could be taking as well. They were all for it (having realized as well how little I had been speaking) Having classes during the weekdays not only gave me a little boost on my confidence in speaking the language, but I also met some really cool people who were trying to learn more Portuguese as well.
From all of this I have learned that if you are feeling lonely or helpless stay strong and don’t cut yourself off from everything. Wipe your slate clean and try something different. If you aspire to make things better and pursue them then slowly, but surely you can build yourself up again.
Christmas in Brazil was…strange. I know, much thanks to Dances with Wolves, it is wrong of me to use ethnocentric adjectives for a country’s culture, however I really do feel as if they celebrate it less! I know people love to exaggerate the lack of season change in Florida, but honestly living in the Northeast of Brazil the only difference between Summer and Winter (besides the name, Fall and Spring are non-existent) is a bit of rain… In other words, it felt funny to see the occasional Christmas light while wearing a sun dress.
Besides the summery weather, decorations are not such a big deal. Christmas trees are not obligatory and always plastic, and some parents even skip presents being from Mr. Clause.
However, it was interesting and I enjoyed the holiday very much. For Christmas Eve, I first spent some time with my host family and listened to orchestral music. They even had sushi for my pescetarian being which was quite lovely of them. Afterwards, I went to a very large Christmas party in Recife with my two best exchange student friends and didn’t return home until five in the morning (which is a very ordinary time to return from parties in Brazil). Christmas Eve was exciting. As for Christmas day, my host family and I just kind of sat around, chatted, and later went to a church service close to home.
I know many exchange students’ worst time of the year is usually around Christmas time because it’s a time to be with family; however it did no phase me much. I think it is because there weren’t many things here that reminded me of Christmas and I didn’t feel as if it was that time of the year…
For New Years, I ventured to a near-by city called Fortaleza to pass some days with Ana Laura (my host-sister who lived with me last year from Brasilia) and her family. We went to a New Years party that was absolutely incredible. When we first walked in there were giant melon-statues covered in shrimp, pools filled with flowers, and all around there were Brazilian entertainers pretending to be some famous icon (e.g. Michael Jackson/Lady Gaga) Afterwards, we went to the eating area where there was a wide variety of all sorts of dishes and a band that is relatively famous in Brazil, Chiclete Com banana (Gum With Banana in English)
Although the way of celebrating is very different from back home, I think the winter holidays (or summer holidays in Brazil) were one of my favorite parts of my exchange so far.
With about only a month left of my exchange I know I should have come to quite a few realizations about quite a few things. And of course I have, but the one that is the most reoccurring is that “home” is no longer so clear to me. Of course there is a plain difference between my home in Florida and my home in Brazil, however I have adapted to this place and who I am and where I “belong” has become incredibly blurry. What is it to belong somewhere? To have been born there? To dress, act, and speak like the people from there? I am none of these things yet I feel like I fit here. Maybe even more so than back in Florida. I just feel like, being given an entirely new start, I had the opportunity to create a different and more interesting lifestyle for myself. I mean let’s be honest, how many transvestites for friends do I have back home?
Now that I am comfortable here I have to begin preparing to leave. I don’t know exactly what I plan to do with my last days here. I still haven’t learned to samba or eaten the delicious grilled Brazilian chicken heart. Maybe I will try to lose a bit of my exchange weight (I stopped counting after I had put on fifteen pounds…) I do know it is going to be terribly difficult leaving behind all my friends and family here.
My exchange year hasn’t been the happiest or the easiest experience of my life thus far; however it has been the most exciting and interesting. It has opened my eyes to so many things and has given me such a clearer view on what I want from my life and the direction I want to take it in.