Sofia Calvaruso
2010-11 Outbound to Brazil

Hometown: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
School: Ponte Vedra High School
Sponsor: Ponte Vedra Beach Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Encanta Moça Rotary Club, District 4500, Brazil

Sofia's Bio

Hey everyone! My name is Sofia Calvaruso and I will be spending next year as a foreign exchange student in Brazil! I have lived in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida my entire life and I think this will be an amazing opportunity to have new experiences and see what else is out there. My mother came to America from Sweden when she was about eighteen, so I understand how hard it is to adjust to a completely different culture. My parents have always encouraged traveling and learning about cultures from a very young age. I have traveled all over the world from Chile, to Sweden, to Australia and plenty of places in between, but never to Brazil! I love to travel and I cannot wait to see a completely new part of the world.

This year my family hosted an exchange student from Brazil, Ana Laura. She was very supportive of my decision and was really helpful with the whole process, as were my family and friends. I got very lucky that I have a native Brazilian in my house to help me learn the language and culture! I had learned about the Rotary program from my friend and neighbor, Grant Simon, who is currently in Japan. I could not imagine leaving everything for a life in a whole new country. However, an assembly at my school where Leon, Ashley and Ana Laura spoke about Rotary and becoming an exchange student really opened up my eyes and got me motivated to apply. My best friend Shannon applied with me. Having someone going through the process with you makes it a lot less overwhelming. When I found out I was going to Brazil, I burst out in tears of joy! All my hard work had paid off!

While hanging out with my friends, I have always been the girl who did not care about taking pictures and updating my Facebook status. As all of them will tell you, I have always been the outgoing, spontaneous girl. I love to be creative in any way possible and keep people on their toes. Give me a canvas and some supplies and I will paint all day! My favorite style is watercolor, with sketching as a close second. I like to call the way I dress funky, yet sophisticated. I love shopping at small, quirky boutiques and Urban Outfitters. I also like to think of my self as a very ambitious person. I ran for freshman class president and applied to Rotary all at the same time! I do like some time to relax though. I do not usually watch TV, but Degrassi and Flight of the Concords are my weaknesses. Also, I will admit that I am a bit of a gamer; I got a little more than excited when Sims 3 came out… I do not currently play any sports, but when I’m looking for a good cardio workout, I strap on my rollerblades and take my dog on a rigorous outing. However, often I just hit the gym. I cannot wait until that plane lands in Brazil so I can explore and become a better me!

I live in northeastern Florida and absolutely love it! In Ponte Vedra Beach, there is not always a lot to do, but when summer rolls around there is tons of fun to be had! Surfing, kayaking, beach volleyball, and swimming in the ocean are all my favorite things to do at the beach considering I live a five-minute walk away. Although I have become accustomed to my area I can’t wait to experience a new life and Brazilian culture!

Even though I like to think of myself as a very young independent woman, I owe a lot to the people who helped me along the way. Special thanks to my Mom, Dad, and host sister Ana, you guys are so supportive and I love you all. Also, to my friends at PVHS; I’m going to miss you guys so much and thanks for giving me a shoulder to lean on when I needed it. I would especially like to thank everyone over at Rotary; you guys are the best of the best. This would not have been possible without you. Last, but not least I want to thank Paula Roderick, my district counselor; I could not have done this without your guidance and advice.

Sofia's Journals

September 10

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.

November 24

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.

January 17

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.

April  29

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.