Today is October 4th, 2011, exactly two months since I arrived, so I figured it was time to check in. A lot has changed, probably me more than anything else. I have grown up. I have learned to open up immensely but also to hold back depending on the person and your relationship with them. I have learned that back home is not being held on pause and you cannot be a source of advice or assistance when you are miles away. You need to live in the moment here because you will never have it again. I have learned who to trust and what to trust them with. I have learned that crying does nothing for you. I have learned that no matter how much you want to squeeze your pride close to you, you need to go through embarrassments, humiliation, and language struggles if you truly need something or need to ask a question. I’ve learned if you laugh through language barriers and stay optimistic, people will give you as much patience as they can and as much time as you need.
I am not going to lie, I have had some days when I wake up, look out my window over my entire city and ask “Why in the world am I in Brasil? How am I even here?” Other days I will just be in the car on a long drive and catch a glimpse of a valley or large mountain and just go into shock thinking “Right now, geographically, I am IN Brasil, and I will be for another 9 months.” It’s a bittersweet feeling, but I love it.
Ending and Beginning
I can’t even really recall leaving. It was a blur. Two weeks before, I had to endure the hardship of saying goodbye to my exchange student Mads when he returned to Denmark. If I thought that was one of the hardest moments ever, I had no idea what was coming in two weeks. It seems now like I could mesh the two goodbyes together they were so close.
I probably did the worst preparing as an outbound. I feel safe to say this now that I am surviving and loving every single day of my life in my host country. I did not study up much on the language, I forgot my blazer before my farewell Rotary meeting and had to return home to retrieve it from my closet, and I packed for Brasil the day before I left. Yes. This is true. I feel like I didn’t sleep the night before, and in what seemed like 2 hours, I was awake, dressed, in the airport, bags checked, and accompanied by my mom, brother, and very close friends, making my way towards the last sight I wanted to see, security. In a very quick amount of time, we ate Burger King. Well I think only I did because I was starving, anxious, and wanted a good final meal in the US. Saying goodbye went by so fast but I clearly remember the embrace with my mom and best friend Nikki Frechette. The three of us were very close and hugged for 3 minutes.
After security I realized I was uncontrollably shaking and started crying hysterically. It came out of nowhere. I traveled from 11am to 6am the next day. The second plane (a 10 hour plane ride) was a red eye but I didn’t sleep one minute of my travels. Part of this may have been because there were approximately 130 screaming, chanting, and singing Brasilian kids my age returning from a Disney tour in Orlando. After entering the airport and greeting my family (my 2 host sisters and my father) we went shopping all day. This was my first impression of Brasil and I did not like it. Eighty reais for a tank top? Not happening. I then decided right then and there I will suffer through my year with the clothing I packed.
School started for me the week after I arrived. I was greeted my first day with hugs and kisses from everyone, and I mean everyone. I became very very quickly acquainted on my first day with my current great group of friends. They thought it was funny to introduce me to all of my teachers as Hannah Montana. School was my first really large culture shock. It is daily from 7am-12:50am. We have three 45 minute classes, a 20 minute snack break, four more 45 minute classes, and then dismissal. Cell phones, cameras, and iPods are all allowed during class. No one really listens to the teacher. There is no mandatory homework, no grading system, and exchange students are asked to sit in the hall during tests. The desks are never in the same formation for more than 1 hour. The uniform consists of sweat pants or spandex capris with the school tee shirt and any sneakers. All of the city’s schools are right next door to each other as well.
My first host family lives in an apartment. There are 5 floors and 2 apartments on each floor. We live on the 5th and there is no elevator. The house is far from school and I walk home most days. I love this because when I am eating the extremely fattening Brasil foods, I justify this by telling myself “But you walk home every day, you will work it off.” (Trust me, this is not true.) My host sister, Maria Beatriz is my best friend. She is 16 and is scarily my twin. Everyone in the town knows her as Tiz for short. (This in Portuguese is pronounced “cheese”.) She takes me to all of her parties and I have become very close with all of her friends. I thank her and give her much credit for this because I know it is not easy to have a tag-a-long who always needs an explanation to go with her since she looks nothing like the natives. Margarete is my host mom and her husband is Renato, Tiz’s stepdad. Renato is the Rotarian of the family. Pietro is my three year old host brother. Despite him dumping a gallon of rice in Tiz’s and my bedroom and then using my uniform pants to sweep it all around, or constantly running in my room and pushing the power button on my laptop during a skype session, he is the best. I love him. My father owns a construction company and is at work or on work calls often and travels a lot.
Besides the weekend parties, during the week, there are always churrascos (barbeques). At the churrascos, you will find so much meat being cooked and if you literally blink, it is gone. I have probably had 2 bites total since I have been here. There are also often a lot of Quince Anos which is a fifteenth birthday. These parties are very expensive and extravagant. Once in a while, there are class parties as well. I have my good circle at school which I mentioned before who took me in immediately and we are very close now. Their names are: Thais, Thaina, Pitu, Bruno, and Igor. My 2 best friends, who are also inbounds (Victoria from Pennsylvania and Rebecca from South Africa) are always with me after school or on the weekends.
The clothing here is very humorous. English is on almost everything and it is rarely spelled correctly or it has very stupid phrases. I have seen “Michael Jackson is not dead.”, “Kama Sutra”, and “Fashin and Glamur.” The minute you walk into a store, the employees are breathing down your neck, literally. If you pick up one item, they will start opening their inventory and shoving 6 others that have a similar style in your face. If you go into a dressing room, they will feed you articles of clothing that you didn’t even look at. Another difference that I had to answer many questions about is this concept of wearing a ring on your right ring finger. This in Brasil automatically says you are in a relationship and not available. My class ring makes my “boyfriend” that I have look real rich.
Nail polish is a necessity here, make-up is not. My mom quickly told me my nails were ugly and changed that fast. Appearance is very big here with teenagers. You’re rich if you own: Nike Shox, Gap, Hollister, Kipling, or Coca Cola clothing. This made me laugh because the majority of the above with the exception of Hollister are not flattering or “in style” with kids my age. They love their school supplies too. Pencil bags, notebooks, the whole nine yards. They are designed with things I had in 2nd grade but they love it here, girls and boys.
Road Rules are ridiculously different and shocking. They have lines on the pavement and seatbelts in the cars but neglect to use either. Red lights and stop signs are barely a tap of the brakes and turn signals are never used. Speed bumps are every thirty yards, but the same as red lights, you don’t slow down for them. All streets are one way and all cars are stick shift. The horn is your best friend and you will use it approximately 80 times per day.
I think adjusting to the language was extremely and surprisingly easy. I spoke none before arriving and I learned quickly with my sister’s iPhone translator, gestures, and charades. Now I can have conversations and do daily things like check out of a pharmacy or ask where some place is. I have yet to dream in Portuguese, but all in good time. It may have helped to study beforehand but it never stuck when I tried and I don’t regret it because submersion is still the best and fastest way to learn.
Everywhere you look, you will find cheeses, breads, and Brigadeiro (the amazing chocolate dessert here. It is unexplainable.) My family has fruit in the house but I rarely see it in cafés. There are never vegetables but always French fries or potato chip sticks. My favorite meal is the Stroganoff with chicken. I could eat it everyday. Milk and eggs do not need to be kept in a refrigerator. This has not settled with me yet and I think I will hold out on eating each for the year.
Jeans are dressy at the meetings and activities here. No one wears a suit or dress. My club has many service projects and activities or lunches. Everyone you see is a Rotarian and every adolescent I know in my town has been, will be, or wants to be a Rotary Youth Exchange student.
Daily after school, I go eat with my family and then either head home or go back out with Rebecca and Victoria (the other inbounds). We usually go to Cravo e Canela Café and/or the shopping avenue.
I am a member at the local gym, which is very different from the Navy base gym I use to attend in Jacksonville. It is like a vacation getaway here. It has a bar, a barbeque restaurant, a snack bar, indoor and outdoor pools, indoor and outdoor soccer, tennis courts, a kids equivalent to Chuck e. Cheese, indoor and outdoor volleyball courts, and spas. It is very highly secured as well, I have to give my finger print to enter any area. Soon, I am going to begin swimming training and tennis lessons.
I’ve always stuck with the belief that God does not give you what you cannot handle and thought this to be true so far on my exchange until Homecoming week hit back home one week ago. Only after seeing pictures did it hit me that my senior class is living and breathing “Senior” every day, walking my school’s hallways, in and out of classes, going to lunches and extra-curricular activities without me with them and all I can do is watch through photographs. This is by far the hardest part of my exchange. Scents and music are the little helpers, or best friends if you will, of my nostalgias. Often, I get a familiar scent and crave food from back home. I think I miss certain places and atmospheres more than people sometimes. One always has memories with songs as well and this makes it very difficult. I hear a certain song and it triggers a place and a person or people. Hopefully these pass in time.
As I exited customs upon entering Brazil, I recognized my sisters from facebook and hugged my father only to find he was not my father but a mere stranger who was also suddenly flabbergasted that a crazy American girl was embracing him like family. After which I noticed my father on a business call a few feet away.
The week of my second month in Brasil, I realized there were identical twins in my class that all along I had thought were one boy.
One day while walking home from school, a man pulled over and yelled “Nossa, voce e Americana!” upon which I started walking very fast away and panicking inside. As I approached my apartment building I recognized the same man standing outside the door by his car with a to go bag. It then hit me that my father had sent an employee out to pick up lunch for my sister and I and was simply trying to deliver. The worst part was just then I remembered my father telling me to wait outside school for a driver to give me Tiz and my lunch. Poor man.
This is all for now. I couldn’t have asked for a better host country and cannot wait to see what God has in store for me throughout the rest of my year. I am so thankful that this was handed to me one year ago and saying a simple thank you to Rotary is nowhere near enough, but it is all I can give for now. Thank you so very deeply to all of the people who are making this experience possible.
Sunday, December 04, 2011
Today is December 4th, 2011, therefore marking my first 4 months in Brazil. I reread that sentence over and over and am so engulfed in astonishment and awe at how crazy it feels. Sometimes it feels like a year, sometimes 2 weeks, but the feeling of accomplishment for surpassing 4 months and the urge and yearning to continuously learn more is over-powering. If you lay my whole year out on a timeline, you could say I am just about half-way done. This horrifies me so much to think about. Four months down, Christmas tapping me on the shoulder, and then 5 months before I temporarily pause my foreign friendships and Brazilian life to return home. I will not use the word “end” because I plan on returning, more than once. It will never be over.
When I attended my final Rotary meeting in Jacksonville, I gave my farewell speech encompassing the idea of exchange being compared to a roller coaster. I explained (in a much shorter description since my president asked me to keep it short to fit the time slot) that you buckle into your seat, mentally and physically preparing to leave your foundation on the ground. As you slow your breathing, try to relax your body, and fix your flaws like hair in your face or nervous shaking in your palms, you imagine what you are about to experience. Once you’re strapped in, there’s no turning back, you just need to trust your foundation holding you there to introduce you to these new found twists and turns, maybe even several drops. There will be drops you don’t like, straight distances of just track where you’re asking “What’s next? This is dragging on”, twists you never expected in a million years, and corkscrews you wish you could reverse and do all over again. Once you have finished your run through, you are still so exasperated about what you just experienced that there are no words. After the cooling down time passes, you set your opinion into stone and wish you could go strap in again. Finally, once you’re ready to move on to other rides, you have the memories you will hold dear forever and tell to future riders.
Well in 4 short, very fast moving months, I have been so thankful to be on such a phenomenal coaster. I’ve been praised, scolded, interrogated, moved to my second house, and taught. Learning, learning, learning. I feel like in 4 months, I have aged 6 years. One month ago, I moved into my second family’s home. I am in love. My house is so relaxing and chilled out. I can take naps on the living room couch, peacefully play piano, sleep or read a book in the outdoor hammock, ride my bike around the city, or even grab the city bus into town with a bus stop literally right in my front yard. I have 2 dogs, a Greyhound and a Dalmatian, both which have created great bonds with me. I have 2 siblings, 9 year old Leonardo (Leo) and 7 year old Natalia (Nati). My parents are Marcos and Renata; both young, fun, and very musically oriented. We even have an outdoor “hang-out room” with a drumset, a row of different types of guitars, tambourines, and many other cool intsruments. My father works in the children’s intensive care unit as a surgeon and my mother is a professor at the college UNESP in the forest, nature, and flora and fauna field.
School has let out for summer break so I am very lucky to get to sleep in and casually go to the gym by bus at whatever hour I feel. In 6 days, my mother will arrive for the halfway mark of my journey. We will spend time in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and my city of Botucatu. She is only coming for 9 days which is actually great because it is right before Christmas.
I feel that I have definitely hit the stage where I am asking “Where did the progression go? Where is my improvement?” but it was bound to hit and all I have to do is keep working and keep conversing with natives, focusing on what words I didn’t know yesterday that I do today. I’ve come to the realization that I have also begun to fit in which in most cases in life, this is wonderful, but on exchange it means the exotic, new, interesting foreign girl is not so interesting anymore. She is steadily speaking our language and we are out of questions. This causes a very difficult wall to break down when it comes to asking to go out together, suggesting to spend the night at each other’s houses, and entering into very fast, slang-filled conversations that do not include you. I will say that it has become very easy to manage though. I can communicate well enough to buy minutes for my phone, purchase clothing, get groceries or lunch, or ask when the last bus past on my own. I have even had one or two interesting conversations at the bus stop, Forrest Gump style.
I still love my country here and believe it is ever-changing every day. I will never want to go home, but I have sunk in. I have become a resident of this wonderful city. I have changed even though I do not see it yet. And I have learned and become a better person. Thank you, Rotary. I can’t go a day without thinking where I’d be in the United States right now just dreaming of this adventure without your help.
Happy Holidays everyone.
February 7, 2012
It is February 4th so it’s time for my 6 month mark. Unbelievable. Half a year away from home. Concluding my US life and embarking feels like yesterday, so how in the world has 6 months past here in Botocatu, Sao Paulo, Brazil? I can’t wrap my head around it. At this point, it is all about transitioning. Things are changing. Don’t get me started on the seasons changing because I cannot even walk a block without dripping sweat. But that is the slightest of changes occurring. I have definitely come in and out, depending on the day, of homesickness, but halfway through you have mixed feelings the worst. Most kids will say I never want to leave or I am never going home, but I am much more logical than that. I look forward to going home. I look forward to telling my story. Soon after I return home, I will be shifting my life completely and changing everything I have ever known as I move to Europe. Not on exchange, but as the next step in my lifelong journey towards my destination. In a way, I am very excited to get home. Then there is the feeling of vomiting repeatedly and crying buckets when I think about leaving everything I have learned to love, learned to hate, and learned to accept. I will have to pack up and leave everyone I met.
Since we have past into 2012, the foreign friends I have made has changed. Iny my city, I had 2 best friends, Victoria from Pennsylvania and Rebecca from South Africa. South Africa exchanges January to January, so Rebecca left us. It was very difficult but soon after, Hudson joined us from Australia. I don’t know what we had done without him all along, but I am so glad we have him in the group now.
Things are currently going very well. I just switched to my THIRD host family. So strange to imagine how much time has passed since my first. This family is so incredible and so perfect, I know there has to be someone out there looking out for me. I live in a two story house on the center of town, I have 2 dogs, I have a swimming pool and huge barbeque kitchen all outback, I have a sauna, I have a balcony off the front of the house, and I have a very young, sweet couple for parents who have the most darling little 2 year old daughter named Maria Eduarda, but we call her Duda.
School has resumed and I am in the equivalent to a US senior class with my best friend Victoria from Pennsylvania so school is more than I could ask for. In the spring I will be going on the month long South Tour to the south of Brazil, Iguassu Falls, and other South American countries. I return to Jacksonville, Florida on June 3rd. I have 4 remaining months and I plan to make them the best months of this year. Thank you so much, Rotary.
April 23, 2012
Well I may be 19 days late here on April 23th, but I hit 8 months on April 4th. The last time I wrote, I skipped Christmas and New Years so I will fill in now. A lot has happened. Since February 4th, I have had my birthday, changes have occurred at school, I have gone on a trip, and I just moved to my final family.
I have definitely done my fair share of traveling around Brazil. The week before Christmas, my mom came to visit for 10 days. I met her in Sao Paulo where we toured for 2 days before flying off to Rio de Janeiro for 4 relaxing days in the sun on Copacabana beach. After visiting Pao de Acucar and Christ the Redeemer, we flew back to my city and stayed for 4 days to spend time with my friends and family here in Botucatu and to show my mom what and where I have spent my time for the 5 months before. Sooner than I hoped, her trip ended and my family was taking me right back to Rio for New Years. We spent 15 days there and it was wonderful.
My birthday came on March 9th and I had a wonderful celebration from my friends at school then a nice dinner with Victoria and Hudson that evening. The week after, Victoria and I were moved down a grade because of overflow on student capacity in our grade, so we were placed into second year. Again. We have managed just fine though.
March 23rd, I took a bus to Aracatuba to begin the South Trip. Here, I met with 10 others and we headed to Foz do Iguassu. There we met more and our first part of the trip group was around 20 people. We went to the waterfalls on the Argentina and Brazil sides (even in a boat under the falls) and we went shopping on the streets of Paraguay as well. Then we moved on to the southern cities of Brazil consisting of Curitiba, Florianopolis, Gramado, Canela, and Porto Alegre. We did very many tours and sight saw everywhere. In Curitiba, we had museums and gardens. In Florianopolis, we went to the beaches and shopping. In Canela, we went to parks and German bakeries. In Gramado, we went to chocolate factories and vineyards. Porto Alegre is where we met the last group of newcomers for the South Trip. Here we became 35. With this amazing group of unforgettable people, we went to Montevideo Uruguay, Punta Del Este, Uruguay, and Bueno Aires, Argentina. This was my favorite part of the tr ip. I made phenomenal new friends and saw astonishing places I wish I never had to leave. On April 15th, the trip ended in Aracatuba and I spent the weekend there with my new friends.
Now I am back here settling in again and 3 days ago I just moved to my last host family. They are wonderful. I have a 14 year old sister Isabella and wonderful parents Carla and Renaldo. Renaldo is the president of my club. I have 2 dogs and a brother Arthur as well but he is currently exchanging in Pennsylvania. I will live with this family for approximately a month until I go home. It pains me and even makes me feel sick to think of leaving this incredible place. I have made so many friends, memories, mistakes, repairs, and much much more. I want to stay forever but I know that isn’t logical. I am comforted by the fact I know I can always come back. No one is disappearing off of the Earth, I am just going home. Everyone will just continue living and if I ever feel that I miss them terribly, I can see them with a little money and time spent traveling. The people I have met and places I have seen will always be forever in my heart.