Mackenzie Teek
2011-12 Outbound to Brazil

Hometown: Tallahassee, Florida
School: Leon High School
Sponsor: Wakulla County Rotary Club, District 6940, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of João Pessoa Norte, District 4500, Brazil

Mackenzie's Bio

Olá!

My name is Mackenzie Teek and I am not your average Freshman. Later this 2011 year I will be spending 10 to 12 months in Brazil. Now most people might have never thought about ever leaving their comfortable American lives to go spend a year in a different country, and even more terrifying where you don't speak the language, and for all I know I might be kidnapped and forced to harvest mangoes for the rest of my life. But to tell you the truth I crave this type of adventure more than anything.

To begin with, I am fourteen year old girl, I am 5 foot 11 and I have an afro which adds to the height. I live in quiet suburban Tallahassee where the most interesting thing that happens on a day to day basis is the mailman coming. I enjoy chilling with friends, long boarding, playing golf, being a dweeb , going on adventures, making up songs that make no sense, trying new foods and sleeping. I like reggae music and I hate wearing pants, if I could I would wear shorts and tank tops year round. I have a younger sister named Veronica; she was adopted from Foshan, China. When I was 4, we went over to China to adopt her because for some reason they don't ship children internationally. I was adopted from Boca Raton, Florida. My mom's name is Patti and my dad's name is Dave and like any parent they want this for me but they don't want me to leave.

I first found out about RYE through Larry DiPietro who is officially the coolest guy ever. He came to my high school and did a few slide show presentations. I was pumped to start. What I thought was a few applications was much more and I realized this would be the biggest event to happen in my life so far. But as soon as I knew it, I was being glared at by a panel of 10 judges or should I say firing squad, to determine if I was fit for this program.

Finally , after 6 clementines, a tall glass of root beer, long walks with my best friend, and even trying to Google the answer, I have yet to find one reason, simply because I have too many. But as I travel farther into my journey the real reasons come in and out and a basic answer is why not? I have one life I want to find out who I am before I am too old.

Mackenzie's Journals

So today marks my first four weeks in Brasil, and I can already say I feel like I have been here a lot longer. To be able to wake up to the sound of parrots, futebol, and the ocean itself feels surreal, but surely enough I am enjoying my time here. But a lot more has happened in 14 days than one can sum up in a few sentences, so here we go!

THE JOURNEY

It was the day that I had anticipated and prepared for, for the past 8 months, and finally it was here.  I put on my snazzy navy blue Rotary blazer and transformed into ‘Mackenzie Teek: Exchange Student’, not to mention my pure white pants also went well with the overall look.  Before I knew it I was at the fabulous Tallahassee Airport; bags checked and saying goodbye to my best friends Hunter and Amber and some cool kids from D6940 (Amber gets the pepper next guys). As I made my way to security I had to also say goodbye to my little sister and dad as my mom was the only allowed coming through security with me.  And after a short wait my mom and I had to say our goodbyes, which was probably the hardest moment in my life so far. But that was the moment I like to say was ‘child to adult’. I felt like I had grown up more in those seconds boarding the plane than I had in my 15 years. It was like a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders, I was finally going.

BRASIL

So I made it. Alive, happy and tired…let the exchange begin! My host city Joao Pessoa in the state of Paraiba is the most eastern point of all the Americas it is said to be where the sun rises first. My apartment is located in the Cabo Branco district, and the beach is across the street. As for my host family, to them I am a giant; I am the tallest person in the house. I have a host mother, two brothers, grandmother and sister who will be departing to Canada on her exchange soon.

My first few days were spent getting to know the house and the city, I went surfing  with my host brother, hung out with some other ‘intercambistas’,  went to a Brasilian lunch party at my host brother’s godmother’s house (here family is family) , enjoyed my new favorite food couscous cakes and drank agua de coco on the beach.

SCHOOL

After a first weekend of adventure, Monday came around the corner and it was time to purchase a uniform for school the next day. Now I will say under the exchange code that Brasilian school is not good it is not bad…it is different. Though in very simplistic classrooms with white walls school itself is an adventure. The kids sing, shout and dance as do the teachers. Even though the curriculum seems to be very difficult and intense, people here seem to have a lot of fun during school. Compared to classes in the U.S., the students do not switch to other classes but the teachers do, so a group of 30-40 students have the same schedule which is done by block so no two days are alike. Every day during my first week I was surrounded by people asking questions about the U.S. and myself. Like “do you know Lady Gaga”? Or when they told me that this one boy was pregnant.  Though it will take some time to get used to, I am enjoying school very much.

OUT AND ABOUT

So far I have gone to Campina Grande twice, the only mountains where I have seen palm trees present. Tried every food given and only disliked one. Gone to the mall multiple times. Went to the police station to register and not allowed to enter because I wasn’t wearing pants, went again a few days later with pants on and still not allowed in because the officers “were tired”. Gone to multiple family party/dinner things. Chilled with other exchange students. Taken the hardest test of my life IN PORTUGUESE.  Went down a mountain on a bike made for a 7 year old. Fell off of a bike made for a 7 year old going down a mountain. Seen many speedos. Horse drawn wagons in the middle of the road with cars. Saw Smurfs and it was still an awful movie even in Brasilian Portuguese.

I start theatre, xilogravura (art printing) and exercise classes (to work off my Brasilian food baby) this week.

LANGUAGE

The first few days I was here I found that I was learning vocabulary words quickly. NOW I WISH I HAD SPENT MORE TIME LEARNING MY LANGUAGE. I can hold a small conversation, answer some questions and ask a few questions. Learning a new language coming from English as a first and only makes it harder.  I wouldn’t say I am “In the dark” as we were told we would be at first, but I think it is more like being behind a two-way mirror. Sometimes only you can see out and nobody can see in or EVERYBODY can see you but you can’t see them.  But thankfully my host family is very helpful with learning the language; they aren’t afraid to correct or quiz me but at the same time encourage and are patient when I learn something new.  On the other hand I think the worst part about not being fluent is the inability to express feelings and understand jokes.

I think the best part of this experience so far is just to be able to say “I am in Brasil”, that itself is the greatest privilege I have ever been given.  Tchau!

Thoughts on Exchange

Today is September 15th. Time is passing so quickly and I am learning so much about everything . I don’t even remember August. It was a blur which in a sense makes me feel like I wasted a month fooling around not getting adjusted. But then again I did do a lot, so it is almost as if I stopped seeing through the eyes of “the tourist” and now finally “the exchange student”. I think back to days where I was frustrated and lonely or just ready to be fluent, but now I look and see that this whole thing is like a flight of stairs and each experience is the next step to the top. But like any staircase if you try to skip steps you take the risk of falling. With that I finally realized that I shouldn’t try to “skip steps” , take my exchange slower, calm down and let it ride even if it means making mistakes, which I shouldn’t be afraid of. For future exchange students, I think in the first few months observance of the language, the people and your actions are very important things to do, you learn about a lot of things you never knew existed.

1st Host Family

I honestly feel lucky to have ended up in the family I am in. They are helpful, supportive, intelligent, very funny and make really good food. I so far have enjoyed my time with them.

These Past Few Weeks

-I can officially say I have activities, I am taking xilogravura on Mondays and Wednesdays but unfortunately the Theatre class was on those days at the same time as well so I went with what I was unfamiliar with. I hope to enroll in a French class because I am slowly losing my two years of previous learning. I also would like to try kite surfing (at my mother’s approval) and Capoeira but who knows, I tend to bounce from activity to activity so the next best thing may appeal to me more.

-I am enjoying school very much so, though understanding what is being taught varies day to day, I LOVE SCHOOL. The kids in my class are very crazy and nice. I have been asked multiple times to read out loud and after each time the class has erupted in applause ,even though I mispronounce some words and read very slow. Everybody in school knows me even if I don’t know them, when I walk into school I get plenty ‘Bom Dia Mackenzie’s. I also have acquired a rainbow of nicknames such as Mackie, Maquina (machine in Portuguese), Quinze (15 in Portuguese), Americana, Mackle and Grorgran (my middle name pronounced in some Brazilian accents) and pretty much any word that sounds even remotely like Mackenzie.

-When out walking, people don’t automatically assume I am from the United States and I don’t exactly meet the characteristics of a gringa ( white skin, blonde hair, blue eyes), so a lot of days people ask me if I am from Africa. This happens in school sometimes as well.

-I went to my first Rotary meeting, in which I gave an impromptu speech that I wrote down on the back of a piece of scrap paper.

-Hung out with friends/went to a party where I sang karaoke…

-I got lost on my way to buy bread at the bakery, a very scary and sweaty experience.

-I dreamt in Portuguese three times, all very strange dreams; each took place in Tallahassee with people from the U.S. , I was naked in each one, and I was bald as well. But hey at least it means my Portuguese is going somewhere.

-I also attended the Inbound Orientation at the gorgeous Maragogi beach or the Brazilian Lake Yale. Except, the food was great, we stayed in awesome bungalows and all of the male Rotarians wore speedos to swim in(yikes). It was nice to spend a weekend with other exchange students who can relate to you. I ate chicken hearts which are DELISH, saw a capoeira show and danced the Forró (badly), I stepped on my dance partner’s feet almost every other step  But it was truly one of the best nights of my life.

-Explained the concept and use of dryer sheets to my host mom and host grandma after my host sister in Canada spoke to them about her crazy host family “Putting napkins in the drying machine”.

-Got yelled at by multiple street vendors.

Differences/Things I noticed

-So many daily actions are done differently. I have really seen the other ways of living, when I never even thought there were other ways to do it.

-Food: Rice, beans and meat : basic Brazilian lunch . The food here is so fresh, every meal I have had here has been delicious (other than the tapioca), I can’t tell if I am gaining weight or losing weight because I am eating so much healthier than I did in Florida, but I am eating more.

-There are a lot more stray cats, dogs and sanguis (monkey/lemur things) , but unfortunately no matter how much I would like a pet sagui , they all have rabies

-People shower more here (2,3 maybe 4 times a day)

-Sometimes, people will just randomly light fireworks on the beach (like the kind they use at Disney), illegal or legal people do it.

-Coffee is served after dinner

-People change clothes a lot more often here but also wear an outfit more than once before washing it

-All people have AT LEAST two cell phones, or two SIM cards

-The bathing suits are smaller than my underwear, my bathing suit bottoms are about the same as the male speedo here

-Don't drink the tap water, it will end badly.

-You can get a pair of Ray Bans, Harry Potter 7 part 2, a 'new' watch, lettuce, if you can name it you can probably buy it from one of the many men selling it on the beach in front of my apartment.

-People almost never touch food with their hands, they use silver wear for most meals and street food is eaten with a napkin.

-Brazilian time is different, if you plan to meet someone at 2:00 then leave the house at 2:15. If you plan on going on a trip and leave right before lunch, you won’t ,you will probably leave at 3:00 . And if class starts 7:00 it really starts at 7:30.

-Traffic Laws are more like Traffic Suggestions, if you’re in a hurry don’t be afraid to create a third lane in the two lane road.

-The cross walks don’t have lights, so you go when a car stops for you, which is not guaranteed so sometimes you wait 10 minutes to cross or risk your life.

-The people: most Brazilians have a really cool attitude towards family, friends and life in general.

September 28th

So far this week has been one of the harder ones, I am not homesick and haven’t felt it yet at all, but my favorite activity xilogravura, has ended for the entire year. It kind of gave me a sample of how hard leaving Brazil is going to be even though this was just one thing ending, and if there is a first there will be more. It also made me think that exchange is really just change, you first change countries; then change your family and friends; change your language; change families here (which I am not looking forward to now as I am quite content with mine). And of course the little things like activities, maybe the way you get home, or the type of toothpaste you use. Whatever it is, it is change, and frankly is the only thing that is forever, and especially on exchange where nothing is forever.

Today marks the end of month 2 in Brazil.

This past weekend was great. I went with my host family to the praia da Pipa or Pipa Beach. Pipa, is the most beautiful beach I have ever been to in my entire life, and being a Floridian I have been to many.

October 2nd

So this weekend I went to Recife and Olinda with my host family, we toured the city, saw the gorgeous churches (most over 300 years old), and spent most of my allowance haha . Though I love João Pessoa, weekend trips allow me to taste what the rest of Brazil is like. For example in Recife I saw some of the most expensive apartments in the world (one had a helicopter pad on the top), but mere miles away from the most impoverished favelas. Seeing houses made out of scrap cardboard/sticks/plastic and basically whatever can be found, made me truly see how we really don’t have the same type of poverty/wealth difference in the United States. It is kind of funny, in the U.S. we have so many things that are supposed to make us happy yet we are not very content, when some kids here have to sleep on the concrete or worse. Now this doesn’t mean that all kids in Brazil live in favelas (of course not), I go to a school with literally the richest kids in my city. But it does mean that we really should put all bad situations in our lives into perspective.

Well that is it for now, and if you are a future exchange student considering applying for Brazil, do it. Exchange is everything you think it is, and then again it's not.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth – Baz Luhrmann

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

November 15, 2011

I have been living in Brazil for 109 days. Wow.

Life here has become, well, life. It would be incorrect to call my life here normal, because it’s not, but it is getting more comfortable. Friday is the first day of summer vacation; no school until January 31st! My Portuguese is slowly getting better, but I still have a good 2 to 3 months before I think I will be fluent.

A Day in the Life

In these blogs we were told to tell our readers more about day to day life than the specific things we have done. So I guess I will take you through a day of being a Rotary Youth Exchange Student in João Pessoa, Paraíba, Brazil.

On days that I have school, I wake up at 6 to attend school at 7. But regardless of what country you’re in, waking up at 6 a.m. to go to school is still awful. From 7ish to 12ish I am in school. I say ish because here time is never set exactly. I have lunch at home with my host family, which takes about an hour or so. After lunch I generally help clear the table and wash dishes. Depending on the day I may or may not have something to do after school. Some days I go back to school to design class, if not that just taking city walks or having a coconut on the beach. If not that I am probably hanging out with some my other exchange student friends Shankar from Minnesota, Hannah from Germany and Ondrej from the Czech Republic. I really enjoy hanging out with Hannah, Shankar and Ondrej, whether it is getting lost on the bus system or going to random street festivals, we always have fun. Here there are a lot more holidays, so every other week (sometimes more, sometimes less) I have no school one of the days. On the weekends I usually go to the beach for the daytime portion, and at night I go out to eat with school friends, to the cinema, or on special occasions to a concert.

Knowledge

I can take the bus/taxi/ or walk to almost any destination without getting (too) lost. I know which roads aren’t safe to walk on at night, and which parts of town has favelas. I know to not trust/ignore the men on the beach who sell cashews out of pillow cases, especially when they tell you that you’ve got nice teeth. I know where to get the best acai and which sidewalks smell funky. I know now never flash your cell phone out at the beach, or you and your friend may have to track down a thief and buy it back for 250 reais. Finally I know that Rotary in foreign countries aren’t always going to take the same care of you as they would in the U.S. So if it has been 3 months without an allowance and no 2nd host family planned, you need to stop being polite and speak up. Independence feels weird. But it feels nice.

Frustrating Things

-Back in October there was this holiday Dia das Crianças, or Children’s Day where traditionally you are supposed to give a gift to a child. So of course my Rotary Club had a cool service activity for us exchange students. Our job was to buy/collect as many toys as we could and then on Children’s Day we would go to a poor community and give the kids gifts. So we went to the community of Bayeux, a city composed of mostly favelas, but we went to this old gymnasium with about 40 people living inside because their favela had been destroyed by a mudslide. It was intense, it was poverty, it was a different experience. The one thing I really didn’t like (and have felt this since I arrived here), was the wall between rich and poor. My Rotary Club arrived wearing gold watches, designer jeans and sunglasses. While the people we were giving gifts to, were wearing torn, dirty clothes and had next to nothing. The majority of the time the other exchange students and I were told to take pictures and pose with the poor kids. I felt like we were being placed above them. Though it did make the kids happy, I did not feel comfortable with the air that we gave off.

November 29, 2011

Yesterday marked the 4th month. How do I feel? Weird. Every time the 28th rolls around I get this feeling that I am running out of time. So I reevaluate myself, double take on this new life. It makes me sad to think I have to leave this life in a few mere months. But at the same time, I love the feeling of having done/doing things. I like being able to say things that other 15 year olds can’t. Though not to sound boastful…well yeah I am boasting, I am living a tropical paradise for a year how can I not boast?

Language

I feel like I have a bunch of puzzle pieces for Portuguese and right now I am in the process of aligning them. Though I am still missing a few pieces my Portuguese is moving along slowly.

December 2, 2011

I love being an exchange student. I love waking up by the beach. I love how Brazilian streets smell funky. I love how I spend all of my money on açai, my cell phone and my bus pass. I love how I can buy a day trip of snorkeling in the Red Sand Reef for the same price as 2 bottles of Colgate toothpaste. I love how my hair is turning blonde. I love listening to Brazilians argue. I love being able to say I am a Rotary Youth Exchange student.

Last weekend I had the pleasure of accompanying my host mom and her best friend Suelana at a church procession. Now I thought it was just going to be a walk with a few people from their church but it turned out to be 300,000 people walking 14 km up and down mountains. It started at 10 pm and went to 4am. It was pretty awesome.

As for the holidays, I don't really feel homesick at all yet. Sometimes I feel that I am missing out on certain holiday aspects of the U.S. (making Christmas cookies, putting up the tree etc). My host family is taking me to Brasilia for Christmas and in January I am going to Fortaleza for 10 days. So hopefully being around a lot of people, and touring will keep me distracted.

January 7, 2012

Last time I wrote it was a bit before my Rotary trip to Recife, Christmas time, and my trip to Brasília.

The holidays in general were really awesome and special for me. To start off with my Rotary trip to Recife. Unorganized, crazy, fun. Though Rotary here originally planned to bus us down to Recife on Friday the at 5 am, we didn’t leave until Saturday at 9 am. It was another fun but too short trip with the other exchange students. We went to a several tourist sites during the day Saturday and at night we went to the Christmas party. Well it was quite a funny party as we all were asked to bring a gift to give in the gift exchange. I wasn’t really sure what to get since it was anonnymous. So I just brought one of the jars of peanut butter my mom sent me, hoping it would land in a peanut butter lover’s hands. Well it did, it was actually stolen in the gift giving game 11 times and eventually bought by a homesick American for 40 reais (30 bucks) .

On December 18th my host family and I flew to Brasília to my host mother’s cousin Sylvia’s house; where we would be staying for the next 10 days. Now first of all I am living in João Pessoa which has the climate of a tropical paradise. Living in João Pessoa is like living in a sweaty armpit. So I of course brought majorly shorts and tank tops only to find that Brasília is freezing. But fortunately my host cousins lent me multiple jackets and sweaters. When I arrived in Brasília I was greeted by my host uncle Guillherme, host aunt Sylvia and host cousins Marina (19), Luisa (15) and Pedro (8). It was like going on a double vacation. Every day we woke up at noon (in which I am usually used to waking up at 7 am or 8 am because it gets too hot to sleep after that in João Pessoa). We toured the city of Brasília which in my opinion wasn´t that naturally beautiful , but more architecturally beautiful. And since it w as the season to be jolly almost every other night there was a Christmas party at some relatives’ houses. The biggest party was held on Christmas Eve and started at 9 pm and ended at 4 am. Nobody really gave or received gifts, the biggest gift was being able to be there with such a large happy family. I really enjoyed it. But on Christmas day we just chilled and had a lunch. For Christmas dinner I ate chocolate pizza for the first time haha.

The best thing I gained from this trip was so much more than I imagined. Over the course of these 10 days I became very close with my host cousins Marina and Lú. When I had to go back to João Pessoa we all started crying in the airport because we knew we’d miss each other so much. It showed me how on exchange you can love and care for initially complete strangers. It was pretty sweet. I hope to visit them again sometime before I go back to the States.

Life Right Now

I am still on summer vacation right now, and really loving it. I spend my days on the beach with my family or at churrascos (barbeque) with friends. Though my skin is getting REALLY dark, my hair has become blonde at the tips. During the week and especially on the weekends my host city has tons of summer luau type things on the beach. So I have been pretty busy for the past couple of months. During the day or when I have an hour or so I try to study Portuguese. I have made myself some verb cards with the tenses, basic conjugations and rules for adverbs. As a resolution I am trying to better my Portuguese. Though I would love to be fluent, I feel like fluency is something that just comes and you either have it or you are working towards it. Right now I am working towards it.

In the Near Future

This Friday I will go to Fortaleza to visit my host dad’s family, since my host parents are divorced I will be traveling with my brother Fabio and host dad.

Carnaval will be coming soon, but I hope to travel back to Olinda for a day or two. I hear Olinda has one of the most famous Carnavals in Brazil and it is only 1 hour away from my city!

In March my American family is coming to my city! I am extremely excited to be able to show them this awesome place that I live in that I can now call home. They will stay in my city for 4 days and then we will all go to Rio de Janeiro for another 4. We will also bring my best exchange student friend Hannah along with us as well so she gets a chance to see Rio.

News and Stuff

My host mother Verônica has received an invitation to work in Brasília in the Senate! I am very proud of her, and glad she has decided to take this opportunity . So this means my host brother will stay here to finish university, my host grandma will stay with my host brother and when my host sister Flavia arrives from Canada she will go live in Brasília.

So yeah, life is good.

January 27th 2012

Trip to Fortaleza/ Traveling About

-So Fortaleza was a little bit different than my trip to Brasília. First off I stayed with my host brother’s grandparents, Dona Maria and Antonio. I absolutely adored them, they were filled with such life and welcomed me like any another grandchild into their home. Dona Maria is 87 and Antonio is 93, Dona Maria raised 11 children and Antonio is a retired general of the Brazilian Military and fought in WWII. Though hardened with age and parenthood they both were some of the nicest people I have ever met. So with a huge house, 11 kids and over 30 grandchildren the house I stayed in always had people in it. It was like being in a Tyler Perry movie for a week with all the chaos and drama a large family would have. I went to multiple beaches, tourist attractions, a formatura (Brazilian college graduation party) and just relaxed. It was just a nice trip, nothing spectacular but I am glad to have gone.

-Later today I will go to Natal! I will spend the weekend there with Fabio, my host granny and Rafa.

Portuguese

At this point in my exchange, I can understand relatively all things spoken, and I can say whatever I want. Am I fluent? In some ways yes, in some ways no. Though I understand everything and can say almost anything, I still have trouble reading, writing, and speaking as fast as I would in English. So those are things I plan to work on. Portuguese still requires effort to speak, meaning that I obviously can’t speak it as easily as I can in English.

Changing Host Families

Wednesday my wonderful host mother left for Brasília. I cried like a total baby, not only for the fact that I won’t see her for a very long time, but also because this is just another of many reminders that the best year of my life is winding down. These past 6 months with them have been incredible. It did take a while to adjust to a whole new family and lifestyle, but doing so was a great experience. I have truly felt like a member of their family and am forever grateful for all they have done for me. Obrigada a vocês, eu lembrarei sempre de vocês e espero que vocês me-lembrarão!

February 7th 2012

So I switched host families a week ago and so far things are going smoothly. Though it does feel like my exchange has started over again I am enjoying the changes and new adaptations. I have a host mom, host dad, 2 older sisters and 1 older brother. As you can see it is a lot of people, so I share a room with my 2 host sisters. I now live closer to school which is great, so I walk just about everywhere. I recently joined a gym as well so I can start working off this exchange weight. Because I have changed grades (1st year to 2nd year) I have changed classes, and the hours are different. So on Tuesdays and Wednesdays I get out of school at 5:45 and the other days I get out at 1:00. Fortunately on the long days, I have a 2 hour lunch break from 12:30 to 2:30. Generally I walk home for lunch, shower again and return for 4 classes. I am actually enjoying school more this term, I think it’s because I can speak better Portuguese.

Advice for the Noob Outbounds

-Trying. When I got here, I was naïve. Obviously. I thought I would be fluent by December (max.), that the kids at school would just automatically be my best friends, that I would have so many activities and would have (in my opinion) the best exchange ever. So I tried and tried and tried to have “the best year of my life”. It wasn’t until November that I really started to enjoy my exchange. It wasn’t that I stopped trying, but I stopped trying to reproduce my dreams of “the best year of my life”. I just let it come naturally. For a while after I started to enjoy my exchange/love Brazil I thought that August, September and October were just wasted. Well they were wasted trying too hard, and I feel that the person who wrote that bio and blog 1 is not the same person writing this blog now. I have grown more in these 6 months than I have in 15 years. I can’t tell you exactly how I have changed but I can just tell you I have changed . And I am okay with it. So my advice being: take your time, be happy when you are happy ,be sad when you are sad. The worst thing to do is try to ignore the bad feelings and mask them over with fake happiness. Make an effort to learn the language but don’t set a fluency date for yourself. Make an effort to understand, appreciate and love the people you are surrounded by.

I have 124 days left in my exchange.

May 17, 2012

I had left off last around

February-

I thoroughly enjoyed carnival, my city hosted the Bloco of Mosquitos being the second largest in all of the Brazil (therefore the world). A bloco is just a block party with a theme that changes nightly the week before the actual carnival break, so its just a pre-carnival carnival as most people in cities like mine travel to places like Rio de Janeiro, Recife/Olinda or Salvador for the more famous carnivals. One of the nights my friend Shankar from Minnesota dressed as a girl in them e with the current Bloco- the Block of Virgins in which all men dress as women. During the actual break I traveled with my host family to Arcoverde (Green Arc) a small city in the interior of Pernambuco , the state next to mine which holds Recife. Green Arc is actually a really pretty city, but it has nothing to do. Literally, but I was glad to have to chance to learn about life in the farmlands where simple necessities aren’t always as easy to get like in the city. Like water, people who l ive in cities like Green Arc must collect rain water the entire rain season as it can be months, and in some serious cases, years without heavy rain fall.

March-

In March, I was kept very busy with my social life (which somehow boomed this semester) and the preparing for the arrival of my parents and my little sister. My family came and stayed in my city for 4 days and then we all went to Rio for another 4 bringing my friend Hannah with us. I was very pleased to show my family my life here and introduce them to this rich and beautiful culture that I can now say I am a part of. I actually found myself very stressed, it was like the people who generally took care of me in the US, I was taking care of! I was stressed with translating and making sure they followed the cultural rules but overall they did a pretty good job. I really loved seeing my family again.

April-

April came and went too fast. My friends Julie from Denmark and Grace from Colorado came to visit Hannah and I for a weekend. They both live in Recife and are doing exchange with Rotary as well, it was great to see them and as Brazilians say “matar a saudade”. I also participated in my school Olympics and played volleyball, handball and basketball. Having never played basketball nor handball they were like two foreign languages to me, but I kind of figured my way out and we ended up winning a few games and getting silver medals. Soon after the game week ended I headed to the Amazon.

The Amazon

I spent 10 days with 75 other exchange students from other districts and some from mine, divided on 3 boats on the largest river in the world. It is so difficult for me to describe in words how this trip changed my life. I did and learned so much in so little time. We were all asked to take off our watches and not ask for the time, we had no internet and I didn’t use my phone for 10 days. It was alleviating, each day felt like 100 hours, we had 3 meals a day and that is what measured the time. We slept in hammocks, swam in the river, swam with pink dolphins, trekked the rainforest, explored waterfalls, met actual Indians, planted trees and plenty of other things.

The Amazon has so much to offer in terms of beauty and resources, we should if anything be maintaining it and not destroying it. One of the many men living in the rainforest that I met called Paipai said “The city needs the Amazon, but the Amazon does not need the city”. And when he said that I realized how true it was, we need gas for our cars, fiber for clothes, food for our bellies and we can’t naturally get these resources in our big cities. So we look to places full of resources and with few people. But if we want to keep living, we need to protect places like the Amazon. Overall the Amazon rainforest made me feel vulnerable, and I loved that. It made me notice that humans are not the only ones on Earth, we share the space. I plan to travel back to the Amazon and do what I can to save it, I have never felt more content in my life than standing under a waterfall in the middle of the largest jungle in the world.

And Now-I have 3 weeks left here in Brazil so I will be wrapping up this year with a couple day trips, a lot of beach days and a few adventures. My next district conference is on my last weekend here and my last week here will be the first week of the month long Sao Joao forro festival. If I am lucky I may get a taste of it.

I am here. I have almost made it. As I stand a mile or so between my once new life turned old and my new life, I think. When I was 14, I decided to go on an exchange principally to learn another language and travel. I knew I would grow, I knew I would change, I just didn’t know how or when. Through this past year or more so this life I have created in a year, I have learned more than a teacher could have taught me, than reading a book could have informed me, more than listening to an all knowing Rotex could have warned me.

I can tell you I am more patient, open minded, I appreciate the little and big things and I understand people better. The thing I am most scared of is returning and not being my best me. I feel that here I have become such a bigger person, and I am most comfortable with myself here, I love my Brazilian me. I have made so many friendships this year that I know I will never lose. No matter how many pictures I have or haven’t taken I will always have the memories and the place to come back to. This has truly been the most incredible year in my short life, and I look forward to even better ones.

Thank you Rotary. Thank you Larry DiPietro for coming to my school that one day in September. Thank you Mom and Dad, Obrigada Verônica e a sua família. Obrigada Rosângela e Laudivan e a família de vocês. Obrigada Brasil. Thank you to all of my exchange friends, I will see you all in the near future. You all have changed me and I couldn’t be more pleased with the outcome.