Samantha Conklin
2011-12 Outbound to Brazil

Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: St. Augustine High School
Sponsor: Coastal St. Johns County Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Ribeirão Preto Jardim Paulista, District 4540, Brazil

Samantha's Bio

Oi! (A way to say “hello” in Portuguese that I find quite entertaining.)

My name is Samantha Conklin. I'm currently an eighteen year old senior at St. Augustine High School. I am fortunate enough to graduate this upcoming June and spend my gap year living abroad in....*insert an intense and dramatic drum-roll here*...BRAZIL.

In this quaint little city I call home, I live with my mother, my three younger sisters, and my cat named Tabitha. No more than ten minutes from my house, live my grandparents. Thankfully, every single one of them was in full support of my decision to become a youth exchange student. I haven't resided in St. Augustine my whole life, or Florida for that matter. I was born in Ohio, and have moved multiple times (my last being from Memphis, Tennessee). So, change regarding relocation isn't something completely new to me, and hopefully will work to my advantage in the near future.

In school, my schedule revolves around my enrollment in the AICE program. As for extra-curricular activities, I'm a member of the InterAct club, and hold the position of “vice-president” in French Club.

When I opened the email that notified me of my acceptance, I practically went into a state of pure excitement/shock. Questions such as, “Is this for real?! For real, for real?! Did I read it wrong?! I was accepted?!” were thrown at my mother accompanied by a smile that was plastered to my face, and abundant amounts of joyous flutter-clapping.

I can't explain how amazing it feels to know I'm going to take part in this program, and to be going to Brazil nonetheless. I send a huge “THANK YOU” to Rotary and its members for allowing me to embark on this journey that will surely challenge and change my life for the better.

--“Growth means change and change involves risk, stepping from the known to the unknown.”--

Samantha's Journals

Monday, October 10, 2011

Four cities.

Three flights.

Two continents.

One destination.

That’s what it took to end up where I am now, in Brazil.

As I’m writing this, I’ve just passed my 7-week mark.

(I’ve realized this year will pass rapidly, and that’s a sad thought.)

After saying goodbye to my tearing up family, I made my way through security and out of Florida from JAX on August 5th, headed to the airport in Dallas, Texas. Now, I find it necessary to mention that I had a few small nerves about having to travel alone. (Not to mention the pressure of not wanting to be an exchange student that missed a flight.) Hint for future exchange students: When Rotarians tell you to wear your blazer at all times in the airport, DO IT. My blazer ended up being spotted by four other exchange students from Houston and one from Mexico, all making their way to Brazil, and then I didn’t have to worry about being alone. I took an ever so long flight (over ten hours) and the next thing I knew, I was in the Sao Paulo airport. By the time I landed there, I honestly wanted nothing more than to shower, eat, and sleep the day away…but I had one more flight to catch. I arrived in the Ribeirao Preto airport about 1 o’clock, had to ask one of the flight crew members to help me with my back because it was too heavy for me to lift, and walked out of the baggage claim’s doors. As soon as I saw the large “Welcome Samantha” banner, and a bunch of strangers with smiles on their faces, the nagging feeling of needing a nice bed to sleep in completely left my mind. I was bombarded with the repetition of “Welcome,” kisses, and hugs.

Since I’ve been here, I’ve been lucky to have experienced the sense of “homesickness” only twice, of course that’s along with the normal and occasional “I don’t understand” frustration and the “I’m surrounded by many people but still sometimes feel lonely” feeling. Everyone here is beyond nice though, which of course makes a world of a difference when in one of those moods.

I have a wonderful dad, mom, brother, and sister as a first host family.

I honestly find it hard to imagine what my exchange would be like up to

this point had I been placed with anyone else.

I’ve tried so many new things and I’ve met so many new people. (Occasionally feeling bad that it takes a few times to actually remember their names and not just their faces, when they always end up remembering mine.) And I’m growing in the process. When I came here I was extremely shy, awkwardly so…but with every new day that comes and passes, I can feel myself becoming more comfortable. As for the language, I find that to be the hardest part of an exchange. I know others will say, “You have Portuguese, that’s easier than trying to learn the one I have to learn.” But in reality, a new language is a new language. Period. From being here about two months, I can understand simple things, and can sometimes end up guessing what the person is talking about just by recognizing a phrase or a string or words. It’s more than reassuring when someone reminds you how good they think your Portuguese has gotten.

I know it’ll take time, and I’m trying to “take one day at a time.”

Patience.

Another essential of being an exchange student, and something I’m learning I need to work on really quickly. Things won’t just happen because you think they will, or you dream about it….Time has to pass and hard work has to be done.

It’s crazy to think that back in Florida, right now, other students are getting ready to do exactly what I did one year ago….Apply for the chance of an exchange year. I can still pinpoint the day and approximate time I got the call saying I’d be coming to Brazil, or the exact time I checked my email and found out I was accepted for this amazing program. I’m excited for all those even CONSIDERING to apply, and I hope that reading the beginning journals of the current outbounds, and the journals of past outbounds, only encourages you to fill out the forms, and go for it. (That’s my advice: GO FOR IT.)

List time? Oh yes. These are just a few things I’ve learned/noticed:

• Don’t walk up to a stranger and say “Eu gosto” (I like) when pointing at their Justin Bieber T-shirt. They will give you a look that implies "You're a weirdo” and your host sister will have to chime in, explain you like the SHIRT not the woman, and that you aren’t Brazilian. (Won’t do that again.)

• There’s no need to say “Saude” (Health) to someone you don’t know passing by you when you sneeze….Apparently it’s an automatic sign that you’re a foreigner.

• Brazilians seem to be really comfortable with themselves and their bodies.

• Cars will NOT stop for you. (Thankfully, I was told this one and didn’t have to learn the hard way…No need to worry, family.)

• Set times for meetings/classes/church/etc. don’t mean anything. It’s apparently normal to be late for everything.

• American music is on the radio….all the time. Which I find entertaining because even whenever someone can sing the whole song, I’ll ask in Portuguese, “Do you understand what the lyrics mean?” and they almost always reply, “No.” – Then again, I guess it’s the same for me and the Portuguese songs I can sing-along to, because half of them make no sense to me…

• Soap operas are really popular here. (Personal note: I like them! Hard to understand, but the facial expressions tell you all you need to know.)

• When people tell you in Brazil you'll eat beans and rice with what seems like every meal, they aren’t kidding. I eat rice and beans with two meals some days, but it’s alright because it’s absolutely delicious.

• Brazilians are fanatics about soccer. I know this seems like a, “Duh,” moment, but I find it difficult for anyone to understand just how fanatic they can be unless you’ve been to a real soccer game here. I have. And though it was fun, I’d be lying if I said at some moments my eyes weren’t in a wide stance, wondering what the heck was going on.

• It’s hot here. (Obviously) But my city reaches 108 degrees Fahrenheit, and it’s supposedly “winter-time.” I’ll need to save up some Rotary allowance to buy myself a personal carry-around fan.

• Speaking of money….I think it’s normal that every exchange student will experience the feeling of being completely and unfortunately BROKE. Rotary allowance-day is like Pay-day, and it’s something we all look forward to.

I could go on, but I think I’ll end my first journal here and get into more specifics when I begin to write my second. Thank you again, Rotary!

Beijos.

When people tell you in Brazil you'll eat beans and rice with what seems like every meal, they aren’t kidding.

January 14

Five months.

It's surreal to think I've been living in Brazil for the last five months. Some days it feels like a week ago where I was saying goodbye to my family and carrying around my Portuguese-English dictionary everywhere I went, while other days, five months feels about right.

It's hard to think of everything that's happened since the last time I wrote in October. The rest of the month passed by fairly normal, while in November, I experienced one of the things that every exchange student has to go through, switching host families. I wasn't too nervous about the transition, since I had met my second family on multiple occasions and traveled with them prior to the actual switch. I can honestly say I'm completely comfortable and love this family already! In comparison to my other family, this family doesn't speak English, and for that I'm glad.

Language, Language, and more language.

My Portuguese has improved, though sometimes it's still easy to get on myself about not feeling quite up to par where language is concerned. Like I said, for the family I'm in now, English isn't used so my ears have had to get accustomed to hearing only Portuguese with me translating a few things here and there when asked. I can understand most things that are being said around me, a lot easier than I was understanding a month or two ago. As for speaking, I think any exchange student will tell you, speaking is always the more difficult aspect. I still haven't had a dream in Portuguese, but I try not to get down on myself and keep the hope that one day it'll happen for me. It's always best not to try and compare yourself level-wise to other students around you, and that's what I remind myself. This is my year, and I need to continue taking things at me pace.

Oh the holidays.

It was strange for me to miss out on Thanksgiving, with it being an American holiday and all. I thought of the foods I was missing, the family I wouldn't be with, the football games, but a little while afterwards, I thought of the things I have here that aren't in the U.S. that I'll end up missing when I return home. I celebrated my 19th birthday during the beginning week of December. With my birthday falling on a Monday, I had to attend my weekly Rotary meeting, and was surprised when I was welcomed, wished 'Happy Birthday' in both English and Portuguese multiple times, sung to twice, had presents, and a cake waiting just for me. It was just another assuring situation of how wonderful the people of my Rotary club are. And of course, the holiday that everyone always asks about, Christmas. I learned that Christmas here is different, for sure. Presents and spectacular decorations aren't as big of a concern, and it's more normal for families to take a trip somewhere together to meet up with other members of the family that might not live as close. As for myself, my family and I spent the Christmas weekend in Sao Paulo, while leaving that Monday to travel a few more hours to a large city that has multiple beaches! I never thought I would miss the sight of a beach that much when I left St. Augustine, but it was honestly refreshing to see salty water bordering fine sand. New Year's ended up being great for me too! It was raining, and cold, but my family and I went out on the beach to watch the shooting of fireworks near a bridge, and it was beautiful. Not even just seeing the lights and hearing the booming sounds of the fireworks, but having been there with my host family that makes me feel like a true family member. Holidays weren't too hard for me, but it's always good to remember this when you're missing out on a holiday that's going on in your home country: There's always next year.

With summer coming to an end in about a month, classes all over town, including school, will be starting back up again. I've already made plans to get more active: Joining a music class to re-learn how to play the clarinet and taking up a piano class. I'll also be switching schools, going from a University to what's considered the senior year of high school again. With me being in the University, I didn't have a chance to have Portuguese classes or outside of school projects, so my Rotary club and I both think it'll be better for participation reasons, even if I've already graduated back in the states. I can tell you that it makes things easier to do once you have some language skills under your belt. You feel more confident to step out of your comfort zone, and get into more things that you normally wouldn't be getting into.

For the new outbound group: PARABENS! Us current outbounds are proud and excited for what we know you all will experience in the next few months. (Even if we have our moments of thinking that you'll be the group to replace us.) Be ready for the experience of a lifetime, for the unexpected, and for discovering more about yourself. I can honestly say I'm more comfortable than ever with who I am. I'm growing into the person I want to be, and you all have just taken your first steps to doing the same.

And now time for what everyone skips down to read: The list.

- While everyone was writing statuses about being excited for Winter Break and nervous about finals, I was already out for Summer break.

- Country music is different here in Brazil.

- Dubbed films can be annoying when you already know an actor's voice, but you deal with it merely to practice your language skills.

- Beans and rice have continued to be part of my diet for the past five months.

- Japanese food (particularly sushi) and Arabian food are popular here.

- On Brazilian beaches, it's common to see everyone munching on corn on the cob.

- There are at least four English language schools in my city.

- American restaurants such as McDonalds and Outback Steakhouse are more expensive here.

- The Twilight series is just as big here in Brazil as it is in back in the U.S. I watched the film three times in movie theatres and each time, girls gushed when Edward spoke Portuguese. (Yes, I gushed a little bit myself too, but that's not the point.)

- Brazilians overall tend to be naturally curious and friendly, which makes it less intimidating when meeting someone for the first time.

- There is a Brazilian song right now, “Ai Se Eu Te Pego” that is currently famous and spreading around to different parts of the globe. (Future outbounds: learn this song and the simple dance to it.)

- Importation taxes on electronics aren’t the most fun thing in the world to deal with.

Thank you again RYE Florida, and the Rotary Foundation in general, for still being the reason that I’m in Brazil in the first place. Obrigada, obrigada, obrigada. This opportunity has given me the chance to live abroad and meet some extraordinary people, along with this being the opportunity I needed to discover exactly who I am and where I want to go in life. You’ve broadened my horizons.

Until next time.

Beijos e Abracos.