October 2, 2012
If you're brave enough to say goodbye, life will reward you with a new hello. I recently came across this quote by Paulo Coelho online and when I Googled the name, I couldn't help but smile when I learned that he's the all time best-selling Portuguese language author, born in Rio de Janeiro.
Today marked 5 weeks here in Brazil. My time here is simultaneously flying by and feeling like forever. It moves quickly because time flies when you're having fun, and I am definitely doing that! But it also feels slow because I've done so much, learned so much, and met so many people that it doesn't seem possible to have done it all in just 5 weeks.
Let me just get this out of the way: I love it here. I love not knowing what I'm doing tomorrow, I love my host family, I love being surprised, I love learning something about Brazilian culture everyday, I love not being able to fit the thoughts, feelings, and events of a day on less than two pages of my journal every night, I love the feeling I get when I say something right in Portuguese, I love my new friends, I love being close enough to walk to any type of store, I love teaching people something unique about the United States, I love the way everyone is so friendly and welcoming. I love Brazil.
I started school just 3 days after I got here but then I got sick and stayed home until the next Monday. School is very different. I can't say it's my favorite thing but I don't hate it. High school is 3 years in Brazil and I study in the second year. I can't understand the teachers yet so I mostly just read, write, draw, and study my Portuguese books at school. I pay attention in English and Spanish class though. I can actually learn something from those. Something different about school is that I stay in one class with the same students all day and the teachers change rooms. I like that I finish before 12:20!
A few weeks ago, I got to go to a language school and teach kids about the United States! I showed them books, shared American candy, and taught them some English slang. It was really fun and the students loved everything I taught them.
Brazilians are so fun! That's the thing I noticed quickly and liked immediately. They always make time to have fun with friends. At least once a week, we've gone to a churrasco (barbecue) or had one at our house. Friends are part of the family. Speaking of family, mine is wonderful. My host mom and dad, Tamara and Marcos, are both really young, nice, welcoming, and understanding. They don't speak English so communication is difficult sometimes but we're patient with each other and it works out. My host sister, Emily, is so cool and nice. We get along really well. I'm glad to have a girl my age since I only have brothers! She speaks English very well so she teaches me a lot of Portuguese and I teach her a lot of English! They're such a beautiful family!
The kids in my class at school are really friendly too. On the first day, so many people asked me so many strange questions! Everyone asked if I have a boyfriend and still don't know why, but a lot of people asked me if I like cowboys and rodeos. And everyone asks me if I like Brazilian boys haha. Brazilians also like to (try to) teach me how to dance.
I thought food would be problematic for me because I'm a vegetarian and here in Brazil, they eat a lot of beef. But it hasn't really been an issue. My family eats rice, beans, and lots of vegetables in their meals so I have plenty to eat! The meals are different. To me, it seems like everything is one meal ahead. They eat foods that I would call lunch food, like grilled cheese sandwiches for breakfast, dinner food like rice, beans, vegetables, plenty of meat, and salad for lunch, and breakfast food like eggs and smoothies for dinner! I love how everyone comes home for an hour or so in the middle of the day for lunch. I think the only strange things I've eaten were quail eggs and a little pastry called 'cueca virada' which means 'inside-out underwear'!
The first Rotary orientation was the weekend after I got here. It was a lot of fun meeting and getting to know the other inbounds and learning about the amazing trips we can take later in the year! I think there are 30 exchange students in my district and they're all pretty cool. I've been to two Rotary meetings so far which are, of course, in Portuguese so I didn't understand much but I got to meet the Rotarians and they're very welcoming. At the second meeting, I had to stand up and introduce myself in Portuguese!
If you're interested in going on exchange, please just apply! I know at this time last year when I first heard about it, I was immediately interested but I still thought, "What about college? What about my family? What if it's dangerous? What if they don't like me?" but I took the chance anyway and now I live in BRAZIL. I know I'd regret it if I had let those worries hold me back, so don't let yours! Where could you be in 365 days?!
Here's just a few interesting cultural differences:
There are speed bumps on highways.
Church is way more casual. We wear jeans and once there was a dog under the pew!
School is also more casual. The uniform at my school is basically a tracksuit and teachers wear jeans.
Hall's cough drops are candy!
They eat french fries with a fork.
There are no screens on windows and air conditioning is rare.
There are stray dogs everywhere and no one pays any attention to them.
Milk comes in a box and juice comes in a bag at school.
They hug and kiss on the cheek to greet.
They always wear shoes in the house.
Less diversity. Almost everyone in this part of Brazil is Caucasian.
VW Bugs are everywhere but almost all of them are 60s models.
They always eat with a fork and knife and push the food onto the fork with the knife.
Before I left, I was asked many times by Rotarians what I want out of this year and I don't think I really had the answer yet. Besides the obvious things like making friends, having fun, and learning a new language, I've decided what I want out of this year. I want as many moments of just pure happiness as possible. Those perfect 'I love my life!' moments. And so far, Brazil is giving me those moments and I know there are many more to come.
Three months in Brazil! Time has not slowed down for me yet, as much as I beg it to. The last two months have been just as good as the amazing first one since I wrote my last journal entry. I've had opportunities to travel and have gotten so much closer to the other exchange students here.
On Oct. 19, I traveled to Iguazú Falls with four other exchange students. We stayed for three days and did so much! Plus I made an amazing new friend from Australia who I miss already! On Friday we visited the Three Boarders landmark where the Paraná River and Iguazú River meet and divide Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay. On Saturday, we spent the whole day at the Falls which were just breathtaking and something I wish everyone could see. We even got to ride a speedboat into one of the waterfalls, then go whitewater rafting and swim in the Iguazú River! On Saturday night we had a delicious meal at a nice restaurant while enjoying an amazing live show about Latin American culture. I saw dances and heard music representing Mexico, Bolivia, Argentina, Paraguay, and many different parts of Brazil. On Sunday we went to Parque das Aves, or Bird Park. There were so many beautiful birds and other animals. The craziest thing happened to me! A toucan bit my face! After the bird park, we went to the Itaipu bi-national hydroelectric dam. It was so big and impressive!
A few weeks ago, I went to Paraguay with my host family! Brazilians go there to shop because it's much cheaper and a nice surprise for me was American food! There were so many foods and candies there that I was missing that aren't in Brazil!
Speaking Portuguese is still difficult but I understand so much more. People have finally started to realize that they can actually speak Portuguese with me and that I understand more than just 'Hi, how are you?' When I don't know how to say what I want, it's tempting to just say nothing, but I try to remind myself to just try; making mistakes is how I'll learn. About a month ago, I started reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in Portuguese! Even though I only read it during class, I'm still only on chapter five! It's a very strange feeling when I read a word, understand it, but can't think of the equivalent in English! While my Portuguese has improved, I think my English is suffering. One day I actually Googled the word 'been' because it looked and sounded wrong! There have also been times that I've totally blanked on the simplest words, like 'inconvenient' and 'specialty.' I'v e also realized that I'm getting very used to simplifying my grammar. But I also get annoyed with myself when I speak English out of habit. I keep catching myself blurting out 'sorry', 'thanks', or 'yeah' because those are the types of things we say without thinking.
It's funny, I always thought things like 'ow!' were universal. It doesn't seem like the type of thing we're taught. But here they say 'ai!' when they're hurt, 'nossa!' instead of 'wow!', 'ups' instead of 'oops', and 'oi?' instead of 'huh?'
I'm still enjoying the food here. Last week I asked my friend how they don't get bored of rice and beans everyday and he said, 'Well, in the US you eat bread with almost every meal. Do you get bored of it?' Haha I never thought of that! I've also started to prefer coffee with just milk because from what I've tasted, coffee is either without any sugar or with so much that it's sicky sweet.
One of my favorite things is making and sharing American food with my Brazilian family and friends! I was worried that I would be homesick on Thanksgiving this year, so I decided to keep myself busy and host Thanksgiving dinner here! I stayed home from school and cooked all day. I made fruit salad, deviled eggs, apple pie, and sweet potatoes! Sweet potatoes here are white, not orange, and marshmallows are rainbow colored, not white, so I had very colorful, strange looking potatoes! I also invited the other exchange students in my city. Before we ate, we all said what we were thankful for in Portuguese. I'm thankful for my families (natural and host), their love and support, for Rotary and the opportunity they gave me, the friends I have to lean on in hard times, and for my health, safety, and happiness!
I changed host families last week, a bit earlier than expected. I love my new host family! Now I have a 12 year old host brother and another brother on exchange in Florida. They were so helpful and excited about Thanksgiving and have been so welcoming towards me and having my friends over. And while I didn't mind sharing a room with my last host sister, it's nice that I have my own bedroom and bathroom here. Moving host families is difficult. It's almost like starting at the beginning of my exchange again because it brings all the same emotions. The excitement of starting somewhere new, worrying if they'll like me, the stress of packing, having to say goodbye to home again; it's bittersweet. No one in this family speaks much English so it's more difficult, but I'm already learning and speaking much more Portuguese.
I know when I was reading last year's students' journal entries, the most interesting part was always the cultural differences! So here's some more:
- Leftovers are usually stored in the oven or the microwave, not the fridge.
- They iron everything! Even towels and socks!
- There's less class participation. There's never class discussions and the students don't even ask questions very often.
- Every house is fenced and has a gate. They think it's dangerous that we don't have gates and my friend was shocked when I said we don't even lock our front door at night.
- Maids are very common.
- When you're walking on the sidewalk, people don't move out of the way for each other. It's normal to bump into other people all the time.
- Alcohol can be sold anywhere. I still do a double take when I see beer in the food court and movie theater at the mall!
- A 'mop' is usually a rag wrapped around a water squeegie thing. And really, what more do you need? A $25 Swiffer now seems ridiculous to me.
- It's not rude for a caller to ask who's speaking before identifying themselves.
- Teachers touch and hug students. This still kinda freaks me out.
I want to give a huge congratulations to the outbound class of 2013-2014! I can't believe that was me one year ago! Right now, you're all going crazy wondering what country you'll be placed in. I know the feeling! Rotary loves to keep us waiting! You all should be proud of yourselves. Parab'ns! You're in for an amazing next two years!
I've learned so much here. Obviously about Brazil, but also about the United States and about myself. I've learned that Americans take a lot for granted, like education and the diversity of our country, and we spoil ourselves on things we don't need. I've learned that a smile can sometimes get you a lot further that words. I've learned what I can pull myself through, what helps me stay sane, and that time won't stop for anyone. I've learned that maybe my little brother isn't so bad after all; I miss that kid! I've learned that distance doesn't have to mean so much. I've learned what three months can do. I've learned to challenge myself. I've learned how much I still have to learn and I can't wait to keep doing just that. At mais! Beijos!
Speedboat ride in Igua'u Falls!
Swimming in the Igua'u River
April 20, 2013
So much has happened since the last time I wrote. Tuesday marks eight months in Brazil. These journals get harder and harder because it seems impossible to put everything into a few paragraphs.
If the world had ended last year on December 21, I would have spent my last night on Earth on an 11 hour drive to the beach with my host family, the whole time in a torrential downpour that would have made Noah nervous. I spent the next 20 days in a condo right on the beach in Barra Velha, Santa Catarina with my host parents, brother, grandparents, aunt, and cousin. The last time I wrote, I had just changed families, and while I liked them right away, it was on the beach that we really stated to bond.
While we were there, we celebrated Christmas and New Year's! The main difference of how Christmas is celebrated here is that they stay up until midnight on Christmas Eve and give gifts at midnight. I missed having a Christmas tree, but even if we did, it would have been artificial because Christmas trees don't grow here. I loved sharing a special family tradition with them, lighting a bayberry candle that I had brought from the US on the night of Christmas Eve, just like my whole family does every year bringing us together no matter where we are. On New Year's Eve, we wore white clothes to bring peace for the new year. There were fireworks and after midnight, we went down to the beach and jumped over seven waves and made a wish! My New Year's Day wasn't the best since I ended up in the emergency room with a virus. Fortunately, that's been no indication of how the rest of 2013 will go.
At the end of January, I went to Sao Paulo, the largest city in Brazil and the seventh largest in the world. I only stayed for two days but I'm glad I got to see a bit of the city. School started back the first week of February, then the next week was CARNAVAL! I went with a group of twelve exchange students to Florianópolis, Santa Catarina and loved every second of it. What's not to love about spending a week with cool people, going to a different beach every morning and street parties every night? Oh yeah, maybe the being-fried-like-bacon on the first day of the trip. That wasn't so lovable. Note to self: Sunscreen!
I changed families last month. It was so hard to leave my last family and I miss them so much. They were more than just hosts; I now have a Brazilian mom, dad, and little brother. I have two brothers in my new family, ages fifteen and nineteen. The older one, Mateus, went to Florida on exchange last year and the younger, Tiago, will start his exchange to the US in August. My host father is a dentist and my host mother works in a courthouse. I spent Easter on a 'rancho', a house in a rural condominium that many families have to go to on the weekends. Instead of chocolate bunnies, here they give big chocolate eggs! In all the stores, the eggs are hung on overhead racks, turning the aisles into dark tunnels of shiny, colorful foil-wrapped eggs.
My Portuguese has taken leaps and bounds in the last five months, and I can't believe I thought I was doing well back in November. Looking back, I really hadn't learned anything until I changed families, proving that families without English speakers are blessings in disguise. I finished the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series in Portuguese and have started a new series! Reading no longer feels like Portuguese practice; now it's just like regular leisure reading. In January, I started dreaming in Portuguese. It's only happened about three times and it's cool but not as thrilling as I thought it would be. But maybe that's just me.
I changed schools last week and so far it's been a big improvement. I was having a hard time at my last school so I'm glad to be in the new one where I have more friends.
Everyone writes in cursive and they learn it before print.
They put their hands at their sides instead of on their heart for the national anthem.
There's no mindset like Americans have with the 'American Dream'. They're not encouraged to pursue dreams or passions, and half of everyone wants to be a doctor or engineer just because those are the best jobs.
It's not at all uncommon for adults to have braces.
Hyphens are used in place of quotation marks for dialogue in books.
An attendant pumps the gas for you.
No one puts a Brazilian flag in front of their house.
Nutrition labels are more exact.
Ripped jeans are not a thing. If you're a future outboud to Brazil, leave them at home.
The coins don't have names; they're just called by their amounts.
There's no tipping for anything.
Next week I'll have my trip to the Amazon! I'm crazy excited! And hopefully, I'll also have a trip to Rio de Janeiro next month! But unfortunately, that one's not set in stone yet. I'm really starting to feel like I'm in the home stretch of my exchange because other exchange students in my city are going home soon! Speaking of going home, my return date is set for July 20! Just like everything else with exchange, this comes with mixed feelings. I'll see my family! I'll see my friends! American food! My horses and my cats are waiting for me! I'll get my driver's license! But on the other hand... When will I see these amazing people again? My closest friends will be spread all over the world in just a few short months. I'll go back to normal life. Will it feel like this year never happened? I know one thing; even if I'm thousands of miles away, there will be pieces of my heart with my friends in Mexico, Finland, Germ any, Belgium, Australia, and of course there will always be a part of me in Brazil.
Sandboarding in Florianópolis. Or maybe "Faceplanting in Florianópolis" is more accurate.
SO many people on the streets enjoying Carnaval
The six Apucarana intercambistas!