How do I begin to describe the past four weeks of my life? How does anyone describe a month of their life, let alone one full of amazing new experiences? My first month in Brazil has been surreal. It has been a vacation but it has also been life. I live here. I make my bed, go to school, eat, wash my hair, and do all normal things but all in a different way. I make my bed, but only on the days that the house maid is not there; I go to school, yet I stay in one classroom and the teachers come to me; I eat food but normally I have rice and beans every day; I wash my hair, though the knob for hot water works the opposite direction from the United States. Everything is different, but never in a bad way. I am learning that it is possible to live a normal life without a dishwasher or drier. I am learning that it’s okay to wear clothes several times before washing them (since there is no drier to clean them quickly) and I am learning that brea d from an actual bread shop is a lot better than what you can get at Publix.
A month in another country is a learning experience. It is not a quick 1 week or 10 day holiday where you only do the touristy things but it is a life experience. I have vacationed in many countries but never in my short trips did I learn the language, embrace another culture or become a part of an entirely different world from the one I have always known. I came to Brazil well prepared for this experience. Rotary Florida is known as being one of the best in the world and it has shown since I arrived. Rotary Florida made me learn about Brazil, they made me study the culture and customs. Rotary made me learn some of the language and they pushed me to not be an ignorant American but instead to be informed. A year ago I thought Brazil spoke Spanish. A year ago all I knew was that Brazil was located in South America and that I had heard it was dangerous. I was uninformed. By the time I arrived in Brazil I had basic knowledge of Portuguese, I had written a 15 page paper about the country (and actually enjoyed writing it) and I was prepared to be an ambassador for the United States.
In Brazil I have learned that being an American is a rarity. It is exciting for people and everyone desires to become friends. Brazilians are warm, welcoming, and are some of the kindest people you will ever meet. Brazilians have their own culture, their own music and their own lifestyle. They are not entirely westernized and they love the fact that I am different from them. I am sincerely glad that this is the country I am living in. I will be honest, Brazil was my 5th choice and I was planning on not even going on exchange if I got it but it has been the perfect country for me. I live in a city on the beach, I have a wonderful family here that loves me like a daughter and I have a multitude of new friends. I could have never imagined a year ago that I would be living in Brazil today but here I am. For any students interesting in applying, DO NOT mark Brazil off right away. The country is NOT as dangerous as you may think, the language is NOT dead and the country IS worth your time.
December 9, 2012
I have been in Brazil 3 ½ months now and I have given myself every reason in the world to not write this journal. I have many reasons why I haven’t wanted to. It has partially been out of laziness, partially out of having so much to reflect on and mostly out of a fear of how quickly the time has past. Before my exchange I always told myself “I will write a journal with perfect timing, I will not be the kind of person people are frustrated with for not having posted.” I had wished the other outbounds has posted more but now I understand. It is not about the task of writing a journal, it’s about what the journals represent. Each journal entry marks a significant amount of time has past in my exchange and that it is going way more quickly than I could ever want. It makes every second seem more precious.
I guess the best thing to do is just describe what a typical life in Santos, Sao Paulo, Brazil is like for me.
Breakfast for Brazilians is coffee, buttered and toasted bread, cheese, and sort of what Americans think of as food you would bring for a school lunch. Although this is typical and the majority of people eat breakfast, I do not normally because I wake up very early for school.
Lunch is the largest meal of the day. A typical lunch consists of rice, beans, some type of meat and then a side which ranges from French fries to broccoli. This lunch is pretty consistent between most families and if people can, they come home for lunch. I eat lunch with my host mom after school every day.
Dinner varies and I never know if it will be a real meal or not. Sometimes it is just sandwiches, sometimes it is leftovers, and other times it’s a normal dinner like pasta.
..Is all about the NOVELAS. Novelas could be best described as soap operas but they are more than that. Novelas show every day and several types exist. There are ones for different ages, there are ones that are set in other time periods, and all have a huge audience. All Brazilians have ones that they keep up with and the starting or ending of a novela is a huge event. The adult novelas tend to follow a trend of having people from every social class and normally ends with someone dying and someone getting married.
When novelas are not running which is normally during the daytime, the majority of the shows are from the United States. The shows are dubbed in Portuguese but by pushing the subtitles button most can be switched into English.
Everyone is just warm and loving. A “mean” person in Brazil would be an average person in the United States. Even the mean people (which there are not many) are warm and loving. People do not do things alone and are happy to hang out with each other all the time whether it is in someone’s house, at the beach or just walking around. If they are not together, they chat on the phone. The idea of alone time is just not a part of the culture.
What people think of me:
I have received a variety of reactions to me being an American but not one of them has been negative. Brazilians LOVE Americans and they think it is amazing that I am from Orlando and Florida. Brazilians consider me as a “blonde” with blue eyes so I have had random people come up to me and tell me I look like Barbie. I also have random people everywhere I go tell me I have beautiful eyes or that they think I am beautiful. Brazilians love people who have light hair and eyes.
For me, the language has been easier to pick up than I expected. I have had people ask me how many years I have been living in Brazil and been surprised that I have only been here 3 months. I have the benefit of having studied Spanish for 4 years and I also studied the language basics before arriving in Brazil. I absolutely make mistakes and I have ended up being embarrassing.
One of my language embarrassing stories is from explaining I have a stomach ache to two of my friends. I was telling them that I have pain OF my stomach which as I discovered as the laughed at me, means I have bad gas and that people do not talk about. I in fact, had pain IN my stomach which meant I had a stomach ache.
Another language mess-up: I as having coffee at my host grandmother's house with her, my host aunt and most host mom. I had just eaten so I didn’t want to eat cake and cookies although they kept insisting. I finally said "Estou cheia" which literally translates to "I am full". I had heard people use it the week before so I decided to use it as another way to say I wasn't hungry. My mom kindly told me that it was impolite to say that I was "full" and that is was for the uneducated and poorly mannered. I must say that I am "satisfied".
One evening after having gone out to dinner with some other exchange students I was walking to a bus stop alone and as I was crossing a street I slipped and fell. There was no reason that I fell besides the fact that I am clumsy. Although no one saw, I proceeded to stand up quickly and continue walking with a cut up knee and blood on my leg. As I got to the bus stop the bus I needed to take left before I could get on, leaving me to wait another 30 minutes for the next one with my knee bleeding. By the time I got home I was looking pretty rough. My host parents saw my knee and were immediately concerned about what had happened and asking if I was ok. I explained with embarrassment that I had fallen walking and they could hardly contain their laughter. When my host mom pulled herself together she told me it was because I my American tommy Hilfiger flip flops are “merda” which translates to “s***”. And that I need Brazilian flip flops. I gained two things from that fall: a pretty big scar and the gift of Brazilian flip flops from my host dad.
Brazilian private school works like this: You stay in one classroom, you have a bunch of subjects and the teachers come to you, homework does not exist in most schools and there is a ton of physics and chemistry. The public schools are terrible and poorly organized.
Driving begins at age 18 hear, and it is a good thing! Brazilians drive crazy. By law they must wear seatbelts but people don’t often feel the rule applies to the backseat. The backseat is often taken as more of a bench in which the passenger capacity is variable.
In my city the public transportation options are fairly good and the city is also very walkable/ bike friendly. There are roads for bikes, sidewalks everywhere, an efficient bus system and taxis when needed.
The majority of Brazilians are Catholic. My city has a couple catholic churches that are old and beautiful. Brazil is also extremely accepting of other religions. Brazilians are known for being some of the most accepting people when it comes to religious differences. There is a parade in Rio every year with all religions represented to show the unity between the differences.
I have attended a few catholic churches as well as a Baptist church while in Brazil. I spent the week in a tiny city in the countryside of my state in Brazil and while I was there I went to one of the two Catholic churches in the city with the family I was staying with. After the service had ended the preacher called up two women who had their birthdays that week and then me as well. He introduced me to a congregation of over 850 people and then had everyone sing happy birthday (which is more a song of congrats in Portuguese) to me and the two women. Needless to say, I was bombarded by warm welcomes and friendly faces afterwards. Definitely an experience I will not forget!
This week I was at the beach and kept heard drum beating and singing. My host mom told me that it was Capoeira which is a Brazilian martial art. I went to go watch and was surprised to find out that it was not a group of guys sparring but instead a bunch of people in all white holding a spiritualist event where they were dancing around, putting their face in the sand, singing, playing instruments, praying, having water put on their faces and crawling around in the sand. The spiritualists are a religious group unique to Brazil that believes in God, saints and African spirits as well. It is a blend of the native and colonization many years ago.
Family is extremely important in Brazil. Not just the immediate family but the entire extended family and their family and in laws and cousins and second, third and fourth cousins. In my city children are often a sign of being wealthy as the majority of people live in apartments and the space for having many children is limited.
The weather in my part of Brazil is very hot and humid. It is very similar to weather in Florida except that air conditioning is seen as a luxury item. The majority of stores and homes do not have air conditioning and people flood to any location that does have AC. Every restaurant that has air conditioning gets more business than others and if a family has AC in one room, the entire family often hangs out in that one room. My host parent’s bedroom has AC and so when it is turned on both of my host parents, my baby host brother, our dog and I all crowd into the room to stay cool. The cost of energy is just so expensive here that people are very cautious about using air conditioning.
-There are so many more things I could explain about the Brazilian culture and lifestyle and I just scratched the surface of what my life is like here in Santos, Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Once again, I have been late in writing a journal and once again, it was not entirely because I didn’t want to. I do believe that the journals every 2 months are important and I plan on doing them until the end of my exchange (even if they are sometimes a little late).
I have been in Brazil for 7 months and I can confidently say that this has been the best year of my life. I almost fear the rest of my life because I cannot imagine any year ever being as amazing as this year has been. It feels like just the other day I was anxiously waiting in Florida to hear from a host family and it feels like I just got to Brazil yesterday.
I believe that every exchange student must make some important choices when they begin their exchange. The exchange student must decide how much effort they are going to put into learning the language because, like it or not, they will learn how to communicate but it will be up to the student to actually learn correct grammar, how to write and read, and reach a point in which they are fully participate in their host county’s society. The exchange student must also decide what they want to do with their year in another country. It may be traveling, studying in school, exceptional language proficiency, volunteerism or building relationships but the student much choose something to make the exchange worthwhile. For me, I decided that building relationships with Brazilians as well as language proficiency were things that were important to me. Yes, I have been able to travel and I have volunteered but my primary focus has been on my relationships with Brazilians. I have work ed hard to be an active part in my host families and to build friendships with Brazilians. I did not take the easy path and always hang out with other exchange students like I wanted to at times but decided to always make my friendships with the locals more important and now I have a group of friends that I have grown close with and would not trade for the world. I not only achieved my goal of my exchange but I also gained something that can never be taken away from me: friendship.
Some students have very difficult exchanges, others love them but it is never going to be 100% perfect. There will be those days where you take a bus that ends up going up a restricted mountain with shantytowns before going where you want to go by accident, or those days where you get stuck walking in the pouring rain but even those moments can be looked at on a bright side. That time I was stuck climbing a mountain in a public bus with people jammed so tight I couldn’t move, I was with one of my best friends and we got to spend the entire time laughing about the adventure. That day I was stuck with rain hitting me sideways I was coming home from my best friend’s house where her mom had just baked me a chocolate cake, given me natural Brazilian cough medications and let me borrow an umbrella to fight the weather conditions a bit. There are those little bad moments that are learning experiences but that makes exchange such a fulfilling experience. It shows you what you like and don’t like, what you want and don’t want. Exchange changes you, but also helps you realize who you are.