I've been here in one of the largest cities in the world for just over three months and experienced more things in the past 99 days of my life than most people experience in a lifetime. It's been a rollercoaster of emotion between excitement, fear, blissful happiness and home sickness. My first month here was the fastest and it seemed to go by in the blink of an eye. Leaving home was the most difficult. I had many family members at the airport to see me, from my great Aunt to my one-month old nephew to say goodbye. From there I began my 15 hour journey to Atlanta, then to Sao Paulo Brazil. On the plane ride from Atlanta to Brazil, I had my first encounter with a Sao Paulo Brazilian as he continuously tried to sleep on me for 10 hours and the man from Washington sitting next to me seemed to get a kick out of it. When I arrived in the airport, I was completely lost and ended up just following the crowd to the baggage claim where I ended up having to figure out how to carry three luggage bags that were each the same weight and almost the same height as me. When I walked out of the terminal I was greeted by my host mother, host brother and now one of my best friends here who is another exchanger from Mexico. They greeted me with a Brazilian flag, balloons, hugs and excitement while everyone in the airport began clapping as I hugged my new family. A complete stranger even gave me a hat with the Brazilian flag on the front! The first of many pranks that my host family pulled on me was telling me that it was tradition for when a foreigner arrives in Brazil, for them to sit and pop a balloon in the middle of the airport so that everyone could see! I agreed and I'll just say that it was the first of many embarrassing and funny memories made. Immediately after I was picked up from the airport, I was brought to a large Rotary gathering where I had to introduce myself to everyone with a weird mixture of English and Portuguese and from the re I was taken to my new home. I started school two weeks later at a private school on the same road as my apartment and everything kicked off from there. Being a blonde-hair, green-eyed American attending a small private school everyone seems to know who you are and a lot about you. Some of the cutest memories I have is when people would come up and try to introduce themselves to me in English and then them being completely flabbergasted when I replied because they couldn't understand a thing. I never truly realized how fast Americans speak until I had to speak with non-native speakers. The school that I attend is actually a German school, so it makes things even more interesting! Even in one of my school assignments, I was in Spanish class where I was partnered with a Chinese girl who didn't speak Portuguese or English to complete an assignment given in Portuguese about a film that was in Spanish with Portuguese subtitles all in a German school in Brazil. In ca se you were wondering, we got one of the higher grades of the class for that assignment! As for culture shock, there hasn't been a lot so far. Everyone is different, and the customs that they share aren't so different from those in America. I'll admit, the ketchup with pizza is a little strange for me, and bread with butter for breakfast everyday takes some getting used to. But I think being tricked into eating chicken heart has been the most memorable so far. The best motto I can give to future exchange students going to any country is 'Don't Ask, Just Eat.' I can tell you, if it looks strange you don't want to know what it is until after you have eaten it. But as of recently, I teach an English class every day after school to children at a day care center and go to several other Rotary projects. My language is improving more and more each day and each day has something new to teach me. If it's one thing I have learned from ex change so far, it's that patience is a virtue and an open mind is imperative. Everything happens for a reason and if you open your mind and heart to a culture and its people, you'll be surprised as to what you will find.
So- it's been a long time coming but I'm finally able to publish another blog. To the exchange students that are planning to spend a year in Brasil waiting to hear how things are going- sorry about that wait. I can remember sitting and checking journals of exchange students in Brasil the year before me and I would get so impatient and frustrated that they weren't posting what was going on, but trust me you'll understand once you get here. I don't have the words in the English (or Portuguese) language to describe the past 8 months of my life. I've experienced things here in Brasil that I never even thought were possible. If you would have asked me a year ago from today how I felt about leaving to live in Brasil for a year, I would have told you that I wasn't nearly as excited as I would be had I been leaving to live in one of my top 5 countries. If I could go back in time, I would probably slap myself b ecause I had no idea what was in store for me here. The places I would go, the people that I would meet, the language that I would be thinking in..the culture that I would be immersed in. You'd think that since I've been living in the largest city in Latin America, there wouldn't be a huge culture difference when compared to the United States. I thought the same thing, but I couldn't have been more wrong. That's also another thing that I never saw myself doing moving to a big city. I've always been a country mouse. I went to New York City when I was around 9-10 years old, and don't get me wrong; I loved it so much, but I was always more comfortable in the suburbs of Jacksonville Florida. Everything moves so fast in the city life, and it threw me for a loop when I first arrived and I'm doing so many things I never thought I would have the opportunity to do. Even though I practically die from the amount of people in the su bway every morning on my way to school- the subway is one of my favourite things about living here. You don't have to rely on cars, gas money, driving in traffic if you're wanting to go somewhere on your own all you have to do is grab the bus schedule, catch a cab, or learn your way around the subway. I never thought I would love the city life so much.
As I said before- it's been a while since I've written a blog and there has been a good reason for that. I moved to a small town in December for three months, called 'Bertioga' and when I say small town- I mean REALLY small. There's literally one avenue and the most exciting store there is an ice cream store. I was hesitant about moving there at first, but I ended up really liking it there. The town is on the beach, and although there's not many people there it was nice to have some time to myself where there was just quiet sometimes. There's always someone somewhere in the city, and lots of noise. In Bertioga, I had time to just relax. I hardly had access to technology though. It was just me and my host mom there in a small townhome, so there was no need for wifi or a computer there. I sometimes had 3G on my iPhone, but my phone eventually stopped working out there as well. (Hence: No blog posted) I lived there for technically two mo nths, because in January I went on the 'Northeast Dream Trip' for 23 days (which I'll write about in the next paragraph), but I also got to know another beach area called 'Riviera'. Riviera was REALLY nice. Here is where I spent a lot of my Carnaval, and it was really cool. They didn't have the crazy face paint, feathers, costumes and parades but they celebrated through throwing water balloons at each other from the different apartment buildings, (and also by driving by in cars to peg you with a balloon or on the street) and also by having churrasscos (Brasilian barbeque) then at night hanging out at the beach. Quite different than the Carnaval I experienced in Rio de Janiero and Recife. All in all, Bertioga was a really great experience for me.
As I mentioned in the last paragraph, I went on what is called the 'Northeast Dream Trip-23 days'. This trip truly changed my life. I went from the incredible city of Brasilia with all of the crazy architecture and seeing the President of Brasil's house, to the Cristo statue in Rio de Janiero. I saw so many things and met so many people that I'm at a loss for words when I try to explain. A good amount of time is spent traveling on the bus, in fact I can remember spending 22 hours straight one day just traveling. The first day I traveled to Brasilia, then onto Lenois, Salvador, Natal, Olinda, Recife, Macio, Porto Seguro, and Rio de Janiero. There were many small towns in between and the big thing that all of the exchange students bought on this trips was the bracelets. People that live in the towns nearby the beaches will make and sell jewelry and it's some of the most beautiful craftsmanship I've ever seen in my life. By the time th e trip was finished, my wrist was filled almost to my elbow in bracelets and ribbons that I had bought and was given to me. I was able to tour Brasilia and see all of the amazing architecture, and I the coolest part to me was being able to go to the President's house (or at least in front of it). My favourite stop definitely Lenois. Here is where we did most of the hiking, and exploring (mind you I made the mistake of only taking flip-flops). The first day we hiked up through the mountains until we reached a waterfall where everyone slid down the rocks and swam in probably the blackest, coldest water I've ever swam in. We ended up traveling to two different waterfalls, and I can remember having to hike through woods and caves to reach the first one. At the first waterfall, when the water mixed with this clay it turned into a temporary dye not just for your skin, but for your hair as well. I ended the day with bright red hair, skin and clothes. The next da y, we went to a second set of caves where we had to hike through a forest which almost seemed like the amazon. I've never seen trees so tall or been in a place where I felt so small. Everything was bright green, yellow or a dark brown and it was the most incredible place I've yet to see in my life. I remember standing in the cave and the guide had us turn out any lights and just stand completely still and silent so all you could hear was the occasional bat moving in its sleep in the rocks above. It was so silent and still that you could hear your own heartbeat. On our way out of the cave, it started to rain so everyone literally had to hike up the waterfall (in flip flops again) with the same clay as the previous waterfall soaking our clothing. Everyone had to ride home soaking wet and bright red. Overall we saw everything from exotic beaches and people, to some of the most famous tourist spots in Brasil. We had experienced more things in 23 days then a lot of people do in their entire life. I did everything from hiking up that waterfall, to walking up to the Cristo Statue and getting lost in the mountains of Pao de Acucar. It was the trip of a lifetime. When I returned back to Bertioga from my Dream Trip, I stayed there for another 3 weeks or so then I moved host families back into the big city. I'm now living in Belem, SP with my family of two sisters, a host mom and a host dad. I've started going back to school and I'm continuing to learn something new every day.
I don't know how to explain my life in Brasil to where I can try and have someone understand what an exchange student goes through. Even when you try to imagine, you can't come close unless you experience it for yourself. Where there are the good things there will be the bad things too and it's a lesson learned with experience. Exchange isn't always picture perfect, and the phases that we as exchange students go through are very real. You have the good experiences and the bad. The happy days and the sad days. You become confused a lot, and even lost sometimes. But that's life anywhere because life is complicated and it would be boring if it weren't. No one wants to live a life where you know how everything will work out and everything that is supposed to happen. If you have everything figured out then you're doing something wrong because then you can't grow and isn't that the entire point of living? Of becoming an exchange student? I think what a year as an exchange student teaches you, is that it's important to never stop that hunger for wanting to know the world and the people in it and to continue to grow into the biggest and best person you can be. To continue to feed that hunger for wanting more out of life. The most that I have learned from the past 8 months is about me. I've learned things about myself and things that I'm capable of that I never even imagined possible. I've seen my friends in all of their different countries and how much they have grown and it just comforts me in the fact that I know exchange is worth all of the effort. All of the effort that Rotary, the parents, the host families but especially the exchange student put into it. Exchange has been the best decision of my life as of yet, so I guess I'll have to see where it goes from here.