Grace Montgomery


Hometown: Tampa, Florida
School: Hillsborough High School
Sponsor District: District 6890
Sponsor Club: Tampa, Florida
Host District: District 4760
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Betim


My Bio

Oi! Meu nome é Grace Montgomery! I am currently a senior in the IB (International Baccalaureate) Program at Hillsborough High School in Tampa, Florida. I will be spending my gap year in the beautiful country of Brazil! Let me introduce myself to you a little bit more: I am 18 years old, a triplet, and I live with my two (triplet) brothers, my younger sister, my mom, dad, dog, and two cats. I am also the Vice President of my school’s Interact Club, Secretary of the National Honor Society, and member of the French Honor Society and Fellowship of Christian Athletes club. In my spare time, I like to hang out with my friends, read, listen to music, and (like many other American teenagers) social network. I have also recently devoted a good amount of time to teaching myself Portuguese in preparation for exchange! I was inspired to become a Rotary Youth Exchange student after reading the blogs of current exchangers and being blown away at what an awesome opportunity they had to be in another country for a year; truly learning the culture and becoming fluent in the language( I’ve always wanted to be fluent in another language!). I’m also looking forward to making lifelong friends from Brazil and around the world! In the future, I hope that I can apply what I learn as a Rotary Youth Exchange student to my career; maybe work for the State Department one day and hopefully work at an embassy in a foreign country! I am so excited to be able to live in Brazil and will try my best, despite the struggles and frustrations that are bound to come, to have a proactive attitude and make next year the best year of my life! As for now, tchau!

Belo Horizonte's skyline

Belo Horizonte's skyline

Cristo Redentor e eu!

Cristo Redentor e eu!



All the exchange students from District 4760 in Praça do Papa

All the exchange students from District 4760 in Praça do Papa







Journals: Grace - Brazil

  • Grace, outbound to Brazil

    HELLO WORLD! Yes, I am alive. And no, I have not written a journal since December. Sorry about that, but these last few months on exchange have been some of the busiest, and when you’re living in a foreign country honestly it’s just so hard to tell yourself to sit down for a good block of time and try to simplify everything that has been happening in your life. It’s extremely hard to simplify whole days, weeks, and months into just a few sentences. I feel like the experiences are hard to convey, and maybe the reason it is so hard to write journals is that simply writing into sentences experiences that you lived, breathed, and interacted in cheapens the memory in some way. The same statement goes for exchange in general, one cannot understand an exchange year and the experiences an exchange student goes through unless they have gone through a similar experience themselves.

    However, for the sake of this journal I will try and recount the highlights that have happened on my exchange so far since my last journal.

    January: After the first week of January, I set off on a 21-day journey throughout the Northeast coast of Brazil. It was undoubtedly the best trip of my life. The trip began with a night in Belo Horizonte, where all 37 exchange students that we're going on the trip got to know each other (most of the people on the trip actually already knew each other, as most of us were from the same BH-based Rotary district, there were only about 10-15 exchange students that weren't from our district that were on the trip). The first night included a dance party with dance instructors teaching us how to dance funk (brace yourselves future Brazil outbounds) and samba…...and if I try to recount every day in detail this journal might be so long I don't think you would continue on.

    * Just too give you somewhat of a reference of how hard it is to write journals, I literally wrote this first part three weeks ago, didn't finish, and today I sat down and chugged 2 cups of Toddy (an overly-sugary chocolate drink they have here in Brazil) in order to try to get the energy to continue writing.*

    Anyways, back to the Northeast trip- we ended up travelling throughout the country in the following order. Lençóis- we went to Chapada Diamantina, snorkelling in caves, hiking and caving in Guta de Lapa Doce, went to a natural waterslide, and there was a live capoeira performance in our hotel. Maceió- everyone went out on boats to natural swimming pools. One of the days included everyone going on a rented boat to a private island- dance party on the boat at the end of the day included.

    Natal- perhaps one of my FAVORITE things that I have done in Brazil was ride the dune buggies on the sand dunes in Natal. It was amazing! The dunes were huge, it felt as if we had been dropped in the middle of the Saharan desert. There was also an amazing Luau party that ended with everyone jumping into the pool and continuing the dance party in the pool! It was a night I'll never forget.

    Salvador- The tourgroup visited nearby Praia do Forte first and then arrived in Salvador. During our time in Salvador, we took a tour of the city (which is one of the most famous cities for Carnaval!), went shopping in the Mercado Central, visited the historic areas and some of the oldest and most beautiful churches in Brazil (so much gold inside the churches!), and went on the Elevador Lacerda. Fun fact: Salvador was the first capital of Brazil!
    Porto Seguro- famous for being one of Brazil´s biggest partying towns. Many Brazilians come here for vacation. We went to a famous party complex called Axé Moi on the beach- one of the many beach days on the Northeast trip!

    Sidenote: there was also quite a lot of time spent on the bus travelling between these cities. Although tiring, it was a good time to chat with your bus partner and bond with people- as well as have sing alongs to Brazilian songs.

    Rio de Janeiro- A cidade maravilhosa! During our time in Rio, we spent our time on the beach in Copacabana, visiting Cristo Redentor, overlooking Rio from the Pão de Açúcar, and visiting the Sambodromo (where Rio´s Carnaval is televised from!) and Maracanã stadium (World cup games and where the Opening Ceremony of the 2016 Olympics will be held!

    Angra Dos Reis - Perhaps the most beautiful area of Brazil, where everyone went out on boats to go amongst the areas many islands and swim in the clear water! It was an amazing experience, Angra was breathtaking!
    And with our last stop being Angra Dos Reis, we all returned home. For any future Brazil outbounds I highly recommend the Northeast trip- I saw so much of Brazil and had the time of my life traveling around Brazil for three weeks with my best friends! 

    In other news about January, I moved to my second host family the day after the Northeast trip, and yes there were tears even though I knew I would still see my first host family a lot. I now share a room with my host sister, have another brother, a mom, dad, and three little adorable dogs.

    The most important event in Brazil in February (and arguably most important event of the year in general): CARNAVAL!!! Carnaval is mid February, and depending on where you are, they celebrate it Monday- Wednesday, Friday- Wednesday, or heck, even the whole week! Most of the parades and traditional Carnaval festivities however, happen on the Monday- Wednesday.

    I went with my family to a VERY small city, Lima Duarte, a few hours outside of Rio to celebrate Carnaval. It was a small city itself, but a great place to spend Carnaval. People from surrounding towns came and everyone paraded and partied with a live concert in Centro, on the streets, from midnight until 5:30 AM/ 6 AM EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Needless to say, my Carnaval was an experience to remember. But it didn't end there!

    My host family and I went on a vacation to Porto Seguro (where I had just visited a month before on the Northeast trip) for a few days following Carnaval. I absolutely love Porto. If I could take my American friends and family to vacation there one day, I would in a heartbeat. My host sister and I went to a post-Carnaval festival called Carnaporto on the Thursday and Friday night after Carnaval. Each night the concert would start at 1 am and wouldn't end until 5 (ended at 9 AM on the last day!)! I have a feeling that festivals like that would never happen in America. At Carnaporto, I got to see famous Brazilian artists such as Claudia Leitte and Tomate. (I also met the lead singer of Onze:20, another famous Brazilian band, during my Carnaval in Lima Duarte.) Carnaval is a blast in Brazil and I highly recommend trying to come to Brazil at least once in your life to celebrate it here!

    March: In March I finally started school again after a little bit of confusion with Rotary and Carnaval (things don't really get moving in Brazil until after Carnaval). I am now studying Law in a Brazilian university and I am loving it! Who knew I would love law so much, specifically, Brazilian law? I'm now seriously considering studying law as a career track- another life changing moment I can thank Rotary for! And learning Brazilian law has taught me a lot about the cultural, societal, and legal differences between Brazil and the USA.

    I also visited a few small surrounding towns with my host family as well as go to a family friend's wedding! I've been to two wedding in Brazil so far, now. I continued hanging out with my Brazilian friends, and began to establish a ´normal` routine for my day-to-day life.

    April: Some of the highlights of April were that I went to another city, Pará de Minas, and went to a concert for the winners of The Voice Brasil 2015 (who are actually from my city- Betim! I´ve actually seen them around town a few times.). Continued to meet every Monday in Belo Horizonte with other exchange students for Açaí. I continued to make new friends with my university peers as well as people outside of university. Made memories, had fun, that's exchange life.

    May: May is the beginning of the end. I can feel it coming. I don't want it to, but it lurks at the back of my mind that I may be coming home soon. That is why I must make every day count. To any future exchange students : MAKE EVERY DAY COUNT! Because soon enough you will be near the end and you will not want to waste any last precious moment in your country, with your friends and family.

    As for events that have happened so far in May, I went to my very first Cavalgada! A cavalgada is where everyone who has a horse goes and meets up in Centro with their horse, and the rest of the town come to party along, and everyone parades around the city until they reach a farm or park or other venue for the rest of the festival. It's a lot of people, a lot of horses, and a lot of craziness (I honestly don't know how someone did not die that day). Nonetheless, it was a great day and one of my best memories here in Brazil. (It never gets old that first moment that someone realizes you are gringa and they absolutely freak out and start asking you tons of questions about your country- it makes you feel proud to be a foreigner. The Cavalgada was in the neighboring city of Igarapé, and for the next few weeks there will be more cavalgadas in other cities in the area.

    THE END IS NEAR: This last weekend I had my District Conference which was the last time all the exchange students from my district would be reunited together before we all started going our seperate ways. This weekend was amazing. We all arrived in Caxambu, Minas Gerais, where the conference was held, on Thursday. The weekend included a presentation about RYE (accompanied by a dance made by all us exchange students in front of the Rotarians), horse carriage rides, ski lifts up mountains, lots of photos, a beautiful park all the exchange students explored together, lots of bonding time, many laughs, many hugs, and finally, many tears.

    This district really has become like a family to me. All of us get along so well, it's amazing. It's like we're all brothers and sisters, internationally. I really do feel as though each and every one of them is a brother or sister that I love dearly. I know that these guys will always stay in my memories, I've had the best times of my life with my fellow exchange students. We've all grown and seen each other change in this last year, our friendship is incredible.

    On Sunday, thinking that I may never see some of these guys ever again EVER IN MY LIFE, was absolutely heartbreaking. But even if we aren't with each other in person, I will carry them all in my heart, as well as all the memories I've made this year. I couldn't be more grateful for the other exchange students, this year, this country, and this experience that has changed my life.

    Obrigada Brasil, eu te amo tanto.

    Até mais.

  • Grace, outbound to Brazil

    Every day on exchange is an adventure. Every day something new and memorable happens. Sometimes I have to go out myself and search for something to do, but I at least try to make the most out of every day here.
    That being said, I've now been here FIVE MONTHS, and I can't imagine a time in my life better than my past few months here in Brasil! SO much happens every day, which is why I think the best way to update you all is to try to give a list of the highlights of my past few months:

    - Introduced the wonders of American food to my host family by teaching them how to make brownies, pancakes, and cheesecake (which truthfully I had never made by hand before but my host cousin had always seen cheesecake in American movies and wanted to know what it tasted like).

    - Performed with my classmates at our school's dance recital, costume and all, it was the first time I had done something like that.

    - Spent endless weekends at sítios (little farm houses outside of the city) with family and friends. Sítios are where a lot of Brazilian families go on the weekends to spend time together, relaxing, swimming, playing cards, and generally enjoying life. I also went to a sitio for a weekend with some of my classmates as a end-of-the-year celebration of sorts!

    - Speaking of end- of-the-year, I graduated from Brazilian high school! There were two ceremonies, a mass for all the graduates in one of the city's most beautiful Catholic churches, and then a formal ceremony that took place in an auditorium. Everyone looked their best, wearing very formal dresses or suits.

    - I actually made A SPEECH at my graduation(completely in Portuguese of course), thanking my classmates for helping me with my Portuguese, to adjust to life here in Brazil and all the wonderful memories they had given me. At the end of the auditorium everyone stood up and clapped for me, my classmates, my amazing teachers, my principal.....It truly was a special moment I don't think I'll ever forget about my exchange, I was moved to tears.

    - Went to my cousin's graduation and graduation party (with was complete with a live Carnival-style band that didn't stop until 5 AM- they literally served breakfast at the party and my whole family arrived home at 7 AM as the sun was rising).

    - Went to a Brazilian wedding! It was gorgeous, and the reception afterwards was a lot of fun- I almost felt like I was back in America with all the English party songs they played ('YMCA', Michael Jackson, 'Party Rock Anthem', The Black Eyed Peas).

    - Had a paint war on the last day of school (traditionally Brazilians paint themselves with the names of the university they will go to and what they will study, on the last day of school).

    - Helped out at an English school a few times, talking to the classes about the United States and answering any questions they had about the culture.

    - Gotten the hang of taking the buses around the city and into Belo Horizonte.

    - My Birthday!!! My host family is absolutely the greatest and planned a party for me, all my family was there and my friends from school came and I couldn't have asked for a better day!

    - Brazilian Christmas! They celebrate Christmas mostly on the 24th here, so that is the day the whole family got together for a dinner and gift exchange.

    - I visited the zoo in BH the other day with the other exchange students, but yesterday I went to this amazing animal sanctuary that my host aunt helps out at and I got to see onça- pintadas (leopards) and mountain lions and every type of bird imaginable! I even got to go into the exhibit of a one-armed monkey and play with him face-to-face!

    - Among other little things, I'm reading books in Portuguese and trying to work on my pronunciation, as well as writing my handwritten exchange jornal completely in Portuguese. I've come to find that sometime I want to use a Portuguese word when I'm talking in English because I feel that it just "fits" better.
    Overall, I'm having the time of my life, and there are many adventures yet to come- I have the Nordeste trip in January- a trip all along the coast of Brazil!
    Até logo!

  • Grace, outbound to Brazil

    Always put your family first- your host family that is! Fortunately, I have been blessed with an awesome and caring host family here in Brazil -

    One of the reasons I have been so delayed in writing this is that I simply cannot find the words to shortly sum up the past three months of my life. I told myself before I went on exchange that I wasn’t going to be one of those kids that never updates their exchange blog, but look where we are now. Goes to show how much changes when you’re on exchange! So much has happened I don’t know where to start! Oh well, here goes:

    Always put your family first- your host family that is! Fortunately, I have been blessed with an awesome and caring host family here in Brazil - I couldn’t have asked for anything better! In my Brazilian host family, I have one older brother, one sister (who is currently on exchange in Portland, Oregon), and a host mom and dad- and we’re not counting the endless number of ‘tias’ and cousins I have! As an exchange coming to a new country knowing no one else. you will spend a lot of time with your host family! Almost every weekend I’m at a family barbeque (churrascaria), at a relative’s house, or going out with my host family! There’s always something to do or someone to visit in my family!

    I think in general, Brazilian families spend a lot more time together than families in the US- which makes for a closer family that is always looking out for each other and having a good time together. Although there are a lot of people in my family and it took me a bit to learn everyone’s names, I love each and every one of them! My tip to any future exchange students would to be to spend as much time with your host family as you can- they will be the ones to help you whenever you need and will make you feel at home in your new country.

    Minha cidade! My city here in Brazil is considered a small city, but it doesn’t feel like that to me because it’s roughly the same population as Tampa and it’s just 30 min - 1 hour outside of Belo Horizonte (the 6th largest city in Brazil). The Betim (my city)-Contagem-Belo Horizonte metropolitan area is the third largest metropolitan area in Brazil- after São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Although I am the only exchange student in my city, I have gotten the hang of taking the bus alone to the next city to visit the other exchange students. You haven’t truly adapted until you’ve successfully gotten from point A to point B via your host city’s public transportation. As for entertainment, I also live right next to a mall (literally right next to it- I could jump out the window and land on the roof of the mall) and near Centro, so there’s always somewhere to go!

    Escola! My school here is very small, there are only 15 other people in my whole grade, and we’re all in the same class together for the whole day (Oi meus amigos brasileiros, se vocês estão lendo isso! Amo vocês!). This is a huge difference for me, but I love it. We have a lot more subjects of study here, but the classes are shorter and every day the schedule is different. And school ends at 12:30 every day except Tuesdays when it ends at 5:30. This means there’s plenty of time to go out and do something after school each day!

    A língua- português! Every day I learn more and more Portuguese and find it easier and easier to understand! The fact that I am constantly surrounded my Portuguese, and that no one in my family and none of my schools friends speak English with me, has helped me grow immensely. To future exchange students, study your butt off before you arrive in your host country, it makes adapting and creating relationships so much easier! Plus, there is literally no greater feeling for an exchange student than for a teacher to randomly compliment you on your language ability just a few days after you arrive in your host country (and tell you that you’re the best exchange student they’ve ever had, no less!). I still have a lot to learn grammatically in Portuguese, but I’m able to get my point across in my day-to-day life. I love this language and I can’t wait to become fully fluent in it!

    Other highlights of my exchange- Orientation with the 36 other exchange students in my district was a blast! It was and 11 day orientation, filled with language lessons, day trips, and bonding! Exchange students truly are the craziest bunch of kids you’ll ever meet, I had so much fun at orientation. (Love you all!) All of us exchange students visited the historic and picturesque city of Ouro Preto, a huge museum at Inhotim (that I got to see via a wheelchair because I also sprained my ankle at orientation learning that I really don’t have that much balance on a skateboard as I might have thought), and a city tour of Belo Horizonte. Another awesome highlight of my exchange so far was my trip to Rio de Janeiro with my host family. It was a surreal experience and an amazing trip!

    Overall, these past few months here in Brazil have been the best in my life. I have learned so much, and can tell that I’ve changed(for the better) as well. I wouldn’t change this experience for anything. So if you are a someone thinking about going on exchange and you are reading this blog, I encourage you to decide to apply because it’ll be the best decision you ever make! Rotary can take you farther than you ever thought you could grow, and I’m so thankful to Rotary for this new life they have given me. After all, “exchange isn’t a year of your life - it’s a life in a year”.

    Tchau for now!

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