Alex Copeland
2006-07 Outbound to Brazil

Hometown: High Springs, FL
School: Santa Fe High School
Sponsor: High Springs Rotary Club
Host: Patos de Minas Rotary Club
District 4760, Brazil

August 13 Journal

I think it's impossible to be in Brasil for fifteen minutes without falling completely in love with the country. The houses stacked one on top of another and set to a backdrop of mountains is truly a beautiful sight. On the way to my new home, Patos de Minas, I could sort of communicate with my host mom but not enough to say everything I wanted to say. I wanted to thank them for giving me such a warm welcome at the airport and tell them how perfect Brasil is but all I could manage was, "I like mountains."

My city is possibly the greatest city in the world. It is small enough that I can go everywhere by myself and big enough that there is ALWAYS something to do. When my host mom told me they lived close to shopping they literally meant close to a building called, "SHOPPING." My host mom has hosted 4 students before me and feels the best method for me to make friends is to talk to random people on the street. Therefore any boy that gives me a second glance is immediately invited over to the house and is urged to call me if there are any parties that weekend. It's insane how many people want to take me places.

I went to my first Brasilian party. Everyone gets really dressed up and I always kind of look like I'm about to go to the beach so of course I wore flip-flops, jeans, and a shirt that says "The Tank" that I bought at Goodwill. I got searched for drugs and weapons at the door. When I got into the party there were SO many people! This party had all techno music and apparently the appropriate way to dance to techno in Brasil is to sway from side to side. Well, I can salsa, merengue, bachata, cumbia, and tango but for the life of me I cannot sway side to side. The mechanics completely fail me. I didn't know someone could be bad at swaying side to side but somehow there was this hopping movement involved that I just couldn't grasp. I went home early at 3:00 because quite frankly I was getting grouchy and sleep deprived. But it was really a lot of fun!

So...culture shock didn't hit me until my first day of school when I walked into my school and everyone stopped what they were doing and every guy whipped out his cell phone and started taking pictures of me. My class is 6 girls and 25 boys. I said Oi! (Hello) and everyone gave me a standing ovation. I sat down at my desk and everyone moved their desk as closely as possible to mine and started asking me a billion questions. My favorite question was, "What mean My Humps?". And I would answer, "Have you ever seen a camel?..."

But school is finally pretty normal and I have a lot of friends there. My English teacher did not know I was American my first English Class and asked me to read out loud in English. I read the paragraph and was promptly told that I needed a little work on pronunciation but that by the end of the year I should do quite well. I have also been corrected when talking about President Bush. Apparently there is an invisible i only visible to Brasilian eyes. Bush is actually pronounced Bushee, just like club is clubee and hip-hop is hip-hopee. My P.E. class is basically just walking around the city listening to my ipod. And in Portuguese class I got the same grade as my friend Luana who is Brasilian. She's actually kind of bitter about it right now. And Friday was "Dia do Estudante" which is basically a day honoring students so we had a rock concert in the gym. They played Nirvana and it was pretty cool except everyone kept on telling me to go dance on the stage by myself. It would have been a good photo opportunity but I would definitely lose some respect among the intellectuals.

The 50th anniversary of my Rotary Club was this year and I was here for the ceremony. It was a lot of fun and I learned how to dance forro with my host dad. They also like me to sing them songs in Portuguese so I went up to the mike and sang them the one song I know by heart which is about astronomers. They also like me to sing the ABC song in English and they all sang along. I have been on TV twice and the newspaper once here because of Rotary.

I have fallen in love with a little miracle called açai. It is a black fruit that is mashed up and frozen until it's like a smoothie and then has granola and bananas spread over it. It's a wonderful thing. But the best part about it is it turns your whole mouth black. It's the kind of food I would eat on my first date with someone. The restaurant where they serve açai is probably one of the most amusing places I have ever been. Because everyone is smiling and laughing but no one has any teeth and your lips are black. I seem to be the only one truly excited about turning my mouth black but my excitement is contagious. Also when you walk out of the restaurant there's always this guy with a microphone who dances with life size dolls ALL DAY. That's his job. That's how he advertises. By dancing with a life size doll in boots with pink hair. I definitely take pictures of him all the time.

Some stuff I haven't wanted to try yet: hot dog flavored Cheetos, hamburger flavored Ritz Crackers, and steak flavored Ruffles.

People here are so friendly. I was eating açai one day by myself and these two girls with black mouths started talking to me. They are in college in Patos de Minas and they asked me if I wanted to walk around with them. So we walked around for awhile and then they took my number down. They called yesterday to see if I wanted to go to the club, "Finnegan's", so I went with six other girls that are all in college too. We had so much fun and two days ago they were complete strangers. That's how it is here. Meeting people is SO easy.

I will be sending pictures pretty soon. I am having an incredible time and speaking Portuguese pretty good too. I can't wait to hear about all the other outbounds experiences and I hope you guys are having a great time wherever you are.

Tchau beijos e abraços,

Alex

October 17 Journal

My 2 months here in Brasil have been the fastest two months of my life. I want to slow things down but it's not possible. I went from a town of 4,000 people to a city where there is a choice of 5 parties every night and a festival for every food, country, person, and outfit. Like Fest Rodeio which was a rodeo festival and Festa de Pijama which is in November and everyone wears their pjs to this big huge club and dance all night. Festa Haviana is a party where everyone wears Havaianas (flip-flops made in Brasil) and then there's Baile do Hawaiwhich is a dance where everyone wears grass skirts and tropical outfits. There is Axé Patos (a type of dance) and plenty of dances where everyone dances forro. Of course there's Carnaval in February but here in Patos de Minas, Minas Gerais, Brasil, it's all about one party. Fenamilho.

I live in the corn capital of Brasil. Even the trash cans are shaped like corn. There's corn in pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs you name it. Fenamilho is the Corn Festival. Before you laugh, this is a 10 day party where 350,000 people come from all over Brasil. People start getting excited about Fenamilho (which is in May) about 6 months before the festival. It's by far the hugest festival in Patos and it is a BIG DEAL here. They have concerts, clubs, food, and TONS of people. This is quite different from Pioneer Days in High Springs, Florida. Going to festivals and parties in Brasil is nothing like I have ever seen in my life. The biggest party you can go to in the United States is a tiny get together in Brasil. I love it here more than I could possibly explain. I feel so at home here on these streets and in this country. Everyone thinks I'm Brasilian at least for the first 10-15 minutes they talk to me. I thought I looked like such an American girl but apparently I can pass for Brasilian when I am not wearing an I Love New York shirt or singing the Beach Boys. It still amazes me when people actually understand what I'm saying. As I'm talking I'm thinking of other ways I can state the same sentence so they will understand better. People always seem to understand the first time and I'm always like, "Are you sure you understand, because I have 6 other ways to explain it." Being fluent in Portuguese is probably my biggest accomplishment yet. I really got lucky that I had such patient and helpful people who are really so ready to laugh at me and tease me for weeks when I make a mistake.

I have really been blessed with 3 extremely amusing, dedicated best friends here. They really made all the difference in my exchange. They are not afraid to say "Stop eating Alex. You're going to get fat." or make fun of me when I mess up a word. But they also are the people that when I got sick rode their bicycles half an hour in the rain to come sit with me and watch movies with me. They also made a full outfit of trash bags so they wouldn't get wet. Complete with hat, shirt, shorts, and shoes. I'll send pictures later. Their names are Ana Claudia (Claudinha), Victor, and Pedro, and they are a great cure for homesickness.

Of the things I love in Brasil, my favorite is still acai. I love Brasilian coffee, pão de quiejo (cheese bread), churrasco (meat kind of like a barbecue but different and better), Guaraná (Soda), and a few other equally fattening items. I've started watching a novela (soap opera)...I said I wouldn't but there's this really funny one called Cobras e Lagartos with these ridiculous characters and plots and this guy called Foguinho and I can't resist every night at 7:00. Patos de Minas is home to the ugliest dogs in the world. I saw one with a tooth OUTSIDE his mouth, I swear. When people told me I was going to be living with monkeys on my exchange year in Brasil I thought it was a stereotype. But I actually see monkeys a lot. I still get excited every single time too. I see them at school a lot and feed them food. That doesn't mean I live in the Amazon. I'm just saying it's not rare to look up in a tree and find a toucan or a macaw and if you leave your bag of popcorn on the ground and go back to it a few minutes later, it won't be covered in ants, but in monkeys. Things that seemed so weird to me before now seem so normal like, duh we drink coke in a bag.

Homesickness comes very rarely but when it does it hits hard. I definitely crave El Indio Mexican Food, Mountain Dew, Skittles, and Combos all the time and want McDonald's or Taco Bell like I've never wanted fast food before. I miss my family always. Even though I have best friends here there are some Adam's...I mean people that are impossible to replace. My best friend in the United States, Adam, spent 250 dollars to call me. Things like that make me realize how valuable their friendship is to me. My friendship was worth 250 dollars to him. But homesickness is barely even worth mentioning in my case since I've felt it like 3 times for a couple hours and usually I am completely blissfully happy.

I had a minor episode involving a playground that got me bandaged up really nice. I'm not even going to try to top Julie, but it was pretty intense. Basically I got catapulted off a see saw and landed on the merry-go-round. My injuries included the ugliest bruises I've ever had in my life, not being able to move my neck for 5 days, and the embarrassment when people ask, "What happened?" What hurt the most was when I actually had to face the fact that maybe my butt was just too big for that see-saw. Maybe the equilibrium wasn't the problem, maybe I'm growing up and I'm not a little kid anymore. I see myself maturing in little ways but I figure this is my last year of youth before I start working and going to college. This is the last time someone is going to cook for me everyday and the last time I can sleep in class. This year has definitely made the transition to independence easier, though.

I got to give a lesson in English class a few days ago about American culture. Our teacher wanted me to teach a quick, easy game and song and to bring in food or drink. I taught everyone Heads Up 7 Up. I brought in Gatorade because it was invented in Gainesville, the closest real city to my pueblo. I taught the class how to run from alligators and I taught everyone the theme song from "Jeopardy". Everyone REALLY REALLY liked the song. No one knows what it means but now everyone thinks it's like the coolest tune. It's not uncommon to see a group of girls from my class walking down the street humming the tune, as if they are waiting for someone to buzz in. It was really interesting attempting to show American culture to people who don't know who Bob Barker is. I tried to explain ebonics but it just wasn't the same. I'm not even sure I know what crunk is and much less how to explain it.

People told me that Brazilian men are crazy. Everyone said it. There is no possible way to exaggerate the fact. Brazilian men LOVE women. Not in the way other countries do. I mean...they ABSOLUTELY LOVE women. I think they spend 35% of their daily time just staring at women. Men of all ages stare at women of all ages. And they yell, whistle, honk, wink, fake having a heart attack (that was just once but it was my favorite), ANYTHING to attract the attention of the woman in question. The more you insult the poor guys the more they chase after you. There is a famous saying here that says "Brazilian men never give up." They don't. Insults bounce off them. They are immune to dirty looks. The more you ignore them the more they stalk you. I've been proposed to six times. I've been sang to more than I can count. It's the Brasilian way. I've become really used to it and now I sing back.

So a few days ago, me and another exchange student, Sebastian, went to the lake in my city, Lagoa Grande. We were sitting there talking, when a group of men start to do capoeira next to us. Capoeira is almost like martial arts and dancing mixed. They play an instrument called the berinbal (according to my friend Pedro who can barely spell his last name and thinks that Russia is a continent) and people sing and clap their hands. All of a sudden everyone started singing to me, "Menina Boa, Menina Boa". They came over and asked my name and Sebastian and I started talking to them. They were really interesting and one asked me if I would like to try capoeira right there in front of the crowd of people in the middle of the lake. Nobody could possibly say no to that offer. So there in front of everyone I started to learn. I looked more ridiculous than you can possibly imagine in your wildest dreams. It was so much fun though. I taught them the somersault. I taught them the cartwheel American style. It was really fun just singing and talking to them.

It's been awhile since my last journal and I had it all ready to go when I had a little accident. See, in Brazil a bicycle isn't meant for just one person, but two or three. So in this fashion my friend Pedro was riding the bike and I was sitting in front of him when something happened. We hit a lizard-like object and I went flying. Pedro ended up with some scratches and I fractured my arm! So I got to wear a cast for a week and everything's OK now.

Now everyone has been updated on my time in Brazil. It's been incredibly fun, interesting, and slightly more dangerous than I anticipated. I am having a great time and missing everyone a lot. A special hello to the City Hall gang who I miss very much and who are probably wondering why I haven't sent them candy and letters yet. I'm working on it. Adam, Jessi, Armando, K.C., Mela, Zach, Corby, Mr. and Mrs. Buffington, Mom, Mimi & Papi, Auntie Elaine, Uncle Zap, and Emily, my thoughts are always with you!

January Journal

Hello friends and family!

I just wanted to keep you updated because I probably won't have a chance to communicate too often in the month of January. I am going on a tour of the beaches of Brazil with 150 other exchange students. I leave Jan. 5 at midnight and come back February 4th.

It's summer here in Brazil and I am having a great time. I am on vacation from school from Dec. to Feb. I had the hottest Christmas of my life in 80 degree weather but I got to spend time in the capital of my state, Belo Horizonte. The capital has about 4 million people and it was so much fun.

I learned basic Portuguese in a month and after about 3 months I was completely fluent. Now everywhere I go people think I'm Brazilian. I have been here 5 months and I can honestly say there is no place like Brazil in the world. Everyone here has made me a part of their family and everyone says my name different. Everyone always says Alex? That’s the name of a boy.

Well about my trip. Here's a little glimpse of what I will be doing in the next month. First of all the official name of my trip is A Viagem dos Sonhos or The Dream Trip.
January 6th- I arrive in São Paulo. Huge City. Like 20 million inhabitants.
January 7th- The historic city of Paraty. Free day to explore.
January 8th- Take a boat to the islands of Paraty and swim and then on the road to RIO DE JANEIROOOOOOO!!!!! At night we will be going to the COPACABANAAAA!!!!
January 9th- Tour of the Beautiful Gorgeous Spectacular Amazing City of Rio de Janeiro and then to the VERY FAMOUS rock Pão de Açucar. It's super tall and you can see the WHOLE city and it’s in the middle of the ocean. Then Samba lessons from a professional samba school.
January 10th- You know that huge statue of Christ with his arms open that everyone in the world has seen someplace or other. well I will be on top of that statue Christ the Redemptor today! then off to the Sambodrome the place where Carnaval is celebrated.
January 11th- IPANEMAAA!!! One of the most famous beaches of Brasil and the world! and then the Samba City. And then a class to learn how to dance Funk...which is basically booty-dancing the Brazilian way.
January 12th- Going to BAHIA!!!! the birthplace of Brasilian culture. Porto Seguro! Free day to explore.
Jan. 13th- Spending the day at the beaches of Porto Seguro.
Jan. 14th- The 3rd most beautiful beach of brasil Praia do Espelho. (Beach of the Mirror, because the water looks like a mirror.) And then to visit the Indians of Brasil. And then lessons to dance axé!
Jan. 15th- MY BIRTHDAYYYYYYY!!!!!!!!!!! I will be 19 years old today. I will spend it in Itacaré which is an ecological vacation place. They have jungles and rafting and waterfalls and beaches and it is the most visited beach by young people in Brasil.
Jan 16th- We are going to 4 different beaches today!
Jan. 17th- Waterfalls then the beach again. Then we all get Land Rovers to go out to the place where the rafting takes place.
Jan. 18th- Arrive in Lençóis. Explore.
Jan. 19th- Go to this really cool place that has a natural slide made of rock and waterfall where you fall down the waterfall until you hit the lagoon below. then off to the beach again.
Jan. 20th- HUGE WATERFALL! Show of Capoeira with optional class afterwards
Jan 21st- ARRIVE IN SALVADOR!! CAPITAL OF BAHIA!!! the first capital of Brazil (Now it is Brasilia) is the CULTURAL MECCA of Brasil.
Jan 22nd-Free day Exploring the city and then at night go to the nightclubs!!!
Jan. 23rd- Take a boat to the Ilha dos Frades. Go to many islands in the boat stop and swim every once in a while. Then a picnic on the beach.
Jan. 24th- We are going to projeto TAMAR! A group that protects marine turtles (turtles being my favorite animal) We get to see all the turtles they have there and swim with them. That night I get to RECIFE!!!
Jan. 25th- A beautiful beach called Porto das Galinhas. Snorkeling. surfing. we can rent boats. and optional scuba diving.
Jan. 26th- Free day. Exploring the city with some of the exchange students from Recife. Then Festa de CARNAVAL!!
Jan 27th- I arrive in Natal. take a boat to see the dolphins. I love living in a tropical country.
Jan. 28th- Free day to Explore the city.
Jan. 29th- I arrive in Jericoacoara!! Watch the sunset on the beach and go night time swimming.
Jan. 30th- Free day to explore the city
Jan. 31st- Free day at the beaches
Feb. 1st- I arrive in Fortaleza. Exchange Student Talent Show.
Feb 2nd- We rent little jeeps to run around the beach in. Skibunda Ski- you all know. Bunda- butt. Skibunda is where you use like a board to sit on and you ride down sand dunes until you fall into the water...in my case a sweet water lake...(I don’t know what that is but that’s what it says on the program) And then horseback riding! Super Huge Party with more than 200 exchange students.
Feb 3rd.- Wake up sore from horseback riding. Go to the beach and take a city tour.
Feb. 4th- Still sore from horseback riding. Arrive in the capital of Brasil...Brasilia...tour the city get on a plane and fly home to Patos de Minas, Minas Gerais, Brasil.

I have 2 Brasilian bikinis. I haven’t decided as of yet whether I am going to wear them as they were given to me by well-meaning friends. I have been told that people will think it odd to see me in an American bikini. I personally feel it is odder for me to walk around with half of my rear end visible but I am told that people don’t even pay attention to it. I highly doubt that.

I hope everything is fine at home and keep me updated on your lives even if it takes a little while for me to get back to you. I love you and miss you all. But I won’t miss High Springs that much when I am swimming in the beaches of Rio de Janeiro. It’s hard to miss Mountain Dew when you are drinking sweet fruit juice made in front of your eyes. It’s hard to miss Taco Bell when you are standing next to a statue of Christ and looking out over an enormous city and bright blue water. But it’s easy to miss all of you. I send all of you my love. I think about my friends and family every day and although part of me wants to stay in this beautiful country forever most of me wants to come back home eventually to see you all again.

Take care...Love Alex

March 3 Journal

The past few months have probably been the craziest of my life. First I had the Northeast trip. I went to many beaches in Brazil and it was crazy and really fun to see the exchange students. I was at the beach everyday and swam in waterfalls. I also went white water rafting and did not fall out of the boat, though I accidentally pushed the guide off the boat. (Don't worry, he was fine.) I also went on a camel ride as a birthday present from my friend Matt. It was fun imagining what my friends back home might be doing while I was riding a camel on the beach in Brazil. All in all the trip was one of the best experiences of my life and I made friends there that I will keep in touch even when I am back in the U.S. on July 1st. (booooo) I will send pictures of the trip later.

When I came back it was almost time for Carnival. This is a huge deal in Brazil so I was really excited. I wasn't a bit disappointed. Carnival was four days and although in my city it isn't the same as in Rio de Janeiro (i.e. naked woman, sequins, parades etc.), it is a HUGE party. During Carnaval you can enter in a bloco where you get free drinks, two days of churrasco(barbeque...but better), and caldo (soup) every day. Four days of free everything for 110 reais (like 55 dollars). I would arrive at Carnival at midnight and leave at seven in the morning, sleep until 3 in the afternoon, take a bath, go back to Carnival, leave at seven p.m. and start all over again.

Anyways, I will try to write more journals soon and keep everyone updated.

May 23 Journal

Oi Florida!!! Saudades!!!!

Ok well that's a lie. I mean I miss Florida....but not anywhere near enough to come home just yet! In fact the idea terrifies me. It literally keeps me awake at night! I fell in love with this country the minute I set foot here and it has only gotten better each day. I have had the time of my life in these past two months and I am not ready to end it yet.

I traveled to Belo Horizonte which is the capital of my state. I stayed in a house with 5 exchange students. Now for anyone who has ever been an exchange student you know this is a dream. I loved every second of it. Even the two hour argument about who was going to buy coke, even the cheating at UNO, even the fact that they used all my shampoo and conditioner and there was never any toilet paper or food. I loved it all. Even when my friend Stan from Poland woke me up at 6 in the morning by singing me Redemption Song by Bob Marley I couldn't help but laugh at how lucky I was to get to spend this time with such good friends. Or how my Austrian Valentin refuses to call me anything but my lady.

I truly believe that your exchange student friends are just as important as the friends that you make in your countries. I have made friends among exchange students that are so important to me that I can't imagine a life without them. I have a house in basically every country that I have ever wanted to visit. I can proudly say that my best friends are from Poland, Belgium, Austria, Canada, and Japan. I have learned pieces of everyone's languages and how to Austrian waltz! My exchange student friends are SO AWESOME that when I couldn't afford to go to the Amazon, they carried around a piece of paper with my name on it and took pictures with "me". I wasn't even there and I became the trip mascot!!!

I have one question for anyone who has ever been an exchange student. Does it really get any better than this? Is there any possibility that by some miracle I will have as much fun one day as I did on my exchange?

I am currently in the middle of my city's biggest festival. Festa do Milho, Fenamilho, the corn festival... A HUGE 10 day party where attendance last year reached 300,000 people. It is the best party I have ever been to in my life!!!!!! I am having so much fun going out every night to this gigantic party and dancing all night and going home at 8 in the morning!

I leave this country in 3 weeks but I am trying not to think about it just yet. I am so grateful that I had such a perfect exchange year and so few bad memories but a billion good ones. I saw a toucan outside my window yesterday and I was so sad to think that this would never happen in the U.S. No more feeding monkeys at school. I would go back to being just another American kid when I have had this amazing life here. But Brazil will always be waiting for me and I will always be waiting for the moment when I can return.

Alex