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My goodness gracious! I can hardly believe that it has already been two months since I boarded a plane for Brazil! So many things have happened since I’ve arrived. I’ve seen amazing sights, met wonderful people, and learned more about Brazil and myself than I could have ever hoped! When I first arrived, I was greeted with many happy faces and warm welcomes. My host family had arranged a party for me, and invited many people who would soon come to be some of my very good friends. It took about a solid two weeks for me to finally settle in, as my first host family was not ready to receive me quite yet. As I spent my first weeks here learning basic phrases and adjusting to my surroundings, the cultural differences between The States and Brazil couldn’t have been more obvious than an Elephant in a Wal-Mart. I soon found myself trying to rewire my brain to do things that I had never thought about doing before. On of my initial challenges was trying to not forget that Brazilians don’t flush toilet paper, they throw it in a little waste basket next to you. I have had way too many close calls with clogged toilets in public bathrooms. Another cultural difference is that Brazil is a very touchy country. Extended family, friends, acquaintances, complete strangers, or all of the above need to be greeted with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. As someone who can fumble around awkwardly during such interactions, this was definitely a major adjustment on my part. As could be said about many other countries, the cultural differences change every aspect of your day, such as: needing to wear shoes inside, not making the “ok” sign with your hand, not letting your feet get wet, always needing the windows and doors open when it is daytime, and the list goes on. As an exchange student, I acknowledge that these are things that I must adjust to, and that I must use the slightly hilarious sounding mindset of “Be the Brazilian”.
One common misconception about exchange is that it is all rainbows and butterflies; exchange is the extended yearlong vacation of a lifetime. Well have I got news for you. Exchange is a job, and a hard one at that. Yes, this year will probably be one of the best years of my life, and will surely change my future drastically. However, it is hard to leave your friends and family behind for a whole year. It is hard to not be able to express all of your opinions and feelings to those around you. It is hard to not understand anything on price tags, menus, billboards; even ramen instructions are difficult! I remember trying to order French fries at a restaurant for R$ 9,00, but because I didn’t understand the woman when she asked if I wanted to “Super Size” my order, I ended up with a family order of fries and a R$ 21,00 bill. However, I must say experiences like this end up being the memories that you take away, as you learn to become one with a different culture. I definitely treasure these moments, and I hope I continue to learn from my mistakes.
Another bit about exchange that may not seem as too much of a shock, is homesickness. After settling in, getting into a routine, and getting out of the honeymoon phase of exchange, I realized that I really missed my family a lot more than I thought I would. I really started loathing being alone, because it made me miss home more and more. I then decided to stop being a soggy towel on the bathroom floor and find something that I really enjoyed! I soon joined a gym, where I became active in a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu group by accident, and it is now my favorite part of the week! Additionally, I have started taking part in my group’s community project where we teach younger children Jiu Jitsu every Saturday! I try to volunteer as often as possible, as I feel good inside with every lesson I teach and every practice I attend. I have made so many Brazilian friends from joining this group, and I feel stronger and more confident as well!
Some valuable advice that I took away from ex-exchange student extraordinaire, Ashley Campbell, is to do as much with my host Rotary club as possible. Though it may seem boring at first, due to lack of language skills, these people will grow to be your life line, as well as the people who make or break your exchange. I have grown extremely close to my club members, as I have been invited to their children’s birthday parties, gone out to eat with them every Tuesday night, been invited to take trips out of state, and overall built a community of likeminded people who are there for me no matter what. My advice to aspiring exchange students is to attend your host club meetings religiously.
In the two months that I’ve been here, I’ve already done so much! I would have to write a novel in order to properly describe the amazing experiences I’ve had. I’ve seen waterfalls that put Niagara to shame, seen architectural beauties that give their surroundings that Brazilian welcome, went jet skiing with another exchange student’s family, went long distance swimming in a crystal clear lake, and so many other adventures that would take too long to list. I am so thankful that I have the privilege of being here in Brazil, and if I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. If I could say anything to those that helped me get here, it would be a great big THANK YOU!!! This has been your semi-normal captains log from your local Brazilian in training, Devon L’Heureux. Thank you for reading and see you next month, Tchau!