Hannah Goldfarb

 Brazil

Hometown: Fort Myers, Florida
School: Salem Academy
Sponsor District : District 6960
Sponsor Club: , Florida
Host District: 4760
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Santo Agostinho


My Bio


The name’s Hannah. Hannah Susanna. And Hannah Susanna is officially going to Brazil! I was born and raised in Fort Myers, Florida, where I have had the pleasure of spending much of my life. At 13 I was given the opportunity to attend Salem Academy, where I have gladly been since. I am heavily involved with the arts, taking on projects as a painter, drawer, and sometimes a photographer. I adore history and politics. I've interned multiple times with the Holocaust Museum & Education Center of SWFL, which led to a human rights project abroad. To go a bit further, I love foreign policy and cooperation (or understanding) between countries, resulting in many Model UN conferences, where I have had the pleasure of representing the countries of Egypt, Australia, and the United States! I am eager, excited (and a little scared) to represent the United States once again, this time in the real world. I cannot wait for the incredible people I’ll meet, the food (of course), the language, and all of the memories, good and bad, that will come over the next year. I cannot wait to be in Brazil absorbing bits and pieces of a culture I know I’ll one day consider my own. Well, you know how it goes. Até breve! Happy trails to you! Tchau!

	 My room, which I love

My room, which I love

	 “A Brief History of the 20th Century,” given to me by minha mãe

“A Brief History of the 20th Century,” given to me by minha mãe

	 The view from the back seat of the car. The number of buildings is insane

The view from the back seat of the car. The number of buildings is insane

	 A sign on our porch that reads: “In life, I don’t want much, I only want to know that I tried everything I wanted, I had everything I could, I loved everything that mattered, and I only lost what was never mine”

A sign on our porch that reads: “In life, I don’t want much, I only want to know that I tried everything I wanted, I had everything I could, I loved everything that mattered, and I only lost what was never mine”

	 Meus pais

Meus pais

	 My US family and I moments before departure

My US family and I moments before departure

Food from our informal school potluck

Food from our informal school potluck

My classmate Izabela and me

My classmate Izabela and me

A page from a textbook discussing Brazilian politics.

A page from a textbook discussing Brazilian politics.

	 Notes from Chemistry class. Barely anyone takes notes and technically I don’t need to, but I figured it’s a good way to learn.

Notes from Chemistry class. Barely anyone takes notes and technically I don’t need to, but I figured it’s a good way to learn.

Lucas (taking the selfie) and our team for the games.

Lucas (taking the selfie) and our team for the games.

From left to right: Nikolaj (Denmark), me, Jorge (Mexico), Skylar (USA), Nicola (Switzerland)

From left to right: Nikolaj (Denmark), me, Jorge (Mexico), Skylar (USA), Nicola (Switzerland)

All of the inbound exchange students in my district (4760).

All of the inbound exchange students in my district (4760).

We were trying to take a nice picture when the boys starting splashing water on us.

We were trying to take a nice picture when the boys starting splashing water on us.

Skylar and me

Skylar and me

Claudio, my uncle, with DELICIOUS Brazilian food

Claudio, my uncle, with DELICIOUS Brazilian food

Me, Mae, Theo, and my host aunt Corina

Me, Mae, Theo, and my host aunt Corina

My friend Skylar and I visiting one of the most notable places in my city: igreja são francisco de assis

My friend Skylar and I visiting one of the most notable places in my city: igreja são francisco de assis

Excited for a trip to Rio Quente

Excited for a trip to Rio Quente

My host brother and I jet skiing.

My host brother and I jet skiing.

Spotted: An American ride in Caldas Novas!

Spotted: An American ride in Caldas Novas!

With some of my Brazilian friends

With some of my Brazilian friends

With my third host mom

With my third host mom

With Julia (USA) and my host cousin Matheus at a soccer game

With Julia (USA) and my host cousin Matheus at a soccer game

My Crazy Big Second Host Family! (If you look to the right, that's me)

My Crazy Big Second Host Family! (If you look to the right, that's me)

A cute coffee shop with some friends

A cute coffee shop with some friends

With some friends during the Carnaval celebration

With some friends during the Carnaval celebration

Given to me by the American Presence Officer with the State Department in my city after a meeting

Given to me by the American Presence Officer with the State Department in my city after a meeting

My coworker and I at her birthday party

My coworker and I at her birthday party

Me, Karen (Japan), and Brooklyn (Canada) at a Rotary meeting

Me, Karen (Japan), and Brooklyn (Canada) at a Rotary meeting

Giving an interview to my school news station

Giving an interview to my school news station

Giving a presentation to a group of Brazilian middle schools

Giving a presentation to a group of Brazilian middle schools

  • Hannah, Outbound to Brazil

    When I first arrived to Brazil, I was automatically placed in “ensino medio” (high school) because Rotary Youth Exchange is intended for high school students. I was the equivalent of a junior and studied there for about five months.

    I really liked this time because it gave me a chance to catch onto Portuguese (taking notes in class and listening to lectures helped so much!) and to learn some basic things I needed to know, like important presidents and events from history.

    When the school told me they didn’t have room for me the following year, I saw this as an opportunity to try something new. Rather than switch to another high school, I asked if I could go to university. Things worked out, and I have now been studying at a university for a few weeks.

    My school is called UniBH and it's private. Something I’ve found interesting is that here, public universities are like Ivy-League schools: only the “best and brightest” get in and attend because they have entirely free tuition. It’s kind of paradoxical in the sense that in order to get in, you need to invest thousands of reais (dollars) into a private middle and high school education. The people that can afford to do that usually don’t need to worry about paying for college. Here, you have to pay for private universities, although the amount is significantly less than that of the United States. (But when looking at Brazilian salaries, it’s absurd).

    My school has three different units in Belo Horizonte. I study at the largest unit. In all, the school has about 22,000 students currently enrolled, although you wouldn’t know it by taking a course. My “sala” (class) has about 33 students (based on the group chat) but on any given day, I’d say there’s significantly less, about 25 or so (unless there’s a test).

    I am enrolled in the “relações internacionais” (international relations) course (equivalent to a major) here. The classes I’m taking include: Social sciences and anthropology; communication, diversity, and critical thinking; negotiation and bargaining; the modern history of international relations; and languages and international relations. Yes, they are all taught entirely in Portuguese. It’s awesome.

    To be honest, I’ve been pretty confused so far. I started the semester about two months late, so I’ve missed a lot of material. I also entered halfway through most of the chapters so I missed the vast majority of the instruction for each of my classes. The students are currently taking tests, so I figure that once the next portion of material begins I’ll be able to catch on. Some of the professors have been really nice about this. They’ve sent me emails with prior readings enclosed or will take a brief second to recap a concept they’ve already gone over. (I can’t say this is entirely for me, but the fact they look me in the eyes as they do the recap makes me feel it is.)

    As is frequently the case with Brazilians, I had no trouble being accepted. Everyone has been really nice, offering to let me join their groups for group work or letting me look over their shoulder as they complete assignments I don’t do. (I don’t have access to the computers or textbooks since I’m not a legitimate, paying student, so everyone has been really helpful with this).

    I’ve made one pretty good friend in the class named Italo. He’s honestly hilarious and I live for his stories about times he was robbed and his love for Mary Kay, which he sells to afford tuition. If I’m ever confused about a meeting place or class activity, I go to him.

    Every day, I go to school at 7:40 and finish at 11:40. As my school days end so early, I’ve acquired two awesome internships for the rest of my time in Brazil.

    Internship number one is at UniBH working in, well, whatever they want! I’m split between two “bosses”: Leticia and Janaina. I work with Leticia on Mondays and Wednesdays. I usually get to work from home since most of the work for her is online making presentations on topics from my life in the United States to my opinions on Brazil. We meet to discuss what I’ve been doing and so I can receive feedback. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I work in an office with a lovely group of people.

    So far, I’ve been doing really random work. I’ve mostly been working on activities for students. They’re having a party for the World Cup and I was responsible for planning activities for each country playing. I chose things like crash courses for K-Pop for Korea and rock bands for England.

    Last Tuesday, I was asked to give an interview to the school TV station. I’m sure a looked like a complete fool – the moment the camera turned on, my Portuguese stopped working. But it’s okay! It was a hilarious experience for me and everyone was really nice anyway.

    This internship has turned out to be one of my favorite parts of my experience at UniBH! Especially the days in the office. I have my own desk and computer, which makes it feel serious. The ladies I work with are a ton of fun. Every day at about 4pm, the girl who sits across from me, Rafa, brings in pao de queijo, which always makes me smile. Everyone is always offering to make me coffee or tea or to get me water. This just goes back to the hospitality of Brazilians.

    Last Saturday, one of my coworkers had a birthday party. I went and it was really great to get to know them in a non-work setting. I can assure you, it will not be the last time I go out with them.

    For me, this is really exciting because it shows just how good my Portuguese has gotten. I can understand just about everything except for some “giria” (slang), which they have no problem clarifying for me. Most of the people I work with don’t speak English and I love this.

    My second “internship” is less of an internship and more like sporadic volunteer work. I wrote before about Rita Rico, an American diplomat living in Belo Horizonte, and how I met with her to discuss her work. She put me in touch with a man named Leandro. Leandro works as an “educational consultant” at a company called Education USA.

    Basically, Education USA is an institution that aims at promoting American culture and the English language. They have events at middle and high schools to talk about life in America. They have english classes. They also help Brazilian students navigate exchange years and the college application process in the United States.

    Because part of the State Department’s goal is to promote and share American culture, Education USA has a partnership with the State Department. That’s the reason Rita is involved with them.

    My work there mostly involves American culture. So far, I’ve gone into english classes and tried to engage students in conversation. Because I’m a native speaker, this is really valuable for them. Most of the students have never met an American or heard one speaking in real life. It warms my heart to see how excited they get when they can effectively communicate with me.

    I also have been asked to give presentations on aspects of American culture. Leandro says I’m a gift from God because the week I reached out to him, he was told to speak about American high school, a topic he knows nothing about. I prepared and gave an hour long presentation about my high school in America, which is a topic I’m always eager to talk about. After I finished, I had three girls come up to me and ask about how to apply to school in the United States. It was a great feeling to see how excited my presentation had made them.

    I think these “internships” are really great ways to spend my time. It’s a really good way to get to know people I’d never know otherwise. It’s also a really good way to give back. At first, I was worried that this would mean I never get to see my friends, but it just means my days are a little more rich (and a little more busy). I usually go to school, come home for lunch, go back for work, and then go straight from work to seeing my friends. It’s definitely a “correria” (rush) as Brazilians would say, but it’s pretty fun!

    I have to say, Rotary was right. I am nine months into my exchange and only have 47 days until I’m back. I’m dreading it. I finally spend my time productively, have a good grasp on the language, have good friends (both Brazilian and other exchange students). I finally have a life I really love, where I would change nothing. I’m really content. I’m really happy. And as soon as I get used to this, I have to go back. It is not a good feeling. Regardless, I am blessed to have had such a wonderful opportunity, and I look forward to making the most of the next 47 days. It’s certainly flying by.

    Click HERE to read more about Hannah and all her blogs

  • Hannah, Outbound to Brazil

    Part of the reason I decided to go to exchange was to help myself in the future. You see, I plan in working for the State Department, and I wanted to become familiar with another language, another culture, another mentality. When I go to college next year, I plan to study International Relations, Political Science, and Spanish. So why not take a year to learn another language? That's why Brazil was perfect for me.

    I value diplomacy because I believe it’s the path to creating a more peaceful, better functioning world. I strongly believe that with an open mind and dialogue, a mutually beneficial agreement can be reached. I look up to diplomats and the sacrifice they make as they strive to make changes across the world.

    A few weeks ago, an American diplomat moved into the apartment building where I was living. It was fate. The first time I met her, I was so shocked, I just kind of stood there like a smiling idiot. I knew I had to make contact.

    I decided to reach out and express my interest in following her path. I asked if she would sit down with me and talk with me about what she does, how her life works, and which steps she took to get to where she is now. Kindly, she replied and invited me to come into her office yesterday to talk.

    Her name is Rita Rico and she is AWESOME. After graduating with a Ph.D. in Political Theory and working as an advisor in the Senate, she started her career with the State Department. She worked as a deputy cultural attaché in Santiago, Chile; a consular officer in Nairobi, Kenya; a political officer in Caracas, Venezuela; and she is now serving as the American Presence Officer and Public Affairs Officer in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. She is fluent in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.

    Our discussion was invigorating. First of all, she just got back from a trip with the US Ambassador to Brazil throughout the state of Minas Gerais. How awesome is that???

    She went through and described what it’s like working as a Foreign Service Officer for the State Department. She described the tedious application process (which takes about a year to complete and is composed of a written test, an essay, and an oral exam). She described the various positions offered and what exactly her position is. I got to ask about how policy works (especially with the recent departure of the Secretary of State) and how it affects diplomats all over the world. I got to ask about language learning and comprehension.

    In my opinion, her most interesting job was in Venezuela. As a political officer, she essentially spent her years there doing research on the Venezuela political system: talking to presidents of parties, learning about interest groups, learning about hot topics. She would report her findings back to Washington. I would LOVE to do something like this.

    To me, the most exhilarating part is that the job is never the same. First of all, you move every 2-4 years, so you’re never in one place for very long. You are constantly faced with new objectives and people and “missions” to tackle. Every position you take as a diplomat will be learning on the job and using your own judgment to further US foreign policy. There is a lot of power in that. Everything Rita does is a big deal: building relationships with Brazilians, encouraging travel to the US, promoting US culture, promoting economic interests, so many things for one person to be in charge of. It’s crazy. Everything she does affects the relationship between Brazil and the US.

    We talked a bit about the upcoming election in Brazil, and she mentioned that the diplomats all have the opportunity to meet with the candidates and ask any questions they might have. I think that’s incredible and I am so jealous.

    This weekend, I will go with Rita to a college fair for American Universities in Brazil. She also put me in contact with a man who helps Brazilian students prepare their resumes and applications for American universities. She said it would be nice if I could talk about my college application process, what I looked for in schools, and how college works there.

    After meeting with her, I’m much more certain in the path I want to take moving forward. I’m nervous, because it is such a competitive field, but I’m eager to continue striving for this huge dream I have. I know it will take a lot of work and dedication, but the journey has already begun. I strongly believe the education I have already received, the people I’ve already met, the experiences I’ve already had have more than prepared me for the insane journey that lays ahead of me.

    Sitting in her office, I could picture myself in Rita’s shoes. That is who I will be in 15 years. Mark my words.

    Click HERE to read more about Hannah and all her blogs

  • Hannah, Outbound to Brazil

    Remember how I went to Brasília back in September and I thought I wouldn’t be back for years? Funny how things work out, because I got to return!

    Well, I actually just got to pass through, but driving down the main stretch and just seeing the ministries again brought me so much satisfaction.

    This time, the real destination was Rio Quente Resorts: where Corina (my host aunt) and Claudio (her husband) have some sort of membership which allows them to return each year. This time, they generously invited my family to join them for a week.

    Rio Quente is one of the most incredible places I’ve been. It’s essentially hot springs morphed into an amusement park that’s designed for the whole family. They have naturally heated pools. They have lazy rivers. They have waterslides and rides. They have diving and kayaking and just about everything you could ever think of. OH, and the food. Don’t even get me started.

    As a Floridian this might come as a shock, but it is, in fact, better than Disney in just about every way.

    Honestly, we spent most of the time relaxing in the water or eating. Everything about it was wonderful, but my favorite moment happened outside of the park.

    One night, my host brother and I went walking down the main stretch in search of some souvenirs. We stopped outside of one store and we were sitting on a bench speaking in English. One of the restaurant owners, Gio, overheard us and immediately approached us, saying (in Portuguese) how much he’s always wanted to learn English. One thing led to another and the next thing I know we’re in Gio’s restaurant meeting his wife, two daughters, and his son.

    My host brother and I were given free Cokes and we took a seat. We sat in Gio’s restaurant until (no exaggeration) 1 AM. We made a circle and just started talking. The conversation started light, talking about where I’m from and how I, a gringa, ended up in Rio Quente with a Brazilian family. As time went on, the conversation gained more and more weight. We talked about everything, from feminism and abortion to drugs and arms to current events in Brazil and the US. Gio invited us to return the next day and eat for free.

    We met Gio on the second day of our trip and we saw him every day after. We would either eat there or pick up food or just stop by when we were passing to chat for a bit. Every time I saw him, he was smiling. He was happy. He was so content with his life and where he was at each moment. This brought me so much joy. Despite this “friendship” we developed, I never got to properly say goodbye.

    Whenever someone finds out I’m an exchange student, they always ask the same thing: why Brazil? Why not Germany or Spain or literally any other country?

    THIS is why Brazil. Not just Brazil, but really South America in general: the people. Maybe I’m terribly mistaken, but I feel like there are very few places in the US a foreigner would be treated the way I am every day, with such kindness and warmth. Even by strangers. Even with my flawed Portuguese. Everywhere I go people are so helpful, so interested, so welcoming, so wonderful. Brazilian people are truly the best part of this country. Claudio says that’s a political answer. I say it’s just the truth.

    Rio Quente was great, but this experience with Gio and his family was far greater. It was probably so small to them, but I can tell you that it was one of the highlights of my exchange. Sitting in that restaurant at 1 AM and discussing complicated topics with people who view the world completely different than me… well, that’s why I did exchange. I was seeking a wider world view, a new perspective, something like that. Day by day, person by person, I’m getting there.

    Click HERE to read more about Hannah and all her blogs

  • Hannah, Outbound to Brazil

    When I was either a freshman or a sophomore, my art teacher (one of the best people I’ve ever met) said the following: “I like my classes with the seniors more. By that time, they’ve developed a personality.” I always thought this was funny because I spent most of my time with her. (Seriously. About 4-5 hours a day minimum).

    I kind of understood it, but not to the extent I do now. Freshman, sophomore, and even junior Hannah lacked the confidence and self love to jump halfway across the world and construct an entirely new life, new self. I’m still amazed there are 14 and 15 year olds who have the courage to do such a thing.

    This weekend was inbound orientation. It was, no exaggeration, one of the best weekends of my life. So many different events across the course of the weekend highlight the level of confidence I’ve achieved, which was nonexistent my early years in high school.

    The weekend started with a talent show. If you know me, you’d know this is the kind of thing I hate, the kind of thing where I hide in the back and hope no one notices I exist. Well, a Rotary intern and my first Brazilian friend had mentioned performing together since I first arrived. I thought he was joking. He was not. So next thing I know, after the Mexicans had performed some awesome dance and people had made funny jokes, Lucas and I are standing in front of all the inbounds “singing” (lip syncing) “The Start of Something New” from High School Musical. It was awesome.

    I’d say the weekend as a whole was a lot like that moment. You’re just kind of thrown into things and you either do really well or you’re terrible and fail, but in the end it’s always okay. The second day we had a competition between three groups of exchange students in various obstacles. I am not athletic, I’ve never been athletic, so I kind of stood to the side of things. But there was one event where they needed the smaller people to carry through a small rope structure without hitting the sides. This was my moment to shine. All I had to do was stay very still, put my hair up, and tuck my t-shirt into my spandex so my teammates could carry me through the rope. This is the event I’ve been waiting for my entire life.

    It’s funny, because I used to be a very private person. I was ashamed of the things I’d done in the past. I thought my actions made me a bad person, an outcast, someone not worthy of love or friendship. I’ve stopped caring about what people know and what people think because the past is the past. It’s what made me who I am and it’s showed me who I do and do not want to be. For this reason, I’ve been able to make friends who know ridiculous, random pieces of information about me. Friends that can tease me and that I can tease. It’s so much more fun this way.

    Skylar, for instance. I swear we are the same person. The same thoughts, the same likes, the same experiences. Well, to some degree. We think similarly. It’s incredible that I only met her in person three days ago, because it feels like a million. The coolest part? We’re probably going to the same university when we return to the US. And if we don’t, we’ll at least be in the same city. And I think that’s pretty cool. Here, we’re 6 hours away from each other, but we’re hoping to meet over our summer vacation and we’ll definitely see each other at the other district events.

    I have to say that in general my favorite part of exchange is the people. I’ve talked a lot about the love I have for Brazilians (or so I think I have) but this weekend I was exposed to so many people from so many different nationalities. I got to talk music with a Mexican boy, talk politics with Americans, talk the Holocaust and WWII with a Polish girl. I got to talk to so many unique people with lives entirely different from my own. That is the exact reason I wanted to go on exchange.

    I’m glad I’ve developed a personality I’m proud of, one that I’m confident of, so much that I can already let loose with you guys. It’s been such a blast to get to know you, whether it’s been the last three days or the last three months. (Yes, three months. Some of us were talking before we came!)

    This weekend was probably one of my favorite yet. Between dancing in the pool and every single exchange student leaving with a sunburn, there was this sense of community and comradeship that filled the air around us. We’re now connected, every single one of us, in a way that can only be understood entirely by exchange students. We’re a different kind of community, a dysfunctional family. I adore you guys.

    Click HERE to read more about Hannah and all her blogs

  • Hannah, Outbound to Brazil

    Click HERE to read about Hannah and all her blogs

    If you’ve seen Mean Girls, I’m sure you’re familiar with the following (cliché) exchange:

    “I like math Damien”

    “Ew why Cady”

    “Because it’s the same in every country”

    Now, I still hate math, as has been confirmed by the last two days of class, but the principle is the same: being an exchange student is hard.

    I’ve gone to school with exchange students for the last four years. We’ve had people from all over: China and Spain, Korea and Brazil, Ghana and Albania. Despite this, I never understood what they were going through. My friend from Ghana, Adwoa, said she cried the first few days and hated things, and I can understand why. It’s hard to transition from one school to another, but especially a school with completely different customs from the previous one.

    My transition period has been difficult, but it could be much worse.

    I am one of four exchange students in my class of about 25 people. Besides me, there’s Alberto from Taiwan, Camilla from Italy, Andy from Colorado. I was very relieved to have another student from the US in my class.

    My school is called Coleguium and it is bilingual. In this aspect, I’m both lucky and cursed. It’s nice to be able to understand things, as other students can help when I don’t follow a conversation, but it also means it’s easier for me to avoid speaking Portuguese at school. So far, all of my classes have been in Portuguese, which I like a lot.

    I have a much harder time understanding students when they speak. They tend to speak all at once, very loudly and quickly, so the words and sentences blend together more than in any other situation I’ve been in. For this reason (and the fact I can never hear), I almost never know what they’re saying.

    Here are some basic differences between my Brazilian school and US school:

    Students stay in one class and teachers rotate around each period.

    It’s appropriate for students and teachers to curse or be vulgar around each other.

    There is no lunch at school, but there is a cafeteria open all day for students to buy food during breaks.

    There is about five minutes between each class and then an extended break, which lasts about 20 minutes.

    The school is literally in the middle of the city. From the top of the building, where PE takes place and where students go during breaks, you can see a lot of buildings around. It is very beautiful.

    All of my teachers are very young. I’d say the oldest is only in her 40s.

    Most classes don’t have homework (yet, at least) and if they do, it’s relatively short. (Tonight’s is 10 math questions)

    It’s acceptable for students to not pay attention at all, which is a bit of a shock coming from Salem where we stand when a teacher enters the room, never talk when the teacher is, and get woken up if we sleep.

    My classmates are very friendly and generous. They always share their books with me and take me with them when they leave the classroom, although I’m sure I contribute nothing of substance to their days (yet).

    There’s a girl named Izabela in my class who has taken me under her wing. She is very good at English and helps translate some words in lessons (like “fixo,” which refers to the Axis powers in WWII) or just translation in general. She’s also helped me with grammar a lot. Today her and another boy helped me say the alphabet, which will be vital to understanding better and also being able to pronounce things the right way.

    Yesterday, they were talking about what foods they should bring to school today for the exchange students to try. During our break today, we had a little pot luck of food. They brought typical Brazilian snacks and I brought some American candy.

    As I mentioned before, I still hate math and don’t care much for science either, but I still like the classes here. When the teachers use powerpoints or write on the board, I can understand what they’re talking about pretty well.

    So far, I really enjoy literature, history, and geography, although literature was a little difficult for me to understand. I’m eager for the day I can analyze Portuguese literature without having to translate so frequently.

    A lot of exchange students hate school or wish they could go on exchange and not go to school, but it’s actually one of my favorite parts of the day. I enjoy getting to know the culture and way of life through the students. I also get exposed to some really interesting content. Today Izabela showed me a portion of the textbook which talks about Brazilian politics. I learned about it a little bit when I was in Argentina from my Juans (I miss you guys) but I’m hoping it’s covered in some of my classes. As I mentioned in my last post, politics are getting a lot of attention in Brazil. This is probably the most interesting topic to me.

    I’ve always loved school. If I could, I would go to school in every country. I think going to school just makes you that much more intimate with the culture.

  • Hannah, Outbound to Brazil

    Click HERE to read more about Hannah and all her blogs 

    Before I came to Brazil, I didn’t know what to expect. People told me about the friendliness of the people and the wonderful food and certain songs that may or may not be relevant anymore, but of course hearing about something and experiencing something is always completely different.

    My first “exchange” moment happened on the plane. I was so nervous. My hands were sweating. I was worried my insufficient Portuguese would get me in trouble (it has, mildly) and my host parents wouldn’t like me for some reason, or something stupid. Welcome to Hannah’s mind! The flight attendant was making rounds. If you’ve ever been on an international flight, they tend to speak the language of the country you’re going to. The flight attendant asked me “frango ou massa” (chicken or pasta) which I knew from Duolingo but my anxiety hindered my understanding. Without even attempting to listen or make out the words , I turned to my neighbor. I’m sure I was white as a ghost and looked like a deer in a headlights. After replaying the moment about twenty times in my head, I finally relaxed and thought about it. I did, in fact, know what he was saying. Had I just relaxed, I could have easily answered the question. So it goes.

    After that cringy situation, I arrived to Belo Horizonte, my city, on Tuesday August 8 at 8 am. I was met by my wonderful pais with a lovely sign!

    I was immediately taken aback by how beautiful the city is. It is much bigger than I thought it would be. Buildings extend on forever and when you’re driving you get glimpses out over the entire city. The city is also surrounded by mountains. That’s why it’s called “Belo Horizonte” (Beautiful Horizon).

    My host parents are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met.

    Meu pai is a graphic designer. Since the moment I met him, he emphasized how much he loves America and wants to learn English. His english is very good but he wants it to be perfect. I told him if he teaches me the rules of Portuguese, I’ll help him with his English. He intends to go to the United States one day, where he wants to go to Florida, California, and New York.

    Minha mãe owns a women’s fashion store. It is incredible. Everything is hand made. The dresses have intricate designs. Everyone there is very nice to me, although I can’t always follow the conversation. There’s a man who works there named Ander and he speaks Spanish, so we were able to communicate.

    I spend most of my time with minha mãe. She is one of the most patient people I’ve ever met. Yesterday after school my brain was fried and around 4 it just shut off. There was a period of four hours where I understood nothing the first time, yet she remained calm and continued to rephrase and explain the meaning of words.

    Some of my favorite moments thus far have been with minha mãe. She actually reminds me a lot of my mom in the United States. She is very religious. In her office at work she has at least seven pictures of Jesus, Mary, and various saints. I personally am not and have never been a religious person, but I envy her devotion to God and the values she upholds.

    We talk a lot about religion, politics, and government. She aligns with Brazil’s conservative values. In the past year, I’ve been called a communist or socialist more times than you count, so I tend to be extremely liberal all around. Although we have very different beliefs, it has been really nice to hear her ideas. Once I get a better grasp on the language, I’d like to ask her more questions about Brazil’s previous leaders, her opinions on current events, ect. Now is a very important time for Brazil because recently there’s been a lot of corruption in the government. It will be interesting to see how they move forward. I very much look forward to the day I can contribute more than a few sentences to a conversation about this topic.

    Because I’m interested in this general topic, minha mãe gave me a book to read about the history of the 20th century entirely in Portuguese. To my surprise, I understand pretty well when I’m reading, although it takes me a lot longer to read.

    Regarding language, here comes the classic line: I wish I had studied more. It’s difficult to remember things because I learn much better in a classroom setting and I’ve never had formal training in Portuguese. Portuguese is written like Spanish but when you speak, the pronunciation of words is VERY different, so it is hard for me to determine when a word begins and ends in a sentence. I attribute much of my confusion to this. When I do understand, I can’t form complete (correct) sentences in Portuguese yet when speaking, so I tend to fall back on my Spanish.

    Despite the confusion, I am so glad I decided to experience this. I am grateful to be here. Thank you to everyone who contributed in making this a reality. This is already one of the best experiences of my life.

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