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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.