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It has officially been a month and some change since I arrived in Brazil and started my Rotary Youth Exchange experience, and I'm finding myself at a hardship to encompass all the feelings and experiences I've had into words! (Which is why I wrote so much.)
When I arrived in Belo Horizonte early in the morning, I waited over an hour to locate my bags, which hadn't arrived and wouldn't for another three days. Despite waiting for me for what felt like forever, my host family greeted me at the airport with flags and beaming, genuine faces, excited to get to know me and welcome me into their home and culture. When I arrived,I I knew the basics phrases and greetings, to my family's surprise, and I was able to converse with them a little over our first meal together (café da manhã) of pão de queijo e café. After the airport my family took me to a mall in Belo Horizonte to find some clothes since I had absolutely nothing, and then we made our way to my town, Ponte Nova.
I started my first day of school that very Monday and I was surprised to be more than graciously welcomed into my classroom by smiling faces who were just as interested in me as I was in them. My classmates, and now friends, stopped at nothing to make sure I was comfortable and included, pushing my desks closer to theirs and helping me understand words and sentences when I was lost, at the expense of their classroom time. This was one of my early, memorable experiences of true Brazilian hospitality and how Brazilians are literally and metaphorically very close with friends and family. At first, I was uncomfortable and just plain shocked at being so close to my classmates and having people speak very close to my face, but what once felt strange to me is already feeling normal, in such a short time.
A change that is big for a lot of exchangers that I felt pretty heavily was the amount of food I eat. Meu Deus!! I cannot count the amount of times I was almost positive my family was done eating, only to be offered yet another item of food! And being an exchanger, with our lively attitude to try new things and penchant to say yes, I of course accepted every time I was offered food. Not that I'm complaining, the food here is absolutely amazing, I just truly couldn't, and still can't, believe how much I have been/am eating!
And the fun part: language acquisition! I mentioned I arrived being able to communicate on a basic level, yet still using my host sister, who speaks some English, as a crutch when I didn't know how to say a word in Portuguese. I find myself improving everyday, and being able to hold more and more advanced conversations with people, but of course there are those days when someone says something to me and I look at them with a blank face because I really have no idea what they are saying to me. I'm sure others can relate when I say: I hate this feeling! It's difficult to not be able to communicate past a childlike level everyday and sometimes it's easier to act like I indeed understood what someone said. Slowly I've learned that this feeling, and the feeling of being uncomfortable in general, is apart of the exchange as a whole and never truly goes away. It's more of a feeling that becomes normal and I choose to use as a motivator to learn more.
As far as my city goes, I'm loving Ponte Nova! It's an interesting experience for me because I've always lived in a large, metropolitan city! For a person that used to drive at least 4-5 times a week, it's a much different experience being able to get to everything I need in life by walking alone! Add that to the fact that no matter what, every time I leave my house, I'm bound to run into someone I know.
Overall, this past month has been a month of new experiences, uncomfortable moments, adaptation, and a lot of putting my trust into others, but this is all what exchange is about!! I'm constantly tired all the time, and misunderstanding others, but the fact that I'm doing well enough to communicate and understand, and make it day by day, even with the hard days, makes me excited to see where I'll be in a month, a few months, and many months from now. I'm definitely in the honeymoon stage but I'm prepared for the difficulties, and the best moments, to come!