It’s hard to imagine that only a few weeks ago I was sitting at home daydreaming about Brazil. Before I arrived, I had no idea what to expect. I had formed many ideas in my head about what exchange would be like, but in reality, I was clueless that I would be living what is now my day to day life.
My flight touched down in Belo Horizonte, the capital of my state, Minas Gerais. From there, my host family picked me up. Immediately I felt a part of the family as if I had known them for years. We then went to eat dinner where I had my first tastes of the Brazilian cuisine. I ate rice and beans with with farofa, mandioca fries, steak, and chicken hearts on a stick. Now every exchange student talks about their experiences trying “exotic” foods, so for me, this was definitely one of them. I’d say out of all the things that I’ve tried, I’ve especially liked the fresh acai and salgados (various Brazilian pastries).
My second day in Belo Horizonte my host family and I visited some extended family where we all sat on the rooftop balcony and talked the entire night. This was an absolutely amazing experience and introduced me to the Brazilians’ love of simply being in each others company for hours on end. As we sat of the rooftop and watched the belo horizonte (Portuguese for beautiful sunset) in Belo Horizonte, I had my first aha moment. My exchange had started. I was to be living, eating, and speaking Portuguese like a Brazilian for the entire next year.
After four days of exploring Belo Horizonte, my family and I drove four hours to Viçosa, my new home. My bedroom window opens up to a huge Ipe tree (the national tree of Brazil) that is currently in bloom with yellow flowers. I share a Jack and Jill bathroom and closet with my host sister, which is great because makes it really easy to hang out.
My typical week has come to vary a lot, but it is loosely structured with a routine, something I believe to be really important in having a successful exchange. Three days a week my host mom drops me off at ensino médio (high school) by 7 AM. I’m currently in the second year of high school and have six classes a day with a twenty minute break in between. Another thing I like about my high school is that we stay in the same classroom with the same classmates while the teachers move between subjects. This made it a bit easier for me to get to know my classmates and make friends. One thing I love about my experience here so far is that everyone is very animated and curious to know each other. My classmates are always very accepting and willing to help if I don’t understand something.
The other two days a week I go to Univiçosa, a university less than a 15 minute walk from my house, with my host sister. She goes to Univiçosa full time for psychology. Therefore I have been privileged to audit classes with her, get to know her friends and classmates, as well as understand a piece of university life here in Brazil.
I always love telling the story about my first day at Univiçosa. When I arrived to class, the professor immediately started to lecture about the upcoming semester and what the class will be like. I was understanding bits and pieces of the lecture, but definitely was missing something. The professor kept saying this one word “comportamento,” probably about 50 times. I had no idea what it meant and for the rest of the class it became sort of a mystery game to figure it out. I finally discovered “comportamento” meant “behavior.” Ironically enough, I later found out the title of the class was Behavioral Analysis and that the entirely of the class was about “comportamento.”
I’d say this story encompasses a lot of experiences I have had since the beginning of my exchange. A lot of things are lost in translation and many times I have no idea what is going on, but slowly day by day I’m learning more and more about Brazil and the Portuguese language. I’ve found that I can hold longer and more profound conversations. I’ve found that it’s getting easier to connect with people and forge deeper relationships with those around me. It all depends on me being open to putting myself out there, unafraid to make mistakes.
I’ve also learned to appreciate my host family and each and every friend I’ve made, because those are the people who are supporting me. Something as simple as going to the open market with my host mom to buy groceries is valuable. I’ve also learned to be more flexible and malleable, because not everything is going to go as planned. I have had to accept that and realize it’s inevitable, but on the other hand, things I never even fathomed before exchange have also happened. That’s what I think is absolutely incredible. Yes, I won’t lie. There are days that are harder than others, where I may feel alone, miss things, or make mistakes with my host family. But these are the things that make exchange matter, that make exchange significant. It’s a chance to seek discomfort. It’s the opportunity rotary gives you to change your life forever.
This past weekend D-4580 had its first orientation. The ten exchange students in my district met in a city called Juiz de Fora. From there we drove to our coordinator’s farm in the countryside. It was an absolutely incredible weekend. It was my first time meeting the other exchange students in my district and we all immediately hit it off. At the farm we hiked, rode horses, had a churrasco, picked farm fresh eggs and mandioca, and much more. I will never forget the trip and I got to meet many Rotarian in the district who are supporting me. Our last night, our coordinator, Juliana, and her husband told us the history of the farm, showing us tools and objects they found over half a century old. One object that was especially interesting was an unopened glass bottle of snake venom antidote that had expired 50 years ago.
Over all I’d say that my experience here has been beyond anything I could have imagined. I’m not going to lie and say that everything has been easy, because it’s not. Coming here, it has been up to me to adjust, learn the language and make stronger relationships. It has been one of the hardest challenges I’ve faced in my life. But it’s these challenges and slowly overcoming them that is the most rewarding achievement.
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