Hello! It has been awhile since my last journal, and man does it feel like it. October feels like it happened eons ago. Let me catch you up to speed.
November- Early December
Through this time, I was going to school, trying to keep busy, form relationships with my classmates, the whole nine yards. I had a very set day to day life. I would wake up and go to school, come home have lunch, nap, workout, eat dinner and repeat. At this point I was not very close with anyone in my city but my host family. As time had gone on, I made some friends from school and others from Rotaract (a volunteer group of people from 18-25 years old). I was still having lots of issues with homesickness being that it was still early in my exchange and it was holiday season. I had some really rough patches but overall stayed strong.
The most important thing I had in this time was working out. I was staying active and healthy and it really helped me clear my head. Which I really needed because I started to have some issues with my host family. I still love and adore them, and I am so incredibly thankful for them. But there were little things that would push my buttons on the daily. None of the issues were major, just little things that happen when you live with someone and are with them 24/7. One really important tip my sweet best friend Grace Schneider told me is: when facing issues on exchange instead of thinking negatively on the problem, look at it from a new perspective. Such as, “Wow, I can’t believe my host mom wakes me up at 7’o’clock every Sunday to clean my room… BUT I can’t believe this is happening in Brazil!” So instead of dreading on the fact that a situation is not ideal, I have found it super beneficial to use this mindset.
I also really enjoyed school, I was able to converse with people and practice my language skills. I have super sweet classmates, so they helped make it a super enjoyable experience. School was also a mini escape from my host house, I was there a lot because my host family never really went out. So, going to school gave me an assured time to go out.
Early December- January
This time period was “ferias” or summer vacation for Brazil. School was over and it was time to celebrate. During this time my host sister and I were going out a lot, hanging out with friends, going to parties, etc. It was super fun and I made some really good friends. I was able to really work on my Portuguese because I was constantly surrounded by only Portuguese speaking people. I got to a really strong point with my language and could taste fluency.
I made some super crazy and fun memories with my host sister and just enjoyed myself the best I could. I never was too bored because there was always someone to hangout with or something to do. Homesickness was still present but was nothing too awful. Like I said, I was super busy so I didn’t ever have too much time alone to think about home. Christmas was a little sad, but I was super excited to celebrate like a Brazilian so it wasn’t awful. I was fairly underwhelmed by how uncelebrated it is here, coming from my family back home who truly decks the halls.
Throughout the whole month of January, I was traveling all over the Northeast of Brazil. Rotary Brazil offers some big trips (you have to pay for) and I chose to take one called, the Northeast Dream Trip. I can confidently say this was one of the best months of my whole life and easily the best of my entire exchange. It was me and 50 other kids from all over the world. I made some amazing friendships, saw some breath-taking sights, and really was able to get to know the Northeast of Brazil.
I cannot describe the gratefulness and joy of what this trip brought to me and my exchange. I was beginning to feel very trapped in my host city, being that it is a fairly small city with very little to do. Taking the trip let me experience some beautiful parts of exchange and beautiful parts of Brazil. The experience was so life changing.
The only issue with going on a trip with 50 other exchange students is that English is used more often than the host language (typically). Due to the universality of English, it is easiest to create bonds and get to know each other in English. For me it was really my first time speaking only English for awhile because my host city has very few English speakers. I definitely saw myself lose some language skills but at the end of the day it was nothing major, and I was able to practice Portuguese with our coordinators and natives in the cities we visited.
In the beginning of February, I got home from my big trip, and the following week I had to change host families. It all happened very quickly and left me in a pretty sad state. After my trip I was exhausted from over 30 days of travelling, I was super sad to have parted from many, many great new friendships, and upset to return to my host city which is very minuscule compared to the giant cities of the Northeast. On top of all that I had to change from my host family who I had become very comfortable living with. My new host family is very kind, I really like them, but any host family change is difficult.
Thankfully school was starting up again, I was very happy to get back and see my friends with my new tan I achieved from “ferias”. Being that my language has become a lot stronger, I am able to participate more in school. It is such an odd feeling than when I first arrived, now that “the gringo” has been living here for 7 months and is no longer hot, fresh, and exciting news. It feels super nice to feel like a regular student who is just living their Brazilian lifestyle, but I can’t lie, being the famous exchange student is also quite fun.
This month has flown by, I feel like it was just last week that I sat down and said, “Time to write this journal, it’s already March.” And now March is over? This month has been full adaptation, 100% living my Araguaínese life. I go to school, come home, eat lunch, workout, and hang out with the host family. It is difficult to go out with friends because school has started back up and everyone is always studying. My class is Brazilian “senior year”, and it is a very important year for them. They take their SAT/ACT, called ENEM, and that decides what course they can take in college. This singular test basically decides what they can do for college.
This month holds the famous Carnaval of Brazil! Where I live unfortunately Carnaval is not celebrated very much, it is more famous in the Northeast. Luckily my new host family took me on a trip to the capital city of my state, Palmas, Tocantins. It is a beautiful city and Carnaval is celebrated there (thankfully). I went to some typical Carnaval “block parties” where everyone runs around in the streets, wearing costumes. I loved this fun little trip, and it definitely helped to get comfortable with the new host family.
I have started going to a gym and doing weight lifting. I walk to and from the gym, and this time is so precious to me. I really try to take in everything and create as strong of a mental picture I can. It is nice to have these 20 minutes just to myself to think because when I am home, my little host siblings are normally all over me and I don’t have too much privacy. Just as working out helped me clear my mind in November, it is doing just the same again now.
Things with my host family have become very smooth and they are really growing on me. My host dad called me “son” for the first time, and it made me feel very happy. Finding little pieces of happiness like that are super important for this time of exchange because things can get incredibly frustrating. The time is ticking away every day, language can be aggravating, homesickness still kicks in, so really working to focus on the positive aspects of exchange is essential.
I am in a really happy state. Yes, I can openly state that the thought of going home crosses my mind at least once a week, but whoever says they don’t think of that is lying. I feel very successful with what I have accomplished so far and am so excited what these next few months have to bring for me and my exchange! I hope you enjoyed and get prepared… next week I leave for my Amazon trip, once week in the Amazon living on a boat!
Hugs and kisses from Brazil!
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