Sophia Gomez

 

Paraguay

Hometown: Alpharetta, Georgia
School: Chattahoochee High School
Sponsor District : District 6900
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Alpharetta, Georgia
Host District: 4845
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Luque, Paraguay


My Bio


¡Hola! Me llamo Sophia! I am currently 16 years old and I will be going to Paraguay for the 2018-2019 school year. I live with my mom and stepmom (Lori and Cathy), younger sister (Summer), two dogs (Red Dog and Yukon), and my cat (Tinkerbell) in Alpharetta GA. I’m currently learning Spanish outside of school, so hopefully I’ll know a little by the time I go! I go to school at Chattahoochee High where I am active in my Musical Theater and Orchestra programs. I’m currently in two musicals; Follies and Clue the Musical. I love to sing, dance, play violin, guitar, and ukulele. Outside of music, my passions are writing, drawing, and going on adventures! Going to Argentina for a full school year will really be one of the biggest adventures I’ve ever had. My mom went to Brazil as an exchange student from 86-87, and when I was younger she always talked about her experiences and how much she loved the program, so when we found out that Rotary had started the program here in Georgia, we both became very excited! Hopefully this starts a family tradition that we can experience for generations. This is an adventure I really can’t wait to start, and I look forward to learning all I can about this different culture, and about myself! ¡Chau!

Family Dinner

Family Dinner

More Friends the Day Carmi Left for Canada

More Friends the Day Carmi Left for Canada

Day One

Day One

Festival in the City

Festival in the City

School Days

School Days

My Amazinh School Friends

My Amazinh School Friends

Exchange Orientation Camp

Exchange Orientation Camp

My English Students

My English Students

A very messy lesson with my students!

A very messy lesson with my students!

Mi Debut!

Mi Debut!

Thanksgiving (I made the dinner!)

Thanksgiving (I made the dinner!)

Interact Camp! (So hot!)

Interact Camp! (So hot!)

Exhibition!

Exhibition!

We went to the lake at night for some Fries and Friends time!

We went to the lake at night for some Fries and Friends time!

Painting benches with Interact

Painting benches with Interact

Breast Cancer Awareness Meeting

Breast Cancer Awareness Meeting

Journals: Sophia-Argentina Blog 2018-19

  • Sophia, Outbound to Paraguay

    2nd journal Months 2 and 3

    The world is so much bigger than I ever could have imagined. The past few months have been crazy. The honeymoon period is over and things are starting to seem more normal. Normalish. Life is still crazy most days and honestly I'm struggling to find time to keep track of it all!

    Exhibition: My school has an opportunity for each of the classes to learn a dance and perform it in front of the school in a competition type of thing. It was so much fun! We spent weeks preparing! There were practices on Sundays and after school and every free moment in school was spent going over the dance getting it engrained into our heads until we could've probably done it in our sleep! It was a Hip Hop routine that was to Billboard/Top Ten music in Spanish. I'm writing about this because I think this was the beginning of something very lovely with me and my friends from school. It became a chance for me to bond and talk with everyone, solidifying friendships and building new ones. I loved every moment of it and I feel that my friendships are so much stronger now. It helps that I can speak to everyone much easier!

    New thing about me: I'm blonde! My second host mom took me to the salon and I decided that it was a new year and a new me and I wanted to change something about me to match that. I'm always changing my hair and messing with it so bleaching it blonde really wasn't too big of a change but it definitely was a shock to my friends back home!

    Interact Club: Literally some of the best people I have ever had the fortune to meet. Honestly some of my best friends are in Interact and the club itself is really well run and really fun to be a part of! So far we've done a few projects including painting benches at a church, selling pizzas to raise money for a charity, and selling hamburgers to raise money for an Interact camp in Argentina that I'm going to be a part of!

    Rotaract: So Rotaract is a club for adults ages 18-30 and it's basically for young adults who want to give back to the community. Now, I'm not old enough to properly be a part of Rotaract (there are some meetings held in locations that are for 18+) but all of my host siblings are a part of it, so I contribute as best as I can! We did a project recently where there was a field for people who wanted to play soccer or lacrosse or other sports and there was an expanse of empty land behind it. We got permission and ended up planting about 60 trees in one afternoon in this area! It was so much fun, but it was so hot!!! The weather here is crazy during the spring. One moment it's chilly and the next you feel like your face is melting off!

    First day of Spring: First day of Spring was September 21st and this was when things got tricky to talk back home. Because while we turned our clocks forwards, the USA turned theirs back. So now there's a 2 hour time difference which makes it difficult to find time to call home but we make it work even if it's just one call a month! However there was a party in school for this day! The first day of spring is the same day as Día de los Jóvenes (which is a day to celebrate teenagers) so the school allowed us a day without uniform (still Catholic school appropriate- no legs allowed!) And there was music and food and a LOT of dancing! The teachers were even dancing for a good part of it!

    Teaching English: I think I've found my calling in life. I've never really known what I want to do work-wise. It always seemed like such a daunting question: "What do you want to study in college?" Well first of all, how am I going to pay for college is the first question! College in America is so expensive and the thought of being in debt for the rest of my life sets me a bit on edge, but there's a school in Argentina called UBA (University of Buenas Aires) and it's considered one of the top colleges in South America. And it's free. I'd still have to pay for housing (and pass the exam to get in!) But I'd really like to go there if I get the chance because they have an amazing program for Foreign Language Education, specifically English. Working with my students and seeing them grow and change and learn so quickly (they didn't know how to count to five before and now they know how to count to 20 and they know different types of foods and family members!), it makes me feel really accomplished. It also makes me really really happy. My students have become a huge part of my exchange life and I can't imagine not walking into the elementary school on a Friday and not getting showered with "Hola Tía!!!"s and general excitement over learning something new.

    Mi Debut: I went to a ball! Not only that but I was "presented" at the ball! It was such a strange experience for me having never done anything similar in my life! I had training to walk in high heels (which I can now do for about 8 hours with little problem!) And training for the ball itself! It was technically a competition but since I didn't want to compete, I was just a part of the group for "the experience". I was the first person not born in Luque to participate in this ball (ever!).

    Changing Houses: I am currently with my second host family and let me tell you, it is extremely different. While my first host family was home all the time and there was always a hustle and bustle about the place (so much so that I barely had time to breathe!) My second host family is much more chill. My host parents work all the time and don't really get home until 8pm and since school is out, I'm alone in the house a lot. That's a lot of down time for me so I started 2 music classes for singing and for violin, as well as a chorus and an orchestra! I've also started to have more friends than before and it's very nice to be able to connect even more with new people!

    Tips and tricks after 3 months complete:

    1. Take pictures. Take a lot of pictures. Create an Instagram for your exchange. Post those pictures to Instagram and caption it in your native language and the language you're learning. It's so cool to see the pictures from other exchange students and your family want to see what you're doing back home.

    2. IF YOU GET SICK ASK FOR HELP. I got very sick for a while and I ended up not wanting to go to the doctor for fear of not being able to use my insurance (some exchange students mentioned having problems with it). This was a mistake because it ended up being worse and the sickness lasted about 3 weeks leaving me unable to eat certain food for a while. I'm much better now and I can eat whatever I want, but I think if I had asked for help before, I would've been much happier and healthier.

    3. Honeymoon period is real and it does end! After a while, people stop coming up to you and you need to start going up to them. You need to be the one to take initiative and make friends because you can't expect everyone else to do this for you. Be first!

    4. Oof. Homesickness. It's not fun. I haven't experienced full out, ache in my heart homesick as some exchange students of explained to me, but there are times when I really miss little things like the Thai food shop near my house that I went to eat at with my mom on days when neither of us wanted school food. A good way to combat this is to surround yourself with friends and family in your host country. Whenever I'm feeling a bit down, I can always call a friend and they can come over or we can talk on the phone for ages. It really helps to get my mind back into this country and not back home.

    5. Get rid of old clothes. If you haven't worn it since you've arrived or it doesn't fit anymore for whatever reason, get rid of it. You won't have room for it in your suitcase when you go home so you might as well stay on top of it so you don't need to do a suitcase purge at the end of the year!

    6. Be the exchange student you want people to talk about when you leave. Be nice. Be kind. Be amazing. Make an impression. You're only here for one year. Make it count.

    Besos de Paraguay! Les amo!

    Click HERE to read more about Sophia and all her blogs


    -Sophia Gomez

  • Sophia, Outbound to Paraguay

    What a heck of a beginning to my adventures abroad. I thought I was fully prepared to go but what I wasn't (and couldn't) prepared for, was a storm delaying my first flight from Atlanta to Miami, which made me miss my flight to Santiago, Chile. I was sent to American Airlines (since that was the plane I had just got off) and tried to get myself on a different flight, but they told me that I would have to go through LATAM because that's the airline of the flight I missed. However, LATAM was in the South Terminal, and I was in the North Terminal. Already stressed, I walk for 25 minutes until I find LATAM and I start talking to an agent and they tell me that the only flight they have room on is at 5:20pm the NEXT DAY (Keep in mind is was 11:00pm and this would mean I had to sleep in the airport or find another arrangement). So I ended up calling my travel agent and there was some bits and bobs of drama because of full flights and all that, but finally I asked if I could just stay in a hotel.

    Turns out, minors can't stay in hotels alone.

    At this point I can honestly tell you I was CRYING. Like, not just a few tear drops, like, full on sobbing. Not fun in an airport at 11:00pm. So I called my mom to update her and lo and behold, her motherly knowledge comes in handy. Apparently, I have family in Miami I could stay with. Bless. I called and Uber and ended up getting to their house around midnight. My abuela helped me get situated and then went to bed while I got ready for bed as well.

    The next day my uncle drove me to the airport really early. I was so early that I ended up not being able to check in for 2 more hours. The rest of my travels were pretty uneventful except for one plane "dinner" that was a plate of brie cheese, three crackers, a sandwich with turkey, spinach, tomato and olives (why olives of all things?), And something sweet that tasted vaguely lemony. I did like that flight though. It was a red eye from 12:30am to 5:20am and it was a clear night so all the stars were out. Being a city girl I haven't seen stars very much. There were times when we were flying over a more rural area where the pinpricks of light on the ground mimicked the stars above them and it was difficult to tell where the earth stopped and the sky began. I'm really not looking forward to customs and immigration and visa stuff, especially cause my Spanish is WAY worse than I thought.

    Okay so immigration was super easy thank God. I got my visa and went through in 5 minutes, tops. Customs was literally me putting my bag on a machine that looked inside it and the people running it were NOT paying attention. At all. I forgot I had my backpack on and none of them noticed, or cared. To be fair, it was 5:00am.

    My entire family was there to greet me when I arrived. Literally. All of them. Or so I thought. There were 50 people waiting for me in the airport, but turns out that's just a small portion of my family. Wow. This was when I found out my 3 host families are all one family, and my 3 host dads are brothers!

    After the airport we went to the gas station/restaurant/cafe thing and I got coffee and a GORGEOUS empanada con pollo. So good. We chatted for a while and headed home.

    My family had to go to work so I took a long nap and relaxed because I was tired from restlessly sleeping on the plane.

    Week 1: Oh God week 1 was hectic. I clearly did not understand much and needing my host sisters Carmi and Celsi to act as a translator most of the time. I went shopping and explored my neighborhood with my sister Carmi (who is one year younger than me and also an exchange student going to Canada). One of the things I had to buy was my school uniforms. My Rotary program put me in a Catholic school and having not identified with any religion for quite some time now, it's a bit strange to be praying every day. I love the people in my school but the teachers are very strict and VERY Catholic. I have a few classes I've never taken before such as Lógica and Guaraní and I'm always excited to learn new things so I appreciate it all.

    The first week had a lot of firsts. Foods being most of them. My favorite foods are Chipa and chorizo but I also really like sopa paraguaya, corazón de pollo, and a few others. I even tried yakare (crocodile)!

    I also had my first Interact meeting which was cool because I got to see how kids contribute to the community here. At the first meeting we were raising money for a charity we had picked.

    The first week was also my first Friday teaching English to kids at the school my Host mom works at. I love working with the kids because they're always eager to learn and they soak up all this new information like a sponge. (More about this later).

    I went into the city for the first time and got an empanada and walked around during a small festival with music. This was fun because my host family got to show me the historic bits and bobs of their city, as well as the more modern parts. Turns out, Paraguay had the first train in South America.

    My Spanish comprehension improved a lot my first week but I still struggled to speak anything coherent. I took the 30 day challenge so I haven't had any contact with home but Luque is really starting to feel like home anyway.

    Week 2: The second week flew by like a dream. Rotary meetings, family dinners and even a new edition to the family being born. I became even closer to my family here and my host sister Carmi prepared to leave.

    Week two was really cold. It was so cold that there was one day we didn't go to school because it was too cold to move. I forget sometimes that this is technically winter in this country.

    I helped my friend with a photography project by being a bit of a model for his photos, along with Carmi and my other sister Romi. I continued to help at my Mom's school teaching English to kids and also continued learning more Spanish as it went along.

    Weeks 3 + 4: My Spanish is a lot better and I understand about 80% of what's being said and I can reply with relative decency. God bless life has slowed down a little. I still have lots of random dinners and spontaneous going out with friends for random things. I joined a hip hop group with my friends and while I'm not very good at dancing, I'm having a lot of fun. We spent a day in a country house my family owns, relaxing and eating delicious foods. We managed to take some really good photos and enjoyed the last bit of time before Carmi left.

    The day that Carmi did leave, the entire family went to the airport for a send off and took so many pictures. Carmi will be well missed but she's gonna have so much fun in Canada!

    Cool things that I did:

    Student Exchange Orientation!: This was one of the most fun things I have ever been able to do. We played lots of games and I met people from all over the world! There were a lot of people from Germany and Denmark but I think the students from the United States out numbered the other countries! My district (4845) is also bi-national so we had students from Argentina and Paraguay all together at this camp. It was really interesting to see the difference between the two cultures, even though the countries are so close. (For example, in Paraguay we use two kisses to say hello, in Argentina, you only do one.) I learned quite a bit from this camp, mostly about how to be confident enough to talk to people you don't know in a language that is not your first language! I also got so many pins! My jacket is looking pretty spiffy now!

    Teaching English to Children: Oh boy this is an interesting one. Kids are willing to learn but not always willing to sit still so teaching them English is like teaching 2 month old golden retriever puppies. With my younger group (aged 3 and 4) we teach numbers and colors in any way we can. There was one day where we had them tell us a number and we had to jump that many times while counting each jump in English. I don't know if it helped but I definitely got in my exercise for the day! With my older group, (ages 6 and 7) it's a bit easier to teach and to have them retain the information. Along with numbers and colors, we can teach them things like "Hello!" And "My name is..." And "I'm hungry". But they're still kids and they still want to run around so we come up with crazy things for them to do as well. One of the class favorites is a game where we call out a color in English and they have to find something in the classroom that's that color and run to touch it. I work with some really cool people that are native Spanish speakers but are really good at English, as well as another exchange student from New York.

    Tips and tricks for future exchange students based on my first month:

    1: Wifi is rare and data is expensive. Keep a Notes app on your phone to help you remember tricky parts of the language.

    2: Stay hydrated! There's nothing worse than feeling dehydrated in the middle of school, knowing your break isn't for another hour.

    3: My school starts at 7am and goes until Noon, and that's really early for me, but sometimes things happen and you cannot get to bed until late at night or really early in the morning. Mints are great for this, they wake you up and help you focus.

    4: DO NOT BE AFRAID TO ASK QUESTIONS. You're in a whole different world, but you'll survive as long as you can ask for help. No one will judge you.

    5: Make friends! Then make more friends! You can literally not have enough friends! Spread the love!

    6: Make your host family food but bring an English recipe translated into Spanish to the grocery store! You probably won't have WiFi and determining the difference between baking power and baking soda is hard when they literally look exactly alike and you can't read Spanish.

    7: Stand up for what you believe in, but be willing to listen to both sides. Currently there are a few political issues going on in Argentina that are leaking into Paraguay about topics such as abortions and other things. This can lead to some pretty personal questions about your beliefs. My advice to you is to answer honestly, but respect the other opinion.

    8: If the food is good, eat it. Don't care about gaining weight, it's just a part of exchange.

    Final thoughts of month one: This is my home now and I think when I go home I'll have to leave a part of me here. I haven't experienced much culture shock but that also means I'm extremely comfortable here. My family feels like family and for the first time I genuinely feel at home. I love it here and I think it's going to be very difficult to leave.

    Many kisses and love from Luque, Paraguay! Chau!

    -Sophia Gómez.

    Click HERE to read more about Sophia and all her blogs

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