is October 4th, 2011, exactly two months since I arrived, so I figured it
was time to check in. A lot has changed, probably me more than anything
else. I have grown up. I have learned to open up immensely but also to hold
back depending on the person and your relationship with them. I have learned
that back home is not being held on pause and you cannot be a source of
advice or assistance when you are miles away. You need to live in the moment
here because you will never have it again. I have learned who to trust and
what to trust them with. I have learned that crying does nothing for you. I
have learned that no matter how much you want to squeeze your pride close to
you, you need to go through embarrassments, humiliation, and language
struggles if you truly need something or need to ask a question. I’ve
learned if you laugh through language barriers and stay optimistic, people
will give you as much patience as they can and as much time as you need.
am not going to lie, I have had some days when I wake up, look out my window
over my entire city and ask “Why in the world am I in Brasil? How am I even
here?” Other days I will just be in the car on a long drive and catch a
glimpse of a valley or large mountain and just go into shock thinking “Right
now, geographically, I am IN Brasil, and I will be for another 9 months.”
It’s a bittersweet feeling, but I love it.
Ending and Beginning
I can’t even really recall leaving. It was a blur. Two weeks before, I
had to endure the hardship of saying goodbye to my exchange student Mads
when he returned to Denmark. If I thought that was one of the hardest
moments ever, I had no idea what was coming in two weeks. It seems now like
I could mesh the two goodbyes together they were so close.
I probably did the worst preparing as an outbound. I feel safe to say
this now that I am surviving and loving every single day of my life in my
host country. I did not study up much on the language, I forgot my blazer
before my farewell Rotary meeting and had to return home to retrieve it from
my closet, and I packed for Brasil the day before I left. Yes. This is true.
I feel like I didn’t sleep the night before, and in what seemed like 2
hours, I was awake, dressed, in the airport, bags checked, and accompanied
by my mom, brother, and very close friends, making my way towards the last
sight I wanted to see, security. In a very quick amount of time, we ate
Burger King. Well I think only I did because I was starving, anxious, and
wanted a good final meal in the US. Saying goodbye went by so fast but I
clearly remember the embrace with my mom and best friend Nikki Frechette.
The three of us were very close and hugged for 3 minutes.
After security I realized I was uncontrollably shaking and started crying
hysterically. It came out of nowhere. I traveled from 11am to 6am the next
day. The second plane (a 10 hour plane ride) was a red eye but I didn’t
sleep one minute of my travels. Part of this may have been because there
were approximately 130 screaming, chanting, and singing Brasilian kids my
age returning from a Disney tour in Orlando. After entering the airport and
greeting my family (my 2 host sisters and my father) we went shopping all
day. This was my first impression of Brasil and I did not like it. Eighty
reais for a tank top? Not happening. I then decided right then and there I
will suffer through my year with the clothing I packed.
School started for me the week after I arrived. I was greeted my first day
with hugs and kisses from everyone, and I mean everyone. I became very very
quickly acquainted on my first day with my current great group of friends.
They thought it was funny to introduce me to all of my teachers as Hannah
Montana. School was my first really large culture shock. It is daily from
7am-12:50am. We have three 45 minute classes, a 20 minute snack break, four
more 45 minute classes, and then dismissal. Cell phones, cameras, and iPods
are all allowed during class. No one really listens to the teacher. There is
no mandatory homework, no grading system, and exchange students are asked to
sit in the hall during tests. The desks are never in the same formation for
more than 1 hour. The uniform consists of sweat pants or spandex capris with
the school tee shirt and any sneakers. All of the city’s schools are right
next door to each other as well.
My first host family lives in an apartment. There are 5 floors and 2
apartments on each floor. We live on the 5th and there is no elevator. The
house is far from school and I walk home most days. I love this because when
I am eating the extremely fattening Brasil foods, I justify this by telling
myself “But you walk home every day, you will work it off.” (Trust me, this
is not true.) My host sister, Maria Beatriz is my best friend. She is 16 and
is scarily my twin. Everyone in the town knows her as Tiz for short. (This
in Portuguese is pronounced “cheese”.) She takes me to all of her parties
and I have become very close with all of her friends. I thank her and give
her much credit for this because I know it is not easy to have a tag-a-long
who always needs an explanation to go with her since she looks nothing like
the natives. Margarete is my host mom and her husband is Renato, Tiz’s
stepdad. Renato is the Rotarian of the family. Pietro is my three year old
host brother. Despite him dumping a gallon of rice in Tiz’s and my bedroom
and then using my uniform pants to sweep it all around, or constantly
running in my room and pushing the power button on my laptop during a skype
session, he is the best. I love him. My father owns a construction company
and is at work or on work calls often and travels a lot.
Besides the weekend parties, during the week, there are always churrascos
(barbeques). At the churrascos, you will find so much meat being cooked and
if you literally blink, it is gone. I have probably had 2 bites total since
I have been here. There are also often a lot of Quince Anos which is a
fifteenth birthday. These parties are very expensive and extravagant. Once
in a while, there are class parties as well. I have my good circle at school
which I mentioned before who took me in immediately and we are very close
now. Their names are: Thais, Thaina, Pitu, Bruno, and Igor. My 2 best
friends, who are also inbounds (Victoria from Pennsylvania and Rebecca from
South Africa) are always with me after school or on the weekends.
The clothing here is very humorous. English is on almost everything and it
is rarely spelled correctly or it has very stupid phrases. I have seen
“Michael Jackson is not dead.”, “Kama Sutra”, and “Fashin and Glamur.” The
minute you walk into a store, the employees are breathing down your neck,
literally. If you pick up one item, they will start opening their inventory
and shoving 6 others that have a similar style in your face. If you go into
a dressing room, they will feed you articles of clothing that you didn’t
even look at. Another difference that I had to answer many questions about
is this concept of wearing a ring on your right ring finger. This in Brasil
automatically says you are in a relationship and not available. My class
ring makes my “boyfriend” that I have look real rich.
Nail polish is a necessity here, make-up is not. My mom quickly told me
my nails were ugly and changed that fast. Appearance is very big here with
teenagers. You’re rich if you own: Nike Shox, Gap, Hollister, Kipling, or
Coca Cola clothing. This made me laugh because the majority of the above
with the exception of Hollister are not flattering or “in style” with kids
my age. They love their school supplies too. Pencil bags, notebooks, the
whole nine yards. They are designed with things I had in 2nd grade but they
love it here, girls and boys.
Road Rules are ridiculously different and shocking. They have lines on the
pavement and seatbelts in the cars but neglect to use either. Red lights and
stop signs are barely a tap of the brakes and turn signals are never used.
Speed bumps are every thirty yards, but the same as red lights, you don’t
slow down for them. All streets are one way and all cars are stick shift.
The horn is your best friend and you will use it approximately 80 times per
I think adjusting to the language was extremely and surprisingly easy. I
spoke none before arriving and I learned quickly with my sister’s iPhone
translator, gestures, and charades. Now I can have conversations and do
daily things like check out of a pharmacy or ask where some place is. I have
yet to dream in Portuguese, but all in good time. It may have helped to
study beforehand but it never stuck when I tried and I don’t regret it
because submersion is still the best and fastest way to learn.
Everywhere you look, you will find cheeses, breads, and Brigadeiro (the
amazing chocolate dessert here. It is unexplainable.) My family has fruit in
the house but I rarely see it in cafés. There are never vegetables but
always French fries or potato chip sticks. My favorite meal is the
Stroganoff with chicken. I could eat it everyday. Milk and eggs do not need
to be kept in a refrigerator. This has not settled with me yet and I think I
will hold out on eating each for the year.
Jeans are dressy at the meetings and activities here. No one wears a suit or
dress. My club has many service projects and activities or lunches. Everyone
you see is a Rotarian and every adolescent I know in my town has been, will
be, or wants to be a Rotary Youth Exchange student.
Daily after school, I go eat with my family and then either head home or go
back out with Rebecca and Victoria (the other inbounds). We usually go to
Cravo e Canela Café and/or the shopping avenue.
I am a member at the local gym, which is very different from the Navy base
gym I use to attend in Jacksonville. It is like a vacation getaway here. It
has a bar, a barbeque restaurant, a snack bar, indoor and outdoor pools,
indoor and outdoor soccer, tennis courts, a kids equivalent to Chuck e.
Cheese, indoor and outdoor volleyball courts, and spas. It is very highly
secured as well, I have to give my finger print to enter any area. Soon, I
am going to begin swimming training and tennis lessons.
I’ve always stuck with the belief that God does not give you what you cannot
handle and thought this to be true so far on my exchange until Homecoming
week hit back home one week ago. Only after seeing pictures did it hit me
that my senior class is living and breathing “Senior” every day, walking my
school’s hallways, in and out of classes, going to lunches and
extra-curricular activities without me with them and all I can do is watch
through photographs. This is by far the hardest part of my exchange. Scents
and music are the little helpers, or best friends if you will, of my
nostalgias. Often, I get a familiar scent and crave food from back home. I
think I miss certain places and atmospheres more than people sometimes. One
always has memories with songs as well and this makes it very difficult. I
hear a certain song and it triggers a place and a person or people.
Hopefully these pass in time.
As I exited customs upon entering Brazil, I recognized my sisters from
facebook and hugged my father only to find he was not my father but a mere
stranger who was also suddenly flabbergasted that a crazy American girl was
embracing him like family. After which I noticed my father on a business
call a few feet away.
The week of my second month in Brasil, I realized there were identical twins
in my class that all along I had thought were one boy.
One day while walking home from school, a man pulled over and yelled
“Nossa, voce e Americana!” upon which I started walking very fast away and
panicking inside. As I approached my apartment building I recognized the
same man standing outside the door by his car with a to go bag. It then hit
me that my father had sent an employee out to pick up lunch for my sister
and I and was simply trying to deliver. The worst part was just then I
remembered my father telling me to wait outside school for a driver to give
me Tiz and my lunch. Poor man.
This is all for now. I couldn’t have asked for a better host country and
cannot wait to see what God has in store for me throughout the rest of my
year. I am so thankful that this was handed to me one year ago and saying a
simple thank you to Rotary is nowhere near enough, but it is all I can give
for now. Thank you so very deeply to all of the people who are making this
Sunday, December 04, 2011
Today is December 4th, 2011, therefore marking my first 4 months in
Brazil. I reread that sentence over and over and am so engulfed in
astonishment and awe at how crazy it feels. Sometimes it feels like a year,
sometimes 2 weeks, but the feeling of accomplishment for surpassing 4 months
and the urge and yearning to continuously learn more is over-powering. If
you lay my whole year out on a timeline, you could say I am just about
half-way done. This horrifies me so much to think about. Four months down,
Christmas tapping me on the shoulder, and then 5 months before I temporarily
pause my foreign friendships and Brazilian life to return home. I will not
use the word “end” because I plan on returning, more than once. It will
never be over.
When I attended my final Rotary meeting in Jacksonville, I gave my
farewell speech encompassing the idea of exchange being compared to a roller
coaster. I explained (in a much shorter description since my president asked
me to keep it short to fit the time slot) that you buckle into your seat,
mentally and physically preparing to leave your foundation on the ground. As
you slow your breathing, try to relax your body, and fix your flaws like
hair in your face or nervous shaking in your palms, you imagine what you are
about to experience. Once you’re strapped in, there’s no turning back, you
just need to trust your foundation holding you there to introduce you to
these new found twists and turns, maybe even several drops. There will be
drops you don’t like, straight distances of just track where you’re asking
“What’s next? This is dragging on”, twists you never expected in a million
years, and corkscrews you wish you could reverse and do all over again. Once
you have finished your run through, you are still so exasperated about what
you just experienced that there are no words. After the cooling down time
passes, you set your opinion into stone and wish you could go strap in
again. Finally, once you’re ready to move on to other rides, you have the
memories you will hold dear forever and tell to future riders.
Well in 4 short, very fast moving months, I have been so thankful to be
on such a phenomenal coaster. I’ve been praised, scolded, interrogated,
moved to my second house, and taught. Learning, learning, learning. I feel
like in 4 months, I have aged 6 years. One month ago, I moved into my second
family’s home. I am in love. My house is so relaxing and chilled out. I can
take naps on the living room couch, peacefully play piano, sleep or read a
book in the outdoor hammock, ride my bike around the city, or even grab the
city bus into town with a bus stop literally right in my front yard. I have
2 dogs, a Greyhound and a Dalmatian, both which have created great bonds
with me. I have 2 siblings, 9 year old Leonardo (Leo) and 7 year old Natalia
(Nati). My parents are Marcos and Renata; both young, fun, and very
musically oriented. We even have an outdoor “hang-out room” with a drumset,
a row of different types of guitars, tambourines, and many other cool
intsruments. My father works in the children’s intensive care unit as a
surgeon and my mother is a professor at the college UNESP in the forest,
nature, and flora and fauna field.
School has let out for summer break so I am very lucky to get to sleep in
and casually go to the gym by bus at whatever hour I feel. In 6 days, my
mother will arrive for the halfway mark of my journey. We will spend time in
Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and my city of Botucatu. She is only coming for 9
days which is actually great because it is right before Christmas.
I feel that I have definitely hit the stage where I am asking “Where did
the progression go? Where is my improvement?” but it was bound to hit and
all I have to do is keep working and keep conversing with natives, focusing
on what words I didn’t know yesterday that I do today. I’ve come to the
realization that I have also begun to fit in which in most cases in life,
this is wonderful, but on exchange it means the exotic, new, interesting
foreign girl is not so interesting anymore. She is steadily speaking our
language and we are out of questions. This causes a very difficult wall to
break down when it comes to asking to go out together, suggesting to spend
the night at each other’s houses, and entering into very fast, slang-filled
conversations that do not include you. I will say that it has become very
easy to manage though. I can communicate well enough to buy minutes for my
phone, purchase clothing, get groceries or lunch, or ask when the last bus
past on my own. I have even had one or two interesting conversations at the
bus stop, Forrest Gump style.
I still love my country here and believe it is ever-changing every day. I
will never want to go home, but I have sunk in. I have become a resident of
this wonderful city. I have changed even though I do not see it yet. And I
have learned and become a better person. Thank you, Rotary. I can’t go a day
without thinking where I’d be in the United States right now just dreaming
of this adventure without your help.
Happy Holidays everyone.
It is February 4th so it’s time for my 6 month mark. Unbelievable. Half a
year away from home. Concluding my US life and embarking feels like
yesterday, so how in the world has 6 months past here in Botocatu, Sao
Paulo, Brazil? I can’t wrap my head around it. At this point, it is all
about transitioning. Things are changing. Don’t get me started on the
seasons changing because I cannot even walk a block without dripping sweat.
But that is the slightest of changes occurring. I have definitely come in
and out, depending on the day, of homesickness, but halfway through you have
mixed feelings the worst. Most kids will say I never want to leave or I am
never going home, but I am much more logical than that. I look forward to
going home. I look forward to telling my story. Soon after I return home, I
will be shifting my life completely and changing everything I have ever
known as I move to Europe. Not on exchange, but as the next step in my
lifelong journey towards my destination. In a way, I am very excited to get
home. Then there is the feeling of vomiting repeatedly and crying buckets
when I think about leaving everything I have learned to love, learned to
hate, and learned to accept. I will have to pack up and leave everyone I
Since we have past into 2012, the foreign friends I have made has changed.
Iny my city, I had 2 best friends, Victoria from Pennsylvania and Rebecca
from South Africa. South Africa exchanges January to January, so Rebecca
left us. It was very difficult but soon after, Hudson joined us from
Australia. I don’t know what we had done without him all along, but I am so
glad we have him in the group now.
Things are currently going very well. I just switched to my THIRD host
family. So strange to imagine how much time has passed since my first. This
family is so incredible and so perfect, I know there has to be someone out
there looking out for me. I live in a two story house on the center of town,
I have 2 dogs, I have a swimming pool and huge barbeque kitchen all outback,
I have a sauna, I have a balcony off the front of the house, and I have a
very young, sweet couple for parents who have the most darling little 2 year
old daughter named Maria Eduarda, but we call her Duda.
School has resumed and I am in the equivalent to a US senior class with my
best friend Victoria from Pennsylvania so school is more than I could ask
for. In the spring I will be going on the month long South Tour to the south
of Brazil, Iguassu Falls, and other South American countries. I return to
Jacksonville, Florida on June 3rd. I have 4 remaining months and I plan to
make them the best months of this year. Thank you so much, Rotary.
Well I may be 19 days late here on April 23th, but I hit 8 months on
April 4th. The last time I wrote, I skipped Christmas and New Years so I
will fill in now. A lot has happened. Since February 4th, I have had my
birthday, changes have occurred at school, I have gone on a trip, and I just
moved to my final family.
I have definitely done my fair share of traveling around Brazil. The week
before Christmas, my mom came to visit for 10 days. I met her in Sao Paulo
where we toured for 2 days before flying off to Rio de Janeiro for 4
relaxing days in the sun on Copacabana beach. After visiting Pao de Acucar
and Christ the Redeemer, we flew back to my city and stayed for 4 days to
spend time with my friends and family here in Botucatu and to show my mom
what and where I have spent my time for the 5 months before. Sooner than I
hoped, her trip ended and my family was taking me right back to Rio for New
Years. We spent 15 days there and it was wonderful.
My birthday came on March 9th and I had a wonderful celebration from my
friends at school then a nice dinner with Victoria and Hudson that evening.
The week after, Victoria and I were moved down a grade because of overflow
on student capacity in our grade, so we were placed into second year. Again.
We have managed just fine though.
March 23rd, I took a bus to Aracatuba to begin the South Trip. Here, I met
with 10 others and we headed to Foz do Iguassu. There we met more and our
first part of the trip group was around 20 people. We went to the waterfalls
on the Argentina and Brazil sides (even in a boat under the falls) and we
went shopping on the streets of Paraguay as well. Then we moved on to the
southern cities of Brazil consisting of Curitiba, Florianopolis, Gramado,
Canela, and Porto Alegre. We did very many tours and sight saw everywhere.
In Curitiba, we had museums and gardens. In Florianopolis, we went to the
beaches and shopping. In Canela, we went to parks and German bakeries. In
Gramado, we went to chocolate factories and vineyards. Porto Alegre is where
we met the last group of newcomers for the South Trip. Here we became 35.
With this amazing group of unforgettable people, we went to Montevideo
Uruguay, Punta Del Este, Uruguay, and Bueno Aires, Argentina. This was my
favorite part of the tr ip. I made phenomenal new friends and saw
astonishing places I wish I never had to leave. On April 15th, the trip
ended in Aracatuba and I spent the weekend there with my new friends.
Now I am back here settling in again and 3 days ago I just moved to my last
host family. They are wonderful. I have a 14 year old sister Isabella and
wonderful parents Carla and Renaldo. Renaldo is the president of my club. I
have 2 dogs and a brother Arthur as well but he is currently exchanging in
Pennsylvania. I will live with this family for approximately a month until I
go home. It pains me and even makes me feel sick to think of leaving this
incredible place. I have made so many friends, memories, mistakes, repairs,
and much much more. I want to stay forever but I know that isn’t logical. I
am comforted by the fact I know I can always come back. No one is
disappearing off of the Earth, I am just going home. Everyone will just
continue living and if I ever feel that I miss them terribly, I can see them
with a little money and time spent traveling. The people I have met and
places I have seen will always be forever in my heart.