Thoughts on Exchange
Today is September 15th. Time is passing so quickly and I am learning so
much about everything . I don’t even remember August. It was a blur which in
a sense makes me feel like I wasted a month fooling around not getting
adjusted. But then again I did do a lot, so it is almost as if I stopped
seeing through the eyes of “the tourist” and now finally “the exchange
student”. I think back to days where I was frustrated and lonely or just
ready to be fluent, but now I look and see that this whole thing is like a
flight of stairs and each experience is the next step to the top. But like
any staircase if you try to skip steps you take the risk of falling. With
that I finally realized that I shouldn’t try to “skip steps” , take my
exchange slower, calm down and let it ride even if it means making mistakes,
which I shouldn’t be afraid of. For future exchange students, I think in the
first few months observance of the language, the people and your actions are
very important things to do, you learn about a lot of things you never knew
1st Host Family
I honestly feel lucky to have ended up in the family I am in. They are
helpful, supportive, intelligent, very funny and make really good food. I so
far have enjoyed my time with them.
These Past Few Weeks
-I can officially say I have activities, I am taking xilogravura on
Mondays and Wednesdays but unfortunately the Theatre class was on those days
at the same time as well so I went with what I was unfamiliar with. I hope
to enroll in a French class because I am slowly losing my two years of
previous learning. I also would like to try kite surfing (at my mother’s
approval) and Capoeira but who knows, I tend to bounce from activity to
activity so the next best thing may appeal to me more.
-I am enjoying school very much so, though understanding what is being
taught varies day to day, I LOVE SCHOOL. The kids in my class are very crazy
and nice. I have been asked multiple times to read out loud and after each
time the class has erupted in applause ,even though I mispronounce some
words and read very slow. Everybody in school knows me even if I don’t know
them, when I walk into school I get plenty ‘Bom Dia Mackenzie’s. I also have
acquired a rainbow of nicknames such as Mackie, Maquina (machine in
Portuguese), Quinze (15 in Portuguese), Americana, Mackle and Grorgran (my
middle name pronounced in some Brazilian accents) and pretty much any word
that sounds even remotely like Mackenzie.
-When out walking, people don’t automatically assume I am from the United
States and I don’t exactly meet the characteristics of a gringa ( white
skin, blonde hair, blue eyes), so a lot of days people ask me if I am from
Africa. This happens in school sometimes as well.
-I went to my first Rotary meeting, in which I gave an impromptu speech
that I wrote down on the back of a piece of scrap paper.
-Hung out with friends/went to a party where I sang karaoke…
-I got lost on my way to buy bread at the bakery, a very scary and sweaty
-I dreamt in Portuguese three times, all very strange dreams; each took
place in Tallahassee with people from the U.S. , I was naked in each one,
and I was bald as well. But hey at least it means my Portuguese is going
-I also attended the Inbound Orientation at the gorgeous Maragogi beach
or the Brazilian Lake Yale. Except, the food was great, we stayed in awesome
bungalows and all of the male Rotarians wore speedos to swim in(yikes). It
was nice to spend a weekend with other exchange students who can relate to
you. I ate chicken hearts which are DELISH, saw a capoeira show and danced
the Forró (badly), I stepped on my dance partner’s feet almost every other
step  But it was truly one of the best nights of my life.
-Explained the concept and use of dryer sheets to my host mom and host
grandma after my host sister in Canada spoke to them about her crazy host
family “Putting napkins in the drying machine”.
-Got yelled at by multiple street vendors.
Differences/Things I noticed
-So many daily actions are done differently. I have really seen the other
ways of living, when I never even thought there were other ways to do it.
-Food: Rice, beans and meat : basic Brazilian lunch . The food here is so
fresh, every meal I have had here has been delicious (other than the
tapioca), I can’t tell if I am gaining weight or losing weight because I am
eating so much healthier than I did in Florida, but I am eating more.
-There are a lot more stray cats, dogs and sanguis (monkey/lemur things)
, but unfortunately no matter how much I would like a pet sagui , they all
-People shower more here (2,3 maybe 4 times a day)
-Sometimes, people will just randomly light fireworks on the beach (like
the kind they use at Disney), illegal or legal people do it.
-Coffee is served after dinner
-People change clothes a lot more often here but also wear an outfit more
than once before washing it
-All people have AT LEAST two cell phones, or two SIM cards
-The bathing suits are smaller than my underwear, my bathing suit bottoms
are about the same as the male speedo here
-Don't drink the tap water, it will end badly.
-You can get a pair of Ray Bans, Harry Potter 7 part 2, a 'new' watch,
lettuce, if you can name it you can probably buy it from one of the many men
selling it on the beach in front of my apartment.
-People almost never touch food with their hands, they use silver wear
for most meals and street food is eaten with a napkin.
-Brazilian time is different, if you plan to meet someone at 2:00 then
leave the house at 2:15. If you plan on going on a trip and leave right
before lunch, you won’t ,you will probably leave at 3:00 . And if class
starts 7:00 it really starts at 7:30.
-Traffic Laws are more like Traffic Suggestions, if you’re in a hurry
don’t be afraid to create a third lane in the two lane road.
-The cross walks don’t have lights, so you go when a car stops for you,
which is not guaranteed so sometimes you wait 10 minutes to cross or risk
-The people: most Brazilians have a really cool attitude towards family,
friends and life in general.
So far this week has been one of the harder ones, I am not homesick and
haven’t felt it yet at all, but my favorite activity xilogravura, has ended
for the entire year. It kind of gave me a sample of how hard leaving Brazil
is going to be even though this was just one thing ending, and if there is a
first there will be more. It also made me think that exchange is really just
change, you first change countries; then change your family and friends;
change your language; change families here (which I am not looking forward
to now as I am quite content with mine). And of course the little things
like activities, maybe the way you get home, or the type of toothpaste you
use. Whatever it is, it is change, and frankly is the only thing that is
forever, and especially on exchange where nothing is forever.
Today marks the end of month 2 in Brazil.
This past weekend was great. I went with my host family to the praia da
Pipa or Pipa Beach. Pipa, is the most beautiful beach I have ever been to in
my entire life, and being a Floridian I have been to many.
So this weekend I went to Recife and Olinda with my host family, we
toured the city, saw the gorgeous churches (most over 300 years old), and
spent most of my allowance haha . Though I love João Pessoa, weekend
trips allow me to taste what the rest of Brazil is like. For example in
Recife I saw some of the most expensive apartments in the world (one had a
helicopter pad on the top), but mere miles away from the most impoverished
favelas. Seeing houses made out of scrap cardboard/sticks/plastic and
basically whatever can be found, made me truly see how we really don’t have
the same type of poverty/wealth difference in the United States. It is kind
of funny, in the U.S. we have so many things that are supposed to make us
happy yet we are not very content, when some kids here have to sleep on the
concrete or worse. Now this doesn’t mean that all kids in Brazil live in
favelas (of course not), I go to a school with literally the richest kids in
my city. But it does mean that we really should put all bad situations in
our lives into perspective.
Well that is it for now, and if you are a future exchange student
considering applying for Brazil, do it. Exchange is everything you think it
is, and then again it's not.
Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth – Baz Luhrmann
Tuesday, December 06, 2011
November 15, 2011
I have been living in Brazil for 109 days. Wow.
Life here has become, well, life. It would be incorrect to call my life
here normal, because it’s not, but it is getting more comfortable. Friday is
the first day of summer vacation; no school until January 31st! My
Portuguese is slowly getting better, but I still have a good 2 to 3 months
before I think I will be fluent.
A Day in the Life
In these blogs we were told to tell our readers more about day to day
life than the specific things we have done. So I guess I will take you
through a day of being a Rotary Youth Exchange Student in João Pessoa,
On days that I have school, I wake up at 6 to attend school at 7. But
regardless of what country you’re in, waking up at 6 a.m. to go to school is
still awful. From 7ish to 12ish I am in school. I say ish because here time
is never set exactly. I have lunch at home with my host family, which takes
about an hour or so. After lunch I generally help clear the table and wash
dishes. Depending on the day I may or may not have something to do after
school. Some days I go back to school to design class, if not that just
taking city walks or having a coconut on the beach. If not that I am
probably hanging out with some my other exchange student friends Shankar
from Minnesota, Hannah from Germany and Ondrej from the Czech Republic. I
really enjoy hanging out with Hannah, Shankar and Ondrej, whether it is
getting lost on the bus system or going to random street festivals, we
always have fun. Here there are a lot more holidays, so every other week
(sometimes more, sometimes less) I have no school one of the days. On the
weekends I usually go to the beach for the daytime portion, and at night I
go out to eat with school friends, to the cinema, or on special occasions to
I can take the bus/taxi/ or walk to almost any destination without
getting (too) lost. I know which roads aren’t safe to walk on at night, and
which parts of town has favelas. I know to not trust/ignore the men on the
beach who sell cashews out of pillow cases, especially when they tell you
that you’ve got nice teeth. I know where to get the best acai and which
sidewalks smell funky. I know now never flash your cell phone out at the
beach, or you and your friend may have to track down a thief and buy it back
for 250 reais. Finally I know that Rotary in foreign countries aren’t always
going to take the same care of you as they would in the U.S. So if it has
been 3 months without an allowance and no 2nd host family planned, you need
to stop being polite and speak up. Independence feels weird. But it feels
-Back in October there was this holiday Dia das Crianças, or Children’s
Day where traditionally you are supposed to give a gift to a child. So of
course my Rotary Club had a cool service activity for us exchange students.
Our job was to buy/collect as many toys as we could and then on Children’s
Day we would go to a poor community and give the kids gifts. So we went to
the community of Bayeux, a city composed of mostly favelas, but we went to
this old gymnasium with about 40 people living inside because their favela
had been destroyed by a mudslide. It was intense, it was poverty, it was a
different experience. The one thing I really didn’t like (and have felt this
since I arrived here), was the wall between rich and poor. My Rotary Club
arrived wearing gold watches, designer jeans and sunglasses. While the
people we were giving gifts to, were wearing torn, dirty clothes and had
next to nothing. The majority of the time the other exchange students and I
were told to take pictures and pose with the poor kids. I felt like we were
being placed above them. Though it did make the kids happy, I did not feel
comfortable with the air that we gave off.
November 29, 2011
Yesterday marked the 4th month. How do I feel? Weird. Every time the 28th
rolls around I get this feeling that I am running out of time. So I
reevaluate myself, double take on this new life. It makes me sad to think I
have to leave this life in a few mere months. But at the same time, I love
the feeling of having done/doing things. I like being able to say things
that other 15 year olds can’t. Though not to sound boastful…well yeah I am
boasting, I am living a tropical paradise for a year how can I not boast?
I feel like I have a bunch of puzzle pieces for Portuguese and right now
I am in the process of aligning them. Though I am still missing a few pieces
my Portuguese is moving along slowly.
December 2, 2011
I love being an exchange student. I love waking up by the beach. I love
how Brazilian streets smell funky. I love how I spend all of my money on
açai, my cell phone and my bus pass. I love how I can buy a day trip of
snorkeling in the Red Sand Reef for the same price as 2 bottles of Colgate
toothpaste. I love how my hair is turning blonde. I love listening to
Brazilians argue. I love being able to say I am a Rotary Youth Exchange
Last weekend I had the pleasure of accompanying my host mom and her best
friend Suelana at a church procession. Now I thought it was just going to be
a walk with a few people from their church but it turned out to be 300,000
people walking 14 km up and down mountains. It started at 10 pm and went to
4am. It was pretty awesome.
As for the holidays, I don't really feel homesick at all yet. Sometimes I
feel that I am missing out on certain holiday aspects of the U.S. (making
Christmas cookies, putting up the tree etc). My host family is taking me to
Brasilia for Christmas and in January I am going to Fortaleza for 10 days.
So hopefully being around a lot of people, and touring will keep me
Last time I wrote it was a bit before my Rotary trip to Recife, Christmas
time, and my trip to Brasília.
The holidays in general were really awesome and special for me. To start off
with my Rotary trip to Recife. Unorganized, crazy, fun. Though Rotary here
originally planned to bus us down to Recife on Friday the at 5 am, we didn’t
leave until Saturday at 9 am. It was another fun but too short trip with the
other exchange students. We went to a several tourist sites during the day
Saturday and at night we went to the Christmas party. Well it was quite a
funny party as we all were asked to bring a gift to give in the gift
exchange. I wasn’t really sure what to get since it was anonnymous. So I
just brought one of the jars of peanut butter my mom sent me, hoping it
would land in a peanut butter lover’s hands. Well it did, it was actually
stolen in the gift giving game 11 times and eventually bought by a homesick
American for 40 reais (30 bucks) .
On December 18th my host family and I flew to Brasília to my host mother’s
cousin Sylvia’s house; where we would be staying for the next 10 days. Now
first of all I am living in João Pessoa which has the climate of a tropical
paradise. Living in João Pessoa is like living in a sweaty armpit. So I of
course brought majorly shorts and tank tops only to find that Brasília is
freezing. But fortunately my host cousins lent me multiple jackets and
sweaters. When I arrived in Brasília I was greeted by my host uncle
Guillherme, host aunt Sylvia and host cousins Marina (19), Luisa (15) and
Pedro (8). It was like going on a double vacation. Every day we woke up at
noon (in which I am usually used to waking up at 7 am or 8 am because it
gets too hot to sleep after that in João Pessoa). We toured the city of
Brasília which in my opinion wasn´t that naturally beautiful , but more
architecturally beautiful. And since it w as the season to be jolly almost
every other night there was a Christmas party at some relatives’ houses. The
biggest party was held on Christmas Eve and started at 9 pm and ended at 4
am. Nobody really gave or received gifts, the biggest gift was being able to
be there with such a large happy family. I really enjoyed it. But on
Christmas day we just chilled and had a lunch. For Christmas dinner I ate
chocolate pizza for the first time haha.
The best thing I gained from this trip was so much more than I imagined.
Over the course of these 10 days I became very close with my host cousins
Marina and Lú. When I had to go back to João Pessoa we all started crying in
the airport because we knew we’d miss each other so much. It showed me how
on exchange you can love and care for initially complete strangers. It was
pretty sweet. I hope to visit them again sometime before I go back to the
Life Right Now
I am still on summer vacation right now, and really loving it. I spend my
days on the beach with my family or at churrascos (barbeque) with friends.
Though my skin is getting REALLY dark, my hair has become blonde at the
tips. During the week and especially on the weekends my host city has tons
of summer luau type things on the beach. So I have been pretty busy for the
past couple of months. During the day or when I have an hour or so I try to
study Portuguese. I have made myself some verb cards with the tenses, basic
conjugations and rules for adverbs. As a resolution I am trying to better my
Portuguese. Though I would love to be fluent, I feel like fluency is
something that just comes and you either have it or you are working towards
it. Right now I am working towards it.
In the Near Future
This Friday I will go to Fortaleza to visit my host dad’s family, since my
host parents are divorced I will be traveling with my brother Fabio and host
Carnaval will be coming soon, but I hope to travel back to Olinda for a day
or two. I hear Olinda has one of the most famous Carnavals in Brazil and it
is only 1 hour away from my city!
In March my American family is coming to my city! I am extremely excited to
be able to show them this awesome place that I live in that I can now call
home. They will stay in my city for 4 days and then we will all go to Rio de
Janeiro for another 4. We will also bring my best exchange student friend
Hannah along with us as well so she gets a chance to see Rio.
News and Stuff
My host mother Verônica has received an invitation to work in Brasília in
the Senate! I am very proud of her, and glad she has decided to take this
opportunity . So this means my host brother will stay here to finish
university, my host grandma will stay with my host brother and when my host
sister Flavia arrives from Canada she will go live in Brasília.
So yeah, life is good.
January 27th 2012
Trip to Fortaleza/ Traveling About
-So Fortaleza was a little bit different than my trip to Brasília. First off
I stayed with my host brother’s grandparents, Dona Maria and Antonio. I
absolutely adored them, they were filled with such life and welcomed me like
any another grandchild into their home. Dona Maria is 87 and Antonio is 93,
Dona Maria raised 11 children and Antonio is a retired general of the
Brazilian Military and fought in WWII. Though hardened with age and
parenthood they both were some of the nicest people I have ever met. So with
a huge house, 11 kids and over 30 grandchildren the house I stayed in always
had people in it. It was like being in a Tyler Perry movie for a week with
all the chaos and drama a large family would have. I went to multiple
beaches, tourist attractions, a formatura (Brazilian college graduation
party) and just relaxed. It was just a nice trip, nothing spectacular but I
am glad to have gone.
-Later today I will go to Natal! I will spend the weekend there with Fabio,
my host granny and Rafa.
At this point in my exchange, I can understand relatively all things spoken,
and I can say whatever I want. Am I fluent? In some ways yes, in some ways
no. Though I understand everything and can say almost anything, I still have
trouble reading, writing, and speaking as fast as I would in English. So
those are things I plan to work on. Portuguese still requires effort to
speak, meaning that I obviously can’t speak it as easily as I can in
Changing Host Families
Wednesday my wonderful host mother left for Brasília. I cried like a total
baby, not only for the fact that I won’t see her for a very long time, but
also because this is just another of many reminders that the best year of my
life is winding down. These past 6 months with them have been incredible. It
did take a while to adjust to a whole new family and lifestyle, but doing so
was a great experience. I have truly felt like a member of their family and
am forever grateful for all they have done for me. Obrigada a vocês, eu
lembrarei sempre de vocês e espero que vocês me-lembrarão!
February 7th 2012
So I switched host families a week ago and so far things are going smoothly.
Though it does feel like my exchange has started over again I am enjoying
the changes and new adaptations. I have a host mom, host dad, 2 older
sisters and 1 older brother. As you can see it is a lot of people, so I
share a room with my 2 host sisters. I now live closer to school which is
great, so I walk just about everywhere. I recently joined a gym as well so I
can start working off this exchange weight. Because I have changed grades
(1st year to 2nd year) I have changed classes, and the hours are different.
So on Tuesdays and Wednesdays I get out of school at 5:45 and the other days
I get out at 1:00. Fortunately on the long days, I have a 2 hour lunch break
from 12:30 to 2:30. Generally I walk home for lunch, shower again and return
for 4 classes. I am actually enjoying school more this term, I think it’s
because I can speak better Portuguese.
Advice for the Noob Outbounds
-Trying. When I got here, I was naïve. Obviously. I thought I would be
fluent by December (max.), that the kids at school would just automatically
be my best friends, that I would have so many activities and would have (in
my opinion) the best exchange ever. So I tried and tried and tried to have
“the best year of my life”. It wasn’t until November that I really started
to enjoy my exchange. It wasn’t that I stopped trying, but I stopped trying
to reproduce my dreams of “the best year of my life”. I just let it come
naturally. For a while after I started to enjoy my exchange/love Brazil I
thought that August, September and October were just wasted. Well they were
wasted trying too hard, and I feel that the person who wrote that bio and
blog 1 is not the same person writing this blog now. I have grown more in
these 6 months than I have in 15 years. I can’t tell you exactly how I have
changed but I can just tell you I have changed . And I am okay with it. So
my advice being: take your time, be happy when you are happy ,be sad when
you are sad. The worst thing to do is try to ignore the bad feelings and
mask them over with fake happiness. Make an effort to learn the language but
don’t set a fluency date for yourself. Make an effort to understand,
appreciate and love the people you are surrounded by.
I have 124 days left in my exchange.
I had left off last around
I thoroughly enjoyed carnival, my city hosted the Bloco of Mosquitos being
the second largest in all of the Brazil (therefore the world). A bloco is
just a block party with a theme that changes nightly the week before the
actual carnival break, so its just a pre-carnival carnival as most people in
cities like mine travel to places like Rio de Janeiro, Recife/Olinda or
Salvador for the more famous carnivals. One of the nights my friend Shankar
from Minnesota dressed as a girl in them e with the current Bloco- the Block
of Virgins in which all men dress as women. During the actual break I
traveled with my host family to Arcoverde (Green Arc) a small city in the
interior of Pernambuco , the state next to mine which holds Recife. Green
Arc is actually a really pretty city, but it has nothing to do. Literally,
but I was glad to have to chance to learn about life in the farmlands where
simple necessities aren’t always as easy to get like in the city. Like
water, people who l ive in cities like Green Arc must collect rain water the
entire rain season as it can be months, and in some serious cases, years
without heavy rain fall.
In March, I was kept very busy with my social life (which somehow boomed
this semester) and the preparing for the arrival of my parents and my little
sister. My family came and stayed in my city for 4 days and then we all went
to Rio for another 4 bringing my friend Hannah with us. I was very pleased
to show my family my life here and introduce them to this rich and beautiful
culture that I can now say I am a part of. I actually found myself very
stressed, it was like the people who generally took care of me in the US, I
was taking care of! I was stressed with translating and making sure they
followed the cultural rules but overall they did a pretty good job. I really
loved seeing my family again.
April came and went too fast. My friends Julie from Denmark and Grace from
Colorado came to visit Hannah and I for a weekend. They both live in Recife
and are doing exchange with Rotary as well, it was great to see them and as
Brazilians say “matar a saudade”. I also participated in my school Olympics
and played volleyball, handball and basketball. Having never played
basketball nor handball they were like two foreign languages to me, but I
kind of figured my way out and we ended up winning a few games and getting
silver medals. Soon after the game week ended I headed to the Amazon.
I spent 10 days with 75 other exchange students from other districts and
some from mine, divided on 3 boats on the largest river in the world. It is
so difficult for me to describe in words how this trip changed my life. I
did and learned so much in so little time. We were all asked to take off our
watches and not ask for the time, we had no internet and I didn’t use my
phone for 10 days. It was alleviating, each day felt like 100 hours, we had
3 meals a day and that is what measured the time. We slept in hammocks, swam
in the river, swam with pink dolphins, trekked the rainforest, explored
waterfalls, met actual Indians, planted trees and plenty of other things.
The Amazon has so much to offer in terms of beauty and resources, we should
if anything be maintaining it and not destroying it. One of the many men
living in the rainforest that I met called Paipai said “The city needs the
Amazon, but the Amazon does not need the city”. And when he said that I
realized how true it was, we need gas for our cars, fiber for clothes, food
for our bellies and we can’t naturally get these resources in our big
cities. So we look to places full of resources and with few people. But if
we want to keep living, we need to protect places like the Amazon. Overall
the Amazon rainforest made me feel vulnerable, and I loved that. It made me
notice that humans are not the only ones on Earth, we share the space. I
plan to travel back to the Amazon and do what I can to save it, I have never
felt more content in my life than standing under a waterfall in the middle
of the largest jungle in the world.
And Now-I have 3 weeks left here in Brazil so I will be wrapping up this
year with a couple day trips, a lot of beach days and a few adventures. My
next district conference is on my last weekend here and my last week here
will be the first week of the month long Sao Joao forro festival. If I am
lucky I may get a taste of it.
I am here. I have almost made it. As I stand a mile or so between my once
new life turned old and my new life, I think. When I was 14, I decided to go
on an exchange principally to learn another language and travel. I knew I
would grow, I knew I would change, I just didn’t know how or when. Through
this past year or more so this life I have created in a year, I have learned
more than a teacher could have taught me, than reading a book could have
informed me, more than listening to an all knowing Rotex could have warned
I can tell you I am more patient, open minded, I appreciate the little and
big things and I understand people better. The thing I am most scared of is
returning and not being my best me. I feel that here I have become such a
bigger person, and I am most comfortable with myself here, I love my
Brazilian me. I have made so many friendships this year that I know I will
never lose. No matter how many pictures I have or haven’t taken I will
always have the memories and the place to come back to. This has truly been
the most incredible year in my short life, and I look forward to even better
Thank you Rotary. Thank you Larry DiPietro for coming to my school that one
day in September. Thank you Mom and Dad, Obrigada Verônica e a sua família.
Obrigada Rosângela e Laudivan e a família de vocês. Obrigada Brasil. Thank
you to all of my exchange friends, I will see you all in the near future.
You all have changed me and I couldn’t be more pleased with the outcome.