Bianca, Outbound to Brazil

Wow! I cannot believe I have been in Brazil for a little over 5 months now. Let’s pick up where I left off my last entry. So many things have happened since then.

On November 30th, 2019 my host family threw me and my mom a birthday party to celebrate. It was an unforgettable night. There’s no better feeling than celebrating, surrounded by people who love and care for you. These people have already become so important to me and I am thankful I got to spend my birthday with them.

The following week I did many presentations at my school about the United States of America. It’s such an interesting event to educate others about the country you come from and you begin to realize how little they know. Most of their knowledge comes from movies, television shows, and their country’s news programs. Much of that is inaccurate information and it’s great being able to educate them. The students at my school were very surprised to learn about our politics and education systems. That was one of many moments where I quite literally was an ambassador for the U.S.A, for Florida. I realized how important it is to be that person for your country.

On December 5th, I had been in Brazil for 2 months.

On December 7th, I went on a 2-day Rotex trip to the Guartela Canyon – The largest canyon in Brazil. This was an interesting trip. I got the chance to bond with some of the other exchange students and became very close friends with one of them. On the first day I went water rafting for the first time, which was such a fun experience. Later that day, we relaxed in the mountains and explored a waterfall. On the second day, we went to the Guartela Canyon. It was absolutely gorgeous. We spent the day walking around the canyon, which was an all-day event due to the size of it. It was just my luck that I tripped down a set of very steep stairs and hurt my ankle. It was very early in the morning, so I ended up having to walk on it all day. We later found out that I had sprained my ankle badly and it took a few weeks for me to walk normally again. Despite that, I really did enjoy this trip. I made an amazing friend and I got to explore more of Brazil.

On December 13th, my family took me on a 3-day trip to Ilha do Mel (Honey Island). This was an incredible opportunity for me and a trip that I’ll never forget. It’s a beautiful island filled with different areas to explore and I wish I was able to see more of it.

On December 16th, I taught a gingerbread making class! This was such a fun day for me. I helped showcase an American tradition to a group of Brazilians who really enjoyed themselves. I’m so thankful I was able to take part of this. I was very nervous because I was told at the very last minute that I was the one teaching the class, but it went so well!! I think one of the biggest aspects of Rotary Youth Exchange is being able to go with the flow. Nothing goes like you expect it to and you must have the ability to adapt to different situations.

We celebrate Christmas on December 24th in Brazil and I cannot describe how important this day was to me. I come from a very tiny family. It’s just me and my mom and then we spend the day with my 2 grandparents. This year, I spent my Christmas with well over 20 family members. I lost count of how many people were there. It was such a different experience for me, and I loved it. We did a “secret friend” gift exchange for all the family under 18, which I got to take part in. Then they have Santa come with all the presents in a sack and hand them out to all of the family. It was so cool.

On December 25th, I got to spend this day with my second host family. They hosted a Christmas party for their family and wanted me to be apart of it. Again, a big family event with around 20 people or so. It was also great to see what my next home and family was like. I had never been to their home before or spent a lot of time with them, so it was a good experience.

December was also a month filled with sadness for me. I’m not sure why, but I found myself having a lot of sad days. It was a bit rough, but my friends were always there for me.

Since summer in Brazil is the opposite of the U.S, we left on December 27th for our summer vacation. I got to spend almost 1 month at the beach with my family. We spent the first half in Balneario Camboriu and the second half in Florianopolis.

I met some amazing people on this trip, and I feel so lucky that I was able to have this experience. I went zip lining for the first time in Camboriu and I was absolutely terrified. By the time it was over, I wanted to do it all again. I zip lined off a mountain in Camboriu and it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.

We also celebrated New Years when we were there, which was so different for me. New Years has never been a big deal to my family in Florida. Normally I spend it with a friend, and we watch the ball drop. Nothing too exciting.

Here in Brazil, New Years is a very important event and it’s widely celebrated. They have a gorgeous fireworks presentation in the big cities, on the beach. There were so many people, you couldn’t even see the sand on the beach – just people. Thousands of people covering the 6 km long beach of Balneario Camboriu. Luckily, we had an apartment overlooking the beach where we got to watch from. Everyone wears white for good luck going into the new year. You can also wear other colors for different things, but white is the most traditional. It was the most beautiful fireworks I’ve ever seen. It’s a big, synchronized presentation that is incredible.

We also climbed a mountain called Morro do Careca, which translates to “bald hill”. It was amazing to see the city from the top.

On January 5th, I celebrated 3 months in Brazil with my brother. We went out to a Japanese restaurant together and had a lovely dinner. It’s one of my fondest memories with him.

After 11 days in Camboriu, we went to Florianopolis (Floripa). I have to say that Floripa is probably my favorite place. It’s like a little island of paradise with over 40 different beaches. We spent 10 days in Floripa in a large beach house with multiple families. While there, I met even more incredible people and formed some great friendships. My family took me to a beach club there as well. They told me that they wanted me to have the experience, which was so sweet of them. It was called Parador Internacional and it really was such a cool experience. There was a concert there as well at night. We spent an entire day there and I was able to bond with the other girls my age staying at the beach house with us.

This trip was lovely and sad at the same time. When the trip was over, I was switching to my second host family. It was like a sense of dread, especially when the last week came. As excited as I was to be with my second host family, I was so devasted to leave my first. These people are my family and I never wanted to leave them. Joao became the brother I always wanted, Andre became the father I never had, and Jerusa became the second mother I never knew I needed. Needless to say, I cried a lot. I know it wasn’t goodbye, but it definitely felt like one. Even though it wasn’t the last time I would see them, I also realized that I would never get to live with them again or be as close to them as I was. It was difficult, but that’s just apart of the exchange experience.

On January 16th, I switched host families for the first time. When we switched it was actually in Balneario Camboriu, so I got to spend 5 more days there, after Floripa.

On January 21, I went back to my first home to pack my things. The only person there was our maid Lu, who I was going to miss so much. She means so much to me and we got so close over my time there. We even gave each other Christmas gifts. She was amazing enough to help me pack all my things. Which oh my lord, I had so much stuff. I had to borrow a very large suitcase just to bring everything to my second home. My family actually let me take the keyboard in my room to my second home because they knew how much I used and loved it. It was bittersweet saying goodbye to the room I had grown to love. I miss the view of the city outside my window and the coziness of the small room.

It was quite a rough adjustment switching families. It took awhile for me to adjust to everything. I went from a tiny apartment to a very large house with completely different people. I do have to say, I really missed having my own bathroom. I think that’s something I always took for granted before having to share with my brother for 3 months.

I had my first day of “senior year” in Brazil on February 3rd. I’m enjoying school so much more this year. I have made so many more friends at school and now I can understand some of the lessons.

On February 5th, it was 4 months for me in Brazil. Not the best day honestly, but that’s just part of exchange.

On February 7th, I took the bus for the first time!! I know, after 4 months you’d think I would have already taken it. We just never had the time and I almost always used Uber because my first family believed it to be safer. It was a good first experience with one of my closest Brazilian friends.

On February 21st – 25th, I celebrated my first Carnaval!! It was so interesting and different for me. I’ve never experienced anything like it before. My host aunt and uncle were gracious enough to take me with them to Caioba for 5 days to celebrate with them. One of my exchange friends was also there for Carnaval so we went to a party together on one of the nights. It was amazing. Even though we got rained on, it was an absolute blast.

As of March 5th, I have been in Brazil for 5 months now. It’s crazy to me that it’s only been 5 months because it feels like I’ve lived here forever. At the same time, I can’t believe its already been 5 months!! It’s one of the strange emotions you experience during an exchange year.

On March 6th, my host mom and I traveled to Sao Paulo for my college audition. We went to the MASP museum which was incredible. I was in the presence of Van Gogh, Monet, and Picasso. It was unbelievable. I had my audition and workshop on March 7th, which I feel went very well. Originally the audition was supposed to be in my city, but unfortunately it was cancelled. My host family was so amazing that they flew me and my host mom to Sao Paulo just so I could still have that opportunity.

On March 16th, I got to spend time with my first host family for the first time in 2 months. It was an amazing day and I realized how much I truly missed them.

It is currently March 18th and things are a little rough right now. School has been cancelled for at least 20 days and I am advised against leaving my house on orders from my Rotary district. I am afraid that I might be forced to return to Florida if the situation gets worse. Currently I feel I am very safe in Brazil and the Coronavirus is being very well controlled. I hope it stays that way. All Rotary and Rotex events have been cancelled. I have exchange friends that are going home in a few days, which is heartbreaking. Having to say goodbye, especially 3 months early, is difficult.

After 5 months of Brazil, I feel like my Portuguese is great. I understand most of the language, but still have a lot to learn with speaking. I’m very proud of my progress. One of my favorite things is being asked if I’m Brazilian and being mistaken for a regular student, which has happened many times. My goal is to get more Portuguese classes after this situation has calmed down. I still have quite a way to go on my journey to fluency.

Even though its only been 5 months, I can already tell that I have changed so much as a person. I can’t believe my exchange is more than halfway over. It feels like it just started. I plan to make the most of the next 4 months and I am so excited to see what they hold!

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