Grace, outbound to Brazil

HELLO WORLD! Yes, I am alive. And no, I have not written a journal since December. Sorry about that, but these last few months on exchange have been some of the busiest, and when you’re living in a foreign country honestly it’s just so hard to tell yourself to sit down for a good block of time and try to simplify everything that has been happening in your life. It’s extremely hard to simplify whole days, weeks, and months into just a few sentences. I feel like the experiences are hard to convey, and maybe the reason it is so hard to write journals is that simply writing into sentences experiences that you lived, breathed, and interacted in cheapens the memory in some way. The same statement goes for exchange in general, one cannot understand an exchange year and the experiences an exchange student goes through unless they have gone through a similar experience themselves.

However, for the sake of this journal I will try and recount the highlights that have happened on my exchange so far since my last journal.

January: After the first week of January, I set off on a 21-day journey throughout the Northeast coast of Brazil. It was undoubtedly the best trip of my life. The trip began with a night in Belo Horizonte, where all 37 exchange students that we're going on the trip got to know each other (most of the people on the trip actually already knew each other, as most of us were from the same BH-based Rotary district, there were only about 10-15 exchange students that weren't from our district that were on the trip). The first night included a dance party with dance instructors teaching us how to dance funk (brace yourselves future Brazil outbounds) and samba…...and if I try to recount every day in detail this journal might be so long I don't think you would continue on.

* Just too give you somewhat of a reference of how hard it is to write journals, I literally wrote this first part three weeks ago, didn't finish, and today I sat down and chugged 2 cups of Toddy (an overly-sugary chocolate drink they have here in Brazil) in order to try to get the energy to continue writing.*

Anyways, back to the Northeast trip- we ended up travelling throughout the country in the following order. Lençóis- we went to Chapada Diamantina, snorkelling in caves, hiking and caving in Guta de Lapa Doce, went to a natural waterslide, and there was a live capoeira performance in our hotel. Maceió- everyone went out on boats to natural swimming pools. One of the days included everyone going on a rented boat to a private island- dance party on the boat at the end of the day included.

Natal- perhaps one of my FAVORITE things that I have done in Brazil was ride the dune buggies on the sand dunes in Natal. It was amazing! The dunes were huge, it felt as if we had been dropped in the middle of the Saharan desert. There was also an amazing Luau party that ended with everyone jumping into the pool and continuing the dance party in the pool! It was a night I'll never forget.

Salvador- The tourgroup visited nearby Praia do Forte first and then arrived in Salvador. During our time in Salvador, we took a tour of the city (which is one of the most famous cities for Carnaval!), went shopping in the Mercado Central, visited the historic areas and some of the oldest and most beautiful churches in Brazil (so much gold inside the churches!), and went on the Elevador Lacerda. Fun fact: Salvador was the first capital of Brazil!
Porto Seguro- famous for being one of Brazil´s biggest partying towns. Many Brazilians come here for vacation. We went to a famous party complex called Axé Moi on the beach- one of the many beach days on the Northeast trip!

Sidenote: there was also quite a lot of time spent on the bus travelling between these cities. Although tiring, it was a good time to chat with your bus partner and bond with people- as well as have sing alongs to Brazilian songs.

Rio de Janeiro- A cidade maravilhosa! During our time in Rio, we spent our time on the beach in Copacabana, visiting Cristo Redentor, overlooking Rio from the Pão de Açúcar, and visiting the Sambodromo (where Rio´s Carnaval is televised from!) and Maracanã stadium (World cup games and where the Opening Ceremony of the 2016 Olympics will be held!

Angra Dos Reis - Perhaps the most beautiful area of Brazil, where everyone went out on boats to go amongst the areas many islands and swim in the clear water! It was an amazing experience, Angra was breathtaking!
And with our last stop being Angra Dos Reis, we all returned home. For any future Brazil outbounds I highly recommend the Northeast trip- I saw so much of Brazil and had the time of my life traveling around Brazil for three weeks with my best friends! 

In other news about January, I moved to my second host family the day after the Northeast trip, and yes there were tears even though I knew I would still see my first host family a lot. I now share a room with my host sister, have another brother, a mom, dad, and three little adorable dogs.

February:
The most important event in Brazil in February (and arguably most important event of the year in general): CARNAVAL!!! Carnaval is mid February, and depending on where you are, they celebrate it Monday- Wednesday, Friday- Wednesday, or heck, even the whole week! Most of the parades and traditional Carnaval festivities however, happen on the Monday- Wednesday.

I went with my family to a VERY small city, Lima Duarte, a few hours outside of Rio to celebrate Carnaval. It was a small city itself, but a great place to spend Carnaval. People from surrounding towns came and everyone paraded and partied with a live concert in Centro, on the streets, from midnight until 5:30 AM/ 6 AM EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Needless to say, my Carnaval was an experience to remember. But it didn't end there!

My host family and I went on a vacation to Porto Seguro (where I had just visited a month before on the Northeast trip) for a few days following Carnaval. I absolutely love Porto. If I could take my American friends and family to vacation there one day, I would in a heartbeat. My host sister and I went to a post-Carnaval festival called Carnaporto on the Thursday and Friday night after Carnaval. Each night the concert would start at 1 am and wouldn't end until 5 (ended at 9 AM on the last day!)! I have a feeling that festivals like that would never happen in America. At Carnaporto, I got to see famous Brazilian artists such as Claudia Leitte and Tomate. (I also met the lead singer of Onze:20, another famous Brazilian band, during my Carnaval in Lima Duarte.) Carnaval is a blast in Brazil and I highly recommend trying to come to Brazil at least once in your life to celebrate it here!

March: In March I finally started school again after a little bit of confusion with Rotary and Carnaval (things don't really get moving in Brazil until after Carnaval). I am now studying Law in a Brazilian university and I am loving it! Who knew I would love law so much, specifically, Brazilian law? I'm now seriously considering studying law as a career track- another life changing moment I can thank Rotary for! And learning Brazilian law has taught me a lot about the cultural, societal, and legal differences between Brazil and the USA.

I also visited a few small surrounding towns with my host family as well as go to a family friend's wedding! I've been to two wedding in Brazil so far, now. I continued hanging out with my Brazilian friends, and began to establish a ´normal` routine for my day-to-day life.

April: Some of the highlights of April were that I went to another city, Pará de Minas, and went to a concert for the winners of The Voice Brasil 2015 (who are actually from my city- Betim! I´ve actually seen them around town a few times.). Continued to meet every Monday in Belo Horizonte with other exchange students for Açaí. I continued to make new friends with my university peers as well as people outside of university. Made memories, had fun, that's exchange life.

May: May is the beginning of the end. I can feel it coming. I don't want it to, but it lurks at the back of my mind that I may be coming home soon. That is why I must make every day count. To any future exchange students : MAKE EVERY DAY COUNT! Because soon enough you will be near the end and you will not want to waste any last precious moment in your country, with your friends and family.

As for events that have happened so far in May, I went to my very first Cavalgada! A cavalgada is where everyone who has a horse goes and meets up in Centro with their horse, and the rest of the town come to party along, and everyone parades around the city until they reach a farm or park or other venue for the rest of the festival. It's a lot of people, a lot of horses, and a lot of craziness (I honestly don't know how someone did not die that day). Nonetheless, it was a great day and one of my best memories here in Brazil. (It never gets old that first moment that someone realizes you are gringa and they absolutely freak out and start asking you tons of questions about your country- it makes you feel proud to be a foreigner. The Cavalgada was in the neighboring city of Igarapé, and for the next few weeks there will be more cavalgadas in other cities in the area.

THE END IS NEAR: This last weekend I had my District Conference which was the last time all the exchange students from my district would be reunited together before we all started going our seperate ways. This weekend was amazing. We all arrived in Caxambu, Minas Gerais, where the conference was held, on Thursday. The weekend included a presentation about RYE (accompanied by a dance made by all us exchange students in front of the Rotarians), horse carriage rides, ski lifts up mountains, lots of photos, a beautiful park all the exchange students explored together, lots of bonding time, many laughs, many hugs, and finally, many tears.

This district really has become like a family to me. All of us get along so well, it's amazing. It's like we're all brothers and sisters, internationally. I really do feel as though each and every one of them is a brother or sister that I love dearly. I know that these guys will always stay in my memories, I've had the best times of my life with my fellow exchange students. We've all grown and seen each other change in this last year, our friendship is incredible.

On Sunday, thinking that I may never see some of these guys ever again EVER IN MY LIFE, was absolutely heartbreaking. But even if we aren't with each other in person, I will carry them all in my heart, as well as all the memories I've made this year. I couldn't be more grateful for the other exchange students, this year, this country, and this experience that has changed my life.

Obrigada Brasil, eu te amo tanto.

Até mais.