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Oiii everyone in the U.S. bom dia! It’s really crazy for me thinking nearly two months of my exchange are already over and I’m writing my first journal. Of course first I’d like to thank Rotary and my host club Sunrise Rotary Club of St. Aug. I can’t express how much this has impacted my life already because even I don’t know exactly.
For all of the future outbound exchangers who will be going through these journals excited you just got chosen to go on exchange CONGRATS! I’ll be writing my journal keeping you guys in mind. The first week of exchange was the most stressful, difficult week of my life. I finished packing my bags the day before I left for exchange, which was fine I didn’t forget anything. The next day, at the airport, I said goodbye to my family and took a leap of faith to get on the plane. If you expect to study your language on the plane before you land, don’t, it’s not going to happen. I wasn’t very nervous. I was prepared. I had talked to my host family and I had a Rotex who had been to Miami on exchange waiting for me with them at the airport. I landed in Sao Paulo and had a one hour layover to get to my next gate. Sao Paulo is a fairly huge airport, without a metro like Atlanta, that makes it an even bigger airport. I went through customs with my luggage and they st opped me… I had no idea why, but I’m a calm person so I wasn’t worried or stressed. I opened my bags and let them look.
I was told Brazilian customs officers were mean to Americans because American customs are mean to everyone, luckily I didn’t have this experience. However, my customs officer didn’t speak english. They were looking at the two brand new Iphone SE’s and the Apple TV I was bringing for my sister’s friends (Brazilians) in a fairly close city to where I’m staying in SC. I had no idea what was going on at this point. The woman didn’t speak english, I was trying to explain that I was just an exchange student in the best Portuguese I had, I swore I wasn’t smuggling them in. (Apple products in BR cost 2x as much) My one hour was running out fast, she was going so slow! I showed her my ticket and pointed at the time on her computer and she just shrugged her shoulders. I started getting desperate, tapping, and sweat ing. I started thinking irrationally, looking over at the guards contemplating if I could just grab my bags and run past them. Maybe they’d let me go if I told them Donald Trump was my Uncle? I started making promises to God, “I swear God, I will convert every local I see.” All these things were rushing through my head as I watched her type on her computer. She gave me a paper saying I had to pay the equivalent to $400 in fines. I didn’t have that kind of money! I had my $300 emergency funds and a little money for food after being ripped off at the exchange counter. I had 17 minutes till my flight left, I didn’t even know where the gate was. Finally I just asked if I could leave my bags there. Now all that I thought was I could not miss my flight. One shoe untied, hiking backpack slung over my shoulder, blazer unbuttoned, Florida hat on backwards, I was running as fast as I could through the largest airport in South America. I look at one of the screens and it says my flights name and “FINAL CALL” in large red letters. I immediately start regretting not working out more over the summer. After running a 5k, coming in last place for my plane I made it on, barley. All I could think, sitting in between two Brazilian men, was, “how am I going to explain this?” Moral of the story, if you’re going to smuggle in electronics make sure you have more than a hour layover and take them out of the boxes. I didn’t stress when I was on the ground. I knew there was nothing more I could do but wait and trust. My host family and Rotary were amazing throughout the entire process, trying to get my bags back. My host dad who is a Rotarian, and doesn’t speak english, couldn’t really understand why I was so dumb, but paid the initial fines anyway. Later my sister’s friends paid him back anyway and said even with all the fines it was still cheaper. This was just one of the initial challenges exchange had for me.
Over the next couple of weeks my Portuguese was getting better. I study almost everyday in school when I couldn’t understand what the teachers were saying. The kids in my school were really welcoming. My school is really small with just 300 students. I believe there are two locations but the high school is on top of a cell phone store and other smaller stores next the the largest street in the city. My city is not a large one. I live in Timbó with a population of a little less than 40,000. I go to the gym almost everyday and have volleyball practice every Monday.
I thought going on exchange would be hard, but mostly I thought it would be a vacation. Youth exchange is not a vacation many days are spent bored waiting for the weekend, and school is just school, not very different from the US. One of the most important parts of exchange is keeping a positive attitude and knowing even though you don’t know when or where things will get better things always work out. There’s so much more, but it would take me all day to write it, and I’m in Brazil! I’m not going to stay in my room all day and type. Peace!
Posted on Mon, October 17, 2016
by Terri Wescott