Luke, outbound to Brazil

Greetings again from down south!

It's been a little while since I wrote my last journal. I can't help but feel guilty limiting all these amazing experiences here to a short journal entry. Christmas and New years has come and gone with its emotional roller coaster. Time seems to slip away like sand through my hands, falling more rapidly with each passing month.

Summer break has ended and school has started again. The usual grind of classes accelerates time, yet a new class and meeting new people continues to breathe new life and different understandings into my surroundings. It's different this time. I can finally communicate fluently with people and share my thoughts and emotions easily. I feel that I can begin to connect with people on a deeper level than just the usual "Hey where are you from, and do you like Brasil?" speech.

Speaking a person's native tongue allows you to step into their own culture. You begin to understand why certain things that appeared so strange to you upon arrival, exist as they do. It lets you enjoy a casual conversation with a stranger on the street. It lets you feel more confident in yourself when you're able to explain a complex order to a waiter. It lets you enjoy dancing and laughing with friends during carnaval. It lets you discover new music and expand your music tastes. It also lets you empathize with close friends as they share their own personal struggles with you. You think deeply about how you would try to handle a lack of job opportunities, rampant corruption, massive wealth gaps, and an incredible cynicism of the future for your country.

Brasil is not in a good place right now. I don't need to elaborate, you can see it on the news and the currency exchange rate. It is painfully obvious to any person living here. This certainly creates an uncomfortably situation for an exchange student from the United States. How do you respond when countless bright and young teenagers in school tell me that they are trying to move to the US as soon as possible for work, often times leaving behind their families? Part of me is proud that my country can represent opportunity to people around the world to create a better life for themselves. People always joke that exchange students and international travelers are the most unpatriotic snobs. But, after living in a foreign country for almost 6 months now, I can't help but feel a powerful pride in my home country. But it's a different kind of pride. It's not a blind pride of relishing in past greatness and staunch nationalism. Rather, it's a pride that my country opens its arms to the "tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free," of the world and hopes to become stronger through diversity. We don't "Make America great again" by closing our doors and trying to emulate the past. Rather we need to connect with what makes us human, and look boldly into the future.

I feel for the Brasilian people. I have fallen in love with their culture and language. I have felt incredibly welcomed and a wonderful sense of warmth from so many people. I would argue that Brasil is one of, if not the best country in the world for a cultural exchange. The people are beautiful inside and out and genuinely love to share their emotions with you. There's a reason dinner reservations are made for 3-4 hour time blocks. Everyone enjoys socializing!

I just finished a book last week called "Why Nations Fail." It was a very lengthy, yet compelling read. It just made me feel good to be a human. The main premise was this: Nations can only grow and prosper when political and economic institutions are designed to be inclusive and allow every member of society to have a hope to participate in the future. This is how people's beautiful and unique gifts are able to create disruptive technologies which ultimately improve the standard of living for every member of society and continue to allow freedom of expression.

I feel a personal connection with the Brasilian people and hope they can weather this storm. I see the beautiful personalities and artistic gifts of so many people and am inspired in humanity. I see dedicated and hardworking entrepreneurs like my host dad and see hope for innovation. I hope very much that the society as a whole can make a stand against massive corruption and continue to grow along with the other BRIC countries in the world.

I again can't say enough thanks to Rotary and my host family. I feel a wonderful warmth and genuine sense of caring from them all. Even if they don't see this, I wanted to recognize the many people who make exchange possible.

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