Summer, outbound to Brazil

Preparing for my exchange, I plunged myself into the idea that I would be the ideal exchange student, always updating my posts and blog and keeping in contact with my parents and loved ones back in Florida.
Having the first free time in months, I realized that maintaining a monthly journal on an exchange is harder than perceived.

To say that time is flying is an understatement; the moments that have passed in Brazil feel like seconds of simply one day or even one dream. So much has fluctuated and changed (from other exchangers, to emotions, to taste, and to my weight gain) to the point that each day is a complete metamorphosis of the next. At the same time, it feels like a blurred painting, not able to see where one stroke ends and another begins.

The major highlights since my last journal are:
-First Rotary Project
-“Passing” the Vestibular
-The Exchange Dinner of the Rotary Club of Bom Retiro
-Tibagi Trip

First Rotary Project
All of the exchange students living in Curitiba are staying in middle to upper family households with wifi, plumbing, and heated water. In order to expose us to other sides of Brasil, the Rotex of District 4730 arranged a day for us to travel to a “casa lar” (House home); a casa lar is a program relying on donations that takes in and cares for children while families deal with legal matters.

Our task for the day was to paint the outside of one of the building where the kids stay and the interior walls of the small basketball court. The exchange students spent the sweltering day outside, laughing and sometimes painting each other more than the walls. The kids were shy and stayed in the house for the first hour, but by the end they knew all of us by name. By the time we had to board the bus to return to our homes, they hugged us and the goodbyes were beyond heartbreaking.
We have an upcoming project in May where we will hopefully return  to the same place.

“Passing” the Vestibular
As I mentioned in my previous journal, the third year students spend their entire year studying to pass a single test administered once a year. No do overs, no make ups, if you miss it you need to wait until next November. Each university has it’s own Vestibular and speciality tests (for example, economics, mechanics, medicine, marketing, etc).

If you’re lucky enough to pass, it’s very traditional to do some rather wacky things, such as draw on your face, or if your a boy, bleach your hair and/or shave it off.   One day, I met some of my third year friends at the mall. When I arrived, they were screaming, dancing, and scribbling drawings on their arms and faces (with black eyeliner). They invited a fellow exchanger and myself to go to PUC-PR (Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Paraná) to celebrate their passing. After some convincing, we let them draw on our faces as well; imagine five overexcited teenagers boarding a bus with colorful faces.

As soon as we arrived at PUC-PR, we leapt out of the bus, ran past the gates, and into one of the messiest celebrations I’ve ever been. At least 300 people are their friends were outside in the giant truck sprinklers, the mud baths (actual pits of mud everyone runs into), and soapers. Music blasted, screams of “Passei!” or “Eu sou filho de PUC!” filled the air. Eddie and I had told ourselves that we would stay clean and relax on the bleachers while our friends ran through the chaos, but in less than five minutes, we changed our minds and joined them. By the end of the day, we were caked in mud, sweat, and endless smiles.

When I retuned to my house, my host mother explained her tradition of the “ice bath” after the mud bath, which involved me standing outside while she sprayed me with freezing water from the garden hose (I have pictures to prove it).

The Dinner

The Rotary Club of Bom Retiro hosts a beautiful ceremony and an annual dinner for the exchange students, and this year was just as lovely. After singing the Brazilian national anthem, each exchange student was presented in front of friends and family and greeted with warmth. After a few speeches by the District Governor, District Chairman, and some sponsors, the traditional food was served:
stroganoff with a superabundance of vegetables and a dessert of bananas fried in cinnamon. This was a perfect time to learn more about the Rotaries in District 4730 and their history of hosting exchange students.

Tibagi Trip

The Rotex of our district also organized another escapade, this time to Tibagi, a city known for its ecological tourism. Although we had a late start, we arrived just in time to white water raft on Rio Tibagi.
After the thrill of being doused in the frigid water, lunch was served on a traditional farm consisting of, guess what, rice and beans. Then came the 500 meter trek to one of the most beautiful waterfalls I have ever seen. It is a moment I would never forget, standing in the almost polar water with fellow freezing exchangers, grinning like mad men.

The next day arrived swiftly after a night of games and relaxing in the farm. Straight after breakfast, we departed to Canyon Guartelá. Despite the aching uphill walk, there was a certain serendipity that filled the air. I don’t know what was more breathtaking, the view or the strength of the rickety porch that was able to support thirty exchange students. Returning to the farm for lunch, we started the path back home, everyone exhausted but content.

Some smaller, random quirks include the development of the language to the point of I can read Harry Potter, stretch marks, the influx of adventures, and the beauty of blooming flowers. (And I ate raw meat.

Of course this exchange is not a walk through a tea garden, there has been a roller coaster of highs and lows, especially with emotions.

Halloween was a hard day to get through, but Thanksgiving was better, especially since everyone at school that day brought a surplus of food to celebrate. No matter how alone I was feeling, I’ve always had a support group here and in Florida, pushing me to continue on my bluest days. Every day is a lesson, and through these days, I have became the Indiana Jones of going with the flow. The midpoint of my exchange is nearing and I still can’t convince myself it’s arriving with such velocity.

I’ve began to understand the meaning of “carpe diem.”

Until next time, gente, beijos.--