A Little Bit of Nostalgia


IMG_3804I wouldn’t say I’m homesick, but my thoughts have definitely turned homeward as Thanksgiving is right around the corner. I think the weirdest part for me about not being home with my family is that I’m out of the loop. I had no idea that my family was traveling to Washington D.C. to visit my relatives over the holiday week until my brother and sister snapchatted me on the airplane.


Some things that I miss:


  1. My family (that’s obvious). I also miss knowing all the family gossip, so thanks to Grandbob for catching me up.
  2. Rudy, my dog (or rather, my mom’s dog). I didn’t realize how much I would miss the adorable fluff ball until I started looking for something to cuddle and he wasn’t there. Yes, I have dogs to pet here, but I’m scared that Zeca will turn on me and bite me again, and Caffoo is always shut in the back room smelling faintly of mildew as he never moves. He’s afraid to walk anywhere since he’s blind, and Virna has to drag him outside.
  3. The food. I miss American food. I’ve gotten used to the food here, yes, but I really miss American food. When I tell people this, they assume that I eat hamburgers and McDonalds every day, but that isn’t true at all. I’ve found it quite hard to explain what American food actually is, because they do have things like spaghetti and pizza and sandwiches here, but it just isn’t the same. Speaking of food, I miss variety. I miss spices. All the meals resemble the same thing, and nobody adds spice, except for an excess of salt, to anything. I’m finally starting to cook but when I went to the store, I quickly realized that they do not have the variety and quality of spices that we do. There were only two or three brands of spices, and about the quarter of the selection.
  4. Doing school work. I know, you are thinking I’m crazy. But I like learning and it’s quite boring doing nothing all day, and then coming home and doing nothing on the internet. I would like a happy medium. I’m happier now since I got a book in Portuguese and I’m really working on reading it, so I feel like I’m studying again. It also makes me happy since I’m actively trying to learn Portuguese.
  5. Playing in a band and orchestra. I finally dug my clarinet out of the closet after almost three months of being here (ouch, I know!) and it just made me long for a band to play in all the more. I haven’t been able to find any venue to play the clarinet in. Now that I’ve actually put my lips on the mouthpiece again, it will be easier to keep up as a solo gig, but I love playing in groups.


Some things that I love about Brazil:


  1. The selection of fruit. I haven’t had an apple since leaving Colorado, and I’m completely fine with this. Instead, I’m eating fresh mango, papaya, pineapple, guava, watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew every day.IMG_3457
  2. The coffee. I finally figured out how to make coffee that isn’t as strong as the stuff they brew here on a regular basis, but even with that, I’m starting to like strong, black coffee. It also makes me very happy to drink it in the morning with the cute little cups and saucers that my host mom uses.
  3. Learning a new language. I feel like I’m on top of the world. It’s like my brain is on fire and I’m processing new things every day. I already have plans to study either French or Italian yet, and get the Romance languages under my thumb.
  4. Public transportation. Last week I took the bus for the first time, and I’ve quickly grown super comfortable with the bus system. I feel like I’ve gained a huge amount of freedom, and that I’m looking more like a local (albeit a local with blonde hair, blue eyes, and fair skin) since I’m comfortable navigating the bus system.
  5. Becoming more independent. Since coming here, I’ve learned a lot about myself, and learned how to rely on myself a lot more. Yes, I still have a host family to go to for help, and an organization with a huge support system, but I’m starting to see what living independently can look like. If I can move to a new country and learn a new language without my immediate family right behind me, I can do anything.

São Paulo

IMG_4114The fact that I am eighteen years old is extremely lucky in some ways because Rotary would never let an underage person under their supervision travel alone, like they let me. About a month ago I went to São Paulo to stay with my host sister, Livia, who is in her early thirties and lives, works, and studies in the city.

There were times when I was very lonely in São Paulo, because I had to find ways to entertain myself while Livia had classes and couldn’t entertain me. While I have certainly grown up over the course of my almost three months here in Brazil, I think I grew up the most here. I’ve never traveled before without my family. I’ve never explored a brand new city without my family before.

And when I say that I explored, I do not mean that I went down dark alleys and went to different parts of the city on the subway, although I very well could have done. One of the things you get used to hearing as an exchange student in Brazil is how dangerous the country is. It is hard to get permission to go to many places alone. And São Paulo is rumored to be one of the most dangerous cities of them all. My exploits mainly featured walking up and down Avenida Paulista, one of the famous streets of São Paulo, for hours on end. I knew how to use the subway and bus systems to get to different parts of the city, but I was nervous about doing so.

That being said, I learned a lot about traveling in São Paulo. I was bored in São Paulo. I was lonely in São Paulo. I saw some really cool things in São Paulo. And I absolutely loved São Paulo.


October 26, 2015:

Day of Arrival

Domestic travel is different in Brazil than it is in the USA. I was freaking out before leaving because I didn’t have a clear plastic bag to put all of my liquids in. I tried asking about it several times and the answers I received about this part of travel were just as confusing as I’m sure my question was. I’m fairly sure Virna and Leonardo were wondering what happened to the cool and level headed Claire who didn’t really seem to be phased by anything? That Claire was replaced by a Claire who was freaking out over a clear plastic bag. Finally, we resolved our communication issues and I discovered that not only were liquids waved through security without a second glance for domestic flights, but that checking baggage was completely free of charge, so why don’t I do that anyways?

Then I started freaking out about timing. I thought that we arrived to the airport extremely late, but it turns out that Natal has a very small airport (I wasn’t paying very much attention to the airport’s size when I first arrived in Brazil) and it also operates in a Brazilian manner in that everything is slow and late and will happen when it happens, not before, not later. Security takes all of five minutes to get through even when it’s busy, so my mom and I had a cappuccino and a cookie before I went through. I was still early, but Virna definitely knew I was on edge about missing my plane.

After landing in São Paulo, I discovered that my checked bag had been wrapped in plastic. Not sure why.IMG_4097

Then I navigated through the airport and found the service bus station, and handed over my proof of payment to get on a bus to Avenida Paulista, where I would meet Livia, my host sister. This is the part that I was the most nervous about. What if I took the wrong bus? What if what if what if… It turned out that taking the wrong bus was a next to impossible task, and that the bus was a service, not public transportation, as it included some very comfortable seats and wifi.

Livia met me on the steps of a hotel, and then took me to a restaurant called America, where I had my first hamburger and fries since arriving in Brazil. They were lovely.


October 27, 2015:

IMG_4147After waking up, Livia and I walked to a small grocery store to buy bread for breakfast and then had a conversation about the corruption in Brazilian politics over our meal. Then we walked around a little more, sat in a coffee shop and had coffee, and then, Livia took me to Avenida Paulista, which is within walking distance from her apartment, with instructions on how to get home saying that she would see me back at the apartment around eight that night.

I walked up the street for a little while, and ended up in a Starbucks. Yes, a Starbucks. I was tired and I know how to order at Starbucks. While I was there I sat and journaled a little and read in a guide book about the attractions of Avenida Paulista. I spent most of the day walking up and down the avenue taking pictures and looking for a free art exposition that I had read about, but I never ended up finding it. That day was also spent with a low level of anxiety because I was a tourist, and as a tourist I thought I should be doing something fun and exciting, not just walking up and down the same (extremely long) street over and over again.


October 28, 2015:

IMG_4254This day I actually had something planned for the morning and early afternoon. There is a free tour service offered in different parts of São Paulo in English, so Livia took me to the center of the older part of the city, where it was originally colonized, and I joined a crew of people from different parts of the world. I mainly talked to an older couple from Canada, who informed me that Spanish was actually not that helpful when it came to speaking and understanding Portuguese (they’d been there for two weeks and were leaving the next day, I’d been there for two months and was leaving many months later) and a guy from Japan who was working in San Francisco and now being a tourist in São Paulo who was in his twenties. This was the most English I’d heard people speak for almost the entire time of my being here in Brazil. I told the Canadian couple this and they said the same, except I was kind of miffed that they didn’t understand that I’d already been there for two months, jeez, two weeks is nothing. Looking back on that couple, I probably would be feeling the same way as they were had I not been an exchange student and done so many crazy things already. I apologize to all tourists. It’s exhausting, whether you are in a new place for one year.IMG_4240

After the tour ended, I took the subway back to Avenida Paulista, because nobody seemed interested in going out for coffee or finding a cool restaurant in that area of the city with me (at least, not the people I asked). I didn’t want to hang around, since Livia told me that I shouldn’t be alone in that part of São Paulo and to come back to Avenida Paulista if nobody wanted to hang out. I was nervous about taking the subway, since I hadn’t even taken the bus in my host city of Natal, and São Paulo much much larger and easier to get lost in. It was pretty straightforward and I didn’t get lost.

When I arrived back at Avenida Paulista, I walked up and down the streets. I kept stopping in front of restaurants thinking, I should go in there. But I never could make up my mind. I finally realized the reason I couldn’t make a decision was because I was hungry, and I went to a McDonalds because, again, it was some place familiar and I knew how to order there. I ended up sitting in there for about an hour, and then I walked up and down Avenida Paulista some more before going back to Livia’s apartment.

IMG_4302That night Livia took me to a bar where I met some of her friends and had a great time. One of her friends is an English teacher to really small children and he was just dying to speak English with me. Finally we compromised that he would speak in English to me and I in Portuguese to him.


October 29, 2015

This is the day I realized I could have fun just by walking up and down the same street over and over again. That being a tourist and having fun doesn’t require a person to go to all the museums and do all of the touristy things.

I slept in late, and then I, again, walked up and down Avenida Paulista, except this time I took small videos while walking to compile into a longer video for later. I ate in the food court of a mall where they had a self-service station of traditional Brazilian food because it would be cheaper than McDonalds and is really easy to navigate. I bought a pair of jeans and wandered around the mall looking at shops and generally having a goodtime. After lunch I bought a milkshake and went back to the apartment feeling pretty happy and that I had had a good time.

That same day, Livia’s father, Virna’s ex-husband, and his new wife, arrived in town. Paulino and Renata. That night they treated us to a concert from São Paulo’s symphony. I’m not exactly sure what they played, but it wasn’t the kind of music that I like the first time I hear it since it was modern and atonal. It was fun anyways, just for the sake that I was doing something cool, it reminded me of home, and the concert hall was sure gorgeous. After the concert was over, at maybe eleven pm since they started at nine, we went to a bar and didn’t leave until after two in the morning. I was so tired but enjoyed the new experience nonetheless.IMG_4357


October 30, 2015

Last full day in São Paulo

While Livia did her day activities, Renata and Paulino took me around the city to two different museums.

Paulino is the silent type. He almost never speaks. That’s not to say that he wasn’t really nice and caring. When he speaks to me, it would be to ask if I had enough money for the bus or the subway or if I had my ID since they would be checking. He insisted on paying for everything for me.

IMG_4387The first museum we went was featuring Frida Kahlo and other feminist Mexican artists that she knew and influenced. It was really cool to see Kahlo’s self-portraits in person, after learning about them so much in Spanish class in high school. It’s cool to see something you study in real life.

Then we went to a different museum which was featuring an Australian artist. This was a really super weird exhibition. I can’t remember what her name was, but she mainly had sculptures of what life would be like in the future with the genetic modification of humans, animals, and plants. I think her goal was achieved, since it was a though provoking exhibit, but also an exhibit that weirded me out and I wouldn’t be interested in seeing again.

She used human hair on her sculptures, and the all looked so life like but disgusting and odd and weird. That’s my personal opinion.

I’m not sure what Paulino thought, but Renata agreed with me.

Then I said goodbye to Paulino and Renata, and went back to Livia’s apartment. That night Livia took me to a TexMex restaurant, since I had told her how much I missed spicy food, not to mention Mexican food.

The food was terrible (even for TexMex) but I really appreciated the thought and am so grateful to Livia for everything.

The next day I had to get to a hotel in São Paulo very early in the morning to go on an exchange student trip, so that concluded my stay in the city.

Exchange Students Support World Peace

One of the long lasting objectives of Rotary Youth Exchange, and any exchange program in general, is world peace. If you personally know someone from Poland, you aren’t as likely to encourage your government to go to war against Poland. (These are just hypothetical situations here, I don’t actually want to go to war against Poland.)

Obviously, this is a very idealistic point of view and aim, but it is also one that I agree with whole heartedly. Every country is different. Every country has its weaknesses and strengths. I don’t believe there is one country that is truly better than every other country. Suffice to say I don’t think it is good or moral to kill people over differences.

Differences are what make us great. Scientifically speaking, without the introduction of different genes and different mutations, species would die off from inbreeding. The world wouldn’t be able to exist without differences.


Spread the Word

Post Paris

peaceI was surfing Facebook when I saw the first of the articles hitting the news stream about the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. Then my phone went crazy, when every exchange student whatsapp group that I’m a part of lit up, with everyone asking each other if they had seen the news and can you believe what’s happening?

This is likely an event that will become of those moments that everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing when they found out about it. Where were you when Kennedy was shot? Where were you when you found out about 9/11?

I was on a couch in the main room in my host mom’s apartment in Brazil when I heard about the ISIS attacks in Paris.

I ended up turning my phone off and reading a book, because while I wanted to know what was happening, I was also sad and couldn’t handle scores of misinformation and terror.

Now we are five days post the moment, and we have entered the world of debate. The big question gracing social media these days is why did Facebook put up a profile picture filter in support of Paris, but not is support of Beirut? Articles are being written about the tragedies in Beirut and Baghdad, and that we are a cold and callous people to have ignored those attacks, when instead the only thing dominating CNN is the attack in Paris. I’m seeing posts reminding people that Paris isn’t the only tragedy that happened recently, and that we should pray for world peace instead. I’m in groups that are talking of making videos with messages to the survivors and the families of the victims in Paris, and yet the loudest voices are those of the people asking why it matters that we stand in support of a country reeling from a huge body count when nobody is going to watch the video anyway.

My response to these outcries of who is more important than who is simple.

Please don’t attack me because I feel sad about the events in Paris. Please don’t tell me what I should feel sad about. The world is a scary place. And I feel sad about the violence and death that occurred five days ago. I feel sad that stopping terrorism can’t be done with me snapping my fingers. I understand that more terrorist attacks happened beyond the one in Paris. Please don’t tell me what I should feel sad about. We should not forget about the events in Paris just because they aren’t the only acts of terrorism to have happened recently. The acts of terrorism, violence, and war around the world are scary and terrible. What happened in Paris was scary and terrible.

The School Situation


Exchange students are the best students

Exchange students are the best students

I go to a private school called Henrique Castriciano for my regular school day classes Monday through Friday from 7:15am to 1:15pm. My host mother pays for this school. I am one of six rotary inbounds that attends this school. The other two inbounds attend other private schools in the city.

Henrique Castriciano is a private school. Our host parents pay for their exchange children to attend these private schools. At these private schools, we are not expected to do any of the classwork, homework, or take any of the tests. We are expected to attend school every day and sit in the class while the teachers lecture. There is never any classwork for the students to do. Each class, including math, consists of a lecture for the entire block. And the teachers speak fast, so even if I wanted to pay attention to what they are saying, I’m only catching words and phrases here and there and the next thing I notice I’m completely zoned out and five minutes have passed.

At the end of our classmates’ high school careers, they will take a test to determine their entrance to university. Therefore, class consists entirely of the material that will be covered on the entrance test to university.

As you can surmise, this is not the case for the exchange students. For every single one of us, school (in a grading standpoint) does not matter. Either we have already graduated or upon return to our host countries we will have to take the year over again.

The teachers do not care what the exchange students do in class (with the exception of the physics teacher, for some reason that none of us can figure out). Chen sleeps every day. The rest of us mess with our phones, read books, write letters, etc.

I’ve never known a person in the world to not complain about school at one point or another, and the Rotary Exchange Students of Natal 2015-2016 are no exception. We all hate school so much. We just want some work to do or something to make the time go by faster. The only thing that we are all united in liking about school is time in between lessons and the thirty minute break in the middle of classes since we can actually talk to our classmates and friends.

As for activities, yes, they are offered at Henrique Castriciano, if you want to pay an extra fee. And soccer practice is still only two days a week with the extra payment.

The Rotary Exchange Students of Natal 2015-2016 go to a public school called IFRN on Tuesdays and Thursdays for a Portuguese class. IFRN is often proclaimed by anyone you ask on the street anywhere as the best public school in the state because it is federally run, not state run. Even the kids at HC (Henrique Castriciano, the private school) say it is a really good school.

The exchange students from the international youth exchange program of AFS attend IFRN for their everyday schooling. This is completely free of charge. IFRN is not a traditional school. You can choose classes. You might be able to learn how to cook or take a carpentry class. Furthermore, the activities that are offered by IFRN are completely free as well. And, if you join the IFRN soccer team, practice is every day.

The Rotary Exchange Students of Natal 2015-2016 are practically salivating we are so desperate to go to IFRN. Even if we get stuck in some boring class like biology where we have to listen to a lecture, hey, at least there’s a gym on campus that’s free of charge to all students.

So, the natural step is to ask our host parents why we are required to attend a private school. The answer is quite simple. We are not allowed to go to any public school since Rotary is concerned that the teachers of IFRN take too many strikes and we will not go to school for a long period of time.

Chiara, my German friend

Chiara, my German friend

A perfectly valid opinion. At this point, however, I think I’ve been in school as much as I’ve been out of school. Since we aren’t required to take the tests, the exchange students are always being told that we have to go to the classrooms of the small children and give presentations about our countries. This has yet to happen and it’s been a month for me, and two to three months for the rest of them. We end up sitting in a corner of the classroom talking, sleeping, reading, playing games, etc. So we’ve all taken to ditching school on the testing days, since there aren’t classes on those days. Furthermore, there have been random school holidays that no one is sure of the reason for. At this point, the AFS students in IFRN have been in school more than the Rotary students have been and the Rotary students are the ones paying.

Another reason that Rotary gave us for not being allowed to go to public school is that at public school, there are drugs and alcohol. Drugs and alcohol are everywhere, folks. You just need to look.

The next step would be to ask our host parents what their reaction would be if we were interested in enrolling at IFRN. So far, all of the parents say that they think we should go to IFRN instead of private school. I asked my mom about it and she was all in, and the next thing I knew she was calling all of the other moms and asking their opinion.

Parents Against Private Schools. Check.

Exchange Students Against Private Schools. Check.

(These aren’t actual organizations, people, I just made them up. But you get the idea.)

The next step? Talk to Rotary. On Monday, I will be talking to my club counselor at my Rotary meeting. Also, at the end of this month, all the inbounds will be having a meeting with Clarice, one of the bigwigs in Rotary, to see who our next host families are. Then we will bring up the School Situation with her, though she’s probably already heard about it since some of the other inbounds have already talked to their counselors.

Best possible outcome: Rotary answers our pleas and we are in IFRN by next month.

Next best possible outcome: We get out of school for summer sometime in November and Rotary lets us change schools for the next school year. Personally, I think that this is likely to happen.

Other possible outcome: Rotary says no and we stay in our private schools. While I obviously don’t want this to happen, I won’t really be upset because at least I do have friends at HC and I’ve gotten more writing done in the past few weeks than I have in the past year.



Thoughts on Language

The thought was nice.

The thought was nice.

I’d like to start out by saying thank you! Your comments and emails mean so much to me! I’m glad you guys are enjoying reading my posts as much as I’m enjoying writing them. This blog has become my journal and I’m writing more than I thought I would be. You guys are the best!

I’ve decided that language is just about the most interesting, complex, crazy, fluid, etc. etc. etc. way of human interaction ever to be. Take this, for example. I haven’t been speaking a lot of English here (or Portuguese really, staying silent is my strong suit) but when I have been I’ve adopted a more English accent than an American one. That’s because all of my exchange friends learned the Queen’s English, being from Europe. It fades whenever I talk to Haven, who is from California, or my parents, or just people from Brazil who are asking me the pronunciation of a certain word for English class or something.

I’ve also decided that knowing Spanish is the best thing that’s ever happened to me when I decided to move to a country in which Portuguese is the official language. I had the very idiotic idea of that “I’ll just pick it up, that’s what I did with Spanish in Mexico,” but then when I moved here I realized that in Colorado, before moving to Mexico, I had actually been exposed to a lot of Spanish and at least knew what the words were for the various tenses. (Ex. I, you, him, etc.) And then I came to Brazil and didn’t know what the words were for I and you and us and realized just how stupid I had been. Now I know these words, because they are very helpful whenever you want to speak any sentence ever.

Anyways, Spanish is so helpful because I understand so much of what I hear. I can’t always form a reply, but I at least understand the question. Many of the words are the same, just pronounced differently, or at the very least, the words are very similar. Of course, there are words that have absolutely no connection to each other, but because the brain is such a lovely thing and should never be underestimated, it just clicks that that word means this.IMG_3318

It’s really hard to explain how everything is just starting to fall in place. I can speak in baby sentences and basically only in present tense and I have to stop and ask for words but I am speaking and understanding Portuguese. I hear things, and they just magically make sense.

Spanish is also such a curse since I rely too much on it at times when it can be completely different in every possible way from Portuguese.

Again, not sure how much sense I am making here since you guys aren’t experiencing what I’m hearing. On one hand, I feel like my Spanish has never been as good as it was when I was leaving Mexico, and on the other hand, I feel that if I went to Mexico right now I would start speaking in Portuguese to anyone who talked to me. They are so similar and yet so different that I can’t make sense in my head of what is what anymore. So that’s where I will leave you.

Seventeen Days


IMG_3232 (1)I have been in Brazil for seventeen days today! It feels like a century. When I come home I fall into bed and sleep and then I can’t remember what happened the previous day even though everything and then some happened. I could say that four million more times but it wouldn’t make it any less true.

Virna’s daughter came in town from São Paulo with a friend of hers to take a test to be a judge. I met her on Friday, and then again on Saturday when I went to lunch with Virna’s family. Virna has an incredibly smart family. Virna herself is a lawyer and works for some sector of the government.

Her youngest daughter, Livia, is a lawyer, studying to be a judge.

Her oldest daughter has a pretty interesting story. She was a Rotary exchange student like myself when she was sixteen and went to Germany. When her year was over, she decided that she wanted to stay in Germany since the education system is better (or something, I didn’t completely understand) and took a language proficiency test, passed, and now has dual citizenship in Germany and Brazil. She’s lived in Berlin ever since, and is now a doctor.

Virna’s niece, Natalia, is a lawyer and currently studying for her masters in law. She has a boyfriend who she will probably marry in the next year (I’m not certain about this, but that’s what Virna told me. She also told me that nobody really knows but it’s basically expected that they will marry soon since they have been talking about it forever.) The boyfriend is a doctor who is specializing in gynecology.

Virna’s boyfriend has been interviewed for a published article in the New York Times and is a sociologist.

And those are the only people I have asked about.

Anyways, before we went to lunch on Saturday, Virna, Viveca, and I went to a park where there was some kind of fitness festival and dance party. Viveca is Virna’s older sister. It was in a park that was kind of outside of the city and has a huge observatory that you can go into to see a view of the city. Unfortunately, the observatory was closed, but you can still get pretty high up and have an incredible view.

The dance party was kind of cool to watch, but really hard to dance in if you haven’t grown up with these dances since you can walk. I mostly watched. They all know the moves to the dances like we know the steps to the Electric Slide or the Cupid Shuffle, except these dances were WAY harder and a lot less intuitive. Also, they had a kind of different dance for every different song, but there were two people in the front demonstrating, and then people caught on. My favorite part was when Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars came on and everyone went crazy and danced their hearts out. It was really fun to watch.

After the fitness festival turned dance party, we went to lunch on Saturday with the family. Lunch is the meal that everyone meets together, comparable to dinner in the United States. This time lunch was at my host-grandmother’s apartment. Before it has been at my aunt’s apartment, and in various restaurants during the week. Natalia speaks pretty excellent English, but for the most part I just hang around and listen. These lunches are fun even though I don’t understand a lot of what they are saying. It reminded me of the Montgomery family, because they got into some heated debate regarding law and the government. That’s about all I could understand from what they were saying. Sometimes they stop to tell me the bare bones of what is happening, but that it isn’t often. I still wasn’t bored, though.

After the meal, I met the husband of Virna’s mother (I’m going to call her my grandmother since it’s easier). He is 95 years old, while my grandmother is in her late seventies. They have been married for fifty some years though. He is not the father of Virna and Viveca (Virna’s sister) because their biological father died when they were very young. But, for all intents and purposes, he is the grandfather. He mainly sleeps all day in the bedroom, and everyone goes to say hi/goodbye to him when they are getting ready to leave.

He is funny since I can’t understand what he is saying due to some slurred and mangled Portuguese, but he mentions Obama every time I see him and can’t remember that we have met before.

Speaking of President Obama, he is loved loved loved by the people here. They all mention him when I say I am from the United States. It makes my Democratic party soul sing because they love Obama more than the average person I meet on the streets in the United States. I had to move to a different country to find people who like my president. (I also went to a high school that had a mainly conservative student population, so I’m a bit biased.) They tell me that Obama is better than their president. My classmates were telling me a bit about the corruption in Brazilian politics, and the first thing they said was, “Our president is corrupt. Not like Obama. Obama is good.” Also, everyone seems so relieved that I am also a supporter of Obama since they know how divided American politics can be.

We talk to the grandfather, and then we said goodbye to each other. Brazilian goodbyes remind me of Montgomery goodbyes since everyone announces that they are leaving, and then we all hug and kiss each other, and then we drink another coffee and have another conversation, and then we hug and kiss each other again, and then we finally leave.

Instead of leaving completely, though, Virna and I just went down a few floors to Viveca’s apartment and watched Netflix and drank more coffee and coke and wine. It was fun. The shows are in English with Brazilian subtitles.

Chen’s birthday was on Sunday, and he threw a party. However, nobody knew what time the party was. Chen is the exchange student from Taiwan. Regarding the fact that nobody knew what time his party was, I must tell you that that is so typically Brazilian that you don’t even realize how normal it is. The eight exchange students have a Whatsapp message group, and yet two of us missed the memo that the party started at eleven am, not three pm.

Claire and Virna having some coconut water.

Claire and Virna having some coconut water.

Because I thought the party started at three instead of eleven, Virna, my grandmother, Viveca, and I all went to Ponta Negra beach, which is just on the other side of the city from where we live. That’s where I went Paddleboarding last weekend. We sat in some chairs along the ocean and drank coconut water and they ordered some food for lunch. However, the fish was bad. I’m not exactly sure how Virna could tell since it was fried, but regardless, the fish was bad. Apparently it is illegal to cook directly on the beach, and when Virna asked where the food was coming from, they told her a different restaurant every time she asked. So she refused to eat the fish and Viveca and Virna and some guy had a very loud and angry conversation about it. Virna was really mad since she still had to pay for the food even though it wasn’t good food in her opinion. I have no idea if this is true or not, but I’m guessing it is, since everyone has told me to be wary about the food you eat on the beach and to always ask about it before you order.

Then we went to a different restaurant on the complete opposite side of the town, and after we had finished eating, Natalia showed up and started eating too. We talked and hung out with her. During lunch, Viveca and Virna were talking about the education system in Brazil, again reminding me of the Montgomery family. The students here in Brazil do not write at all. All of their tests involve multiple choice and the classes are simply lecture with no work attached with the exception of math. They don’t learn critical reasoning. They don’t have to defend their thinking by writing essays. Virna and Viveca told me during lunch that they also don’t learn about personal health and government, even though there are history and geography classes. This is not the case in Brazil. All of the classes they take lead up to a test that they take when they graduate. The test determines whether they are accepted into university or not. While I’m not sure which system is better, I do think that critical thinking is a skill that is needed if you ever want anyone to make informed choices on voting, the government, etc. In the state of Colorado, it is mandatory for every high school student to take a health class and Colorado government in order to graduate.

IMG_3235 (1)During the lunch, someone called Virna and told her that Chen’s party had actually started at eleven, but they hadn’t done the cake yet if I still wanted to come. We hustled to the hotel that Chen’s host mom manages and made it in time to eat cake and tell Chen happy birthday. I still had fun because I got to hang out with my school friends and my exchange friends, even if it was only for a little bit.

IMG_3236 (1)Manu, the host mom of Chen, invited me to come paddleboarding with her and Chen and Eric after the party at Ponta Negra like we did the previous weekend, and I accepted. However, this is Brazil, so while Manu and Eric’s host mom probably knew of the plans, Eric had no idea what was going on. All of the exchange students, led by Veera and Eric, wanted to go do something together after the party, like going to the mall just to hang out. We don’t see each other all together that often, especially Veera, since she lives on the outskirts of the city and doesn’t go to the same school as the rest of us. We tried asking Manu what was going on, but she just blew us off, and then we asked her if there was any way we could hang out together at the mall, and then she proceeded to give us a talking to about how the Brazilian way of life works, because apparently we have no idea.

She told us that in Brazil, Sunday is family day, so no we could not go to the mall, and that we had to hang out with our families since we hadn’t seen them all week. She said that if we had wanted to hang out, we should have done it on Saturday, but today was Sunday, and that she had plans with her family, and that Eric and Claire were coming along too. While I got her point, I thought that she was very judgmental of us, since all of us see our families all the time. I spent all day Saturday hanging out with Virna, as well as Sunday morning, and how was I spending time with my family if I was going to Ponta Negra with Manu? Veera’s host parents apparently do not work, so she spends all of her free time with her family. The other exchange students had similar reactions, but we decided not to push it.

It ended with Eric, Chen, and I going paddleboarding in Ponta Negra. After we went paddleboarding, we stopped by Haven’s house. I have no idea why. Again, this is Brazil. What I do is get in the car and just accept everything that comes. If you think one thing is going to happen, it probably will, along with a few other things. Manu had a talk with Haven and his host parents about I’m not sure what, while Chen and Eric and I went and messed around with a basketball and kicked a soccer ball around. We had fun, but it was eight pm and we were all starving and the only real thing the three of us wanted to do was eat and sleep, after a full day of swimming in the ocean and parties, etc.

I am glad I’m not the only person who wants to pass out from exhaustion after these packed days, since Chen and Eric were just as dead as I was. I don’t know how Brazilians do it. Virna is very suited for my personality since she goes to bed at 9:30 or 10 every night and doesn’t drag me around to people’s houses at 8 without making sure I have eaten.

Finally, Chen, Eric and I made the executive decision that we were just going back to the house even though they had kicked us out, and we are happy we did because that’s when the pizza arrived. After we ate, we played video games and hung out some more (this time with Haven) while Manu talked with Haven’s host parents. We were so tired that we barely talked and hanging out meant us mostly sitting together staring into space.

I got home at around ten and just went to bed immediately. It was a fun day, but an exhausting day.

Exchanging host flags at the Rotary Club of Natal Tirol (not my real club).

Exchanging host flags at the Rotary Club of Natal Tirol (not my real club).

On Monday, I went to my first Rotary meeting. There has been some confusion as to which club I’m in. On my guarantee form, it says I am in Rotary Club of Natal. I told that to my fellow exchangers, and they all said that there is no such thing, and that there are only four Rotary clubs in Natal. Virna told me I was in Rotary Club de Natal do Sul, but when I went to my first meeting last week, it was Rotary Club of Natal Tirol. I gave the flag of Rotary Club of Aurora to the club’s president, Daladiana. And then Virna told me that she figured out that my real club is Rotary Club of Natal, the one that the other exchange students thought didn’t exist. Shows you how much they know, since there are actually seven clubs in the city, not four. I think I will be going to one or two meetings a month. My club is very traditional and they meet at 12:30 every Monday and eat lunch and have their meeting. I don’t know what they talked about, since it was too fast. The only interesting thing is that you are presented to the club president and exchange club flags. Luckily, I had more than one flag to give from Rotary Club of Aurora. They also gave me my allowance, which is R$200 a month. Thank you, Rotary!

Virna went to Recife on Tuesday morning for work, so I spent Tuesday night with Dona Fatima at the apartment.

IMG_3294Wednesday at school was a fun day since the students in my class threw a surprise going away party for our history teacher, who is changing schools. Everyone (except the exchange students who missed the memo) brought food and drinks cheered when he walked into the class. The entire class was spent taking selfies and eating and talking. The history teacher talked to the class too and there were girls crying (no boys cried, because they are too manly and cannot be degraded to such a position) and then everyone gave the teacher a huge group hug. I kind of felt like I was intruding since everyone was very sad to see him go, when I’ve only known this guy for a week and a half and have only spoken a few words with him, and yet the girls around me were sobbing. At least the food was good.

Entire class selfie.

Entire class selfie.

I spent Wednesday night at Jeanne’s house. Jeanne is the girl from France. Jeanne lives on the other side of the city but she still comes to Henrique Castriciano for school. Jeanne’s family is really nice. Their daughter is in Golden, Colorado, USA for her Rotary youth exchange.

While I really didn’t enjoy it that Virna was gone, I think that this is one of the best things that has happened to me this far since I was forced to speak in only Portuguese, while when I’m with Virna I speak in Portuguese and then can lapse into English if I don’t know how to say something. Dona Fatima and Jeanne’s host parents don’t speak any English whatsoever, and this really threw me into the Portuguese gear. When Virna got back today, I just started speaking Portuguese with her, and I didn’t really think anything of it, but she nearly fell over and told me how happy she was that I’m actually speaking Portuguese! It’s not right, and really slow, and I have to stop for words and restart sentences since I realize I can’t finish the one I was speaking, but it’s still Portuguese and it’s a start! This is week three! Imagine week four!

In school, there are some people that don’t know how to speak English at all, and some people who speak amazing English. The people who speak English in my class have told me that they are going to stop speaking English to me since I need to learn how to speak Portuguese. My new favorite phrase is “please repeat slower.”

Outside of my class, people flock towards me so they can practice their English. They tell me about their visits to the States and are so happy to have someone to practice with. My hair is a very hot commodity, and people love to touch it. I don’t think that they think it’s really real until they stroke it and pull it and make sure that it’s actually attached to my head. A lot of people just have thirty second conversations before they leave, because they are too shy to say anything else. I have learned a thousand people’s names and forgotten all of them since I only had a thirty second meeting with most of the people that I meet. Eric was complaining to me about all of the attention today (he’s from Finland), but I’m happy to give out my name and have people touch my hair.

On that note, I swear that the entire city knows who all of the exchange students are. Either that, or my blonde hair and light skin are dead giveaways. Today Eric and Chen and I were waiting outside of the school gate for Eric’s mom to pick us up, when a guy on a motorcycle pulled up and said that we were exchange students so we needed to wait inside the school boundaries because who knows what will happen outside of the school grounds. While at least we are in the school grounds the school is still responsible for us. None of us had ever seen the guy in our lives before. Also, to be fair, I have blond hair and blue eyes, as does Eric, and Chen is Asian, so maybe that’s how he knew we don’t come from Brazil.

And speaking of people worrying about us being in danger, it’s kind of ridiculous and terrifying at the same time. Ridiculous because sometimes I think people worry too much. For example, I’ve stood in that same spot outside of the school gate every day after school waiting for Virna and have never been mugged/knifed/I don’t know what they are expecting. The school is next to a police station. Terrifying because the constant warnings about Natal being a very dangerous place and that we can’t leave the house alone, etc. have gotten into all of our psyches and freaked us out a little, since if everyone says it, then it must be true. Some days I walk to school with Lana, one of Virna’s cousins that lives in the apartment next door, and on the way there we take one road, and on the way home we take a different road because the first road is dangerous at that time of day. Lana walks everywhere, so I believe her.

I think all of us, but especially Chiara and Eric and Jeanne who have been here for two months, are going a little stir crazy since they can’t just leave their apartments when their families aren’t home. This is a very different lifestyle than we are all used to since in our home countries, most of us could either walk everywhere or had a driver’s license and could go places without our parents worrying that we would be involved in some sort of street violence. Our neighborhoods at home are safe to walk in or we live in small towns where nobody drives. In the outbound orientation, I was warned that we probably wouldn’t have as much freedom as we are used to, but I didn’t realize how true it is. There is public transportation here, but we aren’t allowed to use it until we have been here for three months and know more of the language, so we are driven everywhere.

I was also warned that I would probably pick up weight since the food would be really good. So far, my pants have only gotten bigger. I think the food is fine, but it’s really boring and bland. There is absolutely no spicy food. Every meal involves some variation of rice and beans. I crave spicy food so much. Last night I had a dream about some nice spicy curry. I woke up so disappointed. Tabasco just made it to Brazil, and it is sooo exotic, you have no idea.

The only other thing to report is that I have an ear infection. I think it is from swimming in the ocean, because the last time I had an ear infection I lived in Mexico two blocks away from the beach. I’m now on meds, and went to a doctor to get diagnosed and the prescription. The doctor is apparently a friend of Virna’s, so the visit was free. I think it would have been nearly so regardless, since most of healthcare in Brazil is free. The medication was a total of R$30, or $8 USD. Lovely country. I need to ask about insulin because I’m sure it’s cheaper here and that way my parents don’t have to ship me more.

Thanks for reading!


IMG_3001Warning: This post is very stream of consciousness since I was mostly unloading, so I apologize if it’s confusing at all.

Written yesterday (Sep. 15), posted today (Sep. 16)

So much happens in one day that it feels like I’ve been here for a month, not a week. I can’t believe that I’ve been here for a week.


Right now Haven, the student from California, is missing, and that’s all I can think about. We are all in a Whatsapp group together and all of the exchange students (minus Haven) are FREAKING THE F OUT.

Natal can be very dangerous in some parts and nobody has any idea where he is. He was supposed to meet his host mom at the mall by the McDonald’s but he wasn’t there and now the mall security and police are involved as well as every single person in the city affiliated with Rotary. We are hoping his phone is just out of battery and that he’s waiting in the mall somewhere (unlikely since the place has been searched all over) but he’s gone. Poof. Right now everyone (on the student side of this, at least) is thinking of worse case scenarios, and our parents are too (we are sure at least) but they are telling us that he will be fine to calm us down. It’s quite scary since Haven doesn’t speak Portuguese and anything could have happened.

UPDATE: Haven is online and texting us! He’s alive! His exact words are: “Long story ill explain later face to face”.

Thanks bro.

Oh, wait, he just told us his phone died and he waited at McDonald’s for like 3 hours and then walked to Chen’s house and asked the guard there for a charger so he could call his host mom. That’s the story. I’ll bully more out of him at school tomorrow.


Okay, freak out (for now, anyway) done.

Exchange student selfie when hanging out at the mall.

Exchange student selfie when hanging out at the mall.


Even though about four billion things have happened over the past few days I’m going to talk about my Portuguese class and the stupid Italian boy.

Today was my second day of Portuguese class. As I’ve stated before, there are other exchange students from a different program than Rotary that go to this class too. This includes an Italian boy. I have a ton of very bad names to call said Italian boy, but I’m not going to write them here since I don’t know who’s going to be reading this, like maybe a future employer. Therefore, reader, please insert a lot of curse words here for Stupid-Italian-Boy-That-Makes-Me-Mad-And-Needs-To-Grow-Up.

SIB (or Stupid Italian Boy) for short.

SIB thinks it is funny (and quite possibly flirtatious and amazing and that all the girls will marry him and ride off into the sunset with him) by being the most annoying guy in the room. He picked on all the girls when they first arrived but I am new so I am fresh meat. He pulls your hair and pokes you and touches you and gets in your face and IS SOOOOO ANNOYING (caps lock and extra o’s for emphasis, folks, besides, I’m pissed off so give me some slack). The Brazilian boys are annoying since they are constantly asking, “Do you have a boyfriend? Why don’t you have a boyfriend? You are so pretty. Do you want a boyfriend? I can be your boyfriend.” I am so thankful to be in Rotary where one of the rules is no dating (even though Brazil doesn’t care) because I have such a great excuse when in reality, I couldn’t care less at this point about not having a boyfriend and my relationship status. I am more concerned about making friends and learning Portuguese. But SIB is even more annoying than all of them. He is a major jerk and doesn’t know how to keep his hands to himself.

SIB was filling some water bottles up for some people, including me, and then he wouldn’t give me my filled water bottle back and was only playing with it and hiding it behind his back, etc. This can be amusing for like twenty seconds, like any normal person will joke, but he proceeded with this game for about five minutes until the teacher finally noticed and yelled at him (props for the powers of observation, there. I’m in a pretty sarcastic mood right now.) During this whole show I just stopped paying attention to him. He finally stopped and just dropped my water bottle on the floor. Whatever.

The teacher left the room to grab some copies and asked me to erase the board, and I was doing so, and SIB sneaked up next to me and screamed in my ear. Needless to say, I was not amused. More like scared out of my wits. He, naturally, thought it was the most hilarious thing to ever happen on this planet.

Then he started messing with me by scribbling on the board and telling me to erase it. I was so done at this point and handed the eraser to him. He wouldn’t take it. I handed it to him again. He gave it back. Then he stepped towards me with the pen extended like he was going to write on me and I shoved the eraser into his white shirt. It was a lovely moment just for his look of shock (and my shock too, since I honestly wasn’t expecting myself to do that). There was dead silence in the class, and then SIB threw the eraser across the room and started screaming at me in Portuguese and Italian. I just shrugged and sat in my seat. I was so mad. He was screaming at me saying that I needed to pay for his shirt and what was I thinking and I was such a jerk (and I only understood this after the fact when some people told me what he was saying) and I just told him point blank, “I don’t understand but you were being a jerk.”

The whole touching, talking, pulling hair, screaming in the ear thing comes to mind.

He stormed over to my desk and ripped out the first page of my notebook where I had some notes and ripped it up and threw it in the trash and screamed at me some more and told me that he wasn’t going to get me anymore water and then sat in his desk and glared at me for the rest of the class.

It was such an immature reaction. I have to admit that my reaction was probably immature too, but at some point saying no isn’t enough. And I don’t think anyone has said no to SIB before. I was so high on adrenaline for the rest of the class.

All the other girls told me that he was just joking and playing around with me, but Chiara, my friend from Germany, told me that he deserved it and I was very grateful to her for taking my side.


Written September 16, 2015

Today Haven told me the story about what happened to him. So he was told to wait for his mother at the McDonalds at the mall and he did. His phone was dead, so he couldn’t check the time, but he thinks he was there for three hours since he read two hundred pages of his book and that would take him three hours. (I think he’s an idiot.) Then he left the mall and walked to Chen’s house which was pretty close by but he didn’t know which house Chen lived in and was walking up and down the streets of Chen’s neighborhood before he finally asked a guard if they had a charger for his cellphone, which they did. He called his host mom, and texted the rest of us saying he was alive. Seriously, everyone involved in every exchange program in the city, my school class, the police, and the mall security was looking for him.

He told me he thinks he made the right choice by leaving to go to Chen’s house. I think he’s an idiot for not staying in one place (especially since he didn’t know which house Chen lived in) and not asking the four thousand people in the mall or going to one of the many cell phone stores and asking to charge his phone there so he could call his mom. When I was a kid, my parents told me to stay in one place. Virna told me she thought he was being stupid too. Actually, everyone does, but Haven just blows us off when we tell him that. Maybe he’ll know better next time.


At the beach with Chen

At the beach with Chen

So, Sunday was a busy day. The host mom of Chen took me and Chen and Eric and Haven to Ponta Negra beach where we paddle boarded and had an amazing time. Then we went to a Rotary function which was this band of teenagers playing songs that was apparently started a few years ago through a Rotary club, which is why we went. It was like a fundraiser for the band I think. I was drafted to play clarinet, but I came across mostly as an idiot because the music was all handwritten and I got lost so many times. Also, a lot of it was in the high register and my chops were not up to snuff. They were good musicians, aside from being horribly out of tune.

Picture of Rotary exchange students and the band.

Picture of Rotary exchange students and the band.

After we played with the band and ate, some students kept playing and most of them got up and danced. We danced too! It was a lot of fun and we mostly looked like idiots trying to learn how to samba (super super hard) and floro (again, spelling most likely wrong). It was cool to see that so many young people know the traditional dances of their country and dance them for fun.

After the dance, we took a million selfies with the kids and exchanged Whatsapp (a free international texting service) numbers with what seemed like everyone and then we left to go take a tour of the biggest cashew tree in the world. It was pretty cool since it felt like we were in a forest but it was actually one organism. Mostly we had fun hanging out with each other.

Largest cashew tree in the world (and exchange students trying to eat a plastic fruit)

Largest cashew tree in the world (and exchange students trying to eat a plastic fruit)

Then we parted ways, and me, Chen, and Eric went back to Ponta Negra to swim and paddle board some more, but Pierre came along for the ride this time.

The beach is so beautiful and paddle boarding is so peaceful (if there isn’t that much wind, at least. The first time it was windy so you had to mostly concentrate on not falling off your board, even though I did maybe five or more times. The second time it was high tide and the waves were very small.) You can see the whole city from Ponta Negra and the ocean and it was beautiful to watch the sun set behind the city and float on the water. I felt like I was on top of the world in that moment.

That’s all I have for now! I’m having an amazing time so far and I can’t wait to see what is in my future. I’m very happy. I know it’s inevitable that I will have a slump period, but whenever that is, it is not today.

Paddle boarding! I'm in there somewhere, but this is mostly people I don't know

Paddle boarding! I’m in there somewhere, but this is mostly people I don’t know