Watching figure skating videos. My parents are looking at each other right now and wondering if I’ve been abducted by aliens or something. I’ve never told anyone this before, but two years ago I saw a clip of that 2014 Nationals on YouTube and I’ve been hooked ever since, becoming somewhat of a closet fan. I’ve watched the same four or five clips of my favorite skaters over and over again, and the artistry and athleticism is very impressive to me. Over the past few days I’ve been watching Gracie Gold, the 2016 national champion, over and over on YouTube. It’s been cheering me up.
Taylor Swift. I’m listening to her album 1989 right now, and it is still very much my jam. It also makes me very happy that she has so many Grammy nominations.
Videos from shows like Britain’s Got Talent and The Voice where someone unexpected surprises everyone with how good they are.
J.K. Rowling’s Twitter presence
Washing dishes. It’s weirdly therapeutic.
Feel the Bern
Basketball. I’m so thrilled to have something to do three times a week. I am absolutely terrible, but having something new to learn is awesome.
Lemon thing that I don’t know the translation to but it’s really good
The Broncos making it to the Super Bowl. I have invited all of the exchange students in my city to come to a sports bar with me to cheer them on. If we lose, hopefully it won’t be as terrible as it was a few years ago.
F.R.I.E.N.D.S. Enough said.
Humans of New York
Some mango for you since I didn’t really have a picture that matched this post perfectly
I’ve been kind of depressed lately, and it’s been the appreciation of small things that have been getting me through the past month. I’m in a slump. Not everything’s perfect with my second host family, it’s really hot, I haven’t had anything to occupy my time with no school, my host city is the second most dangerous city in Brazil, it’s January and people are generally depressed in January, it’s raining a lot, etc. etc. etc. There are many different explanations for why I haven’t been feeling so happy lately, but I guess the simplest is that I’m a little homesick. I miss American food, I miss my family, I miss schoolwork, I miss being busy, I miss cold weather, I miss my friends, I miss libraries with books in English, I miss a lot of things.
At this point I just feel like I’m in limbo, waiting for things to happen. Waiting for my next exchange student trip. Waiting for my family to come visit. Waiting to go home.Things aren’t so exciting and exotic once you get used to them.
After about two months of summer vacation, school is finally starting up again on Monday, and I’m hopeful that the sense of routine and having something solid to do every day will be good. Also, my first host mom knows that I haven’t been so happy lately, as well as Veera from Finland. Even if they can’t make me magically happier, it’s nice having people to talk to. At first I wasn’t really interested in writing or posting this blog post, since I didn’t really want sympathy or Rotary to know. But then I decided what the heck. I’m allowed to be sad and homesick, despite the stigma on the internet and social media that every post out there must show happy you are and how perfect your life is. My life isn’t perfect.
I know things will get better, but I just need a little time. I’m also craving a little human interaction from the States from people that aren’t my parents and my friends, so if you want to FaceTime or Skype or something, send me an email and we’ll set up a date. I might wait a little while to actually agree to talk, though, since at this point I feel like talking to people at home is just making me more depressed. But drop me a line anyways, and we’ll set up a date.
The thing about exchange is that not everything is perfect. Not everything is sunshine and mangos the entire time. If you just read the blog posts and look at the pictures, everything seems amazing. The dream life is that perfect picture of you and a gorgeous view with your flag or your best friend. But in reality, exchange is made up of every day moments, too. Moments where all you do all day is go to school and come home and then go to bed. Days where you have a cold and feel miserable.
My first night in Brazil, a little more than four months ago, I thought that I had made a terrible mistake. The lights were off, it was dark outside, I was tired and jetlagged, and I was definitely not very happy at that point. I was wondering just what I had gotten myself into. Everything was different. My room was small, it was hot and humid, I didn’t really understand my new host mom, wifi didn’t reach my new room, the mattress was lumpy, etc.
Of course, since that first night, life has been pretty good. I have lived the dream. I have plenty of those perfect pictures. I was lucky to get a great first host family.
My first host mom, Virna, and myself
One of the policies of Rotary is that each exchange student will switch host families at least once, and the Rotary exchange students of Natal, Brasil, are no exception. The switch happened just before New Year, and I was again lucky enough to go to my first choice house. The exchange students here switch families amongst ourselves, and I went to Eric from Finland’s first host family. The setup of this family is exactly the same as my previous host family: a mom and me. My new mom’s name is Nelly, and her son is doing his exchange in Newton, Iowa. (What’s in Iowa? Apparently he’s pretty bored. Poor kid.)
Veera, Virna, and Claire
The reason Nelly was my first choice is primarily because of the location of her apartment. My first host mom lived in one of the best spots in the city, in my opinion. Near public transportation, school close enough to walk to, easy access to beach, mall, athletic club, etc. Nelly lives about fifteen blocks down the road, in the same part of the city, with all of the above applicable. Plus, she is a really nice person. All of the exchange families are really nice here, so I really couldn’t lose on that front.
The switching of families went off without a hitch. The letting go of Mom One (as I’ve taken to calling Virna, to make it easier for all those involved) was not so easily accomplished. I still think of Virna as my mom. I think of Nelly as my mom. This makes conversations complicated.
Eric, Nelly’s first host son, Nelly, and me
Nelly is great. She is very spontaneous. She doesn’t speak a word of English which is really forcing my Portuguese to get better, because with Mom One I could ask her for words in English during conversations. I now know the words for all sorts of random things because Nelly will see something and stop and make me repeat it until I have it memorized (speed bump is lombada). She is loud. She talks a lot. She blasts music in her tiny apartment at ten at night. She has a tiny apartment with a hammock in the main room that I have quickly fallen in love with.
I was very melancholy my first few weeks with Nelly. My first night at Nelly’s house mirrored my first night at Virna’s. I was sad, thinking I was crazy, and wondering just what I had gotten myself into. I missed Virna. And it was all the harder since I knew Virna and her new exchange daughter Veera had a standing invitation to come over and spend the night whenever I wanted to. They have a guest room which they have basically dubbed as “Claire’s room.”
I have taken Virna and Veera up on this standing invitation. Nelly didn’t have any plans for New Year’s Eve, and Virna’s family did, so we went to the Yacht Club and watched the fireworks as they were set off over the main bridge that leads into the city. I stayed the night, and then Virna told me to stay another night, so I did. Before leaving Nelly’s apartment, she had told me that if it was summer vacation and that if I wanted to stay at Virna’s for a week, she didn’t care. All I had to do was let her know what I was up to.
At this point I was feeling very comforatable at Virna’s, and not at all comfortable at Nelly’s. Of course I wanted to stay for a week at Virna’s house, but there was a little voice in the back of my head telling me that I just needed to get used to Nelly and everything would be fine, and that even though Nelly had told me that everything was fine with her if I hung out with Virna and Veera for a few days, I was a bad exchange student for not even trying to have a relationship with my new mom. So even though Virna told me to stay another night, I told her that I needed to go back to Nelly’s house. It just about killed me to go back, but I did. I told Virna this and she hugged me for about five minutes. I think she misses me just as much as I miss her.
That being said, Nelly has become such a great mom to me. She had to get used to me just as much as I had to get used to her. She’s never had a daughter before, and she is used to loud and expressive children, just as she is herself. She told me that she worried about me the first few days because she thought I was really unhappy and upset with her because I was so quiet, but now she knows that I am generally pretty quiet.
Also, I can now see why it’s a good thing to switch families. Virna is Brazilian. Nelly is Brazilian. With Nelly, I’ve been exposed to a completely different part of Brazil than I was with Virna. With Nelly, I’ve been receiving an education on Brazilian Rock, gone to Mass once, gone to small markets and restaurants, seen what public healthcare looks like, met a huge huge huge extended family, and have gotten insight to another Brazilian’s view of politics. Life is good and I am very happy.
Yesterday I went to Mass with Nelly. Nelly is very Catholic. In her apartment she has a shrine to the Virgin Mary and her dead mother. She goes to Mass at least once a week, and many times more. I went with her yesterday to see what a Brazilian Mass looks like. I don’t know what an American Mass looks like. I went to a Mass once in the Vatican, and that is about the extent of my Catholic education. When everyone stood, I stood, and when everyone kneeled, I sat. I didn’t feel completely comfortable kneeling and Nelly didn’t say anything so I figured I wasn’t too disrespectful. It was kind of funny, because she was really insistent that I do some things, like crossing myself, while in the next minute she told me to take my phone out so I could take a picture. I had kept my phone away, not wanting to be disrespectful. In the long run, in it didn’t matter, since my phone ran out of space so I couldn’t take any pictures anyways.
I like the food so much better here at Nelly’s than at Virna’s. Neither one of them cook, but Nelly’s maid makes more variety and also makes enough food to last for the days when she doesn’t come so Nelly doesn’t go to restaurants all the time like Virna. Not to mention the fruit. The fruit here is the same that I had at Virna’s: mango, papaya, pineapple, guava, so on. The fact that it’s the same doesn’t make it any less of a treat. Furthermore, unlike at Virna’s, Nelly makes concentrate for juice herself, while Virna would just buy it at the store. This makes the juice all the much better. I have also learned the joy of having orange juice minutes after it was squeezed.
After mentioning to my parents and friends back at home for several months that I was considering playing basketball, I have finally signed up. I have never played basketball in my life, except for messing around with friends in driveways.
Nelly is a member at a nearby athletic club called AABB. I have become her dependent, and have joined the basketball practice they have three times a week there. Veera from Finland, Virna’s new host daughter joined basketball at the same time that I did.
I know absolutely nothing about basketball, but so far it’s been super fun since I’m running around and doing drills that the teacher has to literally help me do step by step and playing pickup games, etc. This is the first time during my entire exchange that I’ve joined something that I’m actually really into, and it gets me out of the house more. AABB is maybe ten or fifteen blocks down the road, so I’ve also been walking to and from the club. As far as I know, we won’t be playing games against other teams, but they have pickup games every Saturday and Sunday that I’m planning on going to, and I’m perfectly to mess around with other people knowing that I’m terrible. The practice is coed, but so far there has only been one other girl other than Veera and myself.
The most frequently asked question I’ve gotten since December started is if I miss my family. I think everyone is expecting the exchange students to have mini meltdowns and fall apart because it’s Christmas season and we aren’t home with our families to celebrate. My parents asked me this too when we spoke on my birthday, and I was also expecting myself to be homesick as holiday season started. I can’t speak for everyone else, but my answer is that yes, I miss my family, but no, I’m not homesick.
The city has put up lights on the trees and a huge tree made completely out of lights which is kind of cool. I laugh every time I see the lights that are supposed to look like icicles since the average temperature here this December has been eighty degrees Fahrenheit. It’s like a personal joke since nobody seems to get it.
Christmas is so funny here. It’s the middle of summer here, so it’s not as big as a deal as it is in the States, so everyone tells me. They also tell me that in Natal, the name of which literally translates to “Christmas” in English, Christmas is a bigger deal than in the rest of Brazil because the city was founded on December 25, 1599. I’m still not sure what this means as the city is lit up and people are out of school and everyone has plans to go to Christmas Mass and spend time with their families with good food. That seems pretty similar to the spirit at home.
To me, Christmas just means family and friends and good food. And I miss my family at home, but I have a family here.
Rotary Natal threw the eight exchange students a Christmas party at the end of November. It was a fun and long day. They told us that we would be taking a ride in dune buggies and would be going to the nearby sand dunes (Dunas de Genipabu). They told us to bring hats and sunscreen and our bathing suits and a dry pair of clothes. That did not prepare me for four hours of being in the back of what can only be explained as a Barbie jeep in full glare of the sunlight going up bumpy and fast off road sand expeditions without seat belts.
Okay, let me explain. Three dune buggies / jeeps / Barbie cars. Four exchange students per jeep, and then Daladiana (important Rotary person) and other Rotary people in the other jeep. We loaded up at a hotel. I brought my sunscreen and a hat and my American flag, and climbed into the back of the jeep, accompanied by Haven (California), Veera (Finland), and Chiara (Germany). Haven was the lucky duck (and also the biggest of all of us) so he got/had to ride in the front so we could all fit in the back. That meant that he was covered and had shade. Oh how I wish that I could have gotten the shady seat.
Let me tell you, folks, that a hat and applying sunscreen every thirty minutes and keeping all of your clothes on does nothing against the sun in the location of the highest incidences of skin cancer in the world.
These rides are absolutely crazy and something I have no desire to repeat ever again. The rides were ridiculously bumpy and we had no seatbelts and I would have driven my fellow passengers crazy had they not been screaming along with me. I was a bit worried for my life in parts. I don’t even know how to describe it other than that when the ride ended I literally had bruises on my butt and I closed my eyes during parts so I wouldn’t see the death defying acts of dune buggy riding that our driver took us on.
At the end I was dehydrated and red and sunburnt and red and tired and sunburnt and red.
Something I’m glad they didn’t mention to us at the beginning: that people have died on these dune buggy excursions in past years. I can totally see why. This makes me laugh a little bit because had there been any hint of danger for something like this in the USA we would have had to sign papers and papers making sure that we couldn’t sue if somebody died, but here in Brazil it was just hop in and you might die but at least you’ll have fun doing it.
After the buggy rides of doom that we didn’t die in, we went back to the hotel where we first started, and had lunch and some free time that consisted of swimming in the pool or ocean or hiding in the shade and talking (me).
Have I mentioned that I am very pale and do not tan ever? This can make life miserable at some points. Had I known what I was in for during the dune buggy ride I would have brought a long sleeve shirt and long pants and wouldn’t have minded my clothes getting wet and me being too hot, since being hot is better than being sunburnt.
The best part of the party was when Rotary gathered us together in front of a TV and told us that the president of Rotary International had a message for us. When they pressed play what actually appeared was a video of each of our families saying hi and wishing us Merry Christmas. It was very sweet. Jeanne from France cried she was so happy.
Yesterday, we had an exchange student party in Portuguese class. So this included all of the exchange students from Rotary and from AFS, as well as our teacher. This was also a pretty fun party since we all put on Christmas music from our various countries and danced and sang and ate too much food.
As for my upcoming Christmas plans, tomorrow we will be going to Christmas Mass and then we will have the Christmas meal at my aunt’s apartment. Family and friends. That seems pretty good to me. I’m going to bring chocolate chip cookies and peanut butter blossoms.
When I make chocolate chip cookies, they never come out right, but the Brazilians all love them since homemade cookies are a novelty. I mean, they taste fine, but they don’t taste the way my mom and sister make them at home. As for the peanut butter blossoms, they do come out right, but the chocolate is different, so that part is a bit disappointing. I bought bars of Hershey’s Chocolate to put in place of Hershey’s Kisses and yet Hershey’s brand chocolate here tastes different than it does in the USA. So in short it is terrible. All of the chocolate here sucks. But at least the cookie part tastes great. And those are also a huge hit here. My family is very excited about my cookie making promises for Christmas. I’ve never been a big baker before, so it’s kind of fun to bring things that I don’t think are a big deal but then to have everyone fighting over the last cookie.
I 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:
My family (that’s obvious). I also miss knowing all the family gossip, so thanks to Grandbob for catching me up.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The 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.
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:
After 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:
This 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.
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.
That 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.
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.
The 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.
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.
I 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.
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
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.