Today my French professor is dressed up as a medieval French soldier and in the middle of our French class the rest of the professors in the department came running in all dressed up as soldiers and they had a sword fight in the middle of the class. And then another guy dressed up as the Pope came in and then they all fake killed him. And then we went back to learning about adjectives.
I love college. That is all.
Okay, so the real reason I am writing this post is because it is because I was thinking today about how happy I am and have been these past two months, especially in comparison with last year. And then today in one of my classes during a discussion about the book we are reading (The Argonauts, by Maggie Nelson, just in case you were curious) we ended up debating the concept of happiness. What is happiness?
One girl said that she thought the simple asking of the question implied that one wasn’t happy. I said that I would argue in favor of the opposite, because in the time right before the class I had just been recently thinking to myself about how happy I am. A guy brought up the point that feelings such as depression are very valid, and one can be depressed and still have happy days where they laugh and smile. And then another girl brought up the point that there is a difference between happiness and contentment.
Last year I was not happy. Or rather, in the context of my class discussion today, I was not content. It took me a while to realize that, and really by the time I did, I was within my last month of my stay in Brazil, and I felt like it was kind of too late to make a decision to go home, or take any other drastic measures along those lines. And then when I got home I spent the first month being really mad about how my exchange in Brazil had turned out.
Now I have been in school for about two months, and I’ve been home for four. (Only four! It seems like it was so long ago.) I can think back about my year abroad without being so emotionally attached that I’m completely irrational, though to say that I’m completely subjective is not the case at all. Let’s just say that I don’t think about Brazil and want to go around complaining and throttling members of the organization anymore. I do have a lot of thoughts about it though.
Like for the fact that I was generally discontent didn’t mean that I didn’t have times where I was overwhelmingly happy. Like the times I hung out with my friends and the trips I went on and the family I gained. I am very proud of the things I achieved while in Brazil, such as becoming conversationally fluent in Portuguese and learning more about the bus system than most of the Brazilians I hung out with regularly and the huge amount of confidence that I gained. I do not regret going there because of the things I ultimately gained. But I’m not sure I would say that I was content while there.
But the basic idea is that I am happier now. I am content. I LOVE college. I am taking great classes that make me think and I don’t feel trapped in an apartment and I am making friends and my social group isn’t only compiled of five people that I talk to regularly. I can leave the dorm without being scared that something might happen to me and I have something to do every day, and there are always things that are going on if I don’t have anything planned. I am not bored. There are also the other things about me understanding the language without having to think really hard and I enjoy American food and I can go to the grocery store and know that I will most likely find the ingredients I came for. Let’s just say every so often I look around and say, wow, here are all of the things I missed while I was gone.
P.S. If you want to get notifications in your inbox about when I update, go subscribe! You know you want to!
I’ll be honest with you. I’ve been procrastinating the writing of this blog post for a while now. It’s not really flowing off the fingertips like some of my posts do. And I think the reason for this delay is because my life has taken somewhat of a dramatic turn in the last two weeks, in that I am now home. Back in Colorado. And I’ve been back for about two and a half weeks.
Leaving was so weird. I couldn’t sleep the two nights before I left. I was so hyper. I was so excited. And then the scene in the airport. In contrast to Veera’s leaving, when Chiara, Virna, Veera, and I sobbed all over each other at the airport and the target of many stares and became a kind of weird attraction, I didn’t cry at all. I did want to say goodbye, but at the same time when we were all sitting in the airport together just waiting for it to be a reasonable time to go through security and go to my gate, I felt as though everything was drawn out.
At the time of my departure, I was ready to leave. I gave Virna one last hug, and then I went through security. I was wearing my blazer, covered with pins. I had two suitcases that were checked under the plane, a red wheelie that was with me, and a backpack. In the gate while waiting for my flight I sat and thought. I am proud of everything I accomplished over these past ten months. I have learned so much. My confidence has skyrocketed, I learned a new language, I made friends and family. But I was also ready to come home. It wasn’t until my layover in Sao Paulo and subsequent takeoff to Dallas that I really started to tear up. I had spent my two hour layover reading and responding to messages from my friends and family of Brazil. And now I was headed home. When I would get off the plane, I would no longer be in Brazil, but in the United States. What a bittersweet moment. It was the moment I had been waiting for and thinking about since my arrival in Brazil, but I was also sad to go.
Goodbye, Brazil. I love you.
And now I am home! I feel as if I just woke up from an incredibly detailed dream. I feel as if everything is the same and yet something about me has fundamentally changed. I don’t know what that is yet. It hasn’t been long enough for me to reflect on everything that happened and really produce a big takeaway from Brazil.
All I can say is that it’s weird being home. I love seeing the mountains and the heat that isn’t humidly oppressive and carpeted floors and the fact that I can successfully negotiate a conversation over the phone without having to ask my host mom for help. But I miss my host mom like crazy, and all of the exchange students I met and love so much.
Guys, if you’re reading this, I miss you and love you so much. We went to talking with each other every day to being separated by oceans. What a weird concept. I didn’t realize how hard it would be to leave you all behind. I see you as being my friends twenty years down the line, and I hope I ca see you in person again soon.
I lived in Natal, Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil as an exchange student.
I learned how to speak Portuguese fluently.
I lived with two different host moms.
I met other exchange students from all over the world.
I took a surfing lesson.
My family came to visit me.
I studied in a Brazilian high school.
I suffered from homesickness.
I drank coconut water out of actual coconuts.
I made cookies.
I made Brazilian friends.
I ate so much acai it’s embarrassing.
I went to Rotary club meetings.
I learned how to make torta de limao.
I drank enough passion fruit juice to fill up a small lake.
I made tapioca.
I went to the mall enough that I practically lived there part time.
I bought (and wore) mountains of bracelets.
I stood out like a sore thumb pretty much everywhere I went.
I binge watched Netflix.
I filled my blazer with a mountain of pins.
I went to the Amazon Rainforest, the Pantanal, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Foz do Iguaçu, Porto Alegre, Curitiba, Gramado, Florianópolis, Bonito, Recife, Joao Pessoa, Olinda, and Pipa.
I had a year I will never forget.
I leave to go home tomorrow. I will have been here for exactly ten months at the time I leave. I have a lot of mixed feelings about my departure, but I am mostly excited. I am happy and proud of what I accomplished this year. I will miss the friends and family I made, but I am ready to go home. Bye bye, Brazil. I’m gonna miss you.
At the beginning of our exchange year, there were eight Rotary exchange students in Natal. Then the number dropped to seven, when Haven got sent home. Now the number is down to five, because when June came, so did the despidadas (farewells). Pierre left on the thirteenth, and Veera on the fifteenth.
I knew before coming here that I would meet people from all over the world. I didn’t fully comprehend just how close we would become. We practically lived out of each other’s pockets these past ten months, and now we have no way of knowing if the eight of us will ever be in the same place at the same time ever again. I don’t know if I will necessarily miss Brazil as a country, but I will for sure miss this moment in time.
Excerpt and translation of a speech I did for the 4500 Rotary district conference:
Ten months ago I said goodbye to my family and arrived here in Brazil. I didn’t really understand what I was doing. I had come to a country completely different than mine, without speaking the language and without knowing anything about the culture. Now I am completely sure that I will never forget these ten months. It hasn’t been easy, and it hasn’t been just a vacation, but it was a life. Here in Brazil, I have friends and family.
I am going to talk about the other exchange students that I met and built friendships with. I knew before I arrived I knew I would have friends from other countries, but I didn’t know that we would be so close. Now, when I imagine visiting another country, I don’t think of the place, but I think of the people I would like to visit. I have parts of my heart around the entire world, and I will never forget you guys. I love you all.
UPDATE: I had to remove the subscribe plugin that kept many of you updated on my next blog posts. If you would like to keep receiving emails about updates, please put in your name and email again into the box on the right hand sidebar. Sorry for the inconvenience!
Virna gets back from wherever she was. I think she was getting her hair and nails done. “Are you ready?”
“I thought we were leaving at 8pm.”
“No, that’s when the party starts. We are leaving at 7:30pm to pick up Mamãe (her mom) and then we will go to the party.”
“Okay, I need to take a shower.”
Virna proceeds to spend approximately forever in the bathroom, and I finally jump into the shower at around 7:15 or so, washing up, putting on a dress, and doing hair and makeup in record time, managing to be done right around 7:30. While I was getting dressed, I heard Virna say, “So we are just waiting for Claire, right?”
Veera, Chiara, and I are ready, and waiting on the couches in front of the door. Virna spends the next thirty minutes nattering around the house, doing I don’t know what, calling Mamãe, and doing more random things of nothingness.
We leave the house, at the time Virna originally stated. We pick up Mamãe and head over to the ninetieth birthday party of the mother of Virna’s ex-husband.
We walk into the venue of the birthday party, thus starting the most awkward walk of my life. There were two lines of tables, with an isle in the middle that we had to walk down in order to get to our table. We arrived later than most of the people at the party, and alone, so everyone was staring at us as we navigated our way to our table.
One thing to know about Mamãe – she is elderly and infirm and requires support to walk. She is also like a crow attracted to shiny objects. The shiny objects in this case were Mamãe’s many acquaintances, whom she had to walk over to in order to greet, despite many efforts to convince her to go sit down and let her completely abled friends come to her. Being Mamãe’s support, I was dragged along. This meant that the twenty foot walk from the entrance to our table took about five excruciatingly long minutes. Five minutes during which everyone in the entire room stared at us. It was like we were in a zoo – who were these foreign looking girls? Veera, Chiara, and I exchanged glances, and then proceeded to pretend that we didn’t have any idea that about forty people were staring at us and whispering.
Later that night, after the birthday song had been sung and best wishes exchanged, Virna told the three of us that we would leave now, and to go wait by the door, while she helped Mamãe. After about fifteen minutes, we migrated to the couches right by the door, waiting for another fifteen minutes until we finally left.
When I was in second grade, my class had a unit about the Amazon Rainforest. I remember watching videos of monkeys, seeing pictures of all sorts of different animals like sloths and jaguars and alligators, learning about the different levels of the forest, and thinking, wow, that’s amazing. Never once did it cross my mind that I might be able to go there one day. I can’t believe how lucky I am, because I spent the past ten days in the Amazon, and they were the best ten days of my life. I feel like I woke up from a dream.
Excerpts from my journal:
April 16, 2016
I left the house this morning at 2:30am and now I’m currently on the plane from Brasília to Manaus.
Manaus! Do you know what state Manaus is in? Amazônia!
I’m on my way to the Amazon!
April 18, 2016
We have divided into three different boats of twenty three exchange students apiece.
Yesterday we went on a city tour of Manaus, which is basically us driving through the cities with a guide pointing out landmarks. The thing I was most excited to see was the teatro of Manaus. When I was younger, I read a book called Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson, and now over the past few months I’ve been chipping away at the same book in Portuguese. This book is set in Manaus, Brazil about a girl named Maia and her friend Clovis who performs at the theater and her other friend who leaves to find his mother’s tribe.
I felt like I was coming to live this book in real life. And we saw the theater/opera house and now I’m on a boat in the Amazon and I feel like I’m living my dreams.
After that we went trekking in the forest. We drove two hours north of Manaus and stayed at a hotel called Santuario on a reserve and went trekking in the dark for a time. It was really cool. It involved wading through water that was almost to my knees and there was a this pool with a waterfall at the end. There was a time where we all turned our flashlights off and it was so dark that when I held my hand in front of my face I couldn’t see it.
Today we went to a part of a stream and there was this platform where you could jump into this really deep part. I jumped twice while some people didn’t jump at all. And then we packed up and took the bus back to Manaus to get on the boats. Each boat has twenty three people, and I landed with a good group of people. There is a third boat where we eat. I am on Barco Bicho Preguiça (Sloth Boat).
We saw the huge lily pads today. The water lilles. In order to go see them we had to get on smaller boats, and when they asked if anyone wanted to sit on the very front part of the boat nobody was saying yes so I went for it. Never be shy when something good is going to come from putting yourself out there. I definitely had the best view.
I just feel so happy here and one with nature. This whole thing is just so cool and amazing. I’m in a place I never thought I would ever go to in my life before. So many people in the world never get this opportunity.
Life is good.
April 19, 2016
This is the best trip ever!!!
I just held a baby alligator that our guide caught just moments before.
We slept in hammocks last night. I was so exhausted and tired that I basically fell asleep right away, but that doesn’t stop me from thinking about how cool it was.
The boats were anchored and we set up the hammocks in the upstairs living portion of the boat and we climbed in and then they turned the generators off (no power means no light) and it was completely dark. I was asleep before they turned the lights off.
We were all woken up very early in the morning when a few of the workers on the boat were running to get the tarps down. It felt like the second they managed to get them all down this HUGE ginormous downpour started. And lighting! It was really epic. There was this lightning strike that appeared to be right outside of the boat. There was a lot of screaming and running from the girls at the end of the boat but I was too tired to care, because I fell asleep again right after. Rain and the sounds of the rainforest is a good thing to fall asleep to.
April 20, 2016
Yesterday morning we went to a tribe of Natives. They were a tribe of about seventy “indios” living in a little village. They have built a sort of industry around tourism, but even with that they retain most of their traditions and beliefs. Veera said that she was talking to one of the teenage boys and they had basically no concept of the world outside of their tribe and why would they want to leave? It’s scary to leave.
And we happened to arrive on a very special day. Special because of a few different things – it was Dia dos Indos in Brazil. I don’t think the tribe did anything differently because of Dia dos Indios but there were people from the Policia Federal and also it looked like some doctors that were vaccinating people in the tribe.
The other way it was special is because it was a day of ceremony for the tribe. We just happened to come on exactly the right day.
In order for this tribes’ men to be considered as such and to get married they have to put their hands in a sort of glove that is full of the most dangerous type of ant that is found in the rainforest and get bitten. They do this ritual dance thing while keeping the glove on and then they take the glove off. They aren’t allowed to cry. If they cry, it’s a shame/dishonor and they have to do the ritual again. If they cry a second time they have leave the tribe for a year. They can tear up and sweat but no full blown sobbing.
We happened to be there on the day they were doing this ritual. We watched some kid that was maybe twelve years old stick his hands into gloves full of ants that bite you with venom that burns for twenty four hours. In order to become a man they do this forty times, starting from around the age of eight or so – it depends on the kid in question apparently. Once they have done it forty times they are eligible to marry.
We saw a marriage ceremony, too. We got so lucky. So a boy/man who has been bitten by the ants forty times (at least) chooses a girl that he would like to marry, and he gets permission from her family to marry and then they have another ant ceremony because that’s really what the wedding is. So while the guy is putting his hands into the ant-gloves the girl is outside thinking thinking thinking deciding if she wants to get married to the guy in question. If she does she breaks into the singing stomping circle next to the guy and then when they gloves are put back they are considered to be married.
So the guy put his hands in the ant-gloves and he looked like he was in serious pain. And then eventually the girl joined the guy in the ritual circle so they were now married. It was really interesting for a lot of reasons, but the ones that stuck with me was that the girl was fifteen years old and they guy was seventeen years old. And after the ceremony was over and everyone was done clapping the girl just went off with her friends and the guy just was off to the side – no them being happily married together. They didn’t even talk. It was almost like an everyday event, except the tribe’s medicine man person told us what a happy day it was for the tribe. There were like sixty strangers watching a tribe of seventy’s ceremony. We almost outnumbered the tribe. That’s gotta be awkward, so maybe they were waiting to celebrate after.
Also there was this girl that was pregnant and she was thirteen years old. Apparently her husband was twelve.
I can totally understand why the Europeans of old would want to “civilize” the native tribes they encountered in the New World because I like to think of myself as pretty open minded and accepting of cultures different than my own, but this totally weirded me out. And the in the 1500s and 1600s it was way more unaccepting than it is now.
It doesn’t mean that I like or agree with the complete domination of the natives of the Americas, but I understand why it happened.
That night we went alligator hunting. When they said that, I didn’t really know what to expect, and it turned out to be the absolute BEST thing ever.
We have this “indio” on our tour who has been our nature guide over the trip. His name is Ananias. To go jacaré hunting (jacaré = alligator) we had to split up into smaller boats that are motorized. They are the adventure (passeo) boats. Ananias was on my adventure boat. So we were out in the dark and he had a flashlight and was shining it along the coast. At first everyone was really confused – what was he doing – and then we pulled into part of the coast and Ananias jumped out into the water and he kind of tiptoed forward and then he lunged down like a ninja and came up holding a JACARÉ.
It was maybe a foot or so long, and after he came up with it he hoofed it back towards the boat and the driver of the boat tied a string around its mouth so it couldn’t bite and then they passed an ALLIGATOR around the boat so everyone could hold it and take a picture.
Can we establish that Ananias ninja style picked up an ALLIGATOR and that I held an ALLIGATOR?!
This is the coolest trip of my life.
Ananias said that he has been bitten by a lot of jacarés. Once he got drunk and went alligator hunting and it tried its best to eat his leg. He showed us the scar on his leg. He said, “I had a kind of crazy childhood.” No shit.
April 21, 2016
Yesterday we woke up really early to go fishing for piranhas before breakfast. Milena, who is one of the coordinators told us that last week with group 1 of Amazon her boat didn’t catch any, but I felt plenty of tugs on my line and our boat caught maybe ten piranhas in total. The bait was small bits of uncooked steak. One of the guides caught two huge ones and he kept them for dinner. All of the others we released.
Then we went back to have breakfast, and after breakfast we went to this Casa de Farinha were they grow the actual fruit of acaí (every exchange student in Brazil’s addiction) and the vegetable plant thing that becomes tapioca (a Brazilian food). It’s called mandioca.
After that, we went to a small community of Brazilians that live in the Amazon and got schooled in futebol (soccer).
Today was really amazing. I felt like we did all the things that everyone thinks of when you go to the Amazon Rainforest. I really think that this trip has encompassed some of the best things of my life.
After breakfast we split up into the adventure boats. We found two sloths hat we “split” among three boats. It was so cool. We spotted sloths – real live sloths that live in the rainforest – and then the guides became monkeys and scaled the trees to collect them. Then we passed the sloths around the boats to take pictures with it. That must have been the weirdest day ever in that sloth’s life – just chilling on a tree doing sloth things and then some human comes and takes it down from its perch and it gets passed around to a ton of exchange students.
Also, sloths are an evolutionary mystery. They really move as slow as everyone says they do. Apparently one of the ways they die is they grab their own arm thinking it’s a tree branch and then they fall to their death. Also at the top of trees they are predators to eagles and at the bottom they are prey to alligators. They basically have survived evolution by some miracle.
Then we went to the same place of the Casa de Farinha and we were all lounging around looking for a cage with an anaconda until we saw said anaconda just hanging around in the trees. It was FIVE METERS long. FIVE. It was really heavy and in order to pick it up and take pictures with it there had to be at least four people (plus the guy holding the head so it wouldn’t eat some innocent exchange student) holding it.
Honestly I enjoyed the anaconda more than the sloth. It was really quite gorgeous. It had all of these cool colors and it was pretty soft. And the people from the Casa de Farinha say they basically let it roam free around the property during the day and then at night they lock it up in the room of artesenatos.
After lunch we went to see the pink dolphins – that’s right, the famous pink dolphins of the Amazon. I was in the water with them and touched them and it was really cool. We also saw the biggest fish of the Amazon by way of luring it to the surface by way of smaller dead fish.
This trip is so amazing. Words can’t describe how happy I am.
April 23, 2016
Yesterday we went to a sandy beach along the river and hung out there until lunch. It was a don’t worry be happy day.
After lunch our boat had more time to just chillax and then we split up into the adventure boats to go bird watching. We were traveling up the river looking for birds and just enjoying the nature and the view in general when we spotted some monkeys in the trees, so we stopped to look at them for a while. While we were looking at them we spotted a sloth on a tree that was basically right in front of us.
Somebody said, “Can we go get him?” and the next thing I knew one of the drivers of the two boats was scaling the tree and brought down the sloth. The sloth had cool brown markings on its back which signified that it was a boy and also it wasn’t the nice, calm, and docile sloths that we held a few days back. He was clawing and hissing. Apparently there are two types of sloths. One is calmer and they have three claws, and the other is very aggressive and bites and scratches and you can’t just grab them off trees. They have two claws. The sloth we grabbed had three claws but Ananias’s best guess that he was a cross between the two types.
When we passed it to the other boat to hold it the sloth grabbed onto one of the support beams and refused to let go and it even tore a hole in the tarp. Everyone was cracking up, even Ananias and the other guides as they were wrestling with it to get it off.
After everyone was done holding the sloth, Ananias said, “I told you that all animals of the Amazon can swim so its time to test out that theory.” Then he put the sloth into the water. The sloth swam to a tree in the middle of the river and hung out at the bottom before it finally pulled itself up when we left ten or so minutes later. The sloth was a faster swimmer than he was a climber.
Ananias told us, “Well, our bird expedition turned into a sloth expedition.” Right when he said that there was this really loud CAW and he looked up and said, “That’s the sound a toucan makes!” We never actually saw the toucan though.
We went trekking this morning with a different guide who has lived in the area for more than forty years. It was really really cool. He was showing us plants and trees and pointing out what was poison and what was medicinal, and we saw this HUGE tree that reminded me of the tree in the book The Great Kapok Tree. Somewhere along the trek it began to rain and all I though was this is the rainforest and I just felt so insignificant and in awe.
About a week or so ago, Veera (my Finnish exchange student friend and quasi host sister by virtue of us sharing a host mom), Virna (my first host mom), and I (me) went to the bakery for dinner where we encountered one of Virna’s many acquaintances. That in itself was not an unusual experience, because nine out of ten places that I go to with Virna we meet at least one person that she knows. This time it was an elderly woman and her husband. We exchanged greetings and then, like every meeting with every Brazilian that I am meeting for the first time, Virna’s friend asked us if we spoke Portuguese yet. We nodded and said yes.
“And it’s all due to the grace of God that you’ve learned Portuguese, right?”
I couldn’t stop myself from rolling my eyes and telling them that God had nothing to do with it; I’d learned Portuguese from my own hard work.
The woman and her husband looked genuinely confused, and then the husband said, “Well, there has to be something else that you believe in, something you can put faith in.”
I told them that I believe in my own self. (Actually, if I had to define my beliefs, I would call myself an agnostic with a community in the United Church of Christ, and that I mostly believe in communities and people.)
That’s when the woman very gravely told Veera, Virna, and myself that the world was ending because of the homosexuals and because men are dressing in women’s clothing and women dressing in men’s clothing. Cue nervous laughs from Veera and I.
Never mind the political crisis and corruption scandals centered around the Brazilian federal government, conflict in the Middle East, ISIS, and the very fact that many countries have the technological capability of completely destroying the continent next door, the world is going to end because of the homosexuals.
I wouldn’t be surprised if that woman had prayed for my soul that night.
Virna tried to placate me after the conversation on the ride by saying that the couple came from the interior of the Northeast, where culture and family life is centered around tradition. And even though Natal isn’t part of the “interior,” tradition is still a big part of the culture here. Specifically, northeastern Brazilian culture. Life in the northeast is very different than life in other areas of the country, primarily due to the fact that this region is among the poorest of the country.
Small examples of Northeastern Brazilian culture include the daily nap after lunch, everyone’s excuse for being lazy is that it’s hot, and the practice for children to refer to their parents with the formal version of “you” instead of the informal version. And then there’s the culture of machismo and sexism. There are examples of this all over the place.
One of them that hits me in the face on a day to day basis is the simple fact that my school, Henrique Castriciano, has a sister school (they actually share the same campus and use the same administration and the same teachers as my school, but the check is written to a different name) called Escola Domestica. This is an all girls “traditional” school. I haven’t really seen much difference in their classes and HC’s classes, and to me the differences are rooted in that Escola Domestica literally translates to “Domestic School.” It’s only for girls, and their uniforms consist of what looks like an antique maid or nurse uniform with a completely white, very short dress.
It seems that everyone is trying their hardest to fit these girls in a “domestic box.”
We could also talk about the fact that there are no opportunities for a girl to play futebol (soccer). There are no girls’ teams, much less girls’ leagues, and downright rejections and funny looks are given if you bring up playing on a boys’ team.
Girls do the cooking and the cleaning, even if they have a full time job (and their husband doesn’t).
Women must always be perfectly made up (hair, clothes, makeup) and are met with giggles or weird looks if their hair is wet or they are wearing their gym clothes while men can leave the house looking like they haven’t shaved in days in their gym clothes and won’t get a second glance.
Small girls (by small, I mean age 4 and up) are wearing full makeup. Face powder, mascara, lipstick, the whole shebang. And their brothers are encouraged to go get dirty, play around in the mud, etc. There’s nothing wrong with experimentation, but I can’t get over the moms who are putting their daughters in the whole get up so young. (Maybe I shouldn’t judge; I’m missing some culture gap here. But it’s been commented more than once by Brazilian girls that they’ve noticed that the girl exchange students have the tendency to go “all natural” and wear minimal to no makeup. Many of the girls who have said this to me say they wouldn’t mind going “all natural” themselves, but it just isn’t done and not how they were raised.)
During the Women’s World Cup, my brother Ben said something very smart, in that the South American men’s teams are so much better than the USA’s team, but the South American women’s teams are really bad while the USA women’s team is amazing, and that’s because the culture in terms of sports and how women and men are treated is different in South America and the United States.
And then when you even start talking about feminism and equal rights here, there are differences on that end, too. In my sociology class here my teacher informed us that feminism is women fighting for more rights. She made no mention of the fact that there is no official discrimination against women that gives us less rights than men. If you believed what she said, then why is feminism an issue in the first place? Feminism is about putting men and women on the same playing field. It is equality.
Maybe I’m being a little unrealistic by expecting Brazil, a country that is still developing, to have the same political and social equality that I’m used to. I mean, that’s the entire goal of exchange, right? To understand and accept the fact that the world isn’t exactly the same everywhere. But I’ll still be very happy to get back and go to class in sweatpants and a hoodie without weird looks about why I’m not perfectly made up.
To the exchange students who went on the South of Brazil trip, March 2016:
This morning I cried and cried and cried. Last night it was tears of happiness when we were dancing and singing together and this morning it was tears of sadness when we were hugging goodbye.
These past twelve days have been the best days of my life. We did so many things that people all over the world never have a chance to do. We went to one of the seven natural wonders of the world, we rode a boat into said wonder of the world and got drenched by the catarata, we drove in a bus for days and days to different cities, we freaked out together over the European-ness of Gramado, we all became Mexican when we joined the huddle during the mariachi serenade at a restaurant, we had nightly shows on Bus 1, we sang happy birthday over and over again when it wasn’t anyone’s birthday and then again when it was. We listened to more than enough Mexican music on the bus and had rap battles and had wars over who’s speakers were the loudest often enduring listening to two different songs at the same time in two different languages. We learned songs in Taiwanese and Spanish and Portuguese and English and French and German. We went to amusement parks and churches and botanic gardens and the beach and ran through the rain to buy acaí. We went to Argentina and Paraguay and are now very familiar with shopping malls all over the south of Brazil. We pushed each other into swimming pools and played Uno and 99 and Mafia and went to a chocolate factory. We ate cake for breakfast and learned cusswords in a dozen different languages and bought keychains and postcards. We made everyone in every hotel and restaurant that we visited hate us from being too loud. We laughed so hard that we were doubled over with tears streaming down our faces. We took thousands of photos and gossiped together. We danced to Italian opera music and ragged on our host families and went to a bird park. We went to a wine and cheese tasting store and didn’t taste any wine. We listened to Brazilian pop and funk music together and all screamed the lyrics and danced. We signed flags and signed journals and exchanged business cards and exchanged pins. We went to Foz do Iguaçu, Paraguay, Argentina, Lajeado, Porto Alegre, Gramado, Canela, Florianópolis, and Curitiba.
And even though we did so many amazing things and went to so many amazing places, it is the people I traveled with that I will remember for the rest of my life. I have never felt so happy than I felt on this trip, and it is all because of the friends I made. Last night my face hurt from smiling, but I couldn’t stop. Words cannot express how much I love you guys and how much I will miss you. I already miss you.
Before coming on exchange, they tell us we will make great friends, but I didn’t comprehend just how solid those bonds would be until now. And the hard part about these trips is that you never know if you will ever see any of these people that you just gave a part of your heart to ever again. Now I have seventy-four pieces of my heart spread around Canada, Switzerland, Russia, Australia, the United States, France, Mexico, Taiwan, England, Germany, Japan, Belgium, Poland, Hungary, and Denmark, India, and, of course, Brazil, because that is where I met you.
My heart might be spread out all over the world, but I have no choice but to think that I will see you again or my heart will completely shatter. (So expect hosting requests in the future so I can avoid hotel costs, haha. I’m already planning my trip to Europe.)