Destination, Departure, and Arrival


Family selfie in DIA with a blurry Paige
Family selfie in DIA with a blurry Paige

Written Saturday, September 5, 2015

Well, I’m off! I left Denver at 9:46am on September 9. Today. I knew my departure would be very rapid between me getting my visa and leaving the country, but I was unable to grasp that concept until it became a reality.

I’ve been working at an insurance company as a temp thanks to one of my neighbors, since I needed something to occupy my time, but it was pretty boring work, so I had a lot of time to get depressed about not having my visa and check my email constantly hoping that it would appear.

I got home from work on Thursday, September 3 a little early since I’d had a high blood sugar all day and all I wanted to do was sleep and ignore everything for a while. I was in a pretty black mood and was even thinking something along the lines of, “What if my application for my visa is rejected? What am I going to do then? Well, everyone has already started college and I’ve already deferred admission so I wouldn’t be able to go to school in place of Brazil. Well, I could just buy a plane ticket and backpack around places. I could work. Oh, I’m never leaving.” Etc. Etc. Etc. But then almost right as I got home, I got a call from the travel agency saying that they had my visa and they would overnight it to me and the earliest I could leave was Saturday.

Today is Saturday, and I have left.

I spent forever thinking about leaving, and now I am gone. I spent a few days packing and generally freaking out and not sleeping at all at night.

I don’t feel sad. I don’t really feel excited, or even nervous. I guess I am just feeling jittery. Like something big is coming ahead. Something big is coming my way.

Lydia, one of the other girls going to Brazil from d.5450 was on my plane from Denver to Miami, and this is where we part. She goes straight to Belo Horizonte. I go to Sao Paulo, and then Natal. We are both waiting for our planes. Her plane leaves at midnight, and I leave around ten. So we have a few hours together yet. We are in our blazers and people are giving us second glances but haven’t said anything to us. Unfortunately, we didn’t sit together on the flight from Denver to Miami. That flight was kind of annoying for me since I sat in front of this guy and girl who flirted and talked with each other really loudly the entire flight. I had to put in my headphones even though I didn’t want to listen to music the entire time just so I could drown them out.

So, these are my last few hours in America! Now I am excited! I have a while to wait, and a long flight ahead, but as Nancy said, what’s a few more hours if I’ve been waiting months?


Well, guys, I am in Brazil now. I am writing this form the table of my apartment. My host mom is sitting with me doing some work.

Claire, Amy, and Lydia. Off to Brazil!
Claire, Amy, and Lydia. Off to Brazil!

In the Miami airport, Lydia and I found another girl with a blazer on whose name is Amy. Amy was on my flight from Miami to Sao Paulo with me, but her ending destination was a little outside of Sao Paulo, while I had another flight to catch. I slept a little on the flight, but mostly not at all. The thing I was the most nervous about for the whole trip was going to Sao Paulo and checking in to get my ticket and collecting my bags so they could be checked under the plane. I was really happy Amy was there with me while we got our bags and figured out how the carts work (it turns out you have to push down on the handles or the wheels don’t move). She was really nervous about meeting her host family for the first time while I was really nervous about navigating the airport.

We parted while I headed over to Domestic Connections and found the desk and checked in. I gave the man my passport and my flight number and he got me a ticket and took one of my bags. A different man told me in broken English that my other bag was “special” and I needed to take it to an open door that behind of a lot of ropes blocking it off and a big sign that said DO NOT ENTER. So I stood there for a while and stared at the door, but the man noticed that I hadn’t done anything, and told me the same thing again, so I made my way over to the door that was marked DO NOT ENTER, and there were two men who checked the tag on my bag and took it. So I was really confused and unsure if my bags were going to end up in the same place or not. It worked out but it was just another level of what the heck is going on here to add to my day.

Observations about Portuguese: Like Spanish, it is spoken very fast. I have no idea what anyone is saying when it is spoken really fast. When it is spoken slower, I can catch words and phrases because a lot of it sounds like Spanish.

I found my gate and went through Security and sat there for two hours trying not to fall asleep since I was in an unfamiliar airport in an unfamiliar country and I didn’t want to miss the flight anyways.

IMG_2932I didn’t miss the flight. I had a huge ball of anxiety in the beginning of the flight, but I was asleep before it took off.

When I finally got to Natal, both of my bags were there and my host mom wasn’t. My flight was maybe thirty minutes early so I just stood there for a long time waiting. A woman came up to me and asked me if I needed help. She saw my blazer and knew I was from America. She offered to call my host mom for me and was just putting her phone number in my phone so I could call her if nobody showed up for me when three people came to me and called me by name. I had no idea who they were, but they knew my name so I figured, hey, maybe it’s just a part of the welcoming party, and the lady left. They also mentioned my mom’s name: Virna. But they didn’t speak English at all. I’m still unsure of their function within/without Rotary, etc. But I was happy to have someone who knew who I was and why I was there. They drafted a woman, asking her if she spoke English, and she didn’t but she spoke German. I am also unsure of her relation, because it seemed like they knew her, but I’m just not sure. Finally, Virna showed up! And she speaks pretty broken English, but enough to get by. There was another lady who spoke perfect English and she was telling me who was who, but I must say I’ve completely forgotten. I was so overwhelmed. I’m not sure of her connection to Rotary also.

I went with Virna, Virna’s sister, and Virna’s nephew and the nephew’s girlfriend to drop my things at the house and then we would go eat and then I could sleep. The nephew spoke pretty good English, and he has lived in Atlanta before. He was telling me that most Brazilians like the Patriots (as in American Football) because Tom Brady is married to a Brazilian. I don’t like the Patriots, but I might have to conform, as much as it pains me. And I’ve also brought Broncos pennants as host gifts, ha!

Virna just moved to a new apartment, so it is not as close to the beach as I thought it was. It is in the center of the city, and everyone told me that this is where everything happens, so I think it works out one way or the other. Besides, there are busses for that kind of thing. We dropped my bags off, and then me and Virna and Virna’s sister went to a restaurant so I could get something to eat since I was absolutely starving. We were limited to one choice of restaurant since apparently all of the restaurants close at three and then open again at six, and it was three thirty. The restaurant was pretty interesting, but I’m only thinking that now since I was too tired to care at the time. You get a card as you go in, and then you get your food (kind of buffet style), and you take it to a cash register where they weigh the food and then swipe your card. When you are finished eating you take your card to a different cash register where you pay for everything that you ate at once. Neat system.

Then we dropped Virna’s sister off at her apartment and then went to Virna’s (and now my!) apartment, and I proceeded to take a three hour nap. After I woke up, we had some dinner and then Virna invited over her two cousins that are about my age and their mom who live next door. I will be going to school with one of the girls. I just kind of sat there and listened and wished I could go to bed since I was still really tired. After a while they left and I started to unpack and then I went to bed.

Well, here I am! Everything is exhausting because I have to make a decision over everything and really think about it. It is really hot and humid, but with a breeze I think it is really quite pleasant. But this is winter, so it’s only going to get hotter.

Some other random observations:

So far Virna has made me a lot of juice, but the concentrate has no sugar, and then you add sugar to your glass to taste. I like this system since I can control the carbs I am drinking.

Today is Independence Day so there is no school/work. I enroll in school tomorrow and start on Wednesday.

Don’t drink the tap water. It’s like Mexico, folks.

Drink a lot of water because it’s really hot.

I will be going to Portuguese school on Tuesdays and Thursdays after my regular school with all of the other exchange students in the city.

There are only 8 exchange students with Rotary here in Natal (including me) and 10 other exchange students that aren’t with Rotary. I haven’t met any of them yet but I can’t wait to.

Also, I’m going to a French girl’s birthday party today! She is with Rotary and I have never met her before, but I’m excited to start meeting everyone.

Well, that’s all for now! I’ll update more whenever I get up to it.

My first look at Natal. Pretty bad pic, but I'll get a better one at some point.
My first look at Natal. Pretty bad pic, but I’ll get a better one at some point.

9 comments / Add your comment below

  1. What a great blog post Claire! I hope you have a wonderful adventure in Brazil. Keep on writing….you really have a gift!

  2. Thanks for the update! Sounds like it was a harrowing journey but I’m glad you’re there and excited to hear about how school goes. It’s kind of nice that the cousins live next-door. And most excellent that they’re going to give you Portuguese lessons.

  3. I’m glad you finally got to leave after all that waiting! The trip sounds exhausting, but the real journey starts now! Boa sorte e divirta-se! (That’s from Google translate – hope it’s right). Looking forward to more posts!

  4. Claire, glad you arrived safely and learning your way around. Sounds like a great trip, so have fun and be safe and be aware of your surroundings. Write often, we love and miss you, grandmom and granddad…..

  5. Hi Claire,
    Thanks for the newsy report. The trip to Natal with all the layovers was LONG!, but from the sound of it you survived, slept and eaten some, and on Wednesday you start in at school. Like Beth, I’m pleased to hear that you’ll be studying the language 2 days a week after school. These Rotary folks know how to do it, don’t they?


  6. Claire, the post is awesome. Great details! I felt like I was there with you. I’m so glad your trip went well and was not too adventurous. As in your luggage didn’t get lost. Keep on writing and sending photos.

  7. This was fun/nerve-wracking to read, but a GREAT start! First question regards how to pronounce “Natal.” “not-all?” “nate-all?” Emphasis on which syllable?

  8. Mercy, I’m exhausted just reading this! So glad you arrived safe & sound, as did your luggage. I’m thinking that some day the “I’m alone in the airport and some lady who doesn’t speak English but knows some German is talking to me and I don’t know why” story will be hilarious. In the meantime, good on you for being intrepid and having this great adventure! Thanks so much for sharing with us.

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