Igloos, cookie dough, and advice
Brasil: Day 57
I've noticed a significant shift in my Portuguese-speaking ability. It's still broken, but it's better now. I can speak enough to hold a conversation with people that don't speak English, which is almost everyone in my city. I don't know if I should credit this change to a conscious decision I made to try and speak solely in Portuguese after returning from São Paulo, or me dormantly collecting Portuguese words in bits and pieces and just now discovering I'm actually capable of stringing them together in semi-understandable sentences. Maybe it's a little bit of both.
Now I know enough to tell people to speak to me like I'm a 5 year-old. In the beginning I couldn't even do that.
Of course, I am in no way fluent and I have a lot to learn, but it's nice not needing to have a translator constantly explain to me what someone else is saying. As long as people speak slowly and use easy words when talking to me, I understand.
I still haven't had a dream in Portuguese though. Sad face.
Understanding and actually speaking Portuguese are two very different things. I have had many slip-ups trying to speak the language.
For example, I was telling some of my classmates there was an exchange student from Brazil that came to Alaska for 2016/17 RYE Youth exchange. His name was Leonardo. Naturally, they asked where he's from in Brazil.
I said Goiaba.
Goiaba is a fruit. Goiaba means guava fruit.
Leo is not from Guava Fruit. Leo is from Goiás.
My classmates laughed at me, but they knew what I meant.
The most important thing about learning a new language is not being afraid of looking stupid.
You're going to look stupid. It's inevitable. Just own it.
Don't let your fear of looking stupid hold you back.
Common questions I get asked:
After I tell people I'm from Alaska, EVERYONE asks "Frio, né?" (It's cold there, yeah?).
But there have been other questions I get a lot:
Are you liking Brazil/Brazilians/João Pinheiro? (Very common)
What do your parents do for work?
How old are you?
Do you eat a lot of fish in Alaska?
And the best question:
Do you live in an igloo?
In my 57 days, this question was only asked once. And it was asked by a kid, so I still have faith in humanity.
What I wanted to answer was "Yes. I do live in an igloo. I also have a pet penguin named Alfred and I ride a polar bear to a the giant school igloo everyday."
But I am a mature, responsible ambassador, so I did not say that.
(Side note: Alaska does not have penguins either.)
When I was in Brasilia, my host family and I drove past the building pictured above. My host dad pointed to it and said,
"When you go back to Alaska, make sure you tell your friends & family that we have bigger igloos than you guys do."
LIFE LIVING IN A GYM
I live in a gym.
My host parents don't just own Academia Vida + Ativa. They live in it too.
You can imagine my confusion when I got my first host family's host address, fired up Google Maps, and only found pictures of a gym.
If you picture the gym as a giant two-story rectangle, the house portion takes up 1/3 of the top story. The rest of the top story has treadmills, stationary bikes, an area for karate and jiu-jítsu practice, and a little play area for kids. Downstairs has a pool, workout machines, and a spin room directly under the house portion.
There are spin classes every Monday and Wednesday. It cracks me up when I'm in my room and can hear a bass thumping and the spin instructor directly below me chanting, "VAI...VAI....VAMMOSSS.....VAI!"
The hours for the gym are 6 am (to the incredibly motivated individuals that actually work out at this hour, I salute you) to 12 pm, and then it closes for two hours for lunch time. It starts back up at 2 pm and stays open until 10pm. That's Monday-Friday. On Saturday it's open until 8 am to 12 pm, I think. It's closed on Sundays.
I love hearing the music in the gym from the house and hearing activity. It's impossible to feel lonely when you can faintly hear "We no speak americano" playing over the speakers out in the gym.
Even though I didn't speak the language in the first couple weeks I arrived in Brazil, my host parents would take me around the gym and introduce me to the regulars and their employees.
This was incredibly helpful.
If you ever host an exchange student, introduce them to people. This is vital in the first couple days. Take them places in the first couple weeks. Let them follow you around like a lost puppy.
Because my host parents did this for me, I now consider the people that work at the gym to be my friends. I met a 9 year old girl named Sara from one of Ana's exercise classes in the first couple days. She came up to me with her aunt and wanted to practice her English with me. Since then, I've been to sushi restaurant with her and her family and have gone over to their gorgeous house to learn how to bake a Brazilian corn cake.
Living in a gym also makes it harder to avoid working out. With all the delicious Brazilian food I eat, that is a god-send.
It was leg day a couple days back and one of the instructors, Diego, killed my legs. I could barely make it up the stairs when I was retreating back to the house. I used to play basketball, so I'm no stranger to my legs feeling like cooked spaghetti post-workout, but I haven't played basketball for 4 years now. I also lifted weights in weight training class for school, but I'm notorious for saying I want to work out and then avoiding the gym. Sometimes I'm motivated and sometimes I'm Fat Amy from Pitch Perfect.
My favorite part about Brazil is the variety of fresh fruits. Mango trees are everywhere. In the city square there's a truck selling watermelon and pineapple. Fruit juices are common at restaurants.
Leo's ( host dad's ) family has jabuticaba trees in their backyard. The jabuticaba tree looks like it got black chicken pox. The fruit grows on the branches.
My favorite part about traveling is trying the cultural foods. Food is such an integral part of culture. You can't fully experience a culture without eating their foods.
When I was in Spain in March 2017, I fell in love with tortilla de patatas (Tortilla española) and in Italy I fell in love with the gelato and authentic pizza. For Brazil, my favorites so far have been pão de queijo and Churrasco.
But when I was in Spain and Italy, I didn't have the oppurtunity to go to a local's home and bake their traditional foods with them in their own kitchen.
Here I've baked food on two separate occasions in two different kitchens. It's been my favorite part about exchange so far.
I love baking, and I bake homemade breads, cookies, and cupcakes in Alaska. It's very nostalgic for me to be in a kitchen because I have early memories of baking with my mom. I can't count the number of times I'd make chocolate chip cookies with my mom and snuck bites of cookie dough while she wasn't looking. My mom is an incredible cook and it makes me tear up a little remembering sitting in her kitchen, watching her knead bread, or walking into the house and smelling the banana bread in the oven. I miss that.
Thats why it's so significant for me to be able to bake in a Brazilian kitchen.
I went over to Leo's family's house to learn how to make pão de queijo with my host aunts.
When I got there, this is what I saw. They were making a whole lot more than pão de queijo. We ended up making biscoito de queijo, bolacha, and something that looked like cinnamon rolls but minus the cinnamon. I thought they were baking all of it to sell or were going to a party later, but at the end they froze most of it. They have family drop by all the time for coffee, so they make a ton of goodies at one time and store them in the freezer for later.
I've been translating my cookie/bread recipes so I can make them here. I have to translate everything, including the ingredient names, different measurements, and oven temp in Celscius. Finding all the ingredients is also slightly difficult. I don't know if I'll be able to find parchment paper to line the cookie pans. They don't have vanilla extract or buttermilk in my city either, so I'll have to buy that in a bigger city.
Advice to Future Exchange Students
My rotary district in Alaska is choosing their new outbounds right now, and I've only been on exchange for 57 days, but I want to give a few words of advice for anyone coming to Brazil from the USA:
- Bring a school yearbook. I brought mine from last year, and it is the greatest thing to show to people.
- Make a presentation about where you're from with lots of pictures. I downloaded mine onto my phone so I can access it without wifi, and it is the perfect for conversations.
- In general, have a lot of photos. When you can't speak the language, you can show them the pictures.
- I know you're busy with school and probably sports, but study your language. A small vocabulary is better than no vocabulary.
- Bring candy. It's cheap and you can share it with a lot of people that want to try "American candy"
What I've Been Up To
Yesterday was a holiday, so I didn't have school.
I had plans to go to a waterfall but the people I was supposed to go with cancelled the trip. My host parents kept jokingly saying the people I was supposed to go with "dar um bolo" to me and I was so confused, because the literal translation is "gave a cake" to me.
I found out later it's a slang that means I got stood up.
It all worked out though. Instead I went and got açaí with some friends and walked around the city with them until it got dark. We also ate tapioca (mine had carne de sol and green mayonnaise) and stopped in a shop to try coxinha de catupiry, but they didn't have any. Diego told them I was from Alaska and they gave us free bolinha de mandioca with peppers to try. Perks of being an exchange student..
Diego (Didi, pronounced Gigi) from the gym and Pedro Henrique from school
I will giving a presentation about myself Alaska to rotary next Wednesday. I also made a presentation about Thanksgiving for an English school here, and I'll make cookies for the Thanksgiving dinner they're hosting next Thursday.
On lazy days, I watch Netflix. Last weekend I binge-watched Stranger Things on Netflix with Portuguese subtitles. I learn best when the audio is in English and the subtitles are in Portuguese. The series is as good as people told me it would be.
Tchau gente, beijos!
Thanks for reading