Brasil: Day 77
If I had to describe exchange in one word, that word would be bittersweet. The "sweet" is learning another language, experiencing a new culture, meeting people that have grown up considerably different than you, trying new foods, and expanding your mind. The "bitter" is being away from your family and friends for 10 months to 1 year, struggling to conquer a new language, missing spending holidays with your family, and living without the little things from home that make you feel, well, at home.
The SWEET is I've spent 77 days in Brasil, a gorgeous country. The BITTER is I've spent 77 days away from my family and friends.
I consider myself a very independent person, so it's hard for me to admit to myself and others that I am a little homesick. But with Christmas fast approaching, I'm getting a little blue. The best way to combat that is to stay busy and talk to the people I've met here.
School is winding down for the year, and it's getting harder to keep up on my blog posts. I try to update weekly, but I haven't posted anything for 20 days. This post will be longer than normal.
Here's a preview of what I've been up to these last two weeks:
- Thanksgiving presentation and snickerdoodle cookies
- Exchange student meeting in Betim
- Presented about Alaska and myself for Rotary
- Talked to English classes
- Torre de batatas and other foods
- Weekend in Brasilia
Holidays are the hardest for exchange students. This Thanksgiving was the first I've ever spent away from my family. To make matters worse, Brazil does not celebrate Thanksgiving. It is an American and Canadian holiday.
BUT, I was lucky. My city has a few schools that teach English, and one of the English schools here was hosting a Thanksgiving dinner. This particular English School's teacher was a past exchange student to Canada. She is incredibly dedicated to teaching her students English, so she hosts parties for her school on American holidays that Brazil does not celebrate, like Halloween and Thanksgiving. She asked me to give a presentation about Thanksgiving at their Thanksgiving dinner, and she said I could present in English, so I said yes.
I wanted to bring some sort of dessert to the dinner as well, so I decided to be ambitious and make snickerdoodle cookies.
Any traveler that has ever tried to bake in a foreign country knows the struggle of adapting a home recipe. It's a pain.
I had already translated the recipe into Portuguese and converted the Faranheit oven temperature into Celsius, but I was still skeptical about whether or not the cookies would turn out the same.
After all, all the ingredients looked different.
The first step was buying the ingredients. It's a good thing my host mom knew where all the ingredients were in the supermarket, because if I had to look for them by myself I would've wandered around the store for hours.
I was really surprised at how cheap the ingredients were. The total price for all the ingredients pictured above was R$35, about $10 USD. The flour was 2 Reais. That's less than one US dollar. Eu tô chocado.
With a lot of help from my host aunts, I managed to make the snickerdoodles. 80 people were supposed to come to the Thanksgiving dinner, so I quadrupled my original recipe.
That was an overshot.
I ended up with 150+ cookies.
The end product wasn't a normal snickerdoodle (they usually spread out more) but the taste and texture were there so I'll call it a success.
On Thanksgiving night, I gave my presentation in English. Thanksgiving in Portuguese is "Ação de Graças", which literally translates to "Action of Thanks." My presentation included a short history of Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving foods, and the meaning of Thanksgiving. It was odd having to be conscientious of what words I was saying and how fast I was talking in English. If I used large words and talked to fast, they wouldn't understand what I was saying. It gave me an inside look at how people have to think when they're talking to me in Portuguese. You have to be mindful that your native language is their second language.
It was so nice eating a typical Thanksgiving meal surrounded by 80 other people. I didn't realize how much I missed Caesar salad until I had it that night. There was also green beans, turkey, and mashed potatoes. Dessert was warm apple pie and chilled vanilla ice cream and my snickerdoodle cookies.
I wrote the name of my cookies on a little piece of paper and placed the namecard by the basket of cookies so people would know what they were.
The lady serving up the desserts didn't know I was the one the made the cookies and she was talking about them to me in Portuguese,
"And these here, these cookies, they're really good. They have cinnamon and sugar and they're delicious. But I have no idea how to pronounce the name!"
Brazilians can't pronounce "Snickerdoodles".
Everyone liked them though. At the end of the night I only had 20 cookies left.
Exchange Student Meeting
The next day I took a 7 hour bus ride to Belo Horizonte with Jorge, another exchange student in my city from Mexico.
November 24-26th was an exchange student meeting of all the exchange students from my district, D4760. The meeting was in Betim, Belo Horizonte.
Jorge and I weren't the only ones traveling by bus. Most of the other exchange students in my district are spread out in smaller cities. But a good chunk of the exchange students live in Belo Horizonte.
It was very cool to see Belo Horizonte and my worldwide family again. The last time I saw them, I was fresh off the plane. The first exchange student meeting was back in September and it was just a few days after I arrived in Brazil, so when I first met the other exchange students I had only been in Brazil for 3 days.
This meeting was different than the first one. This time our meeting wasn't a weekend retreat at a hotel. This time our meeting was a day get-together on Saturday.
To make it to the Saturday event, a small town girl like me had to travel by bus to Belo Horizonte starting Friday morning, stay with a weekend host family for Friday and Saturday night, and return by bus on Sunday.
I shared a host family with Mirella, from California, and Greta, from Mexico.
I couldn't have asked for a better weekend host mom. She went above and beyond with making us feel welcome. We had pizza the first night and chatted IN ENGLISH about exchange. It was so nice to not have to think about sentence structure and pronunciation before I spoke. Being able to fluently speak English with another native speaker is such a luxury.
On Saturday all the exchange students took a bus to a rotarian's farm in Betim. It was gorgeous.
We spent the day playing soccer, eating Churrasco and other Brazilian goodies, talking, taking pictures, listening to the DJ, swimming, horseback riding, and we even exchanged gifts at the end of it through a white elephant gift exchange.
After the day, we took the bus back to Belo Horizonte and were picked up by our respective host families.
My incredible weekend host mom continued to impress. She took us out for "American" burgers that night, and the next morning surprised us with cereal, orange juice, waffles, and maple syrup. I hadn't had waffles in two months. TWO months without waffles. I almost cried.
The typical Brazilian breakfast I've had so far is bread & butter or bread with cheese and ham, coffee, and pão de queijo.
Brazil does have waffles, but my city doesn't. My city, João Pinheiro, is too small to have waffles. The bigger the city, the more imported products and variety. The more waffles.
For lunch, she got us Chinese food, something else I had been living without. And then she showed us around the city.
I'm very thankful for her effort in making us feel welcome in her home for the weekend.
Alaska Presentation for Rotary
Last week I gave a presentation about myself and Alaska to my rotary club.
I said everything in Portuguese, which is mind blowing to me. My presentation was 15 minutes long. That's 15 minutes of speaking Portuguese without help. I think everyone understood my babbling as well, so that's miraculous.
I'd say it has been my biggest accomplishment so far in Brazil.
School doesn't officially end until this Friday, but my class (the seniors) have stopped going.
No one shows up to class because they have already finished all of their testing. The graduation is December 13th, next Wednesday.
(Quick side note: one day when I went to school, there was a dead snake found curled up by the library. Later that day, a larger live snake was found outside a classroom. The military police had to come to the school and remove the snake)
We took pictures for graduation on November 21st, in class. No one told me that day was picture day so I showed up looking like my regular self and was greeted by a classroom of people in full makeup. That also happened to be the day I forgot to set an alarm the night before, so I slept in until 6:58 am, 2 minutes before class started at 7 am. I got ready in 20 minutes, and walked to class, which took another 20 minutes.
I borrowed some makeup to try and fit in with the other girls. The lipstick I borrowed was fire engine red, the tamest shade that anyone had. I should have just went without. Fire engine red and pale skin does not go well together. It was an interesting day.
We took the traditional group photo on the stairs and individual photos in graduation gowns with a professional photographer. The white shirt I was wearing in the group photo is the general uniform. Third year students (seniors) get special uniforms just for seniors, but I only have the general uniform. It helped me stand out a little more. I needed that. If it wasn't for the shirt I would've blended right in with the crowd...
Speaking and understanding Portuguese continues to be a daily struggle. Communicating is difficult. It's a challenge every day, but I have lots of people that are incredibly patient with me and willing to walk me through it. The more I speak, the easier speaking will become.
Since I don't have to go to school, I've been finding other ways to keep myself busy.
João Pinheiro does not have a movie theater or shopping mall, so the typical things to do for fun is get açaí with friends, work out at the gym, go to restaurants, walk around the city, or go to someone's house. I walk around the city a lot with my friends.
I also go to Rotary Interact meetings on Thursday's.
The same English school that hosted the Thanksgiving dinner also asked me to come to a couple of their English classes to talk to the students about Alaska in English.
I agreed to go, of course, and talked with three classes. Again, I had to be conscious of what I said, and how fast I was talking in English.
They mainly asked me questions in English. My favorite question was "Is that your natural hair color?"
Christmas is coming up and my city started decorating for it in November. When I came back from Belo Horizonte, the city square was lit up.
They made the decorations out of the 2 liter soda bottles. Very clever.
Storefronts are also decorated for Christmas. It's nice to see Papai Noel (Santa Claus) make an appearance.
This last weekend I went to Brasilía with my host family. Sadly, I was not feeling good for the whole trip, so I did not speak a lot and was distant for most of the activities. Even though I was sick, I wish I had made more of an effort to talk to my extended host family.
We attended an engagement party, went to a museum in Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, went to a few shopping malls, and had some Brazilian barbecue at one of the family member's new house.
I bought Havaianas at the mall in Brasilia, so I'm officially Brazilian now.
Thanks for reading!