A city a day keeps the homesickness away

I've been here a week (happy dance *at last*) so I should probably update everyone on what I've been up to.  It's only been about 7 days, but I feel like I've done so much. I'll try to condense all my information. 


I landed in Brasilía, Brazil at exactly 7 am. I fumbled my way through customs and was met by my host parents after I got my luggage from baggage claim. 

The transition from hearing and seeing English everywher to seeing and hearing everything in Portuguese was smooth, because in Miami, Florida, one of my connecting flights, the population is very diverse and most of the people there speak Spanish and/or Portuguese. Also, on the plane the instructions were in both Portuguese and English. 

I wore my blazer and got a lot of stares but no one talked to me about it like rotary said they would. It's an uncomfortable piece of clothing to fly in and I lost 4 pins in total (that I know of). I suggest wearing comfortable clothing and instead of wearing your blazer on the plane, just carry it on with you on a hanger so you can wear it when you arrive at your destination. You could also just wear it in the airports. I know that's what I'll be doing on the return flights.

We spent the day in Brasilía, and drove the four hours to João Pinheiro starting at around 3 or 4 pm. I was the kind of tired where you don't know your eyes had been closed until you open them, but I fought myself to stay awake. The sun went down at 6:30pm ish and I was rewarded with a vivid pink and orange sunset over a rolling Brazilian countryside with grazing cows dotting the horizon.

We arrived in João Pinheiro and my host parents had me drop off my suitcases at the house. The house is in a GYM. They live in  the gym that they own. It is so cool. I love everything about it. Anyways, they had me drop off my suitcases because there was a rotary meeting that night that I needed to attend with them. 

The view of João Pinheiro from my house/gym

The view of João Pinheiro from my house/gym

I be out here learning some Portuguese palavras in the gym  

I be out here learning some Portuguese palavras in the gym  

I really liked the rotary meeting. All of it was in Portuguese, but my host parents speak English so they translated some of it for me and had me introduce myself. Luckily, I knew enough to say hold old I am, my name, and where I'm from. I also met some girls from ny school and the other exchange students in my city. They're both from Mexico. 

the Alaska state flag is backwards. Whoops. 

the Alaska state flag is backwards. Whoops. 

I wasn't as tired as I should have been when we went back to the house, so I unpacked everything before I went to bed.



The next day I left for Belo Horizonte at 3 pm. It was Thursday, and inbound orientation (where I meet all the other exchange students in my district) was Friday at 7 am. Since it takes 4 hours to drive to Belo Horizonte, we left on Thursday. The car ride there was interesting. It was 3 Brazilians that speak only Portuguese and one blonde Alaskan that speaks very little Portuguese. They were so friendly though. We talked about music, "series" (TV shows), and my photos from Alaska. A picture really is worth a thousand words.

I stayed the night in Belo Horizonte and met all the exchange students from my district on a huge tour bus the next morning. We drove to the hotel we'd spend the weekend at.  

Inbound Orientation:

  • kids from countries all over the world
  • majority were from the USA, Mexico, and France
  • had a talent show (they made all the Americans do the cha-cha slide)
  •  There was a presentation on the possible trips inbounds can go on if they pay extra. There's a trip to the Amazon, to Foz de Iguaçu, to Pantanal and Bonito, and a tour of Northeast Brazil 
  • had a costume party (I dressed as a tourist, cause that's what I look like here) 
  • talked about the morals and rules of exchange
  • Everything at orientation was in English because the majority of the inbounds spoke English. It was good because I understood everything, but bad for my Portuguese

It was cool to see all 45-ish inbounds from my district. They're spread out all over Minas Gerais though, so the next time I'll see all of them again is around Christmas at the next orientation. I'll also see a few of them on the trips.

Most of them had been here for a month or more already so they spoke more Portuguese than me and knew the Brazilian foods, the specific dances for different Brazilian funk songs, and other cultural differences. It was helpful to hear about their different experiences with their host families and their observations of Brazil. 

It was fun and I'm so happy I was able to go.

I met Victor at orientation. He was an inbound in my city in Alaska in 2014/15. He really misses Alaska. It was nice to talk with someone in Brazil that shared my love for Alaska.

I met Victor at orientation. He was an inbound in my city in Alaska in 2014/15. He really misses Alaska. It was nice to talk with someone in Brazil that shared my love for Alaska.


I started school on September 26th. On the first day I brought a Halloween variety pack of "American" candy to share with my class to bribe them into liking me. I think it worked. My classmates are very friendly and welcoming. They love exchange students, but I know the excitement over having a girl from Alaska in their class won't last. I need to learn the language so I can keep the momentum of being the new kid and talk to them. 


I go to a private school. I've heard the public schools are a little scary.

Here are some differences between school in Wasilla, Alaska and school in João Pinheiro, Brazil: 

  • the students call the teacher "tia" or "tio" which translates to aunt and uncle, or they call them by their first name
  • they move their desks around during class to sit by their friends
  • they just walk out without saying anything to go to the bathroom  
  • they leave trash (candy wrappers :) on the ground  
  • they can wear hats in school  
  • they have uniforms, but most of them cover it up with a cardigan or a hoodie over them. The "uniform" is just a school shirt and whatever pants you want to wear.  
  • kids sleep in class
  • my class is in their 3rd year (senior year) and they graduate in December  
  • at "lunch" ( it's more like a snack, it's at 9:30 am ) the seniors take the school speaker to the cafeteria and can play whatever music they want
  • teachers move from class to class, not the students. The students stay in the same class the whole school day
  • Everyone takes the same classes. There are no electives like P.E. or art
  • they don't have lockers
  • class starts at 7 am and ends at 12:25 pm
  • the classroom consists of a chalkboard and desks. That's mostly it  
  • A SIMILARITY: they're not supposed to be on their phones, but they do it anyways and hide it from the teacher  
  • the teachers make a "pssssssh" noise to shush the class
  • class is LOUD, and I love it
  • the school does not have sports. If you want to play a sport, you do it outside of school
The cafeteria/most of the school

The cafeteria/most of the school

I don't have a uniform or books yet, so I brought my Portuguese learning book to class. This way I have something to do besides play on my phone, and I can work on my Portuguese. The teachers let me use my phone because they know I understand only a little Portuguese and the class has Wi-Fi, but I'd rather be doing something productive. 

Most exchange students that come here already speak Portuguese or speak Spanish so they can get by with Portuguese easily. The biggest difference between Spanish and Portuguese is the pronunciation, but the words are very similar because they both have roots in Latin. I speak a little of both, but I'm nowhere near fluent in either language. I'm the outlier here.

I'm also the only one in my class with very white skin and light colored hair. As my brother Myles would say, I stick out like snow in an African village.


Food & Drink: 

There is rice and beans at most meals, but not all. It definitely is a staple here though. I think the food is delicious. I love pão de queijo (cheese bread buns), the different candies, and açaí here. I also tried papaya for the first time. I like it.

AND THE COFFEE. Oh the coffee. Meus deus. 

So good. The only way I can explain my love for the coffee is to tell you this: 

I am seriously considering filling one of my suitcases with only coffee and Brazilian foods for the trip home.  

I love it that much.  

Breakfast here is called  "café de manhã" in Portuguese, which literally translates to "coffee of the morning." I LOVE IT.

Here they drink a lot of tropical fruit juices (also so good) and the only sodas I've seen have been Guarana and Coca Cola. They don't have root beer or cranberry juice. At least, I haven't seen any. 

They also put ketchup on pizza, which I'm not actually mad at. And they eat pizza with a fork and a knife. They don't pick it up. Most foods they eat with a fork and a knife.

Host Family:  

I love my host family already. It's my first one and I'll have up to 3 others , but this family is a perfect start for me. The parents speak English and are so patient with me. Ana, minha mãe, went on exchange to Los Angeles and Australia, and Leo, meu pai, went on exchange to the Philippines when he was about my age. Leo's parents also hosted a lot of exchange students. They both have hosted exchange students before me, so I am in very good hands. 


They have two kids, Vítor, 6 years old, and Elise, who will turn 4 tomorrow, September 29th. Elise speaks more Portuguese than I do. I know enough to communicate with her fairly well. I know olha (look), espera (wait), brinca (play), and other helpful words to use to talk with the munchkins.

Vítor is old enough to understand I don't speak his language, and he teaches me some words. When he introduces me to others he calls me his new sister and says I speak English. I'm very impressed with how patient he is with me. He's just a kid, he doesn't deserve the difficultly that comes with communicating with a stupid American like me that only speaks one language. He is also a very good big brother to Elise. Their interactions are adorable.

I love playing with the kids. I draw with Vítor, and jump on the "pula pula" (trampoline) with them. Pula pula literally translates to "jump jump" in English. So cute. I also taught Vítor how to draw a snowman.  

Vítor's drawings

Vítor's drawings

I feel so bad when Elise asks me something in Portuguese and I can't answer. I'm learning more and more each day, and I know more than when I got here, but I want more than anything to tear down this language barrier. I know just enough to know when someone is talking about me, but I don't know enough to interject or answer them. If they refrained from mentioning the Estados Unidos, inglês, Alaska, "ela é", Tasha, Natasha, and "pra ela" I wouldn't know they were talking about me. 

I'm curious to see how the quality of my English grammar in my blog posts is going to decline as I learn more Portuguese.  

Funny tidbits / Differences between Alaska and João Pinheiro: 

  1. At my first rotary meeting, the lady taking the picture of the rotarians and I said "Cheese!" They think Americans smile when someone says "cheese," but we say "Say cheese!" It's still weird, but I know I always smile when someone offers me cheese, so I see where we're coming from.
  2. When they learn I'm from Alaska, they ALL ask if it's cold 
  3. The News Station reports on politics all around the world, not just in Brazil. We don't really do that in America, but I think we should  
  4. News Reporters wear casual clothing from what I've seen on the televisão. I'm used to seeing dresses and suits, not beards and tattoos and shirts and jeans on reporters. It's different.
  5. Used toilet paper goes in the trash can and not the toilet, which ended up being not as gross as it sounds. 
  6. Brazilians hug you when they meet you and hug and kiss you on the cheek when they say goodbye. I love it. 
  7. I have yet to see a motorcyclist in leather. They just wear regular clothes and a helmet
  8. Attendants at the gas station fill your car up for you
  9. Most Brazilians in my city don't speak English. The extent of what they know is "My name is..." and "Do you?" and "the book is on the table" which is the first thing they learn in English class. A shy girl came up to me with her mom after they had aerobic dance class with Ana, minha mãe, and she wanted to practice her English. She said "My name is ..." and "I have the 9 years." They all learn Spanish and English in school, but they don't pay much attention to the English.
  10. Brazilian drivers consider stop signs as suggestions. Sometimes they stop, sometimes they don't. They look before they keep going though.
  11. When someone sneezes here, no or says anything. I'm used to hearing "God bless you" after someone sneezes. They also sneeze into their hands. 
  12. The first phrases you learn here are "Eu não estou com fome" and "Eu não falo português" (I'm not hungry and I don't speak Portuguese) 
  13. The stoplights also have a countdown of how long the lights will remain red or green above the light. I like this.  
  14. You can talk about music, TV shows, and your photos even if you don't know the language.
  15. They have different ideas of what is nearby and what isn't. Someone was talking to me about driving to their farm from their city (lots of families own a farm and a house in two different places) and he said "It's only a 3 hour drive away! It's close!" No. No that's not close.
  16. It's common for families to have a maid or two. When I heard about it I immediately thought of the movie "The Help," but it's not like that at all. Maids are respected. It's like any other job. It's odd for me to not help out around the house though. Minha mãe specifically told me not to.


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