New Year, New Host Family, New Places to Explore

Day 118:

A Fresh Batch of Exchange Students

I cannot believe we are already halfway through January 2018. 

A year ago, on January 13th, 2017, I found out what country Rotary would be sending me to. A year ago, I started learning everything I could about my home to be. I pinned a Brazil flag to a wall in my room, changed my iPhone setting's to Portuguese, and felt a surge of pride whenever someone mentioned anything about Brazil.

And now, Alaska has a new set of outbounds in the same position that I was a year ago. They just found out what country they'll be going to in about 6 months time.

Exchange students from Alaska don't get to choose what country they go to. They don't even get to select their Top 3. Because of this, Alaska Rotary Youth Exchange has a has a huge country-reveal event every year for the new outbounds. The event brings together the current Alaska inbounds (the students from other countries on exchange in Alaska), rebounds (already went on exchange and came back to Alaska), families of the new outbounds, and Rotarians involved in Youth Exchange. 

The country-reveal event this year in Alaska was from 6:30 pm until 9 pm Alaska time. Alaska time is 7 hours behind Brazil time, so I stayed up until 4 am in Brazil to watch the newbies get their country assignments. Well, at least I tried to watch. 

Wi-Fi in Brazil is crappy.

The live stream kept buffering and then quit working all together, so I had to rely on the comments of my outbound group of 2017/18 chat to find out who got what country. My outbound group is spread out all over the world right now but most of us stayed up late to watch the new outbounds go through what we went through a year ago. 

 It feels like everything has come full circle now. 

I want to say good luck to all the exchange student outbounds all over the world that are waiting to begin this rewarding experience.

Good luck.

Me. In Brazil

I started out 2018 by taking a trip to Cabo Frio, Rio de Janeiro with my new host family. We stayed there for 7 marvelous days and then drove back to Joao Pinheiro. I was back in my city for about a week and I'm already traveling again.

I think it's been decided that I'll be staying with my current host family for the next three months. The original plan was for me to go on the Cabo Frio trip with this family, come back, pack up all my bags again, move to my "second" host family, stay with them until April, move back to this family and spend the rest of my exchange year with this family.

I like it better this way. Less packing.

The New Host Family

My new family is composed of my host mom, Elvina, my host dad, Nestor, and my two host sisters. The younger sister, Isadora, is 16 years old and is currently in France on exchange. The older sister, Rafaela, is 28 years old and lives in another city in my state, Minas Gerais, called Unai. Rafaela comes home on the weekends to spend time with her family.  

My siblings in my first host family were just little munchkins, ages 6 and 3, so it's very different to have siblings closer to my age in this family. There are so many differences between the two families I've stayed with so far and I'm thankful that I'm having the chance to see so many different perspectives.

It's interesting to live in a house that has a kid like me on exchange in another country. It's like I've been given a window into seeing what it's like for my family and friends back home while I'm here in Brazil.

I can tell that they miss Isadora, but they've accepted me into their family as well, and I'm very grateful for that. I talk to Isadora every day on Snapchat and I consider her my real sister. The end of her exchange is in the middle of July and I'm staying in Brazil until the end of July, so I can't wait to meet her.

At first I thought it would be strange to be living in a family that had a daughter out on exchange because while Isadora is away, I'm staying in her room and living with her family. But now I think it is good for me and good for my host family that I'm here. Since Isadora is in another country and Rafaela comes only on the weekends, time I spend in the house is spent with my host parents. It's like I'm filling a spot for them. There are four chairs at the dinner table and I'm temporarily filling the empty one.

I'm loving the extended family too. On my first day with my new host family, I met my host grandma. Family is very important to Brazilians. I've already met and spent time with my host mom's side of the family, the Moreira's, and my host dad's side, the Pereira's. There's a lot of family members, and I still haven't met them all.

Elvina (mom), Isadora (sister on exchange in France), Nestor (dad), and Rafaela (sister)

Elvina (mom), Isadora (sister on exchange in France), Nestor (dad), and Rafaela (sister)

My new home is on the other side of town. It's a twenty minute walk to get from Academia Vida + Ativa (first home) to my current home. 

But I need to go to the gym. All exchange students joke about the inevitable weight gain that comes from being on exchange, but not all exchange students literally lived in a gym with their first host families. Maybe I can manage to avoid gaining kilos.

There is a gym on my side of town, but I enjoy the 20-minute walk and I love seeing my first host family whenever I go to work out. The only downside is all the stares I get when I walk through the city in my workout clothes. Everyone stares at my white-as-snow legs. 

I'm getting used to the staring though.

My first host home was the red marker. I'm now on the other side of the yellow road in one of the bottom left neighborhoods

My first host home was the red marker. I'm now on the other side of the yellow road in one of the bottom left neighborhoods

Oh and another thing. My current host family doesn't speak English. I've been speaking only Portuguese with them for a month now. I can make myself understood in another language (what???) and I understand when other people are talking. There's still a lot of words I don't know, so I'm not fluent, but I've reached the level where if I don't understand a word, I understand when they explain the word's meaning using other Portuguese words.

It's so entertaining too whenever I meet someone new because they take one look at the "gringa" sign on my forehead and assume that I don't speak Portuguese. It's so easy to impress them. I just speak and they look surprised and compliment how well I speak. Like I said, I'm still not fluent and I know I make mountains of grammatical mistakes and mispronunciations, but their expectations are already so low to begin with that they're impressed when I start speaking.

The most Brazilian thing you'll ever see. Churrasco by a waterfall

The most Brazilian thing you'll ever see. Churrasco by a waterfall

me feat. the random guy in the background

me feat. the random guy in the background


There's a lot of down time because I'm still on summer vacation (school starts again February 1st) so I've been spending a lot of time with family. Before and after Cabo Frio, I've spent time at my cousins' houses, visiting relatives with my host mom, watching movies in Portuguese with my host parents, helping my parents cook, and hanging out with Rafaela when she's in town. 

One of the things we did in Joao Pinheiro that I absolutely loved was go to the local waterfall, Cacheoira do Garimpo. It was soooo beautiful. It was a hot day and the water was cool and swimming in it was so refreshing. I feel my best when I'm surrounded by nature, whether it's on a mountaintop, by the ocean, or swimming in a waterfall. That's where I feel most at home. 

Speaking of being by the ocean, I still need to write about my trip:

Cabo Frio, Rio De Janeiro

Day 1: January 1st, 2018

After going to bed at 2am the night before because of New Years, I woke up at 6 am to shower and get ready for the lonnnnnngggg car ride ahead of me. By 7 am, we were all in the car and on the road.

We made stops along the way to eat, use the restroom, fill up on gas, etc. The normal road trip stops. But we also made a stop in a historical city in Minas Gerais called Congonhas.

I'd never thought of the colonization or settlement of Brazil before I came here, but now it interests me. The construction of the Catholic Church we visited, Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Congonhas, was completed in 1772. What drew my interest was the statues of the 12 prophets in the front. They're very intricate and well maintained, but it's not the statues that are so impressive to me, but the sculptor himself, Aleijadinho. I didn't know the story behind him when I visited the church but I did a little research after the trip and found out that his real name is Antônio Francisco Lisboa. His nickname "Aleijadinho" translates to "Little Cripple."

Aleijadinho was born with a degenerative disease in his limbs that eventually led to the loss of the use of his hands. That should've been career-ending for an architect/sculptor. But it wasn't.

According to trusty old wikipedia:

"Between 1800 and 1805 Aleijadinho sculpted the twelve soapstone figures (of the church) by having his assistants strap his hammer and chisels to what remained of his hands, which did not at this point include fingers. Since he no longer had feet to stand on he had pads strapped to his knees up which he would climb the ladders needed to get him off the ground. The Twelve Prophets are arranged around the courtyard and stairway in front of the church."

That, to me, is very impressive and interesting. Art is amazing.

Anyways, after that side stop we got back in the car and kept driving until 9 pm. Even after a day of driving, we were 2 1/2 hours away from Cabo Frio. We spent the night in a hotel in a small city called Mage, Rio de Janeiro.


A picture I took of one of Aleijadinho's prophet statues

A picture I took of one of Aleijadinho's prophet statues

Host parents

Host parents




Day 2

  • Drove the remaining 2 1/2 hours to Cabo Frio that next morning
  • Went to the beach and met the 22 family members that were going to be part of this vacation
  • Went out to eat after the beach in the city square. There was a variety of food booths and carts 
  • I went off to buy a churro from a vendor. He heard the way I talked and asked, "You're not Brasileira, are you?" I should have said yes, I am, but I laughed and said yeah, you right, I'm not. We kept talking and he asked me how many years I'd been in Brazil. Again, I laughed and said I've only been here 4 months
  •  Went back to the hotel to play cards with my cousins. I taught them how to play the card game "BS", or in Portuguese, "Mentira." It was a huge accomplishment for me to be able to explain a card game in Portuguese and have them understand my explanation
  • They loved it, we played it many more times throughout our trip
  • Bed at 2 am
It may look close, but Rio de Janeiro is a 13-14 hour drive from Joao Pinheiro  

It may look close, but Rio de Janeiro is a 13-14 hour drive from Joao Pinheiro  

Day 3

  • Walked around the city trying to find a bikini store with my host mom
  • Cabo Frio is a city known for it's beaches, but we had to walk around the city for 2 hours before finding a bikini shop. It was nice to see the city though
  • Swam at the beach
  • Paid R$20 to ride the banana boat with my cousins. It was a blast
  • There was a lady that came over and sold brigadeiros (a Brazilian chocolate) to us that was almost as white as me. I found that funny, because she was the first person in Brazil to have called me gringa.
  •  You can find everything on a Brazilian beach. Churrasco, corn on the cob, acai, sunglasses, hats, bracelets, you name it, there's a vendor at the beach trying to get you to buy it
  • I loved seeing and hearing the popsicles vendors weave their way through the beach umbrellas shouting, PICOLE PICOLE (pronounced Pea-Coal-Aye)
  • Played cards again with my cousins in the hotel after the beach. They taught me a card game like "Slap Jack" but it was different. I was horrible at it. I thought it was because I had to count in Portuguese and that's why I was slower, so I asked them to count in English instead. They did, but I still lost. It's because I have no reflexes.
The banana boat. My host parents said they could see me even from a distance. Like a glowing white beacon

The banana boat. My host parents said they could see me even from a distance. Like a glowing white beacon

Day 4

  • It was raining in the morning so we hung out in the hotel and played card games again
  • The rest of the day was pretty relaxed and I just hung out with the family

Day 5

  • At the beach in the morning again
  • Went to the Praia das Dunas (Sand Dune Beach) and I saw sand dunes for the first time
  • A random Brazilian came up to me and asked me what SPF strength number of sunblock I use.
  • I use SPF 60 for any other random person out there that wants to know
  • Bought acai, enjoyed the beach
  • After the beach, my cousins and I decided to walk to the Fun Park that was about a 20 minute walk from the hotel
  • Halfway there, it started pouring. The sky opened up and dumped rain on us. Lightning, thunder, rain, the works. We decided to keep going until we reached the park, hoping the rain would stop. It rained harder. We made it to the park and decided to turn back. We finally made it back to the hotel, completely drenched, with me smiling like an idiot. I love the rain
  • Changed into dry clothes and went out again to eat
Praia das dunas

Praia das dunas



Arraial do Cabo

Arraial do Cabo

Day 6

  • Got up early 
  • The whole party split up and took 3 Ubers to Arraial do Cabo, a famous place in Brazil. Some people call it the Caribbean of Brazil because the waters are so blue
  • Found a tour boat that could take our party of 22 people. The tour boat company was named "Pirates of the Caribbean"
  • IT was amazing to be on the ocean again
  • It was only 60 reais ($20 USD) per person for the trip from 10 am to 3 pm
  • We first saw some landmarks and cliffs and then the boat anchored at a beach and a smaller boat took us to shore
  • I swam, took pictures, and had an amazing time 
  • After that beach we went to another area to snorkel
  • They let us jump off the back of the tour boat and swim
  • My host family was surprised I didn't want to swim with a pool noodle. They couldn't believe it. They kept asking me if my legs were getting tired. I thought that was odd. It's just treading water
  • I got sunburnt of course, but not badly
  • When we got back to the hotel most of the group went back to the beach, but I stayed at the hotel, tired out. I swear I'm a grandma at heart
  • That night I walked the beach with my host parents and found a place on the beach to eat with live music 
  • There was a beautiful sunset. It was a good last night in Cabo
The beach we boated to

The beach we boated to



Day 7

  • Last day
  • I was tired so I stayed at the hotel and slept late
  • The family went to the beach for the last morning but I was exhausted and spent that time sleeping
  • When it was time to go we all said our goodbyes and hit the road starting at noon
  • Once again, we didn't stop driving until late at night
  • We stayed the night in a hotel on the outskirts of Belo Horizonte and ate pizza for dinner at midnight.
  • The next morning we hit the road again and arrived back in Joao Pinheiro in the afternoon
Some of the Pereira clan, host dad's side of the family that were at the beach with us  

Some of the Pereira clan, host dad's side of the family that were at the beach with us  

Cabo Frio was great and I'll definitely go back one day, but it was nice to be back in my home city.

And now, as I mentioned in the beginning, I'm traveling again. I'm currently in Unaí as I write this. Unai is the city my host sister Rafaela works and lives in. It's about a 2-3 hour drive from João Pinheiro, my city. I'm here until this Friday visiting, like a real sister does. 

I'm just enjoying the experience of being here. 

I'll write about Unaí in the next post.

Until then,

Natasha Talvi