I disappeared for a while, but I’m back now! For the final time. What a weird sensation.
The last month of my exchange was filled with lots of “last times.” And lots of denial.
From May 17-20, we had our district conference. For non-Rotarians, this is when all Rotarians (members of Rotary) within our district (usually a few cities conjoined) get together and discuss upcoming goals, ideas, and share successes from the past year. It’s a huge event that attracts hundreds of Rotarians. For us, it was our turn to “give back” to the Rotarians who have received and guided us for the last year. Italian exchange student Camilla delivered a speech to the Rotarians and all the exchange students sung Brazilian hit “Dona Maria.” It was also the last time all of the exchange students would be together, since some of us live in different cities.
The weekend was packed, filled with trips to a (fake) Christ the Redeemer Statue, learning “passinhos” (a Brazilian dance to funk music), and serious ridiculousness. The last night there was a big party for the exchange students where we all danced the night away. It was a really great memory I’ll hold close to my heart (especially the collective disgust of when our party got crashed by a bunch of 30 year olds). After the dance, we gathered in a hotel room to sign flags and write letters to each other. There was a lot of crying and heartfelt words exchanged.
As I mentioned before, denial was definitely there. Camilla and I were the only two exchange students who didn’t cry. We couldn’t actually process that we were leaving. We laughed at what ugly criers our fellow exchange students are instead.
There were a lot of things I took for granted during my year that I had to slowly say goodbye to (although, again, I was in denial that I was ACTUALLY leaving.)
These things range from everything, to acai dates to museum visits, from the Sunday market to overlooks and soccer games and my favorite restaurants. I spent the last few weeks buying local delicacies and enjoying every moment possible with my friends.
At my internship, my coworkers planned a goodbye party for me. At this time, there was a lot of chaos in my life, trying to get things arranged so I could leave on time and say goodbye to everyone. I was so stressed that I didn’t see this coming at all. So much that when they all appeared with their “surprises,” I literally cried. I am so grateful to have worked with such wonderful people.
In an English class at the beginning of my exchange, the teacher taught of a Brazilian author/poet named Carlos Drummond de Andrade. I remember not understanding much, but I remember something about him struck me. I took notes on him, intended to further research, but got sidetracked by how interesting Brazil’s history is (cough, Getulio Vargas, you wild man, you). My friend took me to Carlos Drummond de Andrade’s memorial and I got to hear his story and read some of his works. There was one line that particularly awed me – “I have merely two hands and the feeling of the world.” From there, I bought a collection of poetry and fell in love. I guess up until my final days, there were plenty of “firsts” as well.
The Hardest Goodbye
I have to say, one of the hardest moments of my life was saying goodbye to my now best friend Brooklyn. I met Brooklyn in December because we were two exchange students within the same host family. At first, we sat there in silence and I thought she hated me, but as time passed, we sat there in silence and I knew she liked me. After I met her, I spent practically every day of my exchange with her. Although she certainly pissed me off sometimes (and I know I did the same to her), we became family. Sisters. I have never known someone so intimately in my life. I can tell you her habits, what she’s probably going to wear, what drink she takes, how much she hates speaking in front of crowds, a million things I probably don’t know that I know. She’s the most caring person, someone who brings you medicine and face masks and coke when you’re sick. She’s the most loyal person, the most hilarious person, the most kind person, one of the best people I’ve ever met. I didn’t know it at the time, but all the popcorn and movie dates, the unnecessary shopping we did, all the parties we went to together were some of the best moments of my life.
Brooklyn was scheduled to leave exactly one week before me but she missed her flight, which led to a bunch of chaos and about six exchange students and three Brazilians sitting on the floor of an airport, trying to figure out how to get this (crying, emotional) girl back to Canada. I didn’t say anything at the time, but I was kind of glad she missed her flight because it meant I got one more day with my best friend. (Although that last day turned out to be full of evil and everything bad in the world). Brooklyn, I love you forever. Thank you for being my best friend and making my exchange so wonderful.
Back to Reality
There were a lot of exchange students who were really excited to go home – they loved their year, but they missed their life at home. I was not one of those people. I could’ve continued living my Brazilian life forever. My grasp on the language was good – I understood everything, my responses were getting better. I loved the food. I loved the way of life. I had friends, I was really happy.
Exactly two weeks ago, I returned to the United States. It has been the weirdest two weeks of my life. Everything feels like a dream – I can’t believe I’m actually with my family, I’m in my own bed, I’m back in this city that I was in before. Part of me thinks I’ll be back in a couple of days, I’m just on a little vacation before returning to my “real” life in Brazil. Part of me is still in denial.
The other part of me knows this is real, it’s time to get serious and adapt back to American life. This has not been as easy as it sounds. The other day, I went to order a sandwich and instead of asking for lettuce and onion, I asked for “alface e cebola, por favor.” Instead of saying thank you to my leader at college orientation, I said “obrigada.” Today, when I was telling my brother where to turn, I said “aqui” instead of “here.” Sometimes, I start to think in Portuguese and I forget to switch back to English!
Interactions have definitely been the hardest part. Every sentence that leaves my mouth starts or ends with “In Brazil” and I know people must be so sick of hearing it! I can’t help it and I’m sorry, I want it to pass just as much as you do. It’s also been hard to get used to American cold-ness. I’m so used to hugs and kisses with each greeting. It took everything in me not to walk up to my advisor, who I’ve never met before, and give her a huge hug.
I’m sure that with time, it will get easier.
In about a month, I’ll be starting university at the University of Lynchburg (a small college in Virginia, about three hours away from Washington DC). I’ll be double majoring in Spanish and International Relations and minoring in Political Science. While I’m having severe Brazil withdrawals, I’m excited to enter this new chapter of my life, and get back to South America as soon as possible!
A lot of people (mostly Brazilians) don’t understand why I would ever go to Brazil for a year. Brazil is an incredible place and while it certainly has its issues, I think it has a lot of its values right. The US could stand to learn a lot.
Thank you all for following this journey. It’s been a blast documenting it!