*Insert Cliché Family Quote Here*

The past few weeks, I’ve been going back and forth as to what to write about. This post is a little more personal than the last couple, but I’ve decided it reflects how I’m changing the most. It’s for that reason I’ve decided to put myself out there and discuss something I hate talking about most: feelings.

When I was younger, my parents and I clashed. Quite a lot. I was 10, friends with mostly older kids, and convinced I knew it all. You could argue not much has changed, but I’d say I’ve acquired something called “respect.” Between my teenage angst and my pure stubbornness, my relationship with my parents was a little strained. I remember being angry because we never saw eye to eye on anything. I couldn’t understand why they didn’t perceive things the way I did.


Family, circa 2007

My relationship with my family was actually a major factor in my decision to attend boarding school. While I was at boarding school, especially in my last two years, I came to terms with the fact we will never agree entirely and I need to love and accept them for the people they are. This last summer, I spent more time with my parents than I have in a long time. And I’m very glad I did.

Now, bear with me. We’ll get back to this later.

The concept of family in Brazil is overwhelming. It’s something I wish I had known growing up.

As I’ve mentioned before, I spend a lot of time with my mãe. Recently, my pai and brother are home much more than they were in the first bit, so I’ve gotten to know them as well. I adore my family here.

My favorite moments tend to be with my host family.

My mãe owns a women’s clothes store. A few weeks ago, some of the clothes were featured in a fashion show. This meant the whole family attended to support my mãe.


Mãe’s business partner and good friend, Mãe, and I before the fashion show.

In high school, it was a miracle if I wore anything besides black tights and a band t-shirt. Fashion is not for me. My host brother and I had a lot of fun trying to make sense of designers’ clothes, some of which I’m convinced were solely trying to make a social statement. I mean, that’s what art is, or can be, right?


Theo, my host brother, and I. #VapeNation

Last weekend, my mãe and I laid out in the sun for a while listening to Brazilian music before attending a jazz festival that was going on downtown. We really didn’t do much, but I felt so content in this moment. I felt so alive in this moment. And I can’t really explain why. Everything in the world just felt exactly as it should be.


This is the only picture I got from jazz night – some kind of Brazilian food. I can’t remember the name, but it was really good. 

Most recently, my mãe and I went on a hike to overlook the city of Belo Horizonte. The hike was quite the adventure – walking straight up for some distance that I never figured out in the blazing sun.


Definitely worth it

On the way down, we made a mistake and took a wrong turn so we ended up at the bottom of the wrong side of the mountain. The area we ended up in was a little sketchy. This freaked mãe out, so she took off running up the mountain, shouting “run Hannah run!” I have a bad habit of laughing at moments I shouldn’t be laughing, but when I saw her running up the mountain, with her “nossa senhora’s,” I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t run after her. It was too funny to me. If you ask me about this moment, I’ll just start laughing. It’s been one of my favorite moments thus far and I can’t really explain why.

Mãe running away. Mãe’s religious devotion. Mãe’s political opinions. Mãe’s hair!!!

Pai drinking a beer at a jazz festival. Pai’s jokes. Pai’s fear of riding a bike down a steep mountain.

Almost everything they do reminds me of my parents. Yes, you, Tray and Steve.


These people aren’t my real parents, but they treat me like a daughter. They care for me like a daughter. They ask about my happiness and how my day was and where I’m going and even if they leave me home for an hour or two, they send me messages to check on me. It’s not just the fact they’re responsible for me. They genuinely care. They go out of their way to do things for me.


Graduation, May 2017.

If my mãe and pai care so much for me in just three weeks, I can’t imagine the love my parents have for me.  Tray, Steve, I’m so grateful for the equally ridiculous moments we’ve shared. I am so grateful for your unconditional love and sacrifice and concern. I am so grateful to have you both in my life.

I can’t believe it took 18 years and a life across the world for me to fully realize this.



The Beauty of Luck

The way Florida Rotary Youth Exchange determines exactly where you go works as follows: you’re given a list of countries based on your age and the language(s) you speak. Of the countries you’re given, you number them one through however many countries you receive, one being the country you want to go to the most. You are in no way, shape, or form guaranteed your first choice, or really any of the countries on your list. It’s purely a game of luck.

Because I’m older, I received four countries: Brazil, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Greenland, and I numbered them in that order. If you know me, you know my love for South America, so I was really banking on Brazil. Like I said, pure luck.

At our first outbound orientation, Jack, our country coordinator, gave us the opportunity to write a proposal for a city or region in Brazil. After some research, I proposed the city of Curitiba because I was told it is similar to San Francisco (which I adore). I also saw they had a Holocaust museum, which is always of interest to me.

Instead, I received Belo Horizonte, and wow, what a blessing that was.


The view from my host aunt’s house, looking over Belo Horizonte

Belo Horizonte is known, unlike other regions of Brazil, for its hospitality. From the moment I’ve arrived, I’ve felt right at home. Everyone goes out of their way to make sure I’m fed and comfortable and happy.


If I sit alone in class or appear in any way uncomfortable (even though I’m not), the kids go out of their way to make me feel included. 

Luck has been a consistent theme throughout the short period I’ve been on exchange.

Last Saturday, it was a Rotarian’s birthday, so my family and I were invited to attend his party. By pure luck, an outbound student named Fernanda was having a goodbye party down the street. I was invited to attend.

By far the most simple, yet useful, knowledge I acquired in 144 hours of orientation for Brazil was this: always say yes. Even if it grosses you out, even if it makes you uncomfortable. Say yes.

So I said yes, hopped in the trunk of a car, and ended up down the street at a party with no one I knew.



Sarah and I at Fernanda’s party

Within five minutes, I met some of the most incredible people I’ve ever known. Each one went out of their way to make me feel comfortable and at home. They brought me candies and snacks. They asked about American culture. They laughed at my poor attempt at Portuguese and continued to talk to me anyway. They offered me jackets when it got cold. They had me put on sunglasses in the dark and take pictures with them.


See. I wasn’t joking about the sunglasses in the dark. 

Teenagers (in the United States at least) get the reputation of being petty, cliquey, mean, and noninclusive. Whether this is true or not, I can’t tell you. I’m biased.

Teenagers here, at least the ones I’ve encountered thus far, are more kind than you can imagine – the type of kind that goes out of their way to help you stay at the party because you’re getting along so well. The type of kind that helps you get home when you don’t speak the language well enough. The type of kind that asks for an “I’m home” message when they’ve only known you for a few days.

One of the things that has struck me the most is the maturity in relationships. Most of the friends I’ve made have been friends with each other forever, so they’re all very comfortable with each other. They compliment each other constantly and genuinely mean it, which I feel is very rare in the United States. They also greet and say goodbye to each and every person in the room with a hug and a kiss. This is so much more personable and intimate than the United States. I can’t explain exactly why this means so much to me, but I adore it.

In the past few days, I’ve been invited to so many things. Concerts. Parties. Boxing classes. Açaí dates. By pure luck, I met people that have rapped Eminem songs with me and taught me about Brazilian funk and common Portuguese phrases and made me laugh harder than I can remember laughing.


Some friends and I at Sarah’s Despedida Festa. 

It feels like I’ve been here forever, spending hours on end with my lovely mãe, making plans with my new compassionate friends.

I feel incredibly lucky to be where I am at the this very moment, because if it had been one day or month or year off, I would continue to live my life without knowing these people exist.

With all of the bad things that have happened in the world in the last couple years (and days), it’s really nice to have so much good surrounding me. I’ll be sure to hold on to these moments when the bad days come.


If you’ve seen Mean Girls, I’m sure you’re familiar with the following (cliché) exchange:

“I like math Damien”

“Ew why Cady”

“Because it’s the same in every country”


Now, I still hate math, as has been confirmed by the last two days of class, but the principle is the same: being an exchange student is hard.

I’ve gone to school with exchange students for the last four years. We’ve had people from all over: China and Spain, Korea and Brazil, Ghana and Albania. Despite this, I never understood what they were going through. My friend from Ghana, Adwoa, said she cried the first few days and hated things, and I can understand why. It’s hard to transition from one school to another, but especially a school with completely different customs from the previous one.

My transition period has been difficult, but it could be much worse.

Yesterday, I started school. I am one of three exchange students in my class of about 25 people, although I have been told there will be another exchange girl coming from Italy. Besides me, there’s Alberto from Taiwan and Andy from Colorado. I was very relieved to have another student from the US in my class.

My school is called Coleguium and it is bilingual. In this aspect, I’m both lucky and cursed. It’s nice to be able to understand things, as other students can help when I don’t follow a conversation, but it also means it’s easier for me to avoid speaking Portuguese at school. So far, all of my classes have been in Portuguese, which I like a lot.


Our uniforms are basically a t shirt and sweatpants. Not only am I comfortable, but I also don’t have to think about what to wear at 5:45 in the morning. I love it.

I have a much harder time understanding students when they speak. They tend to speak all at once, very loudly and quickly, so the words and sentences blend together more than in any other situation I’ve been in. For this reason (and the fact I can never hear), I almost never know what they’re saying.

Here are some basic differences between my Brazilian school and US school:

  • Students stay in one class and teachers rotate around each period.
  • It’s appropriate for students and teachers to curse or be vulgar around each other.
  • There is no lunch at school, but there is a cafeteria open all day for students to buy food during breaks.
  • There is about five minutes between each class and then an extended break, which lasts about 20 minutes.
  • The school is literally in the middle of the city. From the top of the building, where PE takes place and where students go during breaks, you can see a lot of buildings around. It is very beautiful.
  • All of my teachers are very young. I’d say the oldest is only in her 40s.
  • Most classes don’t have homework (yet, at least) and if they do, it’s relatively short. (Tonight’s is 10 math questions)
  • It’s acceptable for students to not pay attention at all, which is a bit of a shock coming from Salem where we stand when a teacher enters the room, never talk when the teacher is, and get woken up if we sleep. (cue picture below)

There is a class group chat and during class the kids sent this around. Kids sleep, they’re on their phone, they talk while the teacher is. I find it fascinating and quite funny.

My classmates are very friendly and generous. They always share their books with me and take me with them when they leave the classroom, although I’m sure I contribute nothing of substance to their days (yet).

There’s a girl named Izabela in my class who has taken me under her wing. She is very good at English and helps translate some words in lessons (like “fixo,” which refers to the Axis powers in WWII) or just translation in general. She’s also helped me with grammar a lot. Today her and another boy helped me say the alphabet, which will be vital to understanding better and also being able to pronounce things the right way.



Izabela and I

Yesterday, they were talking about what foods they should bring to school today for the exchange students to try. During our break today, we had a little pot luck of food. They brought typical Brazilian snacks and I brought some American candy.


US: Sweettarts, Skittles, Reese’s. Brazil: in the box, coxinha de frango (I think that’s what it’s called – basically chicken bites), doce de leite (dulce de leche squares. Kind of like caramel), paçoquita (basically the inside of a reese’s), and chita abacaxi (kind of like a tootsie roll or laffy taffy, flavored like pineapple).

As I mentioned before, I still hate math and don’t care much for science either, but I still like the classes here. When the teachers use powerpoints or write on the board, I can understand what they’re talking about pretty well.


Barely anyone takes notes and technically I don’t need to, but I figured it’s a good way to learn. (I’m glad I learned what a mole was in the US because I would be so confused right now!)

So far, I really enjoy literature, history, and geography, although literature was a little difficult for me to understand. I’m eager for the day I can analyze Portuguese literature without having to translate so frequently.

A lot of exchange students hate school or wish they could go on exchange and not go to school, but it’s actually one of my favorite parts of the day. I enjoy getting to know the culture and way of life through the students. I also get exposed to some really interesting content. Today Izabela showed me a portion of the textbook which talks about Brazilian politics. I learned about it a little bit when I was in Argentina from my Juans (I miss you guys) but I’m hoping it’s covered in some of my classes. As I mentioned in my last post, politics are getting a lot of attention in Brazil. This is probably the most interesting topic to me.


A page in the book that discusses two former presidents and their philosophy.

I’ve always loved school. If I could, I would go to school in every country. I’m extremely glad to be going to school in Brazil.

Belo Horizonte and My First “Exchange Student” Moments

Before I came to Brazil, I didn’t know what to expect. People told me about the friendliness of the people and the wonderful food and certain songs that may or may not be relevant anymore, but of course hearing about something and experiencing something is always completely different.


My family and I moments before departure.

My first “exchange” moment happened on the plane. I was so nervous. My hands were sweating. I was worried my insufficient Portuguese would get me in trouble (it has, mildly) and my host parents wouldn’t like me for some reason, or something stupid. Welcome to Hannah’s mind! The flight attendant was making rounds. If you’ve ever been on an international flight, they tend to speak the language of the country you’re going to. The flight attendant asked me “frango ou massa” (chicken or pasta) which I knew from Duolingo but my anxiety hindered my understanding. Without even attempting to listen or make out the words , I turned to my neighbor. I’m sure I was white as a ghost and looked like a deer in a headlights. After replaying the moment about twenty times in my head, I finally relaxed and thought about it. I did, in fact, know what he was saying. Had I just relaxed, I could have easily answered the question. So it goes.

After that cringy situation, I arrived to Belo Horizonte, my city, on Monday August 8 at 8 am. I was met by my wonderful pais with a lovely sign!


Meus pais

I was immediately taken aback by how beautiful the city is. It is much bigger than I thought it would be. Buildings extend on forever and when you’re driving you get glimpses out over the entire city. The city is also surrounded by mountains. That’s why it’s called “Belo Horizonte” (Beautiful Horizon).


The view from the back seat of the car. The number of buildings is insane.

My host parents are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met.

Meu pai is a graphic designer. Since the moment I met him, he emphasized how much he loves America and wants to learn English. His english is very good but he wants it to be perfect. I told him if he teaches me the rules of Portuguese, I’ll help him with his English. He intends to go to the United States one day, where he wants to go to Florida, California, and New York.


My room, which I love.

Minha mãe owns a women’s fashion store. It is incredible. Everything is hand made. The dresses have intricate designs. Everyone there is very nice to me, although I can’t always follow the conversation. There’s a man who works there named Ander and he speaks Spanish, so we were able to communicate.

I spend most of my time with minha mãe. She is one of the most patient people I’ve ever met. Yesterday after school my brain was fried and around 4 it just shut off. There was a period of four hours where I understood nothing the first time, yet she remained calm and continued to rephrase and explain the meaning of words.

Some of my favorite moments thus far have been with minha mãe. She actually reminds me a lot of my mom in the United States. She is very religious. In her office at work she has at least seven pictures of Jesus, Mary, and various saints. I personally am not and have never been a religious person, but I envy her devotion to God and the values she upholds.

We talk a lot about religion, politics, and government. She aligns with Brazil’s conservative values. In the past year, I’ve been called a communist or socialist more times than you count, so I tend to be extremely liberal all around. Although we have very different beliefs, it has been really nice to hear her ideas. Once I get a better grasp on the language, I’d like to ask her more questions about Brazil’s previous leaders, her opinions on current events, ect. Now is a very important time for Brazil because recently there’s been a lot of corruption in the government. It will be interesting to see how they move forward. I very much look forward to the day I can contribute more than a few sentences to a conversation about this topic.

Because I’m interested in this general topic, minha mãe gave me a book to read about the history of the 20th century entirely in Portuguese. To my surprise, I understand pretty well when I’m reading, although it takes me a lot longer to read. (Shoutout to Senora Bencini for giving me such a strong foundation in Spanish!)


“A Brief History of the 20th Century”

Regarding language, here comes the classic line: I wish I had studied more. It’s difficult to remember things because I learn much better in a classroom setting and I’ve never had formal training in Portuguese. Portuguese is written like Spanish but when you speak, the pronunciation of words is VERY different, so it is hard for me to determine when a word begins and ends in a sentence. I attribute much of my confusion to this. When I do understand, I can’t form complete (correct) sentences in Portuguese yet when speaking, so I tend to fall back on my Spanish.

Despite the confusion, I am so glad I decided to experience this. I am grateful to be here. Thank you to everyone who contributed in making this a reality. This is already one of the best experiences of my life.


A sign on our porch that reads: “In life, I don’t want much, I only want to know that I tried everything I wanted, I had everything I could, I loved everything that mattered, and I only lost what was never mine”