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 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!
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).
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.
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!)
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.