In December, I stood up at a Rotary meeting and said (in Portuguese): “Hi, my name is Hannah. I’m from Florida. I arrived to Brazil in August, so I’ve been here about two months…”

It was only after I sat down and replayed everything in my head (looking for flaws in my Portuguese to beat myself up over) that I realized my Portuguese was okay – my math was a bit off. I’d just repeated what I’d been telling every uber driver, every salesperson, every random Brazilian who asked how long I’d been here. I’d already been in Brazil for four whole months.

February 8th makes six months in Brazil. It is shocking to say that.

Tonight, Julia (exchange student from Minnesota) and I went to see Call Me By Your Name. In the movie, an American goes to Italy for the summer to work on a research project. He stays with a family. Becomes apart of the family. Makes friends. Even falls in love. By the end of the movie, I was a sobbing baby. I was triggered.

I truly identified with this movie. I’ve fallen so deeply in love with Brazil and my life here that sometimes I forget I have to pick up in five months and go back to my “real world.” I have to go to college and work hard and pursue my dream: impacting US foreign policy and working in the State Department (or the UN. We’re still a little undecided). I have to leave behind this life I’ve built, my family, my friends, for who knows how long. Even if I see them again, it will never be the same as it is now.

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Sarah, one of my Brazilian friends. She went on exchange to California, but not through Rotary. I feel like everyone in Brazil has some connection to exchange!!

This was a really sobering reminder for me to live my exchange to the fullest. Take advantage of every day, every invitation, every opportunity.

On January 11, most exchange students left Belo Horizonte to go on the Dream Trip: a one month long journey around the Northeast of Brazil.

“But Hannah- Why didn’t you go?????”

One word, honey: MONEY.

Instead, I’ve stayed in Belo with a bunch of Brazilians (and Julia)! At first, I was really upset. I thought I’d be bored and alone, but it’s actually been some of the best few weeks of my exchange. Every day a Brazilian invites me to get food or see a movie or watch a soccer game or go to a party. It has been so much fun hanging out with mostly Brazilians, I can’t even begin to explain.


My cousin Matheus and I after a Cruzeiro game, where they won 2-0. (This was after the game. During the game, the stadium was PACKED)

I’ve learned how to play pool. I’ve been getting ready for Carnaval (aka searching for bizarre costumes). I went to my first soccer game in Brazil (which was amazing) and have set the goal to watch every Cruzeiro game until I go home. I’ve been singing the lyrics to Brazilian songs in the back seat of an uber with a friend of a friend I met ten minutes ago. On days I have nothing to do, I go to the “country club” that my parents are members of located two streets over from my house and read books, tan, and swim.


The view from the top of the “country club,” called Minas Tênis Clube. It’s pretty insane. There’s a bunch of pools, a water slide, restaurants, gyms, sports teams to join, so much more. I’m so lucky my family offered to get me a card!! (Taken from

Honestly, it’s been so much fun.

I’ve said it a million times, but I’ll say it again: Brazilians know how to live life. Tonight, as I was walking home in a melancholic state after this movie ripped my heart out and stomped all over it, a party bus drove by. There were people of all ages (literally about 5-50) dancing to funk music. One of the dancers jumped off the party bus, started dancing with me, and we blew kisses to the bus as the crowd went wild. And then the dancer went away, and bus moved along, and the music faded into the distance.

The importance of work has been instilled so far into my head that I don’t think I ever knew anything different. Work hard. Work a lot, or else you’ll fall behind. Throughout high school, I spent most of my time doing homework or working ahead. It paid off. I graduated with straight A’s (well, almost. Thanks Algebra II!!!). But I think I would’ve had so many more friends and great experiences had I allowed myself to expand my horizons, enjoy life a little, and develop an actual social life.

Brazilians work hard, but they play hard too. They embody the “live every moment like it’s your last” philosophy.

Once, my father told me the story of someone he knew. He said that the man worked his entire life. He was a lawyer, a good lawyer, who worked constantly to make as much money as he could for retirement. When the man was on the brink of retirement, he got cancer and died. He worked his whole life and never got to reap the benefits of it. He never got to relish in the money he made or sit back and enjoy his family, good food, good music, pretty landscapes, everything that the world has to offer. I imagine he spent most of his time at the office, reading over case files. I wonder if he sat on his deathbed with a head full of regrets.

As I start to piece my life together, I hope to adopt this Brazilian mentality and carry it with me. I hope if you’re reading this, you do too. I hope whether we die in a week or in eighty years, we die knowing we lived our life to the fullest.

(This post was much more cliché and depressing than I intended. Sorry!!)

New Year, New Host Family

One of the things that makes Rotary Youth Exchange unique is the fact that students move host families. Usually a student has three families, but in some cases it can be as many as seven or as few as just one. It purely depends on the person, the country, and just the general circumstances.

For me, like many of my friends on exchange, I moved the first or second week of December to my lovely second host family.


At a Rotary Christmas Party. (From left to right): Karen (Japan), me, my host grandpa’s “mulher,” my host grandpa, Brooklyn (Canada), and my host mom Andrea.

My new family is composed of my mom Andrea, my dad Elton, my sister Luana, my brother Lucca, and my dog Pongo.

Andrea, like my first host mom, owns and runs a women’s clothing store for party dresses. She is always well dressed (like most Brazilians) and works on the next street over from where we live.

Elton is a lawyer. He’s from the very south of Brazil but moved to Belo Horizonte some years ago to be with my host mom. He’s the typical “Gaucho” and supports a soccer team from his home state, Grêmio. It’s apparent he’s from the south just in his likes and dislikes. I’ve really enjoyed becoming familiar with this a little bit because I really wanted to do my exchange in south Brazil (although now I can’t imagine my exchange in any place other than Belo Horizonte).

My sister Luana is 14, but you wouldn’t know it if you saw her. She’s pretty mature and has a really good sense of style. She has friends over a lot and they always greet me in English, like a lot of Brazilians, which I always find a little funny.

My host brother Lucca is my age and on exchange in Taiwan. We’ve met only through one Facetime call, but I feel like I know quite a bit about him because of his mom.

My second host family is really, really different from my first. It’s much larger. My first weekend here, they had a party with the entire family. I was shocked by the number of people who came! Aunts and uncles and cousins and second cousins and partners. There were at least one hundred people who showed up at the party. I can’t even imagine having a family so big (although I guess I do now!).


This isn’t even the entire family because some of them had already left. Look to the right and you’ll see Brooklyn, Andy, and I, who made the family photo.

It’s really nice having such a huge family. It makes it easier to meet people. I’ve become friends with some of the cousins who are my age. They’ve taken me all around: hiking and movies and malls. It was perfect timing to meet more people because we’re on férias (summer break) until February or March, which means we have a lot of free time.

One of the best things about my second host family is that there’s other exchange students in it! There’s Brooklyn (from Canada) and Andy (from Taiwan), who have quickly become my family as well. Brooklyn lived with my current host family before I did. When I moved in, she moved to another relative’s house but we hang out basically every day and she stays over a lot. Brooklyn’s current family hosted Andy before her. Through our family ties, the three of us are “related,” and it couldn’t be better to be together all the time (especially for the holidays).

In addition to the other current exchange students, a lot of the family members went on exchange themselves. One of my cousins went on exchange to New Zealand and another to Poland. Exchange is really important to this family and having people who understand what it’s like to be away from your family and lifelong friends on Christmas made a huge difference.

Christmas here is really different than how I’ve celebrated it my whole life. On Christmas Eve around 9 pm, my host family went to another relative’s house, where the adults talked over glasses of wine and the kids played video games until about 11. At this time, the entire family got together and casually began to exchange gifts. The exchanging of gifts lasted until about 12 or 12:30, and then after some of the adults danced until dinner was served at 1 am. Yeah, that’s right. 1 am. After dinner was over, Brooklyn and I went out with our cousins to a party, where we hung out until the sun came up. The 25th was mostly spent sleeping. Honestly, despite all the presents and everything, it didn’t feel much like Christmas, but it was still really nice.


Brooklyn and I with our host mom on Christmas

One of the best parts of moving families is the location of my new house. (Well, apartment. I live on the 23rd floor!) Before I was living in a neighborhood called Buritis, which was beautiful but kind of far from everything. By bus, it took 45 minutes to an hour and a half (depending on traffic and if the bus was on time) to get to Savassi, which is near the center of the city and where all of the exchange students hang out. For this reason, I didn’t go out that much. I now live in a neighborhood called Lourdes, which is within walking distance from EVERYTHING. I walk maybe 10 minutes to get to the main mall and stores where everyone hangs out. Because of this, I get to go out almost every day.

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Buritis (Bottom left) is where I was previously living. Now, I’m living very close to Funcionarios (towards the top right) in a neighborhood called Lourdes.

At first, moving families was really difficult for me because my first host family became family. My mom was really my mom, my brother was really my brother, my dad was really my dad. But I’m glad Rotary forces us to move families because my life with this family is completely different than my life with my first host family, and I’m sure my third host family (whoever they are) will be equally as different. I’m glad I get this change of perspective because it just drives the point home: the life of every person, of every family is very, very different. I don’t think I ever thought about this that much before.

Each day I come to enjoy this experience even more.

Happy New Year, every one.


I spent New Years first with my host family at Minas Tenis Clube and then we went to my cousin’s house. In addition to just Brooklyn, Andy, and I, two Australian girls joined us. Eva (pictured above) and Brooke.