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.
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!).
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.
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.
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.