My Third Host Family

About a month ago, I moved in with my third and final host family.

Meet the Assis family:

First, there’s Euler, my father. He is an “engineer” who spends most of his time traveling for work, much like my father in the United States. Well, truth be told, he’s not exactly an “engineer” but that’s the title that they gave me. He works on buildings for businesses like grocery stores. He showed me his most recent project the other day: a grocery store and its parking lot in another city. That project already ended, but he’s already onto the next. When he’s not working, he enjoys a good glass of wine and watching soccer games of one of the local teams, Galo.

Next, there’s my mother, Cristina. She is one of the most hilarious, most kind people I’ve ever met. In the past, she worked for an international business that partially dealt with exchange. A few years ago, she realized she wanted to become a lawyer, so she is now a full time student in her fifth semester of law. In addition to studying, she takes my brothers to and from school, soccer practices, tennis practices, and any other activities they participate in. When she gets time, she likes to go to the family’s sitio and ride her horses. She also is the “mother” of two of the other girls who live in our building. She frequently takes us down the street to get acai or eat espentinhos (meat on sticks). Sometimes, if we’re lucky, she does our make up. She is an incredible cook and I eagerly await the dishes she makes for dinner each night. She is a wonderful person, and I’m so happy I get to spend the last couple months of my exchange with her as my mother.


Me and my third mae!

I also have two brothers: Rafael, 16, and Gustavo, 8.

Rafael is one of the best kids I have ever met. He has great manners and is very kind. He offers me acai every time he orders it and has even made me a hamburger! He goes to school in the mornings and goes immediately to soccer practice, so he doesn’t get home until pretty late most nights, about 9 or 10. I don’t see him too much, but every time I do, he greets me with a smile. We’ve mostly bonded over music because we like the same bands and singers.

Gustavo, or “Gu,” was my roommate the first few days I moved into the house. There was some confusion about whether it would be me, an American, who would go into their house or whether it would be a girl from Thailand. Gu was confused at first, and spend the first couple of days asking me about Thai cuisine and telling me I was “lying” every time I tried to explain I’m actually an American, that his mom had told him a girl from Thailand would move in BUT the plan changed. He has now accepted my origins and remains one of the cutest children I’ve ever met. He loves soccer and plays every day. He also takes guitar lessons on Mondays and goes to tennis lessons twice a week. He’s started collecting trading cards for the World Cup and spends his time after lunch organizing them.


With my mae and my brothers, Rafael (right) and Gu (middle).

Honestly, having two younger brothers is really fun. I have a younger brother in the US, but he’s only about a year younger than me, so there’s not much difference between how we act. These brothers are younger, so to see how they behave, what they like to do, how their life is, it’s fun.


I can’t even tell you what they were doing. The younger one willingly put his head there.

In addition to my “family,” we have a maid who feels like a big part of this house. Her name is Eliana, and she works almost the entire day Monday-Friday cleaning the house, doing laundry, and cooking. Her food is so good. I can’t wait to eat lunch every day because of it. She’s also hilarious and I adore talking to her about anything, from friends to politics to her life. She has taught me how to make popcorn on the stove since it’s my favorite snack and we don’t have a microwave.

I think my favorite thing about my third family is there is no English, just Portuguese, which is really satisfying. My Portuguese has finally reached a point where I understand almost everything without the need for repetition and I can usually respond without problems, which is exciting!

I love this family and I look forward to the remaining two months with them. (Two months, can you believe that?)

Rita Rico and the Path to Diplomacy

My junior year of high school, my roommate asked me to be her partner on a Model United Nations trip. We were assigned the country of Egypt in the Women’s Rights Council.

My first thought: how could we, teenage kids, propose logical solutions to issues like refugees and war when generations before have failed and continue to fail?

My roommate: “Hannah, relax. It’s MODEL United Nations. It’s a game. Now get to work.”

At first, I was weary. Looking at the documents, the formal “motion to set the speakers’ time” and “point of inquiry” freaked me out. What does that even mean? Then, the research. Don’t get me started. The history of your country and how they stand on complex issues, prior legislation, how they’ve voted in past UN councils. A lot of content to memorize in a few days.

I walked in with sweaty hands and about 150 pieces of paper, hoping they would prove helpful over the next few sessions.

Once I got the hang of things, I loved it. We wrote resolution papers with solutions that could be applied to the real world. THIS is what I wanted to do with my life. And thus began my journey to become a diplomat.

I value diplomacy because I believe it’s the path to creating a more peaceful, better functioning world. I strongly believe that with an open mind and dialogue, a mutually beneficial agreement can be reached. I look up to diplomats and the sacrifice they make as they strive to make changes across the world.

A few weeks ago, an American diplomat moved into the apartment building where I was living. It was fate. The first time I met her, I was so shocked, I just kind of stood there like a smiling idiot.

I decided to reach out and express my interest in following her path. I asked if she would sit down with me and talk with me about what she does, how her life works, and which steps she took to get to where she is now. Kindly, she replied and invited me to come into her office yesterday to talk.

Her name is Rita Rico and she is AWESOME. After graduating with a Ph.D. in Political Theory and working as an advisor in the Senate, she started her career with the State Department. She worked as a deputy cultural attaché in Santiago, Chile; a consular officer in Nairobi, Kenya; a political officer in Caracas, Venezuela; and she is now serving as the American Presence Officer and Public Affairs Officer in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. She is fluent in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.


Rita Rico, American Presence Officer and Public Affairs Officer in Belo Horizonte, Brazil

Our discussion was invigorating. First of all, she just got back from a trip with the US Ambassador to Brazil throughout the state of Minas Gerais. How awesome is that???

She went through and described what it’s like working as a Foreign Service Officer for the State Department. She described the tedious application process (which takes about a year to complete and is composed of a written test, an essay, and an oral exam). She described the various positions offered and what exactly her position is. I got to ask about how policy works (especially with the recent departure of the Secretary of State) and how it affects diplomats all over the world. I got to ask about language learning and comprehension.

In my opinion, her most interesting job was in Venezuela. As a political officer, she essentially spent her years there doing research on the Venezuela political system: talking to presidents of parties, learning about interest groups, learning about hot topics. She would report her findings back to Washington. I would LOVE to do something like this.


Rita’s card and a water bottle she gave me.

To me, the most exhilarating part is that the job is never the same. First of all, you move every 2-4 years, so you’re never in one place for very long. You are constantly faced with new objectives and people and “missions” to tackle. Every position you take as a diplomat will be learning on the job and using your own judgment to further US foreign policy. There is a lot of power in that. Everything Rita does is a big deal: building relationships with Brazilians, encouraging travel to the US, promoting US culture, promoting economic interests, so many things for one person to be in charge of. It’s crazy. Everything she does affects the relationship between Brazil and the US.

We talked a bit about the upcoming election in Brazil, and she mentioned that the diplomats all have the opportunity to meet with the candidates and ask any questions they might have. I think that’s incredible and I am so jealous.

This weekend, I will go with Rita to a college fair for American Universities in Brazil. She also put me in contact with a man who helps Brazilian students prepare their resumes and applications for American universities. She said it would be nice if I could talk about my college application process, what I looked for in schools, and how college works there.

After meeting with her, I’m much more certain in the path I want to take moving forward. I’m nervous, because it is such a competitive field, but I’m eager to continue striving for this huge dream I have. I know it will take a lot of work and dedication, but the journey has already begun. I strongly believe the education I have already received, the people I’ve already met, the experiences I’ve already had have more than prepared me for the insane journey that lays ahead of me.

Sitting in her office, I could picture myself in Rita’s shoes. That is who I will be in 15 years. Mark my words.