Yesterday marked my first day in Brazil for my CCI high school abroad program. I must admit, leaving my family and friends and getting on the plane knowing I won’t see them again until December was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I thought I would be excited to leave and move to a new place but the day I left I just kept reminding myself about all the things I really do love about home, which made it even harder.
My flight to Rio de Janeiro was scheduled to leave at 10:30 p.m. on July 28. As I walked to my gate, a million fears were flashing through my mind. Am I really ready to do this? Can I overcome the obstacles? Am I ready to take on another language? I found my gate and found an empty seat in the crowded waiting area. Almost EVERYONE was speaking Portuguese. I couldn’t understand a word.
Brazil’s seasons are reversed, therefore July for them is winter (Although when I arrived and it was a “cool” 27 degrees Celsius. We have different definitions of winter.) All Brazilian schools have their winter breaks at the same time, which happens to be the majority of July. A lot of them traveled to the U.S. for vacation, and now had to return home because school is starting again on Monday. The plane must have been at least 50 percent children and teenagers. Luckily, I had a window seat in the front of the plane, and my seat mate was a college kid that was from Indiana who was attending a technology conference in Rio. I was happy to be sitting next to someone who spoke English, because I am not confident with conversational language skills.
My plane had problems with the Cabin Pressurization System, and we had to return to to the gate to get it fixed. I was tired from an emotionally draining day, and was planning to go right to sleep as soon as the plane took off, but that was postponed. When we got back to the gate, most of the Brazilians stood up became very talkative and loud. Some older Brazilian men around me were very nice and started chatting with me using their limited English. This was the first taste of Brazilianan interaction I had, and it comforted me because even though they couldn’t speak much English, they were kind, caring, and respectful, giving me an idea of how many Brazilians act.
Two hours and three glasses of water later, our plane finally took off! I was very stressed, because I had a connection to make in Rio, and limited time. I decided I would just figure it out when I got there, and go with the flow. At around 11AM, we landed in the beautiful Rio de Janeiro. After clearing immigration, I had to wait at baggage claim for both of my 60 lb. suitecases to drag them through customs and then have them checked again. I was one of the last people to get my luggage, and at this time it was around 11:50. I ran through customs into the absolutely confusing Rio Airport. Nothing was in English, and I really realized that I wasn’t in North Carolina anymore.
I ran around three different levels of the airport, which had no organization, and finally found the check in counter. My flight for Sao Paulo was scheduled to leave at 12:30PM, and I was checking my bags at 12:10. I ran to my gate, and boarded just in time. I was the last person to get on, but I did make it. Navigating the airport where everything was in a foreign language, and one out of every 50 people spoke enough English to help you, was my biggest challenge yet, but I did it and for that I am very proud of myself.
I was dripping sweat from running around so much, so I was glad the airplane was blasting cold air. Forty-five minutes later, we were in Sao Paulo. This time, I was the lucky one, and was one of the first to get my luggage. I found my way around the VERY confusing Sao Paulo airport, I went to find my host family, who was picking me up the airport. Unfortunately, there was an accident which backed up traffic for 30 minutes, so they had not arrived yet. Wondering where they were, I decided I should call them. I went to the information desk and asked a girl if she could call them for me (my host parents don’t speak much English, so even if I called myself, I would not be very successful). I waited around at an airport cafe, and relaxed, I felt like I had been running all day. I people watched, which was quite interesting.
There were many emotional reunions. Two boys had just arrived from a two month long backpacking adventure in Europe, one man was picking up his daughter he hadn’t seen in years, and a grandfather waited as his family arrived and he met his new grandbaby for the first time. After a while, my host dad, Carlos, finally found me and greeted me with a welcoming hug and kiss. Then my host sister, Pamela, ran over and greeted me with a huge hug! My host mom, Marcia, found her way over and gave me a big welcome hug (They had split up in the airport to find me). They are such warm and welcoming people. I felt at home instantly.
We had about a two hour drive back to the city of Sorocaba. We stopped at a restaurant/store type place that reminded me of something similar I saw in Europe, called Autogrill. It was buffet with all different types of cultural foods, an eating area, a coffee shop, a bakery, and an ice cream shop, as well as a store with everything from shoes and hats to candy.
I ate fried chicken, but it was BETTER than the fried chicken we have in North Carolina. It was shredded chicken with seasoning that colored the chicken orange, and then it was breaded very thick and fried. It was so good! Along with that I had Sprite, which didn’t taste like American Sprite at all, it was sweeter and more lemony. My first Brazilian meal was delicious! We then drove on to pick up Pamela’s best friend Bruna. Before she got in the car Pamela taught me how to say the equivalent to “What’s up, bro?” so that I could greet Bruna. Bruna can’t speak any English, but we were laughing the second she got in the car, which proves you don’t need to speak the same language to be friends with someone. A few minutes later, we arrived at my new home. It’s pink and purple, the only one those colors in the neighborhood. My host mom says its because she wanted the house to look different, and it definitely stands out in a good way.
My host family house is very new and modern, and VERY clean. It looks like a house out of a magazine. Its very beautiful! My room is in front of Pamela’s, and I get a view of the city right out of my bedroom window. Since it’s winter in Brazil, the air is cooler at night. It was about 5PM when we arrived, so it was the perfect time to open the window and enjoy the cool Brazilian air. I’ve noticed that Brazilian bedrooms are very simple, consisting of a bed, dresser, and maybe a bedside table, but not much more. I had plenty of space to unpack all of my clothes and get comfortable. My bedroom has tile floors, something I’ve never had before, and is very cool (literally!). But my room is simple and beautiful. I have my own bathroom, its absolutely amazing. It looks like a 5 star hotel bathroom! I could get used to this!
Pamela, Bruna, and I sat around chatting until around 8, when I went to take a shower. It felt so good to take a shower, especially in my wonderful new bathroom. My host mom likes things to be very neat and tidy, which is a great thing for me because I tend not to keep my room/bathroom at home very tidy, so this new skill will work wonders for my mom when I come home! Plus, I will actually be organized! At around 9:30, we had dinner. My host mom made delicious omlettes and we sat around the dining room table laughing and eating.
Afterward, Pamela, Bruna, and I got ready for a party. They said lots of their friends were going to be there so I could meet some of them. I was extremely tired, but it was my first night in Brazil and I wasn’t going to sleep through it! Brazilians greet each other with a kiss on the check, and I must have kissed 100 people that night! But it was a lot of fun to meet so many new people in one day. A band played at the party, Pamela said it is considered ‘Country Music’ to them, but to me it wasn’t the country music I know, it was very cultural and very good dance music. I danced with lots of people for many hours!
So around 3AM, we came home and went to sleep. I absolutely crashed! School starts Monday, and I have some pretty hard classes. Physics, Chemistry, Text (which is like a writing class Pamela says… in Portuguese), Literature (Which Pamela also says is hard class because its typically old texts with hard words she doesn’t even know), Math, English, Art, Geography, Biology, History, and grammer. In addition, for the first two weeks, I have Portuguese tutoring after school for 2 hours. Pamela says she will speak in English to me until Monday, and then all she will speak is Portuguese so that I can learn it! Pamela is in her second year of college, so she won’t go to school with me, but she only goes to night classes, so she will pick me up from school and help me with my homework. But school doesn’t start until Monday, for now I must finish unpacking.