This is crazy! I’ve already been in Brasil for four months! In some ways, however, it feels like I’ve been here much longer than that. This place is so familiar to me now, and I feel like I know as much about Joao Pessoa as someone who’s lived here for years! I feel like a local. I was thinking to myself the other day that this is the city that I know best in the whole world, besides Northfield. And possibly besides Ely, where I spend my summers. I know where the best and cheapest acai is sold. I know the beaches where you’ll find seaweed, and the ones where there’s a nice, sandy, bottom. I know where it’s dangerous to walk alone at night. I know around which corners I’ll find the pungent odor of old, dead fish, and along which sidewalks I’ll find the delicious smell of churrasco! I guess this is what I should expect from living here for four months, but it’s still a surprise to find myself so knowledgeable about a city I knew basically nothing about four months ago. Also, I know so many new people, and people know me, too. Nearly every time I go out, I see a familiar face. And no matter what the locals say, Joao Pessoa isn’t all THAT small. It’s so hard to believe that I didn’t know anyone here 4 months ago, but I’m sure that I’ve already made some life-long friends.
The rotary country fair was exactly one year ago today. That was when the whole process became real to me. Well, in some ways at least. In lots of ways nothing seemed real until I actually arrived here in Brasil. I remember entering the room where a bunch of tables were set up and exchange students from all over the world were eagerly awaiting the arrival of us newbies. The first table I went to was the Brasil table! Mostly because the Brazilian exchange students were basically dragging most of the people who walked through that door over to their table, because that’s just the way Brazilians are. But I loved it! I love the big-hearted, open-armed, unreserved way of the Brazilians. I will sincerely miss giving two kisses on each cheek when saying hello/saying good-bye to a friend, acquaintance, or even someone you don’t even know. This tradition is so much better than the cold and impersonal handshake in my opinion! After the country fair, I literally spent the next seven months with Brazil constantly on my mind. Without realizing it, I built up an impression of what Brazil was going to be like. I’m sure every exchange student did this with his or her respective country. It’s hard not to when you know you’re going to live in a completely different place for one year! It’s interesting how my expectations matched up with my actual experience. I don’t even remember what I expected, really…because now my life here is what it is, and I don’t really dwell on anything that I thought was going to be different. All I know is that I love it, and I am so glad that the Brazilians won me over that day one year ago.
So, all of you about to embark on the amazing journey that is rotary youth exchange, I’m so so so excited for you! The application, interview, and choosing parts are over. Now the real fun begins! I’m pretty sure those 3 weeks I had to wait to learn what my country was going to be were some of the longest weeks of my life…but once you finally find out, it’s the best feeling in the world! Be excited! I know I don’t have to tell you that, the excitement is there from the beginning. But embrace it! Before you know it, you’ll be embarking on the year long journey that will change your life. I have already changed here, in just four short months. Or maybe I’ve just become more of myself, if that makes sense. I’ve found out things about myself I never knew, both things I like and things I don’t. Although while on exchange you’ll meet many new people and some will become your best friends, I sort of feel like the person you get to know the best is yourself. Sounds cheesy, but hey, I think it’s true. These four months have been the most exciting, the most challenging, the most fun, the most emotional, and just in general, some of the best months of my life. And I can’t wait to see what the next six months will bring! I can’t wait to hear where all of you future outbounds are going! You made an excellent choice choosing rotary youth exchange. Since I’ve been here, I have realized more and more everyday how completely right this choice was for me. And to anyone who picked Brazil as one of their choices…voce escolhou o melhor pais do todo mundo! You picked the best country! Sorry, I’m a little overly enthusiastic. In all seriousness, any country you end up in, whether you picked it or not, you’ll have an amazing, unforgettable year. Woooo exchange students! I can’t wait to hear what the next year brings for you! Muitos beijos, e eu espero que neste momento o proximo ano, todos estarao esquecendo o ingles ;)