April 21, 2017
Dear Josi, Heloisa, Agenor and Andre
I have so much to say that I do not know where to start. 197 days. That’s how many days I’ve spent with you all. One day feels long but 197 days flew by. I can’t believe my journey here, as a part of family Andrade, is coming to an end.
As you know, I grew up as an only child with two parents. I’ve always been the center of attention and have never been apart from my parents. In the beginning of the journey, I was filled with dread. I expected this year to be super hard, but honestly, it has not been. When many GCY fellows found their host family situation challenging, I didn’t find any of that relatable. Since the day I arrived, you guys welcomed me into your family and loved me wholeheartedly. Instead of feeling like a guest, I feel like I am actually a part of this family.
As I am writing this letter now at midnight, tears are coming out from my eyes. I am beyond excited to be reunited with my family and friends, but at the same time, I am not ready to leave here yet. I know the moment I leave, I will start missing everything here. The morning runs and workouts with Heloisa, making creative dishes and talking about the fabulous rural life with Agenor, cooking with Josi, Andre laughing at me saying “muito” too much, everyday here was filled with memories.
Believe it or not, when I first got here, I even had trouble lighting matches. But by the end of my journey here, living in Santo Antônio de Lisboa couldn’t have felt more natural. I am now so used to waking up to fresh pão de trigo and Nescafe and going to sleep after saying boa noite. Thank you for putting up with such a spoiled kid and supporting me throughout the way. Even being half a planet away from my family didn’t make me feel lonely because you guys have so kindly opened your door to me.
Thank you so much for everything you’ve done for the past 7 months! I’ve had an amazing time here! And I will be back visiting you all before you know it 🙂
March 9, 2017
Because of what happened in Rio de Janeiro, I had to write an action plan to the Oakland office. Even though the process was extremely stressful, I learnt a lot from it and this incident actually has given me an amazing opportunity to reflect back on my experience in Brazil so far. Even though I kept telling everyone I haven’t changed, people who know me well told me differently. Having lived my entire life in a bubble, I have not had an opportunity to witness the real world and meet diverse people. Newton is racially diverse but not socio-economically diverse at all. Even though my high school has held plenty discussions on diversity, seeing it in real life is something completely different. In my cohort, I have met people from such diverse background whom I wouldn’t have become friends with otherwise. Just hearing about their stories and talking to them has made me realize how single-minded and privileged I am. Having grown up as the only child with two parents, I took everything for granted. Hearing about other people’s hard upbringing has made me appreciate what I have and fortified my determination to work hard and always strive for more.
The other night I was talking to my friend back home about my trip to Salvador. She asked me if I was disappointed because of how “dirty” and “ugly” Salvador is. I told her I wasn’t because my experience in Brazil so far has taught me to not judge a book by its cover. Instead of just looking for fancy restaurants to dine in and enjoy local cuisine, I was able to appreciate its culture value, its afro-brazilian heritage. After hearing my response, my friend was shocked because she said it simply didn’t sound like “me”.
This bridge year has also made me appreciate the value of self-reflection and spending time alone. My high school was called a “pressure cooker” and no one had the time to slow down and think about anything. I had no direction and felt lost when I graduated from high school. Going to college without taking some time off seems unimaginable to me now because I would have no idea of what I truly want to get out from a college experience. During my time in brazil, I have read 17 books on my kindle. I am gradually getting into the habit of reading, which wouldn’t have happened without taking a bridge year. I am not only surviving, I am thriving here. I’ve learnt to be comfortable by myself. Every book I’ve read, from Americanah to 1984, has taught me something I wouldn’t have gotten out of if I am not alone. Even though I am still not sure what I want to study, I can say confidently that I have more direction in life than ever before. Having alone time has enabled me to think back to my high school life. If you asked me a year ago what’s my favorite book, I wouldn’t have an answer because I am ambivalent about everything. But now, having reflected so much on every detail of my life, I’ve realized how I’ve always enjoyed explaining calculus concepts to friends; whenever I start my homework, I would start with mathematics because I tend to leave my least favorite things last. Before embarking on this journey, I’ve regarded this year as merely something different, but I am wrong about it. It’s more than something different, it is life-changing.
February 7, 2017
This morning, when I received the email from Belkis, my team leader in Brazil, asking me to fill out my travel plan back to Shanghai, I was shocked. When I first embarked on this journey, 8 months seemed like forever; I never gave a thought about going home. But now I’ve officially entered the last phase of my home stay in Florianópolis. I will be back in US exactly two months from today.
After spending more than 4 months with my host family, I am now very settled in my community. All the little friction and discomfort are gone. Even though I still don’t speak Portuguese fluently, we can now converse smoothly. However, not everyone in my cohort has had such a positive experience with homestay. Hearing about other people’s stories and complaints during Training Seminar 2 made me realize how blessed and lucky I am to have a host family that loves me and truly cares for me. Once I arrived home from my week long travel with my program, my sister complaint about how quiet the house was without my presence. I almost cried when she said that because it’s something my mom always says. Whenever we Facetime, she always tells me how much she misses all the noises I make at home and how she is so unused to the quietness even after 6 months of separation. I don’t know when it all started but I’ve stopped feeling like a guest in my host family. Instead of being the international student on a temporary stay, I’ve become the daughter to my host parents and the little sister to my older siblings.
I already know that saying goodbye will be so hard 🙁
January 10, 2017
If you want to have a long lasting impact on your host family in Brazil, buy them a scale. Even though I am enjoying every second of my time in Brazil, I am becoming increasingly insecure about my body. During my four months in Brazil, I have in total gained 9 pounds. Even though I still exercise everyday, all the pão de queijo, açai and late dinners are slowing changing my body.
In order to live a healthier life while still enjoying the food, I had a long conversation with my host sister this week and we decided to buy a scale. She has always wanted a scale as well but was hesitant to spend the money. However, after the talk, we realized that it would be a worthy investment.
And it turned out to be the BEST investment I’ve made in Brazil. My host family here doesn’t eat a lot of vegetables. We have a whole fridge for meat and half of a shelf for vegetables. For the past four months, I’ve always pushed for having something green everyday, even if it’s just sliced cucumber with salt. But ever since that little piece of glass moved into my house, life has changed for the better. Yesterday, after spending a day on the beach (which is exhausting), my host mother and I went on an 8000m walk. For dinner, we had eggplants, oysters and a salad with lettuce and bean sprouts. It really can’t get any healthier than that!
Body image has always been a rather controversial topic. To me, having a scale doesn’t necessarily mean I want a bombshell beach body (it would be nice though), it means more of having a healthy lifestyle. Even after I am gone, the scale will stay with my host family and so will the effort to eat more vegetables and exercise!
December 20, 2016
Compared to other programs, Global Citizen Year is rather strict when it comes to travelling. It only allows fellows to travel for fourteen days, which is clearly not enough time to see all the wonders of Brazil.
Even after I left Curitiba, my host family there has been asking me to visit. I really want to see them, but at the same time I am hesitant to use my precious independent travel days in a city I’ve already visited. In the end, I finally made up my mind and purchased my bus ticket to Curitiba.
I just came back from my 4-day, 3-night trip in Curitiba and words cannot express how happy I am for choosing Curitiba over other places. Even though I stayed in Curitiba for two weeks in the beginning of my gap year, everything looks different after 3 months. The streets don’t look as terrifying as before and the people not as intimidating. During my visit, I spent an extensive amount of time with my previous host family. As I spent more and more time in Brazil, I’ve stopped noticing how my language improves on a daily basis, but having a conversation with my host family whom I haven’t seen in 3 months definitely made me realize how far I’ve come. Even though I am still nowhere near being fluent, we can now have an actual conversation.
Up to this point, I’ve been so focused on my personal growth and have therefore failed to pay attention to other aspects of my gap year experience. Getting to reconnect with my previous host family makes me realize how making new connections is also a crucial part of this year. I’ve met so many nice people who genuinely care about me along the way.
December 5, 2016
Even though I often forgot that Florianopolis is an island, its drastic weather change never fails to remind me of that. Before I arrived in Florianopolis, I pictured Brazil as a sunshine country with no rain, but Florianopolis has successfully proven me wrong. Having lived here for almost three months now, I gradually got accustomed to bringing an umbrella with me wherever I go. I also got used to having mold on my clothes and three dogs that never dry.
Last weekend Florianopolis was hit by a very severe storm. Southern Florianopolis in particular was a wreckage after the storm. I live in the north of the island which suffered much less damage than the south, but we still lost power for over a day. On Sunday, my family woke up with no electricity which made me realize how dependent I and my family are on internet. The entire morning I was very fidgety because I was cut off from the rest of the world. I tried very hard to settle down and do something productive, but it was very hard. My host mom couldn’t stop complaining and my sister couldn’t study for her finals because the wifi wasn’t working.
To my surprise, what seemed to be a terrible day actually turned out to be a memorable experience. In the afternoon, after getting used to putting away my electronics, I was finally able to sit down, make myself a cup of tea and just read. My host mom also retreated back to her own room to do some writing. Later on, my host mom lit candles in order to cook dinner. Since candles were the only source of light, we all stayed in the kitchen while my mom cooked which doesn’t happen very often. Without electronics and background music, there was nothing to distract us from a heart-to-heart conversation.
October 20, 2016
I always tell people that I like changes because routines are boring and I am not. As time passed, I actually started to believe it myself. But do I really dislike routine? When I first arrived in Florianópolis, Brazil, I was very unhappy about how Global Citizen Year is set up as a program. After spending only a week with my host family in Santo Antônio de Lisboa, I had to leave my host family and participate in a 3-day regional reconnect in Santinho.
I didn’t quite understand why that 3-day retreat bothered me so much. I enjoyed spending time with other people from GCY, speaking in a familiar language actually releases a lot of stress caused by the language barrier. Then, as I thought more about it, the answer started to surface – the routine that I strenuously set up in the first week was broken. I was gradually getting used to the life of having free time in the morning and heading to work in the afternoon.
Yesterday marked the end of my first month in Florianópolis, and even though I miss my family and friends back home incredibly, I am still having a great time in Brazil. And a big part of my happiness originated from the fact that I have a routine.
9:00-10:00 Shower + Breakfast + FaceTime
10:00-12:00 Reading + Journaling + Freetime
12:00-12:30 Lunch + Getting ready for work
7:30-9:30 Bonding with host family + Chores
High school was busy beyond imagination. Enjoying some free time was a luxury to me. And here, in Brazil, when I finally have time to just sit down and do some self-reflection, I feel peace and security. Gap year is all about finding your true self. GCY keeps emphasizing how this year is supposed to be a very selfish year. You should live it for yourself and only for yourself. Now I am starting to get what this really means. Discovering more about myself is a fascinating process. It’s like peeling an onion, one layer at the time. It’s only the first month in Brazil and I already discovered a little more about myself – routine is truly my thing!
October 10, 2016
I think the biggest cultural shock I’ve experienced so far is regarding people’s reaction to me being a Chinese. I didn’t learn to appreciate America’s diversity and all these talks about stereotypes until I came to Brazil. Last week, when I went to a family barbecue, a woman told me I am very beautiful. Of course I was very flattered, but what she did next made me highly uncomfortable and upset. She put her fingers next to her eyes and stretched them, then said, “Olhos (eyes), bonita.” To be honest, I was very horrified. I couldn’t imagine anyone doing this to me in America. I was very upset and during the rest of the barbecue, I kept seeing a man stretching his eyes to mimic eyes of Asians and I kept hearing “Chinesa, Chinesa” but I couldn’t understand what people were saying.
Last night, I finally got a chance to talk to my host dad about stereotypes and racism in Brazil. He was very shocked when I said Brazilians don’t seem to be very friendly to Asians. Due to my limited Portuguese, it was very hard for us to have a deep conversation like this, but I was still able to get my point across. I couldn’t really understand what my host dad was talking about, but he was saying something along the line of, “People are not racist here. They are just curious about China and when they talk about Asian eyes, they mean it as a compliment. Racism is not a big problem in Brazil. Interracial marriage is extremely common here.” It was a concept very hard for me to grasp because something like that is clearly stereotyping. Having lived in the United States, I’ve been so used to being sensitive when it comes to racism and stereotyping. Therefore, I am having some trouble adjusting right now, but I am definitely trying my best to follow GCY’s saying – “curiosity before judgement.”