Saturday, July 31, 2010

One week in...

It's been one week since I arrived in Juiz de Fora, and things have been going super well.

I had Portuguese class everyday at 9 AM, so I would walk to the "shopping," literally the word for a mall, where our class is. I live right off of the city's biggest streets, which is super convenient since it's easy to walk to places downtown and catch busses. In class, there are the four of us and our professor, Ulisses, who is super nice. So far, this setup has been really useful for working on my pronunciation and learning new vocabulary since we spend a lot of time speaking sentences and words out loud to him. Class goes until one in the afternoon, with a twenty minute break when we all go out and get coffee at a different bakery. In Minas Gerias, my state, they eat a ton of cheese. One regional speciality is "pão de queijo," where they bake the cheese into the dough to make these dense, chewy biscuits. We have a lot of fun on these little outings; ordering in Portuguese, getting asked where we're all from, and trying different cheese bread creations.

Learning Portuguese has been going well, I've learned a ton already and am understanding more and more. It's amazing how much the other students have learned in just one week also, having come from literally nothing to being able to communicate ideas. It is still frustrating at times, but we're all figuring it out. The pronunciation is pretty difficult, especially in comparison to Spanish where everything it pronounced like it's spelled and each vowel only has one sound. Here, the meaning of the word can be completely different by changing how open or closed a vowel sound is. For example, the word for grandmother is "avó", while grandfather is "avô". There are also nasal vowels, which constitute the difference in words like "pães," meaning breads, and "pais," parents. My roommate Felipe and his friends are super patient, and will sit with us for extended periods of time repeating these different kinds of sounds.

Felipe has been a godsend, and not only has helped all for of us get adjusted, he and his friends are a lot of fun to hang out with. The other night we had a churrasco, barbecue, and I've gone out with him and his girlfriend a couple of times. It was his girlfriend's sister's birthday two days ago, and I got invited to go out for pizza with her family. This dynamic has been great, one of my biggest worries about living in an apartment with another student was that I wasn't going to be around families and would miss out on that aspect of the culture. This hasn't been the case at all, and I've been invited to all sorts of gatherings and functions by Felipe as well as the other students' families. Despite sounding cliche, everyone has been incredibly welcoming and genuine in wanting to get to know us and show us a good time. Felipe has personally found Garrett, another exchange student, another house to live in since his first apartment was not ideal. So tomorrow we'll move him into his new place, which is where Felipe's grandmother lives.

One fun activity this week was when we went to Caroline's, another exchange student, sister's graduation. Maybe the funniest difference between this ceremony and the others I've attended in the States was that instead of having a typical band play "Pomp and Circumstance" when all the graduates file in, they had a Beatles tribute band play. It was entertaining to watch everyone enter to lyrics like "she loves you yeah, yeah, yeah." This act was followed by an intense opera singer and other musical acts, so the whole thing ended up being quite the event. I've put up pictures on Picasa, which you can link to in the slideshow thing above. After this, we went with Caroline's family out to eat pizza to celebrate.

So, all is well. I'm still adjusting to being in a new place and am nervous for classes starting and meeting a ton of new people all at once. We're going to meet the rest of the exchange students who aren't in our program soon, so that will be fun.

Beijos e abraços,


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Arrival, Rio, and my new home

I've made it to the Brazil!

I ended up leaving the Charlotte airport at two in the morning, which was ultimately nice because I slept almost the entire flight to Rio de Janeiro. Customs was super easy to get through, and soon I was in a cab on my way to stay with an alum from Colorado College, Célia, who I was put in contact with by ACM, the exchange program. Celia lives in Copacabana, only two blocks away from the famous Ipanema beach, and the couple of days I spent in Rio were excellent.

At Celia's place, I met up with two of the other exchange students staying in Juiz de Fora, Garrett and Caroline, and together we explored Rio. We spent a considerable amount of time on the beach, but also went to the top of Corcovado hill, home to the famous Cristo Redentor statue. The view from up there was incredible. I had never seen a city like Rio before. It's situated right on the coast, but throughout the area are scattered large, steep hills. On the sides of these are many of Rio's favelas, slum communities, but they also necessitate a large number of tunnels for communicating from one part of the city to another. This made it a little difficult knowing for certain which part of the city we were in, but thankfully we were able to figure out the public transportation system enough to make it around.

On our last night in Rio, Garret, Caroline and I went out with Celia and her husband to a churrascaria, a Brazilian steakhouse. In these, you typically pay a flat fee and have access to a buffet-style section of the restaurant in addition to a bunch of waiters walking around with different kinds of meat on spits. You have a little disc with a green side and a red side, which you flip if you want or don't want more meat. When on the green side, you'll experience frequent visits with all sorts of ribs and steaks, which are cut right off the spit onto your plate. Needless to say, it was quite the meal.

So we were a little sad to leave Rio and Celia yesterday when we came to Juiz de Fora. Everyone in the van was super apprehensive, as we hadn't heard much at all about where we were staying. Though pretty, the drive was really curvy, so the by the end of the 4 hour trip I was feeling a little shaken and nervous. Thankfully however, my housing situation has ended up being a slam dunk. I'm living in an apartment with a guy named Felipe, (pronounced Fe-lee-pee), who's in med school and super nice. I have my own bedroom and bathroom, and the place is really spacious. I'm in the center of town, and from what I've seen thus far is a safe and great location. Felipe has taken it upon himself to get me all situated, we went a bought me a cell phone yesterday, and is going to introduce me to his family who live in a nearby town. So I'm feeling really relieved knowing that I'm living in a good place and have support.

Tomorrow starts our language instruction, and in two weeks actual classes begin. I'm doing alright communicating thanks to a class I took at Carleton, but the extra help will be much appreciated considering all my classes will be in Portuguese.

Hope everyone is doing well.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The adventure begins!

Here we go!

Still haven't made it to Brazil yet, but the adventures have already started. I'm currently waiting in the Charlotte, NC, airport to get on my flight to Rio de Janeiro. Apparently the air conditioning isn't working, and the plane is "quite warm," so we've been delayed at least two hours. Considering my flight was originally slated to leave at 10:30 PM, this may end up being a late night. On the plus side, this airport is filled with hilarious white rocking chairs. Southern hospitality, love it.

Though my departure date has been set since April, the fact that I was able to leave today was a feat in itself. Since I'm studying in Brazil, I needed to procure a student visa. Those who have had the fortune of personally asking me how my preparation for my trip has been going this past month have already heard about the frustrating battle with my visa service. As Brazilian consulate jurisdictions go, Montana lies within the Los Angeles district. Convenient, right? Since I wasn't planning on applying in person, I used a service to whom I sent a whole packet of documents including my passport and birth certificate, in addition to a bunch of random papers notarized in Brazil.

Instead of making things easier, there was just mass confusion in terms of what things I needed to send this service. This initially resulted in ordering new papers from Brazil and sending personal letters pleading with the Consulate to help me out. You're literally not allowed to call this place, and so I remained at the mercy of delayed, nameless emails, this whole time. The whole situation came to a head when the Consulate finally told me, exactly one week ago, that the only way I was going to get my visa on time was to personally go to LA myself.

Thankfully, my mom got me on a plane that afternoon, and the next day I was able to get my visa. Apparently, the service had intentionally made-up a travel itinerary that didn't belong to me to buy themselves more time, which the Consulate had picked up on. Thanks Travisa, you rock! Hopefully the rest of my trip includes less clumsily executed bureaucratic scams. Fingers crossed....

So, needless to say, I'm looking forward to getting to this country! Stay tuned for the actual arrival.