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,