Brazil – I was that International Exchange Student

Indulge

It seems like so long ago, because it was half a lifetime ago. At sixteen, I got on a plane and left my friends, family and country, even my language behind. Wearing a red, Canadian exchange student blazer, and holding back tears, I said goodbye to everything – sad, not because I was going, but because I was leaving things I loved behind.

A year seemed like it would be forever, but by the time the first weeks had passed, it seemed like I’d never have enough time to do all the things I wanted to do before our time was up.

11221707_10154295393270110_5291458348279643773_n

In a year I saw more of Brazil than I could imagine and made so many memories. I traveled to the Pantanal region, went to see the Iguacu Falls, Paraguay, Argentina and Uruguay (for a handball competition). I traveled to the southern tip of the country, to visit friends I’d met, and all across the Northeast of the country on a whirlwind trip that became one of the most important experiences of my life.

12246885_10154295392305110_239871465047446963_n

If human history, in some areas of the world, is measured in B.C. and A.D., I measure my life in these terms: Before Brazil. After Brazil. It was formative, transformational and completely changed who I am.

A few days ago, a sad event brought a flood of memories and people, from the past, from the far reaches of the world, together; our old friend, Erin, was killed in a drunk driving accident. In my mind she is still sixteen, just as I remember her. She was a bright light, and seemed to have changed very little from the fun-loving, warm person we all knew when we were sixteen years old.

The happy side-effect of this tragedy is that we’ve all been reminiscing, reconnecting and revisiting those wonderful memories – where Green Day’s “Time of Your Life” was our song.

Here are some of those moments, from before digital cameras existed. When 90 exchange students from over 20 countries spent 30 days together travelling across the Nordeste region of Brazil.

Beijos and muito carinho to o povo do Rotary1999.

Brazil 1999

Brazil 1999 – We saw the stadium where Ronaldo played and we toured Rio De Janeiro.

12227027_10156208073835514_4758219558933042390_n

We met friends from Denmark, France, USA… and went on a cross country bus trip… taking our pale skin to varying shades of golden.

12208265_10156208074650514_3072145228924324969_n

We took two boats out to Angra Dos Reis, a remote, unspoiled area off the coast, drinking coconut water, dancing to music and jumping off the side of the ship into crystal water.

12196080_10156208073290514_1522954594075456822_n

We visited Lencois, Maceio, O Linda and other small towns, growing close to one another and breaking down barriers of language, gender and culture. I never felt close to my friends in high school the way I ended up feeling on this trip.

12247058_10154295393415110_299296805073150101_n

Being away from your family and friends, and all the expectations about who you should be, who you were and who you are, really let us explore who we wanted to be. And in all that hilarity and freedom we found incredible things. We were open to new knowledge and experiences.

12240023_10154295392855110_683310896250783587_n

There was a lot of posing. A lot of art. Culture. Silliness.

12243053_10154295392815110_2344757310717623465_n

A lot of silliness. This is Anthony. He is from the middle-of-nowhere, USA.

11228025_10154295392575110_5902295734034760279_n

And we had the moments every high school movie promises; there were the cool girls, the shy ones, the wild ones. And we all co-existed.

12241700_10154295392400110_8307167779407816186_n

We explored cities and ruins, museums and forests. Not caring about trivial things like fashion, or Instagram, or Facebook. Because we didn’t have those things. We did have a whole lot of matching t-shirts.

12249711_10154295392370110_8389769832759481215_n

And Muscle Poses.

12115647_10154295392350110_8977027337889838239_n (1)

And this.

12239669_10153107010687413_9161991475480436814_n

We bonded over our home countries. Over music and dancing. Over our love of the beach, or reading, or sunscreen. Or over who saw the nurse most often (chicken pox, mono, bronchitis, Dengue Fever, heat stroke). But our alliances and flags were only superficial.

10569073_10153107010812413_6030843463452674110_n

We beared it all. Making ourselves vulnerable. Having the best time.

12241530_10153107011057413_5917674681611817320_n

We sang with guitars in courtyards in the moonlight. Danced at live drumming concerts and took the band back to our hotel. We partied in the treetops (literally) at clubs suspended in the trees. We sweat our butts off at outdoor beach concerts. We put sunscreen on each other’s backs, laughed at how much weight we all gained, signed yearbooks of memories and promises to each other.

12246928_10153107011212413_911153737153817981_n

We pulled pranks.

And we were better people because of each other.

I miss you, Brazil. I miss the life we had there. I miss that closeness. And I am forever grateful for the time we shared.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s