In the months before I left the United States, I was told many things. From congratulations, declarations of jealousy and admiration, suggestions, warnings and stories, advice poured in from all angles.
Rotary District 7170 even went to the trouble of giving us “Outbounds” a survival guide that walks us through each emotional step of our exchange. Despite all this advice however, no one warned me about the 24 hours of solid travel time.
It was my first time flying alone; I was scared, anxious, and excited. With no internet access or international phone to call home, it was my responsibility and mine alone to get from point A, USA, to point B, Brazil. I was nervous about making my way through customs alone and trying to find a domestic flight in Brazil, knowing little Portuguese. I spent these hours in many various emotional states ranging from elation and excitement, to fear and utter disbelief. There were tears of course, but they weren’t just tears of longing for my family, friends, and home, they were tears of laughter at how little I understood, and tears of happiness at how certain I was about Brazil and Rotary.
Symbolically, these 24 hours represented a precipice to a cliff that overlooks hundreds of possibilities and opportunities, and at that precipice I spent a great deal of time trying to convince myself that it was really happening. How little I knew about Brazil then. I was unaware at the time that I would be spending my mornings at high school with 30 other extremely loud, friendly and curious teenagers, my afternoons at elementary school with adorable and loving children, my evenings at the University observing anatomy students slowly dissect real human cadavers, and my nights watching Brazilian novellas with my host family. But then again, how was I to know on my first night in Brazil? How was I to expect the love and care of a new family and new friends that I found here in Itajai, Santa Catarina?
Two weeks later, I stood at the edge of a dark and empty beach, soft sand filling the crevices between my toes, staring into the continuous waves and the vast ocean. I could feel the bass of booming music that poured out of the cars parked beside the boardwalk behind me. My stomach filled with seafood and my head filled with the beautiful sounds of the Portuguese language that I still don’t completely understand, I closed my eyes and pinched myself to make sure that it was all real, that I wasn’t dreaming.
And still standing alone on a desert beach in southern Brazil, at complete peace with myself and all that surrounds me, I know that I am where I am supposed to be. Brazil is to be my home for the next year, but I know with ever fiber in my being that Brazil will have a home in my heart for as long as I live. I cherish this knowledge for only a moment before opening my eyes and turning back to the sounds of my new host family calling my name.
Grace Livermore is a Cooperstown Rotary exvhange student.