Hodag Abroad: Adventures in Brazil
Editors note: Brevin is a Rhinelander High School student spending the school year in Brazil as a Rotary Youth Exchange student.
“I would gladly live out of a suitcase if it meant I could see the world.”
That quote explains the bottom line of exchange and what it really is. I am Brevin Persike, a third year student at IPES in Tangará da Serra, Mato Grosso, Brazil and I am currently living out of a small suitcase and have been for a month. I would be an eleventh grade student at Rhinelander High School if it weren’t for the opportunity to study abroad through the Rotary Youth Exchange program. I am nearing the end of my third month here in Tangará da Serra as part of a yearlong program.
My new city is more than just a city to me at this point; it is home. There are two common sayings among exchange students; the first being “Exchange is not a year in your life; exchange is your life in a year.” I am just past one quarter of the way finished with my year but can tell already this quote will prove to be true. I feel at home in Tangará as everything is comfortable- except for the fact that it is uncomfortable. I am proud to say I am comfortable with discomfort and that is where the second saying ties in.
“If you are not uncomfortable then you have not pushed yourself to the limits of exchange.” I attempt to challenge myself at every opportunity that comes my way. I push myself to speak more every day in order to improve my Portuguese and try to go out with friends on a regular basis. I have fortunately found my way out of Tangará a few times as well to meet more new people.
Living in Tangará da Serra is not as different as I thought it would be. It lies in the middle of the farm country of Brazil with a few hints of the Amazon scattered about. With a population of roughly 100,000 it is considered a “small town.” Often when people think of Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and beaches, among other attractions come to mind. That is what I thought at first as well, but my new home is as far from those things as it could possibly be and I love it.
From what I can tell, the constant in all of Brazil is that it is Brazil; there are soccer fields in every neighborhood, red dirt roads, thousands of species of animals and insects and absolutely no personal space: A definition of perfection if you ask me.
I love to go into an uncut area of Amazon forest when I get a chance just to look around. It is the experience of a lifetime. Trees larger than any I’ve seen before, the forest floor crawls with spiders, turtles and capybaras, birds wearing bright blues and reds fly tree to tree and fluorescent greens light their path in the woods. To me it is like an entirely new world, it is something even greater than what I could have hoped for.
It would be nice if Tangará had more area like this, but 45 years ago when the city was being built the majority of forest was cut for farming purposes and now the city is covered in fields of soy and sugarcane. My host dad is a retired engineer, and is also a soybean farmer.
My host family is the best. I don’t know how else to explain it. They have helped me so much as far as being comfortable, trying new things, learning the language and being social with my friends I can’t thank them enough. I am in my first of three host families which includes my host parents, an older brother who is married and lives in my city and another older brother going to college in a different state. My best friends are the other exchange students not only because we have the same interests of travel and exploration but also because we are sharing this experience and living it together. My city has five exchange students: Johanna from Germany, Denisse and Omar from Mexico, Simon from France and myself. We are a tight knit group and we do almost everything together. Friends outside of exchange are very important as well, these four can relate to the problems and experiences.
School has been the best way to make friends and go out to walk around the city or shop in the malls with, but there are eight other schools in my city and I wouldn’t know anyone from them if it weren’t for activities. The Interact Club of Tangará da Serra is very helpful when it comes to friends because it is people from 14-19 years old from my entire city. I have met so many other kids from other schools through Interact and the activities that the club organizes. My Interact club has over 55 members and is the largest in the state of Mato Grosso. If it weren’t for Interact I wouldn’t know half of the people I do today; and if it weren’t for my parents I wouldn’t know Interact either.
From the outside, it might look like exchange students are thrown into a new life with only a suitcase or two and a carry-on. But I felt prepared for anything before I left for Brazil in large part due to the efforts of Rotary and District 6220. It is hard to know you are going to a different country for a year, and not have any expectations, but as exchange students, we hear that repeatedly and I am so thankful for the advice. Plans change so rapidly and opportunities open and close so fast I don’t know what I would think if I went in expecting perfection. There are difficulties in everyone’s exchange and that is a good thing to remember as well and it’s helped me greatly.
For me, the real adventures are about to begin. I am on summer vacation! In December I will be traveling with my family to the south of Brazil for two weeks leading into Christmas. Following the new year I will head off on a Rotary trip to the Northeast of Brazil to see many cities, headlined by Belo Horizonte and Rio de Janeiro. When I arrive home at the start of February I will be switching families and go back to school and my exchange will be half over. Opportunities for adventure like this don’t come around very often so I am thankful that I received the chance.
As Yogi Berra once said “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.”