Tuesday, May 29, 2012

One and a half years, in retrospect.

I have been away from Portugal for almost a year now. This next month is all that remains of all the one-year marks. After this, there will be two, and three, and four-year marks, but the first year is over. In the past twelve months I have broken hearts (including my own), stayed up late aching with saudade, cried, gone to school, made new friends, gotten a new sister from the Philippines, gotten accepted to and rejected from universities, received almost $300,000 in scholarship offers, been chosen as the best English student of 2012 at my school, graduated from high school as one of two salutatorians, behind two valedictorians (all of whom I am honored to have spent the last four years with), and given a speech in front of 700 people. My salutatorian speech is below. (:

"My name is Katie Gutierrez and I am honored to be speaking to you all from this cool podium on this special day. Today, May 13th, 2012 is the day that we set out into the world to topple dictators and wage world peace, and I know I’m supposed to say something inspiring to you about that, but when I sat down to write this speech all I could think about was what all of you have taught me. I feel as if these four years I have given a lot, but that can’t be compared with what I’m taking away from this experience; because of the things I’ve learned from you. First, meet everything with love. Every opportunity we have to act with love instead of anger or defensiveness is a chance to make something better, kinder, truer. Peace, after all, is a chain reaction of love. Second, we’ve got to follow our dreams, even if it means getting out of our comfort zone and fighting for them. Third, we have to thank the people who help us. Nobody does anything alone, and even us at the top of the class can’t claim to have done things all by ourselves. So thank you to Mr. Kindel, who met every transcript request form with a smile, and to Ms. Millea, who sat down with each and every one of us at some point or another just to rearrange our schedule or figure out our credits. Thank you to Mr. Wine, for your willingness to do eleven drafts of a personal statement over email with me, to Mr. Smith for being the best nerdy advocate ever, and to Ms. Kuehne, who was a constant source of inspiration. Thank you to my mom--Happy Mother’s Day, Mom! and dad who were happy to support me in anything I chose to do, even if it wasn’t engineering. I still don’t want to be an engineer, but your efforts were admirable. And thank you to the class I spent the last four or more years with, who shaped me into the person standing before you today. I could go on and on, but we’ve got graduating to do. 
Jim Rohn said “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with,” but I’d like to expand that to say you are the average of every person you’ve spent more than five minutes with. Why five minutes? Because lives are changed in five-minute-increments. But mostly because I am proud to be the average of all of you, even those who I’ve never spent more than five minutes with. For a long time, and I’m quoting John Knowles here, “I felt that I was not, never had been, and never would be a living part of this overpoweringly solid and deeply meaningful world around me.” But the people in this auditorium right now have helped me inhabit the world and have inspired me to give back to it. And I have something to say to the person who couldn’t make it today, to Nick Martin. Nick, you helped us see that one person can touch the lives of hundreds of people. So we’d like to thank you for that. I’m sorry I never got the chance to know you, but you should know that we miss you, but you’ll stay with us as long as we live. [PAUSE]
Tim O’Brien wrote the following quote about war, but it seems to apply to all of us today. “You find yourself studying the fine colors on the river, you feel wonder and awe at the setting of the sun, and you are filled with a hard, aching love for how the world could be and always should be, but now is not.” This potential is what we carry now. We’re moving too fast for the way the world is not to catch us--we are the world, and we’re not stopping. Because if any generation had a chance at creating positive change in the world, it’s us. The future is our empty canvas to draw upon. We can paint hope and wild, creative energy onto our lives and hang them up for the world to see. We can manifest the idea that to live is to be, and not to succeed by another’s terms. We are free to wander, and wonder, and that is the most freeing thought I’ve ever had. We have the choice to carry whatever we like, and the class of 2012 carries each other. I’d like to end my time with a quote from an old friend--William Shakespeare, that is--and say “I can no other answer make, but thanks, and thanks.” Here’s to the EMHS class of 2012 and all the lives we’ll touch and dreams we’ll achieve when we use these things we’ve taught each other. We did it, we’re coming, and the world had better watch out. "

This fall I will be attending UNM on a full scholarship, planning to major in Economics and Political Science. I hope to do another exchange in college, in Denmark or Morocco! Or another country, I'm not set on those two. After my undergrad, I'm hoping to take a year or two off before grad school to teach abroad. Maybe getting TEFL certified this summer? Maybe I’ll go back to Portugal, maybe I’ll go somewhere else this time. Who knows where my wanderlust will take me next?
There are kids around the world right now that are preparing to go home from the incredible year that was their exchange. To them, I wish the best that life has to offer. Don't live in the past, but don't forget. Count on coming back! You will do great things, and I'm so glad you got this opportunity. Love from NM! Below is a letter to this year's exchange students. 

“Dear brave exchange students, 
In a couple of weeks we will reluctantly give our hugs and, fighting the tears, we will say goodbye to people who were once just names on a sheet of paper to return to people that we hugged and fought tears to say goodbye to before we ever left. We will leave our best friends to return to our best friends.We will go back to the places we came from, and go back to the same things we did last summer and every summer before. We will come into town on that same familiar road, and even though it has been months, it will seem like only yesterday. 
As you walk into your old bedroom, every emotion will pass through you as you reflect on the way your life has changed and the person you have become.You suddenly realize that the things that were most important to you a year ago don’t seem to matter so much anymore, and the things you hold highest now, no one at home will completely understand. Who will you call first? What will you do your first weekend home with your friends? Where are you going to work? Who will be at the party Saturday night? What has everyone been up to in the past few months? Who from school will you keep in touch with? How long before you actually start missing people barging in without calling or knocking?
Then you start to realize how much things have changed, and you realize the hardest part of being an exchange student is balancing the two completely different worlds you now live in, trying desperately to hold on to everything all the while trying to figure out what you have to leave behind.
We now know the meaning of true friendship. We know who we have kept in touch with over the past year and who we hold dearest to our hearts. We’ve left our world to deal with the real world. We’ve had our hearts broken, we’ve fallen in love, we’ve helped our best friends overcome eating disorders, depression, stress, and death. We’ve lit candles in the grotto and we’ve stayed up all night on the phone just to talk to a friend in need. There have been times when we’ve felt so helpless being hours away from home when we know our families or friends needed us the most, and there are times when we know we have made a difference. 

Just weeks from now we will leave. Just weeks from now we take down our pictures and pack up our clothes. No more going next door to do nothing for hours on end. We will leave our friends whose random emails and phone calls will bring us to laughter and tears this summer, and hopefully for years to come. We will take our memories and dreams and put them away for now, saving them for our return to the world. 
Just weeks from now we will arrive. Just weeks from now we will unpack our bags and have dinner with our families. We will drive over to our best friend’s house to do nothing for hours on end. We will return to the same friends whose random emails and phone calls have brought us to laughter and tears over the year. We will unpack old dreams and memories that have been put away for the past year. In just weeks we will dig deep inside to find the strength and conviction to adjust to change and still keep each other close. 
And somehow, in some way, we will find our place between these two worlds.” -Maren Jacobsen

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


It's the reminders that I'm not expecting, the ones that sneak up and surprise me, that make it hard. I'll get a whiff of the detergent my host family used or I'll think I hear a familiar voice from someone I knew in Portugal, and it will send me back and I will almost be knocked down by the force of the memories and saudades. I miss everything about Portugal, and I feel lost here where nobody understands the trials and tribulations I've had. Nobody really wants to hear about Portugal; they ask my how my "trip" was and when I can't find words, they move on to more interesting things than my inability to express myself in English.
Portugal is in my mind every waking minute, but nobody understands.
Quero voltar.
Tenho imensas saudades da minha família portuguesa, da minha turma, dos meus amigos, da Lina e do gatinho. Não gosto das minhas colegas cá, e sinto-me uma estrangeira no meu próprio país.

I feel like I understand so much more about myself, other people, and life in general, and that I have exchange to thank for that. One of my best friends left for Germany the other day, and I was soo jealous just remembering my exchange. I'm happy here, but I'm restless. I'm plagued by my own subtle discontents. For now, I'm working on my Girl Scout award and applying to college, but the traveling bug is back. I wish CNM offered Romanian or Norwegian.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

O Fim.

We all told AFS the same story to get here--I want to further my intercultural development while learning a new language, and all that. One year ago I was filling out my application to come here, and telling AFS what they want to hear. I am now nearing the end of my exchange and trying to remember what made me want to come here in the first place. Did I really want to do all that stuff I told AFS? I wanted to learn a new language, sure. But wasn't I looking for the thing that teenagers are so frantically searching for? A sense of self. A place in the world that is defined by ourselves alone and not our parents or schools or extracurricular activities or test scores. A searching for something that tells me that there's more to me as a person than my 32 on the ACT.
Everyone wants to travel the world, or at least that's what they say. But when they say travel they mean stay in a fancy hotel and go around taking pictures of monuments and beaches. What I mean when I say I want to travel the world is that I want to inhabit it. I want to speak the language, connect with the people, take the sketchy local transportation. I want to be taught to pray in a mosque, a temple, a church, even though I'm not religious. I want to learn, and be the epitome of acceptance. I need this connection with people--this thing that tells me that there's more to us as humans than what we see on the outside.

I wrote this my last week in Portugal, and I can't remember why I never posted it. Maybe it was a little too personally insightful. I don't know. I've been back now for a little over a week. I spent my last few days in Baleal, at the beach house. The 23rd was my host dad's birthday, so the whole family came over to celebrate. On Friday afternoon I said goodbye to my host siblings and me and my host parents set off to Lisbon (it wasn't really in Lisbon, but it was close. I want to say it was in Carcavelos? I don't remember). We did some boring AFS activities, went outside and had a group picture, and said our goodbyes to our host families, which was hard to do and to watch. Thank you to my amazing host family, who is really like a second family to me. I couldn't have done any of this without you.
The thing that stands out most about this last night was our bus waiting outside the hostel-thing for us at 4 am, and saying goodbye to the exchange students. It was incredibly sad and hard to leave them, but I was promised an open house, a family, and a place to stay if I ever wanted to visit them in their home countries. So, here's to all the exchangers that I met this year. I hope your exchange year wasn't anything like you expected it to be, I hope it was better. I hope it enriched your lives, and I hope you'll all come to visit me soon.
And last but not least, thank you to the people back home who put up with me babbling about Portugal and helped me out so much, including my parents and my brother, Kelli, Caroline, Amaris, Karena, Caitlynn and Ben.

Tenho tantas saudades tuas, Portugal. As vezes ainda acordo e não sei onde é que eu estou. Portugal sempre vai ter um lugar no meu coração, nunca vou esquecer-me das recordações que cá fiz, ou das pessoas que agora estou a sentir falta de eles.

"Não é 'adeus', é só 'até já'."

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Lists (:

Things I am looking forward to:
Seeing my cat. :D
Hanging out with my friends (who actually live within a reasonable distance).
Having things to do during the summer, that I'm actually obligated to do.
Communication without thinking so hard.
Seeing what this new self-confidence does for me.
My family of course.
Summer before my senior year.
Sleeping in my bed.
Seeing my boyfriend (can you believe we made it 6 months?)
An abundance of books.
Not getting stared at in Minde.
My room.

Things I'm going to miss:
Snack bar at school.
Talking to my friends in Portuguese.
Speaking Portuguese in general.
Crazy public transportation.
Exchange students.
My host family.
My friends.
The pastries!
Bacalhau. (haha)
The kitty here.
Walking down the streets of Minde.
Saying hi to little kids I don't remember meeting, and them always calling me "Catarina".
My class (the boys singing Fado, everyone laughing at the teacher when she can't say my name, etc.).
My room.

Some choice last day of school pics:

Monday, June 13, 2011

I don't understand how the Portuguese can eat so much! And they don't appear to have an obesity problem either. Must be the soup. Lina just fed me and João lunch and I pretty much had to roll back up the stairs because I was so full. And no matter how many times I tell people it's not true, most still insist that Americans are obese and eat hamburgers from McDonald's all the time. I have eaten more hamburgers here than I would have in 6 months at home, and about 4 times the amount of french fries deemed healthy (wait--are french fries ever healthy?). haha (: The Portuguese are very concerned with my weight. They're always telling me "you should exercise, stopping exercise isn't healthy for you" and "you're getting fatter". If I wasn't so incredibly unconcerned with what people think about me, that would probably make me feel super bad about myself, but I love my body and I look and feel healthy and am a normal weight for my height. I just don't have the heart to tell these sweet people that I don't really care--I'm just here for the pastries! (:
Anyways, I just got back from spending one week in the Algarve!! Also known as the best beaches on the Iberian Peninsula, it's known for its warm, Mediterranean water and abundance of sunburned British people. I spent most of my time reading in the shade, passed out on my towel, looking for shells, or in the ocean. I have also acquired quite a spectacular tan from falling asleep in the shade and waking up in the sun. :D

My last day of school was fun but sad. We didn't really do anything in the classes, but my entire class signed my Portuguese flag with really sweet things. My best friends and I went out to lunch at this little Spanish café thing in Fátima, and took so many pictures on the walk back that we were late to class (which isn't that big a deal here in Portugal but we're almost never late :P ). All of us were kind of dreading the end of the day, which came with more than a few tears when it came time to part ways. I still don't have the pictures from this day, but when I get them I'll put them on the blog.
My plans to go to Sintra to visit Maria Laura were cancelled, but I think she'll be coming to visit me instead, next week. This Friday I'll be going to Ericeira with Emily to see a surfing competition and I think sometime I'll go to Lisboa with my host grandparents for a night or two. (:

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The first goodbyes

Well, tomorrow is my last day of school.
My class has been pretty amazing, taking me in from the beginning as one of their own from the first day, and helping me whenever I need it. I remember my third day of school in PE. We don't leave our valuables in the locker room, so we have to go get a locker, which the teacher keeps the key to. After my first PE class ever, I went to go get my key, but I didn't know how to ask for it in Portuguese. André and João were getting their stuff out next to me at the lockers, and I gave them a pleading look and pointed at my locker. They then spent 5 minutes explaining who I was to the teacher and trying to figure out what I needed (: Whenever something at school happens that I don't know about, one of my classmates takes the time to explain it to me, and answer all my silly questions. They include me in everything, although I now hate card games because that is all my class does. Ever. But I love them all the same and I think saying goodbye tomorrow is going to be really tough.
This weekend we had an AFS "goodbye camp" with the students from the north and us. There were about 40 of us in all, and it was a blast. I took the bus to Aveiro with the two Italians, Melissa and Tommy, and we met the other exchangers and headed off to Ovar. Most of the camp was a lot of boring activities by AFS (sorry, guys) but the rest of it was amazing! It's unbearably hard to say goodbye to these people that I love so much, and that I may never see again.
AFSers, you make my life. I love you guys so much and everything you stand for, and I'm proud to be one of you.
The goodbyes (read: tears) have already started. I can remember only having 17 days till I left NM, and now I have 17 until I go back. I know I've changed a lot, but I don't think it'll really hit me until I go back to the states.
And listening to other AFS returnees, it sounds like it's gonna be a long time before I stop aching for Portugal and these people.
"Se tens fome... temos limões!" 

My last 17 days here will be spent with Maria Laura, Emily, my host family, and my friends from school (when they're not studying for their year end tests). I will try to get pictures but they won't be many because my camera is in a coma. I won't be sending many emails or skyping these next few weeks, but know I'm thinking of you guys.