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.

Monday, May 30, 2011

O Principezinho

Today was a very strange day, so I've compiled a list of all the weird things that happened today.

  • It was raining, which is weird for a New Mexican, but it was weird rain. It would be really hot and sunny, then the wind would pick up and it would start pouring, and then the sun would be out again in ten minutes or so. This went on all day. 
  • I slept all through the night last night. Waking up all the time in the middle of the night is a normal occurrence in my bed. 
  • I woke up about 10 seconds before my alarm went off. 
  • On Mondays I take the late bus that leaves from Covão do Coelho (a town near Minde) at about 9:05. I got there at 8:40 today (host mom had to go to work). I waited a while under some makeshift garage thing to get out of the rain, and then a girl that I ride the bus with came walking up the hill and was like "We're supposed to catch the bus down there now" so I went down with here and we ended up talking (I don't know why we'd never talked before). It was nice because she didn't ask me tons of questions about the US or myself, but we talked about things we had in common. Turns out she was taking the big standardized test that the rest of my class was taking that day, too. She was really worried because she hadn't studied, though. 
  • It got to be about 9:20 and we were starting to wonder where the bus was. At about this time I watched a lady in a car back up into a van that was parked on the street. It was a really strange accident. 
  • At about 9:40 some little kid called his mom and she called the school to have them send someone to come pick us up because the bus never came. We waited for 15 more minutes before the van showed up and all went to school. 
  • I went up to my classroom because I wasn't sure what was going on with all the weird testing stuff, so I wanted to ask my classmates. They were just going in to take the test, so I decided to go to the bar (snack bar, not alcoholic drink bar) instead of sit in the room and read while they took the test. The Philosophy teacher was the one supervising the testing in my classroom, and she pulled me aside and gave me something wrapped in paper and inside a plastic bag. She was like "It's just a little thing, a children's book so you should be able to read it, and I think you'll really like it." It was so sweet! It's illustrated too :D
  • The book was "O Principezinho", or "The Little Prince" in English (but the book was in Portuguese). So I went down to the bar and read for a little while, and had a café (mom and dad, we need an espresso machine or I will have severe withdrawals when I come back). There were two other girls that I didn't know in there, and after a while one of them came up and started talking to me. I went to sit with them (they were making cheat-sheets for a Portuguese test) and we talked for a while (in English). They were really, really nice, and in my grade. I don't really know too many people from the other classes because when I got here, my class was in a room separate from the other 11th graders because our room was leaking or something, so I haven't been introduced to many 11th graders besides my classmates until now. 
  • When the period was over, the three of us went back up to our hall for DTA (I still don't know what this stands for, but it's when our class directors help us study and talk to us about class stuff. It's kind of like advocacy.). 
  • Me and my friends ate lunch in the bar because it's Monday and the cantina line is nearly impossible to get through on Mondays. I go up to order and the people already know what to give me because I get the same thing every day. What can I say, the chocolate croissants are delicious (:
  • The rest of the day was normal, until I go to get on the bus. I saw something was up when people I didn't recognize were getting on my usual bus, bus number 6. I went up to ask and my bus driver comes up and explains that now we'll all be riding on bus 2. I thought it was really nice of him to explain it to me, because I guess I looked kind of lost and he knew I probably had no idea what was going on (not that I usually know what's going on but whatever). 
  • Then on the way home, Alexandra's host parents called me up to their apartment and gave me food that Alexandra had left behind that they weren't going to eat, like sopapilla and pancake mix and grits. :D

And that was my wonderfully strange day. Of course, I have a quote to go along with it.

“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” - Albert Camus

Okay, I have two. The second is from the book my teacher gave me. 

Portuguese version:
"As coisas mais importantes são muitas vezes invisíveis para os olhos - só com o coração é que podemos vê-las."

English translation:
"The most important things are often invisible to the eyes - only with our heart can we see them."

I also had an AFS activity in Tomar this weekend, but I don't feel like writing about that right now. But a picture's worth a thousand words.

*Author's note: All conversations and everything happen in Portuguese, except where it says otherwise.
Até o próximo! 


Sunday, May 22, 2011

It's what's written in the margins that matters.

Thinking about doing the Peace Corps. What is my life worth if I don't devote it to helping others? I'm a restless person, I need to make something with this energy. Any thoughts?

I feel so free today. (:

I am really looking forward to earning my Gold Award and going to Camp Mary White when I get back. I'm excited to see my family and my friends.

But leaving here is going to suck. Goodbyes almost always do, especially when they're possibly forever. Thank you to António, who promised I'll be remembered by my class.

I've been reading Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, and it has some pretty awesome quotes. My favorite?
"So you think that you're a failure, do you? Well you probably are. What's wrong with that? In the first place, if you've any sense at all, you must have learned by now that we pay just as dearly for our triumphs as we do for our defeats. Go ahead and fail. But fail with wit, fail with grace, fail with style. A mediocre failure is as insufferable as a mediocre success. Embrace failure! Seek it out. Learn to love it. This may be the only way any of us will ever be free. 

It's been a beautiful few days. I am stoked for life. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011


Becoming myself.
That's what I'm doing in Portugal. I wanted to find myself here--in every cobblestoned street and every whispered word. In the sunshine and the leaves and the beach.
Did you know that if you lay on the beach with your feet in the waves and your eyes closed tight, that you can feel the world turning? Did you know that to be alive is to swim in the ocean, to walk along the shore, to chase a soccer ball down the boardwalk? Do you know what it is to find yourself? Us restless, weary travelers, we spend money and time and effort trying to find ourselves. But we're looking in the wrong place. Perhaps it's easier at one latitude or another, but we realize at some point or another that we are us already. There is no finding to do, no desperate, frantic search to be finished before time runs out or we get too old or too tired to keep looking. We are in the ocean and the sky and the clouds. In the mud and the trees and the people. There are pieces of us everywhere, but we need not collect them all. Some are content to stay where they are, making us find them in ourselves before we can find them on the outside.
And everyone we meet is a reflection of ourselves. Especially those that we don't like. It's human. And we have to be okay with not being understood by everyone, including ourselves. How else will we fail without needing to justify it? How else will we be free?
Smile at a stranger today. And be a little eccentric. If that's you, of course.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Just words.

The past two weeks haven't really been too exciting, but I feel like last night and a few other small things justify a blog post. (:
PE (for those of you who don't know, Physical Education or Educação Física), has changed from playing random sports in the school gym to, get ready, swimming! Okay. It's not that exciting. I kind of hate it, actually. I got put in the middle class, so I'm actually not as bad as I thought I was, and it's also made me closer with the half of my class that I don't know that well, because nobody in the middle level speaks English. Now don't get me wrong, I speak Portuguese all the time here, but (I don't know if this holds true for all exchange students) it seems like most American exchangers get in closer with the kids that know a little English in the first few days. So my best friends at school speak pretty good English, which is why I ended up becoming friends with them so fast in the first place--communication is key. (; We have to wear goggles, swim caps, one-piece swimsuits (girls) and really tight speedo-like things (boys).
Mother's Day was last Sunday, so my host siblings got up early to cook breakfast for my host mom. I got her a necklace, and we all went out to a Mother's Day lunch with my mom's extended family, at which they all told me that if I ever get married, they're all coming to the States for my wedding. And today is Mother's Day in the United States!! Happy Mother's Day, mom, I love you and miss you tons. (:
Alexandra left Portugal on Wednesday, so I'm all alone now. Kind of freeing in a way, but weird that I don't have anyone to call up to hang out when I can't get Portuguese to come out of my mouth any longer.
Friday night I went to JazzMinde with my host parents. Minde is a small community, and my host parents are pretty active members in it; they know everyone and are involved in lots of community activities. So, we got there early, my host mom helped set up and we all kind of wandered around backstage before the jazz started. I only stayed for the first band, because I was really tired (I was sick on Wednesday) but the whole jazz weekend was a success.
Yesterday, I hung out with my friends from school for the first time since being here. This isn't really surprising, since they all live in Leiria or Fatima, which is where I go to school, so it's hard to arrange stuff since there's not much public transportation around here. At 9 pm we met at my friend Juliana's house, and her parents drove us (4 crammed in the backseat of a little hatchback car) to Leiria, where we went through the hugest McDonald's drive-thru I've ever seen. Juliana's parents dropped us off at Feira De Maio, which is a huge fair that only happens in May. We rode one ride, before Diana and Helena called us and we had to run all over the fairgrounds to find them. We put our overnight bags in Helena's parents' car, and went back into the fair. It was pretty much like the State Fair, with tons of fun rides of questionable safety, expensive food, cotton candy, and lots and lots of people waiting in line for the bathroom.
We rode a few more rides before the fairgrounds started getting really packed, at which point we left to go to the bus stop where we were going to catch a bus to take us to a discoteca (like a club). But there were tons of people waiting at the bus stop, so we decided to walk to the disco. We walked uphill for about 35 minutes (we almost beat the bus we were going to take though, it passed us when we were getting near the disco!) and FINALLY got to Sushi, the disco. We successfully walked across Leiria at one in the morning. You're supposed to be 17 to get into this disco, but all my friends are 16 (ages and grades work differently here, I technically should be in the 12th grade here). We just walked in and they didn't give us any problem, which was kind of expected. But there were some really mad Portuguese teens out there that apparently weren't allowed in, and they were complaining as we walked in that "THEY'RE LETTING 15 YEAR-OLDS IN AND NOT US?!" We danced until about 4:30 (creepy guys kept trying to dance with Diana), when Helena called her mom to come pick us up. Then we all went to Helena's house, and crashed in various places throughout her house.
All in all, it was a pretty good night. (: Except for the four hours of sleep thing.
From left: Diana, Inês, Juliana, Diana, Helena, me
Don't have any pictures of anything recently, because my camera broke before I went to Porto. I've been using Rita's camera, but I can't take it everywhere with me. The one above was taken at the disco by some random photographer and then posted on the internet. Weird. I can't believe I only have a little over a month left here, time's flown. I love my Portuguese friends, and I'm so thankful for everything they do for me every single day. My host family is amazing. I feel like exchange is breaking my heart and sending pieces of it all over the world with all the people I've met, to have even more adventures and, hopefully, secure me a place on other exchanger's couches all over the world if I ever need one. (:
Also, Barcelona keeps advancing in the UEFA league. If it's a final between a Portuguese team and Barcelona, I don't think I'm going to live much longer. Haha. But really.
Hope you all are doing fantastic, take some time today to spend time with your mom, grandmother, aunt, mother-figure, whoever.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

As férias já acabaram...

Férias are almost over. Just tomorrow left, and then it's back to school with all of us. ):
I barely had any time at home over this break! I was so busy that I don't have the time or energy to write down everything we did here, so it'll be a brief overview. After I got back from Porto I had three days off before we headed up north to see the Castles of the Interior! We spent the night in a town with walls around it in the shape of a star! On the way back south after seeing castles, we stopped in Minde to get Alexandra and then headed off to Lisboa again for Reyna's (another American) birthday outing. We went out in the Bairro Alto region of Lisboa, which has tons of bars and small streets that all look the same. Me and Alexandra caught a taxi and got to where we needed to be, all by ourselves :D this may not sound like a big deal, but there aren't really taxis in New Mexico OR Minde, so it was an accomplishment in Portuguese. All the American semester people were there, and it was nice to catch up and have some fun. The next morning, we went shopping in Lisboa and walked around downtown a little, while my host mom gave us some history on the buildings we passed. There was a huge earthquake and tsunami in Lisboa in 1755, followed by fires all over the downtown area, and so the streets and buildings were all rebuilt--the buildings in a Parisian style and the streets in easy-to-navigate squares. That afternoon we went back to Minde for Palm Sunday (there was a procession outside our house :D), and on Monday it was back to Lisboa for me and Rita, with my host Avô (grandma). We stayed for two nights, just seeing the city with her. We also went and saw The Adjustment Bureau and Red Riding Hood, two movies in two days! The Lisboa aquarium was my favorite part of that trip (: The day after we got back from that, we all (except João) went to Baleal, but it was raining and windy and miserable, so we spent most of our time inside.
Rode a horse - bareback!

Me and Alexandra in Lisboa

Today was Easter, so the morning was spent sleeping (on my part, nobody wakes me up here), cooking and cleaning. I tried "baba de camelo", which literally translates to "camel spit/drool". It really does look like slobber, but it tastes delicious! 

Saturday, April 16, 2011

"Lost and Found", David Hollies

The first few times
Being lost was frightening
Stark, pregnant

With the drama of change
Then, I didn't know
That everywhere is nowhere
Like the feeling when an ocean wave
Boils you in the sand
But as time goes by
Each occurrence of lostness is quieter
Falling from notice
Like the sound of trains
When you live near the tracks
Until one day
When a friend asks
"How often do you get lost?"
And I strain to recall a single instance
It was then that I realized
Being lost only has meaning
When contrasted with
Knowing where you are
A presumption that slipped out of my life
As quietly as smoke up a chimney
For now I live in a less anchored place
Where being lost is irrelevant
For now, only when there is a need
Do I discover where I am
No alarm, no fear
Just an unconscious check-in
Like glancing in the rear-view mirror.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


The next almost three weeks are FÉRIAS! I don't have school because of Easter! :D AFS let us choose to do a camp-type thing in one of three locations - Leiria, Olhão, or Porto. I chose Porto because I live near Leiria, and the other Americans were all going to Olhão and I wanted to be different and daring. :P Mostly it was because my host mom told me that if it were her she'd choose Porto because Olhão is a bit ugly and is just beach. So, Thursday morning at 10:30 I got on a train. My host mom took me to the train station, which was in Entroncamento, a nearby town, and helped my buy my ticket, and waited with me until 10. While we waited she told me some history of Porto and Portugal in general, all in Portuguese. (;
On the train, I sat with María Laura, my friend from Costa Rica. We talked all the way to the estação Campanhã, and waited for AFS to call one of us to tell us what we were supposed to do, because we'd both heard different things. After about 20 minutes María got a call from a volunteer telling us to come to the São Bento station, because that's where the volunteer and the other exchangers were waiting for everyone. So, after a little frantic running around and missing metro trains, we finally headed off to the right station.
When we got there, we waited for a few more students to arrive, and then went to lunch. I got stuck in the metro doors on the way there--not something I'd like to experience again. There was no sitting room in the metro, so we were all packed together and there was nothing to hold onto, so I kept falling into everyone, mostly Steinarr, who's from Iceland. For lunch we ate traditional Porto food, but I can't remember what it's called, so I'll get back to you on that. It was like a meat sandwich covered with cheese and an egg, and it was delicious. Then we went back to the metro station, waited around some more, and then had to go find the other kids that had arrived but for some reason weren't with us. We found them, but they ended up exploring Porto a little bit while we went back to the train station. I don't really remember why this stuff happened, but everything was really not that organized. Also, it was really really HOT. Which is unusual for Porto, usually it's rainy and kind of cold all the time. Anyways, long story short, once we found the other exchangers we went to a cafe and met our host parents. I stayed with María Pía, who is another semester exchanger from Argentina.
The next morning we got up SUPER early because we had to take the metro into Porto from Vila do Condo, where Maria and her her mom live, and it takes an hour! We met the others above the metro station and from there we walked to a school. We went into a few classes and introduced ourselves in Portuguese, and did an activity that none of us really understood (even the Portuguese students were confused, so I don't see how we were supposed to be understanding when Portuguese isn't our native language). We just followed the Italians because they seemed to know what they were doing. (; It was basically advertising for AFS, and wasn't fun at all, most of the day we spent waiting around. We ate lunch in the school's cantina, and played basketball. Then we got back on the metro (well, two different metros, because we couldn't all make it into the car on time), and took a bus to another school. At the bus stop, Sedat, a German guy, told me my Portuguese is really good for only being here for 3 months so far! (He's on the year program) :D I guess the school wasn't ready for us when we got there, so we hung out in a park-thing by the school and got ice cream. Well, mostly we waited for change because all we had were 20 euro bills and the poor little cafe didn't have enough change. In the school, we did some more advertising for AFS, and I played my first international soccer game! A Portuguese PE class was one team, and me, the two Italian guys and the two German guys were another. We won both games (no thanks to me, but it was fun anyways)! After we were done at the school we waited some more, and then finally went home with our host families.
The next day, we didn't have any AFS activities until 2 pm, so Maria, I, and our host mom all went to the beach and then to yoga! The beach is beautiful, and yoga was challenging but fun. The north of Portugal has a different accent than the rest of the country, and apparently the Azores Islands do, too (I couldn't tell on that one). But I felt bad for my host mom (Porto one) because I couldn't understand anything she said unless she talked really really slow. That afternoon, me and Maria took the metro into Porto again, and kind of got confused as to where we were supposed to meet the AFSers. We ended up asking two people for directions to the church, and weirdly enough they both said "I don't speak Portuguese very well, do you speak English?" Maria was very glad I was there with her, she said. The whole day we walked around Porto with a tour guide and learned a lot of history of Porto. We went to see some Port wine cellars (Port wine is from PORTO! In case you didn't know) and we also got to taste some wine. Then we had a little bit of time off, and at 8 we met everyone for one last dinner with all of us. I think the meat that we all ate was bad, though, because that night and the next day everyone that had eaten the meat was having stomach problems. The next day we got to sleep in, and went into Porto at 1 so I could catch my train at 2:50. I rode the train back to Entroncamento with both Tommys , Elena, Melissa, Eilif, Maria Laura, Max, Sedat and Jess.

JK Rowling was inspired by this bookstore.

Spectacular ending to a fantastic weekend (:
It's really sad to leave the exchangers, because we all bond pretty fast because we're all in the same situation. But I met a few more people that live in nearby cities, so I hope that we'll be able to see each other before we go to the last camp in June. Tomorrow me and my host family are going up north to see some castles, and then on Friday night we'll be in Lisboa for another exchanger's birthday party. (:

Saturday, March 26, 2011

It's not a rant.

"So let's practice what we preach and with the acceptance that we expect from others, let us stop being so damn judgmental and crucifying everyone who doesn't fit into our boxed-in perception of what is right." - Gillian Anderson

Today on Facebook, one of my friends posted something asking why girls are the ones who got stuck having to do all the things like shaving their legs, wearing makeup, doing their hair. (This isn't that exchange-related, but I've had about 10 years of gifted classes, affectionately called by gifted students, "lessons in B.S.", so I'll find a way to make it fit.) There were girls commenting on the status saying things like "well, we don't NEED to do these things, but we SHOULD". 
But I don't agree. At all. Maybe 1 out of every 20 Portuguese girls wears makeup on a regular basis, and they're some of the prettiest people I know. If you don't like doing these things, and you're not trying to please yourself by doing them, then why are you doing them? The following is the introduction from Eve Ensler's new book, I Am an Emotional Creature.

Dear Emotional Creature,
You know who you are. I wrote this book because I believe in you. I believe in your authenticity, your uniqueness, your intensity, your wildness. I love the way you dye your hair purple, or hike up your short skirt, or blare your music while you lip-sync every single memorized lyric. I love your restlessness and your hunger. You are one of our greatest natural resources. You possess a necessary agency and energy that if unleashed could transform, inspire, and heal the world.
I know we make you feel stupid, as if being a teenager meant you were temporarily deranged. We have become accustomed to muting you, judging you, discounting you, asking you--sometimes even forcing you--to betray what you see and know and feel.
You scare us. You remind us of what we have been forced to shut down or abandon in ourselves in order to fit in. You ask us by your being to question, to wake up, to reperceive. Sometimes I think we tell you we are protecting you when really we are protecting ourselves from our own feelings of self-betrayal and loss.
Everyone seems to have a certain way they want you to be--your mother, father, teachers, religious leaders, politicians, boyfriends, fashion gurus, celebrities, girlfriends. In researching this book I came upon a very disturbing statistic: 74 percent of you say you are under pressure to please everyone.
I have done a lot of thinking about what it means to please. To please, to embody the wish or will of somebody other than yourself. To please the fashion setters, we starve ourselves. To please boys, we push ourselves when we aren't ready. To please the popular girls, we end up acting mean to our best friends. To please our parents, we become insane overachievers. If you are trying to please, how do you take responsibility for your own needs? How do you even know what your own needs are? What do you have to cup off in yourself in order to please others? I think the act of pleasing makes everything murky. We lose track of ourselves. We stop uttering declaratory sentences. We stop directing our lives. We wait to be rescued. We forget what we know. We make everything okay rather than real.
I have had the good fortune to travel around the world. Everywhere I meet teenage girls, circles of girls, packs of girls walking the country roads home from school, hanging out on city street corners, arm in arm, laughing, giggling, screaming. Electric girls. I see how your lives get hijacked, how your opinions and desires get denied and undone. I see how this later comes to determine so much of our lives as adults. So many of the women I have met through The Vagina Monologues and The Good Body and V-Day are still trying to overcome what was muted or undone in them when they were young. They are struggling late into their lives to know their desires, to find their power and their way.
This book is a call to question rather than to please. To provoke, to challenge, to dare, to satisfy your own imagination and appetite. To know yourself truly. To take responsibility for who you are, to engage. This book is a call to listen to the voice inside you that might want something different, that hears, that knows, the way only you can hear and know. It's a call to your original girl self, to your emotional creature self, to move at your speed, to walk with your step, to wear your color. It is an invitation to heed your instinct to resist war, or draw snakes, or to speak to the stars.
I hope you will see this book as something living, that you will use it to identify and overcome the obstacles or pressures that prevent you from being an emotional creature. Maybe after you read these stories and monologues you will be inspired to write and share your own, or paint your bedroom wall, or fight for polar bears or speak up in class or learn about sexuality or demand your rights.
When I was your age, I didn't know how to live as an emotional creature. I felt like an alien. I still do a lot of the time. I don't think it has much to do with the country I grew up in or the language I speak. In this book you will meet girls from everywhere. Some live in remote villages, others in huge cities or posh suburbs. Some worrying about whether they will be able to afford the latest purple UGGs, some worrying if they'll every get home after two years of being held as a sex slave. Some deciding whether they are able to kill a supposed enemy, some on the brink of killing themselves. Some desperate for the next meal, some unable to stop starving themselves. Girls from Cairo, Kwai Yong, Ramallah, Bukavu, Narok, Westchester, Jerusalem, Manhattan, Paris. All of them, all of you, live on the planet right now. I think whatever country or town or village you physically live in, you inhabit a similar emotional landscape. You all come from girl land. There you get born with this awakeness, this open-hearted have to eat it, taste it, know it, defy it. Then the "grown-ups" come with their rules, their directions. They teach you how to make yourselves less so everyone feels more comfortable. They teach you not to stand out. They get you to behave.
I am older now. I finally know the difference between pleasing and loving, obeying and respecting. It has taken me so many years to be okay with being different, with being this alive, this intense. I just don't want you to have to wait that long.


Why waste time doing your makeup when you could be out making memories? People will still think you're beautiful if you don't shave your legs in the winter, or if you don't always comb your hair. I will. Everyone's against the media putting pressure on young girls to look perfect, but nobody wants to give up caking on their own makeup. Stand up for yourselves, girls. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Bye, bye, Jose Socrates.

Breaking news--literally--the prime minister of Portugal, Jose Socrates, just resigned in the middle of Portugal's financial crisis!
Click here to read an article about why. 

Cork trees, Buddha, and Chocolate

I'm trying to not let my blog be one of those. I'm not trying to write down everything I do on here (which some of you might like, but it's not happening), because I am a writer. I tell stories, but I use my imagination, too, which I hope is making this an interesting read. I don't really know what I'm trying to do with this blog, except keep a loose record of the things and feelings I experience on this exchange. But I don't think anyone's actually reading this, so if you are, leave me a comment and give me some feedback, and I'll keep writing.
Alexandra and I went to a Buddha garden and a chocolate festival this weekend! The Buddha garden was made by a rich woman who bought all these sculptures and made this huge garden for them. I don't really have a complete history of it, because Alexandra's host dad only told us this, but it was really cool to sit on the belly of a huge buddha (: There's also a small terra-cotta army replica of the one in China there. The horses and people were painted outlandish colors, but it was definitely an interesting mix of cultures. While her host parents were waiting in line for tickets to the chocolate festival, we went exploring on top of a stone wall that's hundreds of years old. It surrounds the old part of the city, and was built as a defense city, with the wall protecting it. When we were on the wall, we wanted to get a picture together, and so I asked a man (in Portuguese) if he could take a picture of us. Turns out I have a pretty thick accent when I speak Portuguese, and the guy immediately starts speaking English to us, which was slightly disappointing.
Did I mention they have croissants filled with CHOCOLATE here? My host family keeps hinting that I'm gaining weight, but I don't care. (: I am comfortable with who I am and what I look like, so as long as my pants still fit, I think I'm going to live. I do feel lazy, though, because I literally sit in a chair at school all day. I have PE, but that's not really exercise because the teacher usually favors the boys--they get to play first and longer, because they enjoy it more than the girls, who do everything in their power to not go to dreaded Educacão Física. I miss soccer soo much, but I don't really want to join the futsal team here because I have no free time as it is, but I want to start riding my bike home from school on Fridays.
My Portuguese is getting better by the day. I still don't talk much (people don't believe me when I say I'm a quiet person), but my confidence is building fast. It's still like forcing out words, though.
I took my first test in Portuguese yesterday, for PE. It was a surprise for me that I was going to take it, because I wasn't there when the class got the study sheets, and my class assured me that I wasn't going to take it. But, since I hadn't studied and am lacking a TON of sport-related vocab, the teacher let me write some of the test in English, and use the study sheet. I took twice as long as the other kids, and I still think I failed,  but that's okay because my grades don't count here. I'm pretty proud that I finished, though, even if it did take me over an hour.
I got a care package from home, and I'll be getting another one soon, with green chile and tortillas. I'm excited to cook for my family here because New Mexican food is very different from the rest of the US, and it's something we're proud of as a state. I'm also hoping that the green chile doesn't make the food inedible, because my host family has zero tolerance for spicy foods.
There are tons of cork trees here. This one's had
some bark taken off of it already. 

Picture taken by the Portuguese guy I asked!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Exercising my poetic license

As some of you know, I'm doing a few online/email-based classes so I can play soccer when I come back to the US in the fall. One of these is a creative writing class, and I wrote a poem about Andorra for it. So here it is, raw and un-edited. 

A country so small that I questioned
its existence.
Sandwiched between Spain and France, it
is as if it doesn’t want to be seen--
“Look! Why come here when Spain and France 
are larger and better!”
Crossing over the border is almost
except for the abandoned border checkpoint.
And suddenly, you’re not in Spain anymore. 
There are mountains close on either side
of the winding road, but they aren’t
encroaching; rather, they 
open up the sky and all the blue
spills into the earth and turns to green,
and brown. 
On your right is a valley, with a ribbon
of sparkling river at the bottom. You don’t
know its name, so you name it instead, 
because you’re sure Andorra wouldn’t mind.
You wonder how long it would take to
drive completely across this country. 
Is it maybe as big as Rhode Island? Entering the 
capital city, which is named, well, Andorra, 
you see that
the streets aren’t exactly 
clean. But why does that
matter when you can look at 
the people?
Especially during Carnaval. 
In fact, more adults than children are
dressed as something they’re not.
Which isn’t surprising, 
when you consider all the dreams
they’ve had to give up as they’ve grown up.
Maybe Andorra is where all the
lost dreams go, anyway. 
They fill in the cracks in the sidewalk
and they glue the snow to the mountain
and they manifest themselves
in the smiles of the people who realize
that they’re never really lost; 
everybody dreams.

They speak Spanish here. 
Castilian, to be exact. 
You know, the Spanish that sounds
like water dripping off a leaf, 
like they’ve let their tongues go numb. 
At least they can’t tell I’m American. 
Did I mention the soccer here?
Or, more culturally correct, futebol. 
It’s FC Barcelona against Arsenal. Guess
who they’re cheering for?
You feel bad for the only 
Englishman in the room. He
might be in danger of being bodily harmed
by the diehard Barcelona fans. 
No, the glowering Englishman gets a drunken
peck on the cheek instead.
The next morning it’s all snow, 
skis, snowboards and slush. 
10 degrees Celsius, and there are some wearing
T-shirts, others wrapped in
woolen scarves and ugly coats.
The sun is out and the perfect untouched
snow is glistening in its rays, 
but the stuff on the slopes has lost
that newborn luster. 
Visible above the snow are the
tips of pine trees, reaching for fresh air
and sunlight, 
gasping and trying to be free from
the suffocating cover that is the snow. 
Waiting in line for the lift, you hear
different tongues and strange accents, 
and instructors in blue snowsuits are 
speaking a combination of languages
to get their point across. 
This chairlift goes over the crest 
of the hill and you can see into two valleys, 
almost mirror images of each other, 
one side is France, and 
the other is Spain. 

The wind is bitter and biting here, 
stinging exposed skin with 
whirlwinds of ice particles. 
And you think, 
this is probably one of those
“cosmic energy” sites, 
like Sedona. 
And maybe, just maybe, 
those dreams are sitting atop the mountains, 
waiting to be found. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Andorra, Self-Realization, and "Why I threw it all away"

I have a TON of things to write about, so prepare yourself for a long blog post. (:
This week is when Lent started, as most of you probably know. Carnaval is a celebration held in Portugal and Brazil (and other countries too, but they're mostly irrelevant to me so I'm not going to list them all) before Lent, and kids and some adults dress up and there are tons of parties and celebrations. In Portugal, Carnaval isn't as wild and insane as it is in Brazil, but it's very traditional and a special time of year. For Carnaval, my host family and I went to Andorra! Andorra is a teeny, tiny country on the border between France and Spain. The official language is Catalan, which is technically a type of Spanish, I think, but it's different and harder for me to understand. The people there also speak French, English and Portuguese because Andorra is a country whose almost entire economic system is based off of tourism.
So on Saturday morning, we all set off for Andorra at about noon. We spent the night in Zaragoza, Spain (I know a bunch of town's names from soccer teams; we also passed through Valladolid) and continued the next morning to Andorra. It's about 12 or 13 hours from Minde to Andorra, which is a very trying trip if you're with 3 kids that are entertaining themselves by making noise and bothering each other.
When we got to Andorra, we checked into our hotel and went and rented our snow stuff. I had decided to try snowboarding again (for those of you who were there, you know the first time didn't go too well. I don't like not being able to do things). So, 30 minutes and a lot of tryings-on later, we left the rental shop, me carrying a snowboard, size 38 boots, and a helmet.
Andorra is stunning. It's in the Pyrenees mountains, which are very high and are covered in craggy cliffs. There wasn't really any snow until we got to the ski area, which was within walking distance of our hotel, Hotel Cristina. I shared a hotel room with my three host siblings. Monday morning we slept in a bit (well not really, we woke up at 8:30), and headed off to buy our snowboarding lessons, as all four of us kids were snowboarding. We fooled around a bit on the slope (similar to the bunny hill at Sandia) and at 12 we met our teacher, Mattheu. He was French, but I didn't know that until the end of the lesson. He spoke a combination of English and Spanish to us to get his point across, because he doesn't speak any Portuguese, but it worked out okay. It was only after I found out that he was French that I started to think his accent was funny. I don't know what it is about French accents but  I just find them hilarious. I blame Inspector Clouseau. On the second day of lessons, João wanted Mattheu to pull him up the hill, and Mattheu goes "I om not a leeft!" (:
Since last week was Carnaval, there were a lot of people dressed up in Andorra, on the streets AND the slopes. I saw all four Telletubbies, Batman, Superman, a banana, and 2 chickens skiing. And the chickens clucked at us while we were on the chairlift, to our great amusement.
One thing that trying to become Portuguese has taught me is how to spot an American from a mile away. It's really obvious, even when they aren't talking, and I don't know why. It's not a bad thing, by the way, just something that I noticed. Luckily, people don't try English first when they speak to me anymore. (:
João ended up hurting his wrist on Wednesday, so after that we kind of stopped skiing/snowboarding as much, but we got pretty okay. I am slightly out of control on toe-edge (well more than a little), and I fall a lot, but I definitely improved. And I, being the individualist that I am, kept trying to do weird things. One time, we were all going down the slope pretty fast, and I noticed that nobody was going over in this one area. So, I thought, hey, I'm gonna go over there. Oh, wait, there's a ton of ice over here. A few hours later: Hey, there's nobody over here. I wonder wh-- oh. Yeah.

Greenwich Meridian!
Crappy Spain picture

One thing that I've noticed during my almost 2 months here (*gasp!*) is that emotions are more intense when you're on exchange. Your good days are really really good, and make you want to run around and hug everyone, and your bad ones are absolutely miserable. But, like real life, most days are neither good nor bad, they just are. And school is the same, intolerably boring but still stimulating, because, hey, they're speaking PORTUGUESE. And that moment when your host family starts really feeling like a family? And when your classmates stop calling you"the exchange student" and start calling you "Katie"? And all those amazing moments you have with other exchangers who know exactly what you're going through? This is how to live.
I know that I'm going to have to work my butt off when I get back to the US, but I can't help wishing more than anything that I didn't have to go back to high school. Exchange changes you, and I think I'm only just starting to realize how much. I understand why so many exchange students, after their 6 months or year abroad, decide to get their GED. Because, after doing this, how could anyone go back to school and have everything be the same? Will I be able to go one day without thinking about Portugal?
I can't explain how exchange has changed me. Maybe it's in the way I walk down the street in Minde, and say "bom dia" to random people that I pass. Maybe it's how I now have friends from all over the world that I want to keep in contact with for the rest of my life. Or maybe, just maybe, it's the way I think about the world and the people in it. I realize that this isn't that well written, but I can't put how I feel into words. 

This was written by another exchanger, who is now a rebound, but it is a very good description of things.

"I was the good student, the nice kid, played sports, active community service, yadayada. As of my junior year, it was clear in my head that I was going to graduate school and head off to a four-year college, upon arrival would work my butt off, graduate and then join my peers as a good, working-class citizen of America. And up until about November 2009, gosh darn it I was supposed to do all that. No doubt.

What happened? Well most of you know the answer.


And although I could write pages and pages upon my experience I shall let that one word speak for itself.

Because as of November 2009, I realized that I did not, no could not leave. And I fought for it. For about a month I fought with my school in the U.S. to let me stay in Germany and still graduate on time. And in doing so I found a backbone I never knew even existed in me.

So why did I want to stay so bad?

As in exchange student you are sent to live to a country you've never been to before (well most), you get a new family (who has only meet you through emails and a dorky letter you write), a new town, new school, new language, new culture, the list goes on. You can no longer rely on who you've come to identify yourself as. No longer does JROTC, baseball, NHS, or all these things apply to you, you are simply you. What you chose to be and who are you truly are. So what do you do, with nothing to define you except "American" and "Exchange student"?

You live.

Your world is thrown off its axis, your head is spinning, and the moments in which you do not try to cling to your old thoughts and ideas, the world explodes in a freshness that takes your breath away and makes you realize you can never, ever go back to your old life. And those random people that picked you to live with them, they become your family. That random school you got sent to? The people there become your friends. And that random
town of 20,000 people you get shipped off to? It becomes your home.

So I chose not to return in January. I chose to stay in Germany. Doing so probably cost me those scholarships, those prestigious awards had fought so hard for.

But don't ever think I regretted it.

And why did I chose Wake Tech instead of taking out student loans?

So that two years from now, I can walk away debt free ready to begin my life. Not one graduating from a four year school who must immediately enter the work force in a 9-5 job to pay off their student loans. That did not sound appealing to me.

So I admit it. I'm done playing the game and following the "rules". I work to please God and find the best path for my life. That's it plain and simple.

And I guess when it comes down to it, I just want to know that 50 years from now I took every opportunity that was given to me and never looked back.

I want to see the world.

And that's why I threw it all away."

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


I am sitting in the Biblioteca (library) with four other people. Asif, a Pakistani boy, two Ukrainian girls (Christina and one with a super hard name), and my Portuguese teacher. The sun is coming in the window and it, apparently, is a beautiful day to learn Portuguese. I'm writing in English, I can hear the Pakistani boy muttering in his language, the Ukrainian girls in theirs, the teacher is repeating Portuguese words, and some students at another table practicing French.  At lunch, I soaked up the beautiful Portuguese sun with my friends, ate a chocolate croissant, and studied some Portuguese verbs.
On Saturday I'm going skiing with my host family in Andorra, which includes two 12-hour drives across SPAIN! I'll miss two days of school, and I'm also getting out earlier on Tuesdays now. I'm thinking maybe I'll ride my bike home from school on Friday.
I am having a great day. (:

Monday, February 28, 2011

AFS Weekend!

This weekend was our 6 week point! We had an AFS orientation in a town called Coruche, which is about an hour away from Minde. We were supposed to bring food from our home country or area, so I brought biscochitos, which are traditional New Mexican cookies. I woke up early on Friday to make them, and accidentally burned the entire second batch. I wasn't too torn up about that though, because I got to eat those ones. My host family wasn't home because it was Friday morning, so Lina took me and Alexandra, the other New Mexican in Minde, to get our bus tickets to Lisboa. We rushed home, I finished packing and we walked to the bus stop. The bus to Lisboa only had 4 other passengers on it, so me and Alexandra took up the whole back row. When we got off the bus in Lisboa, we didn't see any AFS people, so we walked outside and sat down on a bench until another American, Emily, called us and found us. We then took the metro to another bus station, with a HUGE shopping mall on top. We ate lunch there, and did a little shopping and walking around. I had an amazing crepe in that mall. When all the other semester exchangers had arrived, we took a bus to Coruche, where we would be staying. We played a few name games that night, and went to bed kind of early. The next day we had a lot of discussions and activities about difficulties or problems we're having and how to solve them. We walked around Coruche a little bit too, and went to a museum and a room that had pictures all about bull fighting.
This whole time, I've been wanting to get more integrated with the South and Central Americans, because we didn't really get to know them at the last orientation because we got there late and they spoke only Spanish and we spoke only English. Most of them spoke a little English, and most of us a little Spanish, but not enough to really have a good time together. So on Saturday night, me and Emily asked them to teach us how to dance and show us their Latin music, and we stayed up until about 2 in the morning dancing and singing. The other Americans didn't really mingle with them like we did, and they really missed out because we took on several different cultures at once, made new friends and had an amazing time.
Sunday morning we woke up, did a few more activities and packed up all our stuff. At 2, the kids that were riding the busses back to their host communities left on a bus to Lisboa, and there were lots of beijinhos (little kisses) and hugs. A little after 2, the rest of our parents showed up and we waited until 5:30 for them to have an orientation, and then went home.
Also, the entire orientation was in Portuguese, which is probably what gave me the headache that prevented me from going to school today.
I had a field trip to Lisboa on Thursday, and had a great time with my friends and classmates. We went to a play called Os Maias, which is an old play about incest written by a famous Portuguese writer. I didn't understand much, but the actors kept coming into the audience and doing stuff with us, and I was in the front row, which was targeted the most. We went to the center of Lisboa and walked around this huge square for lunch. Inês, me, Diana and Helena all really had to go to the bathroom, but didn't want to have to buy something from a café to do so, so after about 30 minutes of frantic searching, we finally found one in a museum. It was a really warm day, which was nice because we could leave our jackets on the bus and enjoy the sun. (: Then we walked around a little bit with a guide, who told us all about places in Lisboa that were in the book Os Maias. It was really boring, but my class was really nice and they all talked to me (even the boys, who had never really talked to me before) to make sure I wasn't too incredibly bored. I love my class. The bus ride back was insane, people were running up and down the aisles (is that the right word? I'm seriously forgetting my English) and yelling and it was just an amazing day.
I never realize how amazing the other exchangers are until I leave them. I miss them all like crazy now, but I feel  like this weekend really improved my Portuguese speaking skills.
Me, Inês, Helena, Diana (:

Me and some of the South/Central American girls


Bull fighting poster

Me and Coruche

Coruche a noite.

Beijiinhos. (: