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. (:

Friday, February 11, 2011

I don't feel the need to justify the space I occupy.

"When adults say, "Teenagers think they are invincible" with that sly, stupid smile on their faces, they don't know how right they are. We need never be hopeless, because we can never be irreparably broken. We think that we are invincible because we are. We cannot be born, and we cannot die. Like all energy, we can only change shapes and sizes and manifestations. They forget that when they get old. They get scared of losing and failing. But that part of us greater than the sum of our parts cannot begin and cannot end, and so it cannot fail." - John Green

Tuesday marks the 1 month point of my exchange. No big deal, right? Wrong. I've already been here for 1/6 of my exchange. Only five more months to go.
Somewhere in the past month, something big changed. I no longer care one bit what people think. I'm not embarrassed when I make mistakes. I do not judge. I do not care if you are black, white, asian, Muslim, Catholic, Hindu--I want to hear your story. People ask me if I'm losing opportunities for scholarships and classes for being in Portugal. At first, it made me uncomfortable and worried, but now I don't care. If this exchange costs me the chance to get into Berkeley, so be it. Because nothing could have been better for me than this. People ask me what I want to do when I go back to the United States. What university? What job? And people in the US have high expectations for me. I scored high on the ACT, SAT, and the PSAT. I have a 4.22 GPA. I can write a paper in an hour and get an A on it. But somehow, that doesn't matter to me anymore, because I am not afraid of failure and my grades and the opinions of other people don't make me who I am. Perhaps it is because I am a teenager and I think I'm invincible.
Or maybe it's because I have discovered that unless I define my own success, it is not success at all. This morning, I woke up and I thought, I'm sick of not talking. So I talked. In Portuguese. But I also listened. I listened to a Pakistani boy learn Portuguese. I listened to my classmates study for a test and argue over things in the book. I listened to the noise of the cars on the street, and the thoughts in my head. I listened to the rain tapping rhythms on the roof.
But I won't listen to people telling me what success is. Education is important. But there's more to education than school. I've learned more in a month here than I've learned in the past 2 1/2 years of high school. And maybe I don't want to work for money when I grow up. I want to love what I do. I want to help people, and learn, and continue to grow for the rest of my life. I want this understanding to last forever. I want to do what will make me happy, not what will earn me more money than I need. So maybe college, Peace Corps, then US or UN ambassador. That should do the trick.
Just one month of exchange has changed my life. I may be quiet, but I'm not afraid. And to all the people who said, "we're with you, no matter what happens," thank you. And to the people who feel like nobody's ever said that to them, I'm saying it now.

Monday, February 7, 2011

This is what it is.

"Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.” - Mark Jenkins

Most people don't understand exchange one bit. It something that can't be put into words, and it can't be touched. It's the feeling that, wherever you go, you have something in common and something to talk about with the most unlikely people. It's an overwhelming gratitude for everything you know and love, and a desire to have it all at once, while all you really have is about 50 pounds of clothes and your iPod. But you know you're the luckiest person alive because of the flashes of understanding that come out of the blue when you're on the bus coming home from school, or at lunch with people you can't really call your friends, but you know they will be soon enough.
It's the way you take a walk by yourself and you realize that you can be alone, that it's okay to be thousands of miles away from everything you know and still be perfectly happy and at home. You shatter stereotypes and ways of thinking, and you learn to smile, look at things differently and then join in with the strange things that are going on around you. You learn to use what you have, and how to get what you need. You learn that others can help when you can't help yourself--and I suppose that's a part of growing up. Everything comes into focus when your circumstances change.
You have good days, and bad ones. But you realize that only YOU can make a day a certain way. If you really want to have a good day, make it one
And you know you can do anything, because you're doing this

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Baleal and Beyond

This weekend we went to Baleal, where my host family has a beach house. The beach at Baleal is beautiful, and is kind of wild and untamed. The sea is rough and good for surfing, and there are huge rocks on the shore, but the water is freezing and apparently cold enough that it's fairly uncomfortable to swim in. We walked around on the beach a bit, and went to this "island" which is an outcropping of rock that has a lighthouse and a small town. The road to the island used to get covered up with water in high tide, so they made a high road so that it's accessible all year round. Baleal means a place where there are whales, and my host parents told me that it's because they used to hunt whales there a long time ago. Baleal is very near Peniche, where the best fish in Portugal comes from. We stayed one night at the beach house, and the day at the beach and driving around Baleal and the surrounding area. On the way home, I got taught verbs while Pedro fell asleep sprawled across the back of the car. A weekend well spent, I'd say.
I also went to my first Catholic mass! It was on Saturday, and I went with my family to the service. I couldn't really understand what it was about, but my host mom explained it to me later. The singing was really pretty, but João told me "after 12 years of hearing that singing every week, you wouldn't say that". The church is very old and beautiful, and most things around the altar are gold-plated. There are pictures of saints and on the walls, and also a few small figures of them. This mass was for the children, so my host brother Pedro and another girl went up and answered questions that the priest asked them. But he told them the answers so that they wouldn't be embarrassed if they didn't know or said the wrong thing. Everyone thought I must have been bored, but I couldn't make them understand that it was no different than school or most parts of everyday life, because I don't understand any Portuguese there either. I wish I had pictures of the church to put on here, but I guess those will have to wait. But, I do have pictures of Baleal!