While the Summer Olympics are now over, our family continues to experience the Brazilian culture on a daily basis. In the spring my fiancé and I decided to welcome an exchange student into our family for this school year. Some families might be hesitant to welcome another person, albeit a teenager(!), into their home for ten months but we decided to embrace the experience. So our family of five became a family of six in late July, with kids ranging in age from two to seventeen.
Mariana is a joy in our family. A quintessential Brazilian teen, she has medium-length curly hair, glasses, loves soccer and One Direction and quips back easily with a joke. She’s had English classes since she was a toddler and is becoming more and more confident in both her fluency and speed of speech. She is an only child, but lives in a condo community of 2,000 outside Rio de Janiero. Coming from the sixth-most populous metropolitan area in the Americas, she willingly wanted to come to the heartland of the USA (we live in Southern Indiana). In her first few weeks she marveled at all the green space, farmland and the lack of public transportation. The high school is large compared to her Brazilian one, with fewer classes but more extracurricular activities. During the Olympics, our nights were filled with her stories of the build-up of Rio, how a Brazilian winter is similar to our Indiana fall, musicians and athletes (Neymar – swoon!) and listening to her enthusiastically comment in Portuguese during the Brazil/Germany gold medal soccer match. The closing ceremony was bittersweet as she noted that she would miss seeing Brazil every night.
I would recommend the exchange student experience to anyone. My family hosted nine times from the early 1980s – late 1990s, both full year and summer students, so I was constantly around different cultures. In the summer between sophomore and junior years of high school, I decided to be an exchange student in Bordeaux, France. My experience was the opposite of Mariana’s – I went from cornfields and crickets to living in a third-floor bedroom of a large townhouse in the middle of a busy city. Needless to say I loved everything about it – the daily language exposure, the differences in culture, the ability to buy wine at 16 (I still have the unopened 1993 bottle!) and the Dulles family who welcomed me with open arms. We had one concrete rule – no English until after midnight. My first few weeks were exciting and tiring, waiting until midnight until I could double check that everything I “thought” I heard was actually true. And then it happened… my fluency became less challenged, my nervousness began to slip away and I even began to dream in French. After arriving back to school I sat in my French III class, slightly bored because it was too easy. So easy that the department decided to allow me to skip French III, do French IV as a junior and they created French V, the first time ever, for my senior year.
Mariana and Kyleigh, our 14-year old daughter, are both taking French I this year at my alma mater. They have a friend who is taking French V and they loved telling her that the course started with their mom. I don’t speak French every day anymore, and have lost some fluency, but my heart is full knowing that current students are embracing their own personal growth through language abilities. Mariana will blossom so much over these next few months and the whole family is already having heart pangs knowing that in June she’ll fly home to continue her life’s adventure. My wish is that she will have the same long lasting memories as an exchange student as I had.