E aí Galera!
Three weeks ago I left snowy and cold Poconos, PA for warm and tropical Brazil to begin the Fulbright Journey. On Sunday February 25th I boarded the plane tired, eager, and ready to set foot in Brazil. When I arrived I was blessed to have my cousin Patricia pick me up and guide me through the arrival process. We rode to the hotel together and had a bonding day in São Paulo. This was the first time I saw her in 4 years, so it was truly a special moment to spend the day with her. After she left to go home, it was time for me to get used to Brazilian Portuguese, the roads, and how to navigate this new country on my own.
Imagine arriving in a new city where you are not fluent in the language and are meeting new people every minute. What comes up as your first thoughts?
There are 120 ETA’s in Brazil and part of Team Minas Gerais there are 15 of us in the state. Before orientation, Team Minas Gerais spent some time with each other over several Google hangouts and Whatsapp group messaging, however orientation would be the first time we would meet in person. Once I arrived at the Golden Tulip Hotel in São Paulo I instantly recognized our Team Minas Gerais Mentor, Mary! J Then I quickly saw Patricia and Aryana who form part of the Fulbright Brazil Commission Team. It was surreal to see everyone in person after many months sharing documents, emails, and pictures via the digital space. Then came meeting my Co-ETA for the first time! It was comforting to know that I would have a partner in crime to explore Lavras with.
Orientation week was filled with seminars, security and medical briefings in the confines of a nice hotel in São Paulo with my American Crew. It was safe, comforting, and different than what my actual Brazil experience would be since not 120 of us were going to Lavras. If only we could all spend our Fulbright experience together.
My favorite part of the week was the dance lesson. As an ETA Cohort we learned how to dance Forró and Samba. This gave us a glimpse into what our cultural experience would be like throughout the 9 months in Brazil. The best part was when everyone started a dance party and we put on more Brazilian tunes on Spotify! J This was a display of joy, excitement, and team bonding. A moment I will always cherish!
As soon as we were all starting to feel comfortable with each other and getting to know our Fellow ETA’s we also had to say our farewells and begin our individual journey’s to our host cities. Thus, on Friday March 1st Kiaya (my Co-ETA) and I left São Paulo together in a taxi with our suitcases ready to take the 6-hour bus ride to Lavras, Minas Gerais. Throughout this journey we moved from the hustle and bustle of São Paulo toward the calmer interior of Brazil.
On this bus ride we stopped about 3 times to get food and stretch our legs. This ride served as nap time as well as much needed reflection and discernment from the week we all just experienced. From the many speakers and talks we listened to I also needed to process the many emotions that come with transitioning into a new space, way of life, and language.
When we arrived in Lavras – a Portuguese language professor her two children and a graduate student picked us up from the Bus stop. We officially arrived in Lavras and were ready to get to know our city, the new language, and people. After arriving we went to Bar Da Lu in the center of the city where we had some local cuisine and met the owner of the restaurant. Lu instantly made us feel welcomed and supported in this community.
Once we arrived to our hotel on the UFLA campus (Universidade Federal de Lavras) a wave of emotions mixed with exhaustion settled in. This deep deep feeling of gratitude won over exhaustion. What a truly incredible experience to have the privilege to be a guest in a community and learn a new language through the Fulbright Program.
Like Senator J. William Fulbright said on the 40th anniversary of the Fulbright Program in 1986: “Perhaps the greatest power of such intellectual exchange is to convert nations into peoples and to translate ideologies into human aspirations”. In this way, on my first night in Lavras, my host city, I felt exactly what Senator J. William Fulbright set out as the mission of this program – to Turn Nations into Peoples. To humanize each other and break down walls, borders, and barriers of inter-cultural communication. With immense gratitude and joy I share my first week in Brazil with all of you. Stay tuned for more reflections, discernments, and Brazilian culture through my lens and perspectives.