Monday, January 23, 2017

One More Time

I have been fortunate to have been granted a Fulbright award to spend my next nine months as an English Teaching Assistant in Belo Horizonte, Brasil.  I will not be continuing this blog, except perhaps to comment on going back to visit my host city, family, and friends.  

If you would like to continue with me and my time in Brasil, please see:

Até a próxima!

Friday, January 11, 2013

New Years, New Experiences.

I haven't given myself the chance to sit down and write for a while.  I've been caught up in some relaxing reads and spending time with friends.  Let me catch you up.

On New Years Eve:

  • Henrique had a party with a bunch of his friend's from his old school.
  • Two of my aunts from my pai's side came over with their children.  My cousins Igor and Renato brought two of their lifelong friends along with them.  All in all, we all crammed into rooms and had a lot of fun visiting and hanging out.
  • The younger cousins, their parents, my pais, and my other aunt went to the farm to spend the evening, leaving us 20 something year olds at the house to hang out and hit the city.
  • Everyone except Henrique went out to the local tennis club for dancing and a good time. (We rolled in about 6:30/7:00 am, however we didn't go out until about 1:30/2:00).
  • At the tennis club I ran into a bunch of old friends and spent most of my time jumping from group to group while trying to visit with everyone and catch up.  It was the perfect way to ring in the new year.  I ended that part of my celebration by hanging out with my primos (cousins), Laura, and their friends!
New Years Day:
  • All of us 20 something year olds woke up and were on our way to the farm for lunch.  Henrique drove the truck with three of the boys and Renato drove Laura's car with her friend and me in it.  Let's just say, a truck is the best way to get out there due to the higher clearance and better traction in mud and dirt.  All in all we made it out.
  • We spent the majority of the afternoon laying around and eating, while visiting and sharing stories.  Then it rained and we were all forced to wait under shelter and visit some more, of course that is never a problem for us.
  • After the rain stopped, we decided to head back while we still had daylight.  There were two trucks and two cars, so the cars put themselves somewhere in the middle and the trucks made sure everyone got through every muddle okay.
    • I must admit, I was hoping someone would get stuck, I rooted for it wholeheartedly because it meant we'd have to get out and push and what a big fun muddy mess that would have been!
    • Our car's gas light came on at the beginning of the journey, so not only were we excited by the fear of getting stuck, of going in the ditch, but also the more gruesome end of running out of gas.
    • After a lot of fish tailing and near-hydroplaning, we made it back to the city and settled in for the night.
  • Overall, the company was beyond wonderful and it was a great family filled couple of days!

For a couple days I went and lived with my third host family, whom I also loved dearly!

Driving a Car:
  • When I was a Rotary Youth Ambassador, one of the rules we couldn't break was to about driving.  Due to safety rules and insurance issues, we weren't allowed to drive any type of vehicle.  Living within walking distance from everything and not having a car at my disposable didn't make this rule difficult to follow. 
  • So what does my host brother do...he walks in and tells me he needs my help.  He walked home from work because he locked his keys in the office.  So what happens?  I get in our brother's truck and we go pick up his car which results in me driving a stick shift (thank goodness I have experience with that and was only a little rusty) by myself back to our apartment.  I was terrified.  I don't like driving other people's cars under normal circumstances in the United States.  Needless to say we all survived and when he asked for a ride the next day I politely refused.
  • We put together a small BBQ within a matter of hours that night, after we picked up his car.  We got into the car and I had a beer in my hand.  Open container and all, and apparently you can bring open beer cans into the grocery store.  That was a first for me!
  • We ate good meat, had a small group of people together, and we went for a middle of the night swim.  It was a great night!
Salon Day:
  • On our last day together, my host mom, Maristela, took me to her shop and then to the salon with her.
  • At her shop she told me to look around and pick out any shirt I wanted and she would gift it to me.  I had a wonderful time looking through her clothes selection and trying on some stuff.  It still amazes me how giving she is and how sweet.  Never have I expected this and never would I be upset if she didn't offer me something so simple and yet so complex.   She has the largest heart and I am lucky to be her filha.
  • Then we went to the salon so she could get her hair and nails done before vacation.  We were sitting there and visiting and she suddenly got the idea that I should get my nails and hair done too.  After some persuading and time management I found myself getting a manicure and pedicure while sitting back to get my hair cut.  I have never felt so pampered as I did getting a foot massaged and my hair washed at the same time. I didn't get much length cut off, but it gave my hair enough lift and I've always loved the way Brazilians cut hair!
  • Repelling is the act of letting yourself down a mountain/cliff, with a cord.  It is kind of the opposite of mountain climbing.
  • My mãe, Maristela, had brought up a story of repelling that they had done with a guide earlier that week.  I was instantly hooked.  She helped me set up a time with the guide, it was my job to get a group together, and suddenly everything was falling together.  She told me that she would pay for me so that I would get the chance to do this and it was a truly great present.
  • I got together some exchange student friends, one of them being Avery Nelson from Northfield!  We got a ride out with Senhor Barbosa (one of their host fathers) and we made our way to an Indian reservation.
    • The Indian Reservation had typical tradition housing, and then government housing which resemble normal homes that you'd find anywhere.
    • We pulled in to stand among some natives and watch a little naked boy that they described as a "true Indian" walk up to us.
    • There were people washing their clothes and their motorcycles in the river that led to the waterfalls.
    • There were a dozen or so children that came down to the falls with us and played on the cords when we weren't using them.  They were sweet and shy and having a grand day.  They don't have swimming pools like some kids, but they have waterfalls and rivers and they make the best of their time.
      • It was such a great time to see them enjoying what they have.  They didn't ask for pity and I don't see where someone could pity them.  They live a simple life, but they don't starve and they were truly happy.  They didn't need the complications of phones and televisions to make them happy, it was as if they were in tune with what truly makes people happy and they were all enjoying every moment of this short life.
  • There were four waterfalls; three smaller ones and a large one.  The smaller ones were easy to play in and stand under, while the larger one was dangerous to get close to.  Of course we couldn't deny a challenge, but the sheer force from being close was too much and too thrilling that we didn't dare get any closer than the rocks would let us.
  • As for the repelling part.  There were two different courses.  Both were a 40 meter drop, the first 20 being "positive" (meaning you could use your legs and push them up against the side of the cliff) and the second half being "negative" (or in other words, free fall).  The main difference in the two courses was that one was underneath one of the smaller waterfalls, meaning you were getting hit in the face by water on the way down, and the other was next to it and dry.
  • Pleased to say, I was the first one to go.  Although I was merely the first to go on the dry one, I still take pride in being the first to go at all!
  • I went down three times, twice under the waterfall and the first time next to it.  Then I went around with the boys and explored the other waterfalls.  It was a fun adventure and I should have taken tennis shoes, but my love for wilderness and good coordination helped my sandals keep my balance most of the time.
  • There was a group of older women that went with us, one of them had really good sugar covered peanuts which I have always fancied.  I asked her where she bought them and it turned out she makes them.  In conclusion, I came out of this experience with a recipe for a delicious peanut concoction.
  • On our way back to Tangará, we stopped to check out an underground river that shows for a few meters, they use it as a drinking source.  On the way there, we were informed that there are jaguars in that part of the jungle.  I couldn't decide if it was a cruel joke or not, but then we came across a fresh print.  Needless to say, I was overly cautious and nervous on the walk to and from the river.
Recently I was reunited with my best friend Isa.  She was traveling and just arrived in the city again.  We have been practically inseparable since we've been together again, and it has been quite wonderful.  :]

I think that's all of the big exciting new stuff that has been eating at me to get written down.

Have a wonderful weekend!


Saturday, December 29, 2012

Not Hurt, No Deaths, but Possibly Sick.

If you're not bleeding, you're not hurt.  If nobody died, you don't cry.  If you're not throwing up, you're not sick.  This was the way my parents had weeded out our angry tears we used to get our siblings in trouble and our actual hurt.  It was how they persuaded us to go to school with a headache and only miss on the days we were actually sick.  Although sometimes a bit harsh, there isn't a time I come to them in pain and in tears now that they don't know they aren't real and I really do need them.  Even as a 21 year old woman, I follow—subconciously—these rules and I carry them with me.

Thus when I woke up with a pounding headache this morning, I tried to sleep it off.  I didn't cry or fuss and had I had my own medicine (which I failed to pack) I wouldn't have even told anyone.  I couldn't stand it much longer and so I went to my pais' bedroom door at 6am seeking help.  They gave me some tylenol and when I went back to lay down I had this strange need to throw up again.  I ran to the bathroom.  Now the awful yet ironic part is that I was throwing up (sorry about all these stories) and I strained my back (which had been doing so well lately) in the same way I had strained it on Christmas Eve.  As embarrassing and overwhelming I assume my own problems that I don't think others should have to deal with them, a part of me is glad they know here, that way they can help take care of me and understand my weird behavior a bit.

I was supposed to have traveled to a different city with my pais today to visit their other shop but instead I stayed home and slept in and am now watching movies with Laura and Henrique.  Being inside today is going to be nice though, as I was out exploring the city again with my friend Bia.  I love being back, even if I hate how my sinuses and my body are reacting to the warm weather.

Sorry about all the posts of being sick, but when one is sick, there isn't much else to do!


Friday, December 28, 2012

Never Have I Ever...

Never Have I Ever...thrown up on an airplane.  That statement was incredibly true and I was very proud of it, seeing as I am motion sick often, until my last flight yesterday from São Paulo to Cuiabá, Brazil.  Let me start at the beginning.

I moved my stuff out of my apartment on Friday before work that night, and I went straight home after for Christmas.  Work ended in the best fashion.  We brought in goodies all week to share and on Friday we had a feast.  It's crazy to think that after seeing all of the same people five days a week, I won't see a single one of them for the next five months.  Being home also started in the best fashion; my sister and my older brother and I went out together to end the world right.  It was fun being able to hang out with them, outside of the house, and be around mutual friends as well.

I spent the next five days around home, helping with chores and cleaning and fighting with my sisters.  It's always great to be home!  My lower back had been stiff for a while, and with all of my studying and work it had begun to bother me when I would sit for long periods of time.  On Christmas Eve, I was angry at my sister and as she so politely requested, I went to unload my car of all of my boxes of stuff.  That was when I strained something, which trust me, did not make the festivities or the plane rides any more fun and comfortable.

My first plane took off from Minneapolis at 3:00 p.m., the day after Christmas.  Dad came to the airport to drop me off, where we also met with Marcos, a really good friend of mine. After a fairly quick check-in, a quick goodbye, and an even quicker trip through security, I was on my way to the gate.  I had to wait a bit of time, so I decided to start a book I had brought along.  Then I eventually boarded the plane.

My layovers this time around were quite short.  I had an hour in Atlanta, which was just enough time to get to the plan in time to board.  I had almost two hours in São Paulo, but after customs and check in, I wasn't left with much time either.

On the first flight, I sat next to a man who was from St. Cloud originally, lives in International Falls, and teaches for six month periods in Georgia.  Our conversation began we he thanked me and the guy sitting on his other side for not being fat and pouring into his space.

On the second flight, I sat next to a woman who is from North Carolina and was an exchange student five years ago with the program AISEC.  She was headed back to São Paulo to visit family and friends.  She was probably one of the most plesant people I have ever met on a plane.  We talked about our exchanges, about our families, our jobs, how we've changed, our friends, men in our lives, and how we plan on living in the future.  She came from the same background I did and appears to have the same identity problems I do, trying to decide between the world traveler or the settling down country girl.  It was interesting to get her perspective because she has 15 years of experience on me.  Overall we visited most of the night away and I didn't sleep a wink.

While I was going through customs, I met another 21 year old American from Texas.  She was visiting her boyfriend and his family in Brazil.  She doesn't speak a word of Portuguese, but she enjoys every minute in Brazil.  We complained about the weather, because as we stepped into the São Paulo airport, which mind you is not airconditioned, and we were met with 80 degree weather, we started dying.

Now the airport...  I hadn't been in a Brazilian airport for a year and six months, when I set foot in São Paulo.  Not only was I not preparred for the heat, but I also realized, for the first time, how unorganized everything is.  There are people everywhere, there are few proper lines, and it is pure chaos.  The security is less strict, they don't make you jump through the post-9/11 hoops we have too, but this relaxed feeling also makes me nervous.  I sometimes feel as if they aren't doing their job and that they aren't as adequate, but then again, maybe our country is just over protective in all aspects.

I didn't start to feel sick until I woke up from a short nap, on my thrid and final flight.  My stomach had decided that it didn't want to keep down anything anymore.  I hurriedly asked the woman next to me, in English, if she could get up so that I could go to the bathroom.  Of all my luck, on the only flight I wasn't sitting on the aisle, I needed to frequent the bathroom to throw up.  After the lady stared at me blankly, I asked in Portguese, but because of my distress my portuguese came out roughly, I was tripping over words and pronunciation.  After the third time I got up to go to the bathroom, the lady offered me some Dramamine, which I accepted, however towards the end of the flight it started coming back up.  This time I started gagging into a bag, in my seat.  Now, there wasn't much for me to throw up, because I hadn't had time to eat properly in the airports, and all I had been served was airplane food, and a few drinks.  I also hadn't slept a wink in the last 24 hours.  I made it to the bathroom in the back of the plane and I thought I was going to throw up the medicine and the water I had just drank, however nothing came out.  Then we began our descent and I decided I should probably find a seat.  I started throwing up again as we taxied to the airport, to get off, however once again, nothing came out.

I found my bag and I found Ulysses and Ivete, who had come to pick me up.  I told them that I wasn't feeling well and they took me for food.  I could hardly eat, but I knew I needed a little something in my stomach to start getting better.  We had a four hour drive ahead of us, but the most calming thing was when Ivete said, "if you feel like you need to throw up, tell us and we'll pull over, we're all family here."  She had given me permission to not be embarrassed and to slow their trip considerably because I wasn't feeling well, and I can't begin to explain how much that meant to me.  In the end, we didn't end up needing to sleep.  I slept off a lot of what had me feeling bad.

I arrived home to see my pai visiting across the street with someone, once he saw me he excused himself and came right over to give me a hug.  My mãe and Henrique were down right away to say "hi" too.  It is still hard to believe that I am back.  We drank tereré like normal and then I took a shower and a four hour nap.  When I woke up I came out and watched soap operas with them.  Laura came home from work and we all ate dinner, as a family.  Nothing has changed, not the city, not my familia, and not the food.  The biggest difference in all is the fact that everyone comments on how my portuguese is still wonderful, but the accent isn't like theirs as much anymore, and how I've gotten so thin.  I continue to tell them that I was only ever fat in Brazil.  I went to bed before 10:00 last night and I woke up at 10:00 this morning.  I feel rested and well.

I can't believe I'm back, there really isn't  a way to describe how normal and at home I feel here.  I'm not the scared 18 year old I was when I arrived, nor am I the exchange student.  I am just merely the daughter that came home to visit after being a way for a while.  I don't know Venezuela will be, but here, we're all family.


Saturday, October 20, 2012


Sometimes I am an emotional wreck, I never really was before I had the emotional roller coaster experience that was my Youth Exchange.  I had one of these moments the other day when I was looking at airplane tickets, one-way, from Minneapolis to Cuiabá, Mato Grosso, Brasil and I was so overwhelmed that I couldn't help but tear up.

About a month ago I started to plan for a semester abroad to improve my Spanish and take care of most of my major credits that I have to complete still.  I looked at programs and eventually decided to apply for the most suitable one that happens to be in Venezuela.  When I was telling my best friend, Isa, about this, she asked if I was going to stop by when I was down there.  My first thought was that I couldn't possibly pull it off.  It would be too expensive and I wouldn't have enough time.  However, once the seed was planted I was hooked.  I had to go back, I had to make it happen.  In my mind it all made perfect sense, I was already taking a leave from work so why not incorporate this into it.  I hadn't planned on going back to Brasil until 2014 at the earliest, but this seemed too good to pass up.

I started talking to my brother, Henrique, and asking him if he'd be around in January for me to visit and if I could stay with them.  After a while of reassuring myself that it would all work out and that I wouldn't be a burden on my family, I contacted him and bought the ticket.

I am officially going back to Tangará da Serra!! I will spend the end of Decemeber and most of January with them before I continue on my way.  I was crying when I bought the ticket of how real this going home experience has become.  I can't wait for everything that comes with it.

On a sad note, one of my best friends, Hiago, was planning a trip to Minnesota to visit myself and Matthew at that exact time!  We may miss each other all together, which bothers me a lot because I miss him to pieces and want to see him, but I know that it will also be okay because he will finally get to see snow and the U.S. while using his english and that happiness of his is more important to me than seeing him in Brasil would be.  I am nervous however, I mean who wouldn't be?  I am going back and it isn't going to be the same, I am not going to be under any rules and I will be thrown back just as I was when I returned to the United States for the first time.  I can only hope that the "reverse culture shock" that I will go through will be hardly anything and it will seem like a mere homecoming/vacation!!

Some of the things I am most looking forward to are listening to my favorite type of sertanejo (country) music, maybe go fishing, going the farm and ride horses, dancing with my friends, eating açaí, and hanging out in the living room watching soap operas and movies with my family.  I also can't wait to go to church with my family and then again with my friend Isa and her family!  One of my last desires is to go out and party because I want to be able to experience all the small moments and the down time I had last time that were so important to me, but I've always been up and ready for anything!

Até logo, Brasil!
Aletha Rose Duchene

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Is It Really Over?

Is it really over? Yes, I am still asking myself that question. I have delayed this "wrap-up" post for a long time, and would still procrastinate it more if I could. My tendancy with things I really like is to leave them intact as long as I can. I use my favorite clothes less than I probably should and for greater events, I don't unpack myself because I don't want to believe I'm 'home', and I most certainly don't enjoy conlcusions-they seem so definite.

It has been almost two months since I've been back in the United States, getting used to the culture again, and figuring out how to deal with my 'homesickness'. Getting used to the culture is so strange. I watch people dance and think, 'that's so strange', or I see the way people interact to something and think that they are so 'out of the loop'. Also, I am proud of my accomplishments and my adventures and I am excited to talk about this huge part of my life but like the words of my sisters "UGGGH, again! well in brasil I...*mocking me*", people don't always want to hear about it. So I'm still trying to get used to when it's okay to touch on and how much I can share before people get sick of it. But the biggest and strangest thing is the homesickness. This homesickness is the hardest thing I've ever done.

I consider myself lucky. I spent 11 months and 10 days in Brasil and came home just long enough to realize that I was too independent to stick around until I was moving off to my apartment in Minneapolis to start college. It helps a lot that I have a huge support system both here and abroad rooting for me to be happy and my success, they all seem to believe in me more and be more willing to do what they need to help me out then I am to myself sometimes. The college experience has been a much needed distraction for a while, but I find that as my routine starts to make itself more concrete, I begin to start to feel 'homesick' even more often.

Dealing with this newfound homesickness has been hard since I set foot in Minnesota. I remember the pilot saying that we were approaching the Minneapolis airport and would be landing in 20 minutes. I looked out the window, saw a bunch of corn fields, and started bawling. The closer the plane got to the ground the more upset I seemed to get and the more emptyness took over. I remember walking down the hallway to the bagage claim all-teary eyed thinking that it was oficially over. Then of course I saw my family and the tears of joy came. It took a couple weeks to not tear up when I talked about my experience to people, especially when people looked at me knowingly and asked "so, hooow aree youuu?" and to this day if you catch me on a down day it's a very possible outcome. But I have found some wonderful outlets. I went skydiving the first week and a half back to add some excitement and I'm trying new activities and new foods. I am taking more credits than normal freshmen, so I put a lot of time into my studies, especially my Portuguese and Global Studies classes, I've joined Rotex and have been trying to participate as much as possible and reach out to inbounds, I've joined groups on campus-some dealing with Global studies and some that just meet to play ultimate frisbee, I try to have company over and go out because the more I put myself out there the more I'll get out of it, and I want something similar to what I had on my exchange. I don't want the happiness, the outgoingness, and the willingness to fade away. I got the chance to talk to Marcia Gerdin-my country officer when I was going through orientation-a few times since I've been back. I feel like she has been one of the most influential and helpful people. I will never forget the advice she gave me after the Rebound Orientation on the boat ride. She told me to let the wave of homesickness hit me full force, to take the time to cry, to listen to my music, to wear my clothes, to paint my nails, and to eat my food. I have done this and I still do, it seems to help me immensely and it's both comforting and scary to hear that this emptyness and wave of homesickness will hit me for the rest of my life. My exchange never will truly be over, today I'm just me on exchange to a different city where I'm studying at a University, after that I'll just be me, on yet another learning experience and a different phase in life. It's never going to be over, this is something that was embedded in me, the mindset, the way of life, and it isn't something that I'd change even if I could.

So all in all, I'm doing good. I'm content with where I am in life and even more excited for future plans which will surely lead me on even more adventures. I would like to thank Rotary because it would not have been possible without you. My host club, my host district, my district, and my club (WOO, go Northfield :) ), I am so happy you entrusted me with this opportunity because it has brought so much joy and understanding to my life. Thanks for taking care of me in all the phases of my experience! A HUGE thank you to my parents because I can't imagine how hard it was to give up their child to strangers for a year and hope that everything turns out well, and also to my siblings who I'm sure missed the help with homework, the car rides, and the company (at least I like to hope so ;P). If you love something set it free...and that's what you did, and I will never be more grateful for that. And of course another gigantic thank you to everyone that took me into their homes and into their hearts, it means the world to me.

Thanks for reading my blog and keeping up with me!! Thanks for giving me your time, remembering me, and at least deeming me a little bit important! It has been a good time, and even a better time hearing about how my blog reached and effected people that I never would have expected. So once again, thanks so much! Your support means a lot to me!

So with that being said... my bags are unpacked, I've started the next phase of my life already, and I have no certain planned return, so... is it REALLY over? ... ... ... no, it never is, not really anyways.

Até a próxima!


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Guess Who?

If my being was a character of the classic "guess who" game, I'm pretty sure I'd never guess myself in the end. I am the last person with the answers to the question, "who are you?" I know myself so well now, and yet not at all.

I vaguely remember who I was before I left home 11 months ago. I was normally happy, fairly stressed out every once in a while, and I was a nervous worrywart. But the question isnt 'who were you?' it is 'who are you?'... Who am I?

Well my name is Aletha Rose Duchene, I am 19 years old, I have 2 sisters and 1 brother, and I am the daughter of Mark and Theresa Duchene. Simple enough..? No. I am also the filha of Suedir and Ederly Ribas, Carlos e Márcia Scholz, & Nildo and Maristela Queiroz. I have 2 irmãs and 5 irmãos. I have no permanent residence. I fluently speak Portguese and English and sometimes I find myself using Google Translator to translate words to english so I can speak with my friends and family back home. I am excepcionally happy, always. I am the gringa. I am more adventurous than I have ever been. I have stopped worrying and have started putting my faith into things. I have tons of friends from all over the world. I am from the United States of America, but I feel like my soul is half brazilian and always was.

When I left for Brazil and while I was living in the States, I had a very set idea on life, where I wanted to go, what was wrong and what was right, and I had very little tolerance for people I deemed hoodlums. Everything has changed. My point of views on things that I had given no wiggle room, are now things that I understand and that I have even put into practice. For example, I used to think it absurd to stay out past 1:00 a.m. because it didn't make sense to me, I mean what good comes about at that hour. I believe that the past week I have not been home before one, and if I have it has been an early night. There are also other items where I was more tolerant back home and now it just seems ridiculous to me now.

I have changed a lot, and I will be the first to admit it, but in some ways I haven't changed at all. I guess that is all part of growing up, but I also feel like it has such a deeper level to it because not only was this a year of growing like any normal young adult, but I also did it in a completely different culture. I don't know how to explain it, but I know that it would be IMPOSSIBLE for me to return home without having changed at all. I can't begin to imagine it. My eating habits have changed, my hair and nail care habits have changed, even my idea of fun has changed a little bit.

Overall, I don't think i'll be the most recognizable person when people are getting to know me again, but I'm sure they'l find me just as pleasant as before, or so I hope. I am happy with who I am and the process it took to get here, and I wouldn't change anything for the world.