Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Small Victories

On one hand I can be one of the most lazy people you know, on the other I can work really hard to create fairly decent results. With my schoolwork I always had a tendency to do more than average, never anything fantastic, but definitely worthy of the notes I received. So while I was putting together my presentation for rotary my super-nerd work ethic kicked in. The result was nothing miraculous, but it was well rehearsed and put together well. Let me tell you my process.

First, I was a young girl of 18 years and 3 months (vs 18 years and 11 months). I was on my way to the final rotary meeting, nervous as could be. I had been told a few weeks before that I had to create a power point presentation for people that didn't know anything about the U.S., Minnesota, Northfield, the Duchene family, or me. I spent time creating mine, starting at the U.S. and working my way down to me. We presented ours (or as far as we could get in 5 minutes) and we tucked them away to bring to our countries to fix up here and present for our rotary clubs. I forgot mine, or it was deleted when the computer crashed, either way I only had the notes people left me and my memory.

When I arrived here my mom told me that when I was speaking portuguese better I'd present my slideshow or the next time my club had a party night rather than just a meeting, whichever happened first. There was a close call the second week I was here for a family night, but I snuck by that one. About a month ago my dad here told me that I would be presenting when the governor of rotary for our district came to visit our club. I had a month, how awesome. I didn't worry much at all, I have a knack for leaving things until the last minute, this is the not-so-amazing quality of (---insert word here because I can't remember the word, in any language, just the feeling and that I put things off until the last minute---) that I have perfected over the years. So I procrastinated [[THATS THE WORD :)...seriously after 5 minutes of thinking about it]] like normal and I started working on it Saturday when I had nothing to do until today (Wednesday) when I was to present it.

I worked slowly collecting photos, of the millions I have on my external harddrive, putting together slides in an order that made sense, and deciding what was most important to express about my life and the culture in the U.S. to the people here in Brasil in 30-40 minutes. I spent Monday night, Tuesday morning and afternoon, and this afternoon finishing the slides while working steadily, meaning without facebook, msn, orkut, or skype. Then this afternoon I began to practice. I practiced once all alone, reciting what I would say for sure, then my brother came home and told me to practice for him. I did my presentation for him and he helped me with words, pronunciation, and spelling. I had also thrown in a couple slangs that weren't formal enough for this, but how was I to know? Then he left and I practiced one more time all alone, to work out all of the kinks.

I showered, got dressed up and went to the meeting. First, my MAC of a computer doesn't connect to things down here because everything in this world is geared towards PC's. Luckily I had saved on my external harddrive, but no one brought a laptop. My brother and another guy ran to get a laptop, but this laptop didn't work because when we went to restart it, it never restarted it just remained with a black screen. Then my brother went to another person's house and borrowed another laptop. (This all occurred while the meeting was in progress). We got it to work and then all eyes were on me.

My presentation had some errors in the words, but overall it went very very well. I had a small note sheet with random words I needed to remember how to pronounce, or remember in general, but I never once used it because I talked around things I forgot and it just felt nice to have it there, just in case. It was about 40 minutes which is getting a little long but I didn't lose everyone's attention so that wasn't a problem. I began with the basics on the U.S. our president, the flag and what the symbols represent, then I talked about the culture there (our typical food, the fast paced life we live, our love for sports, movies, and music), and then I went on to talk about our holidays (I mentioned of course one of my personal favorites May Day). After that I talked about Minnesota, where it's located, what we do for fun, typical food in Minnesota, our sports teams, the weather and the seasons, the State Fair, the Mall of America, and how our school system operates. I went on to talk about Northfield after that, our town, the colleges, its location, and Jesse James Days. Then came my family. I explained my parents jobs as well as my brother and sisters', where our house is and what it's like, the fact that my family has always hunted deer and bear (a lot of people poke fun and are curious about the process of hunting because here the jail sentence is worse if you kill an animal than if you kill a person), our animals and pets, and what responsibilities I have to gain certain privileges. Then I talked about myself, what kind of things I enjoy doing, what I was like as a child (I had a video here of my riding a bike but it didn't play), what schools I went to, the sports and activities I did, where I worked, and what programs I participated in. I went on to talk about why I chose to be an exchange student, my fears, expectations, and hopes I had before I arrived in Brasil, and then I talked about my life here in brasil. I talked about the amazing family I have, where I was studying, and what types of things I do in my spare time (i.e. the gym, dance class, spinning class (this is new!), and interact). I finished by talking about my plans for the future which quite frankly came out like this: "I have no idea anymore, honestly. When I arrived I was so sure of what college I'd return to and what classes I'd take, and no I have no clue." That is where it ended to applause and a few whistles from my interact friends who knew I was nervous and came to support me.

I received hugs from a few people, Clovis (the chairman who helps organize the inbounds and outbounds), my dad, and some other rotary members. The meeting continued for an hour and a half more because the governor continued to talk and talk and talk. While he was talking my friends were telling me that I did well and that they understood me and that now I am one of the few people from the United States that speaks Portuguese. We also talked about a few things I said incorrectly. One was when I was talking about Minnesota's teams. Everyone asks me about our soccer team which I didn't even know we had until I arrived in Brasil, I told them all the name and that quite honestly I didn't even know the name until yesterday when I was researching for this. However the funniest thing occurred when I was talking about my family. I was talking about my sister Quinn and how she is the most outgoing. Then I went on to say that she was always doing bad things with my brother when she was younger, however the way I said it in portuguese made it sound that they were doing things naughty in a sexual manner. People came up to me afterwards saying: "So, your youngest sister is a naughty/dirty/wild one eh?" Sorry Quinnie. I still love you.

Other than that everyone was pleased. Many people came up to me and told me that it was wonderful and that I did well. Clovis told me that everyone understood everything I said. My dad talked to the president of our club and he said it was one of the best he's ever seen. Not because it was extravagant, but because it told a story. It was organized and had a beginning, middle, and an end. It was direct to the point (not too much extra none-sense or details) but yet explained enough so that everyone left knowing 'Who Aletha Duchene is'. My dad told me to bring it to the exchange student weekend in Caceres this weekend, just incase. Being Clovis is from my club and him and my dad are going and have seen this presentation, I know that if they need an example they will more than likely ask me, but this isn't bad either.

Now I'm no professional speaker, I have mind blanks, I say the wrong things, and I have technological errors. However, finishing this and hearing good reviews as well as sharing my culture and my life with people (for once without questions directing me) felt really good. It is this small victory that will keep me on a high for the whole weekend and into next week, and every time I set foot in the House of Friendship (casa de amizade, where the rotary meetings/interact meetings are held) I will remember how nice it felt and a part of me will always be happy with myself.

I just can't imagine that 3 months ago I spoke basically nothing of Portuguese and tonight I gave a 40 minute presentation that the whole world understood.

Like I said in the beginning, I'm so thankful not only for rotary here that chose to receive me as their exchange student, but also my district in the U.S. and the Northfield Rotary Club that chose to give me this opportunity and entrusted in me the responsibility of strengthening existing connections while creating others and creating a positive image for the whole world back home. I am also greatly thankful for all of the orientations. They prepared me more than I could have ever imagined, and all because of this I had a small victory tonight and my exchange is becoming more and more successful everyday.

Well if you don't hear from me, I'm graduating tomorrow night, then I'm off to a House (Hotel) Boat for the weekend, be back on Sunday. HAPPY BIRTHDAY QUINNIE [and know that if you were here it'd be the biggest party of your life because 15 here is our 16 there]. :)

Beijos e boa sorte with your presentations to come :)

com amor,


  1. Congratulations! That's awesome that you're doing so well with the language! Keep it up :) I have yet to give a presentation for my Rotary Club, but when I do, I will definitely be looking back at this blog for tips! Sounds like you're having an amazing time in Brazil! I love reading your blog :)

  2. Congratulations on your graduation and the victory on your presentations. I've known your work ethic for some time peanut home is where you hang your hat
    love dad.