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.


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Funeral In the Family

Usually when you live in another country as an exchange student you get to experience almost all of the normal ceremonies. You go to weddings, wedding showers, baby showers, birthday parties, graduation ceremonies, holiday gatherings, and other special cultural events. However I never thought nor hoped that I would end up at a funeral. Especially in Brasil. Funeral events are 24 hour things. The person dies, they have a wake for a long time (which I didn't get a chance to experience, but they sit and pray and visit the dead), and then they have a mass and they take the dead to the cemetery. Now being it all happens so fast it isn't that kind of thing where you can travel long distances, or where I knew many people that were dying. However as we were driving to the airport in Cuiabá to go to Paraná, my second host dad told me that his great uncle had passed away. He lived in Paraná and under normal circumstances he wouldn't have gotten there in time, but being he had died on the eve of our travel, we ended up arriving just as the casket was entering the church.

I don't know how to explain what it is like going to a funeral where I knew nobody except my host dad and my two brothers. I had never heard of the dead man and I knew little about him except that he was a relation and that he played in a band. Also, where does the exchange student's role fit in terms of condolences. I know with my parents back home I would give them lots of hugs and talk to them, but is the role the same, especially if I had never even known of this person before...? The wonderful thing before this moment is I always put this in the "what if" catagory and never thought up a good enough answer because I thought and hoped it would never happen. All you can really do is be prepared for anything because I believe that any person would be different and react differently. You have to be ready, if they want a long tight hug, that is what you have to offer them, if they want to be alone you can show them you care by taking care of other things around the house or such and offering your company. However it's not as easy as one would think, and a lot of the moments are awkward. I feel like in this sense we have the same role as beloved pets do, almost, because we don't exactly have the complete role of children (because children would know how to deal with it, would know the circumstances, and people tend to shut down when they are devestated) but because we are here to help lift their burden, to make their day better with a hug or a smile, or simply to clean up the kitchen without being asked (not that animals do). Thank goodness it wasn't a closer relative to the family, and the effect wasn't as big. However it was a strange but good experience nonetheless.

I think the weirdest thing was being in a room where everyone knew the man and was crying, which left me wanting to cry, but not knowing him or anyone else. I didn't know how to act and I was such an outsider. I spent most of my time observing people and their reactions than paying attention to things. As awful as it sounds I liked watching people cry. I liked watching people hold each other. I liked that I could tell that he was beloved without ever knowing the man, to me that is the best way to honor him. Nothing was faked, nothing was acted out, it was normal people at a funeral. I felt like it was the beginning of a movie, you know before you get to know the other characters where you just watch and begin to take in the scene.

Then I got to thinking about death and I have yet to come to a good conclusion, but hopefully I have a lot of time left. However maybe some exchange student will be lucky enough to attend my funeral, I for one would be delighted in their presence. In the sad event that you get the chance, I advise you to go to a funeral in a different country, because every culture is at least a little bit different.

tchau tchau for now,

Monday, June 6, 2011

Back to the Cold

Well my dear friends! It has been forever and so much as changed in this time!!

I moved families. I moved on March 1st to the Scholz family. In the house I was an only child, however I have 2 brothers that are 19 and 23 that live in Curitiba. My parents are owners of a chicken butchering operation, I imagine similiar to Golden Plump. Although I didn't have siblings, I got to know the godson of my mom and his family quite well. I also went to church a bunch more. 0:)

I celebrated Carnaval, which I loved!! I entered a group for people around my age that my friends were in and we went to a farm before to hang out and dance and then to the Tangará Tennis Club for the big party. This was 4 days in a row. Normally we started at about 9:30 ish and got home about 5 or 6. It was some of the most fun I've ever had because of the pure energy and exciement everyone had.

I traveled to Sinop with Maristela and Nildo. Sinop is a city in the Northern part of Mato Grosso, where the Amazon Rainforest is. I visited a park there where I got to feed monkeys, which dropped down close to my shoulders (they perferred bread to bananas). I also fed huge fish and turtles, and saw exotic birds. While I was there I met the Brasilian MotoCross Champion on the street and I stayed in a house with Divina and her husband who have 6 kids, 4 dogs, and 1 mexican. :)

I went to the Rotary District Conference. Here I met another exchange student from Colombia named Andres. We hung out a lot with the interactianos and I sold my bonbons. I had to make $100 for a project called Shelterbox, to give to my district. From selling my bonbons (which I made) in the rotary meeting, at school, and at the conference I ended up making about $170. After the conference ended, Alejandra and I went to the Jorge&Mateus concert, which was wonderful!!!

I moved again. I moved in with Maristela and Nildo, a little before the first of June. I will stay with them until the end of my exchange. They live very close to my first family, to the center of town, and Isa's house. I live there with them and their son Andre. They also have two other children who don't live at home. We live in an apartment that is two apartments, one on the second floor and one on the third, and they added a staircase to connect them both.

I had to say goodbye to Alejandra. Alejandra has been a big part of my exchange, she arrived about a month after me and she just left. Her family came to see her in the end of her exchange and she returned with them. It was wonderful to get a chance to meet her family, I greatly enjoyed getting to know them! I don't think I had cried so much on my entire exchange, imagine when I have to say goodbye myself.

I am currently traveling. I went to southern brasil with my second host parents. I left thursday with my pai carlos and I arrived that evening in Curitiba. I finally got to meet my host brothers, Gustavo and Felipe. We all went out for pizza and the next day we left for Pato Branco where the 70th birthday party of Marcia's dad would be. I also went to a FUNERAL. Now This was the strangest thing I had yet to do. I'll try and explain it more in detail some other time. Then I met my aunt and uncle and cousins (heloisa and matheus) who are super nice and I went and stayed in their house for a few nights. We all played a buch of videogames and watched a lot of movies, it was nice and reminded me of our family get togethers. At the party which was a lunch one day and then a smaller lunch the next we spent a lot of time outside lighting off fireworks or just hanging out, which reminded me of the way my cousins and siblings and I are during family gatherings. I ate pinhão (?) which is a typical snack in Paraná, that is cooked pine cones (not like our pine cones) that you open and then salt them. They are good! BUT here is the kicker, IT IS WINTER HERE. IT IS COLD. Well, it feels a lot like fall anyways. It's about 50 degrees here everyday and I am wearing sweatshirts and long socks and I love it! I don't know how to explain it, but cold has a certain smell, a certain feeling. I stepped off the airport and into the cold air and I was immediately back home. It was great!

Well I won't be home until Monday I think, but I'll try and update again soon!

P.S. HAPPY BIRTHDAY YESTERDAY DADDY-O!! Hope it was a great day!!!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Perfect Ending.

I had the most wonderful day today. I found it so enchanting I decided it deserved it's own blog.

First, my sister and I stayed up until 5:00 in the morning, talking about things, watching movies, and joking around. At about 4:30 we went to the fair in front of our house and I used my traveling boots for this adventure. My parents didn't say we couldn't, and we had mentioned it but never really directly asked, so it had a slight thrill of sneaking out, even though it wouldn't have been a big deal. We went there and I bought a coke, and she bought a typical juice (which I don't really like). We laughed the whole way and then we quickly returned home. We went to bed and woke up about 9:00.

I started my day kind of bummed out. I was hoping to spend the day with the interact kids visiting a orphanage for people ages 10-18. However my dad told me we were going to the farm, and I wasn't mad or upset, but I wasn't expecting it to be so amazing. I had been to the farm many times before and it is really nice and relaxing, but not exactly the fun volunteering I had planned for that day.

We took off for the day and my parents were talking about how I was going to teach them how to clean chickens the American way(because I have done it for as long as I can remember in the States). I laughed it off. We pull into the place and my dad sets up some of the hammocks. The dog my parents had once brought home and then we had taken to the farm has gotten so big! Laura and I spent some time laying in the hammocks, and it was wonderful.

Then they were preparing things for lunch and my dad said something and my mom said, "Aletha will help you kill them [the chickens], she knows how!" and my dad asked me if I really did. So he went and killed two chickens, and brought them back for us to clean. My mom cleaned the first one in a strange brasilian way. Then the second they left for my sister and I. We plucked off the feathers and my job was to clean out the insides, I thought I had gotten out of this job for a year. HA. I did my way and my father was very amused and proud that I actually knew what I was doing.

A little while later we ate lunch; chicken, rice, and beans. They taught me a different way to clean the chicken feet, it is supposedly decent tasting (we didn't cook them, just cleaned them for a lesson) and good for women's skin. They also cooked up the one heart, one liver, and one gizzard. I had already fallen in love with chicken hearts, but I didn't have that one. They had me try the liver and the gizzard, which I have smelt cooking in my Northfield kitchen many times before but NEVER had the courage to taste. Liver I could live without, the gizzard was actually very delicious, it reminded me a lot of the heart.

After that we hung out in the hammocks, on the porch, for our afternoon naps and it rained and rained. It was so peaceful and wonderful. We spent the afternoon joking around, my parents, my sister, and I. I wish I could better explain how perfect that was, but it is impossible to put my feeling of tranquility into words. I also wish I could explain the jokes to you, but some only make sense in portuguese, and the others relate to traits of people in our family down here, both of which I don't think you would find the least bit funny, it is kind of a "you had to be there" kind of thing. Everyone was happy, stressless, and it was as if the world was at peace.

We went to my uncle's farm, down the road, to drop off our mare for breeding. My mom wanted to stand there and see if the job was going to get done, but the mare was playing hard-to-get. We soon left there and went back to our farm, where we packed up our stuff, and we began our drive back home as the sun was setting. It was beautiful and peaceful, and my dad was playing his country music CD, so the sounds of Alan Jackson and Keith Urban filled my ears.

We got home and I spent a little time talking to some people on skype, and we all drank tereré together. Then we put in a movie and my mom brought out the pizza. The pizza was rotten (the cheese on it or something), so she made up the leftover chicken and mixed it with rice, and we ate that for dinner. I showed my family a video of me when I was a toddler, and we watched the rest of the movie.

It was nothing exciting, but it was perfect. I remember in my Rotary interview being asked the question, "If you had been invited by your friend to go the beach with their family and you really wanted to go, but that weekend was your host-mom's 50th birthday and there was a huge party...what would you choose?". I said that I would probably choose my mom's birthday party, because family plays the biggest role for me. As I was going to the farm I realized that I had chosen family over friends, and in the beginning although I wasn't overly thrilled, I was looking forward to spending time with them. In the end, it was one of my best days in Brasil so far. I get a little sad from time to time thinking about leaving my family for my next. They are truly irreplaceable, and without them I think my time in Brasil wouldn't be as wonderful. I have absolutely no doubt that I'll shed a few tears, I start to tear up just thinking about leaving. However, I also have no doubt that they will be a part of the rest of my life.

I think my sister and I are going to drink tereré now, and then we are going to sit around and chat. We have been sharing my room (sometimes my bed, sometimes she brings in a mattress), for the last week. I missed sharing my room with my sister, it is nice to have that again!

Until Next Time!
Até Mais!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Life as of Late

I have been a very busy person over the last month and a half. I spent all of January traveling the Northeast Coast of Brasil on two buses with 100 other exchange students. It was absolutely amazing! We started in Brasilia, which was a 25 hour bus ride away from my city. Then we made our way over to Maceió, our first city on the ocean. We went to Lençois in between, which was a wonderful place to hike and explore. From Maceió we made our way up the coast, spending 4 days in Fortaleza. After Fortaleza we begin our descent hitting cities such as Recife, Natal, Porto Seguro, Porta das Galinhas, until we arrived in Rio de Janeiro. I ended my journey crying, but in a good way. I had made amazing friends over the month from all over the world and all over Brasil.

I got back home and the first night went to a graduation party with my parents. The next day my brother arrived from the city where he was moving to, to go to college. He passed in a university for Civil Engineering. After about a week (I started school again), my sister and her boyfriend came up from the same city where my brother was moving (they live there [Campo Grande]), and they announced their engagement. They are getting married in July of this year, they've been dating for 7 years. Then as they were all going to Campo Grande (even my mom to help my brother set everything up) they invited me to come. Literally they invited me about 9:00 that day, they were leaving at 2. Of course I accepted.

We spent the week there together and visiting family. My brother was moving there and my sister (whom got offered a great job in my city) was moving back with us. It was emotional saying goodbye. Within my first 6 months in Brasil (apart from January traveling) I have spent maybe 1 week away from my brother. I would consider him my best friend, we do everything together, and I feel like I've known him forever. It was hard saying goodbye, because the next time he comes back to visit, I won't be in their house anymore. We used to spend all of our free time visiting about things, joking around, drinking tereré at 2:00 in the morning, watching movies, going to the gym, or hanging out with our friends together. We were even in the same class in school. Brasil isn't/won't be the same without him, but I'll adjust.

We went to Campo Grande by bus, we came back by car with my uncle driving. Travel was long because there was a lot of traffic, but towards night it thinned out. The only problem was that the roads in every state except mine, are wonderful. My state's roads are full of potholes and rough patches, especially the part between my town and the capital (the last 3 hours). Our time changed back from the summer hour, so it got dark very early. We ended up hitting a couple pot holes and got a flat tire in the middle of nowhere. My uncle ended up changing it and we went slowly the rest of the way to not hit more pot holes and end up stranded. We also had some problem with bad connection with the battery of the car and it would throw sparks whenever we hit potholes, so we had to fix that. We should have arrived at 6:00 that night, we got in at 11:00, but we got there safe.

I went back to school today which was normal.

My english is worsening everyday, but my family considers me fluent in Portuguese, which is a good thing. I'm making new friends everyday and I switch families soon. My new family has a stay at home artist mom, two sons (one was an exchange student to Germany and they both are taking classes in a town far away), and my new dad who owns the largest chicken butchering company in the area (ironic, né?). I'm excited to experience this new family but I'm devastated to leave my family, the family that welcomed me into their home for the last 6 1/2 months. I also find it weird to call someone else "mãe" or "pai". You may be thinking, but hey Aletha you already had your real mom and dad and you had no problem calling someone else mom and dad for 6 1/2 months, what's the difference now? Well my dear readers, the difference is that I have one mom and dad, one madre and padre (costa rica), and one mãe and pai, I'm sure I'll get used to it, but in the beginning it'll be strange to have another mãe and pai, especially to have two in the same city. I feel like I'm going to be cheating on my first family.

Through all of this I've realized that I'll be home, at the latest, in 5 months. I don't want to go home, not now anyways. I'm nowhere near emotionally ready to leave. I mean don't get me wrong I can't wait to see my family again and eat home cooked meals. I can't wait to start working again and to study things I can completely comprehend. However, I can't imagine my world without Brasil. I'm having a really hard time thinking about having to go back, and of course I will, but I can promise you that I'll be visiting Brasil every time I get a chance.

Até mais.
Aletha Duchene

Thursday, January 6, 2011


Happy 2011 Everyone!

I don't have much time to blog you all about my New Year's experience. As we are speaking I am trying to put together my bag to leave on my one month trip to explore Brasil's northeast coast! I will be riding on buses with about 100 other exchange students for the month! I'll meet up with Mia who is also from Northfield, Killian and Ruby who are from MN, and Alejandro and Alejandra (From my district) are going as well!! It should be a fabulous experience and I can't wait for it to start!

As for New Year's we celebrated by having the same people we celebrated Christmas with over at our house. We watched the New Year's eve show, although I refuse to believe it's New Years without Dick Clark's rocking eve and the ball drop. Then we all went outside and waited until it was January 1st. At midnight fireworks went off from all around us, we live in the center of town and there were shows at just about every edge of town. It was amazing! Then my brother and sister and I got ready and we went out for the night to a New Year's club event. It was a good time with good music and lots of people, some I hadn't seen in a very long time!

Other than that I've been getting ready for my trip, which I'm going to finish doing. If you are interested in what I'm up to, follow me on Twitter @leetha2010 . That'll be easiest for me to update, and quickest as well! Talk to you later!