Friday, September 17, 2010

International Peace and Cooperation...According to Rotary

Many political scientists have made the claim that "international peace and cooperation" (or maybe it is peace and security...but, for my purposes here we will modify it to cooperation) is the endgame of global politics, when analyzed through both Realist and Liberal lenses alike. In many ways, Rotary International has come closer to acheiving this goal than even the United Nations. While the United Nations remains a tangled web of old alliances and power plays between members of its Security Council, Rotary has bypassed old politics and created an organization truely based on international cooperation, and definitely a bit of Idealism.

This past week I had the opportunity to experience this cooperation in action. I traveled to Belo Horizonte last Saturday for my first District 4520 meeting. Throughout that day I met students from Australia, France, Taiwan, Denmark, Hungary, Germany, Mexico, Norway, and others from the United States. Although some of us were separated by the rather large and imposing barrier of language, we were united under a similar purpose--to live in and learn about Brazil and eachother. The thing about Rotary is that not only are you sent to learn about your host country, but you are given the opportunity to learn about many other countries as well. However, this puts a bit of pressure on you--If another exchange student is going to learn about your country based on how well you represent it, what do you do?

This week taught me the importance and responsibility that comes with being such an ambassador. The first and foremost thing to remember is that there is always someone watching--whether it be a Brazilian, another exchange student, or Rotary. And Rotary is always watching. This is not a bad thing, because when you understand that your actions are constantly being analyized you learn to control them. Of course, it is impossible not to mistep along the way, but as long as you learn from these mistakes, then you are doing everything you can. This is a year about changing. It is a year about making mistakes and learning from them--with everything from the language, to the public transportation system, to more sensitive topics. It is all about choices. Will you choose to learn? Will you choose to change? If your answer is yes, then Rotary is your friend and your tool to success. If your answer is no, then you better start packing now.

I have made the decision to learn and to change, which I think is a pretty good decision. I have so much yet that I want to see, to do, and to learn. I look forward to getting to know the other exchange students and am excited by the relationships we have already begun. If one thing is for certain, we are all strong individuals. Never underestimate the power of united exchange students. Today we may just be a bunch of teenagers from around the world, but tomorrow? Who knows? Tomorrow we may be policy makers, doctors, ambassadors, and presidents. If we can remember the lessons from this year, then we might just be able to get closer to acheiving the endgame--true international peace and cooperation. How cool is that?

Tchau e beijos.

(pictured below, Belo Horizonte, view from my apartment)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Sete Lagoas, and a Day in the Life of Me!

Here is a quick rundown of my city, Sete Lagoas:

-Located in the state of Minas Gerais, 70 km north of the capital city of nearly 3 million people, Belo Horizonte (about an hour drive).

-Sete Lagoas has around 250,000 people, which its inhabitants consider to be small. Some people I have met call it a farm. I beg to differ.

-In a recent issue of Veja, the Brazilian version of Newsweek magazine, Sete Lagoas was named one of the "20 metropoles brasileiras do futuro," or one of the future metropolitan areas of Brazil. Called "O balneario industrial," (the industrial bath) Sete Lagoas has an annual economic growth rate of 13%--one of the highest in Brazil. The city is a big producer of automobiles (or
parts of), milk products, beer, and even some clothing.

-Speaking of dairy products, cheese is very popular. Apparently it's a regional thing. "Queijo, queijo, e mais queijo," says my host dad (translated as "cheese, cheese, and more cheese"). The favorite is "Pao de queijo", which are these little bread rolls with a hint of cheese. At first I hated them, but they have started to grow on me! The other dairy product that I was surprised to find I really enjoy is fermented milk. It's sweet and apparently good for the digestive system.

-There are so many bars in this city it is ridiculous. There are anywhere between one and five on any given street. Most tend to be small little buildings on the corners with a couple of plastic tables and chairs, however, even these small ones are full by about 8 pm.

[Pictured on the left: View of Sete Lagoas from my bathroom window, and below, "Centro", the center of the city]

Now, a day in the life of me:

On a typical weekday I wake up at about 6:20 am (my host dad knocks on my door) and am dressed and eating breakfast by 6:50. My breakfast is basically the same every day--chocolate milk, a little cafe com leite (coffee with milk), and a delicious cheese and ham panini sandwich called a "misto." My host dad, sister Isabela and I are in the care by a little past 7 and drive about eight minutes to school, which is located in the central district of the city. My school is called "Regina Pacis" and is one, if not the, best school in the city [pictured below]. My host dad drops us off and we go to our classrooms after saying "bom dia" to the door guards.

We are usually late for class (I don't actually know the exact time class is supposed to start...)
and when I get in the teacher has usually started teaching. But, this is Brazil, so it's not a big deal. No tardies here! Each class is an hour and a half long and varies day to day. Today, for example, I had math first, but yesterday it was biology. We get a ten minute break after the first class and people usually hang out in the classroom looking at magazines or listening to music. Our second class starts (today it was half philosophy and half Portuguese), and at the end of that,
around 10:20, we get a longer break. A group of us go out to the open gym area and sit in the sun and talk. The school sells food at this time too, so we all have a snack. (Note: food is incredibly cheap here! It's great.) After break it's our last class. Today it as biology again. By the end of the day everyone starts getting more and more loud. The last half an hour of class today was ridiculous. Everyone was just yelling across the classroom, and the teacher kept on lecturing, occasionally joining in on the yelling. I played games on my iPod. It was a little too much for me to handle.

At noon class is over. My sister and I walk across the street to my host dad's business, Felt (kind of like the Home Depot of Sete Lagoas) [picture on the left]. We hang out for a couple of minutes, then he comes down from his office and we drive home for lunch.

Lunch is the largest meal of the day. We have a cook (which is normal for most Brazilian households) and the meal is always prepared by the time we arrive. The entire family eats together. The meal consists of these three things ever single day--rice, beans, and some kind of meat. There is always other supplemental foods of course, but those three items are the same. Every. Single. Day. Surprisingly, I have yet to get sick of it!

After lunch, if I don't have class in the afternoon (which I do on Tuesday and Wednesday that I occasionally go to), I will take a nap, read, watch a movie, or go on the computer. My host parents have to go back to work between 1 and 2, and they come home around 6 in the evening.

Evenings are pretty laid back. Sometimes we will have a larger meal, or other times it will just be some bread and ham and cheese. I try to get to bed around 10 (which is ridiculously early for Brazil).

Weekends are more exciting! Last weekend we went to Belo Horizonte [pictured below], and parties and Churrascos are always popular as well.

Tchau e beijos de Sete Lagoas :)