Ao Fechar

I’ve been home for exactly two weeks (as of this morning at 11:00 AM), which should be ample time for some re-adjustment. But I haven’t unpacked a thing yet, and every morning I wake up more surprised to be in Seattle than I would be if I were to awaken in Rio again with the Brazilian sun shining onto my face through the window.

I know that Seattle is home, but I can’t rightfully say that anymore, because home is a place where you know you belong and that is not how I feel here. When I squeeze my eyes shut, take a deep breath and let myself go, I take myself back to Rio—the warm sea breeze caresses my face, and the freedom and excitement of being so young and so alive in the most vibrant city in the world courses through me. That is where I feel at peace, in the only place I’ve ever been that has both matched my energy and simultaneously relaxed me in a way I never thought possible.

Stress emanates from things that we cannot control—we worry about traffic, whether someone we love loves us back, what the future will bring. But in Brazil we live so intensely in the present that those stresses melt away. The longer the bus ride, the more time we have to chat with the charming woman next to us. The way you feel your heartbeat jolt through your body when you lock eyes after a kiss is all you need to know. And what about the future? It’s nothing more than the arrival of what will soon become the present, which all-too-quickly becomes the past. Brazil deepened my excitement to seize the present, and in doing so, furthered my capacity to cherish the past because I so fully enjoying living every moment of it.

This is where “saudade” comes in, the word Brazilians use to explain missing things or people, but in a much more powerful way. The best written definition I’ve found is that saudade is “a deep emotional state of profound nostalgic longing…it brings happy and sad together, sadness for missing, but happiness for having experienced the feeling”. In Portuguese, it is common to say that saudade bateu”, which comes from the verb bater, meaning “to hit”. And it really does. When I think about the fact that just two weeks ago I was at a street party under the Cristo Redentor, surrounded by Brazilian friends celebrating our most recent world cup win, saudade hits me so hard it practically knocks me flat.

I did a lot in Rio. I tore through my bucket list and more. I hardly slept and went to class even less often than I expected I would. I spent at least 3 days a week on the beach. I kissed an unacceptable amount of Brazilians (if doing such a thing exists). I took bus trips to tiny interior cities and saw Brazil “de verdade”, the way the Brazilians see it, not the media-strewn version that most tourists and outsiders know. I learned to love beer and that drinking before noon doesn´t mean you have a problem, it means you´re killing it. I experienced real “machismo” and both loved it and hated it at the same time. I got fluent in Portuguese and learned to express myself in a way I never knew I could. I made a best friend that I know I will keep for life. Fiquei perdidamente apaixonada. I became my host mother´s “American daughter”. I got the best tan I´ll probably ever have and used it to mask my transformation from fit to a little squishy from eating too much açaí and pão de queijo. I lived like the Brazilian 1% alongside some of the most stifling poverty I´ve ever seen. I gained a new appreciation for how lucky I am to be an American, as well as a blazing envy for those who are lucky enough to live in the city I fell in love with. I gained years’ worth of wisdom in just six months. I learned to take each day as it comes, to ficar à vontade. Tirei onda. Virei Brasileira.

I am sad that time flew by so fast, but I know that I took full advantage of every second of my time in Rio de Janeiro, and could not have enjoyed it more in any way, shape, or form. The memories I formed there are so strong, I know they will stick with me forever. This experienced has truly changed me—and absolutely for the better.

Beijos, Rio, vai ter sempre um lugar especial no meu coração. Já to de volta. 

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The Good, Better, and Too Honest—5 Month Check-in

To those at home, it probably seems like I dropped off the face of the Earth; in a way I have. I’ve spent the last two months doing all I can to step away from the world I left behind and immerse myself as deeply possible in Brazil. My partner in crime, Alana, and I have routinely joked around that after the 3 month mark here, we transitioned from simple immersion to SUBMERSION.

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Whereas in the beginning, we routinely struck out on our own and tried to meet people along the way, no matter what we’re doing these days, it seems we have at least one or two Brazilian amigos involved, which makes me happier than I can put into words. One of my biggest goals for study-abroad was to make friends from the country where I’m studying (rather than sticking with the gringo pack), and it’s exhilarating to watch goals become reality in front of my eyes, as a result of my own efforts. Aside from their obvious help learning Portuguese, I adore the warm, welcoming spirit of our friends, and I wish I could make a special shout out to each one of them and the huge positive impact they’ve had on my experience here!

But enough with the cheesy stuff. Below, a few (aka A LOT OF) key moments that have marked my transition from immersion to submersion—enjoy!

  1. Brazilian Time—Brazilians are pretty notorious for having “relaxed” views of time and showing up late to most hangouts, meetings, etc. It hit me that I had culturally adapted when my friend and I agreed to meet up at 1pm to go see a movie, and when 12:45 rolled around I was still in bed, un-showered, half an hour from where I was supposed to meet her. “You´re too Brazilian for me now, Kari,” she joked through a text message, unknowing that she had put a massive grin on my face.
  2. Brazilian Communication—Whatsapp is God here (sorry if that’s blasphemous, but really). The first thing every Brazilian asks when trying to get in contact with you is “do you have whatsapp?” and since downloading it, I’ve felt exponentially more connected to my Brazilian friends. My gringa friends and I love sending Whatsapp voice messages in Portuguese to our friends from school—to be honest, I’m not sure who gets more of a kick out of it, them or us.  
  3. Brazilian Connections—there are dozens of vendors that sell various goods on the beaches in Copacabana and Ipanema. One who I’ve previously mentioned is named Marçal-he sells açai. While most vendors are respectful, some, especially those who make wire jewelry, can be rather aggressive—like, they make you a ring you didn´t ask for then try to make you pay for it. I was arguing with a vendor who had done the following to me one day on the beach when Marçal saw me being harassed and came to my rescue, telling the other vendor to leave me alone, that I was a friend of his. I loved seeing how my initially-joking relationship with Marçal turned into a real friendship. The next time I was on the beach, he took a break from selling, sat down with my friend and I, and split and açai with us while we all chatted.  
  4. Brazilian Sass—very long story short, one day I found out that a boy I had been “seeing” for a few months, who had taught me a substantial amount of Portuguese, happened to also be “seeing” someone else at the same time. It was both liberating and exhilarating using the majority of Portuguese he’d taught me to tell him to “vaza” (more or less F* off, in Portuguese). I felt like—student turned master. In general I´ve gotten more forward here; when cab drivers try to give me the run-around I don´t hesitate to call them out and demand a lower price, and when vendors try to rip me off for simply being a “gringa”, I have no problem telling them “eu moro aqui” (I live here), after which they usually lighten up on me.
  5. Brazilian “Jeitinho”—“jeitinho” more or less translates directly to “little way”, and Brazilians use it to describe the creative or lucky ways that they make things happen. For example, the world cup trophy was on tour in Rio and Alana and I went to go see it. The line was 3 hours long; although there was a shorter line for those with special tickets, we had nothing. Out of curiosity, I sparked up conversation with an older guy who was in the short line, asking him how he ended up there. While he initially seemed grumpy, after our chat he came and found Alana and I, told us he had “preferential entrance” (because he was a senior citizen), and took us inside the exhibit as his guests!
  6. Brazilian Sports—one thing I never wrote about in my other blog post was the time I got to play in a “pelada”, or pick-up soccer game! It was honestly one of my favorite nights in Rio—after playing soccer my entire life, getting to mingle with Brazilians in the “país de futebol” was a dream come true.  I´ve always made friends through sports, and this was no different. I still see people from the pelada around Copacabana, where I live, and they wave and introduce me to their friends as the girl who “joga pra caramba” which more or less means they´re impressed (it´s not very normal for girls to play soccer here). My friends and I also love playing “altinha” (juggling) on the beach, which is another way we´ve met a ton of people. Also, Alana and I are joining the volleyball team associated with PUC-Law students! Next month we´re trying to play in the “Juridic Games”, an inter-university tournament.
  7. Brazilian Spontaneity—as someone who is very type A in the U.S. and likes to have a plan for everything, living in Brazil has been a huge adjustment for me; I can´t say I´m complaining though! Whereas I used to ask people on Wednesday what their plans for Saturday were, I now wait until 10PM the night of to decide where I want to go. Planning doesn´t work here, because other fun options always arise, so there´s no point in organizing beforehand. Spontaneity here reaches beyond planning the night of, and extends to deciding “na hora” what your next move will be. Last Thursday, what started as casual drinks at bar with a couple friends, ended up with me not coming home until 9AM the next day. American Kari would have been like, “1AM, time to go”; Brazilian Kari was like, “YES we should ABSOLUTELY go to another bar!”  My host mom always gets a kick out of it when I slip in the door at Friday morning and make a quick turnaround for class.
  8. Brazilian Socializin´—right along the lines of spontaneity and time our manner of just “hanging out” has changed quite a bit. Last week Alana and I went to a “social” (hangout) at the house (and by house I mean MANSION aka he has a soccer field, pool, and guest house that he uses as a dance club in his back yard) of one of our friends from school. We showed up at 11 and were the first ones there…the rest of the crew rolled in around 1AM. When we left at 5AM, everyone gave us a hard time for going home “early”. I´ve been sick on and off for the past 2 months here because I rarely clock enough sleep on the weekends! Another keystone Brazilian experience we had was our first “choppada”—a university organized party that´s the closest thing Brazilians have to raging frat parties. The three “gringas” there (my two friends and I), were quite a hit, and the kids we know from school got quite a kick out of watching us take shots and dance with the boys from our class (oh, was that just me?? oops).
  9. Brazilian Vacationing—one of the coolest things I´ve done here was take a trip to Ilha Grande (an island a couple hours south of Rio) for a Brazilian friend´s birthday party. As a culmination of everything Brazil, plans weren´t finalized until midnight the night before we left. We spent 4 days camping there, doing nothing but laying around on the beach, surfing, and forgetting that the real world existed. Upon our return, we realized there were no busses that could take us home that day, so we impromptu paid a guy with a massive van to drive us back to Rio (now you see that jeitinho and spontaneity coming into play, right?).
  10. Brazilian Feels—had to put this one out there. Another goal I had for myself in Brazil was to open up and let myself feel the feels. Keeping your feelings on reserve means you won´t get hurt, but it´s much harder to do that in a country where everyone is so passionate. Although it´s usually BS, Brazilians have no problem telling you “to apaixonado por você” within 10 minutes of meeting you; a friend we met during Carnaval put it perfectly when he told us candidly “I fall in love every minute here!”. Although I haven´t taken it (quiittee) this far, I´ve been inspired to get out of my own head and let my heart do more of the talking. From allowing myself to completely fall in love with Brazil, fully knowing that I´ll be a heartbroken mess when I leave, to letting myself get too wrapped up with people I may never see again after leaving, it´s refreshing, exhilarating, and terrifying all at the same time to let my emotions run this deep.
  11. Brazilian “Saudade”—while there is no direct translation for this word, it can be conceptualized as nostalgia, or, “a deep nostalgic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves. It often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing will never return”. I have TOO much preemptive “saudade” for my time in Brazil. With only one month left, each morning here is met with a pang of “saudade”, knowing that never again will I be in this blissful place and time, with the world at my doorstep, every day full of new adventures. I already miss the carefree, wide-eyed, adventurous and wild gringa that I am free to be here, taking on every day with the same zeal I had when I arrived. Every day is an opportunity to learn, and feel, and play. The simple things hit the hardest—like feeling the wind on my face as I ride a city bike along the beach, running off to a hideaway in Barra in the middle of the night, or listening to passionate soccer fans cursing at the refs at a soccer game in Maracanã—I know that one month from now these moments will cease to exist for me.

SO ANYWAY, I´m gonna sign off before I work myself up into a crying mess. Y’all probably won´t hear from me until this suntanned gringa touches down in the USA on June 29th! Até logo, gente ;)

The 3 Month Mark aka Gringa Emotionally Unloads

So many feels.

If I could describe my experience in Brazil in 3 words—which is actually impossible—these three would do a good job.

Whether it be the euphoria of diving under breaking waves on the beach, the wonder stricken awe I´m left with after seeing the view of the city from one of the highest peaks in Rio de Janeiro, or the preemptive “saudades” (rough translation: nostalgia) that hit me like a brick wall as each day comes to a close, Brazil has been nothing less than an emotional roller-coaster ride—although I must note it has consisted of 99.9% ups, and about .001% downs.

If Cariocas (the word used for people native to Rio de Janeiro) have taught me nothing else, it´s that it is a truly invaluable gift to let go of trivial concerns and live “a vontade”—doing as you please when the urge strikes, letting yourself be overtaken by the feelings of the moment you are in. It means skipping class on Friday to discover unexplored beaches, having no qualms about grabbing “gatos” (rough translation: hot boys) at blocos during Carnaval and kissing them on the mouth before saying hello, or taking a 7 hour bus ride to a tiny town in the countryside to watch a cheesy Brazilian artist play a live show. It means finishing off a two hour hike by climbing a rock wall nicknamed “the executioner” (carrasqueira, in portuguese) without a rope, just to see the view of the marvelous city below, passing hours on a street corner chatting with a friend that you happened to encounter on a run, and letting new acquaintances become good friends.

It is through this way of being that I have beyond scratched the surface of my emotional side—which culminated with me bursting into tears at our “halfway through” dinner last week—because when you live like this, you don´t stop to remind yourself that all good things must come to an end. There´s no way to describe my feelings of helplessness as I realized how swiftly time is passing by, and the fact that I am powerless to stop it. What unsettles me all the more is knowing that in a very short time I will be torn away from the city that I so quickly adopted as my home, not only by way of location, but with my heart as well.

While these first three months seem to have passed by in the blink of an eye, I have cherished every second of them. And while it frightens me to know that the next three will go just as fast, the Carioca in me is ready to wholly enjoy every second of them, without a lingering sense of hurry or panic (although  it will take some work to repress what´s left of the wide-eyed Gringa who touched down in Brazil in January ;)). 

P.S. if you´re wondering how I´m ACTUALLY doing, here´s a list of things:

  • I can actually SPEAK Portuguese now. It´s gotten to the point where I have a hard time expressing myself in English because i constantly have the urge to drop in Portuguese phrases that better fit the situation. 
  • Carnaval was the most wonderful thing I´ve ever experienced. Imagine block parties of 20,000 people dressed in costumes not tailored to any theme, consuming frozen vodka popsicles while samba-ing down the street. And the samba parades in the Sambodromo took my breath away. 
  • I´ve left Rio 3 times, once to go to São Paulo, and two other times to go to small cities in the state of Minas Gerais—save yourself the time and the trouble if you´re considering going anywhere but Rio, because nothing has come close to the natural beauty and the warmth of the people in this city. 
  • I´m still as beach-obsessed as on day one. I take my swimsuit to school in my backpack and nearly break into a run when I get off the bus on my way to the beach. Sadly—my “summer” tan from January and February is slowly fading. 
  • School more-or-less does not exist. Not only I just have class Tue-Thurs-Fri, but our academic calendar is chalk-full of vacations, and I can´t remember the last time I went to a full week of school. Prime example: I´m off from the 15-24th of April, after which I have one day of class, followed by another entire week off. 

Em fim (rough translation: to wrap it all up), I am loving every second of being here. Waking up and speaking Portuguese every day is exhilarating, and there is no place I would rather spend my days than lounging on the beach in Ipanema listening to the waves crash onto the shore and chatting with my favorite beach vendors, like the Açai super-star Marçal, who carries a megaphone and wears nothing but a sunga. 

If you made it through this whole rant, parabéns (congratulations). Tchau! 

Of all the things I could have written about, I chose a story about my haircut…

I hesitate from blogging, not because I don’t have stories to share, but because I worry about rushing my writing and producing sub-par content. But alas, the abundance of my thoughts has outweighed my frivolous self-censorship. Enjoy!

Yesterday was a big day for me. As I’m sure every woman can relate, going to the hair salon is a nerve-wracking experience. You can only imagine the magnification of my anxiety as I entered a Brazilian salon, in desperate need of a cut and color, knowing full well that the hair dressers there (“cabeleileiros”) most likely didn’t speak much English, if any at all. After accidentally asking for moons (“luas”) in my hair instead of highlights (“luzes”), I received a round of laughter from the receptionists and um grande abraço (big hug) from the cabeleileiro who met me at the door. I was put at ease his kind disposition and the free cappuccino he brought me, so we got to work. 

I decided to take a leap of faith and color over the last remaining brown pieces of my hair, which left me completely blonde (photo below). When my hairdresser Eric had put about a third of my hair in foils, he could see I was getting nervous again—unlike the treatment I’ve received in the U.S., where hairdressers hold out and refuse to reveal their final product until the end of the process, Eric led me back to the sink, rinsed the portion he had already foiled, quickly blow dried it, and gave me a sneak peak. “Coisa bonita,” he said through a warm smile. I agreed. After offering me his smartphone and putting on a playlist of his favorite Brazilian music, he got back to work and finished the job.  

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Although going places alone in a city where next-to-nobody speaks my language can be intimidating, I love the challenge! Every interaction—whether finding the correct bus to a friend’s house, or navigating through a haircut—is so rewarding. During my appointment, which took almost two hours, I was consistently chatting with Eric, and I felt myself improving and becoming more comfortable throughout the entire interaction. While I love spending time with the other Americans who study at PUC-Rio with me, it’s liberating to go it alone; it’s also great Portuguese practice!

Brazil Bucket List

I know, I know, I’m late to the game with my first blog post from Rio, I can attribute that to nothing other than the fact that I’ve been having the time of my life here and haven’t felt inclined to sit down at a computer yet. 

All I can say about these first week and a half is that Brazil is everything I was hoping for and more. The culture is vibrant and full of diversity, the beaches are breathtaking, as are the views from the various attractions we’ve made it to, the people are welcoming, and my Portuguese skills (especially speaking) are rapidly improving. It’s only been 10 days and I’m already feeling anxious about the fact that I have to leave in six months. To ease that anxiety and make sure I make the most of my time here, I made a bucket list of the things I want to do while I’m abroad.

Here goes nothing: 

  1. Attain fluency in Portuguese
  2. Visit the Tijuca Forest
  3. Walk the the Botanical Garden near my university’s campus
  4. Go to a live music show
  5. Dance the samba 
  6. Go camping somewhere for a weekend (maybe Ilha Grande)
  7. Attend a futebol game for one of the clubs in Rio
  8. Go out to well-known nightlife hot-spot called Lapa
  9. Play futebol on the beach
  10. Go up to Sugar Loaf (Pão de Açúcar)
  11. Visit Christ the Redeemer (O Cristo Redentor)
  12. Partake in the Carnaval festivities (including going to the enormous block parties and hopefully getting tickets to sit in the Sambodromo, where the parade takes place)
  13. Go the to Amazon Rainforest
  14. Visit São Paulo
  15. Spend a day seeing the museums in the city
  16. Skinny dip
  17. Attend a World Cup game (and watch the others on the big screen at the beach)
  18. Drink a caipirinha (made of sugar-cane rum called cachaça, lime, sugar, and ice, for those of you who are unfamiliar)
  19. Eat a variety of typical Brazilian dishes
  20. Climb Pedra da Gávea
  21. Hike up Dois Irmãos
  22. Rock a Brazilian bikini on the beach
  23. Go to the weekend market in Copacabana or Ipanema
  24. Explore Centro (downtown Rio de Janeiro)
  25. Learn more about the favelas
  26. Get to know the city better and memorize the names of the streets in my neighborhood
  27. Kiss a Brazilian
  28. Go hangliding
  29. Try kite-surfing
  30. Learn the names of the fruits at the fantastic juice stands here
  31. Make Brazilian friends
  32. Find an internship or do an extra-curricular activity 
  33. Stay out until the sun comes up
  34. See the sun rise
  35. Go an entire day without speaking a word of English
  36. Go on a run around Lagoa de Freitas
  37. Rent a swan-shaped peddle-boat on the lake
  38. Watch the sun set from Arpoador 
  39. Learn to cook a great Brazilian dish
  40. Take part in the Festa Junina 
  41. and last but not least, GET GOOD GRADES…I mean, I am here for school…..

And on that note, I’m off to start on my first real homework assignment. Já tenho saudades da praia Ipanema (already missing Ipanema beach #brazilprobs)

So this is what I missed last night….

A Dream Come True

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At the end of the 2010 World Cup, of which I watched almost every game from my living room, I remember watching the broadcast announcing that next World Cup would be held in Brazil; that’s where the dream all started.

I’m going there, I told my mom. Mark my words, I repeated, I’ll be there

My dream grew during my freshman year political science class, in which my professor proclaimed the importance of the growing BRIC economies—my interest in the country of Brasil as more than just a World Cup destination was sparked. 

Then, as a sophomore at Vanderbilt, I signed up for Portuguese classes and started pestering the global education office to add a program in Rio de Janeiro, “A Cidade Maravilhosa” (The Marvelous City). After nearly a year of back-and-forth emails, meetings, proposals, and much waiting, this November, Vanderbilt finally gave me the go-ahead. Just like that, my dream had materialized into a reality. 

Starting January 3rd, I’ll be living in a homestay just minutes from Copacabana Beach (in the picture above), studying at the Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro, better known as PUC-Rio, and taking all of my classes in Portuguese. 

Words cannot express how excited I am about this opportunity; I could not be more thankful for the chance to study abroad in the city I’ve been dreaming of for years. 

Até logo, América!

The BRIC Economies: Is the Growth Over?

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Is the fastest period of emerging-market growth behind us?

In this debate, Ruchir Sharma, head of Emerging Markets at Morgan Stanley, and Kishore Mahbubani of the National University of Singapore discuss whether or not the BRIC economies’—Brazil, Russia, India, and China—period of rapid market growth is coming to a halt. 


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On love…

Love is easy on a warm summer evening, when the busy world melts away and the soft breeze kisses upturned faces as it whispers through the trees. Hot breath passes through parted lips, and skin dampened with sheen of cool sweat welcomes the brush of the grass against a bare thigh.

Summer love is a free-flowing late night, sauntering home bathed in an easy, effervescent glow, and an early morning when the ground beneath bare feet is cool and damp and sends shivers up an eager spine.

[No, I’m not in love. This was actually inspired by a late night I spent playing soccer, hah.]

It’s easy to love a sport. A sport can be your better half and can push you to be a better person. Loving a sport makes you strong. The joy and fulfillment felt after a long night or even on instant of success on the field is incomparable to any sensation in the world. I’m thankful every day that I fell in love with soccer.

Mia Hamm once said, “Somewhere behind the athlete you’ve become and the hours of practices and coaches who have pushed you is a little girl who fell in love with the game and never looked back…play for her”.

The truth is, soccer has made me more than just the athlete that I am today; it has made me the woman I am today. Years of training and discipline have taught me not only to how to finish strong, no matter what the task, but also, to work diligently, and finish it well. Playing with people from different corners of globe has shown me that beneath our diverse backgrounds, our hearts all beat the same, and because of this, we can find a way to love one another. Soccer has taught me perseverance, to have the courage to say, “I may not have been able today, but I will try again tomorrow”; it’s given me the confidence and strength to accept my shortcomings with the mindset that every day is an opportunity to improve. Soccer has taught me what true joy feels like, and that it has nothing to do with how much money or material goods. I do remember the little girl who fell in love with the game, and every day I look in the mirror and see the woman she’s become. I do more than just play for this girl; I live for her. I live for the purity, unconditional love, and exhilarating fire instilled in me by the beautiful game.

" Every child deserves a champion, an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be. "

Rita Pierson, TED Talk, “Every Kid Needs a Champion”

This talk reiterates the well-known fact that positive adult influences are instrumental to making young people and young children believe in themselves. As young-adults, we have the power to be a champion to the children around us, and by doing so, change their lives. It is important to truly invest in other people; it makes them feel like they’re worth something, which gives them the confidence to chase their dreams and be the best they can be.

Full talk: