Bem-vindo ao Brasil

Two weeks have gone by since I embarked on this adventure and it feels like forever. The first week was all about getting to know the incredible people who have created this path for students around the world and mentally preparing to overcome the inevitable challenges we will have to face during our bridge year. For this 'Pre-Departure Training' all the Fellows had to get to the San Francisco International airport to meet with some of the program's coordinators who then took us to Stanford University, where we were assigned a room and a roommate. The week was full of different activities and we spent time getting to know each other, playing music, sports, swimming in elegant fountains, and reflecting on many different topics. Everything went by so quickly, and, before we knew it, we were on a plane to Houston. After landing in Houston we spent a few hours in the airport and around 9:30 pm we boarded the plane to São Paulo, Brasil. The 10-hour flight was made more bearable by the fact that we were all so tired and slept through most of it. Once arrived at São Paulo we picked up our bags and went through Customs and Border Protection, a process that we all thought would be lengthy but was actually very brief. With nearly 70 bags and 1h 30min left, we proceeded to check in our bags for our last flight, São Paulo-Florianópolis—Floripa for locals. We barely made it on time. The plane ride was nothing compared to what we had been through. I think I speak on behalf of the entire Brazil Cohort when I say that all the stress, preoccupation, and fatigue disappeared as we flew over our new home. The bright beaches and majestic vegetation caught our attention, and excitement took over our minds. "Wow, that's amazing" was the sentence we would all say at least once every 30 seconds. None of us had been to Brazil before, and when our feet touched the rough ground we felt its arms gently grasping our bodies. 
A private bus took us from the airport to 'Morro Das Pedras', a hotel 1 hour South of Downtown. The hotel was gorgeous. Our rooms were no more
than 100m (~320ft) from the beach, and the only sound one would hear early in the morning was that of tireless waves fighting one another to collect
as much sand and shells as possible. 
Here we met our in-country Team Leaders: Yuri, Marcella, Belkis, Chris, and Belisa. The first cultural notions we were told were that Brazilians take two showers a day on average and eat a lot of food. After two weeks in Brazil, I can't say much about the first one but I can confidently talk about food. The hotel provided 4 meals: breakfast, lunch, a coffee break, and dinner. The food was so abundant and delicious that the more I ate, the more I wanted to eat. Mango, papaya, guarana, pão de queijo, arroz, and the list could go on forever. Similarly to the first week, we shared our stories, played sports, lots of music, talked about Brazil, and went over the logistics for the next 7 months.
On Wednesday we had a large breakfast like every other day, had Portuguese class for 3 hours, and went to lunch. This time lunch was only for 45 minutes; we were going to go to the city. The Team leaders had prepared an activity for the afternoon. They divided us into groups and told us to complete a number of tasks. We were going to be on our own for the first time. We gathered and went to the closest bus stop to catch a bus that would take us to TIRIO, the bus terminal in the RIO neighborhood. The ticket is 3,90 Reais (about 1,25 US dollars). From TIRIO we hopped on another bus (free this time because bus connections at a terminal are free) which took us to TICEN (Terminal do Centro), the core of Florianópolis. Each group had received a packet with some money, two maps of the city, and other details about the tasks. Now we were on our own. We started walking around the city and everyone inevitably stared at us. I felt a bit uncomfortable, but, like my friend Isaak says, it is important to learn how to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. So, with one map and some broken Portuguese, we ventured into the veins of Florianópolis, the capital of Santa Catarina. We entered the public market, o Mercado Público, where people sell food, clothes, rings, refrigerators, and other souvenirs. One of our tasks was buying an Açaí, which we did. Açaí is a species of palm tree. The name comes from the Portuguese adaptation of the Tupian word "ïwaca'i", fruit that cries water. It is mostly native to Brazil and Trinidad and is "processed into pulp for supply to food product manufacturers or retailers, sold as frozen pulp, juice, or an ingredient in various products including grain alcohol, smoothies, foods, cosmetics and other supplements." (Wikipedia) The type we bought was served with banana slices and uncooked oatmeal. It is a very cold beverage and the taste is quite strong. It can be found everywhere in Brazil. 
Florianópolis is also full of street performers. Singers and musicians for the most part, but dancers aren't hard to find. The island is big but there aren't too many people, about 600,000 inhabitants. Walking around Downtown can easily feel overwhelming because everything is so close. Something I noticed in Florianópolis is that every building is a different color. Ranging from the lightest white to the darkest black, the city looks pleasantly chaotic with all its unique shades. In a way, it represents the racial makeup of the country. 
After two hours of walking around and trying to convince someone to teach us samba in public, we arrived at our meeting spot, where we all gathered
and took a bus, a private one this time, to get back to the hotel. 
Thursday and Friday went by even more quickly than the rest of the week, and on 
Friday afternoon around 6 pm we began our 'Closing Ceremony', thinking about where we had been and where we will be. After hearing some instructions from Yuri, the program coordinator here in Brazil and also one of the nicest people I have ever met, we walked to the beach and took 30 minutes to just process everything we had done so far. 
So here I was. Waiting for the cold waves to greet my bare feet. Feet that have walked relatively long distances but are so eager to explore much more.
The ocean was calm, so it seemed. The waves kept crashing into each other with an enthralling harmony. Their sound is so fierce and soothing.
Far on the horizon, nothing could be seen. Only water. The sky looked perplexed. Clouds covered the blue mantle like scattered dots on a Fabriano F4 paper, the kind I used when I was little. Occasionally, lone birds flew over me. They seemed lost, yet they never stopped. The more I got closer to the water, the more I could feel its presence. A handful of surfers graciously succeeded in playing with the waves, waves they have been friends with since they were children. 
During one of this week's activities, we formed a circle and every time we had something negative to say, something we would like to avoid, we would say it as loud as possible facing away from everyone else. I encourage everyone to do the same and to let it out, whatever 'it' may be. 
I am often told that I am overly dramatic because I delve too deep into my experiences. Well, I have to agree with that and to do so I am going to finish by quoting Dave Crowe, a phenomenal British street performer. At the end of every gig, he says the following words which summarize one of the messages I have been trying to get across, "Ladies and gentlemen, I have something to say, and it doesn't matter if you don't believe in what I say, it's always good to listen to another side of the story and reflect upon it, respectfully. I am here to tell you that you are free. Quintessentially, unequivocally free. Maybe not in your job, family, relationship, but in [your mind], you're free. [Your mind] is yours. Nobody can touch it. You can create realities and watch them unfold in front of you. You can do that. You do what you want when you want, how you want, with whom you want to do it. This life is your opportunity and the only one. It doesn't matter what you believe in, nobody knows what happens to us after we die. So this seems to be our only chance. When you wake up in the morning you ask yourself one question: am I free in the way that I want to be free. If the answer is 'no', then why not?"