An American View from Abroad

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White, middle class, American, Christian, immigrant.  Many people would not think I would classify myself as the final word on that list, immigrant.  But I do.  It is something I have been for nearly four years.

6:00 am local time, 3:00 am eastern time on November 9th, 2016.  The computer, perched on the bedside table from the night before, live streaming the election results. The glare of the screen and the murmurs of the reporters wake me up as a roll over in bed.  Trump Wins.  That’s all I see.  In a disarray, half awake, I rub my eyes to read the headline again.  Trump Wins.  I grab the computer off the table, scrambling to check other sources to see if the news is correct.  It is. Sadness, frustration, disbelief, shock, every possible emotion, and question comes racing to the forefront of my mind.  I try to go back to sleep, but I can’t.

What am I going to say?  How am I going to explain this to my students?  Will they still like me?  Will they understand?  Do I have to go to work today? As I try to settle my mind and think rationally, I am hit like a semi truck with embarrassment and shame, as the emotions jolt through every ounce of my being.

It’s just me.  Only me.  I have no fellow American coworkers, I have no American friends next door, I have no American students.  The embarrassment and shame, quickly turn into a weight of responsibility. I am the first and probably only American teacher they will ever have.  For some, the only American they have ever met.  How am I going to respond?  How am I going to represent my country?  What can my students learn from this?  What can I learn from this?  What is the lesson I want to teach them?  So many questions and thoughts ricochet through my brain as I try to pull myself together and prepare for the day ahead.

Tolerance, love, compassion, empathy, open-mindedness, perseverance, patience.  This is what I want to teach.  Something that for so many of us, we know is right and is easy to talk about or scribble down on a piece of paper, but at times so difficult to display.  But if we all believe in this, then where did we go so wrong?  Why is it all I hear about is intolerance, bigotry, lies, and hate?  What is the root of the cause?  How can we stop this madness that is not just happening in the US, but across the world?

There are many views and possible starting points, but for me, it starts with education.  The obvious answer is to teach our kids to be loving, compassionate, patient, tolerant members of society.  This is a must, but I believe there is a second level.  A deeper level. What is it that we are teaching our students and kids about other cultures?  Have they ever truly experienced, traveled to, or lived in another country or culture?  What do our history books teach?  Do we embrace or shun those who are different?  Our we ourselves engaging with people that look nothing like us, have a completely different background, are across the aisle, and whose beliefs and religious views we don’t share?  When was the last time we sat down and had an open and honest conversation with a person from a different culture and country?  For some, possibly just yesterday, but for others, it could be something they have never done before? Why is that?

Because it is easy to go through our day to day routine, completing the tasks at hand.  It is easy to listen to the thoughts and opinions of those around us and in the media.  At times not questioning if it is true or not, or taking the time to think about our own ideas and beliefs.  At first, we might think an idea or person is ludicrous or preposterous, but our mind slowly adjusts as we our bombarded with information and opinions.  “Huh maybe they are right” we start to tell ourselves and those around us as our views become narrower and narrower and narrower. How can our views be changed, challenged, or checked?  Through experiences.  But I think many of us, myself included, don’t look for new experiences.  We don’t look for new experiences and opportunities because it is hard, it takes work, and at times, it is uncomfortable.  Because we don’t look for experiences, we don’t engage with others unlike ourselves.  Because we don’t engage with others unlike ourselves, we aren’t curious or interested in the lives of those different than us.

So what did I tell my students yesterday in class?  I told them to stay curious.  To take advantage of new opportunities and experiences, as risky and uncomfortable as they may seem.  I told them to engage and converse with people they have nothing in common with, because after the conversation, you will be surprised how much you really do have in common.  I told them to travel. Because, for me, that is the best way to challenge your thinking and become more tolerant, patient, and loving.  I told them to never take their education for granted.  Finally, I told them to never give up no matter how hard or difficult the road ahead may look.  What is it that our students, kids, and the next generation will learn from us?  Because much like a house, our foundations are sturdy, strong, and difficult to move.  What are the foundations of the next generation going to be?

 

My Thoughts on the Crisis in Brazil

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versão em português

Frustration, sadness, confusion, along with every other feeling imaginable is what I have felt along with so many Brazilians as the country faces one of its most difficult and defining moments in history.  A country that once looked so promising as it rose to a global stage, bringing millions out of poverty and creating an economy that could compete with the giants of this world.  But in the past few years, everything has come crumbling down as the economy faces its biggest recession in decades and a political crisis which has rocked the country to its core. How have we gotten to this point?  Where did it all go so wrong? How could we have prevented this?  Who is to blame? These are just a few of the questions which have been the topic of many discussions and arguments over the past few weeks.To set the stage, a

To set the stage, a two-year ongoing investigation known as “Operation Car Wash” has unveiled the biggest corruption scandal of any democratic country in the world, involving the government run oil company Petrobras and numerous politicians and businessmen.  A corruption scandal which currently is estimated at two billion dollars involving over 100 members of congress, roughly 20 percent, along with many of the most influential and well-known businesses.  A president who faces impeachment for covering up budget gaps in an effort to help win her re-election in 2014 and a former president who faces corruption and bribery charges.  All while he awaits the decision of the Supreme Federal Court to see if he will be allowed to become the next chief of staff which many say is an attempt to shield him from prosecution by a lower federal courts.  All of this has brought millions across the country to the streets in protest.

How have we gotten to this point? Where did it all go so wrong? 2 BILLION DOLLARS?!?! I can’t help but think how that money could have been used to help the struggling schools, build new hospitals or to help improve the much needed infrastructure.  When asking Brazilians these questions many go back to the military dictatorship or the beginning of the country and the Portuguese influence to try to explain the corruption and greed.  It is something that has been part of the culture and openly talked about and accepted for decades.  The former president Lula once said, “In Brazil when a poor man steals he goes to jail, when a rich man steals he becomes a minister” which many people have been quoting in recent days as he faces an ongoing investigation for collaborating in illegal bribes with Petrobras which are thought to have benefited his campaign and political party. Or the former mayor of Sao Paulo city and governor of Sao Paulo, Paulo Maluf who won with the campaign slogan, “I steal, but I deliver.”

How can a country so openly turn a blind eye?  Or have no hope that these men will be prosecuted and convicted of their crimes?  I believe because it is something that has gone on for so long or as a good friend often says, “Brazilians have a short memory.”  I have seen how they are often tempted and forget about the struggles and corruption when a glimpse of light appears and quickly fades into the dark.  I pray they continue to find their hope in the small things, but I also pray they will never forget.  That they will never forget the pain, frustration, hopelessness, and confusion that many have felt recently.  I pray they will continue to ask the tough questions, to investigate, to protest and pry until their voices are heard and until a change is brought about.  Because if they don’t, my fear is of a country that will continue to accept corruption as part of its culture and something that is inevitable.  A country in which the politicians and businessmen will continue to steal and be driven by greed and money.

But it is so easy to point fingers.  Many people blame the president and the ruling Workers Party (PT) for the corruption and economic crisis, but I believe it is bigger than that.  The corruption does not take sides or show prejudice.  Numerous politicians of all political parties and levels have been connected to the corruption scandal along with businessmen of all levels and backgrounds, but I believe it goes even deeper.  I believe each and everyone one of us, Brazilians, Americans, world citizens need to take a hard look at our character and beliefs.  I believe corruption has crept its way into the crevices of our hearts, our everyday lives and has shown its face in a variety of ways.  From the employees who frequently go on strike because it is easier than sitting down and having an open and honest conversation with their boss about wages, to the employee who constantly makes excuses for why they haven’t finished their work, or the company who charges extra to skim a little off the top for themselves.  I pray that as a result of the current situation in Brazil we all take time to reflect and look deep inside of ourselves to discover what moves, what motivates, and how we can better love and spur one another on to work and good deeds.  How can we serve and love those around us without expecting anything in return?  How can we fight the good fight without backing down?  I believe these are the questions that need to be answered.  The questions that need to consume our thoughts and press towards the forefront of our minds.  If we do, we could experience a revolution and awakening in Brazil.  If we don’t, we could see a country with so much potential be stricken with greed and selfishness for years to come.  Only time will tell.

Meus Pensamentos sobre a Crise no Brasil

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English version

Frustração, tristeza e confusão, juntamente com todos os outros sentimentos que se possa imaginar é o que sinto assim como tantos brasileiros, enquanto o país enfrenta um dos momentos mais difíceis e definitivos de sua história. Um país que uma vez pareceu tão promissor, que subiu a um palco global, tirando milhões de pessoas da pobreza e criando uma economia que poderia competir com os gigantes do mundo. Mas, nos últimos anos, tudo tem retrocedido, a economia enfrenta a maior recessão das últimas décadas e há uma crise política que abala o país e seu núcleo. Como chegamos a esse ponto? Onde é que tudo deu errado? Como poderíamos ter evitado isso? Quem é o culpado? Estas são apenas algumas das perguntas que têm sido tema de muitos debates e discussões nas últimas semanas.

Para definir a situação, uma investigação em curso por dois anos, conhecida como “Operação Lava Jato” revelou o maior escândalo de corrupção de qualquer país democrático no mundo, envolvendo a companhia petrolífera do Estado, a Petrobrás, e muitos políticos e homens de negócios. Um escândalo de corrupção que, atualmente, é estimado em dois bilhões de dólares e envolve mais de 100 membros do Congresso (cerca de 20 por cento), juntamente com muitas das empresas mais influentes e conhecidas. Uma presidente que luta contra o impeachment por causa dos rombos no orçamento da campanha de sua reeleição em 2014, e um ex-presidente que enfrenta processos de corrupção e suborno. Tudo isso enquanto ele aguarda a decisão do Supremo Tribunal Federal para ver se terá permissão para tornar-se o próximo ministro da Casa Civil, o que muitos dizem ser uma tentativa de protegê-lo da acusação de tribunais inferiores. Isso tem levado milhões de pessoas a protestar nas ruas de todo o país.

Como chegamos a este ponto? Onde é que tudo deu errado? 2 bilhões de dólares?!?! Eu não posso deixar de pensar que esse dinheiro poderia ter sido usado para ajudar as escolas em que faltam materiais, professores, infraestrura ou até alimentação; suprir a falta de hospitais ou para ajudar a economia a crescer. Quando indago aos brasileiros estas perguntas muitos retomam à ditadura militar ou ao começo do país e a influência portuguesa para tentar explicar a corrupção e a ganância. É algo que tem sido parte da cultura e abertamente discutido por décadas. O ex-presidente Lula disse uma vez: “No Brasil, quando um homem pobre rouba, ele vai para a cadeia, quando um homem rico rouba ele se torna um ministro”, o que muitas pessoas têm citado nos últimos dias, porque ele enfrenta uma investigação por colaborar em subornos ilegais com a Petrobras, que se imagina terem sido usados ​​para beneficiar sua campanha e partido político. Outro caso interessante foi o do ex-prefeito da cidade de São Paulo e governador do estado de São Paulo, Paulo Maluf, que ganhou com o slogan da campanha, “Eu roubo, mas eu faço.”

Como pode um país tão aberto fechar os olhos? Ou não ter esperança de que esses homens serão julgados e condenados por seus crimes? Eu tenho, porque é algo que já se arrasta há tanto tempo, ou, como um bom amigo muitas vezes diz: “Os brasileiros têm uma memória curta.” Eu vi como eles são muitas vezes tentados e esquececem as lutas e a corrupção quando um vislumbre de luz aparece e rapidamente desaparece no escuro. Eu oro para que eles continuem a encontrar a sua esperança nas pequenas coisas, mas eu também oro para que eles nunca esqueçam: que eles nunca esqueçam a dor, a frustração, a desesperança e a confusão que muitos sentiram recentemente. Eu oro para que eles continuem a fazer as perguntas difíceis, para investigar, para protestar e erguer suas vozes até que sejam ouvidas e até que uma mudança seja provocada. Porque se não o fizerem, o meu medo é que esse país continue a aceitar a corrupção como parte de sua cultura e algo que é inevitável. Um país em que os políticos e empresários vão continuar a roubar e ser impulsionados pela ganância e dinheiro.

Mas é tão fácil apontar o dedo. Muitas pessoas culpam o presidente e o Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) pela corrupção e crise economica, mas eu acredito que é mais do que isso. A corrupção não toma partido ou mostra preconceito. Vários políticos de todos os partidos e níveis têm sido ligados ao escândalo de corrupção, juntamente com empresários de todos os níveis e origens, mas eu acredito que o problema vai ainda mais fundo. Eu acredito que todos e cada um de nós, brasileiros, americanos, cidadãos do mundo precisamos dar uma boa olhada para o nosso caráter e valores. Eu acredito que a corrupção penetrou em nosso coração e em nossa vida cotidiana, e tem mostrado sua face de várias maneiras. Dos empregados que frequentemente entram em greve porque é mais fácil do que ter uma conversa aberta e honesta com o seu chefe sobre salários, ao empregado que constantemente da desculpas por não ter terminado o seu trabalho, ou a empresa que cobra extra para lucrar mais. Eu oro para que, como resultado da situação atual no Brasil, todos nós tenhamos tempo para refletir e olhar profundamente para dentro de nós mesmos e descobrir o que nos motiva, e como podemos praticar o amor e estimular-nos ao trabalho e as boas ações. Como podemos servir e amar aqueles que nos rodeiam, sem esperar nada em troca? Como podemos combater, sem recuar? Eu acredito que estas são as perguntas que precisam ser respondidas. As perguntas que precisam consumir nossos pensamentos. Se o fizermos, podemos experimentar uma revolução e despertar o Brasil. Se não o fizermos, poderemos ver um país com tanto potencial ser atingido pela ganância e pelo egoísmo nos próximos anos. Só o tempo irá dizer.

 

People and Experiences

 

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“Are you crazy!?!” “Why would you leave the US to live in Brazil?” “Three years!” You have been living in Brazil for three years?” The words which are often uttered in a sense of shock and disbelief from the mouths of so many Brazilians as the country faces its worst economic and political crisis in decades.  The questions that at times bring about pride and a puffed out chest as I confidently and unapologetically answer yes and try to explain why.  The questions that at times bring about confusion, discomfort, and rejection as I shrink down, gazing at the floor, second guessing my purpose and impact in this world.

People and Experiences.  Plain and simple.  These are the things that have kept me in Brazil. It’s the 25 year old engineer rounding third and diving face first on the slip and slide to cross home plate.  It’s the high school student clearly articulating his thoughts on the political and economic crisis in Brazil using a high level of academic vocabulary in English. It’s the student who hands me a note on the last day of class which reads, “Thank you for being such an incredible teacher, for demonstrating a level of compassion that I haven’t seen before and thank you for being the reason I decided to come back for this last semester.”  It’s the group of friends sitting around the living room sharing stories of love and adventure with full bellies of Brazilian barbecue.

I see the joy in people’s eyes.  I see the gratitude and compassion as they thank me for doing something that seems so simple.  For translating a text, bringing back a jersey from the US, or teaching them the rules of baseball or American football.  For simply listening and helping them improve their English.  These experiences and these people are what has brought me so much joy and pleasure.

But what if I never moved to Brazil?  Would I have learned the same life lessons, or made the same friends?  Would I have had the life changing experiences and stories?  To be honest, I don’t know.  I would like to think so but realize the unlikelihood. I see the possibilities. I see the opportunities.  That is what keeps me going into year four.  I don’t want to look back on my time here and say, what if I would have stayed longer?  What if I would have explored that business opportunity?  What if I would have taken that risk? This chapter of my life is not over. Will it finish this year or 5 years from now?  Only God knows.

A Letter to My Families on Thanksgiving

Dear Families,

Thank you, simply thank you. It is two common words we hear as we leave a restaurant, hold the door for a stranger, or get our change from the woman at the supermarket. It is two common words that go unsaid or not enough to those we love.

First, to my American parents. Thank you. Thank you for trusting your son and letting him move to Brazil. Thank you for allowing him to experience a new culture, filled with many adventures and new friends. Thank you for the countless documents sent back and forth between consulates and countries to help me get my work visa. Thank you for answering my Facetime calls. Whether you were on your way to the lake, half asleep, or sitting at home, there is no better comfort and feeling knowing no matter what time of day, even 1,000 miles apart, you are always only a phone call away. Thank you for coming to visit the country and meet the people I have come to love.

Second, the Araujo Lima family: Thank you. Thank you for giving me a job and the opportunity to do what I love each and everyday with a great staff and amazing students. Thank you for giving me an incredible place to live and leaving home early or staying at work late to make sure I have a ride. Thank you for the patience, diligence, and hard work you put into helping me get my work visa.

Third, the Braun family: Thank you. Thank you for sending your son Bruno to the United States. I never would have thought that hosting a Brazilian 10 years ago would introduce me to an amazing country where I would later live. Thank you for the many laughs around the dinner table and the amazing churrascos on Sunday afternoons. Thank you for always greeting me with, “Oi filho (Hi, son)” with a cheerful smile and a warm embrace.

To both my Brazilian families: Thank you for opening your homes and welcoming me with open hearts and cheerful spirits over the past two years. Thank you for the countless meals, road trips, and making me a part of the family. Thank you for always introducing me as your American son and doing so with a clear sense of pride and joy.

To all three of my families: Thank you. Thank you for your unconditional love. There is nothing more comforting than knowing no matter what happens, I have three amazing families who will greet me with open arms and a helping hand through the joys and struggles in life.

So as I sit here at school on Thanksgiving day with every part of me wanting to be back home in the states with family eating turkey and watching football, I realize how blessed I am. So this Thanksgiving day, whether you are celebrating with friends and family in the states, or working like any other day in Brazil, take some time to thank those around you. Say those two common words, thank you, to someone you love.

The Little Things

As I approach 6 months living in Brazil, there are new habits I have formed and things I once saw as different which now have become part of my everyday life.  Besides the obvious things like a new language and different food, there are the little things.

I wake up in the morning with my sweatpants, socks, and sweatshirt on because there is no heat in most of the homes and believe it or not it does get cold at night during the winter.  As I make my way to the kitchen to get milk for my cereal, I no longer have to do the sniff test or check the expiration date.  You buy milk by the liter, not gallon and it somehow lasts for about four months and does not have to be refrigerated until it is opened.  Unfortunately, or fortunately this is not the case with meat and other produce.  Everything else in Brazil is very fresh and meat only lasts a couple days.  A friend reminded me of this when he opened my refrigerator to a raunchy, for lack of a better word, smell, which he discovered was the out of date meat.  I quickly learned to look for the term “Valido Ate”  and a date when buying produce or meat.

After a heart healthy breakfast and brushing my teeth I go to check my phone.  I check my phone because when Andrei says, “we are leaving at 8:30 tomorrow” it usually means we are leaving at 8:45 or even 9am.  Sometimes I am lucky enough to receive a text letting me know he is running late or I just wait.  I have learned that in Brazil if you are on time you are at least 10 minutes early.

IMAG2663As we finally make our way to school, at who knows what time, there is no need to stop by the gas station to get the daily paper.  At most stop lights people will be walking up and down in between cars selling anything from newspapers or cell phone chargers, to fruit and flowers.  If your lucky or if it is later in the afternoon, you might get the joy of seeing a 15 second street performer doing backflips across the street or a  person juggling bowling pins, cones or even knives.  Once they finish they will walk down the lanes asking for money.  The other day my favorite was a shirt less, silver painted man standing on a barrel juggling cones.  I must say, it was pretty entertaining.

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As we arrive at school and class starts, I am greeted by my students not calling me Mr. Nicholas or Jacob, but simply teacher.   They take a seat, get out their books, along with their pencil cases. It is common for every student to have a pencil case filled with pencils, pens, colored pencils, scissors, glue, erasers, and more.  The pencil cases come in all different designs and sizes and are not just strictly for elementary aged students.  High school students have them as well.

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After a class or two in the morning, we walk downtown for lunch.  We head into Toscana and right into the buffet line.  Most restaurants in Brazil are buffet style and you can pay by the kilo or a flat rate for an all you can eat buffet.  We grab a seat and the waiter comes around to take our drink orders. I order a Guarana which is my favorite ginger ale style drink.  I have learned to drink less at meals because free refills are a foreign concept.  You get a small glass and a can so you better pace yourself.  

After lunch we head back to school for our afternoon and night classes.  As class ends and we head home, the roads are filled once again with small cars. The average car being about the size of a mini cooper and the “trucks” being the size of el camino’s.  Wait, what about mini vans, yeah I haven’t seen one of those.  We stop at a gas station to get gas.  No need to get out and pump your own gas.  Just hand the keys to the gas station attendant to unlock the gas cap and tell him what kind of gas and how much.   Once he finishes, you pay the man and on you go.

On the drive I decide to give a friend a call. Even though it is uncommon and most people just text. Instead of dialing seven digits I punch in eight.  Area codes are only two numbers and the local phone numbers are eight.

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We arrive at home and open the gate to pull the car in.  Most houses and businesses are surrounded by about a 10 foot high gate for security.  Some houses have a gate and a garage while others just a gate.  When arriving at a friends house you ring the bell and wait for them to come and unlock the gate for you.  One key to unlock the gate and usually another for the house. You can never be to safe.  While walking along the sidewalk it is common to pass gate after gate in front of houses and businesses.

We get home around 9pm, just in time for dinner.  I rarely eat dinner before 9 and it is usually something small as lunch is the main and big meal of the day.  Walking barefoot on the tile floor gets cold so I always turn on the heater before hoping in the shower.

After a nice warm shower. I walk out to the kitchen and smell a bad odor.  I check the refrigerator to make sure I haven’t made the same mistake twice.  Nope cooked all my meat.  I sniff the trash can and discover the problem. No worries, I take out the bag and run it to the curb.  No need for a big trash can to put by the curb once a week or a dumpster because the garbage men come every night of the week.  Just toss the bag, however big or small, by the curb and they do the rest.

I head back inside and  I remember tomorrow is my day off so it would probably be smart to do some laundry.  I check the weather to make sure it won’t rain because I hang my clothes to dry.  I learned that the hard way after my clothes got caught drying in the rain, or should I say got washed a second time.

Afterwards, I bundle back up and head to bed.  Just another day in southern Brazil.

Road Trip!

A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity to take my first road trip in Brazil.  It was a Brazilian holiday which meant I had a long weekend, 4 days to be exact.

We woke up extremely early at 4am on Thursday to hit the road, a time when most Brazilians are still partying from the night before.  The five of us, Bruno, Ronaldo, Luiza, Elisa, and I piled in the SUV with our luggage thrown in the back and off we went, headed south to Uruguay!

It was your typical road trip, with a few exceptions.  Minus the big cities and the surrounding suburbs, there are no highways in Brazil or Uruguay.  This meant two lane country roads for the 8 hour drive south.

As we got close to the boarder I began to get nervous.  I had never crossed a boarder by car.  I thought to myself, “Would they ask a lot of questions? Would I be able to understand them?”  As we approached the Brazil boarder we parked, went into the building and got my passport stamped saying I was leaving the country.  We hopped back in the car and off we drove.  “Huh that was easy,” I thought, “hopefully it’s the same getting into Uruguay.”  We continued driving through the “Free Zone” or the “Frontier”  where there are many shops and stores with discounted products because there are less or maybe no taxes.  You might ask, “How does that work and which country were you in?”  I have no idea.7909_10101222176250998_565482312_n

As we approached the Uruguay boarder we parked the car again, ran inside, filled out some easy paperwork, got a stamp, back to the car and off we drove.  It was about as difficult as going through a toll road.

We continued to drive for about another four hours through the gorgeous Uruguayan countryside until we got to the southern tip of the country near Punta Del Este.  There we met a guy on a motorcycle at a gas station, not shady at all, who lead us a couple miles down dirt roads to the unbelievably amazing house we had rented for the weekend.  It was there, in the middle of Uruguay, not another building in site, where we would spend the next three nights.943107_10101222098616578_1456041613_n

After unpacking and taking in the amazing scenery, we decided to venture out and see what Uruguay had to offer.  As we made it back to the main road which was parallel to the beach, we noticed there were miles of nothing but beach.  No houses, no hotels, just small sand dunes and the ocean.  We also noticed there were no barriers or anything preventing us from driving on the beach. With nothing but time we decided to test the off road capabilities of our SUV.  On to the beach and through the dunes we drove!  It was evident from the small paths, that we weren’t the first to give it a try.  Unfortunately, we over estimated the cars capabilities, along with how deep the sand was and within about five minutes we were stuck.  Instead of calling it a night and giving up after we pushed the car out of the sand, we were feeling optimistic and decided to try again on a different path.  To our amazement, a few minutes later, same result.  We were stuck in the sand, again.   This time worse then the first.  Somehow we found a wood slab on the beach and shoved it behind the wheel to get some traction and get out.  After that we thought, third times a charm, lets do this.  Just kidding, we decided to head back to the house and call it a night.

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Over the next couple days we would visit Punta del Este, Jose Ignacio, and Piriapolis. We would walk the beach, visit the shops, and take in a gorgeous sunset from famous painter Carlos Vilaro’s house, Casapueblo.  But it was Friday night that changed Bruno’s life forever.

It was about 8pm when we walked into the Conrad, a major hotel and casino in Punta Del Este.  Unlike in Brazil where it is illegal to gamble, you are free to test your luck in Uruguay. As we walked into the casino we had no idea what was about to happen. It was full of people.  Some testing their luck at the penny slots and the high rollers spending thousands at the roulette, poker, and blackjack tables.  After about thirty minutes we decided to test our luck.  Unlike the old guys throwing around $100 bills, Bruno and I tossed $20 each on the roulette table.  After a few giggles from the dealer, she gave each of us four five dollar chips.  It was time to make our first bet.  I decided to put one chip, $5 on 12.  Bruno decided to put two chips, $10 on 7.  The man walking by, decided to throw a $1,000 chip on black.  Bruno and I looked at each other thinking, “This guy is crazy!” The craziest part was he just kept walking and didn’t stop to see if he won or lost!  Round and round the little ball went.  As it began to slow our excitement grew.

971226_10151532820636026_1514492202_nFinally it bounced around a couple numbers, up in the air it popped and boom.  It landed on 7! Bruno, Ronaldo and I look at each other in disbelief and excitement, but we had no idea how much money Bruno had just won.  As we looked to the dealer to ask, she said $350!  Bruno pocketed his earnings, but still had to play his other $10 in chips.  He went on to win another $150 and cash out with $500!  As for me, I lost my $20 and didn’t even win one bet.  As you can imagine, Bruno was pretty happy with his first ever trip to a casino.

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Sunday morning came and we hopped back in the car and drove back to Porto Alegre Brazil.  As I took in the scenery one last time I realized it is experiences like these which transform a persons life.  They allow you to see and experience a different way of life.  They allow you to see how powerful and big God is.  They humble you as you realize there is nothing you have done to deserve an opportunity like this.  They make you cherish and hold close the family and friends you have, both near and far.  I am extremely thankful for the opportunity to travel to Uruguay with such a great group of people.  It was a trip I will never forget.

The Joys of Public Transportation

There are some blessings in life you overlook until they are taken away or you have to live without.  Much like Oreos and peanut butter, transportation is another.  I have been extremely fortunate to live with a family who works at the school.  Most mornings consist of hopping in the car with my good friend Andrei and enjoying a 30 minute commute from the city to the suburbs for work.  Luckily most the way the traffic isn’t bad with most people coming into the city for work as we are leaving.  On occasion, Andrei would point out the yellow bus I would take if I ever needed to use the public transportation.

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For about the first two months, this was the daily routine, riding to and from work with Andrei or his mom.  Then a couple weeks ago things changed.  It was a friday night and Andrei was staying at his girlfriends house near the school.  This meant for my saturday morning classes I needed to take the bus from Porto Alegre to Gravatai.

I had it all figured out. I woke up early saturday morning, excited for a new adventure.  I quickly got ready and headed out the door.  I walked a couple blocks to the bus stop.  I was fortunate this was one of the few bus stops that was labeled with the bus numbers.  Ok, the 617 to Iguatemi, then the nice yellow bus from Iguatemi to Gravatai.  I was feeling confident and ready to go.  It was 7:20 am on saturday morning.  I thought to myself, “the first bus is scheduled for 7:30, should only take about 10 minutes to get to Iguatemi and then I will catch the 8am yellow bus to Gravatai.  Should take just under an hour and I will be at school just in time for my private student at 9am. Ok here we go.”

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Waiting patiently at the bus stop, I look at my phone and it reads 7:30am.  I get ready and begin to pay attention, looking down the street.  7:35am bus hasn’t come.  7:40am, bus still hasn’t come.  “I was here early at 7:20”  I thought to myself, “I couldn’t have missed it. It is suppose to be the first bus of the day”  7:45am and the bus finally arrives.  I hop on the bus realizing I am going to be cutting it close to catch my 8am bus to Gravatai.

The bus arrives at Iguatemi at 7:57am.  I jump off the bus, just to realize I have to go to the other side of the mall to another bus stop.  Holding my backpack straps, I run around the mall to arrive at the other bus stop at 8:03am and what do I see… the yellow bus leaving.

In utter disappointment and frustration I call Andrei.  Andrei, “I missed the bus.”  At this point I was hoping I was not about to get yelled at or experience one of the nicest people I know, Andrei, upset for the first time. I asked Andrei politely, “Will you call the school and have them call my student to let him know I will not be there this morning.”

The next bus didn’t come for another 40 minutes. I sat there, waiting, hoping my student would be as understanding and nice as Andrei was when I called him, and my boss as well, since I had to cancel a private lesson.  Luckily, everyone in Brazil is very understanding and relaxed.

40 minutes later the next bus came.  Right on time.  “huh thats funny this one is on time”  I thought.  I boarded the bus and to my surprise I was the only one going from the big city to the suburbs at 8:40am on a saturday.

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I got to school around 9:45am, made some coffee and got ready for my 10am class.  My students found it humorous that I missed the bus.   Their response, “That’s Brazil, the busses are never on time.”

The next weekend, Andrei was staying at his girlfriends house again which meant another round of public transportation.  This time, I took a taxi to Iguatemi.  Got there at 7:45am.  I wasn’t going to miss the yellow bus two weeks in a row.  Lesson learned.

Teaching in Brazil!

IMAG1656 It was the night before I started teaching.  I had only been in Brazil for about two weeks.  Much like the night before any school year I was nervous, but this year was different.  Not only was the school year starting in March, but I was in a different country, different culture, wondering what my students would be like.  Would they like the new American guy, would they be shy, would they even understand what I was saying!

The next morning, Andrei and I hopped in the car and began the 30 minute drive from Porto Alegre to Gravatai.  I don’t think I said much in the car, just thinking about how I would introduce myself and what I would say to my class.

We got to school just before 10:00am.  My first class was a private student.  She didn’t come.  Great start.  Now what.  I had a long lunch break before my next class in the afternoon.  It was an advanced class of six teenagers. I introduced myself, talked about how I ended up in Brazil and they asked questions.  Before I knew it, the hour and fifteen minute class was over.  As classes started on a Wednesday I said, “bye guys, have a great weekend and I will see you on Monday.”  I thought to myself, huh, I could get used to classes meeting twice a week either Monday and Wednesday or Tuesday and Thursday for an hour to an hour and a half each day.  Then I thought wait, some of my classes even meet just once a week for two hours.  I also get Fridays off and work half a day Saturday morning.  This is awesome!

As the other teachers arrived throughout the day, I realized they were all wearing jeans and a t shirt or polo.  I seemed over dressed in my dress khakis, button up shirt , and dress shoes.  Wait, I can wear jeans to work EVERYDAY?  I don’t have to wear khakis and a dress shirt?  I had to ask Andrei, a good friend and fellow teacher just to make sure, “yeah wear whatever is comfortable” he said.  I began to realize Brazil was more informal and relaxed.

I continued to see teaching was going to be different.  Going from a school with 40+ teachers and staff, same 20 or so kids everyday, huge building with tons of classrooms, to a staff of 6 english teachers, no other Americans, college like teaching schedule, in a small 10 room school.  Although it was different, I was excited to teach and meet all of my students.

The rest of my week was pretty similar. Most days I would arrive at school around 9 or 10am and teach 4 to 6 classes, ranging from 4th and 5th graders up to adults, with a couple private students mixed in.  I would have a long lunch break in the afternoon, and end around 8 or 9pm.

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It didn’t take me long to discover how extremely blessed I am to have great students and small class sizes.  Some classes as small as four or five kids and no class bigger then 12!  I love my students and what I do.  I get to learn about a new culture first hand and teach cool things like March Madness, The Masters, and as May approaches, The Kentucky Derby and Indy 500.  Events these kids have never seen on tv or even heard of!  I am excited as I continue this daily routine and learn more about Brazil!