I rarely post anything more than a few photos, but the past month has just been too amazing that I couldn’t keep it bottled up inside me; It had to be shared.
I went to AIESEC’s orientation on a whim, mostly for the free dinner, partly because I had heard of AIESEC from my friend from high school and I wanted to know more about it. Going on exchange was more of a distant dream than something I would be able to do in the near future, but then I saw that the people who were going on exchange were mostly my age, and just like that, I rediscovered my innate desire to explore the world.
The difficult thing about going on exchange through AIESEC is that there are so many choices. It’s an organization present all over the world, which means that there are exchange opportunities all over the world too. I sent an application to a butt-load of countries. The most notable ones are India, Peru, and Uganda. In the end, I settled for Brazil. It’s visa-free for Filipinos, and I thought it would be nice to experience the World Cup Season in the hosting country.
When I sent my in my application, I really didn’t think much of the distance between Brazil and the Philippines, but then I got accepted, and the fact that I was going to be alone, in a foreign country on the other side of the world, started to sink in. I was scared. Shit scared. I had never even lived away from home before, since I lived so close to the university. I had second thoughts, but congratulatory messages had already flooded my timeline, and I didn’t want to disappoint them, so there was no turning back.
And boy, am I glad that I went through with it. I met the most amazing people in the most amazing city. Balneario Camboriu. I would make songs about you if I were into that stuff (I’m not).
I saw this everyday. Whether I felt like seeing it or not, it was there, and it was perfect.
I wasn’t there to vacation though. I worked as an intern at a home for the aged in a neighbouring city. The Fundação Lar da 3ª Idade Padre Antônio Dias. I can’t pronounce that. A little fact though: the people in my workplace didn’t speak English. My first week there mostly consisted of me nodding to everything they said, even though I didn’t understand a thing. They could have been selling me and I would have still been clueless (they didn’t, thank God). And then, I realised the value of my partner, Cecilia. I honestly don’t know why it took me so long to realise that she was the answer to all of my problems. She’s a Tourism major from Argentina, and apparently Tourism majors in Argentina have to study about a gazillion languages, including Portuguese (she also knows Spanish, Italian, French, and English, of course). She was a godsend. I literally could not have survived without her. I would always tell her this, and she would always just reply with “I know.”
So thanks to her, I was actually able to interact with the people at the home for the aged, and I think, I think, that I actually got them to like me. Ceci told me that they would actually look for me and ask where I was whenever I was running late. They called me their “Japanese friend”. It was a bit difficult to explain that not all Asians are Japanese, so I just went with it. Of course, I would try to share things about the Philippines too, but they would always just go back to calling me their “Japanese friend”, so I kind of just gave up in the end.
After a day at work, we would go through every person at the home and shake their hand, or kiss them on the cheek. We did this right until the last day. Nothing was more heartbreaking than saying “Tchau” to them for the very last time. I started to cry halfway through my goodbyes, and some of them started to cry too. It took me a moment to grasp how amazing it was that I was able to make a lasting connection with them after just six weeks, even with the language barrier. It was the most fulfilling experience, and I would highly recommend it to anybody.
So for anybody considering to go on an exchange, or even if it isn’t an exchange, anything daunting, or outside your comfort zone, always remember that being scared, nervous, or anxious are the most common emotions before something awesome happens.