Pilot story and graphic by Bill Schlichting
Photos courtesy of Quillyn Brown
When Quillyn Brown spent 11 months in Brazil, she proved that the word exchange is a matter of give and take.
As an exchange student, she not only learned about the culture of the South American nation, but shared with her host families the traditions of the United States.
Brookings-Harbor High School student Brown, the daughter of Martha and Steven Brown, participated in the Rotary Exchange Program. She left Brookings in August 2003 and traveled to Paranava, a city of 80,000 people in Southern Brazil near Paraguay.
The trip was her first time on an airplane. Traveling from Portland to Los Angeles, she mentioned this to the flight attendant. After the plane landed, the flight attendant invited Brown to the cockpit where the captain took her picture sitting in his chair.
Arriving in Brazil, however, wasn't a good memory for Brown. She landed in So Paulo where the airport is in a filthy neighborhood, Brown said she was relieved that the rest of the city didn't look ugly.
Following a Rotary Exchange Program orientation in Brazil, Brown was introduced to her first of three host families.
The first family, with whom she stayed the longest, was Ana and Marcel Thuronyi. Her stay was followed by living with Vania and Marcelo Campos-Silva. The last family she lived with was Helena and Vergilio Peres.
"I was closest to the first and third families," Brown said. "I still call them mom and dad."
While staying with these families, she not only learned Brazilian customs, but shared those of the U.S. The Thanksgiving feast is such a U.S. custom not practiced in Brazil.
Brown prepared a Thanksgiving dinner for her host family, which they enjoyed, but she had a hard time explaining the origins of the tradition.
While there, she was enrolled in a private high school called Colgio Nobel, located in Paranava.
Brown described attending school in Brazil as a "lot harder than here.
"It's all lecture and tests," she said. "Then you go home and study what the teacher said and read the book."
Because there are few universities in Brazil, there is a lot of pressure for students to do well, Brown said.
"There is a lot of pressure to pass the (university admissions) test."
Out of 200 who take the examination, only the top 50 will get into a university, Brown said.
On the plus side, public colleges are completely free of charge. There are private colleges in Brazil, too, she said. Testing standards are lower for private colleges, but the student has to pay tuition.
Another difference between Brazilian and U.S. schools is that all of the students in the class stay in the same room. Teachers move from classroom to classroom, she said.
For Brown, attending school in Brazil was more of a cultural experience. She did not have to study the material, nor did she receive any transferable credits.
Hearing all the lectures in Portuguese, though, did teach Brown a lot about the language.
"I can speak, read and write Portuguese fluently," Brown said. Of course, now that she is back at Brookings-Harbor High School to make up a semester ,she's having to think in English again.
"Now I'm trying to get my (English) grammar back."
Brown was suppose to graduate in June with the class of 2004 but chose to experience life in a foreign country instead. She prepared ahead of time by earning extra credit in school.
Brookings-Harbor High School will give her one credit for her year in Brazil and she will graduate in January. She needs only one more credit to finish school.
After finishing school in Brookings, Brown said she plans to continue working at Redwood Theater and Portside Suites until she leaves for college.
Life in the fifth-largest nation in the world was not all schoolwork. Living in a hemisphere where the seasons are opposite, she was down there during the Brazilian summer.
Being on the Tropic of Capricorn made for warm days and excellent travel weather, especially for trips to the beach.
"I loved the heat. I loved the beaches," Brown said. "The whole time I was there, I probably spent two and a half months on the beach."
Adding to her summertime enjoyment was the fact that everywhere she stayed had a pool.
If she was nowhere near the Atlantic Ocean or a pool, she was in a boat on a lake.
In addition to travel with her host families, mostly with the Pereses, she toured the country with other exchange students who hailed from different countries around the world.
She described Central Brazil as jungle and Southern Brazil as plains.
Her travels took her to the nation's capital of Brasilia, a unique city that was built following a set of blueprints.
She also traveled across borders into Paraguay and Argentina.
Brown said she found one city in Paraguay rather unusual because the edge of town was a straight line.
"It just stopped," Brown said. On one side of the straight line were city streets and buildings, on the other was an empty field.
One of the more picturesque sites she visited was Iguau Falls, one of the world's largest waterfalls. They are situated on the junction of borders between Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. The falls consist of 275 cascades forming a horseshoe.
Food was another aspect she enjoyed about her stay in Brazil even if it meant being served the same thing for lunch every day.
"They eat rice and beans for lunch every single day, but I loved it," Brown said.
Other meals had more variety.
"Their beef was excellent," Brown said. "It wasn't hard to adjust to their food."
Brown said she originally wanted to spend a year in a Spanish-speaking country, but the Rotary Exchange Committee based its decision on the student's personality, not just the student's choice.
"I really did want to learn Spanish, but just getting to travel and have the experience, even if it were to somewhere else, was enough for me," Brown said.
Brown enjoyed her stay in Brazil and meeting the people.
"I learned a lot about the culture. It's a warm country," Brown said describing the hearts of the people. "They are really likable people."
Meeting new people and "being really curious about what's out there," Brown said was the reason she decided to become an exchange student.
"There were way more good times than lonely times," Brown said. "I would do it again in a heartbeat. Thank you, Rotary."