Yesterday we finished our 20-page group paper and presentation, which marks the end of my summer studies. With the traveling interspersed, the newness of locations (and the exasperation at times of being in one place so long), and the constant challenges and new experiences, right now definitely cannot be related to the feeling of having just finished a semester worth’s of classes at school.
I can confidently say that I learned just as much outside of the classroom this summer as I did inside: about cultures, about people, about myself , my traveling style and preferences, and the list goes on.
I’ve begun to breath lighter again after this week of the large entire-class-grade’s-worth-group-project. I tend to get pretty involved in projects, often time much more than the other group members, so when it comes time that it is done, I’m as relieved as anyone if not more.
After finishing our presentations yesterday we went to Fernanda’s house. She lives with her mother and sister in an absolutely beautiful apartment with a wonderful balcony in a nice area of Sao Paulo. Her two small dogs were the entertainment for the afternoon and were so cute. The 8 of us including Fernanda took an outing to the grocery store to buy food to cook lunch, and everyone pitched in. Jamie made wonder bruschetta and a group effort went toward risotto, with bread and cheese galore both before and day. It was fun to cook for a change (especially such tasty food), and even better as a group effort. As we sat around the dinning room table we began to recap the past month, as that was our last full day and the fact that we were leaving soon was beginning to sink in. We began making a quote list from the trip of funny things that were said or situations we don’t want to soon forget, reminding us just how many memories were made. It was a wonderful afternoon that was finished by watching the Olympic opening ceremony in London. It was fun to watch Olympic related material in a different country, not for any particular reason but it was a nice change.
We then had to cab off to our dinner reservations with Ana Luiza and Leda at a very fancy Italian restaurant. As our second to last group meal (and our millionth time eating pizza and Italian food on this trip, it would seem, the number of nights we have ordered the cheap pizza across the street is quite embarrassing, but is balanced by the number of amazing Italian meals we have eaten that we didn’t have to pay for), we definitely were appreciating the time. Fernanda is amazing with her knowledge of (American) music, in addition to radio songs from the likes of Kanye West, we also had a series of Rent (the musical) songs we sang across the table. We finished a lovely meal with a champagne toast courtesy of Ana Luiza – we are CIEE’s first study abroad group for this particular program, and the first group they have had that is all from one university (usually groups are very mixed from different US universities), so this was a new experience for them. Not to sound pompous but they really love us, as we love them. They have treated us so well, I could not have imagined a better situation. There was no feeling of tuition dollars going to waste, everything from helping when someone in the group had a medical issue to taking us out to dinner and around the city, we were treated like “kings and queens” so to speak. My flight out of the country was at a different time than the rest of the group and they even gave me money for a separate cab ride.
Today after packing up and checking out (where any minibar charges would need to be paid – I am proud to say I was the only one of us who did not raid the food and drink stash at any point this month. The record fell with Jamie with a tab of $60 (US dollars), we all know those late night cravings have their consequences especially with overpriced food laid out in a tempting way.), we had a final group meal, at the top of the Edificio Italia, the tallest building in Sao Paulo. This was after a truly sophisticated round of packing, that including selecting which items were to go at the bottom that I would not use in the next week and strategically placing the ones that I would use at the top for easy access in the small space at the hostel I am staying at. This was the first of five rounds of packing and unpacking that will occur in the next 5 weeks. Lunch at the top of this building was truly gorgeous with panoramic views and a buffet that can compete with the best foods we have had in Brazil (and we have had some incredible foods and buffets). After a leisurely meal (with half of our group trickling in late due to slacking efforts on packing and checking out) with Brazilian fresh squeezed juices (watermelon!) that we have grown so accustomed to, the beautiful buffet and the restaurant views, as well as a final Brazilian espresso to top it off (I promise I won’t become a coffee drinker, I’ve only had a few times this month but its such a cultural item that I wanted to try it), we headed outside on the terrace for a round of group photos. I left to go to the airport from the restaurant because my flight was a good 3 hours before the group flight back to Boston. Although the last bunch of days I have said I am very ready to leave, the last moments always strike me with a tendency to reconsider; leaving Fernanda was difficult.
I had ordered a taxi for the airport (rather than taking a random taxi – although Sao Paulo has an awesome system of taxi stands on what would seem like every single street, its so easy to find cabs), and while I typically use some simple Spanish words that I know (or think…) are the same in Portuguese in order to communicate, after a minute or so the taxi driver told me that my Spanish was very good – so much for hiding the fact that I can’t speak Portuguese….but we proceeded to have a great conversation in Spanish about random things including the fact that he lived in Spain for a little while. Its amazing the people you meet. But when taxi drivers text while driving it still makes me nervous….
I now have one more stamp in my passport (the exit stamp! And after a quick browse I found that all of the duty free prices in the airport are in US dollars, not that I should be surprised. On the way to the airport, which is about 45 minutes outside of the city, we passed some favelas (shanty towns) in the outskirts (which is where they are all located in Sao Paulo, unlike in Rio were they are mixed into the city center). Not that I haven’t seen them before, both on this trip and in other very poor areas in many parts of the world, but it did make me stop and think about how this trip was focused so far away from that lifestyle. And that’s okay, there are other opportunities for trips with other focuses. But Brazil is in fact a country full of large impoverished populations, essentially none of which was part of this trip. I feel this is an important thing to recognize as I leave the country.