Brazilian exchange student Matheus spoke with students services facilitator Diana Santelli about his time in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Q: Why did you choose Charlotte?
Before I chose a city, I did a lot of research on the internet using Google Maps and looking at the different districts that ESI offers. I checked places in the north and in the south, and felt like Charlotte was a good location. My friends back home all asked me why I didn’t choose California, where the beaches are, but I lived by the beach my entire life. I wanted to live somewhere new and to try new things.
Q: Did you experience any culture shock in the US?
Culture shock? I don’t know, I mean, a lot of things are different. I had to be flexible and have patience to make things work. The funny thing is, I didn’t even notice how the changes affected me. It wasn’t until my parents came to visit that they said I had changed. I think just living in a different culture every day, thinking in another language, it makes a difference in your personality.
Q: Was it a challenge being immersed only in English when you arrived?
Oh yea. Very hard. Every day I would come home and I would have to take a long nap to let my head rest. Imagine a teacher is talking to you and you have no idea what they are saying! It’s hard. But eventually I got it. It took about two months until it felt normal.
Q: What were some things about school in America that you didn’t expect?
I thought it would be more of a challenge but it wasn’t that bad. Another thing I didn’t expect was that school in America is fun. You take field trips and do things like field day and school spirit activities. In my country, you just go to school to study. Also, it was totally different from my school back in Brazil. I come from a very small school with 200 students, now I attend a school with 2,000 students. It takes some time to get used to it. Sometimes getting help from your counselor or your teacher takes a little longer to get the answers that you need.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your relationship with your host family.
When I first got the placement and I saw that my exchange brother was from South Korea, I thought, “How can Brazilians, Koreans and Americans live together in one house? How can that work?” But it has been AMAZING! We have a great relationship, just like a family. I noticed at school it took time to build relationships and real friends, but with my host family, from the very beginning they were so open and nice to me. I trust and respect them a lot. I also have a great relationship with the other exchange student. Junsu and I do everything together–work out together, go to school together. I can even speak a little Korean now and he can say a few things in Portuguese!
Q: Can you tell us about one of the challenges you faced with your host family?
Doing chores. Definitely. Doing house work and cleaning the bathroom, mowing the lawn. Before I came to the US, I never had to do these things. I didn’t know how. But now when I go back to Brazil, I’ll be able to do all these things on my own.
Q: What is some advice you would give to future students about building a good relationship with their host family?
Always be honest. And be flexible to try new things. Don’t say you won’t try a new food, just try it. Also, if you respect them, they will respect you back. Try to talk a lot with them and eat together with them. Don’t spend so much time alone in your room or on your cell phone. Spend time together doing things they like to do. For example, I went to a football game with my host mom because she loves football. And every Friday, me and my host brothers go to a different restaurant in Charlotte and then do something fun together after, like go to a caf? or a park.
Q: It sounds like you have had a busy year. Is there anything left on your study abroad ‘bucket-list’?
I’m leaving in 17 days! My to-do list is just to spend time with people and create memories. I developed a lot of great relationships with people here and I would like to just spend time with them before going home. I have mixed feelings. I miss home, but here is like a second home, so it’s going to be sad to leave, too.
Q: Do you have a favorite study abroad memory?
Prom. It was awesome. But there were so many! The trip I took with my host family to Washington, D.C. was really amazing. And also, when my family came to visit. My mom doesn’t know any English but somehow my two moms were talking to each other, I don’t know how, but they understood each other. I was so happy they could meet and talk together.
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