The purpose of this website is to build an understanding and appreciation for all that is involved with the student exchange between Ursuline schools in Ilheus, Bahia - Brazil and St. Louis, Missouri - United States.  Sharing both the incredible experiences and the challenges that come with international travel is important when embarking on it for the first time.  Valerie Elking (UA Math Teacher) and Kevin Reid (UA English Teacher) share observances, reflections, and photos from their trip in August 2011.

It has been a long time coming, but 
we have finally made it to Ilheus, Brazil.

The Most Difficult Thing I’ve Ever Written

by Ann Slesinski

I did not step on the plane at Lambert Airport expecting to be changed forever.  I was just one of ten girls, hoping for a break from the pressures of school and the college decisions.  I’d been looking forward to this trip for so long, having spent my entire life savings on this.  I never could have imagined the impact this trip has had on my life.
           Let me begin by saying, yes, Brazil is a beautiful country.  Everything we saw was gorgeous and the food was good; that’s not what made me bawl like a baby when it came time to leave.  It was the people I would miss, the incredible human beings I grew close to in just ten days.  I gained a new sister and so many new friends.  Every day someone I do not know chats with me on Facebook, and I yearn to go back and see them.  They are what made the trip worthwhile, these new, incredible people.  The people there are more open, friendlier than we are.  We have trained ourselves to be self-dependant and, in doing so, have cut ourselves off from others.  There, where you are with the same group since preschool, all the way up to your last year of high school, you grow close to your schoolmates.  That’s why one woman I met during my stay in Brazil had moved there all the way from Holland: the camaraderie she found in Brazil.

I am an awkward person by nature, shy; I find it hard to talk to new people.  Add to that the whole language barrier thing, and it’s a surprise I managed to say anything at all to my host family.  After a few days, though, my host family felt less like strangers and more like, well, my family.  They wanted to make sure I enjoyed my stay with them, and, quite honestly, I wasn’t sure at first, being away from my family.  Writing this now, I can tell you I am homesick, sick for my Brazilian home.  Laura and her family, her little brother, her mother, her father, her grandmother are some of the most wonderful human beings: they joke, laugh, speak passionately about issues, and they love.  And they pulled me into that love.  I never wanted to leave their house, so close to the beach I could walk there in my bare feet and swimsuit.

Here, at home, I’m known for my scowl, for my,--how shall I say this--less than sunny disposition.  Yet, for some reason, I could not stop smiling there.  I became known as the smiling girl.  In that gorgeous country, it was impossible to glower at everyone, surrounded by so much love, so much beauty.
           The girls who went on this trip were amazing.  No one was at odds with another, and we were all comfortable swimming and laughing in the ocean together.  Mr. Reid and Mrs. Elking, though they might have temporarily led us astray on the way down there, fit right into the easy-going culture.  This group from St. Louis helped cement the incredible adventure.

After it’s all said and done, will I always remember going to Mass in Portuguese, hanging out in the plaza downtown, zip lining over the beach, swimming in the brown-colored river, petting the sloths?  Maybe not.  What will always, without a doubt, stick with me, are the people who shared this adventure with me, be it the Ursuline Academy St. Louis girls or the individuals from the city of Ilhéus.  They are the ones who made this trip memorable, and I yearn to go back.