Gabriel Imhoff has always been interested in new cultures and languages. After visiting Florida with his family in 9th grade, he began to imagine what it would be like to live in the United States. Many of his friends in Brazil had participated in exchange programs and he became intrigued; he watched videos about exchange students and began toying with the idea that he could live abroad himself.
Eventually, that idea became a reality through the Bedford Rotary Youth Exchange Program. Gabriel will stay in Bedford until June, changing host families in December and March to get different experiences. He will complete his senior year here and graduate with the class of 2020.
Gabriel admits there are challenges coming to a foreign country by himself. “One thing that was a struggle for me, in the beginning, was that everyone [in Bedford] knows each other already, so it was a little hard to get to talk with people and meet new people. Almost everything is different…the people, the culture, even the houses.”
In Brazil, most people do not work until after they are eighteen, so it surprised him that so many students at BHS, from freshmen to seniors, have jobs after school. The large role extra-curriculars play in so many students’ lives was also new. Activities through the school, such as sports or musicals, are definitely not as prominent in his hometown. Gabriel admires how involved students are in their school through these types of programs. He is currently in the school play himself, which entails staying after until 5 pm every day, and he is really enjoying it.
Another big adjustment Gabriel had to make was his eating habits. In Brazil, breakfast is typically light, followed by a large lunch and a modest dinner. Lunch is the most important meal of the day and Brazilian students get out of school at 1 pm so they can eat at home with their families. A typical lunch would include rice, beans, meat, and salad. There might even be time for a short nap or video games afterward. This contrasts sharply with the BHS schedule, which squeezes lunch into a 20-minute block in the school cafeteria.
I asked Gabriel if he had any advice for students contemplating or participating in similar exchange programs. “You cannot be afraid. It will be hard sometimes. You will have struggles with school, family, even with the rules of the program, but you have to always try new things,” he offered. “Try to forget about your country, for the time being, leave people who are there to stay there, don’t worry about things there… live in the moment, because time flies, so you must enjoy it while you can.”