For one McDowell high school senior, the chance to live in Brazil for entire school year of school sounded like music to her ears.
“The third month I was homesick. I missed the food, I missed the people and I missed home. After coming back from Brazil, I’ve actually become very thankful for being a student at McDowell High,” 17-year-old Kabao Lynhiavu told The McDowell News.
With a full scholarship in tow, Lynhiavu spent her junior year in South America in the city of Salvador. Although she was definitely out of her comfort zone, she said the experience was amazing and once in a lifetime.
“You can’t put it into words. Your whole life changes,” she said.
When Lynhiavu arrived in Brazil she stayed with a host family with no one that spoke English,
“It was very difficult because I couldn’t communicate with them. Eventually after learning Portuguese a little bit, it was easier. Google Translate was my best friend.”
She first attended a public school where teachers didn’t show up, and students were in the classrooms just to hang out or get high.
“It sounds really mean and bad to say, but it’s the truth,” she said.
She then attended a private school, which was some better she said, but still didn’t compare to MHS. She went to school from 7 a.m. to noon.
“The private school was cleaner, organized and people actually did their work and got an education. In class we would have a five-minute break because you don’t switch classes, the teachers do,” said Lynhiavu.
At the schools, there are no electives, no club sports and no lunch service. But, thankfully she did make a lot of friends and got to experience another culture.
“First thing they would ask is if I was Japanese. I am actually Mong. I would try to explain where my people came from, and they had no idea where it was. So I would just say I was American,” she said. “And when I said that, they all asked me if I had been to Disney World or Orlando, Florida. I would say about 90 percent of my classmates have to been to Orlando.”
She said being an Asian in Brazil attracted a lot of strange looks her way.
“I was fascinated by how fascinated they were because I was Asian,” she said.
At school, they studied the usual subjects, including a lot about American history.
“They study the U.S. so much to the point I think it’s more than we do here,” said Lynhiavu. “Everyone asked me what my opinion of Donald Trump was, and my classmates would actually fight over the U.S. election.”
Life in Brazil was much different than the one she knows in North Carolina, from technology to food to language to the culture.
“It is quite dangerous for a young teenage girl, but overall it was an amazing experience if you know where to go. The technology is so expensive. One of my friends went to the U.S. to get an iPhone 7 and it was cheaper for him to buy a roundtrip ticket plus the phone and plan in the U.S. than it was to buy in Brazil,” said Lynhiavu. “Food down there is very expensive and the economy isn’t good.”
The host dad was a doctor and the host mom was a teacher. She said the teacher pay was pretty good, but doctors didn’t make salaries like they do in the U.S. But even with the hardships in the country, she said Brazilians are one of the most loving, energetic groups she has ever been around.
“They dance every day. They have capoeira and I did a flash mob with my school. You don’t have to work out because of the dancing,” she said.
After a year of rice and beans, limited hot water, language barriers and making sure you stayed in the good part of town, Lynhiavu said she was still sad to leave Brazil and hopes to return soon.
“Brazil is a beautiful country. I still stay in contact with my Brazilian friends and listen to Brazilian music and read some articles in Portuguese,” she said. “But I was very emotional when I got back. My little brothers wouldn’t stop crying… but then they started making fun of me.”
Lynhiavu hopes to travel to Germany or another country in college as an exchange student. She wants to major in business marketing and attend UNC-Charlotte, UNC-Chapel Hill or UNC-Wilmington.