Category Archives: IICA internship

August 11 – Bem-Vindo a Manaus!

I’m here!!!  I can hardly believe it.  I don’t think it has fully sunk in yet, and I’m already feeling a little culture shell-shocked.  But I’ll start from where I left off, so you have an idea of where I’m coming from (literally and figuratively).

I had set my alarm this morning for 3:45 am, but somehow I still woke up before it.  I got up, showered, and moved some things around in my luggage, then hauled myself out the door to catch the 4:30 shuttle to the airport.

I missed it by 5 minutes, and it comes hourly.

So the concierge, who had been working the night before, called the driver to request he come back for me.  In the meantime, he kept me awake in the lobby with a steady stream of flirtatious conversation (he’s Cuban…what else?).  The shuttle didn’t end up coming back until 5:30, and by that time there were a dozen more people waiting to be picked up, too.  Of course, the second the van arrived they made a mad dash to the door, and even though I reached it first, I ended up holding the door for everybody else as they stampeded past me (all I wanted was to get my second piece of luggage!), and wouldn’t you know I was the last person in the over-crowded van.  The driver looked like he was going to ask somebody to stay back, but I pleaded my case and he told me to ride up front (HA!).  In the end, I got to my gate around 5:40, so no harm done.

I grabbed some breakfast inside security and meandered down to the gate, where about a hundred other people who looked dead on their feet also waited for the call to board.  Well, we waited and waited, and the time drew closer to the 7:40 takeoff time, and yet no call to board had been made, though the screen still told us the flight was “On Time.”  I took this to mean it was on Brazilian time, so I read my magazine some more and waited.  We eventually got onto the plane and seated for takeoff in a relatively short span of time, leaving just twenty minutes late.

I haven’t mentioned yet that from the first interaction with TAM (the airline), everything was in Portuguese first, and English as an afterthought.  I was already getting nervous, as it took several tries for me to remember that the word for thank you is “obrigado/a” and not “graçias” – which is something I should know!  So when I boarded, I got a little worried about struggling through five hours with a Portuguese-only seatmate.  I guess fate decided I was too wimpy to deal with it at that time, because of the three non-Brazilians on-board, I was seated next to a very English, very American guy from Ohio who had also never been to Brazil before.  We traded stories – his wife of 16 years is Brazilian, though this is his first trip and he doesn’t speak a word of Portuguese – and bits of knowledge and advice for the first little bit.  He said he wasn’t feeling well, and when he went to the bathroom shortly after the seatbelt light came off, he didn’t return for several hours.  I had the row to myself during the hours when everyone was sleeping, which was nice.

He came back in the last hour and a half (apparently he’d found three seats together where he could lie down), and it was nice to have someone to exclaim over the view with.  Unfortunately the clouds from yesterday were both ubiquitous and persistent, so our first glimpses of the Amazon were fleeting and hazy.  Still, as we got closer, what had looked like brown roads turned into serpentine rivers that joined and divided, interspersed with lakes amid a vast canopy of green.  I remarked that I’d never seen so many trees before – which seems like a kind of dumb thing to say, but if you don’t say it out loud you can forget that it’s true.  Getting closer to landing, some roads did differentiate themselves in clay-red; meanwhile, the rivers, whose identity had heretofore been unknown, divulged their granddaddy: the vast and unmistakeable Amazon didn’t just appear, it unveiled its size dramatically as we spiralled toward the city and the airport.  I could also spot a suspension bridge arcing across the expanse.  I tried to take photos, but the window was not very conducive, and the task was distracting from my actual view.  You’ll see anything useful I might have taken.

Upon landing, I didn’t have any problems with Customs, though the luggage carousel was chaos as usual.  After about 20 minutes I located my stuff (everything intact, yay for not having to use that insurance!) and exited the secured area…into a food court.  I pushed my trolley a few feet into the food court, which wasn’t crowded but was permeated with the strangely American scent of grilling burgers, and gazed around to get my bearings.  Luckily I spotted Leilson and his Fisk shirt just a few moments later.  He and another Fisk employee, whose name embarrassingly still eludes me, greeted me and led me towards the car.  Both guys are in their mid-twenties, so we got along pretty well.  We were all hungry, so the guys said they’d take me for a***, a staple beef dish.

It came out that the poor guys had actually turned up at the airport at 12:45 am instead of in the afternoon!  They had waited around for about half an hour before asking an employee, who corrected the error.  Oops!  I feel bad, but I’m also pretty sure I gave the right time – at least twice.  Anyway, they didn’t seem to harbour any ill feelings about it, and we got along great.  The second employee, whom I’ll call V for lack of more accurate nomenclature, speaks quite fluent English despite never having been outside Brazil.  Leilson struggled to keep up by comparison, but managed to follow along the thread of conversation quite well.  Sometime in the middle of lunch, he asked V to translate for him so that he wouldn’t miss any important details: all my needs would be taken care of at Fisk, including all meals and transportation; however, apologizing profusely, he told me the school was short on teachers at the moment, and they needed me to work both at one of the city locations and in Itacuatiara, a city two hours from Manaus.  So I’d be in Itacuatiara from Sunday night until Thursday night (teaching Mon-Thurs), then back in Manaus for a Saturday class, just for this semester.  Although this sounds like it’s going to be inconvenient, I think it won’t be too bad.  I’m pretty used to both commuting and travelling, and I don’t mind having some time to read and lesson plan on the bus.  Also, I’ll get weekends in Manaus, and I have two days off, even if they aren’t in a row.  All in all, the schedule is pretty reasonable.

After lunch, the guys brought me to meet Mary, a Fisk teacher and administrator whose home I’ll be staying in temporarily.  Unfortunately as soon as I got here she had to leave for an appointment.  She told me she’d be back in two hours, so I could shower and rest – which I gladly did.  Her apartment is tiny: just a kitchen, a bedroom with an extra mattress on the floor, and a bathroom, but everything is clean and neat.  When I woke up, it was around 6:30 and I could hear what had to be forró echoing through the street below the second floor bedroom.  Still disoriented from sleep and travel, I slid the metal shutter open, to a fabulously and uniquely Brazilian scene: a sky hazy orange sky with the silhouette of downtown in the distance; below, a man barbequing in the triangular median, a woman selling baked goods from her front step, a dog lazily wandering down the street, and the strangest mix of vehicles you can imagine careening down the narrow road.  The surroundings scream abject poverty from my North American viewpoint, but this is quickly challenged by the guy driving the hip-hop blaring, bright orange Camero convertible directly beneath me.  I feel more out of touch than ever.

Not long after this, Mary came home.  She suggested we head over to the downtown school to meet some of the teachers, and then go to the mall (“shopping” in Brazilian, you know).  We walked to a main road, where we caught a cab (which already had another passenger), then got out and walked to the Centro school.  Unfortunately everyone but the desk staff had already left, so we rested in the air conditioning for a few minutes before running out to catch a bus to the mall.  The bus was also confusing, because you only pay when you get off.  There was also a lot of awkward dodging of other passengers on my part when we tried to get off, due to my not having anything to say to them.  Note to self: learn more polite words!

The mall was a familiar scene, but I was too tired to really want to look around.  We went to an internet café, then got some dinner at the food court (finally got to try out this weighing-your-dinner thing, and it was pricey!).  Mary had a few items to pick up, but we didn’t stay for too long as it closed at 10:00 anyway.  Mary called a friend of hers who happens to drive a cab, and he came and picked us up, saving us a likely crowded and less safe bus ride.

When we got back, I was pretty happy to change into pajamas and crash on the little mattress.  I knew we’d be leaving the house at 7 the next morning, so I wanted to savour every second of sleep I could!

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Filed under Brazil, Excited!, Flights, IICA internship, immigration, insecurities, Manaus, Miami, overcoming fear, something new, travel documents

The Sticker Picker-Upper

I’m sitting on a bus on my way to Toronto, which means I got my criminal record check this morning! It was a little hectic, as I had to drop my mom off at work, stop off at my work (to deliver a notice of resignation), and then go to the police station all before 9:30 am. I was hesitant to go to the station, because the woman I’d been talking to had done me a great favour already, and this was the second time I’d be showing up without waiting for her phone call. I approached the customer service window with a sheepish look, but fortunately she had the envelope right there waiting for me! Bingo!

I called my dad to confirm that I could come with him (he is doing business in London today), then rushed home to pack. As I was rushing around triple-checking I had all my relevant documents, my grandma shuffled downstairs in her nightie and handed me a twenty. I asked her what it was for, and she just replied, “For being a good girl.” Adorable. It’s going towards my subway fare, as I don’t have any cash on me, but at this point $20 is a big help towards not dipping into my travel savings before I leave!

I also sneaked in a quick email to my prof, notifying her I’ll be in town. I’m hoping I can meet with her today, so I can go straight to the Consulate tomorrow morning – and thus have time to deal with any potential problems before the weekend (here’s hoping there are none).

Have you ever seen the TV game show “Minute to Win It”? It’s a pretty new program, but the concept is really simple: teams of contestants perform challenges with props made of household items in a series of minute-long rounds. Each round brings the team closer to the ultimate prize of one million dollars. I don’t usually watch it, but my grandma does sometimes. The other day it was on, and I watched one team compete in a challenge for $125,000. Their task (or one girl’s; only one person plays at a time) was to hold an egg on a tray and roll it around to pick up these little red stickers without letting the egg roll off – in under a minute. It took her two tries, but she did it and won the $125,000.

This may sound like a stupid challenge, but when you’re standing in front of a studio audience with spotlights and there’s that much money at stake, I can imagine it must be pretty nerve-wracking. In fact, I’m pretty sure I can relate. It’s like I am that egg rolling around on a tray, trying to pick up elusive stickers on a timeline. Strategy goes out the window, and so many times you think you’ve got one of those suckers when in fact, due to the natural curve of the egg, you missed it entirely. I feel about as vulnerable as an uncooked egg too; my emotions are stretched so thin that if all of this falls apart (and I metaphorically roll off the tray), I’ll crack for sure. Let’s just hope that doesn’t happen – or if it does, that I have a lifeline like the girls on the show and get a second chance!

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Filed under Brazil, Canada, cheesy metaphors, IICA internship, red tape, Toronto, travel documents

Nothing Worthwhile is Ever Easy

Contrary to what you may think, this has nothing to do with Brazilian bikinis. And you're gross for thinking about it.

You’d think this (the title) was a lesson I’d learned during my undergrad…alas, it is one that I will likely need reminding of my entire life.  It was a pervasive theme throughout all the other mini lessons I learned today.

After last week’s craziness, I decided to put the stress out of my mind for the weekend and get back to it on Monday. So, today was round three of my pre-departure errand marathon. Rather than bore you with the specifics, I decided to make a list of lessons I’ve learned in the last day or two, and in the course of things explain how I learned them.

Lesson 1: Nepotism Works for Me

I found out once I’d received my documents package that I needed a criminal record check, which was a huge piss-off because I could have gotten one done while I was waiting. Luckily, my sister had to get one a few weeks ago, and when my mom went to pick it up for her she got to chatting with the Police secretary. It turns out that she knows my grandma from when she worked at the police office ~12 years ago! She encouraged us to notify her if we needed police services again…well, just three weeks later (last week), I went in with my own police record request. I popped in today to check on the status, as I hadn’t asked her how long it would take. She informed me that she’d put it in as soon as I’d brought it to her last week, and it would be ready likely tomorrow! This is great news, as it’s now the last piece of information I need other than the signature from my Humber professor. Which brings me to…

Lesson 2: Keep in Touch with your References

You never know when you’re going to have to call in a favour, and references are so crucial to getting the things you want. Jobs, internships, and graduate school are some of the most obvious things for which references are needed, and at this point in my career, my résumé isn’t strong enough yet to recommend me on its own. I had a supervisor for my fourth year thesis who would be a killer grad school reference, but I haven’t talked to him in two years. I guess I’d better get on that, before it’s a month before some deadline and I’m praying he answers an ancient email address. Luckily, my college career was only a year ago, and the professor who is referring me for the internship/visa is super nice. I’ll just have to email her with a time to meet up and she should be able to sign my forms. J

Lesson 3: Don’t Forget to Floss

Okay, this one isn’t strictly related, and it’s kind of a no-brainer. But I went to the dentist today for a check-up and cleaning, and got the usual tongue-lashing (no pun intended) from my dental hygienist about flossing. Actually, she phrased it in the nicest possible way. She said, “You’re too pretty to be ugly,” which apparently means I have great teeth but I’m risking having awful ones later if I don’t pick up a dental pick every once in a while. Lesson learned, Veronica, lesson learned.

Lesson 4: Never Assume One Party has Given You Complete Information about a Third Party

I’ve talked about this before, but I’ve had a lot of confusion with the internship people on exact details. Seriously, every time I email them with a question, one person (the assistant) will email me with one answer, and later another person (the professor) will email me telling me something completely different. Even the contact I’ve had with the school where I’ll be teaching (some of it in Spanish, with me using Google Translate) has added to the confusion, and now I don’t know if I’m teaching in Manaus or Rio Branco. But due to language barriers and me giving up, I’m just going to have to figure that part out when I get there. Anyway, I had some questions for the Brazilian consulate regarding my visa application, so I emailed them directly to find out what all I needed to have in order. It turns out I actually need my flight booked before I apply, so I can provide a travel itinerary. Wish I’d known that last week when I found that flight!

Lesson 5: Telephone Customer Service Agents can be your Best Friend

…if you are polite and firm. This also proves true for email and face-to-face interaction. I think I spent about three hours on the phone today talking to various people, and although I suffered through a lot of automated dialing and repetitive hold music, I got a lot accomplished. I jumped right on the flight booking (see my last post for details on the site I found for cheap flights). Fortunately, the cheap flights were still available – but when I punched in all my information to complete the booking, it turned out the website didn’t recognize my Canadian address. I called the 1-800 number and talked to a wonderful, friendly agent for a good 20 minutes. She explained that the ticket I was about to purchase, while cheap, wouldn’t be a good one to use if I need to change my booking because the fees would be high, and on top of that I’d need to pay the flight difference – which would likely be considerable. Instead, she found me a return ticket from Miami and a one-way from Detroit. Although the upfront cost is almost $500 more than the supercheap ticket, I’ll be able to change my ticket for only $50 at a later date. On top of everything, this is still considerably under the budget I’d set for myself, so I’ll have some money set aside for coming home at Christmas J.

*Sidenote: airlines only schedule flights about 320 days in advance. If you want to book a flight for later, you have to book an earlier one and then change it when you get closer to the date. I don’t know how this will affect my travel visa, but I’ll have to go with a June return date for now.

Things went a little sour when it came time to pay and my credit card wouldn’t go through. The travel agent I was speaking with said she’d call me back after I contacted the bank. We actually went back and forth about four times with me calling the bank, then the travel agency calling me, then me calling the bank again. Apparently Visa wasn’t too on the ball with lifting the hold from my account, but once again I had super friendly service and the people were very easy to talk to. I’ve never had a problem with Visa or with my bank, TD – part of the reason I can’t fully commit to an online banking conversion, much as I love ING Direct.

Anyway, I think everything has finally been straightened out. I’m now waiting for a flight itinerary and e-ticket to show up in my email inbox and I’ll be sure it’s all set!  Details to come…

Lesson 6: Make Sure All Relevant People Know You’re Going Away

I feel like I’ve been preparing to go away for a billion years (a.k.a. six months at least), and there are still things to be done! Some of these things will have to be done at the last minute, for example: informing my bank and credit card company that I’ll be out of the country. This was already a problem today when I tried to put a large purchase from an American company on my Canadian Visa. Other people I’ll have to inform will be OHIP (Ontario Health Insurance Plan, for any non-Ontarians) and EI (Employment Insurance), which I applied for last week – hey, I’m technically laid off for the summer, might as well be collecting while I’m in the country! If I’ve missed anybody important, feel free to tell me in the comments. This is my first time leaving for such a substantial period of time, so I’ll need all the help I can get.

Lesson 7: Remember to Breathe

Talk about a no-brainer (I once heard a blonde joke about this), but it’s actually the number one rule of yoga. My mom is pretty good at reading my stress levels (I’m usually projecting it onto her anyways), and this afternoon as I left to do all my errands she said I sounded like I was pretty tightly wound. And, despite a weekend of lying on the beach, watching Harry Potter, and drinking various alcoholic beverages, the thought of one day of running around totally did stress me out. At dinner I reviewed everything I did today, and my mom asked me when, during the next year, I thought I’d start stressing about the year after my internship. Well, I sincerely hope that a year in Brazil will cure or at least treat my rampant control freakism, but that may be too much to ask. For now, I’ll just remember the mantra of my yoga studio: “If you can breathe and smile, you’re doing yoga.” At least I have newly-cleaned and sparkling teeth!

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Filed under bargain hunting, Canada, crazy like a fox, Flights, IICA internship, Life Lessons, red tape, travel documents

I like CTRL

I admit that yesterday’s post was probably a little over the top and revealed my control freak tendencies. But, it did yield results! I got responses from almost everyone I talked to yesterday, and I even found some good news regarding flights.

I woke up this morning to my first ever response from my host in Manaus, whom I had tried to email more than once before. I was pretty relieved to hear from her; after all, it’s pretty risky to head into the jungle on your own without any reassurance that there’s someone waiting on the other end to receive you! Fortunately she wrote that they (she and the school, I’d imagine) are eager to meet me. She also said that I am supposed to be going to Rio Branco, but that I’ll go to Manaus first. She said, “Do not worry about your trip will be great, you will like to know Manaus.” I wasn’t worried about Manaus, I was worried about Rio Branco! It looks like I’ll just have to go along with it, because I’m not getting a straight answer. I’m still working on relaxing my control freak ways, and I think Brazil will pretty much squash them out of me with its laissez-faire attitude.

A little bit later, I got a response from my college professor. I’d had this nagging feeling ever since I’d sent her the email that she wouldn’t want to do it, or wouldn’t be able to. After all, it’s summer vacation; what if she was away? She’s Greek; what if she’d gone to Greece for the summer? But as it turns out, she’s in Toronto, and has no problem signing my paperwork! I actually did a little dance. I had thought this would be my biggest hurdle, but it’s thankfully not an issue. Now all I need is my criminal record check, and I can take my paperwork to Toronto for the last set of signatures, and on to the Consulate. Apparently I have a better chance of expediting the visa process if I bring it there in person, which means I could actually be flying out in late July or early August.

Which brings me to the last bit of good news: I found the cheapest flight ever! I’ve been tracking flight prices for the last six months or so pretty religiously, and with the research in mind had estimated around $1600-$2000 for a return airfare. Then, last night I found an article in the Globe and Mail’s finance section that gave tips on getting cheap flights. It recommended a few sites that give out up-to-date promo codes. While perusing these sites, I came across an online travel booking service I’d never heard of before, STA Travel. Intrigued, I looked them up.

As it turns out, they’re a travel agency geared towards students, under 26es, and teachers – perfect for me. I plugged in some estimated travel dates and locations, and was astonished to see a quote literally half of some of the better deals I’d seen before, return, and taxes and fees included! I called this afternoon to make sure they are legit, and to ask if it would be possible to change the return flight because I’d be booking it so far in advance. They definitely checked out, and even if I have to pay some hefty fees for rebooking (like $300), the total cost would still come in well under budget.

Now, to get my affairs completely in order so I can book this awesome deal! I’m thinking I’ll wait and see what happens tomorrow regarding the criminal record check. If it’s ready for pickup between now and Monday, I can get to Toronto without problems and get the visa going, which means I could probably pre-emptively book my flight! Woo, it looks like this crazy adventure may actually happen after all!

Finally, this image should have appeared at the head of yesterday’s post:

*Note: The term "order" should only be applied to me insofar as I organize my life; it should in no way be associated with my daily lifestyle, which is more appropriately termed "chaos."

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Filed under Brazil, crazy like a fox, IICA internship, mail, overcoming fear, red tape

Oh Internship, how do you confuse me? Let me count the ways

Well friends, it finally happened…my documents package finally arrived from Brazil! This is the moment I’ve been waiting for since I found out I’d gotten a placement back in May. Seriously, it was a long and painful wait for the ten or so pages of documentation I needed to apply for my trainee visa! But it’s kind of a long story, so let me back it up a bit.

I mentioned in my last post that I’d emailed the internship people to find out if they had any details about the mail from their end, such as a tracking number. To my relief, I woke up Thursday morning to an email with both a tracking number and reassurance that, according to Brazil’s Correios, the package had arrived in Canada on June 30 (Note: it had been postmarked June 13; therefore, the main holdup was not with Canada Post, despite the strike/lockout, but with the Brazilian system!). I was advised to check it out on the Canadian end, which of course I did. So I entered the tracking number into the tracking box on Canada Post’s website…and nothing came up.

Okay, I thought, maybe it’s still stuck in Customs, or maybe the tracking number will be different on the Canadian end than the Brazilian end. So I called up Canada Post, expecting to be stuck on hold forever only to be told off for not anticipating delays after a shutdown. Fortunately I got a customer service agent right away, although she did confirm that the wait time was around 3-4 weeks, especially for international deliveries as there was a customs backlog. Great. Then she checked my tracking number, and again nothing came up. I told her about it allegedly having left Brazil, so she checked the Brazilian mail system…still nothing. Then I started to panic: was this a fictional parcel? Was IICA lying to me? Was there some crazy conspiracy between IICA, Canada Post and Correios to make me lose my mind?

Okay, it wasn’t quite that dramatic…but I really didn’t know what to think. I emailed my internship contact once again to confirm the tracking number, then did what I always do when I get stressed and called my mommy to deal with it. She loves this sort of thing, where you can research it on the internet (instead of doing real work. I just let her do that). Then I left the house and attempted to have a normal day by doing some more window shopping, patio reading, and meeting with a friend.

The next morning I awoke to another email:

Skylar:

Good morning. The correct tracking number is:

EB—05*****79BR

It was sent you EE, which is wrong.

Kind Regards.

Internship Coordinator

Not knowing whether to laugh or cry with relief, I quickly re-entered the new tracking number into the Canada Post site. Lo and behold, the item had cleared Customs and reached London, an hour away from home! I was hopeful that the package could even arrive at my house that day, in which case I’d have my mom Purolate it to me at my sister’s place and try to stay an extra couple days to go to the consulate. Alas, it didn’t, and I took the train home on Sunday night.

Monday: Canada Post, 9:00 am – item out for delivery (no delivery)

5:00 pm – item redirected to recipient’s new address (I moved a month ago)

Tuesday: Canada Post,    9:13 am – item out for delivery

10:41 am – item successfully delivered (!!!)

I was in my pajamas still this morning when the red, white and blue postal truck finally showed up in our driveway. I signed the little machine thing, and was handed a half-page sized envelope, which seemed pretty anticlimactic after all this time. I opened it, mom watching on. It was literally just the visa paperwork, with a page or two of sparse instructions on what to add, and half the pages were in Portuguese.

Upon reading a little closer, I noticed that my Brazilian address and workplace didn’t say Manaus, but Rio Branco. I assumed it was somewhere on the outskirts of the city, like Markham is to Toronto. So over breakfast I perused my information and decided to Google Map the location. Why didn’t I recall that this was a surefire way to start panicking, like when I first learned about Manaus?

I searched it and found the little pink pinpoint, but didn’t recognize any of the green surroundings, so I zoomed out. Still nothing, so I zoomed out some more. And out…and out…until I saw a country border, and recognized Bolivia, and then Peru! Rio Branco is the capital city of the most Westerly state in Brazil, Acre; a state, which according to the Lonely Planet, was bought/stolen from Bolivia in the early 1900’s, although “The Brazilian government…had never really supported the upstart Acreans and refused to name Acre a state, designating it the nation’s first ‘federal territory’ instead.” Great, I had just gotten used to the idea of moving to Manaus, city of 1.8 million though isolated, and here I was being shafted to a city so remote that even the Brazilian government couldn’t be bothered to acknowledge its existence!

My next move was to attempt to get in touch with my supposed contact in Manaus/Rio Branco (it was the same person I tried emailing a few weeks ago). I called the number on my documentation, but whoever answered the phone only spoke Portuguese and didn’t recognize the name I gave. I listened to dead air for a few minutes in case he’d just put the phone down to go get her (the connection was unclear) before getting an earful of beeping, signalling that I’d been hung up on. I tried my hand at emailing said contact once more, then sent an update email to my internship coordinator informing him I’d received the package and was a little confused at its contents.

I spent the next hour translating the Portuguese documentation into English before I had to sign my life away, and noticed another slightly alarming detail: my college reference, which at the time of my initial application was in no way involved as I used a general reference letter, was on my visa documentation! She is expected to vouch for me with her signature at the consulate level when I apply for my visa. This complicates my life just that much more, as I haven’t spoken to my reference in over a year, and she lives and works in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area). So I shot another email off to her.

Meanwhile, I got response from IICA:

Skylar:

You initially had been screened for the school in Rio Branco.

The director decided you to be placed in Manaus, since the position in Rio Branco had been filled.

Thus you get your visa according to your papers and when you arrive a change of address from Rio Branco to Manaus will be done a imigration dept. in Manaus.

Kind Regards.

Heart attack averted! Only to be replaced by another email, minutes later:

Ms. Skylar:

Notice that two packages of visa paperwork were sent you. One in April, which I think you never received, and another one in June 13 (which is the correct).

The first one had xerox copies and not original copies. The second package sent June 13 had hard copies.

Be sure you have at hands the last one with the hard copies, since consulate of Brazil will not accept xerocopies. Void the first package, if you finally received it.

Kind Regards.

Which package had I received? It was date stamped for June 13, so I was pretty sure it was the one he wanted me to have…but the papers looked suspiciously photocopied. I verified…and was told to go ahead with this paperwork. Dear God, I hope there are no problems with it!

If all this wasn’t enough, apparently I’m also supposed to attach a criminal record check, which is notoriously a stupidly long waiting period, even in my hometown. I could have done it 5 times over while waiting, but nobody told me about it. Fortunately, my grandma used to work at the police station and has connections, so I went there today and used that nepotism to the best of my ability (pretty sure I won’t have to pay, but fingers crossed for expediency as well!). I’m also not sure I got the right sized passport photos done…I went back and had them re-taken, only to be further confused by different instructions on the consular website than on my documentation. Finally, I don’t know if I’m supposed to have my flight booked before flying, as the visa application requires a date and point of entry. Argh! So many things. At least I feel like I accomplished something towards leaving today, although once again, I’ll be sitting around and waiting for other people to act so that I can move forward.

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Filed under Brazil, Canada, fear, IICA internship, mail, red tape, travel documents

Time Flies, So Why Can’t I?

Here I am, sitting in Coffee Lodge during the last full week of school, procrastinating (naturally) and attempting to mark writing assessments. It seems like just last month I started my job, but it’s already been 5 months since my last assessment-marking marathon. I can hardly believe that this time next week I’ll have said goodbye to my students and handed out the report cards, and all I’ll have left to do is write my June report and clean out my desk!

I’ve learned so much this year, and I’ve grown to love my students even more. I’m so proud of the work they do. In fact, we’ve even started a class blog as a sort of memorabilia, and as a way for me to show off how awesome they all are. We’re going to enter it into a province-wide contest, but the real motivator for everyone is to have something they’ve written in their second language published for others to read. Most have kept their real (or Canadian) names, while others are posting under pseudonyms, and we’ve even found some creative ways of posting class pictures without divulging certain identities. We even have a fan: a creative writing teacher and author from Australia, who has thrilled my students with questions and encouragement under their posts. I encourage you to check it out, and comment, too!

As of July 1, I am free and clear of my current teaching obligations, sad though I may be to leave. What comes next? Well, Brazil is the plan, as you know. However I am STILL waiting for a package with my visa application documents to arrive from Brazil! This is probably the most frustrating waiting period of my life: I need the documents to apply for the trainee visa, and I need the trainee visa to get further instructions from the internship organization and to book my flight.

Meanwhile, Canada Post is on strike. I informed IICA of this a few days before the strike began, asking them to send out a new package via courier, and was assured this would be done. A week and a half later, I received another email asking if I’d received the package yet – nope. Emailed them back, reminding them they should have sent out two packages already. Received a reply basically implying the second package never went out, and they’d send a new one the next business day (this was Friday, so it wouldn’t go out until Monday), and it would take 7 business days to arrive. Well, that was 8 business days ago and counting, and still no package! So I’ve lost an entire month in visa processing time and potential for airfare advance purchase sales.

I was so excited to finish school and then take off for my awesome Brazilian vacation, but now I have no idea when I’ll leave! And I have to admit, I’m beginning to doubt this IICA thing is even going to happen. It’s scary, because I really don’t know what I will do if it falls through. I’ve saved up money for a short (1-2 month) vacation, and although I haven’t officially quit my job, I turned down summer school. Also it would be really embarrassing to tell EVERYONE that I’m only going on vacation now, not moving there. And I probably couldn’t handle living with my parents for another year, although it’s generally been good, since my sister and I are currently sharing a room.

Basically this is the first year ever that I’m not particularly excited for school to end and summer to begin. And it should have been the most exciting time. It’s such a shame! It just proves the whole “best laid plans of mice and men often go awry” line true once again.

So I’ll just keep going forward with my short-term arrangements until I know what’s up. Right now these include Sunday and Wednesday soccer, running when I feel like, visiting friends and family in Toronto, and maybe picking up the yoga again. I can get 8 hours of sleep and try to eat better (thus improving my chances of a respectable appearance in the dreaded Brazilian bikini), and research places I want to visit on a shortened itinerary. I can study Portuguese, which I haven’t even glanced at in weeks! Alright, there are lots of things to do to keep myself busy, even if they don’t include hang-gliding over the bay of Rio de Janeiro onto Copacabana beach. And I guess you can look forward to hearing a bit more from me here, as I won’t have any excuse not to post more regularly. J

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Filed under Brazil, Canada, IICA internship, insecurities, looking back, looking forward

Warming up to the Amazon

Teatro Amazonas, the famous opera house in Manaus.

So it’s been a few days, and I thought I should give an update on my present state of mind vis-á-vis “the Amazon.”

Somehow, against all odds, I’m finding myself warming up to the whole jungle expedition thing.  Well, mostly because I’ve realized that it would be nothing of the sort; in fact, Manaus is twice the size of Ottawa at around 2 million.  If I were to judge my openness to this rainforest ramble on a scale of, oh say, degrees Celsius, then on Sunday night I was at or below freezing (0ºC, for all you Fahrenheit users).  Over the last few days, the temperature has risen slowly but surely (I would say like a Canadian spring, but that’s too unpredictable).  After I talked to the Embassy people on Tuesday it was around 25º.  After I told friends, family, and coworkers and got many encouraging responses, it was pushing 50º.  Centigrade by centigrade, with each conversation and Google search, the mercury has crept higher.  I’m really not sure whether the catalyst here is time or excitement, but the conversion is undeniably happening.

You may have noticed that I’m somewhat of an (obsessive) planner (at least for special events; I am way too lazy to plan for the day-to-day).  Basically, I like to know everything that can be known about a place before I go.  I memorize maps, budget out costs, research activities, talk to other people who have been there, and basically drive myself and others crazy with details.  Last fall I went to NYC with two girlfriends for a three-day trip, and I had a folder, an itinerary, and a home-made travel guide shortlisting all the activities I liked in the bigger travel guide so we could still “wing it.”  Yeah, they laughed at me, but it was totally worth it.  Anyway, my point is this: while I had researched the shit out of pretty much the entire Brazilian Atlantic coast, I hadn’t given a second’s thought to the interior, and especially not to Manaus after I’d dismissed it as impossible.  This led, as you know, to a massive freak-out when I was suddenly told by authorities outside my influence that my placement was in Amazonas.

I think that a lot of my first reaction was due more to unpreparedness (mentally and scholastically) than to a genuine aversion to Manaus.  I also think that the excitement that followed that initial shock was neither positive nor negative, and with the influence of my friends’ and family’s reactions, it has taken on a positive energy.  Hence, the upward movement in the jungle thermometer.  I’m really not much of a worrier when it comes to meeting new people, learning new languages, or starting new jobs; these are things that I would have to do no matter what part of Brazil I moved to.  Once that knowledge set in, I’ve come to realize I can probably handle whatever is thrown at me – and learn to love it, too.

Now that I’ve started to get over my fears, I’ve started becoming more receptive to some of Manaus’s many positive characteristics.  First, there’s the fact that it’s quite a large city, as I said earlier.  This truly is the best of both worlds for me: big cities are exactly my cup of tea (downtown Toronto is still “my” hood), but I didn’t want to get swallowed up in the hustle of 20 million Paulistanos or eaten alive by Cariocan favelas.  (Don’t ask me why enormous cities require food metaphors…must be a subconscious allusion to Atwood’s Edible Woman.)  Anyway.  In Manaus, I’ll get all the culture, night life, and diversity of a larger city without the same kind of hustle.

Secondly, while I probably won’t be able to observe the integration of Brazilian immigrants at close range as I wanted, I will have the opportunity to learn more about the indigenous people.  The anthro/socio side of my trip is extremely important to me, as I’d like to do a social sciences Master’s some time in the near future.  Fortunately I’m equally passionate about all human cultures (although I do tend to favour some at different times), so this change is fine with me.  Besides, I will actually be the immigrant – I don’t need to observe others, I just need to observe myself!

Third, I have always known that the host school and living conditions will be more important than location when it comes to happiness and ease of adjustment.  I had a major breakthrough in this area last night.  Thank God for the internet, it does everything!  I trolled through some of my favourite Brazil expat blogs in search of any hint about life in Manaus.  It was on Danielle’s blog, which I’ve been reading for half a year now, that I found a post with a few dozen comments from other English teachers on the quality of the very school (franchise) that I’ve been accepted into.  And then, the real bingo: I found the blog of a girl who actually went through the same program as me, in the same city, in the same school, and loved it!  All this was at around midnight last night, and in my animated exhaustion, emailed her for details.  Meredith has been kind enough to message me back words of encouragement and assurance, and I look forward to talking to her more.

All of these considerations have my little internal thermometer spiking upwards.  I’m at the point now where I’m sure I will go, as long as the visa pulls through.  However, I eagerly anticipate the moment when I reach 100ºC and my excitement starts to boil over, as is deserved by the trip of a lifetime.

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Filed under Brazil, cheesy metaphors, IICA internship, life choices, overcoming fear