Going to the USA, as an exchange student, was one of the best life experiences I have ever had. Living the real life, I mean, without the attention and protection of my parents beside me, made me grow internally and so I learned how to be independent and responsible for my actions.
This East Coast Trip, sponsored by the McCook Community College, helped me to improve and gain even more knowledge about people, their culture and places different to the ones I grew up with. Besides Steve Batty and Mariko’s father, our group consisted of ten nice young exchange students who decided to spend one year or six months of their lives studying in McCook, Nebraska, and I was the “freshest” of all!
I had already acquired part of the “American spirit,” although I needed more. From the moment I decided to be an exchange student, I had to get that “spirit” entirely and try to live like Americans do, otherwise what was all this experience for?
Steve was responsible for all those “cuturaholic” students, our Sociology 299 teacher and our driver. He asked us to make a journal telling all the differences concerning culture, sights, anything that could be interesting to us. Before our departure from McCook, we planned almost everything such as schedules and motel reservations. Finally on May 14th, 1993 our dreams were to become true.
I was very excited about making the trip because I didn’t know if I would have another opportunity like that one, specially visiting all those cities that I wished so much to see as well as sharing this “adventure” with friends as excited and curious as I was!
Our departure was well recorded by the McCook Daily Gazette photographer. That was cool, we would appear in the local newspaper!
The first day was a long day driving so I took the opportunity to pay attention to the landscape. I had never been in a place as flat as Nebraska! It is the best place to ride a bike without getting tired! Mostly, it is a place with small towns surrounded by farms full of cows, oats or corns.
I didn’t realize I was already in the state of Iowa until the “bumps” turned to “hills”. I could also see some trees and rivers, like the Missouri River that became famous due to the pioneers who followed its course taming the Old West and fighting for their lives against the Indian and bison attacks.
We drove for 11 ½ hours that first day. Despite my weariness, I enjoyed it a lot because everything was new to me as it was supposed to be for the next 15 days! (van_1.jpg)
Basically, when we were on the road, we used to sing different songs in our common language of English, tell jokes, try to get the best position for a good sleep, enjoy the view, chat and etc. Outside the road, our daily life was: checking-in or checking-out, waking up early in order to have a fast breakfast, arranging at least a little bit of our mess (specially for the girls) and taking our most important equipment (cameras) to register everything!
As far as I remember, I was the only one who brought a video camera. I can say that I recorded almost everything with it! Some might have thought that I passed over the limits, however I am sure they don’t have as many great memories recorded on file as I have! Once in a while, I watch those videotapes and I have a lot of fun! I really miss those times and friends!
I was very excited about going to Chicago because it is the city where the movie “Ferries Builler’s Day Off” was shot. I simply love that movie and I couldn’t wait to be in those places that I knew so much about because of watching the movie on my TV in Brazil.
My first impression was very good. This city appeared very clean to me and it is not too dangerous, as I had heard from others. It also makes a big contrast between old and new due to the modern and futuristic buildings that were built among old ones mixing architectural styles. There is also a huge lake called Michigan that looks like the sea. It is amazing! I noticed that its inhabitants have a different accent, which is understandable. I also saw some homelesses and many Spanish-speaking people in the streets.
Unfortunately we had only 1-½ days to walk and drive around. Anyway, we had enough time to visit all the places we wanted to!
First, we went up to the top of the Sears Tower, one of the highest buildings in the world, with 103 floors! We were very lucky that day because the weather was simply great! When I was up there, I could barely see people walking on the sidewalks and cars moving from place to place in the middle of those streets, avenues and even highways! One more time, I realized how tiny we are comparing to that city, to this world and to this universe. I think that everyone who arrives there gets speechless while enjoying that wonderful view. There was also an interesting permanent exhibition about the history of that building in one of the lower floors. It was worth taking a look at!
After that, we went to see the fountain and walked along the lake towards the Aquarium and the Historical Museum. Since we didn’t have much time, we decided to take a bus for sightseeing. Cecilia (Sweden), Atsumi (Japan), Pernilla (Sweden), Stephan (Switzerland), Philippe (France), Laurens (Netherlands) and I (Brazil) had a lot of fun “cruising” around the city in the top of that 2-floor convertible red bus with a huge buffalo head on the front of it which represented one of the best basketball teams of that time: the Chicago Bulls, with Michael Jordan! Cool! (Chicago_bus.jpg)
While the bus was taking us through the main streets and avenues of Chicago, the driver was telling us the names of the buildings, statues and what they represented to the history of the city. It was nice! We also saw lots of limousines. One of them had a couple outside its solar ceiling waving to everyone because they had just gotten married and, obviously, the driver was playing his part: driving and honking!
In the evening, back to the motel, we played catcher and pitcher. For some of us, walking all day long wasn’t enough to get us ready for bed; we had to find other ways to expend the rest of our energy!
The following day we visited one of the best museums of that city, the Art Institution of Chicago, where there is a rich collection of genuine paintings and sculptures made by famous artists as well as a collection of old weapons and lovely miniatures of English and French houses. Definitely, this is a very good museum where we learned and appreciated more about art.
Before arriving in Niagara Falls, we spent 1 ½ day driving all the way crossing four more states (Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania) until we reach New York State. Along the highway I noticed that the landscape had changed again and it looked like the one in Brazil because the trees were closer to each other and it wasn’t flat anymore. We also passed near some lakes and even swamps!
In the end of the day, we stopped in Erie and we stayed overnight in a cheap and nasty motel but the price was right, just US $20 per room!
Niagara Falls is amazing, it is really awesome! On the other hand, I was astonished and disappointed when I learned that part of that wonder was man made. After the endless group photo sections made by patient, Steve (official photgrapher), I decided to take the boat to get closer to the waterfalls with Pernilla (Sweden), Laurens (Netherlands) and Johan (Belgium). It was great and a little bit scary because it seemed that the waterfalls would swallow us! What a “risk”!
Some people told us that the view from the Canadian side was prettier, but we couldn’t cross the bridge from the USA to Canada because none of us had Canadian visas. What a pity! Anyway, we spent a few hours there and then continued our trip making our way straight to Boston.
Day by day the list of states and cities was getting longer and they were satisfying our curiosity. At that time we had already crossed Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and we were about to enter the state of Massachusetts!
My first impression of Boston was not a good one as a result of the rain, gray sky and the ugly and dirty suburbs we had to drive through until we got to downtown. However, a friendly old man changed my mind when he gave us some directional information and helped us find a parking lot.
First, we went to the Quincy Market, a place full of open markets along the sidewalks as well as the nice stores nearby. Despite the old look of downtown Boston, everything is very clean and well maintained. It is really neat there, though! There is also a clock tower that reminded me of Big Ben in London!
We also visited the USS Constitution (old Iron Sides), which was undergoing a refitting. That was one of the ships used during the War of 1812 against the British, one more opportunity to learn more about American history. After that, we visited a genuine World War II war ship and I wondered how the sailors could manage to live and work for months inside of those tiny rooms separated by narrow corridors and passages with stairs to take them all the way up or down. I was feeling as if I were inside of a tuna fish can! I think it was called a “tin can” or destroyer.
In downtown, some neighborhoods looked like those in England because there had narrow streets and red brick houses built one beside another. In one of those streets, we saw the shooting place of a TV show called “Cheers”. There was a big audience outside watching the show since it was going to be their last episode! That was nice! (Hard Rock Cafe)
After that, we went straight to Harvard University. I wish I could say that we were going there to take one of our classes? Anyway, we made a short “tour” inside the university. It is huge and there were lots of students going from side to side with books under their arms and they were probably talking about their classes and assignments they had to do.
Back in downtown, we went to the Aquarium. Inside of this nice place there was an enormous round aquarium full of coral, fish, turtles and even sharks! There was also an exhibition about plants and animals from the Amazon, the Brazilian Rain Forest. This forest is considered the last lung of our planet and we know that conserving the planet is a very important issue. Lots of people are worried about the Amazon Forest and its devastation. That’s why our government tries extremely hard to keep it alive “fighting” against the wood dealers. Since there are people interested in wood, the wood dealers will continue to exist. Unfortunately, that’s the truth!
On one of those nights in Boston, we watched a Comedy Show at the Quincy Market. Actually, I didn’t have a lot of fun watching the show because most of the time I had no idea what they were talking about so I wasn’t able to understand their jokes. As a matter of fact, 5 months in the USA wasn’t enough for me to get familiar with the different accents and slang.
On the way to NY, we stopped for a while at West Point to visit USMA (United States Military Academy). What a nice academy! It was one of the prettiest scenic views of the trip, looking out over the Hudson River.
We took almost all day long driving from Boston to New York. As the city was getting closer to us, we couldn’t wait to get there and take a walk! We were all very excited! We decided to be hosted in a very strategic and expensive place right in the heart of Manhattan: the Roosevelt Hotel.
New York is a big city and it provides so many things for its tourists that it is impossible to see everything in less than 1 week! I confess that all that atmosphere was making me feel at home! São Paulo, where I am from, has 18 million inhabitants and it is almost like the “Big Apple”. I mean, a city full of nice people and numerous things to do, BUT with traffic jams, noise, pollution and violence to deal with. Ugh! If we take the good side, the city itself is really cool because of all those “huge” buildings, advertising boards and screens as well as all those colorful lights that blink everywhere. Besides, it is incredible the echo created among the high buildings in Manhattan because it is possible to hear any police car or ambulance siren wailing many blocks away! Unbelievable!
It is also a very cultural and glamorous city. On Broadway, there are limousines everywhere and it is where we can find most of the most important theatres with their everlasting plays that cost a fortune? US $85 one single ticket! It is always crowded, especially at Times Square, where the coolest things happen. (yellow cabs )
New York is the place to become street smart! We had to bargain for anything we wanted to buy in the streets and in many of the stores too! No matter what we wanted to buy, those salesmen were always trying to take the most of our naiveté! (street market) Once, I saw some of the watch and T-shirt Street vendors quickly packing their stuff and running away from the policemen that could take their merchandise and probably arrest them because they were doing something illegal. At that moment, I was trying to deal with one of the vendors and suddenly he got desperate and offered me one of his watches for a very cheap price in order to get rid of me and run away as fast as he could from the police. I can say that this is the best time to buy something from a street vendor, HOWEVER it is not always worth it because Stephan (Switzerland) had bought a watch that broke down unexpectedly a few days later!
We were extremely busy while we were in “the city” because the time was running fast and we were trying to see as much as we could in the few days we had! We walked along 5th Avenue looking at its fancy stores and important business buildings such as Rockefeller Center and the Trump Tower. We also stopped for a while to take a look inside St. Patrick’s Church and after that we went to take a “healthy” breath in Central Park.
It was sunny so there were lots of people spread out on that huge green grass fields to get a sun tan. Some rollers skaters were practicing their skills with cones aligned in the middle of the park streets. Concerning people’s safety and leisure, I saw traffic lights for pedestrians and bikers inside the park? that’s great!
The Empire State Building was another great place to go. It is almost as high as the Sears Tower, located in Chicago. The weather was great and we could see the whole city in all directions! When I am in a city for the first time, I like very much to take a look at the view from the top of a high building or a bell or clock tower. In this way, I can “draw” the city map in my mind and then I rarely get lost when I start walking down there again.
We had already spent 2 days in NY and I wasn’t feeling myself there because I hadn’t seen the Statue of Liberty yet. It was like going to Paris without visiting the Eiffel Tower!
When we finally took the ferryboat to Liberty Island my heart started beating fast. I was very excited to see the statue with my own eyes and climb up to her crown! I was surprised when I heard that France had given this statue as a gift to the American people to celebrate their independence. What a nice gift!!! I think the French people appreciate giving statues as gifts, just like the “Jesus Christ” statue, which became the symbol of the city, located in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. What a coincidence!
On Liberty Island, we saw the most wonderful view of Manhattan with all those skyscrapers! (Liberty Island) Some of us decided to go up to the crown and I was one of them. I would get extremely disappointed if I didn’t do it because once I am in a place or in a city, I always try to see as much as I can because I never know if I will get another opportunity to go back there.
Everything we did there was worthy, even though the climb took 1 ½ hour of our precious time to reach that crown! (Liberty-line) It is something that we must do at least once in our lives! Anyway, we had 1 ½ hour to appreciate all that structure made of metal, chat and learn how to be more patient. Somehow, it was fun waiting in that line, the stairs were so narrow that none of us could have the idea of giving up climbing it because we were on a one-way stair! (Liberty stairs)
I wanted to reach the torch but it wasn’t possible to do it. Well, at the crown I could see the view and also the “July 4th” written in that book, which means a lot for me: my birthday and the American independence day! (looking down)
Later on we went back to Manhattan to see the Stock Market building on Wall Street, and the World Trade Center, commonly known as “Twin Buildings”. This one was being rebuilt due to a terrorist bomb that had been exploded about 3 months before that day.
After that we took a taxi back to 5th Avenue with a nice driver telling us about the American actors and that crazy city. We stopped at FAO’S, the biggest toy store in the world! I did become a child again when I stepped in there! It is a store where we could find lots of adorable stuffed animals and any kind of toy such as: old fashioned, hand made, wooden and electronic toy! (FAO’S.jpg)
In order to celebrate the end of our city tour in New York, Stephan (Switzerland), Pernilla (Sweden), Johan (Belgium), Cecilia (Sweden) and I (Brazil) decided to have dinner at Brasilia’s, a Brazilian food restaurant. It was so good, and finally I could eat again one of my favorite dishes: “Feijoada”, made of black beans with pork, rice and French fries!
The subway was the first thing I saw in Washington. It was very clean, modern, practical and the best transportation we could get from our motel at the edge of the city.
It is a very sumptuous city with huge and pompous buildings! Besides all that beauty, we could easily go on foot to the most important places such as ministries and museums. These main buildings were built in two single lines making a parallel. Between these two lines, there is a long grass path from the Capitol Building to the Lincoln Memorial with an obelisk right in the middle of it. This obelisk reminded me of one in São Paulo, Brazil that was built near my house in memory of soldiers who died in the 1930’s Revolution.
We walked all the way down both sides visiting different museums that make part of the Smithsonian Museum. On the right side we visited the Museum of Natural History with an enormous mammoth at the entrance! Amazing! Then, we went to the National Gallery to see some paintings.
Two places impressed me tremendously: the Holocaust Museum and the Vietnam War Memorial. The first one shocked me when I saw clothes and personal objects that belonged to some Jews who died in concentration camps during the Second World War. Terrible things happened during that period of World History and I hope it never happen again! The second one left me also very sad because there were thousands of killed soldiers’ names written in tiny letters along the two black granite walls. They were the names of those who gave their lives for their country but who would never experience what we will!
After that, we went straight to the famous White House, a place where I wished so much to see! I had already seen and heard about it a thousand times on TV, newspapers and magazines and, there I was! It would have been great if I could have meet President Bill Clinton too!
Mariko (Japan), Ole (Denmark), Johan (Belgium), Stephan (Switzerland), Pernilla (Sweden) and I bought our lunch and decided to make a picnic on a square right beside the White House. It was great! A few minutes later, some squirrels decided to join us for lunch and I decided to feed them my chocolate chips. It was my first time getting so close to them! ( Elayne and the squirrel)
Unfortunately our trip was coming to an end. At the mall called Union Station, built in a former train station building, we had a nice surprise for Steve to thank him for all the things he did for us! He drove most of the time on the highways, he allowed us to make our own decisions and he was extremely patient to all of us because we were 10 young people that loved to talk a lot, listen to the songs out loud and make messes when we were all together! What a group!
ON THE WAY BACK TO NEBRASKA
We took two entire days driving back to McCook. (van 2) First, we slept in Columbus – Ohio, in a very nice motel with a swimming pool and? gardens and bedrooms full of spiders! The girls, bedroom had 6 spiders that almost made Pernilla (Sweden) have an attack and faint because she has a spider phobia! The last city where we stayed overnight was Peoria, Illinois. Little by little, we were all coming down after 16 non-stop days! Although we were really looking forward to going back home and take a rest, it was a wonderful trip!
Despite some misunderstandings and “contretemps” (like when Johan forgot to wake up and be ready in time for our excepted departure day), it was a wonderful group. Regardless of all the misunderstandings, that are very common to happen when we are with people with different habits and thoughts, we must also know that “contretemps” happen very often due to somebody or something. When it happens, we can take the opportunity to learn how to be patient and how to deal with unexpected things.
Depending on the city, we split our group due to different interests. However, in the evening, we usually planned things to do together like going to the movies, restaurants, or watching movies on TV in the motel.
Concerning bedroom organization, the girls were unbelievably always in second place. Our bedroom was a big mess, looked like a war zone! (big mess) My only excuse for this lack of will of putting things in order is that we were five girls with five HUGE suitcases full of things that we thought would be extremely useful to us, even in case of a real war! Everyone knows girls need to always be prepared for anything and so we didn’t break this rule! Besides, we had to make “agreements” to figure out how we all could sleep in only two king-size beds. It wasn’t that bad. We are great survivors! Oh God, I truly exaggerated the description of the girls daily life!
To sum up, this was an unforgettable trip made with unforgettable friends! Thanks, Steve and McCook Community College, for providing us this wonderful and great experience!