At the end of this month, Ladysmith’s Fiona Mathers will fly to Brazil for a semester-long exchange.
It’s something the 16-year-old Grade 11 student at Ladysmith Secondary School (LSS) has always wanted to do, and it’s an experience she expects will be life-changing.
Mathers will spend five months in Brazil, travelling under the Shecana International program. She will live with a host family in Goiânia in the state of Goiás in central Brazil, a city she believes is about the same size as Victoria, while studying at a Portuguese high school.
“I’d always wanted to go on an exchange program, ever since I was a kid,” said Mathers. “I’ve recently met a lot of Brazilian friends, and I’ve been very inspired by them.”
Mathers first decided she wanted to go to Germany when she was in Grade 10, but she and her family weren’t organized enough so they waited a year. German was the first language Mathers learned through North Island Distance Education, which she found out about and registered for herself. It gave her access to the Rosetta Stone language program and she hasn’t looked back, according to her mother, Christine.
In the last two years, Mathers had made great friends with some Brazilian exchange students at LSS and been studying Portuguese, and she started leaning more toward travelling to Brazil than Germany.
“Just in the last couple of years, I decided I’d take more from it being in Brazil,” she said. “I think I sort of had an idealized idea of Germany, and it was the first foreign language I learned. After learning Portuguese and meeting so many inspiring Brazilians, I thought I should do something entirely different. It’s just something so entirely different from what I experience now that I think I’ll take more from that.”
Mathers says she is looking forward to everything about the experience.
“I most want to become fluent in Portuguese,” she said. “I’m just really looking forward to being involved in something different than anything I’ve done. It will be a completely foreign experience, in every sense of the word.”
While in Brazil, Mathers hopes to visit the capital, Brazilia, and see the architecture in old colonial towns.
Mathers says it has been a bit of a challenge to get ready for this trip because she will miss a whole semester at school. She will have to make up credits and take a lot of online courses, but she thinks she may be able to challenge some courses when she gets back. But she has received a lot of support from LSS staff to make this dream a reality.
“A lot of teachers have helped me out,” she said. “My science teacher, [Grace] Ledingham, wrote me a reference letter which totally secured the whole thing. The principal has been really supportive. Everyone at my school has been really supportive and great.”
Mathers leaves for Brazil Tuesday, Jan. 28 and she will stay there until early July.
“I feel like I’m almost in shock,” he said. “I can’t get excited because it’s impossible to comprehend being in a different country with a different language for five months. It’s like trying to imagine an entirely different life.”