ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
While most of her peers were soaking up the sun in Hillsboro this summer, Gina Andrews, a senior at Hillsboro High School traveled to Brazil.
Andrews, daughter of Gary and Sally Andrews, was renewing a friendship that blossomed as the result of a foreign exchange student’s stay in Hillsboro two years ago.
“I went down to visit Louisa da Costa, who was an exchange student here in Hillsboro two years ago,” Andrews said. “She was here from August to January and stayed with David and Crystal Hobson.”
Before leaving, Andrews was subjected to a variety of requirements to assure her entrance into the Brazil.
“I had to get a passport and a visa,” she said. “I also had to get a shot for Hepatitis A and for yellow fever and take pills for typhoid and malaria.”
Andrews said the inconvenience was magnified when she arrived in Brazil.
“Louisa said they really don’t have those diseases anymore,” she said. “But my visa said they could have refused to let me into the country if I didn’t have proof of my vaccinations.
“The frustrating thing was when I got there, not once did they check to see if I really did do everything they said I needed to,” she added. “But I wanted to make sure I didn’t have to turn around and come home either.”
Andrew’s odyssey covered 18 days and more than 10,600 miles.
“I left from Wichita and flew to Dallas, and from there I went to Sao Paulo, Brazil, which took about 13 hours,” Andrews said. “From Sao Paulo, I had a 45-minute flight to Belo Horizonte, which is where Louisa lives.”
Andrews said locating the gate for her connecting flight at Sao Paulo posed a challenge.
“I had to ask about 10 people in the airport before I found someone who spoke English and could direct me the right direction,” she said.
Andrews said the size of Belo Horizonte was an eye-opener.
“It has about 3 million people,” she said. “That was such a big change.”
Another change was the temperature.
“It was winter down there so it was mainly in the 60s,” she said. “While I was there, it was cloudy a lot and we had to wear sweaters and coats in the evening.”
Upon reaching her destination, Andrews stayed with the family of da Costa.
“Her parents didn’t speak any English at all,” Andrews said. “Their native language is Portuguese, but her brother (Junior, age 12) and sister (Laura, age 17) both spoke English as well as Louisa.
“I learned words like ‘thank you’ and ‘you’re welcome,'” she added. “It was really interesting communicating with her mom.
“She knew basic words like ‘want’ and ‘like,'” Andrews said. “It was so funny, though-she was so nice even though we couldn’t even talk to each other.”
Andrews said dislike of President Bush is a common opinion in Brazil.
“They all blame him for the war and they thought it was his fault,” Andrews said. “All of Louisa’s friends wanted to know what I thought about President Bush.”
Andrews said a highlight of her visit was spending three days in Rio de Janeiro.
“It’s about a six-hour drive from Belo Horizonte,” she said. “I got to go to the beach, which was really cool, and I actually got to swim in the Atlantic Ocean.
“Two of the days it was cloudy and the beach was completely deserted, but the last day it was sunny and it was so crowded,” Andrews said. “Everyone had really dark tans-except me, though.”
One distressing aspect of her visit to Rio, though, were the number of poor persons.
“Brazil has so many people that are homeless,” she said. “When you’d stop at a stoplight, they’d run down the street and tap on the windows and beg for money.
“There were a lot of little kids doing that, and it was so sad.”
Andrews said overall the Brazilians treated her quite well.
“They were nice and polite to me,” she said. “A couple of restaurants even offered me English menus.”
Although many people appeared impoverished, Andrews said the cost of goods seemed to be in line with her hometown.
“Food wasn’t as much there as it is around here,” she said.
Andrews said the best part of her trip was her newfound independence.
“I had the chance to do something totally by myself,” she said. “I was completely on my own, which was really exciting, traveling halfway around the world and I’m only 17.”
Andrews hopes to attend Kansas State University after graduating from HHS next spring. She plans to major in business or accounting and becoming a certified public accountant.
“This trip made me realize I might be interested in international business,” she said.