LAKEWOOD RANCH -- She came to the United States pursuing change and adventure, and when Lakewood Ranch Rotary Youth Exchange student Lorena Abreu returns this month to Recife, Brazil, she'll be leaving many new friends.
She will also take home a new understanding of how to relate to other people, a more mature grasp of relationships learned from experiencing the more reserved American culture of the Lakewood Ranch community while living far from home.
"I will take back things like how I grew up," Abreu said, "about how to treat people and how to be here by myself, how to treat people from different cultures and people who are not really like you."
The 16-year-old deeply affected the lives of her hosts, Eva Rey, and Ladd and Sally Waldo, all Lakewood Ranch Rotary Club members.
"Rotary believes this exchange is important for people helping each other and in people believing the world is bigger than their own little town," said Rotary President Ladd Waldo, also president and CEO of Easter Seals Southwest Florida. "Our
club does a lot of work in the community and we have a lot of reasons why we ought to focus outside of our community because it's a bigger world."
The international organization sponsors exchange programs for college students and young adults in business.
"My kids are much older, in their 30s. It's been a long time since I had a teenager around the house," Ladd Waldo said.
Abreu attended Lakewood Ranch High School, which caused its own exchanges.
"She needed rides," Waldo said. "We made sure she stayed close to her studies and made her lunch. We took her to school and took her out on occasion when we went out to eat. Like anybody 16 years old, she'd rather be with kids her own age than older people."
Abreu shared common teen interests.
"I really like to play sports, but I'm not good at any of them," said Abreu, who played intramural flag football, participated in drama and volunteered with Key Club at school. Abreu said one of her favorite memories is when Rey took her to a Maroon 5 concert in Orlando.
"I really liked doing community service, being able to serve the community," she said. "It's something that I really think in Brazil we should have more. To do service hours, I never heard of that before. It's not that common to just go out and help people."
Rey said the past year has been a learning experience for her, too.
"It was difficult to open up my home and life, exposing my life to a complete stranger -- and a teenager no less," Rey said. "So I think its made me a stronger person in that regard.
"She's very agreeable. She helps around the house and is very friendly, very outgoing. It's Brazilian. It's a culture where they're like that. She wants to go with friends and do this and do that, a very devil-may-care kind of attitude. It was refreshing to see someone who lives life in the moment like that. It's something that I'm not, and can't be, and I appreciate her for that."
Dee Graham, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7027, or tweet @DeeGrahamBH.