First in My Family: To Go Abroad
One of the best parts of college is that it often a time and place that many “first-time” experiences happen. Although I wasn’t the first in my family to go to college, I definitely was the first to go abroad. This was thanks to the Gilman Scholarship I was awarded to complete a two-month internship in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2015. From my first time abroad I’d like to share three other types of first experiences that stay with me today.
One of the essential life-skill first experiences I had abroad was how to prepare foods that I had never cooked myself. While it’s exciting to eat out as much as possible, I found that after the first month abroad I was hungry for more home cooked meals, let alone watching my budget. To my surprise, some groceries I expected to find weren’t available, such as canned beans, peanut butter, and maple syrup. I had never cooked raw beans before, and it took me a couple attempts to cook them right. I noticed that gas stoves are common in Brazil, and this was also my first time cooking on one.
While on the subject of food, I’d also like to discuss the coffee in Brazil. I was a fan of large hot or iced mochas and lattes, but I discovered that outside of Starbucks in Rio de Janeiro it’s not common to find larges coffees on the menu. Brazilians tend to drink smaller and stronger servings of coffee, such as a cappuccino or espresso. It’s not part of their culture to order to-go cups of coffee. Drive-thru coffee stands are not a thing there. I actually now prefer a cappuccino rather than a large mocha or latte.
Going abroad typically involves learning the language, or at least practicing. While I had taken Portuguese classes in college an hour a day, five days a week, what I wish I had included in my practice was going a full 24 hours without English, let alone two months. I remember it taking around two weeks until I became comfortable with not resorting back to English every day. I found it important to experience entire days in Portuguese, which was a first for me.
Although Portuguese is the main language, I was surprised to discover how often I heard English pop music in stores. I also heard a live band speak to the audience in Portuguese but then sing completely in English. Some of the local college students I spoke with were not fluent in English for conversation, but their favorite singers were from the USA, such as Beyoncé and Adam Levine. I realized that they were learning English primarily through music. I was then inspired to find a Brazilian singer I would listen to in order to learn more about the language, and I became a fan of Vanessa da Mata’s music.
My last “first experience” I’ll mention here was one of the more impactful for me. I had less than two weeks left of my internship when I lost my iPhone. Since I still had my laptop I decided I’d be fine without my phone. What I failed to realize is how long, nearly a decade, it had been since I last was without a phone for more than a weekend. I still accessed the internet on my phone, but I was now experiencing life without it at my fingertips. I found that I was much more observant of my surroundings, and rather than always stopping to take a picture, I felt more “in the moment” of where I was, and those good memories to have.
Looking back on these first experiences abroad, I see similarities to my second travel abroad, to Switzerland and France this summer. I again lost my phone towards the end of my trip. Although this was unfortunate, I actually found myself learning more about my new environment hands-on than when I was busy navigating and documenting it through my phone.