My last week in Brazil was unbelievably draining. I felt a hollow in my chest which stayed all day, every day until I landed back in the US. I hate goodbyes and that week I said goodbye to many people: my professors, CET staff, my roommates, friends. Even saying goodbye to the staff at the local bakery we frequented daily felt hard. But to my surprise, my weeks in the United States feel normal – like nothing changed. It is because my abroad experience transformed how I think so much that it changed my approach to life’s transience. I said goodbye to physical people and places, but the experiences and lessons I learned will stay with me for when I need them.
I kind of skipped the period of reverse culture shock when you are supposed to feel frustrated, angry, or lonely, because I often felt that way before going and being abroad actually helped place my emotions into perspective. I realized how privileged I am – even as a queer, Latino, first-generation student. The fact that I could go to another country, learn from it, leave, and incorporate what I learned is a big privilege. So, more than angry or frustrated that the experience is over, I am just grateful that it happened in the first place, because not everyone, especially not most people like me get to have that. I am already at the stage where I am incorporating what I learned into my daily routine so that I can live as the best me possible and make the best out of every situation.
- Being a career go-getter.
I encountered many professionals – in love with their careers – who positively impacted my career passions. Walking through the streets of downtown Sao Paulo, I noticed how differently Brazilians approach the balance of creative expression and professionalism. It was common to see professionals in more “traditional” fields sporting tattoos, piercings, hair dye, and fashion-forward clothing. All this fab was far from the drab gray suit life of the US. This was clear with the abroad program’s staff, who not only had creative license with how they showed up to work but in what they did. They did not have your typical 9-5 desk job but were often about the city planning cultural activities for us. I always thought I would want a job that allows me to express myself more freely and which keeps me creative, but now I for sure know it.
I put these feelings into action when I came back by packing my bags and spending my summer in my college town of DC, even though I had a secure and comfortable paid internship I had done for the past six years. I need growth and something that meets me where I am today. Currently, I am just working at a restaurant for the summer, but I have more of a go-getter mentality. I have been busy working on applicatoins for the fall, going to conferences, networking with people, and really trying to get everything right for when college ends. I often leave things for the last minute, but I am doing what I could do tomorrow today and I learned that in Brazil.
- Finding ways to be more creative.
There were so many new stimuli I came across during my semester abroad. The list is truly expansive: new people, new food, new city, new rhythms, new sounds, etc. It was all challenging and rewarding at the same time. The previous semester I had taken a media entrepreneurship class and my main takeaway was to channel the ups and downs of life into something new and useful. That is what did in Brazil. I launched a blog where I kept track of my experiences and frustrations in a new country. I hope people can learn and grow from it the same way I have. While the blog was inspired by my abroad experience, I plan to keep it going and to use it as a vehicle for creativity long-term. I’ve learned there is so much to explore just in your own backyard or city and if you channel that stimuli in a productive way it can open many career and social doors.
- Seeking out more culture.
I knew I had a short amount of time, only four months, in Sao Paulo and I sought to make the most of it. I traveled around the country with friends (and sometimes alone), so that I could really soak up as much as possible. I don’t do that enough back home, because it is very easy to get stuck in a bubble and routine. I always think I have a lifetime to explore a place. But, now that I am back, I want to really take on the city. That’s part of the reason I decided to stay in DC for the summer too. With all this free time since I’m not in class, I have no excuse to not go out to new bars and clubs, or to visit more museum, or to bike down to the monuments, or to go out in Maryland and Virginia. There is so much more to see out there than in the comfort of my home on Netflix and I am really going to take advantage of that now because a lifetime is short.
- More emotional maturity and honesty.
I was hit hard by the realization that despite thinking I’ve lived it all I have not. As a queer, Latino, first-generation student I sometimes get so caught up in how much people like me struggle and how hard we must work to get to where we are that I assume there are no more challenges left for me. But Brazil was a challenge and I experienced quite a bit of culture shock. I did not know how to be comfortable with not being OK at first. When I was feeling homesick I kept it to myself until a friend said, “I feel sad” and then another and another. Soon, I realized culture shock is very normal and it is OK to not feel OK. The emotional honesty I was gifted by my other program friends really made me open myself up more to other people and my own self. I feel like I understand myself more now and I am constantly journaling to keep things that way (which is why this blog is kind of long). But I find it so necessary and healthy to just write and speak on what you feel. It is beautiful to understand and share that connection with others.
- Financial responsibility.
I wouldn’t call myself a shopaholic, but clothing definitely for me is an expressive outlet that makes me feel better but does not make my bank account feel all that great. During my semester abroad, I really hustled and got a Gilman scholarship along with some other grants. Because I was unable to work during the semester abroad, I started a budget. “Broke in Brazil” sounds like it would be a fantastic sitcom but I’m not trying to be in it. I kept to that budget all semester and realized, one, how easy it is to keep one, and two, how many stupid, unnecessary expenses I have. Now that I am back in DC, which is significantly more expensive – oh, how I miss Brazilian prices – I am implementing the budget into my day to day routine.
Things like cooking and exercise have almost always felt like work to me. But in Brazil, I learned to approach them as parts of my daily routine that can be fun, social, and unwinding. One of my Brazilian roommates was very into cooking and he would always make us different desserts or shared his meals. I picked up quite a few tips from him and his love for cuisines really inspired me. I now cook more and take creative liberties. As for fitness, I started going to the gym in Brazil, which always felt overwhelming for me in the states and is why I normally work out alone in the comfort of my home. But the gym goers in Brazil were a lot less intimidating, many were actually quite helpful and I even made some friends, which made me appreciate it more. Now I finally understand why some people are “gym rats”. The gym can be quite the social space.
While abroad, I had no international data plan. So, rather than just texting friends while I was out and about by myself, I talked to strangers. This opened my eyes to how many amazing conversations can be had with people you don’t know. Especially, when you come from different backgrounds. I am someone who is very open to learning about different cultures, but I often don’t make the effort into going into those spaces or approaching people myself. While abroad I was forced to because there was no alternative – I either got out of my comfort zone or I would have been lost and miserable the whole semester. I also realized how much I missed family and friends. So, I made a better effort with them. I picked out souvenirs for them and in the week I was back home in New York visited each person individually to share my experiences rather than just texting them. I noticed, too, how much more meaningful our conversation now and how our relationships have the potential to strengthen.
I plan on traveling more – both internationally and locally. Traveling opens up so many windows into the world, but also into the self and I can’t wait to keep this growth going.