For anyone that has traveled, you know that no matter where you go, you are inevitably pushed and changed from the unexpected that comes along with your trip. Even the best of us planners are bound to experience a missed flight or lost bag, and facing cultural shockers such as language barriers or extremely different foods can significantly impact you after a trip. Traveling short term brings a whole new priority list to everyday life and helps you strip away unnecessary complications to fully experience a new place. Living abroad, however, is in a league of its own. All the rules of short-term travel are thrown out the window and a new equilibrium needs to be reached if you are to be successful in your new country. As an American in Rio, here are some major lessons I learned about setting down roots in South America.
1. It’s okay to rest
Normal travel is exhausting and oftentimes people push themselves because they know time is of the essence. They walk twelve miles, hit seven monuments, try five new things etc. and by the end of the trip they are exhausted, crabby, and usually a little bit sick (happens to me without fail). I even notice that if I go on a getaway to specifically relax, I see how much the physical task of getting to my destination wares me out. Any plane, train, boat or bus ride has me wiped by the end of the day regardless if I was just sitting the whole time. Tell me I’m not alone in this?!
Living abroad has taught me that it is okay to rest! The list of things to see and do will still be around tomorrow, so it is perfectly fine to take some productive rest days and just stay at home and write or paint. You don’t need to feel like a reclose or that you are wasting time, as long as you find a productive balance. Binge watching YouTube and Netflix for a week and a half while everyone else is out of town is not that productive balance, but going on a run, visiting a park, or reading in a café is. Some of my best memories here are morning walks on the beach or casual dinners with friends. Normal activities that I know fill my spirit but are still taking advantage of the beautiful place I’m in. Seeing as you have a life in your new country, and most likely have obligations to fulfill, rest is a requirement. Find a balance that’s right for you, and don’t feel bad about it!
2. It’s okay to feel lonely
This. Is. Inevitable.
You are moving to a new country with a whole new set of social rules, most likely without an extensive support system, so there will be moments where you feel alone. This is okay! Being alone may feel scary and super uncomfortable, but it’s where growth happens. Without discomfort nothing changes, so take advantage of this time and put yourself out there! Make new friends with people you never would have seen yourself connecting with before and see how you change. With time, you will find a whole new community that supports you and makes you feel just as home as before. Even though loneliness is a sucky feeling, always remember you aren’t actually ever alone. Give yourself some grace and push through.
3. It’s okay to live with more
Sounds strange in the age of minimalism, but for this example I’m talking in terms of short-term travel versus moving. Normally for trips I take, I aim for bare minimum in my suitcase. I don’t want any extra weight because carrying it all has bitten me in the butt too many times. But, for a long-term stay, be okay with buying a big bottle of shampoo, bringing that extra pair of heavy shoes, and taking time to think of room decorations because these things will help you feel more at home, quicker. I would be nowhere without having pictures hanging on my wall, and although they would serve no purpose on a normal trip, I am so thankful I brought them to Rio because they immediately helped me feel comfortable in my home space.
It’s also okay to buy things. I’m aware this also sounds a bit strange, (and if you’re a shopaholic, beware on this note) but at some point your shoes are going to break, your one towel will get ripped, and you’ll spill red wine all over your nice jacket. Just like at home, you will need to buy things for everyday living, so don’t feel like you have to wait until you return for Christmas to stock up just because you want to go to Target (alright, this note was mainly just for me, but you get the point). But honestly, get comfortable with the idea of settling in and investing.
4. Expect be pushed in new ways
Like I mentioned above, short term travel pushes you no matter what, but by sinking into a new culture a whole new set of lessons opens up to you. So much of this will be personally tailored to you and your new culture, so I’ll keep this lesson short, but know that in the long term this will be the thing you takeaway from the most. Brazil has been such a lesson of patient understanding and breaking out of my comfort zone that I know I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life. Your background growing up and your new cultural norms will constantly be at battle with one another. Sometimes it will be exhausting to always feel uncomfortable and that is when you take the first lesson and learn to rest.
5. You now have more time, so use it to learn!
I love to learn things about a culture as I go. I think that submersion experiences deliver far more than a book, show, or class could. So, since you’re no longer just visiting a country, you are there long term, you now have so much more time to dive in and understand the place in which you are living. I have learned so much beyond basic Brazilian history, music, and food. Throughout my experience I’ve had time to understand the deeper-set beliefs about relationships, political views, and national identity. These are things that go far below the surface but are so important to learn in order to fully understand where you are living. Its like the iceberg metaphor, where 90% of it lays below the surface. Having time is the best way to dive a bit deeper.
6. You should appreciate differences
Going hand in had with number five, as you dive deeper into a foreign culture, you are bound to notice the stark differences in values, thought processes, and communication styles. It is important to know that even though these difference may feel great, it does not make them bad. At first when I arrived, I was so frustrated at the laxidasical inefficient style of the Brazilian, but with time I learned to appreciate the fact that they don’t stress out about as many things and they take time to indulge in the better things in life like family, food, and rest. This is a huge difference from the classic rushed American lifestyle, and even though it bothered me at first, is now one of the best lessons I learned here. Take time to accept these differences and appreciate them for what they are, not just compare them to what you know and deem them bad.
7. It’s okay to have more than one home
This is a crucial one to know, which is why I’ve left it for last.
Sometimes our idea of home is so sacred and reserved in our minds that nothing can really compare to it. And while your family, friends, and amazing memories may be tied to one physical place, that does not mean you can’t form the same bond with another physical place. Your heart has great capacity for love and even though it may be hard to let go and open up a bit, its absolutely worth it. Having two homes means you’ll always be missing someplace, but its better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, right? Be brave.
Hopefully some part of this list resonates with some of you reading this and if you have had a living experience in a foreign country and feel I’ve missed something, let me know down in the comments! Don’t forget to click the follow button for more updates! Have a great week everyone 🙂
Next to read: Brazilian Favelas and How Foreigners Should Treat Them