Study abroad. The event that seems so commonplace in the context of college, but ends up being so influential in the scheme of an individual’s life. So many people I know use study programs in school to go abroad for the very first time. They find themselves in Europe for four months, galavanting around each weekend, drinking simply too much wine, coming back feeling like a changed person.
My personal experience was a bit different. Not only did I want to think outside the conventional study abroad box, but I was also required to. Thanks to my transfer shock sophomore year, my GPA struggled a bit and my degree program had pretty specific requirements for graduation. Brazil was one of two programs that fit the bill. I could still graduate on time, pay a little less money, and be ensured entry into the program. A few months prior to my commitment to Rio, I had an informational meeting about going to India for a year and afterward remember feeling like I had a pit in my stomach. It just wasn’t where I was supposed to be. Then, Rio dropped in my lap. The fun, charismatic city that I had actually been thinking about for a while.
The draw of Carnival, the sun, the music, the stark difference from the world in which I lived. It seemed perfect. So, I researched and prayed and in a very abrupt awakening, I knew that Brazil was the place for me.
After an intense amount of preparation between getting class approval, financial support, and visas aligned, I felt that if Brazil wasn’t the best thing that happened to me, the prep simply wouldn’t be worth it. I learned a ton of trust through this process, because if things didn’t align perfectly, all my deadlines would be screwed up and I wouldn’t get to Brazil in time for my program’s start.
The day I left I remember feeling nervous but excited. I had been processing leaving for a while and had been struggling with the idea of “losing” my home, which I had taken so much time to curate. All my friends would continue living lives without me and when I returned I was worried I might not fit back in. I also worried that I might not like Brazil, but I would be stuck there since I committed myself for a year. What would I do then? I couldn’t just hop on a plane back home and call it good. (I’ll kill the suspense now, that didn’t happen)
I got slapped in the face by the language the second I boarded the plane, and I distinctly felt a sense of inadequacy that would be with me throughout my entire year. This is the first and most prominent point I make about being challenged because I was pushed so far out of my comfort zone the entire year, the language would continuously frustrate me.
I think this happened because when you’re learning a language, it’s all relative. The progress I made really was noteworthy, but there’s really no “end point” to your journey. You either keep progressing, getting more in-depth, and keep practicing, or you recede and forget. You never reach a point where you say “Ah yes, now I’m fluent. Now I’ve reached the point where I don’t have to try anymore.” That never happens! No matter if I was starting in beginner Portuguese day 1, or taking my final in Portuguese 3, I was challenged by language every single day.
I also got to learn some really beautiful lessons about myself in the learning process. I learned about bravery and confidence, self-worth and forgiveness, and it helped me not take for granted the gift of being a native English-speaker. I now have an entirely different perspective on people who are trying to learn my language, because I’ve been on the other side of the game. I appreciate how hard it is sometimes to order at a restaurant or ask a question in a store, so I try to be patient and accommodating. I could go on but I’ve already elaborated on this topic for an entire post, which you can read here.
My second point of change is in relation to people. By going abroad, I not only met incredible native Brazilians, but also amazing people who had also gone to Rio to study or work. Brazil is more of a melting pot than the US if you can believe it, with global representation everywhere you look. I never would have met so many people had I not put myself out there. Study abroad forces you to meet new people whom you may have never been friends with outside of your unique situation.
Also, friendship doesn’t need a ton of time to become quite deep. Within weeks of meeting a complete stranger, I would consider them a person with whom I would share the rest of my life. I met lifelong friends from all over the world that I still keep in contact with today. Kindness is everywhere, it breaches across cultures, languages, and continents. I was stunned at the amount of love I found while abroad.
I guess my next point I’ll make is that to study abroad, you need to be strong. There will be moments when you have only yourself to rely on to see yourself through a tough situation, and you’ll most likely be pushed in ways you never imagined. You gain a lot of confidence in yourself by going abroad, and it’s something I highly encourage everyone to do at least once in their lives.
Take it slow:
Being in Brazil in particular, I learned the value of time differently. No one there does anything fast, but that’s not really a problem. People there see the value in rest and doing things you love in order to fill your life. They have significantly less detachment to possessions, and have such hope even if they have close to nothing. They aren’t overtired trying to run around seeking this false sense of fulfillment that is so common in Americans. I embraced the fact that slowing down sometimes is what I need.
This post could honestly go on and on and on, but for now, I’ll cut it off here. My suggestion? Just go abroad and experience it for yourself. Most things I take away from a trip are hard to define and put in words, but are crucial in shaping me, so just go. Let me know how it goes, okay? 🙂
If you’ve gone abroad for more than six months and have learned some other crazy things, feel free to drop me a comment telling me about it!
Okay, guys, we’re almost out of winter… we can do this.