I landed in Brazil with my American husband in the fall of 2012, which began our three-year journey abroad. In a quiet town about an hour's drive from São Paulo, I taught English while my husband worked as a post-doctoral researcher at the local university. A lot of my spare time was focused on learning Portuguese, the musically nasal sister to Spanish. During that time, I was also fortunate enough to travel to some of the country’s most breathtaking and iconic sites, including Rio’s Cristo Redentor and Sugarloaf Mountain; the expansive wetlands of the Pantanal (move over, Amazon rainforest); and the spectacular Iguassu Falls bordering Argentina, about which Eleanor Roosevelt is said to have exclaimed, "Poor Niagara!"
In future posts, I hope to talk more about these trips and share with you travel tips, photos, and other musings. For today, I present you with the reflection I wrote during my final days in Brazil...
When 'Foreigners' Aren't Just Other People
If you ever get the chance to live abroad, take it.
Step outside your comfort zone. Bend your brain into speaking a new language. Learn that the term "foreigner" doesn't only apply to other people.
Get culture shock – then get over it when you realize that a place with mall Santas can't really be that different.
Experience reverse culture shock going home for the first time (a very strange but real thing). Consider how easy it would be to break into a neighbor's house because they haven't bothered with barrier walls and barbed wire.
Feel your identity shift. Realize that culture shock isn't merely an experience of a new external – it's a jolt to the core of what is “you.”
Get to know the locals. Make friends from around the world, too, and do the whole expat thing together (trust me on this one – it will become very important to have someone to commiserate with). Come to empathize with the immigrant experience in your own country more than you ever could have before. Consider how your own countrymen might be more understanding if they would take a chance and make that hard journey outside their own borders.
Actually pay attention to inflation and currency fluctuations because that stuff is real.
Miss home like crazy, then realize that your adopted country became home somewhere along the way.
Look back on your life abroad with fondness as it approaches its end, and wonder how so much could have fit into such a tiny time span.
Feel lucky. To have had the choice, the freedom, and the means to take such a journey.
Feel kinship with those whose journeys are still ongoing, and for those waiting in limbo for their new lives to begin.
Some of my snapshots from those years in Brazil (including the stunning Pantanal). Future posts on my reflections and travel experiences to come.