I'm living in Brazil, and it's surreal. I feel like I stepped out of the outlines of my old life and into a new one. I'm still a student but in a new country, new city, new lifestyle, and new culture with new people…. Tudo é diferente. Study abroad is about immersing yourself in an entirely foreign environment. Obviously I knew that coming in but actually living a new life is another thing entirely – especially in a country with some of most pronounced social differences in the world. Oh, and I even live in a region that's considered "different" from the rest of Brazil.
The state of Bahia is my new Texas. Salvador is my new Austin, and the language school of ACBEU (Associação Cultural Brasil-Estados Unidos) is my new UT. The students on the program are my new friends, and my parents and little brother Donny have been temporarily displaced by a new family. My host mom's name is Wanda, and she is the sweetest person ever. She dotes and coos over me like I'm a 5 year old. (On the first day of school, Wanda held my hand and walked me to school.) ACBEU is next door from my apartment. She never introduces me as Nina but minha nova filha – my new daughter. I have a second mom (Wanda is more like my Brazilian grandma), 2 teenage brothers, a dad who's more like an uncle, a cousin, and her fiancé. Oh, and a two month old puppy named Snoopy. In Portuguese, it's pronounced Schnoo-py.
The first day that all the students in the program arrived in Brazil, we stayed at a hotel near the school. That first night mostly consisted of caiparinhas and group bonding. Most of us sat on the balcony of the hotel overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and just talked. It was a great night.
The next day, we got "oriented," got our schedules, and had lunch with our host families for the first time. We have so many activities planned for the next 6 weeks. Six weeks just doesn't feel like enough time to do everything. There are Portuguese classes, cultural classes (like Samba!), excursions, tours, and service learning projects on top of exploring the city on our own, spending time with our host family, and getting to go out with friends. So much to do, so little time.
When it comes to learning Brazilian Portuguese, I am in love with the language. In the state of Bahia, which is in the northeast of Brazil, no one speaks English. It's intimidating but in a good way. I have no choice but to muster up some courage and just speak Portuguese. I'm picking it up so quickly (it's barely been a week), so I'm happy about that. My accent is smoothing out, and communicating is becoming intuitive. I'm going to miss Portuguese when I go back to studying French in the States!
There's so much that I can say about what I've witnessed about Brazilian culture. The day-to-day life here, social structure, poverty and wealth, historical legacies, food, people… There's so much that I want to say about the Brazil that the world sees and the Brazil that I'm experiencing. But I'm saving that for another post.
I felt like I fell off the face of the universe this past week, and I loved it. I have wi-fi in my apartment, but I love not having to worry about checking my email and social media platforms every few hours or even every day. I barely use my Brazilian cellphone. It's nice to be unplugged. One of the best things about Brazil here is the concept of time. Time is fluid and non-linear. I don't wear a watch here, and I barely know what time it is. I'm fully present in the moment, and that's something that I was struggling with these past few months. I'm still going to write at least twice a week though. Writing forces me to organize my thoughts and reflect. I need that.
Before getting on the plane to Brazil, I had some down time to read some of the books that were on my book list. One of the books I read was Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change by Pema Chodron, an American woman who became a Tibetan monk. Lately, I've really identified with Buddhist philosophy. I'm in the process of learning more about it. Some of the things that I learned from the book and am contemplating about are change and acceptance. Pema Chodron writes about how impermanence and change are intrinsic to being human. However, we try to control life by finding ways to put ground on our feet and assigning labels to everything. However, it's easier to lead a happy life when we just let all these things go and embrace change and the "impermanence of being" with an open heart. Another thing she wrote about was feeling experiences. Emotions are not necessarily good or bad. They just are. The metaphor that I came up was that an emotional experience is like a wave. Have it wash over you fully and take it all in, but don't label it as good or bad. Just appreciate that its happening. Once the wave has passed, let it go.
Living in a different country, in addition to the recent changes that have happened in my life, has made me appreciate this Buddhist view on life. I am simply living in the moment, taking everything in, and not worrying about anything else. That is the mentality that I'm carrying with me throughout my time in Brazil. I embrace change the the impermanence of being with an open heart. Hopefully this sense of serenity and peace will stay with me when I return to the U.S. With the things I have planned for next semester, I'm going to need it.
Well it's almost midnight, and I have an Afro-Brazilian dance class tomorrow morning. We'll be learning SAMBA from apparently the best instructor in Salvador. I AM BEYOND EXCITED.