Well fellow bloggers, my time is nearing its end here and I'm under two weeks.
Things have been so crazy this semester and still are, that I haven't really begun the full reflection process about all the things I've learned and the new Kyle that I'm taking back to the United States. But there will certainly be a post about that.
This semester has been so dramatically different from the last. My first six months was all about acclimation. It was all about traveling. It was all about being a foreigner, a tourist, a spender. And I took advantage of it! Having said that though, coming back for the next six months was entirely different. I already knew a lot of the language, already had Brazilian friends, already knew my Brazilian family, I knew where school was, how the system works, what bus to catch, the good spots to grab a quiet coffee and a good meal. This semester has been way more about life. I spent so much time reflecting on how I've changed, focusing on what are my next steps, understanding how everything fits together in my greater plan, and ultimately living like a Brazilian.
I really should highlight some of the main points of this semester. I'm planning on writing separate posts about some of them to get more in depth. I have a little more time now that things are winding down and I only have a few exams left!
1. The Amazon trip was certainly once in a lifetime and if you haven't done so already, read my post about it!
2. I also had my first visitors in Brazil! Two of my best friends from college came to visit me. I can't tell you all how much I cherished every moment with them. You have to understand that roughly one year ago I arrived at the Sao Paulo airport and exited customs knowing no one, speaking none of the language, not knowing who I was going to be living with, who my friends would be, how I could call someone, or who the heck I was supposed to be looking for at the airport to pick me up to even start life. And despite all the confusion, I knew I was going to call this place "home" for a year.
Speaking of years, we always say they go by fast. Well, I disagree. haha. Yes, in retrospect they do all aggregate together and you say, "where did the time go?!" But when you're living that year day-by-day in a place where you only have you yourself to look to for anything, to depend on, to communicate, to understand, to figure out, to talk, etc...well those 365 days become a lot lot longer. You talk to yourself, you question your existence (not morbidly lol), you start to learn what it is you love and why it is that you love it. I don't care how many of my photos you've seen and how much fun it appears I'm having (it was a lot of fun), there is still a sense of loneliness that makes just even the slightest bit of you feel somewhat incomplete.
Even more frightening is the feeling of returning to your home country feeling misunderstood. Living abroad has been such a transformational experience for me and having the opportunity to finally share bits and pieces of my life here, however small or big, was such an incredibly rewarding experience. My friends have been such a great support network for me here and the fact that a few of them came to really find out what my life was like was so special. I know that upon my return I can talk with them about it and I know they'll have some "skin" in the game. For when I'm talking about my host parents or school or bus ride or beach, etc, they'll know exactly who and what I'm referring to. It's not just some distant far off experience that I lived in the past. My friends will be great resources to continually reflect with because they helped me live this year abroad too.
We had lots of catching up to do and more exciting was seeing their reactions of what Brazil was really like and all the ways I have changed. Perhaps I'll have them write their reactions and post them all for you!
3. School! FGV round two has been even more challenging. I decided to take all my classes in Portuguese so that I would maximize my language learning opportunities. Once again, I suffered! Yet, it was so so so rewarding and I learned so so so much! Now that I'm down to my last exam I can successfully call myself absolutely crazy. I laugh almost thinking about me being all excited and gung-hoe (is that how you spell it?!) about signing up for college level courses in a language I knew none of. I registered thinking, "it won't be that bad!" And then I showed up to class and well, there's no forgiveness. That group project, yup...you have to find a group and work in another language and complete it. That paper, nope...you can't write that puppy in English. That professor, nope...he will not translate everything for you. That grade, yup...you get one and there's no bonus points for being a foreigner and giving effort! My back was against the wall and the pressure I put on myself to be successful was the thing that kept me going. Even better, it was one of the best challenges I've ever self-initiated in my life. I knew it would be difficult, but I outperformed even my own expectations and couldn't be more pleased with my decision to take all my courses in Portuguese and even seeing my grades in these classes after the fact is something I'm proud of!
4. Relationship building. I really didn't find the desire to do all the traveling that I did last semester. 1) Because I hit a lot of my spots that I wanted to see already, 2) Those that I didn't...well you have to save some trips for later on in life!, 3) I spent most all of my budget the last 6 months haha, and 4) I had established a life here in Sao Paulo, with friends and my host family. I wanted to take advantage of my time with them and build deeper relationships. Plus, Sao Paulo is such a buzzing, bustling, incredible place to live that there's so much to see and do that I was never bored if I didn't travel!
5. Love. Yes, it's true. I fell in love. I didn't come here with the goal of doing so, but they do say that love finds you when you least expect it. I guess I fell victim to this common saying! For sake of privacy, no need to give details. However, I will say this. Anybody who falls in love learns a lot about life. They learn a lot about themselves and a lot about people. They learn about what they love and why they love it. They get that giddy type of happiness that keeps you up at night and they find more sunny moments during the day than not. This has certainly been the case for me, but I have learned more than I could have ever expected and I think it has to do with it being a cross-cultural relationship. Imagine the type of cultural exchange you get simply interacting with another culture. Then imagine the type of things you would learn if someone from that culture became your life partner. You start to become some of that culture, connect more with society, understand better how it is to live there, eat there, go to school there, work there, etc. Just as much as I have received, I have given and learning to love (aside from cultural differences) has been one of the most rewarding things I've experienced in my life.
6. Protests. This is a recent development but it has given way to a much larger discussion about life here in Brazil. About a week ago, there was an increase in public transit fees which started a small protest. However, the way in which these protests have grown and in some cases, into dangerous riots has begun to shed light on more serious issues about social justice and human rights here in Brazil. These protests are not going away anytime soon. They are turning into large-scale demonstrations and manifestations. They are turning violent, uncovering corruption and governmental crime. They are eliciting serious answers to serious questions about the direction of the country. Some consider the gravity of the situation to approach a similar level to the dictatorship back in the 80's. Stay tuned to international news. These protests are no longer about the bus fares increasing some 10 cents...these protests are about Brazilian citizens being fed up with deficient public resources, corruption, and ineffective government. You can rest assured that I will be writing a full post about these recent events.
I hope this post gave you a quick glimpse as to the things I've been thinking about as my final 10 ten days come to a close. I look forward to sharing more over my last week!