If you had asked me about different things I wanted to experience in my life, I would probably have mentioned vaguely about living in Brazil for a few months at some point in my life. No detailed plans, but a vague idea to learn more Portuguese, to spend more time with my Brazilian family, to understand the culture on a deeper level. Who knew that it would be forced upon me during the COVID-19 pandemic from March to September 2020. It was definitely not the circumstances I would have hoped for, but it is during the hardest times that we learn the most.
How to interpret everything outside of the lens of self
We are all in our bubbles without realizing – as the saying goes, the fish doesn’t know about water until it has left it. The most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about. What I can very obviously see in Brazil is often imperceptible to Brazilians; the same way I’m sure I can’t perceive the most obvious aspects of myself. This is why being outside of the water is so important. Being immersed in a culture so different from the ones I grew up with forced me to not only see through my own bias and what I can comprehend, but it has taught me to step outside of everything I know to try to understand how other circumstances could also make sense. It’s really hard. There are still many things in Brazil that I don’t fully understand, but it helps immensely to look at it without my lens of self.
The privilege of the pressure that comes with being different
More than anything, I have felt like an outsider in Brazil. Part of this is having a Brazilian family and being surrounded by locals whom I will always be different from, as opposed to typical expats who are mainly surrounded by other expats. There’s nothing like having to walk against the tide to make you question how you feel. And it’s through that process that I really found certainty in myself. Sometimes it can seem daunting to be going the complete opposite way than everyone else, but I’ve learned that that pressure and discomfort is a privilege. It means I will find what no one will, see something others will never see. I need to think for myself and trust my own intuition because I am the only one on my unique journey. Doing what everyone else is doing is the definition of average. To do what no one else is doing is to be extraordinary.
Language as a reflection of culture and vice versa
Obviously heavily intertwined with each other, the way in which we communicate is a direct reflection and result of who we are as people. For example in Brazilian Portuguese, the word for “to wait,” “to hope” and “to expect” are all the same – esperar. It tickles me because these are three very distinct concepts in English. I find this very culturally Brazilian – it speaks to the highly religious and superstitious culture, the trust people have in forces outside of themselves as well as the lack of control the average Brazilian feels in his/her life. Brazilians also tend to speak more indirectly, giving plenty of context before getting to the point, as well as changing topics frequently. Brazilian Portuguese as a language has both been built to facilitate this as well as then further enable these tendencies. Knowing more Portuguese has helped me to understand the culture more intimately; conversely, understanding core cultural values has helped to explain how Brazilians communicate.
Never letting failure get to your heart
In Brazilian culture, hope is the last to die – a esperança é a última que morre. No matter what may happen, Brazilians have strong faith and hope for the future, that everything will eventually end up alright – que tudo vai dar certo. While I may not adopt the superstitiousness of this mentality in Brazilian culture, what I can take away is to remember this sense of hope in the most hopeless situations. The indestructible spirit is what will get me through and something that no one can ever take away from me. Failure is only temporary and only as negative as we perceive it to be.
The sheer power of just showing up
There are many things in life we don’t want to do or think that we cannot do. To get started, to take that first step, to simply show up and give it a shot – that’s the hardest part. That’s most of the battle. What matters is the attempt and the mentality that I will do my best no matter the result. To show up again despite the previous time. I will try to speak Portuguese even though I can only say a few words. I will show up to exercise even though I’m tired. I will be there for my family even though it will be tough for me. Doing this enough times often ends up getting me all the way there. Without it, I wouldn’t even start, let alone ever get there. One of my favorite quotes is “opportunity only dances with those already on the dance floor.” There is so much power in simply showing up to the dance floor.
How a little at a time for a long time accumulates
I am definitely guilty of overestimating how much I can accomplish in a short period of time and underestimating the same for a long period. One of the differences I’ve noticed between myself and many Brazilians I’ve met is how accepting they are of routines for many years on end, versus my tendency to want to change my life constantly. Combined with the uncertainty of the pandemic, it has taught me that success is not just achieving deliverables or crossing items off the list and moving onto the next. It’s continuously, consistently, and relentlessly working towards the same thing day in and day out, without fail. The compounding power of time is real not just in interest, but in every aspect of daily life.
Brazil – thank you for showing me things that startled me, made me feel things that I’ve never felt before, and allowed me to meet people who have a different point of view. Growth only happens outside of one’s comfort zone, and I was in many ways more outside of my comfort zones for the past six months than I have ever been. I’m not going to lie – it was unbelievably challenging at the time. I was not always the best version of myself. However, I have a feeling that this was one of those defining periods in my life that I will only look back on more and more fondly as time passes. The life lessons and long-term benefits are just starting to sink in. I’m looking forward to a lifetime of discovery.