I’ve traveled a lot, as you all who read my site regularly may have guessed, and through my travels I’ve learned the value of having a variety of experiences, near and far, with different people from all over the world. So, when the opportunity arose for me to study abroad, my first instinct was “OF COURSE!!! I HAVE TO STUDY ABROAD!!!” Studying abroad, to me, was a traveler’s rite of passage, the student’s dream, and the chance of a lifetime. I wasn’t going to pass it up for anything.
So, despite being in a relationship back at school and having some amazing friends and family at home, I packed my bags and decided to travel 5,000 miles away to sunny Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where I’m currently living until January 2014.
Before I left, I reflected on what the experience would be like – I’d have a bunch of photos to show of my time in Brazil, pictures of me with dozens of new Brazilian friends and other exchange students, smiling and laughing on Rio’s beautiful beaches. I’d breeze through my classes, do some extracurricular activities, and come back missing Brazil like crazy, crying as I headed to the airport, decked out in green and yellow. I thought the experience would be like everyone says, the time of my life.
After having lived here for about 3 months now, I’ve realized that this experience is honestly worlds different than I’d initially expected. The people I’ve met aren’t the glowing, 24/7 BFFs that I expected, I have no pictures on the beach with new Brazilian friends. My classes are actually pretty hard, considering they’re in Portuguese, and I’ve been missing home like crazy for weeks now. No, the ideal snapshot of my experience here hasn’t panned out in the slightest, leaving me with a very different taste in my mouth.
After some homestay issues that forced me out of my first Brazilian home and into another, I learned that not all homestays are created equal, and many people here in Rio take on exchange students solely for the money. With people like my first host mom, the word “home stay” isn’t even anywhere near accurate. If anything, it’s more like renting a room in someone’s house. No, they don’t want to adopt you into their family. No, they don’t want you to come back and visit and expect to have a place to stay. A lot of them don’t even care to get to know the students living with them. Many of them just want money, and that’s it. Luckily, my host mom now isn’t this way at all, in fact she’s the exact opposite, always inviting me to hang out with her and spend time, but it’s extremely hit or miss with these kinds of things. Extremely.
The friends have certainly thrown me a curveball too, because admittedly I’m having an extremely hard time getting to know people on a deep level here. I continue to talk to my best friends from home on a normal, almost daily basis because some of my relationships with people here seem almost superficial or insignificant. A lot of the friendships here, I’ve noticed, are based on partying, going out, and getting wasted, which can be fun, but it’s not something I want to do all the time. People have come here to party, and I haven’t, so this inadvertently distances me from everyone I could potentially be close with.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m really loving my friends here and I’ve had some extremely fun experiences with them, but I can only say of a handful of people I’ve met that I can trust them. I feel so far away from people. It’s like I’m in some kind of glass box – I can see and speak to others but I can’t reach out to them. I feel stuck, and all I can do is miss my home and the comforts of strong friendship.
Of course, I am so thankful of this wonderful experience. Not many people have the opportunity to study in one of the world’s coolest cities for six whole months, and I am extremely lucky to be able to say that I did. I have great days here too, full of awesome people, amazing views, and of course, beautiful beaches.
But with this deep seated loneliness abroad, I kind of feel stuck too. I feel as if my experience could be a lot more marvelous if it were shared in the company of people I love, trust, and care for. People who reciprocate the enthusiasm of spending time together and doing things that aren’t always about partying or getting drunk. To be completely honest, I’m homesick. I miss my family, my best friends, my cat, my house. I miss the feeling of acceptance and love that had always surrounded me before. I’ll never again take for granted the feeling of being in the company of everyone who care about you – because now that I’m 5,000 miles away, I feel truthfully more alone than ever before.
Although I’ve felt this way for some time, I think it’s getting better these days. The people I feel closest with here are actually pretty amazing and fun and I feel like they’ll be people whose presence in my life long outlasts the loneliness and homesickness I feel here in Rio. If there’s one thing I can come away with, it will hopefully be this handful of wonderful friends. And for that, I am extremely thankful.
Would I recommend studying abroad to every student? Of course I would. Studying abroad is obviously different than any experience a student will ever have, and it takes an incredible amount of strength to be able to last months and months without anyone you know there to hold your hand. But for me, my experience here has been a very mixed bag of emotions – on one hand, wanting to get to know the city, the culture, and the language; on the other, wanting to save money and missing home profusely. I wouldn’t go back and change my decision, but I do think that the potential of being alone and isolated throughout the duration of your time abroad is something that students should consider before making that choice. A study abroad advisor or a program rep will never tell you that maybe your fellow schoolmates (Brazilians from PUC) generally don’t really care to get to know exchange students, or that maybe your host family isn’t exactly in it for the love and affection.
My time in Brazil has certainly changed me, and I’ve definitely learned a lot. But, like I said, these experiences don’t come without tolls, and mine feel like some that could potentially persist until my family comes to join me in late November.