Abra̤os e Beijos: From Snow to Sand

Nicholas Chieng - Brazil


February 18, 2015

Despite using Rosetta Stone for Portuguese and reading various travel blogs about Brazil, nothing hadprepared me for living in Brazil for seven months with a Brazilian host family. Sure, at Pre-Departure Training, speakers came to tell us about the culture shock we would face, how to possibly deal with it, physical and mental well-being, and the curriculum that consisted of related reads, but nothing had really prepared me for the way Brazil has shaken up the things in my life that I had taken for granted. Even though it’s been stressful, it has been absolutely worth it.

I remember in Atlanta, as I was strolling inside the jet bridge to the actual aircraft that would take me to Brazil, I had this naÌøve notion that because I had traveled to South Korea and Malaysia before, culture shock was going to be the least of my worries. I think that initial suppression eventually turned into denial as the year was going by because I now realize that while observing another culture, it is difficult to avoid being ethnocentric especially when coming from a country as dominant as the United States. A majority of people in the United States tend to look at other countries’ culture from the perspective of a single story or what they know based off of a movie or television series and inherently compare different cultures based on the assumption that their own culture is the correct way of living.

Traveling to Brazil, a South American country, was different than the other cultures I had immersed myself in and studied. I’ve found myself looking at Brazilian culture with awe wondering why the United States hadn’t adopted certain cultural values. But there are other times when it was hard to keep an open mind if something had contradicted my own beliefs.

When you hear Brazil, you probably think of samba, soccer, bikinis, Carnaval or beautiful beaches. When you think of famous Brazilian people, you probably think of Gabriel Medina (2014 Surfing World Tour champion), Adriana Lima orGisele BÌ_ndchen (supermodels), or Carmen Miranda (The Chiquita Banana Girl). And while these things and people are all part of Brazilian culture (or Brazilian spirit), there are more abundant treasures that also reflect the spirit of Brazilian culture. Samba is uniquely Brazilian, but if you think everyone in Brazil knows how to dance samba and sambas on the road, in houses, on the rooftops, then you’re probably thinking of Rio de Janeiro during Carnival. Adriana Lima or Gisele BÌ_ndchen are often the public faces of Brazil, but it’s important to remember that despite imposed European beauty standards, there are other faces of Brazil and other nations hidden from the lime light.

I’ve been reading travel blogs since I was in middle school, and I always read the posts regarding cultural differences and bloggers’ personal experiences. So, these are my experiences and my point of view about these cultural differences.

Starting off my adventure at Stanford, I asked team leaders Belkis and Daniel about some cultural differences that they’ve faced in the states as both had done an exchange. One of the first differences they mentioned was greeting strangers, acquaintances, or friends. They both demonstrated the greeting: abra̤os e beijos (a hug and kiss on the cheek). I remember I practiced with Belkis a couple times just to become accustomed to the physical contact upon meeting someone. In the USA, we have a bubble known as personal space. If I were to give one basic rule about a majority of Americans, it’s that we love our personal space and privacy, and coming too close often feels like an invasion of privacy. For example, going to a party in the USA, I can wave or say hello” or “what’s up” from a distance.

Nicholas Chieng