Breathing It All In

Pooja Thekdi - Brazil


July 17, 2015

I began this journey a little bit lost.

Back in August, after a week of dipping my toes into the unknown but alluring waters ofdevelopment, social service and the how bouts of making a lastingimpact, I had already found myself on a new pace. Pre Departure Training had invigorated my excitement for the months ahead; the lectures, the workshops, the influential speakers that spoke of inspiring non-profits andsocial enterprises were asubtle but much- needednudge into the right direction. I knew they were a great tool in learning to change my perspective as I entered into my year in Brazil.

But for me, that was easier said than done. The first three months of my year were filled with an immense amount ofexasperation, resistance, and sadness. By the end of that first October in my host community, my biggest challenges were my own pre-set expectations about where I should be. I wanted to see my progress marked on a graph so that I could validate the hardships and the self-doubt. I reluctantly continued on hoping that at some point I would be able to measure the famed transformative change people experience while living in challenging settings. I craved to know, what was the literal, numerical growth of spending hot days in cornfields with nothing but bread to eat? How much self-development does one gain from walking in a cold rainy forest for 8 miles to find a good location for honey boxes?

In the back of my mind, I knew this year would bring some value to me, if nothing other than the language acquirement or a new sense of gratitude for the clean streets of the United States. It was finding the bigger idea or purpose and letting myself run with it that was tricky. Those days when I was quite literally sitting in front of the single community store, pretending to read my book, wishing I could just go back home and hide under the covers. There would be people all around me, busy in their own conversation. I would acknowledge their stares and whispers but I didn’t say anything. I was resistant to any type of interaction just because I felt stubborn. I wanted them to approach me. I wanted it to be easy.

Sometime between December and April, difficult became easy and easy became, to some extent, achievable. To tell you there was a single thing that made this happen would be a complete lie. It may have partly been my changed perspective on 5 more months” as “only 5 more months” and forcing myself to be more self-aware and meaningful with my all my interactions to make the most of what time I had left. It may have partly been good luck- finding social butterfly friends who took any opportunity to push me into conversation with new people. Even stumbling upon my community project was a spur of the wind opportunity that ended up being the perfect fit for my “outsider but insider” status. But I think the most meaningful change was gaining respect of those around me and learning how tremendous of an effort it takes to make lasting relationships with people who don’t really gain or lose anything by being your friend.

Pooja Thekdi