I have a theory all middles are the same. All the nowheres filled with flat fields and sparse trees. Where roads cut through rocks still bearing the marks of the earth. With grazing cows and muddy rivers. The spaces between are carbon copies of each other. Driving in the nowhere, I can be anywhere. If I ignore the mountains and oceans of Brazil, I am back home. I am back in small-town Wisconsin driving with my mom as she points out the baby cows. If I ignore the pine trees and lakes of home, I am in Kenya, Guatemala, or Peru. These spaces, these nowheres are possibilities filled with food for a homesick or wander-hungry soul. As I drive through the Brazilian countryside, I can’t help but think about how I never thought I’d associate home with cows and fields. Eight years and New Richmond never really felt like home. I hated it, its lack of things, its surplus of nothing. But, now that I am in Brazil, away from my family, I realize how much that town was home, because the middle, its ambiguity, satiates me. When the nowhere, the middle is home, it’s easy to find home anywhere.
The lightning comes first here. Blue fire crackling across the midnight sky. One streak explodes through the darkness. Light so hot, so bright you have to look away. As if the hands of Zeus himself painted the sky dancing with purple light. A night sky filled with so much blinding fire, it is enough to drown the world in light.
It was on the bus ride home. As the bus crawled up the hill, I looked out at the blinding sun splashed on the glass-like lake. White wisps of clouds receding to reveal emerald mountains. The flowers, heavy from the day’s rain, burst with color. Mothers with grocery bags, boys biking, men crowded at bars. Their lives, all perfectly continuing in wake of such beauty. Day 88, November 30th, 2018: the day I fell in love with Brazil.
Laughter and muddled screams drifted out of the church and onto the street. The church was dark, and the smell of glue and construction paper invited elementary school nostalgia. Flashes of blue and white school uniforms whizzed past me to the beat of a thumping jump rope. When the kids saw me, looks of curiosity danced in their bright eyes. Small hands lunged to grab my own, and feet scrambled to claim the seat next to mine. Questions flooded out in rapid-fire succession, my basic Portuguese clamoring to keep up. “Where are you from?” “Why don’t you speak Portuguese?” “Do they have snow there?” established the basics. With the aid of Google Translate, questions about music and football arose. Every commonality unearthed was a connection to bridge the language barrier. As I left the church that evening, excitement replaced the nerves I had entered with, and my experience further cemented what I’d already begun to learn in my first two weeks in Brasil: this year is impactful because it’s difficult.
Senior year subsisted of a constant string of applications, and with applications came the checklist: take these classes, get this score, do these activities, win this award. I sacrificed my true self to reach the perceived ideal of the “perfect college applicant” even as why I was applying to college faded. Yes, in my mind I knew I had to go to college. Since I grew up in a household where neither parent attended college, college was neither a matter of “if” nor the easy “next step”—it was a dream I strived for, to pursue the goal of continuing my passion of learning. Only, I lost that passion in endless applications and standardized tests. Something inside of me screamed to rediscover my passion, so I could spend my college years delving deeper into it rather than droning mindlessly through four years of classes.
That first day at Impacto Vivo, a local after-school program for at-risk youth, was over two months ago, yet entering the church each day feels like the first time. Whether I spend the day playing chess, teaching “Duck, Duck, Gray Duck,” or building Lego creations, everything is an exchange. The students may call me “Profe,” but I learn just as much from them as they do from me. I share slang and superheroes in English, and they share drawings and flowers. I tell tales from home—from a nation of their TV dreams—and they teach me patience and understanding. Every day here brings new challenges and rewards. As my Portuguese improves, new doors open, even if I sometimes struggle to keep them open. In moments where challenges threaten to overwhelm me, I remember why I chose this path. I remember why I chose to move 4,500 miles away from home to a country completely foreign to me. I remember, after a draining senior year, why I applied for a visa rather than a housing and dining plan.
The search to reignite my passion for learning led me to the idea of a bridge-year fostering international exchange and global awareness. It is through this opportunity that I am now in Brasil: a country where I am both at home and a foreigner; a country where I teach English and crafts instead of sitting in a classroom; a country whose culture makes me proud to say that I decided to say “wait” to go to college. Every day that I walk into Impacto Vivo reinforces my decision to spend a formative year abroad. And I know that when I walk onto campus this fall, I will be ready. I will be filled with a passion forged in cultural discovery. I will be fluent in a language I considered foreign just two months ago. I will be a global citizen, and I will retain the lessons learned through my gap year long after I say tchau to Brasil.