I went last weekend to visit my host family in Curitiba, the city that I stayed in for two weeks when I first got to Brazil for In-Country Orientation. My family in Curitiba is a couple with no kids, and they are both doctors, (financially comfortable and extremely well-educated), and spoke English. I was very much in my comfort zone, living with the same language, socioeconomic status, and habits I was used to. I remember worrying when I was there that my experience wasn’t “Brazilian” enough or simply different enough from the life I had just come from in the US. Visiting them for the weekend was a nice little vacation back into my American life of speaking English and having a clothes dryer. Seeing my family and Curitiba again after four months also allowed me to compare the Sophia of September who had just arrived in Brazil, homesick and terrified, to the more confident, Portuguese-speaking Sophia of January.
My host families in Curitiba and Florianopolis (my “permanent” homestay where I’m living from September to April) are very different; they are of different education levels, socioeconomic statuses, and general outlooks on Brazil and the world. Visiting my family in Curitiba made me notice those differences even more clearly, and also made me realize how happy I was to be living with my family in Florianopolis. I loved Curitiba, but have said over and over that Floripa is a better place for me to spend my bridge year. When I got home from Curitiba on Sunday afternoon, I walked to my grandmother’s house with my mom and sister for our almost-regular weekend visit, something I had done in Curitiba too; both when I was there for two weeks in September and on my most recent visit, I had spent a lot of time with my host mom’s family, having frequent meals and spending weekends with them. I realized that in both my Brazilian families, their families were their closest friends who they spent the most time with, even when they were adults, which was a custom different from my family at home. We see my grandparents on both sides once or twice a year, and cousins more often, but still nowhere near once a week.
I wonder whether this is a Brazilian thing or just a coincidence, because I know in my family in New York I only see my grandparents/aunts/uncles on holidays, and most of my American friends are like this too. Talking to my fellow bridge year participants I realize that Brazilians are generally closer to their extended families, possibly because they as a culture are less geographically and move far away from their hometowns for university and later life less often, or possibly just because the institution of family is considered to be more important in the national culture. The importance and value placed on family is one of the things that has helped make me comfortable here, and certainly something I want to carry back with me when I go home. And by that I mean the US, although at this point, my house and family here have begun to feel so natural that when I was in Curitiba I found myself missing “home”, Floripa.