Finding Happiness in Lonely Moments

Grace Sander - Brazil


November 8, 2018

I’ve spent about two months here in Florianópolis, Brazil in a touristic
neighborhood called Lagoa Da Conceição. The island’s stunning beaches,
hiking trails, and the lagoon being filled with people paddle boarding,
wind surfing, or jet skiing had me convinced that I had landed in paradise.
My host family immediately stole my heart too. Maria, my grandmother,
showed me photos of her family a few weeks ago and a feeling of disbelief
overwhelmed me when she told me she has 17 children (12 currently living)
and well over 20 grandchildren.

My host mom Claudia has the most vibrant personality and every week I help
pick out an outfit for her she can dance in. I will always be impressed
with her ability to leave the house Sunday night in five inch heels and a
cheetah print top. Out of everyone in the family, I find myself connecting
so deeply with my quirky younger brother Matheus. I’m not really sure what
this says about me but I find his absurd 11 year old humor hilarious and I
find myself laughing so much whenever I play videogames with him or when
we’re arguing about who’s taller (he is but I refuse to let him believe
that). His broken English and my broken Portuguese has even improved both
of our language skills.

Everything about my gap year seemed to have aligned so perfectly and while
I am extremely grateful to have such a wonderful family and to be able to
spend hours on the beach or hiking trails, it’s been difficult recently to
admit how isolating it often feels on this magical island. I think
subconsciously I was expecting to be surrounded by many new friends and
having the chance to explore the island with them. While I did develop
meaningful relationships with locals and some fellows from GCY, I‘m
spending a considerable amount of time alone. My apprenticeship ends before
noon which means I have the rest of the day and the weekends to do what I
want. This concept seems nice but there are many days here where I coop
myself up in the house watching movies, reading books, or napping for hours
just to pass the time. I began to gain weight, feel unmotivated, and to be
honest I also began to feel unhappy. It was because the unproductiveness
made me feel guilty; there are moments when I tell myself I’m wasting my
time here and I would be doing so much more had I gone to college right
away. I’ve reflected on this for a while now and although my quixotic
vision for my gap year pre-Brazil was probably disadvantageous, I know my
time here is very much needed for my own personal growth. I told myself I
shouldn’t be complacent sitting at home in solitude so I found activities I
can do alone that make me happy: cooking and exercise. Everyday I try
cooking a healthy meal for myself and I’ve been going to the gym my host
mom works at. At first I thought I could be doing something more meaningful
with my time than running on a treadmill for a while and lifting some
weights. But I think prioritizing my physical health gave me a happier
outlook on the way I’m spending my time here. There are still days when I
coop myself up at home after the gym and watch tv shows especially since
it’s raining season, but I’m all of a sudden finding meaning in those
seemingly meaningless activities. I realized I was too harsh on myself for
doing what I wanted in my free time. Whether it’s watching six hours of
Brooklyn 99, running nowhere on a treadmill for thirty minutes, or reading
Game of Thrones, an individual can take away important messages from any of
these activites if they have the right mindset, since learning involves a
connection between the source of inspiration and your brain, not a one way
street of flowing information. It’s simultaneously our greatest gift and
heaviest burden to find meaning and purpose in whatever we like to do, so
don’t let anyone dictate how to use your free time because it’s simply
subjective. I think I have the right mindset now because I’m finding
happiness and meaning in every activity I do, alone or with company. The
time alone pushes me to make the most of being surrounded by students in my
apprenticeship (blog coming about this soon hopefully) and to remain fully
present the few times a week I actually get to go out with friends. I
wanted to use this blog post as a way to meaningfully reflect on these past
two months so I decided to write down my truth today, the good and bad.
Hopefully what what I wrote was able to show how the extreme highs and lows
one can experience abroad alone is immensely valuable.



Grace Sander