I was listening to music on the way to Downtown Seattle when a few seats away on the bus, I heard a rhythmic string of familiar words that someone once told me sounded like poured water over Spanish. In the usual way that I eavesdrop on the bus, I tilted my head to the four warmly-dressed people speaking Portuguese. I alerted myself to the fui’s, the lá’s, and the você’s that made up so much of my bridge year in Brazil. I turned off my musical distraction and hurriedly sat next to them. Then, with one fateful and probably butchered attempt, I asked them where they were from.
“Vocês são do Brasil?” I asked.
“Somos!” they said with a blend of surprise and amusement in their eyes.
In hasty Portuguese, we talked about Brazil (it’s marvelous!), why they were in Seattle (a chemistry conference!), and how I had come to speak their language (I spent almost eight months around Salvador!). Among the misplaced genders and attempts to recreate an accent that I had just left three weeks ago, we bridged some sort of cultural gap on this short commute. Some sort of spoken bridge between two worlds, cultures, and mindsets. More than that, we created our own little slice of Brazil even in a grimy, grumbling trolley-bus; a world understood through tudo bem’s, abraço’s, and beijo’s.
I left the bus trembling with excitement. That moment marked the first time that I had spoken Portuguese outside of Brazil. It made me reflect on how much I’ve changed as a result of my bridge year. A year ago, I wouldn’t have readily pulled away from my headphones. I wouldn’t have mustered the gumption to speak a foreign language in public. I most definitely wouldn’t have been eager to let myself make so many mistakes. Old Winson would have been too scared and too worried to take those risks.
But this year of challenge, adventure, and growth has instilled in me the confidence I need to dive into anything head first. I started the year wading through expected and unexpected difficulties that challenged me to dig deep. I found hidden parts of myself that I didn’t know existed. Now that I’m on the other side, I can see how those toughest moments have become the highlights of my journey. Those unwanted tears and doubts remain a key part of the hard-won sense of myself that I have today. So with my newly developed Portuguese, discovered insights, and uncovered confidence, I’m ready to step back onto that so-called treadmill of academic rigor. This time around though, I’ll be sprinting on soles hardened with grit.