Letting Go of Expectation

Mitchell Ryan - Brazil


December 30, 2013

It’s hard to tie up all I’ve experienced in my almost four months here within one blog post. That’s probably my own fault for not writing sooner. Brazil has kept me pretty busy–emotionally at least. I’ll spare you the little details of breaking into tears at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and in the bathroom, but you should know crying in the shower is an enlightening experience. And I know people are looking forward to hearing about all the new foods I’ve eaten, the different lifestyle, what Brazil is like and what I’m actually doing here, but I’d be lying to myself if my first in-country blog post is about my day to day experience because, despite being introduced to all these aspects of a new culture, I’ve spent the majority of my short three months here stuck within my own thoughts.

Another Brazil Fellow, during our first training seminar a few weeks ago, shared her own experience, the highs, and more importantly, the lows. She explained to us her slow realization that maybe it is not the worst thing in the world to not be falling in love with Brazil. As it is many of our first times outside of the U.S., a brilliant exchange of culture is taking place. However I feel many of us, myself especially, went into this bridge year with the misconception that everything was going to be great, including what Brazil is actually like, and we would be overcome with intrigue and joy simply from being introduced to all the “worldly customs” surrounding us. It’s extremely easy to fall into a seemingly bottomless hole because of this misguided expectation, both of smooth sailing ahead as well as some cultural aspects that are “signature Brazilian”. This huge gap between expectation and reality is, I’ve realized, what’s so often made me feel sad, surprised, mad and in some odd cases a little cheated.

Brazil is undeniably beautiful, and I find myself growing intellectually and emotionally every day, but what I’ve heard from other Fellows about their experiences has only made things more transparent for me — loving Brazil, loving every aspect of this program, is not a requirement for fully loving this bridge year. Initially I felt bad because I was not brimming with happiness every day just by living in a foreign culture, but that would have been a life of denial, and it’s actually liberating knowing everything comes providing challenge. I know that if I left here with an absolutely horrible idea of Brazil, I’d always know in the back of my head it was my fault for not trying to love it, for being stuck in my preconceived ideas and refusing to let them float away — for being fearful. I wouldn’t want to leave and look back on this frighteningly finite year knowing I never built up the courage to just let myself go and my mind wander.

Every day I remind myself that homesickness, communication struggles, frustrations with community engagement or just feeling mentally exhausted do not at all translate into being let down by Brazil. My time still before me and how I choose to approach it is all up to me. Expectation now has nothing to do with it.

Mitchell Ryan