It’s been a week since I got home from Brazil. It’s hard for me to even remember now what it
was like to wake up in my bed, and sit on my couch watching The Voice Kids every Sunday,
and spread doce de leite on my bread roll every evening, which could easily scare me because
it makes me think my time there was short, or easy, or not worthwhile. However, I know that’s
not true. It’s just weird because when I think back to it it feels so far away and surreal. Even
more far away and surreal than my high school classrooms, or my grandparents house, for
example, which is odd because I was in Florianopolis much more recently than I’ve been in
My year away was worthwhile. Or, more precisely, my time in Brazil was worthwhile. I thought
that I felt myself changing when I was down there, and then this past week when I came home I
didn’t actually feel like I had changed that much. But I know that I did change, and that I just
have to be patient in waiting for those changes to reveal themselves. I also have to trust that I
made an impact on my host family and the people at my job and my friends from GCY.
I did amazing things. I dissected monkey stomachs, hiked to secluded beaches, and released a
group of penguins, watching them waddle in tandem back into the crashing ocean. I also did
“quieter”, more ordinary things, that still had an impact (maybe even a bigger impact) on me, like
dealing with two host families of very different socioeconomic status and learning from that or
having with a host sister that was unkind to me. It’s hard now to even think of these experiences
as real, and not just as something I tie up in a cute little package of a lesson I learned and write
a blog post about.
I think it may even be better that I feel this way, though. Because the lessons I’ve learned and
changes that have happened to me should be enduring enough to carry through with me in my
person for my whole life. A small part of me almost wishes that I was strikingly different and
refusing to drive in my polluting car or use the luxury of toilet paper because things like that are
easy to talk about and show, but also obnoxious and unproductive. I know the little, subtler
things will carry with me for much longer and play a much bigger role in who I am as a person
and what I do with the rest of my life.
I notice the changes in little things. I don’t wake up in the morning thinking about my time in
Brazil (like I thought I would), but instead I feel less nervous and more grown-up going to a job
interview or less worried and stressed about little things like what pair of jeans I’m going to wear
to dinner at my friend's house. People tell me that I seem different, (though sometimes I wonder
whether they actually noticed anything or are just trying to seem nice). In a way, I think the
small, subtle changes are more valuable, because they’re qualities and habits and mindsets that
I can carry with me through my entire life.
I’m wary of saying that I notice or feel more guilty about the comfortable and privileged lifestyle I
live in here in New York, but I have noticed that in a way it’s true. I don’t want to act like I lived in
a country that was uncomfortably poor or even poor at all because I wouldn’t want to undermine
the beauty and AWESOMENESS of Brazil as a country or my family and our house, but I am
coming to realize how many of my friends live in a bubble of privilege and wealth.
I also realize how privileged my family is. I live in the smallest house on my block and my
parents make as much money as a lot of my friends, but I still realize that in the grand scheme
of the world (and the country), I am “rich”. And I guess one positive thing is that I do find myself
caring less for materialistic things or fancy brunches. Again, trying not to sound high and mighty,
but this in a way is true!
Putting aside all the cliche and somewhat condescending talk of realizing my privilege, my main,
and favorite thing, that has changed about myself is that I’m just nicer. I am more confident in
myself and my abilities that I carry myself through the world with a cheerier and happier attitude
and disposition. This was something I was in a way able to “track”, or notice happening while I
was away. I lived with a host family that wasn’t always warm or loving and at times was even
hostile to me, and in that I found myself growing more warm and positive and loving and
earnest. Perhaps I was adjusting for the lack of compassion and cheeriness in the house, but I
noticed that when I came to work grinning from ear to ear and just acting with generosity and
empathy, my entire work day and experience was better. Of course, this is a common and well
known fact that I had been taught at a young age, but I just noticed it “clicking” in Brazil, maybe
because it was the first time I was meeting a whole big group of people that I hadn’t known
since I was four. I was never sullen or depressive or rude at home, but I had a tendency to put
others down in my mind to make myself feel better, and I found my mindset and inner thoughts
becoming more pleasant and positive too. Confidence and positivity are a positive feedback
loop (thanks AP Bio), they feed into each other and create a cycle.
Remembering these minute changes that I’ve been through is really comforting and reassures
me that I really did go to Brazil and grow and learn while I was there. It’s easy to forget about all
my experiences and push it all under the rug, to resume my previous mentality of going through
my days pushing towards the future (thanks to the American high school system), and I’ve
realized from writing this essay how important it is to reflect and ponder my experiences and
thoughts. Trust was something that I had to work on and embrace while in Brazil, and I’m finding
it useful now as well–trust that everything will work itself out, trust that the future will come, and
trust that I’ve changed and matured during my gap year.