Brain Says No. Gut Says Yes.

My travels to Brazil went very smoothly, though I was immediately confronted with unexpected challenges.

I was hit with a near-crippling home-sickness as I realized that everyone I know and love are more than five-thousand miles away. Loneliness also struck me hard, as my slow-paced Portuguese made it difficult to get any point across. These two things alone made my first week incredibly difficult, which was the exact opposite of what I expected. I had planned for my first time outside the US alone for this length of time to be filled with automatic excitement and adventure; yet, for the first couple of days, I was solely inclined to stay to myself, call home extremely often, and not engage with locals unless I absolutely needed to.

This coping mechanism, however, sent my already negative feelings into an even larger downward spiral. I realized I had to something. It was only the beginning, and if things continued to go this way, I’d have a looong 7-weeks ahead of me. So, in an effort to fix what had been going rather poorly, I began to do exactly everything my gut reactions prompted me not to. For me, it was similar to one big “opposite day.” You want to order food from UberEats because it’s simpler? Go to the restaurant down the street and try a dish you’ve never had before. You wish to call your mother at home for the third time today? Put the phone down and go hike a mountain with your classmates and Portuguese professor. Oh, you want to go home and stay in for the rest of the day because running into someone and having to talk to them in Portuguese will force you to confront your fear of failure? Go find a guy at Copacabana beach and start up a conversation.

Me, my classmates, and my professor at the top of one of the Dois Irmãos mountains.
Me and the guy ended up having a small meal together. He was very kind.

Don’t get me wrong, doing all of this was absolutely TERRIFYING and it infinitely compounded my stress in the moments leading up to doing them. But as I’ve learned in my acting methodology courses at Notre Dame: courage isn’t the ability to fearlessly jump off a cliff; it’s the ability to look off the cliff’s edge, be scared out of your mind until you want to pee your pants, and then jump anyways. To my surprise, the results were incredibly fruitful, and much more than I thought they could ever be. Instead of UberEats, I ended up eating authentic Brazilian cochinas at a local restaurant. They were absolutely to die for. My mini-meal with João taught me a host of new words and let me know that with low stress and a calm spirit, I speak Portuguese better than I thought I did. And it would be nearly impossible to describe in any language the beauty of the Dois Irmãos hike. I feel that any combination of words I could try to create to fully express its wonder would only undersell the experience of its true magnitude. While navigating through the thorny passage, I got to witness Rio de Janeiro from a bird’s eye perspective.

This fun will only continue. I made a deal with my professors (in the Portuguese language, of course) that in the next couple of weeks, I would 1) go surfing in the Atlantic Ocean and 2) go hang-gliding through the Asa Delta hundreds of feet in the air. I don’t prefer to swim and heights absolutely terrify me. But hey, that’s just my gut talking.

Communicating with local Brazilians is, at times, extremely difficult, and I also still miss my mother very dearly. Without a doubt, though, being here has gotten a whole lot better than when I first arrived, and it will only get better from here.