From “Oi” to “Hi”

It’s a funny feeling coming back from time abroad. You’re immediately flown out of the comfortable and thrown into a new culture, a different language, new sights, sounds and people. Then all of a sudden you’re comfortable again in your new environment. Your ears get used to the foreign language, you start to feel at home even though the food, the businesses, the people, the weather is entirely different from what you’re used to. But you have no other choice but to get comfortable because you just sat on 3 different planes for over 13 hours and are halfway across the world now.

It really is a beautifully, scary thing to think about how quickly the human body and mind becomes acquainted and unacquainted. How it feels connected and then entirely disconnected.

I remember so vividly walking off the plane in Sao Paulo, Brazil thinking, “Holy crap, I’m not in America anymore!” NO ONE spoke English. I was by myself in a foreign airport and the culture shock hit me square in the face. I was clearly far from comfortable but at the same time it energized me, challenged me to step out and get familiar.

When I arrived in my final destination, Curitiba, my stomach had butterflies as I followed the crowd to pick up my baggage and attempt to find my host who was supposed to be standing at arrivals holding a sign with my name on it. Sure enough, she was there and she embraced me with a hug that allowed a few of the butterflies to fly away.

I had no time to decide if I should trust her or not. I just trusted her because she was all I had. On our way home from the airport she started to point out landmarks and we started to communicate. Her broken English with a strong Portuguese accent was initially hard to understand and my perfectly American English was difficult for her to comprehend. But we quickly learned how to communicate effectively. I started using hand motions, posing questions in different ways, speaking slower, repeating. And I suddenly got used to her accent and could understand what she was trying to communicate. Those unfamiliar landmarks, that were at first almost too much for my eyes and brain to take in, started to become normal. We’d pass things multiple times and I’d remember, “Oh that’s the theater that used to be an old gunpowder factory!”. The street signs and names on buildings started to make more sense based on context and familiarity of words.

Curitiba, Brazil was starting to feel like home.

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Theater that used to be an old gunpowder factory!

I associate the term “feeling at home” with the people you’re surrounded by. If you surround yourself with people you love, people you feel connected with, people who make you feel comfortable, you feel at home. Not a geographical location but a feeling of connectedness and belonging. That’s what “home” feels like.

It happened so quickly in Brazil. Living with a family just made me feel like part of their own within days. Brazilians are some of the most gracious, hospitable people I’ve ever met. I just feel in love with life there.

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Enjoying a traditional Brazilian BBQ

Just as soon as my mind, body and spirit felt acclimated with my new surroundings, it was time to go. Rushing into familiarity and connectedness and rushed right back out of it.

My amazing host, Ivete dropped us off at the airport and we said our “See you later’s” through teary-eyed hugs. A week I would never forget with people I would never forget.

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My host, Ivete and me at the Botanical Gardens

Just as quickly as I was immersed into the Brazilian culture, I was thrown back into American culture. When I walked off the plane in Toronto, Canada, a security officer asked me a question in English and for a moment my brain wasn’t telling my mouth to speak because I was so used to not understanding what was being said. I had to tell my brain, “Carly, you can use your words now!” I could suddenly do all the same everyday things I normally do like answer people’s questions, order coffee at the cafe, start small talk with someone at the airport. All things that were impossible in Brazil without assistance.

“It is a strange thing to come home. While yet on the journey, you cannot at all realize how strange it will be.” – Selma Lagerlof

I really knew I was back in America when I landed in my final destination, Detroit. My dad was there to pick me up in his Chevy Silverado pick-up truck. Yea, not a thing in Brazil.

In the days that followed my return to the States, I was surrounded by family and friends for Thanksgiving holiday and the Ohio State vs. Michigan football game (Go Bucks!) and I really do love this time of year but it just seemed like too much. I had just learned so much about a new people, a new place, a new culture and I was yearning to share it with others but reality hit. You really can’t get much more American than Thanksgiving, eating until you can’t possibly eat another bite. And football, screaming at the TV over a silly game that somehow causes young and old men alike to suffer from multiple heart palpitationsĀ  within a span of a few hours. From one extreme to another.

Not only was I thrown back into American culture way too quickly but I also started to realize how disconnected I felt from all my friends and family in the States. What had they been doing the past week? What did I miss? I feel like a bad friend. Oh gosh, do I even have friends? I also began to think about my responsibilities at work. Crap, I still have that job I need to pay the bills. 100 emails?! How will I ever get caught up? REALITY HIT.

Day by day, I start feeling more acquainted and connected to my new, old environment. I feel more comfortable with reality and start to re-connect the pieces of my life that were so quickly obliterated in Brazil. However, as I put together the pieces this time, they fit together in a new way. I’m not in Brazil anymore but that experience will never leave me. Before I left, I was missing pieces. Now, I move forward into the life God has for me, bringing with me just a few missing pieces that He allowed me to bring back from Brazil. Missing pieces that will continue to shape me, grow me, teach me and hopefully allow me to influence others.

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