My Odyssey

By Nicolas Livon-Navarro

As a kid, I never took much pleasure in reading. I would do it when I had to, but it was never something I did voluntarily. Dyslexia made it hard for me to read without giving me headaches, especially in English since it was my second language. Although I hated reading, I really loved being read to. I loved when my parents would read me stories about adventures and made up places. I must have listened to The Odyssey book on tape at least ten times growing up, and it was without a doubt my favorite story. Once I was older and my reading improved, I had the chance to read my favorite book for the first time. The difference when reading the words myself as opposed to it being read to me was tremendous. I loved experiencing the adventure of the story first hand. This was the first time I’ve ever had that feeling where I didn’t want to put the book down, not even for a second. I thought Odysseus was the most incredible character ever. His leadership and determination was incomparable and he was really someone I looked up to. This story really changed my life. I loved The Odyssey because of the thoughts it provoked me to fathom. Different conflicts and challenges, and questionings of what I would have done if I were in that position. I now know, the deepest pleasure of reading isn’t the words on the page, but what thoughts those words trigger in your head. What do those words make you feel and why.

My best friend, Raf recommended this book to me a couple weeks before I set off on this incredible journey of a year. He said it was one of his favorite books ever and he hoped I would like it as well. So I bought this book and brought it with me to Brazil. The story of Siddhartha is that of a young Brahmin boy who sets out to find the Buddha in hopes of learning the purest form of wisdom and self discipline. The story is filed with love and compassion and fear and hope, and the portrayals or these deep seeded human emotions made me reflect of the foundation of what it is to be human and what it means to be alive. I felt extremely connected to this story in the sense that, I too was a young boy taking off to gain wisdom in a far and strange land. This story provoked so much emotion out of me that it literally brought me to tears on several occasions. Once again, these words on paper changed my life. I feel so lucky to have felt these connections with these books and emotions that ultimately shift my thinking. In a way I feel like these books are very similar to my gap year; they both have helped me grow and mature a lot, even in ways I can’t see yet, and I’m super excited to discover the ways in which these changes will unfold.

Too Good at Goodbyes

By Trevor Hall

Sometimes, I feel as if I have an extra subconscious in Brazil.

Tchau Tchau

Besides abacaxi, muito, and beleza, these words are the most common I speak in Portuguese. I like the feeling the farewell has as it rolls around in a rhythmic circle in my mouth. No, I do not enjoy saying goodbyes to everyone I meet here in this welcoming country. I am actually thrilled to practice my broken, gringo Portuguese whenever I have a moment. In fact, departing from conversations is quite challenging here because the majority of people love rambling on about how cold the weather is whenever it drops below 70 degrees. Through learning and being immersed in a new language, I am constantly inside my head. My new subconscious presses me to use different parts of my brain while tearing my confidence into shreds. And although my high confidence is torn apart, I have had time to realize I have a phenomenal opportunity right in front of me to start new again in another language. In this experience thus far, I have identified things that I never had recognized before. And during this reflection time that is filled with conflicted ideas I cannot grasp, I noticed that I am very good at goodbyes—hence why tchau tchau is a common phrase I use.

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Strengthening My Independence

By Leonardo Ruiz-Sanchez

Before coming to Brazil, I never really walked anywhere. Being from rural Tennessee, I was always forced to drive to places. The only times I actually went out and walked was on my way to my car. For this reason, one of the biggest changes I have faced here is the amount of walking I do. Until recently, it never occurred to me that it would be smart to start using a bike to get around my neighborhood. I can’t remember the last time I rode a bicycle. Fortunately for me, my host father has a brand-new bike he never got around to use. It had definitely been a long time since I had mounted a bicycle but once I got on, it was as easy as riding a bike. I did not expect that something as simple as riding a bike could be as exciting and freeing as it was. I could not help but to smile ear to ear as I sped up and felt the wind on my face. As I biked, I saw parts of my community that I didn’t realize were so close to me—cafés, stores, and even the Florianopolis botanical garden. It was at this time that I also noticed that there was so many people on bicycles. I realized then that I was part of this community, except that unlike everyone else I was actually wearing a helmet—and a slightly over sized one at that. I gained a new sense of independence at that moment.

I am used to being independent. Growing up with parents who did not speak English, I was forced to grow up. I realized that I, in some way, had to be my own parent. I would fill out and sign parent forms, field trip forms, doctor forms. Senior year of high school, when college loomed, I dove headfirst into the college application process mostly alone. I scheduled and took standardized tests, filled out FAFSA, poured my heart out on essays, and everything else that is required in the pursuit of a higher education. Although this independence has certainly been beneficial here, living in foreign country requires another type of independence—another kind. The kind of independence that allows for one to go out into a foreign world with minimal language skills. An independence that permits one to realize that sometimes it is necessary to reach out for help—that facing something alone is not always the best way.

So, as I pedaled faster and faster, I made a decision. A decision that for the longest time, I knew I had to make. I had been avoiding the issue for weeks, but that bike ride finally convinced me to move forward. It involved my host family. I won’t get into specifics, but I realized that we were not a good fit. I realized that I was not improving the way I wanted to because of this mismatch. I realized I needed a change.

All the Amazing Conversations

By Sophie von Muench

The other day, my host father asked me what I talked about all day. I could only laugh, because I had no idea how to begin explaining the conversations I have most days. After thinking about it, however, I realized that the conversations I have had here in Brazil have been the most formative part of my experience. So, here is a taste of some conversations I’ve had within the last couple months. 

  • How to firmly tell a whining, crying 8 year old to stop it, and why it is important
    • While one part of this is very easy for me to understand, the other is extremely difficult for me to do without feeling like a terrible person. 
  • The importance of alone time
    • The previous conversation led directly to this one. My host sister wants to stay with me at all times, including when one of us is in the bathroom. Also when I am working, or trying to sleep, or even when she’s playing with her cousin. She also doesn’t appreciate it when I stay out too late (i.e. 7:30 pm), because I miss three whole hours of playtime, and asks me to hurry home after work next time. However, we are making progress, as she now generally complains about me leaving without screaming and crying.

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Familial Introductions

By Savion Sample

I sat alone in the living room, laptop in front of me, watching my hands do their little “dance” in place on my keyboard – a new hand-fidget I’ve unconsciously started to do ever since arriving to Brazil, and seems to happen only when I get too nervous. I’ve come to call it the quick-fidgety-tapping-on-the-keyboard-keys-so-that-it-produces-a-somewhat-audible-noise-without-actually-pressing-down-on-the-keys sound. It’s hard to pinpoint why this has started happening, but I think it’s because I no longer have my friends, my family, and the comfort of my home at the end of the day to fall back on when I get anxious, so these odd little habits spawn as a way to cope instead.

So, why was I so nervous? Because it was the day that I was finally supposed to introduce both my families to one another, my Brazilian one and my American one. I’m a person who likes to keep different parts of my life very separate from each other. I act very different around my friends, as I do with my family. The way I act depending on the social groups in my life is very different, so the fact that two very important pieces of my life were about to come together was a very strange feeling for me. What would they think of each other? What would they say? What would they say about me? What if they don’t get along? All these questions were hurtling through my head, which only made my hand fidgeting intensify. Continue reading