Seven short days ago, I had never seen land outside of the United States. I often joked with others that the closest I had come to leaving the country was wading in the waters of southern Florida.
Nevertheless, today I can proudly say that I’ve (finally) left my home country and begun to experience life and culture outside of my comfort zone. I’ve tasted the caipirinhas, the Brazilian national drink – which, by the way, is nothing but pure sugar, limes and alcohol – learned a few phrases in Portuguese and been abandoned by my Uber a time or two already.
There are so many things that I could say about my trip so far – despite the fact that it’s only been a mere five days since I boarded my flight for Brazil, but still, I feel as if I’ve already learned and experienced so much. So, to give you a glimpse of my life here as a pseudo-Brazilian, here are a few things that I’ve learned while in Brazil:
1. The media tends to hype up the negative and downplay the positive
I won’t lie to you, prior to leaving for Brazil, I was scared out of my mind. For months leading up to my trip, all I heard about were all of the negative aspects of the 2016 Rio Olympics. Each time I informed someone I would be visiting Rio, I opened an unwanted can of worms, listening to them ramble on and on about a city they had never traveled to, and things they probably didn’t know about. I was even frequently told, “Rio should have never hosted the Olympics.” Way to encourage my trip, I would think…
However, despite harsh criticism, I made my way to Rio de Janiero, Brazil, and (not) to my surprise, it’s been great so far. A few day into the Olympics, and I’m hoping that the media is starting to refocus their energy on yet another great Olympics.
2. People outside of the United States tend to be a whole lot nicer than us
I could go on an endless rant about this topic. When non-citizens visit the United States, people often scoff and ridicule visitors who visit our country who cannot speak our language. Yet, as Americans, we visit other countries and get upset when they can’t speak the same language as us (even though we’re in their country).
However, what I’ve seen in Brazil is that any person who speaks English is eager to help translate. On several instances, Brazilians have seen me struggling to communicate with a person and came up to translate. A few days ago, I was at Christ the Redeemer and ordering a drink from the bartender. We were having a lot of difficulty communicating due to our language barrier, and a woman came up and stayed until I had pay just to make sure I was able to communicate with the bartender. That was something I thought was so incredible and kind that I do not think would happen necessarily in the United States.
3. Opportunity is everywhere
Walking around Rio, I have learned that opportunity really is everywhere. From all of the people I have randomly met at the Olympic venues – even learning that one person I coincidentally met taught at the school district only 20 minutes away from me – to holding an Olympic torch to attending the International Paralympic Committee press conference, I have already been given so many opportunities while here in Rio – both professionally and personally.
I believe that life is simply a series of choices and, sometimes, we have to create our own opportunity. However, you don’t always have to travel 5,000 miles away from home like I did. Sometimes, the best opportunities are right on your doorstep.
4. Traveling teaches us that the world is much smaller than we think
Whenever I think about the physical size of the world, I am mesmerized. I am even more mesmerized when I realize how many people are in this world. But what is truly even more amazing is the fact that no matter where you are in the world, there is a great chance that you’ll meet someone you have a connection to.
Already while in Brazil, I have met countless people from the United States – which should be of no surprise considering I am currently at the Olympics, the largest athletic event in the world. However, when I met Kelly Day, a middle school teacher from just the town over from me, I was so astonished that I so coincidentally happened upon someone who lives so close to me. Not only is it a reminder that the world really is smaller than we all think it is, but it is also a good reminder of home – no matter how far away I am.