I have been in Brazil for about three and a half weeks now. In that time, I have noticed significant differences between my adaptation to England and Brazil.
Within the first three weeks of living in England, I was still fairly nostalgic. I went through my time there enjoying the new learning experience, making friends, and visiting amazing historical sites, but I still felt like an outsider.
I figured that that was completely normal, given that I am a foreigner. Surprisingly, however, that feeling only lasted for the first week here in Brazil. While I was quite ready to leave England when I did, in Brazil, the prospect of leaving is unbearable. Despite the difference in language, I find the culture and people of Brazil much more familiar than those in England.
Coming from an Arabic and Mexican background, I am accustomed to family/friend gatherings in large numbers, with loud music, laughter, dancing, and most importantly, lots and lots of food. I am used to greeting people with a hug and kiss. I am used to acting as the unofficial babysitter whenever my family comes to visit with their small children. Although I do not particularly enjoy dancing and singing throughout the night, I am comfortable being around those that do. In my family, that’s the norm.
In many ways, Brazilian culture is the same. During my stay with Junia, my ermã do coracão (translated as “sister of my heart”—a term commonly applied to someone you’re not related to by blood, but have lived with and grown to love as family), I have lived in a way that feels much closer to home than England ever was. I’ve grown a strong bond with Junia and her family, especially Yasmin, Junia’s niece, whom I frequently have drawing sessions with. I have been surrounded by huge families and friends, loud jokes, and soothing music that plays all throughout the night on weekends. And I am sure I don’t have to mention this, but the food is incredible.
Living in this country has been exactly what I needed after England. Although I truly loved England and began feeling like life was normal there towards the end, I still found myself feeling very uncomfortable at times. I love my friends, but they were often a bit quiet, somewhat detached from their families or if not, they had very small families, and there was just something… that felt different. Of course, I realize now that that difference, although it made me feel uncomfortable at times, is not a bad one. It’s just simply… different.
After experiencing major culture shock when I lived in Syria, I know that the only way to fully immerse and feel part of English culture is to live there for a longer period of time. One semester was definitely not enough for me to really understand the British–a fact that I have found very surprising, given the fact that I love British pop culture, know the language, and that, for the most part, it is not that different from the US.
The different ways in which I adapted (or did not fully adapt) to British and Brazilian culture has taught me something very important about myself: I am not just American, which is the box the British kept putting me in. I am also Mexican and Syrian; both my parents were immigrants to the US, and their experience and culture have influenced me more than I imagined. I am also surprised by the amount of Portuguese I have learned in such a short amount of time, a testament again to my mother’s native tongue, which is so similar to Portuguese.
In Brazil, so many people are of mixed ancestry. After informing my hosts of my ancestry, they no longer labelled me as ‘the American girl,’ like they often did in England. Rather, they recognized my ancestry and nationality as both being a part of who I am, something I greatly appreciate. Of course, it may be that I have been fortunate enough to have met wonderful people here in Brazil, who have been very kind and understanding with me. I still have a lot to learn about both Brazil and England, but this is what I feel now–and what a great feeling it is to be somewhere so different and yet so similar to home. I will truly miss Brazil.