When I started college, I cried nearly every day for the first half of my freshman year. I was lonely, homesick and poor. I was so miserable, I couldn’t even Skype my dad without having a meltdown. Seeing his happy face, my dog by his side, devastated me more than it made me happy. I was experiencing a very small portion of “culture shock,” and I did not take to it well. I was a different person back then, but my anxieties are the same. I don’t adapt well to what I don’t know and I don’t enjoy feeling out of place. I’m sure that’s the case for most people, but I tend to let the feeling of discontent get to me in ways that are not pleasant for me or anyone around me.
When I found out my boyfriend Nate’s work would be taking him to Brazil, I had a choice to make. I could stay home in Boston while he traveled back and forth, or I could pack my bags for weeks at a time and join him. My initial thought was “Wow, what a cool adventure!” My second thought was, “There’s no way I can take that time off of work.” But not once did it cross my mind that fear could be the thing to hold me back.
Consider it a “blessing in disguise,” but due to circumstances I’ll likely get into at a later date, I left my job in Boston and therefore left with no reason not to pack my bags and get going.
My first few days in São Paulo were trying. Even though I had Nate to show me the way, I couldn’t help but feel completely lost. It wasn’t until we were riding in a cab to our Airbnb that the reality of where I was finally hit me. The drive from the airport took a little over an hour with the traffic, and I slept for a decent portion of it. When I woke up, I was driving through the biggest city I have ever seen. São Paulo makes New York City look like a peanut.
Everywhere I looked there were long stretches of graffiti, tall buildings, and aggressive drivers. But that’s not even what had me feeling so overwhelmed. It was the idea that soon when Nate and his team were at work, I would be navigating these streets alone.
My negative attitude nearly crippled me. I was nervous and testy, and someone I wouldn’t even want to be around. When Nate explained the area to me, I felt my anxiety rise as I thought there was no way I could grasp this. I was struggling to answer simple questions like, “did we take a right or a left back there?” and it made me feel so lost. I’ve always struggled with directions, but this was a new level for me.
Nate showed me the boundaries of where I would feel most comfortable and explained the area around us as a grid. It seemed simple enough but I was so afraid of my own failure to comprehend everything, that I struggled to retain what he was saying. I cried, a lot. I was more frustrated with myself than anything else. I wanted so badly to feel comfortable walking around, enjoying the sites and shopping that surrounded me, but I just couldn’t let myself. I kept my bag clutched tight to my body everywhere I went.
If my terrible sense of direction wasn’t enough, the very little Portuguese that I know was hardly helpful. I kept telling myself that if I got lost, I was screwed. No one would understand what I was saying, and I would put myself in a position to be taken advantage of. I continued to drill myself with these negative thoughts, to the point where I felt completely helpless. Who did I think I was coming here anyways? I was throwing in the towel before even giving myself a chance to learn.
I know that I let fear control me in those first few days, and it’s my deepest regret. Fortunately for me, my bad attitude didn’t stop Nate from trying. We did a lot of walking around, and he carefully explained every street and landmark I needed to know. He set boundaries for “safe” zones, and once I was able to remember the location’s names, I pinned them on Google maps to use as a guide. Nate wanted me to feel comfortable just as much as I did, and it was his patience that helped me understand the real disappointment would be in not trying at all.
It never really occurred to me what I might learn about myself on this journey. I’ve found that my ability to self-sabotage is what holds me back most and when I feel low, I can get really low. I can’t say I’ve had some magical transformation since beginning my travels, but I’ve had a necessary attitude adjustment which has made all the difference.