I was 19 years old when I left Brazil and decided to live 1 year in America.
This was my very first adventure. And it was amazing!
Before leaving home, I remember being anxious, excited and also scared.
Everyone would tell me that living abroad would teach me a lot of things. And I agreed, but had no clue what to expect. Specially because you end up learning some very unlikely things!
1. Taxes are not included in the shown prices
This may sound pretty standard, but it was a huge cultural chock for me! I had no clue about it, so I was constantly disappointed every time my change would come “wrong”.
Took me some time to learn that I had to add taxes in order to know how much I really had to pay.
2. People are interested in your food
It first happened with my host family at a food court. They were all really interested about my meal choice. And it kept happening every time we went out to eat.
Times that happened to me back home? Zero.
I didn’t quite know how to answer things like: You really don’t want croutons in your salad? Do you really like croissant with honey mustard? (I’ll confess some choices were made because they were the only ingredients I knew) and Is this a common dish in Brazil?
Which reminds me…
3. American are (really) curious about your home country
I remember being asked by almost every American I met these two questions:
What do you guys eat in Brazil? Rice and beans. Everyday..? Well, yeah. Pretty much. Didn’t sound weird until you asked…
And the winner: How big is the rain forest?
It’s around 2,1M m².
Of course I didn’t know that.
I had to live abroad to learn that Brazil is the 5th biggest country both in size and population. I had no clue.
So, my tip is: research about your home country before you live abroad and be a real success in family meetings! 🙂
4. Rule #1: wash your hands as soon as you get home
This is a habit I can’t live without anymore.
In the US I learned that people take germs very seriously! It doesn’t matter if you were just around the corner: get home and wash your hands.
5. No such thing as too much ice
I got used seeing Americans with a drink in their hands. If possible, loaded wit ice.
I was actually surprised to see there’s even an ice drink, like the famous 7-eleven’s Slurpee.
6. You can’t do something wrong and just walk away
Pretend you are leaving the parking lot and just scratches another car. You see nothing serious happened, so you decide to leave. Right?
Wrong! In this case, you should leave a note. If someone is passing by and witness it all, will probably be taking your plate. I’ve seen it happening and was surprised to see how serious that it. Needless to say this is quite a shock compared to brazilian “jeitinho”…
7. Libraries are the best!
Oh, public library, how I miss you!
It’s the best place ever, where you can find: free wi-fi, workshops, language classes, volunteer opportunities… and books, of course! Research online and make a reservation even for a pre sale. Need more time with your book? Renew it online as well. Don’t feel like going inside to return the books? Just pass them through the door. Now that’s love!
8. Leftovers? Take them home
This is one of the best things I’ve seen in the US. If you go out and don’t eat all your food, just ask it to go. It’s perfectly normal and everybody does that. And it’s not just when you have a whole stake, take home your rice leftovers too. It’s good food that you’ve already paid for.
Unfortunately, in Brazilians restaurants this is still not a normal thing and you’ll most likely be charged an extra fee for that. Besides, your friends might make fun of you and the waiter will probably get a little pissed if you ask. This makes me sad.
9. Americans are not “all fat”
You really shouldn’t generalize. Yes, there’s an alarming number of obese people in the US – but Brazil is also 5th in this ranking -, but I must confess that while living there I started some pretty healthy habits of my own.
My host family, for example, had salad in EVERY meal. I was such a picky eater that the only greens in my plate were the pizza’s seasoning. But after living there for a while, I really started enjoying vegetables.
Besides, during the Summer the streets were loaded with people practicing all kinds of sports. That’s nice!
10. Drinking milk during dinner is just normal
Well, not for me! I could never adapt myself to it.
So, politely, I just told my family I didn’t drink anything while eating. Which was not true. But turned into a habit that only later I found out is actually good for me. Score!
11. You can’t machine wash all of your clothes
At least not the ones I brought from home. And also: your clothes won’t just clean themselves. Shocking, right?
Thanks a lot, mom!
12. It really sucks to get sick and have to look after yourself
Mom, thanks again!
One of the worst feelings for me was when I got sick and had to look after myself, by myself.
But, hey! You learn to look after yourself, and that was the role point about this “living abroad” thing, right? 😉
13. Ordinary things can be a big problem
Like when you have a flat tire and just can’t explain it to anyone. So you have to talk to three different people over the phone and try and make them understand. And when they finally do, you feel so silly.
But that’s just life.
14. You must become a good companion to yourself
It was really tough in the beginning, but after a while I just started enjoying being by myself.
Because you start to realize you can’t wait other people just to go to the grocery store. Or the drugstore. Or to the movies. Or a concert next town. Or New York.
When you enjoy being by yourself you just plan ahead and go for it. And that’s awesome!
Besides all that stuff, I learned a lot about myself during this time away from my comfort zone. I loved living in the US and I have only good memories of my host family!
The cultural chock I had over and over not only made my experience so much better, it also made me appreciate all the good things I had back home and didn’t even realize.
When I returned, I was not the same. Lucky me! 🙂