Learn Not to Compare, but to Observe and Accept
The initial stage of studying abroad is very much filled with excitement and curiosity of the unknown. I am elated to have finally embarked on this journey, but I still feel as though this were all a grand vacation. I go to the beach in the afternoons, mispronounce words on foreign menus, and check touristy destinations off of my must-do list. I am fully aware that at some point it will settle in that this will be my new home for a while; however, at the moment I have no problem enjoying this phase of infatuation.
With infatuation comes a desire to explore the local culture and take advantage of the resources that I now have access to. I want to take a Samba class to learn the national dance, learn how to kite surf on Copacabana beach, and learn how to make brigadeiros--sweets made of cocoa and condensed milk that are served at every party, celebration, and Brazilian get-together. I now have this desire to become a worldly person, and later integrate all of my experiences into my personal way of living.
The most important lesson that I have learned in my first week of studying abroad is to learn not to compare, but to observe and accept. In the first few days of my arrival in Rio de Janeiro, I found myself constantly comparing Brazilian customs, traditions, stores, foods, and concepts that we practice in the United States; however, I learned that comparisons take away from my learning experience.
Before my first day of class, I made a list of all of the school supplies that I would need--much like I do every year at home--and I headed to the supermarket around the corner from my house. At the supermarket, however, I was only able to check two items off of my list before being directed to the Papelaria (the paper store) to buy notebooks for class. After the Papelaria, my next stop was to the Livraria (the bookstore) to get some of the books that I would need for class. After going to five different stores to get school supplies, I found myself completely exhausted and wondering why they did not have a Target store.
Pondering this unrequited question made me realize the importance of accepting foreign customs for what they are, even if it is not the way that I am accustomed to doing things at home. My acceptance also included having a non-judgmental attitude, and not holding one culture’s customs as more superior than the other, and welcoming different ways of doing things with an open mind.
By Lauren Ruffin