I've been back in the States, after leaving Brazil, for almost two weeks now, and either I am exceptionally well-adjusted or I will experience a rough bout of reverse culture shock and withdrawing in the rapidly-approaching future. Despite the whirlwind that is being home for the holidays, I have had a few opportunities to sit back and reflect on what my time in Brazil was to me.
I re-read some of the things I wrote during the extensive process of applying to my program and to scholarships, to see what I had intended to do in Brazil and to think about how my actual experience differed or didn't and why. Before arriving, with my trip still an abstract possibility, I had wanted to use my time in Brazil to examine bottom-up community development in the favelas, with a focus on the role of community centers. I had wanted to work on building homes in the favelas, to understand permanency and how communities are built physically and conceptually. I had wanted to combine my academic study at my Brazilian university with field experience and interviews culled from my contacts in the fields of community-centers-working-on-bottom-up-community-development-in-the-favelas and organizations-building-homes-as-international-volunteers-in-a-favela.
What did I find out? Easier said than done. For better or worse, for a variety of reasons, many of which--but not all, I will admit--beyond my control, I didn't really do much of what I had intended to in Brazil. I volunteered amongst the urban homeless population a few times, and had the opportunity to lay eyes on one of the small favelas in the historic center of the city as well as an urban settlement called Crackland and to meet residents of these communities. I worked within a local NGO, gaining a much deeper understanding of the organizational elements that go into the actual practice of community service. I did go to classes, and I did think a lot on my own about how my course material manifested itself in contemporary situations and problems in Brazil, but I'm not sure I applied them in practice in the streets of Brazil.
The things I did instead of my grand plans were incredible. I met amazing people, both other students and Brazilians from all walks of life--through my host family, through my volunteer experiences, through random conversations in corner bars, everywhere. I traveled, and experienced some of the most stunning places I've ever seen. I relaxed, I took it slow, and I lived a Brazilian life. The fact that my reality in Brazil was not the academic experience that I had envisioned does not devalue either of the two. I was actually living in Brazil, and through that experience, I gained a deeper sense of the Brazilian and global communities than I could have ever imagined.
There are many elements of my time there that I want to bring back with me. The pace of life, the sense of family, the honest and real love for your neighbor and for your fellow Brazilian/human. I think these lessons will improve my life and will serve to deepen my own engagement within all of my own communities and families, everywhere that I call home now and in the future.