As I am soon to travel to Brazil, I reflect on my preparedness and nerves about my upcoming adventure.
Prior to coming home for the holidays, I spent the first 5 weeks of my 10-week Winter Term on campus, immersed in Brazil studies. I participated in, and will continue during my travels, a history course, a political science course, and a 1-credit seminar that equipped myself and my classmates with cultural information and logistical information about our trip.
In history, we’ve simply been learning about Brazil’s past. We’ve read and learned about Brazil’s history with slavery as well as the liberation theology that the Catholic church adopted after the Vatican II in the late 1960′s. We also read a novel and true account of a mother’s struggle to free her son from the military toturer’s during Brazil’s 20+ year military regime. It was both fascinating and heart-breaking.
In political science we focused on Lula, the former two-term President of Brazil who came from a grass-roots, workers union and advanced his way through the political system and became one of the most beloved President’s in the countries history. In reading a biography about Lula we learned about much of the socioeconomic stratification that Brazil’s population endures. Struggles over land, an immensely uneven distribution of wealth, and a largely corrupt government have all aided to Brazil’s class system.
While I do not expect to see any traces of slavery, except perhaps for memorials, I do indeed expect to experience and see the vast divide between the rich and the poor. Although it has indeed been growing, Brazil has a small middle class. This compared to North America’s very large middle class.
I expect that the richest part of my travels to Brazil will be experiencing the culture of the country (especially during Carnaval!) As I’ve been learning, it seems to me that Brazil is one of the most foreign (no pun intended) places that I’ve visited or studied: Letters in the alphabet simply don’t sound the same in Portuguese as they do in English or even Spanish, it is not a culture which diminishes the importance of women as so many others do, etc. Regardless of how unknown it is, I have seen that Brazil has a culture rich with history and flavor, dance, song and art. I will be so happy to experience all of this.
One thing is for certain: I have no doubt that for the first time in my life I will feel like the foreigner and the minority. When I traveled to Australia last year, the people around me were for the most part still white and still spoke English (except they did it with a wicked awesome accent, of course). Other previous travels have taken me to England and France and although I did not speak the same language during some parts of the trip, I still did not stand out to the naked eye. In Brazil I most definitely will (a little less so now that I did my hair brown, though). I am partially excited, partially nervous for this experience. It will be new and unknown, but something that I know I need to experience. American’s are notoriously self-oriented; we think of ourselves as the “norm” and everyone/everything else as the “other.” If I am to be successful in business, advocacy, political work, etc. I must learn to work through uncomfortability and unfamiliar situations and I am excited to begin doing that.
Other than that, I have no idea what to expect. I’ve learned much about Brazil’s history and little about the present. I don’t know how I will be reacted to as a young American female. I don’t know if my anxiety-ridden expectations of being pick-pocketed or abducted will in fact come to pass (of course I hope that they will not). If they do, it will be an experience which will help me learn and grow and be a street-savvy traveler.
While these fears have consumed me for the past weeks, as our trip is now nearing closer, my anxiety is reducing and my excitement increasing. Here’s to an adventure into the unknown. If all else fails, at least I’ll be on a beach in January…