Living Abroad

Why I Went Abroad (Claudia’s Story)

This week we have been talking about your ‘why’ or your reasoning for going abroad. Like we shared in this post about finding your why, everyone has different reasons for leaving the country where they are from. Today, we want to share Claudia’s story.

With my “irmã de coração,” my Brazilian sister, where I grew up.
With my “irmã de coração,” my Brazilian big sister

I come from a multicultural family and my parents have always been interested in having different experiences and getting to know new cultures. When I was younger, I experienced this mostly by meeting people from different places and trying delicious food from around the world (we are a family who values food and the time spent eating more than most things). However, when we traveled, we always had to do so strategically—my parent’s families were both far enough away that our trips were to see them or meet up with them.

This type of travel, to spend time with family, is something I am so grateful for now that I don’t have grandparents and only seem to see my aunts, uncles, and cousins at weddings. But the trip that changed my life didn’t look like this. It happened when we took a holiday together (just my parents, brother, and I) to visit some friends, my Brazilian ‘sister’ and her husband, in Brazil. These friends had lived in my hometown for years and, somehow, my parents decided that we should take advantage of them being in Brazil to visit.

Rio de Janeiro, 2007
Rio de Janeiro, 2007

It was the summer I turned 16 and, even though I thought otherwise, I knew very little about the world, the people, cultures, and food that exists. However, during three weeks in Brazil I fell in love, for the first time, not with a person but a place. I still don’t know what happened to me—my soul, if you like—during that time, but something inside of me opened and I wanted to understand more about the country and the people.

I still remember what it was like to fall in love with the easiness of the people and how friendly they seemed (even when it was situations where it was to tell us to watch our stuff on the beach because someone might try to rob us). I fell in love with the food, how it was prepared, and the time spent laughing and enjoying food. I fell in love with the language and how beautiful it sounded, even though I couldn’t understand anything except the few bad words some kids we met taught us.

Rio de Janeiro, 2014
Rio de Janeiro, 2014

When we got on the plane back home, something inside of me had changed forever. I spent the plane ride back communicating in some way with the people traveling to visit the U.S. (I guess you could say I have been practicing communicating with someone who speaks a different languages for a long time). And when the flight was delayed and we were all stuck in the waiting area in the Atlanta airport, I bonded with people by sharing all the chocolates I had bought to share as gifts with my friends. It only took me three weeks but I became attached to a bunch of Brazilians (who I would never meet again) in ways that I never expected. The experience—and Brazilians in general—changed how I view friendships and greatly impacted what I value in life.

When I arrived back home, to a driving test and my summer job as a camp counselor, the idea of Brazil did not leave me. That summer was a wonderful summer but over the next year and a half, I spent a lot of time thinking about how I would go back. Luckily, my parents believe in the experiences of life and, at a time when all my friends were applying for colleges and scholarships, I was deciding how I would spend a year in Brazil after graduation.

For people around me this was weird. How did I expect to come back after a year and be at the same place they were—no one was going to offer me scholarships… I didn’t even know if schools would want me. The worst thing was that I couldn’t even defend my ‘why’ for being abroad at the time because it was not tangible to me, it was just something that I knew inside of me. But, in the end, none of that seemed to matter because I had a dream and, like most things in life that you really want, you figure out ways to make it happen.

When I graduated high school in 2009 I did go to Brazil, but I didn’t end up going for a year. I didn’t even go long enough to learn the language. However, I did go long enough to create relationships with people there and find a passion for something that I never expected—trying to understand people from around the world. After I left Brazil, I went to spend the rest of the year nannying in Spain and, when the year was up, I didn’t go back to the U.S. like I planned.

Why? Mostly because my plans were changed for something that ‘feels right’ in the moment.

When my family came to visit me when I lived in Lisbon.For example, I wanted to study Spanish at college—in case you are wondering, colleges still want you if you take a year off—and my parents were living in Granada. So, after a long conversation with my dad and several phone calls to the school I was planning to go to in the U.S., I moved to Granada to spend a year with my family learning Spanish and studying the first year of my U.S. degree online. After that, things slowly started falling into place for me. I went back to Brazil for a full six months (and actually learned the language this time) and made some friends who, despite the distance, are still some of the most important people to me.

When I decided to head back to Spain to (finally) get my degree—starting three years late at this point—I had no idea where life would take me. I like to plan, but these plans are often changed for new opportunities that come along. This doesn’t mean I am ever 100% sure of the choice that I am making and I almost always cry so much that the people around me are constantly questioning my decision. But, in the end, some of my most amazing experiences have come from decisions that don’t have any more explanation than they ‘feel right.’

Almost 20 years after the first picture of us together, in Granada.I am not close to the same girl who got on a plane with her family to visit Brazil all those years ago. I have changed in so many ways since then and, I would argue, a big part of this is due to the fact that I had the opportunity for this first adventure. Since the first time, all other experiences have just added to my growth. However, to this day, my dad will say that I love Brazil and Portuguese in a special way. He is not wrong. Brazil, especially the people who took care of me there, gave me something that changed my life—perspective of something different and passion to learn about it.

This has helped me define my ‘why’ for being abroad as a curiosity inside of me. This curiosity has pushed me to go beyond my comfort zone and live in different places. It has allowed me to take jobs in places that I never expected to love (like Helsinki) and to worry a little bit less if I am making the ‘right decisions’ to ensure my life is on the right path. My reasons for (still) being abroad are nothing more than the fact that I have so much more to learn and I believe I will find the right places at the right time.

Why I went (and stayed) abroad.pngSincerely,


P.S. It isn’t always easy to chose living in a way that has you moving all around. But sometimes you are lucky enough to meet people that become your family. And these friendships bridge almost anything.

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