I know the title sounds very BuzzFeedy, but here we go…
- You become the local celebrity
At my church here in Belo Horizonte, everyone knows my name. Whenever anything to do with foreigners, international events or England is mentioned I know to expect the winks and sideways glances. The new pastor, on being introduced to me, exclaimed loudly, “ah, so you’re the gringa!” Everyone practically passes out when I admit that I don’t know anything about football teams in the UK, or that I don’t like tea. My favourite question is “so do you all drink tea at 5pm?” I have no idea where people get this idea from. I have explained that our national tea-drinking habits are not limited to a specific time slot, but rather whenever anyone has nothing to do they offer to make a cup of tea. As I am tea-total, I am exempt from this responsibility. [With some of the people who went on the annual church camp this year in Matozinhos. Spot the odd one out! (Ie. the only non-Brazilian!)]
- Your personality changes
For starters, I now like watermelon. But what I am really referring to is how I behave when I speak another language. I am definitely more extrovert in English – I spend a lot more time listening in Portuguese. But that is not necessarily a bad thing. Learning to listen is a skill I am happy to develop as I know it’s not a quality my English self possesses! However, it can be frustrating when I am not able to express myself properly… [Sometimes you just can’t communicate properly…Photo taken on holiday in São Paulo]
- Being multilingual starts getting really complicated
…I have discovered the phenomenon of speaker’s block. It is a genuinely a problem – sometimes when I am trying to explain something in Portuguese or Spanish I realise I can’t even remember the word in English! I also can’t spell anymore in English. I was never great to begin with, but having learnt spelling rules in Spanish (the only double consonants are r, c and l) and Portuguese (double consonants include s), I am now unable to spell words in English such as disappeared (thank you, auto-correct). I also get confused between languages. For example, on holiday in Colombia I realised after speaking to the guard at my friend’s house that I had spoken entirely in Portuguese. I expect he didn’t understand a thing.
[This meerkat from the Zoológico de Cali, Colombia, pretty much sums up this point]
- People at home forget that you exist
This is actually one of the hardest parts of being abroad. I don’t want to point any fingers, but sadly when you aren’t in the country a lot of people get on with their own lives and don’t make much of an effort to keep in touch. For potential Year Abroaders: don’t be surprised that you have to make a huge effort to Skype, message and generally keep in contact with your friends at home. Everyone promises to check in on you but very few actually keep that promise. For those who are left behind: I really encourage you to make that effort to send a quick message asking how your friends are doing. It means a lot! Although we may look like we are having the time of our lives (and we generally are), that’s not to say it’s easy to see all the things we are missing out on back home. It will also make the transition back into the home country much easier at the end of the year abroad. [Visiting my sister in China for Christmas – she is also doing a year abroad with the University of Liverpool]
- You make some of the best friends of your life I have met some of the most lovely people over these past months. I really hope we will be able to stay in touch when I go back home. Although I know it’s going to be painful to say goodbye, it’s definitely worth it.