We’ve been saving this post from Brazilian alumni Ricardo Guiatoko to publish right before our current NWCCI students get ready to go home. Ricardo, who studied IT at Edmonds Community College in 2012-2013, shares his experience in the weeks and months after returning home to Sao Paulo. He highlights that although reverse culture shock is a totally normal process, it will still be a challenge even if you know it is coming. It wasn’t always easy, but he found ways to cope, especially getting involved in his local community.
Going back to my country had from the beginning left me with a bad feeling, mostly because of what I was leaving behind. There is no way to prepare for a farewell, especially after almost an year with wonderful people. This is what I miss the most, the connections I made along this journey. But then, I was gonna finally see my family and lifelong friends. This is a moment where I couldn’t be more confused and downhearted, because I had a mix of feelings, varying from excitement to despair.
I left the United States and was about to get to my home city. My country is not as developed as what they call first world, but even knowing this I wasn’t prepared for the thump of seeing it after such long time. If I could scream I would, but I had to hold all those feelings inside. Thankfully I was with my Brazilian friends. I don’t think they had the same feelings as I had, because we are unique in our experiences and expectations. After we left the airport, I was with my dad. The feeling of walking by his side was unreal, like I was awakening from a dream. The people looked like foreigners, and the place did not match my expectations anymore, in a way that made me get indignant with myself. I knew this was coming.
After a quick walk to the car, I could feel a bit of the difference between the cultures. At that moment, I felt disrespected. I didn’t feel at home anymore, and even without wishing, I also felt a bit ashamed of my country. The place was old, dirty, and the people were not that friendly. And then I thought “what am I doing here?” while I saw the favelas passing by.I felt better when I got home and saw my mom. Still, the moment of unpacking moment was torture, because I remembered every moment from the US.
It took a while for me to stop doing things the way I did in the US. For example, I would stop at the crosswalk and wait, but here we don’t do that very often. Usually we cross the street even if cars are coming (yes, it is dangerous!). I also spent a while mixing Portuguese with English, saying “please” and “thanks” instead of “por favor” and “obrigado” as examples.
After a month more or less, I started to feel back to reality. By then I felt I needed to do something in order to help change this reality, so I started volunteering and looking for a job. Then I met people who valued more others than themselves, and got into a reflection period to assess my position in my society and my own values. Now I have a very good circle of friends circle, with people who during that period of self analysis helped me a lot and are still present in my daily life (they keep me sane). I still think that my country has many defects, but helping Brazil is part of my duty and the scholarship was all about this.
For those that will pass through this experience, I wanted to share a bit of what I felt. My advice is to not expect too much from others, since they will seen uninterested in you. The motivation has to come from you alone, to improve and help your society. The shock is big, but there is no turning back from there, because this year you were prepared for this by representing your country and learning about other societies and cultures, doing volunteer work, taking certificates, learning another language, and living far from your closest friends and relatives. I hope that, as it happened with me, you create the will to improve and help your society.
The NWCCI program is part of the Community College Initiative, an exchange program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs.