Before I decided to move abroad, I went to many panel discussions to see if traveling would be the right option for me after graduation. During one interesting talk, a panelist said traveling was great, but, “You still have to get up every day and make the coffee."
Even if you live in the most beautiful place in the world, you will still have to do the everyday mundane tasks. Living abroad doesn't mean permanent vacation full of relaxing cocktails and turnover service. It means living your life and adjusting to the new advantages and challenges that a new place brings.
I ultimately decided to do the International TEFL Academy course in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I've been here for over six months and still revel in my decision to move abroad. That being said, it hasn't been perfect. While travel offers a plethora of wonderful experiences and opportunities for personal growth, it is still full of obstacles. And teaching in Brazil offers its own set of problems.
Any sort of paperwork is sluggish. Brazil is full of bureaucracy making simple activities tangled in red tape. Basic tasks like getting an ID card, a cell phone or a bank account can send you to multiple locations and take days or weeks to make any progress.
Shopping is a headache. While there are plenty of stores to choose from, the variety is limited. Something as simple as brown paper bags can send you to a specialty store deep into the heart of the city. And even though Brazil is thought of to be a cheap country, everything in Rio is ridiculously overpriced -- food, clothes, toiletries, office supplies, etc. When you finally find your items and accept the price tag, prepare to wait in a never-ending line that will test your patience. Cashiers move at a glacial pace and usually have an attitude, acting like they're doing you a favor by ringing up your groceries.
Getting around Rio can be a nightmare. The metro works well, but it is not convenient for most locations. Driving in Rio is terrifying because most drivers have no concept of space and will get within centimeters of your car. The bus is my main mode of transportation, and it is always an adventure. Sometimes the buses are plentiful. Other times, usually when you're running a little late, they are nowhere to be seen. There is no reliable time table, so your best bet is to overcompensate for time and hope your bus shows up. When you finally step on the bus, prepare for a ride that's as exciting as a roller coaster. The bus drivers zoom down the street hitting every bump and darting around every corner. Beware if you get nauseous easily -- it is not a smooth ride. Hard enough to stomach when you're sitting down, it makes it nearly impossible to hold on when having to stand if the bus is crowded.
Day-to-day life in Rio offers challenges that don't feel like cultural learning experiences. They feel like tests for insanity. But at the end of the day, I don’t care.
How can I complain about the bus if my route passes in front of the Christ the Redeemer statue and gives me a glorious view of Sugarloaf Mountain. I can’t be upset about the grocery stores if they are full of delicious foods I've never tried. Even though getting a bank account is tricky, it's a great feeling of accomplishment when I speak confidently with the teller in a new language. All the annoyances fade away, when you find a new corner of the city to fall in love with. Or when you sink your teeth into an exotic, delicious new dish.
Traveling is not going to fix all your problems. A new city brings new problems that you might not have dealt with at home. You'll have moments of utter frustration where you'd give your right arm for five minutes in a Wal-Mart. But if you have a curious soul, then the good will out outweigh the bad.
Through the bad, you have to remember to pause and appreciate your location. Every time I make it to my favorite neighborhood in Rio, Urca, I take a moment to catch my breath from the crazy teacher lifestyle and reflect.
Urca is full of gorgeous colorful houses each more detailed than the next. The mountains are smooth and round, very unlike the snow-capped Rocky Mountains that I was used to in Colorado. I sit on a bench overlooking the small beach tucked between the peaks. I enjoy a freshly made churro graciously stuffed with dolce de leite. In that moment the stress fades away and I appreciate the beautiful city that I'm in.
In my time in Rio, I don’t care if the bus is uncomfortable or the paperwork is slow. I don’t mind if I still need to make the coffee. It’s worth it.