Travel Confessions: Comfortably Uncomfortable

Written by: Farrin S.

Does that even make any sense? Is it possible to be comfortably uncomfortable?

My parents have always taught me that growth is inspired by pushing your limits and being “ok” with being a little uncomfortable. Every situation won’t work out, but there’s always a lesson to be learned. Growth comes from discomfort; hence why I’m writing this post.

When I started to feel myself drift into the status quo and following the unpleasant societal norms, feeling unhappy and dissatisfied, I knew that I’d have to change my situation in order to change my situation (shout-out to my mother for saying this phrase to me countless times).

That takes us to exhibit A: randomly teaching English in Boiçucanga, Brazil, a small Portuguese-only speaking town.

I’ve spent months talking about how I want to travel solo and how much I wanted to learn a different language. I discussed with friends countless times. I’ve spent months researching different programs and having cold feet on taking a leap of faith. I spoke to numerous friends and family that have or are living abroad. And I received the common response, “just do it”. Some planned, others didn’t; but ultimately, it came down to them just telling themselves, “hey if you want to do this, then just do it”.

So how did I get here? Well, in these countless conversations, friends directed me on different paths and programs that they have used or heard from. I finally stumbled across Workaway.

Workaway is a network of experiences all over the world that trade accommodations for services. Most of the time these services are minimal ( I work 4-5 hours a day, 4 days a week). Considering my career in the states had me working 50-55 hours per week during the month of September, this was extremely attractive to me. Furthermore, the particular experience I chose included breakfast and lunch. WHAT!!?!?

So somewhere to sleep AND food, just work for a couple of hours a day AND long weekends. I needed to know more. Right before my 29th birthday (Dear God when did I get so old), I decided to “go for it”. I contacted the host for the opportunity, where I’m currently located, exchanged many Facebook posts, Facebook calls, and emails so that we both were clear on both of our expectations. This is KEY for Workaways. I’ve seen, read, and now have met some people with unpleasant experiences, solely based on poor communication. And ultimately it was a bad experience because expectations weren’t met.

After I felt comfortable (a few days later), I got online, booked my round-trip ticket, and now I’m here. I finalized all of my plans while I was in Colombia on a random trip because of an airfare deal (check out my blog on what I did there). I anxiously awaited my return to the states to see what my “day job” would say about my choice.

I knew the risk. I won’t say “I didn’t care” but I also knew the risk that I was taking with my life if I didn’t take this chance. I mentally prepared myself for different outcomes and went for it. Thankfully, I will still be employed after this experience, so I have a little more time to figure out my next direction.

I boarded the plane to Sao Paulo with an open heart and mind….
I didn’t have an ounce of teaching experience.
BUT I was going to teach in Brazil. To a classroom of Portuguese-speaking students... a language that I could barely hold a basic conservation.
What did I get myself into?
Feelings of excitement, anxiousness, and uncertainty definitely plagued my mind but I knew that regardless of the outcome,  I wouldn’t regret it. This WILL be a teachable moment. I will either love my experience, narrow down options of my true passion, and figure out a plan to move forward. OR I could hate the choice that I made, see that living abroad isn’t really for me, and never travel solo again. The beauty of this all is that I will never know until I try. I have to give myself the opportunity to find out.

“You miss all the shots you never take.”

Well, week one into my shot with Brazilian culture has been pretty interesting!
I don’t think I’ve ever experience such discomfort when it comes to a language barrier in life. Actually, I KNOW that I haven’t. I’ve been here for a week and have sat through full-blown conversations, where I only understood two words. So I look, hoping and praying, that there are some more context clues that are dropped so that I can follow, at least, a part of the conversation. Yup, I’m that creep that is staring at people’s mouths, watching their gestures and mannerisms to search for some sort of commonality.

Wait, side note: I don’t recommend ever traveling anywhere without knowing some basics of the language. I honestly tried to study before I came; however, I had more demanding priorities, so I just couldn’t make it happen. Although I feel pretty silly at times for not understanding, I know that this experience will make me want to seriously learn another language ASAP!

And furthermore - it’s the exact kind of experience I want. There are people that insist on only speaking Portuguese to me while I stare at them with the deer-in-headlights look! Not having a single clue what they are saying.

Comfortably uncomfortable? Why. Because I’m being forced to learn Portuguese. I’m being forced to learn about the culture and I really wanted this authentic type of experience. I’m looking forward to my internal growth. I enjoy being unsure of what’s to come as I navigate my way through a foreign country, not knowing a single soul, and having the complete inability to communicate with most. I know that my enjoyment of this time will be solely dependent on the choices that I make or don’t make to be accepting and open to change.

What’s even more ironic is that although I’m teaching English since I’m a native speaker,  I’m learning things about English I didn’t know before. Well…maybe it’s just things I didn’t know that I’ve done. English is a terribly tricky language. So when you have rooms full of people staring at you, wanting you to explain specific English terms when you’re actually unsure as to why you use them is pretty comical.

What I do wish is that my retention was better. I wish that I could remember every word, explanation, and translation that someone has taught me this week. Information overload for sure! But the best part of it all is that I’m still excited. I’m always open to a challenge and I’m looking forward to tackling this language barrier.  

I’m comfortable with being really uncomfortable, and I’m even more excited to see what I do with this lack of comfort!