I have never been a super easy-going sociable person. To become close from someone, it takes time. To trust someone, it takes even longer. Unfortunately, and I wish I was like my father on this, easy conversation and interaction don’t happen easily with me. And still, I wanted to come to attend and play volleyball for an American college, by myself.
I knew that I would have a Brazilian teammate at my first school in Oklahoma. That helped a lot, specially because Carol is an amazing person and one of the greatest person I could ever met. Easily, Carol became a close friend. The one I spent most of the time – the entire time actually – during the two years we attended college in Oklahoma. After that, we parted ways, me to New Orleans and Carol to Connecticut, but the friendship and the respect continues still today.
First challenge, and probably the biggest one: language. If it is not that easy to communicate with anyone in my first language, Portuguese, I knew before I came that it would be worst in English. That is the good thing about it, I knew it, and I came prepared for the worst.
During my first year, I could understand more than I thought I could’ve. Classes were not a big problem. The professors spoke a loud and clear English which I did not have much trouble with. If I had trouble, the instructors were always available and willing to help me get on track. I honestly don’t remember going to professor’s offices, but I knew they were there if needed. If a student turned out to me and asked a question or something, then it would be an issue. I would smile and say yes for whatever the question was. And that still goes on today. If you are my American friend, I assure you that lot of times I said yes and smiled having no clue of what you had just said. I always wonder if they notice when that happens and don’t say anything.
Sometimes it is extremely hard to have long conversations in English. And phone calls, the worst thing ever. I would pay to not have to answer calls if I had money for that. However, those challenges had never exceeded my joy and happiness of attending college in a foreign country.
I learned how to take the language not as the biggest challenge, but as the best excuse I could ever had as a student. Missed a deadline? Sorry, I thought you said Thursday instead of Tuesday. Wrong answer? Didn’t understand the question. Doesn’t know something? Yes I do, just not how to explain it in English. Endless moments that I have blamed on the language.
I have lived on campus during the four years of college. First year, the food was amazing. Cafeteria with all that fat and unhealthy food, awesome. Pizza e burgers every day? Who doesn’t want that? American breakfast, the best thing ever. Bacon and pancakes, grits – one of my biggest loves – eggs and biscuit. However, you can be healthy if you want to. They also have a salad bar, and I don’t know, some type of meat. But for me, Brazilian, used to have the best meat almost every day and real barbecue every Sunday, the meat at the cafeterias don’t stand a chance.
The challenge about food is to keep a health diet with all that junk food daily exposed to you. Honestly, it is totally understandable the tragic rates the U.S. faces on obesity. Desserts, ice cream and soda machine at ease. At first, I loved. Tried everything, ate everything I wanted. After a while you realize your body starts to change with all that fried food and what you thought was good at first, you realize it is not and start missing your mom’s food, prepared with real and fresh ingredients every day, served along with that natural passion fruit juice that I will never have in the U.S.
Facilities on campus, impressive. I came to play college volleyball and I know we got nothing to compare with in Brazil. Stadiums, acclimatized gymnasiums, pools, gyms, training room, physiotherapy and everything else a professional club has. And we had all that on campus. Buses and hotels whenever you travel to play. Americans will never know what it is to travel with your teammates in a “combi” and sleep on a mattress on the floor, the entire team sharing a class room. But I am sorry for them on this. Some of the best moments during my childhood I spent with my teammates in those class rooms. And gear, you get everything from head to toes. A true paradise for athletes.
Living on campus, I cannot say I loved it. Sharing a room with a teammate as I did with Carol was not a problem, but still you wish you had your own room and your own bathroom. If it is a community bathroom, a lot of times it will not be as clean as you wish. You better go take your shower in the morning to not take the risk to go later in the day and not be able to shower because of all that hair and clogged drains.
Friends, the biggest take out of those years in college. Some for a certain period, others forever. But all of them, essentially important to get through those years. I had amazing teammates along the way, exceptional players and coaches who supported me the entire time. If you have Brazilians or people from wherever you are from at the same school, you are fine. That makes everything easier and funnier. You will find a way to have fun, even when spending a Saturday night in someone’s room listening to your music and drinking “soda” while talking and getting to know each other.
When you watch American movies related to universities, it is unavoidable to think about the parties. You may come with high expectations for those crazy fraternity parties you see on TV. Maybe because I went to small colleges or haven’t met the right people to invite me to one, I have never experienced one, what I don’t complain about it. Anyways, parties hosted in houses were never much attractive to me. But the couple ones I went, including bonfires or party inside the dorms, in this last case only drinking “soda”, were the best ones because I was with the best group of friends that college could introduce to me. My second year, as a sophomore, attending a small college is the country town of Miami, in Oklahoma, was absolutely the best.
I will never take for granted any of those moments. My time as an undergraduate has come to an end (right Dr. Roberts?) and I already miss it. I miss the feeling when everything was new. It is not easy for a foreign to adapt, being away from family and friends, but we know that we come for a reason, with plans for our future. My take out from those years in college is that I wouldn’t have made it without my family and in this case, the people I have met here. Brazilians, Americans and from other nationalities. It is rough, but if you have people that you love and trust, you will make it, and you will have fun while doing it.