After years of watching a vibrant foreign world speed by without a second glance, a girl must accept that the feeling of being out of place can’t be shaken off so easily. But if there is anything those years can teach her, it’s that life is full of surprises.

It’s understandable for anyone to feel like they don’t belong in a strange world. A person doesn’t always fit immediately into new surroundings, even someone as supposedly adaptable as a child. Adaptation depends on a variety of factors, such as circumstances, timing, and the magnitude of change.

One of these is the nature of the person being subjected to change. Some people simply adapt better than others. Such people welcome variety and embrace the unknown. I wasn’t one of them.

The differences between the unknown and the familiar can be problematic. Sometimes they’re as minor as the comparison between Dog and Cat. Other times, they can be as polar as North and South.

My family and I moved to South America when I was 12 years old. Before then, I was a timid child living happily in southern Florida. I had a fulfilling education in a language I spoke fluently, with teachers who praised me for my excellent grades and a small group of close friends. I was more than content with my life the way it was.

Then came 2001.

After September 11, much of what I knew changed drastically. Our country descended into what could easily be described as near panic, until we started to feel uncomfortable living in our own home on the East Coast. My parents decided this was no way to live, and it would be best for us to move away for a while, to the country where they were raised. It was somewhere we could feel safe and free again.

“Brazil?” My friends were just as surprised by the news as I was. How could they not be? No kid wants to learn their life is months away from being turned upside-down.

“When are you leaving?”

“This December”, I answered many times, never a hint of excitement in my voice.

My teachers were no less disappointed by this turn of events, but they did their best to encourage me.

“You’re a wonderful student”, they assured me. “Your teachers in Brazil will love and appreciate you too.”

This was hardly true, however. The first challenge I faced after moving abroad was mastering a new language, so different from my native English. Because of this, my grades began to slip, and whenever my teachers recognized me, it was for the fact that I was American, never for an outstanding report card.

Still, behind this fact was an encouraging lesson to be learned.

“Brazilians are the friendliest people in the world!” my parents told my sisters and me. “Everyone will want to get to know you.”

This I found to be true. Every year, I was approached by people eager to know everything about my life in the USA. It was a different paradigm from that to which I was accustomed; few of my friends in Florida had ever shown similar interest in me. These new social interactions would greatly facilitate my grasping of the Portuguese language, and for that, I was grateful. My main challenge now was not meeting new people; it was overcoming my shyness in order to make friends. Could I somehow manage to adapt to this new life, the way my two younger sisters had?

The answer came in high school.

When I was 16, a boy in school approached me. He asked me several questions, and I was surprised by this seemingly random gesture from someone I had never met before. But more surprises were still to come.

As it so happened, this boy would later become my first boyfriend, and his friends, my friends for life. I was in for love, heartbreak, laughter, and years of solid friendship. A new chapter in my life was just beginning.

“Brazil is a wonderful country, when you give it a chance.”

My parents couldn’t have been more right. I always knew the transition from North to South would be difficult, but as I’ve come to realize, life never fails to provide enough surprises to make the ride worthwhile.

This story was my first assignment for my online creative writing course: the personal essay. The subject I chose to write about was the true story of my transition from the United States to Brazil, and now I’m sharing it here with all of you. I hope you enjoy what I’ve written! Thanks for reading!

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