by Kristen Lee

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Growing up can be a delicate process. There are incidents from my childhood that I have yet to remember. There are these fundamental frames that have outlined every part of who I am – my two older brothers, my socio-economic class, my Asian-American heritage. There are words and phrases, body language and sole moments that I remember vividly – ones that have made an impression. And there are the invisible words and phrases that underlie the ones I remember, perhaps making a deeper impression. The core of me has been built upon a culminating of various moments, ones that have moved me, at whatever age, to become who I am now. And above that core, the  million more various moments impacting me to some degree.

When I chose to take a bridge year after high school, I was choosing to learn how to live a life I was proud of. I wrote lists and lists of immeasurable and measurable goals and I banked on those 8 months to transform me in ways that I had never imagined. I asked all of this from Brazil. I laid upon her beaches, beckoning the wise galaxy of stars into my hungry eyes. I hiked upon her mountains, praying for my sweat to have been worth it and my decision to have been right. I cradled and fought with her sweet, saucy Portuguese words, working toward a fluency of language and foreign thought. I adorned a tanner skin, slowly bronzed by her sun, to ask for my whiter heritage to loosen up for assimilation. I rode buses till there were no more to ride, waiting for her to teach me patience. I tried to give back in small ways, while asking her for more than I could ever give her.

And Brazil rocked my world.

I was particularly taught something I never conceived of before hand. Brazil taught me how to find that core that my 18 years have built, Brazil taught me the importance of recognizing my spirit, and then my heart, and still yet, my soul.

Everything that I wanted from her was within me, buried deep, a lesson learned in my childhood or one that I was born with. Lessons that I hid away at various ages, unconsciously, as the school systems and societies I lived in with their standards rose in higher importance. In Brazil, I began to unlearn and relearn concepts that I always had within me.

I unlearned to rush – and so relearned patience with others and taking time. I unlearned to fear failing – and so relearned courage, boldness, and trust in myself. I unlearned to judge between good and bad – and so abandoned the life long quest to be “better” than anyone else, and practiced gratitude. I unlearned the need to fill silence – and so relearned to listen to understand, rather than to respond. I unlearned the traditional idea of beauty – and so took less showers. I unlearned the traditional path as my own – and so relearned to ask questions and practice curiosity, and challenge a predestined future. I unlearned the internal pressure to grow up – and so relearned to be young and new. I unlearned a want for independence – and so relearned the beauty of our world’s interdependence. I unlearned to ask for definition, for clear lines – and so relearned the natural ambiguity of our world and our dependencies. I unlearned to always hold expectations – and so learned to forgive and relearned to never devalue any type of experience.

It took an unprecedented chapter in my life, a bridge year, a swarm of unfamiliarity in a girl who has always had some familiarity, to begin to understand my upbringing and the way that I could peel back layers of myself. I peeled back the layers of my head, all the stress, anxiety, and misanthropy. Brazil sifted out a desperate and collapsing ego from the solid pit that rested deeply and thoroughly within everything, the core; only then I saw how much the world had given me.  Only then I saw that all of these values that I hold close now, I’ve held all along, but I needed Brazil to help me uncover them.

Coming home was just as hard as leaving, and perhaps a little less forgiving. But the juxtaposition of everything I gained in Brazil paired against the musty routines of my pre-Brazil mindset, what I had lost and gained became very clear. Very little I can owe to myself – my core is made up of the world and the people and moments that have come into my life, of my brothers, of my neighbors, of Brazil, and of Portuguese.  And that, that is beauty of this world’s interdependence.