I’ll never forget how lonely I felt when I first moved to Brazil. There was the issue of adjusting to the country itself: the language, the customs, and the culture. While there were plenty of upsides to living there, there were a a ton of issues associated with it as well, which this article details wonderfully. I also found a Huffington Post article which does a good job talking about how different it is to actually live in a country than to travel there.
Then there was the issue of fitting in with all of the other kids at my school. I had been going to your typical suburban American high school with three thousand kids, and now I was going to an international school with only one hundred per grade. On top of that, seventy of those kids were Brazilian or had lived all over the world, while I had lived in two cities in the States.
The first day of school I felt so out of place. The thing is, everyone in my grade was pretty interesting and I had a good relationship with the majority of them. But the way they interacted with me felt more like a sympathetic response to who I was than an empathetic response. They understood my position: a normal American kid in a whole different world and not sure how to cope with it. Most of them had even been through similar things. But it wasn’t until I met a kid named Cray that my two years in Brazil became the highlight of my life.
Cray was from Indiana, had lived a life similar to mine growing up, and couldn’t fathom the fact that he lived in Brazil all of the sudden. We started talking before class on the first day and it blossomed into one of those conversations where you realize how compatible you are with someone. Which is exactly what I needed at that point, because I was unsure that I would be able to truly bond with anyone else. Within the first week Cray and I found our group. The core group was me, Cray, and two kids named Luke and Georges. We didn’t fit in with our peers at all; we were just too different in terms of personality as well as culture.
In terms of personality, we were sort of “rebels”, as much as I hate that term. I had been a total straight edge up to that point in my life, but started hanging out with this group because the rest of my grade was too straight edge even for me. In terms of culture, we had one friend who was actually Brazilian, but liked hanging out with us because his Brazilian friends were “elitist” towards Americans. So on top of the fact that we were already outcasts, everyone could empathize with each other’s’ positions, which is what made it work so well. We knew the isolation and loneliness and culture shock that everyone else felt, allowing us to relate on a deeper level.
Things changed for our group first semester of senior year. Sometime around October, Georges fell twenty-one stories from his balcony and was paralyzed for the rest of his life. He actually should have died, but fell into a tree which saved his life. Our principal called a meeting to inform everyone, but we all left early because we couldn’t stand it. We went over to the elementary school section where no one would find us and started balling our eyes out. I’ve never had an experience like that before or since: four generally non-emotional guys in a state of despair. I empathized with someone else in a way I never thought possible.
That experience brought us closer together than ever before and is part of the reason we all came to Colorado for college. Even though Cray and Luke have now transferred to new states, Georges and I are still at CU and see each other often. Everyone else still communicates in a group chat called “El Dragon”. It’s amazing what kinds of relationships can develop when they are founded on empathy.