The Ups and Downs of Being Abroad

If you studied abroad, then you almost certainly learned about the “culture shock curve,”a series of ups and downs that will occur during your time abroad and your transition back home.


When I first heard about this at my study abroad orientation back in 2011, I kind of dismissed it. No way I would have a low-point abroad. Well, I did. Both my semesters abroad fit onto this curve, and I can pinpoint exact moments for my highs and lows. So you think I would have known what to expect this time around, right? Wrong.

From the moment I got a notification about the Fulbright in June 2013, my curve start going up, and that curve only got steeper as found out more information—official dates, final placements, emails with my host professor—and then I arrived. I continued on this high note. I felt fired up, excited, and motivated to do my best. And that excitement continued. Conversation club was great, our first movie night was a huge success, and we found a dance group.

What could possibly be wrong? If you’ve been following this blog, then you’d know that everything I’ve written has been positive. And overall, my first three months here have been great! But despite all the positive things happening here in Fortaleza, my curve started to shift. My conversation club was going well, but I wasn’t happy with some of my in-class presentations. I started to feel disenfranchised with my work, and felt like nothing I was doing really mattered. Laura and I fought, got really awkward since we live together, and everything felt negative. It was definitely my low point.

One big thing I had to look forward to was our trip to João Pessoa, Paraíba in late April/early May (that’s how long I’ve been staring at this word document, trying to type). A ton of Fulbrighters from all over the Brazil were going to be in JP to attend a TESOL conference. Others, myself included, were just going to guest lecture at UFPB and to hang out, and I couldn’t wait. Our time with other Fulbrighters over Semana Santa gave me a taste of what to expect by meeting up with everyone, and I was so excited. From the second Laura and I arrived (after flying to Recife, taking a somewhat sketchy taxi ride to a gas station, and then hopping on a bus to JP) we met up with other Fulbrighters at the hostel and hugged. From that first moment, I knew this trip would be the start of my curve going back up.

I was in JP for four days, five nights and, despite not attending the conference, I feel like I spent a ton of that time working. Granted, a lot of that work was done while chatting on the beach over some fresh coconut water, but it was still work. Over those four days, I got to see my friends, spend time at beautiful beaches, and feel reinvigorated about my work.


On our first full day in João Pessoa (Wednesday 5/1), we went to UFPB to guest teach at Inglês sem Fronteias. On the one hand, it was an awesome way to justify this trip, but it was actually necessary because all of the IsF teachers from UFPB went to the TESOL conference! At first, I was supposed to be by myself, so I planned to play a mixer or two and then get started on the slang and contractions lesson that Laura had prepared (and that we had both previously used). In the end, three other people ended up in the class with me, a great opportunity for the students to spend time with native speakers. I decided to open with “snowball fight,” a game Laura taught me that I’ve been obsessed with ever since. It was a huge hit. It got the students to loosen up around the new “teachers,” and it was a great way to practice our English! Then the “lesson” part of the class came. Now, I had already been feeling iffy about this lesson. It’s incredibly thorough, but slang is supposed to be fun! But for some reason I just hadn’t felt great about this presentation. The students and professors at UFC seemed to like it, but I left all three classes I presented in feeling like I spent more time talking at the studentsthan working with them. (note: this is not meant to be commentary on Laura since she created presentation. She is wonderful and really great to work with!) This lesson at UFPB was the exact same. Another notch on the “low point” list. At the same time, after discussing the lesson with the other girls I presented with, I realized that these feelings of self doubt and negativity needed to stop. My lessons were only going to continue poorly if I didn’t do something about it! I immediately whipped out the notes app on my iphone and started a list: “Change for the better.” All of the new ideas (and modifications of old ones) that I wanted to do in the new semester.

Then the trip started going up again. Connor, my group mentor and a second year ETA in JP took us to this fun little lunch place and then we all parted ways. Jess, an ETA from Espírito Santo, and I decided to do some sightseeing while the others relaxed before attending the conferences. We went to the Niemeyer-designed “Estação Ciência,” a space-ship looking building that hosts different art and science exhibits!




We wandered around an exhibit about “quilting Brazil,” (although we still have no idea what it was about) and marveled at the intricate detailing.





Next, we made it outside to the “experiments.” I put experiments in quotes because the majority weren’t actually working, but it was actually really cool! It reminded me a lot of the stuff at the Franklin Institute in Philly, and Jess was lucky enough to get to try one out!


We wandered a little more and then made our way across the street to another building, who’s name I forget, that was hosting a special exhibit about indigenous culture in Brazil. All of the guides came from indigenous backgrounds, and it was so cool! Finally, we made our way back to the hostel, met up with our humongous group, and grabbed some açaí.

Day two: a beautiful day at some beautiful beaches. Jess, Abby (an ETA from Natal), and I headed out to the beach near our hostel. Beaches in Fortaleza are full of barracas, which are basically restaurants. So despite living so close to the beach, people here don’t really go to lay out and enjoy the sun and sand, they sit at tables, order food, and hang out under umbrellas. But in JP it’s just beach. We grabbed some fresh coconut water, laid out our cangas, and went to catch some sun. We eventually went in the water, which was deliciously warm like Fortaleza, and all this before noon! Eventually, Abby went to the conferences and Jess and I went to meet up with Connor and some of his Brazilian friends (and a Spanish friend). It took a while to get to our final destination, the litoral sul, but it was spectacular. I honestly don’t know if I’ve ever seen such a beautiful beach and the photos [the one above] just don’t do it justice.

With Connor and Jess at sunset

With Connor and Jess at sunset

The pictures really don't do it justice

The pictures really don’t do it justice

We went back to hostel, went out to dinner with our giant group of 15, and headed out to a free concert in the historic center. The first band was pretty terrible, they basically just made screeching noises the whole time, but the second singer (a pop singer who’s name I forgot) was great! Most of the group left early, but Jess, Abby, and I stayed and met up with Connor until about 1.

Would you like some sun meat?

Would you like some sun meat and beens?


with some other Fulbrighters at a free concert!

Day three: a lazy morning and an afternoon in the historic center.


some beautiful buildings in João Pessoa’s historic center!

a beautiful church!

a beautiful church!

I went with Jess, Abby, and Kate (the other Natal ETA) to check out the historic center and famous Igreja de São Francisco. I really love Fortaleza, but it’s really lacking in the history/historic-site department. On the other hand, João Pessoa is the third oldest city in Brazil, so there’s plenty of history! After wandering up a gigantic hill, we finally made it to the Baroque-era church, which had some chapels dating back to the late 1500s! It was breathtaking, and absolutely worth the hike.

The Igreja de São Francisco

The Igreja de São Francisco

A few from the church windows

A few from the church windows

Rio Paraíba

Rio Paraíba

Baroque detailing. At one point this was all covered in gold leaf!

Baroque detailing. At one point this was all covered in gold leaf!

some "azujelo" tiles brought over from Portugal

some “azujelo” tiles brought over from Portugal

with Jess, Abby, and Kate!

with Jess, Abby, and Kate!

The night ended going to the Jacaré market (known for it’s beautiful sunset views, which we missed) and eating some delicious tapioca

tapioca 4

Finally, we have day four: our day on a pirate ship. No, you didn’t read that incorrectly. We spent the day on a pirate ship.

One of the main attractions in João Pessoa are the cool coral reefs and pools just off the coast and it’s common to take out boat out to the reefs to snorkel. Jess, Abby, and I went to the Beira Mar to negotiate prices while everyone else was at the conference. The first guy approached us and offered a good deal (R$25 per person since we were a group of 7!), but we weren’t going to go with the first person we talked too until he said the magic word: “waterslides.” We said yes, put my name down, and then went to find the others so we could pay.


I’m not actually a huge fan of snorkeling (it’s just inevitable that I swallow water), but it was amazing! We saw plenty of Dory’s and other cool fish swimming around the coral and all around us! We also just floated around on noodles, talked about travel plans for our July vacations, and just relaxed in the sun. It was glorious.


Suddenly, the tide started to rise, and we were sent back to the boat. That’s it? We were more than a little disappointed. Then we grabbed some snacks and some caipirinhas on the boat and headed up to our balcony. Suddenly, we started to move away from the other boats! They were going to just stay and chill out during high tide while we went to jump off the “plank” and use the water slides! Finally!


It was an amazing way to spend the day!

with Abbott, a Fulbrighter and friend from NDU

with Abbott, a Fulbrighter and friend from NDU


with Jess, Megan, and Abbott

with Jess, Megan, and Abbott

Perfect form!

Perfect form!

The whole group: Megan, Abbott, Jess, Me, Abby, Zach, and Josue

The whole group: Megan, Abbott, Jess, Me, Abby, Zach, and Josue

Overall, it was an amazing trip. I had a great time seeing friends, just a taste of what’s to come from our seminar in August, and felt renewed with my work.(I don’t want to divulge too much information about these new ideas, since nothing has actually been discussed with my supervisor, but it’s coming!)

Along with providing me with new ideas on how to use my time better at UFC next semester, this trip also made me reevaluate the work I had done in these first three months. I arrived back in Fortaleza feeling relaxed, refreshed, and totally re-motivated. I spent the entire next day creating a new and interactive presentation on body language! To date, I think it’s the best that I’ve put together (although my new slang workshop may be competing for that title). I worked Monday despite it being my day off, went to dance Tuesday, and arrived back at my conversation clubs on Wednesday with guns blazing! My curve has definitely started going up again.

The body language presentation was a huge hit (or, at the very least, I was pleased with it), I went to bar trivia with some new friends (read: made some new friends), and hosted our second monthly movie night. This month, we showed “Remember the Titans,” one of m personal favorite movies. We had 50 students in attendance, which is crazy, and the movie led to an interesting discussion on race and racism, as legal segregation never occurred in Brazil. We celebrated our good friend Milton’s birthday on Saturday, and then I buckled down with work. I completely reworked the slang presentation to include two activities, internet slang, and memes. While I initially reworked this presentation for a class I’m teaching Friday night, we had the perfect opportunity for a test-drive: the Semana de Letras. I don’t want to go into detail about the registration process for semana de letras (since this is supposed to be the positive part of my blog post), but the seminar was a huge hit! About 20 students showed up, which was great considering that there was a university-wide “paralização” and almost all of the professors had cancelled class. But they came anyway! Along with a brief lesson on contractions, the presentation involved students making up skits using slang from the new “English Slang Dictionary” I wrote them, and some of my favorites included:

“Sup. Want to chill tonight?”

“Nah. I want to rage!”

“That’s legit.”

Or any use of YOLO. Yes, they were taught “YOLO.”

all the slang copy u mad bro copy

On top of everything else, I have my first dance presentation with Oré Anacã coming up next week so we’ve been trying to rehearse like crazy! We even learned two new dances, Celebração de Fé from Boi Garantido and a Maracatu from Pernambuco! It’s going to be amazing! I can’t wait!

This week has been particularly busy, between planning a ton of new lessons and visiting a bunch of classes, but it’s great to finally feel busy! We also have a bunch of planning meetings coming up in the next week, and I’ve started working on a proposal for an English immersion “camp” that we want to run in the next semester! I only hope that the last few weeks of the semester finish on a high note and that this inspiration continues through next semester!

I apologize if it seemed like this post started off on a negative note, but being abroad is full of ups and downs. I’ve still had a few small down-moments since being back, but every day since I’ve been back from João Pessoa has been another step back up the curve. I feel completely inspired to redesign my teaching activities and my schedule, my “Change for the Better” list has grown enormous, and I’ve been waking up every morning excited to work, even on days when I stay home to lesson plan! You don’t get that feeling at every job! I’m only a third through this crazy experience (which is also hard to believe) and let’s keep our fingers crossed that it continues like this!

Next update: My first dance presentation and a visit from a friend from home!

















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One Response to The Ups and Downs of Being Abroad

  1. Monica says:

    Missy!!! Já disse que amo seus posts?? Sim, né? Pois é, vou repetir! Amo seus posts! haha

    Adoro saber os detalhes todos. É muito legal, quase que como viajar com você!

    Abraços, querida!

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