My Experience Living in the U.S.

– Written by Natalia Sgrinhelli

            I spent half of my life strongly asserting that I would never live abroad. I had many arguments to prove how attached I was to my family, friends and culture, and I was willing to list them to whoever insisted a cultural exchange out of country would be a good experience for me. But after many years of insistence of two great friends and a long conversation with a coworker about her own experience abroad, I found myself considering the possibility myself.

At the time I was stagnated in a career that wasn’t fulfilling to me, my home country, Brazil, was showing the first signs of an economic crisis and I had little opportunity for growth. I suddenly understood that being fluent in a second language would improve my professional prospects greatly and I decided to commit to a year of a cultural exchange program in U.S.

It was not an easy process and the emotional challenges started at packing. I will never forget the feeling: it was like I was leaving half of my life behind. The arrival in the U.S. was shock with the language posing as a barrier itself. Very simple tasks, like grocery shopping or using public transportation, demanded all my energy and concentration. On the other hand, I will also never forget the day I could obtain a Social Security Card by myself. I was in the country for a couple weeks only, but the sense of achievement I felt remains with me to this date.

My exchange program allowed me to meet many young women from different countries, that I now consider my dear friends. It is strange and marvelous how we became a type of family to each other, considering not even our native languages are the same. I also formed a bond with the program counselor, a strong and kind woman that guided all of us while we were here. I learned so much from her and all the girls about diversity when hearing the stories from their home countries. I learned to respect differences and to look at people with more kindness, because each person has a personal journey which we know nothing about.

I was also very fortunate to live with an amazing host family that opened their house to me like it was my own. With their guidance and support, I enrolled in an MBA program. I had never imagined I would be able to attend university in a foreign country. It was one of the biggest challenges of my life to obtain a diploma using my second language.

My hardest task, however, was dealing with homesickness. This is the only word I know to define feelings that I cannot put in words. I like to describe my life in U.S. as a roller-coaster: some days I believe it is the best decision I have ever made and others I cannot explain why I decided to be away from Brazil. Luckily, I have had more days on the top. As time passed, I felt more immersed in the American culture. Everything became more familiar and less overwhelming.

I have been living in the U.S. for four and half years and this situation became more permanent now that I am happily married. My time here was only meant to advance my professional career but ended up being my most significant period of personal growth. After all this time, I realized that I did not leave my life behind, as I can barely remember the things I could not fit in my suitcase. I understood that my feeling of loss came from separating from my family and friends and, although time really does help us heal, I still miss them. Most importantly, I learned that my perception of belonging is strongly influenced by the ones around me. I came to love many people from a different country that I now dread having to separate from the same way I did when I left my home country years ago.