By William Ferreira
There are a few terms that you will probably hear, read or speak very often while researching study abroad and maybe even while living your own studying abroad experience. In fact, experience is one of those terms that we hear a lot. And probably because we want that a lot; to live an amazing experience in another culture is the goal for international students. But besides this term, another important expression that comes with studying abroad is: to adapt.
I realized that “to adapt” was present in almost all my conversations with my family and friends through the phone after I arrived in Philadelphia. “Are you adapting yourself there?”, “How is the adaptation process going?”, “Did you adapt to the cultural differences?”, they asked - and then followed it up with a lot of questions about where I’m living, how is the neighborhood, the city, the school, the food, the people, etc. That’s when I realized how adapting is so fundamental and people next to me were concerned about that. They wanted me to adapt so I could have a good experience - especially for a whole semester! So, in this blog, I will be sharing how my process of adapting is going so far after one month and a half living in the U.S.
As a boy that has grown up in a small city in Brazil and now is studying in Philadelphia, the 6th largest city in the United States, I see a lot of differences, challenges and qualities about coming here. There are great opportunities, the diversity is huge, there’s a lot of cultural and entertainment options (my favorite things to do) and, of course, you can find anything you want here. And to be honest, I wasn’t a big fan of large cities before, mainly because of other places that I’ve lived, but I am liking Philadelphia so far and I am adapting pretty well here.
The first reason is because I have a strange feeling that Philadelphia doesn’t have the flow of the other large cities that I’ve been, as Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo. Usually, the streets here are not that crowded, the traffic is not that harsh, at least not as in other cities outside the U.S – even around the university campus or Center City! – The public transportation here works well and is not that hard to learn how to use. Also, the main spots are really easy to access, at least for us who live near Temple’s Main Campus. We are literally 10-15 minutes away from the center. So, in that way, for my short experience I think that Philly is a good place to come, and it helped me to adapt easily. I’m glad for the choice I’ve made.
Besides that, one of the things I was most afraid of not adapting to coming to the U.S, was about shopping, you know? Going to the supermarket, doing grocery shopping, buying medicines in a pharmacy or even buying the Brazilian beauty products I am familiarized to. No, I don’t have any strict diet, or a disease that requires me to find specific products, but I knew that I wasn’t going to find some things that I see and use almost every day. Somehow, I was afraid of how it was going to be. “I’ll probably miss the food” or “What if I cannot find a medicine for that thing?”, were a few of the thoughts that caught me.
The first time I walked in a supermarket here in Philly, The Fresh Grocer store around the campus, I didn’t know the taste, the look or the reliability of almost any products or brands in the shelves. Almost everything was different. For the first days, I relied on famous globalized brands, but today I see how important it is to experiment with new things and try the unknown, it’s part of the process - and it’s great! I love having new experiences. Often, I ask for people to recommend me new things to try here, or places to go, and I think that it kind of helps me to adapt too. I didn’t know I liked waffles that much, or pancakes for example, before I came here. Now I have a favorite brand for each one of these.
Of course, I miss the Brazilian food, especially in the beginning, but as common in large cities, Philadelphia has many different cuisines and immigrant communities. We don’t have a “Braziltown” here like we do a Chinatown, but Philly has Brazilian restaurants, supermarkets and communities that helped me find almost everything I was looking for. Plus, the Brazilian club at Temple, BRASA, is really helping me through my journey. They held a group chat for all Brazilian students that are studying here, they help each other, throw parties (!), make events and all that makes it easier to meet new friends. Consequently, that also helps me feel a little less homesick, more safe and connected to people.
In fact, Temple and Philadelphia supports a great diversity of people and culture, so no matter where you are from, I believe you can always find something here that will make you feel like home. The important thing is trying to adapt, no matter how, because while studying abroad, here will also be our home.