Escaping Seasonal Depression: Another foreign language!
Two things: Winter in Uruguay at its worst is about 35 degrees farenheit at night. It´s winter-light. And, fully learning a foreign language in 5 months is usually impossible (for me), but this was a first-cousin language of the foreign language I was already speaking: Brazilian Portuguese, cousin to Uruguayan Spanish. Still not easy, but easiER, I guess...
From late May 2022 to mid-September 2022, apart from work and normal socializing with friends, I studied Brazilian Portuguese at least twice a day with mentors located in Brazil, the United States, Holland, and Spain. In that process, I unearthed a full identity in this language: a personality based on spontaneity, positivity, and a lot of laughter, one that I never could encounter to this degree in my native or other foreign languages, Chinese and Spanish. At the end, I emerged having passed a test that will potentially allow me to go to Brazil for my next assignment without needing language training. Essentially, I can give presentations on my life, work, and my top tips for U.S. assistance to developing countries (concerning education, nutrition, and trade) in Portuguese. And debate with people who don´t agree with my recommendations! In short, advanced AF.
I was emerging from a hot summer with beautiful experiences with beautiful people, so I knew the emotional crash was coming. My last trip out was a camping trip in the Argentine Andes, and I held on to every last ray as long as I could. But getting back into my normal routine, I saw the gray coming. What could I do to hold on to the spontaneous feeling I was existing on and more, turn it into something that would not go away and eventually reward me?
Winter in Uruguay is mild but the country tends to shut down, which includes in mood. Whomever is fully entrenched in your life will stay there and you´ll make the most of it, but good luck forming new connections - everyone is hunkered down and getting through it with their own winter bubble. And while I did go out with a few new people here and there, it was very clear that this was going to be an ON YOUR OWN experience.
So I leaned into it. I thought about past assignments, in countries where I had wasted a lot of time on useless, and sometimes toxic, pursuits. Learning Portuguese became my social life and my second career identity - the one which is based on investing in myself and leaning into all of the new experiences I could have that were not connected to my previous lives. I was not simply showing up to classes out of meaningless obligation. Sure, 7am Portuguese classes felt like sacrifice, but I was choosing it over and over again: each day I became closer and closer to standing up and walking on my own in this new language and identity.
Learning an entire foreign language is an extreme example but in a sense, it makes total sense: when something is hard, and requires long-term commitment. you find new reasons every day to fight for it. Portuguese is a language and Brazil isn´t perfect, but I have a new happy place in which I can be a full participant. When Uruguay starts to grate on me, as any place would do, I have an outlet: my Portuguese personality heavily influenced by all the places my teachers and friends come from: Rio de Janiero, Corumba, Bahia, Belen, Recife, São Paulo.
I now have this language to talk about completely different problem sets from where I currently live. Whereas I used to joke that Brazil was the ¨noisy upstairs neighbor¨, now, I understand how their elections work (sort of), how somewhat widespread nutrition issues and illiteracy go unnoticed under the vale of Carnevale, what idioms their country developed to make light of heavy issues, how light and colorful their pop culture is, and how people deal with crime, danger, and other heavy, daily issues. I am invested in a way that I wasn´t in December, when I visited Rio de Janeiro for the first time.
While I hope something more comes from my Portuguese expedition, I can honestly say that I did something great with my first winter in the Southern Cone. And I have many plans for trips to Brazil - work and personal. Yay!