Strangers No More


Rob learns that sometimes you meet friends in unexpected places.

It has been almost exactly two months since I was accepted for an internship in Chapeco, Brazil. After two months of procrastinating from just about preparation I possibly could, I took off on a 24-hour journey to Brazil.

From the time I stepped off my plane, I encountered a really fantastic feeling. Often the memories we take out of traveling are associated with those from our final destination: the nights out, trips to monuments and bizarre cultural encounters. The flight and the travel time is just a necessary evil that we must battle in order to actually begin traveling. In my long trip here, however, I recognized that you can meet some amazing people during this time and that the flight is a good time to prepare yourself for what will come.

Even sitting at the airport gate in Toronto made me feel as though I was already out of Canada. For the two hours I sat there reading and saying my goodbyes to friends, I did not hear a single word of English, only Portuguese, from the people around me. I was convinced that my trip down would be a lonely one. For the most part, this was true. It wasn’t until I got off the plane and was in the foreign registry line at the Sao Paulo airport that I met a fellow Canadian traveler. We exchanged names and talked about Canada and our excitement for our journeys in Brazil. Unlike me, he was coming to backpack around Brazil and the rest of South America while I am here on an internship. Despite traveling for completely different reasons, we both took the opportunity to have what would be our last in-person Canadian conversation for a few months.

Just after sitting down for a beer with the Canadian I met on the plane, we were approached by a small Brazilian child. With our Portuguese language books on the table he could obviously tell that we were foreign but, nonetheless, started talking to us in Portuguese. Then, a man spoke to the child and he ran away. It turns out the child was asking us for money; a common occurrence in this particular airport because all of the restaurants are in the open section with the check-in counters. This man, a Norwegian stage-builder living and traveling in South America, ended up joining us at our table and we exchanged stories about why we were in Brazil and what we would be doing here. It did not occur to me until later that this man was someone I would have never talked to, but because we were three travellers in a place strange to us we were brought together.

For me, the lesson in all of this was that even when you are traveling alone, there will always be opportunities to seek help—a traveler from home who shares your feelings of anxiety, nervousness and excitement. It could be another foreigner that you befriend solely based on the fact that you strangers in an even stranger place.

It did not end with an exchange of contact information, but just a goodbye and wishes for safe travels. There was nothing special about this experience, but it is one that I expect will stay with me for a long time. When you travel, expect that some of the smallest things will be the most memorable; and never underestimate when you will have an opportunity to share your experiences with strangers.

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Published in Work Abroad Blogs
Rob Small

Rob Small is an international relations graduate of Carleton University. An AIESEC intern, he is working as an English teacher at a local language school in Chapecό, Brazil. His first time living abroad, he hopes to share insightful, yet entertaining, stories about being a Canadian in Brazil.

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