In the summer of 2017, I had the privilege of visiting Brazil. I went with a group from my church in Texas to a southern province in Brazil by the name of Campo Bom. We were there for about ten days, giving free eye exams and glasses to the specific orphanage we were working for, as well as surrounding rural areas and another small orphanage in great need. I am personally not completely fluent in Portuguese, the native language of Brazil. My father, who grew up outside of Sao Paolo, speaks Portuguese in his sleep. He was the translator for the trip and was very much at home in this culture. I had been to Brazil as a child before to visit some family friends and witness the World Cup in 2003 (the year Brazil won; it was absolutely incredible). But, I was too young to make any substantial and cognitive connections to the people. During this past trip, I was amazed by what I experienced.
I exited an individualistic culture and entered a collective one.
This past semester, I have learned extensively about the difference between collectivistic and individualistic cultures. For reference, and individualistic culture is one that is defined by people who serve themselves, carry obligations to their own goals, and placing oneself before other members in society. This is simply the way America operates. Collectivistic cultures rely heavily on each other; decisions are made to the benefit of the group and society members are cohesive. This is very much the case for what I experienced in Brazil. For reference, you can see how countries score against one another in terms of individualism here.
To a stranger who spoke another language, I was made a member of their family.
It was admittedly a struggle to be able to connect deeply with someone who didn't speak the same language as you. It was thus important for me to make my actions meaningful and loving so that I could translate what I felt through nonverbal means. This was received beyond what I had hoped. I quickly earned the nickname "little aunt" by the children, and by the adults, I was embraced and taken care of as if I was their own child. For example, I had the privilege of attending a little girl's birthday party, and family members of the young girl were present to celebrate with her. One of these family members had a baby with her, and she asked me to hold the baby. In this culture, it is a great honor to be given a child, and despite not knowing me well I felt so welcome and included.
Why is this relevant to you?
If you have never had the privilege of leaving the United States or live in an individualistic culture, it is in my opinion, extremely worthwhile and valuable to visit a culture that opposes this position. Being an American means that we are accustomed to a very individualistic culture, and although you may personally not feel very self-serving, it becomes a whole different concept when you can barely know someone but they sacrifice what they have for you. It taught me respect, love, charity, kindness, and familial tenderness, and I cannot wait to experience this more in the future.