FROM READERS: MU student learns the beauty of inconvenience in Brazil

Friday, December 13, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST
Audrey Zigmond poses with her students at an NGO called Projeto Alegria da Criançacq — “Project Happiness of the Child” — in Fortaleza, Brazil, in the summer.

Audrey Zigmond is a junior studying international strategic communication at MU. She lived in Fortaleza, Brazil, this past summer to teach English. There, she discovered the beauty of inconvenience.

Last May I finished finals, moved all of my things into a storage unit, shopped, went to a concert and kissed my mom goodbye within a 36-hour time span. Little did I know my jam-packed lifestyle of checking things off an endless list had met its match as soon as I boarded my plane to Fortaleza, Brazil.

After completing a Portuguese minor at MU, I chose to immerse myself for 10 weeks to improve my language skills. I was placed with a host family and was hired as an English teacher at an NGO called Projeto Alegria da Criança, “Project Happiness of the Child.” My job was to independently develop lesson plans and teach about 100 kids age 8 to 22.

From day one, my students were calling me “tia,” which translates to “auntie.” They asked me to take them to the United States at the end of the summer, posted pictures with me on Facebook and invited me to eat dinner with their families. I was so overwhelmed by their willingness to learn and share with me. My confidence in my abilities immediately vanished. I had to rebuild.

Absolutely nothing came easy in Brazil. There’s no such thing as a “quick trip” to the grocery store, and most people didn’t speak English. My 12-mile trip to work took about an hour each way on the public bus. It’s usually dangerous to go anywhere alone, and police are notoriously untrustworthy. All of those factors combined gave me an incredible gift: appreciation for inconveniences.

For example, many of my plans were affected when nationwide manifestations erupted in Brazil during the Confederations Cup. This “inconvenience” actually gave me the opportunity to participate in historic, progressive protests that changed Brazil. Things rarely worked out the way I wanted. They worked out better.

Time ceased being a distraction in my life. I learned to let go of the mentality that my students were on “my time,” and as a result things like tardiness or miscommunication no longer inhibited me. This helped me regain my confidence and teach effectively. I grew very close to my kids because I learned how to be present with them.

In the United States time is money and convenience is king. We have about 25 options for any food or service we crave, we rarely spend more than 15 minutes eating lunch and we can confidently drop our kids off at the gym daycare while going for a run in between errands. When everything is easy and fast, it’s difficult to be present with one another because we see time as a hindrance, not a blessing.

When people ask me about my summer I default to the American action movie version. I had a demanding job, participated in the protests, was robbed, traveled on weekends, went to the hospital and met friends from all over the world. In reality, the days were slow and full of inconveniences.

I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising editor is Joy Mayer.


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