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A year in Brazil teaches many cultural lessons

Some say it can only take a moment to change the course of your life. In a single second, everything can come crashing down in front of as if to say, 'Here I am! Take me for what I am - if I am for better or for worse.'

I always hear stories of people seeing their life flash before their eyes in near death experiences. At the end of their recollections, they realize all that they have been missing in life, and turn the whole stature of their being into someone incredible.

My experience was far from life threatening, and I could hardly write some melodramatic screenplay from it. Instead I found myself sitting on the balcony of capoeira class, staring dazedly off at the foreign sight of my small Brazilian farm town, hustling about in every day life below me.

A few months away from returning to what now seemed like a strange distant world I used to call home, I felt my heart hang slightly. This city, which had seemed so bizarre and un-functional at first, I now saw as my home - the kind of home that when you're returning from a long vacation, and you drive off the first free-way ramp closest to your house, you start getting excited to sleep in your own bed again. To see your pets, watch TV on your own couch, and to eat a nice home cooked meal…

The city's people were now my friends, my family, and maybe even my enemies. How could I possibly even begin to think that there would be a last time when I could think 'Oh! I'm home in Joao Pinheiro!'?

I had a wonderful opportunity to talk to a Brazilian-American, he was originally from Brazil, but had been living in Florida for the past 13 years. We talked about all the cultural differences between Brazil and the United States - and they are vast.

Life in the United States is fast, stressful, cold and competitive. In Brazil it's slow, simple, warm and friendly. I used to get offended when people said Americans are cold people… I still do sometimes, but there is a certain degree of truth to the words. In the states we are constantly driven by slightly selfish motives, and we don't always know we're doing it.

Our lives are raveled in technology, which prevents us from socializing with others and confronting who we truly are. It all stops us from thinking clearly.

For example, when I first arrived in Brazil, I didn't know what to do with myself… I had so much time. I wasn't able to get onto the computer every five seconds to check my email, or see what was going on in media world. Instead I was constantly whisked off to family barbeques and family farms. I was literally forced into spending time to get to know myself through and through without having something to distract me.

I still can't help but laugh every time I see full-grown Brazilians dancing to Fergies, 'My Humps' or wearing clothing not even some teenagers in the states would dare wear. Here people love being in the comfort of friends, and would do anything for each other. Life here is nothing like the one I know at home.

I'm not saying Americans are as cold as other countries tend to label us. I'm a lot closer to my American friends at home than I am with friends here. In the United States it is rare to go a weekend without spending the night at a friend's house, here I am lucky to have spent three nights this year sleeping at friends' houses! In Portland we have amazing parks to go bike riding, running, kayaking and hiking - just about anything outdoorsy! Once you leave home, you truly learn its value.

There are so many things to compare that are good and bad about these two countries, but in the end everything has its good and bad qualities… and you have to learn to live with what you have.

The United States and Brazil are both incredible countries, and I'm privileged to have had the chance to live in both of them.

Angela Ratto is a senior at Riverdale High School. She writes a column every four weeks for the Review. Contact her via e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..