There comes a time in every person’s life when the nest leaves you feeling a little claustrophobic. This usually happens toward the end of your high school career or sometime in middle school if you’ve got a bad case of teen angst and spend half your time thinking of what tattoo would piss your parents off the most. Either way, in the United States it’s more common than not that you leave the comforts of your parents’ home in your late teens or early twenties. This is so common in the U.S. that it is difficult to imagine anything else being the cultural norm. There’s a good reason for it, too. At this age, we are completely restless, and roommates are much more forgiving when you stumble in the house at 4 a.m. than your parents are. It’s also much easier to flake on your responsibilities to go surf when you don’t have someone trying to look out for your “best interests” all the time. This is why the initial helpfulness of a homestay while abroad has turned into something altogether strange.
Here in Brazil, once the sun goes down you have two options: You can go out drinking and dancing at whatever bar or club you can find, hunting down shots of absinthe and two-for-one beer deals or you can go home and hang out with your host family, watching Brazilian soap operas and not much else. Most families aren’t too stoked for you to have friends over, so if you don’t feel like going out, you’re not looking at a lot of choices. I’ve personally never had much interest in soap operas, especially when you actually have to exert effort to follow the plot in another language, so I tend to lean toward getting a few beers. I understand how the host families wouldn’t want a posse of foreigners making a ruckus in a language that they don’t understand, but when you have to call them to let them know that your lunch plans have changed, you start feeling that claustrophobia all over again.
The best part of this fake family paradigm is, of course, the best part of every awkward family unit. It’s the question that is on every teenager’s mind when they have a cute classmate over at their house and the sexual tension is so thick in the air that you could cut it with a spork from the school cafeteria. The question is “how am I going to hook up with this person without my parents catching me?” Asking yourself this question at the age of 22 is completely ridiculous. I’ve been living in Isla Vista for the past three years, a place which you all know is more than conducive to male-female relations. It’s common here in the Brazil program for students to have conversations about whether or not it would be possible to construct a rope ladder so that a late night visitor could sneak in and out of your room without the host families taking notice. It’s a modern tale of Rapunzel-esque proportions, and that is what living with a host family equates to while studying abroad.
I asked some Brazilians how they would handle the situation, and their response was shocking. Here in Brazil it’s common for young people to live with their parents until they are about 30-years-old, and oftentimes people at that age still keep their folks around even though they have embarked on their own career and life paths. So what is their answer? Seedy motel rooms. How romantic. Even Brazilians who are my age spend late night hours sneaking people into their families’ homes or ducking into motel rooms for a few hours and then sheepishly returning home before morning, or else their parents might be waiting for them with a Bible in their hands and a heated lecture that they are ready to recite. I don’t think I need an exorcism, but I might need my own apartment.
There are many things that I love about Brazil, but this isn’t one of them. I know that studying abroad is all about embracing a culture that is different from your own, but some bits are a lot harder to swallow than others. My host family has definitely helped me gain a more Brazilian perspective, and they have treated me with the care and concern that any loving family would, but the nest is feeling a bit small these days. I will only be in Salvador for another two weeks, so I won’t be looking at apartments, but I might still be in the market for a rope ladder.