Yesterday was a day of milestones. Small ones, but milestones nonetheless.

I took a pilates class in the morning, and the teacher was wonderful, coming over and translating in very good English when it was obvious that I hadn’t grasped the finer points of her instruction. To my surprise and delight, however, about half way through I found that I no longer needed the translation, and was able to follow what she was saying well enough to do the exercises without extra guidance.

It helped that she was the first teacher I’d had at this gym who didn’t insist on playing loud music during the class, so she was much more intelligible to begin with. Always a plus. But the class was great, and in fact I haven’t seen a teacher give that kind of individualized attention to her students (and it wasn’t just me!) for quite a while. Unfortunately she only teaches one class a week, but I will be attending it in the future!

Once the early afternoon downpour had passed (because when it rains here, it quite literally pours!), I ventured out by myself for a while to get out of the house. And this time, instead of just walking around and looking at things like I normally do, I actually stopped to have a coffee and study for a while in a cute little cafe just off the main shopping district near our flat. True, I didn’t venture very far, and yes, I ordered my coffee — Americano, no less — in English (the guy was Austrian anyway), but it’s a start.

As proof, here is my cute little coffee service tray:

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Note especially the sugar packet advising me that consuming a cup of coffee daily can give me an “active morning and a state of alertness.” Ha! I’ve seen warnings on cigarettes, but sugar packets extolling the virtues of coffee?! Wow.

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Another one said that a cup of coffee a day can help to prevent type 2 diabetes, or something to that effect, which I thought was extremely ironic given that the message was delivered via a packet of sugar. But never mind.

There were three girls speaking English at a table nearby, and although I stared at them the whole time, I never worked up the courage to go and talk to them. I figured that at this point, if I’m going to approach total strangers, they may as well be Portuguese! It’s always too easy when living or traveling in a non-English speaking country to gravitate towards the other foreigners, which has its own value of course, but doesn’t do much to teach you about the language or culture of the country you’re in. Oh well. Maybe next time.

Even so, going out to have a coffee on my own was a big accomplishment. Working at coffee shops is a big part of my life at home, one that I have yet to reestablish here, and it’s also my main source of exposure to people and the world outside of my house.

No one ever believes me when I say this, but I am by nature extremely introverted. I don’t mean that in the usual way that people take it — I don’t mean that I’m shy. I need time alone to recharge, whereas extroverts like Gabe thrive on spending time with other people. And because social interaction exhausts me, I naturally tend to be quite isolated. That’s why working at home suits me just fine, since I can happily pass an entire day by myself, with only random interactions with people at the gym or store to give me my minimum daily dosage of social interaction before Gabe gets home at night. When I need more extended time with other people, of course, I have a number of good friends I can call up to have coffee or dinner. But really, for the most part, I’m perfectly happy to be by myself.

Here, however, the language barrier presents a new set of challenges. It’s harder for me to get my minimum dosage of social per day, because people at the store or gym don’t understand me, and vice versa. I also don’t have any friends here that I can call up and grab coffee with (yet.) And worst of all, because the outer world here is still very different and full of things I don’t understand, it only enforces my tendencies toward isolation. I get overwhelmed very easily by all that’s out there, so my natural reaction is to just want to stay home. When I do that, however, I get stir crazy. It’s a double-edged sword.

As a compromise, I make myself interact with the world in small, manageable doses: going to the gym or class, for example, or taking a walk, even if it’s just around the neighborhood. By getting used to one small thing at a time, I can gradually expand my comfort zone. Eventually — I hope — that will include making conversation with people at the gym or the coffee shop, or at least ordering my coffee in Portuguese and chatting with the server, as I would do at home. But for now, just going to a coffee shop and reestablishing that part of my regular routine felt like a big accomplishment.

Baby steps, people, baby steps.

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