Thanksgiving away from home: Nurturing gratitude amidst saudade
Lara Novaes Victor | Wednesday, November 15, 2023
As the autumn leaves blanket our pathways to class to announce the arrival of Thanksgiving season, a poignant sense of homesickness fills the hearts of international students like me. This iconic American holiday, rooted in family gatherings, homemade food and reconnecting with loved ones, often magnifies the distance between us and our families. Almost seamlessly, saudade (a Portuguese word for a deep state of nostalgia and melancholy) becomes an ever-present companion that imparts a very important lesson of gratitude.
As a Brazilian, I had never experienced Thanksgiving before arriving at Notre Dame, so I celebrated it for the first time last year as a freshman. The crisp autumn air, the turkey, the cranberry sauce, all the pumpkin spice-flavored things and the trees along Notre Dame Avenue full of red leaves made me feel like I stepped into one of the American movies I watched growing up. It was all purely magical. However, as my friends eagerly departed to see their families, the enchantment slowly started to fade away, and the campus, once teeming with lively conversations and shared moments, gradually echoed with a quiet solitude that magnified the yearning for my family.
In the midst of this fading enchantment, saudade emerged as an unexpected yet profound companion. And just like that, all the aromas and views that formed that fairytale experience started to stir the cravings for my father’s meticulously crafted barbecue, the refreshing tang of my mom’s passion fruit juice and my childhood treats like brigadeiro and pao de queijo, which all collaborated with the sense of homesickness I was feeling.
Reflecting on the overwhelming homesickness and the sudden surge of nostalgia for Brazil’s flavors and comforts, I came to a poignant realization — I missed home precisely because I made the choice to depart from it. It wasn’t merely a leap of faith, it was a conscious decision to step into another country, immerse myself in a new culture and pursue studies in a language different from my own. This act of leaving behind the familiar to embrace the unknown was not just a physical journey but an emotional and intellectual one, where the ache for home intertwined with the pursuit of knowledge and personal growth.
Soon, the melancholy I was feeling turned into a deep feeling of gratitude. Gratitude for my family and teachers back home who gave me the unwavering support I received on this journey and the courage I gathered to embark on this experience, as it all allowed me to create incredible memories with friends, roommates, my rowing team and within my classes.
In this realization, I found solace. While the longing for home continued, it wasn’t a sign of weakness but a testament to the depth of my connections and experiences. These feelings weren’t contradictory — they were harmonious notes in the symphony of my life abroad. The loneliness and longing had nurtured a garden of gratitude, blooming with cherished moments and relationships that became an integral part of my journey.
As Thanksgiving approaches again, I know it won’t be easy. I can feel the saudade settling within me, much like a soft mist enveloping a quiet morning, gently wrapping around my heart. However, this time, I carry with me a heart filled with appreciation. Appreciation for the opportunities that this choice has offered me, for the people who have become my second family away from home and for the strength found in embracing both the known and the unknown.
Lara is a member of the class of 2026 from Taubaté, Brazil with majors in economics and Chinese. When she is not complaining about the weather, you can find her studying in a random room of O’Shaughnessy with her friends or spending all her flex points in Garbanzo. You can contact Lara by email at [email protected].
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.