10 Things I Learned from Going to Rio Alone

Of all things that people are shocked about when I tell them I went to World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, it is that I went to  Brazil ALONE. And by alone, I meant no groups, no chaperones, no family, no friends. Mind you, my family really REALLY wanted to go but just couldn’t. My archdiocese was there but due to very unfortunate circumstances, which will be briefly addressed in the list, I was unable to meet up with them at all.

So this was the ultimate “alone time,” and like all “alone times,” you learn a lot about yourself (and the world).

1. You are now subject to God’s will so PRACTICE HUMILITY AND PATIENCE.

There were probably numerous times where I could’ve pulled my hair out! From one closed airport to sleeping through the night in another to a three hour goose chase to see a foggy Rio from high above on Corcovado. You cannot control your circumstances, only the way you react to them. And to my surprise, I was at peace with every bad situation that happened. Maybe because I knew that every bad situation could always have been made worse. So stay humble & be patient, for your actions and attitude are all that you can control.

2. But when it gets a little too much, God will let you know you’re doing okay.

Sometimes when we feel like we are dealt bad hand after bad hand, we are ready to give up. But it’s that little space in between staying hopeful and giving up where God can surprise you. After getting into Atlanta late and finding out my already-delayed flight was pushed back from an 11pm departure to a 7am departure, I didn’t think the next thing God would give me was a chance to meet David Henrie! Yes, I met Justin from Wizards of Waverly Place! I somehow mustered up the courage to awkwardly introduce myself and proudly tell him I was dancing at the Festival. For me, I took it as a nice sign from God letting me know that I was going in the right direction.

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Things like these only happen in my dreams!

3. You gotta do what you gotta do.

When you set out to achieve a certain goal, sometimes you are met with unavoidable obstacles. One of my obstacles was getting to my home parish at night. I skipped taking the suggested bus ride and opted for a prepaid radio taxi at the airport. Off I went, spending at least 200% more than I had to, but hey! I was safe, right? Well, getting lost in the suburbs of Rio was never in my plan either. When I finally arrived, everyone was shocked I came alone, something even the neighborhood kids wouldn’t do. The coordinator said he admired me for my courage. Everyone asked how could I come here by myself. “Well,” I told them. “I just had to.”

4. “If you don’t make friends on this trip, there is something wrong with you.”

When you travel alone, you are really never alone. When you travel to WYD, you are REALLY never alone. But still, I was a complete wreck when I found out I was placed in the suburbs. How was I supposed to travel all by myself to the city back and forth, especially at night?!?! Not thinking rationally, my mother stepped in and shared with me those wise words. I am happy to let you know that making friends in Rio was not so hard to do, especially when you have four other wonderful young women staying in your homestay. We formed our own little group and together we made that trek into and out of the city, building great friendships along the way.

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I shared a homestay with sisters Katrina, Gianna, and Naomi from Oregon, and Sasha, who also happens to be from New York!

5. People are willing to help you when …

you need help! Nothing gets simpler than that. When I lost my cellphone, I immediately became wary of my surroundings and came to the conclusion that it must’ve been stolen. But no, I lost my cellphone in the Sambódromo, which was chock-full of eager volunteers. VERY eager volunteers, who kept my cellphone AND my wallet safe for me when I returned looking for it. And then there was Heitor, the volunteer who was there every step of the way in making sure we saw Christ the Redeemer. Not only was every WYD volunteer so helpful, the people of Rio were incredibly helpful, too, especially with navigating the transportation. A nice couple helped us get a bus in the right direction after we found out we were going kilometers in the other way! And trust me, there were many times that happened! And another thing- people will help you even when you don’t speak the same language. An enthusiastic man didn’t mind that we didn’t speak Portuguese, he ran across the street to stop our bus from leaving!

6. Americans are too plugged in.

When you can’t find any outlet to charge your phone so you can find out where the archdiocese group is having their dinner with Cardinal Dolan, you know you’re too plugged in. When you spend too much time trying to take the perfect picture at Christ the Redeemer that it begins taking away from the already awesome moment of marveling at such beauty, you know you’re too plugged in. But when you decide not to take photos as the Pope goes by and you really see him with your own eyes, you thank God you’re not plugged in! Drop the phone, people, and feel the moment now! Cameras never took good photos of sunrises anyway.

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My attempt at a sunrise shot on Copacabana Beach the day of the Closing Mass

7. You are as talented as you are kind.

Celebrities take note- kindness begets kindness, and you never know how a little kindness can go a long way. I was surprised to see the Performing Arts coordinator at my presentation. She didn’t have to go, she didn’t have to be there. She was supposed to be at the office! But there she was! I was so grateful to have finally met her. She told everyone how I was always so kind in my emails, especially when I would translate them for her. I would have never thought that that little act of just translating emails would mean so much for her that she would want to come see me perform. Saying I was kind meant more than saying my performance was beautiful. It elevated any other compliment to another level.

Mother WYD Volunteers
The best people you will ever meet – the volunteers at my performance!

8. Miracles do happen, you need to open your heart to see them.

When you see less with your eyes and your mind and see more with your heart, everything becomes a miracle. But true miracles can also happen. Like when I was stuck on Copacabana and needed ice for my bruised finger. I thought there was no way for me to find ice with all the stores closed on Sunday morning, the day of the Closing Mass. But what happens next? A man in an ice cart passes by. But wait! His ice cart tips over, bags fly everywhere, and he leaves the ice all over the street. So of course, I ran over there & start putting the ice on my finger. Talk about a miracle!

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If you are wondering how this happened, I got really excited about seeing Christ the Redeemer. So excited that I banged my hand against the concrete staircase going up to see the statue! OUCH!

9. When you know, you know.

This is a bit hard to explain because it can’t be explained. It’s all feeling. And when you get that feeling where something bigger than yourself is compelling you towards clarity and understanding, you should just go with it. You shouldn’t be afraid. Because if you’re afraid, you won’t see your calling. And if you miss your calling, you might miss out on understanding the meaning of your life.

10. You ARE capable of doing things alone on your own.

This was the greatest, most challenging, most frightening, and most enriching “alone time” I have ever had. Everyday I was nervous but excited. Everyday I felt enlightened. Everyday I felt more and more called to God. I emailed my mom telling her these things and told her of my calling, something that, with motherly clairvoyance, she knew all along. She told me I needed to make this journey and discovery on my own, and she was right. Without having my safety nets, I was left to the will of God, and you know what, God has blessed me with wonderful things. And I was able to see all these blessings because I opened my heart, with humility, patience, desire, and pure love. And among these blessings was the affirmation that I was never really alone and that I was not meant to be alone. That my dreams were meant to be shared, my experiences shared. All my happiness, all my pains, all my doubts, all my faith. Shared with others as do others share with me.

On my own I discovered many things about myself, within myself, and with that I discovered many things about others and the world. I learned I was never really alone. That God was always and will always be with me, and along the way, He’ll bless me with the gift of sharing His love with others.

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