Hello everyone. Before starting I would like to both thank and apologize Helena for inviting me and for taking so long to post here.
I always knew that the US would play a role in my life, one way or another. However, in 2017, when it came the time to think about Erasmus / exchange programs, a certain University caught my eye - UMBC, University of Maryland Baltimore County. I knew next to nothing about Baltimore and UMBC but still decided to take a chance, knowing I had to deal with my decisions later. This was about a year before actually moving to Baltimore - and I must say, never in my entire life did I look forward to something as I did to going there.
The whole process of preparing for it - filling in paperwork, getting my visa - was stressful as fuck, and I genuinely never believed I would make it until I actually did. I cried when I touched down in New York and the following days were as blissful as they were filled with tears from all the emotions I was feeling - my lifetime dream was coming true.
Following a few days in NYC I went to what would be my home for the following months - Baltimore City. The search for an apartment was hectic but I finally found a lovely studio in Downtown Baltimore. I spent the first few days roaming around the city and the suburbs to soak up the culture as much as I could - I know this may sound controversial since Baltimore is one of the most dangerous cities in the US, but it as dangerous as it is beautiful and enigmatic. People there range from extremely rude to extremely lovely - e.g. one man called me a slut for not giving him a coin, however, a lovely old lady told me "May God bless you" on a Sunday morning while walking down the street...you know, dualities.
Little did I know my next few months would be full of happy memories but also hardships. I spent most of my time in the university doing research to write my master thesis - I learned a lot in such a short period of time that I thought my brain would explode from the amount of information. My intention was to stay in America but I didn't know how. I had two options - getting a job / PhD scholarship or marrying a citizen (yeah right Catarina...easier said than done). I ended up taking the GRE exam and getting my PhD scholarship but ultimately rejected it due to being way too indecisive and well, young. Hence my definite return to Portugal. But this wasn't always the future I had imagined. I made sure to live my time there as if I was going to live in the city forever. Through a colleague of mine in the laboratory I ended up meeting a portuguese couple and some brazillian people which would be my go-to people when I was feeling down, because I knew that at least I would be able to fully express my feelings in my language. And along the way I made friends that I will carry in my heart forevermore. The concierge from my building, that guy from NYC that took very good care of me on our nights out, the environmental engineer that made me learn how to play Drinkin n Driving, and ultimately, the salesman from West Baltimore that was my rock throughout my last few months in Baltimore. People I will carry in heart forever.
But enough of my "oh-so-emotional" shit. The United States are as full of good things as they are of bad ones. I don't mean to criticise the US, but I can tell you that if you ever get sick there....it will not be pretty - I remember breaking a finger and having to wait until the next morning to go the "poor people's clinic" and even there, an x-ray and a splint cost me 400$. It's not pretty, I know.
Also, the justice system is extremely F-ed up. I remember this one time (in bandcamp....kidding guys - and props to you if you got the reference) I was going to the liquor store on a Friday afternoon and this police officer stopped me. Obviously I was terrified - not that I had done something wrong, but it was Baltimore, you never know -, and he started by asking if my hair was real, and if so, if I would like to sell it...apparently I would make good money out of it. I played it cool and said no while laughing. He then told me to be careful with Baltimore guys, because apparently they weren't the most trustworthy of the bunch (and I learned that the hard way), and proceeded to ask me out for dinner. I kindly refused the invitation and went on to buy my wine bottles went home the long way. This is just a quick example of how justice works in this country.
I know this post will go up during a time of uncertainty, and I chose not to take sides for the sake of Helena's blog and also to preserve my integrity, but I invite you all to look at America through a different lens. Yes, it is full of weird things, crappy justice and health care system, (very) long elections between two white old men, but it is not only that. It is, as cliché as it may sound, the land of dreams and I will always be an advocate for that. I understand it is now "cool" to hate America and all things related to it, but what I ask of all readers is to please educate yourself, go there if you have chance, and then take a stand.
On a closing note, and without trying to sound too patriotic regarding a country that is not mine, I will always cherish my time in Baltimore as one of the highlights of my life - Baltimore will always be the city that made me grown and turned me into a grown ass strong woman. And nothing else can get the credit for that.
Thanks for reading,