I thought you might be interested in knowing about my experience so far in São Paulo, Brazil. On January 4, about 60 other students from U.S. universities and I arrived in Brazil to begin a semester of study. This semester, organized by CIEE (Council on International Educational Exchange), began with a month-long intensive language and culture period, which included Portuguese language and Brazilian culture classes and various cultural activities to introduce us to Brazil. During the week of February 4-8, we had no classes as the Brazilians celebrated Carneval and some, but not all, had vacation days. After these five weeks, 37 of the students headed to Salvador, Bahia, in northeastern Brazil, where they will spend the rest of the semester.

Before I describe some of the other aspects of the experience, I’d like to talk about my host family. My hosts include a mother in her late thirties, Virginia, and her 18-year-old son, Frederico. My host mom is separated, but I am not sure if she and her (former?) husband are divorced. She and Frede have an interesting relationship that sometimes seems to match what it actually is, that between a mother and her teenage son, and at other times seems more like a brother-sister relationship. What I mean by this is that, for example, at times she will call him to do something and he won’t respond. However, at other times, such as when they are watching a program on television at night, they will share a laugh, and just to be funny, he might give her a playful shove, initiating a friendly pillow fight between the two. The two of them have been very helpful to me: my host mother helped me with directions to a couple meeting places in the city for activities we had at the beginning of the semester, and if there is a problem with my computer, Frede is the guy from whom to ask help. These are only a couple of examples, and I could name more; of course, by providing a home (and my host mom washing my clothes each week and providing breakfast and dinner each day), they are doing more than I could ask.

The cultural activities we have had have included visits to a samba school (in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, samba schools compete in a parade each year during Carnaval); to the historical center of São Paulo; to a few museums (an Afro-Brazilian museum; Pinacoteca, a Brazilian art museum; and a Portuguese language museum); and to Parati, a town in Rio de Janeiro. At the samba school of Mocidade Alegre, we got to witness (and participate in) the enthusiasm of paulistanos as they danced the samba and sang the same song about 20 straight times. A couple of the themes that have come up in regard to Brazilian culture have been the question of race (in Brazil, there is great racial diversity and, while some would say racial harmony exists, discrimination, even if not widely discussed, influences the jobs people have, not to mention how each individual thinks and how people of different races treat each other) and that of tradition vs. progress. Another aspect of the culture, exemplified somewhat by Carnaval, is that of the combination (syncretism) between the Catholic and African religions and cultures in general. On one hand, people have an outwardly passionate way of expressing themselves, which I think comes from their African influence (think of the samba dance in Carnaval), but there is also the humility and, at times, seriousness that comes from their Catholic roots (Carnaval comes right before Lent). By the way, I did not attend the São Paulo parade (I waited too long to buy tickets), but I did visit a small town in São Paulo with some other students to see their Carnaval festivities.

Two cultural differences that I see in Brazil are that Brazilians are more affectionate and that the concept of time is much more loose. It is the custom between two females and between a female and male to kiss on the cheek when they see each other. As this is a custom, one may ask whether it is truly a sign of more affection or just a formality. I think it is true that to some extent it is simply a formality, but also I think that it reflects more affection. Also, just by carrying out this custom, I think Brazilians promote more affection in their society. As for the concept of time, when an activity is to start at 2:00, for example, it probably won’t start, or shows signs of starting, until about 2:15. I think that the American values of punctuality and structure in schedules can be good, but I also think that sometimes they result in drawing the focus away from the purpose of the activity and instead onto the schedule. The Brazilian laxness in regard to time can frustrate me at times, but I think it also reflects a greater appreciation for the present moment because often the reason that Brazilians begin or arrive at a scheduled activity late is that they are thoroughly enjoying what they are doing so that starting such an activity on the dot is not that important.

As for the language experience, as all of you know, I am not a very talkative person, so imagine what I am like when I don’t know how to speak the language! At the same time, even though I don’t speak that much, I do want to learn so have communicated with my family (usually my host mom) to practice. The people of São Paulo (to speak generally) are friendly, but there is the hustle and bustle of getting things done that I guess goes along with living in a city, so they may not always appear to care about the presence of people they don’t know (whether Brazilian or foreign). Also, even though São Paulo feels full of life, poverty makes life very difficult for many people, so the experience of people who have to do the same thing day in and day out is probably different from that of a visitor.

In the beginning of this adventure, I asked myself many questions that challenged my choice of studying abroad such as: Is it really possible to learn a foreign language in six months?, Will I be able to live in a city almost as large as New York City?, Can I be away from home for six months?, and this questions go on forever. All of these questions were answered by the end of my trip. I did learn a foreign language in six months, I survived the city life and learned to enjoy its advantages while overlooking the negative factors. Brazil was my home for six months and I wish I could have stayed longer but because of the visa restrictions I had to return soon after my classes ended.

I loved my abroad experience. I met amazing and inspiring people whole showed by the diverse culture of Brazil. My expectations of the study abroad program were surpassed and it offered a variety of opportunities that challenged my previous views of Brazil. This country has more similarities with the U.S. than I had predicted and the similarities and differences are commonly discussed in the Brazilian’s universities classrooms. During this experience I was constantly challenged to defend and/or justify my country actions and reputations. The energy from these conversations has shifted my lifetime goals of preserving the character of the United States of America and improving International Relations around the world.

During these past 5 months, I made some adventures to Sao Roque, Campos do Jordao, Foz do Iguacu, and Salvador. Each of these places were amazing in there own way.

In Sao Roque, I went to Ski Mountian and there I went horseback riding, paintballing and skiing.  Yes I know whoever thought skiing in Brazil was possible but it is.  After arriving in the city by bus you could see the park located on the top of the mountain and the view from the top of the mountain was even more beautiful as it over-looked the entire city.  The best part of the entire experience was skiing on plastic.  It was different than skiing on snow because sometimes the skis would become caught in the plastic pieces. Fortunately I only fell once.  I certainly stuck out on the slopes as I was one of the only ones who knew how to ski.  Many visitors were Brazilian and the sport of skiing is pretty rare to many of them.

My next adventure was to Campos do Jordao a beautiful European town located in the mountains of the interior of Brazil.  Here people love to drink hot chocolate and eat fondu because it is rather cold here.  I had the opportunity to view the city from many different mountain tops and the water falls here are beautiful as well.  This is a great place to go when trying to escape the city life style.

For the next holiday break, I decided to travel to Foz do Iguacu located on the border of Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina.  I stayed on the Argentinean side where every night I hate delicious Argentinean steak and drank Argentinean wine.  The first day I took a boat trip around the waterfalls and got soaken wet.  The walk to the boat took awhile but the experience was worth it.  The second day I ventured to Paraguay where there was long rows of cheap fake products.  Many Brazilians and Argentineans travel to this country to buy there cheap electronics.  Outside the stores there is much poverty.  I ate lunch for about $1.50 and that included 1 coke and 3 empanadas.  I was very thankful I did not but anything while in Paraguay or else I would have needed to wait in terrible long lines to pass through customs. On the third day, I had spent all day at the Itaipu Dam.  This dam is shared by Brazil and Paraguay is one of the largest damns in the world. This whole trip was worthwhile and I could not pick a moment that was better than the rest.

My finally excursion while in Brazil was to Salvador.  Since I took this trip during the winter time it was great to escape the cold weather in Sao Paulo and return to the warm weather.  Although the weather was warm, I could not escape the rain. Everyday it rained and I only had the chance to spend two days on the beaches.  I also had a caught a cold while on vacation here, probably because of the change in weather.

All these experiences demonstrated how diverse Brazil is and its surrounding countries.  I am very proud and fortunate to have these experiences because during my time in Brazil the U.S. economy has been very poor and the exchange rate has held many of my friends from traveling.

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