"Your study abroad experience is whatever you make of it! If you want to write a research project to study the inequalities in Rio de Janeiro, there's a grant for that. If you want to use this time to develop your social media/video making skills, then invest in a GoPro and explore the vast graffiti, murals, art, palaces and beaches of Rio! If you want to learn Portuguese, then study hard, find housing with locals, and sign up for the Brazilian Government's Portuguese certification exam (Celpe-Bras) offered twice a year. It's all possible - the longer you stay the better this experience is!"
I come from a Spanish-Speaking family, so I was interested in learning a third language.
I think it would have to be learning about Favelas. They are known as the more poor parts, or "slums", of Rio. It was shocking to learn about their origins in my Brazilian history classes and from my friends who lived in them. In Brazil, Favelas are not funded or ran by the government and their stability (running water, electricity, etc) comes from the hard-working people who live there. I always heard about similar poverty-stricken areas through my classes at UC Berkeley and from my own mom who grew up as an orphan in Mexico City, but seeing it in person was a whole other thing. Now back at UC Berkeley after my year abroad, I enrolled in the Public Policy minor at the Goldman School of Public Policy. This experience has really motivated me to understand the huge privilege I have to be able to study at one of the best universities in the world and my responsibility to help create a more equitable future for my friends from these areas in Latin America.
My experience studying abroad has not been a typical "voyage to find myself" experience; it was filled with the hardships about the realities of racism I confronted as a dark-skinned man and homophobia as a gay man. And yet, I found community within the Afro-Latino and LGBTQ+ communities across Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. These hardships just made my experiences that much more memorable, my friendships with people abroad more powerful and my privilege to return to the U.S. more evident - all of which have motivated me to succeed at UC Berkeley in order to be able to make the world more equitable.
A typical day abroad consisted of waking up around 8am or 9am to start my 30 minuted bike to school along the beautiful bike road parallel to the beaches of Copacabana. Classes were around 3 or 4 hours and around 2:00pm I would grab a $2.50 Brazilian lunch of rice, beans, chicken, and farofa from the local "caixinhas" (markets). Afterward, I could usually be found on campus with the friends I made in the Drama Department, the Villas who are known for always hosting events or with one of my best-friends Raphael who worked as a cashier at PUC-Rio. Around 8:00pm I would go home by bike or bus with Raphael and meet up with my friends from my local "rua" (street) to skateboard, explore, or head off to the parties in downtown Rio!
My most memorable courses were definitely História Brasileira
and Política Externa Brasileira - which easily enough translate to Brazilian History and Brazilian Foreign Policy in English. As someone who wants to join the foreign service, I can't tell you just how imperative these courses have been to my education as an aspiring diplomat. I was able to network with students who similarly wanted to join Brazil's foreign service corps (or the "Itamaraty" as the Foreign Service is called in Brazil!). Without a doubt, taking my courses in Portuguese contributed to helping me pass the Brazilian Portuguese Language Certification Exam, offered by the Brazilian government twice a year.
Going to São Paulo LGBTQ+ Pride, the BIGGEST Pride in the world! I was so surprised I had made such strong friendships in Rio de Janeiro, that my Brazilian friends actually traveled with me to São Paulo! It was awesome!
I definitely learned you do not need money to have fun. As I return to the US, I'm a little surprised how people think we have to spend so much money to be happy. Some of my best memories in Brazil was just getting a football and playing on the beach, going over to downtown Rio to dance on the street with my amigos or just the hour long conversations I had with my friends while we sat on a curb. The awesome thing about Brazilians is that they always know how to have fun!
To each, their own! Your study abroad experience is whatever you make of it! If you want to write a research project to study the inequalities in Rio de Janeiro, there's a grant for that. If you want to use this time to develop your social media/video making skills, then invest in a GoPro and explore the vast graffiti, murals, art, palaces and beaches of Rio! If you want to learn Portuguese, then study hard, find housing with locals, and sign up for the Brazilian Government's Portuguese certification exam (Celpe-Bras) offered twice a year. It's all possible - the longer you stay the better this experience is!