6 Facts About Brazil You’ll Wish You Knew Before Studying Abroad

by Kerianne Baylor

There is no right way to study abroad, but there sure are some key things you should take into consideration before crossing oceans and borders to do so. Take Brazil, for example. Samba, soccer, and Carnival come to mind, right?

But, before you study in Brazil, put on a pump-up playlist, channel your cultural concentration, and hit Google hard, so you can learn all the important facts about Brazil related to study abroad. Your program provider (and your future self) will thank you in the most sincere (think handwritten, heartwarming letters) way possible. The “how to study in Brazil” nut is a tough one to crack until you’ve lived and learned in this South American country, so it’s wise you get a research paper sized head start. In typical Brazil fashion: Bora! (Let’s go!)

Lençóis Maranhenses National Park in the northern state of Maranhão
Brazil is so much more than Rio and São Paulo. 

Brazil is enorme (enormous).

Shall we start with size? Brazil is HUGE. Zooming in on just area, Brazil is comparable to the continental United States. That’s massive, or massa, meaning “cool” in Brazilian Portuguese. From Rio, Brazil’s more-than-marvelous city, to Brasília, Oscar Niemeyer’s airplane-shaped, utopian-esque capital, to São Paulo, the metropolis with literally no end in sight, Brazil’s got what you want and more.

And, it is so much more than its big cities. Even within these cosmopolitan giants, there’s more than meets the typical tourist eye. Approach Rio, for example, from an unconventional perspective and you’ll be feeling saudades faster than you can down a Gabriela shot (cachaça, Brazil’s national liquor, flavored with cloves and cinnamon).

An enorme country means enormous differences in geography, weather, and climate. Think all of Brazil enjoys year-round, oppressively hot summers? Think again. Climate variations is one of the most important facts about Brazil you should know before choosing a study abroad program. If you head south toward Uruguay during your winter in Brazil, be sure to bring a jacket because it is Brrr-azil cold. Venture north and you’ll have that never-seen-before-in-real-life shade of blue in the endless summer of Maceió, sand dunes meet ocean vistas in Jericoacoara near Fortaleza, and the unbelievable Encontro das Aguas (Meeting of Waters), where the Negro River converges with the Solimões River to form the Amazon River in Manaus. All things said and done, summer in Brazil is definitely out of this world.

Samba & Soccer Stereotypes

Brazilians are known for their jeito: the sing-song rhythm of their Portuguese, their warm, full-of-carinho heart, and their tudo joia happiness. Moving past the samba and soccer stereotypes is crucial to learning the real facts about Brazil, because not every Brazilian knows how to dance or is a die-hard soccer fan.

Like any country, Brazilian culture goes deep, and your studies in Brazil will afford you a chance to swim deep into those waters. Granted, futebol pride is unreal and samba rhythms are ever-present, especially in blocos during Mardi Gras. But, head north for Carnival and you'll experience the bouncy and beautiful frevo in Pernambuco’s old city Olinda; the famous foam-and-flour throwing in Neopolis, Sergipe; or square dance to partner steps of forró throughout the Northeast’s crazy-as-Carnival Festas Juninas (June Festivals).

Jump start your inevitable obsession with Brazilian soccer and music culture before you study in Brazil and tudo vai dar certo (everything will work out). Make Gaetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil part of your musical repertoire, venture into Brazilian reggae and funk, and familiarize yourself with popular athletic rivalries (Flamengo or CR Vasco de Gama?).

Amazon Theatre in Manaus
It’s not always all about soccer and samba for your studies in Brazil.

Monumental Multiculturalism

Brazil brings a whole new meaning to mixed race; the result of indigenous and Afro-Brazilian populations and European colonizers means that Brazilians look like everyone.

Being such a racially diverse country comes with social divide and drastic socio-economic differences. Millions of slaves were brought to Brazil from Africa, influencing every aspect of Brazilian culture. Quilombos, communities constructed by escaped slaves, like that of Palmares, have challenged the racially divided system. Add in European immigrants from Germany and Italy alongside the largest Japanese diaspora, and studying in Brazil challenges the inevitable “What does a Brazilian look like?” question in the most beautiful way.

At universities in Brazil, you’ll find yourself raising German steins at Oktoberfest in Blumenau down south in Santa Catarina, discovering the reality of indigenous river communities and the-equally-as-enticing larger cities like Manaus in Amazonas, and dancing quadrilhas to celebrate the harvest and coming of winter in Brazil in Campina Grande.

Wherever you decide to study in Brazil, be ready to confront multiculturalism head on.

Caipis, churrasco, and much, much more.

You can’t forget to eat while studying in Brazil. From tapioca in the Northeast to açaí in the Amazon (well, the pure açaí), Brazilian food has some mighty fine options that are more varied than their internationally-recognized dishes (looking at you, feijoada).

With many regions come many regional dishes, which is a beautiful, beautiful fact about Brazil. Get your all-things-made-with-corn fix during Festa Junina (June Festivals) including pamonha and canjica. Get your farofa (buttery manioc flour) fix alongside every single dish with meat. And get your all-you-can-eat fix absolutely everywhere, well, everywhere you see self-service or rodízio. There’s even ice cream self-service buffets, seriously; you serve yourself all of the ice cream you can eat (*mic drop*).

Studying in Brazil is the perfect chance to try authentic local cuisine. From pão de queijo in Minas Gerais to acarajé in Bahia, the thousands of Amazon-caught fish species like pirarucu in Amazonas to traditional churrasco in Rio Grande do Sul, and the Japanese and Italian dishes in São Paulo, your mouth will be watering whenever it doesn’t have to falar português.

Japanese food in Liberdade neighborhood of São Paulo
Look Japanese? It is! Studying abroad in Brazil is truly a multicultural experience; so, get ready!

Brazilians Speak Portuguese

Not Spanish, silly! (*facepalm*) Like it, love it, accept it, and don’t mix them up! Spanish and Portuguese are very different. Spanish-speakers and Portuguese-speakers will support (and argue) with this statement. Like learning any language, you ability to learn Portuguese in Brazil all depends on you and it’s all relative to the what, where, and how of your studies in Brazil. Just know that making the miniscule, yet massive, mistake of confusing Portuguese with Spanish-speaking Latin America will surely give you vergonha (shame). Portuguese is more than just the language, it is intertwined with Brazil’s identity.

Within Brazil, too, are strikingly different sotaques (accents). Learning Brazilian Portuguese means confronting the fact that even saying the word Brasil sounds like bra-zeeoo, because the letter ‘l’ sounds like ‘oo.’ It also means coming face-to-face with regional pronunciations not limited to the ‘shhhh’ of the Carioca (Rio-born Brazilians) accent to the stronger ‘r’ sound of Paulistas (São Paulo-born Brazilians) while studying in Brazil.

Remember: just because there are English speaking universities in Brazil and it is possible to study in Brazil in English, doesn’t mean you should.

It can be affordable.

Especially if you snag one of many scholarships available for international students who plan to study in Brazil, the price tag of your program shouldn’t make your eyes widen too (too) much. Beyond the flights and the inevitable *must do* excursions (Iguacu River Falls, anyone?), you won’t need to fork out too much dough to stay happy and satisfied while in the major cities or beyond. The top universities in Brazil in terms of affordability include Universidade de Brasília, Universidade Estadual de Campinas, and Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (UFMG).

Find scholarships for studying in Brazil and start fundraising for your trip to really wow Mom and Dad with your financial prowess!

It’s all up to YOU.

Now that you know all the most important facts about Brazil, the first step to studying in Brazil is opening up your mind to all of the ways you can connect with Brazilian culture. The next (logical) step is deciding where in this magnificent, fascinating, and insanely diverse South American country you’d like to venture to. Next, it’s best to compare your study abroad program options in Brazil by using the myGoAbroad tool! Research all your opportunities to study at universities in Brazil, and then book a flight to get your bunda to Brazil!