My main drive for studying abroad was to gain substantial experience in a foreign culture for a year, especially to study in a country where I didn't speak the language and would find myself forced to learn. Having been abroad previously for shorter periods of time and without a foreign language component left me wanting an experience that would be fulfilling in a different way. I always knew how diverse the world was and thought of myself as easily adaptable to new environments, but I sought to challenge myself to see if I could fully adapt to Florianópolis, Brazil by spending a year there learning the language.
My time in Brazil ended up surpassing my expectations greatly, as I never imagined myself falling so in love with the island of Florianópolis, or Floripa as it is affectionately called. I surprised myself with my dedication and ability to pick up Portuguese, and ended up falling in love with the language and culture of Brazil as well. Despite originally having doubts about an entire year abroad, I ended up finding in myself an ability to adapt that far surpassed what I even expected of myself, and was thrilled that I challenged myself to grow this way.
Why did you choose to study abroad through USAC?
The program itself, through the hard work of a great staff, does a lot to immerse the students in the culture. I was able to take courses in Brazilian anthropology and culture, Capoeira, surf, and Portuguese language that gave me great insight into diverse aspects of Brazilian culture. There was also a wide variety of courses that catered to diverse interests, from economics and political science courses to environmental studies and biology.
The program also coordinated an optional trip to Curitiba and Foz do Iguaçu and several day trips and hikes around the island, that served to show foreign students the beauty of Brazil while providing a chance for interacting with Brazilians to practice the language. And on that note, the housing arrangements were also a great way to interact with locals if you feel comfortable doing so. For me, the opportunity to interact with native Brazilians was a huge priority, as I hadn't gotten many experiences like that in my previous opportunities abroad. I found myself renting a room out from an incredibly friendly young couple, who always made me feel at home and provided me with a constant opportunity to practice Portuguese.
What was your favorite part about Brazil?
One of the best things Brazil has to offer is it's people, Brazilians themselves. Throughout my time in Brazil I was able to meet some of the friendliest people I have ever met in my travels. Brazilians are generally very warm, kind, and happy to welcome foreigners to their country. I constantly found people excited to learn that I was a foreigner learning Portuguese and they were often keen to talk to me to about my experiences in their country or city, offering their suggestions for trips and activities. The friendships I created throughout my time in Brazil were extremely meaningful to my experience there. I met people that I will certainly never forget, and who provided me with many amazing opportunities for interactions in the language I was trying to perfect.
What made your year studying abroad in Brazil unique?
My experience abroad gave me the unique opportunity to learn Portuguese from daily life, helping me pick up the language at a much faster rate than I would have simply through a textbook back home. By allowing myself to be open to all kinds of different interactions in Portuguese, I was able to learn the language both in a formal classroom setting as well as the more informal day-to-day usage used by native speakers. This experience is one I would have never received at home, as it is difficult to understand idioms and figures of speech when outside the context in which they are used.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
Local staff was extremely supportive throughout my time in Brazil. Through planned events for interactions with local students, excursions around the island to experience its natural beauty, and optional tours to interesting places around Brazil, the program created plenty of opportunities for us to get the most of our time in Floripa. Apart from this, the staff made sure to check in consistently with students to make sure they were on their way to reach their academic, personal, and language goals, and did everything they could to help the students along the way. From recommending activities to do on their free time to providing opportunities for language practice with those who were interested to showing Brazilian films, the program’s infrastructure was set up in a way that allowed the students to excel and make the most of their time in whatever interested them about Brazilian culture.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
If I could do anything over, I would certainly take more advantage of my time in Brazil. There were certainly rainy days where beaches and hikes weren't options and I chose to stay in. Though I usually tried to find something to do to take advantage of my limited time in Floripa, I sometimes found myself staying home simply for the comfort of not going out in the rain, instead of exploring new neighborhoods around the island.
I also could have better taken advantage of my time in meeting Brazilians. Though I established countless great relationships during my year, I realize now that I could have been much more productive in pursuing local friendships from the moment I arrived instead of waiting till I felt more established and comfortable with the language.
Describe a typical day in your life in Brazil.
A typical day in my life while I was in Brazil consisted of Portuguese language classes as well as other classes pertaining to my interests. I would usually buy lunch either at the University Restaurant (RU) which costs the equivalent of $0.45, or at the Wednesday market on campus that featured fresh and locally sourced food, with plenty of vegan and vegetarian options.
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
Often on days that I had no class in the afternoon, I would then take advantage of my free time to go explore a new beach or neighborhood around the island. There is so much to do in Floripa that it was often hard to decide where to go. With about 42 named beaches on the island and countless hikes to get to even more secluded ones, going to the beach and hiking were certainly among my favorite activities for my free time. There is nothing quite like the refreshing water straight out of a coconut on the beach, especially after a hike on a particularly hot day. I also had plenty of opportunities to engage in adventure sports in Floripa, activities like surfing, sandboarding, and skydiving, which I had never done before.
However, Floripa surprised me by being much more than an island paradise. There were also plenty of malls with great stores for entertainment on the rainy day, a bustling city center with vendors selling anything you could possibly want (including fruits exclusive to Brazil), and cultural events like art expositions and film screenings. All in all there was no shortage of interesting things to do during my free time in Florianópolis, making it that much harder to depart when the time came.
Tell us more about your accommodation. What did you like best about it?
The best part of my accommodation was the family-like connection I made with my hosts. I lived with a young couple in their late 20s who rented out a room in their house to me and spoke to me only in Portuguese. From my first day there they were extremely friendly and eager to make sure I felt comfortable in their home. They often included me in their plans to go out for dinner or to visit friends for a weekend trip away from Floripa, and there were many times when they treated me to try things they thought I should experience while living in Brazil. I ended up having a very close relationship with my hosts, with them even taking care of me when I fell sick and taking me to the hospital late at night for medicine. They were one of the best parts of my experience in Brazil and are a connection I will always remember fondly.
What is one thing every student should know before participating in your program?
My number one recommendation for those participating in this program would be to be proactive in seeking out and maintaining meaningful relationships while in Brazil. The community at the host university (UFSC) is full of interesting and friendly people interested in helping out foreign students, and the island of Floripa is a popular destination for travelers around South America, with plenty of opportunities to meet people from all over the world in neighborhoods like Lagoa. However, as students we often get comfortable in our routines and hanging out with the same people (particularly in a country where you don't dominate the language), so I would strongly encourage getting out there and interacting with as many people as possible since your time abroad is limited.
Now that you're home, how has studying abroad in Brazil impacted your life?
My time abroad has given me new found confidence in my own ability to adapt to life in a new place. I now know with certainty that I can adapt to a culture, learn its language, and eventually feel comfortable interacting entirely in that language.
I feel more prepared than ever for a globally focussed career because I am certain that my skills in intercultural communication and my understanding of other cultures has increased exponentially thanks to my time in Brazil.
My time abroad also gave me a new skill in the language of Portuguese, which I hope to maintain in order to have even more growth potential in my career.
Would you recommend your USAC’s program in Brazil to others? Why?
I cannot stress enough how much I appreciate the amazing experience I had living and studying in Floripa for a year. I never expected to fall in love with the island as much as I did, and can't wait to return to visit the many friends I made there. I wholeheartedly recommend this program to anyone looking to study abroad in an awesome island full of beautiful hikes, friendly people, and amazing beaches. I had the best time of my life during the year I spent in Brazil and am so grateful for the opportunity.
Cecilio is a recent graduate of Florida State University, where he studied international affairs and political science. Having moved to richly diverse Miami, Florida, at a very young age, he developed a passion for travel and learning about other cultures. Cecilio studied abroad in London for a semester, Istanbul in Turkey for a summer, and Florianópolis in Brazil for a year, and he hopes to continue traveling throughout his life.