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SIT Study Abroad participant SIT Study Abroad participant

Brazil: Social Innovation and Community Development

Overall Rating

10/ 10

  • Academics

    9

  • Living Situation

    10

  • Cultural Immersion

    10

  • Program Administration

    9

  • Health and Safety

    10

  • Social Life

    10

Terrific Experience with SIT

My experience in Salvador was amazing. Salvador has a special place in my heart because of my experiences abroad. I learned a great deal about the country and culture of Brazil, and thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of it.

Overall Rating

9/ 10

  • Academics

    10

  • Living Situation

    9

  • Cultural Immersion

    8

  • Program Administration

    10

  • Health and Safety

    9

  • Social Life

    9

A Review of Fortaleza

Overall, my study abroad experience was the best thing that could have happened to me. The opportunity was definitely a learning experience.

One thing I learned is how people in Fortaleza perceived me. On occasion, I was mistaken for a prostitute or a maid. As an African American woman, I stood out, and was associated with negative connotations. Fortaleza was a bit difficult because I got many stares because I was Black and an American. I also got propositioned for sex a few times, people thought that since I was Black I must have been a prostitute. Fortaleza is a pretty white city. However, I did not let that affect my overall view of the country and my experience.

If you do decide to embark on this amazing experience, please be sure to bring all your toiletries with you, as well as some snacks. Brazil will not have the same brand of toiletries, and if they do it will be very expensive, simply because of the American brand. Brazilian food will take time to get used to, so I would suggest you bring a few of your favorite snacks.

Once you arrive in Brazil, you will stay in a convent that is across the street from the school where the majority of the classes are held for a week-long orientation. After the week is up, your host family comes to pick you up and take you to your new home. Some host families know how to speak English, most do not. Many families have had host children in the past, so they are pretty familiar with American cultural norms. As a "family member" you are expected to help around the house by washing your own dishes and keeping your room clean.

As for the academics you will have about five classes throughout the course of the program. Books are provided for you, you just have to pay for them (about $185). There is six weeks of Portuguese which you take five days per week for three hours day. Once you arrive to Brazil, you will be given an assessment to place you in a Portuguese class. There were three different Portuguese classes, and all of my classmates (15) were pretty much on the same level, many of us had come not knowing any Portuguese. There were daily workbook assignments, and weekly compositions and test/quizzes. It was difficult for me because I had not taken Portuguese before my arrival. There are no classes on the weekend and you can use that time to travel to different beaches nearby and explore Fortaleza more.

There are four other classes that you will take, in succession--once one class completes, the other starts. All classes last about six weeks. These classes are not the traditional American college classes. We took many field trips and had many lecturers. Also, you will not take classes with other Brazilian students. Your classmates will be the people who are studying abroad with you. It is such a great feeling to get to know your classmates and professors on a more personal level for four months. I am so grateful for that experience.

In the Research Methods and Ethics class, which was held every Wednesday afternoon, we had weekly assignments that were between two-three pages minimum. These assignments helped with narrowing down and refining different aspects of our ISP project. The final paper is our ISP Proposal that was an average of 20 pages. For this class there were many readings. In addition, it is best to start reading articles/books related to your ISP project to include in your weekly papers to show you are making progress with defining your ISP topic and the logistics.

I WOULD STRONGLY SUGGEST YOU DO YOUR ISP IN BAHIA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I did my ISP project in Salvador, Bahia and had the time of my life. Hands down best research I ever conducted.

I loved my homestay! I lived in an apartment one block behind the school, with my host mom who was 31 and her small poodle. I had my own room and bathroom. She was fluent in English which was detrimental to my Portuguese language development because we often communicated in English. But if you are given a host parent that speaks English, just ask them to speak Portuguese. She was also a professor who worked at night so after school, I would come home and she was usually on her way out to work. But we spent weekends together. She cooked my breakfast and dinner every day and on the weekend she would make me lunch also. There was also wifi at her house as well. Not all families have wifi.

As far as safety is concerned in Fortaleza, I did not feel unsafe, but always exercise common sense. Don't walk around late at night without a purpose, don't carry valuables on you, and if you want to carry large amounts of money split it up and put it in various parts of your body so if you get robbed you can give the robber some money instead of all.

I probably spent about $50-75 a month. You will also get a lunch stipend which is pretty generous considering food is very cheap in Brazil.

Fortaleza was nice, but a little boring. Once you visit all of the beaches there is not much left. There are a few clubs nearby, but I did not go to any of them. However, Salvador, Bahia was completely different and everyday I woke up with a purpose and with excitement.

Overall the program is amazing. If I could do it all over again, I would and I would not change one thing.

Academics:
There are five classes that you are required to take throughout the program. The classes each range for approximately 6 weeks and usually you will take 3 at a time. The classes are all geared towards helping you understand social justice issues in Brazil, as well as preparing for the Independent Study Project (the ISP is a period of four weeks where you conduct intensive research including interviews in Portuguese [if you're lucky you may find an English speaker] and literature reviews). There is 6 weeks of Intensive Portuguese. The Portuguese class in generally fun. It is Mon-Fri for 3hrs/day.

Then there is the Research Methods and Ethics class. This class is geared towards preparing for the Independent Study Project, by providing assignments and guidelines to jump start the literature review portion of the ISP and begin thinking of the logistics of you ISP and ironing out the kinks in your proposed topic of study.

The Social Justice and Public Policy course consists of speakers from various walks of life as well as excursions to understand social justice and sustainability issues in Brazil. This class is no traditional in that you sit and listen to a professor lecture and you write a term paper. This class is interactive and can be described as a class without borders--learning occurs in many different places.

The Race, Gender, & Sustainable Development class begins with the excursion to Salvador, Bahia--this class is byfar the best one of the program. It is structured similarly to the Social Justice and Public Policy class.

Finally, the ISP is a period of four weeks where you will conduct interviews to supplement your literature reviews. If you complete your work in the Research Methods & Ethics class, your literature review should be mostly complete before you begin interviewing. This period is very stressful because you are not under the guidance of the program directors, there is usually no one to translate for you, and usually things do not go as planned--but it is such a great learning and growing experience.

All the classes, except for the Research Methods & Ethics, are light on required reading; however, the content you will learn in the class will surely jump start your curiosity and you may find yourself beginning to research many things on your own.

Grading depends on your participation in the class discussions and if/when you turn in assignments. There are usually two weekly assignments that are a minimum of 3 pages each. At the conclusion of the program, you are given the chance to self evaluate, which helps the professors with their final grade considerations.

Living Situation:
My living situation was amazing! I lived one block away from the school where most of the classes are held. I lived in an apartment with my host mother and her miniature poodle. I had my own room and restroom.

My mother would cook breakfast and dinner for me everyday. We would often chat during breakfast. My mother tried to incorporate as many different Brazilian foods into my diet, until we figured out what I did and did not like. My mother was a professor who taught at night so usually when I was coming in from school she was heading out to work. My host mother was less than 10 years older than me, so we often went out to social events together. I did not have a curfew, and she often encouraged me to go make new friends.

Unfortunately, there was no washer and dryer, so I ended up having to hand wash all my clothes. There were laundry mats nearby, not like the ones in America where you put in a few quarters and detergent, the laundry mats in Brazil are you just give someone you clothes and they will hand wash them for you.

There was a maid who came once a week to clean and cook Sunday dinner. One day she stole my iPod. Do not leave valuables out when the maid comes.

My only issue was that since my host mom worked at night, I usually did not have anyone to practice Portuguese with.

Cultural Immersion:
The cultural immersion in the program was phenomenal! There were many excursions and occasions to meet different people. There is a nearby social gathering park where concerts are thrown and a few clubs are present. In addition, Fortaleza is near the beach so there is a busy nightlife nearby.

Program Administration:
The program administration is the greatest of all time!!! You will never meet a set of individuals who want you to succeed, see potential in your interests, and are as knowledgeable as the program administrators on this program. The program administration is very small, so you will get to know them very well throughout the course of the program. They are very friendly and accessible and welcome any and all inquiries, whether it is about school or Brazilian culture.

Health and Safety:
Exercise common sense. Do not do anything in Fortaleza or Salvador that you would not do at home. Do not carry around valuable materials such as your iPhone, money, passport, jewelry, etc. People can tell that you are a foreigner and may target you for petty robberies. But do not let this prospect stop you from having fun.

Social Life:
The social life in Fortaleza consists of going to various beaches and going to samba clubs. Both are very fun. My host mom took me to many beaches in Fortaleza and introduced me to different clubs to go to.

The social life in Salvador is much more fun, as there are more things to do.

Overall Rating

9/ 10

  • Academics

    6

  • Living Situation

    10

  • Cultural Immersion

    6

  • Program Administration

    10

  • Health and Safety

    6

  • Social Life

    5

Learned so much!

My host family was incredible. I adore them. That said, I think it's fair to note that a number of other students had issues with their host families.

In some cases my perspective is that the students were at fault more than the parents. For example, some parents complained to the program because the students were not home enough and went out too frequently. I also think the parents talked to the program too soon.

Be aware that the program has a staff member whose role is essentially to call your host family and see if they have complaints about you. She advocates for them, not you. I recommend you invest in your host family and learn as much Portuguese as possible so they prefer to come to you if they have an issue rather than tell the program.

At the same time, some students faced genuinely problematic situations in their host families. Several host families did not feed the students, and the students had to eat leftovers or pay extra to eat out at times and/or buy groceries for themselves. Most students lived within a 10 minute taxi ride of each other, and those who did not were isolated and had to pay significantly greater taxi fares to reach the entertainment districts. Students who lived more than a block or three from the beach could not walk alone after dark due to security issues, which left them feeling cooped up.

It seemed to me that the students who knew Portuguese beforehand had few issues with their host families. On the other hand, some of the students who made the least effort to learn Portuguese had relatively uncomfortable stays. Again, my host family experience was phenomenal. I could not have asked for a better situation.

Food:

My host family was great with food. I told them I like salad, so we (meaning me) ate salad at every meal! Brazilian food is good, especially at the self-service buffet restaurants. However, I still really missed non-Brazilian (American, Chinese, Indian, Thai, BBQ, Mexican) food by the end of the program because they are not available in Fortaleza.

Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

I love Brazil but I found interacting with locals difficult. We do not interact with local students and your options at making Brazilian friends your age is to 1. have a host sibling or family friend your age or 2. meet someone at a club (which as you know can get dicey). On the positive side, most students lived reasonably close to entertainment and the beach and were able to get out and see demonstrations and events there. We also visited and spent time with a series of NGO's, which was a spectacular aspect of the program. Still, I wish we had Brazilian buddies. I was extremely lonely in Brazil in spite of my wonderful host family and relatively strong Portuguese. I couldn't find a website or location to go to casually meet people. Club or bust.

Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

My physical health was good. The weather (sunny, warm, breezy) certainly helped. Bring diarrhea pills. Mental health facilities are EXPENSIVE and scarce. They do not accept insurance. Expect to pay up to $200 per session. Since mental health professionals charge more per hour than people in the favelas make in a year, you won't have to wait too long for an appointment-few locals can afford the rates.

Health and Safety:

Brazil is unsafe. Expect that going in. SIT does a great job of warning us of safety concerns during orientation. They bring in three expats and have them discuss their security challenges.

As with the host families, student experience with safety differed depending on their level of proficiency in Portuguese. Most of the students who were targeted were speaking English in public with other Americans after dark. Keep everything locked away at the SIT offices except your bus pass, cell phone, and a small amount of cash. Our program had a 2:1 breakdown in favor of girls. None of the boys got targeted; to my knowledge, between a third and half of the girls were. Hello, sexism.

Tips: Hide important and expensive stuff (all electronics, because of Brazil's import tariffs) in your underpants. Put things in a plastic grocery bag. Go out with your host family. Even though your Portuguese may be rusty, do not speak English in public! It attracts attention. Try to appear disinterested but aware of your surroundings. Buy and wear local Brazilian textiles. They're cheap, comfy, and attract far less attention than colorful and expensive foreign clothes.

Money:

How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

I was fortunate to live within walking distance of the school and a two minute taxi ride from the clubs. That kept my costs at a fraction of those who lived farther away. I was very conservative with my money and rarely went out. I ate lunch at the chain supermarket to keep my costs down. Even so, I went over budget. Salvador is twice as expensive as Fortaleza, so plan accordingly for your week-long stay there.

Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants?

Eat at the local supermarket. Ask Oelito about the lunch special at a nearby restaurant. Stay with your host family for the duration of your ISP. Split cabs with students living nearby.

Academics:
Readings were superfluous. Section of the program working with NGO's was phenomenal. Highly recommended. The independent project was rewarding but an intimidating amount of work.

Living Situation:
Fantastic. I love my host family!!

Cultural Immersion:
Great with my host family. I wish I could have had more time with them. The program itself exposes us to cultural groups and NGO's but I wish our classes re-oriented towards interaction with Brazilians our age across Fortaleza.

Program Administration:
Everyone is ready to stop, drop, and roll for students. They are smart, friendly, and incredibly hard working. If you are nice to them, they will be nice to you.

Health and Safety:
Brazil is unsafe. See my comments above. At the same time SIT goes over precautions and tips to lower the risk to students.

Social Life:
Fortaleza has a great scene but getting there can be expensive if you live more than 10 minutes away by taxi. The program keeps us extremely busy so we don't have a lot of time to explore or meet locals. Meeting locals, by the way, is hard unless they approach you at a club.

Overall Rating

8/ 10

  • Academics

    7

  • Living Situation

    10

  • Cultural Immersion

    10

  • Program Administration

    5

  • Health and Safety

    N/A

  • Social Life

    N/A

Had potential, but program administration...

Had potential, but program administration was lacking. I would not recommend it.

Overall Rating

6/ 10

  • Academics

    3

  • Living Situation

    9

  • Cultural Immersion

    9

  • Program Administration

    6

  • Health and Safety

    N/A

  • Social Life

    N/A

Brazil, culture, development & justice

My program was disorganized and logistically challenging, but overall an amazing immersion experience. I loved the homestay and independent study portion of the program. My language skills improved drastically and I got to know other SIT students and local Brazilian students. The program field trips and community work / projects were also great. I had an amazing time and would highly recommend it.

Overall Rating

5/ 10

  • Academics

    3

  • Living Situation

    7

  • Cultural Immersion

    8

  • Program Administration

    2

  • Health and Safety

    7

  • Social Life

    7

Good intentions, poorly run

Fortaleza is a great city full of wonderful people, fascinating contradictions, and a little bit for everyone. The program, however, despite being in existence for over 20 years, runs like it started yesterday. The academic director is distant and disconnected from the students, we spend hours and hours in lectures which repeat themselves, and he constantly changes the schedule at the last minute. We are expected and even encouraged to hang out with one another instead of meeting Brazilians and venturing out into the city. All of the Portuguese I have learned, the friends and memories I have made, and the greatness I have experienced here has all been outside of the program.