Angelyce Purnell - 2015 Program Participant

International volunteers having dinner in Rio de Janiero, Brazil

Family dinner in Rio

What inspired you to volunteer abroad?

I've always had an interest in languages and other cultures. I was already studying Portuguese when I applied for the program, and I really wanted to go abroad to immerse myself in Brazilian culture. Before working with IVHQ I had never been out of the country by myself and I had never been away from my family for three weeks. I saw an international program as a great tool for linguistic practice and self-growth.

Why did you choose an English teaching program specifically?

I decided to participate in the English teaching program because I felt like it would be the perfect opportunity to help ESL students practice their language skills and it would help me learn Portuguese. I understand how frustrating it can be to learn a completely different language and since I've been through (and am still going through) that process I thought I could offer the students insight on language learning.

What was your favorite part about the location of your placement?

My favorite part about the location was Rocinha. The favela is so intricately designed, it's always buzzing with activity, and the narrow streets and alleys make the place seem like a labyrinth. The view from the surf school of the favela was breaking taking day or night, rain or shine; it's the kind of view that stays with you forever.

Tourists on a beach at sunset in Brazil

Beach with Rocinha friends

What made your teaching placement unique?

Rocinha Surf School is unique because from the second you walk in the door to the second you walk out, you feel at home. The program director, Bocão, was kind enough to take the other volunteers and I on a tour of the sports area and of the favela on our first day. He took time to stop and explain interesting facts and current events. I got the opportunity to speak with a large, but kind gentleman practicing on a punching bag. He let us all practice our boxing skills and spoke wonderful English that he learned from watching movies with subtitles.

The surf school has such a relaxing atmosphere. People of all ages wander through the doors. I met a girl who I taught English while she simultaneously taught me Portuguese. I learned hand games and played Twister. I explained the meaning behind everything from phrasal verbs to Philadelphian slang to the older students. Everyday was a joy and I haven't even mentioned that, of course, they had me out on the ocean trying to surf.

How did the local staff support you throughout your program?

Zach and Vivi are both kind people that understand the ins and outs of the area. I'd describe them as that close friend you'd call if anything were to go wrong. They're laid back and really give the volunteers their independence. They understand that we're in Rio and they encourage us to have a great time, but they warn us of dangers and keep us on track should anyone stray. They really helped balance out this whole experience for me.

Volunteer after a hike in Brazil

A nice little break after a long hike

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

Besides staying for a much longer period of time, I would have taken more time to rest. I was so excited to be in Brazil that I didn't want to miss a second of anything. There were days when I was completely exhausted after being at Rocinha all day, but after the 20 minute walk home I got dressed and headed out the door with friends. There was a day I had to just stay in the house because my foot hurt terribly, but even that day was wonderful because everyone was out doing their own thing, so I blasted Celia Cruz and Seu Jorge music and took a nice, long nap.

Describe a day in your life as a volunteer in Brazil.

I would wake up at about 7:30 a.m., with just enough time to run downstairs and grab some toast and juice and maybe some eggs before heading off to LingOa to study Portuguese. After class I would explore the shops and streets of Gloria before catching the convi back home. I got back home around 12:30 p.m. and headed off to Rocinha with Sarah and Lauren. The bus ride there took about an hour and a half so we usually got there around 1:45 p.m. or 2 p.m.

We taught English for about two hours, and then Bocão would have some crazy, amazing sport for us to try. Whether it be surfing, slacklining, or skateboarding, he always had some fun activity planned for the people at the school and he always made sure we participated.

Around 7 p.m. we'd take the bus back home. Traffic would make the ride an hour longer and we wouldn't get back until 8:30 p.m. or even 10 p.m. sometimes. Once home, I called the pizza place (they knew me by name after three days straight of ordering for myself and other people in the house). Everyone gathered downstairs at 10:30 p.m. to head out to Pedra do Sal for a night of dancing and fun. We'd get back anywhere from 3 a.m. to 5 a.m. in the morning, and after a short rest the cycle would start again.

What was your favorite place to go in your free time?

Without a doubt the beach. I've never seen the water so clear and the sky so blue. I'd spend hours walking on the sand, just feeling the heat of the sun. Memories of my childhood vacations to Ocean City, Maryland came rushing back to me as I jumped into the waves of Rio. In the distance, water locked mountains and islands seemed to rest on a never-ending horizon created by the sea. In those moments, my smile has never been more genuine, my heart has never been more at peace.

Tell us more about your housing arrangements. What did you like best?

I lived at the Santa Teresa house. There was an open kitchen, kept shockingly clean by Giza and Karol, three showers, a downstairs floor, two upstairs floors, and a roof. My favorite area was the roof. I loved to go up there at night and just relax after a long day.

The best part about the house would have to be the staff working there. As beautiful as the house is, it was Giza greeting me in the morning and telling me remedies for sore throats, Karol answering my goofy Portuguese questions and showing me how to make feijoada, and Jorginho keeping the house in stitches and helping me order pizza that really made the house feel like a home.

View of a beach in Rio de Janiero, Brazil

One of Rio's amazing beaches

Now that you're home, how would you say volunteering abroad has impacted your life?

I feel like that adventure was a much needed breath of fresh air. I've seen what awaits me beyond U.S. borders, and I can't wait to get out there again. This journey has also taught me to lose my fear of making mistakes while speaking another language; it's all a part of the learning process and helps you gain fluency faster.