I had never been out of the country before studying abroad. Since it was my last semester before graduating, I thought what better way to end my college career than by spending a month abroad. It helped that I had many scholarships to help me pay for my time abroad too.
Why did you choose CIEE’s business program in Sao Paulo?
I wanted to go somewhere where I did not know the language so that the experience would get me completely out of my comfort zone. It was also one of the only business programs that worked for me.
What was your favorite part about Brazil?
Learning history about the country and how it lead to the culture today was my favorite part. Along with that, learning about America and the rest of the world from a different angle allowed me to see the world in with a different perspective. Brazilians are so nice and so welcoming; it was hard to feel out of place there. There is always something to do and always something to learn, especially in such a big city as São Paulo.
What made your experience abroad unique?
Most people go to Europe to study abroad, so the fact that I did not know the language gave me a fun challenge. It was also during a time of political change, so politics were everywhere. There was a great political parallel to the United States, so I was able to form different opinions about both elections by being exposed to so many different thoughts and feelings.
On another note, I made friends with many people, and I was able to stay in family homes and see how their lives were based on different family income levels.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
They were always there to help if anyone needed it, and reassured us of that all the time. They were very concerned about what we needed at any given time so that we never felt like we were alone in the country.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
First, I should have gotten phone service right away. It's never a good idea to go six months without a working phone when you are outside in another country alone. I wish I had taken more opportunities to speak Portuguese, because I feel that my Portuguese would have improved much more. I also wish I had gone for things more, such as random trips throughout Brazil and to surrounding countries.
Describe a typical day in the life of your program.
If there was school that day, I would go to school, then explore somewhere in São Paulo with friends or by myself. I would be home in time for dinner prepared by my host mom, and then do homework, catch up with friends back home, talk with my mom every night, and go to sleep. When I did not have class, I would either be traveling to another city or exploring a new part of São Paulo. The weekends would bring a lot of partying in local clubs or at houses of other people in the international program with me.
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
I enjoyed exploring the city and getting lost, and then having to find my way back. I wouldn't purposely go too far, it was more to see another part of the city. There were also plenty of art galleries and events going on. I would subscribe to many events on Facebook so that if I wasn't doing anything with friends, there would always be some festival, dancing, something to do with food, or free show in Ibirapuera or any event like that for me to attend.
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?
I had a host mom, host brother, and a host cat. My host mom did not speak English, but my host brother did. I liked the challenge of having to speak only Portuguese with my host mom. I also liked having a host brother my age who could tell me what was fun to do in the city. The host cat and I really got along as well since I had never had a pet at home!
What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?
Get cell phone service as soon as you land! And get a discounted bus pass for students. Also, make sure you're not missing out on student discounts at events, movie theaters, and almost anywhere you go. Practice your Portuguese by asking questions about everything. Brazilians love outsiders, so don't be afraid to strike up a conversation with someone to practice. You will learn a lot about the different views of the country from different people.
Now that you're home, how has your time abroad impacted your life?
I have completed two more trips, one outside of the country again in the time I've been back. I am much more open to adventure and finding new things even in the city I've lived in my whole life. I'm less scared to go for anything because it will make for a good story or lesson either way.
Would you recommend CIEE and your program to others? Why?
I would recommend this program to others. Many of my international friends from Europe and Asia came and did everything on their own. Because we had classes in English, they all stuck together with other English speakers. They never learned more than the very basics in Portuguese, and therefore were not as invested as the country.
CIEE takes care of many things for you, such as housing, food, and getting to see other cities. For someone who has never travelled out of the country, this was very helpful. Being placed with a host family helped so that you could embrace the culture quicker, especially when it came to food and celebrations, something you may miss out on by just renting a place with a landlord who may or may not care about your living conditions. Also, having a tour guide show you around the city in the first few days of getting there is great, because then you are able to show friends all of the important spots they should know about in the city. While there was plenty of room to be independent, I never felt unsafe because I always knew I had someone there if I needed help.
Tiana is from St. Paul, Minnesota, where she has lived her entire life. She recently graduated from St. Catherine University with a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a focus in marketing and management. Tiana is now working so that she can get more stamps on her passport, as well as see more of the United States in the coming year.