Maddie Asta, Brazil, Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (Global Studies & Economics)

  1. What was your biggest fear about studying abroad that turned out to be no big deal?

My biggest fears about studying abroad were that I would not be able to communicate with anyone because my Portuguese was not good enough and that I would hate my homestay. However, both of these fears turned out to be no big deal because every day my Portuguese improved, and my host mom was the most amazing women I have ever met. I would say that being forced to use my Portuguese every day to communicate and live in a homestay, where I was able to truly experience Brazilian culture, turned out to be the best parts of my study abroad experience!

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  1. What do you wish you had done to better prepare before going abroad?

I wish I had taken upper-division Economics courses before I went abroad so that I would have been able to take Econ classes at my host university and stay for a full year. I also wish I had started taking Portuguese classes earlier so that my Portuguese was better when I went abroad.

  1. What were your favorite classes abroad? How did they compare to UCSB?

My favorite class abroad was a Sociology class called Social Brazilian Debates. The class was taught by a Brazilian professor in English and had only about 20 students. The professor taught us about numerous social issues and trends in Brazil, and, as a Brazilian, she was able to give us a unique perspective that we would not have been able to get at UCSB. Additionally, learning about the social norms of Brazil while living in the country allowed me to relate my daily interactions with the class to get a deeper understanding of Brazilian culture as a whole.

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  1. What is one of your best memories from abroad?

I have a lot of incredible memories from abroad, but one of my best was when my host mom’s family came to stay with us. It was towards the end of my study abroad program, and my host mom’s sister, niece, and nephew came to stay with us in the two bedroom apartment. It was cramped for the few days they were there but the whole family was so nice and fun to be around that it didn’t feel cramped at all. They happened to come the weekend of the Gay Pride Parade in Rio de Janeiro, which was something I really wanted to attend while I was there. However, the night of the parade, my host mom’s family was feeling extra chatty and I ended up talking, making jokes, and telling stories with them the whole afternoon and evening, and I missed the parade. While I was sad I missed the parade, the conversation I had with the family was one of the best moments from my abroad experience because I knew I would never have the opportunity to have the same interactions again.

  1. What was your biggest challenge abroad?

My biggest challenge abroad was adapting to the different culture and lifestyle in Brazil. My day-to-day activities changed significantly living in Rio de Janeiro. I had to commute 45 minutes on a bus each way to campus every day, compared to my 10-minute bike ride to class here at UCSB. I also had to be much more aware of my surroundings while in Brazil than I have to be here in Santa Barbara. Especially while traveling alone, I made a point to always be aware of what was going on around me, speak Portuguese, and try to act like a local as much as possible. These changes were hard in the beginning, but the longer time I spent in Brazil, the more accustomed I became to these new habits.

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  1. What is your favorite aspect of your host culture?

My favorite aspects of Brazilian culture were the people and the food. Almost all Brazilians I met were welcoming, friendly, and relaxed and it made me feel like part of the culture. I also fell in love with the açai, churrasco, tapioca, and all the fresh fruit! None of the Brazilian food I eat here is quite the same 😦

  1. Did you intern, volunteer, or conduct fieldwork or research abroad? If so, tell us about your experience.

I had an internship while I was in Brazil where I helped do administrative tasks at a local NGO. The NGO was a boxing gym that offered classes to students in the local favela as an after-school activity. It also acted as a community center for the kids to hang out instead of hanging out on the streets. Working at Instituto Todos Na Luta was an eye-opening experience to see the reality of how many Brazilians live and learn how NGOs are run in a different country.

  1. What local food or drink do you miss most now that you are back?

Ever since I left Brazil I miss the açai, the fresh fruit, and tapioca the most! The açai, tapioca, and fruit that we have here in the US are just not quite as fresh as what I ate while in Brazil. If I could have, I would have filled an entire suitcase with açai, tapioca, and fruit to bring back with me.

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  1. How have you changed since your time abroad?

While abroad I learned a lot about myself and about what I want to do with my life after college. I found that I have a passion for learning about and connecting with different cultures and that in order to be happy, I need to pursue a career where I can work with people from all over the world. My time abroad also enhanced my studies significantly. Ever since I got back, I try to apply the first-hand knowledge I gained in Brazil to everything I learn here at UCSB. I have also pursued multiple research projects where I research how certain course topics relate to Latin America, specifically Brazil, which have all been influenced by the time I spent abroad.

  1. What is your advice to prospective UCSB EAP students?

The biggest piece of advice I want to give to prospective UCSB EAP students is don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. The best experiences are those that you never thought you would ever have, and they come from stepping away from what you are comfortable with and taking the opportunities to go somewhere more exotic, take courses in a foreign language, or move in with a family you’ve never met before. All of these actions seem daunting and scary, but jumping in and taking the opportunity to have these experiences will allow you to get the most out of your time abroad.

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