Michael M., Brazil – PUC Rio (Earth Science / Civil Engineering)

I spent 6 months studying abroad in Rio de Janeiro and ever since I’ve been counting down the days until I can go back



  1. What types of classes did you take abroad and how did they compare to UCSB?
    I was taking civil engineering courses in Portuguese which included field work as well as lab work and drafting in school computer labs.
  1. What was your favorite class abroad? 
    Coastal Geomorphology was definitely my favorite class abroad, not only was it extremely relevant to the environment in both Rio and Isla Vista, I also had the opportunity to do field work over several days, visiting multiple beaches in the state of Rio to collect samples for lab analysis.
  1. Did you intern, volunteer, or conduct fieldwork or research abroad?  If so, tell us about your experience.
    My Coastal Geomorphology class involved an overnight fieldwork followed up by lab analyses of the samples we collected. I also got to work at the 2018 Sustainable Industrial Processing Summit (SIPS 2018) assisting in translation between event staff and local staff. I had the chance to interact with multiple Nobel prize winners who were in attendance.


  1. How would you describe your host institution?
    Campus is large and tropical, but classes are generally limited to one of two main large buildings. Classes are generally limited to 20-30 students and taught by professors, my classes were made up of almost exclusively local students.
  1. Are there student clubs/organizations that UC students can join? Many students joined club soccer and volleyball teams, and others found non-profits or other volunteer orgs. Many of these were found/joined through the school, and others just found the clubs on the beach and joined from there.


  1. Describe your housing situation.
    The program requires a 1 month arranged homestay during the 4 week ILP program, all usually within 2 miles of the campus. Afterwards students can choose to stay at the homestay, or leave to find their own housing. I was in a unique situation for housing after the homestay, because I have family in Rio and was able to stay with them for the remainder of the program.


  1. Where did you eat most of your meals?
    I would have breakfast at home, lunch was usually on campus at either the school cafeteria (bandejão), which would have rice & beans, a choice of protein, salad, and a dessert, or the array of street vendors lined up right outside of the school every day. Dinner isn’t usually as significant of a meal in Brasil (lunch is their big meal), but I would have it at home with my family, or go out to try new restaurants around the city. The cafeteria is also open for dinner though and some students chose to do that more often
  1. How much was an average meal?  Do you have any budgeting tips for future students?
    Meals at the school cafeteria were around R$ 10, which is around $3, and food from street vendors would range from R$5 to R$15 ($2-$4). The food scene is huge in Rio so restaurants have a huge range in pricing depending on what you want, but an average meal would be R$20-R$25 ($5-$6), with something like a nice steak dinner being around R$60 (~$15)
  1. Would it be difficult for vegetarians/vegans and others with strict dietary restrictions to find meals?
    Brazil is definitely a carnivorous country, with churrascos (barbecues) being a common social event. But it’s also a very progressive and aware youth culture, so in the city there’s plenty of vegetarian options. There are some vegan restaurants as well, but they are less common and you’re best off finding what foods that are naturally vegan so you don’t have to worry about it.
  1. Describe your most memorable dining experience abroad.
    One of my favorite parts of eating in Brasil is something we don’t have here called roudisio (loosely translates to “rotating”), most common in steakhouses and pizza places. You get your table and pay a flat rate (usually around $6 for the pizza places and $18 for steakhouses), and then the waiters come around with platters or skewers of different pizzas or meats, and you get as much food as you can eat!
  1. What local food or drink do you miss most now that you are back? I miss the real açai (also a fifth of the price) and getting fresh coconut water on the beach where they cut open the coconut right in front of you.


  1. Describe your host city.
    Rio is one of the most incredible places I’ve ever been to. The city has beaches and mountains and rainforests, vibrant urban centers, deep traditions in food and music. The beaches are always populated by people playing soccer and volleyball, vendors selling coconuts, empadas, cheeses and more. The streets are full of incredible street art, and lots of shops you’ve heard of and even more you haven’t.
  1. Was it easy to get around?
    Rio has a pretty expansive public transit system between the buses and the metro, which is amazing and super clean and has food and coffee shops at pretty much every stop. There’s also a bike share program throughout the city (kind of like Hoprs) which is a ~$3 fee monthly and widely used by the students. Lastly, Ubers are very cheap there after the conversion rates and are widely used by students.
  1. Did you feel safe in your host city? Do you have any safety tips for future students?
    I always felt very safe in Rio, but it is somewhere you need to be more aware of your possessions and surroundings when in crowded places like the metro because pickpocketing does occur. In terms of actual safety Rio is like any other big city, the majority of places you’ll go to are always popular and full of people, but like any other city there’s always parts of the city where you shouldn’t go if you don’t live there. However these areas, the favelas, are in the hills and not in the center of the city, so they aren’t somewhere you can just accidentally wander into.
  1. What were some interesting/fun things that you did in your host city?
    Night life in Rio is amazing, and there’s a whole schedule lots of students follow on what to do at night each day of the week, and on the weekends it’s harder to decide what not to do than what you do want to. I went for a lot of hikes in the surrounding hills and a lot of runs down the beach. There’s also a massive live music scene for both local and foreign artists and I took advantage of those. The city also has tons of free museums and exhibits downtown which I loved going to.


  1. Describe any cultural differences you experienced while abroad. Brasilians are much friendlier than Americans, it’s normal for people to strike up conversations on the metro or in the elevator. Relationships with professors are much more casual and on a first name basis, and it’s not uncommon to have their phone numbers or meet with them outside of class for a coffee. People greet each other with a hug and “kiss” on the cheek, and are generally more physically affectionate with friends and family.
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  1. How did you handle culture shock?
    I’d been to Brazil many times for my family so I was pretty used to the culture. One thing I wasn’t really used to until I lived there was groceries. In the US we usually go to get groceries for a week or two and get several bags of things. In Brazil, people usually go every day or two and only get what they need for the day, since they’re usually walking distance from where you’ll be living.
  1. What is your favorite aspect of your host culture?
    Brasilians are just super friendly and outgoing. Everything is hugs and kisses for saying hello/goodbye, and for lack of a better word the people in Brazil are just more fun.


  1. Tell us your favorite travel story from your time abroad.
    I took several opportunities to travel while I was abroad including a trip to Uruguay & Argentina, a beach town in the north of Rio, and two other states in Brazil. My favorite was probably going to Florianopolis, an island in the South East of Brazil in the state of Santa Catarina. I usually describe it as the Hawaii of Brazil, because it had some of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen and incredible seafood. It also has many world renowned clubs in the north part of the island. I was staying at a family friend’s house, and he had bikes we borrowed to get around and visit some of the nearby beaches and restaurants for a week.


  1. What was your biggest fear about studying abroad that turned out to be no big deal?
    I was a little worried about missing out on what friends were up to in IV while I was gone or feeling like I missed out on stuff when I got back. But I realized pretty quickly that they were the ones who were missing out, and pretty much nothing had changed when I got back.
  1. What was your biggest challenge abroad?
    Honestly? Leaving.
  1. How have you changed as a result of your time abroad?
    I became so much closer to my family and really strengthened my cultural roots by living there. My Portuguese is also finally fluent which has been a long time goal of mine. I also grew a lot academically and learned that civil engineering is a discipline that I really enjoy and plan to pursue for grad school, which I never would’ve had the opportunity to experience.
  1. What is your advice to prospective UCSB EAP students?
    GO FOR A YEAR. Your time abroad will be the time of your life and it’ll be over before you know it, take as much time abroad as you can because there’s no telling when you’ll have another opportunity like this again.


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