Jackie S., Brazil–PUC Rio Global Studies and Portuguese Minor

Enjoying the view at the top of Dois Irmãos with my friends after hiking up the mountain.

Before coming to Rio, I used to always joke around with my friends, that if past lives existed, I was most definitely Brazilian in my past life. Nothing else could explain the connection I felt to Brazilian culture when listening to Bossa Nova or Samba. After I returned from Brazil, I found out that this was true.


What types of classes did you take abroad and how did they compare to UCSB?

I took classes that pertained to my major or minor. Since I am a Global Studies major and Portuguese minor, I took classes on Brazilian foreign policy, Brazilian cinema, and Brazilian literature and culture. I also decided to challenge myself and take all of my classes in Portuguese with other Brazilian students. I think that my first week of classes were definitely a bit overwhelming, as several of my professors either talked ridiculously fast, used Rio slang (Carioca slang), or had an accent from a different part of Brazil. Already used to the language, with 4 quarters of Portuguese classes under my belt, I was able to adjust to the speed of the language and the course. 

What was your favorite class abroad? 

My favorite class abroad was my Brazilian cinema class. In the class, we had the chance to watch and analyze Brazilian films. Through the films, I was able to see the challenges that Brazilian society faces from an entirely Brazilian lens. 

Tell us about your experience.


How would you describe your host institution?

My host institution was very tropical–the university, much like the city of Rio, is placed in the middle of a rainforest. Sometimes small monkeys could be seen playing in the trees! As for academics, the university is the best university in the state of Rio and one of the best universities in Brazil. 

Are there student clubs/organizations that UC students can join?

Yes, at the university the students have individual houses that are specific to each major. These houses are behind one of the main university buildings. What I found to be a bit different from universities in the United States is that in Rio, students have specialized clubs inside of their major. This means, for example, that the International Relations majors had a volleyball club as well as other clubs just for IR majors. 


Describe your housing situation.

I lived with a host mom in Ipanema, which was relatively close to the university. My Portuguese exponentially improved while living with my host mom, as Portuguese was our only form of communication. Having a host was a very tender experience. She quickly became my second mother as we would hang out together. I even celebrated her birthday with her!


Where did you eat most of your meals?

I ate most of my meals at the school cafeteria. For around two American dollars, I was able to get an entire plate of delicious food with both a dessert and a drink. If I did not eat in the cafeteria, my go-to was a bowl of acai, which was available in every direction and cost around one to two American dollars. 

How much was an average meal? Do you have any budgeting tips for future students?

The average meal in Rio can be anywhere between one to 10 American dollars, depending on the size of the meal. From the start, I realized how strong the American dollar is in Brazil and how much more I could get for my buck. As of right now, the conversation rate from US dollars to Brazilian reais is around 5.6 reais to one American dollar. Though, the thought of having more money is beyond amazing, I highly recommend closely monitoring money. I know several of my friends who spent most of their money in the early weeks of the program because of the conversion rate. 

Would it be difficult for vegetarians/vegans and others with strict dietary restrictions to find meals?

I left the US as a vegetarian before living in Rio, but as more time passed as I was in Rio, I began to implement fish into my diet. For me, even though there were some vegetarian and vegan options, I could not find them all of the time. I definitely would say though that it is doable, just more difficult at times due to the lifestyle in Brazil. 

Describe your most memorable dining experience abroad.

I remember eating feijoada with one of my closest friends in the program. As we ate our food and drank our wine, we watched the sunset go down on Ipanema beach. With Bossa Nova in the background, nothing felt more magical. 

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

I definitely miss having authentic acai available at any time of the day. Though I am able to find authentic acai in Santa Barbara, I do miss the Rio prices. As for drinks, I miss the fresh coconut water that I could find at the beach or at the local grocery store. The coconut water here is not nearly as fresh! I also really miss the Brazilian soda, Guarana!

In front of the cafe where the “Girl from Ipanema” was written! I lived on this same street!


Describe your host city.

Rio is an expansive city built inside of a rainforest, surrounded by the Atlantic ocean. Most of my days consisted of biking along the ocean front to my university and then returning back to the beach with my friends once classes ended. On the weekends, my friends and I would hike along the mountains in Rio: Dois Irmaos and Corcovado. One thing to note is that the rain in Rio is not something to take lightly; when it rains, it pours! 

Was it easy to get around?

It was extremely easy to get around in Rio! I would usually bike to school through the use of the city bikes that Rio offers. They have a flat rate fee depending on the day, week, or month. The Rio metro is also beautifully made to make transportation around the city time-efficient and easy. Uber and electric scooters are also available for use around Rio. 

Did you feel safe in your host city? Do you have any safety tips for future Students?

Despite what people usually say about Rio, I felt safe at almost all times! What I love about UCEAP is that they place your safety as a top priority and this could not be more evident in the location of the university and the location of homestays. I lived in Ipanema, one of the wealthiest parts of Rio, if not Brazil. At almost any given time, families, children, and young adults could be walking along the streets. I would of course advise caution about protecting your belongings such as purses as cell phones, as pickpocketing is a constant. 

What were some interesting/fun things that you did in your host city?

I loved dancing samba in the city center, LAPA, with my friends. Brazilian music is magical and I constantly found myself dancing while living in Rio. My friends and I also hiked a lot on the weekends, which made us fall more and more in love with the city and the culture. 


Describe any cultural differences you experienced while abroad. 

Growing up Latina, I did not experience that many cultural differences in Brazil. I found the food staples to be very similar, if not the same. I did miss hot sauce and peanut butter!

How did you handle culture shock?

Again, growing up Latina, I did not experience that much of a culture shock. Also, the international staff at PUC-Rio does a phenomenal job of introducing us to the city through activities and trips. The biggest difficulty I had in Brazil would be understanding Brazilian slang. There definitely would be days that I would be overwhelmed with the new vocabulary that I did not learn in the classroom. In those moments, I had to first acknowledge my feelings and my pride and then pick myself back up again. It was not easy, but it was in those moments in which I persevered that I learned so much. 

What is your favorite aspect of your host culture?

Everything! I loved the lifestyle! My typical day included going to the beach with my friends, eating acai, listening to Bossa Nova or Samba, and dancing at any given moment. The culture is so warm and inviting; I was never more encouraged to be myself. 

Celebrating the famous Carnaval with one of my friends.


Tell us your favorite travel story from your time abroad.

My favorite night while I was abroad was the last day of Carnaval. My friends and I decided to go to a block party in the city center. As we were hoping from festival to festival, we ran into another group of our immediate friends in the same city center. It was such an amazing surprise! As we combined as one big group, we randomly walked in on one of the most famous samba school performances. As we danced and sang our hearts out, fireworks went off, making the night truly magically. 


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

To be perfectly honest, I was afraid that I would not make friends! It sounds silly now, as everyone who studies abroad wants to meet new people and create friendships, but I was worried! This turned out to be no big deal, as making friends was one of the easiest and fun things to do in a lively city. 

What was your biggest challenge abroad? 

My biggest challenge was taking all of my courses in Portuguese! Meu Deus! I had taken a year of Portuguese before and grew up with Spanish, but man, was I humbled as I started my coursework in Rio! Though definitely overwhelming at first, taking all of my courses in Portuguese turned out to be the biggest blessing! I constantly was improving my Portuguese in an academic environment and was challenged to learn the language far beyond grammatical lessons. To this day, if I did not take courses in Portuguese, I know that my knowledge of Portuguese would not be as extensive. 

How have you changed as a result of your time abroad?

Definitely! Going abroad empowers you in ways that you did not know you could be empowered. In dealing with language barriers and cultural differences, I saw that I can have different conversations in different languages. In my moments of frustration and confusion, I grew and became so much stronger. Even now, I feel like conversing in English is too easy. I know that if I did not get to go abroad, I would not be the woman I am today. 

What is your advice to prospective UCSB EAP students?

Choose a country and culture that excites you! I personally struggled with the practicability of going to Brazil when deciding between programs. I thought that going to Brazil and learning Portuguese would not be practical and that I should go to a Spanish speaking country and better my Spanish. Yet, nothing could deter me away from the vibrancy of Brazilian culture. Needless to say, I am incredibly glad that I spent my time abroad in Rio. 

 Where were you when you received news of your program suspension? 

I had just gotten back from saying goodbye to one of my friends. All of my American friends had had their programs suspended and I was still waiting on when the University of California would suspend my program. When I returned home and checked my phone, I saw via email that my program was suspended. 

If you chose to stay abroad after programs were suspended, what led you to that decision? 

I wanted to at first, but once my international insurance was cut, I decided to return to the States.

What have you learned from this experience?

I learned to be grateful for my time abroad in Rio. Though it was cut four months too short, I had an amazing time! I got to celebrate Carnaval with my friends, I became very proficient in the language, and I hiked and frequented the beautiful beaches. I became a true Carioca! I am forever changed by Rio de Janeiro. 

What challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?

I think the biggest challenge was how quickly my life changed between Carnaval and the COVID-19 outbreak in South America. I remember coming home to Los Angeles from Rio de Janeiro and being confused at the fast change in events. I spent months missing Rio and the friends that I had made. I still miss both to this day, but not in the same magnitude thanks to time. 

Do you have a homecoming story to tell?

I remember arriving at the airport with just myself. Completely unplanned, I ran into a group of my friends on the same departing flight. We got to go back to the States together and properly say bye together. That was bittersweet, but I am glad that I was able to leave Rio with the friends that I had made in the Cidade Maravilhosa.


A picture of myself and friends on top of Dois Irmãos, overlooking the city of Rio de Janeiro.

Would you like to return to your host country in the future?

Yes, I think about Rio several times a day!

What advice would you give to students who are interested in studying abroad but have COVID- or other health/safety-related concerns?

There is so much hope going into this year. I have faith that this hell that is COVID-19 will soon end and we will be able to travel once again. In the meantime, from what I have seen from my international friends, the COVID lifestyle of wearing a mask and learning how to enjoy nature has become universal. Not to mention, I also know that UCEAP insurance is phenomenal, and I never felt unprotected during my times abroad. Of course, safety is beyond important, with the precautions taken, I believe that in the near future, studying abroad will be once again feasible.

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