Overseas Briefing

By Guest Contributor

I have been in Brazil for a month now, but it feels like I’ve been here for almost a year. It’s uncanny how easily I adjusted to life in another country. I touched down in Rio de Janeiro, on Aug. 29, and even at the airport, I was already worried about so many things: fitting in, classes, culture shock, safety, homesickness. You name it, I probably was worried about it.  But all of those emotions were normal for a foreigner going abroad somewhere with no family or place to call home.

After my first month here, I’ve realized that all of my emotions, particularly those that bordered on paranoia, were normal, but entirely unnecessary. My host family was more welcoming than I expected, and they understand my needs and interests here in Brazil and have provided me with a home away from home. I live pretty close to my university’s campus and have developed a habit of going on long walks and just taking in my surroundings.

That’s the other amazing thing about Brazil — the environment. Although not all parts of Brazil are thriving, the area near my school and host family has many beaches (one which is a five minute walk from my house, Praia da Boa Viagem) where you can sit on a bench and listen to the waves as they come crashing in or watch birds as they dive for food. As a woman with a Caribbean background, I absolutely love tropical whether (except the bugs), and being able to sit on a beach and talk about nothing of importance with friends while enjoying the sunshine is one of life’s small pleasures that has made me appreciate being in Brazil even more.

However, there have been moments when I honestly wanted to just yell at anyone and everyone due to frustration. Most of that came from dealing with the bureaucratic system here. As a foreigner, there are countless forms to be filled out and requirements to be met before the end of your first thirty days in the country. Even my international student orientation at the Federal Fluminense University (UFF) here in Niterói was unable to offer me guidance in figuring out all of the things I needed do and where I needed to go. During that process, however, I learned the top two rules about being abroad: patience is a virtue, and never be afraid to ask questions, because the worst thing that can happen is someone not being able to help you.

Adjusting to life in Brazil takes time, and assimilating while trying to combat culture shock has proven to be a challenge. Things are definitely more laid back here, “mais devagar.”  Students at UFF don’t worry too much about homework and on one of my adventures to the library on campus, I realized that students really don’t actually use the library. Accepting that Thursday nights in Niterói are the equivalent of Fridays at Middlebury, or that most of the Brazilian students head straight to the movie theater on weekdays after class, took a while, but I have quickly gotten used to this laid-back ease. I haven’t, however, forgotten how different and difficult life at Middlebury can be, and my senior year will be the wake-up call equivalent to a very, very cold cup of water on the face.

So here’s to studying abroad for a year in Brazil, “que vale a pena!

Written by SPENCER SALIBUR ’15 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.