This Post is authored by my Sister Andrea Echeverry, a Colombian exchange student at the University of São Paulo in Brazil, who was encouraged to share with us her life experience in these months that she has been living in another country.
“Minhas Adventures in Brazil”Should be the title of my four months of stay in this wonderful country. Why Brazil? Why Portuguese? I don’t even know the answer to these questions well, it was just an impulse to get to know a culture so close but at the same time so different from ours; why Brazil is not just football, Rio de Janeiro and samba, Brazil is cultural diversity, economic development, innovation and lots and lots of food.
Although my classes started in mid-February, I traveled to São Paulo on December 27 to have time to settle into the apartment where I was going to live and take advantage of my vacation to travel and enjoy a little. I had already come twice in 2013 for some church conferences and I had several friends in São Paulo who welcomed me and helped me with matters such as transportation, accommodation, papers for the university, etc. I believed that because I had stayed on my previous trips for about a month and a half, I already knew the Brazilian culture and it would not be difficult to get used to living in a metropolis like São Paulo. But I was wrong. It is one thing to come on vacation for a short time and another is to live and have to deal with everyday matters such as food, language, study or transportation.
As for food, I had to get used to the Brazilian daily bread: rice and beans. In general, it is similar to the Colombian one except for some fruits and vegetables typical of the region. Brazilians usually leave free buffets so that each person can serve themselves what they want and repeat as many times as necessary, their meals are loaded with carbohydrates which complicates life for those who try to diet. São Paulo is known for its great variety of restaurants and bars, I have had the opportunity to go to some of them and I have become a lover of oriental food, especially Japanese. It is incredible how this city has adopted so many foreigners that even dishes from those cultures are already part of the Brazilian cuisine, such as the yakisoba some oriental noodles, strogonoff a Russian dish or the famous Brazilian pizza.
With the language I have not had so much difficulty because I had already taken the first three levels of Portuguese at the university, in addition to having practiced it during my trip in 2013. In general it is easy to understand due to its closeness to Spanish, the problem originates when they begin to speak very quickly and with different accents such as Carioca (from Rio) or Northeast (Northeast of Brazil). Brazilians are characterized by their informal way of talking and relating and since São Paulo is the whereabouts of millions of inhabitants of other states, I have learned numerous girias (slang) and expressions typical of each region. This informal speaking creates a more relaxed and close environment which facilitates the relationship and creation of new friendships with other people. Expressions like “Eai Beleza” or “Oi tudo bom” (all good), “Muito dahora“ or “Legal” (cool) are some of my favorites, which in a way I wish they existed in Spanish.
Now, regarding the University of São Paulo (USP) I think that this has been one of the most different experiences in my exchange. USP is in first place in the ranking of the best universities in Latin America. Its campus is so large that it is called university city (university city), each faculty has its own building with classrooms, administrative offices and numerous academic and sports clubs. All the engineering companies meet in a minicampus called Polytechnic School (Poli) which would be compared to the size of the ICESI University, where I study in Cali. Its dimensions are so large that it has internal bus routes called circular, I don’t think I even know 20% of its campus and I still get lost when I go to a different place in my faculty.
My first days were very quiet, the iPoli -which is a group of engineering students who help the exchange students- carried out some activities to integrate us and get to know each other better: a gastronomic and musical exhibition, a capoeira class and the famous Churrasco Brasileiro Accompanied by caipirinha and typical Brazilian music. After our first week of classes we had the carnival holiday, where for a week all of Brazil is celebrating and therefore there were no classes. I actually started the semester at the end of February with an empty schedule despite taking five subjects. The teaching method is very different from what I was used to having at ICESI, the classes are purely theoretical and masterful and the number of students per classroom varies between 40 and 60 people, with between 4 to 6 exchange students. We are a total of about 80 exchangers only from the Poli, the majority Hispanic, although there are also some from France and Italy. The large percentage of Colombians in the university is incredible. I remember that only on my first day of classes I met 10 from Medellín, Cali and Bogotá. Despite being a chaotic city, the pace of life at the university is quite relaxed, the students have numerous activities every week including steaks, concerts and parties. Despite that, they manage to respond with all the assignments and exams, whose level of difficulty is quite high, especially for those who must do them in a language other than their native one. In general, they are all very friendly and understandable with those of us who are in exchange, in that sense the Brazilians are very similar to the Colombians; I have already had enough experiences of getting lost on campus and people have taken me to the place where I want to go, I have made friends by walking to catch the subway or waiting at the bus stop. The somewhat complicated part has been creating real friendships with the Brazilian people, since in general all exchange students keep together what does not help to practice Portuguese or learn about other cultures (since most of my friends are Colombian). I think that in my time here I have learned to appreciate my country and the things of my land more, now I listen to more music in Spanish than when I lived in Colombia, and I begin to miss foods that before I did not even eat as often as arepas or empanadas .
I live with a Brazilian friend about 10 minutes by car from the university, the problem is that here I do not have as many facilities as I had in Cali and I have had to get used to walking a lot and using public transport such as subway, train and buses, because taxis are extremely expensive. The human being is a customary animal, it no longer bothers me to have to walk 20 minutes to some place (even if it is at night, because São Paulo is a city that does not sleep), to stand in lines for anything (because even to eat in university restaurants you have to wait between 15 to 20 minutes during peak hours), or walk through the crowds and have to endure a few shoves to enter or exit the subway or its stations. I take advantage of these situations to read a book or carry out a task from my cell phone. I know how to manage my time better and I take every opportunity to go out to eat or to know a different place in the city, because at the end of the day there will always be something new to discover in a city with more than 12,500 restaurants, 77 shopping centers, 152 theaters, 55 movie theaters, 90 museums and 54 parks and green areas. (If you want to get to know São Paulo, make sure you bring a lot of money and refrain from dieting).
Finally, when it comes to my cultural exchange I must confess that I have never met so many Orientals in my life. In the church where I meet, I meet Brazilians with Chinese, Korean or Japanese parents, which makes them a mixture of races and cultures. Besides Portuguese, I have practiced my English a lot (who would believe it!), I have met people from the United States, Russia, the Philippines, London, Belize, etc. My mind has been opened to new things and I am always willing to know more about their countries, their food and other customs. I think words fall short to describe the multitudes of adventures that I have lived in this short time, I thank God for this opportunity that I have had and I know that the next six months that remain of exchange will be just as enriching.
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Follow my experiences in a geek in the World Cup, where I tell how for a Colombian to live the soccer World Cup in Brazil.