I’d just like to start off my first article about Brazil with a bold statement:
I love Rio.
Getting to Rio and adjusting here has been a rather bumpy ride, between barely making my connection at IAH, sprinting between terminals and finally getting to my gate at the last boarding call, to getting a stomach bug in my first days of arriving, from allergy issues to navigating the transportation system here. I had to relearn how to do laundry, cook, and run errands like going to the post office and getting money from the bank.
When I moved over here, on the very first day, I broke out head to toe in hives, a kind of horrible way to start my six-month adventure here. Frantically, I called my family and my amazing boyfriend and Portuguese teacher, Rafael, for comfort during these tough first few days. Additionally, I got a terrible stomach illness. Admittedly, after the first few days, I was beginning to think I’d made the wrong choice. Alas, the allergies cleared up and the stomach bug came and went. I guess it’s just part of being a traveler.
But, despite the allergies and the stomach problems, the biggest obstacle for me and the one that has made my transition a million times harder is the fact that everything is in Portuguese.
I mean, I did my research beforehand. I knew how to make sentences, say important and useful phrases, and even make jokes. But my prior Portuguese knowledge was certainly not enough to enable me to jump in and make friends with Brazilian people right away. Luckily, I knew enough Spanish and Portuguese (they’re somewhat similar) to struggle by on the first days of living here, but generally, barely anyone here speaks English.
Immersion has helped though, and I’m taking a language intensive class which includes six hours of Portuguese instruction, six days a week. Wait, let me repeat that. I’m taking six hours of Portuguese classes each day, six days a week. After just a week, I can actually hold a decent conversation in Portuguese, and I can get around a lot better than the struggles of my first few days. I have yet to make friends with Brazilian students, but I’ve met a ton of people from around the world, including Korea, Europe, other Latin American countries, and of course, the US.
One thing I absolutely love about my time here so far is that I’ve been able to go to the beach a lot. And by a lot, I mean pretty much every day after class. A group of us bring our swimsuits to class, eat lunch, change, and hit the beach until dark. It’s a great way to get outside and stay active, plus I’ve already gotten a pretty solid tan. We just sit on our towels, watch young Brazilian girls run by in their tiny bikinis (I guess I’ll have to get one eventually) and people playing soccer in the nearby open areas and listen to vendors shouting “BISCOITO” at the top of their lungs, do our homework and relax. Never in my life have I lived near the beach, much less some of the most famous beaches in the world. Come on in, the water’s fine.
I have also been loving the abundance of tropical elements here. My school, PUC-Rio, is a tropical campus in the middle of a very affluent part of the city, an awesome place to go every day and enjoy bits and pieces of nature. Right through the middle of it runs a creek, and the whole campus is blooming with tropical flowers and trees. It’s beautiful and very tranquil.
Lastly, this city is GORGEOUS. Surrounded by majestic mountains and the beautiful ocean, it’s kind of like the place where the “sea meets the sky.” I’m staying in Botafogo, which has amazing views of both the Christ the Redeemer statue atop the mountain and the Pão de Açúcar, a huge rock which visitors can ascend in a small cable car. It’s a fascinating neighborhood, with a lot of local restaurants, shops, and street markets. It’s also one of the safest areas of Rio de Janeiro, a plus for me and my love of nightlife. It’s been fascinating getting to know the area and really treating it as my home.
Which brings me to my last point – this city is now my home. I guess I didn’t really look at it this way before, but I have moved here for the next six months. I have a commitment to learn the language and get to know the city for everything it has to offer – good and bad. I have an obligation to make friends here, become an expert at the public transportation, and make connections that will last beyond my six months here. Even though my first few days were admittedly tough, they’ve made me realize that maybe the most valuable lessons I’ll learn here aren’t just about the city itself, but also about how to live in a place much different that anything I’ve ever known before.