Since coming home from school, the friendly dialogue I’ve exchanged with familiar faces has followed a steady pattern: “Nice to see you. Hope you’re enjoying school. What are your plans for the summer?” When I answer that I will be spending six weeks studying abroad in Brazil, I usually get one of two responses. “Ohmygosh! Are you going to see the World Cup?” While I’m sure I will watch a few matches on TV and I am looking forward to being right in the middle of the action, I’m not a huge soccer fan and I have other motivations for a summer in South America. Which brings me to the second recurring reaction, “Oh… why?” I don’t take offense at the confusion following my announcement. In the suburb where I grew up, most of my friends coming home for break are lifeguarding at the local pool or have landed some sort of internship. Many of my neighbors see Brazil as random and exotic at best, odd and dangerous at worst.
So why am I planning on spending my summer living and learning in Rio de Janeiro? The summer before my senior year of high school, I attended classes in Salamanca, Spain, so I know first-hand what an incredible experience even a short-term study abroad program can be. This upcoming trip is the result of a long process that began back in November of last year. Since then, I’ve been applying for scholarships, negotiating credit transfers, and working my way through a long list of travel to-dos. I signed up for this program to hopefully improve my Portuguese, gain a broader understanding of a culture that I know very little about, and explore a new city that will become my temporary home.
I’m definitely a little nervous. At present, my Portuguese is only marginally functional and miscommunicating with my host family is one of my biggest concerns. Rio has improved a lot in recent years but it’s still not the safest location for solo females so I’m going to have to be aware of my surroundings and use lots of common sense. I also know that homesickness, loneliness, and culture shock are common issues for students studying overseas.
That being said, I am beyond excited for everything that I know this trip to Brazil will teach me over the next six weeks. I love traveling. I love language, people, and food. Every new country is a chance to learn new words, make new friends, and taste new dishes. I’m most excited about day-to-day life – running along the beach paths, eating breakfast with my host family, and living like a true carioca, a native of Rio de Janeiro.
I’ve gotten my typhoid vaccine, booked my flights, and started highlighting my guidebook. After months of preparation, I am only days away from landing in Rio and the beginning of an experience that I know will be difficult to find words for. Martin Buber once asserted, “All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” I know that I’m headed for a life-changing adventure in Copacabana, and I can’t wait to discover what else I’ll find along the way.