Cristian Martinez: NSEP/Boren Recipient, 2009 (Brazil)

Cristian next to the famous Christ Statue in Rio de Janeiro

I have made impressive progress with my language skills and I have definitely met my goal to have colloquial fluency.  There is really no comparison between the language study I have had abroad to the one I had at UC Irvine.  When you study a language overseas, you never leave the classroom because the langauage is everwhere until you go to sleep.   In addition, when studying in-country, the professors are locals and speak to you only in the language being learned.  In the U.S., the professors cannot escape in the very least making comparisons to English.  Studying in-country forces you to learn the language while trying to think in it too.  The most significant difference in studying in-country is that you get outside of the classroom exposure when you go to restaurants, or on a walk, or simply to have coffee with your local friends and you practice it all the time. Thanks to my in-country experience, I can say I have become fluent in Portuguese in the span of six months.

Aside from taking advanced Portuguese as a course, I also took three other courses.  I took Brazilian Foreign Policy, Process of Regional Integration and my Senior Thesis Research Course.  These four courses (including the Portuguese course) add up to a total of 14 hours of class hours per week.  The quality of instruction varies.  The most challenging course with the highest quality of instruction was the Brazilian Foreign Policy course.  However all courses had acceptable quality in instruction.  It is also important to mention that all the coursework, with the exception of the Senior Thesis Research Course, were in Portuguese (literature, writing and lectures).  I have also met my academic goals by taking this coursework.  I have met three of my upper division requirements from my home institution by taking this course load.

I participated in various extra-curricular activities.  I joined a weight training course that was held twice a week to keep my body healthy.  I also joined two non-governmental organizations (NGOs).  These organizations included “Educari” and “College Horizons.”  Educari works with elementry school children who live in the Vidigal favela (slum).  I worked with the eight year-olds and taught them how to speak and write beginning level English. I will continue to work with these children for the second half of my study abroad program.   I also worked with College Horizons where I mentored inter-city favela youth.  These youth are interested in one day visiting the United States and pursuing a degree.

I am experiencing the local culture by attending various cultural events that are held in the city.  For example, I have attended various schools of Samba where I see firsthand their tradition of dancing samba and how that unites their people.  I have also attended various soccer games since Brazilians love their soccer.  I have also become a regular beach goer as that is a large part of their local culture as well.  Aside from that, I experience their local culture when I go out for coffee or for dinner with my Brazilian friends and when I attend lectures and observe their way of studying and learning.  Brazilian culture is so rich that you cannot help but to find it everywhere you go.

I use my language skills about 80% of the time.  I use my language skills while I am in class, at the beach, at home, and at any other public place and with my Brazilian friends.

The most enjoyable aspects of adjusting to the local culture is learning how there is a different way of living that works for a different set of people.  Also adopting new traditions and habits that only make my own life richer, such as how to samba or cook a Brazilian meal.  The challenging aspect of adjusting to the local culture is that unlike American culture, Brazilians prefer doing everything with others around rather than alone.  And at times I wish I had some more privacy.  But that is only a small challenge because I enjoy working with a crowd as well.  What is also challenging is that they enjoy going out a lot and staying in is rather a weird concept for them.  Sitting and reading a book indoors is odd for most Brazilians and that too is a challenge since I enjoy doing that once in a while.

Holding the Brazilian Flag in Copacabana Beach

I have enjoyed the most the new things I have learned. I have learned how to be more open to new enviroments, new ways of doing things and new ways of thinking about the concept of politics, family and society.  I have learned a new langauge that I consider beautiful, interesting and enjoyably challenging.  I have also gained new connections and friendships that make me a more well rounded global citizen.  I also enjoy Brazil’s  music,  beaches and the whole way of being.

There are few things that I do not like about my study abroad experience.  The biggest being the large amount of crime and violence that exists in Rio de Janeiro.  There is never a day that I feel safe walking down the streets of Rio.  In addition, I do not like the social inequality and racism that still exists here in Rio and in Brazil in general. These negatives are what make me miss home the most where I don’t have worry about how dark my skin is, or how much I am carrying in my pockets or whether I can find others whom I can associate with that are of the same socio-economic status as me.

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