My first study abroad experience in College was travelling to Brazil over summer 2017 with my scholarship group, President's Community Scholars (PCS). I knew I wanted to experience new cultures and expand my world view, so I was thrilled when I got accepted into the program. After a *quick* 14-hour flight we went to grab our first meal abroad. There are outdoor cafés on every corner of the city, mirroring the laid-back and upscale lifestyle of the people of Leblon. We stopped at one that offered a variety of the freshest fruit I had ever seen. Thus began my severe acai addiction. I was extremely spoiled getting to try my first acai bowl in the part of the world the fruit comes from and literally survived off of it every day. We spent the rest of the first day taking in the sights of the city and touring the OU campus (which is literally on Ipanema beach and the most idealistic location you could dream of). Each day after was jam-packed with learning the history, meeting the people, and enjoying all aspects of the unique Brazilian Culture. Some of the highlights included taking a graffiti tour, drinking from coconuts on the beach, visiting Buzios, learning to samba, taking a capoeira class, and of course, seeing the Cristo. The Brazillian people were so kind and engaging, and while we were there to learn, outside the classroom it felt like we were on a dream vacation!
The focus of our coursework was on international activism, and how it can improve the systematic socioeconomic disparity in the country. One of my favorite things about studying abroad is being able to have cultural experts pass on their knowledge, and I think Rio is one of those places where it would have been a big loss to not have that insight and understand the context of the political corruption and systematic poverty that is so prevalent in Brazil. This trip had so many highs, but one of the harder parts was touring the favelas. When slaves were emancipated in the 1800s they had nowhere to go in the developed areas of Rio, so they retreated to the mountains where they had no access to clean water or electricity, and they were much more susceptible to things like disease, crime, and obvious discrimination. Today one-fourth of Brazil’s population lives in these favelas, and we were able to experience what their daily lives are like by visiting an NGO at Favela Rocinha. While it was a lot to take in, the people were still extremely inviting and warm, and I felt a strong sense of community while in Rocinha.
Overall, the sights, food and culture was everything I envisioned and more. I am so grateful to have the political and socio-economic context of the city because it gave me a greater appreciation and understanding of the Brazillian people and an awareness that framed my context of the trip. Studying abroad is a great way to get your foot in the door of a new country you might not otherwise visit, and leaves you feeling empowered to explore new places. I look forward to going back one day during Brazil's Summer months and taking more time to explore the city, enjoy the beaches, and experience Carnival!