A Whole New World in Brazil

Written by  April 4, 2013

Working abroad is far from a solo experience.

It seems logical to think that moving to live in one country would mean learning about one culture, learning one language and becoming friends with a group of people from the same country. As I wrote in my previous post, however, working abroad is never a solo experience. At the Sao Paulo airport, I connected with other travelers venturing out into the world on their own.

Only in rare exceptions will you be the alone in adjusting to a new place. This is something I was very aware of before I came to Chapeco, but after spending a weekend with the other AIESEC interns living in my city I find myself appreciating this opportunity even more. There was something so refreshing about hanging out with people who can sympathize with new situations, who can understand the oddities in Brazil that are completely normal for Brazilians. Most of all, it is an amazing opportunity to share my experiences with a like-minded group of people all while learning about different cultures from around the world.

Right now, in Chapeco and the surrounding area, there are seven other interns and myself. Along with the Brazilian people we interact with on a daily basis, this is the most diverse environment I have ever been a part of. Even in Canada, where there cultural diversity is very evident, most groups of people are culturally similar, meaning their families come from similar places and many of their beliefs are aligned with each other.

However, in this new group of friends, we have three interns from Colombia, and one person from each of: Bolivia, Canada, Germany, Guatemala and Malaysia. This list does not even include interns who recently departed Chapeco for their homes in Australia, China, Hong Kong, and Peru. Aside from the obvious similarities between those from Latin America who speak Spanish as a native language, this is very diverse group of people. This diversity is constantly changing, with some interns staying in Chapeco for only six weeks while some have been for one year. Regardless of who comes and goes, the language they speak and things they believe, it is a near automatic assumption that all interns are friends based on their shared experiences.

Despite not always speaking the same language, meeting other international interns is adding a whole new dimension to my working abroad experience. It gives me a group of people who can sympathize with the situation, but also a group of people from whom I can learn. Those interns who have been here since before I arrived have been amazing in suggesting places to visit, both in Chapeco and throughout Brazil. (More importantly, it is essential to have other interns around to inform you on what not to say to Brazilians in Portuguese. Of course, it is a favorite of activity of some native Portuguese speakers to tell you hilarious or completely inappropriate ways to say the simplest of sentences. Interns before me, and interns before them, will always fall for such tricks, but then pass on what could be a whole book of inappropriate Portuguese phrases to next say to anyone.) The interns I have met, and likely the ones you will meet too, are in the unique situation of knowing exactly how you feel coming to a country and trying to learn the language on the go. Not only this, but other interns understand what it means to be in a new place unable to speak for the first time, so they are able to offer lots of help on ways to pick up the language faster.

Furthermore, having the opportunity to spend my internship meeting friends from all over the globe helps me learn not only Portuguese and about Brazilian culture, but about the languages and cultures of these people as well. As a good example, there is one intern from Bolivia who has recently arrived and speaks very little English and her Portuguese is not too much better than my own. As a result, I have been trying to learn some Spanish words and phrases on the side so that I can speak with other non-English speaking Latin Americans when they first arrive in Brazil. These conversations with other interns are constantly filled with explaining how our current activity would be taking place in our home country.

For example, if we are having a beer at a gas station (a perfectly normal yet completely paradoxical Brazilian activity) we will discuss what would happen to us in our home country if we cracked open a cold one at the local Shell station. What these often humorous conversations leads to is a better understanding of how each of us live out our lives in our home countries, and what kind of cultural differences exist between home and Chapeco.
Having the opportunities to learn and befriend other interns is amazing. I am certain these are people I will keep in touch with for a long time.

However, the best part about getting to share my internship with other interns is that they are “yes” people (yes, I did take this phrase from the Bud Light commercial). One of the seemingly unspoken rules of interns is to never leave another intern alone, so this means I am never short on people with whom I can eat a meal, go to parties, or travel around Brazil. A recent conversation with another intern went something like this:

Her: Let’s travel soon.
Me: Sounds good. I heard Curitiba is beautiful.
Her: Okay, let’s go in April!
Me: Alright, any weekend is good for me!

I only exaggerated a tiny bit, but even then this was the one of the easiest planning conversations in my life. Even planning a trip to Rio de Janeiro, a long and expensive trip, did not require any convincing when discussing with the other interns. The other foreigners you meet on your internship will definitely be the easiest ones to convince to go on any kind of crazy adventure.

After these last two posts I hope that anyone who is holding themselves back from an international work experience because they do not want to be alone has changed their mind. Not only will you likely encounter an amazing group of like-minded people seeking to make a difference in the world, you will have opportunities to learn new languages and cultures, and some incredible friends to share your experiences with. It is not often you will get the opportunity to meet someone from another corner of the world and be able to completely sympathize with them.

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Published in Work Abroad Blogs
Rob Small

Rob Small is an international relations graduate of Carleton University. An AIESEC intern, he is working as an English teacher at a local language school in Chapecό, Brazil. His first time living abroad, he hopes to share insightful, yet entertaining, stories about being a Canadian in Brazil.

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