T.J. Faherty is a senior at the University of Utah studying Political Science, Latin American Studies, and Speech Communication. He traveled to Brazil last summer with students from Utah Valley University.
During May and June of 2010 I had the good fortune of participating in a Brazil study abroad program with a student group from Utah Valley University (UVU). Our group consisted of a mere five students led by a capable, Brazilian born, UVU Professor of Portuguese, Dr. Debora Ferreira. Our small group size permitted a unique travel experience that would not be possible with a larger group. In fact, this specific Brazil study abroad trip represented the best academic and travel value I have experienced in five distinct study abroad experiences in Latin America. In addition to studying in Florianópolis, our group also visited the major southern Brazilian cities of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro and the wonderful Foz do Iguaçu.
Florianópolis & Santa Catarina Island
Our UVU group studied Portuguese and Brazilian culture for four weeks at the Federal University of Santa Catarina. The university is located in the capital city of Florianópolis on the southeastern coastal island of Santa Catarina in the state of Santa Catarina. The island is situated about 12 hours south of São Paulo (by bus) and 18 hours south of Rio de Janeiro. Santa Catarina Island is beautiful with mountains and hills, quiet bays, huge trees, lush vegetation, hundreds of kilometers of beautiful beaches, and rolling sand dunes. This region of Brazil is not known for the white sand beaches and calm blue-green waters often stereotypically associated with northeastern Brazil. Rather, the beaches of Santa Catarina Island consist of rugged surf, large rock formations, coastal forests that completely enveloped some beaches, dark sand, and miles of uninhabited beach. The beaches and geography of Santa Catarina Island reminded me of parts of coastal Oregon. Santa Catarina Island’s ocean currents and surf patterns are famous for the many excellent surf spots that thrill the native Brazilians as well as surfers from all over the world.
Our study abroad group enjoyed a boating excursion in the bay that surrounds Santa Catarina Island. The excursion transported us to several historic Portuguese forts located on the bay’s small islands that were utilized by the colonizers to protect the bay from foreign invasion when they ruled the colony of Brazil. The forts had centuries-old cannons and stone buildings that permitted students to visualize the former Portuguese colonial power.
São Paulo has huge buildings, boulevards, parks, and plazas in many distinct areas. Our study abroad group stayed in the tranquil Jardins neighborhood. Jardins is one of the most affluent and walk friendly neighborhoods in central São Paulo.
São Paulo is also rich with culture. Our group excursions took us to several museums in distinct sections of the city. A cultural highlight included a trip to the Museu de Arte de São Paulo to view landscape paintings and portraits painted by European, Mexican (the Mexican muralists), and South American masters.
The Liberdade neighborhood of São Paulo is known for its huge population of Japanese descendents. That neighborhood has a distinct Japanese heritage, including its commercial establishments and architecture. Our study abroad group enjoyed a delicious lunch of sushi, Asian stir-fry and beer during our walking tour that day.
In the Luz neighborhood, our UVU group visited the Pinacoteca do Estado, an art museum that housed artwork by famous Paulista artists. While in Luz, we also visited the Memorial da Liberdade museum which houses exhibits summarizing the imprisonment and torture of political dissidents by the Brazilian government during the military dictatorship. The space included a representation of the cells where prisoners were kept with a unique audio feature that allowed visitors to hear the prisoners’ recorded summarized stories (in Portuguese) via headphones.
Rio de Janeiro
The natural landscape of the city’s ocean bay location is extremely beautiful. The integrated bay, beaches, and rock formations that encompass Rio are perhaps some of the most collective beautiful natural landscapes on planet Earth. However, humanity has destroyed that natural beauty. Most of the hotels facing the ocean have facades that are outdated, rundown, and dirty. A principal traffic artery paralleling the beach contour detracts greatly from the tranquility and serenity of the natural landscape.
Some in our group spent an afternoon seated at one of the many food and libation stands located on the wide pedestrian sidewalk at Ipanema Beach drinking inexpensive Brazilian beer and caipirinhas (the national Brazilian alcoholic drink – made with sugar-cane alcohol, sugar, lime, and ice). We watched all of Brazil pass us by that afternoon at Ipanema, on the pedestrian promenade, including joggers, walkers, people strolling babies, entrepreneurial vendors, cyclists, roller-bladers, dog walkers, beach soccer and beach volleyball players, buses, cars, and taxis. The full range of human beauty and human destruction was present at Ipanema that day.
Our UVU group visited the famous jagged peak at the top of Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf Mountain). The 360 degree views from the peak are spectacular since you can see the entire Bay of Guanabara and cityscape of Rio de Janeiro below. The natural beauty of the Rio landscape is spectacular from atop the Pão de Açúcar; the distressed human environment below is not seen, only an amazing confluence of natural landscapes: bay, ocean, mountains, and lush trees and vegetation. Rio is beautifully tranquil from that angle.
Foz do Iguaçu (Iguassu Falls)
If there is one place in Brazil to absolutely visit (even with the added cost and inconvenience of getting there), it is the Falls of Iguassu. The falls are located at the confluence of the Rio Iguaçu and Rio Paraná (rivers) which create the borders of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay in southwestern Brazil. The Brazilians have done an excellent job of creating a well-organized national park in their geographic domain which highlights the beauty of the falls while protecting the natural landscape and uniqueness of the falls site. Cars are not permitted in the park. Modern shuttle buses transport human visitors. The park includes trails and boardwalks that permit visitors to walk directly over the falls and provide numerous vantage points to appreciate the enormity of the numerous waterfalls.
On the sunny day we visited the Foz do Iguaçu, a huge, perfectly shaped rainbow was ever-present in the sky due to the combination of bright sun and water. Walking out over the falls affects all five human senses. Seeing the falls visually is amazing. However, by closing your eyes, you can feel and hear the power of the Foz do Iguaçu; taste and smell the water mist that enters through your nose and mouth (and ears); and feel the gentle kiss that the water and thick mist provide on your skin.
Our student group enjoyed a speed boat journey which took us out to experience the power of the falls from underneath certain waterfalls. Heading directly into those powerful waterfalls was a great human experience – it was like speeding toward an abyss since the boat passengers could not see if anything existed behind the curtain of the waterfalls. A powerful waterfall shower soaked the entire boat and all its passengers. That natural setting and speed boat ride into the power of Iguassu Falls was a highlight of our trip to Brazil.
Brazil Study Abroad Summary
My UVU study abroad experience was a wonderful experience. I offer my sincere gratitude to Dr. Debora Ferreira of Utah Valley University for leading our study abroad group and sharing so many insider secrets and personal knowledge of her native Brazil. The diversity, culture, and warmth of Brazil and its people were wonderful to experience first-hand. I recognize my 45-day visit to southern Brazil merely represented one specific view of Brazilian society and culture which does not define the entire nation. It would require years to more fully explore the tremendous geographic, cultural, and ethnic diversity of Brazil.