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On Location in Brazil

I finally put my money where my mouth is. As an AmeriSpan staff member, for years I’ve been telling people how wonderful and effective language immersion programs are. And while I do know this to be true based on my experiences visiting and working at several of our partner language schools worldwide, I’d never actually done an immersion program myself (I learned Spanish the hard way, 15 years of classroom study). So, my bonus this year was a 3-week trip to visit our schools in Brazil and try to learn some Portuguese. Yes, I know, it’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it.

First stop, Rio de Janeiro. I have to admit, I was a little nervous about Rio. I mean, I did see Ciudade do Deus a few months ago…so I had a very vivid image of the violence which apparently runs rampant throughout the city. Well, to my joy, this is actually not so. In fact, while I always kept an alert eye out, I never once felt threatened nor did I encounter any sketchy situations. This may be because I spent most of my time in Impenema and Copocabana (where most of the host families are located) as opposed to the favelas. Although, I did venture into a favela in Copacabana to visit a volunteer project, which was wonderful…and the favela wasn’t scary at all (but I wouldn’t go there by myself at night)..

The school itself is located in the Centro, the main business district, about a 30 minute bus ride from my host family. At first I was a bit distraught at the idea of such a commute, but then I realized how interesting and scenic the trip was, so it went by rather quickly. And I was very impressed with the facilities and staff at the school. The only real problem I had was not being too tired for class and getting there on time…nightlife in Rio is not to be (Samba) beat!

Moving on to Salvador… Salvador was wonderful and exhausting. Between Portuguese classes, Samba classes, cooking classes, and nights out in the non-stop party neighborhood of Pelorihno, I could barely stand up at the end of the week. But I did manage to join the Saturday school tour to some local islands. I had to laugh when I boarded the boat to find a live band and Caipirihnas already in full force. The music and dancing do not stop in Salvador. I was so tired by the end of the week, I was actually looking forward to the 10-hour bus ride to Maceio.

Unfortunately, there was no sleep waiting for me on that bus. The vehicle itself was wonderful…I’ve never been on a nicer bus…but I forgot to bring earplugs and was stuck next to a giant snoring machine. So, I really wasn’t in the best condition when I arrived at the bus station in Maceio at 7am. I somehow managed to get to my host family and get my shoes off before collapsing into bed. That didn’t last long, however, because I knew the sun was shining and the beach was calling. The other student staying at this house, a lovely young woman from Switzerland, offered to accompany me. A few blocks later, I found myself sitting under an umbrella (the sun is VERY strong), overlooking turquoise water, sipping sweet/cold water from a coconut. And I thought to myself, “I think I’m going to like it here.” And I did!

Having come from two large cities, it was nice to be in comparatively small Maceio. I felt very relaxed and safe (not that I felt unsafe in the other places, but it just felt like I didn’t have to think about it as much). In fact, one day, I left my sandals by my beach chair/umbrella (which rents for less than $1, by the way) to go drink a beer at the beachside bar. And I remember thinking (while drinking), I probably shouldn’t have left my shoes there. When I got back, my shoes were not where I had left them. I was visibly (and probably audibly) upset, so the chair/umbrella renter guy came over and showed me that he had hidden my shoes up under my umbrella so they wouldn’t get too hot in the sun. I wanted to kiss him with gratitude, but instead gave him a 100% tip ($1) which confused him for a minute


By: Marlo Goldstein of AmeriSpan


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