I am an International Development and Latin American and Caribean studies student, and I am spending the summer of my second year as an intern at an NGO in Sao Paulo, Brazil. I’d like to think that I have been selected because of my GPA, or the fact that I have been studying Portuguese for two years, or even for my well-written motivation letter, but I’m afraid the truth is that I was the only applicant for the position. To be completely honest, I’ve wanted to go to Brazil for a very long time, but never would I have chosen Sao Paulo among the dreamingly exotic destinations of the country. In some ways, I understand that Sao Paulo, a concrete jungle and the business capital of the region, wasn’t too popular with my fellow students. Yet, I am thankful to have been sent here as I think I might have skipped the city should I had been here solely for travel purposes. And that would have been a mistake because it is a wonderful place that has a lot to offer. I will try to share my experiences in the city through this blog, kind of as a way of remembering all of it as well as to avoid telling the same stories over and over again.
I have been warned by every single Brazilian I met back in Toronto about how dangerous Brazil is. I’ve been told not to wear any jewelry or slightly revealing clothes, not to walk alone after sunset, not to talk to strangers, and so on. But I’ve already done all of that and haven’t felt threatened once. Of course, I am careful. It surely isn’t as safe as Toronto, or Tokyo, but it really isn’t as bad as they say. Brazilians wear revealing clothes and jewelry and handbags, and considering that the sun goes down at 6:30, I’ve walked home alone after dark many times. But I wouldn’t with my laptop in my backpack, I hide my phone when I don’t need it for directions, and I keep my cards and my money in different places. Just in case.
When I made it to the hostel, I was surprised at how very few non-Brazilians there were. Unless someone was hiding in a dorm, we were only two. And on the first night, I was the only female in the place. Few years of living in Japan made me wonder if I had just checked in in a male-only hostel, but the puzzled look on the face of the receptionist when I asked him made me realized that it is not a thing here.
I found an affordable apartment in less than 24 hours thanks to the help of my organization who put me in touch with my landlady, Donna Leila. At first, I was told that she had a shared apartment that had a spot available. I had no problem with sharing an apartment but then she said I also had to share a room. I lived for about 5 months in an apartment in which I had to share a room when I was in Australia. And as it wasn’t a pleasant experience, I wasn’t sure I was ready to do that again. It was so cheap though, I thought that if the place was big and really nice, maybe I could do it..? But then I found out that I had to share with three other people. My room. Share my room with three girls. How many people could live in that apartment? Twelve. Twelve people live in that place. And although I was sure they were all lovely people, I was definitely not ready to live in an apartment that has two bathrooms and TWELVE PEOPLE. When she saw my hesitation she told me about another apartment she had. They call it a kitchenette, it is the equivalent of a bachelor, and it was right across the street from that first place. I went to see it and it was cute and affordable and even had a balcony and the kitchen was good enough to do some cooking and I just told her I was taking it and was to move the next day. So on day 3, I moved to Santa Cecilia, a lovely and safe neighborhood less than a kilometer away from work. The best about it; I don’t have to share it! Donna Leila is a lovely and rather chatty woman and she has been very helpful from the day we met. It’s a very modest apartment but it is perfect for my current position of unpaid intern in Brazil.
My first few days in the country were absolutely fantastic. From the moment I landed, I met amazing people. My Uber driver from the airport went on and on about how his passion for cars and driving brought him to be a full-time Uber driver. Whenever I ask directions, people engage in conversations and ask me where I am from, what I’m doing or how I like Brazil. People I have never met have let me use their phones or connect to their wifi. People go above and beyond to help and are really receptive to my very basic Portuguese skills.