Editor’s Note: In conjunction with the Office of International Education, The UTD Mercury is highlighting the adventures of UTD students who study abroad. In this installment, Jamie McLerran, a junior literary studies student, shares her experiences in Brazil, where she spent six weeks studying.
As a child I heard a recording of Stan Getz’s “The Girl from Ipanema.” Instantly, I was attracted to the bossa nova rhythm and the simple yet charming story the song tells. It evoked a yearning to see the land that could inspire such a song. So, when I decided to experience studying abroad, I knew Brazil was where I would go.
I found a program hosted by Temple University that offered classes in Salvador da Bahia, a city of about two million on the northeast coast of Brazil, famous for its strong influence of African culture.
While the city has become a true melting pot of indigenous, European and African peoples, the African heritage in Bahia is evident. Streets and apartment buildings bear the names of African gods, samba and other highly African rhythms fill the air from restaurants along the beaches, and throughout the city circles of people practicing Capoeira, an African martial art, can be seen.
All of this along with the natural beauty of the land and the people in it created a feast for all of my senses. In the six weeks I was there, I learned more about myself and my position in the world than could ever be taught in a classroom.
Although the Portuguese and African-Brazilian culture classes I took through the university were extremely helpful for communication and offered a lot of background to the city and the people in it, I felt most challenged by the everyday confrontations of living abroad.
As soon as I stepped off of the plane, I knew my world had changed drastically for the next month and a half; no longer could I communicate with ease, but I was drawn to the smiling faces of the Brazilian people, who are quick to remind tourists that Brazil is different from the rest of South America because they speak Portuguese.
Portuguese rolls smoothly off of the tongue and I now find it to be one of the most beautiful sounding languages. The vocabulary contains many descriptive words for emotions and people that would take several words to define in English.
Many of the locals I met, I found to be more sensuous and observant than anyone I had ever met; people could recognize me after seeing my face once and strangers address each other as brother and sister.
Being near the beach and in a moderate climate, Bahianans spend a lot of time outdoors. In an environment with a great amount of personal interaction, I found people to be conscious of their mannerisms and watchful of their surroundings. It is not rare to see people perched upon the walls that separate the sidewalk from the beaches just watching people go by.
The beach culture brought another dimension to my study abroad experience that made it the best way to spend the summer. A certain air of slow steadiness arises from being near the beach. I heard many of the locals saying things such as “Gelada sua cabeca,” “relaxa, tranquilo,” which was not difficult to do surrounded by palm trees swaying to a cool ocean breeze, drinking the water from a coconut, or watching the blue-white waves steadily roll towards the shoreline.
As the sun went down in the early evening, couples would gather at the lighthouse to watch the sun cast its magnificent array of colors from pink to gold in the calm waters of the bay that shapes the city. The six weeks abroad exposed me to both the natural beauty of Brazil and the culture that has developed within it.
My experiences gave me a taste of the mysterious country I have wanted to know for most of my life, but left me with a deeper yearning to return.