Richard is an investment banker in New York. He taught English in Brazil while on the World Endeavors Teaching volunteer program.
How was your experience in Brazil?
My experience in Brazil was one of the best experiences I’ve had in my life. It gave me the opportunity to travel, gain insight into new culture as well as help the global community through the volunteer program. A combination of the three not only offered a rewarding experience, but also taught me a lot about myself.
What was your volunteer placement like?
During my volunteer project I assisted with the English program in a public junior high school in Piracicaba, Brazil. On a typical day, I would shadow one of the teachers of the school. When I shadowed the English teacher, I helped students with their pronunciation, reading and speaking, enabling them to hear fluent English. Other days I assisted with the physical education courses. Also, twice a week, I would hold an optional conversational English class with the students from the high school.
What was a favorite part of your volunteer placement? The most challenging part?
My favorite thing about my volunteer placement was, hands down, the students in the school. They made the entire experience more than worth it. From working with the students in class to them embarrassing me in soccer, they were the highlight of the entire program.
The most challenging part of the volunteer program, and the stay in Brazil, was the language barrier. Having very little knowledge of the language before arriving to the country was definitely a huge hurdle. Fortunately, the local Brazilians and everyone in the program were extremely patient with me as I learned the language.
Had you been abroad before going to Brazil? What were your first impressions of the country?
I had been abroad a few times before. During college I was able to study abroad twice: once in London and once in Rome. Although I enjoyed my study abroad experiences, both cities seemed similar to US cities. Hence, there was no major difference in cultures and did not provide me with the ‘culture shock’ I was hoping to experience.
Brazil gave me the opportunity to immerse myself in a culture that was different than most western cultures.
My initial thought on the first day of my arrival was; “What have I gotten myself into?” Although I had been abroad, my previous experiences were to larger cities that had a decent number of people who understood or spoke English. Arriving in the small town of Piracicaba, Brazil, where a limited number of people spoke English, gave me the ‘culture shock’ that I hadn’t found in my prior study abroad experiences.
During the last weeks of my stay in Piracicaba, I did not want to leave. I thought that the country suited my lifestyle and that I belonged. I was even in discussion with the World Endeavors liaison to extend my volunteer program.
Why did you choose this program?
I wanted to volunteer for a host of reasons. The main reason being I wanted to assist the global community in a country that may lack, and need, a voluntary presence. Therefore, I wanted to do my volunteer work in a developing country.
I felt that Brazil was the perfect combination of a developing country and one that I would be able to adjust to quickly. I have spent some time in cultures somewhat different than the US through study abroad programs, and I felt Brazil was that next step as far as pushing the boundaries of my comfort level.
I chose World Endeavors because the program has a pretty large presence on my campus for their study abroad program. Once I realized that World Endeavors offered a volunteer program, I thought it would be best to participate through a trusted name.
Did you find any challenges with the language barrier?
Yes, the language barrier was the greatest challenge during my experience. Before I arrived, I had only heard Portuguese a few times; hence, it was difficult to pick up the language. But I felt that this made the experience that much better. By having that language barrier one realizes that he/she is in a totally different environment, which I loved.
How was living with a host family?
My host family made my experience great. I lived in an apartment with a retired teacher. Her daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren lived in the apartment across hall. Having the whole family in the same apartment building gave me the opportunity to experience the Brazilian family dynamic.
Most nights we had family dinner together, and on the weekends, when I did not have to go to my project site, we had family lunches, where other members of the family would come over and join us for the meal.
The family treated me so well and took me in as one of their own. I wouldn’t trade the relationship with them for anything.
What did you do in your free time?
My evenings varied depending on the events occurring that day. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I went to the community center to play basketball in the intramural league. Mondays and Wednesdays I typically watched television for a few hours with my host family, especially if Soccer was on that night. Fridays and Saturdays were typically devoted to hanging out with friends in the city.
During my stay in Brazil, I had the chance to travel to Rio de Janeiro with some friends from the States. This trip gave me the opportunity to see the beautiful beaches and amazing tourist attractions Brazil had to offer.
My favorite travel moment had to be traveling to the top of Corcovado to visit the Christ the Redeemer statue. Although I try to stay away from heights, this breathtaking view of the city from the top of Corcovado was second to none.
What was a typical meal in Brazil? What were your favorite/least favorite foods?
The first day, I was told that if I did not learn any other Portuguese, I would learn these two words: Arroz e Feijão, which means rice and beans. Most meals would be served with these two items, generally accompanied by some type of meat. They also have many traditional dishes, like Feijoada.
The food was great, so it’s difficult to choose a food that I disliked. It’s also difficult to choose a favorite food, but I really liked Feijoado. I also enjoyed the foods from the Churrascarias.
What are you doing now? How did your experience in Brazil impact you?
I currently live in New York City and work as an investment banker.
The time abroad has without a doubt impacted me. An experience that places you outside of your comfort zone, I feel, always teaches you something about yourself and has some type of impact on your life. Whether it be the life-long friends, memories or just the experience in general, it definitely had an impact on me.
I also see certain things differently after the volunteer program. Although the city of Piracicaba is far from poor, there is a presence of poverty throughout the country. Witnessing this level of poverty made me take a step back and not take so many things for granted.
On a lighter note, my appetite somewhat changed as well. After eating so many fresh meals, I came back to the States cutting back on the amount of fast food I eat.
What advice would you give to someone traveling abroad?
My largest piece of advice to someone traveling abroad is to stick it out for the entire program. Often, when traveling abroad, there may be an initial feeling of discomfort, and maybe even slight nervousness. But once this initial stage is behind you, the program will likely be one of the best experiences of your life.
Also, learning some of the language before traveling to the country of your study abroad or volunteer project is very useful for the basic things like shopping for food and basic conversation.