Don’t let the myths about Latin America lead you to false expectations when traveling to a new country or worse, deter you from traveling and having an experience of a lifetime! For this blog series, our team is debunking some of the common misconceptions about various countries in Latin America through the voices of Latin American students studying in the US.
Check out the first post in the series about Venezuela here!
Continuing with our series, I had the chance to discuss the misconceptions about Brazil that exist within the US with Pedro and Lucas. They explained that while most people are curious and excited about Brazil, most have limited knowledge based on stereotypes and news headlines.
In reality, Brazil is not the uniform and exotic place it is made out to be. Brazil is huge, and it can’t be labeled by the characteristics found in any one single state.
Meet Pedro and Lucas
Home country: Brazil
Home city: Rio de Janeiro
School: Brown University
Major: Economics and Statistics
Home country: Brazil
Home city: Porto Alegre
School: University of Pennsylvania and The University of São Paulo
Major: Chemical Engineering and Film
What was it like growing up in Brazil?
Pedro: I lived on the same street for 20 years. My whole family actually still lives on the same street and I knew everyone living there. I could visit my grandma every other day. I would also go to the building next door and play with the kids that lived there.
I really enjoyed growing up in Rio de Janeiro; the culture in Rio really affected who I am today and what I like to do. Since Rio de Janeiro is such a big city, I was afforded the opportunity to travel to other parts of the city, and as I grew older I could go out to clubs and meet new people. Not to mention having the beach nearby was great!
Lucas: I was born in the US and lived in LA for the first three years of my life. Then my family moved back to Brazil. I have been living here ever since, so I identify as a Brazilian. I’m from an upper middle class family. I never went through much financial or academic difficulty. I felt comfortable studying and learning here [in the US]. After living in São Paulo for another four years, I moved to Porto Alegre, which is in the south and a lot different from other places in Brazil (it snows upstate!).
Porto Alegre and the state of Rio Grande do Sul as a whole, is marked by extensive German and Italian immigration, not to mention its proximity to both Uruguay and Argentina. The result is a state that, although considerably large and diverse, acts like a collection of small towns. As such the gaúcho is usually very proud of where he belongs and the things he produces.
It would be safe to assume that more people know the lyrics to the state anthem than the national anthem. While as a gaúcho I am definitely proud of where I come from, my experiences in other places made me feel like I needed more than “a lot of the same.”
Why did you decide to study in the US?
P: Mainly because of the qualities offered by higher education in the US. In Brazil, there is less funding and they require you to choose your major before applying. I was very undecided about what I wanted to study, so having to decide what to major in when I was 18 years old was not ideal for me.
L: When I went to high school, I joined Model United Nations. I participated in two conferences and was selected to be part of Harvard’s Model United Nations. When I visited Harvard and MIT, I realized the atmosphere and the culture were different from everything I had ever seen in Brazil. It was much more comprehensive and diverse. In Brazil, it is difficult to double major.
In fact, to double major you have to attend two universities at once since you can only study what’s in your major’s program. When I applied I was interested in engineering, and I knew that the most I was going to get out of an education in Brazil were classes in that field, but I was also interested in other things like Poetry and International Relations. When I saw how the system worked in the US, it was much closer to what I wanted.
In addition, I hadn’t even finished senior year and I had already been accepted to a college in Brazil. I felt like I wasn’t living up to my full academic potential and I didn’t feel challenged. I felt that going to the US for my undergrad would be a much more interesting experience than going to college in Brazil.
What was the most difficult aspect to navigate?
P: In the beginning, I was overwhelmed by the language. After, it was difficult to grapple with the individualistic culture. There is a really different definition of what success means in college. Focusing so much on your grades is not something we usually do; we focus more on having passing grades than having perfect scores.
L: In the US there was a lot of pressure and competition. In Brazil, the level of challenge is smaller. Brazilians are much more intimate in the classroom and friendship level. In the US, however, the students aren’t as connected on an intimate basis, so it’s easier to feel isolated, pressure or simply left behind. This was especially true at Penn, where the competitive environment can get to an unhealthy point.
What did you miss most when you were in the US?
P: I missed my family and my dog. My family can’t visit me in the US because most of them don’t have passports. Realizing that I was in the US alone and my family couldn’t visit me made me miss them more. I missed my dog because he doesn’t have WhatsApp.
L: I mostly missed the food, not that other things weren’t important, but I could talk to people on Facebook and WhatsApp. I could also get most Brazilian products online. As a first year, I didn’t have an option of not having a meal plan. In the dining halls, healthy food was not seasoned or cooked well. So I really had no other choice than to eat unhealthy food. I really didn’t have access to authentic Brazilian food, either because it was not available or because it was too expensive. Most of the “Brazilian food” was a fusion of some sort with other Latin American foods.
1) Brazil is not a Spanish speaking country
Both Pedro and Lucas agreed that one of the most common misconceptions was regarding the language. Even in college many of them faced this common mistake. Lucas recalls, “people would try to be friendly and would start speaking Spanish.”
2) Brazil isn’t an exotic place where people are chronically dancing Samba and playing soccer
Brazil is portrayed as a very exotic place. As Lucas observed, people see Brazil as Carmen Miranda, soccer, the latest soccer superstar, the postcard-perfect Copacabana and bikinis. However, not everyone enjoys or knows how to dance and play soccer. As Pedro told us, “ people think I know how to play soccer but I don’t. When I say I don’t play, they say ‘oh but you’re still better than an American’. But I’m not.”
Lucas had a similar experience, “People would assume that because I’m from Brazil, I could start a Samba school.” Lucas also told us that, “People would overestimate how good-humored Brazilians are. They would say ‘ but your Brazilian, you’re happy all the time.”
3) Brazilians aren’t as excited about Brazil as the rest of the world is
Throughout our conversation, Lucas explained the differences in the way Brazilians relate to the country as a whole. “In Brazil, we are very pessimistic about our government and institutions; we tend to underrate ourselves as a country. We are much less patriotic and overly proud than the US.
For example, it seems like every TV show in the US is in a way glorifying America. We don’t get that stuff in Brazil. Pedro added, “I think a lot of people like Brazil so they think Brazilians like it the same way. Some people are more excited about Brazil than me, but they miss what the real situation in Brazil is like.”
4) Brazil is not only Favelas and the Amazon Rainforest
Since Brazil is a developing country and since many people learn about Brazil through the media ãwith movies like Elite Squad and City of God, people may fall into the misconception that all of Brazil is like that. As Lucas, explained “People think Brazil is only favelas and the Amazon Rainforest.
I got many questions about the slums, but I’ve been to such places like twice. I mean Brazil is the 8th largest economy in the world. I am upper middle class. How often do upper-income people go to the poorer parts of the US?”
5) Brazil cannot be reduced to what is seen in Rio and São Paulo
Brazil is one of the most diverse countries in the world. There’s more to Brazil than Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. As Lucas sees it, “there are many different Brazil’s within Brazil. People speak and behave differently in every state. Brazil is not a uniform place and as the 5th largest country there is much diversity. America is not the only melting pot.”
- What’s your favorite place in your country? Fortaleza, especially the Future Beach, Praia do Futuro.
- What’s the greatest thing about your country? The people
- Favorite food typical of your country? Feijoada, by far. Every time I go back home grandma cooks it for me!
- Favorite holiday/custom specific to your country? Carnival, because I really love seeing how the year only starts after Carnival has happened. Even in school, people would often skip classes before Carnival.
- One word to represent the essence of your country? Happiness. I think the concept of happiness in Brazil is less connected on money and influence, and I love that. This makes me feel more relaxed about life.
- What’s your favorite place in your country? Rio de Janeiro
- What’s the greatest thing about your country? Brazilians themselves because of how strong we are, we manage to be inviting and welcoming even when things aren’t going well.
- Favorite food typical of your country? Churrasco, but I don’t eat it anymore
- Favorite holiday/custom specific to your country? Carnival! Every other holiday feels like a scam. We can celebrate the independence but nothing changed.
- One word to represent the essence of your country? Resilience: Brazilians go through a lot of hardships, and through it, they remain strong.
Check out our tours in Brazil! You can have authentic experiences with local guides that will make you feel likeyou belong.