By Lily Fredericks, Brianna Kreft, and Hailee Thayer
If we had a soundtrack of our trip to Rio de Janeiro, “Girl From Rio” by Anitta would be the main track. We felt like main characters throughout our week there, especially when we were able to find our own way in the city and figure things out for ourselves. However, there were definitely times where we felt like the quintessential dumb Americans, such as when we looked like deer in the headlights when people tried to speak to us, when we couldn’t tell the uber driver where we were going, or when we ordered the completely wrong menu item. But we got good at laughing these things off, making the best of each situation despite often feeling out of place, and adapting to the surrounding situation and culture. Additionally, another thing that we noticed almost immediately when we stepped foot in Rio was that we did not get nearly as many stares and yells from people on the streets as we did in Salvador for looking so out of the ordinary. We quickly realized that this was because we actually did not look out of the ordinary in Rio where there is a much higher population of white folks than in Salvador, which has one of the highest populations of black and brown folks as we learned in class. As sad as it is, this made us feel safer than we felt in Salvador, because we were able to blend into the crowd more. We also discussed how Rio was simply more touristy than Salvador, which also could be a reason that we felt safer there.
Perhaps one of our favorite things we did while in Rio was a backstage Carnaval tour that we booked through Airbnb experiences. Even though we thought that the more scenic and popular activities like visiting Christ the Redeemer or Sugarloaf Mountain would be the highlights of our trip, while they were still amazing, the Carnaval tour was the most memorable because we really learned more about Brazilian culture and how big of a deal this event is for many Brazilians. We got to see the behind the scenes of the workings of the Samba school that was the winner of Carnaval in 2022. We got to see the breathtaking floats, costumes, and the hard work that constitutes the year-long preparation for Carnaval. We also got to learn what each float, costume, and dance represented, and the Samba school’s theme for this year was Candomblé, which was very cool to see considering we had learned all about this religion while in Salvador. To our surprise, at the end of the tour, we got to dress up in old Carnaval costumes and even dance with a professional Samba dancer. It was very fun, and we were able to let loose a bit, even in the company of strangers. Learning the details of what goes into Carnaval and the meaning behind it made us appreciate it even more than we already did.
Another favorite excursion of ours was visiting Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) and Sugarloaf Mountain. Even though it was slightly cloudy when we went up to see Christ, the views were still amazing. The statue was a lot bigger than we thought and we had to take pictures at a low angle to get him in it. While we were up there, we saw a group of men trying to take a picture. Like the nice Minnesota people we are, we offered to take one of them. They then offered to take one of us. We thought it would just be one and done, but this man proceeds to take individual pictures of us, even laying on the ground to get the right angle, and even posing us. Needless to say, we were surprised. The pictures turned out great and we are forever grateful for that man. We had better weather for Sugarloaf, though. We had booked a gondola ride to go all the way up the mountain. The views from the gondola were incredible, even if they packed us into the car like sardines. We were very surprised when the gondola moved as fast as it did, the longest stretch took only a few minutes to get up there. When we were at the first stop, we saw people rock climbing up the mountain. We had to look away because the height made us nervous for the climbers. Then at the second and final stop, we found it amazing that we could see the entire city of Rio. It seemed like the Cariocas were very proud of their city and there were many native Brazilians taking in the sites as well as tourists.
On our second or third night in the city, we were finally able to meet up with Lucia, who had generously been giving us very helpful advice about the city for some time. We had great conversations about culture in Rio and she was able to tell us about her life and her family, so it was fun to be able to see what life in Rio was like for her. We then attended the Flamengo basketball championship game. This was sort of nerve racking to us at first because there were a lot of yelling men and people in general, but once we got settled into our seats, we enjoyed ourselves and cheered the team on with the rest of the crowd. We had to move seats once because a group of guys kept looking at us up and down and trying to talk to us, and we just wanted to be able to see the game. Lucia and Pedro mentioned to us that the crowd would be mostly men, so we were not really surprised that this happened. But it was really interesting to see how much less popular basketball is in Brazil as this was a championship game yet only half the arena was full. However, the fans that were there were dedicated and relentless with their cheering, which was a fun thing to experience
On one of our last days, we visited both the Lapa stairs and the Cafeteria Colombo. The stairs were a very cool site to see and take pictures of, as they were entirely made up of colored tiles from around the world. We even saw an MN painted tile. There were also other very random tiles from cities across the U.S. as well as American popstars and American Universities. The whole time we were wondering how these tiles got here and what it took for one to get to place a tile on the stairs. We were also surprised by just how many people were visiting the stairs that day. We are not sure why, but we sort of thought that they would not be crowded at all. However, we realized that in a city as big as Rio, there are not many places that are vacant. Next, we went to the Cafeteria Colombo which Lucia told us was built in the 1800’s. The interior gave us very European vibes, which we thought was interesting, and we were able to sit down and get a cup of fancy coffee. In looking around, we could tell that this was sort of a tourist spot but also most likely a place for more wealthy Brazilians to come, as the prices were higher than we were used to seeing and people seemed to be dressed nice.
While our time in Rio was amazing and very smooth, our journey home was anything but. With multiple flight changes and a 12-hour delay in Sao Paulo, we had a lot of time to reflect on our trip to Rio and our time in Brazil as a whole. All three of us enjoyed our time immensely, not only doing the fun touristy stuff but more importantly, taking part in activities that taught us about Brazilian culture and history. We will forever be dreaming of Brazilian coffee, will forever remember the cultural importance of Capoeira, and of course, will forever be hunting for our next caipirinha.
What Each of Us Learned
Lily: I think what I learned most of all in Rio was how to be truly independent and how to be flexible when things do not go as you planned them. In Rio, we no longer had things being planned for us at every step in our day like we did in Salvador. We had to figure out what we wanted to do, how we were going to get there, and what we needed to do to prepare for this on our own – all in a new country and one of the biggest cities in the world. Additionally, there was at least one thing each day that threw a wrench in our plans. Perhaps things did not go at all how we expected, our plans were forced to change, we couldn’t communicate with someone, or we simply couldn’t find a destination. In any case, we were able to change our plans and make the most of our time in Rio regardless of the several roadblocks we experienced. I can honestly say I am very proud of us as three white girls from Minnesota who were able to successfully navigate a foreign city in our own and flourish in the process. Overall while in Brazil, however, I learned to have a new massive appreciation for a culture I never thought I would get to experience in a million years. I think I can take back certain aspects that are characteristic of many Brazilians such as being forward with one’s feelings, dancing like nobody is watching, eating all sorts of different foods together, and even hugging my loved ones every chance I get. Brazil may seem like such a faraway place coming from the U.S. that is seen as a great Western power. It may also seem like it was only a small part of my experience in life, but Brazil is a huge country full of such interesting people that have called it home their whole lives and are proud to be Brazilian. I will forever maintain the connection I made with my host mom, and I really hope to go back to Salvador and visit her one day because she taught me so much.
Bri: The most important lesson I took away from our trip to Rio is the importance of stepping out of your comfort zone. While the study abroad trip as a whole taught me this, I really thought about this after our time in Rio. During the program in Salvador, we were with a group of twenty students, two professors, host families, and of course, Clara Ramos. Our days were very detailed and well-planned out. Rio was the exact opposite. We had to plan our days ourselves, and Lucia and Pedro could only help via WhatsApp. This threw me out of my comfort zone. Yet, this is what I appreciated most about the Rio trip. We were forced to learn how to navigate the language barrier by ourselves, come up with a reasonable schedule, create alternative plans when weather became a problem, and explore a new city all on our own. I am very glad we ended our time in Brazil with a trip to Rio, because it gave me an opportunity to step out of comfort zone and learn more about what I am capable of.
Hailee: Overall, the program taught me many lessons, one being adaptability. I’m sure that the other two have written about this, but it was such an important lesson to learn and keep. There were times, even when things were planned for us in Salvador, when something would change our plans. I could either loosen up and go with the flow or I could resist and end up angry or stressed. I quickly learned that it was better to go with the flow and roll with the punches. In Rio, our boat tour kept getting pushed back or cancelled. We found different things around the area to keep us busy while we waited for the tour guide to respond. Our plans changed many times throughout the day, and it was a great lesson in adaptability and international travel in general. I would say that I’ve changed as a person just from these lessons. I am much more adaptable to situations, and I have a wider worldview just from living in a different country and then comparing two cities within that country. I am super grateful for this program and the experiences it provided me. I met so many great people (like my host parents) and made so many amazing memories that I wouldn’t have otherwise.
About the Authors:
Lily Fredericks recently graduated from CSB majoring in political science and minoring in environmental studies and psychology. She is originally from Eden Prairie, Minnesota and is interested in law, public policy, and different ways to protect the environment. She likes to play tennis and be outdoors.
Brianna Kreft is a senior at CSB/SJU, majoring in Political Science, and minoring in Environmental Studies and Psychology. She is originally from Elbow Lake, Minnesota. Brianna enjoys learning about gender issues and women’s empowerment. She has participated in multiple research opportunities focused on gender-related social justice issue. Brianna looks forward to being able to learn more about the country that she has been researching for the past two years.
Hailee Thayer recently graduated from the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University with a major in Political Science and a minor in Gender Studies. She is from Prior Lake Minnesota. Hailee enjoys learning about the intersection of gender and aspects of everyday life as well as political representation. Hailee also enjoys reading in her free time and playing rugby.