Intensive Portuguese Language Course at PUC-RIO

19 March 2019

Over the summer break, Maya from SELCS joined an intensive language course at PUC, progressed her Portuguese and explored the cidade maravilhosa that is Rio de Janeiro.

Maya Rattray, SELCS

I undertook a summer Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro , PUC-Rio. The programme was truly an intensive experience, aiming to get everyone regardless of language level to good conversational proficiency. Luckily, I had studied Portuguese at UCL beforehand as part of my BA Language and Culture degree so I was placed into Level 3 out of 5. My class included people from all walks of life from other European and American undergraduate students myself to a 65 year old millionaire famous self-help author to a 13 year old whose parents are in the US Military - it was truly a multifaceted cultural exchange. My classes were conducted entirely in Portuguese which gave us total immersion. We learned popular Brazilian songs, typical Brazilian conversational interjections such as ‘pois é’ or ‘nossa’ and of course a whole lot of grammar. The course was evenly balanced out between writing, listening and reading comprehension, peaking and grammar meaning my proficiencies in all these areas improved immeasurably in a relatively short amount of time.

PUC also organised a number of cultural excursions for us to explore the ‘cidade maravilhosa’ that is Rio de Janeiro, as well as the surrounding state. We went on a whole day city tour which included highlights such as the infamous Maracanã football stadium, exploring the artsy neighbourhood of Santa Teresa, going to the colourfully tiled Escadaria Selarón, eating lunch at a typical Brazilian churrascaria and of course taking a cable car to the breathtaking Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf Mountain) which offered panoramic views of the whole of Rio. We also visited the imperial city of Petropolis and the quaint colonial town of Paraty where we learned more about the Portuguese Empire.

For me this experience has been extremely beneficial towards my degree programme at UCL and my wider long term career goals. Portuguese is a compulsory part of my degree and I feel attending the summer course and having total linguistic immersion here in Rio for a month has improved my Portuguese more than it ever did in the classroom at UCL. I have started to pick up slang words, started speaking Portuguese with a distinct Carioca accent and widened my vocabulary immeasurably. In terms of wider career goals, I am looking to pursue journalism after graduation and being in such a culturally thriving particularly in time of great political upheaval has further sparked my curiosity for telling narratives. During my time here in Rio, I have made many friends and contacts of people who live in the favelas, and I am hoping in the very near future to make some kind of small documentary or blog about their experiences. This is an opportunity I never would have had staying in London over the summer break.

I think one of the biggest challenges was the perceived fear of Rio de Janeiro. It’s not a well beaten place on the tourist path for British people, especially young single female Brits. There is a lot of scaremongering and complete misinformation about safety, like any big city you just need to be street smart, not flash expensive items nor dress extremely extravagant and no one will give you a second glance. This is not to complete minimise Rio’s crime problems- I heard gunshots nearly every day, but you just need to remember it’s all in contained areas usually in favelas on top of mountains and it is largely drugs trafficking related so the chances of tourist being caught up in shootouts are next to nothing. Also Brazilian people are extremely warm, welcoming and will go above and beyond to help strangers. 

I would advise everyone to do a short term period abroad it offers you the opportunity to experience another culture, learn another language and instils resilience and confidence. It is the scariest feeling to jump on a plane and be taken far away from home where you know no one. Study abroad teaches you true independence, there are no family members or friends who can easily intervene when difficulties arise, you are truly independent. I always say if you can survive study abroad, you can survive anything.