Piranhas Won’t Eat You

Joanna Shieh - Brazil


July 23, 2013

As I anxiously await my bridge year to Santa Catarina, Brazil, my friend Idalina sends me a CNN article titled, “10 things to know before visiting Brazil”, by Joe Robison. I read the article, over and over again, laughing and becoming even more intrigued by Brazil’s interesting, and crazy culture.

There are no introverts in Brazil. When I visited Brazil in the winter of 2012, I immediately felt the energy of the Brazilian people. It hit me in a wave as a soon as I walked out of the airport and onto a bus in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. People of all ages, races, and genders were carelessly packed into a public bus. Everyone I observed spoke with emotion, whether it came from their mouths or their hand gestures. Strangers spoke to strangers, and friends to friends. The volume of conversations in the bus grew every second, as there was constant competition to be heard. I love the extroverted personalities of the Brazilians, because they remind me of myself, and I cannot wait to be among them.

English isn’t spoken widely. Which means! I’ll be forced to use my Portuguese on a daily basis, and that will make it easier to immerse myself into Brazilian culture. At first, I’m sure I’ll be walking around the streets of Santa Catarina, hoping that I won’t have to use my less-than-perfect Portuguese, but after a while, this is exactly what will push me into completely immersing myself in the Brazilian language.

The juice bars are amazing. I cannot complain! Exotic fruits blended together to make the perfect, most refreshing beverage for a hot day in Brazil. Is there anything better? 

Brazil is an outdoor world. This is probably the most challenging thing I am going to have to face in Brazil. As many of you know, “outdoorsy” would not necessarily be the best adjective to describe me. However, I welcome the challenge and the transformation that I hope will come with it. After all, I’m not doing this program to be “safe.” I want to explore the Amazon and at the same time soak in the wild aroma that wraps itself around Brazil.

There’s an enormous gap between the rich and the poor. The gap between these two social classes significantly influenced my decision to spend this gap year in Brazil. Once again, as I go back to the time when I visited Rio de Janeiro, I vividly remember speeding through the city on a bus, and seeing favelas (Brazilian slums) to my right, and enormous, beautiful, apartments to my left. The two extremes of class were separated by mere highway. By working with non-governmental organizations during my time in Santa Catarina, I hope to see, with my own eyes, the poverty-stricken populations of Brazil and the effect they have on the people within the communities, both rich and poor.

One of its biggest cities is in the middle of the Amazon. The saying that Brazil is an outdoor world is highlighted even more since one of its biggest cities, Manaus, is in the middle of one of the widest rivers in the world. Therefore, there is no escaping the breathtaking natural sceneries of Brazil!

Rhythm is king. Brazilian dance, music, and even language, are all centered on a key ingredient. Rhythm. And this is what makes Brazil so unique. Dances such as lundu, maracatu, and axe are born from beats created by a diverse range of drums. Portuguese is another aspect of Brazilian culture where rhythm is significant and why I believe it is one of the most interesting and beautiful languages in the world. The music-based language brings words from slurred to staccato throughout playful dialogue. I hope to be fluent in Portuguese by the end of my gap year so I can speak as rhythmically and beautifully as Brazilians.

Parties are important. Carnival, one of the largest parties in the world, is where you can step onto the street and immediately be greeted by colorful Brazilian dancers and wild, almost ridiculous floats. I can’t wait to absorb the noise of the millions of people coming together to enjoy a week of non-stop parties and the music of local musicians.

Kissing strangers is customary. When I visited Argentina and Brazil, I was bombarded by the friendliness of the people. And yes, this did include kissing strangers’ cheeks. I loved this new difference between my culture and theirs. The awkward meeting between strangers completely disappears once your cheek touches theirs. However, if you do it wrong, a whole other form of awkward arises… Oh well! Another cultural boundary I’ll have to cross when the time comes.

Piranhas won’t eat you if you fall in an Amazon River. Last, but definitely not least is this helpful piece of information. Thankfully, they are only likely to eat a human if they are injured, or bleeding. Phew! Again, I am taught something new about the mysterious Brazil, which shows how much I still have to learn, and how much information I am about to gain though this bridge year. However, I don’t think I’ll be up for learning anything new about Piranhas.

Joanna Shieh