Cross-cultural understandings

The following are some observations from the first few weeks of the Spring 2017 semester in Rio by OU student (and Anthropology major) Ashley Dirks.  She began with no Portuguese but has quickly picked up the basics, and has thrown herself into life in Rio with enthusiasm.  As her photo shows, the beautiful views that are everywhere in the city continuously transform with the changing light.

When I began college, I knew I wanted to travel. I dreamed about someday crossing the Atlantic and studying abroad. I never knew much about Brazil but my professors (being the anthropologists they are) pushed me to open my mind to the rest of the world including South America. I began to see that South America is a thriving region that is often underestimated by American media. So, I decided I would travel south to Rio de Janeiro, instead of crossing the Atlantic, to learn about Brazil and its role in this globalized age.

The first day here was difficult because of homesickness but the next few days would turn out to be amazing. I have done more in this first week than I planned on getting done in the first month! Rio de Janeiro has wonderful beaches, waterfalls, gardens, and so many mountains. Even the sidewalks are beautiful because street art is legal. My favorite part is learning the little differences between our two cultures. A language class in Norman will never be able to teach you the little slang and expressions true immersion can. An example in Portuguese is “Obah,” which is a way to express happiness when doing something. An English equivalent perhaps being “Yay!” Living abroad has truly boosted my confidence. To go to the store where you have no idea what the cashier is saying and still manage to walk out with food is a great feeling. It sounds funny, but experiences like this have taught me that I can do anything.

Brazil is not just a place of beauty but also a place with amazing (not spicy) food, a deep history of trying different types of government, and unique history of race relations. For a museum lover like me, Rio de Janeiro is full of interesting things to see. Learning about Brazil`s history while living here has been a great experience. I get to visit key historic sites rather than just reading about them. Last week, my classroom was the Praça XV de Novembro. This plaza is the site of the arrival of the Portuguese royals, the abolition of slavery, and the declaration of a democratic government. Even outside of class time I can see the way history has played into the formation of modern Brazil.

Seeing places like the Christ Redeemer statue and Pão de Açúcar are great but they do not show the whole story of Brazil. I am glad I am staying for a semester because I get to see more than the tourist trap spots. I can see the way people spend their daily lives. To see how Brazilians throw a birthday party or how they get on a bus does not seem like it would be very fascinating. It is fascinating, however! Even simple things like a birthday party are slightly different. Perhaps this is the anthropologist in me but I think these daily life patterns are the best part of the study abroad experience. Living here for a semester also allows me to make friends with the locals. Before moving to Rio de Janeiro I was concerned about how to get to know people with the language barrier. However, people in Brazil are always friendly and helpful when I try to speak to them. I have already met so many people through my roommate and my volunteer job. With a little understanding, kindness, and knowledge of Portuguese’s greetings I know I will make lifelong friends.

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