What do Brazilians miss when they live abroad

My year abroad at the Universidade de São Paulo (USP)

After I became aware of Brazil in 2015 through a five-week vacation both in the northeast of the country and in Rio de Janeiro, I immediately found out about Brazilian university partnerships on the website of the International Office of the University of Potsdam. There are three universities in the state of São Paulo to be found here, including the USP I have chosen as well as the internationally renowned university in Campinas (UniCamp), approx. 90km from the city of São Paulo. Furthermore, the University of Potsdam has a partnership with the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (UFMG) in Belo Horizonte, the capital of this incredibly historic state, which with its beautiful mountain landscape, old and preserved colonial cities such as "Ouro Preto" or "Trinidade" as well knows how to convince with its breathtaking nature, characterized by waterfalls and coffee plantations.

Nevertheless, after a long research, I decided on the USP. The excellent international reputation of this institution combined with the charm of a 20 million inhabitant metropolis should guarantee an exciting time. Today - a year and many experiences later - I can say without hesitation: It has! But one by one.

Subject: business Informatics

Length of stay: 02/2016 - 2/2017

Host university: Universidade de São Paulo

Host country: Brazil


The application at the host institute only takes place after the application and selection phase at the International Office of the University of Potsdam. Knowledge of Portuguese is required that corresponds to at least level A2 + to B1, therefore at least two semester courses at the Center for Languages ​​and Key Qualifications (Zessko) at the University of Potsdam or comparable. Should things like letter of motivation, akad. If the suitability and the personal selection interview are convincing, the application can begin at the host institution.

For the application, the USP required an English résumé, a short letter of motivation written in Portuguese, a (provided) form about my study project, therefore course registrations and a student visa for the corresponding period. Important: You hear it again and again and yet it rarely works: Start early to put together the application documents! With visas in particular, there can be sometimes severe delays and unforeseen obstacles that need to be resolved with more than less time. Note: You cannot apply for or receive the student visa from Brazil! Anyone who gets on a plane without a student visa will be left behind later and will not be allowed to study.

Subject: business Informatics

Length of stay: 02/2016 - 2/2017

Host university: Universidade de São Paulo

Host country: Brazil


If the application including the visa has worked and you have arrived in Brazil, you can start! Since we are now in the southern hemisphere and the seasons are contrary, semesters and corresponding holidays are also tied to other times. For me that unfortunately meant that I would not be able to experience the introductory week for international students, because three days before the start of the Brazilian semester I had to take an exam in H04 on the Griebnitzsee campus - that's life! Anyone who thinks that this could be too stressful has not got on the plane at 0 ° Celsius after the long and cold winter semester in Germany and got off again at 36 °!

Teaching in the Brazilian university landscape is fundamentally different from that in Germany. A comparison to the German university of applied sciences is certainly appropriate here. So the "lessons" (the lecture) always take place in smaller groups, in my courses there were a maximum of 40 people per teacher in the premises of the faculdade de economia, administração e contabilidade (FEA), therefore in the business faculty. From conversations I know, however, that this is the common model at state universities.

There is a mandatory attendance rate of at least 70% per course, which some professors force more, others less. The equipment of the FEA can be described as good to very good. Not a rare phenomenon, the (model) business faculties are often kept up to date. I was also able to examine other faculties in the "cidade universitária", ie "university town". The faculties, their equipment, students and professors, just like São Paulo itself, are sometimes extremely different. You only need to cross the street to get from the FEA to the Faculty of Architecture (FAU). The picture changes so drastically that I had to make sure that I was actually still at the USP. The architectural design of the FAU building is completely different. Open, no windows, skateboard ramps, hammocks and countless graffiti in the building quickly suggest that, in contrast to the chic FEA, there are fewer shirt-wearers than politically mostly left-wing students and professors to be found here.

Politics plays an extremely important role in Brazil. Several protests, rallies and counter-protests could be observed not only in the city center, but also at the university in particular. Expect a clear, nuanced political opinion and an interest in yours from the majority of USP students!

In contrast to their German counterparts, the performance evaluation of the Brazilian universities is based on considerably more parameters. One example is the "Comportamento Organizacional" (Organizacional Behavior) course I completed with 4 credit points or hours per week. The final grade for this course, which corresponds to the workload according to the USP 14 ECTS, was composed as follows:

1h group lecture including presentation (20%)

Questions from the professor about those lectures (10%)

Half-semester exam (30%)

Attendance (10%)

Final exam (30%)

The workload per module is thus distributed over the semester, so that learning is declared in the last second at the end of the semester. The bottom line is that the workload is roughly the same as at the University of Potsdam, since several exams have to be taken, but these do not ask about the material of the entire previous semester.

The contact to the professors is basically closer, that "you" is considered the standard form of address, the relationship to the teaching staff is typically Brazilian and decidedly more personal than in the land of poets and thinkers and I perceived it positively as "friendly but demanding". Exams can also always be taken in English, even if the language of instruction is Portuguese. Nonetheless, both the lessons and the exam questionnaire are written in Portuguese, so you (luckily) have trouble getting around the language. In the meantime there are also lectures held in English in many areas, as you can imagine 95% of them attended by international students. I particularly liked the course "International Management - Doing Business in Brazil", which was not only informative in terms of content, but also included a visit to the Brazilian stock market "BOVESPA".

Just like the University of Potsdam, the USP has a "buddy program" for international students. For this purpose, after you have been accepted to study, you will receive an online questionnaire, which asks about your personal interests and preferences. The finished sheet will be published on the associated online platform, which can be viewed by all USP students. If your profile is of interest, you will be contacted directly by the appropriate person. Everything else is based on personal agreement. Brazilians are considered to be one of the most hospitable and helpful peoples in the world, so your requests for help are almost always granted - a point that cannot be emphasized enough! Be it a tour around the campus, the mandatory reporting to the federal police, the best spots around São Paulo or just the right "salad stacking technology" in the cafeteria, the buddies are your best allies!

The equipment at the university is also good to very good, so you can use the library and computers until late in the evening and take part in the incredible sports facilities. With over 90,000 students and the huge sports area on campus, the USP really offers countless opportunities to get rid of excess energy and / or calories and, above all, to make friends! I personally played in the handball team of my faculty, one of a total of 19 (!) USP handball teams. Regardless of whether rugby, tennis, karate, capoeira, football, basketball or ballet, if you are not resourceful here, it should not be easier elsewhere!

You will also find free cinemas, buses, a swimming pool, various departmental libraries and, for example, the biology research institute for tropical toxins including a helicopter landing pad for emergencies and the most poisonous snakes in the world from AZ for antidote research on the campus in Butantã - the cidade universitária or university town. ..not bad, right?

Living in brazil

How do you imagine life in Brazil? Sun, caipirinha and a lot of soccer between the samba sessions? Basically, it can be said that the rich south of Brazil differs radically from the rather poor north-east of the country. The majority of the population is white, the typical "Paulistano" (native of São Paulo) prefers beer to caipirinha without hesitation and while many foreigners try in vain to find samba on every corner, countless techno clubs with an international line-up emerge from the once abandoned factory buildings in the city center. Anyone who suggests a comparison to Berlin here hits the bull's eye. The "Vila Madalena" district, which is particularly popular with tourists and international students, and the adjacent "Pinheiros" offer everything that is guaranteed not to come to your mind when you hear the word "Brazil".

Urbanism is the motto here. Sophisticated graffiti, studios full of handmade furniture, paintings or other works of art meet Rammstein-listening skateboarders as well as cosmopolitan, perfectly English-speaking doctors, lawyers or entrepreneurs. The diversity of the largest city in the southern hemisphere is simply breathtaking, just like the well-known Brazilian ambivalence and the resulting gap between rich and poor, between north and south, between black and white.

In contrast to Rio de Janeiro, the city is clearly divided. While in Rio at the foot of the famous "Corcovado", home of the world-famous statue of Christ, which adorns postcards both protectively and welcomingly, the poor in the favelas continue to hope for justice, countless tourists around 300m above make selfies with cell phones which cost more than on average three to four months of the Brazilian minimum wage. While in Rio there are over 700 (!) Favelas, sometimes with 150, sometimes with over 200,000 residents, spread over the entire city, São Paulo is much more structured. You won't find any favelas near Vila Madalena or Pinheiros. This contributes enormously to safety, so I always felt in good hands there, even in the evening. Nonetheless, caution is always advised in Brazil - everywhere.

The places mentioned are still only 20 minutes away from the university by bus. This fact is not to be despised in a city where the 2h commute each way is considered quite normal. There are also various subway lines, the "Linha Amarela" (yellow line) stops close to the university, so even a place that is further away from the campus is okay, provided you live close to a yellow metro station, for example in new city center the station "Paulista" or deeper in Pinheiros, eg. "Fradique Coutinho" or "Faria Lima".

Cost of living

The Brazilian minimum wage is currently under € 250 / month. Sounds like life there is a gift, doesn't it?

Unfortunately not. The great gap between the rich upper class, who make up around 10% of the population, and everything that does not belong is difficult to ignore. While a salesman, police officer or porter (a job that is common due to security measures) does not earn 400 € a month, the rent of my 8m2 room in a 6-person apartment in Vila Madalena was the equivalent of those 400 €. Unthinkable for people or even families without a hard-to-get degree from a state university. São Paulo, especially the west of the city, with the southern zone of Rio - keyword Copacabana - is one of the most expensive areas in Brazil and thus one of the most expensive in South America. At the latest when you see the price tag of 20.50 real for a bar of Lindt chocolate (approx. 6.30 €) or a 0.33l bottle of Chimay (Belgian beer) for 28.50 real (approx. 8.33 €) one aware ... if you want to pursue a high standard of living here, you have to be able to afford it. It is precisely the prices of imported goods in particular that reach unimagined heights due to almost absurd tariffs. But don't worry, if you can do without your beloved European food, you will get by much cheaper and just as tasty, just think of the countless tropical fruits that can be bought very cheaply in supermarkets or on street markets. The "Brazilian potatoes", hence rice and beans, are simply part of it and an indispensable part of the menu. The cost of this can only be described as low, just like for beef. All you can eat offers in a "Churrascaria", hence a Brazilian steakhouse, for <10 € are absolutely not uncommon. The bottom line is that the cost of living is slightly higher than, for example, in Berlin, but with around € 700-800 per month there should be nothing that a student would not miss in Germany. Cheaper is always possible, with some cutbacks.

Since Brazil is an extremely service-oriented country, the standard of living per euro is higher! It starts with the weekly cleaning lady and doesn't stop with the great Brazilian food!

Locals and language

Basically, it can be said that the UniCert I / 1 and I / 2 courses at the University of Potsdam prepared me perfectly. More never hurts, but it is not absolutely necessary. However, less would be disadvantageous!

I was able to speak Portuguese fluently after about three months. Above all, the understanding has improved so drastically within this period that I was able to reproducibly understand at least 90% with the knowledge I now gained. The most important tip can only be this: Live with Brazilians and speak Portuguese every day. Most are surprised at what the brain is capable of after subconsciously giving significance to language. After two courses in Potsdam and a one-year stay in Brazil, my level is now B2 + to C1, which means that I have practically no longer encountered any language barriers in the last six months.

It is also important to know: Since you will almost inevitably have contact with international students, there is a high probability that your English will also improve, at least if it can be improved. On average, the English level across Brazil is unfortunately quite poor. English is seldom spoken far away from tourist places or areas with affluent residents. Whether in the restaurant, in the supermarket, in the cinema or just on the street, without Portuguese it will be an even bigger adventure! Big cities like Rio or São Paulo do best here. Since I was able to get to know exactly this very well on a more than 8000km long road trip through northeast Brazil, it can be said: Those who travel here without basic knowledge of the relevant language are relying on their luck!

The hospitality is unsurpassed, however, anyone who does not come from Brazil is generally interesting and is greeted with a smile. True Story: When I asked a "Carioca" (local Rios) in English about a T-shirt store on my first visit in 2015 at a corner cafe in Rio, he paid the bill, walked me two blocks to a store and waited until I made my choices just to trade them down even further! Let's make it short, the best thing about Brazil is without a doubt the Brazilians themselves!

In summary, I can say that I had the best year of my life so far! Countless international acquaintances, getting to know a quite different culture and a new language, lots of emotions (after all, we're in Latin America!), The unmistakable nature and the unmistakable population of Brazil were worth every second. Latin America seems very strange to many and in the end it seems like a huge step that one could "quickly regret" if the unknown urban jungle could grow over one's head. I can reassure you. In the two semesters, therefore two completely new international faces, I have not met a person who would have regretted choosing Brazil.In this country you are and feel almost impossible to be alone, people always approach you and help where and how they can. Anyone who speaks English can undoubtedly learn Portuguese quickly, especially through derivation rules (emotion-emoção, tradition - tradição, etc.) one can decipher the majority of the language. Anyone who already speaks Spanish can look forward to approx. 70-80% congruence!

Would I recommend Brazil to others? Absolutely! Would you choose Brazil again? I already have that! If you have any further questions, please contact me via the International Office ([email protected]) And now let's get to work, Brazil is waiting for you!