Story written by Erika Quinonez, IEM, ’17
My fascination with Brazilian culture began long before I started to learn Portuguese in a formal setting. I had a profound interest in the rhythm of the language, particularly when it came to Brazilian music and poetry. There were always classic Brazilian records playing on the turntable in my house while I was growing up, yet no one in my family spoke Portuguese.
To this day, my Mexican family members always make fun of me because I speak Portuguese far better than I do Spanish. Well it has made reflecting on home, culture, language and self a bit more interesting, my family’s reactions are all in good fun (and of course, I promise them that one day my Spanish will be better than my Portuguese).
My profound interest in Latin American history led me to participating in a summer immersion program through UCLA, which focused on Afro-Brazilian Culture and the Portuguese Language in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil. It was due to this experience in the northeast of Brazil that I decided to choose Portuguese as my language of study as a Latin American and Latino Studies major. It wasn’t until my experience studying International Relations at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro for a year that I felt truly confident in my Portuguese due to my integration into the local, “carioca” culture.
My most memorable encounters with the language do not necessarily lie in the classroom–but rather with my Brazilian friends as we deconstructed our own home country cultures, with my Brazilian students as they laughed at my “gringa” accent, and in my daily encounters on my bus commute during Rio’s traffic hour. There was never a dull moment–and it was in Brazil that I learned to embrace the discomfort, “dar um jeitinho” when all odds are against you, and always “fique tranquilo” (stay calm).
Being able to communicate in Portuguese has led me to unforgettable experiences and life-long relationships that I carry with me wherever I go. I now see Brazil as a second home–it’s complexities, warmth, beauty, and community alike.
Having the language skills and experience studying Portuguese has opened many doors for me professionally and personally. Upon graduating from UC Santa Cruz, I participated as a Global Leader Fellow for the social impact organization, U.S. Brazil Connect. It was there that I served as an English language coach for Brazilian students in Maceió, Brazil. After graduate school, I seek to work in international education management— specifically with U.S-Latin America cross-cultural immersion programs and global learning initiatives in higher education. I think there is a continuous need to make study abroad programs more accessible, inclusive and affordable to students from all walks of life.