Foreign exchange in Sao Paulo
January 6, 2011 8:35 PM   Subscribe

Should I go on foreign exchange in Sao Paulo?

What do you guys think of Sao Paolo? Namely, living in Sao Paolo and going to school at USP? One of my professors can set up a foreign exchange for me if I so choose. I'm a 21-year-old American male. I've traveled alone in S. America before.

I know it's a big intimidating city and most people there don't speak English, but there are some mitigating factors for me in particular. I'll be a pretty solid Portuguese speaker by then and my professor has some close friends in the city. My real concern is that I won't make any friends (which I'm normally pretty good at) due to the sheer size of the city. Also, the high cost of living (if I understand correctly) is unfavorable.

More abstractly, I'm worried that Sao Paulo, based on its reputation, won't be as good of a "Brazil" type experience as, say, Salvador, or Rio. I have the option of studying in Curitiba or Fortaleza as well, but neither of these seem like as much fun as Sao Paulo.

Oher than Sao Paolo, what's the best way to kill two months in the country, spending as little money as possible, seeing as much as possible? I'm likely going to be arriving in the country 2 months before school starts. I'm currently thinking WWOOF. Other than that, which sounds nice but not too exciting, I have had a teaching job for over a year with a major test-prep company and I also speak Spanish, so I think I'm pretty qualified for teaching. What do you recommend?
posted by barbudo to Travel & Transportation around Sao Paulo, Brazil (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I was an exchange student years ago and it was an amazing experience. I was sent to a small, way off the beaten track town (which I was initially dismayed at thinking the big capital city would be much better) and had a great time. Even made friends that I still have to this day, 25 years later. You will definitely make friends whereever you decide to go and will probably have a life changing experience as well.
posted by MsKim at 9:14 PM on January 6, 2011

Richard Feynman talks a lot about Brazil in his book "Surely You're Joking..." He regrets not having taken Portuguese on an impulse because he loved Brazil.

I think the answer to any "should I do ($_EXOTIC_THING)?" should be yes, as long as you are young enough and free of obligation enough to see it through.
posted by jet_silver at 9:49 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Should I go on foreign exchange in Sao Paulo?

Absolutely yes. The two major things I regret not doing in college when I had the chance were varsity athletics (I went to a D3 school, so they were happy to have you try out, regardless of your actual athletic ability) and study abroad. Once you're a working stiff like me with bills to pay, it will be a whole lot harder to go spend several months immersed in a foreign culture.

This is one of those situations where you should ask yourself "If I don't do this, will I wake up one day 20 years from now and kick myself for passing up a golden opportunity to do something awesome?" If the answer is "Yes" then you should do it.

Presumably the only sorts of situations in which you would answer "No" would be if someone asks you to help them kill someone, set up a meth lab, be a drug mule, or other horribly bad thing that is likely to get you a lengthy prison sentence.

Please do not construe the above as endorsement of the listed behaviors, those are just the first few horribly bad things I could think of off the top of my head

posted by AMSBoethius at 9:51 PM on January 6, 2011

yes, definitely yes. If you don't do it now, you'll regret it later.
Spend 2 months traveling around before school starts, you'll get used to the country before you're busy studying.

and completely agree with jet_silver:
I think the answer to any "should I do ($_EXOTIC_THING)?" should be yes, as long as you are young enough and free of obligation enough to see it through.
posted by anto1ne at 2:17 AM on January 7, 2011

The real question here is not study abroad or not, but rather study abroad in São Paulo or a smaller Brazilian city, right?

Honestly, you will have fun and make friends either way. The only reason I would say to avoid SP is if your finances were so limited that you would have to live in a far off suburb and ride a bus for two hours each way every day. That would suck and you would have a crappy social life. As long as that's not the case, you will be ok.

And smaller Brazilian cities are not boring -- nor are they really all that small, either. Curitiba has a metropolitan area of some three million people (according to wikipedia), which is about the same as the Seattle metropolitan area. Tiny compared to São Paulo, but big by US standards. Any of the places you are considering will have plenty of nightlife, organic restaurants, or whatever other urban amenities you are looking for.
posted by Forktine at 4:58 AM on January 7, 2011

OP, I can't answer your actual question, because I've never been to São Paulo. But I am a gringo finishing a two year masters in Rio.

When you say "Brazil" type experience, you're being tautological, because it is places like Rio that have dominated the myth of what it means to be Brazilian. So, yeah, in this respect SP is different and the reputation in Brazil is of people from SP being more "European", e.g. more punctual, more busy.

In some ways that's an advantage for meeting people: if your professor new people in Rio and you phoned them, then there's a 50% chance they'd be ecstatic to hear from you and never actually meet you. In SP I'm guessing people are a little more organized socially, and that's a great aid to having friendships in a big city.

USP is one of the best universities here & I'm sure you'll be able to make friends with your colleagues and that will be one way into the city. How long would you be there for? What course will you be on?

As to your pre-study, then if you have some money to spend, I would recommend arriving somewhere in the north (Belém?) and working your way down the coast. You'll have a great time, and see plenty of stuff and meet people in a way that's difficult in the big cities (of which Rio is one).

Feel free to memail me with more questions.
posted by squishles at 5:04 AM on January 7, 2011

Rio--let the good times roll! San Paulo is the business world of Brazil and US business types rarely view it as a fun place (Rio) Its business period. However living there is expensive and difficult to get around in. Think Chicago freeways at 5.30PM but this is at 2:30 AM. With all the issues (forget them) you will love it and you won't be starting out with no contacts; the Brazilians are very very friendly, you will make your own friends with no trouble. GO!
posted by broadmargins at 6:41 AM on January 7, 2011

Just go. Nothing to think about. It will be a great experience that you'll remember for the rest of your life.
posted by eas98 at 7:01 AM on January 7, 2011

São Paulo is great, and you will definitely make friends. Yes, there is a business world there, but like, say, NYC, would it be fair to say that a city that big is only about business? I saw a presentation recently on how huge the independent theater scene is in São Paulo, for example. The place has everything.

What I appreciate about São Paulo, compared to Rio, Salvador, and Fortaleza, is that since it's so cosmopolitan and isn't a big tourist center like those other cities, you don't have to break through the barrier of being considered a tourist. People often assume you're just someone who decided to live there. That's pretty different from cities like Rio, Salvador and Fortaleza.

I've spent most of the years I've spent in Brazil in the Northeast (Fortaleza, Natal, Recife and smaller towns) and the Northeast is amazing. What is a relief for me, though, when I stop by São Paulo and stay with my friends who live near the PUC-SP (a university) is that I realize that there is so much less cultural distance in the educated sectors of São Paulo than in much of the Northeast. I end up thinking, wow, other than the fact that I'm speaking Portuguese, I feel like I'm in New York. After years of doing more difficult cultural translation in the Northeast, I like that change. For you, you might not want that, depending on whether you want a more exotic "as different as possible" kind of experience. If that's your direction, I would try to figure out a way to go to São Luiz, Maranhão or Belém, Pará. Those places are a trip. Really, really interesting.

Salvador is amazing, too, but it is a well-trodden tourist path (Brazilian as well as international) so it can take a while to break in to a scene or community. I didn't always feel this way, but the times I was walking along the beach in Fortaleza or Salvador and suddenly felt self-conscious thinking "Oh no, they probably think I'm a sex tourist, don't they! Uggh." That was horrible.
posted by umbú at 8:26 AM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Definitely yes. SP is great. I'm from SP, and virtually all gringos* that I know who decided to spend some time there had an incredible experience. It's a bit of a boring city for tourism, but it's an amazing place to live. It's huge and varied, most people are friendly, there's lots to do and see. I wouldn't trade that opportunity for any other city in Brazil, including Rio.

Use your three months to go to Rio and Salvador. Fabulous places.

SP is indeed expensive. But if you have roommates, you can save a bunch. Groceries are cheap. As a student, you get discounts for movies, music shows, public transportation.

Yeah, plan well where you're going to live, traffic is a bitch. USP main campus is 20 km from downtown, it can be a drag to go every day, and living in that area (Butantã) is not that fun. Pinheiros is between downtown and USP, and it's very lively, I'd say it's the ideal neighbourhood! But YMMV. Also, maybe you're not studying in the main campus. Some grad programs are downtown. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to chose where you live - it's the difference between a great experience and commuting hell.

So yeah, just go!

(And learn how to spell São Paulo - paulistas will be thankful!!!)

* "gringo" has no negative connotation in Brazilian Portuguese :)
posted by TheGoodBlood at 9:01 AM on January 7, 2011

I know this response is months late, but I hope you ended up deciding to go to SP! I'm actually there right now, studying at USP and absolutely LOVING IT. There is no end of things to do, corners to explore, people to meet. The city pulses with life and culture. And yes, this is definitely Brazil.

If you need any tips regarding doing an exchange at USP, finding a place to live, people to meet, shoot me a PM. I would love to help out a fellow gringo, especially since I rarely meet Americans in São Paulo.

Abraços e boa sorte!
posted by ardent at 2:02 PM on May 2, 2011

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