Brazil Log #15: Five Things I’ve Learned, Five Things I’ll Miss and Five That I Probably Won’t.

I’m officially on my last week here in Brazil! A lot has happened this semester and it feels like over a year since I departed from the United States. I’m definitely ready to go home at this point, but I’ll definitely miss all of the folks I’ve met here.


 What are 5 things you’ve learned, Ryan?

5. How to speak Portuguese (kinda, sorta, not really) fluently. I still usually need to ask people to repeat, but I can understand the news so that counts for something.

4. How to utilize the Brazilian bus system. I am officially a master of hopping buses now. It’s true. “What?! Hooooow do we get to Ouro Preto?! Irrelevant. Let’s hop on a bus to the next city and it’ll piece together. No sweat, tiger!”

3. How to not awkwardly greet females with a kiss on the side of the face. (Though, apparently I can’t word it without sounding awkward…)

2. How to make Capirinhas and some Brazilian foods! I’m bringing a bottle of Cachaca back home to celebrate a relaxed night with my roommates.

1. How to not be afraid of what others think of me, seriously. Learning a language means looking like a ‘idiot-dumb-face’ in front of every new person you meet. Your abilities as a human being drop to that of a 6-year old. Any hope of you have of coming off as a refined, intelligent individual disappears when you desperately piece together, “I need to go to the bathroom.” Brazilians have been more than accommodating to me and very respectful, but it is a humbling experience nonetheless. Learning this better just feels so…liberating! It’s great! I’m still not perfect at it, but study abroad is a huge confidence booster in life. I feel…fear.less.


What are 5 things you’ll miss?

5. Rainy days and pretty sunsets. I’m all about the rain on chilly days and most evenings here in Pirassununga you can see a wonderful sunset too.

4. The slower paced lifestyle. Admittedly, I still haven’t gotten used to this but it is growing on me. Deadlines are soft and expectations are generally lighter. It’s completely acceptable to arrive somewhere an hour late (in fact, in many situations it’s expected).

3. Churrascos. We have barbecues in the United States all the time, but the food isn’t usually quite as flavorful.

2. Salgados. Or, meat/cheese filled pastries. There are a bunch of salgado shops in Pirassununga and they’re perfect for a midday snack. They’re quicker and cheaper than McDonalds and other fast food restaurants. Surrrrre, there is the occasional moment when you realize your food was probably sitting out for 8 hours and the calabresa inside is luke warm, but that’s all part of the experience.

1. The people! Specific people. You guys are all super. Maybe we will meet again in the future! Maybe… 😦


Sooo….what are 5 things you won’t miss? 😀 

5. Waking up to our dogs barking every single morning. Half the time I’m not even sure why, they just want to rebel against something, I guess. Reckless youths.

4. Hot, humid days in December. It’s personal preference. I’m a cool, cloudy weather kind of guy. If there’s rain even better. After a few months it gets a little “eeggghhh…” waking up to a blazing sun most mornings.

3. Rice and beans everyday. I miss my peanut butter sandwiches.

2. Washing my clothes by hand. I don’t know how people did it for a majority of human history.

1. Overcoming the language barrier. This detail was absolutely critical to making this experience as great as it was. Learning and speaking a new language everyday is something I’m glad I’ve gotten to do. But some days it can get pretty darn frustrating. And it definitely has a hindering effect on every little action. Suddenly it becomes much harder to perform simple tasks like asking for directions or to telling someone the bus is running late. I’m already a very introverted person so socializing can be pretty mentally taxing to me, and to add the language barrier drains my social battery that much faster.

(But don’t worry. This part of the list is for giggles, not criticisms. Brazil is good!)


Well…you can expect this to be my last post on this blog. I’m going home in 5 days! I feel very blessed to have had this experience.

Brazil, you have been too kind to me.

Until next time, I’ll see you all later!


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Brazil Log #14: Adventure to Ouro Preto

It has been a while since I’ve updated on how Brazil is going. Things have happened for sure. New stories. New experiences. New friends. New adventures.

What kind of adventures?


We may have fought a grass ogre.

The most notable adventure is a trip I made with a couple friends to the historic gold mining city of Ouro Preto. I don’t know where to start on this thing. How about the beginning?

Getting to Ouro Preto was no easy task since it is in a different state and is more than 8 hours away driving. Three buses, two in-between cities, one entire night.
Pirassununga ->(1 hour)-> Araras ->(8 hours)-> Belo Horizonte ->(2 hours)->Ouro Preto

It was fast, efficient, and cheap. Bing-Bop-Boop!

Well, we get to Araras at 10pm, ready to catch our overnight bus to Belo Horizonte. This is where we hit our first problem. The bus did not actually exist. It was one of those “fake” buses that the internet tells you is real. This turned out to be a rough start to our journey. We’re in Araras and there’s only 1 more bus available, and it goes back home to Pirassununga. I was about ready to call it a night and head home, but my Argentinian friend, Victoria, said, “Ah heck naw, we only gettin’ started” (accent, words and language paraphrased) and asked the bus station employees if there were any hostels nearby.

In fact there was one hostel! And we stayed there. This was my first hostel experience and it was pretty lovely. It was nothing like the horror/gore-fest I came to expect from American films. Our hosts were wonderful people (whom, I admittedly forgot there names…Roger? Roberto? Definitely something with an R.). I was pretty exhausted at this point in the night and was having difficulty speaking Portuguese. Perla and Victoria did a good job though. Our host asked me about US politics, the election, occupy wall street and my political stance on them. Now, I have been keeping up with everything, but with the complexity of some of these issues it is difficult to fully explain their dynamics accurately in a new language. I barfed out some simple concepts and my general political leaning but I’m not positive I made the best representative of our country.

The next morning we hit up the Araras bus station and (more or less on a whim) take the first bus to Campinas, the next largest city, in hopes of finding another bus to Belo Horizonte. In Campinas, they did in fact have a bus to Belo Horizonte! However, it would not leave until 9:30pm. At this point it was 10am in the morning. We said, “whatevs, mang” and booked the tickets anyway with the intention of staying in Campinas for the entire day.

Also, the Campinas bus station has found a way to manipulate two additional dimensions

So we did that. We went shopping in the city for like the next 8 hours and came back to the bus station.

It’s 10pm and we got in line for our bus. Things went smoothly until…we need our passports to travel between states in Brazil. Fortunately I packed mine just in case, but Perla only had a xerox copy. The bus driver looked at it and immediately dismissed her from the line, saying she can’t board the bus without the original copy. We pleaded with the bus driver to make an exception. He called over his manager to talk to us. A minute late this manager guy called over his manager for another evaluation. We got to see how high the chain goes in the Brazil bus industry. After about 10 minutes and pretty much delaying the bus, they let us go on, but they didn’t offer any guarantee we could take a bus back. Well, we made it this far, so we decided to go with it and worry about getting home when that obstacle comes around.

I’ll breeze over this next part, but it is important. Essentially we were on our bus and ready to sleep overnight for the next 8 hours until we reach Belo Horizonte. All if good and nice….until someone starts blasting his music out loud. It wasn’t very good music, I mean, it wasn’t bad music, but anything blasting out of tiny speakers on a bus in the middle of the night completely unwarranted is not the best sounding stuff in the world. Long story short, this person was confronted and the music stopped. Also, this guy playing the music might have wept afterwards, it’s complicated.

We get to Belo Horizonte. We go to Ouro Preto. (This part was actually very hectic, including an old woman in line that almost made us miss our bus. But she looked really sweet so I can’t be upset with her.)

Once in Ouro Preto we talk to the tourist info guy to help find a place to stay that night. (side note: this is the first time I’ve ever traveled somewhere without knowing where I was going to sleep). He agreed to help and started making some calls. Unfortunately, every hotel and hostel was filled up in the city, mostly because it was a “holiday” or something like that. After about ten phone calls he tries one last place that’s normally only offered by recommendation. While on the phone, he gave us an affirmative wink and smile (which I’m positive there was a little shining sparkle in his teeth at that moment). We got a place to sleep!

Also, it may have been the setting of a Goosebumps book

I’m running short on time here but to summarize the following 2 days, we:

– Explored museums and churches
– Journeyed to the also-cool neighboring town, Mariana
– Walked up and down the winding cobblestone roads of Ouro Preto
– Explored two gold-mining caves
– Disabled Vico’s debit card
– Ate churrasco
– Took a mysterious, winding path to an underground waterfall
– Hung out with travelers we met from a different USP campus
– Bought all sorts of hand-carved stone souvenirs/ancient magical artifacts
– and probly some other things I don’t remember.

Ouro Preto - It is so MATH

Sunday night we hit up our three bus overnight excursion back to Pirassununga. We got back at 8:30am and proceeded straight to work at 9am.

After this adventure I took like a 2 day vacation from people.

Special thanks to:

– The guy at the Araras bus station that gave us the info about the hostel
– “R-something”, our host in Araras that gave us a bed to stay in
– The guy at the bar in Araras that sang like Louis Armstrong. Made my night.
– The salespeople in that store at Campinas who understood what I meant when I tried to articulate a “long-sleeved shirt” in Portuguese
– The guy who slept through his cell phone ringing all night on the bus
– Our tourist info man at Ouro Preto who found us a place to stay, helped carry our bags, tried to sell us jewels, and then didn’t bother us anymore after we said we weren’t interested in jewels
– The park ranger that led us to the underground waterfall
– The tall guy with glasses that helped us find our way back to the hotel after walking back from the waterfall
– The waiter/manager at the churrascaria who offered to give us a tour of the Mariana gold mine and then never showed up
– The lady from Vancouver I met in the gold mine who I got to speak English with for a little while
– Miss Eva, the sweet old lady that owned the mansion we stayed at in Ouro Preto

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Brazil Log #13: Food, Adventures and Choke Holds

Greetings Friends,

Brazil is going well! Many new experiences and adventures have been happening! Where to start?

1) How about food? I went to the City of Sao Paulo last Saturday with the other international students to visit the Musea Paulista (sp?). It is a museum owned by USP that commemorates Brazilian history. Lots of cool artifacts, paintings and interesting things to learn about the country!

On our way back we stopped by a marketplace in the city. It felt like one of those “underground cavern” kind of stores. Literally, there were hundreds (probably a few thousand) of people crammed into this multi-tiered warehouse filled with all sorts of stores selling different foods. Most of them sold either meat, cheeses or fruits. I didn’t buy anything myself, but it was cool seeing it all. We went to the top floor where they had a few bars and restaurants and there was literally no room to walk. Like, seriously, every square-inch of surface area on the floor had someone standing or sitting above it.

Anyway, we didn’t eat there. We went across the street to a little cafe. Myself and three friends from Mexico, Colombia, and Peru ordered some Feijoada. Wikipedia best describes it as, “prepared with black turtle beans (also white, pinto and red beans), a variety of salted pork and beef products, such as pork trimmings (ears, tail, feet), bacon, smoked pork ribs, and at least two types of smoked sausage and jerked beef (loin and tongue).”

Feijoada: Pieces of pig and cow

2) Expanding Horizons. As I’ve stated in every other entry, I’m learning a lot here. And not just about international “seeing the world through a different lens” way (though that is in there too). There’s a lot of new wisdom, knowledge, and perspectives on life I’m picking up. A lot of it is good. Most of it is difficult. All of it is very humbling. Some things shaking me to my core. I’m really thankful for the experience, as unpleasant as it often is.

3) Taking dancing lessons! Like, real dancing. Need to learn sometime. I can only get by for so long with my typical “move my arms around in a comical way and exploit white, middle-class, cultural naivety to dancing” style. Though that will probably stick around for a while. I have a few trademark moves that I’m not ready to part from yet.

4) I’ve regularly observed an action that I am coining the title, “The Girlfriend Vicegrip”. It is move where a boyfriend wraps his arm around his girlfriend, usually when they’re both sitting, such that his elbow has free rotation around her neck.

Not unlike this picture of Jimmy Carter that comes up when you Google "wrestling headlock".

Anyway, I’ve seen many dating couples do this and I have to say it looks really uncomfortable. Is this a cultural thing? I feel like this would make the girl’s neck sore and potentially make the guy’s arm fall asleep. I’ve personally never learned any “side-by-side arm around girl’s shoulders” techniques that were mutually comfortable for long periods of time and didn’t result in my shoulder cramping up. Whatever happened to side-hugs? Those are innocent and easy enough. We should bring those back.


Oh well,

Getting ready for my first exam tomorrow and afterwards I’m making Chicago-style hotdogs for my international friends!

Ate mais,

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Brazil Log #12: Study Abroad Statistics

Hi friends,

If you’re like me, you love graphical representation of data. Tables, charts, graphs, percentages…mmmmmmmm they’re delicious! This is especially true when they become a hybrid of both quantitative and qualitative information.

Since today marks the 10 week anniversary of my departure from Chicago, I thought I’d provide a general review of study abroad in table/graphical format. I hope you enjoy!


Expect more data in the future,







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Brazil Log #11.5: There are Good Days and Gooder Days Too

These last couple days have been super encouraging! I understand that my post a couple days ago was very sorrowful and they were very real emotions. But fortunately the sun comes in the morning.

Last night I came home from my Portuguese class and found my roommate and his friends building a fire for a churrasco. It was very relaxed, very easy, and I actually understood what they were saying! We ate steak and bacon sandwiches and drank a few beers while listening to Metallica. No matter where you’re from, that is a pleasant experience.

There are lots of good experiences here in Brazil and I have had many of them so far. There are good days too. You can’t always choose how they’ll turn out, but by the Grace of God He gives us a reason to have hope in the darkest times. Sometimes that hope comes in the form of marinated meats.


Do you remember female kitten from Disney’s “The Aristocats”?

Turns out she very popular here. You can find her on folders, keychains, backpacks, and all sorts of other memorabilia. It makes sense too, she is a very underrated symbol of “youthful female spunk” in Disney films.

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Brazil Log #11: There are Bad Days and Better Days

I’ll be very frank, today was a very discouraging day.

I’m usually very reserved with what I write on the internet, careful not to share too much, but today I will stretch that line a little bit. I’ll just consider this an “accurate snapshot into study abroad”.

It’s just really hard doing all of this. It’s hard not being able to have a meaningful conversation with anyone. I haven’t had one sentence spoken to me today that I didn’t have to ask the person to repeat slower. It’s manageable over short periods of time but after 60 days straight it’s frustrating. You go in each day and mess up a lot. But you keep trying. You try again the next day and do a little better but it’s still difficult. And then the next day you do a little worse. And over time everything blurs into a mass of difficulty and it feels impossible to actually master it.

Like trying to beat Castlevania

You try to talk and socialize and it never comes easily. The only alternative (not speaking) is only sustainable for so long. So after enough time one discomfort outweighs the other and you try speaking again. And it puts you in a crappy mood because you still can’t do it right. And then you get sick for the third time and have a pounding headache. So you’re stuck at home, unable to concentrate, unable to work, unable to socialize, unable to sleep, unable to do anything. There’s no respite outside of prayer.

Don’t get me wrong, there are pleasant days with exciting new experiences. I’m making an effort to do new things and go new places. Not every day is bad and I’m only ranting because today was particularily bad. Brazilians are wonderful people and I’m learning A LOT about everything in life. But it’s still not a magical fairy land. I still don’t understand the people who “are totally in love with study abroad” and “never ever want to leave”. I don’t get that mentality. I JUST DON’T GET IT. Maybe I’ll stumble towards that mentality with more time but so far Study Abroad has been exactly as I predicted: lonely, frustrating and tough as nails. I think things will get better in the coming months but I’m still counting the days. 60 have gone by and I’ve counted each one. I have about 85 left. I try to give those hippy-yippy study abroaders the benefit of the doubt, but the cynic in me believes they only felt that way because they went to some English-speaking resort with their best friends for a semester. I’m alone. I can’t speak with anyone. I’m consistently sick.  I don’t feel bad for wanting to go home.

And learning a language in general, GOSH. I know it takes longer than 2 months to be fluent but it’s reaaaly easy to get discouraged. Fortunately Brazilians are super hospitable and really helpful. If I’m to be trapped in any country I am glad it is Brazil. But still, yuck, c’mon, when does this stuff magically kick in?

To summarize:
– Study Abroad will beat you up.
– Study Abroad sucks.
– You’ll have nights like mine tonight where you’ll get totally fed up
– If you want a real Study Abroad experience, go to Brazil. You won’t regret it but you’ll probably hate it a lot.
– Portuguese is a difficult language.  Look up the conjugations for ‘ver’, ‘vir’, and ‘ir’ (which are “to see”, “to come”, and “to go” respectively.) and tell me if you see the difference.

– Ryan

PS: Don’t worry. I am okay. Really. I’m am holding up well and I’m continually thankful for the people and resources that are available here. Things will be okay. Just sometimes I really want to punch something (which is what the Muay Thai Boxing is for).

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Brazil Log #10: Journey to Rio de Janeiro

Time for an update!

Last week was a holiday (Brazil’s Independence Day, September 7th) so we had the entire week off of classes. I met up with my friend Aline in Rio de Janeiro where we stayed at her friend’s apartment just two blocks away from the Copacabana Beach! It was a huge blessing being able to stay so close to the beach for free! I’ve uploaded pictures to Facebook if you’re interested in seeing them. Here’s one of the beach:

It was a restful vacation. We visited the downtown shops, checked out the nightlife in the evening, went on a city tour where we saw all of the major landmarks, and spent plenty of time on the beach. As it turns out, Rio is a very big city. I don’t think I even saw 5% of it. There’s buildings everywhere and they just keep going.

On Saturday afternoon I found myself eating alone at a nondescript corner restaurant with a chicken sandwich and a beer, staring off into the ocean. It was one of those, “Yeah, I’m a big boy” moments. I was expecting Leonardo DiCaprio or George Clooney or someone to approach me to recruit me for some big heist where I was the only person in the world who was skilled enough to take on a specific task they required. I then wondered what that task would be. I concluded it would be either building a wall out of recycled materials, identifying Yankee Candles by their scent, or beating a particularly difficult Megaman level.

Highlight of the trip: Eating at a KFC

Also, I made the journey from Pirassununga to Rio by myself! Both back and forth! This included a 2-hour bus ride to Campinas, another 45-minute bus ride to the airport, a 45-minute flight to Rio, and finally another 1-hour bus ride to the beach. I successfully navigated all of that (for the most part) without anyone with me! Ain’t no thing, really.

As of now, I’m back home. I have a lot of peanut butter and nutella so it’s not difficult to be content. We’re getting a lot of work done in the lab fabricating our Sugarcane Bagasse panels. It’s not the most interesting thing to do but we’re going to start mechanical testing (3-point bending flexural tests!) really soon. If things look good I can potentially build off of this experiment for a Master’s Thesis.

I’ve been visiting a Baptist Church in town once every week or so. It’s a really unique experience singing hymns in a different language! Everyone at the church has been really helpful and accommodating to my Portuguese. Last week they had a going away party for a missionary they’re sending out to Haiti. I got to speak with him a little bit and may have accidentally said some embarrassing things in Portuguese (but at this point that’s pretty much how study abroad rolls, you wake up every morning and make a fool out of yourself to someone new every day). Week by week, I’m able to understand a little bit more of what the pastor says. Alongside my classes with USP, it is another good periodic measure to see how well I’m understanding the language.

Some days are harder than others. I had to leave the lab early today just because I was mentally drained and unable to function. I went home and laid down for 2 hours, zoning out and regaining energy. Coffee is a wonderful invention and now that I can make some at home (thanks to my parents’ care package!) things are much more pleasant.


– Electronics are expensive. Period. My computer charger broke so my parents sent me a new one from the States. It costs about $60 USD at home. Here in Brazil they run over R$200 (or about $150 USD). Also, a PS2 costs R$319, which is roughly triple what you would need to pay for a new console back home.

– People at Copacabana beach live up to the stereotype. At the very least, the guys do. They have outdoor gyms along the beach so there’s always buff dudes working out. They looked legit photoshopped. I felt like a particularly skinny hobbit next to them.
Otherwise, there was a lot of old people at the beach.

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