Marquette Student Michelle Miller Concludes Global Travel with Brazilian Seminar
Michelle Miller is a senior at Marquette University, although lately she hasn't been seeing much of her home campus. Michelle had the unique experience of studying abroad in three countries, an adventure that some only dream of. Michelle spent Fall 2015 in Madrid, Spain, Spring 2016 in Santiago, Chile, and two weeks this past summer in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. In her Q&A with the Office of International Education, Michelle reflects on her latest experience at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro.
Michelle Miller in Brazil. Courtesy photo.
How did you hear about the seminar and why did it spark your interest?
I was abroad for a semester in Santiago, Chile when I found out about the seminar. Jess Lothman sent out the information about the seminar to everyone in the Chile program, because we were all already in South America, the process of getting there wouldn’t be too complicated. The Brazilian Seminars sparked my interest because I had never been to Brazil and it seems like such a beautiful and complex country. I also wanted to be present for the pre-Olympic Games transition.
What did you learn about Brazilian culture and social issues?
It’s hard to narrow everything down into a few words, but Brazil has a beautiful culture. I only witnessed Rio de Janeiro’s culture, which I’m sure has its differences from the rest of the country. The people (of Rio de Janeiro) are so kind and loving, and super relaxed. It’s the ocean vibe. The people of Sao Paulo criticize Cariocas (natives of Rio de Janeiro) for being too relaxed, while Cariocas criticize natives of Sao Paolo for being too high strung.
In general Brazilians are very genuine people and love to enjoy themselves. However, the social issues are quite heavy. There is a lot of corruption in the Brazilian government, which has taken a toll on the citizens of Brazil. The social issue of poverty in favelas, what most people recognize about Brazil, is very prominent and was even more intense as the Olympic Games were approaching.
Race is also a huge social issue in Brazil. Brazilians of color are starting to self-identify themselves. Race was always something pushed aside in Brazil. There was no need to talk about it. However, now people want to know where their roots come from and want to decide themselves what to identify as. It’s a huge movement, especially in the Afro Brazilian communities.
Besides self-identifying, there is a lot of police brutality in the favelas, directed towards young black males. This also is one of the social issues that has been made more intense because of the Olympic Games.
World Cup Mosaic piece. Courtsey photo.
How does this complement your studies at Marquette?
My experience at the Brazilian Seminars complements my Marquette studies greatly. I study Media Studies, which is basically studying how the Media affects people. Everything people saw on TV about the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro affects them in some way. It could be good, bad, or not that big of a deal. What was portrayed about the Olympic Games was mainly that Rio is beautiful, but that it is a developing country so there were many of complications. This is all true, however there was not much mention of the people moved out of their homes to enhance the esthetics of the already gorgeous city of Rio de Janeiro. The portrayal of the Olympic Games within the media and the reality of the host city itself are two very different things. This is part of what I love about Media Studies.
What helped you adjust to the Portuguese language after studying abroad in Spanish speaking countries?
I fortunately have family living in Rio de Janeiro, so they made the transition much smoother for me. I definitely was victim to extreme culture shock. Being in Spain and then Chile boosted my confidence as a Spanish speaker. However, Brazil was ready to humble me. Brazil speaks Portuguese which is actually very similar to Spanish, yet so different at the same time. I could not communicate to anyone at first, because of my own ignorance. Allowing myself to take in the culture shock pushed me to attempt Portuguese and be more attentive to the similarities and differences between Portuguese and Spanish.
How was your experience staying with a host family?
All of my study abroad experiences were with host families, and I am so happy with my experiences. My host mom in Rio de Janeiro, Orlanda, is so kind and humble. She opened her home to me and even gave me her bedroom. She made being a non-Portuguese speaker in Rio a not so intimidating experience. We never communicated in the same language. Orlanda would speak to me super slowly in Portuguese and I would respond super slowly in Spanish. We never spoke the same language, but we always managed to understand each other. It was cute.
Do you have a favorite memory of your time in Rio de Janeiro?
I would say my favorite memory of Rio de Janeiro would be going to the Christ Redeemer statue. We made various little stops on the way up, and the views were breathtaking. It was one of those cliché moments where a female traveler looks out into the distance and feels at home in a foreign country. I will never forget the euphoric feeling from looking out over the ocean and one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
Michelle Miller in Brazil. Courtesy photo.
What was it like to be in Rio right before the 2016 Summer Olympics?
While I was in Rio de Janeiro, the city was preparing for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. As portrayed in the media, they were a bit behind. Brazil is beautiful and Rio de Janeiro is sensational, but the toll the Olympics will take on the citizens of Rio de Janeiro is a controversial topic. I witnessed two stories of Rio and the Olympic preparation: the wealthy “showcase” of Rio, aka, Copacabana Beach; and the reality of Rio, aka, people being moved out of their favelas and into insufficient government housing to “better” the city center.
There was so much movement and so many beautiful structures being built for the Olympic Games. It was cool to watch the Olympics on TV and know exactly where the different stadiums and buildings were. I lived two blocks away from the volleyball stadium, but when I was there it was not completely finished. It was cool to see it put together.
What advice do you have for students considering studying abroad?
Just do it. So many people debate and debate whether or not they should study abroad, and the answer is you should do it. The world is so rich in cultures and is waiting for you to make memories. Why not take advantage of everything the world has to offer?
WHEN you decide to study abroad, it’s okay to feel vulnerable and alone. That’s the beauty of traveling, you travel the world and you learn how to “get over yourself." We are very protected here in the U.S. It’s good to feel like an outsider every now and then.
Michelle Miller in front of Christ the Redeemer Statue. Courtesy photo.
Anything else you would like to add about your experience?
I met many good and loving people during my adventure. The memories made with them are so valuable to me. Taking advantage of the culture and beauty a host country has to offer is amazing, but making unforgettable memories is what makes study abroad so amazing.
To learn more about study abroad opportunities at Marquette, visit: marquette.edu/abroad/getting-started.shtml