Brazil is a big country. Approximately 185 million inhabitants inhabit a land mass roughly the size of the continental USA. Two-thirds of Brazilians live within 100km of the coast, where, many would argue, you’ll find the most vibrant cities.
The following study abroad guide covers cities by moving down the coast from north to south.
Geography and Culture
Northern Brazil is predominately populated by people of African descent, while Southern Brazil has a large German and Italian population. The northern city of Salvador is also known as Roma Negra, or Black Rome, while the southern city of Blumenau holds the second largest Oktoberfest, outside of Germany.
Life is typically more laid back and infused with a lively Afro Brazilian flare in the north, while cleanliness and a reserved culinary palate comes with the cooler weather of the south. Regardless of whether you choose to study in the north or south of Brazil, you are going to find incredibly friendly people with an unrivaled passion for life.
Capital of the northeastern Brazilian state Ceara, Fortaleza has the most sunny days of any coastal Brazilian city. You can dance to hot Forro beats in the city’s buzzing nightlife district.
Beautiful beaches stretch for 25 km in front of the town. Some of the best bars and clubs are found near the Dragao do Mar Center of Art and Culture. With a number of universities, including Universidade Federal do Cerra, the city has a long tradition as a cultural center.
You will enjoy a sumptuous life melding bohemian nightlife, white sand beaches, and spicy food, alongside peaceful and fun-loving people.
Salvador de Bahia
Unquestionably the cultural heart of Brazil, Salvador, the State Capital of Baiha, is a melting pot of different cultures.
A very strong African influence infuses the music, food and dance here. If you are interested in Capoeira (a combination of martial art and dance), Salvador is a great place to learn.
The city is large and safety is an issue, but if you want to be in the heart of Afro-Brazilian culture, Salvador is where it beats.
Rio De Janiro
Rio is a city of great contrast: class and classicism, beach and granite, rambling jungle and abject poverty–all wrapped into an urban landscape. There are world-class accommodations, bars, restaurants, shopping, beaches and surf–you can find anything in Rio.
Tijuca National Park, rising from the center of the city, offers a great place to take walks or cycle, and is the largest urban forest in the world.
Living in Rio you will find the locals, “Carioca” very friendly but weary of the dangers in their own city.
Rio is wonderful, but desperate poverty lives right down the block. Violence is common and the consequences cannot be overlooked. Many exchange programs will not place students here due to the violence, but I would gladly take the risk.
Use caution, avoid flashing around money and valuables, ask the locals where to go, and you will have an amazing stay.
This resort town is located on the coast of Santa Catarina, and its beach-front is a popular Brazilian getaway. There’s good year-round nightlife due to a lot of university students, and many clubs are situated a little outside the main city with dance parlors stretching out onto the sand.
The world’s only cable car connecting two beaches is the bondinho running from the southern end of town to Laranjeiras Beach, with a pit stop on top of a mountain.
Equipped with modern amenities, cinema, shopping, and good restaurants, Camboriu strikes a good balance between the buzz of a large city and the safety of a smaller town.
Located on the island of Santa Catarina, Florianopolis is known for its beaches, surfing, kite-boarding, and sand-boarding.
Florianopolis has forty-two beaches to choose from, varying from stylish beach resorts to deserted stretches of white sand. Southern Brazil, predominantly settled by Europeans, has a large German population. “Floripa” as the locals call it, is known throughout Brazil for it’s beautiful blondes.
Southern Brazil is much safer than northern Brazil, and has a cooler climate–particularly nice during the summer months. Floripa claims to have no Favelas, (slums) like Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo. The culture is laid-back and you can find many nice bars in the city center or in the neighborhood of Lagoa.
Which Program is right for me?
You will find a number of study abroad programs in Brazil; here are a few good ones.
If you are high school age, AFS, is a great program for 6 month to year programs, and you can go with no prior study of Portuguese.
Another good program is First Step World, which offers a number of courses in Rio de Janeiro, Florianopolis and Salvador.
Also take a look at Two Worlds United.
Different programs will require different levels of language proficiency, ranging from two years of college Portuguese to no prior knowledge at all.
Choose a program that fits your skill level. Program costs will differ depending on the length of stay and additional options they give you. Look for programs offering trips to other parts of Brazil. After all, you want to see a bit of the country!
Once, I had a conversation with a Buddhist monk about language and cultural exchange.
He said, “When you speak two languages it is like having two minds, when you live in two cultures, you have lived two lives.”
I think his sentiment is a beautiful and true way of at looking at study abroad. No matter where you choose to study, with whatever program, you are going to have an eye-opening, exultant, wonderful experience.
Check out more on Brazil including info from local experts, organizations where you can study and volunteer, plus job opportunities, travelers you can connect with, and the most inspired blogs you’ll find anywhere on the web.
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