12 January 2017

My exchange semester experience in Rio

By Lisa Godde, Master student in Development Studies, 2nd year
Exchange semester experience at Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro

"Having always enjoyed experiencing and living in different places, towards the end of my first year at the Graduate Institute I did not hesitate to apply for a semester abroad.

I had been fascinated with Latin America ever since I lived in Ecuador back in 2010 and so I chose to apply for PUC in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Both because of the university’s good reputation as well as Brazil being the subject of my Master’s thesis.

My experience since August has been unique and rewarding on so many different fronts. The university with its natural campus and inspiring professors has exceeded all my expectations. Especially the inspiring and passionate in-class debates on a variety of issues and with brilliant students highlighted to me the different perspectives that I had barely considered before. This was only one of so many learning experiencing for me here in Rio. Outside the classroom, social life is great, with the “Carioca” being warm, easy-going and outgoing people, who love to socialize, do sports (mostly at the beach and in the water), dance, play music and, simply, enjoy life.

As in every bigger city, in Rio distances are much larger than in Geneva and the chaotic and constant traffic jams don’t make things easier. This is however something that I gladly put up with, in this city that keeps fascinating me in so many ways.  In contrast to the often superficial images painted by international media, I was able to experience a different, maybe more nuanced, Rio. A Rio rich of strong community ties and cultural events, with wonderful people that have become friends while welcoming me in their city, with its beautiful lagoons and green areas everywhere, a Rio with breath-taking views, and a Rio with the jeitinho- the “Brazilian way of life”, that finds a solution for every situation, no matter how challenging.

One of the main reasons why I wanted to live in Rio was to get a better understanding of its favelas. After having been able to attend a conference on the urbanization of favelas, and having had the opportunity to visit favelas and talk to their residents, I am now starting to work with a very committed and dynamic local NGO that supports community voices. Through this and through the field work for my thesis, I hope to better understand these fascinating communities, that have since their early existence been able to find solutions to a wide range of challenges by themselves and despite numerous obstacles."