I had the opportunity to travel to Florianopolis, Brazil, the capital of southern state of Santa Catarina. I was invited to help out on a project at the Universidade Federal De Santa Catarina, gave a presentation of my own postgraduate research and helped organise and deliver a workshop for other students in the same field of research as me.
I found the days leading up to my travel fairly stressful. I worried I wouldn’t find the place where I was going, that I wouldn’t make many friends, but most of all I worried about safety. Initially, this made me a little afraid to go out at after dark, or walk home by myself. I was determined to make the most of my time, but I also wanted to blend in with the locals and stay safe. This anxiety eased over my time there and by the end I felt more comfortable with my surroundings as I got to know the place and people more. Interestingly, one of the biggest obstacles I encountered, that I hadn’t even given too much thought to beforehand – the language barrier. Not having gone to a large or particularly touristy part of Brazil, I found that the large majority of people knew little to no English. This was fairly daunting and made things particularly difficult when needing important things like medicine, but was also a barrier in terms of exploring new places, giving my presentation and attending social events.
Despite obstacles, I learned that you should step out of your comfort zone if you can and say yes to opportunities. I tried to do things that the locals would do to get an idea for what life there was really like. I learned that it is important to make friends with other people in your position and befriend other students both local and visiting. Local students will show you things you might not have known about or had thought about trying previously. While other visiting students were equally as keen to explore new places and do touristy things with me. I got over my homesickness and fear of getting lost in an unknown place, by getting a local SIM card with data to access the internet. Not only did I feel safer about wondering to places I hadn’t been to before, but also I could stay in contact with those back home and therefore didn’t feel as detached from the world.
I mainly learnt that the best way to fit in is to try and immerse yourself in the culture there, but also to bring with you a little bit of home and share this with the locals too.
I enjoyed representing my laboratory and my university, while learning about how differently things worked on the other side of the world. Overall, I loved my experience. It was new, it was different and I came away with so much more than just a couple of beautiful photos of sunsets and some extra weight.