By HANA WAHI – Olá! É um prazer conhecê-lo. Pleased to meet you. A day after her sixteenth birthday, a daring student took an airplane to the United States, where she would stay for an entire year.
Meet Julia Barreto Costa, an exchange student from Brazil. Like any other sixteen-year-old, she is full of energy and passion– she enjoys sports, values education, and loves good food.
Having arrived two months ago, on January 22, Costa left behind her family, friends, and boyfriend to experience a year abroad. “I started to study English when I was about eight years old,” Costa explains, “I have always wanted to visit the United States to discover a new culture.” Costa chose the United States for a specific reason. “At first, I wanted to study in Germany,” Costa says, “So I started to study German. But it made no sense to study German. I decided that if I went to the US and became fluent in English, I would be able to use the language all over the world.”
Compared to German, the English language is spoken in many more places; some even consider it to be the universal language of the entire world. “Plus, I wasn’t very good at German,” Costa jokes.
In every class, students are often reminded that there is a difference between learning and knowing. This is very much the same with language; there is studying a material, and then there is applying that material to everyday tasks. “It is very different when you study a language in a different country, and then when you go to that country you have to speak that language,” Costa explains, “It’s one thing to study a language. It’s another to speak and really know it.”
Pursuing an education with English is not foreign to Costa and her family. “My father speaks English,” she explains. “But he didn’t have an opportunity to study in other countries. He was very excited.” Studying abroad has been known to help a student learn a language much more rapidly than just a classroom setting. “I had to study very much. My parents had to pay a lot. It was very expensive,” Costa says.
But coming to the United States alone comes with many difficulties. “This is my first time totally alone,” said Costa, “I’ve been to Europe a few times, with my friends, but now I’m by myself, and going to school.” Costa has also had to adjust to the American school system; school hours in Brazil are completely different. “Americans spend a lot of time at school,” Costa says. In Brazil, most school days are only five hours long. American schools, on the contrary, span to around typically seven hours.
Costa’s favorite aspect of her stay so far are the opportunities. “There are no exchange programs [set in] Brazil,” Costa says.
“I think in America, you have more opportunities to do what you want, to study what you want, and to learn new things,” Costa explains. “Especially in school. The school here is public. You don’t have to pay very much at all, but [the school] still offers so much.” Public schools in Brazil also typically offer less choice in the classes a student can enroll in. “In Brazil, you have to pay a lot [to get opportunities]. The public schools don’t have very many choices. Private schools are much better, but they’re so expensive.” Subjects offered at IHS such as journalism, culinary arts and pottery are not ones typically offered in Brazilian public schools. “Here you can learn music and to cook at school, I like that,” Costa says.
Compared to the Brazil, the United States is definitely a different culture. From the food, to popular hobbies, to the attitudes of the people, there are notable deviations. “I knew it would be different here,” Costa explains. “But [even so] I was surprised by many things.”
Food, for one, has been a huge change. “The food is totally different from Brazil,” Costa says. “People eat with more bread, and pasta, and pizza– I don’t see people eating much fruit or vegetables here.” In contrast to our usual bread-and-butter breakfasts and our mac-and-cheese dinners, Brazilians typically offer more food group variety in their meals than Americans are used to.
One particular popular Pennsylvania hobby throws Costa completely off-guard. “I was really shocked that shooting animals is a culture here,” she says. Hunting– a seasonal pastime many Pennsylvania residents practice– is not common in Brazil at all. “In Brazil, [citizens] can’t have weapons, even for animals,” she explains.
Costa says that people interact with each other differently in the United States as well. “The behavior is a little different. Americans seem a little more quiet, and a little less extroverted,” Costa explains. “In Brazil, [people] would introduce themselves to everyone. Here, it seems difficult for people to open themselves [up to others].”
Despite differences, Costa has also noticed similarities between her home and host countries. “It’s very diverse [in both places],” Costa enthuses. “In the United States and Canada, it’s a mix of people and culture; it’s also the same in Brazil.” Compared to other parts of the world that Costa has visited, her home country and the United States are the most diverse. “If you were to go to China or Germany, everyone would have a similar appearance. But in Brazil, and the US, there isn’t a specific way that everyone looks.”
Over the course of her stay, Costa explains how she has a list of things that she would like to do. “Before I leave, I want to explore forests and go hiking. I want to play winter sports. You could never do that in Brazil,” she warns. “Brazil is a tropical country. There is no winter. There are forests in Brazil, but you can’t go far because it’ll get dangerous.”
“You can ask [Brazilians] to go hiking with you, but they won’t say yes because it’s not the culture over there,” Costa explains. “Usually people will go to the beach more.”
It’s around four months into Costa’s twelve-month stay and she already misses home. “I miss my parents very much. I miss my close friends. I miss my boyfriend,” Costa says. “Sometimes I miss the weather. It’s very hot and tropical, and there are beaches nearby my home.”
Costa also has suggestions for those planning to travel to Brazil. “I think Americans would like to learn Portuguese. I also think they would enjoy the diversity of food, the weather, and the animals.” But while Brazil has tourist-aimed sightseeing attractions such as Cristo Redentor and the Copacabana Palace, Costa highly recommends prospective travelers to explore the Brazilian wilderness. “I would prefer to show the nature (wilderness) of Brazil, because I think it’s very different,” Costa says.
Not unlike the United States, different parts of Brazil will give travelers different experiences. “From the north, most of the citizens are [descendants] from Africa,” Costa explains. “But south Brazil is full of people from Germany, Italy, Poland, Ukraine and Austria. The accents and culture from both regions are totally different. But most everyone speaks Portuguese.”
“If you have the opportunity to visit other countries, to learn new languages, to do an exchange program– do it, because it will be one of the best things that you do in your life,” Costa advises. “You will become educated, and you will learn things that you will never learn in your own country. Knowledge and experience do not have a price.
“You always need to be open to meet new people, especially from other countries. When you learn the culture of others, you will learn things that you will never learn with your own people.”
[Photo by Hana Wahi]
Photo Caption: Brazilian exchange student Julia Costa explores the wonder of Philadelphia Street.