Brazil Through Foreign Eyes
Meet Caitlin McQuilling, from the USA, who is curently studying in Brazil. Read the following interview where she tells us about her most memorable experiences from Brazil and gives some useful advice to newcomers.
1. Tell us a little about yourself, where are you from, what do you do etc.?
My name is Caitlin McQuilling. I am originally from Long Island, New York, but now live in Washington DC. I am a junior at Georgetown Universitys School of Foreign Service where I study International Politics with a focus on Latin America. I am studying abroad here in Sao Paulo and am directly enrolled at PUC-SP (Potifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo) for the semester.
2. When did you arrive in Brazil and what brought you here?
I arrived in São Paulo in Mid-January to study abroad for the semester at PUC-SP. I studied for a month in Salvador last summer and just didnt get enough of Brazil. I wanted to come back to solidify my Portuguese and spend more time getting to know the country.
3. What were you first impressions of Brazil?
My first impressions of Brazil were extremely positive; it was love at first site. I arrived for the first time in Brazil last year in Salvador, Bahia. I thought Brazil was just magical. Here I was in an 80 degree-winter in this gorgeous beach city, with beautiful, carefree people, a great night life, great music, and even people who would grill you a piece of cheese on a stick at the beach. Since then I have experienced Brazil more to know that its not a completely carefree and a 24-hour-party country, that Salvador isnt all its cracked up to be, and that they dont sell "queijo coalho" everywhere.
4. What do you miss most about home?
New York bagels, efficiency, sales people not harassing me in stores, folders, and more than anything family and friends.
5. What has been your most frustrating experience in Brazil?
I spent 12 hours standing and waiting in line while trying to register at the Federal Police. It was bureaucracy at its worst. I had to go back two times because the ink on my arrival stamp in my passport was not dark enough, so I had to have my airport immigration slip notarized to prove that I had in-fact entered the country. The same day there were hundreds of other illegal Bolivians who had been granted amnesty by the government waiting to register and each one of them got priority over an American university student. There were two people working to fingerprint the entire room of hundreds of people and then about 10 people in charge of making sure you didnt sit on the floor.
6. What has been your most memorable experience in Brazil (specific incident)?
I was "hazed" my first day of classes at PUC. The Brazilian universities have a tradition that all freshmen, "bichos", have to go through. I had heard about it, but since Ive already been a freshman once I thought I wouldnt be hazed. I walked up to the school for my first night class and stood on the front steps for a few minutes just watching the 100s of students, who filled the street in front of the school and the bars across the street, greeting each other, screaming, and hazing freshmen. All of a sudden a guy looks at me, points, and yells, bicho!!! I guess I looked a little lost. When I assured him that I wasnt a new student he asked me where some building was that I had never heard of. When I didnt know the answer he and his friends put string around my waste and tied me up to a line of about 10 freshman and then covered my hair, face, and arms in multi-colored paint. They made us all chant things I didnt understand as we walked down the main street by PUC holding hands. When we got to the main intersection all the freshman and I had to go up to cars and beg them for money, saying, hi, were freshman, please, can you give us money for books? Then the change we got we gave to the seniors. Despite how all this sounds, the students were all very good natured about it. This was the first time these students had an American "bicho" so I was the center of attention; they thought I was hysterical. I would go up to all the cars and tell them that I was the poor exchange student and all the Brazilians were making fun of me. Then the seniors would come up to the cars and help me by calling me a "bicho importada" and then would make me say "Show me the money." I made the most money out of the group! After an hour of begging we pooled together all the money and bought beers together at the bars near the school. As humiliating as it was I actually had a really fun time. I went through a Brazilian rite of passage and made a lot of friends that night.
7. What do you most like about Brazil (in general)?
The people. They are so friendly and willing to chat and help with my Portuguese instead of trying to speak English to me. In classes the students are always inviting me into their groups and helping me out. I have found the people here are really helpful and appreciate any effort you make to speak their language and get to know the country they are so proud of.
8. What is your favorite restaurant/place to hang out here?
For restaurants I love the Jardins area, especially Santo Grão and Skye bar at Unique. I love to hang out at the fair at Benedito Calixa on Saturday afternoons. I love Vila Madalena at night, especially Ó do Borogodó and Grazie a Dio to listen to great samba and jazz. Late night the best place around for a "hotti dogi completa" is Black Dog on Al. Joaquim Eugenio de Lima, off of Paulista.
9. Do you have any funny stories/incidents to tell about your time in Brazil?
One night a few friends and I left Grazie a Dio and got into a cab outside. The cab driver, Id say about 55 years old, handle-bar mustache, collared shirt unbuttoned and sporting rapper-esque gold chains, asked us how our night was. We told him that we had been listening to some great MPB. He told us that he was a singer and whipped out his own samba-rap CD titled "Eu Sou Taxista." As soon as we asked if we could hear it he had it in the CD player and proceeded to play the song 4 times while he drove us home, rapping all the way. "Eu sou taaaaxista, eu sou taxista. Para ! Para! Para! Para! Taaaxxxiiiiii!!!!" I still regret not buying the CD from him for R$15.
10. What difference between your homeland and Brazil do you find most striking?
To be cliché I would have to say the poverty. Of course, the United States has serious problems with poverty, but depending on where you live, everyday poverty is easy to ignore. Everyday here I am confronted with people on the streets, living in horrible conditions, begging outside chic restaurants in Itaim Bibi and people who really have no chance at a better life.
I also find it striking the fact that people here have become desensitized to corruption in politics. Everyday there is a report in the newspapers about some new corruption scandal but the people I talk to are not shocked or disgusted at all. My country has corruption too, but not to the scale of Brazil. One of our senators, Tom Delay, was recently accused of taking bribes, not 1/3 of our congress accused of taking bribes for ambulance contracts. In my country when there is a large scandal, it is a really big deal and there will be jail sentences and political reform because of it. Here in Brazil, it all just becomes "pizza".
11. How is your Portuguese coming along? What words do you find most difficult to pronounce/remember or are there any words that you regularly confuse?
I am very happy with how my Portuguese is coming along. I started speaking a year ago and now can understand everything in my upper level university classes and have friendships in Portuguese. I still have problems with "porteñol", mixing my Spanish and Portuguese up. I will never be able to pronounce the name Parque Ibirapuera correctly.
12. What advice do you have for newcomers to Brazil?
Dont be intimidated by all the reports of São Paulo being a very violent city. Its not if you are careful. Go out at night, walk around, explore; just make sure to be smart about it. Bring comfortable shoes. Try that red popcorn they sell on the side of the street, you wont regret it. If you are in São Paulo, take advantage of everything SESC has to offer. Buy Folha São Paulo every Friday for the weekly entertainment guide. Dont be shy about trying to speak Portuguese; most people will appreciate your efforts. Dont expect São Paulo to be the same as home, but also dont expect it to be that different; São Paulo is a cosmopolitan city. For a truly Brazilian experience, get out of the city and explore. Be aware of dendê oil, it can do scary things to your stomach. Try not to constantly convert prices here from Reais to Dollars or Euros, you may be impressed by how much cheaper things are, but you will end up spending more money that way.
13. What are some things that you would recommend for a visitor to do in Sao Paulo (or anywhere else in Brazil)?
Visit the top of the Italia Building for an impressive view of São Paulo. Visit the museums MASP and Pinoteca. Spend an afternoon at the Saturday market at the plaza Benedito Calixo in Pinheiros. Go window shopping in Shopping Iguatemi in Itaim. Spend a night bar-hopping on Aspicuelta and Girassol in Vila Madalena. Eat sushi in Liberdade.
Are you a foreigner who has lived in, or is living or travelling in Brazil? Are you a Brazilian who has a lot of contact with foreigners and/or lived outside of Brazil? Are you interested in telling your story? If you would like to volunteer for our interview series, or if you would like to recommend someone, please send a blank email to email@example.com with "Interview" in the subject. We will send you the interview questions by return email.
To read previous interviews in the Brazil Through Foreign Eyes series click below:
Nicole Rombach - Holland
Steven Engler - Canada
Richard Conti - USA
Zak Burkons - USA
Ann White - USA
Monde Ngqumeya - South Africa
Johnny Sweeney - USA
David Harty - Canada
Bill McCrossen - USA
Peter Berner - Switzerland/Brazil
Ethan Munson - USA
Solveig Skadhauge - Denmark
Sean McGown - USA
Condrad Downes - UK
Jennifer Silva - Australian
Justin Mounts - USA
Elliott Zussman - USA
Jonathan Abernathy - USA
Steve Koenig - USA
Kyron Gibbs - USA
Stephanie Early - USA
Martin Raw - UK
Sean Coady - UK
Hugo Delgado - Mexico
Sean Terrillon - Canada
Jessie Simon - USA
Michael Meehan - USA
Thales Panagides - Cyprus
Tammy Montagna - USA
Samantha Tennant - England
Ron Finely - United States
Bob Duprez - United States
Peter Baines - England
Youssef Bouguerra - Tunisia
Van Wallach - USA
Lesley Cushing - England
Alexander von Brincken - Germany
Hank Avellar - USA
Ed Catchpole - England
Penny Freeland - England
Yasemin de Pinto - Turkey
Amy Williams Lima - USA
John Naumann - England
Marsye Schouella - Eygpt
Rita Shannon Koeser - USA
John Fitzpatrick - Scotland
Liam Gallagher - Northern Ireland
Lorelei Jones - England
Adam Glensy - England
Tommie C.B. DeAssis - Japan
Aaron Day - Canada
Graham Debney - New Zealand
Silke Tina Tischendorf - Germany
Tanya Keshavjee Macedo - Canada
Frank de Meijer - Holland
Carl Emberson - Australia
Kim Buarque - Wales
Damiano Pak - South Korea
Jonas Helding - Denmark
Pari Seeber - Iran
John Milton - England
Ken Marshall - Australia