UW Madison in RIO 2016 First Impressions of Rio

When we first arrived here I was amazed by how Rio could be so fast paced, yet so slow at the same time. The cars would fly by and there was always somewhere to be, but everyone took their time walking and appeared to have a very laid back and casual mentality. There also seems to be small details hidden everywhere you look, from the black and white mosaic stone sidewalks to the green and yellow striped trees. The buildings have details that show what they could have been in another lifetime, mixed with new and modern buildings that show the progression of the city.

Christ the Redeemer, Escadaria Selarón, Sugarloaf Mountain, the Cathedral, Copacabana Beach, Petrópolis, and multiple markets around the city have all been done in only these seven short days. It feels like we have done so much yet there is still so much more that we haven’t explored and want to do. Each of our excursions have brought us to different neighborhoods and exposed us to so many new experiences that we would not find at home. From the views to shopping at huge market of vendors, these are unique to Rio de Janeiro.

Miranda Adamczak


A week ago we I woke up in Rio de Janeiro and groggily walked over to the CIEE center for Day 1, a welcoming and orientation.  After an hour and a half or so slew of warnings, do’s and don’ts, and housekeeping rules, we were left with one piece of advice more invaluable to my comprehension of what a month means here than anything else. Rio de Janeiro demands reaction, and is just as quick to give as it is to take, so drink more water and get more sleep.  For me to engage with this city, to give it the attention and mind is deserves, my first impression is that it will not take care of me if I do not care of myself.

The good news is I’ve picked up on this early, and the result is highly emotional.  My reaction to Rio’s stimuli is one of awe, wonder, and skepticism.  The landscape amazes me – a city built between mountains, the livelihood of the streets is magnetic – a network of timeless hustles, and the divide overwhelms me – favelas looming over the city like giants in the hills.  I want to understand everything, to absorb everything, but I haven’t even bought a water bottle yet.  As a tourist in a foreign place, there is sometimes value in asking questions last, and listening to what the city has to say on its own.

Noah Baron


The way that Rio de Janeiro blends into the surrounding natural area makes it really special. The vibrant colors that characterize Rio come from both natural and man-made parts of the city. The connectivity between outside and inside is the first thing that stands out to be about Rio.

It is easy to see why Corcovado—the mountain where Cristo Redentor stands—is one of the most commonly visited attractions. From there you can see the contrast between the surrounding Tijuca rainforest’s rich green and the ocean’s bright blue, as well as the other buildings that lie sprinkled in between the mountains, revealing Rio’s massive size.

Even the sidewalks have a more vibrant and artistic appearance than the concrete blocks in the U.S., as in Rio they are filled with small, flat mosaic-like pieces of little squares. The swirling mosaic sidewalk at Copacabana beach complements the already picturesque and famous beach, giving even the sidewalk a feel of the ocean waves.

Even businesses fuse more into the outdoors, with outside marketplaces selling fresh produce like coconuts, giant avocadoes, mangoes, bananas, and papaya, vendors selling various products such as jewelry and electronics, and stands and little restaurant/cafés with fresh juices and smoothies.

Laura Bunn


Coming to Rio, stepping out of the airport, my very first thought was, “wow this place doesn’t feel very different from home.” However, now that I’ve been here for a week, I can say that this city is very different from home in many ways and it’s starting to sink in that I’m in another country for a month. My thoughts over these days have been coupled with excitement, nerves, anxiety, stress and wonder. Almost everything that I do or experience in this city is vastly different from how I would experience them at home. Just simply the culture of eating is so different from home and the experience has changed with each place I go. The street culture is busy, loud, and filled with people. The pace of life is relaxed and simplistic, with people in no rush to get to their destination. I’ve found that I’m constantly in a state of mind that is in a rush, but viewing the people of this city, I see a more relaxed population intent on enjoying their day-to-day life rather than focused on places to be or somewhere they need to go. Over this week I’ve thought that Rio de Janeiro is confusing in regards to location and streets, rich in history and culture, varied in people and ethnicities, and beautiful in scenery and architecture.

Alexandra Clark


Stepping off the plane in Rio de Janeiro I was hit with heat and humidity and was immediately reminded of Florida, my home which I haven’t been to in five months. So I guess you could say that because of the weather, upon arrival, Rio de Janeiro felt like a home away from home. As the van cruised taking us from the airport to the hotel, I saw so much graffiti. It reminded me of Hip Hop’s global spread and reminded me that even though I am on a different continent, globalization allows similarities to be present in culture. One thing that shocks me about Rio is the coexistence. Forest of trees exist right next to manmade buildings that seem like they were plastered onto the cliff. Today while walking to a restaurant, I saw man in a suit standing on the sidewalk and not even a meter from his feet was a person with his knees shoved into his shirt as he slept on the ground. For a few weeks I am able to exist in this city where the dichotomy turns into a blur due to the interconnectedness of worlds.

Jamie Dawson


I can say that I got off the plane in Rio with no expectations of what the city was going to be like. Stepping outside was when my initial reactions began. The warm air hitting me made me feel fortunate not to be in Madison anymore. I was growing tired of the cold and it felt great to feel the warm weather of Rio. Once we settled down and checked into our hotel I felt a sense of relief. I was thinking to myself that the month is going to pass by fast but we needed to take advantage of it. One thing that I really found interesting and it keeps coming up when we are walking in the streets is the similarities with Mexico. The part of Michoacan where my parents are from everything is on the streets. There are places to eat on the street and vendors are outside selling everything. The plazas and the atmosphere just feel really familiar. The food service I think is great. The way that everything is laid out and you have to pay by the kilo is great to me. I have had no complaints with the food and the fruit is so good here. Lastly, the one barrier has to be the language and it is sort of frustrating that you cannot really interact with the people here.

Javier Diaz


Already a week in Rio de Janeiro and I have come to love the Carioca way of life. It is attractive to me because there are so many friendly people who are always willing to help out, especially since I do not know the language very well. They are an active people who are also easy-going and sociable (including the ones who don’t appreciate my Fluminense soccer jersey). Even though I have been told numerous times to watch my back and be very protective with valuables, I have never felt unsafe. While this is no excuse to let my guard down, I have not felt like I would be robbed, even when walking after dark.

There are some things that I also like better in Brazil than in the United States. For instance, after going to church here, it seems that the congregation felt very close together as opposed to the US where it mostly appeared that everyone just went through the motions. This small example seemed representative of Rio as a whole. While it’s a city of over six million people, it feels like a small, tight-knit community.

Julio Gutierrez


As I stepped out of the airplane and made my way down the hall of the airport in Rio de Janeiro, I looked to my right and saw a beautiful view of Rio. From the very beginning, I wanted to head out and explore, even though I wasn’t feeling well from the airplane ride. Walking down the street in Catete along with other Cariocas felt incredible. It was sunny and warm, which was what I expected. For everything else, such as the atmosphere, people, food, transportation, and setting, were things that I found to be different yet unique. The people are beautiful. The food so far is great, especially the fruit. One of my favorite things so far in Rio is the way people travel from one place to another. Usually we walk to places, but if a destination is farther away, the metro, the bus or the cabs are available. It was exciting taking the metro because it was my first time being on the subway. Also it was my first time going to a beach. All 15 of us went to Copacabana beach and spend our Sunday at this wonderful place. I am looking forward to explore more of Rio de Janeiro.

Karen Huerta


When driving from the airport to Hotel 1900, the first thing I noticed was how beautiful and diverse the landscape of Rio was, from its green mountains to its urban city vibe. Rio truly was breathtaking. I also noticed that almost every building and bridge had graffiti on it. Normally when people see graffiti, they think of vandalism, but I thought it was a very beautiful way for cariocas and street artists to express what they may be thinking or feeling.

As we arrived to our hotel and started to walk around the area, I noticed the environment and realized that nobody spoke English nor was there any words in English (ex: dinner menus, ATM machines, etc.) That became an a-hah moment for me because I wasn’t in America, I was in Brazil. So in order for me to really immerse myself into Brazilian culture and society, I really had to work hard to learn phrases and communicate effectively with local Brazilians. I also noticed that houses weren’t built like they were in America. Many houses where Brazilians lived are less developed and equipped and that helped me realize how fortunate and lucky I am to have appliances and electronics.

When I was in my room and had to use the washroom or went to a restaurant and had to use a napkin, I realized how Brazilians conserve. I was so used to being in America, a well-developed country and having the luxury of using as much toilet paper or napkins that I wanted without worrying that I would run out. But in Brazil, napkins and toilet paper is quite thin and therefore it has allowed me to think smart and use less.

Brazil is a city full of hardworking people. Through the interactions I have had with locals, they really do take pride in their city and are really nice and caring. They have helped me adjust to Rio and have made my experience a meaningful one. People have approached me to be careful when leaving things on the beach and telling my peers and I which stop to get off on the train. Brazil and the people residing here really work hard to make money to support their families and I that is something that I admire the most.

Overall, Rio has surprised me on how diverse and beautiful it is and how much culture and history I still have yet to learn. It truly is a marvelous city.

Kayla Hui


Rio. City of samba, beautiful landscapes, exotic animals, and beaches, beaches, beaches. What I was expecting when I first arrived in Rio de Janeiro was all laid-out for me from American media. Movies, t.v. shows, and songs, ranging from James Bond’s Moonraker and Fox Animation’s Blue Bird Rio to Barry Manilow’s Copacabana song, excited me to someday travel to Brazil.

But, what really inspired to me travel to the “Marvelous City,” was how it was so different, almost opposite, from my lived perspective. In my first steps on the South American continent, I felt the difference:

First and foremost, the seasons were flipped. Re-adjusting my mind to the fact that it was both May-June and winter at the same time was halfway of my journey. I even questioned when Brazilians celebrate Christmas, in mid-July?

Second, I remember exiting the airport to the sight of beautiful rock formations covering my all sides of my vision. It felt like this airplane hadn’t flew me to another country, but more like, transported me to another planet. Seeing all the heavenly landscapes, I took out my phone as soon as I could and snapped panoramas through the airport windows–forgetting that I would be hosted in this city for another four weeks to indulge in all my picture-taking pleasures. I was amazed by how the city was created in the midst of mountains, rivers, and valleys. Even the underprivileged communities had homes built upon the tops of historic mountains, where one could see breathtaking views of the whole area.

Entering the city, I remember noticing the people of Rio, or Cariocas. The Cariocas lived in a vibrant street culture and socialized with whomever, whenever, wherever. It made the Midwest look almost unfriendly or introverted. I was surprised to see people of African, Arab, and Japanese-descent all carrying the ability to speak Portuguese, maybe even English too (if we were lucky!). In this first week, the Cariocas have taught me so much from teaching me how to enjoy life in a relaxed pace to how to order my favorite blend of mango and pineapple smoothies in Portuguese (uma vitamina de manga e abacaxi).

It may have not been like what the American media showed it, but I will always remember this city to be filled with gorgeous landscapes, diverse culture, and amiable people.

After all, first impressions last forever.

Ali Khan


The first word that came out of my mouth when we went outside of the Rio de Janeiro airport was “Wow!” I was in awe with everything I saw from the different types of trees, the beautiful mountains that surrounded the city, and the favelas. Rio is a beautiful city not only because of its topography, but because it is such a “rich” city in a sense that there is so much diversity and culture. The city is constantly changing and alive, but the people here known as Cariocas are calm and relaxed. They like to take their time. We have been here for a week only and I already feel like I belong and am comfortable enough to call myself a Carioca. I love that there is so much you can do in Rio from the touristy things such as visiting Christ the Redeemer to smaller scale activities such as visiting the local markets, where they sell fresh fruits and handmade jewelry. The food is delicious and I have noticed that in Rio, they really like to do buffet style where you grab whatever food you want and pay after you eat. I love every aspect of Rio de Janeiro so far and want to see, experience, and learn more!

Pachia Lee


For the past few days, I have come out of my comfort zone to a new environment. I have explored different parts of Rio de Janeiro as well. I have become exposed to a new culture and society that are entirely different from the United States. As a political science major, I am aware of the social injustice present in under-developed countries. However, now I am able to see how Brazil is one of the unfortunate countries with the greatest amount of poverty. In every corner, there is a poor man or women asking for change and sleeping in the street. There are people who eat out of the garbage and beg for any spare change. Yet, I can also see the hope and determination of some individuals not to give up. People wake up early morning to clean and cook for hours in order to have basic standards of living. There are cariocas everywhere smiling, laughing, talking, and living their normal lives. These individuals do not have the same living standards as Americans, but have an extreme social and welcoming community. Brazil is an extremely diverse country, as a result individuals with different backgrounds bond with one another in the streets. Overall, I can see the inequality present in this country today but also the empowerment within it.


Diana Pavon


Rio de Janeiro is a beautiful place. So, far I have found myself completely in awe of everything this wonderful city has to offer. The city, the people and the land are overwhelmingly gorgeous and I am very excited to explore even more. My first impressions of Rio have been a little tainted by some of the views and opinions of people who have been here before or have stereotyped the city. Some of these notions have been reiterated by the cautionary talks that we have had with the support faculty who are here with us. As a group, we have been told how to navigate this city without being harmed or victimized and although it is helpful, it has also made it harder to experienced Rio unbiasedly. Overall, I am very happy with my classes, my amazing group, and this beautiful city. Since, we are here during Rio’s rainy season, I have learned how to truly appreciate every bit of sun that I receive while I’m here (and to use rainy days for studying as much as possible). My first week in Rio de Janeiro has been magical and I can’t wait to continue to learn more about this fascinating city.

Kynala Phillips


After a week exploring Rio, I am truly beginning to understand why Rio is called the marvelous city. The views everywhere I go are breathtaking, with the grandiose mountains and ocean extending as far as I can see. Even the architecture surrounding me as I walk to class and cobblestone underneath my feet have such a beautiful history behind it. Although I struggle daily with the Portuguese language, I have found that Cariocas always still try their best to communicate with me. Whether it’s having a conversation in broken English, Spanish, Portuguese, or a mix of the three, nearly every interaction has been a positive one, which speaks to the welcoming and kind character of Cariocas. My one disappointment in this first week has been the food, which has not been as exotic or fulfilling as I had expected. But I continue to find new restaurants and try different food every day, so hopefully I will soon get a taste of “authentic” Brazilian cuisine. Even though it has only been a week here, I am already beginning feel the rhythm of the city, and I can’t wait to discover more of what Rio has to offer.

Katie Piel


From hanging out at Copacabana all day to struggling to order food at KFC, it has been quite the first week in Río. I thought of the term “Carioca in training” and believe that accurately describes some of the main aspects of this past week. My eyes have been open to a new way of life through simple interactions with the people of Rio de Janeiro. For example, there isn’t a strong sense of timeliness and I have been learning to embrace that part of the carioca way of life because I typically have a sense of rush in many things that I do. Another first impression that I had of Rio was how beautiful the city is. The views from traveling around the city continue to take my breath away and what we learn in class adds a whole new aspect of beauty to the city. The only thing that hasn’t been that amazing is the food. The food is not bad but it isn’t amazing either. It kind of just fills you up. I am excited to continue this experience for the next three weeks and to continue my training in becoming a true carioca one vitamina mista at a time.

Ron Steinhoff