Our first impressions of Rio de Janeiro

On the first day of class we were asked to describe Rio in one word from what we had experienced and seen as of then. My initial thought was that it was a conglomerate city. But as we were walking back, I saw the sidewalks change from grey to blue and from slabs of concrete into pieces put together; I saw everyone’s faces being different and artwork from different people coming together and only one word came to mind: a mosaic. Rio is an extremely diverse city that is broken into different regions and biomes, yet it remains whole to produce a picture of a diverse city. Since arriving, I have seen a rainforest that blew my mind with its beauty and serene break from the bustle that occurs on the streets of Rio (especially the fast-paced and variable driving). I have seen a great wonder of the world before my eyes and I have learned to (kind of) surf along the Ipanema beach. Rio is unimaginable, even now, as I am here. The city has made me appreciate some things I take for granted or do not realize as a privilege- having filtered water and having solid draining systems.

Malina Barker

Upon arriving in Rio de Janeiro, I did not know what to expect of the city. I had prior personal knowledge and some from orientations regarding some of the people and the views I would see, but most of my previous ideas were from pictures or things I had heard. So, I was coming in with a pretty free mind allowing me to begin with a very real experience. Being from small-town Wisconsin, larger cities like Rio have always been a blur of excitement and a little anxiety for me. I love the atmosphere as I’ve always experienced it in passing, but never for an extended amount of time, so this month has already been, and will be, very new!

Rio impressed me with its building structures and landscapes. The buildings are all very close and tall which creates almost a congested feeling. But as I’ve examined the landscape of the city, especially from heights on the mountains, I’ve felt more calmness and ease with the idea of nature and these beautiful views that are just minutes from a bustling, tightly packed street. It’s truly amazing to experience a place so extremely different from my home both in size and in personalities. Rio has already opened my eyes to another corner of the world with real beauty and underlying truths that I never would have known if I had remained limited to my small world in Wisconsin.

Jennifer Booth

When asked about my first impression of Brazil I had so many words that I could use. The one word that is the most encompassing of all the others was “amazing”. The people, the city, and the atmosphere are all things I never thought I would come into contact with, yet here I am. I knew Brazil was a diverse place, but no amount of research could have prepared me for how diverse Brazil, more specifically Rio de Janeiro, really is. The area we are in reminds me a lot of the downtown LA “alleys” back home, but it still is very different. I find it incredible that communities across the world from each other can share so many similar characteristics. Rio is a very busy place, I did not expect it to be so busy. At first, I was a little overwhelmed, but I know that this is just a part of the urban atmosphere of the city. I loved how old the foundation of the city is, and how that has manifested itself into the city today and the lives of people within the city. All in all, I would say that Brazil is everything I expected to be. At the same time, it is nothing that I expected it would be.

Jasmine Brandon

I have to keep reminding myself that I am visiting in the midst of a Brazilian winter, for I half expect the scorching sun to burn my skin. Nonetheless, I make sure to apply sunscreen. The sidewalk in which I make my morning commute is moreso pebbled than it is cemented. This gives for less grip than I am used to. The avenues are lined with vendors, selling everything from mirrors to records. Interestingly, many vendors leave their stations unattended; I suppose they do not fear theft. The street signs are small and instead of relying on them for direction, I reference my location in terms of local shops and restaurants. The buffets are neat, albeit difficult to navigate. I am terrible at portion control! I do not quite sense the hype surrounding soccer and the World Cup that I have come to associate with the country. I admire Brazil’s body positive culture. It is especially noticeable at the beach, wherein womxn of all shapes and sizes wear revealing clothes without shame. Foreign grocery stores are always interesting to navigate. Apparently cashiers hate receiving bills of higher value, because the womxn who rang me up was rather annoyed when I turned over my R$50. I look forward to developing a deeper understanding of the Rio culture and vibe.

Natalia Caldas

Considering first impressions, it’s worth evaluating the observations being made. Often what stands out most to us is differences, because our minds perceive differences more strongly than it does familiarities. It is important not to fear what isn’t the same, but to enjoy it at face value.

I’ve noticed many differences here in Rio, and some of my favorites are the following:  buses are bigger here; cars look like they do in the US but smother around the edges; drivers understand that the road is for cars only, and they willfully express that truth by honking. Sidewalks are slippery, tiled with irregular pavers, and there is a progressive amount of curb cuts. It turns out that there are monkeys in South America. There are just about a million smells, and I can’t ever seem to identify where they are all coming from.

Rio’s culture is different. The night-life is alive well into the night. There are a lot of street vendors. Art is seemingly everywhere, and groups don’t split the bill at restaurants. I have a genuine appreciation for the uniqueness of Rio’s culture, but it is all the little details in Rio that have meant the most to me.

William Dougherty

When I first got to Rio I was amazed with the views. As soon as we were coming into the airport you could see the mountains and the beaches and I was super excited to land and see all that the city had to offer. In the couple of days here, I have seen a wide variety of things, from the Christ the Redeemer statue, to the tiled steps, and the beautiful beaches. All the scenery is beautiful and I love all the scenery. I think the thing I enjoy the most is all the nature that the city has. Being from Chicago I am used to the big city feel but what I am not used too is all the nature found within the city. Something else that had me surprised was the amount of diversity in the city. Looking around there is so many different types of people doing so many different things and everyone seems to be going somewhere with a mission. Coming to Rio I had no expectations because I wanted to be surprised with what I would see and what I would experience. So far Rio has not let me down, I am so excited to see what else is to come.

Omar Espino

Photo by Alyssa Hui

With a simple Rio De Janeiro Google search, Christ the Redeemer, Sugarloaf Mountain and beaches such as Copacabana and Ipanema pop up. Imagine being able to see these things in person. Just a few days ago, my peers and I landed in Rio with excitement and joy. We were ready to explore and venture out into this “new” part of the world.

The past few days here have been amazing and fun, but I will say at times it has felt overwhelming. I have been able to experience local Brazilian food, engage with people living their day to day lives and mainly learning what Brazil is all about. One of the main impressions that I had while living in Brazil is how hardworking and patient the local people are. Every day when I walk the streets of Rio, I see street vendors working long hours, standing or sitting in the sun and waiting patiently for customers to purchase their items. They seem to blend into the background, most going unnoticed.

A couple of days ago, my peers and I went to the beach to relax and enjoy the warm, sunny day. On my way to the train, I noticed an older woman sitting in front of a store close to the hotel that I have been living in. She sat on a plastic crate holding a box filled with gum. When I returned later in the day, she was still there and as I glanced in to her box, it didn’t seem as if she sold a lot of items. She isn’t the only familiar face that I have seen while living in Rio. There are many others that I recognize and see every day. These people have different stories and they are out here, working hard. My first impression? It’s how diligent and tolerant local Brazilians are in everything that they do.

Alyssa Hui

After nearly a week in this amazing city, I have yet to fully grasp at the fact that I am truly here. Just when I think I have accepted that this is indeed not a dream, the city hypnotizes me with its art, hums a foreign tune, extends its branches and brushes a humid wind against my cheek; only deepening my daze. But, just like any other dream, there are sides of Rio that have harsher realities. I have witnessed a Rio I never knew to expect. On the first day of class we spoke on ‘exoticism’ and how it all depends on perspective and how exotic places are stereotyped as tropical. This is a Rio I could imagine, because I have been fed the stories of Carnival, of Samba dancers, colorful birds flying in the sky. What I was stunned by was the strong African presence in the city. Reflected in the people, the art, and music. I felt guilty, for having participated in the ignorance of stereotypes and not connecting how influential Afro-Brazilians have been to this country. I come from a country that constantly discredits and its people of color, but kept this idea in a bubble. In just these few days I have seen how much I have to learn and appreciate. Yet, I also see how far cultural roots extend, and how much of Latin America owes credit to the African diaspora for its influence. I hear the similarities in music, read about the similar struggles, and revolutions. Putting it into perspective, my culture is not extremely different from Rio’s, but it’s not one hundred percent the same and that is perfectly okay.

Ana Marin-Gonsalez

The airport had windows for walls and I was quick to be enchanted by the towering mountains covering the horizon. Never in my life have I seen a sight like that, and due to my lack of knowledge on Brazil’s geography, never did I expect to find it here in Rio. I felt wonder and overwhelmed first landing and looking out those windows; however, my fervor driving through the city to the hotel has been my most memorable feeling here thus far. Headphones in and face pressed to the window, I found my heart filled with curiosity and love for the place I would get to know throughout the month. During that drive, I saw what are called the favelas. There were hundreds, even thousands, of orange colored homes. Some appeared to have broken roofs, and they looked difficult to walk up to as it seemed like houses were stacked on top of houses. At first, I thought they were construction areas of some sort. But as we kept driving, I saw rainbows of clothes pinned to clothing lines and realized people lived there. The people on the streets just walk on by, going about their business. Growing up, I have seen poor neighborhoods, but I have never seen them so in-your-face until coming to Rio. If you don’t want to see a hood in New York City, you won’t be forced to and that definitely isn’t the case here. Here, it is something to acknowledge. Nonetheless, this was not a negative experience for me but rather a moment where I gained more awareness of some of the cultural differences between my everyday life and those of the Cariocas. Living here in Catete, taking the metro, and interacting with the locals, I know that we can all get to a point where we better understand their daily lives.

Amaya Muñoz

Prior to arriving to Rio, I had painted an image in my head of what Rio would look and feel like. I made sure to be aware that my assumptions would most likely be false, due to the fact that they would be heavily influenced on how American media portrays the Brazil they want us to see. When arriving to Rio, I was excited, waiting to see what the real Rio would look and feel like. The bus ride from the airport to our hotel was where I was able to see Brazil for the first time. I found Rio to be lively and restless. One of the first things that caught my eye was how the colonial Portugal style architecture coexisted with urban street art. It was easy for me to imagine the buildings around Rio during the colonial period. At the same time, these buildings were decorated in graffiti, murals, and other forms of urban street art. This gave me a sense of how history of Rio and Brazil effected not only the physical structures, but those who live in and around them. The streets of Rio are a canvas to urban street art that hold powerful messages of empowerment, human rights movements, and love. I came to the realization that the style of buildings tells a story of only one era, the urban street art tells another, a much longer history.

Michelle Navarro

As I arrived in Rio for the first time, I could not help but be reminded of Colombia, the country I was born in. Like Colombia, the streets of Rio are narrow and transportation is cheap when compared back to the American dollar. When it comes to food, Brazil seems to also be a country with a high meateating population. Although Brazilians love meat so much that they even put it in their beans! Unlike Colombia, Brazil is big on energy saving. At first, I thought that perhaps they wanted to be environmentally conscious and that was why our hotel room’s air conditioning would only remain on while we were in the room and automatically turn off, along with the lights when we left. However, I learned that it was because the electricity is expensive in Brazil and not because they are environmentally conscious; regardless of the reason, I am happy to see that energy saving technology is being integrated into quotidian life more and more. The one thing that has pleased me the most though is the fact that Brazilians are so kind and friendly, just like Colombians. It really makes this place feel like yet another home away from home. The last thing that I found interesting is the fact that public spaces have gym equipment! I appreciate the government bringing an equal opportunity to all the citizens of Rio for a healthier life. Above all I am truly thankful to be here.

Laura Rodriguez

When arriving to the neighborhood we are staying in Rio, I immediately felt a sense of familiarity, contrary to what I expected to feel. The busy narrow streets, waves of strong aromas (good and bad), and constant noise all reminded me of the district in Kenya that I stayed in. Making my first walk to the study center, I drew many parallels to Kenya. The large array of street vendors filling the streets painted an identical image in my head to when I was Kenya. However, what ultimately took away my sense of familiarity was the street art that Rio has unlike any other place in the world. Every day I explored the streets I discovered a new mural with not only bright and excellent artistic design and colors, but deep meanings rooted in the complex history of Rio. It was very interesting to see the same street artist’s work across many different parts of Rio. The vast diversity of the population that I read about was also very clear to see instantly. One thing that was completely unexpected was the large number of stray cats in the streets. I hope to discover much more as I explore new parts of Rio.

Mahad Siad

We’ve been in Rio for a week so far and my experience here has been nothing short of amazing. I remember before I left Madison, my family and friends expressed concern for me staying in Brazil and told me to be very careful. After orientation at CIEE on the first night, I felt a little worried about crime here in Rio. However, after a few days here, I’ve been learning how to navigate the city (using the metro, walking to class from our hotel, and exploring some tourist sites) and now I feel a lot more comfortable here. While the poverty and homeless I’ve seen here is a lot more prevalent than in Madison, I’m not too worried about crime as long as I stay aware of my surroundings, and stay with a friend. I can’t speak for my classmates, but walking around in Rio is way more comfortable for me than walking around in Madison. As a person of color from a predominantly white area, it’s very refreshing to be immersed in a new culture surrounded by people who all look unique. From the moment we got here, my senses have been a bit overwhelmed, but only because there is always so much to see and do here in Rio!

Liliana Teniente

In recent years, the farthest that I’ve traveled from home has been Madison. Now I am all the way in the Marvelous City, Rio de Janeiro. When we arrived, I was eager to see the beautiful scenery of the city that I’ve only seen through the T.V. screen. Greeted by a warm breeze and people who look a lot like people from home, I was shocked. I did not expect Rio to feel so familiar, like Atlanta. Luckily we came at a time that it is 3.9 Reais for each American dollar. The hotel is beautiful and the view is amazing. Plus, having a pool right outside of your room is also a perk. Before I came I had this perception that Brazilian food was delicious. Turns out that I was right! The meals are very filling and taste better than any restaurant I’ve frequented in Madison. I keep repeating to myself over and over, “I can’t believe I’m here.” I cannot wait for the memories I make with everyone here and the stories I will have to tell for my family and friends.

Dequadray White

I was very much surprised when we got off of the bus on Wednesday. Back at home I had seen pictures of several tourist attractions and larger scale pictures of the towns and neighborhoods. But there was something about actually being there on the sidewalks in front of the street that surprised me essentially. I didn’t think that where I was looked at all like pictures. So, I went back to look at those pictures and it made a lot more sense. The biggest things that stuck out to me were the buildings. It was very interesting how the architecture was very colorful and colonial while also being covered in both street murals and graffiti. I felt like I was looking at a timeline as I looked the buildings up and down. At the top I would see Brazil when it was first founded and becoming independent but then as my eyes made their way down I would see words and murals representing the political unrest of today. Another interesting thing I noticed while on the beach in Copacabana was the sense of body positivity from all the locals. You could immediately tell who was from Brazil by how little their swimsuit bottoms were. I felt that a lot of people in those small swimsuits would have been shamed or judged in the US for wearing such little clothing and having bigger bodies. But I love that here everyone was smiling and enjoying themselves rather than worrying about what they chose to wear.

Gloria Wide