I can’t quite believe that it was this time last year we had our first meetings about our year abroad choices and I started to go through the very drawn out process of figuring out what the hell I was going to do with this year of my life.
It still seemed an extremely long way off last October, but an impending year abroad makes a year fly by at an alarming rate. My first bit of advice is, don’t panic! I told myself that’d I’d be all proactive and have everything sorted by Christmas. Christmas came and went and it was actually at Easter that I accepted my job at the Parque Ecologico Rio Formoso in Bonito, Brazil, through AIESEC. So don’t let the people at uni scare you with deadlines and don’t let the fact that everyone doing British Council has their year abroad practically sorted by November bother you, because they won’t actually find out where they’re going until well into next summer. I had already started working when they found out! So remain calm.
So this is how it happened for me. I spent a good 4 months messing around on the internet looking at internships in Brazil (periodically freaking out and googling Erasmus placements in Lisbon) because I was putting off paying what seemed to me the astronomical fee of £300 and something charged by AIESEC for access to their database. I eventually caved in about February. However, I’m not sorry I waited. If I’d started earlier there would have been very few jobs with starting dates I could do. It’s only huge companies that sort out all their interns for the following September before Christmas. Particularly in South America, smaller companies don’t generally plan so far ahead!
AIESEC is a student exchange organisation that has been around for years and is active all over the world. They have both ‘social’ exchanges, which are short term, and ‘professional’ exchanges, which are for periods of six months to a year. Once you pay your registration fee (completely worth it for the help in the visa process alone) you are given access to their database. I restricted my search to Brazil, but there are thousands of placements all over the world. You can narrow your search down to particular areas of work or particular regions.
I combed through dozens of jobs, mostly with English schools. I’m not going to lie, this did take up quite a lot of time. I spent a lot of time I could have dedicated to university work sending endless emails to AIESEC committees all over Brazil and endlessly checking to see if new jobs had been posted. Procrastination at its finest! The AIESEC website is good but not brilliant, so be prepared to have to spend some time to get to grips with it.
After email exchanges and a few Skype interviews I was offered three jobs. Two were English teaching, one in Curitiba and one in Belem (tempting- Amazon!). I was perfectly happy with the idea of English teaching as it looked, frankly, like there wasn’t much choice with my skill set. However, the last was here in Bonito, Brazil. Between a job description mentioning being a monitor on tubing, horse riding and snorkelling tours and googling Bonito, MS, Brasil (do it and you’ll see why it was an easy decision), I was sold!
The only stumbling block was the start date. Having planned a long summer of earning money at home, there I was in mid-April being offered a job with a starting date of 1st June. This threw me off a bit, but it all worked out beautifully. Remain flexible and try not to commit yourself to anything for next summer before you know what you’re doing!
The visa process for Brazil would be horrendous without AIESEC, but they make it all very easy with a step by step guide. They faffed around a bit with my two friends who were also going to Brazil through AIESEC, but if there is a tight deadline they’ll get it done! It took me six weeks, many forms and a visit to the Brazilian Consulate in London to get my visa. When they start saying that they can’t possibly give you a visa as you haven’t got x, y and z, start sobbing uncontrollably, works like a charm. When I was there the room was full of balding, forty-something, world-cup goers and they all fell absolutely silent at the sight of an emotional female. Desperate times…
So now is the time for absolute honesty about AIESEC’s support, because you need to know. AIESEC Southampton was fine, not amazing , but they answered my emails asking questions and got in contact with their counterparts in Brazil when I had a few issues. I don’t, however, think I’ve had one single email since I’ve been here to check I’m alive. So don’t expect too much from them. Don’t expect too much from anyone to be honest, me leaving early for my year abroad meant that no one from uni checked on me for a good three months. I mean, I know it was the summer, but come on. Sorry Southampton, you’re wonderful and I love you, but it’s the honest truth!
Arriving in Brazil I was met by the lovely Ana Flavia and Guilherme who I had been in contact with beforehand. I was taken to a traditional party that night which was brilliant, apart from the fact I was horrendously jet lagged, a vegetarian at a meat party and had no idea where I was staying that night until about 1am when they decided between them all! I ended up staying with a gorgeous family who had had no idea I was arriving but drove me to Bonito (3 hours one way) quite happily, very sweet!
Conclusion being, everyone is lovely, but don’t expect any organisation at all and be ready for a bit of spontaneity. Since then they’ve been to visit every so often (there are about 6 interns in Bonito) as they serve as a intermediary between me and my employers, but not as much as they promise as they are all insanely busy at university and don’t get paid!
I have completely landed on my feet with my job. My employers are very supportive and relaxed and value my opinions. They also provide food and board which makes everything beautifully simple. Some of the others here that have had to find their own accommodation have had some issues, so that’s something to be aware of and discuss in depth with AIESEC before taking the plunge. The other two Southamptoners working in Brazil both opted for English teaching jobs, but at completely opposite ends of the country. They both came through AIESEC, as we all decided that doing it alone was just not an option. Laura went south, to the very European Curitiba and is having the time of her life. She loves her job, has made some amazing friends, is getting involved in social projects, has already been exploring Brazil and from what I gather goes out too much, so it’s not just me!
However, Lewis went north to Recife. He lasted a month, moved accommodation multiple times, was unhappy in his job, made few friends, felt unsupported by AIESEC and was robbed. He’s now in a very cushy job in Lisbon enjoying some autumn sunshine so we won’t feel too sorry for him. It’ll all work out in the end!
We had all been picturing him living the tropical life style in the North East. None of us realised the reality of living in a huge city in an underdeveloped part of Brazil that is commonly known as the murder capital of the world wouldn’t be quite so idyllic. So the moral is, as much as you might want to head to the big city or that incredible beach, be serious. Is it safe? Will you be able to go out at night? Will you have the support you need? South America is already a very big step, there is no need to move directly into a favela. I am a big advocate of small-town. I walk the streets alone at night on my phone without a care in the world, and I couldn’t be safer. Much as Rio might sound glamorous, will you have quality of life? Don’t get swept away, be realistic.
If you’re dreaming of South America and have been since day one of your degree, go for it and don’t let anyone tell you not to. I am having the absolute time of my life. But yes it’s scary and yes you’ll have difficult moments and wish you hadn’t gone halfway around the world away from everything you know and love. That’s why if it’s not a real passion you should stick to Europe. Moving away from home to anywhere is a huge deal, and you’ll have an incredible experience whenever you go. But if you over stretch yourself, that’s when things will go wrong.
If anyone has any questions, I’m more than happy to answer them. I messaged loads of people last year and they were really helpful! Don’t be shy! Good luck and enjoy the process! And enjoy second year while you’re at it! I’ll stop using exclamation marks now.