Mateo Zevallos is a second-year undergraduate student studying Biomedical Science. He was awarded a Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) fellowship to study Portuguese during the summer of 2023.
I spent my FLAS fellowship on a fully paid 6-week study abroad program in São Paulo, Brazil, through Tulane University. The focus of this program was not only the Portuguese language but also Brazilian culture, particularly contemporary social issues related to topics ranging from colonialism to the military dictatorship.
I also studied through the CET center in Perdizes, which is associated with the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo. I was there from mid-June to late July.
As I share Peruvian and European heritage, I have been bilingual in Spanish and English my whole life. That gift has always made me interested in language, and my choice to focus on Portuguese particularly was inspired by Spanish’s close relation to Portuguese, as well as a life-long fascination with Brazilian culture, heavily influenced by a trip I went on with my father when I was 13 years old to Brazil.
Without an immersive experience, I don’t think any language education can be complete. Having the privilege to engage with native speakers in their native environment exposes you to the nuances in grammar and vocabulary – particularly slang – that just can’t be taught in a classroom. Conversationally, learning language by speaking rather than studying conjugation sheets does so much more for the flow of dialogue, and my ability to speak now is much better because of it.
The most memorable part of my experience was the people I met in Brazil. The lodging of our program was separated by apartments where five American students would live with one Brazilian roommate, and we basically did everything together. I keep in active contact with all my roommates and some of the other program members, including having visited my best friend I made on the trip this past semester in Los Angeles. My Brazilian roommate is also still one of my closest friends who I talk with daily, and I feel so thankful I was able to meet these wonderful people through such an experience.
My favorite moment by far was during a 3-day weekend. I visited Rio de Janeiro with one of my friends, and we spent the time just traversing the city and appreciating the rich history and culture there. I did so much there, including visiting a beautiful botanical garden and spending days on the legendary Ipanema and Copacabana beaches, but my favorite moment was my obligatory trip up to see Christ the Redeemer on the stunning Corcovado Mountain. The view from up above, especially during the violet sunset, was the most stunning thing I’d ever seen in my life, and in that moment, I felt so thankful for the opportunity I had to be there with the company I shared it with.
Apart from drastically accelerating my learning of Portuguese, allowing me to communicate with a larger population, I also completed a research project related to my career interests. As a person who hopes to work in the health field, improvements to the public health system are things I consider constantly as I hope to one day improve the world. Brazil is a unique country with historically conservative tendencies that still guarantees free healthcare as a constitutional right to its people. While there, I completed a project analyzing the history of this system and its positive outcomes for its people, hoping to gain a perspective for implementing such a system not only in America but globally.