I knew that by choosing to do my languages course at the University of Birmingham that I was already guaranteeing myself a year abroad somewhere hot and sunny, but little did I know just how far away from home it could take me before my Erasmus year had even started.
With the assistance of the University of Birmingham Careers and Employability Centre (not forgetting the Portuguese department’s help too), I was able to successfully apply to a short one-month internship in Latin America’s biggest metropolis; Sao Paulo. My flights and accommodation expenditure would be reimbursed, effectively giving me the chance to visit a part of the world that I’d never otherwise be able to at the cost of gaining an invaluable CV-boosting experience.
As a student of Portuguese at the University for two years already, I was confident of my abilities to get by in a country where, unlike in Europe, it is not the norm for every other person on the street to be able to speak English. Admittedly at first the adaptation to the strong Brazilian accent took a bit of time – should anyone else visit Brazil with a European accent then expect a little bit of fun-poking by the locals. But in no time I was understanding the many friendly people I met during the first few days, and even speaking with a bit of a local twang myself.
It meant so much to me to have come so far from home, so I was determined to make the most of it. I planned my trip so that it would start with a 4-day stay in the magnificent city of Rio de Janeiro, a place I would never have forgiven myself for not visiting had I missed it out. Over the next five weeks I’d also visit the cities of Salvador and Brasilia, as well as a weekend in the tropical surroundings of Parati on the coast. All that on top of living a working life in Sao Paulo!
I was to work in the museum and cultural centre Casa Guilherme de Almeida and assist them in putting together a database of literary translation. It would include anything and everything relevant to those working in literary translation, from university departments to dedicated societies to online dictionaries in all languages. Doing this type of work required many hours of research in both Portuguese and English, yet I would not say the greatest skill I acquired during my stay was anything to do with research. The day-to-day communication skills needed to effectively work with my Brazilian colleagues improved my Portuguese vastly. The specialist vocabulary needed in the workplace not only meant I gained valuable additions to my own dictionary, but also an understanding of the ins and outs involved in working a job directly linked to my studies.
In this sense, it gave me renewed confidence in the amount of directions my degree could take me and what I can actually do with it in the real world. While the benefits to my language skills and experience in a completely foreign workplace are without doubt the immediate gains from the internship, it has also assured me of where I can seriously start to forge a career post-University. In the meantime I feel further importance placed on my study of Portuguese during the rest of my time as a student. It was satisfying to understand everyone I had the pleasure of meeting, now perfecting my own speaking abilities is the next goal. I’m sure my time in Brazil will be with me all through achieving just that. The direction it has given my studies has been worth it alone.
There was a certain irony to ending my 16-hour return trip in Birmingham Airport; you really did get a sense of just how big the world is and indeed, how small Birmingham really is! I try to avoid using the phrase ‘once in a lifetime’ as a way of describing my summer in Brazil, as I truly believe that coupled with my degree this experience will be able to take me back to South America (and beyond) time and time again. I was frequently asked why on earth I’d chosen to leave the UK during the Olympics and our grand summer of sport, yet the answer was simple; I’ll be at Rio 2016, make no mistake about that.