My name is Serban Danciu and I have spent the month of July 2016 closely observing the life and habits of the people that work in the Laconcha (LAboratorio de COntrole Neural da Circulacao e Hipertensao Arterial) Lab, Federal University of Paraiba, in the city of Joao Pessoa, Brazil, as a SCORE exchange student. Just so you know what to expect, I have not stayed in a dorm room but with a host and apart from a party thrown during one of the weekends I have not met other exchange students. However, don’t worry, as you’ll see that the beauty of the experience was unaffected by that.
At 2 am on the 30th of June, the plane finally touched down the hot tarmac of Joao Pessoa’s airport and, after almost 24 hours of travelling and 3 flights I could finally say that I had reached my destination. My host, Alexandre, was there to pick me up and much to my relief I noticed right away that I had been very lucky. Not only did he speak English fluently, which is by the way somewhat uncommon in Brazil (most of them speak little or no English at all, so be prepared), but he also happened to be a great guy with whom I’ve found a lot of things in common. I stayed with him and his girlfriend (who was my “godmother” assigned by the IFMSA) for a whole month and I can assure you it was one of the best ones of my life. They arranged trips for me every weekend to different sights around the region .
They also made sure I tried as much as possible from what Brazil had to offer by very dutifully taking me out to parties, restaurants and visiting around Joao Pessoa.
They have been very thorough in explaining to me how the transportation system works there, in case they wouldn’t be able to pick me up with their car and generally taught me a great deal of things about their country.
I won’t lie. Brazil might be dangerous, but only if you’re a chicken-dumb or very unlucky. This should go as common sense but you should avoid going out alone after dark or carry valuables upon yourself (including more than a day’s spending in money). I have not felt scared myself but they insisted repeatedly on these tips so I figured I should too.
Given the grim aura of the last paragraph, I feel like I should, however, do some justice to the people in Brazil as the vast majority of those whom I’ve met are very friendly, helpful and kind people. Apart from the friends of my host’s, who treated me like I were one of them, the people at the lab were also very willing to make me a part of their activity despite the language barrier which sometimes, but not often, proved to be a bit of a conundrum (the tutor though, i.e. professor Valdir, was fluent in english and very willing to explain to me anything so you should not be concerned). I have learned a lot in those five rooms (plus the hallway) that, between 8 am and 3 pm, were my world. Except for some techniques that were too hard to master in that short of a time, I was, after a period of preparation and practice, allowed to perform various tasks, such as managing data, working with an organ bath, harvesting rat tissues and also helping out during surgery on rats. The outcome of my stay there was limited rather by its duration, as one month was not enough to be able to start a project on my own or produce any kind of academic material. However, I did come back with a lot of new information and concepts and with the prospect of future collaboration which is if you ask me both a great opportunity and an honor.
So there you go. I’d say that I have found there, in Brazil, during my unfortunately too short of a stay, a new world. One full of new concepts, both theoretical and applied, scientific and social, good and bad but always interesting. I have found new solutions to new problems, I have found new solutions to old problems. I have found both mentors and friends and with the risk of sounding a bit chessy I’d say that somewhere around there, beneath that breathtakingly beautiful, warm and everchanging sky of Brazil, I have also found myself.
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Don’t hesitate to ask for more detalis if you’re going to Brazil.