Seeing Beyond Your Comfort Zone in Brazil

by Brandon Blache-Cohen

This post is from a blog series about a group of students from Roger Williams University who visited Brazil in January. Their trip will no doubt go down in the annals of Amizade history as a wonderfully transformative experience for all parties involved. Enjoy.

Brazilians often do not have the same notions of personal space that our American culture tends to require. Even today this is something I struggle with.  I am constantly battling the urge, when someone is talking to me inches from my face, to say “whoa, two feet of space”.

The activity that tested the student’s sense of personal space the most was our 3-day riverboat tour.  For three days the students spent all of their waking hours doing the same things in the same space and then slept in hammocks that were literally 1-2 inches from each other.  I think this was a real challenge in the beginning but by the end I heard one girl, late at night, shouting for her hammock neighbor, who had moved in the middle of the night.

Fordlândia is river community, one of our stops along the Tapajos River that is accessible only by boat, with only a few dirt roads leading into the community, limited electrical service and no public water.

The community has an interesting historical and anthropological background as it was a community that was originally intended to be a major rubber producing site and was invested in heavily by Henry Ford, hint the name; Fordlândia.

During their time in the community, the students were able to see first hand how the people on the river communities live and make due with few resources.

By the end of their visit in Santarém, the students were invited to a party for the staff at Fundação Esperança.  There, they got to experience a style of music called Dance and see how people interact outside of a work environment.

At the IGPA service site, they broke through the language barrier and the students from the Pastoral do Menor talked to them about music, (Justin Bieber to be more specific) taught them how to dance and teased them when they didn’t work.

Can three weeks in a country make you an expert on that particular culture?

No, but it can open your eyes, to let you see beyond yourself, your culture and your comfort zone. As my Portuguese teacher used to say, “Remove your American glasses and put on your Brazilian glasses and see things the way they do.”

This is Amizade:

‘’This trip has opened my eyes to a part of the world I knew little about. It has taught me not only about Brazil and the people of Santarém but also about myself and how I act, feel and think when I’m out side my comfort zone and in a different culture.”

–  Devin, RWU Student