Even though I had lived in 5 different countries before, I decided that I wanted to challenge myself by working in a country that was completely opposite to India in terms of culture and society. The most interesting country that came to my mind was Brazil. So I decided to go on a six week social entrepreneurship internship with AIESEC in May-June 2014. It was the best decision of my life. For the first time in my life I was able to travel to two different cities, Rio and Sao Paulo, all on my own. Thanks to being a member at AIESEC, I had friends who showed me around in both the cities. Not knowing any Portuguese except for the basics, it was a challenge for me to find my way around these cities on my own.
After this one week, I began my internship in Salvador, Brazil, where I worked as a school teacher in the suburbs of the city. The area where the school was located was poor and backward. Initially, we were not very excited upon seeing the condition of the school from the outside. But once we entered the school, over a hundred students gathered just to see guests from foreign countries. Some of them went on to get autographs from us. I realized how deeply impacted they were by our presence alone. Every day they would take pictures with us, ask us about our lives in our home countries, and take part in our classes. We were also invited to their homes for meals. I realized that despite living in poverty, they were way happier than most people I had ever met in my life, and they gave their best to keep us happy by showing us around their neighbourhood.
My team of interns included Chinese, Argentinean, Mexican, and Colombian interns from completely different age groups. Two of the Colombian interns in our team did not speak any English. We also realized that most of the syllabus that we had to cover in the school would be done in Portuguese. For me and the Chinese interns who did not speak any Spanish or Portuguese prior to the internship, getting to know our fellow teammates and actually adding value to the project turned out to be a huge challenge.
It was often the case that the students got to interact more with the Spanish/Portuguese speaking interns than with us. But facing such a big challenge, I started learning Portuguese faster than I had learnt any other language before. Within a few weeks I was able to make casual conversation with the Colombian interns and the students. By the end of the internship, I was able to go up in front of the class and talk about the environment in Portuguese. The applause I heard from the students, especially for me speaking in their language, brought tears into my eyes. I realized how a language was the key to the hearts of 200 million Brazilians, and I made some close friends who did not speak a word of English.
I was lucky to be present in Brazil during the FIFA World Cup and to witness two matches held in my city. I also got to take part in this one week Brazilian festival, “Festa Junina,” where the whole state heads to interior cities to come together and dance every day of the week, every hour of the day. I was mesmerized by the beaches in my city, the amazing weather, and the tastiest food I have ever had. I realized that the poorest cities of Brazil have the happiest people because they live without worries. They switch on music randomly in the street, and people from all over come together and start dancing. Every day for them is about finding happiness in what they do and making others around them happy.
Given the diversity of Brazil, I was often thought of as Brazilian. There were times when I gave directions to Brazilians visiting Salvador. The way I was welcomed by the friendly people of Brazil made me feel at home like never before. And I realized that even though it’s the extreme opposite of my culture, there were a lot of similarities between my nature and that of Brazilians. After this experience, I would like to return to Brazil someday and even live there for a few years!