“I liked that I got to be completely immersed in a different culture. It was nice knowing I had a full year to spend in Brazil.”
Everyone has different ideas about where they want to study abroad and what culture they want to experience. Mary Gan, a senior majoring in Agricultural Consumer Economics with a minor in Portuguese, spent a year in the city of Piracicaba, Brazil at the University of São Paulo-ESALQ.
Mary’s search for a program wasn’t linear, but it led her to Piracicaba, which made her decide to pursue a Portuguese minor. “I applied through the college of ACES, but ultimately went through the Portuguese department. I spoke to a professor that often works in Brazil and an alumnus of the program. They both highly encouraged me to go.” She thought about studying in France but knew she didn’t want to study in Europe. “I took French for two years and wanted to continue studying it, but I had already been to Europe before and decided it was more important to study in another part of the world”.
“I actually preferred being the only student from the U.S. because it allowed me to really embrace the culture and meet other people.”
When Mary arrived in Brazil she realized that she was the only American in her program, but that didn’t faze her. “I actually preferred being the only student from the U.S. because it allowed me to really embrace the culture and meet new people”. The only thing Mary regrets about her experience is that she only took one Portuguese class before spending a year in Brazil. “The program only requires a 100 level of Portuguese, but I felt I wouldn’t have been as dependent on others had I learned more before I left.”
Traveling to another country can be a challenge for many and Mary was no exception. “Finding housing was a bit complicated because it was up to me to arrange everything and it was so different from the U.S. There were no contracts or paperwork.” Even though there were several differences, there were more similarities between the U.S. and Brazil than Mary had anticipated.
“I once had to go to the hospital in the middle of the night and a friend that I had met while in Brazil stayed with me to make sure I was okay. There’s a lot of support in places you’re not expecting.”
“I was surprised that bigger cities in Brazil were similar to the U.S. in the sense that they were highly dependent on cars”. However, similarities between the U.S. and Brazil weren’t the only thing that Mary was surprised by. “I didn’t realize how much your experiences depend on you and how you decide to approach them. It’s on you to make the most of your experiences.”
Mary was able to take advantage of these experiences thanks to the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship. Although instruction in Brazil was free, receiving the Gilman scholarship allowed Mary to travel more and offset a lot of her other expenses. “It was a simple application process and the staff at Top Scholars was great about helping me through each step. They advised me on how to apply and even read through my essay before I submitted it.”
Mary had many impactful experiences in Brazil, but the most memorable was the support she received from people she met abroad. “I once had to go to the hospital in the middle of the night and a friend that I had met in Brazil stayed with me to make sure I was okay. There’s a lot of support in places you’re not expecting”. Her one piece of advice for students looking to study abroad? “Come in with an open mind and stay positive. Being nice in another country will go a long way and it will really help contribute to an overall positive study abroad experience.”