Culture Shock: Settling into Life in Brazil


I’ve been in Brazil a month now, and it really has been a blur of new things. Everything is so much larger here than at home in Europe.

The state I’m living in, Minas Gerais, is the size of France. Belo Horizonte, my new city, is also massive, 5 million people live here, and that’s relatively small by Brazil’s standards. My new university, the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, is huge, 50,000 students study here, and I have been to towns smaller than this university, which has actual roads, roundabouts and its own bus service.

I’ve found the supermarket the biggest generator of culture shock, there is a huge Carrefour near me. It’s the same shop that I was used to in Brussels but the products are different. Yoghurt is relatively expensive, and almost always have a lot of added sugar, I couldn’t find avocados for ages because they were three times the size of the ones sold in Europe. Kidney beans, white beans, black beans and lentils are almost all sold dried and you cook them at home, very different to the canned beans back home. Peanut butter doesn’t exist here, and finally all imported products are very expensive. That means that most shampoos, beauty products and some food products (ie Nutella) are a lot more expensive than they are in Europe.

Portuguese, whilst not new to me, sounds very different here. I studied it for two years before moving to Brazil, but classroom Portuguese is very different to what the locals speak. The Minas (Gerais) accent is made up of pushing about four words together to save time, and to make it utterly incomprehensible to anyone not from here.

The food is amazing, though as a vegetarian I don’t eat the Brazilians’ true love, meat. My favourite food discovery has per kilo restaurants, which is where you serve yourself as much food as you want and pay for the weight of it. So far, I have always ended up with three different types of carbs and way too much food, and paid about five quid for it.

Brazil is of course famous for caipirinhas, a cocktail made from cachaça (alcohol made from sugar cane) mixed with limes and sugar, but they also make the same cocktail with any alcohol they can find, including wine, vodka and sake. A really unexpected disaster is that I have moved to the region that produces the most coffee, in the country that exports the most coffee in the world, but I can’t find a good cup of coffee. It’s always cheap, but also really weak and normally very sugary.

Brazilians I’ve met have been so wonderful, always kind and welcoming, even though they have all been very confused as to why I would choose to come to their country, and above all why I want to stay out in the sun. It’s no surprise to them that it shines 8 out of 10 days; for me it’s always a slight shock that it’s sunny and warm; but since it’s winter now I’m slightly dreading the summer.

Finally, even though I’ve been struggling with homesickness since I arrived, made worse by the language barrier, it doesn’t make me regret moving to Brazil. I really love exploring the city and region I now live in, and I can’t wait to go further afield.

For more on my year abroad, visit my blog:


Spanish, Portuguese and European Studies student, on her year abroad in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

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