Hi, my name’s Rachel and I’ve just finished my third year of university, studying Spanish and Portuguese. As most of you will know, it’s compulsory for language students to live abroad for a year as part of our course, and I am currently living in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
Unlike most of my classmates, I was lucky enough to have a gap year before uni and travel to Nicaragua and Peru volunteering with Christian charity projects. It was the hardest year of my life, but looking back I see how well it prepared me for my year abroad.
Before leaving for Brazil, I remember many of my friends telling me how excited I should be, but all I could think was that I was missing a close friend’s wedding, and lots of my friends would have graduated by the time I returned home. However, someone helpfully pointed out most people wouldn’t even consider the implications of living abroad, and would never have the courage to live in a different country for a year.
I certainly wasn’t under any illusion it would be an exotic extended holiday. In fact, I prayed desperately I wouldn’t spend my time counting down the days until I got home (I’ve just done the maths and it would have been an excellent way to waste 397 days).
I arrived in Brazil at the end of July 2016, and the first two weeks were tiring and overwhelming. It was difficult to follow group conversations and I struggled with my Portuguese-speaking. I consider myself extroverted, but I had to listen rather than speak, and often couldn’t express spontaneous comments in Portuguese. However, this wasn’t a bad thing, I am an extremely impatient person and God was at work, teaching me to listen before I open my mouth!
One of the biggest answers to prayer is that I haven’t been counting down the days –it’s been the complete opposite! I really don’t want to go home. I love Brazil, and could see myself living here in the future. I love the weather (bizarrely I did miss rain at first, but now I’m dreading the drizzly British climate). I love the people. The State where I live, Minas Gerais, is known for its extremely hospitable culture, which is probably the opposite of the British! I love the food. I also love speaking Brazilian Portuguese. That’s not to say there aren’t positives about the UK and things I miss – in English classes I taught here at my church, I stressed the importance of how much we can learn from different cultures.
I’ve also been grateful for the welcome from the wonderful Christian community. I had my last church service on Sunday and it was very emotional saying goodbye to people who have become an extended family to me. The Christian Union here has also made me feel very welcome and it’s going to be very difficult to say my final goodbyes at the end of August. If you’re planning on doing a year abroad, make sure you find a church and get involved. It’s a real lifeline and a great way to make friends. I’ve been very blessed that my church here is welcoming and very biblically based.
I’ve increasingly noticed how blessed we are at Southampton Christian Union. It’s incredible the number of evangelistic outreach activities happening during the week and I feel proud we’re so mission-focused. This is lacking at the CU in Brazil – it’s a great community, with people passionate about the Bible, but there are few events on campus reaching out to students. I feel they are missing an opportunity to engage with students in a way churches can’t, and I have encouraged friends to consider organising events here. Please pray our Brazilian Christian brothers and sisters would take the initiative and be a real light here at the Federal University of Minas Gerais!
Overall, I can’t recommend a year abroad enough! If you have any questions about living/studying abroad, feel free to get in contact, and I’ll hopefully see a lot of you come September when I start my Master’s degree (I’m also going to Forum, so look out for a blonde girl complaining about the weather!) It’s not easy living abroad, but I’ve learnt so much about God and how much I need Him. I’ve been challenged by the poverty and injustice I’ve seen here, as well as the warmth and friendship I’ve experienced; please pray I can put what I’ve learnt into action for God’s glory!