Pre-departure to PUC-Rio, Brazil :
Before departing for Brazil, you have to apply for a student visa at the Brazilian embassy in your country. It is important to do this well in advance as it can take a few trips there and back to get everything in order. It is important to know that the application for a student visa to Brazil has two phases, one in your own country and one in Brazil. Once in Brazil you have to register with the federal police within 30days or you will pay a fine, PUC-Rio will assist you with this. In order to register in Brazil you need your visa and TWO documents from the Brazilian embassy in your country (South Africa). The need to give you these forms signed and stamped before your departure for Brazil! Then, at the registration at the federal police in Brazil you need to present these documents, your visa and pay two more fees.
Then, if your semester in Rio falls over the ‘winter’ months realise that it doesn’t get very cold in Rio and you won’t need that much winter clothes!
Don’t pack fancy name brand clothing or real jewellery; it will make you stand out as having money and make you a target for muggings. Crime is a factor in Brazil, but coming from South Africa we know how to be aware of our surroundings! No need to be paranoid but keep your eyes open. Also, don’t walk on the streets with your smartphone out, it will get stolen – pickpockets are a thing in Rio!
If you are planning to travel in Brazil in tropical areas, like the Amazon, remember to bring malaria medication with you, as this kind of medication is almost impossible to come by in Brazil.
If you like drinking tea, bring some with you, the tea in Brazil is not the best (except Mate tea).
Having a travelling backpack, those with a lot of straps etc. works ideal for travelling, much easier than large suitcases. And also a smaller backpack for everyday use – its much better, versatile and safer than a handbag.
Bring comfortable shoes, there is a lot of walking going on in Rio and Brazil in die general!
Very important, in terms of calculating your budget: when you look online at the cost of living in Brazil it won’t look that much more expensive than South Africa. But when you live in Rio, you will love in Zona Sul, which is the rich and thus expensive area of Rio; it is where the University is located. Things are expensive, like taking taxi’s (which you will have to do when going out at night), groceries in Zona Sul, and eating out is also quite expensive. Keep that in mind!
Also, not a lot of people speak English, at PUC-Rio they do, but not so much in the rest of the city and country. Google translate is your friend! Also, it is a great way to pick up the language in a short time!
Experience at the Host University – PUC-Rio:
The academic programme at PUC-Rio is very good, the lecturers are really good and there are a lot of classes on offer in English! If you are able to speak Portuguese fluent enough you can also take classes in Portuguese! I especially enjoyed my Portuguese language classes. I was level one aka was not able to speak any Portuguese whatsoever and I am now able to speak and understand quite a lot! Some classes were cancelled quite frequently however. Some of the lecturers are more laid back. You have to attend 70% of your lectures for each subject in order to get the credits. They do take attendance often if not every day. The lectures have small number of students in them, and are thus more like a classroom style than a lecture hall style. The university’s online system works really well and all notifications are set to the email address you provide. I would say really efficient.
The quality of the lectures and courses are good, but I would say that the level at Stellenbosch is higher. It’s easier to get higher marks at PUC than it is at Stellenbosch.
PUC does not have a major campus culture like Stellenbosch. There is no University housing, people live in the city and commute to and from class every day.
I stayed with the housing programme, it worked out well. But remember you still pay rent, which means some of the Host families are doing it for an extra income and not necessarily because they want to really host you. You have to live with your assigned family for one month, after which you can move in with friends. It’s not recommended by the University but lots of people did this.
The CCCI aka the international office at PUC was very helpful and organised some events for the international students. Cocktail parties, a day trip to an old coffee Plantation outside Rio which was awesome, and a city tour of Rio de Janeiro! These activities form part of the registration fee you pay so I would say attend all of them! They’re fun and you already paid for them!
Living and studying in Rio de Janeiro was absolutely amazing! Brazilians are amazing people, and especially people from Rio de Janeiro – called Cariocas- are awesome! Relaxed, casual and chilled!! Tranquilo! There was also so much to do, beaches, hiking, site seeing, great restaurants, fun activities etc! Also, Brazil has a lot of not so expensive flights to wonderful destinations in the country! I loved everything about my semester abroad, and I made great friends from across the world. This exchange especially made me realise how fortunate and thankful we can be for our experience at Stellies – Stellenbosch University is world class.