There’s a saying I have heard many times over the course of the last two and a half months: “The best of Brazil is the Brazilian.” (Portuguese: “O melhor do Brasil é o brasileiro.”) I’ve been thinking a lot about this sentiment and how it applies not only to Brazil, but also on a smaller scale: to Rio de Janeiro, my favorite city; to the corner of Rio’s South Zone where I live and work; and especially to the Instituto Moreira Salles, the archival research institution where I’m interning. At the IMS, I have spent most of my time working on Portuguese-to-English translations for a project focused on Rocinha (pronounced ho-seen-ya), the largest favela in Rio, located just a few kilometers away from the IMS. (Favela is commonly translated as slum in English, although some people believe this translation misrepresents the quality of life within favelas and contributes to their stigmatization.) The project, a multimedia web map that integrates material like video interviews and historical and contemporary photographs, was created by the IMS in partnership with several organizations within Rocinha.
I have thoroughly enjoyed my internship, which has allowed me to improve my Portuguese while learning about Rocinha and the historical, economic, and political context surrounding Rio’s favelas. Best of all, my internship has given me the opportunity to collaborate with and learn from some of the smartest, friendliest people I have had the privilege of knowing. Typical topics of conversation at the office include everything from Beyoncé and astrology (popular) to police brutality and the Olympics (unpopular). Like many of the Brazilians I know, my coworkers have the ability to make me temporarily forget my foreignness. They don’t comment on my accent or my grammatical mistakes, and they talk to me just like they talk to one another (if a little slower, with a little less slang, for which I am grateful).
Outside of work, I have been similarly fortunate with the friendships I have made this summer. Having Brazilian friends has enabled me to experience the city much more fully than I think I could have with only other foreigners for company. More importantly, spending time with my Brazilian friends has helped me develop a sense of belonging in Rio, which has shaped the way I think about the city and emboldened me to take advantage of opportunities outside of my comfort zone, like enrolling in surfing classes. Discussing the many, many issues facing Brazil and Rio with my new friends and coworkers has given me a range of perspectives that have in turn informed my own beliefs and opinions. More than the world-famous beaches or breathtaking mountain views, more than even the screaming crowds and superhuman athleticism of the Olympics, that is my biggest takeaway from this experience — the relationships I have formed here and their impact on how I perceive Rio and Brazil.
Caitlin is one of eight undergraduates who were awarded 2016 Streicker International Fellowships. Streicker Fellows design their own projects or internships in conjunction with a hosting organization. This summer, she was an intern in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil at the Instituto Moreira Salles, an archival research institution that promotes the development of Brazilian cultural projects.