Adjusting to life in a Megacity: São Paulo, Brazil

Above Avenida Paulista, the busiest street in downtown São Paulo

I knew from even before I started college, I wanted to incorporate international contexts and experiences to whatever I wanted to study. In a time when people and cultures all over the world are so interconnected, having experience outside the U.S. is vital.

By the time my second semester of sophomore year at Tulane came, I had contributed extensive time into researching where I would call home for a whole semester. With so many great options, each with its own respective, mesmerizing culture, this was not easy-peazy. However, once I settled on my decision, I could not have been more excited and more enthusiastic to leave for my destination. Moving to New Orleans was one of the best choices I’ve made so far, but to move to another city/country for four-to-five months? The stakes were high.

Take a stroll down Beco do Batman, a hub for amazing São Paulo street art.

I chose to study at Fundação Getúlio Vargas in São Paulo, Brazil, well, for many reasons. My fluency in English and Spanish wasn’t enough; I aimed to tackle the challenge and learn a new language from one of the world’s global superpowers in terms of economy and social impact. Portuguese is one of the world’s top 10 most spoken languages, so the privilege to be able to communicate to millions cannot be understated. Plus, the fact that the language itself sounds so beautiful really helped (sorry French!). Taking an introductory class to Portuguese at Tulane is something I’m grateful I chose to do, and my professor did an outstanding job in hyping us up to explore more about Brazilian culture.

I’ve always been a big city person as well, since I grew up in one. São Paulo is Brazil’s own concrete jungle – except that this jungle is the largest city in the southern hemisphere and home to almost 22 million people. New York City or Los Angeles are dwarfed by this megacity.

Fundação Getúlio Vargas is conveniently located in the middle of São Paulo, so getting to class shouldn’t be hard

Another reason is the cultural plurality of São Paulo and Brazil entirely. Answering the question “who is Brazilian?” or “what does a Brazilian look like?” is just as complex as the same question we ask ourselves as Americans. Brazilian culture descends from the colonial-era foundations of cultures from Portugal, West Africa due to the slave trade, and the indigenous inhabitants whose land was “discovered.” However, huge waves of migrations from other regions in later centuries left their mark, as São Paulo is home to the largest Japanese population outside of Japan, and the same goes for populations from Italy and Saudi Arabia.

Walk in the Liberdade neighborhood and you’ll see why this is a central point for the Japanese community in São Paulo

Packing for a semester abroad isn’t as smooth as packing for a semester at Tulane; there are SO many factors you have to consider, some of which I realized I didn’t think of myself when I arrived (don’t make the same mistake).

  • Weather,
  • What type of electric outlets the country uses,
  • Whether tap water is drinkable or not,
  • What clothes you should or shouldn’t bring to fit to the lifestyle,
  • Documents,
  • Making sure to carrier-unlock your phone
  • What tools or utensils don’t come with your accommodation.

These are merely a few factors out of many to consider when packing for your time outside the U.S.

View from atop the Copan Building, seeming like a never-ending view of skyscrapers.

In addition to packing, figuring out where you are going to live is just as important. São Paulo, like any other big city in the world, has some areas that are not advisable to frequent, so with anywhere you go, your own safety must be the No. 1 priority. I was fortunate to meet Brazilian exchange students at Tulane from the school I would be studying at to grant me guidance on which neighborhoods to live in, and nobody knows the city better than the locals do after all. Also, another Tulane student who had completed the program before me recommended a certain apartment and I ended up taking the same flat she lived in during her time in São Paulo.

I left the States about two weeks before my program officially commenced, as I knew I wanted to have the time to settle in and get a feel for the people I’ll be interacting with for the next five months or so. In addition, my friends from Tulane who were on a summer program to study Portuguese had been living in the city for about a month, and having them guide me around the city and teach me how to navigate life in São Paulo is something I’ll always be very grateful to them for.


Hugo Fajardo (BSM ’20), a marketing major, is studying at Fundação Getúlio Vargas in São Paulo, Brazil, during fall 2019.