A life-changing experience

Ekaterina Serikova
Mestre em Ciências Aplicadas para Produtos da Saúde pela ITMO University (Rússia).
Foi intercambista na UFF em 2019.
One day I decided to do something that I thought was completely crazy. It happened in my third year of University, when I learned about the existence of an academic mobility program. I was never confident in my abilities; however, I decided to try my luck and get into this program. After a couple of months of passing various tests, I received a cherished e-mail that I was now part of the program. And now I had to choose where I wanted to go. It is important to note that sometimes I make crazy decisions. I had never traveled outside my country before, and I decided that if I did, it would be across half the world to a country whose language I do not speak. That is how I got to Brazil. The courses for international students offered by the UFF corresponded to my scientific interest in the field of Biotechnology. Without thinking twice, I decided to go there.

Before arriving in Brazil, I learned that every foreign student is provided with a buddy. My buddy helped me a lot. Thanks to him, I had less stress in the first few days. He met me at the airport and always helped with all the documents or any other questions. (I would like to take this opportunity to say Hello to Lucas… Lucas, hi!).

All the disciplines that I decided to study at UFF were taught in English. There was also a Portuguese course for foreigners. On the first day of classes, I realized how important conversational practice is in the knowledge of any foreign language. In addition to being a shy person by nature, I faced the problem of any foreigner who had to speak a non-native language. At the first lesson, I could not understand anything and even cried when I got home. That day, it seemed like I would not be able to live here for a whole semester, because I simply would not be able to talk to anyone. However, on the same day that the picnic was held with all the foreign students, I persuaded myself to go and it was the right decision. Everyone was incredibly friendly and with each new person who came to meet me I felt better and at the end of the evening I was able to talk calmly with everyone. From that day on, I realized that no one would judge me for speaking according to all the grammatical rules. After all, the main thing was that I understood! Therefore, if someone is afraid that they will not cope, you do not need to worry. The people around you are as scared as you are.

Brazil is changing people. This trip has changed me. I became bolder and more open. I met a lot of amazing people. And if I had the ability to travel through time, I would live this short period of time repeatedly. I am happy that I decided to go to the UFF. I can say with confidence that it was the best time in my life. I fell completely in love with everything around there. And I did not want to leave so much that I decided to participate in the academic mobility program again to go back, but now for a year. I do not regret anything. It was the most important and best decision I have ever made in my life.

A big place in my heart was occupied by UFF professors. I was surprised that the classes can be not only stress-free, but also very exciting. Each of the teachers was very kind and helpful. I was sure that, having addressed the problem, they would not show indifference to me. And in one of the disciplines, we were even treated to pies. Such love is not to be forgotten. Professors from UFF were always approved if you wanted to carry out any scientific project there. They were ready not only to help, but also to provide everything necessary for its implementation. And always in addition to the teacher, there was a student appointed by the teacher who helped. Studying at UFF was very exciting. I was happy to go to every class.

During studies students often made presentations. This helped me improve my public speaking skills a lot. The students were mostly Brazilians. There were no problems with communication at all, because all the students knew English at a good level. In addition, the UFF had a Portuguese course for foreigners, which was mandatory for all international students. Therefore, if you want you could practice your basic communication skills in Portuguese.

The first time I came with two other girls from Russia. Since Russian does not belong to the Romance group of languages, unlike Italian, Spanish, and French, we had difficulties in learning Portuguese when we got to classes. But the UFF took care of us and found another English-speaking teacher for us, who taught us the very base that students from Italy, Spain, France, and Portugal did not need. These classes really helped to cross the barrier from complete ignorance to understanding the basics. When I returned to Brazil six months later, I was able to study in a more advanced group. Classes were always different, as was homework. For example, every week we had to write a text about something that we encountered in Brazil and that seemed unusual to us. To some extent, it even helped to notice the details.

When I returned to Brazil again, I was very happy to see how much the number of disciplines for foreigners became available. Classes in laboratories have become available. Practice is very important for any student, so I chose several laboratories in which I wanted to study. Other students were always ready to help me and there was a cozy atmosphere with them. I could not only do my own project, but also work with other guys’ projects, which allowed me to gain even more scientific experience. During the whole time of my studies in each laboratory, I managed to study several different areas. And at this point, I can say that it has affected my path today. After all, I can better understand how I want to move forward in the scientific field.

I especially remember working in the laboratory of antibiotics, biochemistry, training, and molecular modeling. I enjoyed working with Professor Helena Castro so much that when I returned to Brazil the following year, I went back to her laboratory. I was able to do a lot of things in this laboratory. In the first semester, I did microbiological research. We conducted research on antibiotic resistance and studied the microflora of a local treat pastel. In the second semester, I was able to learn what machine learning is and how it is used in biology. And in the third semester, I studied molecular modeling techniques and how they can be used to create drugs. To this day, we keep in touch with the professor of this laboratory and even plan to publish a scientific article together.

In addition to this laboratory, I also worked in the Nutrition and Nephrology group. Professor Denise Mafra seemed to me the most cheerful person I have ever met. All classes were held at the hospital, not at the university. I was very surprised that the hospital was able to allocate an entire laboratory for students. Each of the students worked on their own project, and I even managed to help some of them. Thus, for the first time in my life, I was able to con- duct laboratory tests with blood. All the students were very kind to me and were always ready to explain to me what I did not understand. I also planned to implement my project together with the guys there, but, unfortunately, at this time, the quarantine began due to the coronavirus. However, even then we continued our classes, but now only on-line.

I also studied at the SupraSelen Chemical Laboratory. It would be a repetition if I said that the students were very friendly to me, but it is true. Every student I met at UFF was very kind and friendly to me. All the guys literally spent whole days in the laboratory. It was possible to envy their hard work. The atmosphere was family-like. No one argued with anyone, everyone helped each other.

I would also like to tell you about the nature that surrounded me during my stay in Brazil. Every trip to the university was an opportunity for me to see something completely new, whether it was a plant or a giant bug. On the way home, you could even hand-feed the little monkeys, which you can often see. Be prepared for the fact that the birds may fly to your home, which is exactly what happened on the first day of my stay in Brazil. Lizards are also frequent roommates, and huge-sized turtles can be found on the coasts.

When I arrived in Brazil, I immediately felt the cultural difference. Everything seemed completely different. People around were much friendlier and more responsive. Finding friends on the first day of your stay was not a problem at all. In addition, the UFF organized events for all international students, such as a picnic to which everyone could bring a dish of their own nationality.

The concept of punctuality in this country is very specific. If you are suddenly late for a class, you do not need to worry much. For Brazilians, it is considered normal to arrive 20, and sometimes even 40 minutes later.

Brazil is a musical country. When you arrive, you will get acquainted with new musical genres. The locals love music, it is played everywhere here. On theme nights, you can even see people gather in the squares to dance folk dances.

Also, Brazilians take great care of their body. Every day you can meet a lot of running people, those who play sports on the beach or on the exercise machines, which are located throughout the city of Niterói.

Do not forget that Brazil is quite a dangerous country. You should always keep an eye on your personal belongings and, if possible, do not go out with valuables and a large amount of cash. If you happen to be returning home late, it is better to call a taxi. I advise you to attach a bank card, because some drivers may be unscrupulous and demand more money. Automatic payment with a card will eliminate this possibility. Using a taxi is not only safer, but also cheaper if you are not traveling alone. Simple souvenir sellers can also cash in on you. Realizing that you are a gringo, she will increase the price of the product several times. Therefore, it is better to buy souvenirs with local ones.

This also applies to the place of residence. Each street has its own degree of danger. Therefore, when choosing a place to live, you should also specify how safe this area is considered. (P/S I have never been robbed) I would call Niterói a college town. There are many places where you could settle near the university. I, for example, spent no more than a minute walking on the road.

As well as me you will fall in love with the local cuisine. Brazilians have a lot of standard recipes, that is, the food in one family will not differ much from another. However, no matter what the Brazilians are going to cook, there will always be beans and rice on the table. And this is something that, fortunately, I will never forget. And depending on the city, Brazilians eat different types of beans, in Rio for example – brown, and in Sao Paulo white. You should try açaí and italiano. Having tried it once, it is impossible to forget.

By the way, UFF has a student canteen. It is open almost all day, so if you are not too lazy to stand in line for a while, you can not only have lunch there, but also dinner. And it is very cheap! The best part is that you can eat as much as you can put on your plate, and the plates are big. However, if you do not like the food from the canteen, you can find many places to taste near the university. Many places function as bars in the evening, and during the day you can even have a delicious lunch there.

It is worth mentioning a little more about the Brazilians. Brazilians are not only late, but also very fond of standing in queues. I still find it hard to understand why. Be prepared to spend more time going to the store. I tried to buy for the future, so as not to waste a lot of time.

It is hot in Brazil, so it is important to adhere to standard safety measures, namely, do not forget to drink plenty of water and try not to spend a lot of time in the sun. Locals, of course, this does not stop, they can spend days sunbathing on the beach, and there are plenty of them for every taste: away, closer, with big waves, with small waves. It was only in Brazil that I was able to learn to swim.

On the coast, you can always see coconut sellers. You can buy a coconut quite inexpensively, drink coconut milk, and even take it back to the seller, who will kindly cut it up so that you can eat the pulp.

Do not assume that the beaches are the only place where you can go in your free time. I would advise you to study Niterói first, and then go to Rio de Janeiro. By the way, Rio de Janeiro can be reached by boat in just 20 minutes or by bus. I just fell in love with the local architecture. Naturally, I decided to look at the museums. Once I hit one, it was hard to stop me. By the way, in any museum in Rio de Janeiro, you could buy a museum passport, which is stamped when you visit the next museum. Quite an interesting way to attract visitors. Now I keep this passport as a reminder of the wonderful days I spent in Brazil.

Of course, you should visit the local attractions, in particular the statue of Christ, if only to feel incredibly small compared to such a huge statue. By the way, the statue is almost always visible, both in Rio de Janeiro and in Niterói. It can be seen even at night because it is illuminated by lanterns. I advise you to choose a colder day to visit. There are two ways to get to the statue: on foot (free, hard and a little dangerous) and by transport. For the visit itself, you also need to pay, besides, quite a lot. It is also better to choose a weekday to visit, so as not to be simultaneously with many visitors. For me, this was a visit for a tick, as not doing it would be wrong to visit Rio de Janeiro.

One of the reasons to go to Brazil is the carnival. I would call the carnival a holiday extravaganza. Literally everyone participates in the carnival: from children to adults. This is the perfect time for a game of imagination because you need to come up with a costume, and most often not one, but for every day of the carnival. Sometimes you could meet completely crazy outfits. I remember seeing a guy in a shower suit, he literally put a bath on himself. By carnival, we mean different “blocos” in different places of the city. You should check with the locals, which is better to go. There is even a Beatles “bloco” where only their music is played.

To be honest, it was difficult to write this text, because I was starting to miss Brazil more and more. Going back to the past, I re- member that there I felt like the main character of the series. Some- times I think that everything that I lived during that period I dreamed and only the things that I brought back from Brazil remind me that it really happened in my life. The UFF was a place I did not want to leave. Be sure that if you decide to come here, you will not be the same again. Thank you UFF for everything!

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