Experiencing a new country means many things, new cultures, possibly new languages, new foods, and new people. All of which are great, but one thing that I believe is overlooked by many people while studying abroad is volunteering. For me, Brazil has given me so many new and positive experiences, that it is only fair that I give back what I can. Not to mention, as a Temple student abroad, it is important to uphold Temple University’s belief in giving back to the community.
My first volunteer opportunity was giving blood at the blood drive at my university. I was pretty nervous about giving blood in a foreign country because I’ve never heard of anyone doing so. However, everything went really well.
I walked up to the table to register and the lady at the registration desk asked me for my driver’s license. I handed it to her and she gave it back to me, asking again for my driver’s license. I explained to her that I am American and that’s a Connecticut driver’s license. She laughed and sent me through the doors. The rest of the registration process was a breeze, minus the fact that I did not know how tall I am in centimeters and how much I weigh in kilograms. The doctor that asked me the preliminary questions told me she was glad that I came because giving blood is not common in Brazil. In fact, volunteering in general is not common in Brazil. Unlike the US, it is just not a part of the culture. Yet, it is changing with the younger generations.
This was the first time since I’ve been in college that I have been able to give blood. I usually do not have high enough iron levels to do so. Thankfully, my host mother has been feeding me a balanced diet that gave me more than enough iron to donate. The best part, other than helping someone who needs blood, was the sandwiches and juice they gave me afterward. I am used to having just crackers and juice after, so this was a treat.
My second volunteering opportunity was teaching Portuguese to refugees that have come to live in São Paulo. The majority of the people came from the Democratic Republic of Congo and speak very little to no Portuguese. My job is to help them with their Portuguese and to be a practicing partner and a teaching assistant. The first day was hard, but I get to practice my Portuguese and help them with theirs.
My last volunteering opportunity that I’ve had, probably my favorite one as well, was building houses in a favela. Most Americans will never see a favela and if they do it is most likely on a movie screen. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity to help change the life of someone who does not have a home. I worked with on a house for a man named Batista, who is a leader in his community and has helped build houses for others before. This time he was the one receiving a home. The look on his face when he got his first home was something I’ll never forget. On the other hand, I’ll never forget how sad it is to see the type of poverty people actually live with on a daily basis. It made me very grateful for everything that I have.
Volunteering has been the best experience I’ve had in Brazil thus far. I have spoken to many different types of people from all different backgrounds, which has made my understanding of the Brazilian culture much more broad. I think that is a good thing because when an understanding of a culture is too specific, you exclude other important parts of the culture. I hope that I will have more opportunities to volunteer in my last two and a half months here.