Letter Home from Sao Paulo, Brazil

A Letter Home from students on the IHP Cities in the 21st Century Fall 2014 Track 1 program:

Introduced and edited by Mae Stover, Brown University

We are so excited to be writing to you from Cape Town, South Africa! Before arriving in this beautiful city, we began our adventure back in August in New York City, where 30 students from various universities came together for our semester abroad. A collection of juniors and seniors, the 30 students on “Cities in the 21st Century” bring diverse academic and social interests to the group. Ranging from political science to urban studies to economics to film studies, our individual interests helps to create amazing diversity for the semester. Led by our traveling faculty member Sally Frankental, an anthropologist from Cape Town, and our fellow, Nick Allen, a program alum and urbanization researcher, the group jetted off to São Paulo, Brazil, after two weeks in New York. So far, our study abroad experience has been filled with classes in cultural anthropology, political economy, and urban planning, as well as immersive, experiential site visits, neighborhood case studies, and homestays. In this letter, we’ve collected some of our favorite memories and stories from our five weeks in Brazil.

Ashley Arana, Barnard College

When I arrived in São Paulo, I was shocked by the graffiti and tagging that covers every corner of the city. I wondered why São Paulo had allowed this form of art to become a major part of its aesthetic landscape. I eventually learned that people who are excluded from the city made their presence known by tagging and imprinting on most buildings of São Paulo. We were able to meet these excluded pixação artists, who lived in the peripheries of the city and yearned for a place in the city’s visual canvas. Their transgressive movement allowed me to reconsider the thoughts I had when I first arrived to Brazil, and I am very grateful for that.

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On a site visit to UNAS, a community development organization in Heliopolis, one of São Paulo’s largest favelas.

Amy Sit, Brown University

My favorite moment in Brazil was stumbling upon an informal rap battle amongst young adults at the Itaquera metro station, the last stop on the red metro line on the city outskirts. In talking to a couple of the rappers about the history, beauty, and faults of the city and hip hop, I realized how surprisingly colorful and vibrant the social scene was behind the cold, pixação-marked concrete buildings. There was so much to find accidentally and explore here in the city of São Paulo, in both the center and its edges.

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A portion of Sao Paulo’s skyline from the top of a high-end office development

Aidan Berkey, Wesleyan University

I learned more about Brazilian politics from an encounter with the riot police than any classroom could have taught me. That morning my group was on our way to meet representatives of the PT, the incumbent party. But our path was blocked by riot police trying to clear informal residents from a formerly-abandoned building, as well as protestors trying to stop them. We got as close as we dared, but when the crowds ran, we followed. Afterwards our group stopped in a café to watch the news we had so recently been. Contrasting the media’s words and images—looting, burning buses—with our own memories—tear gas, sonic cannons, and panicked crowds—all of the political, economic, and social divisions we’d discussed became real for the first time.

Gabe Perez Setright, Warren Wilson College

Several of us now have the honor to say that we experienced our first professional soccer game in Brazil, arguably the soccer capital of the world. In the middle of chants, screams and profanities, the local São Paulo team, Palmeiras, scored two goals to tie against their national rival, Flamingo. An integral part of our program was to examine the how the 2014 World Cup impacted the social and urban fabric of São Paulo, and to experience a soccer game with all its passion added to our understanding of the diverse culture of Brazil.

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Part of the group at a waterfall on Ilhabela, an island on the Brazilian coast

Camden Copeland, University of Pennsylvania

Often, the program was so full of eye-opening site visits and engaging speakers that it was easy to lose sight of the simple pleasures of daily life. The part of the program that kept me most grounded was my homestay. My walk home from the metro gave me quiet reflection time. When I exited the metro, I was hit with the vast and sometimes impersonal expanse of São Paulo. But as I walked closer to my homestay, I was reminded of the mundane yet personal and friendly rituals of neighborhood life. Dinnertime with my host family and a fellow student gave me a sense of normalcy. We would discuss politics, family, even horoscopes. My homestay experience provided me with consistency in the exciting whirlwind that is the IHP program.


São Paulo was an incredible learning experience for all of us. Our group grew together as we studied this immense city, forming great friendships and engaging in thoughtful conversations. We would like to extend a big thank you to our wonderful country coordinator, Glenda, and our language facilitator, Tiago. None of our experiences would have been possible without their coordination and guidance. Stay tuned for an update soon from Cape Town!
















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