Niagara Falls on the Canadian-US border may be the most famous waterfall system on the planet, but there are another set of waterfalls that put Niagara to shame. So much so, that First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt exclaimed “Poor Niagara!” when she saw them. There is simply no comparison. When you visit Iguazu Falls, on the border of Argentina and Brazil, you are enveloped by the verdant Atlantic rainforest and over 275 waterfalls (yes, 275). If you need more convincing of their grandeur, know that in 2011, over 100 million people selected them as one of the 7 Wonders of Nature. Oh, I also cried because of how pretty they are (several times)!
Thanks to recent athletic events like the Olympics and World Cup, classic songs like “Girl from Ipanema” (1964) and “Copacabana” (1978), and the Pixar film, Rio (2011), the city has gotten the distinction of being one giant party. But this narrow viewpoint is very American and Europeanized. It erases the rest of the city’s worth. To understand the city, you really have to visit it. Besides retaining some of these elements, Rio also preserves its history and culture.
Regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation or background, everyone there felt and acted truly equal. We talked to, danced with and got numbers from complete strangers. It felt normal. Gender and sexual fluidity which still feels so regulated in the U.S. felt normal here. Carnaval felt like one giant middle finger to elitism and structure. This gave our drunken stupor some purposeful action. That is why Brazilian Carnaval is “The Greatest Show on Earth.” No longer do masks and performances hide our real identities, but they are rather used to amplify our true colors.
Warm! Hot! Sizzling! All on their own, these words capture my first two weeks in São Paulo, Brazil well. The weather is tropical and stays a comfortable 70 to 80 degrees. The food is continuously cooked to absolute perfection and every bite leaves you yearning for more. The Brazilian people are gorgeous inside-and-out - exhibiting an always helpful, sunny deposition. My experience has been overwhelmingly positive despite the language barrier; I speak English, French, and Spanish, but no Portuguese. So positive that I have yet to experience much culture shock, but rather, I feel awe, love, and envy for a culture I have found in many ways to be better organized and more progressive than America’s.
“Why Brazil?” For my spring semester of junior year at American University, I will be studying abroad at PUC in São Paulo, Brazil. That former question, “Why Brazil?”, as well as “Why São Paulo?’ are ones I have gotten a lot in both Brazil and the U.S. Considering that thousands of students participate in dozens of European immersion programs every year, São Paulo stands out as an odd choice. But my selection was not random and São Paulo instantly won my heart when I came across it in my study abroad research.