With a week before I head home, I wanted to answer some Frequently Asked Questions about my exchange experience, because I know there are people reading my blog to get a better idea on how exchange works. If you are reading this and still have questions, feel free to comment on my entries, message me on Facebook or tweet me! I know I had a really hard time finding information about the the exchange experience, and there’s only so much your EPM can do for you. So if this blog, or myself, can be a resource to you, I’d be more than happy to share what I know!
*These answers pertain to my experience with AIESEC Recife in Pernambuco, Brazil in the summer of 2015. Exchanges to other cities and countries at other times may be very different!
VISA: Yes, you need a.VISA to travel to Brazil, and the process is no joke. Get on this ASAP!! I applied for a Tourist visa, but I hear from the OGX team that the rules have now changed and everyone needs to get a volunteer visa. Even though I didn’t apply for it, I did take a quick peek at some of the requirements, and there are a lot. It took me around two weeks to get my tourist visa, and I would imagine a volunteer visa would also take longer to process. Do not buy your plane tickets without first getting your VISA. It is not guaranteed that your VISA will be approved! A friend of one of the interns here had to scrap a $2000-plane ticket because he could not get his VISA approved. Don’t let this be you!
Picking an LC in Brazil: From what I’ve seen, most LCs in Brazil have the same projects (SMarketing, X4Change, Gaia, Gira Mundo, Driblano). I would pick a bigger city like Recife over a smaller LC because there are usually more interns that come through. Although the AIESEC members do organize gatherings and outings, they are still in school and don’t really have the time to take you out except late at night or on weekends. You’ll be spending most of your time with other interns. I met a girl who came from another city and stayed in a hostel in Recife, in order to join us on a trip because her city only had two other interns. When you’re on exchange, more is definitely merrier!
Housing: Recife relies on volunteers to house interns – your host families don’t get paid. Since they process a lot of interns, you also may not get your housing situation until right before your exchange. Sometimes, you’ll be assigned a temporary host situation if you have already arrived in Recife and they haven’t been able to find a host for you yet. If they are not able to find you a host family, you may live by yourself or with some other interns in a Trainee’s house, which is a place AIESEC rents for exchange participants to live. Be prepared for all scenarios, because you may not know which one you’re in until right before your exchange!
Health: I have personally never gone to the hospital, but I know four interns who have, for a variety of different reasons: dengue fever, regular fever, broken ankle, pain in eyes. Brazil has free health care, and this extends to foreigners in Brazilian territory, but AIESEC does require you to have healthcare coverage before you get here. I keep a photocopy of all my important documents, which include my healthcare insurance, with me at all times. Yes, dengue fever is fairly rampant in Brazil, and you don’t want to get it. Mosquito repellent is a must-have!
Safety: Unfortunately, theft is common here... I got my cellphone stolen on my second day here. I would actually consider myself lucky because they took the phone out of my bag without me even being aware of it. Some other interns had someone with a gun come up to them and make them hand over their bags at gunpoint. You just have to make sure to be cautious! If you are in a crowded area, keep your bag in front of you at all times, and if you are out after dark make sure you’re walking in an area with other people around.
Hopefully this entry doesn’t turn you off of an exchange to Brazil. As long as you make sure you’re prepared for all scenarios, you should be set to have a great exchange experience. You may not always be comfortable in this new environment, but that’s the point, right? You’re on exchange to learn how people around the world live and express themselves!