Bonjour or Hola?

Alexis Ferebee attended the UVA in Lyon Program in Spring 2017 as a 3rd year majoring in Media Studies and Foreign Affairs.

At our universities in France, we get two different breaks, or “vacances.” The first one is a week long and happens in February, and the second is also a week and is in April. I just recently got back from my first vacation. A friend and I went to Barcelona, Valencia, and Lisbon. Spain is easily of my favorite countries that I have visited, I almost with I studied abroad there. Luckily, I speak some Spanish (due to the 3 semesters of it that I took at UVA) so communication was not too hard there, but Portugal was a whole other story. Before arriving there, I thought that I would watch some YouTube videos and learn at least the basics of the language before spending three whole days there.

After watching the same video 3 times, I was taught how to say: hello, goodbye, please, thank you, I would like, you’re welcome, excuse me, I don’t speak Portuguese, do you speak English? etc. Over the course of those few days, I used a few of the words, but honestly I didn’t really need them. As can be expected in most larger European cities, most everybody spoke English very well. There were a few times when I had to either communicate in French or Spanish, but that wasn’t too much of a problem. The ideal way to travel around Europe is to know a few languages and just hope that the people you meet can speak at least one of them.

I am so lucky that in this experience I not only get to better my French skills, but my Spanish ones as well. I also get to explore other languages and at least learn their basics. Whether it is trying to order food in a terrible Portuguese accent, or miming what I am attempting to say, all that matters is that I tried!


A cultural sponge

Amanda O’Mara shares an important lesson when studying a foreign language–at a certain point you just have to stop worrying and be OK with not doing everything right! Listen, try your best, and soak it all in.


Each time I sit down to think about Brazil, I realize I love it more and more. I think part of this is because I’m learning so much about Brazil. My classes add so much to the experience of being here because I can actually see and experience the things we learn about in class. For example, last week in my language class we talked about Pelourinho and the “Terça da Bênção” that they have there. Although the exact same thing does not happen every week (a large procession of drums and dancing), a couple of my classmates and I decided we wanted to see what Pelourinho was like on Tuesday nights. Last night we ate dinner and walked around, and we saw individual groups in different parts of the streets playing drums and dancing. It was really cool to see, especially when I thought about how our program coordinator told us that this type of drumming and dancing was to get ready for Carnaval.

drums brazil

As you can probably tell, my language class is not as intimidating as I originally thought it would be. I was surprised when I was able to follow the conversation in my advanced Portuguese class, and even more surprised as each day I grow a little more comfortable with speaking the language. I admitted to my professor that I was basically worried over nothing. While I am surprised at how much I already know, I still have a lot I need to work on. Like grammar, and being able to communicate with Portuguese effectively outside of the classroom.

My professor actually suggested that, around my host family, I practice what I want to say beforehand, and even if I don’t get to say much, just listen to their conversations every chance I get. Being here, I have the unique opportunity to become a sponge, and learn the language like any small child would. And that’s exactly what I’m doing. Even though I’m not able to communicate perfectly, I’m trying my best and making the most out of my time here. Luckily, our host dad really makes this pretty easy. He really seems to enjoy having my roommate and myself stay with the family, and he wants us to try all the typical Brazilian foods and desserts. I love how even if you’re foreign and don’t know what to say or how to say it, sharing food really helps in creating relationships. I think this is especially true for Brazil: it’s completely normal to share food and drinks with people you’ve just met, which is an excellent way to make new friends.

Here is one of my favorite desserts so far, called Romeu e Julieta, which is guava paste and cheese served next to each other. It’s really good, even though it’s kind of an unexpected combination.


And with that, até logo!

Bound for Brazil

Amanda O’Mara is a rising 2nd year student in the College of Arts and Sciences. She’s part of the inaugural UVA in Brazil summer program for Portuguese language study. Amanda has shared some of her impressions of her decision to make this sojourn before she takes of Salvador!



Hello! I’m Amanda, and in 10 days I will be heading off to Brazil where I will spend the next  month learning Portuguese. I’m really excited, but really nervous as well. I’ve already taken two semesters of Portuguese, but it was so accelerated that I don’t feel like I have a good hold of the language. This is the main reason why I’m studying abroad in Salvador: I really hope to gain some fluency by being around the language constantly, because I love Portuguese a lot.

I never actually thought that I would be studying Portuguese, let alone love it so much. I wanted to try something new (since it was my first year in college) and my love for the language and the opportunity to go to Salvador all just kind of happened. Like I said, I never even thought about taking Portuguese before I started at UVA, and now I’m going to Brazil! There were even moments when the coordinators thought this trip wasn’t going to happen, as it is UVA’s first year going to Brazil, but in the end it all worked out; I’m part of a small group (I believe it’s 11 students), and we’re going with a professor who fell in love with Portuguese in Salvador, so it will definitely be a very special trip.

I will be updating this blog at least once a week during my month there and hopefully adding pictures, especially of food! I’m so excited to learn about everything and anything I can in Brazil. In the meantime, since I’m still kind of nervous, I’ll be brushing up on my Portuguese.