By Christine Di Stefano

Flying into Galeão Airport expected my first view of the cidade maravilhosa (marvelous city), to make me cry or have a heart attack or something, but surprisingly all I felt was tired. I guess I had wanted to come to Brazil for so long that when I got there I didn’t really believe it. I didn’t cry or laugh or smile ridiculously or anything. I was exhausted, had a cold, and just wanted to lie down.

Staring out the taxi window at the “favela de mare”, driving past the “lagoa” for the first time, seeing the “Cristo Redentor” watching over his city – none of it seemed real to me. Even worse than my strange lack of excitement, was an overwhelming feeling of homesickness that completely surprised me. It wasn’t until the next night when I arrived at my home stay that I began to feel like I really was in Life Experience An American Abroad: Learning, Loving and Living in the “Cidade Maravilhosa”!

Sitting on my bed in the condominium in Ipanema where I would spend the next 6 months, I listened to Rio de Janeiro from my window fell in love.When I was a sophomore in high school, I fell in love with Brazilian music. I’m not sure how or why it happened, only that one day I realized that all the cd’s in my room were Brazilian and I could understand Portuguese without ever haven taken a single class. Eventually my passion for Brazilian music turned into a passion for all things Brazilian, and I went on to study Brazilian history, culture and language in college, with my ultimate goal being to one day be able to visit this marvelous country. After 5 years of Brazilian obsession, I was finally able to convince my parents to let me study abroad for a semester in Rio de Janeiro.

Where I live in Los Angeles, I fall asleep every night to the comforting sounds of the 710 freeway. When I’m at school in Santa Barbara, I’m lulled to sleep by the Pacific Ocean and the occasional group of drunk college kids stumbling by. In Rio, I heard the arguing (in Portuguese!) of the teenage brother and sister who lived next door, the murmur of the “novela das oito” (a very popular and sexy soap opera usually at 8pm) from the living room, the sound of people laughing, shouting, selling things, dogs barking – all in Portuguese. I heard the muffled thanking beat of funk from the favela behind my house, the fleeting refrain of “pagode” from a taxi driver passing by. It was all beautiful and it was all a reminder that I was in Brazil.

The next few months I learned to see Rio in a completely new way. The vision I had of this perfect city vibrating with samba slowly melted away, and I saw things that bothered me, things that annoyed me, and things that scared me. Life in Brazil became normal to me. Actually, it was during the most mundane moments when I would realize how much I loved this city. I fell in love every morning on the bus ride to school.

Sitting by the window and holding on for dear life (the buses are all manual and the drivers all drive crazily), I fell in love with people delivering mattresses on bicycles, fully dressed poodles complete with shoes and bows, and old ladies selling homemade coffee and cake out of Tupperware at bus stops. I got involved with a program called “Ana e Maria” through the ONG (non profit organization) Viva Rio, and every Monday another student and I would take a 2 hour, multiple bus trip to a favela just outside the city to teach English to a group of wonderful, intelligent, incredibly fun teenage girls. Two or Three nights a week I played capoeira with Associacao Lagoa Azul outdoors by the beautiful lagoa (lake) Rodrigo de Freitas, underneath the moon and stars and Christ all lit up on Corcovado. I was no longer in love with the idea of Brazil, but the country itself.

Only living there, experiencing the good, bad, weird, and amazing – could I learn to love Rio for what it really is, and not just what I wanted it to be.

* Christine Di Stefano has a bachelor degree in Music by UCSB (University California of Santa Barbara) and has hosted the show “Tudo Bem” at KCSB 91.1 FM in Santa Barbara. For couple years she help us with english edits and translations.