The Mole Diaries: Florianópolis
Charlotte is studying Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Southampton and is currently spending her year abroad studying at the University Federal de Santa Catarina (UFSC) in Florianópolis, an island in the south of Brazil. Continue reading for her insider guide to accommodation, transport, packing and more, and check out her blog for other musings!
I was lucky enough to have my accommodation all sorted beforehand, as a girl from my university who was here last year kindly arranged with her landlady for me to have her room. However, the majority of exchange students stay in a hostel or with a Couchsurfing host for the first few days until they find a room, so don’t panic if you’re jetting off with no clue about where you’ll be living!
You basically have 2 main choices of areas to live in. Firstly, there are the neighbourhoods around the university campus: Carvoeira (where I lived last semester), Pantanal, Corrego Grande (the nicest, in my opinion) and Trinidade (where the majority of the uni students live). Benefits of living here are: proximity to the uni (last semester I used to roll out of bed at 8.05am for an 8.20am class!), lots of Brazilian students, lots of UFSC parties and uni bars, and generally cheaper/more choice of food in supermarkets.
Secondly, there is Lagoa da Conceição (where I live this semester), which is a town separate from the main city. It’s about 7km away from UFSC and is where the majority of exchange students live, as well as some Brazilian students. Benefits of living here are: proximity to the beach (10 minutes on the bus), a safer and more relaxed atmosphere, much more beautiful surroundings, food shops/pharmacy within walking distance, feels like being on holiday.
I have now lived in both areas and, despite really enjoying my first semester, I can say that Lagoa wins hands-down! People may say that you won’t speak much Portuguese living there, but from personal experience, this isn’t the case. You just have to be motivated to converse with everyone in Portuguese and not take the easy option of English.
2. Getting Around
Unless you’re lucky enough to be able to splash out on a car, the normal mode of transport around the city is by bus. When I first arrived I was completely bemused by the bus system, but within about 2 weeks I was used to it. There are no specific timetables for when buses arrive at the different stops, however the timings that the buses leave the terminals are listed online, so you can roughly estimate when the bus will reach your stop.
The buses travel between the various terminals and you don’t have to pay again when changing buses in a terminal, so despite sometimes having to catch 3 buses to reach your destination, you only pay one fare. A journey of any length costs R$3.10 (half price with a student bus pass). If you get on at a bus stop, you pay on the bus, and if you get on in a terminal, you pay when you enter the terminal.
Another popular mode of transport is ‘carona’ (hitchhiking), which, as long as you’re sensible (e.g. go with someone else), is completely safe. The popular route is between Lagoa and UFSC, so you’d usually be picked up by someone going to or from the university. I think it’s a great way to get around; it’s quick, free and gives you the opportunity to have a conversation with a local!
3. What to pack
- Extension lead – most rooms only have a couple of sockets, often in random and unreachable places!
- A raincoat – be prepared for a lot of rain.
- A smart phone – life pretty much revolves around Whatsapp here...
- Photos and bits and bobs to decorate your room – immediately makes you feel 10x less homesick.
- Blutac – doesn’t exist here and is essential for the above!
- Photocopies of important documents – passport, visa, acceptance declaration from UFSC.
- Make-up wipes – you’d pay about £5 per pack here.
- Food you can’t live without – for me this was Marmite!
- Tea – I came back here with 5 boxes of assorted teas!
- Clothes for all weather conditions (except snow!) – the temperature varies a huge amount here… from 35 or above in the summer to 10 or below at night in the winter.
- Bed sheets – obviously these are widely available here, but it’s good to have one set already (bottom sheet, top sheet, pillowcase – blankets are usually used instead of duvets), so you don’t have to dash off to the shops before being able to sleep when you arrive!
4. What not to pack
- Sun cream, insect repellent, toiletries – unless you have a very specific and expensive taste, you can get most things cheaper here.
- Stationery – again, cheap here and readily available in the university bookshop and most supermarkets.
- A beach towel – Brazilians don’t use them, so you would stand out even more than you probably already will do! Instead, when you arrive, invest in a ‘kanga’ (a large sarong available in all patterns and designs) to lie on/dry with instead.
5. Top 5 foods to try
The fruit here is incredible! It’s so much fresher, tastier and sweeter than at home.
A Brazilian-style BBQ, which usually consists of meat and garlic bread, and for me is more of a social occasion than a feast of gourmet food…
3. Comida do RU
If you’re studying at UFSC, you’ll be lucky enough to be able to eat in the RU (‘Restaurante Universitário’), the university’s canteen. For R$1.50 (32 pence) for a buffet of rice, beans, meat, veg, salad and fruit, you really can’t go wrong!
A pulp with made from acai berries. It’s sweetened with ‘guarana em pó’ (guava powder) and usually eaten topped with banana and granola.
5. Purê de abóbora
Basically a pumpkin puree… it’s a lot more delicious than it sounds and probably my favourite food here!
6. Top 5 places on the island/nearby
1. Praia da Armação/Praia de Matadeiros
Two neighbouring beaches in the south of the Island: my favourites.
2. Lagoinha do Leste
A deserted beach reached only by a 2 hour ‘trilha’ (hike) starting from Matadeiros.
3. Guarda do Embaú
Achilled surfing village with beautiful beaches, 45km from Florianópolis and easily reached by bus or hire car.
4. Casa de Noca
My favourite bar/club in Florianópolis (anyone living here will probably find it very amusing that it’s made it to my top 5!)
5. The Canyons
The national parks of Aparados da Serra and Serra Geral, located 300km south of Florianópolis, are home to some breathtaking scenery.
7. Top 5 highlights so far
1. The people
I’ve met some amazing people and friends for life. Be prepared and open to meet not only Brazilians, but people from all over the world as well!
2. The beach
I have definitely made the most of living on an island with 42 different beaches… when else are you gonna be able to spend an afternoon on the beach after a morning of classes?!
From a month-long trip to a weekend away with friends, I’ve definitely enjoyed the options here!
A popular paired dance originating from the north-east of Brazil… I may not be the most coordinated or natural dancer, but am really enjoying learning this.
5. Camping trips
Once was just here on the island, where we walked to the Praia de Naufragados and camped overnight, but another time we hired a car and wild-camped near Guarda do Embaú and Praia do Rosa (a beach south of Guarda, 90km from Florianópolis).
8. And finally, a few handy hints…
- Be sure to take advantage of the extracurricular activities offered by UFSC. These range from dance classes, to various physical activity classes (Capoeira, basketball, 5-a-side football…), to arts classes (Photography, theatre, art…)
- If you have an Android phone, be sure to download the Android app ‘Bus Maps Floripa’. It shows you all the bus routes on the island and the times that the buses leave the terminals. It’s possibly one of the most useful apps ever.
- You must be motivated to speak Portuguese!! As an exchange student in Florianópolis you could easily get away with speaking English most of the time, so if you really want to improve your Portuguese skills, get into the habit of always talking in Portuguese (even if people try to start a conversation in English!)
- Aproveite! I know it’s incredibly cliché, but this has been one of the best experiences of my life; I’ve met so many new people, learnt new skills, seen new places and reached a pretty decent level of Portuguese! However, I know this wouldn’t be the case if I didn’t take advantage of the opportunities thrown at me. So say YES to everything (within reason of course!) and put yourself out there!