Do you regret not studying abroad in college? I have good news for you: It’s not too late. You don’t have to be a college student to study abroad, and there are language programs starting every week in countries all across the globe, just like the one I attended in Florianopolis, Brazil, a few years back.
It was the third time I had left the English-speaking world behind to study a new language in a foreign country. You could say I’m addicted to it. But this time was different. This time I was an adult. I had graduated and was no longer in college; I wasn’t part of a huge study abroad program with lots of other students; and I didn’t know a single word of Portuguese before landing at the airport in Brazil and buying a dictionary. However, with Spanish and Italian already under my belt, I was prepared for the challenge.
My Brazilian host, Ariana, left, and me. (Courtesy: Jackie Laulainen)
I knew from experience that to maximize my potential to learn the language, I needed to live with a native speaker, so I opted for accommodations with a Brazilian host. That’s how I met Ariana, who didn’t speak a word of English.
She was 30 years old, I was 23, and together we had our own half of a beautiful duplex, right above her parents. Could this get any better for me? I had an instant Brazilian family without having to abide by family rules — a wonderful situation for a college graduate.
Ariana introduced me to some of her friends, took me out dancing, and taught me how to make traditional foods, including my new favorite medium for consuming dulce de leche: tapioca (in Brazil, tapioca is not pudding).
I got used to the gas truck driving up our street, blaring its lullaby music (at first I mistook it for the ice cream man) and the trash man with the horse (yes, horse) coming by to pick up the garbage. Our house was just down the street from my school and about an hour’s bus ride from the nearest beach. (Florianopolis is an island, and there were a whopping 42 beaches to choose from.) Each morning I spent a few hours learning Portuguese grammar at school, quickly making my way from beginner to advanced classes, and each afternoon I explored a different part of the island with new friends.
So many beaches, so little time in Brazil. (Courtesy: Jackie Laulainen)
I paid for my classes and accommodations (which included breakfast) ahead of time, so my expenses throughout my time at the school were minimal. I shopped at a nearby grocery store and often cooked with Ariana, paid for public transportation to go to beaches, occasionally went out to eat or dance with friends, and even got a cell phone for less than $10 (that was long before I had a smartphone that works overseas). My flight cost about $950, and at the time my program (including 15 hours of classes per week, all materials, accommodations, and breakfast every day) cost $1,400 for one month. (Here are the most recent prices). By comparison, I have spent more than $5,500 just for classes on a semester-long study abroad program (not including accommodations, materials, or anything else), and that is on the inexpensive end of the study-abroad spectrum. The fact that this program was kind to my budget was nice, and the fact that I could start whenever I wanted made it even more accommodating. Keep in mind, I chose to pay extra for language classes. I’m sure you could spend a month living in Florianopolis for much less, but for me the point was to learn Portuguese.
Three weeks into my studies in Florianopolis, I hailed a taxi and asked the driver (in Portuguese) to take us to the beach, as I climbed into the car with my friends.
Staff and students at my school. (Courtesy: Jackie Laulainen)
He replied to me in Portuguese, “So, you are Brazilian, but where are they from?” He motioned to my friends. This was music to my ears. “Actually,” I replied in Portuguese, with a giant smile across my face, “I am from the United States, and they are from Canada.”
As a language student, I can receive no higher compliment than a native speaker — and a local, at that — mistaking me for a native speaker as well.
I knew that day in the taxi that I had accomplished my mission.
The best part? I can do it again, in a new place next time. Language schools that function on a weekly basis are an incredible standing invitation to anyone who is interested in having an adventure based around learning a new language. They can be found with a simple search online: “(Insert language here) classes in (insert country here)”. These classes offer an unmatched opportunity to become a temporary local in a place and culture that you want to discover.
DISCLAIMER: If you do choose to travel to Brazil, be sure to get your visa and proper vaccinations ahead of time. You will need to bring the International Certificate of Vaccination with you, especially if you plan to visit other South American countries on the same trip. Don’t lose it; you will not like the consequences. And it is always a good idea to check for travel alerts and warnings for any foreign destination before you go, to make sure it is a safe place to travel.
Jackie Laulainen is a travel blogger and podcaster at TheBudgetMindedTraveler. She began traveling internationally in 2003 and has followed her passion for inspiring and equipping others to travel the world as well — on a budget.