Vinayak Rao is a student at University of Massachusetts, Amherst and an ISA Featured Blogger. Vinayak is currently studying abroad with ISA in Florianópolis, Brazil.
The word paradise translates to “paraíso” in Portuguese. It is defined as “heaven, the final abode of the righteous” or “a place of extreme beauty, delight, or happiness.” From my experiences so far, my definition of paradise would only be one word: Florianópolis. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, this city is paradise. Whenever I meet locals I always tell them “Voces morem no paraíso,” which means “You all live in paradise,” just to remind them how beautiful this place they call home really is. Some people here, though they take full advantage of such natural beauty, don’t know what it’s like elsewhere. And to be frank, why would they want to?
A few weeks ago I was lying by the beach, soaking up the sun and feeling no worries in the world other than the sand on my clothes. Beautiful weather, beautiful sand and water were surrounding me. As cliché as this sounds, in that moment I realized that life was paradise, and I began thinking more about why it was the way it was for me. Upon realization that I was in paradise, I began to wonder about so many things. What makes the foundation of paradise? What makes life here so amazing and worth enjoying so much? And probably the biggest thing I wondered, why weren’t all 400,000 residents of this city on the beach with me pondering about the same thing?
This initial, comical thought grew into a larger more philosophical question. I asked myself, can all the people of this city enjoy life and go to the beach everyday? Are they offered the same opportunities as the rest of the people who relax by the beach? And I knew my answer almost as fast as I thought of the question. Growing up in India, I had a life where the things I call necessities today were what I called luxuries back then. I wanted to find out what really stood underneath Floripa’s (short for Florianópolis) glamorous exterior of posh, trendsetting beaches and night hotspots. I wanted to know what real Brazilian life was like, not the one afforded to me and other study abroad students.
In northern Santa Catarina, the Brazilian state which holds Florianópolis, there is a city called Balneário Camboriú. To get to this city from Floripa you have to leave the island, drive onto the mainland and head up a highway that takes you directly to the city. On a trip there, I partly answered my questions. I was able to see a bit of what lay beneath the posh shell of the Florianópolis I called home; I saw run-down houses, clustered apartments, stray dogs and buildings that hadn’t been renovated in years. This made me realize that life on the island of Florianópolis was much different from that of the continent. I’m not saying that the continental part of Floripa is a giant favela (shanty town) or anything like that; Believe me, this part of Brazil has many beautiful cities, but it is just different. The differences surprised me because to be honest, I haven’t left the island that much. In my state of ignorant bliss I assumed that everything was like my Florianópolis experience because I was in a new country and did not know what life was like over here.
I have yet to completely answer all of my philosophical quandaries; there is still much I have to learn. I left the U.S. with the intention of eventually becoming a local in Florianópolis, but after one month, I feel like I have so much left to learn, so much that a 4-month semester abroad won’t be able to answer. I stand here realizing that I am a stranger in a new country, with my eyes eagerly open trying to discover as much as possible.