Vamos! Here Are All the Epic Things You Can Do on Your Gap Year in Brazil
We’re all familiar with the daily grind.
Wake up, go to school or the office, come home, sleep and repeat.
Gets a little monotonous, doesn’t it?
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Regardless of what stage you’re at in life, it’s possible to break free from routine. Even if only for a year.
Taking a gap year in a far-flung and exotic land is a sure-fire way to spice up an otherwise uninspiring time of life.
And few countries are as enticing as Brazil.
Why take a gap year?
Aside from the obvious fact that living and traveling abroad is an exciting break from routine, there’s also a number of tangible benefits to taking a gap year:
- You can discover new passions and pastimes
- You can learn new skills through volunteering and employment positions
- You can enhance your employability by adding experience to your resume
- You can learn a new language
- You can become more globally minded by fully immersing yourself in a new culture
Despite what you may have heard, gap years aren’t just for new high school graduates. In reality, a large contingent of college students and professionals are opting to take a year off in search of adventure, as well.
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Why choose Brazil for your gap year?
Stretching over almost half of South America, this mammoth nation boasts a stunning array of natural and cultural diversity.
The people are friendly, the sun always shines and the beaches are to die for. And a solid selection of modern metropolises and quaint colonial towns provide limitless authentic experiences.
Then there’s the atmosphere, which is difficult to describe.
Local designer Francisco Costa sums it up best: “Brazil is not what you see but what you feel. Once you spend time here—a week, two weeks—you get in the vibe. It’s really intoxicating.”
So perhaps a better question would be, “Why not?”
What should I do on a gap year in Brazil?
Studying Portuguese is an excellent way to fully immerse yourself in the local culture. Aim to do so from the beginning of your trip to give yourself ample opportunity to hone your skills.
Before you arrive, download some specialty apps and listen to a few podcasts. At the very least, you’ll need to know the basic travel phrases to get by.
Despite the country’s gargantuan size, it isn’t necessary to spend the entire year traveling through Brazil. Besides, it’s better to return from a year abroad with some relevant experience to add to your C.V. Aim to enroll in a volunteer program or two and pick up some work while you’re there.
The ideal Brazilian gap year would be a combination of all four activities: studying, volunteering, working and traveling.
Vamos! Here Are All the Epic Things You Can Do on Your Gap Year in Brazil
1. Study in Brazil
One of the best ways to spend your gap year is picking up a new skill or two. How about learning a language or picking up martial arts?
Learn Portuguese in Rio de Janeiro
Set in the famous seaside suburb of Ipanema, the renowned Caminhos (Ways) Language Centre is widely regarded as the best place to study Portuguese in the city.
Yes, students take an intensive course with qualified local teachers. But they can also engage in a myriad of quintessentially Brazilian activities, such as beach volleyball and samba classes, to further hone their language skills.
Caminhos can even help arrange the coveted Brazilian student visa. Given the difficulty of obtaining a work visa, most long-term residents agree this is the easiest way to remain in the country for an extended period of time.
Train in capoeira in Salvador, Bahia
Where better to learn capoeira—an acrobatic, Afro-Brazilian blend of martial arts and dance—than its place of origin in Salvador?
This 15-day program in the capital of the state of Bahia offers intensive instruction and accommodation for 1,195 USD. Granted, more cost-effective courses are available for those prepared to seek out schools locally.
Regardless of whom you train with, you’ll need a high level of fitness and a decent command of Portuguese to make the most of the experience.
2. Volunteer in Brazil
From community development to environmental conservation, volunteer opportunities abound throughout Brazil.
Note that you’ll need a temporary work visa to volunteer legally.
Complete a medical internship in Rio de Janeiro
Current and aspiring medical students alike could learn valuable new skills and add credentials to their C.V. through a Rio-based medical internship with Iko Poran.
Run by a local NGO, the program sees volunteers undertake assistant and administrative roles at a health clinic in a disadvantaged Rio neighborhood. Other tasks include promoting community awareness through contraceptive literacy and healthcare advice, as well as running disease awareness workshops.
No Portuguese is required (although it helps a lot), and the reasonable weekly fee includes hostel accommodation in the bohemian Santa Teresa neighborhood.
Become a local volunteer in São Paulo
Strong Portuguese speakers could veer well off the well-trodden tourist trail and pick up a short-term volunteer gig in São Paulo through Atados.
There are hundreds of available positions ranging from computer programming to food drive administration. Atados connects skilled and eager workers with the city’s most needy NGOs.
Best of all, these positions all but guarantee total immersion. You’ll likely be the only foreigner in sight!
Work in conservation in the Atlantic Forest
Eco-warriors and environmental science students would love this hands-on conservation project. Volunteer with Reserva Ecológica de Guapiaçu (Ecological Reserve of Guapiaçu), or REGUA, based out of an ecological reserve just two hours from Rio. This program sees volunteers undertaking guiding, groundskeeping and general positions in an effort to protect and rehabilitate the fragile local ecosystem.
Accommodation is rustic yet comfortable, and the program fee is a modest 600 USD per month. Come between February and November, because REGUA shuts down during the wet season.
3. Work in Brazil
The biggest obstacle to working in Brazil is the paperwork, which requires an arduous residency permit and work visa.
Those who do navigate the process could consider one of the following jobs that are popular with foreigners.
Teach English as a foreign language
Native English teachers are always in high demand, so it should be easy enough to find a sponsor for your work visa. Not all schools require qualifications or experience, although those with higher standards tend to offer a sweeter deal. Check out GoAbroad and Teach Away for jobs.
Aside from the most prestigious private schools, remuneration is modest, so most teachers take on extra private classes to make ends meet.
Work online as a digital nomad
Digital nomads are everywhere these days. And despite its relatively high cost of living, Brazil is no exception.
Anyone capable of working remotely could become a digital nomad. Apply for work through freelancing sites such as Freelancer and Upwork to build your portfolio.
Work in a hostel
Backpackers love picking up hostel work to subsidize their wanderings.
Positions are typically confined to reception, bar and housekeeping roles, and pay tends to be in the form of accommodation rather than cash. Browse Workaway for the best opportunities.
4. Travel around Brazil
From steamy Amazonian jungles to buzzing inner city beaches, Brazil is a traveler’s paradise you won’t want to miss.
Traveling Brazil on a budget
Despite recent favorable currency fluctuations, Brazil remains a relatively expensive country to visit. Expect to burn through around 70 USD per day on a backpacker’s budget.
To keep costs down, opt for hostels or local pousadas (guest houses) and cook your own meals. Overnight bus rides can save on a night of accommodation, although domestic flights and air passes are worth examining, as well.
Where to go in Brazil
Keep the following highlights in mind for an unforgettable Brazilian adventure:
- Foz do Iguaçú for South America’s most spectacular falls
- Florianópolis for an idyllic beach and city adventure
- Rio de Janeiro for breathtaking vistas, beaches and all-night samba parties
- São Paulo for an authentic urban experience
- National parks such as Serra dos Órgãos and Chapada Diamantina for raw natural beauty
- Recife and Olinda for a blend of quaint colonial living and a modern urban vibe
- Salvador for a taste of Afro-Brazilian culture
- Manaus for trips deep into the steamy Amazon jungle
Ready for your gap year in Brazil?
Your old life will still be waiting for you when you get home, so make your way to Brazil and experience everything this lively country has to offer.
Tenha uma boa viagem! (Have a good trip!)
Harry is a South American-based freelance writer who covers travel, the arts and culture, among many other things.
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