December 15th 2023

Global Perspectives Unveiled: A Semester Abroad in Rio de Janeiro

Learning languages, exploring cultures & breaking stereotypes

One of the most essential components of MCI study programs is their international orientation. This is reflected not only in the curriculum and assigned projects, but also in the opportunity to spend a semester abroad. We highly support our NSGM students to use this opportunity for the several benefits, such as gaining a global perspective, experiencing new cultures and establish connections around the world. It will allow you to develop highly-valued skills such as intercultural communication, foreign languages, adaptability, and problem-solving.

For our Nonprofit, Social & Health Care Management students, we offer exchange possibilities to one of our various partner universities all over the world. Our students Alexander Atzl & Hannah Huber are spending their fifth semester in Rio de Janeiro. They give an interesting insight in their experience thus far in the interview below.


Hi, we are Hannah and Alex, both 23 years old and we study Nonprofit, Social & Health Care Management at MCI - The Entrepreneurial School®. We are currently on our exchange semester in Rio de Janeiro, studying at PUC Rio. Our courses cover a variety of subjects, such as Business Models, Online and Mobile Marketing, Brazilian Culture, Brazilian History, and Portuguese.

Can you share a specific academic project, course, or research opportunity that has been a highlight of your exchange?

As part of our Brazilian Culture Class, we were required to create a documentary that explores a stereotype about Brazil. We found this to be a wonderful opportunity to connect with people, gain knowledge about different cultures and learn about the process of making a documentary, including conducting interviews.

Our documentary was about the stereotype that Favelas are really dangerous places, especially for foreigners. But with our documentary we want to give people some insights of how life looks like in these special places and that there are so many positive things, apart from all the negative perceptions we heard about. We tried to showcase the vibrant culture, the strong sense of solidarity among the residents, and the joy of life that exists within these communities. Our video documentary can be seen to the right of this article.

Reflecting on your time abroad, what cultural experiences or events have left a lasting impression on you? How have these cultural highlights enriched your understanding of the host country and its people?

We had the opportunity to stay at an Airbnb located in a small favela, a low-income community in Brazil. The experience was unique, as we were able to get a sense of how the people live in the favela and experience their culture first-hand.

Despite some negative perceptions of favelas, we felt surprisingly safe during our stay. The locals were friendly and welcoming, and we were able to explore the area without any issues. In fact, we felt much safer than we did in some of the more touristic areas such as Copacabana and Santa Teresa.

Our stay in the favela was an eye-opening experience that gave us a new perspective on life in Brazil. We would highly recommend it to anyone looking to experience the local way of life and break away from the usual tourist attractions.

Every exchange journey comes with its challenges. Can you discuss the most significant challenge you've faced during your time abroad and how you've worked to overcome it?

The most challenging aspect of our experience was the language barrier. Even though we had a Portuguese course at the university, the language was not easy to learn. We wanted to talk to a lot of locals, but mostly we couldn't because they didn't speak English, and we didn't speak Portuguese. After four months, we could understand most of what people were saying, as long as they didn't speak too fast. However, having a real conversation was still a challenge.

Considering your unique journey, what advice would you give to future exchange students preparing for a similar experience?

Hannah: Don't be afraid just because people at home tell you it's dangerous.

Alex: If you are going to Brazil: Enjoy this beautiful, open-minded and mixed culture. There is surely no other city like Rio.

Video documentary: Favelas - What is life like in a communidade? © Alexander Atzl
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