Fundação Getúlio Vargas
São Paulo, Brazil
2014 Sem One, LLB (Honours)
I take it to be trivially true that any
exchange experience will be your best
semester. However, six months in the
heart of South America is sure to trump
any destination. I wanted to spend my
time away in a place as different as
possible from North Dunedin and in
terms of language, people, culture,
climate, size, and any other box you
Swimming in the piranha-infested waters of the Amazon
may wish to tick, São Paulo is that
Accommodation and Transport
It was cheaper to take the long (wrong) way round the globe, flying Air New Zealand and Etihad
from Invercargill to São Paulo via Christchurch, Sydney and Abu Dhabi – a total of 47 hours and a
return ticket price of NZ$3,200. Indeed, air travel to and from my destination was my greatest
expense. I was greeted at Guarulhos International Airport by Ricardo, my buddy assigned by the
university, and he drove me to my hotel.
My first week was spent meeting the other gringos on
exchange (approximately 200 from across the globe,
principally Europe and North America) and looking for
accommodation, coinciding with São Paulo’s hottest
temperatures on record. I wandered from apartment to
apartment in 40 °C heat in a city of twenty million people
meeting landlords who spoke less English than I spoke
Portuguese (and I spoke none) trying to negotiate – a
frustrating and fantastic experience. Ultimately, I found a nice
place in the affluent suburb of Vila Mariana. For the price of
NZ$600 per month, I occupied one of three rooms on the
seventeenth floor of a modern building with 24-hour security
and swimming pool facilities. The price included cable
television, power, internet, as well as a maid who came once a
week. My flat mates were Christian, a 55 year old French
Brazilian engineer, and Sebastian, a 30 year old Argentinian
Cristo Redentor, Rio de Janeiro
economics masters student, both of whom spoke English.
Most of the exchange students had organised accommodation
before arriving in Brazil and ended up paying the same price for veritable cupboards very close to
the university in the noisy inner city. I lived five kilometres away so I made use of the excellent
metro system for a student rate of NZ$1.50 which operated 21 hours a day. It was certainly worth
taking the time to find decent accommodation.
Brazil is an immense country so you must be prepared for long bus rides. However, such buses are
very comfortable and very cheap. For example, a seven hour overnight bus to Rio de Janeiro will
cost about NZ$35 and you’ll have no problem sleeping. I stayed in hostels in Rio, Florianopolis,
Curitiba, and Manaus which were around NZ$25 per night, always including breakfast. Internal
flights within South America are expensive if you do not book them well in advance; I went to
Manaus in the Amazonas state and to Peru. I am referring to prices in New Zealand dollars; the
local currency is the Brazilian real (plural reais) with a convenient 1:2 ratio (i.e. NZ$1 = R$2).
University Life
Fundação Getúlio Vargas (FGV) is a small university of
approximately 3,000 students located one block away
from Avenida Paulista, a main street in São Paulo which
produces 10% of Brazil’s gross domestic product
through its many financial institutions. FGV includes
the three schools of business administration,
economics, and law. I attended the latter, taking the
full course of papers comprising the Global Law
Program. This programme is taught in English to target
exchange students as well as Brazilians who want to
improve their English or have an interest in the
international system. I had a bit of trouble ensuring I
was enrolled in the law courses because Otago’s
exchange relationship is technically limited to the FGV
business school. However, Celia from Otago Student
Exchange was very helpful in ensuring I was able to
take the desired course. My papers included:
Walking to class along Avenida Paulista
Banking Regulation
Deals: Commercial Transactions in Brazil
Digital Democracy
EU and Brazilian Competition Law and Economics
Human Rights and Corporations
International Law of Development
Introduction to the Brazilian Legal System
Secured Transactions in Transnational Perspective
United States Business Law
These papers were split into two modules (i.e. half semesters) and were taught by Brazilian law
professors as well as visiting academics from the United States, Egypt, Germany, Italy and the
United Kingdom. Some papers were for a full module and involved a single three hour lecture once
a week, whereas others were short term papers which involved a week of night classes.
Assessment included class participation and submission of brief research essays, opinions, or open
book exams. I usually had less than 10 hours of class a week which were very small (less than 20
students) and discussion based. It was fascinating to debate politico-legal issues with students
from Brazil, China, the Netherlands, Canada and Spain. Grading was on a ten-point scale and my
native English helped me achieve some of the higher grades in the class.
FGV offered a comprehensive orientation
weekend with tours of the city, cultural
demonstrations, and a cocktail evening so
we could meet the other exchange
students. Consequently, my friends and
travel companions were from Norway,
South Korea, USA, Spain, Canada, Australia,
Ireland, France, Austria, Germany, Portugal,
Switzerland et al. However, I trained and
played for FGV’s Rugby Sevens team which
allowed me to get to know some of the
Brazilian students better and improve my
Portuguese (I also completed free
beginners’ language classes at FGV). The
Integração weekend and Economíadas
tournament weekend in the rural town of
FGV Sevens team (spot the two gringos)
Araraquara allowed me to mix with students
from São Paulo’s many universities and get a proper taste of life as a brasileiro. There are many
student parties hosted by São Paulo universities which are usually open bar events. One must be
careful not to indulge too much or else you are ripe for crime; eight of my friends had their
iPhones pickpocketed and others were robbed at knifepoint or gunpoint during their stay. Finally,
be prepared to wait a long time for any administrative bureaucracy.
The Stuff that Matters
São Paulo is a massive cosmopolitan city with worldclass nightclubs, theatres, restaurants and museums,
as well as crippling poverty in the favelas (slums). I
completed a half marathon which was a great way to
explore the diverse neighbourhoods of the Southern
Hemisphere’s largest city. Compared to New Zealand
prices, eating out was very cheap, with NZ$5 buying
you a very big meal at a lanchonete (these corner
snack bars are everywhere) such as the typical prato
executivo (steak, rice, beans, fries, salad, eggs). I very
much miss the cheap ice cold beer and tropical fruit
juices. Sushi is everywhere because São Paulo is home
to the largest expatriate population of Japanese in the
world, mainly focused in the suburb of Liberdade.
Many musical attractions come to the city; I saw The
Lion King Broadway show, Jack Johnson, as well as the
two-day Lollapalooza festival, featuring Muse, Arcade
Fire, Lorde, Nine Inch Nails, Ellie Goulding, Phoenix,
Pixies and more playing to a crazy crowd of 80,000
Brazilians. São Paulo is not a tourist town but I did not
have to go far to reach other attractions like the beach
at Guaruja or the skydiving school at Boituva. I travelled
to nearby Rio de Janeiro a number of times to soak up
the sun at the Copacabana and Ipanema beaches and
visit postcard attractions such as Cristo Redentor and
Pão de Açucar.
My time in Brazil coincided with two key events –
carnival week and the FIFA World Cup. I went with a big
group to Florianópolis for carnival, an island city in the
south of Brazil. The days were spent at the many
beaches around the island and there were parties every
night with DJs such as Fatboy Slim and Armin van
Carnival parade in Florianópolis
Buuren. We also immersed ourselves in local carnival
traditions such as the bloco do sujo (a transvestite street party) and, by sheer coincidence,
managed to secure a place in the official carnival parade. I spent some time in Curitiba, taking a
train to a small colonial village in the Atlantic Rainforest.
The street parties of carnival were revived and eclipsed by the FIFA World Cup; I attended the
game between South Korea and Belgium and the atmosphere was incredible – experiencing a
football match in Brazil is a must.
A clear highlight was my week spent in Manaus during which I slept in the Amazon for four nights
and saw a lot of wildlife (caiman, sloths, snakes, tarantulas, piranhas, iguanas, vultures, monkeys,
pink river dolphins etc.) as well as the simple lives lived by indigenous people in the world’s largest
rainforest. Before returning to New Zealand, I spent a week in Peru and visited Machu Picchu.
Indeed, São Paulo is a great springboard to visit other destinations. My friends visited Argentina,
Chile, Bolivia,
Ecuador and
Central America
(time and
limited my
My semester in
Brazil was simply
São Paulo skyline

Fundação Getúlio Vargas São Paulo, Brazil 2014 Sem One, LLB