|São Paulo is a very exciting city,” asserts Denise Cabral at GTM Idiomas, based in the city. “It never sleeps, you can find whatever you need even if it’s 3am.”
A major metropolis, São Paulo or Sampa as it is affectionately known by locals is the cultural capital of Brazil, boasting world-class museums, concerts, state-of-the-art theatre and dance, not to mention its great restaurants, bars and nightclubs. “Everybody who likes big cities will like São Paulo,” claims Marcia Camisa, Director of Fast Forward Language and Cultural Institute. “We have lots of international and [local] restaurants and bars, as well as neighbourhoods like Higienópolis (Jewish) and Liberdade (Japanese).” São Paulo dates back to the 16th century, but it was not until the 19th and 20th centuries that it really started to grow, thanks to a flood of immigrant workers. Today they have left their mark on the city through the patchwork of multicultural neighbourhoods and restaurants, offering tempting menus from all over the world.
“The most important feature of São Paulo city is diversity,” comments Lourdes Zilberberg, Head of the International Office at Fundação Armando Alvares Penteado (FAAP). “São Paulo is a cosmopolitan city with many things to do. It is the centre for business and as a result of that, it is also the centre for cultural events, museums, social life and gastronomy.”
According to Roger Bark, Owner and Managing Director of IPE Idiomas Personalizados, “São Paulo has everything a large city can offer: important monuments; interesting architecture, both old and new; parks; beaches; museums; pubs; art galleries; one of the largest zoos in the world; a botanical garden; the second-largest stock exchange in the world; cinemas; theatres; concerts; sports; restaurants (based on the large wave of immigrants, there are 50 different types of food); foot, horse and car racing; and all kinds of cultural centres. In fact, it is considered one of the most multicultural cities in the world.”
Being Brazil’s business hub, the majority of language travellers who decide to study Portuguese in São Paulo are professionals looking to hone their business language skills, as Ana Cecilia Ribas de Aguiar Poluhoff at Business & International Communication School (Bics) reports. “São Paulo is a major financial and commercial centre, attracting more and more foreigners who are aiming to boost their careers. They need to learn Portuguese in order to communicate with their peers and team,” she says.
Bark comments that, not only do they offer language classes in the client’s field of business, but that they can also help them with job hunting.
“If [the student] is looking for a permanent job, we include interview preparation,” he says. “There are many job opportunities, since the unemployment rate is very low. And Brazil, contrary to most countries, is growing fast, especially the consumer market with prospects for the future very optimistic.”
But it is not all work and no play in this city. “São Paulo has so much to offer to everyone,” claims Ribas de Aguiar Poluhoff.
Cabral adds that the city “offers as many options for entertainment as you can afford”. And she says the best way to get to know the city is by walking around its centre, which can be “amazing!” She explains, “The Central Market in Parque Dom Pedro provides visitors with a world of different tastes, smells and a very rich visual scene. There, visitors can try some Paulista’s traditional food like pastel, sanduíche de mortadela, handmade cakes and candies. And it’s close to Rua 25 de Março, one of the most traditional shopping streets in Brazil.”
Many schools are conveniently located close to the city centre and its many attractions. Fast Forward Language and Cultural Institute sits in the upmarket neighbourhood of Jardins, just some blocks away from Paulista Avenue, São Paulo’s financial centre. “The tree-lined streets around the school are full of restaurants, neighbourhood bars and nightclubs, as well as parks, with something for everyone,” relates Camisa.
Popular free-time activities in São Paulo include walks in Ibirapuera Park, trips to the cinema, shopping malls, museums and soccer games. “At night,” adds Zilberberg, “they go to Samba shows and specially to Vila Madalena, a well-known district for nightlife with many pubs and discos.”
The Vila Madalena area is a relaxed bohemian district with an art gallery, designer shops, boutiques, and bars and nightclubs. “Every student that comes to São Paulo from other parts of the country or of the world spends a good part of their weekends in this neighbourhood,” recounts Zilberberg. “During the day they can walk around to see the art gallery and stores, and during the night they can enjoy some places with live music. It is a very typical experience of São Paulo.”
As well as the popular, well-known areas, São Paulo has some hidden treasures waiting to be discovered. Cabral highlights the Serra da Cantareira area with its O Velhão complex as one such place. “It gathers restaurants, handcraft stores, an antique shop, café and a bar where people can play pool and listen to live music,” she explains. “And it offers one of the best views of São Paulo. It’s really worth the visit.”
Ribas de Aguiar Poluhoff says she encourages students to visit the Folklore Museum at Memorial da America Latina and the Museum of Modern Art, as well as the night view from the top of the Cidade Jardim Mall.
She also recommends cycling in the parks. “Students are often surprised to discover biking in our parks and, on Sundays, the roads connecting three major parks are closed to traffic from 7am to 4pm, so it’s safe and fun to ride on the streets.”
Most language travellers may come to São Paulo with work motives in mind but, as Camisa points out, they take away much more. “Most of our students come to São Paulo to work, but all of them fall in love with the city and create a strong social life with its citizens.”
“Colombian students want to learn the language, which is very easy to learn for Spanish speaking people; however they like to take advantage of the opportunity to learn to dance zamba, and they love Brasilian music. They also like the happiness of the people, their kindness and hospitality. Students are most surprised by the size and population of São Paulo; the variety of food and drink and the amount of fitness centres there are! Students enjoy the music and festivals, the energy of the people and their attitude to enjoy any opportunity where they can have fun.”
Alejandro Acero, Open Hearts International, Colombia
“The cultural life in Brazil is number one. Although a huge city, you quickly feel at ease. There are lots of buildings etc but also lots of parks and a quality lifestyle. Students like feeling part of a growing economic centre. It makes them feel as if they are surrounded by professional opportunities.”
Krister Weidenhielm, ESL - Language Studies Abroad, Switzerland
“Students appreciate the warmth and vibrancy of the Brazilian people and the diversity of cultures in São Paulo. As a major world financial hub, many students are attracted to study Portuguese here and set up an internship in a business setting. São Paulo is described as a city of contrasts: Cultures from Asia and Europe, with Afro-descent influences. [Students] enjoy city culture from museums, parks, art and architecture from colonial to the ultra-modern cityscape, yet close enough to the rain forest for more rustic weekend journeys. Students especially love visiting Iguazu Falls to the southwest and Bahia de Salvador to the northwest.”
Laura Manning, Aventuras Languages, USA