Through the Eyes of an Educator: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

by Stacey Ebert /
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Dec 08, 2015 / 0 comments

With the soccer world cup and the next Summer Olympics, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil has been getting a lot of press. Whether you’re a fan of Neymar, Havianas or speak a bit of Portuguese – Rio has much to offer. A short overnight flight from the east coast of the United States, Rio de Janeiro offers visitors sightseeing, culture, cuisine, scenic views, and endless vistas. From the top of Corcovado to the bottom of the highly populated favelas, Rio is filled with life.

Exploring the best of Rio - including the beaches!

Sadly, in the New York social studies curriculum, there is little time spent on areas of South and Central America. Sure, the beginnings of exploration and the interdependence of trading aspects exist, but delving into the history of individual groups, areas, or countries doesn’t truly take place. How better to share the stories of a place than to experience it? When discussing the trade of coffee and cacao, my reach might be greater if I could not only touch on student’s familial cultures but also describe my own travels. For this and so many other reasons, South America was always on my travel list.

Rio de Janeiro is just one small city in a sea of a culture-filled continent. If you let the media decide for you, you’ll hear tales of crime, corruption, and plastic surgery. I’m sure it’s all there, as it is in any major city of the world – but, an even bigger lesson to share with students is to do your own research, use your own judgment and not to let the media be your only source of imagery. Education has many facets, but none bigger than the impact one can have on the life of a child. Remembering that there are far greater parts of the education of an individual that exceed beyond the curriculum of a subject is incredibly significant. You may never know your impact, but opening up a world filled with learning and gestures of kindness and concern will always be remembered.

Considered to be one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the Rio de Janeiro Harbor (or river of January) is an impressive sight to see. Providing visitors with one of the world’s most beautiful natural harbors, travelers can stand in one place to take in the beauty of the sea, the skyline of the city, the contrast of sandy beaches with the blues of the sea and feel as if you’re truly living amongst the clouds.

Considered to be one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the Rio de Janeiro Harbor (or river of January) is an impressive sight to see

My experience in Rio was filled with wonder. There were four of us on a journey to parts of South America including Rio de Janeiro, Iguassu Falls, and Buenos Aires. On our few days in Rio we sought out sights, relaxed on the sand, and took in the culture. Although none of us spoke any Portuguese, my mediocre Spanish was helpful. This is a lesson in itself. First, learn at least one language other than your own. Second, have patience with yourself and others when trying to get yourself across in that language if fluency is not yet reached. Even if it’s filled with a mixture of incorrect tenses, being able to communicate with locals is an advantage. Learning from others, trying something difficult and learning by doing are all things that language teaches. A student with a Portuguese heritage gave me a few pointers before our journey and even taught me how to say ‘I am a vegetarian.’ Armed with our limited vocabulary, we chatted with locals in English, and Spanish mostly. At one restaurant where the menu was entirely in Portuguese, a kind waitress helped translate it into Spanish and then I translated it into English. This impromptu teachable moment yielded great respect, endless patience and happy diners who thoroughly enjoyed their meals. Learning really is everywhere.

Making up our group were three carnivores and one vegetarian. As part of the food culture is about the Brazilian steakhouse, my travel partners were in heaven. Each establishment was slightly different, but the bounty overflowing for all taste buds. Vegetarian fare was available and the atmosphere fun. Placing oneself out of ones comfort zones in a place where the food nor language of the nation is not your own is a learning experience. Many of the traits picked up on these types of adventures are often taught at early ages, but not always continued in secondary schools where subject curriculum seems to take precedence. Ask for help when you need it, have patience, practice kindness, try new things, treat others as you’d like to be treated, take risks, trust your judgment, plan a little but be sure to leave room for all sorts of spontaneity to come – these are just as (if not more so) significant as reading, writing and arithmetic. 

Exploring the best of Rio de Janiero, Brazil

A main event of any visit to Rio de Janeiro is Christ the Redeemer/Redento statue that stands atop the Harbor overlooking all. This incredible sight actually is breathtaking. Often filled to the rafters with oglers, visitors, travelers, and those paying homage – this is a place of worship of many kinds. On lists of many world wonders, this grand statue is a pinnacle of life in Rio de Janeiro. Powerful, front and center, strong beliefs, grand gestures, brimming with life and not at all forgetful – this is Rio. This is certainly the feeling that we’d like for our students – full of life, intriguing, impression making and rarely forgettable. 

The best of Rio de Janiero - full of life and intriguing!

Showing students different parts of the world and life is vital. The Favelas in Rio show a very different part of life. The colorful ‘shantytowns’ are filled with life, love, and futbol. The communities, housing, and staircases of the Favelas tells a story. Children are playing, people are working, and education is taking place in whatever way possible, and families are trying very much to support themselves. This is such a learning experience. The vast dichotomy of income in the city of Rio is staggering. But the learning is in the seeing. Amidst the images students are constantly blasted in the media, being up close and personal to realize that all people mostly want the same thing for their families is imperative and mind opening.

 The Favelas in Rio show a very different part of life.

Another famed bit of Rio de Janeiro are the beaches. Whether it’s ‘the girl from Ipanema’ or the trials and tribulations ‘at the Copacabana’, the sands of Rio de Janeiro are known around the world. Getting to run your toes through those famous grains of sand along with countless others who have done before and those who will again is a special feeling. Budding archeologists, sociologists and music history buffs will see more than bathing beachgoers while splashing through the waves. 

Exploring the best of Rio - including the beaches!

Travel provides everlasting memories that stand the test of time. Travel provides life long lessons beyond the walls of any classroom. Travel brings people together that the media divides. Travel teaches to the inner most spirit and shows the importance of being present, being real, and being kind. Travel brings textbooks to life, heightens learning, and finds history in real people. Travel changes people while creating life long learners who look at the world with a new perspective. Whether it’s this year or next, for the Olympics or a soccer match – if there’s an opportunity to visit Brazil, take it – you won’t be disappointed.




Stacey Ebert, our Educational Travels Editor, is a traveler at heart who met her Australian-born husband while on a trip in New Zealand. Stacey was an extracurricular advisor and taught history in a Long Island public high school for over fifteen years, enjoying both the formal and informal educational practices. After a one year 'round the world honeymoon, travel and its many gifts changed her perspective. She has since left the educational world to focus on writing and travel. She is energetic and enthusiastic about long term travel, finding what makes you happy and making the leap. In her spare time she is an event planner, yogi, dark chocolate lover, and spends as much time as possible with her toes in the sand. Check out her website at for more of her travel musings.
All photos courtesy and copyright Stacey Ebert