Being a foreigner at UNICAMP in Brazil

It will be nearly two months since I had left Brockwood. I feel that the time is ripe now to share my ‘first impressions’ on Brazil.

 Day 1

The flight from Heathrow took off an hour later than the scheduled time and the captain did not make up for the lost time, in the air. I arrived in Sao Paulo on Wednesday October 22 and I had to take the airport shuttle to go to a hotel and it was not easy. The signs in England are certainly the best ones I have come across as they are very clear and succinct. I had to ask three people – with my limited Portuguese and French, how I would go from terminal 3 to the bus stop in terminal 2. The hotel was located very close to a warehouse. I could not sleep the whole night as the plumbing was noisy. Nevertheless, the staff were very nice as I even had an attendant in my room at 10:30 pm to change the battery on the safe as well as to assist me with accessing the internet.

Day 2

AG, my advisor came to pick me up at 11 am, from the hotel, and we reached Campinas at around 1 pm. You can see the journey that we made on the Google maps here. The motorway was very busy but all along the highway, I could see beautiful pine and eucalyptus trees on high hills, and it represented human efforts to change the natural landscape. Just as we exited Sao Paulo, I also saw the favelas and it was sad to see the poor people living in this condition. Sao Paulo contributes to one third of the GDP of Brazil and is one of the wealthiest states.

AG took me to a restaurant at Campinas and it had a plenty of vegetarian options. I stayed the night of Thursday in a room at a hotel (like a B & B but with ensuite bathrooms) with a window facing a staircase inside the house. AG spoke to the lady the next day and I got transferred to a better room on Friday. You will see a picture on the link here. I had been staying in this room for over 12 days now.


The university is 30 minutes away by walk and I walk to the university pretty much every day. The bus ticket costs R$3.30 for any length of the journey and it is valid for two hours. It gets very hot even at 8 am and shops are open from 7:30 am onward. I have coffee and Madeleine at a Brazilian French cafe regularly.

There is only one place in the whole of Campinas where I could encash my traveler’s cheques. So it is better to carry dollars in cash rather than a travellers cheque when travelling to Brazil.

Brazil has 110 as well as 220 volts power supply. Even in one house, we can see different sockets. The Swiss multi-country plug that I bought from Amazon did not work in the hotel. I need to check if it works at the university. Fortunately I bought another plug on-board the aircraft.

On Sundays most of the shops are closed and the bars play live music. I could hear the music from my room. People are very religious too. On a Sunday evening, the church near the hotel was brimming with people. On the street where I will be living, there are at least five churches. It is a bit like the temples in India. The only difference with India is that women here dress the way want and the races intermix. Oh, I see tattoos are very common with people.

Looking for flats: I saw a total of six flats and in the end I took the one on the 5th floor. The estate agent is waiting to get the confirmation from the owner and the lawyer before I can sign the contract. Proof of income, social security number and and national identity numbers of the tenant and a witness are vital to get an accommodation. It costs R$1400 per month (4 Brazilian Reals = 1 GBP). The flat is more than sufficient for one person (50 m2). I just heard the news that I can sign the contract today and move in to the flat on Thursday. The flat is empty and I will have to start furnishing it gradually.

View from the flat:


Brazil is known for its bureaucracy. It is called “Jeitinho Brasileiro”. I will illustrate with some examples here.

Federal Police: I have a valid visa for two years, which was surprising for the university authrorities as the visas are normally given for a year and then renewed. I had to report to the Federal Police within 30 days of my arrival in this country. It was not a straight forward process.

AG, my advisor and I spent two hours at the International office to get all the necessary documents for the visit. All the photocopied documents have to be attested by a notary and it costs R$4.50.  It is surprising that how cheap it is to authenticate a document. The passport pictures that I brought with me from England were of the wrong size. The guys at the photo studio on the campus said that I was wearing light colours and they suggested that I put on his jersey – the outside temperature being 40 deg C, to take the picture.

I also had to pay two different amounts for R$144 and R$56 and had to take an appointment. The earliest available slot was a week away. The international relations officer was extremely polite on the phone when she made the appointment with the police. A sample conversation is this: “I know you are too busy and I would not take too much of your time. I just have this…”

AG drove me to the Federal Police building, 7 km from the university on 30 October at 2 pm. They took my finger prints of both my hands. After a 1.5 hour waiting, I got the temporary national identity number. I will have to come in January 2015 precisely between the 25 and 30th, to receive the permanent national identity number. I waited for 45 minutes to take a bus back from the city to the university and AG was with me the whole time just to make sure that I got on the right bus. I am very happy that he cares for me. I have known him for 15 years. His views on education are very similar to some of what Krishnamurti has said. He is very eager to learn, question and work together.

CPF: The interview for CPF (equivalent to the National Insurance Number in England) went well on 31 October. The appointment was made a week ago. The chap who attended me asked if I believe in Sai Baba as well as Darwin’s theory, as he believes in both. He was happy that I was of Indian origin and not a true English person ! The waiting time was 1 h 15 min. The lab manager drove me to the CPF office. I talked about Brockwood and she talked about her family. She has two kids, aged one and three years old, and she leaves them at a day care center. She watches Sherlock Holmes on BBC with Portuguese subtitles and was very happy when she saw a picture of the blue bells on my computer (I think a rabbit was named blue bell in the TV series).

University Identity card: I cannot get the university identity card yet as my PhD diploma has to be authenticated by the Brazilian consulate in Denmark. It will take at least a month. However, C, the departmental secretary said that she will arrange for me to receive a temporary card. She has been extremely helpful in every stage of the bureaucratic process.


I found a nice German bakery which makes rye bread. I had a simple sandwich with freshly squeezed orange and pineapple juice and it was delicious (website). The pizzeria I went recently (this one) served a few vegetarian pizzas and the waiters spoke a bit of English. Campinas has one of the biggest shopping malls in Latin America but the choice of vegetarian options are limited. There are a few vegetarian restaurants in the neighbourhood where the university is located.

CM (former mature student from Brockwood) took me to Dalben, a supermarket like M & S. They had Aubergine pate and I loved it as it is perfect for me to eat at the poussada as they did not have a kitchen. I regularly buy mangoes, Papayas and many varieties of banana. I even ate a red pear.

My main food is the lunch at the university canteen. I pay food by the kilo. I spend around 13 Reals for a good meal. I get a free espresso coffee or a juice. The coffee that I buy from the university coffee machine is 1 Real.  The food engineering department makes fresh produce and sell them at reduced prices. I sit under the trees, to escape the immense heat of the sun and listen to the mantacas (similar to parrots). They do make a lot of noise. Just outside the lab, I saw many mango as well as jackfruit trees. Only the monkeys were missing!


All the people in the lab are extremely friendly. I am glad that I have got good colleagues.

I talked to an Indian girl today and she is doing her postdoc too at Unicamp. Her name is AD and she is from Delhi. I am meeting her lunch tomorrow.

I got introduced to CP, who is a friend of my friend in Denmark. She had offered to help me as she has a car. CM, the mature student is currently teaching English at a language school in Campinas. She took me to the shopping mall as she has a car too. Without a car it is very difficult to travel around. Ethanol costs cheaper than petrol. Cars and mobile phones are everywhere.

Brazilians are very diverse looking. I see Chinese, Japanese looking people speaking perfect Portuguese. This is the beauty of this country. One does not have to say I am British Indian, British French and so on.

I really feel at home here. I am not judged because I am differently thinking or Indian or British. I am a human being first of all and Brazilians exemplify this more than anyone else. AG, asked me to read the book ‘Brazil – land of the future’ by Stefan Zweig. Zweig describes Brazil as a utopia with abundant opportunities.

Saturday 8 November

I got the keys to my flat on Friday but I could not go in before 6 pm; also I must not show myself to the porter between 8 and 12:30 on Saturday as well as from 8 – 6 from Mon to Wed. The reason is the lawyer needs the signature of my adviser’s wife and he would only be able to get it by next Wednesday.

I moved in on Friday at 7 pm; and there is another postdoc on the 7th floor and the estate agent has given me his number. If anybody asks, I must tell that I am staying at V’s place. I would not be able use my bike till Wednesday as I will need to access the garage and I do not have the code for the garage.

I wanted to wake up early and leave the flat before 8 am but I got up only at 7:45 am. With no fridge, no milk, no muesli or cereals, my b’fast consisted of a mango, two petite Brazilian sweets that I had saved from Friday (there was a party after the PhD defense of one of our lab members). I was still hungry but I diverted my attention towards unpacking my suitcase. I put away the kitchen items in a cupboard (the only furniture in the flat). The shower was not delivering hot water and there was a residual current on the shower knob. I went to estate agent at 12:30 and asked them to fix it.

I left the flat at 12:30, had a coffee and apple strudl at the German bakery; I got a new bus card at the terminal and topped up CM’s bus card that she had lent me; I left for Campinas where CM’s English-Spanish language school is located. I was going to meet her at 3 pm and I had an hour and a quarter to spend. Fortunately, I located a park on my windows phone (offline access is great) and I was at the park for an hour reading the text of ‘The childhood of Jesus’ by Coetzee, aloud. I came across a nicely written passage on desires and I was moved by it. I was taking a walk there after finishing a chapter and then walked towards the school at 2:45. I saw T(the administrator of the school), Carol and her mum (the owners). They are lovely people.

CM took me to the mall; I had  a long list but calmed her that I was not going to buy everything in one go. My international card does not allow payments to  be made over 10 months and they need the actual Brazilian debit card (and not just the account number) to make the payment in installments. I went ahead and bought the stove and a fridge for 1850 Reails (£460). I did not buy the washing machine as I did not have enough money.

I also spent £30 for an electric kettle, £25 for bedspread and a quilt (shawl was not enough as it gets much colder at night), invited CM for a coffee (Brazilians add so much chocolate in the bottom of the cup that I did not taste the coffee at all) and a cake. I learnt later that I must ask for cappucino traditional.

Getting an internet connection was not easy. The fibre connection from Vivo is not available for the building I live in. I had the option of taking a landline and add internet connection for R$60 per month. But the speed of 4 MBPS was less than that of Brockwood’s and it would take 10 working days. Moreover, I could not buy in my name as I do not have a permanent national identity number from the Federal Police. CM kindly gave her details and I decided to buy the 4G connection with a dongle for my laptop. I will have to buy a modem to make the wifi connection to access my iDevices. I pay R$130 for 20 GB download per month. I also have R$42 per month on my Windows Phone with 250 MB download, for emergency.

The living room did not have a light bulb and I decided to go to a supermarket to buy the essentials and I realised that I do not have a step ladder to access the socket. I still went to the supermarket and bought toilet brush & cleaner, cloth (green and red) to clean the sinks and toilets and squeegee for the shower.

Setting up the dongle was straight forward and the speed is around 8 MBPS. I am slowly setting in. The fridge and the stove will be delivered on Thursday.  I hope I have a meeting regarding the project on Monday, with AG. .

CM has been extremely helpful. It would have been difficult without her. Of course, the lab members are nice as well but CM is realy special.

Today I had my first earl grey tea in 15 days and had a soup (satchet) for lunch.

This mindmap lists all the things I did as a foreigner at UNICAMP. It was made using a fantastic iOS app called iThoughts.

Some pictures from my first three weeks can be viewed here.

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