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A year in Brazil

I took off at the beginning of August 2006 for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to do my Master’s 1 at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. As it was the southern hemisphere, I landed in the middle of the Brazilian winter… a perfect transition from summer in Brittany, 25° at departure and arrival!
After having set myself up in an apartment that a friend who had arrived before me had already rented, I began classes at the Fundão campus. A large island to the north of Rio, the campus houses the faculties of medicine, chemistry, physics, engineering, languages, letters, fine art and architecture! A bit different from the scale of Rennes!
My level of Portuguese was roughly zero (I looked at the first 10 lessons in the method from the French Assimil books when I arrived) I chose project material which would enable me to communicate through graphical elements: Architecture project, Urban design and landscaping project, and a class in natural lighting in museums. As well as these very architectural subjects, I registered with other French people (from Brittany, Versailles and Paris) on a Portuguese course for foreigners… the term was underway!
Next to the university is obviously the town… and everything in it was striking. Whether it was the immense scale of the favelas to the north, the hills plunging into the sea and brushing the sky-scrapers, or the famous beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana, Rio is like nowhere else. It is also the perfect spot for discovering the many facettes of Brazilian culture. From the Samba to the Forro, via Funk, it was compulsory to learn a few dance steps to not remain forever branded a Gringo.
The summer vacation means you can live the constant party that is Carnaval – drum concerts in the street and of course the lines of samba schools in the sambodromes…. eight hours of non-stop processions.
In the second term, I began my master’s course in parellel with my own university, which included among other things lessons on the history and modern architecture of Brazil….a lesson in concrete.
In short, an unforgettable year of exchange. Full of memories and new friends…. As the Brazilians would say, "Otimo!"

Tanguy Auffret-Postel

A year in Poland:

15 September 2007: The big day! After months of waiting and a 2 and a half hour plane trip, here we are, at last, in Warsaw! Our first impressions are good and we feel reassured. In fact, everyone we spoke to had so many preconceived ideas about Poland, but we chose to come here to see the reality for ourselves and, above all, to discover a culture that is different to ours, despite being quite close to France in geographical terms.
The first week was spent mainly looking for accommodation. Luckily, we had help from a number of Poles, because when you don’t speak Polish, it’s practically Mission: impossible! Finally, 6 days after our arrival, we moved into a city-centre apartment, 5 minutes from the university. Perfect! 
Early October: lessons got off to a somewhat chaotic start at the Polytechnic University of Warsaw. Some subjects are compulsory, such as the history of Polish architecture, structure, and economy. The other lessons consisted of architectural, urban planning and design projects. Standard lessons, but made all the more interesting by a teacher reluctant to speak English who insisted on speaking Polish to us. Thankfully, our colleagues were there to translate for us.
During corrections, we understood the importance of the climate on projects: it’s the main constraint here. From minus 30 degrees in winter to plus 30 degrees in summer, the climate can be quite extreme in Eastern Europe. We were spoilt this year because the temperature didn’t go below minus 17 degrees and in May it was already 25 degrees!
As for the language, unfortunately we didn’t have any Polish lessons. But despite that, at the end of the year, we had learnt the basics: “na zdrowie”, “dzieñ dobry”, “dziêkuyê bardzo”, etc.
Warsaw can appear austere at first, but you learn to love it. Among the vestiges of communism such as the Palace of Culture and Science, many buildings are springing up with differing levels of quality. It’s a thriving city that deserves our interest. 
The geographical situation of Warsaw and the lower cost of living than in France enabled us to explore further afield: Krakow, the former capital of Poland, Stockholm, Budapest, etc.
We will never forget this year and the great people we met, and we take home wonderful memories.
We hope that after reading this, people will say: “Warszawa, dlaczego nie?” (Warsaw, why not?)
 
Ludovic Plachot et Laurent Le Tallec ;-))
 
A year in Chile:
 
When you say “Chile”, people often don’t even know where this country is. And yet, at 4,300 km long, it has the most diverse landscapes: from the driest desert in the world, the Atacama, to Patagonia, with its spectacular glaciers, passing through volcanoes, mountains, islands, lakes and rivers, Chile takes us through all the hot climates: arid and desert-like, Mediterranean, oceanic and subtropical (yes, Chile also includes Easter Island!!!).
But when I set off, I didn’t know any of that. I just knew that Chile was in Latin America, that there had been Pinochet’s dictatorship and that I was going to spend a year there. I took off with my 3 companions on 25 July 2007 for the other side of the planet (11,500 km). When we got to Santiago, we discovered that our luggage had been lost en route. Our Spanish was just good enough to say that we were hungry and tired…and that we had to get to Valparaiso.
There, we discovered a great city, built on the sides of the Andean Cordillera, which plunges into the sea practically vertically here (good for your calf muscles: Valparaiso is all ups and downs!). This city’s particularity, shared by other places in the country, is that it has been developed without architects, and without development plans (which is somewhat contradictory to what we’re studying). Valparaiso is colourful, with houses overlapping each other, and you wonder how it all stays standing. This all provides a number of panoramic views of the bay, with the mountains, the sea, the colours, the daylight, night time, etc.
A few days after our arrival, we went to check out the university where we would be taking lessons. In one of the city’s “cerro”, it encompasses the design, urban planning and civil engineering departments. The educational system in Chile is very similar to the American system. This means that in Valparaiso alone there are 7 schools of architecture. We were able to choose the lessons we wanted and chose those on architectural theory, fractal theory, urban design and the project workshop. Classes in Chile are not like classes in France: in Chile, you have to work on your own, on a topic or subject given by the teachers. There aren’t conferences in the lecture hall with slideshows, pictures and sound. Although the technology exists, it is not widely used yet. 
To be truthful, Chile is just coming out of many years of dictatorship and is getting back on its feet. The comfort is not the same as in France (no heating in houses, no nice, clean streets), but you shouldn’t expect either to live like a prince: the cost of living (apart from rent) is almost the same as in France.
The geographical situation of Chile and Valparaiso meant we were able to go on some fabulous trips: we went to Machu Picchu, Easter Island, we explored deserts, geysers, glaciers, volcanoes, and we saw tropical fish, penguins…all in one year.
As for the Chileans, they are wonderful people, always ready to do a favour, to help, to party and to eat meat: even though many people are vegetarians, the favourite dish of the Chileans is a large chunk of meat “a la parilla” (grilled).
I’ll be going home in a few days’ time and taking so many memories with me, of the spectacular landscapes and the wonderful people I’ve met here…and the hope to come back one day.
 
Servane Migaud.