Top ten things
Belo Horizonte offers an extensive list of museums and galleries which will no doubt be on the top of your cultural to-do list, but in case you’re looking for something a little less generic, here is a list of the local gems which can offer a more personal experience of the city.
The campus: Although it might sound silly, spending a few hours between classes getting lost around campus is actually highly entertaining. The grounds seem never ending, and wandering around you will find students practising at a drumming jam session, learning how to tightrope walk, or having a debate in an abandoned courtyard. It’s also a great idea to check out each department eatery – Music, for example, may treat you to some live samba while you eat your omelette. Also – check out the hundreds of cats in Letras.
Praça do Papa and Parque Mangabeiras: Praca do Papa is a great day out – just make sure you don’t go when it’s raining as there is no shelter. The square looks out over the city from high in the hills, from a quiet distance. Here you can buy a coconut to drink and you can also go for a walk around the Parque Mangabeiras which takes you even higher up for even better views.
The Estadios (Independencia e Mineirão): If you like football, this is a great way to have a day out and get involved with something that is close to the heart of almost every Brazilian. The smaller of the two stadiums, independencia, is not far from Santa Tereza and hosts local games, while Mineirao, situated near the UFMG campus, hosts bigger inter-city games and sometimes concerts.
Santa Tereza (bridge, square, train): Santa Tereza is the bohemian part of town, where there is always something going on. The suburb starts once you cross the famous Viaduto Santa Tereza from Praça Sete, which takes you over the old train lines and station. The area under the viaduct is used for all sorts of public student-organised events, which includes Brazil’s most famous weekly rap battle (or Duelo de Mcs) which takes place every Friday at about 8.30pm. The main square in Santa Tereza also hosts events, such as live concerts or festivals, as well as being home to some of the best restaurants, bars, or cafes for a lazy breakfast.
Lagoa de Pampulha: The Pumpulha Lake is about half an hour’s walk from UFMGs campus and is the perfect way to spend the morning or afternoon. Next to the lake, you can find a bicycle hire shop where for about £10 you can hire a bike for a few hours. The route around the lake is about 18km has many interesting stop-off points along the way. Most satisfying perhaps, are the works of Brazil’s most famous architect, Oscar Niemeyer, such as his chapel or the old casino (now an art museum)
Ouro Preto: Ouro Preto was Minas Gerais’ former capital during colonial times. The tiny city has some of the region’s best architecture and museums which offer some of the most significant elements of Brazil’s history. It is also a student town, so there are endless parties and events to attend if you know the right people.
Bar do Cabral: Bar do Cabral is a bar situated opposite the main entrance to UFMG and, being open from 10am until the early hours of the morning every week day, is a great place to hang out before, between, or even after class. The bar is run by Cabral, a little old man who will be more than happy to practise his english and tell you some old stories. The drinks are all cheap and there is even a juke box – and next door is one of the city’s best pastel shops.
Inhotim: Inhotim is a great place to go for a day trip on a Saturday. The coaches leave promptly at 9.30 from the central bus station the Rodoviaria and come back at around 4.30pm. Inhotim hosts an enormous collection of outdoor interative modern art and offers a beautiful setting for a peaceful back-to-nature day out.
Parque Municipal e o Mercado: On a lazy, sunny Sunday, the best thing you can do is go for a stroll in the city’s main park, the Parque Municipal, followed by visiting the Artesenal Market. The Market dominates the entirety of Avenida Afonso Pena, and sells anything from hand made shoes to Bahian style fried prawns.
Savassi and Praça Sete: For a slightly more upmarket night out, the best place is Savassi, which is home to many more European style restaurants. As well as this, the city’s best clubs and bars are dotted around the area, with anything from rock and roll nights to 80’s style DJs. If you want something more Brazilian, head to any of the bars nearer Praca Sete, which are identifiable by the plastic garden tables and chairs that spill onto the streets – or, for a student dominated area try the abandoned shopping mall.
The Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais is just outside the center of the small city of Belo Horizonte. Although the university has its own campus accommodation, this is not usually available to exchange student, but keep in mind that if you have a serious problem and speak to the right people, exceptions have been known to be made! The only secure option therefore, is to rent a room or an apartment in the city for your stay. As Belo Horizonte is very much a student city, there will be many options with short lets, shared rooms, and great services from landlords, however, renting directly from a landlord is next to impossible, even for Brazilians, so don’t be put off by student houses, or republicas being run by other students, with cash-in-hand payments and no individual contracts.
Arriving: As it can be a little difficult and stressful to set up accommodation before arriving, the best thing to do is to check into a hostel or hotel for your first week or so, while you get a feel for the city, explore the transport system, and start searching for accommodation from within. As Belo Horizonte is quite small and not very touristy, the only places you will find to stay will be in the center.
Some good websites to use for booking and researching hostels/hotels are:
www.hostelworld.com www.roughguides.com www.lonelyplanet.com
And once you’re there, the best place to start looking for accommodation would be either at the university campus itself, where there are many posters and adverts up all over the place, at local estate agents, or online.
Easyquarto is a great website which allows you to look up spare rooms, and for a little extra cost you can maintain more secure contact between you and the people letting the accomodation. However, as explained before, manyrepublicas are organized by students themselves, so the best thing to do is to get talking your new classmates!
Bus – Wherever you live in Belo Horizonte, you will end up having to use the bus, as it is the only form of transport that goes to most areas of the city, and many buses even run all night. However, you will be lucky to find a bus stop with any bus route or timetable information, so make sure to check everything online and ask the ticket collector, who is always happy to help, if you are not sure. Also keep in mind that the buses are heavily affected by rush hour and that journey times can take 2 or 3 times longer at these times!
Despite the recent protests, the bus costs around R$2.80 and there are travel cards available with deals for people who have to change buses.
Internal buses – There are great free buses for within the campus (which is quite big and confusing) for anyone living near the university, near or within the campus accommodations, or even for people who simply need to get from one side to another. However, some buses require special ID, so make sure to find out before you board.
Metro – although there is a fully functioning and quite organized metro system in Belo Horizonte, the areas it reaches are quite limited, and unfortunately do not reach the university. However, incase you are living further out and need to get into the city to get a bus, here is the map. At R$1.80 per journey, the metro is cheaper than the bus, and runs until about midnight.
(please note that when checked on 23/10/2013, only Linha 1 was functioning for the foreseeable future due to building projects)
Pampulha: Pampulha is the area nearest the university, and covers a range of smaller zones (such as Santa Teresinha or Rua Boaventura) which many students choose to live in. Renting in this area is of an average price (around R$400-600 a month), however you should take into consideration that it is a good half an hour from the centre, so if what you’re after is more nightlife, this might not be the place for you!
Santa Tereza, Floresta, Sagrada Familia: These areas, especially Santa Tereza, are in the more bohemian part of town. Santa Tereza regularly hosts free concerts or other arts events, and the houses in this area are much older and European-looking, which large green areas and blossoming trees at every corner. Transport is good, and prices are average, so if you want something a bit closer to the alternative student scene, but don’t mind a bit more of a trek to university, this is the place for you.
Praça Sete: Praca Sete is in the main centre of the city, and some great places can be found if you look hard enough, however the area isn’t the safest, especially at night. However, if you can brave this, the area will be great for going out and getting around.
Savassi: Savassi, just south of the main centre, is the more exclusive side of town. Accomodation here will be more expensive but the advantage is the safety and modernity, as well as more classy restaurants, bars, and shopping centres.
Carlos Prates: Carlos Prates is also a popular area for students, for the prices and transport connections. However, be aware that not much really goes on in this area, and apart from mechanics and bicycle shops, there are not many places to hang out.
Catering: Buying food to cook in supermarkets can be a bit of a hassle and a little expensive if you are on a typical student budget, so most people eat out. In Belo Horizonte, most places work with buffet-style food which you either pay for before and take unlimited amounts, or pay by weight. In most departments there are great cantinas, but if you want more value for money make sure to check out the student catering called ‘Bandejão’, which costs just R$4.20… but remember you will need your matricula (proof of study) or your student visa to get this price.
Things to consider
- Price range
- Length of stay
- Who you will be living with
- Distance to the nearest bus stop
During your application to UFMG, you should have already chosen between four and eight ‘cursos’ from one particular department, for example ‘Belas Artes’ or ‘Ciencias Sociais’. However, the great thing with UFMG is that upon arrival you can not only change these modules, but mix them up, choosing up to five different classes from five different departments. The vast majority of modules are for one semester only, so if you are staying the whole year you will get the chance to choose again later on.
In UFMG there will be both ‘optativos’ and ‘obligatorios’. As an exchange student, you should choose the optativos, as they are far more interesting and are specific to Brazil. At UFMG you usually have to take 5×4 credit modules, making a total of 20 credits, however, some classes will be worth more or less, usually depending on the number of contact hours and workload, so make sure! Modules can be checked on the website.
Assessment, like in King’s, is usually a combination of coursework, end of term written exams, and a presentation. As there are so many course options, many classes are a very practical size of about 5-10 students and, similar to seminars, work by reading a text every week, and discussing it openly in class with your fellow students and tutor. An assessed presentation will usually be allocated and will consist of you presenting a topics to your classmates before the teacher expands on it.
The set-up of exams in UFMG is much less formal than what you will be used to, so if, for example, you are feeling a lack of confidence about a timed exam to be written in Portuguese, you can always speak to the teacher and see if they can offer you a less pressurized form of assessment. Attendance and participation is also important, so make sure to show up and give your opinion in class, even if you are feeling shy.
Exams usually happen at the in the middle and at the end of the semester, and again this can be flexible, so be sure to let your individual teachers know if you need to head home or to get to your next semester in another country.
After your initial ‘exchange student’ briefing at UFMG, you will quickly become familiar with the friendly Study Abroad team, who are always on hand to help with any general problems and initial admin. Their office is called the ‘DR’ and they are located in the middle of the campus. However, for any more specific problems, such as obtaining proof of study or changing modules etc, you will have to go to the individual department administration offices, which have much more Brazilian opening and closing times.
If you have any doubts, or need advice on what courses are good to take, you can always write to your department at home who should be able to put you in contact with someone who has been to UFMG before.
As a student at UFMG, you can gain access to any of the libraries on site, which usually have great areas to study in and even free computers.
To print things, you can go to most departments which will print straight from email or via their computers (watch out for the queues for the latter) and they also have their own genius system of documenting any compulsory and optional reading material for every course (book extracts, articles etc) which you can print at a low cost.
At UFMG, there will be many free events (plays and concerts etc), meetings, political debates, and even extra-curricular classes such as yoga organized by students.
If you are on a student budget, there is an eatery called ‘Bandejão’, which costs just R$4.20… but remember you will need your matricula (proof of study) or your student visa to get this price.
On the UFMG campus there is even a gym with a pool which costs just R$10 to join!
When applying for a Student Visa for Brazil, you will be required
a) to make the application from your country of permanent residence and
b) to give them proof of study and results from your previous semester.
This means that if you completed your first study abroad semester in Mexico, for example, you should make sure to obtain proof of study (which can be a lengthy process) before you go home to make the visa application, or it could be a wasted trip.
During the day on a Friday or Saturday in Belo Horizonte you have lots of great options. One would be taking yourself on the walking tour of Santa Tereza and the Municipal park. Starting in Santa Terezas square, where there are usually bands or events according to the time of year, you can cross the Viaducto Santa Tereza, under which you’ll see one of Brazil’s oldest train lines. On the other side of the bridge, entering the city centre, you will arrive at the Municipal Park, a stunning and peaceful 45 acres of exotic trees, garden, ponds, birds and cats. Many, many cats.
Saturday morning is an especially good opportunity to attempt a day trip. One option is Inhotim, an outdoor contemporary art museum that stretches across 3,000 acres and offers the most bizarre modern artwork, interactive experiences, and impressive natural landscape. The bus leaves from the Rodoviaria on platform F2 at 09.15 and will bring you back at 17.00. A further option is Ouro Preto, one of the country’s most impressive colonial mining towns where you can learn all about the most important period of Brazil’s history in the countless museums, visit one of the hundreds of churches, or venture into one of the old mines. A word of advice: watch out for the very steep hills, and be prepared to work hard to get around.
Sunday mornings are the perfect opportunity to get yourself to the Artisan Market held on Avenida Afonso Pena, in front of the municipal park. The market sells artisanal products ranging from Northeastern traditional foods, to shoes, to furniture – all at very reasonable prices and mostly all hand-made (watch out for fakes!).
Another great morning or afternoon activity is to visit the Lagoa de Pampulha in the North West of the city, right next to UFMG. The lake is outlined by 18km of pathways for visitors to either walk or cycle along which are dotted with amazing views, weird wildlife (including a harmless old alligator and families of capybaras) and lots of architectural treats – the lake is home to five works of the famous Oscar Niemeyer, including an old boat house and one of Brazil’s first casinos.
Weekend evenings are a great time to check out some of the city’s finer eateries. Heading into town towards between Praça Sete and Savassi, you will find an array of colourful and very different places. Most restaurants in Minas work with a ‘buffet’ system, where you can pile as much as you want on your plate and just pay for the weight of the food, or if you’re lucky, a set price. You will also see lots of places which will be referred to as ‘copo sujo’ – which refers to the tacky plastic garden chairs and tables and lack of anything on the menu that isn’t beer. But don’t be put off, these places are great for get-togethers; they are cheap and cheerful and you can order a great deal of tapa-style dishes to share.
Shopping Malls are also a great option for eating – they usually have a whole floor dedicated to restaurants and fast food. If you prefer something a bit more upmarket, Savassi will offer just that, with traditional European style restaurants with table service and excellent dishes.
For a great night out, Savassi and Praça Sete are the places to stay. Either stay out in the bars or hit some of the area’s clubs such as Velvet or Na Sala. On a Friday night it is worth checking out UFMG’s own local bar – Bar do Cabral – where students stay until the early hours dancing to the jukebox.
Here I am, coming to the end of term, and it has been exactly seven months since I returned from the last leg of my travels through Brazil, and almost nineteen months since I first set foot on the tarmac at Mexico City’s international airport. So what are my thoughts?
For anyone who watches the Big Bang Theory, post-travel syndrome will have been understood as Wolowitz’s incessant bragging and reminiscing. Is this a reality? Absolutely. In the past seven months, I have constantly found myself, much to everyone’s annoyance, thinking about how one year ago today I climbed a volcano or one year ago today I was celebrating Mexican Independence Day and so on and so forth. Unlike Wolowitz however, I have mostly learned to subdue my reliving of the past, and keep it between the people who I travelled with.
Does this mean that my year abroad is now sitting calmly in the back of my mind alongside all the other forgotten bits of history? Of course not. In fact, I would go as far to say that my year aboard experience has shaped almost every decision I have made since arriving back at King’s. The first thing I did, for example, was apply for and take on a part-time job at the study abroad office as a Peer Advisor – my main jobs being to help other students about to go abroad, and to help incoming exchange students settle in. However, this probably encouraged more of the Wolowitz-esque obsessive talk than necessary.
To be completely honest, coming back at first was not at all easy. After seeing and learning so much, falling in love with so many aspects of the places I visited and settled in, and having so many freedoms, it was excruciating to have to return to something old; to stop learning and seeing as it were, and to settle back into a normal life of routine and responsibility. For one, I made the bad habit of never living in the same place for more than about a month for fear of settling in too much and not having the courage to leave again.
But speaking from the other side of this experience, I can say that it was entirely worth it. Academically, the year abroad was absolutely priceless. The direct contact with Mexican and Brazilian culture gave me a basic but genuine passion for my subject that I had never had before; it has given me direction in my degree and final year dissertation and, to many people’s surprise, a desire to continue in post-graduate education. It meant I could make the most of my time at King’s, something I now appreciate all the more. And, let’s be honest; my spoken Portuguese is now so amazing that people believe I’m Brazilian if I say so.
Spiritual and academic awakenings aside, I must take the opportunity to underline just how exciting the near future is looking. I am just about to finish my degree, I have applied for an English teaching assistantship placement through the British Council in Chile, and in about ten days I will be going to Argentina to tour a couple of universities that I might apply to for a Master’s. For someone who not long ago wasn’t exactly very aware of the world, not so great grades, and no idea of what she wanted to do in life, I can safely say that studying abroad was most literally the best thing I could ever have decided to do.
And most importantly is the improvement to my love life. I am now in a deep and meaningful relationship with Tequila.