A year in advance, Maximilian Göltz and his friend began preparing for a semester abroad in Brazil in 2014. This involved contacting professors, searching for universities and studying Portuguese. As a MAP-student, I successfully applied for an educational travel grant. Taking advantage of the good relationship between the FAU’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering (Institute of Glass and Ceramics) and the Federal University of Santa Catarina’s (UFSC) Department of Material Science, located in south Brazil, we applied and were accepted for a master semester at UFSC . The UFSC is located in Florianópolis, capital of the state Santa Catarina. The main part of the city is on a large island, including the historic centre and the campus. The university is quite large and hosts a wide range of courses.
The Department of Engineering houses the scientific group of Professor Carlos Rambo, who acted as my host and supervised my mini-project. A part of this project included the synthesis of TiO2-nanoparticles for printable photovoltaics. In parallel I also visited five lectures on image processing, powder-metallurgy, processing of ceramics, materials for sustainable construction and fracture mechanic of brittle materials. In the latter, I held a small presentation on an experiment on determination of fracture toughness.
All lectures, examinations and presentations (also the one presented by myself) were held in Portuguese, so my language skills rapidly improved. The content of the lectures was interesting, ranging from car bodies out of banana-peel composite, powder-metallurgy for alloying, industrial scale concrete production and a large background to fracture mechanics. Personally, however, the more important lessons were the things learned outside the lecture room: the different structure of the university and education system in Brazil, the personal contact with my co-workers in the lab and all the everyday-survival skills in a foreign country.
The research on my mini-project went well, despite the difficulties encountered, as the group was relatively small and we had to rely on equipment from other groups. Bureaucracy, if not more than in Germany, proved to be slower in Brazil. For example, to get an official SEM-appointment took 3 months! However, things improved when the Brazilian speciality “jeitinho brasileiro” came into play: i.e. using the “backdoor” that opened when you suddenly meet the SEM operator on the soccer field and have a beer together after the game. This manoeuvring around obstacles was also handy when the library was closed, due to strikes for 3 of the 6 months of my stay, and various other occasions.
The Brazilian people were always incredibly helpful and understanding when a gringo needed help or advise – in office and on the street. A relatively large percentage of people living in south Brazil have German ancestors, with Germany and the German culture being highly respected. For example, the largest Beer-and “Oktoberfest” in the whole of America and the second largest folk festival in Brazil, is held annually in Blumenau, four bus-hours away, second in size only to the carnival.
As my friend and I wanted to get some impressions of this beautiful country, we made several trips. Our Brazilian friends and colleagues were very supportive here: in each city we visited, they organised with a friend or relative living in the city, that we were not only welcomed in their home, but that we were also fetched from the airport, shown the city and taken care of. We had some lovely experiences and insights of Brazilian culture: carnival in Floripa, Easter with a friend at her family´s and grandparents´ home in Curitiba, and birthday celebrations at the beach. Our stay in Brazil also enabled us to visit two of the world cup football matches (GER-GHA and GER-ALG) and to travel to Rio on the night of the final.
We also explored the island Floripa: some of the island´s 60 beaches are easily reached by bus, while others are remote and can only be reached by hiking up to three hours through bush and forest. We also made a 12-hour hike on the mainland, close to the city, to the top of Mount Cambirella, which lies at an altitude of exactly 1000m above sea level. An important lesson learnt here: a true Brazilian undertakes this hike in Flip-Flops!
After all my experiences in Brazil, I can strongly encourage and recommend other interested students to experience the adventure of a stay abroad. It will enrich your professional and most of all your personal experience in an exceptional and fantastic way.