Alumni Spotlight: Monica Fonseca

Hey people! My name is Monica and I am from London, United Kingdom. I am an undergraduate at King's College University studying Hispanic, Portuguese & Brazilian studies. I'm currently preparing for my study abroad in Europe that will take off in a month! But first, I wanted to share the amazing experience I had volunteering in Rio de Janeiro.

A young girl posing for a picture.

Why did you pick this program?

In 2010, my sixth form (or as in the States you call it 'high school') held a university fair for us students to have a better idea of which universities would be best suited for us. As well as that, there were stools that spoke about the other alternatives, such as joining the army.

Volunteering abroad was one of those options. It was the first time I heard about it, and I just remember falling in love with the idea of making a difference in a less fortunate country, when speaking to a past volunteer.

So since then, it's always been on my bucket list. Everyone has their #1 dream destination they'd like to visit, and Rio has always been my #1. They don't call it 'A Cidade Maravilhosa' for nothing!

For one, no other country can do Carnival like they do (believe me, I lived it!), and everywhere you turn there's always a beautiful view that takes your breath away. I worked on two different programs - Childcare and Teaching English, and both were amazing.

Seeing the reaction of the little ones when you walked through the classroom door, and how grateful your students were to have you helping them, was the most rewarding feeling I've ever had.

What do you wish someone had told you before you went abroad?

To be more open minded and relaxed! As soon as I told people I was going to Brazil, the frequent reactions I would get were 'WHAT? Oh my god you're so brave! Aren't you scared? It's so dangerous'. The first couple of weeks I was definitely very cautious about what I was wearing, and who was around me when I walked on the street.

But I learned that Brazil is a very humble country, and if you involve yourself in the culture and not act like such an outsider, people won't treat you like one. Sure, things happen anyway.

But like in every other country in the world, things can always happen. All I can say is, after two months in Brazil I arrived back in the UK safe, healthy, unharmed and still with an iPhone 5 ;D

What is the most important thing you learned abroad?


The scariest thing about going to Brazil for two months was the fact I had never been so far away from home. I had never been out of Europe before this trip and I knew there were going to be times I was going to be out of my comfort zone.

By the end of my time there, I was able to do things on my own rather than to rely on my program coordinators. I went from being the girl who feared the dangers on the streets of Rio to having no problem traveling into the city center on my own, or maybe the neighborhood where the biggest favela of South America is – Rocinha.

Adjusting to living out of a suitcase, in a house with 40 other volunteers.

This part was so out of my comfort zone at first. I felt claustrophobic at times, struggling to find a place to put my suitcase or how I was going to cook my dinner with so many people in one house and just one tiny kitchen.

But in the end this is the thing I miss the most. I was so used to living this way, I loved it, and I loved even more waking up to these people everyday and spending it with them.

What do you tell your friends who are thinking about going abroad?

A group of people posing for a picture.

DO IT! DO ITTTTT! We’re so caught up with how society wants us to behave, such as going straight into university or constantly be working because ‘life isn’t easy and we should take any chance we get to earn more money so we won’t have to struggle in the future’.

But this isn’t living. In the future it’s these experiences that we’re going to treasure the most and never regret.

What's your favorite story to tell about your time abroad?

If I had to choose one experience to talk about, it would be about the day one of my students took me to his house in the biggest favela of South America – Rocinha. One of my housemates and me, Jeremy, arrived early to the surfing school where we would teach English to some kids from the neighborhood.

Most of them were surfers, the others would attend cause it was the closest place to learn English, and it was also for free. So Ricardo, the surf teacher, suggested Rodrigo to give us a tour of the favela. He took us to his house, and straight away it was an eye-opener for me and J. They had so little, yet were so content.

He introduced us to his mum and brother, and then took us to his roof, which had a view of the Rocinha favela. It was breathtaking. As he played his guitar, me and J spoke about how lucky we are and how much we take for granted.

We then had lunch with him and his mum, and ate some authentic 10/10 Brazilian food! After we finished, J then said to ‘When will you be able to say again that you had a Brazilian lunch in a local’s house in the biggest favela of South America’. It was the most incredible experience, and it’s a memory I am always going to carry with me.

A group of young students gathered together.

What made this trip meaningful to you, or how did this trip change your perceptions, future path?

The thing that made this experience has to be my amazing housemates. I made best friends with people from other places of the world and I am so blessed to have met them all. We now all share this amazing bond and experience together that none else will ever know or understand, no matter how many times we will talk about our experience to other people.

After two months, I went back home with a different outlook on life. I'm more grateful of the things that I have, and I cannot say this enough times but this experience really was the best thing that ever happened to me and changed me forever. Rio has now a great place in my heart and I can’t wait to go back!