Message from Ruben in Brazil


Olá! My name is Ruben Oliemans, and I am currently studying Environmental Science (ESSET) at Avans University of Applied Sciences in Breda. Here I will tell something about my abroad experience in Brazil, where I did an internship via the Living Labs exchange program.

Reason for an internship at the Living Labs Brazil

Basically, I started looking for internships abroad and wanted to go to a completely different country to experience another culture and live abroad. I’ve been to South America on holidays before and enjoyed my time there. This triggered me to look for an internship position in the region of South America. Along the way, I got to know more about Brazil, and after a while, I was pretty interested in Brazil and the Brazilian lifestyle. As well as wanting to experience the life of Samba and Caipirinha’s, which worked out very well. I decided to go to Belo Horizonte based on what I read about the city on the internet and other students’ experiences. In the end, I am very glad about my choice. I was able to experience life in a big city, as well as the warmth of Minas Gerais and its people.

For the internship place itself, I started looking both at the Living Labs program and at other companies in Brazil. After looking at the subjects of the available professors, and assignments from previous students, I thought I could find a nice internship place via the Living Labs. I contacted one of the professors, and we started meeting online and discussing a possible assignment. My professor gave me a direction for an assignment, but also gave me a lot of freedom in defining my own assignment. I discussed with my professor the possibility of doing fieldwork, and we found an assignment where we could do some fieldwork trips, which made me very enthusiastic. In general, I became enthusiastic about the idea of going to Brazil for six months and doing this internship. That’s when I started arranging everything to go.

Internship subject

My internship is at the Centro de Sensoriamento Remoto (CSR), which is a cartography department of the UFMG. Here they work a lot with GIS and Environmental Modelling of the Brazilian landscape (cover & use). My professor wanted to be more involved in the growing biofuel industry and the possible Land Use Change that is correlated with it. When I came to Brazil we started narrowing the assignment down to biodiesel specifically, and how native (oil-containing) species can play a role in the growing biodiesel demand while still preserving native vegetation. After fieldwork trips, interviews, and a lot of literature reviews, we have been focussing on the potential of using the species macaúba (type of palm) as a feedstock for biodiesel (or other higher valued products) production. I noticed that especially for my type of assignment, a lot can change from how you initially thought how the internship would go. It’s hard to make an estimation in advance about what’s possible and not. And after starting the research and doing fieldwork trips you get new insights as well.

Many assignments given on the list of possible internship subjects are more lab-based, where you can assist a professor in their research in a lab assignment. But there are more than enough opportunities to do an internship outside of the lab. I do most of my internship at my office, with two fieldwork trips that lasted about a week each. These trips were amazing experiences as you’ll get to experience the country life in Minas Gerais and see beautiful nature.

Preparations before the trip

I started my preparations for the internship in May, and the plan was to go to Brazil at the beginning of August. I was very glad that I started a few months in advance, as there are some processes you have to go through which can take quite some time. The biggest challenge and time-consuming process were preparing the documents for the visa request. The consulate has a list of required documents which you’ll need to request at the corresponding organization and get legalized at court as well. In general, if you start on time and make sure to meet the requirements you should be able to get everything arranged on time. The UFMG has a buddies program, where incoming international students are connected to one or more Brazilian students whom they can contact for small useful tips and help. For me, this was very helpful, as I was able to stay at one of my buddy’s place for the first few days in Belo Horizonte. In general, if you plan on going to Brazil for an exchange, some preparation is needed, but if you stay on it you’ll get everything arranged. It shouldn’t be too much of a worry as you’ll be able to have an amazing time in Brazil after everything is ready!

Tips for students going to Brazil

So should you make the decision to go to Brazil (good choice;), then starting on time with preparations is my main advice. Also getting the internship place at your preferred professor or subject is a step you want to get done in advance. As time progresses, more professors start to make arrangements with students, so there will be fewer places and choices available. So the earlier you are, the bigger the chance your preferred professor/topic is still available. After you have chosen one or more topics you can meet your professor online and then you can really get an idea of what is expected of the assignment and can discuss more in-depth about the internship.

Regarding visas, I think the most time-consuming step was getting the acceptance letter from the UFMG. The consulate made new requirements for the letter, therefore the UFMG had to adapt their letter specifically for the student, which took time because of the required approval from directories. Hopefully, this step will go more smooth in the future. I can also recommend trying and get in contact with either the UFMG or the consulate whenever there is a delay or problem with a document and explaining what you need from them. The administration office has many applications and sometimes getting them to do a certain action needs some reminders.

Regarding all other visa documents, there is a list given out by the consulate, my advice is to look up for every document what the procedure is at the related organization. And be sure to read the consulate’s instructions carefully, when they indicate a certain document needs to be legalized (you can do this quite easily at a court), your visa request will not be approved if you do not have this legalization/stamp.


Around the university, you will be able to get around with English, as a lot of professors and students can speak English. For many other places, and to make life easier in Brazil, I think it’s useful to learn at least some Portuguese. So I would recommend taking a beginner course in Portuguese before you arrive, or following a Portuguese course in Brazil. Note that if you start learning beforehand, try to find a course/teacher that teaches Brazilian Portuguese instead of European Portuguese, so it’s more useful. There are plenty of platforms where people offer themselves as a language teacher, here you could find someone who focuses on Brazilian Portuguese. I find speaking at least some Portuguese very useful as you’ll be able to understand and speak at least something and are able to communicate at least to some degree.

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