Isabela Rocha Talks Growing Up in Brazil and Starting Her Own Radio Show

Last semester, I decided on a whim to take Women’s and Gender Studies 101. As a veteran front-row seater, I always pick a spot on the first day of class closest to the lecturers. To my surprise, someone decided to sit down right next to me, and that person was Isabela.

Isabela is a Boston University freshman majoring in Journalism in COM and minoring in Women’s and Gender Studies in CAS (just like me)! She is an international student from São Paulo, Brazil, who loves documentaries, collecting glass bottles, and going out to get coffee with her friends.

The two of us hit it off immediately on that fateful day back in September. I couldn’t believe how similar we were, considering that we came from two different cultures and were separated by over 6,000 miles. We got closer each time we chatted before class to a point where it felt like we had known each other forever.

One day I brought up the classic rock radio show on WTBU that I’m involved with, and I encouraged Isabela to become an intern on a show too. Her passion and excitement immediately drove her to follow through on this suggestion, and this semester she is a certified DJ with her own show. I sat down with Isabela recently to talk about her life in Brazil, why she started a radio show about Brazilian culture, and her impressions of BU so far.

Credit: Isabela Rocha

What was it like growing up in Brazil?

“It was good! I was at a private, co-ed Catholic school, but I feel like there’s a culture where boys and girls can’t be friends, so I had a really big girls' group. I studied for thirteen years in the same school, so in the last year, I would just wake up and be like I have seen your faces every day for the last thirteen years … We became like a family, so I have a big, strong bond with my friends.”

“There’s also the safety problem, which kind of sucks, so my dad wouldn’t let me go out a lot and walk around. You always have to be in a taxi because Ubers are not safe. There was always somebody picking me up. For the first half [of my life] I was very bougie––no, it’s true, because of my private Catholic school––and then I started playing water polo [note: she was thirteen at the time] and I met these girls who were from lower income backgrounds. They showed me a whole new world out of the high society, and they put my feet on the ground about a lot of stuff. I used to live in a bubble, but they took me out of the bubble. It was fun, and I got to meet a whole different Brazil I didn’t know.”

Credit: Isabela Rocha

Why did you start playing water polo?

“We don’t have sports in high schools. We have institutions that are called sports clubs. Not a lot of people are committed to sports in high school because you have to actually go to a sports club and play professionally. You can’t play for fun. Usually, these clubs are more social projects because we got a salary, we practiced three times a day, and it was a lot of work. It’s really like a lifestyle you have to choose, but it was fun.”

What was your experience in school life like?

“Every single year, we were required to take the same subjects. We were given our subjects and we couldn’t pick anything. You have to take math, physics, biology, history, Portuguese, writing, … I forget the rest. We would have a lot of school work, so we would have school from 8 a.m. to 4:20 p.m.”

Why did you decide to go to school in the United States?

“Actually, it was always my dad’s dream. He went to university in Brazil, but when he wanted to go to graduate school he wanted to do it here. He applied and passed to go to Chicago or something, but he didn’t have the money to pay for it, so he ended up getting a scholarship to a very good university in Brazil. Now he wants me and my sister to come and grab the opportunity he never had. I never thought about studying here, but he gave me this opportunity so I don’t want to waste it.”

Credit: Isabela Rocha

Did you come to BU with the intention of pursuing a communications-related major? What brought you to that?

“Yeah! Growing up, I never asked myself what did I like and what I didn’t because of the school system of Brazil. No one asks you what you’re interested in and nobody motivates you to look for your interest. When I got into senior year I asked myself what do I want to do, and then I started planning. I thought I liked communicating and writing and reading, so I thought journalism, let’s go!”

What about your minor?

“It was accidental. I was always interested in gender and sexuality, but I wanted to know a little bit more about it. It was kind of a shot in the dark. I was picking my classes and I was like oh, that looks interesting, and I might want to learn a little bit of that. Then I fell in love with the class, and then I took the second one. … It’s so cool.”

Do you find that being an international student affects your life at BU?

“I had a really hard time just because American culture is very different. It’s hard because Brazil has this really family-focused culture, and there’s the bad side, because everyone is always like giving their opinion on your life and just saying what you should do and what you shouldn’t. The good thing is [Americans] don’t do that, but you guys are individualists and I feel like a little bit cold. In Brazil, if you become friends with somebody you’re gonna be friends-friends with them unless you really grow apart. I feel like here, it is so weird when someone’s like, ‘oh yeah, I was friends with this person last semester, but we don’t talk anymore,’ and I’m like, ‘what do you mean?’ It’s kind of weird to me, so that was hard for me and impacted my life as an international student.”

What’s your favorite part about going to school in Boston? What’s your least favorite?

“I love that BU is right in the middle of the city, so you can just take the T and go anywhere you want. It’s not hard to go off-campus. I love that we’re right next to the river. There’s good food. There are lots of things to do. Here we have so many options. My least favorite part is living on campus because I think it’s very overwhelming, because we study in the same place we sleep, and the same place we eat, so that bothers me.”

Credit: Isabela Rocha

Tell me a little bit about how you formed your radio show.

“My radio show is called “Rock in Rio.” To have a radio show on WTBU you need to have station involvement. Last semester, I didn’t do a lot of station involvement, but I really wanted my own show to talk about Brazil. I have another show with American friends, but I really wanted a show that was about Brazil and [where] we could play Brazilian music. I was at the staff meeting and the guy just said, ‘Hey, we really need someone to fill up the Saturday midnight to two a.m. slot. No one wants to do that so please take it, we’re desperate.’ I was like, ‘Yup, I want a radio show for myself!’ It was like the door had opened and I was like, ‘Yup, I’m going there.’ I texted my Brazilian friends and I was like, ‘Please guys, we have to do this. They’re not going to let me do it by myself,’ so then I put both of my friends as interns.”

What kinds of topics do you cover?

The idea of my show is to just compare American culture to Brazilian culture. We’ve had some pretty cool debates. We’ve had a debate about drugs and the legalization of drugs, we’ve had a debate about stereotypes, how Americans are viewed in the Brazilian eye, [and] how Brazilians are viewed in an American eye.

Based on your experiences, what do you think is one of the biggest differences between Brazilian and American culture?

“I think two main things. The first one is about what I said before about individualists and independence. It’s not a bad thing in a lot of ways. It’s good that each person takes care of their own life and I think it makes you become way more mature. If I was in Brazil, somebody would certainly do my laundry, somebody would certainly make my bed, I wouldn’t have to cook, I wouldn’t have to do anything. In [America], it’s basically like they send you an email like, ‘Hey guys you have to do this, this, that, and that.’ Of course, you can go and get information about it, but no one is going to do it for you. In Brazil, we have this really big culture of mothers doing everything for their daughters. At school, our teachers would be like, ‘Hey guys, you have to do this, this way,’ and they would help you in every single step. Here, it’s like you have to do this and you have to figure out how to do it. I think people in Brazil grow up very immature because of that. Here too, but like the culture pushes you to be a little bit more mature and responsible about yourself. I’ve grown up a lot here, you have no idea.”

“The second thing that really bothered me was racism. We have a racist problem in Brazil, but I think here it’s way more clear. You can tell just by looking, whereas in Brazil, because we have a big mixture of races, it’s more implied than like right in front of your face. That was something that really bothered and shocked me at the beginning. In Brazil, it’s just as problematic, but it’s more subtle.”

What are your future plans for the show?

“I feel like we need a little bit of an opinion from someone who lives in the States. I feel like we have very interesting discussions. People call in, people send us chats, we talk to them, we put them on air, but I don’t think it’s a fair discussion if there’s no one from America talking. I’m trying to bring someone up to the program that can give their opinion.”

With a semester and (an almost) half under your belt, would you say that you are happy that you came to BU?

“I think coming here was the best decision I ever made. I always felt like because of my Catholic, white, middle-class group of friends I was always judged for who I was. I consider myself bougie because of some stuff, but I always had a really different mindset because of water polo. High school was harsh on me because of that. I wasn’t like the other girls from my school….Everyone would wear makeup and dress up very fancy, and I would just wake up, put on some overalls, and go to school. I was very much judged for that. I feel like [BU] is the place I found out what I like and I could be myself. My friends don’t judge me for who I am here, which is great. That’s why I think I made one of the best decisions ever. If someone was like, ‘Would you go back to Brazil right now?’ I would say I wouldn’t.

Credit: Isabela Rocha

Isabela is a sweet, brilliant, and hilarious person. She is one of the most empathetic and passionate people I have ever met, and she applies these qualities to all of her work and all of the social issues she cares about. If you’re curious to know how the Brazilian lens views American cultural ideals and values, Isabela’s show, which airs on Saturdays from 12 a.m. to 2 a.m., has the answers, so be sure to tune in!

(P. S. If you fall asleep before then, you can always listen to the archived recordings on the WTBU website). 


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