Monday, August 30, 2010

A month deep...

I've officially past the one month mark on my trip! Reflecting on this benchmark reminds me of a lot of the same feelings I experienced after my first month in Panama four years ago. Indeed, the one month mark is an interesting one. While a significant block of time to spend abroad, too long to be deemed a vacation or trip, it can feel very short at the same time. For instance, I wouldn't say I've "lived" in Brazil at this point, and even asserting I've "studied" here feel premature given my limited participation in my classes. I have met a ton of new people, from Brazil and Argentina to Colorado and Japan, and now have friends outside of my program with whom I go out and enjoy spending time. Nevertheless, I can't help but feel that I'm missing out on another priceless social experience as I watch the stream of Facebook statuses announcing my friends' arrival to Carleton for the fall. In respect to my Portuguese, I have learned a ton; every day represents an opportunity to learn myriad new vocabulary words and practice formulating sentences, pronouncing weird new sounds and learning the "melody" of the speech. Yet, I feel stuck in a weird contradiction where, due to learning words in my classes or to their similarity to English or Spanish counterparts, I know how to say "policies of import substitution industrialization" but not "mop," all the while not speaking quickly nor pronouncing anything particularly well.

I think the one month mark is significant because it represent that point where you start settling in for the long haul. I know that learning a language takes practice, and that my friends at school and Bozeman will be there when I get back, I'm just getting used to the fact that all this isn't as temporary as a part of me would like. Studying abroad and getting to know other cultures is exhilarating and exciting, yet inherently uncomfortable. I'm very thankful for such an energizing and fun experience, but at the same time still yearn for the comforts of the things I already know; be them people, places, food or languages. Yet there is an excitement inherent in this part of the journey, as I'm settling into a new routine and life, while afforded time to make lasting connections.

Nevertheless, there are some simple things here I still am having difficulties getting a hang of even after five or so weeks. Here's a list of some of the more significant ones.

Military time: The fact of the matter is, it's just simply is NOT as easy as subtracting twelve. When I look at the time on my cell phone, I'm not looking for a math problem, I'm wondering how late for class I am because of the bus. 22 o'clock will just never be 10 PM in my head...

Getting through doors: The word for "pull" in Portuguese, in the form which appears on doors, is "puxe," pronounced "pushy." My routine while entering or leaving a building now goes something like this: I walk up to a door, read "pushy," laugh at how funny that sounds, then walk into the door.

Telling people what I study: Not even going into the liberal arts schtick ("we all study a little of EVERYTHING at my school"), explaining my Latin American studies major never ceases to be a point of confusion. Translating the name of this area of study doesn't ever really help, I always need to explain what that name even means; a process that always takes a little while and never seems very satisfactory for my interrogator. My short answers have thus become: history, political science, economics, and "you."

Understanding English words: By far, the most confusing misunderstandings I've had with people here are when they say an English word while I think they're speaking in Portuguese. Their accent doesn't even need to be that bad; I just simply will not understand what they're saying while racking my brain for this seemingly bizarre Portuguese word that they keep repeating, while looking at me like I'm a crazy for not knowing exactly what they're talking about. This happened the other day while I was talking to Felipe and his grandma about spinach. After responding that, "Yes, we have spinach in the United States," I was perplexed by Felipe asking me if we had "pa-pai" in my country. I responded that I had never heard of that vegetable in my life, and that "No, we don't eat that, ever. That must be a Brazilian thing." He found this hard to believe, so we debated for about two minutes until I realized he was talking about Popeye the Sailor. Oh yeah, we guess we do have that... This happens a lot, since people will typically be proud of some English vocabulary word they know and just say it in the middle of our conversation. Cue, comically confusing interaction! Some of my favorite Brazilian pronunciations thus far are Titanic (Chee-tan-eek-ee) and Hip Hop (ee-pee-op-ee), and never get tired of people ask me if I listen to rock (pronounced like "hockey"). "Yes, I love the sound of skates on ice and bodies getting checked into the boards. I frequent rinks just for this reason in fact..." On a somewhat unrelated note, my new favorite word/phrase in Portuguese is now "craque," (crack-ee). I only bring this up because this is how they pronounce the English word "crack," though this spelling means "awesome," as in: "that soccer player is craque!"

My photo contributions aren't particularly exciting this week. I've put up pictures of the "Calourada Unificada," a party last weekend where all the new students come together and listen to bands and hang out. We had a ton of fun, and stayed out super late. I mention this since I was slated to go on a tour of a botanical garden then next morning, of which I've also put up pictures. The garden was really beautiful, I was just having a hard time keeping my eyes open, as my pictures do a good job showing. You can see the pictures here or in the slideshow above. (Yes, I am excited about having just discovered the hyperlink feature of the blogger program.)

School is also going well, as I'm getting the hang of my classes and now am entering into the point of the semester when I get assignments and readings... score. My research project is also going well, albeit slightly overwhelming. I'm currently reviewing the literature for our topic with the intention of getting a handle on sources in Spanish and English and writing it up in Portuguese. There just happens to be quite a lot written on medium-sized cities, poverty and inequality. My fellow researchers and professors are really nice and patient, so I'm hoping I'll get the hang of what they're looking for in the near future. We have periodic meetings where we discuss where we are in the process and the next one is next week, so we'll see how that goes.

Anyway, whoever you are reading this, I probably miss you buckets! Hope all is well.


Friday, August 20, 2010

Some more school, gays, and soccer


Just finished up my second week of school. I've finalized my schedule; I'm now going to take four classes, two economic history courses and two literature-based ones. I ended up dropping my fifth class because it was at nine to eleven PM on Mondays and Fridays. The fact that I went to it three times while the professor only showed up once may have had something to do with my disinclination to schlep myself to the university in the middle of the night for the rest of the term. Four classes is a pretty typical course load for an exchange student, and I'm getting the hang of the material more and more. Yesterday, I had to lead discussion in my Spanish class, so already the pace has started to pick up.

My other exciting piece of school news is that I spoke on Monday with a professor in the economics department about working in his research lab. So, starting this coming Monday, I'm going to be working 12 hours a week on a project, "Poverty and Inequality in Medium-Sized Cities." I'll be organizing a data set that looks at migration from large urban areas to mid-sized cities across Latin America and researching existing literature on the subject. The professor who oversees the project is glad I speak English since it will facilitate working on the latter task. On Monday, I'll meet the other students who work in the lab as well as a couple of other professors who are collaborating on the project. I'm super excited to get started; I've met other groups of students who work on research projects here, it's pretty common in the hard and social sciences, and the environment looks really tight-knit and fun. The professor who took me on has done so with very little information about me, so I'm really lucky that he's letting me participate even though he has a waiting list of students who applied for the opportunity. I'll keep you all posted on how it goes, it looks like a super interesting project and a great way to meet people and become more integrated into the school.

Last weekend was really fun. On Saturday, Juiz de Fora had its Gay Pride event, which was very widely recommended that the exchange students visit. The event is actually just a huge gay-themed street party, which attracted over 70,000 people this year, and is the city's biggest event of the year, surpassing even its Carnival celebrations. I had never been to a Pride event before, so I don't have any point of comparison to the States, but there were some aspects that I think are pretty unique to this celebration. While encouraged to go, we were also warned that we needed to be careful since the party attracts a large amount of "favela," slum, residents. This turned out to be true, which I thought was a cool aspect of the whole thing since it attracted all sorts of different people who just wanted to have fun. I ended up staying only for about two hours in the afternoon, even though the party goes long into the night, since it was really, really crowded and did feel a little overwhelming at times. Unfortunately, the event has been known to experience violence, though this is exclusively the result of confrontations between gang members and is never motivated by homophobia. My expectations were definitely shattered by this whole dynamic; I assumed I was going to see more tropical bird feather costumes than riot police.

On Sunday, the four Americans and a friend of ours, Lucio, went to Rio to see a soccer game in the largest stadium in South America, Maracanã. Lucio is a diehard fan of Fluminense, one of the four Rio teams, and he was ecstatic to deck us out in soccer jerseys and have us experience some Brazilian futebol in a matchup with International, from Rio Grande do Sul. We had a blast. The tickets were only 8 dollars, (we get all sorts of discounts as students here, I now pay $1.50-$3.00 for movie tickets), though the experience was priceless. I've put up some videos on youtube (which you should be able to see on the right of the page), though they're short and I'm screaming like a fool in them so it's hard to hear what everyone is chanting. The first one is before the game, when all these people with big flags came out and walked across the stands. The second is of the cheering right after our first goal, and is the best for seeing the 60,000 fans that went to the game that day. The third is of one of songs that all the fans sing together, though again, I didn't know the words so just yelled a lot. We won the game 3-0, though Internacional went on to win the Copa Libertadores, the Latin American equivalent to the Champions League, two days later. So we didn't feel sorry for them. I definitely want to go back for games in the future, the experience of being in a mass of cheering fans for a winning team was energizing and addictive. Thankfully, we've had perfect timing, since the stadium will be closed starting this year for renovations in preparation for the World Cup in 2014, (which people are already freaking out about).

This week I also had the pleasure of meeting the professor who started this exchange, Peter Blasenheim, of Colorado College. He has spent tons of time studying this region and was here to launch his new book. He is also quite the foodie, so it was wonderful going to meals with him since he knew the best items to order. On Wednesday, the four American students had him and four of Felipe's friends over to my house for some "American" food. I grilled hamburgers, while Caroline made Cesar salad, Athena made apple crisp, and Garrett made gin and tonics. The night turned out super well; thankfully the hamburgers turned out well and everyone had a ton of fun creating/experiencing some American cooking. I've put up pictures of this, as well as the soccer shenanigans, on Picasa. Last night, we went to Peter's book release, which was held at the modern art museum here in Juiz de Fora. The event was great, though arguably the best part of the night was going out for steak afterwards at midnight. We also got to reconnect with Celia, Peter's friend who housed us in Rio, which was wonderful.

So, things are going well and I'm keeping busy! Hope all is well wherever you are.

Beijos e abraços,


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Classes Begin

Well, it's back to school time.

I just finished up my second day of Brazilian college at UFJF, and so far things have been going well. While I haven't finalized my schedule, I'm excited about the classes I tentatively signed up for. I'm currently slated to take two classes that track Brazilian economic policy and development, one that covers the period from European contact to the Great Depression and a second that picks up from that same point and continues to the 1980's. Both are taught by the same professor, who seems to be really nice. I'm also taking a history class that looks at Brazilian domestic policy from the 1930's to the present and a Spanish literature class. The latter was meant to help me keep my Spanish and Portuguese separate, though I went to it today and it made my head hurt. Finally, I'm planning on taking a Brazilian literature class, 1960's the present, in lieu of a Portuguese for foreigners class. I haven't gone yet, so I'm not sure to what degree I've overestimated my language capabilities, but I can easily drop I've been told if need be.

Finding classes at the University was a little more of a challenge than I was used to. Students generally don't take classes outside of their "faculdades," separate colleges that constitute the larger school, so it was difficult to track down any sort of course catalog with all the courses offered by different disciplines. This meant that I needed to physically go to all of the different schools to find out where these classes where held, and what my other options were. Adding to the confusion is that the first week is dedicated to the "trote" (pronounced tro-chee), which is a huge Brazilian tradition where literally every incoming student, called a "calouro," is hazed by the upperclassmen, "veteranos." While containing your typical fraternity-style debauchery, one of the most famous and unique aspects of this is when students get their clothes ripped apart, are covered from head to foot in paint, then sent into the streets to beg for money so they can throw a party. It's a huge deal to get into public universities here, kids have to study like mad for a test called the "vestibular" in order to get accepted into the "facultade" where they want to study. This involves taking special courses outside of high school for a single exam that entirely determines their fate. Once accepted, however, students don't have to pay tuition, so the ceremony surrounding incoming students is hyper-charged with emotion and excitement.

All this also means that not many people go to class at the moment, and we got straight stood up by our professor yesterday in one of my classes. So at this point, I currently don't really have any idea what my classes are actually going to be like. Once things settle down I'll have a better feel on how things are going to be though.

I really like the UFJF campus. It's built on a hill so different disciplines are separated into physical tiers whose altitudes correspond to my personal ineptitude at that subject: social sciences and language studies are the lowest, chemistry, biology and physics, are the next highest, nursing and dentistry higher still, while medicine and engineering sit on top of the hill. This is almost super convenient for me, as I would otherwise need not climb up and down all day, if it weren't for the university restaurant's position next to the engineering building. Arguably the best part of school thus far, the restaurant only costs 1.40 reais (read: 80 American cents) a meal. They insist on serving you the meat portion, but you can get as much rice, beans and juice as you want! As I've been told: "sometimes the food's good, sometime it's bad, but it's always 1.40." I'm all about the federally subsidized cafeterias now....

I took some photos of the University, which should be up on Picassa. Just click on the slideshow above if you want to skip the earlier pictures.

In true exchange student form, I've also become all about the comfort eating as of late. When I'm not using my mouth to speak garbled Portuguese, I feel a strong urge to fill it with cheese, sweets and white bread. Brazil has been a wonderful host, and offers several options for the simultaneous satisfaction of my new food addictions. One is "pão doce," sweet bread, of which you have the choice of a mozzarella or cream cheese feeling. The more exotic food I've come across, which is actually quite common here, is "pizza doce," sweet pizza. You have all sorts of flavors of this dish: milk chocolate with M&M's, white chocolate with passionfruit and strawberries etc. Felipe's favorite sweet pizza flavor, however, is boiled bananas sweetened with sugar and cinnamon, with mozzarella. Thankfully, I've only come across this creation once, for I fear for the repercussions if I were regularly exposed to this.... I've also discovered the section of the city's myriad bakeries that has the older pastries that they're selling on the cheap. As a bargain bakery shopper, I can buy the same piece of cake for half the price (2 reais vs 1 real), I just have to unwrap the bundle from a bunch of plastic wrap. Hello hello, 60 cents savings...

So, things are good. I'm spend more time confused and lost than is typically normal, and may have put on a couple of pounds the last week and half, but for the most part, I'm happy.

Love and miss you all,