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,


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