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.


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