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,


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