Wednesday, October 27, 2010

School and the Orphanage

Three months down, a little under two left, and the time couldn't be going any faster.

Though you wouldn't know it from reading my posts from the last two months, I actually am still enrolled in school here. Things at UFJF have been going smoothly for the most part, so I don't have a ton to share on the subject, but I thought it'd be good to update on what I usually do during the week.

The hardest part of school here is getting there. I live a block away from the bus stop, and the drive is maybe fifteen minutes from my house, but it will still sometimes take me at least forty-five minutes to get to class. Especially early in the morning, the city simply does not have enough buses to comfortably transport everyone to the university. As a result, they pack the buses here until you literally cannot fit another person inside. I'll be waiting for a ônibus and as many as three going to UFJF will drive by without stopping; unable to fit anymore passengers with students just crammed up against the glass of the door. It's way better on Thursday and Friday when I don't have class at eight, but the first three days of the week I get to have some very intimate bonding with my new compatriots. The bus ride there involves many curves, taken much too quickly, and a pretty steep hill. Remember playing that game in the back seat of the car where two people would lean really hard with the curves in the road, crushing the third against the door? It's kind of like that, just more fun since you play with sixty people you don't know. I brought my camera last week to document the whole ordeal, but I didn't want to use the flash because a candid early-morning photo shoot seemed like it may freak out my fellow passengers. As a result, the picture below turned out pretty psychedelic. Hopefully my artistic inspiration comes across: the presence of many bodies in a small metal space.

From Blog pictures

My classes are going well. The most challenging part of understanding them is paying attention; I have to really make an effort to focus on what the professor is saying but inevitably drift off at some point only to return to reality a couple of minutes later not knowing what we're talking about. In order to raise morale in my two economic history classes, the professor has decided that we will have periodic group presentations where the whole class receives the grade of the presenters. I'm looking forward to the look on everyone's faces when it's my turn, knowing that their fate is being decided by my ability to articulate concepts in economics. I actually learn quite of bit of Portuguese in my Spanish class; I sit with two girls who point out to me when the other Brazilians' errors are due to slight differences between the two languages. My Brazilian literature class is cool; we're now giving presentations on important contemporary poets and songwriters and last week I presented on Caetano Veloso with two other students.

My project in the economics lab is also going well. The highlight is the free cookies and coffee, though I tend to go a little overboard with this perk. Right now we just finished reviewing variables in the database we're going to use and will start to run some basic statistics about the countries we've chosen to analyze. The professor who's supervising us is super nice and I'm really enjoying collaborating on the project.

I'm also doing a lot of learning outside the classroom. Speaking Portuguese is usually a positive experience save the moments I inadvertently say widely inappropriate phrases. The other day, instead of ask the head of the international students office if she was planning on doing her masters degree, I inquired if she was planning on menstruating in the near future. I'm sure she appreciated my concern. Even worse was when asked by a guy if I had studied Portuguese before coming here, I responded that I had spent twenty hours in Minnesota doing a "little asshole" instead of a "little course." Thank you, diminutive suffixes, for making me sound like the creepiest pervert ever.

I was able to travel again last weekend, with two of the Americans and one of our Brazilian friends, to the colonial town Ouro Prêto. This city is known for its role in the Brazilian gold boom during the 18th century and is filled with amazing architecture connected by winding, and very confusing, cobble-stone streets. Apart from the tourist appeal, Ouro Prêto is also famous for its myriad "repúblicas," university student housing that could roughly be conceptualized as Brazilian fraternities. Using the website Coach Surfer, where you can coordinate with people to stay in their houses for free while traveling, we ended up staying in a república during our stay in the nearby town of Mariana. It was a super fun way to travel, though modest at times, since we arrived already knowing people who could show us around. Our república was called "the Orphanage," and we had a great time hanging out with the orphans as well as meeting other travelers staying there, including a Dutch guy our age who just finished meditating with Hare Krishna's for a month. I put up pictures of the whole thing on my web album.

From Blog pictures

Hope all is well,


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