Sunday, August 5, 2012

You're only smart in your language

This was the first week where it really started to sink in that I'm going to be here for a long time. I felt like I was at my first day of Kindergarten again when I attended my first class at Fundacao Getulio Vargas. I didn't know anybody, everyone looked at me when I walked into the class, and all I wanted was someone to sit next to me at lunch! haha

So, first things first, there were definitely some frustrations this week. The first of which was scheduling  classes. The whole process here is quite a bit less advanced than that in the US. In fact, so less developed that I didn't even get my schedule until after classes had about that?! I really want to know who scheduled orientation after classes began...doesn't seem logical to me! But, oh well, I lived through it. There's not an automated scheduling process here. You simply email what classes you want to the International Relations office and then wait until they give you your schedule at orientation. Then you find out whether or not you got into the class because it's hand written for you. And if you didn't get into a class, they don't keep a running list of what's full and what's have to email again and wait. Ok, enough of my venting.

I went to my first class, International Accounting, taught in Portuguese. Luckily for me, I understood most everything the professor said. He was very nice. He knew I wasn't from Brasil and talked to me after class, saying that he could translate anything that I didn't understand and that he'd be happy to work with me all semester long to help develop my business Portuguese skills, which was awesome. A very nice girl sat next to me also offering help and two guys from across the room asked me to be in their group as soon as class was done. This led me to one very important note that I have to put in this blog...IF YOU'RE STILL IN COLLEGE AND READING THIS, BE NICE TO THE INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS!!! I definitely had no clue what international students went through until having come here. It was the biggest relief ever to have someone talk to me and also have someone offer for me to be in their group. Big weight off my shoulders and I instantly felt welcomed. Had that not happened, my whole mood about that class would have likely changed. what you can to be an international buddy or lend a helping hand or invite them to lunch or out for a drink, it will make their stay wherever they are that much more comfortable!

But, it was not all fun and games after that class. I went to my next class taught in Portuguese the following day: Brazilian Tax Structure and Public Finance, and was completely embarrassed. I could not understand a word this professor said! I think it was because he had a deep grumbly voice and a mustache (so I couldn't even lip read). I brought in a newspaper to class and he asked who's it was. I had no clue what he said so I didn't say anything. Meanwhile everyone was pointing at me. After that debacle, I thought it'd be a good idea to conveniently place my Portuguese-English dictionary on the front of my desk so that it would be an obvious sign to him not to ask me questions anymore...but that, too, did me no good. He must have noticed my "deer in headlights" look I had on during his lecture because half-way through he asked..."Do you understand?" At which point in time I responded, "I don't know," which was in English so clearly he knew I didn't. At the end of the lecture (yes, I'm realizing that I should have probably left when I knew I wasn't going to be taking this class anymore), he asked me if I was going to stay in the class. Of course I said no! He was a nice guy but I just think the topic was too advanced (talked about Brazilian laws and regulations) and the language barrier was too much for me to handle. Thus, I'll be attending a few more classes taught in Portuguese between now and the add/drop period so that was I have a full class load. I need to take a professor that I can understand! Now you know why I titled the post as I have. Because, if you can't communicate, you just don't look very smart. It was an extremely humbling experience for me because in English, I feel very capable of handling advanced topics but with a middle school vocabulary of another language, it makes it very difficult to be that big bad student I hoped to be here. With time I'll come along.

The University is a beautiful facility...just one building, but very modern. The professors really know what they're talking about. FGV is considered the best business school in Latin America. Most people give you that "Oh you're from Harvard" look here when you say that you go to school there. Evidently your job is guaranteed if you go to school there. You can tell the students are high-class. They all come from money and are all very light skinned. It has me wondering what this means about Brazilian economics, access to education, and their future business leaders. I'm not sure I've put enough thought around it yet so I'll have to report back but it's something that I've noted. I also met my Brazilian buddy who took me out for lunch and has been showing me around the city. Again, fortunate to have some local help and we've gotten along great.

On Friday, we went to the FGV welcome party for all the students. It was pretty interesting...$2.50 all you can drink Skol (US = Bud light) and also included free entertainment...watching all the Freshman get hazed. At first I thought it was pretty harmless, just throwing some beer around but then I saw hair shavers and eggs and rotten food and paint and well you get the went on for hours! Our group dipped out real quick, not only because we thought it was getting a little crazy but also because our Director had invited us over to her place for dinner, which was great.

We headed out to a new district today for this antique road show you could call it. Lots of cool old stuff. Boatload of music stores and artsy bars and pastry shoppes. Not much to report on here aside from the fact that I saw some cool old stuff for about two hours today haha.

Just wanted to thank everyone for all your comments, posts, emails, etc. The Boren Bearcat in Brazil Blog has been up for 20 days now and on Friday, I hit the 1,000 pageview mark, about 50 readers per day. It's been way more successful than I could have ever imagined! I've had readers from as far as India, Russia, Poland, Spain, and Korea. I hope you're enjoying it and it gives me just as much enjoyment to share my experiences with you all and brings a little bit of home back to me here in Brazil!


  1. KQ I am so proud of you! After my summer in Madrid, I cannot imagine taking classes (outside of language classes) in another language. Keep up the hard work!

  2. Very insightful, Kyle -- what a life-changing experience you're already having! Can't wait to read more about what you're learning and experiencing.

  3. What it do... Keep it going brother. Love hearing about your experiences and proud you are representing us over there!



  4. Hold on... "Oh, you went to Harvard" look? You better edit that to "Oh, you went to UC and are therefore a magnificient individual" look.