Monday, September 24, 2012

Host family hysteria

One cannot underestimate the value of having a "baller" host family while abroad. While my other friends are dealing with less than desirable situations in some cases, my family continues to be the creme-de-la-creme when it comes to gringo hosting. Even after they cook a delicious meal, wash my clothes, or bring me goodies, we share this special connection when it comes to humor that has had me rolling a time or two and keeping my never-ending smile recharged on a daily basis. To further explain...

This morning I got up early, mostly because the electricity is being worked on today thus I had to take a shower before 8 AM. Nevertheless, I took advantage of the early morning excitedness that somehow made its way to my body this beautiful day. The energy was inexplicable and as a warm-up exercise to study for my economics exam, I started playing the Rocky theme song and did a few jab-jab-undercuts in my room while jumping. While most host families I presume would call this rather bizarre behavior by their gringo, my family felt so compelled by the energy that I was displaying towards my homework that they too joined in on my host mom even getting pumped up in the kitchen jumping in her high heels as she made some coffee.

Another thing we share is our desire to belt out in song when we feel the urge. Even better, I'd say we would all have a fair shot at getting a few clips on today's American Idol...for being some of the worst singers known to mankind...does that stop us you ask?! ABSOLUTELY NOT!

Another example of our ability to connect...the toilet broke this week...which is likely one of the more traumatic experiences that can happen to you while abroad. Even worse, the damage was affecting our neighbors below, much ado to our good friend gravity. When I informed my host mom that it had broken (not my causing haha), they stated promptly, "oh not to worry, we'll fix it next week...the lady below deserves things like these once in awhile." I was flabbergasted and followed with the obvious question, "well how should I go to the bathroom then?" She pointed at the shower. I just shrugged in agreement...mostly because it was 6:45 AM and I hadn't gotten into my Portuguese mood swing yet where I could have fully contested this rationale in another I just shrugged in agreement. Remember, this was not something good or bad...just different. Not but 5 minutes later the repairman came to fix it, which obviously and indirectly informed me that she was completely joking...and subsequently was followed by more hysteria over some cake and fruit for breakfast.

What else?! Maybe the time I really messed up my Portuguese and used the word "prostitute" instead of "protestant" when talking about religion at the dinner table with a guest and her subsequent introduction of me as one (a prostitute) to the next guest that arrived...that was a funny one. Or the time my program instructor called to check to see if everything was ok...when my host mom told her that all I do is run around naked and scream English...another comical prank planned between them to ruffle my feathers. haha.

Nevertheless, you get what I'm saying here. I'm truly blessed to be living in Brazil with great people! Their humor, energy, and love have made my stay here in Brazil a little more fun and a lot more enjoyable. I'd like to think that our humor combined has made us lifelong friends. We all know that laughing is a universal language and when I experience the deepest struggles that come with studying abroad, a simple laugh has made the time all much better.

Sunday, September 23, 2012


Hello everyone!!!

The last few days have been fantastic and I have been crawling my way up the other side of that darn "W" and it's been great! I think part of the reason why I've been on this "life high" is because I've been having visitors from UC...which brings all the joys of home.

The UC International team arrived last Wednesday night for an abroad exchange fair here in Sao Paulo and I've had the great pleasure of hosting them. We went out for a traditional Bahian meal last Wednesday with delicious seafood and followed that up with a trip to the Brazilian Soccer Museum on Friday and a traditional "churrascaria" meal on Friday night where we absolutely stuffed ourselves...but it was worth it in every way! I think they enjoyed their first few days of Sao Paulo even though they had to work on top of the fun we were having.

Saturday was more than a blast. I slept in and then hung out with some friends here. We went to the "Battle of the Bands" competition in Sao Paulo where all of the University bands compete at this big open party. Our school competed last which meant we got to enjoy the full party before we had to put on our game faces on to cheer. The structure was simple, the band plays for about 20 minutes and in between they play popular brazilian music and everyone dances. The bands here are all percussion and most of them break out into Samba style beats in their performances so you just see everyone in the crowd doing their Samba included (I took a Samba dance lesson last week). *Party note* For you college student readers, it is very very awkward and inappropriate to "grind" here in Brazil. haha. People actually dance correctly and it's a ton of fun. I only note this because I once had a hypothesis that Americans only grind because they actually can't dance...the more time I spend in Brazil, the more I think this hypothesis is true. Even after most of the coolers of 60 cent beer were gone, everyone was still dancing at a healthy distance apart...I was impressed. haha. We followed up the competition by heading back to a friends house, ordering a few pizzas, and watching the UFC fight (felt just like home).

Today was my true Bearcat spirit day. The study abroad fair that the UC International team was here for was only 2 blocks away and I had the great pleasure of serving my University as a translator for the day! Not only was it great practice for my Portuguese, it was neat to meet new Bearcats here in Sao Paulo and also have the opportunity to promote my institution while abroad. It was just as much fun as it was informative. I didn't really know what goes on in terms of international education but this is a gigantic industry and I'm convinced that UC needs to continue investing in this department to remain a key player on the world stage. Our class offerings are diverse (a competitive advantage for us) and our program offerings are even more diverse in terms of what we can offer an international student (another advantage), but we need to develop more strategic partnerships with foreign universities to have a steady and healthy flow of international students attending UC on a consistent basis. I was very impressed with our UC team. They knew their stuff and represented us well...I'm sure it will pay off. Even better, they brought me 3 cans of SKYLINE CHILI!!! I will be cooking this week and will report back with endless sentences of ultimate satisfaction...wish me well as I dive into my favorite food from home! And here's our booth....!

Big week ahead of me. End of the first module of the first semester so I have a few exams and presentations upcoming. Looking forward to sharing more!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The W Curve

Hello blog's been a bit since I've posted something...and this is one of my perturbed, annoyed, and emotional enjoy the vulnerability while you can!

The last few days have been full of the biggest emotional ups and downs that I've had here in Brazil and I certainly needed plenty of motivation last night but I pushed through and today was a great day.

Let's see...

I am one step closer to getting out of this detained state. I made the one-hour trek to the Ministry of External Relations to pick up my new visa. Which was really exciting until I saw that all they did was mark the 2012 with a 2013 with a sticker stamp. Are you kidding me?! First I get rejected at the federal police registration because the date was wrong (hand written) and then it takes over a month for you to stamp my paper and I have to spend a day taking care of this all. Meanwhile I was thinking that I'd get a chance to re-register with the police right away but their website is broken right now and they're on strike so they're not taking any appointments at this wow. Hopefully next week I can get this solved.

To ease the bureaucratic pain, I spent another weekend in Rio de Janeiro, which is always well worth it. I headed out on Thursday night and took the night bus to arrive there on Friday morning. I'm telling you, traveling via bus here is as luxury as it comes. A seat that reclines to a full bed with a nice blanket, food, and leg rests. It's easy to just crash and next thing you know, you're in the Cidade Maravilhosa!

Once we made it there, it was back to the beach house and another beach for all of Saturday...which was AWESOME! I'm finally looking Brazilian with my tan haha. Saturday night I made it to my first Brazilian birthday party! I'm telling you, Brazilians do birthday parties full of decorations, food, themes, people, song, celebration, cake, candy, etc...even at the age of 21. Of course I suppose there's nothing wrong with the typical American "to-the-bar" party but this was a blast. I learned how to sing happy birthday in Portuguese (words are a bit different) and made it to bed by about 4 AM. Sunday was a recover and relax day and I took another night bus back to Sao Paulo to be fresh and ready for Monday...which was less than exciting...and the W curve hit me big time.

The W curve was something I learned about before my first longer-term study abroad trip to Asia. It sounds silly at first but when you think about it, it's right in so many ways. At one end of the letter, you're at the very high of highs...everything is super new and cool and exciting...and on the other the deepest depths of that letters curve you can find yourself feeling depressed and longing for home...that was me yesterday.

I'm not quite sure what it was. Maybe the fact that I hit the 2 month mark yesterday (substantive but not even close to being done). Maybe it was because I am continually angered by the fact that I cannot watch college football here. Maybe it was because I had to study for a test in my Portuguese accounting class and over 100 pages of something not in English in a technical discipline could no longer be delayed. Maybe it was because it was hotter than hell's waiting room and the pollution hit like Ray Lewis tackling a peewee running back with goggles and no mouthpiece. Regardless, it was making me feel sick. Maybe it was because I talked to so many friends and family from home...even had my brother post the "You've got a friend in me" song on my facebook wall. I'm sure it was a combination of everything but whatever one or many factors that made me feeling lonesome was awful and I finally realized what it means to be on that damn curve. Nevertheless, those same friends gave me great pick-me-uppers, sent words of encouragement, put things in perspective, and had me feeling much better by the time I hit the hay.

I woke up feeling quite refreshed today and was ready to tackle the day...a good one! Despite the fact that I don't have the results, I felt pretty confident on the test I had to take and I got a great 5 mile run in the park accomplished after that. I knocked out some emails and did some studying and got to see some of my other American friends this afternoon that are studying here. There was one specific thing today that really energized me though...not necessarily for good reasons...but I'm interested in what you all think I should do!

About 5 days ago, every international exchange student at my school received an email inviting them to participate in the exchange fair...where you can set-up a booth and promote your home school, culture, etc. and try to convince Brazilian students to study abroad! As you can imagine, I was super pumped and got on the horn with my fellow Bearcats to start to brainstorm and ordered some UC "swag" to help giveaway. Nevertheless, I have a great game plan prepared and you best believe I was going to woo some Brazilians to the Queen City or City that Sings (did they approve that yet?) for the upcoming year....until...I got a peculiar message today on facebook (which I thought was a little unprofessional in and of itself but I guess times have changed (can't believe even I, a young one, am saying that)). The conversation is below:

School: Hello dear (um excuse me...since when is a student a dear?!)
Me: Hello
School: Are you ok?
Me: Yes. Why do you ask?
School: We just want to know if you are going to the exchange fair?
Me: Yes. I'm excited. I'm filling out the registration form as we speak!
School: Aren't you from CIEE? (CIEE is the study abroad program that placed me into the institution and plans weekend trips, language courses, etc...not the university...but a mediator)
Me: Yes.
School: We have a problem then. Students from the CIEE cannot have a booth at the fair but they can still attend.
Me: I cannot promote my own university in the US? I was not planning on promoting CIEE?
School: What university do you attend?
Me: University of Cincinnati
School: Unfortunately you cannot promote your university because FGV (Fundacao Getulio school here) does not have a partnership with it.
Me: FGV should partner with it and I think this is a perfect way to start that partnership.
School: I agree but there is no will for the universities to partner so I'm afraid you cannot participate. I am sorry...I cannot personally decide this.
Me: I am deeply saddened by this. Not only do I think this is unjust and inequitable, it is far from a warm welcome as I have already planned my booth, requested things be sent to me here, and purchased goodies to give away.
School: I am really sorry. We did not mean to waste your time or money. Maybe in the future we can partner (meanwhile I'm thinking...what the hell?! Aren't I studying here? Isn't this a partnership in and of itself?) so this situation can be avoided.
Me: I'm not sure that I fully understand the rationale behind my inability to participate. I will be back in touch.

So, that's the conversation...and well, it caught me at the right time because I was heated as all hell! Are you kidding me? I cannot set-up a table at a local fair to hand out pencils to tell students about UC?...absurd! I just felt so shafted...not sure why I'm still irked by this but I've been thinking about a few ways to approach it...some of which are better than others of course haha.

1. Is this a menial argument that I should waste my time with...just not participate and forget about it?
2. Is is inequitable and unjust and should I petition to promote? Don't they realize how small this is too?
3. Should I promote anyway by posting up outside the fair or try to sneak in anyway?
4. Should I convince the other international students that can participate to boycott the event until all international students can participate...give everyone a healthy dose of freedom of speech, democracy, liberty, freedom?! haha
5. Should I not "piss" anyone off and figure out what it takes to get this "partner" designation and start pursuing it...I think this is probably the most level-headed and best approach (although I had to convince myself for obvious reasons haha). Not only would a UC-FGV partnership be mutually beneficial, this would also fulfill the longer-term objective of cross-border understanding and diplomacy. Having said that, the others did run through my head out of slight anger haha.

I'll have to keep everyone updated. This is not the first time that I've thought this institution is somewhat of a mess. I get these random emails notifying me that classes for the school for certain days are canceled, others are made up on Saturdays, times of other classes (of which I've already registered) have changed and are now overlapping with my other classes. None of the colleges (i.e. Law/Business/Economics) are on the same calendar. They don't have a running list for students to see if classes are open or closed. You register by email and never get confirmation. I don't know what to say but the organization, or lack thereof, is abysmal. Meanwhile all I hear is that this is Latin America's "premiere" business institution. Perhaps this in itself is explanation enough for why this country has so many pressing issues that continue to stifle it reaching its full potential. I think one of the more interesting points is the racial selectivity of the school as well. Everyone is white! And I mean like Gringo white...not just Brazilian tan. All the students are from very wealthy high-class families. It is most certainly a homogeneous body...making class discussion and perspectives about issues such as education, poverty, government, health care, etc (all things that are of the utmost policy importance here) very one-sided. Ok, at this point I'm just bashing...I digress...and forgive my attacking...but it's been a very good example of identification of things that I would change and an incredible perspective on what challenges face the Brazil we know today.

Of course, I will continue to update everyone on my activities but I'm thinking about starting to post about the big issues in Brazil. I've been getting lots of feedback from my readers that they loved my case style approach on some the issues/businesses/etc. that I've presented earlier and they liked learning from it. So, be on the lookout for those!

I'm also at a crossroads here as well as I'm getting a good chunk of readers from Brazil too now and they are requesting posts in Portuguese! may see a few here and there in Portuguese in the coming months as well. Finally, I need to spice things up a little more with pictures and videos...not loads of texts, so if you have any ideas, send them my way otherwise you'll be getting whatever I have time for and can think up!

Best wishes to all and thanks for reading. As a gift to you all, I read a hysterical blog post by another student who is here studying and I'm copying it below. You all deserve to have the same type of belly laugh I had when I read it! For my family readers...forgive the foul language below!

Splitting the Bill

I don’t think this is just a Brazil thing. I think this is pretty universal. One of the most excruciatingly painful activities that one must endure comes right after a rather enjoyable experience—eating a meal. This agonizing task: SPLITTING THE BILL.

Every time I’m at a restaurant with a party of 6 or larger, I get very uncomfortable at the end. I start sweating (what else is new), I get restless, and no longer am I happy about the meal I just inhaled. Paying the bill with a group of people, friends, colleagues, what have you, is always unbearable. There’s always a Cheap Charlie at the table that examines the bill with a magnifying glass, making sure he’s paying to the penny exactly what his meal cost him. Then there are people like me, who always get SCREWED at the end, having to put in more money, because we feel bad and just want this experience to end so that we can more quickly get to the bar.

How about in the U.S. when we have to discuss tip? Cheap Fucking Charlie never puts in tip. Then me, the sucker, puts in tip for both myself and Suckie Chuckie because I feel bad for the waitress that only makes $2.74 an hour plus tips. Charlie, if you're reading this, you suck.

Oh, and how about the argument that always happens—should we split it equally between all of us, or should we all just pay what we got, you know, Going Dutch? If we’re splitting beers, cut it down the fucking middle. If we are talking dinner, I say pay for your own share, because when Sally eats a salad and Steve eats a steak, it obviously isn’t proportional. 

Then, for about an hour after the dinner, I’m still stewing about the bill. Then I drink. Then I forget. Then what happens? WE HAVE TO SPLIT ANOTHER FREAKIN’ BILL AT THE BAR. That’s always such a joy. Now not only do we all owe money, but everyone is sloshed and can’t think clearly. That’s when I just walk away.

That’s why I love the clubs here in Brazil. Usually, one will receive a card, and all of your drinks get put on the card. To leave, you must present your card and pay your tab. You don't have to deal with people or money--just you and your bill. For me, this is one of the scariest experiences if I’m not drunk enough, because every single time, I spend about enough money to fly back to the United States. But if I’m drunk enough, I laugh. If not, I cry.

This is all I ask of you, fellow humans. 1) Be conscious of how much you are spending, therefore making it easier at the end. 2) Don’t be an asshole: you know you have to pay tip, don’t try and get out of it, because I’ll call you out on it. 3) If you’re gonna be  Suckie Chuckie cheap ass, stay home—you shouldn’t be eating out if you don’t wanna spend money. Make some instant $1 noodles, buy cheap vodka, and have a jolly time.

PHEW. Enough said. Now I need a drink.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Rio de Janeiro

The title of the post says it all! I had the chance to visit Latin America's most visited city and well, it exceeded expectations in every way much in fact that I'll be making a return trip this weekend to once again live the vida carioca (Rio life).

Last week couldn't have gone fast enough...the anticipation of heading to the world's most beautiful city  awaited me. On Thursday I aced my accounting test and then headed out to the bus station, just a 20 minute subway ride away, to head on out. Another victory scored as I somehow successfully bought a ticket and navigated my way to the bus station itself. I was expecting a calm ride but what unfolded was one of the funnier and more strange things that has occurred for me here in Brazil...

Just my luck, I had the pleasure of sitting next to cat woman....dressed head to toe in leopard print! Literally...EVERYTHING! Toe nails, shoes, pants, scarves, belts, eye glasses, hair pins, purses, name it, she was wearing leopard print. I didn't notice at first...just a glance revealed a coordinated and sharp looking older lady...but subsequent interactions with her were priceless! We had a grumbler on our hands. I couldn't understand a word this woman was saying to me...she just continually grumbled. It was quite cold on the bus and she started wrapping her hair around her arms for warmth, which is where I then realized that her hair was as long as her body...literally to the floor. She later fell asleep on my arm and when I advised her with a "licenca" (excuse me), she only responded with another grumble and continued to stretch out and put her feet on my legs and drifted back into her catlike dreams...the 7+ hours could not have gone slower!

We indeed made it to Rio where I was met by my friend who lives there at the bus station with his parents to pick me up. We reminisced, realizing it had been 5 years since we last saw each other in high school, retold tails of the "good 'ole days" and remained in disbelief...thinking we'd never see each other again. It was a pleasure to meet his family as well...wonderful people. We headed out that night to the bay and got some food and chopp (draft beer) with his friends. I was instantly taken by the friendliness of the people and of the carioca accents...where they pronounce "shhhh" instead of "ssss". It was simply beautiful to listen to and made me jealous that I have the Paulistano accent.

Friday was a day to remember. I was actually staying in Niteroi, the city across the bay that looks directly at Rio. We hopped the 14km bridge over to the big city and began our journey to Concorvada and the Christ the Redeemer statue. We grabbed lunch and then took the rickety red train to scale up the mountain to spend the day with Jesus! Now I've been very very fortunate in my life and have had the opportunity to see some very cool things like the Great Wall of China and the DMZ but this easily goes down as one of the neatest things I've done. The statue itself was impressive but the view was completely breathtaking. Rio is a picturesque city and seeing a 360 view with the buildings, ocean, beaches, etc was awesome. A glance right I was looking at historic Copacabana and Ipanema beaches and a quick look left I was seeing bustling traffic in the city and the favelas (slums) dispersed amidst the buildings. It was like capturing the essence of what is Brazil with my own two eyes...and despite all the action below, it looked so peaceful from above and it was even cooler to look over it and say that I've called this country home. After taking plenty of photos (link to pictures below (photos don't do it justice)), we headed back to sea level and home for some dinner and out to a barzinho (outdoor music bar) for the night. After some drinks and appetizers we packed our bags and headed to another friend's beach house for the rest of the weekend!

The next best story about the weekend occurred on Saturday, also my friend's birthday. I woke up and was told that we were going to the I put on my havianas and my swim trunks and was ready to go...then my friend told me to switch to gym shoes because we were walking to the beach and we were going to go to a good "site" spot and had to get there via a trail...fine by me....little did I know that this trail was a flipping MOUNTAIN that I was completely unprepared to climb for 5 hours haha. In fact, we trekked some 500+ yards to the highest point in Niteroi for an incredible view. The best part of it all was the pure fact that I had no clue we were doing that. I was still in my swimsuit and this trail was easily one of the most physically daunting things I've ever done in my life...a short slip of the shoe away from falling to my death I dare say. And this trail was not one of those friendly here's a nice stick for a railing...we were straight scaling rocks the size of the Jesus statue with ropes and sorts...again, you'll see in the pictures. My shoes are pretty much shot, although I have no room to complain as one of the other guys climbing with us actually trekked through his shoe and had to descend the mountain barefoot in the brush. Nevertheless, the view was, again, beyond incredible and the sense of accomplishment for having scaled the mountain was equally as exhilarating, not to mention a fantastic workout.

We did end up making it to the beach...which lived up to every Brazilian expectation I've had and spent the rest of the weekend relaxing by the pool and eating churrasco (Brazilian BBQ). Even better for my Portuguese was hanging out with all native speakers and people my age...I finally got some slang down and am sounding more and more native every day. In fact, my speaking partner at school and professor said that I've really really really improved! I'm still shocked at how much I've come along...closing in on two months. I'll be dreaming in Portuguese by the end of my year.

A few big days ahead of me. Lots of midterms the next few weeks and group projects due before the end of our first class modules for the semester so I am hitting the books before another Rio style vacation this weekend. Life there is contagious and if you haven't been to South America before, put Rio de Janeiro on your bucket list. The people, the food, the lifestyle is a complete dream and well living in Brazil has been nothing short of living the dream. Tchau!


Tuesday, September 4, 2012


Greetings blog followers,

I've taken a few days rest from my posts to do exactly! A much needed weekend trip to Paraty (pronounced...PA-RA-CHEE) was the perfect way to spend the past few days outside of bustling Sao Paulo (including getting out of the cold).

About a 5 hour bus-ride along the windy and winding oceanfront, a beautiful colonial town of 45,000 people awaited us. We stopped along the way for a nice Brazilian breakfast and at a beach for lunch where we played a little soccer and bought some beach wear.

We arrived at our Pousada (kind of like a bed and breakfast) with our own verandas and mountain view just in time for a quick historical tour of the historic colonial town on Friday night. The buildings/houses were awesome! All very well kept and colorful. I'm linking the pictures below so you all can see what I mean. This was an old school horse carriage town with cobblestone streets. All the shops were very unique and trendy. Lots of 6-room hostel style pousadas and some of the best food in all of Brazil. We had Thai the first night and followed it up with a nice cigar and wine on the cobblestone streets listening to popular Brazilian music and live samba bands. There was also a church festival going on so the whole town was out...including the dessert vendors. I had tons of chocolate and coconut desserts while roaming the streets.

On Saturday, we woke up early to head to the pier for our 5+ hour catamaran boat ride to some of the 300 islands in the Rio bay and stopped along the way for some snorkeling and beach time...beautiful! In the evening, we had a meeting with the owner of the largest tourism company in Paraty. This was actually a really interesting visit. Lots of insight on the tourism industry in Brazil, how they attract people to the area, what skills they need to host people, and lots of discussion on how to control tourism, especially in a small town like Paraty that has a key draw for people. I should have seen some of the more direct impacts of the global economy on tourism in a small town like this, but hearing them firsthand was really unique. We followed that up with a nice German dinner at a local brewery. They really hyped up the Hofbrauhaus and even sold some of their beer so it was a nice reminder of being back in Cincinnati at one of the 4 Hofbrauhaus restaurants in the world!

Another early wake-up call by rugged Jeeps awaited us for a terrain tour on Sunday. We stopped at a few waterfalls in the surrounding area for some daring jumps, rope swings, natural slides, and swimming. It was awesome! We even stopped for a little tutorial on cachaca (Brazilian liquor) making and had some taste tests. We finalized the weekend with an Italian lunch and boarded the bus back to Sao Paulo.

It's a short week back here for me. Just two more days and them I'm off to Niteroi, the city across the bay from Rio de Janeiro. Taking a bus on Thursday afternoon for a weekend in South America's most visited city and to finally hit Ipanema and Copacabana beach! I'm staying with a friend I met at my high school...a Brazilian who was an exchange student to learn English and now lives back in Rio de Janeiro with his family. I'll be honest, after high school I thought I'd never see my Brazilian friends again but lone and behold, here I am, studying in Brazil for the year and we're reconnecting! To all my readers, build those foreign relationships. It makes the world a smaller place to live and it's always fun to reconnect when you're on your world travels! I'll be sure to take lots of pictures so that you can all witness Rio's breathtaking views and tempt you all to book your reservations for the 2016 Olympic Games!

In the meantime, here are the photos from my weekend in Paraty. Enjoy!