Monday, August 31, 2009

PUC-Rio vs. Brown

So I'm officially the worst blogger ever. This is really disappointing to me -- and probably to some of you as well -- since I found enormous success with my previous critically-acclaimed blogs. But apparently now that I am on my own, without a blogging partner to push me along (miss you Emily and Cecilia!), I'm a total failure. I've actually been avoiding blogging because I know that I never fully described Salvador, and I promised to. But I decided that I'll just post my pictures on Facebook, with captions that will be just like a blog entry cut up into little pieces, and that will allow me to move on with my life. I'll post the link once I've done so.

So, moving on....

The big news is that school started! Actually I guess I've had about two weeks of classes by now, so it's not really news anymore. But anyway....

PUC-Rio is about as different from Brown as you can get. First of all, it's not a residential campus, so all the students still live at home (or have families of their own -- there are a lot of middle-aged people here). This can make it sometimes feel like high school, as people drive or take the bus to school -- or even get dropped off by their parents.

It was a bit of a surprise, my first day of class, when I sat alone in the classroom for about 10 minutes before anyone even arrived. Everyone was still crowded downstairs, gossiping in their little cliques. (When students finally started arriving, I hid my head in a newspaper so no one would talk to me.) The professor was even later. Apparently this is the norm in this country. There's no official break between classes at PUC, so students and professors make one themselves -- often fifteen minutes both before and after each class. Even with this informal break, students sometimes show up in the last hour of a two-hour class. And the professor just says, "Tudo bem?" If I were that late to a class at Brown I'd be too embarrassed to even show up at all, or I would come with a damn good excuse.

Turns out I didn't need to worry about people talking to me -- everybody already knows pretty much everybody in all of their classes, so it's not just my pale skin and light hair that make me stand out (although I am getting tanner, I also am unfortunately getting a bit blonder). Students here only take classes in the department that their major is in, and Brazilians can't seem to grasp why, for example, you might take a literature class if that's not what you're studying. (Though I did make a spur-of-the-moment decision upon arriving in Brazil to add a comparative literature concentration to my public health one. So I can feel pretty legitimate taking classes in the Letras department.)

So, long story short, nobody has been standing in line to make friends with me. And I have been too overwhelmed lately to try to initiate friendships. Not that I'm good at doing that in English either -- how did I make friends back in the U.S.? Luckily there are plenty of awesome international students here, so it's not like I'm wandering the streets of Rio alone....

I'm glad I have American friends for another reason: they can marvel with me at the ridiculousness of some of the things Brazilians do. Let me point out a few:

First of all, professors give out a programa on the first day of class. This usually has a short description of the class as well was a bibliography. Well, turns out that you don't need to buy the books on the bibliography. In fact, it's most likely not even a complete bibliography. Each class, the professor will write on the board a bibliographic entry for a random reading that wasn't on the programa and suggest that you do it for the next class. That's right, suggest. Plenty of my classmates don't do the reading, and don't even show up with the text. Maybe that's because getting the readings is impossibly annoying.

Each class has a pasta, a file folder where the professor puts the readings for the next day. This pasta may be located at one of several Xerox places on campus. There, you ask for your pasta number, sort through the pile of texts in the folder, and chose the ones you want copied. They copy them for you (though, infuriatingly, not double-sided), and you pay a few reais, depending on how many pages you had copied. I'm not sure why no one has introduced to them the idea of a course reader, bound and ready with all the readings before the semester even begins. Not only do you not have to get the pasta after every class, you don't need to scrounge around for change, and you always know what reading is coming next! You Brown kids can tell I'm missing Allegra Copy.

(Obviously this whole system was impossible to figure out on the first day of class. I sat there trying to remember if I knew what pasta meant, or where such a thing would be located. Fortunately my professor was kind enough to show me the ropes when I went up to her after class and told her I had absolutely no clue what she was talking about.)

The next obstacle was using the computers. Sarah and I both had to print something out one day after class, so we went to tackle it together. When we went to the window outside the computer lab, expecting to sign up for a computer, we were told we needed to go to the window upstairs to choose a new password. We already had passwords which we had used to register for classes (which was a whole 'nother story) but apparently a second one was required. With new passwords, we went downstairs, typed in our matricula number (which inexplicably drops the first number, adds a G to the beginning, and adds another number to the end when you are using a computer) at the window, and were given receipts that assigned us computers.

I found the document I wanted to print. I went back to the window to ask how I could do so. The man there told me that I could do it on the computer itself. DUH! I'm no idiot. I asked him if I had to pay, and he told me that I got 100 free pages per semester, and that I could pick up my document at the end of the hall. So I pressed print and went to the end of the hall. Where I saw a stack of divided shelves, each one labeled with a number 0-9. On each shelf were stacks of paper. I rifled through some of the papers but was at a complete loss for how I would find mine. I went back to the help window. "Umm, how do I know where my paper is?" "It's in the shelf labeled with the last number of your matricula." DUH! 

I went and looked in the "6" shelf, and sure enough, my document was there. Only attached to the front was an extra piece of paper with my name and matricula and time printed and other random and completely unnecessary information. Every document printed there has this extra sheet stapled to the front. So yup, I'm definitely missing the SciLi too.

It's a good thing that I don't actually need a lot of books because the bookstore is just as impossible. There is absolutely no order to the place. Sure, books are organized by genre, such as "literature" and "psychology," but that's it. Harry Potter might be next to Os Lusíadas. I tried to look at every single book spine to find the few books I do need, but it's impossible when they are neither ordered by title or author. (I'm sorry, Mom, for ever criticizing your plan to alphabetize all your books.) Brazilians can't even agree on which direction to write the title on the spine, which results in a lot of head twisting. Furthermore, the bookstore doesn't even have all the books students need! Which is fine for some of my literature books, since I can just find them at another bookstore, but what random bookstore is going to have the textbook for the health class I'm taking? One of my classmates mentioned the fact that the bookstore didn't have the textbook to my professor; she knew nothing about it and suggested we all use the library's copy. I'm definitely missing the Brown Bookstore, which has every book you need, organized not only by department but also labeled with what class it is assigned for.

So yeah, there's a lot that I miss about Brown. I kind of want to send Ruth Simmons down here for a year and shape this place up. But PUC-Rio is one of the best schools in Brazil, and I can't really complain -- after all, I'm planning on going to do some reading at the beach tomorrow in between classes. You definitely can't do that in Providence.

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