Moving to a new place certainly has its advantages. Although feared by many (I suppose), one of my favorite aspects of settling in a new city/town is finding a new routine. Based on how everything developed this past week, I will dare to say that some sort of order is entering my life here in Rio de Janeiro. Don’t get me wrong, I pretty much depend on avoiding settling for a repetitive routine, knowing that I should not unpack my suitcase because in a matter of weeks I will be changing places, and even accepting that people I meet will stay around only for some time before I go back home or they continue their journeys. Yet these are precisely the thoughts and needs that make finding a routine so great sometimes.
From Monday to Thursday I spend about 8 hours each day at my host university, the Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro (PUC). I have two or three two-hour classes each day, and I normally stay to have lunch and dinner at the University’s cafeteria. On Monday and Wednesday I start with States, Politics, and Development in Latin America, continue with “Poverty and Social Inequality, and end the day with Geography of the Contemporary World. In between my classes I manage to escape to the University’s gym for a one-hour yoga class. On Tuesday and Thursday I go to only two classes: Brazilian Foreign Policy and Portuguese.
Exchange students at PUC have the option to choose certain courses that are taught in English. I originally considered taking some of these classes, but in the end decided to go for only courses in Portuguese. Being a native Spanish-speaker certainly gives me some advantage to learn Portuguese, but it is not by any means a guarantee that I will magically be able to communicate effectively. While I had never taken a Portuguese class before coming to PUC, I spent about a month and a half working in the northwestern region of Brazil this past summer. Sadly I did not find myself in the urgent need to speak Portuguese since many of those that I worked with spoke Spanish. However, my time in the Brazilian Amazon did help me to get used to Portuguese sounds, main endings, pronunciation, and so on. This, plus a lot of motivation and desire to learn Portuguese as soon as possible, pushed me to avoid English courses and go straight for those in Portuguese. I am afraid I will have to wait for my first tests to see how that turns out.
It is an exciting time to be studying in Brazil. Next to Brazil’s socioeconomic changes in the last decade and the country’s growing economic and political influence around the world, social sciences at Brazilian universities have developed and expanded significantly. My impression so far is that my professors at PUC are much more concerned with theoretical and structural approaches to a social question than my professors at Richmond. I would say two different reasons explain what I have seen. On the one hand, the recent expansion of social studies in Brazil has led to very active debates on theories, appropriate methodologies, and other type of “larger” questions. On the other hand, Latin American social thinkers have traditionally chosen structural over particular explanations for social and political topics. To give you an example, while last semester at UR my international relations class started with readings on contemporary political structures, my Brazilian Foreign Policy course at PUC has been reading about Brazil’s foreign policy since the late 19th Century, several theoretical approaches to foreign policy, and discussions on how the study of foreign policy has developed in Brazil during the past twenty years.
Both inside and outside the classroom, the atmosphere at PUC is incredibly dynamic and welcoming for new students. As I walk towards the cafeteria, I come across hundreds of students eating, drinking coffee, and chatting in the University’s two main buildings. A friend at PUC recently invited me to a women’s rights group that meets every Tuesday to watch films, discuss, and organize for several events. Needless to say, I am incredibly excited to join them this coming Tuesday. While student-run groups may not be as common at PUC as in some US colleges, joining activities such as yoga has definitely given me a space to meet Brazilian students at PUC in a more relaxed environment.
Whenever possible I bike home at the end of each busy day. On Thursday I chose to bike around the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, a lagoon in Rio’s Southern Zone, and had the great pleasure to talk for some minutes with some local fishermen who have established a small community next to the Lagoa. Biking home from PUC around the Lagoa takes only about 25 minutes, and now that I met these local fishermen I will be definitely trying to avoid taking the bus more often.
As I said, there are some great things about finding a new routine!