Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Near Death Part II

Alrighty folks the time has come to tell you easily the craziest story of my adventure abroad.  First, let me apologize for being down and out on this site.  As most of you know though, the end of the semester is always a crazy time and doing group projects, presentations, and tests in Portuguese only added to the intensity.  Add in some traveling here and there, and you can see why the blog had to take a back seat until now.

So....nevertheless, the tell all tale of my near death experience Part II!

I say Part II because most of you know that three years ago, I was involved in a very tragic car accident that left me seriously injured and unable to walk for a good 6 months.  So, I consider that Part I.  Let's just hope that Part III doesn't come anytime soon!

First things first, I will admit that just nothing seemed to be going right my first time off Brazilian land since July.  A friend and I decided that a weekend getaway to the highly regarded Buenos Aires, Argentina would be the perfect way to get away from the madness in Sao Paulo...and boy were we wrong!  MADNESS is quite frankly the only way to describe the trip.

You could say that our first "loss" occurred before we even got into Argentina.  We were held on Brazilian land because we didn't have the proper Argentinian documentation.  We were one of the few people that purchased our tickets to ARG before the country decided to institute a new $160USD visa fee to enter the country...so we had to run around the airport and find a computer and printer to pay the visa fee before we could board the plane.

We arrived timely, but were very unimpressed with Buenos Aires at the time.  Argentina has been experiencing a boatload of unrest in the public sector and the tension between the government and citizenry has been high.  This meant we were welcomed by a city that's garbage services had been on strike for a bit...which made for a very smelly welcoming and lots and lots of trash in the street.  The government also put a block on the US dollar so there were tons of people in the streets trying to schmooze us over to change our dollars to pesos.  The normal rate was about 4.7:1 but if you paid in cash or exchanged your dollars...you could find anything from 6-6.5:1.  This would have been a great advantage for my shopping, but yours truly has been in Brazil too long to have had dollars on him.  Nevertheless, we managed to overlook the filth and headed down the streets to do some shopping and stopped often for brilliant Argentinian wine and lots of steak before hitting up a live Tango show with some awesome Canadians we met.  It was quite simply, a man's dream!

During our strolls on the overwhelmingly European style streets (impressive architecture, super wide avenues), we ventured across a few advertisements promoting the soccer game between Argentina and Brazil that would be played the next day.  This was an absolute MUST for us.  Argentina x Brazil is easily one of the most storied rivalries between countries around the world.  In fact, Argentina and Brazil themselves are almost synonymous with the word "futebol" and thus, this would be an incredible cultural experience in addition to being a fun one.  The game was at night in the world famous "La Boca" stadium in the heart of an Argentinian slum just west of the main city.  We spent the afternoon in the upscale water port called "Puerto Madero" and followed that up with the very colorful "Caminito" area close to the stadium for some outdoor tango and empanadas before heading to the stadium.  Game time set at 9 PM.  Pictures of BA, ARG here!

We made our way to the game to sit with our fellow Brazilians.  We attempted to learn some of the chants but didn't really succeed.  The visitors sat in this caged in area so that opposing fan bases are separated. The section was lined with SWAT style police officers...which was only a foreshadowing of what would ensue later on in the night.

The game itself was brilliant.  This was the second game of a two game series between Brazil and Argentina.  Brazil won the first game 2x1 in Brazil but the champion would be based on goals, not wins.  This explained our confusion when this game ended, as Argentina pulled out a nail biter 2x1 with all three goals coming in the last few minutes of the game.  Despite the celebration, it went into penalty kicks to decide the series winner and that's where Brazil locked up the overall victory as we watched Neymar kick the winning penalty kick and cheered like crazy with our Brazilian comrades!

That was really the last joyous moment we had in Buenos Aires.  We stayed caged up in the stadium for about 45 minutes after the game until all the Argentina fans left and only then, we began our descent down the stadium steps onto the street.  We were only trying to make it a few blocks to the main avenue so that we could grab a taxi.  The street was lined with vendors and police officers and lots of people leaving the game, so we felt pretty safe although it was in a rough area...but we learned our lesson...at no time are you 100% safe.

We were making good progress when ahead of our group we could see a man rushing over to one of the police officers.  He was trying to get their attention to something ahead in the street (we couldn't really tell what it was at that point), but the officer was escorting one of the team buses so he didn't stop.  There didn't seem to be any commotion so we kept ahead until we got to the intersection where we took a left.  It was at that point in time, when a sudden feeling of panic set out over the hundreds of people walking.  People started hurrying left, lightly shoving each other to get a clear path to run and that's when I heard the first blood curdling scream.  I looked immediately across my right shoulder and my eyes affixed themselves to a gleaming 10 inch pointed military style shankers knife held up above some crazy man's head, ready to pierce the skin of his nearest target.

No sooner do I finally comprehend what I'm witnessing, he comes behind a bystander and thrashes the knife up through his gut, under his chest plate, and through his heart.  And at this point in time, the whole situation is sinking in....I'm telling myself....

"Holy shit!" That's a big knife (pardon my french but that's what I said!)
"Holy shit...he's stabbing people with it...!"
"Holy shit...he's looking at me and my friend now!!!"
"Holy shit...I have to run!!!!!!"

As he finished off his first victim, he ripped out the knife and laid his eyes directly on me and my friend (as we were at the back of the group walking).  It was at this point in time, that I knew I was about to run for my life.  He raised the knife and began to chase after us...

I was having trouble seeing as I wore my contacts to the game and they were severely dried out, plus it was dark outside.  I tried to grab my friend's arm to hurry him along but as I did, he was already gone and I realized at this point that it was every man for himself in this chase of life or death.  I began to sprint and soon it dawned on me that I should be expecting gun shots...thinking that surely this man was not operating alone.  I contemplated diving into a dumpster on my right or under a construction truck on the road but before I could think about it lucidly, I ran into a wall on my left on the sidewalk.  I slowed down and expected to feel cold metal tearing my skin apart as I knew I wasn't going fast enough at this point.  I regained my footing only to trip once again on the uneven sidewalk and dove into the street, rolling a few times.  I thought I was a goner.  As I tried to get up, I darted left trying to dodge what I thought was an expected swing when I hit a child who was being shuffled into his home by his brother and mother.  They looked at me trying to shut their door quickly as I gasped in Spanish, "LET ME IN!!!"  The mother and brother grabbed my two arms and pulled me into their wood paneled home and slammed the door behind me.  A sudden and modest sense of relief came over me as I knew that they may have saved my life.  They told me to duck and stay on the floor with the grandfather and baby as they waited to see if the police had arrived.  I hugged the dirt floor, breathing in dust as I tried to gain my thoughts.  They asked me if I was alone, which is when a sudden panic yet again hit me...realizing that I was now split up from my friend (who doesn't speak Spanish) in an Argentinian slum with a knifing murderer chasing after us both.  If I survived, I thought certainly that he didn't.  The family began to ask me questions and I muttered back nervous responses in Spanish, Portuguese, and English and even mixed in some Greek prayers.  My anxiety permeated the home and clear confusion across languages did nothing to help...so they ushered me off to the street to brave it on my own as they no longer wanted me in their home.

Thankfully, police lights illuminated the dark and eerie street and I had nothing to do but wander the few blocks nearby in search of my friend, of whom I thought I might never see again.  But much to God's grace, it only took me a good 10 minutes to cross his path in a fire station shelter just one block from where I was hiding and the reunion shed palpable relief from both of us that we were, indeed, alive.  We hustled over to the officers who were sheltering many others who were tattered and bruised from falls as ambulances took the primary victims to local hospitals.  Buses full of SWOT team police lined the streets and escorted us to the main avenue shortly thereafter.  Hundreds of terrified fans remained with us throughout the night.

Not one police report was taken.  You can read this article and imagine why.

After a rough hour of reliving the tale for each other...complete shock burdened the rest of our trip and our Thanksgiving (no turkey on this side of the world, so we settled for filet mignon).  The mad man actually chased after my friend in the street as he split off right from where I was for a good block.  Just a few steps behind, his adrenaline rush and tied Nike sneakers undoubtedly saved his life.  We are also very lucky that he had a knife instead of a gun, for if he did, I'm certain that I wouldn't be living to tell this tale.

The rest of our time in Buenos Aires was purely spent reliving how close we were to calling our young lives a done story...and the city in return, robbed us of all enjoyment.

When we landed back in Sao Paulo (the alleged "dangerous" city of South America), we had never felt so happy.  Happiness is relative though, because when it comes to crime in South America...it's not a matter of "if" it happens to you...only a matter of "when".


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Missing Macy's

Friends...the time has come when I realized that I did not pack enough clothing to live in the ever-changing weather of Sao Paulo.  One day it's 100 degrees and you're sweating nonstop, the next day it's a complete downpour, and the following day I'm wearing a winter coat.  I swear, we have not had two days of consistent weather!

Inline with the sporadic climate change comes a demand for a variety of clothing.  Like all travelers, the recommendation is to pack light, but I should have guessed that I would need more than two or three pairs of shorts while living here for a year.  Now, shorts are not really popular here...most choose to keep their legs covered but I've tried, and well...when it's 100 degrees, I just can't manage to put on jeans anymore (especially when I'm walking a few miles everyday to and from class and then boarding a bloody hot bus to get to other classes).  And when it's 100 degrees and you're sweating profusely, you simply cannot re-wear them for another day or two.  So, you wash them, but we don't have dryers here so it takes a few days to dry (or more if you forget to take them out of the rain), and you wait.  Long story short, I'm wearing them faster than I can clean them.

So, last weekend I decided it would be a good time to do a little shopping and pick up another pair of shorts or two.

What I thought would be a quick and enjoyable trip to the mall turned into a day of short-seeking disaster!  But I also learned a very important life lesson.  I should have put two and two together that shorts would be hard to come by since nobody wears them.  There are two places on my block that sell them, but I was thinking it'd be nice to get out on the town a little bit and go to the mall and get some walking in...which was nice, but was a complete loss when it came to my objective: buying shorts!  I literally walked into every single store in three different malls only to be rejected on nearly every level of the shopping experience.

1. Completely lost in translation as to what I wanted...I thought the word was actually "shorts"...some people say it in English...but really the more common word is "bermudas"...

2. A final understanding of what I wanted only to realize the store didn't have them and then I get the "oh you're not from here" question to which I must have had at least a dozen 10 minute conversations about what I'm doing here...good Portuguese practice but a time sucker!

3. The awkward looks when you ask for shorts correctly but the salesperson looks at you like most of us did at our television screens when Romney said he had "binders full of women" or when Obama was explaining to Romney that we don't fight wars anymore with "bayonets".

4. The occasional store that had shorts (and tried to sell them to me hard) but they were the ones with depends sewed into them with a scrunch waste, drawstrings, and went past my knees.

5. The other stores that had them but clearly were not fit for the American cheeseburger-style lower body.  In some cases, the waste size was not the issue...it was the fact that I could not fit my calves, thighs, and butt into the leg hole!

6. The other stores that had them and fit, but when I got to asking the price, they were over $250 USD! Sao Paulo is beyond expensive in almost every category...shopping included but come on now...$250 for a pair of shorts?!

At this point in time, I'm realizing that I am in the 1% of Gringo shorts-buyers that have a store match and after 8 hours of searching and searching and searching...I decide to call it quits and head back home where I will reconstruct my gameplan to stay cool over the next month.

As I near home, I pass those two stores on my block that sell shorts and I decide to give it one last try before I'm done for good...and what do you know...I hit the shorts goldmine!!!  Not only did I find them in my size and in good styles and color, they were also under $100 USD (not by much)...so I pulled the trigger!

As I headed home, I thought to myself...this is just one of the very small lessons that living here everyday has taught me about life.  Sometimes we go way out of our ways, travel across the world, go beyond our limits, confuse and frustrate ourselves, only to realize that the best thing for us is right outside our back door.  And when you realize that some of the best things in life are right under your nose, you'll start saving time and money and may reach your goal even quicker!

I hope that my shorts story was enlightening. Maybe you thought the life lesson was a little stretch, but I was thinking about that lesson every day since I bought them.  I've found myself traveling the world for opportunities, struggling through adversity, seeking something on the grand stage...to come back to Cincinnati, Ohio...HOME...with the people I love and the community I'm fond of...where the opportunities are abundant and the network is supportive...where the things in life I didn't know had significant value to me (college football, skyline chili, my church on Sundays, etc.) were grossly underestimated in the pursuit of my life plan.  Living in Brazil has taught me much...even that the pursuit of bermudas on a hot summer day can lead you to realize that the best things in life are right near home.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Rio Part III

Well there might be one common theme throughout this entire journey that has not come as a surprise...RIO DE JANEIRO IS AWESOME!!!

The lifestyle is contagious, the scenery is beautiful, and the people are vibrant.  I'm saving up for a summer home there haha.

This time I made the trip back to the Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvelous City) with our entire study abroad group.  It was a fresh perspective too as our group did things in the city that I hadn't done already there...so although I returned, it felt like a new city to me.

First things first, Ipanema and Copacabana are all they're cracked up to be.  Bustling beaches with crashing waves, incredible landscapes, daring surfers, beach-crazy clientele, sand volleyball players, gigantic sand castles, coconut water kiosks, and no shortage of Brazilian bikinis!  Although it wasn't a beach-weekend per se via the schedule, the weather was beautiful and I got up early a day or two to catch a few rays...it is BRAZIL after all!

We also made our way to the very famous Lapa area where place after place was filled with plenty of Cariocas and posers trying to dance crazily fast to live samba bands! The streets were filled with people, vendors selling excessive amounts of caipirinhas, salgados, and more.  It definitely had a very dirty Latin American feel but the energy was palpable and we danced the night away at an outdoor samba club...one of the most Brazilian things I've ever done!

It was great practice because the following night, we went to a real Samba School in the heart of Rio de Janeiro.  I'm not sure that words can actually describe what I witnessed.  It was easily one of the coolest and most culturally identifiable things I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing.  Even better was that people of all ages (God Bless me if I'm ever 90 years old dancing samba at 3 AM like most everyone was doing) came together in music and song as one big cultural family to do what Brazilians do best...share their love of music, dancing, and drinking caipirinhas!  It was a neat site to see so many generations of Salgueiro (name of the school) fans come together and enjoy an evening as they did.  Enjoy a few of the videos here!





After a good nights rest, we headed just out the city to a favela (Brazilian slum) to do something even more Brazilian...watch a soccer game live!  Again, I'm not sure words do it justice.  The sense of energy from the fan base cheering on their team was contagious.  Not only were the war cries impressive, and everyone knew them...but the cussing and praise was timely, loud, and unified as the team would make a bad or good play, respectively.  It was like the fans were begging to be on the field to make the play themselves.  The videos below just don't justify the energy but it was the best I could do to share!



All in all, this trip to Rio was the turning point in my experience here.  It was the most Brazilian I've felt since being here...and well...if what I experienced is a "day in the life" then I'm very glad that I have many more days ahead of me!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Floripa

Once again...I've been slacking on the once a week posts and they've turned into every other week...my apologies!

The last two weeks have been absolutely crazy.  Not only has there been lots of traveling but the academic work has kicked up with plenty of mid-term and final exams, presentations, and group projects...so I've been on the go.  And to put it into context, the last 72 hours, I've had 12 straight hours of class every day without a break.  I'm literally running from one to the next and grabbing a quick snack and a coke to stay awake in between.  Good news is that I can see a little calmness on the horizon and a relaxing weekend in Sao Paulo ahead of me...so things are looking up!

So...let's travel back in time to about two weeks ago for one of the many Brazilian holidays that the whole country enjoys (seriously USA...it seems like Brazil has a day or two off every other week...we need to start celebrating more! haha).  I made the long and arduous trek way down to the south of Brazil to the state of Santa Catarina for a weekend in the beautiful Florianopolis.  More commonly referred to as "Floripa," it's an incredibly large island in the primarily German/Italian state of Brazil with some of the world's most beautiful beaches, ravenous night clubs, and homey style communities.  It is also one of the safest places in Brazil, and that was evident by the family style atmosphere I felt nearly everywhere I went.

The good news was that I was going to be on the beach all weekend...the bad news was that a good 12-13 hour bus ride was in between me and paradise.  Somehow I managed through that and arrived to Floripa in a downpour.  For the first time in my life, I stayed at a hostel.  Although, my views of hostels have now changed dramatically...I'm afraid I stayed at what is not the hostel norm.  Perched up on a mountain that overlooked the bay, you could only get to the hostel by foot by crossing a tiny blue bridge over a small waterway and trekking up into the mountain on a small stone-laid passageway.  I was welcomed by the nicest crew who wanted only that I enjoy everything that Floripa had to offer while relaxing!  The hostel was very very clean, bed was super comfortable, incredible views...the staff even cooked us dinner and there were complimentary caipirinhas every day...not to mention a boatload of things like surfboards, wetsuits, fishing gear, volleyballs, etc. that we could use for free!  The rain kept me inside for my first afternoon, but I grabbed lunch with some people I met from Chile and Australia who were at the same hostel and we began our multilingual lunch in a covered restaurant on the beach.

I woke up on Friday feeling an incredible urge to go for a run on the beach.  The sun was coming out, the weather was nice, and I've been maintaining good form here by eating healthy and exercising.  Well...I thought I was prepared for the run ahead of me...but I'm still recovering today!  The bay looked small from the mountain but what was intended to be a nice mile or two run barefoot in the sand turned into a 20 km (half-marathon) survivor excursion.  I just kept going and going and going and going...couldn't stop.  It was one of those runs.  But...about half way through, I started to feel the sand wearing and tearing on my body.  Not only had I not properly hydrated or eat enough that morning, my feet were starting to blaze in the hot sand since I was barefoot and I had the unfortunate occasion of stepping on a few rocks and shells that caused my steps in the sand to be permanent blood tracks.  Despite the pain, I just kept going...mesmorized by all wild animals, jelly fish, birds, turtles, and everything else that was on the beach during my run.  A quick look towards the sea was just enough motivation to keep on keeping on.  I'd say a good 8-10 miles would have been good enough though because the last few were the biggest struggle.  Running in the sand is no joke and my body was its victim.  I did indeed finish after a good 5-5.5 hours but an inability to walk for a week and constant icing was the only thing that followed.

I did in fact though have enough energy to hobble my way to the bus station because there was no way I was going to miss the 2nd biggest Oktoberfest celebration in the world outside of Munich! A quick 3 hour ride west put me and my friends in a German beer-drinking and schnitzel-eating paradise!!!  I was so amazed...all the blue eyed and blonde haired Portuguese speakers were alive and well.  We bought the German caps, straps, and mugs and started our Saturday with bratwurst, weiner schnitzel, pretzels, goulash, sauerkraut, and more!  We made our way to all the beer tastings and spent some time listening to the live bands.  The whole venue was a gigantic German village...giving it a very European feel with lots of shops and plenty of food.  It was a great day and a ton of fun!

Although my visit to Floripa was supposed to be a relaxing weekend, you can see that it probably did more damage to my body than respite. haha.  Nevertheless, I spent all Sunday on the beach just reading and sleeping as means of recovery and then braved the Brazilian holiday traffic (which is god awful) all the way home.

Check out the photos from Floripa and the Blumenau Oktoberfest here!

Recent Article

Good morning followers!

I ran across this article about Sao Paulo and I wanted to share with you are...I think this author actually does a pretty good job of capturing the "essence" of what is Sao Paulo.

Check it out and start planning your spring break trips to visit me!

http://frugaltraveler.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/10/23/you-will-love-so-paulo-please/?ref=travel

Many more updates to come!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Plenty of updates

Well blog followers...I've been MIA...and certainly apologize if you've been waiting with baited breath for me to make another post! I had some important matters to attend to that have been taking up most of my time the last two weeks but things have finally slowed down and I'm gearing up for vacation so there are plenty of updates! In no specific order....

Although I said no specific order, this easily gets a #1 here...I ate Skyline Chili!!! It was the most incredible moment I've had in recent history haha.  I had to grate my own cheese but it was delicious.  I have two cans left so I'm saving them for celebratory moments in the coming few months.

I also had some midterm and final exams about a week ago.  Only about half the grades are posted so we'll see how well I did.  They do things a little differently here.  Mostly lecture lecture lecture and then just one midterm or final and that's your grade. It's usually about a 2-3 hour handwritten essay...craziness! Especially when it's in another language....

I finally hit the jackpot with the federal police and got registered...it was not an easy process though.  They've been on strike and their website was down so I couldn't schedule an appointment. So we decided to take a screenshot of the faulty website and go there personally to explain the situation.  We got there and got in line and although we didn't have an appointment, the lady there said she could squeeze us in.  Then she switched roles with another lady who...well...let's put it this way...it would be inappropriate in every way shape and form to discuss this individual.  She was the absolute most rude person I've ever met in my life.  The attitude was palpable.  The smug and despising looks were grotesque and her interactions with the customers were a far cry from being remotely friendly. So after we had stood there for over an hour she denied us.  That's when the real KQ came out and pulled out all Portuguese, English, Spanish, and even some Greek right there in line and was not taking no for an answer.  I've been here for almost 3 months now and I was getting the runaround and I wasn't going to have it.  So luckily I was able to manage my way to the supervisor to explain the entire situation and well...needless to say...after a good 5 hours there...I am finally a legal resident of Brazil!!! This is mostly important because I can now travel outside of the country and get back in.

What else...well my registration was not very welcoming and neither was the scam artist who stole my credit card number and decided that they wanted to buy $7,500 worth of clothing and make-up here in Sao Paulo.  So, I spent another afternoon on the phone with good 'ole American Express.  I tell you what....if you don't have an AMEX, you are missing out on one of the most assuring and customer friendly companies in the world.  The service was fantastic. They blocked every fraudulent charge and are express mailing me a new card to arrive Monday.  Now that's how you keep a customer happy!

Other things to note...I started two new classes...which I'm in love with. Some of you may vomit when I say this...but hey...someone has to love this stuff!!! 1. Simulation Models in Finance.  It's like financial calculus. Super interesting stuff and we get to have class with my favorite thing in the world...Microsoft Excel! 2. Brazilian Tax Law. Ok, I think I'm going to write a whole blog post on this one class. It was SO SO SO interesting. Now, I'm an accounting nerd who wrote his Boren proposal to come to Brazil to study tax reform so you understand why I loved it....but I think you all would actually enjoy hearing about it a little. The way the tax system has affected economics here is fascinating. More to come....

So the only bad part about these two classes starting is that this school I'm going to is an organizational nightmare.  They switched the calendars and two of these classes now overlap times. What is a student supposed to do?! I can't drop either class at this point and more importantly, I don't want to drop either of them. They're fascinating. But this forced me to just email the professors and explain that the school changed the dates and because the Law school and the Business school don't cross-communicate, I'm now stuck in this dilemma. But, you could say that I'm not surprised...the organization is a complete joke. Even as I identified the issue in the online system, I came across a notification that I was registered for a class that I never asked to be in. I got this notification because it said I had missed too many courses and thus, I was going to fail. I was very confused and looked up the information and sure enough...my school registered me for a class that I had no clue existed, never attended, never asked to be in it, and now they say they can't do anything about it....that I will just fail it.  You best believe another KQ session is about to be had.  Especially after I didn't get to participate in the fair haha.

The last two weekends I did go to parties that were planned by the school. The first was a battle of the bands competitions between all the local universities. Very cool. And this past weekend was like a 20's themed party which was outrageous. At least 5,000 people went, very swanky, great music, and a lot of fun. I kept thinking...gosh if this school could run its class operations like it runs a party...I'd be in a whole lot better shape! haha. Nevertheless, it was a good time.

Today we went on two company visits. The first was to a wildlife preservation company and the second was to a beer manufacturer! Both were very interesting visits. We did some planting and had some meaningful discussion about environmental policy here in Brazil and then followed that up with some beer tasting! haha.  Small world...one of the guys that was on the company tour with us, studying at another local university here, is a PIKE! We were on the tour and he had a PIKE shirt on...I couldn't believe my eyes. Super small world. Nevertheless, we reminisced a bit about the good 'ole fraternal days.

Well, I think that's a healthy update for now. I'm heading to a small town for the weekend to get some R&R in and then heading out next weekend to Florianopolis...an island in the southern part of Brazil. It's supposed to be one of the most beautiful places in the whole country.  We're also going to take a day trip to the Blumenau Oktoberfest...the biggest Oktoberfest celebration outside of Munich! Very very excited.

Now that I have some of the heavy work behind me...I'll be back to more regular posts.  If you haven't done so already, check out the videos I posted earlier today.  I told a funny story in Portuguese, English, and Spanish!  You can finally compare the differences between them all.

Happy Homecoming to all my Bearcats. Wish I could be there. I'll be watching and rooting from here!

Host Family Hysteria Part II

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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 antics...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 language...so 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

SKYLINE CHILI

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 thing...me 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 followers...it's been a bit since I've posted something...and this is one of my perturbed, annoyed, and emotional posts...so 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 time....wow....just 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 right...house 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 end...in 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 Vargas...my 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! So...you 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 possible...so 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, bracelets...you 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 beach...so 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!

PHOTOS

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Paraty

Greetings blog followers,

I've taken a few days rest from my posts to do exactly that...rest! 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!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

My First Portuguese Presentation!

Oi todo mundo!

The moment you've all been waiting for...seeing the gringo speak Portuguese in public!

I had my first presentation in Portuguese today about accounting. For those interested, I discussed how public sector governments budget through the commitment and encumbrance process...and here is the video! You can tell that I was a little nervous when I started but about half way in I get going!




Just so you get a taste of what it's like to have a class in another language, I took a 30 second film of my professor's lecture too. Check it out!


Monday, August 27, 2012

Living the good life...and learning too!

This past weekend I made another trip out of Sao Paulo to the relaxing town by the name of Araxa, in the State of Minas Gerais, Brazil. It was one of the most memorable experiences I've ever had in life and you'll shortly read why. We made the trip on a last minute notice for a company visit to CBMM, the worlds leading company mining niobium, which is used to strengthen steel. So...there will certainly be some fun stuff in this post because we were hosted for a lavish weekend and even made our way there on a private jet but I learned a lot about business so I'm hoping that my fellow UC LCB readers will enjoy this management case study, too! A link to the pictures (company, hotel, plane, animals, etc.) is at the end!

Well first thing is first...the private plane! Easily one of the coolest things I've done. The whole treatment was awesome. We just pulled up to the hangar and we were greeted with pao de queijo (cheese bread - brazilian famous) and refreshments in this swanky waiting area. Then we just boarded the plane and took off! No TSA, no waiting in line, no tickets, no passports, no turning off electronics, no baggage hassle...you name it, it didn't exist haha. I can see why people get used to private travel! Not to mention the plane itself was a billion times more comfortable than any commercial flight I've ever been on. I'm dreaming...one day haha. Here are some video's of our experience (two more...video, video)! We arrived and were given even more of a surprise...the company was picking up the tab on our entire weekend! We were staying at this huge palace resort that was once the summer home of Portuguese royalty and we would be welcomed with open arms (drinks, food, massages at the spa, and everything else included).

This was all good and fun but I was really mind boggled with the company's approach to management, socio-economic development, and sustainability...so for my business readers...here comes the real fun stuff!

CBMM is the world's leading company producing niobium, an important natural resource that dramatically increases steel's durability and strength. Every steel manufacturer in the world is its customer. It currently has 85% of the world's market share in this sector. We spent the entire day with the company's CEO and General Counsel and I was instantly engrossed in how personable both of them were and how casual they were too (jeans and a polo). The first question was obvious, how can mining be sustainable? Well, my visit convinced me to answer this question differently than I otherwise would have so read on...

Tadeu (CEO) greeted us with one common theme, "sustainable products must be sustainable in every way and that's the way I am running the business." We met him in the company's human development center, a 30 year old facility that didn't look a day old. The center was built to provide a Pre-K through K education center for employees' children and also give those employees training. Tadeu was completely focused on family economics. "I cannot sell a sustainable product in a developed company without a first-class workforce." He knew that he would have to build strategic investment with his workforce so that he could develop the business. What were people in Brazil looking for? Education! In the 1980's more than 50% of Brazil's population had never been to school, wreaking havoc on the nation's economy from a development perspective. CBMM took matters into its own hands by creating the type of socio-economic development it wanted to see in the country and built it's development center and a residential community for its workforce. It also built a database to track the socio-economic status of every one of its 1800 employees working worldwide. The database included information about the family's income, medical history, access to healthcare and education, information on children, family life, and even included pictures of previous homes the worker's owned and the types of homes they live in today. The CEO essentially said his goal was to increase everyone's socio-economic status multi-fold. This was even proved by the residential community that the company built with over 150 homes that were given to its workers. Workers slowly built equity into the homes and now they all own them and have their own community governance structure. The company has 90% of its workforce owning its own home with the goal of getting to 100%.

CMBB is a low-profile business...you won't see them on the front page of the Wall Street Journal (which is probably a good thing) but I tell you what, I was instantly impressed with the leadership style and focus on people. Even more impressive was the CEO's following comment, "this is not charity what we have here...this is good management." CBMM believes that it can gain even more customers if it has the opportunity to show its partners and customers exactly what they're doing on-site to positively impact the lives of its workforce. I couldn't agree more.

Back to education. The company now educates between 300-400 pre-K students each and every year and then subsidizes education for every employee's child through University at 80% of cost. The ROI has been amazing. Turnover rates are at less than 1% and are mostly attributed to retirement. Absenteeism at the worksite is less than 0.5%. The performance of the students is incredible and most of them go on to have extremely successful careers in business, engineering, and medicine...all because they got a good head start and were built on the values and morals of an ethical and equitable company and its management system. The approach ties workers to the company in a way that 9-5 can't and it's having a significant impact in the lives of people around the country.

Capitalism took matters into its own hands for Brazil's economic development and CBMM is leading the way. Before the big beautiful luxury hotel was in town, the company had to build a guest house to host guests (equally as beautiful) and used some of the city's 70% of tax revenues attributed from the company or its workforce to reinstate the hotel some 12 years ago. With minimum wage over 4 times the required minimum, a profit sharing program awarding 6-7 times salary, and a lifetime pension, CBMM has single-handedly developed an entire town from scratch...it is simply incredible.

Some of you might be a little more interested in the niobium...I sure was. It is an alloy used in steel making. It's not a rare resource but it's difficult to find in a good position with good exporting abilities, making this mine especially prosperous. 95% of the product is exported, mostly because Brazil isn't a huge steel making country. Niobium is all about making steel safe and strong. It's used in nearly everything and we even watched some scary movies of cars crashing (those with niobium withstood nearly all crashes when those that didn't caused instant death). It is also proven to have saved millions of people in oil pipeline bursts (or better lack thereof) because it doesn't make the steel break, only bulge. Spending just $9USD on niobium per one car will reduce the car's weight by 100kg and save one litre of fuel and 2.2 tons of CO2 emissions in the vehicle's lifetime which the emissions savings are more than the total amount of carbon dioxide emitted during the production of all the steel in the vehicle anyway. If niobium weren't mined, these things wouldn't happen. That's the pitch for why it is sustainable! With a lifetime supply left and its many other uses (MRI technology, camera lenses), CBMM believes they are making the world a better and safer place to live day in and day out. Only 3% of all the ore they mine is actually niobium but they recycle or process the other 97% in gigantic manmade mineral lakes on the property. Over 90% of the water that is used is recycled and the air quality in the mine is actually 5 times more clean than the air quality in the city. They are ahead of the game having 8 times less emissions than regulations permit and they desire to continue setting the trend. There's double the amount of vegetation on the mine property than there was 50 years ago and the company also started a plant and animal nursery where they breed endangered species.

The message was all about the two most important things that make the world a better place: Education & Ethics. The rest is money and that is just a number on a computer screen, we don't even see it. There was even some questions on workplace safety. The response: "We don't have to stress much about that. We've created such an incredible environment and our employees have education, healthcare, pensions, homes, etc at their fingertips working for us that they are so mentally engaged in their jobs to do well to stay that we rarely ever have a safety breach". Training may be costly but it doesn't really matter if the employee gives more than 30 years of service to the company. Again, I was impressed with the executives' attitudes and they even knew every employee's name in the entire mine....even the cooks who made us a delicious brazilian lunch. I was amazed!

Just when I thought the day was over, we stopped at the company's entrance, where we had to plant our group tree. Every visitor must plant a tree on the grounds and the company puts a plaque next to the tree with your name engraved in it. We were also given company gifts made by local artisans in an effort to help spur that industry as well. Everything was incredibly coordinated and so purposeful.

I hope I was able to give some good details and get some of the future leaders reading this blog some ideas about how to run a great company and how to invest in PEOPLE! It's not hard, it's the little things that count.

Pictures!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

My letter to everyone back home

Oi todo mundo! Hello everyone!

We had an assignment in Portuguese class this week and it was to complete a letter to tell your friends a little bit about Brazil...and I thought it would make a great post! So here it is, my letter to you all. You'll see that some words are linked. Click on them and you'll be taken to YouTube where you'll witness firsthand all the things I am experiencing here as well. Enjoy!

Dear Friends,

Finally, I arrived in Brazil and I'm enjoying it very much. It's a little different than what my friends told me about it. Many told me that Brazilians speak Spanish and the truth is that they don't...they speak Portuguese. They also told me that the capital of Brasil was Rio de Janeiro (see below). It's not! It's Brasilia. I, on the other hand, am living in a concrete jungle called Sao Paulo (see below). Rio is famous for Brazilian Carnival and its natural beauty! But it doesn't last all year, only four days in the beginning of March.




They have beautiful music here as well. A famous type is called "chorinho". You have to listen to it! There's also lots of "samba" and MPB (popular brazilian music). I adore "bossa-nova" and of course, the famous Brazilian song about Ipanema!

Another friend of mine said that Brazilians dance mambo. Well, they really dance "samba", famous all over the world. Brazilians are also complete fanatics about soccer...or here called...futebol! Pele or Neymar are the two most famous players of all time. Futebol is a religion here and they even call the best players angels! And when Brazil is playing...everyone wears green and yellow and cheers like crazy!

Brazilians drink lots of coffee but unlike the US, here coffees are very small and always have lots of milk and sugar. The typical Brazilian plate is feijoada and generally, this is accompanied with a very strong drink called a caipirinha, which is made with an alcohol pronounced "cashassa" and has lime and sugar in it. When it's not made with lime, you can usually find it with other fruits and even made with sake or vodka too. The dessert of choice is called brigadeiro...one of the most delicious things ever. If you're just looking for a quick snack, then they eat salgados, which are breaded pockets with stuffing of cheese or meat or hearts of palm or other things.

Another interesting thing is that Brazilians always say hello and goodbye with a kiss on the cheek. And when you end a conversation on the phone...it's always a goodbye with "beijos" (kisses) or "abracos" (pronounced "abrassos") (hugs). Depending on where you are in the country, you can expect anywhere from one to three kisses!

Brazilians also have an interesting sense of time. It's normal to be about 15 minutes late and when you go to a Brazilian party, at least 30 minutes late but not rare to be 2+ hours late.

Brazilians are also very superstitious. Women do not put their purses on the floor EVER and when someone says something bad, everyone knocks on wood three times. For New Years, everyone wears white, which symbolizes peace. Every other color signifies something different; for example, pink means you're looking for love, yellow means you want money, blue for good health, and green for hope. And the clothing is always new to bring about good luck. And when they go to the beach, they jump seven waves for: health, love, luck, money, hope, peace, and happiness.

Well friends, that is all for now. I hope you enjoyed learning a little bit about Brazil!

Your friend,

Kyle

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Deported!!!

I figured the title would catch a few readers eyes! I was not deported, but thinking of it what not out of the question this week when a clerical error made by the Brazilian consulate in Washington DC on my visa application did not allow for me to get registered with the Federal Police of Brazil...an absolute must for all foreign-born residents. Read below for the story!

This week has been full of interesting surprises and has got me to thinking more about how exactly I'm going to spend my time here.

Tuesdays and Thursdays are my rough days and are mentally exhausting. I have a two-hour lecture on Public Accounting in Portuguese from 9-11 and then Portuguese language classes from 3-7:30. So, it's Portuguese all day, which is awesome from a learning perspective but you can also sympathize with me here...by 8 PM, my mind has had to think about everything two and three times over! Because I just can't read the book or listen to the lecture, I have to read and listen with my trusty Portuguese-English dictionary, writing down or highlighting words every few minutes that I don't know. Then it's a challenge to look that word up while continuing to listen to the lecture so that I can keep up with the lecture. Nothing worse than looking something up and then being lost for the next 20 minutes because I didn't pay attention to the lesson when I was looking the word up. Anyways, you get my point...back to sympathy...8 PM rolls around and I just want to speak and think in English for a few minutes for some mental relaxation. I also think I've been sleeping like a baby here because of all this. My mind is exhausted after a "day in the life" here so when I hit the pillow it's lights out!

Good news is that this week I had another test in my accounting class and...I think I did much much better! I'm surprised how much more Portuguese I've learned in just a week to go from a solid C on my last test to an A on this one! haha. I was feeling good when the Professor said, "let's go over the two hardest problems on the test" after we turned it in and I got them both right! Now some of you are thinking that this shouldn't be hard for me because I'm an accounting nerd but here in Brazil, they use even a different system of accounting in the public sector. For you americans, Public Accounting is a profession but here in Brazil, it's actually the system of accounting they use for the public sector...in America, we know it as modified-accrual...the type of accounting we use for governments and non-profits. But, they don't use modified-accrual here. They use a nice mix between cash and accrual accounting, so I do in fact have to think before churning out my T-accounts and journal entries! Ok, enough on accounting technicalities...some of you are yawning I'm sure! haha

Here was another fun experience. So most of you know that I really took college involvement seriously. It was a ton of fun and I enjoyed being busy, always having something to do at UC. Well, now that I've been here a month and have my schedule set, I'm picking out my time in my schedule where I can do something here and there. I get restless otherwise. Well, there's these organizations at school that are called "Junior Businesses". They are like mini businesses or consulting organizations run by the school and they work with big companies to provide free consultation. Very popular here! So, I was thinking that that would be a good thing to get involved with and will surely keep my accounting skills sharp since that's a key area of need in these groups. What I didn't know is that there's like a 5 stage interview process to even join! I made it through the first one with the help of my FGV buddy. I had to write some essays on the Brazilian economy (in Portuguese, of course) and luckily I made it to the next round where I had to take an Economics dynamic (test). Not so sure how I did on that puppy, especially because they wouldn't let me use my dictionary either! The first third was ok...the typical econ questions like: If Jimmy is blonde and the receptionist is short, how old is Bobby's mother? The second third was a brain racker: If this graph shows the supply and demand of an elastic good that's imported, draw a new graph after interest rates have been increased to control foreign currency fluctuations. The third section I hadn't a clue. They were questions from the Brazilian newspapers like: What did Dilma Rousseff (Brazilian President) say in June in her State of the Union address about Brazil's relationship with China on electronic imports? YIKES! I hadn't a clue, so I took a wild guess based on what I thought would make logical sense. Awaiting the results...we'll see! If I pass, I get to do a team-based consulting exercise, that will be interesting with my now 8th grade level of Portuguese haha.

So, this brings me to another point. If you ever go abroad, study up on your own country! Never in my life have I been asked so much about the American system. Everything from economics, to trade agreements, to our constitution, to how our public officials are elected! I've found myself googling lots of these topics so I can answer intelligently to these questions. I feel like more of an American expert here in Brazil than I even did back home! Which is another challenge because all of the news is not readily available, I have to search for it.

I was really thrown off my game this week in class when the professor was asking me questions about the General Accounting Office of the US Government and how it compared to their equivalent.

What else...? On Wednesday for my Brazilian Law class, we got to go to the Ministerio Publico and had class in the courthouse with some Brazilian attorneys. Very very very interesting stuff! We got a tour of the facility and had some good dialogue on the system. Here was the most interesting fact to me: Over 13,000 new cases go through the Sao Paulo courts every month. I was shocked! This seems absurd, but we were assured that the system was not out of control and that there wasn't really pressure between the courts and police about who was doing a good job or not. But, the more I think about it, I'm not that surprised. I, alone, have witnessed at least a handful of crimes since I've been here and I'm just one person who's only traveling in so-called safe places in the third largest city of the world!

So, the moment you've all been waiting for...the deportation! haha. So, in order to stay in Brazil for the year, I had to apply for a year-long student visa with the Brazilian consultate in Washington DC. The application was extensive, requiring multiple forms to be signed by both my home and foreign institutions, notarized by local governments, disclosures of personal wealth, objectives, police records, etc...not to mention a hefty fee! Upon getting to Brazil, you must register with the federal police because I will be here so long, they want me on record! Again, more forms and fees. So, this Friday, I had my appointment to go in and finalize the paperwork and get my fingerprints taken, etc. It was an extremely frustrating process. My appointment was scheduled for 9 AM and there was no one there for me. Even worse, our group could see all the workers in this meeting through some glass windows. It was about 10 AM before a lady came out and said, "we're sorry, we're having a mandatory meeting on improving customer service...not sure when it will let out." ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?! How can you improve customer service when you have a boatload of people waiting for you with scheduled appointments over an hour ago?! I can't imagine what people with 8 AM appointments were feeling like. Again, I don't know what I had such high expectations. Half of the public sector is on strike here. Police, universities, you name it, they're not working. Nevertheless, the meeting let out by 10:30 and I was in line...not for long, because when they started matching my documents, my processor realized that the dates didn't match. The visa in my passport said that it was valid until July of 2013 and my visa paperwork, which was done by the consulate, had a hand written note that said valid until July of 2012. Clearly the person who wrote the note made a clerical error, it was hand written and he put 2012 instead of 2013...everything else said 2013, but after a few minutes of trying to convince them that it was an error and even having a conversation with the supervisor, there was nothing they could do. I am now forced to spend another morning or afternoon at the Foreign Affairs Ministry sometime in the next week and have additional forms processed for me that says the hand written note was a clerical error and that I am legally authorized to be here. The bad news about this all is that until I get registered with the police, I am technically held in a "detained" state, you could say, because the form I get from the police authorizes me to actually travel to other countries, including exiting Brazil and entering the US. Good thing I don't have any immediate trips planned elsewhere, otherwise I wouldn't be able to go! Let's hope this gets resolved quickly...the pleasures of traveling abroad!

So, this has been a long post but I hope you've enjoyed some of the stories. As a means of closure, let me send a gigantic THANK YOU to all the people who have offered me a way to get Skyline chili! In fact, I've been put into touch with someone who is traveling to Brazil next month from Cincinnati who is going to bring me a can or two in exchange for a Sao Paulo city tour! My dream is complete! This brings me to a very important lesson to be told. Tell the world what you want! haha. Chances of you getting it increase exponentially!

I'm going to make another post shortly about Brazilian culture, which will include lots of pictures and YouTube links so you can actually see all the things I've been experiencing!

Tchau!