When I first arrived to Brazil, I was automatically placed in “ensino medio” (high school) because Rotary Youth Exchange is intended for high school students. I was the equivalent of a junior and studied there for about five months. (If you missed these posts, you can read about the experience here and here)
I really liked this time because it gave me a chance to catch onto Portuguese (taking notes in class and listening to lectures helped so much!) and to learn some basic things I needed to know, like important presidents and events from history.
When the school told me they didn’t have room for me the following year, I saw this as an opportunity to try something new. Rather than switch to another high school, I asked if I could go to university. Luckily, things worked out, and I have now been studying at a university for a few weeks (although it feels much shorter. My teachers were on strike, just like the teachers in the US, so I didn’t have school last week. But that’s a whole other story!)
My school is called UniBH and it is private. Something I’ve found interesting is that here, public universities are like ivy-league schools: only the “best and brightest” get in and attend because they have entirely free tuition. It’s kind of paradoxical in the sense that in order to get in, you need to invest thousands of reais (dollars) into a private middle and high school education. The people that can afford to do that usually don’t need to worry about paying for college. Here, you have to pay for private universities, although the amount is significantly less than that of the United States. (But when looking at Brazilian salaries, it’s absurd).
My school has three different units in Belo Horizonte. I study at the largest unit. In all, the school has about 22,000 students currently enrolled, although you wouldn’t know it by taking a course. My “sala” (class) has about 33 students (based on the group chat) but on any given day, I’d say there’s significantly less, about 25 or so (unless there’s a test).
I am enrolled in the “relações internacionais” (international relations) course (equivalent to a major) here. The classes I’m taking include: Social sciences and anthropology; communication, diversity, and critical thinking; negotiation and bargaining; the modern history of international relations; and languages and international relations. Yes, they are all taught entirely in Portuguese. It’s awesome.
To be honest, I’ve been pretty confused so far. I started the semester about two months late, so I’ve missed a lot of material. I also entered halfway through most of the chapters so I missed the vast majority of the instruction for each of my classes. The students are currently taking tests, so I figure that once the next portion of material begins I’ll be able to catch on. Some of the professors have been really nice about this. They’ve sent me emails with prior readings enclosed or will take a brief second to recap a concept they’ve already gone over. (I can’t say this is entirely for me, but the fact they look me in the eyes as they do the recap makes me feel it is.)
As is frequently the case with Brazilians, I had no trouble being accepted. Everyone has been really nice, offering to let me join their groups for group work or letting me look over their shoulder as they complete assignments I don’t do. (I don’t have access to the computers or textbooks since I’m not a legitimate, paying student, so everyone has been really helpful with this).
I’ve made one pretty good friend in the class named Italo. He’s honestly hilarious and I live for his stories about times he was robbed and his love for Mary Kay, which he sells to afford tuition. If I’m ever confused about a meeting place or class activity, I go to him.
University here is incredibly different to that of the United States. Here’s a few huge differences for me:
- Everyone in the same major takes the exact same classes. Based on your major, the classes are already chosen for you. You are assigned a “sala” (classroom) kind of like elementary school. Sometimes the students move collectively to another classroom or other times the teachers switch to the room to join the students. It just depends on the class.
- Here, you can only miss a certain number of classes per semester and if you miss more, you have to repeat the year. (Maybe this is the same in the US, but it feels much more lenient there). Because of this, some people show up to the class, sign in, and leave after/go hang out in the halls. It blows my mind.
- University classes are so short!!! In the US, because you only meet two or three times a week, your classes are two to three hours. Here, you have the same class for two blocks and in total, it’s about an hour and a half. Personally, I think it’s a really short period for the teacher to accomplish everything they need to. Some classes you only have once a week and others you have twice.
- For me, university starts at 7:40 and ends at 11:40. There’s also the option to study in the afternoon (something like 2 to 6) or in the night (7 to 10:30/11). Teachers frequently teach two sessions. Some even teach all three. (This means they literally only go home to sleep. Isn’t that crazy?)
- In American high school, you spend a lot of time doing projects/assignments in class and working in groups. College there seems to be more lecture classes. Here, most of my classes so far have been projects/assignments in class. I’ve only had one lecture thus far. In my high school here, almost every class was lecture based and there were very rarely in-class assignments. (That being said, I haven’t attended many classes yet. Maybe this will change as time goes on).
- There is SO MUCH EXTRA CREDIT. Teachers say that if you mess up on a test, you can do corrections to get partial points back. This is absurd to me. I didn’t even get this option for some of my high school classes!!!
- Like high school, it’s acceptable (but still rude) to be obviously on your phone or sleeping in front of the professor. This hasn’t happened as much as it did at my old school for a few reasons, I believe.
- The ones that don’t care either literally don’t show up or go into the halls
- Tests, of course
- You’re paying for your education and want to get the most of it (A fair amount of students work in the afternoons to pay for their own college)
- You actually like the course/material you’re studying!
Because I’ve only been in university for a few weeks, that’s all I have to say so far. I still haven’t decided which classes I like and don’t like, how the assignments look, how tests look. I’m sure that once I formulate more opinions, I’ll write about it again.
In addition to my studies, I started an internship at the university and a internship outside of the university. Read about them here.