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Month: December 2012

The Adventure Doesn’t End Here.

The Adventure Doesn’t End Here.

Day 170

I’m writing this from an airplane a few thousand kilometers up in the sky over South America on my way back to the States, and no kidding, the song “America” by Razorlight just came up on my iTunes shuffle.  Once I get in to Washington D.C. I still have a bit of traveling to do before I can really say I’m home.  Charles is picking me up at the airport and tomorrow night we’re starting the drive with his family down to Florida.  As for my blog though, this is the end of the adventure for the mean time.  I’m glad that those who have been reading it have enjoyed it.  I’ll try not to leave you with any cliff hangers at the end of this post, except for of course, the whole “okay, so what’s next?” question that I have yet to answer myself.

Just like I knew it would, the last week passed in a whirlwind of ups, downs, and all over the place events and emotions.  The beginning of the end had us focused in on finishing coursework for our most important class.  MLG had always been our most important class for only one reason: if we didn’t pass it, MLG isn’t offered at UVA in the Spring, and that meant that failing it could keep us from graduating on time.  Two exams and a project were all due within 6 days of each other, and based on the entire class’s performance on the first project and exam, we felt the possibility of failing becoming a reality.  Grading in Brazil is on a 1-10 scale, for which a 5 is passing, but for which UVA will only accept a minimum of a 7 for credit.  Since the class average on the first exam was a 3.5, we were only just hovering above 7’s with the first project, and grading in Brazil isn’t on a curve, there was no choice but to do well on these last assignments.  Needless to say, the baristas at the Starbucks with free wifi in Ipanema started to recognize us when we walked through the door.  The exam went better than we imagined, but still wasn’t quite enough to raise our averages above a 7 (which would also exempt us from the final exam happening 2 days before we left).  Everything then was resting on the second group project we had to turn in a few days after the exam.  Joe, Keia, and I were all split up and put in groups with Brazilian students for these projects.  The idea was that they had more experience with R and could edit the Portuguese we contributed to the formal report.  It was a good idea in theory, but the group I ended up working with didn’t really contribute much.   Since I needed the grade, and I guess they.. maybe didn’t?  I was sort of left to do the work and write up the report by myself.  While it took a lot of will power and determination to get through, turning in a 13-page report (okay, so there were lots of graphs) on statistical analysis in Portuguese felt like a pretty big accomplishment even before I found out the grade was good enough so that I didn’t have to take the final exam on Monday!

Joe, and Keia were home free as well, so all that was standing in our way was a final presentation and luncheon with Professor Orlando.  One might think that the presentation would be cause for more stress than churrascaria, but the lunch was taking place on our last day in Rio.  While we knew Orlando would probably be late, we got a little antsy since we couldn’t have imagined that we’d be waiting on him for more than two hours.  Marcos, Bernardo, and Bernardo were there as well, and they are unbelievably excited for their upcoming semester abroad in the United States.  I keep forgetting that they’ll be joining us up at UVA in January, and I’m so glad we’ll have a few people to keep practicing our Portuguese with.

Delicious as lunch was, we had plans to meet up at Joe’s apartment with our friends that night for one more get together and goodbye.  We had seen a few of them the night before since Lu’s band got a permanent gig at a bar in Lapa every Monday night!  They are so much fun to watch, and I’m going to miss that good ol’ rock and roll of hers.  With everyone together on Tuesday, we had planned “Amigo Occulto” (Secret Santa) amongst our friends, meaning everyone had been given the name of someone else in the group for whom they had to buy a present and could only spend a max of R$20.  When it was time to reveal the gifts, the first person started by describing the person for whom they bought their gift without mentioning their name.  When everyone figured out who it was, that person accepted the gift and then described the person for whom they had bought a gift, and so on until all of the gifts had been revealed and everyone had a present.  Gift-giving went in a circle until it turned out that I had Luciana and Luciana also had me!  We both drew pictures of our favorite places in Rio on our cards for each other, we both gave each other bracelets, and we both cried when we opened it all.  In fact, I think almost everyone cried that night.  Later on as Leo was driving us all home, we stopped for a group hug as our one last goodbye.  The taxis passing us must have thought we were a pretty strange sight, this group of people in the road all crying and laughing and hugging at 4 o’clock in the morning.  Thinking about it is sad, because I don’t know if we’ll ever have that family all back together in the same way again.  I’m going to have to get better at Facebook so that I can keep in touch.

It was late when we finally got home, and our flight was so early that we didn’t sleep.  We showered, finished packing our bags, and hopped in a cab to the airport around sunrise.  The flight to Bogotá, Colombia went smoothly, and we had booked a hostel there since our layover was going to be around 20 hours long.  At the same time that we are all pretty eager to get home, it was nice to actually have enough time to explore the city a bit.  The hostel was across town from the airport in a district called La Candelaria.  We converted our leftover reais to Colombian pesos, which are about 1,800 to the US dollar!  Money is South America is way cooler than American money from my experience so far.  We took a taxi to the hostel, which was a beautiful little place bordering the historic district we were staying in.  After getting settled, taking a nap, and finding a place to eat some Japanese-Colombian fusion type food, we still had quite a bit of time to walk around and see the city.  We bought scarves, since up in the Andes the temperature drops to around 40 degrees Fahrenheit at night, and hopped on a city bus to Zona T, where we heard there were a lot of bars and movement.  It was lively as we walked around, and we were appreciative of the real beer warming us up on the insides, compared to the iced down watery light beers we’d been drinking for the past 6 months.  It would be neat to have some more time to get to know Bogotá, but we headed back early since we knew we had to get up in the morning and do the same thing all over again.

We slept like babies, and woke up early to shower and return to the airport.  Things are still going fine, and it’s weird to think that I’ll be back in the United States for the first time in six months in just a couple of hours.  Everyone that I have talked to says it is a shock to go back after you’ve been away for so long.  I can’t really imagine it, just because the States is where I grew up for the first 21 years of my life.  How could I be shocked to be in my own country?  I guess I’ll see soon enough.

To wrap up this post, I’ve been keeping an ongoing list of things I have learned, things I will miss, and things that will be a part of my next adventure.  The most important things on it are here:

  • Patience, patience, patience.
  • Flexibility is adaptability.
  • Friends become family abroad.
  • Say yes more than you say no.
  • Açaí always.

Stay tuned for the next one 😉

Com Amor,


Os Finais.

Os Finais.

Day 160

With just more than one week left, we are closing in on the end of our experience here in Brazil.  All of us hope to come back one day, but none of us are sure how it will happen or what it will look like.  All of our friends hope we’ll get to see Réveillon and Carnival at the very least someday.

Last week the experiment in Rocinha well.  We took a bus into Rocinha which carried us up, around, through, and back down some of the most unbelievable mountainside architecture you could imagine.  It also did so at a much higher speed than you would think that a bus could.  We have yet to analyze the results of this experiment, and we have one last experiment to run tomorrow at FIOCRUZ.  I had been in touch with one of the developers of the UN Stop Disasters Now game that we have been having the children play.  We are interested in specializing this game to Rio de Janeiro, but the UN (who provided funding for the game) have been hesitant to search for more money for this project.  I got an email earlier in the week, however, that the UN has been receiving a lot of interest in updating the game and positive feedback lately.  The developer I am in contact with said that if we sent some of our findings showing the utility and potential for the game, it could help push the UN to agree to look for funding for further development of the game that could be specific to our project!  We’re not sure what will come of it, but it’s exciting nonetheless.

The rest of the week passed like it normally does, which is to say never in quite the same way, but I ate and slept and studied and ran and bought lots and lots of presents for everyone back home!  I felt more like a tourist, shopping around the fair for souvenirs and such, than I had felt in a really long time.  Keia and I were talking about whether we’ll feel a shock coming back to the United States.  I didn’t think so originally, but I live here now.  All of the things that we do and see every day have become the norm, but I know they are not so back home.

Since we have final exams and projects coming up and due in this next week, I didn’t really go out at all over the weekend.  Sunday, however, Joe was finishing up his “Startup Weekend” and Keia and I went to see all of the final presentations.  I was a little bummed that I hadn’t planned far enough ahead to take part in it.  It seemed like it would have been a really cool experience, and probably a unique one in the scheme of my own life, but who knows.  Afterward, Luciana’s band was playing in public for the second time outdoors at the praça in Largo do Machado.  Since the presentations ran a little long and Lu got cut off a little short, we only had time to catch the last two songs of her set.  They were the best ones though!  Alguem robaram minha garrafa de whiskey and her rendition of Livin’ on a Prayer are my favorites.  We all grabbed a chopp after the show to celebrate, which felt good since I hadn’t seen our friends in quite some time.  We have a secret santa exchange planned for the day before we leave.  It’ll be a chance for everyone to get together and say goodbyes too.  We came home and worked on our projects until pretty late into the night, and we’re back at Fundão with a full day of work and class and difficult conversations ahead of us.

Until the next (and maybe the last one).

With love,


Festas and Foodstuffs

Festas and Foodstuffs

Day 153

This week passed by like a whirlwind.  Despite the rain, I really didn’t accomplish much so I have my work cut out for me over the next couple of weeks.  I think I function better this way anyway, but I guess we’ll find out!

Keia and I decided not to participate in Startup Weekend, but we bought tickets to watch the final presentations on Sunday night.  It should be a really interesting experience, and I’m excited to go.  I think Luciana’s band is playing in public for the second time that night too, so it looks like we’ll have to get all of the studying for our MLG exam on Monday done over this week and the weekend… along with our POII project due next Tuesday.

This past weekend, there was a choppada at UFRJ on Friday.  A choppada is essentially a big, sponsored, outdoor party on college grounds (in this case, at Fundão) with live performances and free beer from late afternoon on through until midnight.  We considered this a part of our “study of Brazilian college culture” and although it took two hours to arrive (by bus during rush hour… you would have thought we’d learned by now), it was worth it to go.

On Saturday, Keia and I went to get haircuts.  I can’t actually remember the last time I had gotten one, but since I know I’d never had one in Brazil, it had to be at least 5 months.  I was at the point where I could tie my own hair in a knot and it would stay, if that gives you any idea of how long it must have been haha.  Saturday night it was the birthday of one of our friends from ENCE.  Jessica had been one of the first students to really reach out to us, and she invited us to a place called Mixtura Carioca in Lapa that had live samba music all night long with DJ breaks in between.  Our old roommate Silvana came with the three of us, and I feel like I really got the hang of samba!  We’re trying to start to collect the names of songs and artists that we like here so that we can bring them back to the States.

Sunday came and finally so did our churrasco at Leo’s house in Campo Grande!  Keia and I are becoming quite the pair of chefs lately.  We haven’t been cooking so much at home, but I feel like we’ve successfully put together a few amazing meals for a lot of our friends.  Of course this time having Nayra to tell us what to do and Leo’s Mom to make us delicious farofa… plus the guys down the street who sell ready-made garlic bread, it wasn’t that hard to turn out a delicious product.  Campo Grande is neat because although it’s about 40 minutes by car outside of Central Rio, it’s yet still part of the city proper, but feels much more like a neighborhood.  There are many more family homes there and the suburban feel that comes with getting away from the high rises of the big city.  After eating to the point of explosion and still having enough leftovers for an army, we headed back to Copacabana and I passed out fairly early last night.

Tomorrow we’ll be running our second experiment at a library in Rocinha (the largest favela in Brazil, and one of the largest in the world).  Don’t worry though, Rocinha has been pacified for some time now.  We’ve changed our experimental design a little to include an interview with the children after they have played the Stop Disasters Now game that is supposed to teach them about flooding.  It should be really interesting, and we have another experiment marked for the following Tuesday as well.  I feel like this gives us a more solid basis for our Capstone than we have had yet.  I have also started to conduct interviews and make a questionnaire for Brazilian and American engineering students and professors as a part of what I will write about for the individual part of my thesis.

Time to get crackin’!