As for my last post, I spoke just a moment too soon! As soon as we got home from class on Monday, we discovered that a second roommate had arrived. She is also Brazilian and does not speak any English. Her name is Sylvana, and she is also extremely nice. The four of us get along well, but it is a lot of hormones (and shoes.. and electronics) for one room. It’s fun being about to chat with them about food, or boys, or clothes and seeing which things are different and which are always the same. Since Sylvana and Marina moved in and since classes have started I feel much more immersed in Portuguese.
Our classes at ENCE are off to a fairly slow start, which is a good introduction for us. So far it has been a lot of copying down formulas, mostly of distributions, most of which we’ve seen before. There’s some new theory (of queues) which makes heavy use of probability. One class has two exams before the final, and the other has two reports, and we finish December 17th which is two days before our flights home. There are no other exchange students at ENCE, and I get the feeling there may have only been a few in the past. It is very small (maybe 30-60 students per year?), each class matriculates together, takes the same classes at the same time, and knows each other pretty well by this point. In other words, we stand out a lot. A couple of really nice students have exchanged materials with us, helped us find English copies of texts, and offered their email addresses and/or friendship in general, which feels great. Two nights ago I sat down and did my first problem set and took notes out of our Portuguese textbook. The longer the words get, the more similar they are to English, and the easier it is to understand, so it wasn’t too bad. School supplies here though are expensive. I mean R$24 for a notebook that’s barely 200 pages and is broken up by week with a weird little planner page. College-ruled paper? I think not. Every papeleria has the same crap.. and it’s all pretty.. crap.
Our first meeting of Engenharia do Trabalho with Professor Orlando and the Brazilian students we’ll be working with (Bernardo “B”, Bernardo “Bernie”, and Marcos) was on Tuesday afternoon at UFRJ. We took 3 buses (well, two buses and a van) to get from our class at ENCE to UFRJ. If we’re going to be doing that every week I hope we find a slightly easier route. In any case, B, Bernie, and Marcos are great guys. They’re excited about working with us, showing us around Rio, and coming to UVA. In these Tu/Th meetings we’ll be developing our Capstone project, which we started researching last semester at UVA. It has to do with emergency preparedness and disaster risk reduction related to urban flooding here in Rio. This is a huge problem involving lots of stakeholders, and in order to narrow our focus we are looking into the education and awareness of children in high risk areas on these issues. It would be awesome to do something involving data collection on demographics in these communities (mostly favelas), and there are lots of entities who desperately want and could benefit from this information. The problem is how to get it. We’re not sure it can be done from the outside, and we don’t have the resources to do it safely from the inside, so children and education it will be for now. When Professor Orlando arrived, we didn’t really know what to expect because our proposal from last semester implemented a program that it’s not feasible to use here the way we had intended. We at least found out that we’ll be working closely with the Defesa Civil here in Rio and agreed to get back together on Thursday with some new ideas for a better introduction to the work Orlando’s grad students are doing and the reality of the situation here in Brazil. We realize that before we can even begin to define the problem, we have a lot to learn about Brazil and the way things work here.
This morning was great for that though. Marcos, Joe, Keia, and I headed back to UFRJ (via Marcos’ car, the first one I think we’ve ridden in here that wasn’t a taxi!) and met Professor Orlando, his grad students, and a man from the Secretária at the Defesa Civil. It would have been a lot of information to absorb in English, so the fact that it wasn’t gave our brains a good jog. It was very broad, but we learned a lot, and I’m excited about the potential for this project again. Afterward, we ate lunch at UFRJ (which is much cheaper than almost anywhere else in Rio) with Marcos to debrief and talk about next steps. We have a lot of reading ahead of us and access to some really good materials now. The coming weeks are going to be busy ones compared to they way we’ve been living so far.
Wednesday morning, in between our Tu/Th madness, Keia and I went with Joe and his roommate to try out the trainer they started going to on the beach. He’s super tanned, middle aged, and buff as hell. 5 days a week you can go any time between 7am-noon for an hour or more and he’ll run you through a circuit of exercises that changes daily. It was a seriously tough workout. Running through the sand is difficult on its own. I don’t know if I’m going to keep up with it because it costs a decent chunk of change per month, and we’d miss out on the days we have morning classes. It was definitely motivational though. Afterward, B (from our Capstone group) invited us to the beach in Leblon. On the bike ride there is started to rain which was actually kind of fun. I saw someone walking down the calçada with a UVA towel when we got to Ipanema, and it turned out to be a guy we’d been in touch with over email before we got to Rio! This Saturday another UVA grad who works in São Paulo is coming to Rio, so the group of us are planning to get together. After finding B and Marcos on the beach, B invited us to his house just a block off the water in Leblon. His apartment was absolutely elegant. We hung out at his pool on the roof and talked for a couple hours about everything that was going on. It was a really, really nice and relaxing day.
I’m not sure what plans look like for tonight, but since we have class in the morning I imagine it will be pretty low key. I feel like we haven’t seen Kevin and all our friends in a while, so maybe we’ll go to the CS meeting again.