Wednesday, January 30, 2013

My homeland

Oi Brasil! Eu te amo muito e nunca quero sair.

Ever since I met my first Brazilian, it's been a goal of mine to travel to this beautiful land full of beautiful people. And guess what? The time has finally arrived!

After two wonderful weeks in DC, we finished up our site visits, our guest lectures, our lobbying visits to the Senate (picture of Al Franken's office below, and many hours bonding in the William Penn House hostel, we packed up and hopped on a plane to Sao Paulo, Brazil. We spent one night in a hotel before we were greeted by our host families whom we would be living with for the next 5 weeks. Each of us were paired up with one other student to live with, except there was one group of 3 girls, and one group of 3 boys. I'm staying with Barby (Harvard student studying Molecular Biology Stem Cell Research) and Chelsea (Brown student studying Public Health). Everyone was waiting in the hotel lobby room with our suitcases, anxiously awaiting the arrival of our Brazilian families. Glenda, our country facilitator, was calling out our names as our families would come in. After watching several of the students leave with their host families, our names were called. And I still can't believe how lucky we got!

Chelsea, Barby and I are staying with the Faria Bacchi Family. Our mother, Maria de Graça, is sooo sweet! She loves to laugh, loves to make jokes, loves to have people around, and she loves to cook! Then we have two host sisters, Lara (20) and Lisa (28), and one host brother Luigi (23). Lara and Lisa both live at home; Lara goes to University in Sao Paulo, and Lisa works in the city. Luigi we haven't met yet because he doesn't live at home. He goes to university a bit farther away so he lives in another city. Both Lara and Lisa speak pretty good English, but all three of us are trying to learn Portuguese as fast as we can! It helps knowing Spanish, and knowing a little bit of Portuguese from my Brazilian friends :) Lara painted all of our nails the first day (it's one of her passions) and she is absolutely hilarious. We've shared some great laughs with her already and she loves talking with us. We live in a nice neighborhood in Sao Paulo on the 18th floor of the apartment. And let me tell you, the view from up here is stunning! (picture below) Sao Paulo is home to nearly 11 million people. Let me say that again, eleven MILLION people. That's huge! It's not only the largest city in Brazil, but the largest city in the southern hemisphere! I look out my bedroom window here and I see buildings on building on buildings. As far as you can see, is the city. It just keeps going!! I can't stop staring at it, though! It's so amazing to me. Coming from a town of 20,000 people, Sao Paulo is gigantic. Even for someone coming from a large city, Sao Paulo is gigantic. I have several friends who live in Sao Paulo that I want to visit, but for me to say "Hey I'm in Sao Paulo!" is like someone saying, "Hey, I'm in the US!" Okay maybe not that big.. but hopefully you're getting the point that this city is huge and I'm simply amazed.

We live about a 40 minute walk from the medical university where we have class each day. The 3 boys from our group live literally right next door to the apartment building, so we've been walking with them to class. This way we 1) get some exercise in, and 2) we save money on bus/metro tickets. The food is delicious (beef, beans, rice and fruit), the people are so friendly, and the language is beautiful!

A typical day here: Wake up at 7. Eat breakfast consisting of bread, cheese, jam, fruit, and sometimes chocolate cake. Leave around 7:50 for school. From 8:30-9 we have Portuguese lessons. Then we have class, guest lectures, and/or site visit from 9 until 5:30. Then we walk back home, eat dinner, do our readings for class, and sleep! It's a long day. But we're getting to do some pretty exciting things! Today, we split into 5 groups and each one went to a different neighborhood in Sao Paulo. My group went to a favela (slum) called Vila Prudente (photos below). We were observing the health care access they had in the region and learning about the recycling program that they had started. This favela has just in the past 3 years gotten runnign water and electricity in all of the houses (they still have to pay for it though, so not all of them have it all the time). In Brazil, health care is a right for all Brazilians, so they have a free health care system. Although, those who can afford it, buy private insurance because waiting to see a doctor in a public center could take months. It's so interesting looking into their health care system and seeing the major changes they've made over the past 30 years. It's quite amazing.

I still can't believe I'm actually here, but already, it feels like home. I'm excited for the next 4 1/2 weeks. It's going to fly by!

Chillin outside of Al Franken's office. He has St.Olaf & Carleton flags hung up!
The IHP group at the airport on our way to Brazil!
My Brazilian host family! L-R: Barby, Chelsea, Graça, Lara, and me (Lisa is not pictured)
The view from my bedroom window :)
Inside the favela

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Barrack and Roll: Inauguration

On Monday, we had the amazing opportunity to attend the Inauguration. You may have seen me on TV! I was the one waving the flag, standing next to that other girl waving the flag :) We didn't have tickets so we could see the Capitol from where we were standing but not much else. However, there were megatron screens set up so we actually had a really nice view of the whole thing! We left the hostel around 8 am, and even though we live only 4 blocks from the Capitol, it took us about an hour to get to the standing area because they so many roads blocked off around the Capitol. When we arrived at the "no ticket" area, we were greeted with high fives and cheers, TV news crews and cameras, and tons of American pride. The whole atmosphere was just amazing. People young and old, men and women, black and white, rich and poor, were all gathered here to celebrate and to show support for our president (or maybe they were just there to see Beyonce..) Either way, it was crazy to think that so many incredible, powerful people were standing in front of me.

While we were waiting or the program to start, a man with a huge box of American flags came by and started passing the flags out. People were taking handfuls and passing them back through the crowd, spreading them out so that everyone could have the joy of waving that flag. We were all anxiously staring at the screen, waiting for Obama to show up and being disappointed every time it was just another old, white male. But once he finally entered the Capitol and was making his way to the stage, there were so many good vibes that were going around and so much cheering and joy! The same thing happened when Kelly Clarkson took the stage to sing (she was amazing!) and of course, for Beyonce as well! Even though Obama forget to give me a shout-out during his speech (I'm sure he was under a lot of stress so it could have easily slipped his mind), I still really enjoyed listening to him speak.

The second Beyonce was done singing the word "brave," people started rushing to get out because oh-my-goodness was it crowded! It took even longer to get back to the hostel. Half a million people all trying to get to the metro and out of the blocked off streets? Yeah, it was a little crazy. But surprisingly, people remained pretty calm about it. There was a part where we walked into this huge crowd that wasn't moving. It was a complete stand-still mob taking up and entire street! My friend Anna and I stood up on a cement block and we saw that an ambulance was actually trying to make its way through the crowd. It managed to make it through, but the crowd of people didn't move. We ended up taking an even longer route back to the hostel to avoid the biggest crowds, but on one of the residential streets, a man was outside in his front yard with a grill, making hot dogs and selling them to the people walking by. Genius idea! unfortunately he ran out by the time I got there.

A few members of the group tried taking the metro back to the hostel, but the lines for the metro were up on the streets and it took them almost two hours to get back.

This will definitely be an experience that I will never forget! Even though we could have easily watched the Inauguration from the warmth of our hostel, being outside with the crowds in that crazy atmosphere was 100% worth it.

Here's a few photos from the day :)

Isabelle, Meghan, me, Anna, Genevieve, and Bethany



The ambulance trying to get through the mob


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

And it's begun!

On Friday, January 11th, I left my little yellow house on the hill with my suitcase and backpack and headed to Washington DC where I will be spending the first 2 weeks of my semester abroad. The program I'm on is an International Honors Program (IHP) called Health and Community: Globalization, Culture and Care. We will be looking at the different facets of public health in Brazil, Vietnam, and South Africa, spending about 5 weeks in each country. There are 30 students, 2 professors, and one "fellow" or advisor who will be traveling with us to all three countries, and then one country coordinator in each country. Most of the time we will be in home stays, but there are a few days in hostels when arriving and leaving each country. Our wonderful faculty will be teaching 4 courses over the whole semester, and focusing on each country in that topic when we come to it.

I'll be honest, I was a bit nervous about being a part of an honors program, especially once I saw that there were students from Harvard, Yale, and Brown that were also coming on the program. However, all of my fears disappeared as soon as I met them all. Everyone on the program has such interesting stories and backgrounds to share, and the chemistry (so far) is amazing! Students majors' range from Public Health to Neuroscience, from Anthropology to Computer Science. Some of them have been traveling their entire lives and have lived in some of the countries that we're going to, and others have never left the United States. One of our professors is even from South Africa! There are a few other students that took gap years, one who is in the Air Force, and ne of the students even speaks Danish! So I realize now that there was no need to worry :)

We've completed our first 3 days of classes, after we had orientation and did some of community building activities. Although we still have a few lectures and lots of reading, most of the educational part of the program is experiential learning. We will be going into these communities and learning hands-on through interviews, tours, guest lecturers, and personal experience about the health care systems. That's my kind of learning! Some of the students aren't bringing any sort of laptop or tablet with for the semester, and our faculty said it's not required that we do so because we will not need the internet for doing any research, and it's not guaranteed that we'll have internet access everywhere we go. However, I will be bringing my laptop because it will be easier to write papers this way, and as a way to charge my iPod and camera (I tend to take a lot of photos...)

We are currently staying in a hostel just south of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. We walked past the Library of Congress and the Capitol each day on our way to the World Learning Center where we previously had our classes. From here on out, we will no longer be using the WLC because we will be doing NGO visits, guest lecturers, attending the Inauguration, and visiting different sites in DC. I'm very excited to see what this semester will bring.