Neste semestre no escritório EducationUSA em São Paulo nós tivemos a alegria de receber a ajuda de uma aluna da Universidade de Notre Dame que estava no Brasil cursando por um semestre na PUC-São Paulo.
Aproveitando esta oportunidade, pedimos para que ela nos contasse um pouco da experiência aqui no Brasil e das diferenças entre estudar em uma universidade nos EUA, e no BR.
Lucy Jones – Rising Senior at University of Notre Dame
Minors: Public Service, Portuguese and Brazilian Studies
Before coming to São Paulo, Brazil to study for 6 months, I had no idea what to expect. I had taken a few classes about Brazilian culture before at Notre Dame but I knew little to nothing about the Brazilian educational system. What should I bring? Where do I buy books? Will I understand my lectures that are taught completely in Portuguese? How is the grading system? Questions like these circulated in my mind for months and months before I left the US.
Deciding to silence my fears and take a leap anyways, I packed my bags with what I thought I needed to survive a 6 month study abroad program and hopped onto my plane to São Paulo. As of today, it has officially been 5 months since arriving in Brazil. I have one month left at PUC to take my final exams and say goodbye to my new Brazilian friends. Before I leave for what is, I hope, not a long time, let me explain what I have learned from studying for 6 months in a foreign country. More specifically, let me tell you what it’s like to spend half a year in the Brazilian classroom.
The first difference that I think separates US university classroom etiquette and Brazilian academic culture is the importance of the syllabus. In the US, the syllabus you receive on the first day of class will be your LIFELINE for the rest of the semester. It has all of your assignments, the due dates, the required materials, and all of the rules of the class. Of course, the syllabus is subject to change by the professor, but for the most part this packet of information will have everything you need to know to succeed in the class.
The syllabus is so important that most schools have an entire week dedicated to it, also unofficially known as “sylly week,” in order to make sure the students fully understand the expectations of the semester.
I had the same expectations going into my first week at PUC. I thought that the first week of class my new professors would give us our syllabus and I would be set for the semester. However, my first week at PUC did not go as I had planned in my mind. In some of my courses, I didn’t even receive a syllabus until the third week of class and when I did, some of them only had a very brief description of the course and a few suggested readings. Did we have papers? Was there homework? How will I know when something is due?
My organized, American student brain needed a plan and clearly defined standards. When I expressed this concern to my professors, most of them told me to relax and that everything would be fine. The only choice I had was to trust them and go with the flow.
Speaking of going with the flow, I present to you the next major difference between the two educational systems.
Punctuality. This is a huge difference between the two classroom cultures. In the US, you can usually find me full-on sprinting across campus to get to my classes on time. To me, and to most students, it is a big deal when you show up to class 10 minutes late. To be honest, I feel “late” to class if I don´t arrive 5 minutes early or at least exactly on time.
Here in Brazil, this is a completely different story. My first few weeks of class in Brazil I arrived exactly when my class list said the classes were to start. I knew that Brazilians, as a culture, tend to be more relaxed when it comes to time, so I definitely did not want to arrive early. But I would’ve never imagined that it was normal, depending on the professor, to arrive to class 30 minutes late.
For my first class, when no one showed up after 20 minutes, I went home and assumed that class had been cancelled. Turns out, class was indeed not cancelled and the students and professor were just late. I learned that not only is this culturally acceptable, but sometimes expected. In the US, we have an unspoken rule that if the professor doesn’t arrive within 10 minutes of the scheduled start time, it is justified for the students to leave the class.
The third difference I noticed comes from the atmosphere in the classroom. In the US, students are expected to pay attention, stay off of their phones, take notes, and participate in the lecture if asked. In some of my first classes at PUC, students would talk over the professor in their side, private conversations with friends, talk without raising their hands, and often leave class for long periods of time. These differences called my attention because of our significantly more strict system in the US. Even in my fifth month at PUC, I’m still learning to be more relaxed when it comes to in-class culture.
In the US, there is an overwhelming amount of required, daily readings, papers, and exams, where the professor is continuously assessing the student. Because of this, the overall grade consists of many different components. What I encountered at PUC was bit different. My classes at PUC are strictly lectures with an occasional paper. Readings are suggested each week but there generally is no penalty for not doing the work. At the end of the semester, there is a final exam that determines the majority of the grade for the course.
Coming from a system where I can almost, at any time during the semester, predict what my final grade will be, this change has been very difficult. Fingers crossed that I will do okay when I take the final, grade-determining, exam!
The fifth and final major difference I see in the two cultures comes down to the students. In my university, people are friendly but ultimately driven by GPA and class rank. If you don’t understand something in the courses you’re taking, other students will help you but the atmosphere is still very cut-throat.
In Brazil, I´m finding that students are more willing to help you succeed in the class. They aren’t worried about how your success affects theirs because they don’t have GPA looming over their heads and statistics regarding class rank are not released to the public. Students are willing to share their papers or homework with you to help you also do well in the class. It is more of a joint effort when it comes to passing the class.
From my experience in Brazil, the students and professors are relaxed and flexible.
So, here it is. The 5 biggest differences I’ve experienced studying in Brazil for 5 months. While it is a different system that takes some getting used to, I’ve learned to adapt and appreciate it for what it is.
There are so many aspects of Brazilian culture that I really enjoy and will miss. At the end of the day, studying abroad in another country has opened my eyes far wider than I ever thought they could be and has given me so many life-changing insights about both the US and Brazil. Looking at the world through a different lens is always a valuable experience and I am so thankful to have the opportunity to do so in Brazil.
As diferenças são inúmeras e como disse a Lucy, a maior quantidade de informação que você puder adquirir será sempre melhor. Para você que já foi aprovado e esta se preparando para ir estudar em uma universidade americana, venha receber mais dicas e informações.