The Brazilian saying, "cada macaco no seu galho [every monkey on its branch]” resonates strongly with my social life in Brazil. While São Paulo is a diverse city, it's clear that certain groups of people belong in specific areas and not others. For example, at my university, I can find plenty of people of color doing custodial work or serving food, but none in the classroom. At a bar, I can find people of color working as security or serving drinks, but close to none partying. It felt like living in a social bubble that didn’t even include me. We are all so much more than our skin and economic status, so there should never be a place in society in which certain groups of people are "out of place".
I realized this disparity most through my university, which ultimately made me question what was happening in the school system and how it had gotten to this point. Especially since education is one of my passions.
And so, the brief history lesson begins...
From 1964-1985, Brazil was a military dictatorship. This allowed middle-class Brazilians to receive quality education up through the post-secondary level. However, Brazil desired to grow economically, which could only be achieved by decreasing the illiteracy rate. This enabled the poor to receive education, but it also led to middle-class and upper-class families moving their children to private schools to maintain their high quality educational standards. Unfortunately, this caused the quality of public schools to plummet.
In Brazil, students have to pass the vestibular to attend the best universities, which are public. Typically, only students who have attended expensive private schools prior to college get admitted to public universities. In 2013, 63% of USP’s (University of São Paulo) freshmen came from private schools. In the top 5 fields, medicine, civil engineering, advertising and marketing, medical sciences, and international relations, it was 93%. USP is the best and most difficult university to gain admittance to in Brazil. For students that don’t pass the vestibular, they can attend either a highly expensive private school, which has areas of study that are competitive with USP, or a less costly private university that provides poor quality education.
In recent years, there has been a higher percentage of people of color, black and pardo, going to college, but not at the best universities or pursuing the top fields. Federal government programs have pushed for inclusion, but it has mostly been adopted by low cost private universities. In 2015, 78.7% of USP's freshmen were white, 2.4% black, 11.3% pardo, 0.2% indigenous and 7.5% asian. Moreover, only 1 black freshman sought a career within the top 5 fields, which was medical sciences.
Looking at the bigger picture, the percentage of Brazilians with a college degree went from 4.4% in 2000 to 7.9% in 2010, with most graduates coming from low cost private universities. While these percentages look very different in the US, either way, it’s clear that education is a form of exclusion that mostly benefits middle and upper-class families.
So what can be done about this? It's obviously not just a problem in Brazil, but also an issue in the US and other places around the world.
My solution is as simple as it gets. Go out in this world and fulfill your God-given purpose. I guarantee it won't align perfectly with society's standards, but it will align perfectly with the hearts of those that need to see people just like you achieving great things.
It's also clear that more needs to be done, but the best way to start is always with yourself. Just think: Do you only swing to and from the branches that are "for you" or are you being led by your purpose? Do you uphold the status quo or are you here to shake things up for the better?
And who knows, maybe where you "don't belong" is exactly where you're supposed to be.
That's a wrap!
Major thank you to Thomas Monteiro, a historian and PHD student at the University of Campinas in Brazil, for providing me with information on this topic. Your expertise is greatly appreciated!
For quite some time, I’ve been hesitant on writing on this topic. Mainly because I felt unqualified and like I had nothing to contribute, but this particular post on Facebook reminded me that this topic does matter.
Sadly, this is my last post regarding my studies and travel experiences in Brazil. Thank you for supporting my endeavors and I cannot wait to share my next project with you all. In the meantime, remember to keep life sweet and never stop feeding your soul. Tchau!
Overseas study programs offer a variety of living accommodations (university housing, apartment, homestay, etc.). This post is to help you decide if a homestay, which is simply living with a local family, is a good fit for you.
Depending on where you're studying, safety may or may not be a major concern, but safety is always relative. An area deemed safe is not safe in every situation and vice versa. Since I studied in Brazil, violence is a major issue due to inequality, so safety was very significant in my case. Therefore, it's important to know that when you live with a local family, you're less likely to encounter abuse, crime, etc. because the people you're staying with are looking out for you. If you live in an apartment with roommates, there's no local there to mitigate unfavorable situations and there's no rules in place to prevent these types of unfortunate events from occurring. Fortunately, if you live in a homestay, you're less at risk of experiencing life altering or life threatening situations in your living space.
On a more positive note, there are major benefits from living in a homestay. For example, my homestay offers two meals a day. This usually translates to breakfast and dinner being provided for me. I also don't have to do my laundry. There are some homestays that have a gym or a pool.
If I find that I don't mesh well with my host family or the location isn't convenient, I can request to live in another homestay that better suits my needs and expectations. In terms of budgeting, homestays are ideal because a certain amount of your program cost is already allocated toward living expenses, so you don't have to deal with paying rent or finding a subleaser if you decide to move. Ultimately, the flexibility that homestays offer is a plus.
3. Cultural Immersion
Living in a homestay will teach you everyday valuable communication skills and potentially the language of the region. Depending on your host family's openness, you'll feel like you have a family/home away from home.
1. Strictly Business
In some cases, host families are kind and make sure that you're enjoying your stay, but they're not interested in having a close relationship with you. This is not always a negative, depending on the situation, but it can create a communication barrier. You also may notice that certain things are off limits to you, but not to your host family. For example, you may feel a little excluded because your host provides you with food that's different from what they eat. Or maybe you have to ask your host in advance to wash your clothes, and there's a great possibility that you may be told to do it another day because they want to wash their clothes. This particular con can make you feel like you and your hosts are strangers to one another, or you may enjoy that your homestay is strictly a place to eat and sleep.
2. Restricted to you only
For my program, you're not allowed to have guests at your homestay unless your host approves. As a college student, this can be disappointing. You're used to freedom and doing what you want when you want in your own space. However, homestays limit this freedom. Since it's not technically your space, you're expected to keep your room fairly tidy, no alcohol consumption is allowed, and having guests over is likely to be a rare occasion. Typically, your homestay is a space for only you and not your friends or your significant other.
3. Am I getting my money's worth?
One of the best parts about studying abroad is that you can travel. I believe traveling is one of the aspects that makes the experience worthwhile. I usually traveled 1-2 times per month. Some people prefer to travel nearly every weekend. In this case, you're going to miss many meals that you've already paid to receive. Unfortunately, you're not likely to get that money back, so depending on how money conscious you are, this could be a major downfall of living in a homestay.
Sharing is Caring?
When you live in a homestay, you have to be prepared to be humble. Someone is opening their home to you. If you are discomforted by the rules and the lack of freedom, remember that they are just as discomforted from inviting a stranger into their household. Regardless of the relationship you develop with your host, I encourage you to remain open-minded because your living space is such a small portion of your study abroad experience.
Sometimes you just don't like the food your host cooks. Sometimes your host tidies up things that you already had the way you wanted them to be. Sometimes you just want to cook for yourself instead of someone always cooking for you. I could go on and on about preferences in lifestyle that matter to each of us, but the reality is that it's different for everyone and in the grand scheme of things it's an easy challenge to overcome. Not a fan of your host's cooking? Remind yourself that you should be grateful that you have food to eat on a daily basis. Is your host tidying up after you? Politely ask them to stop. Interested in using your host's kitchen on a regular basis? Again, just ask. These inconveniences will turn out to be minuscule in comparison to your overall experience.
IN THE END...
Living in a homestay has its advantages, disadvantages, and some unfavorable in-between areas, but it's sure to be an experience that will help you grow. The ultimate goal is to learn how to navigate unfamiliar situations and living in a homestay is a rewarding way to do so.
Thanks for reading! Até próxima vez, minhas pessoas lindas, keep life sweet and never stop feeding your soul. -xo