Maybe it’s time for an “It’s been a month!” post, so here it goes!
A month and two days ago I was going by bus to the international airport in Lima. I had just finished a 10-week research/internship project in the Brazilian and Peruvian Amazon and I hadn’t really had the time to prepare for Rio de Janeiro. Now that I look back and think about that last week in Peru, I realize that I hadn’t built solid expectations for what could happen in the following months.
I guess typically these posts reflect on how time flew by, but it seems as if the opposite has happened for me. As I look at the calendar all I can think of is “has it only been a month?!” Don’t get me wrong, I have found an incredibly interesting combination of classes at PUC (my host-university,) a bi-weekly yoga class, two daily bike rides to and from my University, a lovely home with my host-family, the environment to learn Portuguese, and great people. When I say that it surprises me that I have been in Rio only for a month is precisely because of how well established I feel already. To show how far I have got in settling in Rio de Janeiro, I want to tell you about two very common topics in conversations among Brazilians: family and bureaucracy.
One of my favorite aspects of studying in Rio de Janeiro has been encountering a culture that highly values social networks. Similarly to other Latin American countries, you will find in Brazil that family and friends form a person’s safety network and may go as far as forming part of someone’s identity. In my Poverty and Social Inequality class at PUC, we have been discussing how social integration in Brazil happens mainly through these social networks. Western social thought has typically valued social integration through a person’s career and professional development over social networks. However, research conducted across socio-economic classes constantly shows that Brazilians will, on average, protect their social networks over seeking new employment opportunities.
I have felt incredibly comfortable living in this environment (I’ll blame my Guatemalan background,) and experiencing these social interactions again is making me want to go back home for some years to recover some of those networks!
Navigating a new place as an immigrant without strong social networks can be tough at times. This past Thursday I went to Brazil’s Federal Police to register as a foreign student (a mandatory procedure for all non-Brazilians who stay in the country for more than thirty days.) I stood in line for four hours, and when I finally managed to present my documents I was told my mother’s name did not match the police’s system. I didn’t get more than a “you cannot register until you fix this.” I came back home incredibly frustrated. The only exciting aspect was that I now needed to go to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to correct my immigration documents. As you may remember from my initial posts, my favorite course at PUC is precisely Brazilian Foreign Policy, so the trip was not bad at all. “You can’t fight Brazilian bureaucracy,” replied my host-mother when I told her my story, “that’s why you always need to know someone.”