Stay with me during this post. I know I am writing about grades and not a weekend trip to a beach or a new location, but you may be surprised at how a grading system may reveal many cultural and social aspects of a place.
As the semester continues to move forward my professors at PUC-Rio have begun talking about our first tests. Grades at PUC certainly work quite differently than at Richmond. Instead of having a cumulative grade that you earn through class projects, tests, presentations, class participation, and so on, at PUC I only have two tests during the semester that will form my final grade. My first test accounts for approximately 40% of my grade, and in a matter of a week or two I will be having tests for my five courses. According to some of my Brazilian classmates, these tests at PUC tend to be a way for your professors to only determine whether you have completed the assigned readings. Gladly I have been trying to stay on top of my readings in the past month.
Interacting with my classmates has definitely been a major entry point to many aspects of life in Rio de Janeiro. Having a set topic for conversation does help when meeting local students. Trying to explain that I am a Guatemalan student at the US currently studying abroad in Brazil can get quite complicated at times. When that happens, it is always useful to fall back to a topic related to the class we share to build a new conversation from there. For instance, I have really enjoyed learning about Brazil’s tough political environment through some conversations with one of my classmates from my Political Economy of Latin America course. However, these conversations can also reveal something deeper about the life of students at Rio.
I had wondered several times why I saw countless posters advertising internships for students at PUC. Fortunately UR has several programs to fund students in their internships, but the amount of internships opportunities advertised at PUC is certainly beyond what I have seen at Richmond. According to one of my classmates from my Geography class, obtaining a first job in Rio may depend much more on previous work and internship experience than on a particular grade. His opinion is that Brazil’s professional environment requires you to leave college with at least two years of work experience with you. For that reason, he believes students and professors understand that work experience is a pillar in students’ preparation during their first university degree. When you bring all of this into account, you begin to understand part of the academic culture at PUC.
If a higher education institution understands the importance of work experience for the professional world it operates in, why would it not adapt its academic system to prepare its students in the best possible way? From conversations I have had with other UR students about grades at their study abroad locations, it seems to me PUC-Rio’s system is more common that this post would suggest. Yet it has been incredibly interesting to think about and ask what lies behind PUC’s grading system.