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April 10, 2009


Marcio E. Goncalves

"But they are also very uncommon things for a [Brazilian] middle class college student."

I think half of my class at UFPR (a Federal University, thus a elite one in Brazil) were made of people from out of the State, and all of them had to wash their clothes, clean their room and make their meal.

And that's not the exception there - Curitiba is famous as a college city because of the high number of out-of-city students. I think half of the UFPR students are from out side Curitiba.

So, it's kind of boring to repeat this, but people from Rio de Janeiro tend to generalize too much what happens there as rule for the rest of the country.


Gringa, esqueceste de mencionar que o cara eh um gato!


I went to PUC Law School for 1 year, but it turned out I did'nt want my family to pay for the high tuition (very expensive for our standards!) and I decided to apply for a public school. Paying for that tuition used to be a real sacrifice for my parents. So I went to UFF Law School and graduated there. And because I studied for free, my parents could buy our apartment and moved from Zona Norte to Zonal Sul.

UFF and PUC are 2 different worlds. At PUC I studied with the carioca elite and had a better infra-structure. You described it very well. I used to love the environment and the trees around the campus.

At UFF, despite the excellent reputation public schools have, I had to deal with a great lack of resources. Sometimes the bathrooms didn't even have toilet paper and we had to bring our own from home! The library was very outdated and the little number of new books was like a treasure, kept in a special bookshelf behind the receptionist desk. We could only read those new books at the library or reserve to bring them home on the weekends.

However, I guess the better reputation results from 2 things. First, the college entrance exams (vestibular), which are very difficult. PUC vestibular used to be difficult too, but it is not competitive at all. After all, most of people want to go to an university for free, right?

Second, the kind of students. The level of the professors were pretty much the same, but the level of students were very different than PUC. As Marcio said above, many students from UFF came from other cities and they were not as spoiled as PUC's students. Many lived by themselves or shared small apartments in Niterói with other students. They were indeed hard workers and valued their studies incredbly.

For isntance, I started working as an intern in the end of the second year of law school and it was very tiring to reconcile the classes and the internship. So I was every now and then late for classes or sleping over my desk during the classes. Can you believe that I was discriminated against by some classmates because they thought I was not appreciating the studies? I was even sabotaged! One day I missed school and I knew the professor would schedule a test on that day. On the following day I asked a classmate when the test would be, and she said it would be on a different date than it really was. At least she said it would be on a day before the real one, so I could study in advance.


Marcio, even in Rio it is very common to find students who are from out of state (or from another city like I was) who actually live by themselves and have to do house chores etc. Not everyone gets to still live with their parents while they're going to school, although it may happen less often than in some other Brazilian cities since a lot of cariocas feel that they don't need to move somewhere else to pursue their education.


I think cariocas don't need to move because we have 4 public universities in our city (UERJ, UFRJ, UNI-Rio and CEFET) and 1 accross the bay (UFF) plus the hundreds of private universities (PUC, Estácio, Cândido Mendes, just to mention the most known). Not to mention UFRRJ and UENF in Rio state! Am I missing any other?
I think we are the state with the greater number of public universities in Brazil. Maybe because our state used be divided in 2 before the dictatorship (Guanabara State, which capital was the city of Rio, and the Rio de Janeiro state, which capital used to be Niterói).


I agree with Marcela, when she says that the difference between the private schools and the public ones is, mainly, the difficult Vestibular (this is why I'm a little worried about the changes MEC wanna make).

I study in UFF Law School too, and, besides these problems that were pointed out, I'm very proud to say that I'm a Law student from UFF.
Most of our professors also teaches at private universities, but it's the quality of the students that makes the difference. Once I heard that from a professor.
(Obs. I'm not saying that every student of private schools isn't good, or that every public schools' students are genious. There are, of course, exceptions, in both.)

alex castro

the article is good, but he is really naive to be making generalizations about American students and universities based on his experience at UC Berkeley. When I was there, it was ranked #2 in the country...


I agree with Carol. With the exceptions of some smaller schools, like Oberlin or Wellesley, UC-Berkley is one of the most left wing universities in North America and one's experiences there should by no means be used as a microcosm for the political climate of the rest of the United States. No offense to the article's author, but had he/she studied somewhere else in the US I think their opinion would be a bit different.

With that said, they did point out some great cultural differences that exist between the two systems. Most of us Americans were absolutely thrilled when we got to go off to college and live alone or at least away from our parents. While I don't think anyone enjoys doing chores and cleaning up, it was well worth the sacrifice to have our own independence and I can't recall to many people having serious issues with the task itself (just being too lazy or hung over to want to do it).

Again, I think that illustrates the extreme social differences that exist between the upper crust in Rio/Brazil and that of the US. The university I went to was one of the oldest and most elite schools in the US and I had many friends who came from extremely extremely privileged backgrounds, yet the only two I can think of that had live in maids or house help came fom royal families in the Middle East and Europe. None of the rich Americans had domestic help even though their families, many of whom were worth tens millions of dollars if not more, could easily afford it.

Lucas Maia

I've read this blog for quite a while now. So I was pleasantly surprised when a friend called me earlier today saying that one of my articles had been posted here. ;)
Firstly: I live by myself. I was raised in Campos (in the inner Rio de Janeiro state) and came to Rio to study here when I was 18. So I'm used to cooking my own food and doing the house work myself. All I was trying to say - and fortunately many of you got it - is that most middle class families in Brazil have maids. And it's a fact. In the US, on the contrary, even the richests don't have house help.
Also, in Brazil, going to colege isn't nearly the experience it is in the US. There, going to colege means total independence from your family and your past. Here, many people live with their parents until they get married. You go to class for so many hours a day, then go back home and have a life outside university. In the US, the university *is* your home. For some 4 years, colege is almost everything there is. Most students move away from home, go to other states and regions just to have the so-called colege experience.
The universities themselves are proof of what I'm trying to say. Here, almost no colege have dorms - and even the few that do, the dorms are horrible and for students that cannot afford their own places. In the US, the university campuses are huge: they not only have amasing dorms, but also have jims, for example, and all sorts of students programs and facilities.
Besides, I'm fully aware that Cal (UC Berkeley) is one of the more lefitists schools there are in the US. But my experiences are not limited to UCB or even to California. I've been to SUNY at Stonybrook and to Boston. I know that those are among the most liberal regions of the US and I made that clear in the article. As I said, I was living among the intelectual elite.
Again, I was miss understood. What I meant was that Americans are not all ignorants - at least not more ignorants than people from any other country. Brazilians love to say that Americans don't know a thing about geography or history outside of the US - as if we were experts on those subjects. They get absolutely outraged when someone doesn't know, for example, the captal of Brazil. Yet, ask any Brazilian what's the captal of Kazakhstan and I'll be surprised if you find a lot of people who know the right answer.
If I lived among the "intelectual elite" in the US, I also live among the brazilian intelectual elite. But while most Americans are ashamed of the "average American", most middle class Brazilians love to criticise the US when they have no idea what they're talking about.
I'm not saying that everything there is great. One thing that deeply irritated me is that many Americans to whon I talked seemed to think it was up to the US to save the world. They were all very well-intentioned, but they did not stop to think that some countries maibe not willing to be helped. They, for example, seemed to have no doubt that democracy was the best thing in the world and that every single society should aim it.
Regarding public versus privat universities in Brazil, I've studied both at PUC and UFRJ. I agree completely with Marcela. I have a scholarship at PUC, so I don't have to pay the extremely expencive (in Brazilian parameters) tuition. But while I miss the environment at UFRJ and my classmates, I'd not change that for all the infraextructure I have at PUC. For sure, the situation in Brazilian public universities is dreadful for all students. But for someone with disability, it's absolutely awful.

PS: I'm positive São Paulo have more public universities than Rio de Janeiro.
PS2: I'm sorry for all the possible spelling mistakes. But for blinds writting in a foreign language, they're almost inevitable. ;)


Hi There Rachel,

Again, very nice post, no doubt our middle/upper class students here in Brazil are not used to do any domestic work, even during college . But since I am from São Paulo state, and went to one of the best public universities here, I would like to point out some differences between Rio/PUC and some São Paulo universities:
1)We do have some very big universities, with huge central campus (e.g: Unicamp http://www.unicamp.br/unicamp/en , and USP http://www.usp.br/internacional/home.php?&idioma=en).
2) Maybe in Rio professors are moving from public to private schools, but by no means that is what happens across Brazil. Being a professor in a public university is a very hard job to get ( and a very prestigious and well paid one) so I find hard to beleive someone would give up such a great opportunity. I studied in Unicamp and never heard something like this happend.
3) During college all of my friends were from middle/upper class, and most of them shared a house or appartament with others. And they did wash their clothes and cleaned their rooms (eventually they had a maid once a week, but that's really a cultural thing here in Brazil). And we usually ate at the university's restaurant.
4) Students don't live inside the campus simply because there is not enough place to everyone, so the university's dorms are allocated to the poorer students.

5) You really need to visit São Paulo! =D



@ Lucas Maia: I think it's such a cool story that you've been successful traveling abroad, studying in college, learning English, and writing for the school paper-- and doing it all while visually impaired. It's just really uplifting! I'm totally visiting your blog after writing this. . .

Ray Adkins

Dear Lucas Maia,

You are doing great! A lot better than many people who can see!



I guess one reason why most students live at home is because most people attend university in their cities, which is not the case in the USA. It's quite difficult for people in Brazil to attend universites in different states since, unlike USA and the SATs, here each University has a different vestibular and you can only do it at a especific time and at an especific city. So, if I wanted to study in Sao Paulo, for example, I would have to travel to do the Vestibular there. This will probably be changed very soon though when the ENEM will be used by every university so, depending on the number of points you get, you can study anywhere you want.

BTW, talking about universities, I think Rio (and most of Brazil) has this culture of "sacanear" everybody, to make fun. Like if a person is from São Paulo and is in Rio, people will probably laugh and mock the accent but in a very outgoing way, not in a bully way and the person will probably get into the joke too. This can be difficult for a foreign though since in the USA if you mock somebody accent this can't be seen in a good light. And the "trote" in the universities I guess show that aspect of Brazilian culture. The "trote" is when the freshmens are humilliated by the veteran (usually they're completely painted and have to ask money in the street and the money is used for a big party) and that's seen by everyone, including the freshman, as a very fun event, an opportunity to make friends.

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