You know how the squirrels at Georgetown–especially the black ones–seem to be some of the first things that we notice at Georgetown when we first arrive there? Immediately, you realize that these are no ordinary squirrels. They don’t dash into the nearest bush at the mere tremor from the footsteps of an approaching pedestrian, instead, they artfully sidestep out of your way. The more brazen ones just stay in their place, forcing you to move out of their way once you realize that, for the first time in your life, the squirrel is not the skittish little thing that you’re used to.
Well, at the Pontifícia Universidade Católica de Rio de Janeiro (or PUC [simply pronounced: pooky]), instead of intrepid rodents, we have monkeys. Yes, monkeys are the norm around here. It is located in a section of the Floresta de Tijuca, after all. Besides, any squirrels that you are likely to encounter would be of the flying variety anyways.
It’s funny how I just wrote that so matter-of-factly. I guess it’s because this is now my reality. I’m not in Buffalo anymore. I’m definitely not at Georgetown anymore. Hell, I’m not even on the same continent. It’s a whole new world down here in Rio and I feel so lucky and grateful to have the opportunity to uncover it bit-by-bit over the next year.
I told myself and continue to tell myself that I will not be one of those international students that only have American friends. But when I think about, I’ve never been that kind of person anyways. My friends come from all over the world…and if it’s not they who personally made the journey, oftentimes their parents did. After being here for a few days, however, I see that at least in the beginning though, like freshmen during New Student Orientation, everyone is looking for a friend and it is natural to click with someone that at least shares a common language with you. But on Thursday, I learned that this assumption does not have to apply to just your mother tongue.
On Wednesday, I asked a girl who appeared to know what she was doing, but really didn’t, how to get to the building where orientation was being held. Mind you, I asked her this in Portuguese because I had assumed that she was Brazilian. The befuddled look on her face let me know otherwise. So I asked her in English. “I understood ze first part <–with a very strong emphasis on the t.” Aha! She was French, which just happened to be my initial major at Georgetown and, by far, my strongest foreign language. Alice and I, after making some small talk and breathing long sighs of relief, found our way to the auditorium and sat next to each other for the duration of our 4+ hour long orientation.
But no, this was no ordinary, run-of-the-mill orientation. It was by far the bestone that I’ve ever sat in on. Not once did I nod off, that’s how good it was! Linda, the very animated and lively director of PUC’s international student office, made great use of her heavily accented English and, much to their dismay, of her student assistants to give us the rundown on everything we needed to know about Brazil over the next few months. Naturally, much of this was centered on the normal bureaucratic stuff such as Federal Police Registration, course registration, etc…but it also included a video (featuring a slew of singing cariocas, professing their love and devotion to their beloved Cidade Maravilhosa) and an interactive session on how to flirt, Brazilian style.
It was all very coy and playful. In Linda’s own words, “Brazilian girls love to be hunted!” With the help of her female assistants, she re-enacted a party scene. The girls stood apart from the boys, stealing glances at them and exchanging winks, before erupting into a fit of giggles, never daring to make the first move. According to Linda, “Any girl that comes to you first is a prostitute!” The same applied to any woman who wore her bikini without a canga (sarong) outside of the beach. The boys, in a very machista fashion, chuckled heartily and took turns slapping each other on the back, encouraging each another to close in on their prey. “Eu gosto de você (I like you),” they would say. This was perceived as invitation to dance and maybe later on, to kiss, but beware! Linda says, “It’s ok to kiss someone at a party and then never to see them again! Family’s first in Brazil, so nobody ever brings anyone home for the night (bear in mind that kids don’t usually move out until they’re married). That’s why we have motel! But be careful, because if you kiss the same guy/girl on three different occasions at parties, then you are amores!”
I’ve never laughed so hard during an official function.
But in any case, as I was saying before, once people overheard me speaking French with Alice, I immediately was taken in by the French-speaking crowd, which makes up the 2nd largest linguistic group after the Anglophones. “Ahhh, tu parles français, toi? C’est génial (That’s great!)” And to think that I’d thought that they would avoid me like the plague. One of the Francophones was so impressed that I was quickly made a part of his entourage. “Ouaw,” he said. “And you speak a good Portuguese too?” (Most of the international students taking part in this language session had barely/not spoken Portuguese prior to their arrival in Brazil) I didn’t exactly pick up on the intonation, so I thanked him, feeling very flattered. “No, it was a question!” Darn. I gave him a modest yes as a reply. Portuguese is my major after all. I later called a landlord renting out an apartment on his behalf. It’s been lovely ever since. By the end of the day, we were an incredibly diverse group: two Californians, one Buffalonian, one Québecois, one Française, and one Marocain. We’d even made plans to meet at Ipanema beach today but unfortunately it rained this morning and none of us had cell phones in order to make a raincheck. Oh well. I look forward to seeing them tomorrow during the city tour.
After that experience, I’m sure that my time at PUC will not be spent in vain. I have a lot of things to look forward to and people to meet, both Brazilian and non-Brazilian. I’m looking for an international experience and not just a Brazilian one and, from the looks of things, it seems that I’m very much on my way to achieving just that.