One of these days, I found myself taking an Uber to work rather than the bus because I was running late. As I sat in the back of the car listening to my morning podcasts, we stopped at a red traffic light. The next thing I knew, a swarm of young kids with ripped up shirts and painted faces surrounded the car and began tapping on the windows.
Is this a story about us getting robbed at a red light in São Paulo a la Chandler? No.
While I was initially startled and quickly hid my phone and backpack, the Uber driver didn’t even flinch – leading me to realize they meant no harm.
Once the Uber driver realized I wasn’t from Brazil, she explained that they were first year law students at PUC-SP (Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo) and they were doing an initiation ritual of sorts called “trote,” in which first-year law students have to collect money from drivers in the streets so that the older law students can buy beer. It may seem silly, but then again, any initiation ritual is silly. The point is that they seemed to be enjoying themselves and I don’t blame them for having fun before studying at one of the best law schools in São Paulo.
From the application process to the studying, I find the differences between higher education here in Brazil and the American system to be fascinating. In order to be accepted into college, there is no need to write a personal statement or take a test like the SAT. Instead, the student chooses the schools they would like to attend based on the type of study they want to pursue. They then take an entrance exam called a vestibular that is different for each school. Even more interesting is that students dive straight into their chosen subject matter or major from the beginning of their college careers. For example, one can complete a law degree here during undergraduate studies while in the States it is necessary to complete an undergraduate degree and then pursue a professional degree.
The interning system here in Brazil is also interesting. There are quite a few fellow interns at my company. However, interns in Brazil are required by law to intern no more or less than 6 hours per day, and it is usually done while school is in session. Additionally, internships normally last at least a year. That is very admirable because most internships in the U.S. are carried out during the summer break. Carrying out an internship during the school year usually involves no more than 15 hours per week. While there are plenty of students who intern during the school year, it is usually short-term with shorter work hours.
Lastly, I was impressed by civil society taking charge of education in Brazil. One of our classes dealt specifically with education. During that class, we learned about the many challenges facing students in the realm of education and how much Brazil is lagging according to PISA scores. However, I realized that there is a glimmer of hope as we listened to Ricardo Henrique talk about the many studies and proposals that Instituto Unibanco, a privately funded NGO, is doing to help move the educational system forward. Most importantly, I was impressed by their “Jovem do Futuro” program that seeks to establish education models that eliminate inequality. While Brazil’s education system may be behind other major Latin American countries like Mexico and Chile, I felt that there is enough being done that we will hopefully start seeing an improvement.