29 March 2010

Things Positive -- OR -- I Made a Mistake? Ah, Well, Let's Laugh About It :)

So you may have heard that I learned how to make video work in my blog.  This is true.  However, it's a lot of work, and I'm tired right now, so maybe I'll add video later.  :-P

I've decided to be positive in this blog post because, really, there's a lot in my life to be positive about.  For starters, I've signed up for my fall classes.  Yippee!  Also, I'm keeping up with my online courses, which actually shocks me a little.  Usually I procrastinate, but for the moment I'm keeping to the deadlines I've given myself for my online assignments.  Wild, I know.  At this rate I could be finished with some of my classes months before they end, and wouldn't that be nice?

Things are going well in my classes.  My professors are really understanding about the language-barrier thing, and I think they're doing a great job balancing being fair to the whole class and helping Tyler and me out when we don't understand something.  Something unexpected: we turned in our first project for our landscape class, and even though I was sure the professors would hate it (the design is completely different from all of my classmates' designs) it turns out they really like it and want to show it to their other classes.  I'm not sure exactly what that means, but I'm flattered nonetheless. 

Portuguese is getting easier; I actually have some Brazilian friends now who will speak to me more in Portuguese than English.  I still blush and deny my language skills when my friends introduce me to new people and tell them I speak Portuguese, but at least I'm getting better at carrying a conversation.  Actually, one of my new friends just invited me to her birthday party, something I'm very flattered by because she told me it's for her 24 closest friends (which when you remember that "close friends" in Brazil includes cousins, sisters-in-law, and other family members, you begin to realize that being in the top 24 isn't too bad).  Not too bad for just a month here.  It helps that Brazilians are very friendly.

Speaking of Portuguese, I'm still having troubles with select words.  For example, the words for "to live" and "to die" are annoyingly similar: "morar" and "morir," respectively.  I keep getting them confused when I'm talking, so I end up with sentences like, "Someday, I'd like to die in a rooftop apartment with a garden in a big city."  Not good, but very funny.  :-)  The looks people give me when I make this mistake say it all-- "Umm, I'm not sure if I should laugh or not, but. . . I'm not sure. . . Maybe it's because she's American?  OHHH!! She meant "to live!" 

Yeah, that's about how it goes.  :-)

22 March 2010

Learning to Live Together

Today is the day we sign up for courses.  So far I've signed up for LA 403: Urban Design, LA 451: LA Research, Honors 296: Symposium on the Physical Sciences, and ID 161, 162, and 164: Dreamweaver, Flash, and Illustrator, respectively.  Total count:  13 credit hours.  I'm hoping to add a history course to the mix, but I can't find one offered next fall that I would be really jazzed about taking.  *sigh*  So it goes.

In other news, I'm all about living with strangers and such, but I'm becoming increasingly aware that it's good to have a chance to talk to your future roommates before actually moving in, just to be sure you're on the same pages when it comes to housework and study schedules.  I'm also becoming more aware that typical differences between roommates get exaggerated when you're dealing with different cultures.  For example, coming from a middle-class American family that values independence, I think I should clean up after myself, rarely if ever needing someone else to clean up after me, and I expect my roommates to show me the same curtesy.  Compare that to another culture that, say, is used to women or maids cleaning up after them.  You see where I'm going with this?

So yeah, I'm having trouble learning to live with one of my roommates simply because we have very different expectations from each other, especially concerning how to maintain our common spaces.  What complicates this more is that we have a language barrier as well as a cultural barrier.  I have trouble expressing why I think he should, say, wash his dishes when he's finished eating, and he has trouble expressing why he shouldn't.  This makes it very difficult to find a common ground and compromise.  In this particular situation, I got frustrated and behaved like a child-- I called in our host "mom" to help.  Through that I think we agreed on something, but who really knows?  I'll just have to wait and see.  If nothing changes I'll just have to decide if I can live with it or not.  I hope something changes.  I'm tired of scrubbing pans for half an hour just so I can make dinner. 

17 March 2010

Scheduling Classes. . . What a Headache

Well, I'm supposed to schedule my last fall semester of classes at Ball State this Monday, and so far it's giving me a headache.  I know a week from now everything will work out, but it's the in-between time that's tough for people who tend to plan ahead (like me).  Most departments haven't posted their course offerings yet, which means I still don't know which history course I'm going to take to finish my minor.  I would like to take History 434: American Life and Thought, but who knows if it will be offered this fall?  *sigh*

In related news, I've decided to drop my Spanish minor.  The only reason I would want it would be to have it as a representation of my Spanish skills, but I've come to realize that's not the only measure of one's language skills.  If I end up in a job where I'll be required to use Spanish, I expect they'll just conduct the interview in Spanish and see on my resumé that I lived in Mexico for six months, so I don't really see a need to take the three more Spanish courses I'm missing for the minor. 

INSTEAD, I've decided to take some courses on the Adobe suite, including courses for Photoshop, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, and Flash, which are all various types of media editing programs that I think would be useful to me in the future.  I already know the basics in Photoshop and Illustrator, but there is so much more the programs can do that I haven't learned about yet.  Ball State's Emerging Technologies department coordinates the courses, and I must say I wish I knew about the program a few years ago.  Having a better understanding of all these programs would have helped me in nearly all of my classes, especially when it comes to creating more professional-looking projects.  While Emerging Technologies has posted its fall schedule on its website, Ball State's course planner still doesn't recognize the courses, which is a little nerve-wracking since I would like to have all my courses laid out before Monday to make registration easier. 

Part of my headache, too, is just that Ball State is going through a website update, so much of the course planning and registration portals have moved.  In my ever humble opinion, now it's a lot more complicated than it needs to be.  I'm not a fan of needing to click through several webpages just to register for classes, but maybe that's just me.  Has anyone else been annoyed with course sign-ups? 

15 March 2010

Vila Fatima; One of Porto Alegre's [Former] Favelas


I went on a site visit with my studio class today.  This is the class where we'll be working in a more economically challenged neighborhood to try to raise the standard of living (that's my group above).  Here is what we saw:

The neighborhood is located near the top of a hill, so many places have great views of the city.

Evidence of children and parents trying to protect their families.

Beauty is in the details.

Horses, motorcycles, cars, and pedestrians all share the streets.

Most (all?) of the homes are built by hand by their owners.

Children will be children.

This type of brick is a common building material.

This gentleman wished to remain anonymous, though he talked to us about his home. 

Our class group drew a lot of attention.  Some of the residents showed an open interest in our work.

Drinking the traditional tea, chimarrão.


Our presence distracted him as he played in his yard.


Delivering produce on a lazy day.

Putting the finishing touches on his home's concrete floor.


My professor giving us instructions.


Overall, the neighborhood is a little better off than I expected.  It has water, drainage, paved roads with curbs, and electricity, not to mention a soccer field to play on.  My classmates tell me that the neighborhood began as a favela, but then the residents petitioned the city government to give them infrastructure.  The problem now is that the residents have the infrastructure, but can't afford it.  So the costs of using it are passed on to Porto Alegre's tax payers, who resent that they're paying for someone else's electrical bill.  I'm still not sure what our architectural project is yet, but I imagine it will involve trying to find low-cost ways to supply the neighborhood's necessities while easing the burden on the tax base.  We'll see.


09 March 2010


I'm irritated.  Perhaps enraged.  Definitely pissed.

My studio project here in Brazil is about how to increase the standard of living of people living in some of Brazil's favelas, or urban slum communities.   To prepare, we're all researching various aspects of favelas and the people who live in them.

As it turns out, the drug cartels basically rule the favelas, especially in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.  Maybe that's not very surprising.  What is surprising is that these cartels have enough weapons, influence, and money to basically wage war on the county's (admittedly corrupt) police force.  According to this documentary, "children living in favelas are eight times more likely to die violently than those in the West Bank." 

Maybe it's because I lived in Monterrey (a large Mexican city near the US-Mexican border where there's a lot of drug violence), and maybe it's because I've spent about 16 hours in the past two days learning about favela life, but quite frankly I'm disgusted with drug users.   All of them.  Even if they use drugs just occasionally for "fun," THAT is part of the violence and those children's blood is at least partially on the drug user's hands.  If there were no market for drugs, there would be no drug cartels.  Purchasing or using drugs gives the cartels a market.  Shame on those who use drugs.

See where drug money is going.

Still not convinced?  Watch this.

How could America, as the number one drug consumer in the world, be so horribly vile?


I know there are many different theories about how to end drug-related violence in the future, but you can choose whether or not your money is going to fuel the violence today.


03 March 2010

Campus Food

Here's a quick rundown of all the places to eat on campus, based entirely on my opinions and tastes in food (so, grain of salt and all that jazz).

Campus food is generally good, though the different places vary.  The best place to eat on campus is in Woodworth.  They have the best salads (made to order and spun in front of you), plus they rotate Asian and Mexican food, both of which are made to order and very good.  It just opened last year, so everything is new-- the seating is comfortable and fresh, and the lines flow quickly and easily.  However, since it really is so delicious, it tends to be crowded around mealtimes, so I suggest eating a little before or a little after the12:00-1:00 and the 6:00-7:00 rush, unless the crowds don't bother you.

The library's Bookmark Cafe is one of my favorite places to eat-- I like their Chai tea and their soup selections, which are very satisfying on cold winter days.  They also have a nice pastry selection, which can help make long hours of studying more bearable.  My suggestion?  Get some tomato basil soup and some cheese cubes, then put the cubes in the soup to let them get all soft and melty. . . yummmmmmmmmmmmm.  :)

I also eat many meals at Noyer.  They have a salad bar and made-to-order wraps and subs.  I'm a huge fan of the salad bar in particular-- you can pile on the kidney beans (yum!) and leave out the carrots (ick!).  They also have a place called "Mom's," and it usually has typical Mid-western foods like meat and mashed potatoes, and it's usually good.  The real jewel of Noyer is the International Cafe, which has a menu that rotates every semester (it seems), so every day of the semester has something different, ranging from brats to streak.  If you can be there on the right day, they have this eggplant grilled sandwich to die for.  Actually, I like everything in Noyer Center except the hamburgers, which taste like what you might expect from a gas station. If you're in a hurry they're fine, but otherwise Noyer has more to offer.

Noyer also has one of the campus's buffets, called The Retreat. During the day it's reserved for professors and staff, but it's open to students in the evenings.  It works like a normal buffet: you pay one price for as much food as you care to eat.  The menu changes daily, and it's posted outside the entrance so you can make your decision before you pay.  It's always been good when I've gone, plus they tend to host special meals for holidays, including a Thanksgiving Feast and Cajun food for Mardi Gras.

If you're looking for fast food, the Atrium has Chick-Fil-A and Sbarro.  If you're looking for a GREAT hamburger, go to the Atrium.  They  have bread bowls for soup, which again are really nice on cold days. 

The Student Center just opened this year, and it has Taco Bell.  Enough said.  (For the record, I could eat Taco Bell most days of the week.)  :)

The remaining places to eat are Elliot Dining, which I've never been to (but I think it's a buffet), and LaFollette, which boasts really good sandwiches and a great breakfast buffet, but little else.  In my experience, you won't really eat at either of these places unless you live near them and it's convenient.  I lived near LaFollette for three years, so I ate there a lot; however, Elliot is literally on the opposite side of campus and not really near any buildings I have class in, so to date I've never been there.  Neither one is considered students' favorites, but sometimes they can be nice for a change of pace. 

If you're still curious about Ball State dining, I highly recommend coming for a campus tour.  When I toured as a prospective freshwoman, Ball State gave my family dining credit so we could all try Ball State cuisine for ourselves.  Your tour guide might end the tour in the Atrium, but you'll be free to try food wherever you want.  I suggest going to Noyer or Woodworth;  if in doubt, ask your guide for directions to his or her favorite place to eat on campus. 

02 March 2010

First day of Class—or—I’m from Chicago, erm, I mean, Indiana

So my classes here are a little different.  For starters, I have each class only one day
a week.  That means that I won’t go to my
Monday class until next Monday (classes began on Tuesday).  That class will be from 2:00 until 5:00,
three hours in one day.  Isn’t that

Today I had my first Portuguese as a Foreign Language
class.  It was pretty introductory—we introduced
ourselves in Portuguese and took a brief tour of our enormous campus, just
touching on the more important places. . . you know, where the clinic is (yes,
Mom!  I’m covered if I get sick!!! And
they keep an ambulance on hand in case it’s REALLY bad), where our classes are,
and where our coordinator’s office is in case we need some help.  My classmates are from places like Mexico
(all my roommates are in the class with me), France, Spain, and there’s another
gal from the US.   Which leads me to a story.

When I travel I usually just say I’m from Chicago.  No one has heard of La Porte, Indiana, and
heck, many people don’t actually know where Chicago is either.  On that basis, many of my friends make fun of
me.  It’s a regional joke to say you’re
from Chicago when in fact you live in Northwestern Indiana, and those actually from
Chicago usually laugh the hardest. 
So I felt pretty stupid today when in class the other American
introduced herself and said she was from Chicago and I replied, “Me, too!”  Upon further examination, however, she really
from Chicago.  As in, she lives
about two blocks from Navy Pier.  So when
she asked me what part of Chicago I’m from, I blushed and replied, “Indiana.”


After class I saw this:

Format: wmv
Duration: --:--


Also after class, my professor asked me if I would like to come
to her advanced English class later.  Since
I’m still working out my Portuguese I could have misunderstood, BUT I THINK I get
to help her students practice speaking English with a native speaker.  And I get to make Brazilian friends.  Hooray! 
Everyone wins!  


SO, assuming I understand everything correctly (but I
probably don’t), I have class from 2:00-5:00 on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday,
and each day is a different class.  I
*think* that means I have Wednesday and Friday off; BUT I ALSO think I heard
something at the end of Portuguese that implied we would have class more
frequently than that.  I’ll have to ask
my roommates—they understand a lot more than I do right now.  I’m so lucky to have them around.  Seriously. 


Tomorrow I get my student ID card and will hopefully gain
access to the campus’s internet connections. 
I think I’m going to try to spend most of my time on campus, but we’ll
see how that goes.  For the life of me I can’t
find a suitable place to plug my computer in! There are plenty of benches and
related resting places on campus but none seem to have outlets anywhere
nearby.  Maybe Ball State has spoiled me
with campus-wide wireless and digital media basically at my fingertips no matter where I am on campus.

01 March 2010

Getting Used to a Foreign Country

I've been here (in Brazil) for a few days now, but not quite a week.  Still, I have a few things to say about Brazil. 

First, it's much different than most of the other countries I've been to.  There are many people here from European decent, along with people of African, Asian, and Hispanic heritages.  It's very eclectic as far as that goes and reminds me of larger cities in the United States.  I actually blend in on the streets, something I've experienced in a foreign country only in England.  It's also fairly obvious Brazil is enjoying a rather healthier economy than the majority of its neighbors-- houses are large, cars are new, and the streets are clean.  In fact, it's almost too clean for me (those of you who have been to Rome or other Mediterranean cities will understand what I mean when I say I like "dirty" cities).  Still the people are incredibly friendly and open; it feels very much like American here.  Except that everyone speaks Portuguese.  Yeah, that's the biggest difference so far.

Second, registering a visa isn't fun, no matter where you do it.  My roommates and I went to the federal police station today to register our visa, and we were there for FOUR HOURS.  It was like a demented version of the DMV.  The best part?  After all that waiting, I was turned away because my photos were the wrong size by a few millimeters.   Ye-ah.  I asked if I could just cut off the extra, but the lady (who, to be fair was super friendly and helpful) said that I couldn't do that because the image itself needed to be within certain dimensions.  So I'll be going back there soon.  Hopefully I get there early to be one of the firsts in line.

Third, I have a weak stomach, and even without that excuse it's hard to escape the dreaded traveler's gut rot.  I have no idea what I ate, but by the end of the day my stomach was lurching.  Fortunately, my host family has what must be magic tea-- after drinking one cup I felt immensely better. I have no idea what kind of tea it is, but it worked miracles. 

To make things more interesting during my digestive dilemmas, my host mom cornered me while I was feeling poorly to tell me she doesn't think I'm eating enough.  To which I replied (in my head) that eating was what made me ill in the first place!  The first few days I was here I ate lunch with my host family; however, I've decided to procure my own food for the rest of the semester.  Granted, my host father is an excellent cook and I really enjoyed eating with the family, but it appears that Brazilians eat significantly more meat than I ever do.  In one meal we had grilled steak, pork, and sausage with a side of potato salad (read: mayonnaise).  Now, I almost never consume red meat (as in, maybe once every month or so), and I consume chicken or fish about two or three times a week, so as far as I'm concerned I could have gotten ill from eating so much meat without giving my body time to adjust.  All things said and done, I'm going to stick to my normal diet so that I stay healthy enough to try any new foods I can find here in Brazil.

Finally, I've begun to realize what a great housing deal I have here.  For about $550 per month (depending on the exchange rate) I get a fully furnished room, my own bathroom, utilities, a laundry service, a cleaning service, and a constant supply of food in a kitchen I share with other students, none of whom speak English natively, so I also get frequent practice at two of my foreign languages.  Not to mention, I live within walking distance to campus.  Seriously?  I spend $300 per month in Muncie, plus utilities, which got to be around $125 or so during the cold months, but I still had to buy all my own food, do my laundry, and clean up after myself.  (Though I do have a lot more room in Muncie, and my living situation there is also a great deal.)  What I'm trying to say is, $550 per month seemed steep at first, but I'm beginning to see where I'm getting my money's worth.

Tomorrow classes begin.   Look for a post covering THAT coming soon!