28 April 2010


I'm pretty sure PUCRS hates it's students.  At the least it doesn't trust them. 

Today is an absolutely stunning day-- the sun is shining (for once), and the temperature is perfect for doing work outside.  But, alas, this is strike one for PUCRS, there are no outlets outside, which means students can't work outside longer than their computer batteries will last, which for me is about 25 minutes.  Resigned to the fact that my initial wish is impossible here, I decided to work inside, but near a window, maybe even an open window.  Of course, that too is too ridiculous to ask for; I don't know of a single building on campus with a student lounge that has tables, chairs, and outlets together.  I could have used a classroom, but I would have to leave as soon as the class came.  Utterly ridiculous.

Finally, I decided I would just work in the library.  It's not my favorite choice-- I had entered the library only once before, and it hadn't been exactly a pleasant experience.  No open windows there, but at least there would be electricity and work spaces; heck, maybe they would even be together.

I'm writing from the library right now, and to get here was like
entering a war zone.  First I had to swipe my student ID to enter, then I passed through some scanners (presumably scanning for books, but who really knows?).  Then I passed through ANOTHER set of scanners so I could lock my bag in a locker, because, you know, who would need their things while doing homework in the library?  I clumsily gathered my computer, cord, mouse, sketchbook, notebook, and some pencils into my arms but was promptly told to turn around and take my computer out of its protective case-- absolutely nothing that closes is allowed beyond the entrance.  Already frustrated, I obliged and regathered my things into my arms, but this time I was increasingly nervous I would drop something important or that I had forgotten something I might need.  Then I passed through a THIRD SET OF SCANNERS to come upstairs.  Once at the second floor, I passed through a FOURTH SET OF SCANNERS to enter the area with books and work spaces.  Seriously PUCRS?  Four sets of scanners, an ID check, plus security guards at the entrances and I can't even bring my laptop cover up here?  Either your books are the most precious collection in Porto Alegre and it's your job to protect them from your evil students, or you have serious trust issues, both in people and technology.  I have an exchange student friend who has started calling campus "merdalândia."  "Merda" means "shit" in Portuguese. . . . Really, I can't blame him.

In any case, now I'm here, and I luckily found an outlet near a window.  At least that much was successful.  A big fail, however, is the lack of desks and chairs near windows.  I've settled for a semi-comfortable chair near a window and an outlet, but no desk.  Thank goodness laptops were invented.  At least I can get some work done now. 

20 April 2010

Things I miss about Ball State

Now that my Brazilian classes are in full swing, I'm really beginning to realize what a great university Ball State is.  So, I've compiled a list of things I miss about Ball State.

1.  Laser Cutters!  In the College of Architecture and Planning, we do occasionally make models, but we have these fabulous laser cutters that make the process so much easier and professional looking.  Ball State students have the tools they need to make professional quality models and presentations, which brings me to my next point. . .

2.  Plotters!  Ball State has several plotters, used for printing poster-sized project presentations, scattered around campus, but the College of Architecture and Planning has several in its building for student convenience.   And they are of high quality to boot. 

3.  The CRC (and other easily accessible supplies stores)!  I know of one place where I can buy supplies for class here at PUCRS.  Yes, it's located on campus (in another building), but it's crazy expensive and doesn't have everything I need.  I've been asking around, and there don't seem to be any supplies stores within 30 minutes of PUCRS.  Compare that to Ball State-- we have the CRC supply store in the basement of the College of Architecture and Planning, PLUS we have supplies in the bookstore, in the village, and can even go to Hobby Lobby.  True, design supplies are never cheap, but at least we have options and can shop around for the best deal.

4.  Convenience Hours!  At Ball State the library is open everyday, all day, and well into the night.  Additionally, students have access to their buildings 24/7.  Also, during finals week most buildings go on special schedules to be open longer to students.  So, if you need a resource on campus, it's likely available to you at any hour of the day and most of the night.  At PUCRS, everything closes for two hours during the day for lunch.  And it happens to be the same two hours my partner and I are available to work, which we can't do until later.

5.  Ample vegetarian meal options in the dining halls!  Dining services at Ball State offer a variety of meals (including vegetarian options).  While special diets are never quite as easy to maintain as the more standard diet, I do think Ball State does a good job of offering enough variety to make it possible.

6.  Outdoor seating areas with outlets and wifi!  At Ball State, I can use my computer anywhere outside.  Not only do we have wireless access anywhere on campus, but there are plenty of outdoor outlets available if your battery starts to run low.  So when the weather is nice, you'll see many students relaxing in the grass while doing their homework (or checking facebook).  :-)

7.  Indoor seating areas with outlets and wifi!  Likewise, every building has at least one lounge area with wireless and outlets.  Most have several places to relax and work, making it easy to find an unoccupied space for your studies.

8.  Individual Studio desks!  I always knew I was spoiled by having my very own studio desk in college, but now that I've had the luxury, it's really difficult to do without it.  It's so incredibly convenient to have a space you can call your own, where you can keep your design supplies, drawings, and models.  Plus, there's an added benefit because you always know where to go when looking for classmates who are working on the same project.  Thanks to the studio desks, the architecture students have a very strong camaraderie that I think the other colleges don't have as much of-- we spend all day and night in a studio together working on projects and goofing around.  I like that I know nearly everyone in my college at least by face, and I think that's mainly due to all of us having our own space in the architecture building to work in.

9.  Studio-style classes!  Perhaps the scariest thing about studying architecture are the required studio classes, which are twelve hours a week every semester (with one exception for landscape architects); HOWEVER, they are by far the most instructive classes I've had.  Studio is the place where theory meets reality, and it's so convenient to have professors moving around studio criticizing your designs, fellow students frantically trying to get work done, and those who have a loss for ideas roaming around checking out their peer's work.  I don't know of another situation that would yield better design results or learning. 

10.  Free public transportation!  This may seem trivial, but having access to free public transportation in Muncie really is quite wonderful.  The transportation system is so effective that I went completely without a car for three years in Muncie.  Heck, last semester when I DID have a car in Muncie, I barely used it in favor of my bike and the bus (at least until it got REALLY cold and my roommates and I worked out a car-pooling system, but that is mainly due to living off-campus away from the bus route).  Point is, I use the bus in Muncie to get nearly everywhere I need to go in Muncie-- shopping, volunteering, downtown, and around campus.  And it's all FREE!  Who could ask for more?

11.  Free Exercise Facilities!   Ball State lets all students use the gym for free and each residence hall has an exercise room available to it's residents.  Now, I don't know how much you know about human health, but exercise is pretty important to just about everything.  Getting it for free is amazing, and I miss it (even if I don't use it as often as I should!). 

Now, are all these things absolutely necessary to the learning process?  Maybe not.  But now that I'm learning at a highly-respected university that doesn't have these ten conveniences, I'm really appreciating how much easier my life is with them.  

A Much Needed Long Weekend

Anyone who read my last post may have guessed that I really needed to get out of the city.  Well, I did!  :-)  And unlike my spring break experience, this time everything went really well. 

I spent last weekend in Florianopolis, or "Floripa" to locals.  It's on an island with 47 beaches.  Now, I've been craving to go to the beach since I arrived here, which was two months ago.  I can't even tell you how excited I was to be at the beach, enjoying nature, and in general just relaxing.  So, with no further ado, this is what my weekend looked like:

Boarded a bus Thursday night for an overnight drive to Floripa, arrived just as the sun was rising.  Went to hostel, changed clothes, went to the beach.  Slept on the beach, talked with friends, ate, climbed rocks, and enjoyed the view.  Went back to hostel, ate dinner with a bunch of backpackers, enjoyed meeting new people, went out to the bars, came home, slept.  Then I did it all again on Saturday and again on Sunday.  Then I boarded a bus Sunday night for my trip home. Fabulous.

And this time I remembered to charge my camera's battery!

Walking down the street to our hostel, Tucano House.  It boasts being the best hostel in Brazil.  It is.

View of the beach from some rocks we climbed. 

That's my "my mind is blown" face.

Guy surfing in front of the rocks we were on in the first two photos.

This is what most of my weekend looked like.

Group photo!  Represented are France, Mexico, and one finally-happy American.

"I'm on a boat"

My feet at the beach.  On my right ankle you can see the enormous bug bite I got this weekend.  It really hurt; one friend suggested it was from a bed bug in the hammock I had been chilling in.  Ick.  (Don't worry, Mom.  My doctor friends said not to worry about it.)

A surfer busting out some yoga before diving in.

A different beach we went too.  This one was even more beautiful.

I want one at my house. 

I'm so happy to be at the beach!


And finally, some "Engrish" for you to enjoy!

15 April 2010

Some weeks are more stressful than others. . . Guess what kind of week I had!

This was a big week.  I had projects due, models to build, and the REALLY BIG task of finding and moving to a new apartment.  Not to mention packing.  Oh, packing, what a hate-hate relationship we must share. . . .  I'm only halfway through my trip, and I'm already panicking about how I'm going to get all my stuff back to the States.  Packing to move across the city was such a pain-- I hate packing anyway, but it was far worse when I realized I am already maxing-out my luggage space.  I'll have to find a cool bag somewhere to have enough space to get my things home. Crud.

So while I was looking for a place to live last weekend and worrying about getting my projects finished, I received an email from Expedia that my flights have changed.  They said I won't be able to know the changes until I call; however, I didn't have a phone.  So I buy some Skype credit and make the call.  But of course I end up talking to a computer, and it's one of those voice-activated ones to boot.  And of course it can't understand me because it hears the ample traffic screeching just outside my window.  After about five minutes of trying to say "existing itinerary" in between va-rooms, I just hung up.  So add that to the stress list.  :-)

Now that the week is winding up, some things have improved.  For starters I'm officially in my new apartment.  I'll be sleeping on a mattress on the floor in the living room for the next week, but it's already a huge improvement in other ways.  For starters, the rent is a mere $150 (ish), compared to the lavish $550 (ish) of my former place.  But my personal favorite part?  There are absolutely, completely, positively NO BARS ON THE WINDOWS!!!!!  *Sigh*  Happiness.

Now, if all goes well I will hopefully be on a bus to Florianopolis later on tonight.  If successful, I will get to be on the beach soon.  That's a big if though; the bus leaves in a few hours, and I have no idea if I even have a ticket.  I suppose Stress will be my companion for at least a while longer. . . .

11 April 2010

Uruguay. . . I'm a Guay!

Mission:  Spring break 2010.  In Uruguay. 

Spring break isn't a week long like it is in the US-- we get just Thursday and Friday off. 
So really, it's a lot more like fall break, which makes sense since it's fall here.  All the same, I prefer the week.  :-)

The thing about spring break is that everyone has time off, so everyone
is traveling that weekend.  Kind of like Thanksgiving.  So when I wanted
to go to Montevideo, Uruguay, and figured I'd just buy the tickets the
day I wanted to leave, I was S.O.L.; every ticket to Montevideo from
Porto Alegre was sold.  Lesson learned:  when traveling in Brazil, just
buy your tickets in advance.

I ended up traveling with a tour group , which is something I'm not likely to do ever again.  (I say that every time, but emergencies do come up. . . )  We were set to leave at
10 Thursday evening, but since it's Brazil and all we didn't actually leave until about 1 am.  We were supposed to arrive in Montevideo around 9 in the morning, but since the driver decided to pull over so he could sleep we didn't actually arrive until 5 in the evening.  Are you beginning to see the trend?

I had wanted to go to Montevideo and then Punta del Este, but the group just went straight to Punta.  I'm actually glad about that.  Punta was beautiful, even though it was a little chilly and very windy, which meant not so much fun on the beach, but really nice for walking around and getting to know the city.  Also, I made plans to meet an American friend there, which I did. 

Even though it wasn't my favorite vacation, I did end up having a lot of fun.  Here are some random musings about my trip:

Our hotel was supposed to have an "amazing" breakfast.  Seriously, everyone and their brother talked about how great this breakfast was going to be.  So much in fact that my friends and I decided not to go to sleep after a night out just to make sure we got some.  And you know what?  It was cereal, yogurt, croissants, and cheese.   Damn you, American continental breakfasts, for giving me high expectations!


The one nice thing about being on a bus for 16 hours is that it was this bus.  The seats were huge, comfortable, and had plenty of leg room. 


Punta is an extravagant resort town, people like Shakira and Michael Jordan own houses here.  And what resort town for the wealthy would be complete without a casino?  And what trip to said resort town would be complete without losing $2 at the penny slots? 


Before we left we saw some street performers dancing capoeira.  It was pretty cool.


On the way back we stopped at a border town to buy electronics and perfume and related expensive things that were "cheaper."  It was all priced for about what you'd pay in the US.  Naturally, we tried on hats instead.  Now I understand why my exchange student friends in the US go ape-wild for buying clothes and electronics in the US: we really do have the best prices!


Brazilians LOVE McDonalds.  Really.  When I say "love," I mean really love.  McDonalds.  I kid you not, I was in a McDonalds this morning at 5:30 in the morning and waited in line with my friends for thirty minutes because it was that full.  It seems like every Brazilian goes to McDonalds after spending the nights in the clubs.  It was wild!


500 Uruguayan pesos is worth about $25.  Uruguay uses three curencies: USD, Uruguayan pesos, and Brazilian reais.  Maybe they use Argentine money also?  In any case, I never really got the hang of it.


Some guys in our group really love music.  They all brought instruments and played nearly the full 16 hours on the bus.  You might think that would  be annoying, but they were actually pretty good.  I have no idea when they slept though.


The ocean was beautiful.  I hope I get to see more of it.


There were wild sea lions that were basking in the sun at Punta.  One of them bit my French friend when she tried to touch it.  She ended up with lavish bruises all down her leg.  Thank goodness it didn't break her skin! (Another lesson learned: just because it's fat, seems lazy, and is super cute doesn't mean it wants your attention!  It's still wild and likes it that way!)


And here are some photos generously donated by my friend Abigail:

This is a white castle at the tip of the peninsula.  We arrived too late to enter, but it was really neat from the outside!

Giant hand rising from the sand.


The guys who played music nearly non-stop the whole weekend. 

My American friend (Abigail) and my French friend.

Us again!