margaret.peterman, January 22nd, 2017
Out of all the Portuguese phrases I learned, I think that one, meaning water without carbonation, is definitely the one I used the most on the trip to the point that I almost asked for agua sem gas when returning back to America. Brazil challenged me and threw me far out of my comfort zone, especially with the language barrier, but I am so exceedingly glad I went on the trip due to the new business knowledge, cultural awareness, and friendships I gained.
The first company we visited in Brazil was Tramontina in Farroupilha, Rio Grande do Sul. One of the project groups had presented about Tramontina before we left, and because I am interested in their products, I looked them up myself. Because of this, I thought I would know a lot of what the presenter would say. However, though she did give us some numbers and facts about the company, I was pleasantly surprised to hear more about Tramontina’s culture and how they treat their employees. We learned that the company pays for about 70% of their employees’ children’s education, up to 50% to get an in-house MBA, and up to 35% for college tuition. In addition, Tramontina will give their employees a 0% interest loan to buy a house if the employee so desires. (Interest rates in Brazil are anywhere from 10-30%.) Finally, Tramontina provides both the government mandated “13th month’s wages” bonus as well as a “14th month’s wages” to their employees. After learning all this, I was shocked. An American would be hard-pressed to find such a company here. While the triple bottom line has gained more traction, it is still my opinion that American companies focus too much on profit and not on the welfare of their employees or the environment. I am grateful for the time we had to visit Tramontina, because it helped me realize that companies that value their employees’ welfare do exist, and it is my hope that I will find one for myself.
I think my favorite part of the trip was the time we spent in Bento Gonçalves, specifically the day we spent hiking to a waterfall and playing futsal and eating dinner with locals. Until this trip, I didn’t realize how much I appreciate being able to walk around in a foreign city, simply soaking it in. During our first night in Bento, a group of us left our hotel and started walking around, exploring the city. I loved how we walked aimlessly about, only looking to see where we were when we were ready to head back to the hotel. After we had spent a few days there and visited several companies, our group spent a day with locals, learning more about the culture through osmosis. We hiked down to a waterfall that was on the private property of Dr. A’s friends, and most of us were able to climb inside the waterfall and swim in a small lake. Because this area was on private property, we were only able to see it because Dr. A was friends with the owner. I really appreciated this, because if we had visited Brazil as a tour group, we definitely wouldn’t have been able to see the waterfall. After that, we played futsal (indoor soccer) with several locals. Even though a language divided us, I loved how we were still able to play together. Later, we ate dinner together and had churrasco, a type of Brazilian barbecue. The language barrier was definitely harder to manage at dinner, but we made do with using Google Translate on our phones. Throughout our time in Bento, I learned how Brazilians like to take it easy and relax, something I definitely could get behind on!
Even though it wasn’t on our itinerary until practically the night before we went, I really got a lot out of the elementary/high school visit in Farroupilha. We toured the school and learned more about what the children did on a daily basis. Education and learning in general is one of my passions. I have had friends tell me they wished they could simply take the college courses needed for their degree so they could get out faster and start working. I disagree. Last spring, I took a philosophy course and psychology course because they were mandated by the university. Even though both of those topics have nothing to do with my desired career path, I still went in with an open mind, hoping to learn something, and was rewarded. I think this may partially have to do with the fact that I was homeschooled from kindergarten through 5th grade, having a much higher responsibility for my learning than the average child. Because of this, I highly value learning, and hope to possibly be a teacher or professor in the future. This is why the visit to the school meant so much to me.
However, what really stuck out is the non-academic education the children are given. Our group learned that the children have money management classes, healthy eating seminars, and cultural awareness days, in addition to others. The kindergarteners go through a mock store setup, where they “purchase” goods. As the children get older, the education gets more relevant, such as tax education for the eighth graders. This is something far superior to the financial education American children receive. I believe all that I can remember I learned was how to write a check in the second grade. However, because the leaning wasn’t reinforced, when I wrote my first check a couple of years ago, I had to ask my mother how exactly to do it. Besides the money management, the children also have cultural awareness days. One of the teachers told us about a time where the children are blindfolded through the day to get a feel of what it would be like if they were blind. When we were in Sao Paolo riding the subway, I noticed an interesting pattern on the floor that had raised bumps. Looking around, I realized that the bumps were a type of “Braille” for the floor for blind individuals to walk around the subway as normally as possible. After seeing it in the subway, I began to notice the bumps everywhere in the country, most notably in airports. Brazilians are much more sensitive to those with disabilities than I believe Americans are, and in addition to public help, the children are taught more about what’s going on. I think one of the major problems with the American education system is that there’s too much of an emphasis on standardized tests and making sure students pass certain benchmarks. However, seeing the school in Brazil has given me hope that it’s possible for children to have a well-rounded education, and while I will most definitely try to do my part, it’s my hope that education in America will undergo reform to produce more cultural, well-versed citizens and leaders of tomorrow.
While Brazil has given me more of a varied knowledge of business in other countries and culture, I will forever be grateful for the friendships I cultivated while on the trip. Because I value deep friendships more than shallow acquaintances, I loved spending almost every waking minute with my 17 other classmates and Dr. A because we got to experience everything together and learn more about each other much more than the typical what’s your name / what’s your major / where are you from questions that dominate so much of college. Through the trip, I was able to become better friends with people I “sort-of” knew, and have forged closer friendships in two weeks than with some friendships I’ve had with other people for almost two years. If any of y’all are reading this, I’m so glad y’all went on the trip—Brazil 2018 anyone??