Experiences of a Dutchman living in Belo Horizonte, since December 2004, from month to month.
March 2005: At the university campus of the Federal University (UFMG) in Belo Horizonte.
March 2005 was a very quiet month, when comparing February, with the unforgettable carnival. I did not travel in March, but stayed in Belo Horizonte. Every morning I woke up at seven; I had my breakfast quietly, which consisted of fresh coffee and a sandwich with butter. At half past seven I left the house the family of Myra, and walked down the street. The family would get up half an hour later. At the end of the street was the bus stop. Autumn had just begun, but the mornings were still very comfortable. I did not need my coat yet, but in the coming months it would become cooler. Then I should need a coat in the early and late hours.
The buses arrived and departed. No fewer than four have their bus stop. Three of them have routes to the center of the city; these buses are painted blue. The bus that I needed to go to the university campus, has a route around the district of Pampulha, and is painted yellow. The bus makes a huge detour, in order to be at service for a large amount of bus travelers. More than thirty minutes later, I entered the main entrance to the university campus. Another fifteen minutes were needed to walk to the Faculty of Biological Sciences, where I worked on my thesis.
The students and staff had accepted me warmly. They tried to have me participated as much as possible in their activities, and those with a mouthful of English took the opportunity to improve their fluency of English. As a result, I spoke little Portuguese during the first months of my stay in Belo Horizonte, and communicated mainly in English. During the lunches I joined them to restaurants outside the campus, and I had lunch with them in the little restaurant of the faculty. I spent about five to seven reais, a little more than two euros, for such a meal.
Attending a doctoral defense requires a lot
Students graduated from their masters or their PhD. In this month, I was invited to attend a master exam, and a doctoral exam. The procedure is substantially different compared to our Dutch procedures. The applicant must first make an entrance exam to prove that he or she has sufficient knowledge to pass the masters or PhD exam successfully. Only then the applicant can mark a date for the actual exam. During this exam, some assistant professors (for master degree) or professors (for PhD degree) are present.
The candidate starts with a lecture, which may last fifty minutes. The complete study is shown in detail. Then, the opponents have their opportunity to comment upon the presentation and the thesis. They have received the thesis or dissertation from the candidate, but they did not approve yet. There is only approval from the direct supervisor. Each opponent has one hour (!!!) to exchange views with the candidate. Sometimes the innermost details are discussed, from page to page. Even the spelling errors are discussed. It is not uncommon that such a defense takes several hours, up to five hours! It is no wonder that the majority of the audience has already left. The judgment follows a little time of the defense, and the party may begin. Often such party is held in a room within the faculty, and is organized by the colleagues.
Outside the working hours, I was invited to participate in various activities. For example, a pizza night was organized, and we made large pizzas from fresh dough and fresh ingredients. Some staff and students have Italian roots, and have undoubtedly inherited the art of making delicious pizzas. Pizza, lasagna and pasta are essential elements of Brazilian menus. For us Europeans, it is not common to have a meal that consists of white rice, brown beans, spaghetti or lasagna, and cooked potatoes or fries together…
At weekends, I often went to the so-called CEU, which stands for Centro Esportivo Universitário, the university sports center. This center was not a covered sports center with only playing fields and equipment. It is a large area, which contains two swimming pools, a running track, meadows, a sauna, open air playing fields, and a soccer field. I was granted access, because one of my friends obtained a visitor’s ticket for me. And through this friend, I got acquainted with his friends. He used to swim in the professional swimming pool, while I preferred to stay in the shallow pool. I really enjoyed the time at the CEU: wonderful weather with a lot of sunshine, the swimming pool with warm water, and many friends around me. What else should I look for?