Monday, July 11, 2016

Postcards from Brazil

With the Olympics just a few weeks away in Brazil, our SAIS students wanted to share their experiences of studying the Portuguese language at SAIS Europe, in addition to their reflections of living and working in Brazil during their summer internships. Below are their postcards to us. Enjoy the read. 

Hey there SAIS!

Just a few months ago, some of the LASPies (the Latin American Concentrators) teamed up with Portuguese Professor Livia Assuncao, to bring a local capoeira instructor to SAIS Europe and give the Bologna crew their first taste of Brazilian culture.  After about an hour of kicks, ducks, cartwheels and singing, the gang of twenty or so sweaty Bolognesi students got to feast on feijoada and a whole assortment of Brazilian fried snacks.

SAIS Europe students learn Capoeira

Now, I’m in Brasilia doing research for the World Bank on the topic of demographic change and the upcoming impact on the Brazilian health system.  This is somewhere between amazing and strangely coincidental because this semester I wrote a paper for Professor Mazza’s Labor Market class on the same demographic shift and its effects on youth unemployment in Brazil -- now I get to look into what the same phenomenon is doing to the elderly population.  And I get to do it all in Portuguese! Were it not for Professor Assuncao’s heroic efforts and dedication, this summer would be awash.  I’m hugely indebted to her and to all of my professors this year for preparing me for an immensely rewarding summer.

Um abraço,

Edmund Ruge, USA
MA program
The World Bank-Human Development, Brasília


Hey future Bolognesi…

After a year as a Latin American Concentrator in the MA program in Bologna, coming to Brazil this summer was a must, in order to get a real understanding of the Country. In Portugal, where I am from, we refer to Brazil as our “brother” country, not only because we speak the same language, but also because we have similar cultures.

The SAIS alumni network runs deep

Hence, I set my expectation high! I arrived on June 1, to work at the World Bank in Brasilia. Right away, the SAIS Alumni network made me feel at home. In addition to the interesting work experience at the World Bank, I particularly enjoyed meeting two SAIS alumni that work at the US Embassy.  I felt firsthand how friendly and welcoming the SAIS community worldwide really is.

SAIS students taste the local flavor
In addition to the professional opportunities I have benefited from, I have also immersed myself in the Brazilian culture -- in this first month here, I participated in the June festivities of Brasilia called “Festas Juninas”. I learned how to dance Samba and Forró and fell in love with local “caipirinhas”. Now I can truly say I feel like a local!

Joaquim Miguel Pereira Mendes, Portugal
MA Program
The World Bank-Macroeconomics and Fiscal Management, Brasília
President, SAIS Europe Student Government Association (2015-2016)


Ilhabela, São Paulo
My time at the International Finance Corporation (IFC) has been a wonderful introduction into professional life, and has helped to give me a much better sense of which career path (or paths) to consider after leaving SAIS. Contrary to what I had assumed before arriving in country, the current macroeconomic climate has actually led to the IFC office here being busier than ever, as more traditional investment banks have retreated to the sidelines. The IFC’s continued presence in Brazil’s recently turbulent financial markets has allowed socially and environmentally responsible businesses to continue growing at a time when many other businesses are going under.

My day to day responsibilities consist of updating internal financial documents, conducting due diligence research on current and prospective clients, attending meetings, and exploring new sectors of the Brazilian economy that could benefit from the IFC’s expertise in providing debt and equity financing to enable sustainable and responsible growth.

As an intern, I work on several projects within different competencies of the IFC at the same time, which has been great for allowing me to get a better sense of Brazilian industry and the IFC’s role in facilitating its growth.

This internship has been a wonderful complement to my LASP courses at SAIS, particularly Dr. Amann’s course, Economic Survey of Latin America.  Many of the IFC’s investments are in firms that are working to improve the quality of Brazil’s infrastructure, healthcare and human capital, all of which were covered in Dr. Amann’s class. The knowledge I’ve gained from my LASP courses has allowed me to contribute meaningfully in discussions on current and potential future investments.

Additionally, I’ve been able to take advantage of this opportunity to improve my Portuguese.  Portuguese was definitely my favorite course while at Bologna. After two semesters I was able to meet the requisite language requirements for this internship. While everyone in the office speaks fluent English (a requirement for World Bank employment), the majority of the workers here are Brazilian, so Portuguese is more commonly spoken.

Overall, my experience of Brazil has been hugely positive. I’m planning to attend the opening weekend of the Olympics, and have already been able to travel to a tropical island off the coast of São Paulo to do some hiking and relax on the beach. The food, people and scenery have all been wonderful. Brazilians are very welcoming of foreigners, particularly those that make an effort to speak Portuguese.

Matthew Greenman, USA
MA Program
IFC Brazil - member of the World Bank Group, São Paulo


The language program is one of the great advantages of studying the SAIS MA. It is great for developing new skills and learning about different cultures from another perspective, in addition to getting a little break from the high-paced routine at SAIS. 

Students eating Brazilian Food
At SAIS Europe, I started learning Portuguese, which was a great decision. Our Language Professor, Dr. Livia Assuncao brought her wide experience to the classroom and motivated us to keep improving every week. The course is well structured and combines the practice of grammar and writing aspects with listening, reading, and especially, speaking.

Conversation in class is highly encouraged, and it is the best way to make quick progress. The language is always studied in context, so the course covers topics on Brazil, such as the economy, sports, security, the role of women, racism, as well as some other current international issues. We had the opportunity to explore specific topics of our choice and make in-class presentations on different issues related to Brazil -economic crisis, relations with third countries, cuisine, sports, music history, etc.

At the end of the course, Dr. Assuncao organized a Brazilian evening at School. We invited an instructor from Capoeira Angola Palmares, Federico Nicolis Preto, to talk about the history of capoeira and teach us some basic defense and attack movements and acrobatics. Federico also  brought some musical instruments used in capoeira (berimbau, agogo, pandeiro) and we jammed to some traditional Brazilian songs. For dinner, we had delicious dishes, like feijoada and brigadeiros.  It was a truly Brazilian experience and a wonderful way to conclude a great year.

Pelayo Gonzalez - Escalada Mena, Spain
MA Program

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