After an amazing winter break that included family coming to DC for the holidays and a trip to Brazil as part of my Global Emerging Markets concentration at Kogod, classes have started again. Before things get too busy with homework and my full time job search, I wanted to write a quick entry about the amazing experience we had in Brazil.
The trip was the culmination of a course I took this past fall in which we studied the economy of Brazil through literature, news sources, and guest speakers. Brazil is a fascinating case study because in a short amount of time they have emerged as a major economic player and some argue the 5th world power.
After landing in a small, cramped airport without air-conditioning, and passing favela after favela on the way to our hotel in Copacabana, I wouldn’t have guessed I had landed in one of the wealthiest countries in Latin America. However, that is part of the contrast of Brazil. As business school students visiting corporations, we weren’t given the chance to witness more of that contrast than what we saw from the inside of our cabs and tour buses from the airport to our cushy hotels on the beach in Rio or the ritzy financial district of Sao Paulo. What we witnessed, rather, were fancy bags on Brazilian women and the luxury shopping malls where they were purchased.
We met well-educated, prosperous locals, many through friends of ours in the States, who drove us around in their BMWs and talked about their business ventures. The professionals we met at site visits were impressive and welcoming, and many hailed from the best universities in Brazil (and some from the US). However, it is important to note that there is still another group, the ones that lived in favelas, whom we didn’t get to meet or learn from.
Some of us in the class decided to head down a few days before our responsibilities for school started to make the most out of our trip, and the vacation time that winter break and being a student allow for. We started our adventure in Paraty, a beautiful colonial town that is also a gateway to incredible beaches. Unfortunately, it rained and rained again, stopping only briefly to burn my extra fair skin.
Unfazed by the rain, we charted a boat and essentially had the beautiful beaches to ourselves since the weather kept others away. We saw monkeys, colorful fish while we snorkeled, and ate lunch at a restaurant owned by local fisherman on the beach. An awesome thing about Brazil is that beaches are not private; they belong to the people. At first it was weird to be snorkeling in front of someone’s million-dollar house, or practically walking across their front door while taking a stroll on the beach. Then I realized that it was pretty special that the country didn’t just sell the most beautiful parts of the country to the highest bidder but kept them available for everyone to enjoy.
We began the course in Sao Paulo, and visited a diverse range of companies including a brewery, Walmart Brasil, and Azul Linhas, among others. While we were at Azul Linhas, the owner of the Brazilian airline, who also founded Jet Blue in the US, David Neeleman, happened to be in town and met with us about his venture.
In Rio, my favorite site visit was TV Globo, a major Brazilian television network where we had the opportunity to go behind the scenes and actually see them filming a popular telenovela called Salva Jorge.
Telenovelas in Brazil play an important role in society and contribute greatly to affecting cultural norms. For example, part of Salva Jorge “takes place” in Turkey, and we were told that the number of Brazilian visitors to Turkey has increased greatly since the show began.
No visit to Rio would be complete without three things: eating all the meat you can at a churrascaria,taking a picture at Christ Redeemer, and experiencing just a bit of Carnival (which we saw at the samba school we visited). We successfully accomplished all three. As a bonus, we saw the Olympic village that they are in the process of building! We met many amazing people, shared our awesomely awkward Samba moves, and had many, many coconuts on the beach. It was hard to leave the warm weather, but the festivities of inauguration were waiting when I returned home.
One of the best things about Washington is getting to be part of historic and important events that take place here. Four years ago, I was in DC for the first election of Barack Obama. I braved the cold, and the crowds, and it was worth every bit of frostbite. This time, I decided to skip the hoopla but did go to an inaugural ball for South Carolina, the state I attended university in. The event was stunning, and took place at the Museum of Natural History—like Night at the Museum but in dresses!
But alas, winter break is over, and reality is setting in….until next time.