Monday, June 9, 2014

The journey to Brazil continues....quando a gente quer, consegue

Three years ago, it was in Murphy´s Pub in Champaign, IL that everything began. I was invited for a social event by a friend of a friend. He was carioca and Brazilian and the only one I knew when I moved to Champaign. He invited to meet the exchange students who were coming from all over Brazil to do research and courses in the U.S. I said, why not? I arrived there and sat down with probably 20-25 Brazilian undergraduate and graduate students. I was excited to meet them and converse with them and thought my Spanish would be enough to communicate. However, I was in for a nasty surprise when I sat down and my brain could not interpret the sounds of Portuguese. I smiled and try to initiate conversations in English, but the loud noise of all the Brazilians speaking in Portuguese at the same time was overwhelming. I switched to Spanish and then they listened and laughed. They started to make jokes about my portunhol. At that moment I felt frustrated, but I promise, I will show these Brazilians that I will be able to speak in one year! Little did I know that my encounter with those exchange students would change my life forever.

I started learning Brazilian Portuguese on my own with a podcast/website called Tá Falado. The conversations of these podcasts were in English, Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese. I started attending all the social events that the Brazilian exchange students posted, and practiced my bad Portuguese. They kept making fun of me, but I didn´t care because I wanted to learn. I continued practicing, made more friends, started to read the online Brazilian newspapers, dated Brazilian women, tried to Facebook in Portuguese as much as possible with my Brazilian friends. I took an intensive Beginner course in Portuguese, and my teacher from Fortaleza, really taught me how to write and conjugate verbs, enough that I could write emails and letters. I became a top student in her class. 

In 2012, I took a leave of absence from school and had the opportunity of coming to Rio de Janeiro to work on a social project. I lived there 6 months and I worked in Casa do Caminho Language Centre where I perfected my Brazilian Portuguese and could hold long conversations related to the economy, the problems that Brazilians face, and philosophical conversations one after the other I began to connect very deeply with the Brazilian culture. I had the opportunity to travel through different parts of Brazil and see how the culture and the vocabulary changed as I moved through different regions and states. I met people in Rio that I would never forget and as I flew back to Puerto Rico and the United States, I made a promise to myself that I would come back as a medical student. I simply knew, there was more for me here in Brazil, so much more to learn and to experience.

Now, I am back in Brazil, thanks to MHIRT. I will be working in a famous laboratory in the College of Medicine of the University of Sao Paulo. My advisor Lea Grinberg, an MD/PhD neuropathologist trained here, in Germany and in Washington University St Louis, has many interesting projects in neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer´s, Parkinson´s and vascular dementia. This week I had the change to experience the process of collecting the brains from the patients. I was shocked. The São Paulo Autopsy service is a huge enterprise! The amount of people required for the entire process that make it to the autopsy service is massive and it was definitely an experience to see fresh bodies postmortem and how the different it is from the bodies donated for my anatomy course. The pathologies I see are fascinating and the organs look better than any book. I have also had the opportunities to interact with family members who are taking about the history of their loved ones, including their lifestyle habits. I have so much to learn from the scientists, the physicians, and the people that work in the school. I am so grateful and happy to be here!

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