"We come from a tropical country, so of course, most of us had never seen snow," said Felipe Sales, an electrical engineering student from Curitiba, Brazil, who arrived in Bozeman in January to begin a one-year exchange at MSU..
While Sales had experienced a northern winter while on an exchange to France, most of the other students who are part of Brazil's Science Without Borders program exchange with MSU had only heard about freezing and cold before arriving Bozeman in January. They are part of a dynamic effort by the Brazilian government that sent 650 of Brazil's brightest undergraduates majoring in science, engineering and technology to about 100 U.S. colleges and universities. The program was an initiative by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff who believes that investing in science education is one of the most effective ways to strengthen the emerging nation's economy.
Bianca Ribeiro, an industrial engineering major who is at 19 the youngest in the group and one of just two females, said it was an honor to be selected for the program. The students said more than 7,000 Brazilians applied for the 650 spots.
Like most of the students, Ribeiro applied in the fall and learned in early December she had been accepted into the program, in which her country pays for her year in the U.S., including tuition, books and a cost of living stipend. The students are also required to do an internship in the summer.
"It makes a big difference in getting an engineering job if you have studied in America," she said.
There has been some speculation that the students who study abroad on the Science Without Borders Program might not return, but the students who are at MSU are passionate about their country and their role in its future.
"We are homesick, sure, but we are honored to be here," said Felipe de Lima Castro of Porto Alegre. He said Brazil also sent students to colleges in Italy, France and Germany. But there are advantages to the American program. "If you don't know English in Brazil, you can't get a job."
Like many international visitors to Bozeman, the students say while they have found the climate cold, the people in Montana are warm and friendly, and the experience has been pleasant. They knew before they came that they might have to give up great soccer, beaches and Carnival, but they quickly learned there were other cultural and educational differences in the two countries.
For instance, Mauricio Boesche, an industrial engineering student from Porto Alegre, said that in Brazil, college classes are more like what Americans consider to be a job. Students sit in a classroom the entire day, into the night. However, there is little or no homework. Castro added that in the semester before he came to MSU he completed 36 credits and a project.
"There is no time to do anything else," Castro said, contrasting it to the blocks in the day without classes that allow U.S. students to have a job, or ski. "In Brazil, they don't encourage us to work, but to focus on our studies."
However, another difference is that American professors are much more accessible and willing to help their students, they said. Each student said they were pleased to learn that their MSU professors would go out of their way to help them after class.
They were also surprised that Americans pay to attend public universities and pay for books. In Brazil public universities are free, although not every student who wants to go to college is able to go.
Other differences in the two educational systems is that at universities in Brazil there are no such things as extracurricular activities, gyms or even residence halls, aspects of MSU that the Brazilians say they enjoy.
"That's because we all live at home," said Murilo Chalita, an industrial engineering student from Piracicaba São Paulo, who is, at 26, the oldest of the group.
Sales explained that unlike American students, "who want to move out of their homes as soon as they can," most Brazilians live with their families throughout their university careers, not considering a move until they have graduated and started work.
The Brazilians have adapted well into life at MSU, offering samba lessons, playing soccer and becoming involved in such things as cooking for the International Programs annual street food bazaar, according to Debra DeBode, director of international student and scholar services for the MSU Office of International Programs. She said the university is looking forward for a continuation of the exchange, which is expected to last for several years.
"The Brazilian students have brought a positive energy to campus and have impressed their professors with their engagement in their studies," DeBode said. "Making connections with Brazil, with its growing importance in the world, is a great opportunity for everyone at MSU and in Bozeman."
DeBode said several of the students are looking for internships for the summer, which do not have to be paid. Anyone interested in learning more should contact DeBode at (406) 994-7180, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Debra DeBode (406) 994-7180, email@example.com