Thursday, 21 February 2013

Time to leave yet?

Hi all!  I knew it was time do my daughterly duty to add educational value to the Internet when my dad sent me the awkward article "A Hairy Situation: Is the Brazilian wax over?". He says people have been asking him what exactly I will be doing for the next sixteen days in Brazil.  That's a good question- I'm not sure either but I'll tell you what I know so far.

First, some background- for those of you who don't know, I started this blog when I got an American Physical Society fellowship to travel to New Delhi and survey/interview females about their aspirations/experiences studying and working in science.  This Brazilian trip is also funded by APS, and I proposed to use this trip to add another perspective to those findings.  The University of Sao Paulo is currently writing a grant to renovate classrooms to use SCALE-UP (Student Centered Active Learning Environment with Upside-Down Pedagogies).  It's a reformed pedagogy and classroom design that my advisor developed to teach large enrollment university physics courses and it's spread all over the world.  So I'm giving three talks on SCALE-UP at various universities, which is my research speciality.  Speaking of SCALE-UP and this blog, talking about SCALE-UP earned me a free trip to Taiwan (January 2012) so that explains the entries preceding Brazil.  I just found out this afternoon that I got a NSF fellowship to travel to Singapore for eight weeks this summer so I'll be adding some more Asian adventures this June.

Anyway, back to the trip at hand... I'm flying out tomorrow night.  Not really sure how prepared I am for this trip- I'm certainly itching for adventure- I travelled a bunch up and down the East Coast in November and for dissertation data collection site scoping and graduate school recruiting and home for Thanksgiving.  But since then I've been hanging out in North Carolina and I think those two and half months have been my longest continuous streak in the Triangle since moving down here.  So I'm ready for a change of scenery- last Saturday's surprise snowglobe-y snow shower brought some fun snuggles ;) but it'll be nice to feel some real sand between my toes instead of the artificial sandstorm in the whirlwind apparatus at my hand doctor (don't ask).  And this will be my first trip to the Southern Hemisphere.  I know it's dorky but the physicist in me wants to check if the Coriolis effect does indeed make toilets flush in the opposite direction down there...

I can't say I know a tremendous amount about this continent.  My friend, +Carlos Ortiz  has brought some Columbian culture into my life this semester with salsa dancing, lots of empanada eating and even some Columbian empanada making a couple weeks ago.  We'll see how easily that translates into samba dancing and... I'm not even sure what they eat in Brazil.  Coconuts?  I've already gotten an invitation to drink caipirinhas in Rio... not sure what those are either but it sounds delicious and I think I can get used to that.

So there's a couple things about this trip that makes it different than my past few... first, no itinerary.  I know I'm giving talks on February 28th in Brasilia, March 1st in Anapolis and March 4th in Sao Paulo.  I've sent out a few surveys (which were fun to translate) and I've got a couple interviews lined up. But I don't even know for sure where I'm staying.  Initially, I had some guest housing at the University of Brasilia reserved but when my host researcher found out I was a vegetarian, she got so excited that I think I may be staying with her and her husband.  That's the thing about traveling overseas to see people you've only met over e-mail... you've got to trust (or at least hope!) you're in good hands.  But she seems like a sweetie... last summer, when it didn't even seem like I'd make it to Brazil, she invited me to visit her son anytime in California anytime. She's a physics professor at University of Brasilia who grew up in India.  I found her because she contacted my advisor to translate one of his conceptual tests into Portuguese.  So even though her research specialty is in atomic and molecular physics, with an interest in physics education.  She's published on females in physics at Brazil and since she grew up in India, I knew she'd be perfect for what I proposed to do with this trip.  Kind of an exploratory extension of the cross-cultural comparison of female undergraduates' scientific course and career aspirations to add to the data I collected at Miranda College in Delhi and Meredith College, NC, USA.

And there's the language issue- part of the reason I know so little about Brazil is because it is the one South American country that was never discussed in Spanish class... because they don't speak Spanish! So as soon as I heard that I got this fellowship, I requested a Rosetta Stone subscription through the university library.  I got granted access last week and as my roommate (and poor unsuspecting souls like Brandon and Dan can testify, I've been practicing with some degree of devotion over the past week (passed three units in 7 days!).  But it's impossible to learn a language in a week.  Fortunately, it seems similar enough to Spanish that I hopefully can rely on some basic reading/listening comprehension but there are substantial differences that makes speaking really tough!  A new friend in Brasilia thinks I'll be able to survive because Brazilians speak enough English to play video games with Americans and he thinks I'll be able to figure out how to order food at Subway and McDonalds... Oh globalization...

As you can tell, there's going to be quite a bit of independent city hopping.   Between having no set agenda in Rio and hearing rave reviews about couchsurfing, I think I'm going to give it a try this trip.  My friend Eri was a self-described gypsy who literally took a couple years to travel the world literally surfing couches. I'm planning to actually stay with anyone but I've already made a couple contacts in Brasilia and a half a dozen people in Rio have agreed to show me around and in the meantime are sending me a barrage of "besos" and "besitos", as well as providing some good tips.  I'm actually planning to go to a potluck with the Raleigh couch surfers tonight- I'm excited- it seems like a great community (for some reason, I'm envisioning the Apples to Apples card "cults: they seemed nice".  Hopefully that won't be the case haha) and I just love meeting new people, especially those who are well-travelled and curious, like me.

Well sorry about all these words and not any pictures.  It's hard to photograph anything exciting when you are sitting at your desk in Riddick with a lesson to teach on deBroglie waves in 7 minutes.  I've got big boots to fill after my brother's brilliant blog of his summer abroad which earned him the title, "the Australian Mark Twain".  I don't know much about the internet connectivity situation but I'll aim to post daily so you'll know I'm alive despite being in a country where spiders rain from the sky, teenagers get burned alive in pyrotechnic night clubs and people get fried on Mardi Gras floats.  Just got an Emergency Message from the Brazilian embassy that American citizens worldwide have to be on high alert for terrorist attacks and violence... lovely...

I'll try to include a picture of a pre-departure hedgehog hug.  She got a deluxe treatment last night- cage cleaning, warm bath, toothbrush massage, quill spritzing with olive oil and nail clipping so I'm sure she's looking extra pretty!