Tuesday, 26 February 2013

More amazing people!

Another wonderful day of meeting people.  I interviewed Reva, another professor and a current physics student about their experiences as women in science and their stories blew me away.  The contrast between Reva's story and that of the other professor was especially insightful.  Reva grew up as one of eight with an uneducated mother but a father in academia that encouraged all his children to make the most of their brains- I think she said six of her siblings have PhD's in chemistry, mathematics, etc. so she comes from a very educated family.  She said her father named her Reva after "river" which continues to flow despite obstacles.  Her obstacles are mostly what I discussed yesterday- uprooting herself from a tenured position in India to an unfamiliar land to marry a man she's never met.  Her colleagues didn't seem remotely welcoming and she said she was treated as a "shadow of her husband".  On one hand she feels guilty about the career sacrifices she made for her family but it is also obvious she is most proud of her family and her son.  

The other teacher's story was entirely different.  She grew up in a poor, relatively uneducated family so she got no real support or encouragement from her parents.  She worked as a tutor to pay for her living expenses when she moved to Sao Paulo for her undergraduate, where she met her husband, another physicist.  She got a prestigious post-doc in France and her husband actually discontinued his studies to move there with her.  She got pregnant and the fellowship was supposed to be discontinued if she was pregnant so she had to hide her pregnancy.  When she had the baby, some of her colleagues were particularly nasty when she brought the baby into work, even though that was the only place she could feed it.  Supposedly the laws have changed to allow for some maternity leave but that whole policy and the hostility she received from her peers was ridiculous!  All three of the people I talked to this morning were extraordinarily self-motivated and ambitious- none of them had particularly helpful role models, per se.  The challenges they faced inspired them to stand out by working harder and being even better than anyone else.  Even the student was amazing- she had finished an undergraduate degree in pharmacy and is currently simultaneously working on a second undergraduate degree in physics, a Masters in chemistry while teaching chemistry at a prestigious private school

JK bridge- so unique!

After the interviews, I met up with another couchsurfing friend, Emmanuel for lunch at Mangai, a "kilo" buffet-like restaurant for some delicious food (tried some more traditional Brazilian dishes/veggies that I haven't encountered in the US) and great company.  He's a sports reporter for a local newspaper (he got to report on the London Olympics as part of his job, lucky duck!) who just moved here a month ago.  After lunch, we went to the bottom of the JK bridge which is designed to look like a stone skipping across the lake.  Then we drove by some gorgeous mansions and embassies before walking around the park at Lago Sul.  There were some shops, restaurants, beautiful plants and of course, a nice view of the lake.  We stumbled upon a plaza containing statues of Afro-Brazilian deities.  My first exposure to that aspect of the culture- while we were there, a family made an offering to one of the statues so I guess people still believe.
Orixá Plaza
Emmanuel and I at Lago Sul

Other good news: finally passed level 1 in Rosetta Stone so I'm finally learning more helpful things- "I need coffee" (Eu precida de cafe), "I am going to the hotel" (Eu vou ao hotel), "I want to buy this map" (Eu quero comprar este mapainstead of talking about buying jewelry and tuxedos (which is certainly not a life or death issue for me).  Reva and her husband are going to take me to a bookstore where hopefully I can find a book of helpful travel phrase in Portuguese.  I should have picked one up before I left the US but when I got to Taiwan,  they had free brochures in the airport that had everything I needed.  The airport I flew into had no tourist information at all.