December 10, 2008

Meet Drew Glaser who first travelled to Brazil on an internship as a teenager and has continued to travel there since. Read the following interview in which he tells us about some of his most memorable experiences and gives some useful advice to newcomers.

1. Tell us a little about yourself, where are you from, what do you do etc.?

I’m from Boston, went to college in Atlanta, and I’m currently working in Chicago as an engineer for Siemens. However I’m trying to get to Brazil full time, so if you know of any opportunities let me know!

2. When did you arrive in Brazil and what brought you here?

In 2005, while I was a junior in college, I applied for an international engineering internship with an organization called IAESTE. I actually got a job in Denmark, but the offer was revoked last minute. IAESTE worked hard and found me an internship in Brazil for the summer.

I was expecting to be in a large city, living with many other international students in a dorm like atmosphere. Boy was I wrong. I landed in São Paulo and hopped on a bus that, for two hours, wound through hills and fields until I arrived in the small city of Piedade. When I arrived at my host family’s house, the cab driver pointed at me with a puzzled look, as if saying what is this gringo doing here?”. My host mom assured him with a thumbs up that they were expecting me.

3. What were you first impressions of Brazil?

The summer before I went to Brazil, I did the typical study abroad in Europe, going to all the tourist cities and checking famous sites off my list. From this experience I guess I was expecting a lot of English speakers in Brazil. My expectation was turned upside down when I realized that my host parents, with whom I was going to spend the next 3 months with, did not speak a word of English.

A more general overall impression I had was the incredible friendliness and helpfulness of everyone I met. If it wasn’t for my coworkers taking the initiative to get to know me, I never would have met all the great friends I made… and most importantly I never would have met my girlfriend.

4. What do you miss most about home?

Besides my friends and family, American football and baseball. Luckily I can talk baseball with my girlfriend, as many Japanese Brazilians play baseball and softball.

5. What has been your most frustrating experience in Brazil?

When I go to Brazil, it is as a tourist or in a structured exchange program, so luckily I haven’t had to deal with the bureaucracy and inefficiency that seems to effect everyone at some time. However, I find it very frustrating seeing my friends accepting this inefficiency as the norm. I’ve had to learn not to say “In the US, this is much easier…”. If there’s no way to fix the problem, there’s no point in talking about it.

6. What has been your most memorable experience in Brazil (specific incident)?

Without a doubt, my trip to Ilha Bela. Within the first few weeks of my first trip to Brazil, one of my English speaking coworkers invited me to go to his girlfriend’s family’s family reunion. I thought this was a little weird… I barely knew this guy and he invited me to a family reunion that wasn’t even his family… but of course I accepted the invitation.

The family rented a coach bus for an overnight trip from Piedade to Ilha Bela. We left late Friday night, arrived early Saturday morning, and the churrasco started right away and lasted for two days. At the end of the weekend, all guests who were not part of the family have to give a little speech. Of course, being only my 3rd week in Brazil, I had to give my speech through my English speaking friend. I signed a notebook to record that I was there, and if I go 2 more times I am officially part of the family. Unfortunately, my future Brazil trips have not corresponded with the Ilha Bela family reunions, but I still hope to attend in the future.

Oh, and I can’t forget the most important part. This weekend in Ilha Bela, I met my girlfriend Akemi. When I met her my Portuguese and her English were both very limited, but we had a natural chemistry and somehow managed to communicate. More than 3 years and several trips later, we are still together.

7. What do you most like about Brazil (in general)?

Same answer as my first overall impression of Brazil. I was very impressed by everyone trying to help out the gringo. Even if there is some political bias towards the US, Brazilians are willing to discuss it rather than hold a grudge.

Also, as a soccer player, I love that a game is always available. In my small city of Piedade, I joined the local country club. In the US this means a golf course. But in Piedade, they had 3 different soccer fields of different sizes.

8. What is your favorite restaurant/place to hang out here?

This won’t be your typical answer… “O Rei das Vitaminas” in Santos. It has 61 different vitaminas (smoothies), all different combinations of all natural fruit. Maybe I just liked this place because I can order by number, and I don’t have to be looked at weird because of my gringo accent.

9. Do you have any funny stories/incidents to tell about your time in Brazil?

At the family reunion in Ilha Bela, I was the popular gringo that everyone wanted to meet. They were playing with me by telling me to say things in Portuguese, and then telling me what they meant. I got tired of being treated like a little kid, so I decided to yell the next thing they told me to say. I don’t want to get too graphic (in Portuguese or English)… so I’ll say that the word that I screamed refers to a female body part. Everyone at the party immediately looked at me, but luckily I got a free pass because I didn’t speak Portuguese at the time.

10. What difference between your homeland and Brazil do you find most striking?

There are many, but one that stands out for me is the public university system. Here in the US, there are many public universities with great reputations, but generally speaking the most prestigious universities are private. Also, unless you are on scholarship you still have to pay tuition for the public universities. In Brazil, the public schools are the most difficult to get into, and are also 100% tuition free.

11. How is your Portuguese coming along? What words do you find most difficult to pronounce/remember or are there any words that you regularly confuse?

After my first trip to Brazil in 2005, I have been taking Portuguese at the Atlanta International Language Institute (if you’re in Atlanta, I recommend it!) I have also had the luxury of either writing or speaking in Portuguese almost daily with my girlfriend. I like to say I’m conversationally fluent. In a social atmosphere I can speak naturally, but when it comes to more complicated things like politics, the economy, or business, I still need to improve my vocabulary.

I always have trouble with levar (to take) and trazer (to bring). It seems like people liberally use these words to say the same thing in the US, while in Brazil there are strict rules of when to use each one. And I always seem to get it wrong.

12. What advice do you have for newcomers to Brazil?

I would just say, try everything! Brazilians are very open and welcoming, so you will have many opportunities to have some great experiences and make friends, but you have to be willing to step out of your element. Even if you don’t like soccer at all, try to play a little, or at least learn about the teams in Brazil so you can talk about them. When I met people for the first time, I was often asked “where are you from, why are you here, and what soccer team do you cheer for?”. Luckily I chose São Paulo, who went on to win the Copa Libertadores while I was there, and since 2005 have won two Brazilian championships and a World Club Championship.

13. What are some things that you would recommend for a visitor to do in São Paulo (or anywhere else in Brazil)?

Even though I have spent the majority of my time in the state of São Paulo, I haven’t done much in the city. However I have done a bit of traveling in Rio so I’ll recommend a few things there. Hang glide with Paulo (www.cruxecoaventura.com.br), and eat at Zaza in Ipanema.

You can contact Drew via drew.glaser@gmail.com.

Are you a foreigner who has lived in, or is living or travelling in Brazil? Are you a Brazilian who has a lot of contact with foreigners and/or lived outside of Brazil? Are you interested in telling your story? If you would like to volunteer for our interview series, or if you would like to recommend someone, please send a blank email to gringoes@www.gringoes.com with “Interview” in the subject. We will send you the interview questions by return email.

To read previous interviews in the Brazil Through Foreign Eyes series click below:

Barry Elliott – Canada
Joel Barsky – USA
David Drummond – Canada
Liam Porisse – France
Jim Kelley – USA
Max Ray – USA
Jeremy Clark – Canada
Don Fredrick – USA
Jase Ramsey – USA
Ben Pearce – UK
Nitai Panchmatia – India
Johnnie Kashat – USA
Jeni Bonorino – USA
Eric Jones – USA
Bill Martin – UK
Bernard Morris – USA
John Graves – USA
Deepak Sapra – India
Alison McGowan – UK
Brent Gregory – USA
R Dub – USA
Tara Bianca – USA
Jack Hurley – USA
James Woodward – Canada
Tony O’Sullivan – Ireland
Anna Belavina – Russia
Jim Kirby – USA
Linda Halverstadt – USA
Michelle Monteiro – USA
Chris Mensah – UK
David Sundin – USA
Stephanie Glennon – USA
Julien Porisse – France
Hans Keeling – USA
Jim Adams – USA
Richard Murison – USA
Will Periam – UK
Jan Sandbert – Sweden
Jim Jones – USA
Mike Stricklin – USA
Edward Gowing – Australia
Adrian Woods – USA
Kevin Raub – USA
Pierpaolo Ciarcianelli – Italy
Zachary Heilman – USA
David Johnson – Bermuda
Cipriana Leme – Argentina
Timothy Bell – USA
Patti Beckert – USA
Timothy Bell – USA
Paul James – USA
David McLoughlin – Ireland
Pat Moraes – USA
Richard Dougherty – USA
James Weeds – USA
Tom Sluberski – USA
Peter Kefalas – USA
Sylvie Campbell – UK
Kathleen Haynes – USA
Matt Bowlby – USA
Alan Longbottom – UK
Eric Karukin – USA
Eddie Soto – USA
Kieran Gartlan – Ireland
Bryan Thomas Scmidt – USA
Emile Myburgh – South Africa
Bob Chapman – USA
David Barnes – USA
John Milan – USA
Chris Coates – UK
Matthew Ward – UK
Allison Glick – USA
Drake Smith – USA
Jim Jones – USA
Philip Wigan – UK
Atlanta Foresyth – USA
Lee Gordon – USA
Carmen Naidoo – South Africa
Lee Safian – USA
Laurie Carneiro – USA
Dana De Lise – USA
Richard Gant – USA
Robin Hoffman – USA
Wayne Wright – UK
Walt Kirspel – USA
Priya Guyadeen – Guyana
Caitlin McQuilling – USA
Nicole Rombach – Holland
Steven Engler – Canada
Richard Conti – USA
Zak Burkons – USA
Ann White – USA
Monde Ngqumeya – South Africa
Johnny Sweeney – USA
David Harty – Canada
Bill McCrossen – USA
Peter Berner – Switzerland/Brazil
Ethan Munson – USA
Solveig Skadhauge – Denmark
Sean McGown – USA
Condrad Downes – UK
Jennifer Silva – Australian
Justin Mounts – USA
Elliott Zussman – USA
Jonathan Abernathy – USA
Steve Koenig – USA
Kyron Gibbs – USA
Stephanie Early – USA
Martin Raw – UK
Sean Coady – UK
Hugo Delgado – Mexico
Sean Terrillon – Canada
Jessie Simon – USA
Michael Meehan – USA
Thales Panagides – Cyprus
Tammy Montagna – USA
Samantha Tennant – England
Ron Finely – United States
Bob Duprez – United States
Peter Baines – England
Youssef Bouguerra – Tunisia
Van Wallach – USA
Lesley Cushing – England
Alexander von Brincken – Germany
Hank Avellar – USA
Ed Catchpole – England
Penny Freeland – England
Yasemin de Pinto – Turkey
Amy Williams Lima – USA
John Naumann – England
Marsye Schouella – Eygpt
Rita Shannon Koeser – USA
John Fitzpatrick – Scotland
Liam Gallagher – Northern Ireland
Lorelei Jones – England
Adam Glensy – England
Tommie C.B. DeAssis – Japan
Aaron Day – Canada
Graham Debney – New Zealand
Silke Tina Tischendorf – Germany
Tanya Keshavjee Macedo – Canada
Frank de Meijer – Holland
Carl Emberson – Australia
Kim Buarque – Wales
Damiano Pak – South Korea
Jonas Helding – Denmark
Pari Seeber – Iran
John Milton – England
Ken Marshall – Australia

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