(My Personal Experience with Applying for Acceptance at USP)
First and foremost, as a Drexel Student going to Brazil, you will need to understand the process of applying to and registering at a university – whether it be the Drexel-sponsored USP or another Brazilian university.
In all honesty, this process, which continues to today, is uniquely frustrating and disheartening. But it also depends on how you choose to handle it. Mine – blow off all the steam in one, whiney, angry episode, and then laugh it off after when recounting the story to others, where the punchline is my own misfortune.
Below, I have a quick (or not so quick) explanation of my own personal journey to/at USP. I truly hope and do expect that it be easier for anyone else who decides to pursue this program in the future.
After having completed and submitted all of the necessary paperwork to Drexel Study Abroad, the office let me know that I had been accepted and they had already nominated me through the online system to USP for the Fall Semester.
A week later I received a general email from USP in Portuguese, with links to general student information.
Lesson Learned: Study Abroad gets work done. Incredibly quickly. Even when it’s in another language.
The chaos ensues. On May 15th I received an email from Study Abroad informing me that they had been told by the International Office at USP that I had not yet done my online application due the follow day, May 16th. Panicked, I combed through my Drexel email but failed to find an email with any application instructions or requirements from USP. Immediately, I emailed the International Office at USP asking to be sent the application materials. They responded with an email simply saying that I had been sent a link through which I could access the online application.
I never found that link.
I emailed them 3-4 more times in the next week. I was not given a response until more than a week later, more than a week after the application was due. Given the lateness, I instead sent my application materials directly to one of the International Office officers and was accepted to the Institute of International Relations and the Law faculty. I was told that there were no more spots left in the Economics school, though if I wished to take classes in that faculty, there would be a way to do so.
Lesson Learned: If you do not hear from USP within a few weeks of being nominated by Drexel, make sure to email them first, asking about the application materials. Remember that it will take days to weeks to get a response.
In the first week of June, I visited Sao Paulo. At the time, I was living in Salvador da Bahia, in the Northeast of Brazil. I went directly to the International Office at USP to speak with them personally. I verified that everything was set with materials they needed from me and asked about class registration. I was given a link (written on a post-it) and told that once the site was available (estimated to be near the end of June, but “don’t be surprised if it takes longer, it will be the World Cup”) I could log on to look at and register for classes. I also requested that my letter of acceptance be sent to my address in Salvador so I could use the original copy, as needed, to grab my student visa.
*As a side note, I was living in Salvador, studying Portuguese at a language school but with a tourist visa. The school had informed me, before arriving to Brazil, that I would be able to change my visa to a student visa while in the country. I recognize, now, that it would have served me well to have done personal research on this before leaving the US, as it was incorrect information.
After leaving Sao Paulo, I did not hear back again from the university until after the World Cup, save a few email responses saying “It’s the World Cup, everything will be available afterwards!”
On July 14th, the day after the World Cup final, I received an email from the International Exchange Office explaining that I would need to contact the Institute of International Relations for information about my acceptance letter, my orientation date, registration for classes, and for any questions about my visa. In other words, the International Exchange Office could give me absolutely zero information that any exchange/international student might need. Go figure.
Luckily, it took only two days for the Institute of International Relations to get back to me. Unluckily, the email I received was anything but what I had hoped to hear back. Instead it detailed the following.
- I would need to leave the country to obtain my student visa. There is no office in Brazil with the capacity to do this within the country. (Admittedly, this one was my fault for not knowing the visa requirements.)
- In order to register for classes I would have to a.) be at the university in person and b.) already have my student visa.
- Orientation was on the first day of classes. 11AM, exactly three weeks from two days before.
- My visa letter was already sent to Drexel in Philadelphia. If I wanted the original, I would need to get it there.
- In order to take classes in other faculties (outside of International Relations), I would need to contact each department individually and ask to take classes.
At face value, there should not have been any problems. In theory, I could have booked a last minute, cheap flight to a neighboring country – say, Argentina – gone to the US embassy, turned in my paperwork, and gotten my visa just a week later, with plenty of time to spare. But, as I had explained to the IRI and IEO offices, I was obligated to my languages classes until July 20th, for which I had already paid for. Additionally, anyone who has travelled before knows that original documents are necessary for little things like student visas, and with the university not wanting to print me a new one, I needed the one in Philadelphia. However, mailing documents back and forth between Brazil and the US, or just Brazil and other countries in general can be a dangerous game when they’re time sensitive.
That meant, I needed to book a flight for the next week. With all of my belongings in Salvador, I decided to first fly to Sao Paulo, drop my things off at an apartment which I had arranged to rent last minute through a friend, and boarded another flight to the US the next evening.
Needless to say, the flight cost me more than an arm and a leg, and upon landing in NYC, I promptly took a train and a bus to Philadelphia, grabbed my letter, and promptly took a bus and a train back to NYC, where I stayed the night at a relative’s house.
The one thing I can say about this whole process is that the Visa Officer from the NY Brazilian Consulate who took care of my visa is an angel. Wherever she is, that woman deserves some sort of award, or raise, or at the very least, a cookie and a hug. Upon seeing my anxiety and hearing the above story, she took my paperwork and promised to have it done within 3 business days, instead of 5. Whew.
Lessons Learned: Always do more research on official and complicated administrative processes, such as getting your student visa. Do not expect responses and follow-up from other offices as you would at Drexel/in the US, even if you’ve studied abroad before and had a good experience. ALWAYS pursue as many scholarships as possible to fund your travels. Mine saved my a** in buying my ticket back to the US. Personal international problems do not accommodate to you. You bear the burden of getting yourself out of it, so stop feeling sorry for yourself and just get it done now.
On the morning of August 4th, I landed in the Guarulhos International Airport in Sao Paulo and ended up taking a(n expensive!) taxi straight to the university. Though I arrived to orientation fairly late, I was able to hand in my class registration forms and made it to class later that night, 7.30-11.00pm.
However, as of now, I stand almost three weeks into the semester, without a definite class schedule. Receiving group emails from the IRI office about being registered in classes in which I have no interest, but without word on the classes I DID put on my registration form. I have about 10 emails sent but unanswered and I’m still without access to the USP version of Drexel’s Blackboard, or BBC Learn … whatever it is that we use … on which all of the professors have been putting the class materials. This upcoming Friday will be the final registration day and, in all honesty, only God knows if I will actually have a comprehensive schedule by then.
As of now, the library, university hospital, sport’s center, and whichever office it is that gives students their ID cards which allows free access to the university bus system (YES, you have to take a bus, the campus is entirely too enormous to traverse on foot) are all on strike.
Lessons Learned: Sometimes, it is okay, and even necessary, to lower your expectations for the sake of staying sane. Being persistent is not inconveniencing anyone else, it’s just getting your own agenda done. Don’t be afraid of being annoying, maybe it’ll actually motivate people to get a move on their duties that affect you.
So, in short, this university is a mess. It’s frustrating and seriously makes me question its ranking as “Top University in South America”… God help all the international students the “Worst University in South America”.
To be honest, I’ve found myself questioning the worth of this program in the last couple weeks. Whether all the time, resources, and money I’ve spent just on the simplest tasks to ensure my proper attendance and registration here has all been worth the experience I have. While I find that I want to say no, in spite of this university which currently functions as the bane of my existence, I know that in the end it would have all been worth it.
So far, just in two weeks, I have had four to five simulated international/business negotiations in Portuguese with some of the most intelligent and well-spoken people I have ever met. I have begun a course taught by a former member of the Crisis sector of the EU and have gone days at a time without physically speaking a word of English, just Portuguese. Who knows what will happen in the next 15 weeks. I suppose in a lot of ways, my experience with USP thus far has been indicative of my experience in general with Brazil – a contradiction of overwhelming frustration and overwhelming inspiration.
Welcome to Brazil!
UPDATE (3 days after the above was written)
Upon visiting the offices and inquiring about my classes in person, things seem so much simpler, though suspiciously so! Upon meeting the International Office head of IRI, outside his office, we had a brief conversation about my schedule – I mentioned that there were two classes I needed changed, and he said, “Okay, I’ll do that.” I want to believe that it’s as simple as that, but… well I’m a little weary so I’ll be checking in tomorrow to make sure my schedule is set.
Also, I have been told that access to the online system will be given to all the exchange students next week. It seems that it was not negligence on their part in not sending us that information upon the start of the term, but it’s planned not to be given until three weeks in, go figure.
Lastly, today I spoke with the Economics department in person. Though they did not respond to my emails after our previous meeting in person, I had been put on the waiting list for a course I wanted. Tomorrow, supposedly, I will know definitively if I may take the course, if I go back to the office.
Lessons Learned: Email just isn’t a way of communicating here. Always go in person, and multiple times.
** There will be another post, similar to this one simply listing the requirements and objective process for applying to USP after acceptance by the Drexel Study Abroad program.