All right people. Get ready. Alexandre's FORMATURA is less than 10 weeks away. The best translation of formatura is "graduation", so you may think, "10 weeks until a graduation that's not even yours? So what?" But it's so much more than that. It's hooplah. It's a gala. It's an EXTRAVAGANZA.
To wrap my brain around what's been going on over this formatura, I've had to think of it as the cultural equivalent of my first-born daughter's wedding. That's the only way that I can explain and understand how much work has been going into this thing.
To clarify: the formatura is a series of ceremonies, dinners, and parties over the course of 4 days. In lieu of tuition, I suppose, Alexandre's parents have been making payments on this event since he started college 6 years ago. That's another way I can explain said hooplah: Alexandre studies medicine at a good public school. It's a big deal, and it's also free because it's public. So I think families and years of party planning committees have justified the big spending on the formatura with the fact that the parents aren't paying for the degree.
Of the 60 or so students graduating this year, only about 40 can afford to participate. (This is something else that I think is kind of sad. You worked your butt off in college but can't go to any ceremony if you're not willing to pay for a week's worth of partying for you and 10 other people.)
Those who have paid to go are allowed to bring like, 10 guests each, and even then, the limits on guests are flexible (especially if you're part of the party planning committee). People like Alexandre who are brining "only" 6 people can sell their extra tickets. Every dinner and party has an open bar and all-you-can eat buffet (they pull out all the stops).
So as you can see, the formatura is a big deal for the families, and an even bigger deal for the actual graduates, ESPECIALLY the girls. (This would be a good time to remember my wedding analogy.) If you live here in Brazil or if you've read this entry, you have an idea of what to expect from a lot of these girls, the ones that are rich enough to pay for the prep courses to get into Brazilian public med schools, and everything that comes along with that. Based on the amount of time, money, energy, worrying, and Orkut updates that they're dedicating to this formatura, you'd never guess that they have their boards (residency tests) the week afterwards. (That's my indirect way of saying that ALL some of these girls talk about is their hair, dresses, guests, etc for the formatura, and aren't studying at all.)
We are visiting the in-laws this weekend. Alexandre's mother is VERY VERY caught up in the hooplah. She is immeasurably concerned as to what he and I will be wearing (esp. what I will be wearing), where I'm going to do my hair and nails, where SHE and Alexandre's sister are going to do their hair, where we're all going to eat when the food is not provided at one of the parties, and all the other other minutiae you can imagine. So many questions and conversations, and the phone calls. Oh, the phone calls. I'm so happy that she doesn't have my cell phone number, only Alexandre's.
Here's my take on the formatura situation: Based on what I'm used to for a graduation, this is a little extreme. Just because the university was free doesn't mean you have to drop all the money that you DIDN'T pay on tuition on a party. I think it's great to celebrate all their hard work and sacrifice over these last 6 years, but the events feel a little redundant. I think it's also very exclusive in the literal sense; in that it excludes the students that got into med school by pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.
But like I said, it's culturally different. I'm going to argue that it's harder to get into and finish college in Brazil, even if it's public. 35% of Americans have college degrees, but only 7% of Brazilians can say the same. So I guess there's more to celebrate. Plus, med school graduation is already an extreme case, even in Brazil, without even comparing it to the relatively simple American graduations.
Another reason that people want to celebrate so much is because the setup of college is so different here. Medical school in Brazil is the American BS program and MD program combined, and it's 6 years instead of 8, and the campus offers ONLY medicine (so it's not like there's the med school but in the same place there's the school of engineering, the school of social sciences, etc). (This type of school is called a faculdade in Portuguese.) Each graduating class has only about 60 people. So unlike a graduating class like mine, which was somewhere around 5,000 people (only about 25 of whom I was really close friends with), the med school students are very close to EVERYONE who's graduating with them, and want to really commemorate everything they've gone through together.
So again, that's why I say if you think of the formatura as something that's as important as a wedding, it's easier to understand all the hooplah.
So long story short. We're planning a lot. And shopping a lot. But I'm sure everything's going to be beautiful and Alexandre's finally gonna be an official doctor and it'll all have been worth it!
Have any of you been involved in Brazilian formaturas (your own or someone else's)? Thoughts? Can you guys think of a better analogy to an American ceremony than a wedding? I'm basing my analogy only on the planning stages, because I haven't actually been to the formatura yet.