Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Knowing When to Fold 'Em

So I found a little "school" here in our new city that works as a sort of broker between private students and English teachers. It seemed good at first; I met with the owner over Skype and later in person.

I've since discovered that it's just a one-man show, that this owner is a fellow foreigner (who doesn't speak English) running an "English school" out of his apartment. (He tried to avoid telling me this part, which made it very hard when I was trying to find his office building but should have been looking for an apartment.) The guy is totally dishonest and sneaky and all-around not a good guy.

I won't go into the whole story, but the point is that he's a cheap bastard and that he has lied to me about a lot of things.

He makes students buy books from a series that he heard about (he has no teaching experience or training), but he won't provide the teachers with copies of the books. He says, and I quote, that "books for teachers are a waste of money." He said if I wanted to have a copy of the book, that I would have to buy it myself or download the PDF illegally and carry my laptop around with me to my classes. He also provides no support material but expects us to plan extra activities for 66% of the class time (saying the book can only be used for 30% of the class, to make the class more "dynamic:" One of those words people love to use when they don't know anything about teaching.)

He told me the students were paying much less than they actually were to justify paying me so little. He said I needed to go to a student's house and that she couldn't come to me, even though it was a really out-of-the-way bus ride for me that ended up taking almost 90 minutes door to door. Turns out the student works seriously 5 minutes away from my apartment and wanted to come to me, but he lied to her about where I lived so that he could charge her more for classes at home (while paying me the same). He actually thought she and I wouldn't talk about these things?

When I informed him that the student and I talked and that she would be coming to my house instead, he got very upset and insisted on having a "meeting" over Skype. This meeting was just him lecturing me on all these excuses on why I need to let him negotiate all scheduling information with the student and why I shouldn't talk about ANYTHING with the student except English. (This is really his attempt at not getting caught in any of his many lies, and it was obvious that what he was most pissed about was that the student would be paying less and it would be coming out of his cut and he couldn't do anything about it.)

He then informed me that he had some new rules: students could have unlimited make-up classes, and also, if a student decided to cancel a class without a reposição (why would they do that if they can have a make-up class?), I wouldn't get paid. His logic? "Oh, well I should keep the money for their canceled classes, because I'm the one who has to deal with all the administration stuff." Nope, sorry buddy. The conversation actually got pretty heated, mostly because he thinks I'm an idiot and I'm not. He kept talking himself in circles and not answering my questions. He tried to scare me, tried to say I would never get students if I were as strict as that, tried to bluff that students wouldn't accept limits on reposições, etc. The truth is that students DON'T get to cancel classes, but he tells me they do so that he can pocket the money.

He said that he had a new student who wanted classes with me, but that he doubted the guy would accept my terms (24 hours' notice to change a class and only one class a month can be changed -- the guy was only going to have 1 hour a week!). Well, this owner guy had to put his tail between his legs a bit when the student accepted my terms and still wanted classes with me.

The problem? I don't want to be involved with this shady guy anymore. I'm a little worried that I'm being too picky, that I'm too new in town to be turning down students, but it really comes down to cost-benefit. This guy requires so much paperwork for the students, so many "meetings" on Skype, and he's dishonest as all get out. It's really not worth the pennies he's paying me per hour.

I would love to be able to work with anyone; I would love to accept every student that calls, but you gotta know when to fold 'em. My instinct is telling me, "run, run away!" so that's what I'm going to do.

I will also, of course, steal away my current student from him if she wants. It'll be my little payback for all his douchebaggery.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Embu das Artes

So a few days before we went to the US, Alexandre, the mother-in-law, and I went to a little city called Embu das Artes, just outside of São Paulo. It's known for its big arts and crafts fair and its wide array of shops that sell house stuff.

Per my blog friend Bittersweet's suggestion, I told Alexandre about Embu's stores and markets, and said that I'd heard it was a good place to look for furniture. When Alexandre's mom found out we were going, she immediately invited herself along. It's totally her kind of place, but she'd never actually been there!

So we got up early one morning and off we went. Our plan was to look for furniture and the few decorations I'll permit in the new apartment, but after being there for about 10 minutes, Alexandre and I were sure it'd be a "leave only footprints, take only memories" kind of place. That's because things were waaaaaay out of our price range. Once I accepted the fact that we wouldn't be buying any three-thousand-real coffee tables, I was able to just enjoy the rest of the little town. All the buildings were old-fashioned and cobble-y, and everything was so vibrantly painted. There were lots of people selling their artwork on the street. Most of it was what you would expect, but some of the artists were really talented.

We went into one restaurant to have lunch, but we sat down, opened the menus, and saw that it was like, 100 reais for a 2-person plate of contra-file, rice, and beans (no joke; I was actually insulted. Do they think their customers have never been to a grocery store?). Pfft. It wasn't even that fancy or anything. It was all Brazilian country style, with over-sized wooden tables and chairs, holes in the walls for windows, and sertaneja music playing. So basically, it was just like the family-owned steakhouses back in Caipirópolis where I could buy like, a whole cow that had just been killed-to-order out back for 15 US dollars. Needless to say, we left that first restaurant and went to a reasonably-priced buffet-style place.

But Embu das Artes is cute overall. Here, I took some pictures for you. I didn't even edit the building ones! The colors were just that bright.

this one's my favorite

There were some kids being pimped out by their parents to try to give away the family cat's kittens. What was up with this Embu das Artes place? I felt like I was in an episode of that 90s TV show with the guy who could go into parallel universes. The run-of-the-mill beef and tacky patio chairs cost more than their weight in gold, while the adorable, precious kittens that provide a lifetime of joy and happiness were free to everyone. 

 I really, really wanted them.

I recommend Embu das Artes if you're into plants, herbs, and/or gardening. They had quite a variety of stuff, and according to the MIL, the prices were good (though her definition of a "good price" is often a bit skewed, so you might want to do your own research first). 

There was also a booth selling these awesome floor lamps made of palm fronds. (When you grow up in a desert, you learn cool words like palm frond and something like this lamp can make you love your new home while simultaneously honoring your old one.)

Here, I found their site. We almost bought the lamps, but we decided against it because they are not at all cat-proof. Too bad.

So all I had bought by the end of the day was a cute little wall key rack made of wood and filled with different kinds of beans and seeds. It's cute. It's up next to my paintings from the street fair in Ribeirão Preto. It was about the only souvenir I could afford. Maybe I'll print out the building pics and frame them as another keepsake to remember the day by. :)

So my final take on Embu das Artes is that it's a good place for a casual day trip if you're in the area, and it's a  wonderfully inoffensive destination for easily offended visitors, if you ever get any of those. But if your budget is a little on the limited side, then don't expect to outfit an apartment with your Embu purchases.

Have you ever been there? What did you think?

California Trip 2012

My poor little blog! I have abandoned you. That's because this is the "Danielle in Brazil" blog, and I wasn't in Brazil these last 2 weeks -- I was in the US!

That's right. As many of you know, Alexandre and I went back to California to visit all my people and places and things. I shall recap in pictures:

We flew out of Guarulhos. My friend Bianca was so nice as to give us a ride to São Paulo! What a pal.

At our layover stop, we had our first American breakfast of champions, in Ray's honor:
This "meal" was the start of a downward slope of deliciously unhealthy American eating, 2 weeks of gorging on crap, crap, and more crap! Yum yum. 

We were welcomed by my mom at the airport, and she took us to my grandma's house. Our first home-cooked meal was my English grandmother's roast beef and yorkshire pudding. That's right, Brits. You can be jealous.

The next day, Alexandre and I took my grandma to my aunt's house a couple of hours away. My sister met up with us, and we all went to a casino (gotta love the Indian land in California!). Fun was had by all, whether it was with the games, or the alcohol, or both...

This was only day 2 of the trip, so we were still skinny

Danette (my twin sister), us, and my grandma :)

they respond similarly when someone shouts, "take a picture!"

Alexandre made up a good luck dance for us to do while the slot machine was rolling

Don't worry, those casino game machine makers are equal opportunity stereotypists (is that a word?)

some of the ladies of the family

After our fun casino day, we took my grandma to a sushi restaurant and my cousins met up with us. It was her first time eating sushi! She's so brave. We're all so proud of her. She taught us a valuable life lesson: you're never too old to try something new!

my beautiful Nanny and my beautiful cousins

After lots of board games and shopping at my aunt's house, we went back to my grandma's and did some more shopping. I went to a used book store and bought some wonderful new cookbooks! The best one is called "The Market Fresh Cookbook" by Taste of Home Magazine. It's organized by vegetable; the idea is that you can more easily use what you buy from the farmer's market or pick from your garden. I earmarked like, half of the recipes! So great! You can see it here (or just do your own Google search for it to see a bunch of cheap used copies for sale).

Back at my grandma's house, we had some time to explore around Los Angeles.

We did touristy things.

We met up with Martin, a dear old friend of mine (sorry Alexandre, this was the only pic we all took together!)

We shared traditional Japanese food and lots of laughs with Jamie

Then, the next day, we had a little get-together at my grandma's house with my family and some friends. My grandma cooked. My friend Nancy (check out her fashion blog here) made cupcakes. They were perfect. I ate four of them. I gave myself a stomachache. Worth it.

me, Jamie, Danette, and Nancy the cupcake queen

cousins and funny faces

After more family time / Jamie time / shopping on Sunday, Alexandre and I drove up to San Francisco.
this was the only pic I took on the drive up. Quality over quantity!

We stayed one night with my friend Rachel and her husband Lee (check out Rachel's baking blog here, and her amazing sailing adventure blog here). Rachel and I went to Berkeley together. It was really good to meet her new husband and to catch up with her. 

We spent the other nights with my old NorCal neighbors, Tony and Patrick. We didn't get any pictures together! How sad. But it's more sad that I didn't get any pictures of their amazing new apartment. They're now living in a giant building that used to be a storage warehouse for submarines in WWII and that has since been converted into lofts. The history and style, combined with Tony's unique and eclectic art and decorations, made the place really memorable.

San Francisco was as special as I remembered it. It was Alexandre's first time up there. He agreed that it was a special place, but he had less tolerance for the extreme liberalism and the cold than I did/do. 

Did I mention it was cold? Highs in 40s and low 50s during the whole trip! 

we took a picture in front of it instead of paying to ride it

the seagull is not amused

We went to Pier 39 and saw the sea lions.
 What a silly sign! Everyone knows sea lions can't read. ;)

We went for a walk on the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset. It was some gorgeous stuff.

I took that!

us with Rachel's doggie, Doc. I made it black and white to try to hide the blurriness from the stranger's shaky hand.

Rachel and I have a series of pictures with her dog. We needed another one to add to the collection.

huddling together for warmth!

While still in the Bay Area, we met up with some more friends for dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant. I got to meet longtime blog reader and online buddy Tracy! (You may know her from her comments on all the bird posts.)

I also got to see Natasha, my partner in crime from my days at UC Irvine. Unfortunately, she's still against the idea of smiling in pictures (I'll get you one day!).

The next day, Alexandre, Tracy and I explored Berkeley and I showed them around the campus and I reminisced a lot. 

After some boba, the three of us went under the water on BART to play in The City some more. (That's right. I called it The City.) We had lunch at Bubba Gump's. 

Alexandre's punishment for never reading my blog

yay! fellow bird fan Tracy
(I suppose I shouldn't call her a "fan"...birding is her career! OK her career's not exactly birding...I'll stop)

Rachel joined us for lunch, too, but it was over before we knew it! We didn't even get a picture with her at the restaurant. Alexandre and I were supposed to have a tour of Alcatraz after lunch, so we left the restaurant in a hurry, but we were late and missed the boat (literally!). Luckily, the Alcatraz people are cool about letting you change your tour time, so we rescheduled it for the morning. Then we reunited with Tracy and went to Chinatown and Union Square instead. 

This is a picture of a painting of a poem. I took it because I though Jennifer would like it. It says, "Her favorite moments / were those / when she let go / of all expectations and worries / and just simply celebrated / the very moment she was living. / In those precious moments / she was truly present / and listening to grace." I tried to remember it during the rest of my trip.

This day was Valentine's Day, so after our fun day with Rachel and Tracy, Alexandre and I went out for a romantic Thai dinner and then went back to Tony and Patrick's to chat. :)

The next morning was our Alcatraz trip. The second try was successful. Hooray! We weren't out 50 bucks, after all. 

 Alexandre took this one

I'd never been to Alcatraz, even though I lived in the Bay Area. (If you've ever lived in a tourist-y place, you know how that goes.) But it was an interesting trip. I recommend it. They do a great job of giving you a feel for what life was like for prisoners and guards. 

The pics I took inside the prison didn't come out that great. So instead, I'll show you some of the seagulls that joined us on our boat trip to the island:

Those were the last pics I took on our whole trip to the US! Whoops. Our last few days were spent shopping and hanging out with my grandma and my mom. We also went out for dinner and drinks with a great friend of mine named Crystal and her friend Candace. The night was such a blast that I was just inspired to use the expression "a blast" to describe it. I wanted to have 5,000 more hours talking and laughing with them.

Before we knew it, Alexandre and I were both 5 pounds heavier, and the trip was over! 

I think we did an admirable job of combining "time with loved ones" and "touristy experiences", if I do say so myself. I'm so happy I got to see everyone that I got to see, and do everything that I got to do, and eat everything that I got to eat, and buy everything that I got to buy. 

Until next year, America! 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Stuff Foreigners Say in Brazil

Let's do this!

I want to make a Stuff Foreigners/Ex-Pats say in Brazil video, akin to the Sh*t Girls Say trend on YouTube. If you guys can help me think of enough funny lines, Lindsey and I will record it when she and Ro come to visit in March (see how I did that, Lindsey? I publicly committed you to both your visit and this project! Now you can't say no. Haha.)

Anyway, Tracy has been super helpful so far, but I need more ideas to make it extra high quality.

I also think I want to gear it more toward ex-pats rather than just tourists, because tourists kind of say the same thing in every country, don't you agree?

I realize that, in keeping with the themes of these videos, some Brazilians should play the parts of the Americans, but I think that'll lose some of the effect in this case. (We're already on the outside looking in, ya know?) Also, I'll need a guy to record the lines that need to be spoken by a guy. Any volunteers?

So have at it! I'll publish all the (non-offensive) comments and ideas, even if they don't end up in the video. If you really like someone's line, you should mention that in your comment.

Have fun. :D

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Hi everyone!

Let me just fill you in that things here in the new city are still going super awesomely well. Caught Being Good awards for everyone!

Now, I have an important decision to make. There's a public university here. It has a good linguistics department. According to their website, it's relatively easy for foreigners to apply to the master's program, but I assumed the simplicity of the application process was too good to be true, so I emailed them to see if I could come in to ask a few questions and get some more information.

The person who answered my email (a sort of adviser/receptionist guy) was receptive (har har) and told me to come in during a certain time block and that he'd answer my questions. So I went.

In the office was the email guy and another guy with a similar position. They were both super friendly to me. When I came in, the email guy told the other guy, "this is the girl from Berkeley!"

The other guy was black and had a big picture of Barack Obama next to his desk (no joke).
"Berkeley!" the other guy gushed. "I visited Berkeley and San Francisco last year. Wow, California has the nicest people. I don't know why Brazilians think Americans are cold."

Clearly, this guy and I had quickly won each other over.

Anyway, the two men were very helpful and were able to answer all of my bureaucratic questions about applying for the Master's. It's a 2-year program. I have to get some paperwork from the US, but I already knew that from the site. I also have to take a test to show my proficiency in English and in Portuguese. The language proficiency tests for foreigners depend on where the foreigner is from and what languages the foreigner speaks, and the program coordinator decides exactly what test I'll take. But the adviser guys said that it will most likely be a test in which I read linguistic research articles in English and then write about them in Portuguese. I'll have to practice my Portuguese writing a bit (OK, a lot), but that sounds doable.

Oh, and for those of you who don't already know this about Brazilian public universities: If I'm chosen for the program, this Master's degree is free.

I have to schedule a meeting with the coordinator to talk about my research plans and also my language proficiency test. Unlike in the US, a big part of the application is the quality of your thesis proposal, which you have to prepare before you even start the program. Luckily, the coordinator helps with that, tells you if your idea is something that fits into their research categories, etc.

So far so good, right?

The big thing holding me back is that the adviser guys told me that few grad students work while doing this master's program. It's pretty fast-paced and I must finish within 30 months. He said that some people can get grants and scholarships to help pay the bills, or some get hired on as research assistants, but that for me as a foreigner, it'll be a little harder to get free money from the Brazilian government on top of a free degree. Because I teach English, I might be able to squeeze in a few students during the week, especially if they're already students at the university, but my salary's really going to take a hit.

The other thing I'm not sure about is whether my research interests will fit into their categories, and whether I want to study something they decide on just to get a master's degree. My interests are in applied linguistics and the application of linguistic theory to teaching methods, while this university's program is heavy on really technical linguistic theory, like X-Bar theory and things like that. That kind of stuff is interesting, but it tends to feel kind of useless and self-serving (like it's fun to know about, but  it kind of exists just to keep linguistics departments afloat, and it doesn't have much practical application, especially not in second language education).

Assuming I can study something related to teaching English or applied linguistics, there's still the cost-benefit question. Yes, education is important, and in theory, the more education you have, the better. However, a master's degree is also an investment. My goal in Brazil is to open an English school, not necessarily to work at a university. I don't know if having this master's will really help me in opening an English school, especially if I end up studying something really theoretical. I also don't know if the money I'll lose by teaching part time for two years will be "earned back," so to speak, by a better salary as a result of the master's at some point in the future. I also don't know how much weight a Brazilian master's degree will carry if, one day, I apply to a job in the US that requires a master's.

So here are the two sides of the argument:

1. I want to have a Master's because....

a) It might help me with some future job that I don't know exists yet;
b1) It will be free (aside from paying for lots of clerical things plus Portuguese writing classes);
b2) This is a good time to do it; I don't know where we'll be living in 3 years, or if I'll have this opportunity again;
c) There's social value to it, like being able to say "I have a Master's" instead of "I started a Master's program but I didn't finish it";
d) It will make me smarter, even if I don't necessarily use the research in my career;
e) It would be a great way to better integrate myself into Brazilian society and to meet people with similar interests;
f) One day, the kids will say, "Father is a doctor, and Mummy has a master's," in froo froo children's voices. :)

2. I don't want to spend time on this Master's because...

a) I'll lose a lot of money that I would make working, and I'm not guaranteed that I'll reap financial benefits from this Master's degree;
b) I just spent almost a whole year hardly working at all and partly depending on Alexandre financially, and I hated it. At least I won't be bored this time, but the issue of dependence (or at least being broke) will still come up;
c) It seems easy enough so far, but I imagine it'll still have a lot of bureaucratic hurdles, not to mention the plain ol' difficulty in completing a master's program in a foreign language. I'm worried that I would need to depend on Alexandre for a lot of things, and that he would not have the time or patience to be depended on to help me with academia. Basically, I'm worried it'll be too hard!

I don't know. I'm writing this out to see what you guys think. I'm sure some of you have completed a liberal arts master's program in a Brazilian public university. Is it true that I'll be too busy to work? Is it true that I won't be eligible for grants? Are there any other Pros or Cons that I haven't thought of? Do you think I'll like it? Do you think I'll need it?

Any advice helps.

You guys are awesome! Two cents time!!
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