My first impression when I first arrived at Harvard was that I had entered an entirely new and different world. This university had its own police department, its own housing system and, most impressive, its own currency in the form of Crimson Cash. I come from Brazil and study at EAESP-FGV, the nation’s top business college. I confess, though, that my biggest dream had always been to go to Harvard University, which has one of the best business schools in the world. But leaving my family and country behind was too difficult, so I reluctantly settled to instead attend Harvard Summer School this past summer.
As soon as I arrived at my room, Leverett F-Tower number 97, I knew that there was something different in the air. Harvard is a beautiful place in the summer time—right on the banks of the Charles River. One of the greatest things about Harvard, which isn’t common at all in my country, is that I found people there from all over the world. I had two neighbors from China, two from America and even one Puerto Rican! This diversity, which I think is essential to any top educational environment, is nowhere near as present in my country. We welcome around 100 foreign exchange students every semester at my college, but they don’t actually go to school with us; rather, they attend separate classes. Once the semester is over, even if they leave with a really nice experience, and maybe some friends, I don’t think their experiences in Brazil quite compare to mine in Cambridge. As my summer there went by, I started noticing all the differences between my country and upbringing and those of my new friends.
At an American high school, students worry about getting through school with good grades and figuring out which major to pursue in college. It’s only after college that they go on to learn a profession. In Brazil, we don’t have that collegiate gap. Graduate school and college are one in the same. As soon as we leave high school, we have to choose what we’re going to do for the rest of our lives. That’s quite a responsibility for a 17-year-old, I would say. Our sole responsibility is to study hard for a very difficult admissions exam, the content of which depends on the type of college we choose to attend. In the U.S., however, I met people who, by the age of 17, had already traveled the world, participated in national science competitions, or used unimaginable skills to do advanced research. Hearing these stories about people of such a young age was really impressive because they would be very rare in Brazil. As I spoke to my American friends, they told me that if you want to go to schools like Harvard you are stimulated to do these kinds of amazing things.
In Brazil, college has a totally different goal than it does in the U.S.. We prepare students to be marketable industry professionals as soon as possible. The extra-curricular opportunities from which students may choose to participate in are entirely focused on the development of market-related skills like leadership, team-work, analytical skills, and working under pressure. We have what we call Junior Enterprises, which are student-run companies that provide consultancy work for real-world companies at a low cost. These are run independently by student groups, so that we can gain some practical experience before going on to work for real companies. As CEO of “RH Junior Consultoria,” a company that provides human resources consultation, I got to coordinate employee selection processes for Nestlé and competency projects for Citigroup. The experience certainly taught me valuable real world skills.
After this period of Junior Enterprise, we begin an internship in an industry of our choice. We don’t have summer internships like those popular in the U.S. Instead, we start working part-time for companies in industries related to our majors. We do this all while going to school and taking 9-subjects per semester!
Here in Brazil I believe there is a deficiency—we lack a period of time in which students can develop the maturity necessary for adult life. This contrasts with the U.S., where students have an undergraduate program centered on that objective. However, I believe that the American educational system should invest more in technically-oriented student activities like the ones we have in Brazil. Such work tends to develop industry-specific skills that are essential for a professional who wants to differentiate himself nowadays.
On the other hand, here in Brazil I guess people are led to “become an adult” sooner than they actually should. Even though we stimulate activities that develop a more market-specific professional who is better prepared to deal with pressure, multi-tasking and who has market-specific skills, there are important things to learn about citizenship, arts, and culture that our educators allow to pass by unnoticed. We definitely lose a lot from this. In spite of this deficiency, I believe we develop stronger professionals with practical and theoretical skills that are above average. However, I also believe that although students in the U.S. may lack this focus in college, they are more mature and well-prepared to make important life decisions like choosing a major and a profession to pursue once they graduate. All in all, I believe both education systems have their advantages and disadvantages, and a lot to learn from each other.
Caio R. P. Malufe is a fourth year student at Escola de Administração de Empresas de São Paulo da Fundação Getulio Vargas in São Paulo, Brazil.