It's all about the Benjamins

Florianopolis Travel Blog

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           It was not that long ago that my life was enveloped in undergraduate college applications. I can still recall the level of stress that I endured my senior year in high school applying to colleges. I will never forget how much I hated going to interview after interview, writing essay after essay, and filling out application after application. If the applications to the various colleges and universities were not enough, I also had to worry about how I was going to finance and budget for all of these places.

Ahh…money! Sometimes I think money is the bane of my existence. It is not easy living on a typical college student budget.  Scholarships and grants such as the HOPE scholarship make my life much easier in this arena. I also know that even if I lose all of my scholarships, I can still take out subsidized student loans that have low interest rates. Even if I cannot pay off the loan right away, the low interest rates ensures that that amount does not get too overwhelming. However this is not the case for Brazilian college students.

My experience with the students of the Federal University of Santa Catarina (FUSC) has demonstrated this very fact. I met a student named Fabio who is studying economics. He comes from a middle class family and is the youngest of 3 boys. In my conversations with Fabio, he mentioned that he envied the fact that I attended a university where study abroad programs were abundant and relatively affordable. He told me that FUSC has international programs as well but are very expensive. Consequently, Fabio informed me that there was no way his family could afford to send him to such a program, even though he was on multiple scholarships.

“Well what about loans?” I asked.

“Loans, you’re crazy!” Fabio responded. “The interest rates alone would force me to work for the rest of my life.”

Now I know that some of you guys, especially the out of state students, can emphasize with going to a college that forces you to go in debt because you take out loans. However, I don’t think any of you realize that the interest rates you will pay are MINIMAL compared to the interest rates that engulf the Brazilians. Also, keep in mind that Brazil has struggled and will probably continue to struggle with inflation.

Currently Brazil has an inflation rate of approximately 7% and an interest rate of -19%. Consequently, credit cards and loans can have rates of 110%! Although you could technically only pay a low amount of Réals a month, in some cases, you would literally have to work for the rest of your life to pay off the amount plus the interest. In the end, you would have to pay maybe triple, quadruple, etc. of the amount you originally borrowed in the first place. On top of this, taxes are also incredible. The current government has the tax pressure at 38%.

Besides the financial burdens Brazilian have to take on, keep in mind that universities are hard to get into. There are a limited number of positions available and it is very competitive. Top students from all over the state and country take exams called ASDLKDSALKJDSA to get into the best universities. There is a trend for high income families, Caucasian, and private school students to have a dominating presence in the universities. Thus, the government has tried to implement affirmative action plans in the educational system. These programs not only let racially and ethnically underrepresented minorities have a chance at the leading universities, they also allow public school educated students as well as low income family students have the opportunity as well.

As my undergraduate college career starts winding to an end, my experience with the Brazilian education system makes me realize the importance of education. Many of these students work part-time of full-time jobs and attend school at the same time. Many of their families also have to sacrifice a lot to send their children to the best universities.

“Is all the stress and financial burden worth it?” I asked Fabio.

“Absolutely,” he answered. “Yes I worry about how hard my parents have to work to support me and yes it is not easy to work and go to school at the same time. But I think it is worth it in the end because my education here allows me opportunities that I could never get any other way.”

“Really? Like what?” I asked.

“Well….like meeting you.” Fabio replied back with a smile.

travelman727 says:
Very cogent observations...sometimes, we forget how easy things are in the US compared to much of the world.
Posted on: Jun 29, 2006
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250 km (155 miles) traveled
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photo by: Vagabondatheart