August 12, 2004
There are four environments that make up Brazil. Many U.S. travelers may only be aware of one: the peaceful and festive atmosphere of Rio de Janeiro. Others may recall that Brazil is home to the Rain Forest, but the likelihood is a better acquaintance with the Rain Forest Café. Business travelers may have spent time in São Paulo, which is the world’s second largest city, with more than 22 million people. And, perhaps some have flown to the other areas of Brazil, to the city of Cuiaba, Mato Grosso, for example. Between the beach, the high rise buildings, the rain forest, and the more rural areas, Brazil is approximately the size of the continental United States and has an eclectic mixture of sights and smells, peaks and jungles, faiths and traditions.
The Portuguese first arrived in Brazil in the 1500s. Little is known about its early civilizations. Without any war, Brazil became independent from Portugal in 1822. It is officially a Catholic country, but its diversity, both in faith and ethnicity, reflects the global community of today.
Every year, Oklahoma Baptist University has the privilege of inviting students from other countries to experience Shawnee, Oklahoma, and pursue their studies at OBU. This year, Thais, Ive, and Lucas Coutinho, siblings from Cuiaba, Mato Grosso, are part of the student body.
“My first impression of Oklahoma was one of warmth – both the people and the climate,” says Thais, a sophomore pre-medicine major. Lucas is a freshman who is also interested in pre-medicine. Ive, a junior, is focusing on international business. With expectations of the “Wild, Wild West,” they were happily surprised to adjust to an environment much like what they are accustomed to. “I call OBU my home away from home,” says Ive.
Their transition has not been altogether easy. The perception that some Americans have of Brazil is certainly a challenge. Ideas range from thinking everyone in Brazil is utterly poor to the idea that the country is simply a big carnival. “Someone even came up to me and asked if I lived in a tree house in the Rain Forest like Tarzan,” says Lucas. “He was amazed when I told him that we had McDonalds and Wal-Mart.”
“Brazil is a very hospitable country,” says Ive. “The people are from everywhere. In fact the saying is that if you are fully Brazilian then you are from ‘everywhere.’ Everybody is welcome.” Thais agrees. “My best friend is Muslim,” she says, “and another good friend is Catholic. Diversity is normal in Brazil.”
Ive says that her mother actually introduced the family to the Christian faith. “Now, the whole family believes,” she says. Their father is an anesthesiologist and pain specialist. He works with many cancer patients as they struggle with managing their illness. As a result of his example and other doctors in their extended family, Thais and Lucas have their eyes set on medical school. Ive is set to go into international business in a likeminded way, to be a mirror of God.
“Our father tells us that doctors are mirrors of God,” says Thais. “He says that Christian physicians not only have the opportunity to relieve pain in the body but also the soul. We learned that medicine is not a way to make a lot of money but a way to help people.” “We want to humanize medicine,” Lucas says.
The general similarities between the American and Brazilian cultures are perhaps just as revealing as some of the more notable differences. Among these differences, says Ive, is the interpretation of being “on time.”
“In Brazil, time is different,” says Thais. “If I invite you at six, don’t come until six-thirty or seven o’clock because I won’t be ready at six.” They have found the expectation in America is much different. “At OBU, when a class period is ending all the students begin to pack their bags,” says Ive, “but in Brazil it’s not uncommon for teachers to continue teaching despite the time.” The necessity to be to class on time is something they are adjusting to as well. “Neither the Brazilian way nor the American way is good or bad,” says Lucas. “They’re just different.”
Dating is the exception to the relaxed time schedule. “In Brazil families are very strict about dating,” says Lucas. “Before a young man can ask a young woman for a date, they must first ask the blessing of the father and answer the infamous, ‘Why do you want to date my daughter?’ question. The young man must understand ‘the rules’ that the father shares with him, and these cannot be broken. This is the time that you cannot be late getting home.” Ive thinks this makes young men more respectful. “His family knows yours and your relationship involves both families,” she says.
Another difference is the emphasis on family. “In Brazil everyone at work and in school comes home to eat lunch as a family. Families also eat dinner together each night. “We sometimes spend two hours at the table,” says Ive. “It is the time where we discuss the day and talk about things.” This intentional focus on family time creates a strong circle of trust. “Brazilian fathers cry,” Thais says. “Dad suffers with you. Our dad calls us when we have a test or some other event. It doesn’t make us independent because mom and dad are always concerned.”
“Our father tells that he’s the bow and we are the arrows, and Jesus is the archer,” says Ive. “The arrow never stays with the bow and that as the bow is strong and flexible, he must help us fill God’s purpose. Our mom never allows us to lose our focus. ‘Whatever we do,’ she says, ‘do it for God’s purpose – even being a good student is praising God.’”
In reflection of their time away from home, Thais, Ive, and Lucas each find the stories from Scripture comforting. “I think of the storm and Jesus in the boat,” says Ive. “Right now the storm represents all the differences that are around me and the comfort to know his peace.” Thais appreciates the passage about Abraham leaving to a foreign country with the assurance that God would be with him. “I know God is with me now,” she says, “and that God is a God of all nations and we are part of the same family because we are united in Christ.” Lucas recalls a song that is popular in Brazil. “It personalizes Moses and the Red Sea,” he says. “‘If before me the sea doesn’t open,’ the song says, ‘God will make me walk on the waters. My life will be surrounded by your power and with courage I will move the supernatural.’”
Thais, Ive, and Lucas Coutinho are three examples of the richness of the growing international student population at OBU.
In March, President Mark Brister, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Jim Colman, and Dean of Enrollment Management Trent Argo toured several areas of Brazil. They met with students interested in attending OBU and discussed exchange opportunities with several different groups.