By MBA Student Scott M. LaRocco; Edited by Renata Berto & Danielle Levanetz
The beauty of taking a class abroad is that besides being exposed to high quality lectures by USD’s most renown faculty members, one gains awareness of how people in a certain culture live their lives, and how they do business. In this article, an MBA student shares what lessons he learned while exploring Rio on his free time, outside of the classroom.
I believe that in order to truly experience the most out of a visit to another country, one must be willing to forego many comforts that we are accustomed to, adapt to the culture by attempting to communicate with local residents in their vernacular language, and, most importantly, be willing to take risks. By utilizing my already natural high level of energy and enthusiasm, I believe that I was greatly successful in experiencing the most out of Brazil’s fascinating culture while spending almost a month in Rio de Janeiro taking two MBA classes.
In order to accomplish this, I generally gave up my standard routine of seven hours of sleep per night and three square meals per day. Despite the minor discomfort that these sacrifices may have caused, I can unequivocally say that I was able to experience Rio in a way that many of my fellow classmates did not. Below are a few of those adventures, which have forever changed my life.
Fabiano, Moises, and the Beach Chair Family
Getting a group together for something as simple as going to the beach in Brazil became the equivalent of a four hour root canal procedure. It seemed like every time I was ready to go several people were asking me to wait for them. Frustrated by my inability to have the group ready to go on my schedule, I developed a different strategy to go to the beach: I gave simple instructions as to where exactly I would be sitting on the beach so that anyone could join me.
The advantage to always being in the same beach location, oftentimes alone for several hours, was that I was able to become amicably acquainted with a local family, whose business was to rent out beach chairs, umbrellas and refreshments to beachgoers. The family consisted of three sons, whose ages ranged between 21 and 25 years, and their father who seemed to merely supervise the operation as he played dominoes under a canopy.
The three boys worked extremely hard, running back and forth from their canopy where they stored their chairs for the beach patrons, who need not move from their chairs in order to get a nice cold coconut water. Appreciative of this hard work, I made a concerted effort to not only tip these gentlemen whenever practical, but to do my best to show my appreciation of their service through trying to talk with them, shake their hands, and laugh with them when I could. This appreciation did not go unnoticed, as they would smile and wave as they saw me approach every time I went to the beach. In addition to merely doing a great service for me and the other beach patrons, these kids also would do me personal favors like watch my bag while I went in the water, if I were alone, or run to their canopy to get me a specific refreshments that they did not carry in their coolers. On one occasion, Moises sat down next to me, looking exhausted, and simply asked to “bump fists”, a universal sign of respect across the globe.
On the last day of my trip I decided I wanted to leave these kids with a gift before I departed back to the United States, so on my last outing to the beach I brought with me a Chicago Bulls Michael Jordan jersey that I had taken with me from the States. Knowing that such jerseys are probably extremely difficult to find in Rio, I thought this would be a great “thank you” gift. Unbeknownst to me, the family had also planned to give me a small gift, so as I walked to Ipanema beach to say goodbye, I pulled out the jersey. At the same time, they had the jersey of their favorite local soccer team, Vasco da Gama, to give to me. I certainly appreciate the irony of how conscientious people, despite cultural differences, can think in the exact same manner. It is my sincere hope that next time I happen to be in Rio de Janeiro, I will walk up and find the same family in the same spot, wearing my Vasco jersey, as one of them wears my Chicago Bulls one.
The Siren’s Song of the Vidigal Favela
Undoubtedly the image from Rio de Janeiro that is forever scorched in my retinas is that of the Dois Irmaos peaks that jaggedly spring up from the west of Ipanema Beach. I had seen these mountains for years on postcards and in films, but was completely unprepared for the scope and natural beauty in them.
When I was able to get my first, in person, view of the peaks, I noticed what appeared to be a shantytown running up the side. “How could this be?” I thought to myself. This looked like some of the most prime real estate in all Rio de Janeiro, yet it had a favela (slum) occupying it. Desperate for more information on this perceived anomaly, I began researching the area and learned that it was indeed a favela called Vidigal. So, on my last day in Rio, I recognized it as my last opportunity to make the possible dangerous trip into the Vidigal favela. After convincing a classmate to go with me, we saw what appeared to be a small restaurant at the base of Vidigal. We decided this would be a good place to find out, once and for all, if it would be safe for us to head into the favela.
At the restaurant, which I viewed more like the base camp at Mount Everest, we were able to speak to a television reporter, who spoke perfect English, about our prospects of making it in and out of Vidigal safely. She assured us that we had nothing to worry about, and that the favela had been pacified, and there would be heavy police presence everywhere we went. This was enough to convince us that we should take the risk and head in.
Rather, we occasionally saw a police car drive by as we winded our way up the main road, heading for the very top in search of a picturesque view of the City. Despite this, I believe that we had gone too far now to turn back, and so we forged ahead. Along the main street in Vidigal, I never felt threatened. Locals seemed to be going about their everyday business and paid us little attention at all. As we approached the summit, I was saddened that, from the main street, there were buildings blocking what was certain to be an amazing view of Rio de Janeiro.
Unsatisfied, I pondered heading up one of the many small, winding concrete staircases that disappeared into the morass of corrugated steel shanty houses that packed the neighborhood. As I took my first initial steps up the staircase, and my classmate waited at the base, unwilling to head into what looked like an abyss, reality had a way of finding me again. A local woman shouted out her window and waved her finger to me. She had a look on her face not of someone who simply didn’t want me trespassing, but rather, that if I were to continue I might find myself in real danger. This was enough for me to turn back, and suggest to Tina that maybe we begin the long, winding trek down back to the base.
After deciding to turn back and start walking down, we were happy to find out that the walk down actually did give us periodic windows where we were able to marvel at the scenery. The blue ocean, sandy beaches, white buildings, and emerald peaks that Rio is known for looked as amazing as ever. Additionally, the look, smell, and overall feel of being in a favela is so unique, that I had to fight off the urge to whip out my camera and take pictures (the locals tell tourists that this can be seen as very disrespectful).
About half way down the main road, my classmate and I stopped for a drink at a local bar/restaurant. The owner, a kind old lady, not only was willing to take our pictures, as well as a picture of us with her, but also brought out rice and beans (traditional Brazilian fare) that we hadn’t asked for. Upon our departure, she wished us well and gave us both big hugs as we walked down the road.
I am certainly thrilled that I was able to at last explore the Vidigal favela, and experience both in beauty and charm as we meandered through its winding roads. Had I not taken this opportunity to do so, it would have undoubtedly been my biggest, and possibly only, regret of what was, in totality, and amazing trip.