Apr 25, 2013
They are the pioneering group: The first five scholarship recipients who are studying chemistry and physics at Freie Universität for a year under the Brazilian government’s “Ciência sem Fronteiras” (Science without Borders) program take stock of where things stand after six months. “The opportunity to live and study here is unique,” says Gabriela da Costa, summing up. The five students, from megacity São Paulo and other cities in southern and central Brazil, had met on Facebook before leaving for Germany, and now they have become friends in real life, too.
A new environment, a new language, making progress in their studies and even taking tests: For the five Brazilian undergraduates, all of it is now a part of everyday life at Freie Universität. Before being selected for the scholarship program, students Clicia Naldoni de Souza, Amanda de Azevedo Lopes, and Eugenio Rodrigues Rosa do Nascimento studied physics at the universities in Alfenas, Rio Grande do Sul, and Campinas. The chemistry students Gabriela da Costa and Daniel Franco Minatelli are from the university in Paraná, in the far south of the country, and the University of São Paulo, respectively. “There are more than 90,000 students at my university,” Franco Minatelli says. “It’s about three times as big as Freie Universität.”
To reach the Brazilian campuses, which are mostly self-contained and set apart, many students typically spend hours commuting. Public transit in Berlin and the semester ticket transit passes they can use to easily ride the trains here, by contrast, are something the students find “amazing,” says Rodrigues Rosa do Nascimento. In addition, the female students in particular feel very safe in Berlin at any time of the day or night. Back home, where the crime rate is significantly higher, that’s different, de Azevedo Lopes points out.
A Yearlong Change of Perspective
Under the program, the Brazilian government plans to give a total of 100,000 undergraduate and graduate students and postdocs in the life sciences, natural sciences, and engineering the opportunity to study and work at excellent international institutions by 2014. Last year, Freie Universität provided its first placements for scholarship recipients in the study programs in chemistry and physics.
Their time in Berlin allows the students to experience their studies from a different perspective. “At home, we have more classes and more exams, but less homework,” explains Naldoni de Souza.; “Here, it’s just the opposite.” The students say they have to learn a lot of material on their own and spend less time in the lab than they are used to doing at home. In general, the five Brazilian students have the impression that many of their German peers lead a more individualistic college life than is the case in Brazil, but it may also be simply the difference in mindset that makes it easier to form contacts with other guest students.
The group is certainly doing fine with the new language. They had to show that they already had existing German skills for the Science without Borders selection process, and further language courses during their first three months in Berlin were part of the scholarship program. At Freie Universität, the students take graduate courses in English and undergraduate courses in German. “There are a lot of German companies in Brazil that need employees who speak both languages,” says Minatelli with regard to his career prospects. “But in subjects like physics, especially, there is hardly any other option in Brazil than to stay in academia,” reports Rodrigues Rosa do Nascimento.
Tests, Tutors, and a Tour of Germany
The students say applying to the government aid organizations CAPES and CNPq was laborious – grades, tests, and application letters all count – but they receive more generous financial support than in the EU’s Erasmus program, for example. “We also receive support at Freie Universität from student tutors, for example, and it was no problem to get rooms in student housing,” da Costa says. In fact, the students say, all of the organizational details in Germany have worked perfectly so far, without any bureaucratic issues at all.
The major highlight of the group’s time in Germany so far was a tour of southern Germany, covering 3,000 kilometers in nine days. The route included Munich, the famed Neuschwanstein Castle, picturesque Freiburg, and the Black Forest. The autobahn alone was impressive in itself, they all agree. Plus, there was a lot of snow when they took the trip, in December – completely unimaginable in Brazil.