August 4, 2008

Future Leaders of the Country

So these three hooligans just got into med school.

The hazing ritual is another marker of the seasons’ passing - the bi-annual harassment of reticent pedestrians by paint-covered students begging for change.
On the day the results of college entrance exams are posted at the university, incoming freshman arriving to see if their names are on the list are jumped by upper classmen of their admitted degree field. Their clothes are ripped, paint is dumped on them, eggs sometimes. Often their shoes are stolen, as are their bags, money, keys, etc. Wedgies are probably given along with other types of foolery. C told me that in his day everyone got their hair cut. They are then sent out onto the streets to beg for change which they then have to hand over to the upper classmen to fund a keg party or churrasco (the famous Brazilian barbeque). I never have figured out if the freshman get invited to the parties for which they begged change.

Obviously they don’t look too unhappy. And they aren’t. They just got into college. Passing the college entrance exam or the “vestibular” is
apparently really hard. And different than the United States, you don’t pass just to get into a general liberal arts program. You have to pass a specific test for a specific degree, say medicine, or architecture, or history or literature. There is no getting into college and then later declaring a major. You know what you are going to do before you even get accepted. And these kids start studying for this test when they are in high school, at the age of 15 or 16. Which means they already have to decide what they want to be when they grow up quite early on.

The Federal/State universities are the best schools, and the hardest to get into. And if you pass the test, your education is free. There are a lot of private colleges as well, and many of them are quite good, but the public schools are what most everyone aims for.

When I explain to them that it isn’t like that in the United States. That you can take a generalized test (SAT) and spend two years, at least, goofing around trying out different classes and departments before declaring they are shocked and jealous. I know some older students as well, in their 40’s, who have gone back for another degree saying that the first one was what their parents wanted and now they are doing what they want.

But I don’t really know which system is better. Maybe I wouldn’t be such a dilettante if I had been forced to choose when I was 16. I declared my major at the 11th hour and only because I thought the people in the anthropology department were nicer than those in the English department. (The line to get the department head to sign your degree declaration was shorter too.) I’d never even taken an anthropology class. And this sort of randomness has continued to follow me through several career changes.

Having too much choice and leeway can certainly make you spoiled and more than a little unfocused. I think it was George Bernard Shaw who said something to the effect of liberty means responsibility and that’s why most people dread it. But then again, I know that he also said that life isn’t about finding yourself. It’s about creating yourself.

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