Innovation in Education is spreading to Brazil

I have read before about schools such as Harvard and MIT opening free online course platforms for students in Brazil. It’s clear that traditional American universities are looking for new “clients” and opportunities, and Brazil with its 200 million population and fast-growing middle class eager for more, is a great target.

Lets face it though, that online education is great, but it cannot yet substitute real quality classroom education. Brazil has a huge  gap in education, which will not be filled in anytime soon. I was happy to read this week that Columbia University is launching a new research center down here in Rio. I hope that they are actually able to set this up at a reasonable time frame.

Very key from this article, is that the research will focus on urban sustainability, education, and the competitiveness of the Brazilian economy. Which, aside from security issues, are the most commonly discussed topics here in terms of serious problems which are closely interlinked and whose solutions are way behind schedule.

My thinking is that Brazilian policy makers could perhaps benefit from the American pragmatism in terms of finding solutions for problems and getting ideas out of the paper.

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Laziness, Luck, and Work-Life Balance

Ever since I remember, I thought of myself as a lazy person with potential for more. When I was in middle school and was offered to skip a grade, or go to a more advanced school, I refused and preferred to stay with my friends. In college, I stopped reading my textbooks probably after the first semester (the fact that I stopped buying them also helped), and only studied before the exams in order to pass (of course forgetting 100% of the course materials right after). I picked classes based on the professor’s rating and reputation for lenient grading. When time came to look for jobs, I applied to all the IT companies, barely studied for interviews and got dinged by all of them. I had no interest to work in IT and ended up getting a job in a major investment bank because I ran into a friend in the hallway and he told me the name of the CEO of this bank, and thus helped me be the only one that answered this question correctly in the job interview. Later on, while my new class of analysts was working its ass off, I chose to take every vacation day possible, leave work at a decent time and never work on weekends. We all got the same salary and bonus at the end of the year.

I had no patience to look for a more interesting, or high paying job, nor was anymore interested in the banking industry and therefore chose to go to business school. I didn’t know much about this whole thing and ended up making some connections with current MBAs who gave me very useful tips that helped me navigate the process. I wanted to apply to the top five schools and write the perfect application but yet I ended up finishing my application about 3 hours before the second round final deadline and applying only for my top choice. I got in. This is when I started getting scared about luck and how long will I be able to get away with things and continue on the right path.

Then came business school. I was surrounded by highly successful over-achievers that going through my life, would have picked the toughest path at each and every step of the way. They would skip the grade, study a whole week for the test, go to a special school for gifted children, choose the toughest college for undergrad, participate in 50 extra-curricular activities, go save orphans in Africa, and worked long hours for the best companies. All of this while looking great and projecting the image of utter-happiness. Scary shit. I felt extremely guilty for being a lazy bugger and not doing all these things throughout my life despite having the chance to. Then came recruiting and everyone was spinning in circles, trying to get internships in every top firm for the top salary and image. But I of course, chose the opposite path and only applied to things I thought would be interesting. I got no job offers while people around me were getting them left and right. Somehow, despite all that I ended up doing a great internship in an awesome company, for the first time in my life working hard and waking up in the morning looking forward to doing what I was doing there.

Second year of MBA repeated the same cycle with just a lot less efforts on my part. When I was about to graduate and still had no job, I was thinking that I should start worrying and freaking out and was indeed starting to do so, without much action though. I then got a job offer and decided to venture into the unknown and move to Brazil. It somehow again worked out.

When I first started my job here, I was overwhelmed by lack of structure and communication of expectations. I think I finally see the benefit of this.. It lets me structure my own path and create the position that I want to have. This isn’t easy. Especially, when you’re used to corporate America that tries to put you in a box as hard as possible and then tells you to think outside the box. Now imagine, there is no box, no one knows what a box is, and you’re in the middle of it, trying to make sense of the mess. No more excuses for the lazy person to exploit the system and look for shortcuts. There is no path to shortcut. So, it has been an interesting challenge that made me feel really excited about work for the first time in my life. On the other hand, I have been spending too much time in the office and then too much time outside the office thinking about work and worrying about becoming a sad workaholic.  I was in a conference recently, at a women-in-business event, and the keynote speaker, a successful CEO of a company was talking about work-life balance. She said that she hates the question of work-life balance and that her response to it was: ” forget work-life balance, there is no such thing, I just do everything because I like what I am doing and I am passionate about it. I never think about the balance of things”. I thought this was straight to the point.

For me the issue of balancing multiple priorities was always about the level of interest in each one. Therefore, it ended up with no balance, but rather focus on what was appealing at the point of time. I am still struggling with figuring out the right way to navigate the world around me, but at least I see by experience that different paths can lead you to exactly the same point, and one of those paths may indeed be easier than the other. Not sure what is the lesson to be learned from that.

Why you should not hire me to babysit your kids?

The last couple of days have been very productive as I was preparing to depart to la-la-land and was settling my stuff in A-Town. This led me to, among rest, uploading the pictures I took in Canada and doing some reflections on what was achieved on the trip.

The main takeaway from the pictures, aside from the fact that I am totally in-love with my cousin’s kids (who, by the way, asked their mom afterwards “Why can’t  Grobby come live with us??”), was a shortlist of things I managed to teach them in those few days, which I believe will be an important milestone in their cultural education. Below is the list:

1.  Taking jumping pictures. If you cannot fly, you can still do so on paper.

2. Taking self-pictures. One cannot be vain enough, I say (The little girl totally loved this and became an expert immediately).

3. Pretending one is a rapper, and saying “yo, yo”, and appreciating Lady Gaga. It’s never to early to develop an exquisite taste in music (The little boy, surprisingly, said he prefers classical music).

4. Understanding sex change operation.  If one does not look like a girl by wearing an appropriate costume for Halloween, there are many other options (The little boy proved himself once again by asking if they have to cut one’s penis in such operation. I had to be honest with him..). Just to clarify, there was not much interest observed in undergoing such a procedure, but rather a shere intellectual curiosity.

Well, this about sums my contribution to the next generation’s development. I suppose it’s time for another please-don’t-try-this-at-home disclaimer.