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I have a confession to make. PUC is harder than Princeton.
Maybe not in terms of workload, or reading difficulty, or even the fact that all my classes are in Portuguese. PUC is hard because it feels like high school. I know that it’s only been two years, but I’d completely forgotten what it was like to be in a classroom and feel that nobody wanted to be there. “You have the right to miss up to 25% of the classes,” one professor explained wearily as students texted in the back of the room. “If you copy from Wikipedia on your midterm, we will find out,” said another. At one point during a Brazilian literature course, the professor was resolutely talking over at least 3 different whispered conversations; in a 4-person history seminar, the benevolent old professor actually had to shush 50% of the class.
PUC is hard to deal with because people don’t seem to care about the classes, or know why they’re there. All right, that’s not true of everyone. The four of us were talking before the history seminar, and one of the students is working 10 hours a night while writing his thesis because he has a one-year-old daughter. A rare few seem genuinely excited about the courses.
But often even I can’t understand why. I’ve witnessed professors come into class and spend the entire time reading out loud. I don’t mean reading prepared notes, I mean repeating the assigned text and occasionally elaborating. My course on Poverty and Social Inequality had a lively discussion the other day, but that’s only because everyone was complaining about the cost of living in Rio. (If there’s one thing Brazilians love, it’s complaining about food prices. Seriously. I swear, I can walk up to any carioca and whine about how much cheese costs at Zona Sul, and we can keep going like that for at least half an hour. Instant friendship.)
“Oh, you should be fine,” one PUC student said when I listed the courses I was planning to take. “Those are all in humanities. So pretty much you just have to show up to a few classes and then do all the readings right before the exam.” I laughed nervously, hoping he was kidding, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.
I might have been under incredible stress at Princeton, reading and writing at least 10 times more, but I thrived on my work. And so did most everyone around me. I’d come out of a really provocative seminar discussion walking on air; here, I have to show up to class, sit for 2 hours, and get my name checked off on the roll. (Yes, they call roll.) Sometimes it doesn’t feel like college so much as afterschool detention. So, yes, PUC is hard.