By Gregory Scruggs, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Cambridge, Massachusetts, home to Harvard University, is over 7,700 kilometers from Brazil’s most populous city, São Paulo. Since 2006, however, that distance has not mattered much, as Harvard has a permanent presence on the city’s main commercial strip, Avenida Paulista.
The Harvard Brazil Office, which falls under the purview of the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies (DRCLAS), will soon celebrate five years of promoting Harvard in Brazil, and promoting Brazil at Harvard.
Those efforts include the over 100 Harvard students that studied or conducted research in Brazil during the academic year 2010-2011, as well as the 90 Brazilian applicants to Harvard during the last admissions cycle.
There are 291 students currently studying Portuguese at Harvard, an all-time high that surpasses the number enrolled in Italian, a more established romance languages program.
Jason Dyett, Program Director, sees the strength of the Harvard Brazil Office in the way it complements the university’s activities in Cambridge. “It is a university-wide initiative, and so able to take advantage of any topic, including cross-disciplinary problems,” he explains.
Examples from this year alone include Portuguese language instruction with volunteer work in a disadvantaged community in Florianópolis, a public health course on infectious diseases in Salvador, and public policy internships in São Paulo and Brasília.
Harvard programs are particularly active in Rio de Janeiro, including a January joint course between Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the Universidade de São Paulo’s Escola Politécnica on engineering the urban environment.
There was also a July-August Brazilian culture and Portuguese language program hosted at Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio), an urban design studio on the neighborhood around Maracanã Stadium, and an immersion program through the Harvard Business School that includes a two-day visit to Petrobras University.
In March, Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust traveled to Brazil for the first time, making stops in São Paulo and Rio. She gathered with alumni, visited the Harvard Brazil Office, and met with officials from leading Brazilian universities.
The visit confirmed the importance of Brazil for Harvard, and the growing value of the Harvard Brazil Office and the accompanying Brazil Studies program based in Cambridge at DRCLAS. Dyett affirms, “Length of time is another asset the Brazil Office brings. With a permanent presence, we have the time horizon and ability to conduct many types of engagements.”
In addition to benefiting Harvard students who wish to come to Brazil, the office also facilitates the movement of Brazilian students and scholars to Cambridge. The Lemann Fellowships support advanced study in education, government, or public health.
Harvard has also actively recruited Brazilian professors, such as Nicolau Sevcenko, currently head of the Brazil Studies program, who arrived in 2009 from the Universidade de São Paulo (USP). Bringing Sevcenko to Cambridge was quite a coup, as he was known on the USP campus as “O Famosão” (the famous one), a highly-regarded cultural historian.
From renowned professors to a growing number of young Brazilians eager to study at one of the world’s most prestigious universities, as well as students eager to study one of the world’s most dynamic countries, the Harvard Brazil Office serves as a vital link between country and university.