The short-term study abroad trip to Brazil with Professor Paulo Prochno was the most rewarding experience I’ve had so far during my time at the Smith School. Not only did we get the opportunity to thoroughly understand the complexities involved with doing business in Brazil through our consulting project and company visits but we were able to fully immerse ourselves in Brazilian culture during our time in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janerio.
My team did a consulting project for Bolacha Discos, a start-up Brazilian record label focusing primarily on indie/alternative music. Since the market for this music is very niche, our group determined that it was necessary for the company to expand internationally in order to become a sustainable business.
To serve this purpose, our group developed a United States expansion strategy for Bolacha that included specific methods for gaining the attention of U.S. college radio, determining appropriate promotional tools, recommending festival appearances to reach the target audience, and finding suitable labels, commercial partners, booking agents and venues for the company.
Our group worked rigorously for four months leading up to our presentation which was held at Bolacha’s office in Rio de Janerio. The owners were thrilled with our deliverable as we validated many of their ideas in addition to offering unique, yet executable recommendations. After the meeting, we celebrated with Bolacha over a traditional Brazilian lunch and beers!
The company visits were very informative and covered a very broad range of topics; from the Brazilian tax structure to consumer products. We visited the Brazilian Stock Exchange (BMF&BOVESPA) in Sao Paulo and received a presentation on an expatriate’s view of cross-cultural differences between the United States and Brazil. Overall, the variety of company visits ensured that we came away with a thorough understanding of how to do business in Brazil.
Additionally, Professor Prochno encouraged us to get the full Brazil experience by engaging in the culture. We visited all the top tourist spots (Sugarloaf Mountain, Christ the Redeemer, Copacabana and Ipanema beaches) but we also took advantage of activities that locals would do!
For example, I sat through a football (soccer) game in the pouring rain, paddle boarded at Copacabana Beach during sunset, ate a chicken heart for the first time (good, but salty and very chewy) and danced to live Samba music. Each of these unique places and adventures contributed to the overall remarkable experience in Brazil.
Lastly, by far the most eye-opening experience of the entire trip was my tour through Santa Marta favela with a small group of other Smith Students. Favelas are the slums of Brazil and up until recently were mostly ruled by drug traffickers and dealers. The communities have little to no government support; therefore, most favelas have very poor infrastructure and sanitary conditions. Many are forced to steal their electricity from adjacent neighborhoods and have no trash pickup services.
Knowing this information about favelas, I had no idea what to expect on the tour. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that our extremely friendly tour guide, Sheila, was a resident of Santa Marta. She was open and engaging about the hardships they face economically and socially. For example, in Rio, residents of favelas are very discriminated against and frequently lie about their address just to secure a minimum wage job.
However, despite these difficulties, I was in awe of the passion Sheila felt for Santa Marta and the sense of community within the favela that I observed. Sheila would stop every so often throughout the tour to hug or talk to a neighbor. One of her friends even welcomed us into his home and served us caipirninhas (Brazil’s national cocktail). The entire 2 ½ hours we spent in the favela was a humbling cultural experience that I will never forget and contributed to the overall amazing study abroad experience in Brazil.
Ashley Reynolds is a second year part-time MBA student at the Baltimore Campus. She graduated from Gettysburg College in 2008 with a degree in Economics. After spending 5 years in the finance sector, Ashley recently made the switch into Marketing and Communications. She currently works for the Department of Defense as a Customer Outreach Advocate, specializing in event management. In her spare time she enjoys cooking, traveling and wine tasting.