An Interview with the American Erick Olmsted About Education: Brazil x the USA

Beatriz Sobreira and Natália Azevedo

The educational system in Brazil concerning higher school has been frequently discussed, especially inside universities. Some issues are: the differences between public and private universities, affirmative action and students’ necessity to work and study at the same time and how our educational systems cope with it. In this whole system there are pros and cons, especially when compared with another country system. In order to clarify our knowledge and make a comparison, we interviewed someone who has observed and participated in both Brazilian and American educational system.

The American Erik Hilbing Olmsted gave us an interview about these issues here in Brazil and in the USA. He was born in California, United States of America and has attended to BiolaUniversity, a private Christian university in southern California where he has studied the Bible and has taken a major degree in Mathematics. Mr. Olmsted spent 45 years in the US. Nowadays, he has been living here for a year.

We met Mr. Olmsted in the beginning of the semester at UERJ during a class of Translation. Before that, he had never attended to any other course in Brazil.

Due to the circumstances we met him, we first decided to ask him about the pros and cons of studying in a PublicCollege in Brazil and in the USA; seeing that both public systems are quite different. In the USA, all kinds of higher education (private, public and communities colleges) are payed.

Talking about advantages, he definitely thinks cost is a huge advantage for Brazil’s public colleges (because in the USA students have to borrow a great amount of money to do college). Whereas in the USA an advantage is that students have always an option. By option he means that students who were not able to enter a four years college (private and public), can choose for a two years one (community college), in which the only enrollment requirement is the high school certificate. Concerning the disadvantages, Brazilian students face a “significant competition” to get into public universities while American students face crowded classes.

“Is there any prejudice against public and communities colleges?” – we asked Mr. Olmsted. He answered that there are private colleges that are very prestigious, such as HarvardUniversity, BrownUniversity and ColumbiaUniversity that are part of the eight universities called Ivy League. However, there are also some public colleges that are prestigious as well such as the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

After that, we asked Mr. Olmsted what called his attention when he started to attend classes at UERJ. First, he mentioned the campus. In America most of universities have open spaces with grass and trees where teachers can go with his/her students to teach if they want to. Then, he mentioned the time. Our translation classes go from 9 pm to 10:40 pm theoretically, but in fact, they go up to 10 pm. It does not happen in America. Classes do not start so late and they are never cut short – “If you have a class time in the United States, you will get that time”.

When Mr. Olmsted was asked about the positive and negative aspects of enrollment in Brazilian and American universities, he said “Well, I’ve never taken the ENEM or any Vestibular, so I don’t know exactly what it’s like to take it. So, obviously if the test is biased in some way, then, it would be harder for the student who wasn’t prepared for it to get into university even if the student had a good education up to that point, so I think that….it doesn’t make sense to have everyone spending a lot of money to study to take the ENEM for one year or something. I think it makes more sense to try to test the students for what they’ve learnt…and…and I…but, anyway (laughs)”.

After that, we moved on to the issue of affirmative action. Mr. Olmsted told us that, in the USA, the Supreme Court has announced that race cannot be the only reason for allowing someone to get into universities. There are other criteria which must be considered, such as the student’s grade in high school. Differently from Brazil in which the minorities only have to prove they belong to one or more of some specific categories, such as poor financial condition and race.

Referring to social classes, we asked our interviewee which system is more concerned with it. He answered “the US” because they have the community colleges that accept almost any student, as long as he/she has a high school certificate. Therefore, they facilitate the access to college.

All in all, after all this discussion Mr. Olmsted firstly affirmed that he prefers the USA educational system because the universities all over the states are good and also, because there are the community colleges that he considers to be “accessible and useful”. On the other hand, after having said this he changed his speech – “But, I like the fact that in Brazil the education is free…for the public education. So I have to say that is kind of difficult to decide because in the United States many students borrow a lot of money to study in university and I think that’s a big problem”.


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