VAZQUEZ: Yale must look beyond China

Brazil is a huge economic player in our world today. That much is undeniable. But for some reason, Yale has overlooked the growing giant to the south. As we continue our mission to become a truly global university, we must reassess our relations with Brazil and South America as a whole.

The 2010s could be for Brazil what the last decade was for China. In the longer term, by 2040, Brazil is set to become the fourth largest economy in the world, overtaking Russia and closing in on the United States, China, and India. Unlike India and China, Brazil benefits from close to a century of positive economic growth.

Further, the cultural capital the country is set to accumulate over the next five years is extraordinary. The fact that South America’s largest country will be hosting a World Cup and the summer Olympics within two years of one another (in 2014 and 2016, respectively) will greatly increase the country’s prominence among world powers.

Brazil — and Latin America at large — are also major fronts in which American and Chinese spheres of influence will conflict. This much is evident, as our neighbors to the south have increasingly turned to China as their main trading partner (China surpassed the U.S. as Brazil’s primary trading partner in 2009) after decades of having that relationship with the U.S.

However, the policy at Yale and among our nation’s foreign policy establishment has shown no interest in capitalizing on our proximity to Brazil. Yale offers extensive opportunities for students to study in China, Japan and Korea, but was unable to provide an instructor for students to take level five Portuguese this fall. The understaffed department was forced to create a third section of its introductory level course and therefore transfer the professor that was to teach level five to meet the increased interest in Portuguese among the student body.

Another example of such neglect can be found in the International Bulldogs program. This internship program is a great opportunity for students to gain real international experience, but out of the 13 cities at which students can intern, not one is a part of the Lusophone world, and only one is located in South America. Yalies interested in further developing their Portuguese skills during the summer are limited to language programs abroad, despite the fact that businesses and NGOs in Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro would surely want to hire them.

It’s perfectly reasonable for the University to have a special interest in certain regions. But it’s about time we look south. We should pay more attention to countries that have booming economies, functioning democratic institutions and a shared Pan-American heritage.

From a pragmatic standpoint, our intense investment in Korea and Japan puzzles me. If our justification for entertaining interests in certain regions over others is the practical outlook as to whether those regions will be growing extensively in the next few decades, I don’t see why we would look towards the bleaker economic climates in Korea and Japan over future giants like Brazil and India. Rather than looking towards investing in the status quo nations that presently have the largest economies, we should be more pioneering and more enterprising, and seek out partnerships in those countries that will be the power players of tomorrow.

Further, from the fundamental perspective of being a liberal arts institution, I don’t understand how Yale can look towards expanding its brand in authoritarian countries like China or Singapore over democratic India and Brazil. Why are we choosing to expand in autocracies when we can choose to create partnerships with countries that share a commitment to democratic institutions? Perhaps we should realign our interests.

Yale students have taken notice of Brazil’s rising presence on the world stage. It’s about time that the University does so as well.


  • desch

    Finally. FINALLY. I always leave career fairs/summer session opportunities etc. feeling like my options included China, London, Brussels, China, China, China, GO STUDY IN CHINA!!, and maybe Uganda. I agree with you. Harvard’s programs in Latin America are phenomenal and many of the other Latin American studies majors I know end up going to do projects through their programs.

  • 81

    I don’t think it’s fair to say that Yale has “intense” investment in Korea. Sure, the Light Fellowship gives a couple kids money each year to go to Korea, but the language offerings are pretty limited.

    The key with Korean is that the department/University is expanding in response to a rise in student interest, which sadly does not seem to be happening with the Portuguese department.

    Finally, a lot of people see the Light Fellowship’s extreme generosity as a direct result of the administration’s focus on East Asia, but that viewpoint doesn’t really make sense. It’s a shame that a wealthy donor hasn’t stepped up to do something similar for Portuguese and other languages, but hardly the University’s fault.

  • BR2013

    There is a rise in student interest in the Portuguese department. Read the following YDN article about the fact that the department wasn’t able to staff three sections of the introductory course: There are close to 50 students taking L1 Portuguese at the moment, as opposed to the under 30 last fall. This indicates a significant increase in interest.

    I do agree that it’s a shame that a wealthy donor hasn’t stepped up to donate funds in order to make a Light Fellowship for Latin America but the administration should create a greater institutional focus in order to even foster any chance of that happening.

  • 81

    Sorry, my post was a unclear: I meant that there is a rise in student interest in both Korean and Portuguese, but only Korean was getting an appropriate response in resources (I think this was the first year they have two L1 sections for Korean, and they haven’t had to get rid of upper-level classes to make it happen)