This internship has afforded me with a rare opportunity - to fly to another city and visit customers. Most interns visit the same office day in and day out, a select few get to travel to an alternate office once in a blue moon. Yet here I am, "just an intern" - based at Dow Brasil in São Paulo but sent on business to Joinville, a city in the state of Santa Catarina in southern Brazil.
Along with another colleague, I went to visit two customers to learn more about business interaction and the special relationships that exist between business associates down here. Relationships are more important in Brazil than in the US because the culture is much more collectivist. It is quite common for people to live with their parents until they marry and start a family of their own. Also, decisions are made in groups and people always find the time to catch up with friends to maintain these strong relationships with one another. In the business setting this was especially evident. My coworker treated the employees in Joinville as friends first and business associates second. When we arrived, he embraced them in a giant bearhug and a smile and they caught up on each others lives since they last spoke. There was no real handshake, on arrival or departure, just hugs and smiles all around. I was greeted with a handshake because we had no personal relationship, but everyone I met gave me their business card.
I can't/won't go into very much detail about the business itself but it consisted of a great deal of back and forth banter with people talking over one another, but not in an angry or argumentative way. Everyone just needed to express their opinion before the group came to a consensus. The primary purpose of the meetings were to resolve technical issues, things were said in Portuguese that I wouldn't understand in English. But my purpose was to observe and take note of the interactions between Dow and the customer and determine customer needs in order to help Dow further develop their business in this sector.
Since then I have driven to visit another customer outside São Paulo and plan to meet with quite a few more customers in the coming month before my internship ends.
After 4 weeks of intensive coursework and Portuguese training, we are finally prepared to begin our internships. Our prepwork concluded on Friday with a presentation to Dr. Hefley in our Doing Business in Brazil course. We focused on the Brazilian operating environment of Dow Chemical and the potential challenges and opportunities both in Brazil and internationally in the coming years. We have also begun to create questions for our supervisors to facilitate our research for our final papers. We will be keeping a daily account of personal, cultural and business observations in the form of a journal. We are all very excited to have this wonderful opportunity and are looking forward to start volunteering (Our classification according to the Brazilian Government) for our companies tomorrow.