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Dossier : Observer les mobilités étudiantes Sud-Sud

Construction d’une connexion Sud-Sud à travers l’éducation universitaire : le cas des étudiants péruviens au Brésil

Building a South-South connection through Higher Education: the case of Peruvian university students in Brazil
Camila Daniel
p. 119-137


L’objectif de cet article est d’analyser les réseaux établis par les étudiants péruviens au Brésil. Le Brésil n’est pas leur destination habituelle, mais ce pays est devenu attractif à partir du moment où ils ont pu obtenir des informations sur les bourses d’études et de recherche auprès de leurs compatriotes. Les étudiants péruviens aident en effet les nouveaux arrivants et incitent leurs concitoyens restés au pays d’origine à partir étudier au Brésil. Ils utilisent les recours et ressources disponibles dans leurs réseaux pour encourager d’autres Péruviens à étudier au Brésil, ce qui leur confère un rôle important dans la chaîne migratoire étudiante ainsi constituée, différent et complémentaire du rôle joué par les institutions officielles. Cet article est construit à partir d’un travail ethnographique en 2011 et 2012, à l’appui d’une recherche documentaire et d’entretiens auprès de Péruviens ayant étudié à Rio de Janeiro.

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1Peruvian university students in Brazil are part of a singular context in intraregional relations. Although Peru and Brazil are neighboring countries, connection between them has been very sparse. One of the first official actions involving both countries was the 1909 Navigation, Trade and Limits Agreement, which defined both countries’ borders in their 2,822.50 kilometers of extension, and regulated the navigation rules on the Amazon river. Over the following decades, relations between them had been very punctual, demonstrating little integration. By the end of the 1990’s, they elaborated a plan to develop bilateral affairs, with scarce results. In 2003, another plan established a wide number of joint actions in economy, physical interconnection, finance, tourism and sustainable development, the so called Alianza Estratégica (Embassy of Peru in Brazil, 2013).

2Alianza Estratégica reinforced a closer bilateral relation as part of a larger project of South American integration, the South American Regional Infrastructure Integration (Integración de la Infraestructura Regional Sudamericana– IIRSA). From the very beginning of the 2000’s up to now, Brazil and Peru have developed different actions towards a closer connection. Some examples are the 2008 ExpoPerú and 2009 Semana del Brasil, aiming to publicize Peru in Brazil and Brazil in Peru; the construction of Carretera Interoceânica, a highway connecting northern Brazil to southern Peru; the 2004 agreement that allows Peruvians and Brazilians to travel to both countries with no need of passport; the inclusion of Peru in Mercosul residence agreement in the 2012, which allows Peruvians to request permanent visa in any Mercosul country (Embassy of Peru in Brazil, 2013; Ministério da Justiça, 2013). Despite the magnificence of Alianza Estratégica efforts, the two countries have not advanced in their relations yet, as both Peruvian president Ollanta Humala and former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva acknowledge it1. Brazilians and Peruvians still know very little from each other’s country and prefer to keep contact with other countries– from the continent or not. Thus, student mobility from Peru to Brazil is not directly associated with these bilateral plans.

3Leaving Peru to study in Brazil is a quite unusual and unknown route. Official treaties and acts between the two countries have still been very limited in affecting Brazilian and Peruvian economic, political and cultural everyday life. In Peruvian society, going abroad for different purposes, including to obtain a higher level of education, is a disseminated social phenomenon (Altamirano, 2000). While members of Peruvian elites preferred to study in northern countries, like the USA and Spain, people from middle classes also desired to go abroad as students. But, unable to afford the cost of going to a northern country, they developed other strategies to participate on international student mobility and the symbolic resources this experience brings. In such a context, countries in Latin America became attractive to middle class Peruvians. Argentina was historically a very important destination for them, who, at several times, stayed there after graduation, becoming the first Peruvian immigrants in Argentina (Paerreagaard, 2008). Brazil had never been on the top in the list of countries that received a substantial population of Peruvians– nor immigrants neither students. Therefore, Peruvians going to Brazil is a very singular case study that permit us to understand the relevance of social networks (Ramella, 1995) that stimulate international mobility.

4This paper analyses the role networks play in the mobility of Peruvians students to Brazil. Before arriving in the country, most of them had heard cases of other compatriot who had already studied in Brazil. These examples stimulated them to recognize Brazil as an alternative place to acquire a higher education degree. Despite the fact that the Brazilian government has kept, since 1965, two scholarship programs for international students intending to reinforce a South-South cooperation– PEC-G, for undergraduate studies, and PEC-PG, for graduate ones–, these programs are not widely known in Peru. Most of their propaganda is through PEC students themselves, families and friends, who share with their fellows the experiences they lived in Brazil. In other words, even though PEC is an official program established by the Brazilian government, it is not official agencies that attract new participants, but participants themselves and people related to them who disseminate information through their networks. These students play a very significant role in building connections between Brazil and Peru through their personal experience. Besides those who participate in PECs, Peruvians can also become international students applying directly to a university in Brazil, participating in the same selection process as Brazilians do. Both Peruvians who get a PEC scholarship and those who apply directly to the university have their networks as fundamental source of information and support. Their networks also help them in their first adaption in Brazil, which includes learning Portuguese, making new friends, understanding Brazilian educational system and dealing with the Brazilian immigration department, the Polícia Federal.

5This paper is based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted with Peruvian students in Rio de Janeiro, who were in the age of 16 to 40 when they arrived in the city as undergraduate or graduate students. There are around 5.000 Peruvians living in Rio de Janeiro and Espírito Santo region, including workers, students, and high qualified professionals. Students play a very significant role to Peruvian social life, organizing meetings, parties, occupying the public sphere. Even though they are an important population in Rio de Janeiro and worldwide, very little information is known about them, once official statistics of Brazil and Peru do not reach them properly. Students are not a massive group inside Peruvian emigration, whose leave the country mainly for economic reasons and to countries such as USA, Spain, Argentina and Chile (Altamirano, 2000). To supplement the scarcity and limitation of official data, this paper explores ethnographic fieldwork. Around 40 individuals participated on this research. Some of those have already finished their studies and live in Rio as immigrants. Others are still students and do not know yet what to do after graduating. All of them will be called ‘students’ to emphasize their first insertion in Brazilian society as university students, a qualified type of mobility.

6Peruvian students in Rio de Janeiro come from middle and middle low classes from different parts of Peru, as the capital Lima, Trujillo, Arequipa and Cusco. The ethnographic fieldwork was based on participant observation conducted from June, 2011 up to December 2012 in public events organized by Peruvians, including meals, soccer games and evening parties. As part of participant observation process, in June 2011, I started to attend the practices of Sayari Danzas Peruanas, a group of Peruvian amateur folkloric dancers, all of them present or former university students of Brazilian universities. In October 2011, I myself became a member of the group– after their formal invitation–, joining their practices, social meetings and presentations in public events. Fieldwork also included interviews with 30 students and conversations with others on virtual social networks, such as facebook.

Peruvian Higher Education and International Student Mobility

7Student mobility from Peru to other countries is related to several aspects. One of them is the condition Peru offers to both undergraduate and graduate applicants. In 2010, it was registered the total of 100 universities all over the country: 65 private and 35 public ones. In 1996, the country had 28 private universities and 29 public ones, summing 57 universities. These numbers follow the enlargement of higher education that took place in the previous decades. In 1955, for instance, there were only 5 universities in Peru; in 1963, there were 15 new universities, expanding significantly the number of enrolled students. In 1960, there were 30.983 university students in Peru; in 1970, this number was more than three times higher, reaching 108.255 people enrolled in universities in Peru (Lusk, 1984). While up to the 1980 public universities were responsible for hosting most university students, in the 1990’s, the expansion of higher education was related to the increase of private sector: 60,5% university students was enrolled in private institution, contrasting with the 40,4% reached in 1996 (CENAUN, 2010).

8Higher education was a very important issue to social and political movements in Peru, where the first university of the Americas was created, in 1551, the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos. Peruvian university had been severely criticized as extremely elitist, inefficient to diffuse knowledge and graduate professionals. In 1902, Joaquín Capelo expressed his critic, saying that Peruvian universities did not had a clear objective, producing what he denominated as ‘professional student’, which consists on “numerous persons who live many years at the expense of their families as true parasites, producing nothing and consuming time and money. It is one of the occupations […] which most damages society and retards the progress of civilization” (Capelo apud Post, 1991: 35).

9In the first decades of 20th century, there was an intense debate in Peru about the role higher education should play. According the illustrious Peruvian social thinker, José Carlos Mariátegui ([1928] 2008), Peruvian university faced a major problem: it neglect practical work in favor to theory and speculation. Therefore, university was unable to contribute to transform Peru from its feudal past to a modern future. Despite the critics, the expansion of higher education was a demand shared among different social actors, such as university student movement, political elites and high school graduates from middle and low classes. Political elites, for instance, expected higher education to prepare Peruvian people to become the workforce in the development of capitalism in Peru. On the other hand, high school graduates from middle and low classes, reached by the 1950’s expansion of primary and secondary education, believed that higher education would provide them means of overcoming social and racial discrimination. They expect that, through higher education, they would achieve an upward social mobility, being able to access work opportunities still restricted to Peruvian elites (Lusk, 1984; Sandoval, 2005).

10Since the end of the 1960’s, Peruvian universities has been facing a contradictory reality. Public universities had been offering more vacancies to Peruvians from all social classes and parts of the country. However, they also had been suffering from a progressive reduction of its budget. Peruvian public universities were strongly affected by the several crises that the country faced. As a result, the expansion of public higher education in Peru was followed by a decrease of adequate conditions to maintain its quality. Public universities have been overpopulated, professors have been earning low salaries, and, in general, universities have not been offering basic conditions for their students and professors. Therefore, those who could afford have applied to private universities (Lusk, 1984; Post, 1994, 1991).

11On the other hand, private universities had been characterized by an opposition in their profile. While some of them offer a level of excellence, receiving applicants from higher classes who can afford their tuitions, those who were unable to be approved in public universities and cannot afford the tuitions and fees of a traditional– and expensive– private university, find no other option than studying at private universities that charge cheap tuitions, but do not assure a good level education. Peruvian higher education has suffered from a progressive stratification among excellent private universities, where high class students enroll; public universities, which have some prestige, but face serious economic problems and offer limited vacancies; and poor profile universities, the only ones low classes can achieve. The issue has been even more problematic, due to the ongoing expansion of higher education in Peru in neoliberal terms since Fujimori’s administration in the 1990’s, and the fact that there is not an efficient evaluation system of universities in Peru (Diaz, 2008; Risco, 2003).

12In the case of post-graduate programs, besides the lack of an academic and administrative structure that ensures the quality of teaching and scientific production, there is not any courses in this level of education free of charge, even if offered by a public institution. And tuitions and fees are very expensive, because they must cover the complete costs of courses. Therefore, those interested in joining post-graduate courses must find ways to bear their costs. In 2010, 86,9% of students paid their own courses; 8,1% had their course financed by their parents, 2.9% had their work center paying and only 2,0% received scholarships (Censo Nacional Universitario, 2010).

13According to the Consejo Nacional de Escuelas de Postgrado del Perú (CONEAP), Peru is backward in consolidating post-graduate schools in comparison to other Latin American countries. From the 80 universities it had information, 12 proffer doctoral programs and 31 Master’s degree. It is a very small number if compared to Brazil, for example, which had 480 doctoral programs and 990 Master’s degree programs (CONEAP, 2003). By the 1950’s, the Brazil started to invest in developing science and academic research in different, strongly influenced by the conflicts of the Second World War, that culminated with the explosion of the atomic bombs. Such event illustrated the crucial role that scientific knowledge plays worldwide to assure state sovereignty, as a strategic feature in times of war or peace (Rosa, 2008). Thus, Brazil became an important center of science and higher education in South America, attracting students from neighboring countries, such as Bolivia, Uruguay, Argentina and Peru (Etcheverry, 2007).

14On the other hand, higher education in Peru was unable to respond the expectations of young people from middle and low classes, who believed in it as a mean to achieve upward social mobility (Post, 1991, 1994). They expect that their university diploma would help them to find successful jobs and overcome racial hierarchies (Sandoval, 2005). Universities in Peru have been also directly affected by the internationalization of education, which is embedded in a context of an ongoing expansion of the number of people accessing higher education. Mazza (2009) explains that the access of educational levels that previously were restricted to the minority of population inflates the market of diplomas, causing a deterioration of some distinctive credentials– as a university diploma. In the dynamics of competition in the market (of work, symbolic goods, and diplomas), studying abroad is a way to reinforce boundaries among groups of status and classes, and a way to achieve a privileged place in these different markets.

15This reality may be associated to the fact that, despite the expansion of the universities, many Peruvians prefer to obtain their undergraduate or graduate degrees abroad. Even those who are enrolled in a university in the home country have planned to go to another country for educational and economic reasons. In 2010, 60,8% of undergraduate students said that they cogitate the possibility of emigrating after finishing university. Of this total, 64,9% think about leaving Peru to attend graduate school, 47,8% intend to seek better job opportunities and 38,4% plan to emigrate for better economic expectations.

16Despite the long list of countries from all continents with which Peru has signed international agreements in the area of education and culture in its history, Butters & al. (2005), who conducted research on internationalization of education in Latin America, found that internationalization of education is not part of institutional or governmental planning in Peru. There is not an official agency or institution that manages international research and exchange programs, as well as scholarships to permit Peruvians to study abroad or international students to go to Peru. There are no statistics about Peruvians studying abroad, a necessary item to analyze the phenomenon. The exchange programs existing today are much more the result of personal efforts of professors and students than an action of State or universities. Peruvian students in Rio de Janeiro are examples of this situation.

When Brazil ‘appears’ on the map

17Although not yet a numerically significant phenomenon, the presence of foreign students in Brazilian universities has been increasing in the last years. Between 2011 and 2012, the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs pointed out an increment in the number of issuance of student visas, especially for Colombians, Portuguese, Frenches and Spaniards. Latin Americans were those with larger number of students enrolled in Brazilian universities in 2012, with 4,541 students, 50,16% more than the previous year. Europeans presented the highest rate of increase, reaching a growth of 67%, with 4,472 European students enrolled in Brazilian higher institutions (Cortez, 2013).

18The reasons for the increase of European students in Brazil– a flow that contrasts to regular European student routes, that mostly go to another Northen country (Latreche, 2001)– includes the chance of living a culture different from the european and building closer relations with an emerging country that can offer employment opportunities, especially in the current context of crisis in Europe. Therefore, international student mobility may be related to economic factors, such as the expectation of getting a job in the abroad after graduation. International student mobility is also a cultural trend among young people both from developed and developing countries, as part of their training as professionals, and of maturing as individuals (Luchilo, 2011).

  • 2  Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior (Coordination of Improvement of Higher (...)
  • 3  Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (National Council for Scientific and (...)

19For Peruvian students, Brazil becomes an attractive destination due to a combination of reasons. First of all, the country holds a large number of higher education institutions, including universities, colleges and technological education centers. In 2010, there were 2.377 institutions of higher education in Brazil, 278 of them are public, completely free of charge (MEC, 2011). In Post-graduate levels, besides the free courses, most public universities also offers their students fellowships and grants from the two national scientific agency, CAPES2 and CNPq3. Created in the 1950’s, they are responsible for supporting scientific research in Brazil. Public universities usually hold a very high quality in undergraduate and graduate levels and are not restricted to Brazilians. International students can equally apply for higher education resources, taking the same selection exams Brazilians must take to get into university. It requires international students to be fluent in Portuguese and to master school subjects privileged in Brazil.

20Some universities develop special exchange programs to attract students from other countries, which do not require proficiency in Portuguese, for instance, favoring the internationalization of the university. Brazilian government also keep a program to favor the entrance of citizens from developing countries, especially from Africa and Latin American, to their universities, the so called Programa Estudante Convênio in its undergraduate (PEC-G) and graduate (PEC-PG) versions. Applications to PEC’s are made in the Brazilian embassy located in the student home country. To participate on PEC selection process, students must deliver their school transcript and prove their ability of communicating in Portuguese. PEC-G must be aged from 18 to 25 years old, and must add a letter from their parents that ensure they will be responsible to support them in Brazil, as PEC-G students are not allowed to work. Once selected, they will study in a public or private university totally subsided by Brazilian government. For PEC-PG applicants, there is not an age limit and they are not required any statement from family. One the other hand, they must add a letter from a Brazilian university that assures it will accepted them in case they receive the scholarship. Besides the vacancy in a Master’s degree or PhD program, PEC-PG students are also reward a month fellowship (around U$ 640 for Master’s and U$ 940 from PhD students).

21From 2001 to 2011, 214 Peruvians became a PEC-PG student, while 134 became a PEC-G one. Besides PEC, Brazil and Peru have not consolidated exchange programs that permit Brazilians to study in Peru and Peruvians to study in Brazil. Educational mobility between the two countries is still very incipient, not documented and strongly neglected by official agencies. There is not a formal bilateral agreement towards education that have produced an concrete result. Therefore, the internationalization of education between Brazil and Peru is almost exclusively dependent on network conducted by individuals through their microssociological relations and their social capital.

22Besides educational issues, Brazil was also attractive to Peruvians because of the geographical proximity to their home country, the warm weather and exuberant landscape, the belief in a cultural similarity to Peru. However, students did not have Brazil as their first option of where to go. Even for those who planned to leave Peru, Brazil had never been imagined as a possible place to live. It was a place that not much was known, therefore, it was not present in the imaginary map of these young people. Gladys, for instance, came to Brazil in 1993 and remembers that she did not know anything about the country before arriving there. She had thought to go to the USA, a country she knew much more about through television, cinema and emigrant stories. The only information Gladys had from Brazil was its soap operas, which became famous in Peru in the 1990’s, but not as much as American movies, TV sitcoms and fast food restaurants. There were two elements that played an ultimate role at rising Gladys and the other Peruvian students’ interest to study in Brazil: their own initiative of searching a destination to study and the social networks that they could access.

23Gladys and Enrique are examples of Peruvians who found by themselves the opportunity of having a scholarship to Brazil. After graduating from High School, they started to search in international embassies in Lima a chance to make their dream to go abroad to come true. They applied for scholarships to several countries and the first positive answer they got was from Brazil. Here, they became undergraduate students. These two cases are very rare, though. Most Peruvian students get their first information about Brazil from friends, relatives or professors. It means their social networks gave them the idea of coming to a country what they all knew very about. In migratory studies approach, social network is recognized as a fundamental mean through which information about destinations and jobs abroad is spread. Opportunities to migrate is not equally distributed to all individuals in society, but restricted to those whose relational capital gives them access to live abroad (Ramella, 1995). While this approach explains the flow of people leaving their country looking for a job, it is also very appropriate to clarify by which means Peruvian young people became international students in Rio de Janeiro.

24Rúben, for instance, arrived in Brazil in 1996 at the age of 17, as an undergraduate student. He gained a PEC scholarship and was enrolled in an engineering major. Even though PEC program is administrated by the Brazilian government, Peruvians had no information about it when Rúben came. He heard about it because one of his uncles was a PEC student in the 1970’s. After graduating, his uncle became a professor in Brazil, where he still lives. Similar is the case of Daniel, who also was a PEC student and got informed about the program through his siblings, who were finishing higher education in Brazil.

25On the other hand, Douglas and Eduardo were not PEC students. They came to Brazil in the 2000’s, enrolled in a master’s degree program in engineering. They were accepted at the Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro (PUC-RJ), a very important private university which offers scholarships for post-graduate. The two of them are alumni from the Universidad Nacional de Ingeniería (UNI), an outstanding Peruvian university. None of them had planned to leave Peru, but had some classmates doing so. All the best students from each class in UNI used to be invited to work or study abroad. Eduardo was invited to go to China, but he declined. He considered China too far and wanted to have some work experience in Peru. Some years after graduating, Eduardo was invited to come to Brazil by two of his closest friends from UNI. At that time, he liked the idea: Brazil was not that far and he already had two friends here, who would help him when he arrived, in 2007. Douglas, on the other hand, was a very good student at UNI, but faced difficulties to find a job in Peru, in early 2000’s. One of his professors had connections with Brazilian universities and suggested him to start his master’s degree here. For Douglas, a working class young man, studying abroad was very distant from his reality, like an unreachable dream. But he decided to give it a try. He applied to PUC-RJ and was accepted. In 2003, he started his studies there.

26Just like Douglas and Eduardo, many other students take the same route, from Peru to Brazil, from UNI to PUC-RJ. The Peruvian presence in this Brazilian university is very notable and has been reinforced by ongoing newcomers. Despite there is not a formal exchange program between the two universities, the flow from UNI to PUC-RJ is very intense and consolidated by Peruvian students own efforts. Besides receiving former students from UNI, PUC-RJ also have enrolled Peruvians from other universities, such as the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos (UNMSM), in Lima, the Universidad Nacional San Antonio Abad de Cusco, in Cusco, the Universidad Nacional de San Agustín, in Arequipa and the Universidad Nacional de Trujillo, in Trujillo. Solange, for example, is graduate from UNMSM. She was informed by a former coworker about scholarships at PUC-RJ. He himself had quit his job to study in Brazil. In the same way that he informed Solange, he had notified two other friends who are now studying at PUC-RJ. This example illustrates how networks are not limited to people who went to the same university.

27The Centro Brasileiro de Pesquisas Físicas (CBPF) is another example that, very similar to PUC-RJ, has a very significant number of Peruvian students. Sofia is finishing her PhD at CBPF. She arrived there in 2006, as a Master’s degree student. She graduated in Peru and one of her close classmates came to CBPF. He was a motivation to her, who had an great desire to study abroad. Sofia and her friend were also inspired by former students from their university, the Universidad Nacional de Trujillo (UNT) who came to CBPF for post-graduate degree. They used to visit UNT presenting lectures on their research in Brazil.

28Peruvian students social networks is complex, not necessary composed exclusively by Peruvians. Alejandro shares an interesting case. He was a music major in 1993 at Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). At that period, there was a large number of Peruvians studying Mathematics in the same university. They told Alejandro that a Brazilian professor used to give lectures at Peruvian universities. At the end, he invited the best students that he met in Peru to study in Brazil. Alejandro says that professor was like a talent-hunter, selecting the best Peruvian students to fill up the available vacancies of his post-graduate programs in Brazil.

Networks and everyday life in Rio de Janeiro

  • 4  Peruvians who get a PEC scholarship are required to present the Portuguese proficiency certificate (...)

29Besides playing a crucial role in motivating Peruvian students to come to Brazil, networks are also important in students’ adaptation to Rio de Janeiro. The relations they build with people in the city will uphold their stay abroad. The very first challenge that Peruvian students must deal with is speaking Portuguese. Most of them do not have any knowledge of the language before arriving in Rio4. Even those who had studied Portuguese previously often cannot understand Brazilians properly and feel that they do not have enough Portuguese to have a regular conversation with the local population. This is one of the reasons why most Peruvian students have other Peruvians or Latin Americans as their first friends in Rio de Janeiro.

30Still in Peru, students searched for contacts that could help them in their arrival to Rio de Janeiro. The first help they all need is finding a place to live. Enrique, who came to Rio de Janeiro in 1996, did not know anyone in Brazil. When he was selected as a PEC student, her mother started searching for contacts in the country and found another young man from their home town, Tacna, that had just moved to Rio. Enrique spent some time sharing an apartment with him. This first apartment where Enrique was hosted by another Peruvian student became a reference to students who arrived in Rio around 1996, like Rúben. Enrique remembers that almost every week, they received more students coming from Peru in the apartment. Most of them arrived in the city as PEC students aged around 18. They missed Peru a lot, and this was the first time that they were far from their family for so long. Joking, Enrique says that apartment was a Peruvian colony in Rio: “It was one of the first Peruvian colonies… the first Peruvian consulate! It was a place where 5 or 6 people lived, but 15 slept there”.

31There, Enrique and his Peruvian friends used to meet to cook Peruvian food, drink, sing and play traditional music styles from Peru, like huayno and música criolla. More than a place a to live, the apartment became a venue where Peruvians living the some experience of being far from home could meet and dealing with homesickness, a fairly iterant feeling among people who live abroad, including international students.

32When Eduardo arrived in Rio de Janeiro, in 2007, the friends who informed him about scholarships at PUC-RJ helped him to find a place to live, just like Solange’s friend. Douglas, on the other hand, did not have a close friend in Rio who could help him finding a place to stay. When he came to Rio, in 2003, there were not so many Peruvians at PUC-RJ or someone to assist him there. However, Douglas had a friend from UNI who had a friend living in Rio de Janeiro. The friend’s friend was on vacation when Douglas arrived and offered his apartment while was not back. After a couple of weeks, Douglas had to find a new place to live, which was very difficult: he had a very limited budget, did not speak Portuguese and did not have friends in Rio de Janeiro. He felt completely on his own looking for housing. He analyses that it is not so difficult to adapt to Rio de Janeiro for those who currently arrive, because there are a lot of other Peruvians at PUC-RJ who help each other. He observed the number of Peruvians at this university increased significantly some years after his arrival. They have built solid networks, inviting their friends to come and upholding the adaption of the newcomers, a context in which Eduardo and Solange are inserted.

33Finding a place to live is only one of the several issues students have to resolve by themselves. Peruvian students in Rio de Janeiro have no institutional support– from university, for instance– to establishing in the city. Therefore, it is in their social relations and networks that they find housing, learn Portuguese, start to understand Brazilian academic system and receive emotional aid. In many cases, their networks in Rio include not only Peruvians, but also Brazilians, Latin Americans and, sometimes, people from other countries.

34Networks are also a significant tool to deal with Brazilian authorities. In their social relations, students get informed about procedures to keep their legal status updated. A student visa in Brazil lasts for one year. In case student’s course is longer than that, he/she must request renewal for every following year. It means that a undergraduate foreign student who are enrolled in a four-year major will have to request visa renewal four times. Polícia Federal is the official department responsible for visas renewal and administrative affairs regarding foreigners in Brazil.

35In 2012, Peru was included in Mercosul residence agreement, which allows Peruvians to request a permanent visa to live and work legally in Mercosul countries– including Brazil. Due to extensive bureaucracy student visa involves, several Peruvians who had a student visa have been soliciting this new visa. Some of them also have the intention to look for a job and stay in Brazil after graduation. Eduardo is one of them. He would like to stay in Brazil, so, he went to the Federal Police office to request the permanent ‘Mercosul visa’, as people used to call. However, the officer who analyzed Eduardo’s case did not want to accepted it. First, she said she had no information about the agreement. Wisely, Eduardo had a copy of the regulation approval. After checking it, the officer said she would receive his solicitation, even though she, personally, did not agree with such an agreement. She said to Eduardo it was unacceptable Brazil signed this agreement, because ‘Peruvians were invading Brazil’.

36Showing a form of nativism, the officer made clear she would not receive Eduardo’s demand if he had not insisted. One friend of his had been in Polícia Federal before and had his request refused by the same officer. He told this to Eduardo, who prepared himself to face anyone who could try to deny his right for the new visa. After the incident, Eduardo shared what happened to the friend who had the visa solicitation refused. His friend went back to the Polícia Federal office and, poignantly, solicited his residence visa to the same officer who had refused it before. At this time, he had a positive answer.

The outcomes of networks

37Peruvian students not only take advantage from their network to come and live in Brazil. They also play a proactive role in maintaining social bounds that stimulate other Peruvians to become students in Brazil. Some connections are made directly between present and future students. Enrique and Eduardo, for instance, encouraged their siblings to also come to Rio. Other connections are indirectly, like the one Alejandro helped to form. When Alejandro decided to come to Brazil to study music, he started to take Portuguese classes in Peru. At that time, PEC had no vacancies to music, so, his teacher, who had close relation to the Brazilian embassy in Peru, advised him. He said to Alejandro to be in touch with the Brazilian university that he would like to go and ask them a letter that proved that the institution was interested in opening PEC vacancies in music major. This letter would be sent to Brasilia, where PEC vacancies are defined. Alejandro did so in 1992 and in 1993, for the first time, PEC opened vacancies in music.

38Due to Alejandro’s efforts, music was included in the list of majors of PEC’s scholarships. In 1993, besides his vacancy at Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), PEC also offered vacancies at Universidade de Brasília (UnB) and Universidade de São Paulo (USP). Unintentionally, Alejandro played a fundamental role in extending PEC opportunities to music, making it possible for other Peruvians to follow this major in Brazil. PEC still offered more vacancies for music some years after Alejandro came. However, vacancies for this major were cancelled when a Peruvian student got into university with no previous knowledge on the subject. While in Brazil music major applicants take a specific exam that evaluate their musical knowledge, PEC students were not required any exam before get into the Brazilian university.

39This example shows that the inclusion of music major in PEC vacancies required a level of planning different from other areas of knowledge, but it was not anticipated by PEC organizers. The lack of a previous organization that took the specificity of this field of knowledge into account could have prevented a single unsuccessful student to be used as reference to cancel all PEC vacancies in music. In other words, personal effort of a single individual was not enough to keep the program. An exchange program based on an individual initiative that never reaches a level of institutionalization suffers from a severe fragility: as easy as it started, it may be revoked.

40A network that reached a level of informal institutionalization is the one established between Peruvian students and some post-graduate program at PUC-RJ, as mentioned before. Douglas cannot tell exactly how many Peruvians there were at PUC-RJ, but he remembers there were not many. He estimated that around 10 Peruvians arrived at PUC-RJ at the same time he did. Douglas says that in the following semesters this number increased, up to the moment that there were around 30 Peruvians arriving each semester. Douglas realized this number started to decrease around 2007. At that moment, two Peruvian students got into PUC-RJ, but abandoned the course to work in Peru. Since then, the university became more strict in selecting Peruvians and started to accept more students from other Latin American countries, like Colombia. Although Douglas analyses that the number of Peruvians has decreased, Peruvians has still been coming to PUC-RJ nowadays. He himself had invited his cousin to study there.

41Renato’s trajectory shows how powerful networks are in motivating student mobility. He is an undergraduate student in Rio de Janeiro. One friend of his in Peru told Renato about friends who got a scholarship to study in Brazil. Renato was excited when his friend said that it was very simple to apply for a scholarship through the Brazilian embassy and, after receiving it, he would be able to study in a Brazilian university with no charge. Thus, Renato decided to apply to PEC program. He had never thought about going abroad, but the opportunity sounded irresistible. One of the young men that Renato’s friend knew that had studied in Brazil was Enrique. When he left Peru, Enrique did not planned to be an example to other young people in his country. Probably, he does not even know that his trajectory as international student in Brazil inspired other Peruvians, like Renato, also to become student in Brazilian universities. This case shows how far information spread through networks. They structure the migratory chains that can provoke unexpected results, both for those who leave the country and for those who stay.

42Even unpremeditatedly, an individual can become a thread that support the nets of student mobility, like myself. In 2012, I attended a congress in Peru. There, a Peruvian professor asked me if I could suggest to him a PhD program in Brazil where he could join. When I went to the congress in Peru to present a paper, I didn’t have a previous plan to stimulate Peruvians to come to Brazil. But my presence there and any future help I may offer this professor will make me part of his migratory chain.


43Whereby Elias’s (1994) metaphor of individual-society relation as a continuous process of thread-in-a-net seaming, networks Peruvian students construct are ultimate to elucidate social relations in student mobility and the ways social capital can help mobility, even when there is not the support of Peruvian and Brazilian official agencies. As lively threads that intersect and make the net possible, Peruvian students are the main actors that maintain student mobility from Peru to Brazil alive, creating conditions for other Peruvians to come and helping those who are already in Rio.

44Peruvian students play a fundamental role in consolidating a student flow to Brazil, much more than formal institutions. They are the reference for those who want to go abroad but still did not decide to where. Most Peruvian students did not have the plan to go Brazil. Those who wanted to leave Peru had thought about going to the USA, Spain, Germany, Italy, Russia, Argentina and Chile. Brazil was not a country present on Peruvian imaginary, thus, it was not a place people in Peru planned to go. However, cases of people who got a scholarship to study in Brazil inspired other Peruvian young people to choose the country. Once here, Peruvian students are equally important in the adjustment of new-comers, which includes helping them to find a place to live and to offer emotional support. By the time they arrive in Rio de Janeiro, those who once took advantage from networks to come to Brazil become a support to networks that stimulate other Peruvians to study and live in Brazil.

45Peruvian students’ personal biographies are the foundations that support Peruvian student mobility from Peru to Rio de Janeiro as well as trajectories and the strategic use they make of their social capital. They are examples of a South-South university mobility in which network is mostly sustained by individual efforts and their unpredicted results. This informal network that enable university mobility between the Peru and Brazil are characterized by positive and negative aspects. On the one hand, it opens up students’ horizon that makes Brazil an attractive destination, as a place where they can reach their goal of acquiring higher level of education, and also distinguish themselves from those who never lived abroad. For those who could not afford to go to a developed country, Brazil and the scholarships it offers are a very convenient second choice. On the other hand, a international student flow based on individual efforts tends to suffer from a profound fragility, once dependent on people’s capacity to rely almost exclusively on their personal resources. Even though Brazilian universities offer some benefits that Peruvian universities do not, international students usually do not receive any specific institutional aid, but only the same ones Brazilian students receive. Thus, Peruvian student flow may vary according to contingencies and subjective factors, such as the opinion– or stereotypes– that Brazilian professors have about the academic performance about Peruvian students.

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1, accessed in May 25th, 2013.

2  Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior (Coordination of Improvement of Higher Education Personnel).

3  Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (National Council for Scientific and Technological Development). Both, CAPES and CNPq promote scientific researches in Brazil, offering scholarship to higher education students, funding projects in all areas of knowledge, etc.

4  Peruvians who get a PEC scholarship are required to present the Portuguese proficiency certificate. Those who are directly accepted at post-graduate programs in Rio de Janeiro are seldom required to have previous knowledge of Portuguese.

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Camila Daniel, « Construction d’une connexion Sud-Sud à travers l’éducation universitaire : le cas des étudiants péruviens au Brésil »Cahiers de la recherche sur l’éducation et les savoirs, 13 | 2014, 119-137.

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Camila Daniel, « Construction d’une connexion Sud-Sud à travers l’éducation universitaire : le cas des étudiants péruviens au Brésil »Cahiers de la recherche sur l’éducation et les savoirs [En ligne], 13 | 2014, mis en ligne le 02 juin 2014, consulté le 06 mars 2021. URL :

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Camila Daniel

Sociologue, professeure, Université Federal Rural do Rio de Janeiro.

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