Moving Forward

cara and chelsCara and Chelsea have both moved on from our English Teaching Assistant activities in Petrolina, but we hope to continue to be involved in Brazil, education and internationalization to provide lifelong learners access to opportunities in and outside the classroom. For now, we’ll stop updating this blog, but we wanted to highlight what we see as some of our best posts for readers who might be arriving late to our Brazil experience.

There are quite a few listed here, but we’ve categorized them according to topic so they should be easier to browse.

Happy reading! – C²

Petrolina International English Fair

English Immersion Camp

Brazilian Social and Democratic Progress

English Advocacy and International Scholarships

Classroom Activities to Grow and Learn

Fun Classroom Activities

Arriving and Departing

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Presenting: PIEF Video Overview

It’s taken us a while, but C² are finally ready to share the short overview video we made for the first Petrolina International English Fair. No need to say much more here–despite somewhat questionable video technique from our videographer, we’re happy the overview captures the essential components of the Fair. Enjoy!

Winter Festival in Guaranhuns

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Last weekend, I had the great opportunity to travel to the city of Guaranhuns, Pernambuco, which sits up on a hill about an hour away from the capital, Recife. Every July for 23 years, Guaranhuns has hosted a Winter Festival (Festival de Inverno): ten days of music, art, cinema, theater, literature, dance and workshops. The most incredible part is that all events are completely free.

During the three days I was there, I mostly stuck to the music scene—the main attraction, there being five separate stages for music. I was able to see some incredible and quite diverse performances: from Caetano Veloso to the Orquestra Contemporânea de Olinda to pianist André Mehmari. Believe it or not, I even saw a medieval/baroque performance group (Grupo Allegretto), complete with traditional instruments, dance, and miming.

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Caetano Veloso

The festival was, in a word, fantastic. In Petrolina, sometimes one falls into the habit of forgetting that higher culture exists when surrounded by arrocha blaring out of every bar. The festival was refreshing in that sense, presenting an impressive spread not only of MPB, folkloric/alternative, pop and forró artists but even, as I mentioned, extraordinary pianists and other classical and instrumental music. The mood is one of deep cultural appreciation, and the crowd looks the part—lots of long flowy skirts, handmade leather goods, and colorful scarves. (And did I mention beards? Guaranhuns is relatively cold compared to elsewhere in Pernambuco.)

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Furthermore, apart from the seriously inadequate number of bathrooms near the main stage (and I do not deny that this is a major problem), I was extremely impressed with festival logistics. Programming was made widely available through pamphlets, large posters at every major event site, and even a smartphone app with a map function. Event areas are clearly and attractively identified, and overall not too crowded—exceptions to this were only to be expected; what else could happen when you offer a free Caetano concert? Glass bottles are not allowed into the main stage area, but empty plastic ones were provided free of charge at the entrance for visitors arriving with wine or other alcohol. (I asked the guard if the bottles were recycled—he said no, they were new, which is not surprising for Brazil which hasn’t developed much of a recycling culture. Certainly I would recommend that option for future years.)

Finally, I have to mention the festival art—this year’s logo and other promotional art was simply stunning, with bright colors and animated figures all in a traditional folkloric theme.


Obviously, the “Brazilian party” to which most tourists are attracted tends to be Carnaval above all others. But for those who insist on local and off-the-beaten-path kinds of experiences, I would highly recommend the Festival de Inverno.

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English Camp II: Success!

I am on “cloud nine,” as we colloquially say: last weekend marked the second successful realization of the English Immersion Camp at Treasure Island (see our fairy tale from last year for more pictures). This year, while much of the programming was similar, I made a big change to our leadership structure: namely, this time I wanted to integrate local Brazilian leaders into the planning process so that the camp can be realized again in future years without my (or Cara’s) help.

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I remained on as one of the Camp Logistics Coordinators, in partnership with Wanderson Kassius (soon to study abroad in New Jersey through Ciência Sem Fronteiras!). Lia Moraes and César Ribeiro (with the help of Rafael Maynart, also soon to study abroad in England through CsF) planned two brilliant All-Camp Activities: a screening of “The Lion King” (in English and with sing-along lyrics, of course) and a Treasure Hunt, which ended up being the most popular event of the weekend. Alicia, this year’s English Teaching Assistant at UPE, partnered with UPE English student Jessica Sena to find and train our Club Leaders, who led four separate activities over the weekend in their designated Clubs. Thanks to our outstanding Club Leaders: Neuza Lantyer (Lion Club), Bruno Amorim (Rabbit), Emerson Lima (Zebra), Sara Lisboa (Bee), and Davi Tavares (Panda)!

It was extremely gratifying to be at camp with all these local leaders, and not only because I got ample chance to relax in my hammock and leave the work to them. It’s because the biggest barrier to learning English, or achieving any goal, isn’t English itself—it’s having the determination and skills to see that goal through. These leaders, in addition to our superstar campers, all proved themselves extremely capable of not only surviving, but actually coordinating, leading, and inspiring—all in English. If they can do that, I’m pretty sure they can do anything.

All this is to say—and I’m talking to you, campers—I know the camp can happen next year, without me and without Cara. The next time, there will be another ETA thrilled to help out, but you’ll have to be the ones showing him or her the ropes. After that, who knows whether there will be an American grantee in Petrolina whose job is supporting regional English programming. But that shouldn’t be a problem for you, because the island will be there, you have all the right contacts, and you all know how valuable the experience is—and it isn’t all because of one or two Americans. Let’s commit to English Camp 2014! (I want video proof, ok?)

In case you need a little inspiration, here are your brilliant skits showing why Petrolina needs English.

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On Transparency and Inequality

The Contradiction of Brazilian Democratization

In November of last year, the Universidade de Pernambuco (UPE) held an election to select the next Director of the Petrolina campus. The position had been held for the last 16 years by the outgoing Director Maria Socorro Ribeiro Nunes and her sister, who had been trading the post back and forth to meet the term limit requirements.

University director candidate Moisés and his running mate, Marta Guimarães (photo: www.blogfolha.com)

University director candidate Moisés and his running mate, Marta Guimarães (photo: http://www.blogfolha.com)

This election was different for two reasons. Primarily, it would be the first election after a 2011 decision that changed a critical part of university electoral law. In both the previous and new policies,  school administrators control a third (33%) of the vote, faculty control another third, and the student body controls the final third. Under the old law, the final percentages for each candidate were calculated out of the total number of eligible voters. By virtue of the university’s structure, there is always a low voter turnout in the student body because eligible voters include literally all enrolled students, not only those who take classes or frequent the campus. In other words, even if all the students who appeared to vote all voted for one candidate, that candidate’s percentage of the student vote would still be significantly diminished because of the inevitable greater number of students who missed the election.

Secondly, outgoing Director Socorro had chosen a successor other than her sister: Carlos Eduardo Pinho Romeiro, then the Coordinator of Undergraduate Studies. His opponent was Moisés Diniz de Almeida, a History professor at the campus who was extremely popular with the student body.

For almost two months, Moisés’ supporters manned a tent set up outside the main campus building, passing out literature and stickers daily, hosting open-mic performances, and maintaining a constant presence of fliers, posters, and banners around the university. Around every corner was a Moisés campaign logo. Still, his team was anxious: even with the new electoral law, each administrator and faculty vote received more “weight” than each student vote because the student population, so much larger than either of the two former groups, was nevertheless given an equal percentage value. In other words, one administrator’s vote could overpower dozens of student votes for a different candidate. Moreover, about half the administrator positions are appointed by the Director in power, so those individuals would be highly likely to vote for the incumbent as a job retention strategy.

This election characterizes so well the pattern that democratization has taken in Brazil. In some ways, the country is exceptionally transparent and formulaic, favoring public campaigning, painstaking inclusion of all parties, and neat math combined with the most sophisticated voting technology in the world. In others, it contradictorily manages to maintain inequality in the face of such transparency, creating pockets of extremely concentrated power. Ultimately, given these contradictions, the government fails to completely eradicate the major faults in its own system, and the voters—still faced with vast disparities in education and income inequality—struggle to utilize effectively the rights and powers that their government has provided.

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Happy April Fool’s Day!

I’ve never been much good at April Fool’s Day jokes, but today I think I pulled off a pretty nice one.

Jónsi, the Icelandic musician, was asked a few years ago to write a theme song for the animated movie “How to Train Your Dragon.” The song, “Sticks and Stones,” is catchy and good for driving fast. The first few verses plus the chorus are in English, then he switches to Icelandic for the third and fourth verses–but the key (for my purposes, as you’ll see) is that both the English and Icelandic parts could believably be English. The English verses are fast and hard to understand in the first place, and even as a native English speaker, if you told me the Icelandic was English, I might believe you.

With this in mind, I copied a sheet of lyrics for the students and we listened to the song. The English parts had a few words missing here and there (“Orange and white, dark red, green and _________”). For the Icelandic verse, I left only four blank lines on their sheet.

Of course, they wouldn’t be able to understand enough to fill in the blank lines just from listening, so I used a technique from the wonderful English Fellow Laura Mihuza: leave a large-print master copy of the lyrics on the floor on one end of the room, and conduct a “lyrics relay race.” One student from each team is a “writer,” and two are “runners.” The writers sits on the opposite side of the room as the lyrics, and the runners must run to the lyrics sheet, memorize a word or two, then run back to communicate them to the writer, who fills in the students’ lyric sheet (the one with blanks) appropriately. If someone doesn’t understand, they must express that in English: “Can you say that slower?” “How do you spell that?”

Of course, in this case, the last verse is in Icelandic. (Inn um ermar, upp hryggjarsúluna is just an example.)

It was so funny to watch them running frantically, successfully carrying English words and phrases back to their writers–until slowly they all begin to look at the Icelandic, make outraged noises, and panic. “Is this English?” “I’m so confused!” My answer, of course: “Well obviously it’s English! Have you been paying any attention in class? These are words we use every day!” (In one class I even pulled in one of the school’s directors to corroborate–“You guys obviously have to study more, because this is definitely English!”)

After an appropriate period of outrage on my part, I said “Ok fine–I’ll tell you what chapter all this vocabulary is in,” and wrote on the board, “Happy April Fool’s!” After we all cleared up what that meant (in Portuguese it’s “Dia da Mentira,” Day of Lies), I was rewarded with some very satisfying sighs of relief and exclamations of offense/delight. Especially when a class curriculum is based out of a book, it’s always important to throw in some silly moments.

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TOEFL site released in Portuguese

TOEFL site released in Portuguese

As of January of this year, the TOEFL website on ets.org has been released in Portuguese! This is the seventh language option to be released on the site. We still recommend practicing your skills by reading as much in English as possible, but this Portuguese version will help with some of the more complicated questions you might have about the TOEFL.

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Celebrating the Transformative Power of Women’s Athletics– Rugby and Feminism at IF-Petrolina’s Zona Rural

International women’s day is a day to ruminate what it means to be a woman.  It is a day to critically reflect upon the current status of women around the world, but also a day to celebrate all that women are.  We are mother’s, sisters, doctors, lawyers, lovers, fighters and everything else in the whole spectrum of being present in today’s world.

We are also athletes, and I believe in the transformative power of women’s athletics.  Nothing affirmed this belief like the women’s rugby team at the Zona Rural where I lived and worked last year.  I would like to dedicate this post to the deepest feminist experience I had in Brazil – my women’s rugby team.

Below is a news report on the sport and our teams (my very first TV appearance here in Petrolina) and also the text (translated from Portuguese to English) from a poster I’ve presented in two national conferences about rugby and feminism.

Happy International Women’s Day– now get out and play.

Women’s Rugby and Feminism:  Four Feminist Theories at Work, Combating Oppression at the Federal Institute in Petrolina’s Rural Zone

The women’s rugby team commenced at the Zona Rural in March 2011 (the same time as the male team) and has been vibrantly active since, competing twice since its inception and practicing weekly.  Due to the high level of contact and aggressive nature of the sport, women’s rugby provides for a fascinating intersection of feminism and athletics.  Using the four main feminist theories described by Professor Elizabeth Hackett of Agnes Scott College, this section details how Rugby Feminino at the Zona Rural illustrates women´s liberation and empowerment in action.

Humanist (Same theory)

The female team is humanist in the sense that there is woman’s team, just as there is a men’s team, with the same resources, practice time, balls, competitions, etc.  The equality between the two teams is empowering as it shows that the women’s team, and its young female players, are as equally important as the men’s team.  They are equally as strong, skilled, athletic and able.

Gynocentric (Difference Theory)

It is important that there is a women’s rugby team separate from the male team.  As rugby is a sport involving high levels of physical contact and tackling, the differences of height and weight between men and women require that they compete separately.  In accordance with the gynocentric approach, the female team at the Zona Rural values women’s athletic contributions while affirming separate but equal athletic qualities between men and women. 

Radical

Besides occasional male coaching or refereeing, the women’s rugby team at the Zona Rural is matriarchal.  With the exception of minor guidance, the Women’s team is largely self-administered:  warm-up, stretching, practices and practice matches are largely self-run, providing invaluable leadership opportunities and offering an alternate, radical model to the patriarchal society at large.    

Moreover, rugby involves tackling, scrums and overall physical intensity that are not gender stereotypical. 

Neo-Classical

What words or images come to mind when you think of rugby? And what words or images come to mind when you think of women? Most likely, for rugby you thought of the words and images associated with “violent, bruising, intense, strong, sweat, hard-core, etc.” For female maybe you thought of “delicate, sweet, beautiful, gentle, pink, etc.” and the images associated with those words. Thus Rugby is also a classic example of neo-classical feminist thought, the mere fact of women playing rugby completely defies these stereotypical images.

A major outcome of this apparent conflict is that on an individual level, the female players learn that they are in control of how they want to be defined. They are the masters of their identity and nobody can tell them what they are. They are empowered by learning that to be a woman, to be who they are, means what they want it to mean. In a society that is constantly telling women that they are weak and sensitive, they are actively proving that, as women, they are strong, courageous, powerful, athletic and capable. The women’s rugby team is breaking gender stereotypes on campus and in the community of Petrolina, playing in inter-campus games, appearing on local news Channel 4 and now internationally to those reading these words!

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What Carnival Means to Me

February was the month of carnival this year in Brazil.  For many, carnival means Rio, Samba, skin, and massive street parties.  For me, carnival means so much more–it marks the moment Brazil captured my heart.

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My first carnival!

I arrived two years ago, on February 20th of 2011, having received my Fulbright scholarship for Venezuela but ending up in Brazil due to an unexpected turn of events.  So when I actually got here, I knew very little about Brazil; I didn’t speak Portuguese, or know the history, or understand the geography, and the only image I had of carnival was a mulatta in a glittery costume shaking it fast.    After the week of Fulbright orientation in São Paulo, we were sent to our respective cities right during the largest holiday in Brazil when everything shuts down and prices sky-rocket, aka carnival.  Since I didn’t want to spend the week, or two, or three alone at the farm where I was living at the time, nor did I want to brave it alone in an expensive big city, I sent a desperate e-mail to my wonderful economics Professor, Patricia Schneider, who just happens to be from the capital city of the state of Pernambuco where I was placed. Since her family still lives in Recife, I asked her to put us in contact to see what they were doing and if I could tag along.

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Maria Emilia, Marcos and Felipe 🙂

To my delightful surprise and great relief, her sister, Maria Emilia, wrote immediately inviting me to stay at their home and celebrate the festivities with her and her family (her husband Marcos and their adorable son, Felipe).  I bought my ticket and I was off to Recife/Olinda to be introduced to Brazil during its most-famed festival.

Since the carnival most Americans are familiar with is a la Rio de Janeiro (the glittery half-naked one), I must clarify that the carnival in Recife/Olinda (twin cities of sorts) is very different.  Where Rio is samba, Recife is frevo; where Rio is expensive and exclusive, Recife is an all-access street party; where Rio is sparking elaborate costumes, Recife is traditional maracatú.  During the day partiers go to Olinda, a neighboring city famed for its status as a World Heritage site.  Olinda is home of bonecos, large artisan-made dolls, that are marched through the lovely cobblestone streets past the preserved antique architecture.  Then, in the evening and late into the night the crows head to the city center, called Marco Zero, to enjoy free shows by renown Brazilian and international artists and get some street food.

The Galo da Madrugada in Recife is the biggest street festival in the world.

The Galo da Madrugada in Recife is the biggest street festival in the world.

For the record– carnival anywhere in Brazil is incredible.  To me, it is Brazil at its best; people of all ages, colors and socio-economic status dress up in costumes and hit the streets to dance, sing, laugh and kiss.  It shows the happy essence of the Brazilian spirit.    But what was most remarkable to me about carnival, and the reason why it will forever be the Brazilian holiday dearest to me, was not the parties on the street, but the way Maria Emilia, her family and friends, welcomed me into their homes and their hearts.

DSCN1460Carnival was my first experience with Northeastern warmth and compassion.  From the moment I stepped off the plane, I was cared for by complete strangers, taken in and treated as if I was a blood relation.  I cried like a baby saying good-bye to the family I knew for a total of two weeks.

In those two weeks they completely changed the way I saw the world!  I cried not only because I would miss Maria Emilia and my new family, but also because I wished we lived on a planet where everyone were this open, because I couldn’t imagine how I could ever re-pay the kindness I had been shown and because I recognized that I had fallen completely and totally in love with a country that was not my own.

This year's carnival 2013 with my American friends Usha, Laura and Heidi!

This year’s carnival 2013 with my American friends Usha, Laura and Heidi!

This year was my second year in Brazil and my third carnival.  I returned to Recife/Olinda.  Of course, as my relationship with Brazil grows and deepens, I experience the holiday differently.  Still, what I will never forget aren’t the parties and the kisses (although they were pretty unforgettable, too), but the overwhelming amount of love I was given by people I had never met before.  That is what carnival means to me.

Violence Against Women: This Isn’t the World We Want

Violence against women isn’t acceptable anywhere. It hurts everyone. However, women standing up and fighting together is powerful everywhere. It inspires us.

"Violence Against Women: This Isn't the World We Want"

“Violence Against Women: This Isn’t the World We Want”

On February 1st of this year, Amanda Figueroa, a professor in the nursing program at UNIVASF in Petrolina, was followed home by her ex-boyfriend and brutally attacked in front of her six-year-old daughter. After her agressor was detained, Amanda bravely shared her story with the Petrolina/Juazeiro community via Facebook and a local blog, bringing attention to the countless cases of violence against women in our region and in Brazil. The picture shared by Amanda is horrifying; her face is so beaten that it looks unreal.

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The picture and story provoked strong reactions here in the region. One of these reactions was a rally on the UNIVASF campus, organized by the Women’s Collective. The goal of the rally was to raise awareness of Amanda’s experience and to protest against violence against women as well as the machismo that still exists in Brazilian, and particularly Northeast, culture. The speeches and songs at the rally also touched on the deeper issues of the unjust political and economic systems that bring about inequality.

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The rally was in many ways familiar to us–group songs and chants (see below), a march through the campus, protest signs, and a theatrical presentation to illustrate the ways in which women are still oppressed in our society. Yet the Women’s Collective gave the event a particularly Northeast flavor. One of the songs we sang has its roots in a traditional Northeast folk song that emphasizes the domestic role of women, except the version we sang turned that song into a call to “leave the kitchen and come to the street to fight.”  At the end of the rally, we gathered together to sing and dance a cirandar, another classic folkloric tradition, where people hold hands circling clockwise in rhythmic step– a symbolic unifying act made more beautiful by historic roots.

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This was our first Women’s Collective event, and it inspired us as we enter our second (Chelsea) and third (Cara) years of Northeast life. Society in general places an unnatural value on women’s looks, but it seems especially prevalent here in Brazil, a country that is famed for its beautiful women. This stereotype clearly plays out in the psyche of women here, as makeup, high heels, hair-straightening, and other alterations to natural appearance are ubiquitous. It was so refreshing to be part of a group of beautiful women who define that beauty on their own terms. It’s inspiring to see that progressive movements are gaining strength even in interior Northeast Brazilian cities–from rallies like this one to a gay pride parade that we attended last year.

International Women’s Day (March 8), which goes virtually unacknowledged in the U.S., is a big deal in Brazil. Women are congratulated for their contributions and varied roles in society, and encouraged to continue the struggle for gender equality. The women’s collective is planning another, grander event this year with an emphasis on domestic violence awareness and women’s liberation (details to follow).

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Mulher não foi feita pra serviço de cozinha
Salsa, cebola, batata e cebolinha
Mulher não foi feita pra levar nenhuma tapinha
No braço, na cara, nem bundinha!
Women were not made for kitchen service
Salsa, onions, potatoes and scallions
Women were not made to be hit
On her arms, face, or her butt
A nossa luta é todo dia
Somos mulheres e não mercadoria!
A nossa luta é por respeito
Mulher não é só bunda e peito!
Our fight is every day
We are women and not material goods
Our fight is for respect
Women are not just ass and tits
A violência contra mulher
Não é o mundo que a gente quer!
Violence against women
This isn’t the world we want!
Olê mulher rendeira
Olê mulher rendá
Sai do pé desse fogão
Vem prá rua, vem lutar
Ole, lacemaker woman
Ole, woman who makes lace
Leave your place at the stove
Come to the street, come to fight

If you know anyone who has suffered domestic violence in the Petrolina/Juazeiro region, contact the Secretaria da Mulher (3867-3516), the Centro de Referência de Atendimento à Mulher – CRAM (3861-4620).

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