Monthly Archives: April 2012

Teaching Baseball to Brazilians

In the middle of April, I kicked off the weekly meeting of the American Club at UPE – Campus Petrolina. (Check out the calendar of future events here.) Our first meeting’s theme was one of the things I am most excited to teach here: baseball! I am a big baseball fan, and the start of the national leagues’ season in April seemed like an appropriate time to begin teaching the sport to my students.

It was just a start, but a great start—we have some important new vocabulary, a basic understanding of the rules (three strikes and you’re out; run around all the bases back to home plate and you get a point), and perhaps most crucially, we produced a lovely rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Below, I’ve posted my presentation, for curious readers but particularly for students to practice the vocabulary!

For future classes on baseball, I’m excited to get to teach baseball idioms (sneak preview: “When we meet for class again, I want to practice our song right off the bat! = “immediately”). I also want to talk about minorities in baseball and the story of Jackie Robinson, as well as get into some more controversial questions: what about women in baseball? Is baseball democratic? Teaching this stuff makes me so happy; it almost doesn’t count as work. (But as we said in a previous post, work and fun are often synonymous here.)

After I finished teaching yesterday, I ran into a few students who hadn’t been able to come to the class. They saw the baseball bat sticking out of my bag (yes, I brought one) and asked if they could play. Uh, of course! This part was totally unplanned: stumbling through an impromptu game of baseball in the courtyard at 9pm with a bunch of Brazilians. Three trees were our bases, and no one had gloves, but that’s the best thing about sports like this—for basic functionality, you need minimal equipment. Mostly the men played (and one woman, plus me), but other students gathered around to watch, and it reminded me how much physical games can bring people together. And even better, it was none other than America’s favorite pastime bringing us together. This is exactly why I am here. Since language and culture are so tied, even if I’m not great at teaching English grammatical structures, at least I can provide the cultural component—with barely any effort; simply my presence and a bat and ball.

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American Easter at IF-Sertão, Zona Rural

Chocolate eggs, the Easter Bunny, decorating eggs only to hunt them later—what could be more fun than an American Easter? This year, me, Chels and Rafa with the help of art Professor João and with many thanks to Director of Administrations Alberto Bruno and Pedagog Rosilene Oliveira, put on an American Easter at the IF Sertão, Zona Rural Camps for the 110 students of the accelerated High School (Ensino Medio) program.  It was a hit.

It was a great to start to what will hopefully be a year full of culture and language-related activities.

This blog post will be done in three parts—the background and English activities, the decorating of eggs, and then finally the hunt!

Part I- The Class, A Palestra

Before the lecture we filled cups 2/3 of the way with water and 1/3 with vinegar before adding the food coloring to dye the eggs.  Then Chelsea and I explained some of the history of Easter and about the American traditions of Egg decorating and the Easter-Egg Hunt.  The students completed worksheets and had a review test—the first to correctly finish the test won a pin-drive!

Part II- The Decorating, A Decoração

After the lecture, it was time to decorate.  The students split into three classrooms.  There, they used wax crayons and rubber bands to form patterns on their eggs before submerging them in dye for 5 minutes.  Some added oil for a psycidelic, tye-die effect.   They turned in at least two eggs for the hunt and took two home to show to their family and explain the American tradition… and then, of course, to eat!

Part III- The Hunt, A Caça aos Ovos

The next day we hid the eggs in a top secret location as the students anxiously awaited.  Once set loose they took 30 mintues to find the carefully hidden silver egg!  They received prizes for the most eggs collected (35 eggs was the winner) and the finder of the silver egg.  Thanks to all who participated and collaborated for a delicious and hoppy Easter 🙂

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New Language Center at the Instituto Federal

Panel of speakers from left to right: Artidonio Araujo Filho, Leopoldina Veras, Sebastião Hildo Diniz, Cara Snyder, and Jeziel Junior da Cruz.

Thursday, March 29 was an exciting day at the IF Industrial campus in Petrolina: the official inauguration of a new Global Culture and Language Center (GCLC) dedicated to supporting English language learning for students at the IF. Students, professors and administrators packed the room to listen to impassioned speeches by the school’s General Director Sebastião Hildo Diniz, Industrial campus director Artidonio Araujo Filho, director of education Leopoldina Veras, international relations coordinator Jeziel Junior da Cruz, Professor of Information Technology and mastermind of the Global Language and Culture English Program Alexandre Correia, and English professor and “official inspirer” Cara Snyder.

Alexandre Correia spoke to a full classroom at the inauguration.

I wish I could convey through this post the energy present in the room while listening to that panel of speakers. It’s overwhelming the increase in initiative and energy that people here have to support English learning and the rising importance (stimulated in large part by Government efforts) they place on studying abroad. Cara has said that the comparison from last year to this one is striking—people seem to finally be waking up to the reality that globalization is unavoidable even in a region that was formerly thought to be insular and isolated, and they are correndo atrás—an often used Brazilian saying that means working hard to achieve something—to take part. For a deep-rooted cultural change to take place so palpitably in such a short time span (Cara has been here for a little over a year) shows another unique Brazilian strength: extreme flexibility in finding ways to get things done, aka the jeitinho brasileiro.

Me, getting excited about some of the new resource books for the GCLC!

As we have said in previous posts, English skills are for many students the singular obstacle to studying abroad, and the GCLC is a tangible step towards overcoming that obstacle.

Perhaps most importantly, the Center is a physical space at the school dedicated to English language learning. Having this space gives a sense of permanency and legitimacy to the school’s mission to teach its students English, and the Center will be a nexus for students eager to find a way to study abroad in English-speaking countries.

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Domestic Violence and the Women’s Commission in Pernambuco, Brazil

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The Government of the state of Pernambuco where I live has a special Secretaria da Mulher, a Women’s Comission.  At the invitation of the marvelous Dr. Rossana, Professor of Portuguese at the UPE where Chelsea works,* I gave a talk about Domestic Violence and Gender Issues in the US to Brazilian social workers, police officers and other socially-minded Pernambucans as part of a certification program run by the state.  Thanks to my training with Kim Frendak, Community Educator from the Women´s Resource Center to End Domestic Violence and my life-changing Women’s Studies course with Professor Elizabeth Hackett, I was ready for their challenging questions.

For instance, I was asked what I saw as the biggest barrier to women’s advancement here in Petrolina.  Due to my mother’s lead-by-example feminism and Agnes Scott’s all women’s education, I had already thought deeply about the question: the constant and nearly exclusive focus on women’s physical appearance (as opposed to anything else that humans value in their “equals,” such as intelligence, creativity, etc.).

Instead of fomenting feminist revolution, women here from a very young age spend vast amounts of time and money in the name of achieving a white, eurocentric, capitalistic beauty ideal.   One obvious  example is that due to the mysogenation of races, 80 % of Brazilian women have some sort of curl pattern in their hair, yet I would estimate that 70% of that population use chemical straighteners, pass countless hours applying expensive products and damaging heat to their hair, and a good majority dye their dark hair with blonde highlights.   The pervasive ideas of good hair–straight, and fine– vs bad hair—tight curls—reinforces the intersectionality of oppression, the fact that race and gender are very intertwined.  The white hair ideal pumps women’s bodies with chemicals, discourages them from engaging in phyical activity since sweat reverses the chemical proccess, and has other damaging effects.

Flat-ironing and dying your hair may seem far removed from Domestic Violence,  but these issues are all connected; everything that belittles women, that puts them below their male counterparts and devalues their thoughts, their bodies and their self-worth, contributes to a climate of oppression that is responsible for violence.

It was refreshing to be around a group of feminists.  It felt like home.  I am constantly reminded that mysogeny (the hatred of women) is an international problem that cripples the advancement of the world.  But on days like this I am also reminded of the powerful desire of most women and a few good men to change things and I fill with hope basking in the presence of an international sisterhood.

*Correction, 4/12/12: We mistakenly identified Professora Rossana as the Coordinator of Portuguese at UPE. The Coordinator is Professora Maria Aparecida Ventura Brandão. Our apologies!

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An Important Partnership, and My Job as an Official Inspirer

From the day I arrived, Jeziel made clear that my job isn’t to teach everyone English.  That would (1) be impossible; and (2) is not my life mission.  My job is to make people want to learn English.  I am an official inspirerer.  There are moments where the task feels large and hopeless—there are 75, 000 all-paid scolarships abroad just waiting for English-speaking science students to grab.  It is agonizing that the students of the IF consistently qualify on the science front (they are the exact type of students the government is hoping to target) and yet are they excluded from these opportunities because of their lack of English language skills (something that would rarely inhibit an English-speaking US citizen).

But after a year of infinite visits to schools, cities, and classrooms in Petrolina and the Sertão (the region where I live); after Rugby teams, inspirational speeches, home stays, presentations and parties, I am thrilled to see Jeziel’s once abstract job description come to fruition via the partnership between the private English language school Aecus and the IF Petrolina

Visit the Aecus stand at the Petrolina Campus to register now!

When 200 inspired students arrived at IF-Petrolina Director Artidonio Araujo Filho’s office and placed a signed petition to learn English on his desk, a partnership was born.  Internationalization is happening—students can now take 5 hours of elementary English class a week, taught by teachers from Aecus, at a reduced rate of 50 Reais (28 USD) per month.  Usually the cost of such a course would run from 130-230 R, a prohibitive cost for many of our students.   Thanks to Jeziel’s vision, Artidonio’s progressive outlook and Director of Aecus Julio Bernandino Silva’s genuine care for the community (besides directing, he personally teaches one of the courses), IF-Petrolina is leading the way in preparing students to go abroad.   There are 80 students studying English at the Petrolina Campus room H27-our new Global Language Laboratory- during the following times and days: Saturday 9-12 and Monday and Wednesday 10-12:30, 13:15-15:45, 19-21:30.  Please visit the Aecus stand at the IF Petrolina Campus, call, or stop by to register for courses.

It can’t stop here–the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) test required to obtain a grant requires a high level of proficiency.  To get a passing score, students will have to study hard for an average of 2 years.  But this partnership is a very important first step in the right direction.  I would like to say “well-done” to the bright students investing in their future and encourage you to keep working, keep fighting to achieve your goals.  I congratulate you on your efforts.  Continue to live the statement “O Brasileiro desista nunca–Brazilians never give up!”

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Plant a Tree, Write a Book and Have a Child

A Brazilian saying says that before you die you must:

1-Plant a tree

2-Write a book

3-Have a child

I’m light years away from number 3, and this blog is the closest I’ve goten to a book, but on Friday, March 30, 2012, when the Petrolina campus celebrated it´s 29th year of being, I planted my first tree!

The event  (click here to see the day’s activities) featured a band called Pierrot (pictured below) made up of students from the IF, tree planting (also pictured below), and live music played by the IF- Sertão orchestra (click here to see their blog).

Happy birthday dear IF-Sertão, Petrolina… and many more…

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Amazon Fruit Company and IF-Sertão

One of the main attraction points of the IF is an 18 month internship with Amazon Fruit Company, based out of New Jersey.  The program, which began three years ago, selects students from the Agricultural departments of the 5 IF-Sertão Campi to work in the New Jersey packing house, all expenses paid. While the Brazilian government is giving out scholarships to go abroad  like crazy, to get these scholarships you must pass the TOEFL test, which is no easy feat and requires a minimum of two years of intensive language study according to Professora Rafaela Carla of the IF Zona Rural.  Therefore, as the IF starts to build a foundation and prepare students for competitive scholarships, for the time being the principle opportunity to go abroad is the Amazon internship.

At the Meeting, Pictured From Left: General Director Sebastião Hildo, Cara Snyder, Gelide Mello, Gilmar Mello, Chelsea Waite, Jeziel Junior, Gilson Dantes and Bruno Guivares

When I was back in the States in December, I had the opportunity to visit the Amazon packing house where two of my former students live and work (they left for the US two months after I arrived in Brazil). This visit made it clear to me that since this is still a relatively new program, and very little oversight, there are many improvements to be made.  For instance, the program currently selects only male students from the IF Campi, and women who meet the specified qualifications need to be given an equal chance. In addition, since the students live with each other and work primarily with Spanish speakers, they return to Brazil after 18 months in the US speaking little to no English.  These are two of a number of problems that must be fixed.

It became clear to me that negotiations were necessary to change these aspects of the program. To begin the process, the IF held a meeting on Wednesday, March 28, with the participation of me, Chelsea, Jeziel Junior, Gleide Mello, vice-president of the college, Sebastião Hildo Diniz, the General Director of the 5 campuses, and Gilmar Melo, one of 4 CEOs from Amazon Fruit Company.  Several topics were covered, including how to incorporate women into the project and how to ensure English-language learning takes place.  During their visit Gilmar, along with partner Greg Golden, whom I met informally, seem to genuinely want to improve the internship.  Here at the IF-Sertão, we will be anxiously awaiting the materialized results.