Monthly Archives: June 2012

One, Two, Three—What do YOU believe?!

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I have had the pleasure of writing three belief statements in my life (so far). I wrote my first belief statement,  called a credo statement,  when I was 14 years old as part of my coming of age ceremony at the Unitarian Universalist Church (incidentally Chelsea, Laraine (Petrolina’s one and only English fellow) and I are all UUs!).  Then, I put what I believed on paper again during my fifth year free at Agnes Scott College as part of a series called Agnes Scott Believes based on the National Public Radio (NPR) series This I Believe.

While our 12-year-old credo statements at church were mostly angsty cries evoking the right to privacy and freedom to do as we pleased (aka make stupid decisions without parental interference), the Agnes Scott Believes series was, as everything at my wonderful college was, life changing.  I’ll never forget the story our feisty College President Kiss (who continues to be one of my most cherished role models) told about her Hungarian Grandfather, who  chose to plant a bed of roses with the handkerchief-sized plot of land he was alloted by the then-communist regime.  She used the image to illustrate her belief in optimism.

After that day, her words and her idealism became such a part of my life that I wished to share the formative experience. And so after the initial two months of an English Writing Course I offered at the IF- Sertão, Petrolina Campus, the course evolved into IF Sertão Believes, and belief statements became a part of my life for a third time.

The class began  in December (during my time at home in the USA) as an English Writing at a Distance course.  Ten weeks later when I returned to Brazil, we began  IF- Sertão Believes.  Over the final  weeks, 5 students who will forever be near and dear to my heart, thought deeply (in English!) about what it was they believed.  On the last day of class (last week), after the final peer revision, they submitted their 300-500 word statements and voice recordings to the This I Believe Website.  You can see what they wrote in the scribd document embedded in this post.  I encourage all of you reading this post to 1- take a moment to be still, 2-ruminate and then 3-write about what it is you believe and why!  Feel free to send me some thoughts!!

Then we celebrated with cake and I was gifted this adorable t-shirt, which says Amigos para sempre!, “Friends Forever,”  which I know we will be!

Amigos para sempre! = Friends forever!

Thank you – Raquel, Aline, Luzanira, Iane, Sandra and Sergio — for such a rich and inspiring class.

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Rugby and Dancing and History, Oh My!

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Two Rubgy workshops (with 80 students each), one hip-hop dance class,  ten meet-and greets, one stereotypes activity, a dozen sessions of one fantastic English class featuring Shakira (thanks to the lesson planning of the incredible Laura Mizuha, English fellow in Salgueiro, PE) and a history lecture by Chelsea– our week at the Salgueiro Campus of the IF-Sertão Pernambucano was a busy one.   Check out my FB album for pictures of the week (click here for pics from the classroom and click here for Rugby shots) and tag yourselves a vontade (as you please).

The post was delayed while waiting for student feedback, but here it is at last-in English and Portuguese.  Read over the student and staff responses, and you can see what a big difference one week can make!

If I had to invent a perfect work week, this would be it.  I adored every second.

How does a week like this happen?  Start with a visionary research coordinator (Clovis Ramos, Professor of Irrigation) (note – this could be YOU), add two very dedicated English teachers (Roberta Godoy and Josenildo Forte) to organize the schedule and help facilitate the classes, a wonderfully dynamic PE teacher (Marcio Gondim) and a campus full of students and staff eager to help and to learn.   So, I know you’re all wondering – where will the next week be?

…You tell me!

This is an open invitation for all interested parties to please contact me at if you,  too, would like a fun-filled, tailored, English inspiring day or week at your school!  I would LOVE to hear from you. 

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English Week at UPE!

I’m so excited to announce a special event next week at UPE Campus Petrolina: the first Encontro de Língua Inglesa, a week of lectures, workshops and activities coordinated by me, the other UPE English professors, and my favorite American nordestinas Cara and Laraine (our English Language Fellow). The event will include UPE, IF-Sertão, and FACAPE students, as well as ex-students and other interested parties in the area.

You can see the program on the blog for the UPE English course,

To register, send an email with your name, school and class (or, in the case of an ex-student, place of work) to

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5 de Mayo at IF- Petrolina

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On May 10, 2012 students and staff of the IF-Sertão, Petrolina Campus had its first of hopefully many bilingual events to celebrate 5 de Mayo, led by the fantastica Spanish Professor, Soccoro Dutra, and myself, Professor Cara Snyder  and with the help and participation of countless amigos!

We began the event with a student presentation (by Everton Medrado) on the history of 5 de Mayo and the Batalla de Puebla.  Then, pressed to illustrate the complex relationship of Mexican-American relationships and identity in less than 30 minutes, I turned to photographer and journalist Joseph Rodriguez.  I projected images (which you can view in the Power Point Presentation below) and we discussed (in a mix of Spanish and English) their reactions to them.  I also showed the first few minutes of a video to provoke dialogue about what it is like to migrate.  Next, students presented (in English) short auto-biographies of famous chicanos (Mexican-Americans) such as Dolores Huerta and Sonya Sotomayor.  As always, the most delicious part of any event is the food, our fiesta being no exception; the highlight of the event were students from Professora Soccoro’s Spanish-Language courses presenting (in Spanish) the recipes of the Mexican food they prepared before we ate!  And since I love to finish things with a lil’ baila, with our bellies full of salsa, I gave a short salsa dance class (video soon to be released on!

I hope that the event was the right mixture of fun and homage.  I’d like to close with wise words from my dear friend, brilliant colleague, fellow Fulbright alumna and proud Mexican-American, Gaby Baca.  When I asked for her help and thoughts on 5 de Mayo this is an excerpt from her response:

“In recent years, I’ve proudly gone to cinco de mayo events and celebrated (and cried!). Cinco de Mayo for me — and I think for a fair number of Mexican Americans– represents the celebration of our culture. Beers and guacamole aside, it’s a time to understand what the battle meant for Mexican and American History. It’s a day to appreciate the ballet folklorico, the mariachi and mole. At first, I got angry when friends used to say, happy cinco de mayo or when friends expected me to drink a margarita on that day. I’ll usually remark back — why not every day? Cinco de Mayo is just one day, but I hope it makes us all realize that the beauty of the holiday is or should be (save for AZ, GA, etc) that we can celebrate this heritage and the contributions of latinos all across the U.S. every day.”

For more curious followers, Gaby has so kindly provided some links for your reading enjoyment.  Thanks Gaby, I wish you could have been there 🙂

Another gracias to all who participated and all who are reading this now!

Stereotypes Continued at English Week in Salgueiro, PE

As a follow-up to Chelsea’s great post on stereotypes, I would like to continue and expand on the theme by sharing an activity about stereotypes during English Week (May 21-25) in Salguiero.  Inspired by her first American Club’s meeting about stereotypes, I decided to also touch on the theme, this time focusing on stereotypes we hold regarding the USA and Brasil.  The dialogue was lively and the results were fantastic.

I began the lecture with printouts of 4 provocative pictures.  In groups of 3 students and staff worked together to write opinions, descriptions and questions on the back of the photo.  When I said switch, they were to exchange pictures with a group who had a picture different from theirs and repeat the process.  After the third switch someone from each group was called to stand up and read the comments on the back of the picture (comments written by groups other than their own).  After each group spoke I revealed who the people in the picture were (see the included power point presentation… but before reading the answers, try yourself!): 1 an American boy scout; 2 Japanese-Brazilians in São Paulo (the largest city in Brazil in the state of São Paulo); 3 Brazilians in Rio Grande do Sul (another Brazilian state); 4 Mexican-Americans celebrating 5 de mayo.

Groups talked amongst themselves about stereotypes – definitions, when they are helpful vs hurtful, etc. and then we watched the first 4 minutes of a clip from an episode where the Simpsons go to Brazil, which you can watch by clicking here or by clicking on the slide in the power point presentation.  They wrote down the stereotypes made evident in the clip, we talked about it as I wrote their comments on the white board (shown in the image below).  Then all together we named some of the stereotypes people have of Americans including fast food, capitalist, warmonger, etc.

But my favorite part was the discussion that followed when I provoked “ok, so we all know what we don’t want people to associate with Brazil, but what do you want people to think about when they think about Brasil”?  I started them off with some of the things I associate with Brazil such as a thriving democracy, warmth and hospitality, athleticism, diversity and openness.  They added many more including nature, gastronomy and lots of music and dancing from the North East .

Student Feedback: on the left, some of the existing stereotypes and on the right, are some alternative visions as expressed by the participants!!

The group present in the classroom represents mostly people from the interior of the North East region of the country.  Yet Brazil is physically massive with extreme regional, cultural, environmental and even linguistic diversity.   With the World Cup (2014) and the Olympics (2016) coming up, Brazil will be spending millions on selling  its (whole) self, and I for one and thrilled to see what they will come up with!

So, readers, what do you all think about Brazil?  How about the USA?  I’d love to hear from our multi-cultural readership–have Chelsea and I made you think twice about any stereotypes formerly held?

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Poor, Ugly, Uneducated?

Last month I took about a week to travel to Curitiba, in the southern Brazilian state of Paraná, and then to Foz do Iguaçu, in the same state on the border with Argentina and Paraguay. Accompanied by three other lovely ladies from the Fulbright ETA program, I relished the chance to see a bit of southern Brazil and reflect on my time thus far in the Northeast.

(One of my travel companions, Christina, has a blog about her experiences in São José do Rio Preto. She posted a fantastic three-part summary of our trip: Londrina and Curitiba, Puerto Iguazú, and Foz do Iguaçu.)

It was a week full of new sights, laughter, more rain than I’ve seen in three months, and a new stamp in my passport (hello, Argentina!), but for now what I want to talk about is the very real divide that exists between the north and south in Brazil. I was surprised, even at times shocked, by the strength of the stereotypes that exist between the regions.

To give you a quick idea, here is one of the first interactions I had with Curitibano (person from Curitiba).

Me: “I’m living in Petrolina.”

Him: “Where?”

Me: “Pernambuco.”

Him: “Oh, I’m sorry.”

In the course of just two days in Curitiba, I heard a number of variations on the following topics: Petrolina is an ugly city; Northeasterners are ugly and lazy and illiterate; the Northeast is sucking up all the money that the southern states generate.

Shocked by these first interactions, Cynthia (the ETA in Curitiba) and I decided to bring up the topic with her students in a more structured setting. In her conversation class, we asked the students about regional stereotypes in Brazil. To my relief, their opinions were nuanced, sophisticated, and intelligent: they recognized the stereotypes, explored why they existed, and recognized that in spite of the stereotypes, they didn’t actually know very much about the Northeast.

Encouraged by the success of this conversation class in Curitiba, I returned to Petrolina wanting to ask my students some of the same questions. Using a presentation that Cynthia had made about US stereotypes, I talked briefly about the preconceptions that Americans have about each other—for example, fast-talking New Yorkers, pot-smoking Californians and the concept of the “flyover states” in the middle of the country. Then I turned the question around to the students: what about Brazilian regional stereotypes?

Our conversation followed a similar vein as the class in Curitiba. My students recognized stereotypes that they had about other states in Brazil: people from the South are unfriendly and rich (and white—the issue of race deserves a whole new blog post); people from Rio are beautiful and spend their time partying and on the beach. (And what about the North and Center-West? Talk about “flyover states.”) They admitted that these stereotypes are unfair and often inaccurate generalizations. Yet even though some of the stereotypes about the southern regions are negative, the fact remains that the Southern and Southeastern lifestyles tend to be more admired—as just one example of many, virtually all news anchors on TV are light-skinned and have Rio or São Paulo accents.

Perhaps most interestingly, my students are also very aware of the stereotypes that exist about them, “nordestinos,” and expressed a kind of quiet frustration that they could be so prejudged when the experience of life here is so positive compared to the devastating image that the stereotypes paint.

I think I will inevitably keep having—and should keep bringing up—these kinds of conversations. Brazil is a huge country, and naturally regional rivalries and preconceptions exist just as they do in the United States. Now that I have some direct experience with this regionalism, I see it more clearly in the country’s politics: for example, the recent debate over a bill that would relax standards of forest protection in the Amazon, which President Dilma recently partially vetoed (the New York Times has been giving this topic significant coverage: start here and here). It’s fascinating to learn these ground-level politics by living them—particularly in a region that bears some of the worst stereotypes in the country.

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