Monthly Archives: March 2013

TOEFL site released in Portuguese

TOEFL site released in Portuguese

As of January of this year, the TOEFL website on 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. 


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. 


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.


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.


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.