Category Archives: Author: Chelsea

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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Adventures in Geographical Shock Treatment

Posted from Los Gatos, California

The great American author Wallace Stegner once wrote: “Home is a notion that only nations of the homeless fully appreciate and only the uprooted comprehend.” While I cannot claim experience to the first part of his comment, I am certainly one of those “uprooted” who has come to understand even better the notion of home since leaving it for Brazil. I knew the U.S. was my home since I have lived here my whole life, but until leaving I’d not been able to see as many other reasons why. I came to greatly appreciate, in their absence, a number of things I might have overlooked otherwise, from holiday coffee drinks to awkward handshakes—yes, while I do love the opened-armed hug and kiss that define Brazilian greetings, I also found myself missing that particular type of earnest look and terse “hi” that come with a handshake.

Travel adventures - backcountry skiing at Mt. Hood in Oregon.

Travel adventures – backcountry skiing at Mt. Hood in Oregon.

I’m being a little silly—and there were lots of silly little Americanisms I missed—but let me give a better, real-life example. Cara and I had the pleasure of working closely with two American families, Baptist missionaries, to coordinate and realize our first English Camp. I was thrilled to meet these other Americans and shake their hands with an earnest look, and over the course of the camp I came to like them all very much and look forward to more company and collaboration in the future.

I wonder if I would have had the opportunity for this in the U.S. There are significant religious and political gulfs between me and my new American friends, gulfs that are hard to cross these days in such a polarized home country. But being outside that country gave me a chance to step back and appreciate what indefinable things make us all American in whatever ways we are. Some people I know talk about emigrating out of the U.S. if this-or-that happens in Washington. I wasn’t expecting that being in Brazil, where there is universal health care and better gun control and an extremely broad social welfare program—all with their faults—might make me a little more tolerant of my own country’s shortcomings and where we need to grow. As Stegner suggested, being uprooted from home allowed me to comprehend a little better exactly what my home is all about.

I recently exchanged a few emails with my friend Caiti about Stegner’s quotation, and she offered forth this little gem of her own: “How strange it is to aspire to uproot oneself.” It might sound like a judgment at first glance, but I don’t read it that way and I don’t believe she meant it that way. Rather, it is a frank acknowledgment that some of our greatest, truest aspirations can sometimes be—well, difficult. Uncomfortable. Even unpleasant at times. Leaving homes and families in New England and California, when it came down to it, seemed ludicrous to me in certain moments.

Home adventures - sharing the wishbone with Mom.

Home adventures – sharing the wishbone with Mom.

But an aspiration is not only a desire; it’s actually a goal. The process of achieving goals isn’t always pleasant, but the best goals simply are and must be, and can’t be escaped when the going gets tough. The aspiration to be uprooted from a comfortable environment is a particular kind of need to grow and change through geographical shock treatment. No matter how much I missed home, in both superficial and deep, cutting ways, it was worth every moment away to learn the perspective and independence that I gained from being uprooted. And when I embraced my uprootedness, my new Petrolina friends rooted me again, making a new family and a new home.

Another friend recently made an excellent point about leaving the places you call home. Often, the fear of leaving is a fear of change—losing touch with friends or family, or losing your place or status in an important community. But some kind of change is inevitable no matter how rooted you are. In light of that, perhaps an effective way to handle that inevitable change—especially when young and unattached—is to initiate some of it rather than watching it happen unwanted. As I sit in my parents’ house back in the States, I have no regrets about uprooting myself. In fact, I’m embracing it a bit longer—I’ll be back in Petrolina beginning in mid-February. Until then, I’m finding the last of the holiday coffee drinks and searching out as many earnest handshakes as possible.

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Sneak peak into an English Fair project!

I’m excited to post a little preview of one of the Petrolina International English Fair student projects, produced by the second semester English students at UPE! Here’s what they have to tell you, written by themselves, about their stand:

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Hello, welcome to the English Fair!!

We English students of the second semester from UPE invite everybody to an amazing multicultural trip!

Our central objective is to present the irrigated fruticulture from Petrolina-PE to the world from the angle of the cultivation of the grape. We will be offering to the public a tasting of grapes, a chocolate waterfall with fruits, among another activities and games.

Searching to understand grape cultivation, the group counted on the support of Miguel Cappellaro, administrator, who showed us the way patiently during the visit, teaching us all the process of cultivation of the grapes, from plantation until harvest. We were fascinated with the plantation–it’s a lovely experience, one we recommend.

Miguel further told us about the importance of knowing English in the work market, which always needs a professional with this knowledge. In addition, learning another language can also help with personal growth.

Cappellaro Fruits, a company that has worked in the region for twenty two years, is formatted on a family base, contributing to development of the city generateing hundreds of job, making donations to the municipal nursery and also participating in the return of packaging recyclable and toxics.

Come visit the English Fair and let yourself take in this multicultural trip!

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Caution: Autonomous Learning in Process

A few weeks ago I completed my Autonomous Learning lectures in UPE English classes, and then met with over 15 students individually to discuss their personal goals and strategies when it comes to improving their English. The lectures and workshops were extremely rewarding, and I even met with a few students who had never come to my classes before. The whole experienced reinforced the concept that the most effective goals in language learning are short-term, specific, and evaluable. This way, they are all that much easier to achieve!

Here is my powerpoint from the lecture:

And here is the Personal Goal Setting handout I asked my students to fill out before meeting with me.

But the process is never over! For those who met with me, I’ll be setting up meetings in another few weeks to help them evaluate where they are in their goal process. For those who haven’t yet made goals and would like to talk more about how to do it, I’m here–get in contact!

Thanks to Christina Lorimer, ETA in São José do Rio Preto, for her consultation about autonomous learning and goal-setting. Another great web resource from an avid autonomous learner is Innovation in Teaching.

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Coming Up: Autonomous Learning at UPE

One of the things I’m emphasizing this semester at UPE is that language learning requires independent initiative. You’ll learn a language best not only by going to class, but by setting goals for yourself, learning the way you learn, and practicing effectively on your own.

However, it can be hard to know how to start this independent work. To this end, when Cara and I come back from our English Camp (for which we are inexpressibly excited) next week, I’m kicking off a two-week series on Autonomous Learning at UPE. In Week 1, I’ll give a half-hour lecture to each of the four periods (freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors in American terms) during scheduled class time. At the lecture you’ll discover what Autonomous Learning is all about and receive a questionnaire to begin your “journey.” In Week 2, I’ll teach a workshop to follow up on the lecture, where we’ll talk personally about your questionnaire, set some goals, and design strategies for moving forward.

Week 1 begins on Tuesday, October 2. UPE English students will get the lecture in their classes; students from other courses or outside the school should contact me to get a schedule. Week 2 will have two identical workshop slots, so choose which one works best for you. They will be October 9 and 10th, Tuesday and Wednesday, from 5:30-7pm.

Stay tuned for a post-Camp post (hah) in the beginning of next month!

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Capoeira: What I Do When I’m Not Working

I showed up for my first capoeira class in Boston almost a year ago because I knew that the Mestre would teach in Portuguese and I wanted to practice my language skills. Looking back, it’s amazing how much I’ve fallen in love with a sport on which I accidentally stumbled (I saw the banner on the training center a few blocks from my house).

Chelsea and Cara all suited up!

My group is Grupo Capoeira Brasil – Mestre Cabeça, which miraculously has a large branch here in Petrolina–so I moved from training with Mestre in Boston to training with his students here in Brazil. I’ve been training since I arrived in March with Formando Carcará, a brown cord student of Mestre’s, with whom Cara has also started training. For the first time last week, because of Dia do Capoeirista (Capoeirista Day), we met a number of other capoeiristas from the same group who train with different professors.

It was a wonderful experience, and I realized while watching everyone play that I couldn’t do the sport justice only in writing. Accordingly, I’ve made a little film that incorporates footage from our “roda” (pronounced ho-da) during the event, as well as some history and personal thoughts about capoeira. The sport has exploded in popularity in the past few decades, especially internationally, but outside of capoeira circles, knowledge about the Brazilian martial art is lacking. Hopefully this video can help clarify what capoeira is all about.

If you’re hooked, here’s a simpler and longer video I made using almost all the footage from the roda:

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Second Semester Classes at UPE

I’m back from an eventful vacation: a trip with my parents to Rio de Janeiro, Florianopolis, and the Parque Nacional de Aparados da Serra, a move from a one-room studio apartment to a three-bedroom, two-bath house in the center of Petrolina, and a whirlwind of course planning for my UPE classes and new TOEFL class at UNIVASF.

This semester, I’m changing my class offerings a bit. In addition to my TOEFL class and a for-credit course, “Literature & Cinema,” I’ll be teaching a number of extra classes: a class of English games, an hour-long discussion seminar, a professor conversation class, and Arts in the Americas workshops (theater, dance, sports) about once or twice a month. Movie nights for my Lit & Cinema class will be open to whomever is interested, too. The English Chorus will continue from last semester. You can read all about the updates here, on the UPE English Course blog.

Here’s the calendar! All classes will occur at UPE in the English classrooms, with the exception of the movie nights, which are at our house here in the Centro. Email me at seawaite@gmail.com for the address!

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