Tag Archives: culture

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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Breaking News: PIEF Countown, 24 days!

C² is thrilled to announce our big hurrah for the end of this year:

the Petrolina International English Fair (PIEF)!

The event is the first of its kind in Petrolina: think science fair (with English instead of science), academic congress, and cultural festival all tied into one. The Fair has two main goals: to showcase the work of English students in Petrolina, particularly from the public high schools and universities, and to demonstrate the importance of English as an international language in an increasingly globalized world.

The Fair will take place November 29-December 1, 2012. For two full days, there will be lectures and free English mini-courses during the day, framed by a science-fair style demonstration of students’ English creations and a stage to show their performances. At night, we’ll have invited guest speakers and round-table discussions on how to improve English teaching and broaden access to English classes. Finally, Saturday will feature sports events and a teacher training workshop, and a big arts and culture festival in the amphitheater at the city’s center. (Check out our full program.)

It’s amazing to think back at where we were when we started this blog, and where we are now–collaborating with other visionary English teachers and local educational leaders to realize an event that highlights a crucial key to Petrolina’s future. The blog itself shows some of this change; we’ve moved to an official .com domain and we’ve temporarily rearranged the organization of the site to be the Fair’s online home base.

I don’t think we’ve linked this video before, but we use it all the time in class. Jay Walker’s brief TED Talk on English Mania succinctly and powerfully describes the drive for the world to learn English–and it isn’t because of hamburgers and Hollywood. We’re proud to be taking part in helping our students achieve their highest potential.

Thanks to the PIEF sponsors below: particularly the U.S. Consulate in Recife, the State of Pernambuco Secretariat of Education, the Petrolina Prefeitura, and UNIVASF for their support and resources.

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An English Immersion Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, a group of daring young students set out to master a foreign tongue on a magical island.

They departed from the kingdom of Petrolina, traveling merrily over land until arriving at the massive hydroelectric dam of Sobradinho, where the noble Noah boat awaited them.

Disembarking from their trusty transport, the travelers received their first surprise: a magic amulet, called a “rubber band,” which forbade the wearer from speaking his or her native tongue. Immersion in the foreign tongue, the most used language in all the world—English—had begun!

Armed with their challenge, the valiant voyagers boarded the Noah, where there was much merrymaking and singing.

By the time the sun was two hours lower in the sky, the boat full of adventurers scraped the sands of Treasure Island (Ilha do Tesouro in the local language). And there were treasures aplenty, just waiting to be discovered.

After settling in their cabins, appetites were worked up over tournaments of tetherball, volleyball and soccer until the first of many great feasts.

Bellies filled with American fare, the campers tackled group tasks for a great festival in their kingdom, whose goal is to share English with all the dwellers of the land (the Petrolina International English Fair).

Later, leaders helped the students climb new heights; daring was unburied from deep within.

As the weary travelers trooped back to their cabins, the first glimmers of all the riches to be had were fresh in their minds.

With the rising of the sun, the campers set off on a quest to explore the island.

Not only did they discover a beach full of gleaming crystals…

…but they also uncovered their own bravery and strength, hiking up mountains…

…jumping off cliffs and climbing up steep rocks.

Over the next few days, uncountable treasures were discovered. Participants explored the island as they explored their own daring, testing their abilities at kayaking, archery, zip lines, swimming, horseback riding and more—all while communicating in the strange sounds of English.

 

The linguistic conquerors showed their mastery of the foreign tongue by creating songs, dramatic works and dances (to be shown to all the townspeople during the great PIEF festival).

They even fell in love with the adventure of tasting strange new foods such as marshmellows and peanut butter!

Around a blazing fire on the beach during the last night, the adventurers bid their adieus over sweet melodious campfire songs and sweeter s’mores.

Merrymaking continued until the parting of ways, a day’s journey later. Just as diamonds are indestructible, the richness of getting to know new worlds and all that they entail (friendship, understanding, and a new language) will be forever with all those adventurous enough to take part in the First English Immersion Camp in the North-East Interior at Treasure Island!

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Take me home, Northeast Roads

Our English Immersion Camp at the Ilha do Tesouro was a grand success! We want to share two special items: first, a heart-warming video of our campers singing “Northeast Roads” (a version of John Denver’s “Country Roads” that we invented at camp); and second, some inspiring quotations from our camp evaluations.

The goal of our camp, ultimately, was to provide something that doesn’t exist in the sertão of Brazil: a full immersion experience in English. Our students were challenged to speak English the entire weekend; each one had a bracelet that could be taken away by another camper or teacher if the student were heard speaking Portuguese. (Needless to say, many bracelets were lost and gained again.) We are thrilled that many of our evaluations point to the importance of this immersion experience, as well as other benefits of the camp: motivation to study, learning new vocabulary, and good new friends.

“I would recommend this camp because there isn’t this kind of experience around here, and it’s really important if you want to learn English.”

“I know myself better. Now I know what I have to do to improve.”

“It couldn’t be better, I learned so many expressions I didn’t know yet. I spoke 90% in English and as I wanted to do a trip to the USA but I don’t have enough money, it was an exchange program in Sobradinho!”

“My English was automatic, even when I forgot that I should speak English, my mind was ready to speak.”

“I am only a beginner in English and this camp was very stimulating for me. I will definitely study with more motivation now.”

“I would definitely recommend the camp because it is an incredible opportunity to meet new people, improve my English, and develop various skills!”

“It is an opportunity to learn English while having fun.”

“This experience helped me a lot because it made me practice my English, which I had left to the side for a long time.”

“It was a great experience, aside from being an opportunity to grow intellectually, the camp transformed unknown people into good friends.”

Up next: a special Treasure Island fairy tale (nonfiction!)

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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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Happy São Jõao!

São Jõao, aka the June fesival, in Brazil – bonfires, lots of corn and corn-related foods, homemade liquors and tons of forró music and dancing (check out the news clip below at minute 2:20 for a demonstration by yours truly!) and even a type of square dance called quadrilha!  Think Brazilian Carnaval …for the country folks.

The northeastern tradition, celebrating the nativity of John the Baptist, draws from the european midsummer… although here in the Northeast the festival marks the beginning of winter (and when I say winter in the NE of Brazil think springtime weather in DC) and the end of the rainy season.  In the semi-arid climate of the interior, a little rain is cause for thanks and celebration indeed.  If you´d like to see where I was last year during this time and some examples of the quadrilhas, check out this short clip:

São Jõao is one of my favorite holidays of all time.  It unites the warm, happy people of the Northeast  and celebrates the culture of their region: a region often marginalized and discriminated against, despite its being what I think is the richest and most unique area in the country.  A lá Brazilian, we now have two weeks of vacation, to make the end of São Jõao a little less painful.

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Tying it all together: English Week at UPE

Since our students are busy with other classes, and in many cases jobs and families, it’s often hard for Cara and I to find enough time with them to do all the activities we dream up. But when we’re given that time in the school schedule, it’s a great opportunity—like Cara’s English Week in Salgueiro, or in this case, my Encontro de Língua Inglesa at UPE. (The event happen at UPE, but also included students from the IF and FACAPE, and interested community members.)

Rafaela teaching her workshop, Common Pronunciation Mistakes for Brazilian Speakers of English

One of the things I was happiest about that week was the breadth of activities: we had everything from academic lectures and pedagogical lessons to dancing, singing, poetry, films and baseball games (check out the whole program!). Language learning is so dynamic because virtually any kind of activity can be relevant and valuable by incorporating the language or its culture.

For example, Cara’s hip hop dancing workshop breaks out of the “language classroom” model but accomplishes many of the same goals: the students practiced listening comprehension (her directions were all in English), they learned some important vocabulary (left and right, body parts, movements, etc.), and they got a direct cultural experience with a specific kind of American music. Cara even incorporated some sports culture into the dance choreography—baseball and basketball moves! I think that as English Teaching Assistants, this out-of-the-classroom kind of language instruction is often our forté. For the most part, I leave the grammar lessons to the experts—the trained professors—and augment those lessons with baseball games, dance classes, an English chorus, and any other kind of activity I can imagine to bring the language to life.

Leandro visiting the White House on the Tour of DC

Which brings me to the part of the week that I concocted completely from scratch: the Tour of Washington, DC. The activity was organized like a huge scavenger hunt for the whole group: after an introductional lecture about the District, I split them into five teams (with US state names) and directed them to visit each of five “attractions”: the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the White House, the Capitol Building, and the Newseum. Each of these attractions had a room of its own, with a projection of the silhouette of the building and at least three activities, plus a discussion question, posted on the walls. Examples of activities included: filling out the blanks in the lyrics of “I’m Just a Bill” from Schoolhouse Rock, completing a George Washington wordsearch, finding world headlines on the Newseum website, and writing three questions to ask President Obama if you had the lucky chance of running into him at his favorite burger joint, Ray’s Hell Burger. Upon completing at least two activities per room (taking into account that some activities would require too high a language level for some students), everyone had to return to the auditorium to complete an entry in the DC Guest Book.

I still love the entire concept of this activity, and now that I’ve prepared all the materials, its replicability is extremely attractive. However, I also learned some really valuable lessons that will improve the Tour in the future. You can see those thoughts below (click “continue reading” at the end of the post). I also hope anyone who participated will send their reactions and feedback to me.

Marcelo about to hit a home run in our baseball game!

Before this post gets too long, I’ll mention one more wonderful aspect of the English Week programming: we were lucky to have a great diversity of guest professors. My students already know Cara but are always happy to see her again, and they also got the chance to meet Laraine (our English Language Fellow in Petrolina) and Rafaela (the wonderful English professor at the Instituto Federal). In addition, we coordinated the final English Festival to coincide with the visit of five English teachers from Texas A&M University, who had been traveling in Pernambuco giving workshops to English teachers in the public schools and universities. If anything, I know my students learned one new word in English Week: “howdy!”

We’re about to go on winter break here in Petrolina, and I’m heading to meet my parents in Rio, but UPE’s English Week was a wonderful way to finish the semester: having planned an entire week of activities for over 100 students, I have some real successes and lessons learned to file away for next semester’s adventures.

See my pictures from the week here!

Continue reading

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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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Schedule for English Week in Salgueiro

Cara and I are so excited to be assisting and teaching English classes this week at the IF Campus in Salgueiro! Cara is already on campus working with the students, and I’ll be heading there tomorrow morning. See the schedule below:

 

 

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Manhã

  07:30 – Participação de Cara na aula de Inglês Instrumental do curso de Tec. em Alimentos.

 

09:oo  – 10:30

RUGBY

 

 

 

09:00 Participação de Cara na Turma do MI Agro 2º ano

WAKA WAKA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

09:00 Participação de Cara na Turma do MI Info e MI Edif.  2º ano

WAKA WAKA

Tarde  

 

 

 

 

14:00 – Chegada de Cara ao Campus.

 

15:00 – Apresentação de Cara para todos os Servidores (aproveitar aqui para falarem em inglês)

 

16:15 – Apresentação de Cara às turmas

 

 

 

13:30 – Participação de Cara no FIC da turma de Campinhos

WAKA WAKA

12:00 – Almoço no Chamas Grill

 

 

 

 

 

14:00

HIP HOP

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

16:15 – “Talking” com Cara (os profs de inglês) com todos os servidores que queiram participar

STEREOTYPES

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

15:00 –

RUGBY

 

 

 

 

 

16:15 – Colóquio com a Americana Chelsea sobre a História do Brasil.

 

 

13:00 Participação de Cara na Turma do MI Info e MI Edif.  2º ano

WAKA WAKA

Noite  

 

19: 30 –

Apresentação de Cara às turmas

 

19:00 – Participação no FIC de Inglês para Professores

WAKA WAKA

   

 

 

20:00 – Pizza no Ponto de Encontro, coma a presença de Cara e Chelsea.

 

 

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