Tag Archives: friends

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , , , ,

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!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

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!)

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

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:

Tagged , , , , , ,

Poets’ Corner at UPE

A few weeks ago, the wonderful UPE English professor Zaira Cavalcanti asked me to bring some short poems to her evening class on Reading and Composition. Inspired, I spent a few hours searching through some of my favorite poems, like “This Is Just To Say” by William Carlos Williams.

Students editing their poems in class.

I had a vague idea that I wanted this project to culminate in student-produced poetry, but at that point I had no conception of how brilliant the results would be. After reading and analyzing the poems I brought to class, I explained to the students a few different possible forms for their own poems: haiku, acrostic, found poem, etc. I told them that if they wanted to use their own form, they should feel free—having no major expectations for this option.

Alessandro posted the first poem on the poster I made for class.

The day that the students read their poems sticks out in my mind as one of the most inspiring I have yet experienced here. Looking back, I realize that I was silly to forget how powerful a tool poetry is for students who are learning to express themselves in a language. The malleability of a poem is such that students can lose their preoccupations about grammar and correct structure: the most important thing is simply to communicate a message in whatever way works. I was blown away by the depth and creativity of the poems that the students created; even those who struggle with English in other forms (like speaking) came to class with beautifully and creatively written pieces.

Below are two examples. I hope to use the 20 poems that the students created in a publication of English writing by students from the whole department, to be finished before the end of the year.

Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , ,

Congratulations Euclides!

After lots of hard one-on-one work, especially on the writing section, of the TOEFL test (Test of English as a Foreign Language) I am proud to announce that the results have arrived!  Euclides  Francisco, student of Oenology and Viticulture at the IF-Sertão, Campus Zona Rural, has scored high marks on the TOEFL test, qualifying him for international scholarships such as Ciência Sem Fronteiras (now accepting applications-click here) and Fulbright (click here to explore one Fulbright Scholarship possibility for Brazilians) .

Euclides Francisco, student of Oenology and Viticulture at the IF-Sertão, Campus Zona Rural, ran to my room to show me his fantastic scores, which arrived today. Congratulations Euclides, I'm so proud of you!

I had the pleasure of  working with Euclides to prepare for the test, which he had two weeks to study for and took on Friday, February 9 in Recife.  He plans on using the scores to apply for programs in Canada and the USA.   He is the first of hopefully many to score high enough to compete for International Scholarships.  I look forward to the next post announcing his placement abroad!

Interested in studying abroad?  Taking the TOEFL is often the first and most necessary step for almost every scholarship and abroad opportunity.  For TOEFL dates and locations click here.  Also, together with the fantastic Rafaela Carla, English Professor at the Zona Rural, we will soon be administering the TOEFL test here in Petrolina at the IF Rural Campus.

Stay tuned– I will be offering a preparatory TOEFL course this year for intermediate and advanced English speakers.  I hope to have you in my course!

As always, feel free to drop me an e-mail (cara.k.snyder@gmail.com or cara.snyder@ifsertao) with questions, comments, or if you are a student looking to take the TOEFL or study abroad!

Tagged , , , , , ,

Brazil– Where Leisure Time is Productive

 One of the first things I learned in Brazil is that as a Fulbright Scholar and an American, my job is to represent not only myself, but also my country, my language, and my people.  As such, in everything we do, Chelsea and I are always working.  We travel, we work; we dance, we work; we go to the bank, we work; we eat, we work; and so on.  We have “official” teaching jobs here, which often do require a lot of work in the traditional sense, but we also spend a good amount of time doing, as some might say in the US, “nothing.”  While at first this bothered us, we have come to understand that even our leisure time here can be productive.

In Curaça, from left to right- Me, Tony, Tio, Maick and Chelsea

This weekend we were invited to the home of Maick Menezes, one of my students (and top Rugby players), who is going to live and labor for the next 18 months in New Jersey for a US-Brazilan import-export mango company.  Hopping on a bus headed to Curaça, in the state of Bahia the only directions we had were “Maick´s house,” and so we got slightly lost.  But all along the way people stopped to talk to us, ask where we were from and what our country is like, and then help us find our destination.  We get lost, we are working.

We backtracked to Irrigation Project 1 Curaça, where we were met by Maick´s cousin, Tom Tõem (Tony).  En route to the Project, traveling the best way to travel (three deep on the back of a motorcycle), we stopped for sweet agua de coco and to take pictures with a group of gentleman admirers who had never met Americans.  We drink coconut water, we are working.

Fresh green delicious cocos!

We were the last to arrive at Maick´s house, where we were met by 20 more of my students from the IF-Sertão Pernambucano. We drank our cerveja bem gelada,  really cold beer (in Brazil the quality of beer is measured by how cold it is—the colder the better), and everyone sat around saying all the words in English they knew.  We drink beer; we are working.

The project had a party that evening, with some 300 people from the surrounding areas of the interior of Bahia (the state where Curaça is located).  We danced forró  and pagodão, and represented our country.  We party, we are working.

Here in Brasil, our lesiure time is productive.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Friendship and Hospitality, Brazilian Style

I had spent barely a day in Petrolina before Cara knocked on my door bright and early to whisk me away on a weekend trip to Pilar, Bahia, where we’d been invited to stay for the weekend. Pilar is the hometown of Ana Paula, the viticulture professor at the Instituto Federal – Zona Rural. As I said, I had quite literally just arrived in Petrolina. I barely knew Cara, let alone Ana Paula, let alone her entire family. Yet, as I was learning very quickly in Brazil, these things mattered very little.

We arrived in Pilar, a heat-baked small town laid out grid-fashion in the Bahian Sertão, just in time for lunch. Ana Paula’s mother gave me a couple kisses and hugs and handed me a plate, barely acknowledging that I still fumbled with fluency in Portuguese greetings. Bahian cooking is a miracle in transforming bland base ingredients into delicious and sustaining meals—beans, rice, and manioc flour (farofa) mutate into feijoada and pirão and vatapa.

Our first meal in Pilar: bode (goat) and pirão.

Something in Pilar made that verbal expression of hospitality, “make yourself at home,” which Brazilians translate into fica a vontade (do as you please), a reality. After initial greetings, the formalities that often remain when visiting the home of a friend—especially an aquaintance—disappeared. Rather than a polite investigation of my career goals or current occupation, dinner conversation was a banter about this and that as if we were all old friends. Writing teachers often advise us to “show rather than tell,” and just the same way, in Pilar I felt that the family got to know me through experiencing my presence rather than asking me to explain it.

We spent Sunday enjoying a "churrasco" (barbecue) with the family.

That first night, Cara and Ana Paula—the two people who were my closest links to the family—went to bed early. Our friend Rafaela and I were still awake, and Ana Paula’s brother asked us if we’d like to go out on the main street with him and two of the younger kids in the family. The lovely evening we spent chatting together amongst the other Pilar inhabitants showed me something that has been proven again and again during my time here so far: in the Northeast of Brazil, hospitality comes first, and details come later.

These kinds of encounters happen relatively frequently, and I think the reason why it still catches me off guard is because I am accustomed to such unreserved hospitality being something generally reserved for friends. Here, the order is almost reversed: hospitality is what invites the possibility for friendship.

Tagged , , ,