Laura Loves Languages

A place for many opinions

International Faculty Development Seminar: Brasil

As promised to my colleagues, here are a few more details of my study trip to what my daughters call “the land of my ancestors”. The college newsletter blurb had to be abridged, so I’ll be more expansive here . Anyone who occasionally visits here now knows that chronology (and sometimes editing) goes right out the janela……

This International Faculty Development Seminar held from June 1-10, 2008 in Sao Paulo and Paraty, Brazil was an exercise in absorbing contrasts- from the bustling city of millions of inhabitants to the last vestiges of the pristine Atlantic rainforest in  the southernmost part of Rio de Janeiro state. Although my roots are Brazilian and I am fluent in Portuguese, my family ties are much farther north, closer to the very different Amazon region. The seminar greatly increased my knowledge base on BRIC country economics, ever-controversial environmental issues and the changing role of Brazil today.

The first week was largely devoted to a vast variety of insightful pre-planned lectures and field trips. Some topics discussed included:

  • Ecology and Politics in Brazil
  • Education and Sustainable Development
  • Challenges of Modern Brazilian Politics
  • Development and Environmental Impacts in Brazil
  • Social Movements in Brazil: Landless People and their Struggles
  • Issues of the Brazilian Native Indians
  • New Resources for Alternative Energy: The Case of Ethanol
  • Urban Expansion, Population Growth and Quality of Life in Brazil
  • Poverty and Development in Brazil
  • Challenges in Brazilian Education

The seminar was hosted by the Assessoria de Relações Internacionais (International Relations Commission) of the Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo (PUC). PUC, founded in 1946, has 22,000 students and 2,000 professors and is considered among the best universities in Brazil. It is well-known for its Paulo Freire Chair, one of the decisive factors in my selection of this seminar. The PUC organizers went out of their way to bring us in close contact with leading experts in their respective fields. For example, the noted economist, Ladislau Dowbor, appeared so in his comfort zone as he lectured on complex issues and promptly invited us to almost all of his scholarly works online. If your field is Latin American economics, you must visit him online. (My friends  all know of my delight in sharing ideas freely online.) Our expert on the current emergent economy was a senior macroeconomist from the prestigious Bradesco bank. It was ironic that the title of his talk spoke of the “Challenges of the Economy”, but his message was optimistic with Brazil on the move with the Chinese, Russians and Indians.

Movimento sem terra

Movimento sem terra

Touring was fantastic. We were hardly settled in our modern business hotel when we were whisked off on a bus to a settlement of the Landless Movement or Movimento sem Terra with a group of CIEE students studying at the PUC. The student mission was to talk to the farmers about their settlements and their sustainable agricultural projects. The students were asked to translate these interviews for the faculty visitors. (My student guide had it easy since I speak Portuguese. We taked about his study abroad experience which seemed to be first rate.)  To reach the MST, we climbed unpaved rocky roads to three- room homes of settlers who were proud to speak of their hard work. We learned that this type of visit was atypical, mostly because the MST do not always trust outsiders. Reasons include security issues and the sometime negative depictions of them in the press. Yet because the MST members were treated with great respect by the mostly American CIEE students, they were very generous with their time and in sharing their community life with us. This visit was an eye-opener to me because it allowed me to see the kind of authentic experiences our own NOVA students might have on a similar CIEE trip. They were well-informed in advance by their teachers, they had been in Brazil long enough to communicate appropriately with the MST and all Portuguese speakers and they had obviously absorbed the Brazilian culture in which they were immersed.

Parati, a walk in the past.

Parati, a walk in the past.

The other part of this visit was to Paraty, an historic, marvelously preserved colonial city in the south of Rio state. Here is an excerpt from an earlier post in this blog where I talk about my experience in the Saco de Mamangua, our gateway to the Atlantic rain forest:

“It seems like an eternity since my wonderful time in Paraty, Brasil in the southeast of Rio de Janeiro last month. There I visited the Saco do Mamangua, clearly one of the most beautiful places that I have been in 50+ years….. So what if I capsized my canoe in the mangrove, all my valuables were safely in another canoe with  paddlers with skills. All I had to do was not move (or breathe) and I made it safely to shore in Paraty Mirim. Will never forget the hospitality of Dona Gracinha, the little barquinhos (boats) made of caxeta wood that I brought home with me, and the utter beauty of the Atlantic rainforest where beautiful orchids with their roots extending into the air were attached to the trees. I saw pioneer vegetation growing timidly on land being reforested.

I hope to be able to find the book by Paulo Nogara, our biologist in residence from the tour,  who paddled our canoe like some practiced gondolier. His love for this country was so evident. He was an excellent teacher who raised our awareness of both the beauty and the fragility of our surroundings. In retrospect, it was a great exercise in self-control to surrender to the movement of the boat. I finally “got it”, Type A as I am. Mentally, I can still go back to the peace of the setting sun in the beautiful sunset of Paraty Mirim.

The little painted caicara boat that  I brought home from that day is sitting on my dining room table today. It helps me go back there in my mind.  When I think about the locomotion involved in it all- bus, boat, hike, canoe and  the plane ride home, the barquinho gave me a real workout then and now a lot of peace.”  The CIEE IFDS experience was wonderful, particularly the hospitality of our gracious hosts, Ana Luisa and Mauricio. I think this faculty development trip should be offered annually in Brazil. The rich diversity of this country the size of a continent informs our world-view and our practice as educators.

October 9, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment