The wanderings of a thirty-something mid-westerner
I suppose that like most linguists, I was always in love with language. But somewhere in this business of listening to people I found that I had fallen in love with humanity. - William Labov
And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it. - Roald Dahl
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? - Mary Oliver
My cousins, Craig and Dave, who live in Germany sent me this link to a BBC article yesterday and it's been inspiring me ever since! The article describes writer Ann Morgan's challenge to herself to read one book from every country in a year. She keeps a blog and writes about the experience and what she learned (the list of books she actually read are posted on there as well if you are interested). Her initial idea came to her because of the lack of diversity in her bookshelves even though she thought of herself as a cosmopolitan citizen and writer. How true that is! When I look at my bookshelves and on the electronic reading list of my Nook, I'm struck by the same feeling and it makes me try and remember some of my favorite books that aren't from the States. It's also an alternative way to travel the world and one that doesn't create a big carbon footprint either. What about you, blog reader? Any recommendations?
Fallen mango during an afternoon rain (Photo credit Leiliane Barro)
This weekend has been both relaxing and productive. It's rained heavily in the afternoons and Sean and I spent time in a coffee shop working on our "50 Pre-Course Tasks" that we need to complete before our CELTA (Certified English Language Teacher of Adults) course in November. This is one of my favorite parts of the week because it involves grammar, good coffee and dessert, air conditioning, no mosquitoes and hanging out with Sean. Both of us have also been working on a lot of job applications as well as we try and figure out what is next for us after Brazil. Consuming large amounts of homemade iced coffee has helped a lot in this process. If you need help with a resume or cover letter just ask us - we're getting pretty good at them.
An afternoon torrential downpour in Belém (Photo credit: Joana Flexa)
Recently, a student and friend, Jean Santos, snapped some beautiful pictures of the campus of UFPA and I wanted to share them with you. It's an odd feeling to walk around campus in the "fall" but not notice the changing colors of the trees, the swishing of dried leaves under your feet or the coolness in the air. Instead, we are slowly transferring back to the "rainy" season and the weather is as hot and humid as ever. I spend a good part of each day walking (and sweating) back and forth between the Language Arts buildings and the science buildings where most of the English Without Borders classes are. Seeing Jean's pictures the other day reminded me of how beautiful the campus is and that it's worth slowing down and enjoying the scenery instead of always rushing around. Thanks Jean!
Campus graffiti: Tell me what you watch and I'll tell you who you are
Last year while working at UESC in Bahia, I became very good friends with one of the students there named Shalon. Shalon was the unofficial and then the official helper for the Fulbright ETAs and helped us do everything from find housing to get registered at the police. From the first day I met him, his dream was to study abroad in the U.S. and he worked harder than a lot of people ever do to get there. He received a scholarship to study at Saint Ambrose College in Iowa for one semester and has now been there for a couple of weeks. One of the requirements of his scholarship program is that he keeps a blog of his experiences and all that he is learning. I found his most recent blog post fascinating because he gave some honest and real opinions about some of the negative stuff that goes on during our undergraduate years. Reading his blog also made me learn a lot more about Brazil because in seeing what a Brazilian notices about the U.S. it's easy to see why this is important or different from his home country. See for yourself:
"I thought everything would be perfect! And I truly have had amazing moments that have made my trip incredibly great... But you know
what? Some cultural shocks were unavoidable... I never thought I'd
experience so much in a short period of time. Every single day is a
challenge for me when I am able to understand and get to know more about
this new world and specially about myself. I
look at myself today and I can see the difference... I grow day by
day... I have learned so many things... I have seen so many things...
American dream for me, sometimes is almost a nightmare. Daily I need to
face the college life that constantly contradicts myself. Every single
day I've learned to do things myself and rely on God. I feel so blessed
for having amazing and helpful people around me though. I have
seen so many things that bother me. The individualism and the over
control about personal emotions is something that makes me sad.
Sometimes I feel I am changing my personality just for being in here. My
interaction with people have changed. I have been bombarded with "the
urge to make money, racial issues, personal space, becoming someone and
having the perfect appearance, how to show people that you have
something or that you are someone that has nothing to do with the real
YOU". I never heard so many cases of suicide as I am hearing now. I
never saw so many people alone, on their own. I feel now that everything
is leading me to think just about myself.
I have learned that
there is a big and touchy difference between being white, mixed or
black. I have learned how relationships work. I have learned that
alcohol, drugs and sex are the ways to explode the emotion of being "
finally free", or maybe an attempt to hide the needy individuals they
are. I have seen how people feel extremely worried about money
and personal carrier. I have heard: "I do not talk with people because
they can invite me to hang out and I won't have time to study, work and
make money". I have seen people being ignored insensitively for being
"different". I have seen people apologizing for not being athletic as
others. I have seen people leaving a place because there was a "weird"
person. I have seen people saying to protect the environment but wasting
a lot, I said a lot of food! Dishes and dishes full of food!
I also saw someone's life being changed by getting a "Hi! How are
you"... I have been able to see clearly the black table, the white
table, the football table at the cafeteria. I have seen how close but
separated we are. I have learned how the media crashes the life
enjoyment and how people forget that life and relationship are important
in a different way... Wow... It's a lot information for my head.
Instead of trying to fit everybody in a table, I have heard: "you should
look for another table".
I have seen people pretending that
they didn't know me and labeling me as "the church friend", "the guy
from my class" and meaning that our relationship is based on the place
that we meet on a daily basis. I have seen my opinion being forsaken, my
well-being and presence not being considered at my own place ( and this
has nothing to do with my roommates, because they are awesome and
really respectful with me! :) ). I have seen how superficial
relationships are common and how people are afraid to talk to each
other. I have seen how Christmas is expected as the most emotional and
beautiful moment to hug, to love... I have seen that people do not like
to cry because they do not want to show weaknesses. I have payed
attention to the ways people find to release their feelings and how
being 23 years old doesn't mean being mature at all. I have learned that
the sense of being a community is usually expressed just by volunteer
work (for a SPECIFIC community) but this is not usually shown on a daily
have see how I can change someone's mood with a smile and a hug. I have
learned that I can be with the "nerds", the "different people", the
black people, the white people, the freshmen and still be cool. I have
seen this person's smile for being included in the group instead of
sitting alone... that made me day.
I have seen how the
cultural system is powerful... I have enjoyed gathering black, white,
brown, different people in a group... I have enjoyed introducing people
to each other... I have enjoyed looking for those who are alone and make
them part of the group, I have enjoyed seeing someone's smile just
because I listened to their worries... I feel awesome when people look
at me weirdly for talking with "different people".
may judge me saying that I'm overreacting or judging the culture, etc.
However personal impressions are to be discussed, confirmed or changed,
If we say that our country is the best, we are not being patriotic but
hypocrites. You may see the same things in my country or even worse, but
we can only see cultural differences in this way... I could be fooling
my readers by saying how everything has been perfect without flaws and
without issues, but I won't. I will share my positive impressions as
well as not very good impressions."
Shalon armed with two portable projectors ready to prepare presentations for Language Week
One of my side projects this year is working with the Language Advising program at the university. Language Advising is a pilot project that was started last year to help with the high attrition rate of university students studying English. The idea is that more advanced students of English meet with those who are struggling with the language to help them devise a personalized plan with strategies in mind for their particular learning style. The theories, learning styles and strategies definitely have merit, but I think the one-on-one weekly meetings, accountability, support and personal relationship have a large chunk to do with the success of the program as well.
I've enjoyed the project not only because I've learned about different and more creative ways to teach and learn language but also because I've gotten to know a few students really well instead of just getting to know large classes full of them vaguely well. I've been amazed at how my few students seem to thrive with extra, individual attention. They send me emails, texts and pictures about completed goals or with updates on some of the things we have been working on. I have my own mentor, a French linguistics professor who meets with me once a week to help me with my Portuguese (she's been here for over 20 years and has mastered the art of learning Portuguese as a second language). I adore her and our time together is my favorite part of the week and I find myself emailing her updates about how I am doing, just like how my students do with me.
Last week, while I was helping one of my advisees revise an essay in preparation for the TOEFL we made a lot of tiny corrections that really improved the impact and meaning of the whole piece. He told me at the end of our session, "As pequenas coisas mudam tudo." It's the small things that change everything. I couldn't agree more and I'm not just talking about the revision stage of an essay. When a student takes the time to write to me it means everything whether it's just a weekly hello from an advisee (along with an attached picture of her first pancake attempt) . . .
How was your presentation? Was great?
I hope it was. My presentation about Traditional Approaches to Classifying Words was great. I feel nervous but I did. LOL.
Oh, I though that would be interesting you see my pancake, so I send to you (oh Gosh, why? Kkk*)
Have a great weekend!
. . . or a note that I received this week from a student I had eight years ago at The Ohio State University.
I wanted to check in with you because I just met another Buckeye here
in Madrid and she asked me if I had you for Spanish at OSU. We both
agree that you were the one that got us excited about Spanish! Learning
Spanish really changed our lives. I love that even eight years later
your name comes up in conversation as an amazing teacher. So thank you
so much and I hope you're still loving Brazil!
It may have just taken a minute or two for each of those students to shoot off a small message on Facebook, but for me, it changes everything. *kkk is how you laugh in Portuguese while typing as in "hahahaha"
Last week was exceptionally busy at UFPA because we held our first event of the semester - an "American Pancake Breakfast" which was a lot of fun and a big success. To prepare for the event, Sean and I spent about four hours the Sunday before making about 120 pancakes. There's nothing that makes you want to spend a significant amount of time leaning over bubbling flapjacks and hissing gas burners like 95 degree heat and humidity and no air conditioning. There was lots of chilled wine, music and podcasts to keep our sanity at an acceptable level. Needless to say, I've made my last pancake for a good long while.
Anna, Stevie and I worked together to put the event together. Since we didn't know how many people would come and our event was more like an open house, we set it up as a series of stations. Students had to pick up their "Pancake Passport" at the door and visit all of the stations before they could turn in their passport as the ticket to get their pancake. It worked really well especially since the stations didn't have to be followed in any particular order.
#1 How to make pancakes - Students received the recipe and watched a demo using actual ingredients and cooking utensils. To pass the station they had to be able to name all of the things required to make pancakes. (This was my station)
#2 Maple syrup - Anna created various activities that helped students learn a little more about what Maple syrup is and how it's made (syrup is a pretty foreign concept here). Fortunately, for us, Sean brought over two liters of the stuff with him when he arrived in March (thank you, Big Lots).
#3 American breakfasts - At Stevie's station she wanted to emphasize that pancakes are not the only thing that Americans eat for breakfast. Students learned the vocabulary and traditions of other common morning foods and then compared them with Brazilian breakfasts.
#4 Pancakes - Monty, Stevie's boyfriend, served up pancakes with butter and syrup while taking students' pancake passports. Station #4 was the obvious favorite not only because Monty is super adorable but also because students got to try the real deal - American pancakes with Maple syrup.
We had a great time and I'm looking forward to the last couple of events that we'll put together at UFPA in the next two months. Try making some on your own from scratch! (recipe below)
How to Make American Pancakes
1 ¼ Cups Flour (310 ml Farinha de Trigo)
3 Teaspoons Baking Powder (15 ml Fermento em Pó)
1 Tablespoon Sugar (15 ml
½ Teaspoon Salt (2.5 ml Sal)
1 egg (1 Ovo)
1 Cup Milk (250 ml Leite)
2 Tablespoons Oil (30 ml Aceite)
Mix together the flour,
baking powder, sugar and salt.In
a separate bowl, scramble the egg and then add the milk and oil.Add the wet ingredients to the dry
ingredients and gently stir together until smooth.Pour a small amount (about 125 ml) of the pancake batter on
a hot pan and flip when you start to see bubbles forming.The pancake is done when it turns
golden brown on both sides.Serve hot
with butter and syrup. (alternatives: honey, jam, yogurt, nutella etc.)
"This is a No Grump Zone," Sean says as he zips closed the mosquito net that covers our bed. It's a nice way to remind me to quit whining in the small time and space that we have together during the day. In this case, I was trying to take a nap in preparation to go to a birthday party that started at about 11:00 in the evening. One of Sean's students, Antonio, had invited him to his birthday party and really wanted us to go so we were going even though it started quite late at night and was really far away. This was only fair as the night before Sean helped me with a favor and gave a last-minute presentation with me about university life in the U.S. from 7-9pm at a local college after a full day's work and on a Friday night no less. Their keynote speaker had called in sick and the event organizer was desperate so we did it even though Sean didn't really want to. This whole business of compromises and the required give and take in marriage seemed a whole lot more manageable on paper than it actually is in practice. I would highly advise constructing various No Grump Zones around your house. It helps a little.
Antonio and Sean (notice all the sweat - it's hot dancing samba outside in this weather, even at 3am!)
The birthday party invitation said that the party started at 9:45pm but Antonio, the birthday boy and of 46 years, admitted that most people wouldn't start showing up until around 10:30 or 11:00. I should pause here to remind you that Sean works at the classiest and most exclusive English teaching school in the city (the main requirement being that you must be a native speaker - a rarity here in Belém) which attracts a certain elite and wealthy clientele. A birthday party in the upper echelon of Belém society is essentially like going to a wedding; there was going to be a live band, an open bar, dinner and plenty of partying until the wee hours.
I enjoy living in Brazil but one of the hardest parts of the culture to get used to and understand is the need to stay out so late. It's common for Brazilian parties to start after midnight and go until 5 or 6 in the morning. I don't know how they are able to do it as I start fading at around 10pm. I love and cherish a good night's sleep and it doesn't even bother me if that statement makes me seem old.
We dutifully arrived at the party at 11:30pm just in time for canapes and finger foods and the live samba band. The party had just gotten started and Antonio greeted us with hugs saying, "I was worried you weren't coming because I thought all Americans were early and when you didn't get here at 9:30 I thought you weren't coming." Antonio has done plenty of his homework on cultural differences. He's a very successful lawyer who has lived for a little while in the U.S. Later on in the evening, as he saw me yawn he would say, "I think it's so great that in the U.S. people usually go home from a party before midnight so everyone has time to sleep. But right now we are in Brazil so we have to stay up very late." I told myself we were in for a long night and tried to stay positive.
The party, naturally, was fantastic. There were all-you-could-consume fancy tropical drinks, a fully catered array of snacks and desserts, and waiters who walked around with bottles of whiskey and ice.
11:30 - We arrive
12:00 - Canapes
12:30 - First course (salad)
12:45- - Second course (potatoes and cod in cream sauce)
1:00 - Third course (seafood medley)
1:15 - Fourth course (grilled beef cuts)
1:30 - Speeches and Happy Birthday song
1:45 - Desserts (strawberry tarts and chocolate mousse)
2:15 - I call for taxi
3:00 - Taxi arrives
3:30 - Arrive at home
? : ? - Party ends
The party was tasty, interesting and beautiful but through all of it I was pretty tired. I'm tired and a little grumpy now while I write this on Sunday afternoon, the day after the festivities as I cringe at how a long nap is going to eat into all the things I wanted to do today. But like Antonio reminded me last night, I'm currently living in Brazil- a country that values the moment, seeks constant social interaction and above all loves a good time. It's like I'm living in one giant No Grump Zone and I hope it rubs off on me a little more the last two months I'm here.
The term 'wanderlust' forms from the German words ‘wandern’ (to hike) and 'lust’ (to enjoy). Placing both words together translates to ‘enjoy hiking’. A more contemporary equivalent for the English ‘wanderlust’ in the sense of ‘love of travel’ would be German ‘Fernweh’ (literally ‘an ache for the distance’).
This is not an official Department of State website or blog, and the views and information presented are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Program of the U.S. Department of State.