I’m sitting here, over two weeks after returning from Brazil, still processing what I experienced. My camera is miles away in California, and as I drink my Brazilian coffee (sans piles of sugar) I’m forced to recall this amazing trip from mental snapshots.
Other than the events listed in the previous blog, these are the ones that will stick with me for a lifetime, camera or no:
1. A weekend party/BBQ at a riverfront cottage. This was probably the most relaxing day of the whole trip, and much appreciated after discussing, comparing, questioning education for about a week with much more to come. Our cooperating teacher in Ibitinga, Maura, brought us to her friend’s cottage for an afternoon BBQ. I don’t know what you know about Brazilian food, but it’s heavy on the meat. And we experienced some of the best there. But even more memorable was attending a party where only about 4 people could speak conversational English and still having a blast. I’m not exaggerating when I say tears were shed (from laughter and otherwise), concrete slabs were rolled (long story), and I’m pretty sure I danced to someone called Mr.??? (What was his name again? It was fairly awful)
2. Presenting at a professional development meeting for English teachers in Taquaritinga. On a more academic note, Troy and I had the privilege of presenting the basics of the American school system to English teachers from around the area. As I looked across the room of teachers that Tuesday morning, I was reminded immediately of my own professional development meetings. Teachers looked relaxed to not be in the classroom while simultaneously somewhat apprehensive of what may take up their precious time. I know the feeling. I hope that what we presented was of value to them. However, the moments that will stick with me most are, as usual, the time for personal interaction with these teachers. We learned of their struggles, and many of them were shared with American schools. The topic that seemed to come up again and again was education equity. According to so many teachers with whom I spoke on this trip, Brazilian students feel such extreme pressure to do well on their high school exit tests, and these will determine where (if anywhere) they will go to university. Students from the private schools typically fare much better and are given more options than public school students. In addition, public universities seem to be preferable to most students than private. Not only are they often viewed as academically stronger, but they are also free. As a result, many of the public high school graduates will be faced with choosing from a private (expensive) university and perhaps no university at all. One can easily see how the cycle of poverty is so hard for families to break. If, as most people agree, education is the key to financial freedom, then the high school exit exams are incredibly high-stakes. No wonder so many Brazilian students, when asked, shared that they view the United States as a place where anyone can get an education if they truly want to. It seems Americans get more chances to succeed (or fail) than what we witnessed in Brazil, and the educators we met at this professional development meeting agreed with us.
3. A visit to a bedding factory in Ibitinga. At first I have to admit that I wasn’t sure what I was getting into in Ibitinga. Some of my cohorts were assigned schools in the Amazon, Rio, the ocean, etc. And I found myself in the bedding capital of Brazil. Interesting. However, I’m a small-town girl at heart, and this town and its people quickly won me over. I might not have seen all the “cultural sights” that many of my cohorts did, but the continual interactions with people in this town, including Maura’s amazing colleagues and friends were my favorite parts of this trip. I honestly feel like I saw the “real” Brazil–the food, schools, soccer games, festivals, etc. Our trip to the bedding factory in Ibitinga was part of this. Although touring factories isn’t usually an activity I seek out when traveling, this experience was slightly different. While walking through the plant, we started to recognize many of Maura’s school’s students. They immediately shot us smiles and greetings, never stopping their assembly-line-style work. I quickly became less interested in how comforters were made and more focused on how exhausted these kids were when they finally got out of their shift and made it to night school at Victor Maida School. We had already attending some evening classes there and witnessed kids with tired eyes and exhausted bodies, many giving into sleep on their desk. After seeing them hard at work out of necessity, I could quickly realize how grueling life was for these young bodies. Troy and I awkwardly discussed how our first impression was difficult, as it was seen through our first-world, middle-class, American lens. However, we were faced with the reality that these jobs also provide a future for many of the kids who might not do well on their exit exams. It’s tedious, monotonous work that was far from the mall, restaurant, and Starbucks jobs of my students, that’s for sure.
Well, I’m always telling my students that writing about less in more detail is better than lists, and this blog I guess is my exercise in this principle. When I have my camera again, I’ll post the pictures and some videos, but in the meantime, I walk with these memories while I go back to daily life, raising two boys, grocery shopping, mowing the lawn, etc. So, having my camera would make these recollections easier, but in a way, I’m glad I don’t.