Traverse City Record-Eagle

Generation Why

October 3, 2011

Encountering the unexpected in Brazil

I spent my junior year in Cornelio Procopio and Londrina, Brazil. While there, I had the marahvillosa opportunity to attend school and help teach an English/American culture class to Portuguese-speaking students.

I experienced many cultural differences, both in and out of the class, but what I learned the most was how to be at ease with the unexpected.

An interesting aspect of taking the role as a teacher was how effortless the experience was. Whereas here it's a given that the teacher is superior, there, the "professor" and student relationship is more equal.

The teaching style was predominantly conversational with students, even though it was called lecture. Each morning the teachers wished to start the day peacefully after screaming "SILENCE" to the students, but their requests were always denied. Usually classes wouldn't start until half an hour after the first bell because the ringing melded into the chatter of the students.

Surprisingly, not one student asked me, the "teacher," about grades. They accepted their scores with dignity and never once challenged us. I found this fascinating. We all know that's not how we roll. Students' classroom manners were also quite foreign: They arrived late, turned in "homework," most of which was done in class, late, and they answered their cellphones -- actually conversed -- in class.

But the environment was productive even though the professor did little to gain students' attention.

What was unequal, despite the relaxed classroom vibe, was the seating arrangement and the echoes that bounced off the white hardwood walls. With the professor at the front of the classroom "lecturing," the students who chose to scribbled notes at their desks. Students who chose to sit in the back chatted throughout the lecture, the professor unfazed, while, those who chose to listen, mainly girls, did so.

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