Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 3, 2011

Encountering the unexpected in Brazil

By Stephen Krygier
Special to the Record-Eagle

---- — 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.

Early on a girl in my history class, Giovanna, asked if I understood the language. I did. But I had a very hard time adjusting to the cacophony of so many conversing simultaneously. It was not only foreign to the whole ideal of the teacher-student role, it was the volume of so many voices. Brazilians like to be heard. They are very passionate and expressive about their opinions. They gesticulate a lot.

This was reaffirmed when I was given advice about how to "argue" Brazilian- style. They had little to no filter on what flew out of their mouths. Mid-argument, the fighting most often turned to playfulness. An average argument would consist of gesturing and aggressive words, and surprisingly, the closer people got the more playful the banter became.

To remain safe in a fight here, you would want to stay farther apart from your opponent, but the way the Brazilians rolled meant you would have to get in as close as you could to remain friends. I learned and lived vicariously through the many "fights" that I chose to create in the back of the classroom.

Humor is a big strain in Brazilian culture; they are relaxed even in a good fight, which makes them easily approachable, as well as intriguing. They are easy to befriend. There was nothing I liked more than the memories I have, created through awkward moments, whether fighting, teaching or conversing in the back of class. I am grateful for my time with people I went to teach, who taught me so much.

Stephen Krygier graduated from Traverse City Central High School in 2011. He now attends Kalamazoo College.