Near the Halfway Mark
I am now almost halfway through my time in Brazil as a Fulbright grantee, and I have had a great experience so far! A lot has happened since my last blog post, but I’ll try to fill you in.
In the end, I ended up being assigned to the city of Belo Horizonte in the middle/southeast of Brazil, which was one of the two cities I requested as preferences. So that worked out perfectly! Belo Horizonte may not be as famous as Rio or Sao Paulo outside of Brazil, but with about 2.5 million people it is the 6th largest city in Brazil and the capital of Minas Gerais, one of the largest and richest states in Brazil in terms of history and culture. I am finding that Belo Horizonte has everything you expect from a huge city in terms of things to do, while also maintaining the smaller feel and particular culture of the state of Minas Gerais, which is known for its warm and receptive people, comfort food, and colonial history. I really could not have been happier with my city placement, given the wide variety of options in a country as large as Brazil.
Of course, there is so much more to this year as a Fulbrighter than how much I enjoy the city I was placed. As an ETA (English Teaching Assistant), the vast majority of my time during the week revolves around attending and preparing classes in the Ingles sem Fronteiras (English without Borders) program here at the Federal University of Minas Gerais – UFMG. My role in the classroom varies depending on the class. All of the English classes here have a professor who is responsible for organizing and teaching the class, so it is up to them how to use me as a teaching assistant in the classroom. Sometimes I attend classes just to help lead activities and participate in whatever the students are learning that day, and other times I am asked to prepare a specific presentation or “workshop” to lead myself. I work with 4 professors, each of which has 3 classes, and so I only go to certain classes each week because otherwise it would be impossible for me to attend every class. So actually my schedule changes from week to week, based on which classes my professors ask me to attend or when I have a language or cultural workshop scheduled in advance.
One very positive experience I have enjoyed so far has been my development of a “pronunciation workshop” that I have created for the English classes here at UFMG. It is basically a 2-hour interactive presentation about English phonetics and pronunciation, mixed in with lots of participation from the students, explaining and practicing tons of sounds and words that can be difficult for Brazilians speaking English. I have done this 2-hour workshop about 15 times this semester in many different English classes, constantly modifying it as I think of better materials or examples, so this has been a major project for me and I have gotten great feedback from both students and professors. As a result, I have also started weekly informal meetings for students to show up and practice their conversation and pronunciation with me, and yesterday I had a workshop proposal approved to share my pronunciation materials with all the other American Fulbrighters here in Brazil when we get together in Sao Paulo for our mid-year conference/seminar in July. Out of more than 70 ETAs in Brazil, only 12 workshop proposals were approved for our midyear conference, so this was a huge feeling of accomplishment after all the work I have done this semester on teaching pronunciation! Obviously pronunciation is not the only thing I work with here — I and the other two ETAs in Belo Horizonte have also done presentations and activities about American sports, American music, American food, university life in the U.S., competitive debating, among other cool topics.
At this point there is less than a month left before the first semester ends and we head to Sao Paulo for the mid-year conference in July. Afterward I will have 2 weeks of vacation to see some new parts of Brazil, and then I get back to Belo Horizonte for my final 3.5 months at the start of August! I will keep you updated on the next chapter of my time here!