One of the great things about travel is all of the interesting people you run into. I met a Fulbright student after a surf lesson here on the island who had already been in Florianópolis for some time. After exchanging the usual pleasantries about how cool the island is and getting tips on good beaches to visit and restaurants to try, I got to hear a little bit about the work she was doing here. As it turns out, part of what she had been doing was working with a group called Idiomas Sem Fronteiras or Languages Without Borders.
Languages Without Borders is an effort by the the university UFSC to provide classes and testing for students that would like to learn foreign languages. Particular interest is given to English as the lingua franca for business, science, and scholarship. Two American Fulbrighters here in Florianópolis work with the group to organize English speaking practice events for UFSC students and they invited some of us Americans to an event recently to serve as conversation partners.
The format of the event was well thought out. They had several rooms setup for the Brazilian students. In one room, they placed the American conversation partners and our job was to rotate through several Brazilian English learners and ask them questions to spark conversation. Here’s my sample list of questions:
While using the questions could be fun if the conversation stalled, I actually had a lot more fun speaking with the Brazilians about whatever might come up. The first Brazilian I spoke with had an awesome name, Thales Lavoratti, and an awesome Slayer t-shirt on. For those of you not into rock music, Slayer is an American heavy metal band who was most popular in the 80’s and 90’s. Thales studies mechanical engineering because of course he does, it’s the most heavy metal engineering discipline there is. We talked about rock music, he suggested some Brazilian rock bands I should check out called Raimundos and Velhas Virgens, we discussed how difficult engineering is, and he invited me out for beers with his friends later all before we had to switch to new conversation partners. Not a bad start.
My next partner was a Brazilian girl who sat down with a book bag and a pair of boxing gloves. My first question was, “wow, do you box?” To which she replied that no she didn’t, but she was going to Muay Thai class after the event. A quick aside to explain why this was so awesome for me. I spent a sizable amount of my life as a rock musician before going back to university in 2014 and I have trained in various martial arts, including Muay Thai kickboxing, since 2004. I had been looking for both local bands to check out and a Muay Thai gym to train at, so my first two conversation partners were huge wins. My new Brazilian friend recommended I check out her school Rilion Gracie Floripa which is not far from where I am living. I will have to report back on how that goes in a separate post.
My last three conversation partners were also very interesting. I spoke with another mechanical engineering student who specialized in acoustical frequency and resonance problems. He was going to be working with a company called Embarco helping to design refrigerator parts that run quieter. I spoke with a computer science and automation PhD student who though it was cool that I lived in Austin, TX because he had just been there attending a Design Automation Conference. Finally, I spoke with a student who wasn’t a Brazilian at all, but rather an Ecuadorian student who was attending UFSC because of the prominent engineering programs.
Another feature of the event was a separate room setup with pictures and various facts about the people of the United States that an average Brazilian might not know. Many of the images focused on American diversity. I remember one Brazilian woman speaking up that she was surprised to see such diversity of skin color in Americans. She had assumed, from our media output, that Americans were either “really white or really black”. Before the event, the Brazilians were asked to list their preconceptions for American culture before viewing the photos room and before speaking with the American conversation partners. Here was one delightful response:
Apparently we all look and dress like Madonna. 🙂 The Fulbrighters I met were awesome and setup a fantastic cultural exchange event. I have a lot of respect for the Fulbright program and my experience with this event was a testament to the quality of individual cultural ambassadors that the program is supporting. Overall I was extremely impressed with the Brazilian students. They were all very insightful, interested, and interesting. They are well versed in their areas of study and excited about their possibilities for the future. It was one of those events that refills your optimism and I was really happy to be a part.