Three Surry Community College students had the chace to brush up on their Portuguese and make memories during a 17-day study exchange trip to Brazil.
Sisters Ana Loeza Belmonte, 20, Liset Villicana, 21, and Mariela Villicana, 20, left their homes in Surry County on May 31 and joined students and staff from Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute at the airport in Charlotte.
Seventeen hours later, they were in Rio de Janeiro. SCC Vice President of Curriculum Dr. Jami Woods, and Portuguese instructor Dr. Loida Peterson joined them later in trip.
“Our students had a broad learning experience, using their language skills developed in Dr. Peterson’s class and interacting with people from a different cultural background,” Woods said. “In every encounter and experience, our Surry students distinguished themselves with their language abilities, their maturity and cultural sensitivity. They presented themselves extremely well throughout the duration of a demanding trip.”
The trip was a partnership between the community colleges and two Brazil-based university partners, Faculdade IMPACTA Technogia and UNIPAC.
President of SCC Dr. David Shockley said there is great educational value in these types of experiences.
“We hope to receive and send students every year in order to promote student preparedness for global markets and to increase multicultural awareness,” Shockley said.
“It was really a learning experience,” said Ana Loeza Belmonte. “Two semesters of Portuguese helped us, but in Brazil, we were immersed in the language and culture.”
Visiting the House of Hope, a facility for mentally and physically disabled and abused, was an emotionally charged experience for the students.
“It was really sad. We were crying in the first minute. They welcomed us, and they started singing for us,” Ana said. “They were really happy to see us because they never get visitors.”
One orphaned and abused 5-year-old girl followed along with the Americans and held Mariela’s hand the entire time.
“It was a really wonderful experience. It makes you realize how lucky you are if you have good health,” Liset said. “We don’t appreciate the things we have like we should. That was the most memorable experience.”
Mariela added, “Seeing them made me realize how lucky I am for my health and the things I have. I was crying tears the whole time. It meant so much to me.”
The students maintained a schedule that included waking up at 7 a.m. and going to bed at midnight or 1 a.m. Brazilian students often eat and socialize late at night with a normal suppertime of around 11 or midnight.
In a city called Ouro Preto, which means “Black Gold,” the students shopped for precious stones and gems and saw the dark side of humanity at a museum that was a former jail where slaves used to be housed underground.
Ouro Preto has 365 churches. A church they visited named Igreja São Francisco buried its priests in the floor.
They also visited botanical gardens and contemporary art museums in Inhotim and saw how the Brazilians lived in everyday life.
The Brazilians thought Liset was from the area, and so the natives spoke to her fluently in Portuguese. She had to tell them to slow down. Before the trip, Mariela had been listening to Gusttavo Lima, a popular Brazilian singer, which helped her Portuguese skills. These SCC students, who knew English as a second language, sometimes mixed Spanish, English and Portuguese to communicate with the Brazilian students who were excited to be learning English.
“The trip was physically, emotionally and mentally challenging,” Liset said. “There were surprises each day. The trip was really worth it. You get language acquisition, cultural knowledge and leadership skills. You have to talk in front of so many students and teachers that you can’t be shy.”
The students took a Portuguese class where they had to create a story with help from their Brazilian counterparts. Then the SCC students had to tell the story in Portuguese, which was an incredible challenge for them, they said. The teacher of the class had visited SCC last semester.
The students toured a lot of private and public schools, Timoteo’s chamber of commerce and met the Mayor of Ipatinga, which made the local paper in the city of 240,000. They also visited the steel plant Usiminas, which produces rolled steel and steel used in oil and natural gas drilling equipment. The women got an impromptu culinary lesson on how to make pizza Brazilian-style, which is always thin and eaten with a fork.
“The people were like family, so nice and welcoming,” Ana said. “The only time we felt homesick was when we were in São Paulo because it was so big.”
São Paulo is the largest city in Brazil and the seventh largest city in the world with 10.9 million residents. While in São Paulo, the students saw many people carrying fresh flowers on the underground subway as the country was celebrating Dia dos Namorados or the Brazilian Valentine’s Day on June 12.
The students watched soccer or “futebol,” as the Brazilians call it, and especially enjoyed visiting Minas Gerais where they spent the most time. The students visited the Christ the Redeemer Statue in Rio, which was a highlight of the trip for them. They also learned the Samba and practiced their new dance moves during their last night in Rio de Janeiro, which will be hosting the Soccer World Cup in 2014 and the Summer Olympic Games in 2016.
“We’ve been invited back and told we have a house in Brazil,” said Ana. “Everyone should take another language. If you get the opportunity to take a trip like this, take it. I was so tired, but I would never change anything about the experience.”
Liset added, “You make connections. It’s really amazing. I met teachers, engineers, lawyers and other professionals. It was a blast.”
Liset will major in Latin American Studies at UNC-Greensboro.
“I went to Brazil and made friends and connections. I learned so much,” Mariela said. She is now thinking about minoring in Portuguese when she transfers to Appalachian State University to study International Business.
Ana, Liset and Mariela graduated from SCC in 2013 with an associate’s degrees. They graduated from Surry Central High School in 2010. Ana wants to be in marketing and study International Business at UNC-Charlotte, a career path she selected based on the trip.
SCC offers Portuguese 111 and Portuguese 112 during the fall and spring semesters. The Brazilian Cultural Studies class is offered in the spring semester.
“SCC has been dedicated to developing students’ global competence for several years now and has enjoyed a great partnership with Caldwell on global initiatives,” Woods said. “The partnership and Dr. Peterson’s expertise and dedication were integral in making this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity a reality for our students.”
Peterson has taught at SCC for eight years and will continue to teach Portuguese along with teaching this fall at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She enjoys being in the classroom, but especially sees the value in foreign exchange trips.
“You can learn a lot from a textbook and a classroom setting, but when you get to experience a country first-hand, living amongst the natives, eating their food, enjoying their recreation and talking to them in their own language, then you are not just learning, but you are living the Portuguese language and Brazilian culture, which is something these students will never forget,” Peterson said. “You cannot teach these first-hand experiences and the emotional bond of meeting people from a different culture in their own country from a classroom. You have to experience it first-hand, and this trip allowed students to do just that.”
She said more students should learn Portuguese because Brazil is becoming a major player in BRIC, an economic group comprised of Brazil, Russia, India and China.
Read more about the trip at http://cccti-brazil-connection.blogspot.com. To learn more about SCC’s Portuguese classes, contact SCC at 386-8121.