Welcome back! Last time, Analis Ibarra ‘16 and Ashley Cervantes ‘16 talked about Project Favela – what it is, what they did and how the local life in Brazil was like. You may read the article here [link]. This time, we will focus on the lessons they learned, the challenges they faced and the biggest takeaways Ashley and Analis got from Project Favela.
Chau Nguyen (CN): What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned from the trip?
Analis Ibarra (AI): For me, the most valuable lesson is sort of related to education and teaching. When you teach a class, it’s always going to be trials and errors and you can plan out an entire lesson for that day, but if the kids don’t like it or they are not interested, then you are not going to continue – you’ll have to try and do something else. And I think I really enjoyed having the opportunities to sort of fail at my lesson plans and then had to think of something off the top of my head, because that’s what they loved. Like, if they were falling asleep when we were trying to teach them numbers in English, then we would switch to something like dancing and they loved it. I feel like things like that (since it was not a traditional school and it was like an after-school program type of style) worked really well because we got them excited to be there and that’s what most important. Teaching to me is too structured, especially here in the U.S. I think that’s why I really liked being there because I had the freedom to do whatever I wanted to do.
Ashley Cervantes (AC): Scott – the director – literally told us “Do whatever you think will get these kids excited to learn,” and that was their focus, not necessary like “Okay, this is the lesson plan, you are going to do it like this.” It’s mostly about getting kids excited to learn things and that’s what I really like about the program. Like Analis said, because we are both education majors, so in terms of something valuable I learned was taking the entire child into consideration. So, on Monday, because Sunday was like the party day in Brazil, the kids will come and be really tired and it’s something out of their control because even if their families are not necessarily partying, the noises are still there.
AI: Oh, the music is so loud Sunday nights!
CN: So they partied every Sunday?
AI: Yes. And it’s the loudest party night. I remember when I first got there I couldn’t even sleep on Sundays because of how loud it was. I had to get used to it but it’s so loud.
CN: So you adjusted to the children?
AC: Yes, we try to understand why students are acting a certain way. I feel like some of the older volunteers might have not taken the time to look at students individually. But I guess for us being education majors, I really try to. Like if a student was doing something they shouldn’t do, I would take them out and just talk about why they did it, just kind of learning to take into account things that are happening in the student’s life that affect how they are acting in the classroom. I feel like that was a really important lesson. So on Mondays I’m not going to be like “Oh you, get up, why are you sleeping, this is class.” We would be more patient with them.
CN: Throughout the trip, what are some of the biggest challenges you faced?
AI: I think at first, something that was challenging for me was getting used to the difference in culture there. The first day we got in, the director of the program took us on a tour, took us to get food and he just left us there, saying “I want you guys to explore and get back home by yourself because you guys have to get used to walk around on your own.” So he just left us at this restaurant. And Brazilians are very personal. In the US, if you are sitting at a table, no one is going to come and sit with us – it’s “our” table. But in Brazil, if there’s an empty seat, someone will fill it and someone will talk to you. So our first day there, we were sitting at a table eating and these people were just sitting with us, and they asked us about our families. This lady showed me pictures of her mom and her son on Facebook. And like it’s so cool because I was just not used to it. You are sitting at a restaurant, and you hear someone’s life stories, and that’s just how it is.
AC: I feel like (and this might just been in Rio) personal relationships with people are one of the top priorities, whereas here in the United States work takes our top priority. Sometimes we ignore even the people we live with because we just don’t have time. In Brazil, I feel like making time for your friends, eating dinner together, little things like that are at the center of their culture. I thought that was just beautiful because it’s very refreshing, especially coming back I was like “Oh, how come nobody sits with me at dinner?”
And here in the US, no one is going to walk past you and say hi and ask you all these questions… I don’t know, like no one does that here. As for what I find most challenging – even though we studied Portuguese for three years, still, understanding the regional dialect was very hard. When we first got there, I had no idea what they were saying. I understood maybe every other word. I feel like the difference between studying abroad is that you are usually there with a group of people who speak the same language, and you usually do the programs with the school. In this case, we are basically placed into a new community that spoke a different language and had different cultural values, different slangs and terms. We were there and we were like: “What are they saying?” This forced us to get more involved with the community, be more “out there” and practice the language and listening to what people said. Definitely, the language barrier was hard at first but even just being there for a month improved our Portuguese so much. We got there on a Thursday, next Monday we began to look at classes. Tuesday we were teaching on our own. The first day was honestly really hard – the kids literally told us we were boring and that they liked the other teachers better. But after being there for a month we love these kids. I was able to talk to them and they were able to talk to me. They really liked us.
AI: They were really sad that we left.
AC: Yeah, just the progression of where we started and where we ended was really nice. The start was obviously pretty rocky but we learned a lot.
CN: How has the program changed you? Did you get new perspectives and did it strengthen your commitment to the Education major?
AI: I think so. I really want to go back and work for the program or be a volunteer coordinator and help them out. I think that would be awesome. And I think for me, being a part of Project Favela really showed me that I’m not meant to be a traditional teacher. Teaching here is too structured and when you are in a structured environment and you are trying to teach all these things at this specific time by these specific ways, it doesn’t really work. And if it does not work, you have to try something different and that’s okay.
AC: Learning that that is okay was one of the biggest takeaways I get from the trip. It really taught me the importance of trial and errors and that failing is okay because that means you could only get better. Our first day teaching, I’m pretty sure we messed up in every single class. And it was really hard and I even wondered if we were meant to be there. But then one day, we had a breakthrough – we had this lesson planned and the kids were really into it – and I felt like I actually made a difference. The trip made me think about what kind of teacher I would like to be and like Analis said, being in a project that gave you so much autonomy as to like what and how you wanted to teach was very helpful. In education classes we go to service learning and sit in people’s classes. Versus having your own class here, tried and failed and tried and failed more and then finally a breakthrough – that was really an important lesson to learn. Especially like if I do decide to go on teaching, I would have some kind of idea of how I want to go about it.
CN: Just out of curiosity, what was your breakthrough lesson about?
AI: We were teaching them numbers in English. We had the numbers all messed up and made them cut the numbers and put them in order.
AC: And as they put the numbers in order, they had to recite the numbers in English. This was for our 5-year-old class and we always had to do something where they physically did something, otherwise they got bored. In that lesson they were gluing the numbers, they were coloring them and practicing how to say it, and so it was a success.
AI: I remember the first day we got there, they wouldn’t even let us talk. They were screaming, they wouldn’t raise their hands, they wouldn’t listen. Because that’s not how they learn, so we have to adjust ourselves based on how they learn.
AC: It was hard but they were really affectionate and by the end it felt like they were our kids.
AI: Yea, by the end of the month there was this student whom I had so much troubles with because he could not stay seated – he would just get up and yell and move around all the time grabbing things. But by the end of the month he was calling me sister and it was just the cutest thing. I loved it.
CN: If you need to recommend this trip to your friends, how will you describe it?
AI: The greatest experience of my life. It was amazing.
AC: I feel like it was a lot of hard work , especially during the week. It was like having a real job because we were working from 9am to 9pm and sometimes we would be really tired. But it was a very rewarding experience.
AI: You are volunteering your time and you know that you were helping the community in such a good way.
AC: And you were actually appreciated.
CN: Do you plan to come back to Brazil or do a similar program after this experience?
AI: I would love to. After I graduate, if I can save up some money and pay up my student loans I would def go back.
AC: And my long term goal was eventually to teach in Brazil – teach English in Brazil. English and German are two of the biggest growing languages, esp in terms of business. I feel that right now I’m not ready to teach English as a second language because there are so many grammatical things that you need to know, but long term I would love to live and teach in Brazil for at least a couple of years, get to know more abt the comm, abt the sch structure there. Part of the reason why Scott founded the Favela program the inequality there btw the Favela vs the city. Education was not the same – you are not forced to go to school like you are here in the States. A lot of the time students would just not have the money or time to go to school. So I would definitely want to go and study the way that the school structure is set up in Brazil.
CN: Thank you guys so much for your insights!