What I need to know about Brazil, according to my students (3/3)

This is the second post in a three-part series about the presentations some of my students are giving me. I told them the presentations can be about anything as long as they’re in English. You can find the first installment here and the second installment here

Brazilian comics and everything in between — Ismael

After patiently waiting his turn (as his presentation was delayed for one reason or another week after week), Ismael presented about comics and graphic novels in Brazil. He opened talking about an strip called Monica’s Gang, which has garnered some international fame and also inspired television and manga spin-offs. This stoked a spirited conversation among my students, many of whom have strong thoughts about this beloved childhood title.

Ismael continued to cover some other popular Brazilian strips, and then he detailed some famous Brazilian cartoonists and listed his favorite (under-appreciated) Brazilian comics. I actually really like graphic novels, so I enjoyed seeing what Brazilian artists had to offer. I don’t know if I’ll have the chance to read them—given how hard graphic novels are to find, and how unwilling I am to spend money on things I will then have to worry about carrying home—but I will have the chance to read Monica’s Gang! Ismael gave me a couple back issues, and I’m super excited to use them to understand this cultural touchstone and practice my Portuguese.


Brazilian literature — Giorgia

Giorgia gave an overview of Brazilian literature for her presentation. I’d heard about Amado and Assis before—they’re some of Brazil’s most famous writers—but I was surprised to hear about Lispector, who was basically Brazil’s Virginia Woolf. Also, Giorgia talked about The Yellow Woodpecker Farm, which I actually recognized from my host mom telling me about children’s books she used to read to her children. It’s since been turned into a TV show that (of course) spawned some sort of meme casting a witch-alligator character as a gay icon.

Paulo Coelho was also in Giorgia’s presentation. I know Paul Coelho from banning his book The Alchemist from being suggested in the book club I started in college. Giorgia said she initially was skeptical too—which seemed to be the consensus among the students in this conversation—but after she actually read his books, she discovered she really enjoyed them.

(I suppose I should give The Alchemist a try someday, but I don’t think I’m wrong to be skeptical. Any book that preaches that the universe conspires to help you achieve what you want, and is then lauded by enormously wealthy public figures, seems a little too self-serving to me. Also: I think the fact we eventually achieve what we want is more of a testament to our ability to make meaning from our experiences, rather than some sort of universal conspiracy. Rhetoric!)


Brazilian political scenario — Cristiano

Over the course of two hours, Cristiano gave the most ambitious presentation I’d seen: an attempt to explain (and provide historical context for) Brazil’s contemporary political climate. I knew I was in for a true crash course when I saw the summary slide alone included a dozen different bullet points. I don’t have space to chronicle all of the history Cristiano recounted, but I do want to highlight a few takeaways.

First, Brazil started as an extractive colony. In other words, it was never a place foreigners sought to build up so much as a place foreigners sought to exploit. From the beginning, this puts Brazil at a disadvantage (compared to somewhere like the US) in terms of infrastructure and development.

Second, Brazil’s history is littered with constitutions. It seemed like some of my students didn’t fully realize this point, but Cristiano argued it’s vital to understanding the state of politics in Brazil. If there’s a precedent of scrapping the past and starting over, it’s difficult to commit to fixing the problems that one government/plan entails.

Third, Cristiano argued that Brazil is currently in the midst of a parliamentary coup. I know this is an interpretation other Brazilians would vehemently disagree with, and I also know that I don’t know enough about politics to gauge its merit, but I do think Cristiano made his point convincingly. And regardless how you interpret the situation, it sounds like one fact is certain: Brazilian politics are incredibly complicated and incredibly fraught.


Brazilian educational system — Bruna

To wrap up this series, Bruna presented about the Brazilian education system. Essentially, different levels of government finance different levels of education: elementary education is funded by the city, secondary education is funded by the state, and post-secondary education is funded by the nation. There are also private schools, and you can have state schools that also offer elementary education, but that’s the general pattern.

I was also surprised to learn how dismally some teachers are paid—in the lowest-paying cities, teachers are making maybe US$1.25-1.75 an hour. Of course, these cities are likely in extremely rural/poor areas, but if anything, I think the low salary underscores how economically disparate Brazil still is. (I work as a communication consultant for the UN food agency IFAD, which is still financing rural development projects in Brazil.)

What was also interesting was the qualification needed to be a teacher. To work with young kids, you just need to complete a program in high school—which is why so many of my young students are already teachers. Others are teaching in private language schools, for which formal credentials aren’t always necessary.

Given that my class is full of teachers, everyone was eager to share their experiences in schools both as students and as teachers. One topic of conversation was how teachers are looked down upon around Caxias—many of my students related stories of having to justify their interest in teaching to family members, or being told that they were too smart to teach. I think we have a similar attitude in the US, but at least in my experience, there’s a component of it that treats teaching as at least a somewhat noble pursuit.

Bruna’s presentation prompted a discussion that lasted until the end of class, and I think it was actually the most vibrant conversation we’ve had. So I thought it was a fitting way to end this series of presentations—eagerly and effortlessly sharing experiences,  practicing English, and fostering intercultural exchange.


2 thoughts on “What I need to know about Brazil, according to my students (3/3)

  1. Pingback: May/June updates from the classroom | In the city of gaúchos

  2. Pingback: Cultural programming in comic books: practicing Portuguese with ‘Turma da Mônica’ | In the city of gaúchos

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