Name: Farrell Sheehan
Location of Study: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Program of Study: Pre-term Portuguese
A brief personal bio:
I will be a senior at Notre Dame in the fall. I will graduate with a bachelor of science in Preprofessional studies with minors in Theology and Portuguese. I am member of the Hesburgh-Yusko Scholars Program and I have spent much of my free time at Notre Dame conducting research around Health Disparities. Through research opportunities, I have been able to travel to England, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, and Spain.
Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:
This SLA grant is a very important step in my personal and intellectual development. I have taken 4 semesters of Portuguese classes, and I believe that I am at a great point in my study of the language to break out of my comfort zone and spend an extended period of time in Brazil. One of my motivations to study Portuguese is to spend more time in Brazil studying the problems of health disparity that affect that country. Brazil is a very large and diverse population where differences in health outcome are often attributed to different cultural practices or socioeconomic status. Furthermore, Brazil has one of the largest public health systems in the world. I believe that if we went to address the problems of health disparity in the United States it will be important for professionals in the healthcare field in Brazil and the United States to work together. Many similar health problems that plague countries with large and diverse populations are present in both places; therefore, I think it is important that dialogue between these two countries exists. In the future, I see myself as someone who can help facilitate this dialogue of the health disparity between the United States and Brazil.
What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:
I hope to spend my summer in Brazil, speaking as much Portuguese as possible and taking in as much of the Brazilian culture as I can. With these goals in mind, I will be taking an intensive Portuguese language course at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro. In addition to the over 80 hours in the classroom, I will participate in cultural events where we will travel around the city and learn more about the rich Brazilian history. However, I believe the most significant language learning will happen outside of the classroom. I will be living at a student residence in a neighborhood close to campus, and an essential part of this residence is the daily meals together. I hope to challenge myself everyday to speak as much as I can at these communal meals. In this way, I hope to make Brazilian friends so that I can spend my free time socializing with native speakers. I believe that there is no better way to learn a language and immerse oneself in a culture than by making friends with the native people around you. I hope that my class attendance, conversations at meals, and free time spent with friends will all come together to make for an amazing experience where I will gain a new confidence in my Portuguese language abilities.
My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:
- At the end of the summer, I will be able to communicate in Portuguese in all types of situations from professional conferences to dinner with friends.
- At the end of the summer, I will be able to better understand the complex nature of health disparity in Brazil and be able to communicate with professionals in the Brazilian healthcare system.
- At the end of the summer, I will be able to overcome my fears of commencing a conversation in another language.
- At the end of the summer, I will be able to read Brazilian newspapers and academic articles at a level where I can utilize these tools for my own research.
My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:
I plan to maximize my experience both in and outside of the classroom. Through my dedicated time at the university, I plan to do everything in Portuguese from taking my notes to conversing with the other students and professors. Furthermore, I hope to engage the community in a couple of different ways. Firstly, I plan to volunteer in a community education program of the university where I will help teach those from underserved populations in Rio. I also intend to visit a few hospitals and speak with people of the medical and public health community. In this way, I hope to observe some of the characteristics of health disparity both from the community and professional level. Finally, I want to make some new Brazilian friends and I plan to ask some acquaintances to come to dinner. This way, I hope that all parts of my day will be filled with Portuguese conversation. I believe that I am currently at a level of proficiency where I should be able to achieve all of these tasks in Portuguese and the more I leave my comfort zone then I know my language and cultural skills will improve.
Reflective Journal Entry 1:
I have now been in the wonderful city of Rio de Janeiro for one week. Everyday, I am overcome by the beauty of the city and the kindness of the people who are living here. I am taking a Intensive Portuguese Course at the Pontifical Catholic University. There are about 100 other students in the program ranging from college aged kids to middle aged business professionals. We meet each day for class from 8:30 to 1 pm with a 30 minute break. The classes have been great, and it’s been a lot of fun to have the opportunity to speak with many Brazilians on campus at PUC-RIO.
One of my favorite parts of the day has been taking the city bus to school. I am living in the neighborhood of Botafogo and as I walk the few blocks to the bus stop, I can’t help but take in the great smells of the neighborhood cafés and juice bars. A great quick breakfast here is ‘pão de quiejo’ which are warm cheese breads and a cup of fruit juice. One of the more difficult things to do is to decide which fruit you would like to try because most stores have over 50 different types of fruit, of which about 30 are completely new to me. The other day I tried the ‘caju’, which is a fruit juice that comes from the same plant where we get the cashew nut. It was delicious and refreshing.
After a quick breakfast, I catch the bus and listen to everyone discussing topics ranging from soccer, to beach plans for the afternoon, to the local gossip. Brazilians are very social people, and it’s a rare to sit on a quiet bus. Most everyone will be talking to each other about something. Another great fact about Brazil is the openness of people. It is not something strange for you to strike up a conversation with someone on the bus or metro. For example, there was a guy in his 20s with an electric guitar, and my friend and I began to talk to him about local music shops and guitar prices. We had a great conversation and he gave us the locations of a few great stores. People in Rio are always open to make new friends or just talk to you. For the past week, it has proven to be a wonderful place to practice a new language.
Reflective Journal Entry 2:
The people of Rio de Janeiro make the city an incredible city to learn a new language. At first, I was a bit worried that I would only be speaking Portuguese for the first half of the day during my classes at PUC, but I was completely wrong!! My afternoons have been filled with fun outings with new Brazilian friends. The other people my age at the University are very welcoming and as soon as you begin a conversation with someone you are bound to be invited to do something later.
Just the other day, a local engineering student invited me to come to the tennis club underneath the famous Sugar Loaf Mountain. I had an amazing time playing tennis with him and his other friends. I was able to meet students from all around Brazil, and it was great to hear all the different accents of the country. After the sun had set, I walked back to the apartment with my new friend and we talked in Portuguese for the next few hours. It was a great experience!
Reflective Journal Entry 3:
One of the amazing things about Rio is the fact that you have so many great options in terms of outdoor activities. You can go play soccer on the beach, go surfing, take a bike ride, or explore the mountains. This past weekend a group of friends invited me to go on a hike to one of the tallest mountains in the city. The plan was to climb the ‘Pico de Tijuca’ which is more than 3300 feet high.
We started our day by heading to a traditional bakery which are ubiquitous in this city. Nearly every corner in the city has a bakery where you can buy everything form a sandwich to a cake. At the bakery we got some food for the hike. The entrance to the forest is a famous area where many believers of the Afro-Brazilian religion ‘Candomble’ perform sacrifices of chickens in order to please the good spirits.
With our lunch in hand we entered the forest, which is a mix between a forest you might encounter in the Northeastern United States and the Amazonian Rainforest. We began our hike and we passed plenty of other ‘cariocas’ enjoying their Sunday out in the fresh air. The hike to the top was filled with good conversation about the different animals as well as the differences between university life in the USA and in Brazil. We even spotted two monkeys on the way up! The 3 hour hike was well worth the effort when we arrived to the beautiful view at the top of the mountain. At the peak, we ate our lunch overlooking the incredible downtown of Rio to one side as well as the famous beach on the other side.
Reflective Journal Entry 4:
My classes have been going along very well. The teachers here are experts at teaching Portuguese to foreigners. One aspect that I really enjoy is the fact that everything is explained in Portuguese. For example, if you don’t understand one word then they will explain that specific action or describe a certain thing using only Portuguese. I feel like this is a much more effective way to learn the language because you are leaving behind the awful habit translation.
Another great teaching technique is the professor’s use of media in the classroom. For example, we often listen to a famous Brazilian song in order to practice our listening skills as well as increase our personal bank of vocabulary. As the song is playing the professor gives us a sheet with the lyrics, but about 1/3 of the words are missing. As the song plays it is our job to fill in the blank spaces. It is fun exercise that increases our awareness of the Brazilian culture and helps with our language acquisition.
Reflective Journal Entry 5:
My last week in Rio was a thrilling time. We had our last few days of class at PUC-RIO, and the class concluded with a written exam and an oral exam.The oral exam was based on an incredible documentary that we watched called ‘the extraordinary trash’. The film follows an artist that uses recycled materials as his medium for art. The artist is a Brazilian and he meets with plenty people who work sorting the trash in the large dumps here in Rio de Janeiro. The oral exam consisted of 15 minutes of question and discussion points with regards to the film itself.
In the last few days in Rio my time with friends has been bittersweet. I have met some many amazing people. It has been a wonderful experience to spend extended periods of time with Brazilians, as well as many other foreign students from around the world. I have truly enjoyed passing time on the beach playing soccer or going on a hike up a mountain with these new friends. I can’t imagine a better place to immerse oneself in the Portuguese language than in the city of Rio de Janeiro.
Reflections on my language learning and intercultural gains and summer language abroad experience overall.
After I left Rio de Janeiro, I spent some time traveling to the state of Sao Paulo, Brazil. The first thing that I noticed when I hopped of the plane in the small city of Ribeirao Preto, was the difference in accent between the Paulistas and the Cariocas. The culture in Sao Paulo is a good deal different than what I have become accustomed to while living in Rio. For example, people here are much more serious with their work. One day I attened a meeting and nearly every person was on time. This would be a rare sight to come across in Rio, because most meetings start at least 15 minutes late.
The weather in Sao Paulo has been much warmer and much drier. The news for the past few days has been remarking about how many people are catching colds because of the extreme difference between the morning temperature and the afternoon temperature in the city. For example, when people leave their homes for work in the morning, it might be about 50 degrees but by the time the leave for their lunch break at 1 pm, the temperature could’ve rose up to 90 degrees. This discussion about the temperature difference has come up in many of the different conversations that I have had during my time in Sao Paulo.
Even though I loved my time in Rio, I have to admit that the food is much better in Sao Paulo. Everything from the meat to the pizza to the sandwiches seem to be of higher quality in Sao Paulo. I imagine that the food is better in this state because of the diversity of immigrants that have come to this region in the past 100 years. Sao Paulo is home to large communities of Italians, Portuguese, and Japanese and it is their cooking expertise that makes Sao Paulo a culinary capitol of Brazil.