Pavao, Nara

Name: Nara Pavao
Location of Study: Bogota, Colombia
Program of Study: Curso intensivo de Español para extranjeros (inmersión) (affiliated with the Universidad Sergio Arboleda)
Sponsor(s): Bob Berner


A brief personal bio:

I am a PhD student at the Political Science department. I specialize in the subfield of Comparative Politics and Latin America is my main area of interest. I am originally from Brazil, and did my undergraduate and masters there before moving to the U.S. As part of my PhD, I study political corruption in Latin America, trying to understand why do voters support corrupt politicians.

Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:

I am a third year PhD student in Comparative Politics, specializing in Latin America. In September, with the support of the Fulbright organization, I will begin conducting my fieldwork in Latin America, designing and executing surveys and experiments, conducting interviews with politicians and academics, and possibly doing archival research. I hope to develop my fluency so that I can speak, write, and read at the level necessary to conduct important academic work abroad. As a developing Latin American comparativist, I am preparing a dissertation proposal that will consider the role that corruption plays in Latin American politics. Colombia is a country that I have recently become quite interested in. I have been fascinated by how corruption has permeated the country’s political system while political parties have come close to becoming meaningless. My experiences in Colombia will give me valuable insights into the country’s culture and socio-political reality, contributing to the quality of my PhD dissertation and to my academic expertise in Latin American comparative politics.

What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:

As a PhD student developing a dissertation studying Corruption in Latin America, I will benefit, both professionally and academically, from my experiences in Colombia. I hope to develop my fluency so that I can speak, write, and read at the level necessary to conduct important academic work abroad. Furthermore, my experiences in Bogotá will provide me with valuable insights into the country’s culture and socio-political reality, which will contribute to the quality of my PhD dissertation and to my academic expertise in Latin American comparative politics. Finally, the opportunity to study and live in Colombia will offer me the chance to expand my professional network in the country.

My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:

1. At the end of the summer, I will be able to speak in Spanish with native speakers on academic and political topics such as corruption, Latin American politics, quality of democracy in Latin America and Elections in the region;
2. At the end of the summer, I will be able to read more sophisticated academic work written in Spanish;
3. At the end of the summer, I will be able to demonstrate significant knowledge about Colombian politics, history and political system;
4. At the end of the summer, I will be able to expand my academic network in Colombia.
5. At the end of the summer, I will be able to demonstrate more confidence in immersing in other cultures;

My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:

I have many academic contacts at two prestigious institutions based in Bogotá with strong traditions in Political Science. I have been in contact with the Dean of the school of social sciences at the Universidad Sergio Arboleda, where I intend to study Spanish. At the Universidad de Los Andes, I have contacts within the group of scholars that developed “Congresso Visible”, an initiative that monitors the performance of elected officials and their illicit behavior. I will meet with these scholars and strengthen my professional network of political scientists developing work on Latin America. I also plan to engage with the “Misión de Observación Electoral” (MOE), a prominent NGO dedicated to enhancing government transparency while fighting corruption. I have been in contact with MOE for over a year and have used their data to analyze corrupt politicians. I have also been in contact with Transparencia por Colombia, a local chapter of Transparency International, and will visit this institution and meet with their members in person. Both institutions offer valuable resources and information that can directly help me design and conduct my research.

Reflective Journal Entry 1: 

Bogotá is fascinating. I’m staying in La Candelária, a historic neighborhood in downtown Bogotá. The buildings in this area are were designed in the Spanish Colonial and Baroque style. Beautiful houses, several universities, libraries and museums make the neighborhood a very lively place to stay. My Spanish school is also located in La Candelária, only 3 minutes walking from my apartment. My first impressions of the school were very good: it’s located in a two-story historic building in the heart of this historic neighborhood. I enjoyed a warm reception from the school’s staff. The first week of classes was very stimulating. The class was small and the teacher was very committed to helping students get integrated into Colombian culture. During my first week in Bogotá I had the chance to go for long walks in the downtown. This weekend, I went to the Plaza de Mercado de Paloquemao, the largest and most important public market in Colombia. The market is a labyrinth of narrow pathways divided into general sections. There are different sections for fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, eggs, meat, fish, livestock, household supplies, dried goods, flowers etc. Of course, I walked around the market for hours, tried the local food, and bought goods to take home. The visit to the market gave me the opportunity to get to know the main ingredients that make up Colombia’s traditional cuisine, culture, and customs.

Reflective Journal Entry 2:

My second week in Bogotá was wonderful. I now feel more integrated into the city and comfortable speaking in Spanish. On the weekend, I went to Cartagena, a city with more than 1 million inhabitants located on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. The city’s main attraction is its historic downtown, which was founded in 1533; its fortification, a wall of enormous, sturdy stones, is till in tact. The city played a very important and historic role, as it served for many years as a storehouse for the treasures collected by the Spaniards during the conquest and colonization of Latin America. The inner walled town is breathtaking and is for that reason packed with tourists from all over the world. The neighborhoods outside of the wall are equally interesting and give a better idea of how locals live. I had the chance to visit Basurto, Cartagena’s main market, which turned out to be one of my most memorable experiences in Colombia. The visit to Basurto gave me the chance to step out of the touristy world that I had immersed myself in and actually see the real world and humanity of Colombia. It’s difficult to put into words what I experienced at Basurto. I can say that I came into contact with what I perceived to be Colombia’s gritty social reality. The food was absolutely delicious; the climate, hot and smoky with meals cooked over open flames outside of shanties. Definitely, an experience to remember.

Reflective Journal Entry 3:

It was difficult to come back from the Caribbean to Bogotá. The weather here is not very good: the sky is always cloudy, and it’s a bit cold. My Spanish classes this week were particularly good, probably because they were focused on Colombia’s recent history and culture. I had the chance to learn more about the social problems that have afflicted the country in the past decades. Although the violence in the country has decreased considerably, it is still a sensitive topic. Guerrillas, paramilitaries, narcotics traffickers, violence, and corruption were a central part of the lives of Colombian citizens for many years. While in the past the violence was dictated by major drug Cartels (the most important of them was the Medellín Cartel led by Pablo Escobar), now these organizations were fragmented into multiple and smaller trafficking organizations. Finally, in the last couple of days visited the NGO Misión de Observación Electoral (MOE), a prominent NGO dedicated to enhancing government transparency while fighting corruption. The work this NGO develops in Colombia is of great importance to the research I conduct as a PhD student. I had access to MOE’s database of corrupt politicians (which I plan to use in my dissertation research) and participated in a meeting regarding the identification of parapolíticos and other politicians involved in illicit affairs. These visits and meetings were very helpful and have given me new insights into the research I am currently developing surrounding corruption in Latin America. The members of MOE were very welcoming and already invited me to visit the institution again next week.

Reflective Journal Entry 4:

This past week in Colombia was very exciting. Besides going to my Spanish classes, I also participated in many extra-curricular activities offered by the school (as part of the immersion context of the program). I went to a guided tour of the historic district of Bogotá and participated in a Salsa class. These activities have very nicely complemented the Spanish classes; they enhanced my cultural understanding of Colombia and improved my communicative competence. At the end of this week, I visited Universidad Sergio Arboleda, one of the most prestigious educational institutions in Colombia. I met with one professor and a graduate student who are involved in the initiative “Congresso Visible,” which monitors the performance of elected officials and their illicit behavior. The visit to Sergio Arboleda and the meeting with two of its members helped me to know more about an initiative that is closely related to my dissertation research and strengthen my professional network of political scientists developing work on Latin America. These scholars provided me with information and resources that will be of help in planning and executing my research in the region. Over the weekend, I traveled to Cali, one of the most important cities in Colombia. I stayed at the house of a Colombian friend from Notre Dame (who is also in the Political Science PhD program). Interacting with his Colombian family was very nice and gave me the chance to learn more about the culture and customs of the country. Traveling with my friend gave me a unique perspective of Colombia: we enjoyed the region’s wonderful weather, did short trips to the coffee region, and went to a very traditional Salsa show. With no doubt, my trip to Cali was one of the highlights of my stay in Colombia.

Reflective Journal Entry 5:

In my last days in Bogotá I decided to say goodbye to my favorite places and foods that marked my positive experience in the country. Last Sunday I did the traditional Septimazo, a bike ride up and down 7th Street, the city’s main avenue. The street, which is closed for families to stroll down or for people to ride their bikes, led me to a very nice residential area in the south part of the city. There, I stopped at Andres de la Plaza, a very famous restaurant that looks like a food court and has a very nice sample of absolutely all the different types of Colombian foods. I tried the famous “Lulada”, a type of juice with pieces of Lulo, a native fruit of Colombia, and Calentao, a traditional Colombian breakfast made up of leftovers from the night before (with rice, beans and meat). On my way back, I stopped by the Mercado de Pulgas de la 26, a very interesting flea market where I could find all the nice products I wanted to take home with me. In my last few days in Colombia, I had some final meetings with political scientists from the Universidad de Los Andes. These meetings helped establish the connections I will need to develop my future research in Colombia. The three professors I talked to were very welcoming and seemed interested in helping me in the near future. The opportunity to study Spanish in Colombia helped me to develop my fluency. After the past few weeks, I feel I am able to speak, write, and read at the level necessary to conduct important academic work in Latin America. Furthermore, the opportunity to live in Colombia enhanced my interest in the social and political aspects of the country.

Postcard(s) from Abroad:

Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:

My language learning and acculturation experience in Colombia was remarkably positive. My Spanish improved considerably; after studying in Colombia, I feel that I can communicate my thoughts in a more eloquent and sophisticated manner and with far greater fluency. This is evident in the conversations that I have with my Spanish-speaking colleagues. The experience of studying Spanish in Colombia showed that the immersion strategy of language learning represents not only a unique way to master another language but also to understand, in a fun and stimulating way, the broad contexts in which the language is spoken. Furthermore, learning Spanish in Colombia, interacting with Colombians, dealing with the daily challenges of living in a foreign country made me more confident with the Spanish language. I met all my goals for language learning.

Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:

The experience of learning Spanish in Colombia provided me with important insights into Colombian culture, politics, and history. These insights were valuable both in terms of my professional career and my personal experiences. The time I spent in Colombia allowed me to gain an insider’s view of a society that has been plagued by violence and economic instability, as well as social and political conflicts. This experience has helped me to better understand both the origins of these problems and, most importantly, their broad societal consequences.

I recommend that students who are applying for an SLA Grant choose to study in a country that appeals to and nurses both their professional and cultural interests. Furthermore, students should balance new challenges with safety: while it is definitely important to study language in a country that they anticipate will be comfortable to live in, it is equally important to take this opportunity as a way to challenge themselves, stepping out of their comfort zone.

How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future:

The progress I made while living in Colombia has motivated me to further practice Spanish and to incorporate it even more into my life. Since I completed the program, I have been reading more (both academic texts and romances) and speaking more with friends in Spanish. The language is very helpful for my academic career, since my area of expertise is Comparative Politics, with a regional focus on Latin America. As a native Portuguese speaker, my ability to speak in Spanish directly enhances my professional qualification as a Latin Americanist. Finally, the experience of living in Colombia enhanced my academic interest for the country, as well as my passion for the political, social, and cultural aspects for the region. The professional connections I made with academics in Colombia will have generated concrete possibilities for professional collaboration in the near future.