Better Late Than Never: Semester 2

So, first of all, hello! I know it’s been a while but now that the semester has actually ended, I wanted to post some belated posts on this blog before I leave Brazil. Better late than never?

My second semester of being an ETA went by like a batch of freshly baked pão de queijo- gone in the blink of an eye! But, one of the nice things about coming back for the second semester of our teaching and cultural activities was that I finally felt like I knew what I was doing. While the first semester was a lot of figuring out our key contacts at the university, the different processes and shortcuts we could use to organize events, and a lot of trial and error for pretty much everything, this second semester definitely felt more comfortable. And I felt like I could be more creative.

Hali and I ambitiously started the semester off by racing in a 5k after a month of traveling… and it happened to be UP THE BIGGEST HILL IN THE CITY. I thought I wasn’t gonna make it, but by some miracle I did! And Hali even won some bread (FIRST PLACE BABY!)

So, for our first big event to start up the semester, we had a Murder Mystery party. There were about 30 students participating, and everyone was assigned a character as they arrived. Then, in character and speaking English of course, they had to work together to solve the mystery. I was amazed at everyone’s acting abilities and just how much fun we had together. Acting turned out to be a great way to engage in English because I think it gives people a safer outlet to practice speaking in a foreign language. It’s not just João speaking English, it’s Felix Fontano, the speak-easy club owner searching for clues.  The event itself was a LOT of preparation work, but it turned out to really be worth it.

Later on in the semester, we organized an English immersion day. This was an event that some other ETAs in Brazil came up with, and we loved the idea so much we tried it out at UFLA. It was open to the entire community, and participants spent 5 hours straight speaking and interacting in English. Some of my ETA friends came from a city nearby and helped us give mini-classes. I taught a class on Nightlife in the US. Yes, the Stanky Leg was a vital part of that lesson.

Finally, we ended the semester with our Halloween Party. I’m not kidding, I think I celebrated Halloween for seven straight days this year. Hali and I were invited to three different schools to talk about Halloween and give our perspectives on the holiday- so you bet there were MANY costume changes as well. For our own event at the university, we threw a little party in the student center on campus. We brought traditional US games, like bobbing for apples and pin the tail on the cat, and of course had a costume competition. One thing I learned was that here in Brazil, dressing up for Halloween usually involves looking SPOOKY. That means lots of witches, zombies, vampires, etc., but not as many punny costumes like we usually have in the US.  This event was actually our most well attended event, and I loved that families and kids came, in addition to students and local English teachers.

And of course, sprinkled throughout the semester were all the other smaller activities we planned. I’m thankful to our students who had the patience and the spirit to try out everything- even when it didn’t always go as planned. This job let me be as creative as I wanted, something I really appreciate and hope to continue.

Stay tuned for some more posts coming up- beijos,


It’s wintertime in Brazil! (Just no one knows it?)

These past few months I’ve been asking a lot of friends when winter will be here. No one really had a definite answer, just a few vague responses that it would be coming soon. Now that we’ve had a few below 60 degree F nights, I feel like winter is finally here! But thanks to one conversation with another friend, I finally realized why I wasn’t getting any concrete answers about the start and end to this cold season.

“Seasons aren’t really important here,” she told me. “You always say, ‘I spent a summer doing this’ or ‘Last winter I went here.’ Here in Minas Gerais, we don’t have such a tight idea of seasons. Some days- a lot of days- it’s hot and some days it’s cold. And that’s just how it is.”

Cold nights in Brazil call for jean jackets.

Growing up in Chicago, I’m used to the four crazy different seasons that are easily distinguishable. But here in Minas Gerais, it doesn’t seem like “seasons” is the most relevant way to measure time or where we are in the year. Which was so weird when I first started thinking about it- I structure and categorize so much of my life by what season it is.

In the summer I love going to free events in the park. I imagine nights sitting on my parents’ porch, feeling free, relaxed, and sleepy in the summer heat. When I think of January in Chicago, I feel tired. I know the sun goes down quickly and the early below-zero mornings are horrible. My wet hair always freezes when I step outside.

All this time I’ve been worried that I was thinking we were in the “wrong” season here. Like what if it’s actually been WINTER for a long time and I haven’t even noticed because the weather hasn’t changed at all? But then that thought lead me to the question- what even is a season then, anyway? On a cold day here, I can drink hot chocolate at night and know that the next day will be a hot one, and I’ll be sweating as usual while I walk to UFLA. It’s a day-by-day approach, just different from what I’m used to.  

All this existentialism to say: it has been a good semester. I’ve been learning and growing and meeting people and trying new things and reconsidering some of the ways I naturally tend to perceive the world.  We ended things at the university with a Fourth of July party- 4th of July 4 U. Very hip, people.  We taught the students who came “Cotton Eye Joe”, “Cha-Cha Slide”,and “Cupid Shuffle.” I really felt like I was at a wedding or something. But it was the perfect way to celebrate with our friends- we also had a round of “Quadrilha,” which is like the Brazilian version of square dancing. I’m thankful for the opportunities that I’ve had to learn just as much as the opportunities I’ve had to share and teach. And I can’t wait for more next semester!

For the next couple of weeks, I’ll be out and about around Brazil. We have a mid-year professional development conference in Rio de Janeiro, and after that my dad will come meet me in Rio! It’s his first time out of the country in practically forever- so I’m excited to see him. Then I’ll head to the northeast part of Brazil, to a city called Fortaleza. And go to the beach. A lot. I’ll return in August to start the next semester off here at UFLA.

Another fun way I ended the semester: the carnival came to town!

So until then!




Well, JUNE is almost over! And there’s a lot happening here.

Brazil has this big festival that happens loosely during the month of June, called, Festa Junina. It’s kind of like a harvest festival, from what I understand, but also has a religious origin. People eat a lot food that has to do with the harvest, for example corn, as June coincides with Brazil’s autumn/winter. There are traditional dances, like the quadrilha and forro, and lots of bonfires. People wear straw hats and flannel shirts.

An INTENSE bonfire from a friend’s town!

Probably the best part of June so far was this past weekend when I went camping in a state park called Ibitipoca. There were caves, trails, waterfalls, and lots of crazy views. The only weird thing was that the park only accepted 600 people each day. And because we went to the park on a holiday weekend, we had to get there at 6:30AM, BEFORE the park opened, to wait in line so we could be one of the 600. Arriving at 6:30AM we were some of the last 60 people to be allowed into the park! The wait was totally worth it, especially when we watched all the clouds roll away at the top of the peak we hiked up. Then, at night, we squished four people into a two-person tent and ate as many marshmallows as would FIT in our bodies.

In addition to going to my first Festa Junina and my first Brazilian camping trip, I got to visit the doctor for the first time in Brazil this month! After two days of a weird fever and pain in my throat, I guessed that I probably had strep throat and needed to go see the doctor. Which is not fun in the U.S., and then adding the language barrier…Yeah. But thankfully, my sweet roommate showed me the health clinic on my university’s campus, which is free to students and faculty. So I went and made an appointment for the same day, and they were able to quickly diagnose me and write a prescription for antibiotics. And then I went to the pharmacy, and literally in less than 24 hours felt SO much better. I was like, wait, it’s this easy? and also free? I’m sure there are many other experiences with healthcare here in Brazil, but I am grateful that UFLA has this service available and how quickly I was able to start feeling better.

Looking forward to next month, the semester ends. I honestly honestly cannot believe that. I am so grateful that I will be back at UFLA for a second semester. This first semester has been a lot of adjusting to the language, to my job, to my new home. Now that everything is feeling a little comfier and I’ve gotten my footing, I’m really excited about some projects I’d like to start next semester. And I’d also like to publicly thank EVERYONE who had a conversation in Portuguese with me at some point during the last four months because A) I know that was PAINFUL for you and B)it has made me such a better speaker!

From a weekend trip to Belo Horizonte

Até mais,


A Day at the Fazenda

On May 1st, Brazil celebrates Labor Day! So two weeks ago, I got a day off. It was weirdly enough a Wednesday, which made me realize how much U.S. tends to move our holidays to either end of the weekend. So while we couldn’t go somewhere for a long weekend, my good and first friend here in Lavras, Rosie, invited us for the day to her family’s farm (the fazenda)!

Hali and I met Rosie one day at the pool, during our first weekend in Lavras. She was playing with these two kids, and trying to balance them on a floating swan, of course, and asked us for help. Hali and I had no idea what she was saying, so we reverted to the good old “stand there and nervously laugh” until she left. But, Rosie was not deterred by our stand-offish behavior! She actually came back again to us, but this time speaking in English, “Are you girls from here?” We all laughed and exchanged Whatsapp numbers, and have been going on fun adventures ever since.

So that morning, Hali, another friend of Rosie, Rosie’s dog Cyndi, Rosie, and I piled into her car and set off for the fazenda. We arrived an hour and a half later, and trooped down a short path to meet the rest of Rosie’s family. The smell of sizzling pork and smoke greeted us first, with dogs going crazy and huge slabs of meet everywhere. “They killed the pig today!” Rosie explained. There was a massive fire, and a group of five women were chopping the rest of the meat into smaller bits to make pork rind, which we tried right out of the pan. Nice and salty, “If you find a hair in it, don’t worry! It’s from the pig”…thanks Rosie!

lil piggy
Hali, Aline, Rosie & Me

During that day, Rosie made all of my city-girl meets country dreams come true. Hali and I milked cows for the first time, we played with the millions of dogs that lived on the farm, took pictures with cute baby calves, and even rounded up horses and took them for a ride.

They actually had all these machines to milk the cows but kindly let us try by hand

To ride the horses, we had to bring them in and saddle them up first. Rosie told us which gates to open for her, and then went off in search of the horse with a bridle in hand. We watched Rosie creep up to the horse to throw the bridle over it, just to be intercepted every time by these three crazy dogs running to join in and scaring the horse off. I’m sure Rosie was tired, but Hali and I could not STOP laughing at the whole scene. Finally, with some help from a couple other people, we managed to round up the horses and took them for a ride at sunset. The sky was periwinkle with huge puffy clouds and we rode off into the horizon, just like in the movies.

um yeah I was very scared lololol maybe not like the movies

We ended the day with coffee and pão de queijo (Brazilian cheese bread) and then packed up to head home. I’m touched by the intimacy of being welcomed into someone’s home- it is always a privilege. Thank you to everyone in Lavras who has invited me in and made me feel so connected here! And Rosie, thanks for not giving up on us that day at the pool!



Connected (ish?)

Today, I’ve spent at least seven hours in the kitchen.

I don’t usually like to cook, because inevitably, I always freak out that I’m boiling water wrong and then I manage to cut myself at some point with a butter knife, etc. However, today I made pancakes with friends, fried up some Uruguayan-style milanesas, and just baked so many chocolate chip cookies. It’s funny how much small things like food can really make me feel at home.

One of my goals for the month of April was to try and get more involved in my community here in Lavras. Here are some new things I tried out while attempting that goal:

  • YOGA: I went to a free yoga class in this beautiful building on campus. The building is actually the university chapel, and is made out of bamboo and glass. The roof that hangs over the walls, so you get all this beautiful breeze in and out. The yoga class was Shivam yoga, which I found out is not really my thing. It was a lot of holding interesting poses and breathing, but I’m still glad I went. One of my challenges in going back has been that it’s at the university, which is at the top of this HUGE HILL, and the classes are at 8am. I’ve been trying to figure out if I can take the public bus there, but it would help if I actually committed to a day and went. Until then, I will keep busting out Youtube yoga videos in my living room.
  • CHURCH: Yes, Lavras was surprisingly strongly influenced by Presbyterian missionaries in its formation. And because I went to a Presbyterian church growing up, I thought it would be cool to check it out. So, one of my friends accompanied me to the church service, which was actually at night. I think night church is pretty common here, and I’m guessing it could be due to the insane heat that strikes the rest of the day. Everyone was really friendly, and it was a surprisingly good opportunity to practice Portuguese! There was a lot of “call and response”, so I got to practice my pronunciation by copying all the people around me.
  • CEDET: Hali and I started volunteering at CEDET, which is an NGO that works with students from the public schools. From what I understand, they offer many educational enrichment opportunities for students, free of cost. So once a week, Hali and I help lead an English class for middle school aged students. They have the BEST questions, always, like: How do Americans throw away their trash? and other bizarre queries. It’s been fun working with kids again!
  • PANCAKES: This weekend, I hosted a pancake breakfast at my house. Were there unlimited pancakes, fluffy, piping hot off the pan, and drenched in syrup? Well, not exactly. Our first batch turned out more like crepes, and there are no maple trees in Brazil. But it was still a lot of fun, even if it took us hours to make enough pancakes with my one modest-sized fry pan. Everyone who came brought a different condiment to eat with the pancakes, and I got to try this jam made from special Brazilian grapes called jaboticaba. Then we ended it with some board games.
Plot twist: We had 4 forks for 8 people
“Just like in Friends!”

So, was my goal accomplished?

I mean, it’s really going to be a work-in-progress goal the whole time I’m here, I guess. Maybe I should call it a vision instead? And then add it to my dream board? Either way, I’m encouraged by my tiny baby steps and am looking forward to developing them as I go. If anyone has tips for getting involved in new communities, please comment below! I’d love to hear your thoughts.

(I also feel like I should admit that in the time I’ve been writing this post, the sun has been beating down through my entire apartment and I’ve been moving from one corner to the other, sweating, squinting, and praying for breeze. And they say it’s autumn here! Looking forward to winter!)

Anyways, until next time gente!




Time is flying.

To be honest, it’s a little bit daunting how much time has passed and still how much I want to learn! Hali and I started our Portuguese class at the university two weeks ago, but I think practicing Portuguese with my roommate and my friends has been the best way I’ve been learning so far. Last week I was speaking Portuguese with someone, and they looked at me and said, “Oh, I love Spanish!” Oops- clearly I still have a ways to go!

The past couple of weeks we have been visiting a lot of English classes to introduce ourselves to the students. Hali and I made a presentation about our lives that we show them, and then there is always time set aside for questions. We’ve gotten some pretty funny questions- Like what American parties are like? Do you think Brazilians are always naked? And, did you and Hali coordinate your haircuts before you came because Brazil is so hot? All of the questions about our experiences with cultural shock have made me reflect on what exactly I’ve been surprised by so far in Brazil. The thought that keeps coming to mind is that I actually feel less culturally shocked than I was expecting.

This lack of “shock” is due to millions of factors, such as the area of Brazil that I am in, my previous experiences living abroad, and the support system I arrived here with (my co-ETAs, Fulbright, etc).

But I still keep trying to figure out why Brazil feels more familiar than other countries I have been to before. And I think one big factor is the size of Brazil. Its YUGE. There is a lot to see here people! And because of that, “Brazilian culture” sometimes feels impossible to define, because it varies so much from region to region, just like in the U.S.

For example, when I first arrived in Brazil, I was so confused on how to greet people. After spending a decent amount of time in other countries in South America, I was pretty much banking the typical greeting being a kiss on the cheek, as I had done before. However, in Lavras, I kept meeting people and going to hug and kiss them on the cheek, only to be THE SOLE KISS-GIVER. And do you know how many times I had to do that before I learned? Many, many, times. Because every once in a while, the other person would also kiss me on the cheek! So I finally broke down and asked our host manager professor what was the proper greeting etiquette. She told me that even she wasn’t always sure! A good rule of thumb is that a hug is almost always fine, but a kiss on the cheek really depends on the context.

Later, when I was watching a Brazilian soap opera called A Coisa Mais Linda, I saw the protagonist get confused on how many kisses on the cheek to give. She was from Sao Paolo, where they just do one kiss on the right cheek, and was visiting a friend in Rio de Janeiro, where they give a kiss on both cheeks. She had to do an awkward double back to finish greeting her friend. This exchange also made me feel a little bit better about all the people I’ve accidentally kissed on the cheek/air.

And while I was busy getting all hot and bothered about this “very weird Brazilian thing,” I suddenly started thinking about all the doubts I experience when meeting people for the first time in the U.S. Should I act professional and give them a handshake? Is just a nice one-handed wave okay? Or should I just go for it and hug them, if I kind of know who they are? I always have to check out the social context before I decide how to greet the people I’m meeting. And in Brazil, it’s just the same way. The only real difference is that I don’t quite have all the cultural cues down yet.

So moral of the story is that I can put myself into an awkward situation no matter what country I am in! But really, I am grateful to be in a community that is okay with me making mistakes, and I’m grateful to be in a community that feels homey. I am still meeting many new people, and am looking for ways to connect with Lavras, beyond just the university. I’ll keep you all posted!

Some pictures from a weekend trip to Rio de Janeiro!

chau for now!


A few questions

What exactly do I do here?

This is a question I have been asking of myself this past month, and I am sure many of my friends and family have been wondering that as well! So I’m letting you all know what I have figured out so far. Hali and I, as English Teaching Assistants (ETAs), have been organizing extra English activities for the students at UFLA. We have Conversation Clubs twice a week, office hours, and organize two cultural presentations a month. Last week, we gave a presentation about St. Patrick’s Day that was so much fun.

Now that classes have started, we have also been going to various English classes, introducing ourselves, and presenting about our university, work, and international experiences. Students have been so KIND to us and so engaged. In the future, we will continue going to these classes and assisting with language or cultural projects as the professors we work with see fit. It’s usually about 20-25 hours of work a week. I’m excited to see the other projects we get involved with and develop as our time goes on here.

Cheesin’ in GREEN for St. Patrick’s Day

It’s my class and I’ll cry if I want to?

Tears.  They get some bad juju, especially in the world of “academia”.

Here in Brazil, it has been refreshing to see passion and emotion used for good in an academic setting. I have been in a few meetings with professors and seen them moved to tears. I hope that one day I will be lucky enough to have a profession that I am so passionate about. I think anytime you have a position of power, a naked show of vulnerability can positively impact others by creating an open and honest space.

As for the occasions in which I’ve seen students cry in the classroom, I am always impressed with their connection to their emotions, and their courage to embrace that connection. As a university student, you are asked to engage in critical thinking, to empathize, to branch out of your comfortable sphere of functioning, and work as hard as you possibly can. Emotion seems like a normal part of this processing of information and learning experience.

At the beginning of my time in Brazil, I was talking to another ETA who told me she wasn’t sure that she believed in having a completely separate work and personal life. She said that she wanted to have a job she was passionate about and that she loved, so wouldn’t that innately bring her “personal life” into it?

And I think that is what get’s asked of most university students. For four years, five years, maybe even eight, that they combine almost every aspect of their life and devote it to their studies. At one of the graduate student meetings I attended, they were informed that weekends were no longer for personal time. Every bit of free time they would have for the next two years should be and would need to be devoted to their studies and their projects.

So it seems hypocritical to imply that crying is not professional in an academic setting. Emotional processing is intellectual. Tears have helped me remember to see others as growing and reflective and passionate individuals, and to reintroduce passion into my learning.

Are we ever really fluent?

-Do you speak Portuguese?
A little. I’m still learning! I speak Spanish though.
-Oh, so are you fluent in Spanish?
-Learning Portuguese will be easier for you!
“A conversation I have at least once a day”

Being “fluent” is not something I feel comfortable claiming in any language except English. When I get asked that question, I begin to imagine the person assuming fluency means perfection in the language, my language abilities indistinguishable from those of a native speaker of said language. But, at least for me, that seems absolutely impossible.

I started learning Spanish when I was young- my elementary school had a partial-immersion Spanish program. So from the age of seven, I was exposed to the language. We would often have math and science taught in Spanish, then switch to English for reading, writing, and social studies. That gave me a lot more exposure to the language than many of my classmates while I was in college, for example. But even if I heard Spanish (this is not guaranteeing comprehension) for two hours a day since I was seven, I was also hearing English the other 14 hours of my waking life, each day. What was even in those other 15 hours, that makes my English development so much superior to my Spanish? I guess, pretty much everything. Vocabulary, intonation, varying registers, and lots of cultural context.

So does being fluent in another language mean I will never make mistakes? No, it can’t be. I make so many mistakes in English as it is. Does it mean I will understand every cultural nuance of the language? This also can’t be, as I am learning more about North American culture everyday.

I eagerly admit that I am not a professional linguist. But if I had to decide what it would take to be fluent in another language for me, while I would factor in grammar and vocabulary, as well as ease when speaking in a variety of different settings, I would make sure to include the intentional dedication to always learning. To always make mistakes in said language, and to learn from them. As we discussed in an English class I went to this week, fluency is about attitude just as much or more as actual ability (thanks Professor Gasperim!)

(**Portuguese is DEFINITELY easier for me to learn with a Spanish background -bless- but of course it’s not the same language**)

-Carrancas, Minas Gerias-
From a sweet weekend trip I went on!

Thanks for reading!